PARK IT, DAD by Jim Brown - Russell and Jim Brown sail proa KAURI from Bermuda to New England
Chapter 18 of Jim Brown's "Among the Multihulls, Vol. 2"
"Gee Dad, it's been a long time since we've had a real sailboat ride together." It was May, 1985, and Russell was calling from Bermuda. "I think you should fly over here and help me take KAURI up to Cape Cod." I felt that old spasm in my Adam's apple. There was a long silence.
"Hello?" said Russell, thinking we had been cut off.
"Who, me!" I finally croaked. "You know I wouldn't be much good to you in that contraption of yours."
Russell laughed, and said, "Aw, come on Dad. You can do it. We'd have a great time."
I realized this was an invitation I could not refuse. My mind raced through all the sailings of my sons. When I had known they were at sea I had done a fair amount of "walking the beach," ruminating on the potential consequences of their respective back yard-built escape capsules, and on my own responsibility for the life-styles they had chosen. It was probably me who had afflicted them with their quest for the free spirit goal that can be approached but never fully achieved. I’d been seeking it ever since I spied my first tropical island in the dawn, and now Russell was asking me to seek it with him in a boat of his own making.
I had never contemplated going to sea myself in such an upstart craft as Russell's proa KAURI. Compared to his original 30-footer called JZERO (Chapter 12), this 37-footer was light years ahead in development. But it still "shunted." Instead of tacking through the wind like a normal sailboat, it stopped momentarily and took off on the other tack "stern first." (Actually it had a bow on both ends.) KAURI confused me, especially at night, and I knew Russ needed a dependable crew for a voyage like this. But what could I say? There was no possible excuse that my son would fully believe. I was at loose ends anyway, still smarting from the demise of the Philippines project and trying half-heartedly to keep up with the meteoric advances being made in modern multihulls. Perhaps an ocean passage would clear my head and I would learn something about proas. So I choked back the gasp in my voice and said, "Okay, you've got me. I'll bring a fresh supply of seasick pills, and see you in a couple of days."
Modern Multihull History Project
Of Kids And Proas…
Indeed, I still suffered from seasickness, especially when feeling the pressure of responsibility for the boat and crew. After Russell's call, I spent a sleepless night, wondering if I would be a help or a hindrance to my son. And would I ever see Jo Anna again? This was crazy, going out into the North Atlantic in the modern equivalent of a South Pacific vaka.
How was it, again, that Russell "shunted" his proa? Its running rigging and sails always hung out over the same side, the one opposite the outrigger, but they didn't work the same as on the traditional vakas of Stone Age Oceania. Also, every time Russ traded the "now bow" for the then bow," the helmsman was obliged to manipulate two centerboards, each of which incorporated a rudder within, one for going each direction. The vessel had no wheel or tiller. Instead it steered with two vertical whipstaffs, again, one for going each direction. The whipstaffs actuated fore and aft instead of swinging side to side like a tiller, and I could never remember whether to push or to pull on the darned things in order to get the boat to steer to the right or the left. Could I adjust to such a different device when out at sea? I went to find out.
We enjoyed two days of high camaraderie in Bermuda, where father and son watched for a weather window while prowling the harbor front bistros of St. Georges. Finally things looked good so Russell called Bermuda Marine Traffic Control on his radio, and received permission to leave. Just the fact that he had a single sideband radio on board was a surprise and a relief to me, for up until 1980 we never had even a VHF on SCRIMSHAW. Russ didn't have a license for the radio, of course, but at least he had the radio. He even had a hand held VHF, too. Hey, high tech!
Our voyage began in mild conditions with a fair wind, and KAURI knocked off the miles with an ease that amazed me. She just loped along effortlessly, very quiet and dry, and we traded relaxing watches while the big proa steered herself northward at about ten knots. The long outrigger beams reached away toward the west, from where the wind was blowing gently, and finally, some 20 feet away from the main hull, they connected to the outrigger float. It was such a sprawling craft, yet it seemed as solid as a block of wood. All day and all night, and all the next day too, KAURI kept to her easy canter. We cooked ourselves complete meals, did a little reading, and talked about the old days back in California. In conversations whose essence have stayed with me, it seemed to both of us that our years in the West had been dreamy. How could such places as Sausalito, Big Sur, Santa Cruz and Big Creek Canyon all have come true for us within a time frame like the 60's?
Talk shifted to our family trip in SCRIMSHAW, and to our return to the States. "I guess we shouldn't have expected it to be easy," I said, "coming back from an experience like that. But we sure needed to find ourselves a place to live. And you realize, we wouldn't have been able to do that if Mom hadn't wanted to go back to teaching."
"And isn't it great what she's able to do for those kids!" said Russ.
"She's good at it," I said. "But we wouldn't have been able to do any of this without her. During all my gallivanting around the world these last few years I’ve been paid well at times, but it's been rather sporadic. We've had real money problems, but because of her regular job there was always her monthly check coming in to keep our heads above water."
"But working with kids like that," said Russ, "who are having learning problems? It must be really hard on her sometimes."
"She comes home awfully tired some days, but she loves it, and I don't know what we would do without her paycheck. I wouldn't be sailing around with you like this, I'll tell you that."
"I just wish she and Steve were with us, Dad,"
"Yeah, Mom seems to actually enjoy it when I’m away for a while, but I often think of how Steve is doing way out in Tuvalu by himself. He’s made some good friends out there, but the atoll is so isolated, Russ. You wouldn’t believe… Well, if you were to show up in remote Polynesia with a boat like this, they would think you were the second coming."
"That’s reason enough for me to stay away," he laughs. "But I do hope to see the Pacific some day. And how ‘bout that Steve? He’s got himself a job in Polynesia teaching boatbuilding! That can’t be too shabby." Russ then went on deck to check the horizon and the sails. When he returned, he said, "The way things are going these days, I'm glad I've got this boat."
