Denney Inquisition Part 2: Jzerro, that miserable dog by Steven Callahan, Apr 14, 2008 - (#20275) posted to Proa File International (

posts by Steven Callahan to proa_file forum:

  • Reply to Denney's critiques of Brown et al Apr 2, 2008
  • The Denney Inquisition Apr 13
  • Part 2: Jzerro, that miserable dog Apr 15
    comments: leepod dimensions, wikipedia, copyright issues
  • confused: reply to Dave Culp May 10
  • confused: reply to Rob Denney May 10
  • Part 2(b): Jzerro, that miserable dog
    "your logic defies logic", May 10
  • Part 3: Jzerro; She's All Wet May 10
  • comments: May 24
    a disservice to those really interested in proas, Stay tuned for more, stiffening of the beams, the hull flying, Jzerro did not fail as a boat, overtake waves when running, water ballast, solid water on the deck, anything but academic, "constantly" meaning regularly
  • Part 4: Those Islanders; What Where They Thinking? May 24
  • comments: May 25
    did not have to shift ballast frequently on Jzerro, method of determining RM, adding to higher levels of normal stress on the beams, excess RM can be as much of a problem as too little, it is futile and is simply to reply to utter nonsense
  • repetitious and conscious deceptions
    Sep 8, 2011
  • Rob, get real. 18 point reply Sep 8, 2011
  • beam loads Sep 10, 2011
  • freedom 20 masts Sep 26, 2011
  • so long ProaFile Sep 26, 2011

    Let's talk about proas. In particular, Russ Brown's proas. Not what some guy thinks they must be like, but how they really are. Nobody knows his boats like he does, of course, but as a third party observer, I have done some miles on both Kauri and Jzerro II, and I have considered her through the multiple eyes of a sometimes racer, livaboard, boatbuilder and designer..

    There is no doubt that our voyage from San Francisco to Tahiti was a small part of multihull history, but also that Russell's crossing of the entire Pacific to Australia, and a further crossing of the Tasman Sea, was a significant part. I would submit that it was the most important modern-style proa voyage since Cheers' double crossing of the Atlantic in 1968 in which she placed third. (For a traditional boat, Stephen Thomas's recreation and Pacific interisland voyage also is significant). That Jzerro was really designed as a coastal cruiser and day boat and has then gone on to also be an effective racer and ocean voyager, may not prove that she is the best boat on the planet, but it does mean she is a pretty notable one no matter what anyone, me included, may say or write about her. She's done what she has done and that is pretty amazing stuff. If she is not the driest boat on the planet or lacks palatial digs and complex systems, it really shouldn't surprise anyone, but what has always surprised me is that this two-ton canoe is such a marvelous balance of seaworthiness, seakindliness, and just damned fun. I've crossed oceans on everything from a 21 foot ULDB (and half a further crossing on a life raft) and 33-foot tri to Open 60 and 67-foot steel cutter. Out of scores of ocean passages on these and other boats, the trip Russ and I made together stands out hands down as one of my very favorites. Nobody can take that away from me and Russell. Like boats, I can't exactly rank voyages. They are all wonderful in their own right, and I pity the poor sod who can only appreciate one type or one route. But my God, we had a ball and did something that at best, few have ever done, and as far as we knew, nobody had.

    We did not entertain this journey with any illusions. It would be tough. It would entail risks, but both of us have centered our careers by doing things a bit challenging, new, different. That's always difficult, entails unknowns, as anything truly fulfilling is. As Dodge Morgan said when asked why he wanted to become the first American to sail around the world alone non-stop: "Because it is different and difficult." I would like to think that both Russell and I are decent sailors and seamen. I know Russell is. I may have lost a boat once, but he never has. And as any prudent seaman who is off on a unique journey, we set off from California paying heed to the wise old adage from the shorthanded sailing scene: "Take care of the worst and the best will take care of itself." We were cautious, assessing risks, over-assessing them, trying to prevent the worst we could imagine. It is in this clear context of the article that I rank risks, and believe the mast to be chief among them, in part because masts and rudders are historically the most vulnerable primary system on any boat going offshore, and part because, in these conditions, a prudent seaman over-prepares for the worst.

    In this post, as I discuss other elements of Jzerro and use some extended excerpts of the article I wrote for Cruising World (March 2001), titled Starship to Oceania, I believe it will reveal that virtually all of Denney's assertions about both Jzerro and my writing are incorrect, but if folks are determined to believe him, there is no sense in beating that horse.

    I've been publishing work since 1977 and have conducted many hundreds of interviews without ever being accused of misquotation or distortion. I learned early that context–the order of information revealed and an accurate reflection of mood is even more important than a few precisely quoted words here or there. In face-to-face conversations, most actual communications are non-verbal; something impossible with writing. The best one can do is try, carefully editing reality to try to create what it felt like to be there, see what we did, feel what we felt. My article about Jzerro is in present tense, revealing the trip blow by blow. A statement about what the boat was doing in one condition does not mean it ALWAYS applied as conditions changed. No article, not even any book, is the whole story. But the proper way to quote somebody is to consider primarily the entire context of the conversation or writing, and to try to accurately summarize its sentiment, not to pick and choose a few words and twist that sentiment as Denney routinely does.

