Sun boots

“Do I have to?” I whine and I cry,
As I stand under blue, cloudless sky,
But we’ve boiled every pot,
And the water’s so hot,
That my rain boots must keep my feet dry.

Barry buttonholed me today and asked me to to help him pour many gallons of boiling water over plywood (to bend it). This limerick is a fib — you can see from the photo that I love my rain boots. They’re cute and blue, like something Paddington Bear would wear.

The other photo is for my Washington and Colorado friends. It proves we have potheads here in Georgia, too.

Meps in her blue boots and gloves

Paddington Bear helps bend plywood

Meps with a cooking pot on her head

Meps, a two-quart pothead

You need more directions?

After my last post, Come Monday, Jayne asked “So where is St. Marys?? :-)” She was writing from Seattle. Then Steve, writing from Paradise Village, outside Puerto Vallarta, said, “We need more directions about St. Marys. Just wondering where you are.”

So I decided, instead of trying to answer in words, I’d draw a couple of maps. The first one shows where St. Marys, Georgia is. The second one shows what you will find if you make it all the way here.

These are not to scale. But of course, you knew that.

Map of the US and southern states showing St. Marys, Georgia

Map of the US and southern states showing St. Marys, Georgia

Diagram of boatyard

St. Marys Boat Services “Features”

Come Monday

Meps and her Dad on Flutterby's new staircase

Meps and her Dad on Flutterby’s new staircase

On a Monday morning, a couple of weeks ago, there was a knock on our hull. “Yo, Flutterby!” called a voice, causing us to pop out the companionway in surprise. Nobody knocks on Flutterby’s hull here in St. Marys. They wait until we emerge to use the bathroom, or else send us an email. Seriously!

It was Rocky and Jeff, the owner and his lieutenant, at the bottom of our ladder. “We just welded up our first staircase, and we want to test it out. We’re bringing it over here.”

They were pleased with themselves for this magnanimous gift, but I looked at Barry in dismay. My Dad would be arriving from Vero Beach any minute, and I had counted on that eight-foot ladder to keep him from peeking inside the boat. It was a mess inside!

To make a long story short, the staircase — and visit — was a huge success. Dad and his sweetheart, Sharon, both climbed up to the deck to enjoy the view (Sharon might say the vertigo), but they didn’t look inside (even though I did frantically clean the interior). Instead, they took us to town for lunch and some much-needed shopping, and we enjoyed each others’ company for a precious afternoon.

Dave, with his camera

Dave, with his camera

That wasn’t our first Monday visit from a family member. On a rainy Monday in November, my brother Dave had driven from Daytona, stopping in Jacksonville to pick up a load of marine plywood. We also had lunch and some much-needed shopping, but the best part was two days of visiting and a photography expedition to historic Fort Clinch.

What a treat, that my Florida family members would drive all this way to see me and Barry and Flutterby!

Our latest Monday visitors, however, were the most remarkable of all, and definitely appreciated the new staircase. Barry’s parents, Sharon and Dave, have been a part of our Flutterby adventure for over six years now. They had never even seen the boat.

They started out on Camano Island, Washington, and went down through California and across the southern states, with a stop in Big Bend, Texas. The apogee of their circuitous journey was in the Florida Keys, where they looked up Sharon’s cousin, Vic Gaspeny. He’s a well-known fishing guide who has caught a record 200 swordfish in his career.

Barry's Dad with Barry and Meps under Flutterby

We were super-excited about Barry’s parents’ visit

By the time they stood under the bow of Flutterby, grinning up at us, they had traveled 6000 miles. Barry and I practically fell down the staircase to deliver some long-awaited hugs.

We had wonderful dinners in town with them and did more much-needed shopping (is there a theme here?). This time, it wasn’t groceries and plywood, but a salvage yard in St. Augustine, about 50 miles away. While we were taking measurements for Flutterby’s new main yard, which is a repurposed mast from a much-smaller sailboat, they were bird-watching in the parking lot! “Is that woodpecker a ladderback?” asked Sharon, juggling a bird book and a pair of binoculars.

We don’t have any more visitors scheduled, so if you happen to be in the neighborhood, please stop by and visit us here in St. Marys. It doesn’t have to be on a Monday. We always need to go shopping.

Barry and his parents on the staircase in front of Flutterby

Barry and his parents on the infamous staircase

Brick staircase inside Fort Clinch

Inside historic Fort Clinch

The beach at Fort Clinch State Park

The beach at Fort Clinch State Park

Beauty and goodness are in the air

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,
And one woman’s work is another one’s pleasure.

