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By Jackie Monies - Eufaula, Oklahoma - USA
 

The Gift of Little Boats
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“A Welsford is a Welsford, no matter how small,”  Mike Monies, my husband  commented when I proposed that we paint my Kiwi Duck in a camouflage pattern on the hull and use camo tarpaulin sails, naming her “Duck Hunter.”

The Wooden Duck” skimming across Lake Eufaula, Oklahoma’s thousands of acre wide water, Mike at the helm.  Elegant and capable, she tacks, comes about and  behaves like the larger boat she believes she is, in her heart, a Welsford.

My Kiwi is painted an elegant combination of hunter green, burgundy and a sand beige, with tanbark sails. Her name is “The Wooden Duck” named for Wooden Boat magazine, of which I have long been a fan. It was Wooden Boat and their forum that gave me the improbable opportunity to have John Welsford as a friend. 

She sports a jaunty flying banner burgee  and professional boat lettering name and hailport.  A Welsford is a Welsford, no matter how small.  Her decks are painted with the shape of the beamy little pointy nosed Welsford dinghy that lives in her heart.  She is a Duck, a rectangle of plywood, four foot by eight foot.

She does not know this.  She is a Welsford in her heart and soul.

“The Wooden Duck” was a gift to me, from John Welsford and Chuck Leinweber, along with my husband Mike Monies.  I built her hull under Mike’s tutelage and guidance,  Mike finished her for me after he finished all his sailing expeditions this summer when I became too ill to continue.

The Kiwi Duck is probably the nicest gift I have ever received.  I treasure her I realize as much for how she came to be as for the material object that she is.  She was a gift of little boats.

This past week I have been doing a lot of consideration of what little boats mean to me personally and to Mike.  We are about to embark on a marathon of boat building again, as Mike builds not one but two Scamps by Welsford, boats that will sail the Everglades Challenge in 2011 with Mike and Andrew Linn, his sailing partner.

We are about 100 days from the launch off Fort De Soto beach for the sailing of the Everglades Challenge.  We will have some lost days for holidays and personal errands, so less than 100 days to build two boats.  Mike will build both, they are twice as big as the one Laguna was last year, if you count their cabin, which one must.

Less than twelve feet long, beamy and buoyant, the Scamp takes her sea trials in Port Townsend, Washington.  Able to handle some rougher seas, she is capable and sails according to her builders “like a freight train full of witches.”  Sounds like a perfect boat in which to take on the Everglades Challenge.

The build will take over our life again.

They are a gift from Small Craft Advisor magazine, Chuck Leinweber and John Welsford, as much as was my Kiwi Duck.  A Welsford is a Welsford, no matter how small.

A gift does not denote a financial donation or a purchase as some might think.  A gift of little boats is more than that, more than the dollars or even the labor or material costs one would automatically think of in a gift.

This week as we drove to pick up lumber for the Scamps, I asked Mike “Are you happy doing this?”  He said yes, he was happier than he had probably ever been in his life.

“Did you ever think that this is the direction your life would go?  To build and sail little boats in events all around the country?  To be featured in boating magazines we have read and collected for years?  Did you ever dream of such a thing?”

He said no, he could not have thought or expected anything remotely like this to happen to him.  I agreed, I could not imagine myself writing for a boating magazine, to be organizing boating events or building a boat.

Two short years ago our lives were far different and far less interesting. Mike and I are qualified for Social Security and senior citizen status.  We are supposed to be winding down our lives, not beginning new ones.

That is the gift of little boats, the gift was a new life.  One we treasure, like the boats that gave it to us, for we never planned it.  The joy of a gift is the unexpected, the opening of the box, the wrapping paper, the wonder of what is inside.

The little boats claimed us and our hearts once they got a toe in the door, of course.  When Mike built his first small boat, the Bolger Cartopper, I had pneumonia as I often do.  I had not followed his build out in the Boat Palace very closely, other than to say fine, go ahead and build one.  My first real view of her size was when he put the sails and rigging on her.  To my shock I saw how small she  really  was.

