The Mule Packer–the D.I.Y. Travel Bike That Really Packs!

A low-cost 26″ wheel travel bike you can build with simple hand tools

“Mule” because it is formed from two different bike-parents.

“Packer” because it packs easily and travels as regular airline luggage.

  1. Built from two separate vintage mountain bike frames with horizontal top tubes.
  2. Both connections are sleeves, the simplest, strongest possible.
  3. It is constructed using only a tape measure, bevel gauge, hack saw and a file.
  4. t is a 100 % “failsafe” design that is rideable even without the clamp bolts.
  5. When slid apart, it fits into a wheel box and measures under 62″ around.
  6. To build one you need a source of old, low-cost mt. bike frames–and patience!

    Peter Marsh on top of Astoria about to descend the trail on the first Mountain Mule.

    Peter Marsh on top of Astoria about to descend the trail on the first Mountain Mule.

So what’s the catch, you ask? Well, it’s not as easy as it seems to find two frames that are close to “congruent” with the rear half being original oversize tubing and the bigger front half being oversize + tubing. But together, they  create a perfect lower “sleeve” joint.

mountain mule duo-frame webBut I practised with a lot of Huffies and other junk bikes until I was sure it could be done, and persevered with my search until I eventually found two good quality frames that were a perfect match.  The satisfaction of forming two perfect joints with just a saw and file, assembling the bike and test-riding it,  made the whole effort worthwhile.

Seat cluster uses seat post with clamps on both front and rear frame halves for 100% secure joint.

Seat cluster uses seat post with clamps on both front and rear frame halves for 100% secure joint.

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1899: the Old Columbia Lightship Sails Over Dry Land

Forty years after a lighthouse was built on Cape Disappointment,  the first light ship on the Pacific Coast arrived to take up its station off the mouth of the Columbia River. With no means of propulsion except sails, it was not a grand arrival for  Light Vessel No. 50: it was towed north by the steam-tug Fearless and dropped its 5,000 lb mushroom anchor a few miles west of the whistle buoy marking the Columbia River entrance.

Light Vessel No. 50 was 112-feet long and slow. Its steam boiler had to be run round-the-clock to keep up the pressure just to raise the light frame to the masthead every night, and in case there was a need cabin heat, to work the anchor windlass, or for the fog signal. It was it was heavily built in San Francisco with a steel frame and double-thick wooden planking. In low visibility, it was not uncommon for ships to sail right up to the fog horn and collide with the lightship!

 In 1894, it was moved three miles southeast to be nearer the river entrance. On November 28, 1899, gale force SW winds broke the heavy anchor chains and drove the ship towards the bar as the crew struggled to hoist sail. Two tugs were in the area and realized the ship was adrift. They tried tried to pass a tow line, but their efforts failed. When the lightship  tender Manzanita arrived on the scene, a rocket line was shot across to the lightship, but it caught in the tender’s propellers and had to be cut.

Now there was no hope. No. 50 was driven over the Peacock Spit and miraculously onto the small stretch of beach between McKenzie Head and Cape Disappointment. (Before the north jetty was built,) The crew climbed down at low tide, none the worse for their experience. The lightship sat high up on the beach unharmed for 16 months. Thanks to the construction of four-inch pine planking bolted to heavy frames and sheathed with 1 ½” oak, the hull appeared to be unharmed, so the Lightship Service was reluctant to order a new ship built and settled for the merchant ship Coronado as a temporary replacement. 

Through the summer, several salvage crews tried their best to haul No. 50 back to sea, but without success. They laboriously tried to dig the sand away from the keel, they brought the biggest tugs out to haul on the ship at high tide,  but it was all to no avail. What followed was a saga unique not just in the northwest but in world shipping history! Early in 1900, it was decided that  the only way to save the ship  was to move it inland and across the narrow isthmus at the SW tip of Washington and into Baker’s Bay—a distance of about “3/8 of a mile (660 yards).”

Two Portland house movers, Andrew Allen and H. H. Roberts agreed to take on the job, for a reward of $17,500–about 1/3 the value of the ship! They jacked the ship level, built heavy frames around the bilges to hold it level, and set up parallel lines of railroad ties in the sand to support log rollers. Then they rigged up multiple blocks and tackles to create a huge mechanical advantage and led the running line round a windlass turned by a pair of draft horses harnessed to a very long handle. This was enough of a reduction in gearing to enable “two horsepower” to inch the ship slowly up the beach.

Through the spring, a small army of laborers toiled all day, felling trees to create a path, picking up the ties behind the ship and moving them ahead, and re-rigging the lines. At night, the work continued with a steam generator set up on the ship’s foredeck throwing a ghostly light on the scene. The distance traveled per day ranged from a few inches when the ropes broke to a best day’s run of 205 feet,

It was such a spectacle that the ferries ran excursions from Astoria on Sundays at $1 per head. Families picnicked on the hillside below the gun emplacements of Fort Canby and watched the ship “sail” slowly through the woods. When it reached the sheltered shore of the bay, the sternpost was quickly repaired and a replacement rudder fitted. On June 2, 1901, the tide floated No. 50 and it was towed to Astoria, then to Portland for drydocking.

It was repaired and returned to service for another nine years, but not without more excitement. In 1907, it blew ashore again and the entire crew quit, demanding a ship with a propulsion engine. The next Columbia lasted from 1908 to 1950. It was also built in the northeast and was delivered to the northwest via the Strait of Magellan, before the Panama Canal was opened. The 131’ long traditional design had elaborate woodwork below decks, and towering masts with ratlines that gave it the feel of a sailing ship. The two steam boilers developed 425 HP and moved the ship at a maximum 8 knots. They were not converted from coal to oil until 1939, so the ship could stay on station until its coal store was empty.

The old Number 50 still has plenty of life left even though it was surveyed and condemned as unfit for further service in 1915.  It was sold at a public auction for $1,668 to a Mexican firm. The new owners installed an engine and converted into a coastal steamer. Later, it was sold to a fish packer and worked in Alaskan waters until 1935.

The lightship service finally emerged in the 1950s with a modern, functional design.  The final design, built in Maine in 1951, was able to withstand the worst winter storms, but was abruptly overtaken by the electronics revolution. Only twenty years later, it was swept away by the electronics revolution The change had begun when a 1957 study estimated the annual cost of a lightship station at $1.32 million and determined that each station required 1 1/3 vessels to allow for maintenance. Seeking to cut costs, the Coast Guard began to replace shallow-water east coast lightships with offshore light structures similar to oil platforms, and deepwater sites with the new Large Navigation Buoy or LNB.

The Coast Guard has signed the death warrant for the Columbia River lightship,” wrote the Oregonian’s boating journalist Larry Barber at the end of 1979. Two congressmen had asked for “a reprieve,” he noted, after hearings in which fisherman and seafarers had voiced their objections. But progress marched on. The gallant history of lightships on the Columbia River lasted just 87 years. The device that replaced it— the LNB 40’ in diameter—only lasted a decade before it too was downsized and became a museum piece.

 Today, the Columbias entrance is marked by a much smaller buoy anchored six miles southwest of the river entrance. It’s visible for 14 miles, compared to the 24-mile range of the ship’s light. A second buoy, operated by NOAA transmits wave and weather information to a shore station. Because they are only a fraction of the weight of a lightship, these buoys are actually far easier to anchor than the ships.

The Last Active Lightship on the West Coast,  No. 604, built in Maine in 1951. It was 128 feet long, displaced 617 tons when loaded with 47,000 gallons of fuel to run the heavy Atlas Imperial 8 cylinder, direct-reversing engine that produced 550 HP at 750rpm. It carried two 15,000candle power lights, and two diaphones. Later, 24 locomotive headlights mounted in groups of six on each face of a four-sided revolving housing were added.

It also carried 13,000 gallons of freshwater and 12 tons of food to feed the 18 crew during their 2-4 week stint. The main anchor was a 7,000 lbs mushroom type (far less effective than modern plow-type designs) with 1,300 feet of 2” chain. Even the most experienced seamen got sick occasionally when 30’ waves rolled under the ship during winter storms, and sleep was almost impossible. The ship snatched and jerked against the chain, exerting a strain that would destroy a normal hull. Then the skipper might use the engine to keep his vessel headed into the wind.

Equally tiring was the bleat of the modern fog horn, audible for five miles.  It was so loud (140 decibels) that anyone venturing on deck without ear protectors risked deafness.  It sent shock waves and vibrations through the ship, keeping the men awake when it was sounding, and when it stopped–the silence was deafening!

During its service, the lightship was blown off station during the Columbus Day Storm 1962, and sideswiped by an unknown vessel and withdrawn for repair of the damage in 1963. In 1976, it began its retirement at the Columbia River Maritime Museum, where you can see it today. Around the US, some 16 survivors of the 179 lightships that once served shipping have been preserved.

CAPTION: The First Columbia River Lightship was stranded on the beach north of Cape Disappointment  in 1899. It was towed overland and re-launched in Baker Bay in 1901. Columbia River Maritime Museum Photo 251-4814

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Remembering the Lightship Columbia

“The Coast Guard has signed the death warrant for the Columbia River lightship,” wrote Larry Barber at the end of 1979. Two congressmen had asked for “a reprieve,” he noted, after hearings in which fisherman and seafarers had voiced their objections. They urgently requested that the ship be “left on station alongside the new buoy until its anchor had been tested during a major storm.” But the death knell had been rung for the last lightship on the west coast.

Their concern was understandable, but progress marched on. Twenty years later, the lightship has slipped into the history of seafaring as surely as the windjammer. The last of the Columbias is on display at the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, along with the device that replaced it–an ocean buoy. It is round, 40’ in diameter, and displays a light 42’ above the water.

Today, the Columbia is “guarded” by a similar buoy anchored six miles southwest of the river entrance, where it’s visible for 14 miles, compared to the 24-mile range of the ship’s light. A second buoy, operated by NOAA transmits wave and weather information to a shore station. Of course, because they are only a fraction of the weight of a lightship, the buoys are actually much easier to anchor than the ships ever were.

Lighthouses and lightships still have a fascination for many people–the symbol of the light guiding mariners into safe harbor is a powerful one. Part of the nostalgia over the lightship might also be that it had evolved for over a century, to withstand the worst winter storms, and finally emerged in the 1950s with a modern, functional design. Only twenty years later, it was swept away by the electronics revolution. The gallant history of lightships on the west coast lasted only a single lifetime, beginning on the Columbia River in 1892 and lasting just 87 years.

The lightship era lasted longer on the east coast, beginning in 1819, but still spanned less than two centuries. The idea had come from the ancient world, where Roman coast-guard galleys carried iron baskets at their mastheads in which a fire could be built. Manned by an armed crew, such vessels patrolled the Roman coasts to guide and protect incoming vessels by providing a beacon and to deter piracy by showing that a warship was at hand.

By the 18th century, however, maritime commerce had become a 24-hour-a-day undertaking, with ships ranging the entire globe. In 1731, Robert Hamblin, an Englishman, obtained permission from King George II to outfit what would become the first modern lightship. His primitive vessel was given the name Nore and took up its position a year later in the Thames estuary.

The Nore carried two ship’s lanterns, hung 12 feet apart from a cross arm high above the deck wherein burned flat wicks in oil. The Nore’s log lists several accounts of almost futile struggles to keep the lanterns lit during any appreciable strength of wind. Still, ships’ masters considered the lightship a godsend, and the idea quickly spread to every seafaring nation. At least six lightships were in use off England’s coasts by 1800.

The first U.S. contract was awarded in 1819 for a vessel of “70 tons burthen, copper-fastened, a cabin with four berths at least, spars, a capstan, belfry, yawl and davits…” Delivered in the summer of 1820, this first “light boat” was initially stationed off Willoughby Spit, Va., as an aid to Chesapeake Bay commerce. Storms and heavy seas, however, blasted this exposed position, and the vessel had to be shifted to a safer anchorage near Norfolk, VA.

Within a year, four more lightships appeared, marking dangerous shoals in the Chesapeake. America’s first true “outside” lightship, anchored in the open sea instead of in a bay or inlet, entered service off Sandy Hook, N.J. in 1823.The lightship proved as successful on this side of the Atlantic as it had on the other. During the period 1820-1983, 56 lightship stations were established. They were found in shallow water where fixed structures could not be placed, and in deep water many miles from shore. Being mobile, they could be readily repositioned to suit changing channels and trade.

The first lightships were exceedingly poor platforms–their full body, shoal draft and light displacement combining to cause undue rolling and violent pitching. In the 1830s, the skipper of one seagoing light was complaining that “her broad bluff bow is not calculated to resist the fury of the sea, which in some winter gales break against us and over us with almost impending fury.” Such rolling and pitching, in turn, resulted in frequent loss of moorings and breakage or damage to the lanterns. Another captain described his hull as being “similar to a barrel,” so that “she is constantly in motion, and when it is in any ways rough, she rolls and labors to such a degree as to heave the glass out of the lanterns, the beds out of the berths, tearing out the chain-plates, etc.”