    10 April 2008; Denny: "Todd: Polite or not doesn't bother me. It gets tedious when the knockers won't be specific. Steve kept talking about my claims without mentioning what they were, or the circumstances in which I made them."

    Message 20218, April 8, 2008; Rob: . . . "He puts a lot of words in my mouth without referencing them so we can check the context. I have asked for these references."

    SC Replies: I have no idea of the circumstances in which Denney felt compelled to make the following assertions, but here's a portion of what Denney has asserted.

    13598 Jan 18, 06; Denney: "Yes, one of the three built has done some miles, but it is a very wet, cramped slow boat to cruise. There is nowhere dry on deck in any sort of breeze and the mainsail has to be dropped at night and when the wind is astern in case of a gybe, when the mast falls down. There is next to no room inside and you have to spend a significant amount of time lugging ballast back and forth in puffy conditions, or sail it slowly. At least one of the others built has been sold for peanuts, presumably because it is not a "successful cruising proa" To get a real idea of how Jzerro cruises, get hold of the Cruising World article by Steve Callahan. Strip away all the flowery language and soulmates with the sea b.s. (the only modern equipment they had was a gps, a stereo and an ssb radio, talk about doing it tough!) and you have a description of a pretty unpleasant and slow voyage. It is also, in my opinion, a dangerous boat because of the pod which in extreme weather would give the boat something to trip over turning a knock down into a capsize."

    In time, I will refute every claim he makes. Later in same message Denney writes: "The clear intent of your (my SC) writing was, to me, very negative about Russ' boats. Combined with Russ' spiel in Wooden Boat, it did huge damage to the proa cause."

    Furthermore, Message 20218, April 8, 2008; Denney: "Steve's post breaks into 2 relevant parts.

    First, my interpretation of his articles on Russ Brown's boats. I have quoted some relevant bits. I thank him for putting the record straight, but it does not alter what he wrote. If he is serious about it, and to have stewed on this for 4 years, he obviously is serious, he should write a retraction for Cruising World magazine and see if he can repair some of the damage he has done."

    Message 20218 April 8, 2008; Denny: "This is about stuff I wrote a few years ago concerning an article Steve wrote which I thought was very disparaging of Russ' proas."

    SC Replies: Rob clearly acknowledges he wrote criticisms of Jzerro based on my article, but says I need to give the source as if I should prove what he acknowledges. Whatever. Here is some of it. I have no need to retract anything (he has a need to learn how to read properly). I make no apologies for the piece in Cruising World. I stick by it all, although I now wish I had qualified a sentence about the mast (more later), which chummed the water for all those proa sharks just aching to eat up anybody else's ideas rather than looking at the piece as a whole and building a discussion about detail from there. In my experience, proceeding from tiny detail to the whole never works well.

    Still, I'm not sure how I caused damage to the cause of proas or was very negative about Jzerro. The article is, in fact, so obviously positive on both that it boggles the mind how Denney could see it otherwise. Consider: This is a cover cruising story, which would never negative in a major sailing magazine. The blurb on the cover says, "Steve Callahan's sublime adventure aboard a polynesian-style craft. I didn't write it. It's what the editors concluded from the piece–Sublime. The title, A Starship to Oceania is romantic, as is the tone of the whole piece, which Denney calls BS, but can hardly be called negative or miserable. (And note that this is a cruising story, not a technical piece as I would write for Professional Boatbuilder. I wanted to "put the reader aboard" and understand the delights and concerns I had when making an unprecedented voyage on an unusual craft). The blurb, which I did write says, "An oddball boat on a pilgrimage to Polynesia transforms a quest for landfalls into the sheer joy of the voyage itself." I used "oddball" ironically, a fact that I actually reveal in the piece in the important sidebar showing shunting and recounting a brief proa history. In it I note people's reactions to the boat's rare character, and yes, proas still are uncommon. I answer: "Jzerro is no sideshow horror, though. Her lineage spans millennia," and I point out that critics, unbelievers, and merely befuddled forget that Pacific islanders were exploring the entire Pacific with proas before European sailors dared sail out of sight of land. I write that proas may appear odd but that "Jzerro is the quintessential distance-cruising machine, as elegantly sculpted and free spirited as the shearwaters of the open sea."

    When I write about shunting, Jzerro, I write, "All happens under complete and peaceful control." I also write "The boat also offers maneuverability unimaginable to conventional monohull sailors." The article is full of descriptions of hard going off the wind and on. I find no references that intimate anything but Jzerro was a delight, with descriptions of the efficient hulls, good speed whenever wanted, stability . . . I note as a hurricane forms that might pose a problem that Jzerro's speed gives us tactical options compared to other craft.

