Red eye man

I hate San Francisco to Boston Red-Eyes yet I am compelled to endure them due to some stupid masochism at the time of booking which always converts into fliers remorse an hour before boarding. I Just cashed in some frequent fliers for a first class upgrade, going to knock myself out with a sleeping pill, do the Roger Daltry-Pinball Wizard thing and wake up at Logan all crunchy and nasty feeling.

Mission unaccomplished on West Coast. Oh well. Partnerships are never easy and one never gets what one wants the first few times around. Worth the trip, but I depart unsatisfied.

Random thoughts:

1. Falling down the stairs of Cousin Pete’s back deck a couple weekends ago after the Sox went down 8-9 t the Rays did my knees no favors. I ran down the shore of SF Bay this morning in the pink dawn but it was definitely an arthritic looking peg leg thing.

2. Buddy Toph has gone paleo and is eating like a caveman. Crossfit has come to Mashpee where a gym just opened. This is good and I can work on those two pullups Fester is taunting me with.

3. Working for a tech company and doing deals in the Valley is a gazillion times cooler than being a tech reporter and writing about deals in the Valley. I wish I worked in the Valley. Today was sort of weird making the rounds and doing the real estate archaelogy thing as I drove from one appointment to the next (“That’s where Ungermann-Bass used to be ….”)

4. The Hong Kong Flower Lounge — home of the infamously disgusting Mayonaisse Prawns with Walnuts — has gone way downhill since I last abused myself there. Why I didn’t forge up to the city to Brandy Ho’s ….

I’m okay, really … Go Phillies

I’d be in the fetal position this morning were it not for the fact that the Red Sox have two World Series under their belts. I’m not happy they lost, but it’s not causing me total angst and anxiety today. I’m just depressed that summer is now truly over and I have six months of no-baseball to endure. This was a season of much Red Sox goodness in my life and being a sports retard, I can’t transfer my allegiances to another sport.

10th out of 41 – HOCR

Rounding the final turn into the finish (I am third from left)

So, it’s been a while since I’ve rowed in a team boat, and this morning made me wonder why I don’t do it more often (lack of a team, lack of motivation to drive to Boston to row with one are the obvious reasons). I rowed with my fellow teammates from the class of 1980 in the Bulldog Rowing Club eight in the Senior Master’s Men’s event — the 25th year the crew has rowed together (I’ve subbed on a couple occasions) and their first year in this event as this is the year we all turned 50.

As one person said as we paddled to the dock after the race: “This is the best I’ve felt about being 50 all year.”

Hear, hear to that. With only a single brief practice on Friday afternoon, we were not exactly a precision machine, but we did make the boat move, taking tenth out of 41. “Head” races are run against the clock, meaning each boat starts 15 seconds apart and the final ranking is calculated on time, with penalties levied if a boat obstructs another boat attempting to pass or cuts outside of the lanes and tries to take a shortcut. We started 39th out of 41 because this is the first year the BulldogRC has raced in the senior masters, having spent the last decade in the master’s event for crews in their 40s. Boats are generally seeded according to their previous year’s finish time, but since this was the boat’s first, we had a low number.

Right from the start at the Boston University docks we started passing boats, catching our first, number 38 before Magazine Beach, and then getting two more before the Powerhouse Stretch in front of the old Polaroid building. By the time we were in the middle mile (the race is three miles long, versus a typical “sprint” race of 2,000 meters) we had four boats passed and were gaining on the next group.

The boat rowed at 29 strokes a minute, a good pace for a race this long, and smoothed out as we tired ourselves and lost the pre-race adrenaline. I started having personal doubts around the Harvard Business School, the familiar discussion with myself where my heart and lungs start to argue for stopping the insanity. In a single, while sculling, that argument usually leads to a slight, imperceptible easing of the effort, but not in an eight, which is what it must feel like to be handcuffed to an out-of-control treadmill with a person threatening you with a shotgun if you stop.

Our coxswain, Andy Fisher, steered a masterful race; the Head of the Charles is the greatest test of a coxswain there is in all of rowing, with curves and bridges that make for some interesting clashes and crashes.