With the advent of the Lighthouse Board in 1852, the situation was somewhat improved, but it was not until 1910 when the U.S. Lighthouse Service came into being that lightships found a place in a truly reliable, service-oriented organization. These high standards were carried onward by the U.S. Coast Guard in operating the lightships from 1939 until they were phased out in 1983. A visit to a lightship in the 1970s might have produced a much different report–on a calm day.

Scientific advances in hull design, the use of bilge keels, plus adoption of improved ballasting techniques produced more stable vessels. Not only did new designs reduce roll, but diesel engines also helped the captain keep his vessel headed into the wind for even greater stability. One change, though, was for the worse, at least as far as crew comfort was concerned. The bleat of modern fog-horns was so loud that anyone venturing on deck without ear protectors risked deafness.

But lightship duty was not for everyone!

A lightship was a sea-going vessel which spent most if its life anchored in the middle of a busy shipping lane, sending out light and radio signals that invited large ships to motor straight toward them, especially in poor visibility. The roll and pitch of the anchored ship would quickly induce seasickness in the unwary. In stormy weather, the ship snatched and jerked against the chain, exerting a strain that would destroy a normal ship. (If those congressmen had been forced to spend a tour of duty on a lightship, they might have avoided the embarrassment of that final appeal.)

The last Columbia Lightship was one of two of the last class of lightships built by the Coast Guard, and spent its entire 28 years of duty off the Columbia River. It was designated WAL-604,built by Rice Brothers in East Boothbay, Maine, equipped with an Atlas Imperial 8 cyl, direct reversing engine; 550 SHP ~ 750rpm;with a 7’dia propeller; and a max. speed of 10.7 knots. It carried two 15,000candle power lights, and two diaphones. Later, 24 locomotive headlights mounted in groups of 6 on each face of a 4-sided revolving lamp housing were added.

During its service, the lightship took aboard the crew of a sinking USCG 36 foot motor lifeboat in 1959; was blown off station during severe storm on Columbus Day 1962 and sideswiped by an unknown vessel; withdrawn for repair of collision damage in 1963. That was a more settled life than previous ships enjoyed.

In 1899, a major storm tore the light ship from its mooring and blew it ashore on the Peacock Spit. It sat on the sand unharmed for 16 months, thanks to the construction of four-inch pine planking bolted to heavy frames. A contractor finally managed to lift the 123’ ship onto rollers and haul it a quarter mile across the sand to Bakers Bay. It was repaired in Astoria and returned to service for another nine years. When it was replaced by a new steel design, the old lightship was sold to a Mexican firm and converted into a coastal steamer, and later to an Alaskan cannery tender.

The next Columbia lasted from 1908 to 1950. It was also built in the northeast and was delivered to the northwest via the Strait of Magellan, before the Panama Canal was opened. The 131’ long vintage craft had elaborate woodwork below decks, and towering masts with ratlines gave it the feel of a sailing ship. The two steam boilers were not converted from coal to oil until 1939. The main steam engine developed 425 HP and moved the ship at a maximum 8 knots.

According to a former lightshipman, Commander Jim Hadley, the crew of 10 men served 42 days on station and 21 days ashore. At the end of their six weeks at sea, they steamed into port to provision and pick up the new crew. He recalled one night in 1947, when the worst fear of lightship duty, being struck by a big ship, was almost realized.

The weather was clear and the seas were calm,” he wrote in 1979. “On entering the darkened pilothouse, I was astounded to see the bulk of an unladen Liberty Ship not more than 300 yards away. While awaiting the arrival of the bar pilot, the ship was drifting beam-on toward us. We immediately began sounding the four-blast danger warning while the bosun went forward to prepare to veer or slip the chain and the engine room stood by to get under way on auxiliary steam. For what seemed to be an eternity, those aboard the freighter showed no signs of life. Then, illuminated by the 13,000 candle power light, a startle face appeared on the freighter’s bridge. Commands were screamed in a foreign tongue so loudly that we could hear them clearly.”

As the big vessel drifted ever closer, the bosun veered all the remaining chain, giving us a few more yards of safety. I was about to order the chain to be slipped, as the Liberty’s propeller slowly began to turn and the ship moved slowly across our bow. We could directly up at the counter at the Greek lettering less than ten yards away, spray from the screw drenched us on the bridge. The ship’s log line dragged over our wire forestay, which cut it neatly and dropped the rotator on our deck.” Obviously the crew of the freighter had been negligent, but I later learned that my lookout had been reading while on watch. His punishment was a double tour of duty—considered a severe punishment indeed! (In the early years, four months was a standard tour of duty!)


Other lightshipmen were not so lucky: there were no survivors when Buffalo Lightship #82, located near Buffalo, N.Y., foundered in a gale that swept across Lake Erie in November, 1913, but a message from its dead captain to his wife told it all. Scrawled on a board that washed ashore a few days after the disaster, the message read: “Goodbye, Nellie, ship is breaking up fast. — Williams.” Cross Rip Lightship #6 left no survivors or messages when it vanished off Massachusetts with all hands Feb. 5,1918. Observers on shore reported seeing the helpless lightship torn loose from its moorings by a huge mass of windblown ice and carried away. The aged wooden vessel had no masts, sails or radio.

In December 1936, a 100-mph gale assailed the Swiftsure Lightship #113, anchored in the Strait of Juan de Fuca off the Washington coast. “The wind came shrieking and snarling out of the south,” its skipper recalled, “blowing a hurricane.” The sea, he declared “writhed and steamed like a bowl of boiling milk,” and the sky was “full of innumerable tiny particles of water torn from the crests of the waves until the air was so thick we could barely see half the length of our vessel.” Captain Eric Lindman flinched as waves broke over the pilothouse and the seas forced its way “through every fissure, no matter how small, even squirting in through the keyholes in the outer cabin doors.” Unlike its ill-fated sisters, however, Swiftsure survived the intense 12-hour battering.

Storms were certainly not a lightship’s only threat. In 1918 Off Cape Hatteras, N.C., a German submarine, responded to Diamond Shoals Lightship #71’s radio message warning off shipping by surfacing, and sank it with shellfire and, after allowing the 12-man crew to abandon ship. The lightship’s sacrifice was not in vain though, for more than 25 Allied ships had received its timely radio warning.

On May 15, 1934, the Nantucket Lightship #117 was riding at anchor in 192 feet of water off Nantucket Shoals. Its horn boomed into the fog to warn away the trans-Atlantic shipping that passed nearby. Unseen by sailors aboard the Nantucket was the 47,000-ton British luxury liner Olympic. Steering to the lightship’s radio beacon signal, the ocean liner intended to alter course at the last moment and pass close by the Nantucket. The liner, sister ship to the Titanic, suddenly materialized out of the fog; its towering bow hung poised like the blade of a guillotine, then severed the lightship in two. Seven of the Nantucket’s 11-man crew died in the collision.

In response to the tragedy, the British government replaced the Nantucket with a new lightship, one resembling a miniature battleship. Its hull was fashioned from armor plate, enclosing a maze of 43 watertight compartments. Atop its mast was a light visible from almost 50 miles. And, whenever the foghorn would sound, a radio transmitter would automatically broadcast a signal, enabling navigators of oncoming ships to calculate the distance to the lightship.

Official records contain 237 instances of lightships being blown adrift or dragged off-station in severe weather or moving ice with five total losses. There were 150 more serious collisions with lightships documented. Most of these involved sailing vessels, but long tows of multiple barges accounted for a sizeable number. Besides the Nantucket in 1934, four other lightships were sunk as the result of being rammed. Fog was a factor in many of these collisions, however most occurred under conditions of reasonably good visibility.

In 1939, when the Coast Guard assumed responsibility for aids to navigation, the number of stations had been reduced to 30. The final chapter of America’s lightship era came to a close with the decommissioning of the Nantucket in 1983.


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Cape Disappointment Lighthouse–is 150 Years Old

Cape Disappointment is Washington’s Oldest Lighthouse

There was a small ceremony this winter at Cape Disappointment Lighthouse that marked its 150 years of service to mariners. Cape D was the first light on the entire west coast, and all the other major lights in Washington shining their beacon to mariners for well over 100 years. Together, they represent the last active remnant of the age of sail. Even the government agency that built and ran the nation’s lights, the U.S. Lighthouse Service, disappeared long ago, but the lights have become a treasured part of our heritage. Another agency, the U.S. Life-Saving Service, manned the shore stations that were equipped with seaworthy rowing boats. The first life-saving station was built at Willapa Bay in 1877, followed by Neah Bay in 1878.

All of the early lighthouses were built to the same basic design: a Cape Cod house with the tower rising through the center. The design was simple, but delivering the materials to the site was often a challenge since they were perched on cliff tops with no access roads. In the case of Cape Disappointment, the first load of materials arrived on the bark Oriole in September 1853, but the ship wrecked directly below the cape on and the entire cargo, including the precious Fresnel lens was lost. Two years passed before another ship arrived with the materials after weathering Cape Horn. A road was cleared to allow ox teams to pull wagons up the hill and construction began. The final cost was $38,500–a huge sum at that time.

Exposed to the worst of the weather, all these old light structures are showing their age, and the Coast Guard has found itself burdened with the task of historical preservation. However, this has begun to change recently, as they have been transferring ownership of all the lighthouses to the Washington State Parks & Recreation Commission or local bodies. This has the benefit of allowing the lights to be open to the public for tours, which are already available at the North Head Light, two miles north of Cape Disappointment. Even during the coldest winter, I find a visit to either of these lighthouses reminds me why I can’t wait for spring and the chance to see the light from the water.

The tip of SW Washington is unique in having two major lights so close together. After the Cape Disappointment light was built in 1856, the entrance to the Columbia River was much safer, but captains of ships sailing south from Puget Sound to the Columbia complained that they could not see the light unless they stood far out to sea. In support of their argument, they cited wrecks of such ships as the Whistler (1883) and Grace Roberts (1887) on beaches north of the cape. In response, the Lighthouse Board in 1893 dispatched a lightship to the mouth of the Columbia. Lightship No. 50, built at San Francisco’s Union Works, took station four miles southwest of Cape Disappointment that same year. The 120-foot sail-powered vessel served until 1909 when replaced by steam-powered Lightship No. 88, which remained at the mouth of the Columbia for 30 years.

In the same year, the board also asked Congress for $50,000 to build a first-order light on Cape Disappointment’s North Head. Five years later, a 65-foot high tower of brick was completed. To distinguish the two towers in daylight, a distinctive black band was applied to Cape D in the early 1900s, reminding us that visual identification is still important. The first aids to navigation were only effective in daylight: a white flag on top of a hill or perhaps prominent trees with their branches trimmed and tops cut off.

Other lighthouses in Washington are also changing hands: the Westport Lighthouse with its elegant 107’ tower has been maintained by the local maritime museum since 2000. The West Point Lighthouse SW of Shilshole Marina, also known as the Discovery Park Lighthouse, was turned over to Seattle’s Department of Parks and Recreation in October of 2004. West Point opened in 1881 with a fourth-order Fresnel lens. It was the first manned light station on Puget Sound and cost $25,000 to build. It was illuminated with a kerosene lamp until 1925, when it was connected to Seattle’s electric grid.

The Point Wilson Light, marking the western entrance to Admiralty Inlet, was built in 1913, replacing a wooden light tower built in 1879. At a height of 51 feet, the beacon is the tallest on the sound. It is located in Fort Worden State Park near Port Townsend and is scheduled to become parks property later this year.

The tradition and legends of gallant light-house keepers stem from the original wick lighting system. It consisted of five 18″ wicks in a circle burning first sperm whale oil then kerosene, requiring five gallons of fuel a day to be carried up the steps. It was necessary to have a man on watch at all times to ensure the wicks were adjusted correctly to keep the flame at the right height, clean soot off the glass, and wind the clockwork mechanism that rotated the lenses.

To create the flash pattern, the circular Fresnel lens was polygonal, the number of sides corresponding to the number of flashes. The entire assembly, weighing several tons, was mounted on wheels on a circular track or floated in container of mercury, reducing rotational friction to a minimum so that it could be moved with the touch of a finger. It was rotated at a precise rate by a clockwork drive, wound by hand as often as every 4 hours, which meant the keeper had to make the trip to the lantern room several times each night. Automation gradually improved the lighthouse keeper’s lot in the form of a mechanical striking mechanism to sound the fog bell and a descending weight that slowly traveled the interior height of the tower, thus rotating the light. Seaman traditionally being conservative, these archaic methods continued until the 1930s, when all the lights were electrified.

Today, most Fresnel lenses have been replaced by rotating beacons similar to those found at airports. These beacons generally consist of a high-powered light source, with a reflecting mirror on one side of the light source and a condensing lens on the other.   The standard optic in US lighthouses is the Vega VRB-25, which is manufactured in New Zealand. It is a small drum-like plastic version of the Fresnel design.

The VRB-25 provides a range of up to 21 nautical miles with a 12-volt 100-Watt lamp. It was designed to meet a United States specification for an accurate and reliable replacement beacon.