“Noble Plan” the Bolger Cartopper that started it all.  A name that suggests Mike might have known what he was doing, it comes from the lyrics of a song,  “Fair curve from a noble plan.”  The song is “Boats to Build”, a favorite of Mike’s and more of a prediction than anyone realized.

“That boat is smaller than our dinghy was for the schooner!  And you are going 300 miles in that?  You will never make it across Corpus Christi Bay!”  I stormed.

Which he didn’t and that changed his life. And mine alongside.

You see, we were still “big boat” people in our hearts.  That is the trouble when you are given something at a young age, even when you lose it, it is still in your heart.  You may never give up searching for it and trying to reclaim it, never even admit the loss.

At least that was the way it was with me, for as the years passed I always thought there was still plenty of time left to replace the lost life, the lost boat.  I was still a “big boat” person.

When I was  much younger I yearned for the shiny, glossy, gel coated boats my neighbors all had.  I didn’t even appreciate the beautiful schooner that we owned , because Mike had built it.  It was “homemade”,  from a kit, not from the Houston Boat Show or the yacht brokerage down the way.  It was too different, so unlike what the neighbors all owned. They had never heard of Ted Brewer, never seen a schooner, never heard of anyone building his own boat.  I was embarrassed to own her. Imagine!

I wanted a Bermuda rig, lots of chrome, loads of stainless,  tons of winches, self-furling jibs, spinnakers and automatic everything.

Older age brings enlightenment but often too late to bring a satisfactory ending. Youth should not have been an excuse for stupidity or lack of appreciation of  true beauty.  But youth usually wants to fit in, not be nonconforming.

Somewhere around mid-life I truly learned to love boats but they were still fiberglass hulls, gel coated, lots of chrome and stainless, still Bermuda rigs or yawls, some cat ketches.  More wood and a little more traditional but still “big boats.”  Nothing changed and I kept believing that someday we would  own such a boat, despite the fact we now lived in Oklahoma, the heartland. and prairies.  A long way from the seas and blue water that such a boat really needs. And financially, oceans away.

So here was Mike in our backyard in Oklahoma getting ready to go sail what looked like a dinghy to me with a giant windsurfer sail down/up the Texas coast.  Boy, that didn’t garner the support it deserved!

But the boat somehow knew and our lives began to be directed by something wiser and more powerful than humans.  Mike capsized in Corpus Christi Bay , as I predicted and on schedule, but instead of it being the end, it was the beginning.

Something happened that allowed him to finish, to continue and complete the TX 200.  I now am a firm believer in Flaco Vero, the patron saint of the Puddleduck group, an angel in blue and gold who appears and assists the builders and sailors in mysterious ways, taking the form of  often unlikely humans.  The Duckers got Mike back sailing and after Andrew Linn got over cursing him for not dropping out, they formed a bond of friendship that lasts until today.

The patron saint and angel of  PuddleDucks, Flaco Vero, is a bearer of solace, advice, comfort and cheer to builders of tiny boats.  She appears to aid those in need of assistance in boat building problems and to help those who  call upon her.  She first appeared in the form of a beautiful airline stewardess who purchased TiteBond II glue and carried it to a boat builder in South America.  An angel in blue and gold!

Building the Laguna was a whim and a leap of faith on all our parts. We really didn’t have much else important to do, another company had let the sales staff go after only six months.  Sailing her in the Everglades Challenge, the OBX. The TX 200, still more faith in a little boat.  For you see, for us that Laguna was still a little open boat in some big waters.

Building the Kiwi Duck happened because I insisted Mike build the two Mik Storer Oz Racers and go to Georgia.  Mike had no interest in racing, he had done some in Lasers and Bic windsurfers when younger and had no real taste for it.  I convinced him there was little seriousness in a group that sailed in denim overalls and threw water balloons during a race.  So we went and met wonderful people, people who loved and enjoyed really little boats. They didn’t care that their boats were unusual or homemade, they celebrated it. And so we received another gift of little boats, joy and laughter, having fun on the water.

Miracles just kept coming our way.  I have written all my life, for many different reasons  and types of publications.  Boating was never one of them.  Although I read the magazines Mike bought I did not see myself as qualified to write for one.  I still don’t.  But Chuck Leinweber did what he seems to often do, ask “Could you write something for me for Duckworks?”  So I did and he liked it.  And here I am,  writing about something I have come to appreciate and love.  The gift of little boats.

