Monday, May 27, 2013

Dedicated to Dale on Memorial Day, KIA in Vietnam

Today is Memorial Day. The past few weeks I've gone through many boxes with a lifetime's worth of memories, stored and moldering away in our damp cellar, which was 30% soil. After finally finishing it off and cleaning the air, I went through and organized everything, including a bunch of memorabilia.

I gathered a pile about 2" high of my 1969 Vietnam experiences, and remembered my good friend Dale, who died there. Unfortunately, I lost and forgot his last name. I hope to dig it up someday. This is the story leading up to our friendship and how it ended.

After graduating from RPI in June 1967, I was ripe for the draft. I did not believe in the Vietnam War. I was part of the mass of protesters that went to Washington and circled and held hands around the Pentagon that fall, and tried to levitate it! Not that I thought it could be done, but I was a small part of an anti-war movement I believed in. All wars are terrible, but I saw good reasons for our involvement in World Wars 1 and 2. I could not fathom the rationale for the Vietnam War.

I applied to a 2-year community college in the fall of 1967, to evade the draft, but the admissions office saw right through me, and denied me acceptance. I then drifted with my friend Norman "Spider" Hirsch to New York City, Florida, and then San Francisco. They called Norm "Spider" because of his long and gangly limbs! I like to say we arrived in Haight-Ashbury after the Summer of Love, at a time I call the Fall of Discontent. Most of the hippie movement had moved on, out, or had self destructed in SF by then. California dreaming and good vibrations were over. The rainy damp weather in November did not add to enjoyment, we decided to get out after two months.

Norm, myself and two new friends moved to Ruby, a ghost town in Arizona we stumbled across. It seemed the residents had suddenly moved out, leaving a lot of furniture and household belongings behind, when the mines closed. The dry heat had preserved everything. After living in one of the small homes for a month or two, we were told to leave the area by a state ranger. We were experimenting with a very boring macrobiotic diet at the time, at Norm's urging. I was almost glad to go back somewhere with a more available varied diet, such as an occasional hamburger!

At the time, the Selective Service was drafting 20,000 to 30,000 people a month for the Vietnam War. They had sent several notices over the winter to my home in Niantic, Connecticut. I was calling my parents once a month or so. They were becoming distressed at my drifting lifestyle, and worrying about the draft notices, which were becoming more frequent, I think the Selective Service even started calling the house. I decided to head home, and deal with the situation. I first tried to become undraftable. There were several paths here… but none panned out, and I was classified 1-A, available for military service.

I had four choices: go to Canada and beyond the reach of the draft, go to jail in protest, get drafted and be at the mercy of the government, or enlist and try to obtain the service and specialty I wanted. I did not like cold weather, heard objectors sent to jail were mistreated, and was also aware of the pain I had already created for my parents, who wanted a more conventional life for me.

I learned the Marines had a Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) in cinematography. They would send you to UCLA Film school for 2 years, you then had to serve for 2 years as a combat photographer. That sounded ideal for me, I was already using my 8mm film camera to shoot, was editing, and very interested in the field. I also figured in 2 years the Vietnam War might be over. And, if not, I would not mind filming it. So, I went to my local Marine recruiting office, was guaranteed the Film Cinematography MOS, and enlisted. I was due to report for duty in about 30 days.

However, I soon found out that everyone in the Marines, no matter what they were promised, was being sent to Vietnam as an infantryman! I was distressed, and looked for a way out. I had a lot of respect for the Marines, but they were some of the most aggressive units in this senseless war. The Army did not have a comparable film position. As a former Boy Scout, I was always interested in building small bridges, shelters, log furniture, etc.. so I requested openings in their Corps of Engineers. They had none. However, they did need officers in the Medical Service Corps. I asked if they could take me before I had to report to the Marines, and if I could have the Medical MOS. I was told yes to both questions.

At the time, I had started to study and had an affinity for Buddhist ideas and philosophy. The concept of karma became important to me, where if I meant no harm or created no harm to another, none would come to me. I was unhappy to go to Vietnam, but my feeling was to trust in karma, and that I would survive if I did not intend to do harm to anyone while there. I really had no other reasonable choices.