    As anyone who can read a pilot chart would know, our route was far from a trade-winds cake walk. I spent two years in Australia sailing in and out of inlets with shallows, strong tides and strong wind, and it can get gnarly, but Jzerro not only handled those when she arrived but many tougher conditions on the way. We started well away from the trades nearly hard on the wind of 15 to 20 (quickly settling at 20+; 8-foot+ seas) just flying, then stiffer downwind for five days. Across the Intertropical Convergence Zone's (ITCZ) we found more days of "permasqualls" with nightmarish wind shifts and washing-machine sea of six to 10-foot peaks. "Jzerro climbs efficiently to weather, making eight knots and tacking in 90 degrees." Is that slow? I can't give you a reference, but in my experience, it was a bloody miracle for any boat to achieve, especially a two-ton canoe. Even heading to Tahiti later, we fought untypical near-gale headwinds for days. The trip also included lots of very light airs both because of an approaching hurricane and the doldrums. We really only enjoyed trade-wind sailing for a handful of days. Did we make a fast passage? Fair, I'd say, but then again, that was hardly our goal. Had we been racing, we certainly could have driven the boat to more than 60% of her capacity. Our goal, though, was to succeed, which included getting there without damage and having a good time, which we did. And as the article clearly states, we do not always want speed. What a concept! John Marples has often said, wisely, I believe, that when cruising, speed management becomes more important than speed potential. In typical offshore lumpy conditions upwind and close reaching, I've found few boats really comfy going over about 8 or 10 knots. I used to rarely heave to or stop a boat, but Russell is the one who long ago taught me the sheer pleasure of parking for lunch, or a rest or a shower, or even to pause and look around. We often slowed Jzerro quite by choice, all clearly detailed in the piece. "I feel deeply satisfied out here .. ." Also, ". . . I feel blessed . . ." ". . .I've come to love this oceangoing canoe . . ." and ". . . she's proven spectacularly suited to explore both our outer and inner spaces . . ." "Jzerro is a refreshingly unique poetry in motion . . "

    I'll let readers be the judge if all this is disparaging or damaging to proas, but at least Denney somehow found some crap under the Pygmy Pony (one of our knicknames for Jzerro).

    As for having "no interior," wow, is that an overstatement. The article has photos showing the lovely interior, double berth, efficient galley, seats and table, space for head/bucket (there's also a single berth) with a caption that reads in part: ". . . a comfortable interior with modern, if basic, conveniences . . ." I also write, "We do not miss electronic charts, fridge or VCR. I'm enchanted by our snug cabin and the beauty of Jzerro's ribs, spine and skin, all composed of that superb, high-tech unidirectional fiber called wood." Also: "starship Jzerro traverses this ocean wilderness as remote as any extraterrestrial heaven, I feel strangely close to the epicenter of reality. Perched upon our flying saucer, we barely touch the earth yet we remain as in touch as a person can. We devour books, music, conversation, and simple but delicious meals. Even my cubby "mole-hole" bunk offers the warmth of varnished wood and snug security. On deck, as jazz emanates from below, we gape at fiery sunsets highlighting now-distant cloud empires. In the star-strewn nights, a near-full moon glows through our spinnaker, which billows and rustles in the light northerlies. What peace.

    We tend to the boat's and one another's needs effortlessly, keeping long, loosely scheduled watches. At night, Russell usually remains on deck from about 8 to early AM. With time to really relax, I drift easily into dreamland rather than feeling pressure to quickly fall asleep because I must arise again in just a couple hours. My 2 to 8AM shift provides time to read and ponder our world and those who've paved our way. I marvel at how often, relying only upon stone-aged technology and boats largely open to the elements, the ancient canoe voyagers reached their far-flung destinations. Some survived storms by flooding their canoes, just sitting there and taking it. How many sailed further off into oblivion, though, never reaching an island? Jzerro runs downwind, splitting the ocean like some giant predator. Frightened flocks of flying fish take to the sky, their strong aroma hanging in the air as we pass. I imagine the voyagers of Oceania stopping to set nets, living off the Pacific. Despite Jzerro's speed potential, we often slow and even park. Relinquishing our usual hurry to get somewhere, we are becoming more like ocean dwellers than travelers."

    Does this sound like `an unpleasant slow voyage in a boat with no interior?"

    I am not out to denigrate Denney's boats. In fact, I don't really care about them. At this point, they do not interest me much, primarily because his wild criticisms of Brown inspire numerous questions about harryproa claims, and find the theories Mr. Denney employs to elevate them to a superior position to other craft problematic. Still, I eagerly await the time when he feels comfortable enough to stop experimenting with parts and allow them to at least try to meet the basic design goals he's given them on at least some passages and some race courses. In the meantime, I think we'll have plenty of time to discuss the many supposed failings of not just one good nautical ride called Jzerro, but Brown's series of proas. Not everybody needs or wants their creations to be wanted by everyone. Brown maintains a healthy interest in numerous types of craft. He has no need to sell anybody on his boats. If you like them, fine. If not, who cares? The important thing to anyone interested in proa development and history, is that we can learn from them, at least if we are open to it.

    The next post will again correct the record of Brown-proa passages (not two but all four boats have done miles, three offshore) and refute Denney's claim that you have to constantly lug ballast in and out of the ama, and that Jzerro is always wet on deck. All are patently false.

    Good sailing, Steve

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