Sunday, December 13, 2015

In Which I Recollect My Blog...

Hello again!

You thought I had forgotten about you, didn't you?  Well, I suppose I did, rather.

I need some of this.
Lots and lots of things have been happening in the last few months, and I was so busy with them that I didn't remember to write about them.  So we are in for a few rounds of Retro-Blogging, methinks, over the next few weeks.

I still have one more week of school to get through, and then I will be traveling to New Jersey for a couple of weeks to enjoy the Christmas holiday (in all its cookies-and-egg-nog glory) with my family, but I will do my best to bring us all up to speed in the interim.

First up, the main reason I have been so exceedingly unavailable: we have finally realised our dream of starting a rowing team in Colombia, and we spend every single weekend at the lake, coaching novices and repairing boats.  Our website is, and we have both a Facebook page and a group.

I actually did draft a post about the days right after the boats arrived, which is copied below.

The Boatses Are Here, The Boatses Are Here!

Boats neatly placed on Rob's custom racks

Day 1: On Friday, 5 June 2015, after 11 months of waiting, working, searching, and dealing with endless bureaucracy on our part, and after travelling from various cities to northern Massachusetts, and then to Miami and then to Panama and then to Cartagena and then, on a truck, over mountains and across the north of Colombia, our boats arrived at Lake Tominé.  We had been tracking them since they left their first port, and we knew they would arrive somewhere around midday on Friday.  Maurizio tried to get me to call in sick to work so I could be there, but in this country you need a doctor’s note if you are ill or you won’t get paid, and besides, like many teachers, I hate leaving my students to someone else when I am perfectly capable of handling them, myself.  So I went to work, and Maurizio, who had now received confirmation that the boats would arrive around 3 pm, went to the lake.  Hernando, like a little boy on Christmas morning, could not wait when he heard they were near, and he threatened to leave his wife behind if she could not get ready faster.  He arrived at the nautical club around 2—which turned out to be fortunate, as the truck arrived ahead of schedule at 2:15.  By the time Maurizio arrived, they had managed to unload nearly everything, and were just moving the custom-built racks which Rob Englehardt so expertly provided so that the boats would remain safe inside the shipping container.  Hernando took loads of pictures of everything, and he made plans for Maurizio and me to spend the entire weekend at his house by the lake, so that we could inventory, clean, and prepare the boats for the repairs that were necessary, because we had had to cut nearly all of them in order to fit them into the container.
Sliced bits of boat lying here and there amidst oars and boxes of rigger parts
Day 2:  Maurizio and I got up early with plans to pack up, cook breakfast, and get on the road, but we hit a slight snafu in that our gas had been turned off the day before (because of a ridiculous building code violation that obviously applies to every single apartment in the building, but because they were in our flat to fix a gas leak they noticed it and decided to cut us off).  Maurizio had thought he could turn it back on himself, but this turned out not to be the case, so we could neither shower nor cook, and were greatly delayed in our departure.  On the way to Tominé we stopped at the local market to buy some green eggs (green!), pineapple, and oranges to give as host gifts (we were also bringing a bottle of Havana rum and Cuban cigars which Maurizio’s friend, Phil, had brought us from his trip to Cuba…these were for the celebration that evening).  We also stopped at a lovely roadside place called Alta de las Arepas, where we had a delicious breakfast of thick, cheesy arepas, eggs, juice, and cocoa.  Finally we arrived, and we found Hernando and a few others out working on the boats.

We began with the double, which we had purchased from a rowing club in Florida.  We checked it over to find its weak spots, any cracks or breaks, and then we removed all of the hardware, from nuts and bolts to footplates and tracks, so that it could be sanded and painted.  Because they row in Tampa on brackish water, there was a lot of salt-oxidization, and most of the bolts will have to be replaced, but otherwise it should be rowable very soon.  We moved on to one of the Vespoli fours, which was in surprisingly good condition, considering it was the one that Rob threw in for free after we had bought the rest of the boats from him. It, too, we stripped, and it was quite the adventure getting some of the rusty screws out.  With a lot of pounding and scraping and maybe a little cursing, we finally got everything out and into a labeled box so we could find it again later.  In between boat-strippings, I went around looking at all of the boats, writing down what they did and did not have, and what we needed to buy or manufacture in order to make them rowable.  We also stopped for a long lunch around 1:30, but other than that we were out there working till it was nearly dark.  I am pretty sure every single one of us ended up bleeding in some way, but we were happy in our work!