"That's the way I see it too, Russ. After my time in Africa and Asia, Mom and I decided that SCRIMSHAW was not for sale at any price. One of these days, something’s going to happen to make everybody realize that there's got to be a limit to all this explosive economic growth, and the blooming population. We're going to have to admit that it's killing the planet, and all of us along with it. And when that happens, there's going to be some real pushing and shoving going on, or worse. There could be real chaos in the world."
"You know, Dad, I've thought... Well, it's almost like, the sooner the better, so that maybe there'll be a little something left of Mother Earth for the survivors to live on."
"Well, it may already be too late," I said. They say that if the colonists arrived today at Plymouth Rock or Jamestown, they couldn't make it, because the whole territory has been just used up."
"That's why I think it might not be a bad time to have some mobility, like this little boat of mine," said Russ.
"And that little boat of ours," I added.
"Dad, SCRIMSHAW showed us all a lot about how the world works. And even if America is brought to its knees I don't think we'll be victimized much personally. You know, from our days in SCRIMSHAW we learned how to get along on very little and take care of ourselves. I’m glad to have that as part of me, and I want you to know that I'm pretty content with the way I live, sort of around the edges of society."
"Boy, it’s a relief to hear you say that Russ, because Mom and I really didn't do much for you guys education wise. Nothing like my parents tried to do for me. But look what came of their efforts!" I laughed sarcastically. "They so hoped I’d go into business administration."
Russell was quiet for a while, but finally said, "The best thing you and Mom did for me and Steve was to stay together. Somehow, in all that craziness that was going on back then, you managed to hang on to each other."
"I wish she was with us to hear that," I said. Then I saw the paradox but I didn't bring it up. If Jo Anna and I had really set such a fine example for our boys, why were they both still single in their early thirties, still leading itinerant lives? Jo Anna was beginning to despair for grandchildren, but neither Steve nor Russ was showing the slightest signs of marrying. They often came home to visit with female friends, all of which were practically conscripted by Mom and Dad, but no one seemed to stick. In my deepest thoughts I was saddened by the prospect of no further offspring, but closer to the surface, I greatly respected, even envied my son's life-styles. I was convinced that probably within the coming century the world's death rate would at least catch up with its birth rate, and such a time could be a brutal one for most people to be raising kids. Still, I missed the chance to pass on what I had learned of life to yet another generation, and I was troubled that Steve and Russ just did not want to be like Mom and Dad.
We spelled each other keeping lookout that afternoon, and I passed the watch to Russell sometime early in the second night. As we traded seats in the cockpit, Russ remarked, "I don't think I've ever made a passage where I've gotten so much sleep. I've been completely confident to have you alone in the cockpit, with the boat all to yourself like I know you enjoy it. But it's not usually that way for me. I'm usually sailing with somebody who doesn't understand the boat, and it makes me too up-tight to sleep much at sea."
"Come on, Russell!" I laughed. "The boat's holding a steady course in a steady wind, and I've just been keeping a lookout. Anybody can do that. If we get a sneaky wind shift in the dark, I'd probably take us right back to Bermuda without even knowing it. Not even the compass would change if she just headed back the other way, because she wouldn't even have to turn around!" We laughed. "But it is fun, just to watch this baby slide through the waves like this. What a wonderful thing you've created in this boat."
"Yeah? You think so? I kind of like her too. She’s kind of close inside but I knew she'd be comfortable at sea."
"The hulls are so narrow," I said. "They just cut right through the crests without having to go over them. It's sensational to see a steep one coming and expect her to get kicked in the butt, and instead she just slides right through it. And she steers like she's fastened to a taught wire, no yawing at all; the waves can't seem to get hold of her. And there's no rolling or heeling..."
"I guess those old Polynesians really knew what they were doing, like you say."
"Actually, I think the first boats like this were Micronesian. But just imagine those early canoe people, Russ. They didn't have Douglas fir plywood and Sitka spruce lumber, and they didn't have epoxy to laminate everything together with. And they didn't have Dacron for sails or aluminum for masts, and they couldn't build a sealed pod on the downwind side of the main hull like you have, to bounce the boat back on its feet in a knockdown. But they conquered the Pacific anyway. Their boats were -- and they still are -- highly engineered bundles of pure vegetable fiber. I'm telling you, Russ, you've got to get out to the far islands some day."
It started to sprinkle, so I dropped below and passed Russell his foul weather gear. I munched an apple, fixed some hot boullion for the thermos, and then snuggled into the double bunk, which was still warm from Russell having recently gotten up. This bunk was located in the pod, that strange, streamlined, shelf-like protuberance that cantilevers out over the water on the side opposite the outrigger, the downwind side of the main hull. The ride here was wonderfully quiet. As I lay there, just feeling the ship soar through ocean space, I recalled how we had tested KAURI’s stability on our river in Virginia.
Using two anchors to position the boat near the river shore we then brought a line from the masthead to the bank, where Steve, Russ and I hauled as hard as we could, trying to pick up the float and heel the vessel over. Indeed we were able to lift the outrigger float clear of the water, but as soon as the craft had heeled enough to press the pod down onto the surface, our continued efforts to tip the boat were to no avail. I brought our old Pontiac station wagon into hauling position, and we tied the line to that. Then we hauled again, with 250 horsepower, and the boat heeled way over. As the mast came down, the outrigger float climbed skyward. Surprisingly, as the pod was forced to submerge, the main hull was literally picked up by it, almost completely out of the water! It was now abundantly clear that the main hull acted as a powerful counterweight against the buoyancy of the pod, trying hard to re-right the vessel. With the station wagon's handbrake set and Steven blocking the wheels, I got out of the driver's seat and noticed that the line from the wagon to KAURI's masthead was bar taught, and furthermore, Russell was already half way between the shore and the boat. His feet were dangling in the water as he went hand over hand along the line, headed for the horizontal mast. He reached it and pulled his legs almost free of the water. At this point, his weight, at the very top of the mast, finally overcame the knockdown stability of the vessel, and she continued heeling, which lowered Russ back into the water. When he let go, the craft snapped back toward upright until it was restrained by the line to the station wagon. It was an amazing demonstration. I knew there were few multihulls of any size that would exhibit such ultimate stability.
