Sunsets are an evanescent part of life. They come, linger a moment, and then are gone. I guess you can parse your basic sunsets into all sorts of curious categories. I go for the coastal, deep blue water, or inland categorizations. Others might go for romantic, colorful, or dramatic. Don’t let my preference for coastal stuff hamper you from making up your own.

For me, there is nothing like a sunset on the beach as the tide ebbs and flows – the sun glances off the water and small tidal pools. Some of my favorite memories are of the sudden, and I do mean sudden, drops of the sun below the horizon you get in the tropics. As the sky darkens, the phosphorescent sea life lights up the wake of your ship, and you watch the flying fish in the wavelets. The other curious tropical item about sunsets is the Green Flash – that sudden flash of greenish light flickers just as the sun dips below the horizon. It’s not a daily phenomenon, and I know sailors who’d watch every evening in the hope of seeing it.
If you have a favored type of sunset, you can probably go on at length about sorting and specifying things.

A bit of advice: don’t let your camera, your mouth, or your urge to categorize stand in the way of loving the moment.

The Good Boat

The little sloop Pussytoes was to get rechristened. Around the boatyard, we snickered. Who’d want to sail the on the Pussytoes?
A discussion got underway about renaming boats. Spinney put his toes into the water first with an authoritative ” Can’t do it on a Friday, or a Sunday -for obvious reasons!” then Bob chimed in, ” need to unstep the mast and add a new silver dollar onto the mast step.” Winslow nodded sagely and pointed out that the proper libation needed to be poured to Neptunas Rex. At this, Spinney, a church deacon, laughed. I just finished the new banner on the bench. At last, my father-in-law the Cap’n chimed in with the authority of a deep-sea mariner ” Safest to do them all and don’t forget the champagne.”
Thursday at apparent local noon ( as determined by a noon sight shot by the Cap’n) the Pusseytoes sloop got christened the FIZGIG. The honors were done by the bubbly miss Christine a bit of a fizgig herself. She was lighthearted, frivolous, silly, and flirtatious. At age twelve, she captivated the entire yard crew, and not a one had a word to say about who’d sail on the FIZGIG.

Robinhood’s Barn

To get somewhere by “going ’round Robinhood’s Barn” was a favorite saying of the Cap’n and his family. If I wanted to take the scenic route somewhere rather than the direct route, The Cap’n told me that I was going ’round said barn to get there.
It wasn’t just in terms of directions to or from places that this expression got used. Taking too many steps to do something would also earn you the saying – delivered in a lecturing tone. I like to do my research, gather my materials, and plan my work. So sometimes, it was confirmed that between inspiration and execution, there were several weeks. It’s still true – there are at least six projects in the shop that I work at fitfully. To me, it’s just wisdom to be prepared, but to the Cap’n, it was procrastination.
Periodically, I’d be annoying and ask the Cap’n for directions to the proverbial barn. He’d merely stand there, Stuff his pipe, light it, puff puff, point the stem at me, and remind me that standing around talking was not getting the job done. It went on like this throughout the years I knew him; the interplay between us about the barn and its location became a set piece in our discussions. Family members would roll their eyes when we got started.
The Cap’n was famous for running down a bargain when looking for replacement hardware for his boat Psyche. We’d chase around every marine supply store in the area before winding up at his favorite salvage marine outlet. Of course, I accused him of going ’round Robinhood’s Barn to get where he knew he was going anyway. He’d waste so much gas and time that it was hardly practical in terms of cost. One day I went into the shop and hurriedly made a crude sign with “Robinhood’s Barn” and a large arrow carved on it. Placing it in the back of the car before one wild expedition for used fittings, I waited until he went into the his favorite salvage store. Taking the sign and the stake I had put it on to the driveway, I pushed it into the ground.
I stood by the car, waiting for him to come out with a Cheshire cat grin on my face. When he came out, I enjoyed watching the double-take expression on seeing the sign. Showing the practiced abilities of an old Master Mariner, he smiled at me and said, “well, there you are, Wes. You wanted to know where it was!”
I use the expression to this day and always have to explain what it means. But I still have no idea where Robinhood’s Barn was.

