Thursday, January 06, 2011

Calico's Story - Part 1

And now, it's time for the first of a pair of posts from a very special guest blogger, as promised.

She contacted me through Facebook:

On your blog, you and friends were wondering who and what I was... Catboat / Yawl. built 1898. My captain, Bill McKay slapped her together in woodshop. (er, you do numbers, so that's a lie.) Anyway, if you and your blogger friends want my entire history, write me back! See you on the seas someday... I'll be in Mashpee, Nantucket, Cuttyhunk Marthas Vineyard or Padanarum. Fair winds (er... you don't care, do you?) Calico

Well, I was about as tickled to read that as anything I've gotten through Facebook yet, so of course I got back to her right away.

You all remember Calico, right? She's that lovely converted cat that I'd gotten an instant crush on the minute I saw her on the Mashpee River (and I'm far from the first, she said kayakers stop to admire her all the time):

The posts where we discussed who she was were actually some of my favorites last year, losing out by a whisker to animations in the November section of my 2010 Year in Review. I actually learned a lot about different types of boats as we discussed skutsjen, canoe yawls, cat yawls and other possibilities. I myself spent a ridiculous number of hours surfing the net looking at pictures of boats that all fell in the close-but-not-quite category.

O-Docker was immediately off on the right track with the 3rd comment in the series,

"And metal masts on a (presumably) wooden boat? I wonder if she began life as a catboat and was later converted to a yawl."

It turned out that his gut instinct was right, as was eventually proven by the indefatigable DoryMan, who was first slightly sidetracked by the yawl rig but after more research finally came back first with her name, then with a link to Flickr set taken by Wendy Byar, crewing on the catboat Silent Maid (another beauty) which confirmed that she of the lovely leeboards was indeed Bill McKay's converted catboat, Calico.

Somewhere in there, O-Docker commented,

"If those leeboards could talk, I'll bet they'd have a tale to tell."

They do indeed, and here it is:

Calico's Story, Part 1:

Xmas 1776… I began the living part of my life as a shoot of Northern White cedar, in a rapidly disappearing forest near New Bedford. All around me were stumps of my parent trees which had been cut to supply the vessels of the Revolutionary War, raging along the East coast, up past Boston. I passed 100 Xmases, passed the Civil War; slowly growing into the perfect width for planking – I knew my time was short.
Xmas 1895… The growing part of my life was ended this year; I was harvested for use in boatbuilding. Luckily men were not at war that year; the Civil War was now history and the Spanish American War would not begin until 1898. Newspapers were sounding the call for Americans to build their Army and support the civil war in Cuba. Young men were exposed to the ‘You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war,’ position taken by the newspaper industry, and were enlisting again. But the five years I spent drying out, was also a good time on the national sailboat racing scene. Vigilant, designed by Nathanael Herreshoff, was the victorious United States defender of the eighth America's Cup in 1893. The former working catboat designs were being changed to a racing designs and built by names like Hanley, Dunn, Long, Herreshoff, Crosby and Roberts. And I likely was built by one of these smaller builders – no doubt to be raced against other catboats.

Xmas 1898… I became the hull of a 24 ft. racing catboat. While expert hands of some craftsman shaped me into separate planks and covered the beamy, 10 ft. frame of a future cat, I was feeling the impact of the November 26, 1898 winter storm which paralyzed southern New England. On Thanksgiving Day strong winds, in excess of 40 miles per hour, began blowing from the Atlantic Ocean across the New England coast. Blizzard conditions disrupted the entire area. Transportation became impossible; some trains were halted by 20-foot snow drifts. Boston was perhaps worst hit by the storm. Approximately 100 ships were blown ashore from the city’s harbor and another 40 were sunk. About 100 people died when a Portland-based steamer sank near Cape Cod. Bodies and debris filled the harbors and nearby beaches. The storm is thought to have killed at least 450 people, not to mention the hulls of boats built from my parents’ wood.
After the finishing touches: centerboard, underslung rudder, and gaff sail, I raced in the waters of Narragansett and Buzzards Bays. No one has found much about my first 30 years; but I carried a good skipper for months on end – probably 30 Xmases and 7000 miles under my keel.

Xmas 1930… Documentation exists that I traveled to Monument Beach this year for a rebuild. After my racing career, I was refitted… a major refit; I was to be a working boat. My centerboard was gone; ripped out and replaced with a stout oak keel. My planks were comfortably refastened. Resting atop mounting blocks was a Ford truck engine, and to keep my captains warm there was a working cabin at my bow. My low draft stern was perfect for my job, lobstering the rocky shores along Padanarum. A few working guys owned me and I would get beat up. Working about 25 Xmases: several days a week, and all twelve months of the years, I was tired. 38000 miles of water had passed below my keel; and I lay on the beach, a derelict. Were these cedar planks heading for the fire?

Tune in tomorrow for the conclusion of Calico's Story.
A very warm thank-you to Bill McKay for providing his lovely boat with an Internet connection so that she could share her story with us this week!


Tillerman said...

Great stuff. Beats a pirate bear story any day.

bonnie said...

Aw, I love the cancer-fighting pirate bear!

Baydog said...

That boat has real soul.

Sailing Cliché Police said...

Doesn't Calico know that she is supposed to refer to the "natural amphitheater" of Buzzards Bay and the "iconic waterfront" of Padanaram?

bonnie said...

Oh, shush! The bear didn't either!


O Docker said...

Waycool, Bonnie!

I can't believe my instincts were actually right about something for once.

doryman said...

Bill is rightfully proud of his old boat and Calico is one of the lucky ones. Isn't that old photo with all the masts just amazing?

Man on the river said...

Great Blog, I loved the story of Calico.
A hug and please continue to tell us about boats like Calico

giacomo from Venice

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