Sailing Like Stink

by Vermont Rice

Topsail aloft!

Captain Steve looking aloft

Cracking spars on the first day out not allowed

Cracking spars on the first day out not allowed

We had our work cut out for us to get Ceres ready to head south, but this time the cargo loading was actually a snap.

Yes, it’s a pretty odd expression, but one I’ve heard Captain Steve use several times. Yesterday it applied to us pretty well.  It was an amazing experience to see Ceres belting down into the narrows of the southern end of Lake Champlain under all canvas, heeled over nicely (but not too nicely) under a freshening north wind.  At about 5.5 knots we were verging on overpressed with sail, and started to worry about losing the topsail club or even the topmast on the first day out, and so we doused it.  Still, we can put up a nice little mountain of canvas even without the topsail, and after lowering it we were still making 5 knots under staysail, yankee jib, main, and mizzen.  Sailmaker Matthew Wright and Riggers Carrie Glessner and Will Young ought to be good and proud of their work.  Breathtaking.  Brings to mind an expression my grandfather used that I occasionally deploy myself, “there’s glory in it!”


Three wagons full of just-baled hay rolled under cover mere minutes before a thunderstorm?

“There’s glory in it!”

Perfect blooms on your dahlias?

“There’s glory in it!”

Dealing with bloated sheep by tubing the sheep gas out of the stomach?

“There’s no glory in it.”

Well, sometimes there’s plenty of glory and sometimes there’s not.  We are on the move and bound for New York for the second time.  There’s glory in that, for certain.  But also a lot of unglorious work, lifting, sanding, fixing, and struggling with the many complicated challenges in making this project of many moving parts work the way it is supposed to.  About half my day yesterday was consumed with a task with no glory in it, chasing small water leaks out of hidden air spaces in the hull construction by injecting epoxy resin into voids, tough to do at any time but very challenging when the boat is full of stuff and is pounding down the lake.

Today Ceres is still on the move, masts down now, motoring through the New York State canal system, and at last check is nearing Fort Edward.  As for me, your author and raconteur, at least up to this point, I am no longer with the ship.  Last night after a round of drinks at Howie’s in Whitehall, I traded places with Andrew Willner who now assumes my shipboard role in the capacity of Acting Director.  I personally am very hopeful that this is the beginning of an excellent collaborative working partnership with a man with many years of experience in craftsmanship, sailing, and in promoting waterfront sustainability, whose work and genial nature have earned the respect of pretty much everyone I have met who has had much to do with traditional sail and New York Harbour.  VSFP is lucky and honored to welcome Andrew on board.

As for me, the rice plants that I mentioned last time are now pushing seven inches tall and the paddies are in great shape and transplanting is underway.  I needed the liberty to tend to my farm at this early point in the growing season.  I can’t deny that I track the progress of Ceres compulsively now, as perhaps some of you readers did last year when I was aboard.  So I know that the same steady rain that watered my garden transplants and added depth to my rice fields also fell on Ceres as the crew guided her through at least seven or eight locks today.  But the mission advances, despite the challenges, delays and problems.  We have a much smaller crew than last year, when many events were amped up into mini-festivals through the energy of Greenhorns and its dedicated volunteers and staff.  Now we are trying to advance to the next stage, to where we can hopefully build on the work and the recognition of last year, and hopefully wean ourselves down to a primary crew of four, all based on the barge.  Ultimately a small craft like Ceres really ought to be run as a mobile market by a crew of two, but we are not there yet.

Erik at the helm on Lake Champlain.  That little mizzen sail really helps push us along when running with the wind.

Our current crew is Captain Steve, Middlebury College intern Meade Atkeson, Andrew Willner as I mentioned above, and recent Binghamton University Grad Matt Horgan, who we will be losing to grad school later this month.

Running the vessel and its market requires that a skilled operator be a solid river sailor, plus a capable businessperson in order to maintain inventory and accounts while on the move.  It also requires a serious interest in the farms and waterfront communities of the region, and some facility at outreach and social media.  Interested?  Well, we are in need of a new crew member to volunteer at the end of this month and are considering recruiting full-time staff if our operations in 2014 prove successful.  While crowded for a crew of four or more, for a working crew of two, be they friends, a married couple, or partners, Ceres affords reasonable on-the-water living, in the space not consumed by cargo that is.  I never intended for this liveaboard operator to be me.  I have a farm and am pretty well bonded to my family and my place.  Sailing around the battery into the East River?  Well, that was unforgettable.  But the next time someone else can do it.  Ultimate success of the project is not measured by what I personally get to see, do, or experience, or even necessarily by whether it is profitable or not (though we strive for it to be).  Ultimate success is that we help crack the door and in some small way lay the groundwork for the development of the next generation of watermen and waterwomen.

Ceres ties up to the southbound bulkhead at Lock 12

We are being filmed by the extermely-active Edward and Gary (deux noms qui ne sont pas tres francais je dois dire) from the French television program Thalassa.  In the course of our many (sometimes a bit repetitive) interviews, I offered my belief that contrary to the techno-paradise that some expect, my belief is that our future will likely resemble our past, and that we may fall back on proven, low energy approaches to supporting human life that have been historically proven to work.  “Isn’t that pessimistic?” asked Edward.  I replied that I don’t think so.  It is in my view even more pessimistic to imagine a world continuing on the current path, becoming a place in which there is no place for human labor or creativity, where rather than doing things with our backs and hands and minds, we must instead wait passively for conveniences and solutions to be marketed to us.   That, to me, is the most depressing future imaginable.

About our schedule.  We are so far behind that our plans to stop with our partners in on the way south are pretty messed up.  We have to make “fast” progress toward our most important destination, Clearwater Festival, and any chance to see us along the way will be catch-as-catch-can.  Not the way we wanted it, but it is just the beginning of the season and we hope for many chances to make up for the lost opportunities early on.   I will be posting weekly here now, and will try to get some authorship going from Ceres herself now that I have left the ship, so look out for that.