Bilgewater News 2014-2016
*New feature to this News page: Click on most photos to have a larger view of them.*
National Mariners' Museum and Park
In addition to some speaking engagements to support local schools and nonprofit organizations, I journeyed farther afield. In the spring of 2014, Kathy, my wife, and I visited the American's National Mariners’ Museum and Park in Norfolk, Virginia. My talk was an extension of the museum’s marine disasters exhibit, which was held over for a year longer than planned, and incorporated tales of oceanic woe that I wrote about in Adrift and Capsized. A responsive crowd showed up. When the main hall became jammed, the audience spilled over to other rooms in which they had to watch the presentation on television. Our highlight was touring the fantastic and very eclectic collection of seagoing vessels, including the revolutionary Civil War ironclad Monitor and the Baker-designed wing-sail driven hydrofoil Monitor. Baker’s Monitor reached 30-plus knots in the 1950s and presaged the most modern rigs and foils employed by the highest tech modern craft, from offshore racers to the America’s Cup.
PT Wooden Boat Festival
In the fall of 2014, we ventured to Port Townsend, Washington, for the Wooden Boat Festival. Hosted in the Northwest Maritime Center, the festival includes one of the most eclectic fleets of marine eye-candy one is likely to encounter. A century-old steam ferry, schooners, square riggers, classic cruisers, along with modern race boats and kayaks, line docks and sail just offshore while lecture series ashore host a wide range of speakers. After we steamed up Puget Sound from Seattle to Pt. Townsend on the Virginia V, we reunited with old friends like master rigger Brian Toss and superb sailmaker Carol Hasse as well as with Russell and Ashlyn Brown, who now run PT Watercraft and sell exquisitely crafted kit runabouts and take-apart rowing and sailing dinghies.
At the festival, I spoke on my drifting about the Atlantic and the making of Life of Pi. It was an honor to share the stage with legendary sailing pal Lin Pardey (Larry sits in the audience these days from where he lobs well-timed comments) for a presentation on “The Adventures That Changed My Life” and a roundtable discussion about various marine topics. For those who don’t know, the Pardeys are quintessential traditionalists and hold firm opinions on most things marine. I love them, and we see right eye to eye on many subjects and common-sense elements of seamanship, but we also find room to debate the virtues and vices of computer-aided design, epoxy, and multihulls with which I’ve been involved since the 1960s. I was all set for a real wrestling match with Lin, but instead we primarily found common ground with complementary outlooks that fit right in with the diverse nature of the festival.
After the festival, we jaunted up from the sound into the San Juan Islands for some camp-cruising with Russell and Ashlyn on a fuel-efficient 25-foot powerboat designed by Eric Jolley, partner to Paul Bieker. The Bieker-Jolly office has produced numerous avant-garde vessels and work for the Oracle America’s Cup campaigns. Their hydrofoil designs have expanded well beyond the Cup and have enhanced the performance of such offshore racers as Wild Oats. Anyone who has been keeping up with both offshore and inshore racing will have noticed that what began as canted daggerboards sprouting everywhere on open-style monohulls has continued to develop until, these days, if you ain’t got lifting foils, you ain’t got nothin’! See Bieker and Jolley designs here.
It’s been interesting to witness the development of hydrofoils since the early 1980s when I first sailed on and wrote about them. Although rudders and keels also are hydrofoils, “lifting foils,” as found on the America’s Cup catamarans, have now gone full circle, beginning with single-hulled boats like Baker’s Monitor, becoming widespread on multihulls, and then finally being re-incorporated into monohulls. These all enhance stability to add power and lift boat hulls a bit from the sea to reduce drag. They remain vulnerable to sudden high loads, such as collision with flotsam, but in the right conditions, they’ve helped make speeds of 20 to 30 knots a regular feature of both multihulls and monohulls. Check out Edmond de Rothschild’s new monohull and Multi70 foiler. You can also see how the mono foils work (in French).
New England Schools
Also in the fall of 2014, Kathy and I traveled to Connecticut and the Avon Old Farms School, a remarkable prep school, the campus of which was built all in stone, wood, and steel from the school’s property and cut, shaped, and forged right there, giving it an old-world charm and style that could literally have served as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films. I was privileged to be asked to join a list of impressive authors, like Tim O’Brien (The Things They Carried), who are invited yearly to the school. The faculty and students are incredibly bright and talented, so it was not the first time that I found myself surrounded by folks a lot smarter than I, but they made me feel right at home as I spent the day on campus giving a short lecture to the student body and then visiting classes of each grade.
In early 2016 I also visited classes in local Maine schools, including Bangor’s Mary Snow School and North Yarmouth Academy. School children continue to wow me with their sophistication. Students at ages as young as 10 read Adrift with enthusiasm and curiosity that help old dogs like me maintain hope in a world so full of bad news and impediments to a bright future. At Maine Maritime Academy, in Castine, ME, where young men and women are just beginning their careers on the briny, I demonstrated how not to cross an ocean. I wish all these young people great and fulfilling voyages.