Within a couple of weeks, I shipped out for the Army to Fort Dix, NJ, for 8 weeks of basic training. There was no immediate subsequent training specific to the Medical Corps. Their training sequence was from Basic Training, to Advanced Infantry Training (AIT), to Officer Candidate School, and then to Fort Hood, TX, where one would finally receive medical training. So, after basic training, I went to AIT for 8 weeks, and then to OCS. OCS was to last 6 months, when one would graduate as a Second Lieutenant.

OCS, in Fort Benning, Georgia, is where I met Dale. Dale was also told and was hoping to enter the Medical Service Corps. We both realized we were ducks out of water and total misfits there. Most of the cadets wanted to be in the Infantry, were totally "gung ho," and 90% of the training was infantry related. We were two peas in the same pod, out of 100. After a couple of months, we were told the entire graduating class was going to be sent to Vietnam as Second Lieutenants in the Infantry. Dale and I had shared a lot of companionship, humor and the irony of our situation until that point, we were usually together and in a happy mood, looking forward to a better future. However, that policy changed our lives and turned them upside down. Everyone those days went to Vietnam, we expected that, but we did not want to play a leadership killing role in this war.

We both decided to withdraw as soon as possible from OCS, and let fate take us where it wanted. A week after we withdrew, a few days before Christmas, we were shipped to Vietnam as infantrymen.

You needed a sense of humor to stay sane in Vietnam
Dale and I were now separated, but kept in occasional contact by letter. While you had everyone's back, you did not get too close to anyone personally. After spending over 6 months training me for the infantry, the Army placed me in an artillery battery in Vietnam, as there was a shortage of artillery men. Of course, I had never even gotten within a half mile of a howitzer! That was the efficiency of the military service at that time.

After 6 months of infantry training, the Army put me in an artillery battery
After 9 months in Vietnam I was starting to go deaf from loading the howitzers, I had taken the bottom position so as to minimize my participation in the war, but at a cost. While everyone else could plug at least one ear during firing, I had to hold the next round with both hands, without any hearing protection. I was offered a promotion to sargeant, and be in charge of our 105 mm howitzer battery, but refused it so not to rise in responsibility in this war. Then a radio carrier in the field got shot and killed. I figured if I was in a war I might as well see and experience it first hand, and volunteered for his field position my last 3 months in the country.

Out in the field with the 25 pound radio. Our feet were wet 90% of the time in the rainy season.
How we slept in the field, my "bunk" and radio on the right. We were lucky when we had hay.
As a radio carrier, the chance of having to fire my weapon aggressively was a lot lower than a regular infantryman, but I was ready to protect myself if threatened. My main mission was to maintain constant, reliable communications, not to shoot. I again trusted in karma, that if I hurt no-one, no one would hurt me. I still don't know if karma exists or not, but it gave me a belief that I needed and kept me going. I was home, unhurt, a week before Christmas 1969.

My friend Dale, after entering Vietnam at the same time, ended up volunteering as an Army dog handler. I heard he was killed sweeping for mines, after about 6 months in the country.

Dale and I were friends for only two months, but the memories of his friendship, our shared companionship and burdens, and his irreverent jovial humor which kept up my spirits, have recently returned. We both knew the war was senseless, I came back, he did not. I can do something he can't do, write about it. While the above is mostly autobiographical, it is dedicated to his memory on this Memorial Day, as Dale can't write his own story. It sounds a bit self-serving, but Dale would have wanted me to write it.

Wet, hot, tired and sweaty

The best part of Vietnam were the children, almost always happy, always taking care of each other.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Designing and building the ARGIA


In mid-1985 I designed the Schooner ARGIA, and had her bare hull built over the winter. We went down to the Virginia yard May 1, installed the engine, motored back, and fitted her out and rigged her at Steamboat Wharf in Mystic. On July 3 we left Mystic at sunset, reaching NY City at daybreak on July 4, 1986. We carried our first paying passengers in the Tall Ship Parade that day. There are many stories here, the biggest is that none of the above would have been possible without the help of many talented, hard-working and committed employees and crew, willing to work at "schooner wages".

