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October 21, 2020

Tales from the Northwest Passage: Arctic ‘Bricolage’, Part 2

In January this year we published Tales From the Northwest Passage: Arctic ‘Bricolage.’ Written by the Resourceful Sailor, Joshua Wheeler, the story featured a few ways the crew of Breskell, a 51’ wooden sloop, ‘made do’ while transiting the Northwest Passage in 2019. Typically focused on creative and resource-conscious solutions regarding boats, the Resourceful Sailor acknowledges that it is not exclusive to that scene. Here he offers a few more examples of bricolage on boats, and on land. defines bricolage [bree-kuh-lahzh] as “a construction made of whatever materials are at hand; something created from a variety of available things.” With financial means and healthy supply chains, this definition can have a broad interpretation. But when these break down or are nonexistent, creativity and ingenuity must prevail. Whether sailors or landlubbers, many people are ‘bricolagists,’ and they often have similar materials at hand.

For example, can you imagine a world without duct tape? On land, we know it is used more for emergency repairs than for ducts. On Breskell, duct tape worked for retaining a stripped roller furler screw, keeping the furler operational. And in combination with the also-tenacious sail tape, it served to mend the vinyl and canvas of the dodger, deteriorated from age, chafe, and ultraviolet radiation. Duct tape sticks to itself and is weather-resistant, though it requires clean surfaces. It is rarely an elegant or permanent solution, but its simplicity, function and economy justify its fame.

Duct taped dodger
How long will this last? Hopefully long enough.
© 2020 Joshua Wheeler

What about the ubiquitous wooden pallet? Warehouses often stack them outside for the public to help themselves. Usually first used for freight, their upcycled lives can be much more dynamic. An internet search will turn up hundreds of creative examples around pallet reuse, from simple planters to upholstered ottomans. But at sea? On Breskell, we had a wood stove for heat, which required the stowing of firewood. We repurposed a pallet to be the temporary fourth wall of our storage bin, fastening it between a bulkhead and the navigation table. It also allowed airflow, helping to keep the firewood dry.

Who has rope somewhere around the home? Maybe you’ve hung a plant, made a makeshift clothesline, or tied lumber to the roof of a car. Trent, of Waste Knot Want Knot in Newfoundland, weaves floor mats with recycled fishing rope, and gifted one to Breskell that we used near the navigation station. On a boat, where a rope is called a line, keeping some extra on board can prove handy. In the previous article, I highlighted an example in the creation of a staysail pole. One of several others was when Captain Huin made a harness for the outboard motor for shipping and unshipping it to and from the dinghy. Sailors can purchase a specially manufactured harness for $35-$85 from a local or not-so-local chandlery. Or they can apply basic seamanship and marlinspike skills to create their own in just a few minutes.

Floor mat made from old fishing ropes
One of Waste Knot Want Knot’s mats made from recycled fishing rope.
© 2020 Joshua Wheeler

Bricolage is prevalent in modern art, too. Pablo Picasso made Tête de Taureau (Bull Head) in 1942 from the seat and handlebars of a bicycle. There is also the Heidelberg Project of Detroit, a community endeavor that paints old houses bright colors and turns found objects into sculptures. Breskell made a re-supply stop in the Canadian Arctic settlement of Cambridge Bay. In their heritage park were sculptures of wolves, musk ox, and a snow machine welded from scrap metal by local teens involved in a youth-skills and artist development program.

Cambridge Bay Wolf made from bricolage
The Cambridge Bay Wolf was made by local teenagers, from scraps of metal.
© 2020 Joshua Wheeler

Bricolage is everywhere. A term of French origin, the English equivalent is do-it-yourself. In COVID-19 times people have made their own face coverings. The endeavors of Captain Cook, Ernest Shackleton, and their crews necessitated improvisation. Offshore sailors only have what is on board to survive. Dockside boaters with limited budgets must make do for sustainability. There is no shame in a bit of bricolage.

The purpose of the Resourceful Sailor is to highlight ways that improvisation can accommodate a sailor’s needs. Realizing that most modifications are custom, he hopes to stimulate the mind and conversations around the possibilities. Do you have a favorite you would like to share? Remember, keep your solutions prudent and safe, and have a blast.

Are Elon Musk’s Space Launches Attracting UFOs?

While Elon Musk has been busy launching objects into space, it appears other beings have seen the activity and sent explorers to Earth to discover the source. Chris and Sharon Boome were enjoying a classic Bay Area evening at Crissy Field when Sharon captured footage of this UFO cruising the waterfront.

Are Elon Musk's Space Launches Attracting UFOs?
The Unidentified Floating Object seems to appear periodically on calm, warm evenings.
© 2020 Chris Boome
Mysterious dome with blue lights - UFO
Perhaps the dome is an elaborate backyard motorized diving bell decorated with color-changing fairy lights.
© 2020 Chris Boome

It could be that the mysterious object is actually a remotely controlled camera and data-collection device gathering information for a team of dedicated and committed sailors who want to win their next race or series. Or, perhaps they’re stalking their competition, which would make sense too, as Chris is an avid sailor who will often be found racing in the Laser Masters.