Film and Television
After wrapping up work on Ron Howard’s In The Heart of the Sea in 2013, Kathy and I were disappointed to find out that the film’s release was delayed from December 2014 to March 2015, and then to December 2015 at last when we were finally able to attend the U.S. opening in New York. There we met author Nathaniel Philbrick whose remarkable book of the same title had been adapted to screen. We also were warmly greeted by Ron Howard and his first Assistant Director, Bill Connor, with whom I also had worked on Life of Pi. Both are gentlemen of the first order. We also had great fun reuniting with actors Chris Hemsworth, Ben Walker, and Tom Holland. It warms my heart to see them all doing well with so much of their careers still ahead of them. Tom especially has changed, really growing over the last couple years, and with the role of Spiderman coming up, he’s well on the way to superstardom. Ben is on Broadway in American Psycho, and Chris is as busy as ever with his continuing role as Thor and other dramatic characters. See also Film-TV page.
Also of note is an upcoming film on Donald Crowhurst called The Mercy, which is soon to be released. Anyone who has read The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst or saw the documentary Deep Water will know that this is a corker of a sea tale and a real Greek tragedy. The drama takes place surrounding the 1968 Golden Globe nonstop singlehanded around-the-world race, a first. The event, won by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the only man to complete the course, fathered many remarkable yarns, including Crowhurst’s, whose boat was later found with no one aboard. Colin Firth has the starring role and no doubt has done a fantastic job portraying the ambitious, troubled, and eventually doomed Crowhurst. Keep The Mercy on your radar screen.
Among opportunities that arose for me to work on television programs was one for a French documentary on the ill-fated raft of the Medusa, which was released in France late in 2014 by Grand Angle Productions. Hopefully, it will make its way into English and to U.S. networks. The documentary recounts the ultimate nightmare survival story in which, after just two weeks, only 13 people remained out of a crew of 133 due to incompetent leadership, chaos, and terror that would make horror movies look tame. The film makers reproduced the actual wooden raft of this horrendous tale that inspired Gericault to paint his seminal work, which hangs in the Louvre.
Along with Hyerdahl, one of my earliest sea-going influences was Robert Manry, a newspaper editor who decked over a 13.5-foot coastal day sailer and set off to England in 1965, a voyage taking 78 days, which he recounted in his book Tinkerbelle. When I was a kid, Manry’s record-breaking voyage showed me that one needn’t be extraordinarily gifted or rich to fulfill one’s dreams and achieve great adventures. I was flattered to be asked to give commentary on his voyage, and what it is like to be at sea on a small boat, for an upcoming documentary being produced by film maker Steve Wystrach. Steve is funding this film himself, which is almost completed but may still take time before its release. Check it out at The Robert Manry Project.
The Outdoor Channel also saw fit to profile my own old sea saga once again for their series "Fight to Survive." I found this one quite interesting, not the least because the host Craig DeMartino is himself a survivor. A veteran mountain climber, Craig fell 100 feet off a granite cliff in Colorado, resulting in the loss of a leg. It’s always fascinating to share war stories and lessons learned with other survivors. You can see a listing of the show on the channel's website, episode 109.
It appears that, whenever any ocean survivor or disaster hits the news, I get calls and emails. Sadly, one of these events involved the loss of the classic Alden sailing schooner Niña between New Zealand and Australia. She simply dropped out of sight and has not been heard from since.
More reassuring than the Niña is the 14-month survival voyage of José Salvador Alvarenga, a San Salvadorian fisherman who drifted across the entire Pacific from 2012 to 2014, demonstrating that anything is possible. I spoke with author Jon Franklin when he was shaping 438 Days, a book about Mr. Alvarenga’s journey that was published in 2015 by Atria Books, a division of Simon and Schuster. Like many if not most survivors, Mr. Alvarenga’s account was highly doubted and considered a hoax by some. I pointed out to numerous journalists and interviewers, however, that, as unlikely as it sounds, it would be much more unbelievable and complex to stage such a hoax. The same thing happened to me, and will to many others, as this is just one of the post-trauma nightmares facing survivors. I believe that Jon’s book clears up any doubt about Mr. Alvarenga. It illustrates how long-term survival at sea is routinely possible if, unlike the poor souls on the raft of Medusa, survivors are disciplined, keep their wits, and are blessed with a survival craft that can endure the voyage. Check out my review of 438 Days.
For several years, I have not written much for the boating press, but in 2014 I published an article in Power Cruiser magazine briefly describing my and Kathy’s trip with the Browns to the San Juans. I also wrote a piece for Sail magazine in which I outlined survival psychology issues along with a brief on physical priorities. The longest piece I wrote was a profile of Chesapeake Light Craft (CLC) for Professional Boatbuilder magazine. This company is, arguably, the world’s most prolific designer and builder of kit boats. Principal John Harris has built CLC from scratch, and his views, not only on design but also on building a business, are priceless and delivered with candor and wit.
