When I worked in Manhattan, I made a habit of buying a "new" apple at the Union Square farmer's market each week. Though I'd grown up in apple growing country, I could recognize only a dozen or so varieties (Red and Golden Delicious are SO not. HoneyCrisp -- is.). It was cheap education, the market: fifty cents or so for lunch with a history lesson for free.
Apples are in the same family as roses. The New World had crabapples (ironically enough), but apples and bees came over with the Europeans, or so the sources say. The Europeans got them from China, of course, around 8000 BC.
According to what archeologists have unearthed recently at the circa 6500 BC battle site in Jordan, apples were among the things Joshua fit at the battle of Jericho (Jericho o-ho).
There are more than 7500 varieties of apples in the world. 2500+ just in North America. Yellow, pink, green, red, purple fruits with flesh that might be white, green, yellow, pink, streaked or checked. Pie apples, eating apples, apples for cider, apples that store well or dry well or make delicious sauce.
In the literature, they are rated by crispness, grain, thinness of skin, tendency to bruise, acidity, sweetness, color of skin and flesh, spice, size of tree and fruit, resistance to disease, storage capacity, etc., etc.
I love that the formal description might include the phrase: "good for eating out of hand." Here're the names of a few varieties I like:
Apple-trees can long outlive the farmer and the farm. It's one of the "tells" of a lost farm: asparagus crowns in the early spring, lilac bushes blooming in the late spring, and apples on the tree in late summer and fall.
Even after the stone-laid foundations have collapsed and been absorbed back into the land, apple-trees continue to bloom and produce. Even when a forest grows up around the grove, the trees keep going, stretching up through the canopy for sunlight. Even after decades and lightning strikes and ice-storms, they keep sending up young buds and branches. Which seems like some kind of miraculous.
The sound is reminiscent of the dentist's office: eeeear-eeeear-EEeear. But these teeth would be in the order of T-Rex magnitude. It's rather early on a Saturday morning and TwoBeers is wielding his grinder.
The noise is annoying, but the dust is awful -- sparkling in the sunlight, the tiny bits of glass fiber just waiting to find its way to bare skin, into bronchioles, under eyelids.
Still, as the lovely old phrase goes: "Needs must when the devil drives." I suspect, like all the cool kiddies, the devil drives a fiberglass boat.
According to the Glasspars and Tempest websites, here's a brief history of fiberglass:
Thin glass fibers have been used for various things since ancient Egyptian times (they thought it was pretty). In the 1870's, insulating "mineral wool" was made of glass fibers. A fabric of silk and glass was patented as early as the 1880's.
Modern fiberglass came into vogue in the early 1940s after a scientist at Corning Labs figured out how to make fibers quickly (blast molten glass with compressed air) and British spies stole industrial secrets about polyester resin from Nazi Germany and applied the secrets to the Allied war effort. The rest is is Mid-Century Modern history: resin + glass fibers = airplane parts, ugly chairs, Corvettes, boats, etc.
This led to a new skill-set involving toxic resin, fiberglass cloth, and releasing agents. As fiberglass workers know, the key for making fiberglass cling to fiberglass is to create a voidless, toothy, but level join between the two surfaces.
Hence TwoBeers' incessant grinding.
He's been cleaning up rough edges (fiberglass is not just itchy, but sharp) and adding anchor-spots inside the hull for the floatation devices. The bow bag -- essentially a big yellow pool floatie that fits into the bow of the boat -- and stern bags (same but at the rear of the vessel and not yellow) MUST stay in place when needed.
If Frankie were to swallow a big gulp of water, the floatation is designed to buoy the boat and its contents (including TwoBeers and his crew!). But a pool floatie will try to wiggle away from anything that weighs it down; an anchored, nylon buckle-strap (like the ones on a backpack) from Masthead Enterprises should do the trick quite nicely (knock wood).
Including the four industrial-strength rollers that will help Frankie hurl himself down the beach like a hatchling turtle seeking the sea, there will be a total of ten separate airbags. When underway, there's one bow bag, five IODA-style tubes aft, and the rollers will fit along the sides.
One might hope that all this floatation will serve as cushion rather than swim-aid, but it's a big wild world out there.
File this image of Lilly and Betty under the phrase "A picture is worth a thousand words." A phrase that I thought was from an old Kodak ad -- but when I went in search of a fun link to the vintage print ad I almost remembered -- nope. Instead, I give you confabulation.
