Archive for the ‘Spaulding Marine Center’ Category

Bad Things Come In Threes

Clark August 9th, 2017

We were sailing back to the Spaulding Marine Center from a successful first charter on our 1885 gaff-rigged sloop Freda. We left the charter guests at the Ferry Building, set sail, and managed to lay Sausalito in one tack on the ebb. Volunteer crew Rob and I quaffed artisanal cheeses and fresh figs, leftover from the charter, as we enjoyed spectacular Bay sailing aboard the oldest sailing yacht on the West Coast. I was feeling so cocky about it that I suggested, “People always drop her sails and motor the last mile to Spaulding. There’s plenty of room by Spaulding to drop sail. Let’s sail on down the waterfront.”

Thank God we didn’t actually do that! When we neared Sausalito we started getting hammered by williwaws coming down the slopes, and I called the fight. I went to start the engine, and she wouldn’t start. I tried on battery 1, on battery 2, on both, and she barely turned over. It was bizarre, because the boat had been used both days over the weekend, we’d motored for a good half hour at the start of the charter, and Freda doesn’t have much in the way of an electrical system, just a bilge pump and a few lights, not enough to drain the batteries.

“Uh oh.”

I ran up to the foredeck to drop the jib and ready the anchor, but the strop that holds the sheet tackle to the club-footed jib parted. Now with each williwaw the foredeck was swept menacingly by a loose, 15-foot long jib boom. The jib has a downhaul, as in a line that runs from the foredeck to a pulley on the tip of the bowsprit, then up the luff of the jib to the its head. Without it there’s no way to get the jib down without going to the end of the bowsprit.

With all the flogging the end of the downhaul was carried away, and I had to go to the end of the bowsprit, with the jib boom flailing, to retrieve the end of the downhaul. Once I did I got the jib down, and the jib boom only smacked me in the head once, lightly. It turned out this was the only remaining manila strop on Freda. All the rest had been replaced with modern rope:

I assembled the ancient fisherman anchor, which is more for looks than function, and got it ready to deploy.
Freda behaved herself very well. With just the main up she sat in irons, without really moving forward or drifting back.

I was about to call back to Spaulding for a tow, but decided to give the engine a Hail Mary, now that the batteries had sat for a few minutes. It worked!

Now we just had to douse and gasket the main and we were home free. We loosed the peak and throat halyards to drop the gaff, I started taming the main and tying on some gaskets, then fell through the open main companionway hatch:

There are two ways to avoid falling through a hatch:

1. Close the hatch.
2. Be aware the hatch is open and don’t fall into it.

I did not do either of these, but it’s common practice, of course, to close the cursed hatch before furling the main. Luckily I was able to break my fall with my rib cage. It must have looked terrible, because Rob left the helm to jump to my aid, but I seemed to be okay. A day later I’ve got some nasty bruises on my ribs, but none broken. On the other side I’ve got pulled muscles in my arm pit.

So there you go: Engine that won’t start, parted jib boom strop, and falling through a hatch. Three bad things in rapid succession. I attribute it to being out of real sailing practice, still learning the ins and outs of Freda (the saucy old Manx), and being a bit flustered after all that jib boom dodging.

My dad fell through a foredeck hatch in the middle of a race once. He was nearly 80 at the time, broke a few ribs, and that was the end of that race. I guess if you sail long enough, sooner or later you’ll fall through a hatch.

My New Job: Keeping Sausalito Salty

Clark July 7th, 2017

I’m two months into my new job as General Manager of the Spaulding Marine Center, in Sausalito, California. According to Google Maps, work is 2.4 miles from my house. Have I ridden my bike to work? Of course not.

A non-profit boatyard? Yes, all proceeds from boatyard operations go to restoration projects, education, outreach, and other do-gooder stuff. We (meaning Spaulding) owns Freda, the “Matriarch of San Francisco Bay,” the oldest sailing yacht on the West Coast. She was originally built in 1885, and the subject of a half million dollar, decade-long, museum quality restoration:
Freda Schooner Race 2017

I’d never sailed a gaffer before, but now I’ve got her wired. She’s got one long boom.

Myron Spaulding was the lord of San Francisco sailing. He designed great boats, built great boats, and won great races. He won the TransPac in 1936, as captain of Dorade. Did I mention that all the while he played first violin for the San Francisco Symphony? Don’t you hate people like that? We don’t hate people like that: we celebrate them, and Myron’s legacy is celebrated in just about everything we do around here. Myron passed in 2000.

A year and a half later Myron’s wife Gladys passed away. The couple didn’t have children (they met later in life), so Gladys left the boatyard in a charitable trust, later formed into a 501(c)(3) corporation, and that’s how we became a non-profit boatyard.

Myron and Gladys’s ashes sit in urns on a shelf above my desk. When I start zoning out in the afternoon and checking Facebook I can feel them scowling at me, so I get back to work.

The boatyard pretty much runs itself. We’ve got six boatyard staff, three men and three women, which is unique, and they’re all very dedicated. I’ve learned how to drive the forklift, give crane signals, and I get my hands dirty a few times a week, but I’m mostly an office duck.

It’s an amazing place, Sausalito’s unofficial maritime museum, with a huge nautical library, sailing magazines dating back to the 1920s, and all kinds of sailing treasures and memorabilia. We’re open to the public whenever we’re open:

A few weeks ago I opened the place on a Saturday so a group could come ogle our old woodworking tools. Some came from as far away as Central Oregon, and drove all night. Who knew there were people who traveled long distances just to geek out on old power tools?

Our coolest project is the SV14, an affordable boat for disabled sailors. The project has been an international collaboration among the builders of the various prototypes and various disabled groups. We’re hoping for a launch and test sail later this summer:

You can check out the SV14 website and Facebook page.

But first we’ll have to pour her weighted centerboard, and the likely location will be my backyard. I’m sure the local fire marshall, and my wife, will be totally cool with this, right? Three hundred pounds of molten, toxic metal getting poured into a mold in a hole behind our back deck will be an educational experience for my two small children, right?

Our next restoration project will be Mavis, a 1924 Bird Boat, built here in Sausalito. They were originally called the San Francisco S Class, but so many were named after birds (Curlew, Petrel, etc.) that they became known as Birds or Bird Boats. Several still sail the Bay. Poor Mavis sank in her berth, and was then donated to Spaulding. Gladys Spaulding owned and sailed her at one point, so she’s a worthy project, but like Freda, by the time it’s all said and done very little of the original boat will remain:

Spaulding offers boatbuilding classes, summer camps for kids, guest speakers, seminars, community sails, and a vibrant social scene for volunteers, apprentices, and all manner of salty folks.

One old customer calls Spaulding “hallowed ground.” Across the floor are still marks where the frames were laid, and a hole drilled up through the floor for the rudder post of Chrysopyle, one of Myron’s masterpieces. Another of his masterpieces, Suomi, was lost with all hands in what might still stand as the worst yachting accident on the California coast. In 1955 she was hit by the Swedish ship Paramatta off Point Arguello. Yet, we have two of her life rings hanging on the wall, and nobody knows where they came from. Did they survive the wreck, or did we make extras?:

Come visit anytime. I’ll be here.