This beacon can operate in remote, solar-powered locations, on unattended sites, without a lighthouse for protection, and requires maintenance no more than once a year. More than 400 of these lanterns are in service around the world, with over 300 in North America. The lenses are moulded from optical-grade acrylic resin. Red and green coloured lenses are available, and the beacon is available in 6-panel and 8-panel versions. Vega also produces an LED lighthouse lamp consisting of stackable discs lights that can provide more than 10 miles of range. As with the lighthouses themselves, beauty has been replaced with pure function and ease of maintenance.


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Cascade Yachts: Building Boats for the Long Run

Portlanders Built Fiberglass Keelboats in 1956

The sport of sailing never got any respect in Portland. But that’s understandable. It’s 100 miles upriver from the Columbia Bar then another 10 to the home of the Willamette (River) Sailing Club. Dodging barges on a narrow waterway with the downtown skyline for a backdrop-it’s an unlikely place to nurture national sailing champions.

Which leads us to this month’s fascinating question-who built the first fiberglass yachts? The boating press, headquartered in the NE states, would have us believe that it was the Pearson company in 1959 with a 28 foot class called the Triton. Maybe if they repeat that often enough everyone will start to believe it!

But we in the NW center of the sport need to be reminded occasionally that “it just ain’t so”. By 1959 a group in Portland had been in the laminating business for four years and had already launched ten of their 34 foot Chinook class boats. That enterprise became Yacht Constructors in 1956 and after many years was officially renamed Cascade Yachts in 1989. This is the story of their 35 years in continuous fiberglass production.

In the fall of 1954 a work party at the Rose City Yacht Club brought together an energetic group of Columbia River sailors. While they were working on the club’s floats the talk turned to-what else-the ideal boat. They were all, it seemed, looking for something quite similar, and the talk turned to ways to sponsor a new, economical, cruiser class. But there was little chance of seriously lowering costs if the boats were built one at a time in plank-on-frame style construction.

Merle Starr and Tom Green were particularly impressed by the potential of fiberglass, although the only examples they had seen were dinghies and runabouts. They found out about a builder in La Conner who was turning out 20 foot, fiberglass, fishing skiffs. He recomended they use only glass fabric, and stay away from chopped-strand mat. They also saw how the Freightliner company was building truck bodies with the new materials in Portland.

Merle and Tom then found a design by the Philadelphia architect Frederick Geiger that fit the bill for their one-design, and persuaded Wade Cornwell, Henry Morton and Jarvis Gould to join them in the venture. (Wade remembered that other prominent architects refused to answer their inquiries when they mentioned “fiberglass”.)

One can imagine that there must have been a few doubts as the five amateur partners spent eight months, from April to November 1955, building the plug and painstakingly fairing it. Even today that is a process that most boat owners know little about. Yet here were five guys who had never even seen a fiberglass yacht laboring on the construction of the first stage in the process-a perfectly fair hull-shape that wouldn’t even float! For once it’s justifiable to call this “a dream” project. They sweated over the plug, then took off the mold, in an old building next to Steinfeld’s pickle works, now part of Portland airport, sharing aspace with Ed Gove who was building a 30 foot sloop to a William Garden design. (Ed later moved to Seattle and founded Gove’s Cove.)

In converting the lines from traditional wood to fiberglass the team had nothing to go on except their own judgment, but since all the Chinooks they built are still going strong they must have done it right! One of the boats actually went on to sail around the world. The design was in every way a classic, centerboard hull, only 23 feet on the waterline with 11 feet of elegant overhangs and displacing a solid 12,000lbs.

Hull no.1 was completed in April 1956, Starr got hull no.5 in July 1957. It was Christmas before he had the mast built and the rig set up. He sailed “Pxyis” for the first time during a mild spell in January 1958. Merle owned and sailed no. 5 for 30 years, until his death in 1985. The basic hull, deck and cabin had cost about $4,500 and the entire yacht, ready-to-sail came out to about $9,000. “The main idea was to provide an affordable sailboat” recalled Wade Cornwell. “Back then hardly anyone could afford a real yacht”.

Each skipper now had a real cruiser that he would never have been able to afford otherwise-with low maintenance to boot. The five boats did well in local racing with an optional, tall rig carrying 530 sq.ft. Eventually Merle won PYC’s Long Distance Race three times and Tom won it twice. You can guess what happened next-other sailors began asking them for “just one more boat” off the molds. Three of the original partners, Starr, Green and Cornwell slid into business and incorporated with the low-key title of Yacht Constructors.

Their first customer was Dr. Donald Laird of Portland, their slogan-“Anyone can afford a fabulous Chinook”. During the early years transportation costs were lower-it cost only $240 to truck a hull and keel to San Diego for instance-and many were shipped around the country. The 70th and last hull went to Maryland in 1968.

By then the company had bought the property on NE 42 nd, where they are still to be found, and had commissioned the Cascade series of designs from local naval architect Robert Smith. First came the 29, in 1961, followed by the 42 in 1964 and the 36 in 1967. These made a complete break with the style of the Chinook design-the 29 had more waterline length but only displaced half as much. The new hulls, with their canoe shape, moderate beam and fin keels were destined to become cruising classics and see more ocean-going miles than anyone could have thought possible at the time.

Smith was also an architect with east coast roots. He was working at Sparkman & Stephens when war broke out and was recruited by Henry Kaiser to the Portland shipyards. When the last Liberty Ship went down the ways he set up his own office on the Columbia. His yacht Mischief was one of the first fin-keel racers in the NW and won the 1956 Swiftsure. (Although retired Smith, like Cornwell and Green, also stays active in the yachting world and recently took delivery of a custom, wooden 27 foot centerboarder to his own design.)

Over 360 of the 29’s have been sold, the majority in the first two decades. They have sailed on all the world’s oceans, yet were actually advertised as “a trailerable cruiser”. However, Smith emphasised that the 8’2″ beam, which looks very narrow today, was foremost a reflection of the CCA rule which penalised anything greater than that. The skeg rudder was later changed to a spade and many skippers, in true owner-builder style, added bowsprits to set a larger jib, an idea which spread to the larger boats.

Now, there seem to be enough used boats on the market to satisfy demand; there are even a few unfinished hulls around. I have watched a good friend, Dave Acton, complete a 29 from a hull and deck over the past four years, purchasing major components as and when he could afford them. The boat continues to offer an economical alternative to the typical showroom models and can outsail many of them.

Portland boatbuilder Gary Weber sailed his 29 to the Caribbean then back through Panama to the south Pacific and home. The longest trip to date appears to be that of Walt wilson, a former Rose City policeman, who completed a six-year, 40,000 mile circumnavigation in the Cascade 29 Euphoria. The unofficial Cascade-owners grapevine has learned there is another circumnavigator in a 29 somewhere out there right now, over half way around the world.

One other use of this class deserves mention-the “Sea Scout 29″. After several requests from scout leader Bud Beggs, Bob Smith proposed to modify a hull to meet the scout’s needs. The sheer was lowered 4″ by a dam in the mold making the boat suitable for rowing with four 13 foot oars. The fin keel was replaced by a 2,400 lb iron shoe with a slot for the center-board, minimum draft is 2’9”. A new deck mold was built replacing the cabin with a long, self-bailing cockpit and buoyant compartments. With its ketch rig and bowsprit the Beaver was well-suited to carrying a young crew on instruction and adventure cruises. Six sister ships have been launched since 1969, all except one -which went to Everett scouters-remain on the Columbia.

An assortment of factors-among them the improving economy, the spirit of the sixties, the company history-was leading Yacht Constructors to become the premier kit boat supplier on the west coast. Would-be sailors began to show up with little money and even less knowledge, but they were determined to go cruising! They could buy a reliable, rugged, bare hull, park it inside the yard for a nominal rent and start on their dream-whether that meant finding a job to earn funds or fitting the floors and engine bed.

Most boatbuilders would recoil in horror at the thought of selling one of their unfinished designs to a complete amateur-the Yacht Constructors saw a healthy business where bigger or more ambitious yards refused to go. After all, that was the way the partnership had begun. What’s more, they happily provided advice and couragement to numerous owner-builders, encouraged by mail from those already “out there, doing it.”

Cascades have been finished by hundreds of owners, each in a different way, yet nothing disastrous has ever happened. In fact the problem, if there is one, is that owner-builders tend to overbuild everything. But then the hulls are also overbuilt as well, laminated with 8 layers of 24 oz. woven roving below the waterline on the 29 and 12 layers on the 42. (The expression “bulletproof” is often bandied around, but 45 slugs really do bounce off these hulls, which have survived groundings and collisions that would have sunk lighter boats.)

The best horror stories appear to be accidents which had nothing to do with poor navigation:one hull fell off a trailer on the New Jersey Turnpike at 55 MPH. The only damage was to a a worn patch on the bilge. Another Cascade was moored in a California marina which was buried in a mud slide. The mud was so deep that only the mast top was showing. Every boat except this 29 was a write-off. A 36 was dropped 8 feet onto concrete and suffered no damage.

The low-key approach to business was also a reflection of the partners lives in which boatbuilding was no more than a part-time occupation. Merle Starr Ph.D, retired from his post as Physics professor at the University of Portland in 1976, Tom Green stayed with the Hyster corporation as a fabrication foreman for 34 years until 1972. Wade Cornwell worked for Union Carbide until 1963. When his job was eliminated he became the full-time manager of the company.

In February 1989 Cascade found a new, owner. Hans Geerling, an electronics engineer at Tektronix, who was also facing unemployment. Looking for a way to avoid the next cyclical downturn in hi-tec business, he made the partners an offer they couldn’t refuse. Hans has been sailing since his youth, mostly on the inland waters of Friesland in Holland. He moved to Oregon in 1968, and quickly built himself a sailing dinghy. Since then he has moved up to a Catalina 25 and a Westsail 32. For his next boat, Hans has

more than Cascades to choose from because last summer he acquired four more molds from the defunct Heritage Boat works in Hood River. All four are designs from Jay Benford, who used to live in Friday Harbor before moving to St Michaels, Maryland, on the Chesapeake Bay. The 20 and 22 are traditional pocket yachts, the 30 a beamy, aft-cabin boat and the 39 a handsome, full-keeled double-ender. The Smith designs have had a fin keel since 1961, observed Hans, but tastes have changed over the years. “Now I’m finally ready to begin building full keels for the 1990’s” he commented with a smile.

Many changes have been made to the original Cascades, like a multitude of keel options:deep, shallow, fin-and -bulb, wing. The best-seller now is definitely the 42, introduced 1964. The first customer was the Dr.Laird who bought the first Chinook. That hull has now been extended to become the 44, showing so many changes above the WL that it is practically a new boat. It is more likely to have an Airex core these days too, mainly for insulation, but still with plenty of roving on either side.

The topsides have been raised a foot, allowing a flush deck forward of the mast and the new cabin has around 7 feet of headroom. The stern extension seems such a natural feature that I had to see the separate mold to believe it wasn’t part of the hull mold. Two 44’s are being fitted out by the company this winter to two entirely different plans. There is an awful lot of space in there and anyone who plans on finishing their own 44 should be aware of the demands it will make.

Ten years building time is not unheard of with the big boat, but at the other end of the scale is Don Eudaly. His wife decided to have a baby around the time he bought the 36 foot hull. She gave him nine months to finish the job and he managed it on time! Since then the Fletcher has done 12 Swiftsures, Victoria-Maui, and cruised to Alaska and the Caribbean. Now Don’s son races the Fletcher so much that Don bought himself another 36.

Jim and Molly Moore’s 36 “Swan” is probably the best-known Portland boat. The Moore’s spent five years finishing their boat and four years sailing around the world. They have presented their slide show to many local sailors. A 1988 article in (the Bay Area publication) 38 North tells how 80 year-old Josh Taylor finished an 11 year round the world voyage in the Cascade 36 Comitan. The boat was still going strong but age had caught up with the skipper so he trucked it home from Florida.

In 1967 a Portland Yacht Club syndicate was formed to build a stripped-out Cascade 42, modified specifically to race the Trans-Pac. It was fitted with a lighter rig, a bowsprit and a deeper keel. Around 2,000 lbs was saved by lightening up on the deck construction and omitting the aft cabin, the interior was designed to sleep a 6-man crew. In those halcyon days of the CCA rule there were few loopholes, boats had to be weighed for rating and the Nimble tipped the scales at 15,500 lbs.

The syndicate raced seven consecutive Trans-Pacs, from 1967 to 1979, keeping the boat up north for time-sharing on the off-years. Their best place was 3rd in ’69, the best time 11 days, 15 hours. They might have improved on that in ’77 but lost the mast after a spreader failure when closing the islands. Bill Nickerson eventually bought out all the shares and cruised the boat in the 1980’s.

In 1978 Smith drew up the last of the line, the Cascade 27, a more roomy, affordable boat which the designer sailed to an overall win in the 1984 Swiftsure Race. Twenty years after the introduction of the IOR he is still vociferous in defence of the CCA designs and hopes for a return to moderation under IMS. Underway, you can always tell a Cascade by the mountain range insignia on the sail. One other feature that has become a trademark is the toerail on the 36 and 44.