Indeed I do.
Confabulation: psychological term for the process of creating fabricated, distorted, or misinterpreted memory. Unlike a lie, confabulation is usually done without intention. Often involves autobiographical details. Seen frequently in patients with alcoholism, aneurism, and/or Alzheimer's.
But enough about that.
Write me a caption for Betty and Lilly as a comment below, and there's a prize in it for at least one participant!
Past prizes have included: Lunch at Yummy House, a copy of Stewart O'Nan's wonderful Emily, Alone, homemade soap. That doesn't mean someone isn't going to win the jar of Flarp! this time, but isn't that just like the world, all full of happy uncertainty?
One of the friendly Igors (Hi Rod!) has taken to calling and announcing the number of days until the 2014 Everglades Challenge race. That number is dwindling rapidly.
And we still have a long list of amendments, additions, and ameliorations to make on Frankenscot, the modified Flying Scot we hope to race in March. Not to mention, though I do, the sensible hours of practice and tuning yet to come...
A stopped-cork effect is at work, with various limbs of the monster undergoing surgery at once. TwoBeers had been focusing on human propulsion: the plan was to splash the beastie over the weekend to test the oars.
Working with salvaged parts of some rowing shells (Did we dig them up at midnight? Nope. Thanks to the Stewards Foundation and Calvin Reed, they were handed over legitimately. This Frankenstein story differs, I hope, in many ways from the original), we've been assuming that it's possible for the boat to move this way.
Frankie has tall sides -- as the cognoscenti call it, high "freeboard." (Cognoscenti being people who know a lot of supposedly correct terminology for things. They think they are so big. Huh.) High freeboard means it's harder for water to get aboard, but it also puts the rower in an awkward spot. Kind of like having to perch on a footstool at the dining room table.
Regardless of where the rower sits, the oar-locks have to be able to hold up to a mighty straining. The real sticky wicket of this transformation of Scot to rowing slave-galley involves how to cobble modern oars onto the old-fashioned rounded body of the Frankenscot.
Dr. TwoBeers could simply bolt the oarlocks through the hull -- but the stainless steel shafts of the oarlocks look remarkably hazardous poking through the deck. One of us anticipated impaled body parts and punctured lungs while the other foresaw really tragic and serious carnage like torn sails, snagged sheets, and other nightmarish complications.
After brainstorming with Derek at JTR Enterprises, the good Doctor figured out how to make them modular. "Plug and play," as another bunch of cognoscenti term it. When needed, the oarlocks will drop into a socket, get bolted in and poof, ready for use.
Which brings up the question of how to propel the beastie without blowing a vertebral gasket. As a tadpole, I used to load my friend C into a rowboat, tie the boat to a big tree and then row as hard as possible toward the center of Lake Ontario until the springy bowline yanked us right off our seats. It was hysterically funny. Bruisingly funny. True, we didn't have cable or satellite.
New-fangled sliding rowing seats give the rower even more power by letting her use her legs. Instead of simply leaning back and yanking at the oars, the rower extends her legs and leverages a longer, smoother pull. Had these been available back then on the shores of Lake Ontario, C and I might have been able to eject ourselves from the boat. We might have ended up with broken bones.
Luckily for the Frankie, the centerboard (the sticky-downy thing that keeps the boat from skidding sideways) has a housing trunk planted solidly right in the middle of the boat. It makes a nice base for mounting a rowing seat and foot rests.
Keeping with the theme of modular parts, TwoBeers constructed the footrest and seat to fit over the centerboard trunk. They can be lifted and stowed away when not needed -- or if this whole rowing gig doesn't work, they can be jettisoned altogether.
All experimentation involves risk. Not just lab accidents, but outright failures. Things that break or never work at all.
Since the beginning, we've talked about scrapping this line of modification if it didn't produce enough propulsion. The projected route through the Everglades is full of hazards for an oar, and the conditions might never require rowing.
Nevertheless, if you want to go on an adventure like this (In a description of the event, the organizer writes, "You May Die." Always true, but still, these are words to consider carefully) you darn well better prepare for all reasonable possibilities. Even rowing your sailboat.
