Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Engineer

by Hannah Hindley

     He  navigated by sound: like a man at a lightless anchor watch, his invisible bearings spoke to him with voices that only he understood.  There, the water pump chugging and lapsing with use and inactivity; underfoot, the bell-like rush of unseen pipes; the faint buzz of electric wires behind their paneling.  His blood thrummed on pitch with the whir of fans in the battery bank; his breathing matched the chink and knock of wrenches tapping against the bulkhead with sway of the ship.  He moved toward interruptions in the strain, knew where to adjust, when to dislodge or prime or tighten, how to ease the ship’s mechanical rhythms into a murmuring purr.   He could hear the thump of draining bilges, could hear the quiet whine of the charging generator.  And--pausing there next to the silent engine, an old picture of a little blue-eyed girl held loosely between thumb and palm--the old engineer could even, almost, hear her voice.


     “Daddy, do you have a treasure for me from the engine room?”  In his memory, she is only as tall as his waist, and her blue, blue eyes are still wide with interest.  It is not a new memory, not a new question, and it repeats itself in the corner of his mind like one of the ship’s mechanical cycles, returning to him, unsurprising but a little different each time, just like it was those long years ago: familiar and compelling every time. 
     “Of course I have a treasure, sweet pea,” he said then and every time, “but you’ll have to close your eyes.” 
     She nodded and squeezed her eyes shut, hands open with a zen-like detachment, mouth curved with quiet happiness.  He would rummage ceremoniously through the engine room which, always tidy, still had secret corners and drawers suitable for unearthing incomparable gems, one of which he would extract and place in her waiting palms. Sometimes it was a rusty screw. Sometimes a silvery spring.  She knew not to expect, knew that the unspoken agreement was to accept her treasure with joy and astonishment. And sometimes those treasures really did loosen her little jaw with wonder: a knife-sharpener made from diamond, a compass that glowed and drifted like magic into reliable position, a ball bearing that rolled like mercury between her fingers.
     Every time he returned to port, she’d be waiting to rush belowdecks.  She, too, knew how to listen.  On each ship that carried him into port, she’d follow the unseen clink and hum, smiling shyly at the deckhands and oilers as she hurried down companionways in search of the center of the sound, and in that buzzing hub, he’d be waiting for her with a wide hug among his machines.  On those days, she’d walk home along the waterfront with her new treasure in one fist and her father’s hand in the other.  She liked the way his skin was leathery from his work, how his fingertips were always a little dark with grease.  She’d trace her fingers along each of his, memorizing the different tools tattooed across the back of each like skeletal X-rays of specialized bones: a drill down his index finger, a wrench opening inward at the base of his thumb. 
     Of course, he wasn’t always home to warm her hand with his or to fill it with electrical tape and colored wire.  In those gaps and silences, between one homecoming and the next, he began to lose her.   By the time she was shoulder-height, she’d found something new along the waterfront, something that made her late for his arrivals and softened her eyes with a faraway look.  In the stretches of time her father left for sea, she left for sails.  She left the sounds behind, left her screws and springs lined up along her bedroom shelf, and began learning how to maneuver motorless boats in the harbor. 
     Boats without motors. 
     He’d see them at a distance sometimes as he climbed the gangway, moving across the water: relics of a time gone by, like horse-drawn carriages and bicycles-built-for-two.  By the time she was old enough to have earned her electrician’s certificate, she’d left home entirely--gone off to a different coast, in search of bigger boats with bigger pieces of cloth.  He wondered sometimes if it had been an act of defiance, if she was wasting her nimble fingers and sharp mind on rope and canvas because of something he had said or left unspoken.  He’d power his ships across the sea and return to his gray bay with more noise in his head than usual.  At the end of each trip, the engineer would walk home from the terminal with empty hands, cursing himself for never having taught his daughter the real difference between treasure and trash. 


