Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Wood Boat Mainiacs

Thanks to the extraordinary hospitality of my friends Anne Witty and Jonathan Taggart, I have had the luxury of sailing in Maine for two beautiful long weekends this month. I had forgotten just how wonderful the Maine coast really is, with its archipelago of granite mountaintops covered with hardy pines. It's truly like sailing in the valleys of the Dolomites long before the last Würmian glaciation that created the Venice Lagoon. The last time I had done that was about 25 years ago when captain Scoop (Paul McAskill) and I "sailed naked" (meaning with no instruments - it's too cold to remove your clothes up there) from Boothbay to Acadia national park.
Given that there are at least two plausible claims that the Mondo Novo (at least the Northern part of the continent later named after another Italian -Amerigo Vespucci) was discovered by Venetians before Columbus, either in 1398 by the Venetian brothers Antonio and Nicolò Zeno, or in 1497 by Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot), all of whom are thought to have landed somewhere Down East, it was fitting that I should bring a gonfalone of Saint Mark to be flown on Nereid's mast on our voyages up and down the very same coasts that my fellow Venetians first viewed 500+ years ago.
I met Jonathan, who is a heritage conservator specializing in bronze objects, in 1996, when I gave a talk at the National Institute for Conservation in Washington DC, following which he joined me for a couple of Earthwatch "expeditions" in Venice, when we were cataloging and (thanks to him) restoring wellheads and bells across the city. Anne has been a curator for several maritime museums, including Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon, and, more recently, for the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, Maine.
Given their backgrounds, and their love for Venice, it is not surprising that our sailing trips generated a wealth of ideas about how to join forces for the documentation and restoration of the collection of traditional wood boats salvaged by Arzanà, a Venetian association which has sponsored a number of Venice Project Center projects on the topic in recent years.
The general idea is to document the lines of the boats in the Arzanà collection using time-tested manual methods and then compare the measurements with the results obtained using more modern techniques such as laser scanner (which we hope to borrow from our LTS friends at Ideagroup) as well as the structured light techniques being developed by my friend Steve Guerin in Santa Fe, at the Redfish Group. Once we have obtained the lines, we would turn them into CAD drawings and save them for posterity, which would open up the possibility of reproducing the boats in the future.
We promptly discussed all of these possibilities with the editor of Wooden Boat Magazine, Tom Jackson, over dinner with his wife Corinne, before we sailed together up the Eggemoggin Reach on our first day on the water. Later we also talked to wood boat legend Willits Ansel, who suggested to involve another expert, Greg Rössel. Meanwhile, Jonathan has signed up for a one-day workshop on Boat Documentation at the Calvert Marine Museum connected with the Museum Small Craft Association annual conference on October 7. This group is appropriately responsible for the publication of the classic book on Boat Documentation...
Given the strong ties that these experts have with the Wooden Boat School in Maine, we are exploring the possibility of getting a replica of one of the Arzanà boats re-built in time for the 35th anniversary of the Settemari Association in the summer of 2012, when we plan to take our rowing club to the US for a whole month, parading our diesona and a small flotilla of Venetian boats down the rivers Charles (Boston), Hudson (New York), Schuylkill (Philadelphia) and Potomac (Washington), thanks to the planning provided by teams of students from SUNY Cortland's program in Sports Management, under the guidance of another old friend, John Meehan, who is tenured at Hudson Valley Community College.
Just yesterday, President Obama gave a key speech on innovation at this very college. He would be proud of the innovative ideas we developed with our old friends as we floated around Maine.
We will make sure that we wave at him when we pass the White House as we parade down the Potomac on our brand new, Maine-built, Venetian boat in 2012!
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