Back in Oklahoma,  I convinced John Welsford  that the Ducks  and those who built them were not only fun but housed some more serious candidates to build Navigators and Pathfinders. I found myself sitting on the floor with my legs and arms stretched out while Mike measured me with a tape for size, per John’s instructions.   John surprised me with my own boat to build, the Kiwi Duck, a little boat of adorable cuteness, four feet by eight feet, but with winged decks and an elegance I had not seen in any Duck built before her. A boat I could actually build and learn boat building from.  A gift of a little boat.

The New Year saw Mike continuing his Laguna build in a rush to beat Oklahoma’s frozen snow and icy world out in the freezing Boat Palace, which never warmed up until April.  I was in the Boat Palace Annex, once my laundry and sun room, building the Kiwi under Mike’s direction.  Because I was now writing for Chuck and Duckworks magazine, I was determined to learn how wooden boats were built out of plywood.  I was using screw and glue methods, as John had planned for me.  I had watched Mike build  the Bolger Cartopper that was stitch and glue.  I knew I could not do that.

So, I managed to learn to use and operate every single tool in the Boat Palace, including all the stationary ones and all those with electric cords and batteries attached to them.  My personal favorite was the Japanese pull saw.  I learned to measure epoxy correctly and mix it properly, in tiny amounts.  To  apply carefully, to mask and tape areas that need to be kept neat and clean.  To work carefully so that in the end you don’t waste time trying to correct your errors.  I can say with pride that the Kiwi only had two errors in cutting that could be corrected by adding filler wood fittings or epoxy filler on one seam.

Ashes, the World Famous Boat Building Cat, has never appeared in a video yet but oversees our projects, fastidious and  clean, without a trace of epoxy or glue.  Occasionally the long fur picks up some sawdust or shavings.  Like the pussycat, waiting for her owl sailor love.

I managed to not glue myself or Ashes, the World Famous Boat Building Cat, to either the hull or the concrete floor.  I ruined a lot of old clothes with epoxy I bumped into.  For the first time in twenty years I worked with power tools.  Once I had been able to hang upside down from life lines by my heels with an electric buffer, polishing boats.  Those days were long gone but the feeling of accomplishment from building the Kiwi hull felt the same. The beautiful clean lines of her hull could have been a forty foot sloop  for the satisfaction I got.   A gift of little boats.

March hit and the Everglades Challenge.  Mike had managed to finish the Laguna by a narrow margin, took her to Florida untried and unfinished.  The ice and cold continued, following him to Florida.  But the warm spirits and help of the small boating world just continued, as unmet friends helped him launch and finish rigging her.  Andrew flew in from Oregon, the weather was too severe for any practicing and they rolled off Fort Desoto never having sailed together before, Andrew never having sailed in a boat that large or with twin masts.  Flaco Vero just hovered over them, the angel of little boats.

The land support team, me , had flared with my lupus too badly to function, much less follow them.  Tom Pamperin, builder and sailor of Jagular, the Bolger Pirate Racer, and I had made friends through the internet.  I loved his whimsical style and knew what a superb writer he was and all around good person. He rearranged his teaching schedule and came to Florida to drive the truck and follow along, writing for Duckworks as he went.  Flaco Vero  was there again. 

Andrew and Mike finished on their first shot at sailing the Everglades Challenge.  Only personal records and accomplishments were met but that was enough. They got their teeth.  They met dozens of fellow Watertribers who supported them and cheered when they pulled in last in Class 4  monohull sail boats, last to finish and the largest sailboat at 23 feet to complete the EC.  The gift of little boats again.

Next was the Outer Banks in North Carolina, the OBX.  Again they were the largest boat but that is all relative.  In Core Sound a 23 foot Laguna is still a little boat.