     He tucked the photograph back into his work bench and checked the porthole with a slipping feeling in his belly.  The water moved past more slowly than ever.  His old fingers--the black ink along them green now with time--throbbed with a quiet ache that filled all his body.  How brutal, he thought, how weird.  My daughter’s world has crashed in all around me but she herself remains an ocean away. 
     The engine room had grown quieter and quieter as his daughter’s absence had widened across the years, leaving more room for the noise of his own thoughts.  It began with slower work, pressure from the shipping company to conserve fuel as prices skyrocketed, to clean the engine, to run it less--an occasional voyage where the engine wasn’t used at all.  He noticed, upon boarding each new vessel, that some had thick poles running vertically up from the deck.  The companies began shifting the cargo, moving it below deck to protect it from slipping in the new, shifting rock and sway that the ships took on when the engine idled.  The journeys grew longer.  His equipment grew cold.  He would slink aboard each vessel with lowered eyes, avoiding contact with the new young crew who spliced rope instead of wire, the cocky new captains who spoke of pressure systems and wind. 
     He sought refuge in the sounds that remained.  He listened for small things that needed fixing.  Each morning’s engine check was like a little sunrise, and all day afterward he would grow cold with his machines.  How many real sunrises he missed in the darkness belowdecks, he couldn’t count, except perhaps in the wrinkles that crept out from the corners of his eyes, or in the small losses of height as his stoop deepened just a little each year.  And all the while, the sea slid ever so slowly past the portholes, and the masts on the decks of the vessels heightened and multiplied as he passed among them on his way to work.


     But now, the noise!  Bright sound: urgent, loud.  His whole body startled, electrified.  Alarms bellowed the engineer awake from his thoughts, and he looked around the engine room at the flashing lights, listened to the ringing of metal as the sound carried through all his machines like ripples through water.  The engineer ignored drills as a matter of habit.  This was unscheduled, though, and the the clatter of footsteps rushing toward deck worried him.  The whole compartment rang like a bell, and the engineer sighed and cracked his knuckles and followed the sound of hurried feet upward.
     It was the first time he’d left the engine room while underway, and the sun blinded him a little, but it wasn’t the light that took his breath away so much as the sweeping wash of silence, deeper even than that of his idle machines.  There were no pumps up here or currents moving through wire. He felt as if he’d stepped into one of those movies without noise, and he staggered, dazzled, onto the deck, where even the shouts of deckhands seemed muffled and distant in the slow spin of his mind. In this dizzy quiet, he watched as a group of men pulled a dripping sailor back onto deck--they’d worked fast, and the man-overboard alarms had already quieted below.  The wet man shimmered in the sun like a freshly-caught fish, panting and gripping the arms of his rescuers.  The engineer looked up, trying to clear his head, and his breath caught for the second time that minute.
     Above him, bellied out from those dark masts, was more cloth than he’d ever seen in one place.  It strained with the push of wind, curved brightly like light itself. This was no harbor-bound dingy.  The sails looked like they contained the whole sky. 
     As the engineer watched with shallow lungs, the noise rushed back to him.  They were little sounds, a new frequency.  He caught the groan of taut line, the quiet whistle of air among high cables.  The movements of the sailors came alive with grunts and chants as they adjusted the rigging, heaving in places, feeding line back into the sky in others. The cloth overhead slapped and whiffled, then quieted as the ship eased closer into the wind. The wood underfoot spoke with a voice he’d never heard on the metal grating belowdecks. He could hear the quiet rush of water against the bow, could hear the slap of dolphins’ bodies as they followed the forward push of the ship with leaps and splashes.  The whole vessel whispered and clattered, pulled, thrummed.  The engineer stood open-mouthed. Here was a new machine, powered by sky and muscle.  Each part shifted quietly.  Things settled into perfection under the tug of hands and the push of wind.  What power!  He thought.  What elegance. 

     The creak of a wheel drew his attention aft, and the old engineer turned to seek out the the navigator of this wild, surprising ship.  A woman stood at the helm, and and as she looked forward to adjust her course, her eyes caught his.  They were blue, blue, and alive with interest--and wide now, too, with recognition, with light.  She had grown taller, and her face showed where the wind had shaped it, but her astonished smile hadn’t changed a bit.  The engineer moved toward her slowly, and his wide, lined palms were open to the sky, full now, so full of unspeakable treasure.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

HANNAH HINDLEY: The New Conrads Storytelling Challenge WINNER!

