Tuesday, June 28, 2016

So, about that elephant shitting in the room...

No... I am not talking about my inability to be grammatically consistent with verb/noun temproal tense agreement...

I am talking about:

 The 2.5 horse Merc that is hanging off the back of The Mermaid. Mr. Charlton Heston.

Very few aspects of anything I have ever done have been so commented about than the fact that there is a gasoline motor hanging off my boat.  Texts, emails, comments... etc.

The name is Charlton Heston because at 2.5 horses... he is basically having a back up really good rower on board that doesn't eat all the oreo cookies.  The best rower I have ever heard of if Mr Heston in his prime... (I would have named it Koslik if only he had joined the Greek Navy instead of the US Air Force.) Again, very few popular references to row boats so Ben-Hur makes another appearance.

Also, at 2.5 horses, it hardly turns The Mermaid into a cigaret boat.  If anything it is like watching "The African Queen" at half speed. Sort of a really high dollar weed wacker easing your boat along! I have found that continuous rowing is about 2.5 knots through the water, and Heston takes the boat at a continuous 3 - 3.5.  Like I said a really good rower who doesn't eat the cookies!

When I had originally conceived of this trip, I imagined it as a modern convenience free endeavor.  A wooden ship, iron men, a continent untamed! Also, I didn't have an outboard motor to put on it and wasn't going to spend a thousand plus dollars when effectively I could save that money just by exercising. 

Earlier, I had implied that I put the Mr Heston the motor on there for my mother's pease of mind.  That is not really true.  She did imply that I was foolish for not having a way to speed to safety if something bad happened, but the real proponent of the motor was my dad.  No doubt because he was looking at a lot of maps and thinking about what it would be like to row that distance.

(I did NOT look at any maps... thus I was blissfully happy about the idea of a water born continent crossing exercise program. I figured just keep going down the river... who needs a map.)

Anyways... my dad, armed with the knowledge of the size of the continent, knowledge of life at 3 knots, and being already the happy owner of a reliable outboard motor convinced me to put it on the boat the day before we got on the river.  

That said... it is my boat, I drilled the holes to put the motor on there, I made The Mermaid into the partial motor boat she is today.  So, it was cheap of me to pretend anyone but I am the reason there is a motor on my boat.  

Thus, adding a 2.5 horse motor turned this continent crossing from an insane slog of physical exurtion into merely a crazy trudge of corporal discomfort.

I know it... I will just have to live with the shame of being the pussy that put a motor on my boat. Whatever, we can arm wrestle in St Louis.

First week alone out here.

First night…

So, my first night out alone.  I was kind of excited to spend the night on the actual boat.  I had always imagined that a hammock strung between the masts would be a perfect place to sleep and this was my first real chance.  (It wouldn’t really work with two people.) The other great advantage of being alone is that if I do sleep on the boat, I don’t have to drag all my stuff up a muddy river bank and through picker grass… etc.  Just clear away the sailing stuff, cook, then sleep!

I pick a spot on the river that seems to have no biting flies… no roads nearby… Should be perfect.  I drop anchor and enjoy the evening. I even made pasta! Just before sunset, I see on the horizon a building thunderstorm.  Well, shit, that wrecks my romantical star gazing from a hammock plan. I should be good if I just string a line between the two masts and hang a tarp over it.  Sort of make a tent out of the space between the masts with my hammock under it.  Should keep most of the rain out, I’ll sleep in the hammock.  Perfect!

Just as I settle in, it is kind of hot and actually a little humid so I am just laying in the hammock in my underpants… when…
holy christ fuck… the mosquitos!  

I have known mosquitos… but holy hell on earth…

Being attacked by mosquitos in the dark has to be the most perfect torture ever devised.  The buzzing, the bits, the sound of the buzzing, then the sudden stop of them them landing somewhere on your head, the smacking your own head to try and get them to leave before they suck your blood! Little flying things with needles for faces that make the most annoying sound ever heard by man, that literally spread disease and suck your blood.  Not even to mention leave itchy bumps.  WTF!!!! Who invented these little bastards!

After a bit of this torture, I remember I have a mosquito net!  Though in the dark under a tarp-tent over a hammock, I couldn’t get the thing straitened out enough to put up, so I elect to just hide down into the hammock with it laid over the top. I only had to hold it in place with my hands and feet.  No problem!  Ha ha!  Get me now you…!!!

WHAT!!!! Inconceivable! 