We finished, gathered our wits, congratulated ourselves, then pulled the boat out of the water, checked the times and were pleasantly surprised to see a 10th place, guaranteeing an entry next year. Final time was 17’23”, 16 seconds slower than the year before. Results are here.

Bed of Nails

Boston Globe (Jim Davis)

I went to bed in the seventh inning, Red Sox down five to nothing. I lost all faith in the first inning, truth be told, but hung on as it got uglier through the demise of my man Dice-K.

Woke up this morning, sat down with my coffee, and used the Blackberry to Google “Red Sox Score.”

“F%$K me,” I said. “Of course they won.”

I just watched the last two innings on MLB.com in the condensed format.  Two things hit me in the heart.

  1. David Ortiz is the man and the reason they came out of their dugout, pounded their chests and made Tampa TASTE THE LIGHTNING.
  2. There is no more quintessential Boston moment than Kevin Youklis doing a primal scream as he rounds third base and the PA lights up with the first bars of “Dirty Water.”

I have a seat on Saturday ….

… 9:27 am, Saturday, Charles River, Boston, Mass. Head of the Charles Regatta. Senior Master Eights (men all over the age of 50)

Specifically the three seat of the Bulldog Rowing Club eight (which qualifies as the engine room), will be me, rowing starboard, a spare filling in for a friend with a broken rib. But still, a seat is a seat and the Head is the premier rowing event in the USA, best appreciated from inside a boat.

Here comes 17 minutes of cardiovascular distress.

Going ugly early

Any evening that ends with a Kamikaze shooter after midnight in the Cask & Flagon is either an evening of triumph or one of ineffable despair. The case of post-alcohol depression I am carrying this morning is indicative of the latter. Put it this way, I was gifted magnificent seats to Game Four of the ALCS, Sox vs. Rays, in the Temple of Awesomeness; got dressed up, one step short of a face painting; arrived, stood in the $8.50 beer line for 30 minutes, emerged from tunnel, looked out at the emerald green of the Green Monstah and saw, like a turd in the punch bowl, that Shakey Wakey had already conducted batting practice and helped the Rays launch three runs out of the park before 8:15 pm.

It didn’t get better from there.

But hey, this is October. This is the Red Sox.  Red Sox and October is a privilege, not a right. They’ve been here before, worse off in fact, so now they (insert sports cliche here) and get the win on Thursday. Otherwise the world is staring at the most boring, generic World Series imaginable. The Sox will save the world from mediocrity.

Bright side being in Fenway last night:

1. No Viagra ads. Sorry, but if side effects include loss of hearing and vision, AND the risk of a priapistic woody lasting more than four hours, then am I wrong in imaging some hapless deaf and blind man staggering and shouting naked, helpless and tumescent through his home, stubbing himself into the walls and door frames? Am I? I am so glad the children of America are singing “Viva Viagra!” on the playground today.

2. No TBS announcers. I threatened to start a “F$%k you TBS!” chant but there were children sitting in front of me and I could not be profane nor horrible.

3. The comradeship of fellow Massholes. It felt good to boo the home team, to hear the ugly discussion that what was needed was a good bench clearing, charge-the-mound brawl. Nice. That’s the Boston I know and love.

4. Something will come to mind.

Thanks to James, Heather, Tim (nice soul patch dude, stick with it, it will pay off) and Sean for the invite and hospitality. And Nicole for being the mastermind. And Starkey for making me laugh until it hurt.

Back in the saddle – post-vacation whereabouts

Vacation: a nice ten days of aimless nothingness (well, a little Lenovo work), sunny Indian summer, fishless days on the beach, Red Sox, and the worst week in the history of Wall Street. In fact, I suppose I couldn’t have picked a better week to unplug and walk away from the PC.

But now I am back with a vengeance and the following observations:

1. I have Red Sox tix for tomorrow night and intend to make the most of them. This will be my first, and likely only ACLS trip to Fenway. The Mike Lowell 2007 World Series away jersey is starched and pressed and ready for action atop my extremely lucky Dice-K #18 red t-shirt. No erectile dysfunction, FrankTV, or TBS announcers to endure. Just me in the Temple of Awesome.