Today marks the anniversary of Joseph Conrad's birthday, and $1000 dollars is going to the winner of this contest, a tribute to Conrad, who documented the seafarer's experience during shipping's transition from sail to steam and diesel. We asked people to write about our eventual future; when we will be transitioning from petroleum-generated energy to alternative energy.

Hannah Hindley has written a beautiful story that is very fitting for this contest. It's about an engineer who is on his way to becoming obsolete. Hannah studied literature at Harvard and works, lives and sails around Puget Sound in Washington State. Here is an excerpt from her winning entry: 

"...The companies began shifting the cargo, moving it below deck to protect it from slipping in the new, shifting rock and sway that the ships took on when the engine idled.  The journeys grew longer.  His equipment grew cold.  He would slink aboard each vessel with lowered eyes, evading the new young crew who spliced rope instead of wire, avoiding contact with the cocky new captains who spoke of pressure systems and wind. 

     He sought refuge in the sounds that remained.  He listened for small things that needed fixing.  Each morning’s engine check was like a little sunrise, and all day afterward he would grow cold with his machines.  How many real sunrises he missed in the darkness belowdecks, he couldn’t count, except perhaps in the wrinkles that crept out from the corners of his eyes, or in the small losses of height as his stoop deepened just a little each year.  With each passing season, as work slowed, the engineer felt more and more like a relic himself: a bicycle, a stagecoach, an artist with no paint.  And all the while, the sea slid ever so slowly past the portholes, and oil grew scarcer, and the masts on the decks of the vessels heightened and multiplied as he passed among them on his way to work...."

The rest will be printed in the next issue of Jack Tar Magazine, along with the other top entries, including the VERY CLOSE second place winner by Kris Day (recently the mate aboard S/V Orion). The other finalists were Maggie Ostler of PICTON CASTLE, Joe Follansbee of FYDDEYE/Gray's Harbor Historical Seaport Authority (also the author of The Fyddeye Guide to America's Maritime History), Maine Maritime graduate and traditional sailor Erik Romelczyck, Jen Webber of S.E.A., and mariner and author Brent Starling. Several others were close behind these top seven authors, and many of the 37 eligible entries will be featured in the Jack Tar, Issue #6. The turnout and the excitement over this contest was so inspiring that we may hold similar contests in the future. 

The six judges are all seafaring people. Four are professional mariners. Two are educated cruisers with backgrounds in biology/fisheries management. Two of them did all of their reading during off-watch periods at sea over the last month. Two of them are spending time ashore before going back to sea, and the last two either live aboard or spend a lot of time aboard their own sailing vessels, preparing them for sea. They are an extremely conscientious and thoughtful group who chose to balance writing skills with content when making their decisions. Each was sent a group of around five stories at a time, and asked to read them in a random order, then pick their favorite from that group. The stories from each of the seven groups that had the most votes moved onto the final voting process. Most groups had two top stories, so there were really around a dozen popular entries total. These and more will all be featured in the next issue. 

The donor of the prize has chosen to remain anonymous. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Push is underway to preserve veteran steamboat J.F. Ford as a museum ship
A 108-year-old Great Lakes steamboat may soon be headed for oblivion unless preservationists can make some headway in raising funds to save the ship as a maritime museum.

The J.B. Ford, a former ore freighter turned cement carrier, was launched at Lorain, Ohio, in 1903 – eight years before the RMS Titanic made her fateful maiden voyage – under the name Edwin F. Holmes. When built, she was typical of the freighters of her day, just 440 feet long, a utilitarian vessel in most aspects unremarkable, said Steve Haverty, a Minnesota-based historian who is part of a group trying to rescue the vessel.

“She possessed nothing out of the ordinary or advanced for the time period, and this is one of the things that makes her so very special today,” he observed. “Her beginnings show off the standard everyday life of lakers back then. Having only been modified a couple times in her lifetime, she retains a huge amount of her original design and construction.”