(The accent here should be on the RAIL not the TOE, because we are talking about the world’s toughest!) One customer worked for a local aluminum company and used his expertise to produce an extruded, toerail/ rubrail section strong enough to double as a bowsprit and horizontal chainplate. There are no conventional chainplates on Cascades with this rail. All rigging is shackled directly to the toerail. In the shop they lift hulls by the rail, which is fitted

in 24 foot lengths then returned to the maker for anodising. The latest innovation is a big one-powerboating. You wouldn’t expect the company to start building just any old boat and the 36 trawler is certainly anything but ordinary. It’s a heavy displacement, deep-V, hard-chine hull that sports two enormous skegs, each carrying a protected prop and rudder. The “3 point” bottom of deep forefoot and skegs means the trawler can sit unsupported at low tide or when hauled out. Internally, the engine beds are down in the skegs, increasing cabin space. The concept was originally drawn up by Nils Lucander as a work boat for the Honduran government. Geerling is betting that it will interest NW boaters interested in economy cruising, especially in more remote areas.

In the small office inside the plant Geerling outlined for me how he thought the business might develop in the future. Cascade also provides catalog sales of everything needed to finish a boat, from cleats to engines. The yachting world has seen who-knows how many up and down turns of the market since 1955 but this is one company that has resisted the temptation to expand. They have never employed more than 12 people, at present there are six workers. The partners experimented with dealers, national advertising and licencing builders before deciding the product would just have to sell itself. Because most of their business is in partly-finished boats, the shop is not set up for series production of interiors and does not have a lot of space and machinery dedicated to joinery, which also reduces the overhead.

Although Geerling makes all the decisions now, the original Cascade philosophy won’t change significantly. Space is still available round the back for a nominal rent, the catalog order operation continues and they are not about to build a boat until there is an order. Every hull “No.1” is still sailing.

Hans is now the father to a huge boating family stretching back 36 years and guardian of the “owners file”, a battered folder that lists every owner of every yacht they have built since the very beginning. There are now 50 Cascades moored at the Rose City Yacht Club where it all began; back in a kinder, gentler age of boating OR sailing. OR when a few guys came up with an idea whose time had come



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First Jules Verne Record of 79 Days

Around the World of Cam Lewis

The record for sailing around the world non-stop has now been reduced to a stunning 45 days in 2012, and it’s getting hard to remember that just 20 years ago, a multihull voyage to the southern ocean was a journey into the unknown, the sailing equivalent of a moon landing. A total of three boats had set out into the unknown in January 1993, none of them was designed with this ultimate sailing challenge in mind. They were in search of adventure, competing against the mythic characters of a 19th century novel for the Jules Verne trophy.

Only one boat completed the journey. The skipper was Bruno Peyron and Lewis was one of his four crew. There’s only one book on that first race written in English, It’s called Around the World in 79 Days and it’s well worth a read. It’s by and about Lewis, who was until this year the only American to have raced around the world in a catamaran.

Dashing around the world in an 86′ wing-masted ocean racer with four crazy Frenchmen could easily have generated a thrill-a-minute prose style. But Lewis and his co-author Michael Levitt chose to take the literary high road in describing this harrowing journey. As the title suggests, it is written with an appreciation for the work of fiction that inspired this whole crazy movement–Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days.

They devoted a good portion of the book to re-printing whole chapters of Verne’s classic work, comparing the fictional adventures of the phlegmatic English gentleman Phileas Fogg with their own race against the clock. What’s more, the whole book is peppered with asides on topics that are only obliquely connected with both narratives–from population growth in India to the origin of the international dateline. Perhaps it’s Lewis’ way of admitting that daily life on a boat, no matter how fast, can’t compare with pulp fiction.

This may sound like a confusing way to organize a book, but the result is a pleasant change from the usual “wow-we-really-did-it” narrative and makes for very easy reading. In 1993, you’ll learn, Verne’s book was never far from the thoughts of Peyron and his crew, and their conversations covered all manner of topics. And if it wasn’t for Verne, Lewis jokes, a round number like three months or 100 days would been the goal, which would have been a whole lot easier to attain.

The progress of the unshakeable, imperturbable Fog provides enough excitement in the alternating chapters for the authors to keep their account down to the minimum necessary to get the story told. Not that there aren’t moments when they allow that nothing short of a stream-of-consciousness style will do the trick. So this is how Lewis describes the short walk across the trampoline of Commodore Explorer from one side of the cat to the other:

“Try to walk on a waterbed in sea boots. It’s similar……….but to get the real feeling you have to put it in a pickup truck with a crazed teenager driving in New York city on a rainy winter night at rush hour.” Lewis knows that, like Verne, he too, has a grand yarn to spin and just occasionally lets loose with one of these metaphoric broadsides. But he never gets carried away with the fact that he was making nautical history.

In addition to his in-your-face graphic moments, Lewis is also very observant and, you might well decide, practically addicted to word play in French and English. He never misses a chance of making light of the discomforts, and there were plenty, believe me! The narrow hull he shared with two other men for 80 days had less space than a wartime submarine, dripped and squirted water non-stop, and was rarely warmer than the outside temperature.

It was in this port hull that Lewis presided over the primitive “galley,” for he was the designated cook on the voyage, producing meals for four picky Frenchmen. Not haute cuisine, he admits, but filling enough to keep them going. He called his bistro “le café des cochons volant au rive gauche” (the flying pigs café on the left bank) when he was in a good mood. He was responsible for purchasing and packing all the food, and this was the first time he’d ever cooked on a long passage.

But there’s more! This is also a love story about Lewis and his girlfriend Molly: how he managed to procrastinate over proposing to her until they are oceans apart, when he finally pops the question over the radio. The book finishes with them settling down in Maine with their first child, conceived before the historic voyage began.

This was no expense-account trip, and Bruno had to keep the bankers at bay while they prepared the boat. The first day, they broke a yard off the bottom of the mainsail track. Then the mainsail outhaul exploded, followed by the shackle on the mainsheet traveler car. The auto pilots never worked well, forcing one man to be constantly at or near the helm. The escape hatch in Lewis’ port hull leaked until they practically glued it shut with silicone, and the diesel heater was a disaster.

Perhaps it was just as well they did not have jib furlers, as nothing on the boat seemed to work for long without expert maintenance. Nonetheless, things went well enough for the first two weeks. In the middle of the south Atlantic, on the latitude of the Cape of Good Hope, they got their first good blow. The boat was moving at 25 knots in 50 knots of wind. With Bruno at the wheel, the Commodore Explorer skied down a 40′ wave at maximum speed, ran out of water in the trough, and drove its bows under all the way to the mast.

The whole boat rose out of the water, pirouetted around the lee bow and hung in the air, deciding whether gravity or inertia would win out. Lewis and the rest of the crew were flung from their seats. When they recovered, they found their skipper “wide-eyed and ashen.” The next day, they ran under bare mast at 10 knots.

The fleet of two cats and one tri had all been lengthened, modified and reinforced to resist the impact of the 26,000-mile journey. However, this wasn’t enough to resist the impact of a breaking wave that slammed the Explorer hard enough to split the surface layer of carbon fiber. Peyron’s crew voted to carry on, but when the 85′ catamaran Enza and the 90′ trimaran Charal collided with some unseen object east of South Africa, they were forced to withdraw.

With his boat the nominal “winner” of the race, Peyron brooded over the risks and talked often about calling off the attempt in Australia. He spent as much time “dialing for dollars” as he did plotting the weather, Lewis reckoned. If the captain was becoming reluctant, the crew cheerfully pushed ahead, perhaps driven by the thought that they’d have to come back and DO IT AGAIN if they didn’t get it right the first time.

Having broken every historic sailing record on the books, they reached Cape Horn after 52 days, on schedule for the 80-day target, only to be confronted by a storm of epic proportions. With the wind gusting to 85 knots, they were still making 25 knots under wingmast, unable to slow down, and heading straight for the Chilean coastline. This was the time they chose to pioneer a new maneuver we may hear more of in The Race: turning a cat across the breaking waves and into a storm to force it to heave to. The crew huddled in their survival suits expecting the worst, but it never came.

In a day they were back under storm jib and racing for the last mark on the course–Cape Horn with twenty- seven days left and the whole Atlantic ahead of them. While the south had been a question of survival, the return north was one of strategy–how to cross a half dozen weather zones without dropping below the magical 14 knot average. With their boat and rig on its last legs and week to go, they found the right wind and pressed the boat hard. They were rewarded with day’s run of 480 and 507 nautical miles–the best of the entire trip, and reached the western tip of France with 17 hours to spare.

They were welcomed home as conquering heroes to the small port of Le Pouliguen, Peyron’s home and swept up in the whirlwind of welcomes, parties and interviews, which the odd-man-out (Lewis) seems to have sidestepped with his fiancee Molly. Over the following years, the two boats that dropped out returned to the quest and lowered the record to first 74 days and then 71 days. Peyron kept his sites set on his goal of building his idea into a world-class event.

In the world of adventuring it’s always best to be first, says Lewis (an attitude that I’ve taken to heart in my own sea-to-summit adventures). There’s no reason on earth for him to go back to that forbidding southern route again, but “I believe life should be lived to its fullest,” he said in 1994.

Which brings me to the fascinating question you’ll be confronted with after following The Race and reading this book: “Who is Cameron Carruthers Lewis.” He introduces himself as a privileged child, borne to a well-known and powerful New England family and makes no apology for devoting his life to the pleasure of sailing close to the edge.

Personally, I’ve got no problem with a wealthy man who uses his fortune to put himself in conditions where money won’t do him any good. (I think the best example would be millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett in a balloon gondola setting a solo, distance record–spending big bucks for the privilege of being cold, hypoxic, and totally at the mercy of the winds.)

Outside magazine put Lewis on its cover in November and put him under a magnifying glass in a detailed story. Is he “a gentleman of leisure ……… who just likes to go fast,” or a “leader of men?” the author asked. Using his yachting and society connections, Lewis pulled together some $4 million to finance the building of a third 110′ cat from the molds built by Gilles Ollier, the designer of Peyron’s record-breaking Commodore Explorer. That project ended with a Polish insurance company and a broken bow. But the glory of that first voyage will always belong to Peyron, Lewis and their comrades.


Posted in Book Reviews, Multihulls, Ocean Racing & Records | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Colin Archer and the Viking Tradition

How the 150-Year Old Norway Pilot Boat Became the World’s #1 Offshore Design

Pride in the Norse seafaring tradition is kept alive in the Pacific Northwest by immigrants from the Nordic countries and is visible in many forms. In Seattle for example, we have the statue of Leif Ericsson, the Viking chief who led the attempt to colonize the New World, on the Seattle waterfront at Shilshole Marina. In the center of Ballard, just a few blocks from the offices of NW Yachting, is the Nordic Heritage Museum with four typical wooden open boats on display.

Historically, Ballard was the traditional center of the northwest’s Scandinavian seafaring community.

Many other north-west cities also celebrate their Scandinavian immigrant connection, including Petersburg, Alaska, Astoria, Oregon where a daily paper was published in Finnish until the 1920s, and Poulsbo, Washington where Norwegian was the primary language into the 1930s. It’s worth noting that between 1825 and 1925, more than 800,000 Norwegians immigrated to North America-about one-third of Norway’s entire population! Many of them sought out waterfront communities where they became respected boat builders and fishermen. The working craft they built naturally reflected the Nordic tradition. The yachting world was less open to this influence until a fascinating change of fortune.

Today, sailors from the Nordic countries are active in professonal racing, the best-known sponsors being Ericsson the cell-phone maker and Volvo–the organizer of the premier round-the-world race (formerly the Whitbread). These big sponsors seem to prefer crewed races that rely on team work, and have always placed high in the Volvo race, so Nordic sailors have not made an impact on short-handed sailing. In addition, modesty is still considered a virtue by sportsmen from this region, so it’s unlikely that many Americans can name even one current top sailor. Even the top boatbuilders like Halberg-Rassy keep a low profile, reckonging their boats’ quality speaks for itself.

So ironically, the best- known Scandinavian in the world of offshore boat design and building is probably Colin Archer–a man with a Scottish name who worked in the late 1800s! Unless you have an interest in traditional sailboats, or the evolution of yacht design, you may never have heard his name, but I guarantee that you could find a yacht based on his designs in any marina in the northwest. Even tied to the dock, this distinctive heavy displacement double-ended sailboat looks as if it could handle bad more weather better than most crews!

Any boat of this type is universally referred to as a Colin Archer because he was the naval architect and builder who single-handedly made this type almost as famous as the Viking longship. I can’t think of any other example of a man’s name being so firmly connected to a type of boat! This is all the more remarkable because his original designs were actually 19th century work boats, built strictly for short trips close to shore, with no thought given to accommodation. The fact that Archer’s pilot boats and his later rescue cutters could successfully operate off the Norwegian coast and maneuver alongside ships in winter gales (with canvas sails and a gaff rig) has convinced generations of yachtsmen that this is the “most seaworthy boat in the world.”