I recently received some questions on the vessel. Have not done much with this blog for a while, it was a good excuse to post my feedback here. I don't have time to polish my writing, so I will be cleaning it up and expanding it as time goes on.

The questions were: Why does the Argia leaves hardly any wake? What led me to that design? Was it the ease of construction, turning radius, history, or something along those lines?

Disclaimer: I am not a professional naval architect. I have only designed 4 boats. I took an 8-session small boat design class at Mystic Seaport (design 1), where we started out by pouring our own lead ducks. Then I started the Westlawn boat design course (desing 2), but after a third of the way through I felt I knew enough to design and build my first schooner, and dropped out, I was not planning on being a naval architect. Before this, I had taught sailing for 5 summers on Blue Jays, sailed on the Mystic Whaler for 2 years as deckhand and mate, captained Clearwater for 2 years, and worked in the Mystic Seaport shipyard for 2 years. So, while my theoretical background was not strong, I had some real experience under my belt. I then designed and had built the 96 foot schooner VOYAGER (design 3), which is another story. This is about ARGIA, my 4th design, but only the second to have built.

What let me to that design were the parameters I wanted. You can't design a boat to do everything well. The narrower the design criteria, the better the vessel will perform in that range. Naturally, this leads to a lack of flexibility, so most vessels have to be compromises. A boat design just does not happen, you start with rough hull sketches (3 views), sail plans, engine location, and interiors, they influence each other, and you push things around until they come together. Then there is a lot of math that has to work out. There are many of iterations of this process, ARGIA probably went through at least 6 before her final design.

My criteria were:

1. Requirement: A day sailer that was as small as possible, still look good, and carry 49 passengers. Over that number the USCG regs get stricter. The 49 matches well to the number of passengers that a bus can carry...one charter bus=one boat.

Result: I settled on a hull that was 56' on deck, with a beam of 18'. Though beamy for that length, there is considerable flare forward and aft. This increases available deck area, without sacrificing appearance and underwater volume, or displacement, too much. Without a cabin house amidships, but a clear deck, considerable seating was accommodated. This also gave us a lot of seating flexibility. With a very beamy stern and large quarterdeck, we were able to accommodate 20 passengers on a large aft cabin.

Small as possible: because the bigger the boat the more it costs to build, maintain and crew, and the longer the boat, the more it costs to dock and haul out.

2. Requirement: A boat that was as inexpensive as possible to build and maintain, but would last at least 20 years without any significant problems.

Result: Hard chine hulls cost at least 30% less than round bottom boats to build, so the choice was made for me. Looking at the nicest looking hard chine workboats, I settled on the ones in Chesapeake Bay. So the hull was inspired by those Skipjacks and hard-chine schooners. I also kept the angle of the bottom to the keel the same from amidships to the transom. Having just one angle to worry about make construction a lot easier. Not compromising materials, we used white oak for all structural timbers (keel, keelson, frames), Honduras mahogany for side planking (strip planked), hard pine for the bottom (cross-planked). Now I forgot if we use fir or hard clear pine for the shelf, clamp and deck beams...have to look this up. The hull was fastened with stainless ring nails. Exterior and interior ballast was lead. A cross-planked hull is very easy to build, once you get past the bow section. There is no bevel, caulking or glue between the planks. They are just clamped together, and nailed to the frames. When the boat is launched it leaks a lot, but it's tight as a drum after a few days. The deck was solid-core exterior plywood with two layers of fiberglass, and was built in a week.

With strip-planked sides, cross-planked bottom, and a solid deck, you have a unibody hull, except for the one caulked seam where the bottom planks meet the keel's rabbet.

3. Requirement: A boat that maneuvered well, could turn 180 degrees in twice its length, with ease of handling. We had to turn in the Mystic river to dock in a space not much longer than twice ARGIA's extreme length, 81 feet.


