Sunday, November 18, 2012

The 1923, Ex-British Columbia Forestry Vessel

Our lovely girl Kwaietek, is about to turn ninety years old!  In honor of her birthday, this blog post is dedicated to her early years in the BC Forest Service.

BC Forester in Desolation Sound, B.C.
Headquarters Launch
 From the Forest History Association of British Columbia, Newsletter no. 44, 11/1995

At the dawn of the forest industry in British Columbia, most of the annual cut of timber came from the Vancouver Forest District. This was considered a matter of some importance and merited the allocation of a headquarters boat to the Vancouver district. That boat would be outfitted for a variety of duties, including the hosting of VIPs connected with forestry.

The BC Forester was the second vessel to obtain this position in Vancouver. She went into service in 1924, and the following statement appeared in the annual report of the Department of Lands:

"The BC Forester was built as a headquarters boat to replace the RJ Skinner which has been in commission for the past 15 years."

The RJ Skinner was sold, renamed Anne Sophie and destroyed by fire in 1932.

The hull of the BCForester (originally 57' long) was built in 1923 and the engine was installed at the BCFS marine station at Thurston Bay on Sonora Island. A formal launching took place on January 24th 1924 and was witnessed by all those attending a rangers conference held at the station.

The BC Forester was then taken to Vancouver, where all additional work was performed. The job was completed in March of 1924 and a trial run made to Victoria. The editor of Root and Branch, an early Forest Service newsletter, had the pleasure of making this inaugural voyage and he wrote a lengthy article for the newsletter (February 1924). Here are a few excerpts:

  • "Today we had an opportunity to inspect the good ship BC Forester, the latest and largest vessel of our fleet, and we place ourselves on record as being of the opinion that she is a good job, and a credit alike to the brain which conceived her and hands that built her."  

 "She is a sturdily-built craft and her accommodation is luxurious, she is thoroughly habitable and her living quarters will present a very pleasing appearance when the painting and interior trim has been completed. A noticeable feature is the generous headroom in the chart-house, engine-room and main cabin."

Crew member filling water tanks from a waterfall.

As the years went by, the BC Forester was called upon to provide a very broad spectrum of services. For example, in April 1931, UBC forestry students were taken aboard for a field trip to the pulp mill at Woodfibre. The next spring, members of the Surveys division of BCFS used the BC Forester in connection with an operational reforestation project on West Thurlow Island.

The most persistent demand for the BC Forester came from the Surveys Division. A seaworthy craft was required to accomadate coastal field parties. The Surveys Division made use of this vessel in 1932 (Loughborough survey), 1933 (Jervis Inlet- Howe Sound survey), 1934 (Toba survey), and 1935 (Kingcome survey).

BC Forester's new Gardner diesel engine.

By 1935 it had become apparent that the Surveys Division required the continued use of a boat to accommodate field  crews. Two events soon followed. The launch PZ Caverhill was purchased for use as a headquarters boat based in Vancouver.

The BC Forester was then lengthened (to 63'), refurbished and provided with a new engine in preparation for use by survey crews in the field.

In 1941 the BC Forester was again assigned to the Vancouver Forest Distric as a headquarters boat as the result of a marine accident. The following is a quote form the BCFS newsletter of July 15th, 1941:

  • "On Friday March 7th, while proceeding from Vancouver to Howe Sound, the Vancouver District launch PZ Caverhill was struck by the CPR coast steamship Princess Charlotte. The damage was so extensive that it was decided not to repair the launch. The machinery and equipment were salvaged and the hull was sold."

In 1942 the BC Forester was briefly used by Forest Surveys on the Sayward survey. However, she was primarily used as a headquarters boat until the Syrene was purchased by the Vancouver Forest District on August 1942.

During 1943 and 1944 the BC Forester was not used by Forest Surveys because filed crews were not available due to the war. The vessel may have been used extensively by the military. According to Jack Rhodes, retired from the Inventory Branch, the BC Forester was used out of Prince Rupert Sound by the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1943.

Over the next three decades, the BC Forester saw plenty of service for inventory crews. However, she also provided short term transport and accommodation for field personnel in the Research, Reforestation and Engineering divisions.

In July 1972 she was sold. However the BC Forest Service specified that the sale was contingent upon the name BC Forester no longer being used. She is now called the Kwaietek and her home port is Vancouver. After 71 years of use she is still a proud, well maintained and seaworthy craft.

Happy Birthday Kwaietek!!


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Preordained as Sailors?

