A Modest Proposal – Parts 1.1 and 1.2

by Dan Rogers - Diamond Lake, Washington - USA

Dan’s plan

I’ve asked the Experts. It really is a simple question. Or, so I thought. At least, I get a very simple answer. “Dunno.” Simple, sure. Satisfying? Not so much.

Most of us go to what we think of as small boat “events.” The longstanding tradition of going to a “messabout” is a central column of our subculture. Forums, online articles, and social media are a recent-but-popular method of expanding our exposure to each other. Sort of a continuous messabout. And, that’s nothing but cool.

So, back to my question. Is just looking at, talking about, and what distills rapidly to just a vicarious experience, “enough?” That iconic Peggy Lee song, from the late ’60s asks the same question, “Is that all there is?” She answered her own question with, “then, let’s just keep dancing.” Certainly, the musical Grande dame, who gave voice to “Lady and the Tramp,” knew a thing or two about existentialism. Certainly.




Heck. This basic wonderwhat has been bandied about for millennia. Plato and Aristotle and their gang of cognoscenti took regular swings. More recently, our good buddy from Philosophy 101, Mr. Descartes, crunched the whole enchilada into a Cliff Notes’ friendly version, with “cogito ergo sum.” But, I seriously doubt ol’ Rene ever labored over whether to build a Bolger/Michalak over a Welsford. Sail or putt-putt? Workboat, or work of art? Nope. Those eggheads from Phil class all neatly begged the question.

Not me.

I’m gonna’ keep asking it, until I finally get some answers. And, not just any old answers, either. Afterall, this is election season. We as a nation-here in the xenophobic “Land-of-the-Big-PX”-are collectively spending billions on a similar proposition. It’s called confirmational-bias. Another pretty basic dilemma. The psychobabble definition suggests that if you already have emotional/intellectual/physical investment in an idea or position, then you will go to just about any length to find evidence to support that way of thinking.

Rene must be doing flip flops in that ol’ pine box, eh? We’ve managed to cut his catchy slogan down to Twitter-friendly size, by sidestepping at least 60 percent of his equation. On the macro level, we’re down to a simple, “is.” Back to my question, that the boat-experts also sidestepped.

Is talking about, and reading about other guys’ boatrips, really, enough? If so, then I’m not even being subtle when I suggest that the whole shebang is pretty un-sustainable.

When I really want to be in-the-know, I ask the great Seer from Bradenton. The Lucas is never charry about expostulating his view of the world. Dave regularly extols the virtues of whatever boat he is currently building as “the very best.” And, maybe this buck really does stop at the Tiki Hut. Maybe. But.

Dave never “goes anyplace.” Well, other than down-river to that beer and hot dogs joint someplace closer to Tampa Bay than his World Headquarters of the Lucas Boatbuilding and Happy Hour Club. Then, he scuttles back to the Tikiguys before that Florida sun gets too close to the western horizon. Don’t get me wrong. I really respect the Bard of Bradenton. He really knows his shtick. But, I’m trying to salve my own minority-opinion confirmational-bias. So, work with me, here, willya?

Let’s just stop dancing for a minute and listen to the orchestra.

I’ve been to a whole lot of places – especially this summer – that are pretty cool places to put boats into and explore. Over the past half-century, or so, that adds up to tens of thousands of miles of paddling, sailing, and putt-putting around. Back to confirmational-bias.

Waaaay back when Small Boat Journal was gonna’ live forever and ever; I read about a guy with an old Ford half-ton pickup and a cute little Montgomery pocket cruiser who hooked up and headed out. I don’t remember his name, or even where he went. But, doggone it. He hooked up and headed out! Years before my own land-water voyages of discovery. He is still my anonymous hero.

And, I think he should be yours, as well.

We ALL should be hooking up, and heading out. And, not just vicariously. Sailing back and forth on our own local puddle, bay, river, even ocean, is OK. Probably the best excuse to be poring over those nifty study plans-for the “next one.” But, seriously folks, IS THAT ALL THERE IS!?! Nope.

Let me try this from another angle.