Result: Most sailing vessels don't need a full-length keel, a third-WL-length one is more than enough, so that's what ARGIA has. A vessel with a shorter keel will be more maneuverable than one with a long one. By also separating the skeg and rudder from the keel, I created a pivot point to spin around, which would not be possible with the conventional full-keel schooner. A large rudder and propeller help with maneuverability. The hull is more like a centerboard vessel with a fixed keel in place of the centerboard.

I always thought visibility to the helmsman is important, I don't want to depend on a bow watch in the daytime. So the quarterdeck was made as high as possible without sacrificing appearance. This also increased headroom below, and created a higher and safer freeboard aft.

4. Requirement: A boat that carried on the traditions of the last century of commercial sail. This included some of the most beautiful vessels ever designed. The link to the past is also a good marketing point. Finally, I wanted to help continue Mystic's illustrious history with commercial sail, ongoing for several centuries.

Result: Here again, I was attracted to the hard chine vessels of Chesapeake Bay. ARGIA, however, is not just a large skipjack. The round bottom pungy schooners also inspired her hull shape. Finally, her sail plan is an almost exact copy of representative schooners of that period, with the exception below. What I liked was one large jib, instead of a separate jib and staysail. This makes the vessel a lot easier to rig, maintain, and tack.

I also studied a lot of Hereshoff hull designs, these comprise some of the most beautiful in the world. No-one would think ARGIA resembles a Hereshoff, but some of the lines I saw in those translated in her spirit. She was also inspired a bit by the hard-chine Blue Jays that I sailed as a youngster.

The standing rigging was made by Dean Seder, head rigger at the Seaport, using traditional techniques. The ironwork by the Seaport blacksmith, Clint Wright. Deadeyes and lanyards instead of turnbuckles. Several other Seaport shipwrights (Roger Hambidge, Brian Mogel, Gary Adair) crafted the interior, skylights, companionways, in the style of the past century. I was extremely lucky to have the assistance of these craftsmen, some of whose names I cannot recall at this moment.

5. Requirement: A boat that sailed well during the major sailing season: Long Island Sound in the summer. Air is light during this time.

Result: Here is where we departed a bit from an "exact" copy of Chesapeake schooner rigs. I increased the sail area about 10% above these, to account for our lighter air. This enables ARGIA to move along a little better in our typical summer weather. With reef points on all three sails, and the flexibility of a schooner rig, we can still go out in fairly heavy winds.

ARGIA has a relatively light displacement for a schooner her size. This allows her to go faster. Stability was addressed by having 30-50% of her lead ballast in the lower portion of her external keel.

6. Make the Math Work: There are many ratios, displacement calculations, stability calculations, areas, etc. that have to meet specific requirements or ranges.

Result: These were all painstakingly learned, computed, changed, recomputed, etc. The explanation is beyond this post!

Finally, why does ARGIA leave so little wake? The one thing to know about boat design is that, discounting wave action, the way the water leaves the hull is more important than the way it enters it. When two cones are dragged underwater, one pointy end first, and one round flat end first, the one with the round flat end first has less drag! I though a lot about how water was going to leave the ARGIA. It has to do with laminar flow, or the smooth travel of the water over the hull. This needs to be maintained, and not disturbed, for as long as possible. This was done several ways:
1. Keeping the angle of the bottom planking to the keel the same from midships to the stern. Thus the water flow never had to "twist".
2. Aligning the leeward chine to the water flow directions, as much as possible in a typical angle of heel, about 10-15 degrees.
3. Letting the windward chine come completely out at 10 degree heel. This also reduced wetted surface, the largest factor holding you back at slow speeds. (note-have to check above angles). And once the chine comes out, the vessel gets considerably stiffer.

Of course, there are almost always waves, so the entry and first half of a hull is also extremely important. I made the cutwater as sharp as possible, but smooth over the first half of the hull. There is no chine at the bow section, it starts a bit aft, so no angle for the water to hit.

