Dora Birtles journey from Newcastle, Australia to Singapore in 1935.
Dora Birtles journey from Newcastle, Australia to Singapore in 1935.
Finding PAX is dedicated to my grandmother, Lillian Clark Cronkhite, for a reason. She taught me to love poetry, stories, and shared my love of books. Even now, decades after her death, I hear the cadence and intonations of her voice in the syllables of poems she read and ones I know she might have or would definitely enjoy with me now.
Here are a couple of favorites:
Wild Nights by Emily Dickinson
Wild nights - wild nights
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
To a heart in port.
Done with the compass.
Done with the chart!
Rowing in Eden -
Ah, the sea!
Might I but moor - tonight
The Set of the Sails by Ella Wheeler Willcox
One ship drives east, and another west
With the self-same winds that blow;
'Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales
That decides the way to go.
Like the winds of the sea are the ways of fate,
As they voyage along through life;
'Tis the will of the soul
That decides its goal,
And not the calm or the strife.
25 years ago, I started compiling a list of woman captains and crew who inspired me. Back then, the closest thing to internet research was a clunky combination of search terms in the Unix system, linked to databases of books and published work, typed on a fat keyed monitor's keyboard at some hard to access university library. It required exorbitant amounts of patience to wait while a green cursor blinked and came up with the names. Maybe.
By the end of 1995, my doctoral dissertation, called Women of the Wind, was well underway and Women's Studies scholars in US, England, and Australia, weighed in on my effort. My own sailing adventure caused me to drop out of the Ph.d. in 1997 (for reasons that will become clear in the book.), but my files of interviews and notes stayed wrapped up in a dry bag while I sailed around the world, then moved to boxes in the basement when I dropped anchor in 2001, in Port Townsend.
Today, while working on my second book When a Cowgirl Goes to Sea, I've been reading through my notes and zipping around the internet searching again.
Some of the women are well-documented and rightly so, have become famous. They are using their experiences to make the world a better place. It's a joy to see and read about the accomplishments of women like Kay Cottee, Tracy Edwards, Dee Caffari, Ellen MacArthur, Isabelle Autissier as captains... and now dozens of women who are seriously competent crew onboard nearly all the top ocean racing teams.
In the Pacific northwest USA this summer, it was a thrill to watch Team Sail Like a Girl win this year's R2AK, to hear the stories of 5 other women and participate as a "teller" in She Tells Sea Tales, to watch and donate to the middle/high school girls build badairka's at this years' Girls Boat Project, to watch the launch and "victory tour" of Felicity Ann, solo sailor, Ann Davison's boat by a young woman captain, Nadja Chimenti, in the Salish Sea this summer.
It is an honor to be moderating the first Women <3 Water: The Circumnavigators (Women's Offshore Panel) at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival. The women on the panel are not as widely know as the racers... but notable, just the same. They include Nancy Erley, Behan Gifford, Pam Wall, Wendy Hinman, Leslie Linkilla, and Carol Hasse.
There's no comprehensive website to find all woman sailors online. There are lists of record holders and every time one is posted online (yea!), someone comes up with more names in the comments. My list and this blog post have missed at least a dozen women I can rattle off in my mind and more than a hundred I don't have time to post this second. The good news is there are more of us every day. Maybe we don't need lists anymore, but I will continue finding and writing about the notable achievements of women who sail... "To make the invisible, visible." Including those I find a little too late, like Florence Arthaud. She was on my list back in the 1990s and it's sad to think, now that I am spending more time in France, that I missed the chance to meet her in person. Her life, though, is an inspiration.
If you're a woman sailor or want to share the name of a woman who's inspired you, please write and let me know. Sail on!
Australian Ann Gash sail around the world in a little wooden Folkboat. When she left, she didn't even tell her kids where she was going!
Like Nancy Erley, whom I circumnavigated with during her second circumnavigation, and I, Ann went because she wanted to. Period. No attempt at "firsts," no racing, no sponsors, no attempt to draw crowds at the beginning, middle, or end. She simply followed her heart and the winds.
According to an obituary in the Sydney Herald (Australia)..."Sailing came to her relatively late, at about 45, when she bought a little boat for the children when the family lived on Pittwater. "We put it on the water and it went round in circles, while everyone else was breezing by." Although her sailing experience before 1975 was limited, she studied coastal navigation at night school, taught herself celestial navigation from books and sought lessons from fellow sailors."
Her 26' boat... "Ilimo did not have a two-way radio but the sailor reported home by mail, firstly from Darwin. Confirmation that this was no ordinary voyage came with the next mail, from Christmas Island. She then sailed across the Indian Ocean to Mauritius, Madagascar, Durban and around Cape of Good Hope.
Ilimo was plagued by rigging problems and an unreliable engine. In A Star to Steer Her By, published in 1980, Gash described battling 10-metre waves in ferocious storms, almost being ploughed down by a supertanker and being becalmed, surrounded by a school of sharks. At other times she passed peaceful hours playing her bamboo flute to schools of frolicking dolphins.