With the recollection of that static test, made years ago, I now relaxed. If a freak wave – combined with a sharp gust – was to hurl KAURI's float skyward right now, I had great confidence that the pod in which I was reclining would encounter the water and shoulder the boat back on its feet. With this concept in mind I listened to the rain pattering on deck, and pictured my son slouching in the cockpit.
Oh, that cockpit... it was like riding in a motorcycle side car. I pondered the great truth that Russell's grasp of sailing dynamics far surpassed my own. It had to in order for him to design and build such an intrinsically perfect, yet primitively simple craft as this. And I wondered of Russ, as I had often wondered of myself, from where had this multihull predilection come?
During the night I was awakened by the sound of heavy rain. The first time, there was no accompanying sound of wind, so I rolled over, thought a little more about the downwind pod, and remembered that the big Micronesian vakas, like the Fijian ndruas, had been equipped with large, elevated platforms on their downwind sides, which must have acted like pods to a degree. But the ancients didn't have the materials to make their pods sealed and buoyant like the one in which I was riding. I must have drifted off again.
Again I awoke to the sound of heavy rain, but again there was no sound of a rising wind. I pictured Russ huddling under the hood of his slicker, trying to keep awake and trying to keep an eye on the compass in such conditions. I got up and raised the hatch just a crack and called into the darkness, "Hey, are you ready for relief? You must be blowing bubbles by now?"
"No thanks, Dad, it's okay," came a reply from the blackness. "I'm able to doze, and there's practically no wind. So go back to sleep. I've sure been getting plenty of sleep, so you get some while the time is right. There's no telling what this rain will bring." I passed him a cup of bullion from the thermos, and then crawled into the warm bunk again, feeling both grateful and guilty for Russ giving me the chance to avoid going out there into the wet and the dark. If the wind was light, I knew I would have trouble managing the boat. If it was shifty I might become totally confused in conditions like this, perhaps even permitting the outrigger to be caught on the wrong side, opposite the wind, with the sails caught aback. I'd done it once before in the Chesapeake, and I knew the aftermath was embarrassing. If it happened in a heavy gust, and the wind hit hard from the wrong side of the sail, it might cause a dismasting. If I let the boat get "caught aback" like that, all I knew to do was drop the mainsail. Russell had its halyard secured by a rope clutch, ready for instant release, but the aftermath was nothing but more confusion and embarrassment. Yes, it was better for Russ to be steering on a night like this.
Regardless of my own ineptitude at adjusting to KAURI, I mused that her type had real potential for modern use. First, Russell's embodiment of the ancient vaka apparently produced the highest speed for the least money of any seagoing device. Second, it could be the most demountable of multihulls, easily taken into pieces and loaded onto a trailer for transport. But the third property was more esoteric; the proa had the same subliminal enticement as the Hobie-type beach cats and the sailboards. Those two had become by far the most popular, pervasive and numerous of the "class boats" in modern sailing history, which was in large part because they had something about them which attracted a cult following. I suspected the proa might have that same something about it. All these wind machines, beach cat, sail board and proa, were conspicuously unique, and all had the reverse-logic attribute of being inherently difficult to learn to use. Besides offering good clean fun, I believed it was this difficulty, this initially steep learning curve, which provided the lure of exclusiveness for such sporty products as windsurfers and beach cats. By owning and operating a device that demanded a real initiation, the individual achieved an exclusive identity. And it was identity, I suspected, that was at the bottom of a person's mind when undertaking such non-passive recreational pursuits as sailing. Even my own. Searunner Trimarans had attracted many devotees who enjoyed the multihull identity.
Russell’s proa was indeed difficult to learn to use, and there is no doubting the identity of the one who sails it, but that seems to be the farthest thing from his mind. He's interested only in getting out on the big briny and jamming through the waves! I remembered, however, that exclusivity had once entered the picture, when I insisted that Russ could make money selling plans for his creations. He reacted by admitting, "But Dad, I don't think I want anybody else to have a boat like this. I mean, it requires such a total commitment to such an oddball concept… I just don’t want to be responsible for sending other people to sea in such a… Such a… Thing." I smiled, then remembered I had not taken my seasick pill before retiring, decided I didn't need it, and soon was asleep again.
The next time I awoke, Russell was in the galley, fixing breakfast. A grey dawn was visible through the large Plexiglas bubble in the hatch. There was no sound of rain, and the boat was apparently becalmed. "Hey," I said, yawning, "is the rain over?"
"Looks like it, and I'm ready for a dry bunk. Man, did it pour!"
"It sure sounded like it. I was wondering if you would be able to breathe out there."
"Yeah, I was able to breathe, and now I'm going to be able to sleep."
Over granola with powdered milk and bagels and peanut butter, we examined the chart. Russ estimated our position to be somewhere midway between Bermuda and the eastern end of Long Island. The course we had steered was somewhat west of the straight line, but the Gulf Stream was certainly sweeping us eastward. I noticed that right about at our estimated position at present, the chart showed a sequence of squiggly arrows, symbols that were labeled, "Average main axis of Gulf Stream." The arrows aimed almost straight toward the east, and they suggested that the current, which could be anywhere from one to four knots, was flowing almost square across our intended course. "With this calm," Russell said, "we're a sitting duck in the current, and we've been like this for most of the night. So we could be anywhere, even way east of where we'd like to be. And it doesn't look like we're going to be able to see the sun for awhile. I hope it shows its face sometime today, so I can get a shot at it with the sextant."