They were biting me through the net in the hands and feet that I was holding it in place with! I can feel dozens of them with their little needle faces sticking them into my hands and toes!
Then with sudden horror, I realize that this whole time they have been biting me through the bottom of the of the hammock into my back and butt!  (This is a nylon hammock, don’t think about those rope mesh ones in peoples backyards in summer.) I feel down my back, and there are already hundreds of little bumps rising from their sneak attack!
So now, hot and sweaty after all this squirming around to fight the mosquitos off, I do the last thing I can think of… I crawl into the sleeping bag to endure the sweltering sleeping-bag-heat-on-a-hot-summer-night-heat.  God it was hot…  Only my lips exposed through the smallest little opening, and that protected by the whole of the net.

About this time, I started hoping for the storm to arrive and blow them away.  Unfortunately the storm didn’t hurry and it took about two more hours of that before you could finally feel it getting close.

The whole river was still.  It was like all the birds and insects could sense what was about to happen.  Well, except for the mosquitos.  They were still flying around like assholes. 

Slowly the wind came up.  As it got stronger, the tent I had made between the masts started acting like a sail.  The boat was now playing a sort of slow motion doggy tug of war with it’s anchor.  Sort of fish nosing one way, than the other! Back and forth… pulling one way, then swimming and pulling the other!

Well, this is an exact recipe for the anchor getting pulled out and me getting blown into the reeds or onto shore. As sort of a low grade emergency action, still in my underpants in the seriously whipping and not at all warm wind, I pull down the tarp so it is tight over the hammock instead of raised above it. Should still work, but a bit more claustrophobic. 

That calmed things down for a while… of course then the lightening got close. And the wind got even more insane.  The boat was back to thrashing back and forth now even with the lowered tent.  Nothing I could do in the dark.  I couldn’t even see to just get underway, besides driving a boat around on a dark river in a thunderstorm probably ins’t safer than staying at anchor even a doggy tug of war anchor.  Now, my imagination really began kicking in and I started thinking of more and more terrible things I was not well prepared for…  “A boat with a wet mast is probably the tallest conductor out here.  What if the boat gets hit by lighting!?! No problem, I feel like I am the kind of guy that could get struck by lightening and survive… wait, what if the boat catches fire… hmm… I have a bucket, I could probably put it out… unless the boat gets blasted apart or a hole burns through it… wait!  I have a propane cylinder on here!  What if lightening hits the boat then blows up the propane cylinder!  Shit, I’ll probably be blown apart…or I’lll have to swim for shore with out a leg or an arm or something… what If just the boat sinks or the wind capsizes it… then I am out here in my underpants swimming for safety… shit nick, you will be lucky if you are swimming… you would still have to get out of a sleeping bag, a mosquito net, a tarp all tangled around you in a sinking boat just to make it to swimming in your underpants…. maybe let’s dich the mosquito net… they seem to be mostly gone… etc…

Eventually, i found myself slowly awakening and realizing where I was.  AHHhhh!  :-) Well, I learned that lesson!  Tent tomorrow for sure!

This is how morning looked. Under that pile of stuff is a great place to sleep!

Second night.
Well, with lessons learned from the night before… I decided my second night would not be a repeat.  Also, as I was sailing across the beginnings of Fort Peck Lake, a lone fisherman rode up to me and asked me where I was going.  He asked a few more questions, them mentioned that tonight the weather was supposed to get “weird.”

That is a serious adjective for weather even used by a non-meteorologist, so I planned to heed it and be off the lake by then.  About when the fisherman said it would, I started seeing a thunderstorm building behind me so I sailed into a little cove off the lake.  It looked so idilic!  Rolling hills, gently sloped bank, some near by shrubs to block the wind!  Perfect!

Just as I was on my high speed beaching run I realized that there was a gathering swarm of those fucking biting flies gathering on around the sail!

IT’S A TRAP!!!! 

Just as the bow ground into the beach and the boat came to a halt… they were all over me!  God damn it! They were like miniature horse flies!  I looked back out to the lake.  Could I get back out and find a different spot?  I looked up at the storm… well, maybe… but it might also have these flies too.  Best bet put up the tent and hunker down.   

As I got out, I noted that the mud at the water’s edge was kind of sticky… whatever…

Anyways, I put up the tent, brought in valuables that I didn’t want to get wet, and settled in.
Now this!… this boys and girls was how to do a thunderstorm!  The first gust flattened the tent down upon me.  Like literally the tent is pinned to the ground and I am pinned under it.  I could still move around and stuff, but it was a lot like being vacuum packed to the ground!

To bad dome tent flattened isn’t on the Fujita scale because it is starting to become a standard reference for me.

Then it started to rain.  But… the rain was coming at whatever that wind speed that flattens tents! The rain was hitting the tent, and thus my back at whatever ungodly speed.  Every drop stung! At first I could feel each drop, then as it became a torrent, It just became general pain on any part of my body that was up against the tent fabric.  