Painting Flutterby's name with a marl-stick

Painting Flutterby’s name with a marl-stick in 2010

On a warm, sunny day like last Saturday, the boatyards are full of all kinds of painters. You can tell the bottom-painters by their green or blue hair. Topsides-painters don’t usually have colorful hair, just colorful language. Every gnat who drops an infinitesimal bit of dust on their perfect mirror finish provokes a new and interesting batch of swear-words.

Less common are the traditionalists who paint the name of their boat, using a marl-stick, instead of ordering vinyl stickers. I didn’t know what a marl-stick was before I painted “Flutterby” on the side of Flutterby.

The least common painters are the women I saw last Saturday, who had colorful smocks and sweaters instead of colorful hair and language. Before they began, they walked around the yard, holding up their fingers to make little rectangular frames. Then they set up their French box easels and went to work on pristine white canvases.

They were “plein-air” painters: People who go outdoors to paint pictures. They follow in the tradition of artists like Money, Pisarro, Van Gogh, and Renoir, taking advantage of natural light to create images on location.

Average-looking fiberglass sailboat with lots of junk around it

Average-looking fiberglass sailboat with lots of junk around it

But here, in an industrial boatyard, full of heavy equipment?

I struck up a conversation with one of the painters, commenting, “Every day, I ride my bicycle five miles to the library to draw. Then you guys drive all the way out here to paint!” “Oh, you should join us,” she told me, earnestly.

I shook my head. I couldn’t take a day off just to paint a pretty picture.

I asked what brought them out to the boatyard, because she’d told me she came from Fernandina Beach, about 45 minutes away. “We love the shapes of the boats,” she said, looking over my shoulder at a row of hauled-out sailboats. I turned and took in the scene. I saw a compressor, an orange pylon, a blue plastic kayak, a small RV, and in the middle, an average-looking fiberglass boat with a lot of stuff on the deck.

Then I looked at her painting. She had simply painted the maroon and white sailboat, capturing the classic lines of the yacht and the marshes behind it. All the ugly stuff was absent.

Artist working on her painting of a sailboat

Artist with painting of sailboat

Suddenly, the whole boatyard looked different to me. “It’s about what you leave out, isn’t it?” I said, more to myself than to her.

In the days since then, I’ve looked at this place through new eyes. I’ve noticed the lines of the tugboat against a dazzling sunset. I’ve noticed the perfect reflection of a rusty crane in the water. I’ve noticed some breathtakingly colorful oil slicks.

For years, I’ve been telling Barry that living in boatyards is no fun, that these places don’t speak to my “artist’s soul.” But if artists are driving out here deliberately, in order to make art, I’d better rethink that perspective.

There’s a wonderful lesson for all of us from the plein-air painters. We see what we choose to see. No matter where we are, we can choose to see beauty and goodness with a little imagination.

Painting of a boatyard in front of the boats

This artist made a dumpster look romantic and added a shipwright who didn’t exist

~

 