Looking out through the hatch while dressing, I said, "Okay, I'll keep a lookout for it, and let you know if it starts peeking through the clouds. In the meantime, you'd better snuggle down. Who knows what's coming; with the looks of this confused swell out here, a new wind could be from any direction. But if the breeze comes up, at least I'll be able to see which way the boat is going."
"Just try to keep us heading away from Bermuda," Russ wisecracked, as I climbed out the hatch to take my watch.
A Real Sleeper…
Like the ancient Austronesians, Russell began his boating in rafts. He built his first one to transnavigate the swimming hole in Big Creek Canyon, California. That was normal enough for a kid of eight. But as I sat out the grey calm, trying not to think of going below to get myself a seasick pill, what puzzled me was this: At age 13, while our family lived on the Rio Dulce in Guatemala, why had Russell undertaken to experiment with single outriggers? He had no knowledge of Pacific anthropology, yet his experiments began with a crude dugout canoe which he stabilized with an outrigger on one side. It was propelled by a cast-off Sunfish sail, and it tacked like a normal sailboat, receiving the wind from either side. But it tacked with difficulty, requiring the boy to paddle the stern around with the steering oar, and it relied on plenty of athletic hiking-out to keep it on its feet. The thing proved to be barely manageable, but it was the vehicle of choice for his first real adventure on his own. With permission from Jo Anna and me, given with trepidation, Russell traveled in this canoe some eighteen miles down the Rio Dulce for two days, through its glorious gorge and some true Tarzan territory, reaching the isolated Caribbean town of Livingston, Guatemala, on the Caribbean coast. Returning upstream for three days, he visited friends and the Indian families along the way. I wondered about that experience for a boy in his early teens. Surely it must have been formative. And, had sailing in a craft which placed its single outrigger on either side somehow induced Russell to select the Pacific vaka type, outrigger always to windward, for continuing his experiments?
With nothing to do in KAURI's drifting condition, I tried to ignore the sickly heave of the ocean by allowing my thoughts to wander far. I had watched my sons grow up amidst modern multihull development, yet neither I nor they had ever seen a Pacific-type vaka until 1977, when Russell designed and built JZERO, his first real proa, at our home in Virginia. He had earned the necessary $600 by working in the local strawberry fields, and had named the boat after a Cat Stevens song about a youth who found himself to be an alien prophet on Earth, confusing everyone with simple truths. After an intense year of prototypical modifications at home, the 30-foot plywood vessel became his means of leaving at age 16. Jo Anna and I realized that he was going to leave one way or another, and all we could do was cooperate. JZERO also cooperated. She was fantastically fast for her cost, but the main hull was only two feet wide. Nevertheless, Russell lived aboard her for two years, sometimes with a girl friend, and sailed her to many of the Caribbean Islands, enjoying a marvelous adventure entirely of his own making.
That wasn't all. While Russell was away in JZERO, Steven completed his 21-foot trimaran MOKSA in Virginia and, like Russell, left home in his boat for points south. Despite the wrench of having our offspring leave in such a manner, at least it relieved us that our sons could jump from the nest without doing it in a car or needing to pay rent, this while still having a place to call home. MOKSA was named for the Hindu quest of a paradisiacal mindset, and the boat was designed and built as a faithful reproduction of a whimsical craft which had appeared regularly in the cartoons of our old California friend Jo Hudson. One of Hudson's cartoon characters was a Big Sur gnome named Zachary Bone, the protagonist in a lengthy strip wherein old Zack builds himself a little double outrigger on a mountainside, launches her down a cliff, and sails off into the Pacific with a maiden named Violet Bush for his mate. I thought, Oh, the lure of autonomy! Is it a burden, or a gift? And is it right to indoctrinate one's children with such tantalizing, yet never fully attainable, goals? For years MOKSA was the "funnest horse to ride" in Key West, Florida, where Steven hung out for a time, and JZERO was eventually sold in the Caribbean to a committed surf rider who planned to use the boat for transporting himself and his boards to otherwise inaccessible surfing sites.
Returning to Florida at age 20, Russ built himself a larger version of the proa. Named KAURI for the exotic New Zealand timber in her frames, it was this one, in which I now sat out a lumpy Gulf Stream calm. She was 37 feet long and, for a passage like this one, was capable of accommodating a crew of only two. As I pondered my position I could almost hear my old shipmate Jeannie Miller telling me, "You're going to bump into a girl one of these days." Would Russell find his equivalent of Violet Bush? I couldn't help wondering, was that old promise I made to myself to follow the sea being kept by my sons?
My relationship with Steve and Russ during the evolution of the two proas and of Steve’s trimaran had resulted in that purest form of pride, the kind that comes when a parent learns from his offspring, and the offspring knows it. Despite my early skepticism about JZERO, Russell's achievements with her had really turned my head. From the experience of a little coastal sailing in KAURI I learned that she was indeed a serious seafaring machine, and the smoothest riding, most close winded craft of any I had known. I suspected then and still do now that the modern proa is a real sleeper, with plenty remaining to show the world. This suspicion was both challenged and confirmed by what happened next.
The rain had flattened the waves, but true to the North Atlantic, a sizable swell remained and it was confused, coming from both the east and the southwest. An occasional conflict caused one crest to add to another, and when this happened under the boat, it lifted and then dropped the big proa like she was riding a berserk elevator. But there was no deep rolling, like there would have been in a monohull, and no slapping from one float to another as there would have been in a trimaran. I suspected that a catamaran in these conditions would experience an occasional snap roll, as the elevator quickly switched from up to down between hulls. I thought of taking a seasick pill, but decided again that I didn't really need one.
