Friday, May 23, 2008

OMG Months have become weeks

OMG - never mind the length of time I haven't posted, I'm back at the keyboard and still working hard to make this adventure to Labrador a reality. I'm not leaving Toronto this summer to sail down the St. Lawrence to the Atlantic Ocean - I'm delaying that stage 1 until next year. Sometimes it's better to take a little longer but do something right; after all, we're probably only going to do this particular thing once. In my case, I need this summer to do some essential outfitting on Kuan Yin to be truly ready to set sail. I've broken down all the jobs task by task and horrified myself at the hours I estimate the jobs will take.

Before this - a confession. Though I'm comfortable on a boat, enjoy boat handling, anchoring, navigation and the other varied tasks that are part of seamanship (though I know there's a tremendous amount to learn), I've never been really comfortable about the SAILING aspect.

You know - those white flappy things that propel the boat once you have wind. I've passed courses and lived on my first boat in the Andaman Sea, off Malaysia and Thailand, for two years. But I've always felt apprehensive when the sails are hoisted.

In my experience, it's always best to face up to own's discomforts, apprehensions and inadequacies - so it's back to school for me this summer. I need to get over this apprehension and create a solid feeling of confidence on which I can then learn more and build my expertise.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The lady herself

It's a feat of the master carver, Khun Prapan Suja in Thailand, that he managed to combine a demur expression, appropriate to a boddhisattva (often translated as a goddess) and a more open expression of a lady bringing compassion to the world - she is the figurehead of a boat after all. In my humble opinion, he combined these two contrasting expressions well. She is not coy, nor wanton. Please judge for yourself - and don't hesitate to comment.

she holds asprig of willow in her right hand and vase of "holy" water in her left hand.

Kuan Yin's dragon - painted

In many depictions of the boddhisattva Kuan Yin she is shown riding a dragon. What more appropriate creature for a ship or a boat than a fierce dragon protecting her ( and I trust the vessel) as she moves through the water).

In keeping with the traditions of both maritime figureheads and figures in Chinese temples, I decided to have this figurehead and the dragon painted in bright colours typical of Chinese dieties.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Kuan Yin's dragon

Unfortunately Kuan Yin cannot be fitted in the usual place for a ship's figurehead - under the bowsprit - because there are anchors on either side that would soon damage her. I had thought of positioning her in front of the pulpit - on the bow of the boat, but the minor accident in November convinced me she would be too vulnerable there. So on the boat, she will stand part way up the mast. This will add some windage and also raise the centre of gravity of the boat very slightly. All being well, the staysail (the inner headsail) will not touch the figurehead.

Here's a closeup of the dragon's head (before the teak was painted) on which Kuan Yin stands. The workmanship is intricate and excellent.

I have yet to figure out exactly how the figurehead will be attached the mast. I was planning to have a bracket made here in Thailand of marine bronze, but have now decided that it's probably better to wait until the figurehead is on the boat and arrange the work in situ.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Receiving the Kuan Yin figurehead

What an exciting long weekend this has been! I finally made it up to Chiang Mai from Bangkok (by overnight train, one of my favourite ways to travel) and on Saturday morning was taken out by my friend and guide khun Chew Chit to the carver outside the city to get my first look at his carving of Kuan Yin as a figurehead for my boat.

What a wonderful job khun Prapan Suja has done - he understood completely my instructions that, as a figurehead for a boat, the gaze of the Chinese boddhisattva must be up and open to the world, while still respectful to her, of course.

The next stage was to paint the figurehead - as the teak would fade into grey in a matter of weeks in the sunshine (even of Canada). I'd already decided she should be bright and bold, as all figures in Chinese temples are painted.

So on Monday, it was back to khun Suja's workshop and behold! the finished figure.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Miraculous Research Tool

Research is one of the key aspects of any project. Yet finding information has always been something of a headache if that information is not available in current publications. Researching before my walk along the Ganges river in India, I spent days in the university library in Calgary searching through volumes for titbits of information, anecdotes, histories and stories about the sacred river.

How the world has changed. Typing in "Labrador" to Google Books brought more than 2000 citations and restricting to "full text" brought more than 200 volumes -- from libraries in England and America. Very quickly I discovered a wonderful account of a sailing voyage in 1812 in which an Inuit elder took two Moravian missionaries from along the coast of northern Labrador and east to Ungava Bay so that they could make contact with Inuit communities there.

Soon afterwards, I had a copyproofed version of the story from the Gutenberg Project -- another wonderful resource that provides full text copies of out of copyright texts.

What this does is raise the standard of materials available to any writer, or anyone else. In the past there just was not enough time to search and collate items not of the first rank of important from libraries thousands of miles apart, despite the fact that the slightly-off-topic topics could often produce some of the most fascinating minor stories - nuggets of gold for any storyteller.

The Google Books interface is disappointing and not well thought out at all. But it's still a beta version, so hopefully hands-on users will correct all the omissions.

In the mean time, Season's Greetings in a Brave New World.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Figurehead of Kuan Yin

Traditionally, every ship should have a figurehead. Even "little ships" are good candidates if their design can support the embellishment. The same figurehead that graced Nelson's ship at Trafalgar would certainly look out of place on an uber stylish racing yacht, as well as adding unwanted windage.

My boat "Kuan Yin" is a classic design that I believe can support the addition of a figurehead. What better figure than a statue of the Kuan Yin, the boddhisattva of compassion. So last week I came back from a quick trip to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand searching for a carver who would be able to create a suitable figure.

There are important differences between a "statue" and a figurehead for a vessel. It's vital that the figurehead looks like she belongs to the ship, and is not taken from the shelf in someone's living room.

For practical reasons, I have had to move the location from the traditional place, at the bow of the ship, under the bowsprit, to before the main mast. Hopefully this will work and not add too much windage nor get in the way of sails and lines.

In addition, the posture and gaze of most figures of Kuan Yin, very popular in many parts of area, tend to be focused immediately in front of the figure. Obviously on a vessel, it's important to the wellbeing of the ship and to the people who greet her in harbours, that she is looking up and outward, offering compassion to the whole world, humans, whales, fishes and icebergs!