You know, If somebody asked me fifteen years ago what I'd be doing on my fiftieth birthday, standing on the deck of a wooden schooner barking orders would not have even made the short list.

When I met Jeffery seventeen years ago, we were both working steadily in the professional theater world. I walked onto the paint shop floor at the Seattle Repertory Theater as an over-hire scenic artist. My college degree and background was in stage and costume design but I filled in the gaps as a scenic painter. Jeffery was one of the Rep's stage carpenters on loan from the A.C.T. theater as their lead carpenter. His theater experience was originally as a lighting designer and rigger.

It was a long road to tall ship sailors for the two of us. Let's see.... on the job-market angle; two more career changes for me and a long spell of general contractor work for Jeff. On the personal life angle; four step-children for him and a new daughter for the two of us. A lot happened before we felt the lure of the sea and tossed in our land-lubber lifestyles for a career as sailors.

And yet, it almost seems that our fates were sealed before we even knew it.

Take our trades for example. I have over thirty five years of practice on drops and flats perfecting  three color wet-blends and faux wood grain techniques. My scenic background gave me the know-how to lay down flawless coasts of gloss and/ or varnish on anything that could absorb lacquer. I am well versed in matching paint tints and can cover a broad section of canvas or wood in unbelievably short periods of time. In short, give me a brush and a bucket and I am nothing short of a wizard (apparently, unabashedly immodest about it too)!

Being a theater brat meant that my life was always on the move. When one plys their trade by working in stage and film production, one adapts to a gypsy kind of existence. is that sort of mentality that transfers well to a sailor's kind of lifestyle. (It also allowed me to meet Jeffery).

Jeffery also led a wanderer's life. An Army brat himself, he was accustomed to moving from state to state as a young boy. By the time he began working in professional theater, his travels took him to the Bolshoi in Moscow, Boston, Denver, and finally Seattle.

On Jeffery's rather eclectic vitae are skills such as theatrical rigging  and specialty expertise with designing hydraulics for stage...  and of course, carpentry.

As if that wasn't enough predetermination, he has over thirty years spelunking and climbing, (including big wall climbing). He was quite simply, born to be a ship's rigger.

Jeffery's predisposition for all things aloft have served him well on the water. In 2008, he designed, constructed and installed a new main mast for Sugaree out of old growth fir and re-engineered the new masts for Zodiac in 2010.

When it comes to climbing up the masts, its more like a kid playing in a tree-house than going to work for that guy.

As far as the job I wound up with on the Zodiac... Well, I suppose if you count my last career as a small business owner with 35 staff members and twelve tenants to juggle and might lend the necessary practical know-how towards being a first mate--coupled with the bossy characteristics I've acquired from raising five kids and two dogs.
(At least it has been proven that I can make myself heard over the general chaos and din onboard a big ship).

Perhaps the surest characteristic that cemented our destinies is our proclivity to anthropomorphize the living hell out of certain inanimate objects. Especially our fondness for Volkswagen buses... 
We got our first VW bus before we were married. A well worn 1972 bus that we named Ruby. We spent several years full of adventures and constant tender loving care (that included punctual, monthly repairs that always cost exactly three hundred dollars--no matter what the break down).

After Ruby went to "live on a farm", we upgraded to an 84 Vanagon.
We named him Max-the-bus and immediately began to throw money at all of his various needs and issues. He is still part of the family and we just rebuilt his engine (Okay, Okay--we paid our mechanic to rebuild it).  However, Max is a certified member of the family and has participated in some very important milestones with all of us.

In fact, if we had not cut our teeth for years on the relationships with our VW's, we would have been sorely unprepared for the constant attention required from our various project--boats.
(And make no mistake here, ALL boats are project-boats).

It's our propensity to be drawn to objects (people too I suppose), that exude a great deal of potential and charisma that set us on this particular course. 
Because hey--after all, if we were the "practical" sort of people, we wouldn't have spent years living in the world of non-profit theater; we wouldn't have been at all attracted to each other or raised five kids as free-thinking individualists, nor would we have spent thousands of combined hours volunteering on tall ships and most certainly would never have moved our little family onto a
                                            90 year old forestry boat.

                                       God bless the inherent inability to think practically.

There are often times when we look back on what our lives used to be like and it never fails to make us laugh. We had absolutely no idea that we would be so tied to boats and the water, and yet, it makes perfect sense that we are.
In fact, we just can't imagine what else we would or could do nowadays!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Some Words on Rigging

[A post from Jeffery]

This past Saturday marked the end of the Zodiac 2012 season, as we started down-rigging the boat.  It also marked the second season for our new masts and rig.  Everything is looking great; the masts are seasoning nicely and all the bands and hardware have seated properly. 