Haverty and others have formed The Great Lakes Steamship Society, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the ship, which at present is tied to a dock in Superior, Wis. In a career that lasted over a century, this grand old lady of the lakes carried the goods that fed the industrial might of our nation, hauled the raw materials that helped to win two world wars, and survived some of the Great Lakes’ worst storms, including the infamous “White Hurricane” of 1913.

Time, Haverty said, is not on their side. Although the group has been in contact with the vessel’s owner, Lafarge North America Inc., the ship’s future is far from secure. 

The J.B. Ford is next on the chopping block this coming season, and we have been told that if something isn’t solidified for her preservation, it is likely she too will head to the scrap yard and be lost forever.”

Richard Jenkins, a ship enthusiast and historian from Massachusetts who is working with Haverty, agreed. “They have been receptive to our ideas,” he said of Lafarge, “but there are still details to be worked out.  First and foremost, we must prove to them that we are a credible organization with a solid plan and the resources to preserve the ship.”

If The Great Lakes Steamship Society is successful in its efforts there are several possible outcomes, Jenkins added.

“We have been in discussions with several cities and other organizations with an eye to finding a permanent home port for the ship once we acquire her, Jenkins said. “Perhaps the most promising of these is Alpena, her longtime homeport as well as home to the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary where the sunken wreck of her near-sistership Etruria lies.  In addition to being a tourist draw for Alpena, there is the possibility of the Ford being a valuable resource for divers planning dives to the Etruria and other wrecks of similar vintage, and cross-promotion between the preserved J.B. Ford and the Marine Sanctuary could be beneficial to both.  Discussions are ongoing, but as of yet no firm commitment has been made.”

Costs for stabilizing and restoring the ship could run as much as $1.5 million.

“We estimate just to keep her temporarily where she is will cost approximately $25,000 per year between docking fees, power for lights, heat and insurance.  Restoration and preparations to make her safe for visitors will likely cost between $1.2 to 1.5 million, including drydocking, towing, topside steel work, paint, cleanup, and accessibility considerations,” Jenkins estimated.

Some of the costs could be taken care of through grants and other assistance programs, and some of the restoration work could be undertaken by volunteers. Inactive since 2008, the vessel was last drydocked in 2004 and her underwater openings sealed for her long-term use as a storage barge, so that potentially expensive work has already done, making drydocking less of an urgent priority than it might otherwise have been.

If the preservation effort doesn’t pan out, donors will be able to get their money back or let the funds go toward supporting another project. “Each donor, at the beginning of their involvement, and at the end of the J.B. Ford effort will be given an option to get their money back or continue to support us in a new direction and a new target vessel,” said Haverty.

Built as a traditional iron ore carrier, the vessel – which in addition to the Edwin F. Holmes also served under the name E.C. Collins – was modified to carry powdered cement in 1959 by the Huron Portland Cement Co. She last operated under her own power in 1985. More recently, she was used as a floating cement storage warehouse at South Chicago and at Superior, Wis.

Haverty and other members of the group have been hitting the bricks trying to get the word out about their efforts with speaking engagements around the lakes. They have gotten much-appreciated advice and information from other already established and successful non-profit and preservation groups.

“We are a long way from success, but we have come a long way since our incorporation 13 months ago,” Haverty observed. “(Saving the ship) won’t be cheap, but it will be well worth every penny.”

For more information, visit

Sunday, May 8, 2011

boat tinkering

I've been neglecting my boat for a few years now. The house has had priority, but I finally find myself with not enough time to do big house projects, and most of the small ones are done so back to the boat work. I have almost every evening from 6 to 8 to work on whatever assuming I don't have an exam to prep for (I have swallowed the anchor so to speak). Its taken me nearly 2 weeks off and on to get the shop in shape for new projects. I plan on starting with the gaff and boom off of Pendragon, and then maybe I'll finally make the lazerette hatch.

