Back from Vacation

Last week at this time, I was enjoying a few weeks of travel through New England with my sister. We’d planned this trip around a Red Sox game and a “personal retreat” at the Isle of Shoals, off the coast of Portsmouth, NH.

While we were “shoaling,” a group of teenagers was very much in evidence as volunteers, painting and cleaning up the old buildings. I realized how much Shake-A-Leg Miami has become part of me when I started trying to convince this group’s teachers that they should ALL come to Coconut Grove to do some work for SALM this winter! (Note to self: Always carry some SALM brochures – even when on vacation!)

Who knows? Maybe this could be the beginning of some great exchange program, although it did occur to me that New Hampshire kids might be more excited about going to Florida in the winter than Florida kids might be about going to New Hampshire.

Isle of Shoals, off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshie

My first night home in Florida, though, was a restless one, full of long, involved dreams about trying to transport volunteers from SALM to “the island” — meaning to The Isle of Shoals (shown here) — to paint boats!

It was a relief to wake up and realize that no transport is required for this weekend’s painting workshop with Joe Purtell (Interlux) and Steve Morton (Performance Marine Coatings Inc.). Whew.

All we need is our core of volunteer painters, our trainers, our materials, our equipment, our support staff, our space, and good weather! Easy!

After that, we just have to do it three more times to make sure we have it right, and then we can fall into a more relaxed pace as boat cleaning, repair, maintenance become an organic part of life at Shake-A-Leg Miami.

If you want to join us in learning to paint boats, click on the volunteer tab above.


Our Star brite Stars

Mega kudos to Bill Lindsey of Star brite for Friday morning’s workshop on boat cleaning and maintenance! Our new corps of Ship Shape Team (SST) members listened carefully, asked a lot of good questions, and cut to the chase.

Stra brite workshop

Star brite workshop

By lunch time, they had brought a new sparkle to three small boats–and restored a high-gloss finish to SALM Board Member Kerry Gruson’s BLEW BaYOU.

While were waiting for Bill to start the workshop, we spent some time talking in the shade of the keelboats current in cradles in front of the SALM hangar. That was my opportunity to describe why I am at Shake-A-Leg Miami: “I’m here for the boats.”

Sometimes that seems a little odd, compared to the sentiments of the many people who are attracted to SALM by all the truly good works that take place there, the healing qualities of being on the water, the opportunities for people with disabilities or disadvantages to break free of bonds and stereotypes. No matter, it’s true, I’m here for the boats, and I was happy to share that sentiment.

Working for WoodenBoat Publications and Professional BoatBuilder magazine since 1988, I’ve come to know many, many people in the marine industry, so it was easy for me to share my perspective with the SST, quite honestly.  When i look at the boats stored or docked at SALM, I see more than a way to get out on the water. I see the results of design, engineering, art, science, labor, and a little magic. I see wonderful objects that have value in and of themselves. I see beauty, and sometime I see neglect and abuse.

What I want to imbue in the SST is a sense of stewardship, pride, and ownership. My hope is that the team members will become proactive in caring for the fleet.

I told them that I recently completed training to be a Community Emergency Response Team member in my home town of Delray Beach. About half-way through the training, 24 hours in all, our instructor informed us that we were now First Responders, saying “You no  longer have the right to stand back and watch in an emergency situation. You now know what to do. You must act.”

That’s the same kind of message that I want to give to the SST members. “You no longer have the right to walk past a situation onsite at SALM. Volunteer to volunteer. Take action.” Maybe it’s just stooping down to pick up a bit of litter, or maybe it’s reporting a safety issue on one of the boats or around the shop, but these folks are going to be fantastic stewards who don’t have to wait for someone else to tell them what to do.

Our new SST members gave me a lot of wonderful surprises all during our workshop on Friday morning.

Maybe I should cover the “no surprises” first: No surprise that the hangar was all set up just as i had requested. No surprise that people wandered in on SoFLA time, about 15 minutes late. No surprise that it was already hot at 9:00 a.m. No surprise that the traffic from Delray Beach to Coconut Grove was horrendous. (Keep in mind, that I normally work from home, and my daily commute is measured in steps, not miles.)

Here are the surprises: The noise level was annoying, but in 10 minutes our A-V guy Steve had rigged up a sound system and the whole program moved up a notch. Many more people than I expected arrived, including several staff members as well as SALM Board Member Kerry Gruson. The boat-oriented teams I had imagined rapidly gave way to skills-oriented teams, and I believe that will continue.

More surprises: The volunteers responded to my requested “volunteer to volunteer” action almost immediately. What will they do? Create training materials to help folk remember which Star brite product to use for which application.  Write up recommendations for safety and environments procedures as we start developing our team manual. Help keep the team organized and running smoothly. Offer ways for the next workshops to be even better.