Colin Archer and the Legendary Norwegian Pilot Boat

While yachts grew increasingly elaborate and expensive in Britain and the Netherlands in the 1700s and 1800s, in Scandinavia, religion, climate and society dictated that boats (and life in general) could not be so frivolously. Like the Lutheran churches, they should be simple and functional. Into this isolated culture came the Scottish family whose name would make Norwegian work boats famous around the world. The elder Archer was a timber merchant in Perth who took the unusual step of moving his large family to Norway in 1825. Colin Archer was born on the family estate at Tolderodden near Larvik, south-east of Oslo in 1832.

As a young man, he lived some years in Australia where he built up a big farm together with his brother, James. He returned to Norway in 1861 economically independent and proceeded to set himself up in business as a boat designer and builder, although he apparently had no formal training! He started his career building yachts in the popular style called “seilskøyte” (sail-cutter). This was a traditional seaworthy double-ender, usually with one mast, but sometimes with two. In 1867 he built the Maggie for his own use, and she remained in the Archer family for many years.

The Seilskøyteklubben Colin Archer (Colin Archer Sailing Club) in Oslo keeps the tradition of early Norwegian yachts alive. I received an e-mail reply from one member, Are Qvale (a system developer) who is the owner of Venus, which he proudly tells me was “built in 1889 by Colin Archer in Larvik. It is 12,60 m long, Width 3,60 m Depth 1,90 m displacement 17 tonnes, sail area 117 sq m.” (Photos of Venus taken by Sigurd Dale in SSCA spring regatta 2006)

The Archer Boatyard in Larvik

Besides fishing boats, a second line of commercial work for Norwegian yards was pilot boats. Until the 1850s, most of these were un-decked hulls that often filled up and sank. In the early 1800s, the first attempt to improve the pilot boat was made by a ship’s officer named Peder Sølling. He developed a seaworthy craft based on an English fishing boat, but it was too expensive for the poorer pilot stations and was too heavy to be rowed in calm weather.

In 1868, a big regatta for pilot boats was held in Stavanger with the goal of encouraging improvements in design. The Hvaler mackerel boat stood out among the 195 entries. It had a wide beam, rounded ends, a straight keel, and flared topsides. By the time of the next regatta, at Jomfruland in 1873, Colin Archer had accepted the challenge to design a better pilot boat. He began by improving the Hvaler boat, and won first place. The pilots took delivery of some of these boats and soon Archer soon began receiving suggestions.

He realized that clinker planking was more vulnerable to damage, so he changed to carvel, heavily-framed and trunnel-fastened. As he received more orders, he was able to experiment more–gradually slimming the bows, increasing the displacement to give standing headroom, and moving the ballast down to the keel. These changes gave it more ability to work in bad weather, heave-to comfortably, and stand the pounding when coming alongside large sailing ships. These boats came in any length the owner wanted, but the offshore model was standardized at 47′.

The first was called Minnie. The pilots praised this version for it’s maneuverability and seaworthiness, but Archer was not satisfied. A year later he built an improved version called the Thor. This design became the model for a long line of pilot boats that served along the Norwegian coast all the way to the Arctic Circle. By the 1880s, the pilots had learned to trust Archer’s innovations. Based on his experience with sail cutters, he changed the sprit rig to gaff and moved the mast aft and added a second headsail. This was a rig that could be handled by the apprentice after the pilot had transferred to the ship. The compact rig and heavy hull were not built for speed. They were at their best hove-to in a gale, waiting for a ship, when the tendency to surf on steep waves would be downright hazardous.

From 1876 Colin Archer built all his ships according to the ‘wave line principle,’ the theory developed by the British engineer John Scott Russell. According to this theory there are two kinds of waves when a vessel moves through the water, one at the bow and one at the back of the ship. To reduce the resistance, the ship should be built to conform to these two types of waves. This is one of several hydrodynamic concepts that were formulated in the Victorian era and employed by yacht designers–another is the “metacentric shelf” theory used by Harrison Butler. It may have been coincidental, but they resulted in excellent hull shapes, although they are now considered more of a design guide than real science.

The Polar Exporation Ship Fram

By 1890, Archer’s Larvik shipyard was considered to be one of the best in the country for building seaworthy vessels of all sizes. This reputation brought Fridtjof Nansen, the great Norwegian explorer, to Larvik to discuss the construction of a unique vessel: the 127′ polar ship ship Fram (“forward” in Norwegian). Nansen awarded the contract to Archer to build this three-masted schooner with a 220 hp steam engine. It was to be only the second purpose-built polar ship–all the rest were conversions of whalers, sealers etc.. The propeller was two-bladed and could be fixed in the vertical position so that it was protected by the rudder post. (Losing a propeller bade was a common mishap when working in ice.) Among its special features, the rudder and propeller could be lifted into two wells inside the stern for complete protection from the ice.

The main difference between the Fram and the typical converted whaler was that rather than try to resist the pressure of the pack ice in winter, the Fram, would instead slide above the ice by virtue of its rounded hull. Nansen specified a hull “round and slippery as an eel,” but Archer took no chances, the Fram would also be prodigiously strong. The keel was made from two pieces of American elm fourteen inches square, the frames were 20″ wide Italian oak, grown to shape and obtained by Archer from the Norwegian navy where they had been seasoning for nearly 30 years, the stem and stern were assembled from 4′ of juniper-doweled oak. There were three layers of planking on the closely spaced frames, first three inch planks, then four inch planks and then an outer layer of greenheart sheathing–the result was a hull almost a foot thick! Inside the frames, an inner skin of 4″ pitch pine was added plus about 450 white pine deck knees. Finally, iron straps were wrapped around the hull at the bow and stern and through-bolted.

When it was launched in 1890, it was clear that the Fram was not a handsome ship: the ends were blunt and looked almost identical, the strange rounded bottom without any keel projecting would not be any use to windward, but it could escape the grip of the ice. Nonetheless, it was a masterpiece: the strongest wooden vessel ever built, and became one of the most famous ships in the world, capable of sailing and drifting the closest to the north and the south poles.

The Fram successfully carried the Nansen close to the North Pole in 1893 and spent almost three years locked into the ice. In 1910 it delivered Roald Amundsen to the edge of the Antarctic pack ice from where he won the battle with Scott to the South Pole. (The perils of using normal hull shapes was demonstrated In 1912, when Shackleton’s ship the Endurance was famously overwhelmed and sunk by the pack ice in the Antarctic.)

The Fram’s breakthrough design brought fame to the small nation of Norway at a time when bigger and more powerful countries were trying to be first to the poles. It is now preserved in the Fram Museum on Bygdøy, Oslo, Norway. Today all icebreakers, including the USCG ships stationed in Seattle, are designed to be able to rise up onto the ice.

The Rescue Cutter

In many European countries, the organization of a life-saving service for mariners was undertaken as a charitable work. The Norwegian Society for Rescue at Sea (Norsk Selskab til Skibbrudnes Redning) was founded in July 1891. (Information on this association is not available in English–but for comparison, Britain has the well-established charity called the “Royal National Lifeboat” Institute that was founded in 1824. It is still run on donations and all the craft at its 230 stations are called “lifeboats” and named after donors.)

The new organization approached Archer to support the charity by designing a sturdy sailing “redningskoite” (rescue-cutter). It was based on the pilot boat–and many of the dimensions appear to be interchangeable. It was a 47′ double-ender with heavy displacement, a long keel with 7 tons of iron ballast, three watertight compartments, and the signature Scandinavian (canoe) stern. The beam was over 16′, draft 7′, displacement 35 tons. The great beam and flare made it stable for easy boarding, with a continuous deck and small house that could withstand waves crashing onboard.

Mainsail, mizzen, staysail, jib and a topsail of very heavy canvas made a total of 1200 square feet of sail area. Its features were all aimed at survival and utility in violent short seas and the ability to tow (under sail) fishing vessels that had lost their rigs, so it was under-canvassed in pleasant weather. At the launch in late July 1893, the ship was named after its designer, ‘RS1 Colin Archer.’

It became the prototype for every rescue cutter built in Norway for the next 30 years. When Colin Archer died in 1921 at the age of 89, he had built over 200 ships, 70 yachts, 60 pilot boats, 14 rescue cutters and 72 other vessels. In the 1930s, the redningskoite class was replaced with a motorized boat. After 40 years of service, the rescue cutter retired with an impressive record: it had saved 67 ships and 236 people, as well as assisting 1522 vessels.

Redningskoite 1 Found in US and Restored in Oslo

In 1961, the RS1 Colin Archer was found in America in a terrible condition after many years in private hands. It was brought back to Norway, and became a scout group’s boat for some years, but was finally acquired in 1972 by the Norwegian Maritime Museum. A year later, the museum concluded a long-term agreement with the Colin Archer Sailing Club to restore and maintain it in sailing condition.

The hull was comprehensively overhauled in 1977. Knut and Gunn von Trepka took over the day-to-day responsibility, and have devoted very much time to operating the boat as a living museum. The interior was refurbished and restored to its original colors in 1993 with financial support from the Norwegian marine engineering company Kværner. This historical boat is still afloat and sailing.

The Scandinavian Double Ender Revived in the 20th Century

By the 1920s, the sport of yachting had seen several theories of design come and go. There was the narrow beam/long overhang style demanded by the International handicap rule, or the wildly contrasting types used by the earliest circumnavigators: Joshua Slocum’s Spray with its wide beam and shallow draft or Captain Voss’ Tilikum–built up from a dugout canoe.

There was really no connection between any of those disparate types. Every great sailor, it seemed, had chosen a totally different kind of boat. (A closer look at their writings suggests they were less interested in the design than the cost or the availability.) But as we all know, you soon come to appreciate whatever qualities your own boat possesses. There were enough theories on what constituted the “ideal cruiser” to keep the boating journalists busy. (Maybe things haven’t changed that much!) The accepted theory was that when the vessel was hit by a braking wave, it was parted by the V of the stern and passed harmlessly by on both sides.

If you open an old magazine from the 1950s or earlier, you will notice how many of these ideal designs were reviewed every month. Before computer design and fiberglass mass production, numerous talented designers competed for the custom-building market by turning out a never-ending stream of beautiful hand-drawn plans. Many of them were depicted as home-builder projects, as this was considered the best way to make boating accessible to the typical reader.

But to my eyes, they look like they really required professional skills to build…so it’s hard to see how this arrangement managed to provide employment for so many designers, builders and journalists. Did readers actually show up at their local boatyard clutching the latest issue of a boating magazine? However it worked, one designer took full advantage of the system and built a career around it.

William Atkin (1882-1962) Yacht Designer and Journalist

William “Bill” Atkin had a remarkable life in boating. During World War I, he served as editor of Yachting magazine for three years–quite an achievement for a young boat builder with little publishing experience. It was something that he evidently enjoyed, for he became deeply involved with marine publishing. Over 40 years, Atkin produced 873 designs, many of them motorboats, and for many years cranked out a design per month (!) to fulfil various publishing commitments.

After the war ended, he joined the staff of Motor Boat as technical editor, beginning a happy association with editor William Nutting, for whom he designed the ketch Typhoon, in 1920. Typhoon measured 45′ on deck, and was intended to demonstrate Atkin’s and Nutting’s concepts for a faster boat, as her proportions were unusual with “a fine bow that could almost be described as ‘all entrance’ clear back to amidships.” She had a very straight run and an unusually broad transom, thus completely breaking with any traditional notion of “balance” between the forward and after shapes of the hull. (This was an approach that didn’t catch on for another 80 years and is now proven to be the fastest!)

Nutting didn’t waste any time in testing his new boat, and Typhoon was blessed with strong fair winds and made a fast trans-Atlantic passage from Baddeck, Nova Scotia to Cowes, England, covering the 2,777 nautical miles in 22 days, 1 hour, and 22 minutes. The boat was praised by the marine press, but ironically Atkin never tried this approach again. Virtually all of his subsequent designs were given a “balanced” hull form in which the after body was not much fuller than the forebody, as was commonly accepted to be desirable for good motion and seaworthiness.

The Typhoon was soon forgotten and in 1923, Nutting, took a ship to Norway and fell in love with the traditional double-ended sailing cutters. He returned with the plans for Archer’s 47-foot pilot boat, and asked Atkin to scale them down to 32′ long with an 11′ beam and refine the shape to look a little more yacht-like. Unfortunately, Nutting decided not to wait for his design to be built, returned to Norway and purchased a yacht of similar type.

On the way home from Norway, Nutting and his crew were lost without a trace. This had a major impact on Atkin, who often referred to the loss in his writings. But he completed the design that Nutting had commissioned, and in the spring of 1925, three sister ships were built to the design. They were named Freya, Valgerda, and Eric, and it was the latter that became the class name. Atkin added a 37 footer he called Ingrid and continued to work with the concept for the rest of his life, often calling them his “Atkin-Archer” boats.