Hardworking friends stripping the four

After lunch and before we finished with the four, we took a look at the set of brand-new oars we had purchased for the quads.  They are Croker S3 Slicks, with blue foam handles, and they are very pretty.  I will always love wooden handles best, and all of the sweep oars we acquired have those (in various stages of rasped and sanded and rotted), but sculling seems to favour the skinny shaft, so I am at least grateful that these aren’t those hard, plastic handles that become impossible to grip once your hands sweat even slightly.  We took them out and marveled at them, and then re-packed them and put them up in the rafters of the work shed so no one can accidentally damage them before we are ready to use them.

That night we went back to Hernando’s house and took some photos of the hardworking team who had begun the work on the boats (said photos have been promised to me, but probably will never find their way out of Hernando's fancy camera).  Then we cracked open the rum, and toasted repeatedly to the excitement of the project we are starting.  Maria Louisa made a delicious dinner of rice and quinoa and vegetables and crab meat, and we feasted by an enormous fire that takes center stage in their living room--at least, it does when it is nighttime and you can’t see the stunning view of the lake through their huge windows.  Hernando and Maurizio went outside to smoke some cigars, and I chatted with Patricia and her husband, who had helped us all day.  Then the boys came back in and managed to finish off the Havana rum between them, which eventually led Hernando to fall asleep in his chair.  I was warm and well-fed and exhausted from being outside all day in the extremely variable weather, which vacillated between mild showers and hot sunshine and heavy cloud, so it was not long before I was asking for bedtime.  Once the non-resident guests left, we all turned in, tuckered out and happy.

Day 3: The next morning, Hernando and Maria Luisa managed to wake up early and get out to the lake for a row, but Maurizio and I clung to our beds a bit longer.  When we did wake, we each took a shower and got dressed in a few layers, as we expected it to be another day of working on the boats.  Hernando’s son Julian came down to join us when he heard us pottering around in the kitchen, so we cooked him breakfast and were just getting ready to leave when Hernando and Maria Luisa returned.  Hernando wanted us to join him in a visit to one of the neighbouring clubs, where they were keeping an eight which had been smuggled into the country inside of a shipment of bridge pieces by a former commodore of the club.  They stored it out in an open circle of grass near the water, guts up in three slings, with an ingenious sort of custom-made canvas tent pitched over and zipped and velcroed under it to protect it from the weather.  There were even neat little triangular canvases for the riggers, which were left on the boat even though it was technically in storage.  We uncovered it to take a look.  The boat was an old Schoenbrod, its beautiful wooden ribs still intact, though the gunwales had been replaced by the club with local wood.  It had not been treated well, poor thing.  There were many repaired cracks along the hull, and one of the workers told us the wind had once picked it up and dropped it hard on the gravel.  If you stood at the end of it, you could see that it curved through the middle like a misshapen banana.  The riggers were bent in all sorts of places, and the seats were all different heights and thicknesses.  The screws holding the tracks on had been replaced, but they apparently couldn’t find flat screws here, so the seats scraped over the rounded screw heads as they rolled.  But it was an eight, and it was more or less seaworthy, so we determined to take it out for a row the next morning.

Day 4: The row was interesting, to say the least.  We had a mixture of people from both clubs, many of whom were completely new to sweep rowing.  The boat was as heavy as it had looked, and we had to carry it all the way into the water, because there was no dock long enough.  I was not prepared for this, and rather resented squishing my white socks into the rocky sludge on the edge of the lake, but I suppose it couldn’t be helped.  Once we had all climbed in and pulled away, though, it was thrilling.  Even with inexperienced rowers behind me, even with old spoon oars whose shafts had been patched so many times they were as thick and solid as flag poles, it was lovely to stroke an eight again, and the whole lake was entirely ours to play in.  We stayed out for about an hour, and I did my best to coach from the front, but really it was just a test run. 

That is the end of my drafted post about the first weekend, and there were many, many more weekends like it to come.  I got to know a lot about paint removal, sanding, hardware, metal pin fabrication, and carbon-fiber repairs over the next few months as we got our new babies ready to row.  And that's when the real fun began...but it will have to wait for the next time I write.

Hint: it involved a lot of time spent dressed as an Oompa-Loompa in the WonkaVision studio...

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