If you have a better idea or some inside knowledge of what this dome is doing, let us know in the comments below.

Mill Valley Family Sails into Mexico

In September’s Latitude 38 we shared the story of the Fennell family from Mill Valley, who were sailing in Nicaragua aboard their Bavaria 46E Taliesin Rose when pandemic restrictions around the world began to take effect. The story left off as the crew of four were pondering their next course  — Mexico or home. This month we bring you an update.

We loved our life on the peaceful estero, even with the pandemic restrictions, but we could feel the change in season as the afternoons brought huge poofy clouds threatening rain, not to mention our 90-day tourist visas were soon to expire. We heard unofficial rumors that it was becoming increasingly difficult to get exit documents processed. Combined with impending responsibilities back in the States, it felt like the prudent decision was to get north, away from electrical storms and torrential downpours — and to eventually repatriate.

Rowan Fennell at Isla San Francisco
Rowan ‘summits’ the hills above Isla San Francisco just before the tsunami scare.
© 2020 Taliesin Rose

It was imperative to us that wherever we traveled we could easily respect any restrictions and that we were welcome. Mexico was the only option other than sailing directly to the US via Hawaii, which we were prepared to do if Mexico suddenly shut its doors, as countries were doing everywhere. But even Hawaii had made it clear that they did not want visitors. Don Roberto had to make some calls, and the US Embassy made inquiries on our behalf. By the skin of our teeth, we were able to get a navy commander to come and grant us our exit zarpe, without which we wouldn’t have been allowed entry into Mexico. We then had 30 minutes to say hasty but heartfelt goodbyes to some of our favorite people, track down Moto, the cat, who had taken to spending afternoons napping on Don Roberto’s boat, and set sail on the three-day passage to Chiapas with our fingers and toes crossed that the border didn’t close before we arrived. Luck was with us again as the evening lightning storms stayed far off in the mountains, and we had a pleasant and uneventful passage.

Fennell family in Dinghy
The Fennell family from left to right: Rowan, Emmy, Lucy and Vikki.
© 2020 Taliesin Rose

We were welcomed by the Mexican navy with a health screening and temperature check, masks, and a hearty “¡Bienvenidos a Mexico!” We stayed at Marina Chiapas just long enough to get some well-deserved ice cream, fuel and provisions, and then rolled right into a Tehuantepec crossing and five-day, 700-mile passage to Ixtapa.

At one point we were approached by a fishing panga, and our occasional cynicism made us wary of their approach. The fishermen asked for food. We quickly filled a care package with cans, snacks and drinks and passed it over. The three men shouted an enthusiastic “¡Gracias!” They immediately came to an abrupt stop and dug right into the cereal bars and jar of nuts with famished abandon.

Please follow the link to October’s Latitude 38 to keep reading.

The Debate Over Sausalito’s Marinship Is Not Over

For months now, we’ve been trying to do an update about the General Plan process in Sausalito. As we reported in February, the Bay Area’s saltiest city has been discussing its blueprint for future growth, which has included debate over the Marinship, Sausalito’s working waterfront. It’s nearly impossible to occasionally dip one’s toes into General Plan news. In fact, when contacting a source recently, they asked us, “Why is Latitude wading into something like this?” In response, we repeated a concern that we expressed months ago: By the time you notice condos and sleek breweries creeping into the waterfront, it’s too late. The decisions that brought about these fundamental changes were made years ago.

It’s here that we often feel obliged to make a disclaimer: We are not anti-development. These days, nuance is often blurred by simplistic polarization. The reality is that one can support new, affordable housing and still be a strong advocate for a thriving working waterfront. Our idea of a perfect Bayside community is one with a deeply rooted culture, proud history, economic diversity and innovation, and thoughtful, sustainable development to support such a city. It sure would be nice if the average working sailor could afford to live there, too, but one step at a time.

Nothing connects the dots between the Marinship’s past and present like the Industrial Center Building, or ICB. Originally (and quickly) built as a mold loft where designs for big ships were laid out, the ICB is now home to artists.
© 2020 Top Photo: / Bottom Photo: Latitude/Tim

Sausalito’s Draft General Plan is now available to the public; that Plan, which sets a vision of Sausalito through 2040, was originally up for a vote before city council elections in early November, where six candidates are running for three seats. But the General Plan vote was delayed because the public-comment period for the Draft Environmental Impact Report, or DEIR, had to be extended in order to comply with the law …

… And just like that, we already seem to be wading through procedural minutiae, and an informed citizen might rightfully ask, “How does this affect the waterfront, or my life?” Well, consider these factors:

The Raw Economics

Business has been booming in the Marinship, even through the pandemic, according to a recent report commissioned by the city, which said that Sausalito’s industrial sector was among the COVID-19 “winners.” An April 2020 study found that “much of Sausalito’s sales tax – 41% – comes from the Marinship,” and that “the majority of business property tax revenues are generated in the Marinship Inland,” at 46.3%. In other words, the Marinship supplies a huge slice of Sausalito’s revenue pie.