It would be wrong to think he had any particular attachment to those particular designs. I found it intriguing that he produced several more double-enders with narrower beam that he thought would be better performers. The gaff sloop Vixen measured 34′ 7″ overall with a beam of 10 ft. and draft 5 ft., displacement about 26,000 lbs, while the slender Bermudian sloop Fram is 39′ overall, 10′ 2″ beam; 5 feet 6 inches draft, displacement 27,500 lbs. It appears that he also used almost exactly the same hull shape as the Eric but with a transom-stern for several other successful boats. (Atkins’ amazing output can be viewed on the web at

Ironically, it wasn’t until the 1970s that the Erics begin to win many admirers, a decade after Atkin died. (His son John continued the business until 1999.) In the interim, many other Archer-type boats would help to build the double-ender mystique. In the 1930s, the Norwegian Erling Tambs, published his popular book The Cruise of the Teddy about his voyages in two big Colin Archers. (He was born in Larvik, where Archer’s boat yard was located.) The book became a best-seller and made a powerful impression on many armchair sailors during the Depression.

In the same period, Joseph Hanna produced a design for a 30′ double-ended cruiser that he called “the Tahiti ketch.” This was a magnificent piece of salesmanship and launched a thousand dreams of running away to the South Seas–in a salty double-ender, of course. However, Hanna credited the Greek sponge boats in Florida as his main influence, proving that Scandinavians didn’t have a monopoly on double-enders!

The idea of the seaworthy double-ender even spread to Argentina, where Manuel Campos designed a 31 footer for Vito Dumas, who circled the southern hemisphere alone in 1941. In the inaugural Sydney-Hobart in 1945, a 35′ double-ender named Rani was given little chance of even completing the course, but it arrived in first place after a storm-wracked crossing of the Bass Strait. In 1963, three Norwegian brothers Lars, Trygve and Magnus Halvorsen, who had already been very successful in racing, designed and built a new 39′ double-ender and proceeded to win the 638-mile classic on handicap three years in a row!

In the 1960s, an Eric was built in teak for a group of young British merchant navy officers based in SE Asia. One of them was Robin Knox-Johnston, who later sailed the Suhaili around the world non-stop in 312 days. Bernard Moitessier’s steel Joshua was also a similar shape and carried him twice around Cape Horn in the 1960s. This really put Archer-inspired boats back on the yachting map.

But this was also the time of the fiberglass revolution! People wanted their yachts to look “modern,” and double enders began to be viewed as relics of the past. It probably would have stayed like that if the character/wooden boat craze had not gotten started, perhaps inspired by the hippies’ organic, do-it-yourself spiri. After decades of being laughed at by knowledgeable sailors, bowsprits, clipper bows and taff rails were back in vogue, and some fiberglass hulls even displayed fake plank seams!

The Westsail: No Matter who Designed it, it’s Still a Colin Archer!

In the mid-1960s, Larry Kendall of Costa Mesa, CA commissioned naval architect W.I.B. “Bill” Crealock to take the lines of the 32′ Atkin and convert them for fiberglass construction. The design became the Kendall 32. But after several years of production, Kendall’s operation failed and, at a bankruptcy auction, the tooling was sold to Snider and Lynne Vick. The Vicks asked Crealock for a new trunk cabin and the Westsail 32 was born. With a slogan of “Westsail the World” and a marketing campaign geared to swaying palm trees and white sand beaches, the boat was introduced to an unsuspecting public in 1971.

The Westsail 32 measured 32′ on deck, 27′ 6″ LWL, with a beam of 11′ and a draft of 5′. Displacement is 20,000 lbs. The overall length was 39′ with a bowsprit and boomkin included. A secure bulwark protected the crew and there were high lifelines. The cockpit was very small with large freeing ports. The 20,000 lbs displacement gave an enormous interior volume that provided perhaps the largest and most livable interior of any 32 footer.

Over the next ten years, more than 800 Westsails were built. The hulls were laminated from 24 alternating, hand-laid layers of fiberglass woven roving and chopped strand mat in polyester resin The result was a very strong structure at the penalty of considerable weight. About half were sold complete, while the rest went out the door in various stages of completion.

Thus was borne the bullet-proof Westsail 32–the first fiberglass boat for serious blue water cruising.

No boat has inspired more dreams of sailing to faraway places! Indeed, it became the quintessential ocean cruiser in the public eye. Derided as heavy, slow and wet by racers, with many being bought by posers and wannabes, the Westsails have proven to be enduring boats with an admirable cruising record. Their fans called them “the best boat for the worst weather” and hundreds are still sailing the seven seas.

Speed was never high on the list of the Colin Archer’s attributes, but then Portland delivery skipper Dave King cleaned up the underwater shape of his Saraband, and seriously raced it in the Pacific Cup in 1990 with a good crew. He surprised everyone by winning the handicap trophy. He explained to me that his technique was to get the boat up to waterline speed of 7-8 knots, and keep it there round the clock!

As I finished this story, I was vaguely aware that I had seen a double ender at the Port of Astoria boatyard not far from my home, so stopped by there to see if it was worth photographing. To my surprise, there were three Colin Archer types within a few yards, and they were constructed of wood, concrete and fiberglass. I think that is as good a proof as any that these boats turn up everywhere and appeal to every kind of builder and owner. It seems that the older it gets, the more this timeless design appears to be growing in popularity–not bad for a 150-year old Norwegian workboat!


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Biking Chiloe Island – Off the Beaten Path

If you can find Chile on the map, then you must be aware of its outstanding physical feature. It is, of course, by a large margin, the longest, narrowest country in the world. So narrow, in fact, that it’s only a century ride from the coast to the foothills of the Andes–even a modestly fit cyclist could cross the inhabited width in a day. North to south, however, Chile is an amazingly linear country that has developed a superb long-distance bus system covering the 1650 miles between the driest desert in the world and the rainy island chain that begins at Puerto Montt.

I limited myself to the 1,000 kilometers to the south of the capital, Santiago and still ended up taking 21 bus rides a total of 3,750 kilometers! For the 700 kms from the capital south to the resort town of Pucon, I rode a fabulous night bus with my folding Bike Friday in the luggage hold while I slept comfortably in a luxurious, reclining seat. As I approached Pucon on a local bus, the perfect cone of the Vulcan Villaricca grew larger on the horizon until it completely dominated the view.

The town was beautifully situated between the volcano and a large lake of the same name, surrounded by evergreen forests and small farms. It was immediately clear that Pucon was the “in” place to vacation for upwardly mobile Chileans–new hotels and condominiums were spring up along the lakeshore, but the main street was still an attractive mix of businesses, many offering adventure trips in the surrounding country. These included a climb of the volcano, which was what had attracted me here in the first place.

Outside the bus station, I unfolded the bike, hooked up the trailer, and rode to the tourist office, where I learned the nearest commercial campground was just a couple of blocks away. Luckily, there was room for my tent, and El Parque La Posa became my home for the next six days. That afternoon I explored the town back street and inquired about conditions on the volcano. That night, I discovered for myself that it really was an active volcano when I saw the red glow from the crater reflected off the cloud of gas that clung to the summit

Since this was going to be another of my sea-to-summit epics, I woke at 3AM the next morning, looked up to see the flare reflecting off the summit cloud, and set off in the moonlight. After a quick stop at the lake to dip my wheels, I started climbing, and rode at a steady but slow pace over the ruts and dips, through bamboo then cypress forests for three hours. Occasionally a wary dog barked from behind a fence.

Ski areas lose all their charm when the snow is gone, and this one was no exception. With a chill wind blowing, I quickly locked my bike to a pylon, put on my jacket, hat and gloves and headed upward. I followed a jeep trail then a hikers path, to the upper slopes where, to my surprise, I found a lone hiker contemplating the climb, also equipped with one of the bamboo stakes used to mark the road. He introduced himself as Karl Jungst, a German doctor who spoke perfect English (of course), and we immediately set off together onto the snow, which proved to be frozen and very slippery. After a good deal of thought I realized my error: I was now in the southern hemisphere, where the sun shines on the north side of mountains, not the south!

Consequently, we worked our way over to a lava flow and resumed climbing on cinders. Just a couple of years before, this rock had been on the INSIDE of the volcano and was ridiculously light. A piece as big as a football weighed only ounces, so it was no use putting any weight on it! It took an extra hour to overcome this handicap, so were happy to reach the crater rim, only to be greeted by fumes so acrid, we immediately ran down several steps to find fresh air.

After seven hours and 7,000′ of climbing, I was content to sit up there just below the rim, watching the clouds clear in the valley, talking and finishing our meager food supply. The calm was shattered when the mountain gave a belch and shook under our feet, but no eruption followed and we continued our conversation. Kurt had traveled all over South America and had many tales to tell.

I ended my stay in Pucon with a climb unique to this area. I rode 20 kms toward the mountains and onto a gravel road, where I eventually located the gatehouse of the Cani forest reserve. Although it was already afternoon, I was determined to press on, and hiked up an unbelievably steep trail to 4,000′, through wild bamboo groves, until I reached the bio-region on the ridge top that is home to the aracauria, which we know as the “monkey puzzle” tree. Strolling through the ancient aracauria groves among the huge trunks, I was surrounded by baby trees, whose stange, scaley branches I could touch. I felt like I had entered Conan Doyle’s Lost World and I half expected a dinosaur to appear next. On the way down, I met an American birder who pointed out a flock of yellow parrots and some other local species.

The evening was equally memorable. On weary legs, I walked across Pucon to reach the soccer stadium where the electric folk band Illapu was due to play. This was a big event for a small town, so the evening paseo (stroll) had led most of the town’s inhabitants in that direction to see what was happening. There were as many people outside the fence as in, so I found a comfortable spot on the grass, leaned against the fence and rested my legs. When the band began with rock and roll intensity, the sound carried perfectly well. I let those unique melodies, a blend of Andean instruments and urban creativity, carry me back up to the high places I had visited.

The next morning, beside the rushing stream that ran through the site, I packed my gear into the trailer, tied the backpack on top, and rode the short distance to the bus station–I had decided to try the ultimate bus-and-bike technique! I removed the shaft from the suitcase, put on the backpack and stood at the ready with the folded bike, pack and trailer. The bus conductor barely raised an eyebrow as he rolled the trailer into the luggage hold, and off we went to Puerto Montt, the gateway to the island region.

It was a slow ride, and I thought the last broad lake we passed must be the sea. It wasn’t, and I was ready for action when we finally reached the end of Chile’s main highway. I struggled across the parking lot with my load and sat down on the seawall. Clouds blew across the bay that was quite empty of ships or boats. I quickly unfolded the Bike Friday, re-assembled the trailer, tied down the pack, and was on my way. From a huge burden, my luggage had been instantly transformed into an energy-efficient vehicle.

Most of the waterfront houses had “Hospedaje” signs, but no side entrance, so I turned up the hill and soon needed to push my tractor-trailer to the first guest house with a yard. There I found a bed for the night, dropped my gear, locked my bike and returned to the seafront to find the fish market and eat a seafood dinner. That night I talked to Chilean, Spanish, and Flemish travelers in three languages, trying to get a feel for the attraction of the Grande Isla de Chiloe, which had a seemingly magnetic attraction to the hundreds of Chilean backpackers I had seen at the bus station.

For the world travelers, Chiloe was just a stop on the road to Patagonia, but I had just four days left. The next morning I squeezed my suitcase and backpack under the stairs in the house and set off with the bike and daypack for a lightweight trip. The bus to the ferry was packed with excited young people and older folks I took to be islanders. I couldn’t help but compare this experience to the Washington ferries, full of well-to-do people commuting to their lavish San Juan homes. Then the bus rumbled down the island’s hilly backbone, rough, forested land gradually giving way to small farms surrounded by well-tended fields with grazing cows and sheep.

The bus station in the island’s main town, Castro, was close to the cathedral–a vast, wooden structure covered with corrugated iron and painted a remarkable shade of peach. The plaza was full of backpackers, who appeared to have arrived at their final goal. Down a steep hill was a small quay, where a handful of fishing boats, all painted yellow, added color to the scene. But the real center of attention was the craft market, where all the usual American items, like macrame, hand-made jewelry and crystals, vied with local knitwear and produce for the visitors’ pesos.

I soon decided I wanted to find a more authentic place to stay, so abruptly returned to the bus station, folded the bike and hopped the next bus south to the last harbor in the area. In Chonchi, I bought an apple empanada from a charming, young salesgirl, then rode past another cathedral, this one with peeling paint, down another hill to the elegant esplanade, which was completely deserted. On the quay, trucks were loading fish food onto a fleet of boats. It was clear that salmon farming had overtaken fishing as the local industry. I found a guest house on the waterfront for $6 a night and began a long paseo around the town. Wind and rain arrived from the west, but that didn’t stop a couple of activists from setting up a sound system by the pier and playing island folk music at high volume. It was unlike anything else I had ever heard, with a bass drum beat that would put disco to shame, but not at all unpleasant to my ears.

I slept well, and the next morning quickly prepared some breakfast cereal in my room, sure that another long day was under way. Outside, I met a group of city youths who were camping on the beach, and pushed my bike over to visit their camp. They seemed to embody the values I identified with the beats, hippies and gen-x all in one generation. They were into meditation, ecology and Coca Cola all at once! There was the answer to my question, they had come all that for the pleasure of escaping the heat, sitting by the bay and hanging out.