Bad Jobs

If not golden, silence can be precious, especially when trying to find a way out of a bad design problem. As they like to say – “back in the day” – we used to layout lettering by hand. I was never good at it, and it was the part of carving that I least liked. As soon as computers came on the scene, I eagerly discarded the tracing and graph paper for a nice word processing application. But as I said back when it was by hand.
One particular week I was laying out a transom banner with a flowing font; the letters joined by graceful ligatures and flourishes. I had tried explaining to the client that the banner would be an illegible scrawl from any distance. But he was firm in his resolve. So there I sat, attempting to make the unintelligible both readable and stylish with my very inadequate skills. At that moment into my shop walked my nephew ( by marriage) Douglas. In the vernacular used by an English friend of mine Douglas was a “carker” – a whiney little brat who couldn’t shut up ( actually the term “bloody” usually preceded carker if Douglas was not around).

About eleven, precociously bright and with a mouth that was always moving, he was annoying. Today I was his babysitter, so I had the pleasure of his company while the rest of the family was in Portland shopping. I distracted him for almost an hour with a piece of wood and a plane as he practiced some plane craft. But now he was bored, and wanted to know more about what I was doing. It was not a good time.
Into the shop walked the client, spying the layout on the bench he started asking about progress. While we were talking, Douglas walked over and, grabbing the drawing, proceeded to turn it upside down and then back right side up. Smiling, the client asked Douglas what he thought of it. I was now flinching. Douglas was eleven, a motor mouth, and small for his age, but he was bright and didn’t like condescension. Flipping the drawing around, he plainly stated the obvious: ” This font is terrible. For identification purposes, the Coast Guard won’t like it. But if you turn it upside down, it’s a nice abstract design. I’d go with a nice font like Palatino on this, simple, elegant, and very legible.” The client was flustered; having your illusions shattered by a plain-speaking eleven-year-old was never pleasant. The client stormed out of the shop, and I had lost the job.
Sitting there, I took in the design I had sweated over, thought about the balance in the checking account, and pulled out my wallet and handed a dollar to Douglas. Douglas stammered out: “Uncle Wes…I am so sorry. What’s the dollar for?” Douglas had absorbed all my idle chatter over the past week about the design. He had also unknowingly relieved me of one hell of an unpleasant commission. ” Douglas, you did well – simple and elegant is good. I loved the way you capsized the design to look for a balance.” the kid seemed to glow, and for once was he was silent.
Another carver got the job after me and had similar issues. Sometimes you are just lucky when clients walk away. Douglas enjoyed an ice cream cone on me when we saw the completed banner gracing the client’s boat down at the harbor.

Lobster Yacht

Spinney knew that keeping a small boatyard working during the winter months is not easy. It depends upon contracts signed during the warm season, repair work, and fortuitous restorations of “Boneyard Boats” with well off owners. This winter’s major project was a lobster boat to Lobster Yacht conversion- new transom, some new frames, finish carpentry in the cabin, engine restoration, and all associated work. Work proceeded despite the heavy snow that blanketed the boatyard.
As work proceeded into the cabin area, Bubastis, the nut-brown yard cat and queen of all she surveyed, got forcibly ejected from the nest of old blankets in the bow that she had appropriated as a throne room.
Following her eviction were several days of hissing at Spinney and any who came near. Dead mice showed up on workbenches and Spinney’s desk. Notably, she dropped one ripe rat to cook on top of the woodstove. This last caused the shop to be vacated and aired for most of one afternoon.
A deputation of workers visited Spinney to complain. None dared suggest that Bubastis depart the yard for Spinney’s home. She’d only wander back in a day or two. Nor did any suggest treats, toys, or new beds from the pet store; she’d turn up her aristocratic nose at them.
Nora, Spinney’s sister, came up with the idea. As a kitten Boo ( her kitten name) had slept in the Avon boxes that Nora got when she was selling cosmetics. Nora suggested an Avon shipping box and the old blankets from her former boudoir in the boat’s bow.
The next day a very nonchalant Spinney dropped the old shipping box by the lumber rack. About an hour later, Nora swung by and discarded the old blankets into the box. She casually kicked it under the rack. No-fuss or attention was made. About an hour later, Bubastis wandered by, briefly investigated the box while all in the shop carefully ignored her.
The next morning there was a line of dead mice by the shop door. The queen had accepted the new throne. All was right in the world.
A few weeks later, the Yacht owner stopped by to evaluate the progress on his boat. Perched on the bow was Bubastis surveying her domain. She condescended to allow him to scratch her ears. “My,” he said, ” I bet you run this yard just like you own it.” In the office, Spinney muttered, “She damned well does!”


I was attempting to separate a tangled mess of audio cables. After a shoot last week, an intern had been in a hurry to head off for a fun weekend. This Monday, the boss, me, had the pleasant duty of taking the entangled mess and turning it into neatly coiled audio cables – ready to be used at the next remote shoot, Friday.