2. I wish Bill Weld was running for president. Just saying.

3. I am a failure at shingle work, but I have a better looking chicken coop today than I did on Friday.

4. I am a lucky man. I was given four wild ducks, plucked, which I intend to cook ala canard au sauvage.

5. I am sad that three people I know died over the weekend. Charlotte Ryder, John Shaughnessy, Gary Gifford … requiescat in pace et in amore

6. I am sad my kids are all going back to school tomorrow (all three were under the roof for the first time since I left for the Olympics on August 5).

So, that said, I am here the next two weeks. No travel on the horizon. Trip to RTP the last week of the month.

Chatfield papers: primary research

I went to Nantucket on Monday to revive the stalled Captain Chatfield project which I started with great enthusiasm in the spring of 2006. To recap, I transcribed the reminiscences of my great-great-grandfather, Captain Thomas Chatfield, and got them into “digital” form by manually retyping them over the course of many lonely evenings in Raleigh, North Carolina. When I finished I considered turning to his Civil War letters, but somehow the amateur historian in me wanted to focus from the beginning, on something more interesting than transcription. I wanted to do some research.

When I was in college in the 1970s I seriously considered majoring and going on to graduate school in American maritime history. I have an abiding passion for 19th century commercial maritime history, particularly shellfishing, coastal trade, and American yacht design. Historians like Howard Chappelle were my heroes and I wrote a very good paper (for a sophomore) on the development of the New Haven Sharpie which recently resurfaced when a correspondent asked me to sign a copy for his brother who was building one of the oyster skiffs. Unfortunately commercial reality diverted me from my dream of becoming a professor of maritime history but I continue to read whatever I can get my hands on and am a true sucker for a maritime museum like the New Bedford Whaling Museum or Mystic Seaport.

One discipline that was pounded into my head at Yale was the supremacy of primary research: going to the archives, the registry of deeds, the hall of records, the clerk of courts, and reading the Grantee/Grantor books, the plats, the marriage and death certificates. The first time I had it pushed on me was in my first American History course when the assignment was a straight forward project around the Boston Massacre. Here was a seminal event in the history of the country and I had to read the court records and the accounts of the witnesses, the defense of John Quincy Adams …. I was hooked. I became a total library rat, digging for the letters, the first-person accounts, the official record and turning my back on some other historian’s neat and pat condensation of events.

So I arrived at the Nantucket Whaling Museum and the docent asked if I wanted a tour. I asked for the library and was told I was in the wrong building altogether and needed to walk across town, over the cobblestoned streets to the Nantucket Historical Association housed in an annex attached to the Quaker Meetinghouse. Reader’s of Nathaniel Philbrick’s, In the Heart of the Sea will be familiar with the role the Quakers played in founding the Nantucket whaling industry. For a short time in the early 19th century, Nantucket was arguably the most prosperous, wealthy, and wordly place in the world, with the possible exception of London. Nantucket whalers were exploring the South Pacific, the first white men to arrive on many islands only explored a few decades earlier by Cook. They brought back great rewards for their risks, amassing (and saving with their thrift) huge fortunes some of which survive, much diminished in some old Massachusetts family fortunes. As I poked my head into the meetinghouse I thought, “This was the Sand Hill Road of the 1820s. Imagine the voyages planned, the losses mourned, and the profits celebrated on those hard benches.”

The library of the NHA is a little place: a few tables, a nice skylight, a curator’s office and a librarian’s station by the glass door. I didn’t have an appointment and felt bad about intruding, but I explained my mission to the librarian – I wanted to get some information about the Ship Massachusetts, its fate, and, if possible, the whereabouts of its logs, the “diaries” maintained by the captain (my ancestor) and his officers. The challenge of the reminiscences is that they are a narrative written to Chatfield’s four daughters, and as such are certainly bowdlerized to some extent to spare their young sensibilities. More maddening is the variance in place names and in some instances, what appears to be the coining of new place names like the “Friendly Islands” or “Mucktoe Bay.” My goal is to correlate Chatfield’s stories and remembrances with the precision of the logs. The first challenge is to locate those logs – some of which my father discovered in a trunk in the early 1970s and promptly donated to the Kendall Whaling Museum in Sharon, Massachusetts. Those logs had been given to the captain’s daughters who used them as scrapbooks, pasting newspaper clippings and illustrations from magazines over the accounts of the voyages! Kendall paid to have them restored, microfilmed and provided them a secure, climate controlled shelf. I thought my father had also given some of the material to Nantucket (he died in 1980), but wasn’t sure. I remember him ruing the loss or undiscovery of the log of the final voyage before the Civil War, the last whaling voyage Chatfield made before enlisting in the Union Navy.