With my time running low, I was driven to push a little harder. When I missed the hourly bus back to Castro, I started to ride and it began to rain. I sat in a bus shelter, donned my rain gear and pushed on. The rolling hills of Chiloe spread out before me and I settled down to the journey. When the road reached the estuary leading to Castro, the scenery began to include holiday cabins and small resorts. Then, without warning, I was confronted with the secret objective of my ride, a wooden boat shop! The bare frames of two 36′ boats sat on the sand next to a lean-to workshop, steam was rising from a salvaged steel tube over a fire. As I watched, one of the builders, put on a glove, pulled out a steaming timber and forced into the curve of the hull.

A mile further on was a bigger shop, although this merely allowed the storage of longer planks. The only power tool was a primitive table saw, everything else was done with very basic hand tools. I could clearly see that some of the boat’s timbers still had a knot or a bit of bark. These were work boats, built fast but strong to stand banging against a dock or on the bottom. I saw no pleasure boating anywhere on Chiloe and the few touring cyclists were all foreigners.

I rode back into Castro, around the market and out of town, past the palofitos, typical houses built on stilts over the water. A dotted line on my tour map showed a gravel road leading to more coastal villages, and I was determined to follow it. It began to rain again and I noticed signs of construction on the roadside. I reached a newly-graded section and the surface turned to thick, gooey mud, which quickly plastered itself all over the bike and my legs. The new route a flagman suggested I follow appeared to have exchanged a line of small hills for one huge one, which I was forced to walk.

The entire gravel/mud shortcut was less than 12 miles, but seemed to take all afternoon. As I pushed up what looked like the final grade, I was passed by a produce seller on a three-wheeled cargo bike (a popular item in Chile) and realized I needed to show a bit more enthusiasm. One more effort and I entered Dalcahue from the back road, and found the fishing village I was looking for. Yellow boats lined the shore, a catch was being unloaded at the pier and some long-haired folks were selling a variety of items on the sea wall. I found a house with a garden full of tents and stayed in a room that appeared to belong the family’s young daughter, judging from the pictures on the walls. (However, there was actually no one who fitted that description in the house.)

The next day was Sunday, and I found a thriving market on the waterfront-everything from folk music cassette sales to hand-woven blankets. A cassette and a scarf was all I could carry. People were clearly coming from miles around for this, and it was curiously different from other native markets I’ve seen because all the people looked and dressed like me. Maybe this is how the San Juans looked a hundred years ago? My long journey back to Santiago began here, with a 50-km dirt-road coastal marathon, which included the sight of several ox teams, farmers on horseback-a couple with their wives sitting behind them–and a flock of green parrots landing in an apple tree. The next day, in Ancud, it was time to let the buses do the work. That last day in the saddle the Pacific Southwest remained as the highlight of my journey.


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Chile – Top to Bottom

 The Atacama Desert to Puerto Montt

Chile, that amazingly long South American country, extends in a narrow band 2,700 miles down the Pacific coast of the continent, from 18 to 54 degrees of latitude. Its northern border is the Atacama Desert, the driest place in the world, its southern is Cape Horn, one of the stormiest places in the world. The equivalent in North America would be Acapulco (Mexico) to Sitka (Alaska). Nowhere else on the planet can you sail all the way from the tropics to the sub-arctic without crossing a national border!

Surprisingly, both the cape and the have a strong connection to sailing. Rounding the Horn, of course, is still the ultimate achievement in yachting; while the biggest sailing ships the world has ever seen were built specifically to carry the nitrates mined in the desert around the Horn to Europe. One of them is the Peking, on display in New York City. (More about the history of the nitrate ships, including later in the story.)

In a time when literally thousands of American yachts cruise to Central America and hundreds go on to Polynesia, you might expect a growing number of cruisers would be visiting this European-style country with such a varied coastline. But ironically, it’s only the remote southern tip of the country “at the bottom of the world” between the Straits of Magellan and the Beagle Strait that attracts 20-30 yachts annually, most from Europe.

They sail south for over 6,000 miles, lured by the legendary cape and the remote fjord coast of Patagonia. Some even winter over in Puerto Williams, the most southerly town in the world. From there, they can follow a 1200-mile waterway, similar to our Inland Passage, that winds its way between desolate islands and Andean glaciers north to Puerto Montt.

Whether it is stormy Cape Horn you are interested in, the mysterious statues of Easter Island, or the Juan Fernandez Islands–the setting for Robinson Crusoe–Chile is not an easy place to reach under sail. The southern channels are swept by williwaws that sweep down from the Andean icefields, and the passage around Cape Horn from the Atlantic against the prevailing westerlies is not for the faint of heart.

For sailors on the on the Pacific Ocean, the warm NE tradewinds and ocean current run away from the continent and towards Polynesia. (The legendary voyage of the balsa raft Kon Tiki proved that back in 1947.) It’s possible to sail a long curving course southwest from the Galapagos Islands, turn south to find the westerlies, then turn back to the east, but the “logical route” is probably via New Zealand: a testing 4,000-mile voyage in the Roaring Forties.


Valdivia, on the 40th parallel, at the south end of the mainland, is the best landfall for boats taking either of these routes. It is also the country’s yachting center on the only navigable river in the country, which opens out into an extensive delta. The first wave of immigrants from Germany arrived here In 1851 and brought European ambition and style to the region. Today, Valdivia is a modern city with a cosmopolitan air. The south shore of the river is a beautiful linear park; on the opposite bank is the national university with many fine school buildings and mansions that show a Bavarian style of architecture.

The Valdivia Yacht Club was founded by German expatriates in 1912. It is situated half mile from the center of town, plus an `outstation’ at La Estancilla four miles downstream. Visiting yacht scan moor there for $160 per month. The club organizes regular dinghy regattas

Next door to the yacht club is the Alwoplast boatyard, established 20 years ago by Germans Dagmar and Alex Wopper, after they had cruised around the Pacific. Though far from any traditional yachting centers, this yard has built a reputation for custom in composite catamarans. They built the first sport-fishing motor-sailing catamaran in the world, and their first sailing cat was built in ‘89/’90 and exported to Switzerland. Their output is split between catamaran ferries for use on Chile’s lakes and channels, and yachts–both power and sail.

Alwoplast can also handle almost any yacht repairs in fibreglass, steel or aluminium. It can haul yachts up to 30 tons in a Travelift with 9 meters clearance. They also have a sail loft that is branch of Halsey Lidgard. In the spring of 2007, US multihull designer Chris White paid a visit to inspect the first two hull shells of his new Atlantic 57 design now in limited production.

On the embarcadero there is a colorful daily market where produce and fish are sold. This is also the tourist center where launches depart for tours along the river. One is an authentic early 1900s steamboat with gleaming brass fittings that spends the morning building a head of steam. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to wait for the pressure to build, so took a more modern diesel-powered tour boat.

We passed the yacht facilities and shipyard on the south bank and then came upon a curious site in the delta, a close-up view of the rooftops and flooded remains of buildings hit by the 1960 earthquake, the strongest ever recorded. This earth movement lowered the bottom of the bay about a yard and flooded low-lying parts of the town. The tsunami it generated ravaged Hilo, Hawaii and Japan. This quake was so much larger than any previously recorded that it provided the impetus to develop the modern science of seismology.

Before our time was up and we turned back, we caught a glimpse of the two historic forts that guard the estuary. So the next day, I rode a mini-van along the north shore to the entrance to the Niebla fort, perched on the cliff top high above the water. Unlike the familiar coastal forts of Washington, these had been the scene of several battles. The first English-speaking captain to sail his ship around the world, Francis Drake, had sailed into the Pacific in 1590 to attack the Chilean coastal ports. He was chased away from one anchorage to another, but forged ahead with his daring plan, captured a galleon loaded with treasure, and returned to England to live the life of a nobleman.

Pirates soon learned that there were easy pickings from Valdivia all the way to Acapulco, if they could survive the transit of the treacherous Straight of Magellan. Soon, privateers and pirates from all the competing European nations swarmed along the coasts. To intercept hostile ships and keep them from reaching Peru, the Spanish built a naval base at Valdivia, with heavily-armed forts on both sides of the entrance.

Before climbing the steps to Niebla, I walked down to the shore, where I found an aging converted lifeboat that was the ferry across the estuary and decided to ride across. It wasn’t exactly re-assuring when the captain insisted everyone don lifejackets before we left the dock! Coming into the Isla Mancera, we passed a solitary Danish cruising yacht anchored out in the bay. Onshore, I walked past the neat rows of stone houses inside the fortifications and bought a large slice of German chocolate cake from a housewife with a table set outside her front door.

The walls of this fort are only 20′ above the high tide mark, a weakness that was easily exploited by Lord Cochrane–the daring British admiral who led the small navy fighting for Chilean independence in the early 1800s. Many Chilean streets and plazas are named after Cochrane, who was the inspiration for the fictitious naval heroes Horatio Hornblower and Jack Aubrey.

That evening as the sun set, I stood on the high gun terrace of the Niebla and was amazed to see dories racing back under sail from the fishing grounds a mile offshore, catching the last of the evening breeze. And below the castle walls, diving skiffs drifted in the kelp field far below. Although they were equipped with motorized compressors, I saw some of these inshore boats being rowed back to shore.

There are no great rivers in Chile and no protected sailing inlets north of Valdivia. Sailing out of the biggest coastal cities like the industrial port of Valparaiso or the beach town of Vina del Mar means heading straight out onto the open Pacific. That was the case for the 1997 Laser World Championships and the 2005 Lightning Worlds at the Club de Yates Higuerillas, just north of Valparaiso. The lone American crew found the daily diet of high winds and steep waves developed a new boat-handling skill to handle the calm in the troughs! Between races, they saw penguins and sea lions swim by, and on rest days had some memorable trips up the hillside of Valparaiso by accencior (cable car) with great views of the city and the wide curved bay.

The best way to escape the heat and crowded beaches of the central cities is to head south to Los Lagos–the Lake District, where boating is far less stressful. Over a distance of 250 miles, there are twelve major lakes, set amidst the foothills of the Andes. The German influence in the farms and towns and hot spring resorts gives the scenery an alpine look. The highest volcanic peak is Villarica, at 9395 ft, overlooking the Lake Villarrica and the yacht club in Pucon, the lakeside town that doubles in population during the southern summer. The mountain is said to be “the most continuously active in the world”–but fortunately the small eruptions with minor lava flows every few years have de-fused any explosive events–at least since the Spanish began keeping records.

The most southerly and largest of the lakes, Llanquihue, is 22 miles wide and 25 miles long with depths to 5,000 feet. On its eastern shore stands another volcanoe–spectacular snow-capped Monte Osorno. Several resorts near the mountain are reached by one of Alwoplast’s catamaran ferries, and from there it’s possible to cross another lake and eventually reach the Argentinian mountain resort of Bariloche. The lake is less than 20 miles from the sea, and the main north-south highway runs along the western shore. The lake is so impressive, that from the bus, I was sure I was looking at the seashore and the Gulf of Ancud!

Puerto Montt-Gateway to the Chilean Channels

Puerto Montt is the port of entry and capital of Chile’s Tenth Region. Its position is similar to Vancouver B.C.–the jumping off point for a remote fjord coast. Once you get beyond here the landscape changes: Chile’s long coastline starts to break up into high ridges, steep inlets, and rocky islands, landforms born of the uplift of the Andes 200 million years ago. The forest that covers it, stretching east to the high peaks of the Andes and south to the icefields of Patagonia, is a primeval ecosystem that combines the look of a pine wood with the verdant gloom and impenetrable profusion of a tropical rainforest.

John Neal is one northwest sailor who took this route in 1995 in his 42′ ketch Mahina Tiare II. (He made an informative video of his passage through the Chilean channels that I consulted.) He made landfall at the 12-mile long Canal Chacao between the biggest island of the Chilean islands and the mainland. It lies on the 42nd parallel, so it’s in the path of the westerlies just like the Straits of Juan de Fuca. There’s a powerful tide there–perhaps making it more like the Columbia River–with a 21-foot range and currents from 6-9 knots, so you’ll need to arrive at slackwater to catch the flood. Two streams collide at the east end of the channel causing rips, whirlpools and eddies.

That landfall is just the first of many similarities between the Pacific Northwest that inspired me to visit what I like to call the “Pacific Southwest.” One of the striking differences is that on the Puñihuíl islands at the north end of Chiloe, Humboldt and Magellan penguins coexist. Despite the familiar green hillsides, you’ll know you’re a long way from home when you gaze up at the rows of brightly-painted houses packing the hillside above the waterfront. It’s easy to feel (almost) at home here. The Chilean people and authorities are proud of their European heritage and make sure they distinguish themselves from their more hot-blooded neighbors to the north. Customs and immigration will be attended to at the marina, but you will be required to visit the navy, known as the “Armada de Chile” to discuss your cruising plans. The Chileans are very sensitive about the borders of their long, thin country, especially in the south, and every vessel transiting the inland waters is required to report by radio to the nearest naval base. It may take up to a week for you to receive your official permission papers.