I knew one intern who wouldn’t be getting a satisfactory performance review. Well, as the Cap’n would have said: “You’ve been there, You’ve done that. Don’t do it again.” So I guess there will be the lecture on the Seven P’s – Prior, Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. Then I remembered my experience with a mess of tangled lines.

Years before, while getting the 34-foot ketch Psyche ready for summer sailing, I had opened the chain locker where I had hurriedly stowed an assortment of running rigging the previous fall without properly coiling it. I didn’t remember leaving it such a mess. But there the pile sat, filthy, tangled, and a seeming Gordion’s Knot of line. Knowing what the Cap’n’s reaction would be, and being able to price out the replacement cost of whatever I could not salvage, I spent an entire day on the wharf unknotting and carefully coiling. Like a three-year-old, I hoped that my sins of omission and commission would go undiscovered. Unlike a three-year-old, I realized that a good captain doesn’t trust a green hand without verifying the work done and undone. Sometime that afternoon, before the Cap’n returned, I figured out that he knew, and this was his way of teaching me a lesson. 

Sure enough, when he returned, he had a big smile plastered on his face. He merely pointed the stem of his pipe at the neatly coiled running rigging, smiled at me, and said: “good job, Wes.”

Thinking about that memory, I took the one cable I had properly coiled and laid it neatly on the tangled cables. I took a piece of notepaper from the pad and wrote a quick note. ” Hey Bob, don’t forget to add a quarter turn counter-clockwise to each loop as you coil the audio cables. It keeps them from tangling.”

I’d see soon enough If my intern took the hint and earned praise. Or, if he needed a dramatic reading of the Seven P’s before a poor performance review.


<p class="has-drop-cap" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">My workbench is always a mess when I am in the middle of a carving project. But this one was different. It was a small job that I was doing as a favor for Spinney. It only required a few gouges and a knife to finish what the original carver had set out years ago. For about fifty years, the unfinished transom carving had perched in the paint shop's rafters at Spinney's boatyard. Only the last two letters remained uncarved when I removed the half-century of dust. My workbench is always a mess when I am in the middle of a carving project. But this one was different. It was a small job that I was doing as a favor for Spinney. It only required a few gouges and a knife to finish what the original carver had set out years ago. For about fifty years, the unfinished transom carving had perched in the paint shop’s rafters at Spinney’s boatyard. Only the last two letters remained uncarved when I removed the half-century of dust. 

“You know, Spinney. You were a pretty good carver. Maybe you should have kept it up?” ” No offense Wes, but it doesn’t pay enough.” I laughed. If it paid enough, I wouldn’t be helping to haul boats, apply bottom paint, and varnish at a boatyard. “So why after fifty years, are we finishing the carving up?” ” It’s a surprise for a little girl.” He told me. 

 I finished Y and the R, did a bit of clean up sanding, primed the board with thinned marine varnish, and left it to dry. Daily I added another coat of varnish, being careful to leave the incised lettering clean and crisp. After nine coats, it was ready for painting the lettering and the gold leaf. The morning after finishing the gold leaf, it disappeared. I heard nothing more about it for almost a month. Then one day, Spinney invited me to a small relaunching ceremony. 

The little sloop had sat awash in a local cove for years. The summer visitor who had owned it had left it for a fast powerboat. In an act of sheer waste, he had abandoned the sloop. It had sat there gradually deteriorating and getting stripped of all hardware and rigging. Spinney hated waste and was uncommonly capable of seeing hidden value. Spinney was also cheap. He paid pennies for the right to salvage the sloop. We hauled it to the boatyard and gradually restored it. As summer arrived, we finished the rigging and sails.

Even though it was Sunday, the entire crew showed up for the relaunch. Nobody likes an unresolved mystery, and Spinney always held his cards close to his chest. So we knew little that he didn’t want us to know about his business. The sloop fell into that category, and we wanted to know.

The new owners were an older woman, nearly Spinney’s age, and what must be her granddaughter. We overheard snatches of a conversation between the woman and Spinney: ” Maynard, do you think she’s old enough?”, “You and I were at the same age, Nora. And I’ll give her lessons.” the young woman, about thirteen, was already getting ready to undo the mooring line and raise the mainsail. She seemed to know what she was about and wasn’t waiting for lessons. “Uncle Maynard, let’s hurry up. I want to go sailing.” Ah, uncle Maynard, Spinney’s grandniece, and that’d make the older woman Spinney’s long-absent sister Nora who the whole town knew had split from the family for reasons unknown.