I took my foam sleeping pad and put it up over my back.  That made everything pretty tolerable actually. I could endure that for an hour or so.  No problem!

I felt a cold wet wash across my whole stomach!  Shit!  Did I spill my water bottle?

No… I wish.

The Rain fly on the tent had pulled out its stakes and had been flipped up.  Now instead of protecting the inside of the tent from water, it was acting like a rain catch and directing every drop of water that fell on it into the inside of the tent! The bottom of the tent is still sort of water proof, so now all that water was filling the inside of the tent like some sort of demented kiddy pool!

(remember I have all my valuable don't get wet stuff in there with me!)

  I found a mesh side, forced it down to let most of the water out, then just sort of zoned out and let it happen.  There was nothing to do but wait it out. So laying in a cold puddle in a tent on a hillside in Montana, I tried to take a nap.

(Not even once did I wish I was in the 830 morning meeting!)

Eventually, the rain abated and I went outside to clean things up.  

The firsts thing I noticed was that what had formerly been a solid hillside had now become a mushy paste.  Basically it was an entire world of half baked cake batter.  Every step added two pounds of mud to the bottom of your shoe!

Of course! this entire area had been lake or river bottom… and now having gotten that soaked again it had turned back into the nasty mung that it had been when it was all rotted vegetable particulate at the bottom of a lake!

I can’t really think of a messier place to be in the middle of… except that I was about twenty feet up a hill so going back to the boat was going to be a mung slip and slide… with all my stuff.  But that was for later!  

I swished most of the water out of the tent then restaked the rain fly… (like putting tooth picks in a cake layer then hoping it will hold against a monster truck pull.) I then put some giant chunks of drift wood on top of the stakes.  Just then the storm was building again.

I squirmed out of all my sticky mud drenched cloths, laid down in the somewhat reduced puddle in my tent. Then, naked in my cold puddle, I went to sleep as the storm got weird with itself again.
At least I am learning.  Day one… sleep in a tent if there is a place to do it. Day two… if there is going to be rain, sleep on rocks! 
Day three!
After a somewhat messy morning…. the sailing this morning was great!  The wind was from the perfect direction!  I was blasting along and making great time!  The wind picked up so I went to bare poles again.  Again the boat handled beautifully!  Still rocketing up the lake with no sails up.

Obviously before I took down the sail.

The waves were starting to get big so i started thinking maybe I ought to get off the lake and onto something a little bit less swamp the boaty. 

Now, you will hear people claim that “Oh!  that lake is so shallow, that’s why these waves kick up so fast!  It is so shallow!  What they need to do is stop letting all the water out of the dam and make this lake it’s right level”

Um… no… for many reasons.  I won’t get into dam philosophy… but think about the physics of what is being claimed.  The lake is so shallow that the waves build quickly?  The depth of the effects of a wave are only half the wavelength of that wave.  So if the wave crests are 20 feet apart. (Which is probably generous, then those waves are unaffected by the bottom of the lake as long as it is ten feet deep.)
Stolen from RSMAS

The reason that the waves build so fast is because there is suddenly a dang 40 knot wind blowing across it!  

Speaking of that, as I was sailing along under no sails.  I started noticing that the waves were getting bigger and bigger.  I am not saying I was looking up at the waves… I sure did have the distinct feeling of being “between” the waves even though I was sitting in the back of the boat.  
Trying to be a reasonable person for once… I decided to put into a cove I saw on the map just past a boat ramp about a half mile up.  I saw the boat ramp, basically just a concrete ramp getting pounded by the waves.  No good.  I kept going, looking for the cove.

Well, here was a sort of cove… hard to see it… A lot of grass and plants seem to be in this cove… Still, it looks like…

I passed one of these water plants… and it was actually a cedar bush!  DAMN IT!  This is not a cove!  The wind blew the water into this field!  As soon as the wind goes down, the boat will be hundreds of feet from the water stuck in the mud!  SHIT!

I come about, but I can’t sail out against the wind and waves.  I jump out, grab the anchor line and start pulling.  Slogging!  Dragging the boat back out into the lake through this flooded field against the wind and waves up to my asshole in mud.  (Same mud as before, just now with two feet of water on top of it. I know I have to do it now… or there will be no getting it out!
The mud sucked off my shoes the first two steps!  I dove under, got them back, then tossed them into the boat.  They were to valuable to lose!  Now I drag it barefoot!