The librarian checked her records and asked, to my delight, if I would like to read the log of the 1856 voyage. She asked another researcher to go down into the vault, handed me a pair of white cotton gloves and a mechanical pencil (pens are a total horror in the general vicinity of any rare book or manuscript).

The researcher returned with a manila box. I opened it up and set the log on the plastic lectern cradle. Immediately upon opening I realized why my father had never located it. It had been donated to the NHA by George Folger and the flyleaf carried the name of William Folger, the First Mate of that voyage.

I asked the librarian who was recorded as the log keeper. She looked it up on her database and replied it was indeed Folger. So, what I was about to read was maintained not by Chatfield, but by his first mate. That was normal for most whaling ships.

Folger had the typical “spidery” penmanship seen in 19th century manuscripts. The writing was legible, but difficult to comprehend in the early going, especially abbreviations and numbers. I turned on my ThinkPad and opened the transcribed reminiscences, searched for September 28, 1856, and got in synch with the log, following along and taking notes as I proceeded, entering the daily position into a spreadsheet for plotting later in Google Earth. Those observations were annotated as being either estimated through “dead reckoning” (D=RxT) or by “OBS” or observation, with “LUN” noted if the longitude was calculated using the “lunar” method. A typical entry is divided into three segments or periods of time: “Commenced”, or the first part of the day, “Middle Part” and “Latter Part”. The course, the wind speed, and any chores are noted.

The entry for October 4, 1856 is typical of 90% of all entries:

“Saturday Oct 4

These 24 hours begins with a moderate breeze from the WSW steering E by S

Middle part squally from the SW. Latter part fine breeze from the SW steering by the wind. Sail in sight. DR 39.55N 72.5W”

And so on and so forth for many pages. What catches the reader’s eye are the “whale stamps” — drawings of a whale’s tail flukes to indicate the sighting of a whale. Many fishermen keep detailed logs of their catches, and whalers were no different, using the margin marks to quickly scan a log for the good parts, the chase and killing of a whale.

One mark was unique, as it carried the carefully printed letters “B” and “M.” The librarian, curator and I spent 15 minutes speculating on its origin, finally agreeing that it may mean “boatswain mate” as some entries indicated which boat chased or caught the whale.

I also found this curious icon next to an entry about the capture and killing of an ocean sunfish, or mola mola. Indeed, this is what a sunfish looks like. The reminiscences carry none of these details, of men being washed overboard to their deaths, or drunken fights among the crew. But then the log has none of the narrative excitement of catching a whale through a hole in the Arctic ice pack as told by my great-great grandfather. The two versions need to be merged.

I only had four hours to spend on the log before needing to leave for some late lunch and my son’s soccer game (my ostensible reason for being on the island). The chowder was an affront – the glue/paste version – but the library time was well spent. I need to return at least one more time to continue transcribing the latitude and longitude coordinates. I think the possibilities of producing an interesting .kmz file for Google Earth are limitless and could make the combination of the very readable reminiscences, the dry but factual log, and the graphical wonder of a cartographic interface very compelling in terms of an educational tool about a very dangerous, very profitable, and very anachronistic industry.

There is something remarkably stimulating about precise historical research with no apparent profit motive, just the subtle awe of holding history (the log, after all, has been around the world) written by a very brave man of whom I know very little. Dry as it may sound, sitting in one place for a few hours wearing cotton gloves and carefully turning pages, it was actually very exciting.

I leave you with Dec 9, 1857:

“Portuguese named John Enos fell overboard, the other saved himself by clinging to the bearer. Luffed the ship to the wind immediately, but it being so rugged and dark at the time did not think it prudent to lower a boat as it was impossible to do it with any safety. He said the man could swim, I heard a faint cry once in the night. Could not descern (sic) anything. Kept on our course with heavy hearts as it was beyond the power of man to do anything for him. “

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