| China Cloud Under Sail |
by Allen Farrell
I first heard of them via an article in WoodenBoat Magazine featuring their then new vessel, CHINA CLOUD. At seventy (!) Allen, with substantial help from Sharie, launched their 40+th boat, built from local lumber and driftwood, citing his ax as a prime tool.
CHINA CLOUD was engine free - they sculled her with a yuloh - shoal draft, copper clad and unballasted. They lived largely from forage, and managed on a shoe-string.
As one who had not yet set foot on a sailboat, much less built one, I was enthralled.
Over the years, more stories drifted in. More about the Farrells as people. Their love for one another. The warmth they exuded. Folks they mentored. Lives they touched. Their independence balanced with rich and complex social lives.
Anke and I sought out their biography, Salt on the Wind, by Dan Rubin. We read it aloud as we took our baby steps onto the water. We read of their struggles and triumphs. Of the difficult and wonderful times through which they lived. Of their lives lived simply, and full to bursting with doing and not doing.
Later, in Sailing Back in Time (by Maria Coffey and Dag Goering), we vicariously joined them in their poignant, penultimate voyage in CHINA CLOUD. It was heart-breaking to see, through their eyes, the development, privatization and gentrification of waterways once remote and but lightly touched. To read of their final journey - well into their eighties, and having given CHINA CLOUD away - to start anew in Mexico, leaving their beloved coast behind.
Allen and Sharie set before us an example; proof positive that such a life can be lived... made by hand and heart, learning underway. Days stretching to years spent in one another's company, interwoven with the lives of others by skeins of friendship and love, shared in celebrations of the many or the few. In gifts given and received. A love of place.
Our circumstances are different. Our story was picking up as theirs was drawing toward its end. We cruise in a world that much more subdued by the domestication of everything. Local, old growth timber for traditional vessels, if not gone, is endangered. Skills of those who mentored them are dispersed or lost. Free spirited communities from the Age of Aquarius came, and for the most part, went, staid in stead.
Yet wild corners remain. Fish still run and the deer leap. The Forest is diminished but stands, still, verdant with herb, bush and berry. The sea still laps at all the corners of our vast and complex coast.
We never had the good fortune to meet them, yet their example glimmers before us, shining over dark and troubled waters. Paired stars by which we - and many another - may yet set our course.