The biggest surprise? Easy. That came when people started to ask me, “What are we doing to do after we learn how to paint boats?”  And then they started to suggest more topics. How about bringing someone in to show us how to make boat covers? Why not? Sunbrella is one of our sponsors, and we also have a volunteer Jack King who can make the patterns.

How about some specific safety training? How do we keep our boats clean and also respect the environment? What do we need to know about rigging the boats? How do we keep the brightwork and metal fittings shiny? Can someone teach us about woodworking?

Wow. Welcome to the world of lifelong learning and skills-based volunteering. i have joked that we are using the Tom Sawyer School of Training method here: “Oh, gosh, I’d really love to let you help me whitewash this fence . . .  .” but, but it’s even better than that.

The SST, newly hatched, is going to take on a life of its own, and I am looking forward to seeing these fledglings learn to fly. You may recall, my original idea was not to have Captains and crew, but Mothers and a clutch, and so it seems that is happening. Four people have signed on as Team Mothers, myself included, and I can already see that members are interested in seeking their own levels of excellence.

I call this a very good start, and a choice course setting. Our skills-based volunteer training will grow. Next, we’ll add more DIY training, and by winter, we should be ready for SALM to host The Landing School and Professional BoatBuilder magazine in presenting top-level boatbuilding and repair courses, onsite and online.

Ed and the Egret

A couple of weeks ago, SALM staff member Colleen had the very fine idea that Ship Shape should include Friday night potluck dinners, and the first one did draw a crowd, including my new friends Ed and his wife Lorraine. Rumor has it that Lorraine had been trying to point Ed in the direction of SALM for a while, but it took that first potluck to deliver him.

He and I had a great conversation about boats, wood v fiberglass, the smell of styrene (I kind of like it, he does not), composite construction, and other esoteric topics. He told me he would see me again at our second painting sessions, but would miss the first one, and wouldn’t be at the Star brite training, so I was very surprised to see him in the crowd.


No only did he stay for the workshop, but he was one of the guys I was able to recruit to clean Kerry Gruson’s blue boat, and then he stuck around for some more conversation afterwards.  Blew BayouDuring that time, SALM co-founder Harry Horgan made a valiant effort to interest Ed in taking on a major project, namely building a deck house to welcome visitors entering through the new metal gates – donated by Ken Batchelor and CMC Construction – and i certainly thought Ed seemed interested.

Then Ed saw the Egret. We walked around the big green boat, a study in neglect, teak trim turned gray and brittle.  “We could build a steam box to bend wood and replace all this,” I said, pulling up some vague memory from WoodenBoat magazine. i know such things are possible, but, kids, don’t try this at home.

I passed my hand through a port hole and could feel debris crumbling in my fingers. I peered in at piles of canvas slumped in the middle of the dark and dank cabin, I shook my head. “This is the kind of project that WoodenBoat staff members like to take to the WoodenBoat school,” I said, “and then then the instructors just make fun of us for not recognizing a lost cause.”

Ed didn’t reply. Didn’t even say much. We went on to talk about other things, such as my need for at least six vibrating—not orbital—sanders before our painting sessions start on Sept. 12.

I went on with my day, trying to learn SALM’s computer system while talking to Colleen about conceptual mapping, concepts, transformation, Phase II (writing out best practices for every, single aspect of the organization), Phase III (executing best practices for every, single aspect of the organization), and the ever-popular “What’s for dinner?”

Neither Colleen nor I had brought anything to add to the Friday night potluck, and somehow, when we made our way downstairs, we weren’t terribly surprised that we were the only ones there. Harry joined us a little while later, and we had some more excellent conversation along the same lines. Then, when Harry was called away for a few minutes, I checked my email on my iPod.

What did I find? A message from Ed, titled SALM’s Tired Old Egret.

I read it out loud to Colleen, and she recognized it immediately as poetry. “This is great,” she said. “Now you don’t need to worry about writing your next batch of postcard poems.” (During the month of August, I have committed to write and mail one “postcard poem” a day, and I must say I’ve gotten a little bit behind, but that’s another story.) “You can just call Ed’s email ‘found poetry’ and use it”!

I may or may not do that, but Colleen was right. There is definitely poetry in Ed’s contemplation of the sad old Egret, his wondering if maybe our Egret might not be the very one he helped build as a student, his understanding of the designer and the design, and his vision of the future of this boat.

So now we have a story within the story, and as usual I can’t wait to see  what will happen next. He’s going to need help, people. Let me know if you want to be part of this project. We need you!

The evening ended well, with Colleen & I continuing our potluck dinner tradition, after a quick trip to the market, and it seemed just right. If you’d like to find out more about Shake-A-Leg Miami and Ship Shape, I recommend you that drop by some Friday night at 6:00. Bring a dish to share, and enjoy the conversation. (Maybe let Colleen know you’ll be coming? Drop a line to colleen@shakealegmiami.org)

I’ll miss the next one, since I’ll be on vacation in New England enjoying an annual adventure with my sister, including an afternoon at Fenway Park, a visit with my granddaughter Mazie and her parents, a trip out to the Isles of Shoals, a roller coaster ride, who who knows what else.