Yes, this story has pie charts. Sometimes you need to see a graphic representation of what might otherwise be hidden in the community (though one can easily stroll through  Sausalito’s working waterfront and see it in action). Keep in mind that the light-industrial sector of the Marinship manufactured some 13,000 plastic face shields, or PPE, this year. Sausalito is not just an epic tourist destination, it’s also a maritime and manufacturing machine.
© 2020 City of Sausalito

Boat sales have been off the charts over the last half year, as the pandemic has been a boon for outdoor sports. “Yacht sales up are 120% in Sausalito, with boat sales up 70% nationwide,” according to one city official. Several brokers and marine-service employees have told us that boats are backordered and flying off the shelves, and that ancillary services, such as surveying, haulouts and maintenance, are similarly booked to the gills in Sausalito, and all across the Bay.

“… The current mix of uses in the Marinship is the City’s big moneymaker; something that should not be tampered with lightly,” Bob Silvestri wrote in the Marin Post in an article titled The Sausalito 2040 General Plan Update Part III. (Click here here for Part I of that series, and here for Part II.)

When debating the working waterfront, advocates often cite its cultural and historic elements, and one could mistakenly get the impression that the issue is about preserving a lifestyle, and not about business. But the raw economics of the Marinship cannot be ignored. Sausalito’s working waterfront — which is home to some 300 businesses and includes “light-industrial, micro-manufacturing” operations — offers diversity to the economy, and resilience to economic downturns, or a pandemic, to which tourism is especially susceptible. The Marinship also offers good jobs, providing an alternative to the service industry at the other end of town.

In his articles, Silvestri quoted a former city official, who said, “Without a manufacturing and light-industrial base, we have condemned our working middle class to anemic service industry dead-end, part-time ‘jobs’ and revolving-door pay.”

The Sinking Ground

Before considering either the long-term sustainability of the Marinship as a working waterfront — and certainly before considering any development in the area — we must admit this: The Marinship is slowly sinking. The roughly mile-long stretch of waterfront was built atop Bay fill piled onto marsh and wetlands during World War II. Long before there were meaningful environmental regulations, the toxic detritus from the war machine was dumped into the Bay, and it’s widely believed that parts of the waterfront are contaminated.

The Marinship was hastily constructed in the Bay in the 1940s. The “Marin Shipbuilding Division of Bechtel Co.” went on to build nearly 100 ships for the war effort.
© 2020 Sausalito Historical Society

The Marinship is suffering from subsidence, or the ‘sinking’ of muddy soil, and is at risk for liquefaction when unstable ground becomes agitated in an earthquake and transforms from solid to liquid. (Speaking of earthquakes, the working waterfront is also in a tsunami zone.)

“[The] changes to the land were not envisioned to be sustainable for the 60-plus years of today,” a 2010 report by the city of Sausalito said of the Marinship; that report estimated that the working waterfront is sinking at a rate of half to three quarters of an inch per year. At present, Gate 5 Road floods regularly during storms and big tides.

Gate 5 Road, as seen in 2010. Needless to say the situation has not improved in the last decade.
© 2020 Sausalito Waterfront

“The city is completely ignoring this, as if none of it exists,” a source familiar with the issue told Latitude on condition of anonymity. “The city hasn’t listened to their engineers for decades. Everyone acknowledges that Marinship is sinking, impacted by flooding, sea level rise, and has failing infrastructure, but they continue to say, ‘It needs more study.'” The source also felt that the city of Sausalito’s Draft Environmental Impact Report was “grossly inadequate,” and failed to provide a mitigation plan, which, in the opinion of a group familiar with the issue, may be required under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA. (That’s a matter that may ultimately be decided by the courts.)

An easy answer to the Marinship’s dilapidated state might simply be, “Build new infrastructure, then build housing.”

“Before we can have a thorough discussion on housing sites, we need to understand infrastructure,” said Janelle Kellman, who is running for one of the three seats on Sausalito’s city council. “This could cover: streets, street lighting, water, sewer[s], storm water, electricity, gas, communications [cable and phone]. These raise key issues: What’s the county thinking about the infrastructure for the houseboats and other non-Sausalito property (in the Marinship vicinity but within county control)?; what is the capacity of each of these in the current infrastructure?; what is the city’s maintenance cost of the current infrastructure without sea-level rise?”

Kellman added that “the city of Sausalito is missing a thorough Sea Level Rise study. The County’s study does not include subsidence, king tides, or 100-year storm events … I want to make sure we are not marginalizing affordable housing to separate areas of our city that are contaminated, flooding or sinking.”

The Actual Issue …

Perhaps now, with the careful consideration of the Marinship’s economic superiority, the challenges to the land itself, and the fundamental questions about infrastructure, we can start to talk about some of the development that’s been up for debate. We’ll continue this report in Friday’s ‘Lectronic Latitude.

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