About this time, the fishermen from the ramp are all standing on dry shore watching me… nothing worse than making bad decisions than making bad decisions with an audience! 
Eventually I got the boat back out to where I guessed there would be water still in the morning.
Totally beat, I dragged the boat out of the mud and against the wave crashing shore.  The fishermen did help me pull it up so that it wasn’t getting pounded all night.  Due to the waves pounding it before it was up, the whole thing got filled with water.

Not my finest bit of seamanship, but better than some of the other options. 

I think this can all be best simulated at home by filling your bath tub 3/4 with water.  Now take every object that you plan to use for the next 3 months of your life and throw them into the bath tub.  Now put on your warmest clothes and take a cold shower then drag your car up hill for two blocks.

Yep…  kind of fun in a way though isn’t it? :-)

Next few days.
Sailing along with nothing notable happening

        The next few days have passed without any calamity worth writing about. One day I managed to sail about 60 miles in a totally reasonable way! The first third of the lake is beautiful.  You pass through what look like mountains with small coves everywhere. Slowly that gives way to eroding hills then the last third just kind of blows. Flat eroding dirt and scrub brush banks.  You get the sense that maybe they should let the water go. 

A sweet little cove I put into to hid from a passing thunderstorm.


I feel like you have to really open up the pictures full size to appreciate. 

As you approach the dam from the south… it becomes the horizon for about 120 deg of your world.  HUGE!  Because of the hills on both ends of the dam, you kind of get the sense that it is the edge of the world or that you are on the worlds biggest infinity pool.  That sense was probably also helped that it was so absolutely calm out there that the sky was perfectly reflected in the water for miles in all directions. Because of the perfect reflection, the boat seemed to be traveling through the sky.  A little disorienting but awesome!

With the dam on the horizon and the fact that I would be back among people again I decided to take a bath.  Even though I am pretty sure my body has now become self cleaning after days out here… I didn’t really want to open up the opportunity for a second opinion on that.  After the bath, I put on my Hawaiian shirt and headed into the marina at the end of the dam to figure out how to get to the other side!

I’ll let you know how that turns out when I know myself!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Decision Point

We stopped at the fork in the Marias River and the Missouri river. This is where Lewis and Clark stopped and didn’t quite know which way to go.  One river looked like the way to go, the other didn’t.  The captains climbed a big hill next to the river, and against the better judgment of all the men. Picked the way that looked wrong.  They were right!

Where the two rivers meet.

See boys… Captains… right always all the time!

So, we stopped to see the spot they made that decision.

According to the map… we literally anchored right under the spot.  Yet we couldn’t find it. 

A career forester and a pilot should be able to read a  map successfully to find a damn plaque on the side of the river.  There was a hell of a lot of map reading horsepower there trying to find that little bronze plaque.  

In the end, I think we all share the blame.  Me, Wild Bill, and the cartographer who made that map.  The cartographer because he put the little symbol on the wrong side of the topoline… and Wild Bill and I for ever looking at a map and saying or hearing the words after twenty minutes of looking at the thing… “Hey!  That isn’t a road… that’s a topo line!

Yep… anyways… look at the pictures!

Sailing, no need for sails!

Everyone says the wind can come up quick!  Well, it isn’t like I didn’t believe them, but sometimes things get demonstrated to you. 

The night before, we had had a decent headwind most of the day.  Didn’t make it as far as we had wanted.  Ended up staying at a place called “Hole in the Wall”  Obviously, see the pictures.

As we were sitting there, looking at the hole, the wind switched and was blowing the way we were going.  We made some passing comments about how hopefully it would be blowing the same direction tomorrow then went to bed.  

The next morning, it was still blowing with us but kind of light and flooky. After shoving off, we put up the new stay sail that I had made in Great Falls. Again it worked great and we were scooting right along! 

Suddenly!!!!  SNAP! the wind drops then gusts!, the sail snaps taunt… it instantly shreds!  It look like we had ribbons and tissue paper hanging from a banister rail!  We halled it quickly as we could.  Now we had no sails up… and we were still being blown along like we were a galleon running from pirates in a hurricane!   I still don't know what hull speed is on this boat, but we were being blown at over 8 knots with no sails up.  (Don’t let the single digit nature of that number fool you.  it was way way to fast!) The boat is shaped well enough that we had complete control and were still blowing right along where we wanted to be!

After realizing that all we had to do was hold on and steer, and ignore the coming frothing waves of the boiling river around you… it was actually really easy!