I’ve sort of slid into being a two-bit mini cruise leader. For example, I get this lunatic notion that it would be really cool to go play in the rain before or after the jet skis are hatching-and-swarming. I go a bit further down this slippery slope and start looking for playmates. Several thousand eyes anxiously scan the Boat Porn Channel each and every morning. I put out the word that we’re gonna’ go hook up and head out. Usually fewer than half-dozen boats will actually show up. And, that’s awesome. But, what about everybody else?

So, my question. What would it take to get YOU to join in the fun? It’s a simple question. And, if I get any answers, I do have another question.

Think of it as a modest proposal.

 

A Modest Proposal – Part 1.2

OK. I asked around. Several folks that I correspond with regularly offered some rather thoughtful feedback. Occasionally, the answer was more personal in nature, “Dunno why I don’t.”

Then, I got a note from the Big Kahuna himself. Bob Hicks.

“The Shallow Water Sailors in Maryland have over 100 members, their annual cruises in spring and fall attract a half dozen at most. Our local chapter (eastern MA) of the Wooden Canoe Association has about 75 members, their more or less monthly day trips (5-10 mile paddles on local flatwater rivers) draw a half dozen of them at most and the annual trip to the north country for a wilderness paddling holiday half of that.”

Those ratios seem to match what I have observed, elsewhere. It’s at least a baseline. Generally, it seems that people join and continue to belong to organizations and looser affiliations via social media, that enhance a continuing opportunity for vicarious experience. These groups are notionally made up of folks who build, maintain, modify, and sail/paddle/motor vessels occupying the “small” end of the small craft spectrum. There is, collectively, a great deal of time, effort, and expense obligated to this endeavor.

Mr. Hicks’ monthly compendium is, first and foremost, in the business of conveying vicarious – small craft related -experience to his readers. I’m honored to be a regular contributor to that effort, this past decade or more. And, I don’t belittle that apparent vicarious thing one bit. Hey, at my age, I tend to do something, build something, or go someplace; and then I sort of forget all about it. MAIB shows up in the mailbox, and I get to do it all over again. For that matter, I’ll admit to waiting up until midnight (Pacific Time) most week days. You too?

Midnight is when the Boatporn Channel comes on. Duckworks online magazine puts out the latest story of an adventure, a build; even a monthly collection of random letters and prose sent directly to Chuck (Our Father Who Art in Texas). About once a week they publish one of my opus’. I get to see what I’ve been up to that way. Vicarious experience of the most personal kind!

I think I understand that part of the story. But. That’s not quite what the question really boils down to. My question iterates as, “Is that state of affairs really enough?” More to the point, does this apparent consensus that we will simply stay home and read about what some other guy went out and did, a satisfactory solution for the majority? And, I do have a follow-on question.

If so, does it need to be so?

This is my personal take on the demographics of the thing. Damn near everyone I know in this small craft community of ours are not only men; but they’re retired guys on social security. This is certainly not because you have to wait until you’re old, to sail and paddle and build boats. It’s not even close to a requirement that you must wait until you no longer have to go-to-a-real-job, to finally build a boat. Nope.

I’ve been doing this stuff since I was shooting marbles on the grade school playground. There’s about 6 decades in between, filled with all the “normal stuff” of education, and military service, and families, and careers. But, the whole time I was doing “normal stuff” there was a boat on the sawhorses, or on a trailer, or in a slip someplace. One time, or another, I’ve tried to estimate the number of miles sailed/paddled/motored during that 60-odd years. Probably on the order of 30,000 nautical miles. Probably more. And, the important part of this, is that most of us have been doing this stuff our whole lives.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out, that our favorite pastime-hobby-life style choice could likely die with us. To my way of thinking, that would be like extincting the bald eagle, or something like that-because nobody was “interested.” Still, the likely outcome.

We’re the “last generation” that really does this stuff. Scattered examples to the contrary, we old guys are at the end of a storied line. I have no interest in trying to convince anybody to do anything they really don’t want to do. The task at hand is a whole lot harder than that.

I’d like to continue to “entertain and inform,” as my high school creative writing teacher listed the several methods and motives for putting words together on the printed page. I’ll leave the persuasive discourse to our pundits and operatives. Now, there’s a crowded and apparently lucrative genre, for ya’. This boat thing is just for fun-or as Mrs. Pardey would have us understand, “for as long as it’s fun.”

