Saturday, March 8, 2008

Shiriri Saga #6 Masts.

Felling the old masts.

I was sitting on deck in the pale wintery sunshine, eating my lunch and idly poking my pocket knife into a slight pucker in the paint on the wooden mast beside me. My eyes were caressing the splendor of my beautifully polished and painted schooner. Pride of ownership. Months of hard work. Just then the knife blade slid smoothly in to the hilt!

That night in our little cabin in the woods I told my wife Heather the classic "There`s good news and bad news" proposition. Bad, because both big pole masts had dry rot and would have to be replaced, and good, because I had always wanted to make masts!

I walked through our woods, felled three suitable fir trees and hauled them to a large flat space beside our driveway and left them to begin drying out. I went back to work rebuilding the interior of our schooner, Shiriri. There was plenty to do and little time to do it in.

By the time the previously roughly finished cabins shone as beautifully as the topsides it was summer already and time to work on that nagging extra project. First the rotten masts had to come down. Beside our marina, just beyond the ferry dock, was a high government wharf with a small crane for unloading cargo. Some friends came to help and we brought Shiriri alongside at low tide. The wharf towered above us. A bit like tooth extraction, I planned to hook on with the crane and pull the masts up and out! Then began several hours of dementia.

It quickly became obvious that if the wire rope of the crane was attached low enough to pull the base of the masts clear out of the hull, the balance point was too low and they would tip over. Meanwhile, the tide was lifting our boat higher and higher, reducing the vertical distance available to remove the masts. I called a tow truck operator who assured me he had a tall extendable crane. We waited for his arrival. Hoards of people waiting for the ferry came to look and give advise. The tide rose some more. The tow truck operator arrived and got into a heated argument with an old enemy who was parked across the entrance to the wharf. The tide! I desperately mediated their dispute. The car was moved. The tow truck, with a shorter crane than promised and with the still higher tide was still not tall enough. He departed. Most of my friends departed. The ferry left again with the most recent crowd of sightseers. High tide at last.

High tide and my friend Bill the ex-fireman said. "You got your chain saw? You could fell the masts right on to the wharf!" Sure enough, the cabin top was now level with the wharf deck, the crowds were gone and I grasped the brilliance of the idea. I did not need the old masts in one piece after all. With Gwyn, Heather and friend Bill pulling on the rigging to guide the fall, I felled both in quick succession, cut them into several shorter lengths, and loaded them and all their rigging onto a trailer to take home to use as patterns for the waiting trees.

Back at the marina Shiriri looked like she had been through a naval battle, but soon the mast roots were extracted and brought home as well. The time for mast making had arrived. I had been doing my research and had read of a way to speed up the process by using a circular saw to girdle the logs every six inches and then to remove the bark and outer layer of sap wood with an adze. I practiced on the spare third log and then did the two long straight masts. I t worked beautifully and soon I was on to using a drawknife and an electric plane. Eventually I had two beautiful masts, finished this time with a clear varnish so that next time I would see any rot as it started. I had also made a boom and gaff out of the extra log for the new gaff foresail I was designing.

Loading the new masts.

The day we put the masts in began, like the mast extraction day, with a group of friends to lift the heavy spars onto a flat bed truck for the trip to a bay where a real crane and Shiriri waited. This time all went smoothly. The next morning Heather and I returned to reposition all the rigging and motor Shiriri( she now had a new diesel engine) back to our marina home. We were exhausted and talked over our real dilemma as we set up the rigging. A sailing friend, Penni, had seen our exhaustion the previous day and reminded us that we had at first sensibly planned to live on board and sail in local waters for a year to gain experience before sailing out to sea. Here we were single-mindedly plodding doggedly ahead toward an offshore departure in a couple of months. We were trying to stick to an agenda long since skewered by the sheer immensity and unpredictability of the task we had taken on so blithely on that winters day a year and a half ago when we first saw Shiriri.

Guiding the new foremast into place.

There are so many moments when a grand adventure can come unstuck. We knew the dangers of frightening storms or even the interpersonal conflicts that can halt a grand design but had not seen our own particular weakness: that our ability to keep working single-mindedly toward a goal had it own Achilles heel; we could loose perspective. What a relief to finally accept that we were not leaving so soon after all.

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