A chilly Georgia morning

Now that I’ve completed over 100 illustrations¬† for my book, I’ve decided to start adding pen-and-ink drawings to the blog, too. I hope you enjoy these new “doodles!” ~1meps

~~~

Original illustration by Margaret Meps Schulte

Lucky kingfisher

With temperatures in the low 30s, the folks of St. Marys stayed inside today. They even closed the schools, just in case there was ice on the roads (there wasn’t). So when I set off on my bicycle this morning, there were more animals than people.

A chorus of birds serenaded me from the trees as I headed north from the boatyard. Then I turned west on the North River Causeway, pedaling across a small bridge and through golden marshes at high tide. Across the river, the Spanish moss-draped trees were full of big white blobs — egrets, huddled against the cold. To the south, a single great blue heron skimmed the surface of the water.

Farther along, I heard the distinctive chattering call of a kingfisher. I looked up just as he ended with a loud “SQUAWK!” A hawk had swooped down out of the trees, intent on attacking the small, noisy kingfisher. He failed, and the kingfisher zoomed past me, announcing to the world that he would live another day. The hawk circled back into the trees, disappointed.

The rest of the animals on my route were silent; even the dogs who usually charge their fences to bark at me were affected by the cold. I hardly recognized the one who is usually the most vociferous — he just looked at me and wagged his tail in cold, silent solidarity. The rest of the canines, the lucky ones, were inside their owners’ warm homes.

Original illustration by Margaret Meps Schulte

Needy kittens

I passed a house with a sign that said, “But I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh upon me,” and a few doors down, two tiny feral kittens sat on the sidewalk. They were poor and needy creatures, too cold and hungry to even run away.

By the time I arrived at the library, I was thoroughly chilled. I was glad to spend the entire day in that quiet place of refuge, writing and drawing. Silent, like the kittens, but sheltered and grateful.

Going overboard with stuff

Last month, I tried to donate a bag of stuff to the Salvation Army. When I pulled into the parking lot, one Monday morning, I found the office staff filling a dumpster. Over the weekend, someone had left an entire household’s worth of stuff on their doorstep. Rather than sort it, they just threw it all away. They looked at my tiny bag and said, “Sorry, we’d just put that in the dumpster, too.”

Frog trivet

Froggie trivet aboard Flutterby

I took it back to the boat, which is full of overflowing piles on the settee, pilot berth, centerboard trunk, and chart table. I’m not sure where it is now, maybe on the dinette table, which is buried under a pile of pure, unorganized crap that threatens to fossilize.

It’s not my fault that I have all this stuff. When we bought Flutterby, in 2006, she was completely empty. There wasn’t a single dish, piece of silverware, or tool on board; we carefully selected the trivets and toys and t-shirts and canvas bags and navigation tools we wanted and brought them to the boat.

Over the next seven years, something unexpected happened in our lives. People we knew and loved died.

Our older friends nod their heads knowingly and say, “Get used to it.” But I stomp my foot and say, “No! We are too young for this!”

Meps with one of Stevie's froggie toys

One of Stevie’s froggie toys

The problem is, every person who was close to us leaves behind items we love and have to find room for. Flutterby now has a Froggie trivet and a lot of Froggie toys — those were Stevie’s. Bill Brown left behind canvas bags from the Seattle Women’s Sailing Association that bring back happy memories. My clothing locker is overflowing with giant tie-dyed shirts from Philip’s collection. The chart table has navigation tools from Barry’s uncle Roger.

Don’t even ask about the ashes. They take up room, too.

Yesterday, I said to Barry, “This boat is full of ghosts.” He shook his head, saying, “No. Just memories.” That same day, I found out it could be worse.

Lance, who has been working on a very large Gulfstar sailboat, was gone from the yard when we returned from our Christmas trip. We heard that he’d gone north to attend a friend’s funeral.

Yesterday, Lance stopped by to talk to me and Barry. He’s a fairly quiet, thoughtful man, not someone who talks a lot.

“See that boat, there?” he pointed to a modest-sized sailboat across from his own. “I just inherited it,” he said, with a sigh.

Lance's sailboat

A boat is a lot bigger than a trivet

Lance has owned a lot of boats in his life — this one is his 17th. She’s half the size and complexity of his own boat, and she’s practically ready to go. We talked about how easy it would be to finish a couple of projects, jump on board, and go cruising.

But Lance isn’t ready to give up his boat for his friend’s. That brings me back to my original dilemma. I’m not ready to give up my clothes for Philip’s, or my canvas bags for Bill’s, or my toys for Stevie’s. I just keep cramming more and more stuff into the lockers.

Lance did give me a great idea for storing the ashes, though. He was checking out a boat for sale once, and he noticed that it had a false bulkhead. Lance started poking at it, trying to figure out what was behind it, when the woman who owned it stopped him. “Don’t mess with that! That’s Harry!”

It turned out that her deceased husband came with the boat.

“That was too much for me,” said Lance. “I didn’t buy that boat.”

Dancing in the forklift ballet

The place where we’re hauled out right now, St. Mary’s Boat Services, has a unique way of turning a little boatyard into a big one — they put many of the boats on cradles, so they can be moved easily and packed more densely. They use a forklift and a specialized hydraulic trailer to move the cradles around.

