If ever you get a chance to work in a sail loft, grab it! Looking back over my entire checkered career, I can’t think of any job that paid greater dividends or provided more laughs than the winter I spent with Crusader Sails in Poole, England. Not only did I learn how new sails were built, I learned how to repair almost anything that could happen to a sail. Even more important, I came away with more idea for protecting and lengthening the life of oursails. I’d taken the job because we needed new sail covers and a sun-awning. I could have earned more doing finish work at the local shipyard, but with winter gales raging, a warm sail loft seemed far more attractive. (Fortunately Larry is tougher than I. He did some amazing jobs, both indoors and outdoors, at the shipyard that winter and topped up our cruising kitty.) All of this came vividly back to mind when I received an unexpected message on Facebook from Roland Lewis-Evans. I hadn’t heard from him since 1973 when he apprenticed alongside me. His note made me laugh as I recalled our involvement in what is definitely the craziest day that could happen in a sail loft.
It should have been a productive day – no one was suffering from winter colds, the loft was relatively warm and there were more than enough orders on hand to keep Paul Lee’s the owner and master-sailmaker happy. Paul rolled out the panels for a large mainsail that had been sewn together the afternoon before. He let out a roar, “who the h—put these sail numbers on.” We all rushed over to look. Instead of one row of numbers on each side of the sail, both were on the same side. The four of us turned to look at the culprit, Paul’s brother. “No one could be so stupid, therefore I couldn’t have done it,” Roger replied (His exact words have stuck in my mind to this day.) “Roland, grab a scissors and come help me get these panels separated,” Paul said in an amazingly controlled voice.
I had just begun stitching yet another sail-bag together when I heard a curse, a thump. “I don’t believe it,” Paul screamed. Roland had, in his haste, stepped on a sail as he rushed to help. Working as we all did, in socks, he slipped. He dropped the scissors. The scissors pierced a nearly finished sail. Paul didn’t explode, though we could all see his desire to do so. About twenty minutes later I finished the six sail-bags I’d been working on, carried them over to the big bench and flopped them down. The odor that wafted up to me was instant notification that I’d added my name to the list. Someone had been using the hot knife to trim a sail and I’d put those bags down right on top of the hotspot. I peeled three melted sailbags off the table and tried to appear very small as I snuck back to the sewing machine. Paul just shook his head. Then he kneeled down to align the panels of a sail. He let out a shriek as blood spluttered from his knee, right across across several panels of pristine white fabric. Someone had pulled up one of the awls we all used to pin sail fabric to the floor. The handle had come away, leave the thin, hard to see, metal spike behind. I rushed over with a towel to stench the bleeding, Roland and Roger began scrubbing at the sail. Paul’s reaction was definitely not what I expected. In a tightly controlled voice he stated, “Everyone stop what they are doing immediately. I can’t afford to have you working. Get over there into the tea corner. I’ll pay your wages to sit and not touch one more thing.” He turned, walked out of the loft. An hour later he came back with hot pasties. We laughed, we recalled other worse days, but we did sit there until quitting time being paid to do absolutely nothing at all. Must have worked, the curse was well and truly broken.
This definitely has been the week for nostalgia. In the two days following Roland’s note, I received two more very nice ones relating to the same era in our lives, one from another sailor we met during our early days in England, the other from Ed Reneham who is creating an audio library of nautical titles. His publishing house, New Street Communications, has just formally released the audio version of our first book, Cruising In Seraffyn which is the story of the first years of our voyaging life right up until the time we reached England. We both find it very special to hear the words we wrote read by a fine narrator. (Kitty is a professional actor and voice artist. She’s already at work on the sequel, Seraffyn’s European adventure and promises to sail mains’l instead of mainsail.) You can listen to a sample of Cruising In Seraffyn here.
Winter gales are starting to blow down here in New Zealand. We are securing our boats, packing our clothes and preparing to head north to explore inland for once, visiting some of the desert canyons of Arizona and Nevada. We have some special events on our northern summer schedule, including the World Land Sailing Championships in northern Nevada and the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival. Hope to see some of you along the way.
Lin and Larry
From a very windy North Cove, New Zealand
P.S. Any of you who use wood planes might like to view this 2 minute video tip Larry recorded for the Off Center Harbour website.