Not that we got to try it out this weekend. Instead of splashing the boat and testing the oars, TwoBeers went over to work with OH Rogers on the rudder system. Maybe next weekend.
Everything takes longer than expected. Especially preparation.
My musical tastes (that's a figurative expression) don't usually lead me ahead of the curve, but this song makes me dance around with happiness. The artist, Töváshi Ambrus, bills himself as a "tinker of bad sounds."
To be fair, four books is probably too many to recommend in one fell swoop. Even in a single, less pernicious swoop. Possibly in any nature of swoop, four is a lot of reading. I am scaling back.
So here are three (3!) thematically-related recommendations. Even if you are NOT thinking about long open prairie vistas, inscrutable cattle, honest ponies, and other essential ranch bric-a-brac, I have some good books here.
Stories about the American West never really fall out of fashion. The genre has been going strong for a century and more. And by genre, I mean those kinds of books Papa Joe was always happy to find in his Recorded Books packages from the library: straightforward tales where the reader knows what to expect. There will be good guys, bad guys, horses, handguns, a conflict somebody is likely to win. The lone hero loping through the saguaro cactus and purple sage in search of revenge? Yup. Masters of the genre include Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour, and more recently, Elmer Kelton.
Though the following three books share some Western elements -- roving the open range, for instance -- these books do not fall in inside the boundaries of genre. They are not predictable, not straightforward, and not forgettable.
Writing about Wyoming, Annie Proulx (The Shipping News and Brokeback Mountain) ropes and wrangles the accent, the reticence, and the iron grit of the wildest state (sorry Texas!) in the lower 48. Proulx (pronounced "prue" btw) is one of those writers who holds very little truck with publicity (check out this Paris Review interview) preferring instead to do her work: which is to learn about stuff and then write about it and let readers do what they will.
She's written three wide-ranging collections of Wyoming stories in recent years. Each of her story collections is great.
Get this book, Bad Dirt, and put it in your car. Trust me, next time you are stuck in a waiting room, turn to one of Proulx stories -- these quick, searing sketches make a perfect short, smartening read instead of a round of whatever electronic distraction is sapping the strength these days.
Carmac McCarthy is widely praised as one of the greatest living American novelists -- a fact that, shamefully, rouses my prejudice against the traditional white lions of American letters: John Updike, Joseph Heller, and Philip Roth are among the writers I should probably admire more, but don't. Despite the hype, Carmac McCarthy's work, including recent award-winners No Country for Old Men and the post-Apocalyptic The Road, earn the praise honestly.
I like this earlier novel. It seems marginally less bleak -- as I read it -- than his later work. All the Pretty Horses (the name comes from the traditional lullaby) follows young John Grady Cole across the border to Mexico. It takes place around 1950, past the classic heyday of the cowboy, but the boy sets out for his adventure, his horse, and his heartbreak. Standard-enough sounding plot, but the writing--!
McCarthy is not afraid to throw it out there in ways that break all kinds of writing rules:
"They heard somewhere in that tenantless night a bell that tolled and ceased where no bell was and they rode out on the round dais of the earth which alone was dark and no light to it and which carried their figures and bore them up into the swarming stars so that they rode not under but among them and they rode at once jaunty and circumspect, like thieves newly loosed in that dark electric, like young thieves in a glowing orchard, loosely jacketed against the cold and ten thousand worlds for the choosing."
Don't try writing that at home, kids. But do read it.
And with a view from across the aisle, Sherman Alexie... a poet and writer who grew up on the Spokane Indian reservation in Washington. His first book, Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, is a collection of related short-stories about Thomas Builds-the-Fire and Victor Joseph growing up on the rez. The boys play basketball, tell stories, try to make sense of the wreckage of their families. The heartbreaking part sneaks up on you -- the characters are deadpan funny about the realities of living under the not-so-benign rule of the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) in a community racked by poverty and alcoholism:
"It's hard to be optimistic on the reservation. When a glass sits on a table here, people don't wonder if it's half filled or half empty. They just hope it's good beer. Still, Indians have a way of surviving. But it's almost like Indians can easily survive the big stuff. Mass murder, loss of language and land rights. It's the small things that hurt the most. The white waitress who wouldn't take an order, Tonto, the Washington Redskins."
Not a reader? (Okay, what the hecky-doodle are you reading this blog entry for? Extra points? Seriously?) Try the movie.