Meanwhile, we received an email from the Captain of the WN Ragland stating they were dis-masted on their way down the coast to San Francisco last week.  Fortunately, there were no injuries, but they lost the entire rig as they cut away the wreckage.  As we understand, they are now safe in SF, beginning the process of rebuilding their rig.  

It seems I spend a fair amount of time contemplating rigging.

Following Zodiac’s dis-masting, and the loss of the rig on Pride of Baltimore II on 2005, the Coast Guard was prepared to impose new mandatory inspections on the tall ship world.  The original proposal was for independent, third party inspections.   

While at first blush this may seem reasonable, the problem is that actually there are very few parties that would be qualified to perform these inspections.   

The follow-on proposal was for the ships with similar rigs to perform inspections upon each other.  Finally, they settled on mandatory inspection cycles performed by the crews of each vessel.   

Throughout this process the USCG personnel we dealt with impressed me greatly. They were aware that inspecting traditional tall ship rigs was outside their area of expertise. They knew there needed to be a solution, and worked with us to find it.

The impact onboard Zodiac has actually been both minimal and valuable.  Our immediate solution was to put together a standardized rig-check form.  We now have a five-page document that itemizes every detail of the rig that can be inspected from the deck to the spreaders.   

For each item, the crew member that inspects has to initial the line, the entire crew involved with the inspection signs the form at the end, and the crew leader signs the document listing any maintenance performed or needed.  I believe in the business world this is referred to as “being invested in the results”.

As the lead rigger onboard, with a pretty intimate knowledge of our vessel, I can perform this check alone in about thirty minutes.  The first time I handed the forms to our crew, it took over ninety minutes for three people to perform this check.  

Why so long you may ask?  

The process of having to identify items by name, inspect and then initial said item as being ‘sea-shape’ was a learning process for all.  No longer was a crew member willing to say they’d checked, as they now had to sign a document that might be the last inspection prior to a failure.  The learning curve for many of the crew was steep, we were all better for it.

These rig inspection forms are kept in a rig-log onboard the ship, to be inspected by myself and the Captain and/or mates on a regular basis. We follow up on the required maintenance, insuring it is completed in a timely manner.  These inspections are still performed prior to every cruise. 

 In addition to the base rig-check, I perform an inspection to the mastheads on a monthly basis during the sailing season.  Again, this is documented and goes into the log.  The final components are the off-season refit schedules and the up-rig checklist.  It results in a lot of paperwork, but I’m confidant that if asked to produce our inspection documentation we would lead the industry.

We’ve also implemented new training and safety protocols.  Hardhats were once just made available, however they are now mandatory for all crew on deck when riggers are aloft.  We have a new training cycle to prepare crew to work up to spreader level, as well as training and restrictions on which crew may operate the windlass for work aloft or be in the bosun’s chair.

I work aloft on a hybrid static line setup I’ve put together.  It utilizes standard climbing and single rope caving hardware and techniques, giving me the ability to move anywhere in the rig, under my own power, without assistance.  It’s not a system I would recommend, unless people have prior experience with the hardware and techniques.  It’s a complicated setup, but I can operate independently of the windlass and generally accomplish the work of two aloft.  With this setup, I can easily get to the mastheads on a monthly basis and perform a complete rig check (again, signed and documented).

Rigs are complex things, with many parts that need to be inspected.  A failure in any one piece can result in a catastrophic failure.  Through our checklists, we are now a much safer vessel, and we lead the way in inspection and safety protocols in the tall ship world.

~ Jeff Carson

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Do not Arm-chair-Quarterback a Disaster.

I am beginning to witness a disturbing trend lately--the tendency of so many to sit back and publicly  judge the actions and decisions of others.

Maybe it is because I am experiencing that universal election fatigue; where as a nation we are bashing the ideas and opinions of those differing from our own on Facebook and media forums. (Admittedly, I am guilty of the same).

Perhaps it is because with the build up of accusations focused on the HMS Bounty's captain, I am reminded of the wooden boat forums and bloggers who all had to weigh in on the actions of Zodiac's crew and captain when we were dismasted several years ago. All of them certain that we had made some critical error in judgement on that day--else why would it have happened?

The greater the drama and tragedy, the more the speculation of course... this is human nature.