I will be adding to this, and revising it, as time goes by. I can't remember all the details right now. At last count, ARGIA has taken over 100,000 people sailing, I hope she takes at least that many more.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Peace on Earth and Good Will to Mankind


About 12 years ago my daughter Leigh came home with a white pine seedling from her school's Earth Day celebration. I planted it just for fun. The tree is now almost 20 feet high, and is the winter decoration highlight of our neighborhood. It's getting harder and harder to get to the top to light it, it grows about two feet a year. This time I backed up the Volvo, climbed on the roof, and on tiptoes used a rake tied to a long pole. I joke that someday this tree will be in Rockefeller Center.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

It's Chia Time!

I run across this little critter in the basement a few times a year. We bought it over a decade ago at Christmas time, and it hung around for a while longer. My wife tried to throw it out one day, but I was lucky to see its little head forlornly sticking out of the garbage. I immediately rescued it! Well, I had to scold her a little bit, and tell her the Chia was important, while she snickered at me.

There were "Chia-Chia" commercials every year around this time, but I have not seen one yet. I can take the easy way out and Google chia, but I'd rather be kept in suspense, and learn if they have survived through that old medium...non-interactive television. So I'm waiting for those commercials to show up.

There has always been something fascinating about the Chia Pet. I think I have nailed it down, it looks an awful lot like that timeless Giza Sphynx, when viewed from the right angle.
I just brought little Chia up from the basement, rinsed him off, and put him up on my bookshelf near another Christmas toy, our Furby. Yes, he opened his eyes, woke up and said a few words when I picked him up, though I have not touched him for many months.
It's coming up on that magic time of the year!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

What a long trip it's been

Today Barak was elected president. It was moving seeing generals like Colin Powell, and tough negotiators like Condy Rice, crying when they spoke about it. Tonight I decided to take my after-dinner walk, I like these drizzly nights. As I walked out of my house a strong memory came back that occasionally surfaces.

It was 1968. After graduating and working all summer, my college roommate, Norman "Spider" Hirsch and I decided to go to San Francisco and be part of the Summer of Love. We delivered a Caddy from New York City to Florida. This got us to warmer weather for free and provided us with a bit of extra spending money. We then hitchiked to San Francisco, which took about 3 days. The best ride was from a stock race car driver. We got through Louisiana at about 110 miles per hour, in a couple of hours, in the middle of the night. Never did see much of that state!


Spider and I got settled in San Francisco, and found an apartment on Haight St, a block from Ashbury St, right in the middle of the action. However, the Summer of Love started turning into what I call the Winter of Discontent. But that's another story. We hung around a lot, living off our summer savings. We decompressed from the rushed world we had lived in, waiting for the Vietnam draft to catch up to us.

One night I remember being in a group of half a dozen young people. A black youth in his teens spoke about how badly Negroes are treated, and how small and insignificant he deeply felt. Speaking from my heart, having experienced some discrimination myself, I spoke to comfort him, saying something along the lines of "we are all the same under our skin" and "your color does not matter." Well, this young man acted like he had never heard those words before! He was wide eyed and astonished, and asked if I really felt that way. I confirmed it. In a matter of minutes, though we had never met, he latched on to me and started treating me like I was a superior being, and had all the answers to the world's problems. He asked "what do we do now?!"

I felt bad, but had nothing else to offer him besides my original comments. I was no saviour, civil rights leader or activist. He was looking for more, something I could not provide. I believed what I said, but could take it no further. He wanted to follow me, but I gently discouraged it, and told him to he would be ok. I had my own problems to deal with, and left him with a very lost look on his face.

I remember that event occasionally, thinking of my limitations then and now. I'm still not an activist. I hope that hurt young man found his way in life. I'm glad that Barak has come along, he probably could have done a lot more for him than I could have.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Picture Colin Powell Was Talking About



Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan was an American, born in New Jersey. He was fourteen years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he could serve his country and he gave his life.