The TX 200, for which she was originally built had a fleet of six Lagunas and no wind.  But that was OK, the little boat had done its magic already.  Mike and Laguna Dos had been in Small Craft  Advisor magazine,  five times in a year, in Duckworks more times than I can count and in Wooden Boat magazine, all within little more than a year. Through the grace and gift of little boats., Mike “the little gray haired man” that Andrew Linn thought had hired someone to build a little boat for him to bring to the TX 200 had become a real small boat celebrity! He didn’t try, he didn’t plan, he didn’t seek any reward other than building the boats and sailing them.  For him that is the reward.

We had promised ourselves to host a Messabout here in Oklahoma at our home, as thanks to all we had met in that year and a half  of miracles.  We began working on it in earnest after Mike returned from the TX 200, placing it in the month of October not only because Oklahoma is prettier then, but because it is cooler as well.  I had decided if I could not participate in some of the events because of the sunlight and heat, I would bring the little boats to me.

Sail Oklahoma!  proved  what I had learned for myself in the last two years, small, little boats are magic.  They are equalizers of untold power that allow boaters of all ages, all incomes, all stations of life, employment or health to participate and have fun on the water.  You can build and sail what you can physically or financially accomplish.  If you become ill, you wait until you recover or feel better to finish the boat.  If you can buy only so much plywood or materials, you build until you have to stop, then buy a little more when you can afford it.  If you only have a pickup or a mini-van, you build a boat you can transport in that vehicle.

“Duck Soup” heads from Texas to Oklahoma for the Messabout, riding in the back of Dave Sanborn’s mini-van.  Once she arrived, Dave backed down to the launch,  got inside the van and launched her out the back door!  Amazing! Where there’s a will……..

The gift of little boats!

To be within reach of almost anyone with the desire to get on the water, sailing, paddling, rowing, motoring. I know people who have built a boat for $100, one who is building one from discarded “trash”.  I know beautifully crafted showpieces, of which my husbands‘ may be some, yet I know others that look like a kindergarden child built it.  And that is Ok, too. 

I know people just putting their first boat in the water, unsure how to even get in the cockpit or start from shore, others like my own Mike who could probably sail around the world.  And that is ok, too, for had I not already known this , our Sail Oklahoma! messabout proved it over and over.

This strange and wonderful world of small boating that we have  entered is the least pretentious, the most unaffected world I have ever encountered.  If there are snobs, they are not among those we have met, they are perhaps off at a boat show somewhere winning a blue ribbon.  To prove this theory, there will be prizes next year for Sail Oklahoma! But I think I will let the children be the judges and  award the ribbons.  It is hard to fool a child or a dog.  Perhaps the dogs will have a say as well.

So, here we are a month after Sail Oklahoma! still unwrapping our gifts.  We are working on a Duck Hatch for April, 2011 as part of the Wooden Boat  magazine’s family boat building project, to be held here in Oklahoma in and around the  Boat Palace.  Open to anyone wanting to learn how to build a Duck with experienced teachers and helpers, our hatch will feature Ducks by John Welsford, Jim Michalak and Michael Storer/John Owens from which builders can choose.  Costs will be for materials, instuction is free, we are receiving help from Chuck at Duckworks , Dave Gray at Polysail and volunteers from our Sail Oklahoma! group to reduce costs. You can camp around the Boat Palace to reduce costs, eat with us in communal meals.

Mike is beginning work on the two Scamps due to the generosity of Small Craft Advisor magazine and Chuck of Duckworks, who will co-sponsor heim and Andrew Linn.  Mike has yearned to own a Scamp ever since John Welsford sent us the first sketches of her.  His life long desire has been to sail in each of the forty-eight continental states of America, a goal I had for many years thought unobtainable and impossible.

With the Scamp, Mike’s goal is not only possible but easily obtained.  At less than twelve feet overall, she can easily reach any body  of water in America or the world.  She can be easily towed or carried by any vehicle, her water ballasted hull is stable but light, the water stays behind when you move her!  As a Welsford designed boat, her little pram hull is stable and sure, as the Everglades Challenge will prove, along with the Florida 120, the OBX and Texas 200.  Or any other sailing adventures that may present themselves next year, the gift of little boats.

A  Welsford is a Welsford, no matter how small.

Jackie Monies
“Notes From the Boat Palace”

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SailOklahoma/

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