We had hoped to make about 30 miles that day and over night at Judith Landing.  By the time we got there, it was barely noon, and the bank was all sharp rocks.  We quickly made the decision to keep going.  This is similar to when you make the decision to not jump out of a moving car on the freeway because you don’t like the song on the radio.  You might not want to be there, but getting off is way worse.  So we kept on “sailing!”  (Sailing is in quotes because we had no sails up, and were mostly just holding on and steering.  It was a lot more like sledding actually.)  As we were slinging past the camp ground there, a crowd of RV campers did come out and ask the two standard questions, “What is that thing?” and “Where you guys going?” At that speed we only had time for one answer! “ST LOUIS!!!!”  Then we were gone.

All in all, we stopped before two in the afternoon when things were getting ridiculous… and had sailed over 40 mile with hardly a stroke rowed at all.  In fact, we passed several camped huddles of canoeists waiting out the wind under their tents as we blew past them like crazy men!  It felt like we were surfing lunch trays down the hall past the principle!  

 Finally Parked...

Old Homestead that we ran across

  You can imagine Wild Bill hanging onto the tiller yelling “WEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeEEEE!”

For the next two days, we had a headwind... thus, a lot of this...

Maybe overloaded...?

At this point, my dad has prior obligations in Michigan, so my other uncle who we will call, “Wild Bill of the Wood” has come to take his place as galley slave on The Mermaid. This is probably going to be the most isolated and wild section of the river for the entire trip.  No roads in, no coverage of any kind, nothing but what you bring in and your own savvy! Well, with that perspective… we might have over packed.  You know, incase our savvy wasn’t up to snuff and we had to rely more on the what we brought part.  Yea… I have never seen the boat that low in the water.  We took anything we could imagine needing.  And with this crowd, we had some good imaginations! We are facing 150 miles of wilderness, wind, and gravel bars with the only thing to aid us is our own muscles!  No one has taken anything through this section but a canoe, kayak, or inflatable raft in the last seventy years!  (That statement probably is mostly accurate actually.) What happens right off the start…?  Yep.  We run aground! Ok, no big deal… we hop out, push the boat across the gravel bar… hope back in.  On our way!  Oops… run aground again…. Well that little scenario plays out about three times before we are even through town on our way into the breaks! Being captain of this little ship, I didn’t let the men know how concerned I was about this… but the crew might have been suspicious anyways.  We might have way overloaded this boat and now we are floating so low that we are facing 150 miles of dragging this thing over gravel and through muck…  We thought we were going to float the Missouri River, and instead we signed ourselves up for the Ididorad and we are the sled dogs! Fuck!!!!  Like seriously fuck.  We mutually come to the conclusion without mentioning it out loud that we should use the heaviest supplies first!  Normally on a voyage like this you use the fresh stuff first, things like eggs and hot dogs… (In my world fresh means things that need ice) but instead we decided to go with heavy canned goods to help the boat float higher!  So after spending the first day hopping in and out of the boat and pushing it over gravel bars… we drank most of our can goods!  (beer comes in cans, what were you imagining? dinty moore?) Anyways, with the boat floating noticeably higher the second morning, we haven’t had a problem running aground since!

Great Falls for a few days. Fixing the boat in a parking lot.

At the end of our two days of not catching fish adventure from Craig to Great Falls, we have discovered a timing problem.  Timing problem solved with a few day layover in Great Falls.  Also, after sailing this thing for the last few hundred miles, it is obviously over canvased for one person to handle.  So the few days in GF I decide to spend making the whole thing more single man handy.  This includes making a another smaller sail and trimming some of the ones I have so that they won't snag on things during tacks.

These are some pictures of this section, but none of fish...

Luckily I run into a friend in Great Falls!  My old next-door neighbor from the old Pennsylvania building! Hopefully she has a sewing machine! (she appeared in some posts from 2007ish and may have been known as “The Reporter”  in those posts. She is the one stranded on the side of a desolate snowy bleak road through Montana looking at a broken fiat.  Some things never change I guess.)  Luckily she does have a sewing machine!  Unfortunately it is broken and missing parts.  No problem, that is my favorite kind of machine.  Also, luckily I have a sewing machine man in Great Falls!  (Really I do…) Scott from Bernina Silver Thimble… I hoped he would have some parts I need for The Reporter’s machine. He does! and 15 bucks worth of junkyard sewing machine parts later I have the greatest sail making sewing machine I have ever used!  

Sails made, ship in ship shape, sewing machine returned full of WD-40!  Dad and I make the run from Great Falls up to Fort Benton.  With the new rig, and the perfect ridiculous Montana wind, we make it up there before noon. The Montana wind flicked us like a boogar right up to the Fort Benton canoe camp!  

Rum and cokes for everyone!


So, remember how no one is writing books about sailing a schooner down the Mighty Mo… They just write canoe and kayak books…  Well, we found another low bridge in Craig Montana.  The thing is, we knew it was low, but only on the left side.  Which also happens to be were the boat launch is for the town of Craig.

