Friday, January 14, 2011

Tinker, Sailor, Conversation Maker

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

We continue to meet fascinating people among our cruising peers.  Last night, we invited Maikel to dinner.  Here he is on board Tarwathie.

We first met Maikel in Vero several weeks back.  On that occasion though we didn't get a chance to really know him.

Maikel is cruising aboard Louise Michel, a 26 foot Pearson yacht from 1963.  It's a very small boat.  For part of the journey down here from Brooklyn, NY, he had his son Daniel with him, but now he's single handed.  There's hardly room to turn around in that little Pearson, much less to prepare a nice dinner, so Libby thought he would enjoy a home cooked meal.  He did.

It turns out that Maikel has a fascinating story.  An Englishman who's lived in North America for a long time, he took an early retirement.  "Dropped out" were his words.  For thirty five years he traveled by land and sea.  He made his living as a cook, gardener and tinker.  That's right, Maikel is the first actual tinker we ever met.  He moved around in a truck or by boat.  He carried with him the tools to do knife sharpening.  At strategic places (such as next to a general store by land, or by a public dock by sea) he would set up shop and let it be known that he would be around for several days to sharpen knives.

Wisely, he would grease the wheels, perhaps doing the knives of a local restaurant for free.  That would gain the good will of a local merchant who would support his squatting for a while, plus word of mouth advertising to bring in paying customers.

Maikel said that the sharpening business left him with lots of spare time on his hands.  After reading every novel in his possession twice, he started fiddling with making custom knives.  After experimenting with making blades from scratch, he changed to buying knife blade blanks from a high quality manufacturer.  Maikel adds custom hilts that are very nice.   He sold them by word of mouth advertising.  A sharpening customer would notice what he was doing, and would invite his friends to come see this curiosity and perhaps to buy.   Today, Maikel is a bit more modern; he has a web site.

Maikel sailed for 20 years in the Vancouver area of British Columbia.  He told us that he thought that made him an experienced sailor.

This year Maikel decided on a different adventure.   He left Brooklyn headed for the Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica, Belize and Honduras.  But, he said, that he found the ICW much more difficult and challenging than he thought.  His problem was that he has a small boat, with only an outboard engine.  He doesn't move very fast.  On the ICW in many cases the distance between secure all weather anchorages can be 35 miles or more.   With the short days, he had trouble making it to the next anchorage before dark.

Unhelpfully, Libby and I explained his error.  Our first year of cruising, we departed the Northeast too late.  We froze all the way down and we had to dodge numerous wind storms.  Since then, we learned that one must leave early enough to arrive in Florida by November 1.  That means we must forgo the wonderful September and early October weather in the Northeast.

If the destination is the Bahamas, then one needs to be there before Thanksgiving.  Travelling even one or two weeks later results in dramatically colder and rougher weather.

The secret is that with an early passage, the temperatures are warm and the nighttime winds mostly still.  Instead of secure ICW anchorages, one can drop the hook just about anyplace outside the channel and spend the night in comfort.

Of course the other truth that Libby and I also learned, is to scale down ones ambitions.  In 2005, we thought we could sail to Panama, Hawaii and Alaska in our first year.

In any event is was refreshing to meet such a colorful character.  I was inspired to look up the actual definition of tinker. I was surprised to learn that it could be a synonym to cruiser, and that Tinker would be a fine name for a cruising boat.

tin·ker  (tngkr)
1. A traveling mender of metal household utensils.
2. Chiefly British A member of any of various traditionally itinerant groups of people living especially in Scotland and Ireland; a traveler.


  1. Dick,
    Do you have any information on rental moorings in the Bahamas? If not, do you know anyone who might? I'm scheming to get there.
    Still following you folks on your blog but I don't have your email address.
    Doug Campbell

  2. Doug- Not sure where in the Bahamas you are talking about. There are many rental moorings in the Abacos, for example, and some in George Town in the Exumas. A good source to look for an answer to this (or to post the question) is on the Explorer Charts website -

    Good luck!

    s/v Calypso, sadly land-bound for the moment


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