In a storm, she missed St Helena by 112 kilometres. Thieves stole her sextant and other navigational equipment in Accra, Ghana, and a tug rammed Ilimo. After repairs she tried to sail up the African coast but, in order to reach England in time for the bamboo pipers' summer school, she put Ilimo on a ship to Southampton. Gash came home via the French canals, Spain, Gibraltar, the Canary Islands, Tobago, Trinidad, Tahiti, Rarotonga, Tonga and Ballina. She later sailed to San Francisco, Perth and four times to New Zealand."
I had a copy of her book, A Star to Steer Her By: the remarkable story of a grandmother's sail around the world, on TETHYS, but have lost it somewhere along the way. As a person circumnavigating in my 30s, I admired Ann's courage to sail alone in her 50s. Now that I'm in my 50s, I want to read it again! If you've got a copy of that book, I'd love to borrow it! I promise, I won't sail away with it;)
Sail on, you grandmothers and grandfathers!
Winter solstice day was dim and short here in Port Townsend, it is 4 hours longer than today would be in Anchorage, Alaska, where I lived nine years. I miss the sun, but I've lived through shorter days and longer winters. What got me through, was the beauty of blue.
In snow-covered parts of the world right now, the blues are brighter, tempered by the whiteness. There, like in Anchorage, the snow reflected every particle of light from the sun, moon, and stars. The hues of blue and ever-present shadows blurred the days and nights--and made both longer. Fall and spring were two flash floods of color.
So, these long gray rainy days are
Port Townsend poet and writing teacher, Sheila Bender interviewed me last summer for her cool radio show WritingitReal on local public radio station, KPTZ. Her show is generally for writers by writers, but clearly also for anyone who wants to know more about my book and the adventurous research and multi-year process of writing it. Here's the link. Hope you enjoy and share it.
Finding PAX first edition sold out, but reviews keep rolling in. [Meanwhile, the new expanded second edition is off to London design team. Watch for news of the Fall 2018 release!]
Port Townsend based photographer Deja Webster, wrote... "Perfect gift for any boat owner or anyone who has loved a sailor who loved his/her boat."
MacKenzie Driftboat builder, adventurer, and author... a champion of wild rivers ... Greg Hatten had this to say...
"Kaci Cronkhite writes with pride and passion about the wooden boat she acquired and the quest to learn her history. That quest seemed quixotic at times but her persistence and obsession ultimately rewarded her with the clues to know the life story of the well-travelled and "buxom" boat named PAX. Finding PAX is a wonderful combination of mystery, intrigue, heartbreak, craftsmanship, and emotion all mixed together in a wooden boat story that had me rooting for the author, for the boat, and all the previous owners. Over the years, everyone who came in contact with PAX came under her spell and you will too if you read this wonderful, artfully crafted book." - Greg Hatten, 2017
I've known Greg for a decade. Met him when he brought his first MacKenzie Drift Boat to the Wooden Boat Festival. Now, he's doing talks all over the country. He has written articles, books, and is the inspiring man behind the National Park Service's 100th anniversary "outrageous wooden boating adventure" series.
What joy it gives me to share our love of wooden boats with each other - and the world! Thank you, Deja and Greg!
No sooner had the pallet of books arrived at Edensaw Woods and been loaded into my very full truck, than the first person offered to buy one. After handing a book to long-time friend, local supporter of all things wood and community - Kiwi Ferris, owner of Edensaw Woods - I turned around to see Alex Spear (owner of the beautiful Vito Dumas) ride up beside us and voila! I was inscribing the first book!
From that moment, it's been a flurry of orders (and signing each one!) in person, via social media, on my website, in local bookstores (yesterday, the first books went to Writers' Workshoppe/Imprint Books), and next week at the first of several public events leading up to the OFFICIAL Big Splash Book Launch at the 40th Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival!
Tracking down the former owners of a boat you own, especially if the boat is more than 50 years old (mine is now 80!) accomplishes two key stewardship goals - the preservation of historic documentation and the prudent recording of repairs for maintenance.
A third, more FUN goal, (in my case, what turned into an international quest, and book) is the profound discovery of human connections and the illumination of history that occurs while doing the research. Think "Roots" and Ancestry.com for boats. While the people you meet may not be family by blood, they (or their children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren) become family, in that bigger world community way, through a shared love for the boat or through the challenges faced while owning it.
Research starts with the documentation received at purchase - the legal documents of registration - and anything the prior owner passed along like Logbooks, maintenance records, etc. If the boat has a pedigree from one of the national or internationally recognized designers or building yards, it's likely there will be plaques, photographs, and even books about the boat or her sisterships.
In my case, there was nothing but the minimum information required for registration and the name of the owner I bought her from. The rest was a mystery. What I did next, then next, then next was the 7-year quest to British Columbia, California, and Denmark (four times!) that became the book, FINDING PAX.
While most people buy boats for voyaging and some for the challenge of the build, my boat took me places I never imagined, into history I never knew.
According to my editor, a repairman flew in from Germany to fix the KM 600 that does part of the work in the bindery to saddle-stitch FINDING PAX. So, that means a delay of at least one week for the arrival.
New ETA of the pallet is August 16th, 2016.
NOTE as of October 2017: That original version of Finding PAX is no longer available. All but a few boxes of my gorgeous little first edition sold out. The rest are safely tucked away as keepsakes while we await the new, expanded 2nd edition to be published by Adlard Coles/Bloomsbury and distributed worldwide starting Fall 2018!