Monday, February 29, 2016


 I was thinking perhaps with this extended heat wave, and the proven success of the bridge we built last fall, perhaps I should consider doing the other bridge now. I was demonstrating to Justin that the old bridge, made of beetle-killed pine logs from about ten years ago, was getting a little saggy. I gave a little jump to demonstrate. With a loud crunch it collapsed. Yup, it's time.

When I was visiting my brother in Jamaica, he gave me the lowdown on the arches surrounding his porch. He's a big fan of Gaudi's wonderful architecture in Barcelona, and one of Gaudi's favorite architectural devices was the catenary arch. The word catenary comes from the Latin word for chain. It is the curve defined by a chain sagging between two points. They are incredibly strong. All Tom's arches are catenary.

Gaudi could model entire buildings upside down with chains. 

Turned right-side up it looks something like this.

Here is one in St. Louis.

So I had to get out a chain and define my new bridge.

A little spray paint captures the shape.

 Cut out two of them at once, and cover them with two-by-fours.

Cover it with plastic so the concrete won't stick to it.

Then build the end-walls out of lava rocks left over from excavating my shop foundations a few years back.

I'm pretty jazzed with how nicely it is coming together.

In goes the conduit for trail lighting and outdoor electric sockets.

A little more rock work and bracing and we'll be ready to pour cement.

Thursday, February 18, 2016


Congratulations! Someone reading this post in the next twelve hours will mark the 150,000th visit to Fretwaterlines. It could be you, right here, right now. I wish I could supply you with a ticker tape parade and a suite of gifts, but no, you shall remain anonymous.

Of those (I am sure you are dying to know) 81% are from the USA. And honest, I clicked the option to where it does not count my visits. It wasn't all me.

USA is followed by 2.3% from...
Drum roll...
Ukraine. Heartland of computer hackers.
Followed by Russia at 1-1/2%.
I'm sure these are all boat enthusiasts. 
Then Germany, France, Canada and...
Another drum roll...
Jamaica, at an even one percent. Thanks Tom!
UK, Turkey, and China round out the top ten with a combined 1-1/3%
More than are 9% not in the top ten. Since China, at number ten, had only 1/3%, that implies there are at least thirty more countries out there with die-hard Fretwaterlines fans out there. Burkina Faso perhaps? Berzerkistan?

First post of 330 total posts was December, 2010. 
Most popular post was a 2012 one on oar leathering, with 2778 views.

And as a Mac geek, I am pleased to report over half the visits were from Apple users. 

Anyhow, thanks for showing up y'all. It's been a fun time. 

Running the mighty Martha Brae

People have been asking me, "How was your trip to Jamaica?!?!" I struggle to come up with the proper response. It was much like my trip to New Zealand last year. Fly in and get whisked to a remote location far from the known tourist attractions. Jump into a mad project that, by all standards, should not be doable in the time allowed. Finish it anyhow in time for a quick river trip. And fly home. So I answer, "Awesome."

Tom had sent me a postcard of a wacky-looking bamboo raft trip years ago. When he asked what I might want to do on my visit, I said I wanted to play with the mosaic stuff and do that goofy trip. Check. Check.

We have Paco pick us up and drive us through a few hours of drizzling rain to the Martha Brae River. It is running high, fast, and orange with run-off from the storm. Could be interesting.

Here is the construction site at the put-in. It needs a few more cross struts to flatten it out, and it needs the chaise lounge for the two passengers.

We are told that due to high run-off, launches have been suspended until a couple guys can raft through and check things out, clear debris, etc. Maybe an hour or two. As a longtime raft guide, this meant to me that they really didn't know if they should do this, but they hated to turn away any money. Paco advises us against going. Cool. I'm in.

Here are the rules for boatmen. Among them--own at least two rafts, wear your captain's tee-shirt, and refrain from bad language. Getting as bad as Grand Canyon.

We wait in the bar, which has the following sign posted. Tom points out that a lot of bars have run signs like this for decades. Apparently the Spirit License Authority Session has not happened yet.