In 2013, I worked on the film In the Heart of the Sea (see News 2013). Ocean Navigator asked me to write about the realities of ocean survival now versus those in the 1820s when the crew of the Essex lived and died on whaling long boats in the Pacific. That article, published on 31 December 2015, focuses on the comparison of long boats to today’s life rafts and also highlights boat equipment and psychological issues.
One of the most influential books that I read as a child was Kon Tiki, Thor Hyerdahl’s pioneering balsa-log raft crossing of the Pacific in 1954. I was once privileged to meet Hyerdahl who is a near-god in Norway for his many remarkable voyages and books, so it was an added honor to be asked by Skyhorse Publishing to write a new introduction to a new edition of Kon Tiki. I sought to put this voyage into a historical perspective and show that, despite Hyerdahl’s premise eventually being proved incorrect, his voyage inspired an entirely new approach to anthropology. Much of this thesis was subdued in the final text, however, which was significantly edited. See my introduction to the new edition here or in the article section of my website.
Adrift has now been published in Turkish by Naviga Publishers, making it the book’s 20th language edition. A Russian publisher also has recently licensed Adrift for republication in that language. I never imagined the story would not only still be in print after 30 years but also still find foreign publishers wanting to translate it. I’ll take it and say thanks!
Thirty-four years after the event, my drifty tale was included in Smithsonian’s “100 Greatest Adventures in American History” in a Special Collector’s edition in 2015. Personally, I think my oceanic drift pales in comparison to events like the Trail of Tears and the flight of Charles Lindbergh, but I’m honored that it has been chosen.
Capsized also is making its way back into print in German. We’ve struck a deal with Verlag de Brotsuppe in Switzerland.
Some years ago, we employed Thad Adams, a patent attorney, to patent FRIB and the Sea Bag drag device that I designed. Thad is a good guy and active outdoorsman. Although he is a “southerner” located a distance from the sea, we found much in common. In those days, Thad produced an entertaining and enlightening newsletter called the “Asymptote Review.” Although it was related to patents, it was more focused on wider subjects and inventions that sprung from them. Kathy and I wrote one newsletter on navigation for him, and he interviewed me for another about invention and survival. These subjects may be old, some even ancient, but they remain as relevant today as ever. Check out the links to his newsletter main page and these particular issues. Anyone interested in creativity and invention will find all his newsletters quite enlightening, and if you happen to be in the market for an intellectual property lawyer for patents, trademarks, or copyright issues, I certainly recommend Thad.
I retired from design work some years back, but while we were in Seattle, we visited the construction of the Solo 22-2. The builder has taken many more years to get this far than first anticipated (so what’s new?), but the boat is slowly coming together quite well. The interior is largely complete and looks lovely, and the deck is fitted. He’s at the stage of finishing the exterior now and fitting the keel.
Although designed in 1978, we still receive queries about Mr. Toad, a 20-foot camp-cruising catamaran, as well as other older designs. Although Toad, Napoleon Solo, and others are good little boats, I don’t sell these plans because the designs could use updating and, realistically, nobody would want to pay for that. I would, however, be happy to coordinate and direct a design project.
Perhaps somebody will eventually want to pursue an alternative small trailerable camp-cruising trimaran such as Nutshell, which evolved from a water-ballasted sliding-seat sharpie in the 1980s but was never completed. These days Nutshell would likely be fit with longer amas (outer hulls) as well as the hydrofoils I originally envisioned for it.
It's A Newick: Without question, Dick Newick was one of the most important designers of the last 100 years. It’s A Newick reveals why, combining a summary of his innovations with an outline of an extraordinary man’s life. From kayaking through postwar Europe to beginning a charter trade in the Caribbean, and from designing record-breaking multihull racers to practical work boats for the emerging world, Newick blended social consciousness, a sculptural aesthetic eye, offshore practicality, and technical vision in ways rarely found in boat designers. Today’s sailing world, not to mention multihulls in particular, would be far different if it were not for Dick Newick, a design hall of famer. It’s A Newick is not an impenetrable technical tome. Nor does it dig deep into Newick’s personal life, but it offers a concise view of a man whose love for efficiency under sail was matched only by his sense of responsibility for the world, love of family, and openness to the many he mentored and befriended. Jim Brown, pictured with Dick, was one of his close friends and a pioneer in cruising multihull designs and sea-steading.
Sadly, Richard Newick has passed on. “Dick” was a gentleman of the old school and a class act. In the world of multihulls, his boats were nothing less than revolutionary. We were lucky to have known him as a friend. Those interested in his work can read an article that I wrote about him for Professional Boatbuilder magazine; and check out my other Pro Boat articles here.
Newick's designs are from left to right: Idenek, 42-foot Creative design; 1980 OSTAR winner Moxie, and Naga, 36-foot Native design. Please click on each design to view a larger photo.
Copyright © 2011 Steven Callahan