” Uncle Maynard, do I start working at the boatyard tomorrow?” With a broad smile, Spinney replied: “Absolutely. You’ll start at the bottom, Wes will teach you how to scrape, sand, and paint boat bottoms.” With this said, Spinney stepped onto the sloop and shoved off the dock.

Zephyr shook out her mainsail and was on the breeze. And I had gained an apprentice.


I was standing watching the waves roll in at Rockport. Last night had been stormy, and the waves were long rollers sweeping in from the Atlantic. From where I stood, there was no land between Europe and me. That much water is both exciting and daunting.
For me, fall starts with the shift of prevailing winds out of the soft southwesterly of summer into more unsettled patterns.
It’s a season of change. For the landlocked, the features they notice most are the cooler evenings and leaves turning. But I’d maintain that the grey waters, persistent lines of rolling waves, and the wet spume are better markers.
Now is the best time to walk the tide line. Following the storm, tides bring in kelp, driftwood, sea glass, and old wreckage bits. All are on display. The worn bits of sea glass provide proof that given time, the sea will wear everything down.
Find a warm berth in some shoreside cafe, get a mug of coffee, and watch the inevitable.

The Berry Bowl

I learned about berry bowls my first fall in Maine. Some friends invited me to go searching for the makings.
Berry bowls, I asked “is it alcoholic?” No, it was a large clear jar or brandy snifter filled with reminders of the outdoors that you would take indoors to the ill. Especially in the winter, they served as reminders of more pleasant times during the summer.
A berry bowl would preferably contain different types of moss and evergreen plants. Especially favored for the arrangements were teaberry ( gaultheria procumbens), bearberry ( arstostaphylos uva ursi), partridge berry ( mitchella repens), or cranberries. These plants are favored for their with their bright red berries. The moss and plants would be moistened and arranged in the bowl. The top of the bowl, snifter, or jar would be covered with something clear, like a plastic wrap, to slow moisture loss. In a sunny window, a berry bowl would last the entire winter.
There were as many variations on the theme as there were people who made them. Some people added variety to the bowl with bits of lichen-covered twigs.
I make a berry bowl in this large snifter every fall. In the one pictured here are teaberry, princess pine, and a bit of cranberry. I used an assortment of mosses for different greens. The stone is for contrast with the living components.
Some years I’ve added sundews ( hard to keep going inside) and small pitcher plants. If you try this, remember that you want the berry bowl moist, but not soaking, and it does need a sunny spot; don’t leave it sealed tight in the sun.
If you don’t have an area of your own to gather from many of the listed items, are available online. Please don’t go picking in the woodlands. In many places, laws prohibit the gathering of wild and native plants.

I make one or more every fall, and they serve to remind me of old friends and good times. In January and February, they serve as reminders that spring is coming.

Adventures in Coastal Living – Navigation

Manhattan, by and large, is a grid. Except for some of the areas in the south of the island, navigation is by right and left turns. Street navigation then breaks down into east or west of Broadway. Or into what area you are going to; Meat Packer’s district, Mid-town, the Garment District. The turns then followed by passages of long blocks.
On moving to coastal Maine, I discovered that adequate roads and bridges were modern phenomena. My father in law, the Cap’n, had vivid memories of taking ferries and small boats everywhere in the early twentieth century. There were many places without bridges, and streets and roads end at the water’s edge. In his father’s time, and his youth, a boat, not an automobile, was the essential item for transportation in many coastal communities. The Cap’n grew up with an oar in one hand and the sheet of a sail in the other.
Spend a few minutes with a map of Maine, you’ll understand better.
The cause of those long deep bays and river mouths was glacial advance and retreat. When people came along, they just had to deal with it. But, the waterways are like an obstacle course with obstructions to straight-line navigation. Ledges awash at low tide become capped by white water racing along their length. The parts just below the tide line are what will rip your hull open.

The Cap’n had spent most of his adult life out of soundings in merchant’s vessels. When he returned to home waters on retirement, he refreshed memories from a youth on the water. He could ghost along on light air in a deep fog using the sounds off the land and the currents of the tide to keep him from grounding on ledges.
The waters of the river, harbor, and coves were the streets. Once, we made a bet to see who could get to the next town the fastest. I drove; he rowed. Forty-five minutes later, I pulled onto the wharf, and he handed me my coffee. His time over the water had been about twenty minutes.
On Manhatten, you went uptown or downtown. On the coast of Maine, the Cap’n introduced me to a new direction of travel. We went over the water to the town. Or as the Cap’n said – ” we’ll go over town.”

%d bloggers like this: