Friday, April 24, 2009

Amazon Adventure# 17. The ruins of Royal Island.

Royal Island has RUINS, and that`s a good thing. After a day spent mostly sleeping after our night crossing we do some snorkeling and then motor up the bay to anchor into the mangrovesfor shelter from the gale. We have seen old buildings ashore and look forward to exploring the next day.

The journal:
Today we woke up, had breakfast and mom and dad had a saltwater shower on deck. We got ready to leave and then Ian from ‘Action’ came and offered us a ferry ride in his Zodiac! What a relief not to have to do it in Hippo. It was a bouncy and splashy trip. We had to lift ourselves up onto the jetty. When mom tried to get up, dad dropped her - SCAREY! - She scratched her leg and banged up her toe. PAIN!

Next, the ruins. We climbed up the cement staircase posted with such slogans as "Use your island and stop abusing it!" " Be good to your island!". I see their point because there are lots of coke cans and garbage. We reached the top of the stairs among coconuts and red and white flowering bushes. All these old buildings were built in the 1920`s ( You can tell because of the type of plumbing) but made to look much older with stone masonry etc. The main house was very pretty once but now we struggled through bushes to see it. There was also a guest house, a dining hall, servants quarters, kitchen, school, pool hall and many more little buildings. All of these are joined by cement roads twice as wide as the ones on Green Turtle Cay. There were fruit trees and a lot of other trees and bushes that must be lovely in the Spring. We saw lots more and then blew the horn and Ian came and got us. With him he brought an Eleuthera pineapple and a book on the Loyalists in the Exumas called ‘Wind from the Carolinas’, - very good! Not a bad day. Anne.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Building rustic furniture #2. The final touches.

It was an exciting day when I carried all the finished pieces of furniture up to the cabin and Heather and I settled on where each one would best fit. It was a relief for me to see how their collective impact gave unity and just the right atmosphere to the log cabin. The bed frame had been varnished in place but the headboard was carved, stained, gilded and varnished in the workshop before being screwed to the wall behind the bedframe. As usual I had created the design without knowing precisely where the image was going. When I chose this knotty board I had seen the knots as just so many eyes but my first trial sketch had been of a starry universe with our schooner Shiriri sailing into their midst - a sensation we had so often experienced while sailing the Pacific. I think that if the idea has a powerful resonance in itself, then the piece of work cannot help but carry itself into reality. As an invitation for interesting dreams, it is in the right place!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Building rustic furniture for a log cabin.#1

Some of the completed furniture prior to varnishing.

When we recently decided to stop renting our log cabin ( which I built thirty years ago) and turn it back into our family`s cottage we needed to furnish it again. Our financial resources were scanty but we were excited to imagine what our little log house in the big woods could be made to look like after so many years of renting. One last major job of cleaning, re-finishing the lodge pole pine walls and washing those high windows in the vaulted ceiling and then we were free to turn to watching the used furniture ads.

Skinning the bark with the drawknife.

Our daughters, who would be the major users of the cabin now, felt we should furnish totally in Ikea furniture, but in the end we found a couch and chair of a Quebec heritage style and realized that they would suit the log cabin perfectly. Their strong ash-wood frames set a style that permitted me to make some of the other furniture myself out of materials I had right to hand. I`d always looked for an opportunity to make ‘rustic furniture’ and with a pile of recently cut poles waiting in the forest and a ancient cedar door that had been accidently split down the middle taking up room in my workshop, I realized that I had everything I needed. I was not interested in the more ‘expressive’ examples I found in a book on the subject but wanted to make fine pieces of furniture that would look right beside our ‘Habitant’ furniture and the log walls and beams of the cabin.

The former cedar door cut up to make the tops.
Drying the pole parts beside the stove.
After measuring for and making a list of pieces of furniture (many side tables, desk and chair, bed frame and backboard) I cut up the solid door into various sizes and sanded them. Then off to the woods to select and carry back all the thin poles that I would need for legs and rails. These I peeled of their bark with a draw knife ( it came off easily because they were recently cut),cut them to various lengths and then added an innovation of my own by using my circular saw to make a longitudinal cut in each piece so that the stresses involved in shrinking wood as it dried would result in one crack instead of many( that could be filled later with a thin piece of wood). All were cut to length and then brought into the house and placed beside the wood stove to dry quickly ( my equivalent of kiln drying.) Here they sat for two weeks getting as dry as possible before I started the assembly process.

I was also out among my big cedars clipping thinner curved branches to form braces for some of the pieces. I`d need plenty so I could select matching pairs: these I skinned with a knife and also set to dry.
The new bed frame and backboard would be needed quite soon for a family Easter visit so even though it was the biggest item, it was the first to be built from wide cedar planks and vertical poles. Heather particularly urged me to avoid the overly dramatic effect of the massive pole construction we had seen illustrated in the reference book ( ‘Making Rustic Furniture’ by Daniel Mack.) Although large in size, the frame and backboard were simple to build. Balanced across the wheelbarrow, the bed trundled easily up the hill to the cabin. Without it`s varnish finish as yet, I am planning to do some carving on the backboard once all the visitors have left.

The desk, seat and multiple tables were the next project to fit into the busy week of cabin preparations and first Spring garden planting. I first made the seating bench for the writing table to make sure I had my technique correct ( I `d made one coffee table using this method a couple of years ago).First I drilled four mortice holes with a one and a half inch drill bit into the bottom corners of the cedar seat top (being careful to not drill right through). The legs needed tenons on the tops to fit into these mortices and so I drilled the same bit on the ends of each leg to mark the correct size and then used the table saw to cut the waste depth about an inch back from the end. I chipped out the waste wood with my Swiss Army knife and sanded for a close fit.

Once propped up on it`s legs, I marked where the rungs would best go and drilled out the holes with a three quarter inch drill bit. After measuring for length, I cut the rungs and used a Veritas tenon cutter to shape the ends ( what a great tool to fit on an electric drill.) After dry assembly to check, I used yellow carpenters glue for final assembly and held the whole thing together with pieces of rope cinched up tight. Over the last couple of days I have mass produced a desk and five more side tables in an assembly line manner. A final hand sanding and several coats of satin varnish and they will be finished.
Much of the satisfaction in this project has been the making of something practical and beautiful from free recycled materials. Those poles were extra thin pieces left over from fence post and firewood making from beetle killed balsam firs. As mentioned, the cedar tops were made from a broken front door. Those wide cedar planks for the bed frame were cut several years ago from dead red cedars that had slowly died while we were away sailing. Of course, if I charged for my labour then Ikea would have been much cheaper (and they do have some nice designs). No personal satisfaction though, and our little cabin will show the difference.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Amazon Adventure # 16. Night Passage to Royal Island.

Departure from Little Harbour.

This overnight passage is our first since the crossing of the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas. Once again we will be out in the deep blue sea and travelling through the night so as to arrive off our landfall in daylight. Navigational aids in the Bahamas must not be taken for granted and weather forecasting is vague at best. We are glad to be making this passage in company of other boats and that we have the VHF radio for communication. Amazon does not handle sailing and motoring to windward through the waves as well as the heavier monohulls can, but she proves that she can do it if she must.

Approaches to Royal Island.

The journal:

Jan. 9th &10th.
We departed Little Harbour at 5pm in company of three other boats. Agreed to keep to 4 knots so as to arrive off the reefs near Egg Island at daybreak. We went over the bar on quiet big rollers ( not like the breakers of the last few days). Set all sail to a light SE breeze, hoisted the motor and fell behind. Finally back on with the engine and caught up with the convoy which was already stretching out toward the horizon. We ate a supper of chilli by the evening light and took in the yankee jib. Moonlight, on with the nav. lights ( they are right at last after that stressful hoist to the top of the mast).

In convoy.

As the night progressed the fitful breeze strengthened and we were sailing very close hauled with the engine on slow. The line of boats ahead of us are little winking lights all in a row. Small waves, sailing fast, catching up. ‘Hole in the wall’ light is out. Radio from another boat – the Egg Island light is out too. Breeze strengthening, boat plunging. H. & A take over the watch at midnight, Gwyn and I are tired and giggly. I semi sleep below feeling the boat twist and groan and crash into the waves. Engine straining. Heather calls me up to confirm that a freighter will indeed miss us.

Dawn shows Knot Bad, Egg Island, and a wreck on the reef.

4AM. Elaine and I take over and continue the crash to windward. Anne has taken the stays`l down, main is partially filled. Refuel from jerry can. Throttle keeps on sticking. Finally, slowly, slowly, comes the dawn. Elaine listens to the radio, the leading boats have arrived; they can see landmarks. We can now see islands on the horizon. The sun rises! Everything takes on colour and life. How satisfying are these sunrise landfalls after the worries, troubles and bleakness of the nights. Addictive.

Amazon takes a short cut between Egg Island and Royal Island.

We catch up with Knot Bad with Santa in charge and follow close behind so he can break a way through the waves for us. We follow him through a narrow passage and soon hoist the stays`l and coast along the shores of Royal Island to the protected anchorage of Royal Harbour.
Fixed the throttle problem (WD40), put away sails, put up sun shelter and go to sleep!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Amazon Adventure # 15. Santa Sighting at Little Harbour.

Girl`s eye view through the tent flap.

Little Harbour was established by a Canadian artist who went WAY back to the Land with his family long before it became ‘normal’ for people like us to do so. We have read his book about his families adventures in the last couple of weeks and have been looking forward to meeting them. First though, we have to speak with ‘Santa’ who arrives bright and early the next morning.

We knew that after the Christmas rush Santa planned to vacation in the Bahamas ( He had told Gwyn that in his Christmas letter) but even so when we were hailed ("Amazon ahoy!") and I stepped out of the tent onto the foredeck the family were amazed to glimpse a rotund, white bearded gentleman bobbing alongside in a little dinghy which was full of colourful ..... water containers. He introduced himself as Dick Stone and asked if we needed water and had any empty containers we needed filling as he was rowing across the bay to the spring. His boat is called ‘Knot Bad’ and is registered in NOME, Alaska. We know that ‘Knot Bad’ really means ‘Good’ and that Nome ( gnome, get it?) is close to the North Pole. Santa is travelling in disguise alright while on holiday but he can`t fool us! ‘Dick’ is close to ‘Nic(olas)’ don`t you think?

From the Journal:
Walked to Mr. Johnson`s studio and found him ready to go to lunch but he turned back and gave us a most interesting tour of his studio and showroom. I liked most of his bronze sculpture very much but some of it ( like death chasing a shacked man with terrified eyes ) I certainly would not want in my house! Mr. Johnson is about 82 but still very spry and interesting.

In the afternoon we hiked across the southern arm of the bay to the ocean beach. The breakers were terrific! We plodded along in the wet sand and hot sun, checking every piece of flotsam and jetsam for possible use and picking up shells. Heather.
‘Every body goin` surfin` USA.’ Not really but we did go snorkeling! We woke up this morning, ate breakfast, then since mom REALLY wanted to go to a beach ( what a laugh) we left for a beach in ‘the Bight’. I steered, we got around the point and headed for a beach. Soon we ran aground about 50 meters off the sandy beach so we had to walk through eel grass and sea-enemies[ sic, totally] and sea urchins and sandy lumps with holes in them. I knew we should n`t go in but mom said we HAD TO , Squish... GROSS!!! Think about it. You are in mud two inches deep and water two feet, there are creatures everywhere ( by the way, there were sea cucumbers too) and the only way across was to walk on the sand lumps and you`d be afraid that whatever was in those holes was going to meet you.
While you were thinking about that, Elaine and I had gotten across to the beach where Dad had found two coconuts and Anne had found Man Friday`s footprints. Mom then went into the woods and found a coconut with a tree growing out of it and came running back chased by mosquitos. Quickly we waded back to the boat, upped anchor and headed to another beach. We cut the coconuts up so we could dry them.

Heather and Gwyn cut up coconuts.

Elaine and I got out the snorkeling gear and paddled around for a bit, then Dad came in to wash off the hair ( mom had cut his looong hair and she had cut Elaine too) I got out and dad taught Elaine how to go underwater and then he tried to teach me ( nooo luck!) . Mom cut her hair and tried the flippers but as she said, " The paddles keep coming up."

We stopped by Santa when we went back to Little Harbour and he said there was a group of boats headed for Royal Harbour that night [they had been waiting for a week or more for the waves to die down enough to get safely out to sea through the pass] so we will go too.
Dad borrowed a bosun`s chair and went up the mast to change the navigation light while us girls held on to Dad`s life!
We then went out to those rolling seas. Anticipation was ahead of us and we were waiting for Puffin, Knot Bad and Whiskers . Finally Puffin and Knot Bad came but Whiskers was n`t so we left out to those rolling seas. Gwyn.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Door. Yggdrasil: The World Tree.

The front door of our house.

Long ago when I built our home I made the front door from splined together cedar planks and gave it an arched top. Over the years it opened and closed, kept out the cold of winter and heat of summer. It was the entry into our private lives and the exit into the larger world. When we rented out our house to go sailing around the Pacific it picked up more dents and scrapes - scratched gouges from dogs determined to come in - and weathered grey from rain and sun. When we returned and began to pick up our land life again the door, along with the rest of the house, needed to be renewed.

Sailing on the ocean had opened me to a much bigger and wilder world that what I had known when first I made this door and I needed to incorporate this new perspective into the symbolism of our door. I found that I was drawing images of a tree in my sketchbook - I wanted to carve an image into the door and at first I only imagined a natural form that would fill the tall, curved topped shape. On researching the imagery of trees however, I found the old Norse folk story of a tree as a representation of a greater reality: Yggdrasil, the World Tree. I had found an image that would be more that just a pretty design - it would be an idea of first beginnings that would open a portal every time we entered or exited our house. Here was a view of reality that fitted with my primal experiences on the ocean. Yes! This was it!

Yggdrasil incorporates an explanation of all reality and origins: many worlds beside our own, the passage of time from the original void to the eventual destruction of the world and the unfolding relationships of all of it`s complex parts. Too much for one door to contain, but it was possible I felt to make a version that could carry the essence without the heavy freight of the whole world view. I wanted a reference, not a complete statement.
The dog,Garm guards the entrance.

As is usual in my creative work I was influenced by the materials and tools that I had on hand: a new bandsaw and router, some quarter-inch thick, wide planks of cedar I had milled some time in the past. I also needed to be able to complete the design quickly as the front door could not be off for long. The idea of doing an applique whereby I could precut the design with the bandsaw and arrange the elements carefully before gluing them in place had obvious merits. After belt sanding the door ( the dog scratches were too deep to remove completely), I pre-sanded all the elements and then epoxy glued them to the door and tacked them down with fine finishing nails. I used the router to form the bottom of the tree canopy right into the door itself. Some final hand sanding, several coats of Danish oil and the door was quickly back in place and looking beautiful.

The other day I found a Jehovah`s Witness in the midst of turning away from knocking on the door. Dressed in an Icelandic sweater and with a Northern European accent, she asked if I had made the door because she liked it very much. I said yes and thank you and complemented her on her handmade sweater. Somehow we forgot to talk about Christian things in front of this door to another older but weirdly familiar cosmology.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

A wartime Story.

The two Bills.

When my parents died I asked for the family albums with the idea of recreating in story and image, times in my family`s past of which I personally had no memory. A way of honouring and giving resonance to the lives of those who created me. A way of understanding myself a little better too.
The first thing I wanted to tackle were my father`s First World War photographs of his time in Egypt and Palestine in and around 1917. Amazing to think that it was almost a hundred years ago and how few generations really separate the present day from say, 1066 and the battle of Hastings. People haven`t changed that much through time, just the content of their minds undergoes regular updates and renewals.

I researched the historical background of the Palestine campaign to be able to put the photos and personal stories into perspective with the help of my brother John who has written military histories and interviewed Dad to get the story of his personal battle and wounding. I was surprised how naturally all the complexity of the campaign was understandable to me: as though every Englishman has generations of warfare built into his DNA. As well, the photos gave me a view of my father, (whom I only ever knew as an elderly man. I was born when he was fifty-two), as a young man still in his early twenties. I saw him in the photos fooling around with his fellow officers in a way that seemed eerily familiar: like myself in fact. I had made a connection all these years later to another ‘Bill’ Gardam.

Bill is in the middle. 1917.

I`ve put the story on another separate blog as it would interrupt the continuing Amazon Adventure on Dragongate. I also hope that it will attract readers and researchers with more specific interests who will add their own comments and additions: a sort of community resource.