I’ll be checking the progress of Ship Shape from a far, though, so don’t hesitate to contact me if you want to be involved, or have an idea to share.

Our next big event is the weekend of Sept. 12 – 13. You can click on the VOLUNTEER tab above to sign up, if you haven’t done so already. Thanks!

On the Radio

On Tuesday Aug 25, 2009, I put on my “radio host” hat as my boss Carl Cramer and welcomed Shake-A-Leg Miami’s Co-Founder Harry Horgan to ProBoat Radio. What a treat!

I especially love doing these shows when I know what the guest is going to discuss, but I never have any sense of what’s going on while we are doing them. So, almost as soon as we were done recording, I hit the replay button, and was delighted to listen to this story.

If you missed the broadcast, you can listen to it now by clicking here.

Our first workshop is Friday, and I hope to have some pictures to share with you then. I can’t wait to see how Doug Kraft and his crew have progressed with the boat shop renovation.

By the way, we are now to up 25 “Official” volunteers, and the word is spreading. The trick will be to convert that first core group from workshop audience to Ship Shape community. I understand that has a lot to do with how we arrange the chairs.

Meanwhile, we are getting new offers to help from groups such as REACH (Ransome Everglades Athletes Can Help), our own Nature Links kids, and others. Just click on the VOLUNTEER tab above to add your own name to the list.

As for me, I’m starting to see the line where Phase One (the nuts-and-bolts segment) wraps up, and Phase Two (where we need to work hard on procedures and policies) begins. Phase Three will be when we are able to move the whole program up a notch or two or three to truly demonstrate best practices throughout the organization and facility. I know we’ll get there.

Free Painting Lessons

I’m starting to think we are going the wrong-way-round to recruit volunteers by telling them what we need, rather than than telling them what they will receive. If I were to re-cast this whole promotion as a late-night infomercial, I wonder what I’d come up with for my viewing audience?

Maybe something like this: “You, too, can learn to prep and paint any size dinghy or sailboat or motor yacht with just a few easy lessons from Shake-A-Leg Miami’s Project Ship Shape. Yes, we will show you the right products to use and the latest low-tech paint application techniques. Kids, don’t try this at home. Come to Shake-A-Leg Miami and put your skills right to work where they can help the maximum number of people.

“And that’s not all. These lessons are ABSOLUTELY FREE and they will LAST FOR A LIFETIME! Operators are standing by.”

What do you think? Our next press releases may well follow that line of hucksterism as we learn to break away from volunteer-recruiting stereotypes.

Meanwhile, I am proud to announce that we already have 20  volunteers for our Ship Shape Teams (SST), including one brave soul who has agreed to be our very first Team Mother. I’m excited, and I feel a little sad for the teams who are still motherless, but that will change soon.

We’ve got a good variety of folks in our core group with a nice mix of skills and a high level of enthusiasm. Hooray!

Last night, at our first “Friday Night Potluck,” some of us talked a little about what we can do to move teams into competition with each other: Best team name, team colors, logos, songs, dances. I keep telling people: This Will Be Fun.

Meanwhile, please keep spreading the word, and the word is “free”.

Our first training session will be Friday morning, Sept. 28, at 9:30 a.m. in the Shake-A-Leg Miami Hangar. Hope to see you there! Wear comfy clothes. We’ll be learning all about boat-maintenance products from Bill Lindsey at Star brite.

Ready, Set, Paint!

Great news! I finally won my game of “phone tag” with Interlux paint guru Joe Purtell and confirmed that Shake-A-Leg Miami does have his company’s full support.  Joe will be on site Saturday, Sept 12, to start training the first teams on paint safety and basic. Interlux will also be providing the product that we need to make it all happen.

Joe will be joined by Steve Morton from Visions East that afternoon, as we show the volunteers how to do “high transfer efficiency” (HTE) painting, namely – roll and tip.  This is a method that I learned more than a decade ago at WoodenBoat School, and I’m excited to have the chance to suit up and mess about with paint.

Steve, by the way, has also spent some time at WoodenBoat School, but as an instructor, not a staff member. I look forward to talking to him more about his experience there on the coast of Maine. One thing I can say about WoodenBoat School – great food!

My ProBoat E-Training program, by the way, is part of WoodenBoat Publications, and the School offices are now on “the porch” where I first learned how to translate from English (from marine engineers) to English (for the shop-floor crews). Now my challenge will be to translate from English (for the shop-floor crews) to English (for volunteers).

Don’t forget! If you want to volunteer, just click right here.