What bridge? (When you are on the oars... you really don't know what is coming?)
Oh that bridge... we have that one no problem.  (Also, this isn't the bridge in this story... again, no one was taking pictures during this story.)

The plan was that we would stop at the boat launch in Craig, I would walk into town, (about two blocks away,) get a fishing license, then walk back to the boat launch… and we would be on our way.  The happy trout slaying duo of the mighty Missouri River Mermaid.  Just as we were about to come into the boat launch, which is right next to the low side of the bridge, a drift boat full of we will call “anglers” pops out.  Now there is no where to go. They are blocking the way to shore!  The current is about 5 knots right here, and we had about 40 feet to play with before we hit the bridge!  The math didn’t work out.

(Honestly, this was a big mistake on my part.  I should have had a good go around plan incase we didn’t make the landing… Though for cripe sake  all we had to do was hit the side of the river. I should have taken the masts down quarter mile back… just in case.)

Anyways, so there we were 35 feet from the bridge, that is not tall enough for us to pass under.  At the last second, Dad says, “Turn it sideways!”

So I did…

Sideways, the masts hit the bottom of the bridge… then the current  kept pushing the hull.  The boat tips… then when it was tipped enough, mast slips under and begins to slide under the bottom of the bridge.  There were several  beams under this bridge, so the whole ordeal went, “BONK…tip tip tip tip…. slide….. free!  BONK… tip tip tip tip… Slide… FREE!

About six times.  Once we were sideways, there was nothing to do but let it all happen.  If it is to low, it will tip us to far, fill the boat with water, then I think they call that sinking… If it isn’t sideways enough to get the tip over, it will break off the masts and (well, reference previous posts.) I didn’t even look up after the first two iterations… just felt the boat get thrashed from both the bridge and the current and wait for the next terrible thing to deal with.

As it turns out, we bonk, tip, and slide our way under that whole bridge.  Going sideways under a bridge with a current in a sailboat was a masterful stroke of genius!  So, after we are through and tied up in Dale and Mike’s back yard. (Again see previous post… also The big engineer was already hanging out with them.) I look at dad and ask…

“Do they teach you that bridge trick at sailor school or something?  How did you know to do that?”

His reply, “Um… no, I have never seen it done, just read about it in the accident reports…”Well, good enough.  All’s well that ends well. Right?  Mike gave me a ride to the store to get a fishing license in Dale’s golf cart.  I got a two day license and we were set to catch trout for the next two days through the best trout river in the world on our way to Great Falls .

no fish were caught.  Actually, there was not even a nibble…

Though... fishing and sailboats don't mix... (This is a hook in a sail...)

Monday, June 13, 2016

On the river... Anchors work great in trees!

First day on the river… here is a picture…  This is about twenty minutes after first launch into the tributaries into the headwaters. 

The day went so smoothly that adventure was almost irrelevant.  We put in and had a following wind the whole day.  Didn’t even put up a sail.  Basically we sat in a boat in perfect weather watching idilic scenery float past as we contemplated how we were getting behind on karma and were probably going to die soon.

Slept just off the river in an idilic mowed grass area with beautiful birds and trains going past.  

Pretty sure the dark angels of hell are getting in straif formation now.


Things were going very well actually.  What I like about this program is the practical problem  solving with your life on the line.  Problems like… the big engineer says, “Hey, as I was driving in here, there is a big pipe over the river, I don’t know if you can keep the masts up and make it under.” 

We stopped ahead of the pipe. I  crawled out on the pipe and threw a pole the same hight as the mast off the side and if it looked to see if it was enough space, probably… we went for it.  

The pipe over the river went fine… but about ten miles after that, dad and I were going crazy fast down the river.  He was in row position and I was on the sails and tiller. The current was blasting us along at speeds the probably can't be measured.  As I am looking at it, my helicopter spicy senses started tingling.  These are obviously the same senses that tell you you can’t fly under that bridge or not. (just kidding to all my former commanders) It is going to be close!  Like… inches… 

We decide to continue…

About a hundred yards from the bridge, it becomes obvious to me that it is not enough space.  Luckily dad had the good idea to sail next to the shore incase we have to bail  out of the channel and stop fast.  

If we try to go under the bridge and it is to short, it will break the masts right off the boat… probably impale us or the hull, then we will have to either make arrangements or make other arrangements…

I make the call using old helicopter skills that we aren’t going to make it under the bridge. 

Only one obvious solution! My dad hucks the anchor into a tree along the side of the shore right next to the bridge.  

"TWANG!" (that is the sound of the anchor line snapping tight!)

