A Season Of Turning

Woodworker, carver, sailor, musician: Gordon Bok is an American treasure. Until several years ago, I’d not heard his name and might have missed his artistry forever, had it not been for the graciousness of a reader.

We’d been exchanging thoughts on music, and in an emailed post-script to our discussion he added, “I can’t think of a better song than Gordon Bok’s Turning Toward the Morning.”  Pointing me toward Albany, New York’s WAMC and their Saturday night broadcasts of the “Hudson River Sampler” he said, “I can almost guarantee you’ll hear something by Bok: if not this Saturday, then next Saturday for sure. And something by Stan Rogers as well. But you’ll also hear songs you’ve never heard before and will want to hear again.” Continue reading

A Trickster’s Truth

As increasing numbers of people are coming to learn, Oakland, California’s FOX News Affiliate KTVU was pranked last Friday. After broadcasting false names for the captain and crew of the ill-fated Asiana Airlines Flight 214, the station attempted to deal with the ensuing furor by insisting that the National Transportation Safety Board had confirmed the crew’s identities.

In turn, the NTSB declared that no, indeedy, it wasn’t them – at least, not officially. It was their silly summer intern, some young fella who’d roamed just far enough off the reservation to allow a Bart Simpson-like joke to make it all the way to the national airwaves. Continue reading

Welcome to Abandon Ship Season

In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is. ~ Yogi Berra

It’s known by an assortment of names – grab bag, ditch bag, abandon-ship bag. Most sailors know they should have one, and nearly everyone understands it should contain something more than a fifth of Scotch, a Leatherman tool and a copy of The Old Man and the Sea.

When it’s time to deploy the life raft, it’s well past time to consider its furnishings. Coastal cruisers, circumnavigators,  casual visitors to Safety at Sea seminars and card-carrying members of the Offshore Racing Congress all know that flashlights, fish hooks and flares can help make a life raft a home. So can desalination tablets, signal mirrors, waterproof flashlights and a VHF, for that matter. Whether you throw in a spear gun and a spare sea anchor will depend on your budget and preferred cruising grounds, but no one quibbles over the need to preserve ships’ papers, insurance documents, passports and cell phones.

If everyone were prepared for the vicissitudes of life on the water, that’s what each bag would have – an assortment of practical necessities for sustaining life while awaiting rescue and the paperwork necessary to reassemble life back on land.  Unfortunately, not everyone prepares.  Sometimes, even the best preparation isn’t enough. Now and then the stories of what got saved, and how, become the stuff of legend. Continue reading

A Gunkholer at Heart

It’s a shorthand we use, these preferences that define our lives. We’re morning people, or night people. We drink coffee or tea.  Some favor the sweet things in life; others seek out the tang of salt or the sharpness of spice. Entire advertising campaigns play to people’s passion for the PC or Mac, and in the sailing world there’s no avoiding the question: are you a cruiser, or a racer? How a sailor answers that question will determine a good bit, from choice of boat to the weekend schedule.

Racers generally commit themselves to light and fast, preferring Kevlar sails and carbon masts to canvas and wood – if the budget allows. Spending hard-earned dollars on new technologies, they push technology to its limits. Others, coping with older and heavier boats, ponder their PHRF ratings and do what they can to maximize performance.

Still, whether their vessel is a Sunfish, a J-Boat or a fully-fitted cruiser, racers share a few characteristics.  They’re tweakers at heart, constantly adjusting sail trim, seeking the currents and anticipating the wind.  Demanding of themselves and one another, they’re often focused to point of obsession. In the end, their goal is simple – to get from point A to Point B first, and in the shortest possible time. Continue reading

Stepping Off the 8:15


Musically speaking, the 1960s were a “mixed bag”.  Tucked between the sweet securities of the ’50s and the tumultuous creativity of the 70’s, the decade  included everything from the Beatles to Bobby Vinton, Strawberry Alarm Clock to Nancy Sinatra.  Depending on your perspective, the decade’s nadir or zenith was that bit of fun and frolic held out at Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in Bethel, New York.  And even while Woodstock was taking place, a Canadian named Richard Bachman was writing lyrics for a song.  

Originally entitled White Collar Worker, his song sounded remarkably like the Beatles’ Paperback Writer.  Even the guitar riffs mimicked the more famous song.  The similarities were so obvious publication was out of the question and the song was put on the back burner for several years.  In 1973, it was pulled from the files, revised and recorded.   By then Bachman’s band had a new name – Bachman Turner Overdrive – and their re-worked song became the classic Takin’ Care of Business . BTO’s counter-cultural anthem still pops up from time to time – for years it provided an innocuous musical lead-in for Office Depot’s commercials – but in the 1960’s, no matter which side of the cultural divide you lived on, you knew the lyrics. Continue reading