The test pod apparently made it down the river. The boatmen prepare to launch. The Martha Brea has dropped a bit and is somewhat less orange by now.

 Oh oh. This couple must be a bit too heavy. The raft begins to sink.

A somewhat bigger, newer, less waterlogged raft is brought in for a quick transfer. 

The next couple boards the sinker with visible qualms and is dispatched.

You have to pay for a whole raft whether you are a party of one or two. I go solo. Somehow I won the lottery and got the old man of the river. Derik, an aging Rastafarian, who has been guiding raft trips since he was a teenager, is my guide. We bond instantly and trade tales and philosophy.

Derik loves his job. Although things may not always be that smooth with boss and management, he tells me, everything is fine once you launch. I laugh and agree. On the river, everything is good, he says. Nod. To be a boatman you have to have a CPR card, pass a boating test, and build your own rafts. They last maybe five months before they are too waterlogged to use. There are about 70 guides. You show up at put-in and wait your turn. On a good day you may get two trips in. On a slow week, maybe only three or four trips a week.

Here come Tom and JC.

Food for thought. A wrecked raft wrapped on a rock. Derik assures me it probably got away in the night.

It begins to rain again. Derik takes off his pack and takes out a crinkled old plastic bag with a raincoat in it. He takes the raincoat out and sets it on the floor. He puts the plastic bag on his head. We proceed.

Once we get below the fast turns and obstacles, Derik hands me the pole. I am beaming. This is  f*!#ing awesome.

I take it about a mile and hand it back. I could get into this, I tell him. You wouldn't like the pay, he says, and laughs a big Rasta laugh.

Due to the rain, the riverside Tarzan Lounge is closed. Damn.

They serve to locally concocted favorite.

Martha Brea is a bastardization of the old Arawak name for the river, Matibereon. Legend says Spaniards kidnapped an old Arawak witch and made her lead them to gold. She led them into a cave near the river. Then she vanished and rerouted the river to flood the cave forever. "I tell that story over and over and over and over," laughs Derik. "And over and over." I nod and smile in solidarity again.

An explanation, just in case you reencounter a sprout. Or a fizzle.

Rasta-mon smile.

Sigh. The journey ends after only about an hour and a half. The boatmen all supplement their income by selling passengers carved calabash cups. Derik inscribes mine and, after a long, smiling handshake, heads into the loading zone.

It's thirty bucks a seat, or sixty for a raft. A bargain. I highly recommend it. Don't forget to tip your boatman.

Tom and JC drop me off at Cazwin Villas--a peculiar place I found online in the hills over Montego Bay. But it's very nice. In the morning the waitress at the Jamaican Bobsled Grille at the airport recommends a Speed Racer to ease my 8-hour journey home. They're stronger, she says. Made with overproof rum. She asks if I want a big one. Duh, of course I do. She laughs and winks at the bartender. I regain consciousness just in time to look out the window and see the delta of the Colorado River. How do these pilots know exactly what I want to see?

Just upstream are the last green Mexican fields before the river is sucked dry.

To the north, the Imperial Valley and Salton Sea.

Into Los Angeles, then back to Phoenix where a large sign greets me. Oh boy--it's gonna be a busy summer at Diamond Creek take-out.

Stone boat

After a few laps around customs in Montego Bay I was finally admitted into Jamaica. Or Jamaica-mon, as they say when the welcome you to Jamaica, mon. My brother Tom had to be paged to convince the authorities that I really was going somewhere that evening. We headed west to hills above Negril in time for sunset esconcement in the hammock chair with a rum drink. 

Jamaicamon is okay.

Tom's wife of 45 years, JC, prepared us a couple of the very same pretty fish I was looking at a few days earlier--a Jack and a Parrotfish.

And a Red Snapper

The locals were pretty sure Tom and I were twins. We do share an astonishing number of traits. Including a taste for pyro. Tom is lighting the grill with a blowtorch and a heat gun.

It is alarmingly fast and exciting as well. The little cooker is one he made out of an old pressure tank. The fish were yummy.