At first, the breeze was difficult to distinguish from the swell draft, but soon I saw cats paws on the water, just spotty patches of ripplets left by the otherwise invisible zephyrs as they bounded in slow motion over the oily lumps. As the new air mass gradually found its way into the troughs, its tracks became crowded together, leaving only spotty patches of slick on the otherwise finely hammered surface. At this point, I was able to discern for sure that this new movement was coming from the east, and sure enough, KAURI's outrigger was on the wrong side. I gulped down the urge to call for Russ, and tried to figure out what to do. I was glad that Russ had dropped the Genoa for sitting out the calm, but I noticed that the big, fully-battened mainsail, even though it was caught aback, was still drawing, trying to sail the vessel "backwards," at least as far as the sail was concerned. I decided to try something I'd seen Russ do. After a few minutes of fiddling with the whipstaffs and the main boom, and the board-rudders, which were raised and lowered easily by lines leading to the cockpit, I managed to swing the now bow from north through east and all the way to south, thereby placing the outrigger on the new windward side where it belonged. What a relief!
The mainsail, with its boom, was now free to swing through almost 180 degrees over the downwind side of the boat, so I slacked the sheet just enough to allow the boom to tail off dead away from the wind like a flag. Now I found the boat effectively "parked." What’s more, she was directionally stable in that position. Unlike the "Atlantic" proa, which tries to keep its outrigger on the downwind side, the ancient Pacific type, like KAURI, will naturally repose with its outrigger to windward even when left entirely to its own devices. In this attitude, with her sail not drawing and not even flogging (because of its full-length battens), she was lying as intended, float to windward and pod to loo’ard. She waited patiently for me to collect my wits; I could have taken a nap, finished a meal, made a sail change or even taken a dip. (The Atlantic proa will not ride naturally in this stable state.) Furthermore, when the time came to leave the parking spot, I would be under complete control to move off either end first, in almost any direction. Indeed, I had seen Russell slam his craft into full reverse many times. Sailing under mainsail alone, the stunt could be used to maneuver the boat marvelously for things like avoiding traffic, for picking up people off of docks and backing away, and to power off a sandbar after having run aground. The procedures were different, but certainly no more limiting than with the usual sailboat, which had to be moving well in the direction of its only pointed end in order to have any control at all.
This is not to say, however, that sailing a Pacific proa is intuitive to the western mind. For example: When running or broad reaching, when a minor course change makes it necessary to "jibe" the vessel, one must contemplate the maneuver as does Russell’s long ago crewmate Mark Balogh who says, "You drive down the street, pull into a driveway, and then back out to continue down the street backwards in the same direction you were going." (This analogy is best when visualized as performed by a motorcycle with a sidecar.)
Confidently, I now stepped to the "then bow," removed the big jib from the "then head stay," dragged it to the "now bow" and re-set it on the "now head stay," re-rigged the single sheet, and returned to the central cockpit. There I hoisted and trimmed the jib on the now bow, sheeted the mainsail over the "now stern" of the boat and headed off again for Cape Cod, the vessel and the sails having been turned end for end in order to receive the new wind on the same old side, the outrigger side. I thought of it as looking at sailing in a mirror. I didn't know quite how I had managed the maneuver, especially the part about pulling both whipstaffs toward each other and using one of the board-rudders backwards, but I was pleased as punch with myself for being under way again. Maybe I really was getting the hang of this contraption.
Now I realized there was indeed some wind. It had risen from cats paws quickly, filling in the oily holes and pushing up compact little wavelets that were close together. This was the visible result, I assumed, of the air and the water now flowing against each other. I trimmed the sheets and checked the course, which was now read on the opposite side of the compass. If it had been dark I would have turned the running lights around.
I had no sooner re-set the autopilot when there came a substantial increase in the breeze. Just in case there were some gusts in this new system I disconnected the autopilot and steer by hand. Hey! This was fun. KAURI was now sending up some spray, and the helm was enjoyable. I had to experiment every now and then to see which way the now bow actually turned when I pushed or pulled the now whipstaff, but just holding the thing made me feel like I was absolutely plugged into the boat. Her response was so immediate that it didn't matter much if I steered wrongly, for I could quickly send the other message and she would just as quickly alter her response. But this wind was:
Wham! Suddenly the boat is overpowered. I feather up but still the boat races ahead, the big jib drumming loudly.
Almost at once Russell bounds out of the hatch in his underwear. I am frozen to the whip staff, eyes wide and glued to the jib, doing my best to hold it on the edge of a luff. He releases the jib halyard, causing the sail to break into tympanic flogging. He crawls forward to drag the sail down. While struggling to contain it, he yells back to me, "Park it, Dad. Just park!"
Why didn't I do that to begin with? I release the main sheet and let it run all the way out, All of a sudden, everything is under control. The wind is pumping but the boat is dead in the water, not ranging ahead and jumping waves. Russ bags the jib and lashes it into the platform net, comes to the cockpit to raise the board-rudder, and finally says over the wind, "Boy, things sure picked up in a hurry"
"And it's still picking up. What do you make of these waves?"
"Well, they're sure getting steep. The wind is already blowing the tops off a little, and if it keeps increasing, against the current like this, the old "Gulp Stream" is going to stand on its head. So we'd better get ready for it."
"Don't you want to get dried off and covered up?" I ask him, noticing that he is spray-blown and shivering.
"No, the spray is warm, and I may as well get dry just once. Let's drop the boom and the mainsail right down on deck, and then set the storm jib. That way you'll be bullet proof no matter what, because I should really get some rest."
I tense at the prospect of being left alone with the boat in blowy conditions, but I help get KAURI battened down as best I know how.
Russ shivers as he hoists the little jib and gets the vessel under way again. She slides out of her parking spot into mounting traffic. While testing the helm with one hand Russ begins stroking the big diaphragm pump with his other hand, this to load the outrigger float with some water ballast. He instructs me; "Get down in the cockpit real low, like this, Dad, and wrap your arm around the boom right here. That way you can't get thrown out. And with that little bit of sail, plus some water ballast way out in the float, there's practically no chance of the wind blowing the boat over."
"I see what you mean," I say.