(Photo by Platon)

Monday, September 01, 2008

Training the next gen women sailors

There was a nice picture of my daugher, Leigh, in The Day a week ago, she loves kids and is getting the young ones started. I bet that little girl will remember the experience of helping tack the ARGIA. There is always something magical about touching a ship's wheel when a vessel is underway.

Below is Leigh, about 20 years ago, getting to know VOYAGER's rigging better.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

TED is the BEST

Some of the best videos I have seen online, and the most memorable, are from the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) annual conferences. My favorite used to be Sherwin Nuland's story.

Recently, a web site I check frequently, Open Culture
pointed out that TED had posted its Top 10 TEDTalks videos.

Here I found another just as compelling, by Jill Bolte Taylor (Click on her name to go to it, not the image below). Warning, it's 18 minutes long, so not when you are in an ADD mood...


Maybe I was attracted to these 2 videos due to my old training in psychology, but to me the mind and its study have always been a fascinating topic. Both videos are inspiring, and also demonstrate the impossible odds that we can ovecome, how others can save us, and how tragedy can be turned to our advantage. But then, what other choices do we have?!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars

This weekend I was up at Ithaca College, watching another group of All-Stars, the softball team, qualify for the National Championship next weekend. It was sad to miss Pangea Day. Some of the folks in the multicast community tried unsuccessfully to multicast it to the entire world, but the legal obstacles could not be overcome in time. Thanks to them anyways for trying. This is one of the clips that hit me, there are lots more on line...

Right after my short post and link to the video, I realized I wanted to say more about how inspirational this clip is.

Lo and behold, Banker White, its co-director and co-producer, posted a comment today taking the words out of my mouth. Banker pointed out the entire video is 80 minutes long, and provided its great WEB SITE. The full DVD is also available here.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Pangea Day is Coming

Pangea Day looks to be a great idea. On May 10, individuals all over the earth will gather to view films made by the world, for the world, broadcast live around the globe. Great web site HERE.

A fun preview is hearing citizens of one country singing another's national anthem...

This event will help us feel connected to each other. With enough of this in the world, peace and understanding will follow.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A game of inches

Tom Kowalsik, one of the Ithaca softball team parents, always takes lots of pictures of each game. He posts them on Kodakgallery and sends us links. I thought this one distilled the game into one image, as well as it can be done.


I miss those game days, but Tom helps to keep the memories alive with all his great shots. The runner was out, but Cornell won, though our D3 team has beaten their D1 a few times.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

iPods in the War Zone

I ran across this story about iPods, and found it pretty interesting. To summarize from the article...

"As they prepare for their daily patrols around Baghdad, soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division sync up their iPods, not with songs and movies, but with a laundry list of missions and audio files containing pre-recorded phrases in Iraqi Arabic or Kurdish.

Loaded with special Vcommunicator software, the music players help them communicate with the populace and learn the local culture, and they occasionally serve as handy tools in their tactical missions, such as searching for persons of interest. The gadgets have been so useful that troops are now finding new ways to employ the technology.

The simplicity that has made the iPod, so successful as a music player also relates to its combat applications. Soldiers simply scroll through as they search for mission data or for spoken phrases. The display shows the sentence phonetically and in script, and the user can play the corresponding audio clip, which also can be synced to an avatar, or computerized character, that gestures according to customs.


Connected to a speaker or megaphone, the device functions as a one-way language translator. Prior to having these devices, troops had to wait for an interpreter before they could engage local residents during patrols.

Troops also are uploading maps and other images and content onto the video iPods to assist them at vehide checkpoints and door-to-door searches. If soldiers are looking for a particular individual, they can load a photo of their target and correlate it to Arabic script that asks, "Do you recognize this person?" Troops also can store sound clips and other pertinent information that they need to conduct mission briefs for small units, said Bright.

The most recent version of the Vcommunicator comes on the new iPod nano, which troops are strapping to their wrists or wearing on lanyards around their necks. The nano units are much faster, much smaller and more user-friendly."

In recognition of this new market, Apple has released a new color, "Desert Storm", in the nano line:

These should also appeal to the huntin' and fishin' guys.