When Zodiac lost her mast, with 19 school age children on board, we were sailing in moderate wind on a sunny day. If one were to believe the blowhards and self-proclaimed "experts", one would think we were irresponsibly out in gale force winds with a faulty rig and no thought for the safety of life on board!  In truth, when the USCG audited our ship's log-book, our rig checks surpassed the industry standard 5 to 1. The records in the log point to 10-15 knot winds, gusting to 20-25 occasionally. (With 7,000 sq feet of sail area on a 147-ton vessel that measures 127' on deck, these conditions are rather innocuous). Nonetheless, facts be damned, these windbags could not be convinced that some malfeasance or negligence had not been perpetrated.

I look back on the events of that day now and vividly recall the heroic actions of Zodiac's captain Tim Mehrer and my fellow crew-members. I applaud the courage of the children and chaperones onboard at the time and have an abiding, deep admiration for the crew of USCG Terrapin who came to our aid. I am also grateful that we all survived to tell the tale. (...and correct the misinformation).

There is a video circulating online of an interview with Bounty's captain from August this year. I've seen it twice now. It is a nice homage to a beautiful ship and a captain whom, it is apparent, loves his vessel. The incredibly annoying host asks all the typical questions, "Is it a pirate ship?... What was Johnny Depp like in person? ... How fast does she go?"... yada yada yada...

The YouTube video that I refer to has recently been posted on several sites, it comes with the editorial prompt to check out minute ten, where they discuss heavy-weather sailing. I choose not to post this on my page mainly because I feel it would have been more appropriate seen by the USCG first, not put out in circulation for the arm chair quarter backs to blast away with their condemnations. The family of the crew and deceased should be given that courtesy. Besides, anybody can easily Google it should they wish to see the interview.

My initial reaction (as a crew member on a tall ship that makes appearances at shows), was that Captain Walbridge was doing a rather good job at fielding all of the questions the somewhat flamboyant reporter hoisted his way. It was readily apparent to someone (who on numerous occasions, has had to repeat the "boat-show patter"), which of his answers were given by rote and which ones he invested himself in answering. The next things I noticed were how patient the captain  appeared with what became a rather extensive interview. Aside from the jealousy that tugged at my sub-conscious (as the marketing guru on Zodiac, I'd kill for a lengthy opportunity to wax poetic about my ship)!... I wondered whether his responses were off the cuff or if he'd been briefed prior to the shoot. (I also wished that the camera man would have informed the reporter that his fly was unzipped, but that is a rather irrelevant, annoying detail). 

Crowds gather to tour Zodiac at a festival.
Upon my second viewing, I began to ponder about the many things that I've said over the course of several years when leading tours, giving presentations and simply standing for hours on end at tall ship festivals acting as Zodiac's docent.
What if I'd been recorded at some point making an off-hand comment about our sails, our mast or something that could have been used against the Zodiac upon her dismasting episode? What if during an early morning interview, with my crew down below eating breakfast, (perhaps I was hungover--wouldn't have been the first time mind you), I made a flippant joke about loving to push the ship beyond her capabilities, or sarcastically implying that we don't bother with checking our rig... what if that was pulled out of context by a small town cable station hoping to capitalize on our catastrophe? What if (knock on wood), I had been killed when the mast fell onto the deck and was no longer around to defend my actions or comments?

I do not wish to sound as if I have any inside information as to this captain's frame of mind during this interview. Maybe he was tossing out false bravado to impress his audience, maybe not. Maybe he actually was the thrill-seeking sort of character that would hunt down a storm. The point is, that I am fully aware that I am not qualified, here in my seat at dock, to weigh in on the matter.

I confess that the comments regarding hurricanes could be interpreted as very damning--certainly ironic given the tragedy that has befallen the ship last week. It was indeed eerie to hear him say, as he knocked on wood in a very sailor-like tradition, that they'd never lost a crew member overboard. However, in the policy of innocent until proven guilty, I will not pass judgement on this individual based solely on an early morning talk show interview. Might I add right now, "Shame on Belfast Community Media and Insight Productions for their inappropriate release of this tape and insensitivity they have exhibited towards the family of Captain Robin Walbridge."

Finally, I wish to throw out a word of caution to anyone tempted to weigh in with a judgement call or accusation about situations where they were not involved or given access to all of the evidence involved with the event. As someone who has experienced an unforeseen disaster, and fortunately survived to give our perspective, I regard those with their snap judgements and "expert opinions" with very low opinion. Let the qualified professionals sift through the information with due diligence and respect to the reputation and memories of those involved.
There but for the grace of God go so many others....

And once again, I say "Bless the crew and the good ship Bounty"... and whisper a silent prayer to Poseidon/ Neptune/ Ægir/ Almighty, to keep us safe when underway.

~ Chris