"But what we've got to worry about is rogue waves. We're right in the Stream, where a big eddy could cause some freakish seas. So if you see a big one coming, just remember to pull. That's all you've got to remember, pull on the whip staff, and the boat will bear off and run away from whatever's coming. Okay?"
"Okay, I should be able to remember that."
"Right." implores Russ. "If in doubt, just pull!"
With that, Russell wriggled down the hatch, but as he closed it, he peered out the bubble at me and smiled. I managed a grin in return. Russell lifted the hatch just enough so I could see his eyes, as he called out, "Just remember to pull."
In the next few minutes, we had another quantum increase in the wind, and I felt myself actually tremble in the sidecar cockpit. The boat urged ahead at surprising speed for the size of her storm sail. It's up to me now, I told myself. The poor kid's been steering all night in the rain, and he's trusting me to take over.
For the next hour, I steered the boat across the increasingly angry waves by dodging the crests. I saw some that were truly exercised but managed to miss them by a wide margin. Now it seemed that they were developing quickly, suddenly leaping up and collapsing everywhere. I didn't want to turn and run from them all, because that would take us to New Jersey instead of Cape Cod. If a hot spot should develop quickly right ahead I would have to take a snap decision; should I turn up and cross its summit to windward or bear off and run away from it. Russell said to pull, to bear off when in doubt, so that’s what I would do.
The effect of the water ballast in the float, way out there to windward, added a sensation of real security to the vessel's gait, and I realized that Russ was right. All we had to worry about was getting caught beam-on by a real cascading growler.
At the very termination of that thought I felt the elevator climb. It climbed quickly, higher and higher. I pulled the whipstaff instantly, but it took precious microseconds for my spasmodic yank actually to move it, and it took what seemed hours for the now bow to swing down toward the trough. We are:
Being hurled by a giant catapult, from a great height, straight downward; Overtaking gravity, becoming weightless, in a power-dive; Getting caught beneath a thumper in the depths; Being stuffed back into the sidecar, by water cannon, in the dark; Going up Niagara Falls in an open barrel. Warm brine is ramming up my nose, down my throat and up my sleeve. My right arm has the boom and bundled mainsail in a headlock, my left arm is still yanking on the whipstaff. The wave roars deeply and the rudder wails loudly; both sounds are felt within the whipstaff.
We have caught the wave, I’m sure of it, but I cannot see. My face is pummeled by blasting water. I cannot possibly breathe or open my eyes. I must be over steering the wave. Coughing with my mouth closed, poofing breath from inflated cheeks against the gush I picture the boat carving a one-eighty under the cascade. This puts the outrigger on the wrong side and could hurl US over onto our deck. I must take a blind step toward the great perhaps by pushing on the whip staff to straighten our unseen dash down the wave. I blindly force myself to return the whip staff to straight upright.
The roaring and wailing continue but the fire-hose-in-face diminishes. I open my eyes, gasp for air, and see water pouring from the decks, and there are two long fans of spray, one each side of the now bow, peeling up and away, fantastic in the sunlight. The one on the sidecar's side has been the source of the fire hose, but now it is streaming past my ear. Beyond the bow I see the trough of the wave, running ahead far below. Reflexively I jab and yanked the whip staff, telling KAURI to chase that valley down. She does, and her rudder’s wail wavers in time to the bucks and slams she sustains while running over hillocks on the way.
KAURI now overtakes the trough and enters the counter current running back the other way. The boat slows but the fire hose resumes. I turn away from it, craning my neck to glance astern with one eye. There I see the cascade, just moments before it must have been nearly vertical, standing KAURI on her nose, but now it is a wide acre of blue-white brine left flattened in a rolling boil. I feel for my glasses; they are gone.
Next I question my own consciousness, for I hear the sound of laughter! I turn and see Russell’s face in the bubble, his mouth shaped in a round "Ho." The hatch lifts an inch, and Russ calls, "I bet it's been a long time since you surfed a wave like that... ha ha ha ha." The hatch closes and the face is gone. My confusion turns to chagrin, then to pique, then to pride. I laugh too.
"Ha ha ha yourself," I shout. "Who do you think I am, Evil Kenevil?" I hear Russell laughing below. Then I mumble to myself, "Holy! Who does he think I am! I've never even seen, much less ever surfed, a wave anything like that."
The words brought me out of my fright. I looked anxiously to windward. Gingerly, I brought the vessel back on course, feeling her range ahead quickly. I noticed that my slicker hood was blasted off, hanging on my back filled with water, and my glasses were hanging on their string inside the hood. Water had found its way down my neck all the way to my crotch. Indeed now I remembered feeling water pumping up my sleeve and out at my collar. I was sitting in what felt like a gallon of pee contained inside the seat of my "waterproof" overalls. It didn't matter, did it? What mattered was these other waves. There were plenty of them out here, but nothing in sight like that one we had surfed.
Even though the blow lasted only about five hours, there were hundreds of curlers and several more cascades to be dealt with in that time. I learned how to avoid them. I looked farther ahead and to windward, permitting me to judge which building waves to pull for, and which to push for. With just our tiny jib we kept to speeds in the low teens so I could literally drive around the hot spots, just like meandering through the dunes on a motorcycle, only these dunes were moving, too. Pretty soon I got the hang of it, and felt confident enough to relax my headlock on the boom. Before long I was enjoying myself, actually hoping for the chance to take the next decisions as to which way to go around the crests. For a long time I went along like that, carving KAURI's steaming contrail along the staggered valleys and over the connecting saddles of the waves. It seemed that with practice one could learn to do this at night, but it would be safer, I thought, to head downwind and drag a drogue. Now it was daylight and the sailing was glorious. Even reaching at breakneck speed through a kind of giant, flowing slalom, the boat kept sending me the message that she was absolutely glued to the ocean road.