There’s a fellow here named Jeff who happens to be the most amazing forklift operator I’ve ever seen. He can do ballet-like things with the forklift that other boatyards need cranes and other complicated equipment to do. Yesterday, I heard him telling someone that in addition to training and certifying forklift operators for all of southern Michigan, he used to be able to pick up a quarter from the ground and hand it to you — using a forklift. “Not this one, though. The controls are too slow.”

Yesterday, Jeff and his boss, Rocky, needed to move four boats in order to make room for one who was ready to splash today. The first two moves were easy, just towing a couple of folks on cradles to new spots. Flutterby was the third boat in, on jackstands, and right after they picked her up with the Travelift, a van pulled in, delivering two shiny new cradles. There was quite a bit of excitement, because this was the first time Rocky and Jeff hadn’t welded up their own cradles.

As you can see, the first new one works perfectly. Now Flutterby can be scooted around in the forklift ballet, too. At dusk last night, they moved us to our new place, right across from a huge live-oak tree that is full of the cutest little birds on the planet: Bluebirds! It looks like somebody painted their topsides with the same paint Barry used on our bottom.

Flutterby hanging in the travelift

Flutterby in the slings with her new blue bottom paint

Van with trailer and cradles

Two cradles arrived just at the moment when we needed one

Flutterby on a cradle with forklift

Flutterby on the new cradle with the forklift in the foreground. Now she’s easy to move and fits into a smaller space.

Bluebird on a tin roof

These charming little birds are the opposite of Flutterby, with blue topsides and rufous bottoms

Preaching to the Choir

Even though I am thousands of miles away from my boat this summer, she is always on my mind. This week, I’ve been all smiles, because Issue 63 of the Junk Rig Association Magazine just came out, with another article (by yours truly) about Flutterby.

Junk Rig Association logo

See the second panel in the JRA logo? Guess who unwittingly inspired them to do that!

For over 15 years, Barry and I have been members of the Junk Rig Association, an international group of people who are interested in junk rigs. They’ve been following our progress with Flutterby‘s unique rig, and when I wrote about our first test sail, the editor of the newsletter asked to reprint my article.

“Urk!” I choked to Barry. I was a little embarrassed. I’d written that piece in a very exuberant but tongue-in-cheek style, and putting it into an international publication required some major rewriting. I carefully rewrote it, splitting the article into two parts, and submitted it with photos:

Flutterby Gets an ‘A’ on Her Test Sail (PDF)
Look! They’re Taking Our Picture! (PDF)

I am so proud to share these with you! Not because of my writing, but because I was able to share Barry’s accomplishment with the world. He has designed and built his own rig, the only one like it in the world, and it works!

Many members of the JRA are expert sailors who know that the Bermudan rig is not the only option. We’re not nuts or crackpots, just evangelists for something that’s worked for thousands of years. Of course, writing for the JRA Magazine is like preaching to the choir.

Even if you never plan to own a junk-rigged boat, the JRA is a wonderful, encouraging organization that produces a beautiful, inspiring magazine. Check out the JRA website: http://junkrigassociation.org/.

At the end of next week, I’ll be living aboard
Flutterby, currently in Georgia, for the first time in seven months. Ohio, Washington, and California were great, but I’m looking forward to unpacking my suitcase again.

Flutterby's bound for to go

You’re going to love this! Mepsnbarry.com now has a short video of Flutterby sailing, with a musical soundtrack featuring my friends Michael Greiner and Doeri Welch. I filmed it during our shakedown cruise with the new junk rig in December, 2012, in the Intracoastal Waterway, near Wabasso, Florida. The “Easter Egg” portion came from a 2009 Christmas celebration on the hard, in North Carolina.

Flutterby gets an 'A' on her test sail

On Thursday, the 13th of December, the sky in Brunswick, Georgia was gray and cloudy, threatening rain. The temperature had plummeted, and boaters in the marina hunkered down in their cabins by their heaters. A steady stream of cruisers had left the Brunswick Landing Marina in the prior two weeks, heading south in search of sunshine.

I stopped in the office that morning to give Sherry a heads-up. “If you notice our slip is empty today, we’re not leaving without paying our bill. We’re going out for our first test sail.” She gave me a big encouraging smile and a thumbs-up.

We rooted through our lockers and dressed as if we were going for a winter sail in the Pacific Northwest, putting on layers of thermal underwear, wool socks, fleece jackets, gloves, and those ubiquitous waterproof red jackets and black bibs we call “foulies.”

A warning here for our landlubber friends: If that technical term left you shaking your head in dismay, beware of what’s coming. Even our sloop-rig friends may complain that I’m using too much junk-rig jargon. Since it’s hard to scroll back and forth to footnotes in a web document, I’ll explain the jargon as best I can at the bottom of each paragraph.

We departed the marina on 12-13-12 at 13:01. It took us about a half hour to motor up the East river to the Brunswick river, which is wide and deep. Looking up the river, we could see a couple of huge container ships docked and unloading a half mile away. To the left, under the soaring Sidney Lanier Bridge, the casino boat was docked, but they weren’t moving either. We had the river to ourselves, so we set about hoisting our sails for the very first time.