What ever I do it has to be on the cheap. I am in school full time. We have a new baby. I see lots of material coming out of the family wood stash, and form the recycled materials store down the way. Believe it or not I got tired of travelling for work 15 years was enough. I want to sail for the fun of it. I don't want to set food on another commercial ship for a very long time. I could see myself back on tallships as a volunteer, but that scene has lost most of its appeal for now. I still need to scratch the itch of teaching people about the water, so I help the guy down the alley learn to sail and to build his first boat.

The goal is to have Pendragon in rough but day sailable shape by June, and then next spring I think I will re-power the boat (I am going to deep 6 the diesel and go electric), and clean her up so she looks all pretty again.

Friday, January 21, 2011

JTM's Maritime Accidents Database

Help to build JTM's Maritime Accidents Database - If you know about any maritime accidents please fill our form: JACK TAR MAGAZINE'S - Maritime Accidents Database Information Form

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


YOU have made it possible to offer the 2011 calendars at an affordable price AND bring in a little extra cash to go toward printing the fifth issue of Jack Tar Magazine.
Also, a big thank you to past donors who have made it possible for Jack Tar Magazine to get printed at all, and for inspiring Kim, Colleen, the writers and photographers to continue bringing their perspective of the seafaring world to others in the industry.

The sales of the 2011 JTM Calendar bring a financial boost to the Jack Tar Magazine mission; We strengthen community among sailors through interactive, informative, and entertaining media, with a focus on the progressive side of modern maritime culture and it’s roots in traditional seamanship.

There are huge gaps in how information is being shared between maritime subcultures today. Heavy industrial offshore and Lakes operations have trade magazines that focus on new technology or environmental legislation affecting their industry. Commercial fishermen, research vessel crew, tour operators and sail training crew have few, if any, forums where they share information. Wooden boat builders, cruisers, and racers have magazines and online forums that include technical articles and product information, but scarce offerings when it comes to well written sea stories, interesting art and photography, and thoughtful reflections about life on the water today.

This is where Jack Tar Magazine picks up the slack; our audience includes everyone who recognizes the great, and sometimes not-so-great aspects of seafaring life. We educate new mariners on how to succeed in the maritime industry while promoting the study of traditional seamanship skills. We provide venues to discuss important issues: whether it’s about safety at sea, USCG compliance topics, relationships between operators and crew, or personal subjects that only a mariner might understand. We serve as an outlet for the creative and talented souls living and working on the water. We offer common ground where both fishermen and fisheries scientists may stand in support of dedicating their lives to the management of important natural resources. We are about bringing people together, and sharing our dedication to a safe, prosperous, and enjoyable future at sea.

There is an excellent quote by Rev. Dr. Nash Garabedian on the back cover of the September 2010 issue of The Maine Magazine; “Seafarers, and the maritime community are the people that teach me about what it means to love thy neighbor, how to be hospitable, and how to welcome a stranger.” That is the spirit in which Jack Tar Magazine was born, and the attitude with which we bring culture and information to other mariners and the world. Please help us to narrow the gaps in communication. You are helping people on different sides of the issues understand each other better. You are helping educate young people regarding their options in the industry. You are allowing a new generation of Cousteaus, Heyerdahls, Conrads and Chichesters to emerge and renew centuries of public fascination with a subculture that is too quickly forgetting seamanship survival skills and the romance of going to sea.

Jack Tar Magazine needs your help to carry on this mission, We invite you to come grow with us! Get involved by writing for Jack Tar Magazine and by posting on our Facebook page. Nautical texts, photographs, videos and selected links posted there are a welcome contribution. Our subscribers are our co-authors.
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Jack Tar Magazine Supporters

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pre-Order your Women of Maritime Calendar!

The calendars are coming! The calendars are coming! Pay half the price if you pre-order! Click here and then click on "Back This Project." We need to $4K total to fund printing costs, and what we get beyond that will go to designing and printing a new and improved polished quarterly magazine, dedicating to educating and entertaining mariners worldwide!

Calendars are only $12 (that's $10 each plus $2 S&H) if you pre-order. We are already a third of the way to our minimum goal, after just nine days of making this available!