"Flying Proa, Flying Proa"…
"I wonder where we are," said Russ, as the hatch lay back onto its bubble, and his head emerged. "Boy, the old Gulp Stream is still standing on its head, isn't it?" The seas were down but the wind had dropped much more than the waves, and KAURI was slowly slogging through the heaving slop.
"Hey, did you manage to get any rest?" I asked.
"Sure did," Russ replied. I suspected he was telling the truth because his boat was so smooth and quiet down below. He probably had no idea how intense, how intensely wonderful, had been my séance with his boat in that blow. "But now we've got to get some sail back on, and pump that water ballast out of the float. She'll ride a bit better if we do. And we've got to find out where we are."
While setting the mainsail, we both bemoaned the lack of a sun sight. At Russell’s request I estimated that the course I had steered, which was actually all over the northern half of the compass, might have taken us toward New York for four hours at high speed, and back toward Cape Cod for two hours at diminishing speed. Russell took the helm and I went below, where I looked at the chart and made a very rough guess as to our position. I gave Russ an approximate course to follow. "Okay," said Russ, "but somehow we've got to get a better idea of where we are."
I prepared two heaping Dagwood sandwiches. Slabs of cheese, a fried egg, tomato slices thick as hockey pucks, and big leaves of wilted spinach were all laminated together with enough mayonnaise to run down your arm, and with carpet-thick wads of bean sprouts between every layer. The sprouts provided the necessary binding and friction to prevent the whole construction from extruding itself to pieces with the first bite. We wolfed the meal. An hour later, as the light was fading, Russ lifted the bubble and spoke down the hatch to me: Hey Dad, there's a sail up ahead." I was dead to the world, but stirred enough to acknowledge. Russell added, "Why don't you see if you can get them on the radio?" Groggily, I got up and poked my head above the deck to look ahead. Russell pointed more to windward than where I was looking. After some drowsy squinting I sighted the sail.
"They're headed the same way we are," Russell said, "and I bet its one of those boats that left Bermuda the day before we did. They've probably got electronic navigation on board. Most yachts do these days. Maybe you could raise him on the radio and see if they'll tell us where we are."
I tried the VHF but got no response. "Okay," said Russ. "There's no reason for them to have anything turned on way out here. We'll have to get close and give them a shout." I looked puzzled. "If you'll take the helm," Russ said, "I'll set the big jib again, and we'll just buzz on up and say hello."
When the new sail was set and drawing, KAURI began kicking spray again, and Russ asked me to relinquish the helm, which I did gladly. Russ hauled the vessel up hard on the wind and began blasting through the waves. Still, it was getting late when we overtook the pretty yawl. Alone in the cockpit, a beslickered sailor was hunched over the helm, his hood aiming numbly at the compass. As Russ came slicing up on his weather quarter, still well out of earshot, he said to me, "Why don't you hike out on the outrigger, and we'll give him a little show."
Eagerly, I clambered to windward over the two kayaks, the windsurfer and the dinghy that were all lashed in the platform net. I stood on the float, gripping the shroud bridle that supported the mast. "Wait till I send you flying before you give him your whistle," said Russ with a smirk. I grinned as Russ veered upwind to miss a crest, swerved down to plant his boat across the face of another, and bore away, picking up speed and lifting the float and me a good five feet above the wave top. I blew that same, musical shriek with which I always summoned the attention of my sons across the water. I was just a few yards away from the man on the yawl, and he jumped like he'd been stuck with a hat pin. Turning toward the unreasonable noise, he knocked back his hood and gaped square-mouthed at us. As KAURI cut pell-mell across his stern, the float and I came down with a whomp and a splash, and the man's eyebrows climbed halfway up his forehead.
"RAAAAIDIO!" shouted Russ, holding his fist to his cheek like he was talking on the phone. "Channel sixteen!" The man composed himself, nodded briskly, and passed from view behind his jib as KAURI sped ahead. I scrambled for the sidecar and Russell dropped down the hatch. In half a minute, I heard the radio blaring from below, "Flying proa, flying proa. This is the yacht PINOCHLE. Do you read?" Russ turned down the volume, and all I could hear of the ensuing conversation was the usual mutter-mutters, zaps and crackles, mixed with Russell's occasional laugh. When it was over, Russ poked his head above the hatch saying, "Well, he said we scared the devil out of him, but that we were unbelievably beautiful. Isn't that nice? And he gave us two positions, one from SATNAV and one from LORAN, but they don't quite agree. Anyway, I'll give you a course and distance in a minute. But that guy was really nice. He actually knew what a proa is! Most yachtsmen wouldn't be so pleasant after a surprise like that." Grateful to the yawl, father and son sailed into the night.
By morning the sea was calm and the wind was back in the east but very light. KAURI's little outboard motor was droning away, trying to move the vessel through the air enough to amplify the whisper of true breeze with some apparent wind. It filled the sails, and they helped the motor just a bit. By mid afternoon, the breeze was gone, the sails were down, and the motor droned onward. Russ had refilled the gas tank from his Jerry jugs three times. Now the jugs were empty, but the tank and the crew were full. As the boat made its way on autopilot, Russ and I had spent most of the day eating and sleeping. There was still no sun. We spied a freighter on the horizon headed for New York, but Russ couldn't raise it on the radio.
The afternoon aged. To avoid the noise of the motor, we found ourselves sitting side by side on the bench down in the cabin, listening to tapes. Russell had an extensive collection of modern music and a good sound system in the boat. The lightweight construction of the hull, and the broad carapace that formed the deck across the main hull and the pod all combined to turn the entire living space into a giant sound box. I found myself able to understand the lyrics of the new music without having to use headphones. I am a word man, and normally resent the propensity of many modern vocalists to slur their enunciation. Now the lyrics revealed themselves, and I became engrossed in their poetic portrayal of my son’s life and times.
Russ occasionally stood up and poked his head out the hatch, taking a long look around the horizon, but mostly, we both listened to the songs and stuffed ourselves; it was hot peanut butter tacos with salsa on slices of overripe bananas, Bermuda onions eaten like apples, and continual peanut M&M's. I realized I hadn't taken a seasick pill since just before we left Bermuda.