The wind was gusty, ranging from 10 to 15 knots, and we could see by the water rushing past the navigation buoys that a wicked current was ripping through. I had hoped for a mellow, easy first sail, but that was not to be.

I left the motor running as Barry began to hoist the 500-square-foot split-rigged mainsail (the mainsail is the one in front…split-rigged means our sail extends four feet in front of the mast, but the part around the mast is cut away). Keeping in mind that the main on Flutterby’s original rig was only 350 square feet, I gave him a conservative order to keep two panels reefed (A reef is a way to make the sail smaller when the wind is blowing harder).

Our mainsail has seven panels that work kind of like a window shade. The rig was designed to easily put up to five reefs* in, and with some extra work, can even rig it in a storm with just one-seventh of the sail. However, that afternoon, the word “easily” did not apply, and the process of simply raising sails took over 45 minutes.

Flutterby's mainsail and the Sidney Lanier bridge in the distance

View of the Sidney Lanier Bridge

I was focused on the helm, making sure that we weren’t swept sideways into the massive bridge footing, as Barry started hoisting the main using the 3-part halyard. With our multi-part halyards and sheets, we end up with a lot of extra line piled in the cockpit, but we hardly ever have to use a winch.

That first hoist, though, things went wrong. As the third sail panel started to go up, Barry realized that the yard-hauling parrel* was fouled** by the topping lift***, so the yard couldn’t go up all the way. The lazy jack sail gatherer**** for the jiblets***** didn’t work.
===
*The rope that positions the yard, which is the pole at the top of our sail.
**Fouled=messed up
***Ropes from the top of the mast that hold up the sail bundle so it doesn’t fall on our heads when we are reefed or not sailing. The sail bundle includes the sail fabric and the battens, which are poles that go between each of the panels.
****Contraption of rope and webbing that hangs from the topping lift to keep things tidy.
*****On a split rig, the bits of the sail that are in front of the mast.
==

N.B. I can see that writing this to Barry’s requested technical specifications is going to be a bit of a challenge!

Our rig was designed to be sailed from the cockpit, with all the various control lines running back there. But when things go awry, somebody has to clamber up on deck and straighten it out. Barry spent a lot of time that day clambering up on deck to straighten things out. Still, we did eventually get the mainsail hoisted, and then we turned our attention to the mizzen (the smaller sail that is at the rear of the boat).

We didn’t have any problems hoisting the mizzen, and finally, it was time to turn off the engine and trust that we could maneuver this 33-foot vessel under sail alone.

Blessed quiet.

That special moment, one that all sailors know and appreciate, was followed by high-fives, cheering, and victory-dances (but not on top of the cockpit grate!) by the crew of the s/v Flutterby. For the next 60 minutes, the sound of water rushing past our hull was accented with peals of joyful laughter from yours truly. After five years of waiting for this moment, I was giddy and giggling.

The two of us took turns taking pictures and fighting for the right to steer. It was like we had a beautiful horse, and we both wanted to ride. We were both very curious to know how high she could point, or go upwind, but three knots of current kept sweeping us down the river, so our GPS track didn’t show a lot of progress. Still, we fairly flew when we went downwind, especially when we put the two sails out on opposite sides of the boat. Some junk-rig sailors call that “wing and wong” instead of “wing and wing.”

We didn’t go very fast that day, occasionally seeing boat speeds of five or six knots. We were a little unsure of ourselves, the weather, and the new rig, so we kept it slow with our double-reefs, but the potential was there to go much faster.

The whole time we were sailing, we were near the awe-inspiring bridge. The bridge towers are 485 feet, the clearance is 185 feet, and it’s the longest bridge in Georgia. Hundreds of cars passed by, along with the hardiest joggers and walkers. Did they see us? Did they notice our beautiful red-and-white butterfly sails?

Finally, we decided to call it a day and head back to the marina. Barry started the noisy engine, and I lowered the sails, a process that entails releasing the halyard* while pulling in the sheet**, the adjustable downhauls***, and the yard-hauling parrel. One thing I love is the windvane effect of the junk rig — we don’t have to turn the bow**** of the boat into the wind to raise and lower our sails. Like a weathervane, we can just let them swing freely in the wind as we raise and lower them.
===
*The line that pulls the sail up.
**The line that controls the position of the sail relative to the wind.
***Little fussy bits of rope.
****The pointy end.
===

And then we returned to our slip, triumphant. Flutterby was now a proper junk-rigged sailboat, and we were ready to head south with the other cruisers for the winter.

Pictures of the big event:

Main mast and horizon, showing how much Flutterby is heeled

Is this the way a sailboat is supposed to be?

Deck of Flutterby under sail, with Meps at the helm

Happy Meps at the helm

Barry wearing a Santa Claus hat and steering Flutterby

Rig designer Barry at the helm, with a perfect hat to match his sailing jacket. What a satisfied smile!