Michael Bogoger, The Doryman
Speaking of boats . . .
Doryman is Michael Bogoger, one of the early pioneers of boat blogging from back when doing anything on the web wasn’t quite so easy. And doing anything online about old fashioned boat building was all but unheard of. Hardcore traditionalists of the craft are technologically averse by definition – they’ll swoon over a century old hand plane, but shun anything shiny and new, especially if you have to plug it in. People who self-identify as passionate about 19th century modes of transportation are not typically found on the leading edges of things.
Until recently, builders of handmade boats tended to live way off the grid, where internet connections are spotty if available at all. Certainly that was the case 15 years ago. This made an already limited audience mostly unreachable. Acceptance of the internet was slow to catch on, for all the reasons above, making it a small crowd of a small crowd of users – if you wanted to contact these people, printed material by post was the preferred method well in to this century.
So even by the early 2000’s, building an audience of old-school boat builders on the web made about as much sense as raising water lilies in Arizona. But we’re talking about Doryman, here, and that’s just the sort of guy you’re dealing with. I can say this, because, by nearest calculation, I started doing the same thing a couple years before he did. Contrarians tend to congregate. There are others, too, who have been doing this as long or longer, some of whom are in the links in the sidebar of this blog.
We learned quickly, though, that it’s precisely these esoteric oddball passions like wooden boatbuilding that make the internet so incredibly valuable. Arcane texts just can’t be found locally, and back then were only accessible if you knew a good research librarian. Now the same materials and more are only a few key clicks away. Want to know how to scribe a rolling bevel on a scarfed sheer plank? We got that. What lacing pattern to attach the foot of a sail to a boom versus the luff to a mast? Yup, got that, too. And not from a book you had to visit the Library of Congress to read, but a digital version of the book, which you can download. AND, more importantly, you can read the personal experiences of a bunch of people who’ve already tried it. Even contact them directly.
It’s this community of sharing – exchanging knowledge and experience, successes and failures, adventures and adversity – that make the web what it really is. Almost everything I know I learned from someone else, someone who gave their knowledge freely, wanting nothing in return. But it all came with an unspoken understanding that I would pay it forward, and return the favor by sharing with others.
There are no new ideas.
Just old ideas misinterpreted to advantage.
Those of us who began using the web early, with the patience or stubbornness to figure it out and stick with it, got to know of each other pretty quickly, striking up friendships that spanned thousands of miles, countries and continents. My world has expanded exponentially since I began writing in this little corner of the internet. Doryman is just one of many people I’ve come to know using this magical electronic two-cans-and-a-string; someone I would have never known otherwise.
When I left Emily in Hood River I had about 36 hours to spend in Portland before the flight out. There’s plenty to do in a city that size, enough to keep me busy for several days, let alone just one. But I knew Doryman hails from just south of Portland. I sent him a note letting him know my crazy schedule, and if perchance he’d be nearby. If so, I’d buy him a beer. Turned out he was going to be passing through at the same time, hauling a boat up to Port Townsend to its new owner. Perfect.
I found a cheap place to stay in what seemed an interesting part of town known as Alberta. Doryman knew it well. It had been a pretty rough neighborhood during the ’80s and ’90’s, but was on the upswing side of it’s fourth or so economic cycle. He spent time in Alberta during perhaps cycle two. A few years ago it was colonized by artists and musicians and such because it was cheap. Bars and restaurants followed. Seems money always follows impoverished creative types. Maybe because they’re such free spenders. The pioneers are followed by less adventurous, more stable folks – young families and small businesses. Alberta is a decidedly hip place these days, and still fringy.
Room in Alberta District of Portland
The room I found turned out to be in a sort of group house or upscale hostel, if there is such a thing. Visually a real flashback to the ’70s, but clean, with lots of art and funky furnishings everywhere. Paintings and painted murals on the walls, likely bartered by artists in lieu of rent. I had at least 30 years on everyone else staying there. Maybe a dozen to twenty rooms total, all populated by young creative kids, all very nice and considerate of the Old Guy. The woman who runs the place bumped me up to a better room, just because it was available. Nice. Maybe some privileges do come with seniority?