Again Russ studied the chart and the clock. To my surprise, he turned down the volume on the tape deck. Then he said, "Gee, Dad, this sure has been a great trip, don't you think?"
"The best, Russ. I was thinking about that. How often do we get four days together, just the two of us, and a fabulous boat to play with in the Gulp Stream?" We both smiled.
"And now," Russ said, "all we need is a little wind, or a little gas, and we'll probably be able to make it into Block Island before dark."
"Really?" I exclaimed, as I stood to elevate my eyes above the hatchway. Searching the horizon over the now bow I saw… Was it something? Yes it was something. "Land ho," I said, without exclamation, because I felt that strange regret that sometimes overtakes the sailor when coming to the end of a passage. I didn’t feel ecstatic about coming to the end of this one. We had been out just long enough to get thoroughly accustomed to living on the sea, and I felt we needed more time to say things to each other, the kind of things that too often go unsaid between fathers and sons. I knew it would be a wrench to plunk ourselves back onto the land. But what I saw looked like it could indeed be Block Island, that chunky, convenient way station between the eastern tip of Long island and Marthas Vineyard. In the muddled afternoon gray and the glassy sea, it wasn't quite "providential," but it was an island nonetheless. "I can see it," I said down the hatch, past my armpit to Russ. Then, to push back my regret and liven up our landfall I quoted a line from one of our favorite Jo Hudson cartoons. The drawing, which we both knew by heart, shows a haggard, humanoid sailor, beside himself at the sight of land, crying, "Land Ho! Ho ho ho, ha ha, heh heh, ark, shlep."
We sat together again, with the music down, and talked of the great relief sometimes experienced upon completing an ocean passage, especially if it has been a difficult one. But now we both confessed to feeling the strange disappointment instead. "It's like, now that we're finally used to bashing around in this scene," Russ said, "I kind of wish it could go on forever."
"Yes, just sailing through life," I said, half seriously.
"Well, in a way, I hope it does go on forever, Dad. I don't know what I'd be doing with my life if it weren’t for these boats."
"I know what you mean, but I'd like to remind you of something else."
"Yes. Thanks to you, I've just re-discovered that sailing through life with your son, or your daughter or whatever, can lead to some of the finest sailing you'll ever know, and that means the finest living you'll ever know."
"Am I supposed to take a hint or something?" said Russ, smiling.
"No, I wouldn't blame you a bit if you never have a family. That's up to you. It's just that making a trip like this with you... Well, looking back... Let me tell you: When all of a sudden you become a father, you don't think about times like this that may result from it someday. Having a family nearly drove me crazy at times, I confess. But now, I wouldn't even know who I am if it wasn't for you and Steve." I slapped my hand down on Russell's knee, trying to swashbuckle when I knew I was turning to mush.
A Flurry Of Strokes…
We approach the Island in late afternoon. I pick up and shake the gas tank; there is barely a damp swish in the bottom. As we near the harbor entrance, the little motor drones away until we are no more than a football field away from the breakwater. When the outboard dies, the silence descends as KAURI glides to a stop.
Two other sailing yachts are approaching under power, heading in after what must have been a dull day on Long Island Sound. I find a coil of line and stand on the now bow, beckoning humbly with it for a tow. The first yacht passes without the crew seeming to notice us, although we are almost in their way. A few minutes later the second one goes by, her lone occupant obviously elevating his nose at the thought of giving a tow to such a strange contraption. I curse, but Russ just shakes his head and says, "That's okay Dad, we'll make it in there yet."
He unships his kayak, slides it into the water, hops in and grabs a paddle. He backs into the tunnel between the hulls where I hang down to tie his towline to the kayak's stern.
Russell takes off in a flurry of strokes. When the towline comes taught KAURI obediently straightens to the pulsing strain, and slowly follows her creator into the harbor. We anchor in dusk.
Chapter 18 of Jim Brown's "Among the Multihulls, Vol. 2"
Video illustrations with Commentary at outrigmedia.com (free signup/login required)
- JZERO of Polygor, 1977 - photos by Craig Bumgarner
- JZERO of Polygor, 1978 Sailing to Puerto Rico with Russ Brown by Mark Balogh
- KAURI: Photos, text, and video! 37' proa on Martha's Vineyard, 1989 by Joseph Oster
- CIMBA (re-named Pacific Bee in 2008) and JZERRO
- JZERRO Construction Photos Port Townsend, WA 1992 by Joseph Oster
- JZERRO Mexico Photos... 36' Pacific proa, Baja California (Mexico)
- a sailing 'push me-pull you' JZERRO article by Andy Turpin, Latitude38
- JZERRO "doing about 20 knots" on S.F. Bay, passing Profligate,
Dave Culp and Joseph Oster visible on bench seat, Latitude38
- Photos! Sailing JZERRO on San Francisco Bay (at Shutterfly.com)
Russell Brown, Jim Antrim and Joseph Oster, June, 2000
- Russell Brown on Proas interview w/ John Harris at clcboats.com
"Jzerro will reach at 17 or 18 knots in 12 knots of wind."
- Observations on Pacific proas by Russell Brown, 3 Sep 2011
- JZERRO haul out Dec 2013, Port Townsend, WA
JZERRO on video
Pacific Proa Jzerro in Port Townsend - September 2012
Jzerro underballasted and hard on it
Proa Jzerro September, 2011
sailing 17.8 knots on auto-pilot! 720p HD *posted May, 2011
sailing 17.8 knots on auto-pilot! & sailing past lighthouse *posted July, 2008 (not HD)
Jzerro in Port Townsend 2015, at 18 knots
EPOXY BASICS: WORKING WITH EPOXY CLEANLY & EFFICIENTLY
by Russell Brown
Other Proa Pages