Sooooooo, back to the question(s).

How do we continue to make it fun? And, how good/big/often/exciting is “good enough?”

Finally, I think it’s time to get around to my modest proposal. I’ll be right back, with part 1.3.

11 Comments

  1. Personally I can not hook up and get out. I enjoy the old format of other’s builds and stumbling blocks overcome. Pictures are the only way I get to enjoy our lands and waterways.

    Thanks for your content everyone!

  2. Prose that is more lean would not muddle your point. People go out in small boats because it is the utmost in simplicity. Either you do it right or you sink. The shared joy of adventure, exploration, satisfaction and survival is why people tend to congregate amongst kindred spirits. I did not have a high school creative writing teacher. Wish you the best. May God bless us all. / Mark

  3. No Dan, staying at home and reading about what some other guy went out and did is definitely not enough. But please keep your writing and pictures coming. One of these days when I can get my act together and finish one of my boats I will be looking to come join you on one of those adventures, because that is infinitely more satisfying than reading about what someone else did. Sometimes life throws a lot of obstacles in the way. In the mean time though those stories and pictures help ease the frustration until I can be out on the water again.

  4. There is a simple answer to your simple question: For reasons of life priorities, or personal motivations, though we may love small boats and even building and sailing them, few of us are driven the way you are, to either work to produce Frankenboats, or to be constantly hitching up and heading out long distances. We would rather spend our time and resources building a proven design that has some chance of being a practical boat, and spending a nice evening with our wives and families on a local lake. You are way out past three sigma on the distribution of driven boating personalities, and there may only be a few others out there with you!
    I always enjoy reading what you are driven to write about the boats you are driven to build, and the adventures you encounter in the places you are driven to travel to. I’m sure that were we to meet, I would love to swap tales with you. Perhaps I’m way on the other side of the median of this boat-driven distribution, but I read Duckworks Magazine daily, and have subscribed to MAIB since way back in the 80’s. There are lots of folks like me to whom being out on the water adventuring is pleasant, but it is far from the most important thing in our life; way below our spouse and family, and our work. Keep it up, we love reading what the night shift is doing, we just don’t want to be out there in the cold doing it with you.

  5. A modest proposal.
    Six months in.

    I first noised this idea around during the last cruise of the 2016 season. No blood or ‘pox had been spilled on the shop floor yet. A bunch of us were just chasing the idea around. We should have been sitting around a camp fire. But, as luck would have it, it was driving rain at the time. So, we had gathered in Miss Kathleen’s rather narrow accommodation space. It was then, this notion of a bunkhouse barge first saw the light of day. The more general concept of a tug and barge had been rattling around my somewhat-obsessed cranium for decades.

    Somebody said, “It’d be like a sag-wagon on one of those long group bike excursions…” And, the rest is almost history. And once begun, the actual construction has come together quite rapidly. This particular series has been published for a couple weeks now. I think I’ve had some pretty spot-on feedback, in the several comments folks have posted so far. Maybe feedback isn’t quite what I’ve asked for—more a matter of making an invitation, and asking for takers. Granted, there has been a side bet going at the same time. Simply, my question has been, “And, if you don’t want to participate in the events I’m proposing, or other similar events someplace; then, is just reading about it good enough?”

    When I fired up the Boatporn channel this morning; someone I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting, had gone to the considerable trouble to give us all, the benefit of his experience, and his viewpoint. I plugged it in, here, verbatim. Perhaps, we can continue the conversation.

    There is a simple answer to your simple question: For reasons of life priorities, or personal motivations, though we may love small boats and even building and sailing them, few of us are driven the way you are, to either work to produce Frankenboats, or to be constantly hitching up and heading out long distances. We would rather spend our time and resources building a proven design that has some chance of being a practical boat, and spending a nice evening with our wives and families on a local lake. You are way out past three sigma on the distribution of driven boating personalities, and there may only be a few others out there with you!
    I always enjoy reading what you are driven to write about the boats you are driven to build, and the adventures you encounter in the places you are driven to travel to. I’m sure that were we to meet, I would love to swap tales with you. Perhaps I’m way on the other side of the median of this boat-driven distribution, but I read Duckworks Magazine daily, and have subscribed to MAIB since way back in the 80’s. There are lots of folks like me to whom being out on the water adventuring is pleasant, but it is far from the most important thing in our life; way below our spouse and family, and our work. Keep it up, we love reading what the night shift is doing, we just don’t want to be out there in the cold doing it with you.

