Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Epic! But, like Homeric epic, not like normal epic.

What's that sound?!? Hark! I think it is the Victory at Sea theme song! (Should be playing in the background as you read this.)

Is it my imagination or the bow of marine grade plywood battle ship?

Yes to all that!

Some of you know about my crazy plans to quit the Air Force and go canoeing... the real plan is the build a boat, and toss it in the head waters of the Missouri River, then float, row, sail the 2300 miles all the way to St Louis. And then if I am feeling froggy (have no job to get to) turn north for Chicago or maybe South to New Orleans...  As of right now, I have convinced my dad to go at least the first month of the trip through Montana with me. After that, after that I am open to whomever can and wants to take vacation time to pull on oars and get buff as fuck Ben-Hur galley slave style.

(Hmmm... galley slave seems to mean a lot of things to the internet... should have seen that coming before I searched for that picture.)

Anyways, I have been building my boat over the last few months between deployments and these are the first public pictures of it, though obviously it is still under construction.
I know what you are thinking, "Nick!  That isn't so much a boat as a pointy ended book shelf!"  Well I agree to a point.  I have built quite a few book shelves, and if something works why change it, but there is good reason that it has the pointy ended book shelf look. The Missouri is a very shallow wide river.  I don't know if it was Mark Twain that said the Missouri River was "A mile wide and an inch deep" but It sounds right even if he didn't say it, so I guess he said it now.   He might have said "To thin to plow to thick to drink." Either way... it is a shallow muddy river. 

As much as I would love to row a classic white oak Whitehall for 2300 miles, it really isn't the right kind of boat to deal with a shallow muddy river with occasional rocks and small rapids. I started researching all sorts of boat that might be good for this trip.  I looked at old Viking boats, canoes, rowboats, small sailing skiffs, Mackenzie river drift boats... etc.  What I came conclude is that no normal boat is really the right boat for this and I would have to invent and build my own.  This is the result.  

The flat bottom is to keep it as shallow a draft as possible.  The full length keel is so that when rowing it tracks straight.  The width is so that even under sail, (soon to be schooner rigged) it will be relatively stable without a big heavy keel.

The slight rocker (curve of the bottom) is roughly meant to be shaped like a big paddle board.  This should keep it easily rowed through the water as well as if the wind comes up enough, let it plane like it is surfing. 

It has three rowing stations, and one coxswain seat. So, on slightly less epic trips, a lot more folks can drink bear and look for alligators in the swamps around here.

Anyways, there it is. I know you guys would prefer to more posts about old rusty Buick modifications, but for the time being expect more boat updates than Buick updates. 

Thursday, January 07, 2016

It was on the way anyways.


There I was in front of the colosseum and a block away from the literal belly button of western civilization. (The Roman Forum)

Surprised?  So was I!  How did this happen?  Well, it all started during a briefing a few weeks ago.

"So there I was:" kind of day dreaming and not really paying attention to the weather update briefing...  (here is the thing about weather briefings.  Either the weather is good enough to fly, or you have already been thinking and studying the weather for two hours before you even show up at work.  Given that I didn't know what the weather was, it was obviously good enough to fly.)

"bla blah bla blah Noreus blah bla blah..."


I shoot a look over at my lead flight engineer.  I can tell it caught him off guard as well because he pauses from growing his mustache and sharpening his knife to look surprised back at me.

As far as I can tell, they just read a list of names of guys going home.  That doesn't make any sense!  I confirm at the end... "that was the list of guys staying here right?"

Wrong.  Pack up bub, you're going home. One moment you are thinking about how to spend your next week fighting the evil-doers... then the next moment you are considering how to get all your military bags of junk back to the other side of the planet as easily as possible.

So to sum up incase that rambly few paragraphs above don't make sense... I was deployed to fight the evil-doers when suddenly I was told I was being sent home for bureaucratically logical reasons.

Damn it! Now I am going to have to do my own laundry.