Tom and JC have been coming to Jamaica for a few decades and are building their paradise palace with the help of the local workforce. Tom is a welder too. The security grates are wonderful, but as he says, there's not much inside to steal--the most valuable thing anyone could cart off are the security grates themselves.

Here is the front door grate, swung into open position over a matching mosaic panel on the wall behind.

The house is solid masonry, built to withstand hurricanes, fires, earthquakes and sundry other disasters. But cement is not the prettiest substance to look at, so Tom set to work covering the building, inside and out, in mosaic tile.  Tom's admiration for Gaudi's work is unmistakable.

One of Tom and JC's main employees in this insanity is a local fellow named Binghi. The upper right panel is Binghi's first stab at mosaic imagery.

JC prefers doing more freeform mosaic.

She spends a lot of time in horticultural adventures with their gardener Tai Jean. Most of the plants are only a few years old. It's kind of a Jack-and-the-beanstalk world.

Look at all the baby mangos. Aren't they adorable?

This is ackee, an integral part of the national dish. Harry Belafonte: "Ackee, rice, salt fish is nice. And the rum is fine any time of year..." It is quite poisonous when young, and only partly poisonous when harvested. Edit with care.

The bird watching is good too. Lots of peculiar birds, hummingbirds, raptors, owls and other flying things. Here is a Jamaican Patoo--a large relative of nighthawks, that sits motionless in the same spot all day for years, but at 27 minutes after sunset (JC and Tom have timed him) he stretches his wings and takes off for a night of beetle hunting.

No matter the project at hand, if a good sunset is happening it's cocktail hour on the west veranda.

Me being me, I am always up for a project, so Tom assigned me a large section of the west wall for a mosaic panel.  He figured I could at least get it started and he and Binghi could finish it up later. Sounded like  challenge to me. I came up with--of course--a variation of my favorite canyon/river/dory/sunset doodle.

This I refined and enlarged onto brown paper, then it was off to the tile room to pick out the palette.

Tom introduced me to the secret weapon: the Taurus 3 diamond-bladed ring saw. Sort of like a jigsaw for glass and ceramic.

A quick duo and away we go. Cut out one piece of the paper pattern at a time, paste it to a tile. Cut it out with the ring saw. Set it where the piece of paper once was. Repeat ad nauseum.

Here is my first stone dory. The wee light blue lines were supposed to be my wake, but look more like the shock wave of a dory breaking the sound barrier. That works too. Those kayakers who broke the Canyon speed record last month got nothin' on me.

We filled the hoddy board up with cut tile, so it's time to mix up some thinset mortar and start sticking it on the wall.

Then back down to the shop to make more cliffs.

And stick them on.

Oh oh. Cocktail time. Stop picking at it.

Time for a day off. Gotta go to town and check the email, as the internet cannot seem to function up in the hills of late.  Down by the first actual "road" we hail a Route Taxi--a collective taxi that drives a particular route--like a maniac. But that's how driving is in Jamaica. As Tom points out, Jamaicans are amazingly easy-going, patient, understating folks--until they get behind a wheel. Passing on curves? Routine. Yahoo. The picture just doesn't do it justice.

A switch to another taxi at Green Hill and off to Alfred's in Negril.

Upon checking the email we are stunned to find the world has not missed us whatsoever and is still spinning around in spite of our absence. Humph. Outside of Alfred's is Negril's famous seven-mile beach.

 We stop at Miss Sophie's for patties, then back to the hills. There is much work to do.

The sunset is ready to install.

Tom refines the pattern for the final parts.

Tom made some lovely sunset clouds to act as a transition to whatever happens above. I have plans. Later. Time to grout.

And polish.

And done. Well, no. Not done. The bottom needs a transition too. How about some Hopi waves?

Blam. Done. So there. I really like it. Tom and JC like it. That's particularly fortunate, because it's a lot like a tattoo.  It doesn't fade, it doesn't go away. It's just there from here on out.

We can't work this hard all day. Binghi and I on break.

But now I have to come back and do the wild celestial panel that I've been thinking of to go above this.