    And, I think he hit all the notes.

    Granted, I took stat for liberal arts majors—but vaguely understand standard deviations, medians and modes. I find his description delightful, but his analysis somewhat dismaying. Unless it involves money, most of us resist plotting our own personal data point out where the bell curve runs off the bottom of the graph paper. Even if it’s on the plus side of the plot. Especially, if we were hoping to drum up some companionship.

    Perhaps, it gives the discussion more of a three-dimension aspect to offer a few insights. And, that’s generally a good thing to attempt. I do also have a wife and family. I volunteer in the local schools (I love to teach things like public speaking, and storytelling, and general life skills. The current project is building RC airplanes.) I’m in the process of developing a “success academy” as a member of the Rotary, for local millennials with the notion that we old guys can pass on our collective managerial and entrepreneurial talents to the kids that will either keep a burg like Newport viable—or not. I have barely dabbled in (very) local politics. But I think we have all been given a wakeup call—no matter where you put your “x” on this recent ballot—I truly believe that we need to somehow regain an informed electorate. And this, is probably a more pressing call than Frankenbuilding. I have a wall full of history books, and feel the urge to get back in front of a classroom someplace. A guy I correspond with recently pointed out, “History doesn’t repeat, it rhymes…” But, I maintain, life is a navigation problem. We need to not only know where we are, but how we got here, to figure out where to go next. Rhyme or repeat, comfort is seldom the destination.

    Which brings me back to the not-so-simple, but certainly elegant, comment above.

    Without passion, comfort is often the highest attainable goal. When I climb a mountain trail, I want to rejoice in the climb—it makes the view from the top so much more vivid. When I push my grandkids on a swing, I have much more hope for our collective future if it’s a swing they helped me build or repair. And, I’ll take just about anybody for a boat ride. But, damn it, I insist they take the helm and hand the sheet. More often than not, they’ll bring her alongside and at least attempt a cleat hitch.

    Practical boats built to proven designs are pretty awesome machines. I’ve been owned by 20 or 30 of them in my life. But. That’s already been done. It’s both safe and comfortable.

    Three sigma or not, what we really need more of is creativeness, risk taking, and garden variety passion. And, I thank each and every one of our readers, for the true blessing of being allowed to share mine.

    Dan Rogers
    The Frankenwerke,
    Almostcanada

  6. Hi Dan,
    Thanks for your kind and thoughtful response. Perhaps my 83 years show through in my comments on your Modest Proposal. Your list of current activities indicates that boating is certainly not the only thing on your busy agenda. It sounds to me like we are people with similar interests, but very different life situations. We all have limited assets, which may be financial, or skills, time, energy (especially if health situations are in the equation). And we have to set some kind of priorities as to where we will spend those assets. You seem to be a philosopher/artist type who like to wing things. I am an engineer by training, so perhaps much more methodical and practical. Got my BSME from University of South Carolina in 1955. When just out of my service as a Naval Officer, I was a real motorhead (well, as much as I could afford), went out to Detroit and earned a Masters in Automotive Engineering at the Chrysler Institute, raced go-karts, and later built dune buggies and Baja Bugs. Later, I learned to fly, instrument rating, owned a Piper Archer, flew to Oshkosh to learn about Experimental Aircraft and all that. I worked for Chrysler, Martin Aircraft (Saturn Rocket, etc.), but spent most of my working years at DuPont, mostly as a manager in their Textile Fibers , and later in their Electronics Divisions). We had owned a couple of small boats over the years, such as a Chrysler Buccaneer, a couple of Hobie 16s, and an original Windsurfer. Since then, I have owned a bunch of boats,and have built several others. Most recently we built a Dave Gentry Chuckanut 12 SOF kayak, and have sent a 3-Part story on that to Duckworks, and perhaps to MAIB soon. And I’m looking forward to future builds.
    I too, enjoy teaching younger people, whether Biblical lessons, or such things as Managing Personal Finances or General Management Skills. My technical skills are too far out of date to be of much value these days.
    Bless you for your interest in creativeness, risk taking and your passion. I had been there for many years as well, but these days I am just thankful for being able to do what I am able to do, so being sort of safe and sort of comfortable is where I am now.
    Regards and Best Wishes for your Modest Proposal,
    Jim Brown
    Sweetwater, TN