There is a small charter fleet based in Puerto Montt, but don’t expect any West Marine-type stores. Recent reports mention an excellent alternative energy business in town, but otherwise fishing gear is all you’ll find. You can shop at the open-air market on the waterfront that manages to supply both tropical and temperate fruits. The produce is all excellent–if you get there early! The super mercados have just about everything you will need for long-term supplies, and the bakeries with their German-style cakes will soon have you hooked.

While sailing here is a huge undertaking, every year, more Americans take the long flight south to Santiago, then an equally long bus ride south to Puerto Montt via a luxurious Pullman bus. (Chilean long-distance bus lines are run more like airlines, with reclining seats, cabin attendants and meals provided.) That’s how I arrived, somewhat the worse for wear, so my first impression of Puerto Montt of an untidy harbor town filled with people on the move. Everyone seemed to be passing through, although the crowds of young people who south from Santiago every summer looked in no particular hurry to reach the islands.

From the bustling bus station right on the water’s edge, I wandered up hill past rows of small row houses until I found a boarding house to my liking, dropped my bags, and returned to the waterfront for a closer look. The city has an uninterrupted view south across a bay that was curiously devoid of boat traffic to my eye. I strolled west, past the Chilean Navy base, the northern terminal of the ferry to Puerto Natales in the deep south, and a wood chip loading dock, until I reached the old market section of town. Many of the craft stores displayed an unusual combination of wares: hand-made woolen clothing and cheese, but later, when I traveled to Chiloe, the first and biggest of the islands, I saw that this was a fair reflection of an agricultural lifestyle centered around sheep and cows.

At the west end of the bay, the fish market was housed over the water in a characteristic building style I would come to recognize as the “palafito,” but right then all I wanted to do was find something to eat. The women who run the market eateries all over Latin America are never shy about catching your attention, so I was fair game, and soon had half a dozen stall holders trying to gain my attention. I was easily enticed into a seafood establishment where I was presented with a big oval plate, piled high with food. This is curanto–the signature dish of the south. On the bottom of the pile were two types of potato, one white and one gray. On top of that lots of clams (two types), as well as cholgas and choritos (both mussel-like animals), chicken, sausage, plus some other morsels I may have forgotten. On the side was a bowl of buttery soup to dip things in and some fresh rolls. The cost including a beer was about $5.

Visitors can choose to cruise around the Gulf of Ancud on a charter yacht, paddle a kayak on an organized outing, ride the Navimag ferry south toward Patagonia, or enjoy the superb freshwater fishing and hospitality from a remote lodge on the mainland. Even if you choose a more modest, land-based tour, you’ll never be more than a few miles from the undeveloped shoreline, with no condos or marinas to mar the view.

Ian and Maggy Staples are the English couple who wrote the first cruising guide to the Chilean Channels–published in 1999 by the Royal Cruising Club in London. They are not the first visitors who have fallen in love with southern Chile. They settled there and live on a farm in the Los Lagos district. So if you enjoy cooler weather, fjords and glaciers, and want to get away from it all, this unique and unforgettable coast just might be the last unspoiled cruising ground on the planet.


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1997: Cycling from the Snake River to the Willamette

The cycling business has profited immensely from encouraging us cyclists to think in terms of grams when it comes to bike parts. (Exactly how big is a gram anyway? Could you feel one if I dropped it in your hand?) However, a recent article in a bicycle trade paper suggests that shops should begin promoting bike touring since the mountain bike boom appears to be dying. There’s just a tiny problem with this strategy. You don’t weigh a loaded, touring bike in grams, you weigh it in pounds – lots of them!

Anyway, that’s been my sad excuse for sticking to day rides for the last 30 years. Oh, I’ve ridden in remote places like the Alvord Desert and Leslie Gulch, but there’s always been a car lurking in the background. Three factors came together this July to lure me onto a solo, unsupported tour across Oregon. It was the month of my 50th birthday, I was starting to “collect” rusty bike frames at a frightening rate, and my climbing partner Tom was planning to go to Wyoming and climb the 13,700′ Grand Teton.

I couldn’t see going that far and coming straight back, so I spent a frantic last week assembling a touring bike from used components. A quick ride around the block and it was time to load it in Tom’s pick-up along with ice axes, crampons and ropes. The Tetons are unlike anything in the Cascades, the climb was sufficiently eventful, and after 24 hours without sleep, we arrived back at the trailhead, still on schedule.

We drove across Idaho and at 3 PM, much the worst for wear I faced up to the task of unloading my bike, strapping on the load and watching Tom on his way back to a busy week. I was in Huntington, one of Oregon’s lesser-known settlements, next to the Snake River on the eastern border. I waited for a while as rain poured down and thunder echoed around the brown hills. When it eased to light showers, I pedaled off onto a BLM Scenic Byway that promised an exciting first day of loaded touring.

The last time I had ridden off for a whole week of cycling had been some 30 years before, when the English youth hostel system had relieved me of the need for all but the minimum of luggage – a saddlebag. Now I was in an entirely different situation, on a 40 mile, gravel road along Oregon’s isolated, eastern border with no facilities whatsoever.

I rattled over the first of many, cattle grids and soon caught my first glimpse of the Snake River, surrounded by high, dry hills, like those in the eastern gorge. The surface was well maintained and I had no trouble on high pressure, narrow tires…….. until the hills appeared. Even a riverside road has to climb occasionally, and mine began to rise above the reservoir with a vengeance. That was why I had brought a 24 X 28 gear with me!

There were occasional cabins along the water, but none of them looked very permanent or particularly lived in. I even found a signpost after a couple of hours, although it suggested I was going slower than I had imagined. Around sunset, I passed a public camp-site, but the sound of generators and the site of satellite dishes didn’t suit my taste and I carried on. I was still looking for a quiet spot when the road started uphill. This time it wasn’t just a bump, but the route out of the valley.

I decided this was actually “a good thing” since I could do part of the climb now and save the rest for tomorrow. I stopped at the next stream crossing and found a flat spot under a tree. It was a damp night in my borrowed bivvy bag, but I slept like a log. The hill was still there the next day and I had to scrape wet clay from off my shoe cleats before I could even start riding.

My tires left a clear line in the wet road, a sure sign that I was going to have work hard. I stayed in that lowest gear for a very long time, eventually realizing it was time for a new concept for me: a rest stop. When I re-started, I had to roll back downhill just to get my feet back in again.

After an hour of hard labor, the Wallowa mountains and the town of Richland appeared in the distance, looking like the Promised Land, its barns and silos gleaming in the distance. I had to control my speed on the long downhill because there were sections of washboard waiting to catch me unawares. Finally, that blessed moment when you reach the blacktop again is one to remember. Suddenly the constant, crunching noise is replaced by a low hum and the bike seems to leap ahead in response. But I soon eased back, realizing that there were more hills ahead.
The next was the steady, slow grade up to the Oregon Trail Museum overlooking Baker at 3,680′. It took most of the day to get there, following the Powder River upstream. It was only 40, rainy miles, but a long way. Then a quick downhill to the prairie and over the freeway. I couldn’t think of anything to buy – that I wanted to carry – so I carried on out of town for six, perfectly flat miles of river bottom.

Then the climbing commenced again. I managed to stay motivated, looking for the perfect camp site until I reached the shores of the Philips Reservoir. I followed an abandoned road away from the lake until I was surrounded by pine trees with only a slight noise from traffic. I cooked soup on my solid fuel stove and watched the stars overhead. Bats flew overhead, making louder noises than I thought they were capable of.

The climb into the Blue Mountains continued the next morning, but I was feeling stronger, fit enough to take a detour 4 miles up to Sumpter! All the way from Baker, I had been following the route of the Sumpter Valley Railroad, now I could see the restored track beside the road, the last five miles. The engines only steam up on weekends, but the gold rush town of Sumpter was crowded anyway – with numerous motor homes packing the side streets, everyone preparing for the popular Fourth of July flea market.

Sumpter has a third, civic project underway – the restoration of one of the largest gold dredges remaining in the lower 48 states. Half a century after the last, dripping bucketload of gravel was scraped from the valley floor, the dredge sits quietly in its last pond, next to the railroad terminal. The 1240 ton vessel ran around the clock from 1935-54, scarring the valley with 6 miles of arid tailings. It should be open to the public by next year.

I was pleased I’d made the effort to visit this fascinating spot, but the Blue Mountain crossing still awaited me. Even my state highway map detailed three 5,000′ passes before I reached the John Day Valley. After I’d ticked off the first, the Larch Summit, I rolled down onto an unspoiled, high flatland. On my left I saw a sign and turned down a gravel road to eat lunch beside an old corral, surrounded by the remains of the ghost town of Whitney. A loose, corrugated roof creaked and blew in the wind. It looked like the set for the next “spaghetti western.”

Slowly, I worked my up to the Dixie Pass at 5279′, then began a fabulous runout down into the fertile, John Day Valley. This was the geographic goal of my journey and I gratefully parked my bike against a downtown wall, where I met the only, long-distance cyclist I spoke to during the week – Ian from Seattle who was riding to Salt Lake City on a heavily-laden mountain bike.

I was now on the official Cross America Route and hoped to find some specific, “biker” accommodations. Actually, I had previously visited the municipal camp site and museum nearby; I pedaled slowly over there and found the perfect camp site for $2, with my own picnic table beside a rushing stream. Now I was determined to enjoy the valley after some hard riding. I began with a tour of the pioneer cemetary, then a pizza and local beer at the town’s only restaurant.

The next day it was only 13, easy miles to John Day, the center of valley life. My first stop was the Kam Wah Chung Museum, an unassuming, windowless building that contains the most amazing, historical collection I’ve ever beheld. I parked my bike and peered in the darkened interior. Inside, it was as if time has stood still. Not in the 1950s, when the Chinese owner retired from his oriental, medical practice, but in the 1880s, when there was a thriving Chinese community.

Calendars, trade goods and a complete herbal, apothecary crowded my senses, producing a real “time warp.”This experience was so rewarding, I decided to do a little more sightseeing in the area, pushing a mile south to reach Canyon City, the county seat. A couple of wagons parked outside a barn-like building beside the main road caught my eye. I had discovered the Ox Bow Trade Company, a remarkable store, museum and workshop, building, selling and exhibiting horse-drawn wagons. I learned the difference between a

“buggy” and a “surrey” – since forgotten. These antique vehicles were completely hand-built by craftsmen who moved on with the times to become bicycle builders.

Another 30, rolling miles brought me to Dayville, where the Presyterian Church offers lodging to all cyclists. Here I met several generations of a family that has farmed here since the wagon trains came through. There was a Fourth of July parade the next day, but I was already anticipating a less conventional event – the Rainbow Gathering!

It would mean forgoing my planned backroads route through Fossil, but that looked pretty inhospitable when I reached the crossroads in the John Day Picture Gorge. “Fossil isn’t going anywhere,” I told myself, and continued west to Mitchell, over a 4,300′ hill that looked way bigger than that. I dropped 2,000′ down to Mitchell, and collapsed in the park, conscious of the small stream of decorated vehicles stopping for supplies on their way to the gathering.

I would certainly have to go myself, but there remained the small matter of another 2,000′ climb into the Ochoco Mountains. It was afternoon and the sun was stoking the temperature in the valley. I waded into the stream, soaked my shirt, and set off. In ten minutes I was bone dry, and wished I was wearing cotton instead of super-efficient synthetics. With progress painfully slow, I crawled toward the pine forest on the hill tops, passing a couple of VW buses cooling their engines in the shade.

On a heavily graveled side road, I gratefully accepted a ride in a bigger van with a bunch of drunken, aging dropouts, and eventually reached ground zero. I rode on past lots crowded with converted buses and exhausted walkers until I found myself at the ehart of the event. For a mile in every direction there were tents of every color and shape. Hidden in the trees were ingenious camp kitchens centered around carefully-constructed clay ovens. I was (apparently) one of possibly two cyclists who had ridden into the heart of the counter culture.

I have told friends “It was like Woodstock, but without any music.” That’s flippant, but true. For there was never anything actually happening. Of the thousands of people I passed at the site, no one so much as commented on the fact that I had obviously ridden there, while they had all driven. After a day, I was ready to carry on, along the eastern edge of the Cascades, then over Mount Hood. It was Sunday and Hwy 26 was as busy as a freeway, seemingly crowded with every R.V. in Oregon.

The climb to Government Camp was tolerable, but I was determined to get “off the beaten track” one more time. I dropped down through the Still Creek campground, circled Trillium Lake and finally located the Still Creek Road, an obscure alternative down to Zig Zag. I realized by then that I was in no state to negotiate a 12-mile descent on a washed-out, dirt road. But I did it anyway, survived another hour on Hwy 26 then happily turned off to Boring and the Springwater Corridor, my “private” backroad home. As I sped down the old trolley line I barely noticed that my bike weighed pounds, lots of them, not grams.


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