Alexie, who is engaging, funny, telegenic, and clearly quite comfortable in the 21st Century (far more than Proulx or McCarthy-- his website and plenty of Youtube video as evidence) made one of the stories in Lone Ranger and Tonto into a lovely independent film called Smoke Signals. If it's not in your Netflix queue already, branch out a little already.
My sister often says, "You can't make this s&!t up." And sometimes, you don't need to. The world throws things your way, and all you have to do is take notes:
Overheard last summer -- a couple of perhaps tipsy Yanks were climbing the hill in West Cowes, on the Isle of Wight, re-enacting a version of the classic Abbot and Costello "Who's on first" gag:
Yank #1 stops to catch breath. Suddenly tilts to admires a flowering shrub.
Yank #2 goes, "Oh, that's X. "
Yank #1 replies, "Yeah. No kidding. What do you call it?"
Yank #2, "X."
Yank #1, "Sure. But what I want to know is -- what's the name of that plant?"
The volume escalates as they continue not to understand one another. Finally, Yank #2 says, "THAT'S WHAT I AM TRYING TO TELL YOU!" and the other one goes, "Forget I asked. Let's just get another drink."
[Gardeners probably know already, but I had to look it up. First correct (or entertaining) answer below earns a prize.]
Progress has been inch-worming along on our Everglades Challenge boat, the Frankenscot. With three months to go, it's a question of divide and conquer, with teams of Igors performing surgeries on various portions of the corpse of the former Flying Scot sailboat.
Chris Morgan is working his fiberglass & faring magic on the centerboard blank, transforming the big wafer project from this summer ("Everglades Project: the Kernel of a Centerboard") into a sleek, hydrodynamic (hydrofoil?! Darned old spellcheck) fin.
A few short miles away, OH Rodgers is creating a rudder. The rudder is the sticky-outy thing at the back of the boat. It's used for steering and is usually attached via a kind of hinge to the transom. OH, however, is fabricating something a bit more swankalicious.
He's making a cassette system, which allows the rudder to lift in and out -- a bit like a sword into a scabbard. There's a built-in blow-out area, as well. So if the rudder comes into contact with a hard object, like, oh, a bit of sandbar, the blow-out area will break away gently, allowing the rudder to kick up without (we hope!) damage. A handy feature for navigating those narrow, tricksie passages through the Everglades.
Leslie Fisher at Masthead Enterprises has been creating sponsorship deals for the Frankenscot program. She knows seemingly everyone in the marine biz, and she knows how to find stuff. Every modern Prometheus (and its creators) should be so lucky as to have a Leslie in their corner.
The Frankie requires quite a web of lines, and it's Leslie who's spinning like mad to make it happen. R&W Rope has a variety of specialized cordage, including lines for sheets and halyards, and running rigging.
Leslie is also working with Harken distributed through Sailing Services over in Miami on the wish list of cool mechanicals: blocks and cleats and cleats and blocks.
If a Frankenscot tee-shirt comes to life, it will doubtless be thanks to Leslie.
Even a monster needs a nice suit of clothes: Rod Koch used Tom Barry's SailTechnologies software and plotter and Masthead Enterprise's floorspace to create headsails for Frankie. The list includes: a storm sail (a small jib) for the really nasty stuff -- it's just a wee hanky of a sail at about 10 feet tall by 5 feet at the clew. A standard headsail, roller-furled, resembles a regular jib. And that maxi-dress of jibs, a code Zero -- a very large lightweight genniker for reaching.
(Bah humbug! The beastie can SO wear a maxi-dress! He's a Scot, for heaven's sake.)
The mainsail is already done, a winning Bill-Drayheim Flying Scot sail from Gus, modified to include two reef points. The spinnakers include a seasoned Lightning symmetrical spinnaker from Bill Fastiggi at Vermont Sailing Partners and a spanking-new big-boy asymmetrical ("Big Red') kite from Josh Willus at Doyle.
Captain TwoBeers is hopeful that the pieces will come together in time for a galvanic shocking in a matter of weeks. Then will come another round of sea-trials --with luck it will be a trial of sails, oars, AND blades.
ABout the Blog
A lot of ground gets covered on this blog -- from sailboat racing to book suggestions to plain old piffle.
Trying to keep track? Follow me on Facebook or Twitter or use the RSS option below.