  7. i noted the word “biblical” in there – so i feel a little freer to express what keeps surfacing in my mind when i ponder this question.
    remember way back in the begining the Beginner urged “Go forth ….” – well i reckon he planted the urge in our souls so that some of us actually honour the command – even if we don’t know why.
    i look forward to the time of fullness when we have indeed accomplished the whole enchiladah (sp?) and can then gather round in the promised Great Song Fest!

  8. Amen to that. In the meantime, there are matters of finances and energy that limit the amount of going forth that we are able to do, and the types of boats that we have to go forth in. So for me, it will be pleasant evenings on some of the many local lakes here in east TN.

  9. Hi Dan and all, I’m a 55 year old “new” teacher (special education, working with kids with emotional and behavioral disabilities). The last 5 summers I’ve run a community sailing program in Duluth MN that serves the community at large, including programs for youth and an adaptive sailing program. I’ve build a Welsford Navigator (5 years ago) and a 17′ cedar strip canoe (15 years ago). Over this last Christmas break I started working on a foam kayak with a student of mine after reading Dave Lucas’s article on Duckworks.

    That’s just background : ) To your question, is reading enough?? My answer would be that reading about others experiences keeps the flame alive until your life situation, resources, time, priorities, line up…. and then..one day it Happens!! I’ve been reading about the Texas 200 and the Everglades Challenge for for years now, but time/money have not lined up to allow me to participate. The reality of dragging my boat half way across the country isn’t going to work for me right now. There has been a small event on Lake Pepin in MN, about 3 hours away, but I’ve not even made it to that, due to timing conflicts with our summer sailing program. I know I’d be more likely to participate in these events if they were local and shorter. For me, it’s the reality of available time and money (I’m 55, I’m a new teacher…and I didn’t leave my first career with much in the bank! : ).

    Last summer I saw a couple of Mickalak boats out on the bay up here on the end of Lake Superior. I sailed up and said hi, but didn’t have a chance to get names and numbers. One thing that I’d bet is that those gentleman are familiar with Duckworks and probably read the magazine and posts. That opens up the possibility of making connections and finding those other local builders that I know are hiding out there, and putting together a long weekend event, or a day, or even an afternoon! I would certainly enjoy any of those opportunities.

    SO…the stories keep us going..they keep the dream alive and I appreciate everyone who takes the time and energy to share those stories of there experiences. In the future, I hope to be in a position to find those guys and gals hiding in the region a put together opportunities to meet and sail. And frankly, if that’s 5-6 boats, it would still be a blast. It’s fun to share the love that this community has for sailing, for creating solutions and the appreciation I find they have for this beautiful world we are blessed with! Hope to see you on the water someday!

    • Hi Tim. And, thanks for the comeback. I was on my way to teaching at age 50, and made it as far as student teaching; only to re-discover that I had become inordinately impatient with the Mars/Venus politics. So, after completing an alternate masters program, I was fortunate to be able to drop out of conventional society and become a full-time boatbum. I was a long time navy classroom instructor, and still volunteer in the local schools–and dearly love to get up in front of just about any classroom. So, it goes.

      Since I dropped those rhetorical questions at the feet of DW and MAIB readers, I have gotten a number of thoughtful responses. It would appear that I’ll have a readership for a while yet. And, that’s pretty gratifying, in and of itself. However, time passes terribly fast. And, as I tend to offer a campfire admonition at most of the events I attend, “We may never pass this way again.”

      Take care,
      Dan Rogers,
      Almostcanada

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