YES… We literally anchored into a tree!

It’s a BINGO! The anchor holds in the tree!  The boat swaps ends so fast… it was like fishtailing a schooner!  Yea! literally like that… like always when I talk.  Literally. 

It is a complete mess, but we drop all  the rigging… lines everywhere, spars all over the place… the bottom of the boat is a shit show big time!  Once we are flat and low, under oars, we proceed.

I held up a pole exactly the hight of our masts… BONK BONK BONK.  Yep… that would have been a jack-ass disaster!

Good call on the anchor in the tree! 

Now to deal with the problem of the anchor in a tree.  I thought the obvious way to fix that problem was to give my dad the shovel… Lets just say there was a moment of confusion that passed between us.  (I still say the shovel to solve the anchor in the tree was the right call…

Either way, better than a dismasted schooner in the middle of Montana.  

(There are no pictures of this because we were really busy... there are only pictures of moments when one of us gets bored and restless to do something.)

All we have to do is keep making good calls for the next 4 months and we get to continue!  That though, gave us a little respect for the bridges.  The only books written about this journey in the last 200 years are written by kayakers, so they miss some details that are relevant to the Missouri River schooner captains… Low wires, low bridges… etc… Lewis and Clark didn’t worry about about wires and bridges.

On a lake with no wind... plenty of pictures!

Though the day was 99% a sailing day, as soon as we got out onto Canyon Ferry Lake the wind died.  We were tooling along at 2 knots under sail… looking for hours at our destination.  The trout were leaping into the air all around us.  My boat is getting covered with bugs, but literally two foot trout were leaping everywhere!  

Then… a thunderstorm appears on the horizon.  You can see for about two hundred miles out here… but in my scientist honed meteorologist eye we were still looking at a super cell t-storm with our name on it.  My pilot skills said about 3 hours out for t-storm severe.

With the fish leaping everywhere around us, my dad couldn't resist, and he starts fishing.

That thunderstorm is aimed right the fuck at us…

Damn it! 

Finally some wind start to pick up and we head for the nearest reasonable place to park a boat.


The fishing pole twitches... and Dad hooks what is probably the biggest trout of his life!

I can see the pain in his face as he looks up at the thunderstorm that is going to literally drowned us at sea… and bringing in “El Moucho Grande” the fish.  Luckily the fish was stronger than his reason and broke his line so the decision was easy.  We made for shore ASAP.

Just enough time on shore to empty the boat, set up the tent, then jump in the truck with the big engineer. 

This storm was one of the windiest I have ever seen!

The boat was swamped just from the rain, and the tent was blown literally flat against the ground by the wind.  

The storm was RE-fucking-Cockulous!

Again, the old dudes were slightly impressed by my meteorology skills, when in reality it was just the last 14 years flying through thunderstorms in taxpayer aircraft that made me recognize a shitty time to be under a cloud.

After the storm… The Mermaid is swamped by rain water.  The big engineer, always the sort of optimists… like engineers… no… engineers are always focusing on the terrible.  In this case, he spins positive and says, “Hey, at least if she is sunk, she isn’t moving around against the rocks anymore!”

Yep…. :-/

I bailed out The Mermaid and dad fished.  

The Mermaid beached on the shore of Carter Ferry Lake at our camp site.

Oops... no here it is.  Pretty much the same.  You can understand my confusion.

(As it turns out, there are very few row boat movies.  Ben-Hur and parts of Troy... I'll have to reference them for the next 4 four months.)

There was huge goddamn trout leaping right in front of Dad… like… 20 feet… jumping….
I am not going to say that dad got outsmarted and somewhat taunted by a two foot trout so close he could have swam with the dolphins with him… but…

The trout gave dad his business card and dad bought a time share in vegas from that trout. You know… to be the trout’s business partner in a subway franchise somewhere or something.

All this is true… you can even ask the big engineer.  He doesn’t make anything up or exaggerate.

Break break…. some stuff happened

Well, we have been on the river for four days now.  Damn the dams!  It would be a hell of a nice river if it weren’t for them having made it into a bunch of lakes.

So, I don’t really think of my dad as an organizational freak… but man… the little cooler we have has been pissing him the off!  Every time we turn around, he is reorganizing it again.  Some times I ask him to row the boat just so that he will stop taking everything out and putting it back again.  

So, I didn't bother with a fishing license.  I don’t actually like fishing that much, nor do I really like eating fish.  If the DNR asked… I am just holding this fishing pole for someone else.  But realistically, if someone hands me a fishing pole… I’ll probably just lean it on something and do something more interesting like look at clouds.  (I will get a license for the few days going between Craig and Great Falls.)