I stashed my stuff and took a walk around the neighborhood. Plan was for Doryman to get close and find somewhere to park the trailer, then we’d go for a coffee. I promised to scope out likely prospects for both.
Though we’ve never met, I recognized him immediately from two blocks away. Mid-50’s, all in black including a skull cap, walking straight down the middle of the sidewalk without even glancing around, shoulders firm . . . a man who’s been around the block a few times and knows how to carry himself in a tough neighborhood. He definitely stood out. A dark spirit from my generation set against a backdrop of psychedelic flower children, or rather the children of flower children. These kids, this era, like an echo of our own youth, but with a weird time twist.
We walked back to see his boat in the long shadows of a winter sun, an elegant rowing wherry.
We popped into a little cafe, and got a table by the window. Another trait of cautious experience: stay close to the door, keep a good view of it. The waitress, same age as my daughters, had multiple piercings and tattoos of a biker, but sweet and cheerful as a dandelion. We meant to stay just for a coffee. Portland has good coffee. Doryman had a long drive ahead.
We talked and talked, and stayed for lunch. (Homemade bread, with local everything. And bacon!) Kept talking through the afternoon. He’s thinking about making some big changes – selling off most of his substantial fleet of boats, traveling a bit, sailing more. Suddenly he has a lot of options that weren’t available a couple of years ago. At dusk we finally moved, mostly from embarrassment that the dinner crowd was coming in and we had outstayed the waitress.
Out on the sidewalk evening was coming on, and with it a Pacific fog rolling in. We stopped at the room in the hostel briefly to check emails, make some calls. Then walked across the street to a Thai restaurant.
Fearsome statues of Buddhist guard dogs, bigger than us, stood against the wall, and candles flickered in a little shrine. The owner/bartender was our age, and he’d been there since the early ’70s, riding out all the transitions. Black and white photos of him with Vietnam era soldiers in his village in Thailand. More of him with hippies on the streets of Portland. Others of time spent in DC, shaking hands with politicians. He’d been around through it all. He poured us overly generous shots. Whiskey, not the frilly stuff. We split a plate of seafood, Thai style.
The neighborhood Chamber of Commerce was having a meet-n-greet social that night – young men and women, all different nationalities, all wearing big stickers shouting their first names. The place filled up, standing room only. We moved on to get away from the noise.
By then it was dark, and the air was thick with fog and mist, making the city seem small, like the whole world was nothing but this one street. All that was good and bad and beautiful and ugly and generous and spiteful was contained within those four blocks. Like walking through a carnival funhouse, each room a different tableau on life. More bars, with voices spilling out the doors. Taco stands in a nimbus of Christmas lights. Vegetarian grocery stores glowing in etherial perfection. Auto garages like islands circled in rusting reefs of old cars heaved up on blocks, all throwback ’70s era classics like us. Packed yoga studios behind steamed windows, filled with mostly naked youth writhing in unison. Dark figures in the shadows transacting business, revealed by glowing cigarettes. Bike shops. A barber shop unchanged since at least the ’60s, still cutting hair at this late hour, like it’s on some sort of tape loop. An electric car charging station. A school bus dressed as a diner, like a pachyderm in a pink tutu.
On the dark side street next to a church we returned to his car, and shook hands by the slender bit of graceful wood on the trailer. It looked so out of place here, like a seagull in a parking lot. Maybe twenty feet long and a hundred pounds, three times longer than the car pulling it, and no wider than my shoulders. A little skittish, ready to take flight. He has a five hour drive ahead of him. When he pulls out onto the street and into traffic I can see the shine of the hull in the red glow of the tail lights.
We all seem out of our element in this world sometimes. Spirits in a bottle. Last I heard from Doryman, he was on an extended trip to the Salish Sea aboard his Stone Horse, with a bunch of other interesting boats and sailors.