So the next thing that happens when a group of guys in the military get told to do something, everyone plays a quick game of shoulder poker to figure out who is in-charge (or culpable incase it goes wrong.)  For a group of guys traveling together the position is known as "Troop Commander."  Though not really a sought after job, it is usually not a terrible job.  In military travel it mostly just includes counting everyone up 82 times each day till you get where you are going.  Count everyone onto the bus, count them off the bus, count everyone into the airplane, count everyone at the next bus... if the number changes, find the missing guy so the number stays the same.  It is just a mater of keeping everyone informed of what they need to do, and making sure everyone follows the plan... usually.  Especially when you are traveling uninteresting places where there is nothing to do but sit in tents, go to the chow halls, and read old Clive Cussler novels you find laying around.

Like I said... as long as you are traveling uninteresting places it is easy enough to be troop commander.

Just after we figured out that I was in charge of this tent-to-bus-to-tent odyssey of boredom and endurance that is redeployment, we found out we will be spending the night in Rome on our way home.

Rome is probably one of the best cities I can imagine to spend a night in randomly.  Technically, I have never actually been to Rome... but as I would soon bore my compatriots with, "I was almost a Classical Archaeology Minor."  So, oddly enough I spent about a year and a half of my life studying Romans and their pot shards.

So... taking a bunch of dudes that haven't drank or been out in public for months through Rome for a night.  What could go wrong?!?!!?!

Being an "almost Classical Archaeology Minor," my obvious plan was to take these guys who only want to eat decent food and drink some Italian wine for a long walking tour in the dark past a bunch of old broken rock walls and toppled columns.  I figured they guys would really like it in the end! What I have found is that the higher rank I have gotten, the better everyone thinks my ideas are... and my jokes seem to be getting funnier too!

Like I said, it was a tour in the dark of a bunch of old stuff, but everyone seemed to be interested enough.  Honestly interested I think... and, really, with me doing that, no one else had to navigate... for those of you that haven't experienced it, being the navigator for a bunch of aircrew on the ground has to be one of the worst jobs ever.  One mistake and you have lost all credibility as a human being in every aspect.  No one wants to be in charge of navigation on the ground for aircrew.

Armed with a cartoon tourist map of Rome and 15 year old knowledge from college, I took these poor guys for a miles long walking tour of Rome with just the promise that we are on our way to food and booze, and almost there!  It's a little thing in the Air Force we like to call, "Leadership!"  I am pretty sure that was an approved Carl von Clausewitz method.

There were a lot of moments like, "Holy shit!  I think that is Tragan's column!"

Which indeed it was.  I had forgotten about it till I just sort of walked into it.  It seems Rome is the kind of place that you just sort of walk into famously hugely historical places in an alley... because you are looking for a pizza place.  Yes... we got street pizza in Rome.

Shortly after bumping into Tragan's column, we found this huge and very impressive place.

When I was of course asked by the guys, "what is this place?"

To which I had to respond, "I have no damned idea!"  Which is impressive in its ignorance because it is literally right next to the Roman Forum and across the street from Tragan's column... and as huge as fifty motherfucks, but honestly I don't remember anything about this thing.  It looks new and all I could do was point out that it had many classic imperial Roman architectural elements... but I didn't know anything past, "maybe that is Mussolini on that horse or something..."

Well I looked it up... turns out archaeologist and art historians HATE this building, and it turns out it isn't Mussolini, it's some Vito from the 1800's (Vittorio Emmanuell II, First King of united Italy)

This Art History blog puts it best with the article, "Il Vittoriano, Exercise in Hubris." Basically it is a building too blingy and showy even for the pink backpacked, gold chain wearing, track suited Italian types.  Also, they tore down a preserved medieval neighborhood and an old pope's palace/fortress to build it. I guess it makes sense that it didn't come up in archaeology or art history classes. The professors are still mad about it. Still for pure impressiveness, there is no building I can think of as its peer. One hell of a stack of marble!

Also, ran into this too... Arch of Constantine

 And this was just a cool stair case I went down...

And finally, believe it or not, this is the view I ate breakfast with the morning we left.  I guess if you are going to not eat MRE's in a tent in the rain, this is the place to do it!