So after 4 days on the river, and 7 days at sea for The Mermaid  I finally thought of something that made life a million times better.  We were rowing away from the bottom of Canyon Ferry dam. This boat has always had a squeak to it when under oar.  Like… it sounds like you are in a god damn greek trireme! CREEEEEEK, swoosh…. CREEEEEEEEEK, swoosh… every damn stroke. Sort of a auditory torture! So LOUD!!!!

So as I am rowing and listening to the pure tranquility of the wilderness disturbed by the sounds of the ancient greek navy… I start thinking about lubricants!  


Luckily we had some unopened hotel soap sitting in the bottom of the boat.  (We apparently had aspirations of hygiene higher than our motivations of hygiene.) Anyways, it was perfect!  I ground the hotel soap into the protective coating where the oar meets the oarlock, and they went silent!  It was a whole different boat!  Instead of rowing and feeling like some sort of captured slave, it was like every stroke was turned into pure propulsion!  The only sound now was the water wishing past the hull.  Let me tell you, you can row all damn day when each stroke is a boost to the ego that makes you feel like a greek god instead of a captured Trojan. 

Still straight by the way… just in the course of my life, I do a lot of thinking about lubricants and the ancient greek navy… also I am just holding this rod for someone else… it isn’t mine. 

Gates of the mountain… 

Luckily, right in the middle of these steep canyons, there was a perfect place to park a small schooner.

This was one of the original Lewis and Clark campsites.  In the canyon, it was one of the few places where the river bank wasn't straight up a rock cliff!

So, are we packing heat?!?

My personal philosophy on guns is that if you are carrying a gun, you are always on your way to a gun fight.  (this is also why I always carry condoms and zip-ties!)  Anyways… I prefer to not be on the way to a gunfight, so I tend not to carry them. (except for work) I have no problem with people carrying guns, but I alway assume that if a gun fight breaks out, I’ll take one of the bad guy’s guns and win everything anyways so why bother carrying the weight!  

Of everyone I talked to, every person said I should bring a gun on this trip. Some for indians, some for snakes, some for bandits.  (I tell them I am already bringing two cannons! (Then I flex my biceps! then wait for awe and laughter to die down…)) So on this trip,dad brings this complete POS single shot old ass shotgun.  It may have legit been on the original Lewis and Clark expedition.  Word on the street is that my grandfather took it from a guy that owed him money in the thirties or something.  Anyways, it has always been a dangerous terrible weapon. When you pull the trigger, you aren't 100% sure wish end the explosion is going to come out.  Now it is here in BFE Montana with us.  Well, I haven’t ever seen my dad bring a firearm anywhere and not shoot it off… and this is no exception.  

Dad opens the case we keep it hidden in… and suddenly!!!! it is rusted to fuck-all!  It looks like it got thrown in salt water for a month!  Yesterday, (I know it is yesterday because dad sleeps with it to fend off rattle snakes and grizzly bears) it was fine.  Some how, it rusted up completely in one day.  We don’t have any gun oil or steel wool to clean it with… so we cleaned it with the only other lubricant we have… no, not dish soap which we are using unsuccessfully to keep the masts from sticking in the steps, nor the hotel soap we are using to make the oar locks reasonable people… we used spray PAM of course!) For a butter substitute, it works reasonably well as a gun cleaner and lubricant. 

Twenty minutes later, we are mostly standing behind a tree as dad fires this thing off.  (We thought it might just explode, not from the recent rust, just because it looks like it might.)  Well it doesn’t, so we shoot several more times.  The canyon makes it sound like a real gunfight in there. (Many many echoes!) We figure that is plenty of tests now and it will work for bandits and snakes…. probably not bears though.  Also, we got our story straight incase the local authorities showed up asking about if we heard and gunfire.  (We just picked a direction to send them where we heard it too.)

Pretty sure I don’t need a half hand grenade half shotgun with me, so I’ll probably send it home with dad when he goes home. (Though you criminals, maybe not… I might still have a sawed off cannon behind my back so don’t try any pirate shit!)

As I am writing this, Dad keeps cursing at the no fish… he starts walking back from the river… then inevitably a trout will leap a foot into the air right behind him.  Then he turns around, just in time to see the ripples and gets back after it.  Spam sandwiches for breakfast I assume.

Dad went to bed….

Every time a fish jumps, I point it out… “HEY!  I think one jumped!”

Humor… apparently fish have a really good sense of one! :-D

Of fuck it… they are jumping so much, I am stopping writing and am going to go… you know… hold this fishing pole for someone else. 

Ah… I see why he stopped fishing, there is a massive knot in his line and it is unfishable.

Bed time for me.