In the presence of greatness


Day 1 of the 34th Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival is edging toward darkness, but will remain luminous in my memory for two talks in particular that I attended.  The first was an hour of introduction to spar making, by Bruce Tipton, a name previously unknown to me, but who must clearly live in the pantheon of wooden spar construction.  White haired, wizened, and wizzardly, he opened a window onto a lifetime of working with long sticks that gave me a deep appreciation for my own spars (and reminded me how important it is to maintain them).  All of this with quiet humility, wry appreciation for the pitfalls of glueing together narrow, delicate, tapered pieces of wood into masts that stand up to strong blows and long goes.  Bruce has an obvious understanding of the history of spars, combined with  an inquisitive regard for new materials and techniques that honor tradition as well as advance it. I encountered Bruce later in the day and stopped to tell him how his talk inspired me, and in our conversation I learned that he had a hand in Ripple's development as well, having installed her wonderful little Yanmar diesel.
Near the end of the day, I attended a talk by another legendary figure in the boating community, not only in the Pacific Northwest, but in the world.  When I became Ripple's caretaker, my surveyor looked at my sails, and told me that I was in possession of a suite of sails made by the best maker of cruising sails in the world.  Now that I've listened to Carol Haase speak, I understand what she meant.  In 90 minutes Carol took her audience through elementary sail nomenclature and the variety of sail plans, through the details of construction and materials that make the difference between garden variety production sails and the hand-made works of art and technology that you can bet your life on.  We even saw a sail cutting machine that cut panels for sails on a large vacuum table that must be 6 feet by 40 (the image above).  This technological marvel cuts panels that have been draped and bent on virtual forms that shape them in ways impossible a a generation ago.
But it is the hand-work and the attention to detail that make the real difference in these sails... and standards of production founded in a passionate commitment... a love for what they do and why it is important.
To see these two people speak of their vocations with the enthusiasm and affection of people in love with their work after a lifetime of effort, is to see the fruits of living well, and with purpose.  I have six Carol Haase sails, and replacing them would likely be more costly than what I paid for my boat.  After 17 years, they are all in excellent condition, and with care are unlikely to need replacement in my lifetime.  
I write this note rocking gently, cradled in Ripple's bow under her open hatch with Buddy stretched out at my feet.  To understand that each of these perfectionists played important roles in the making of this wonderful boat who's caretaker I have become is humbling and grace-full.  Money can't buy you happiness, but in this particular case it gave me purchase on a maritime provenance richer than I have earned... and the opportunity to redeem it.

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