Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Son Of A Son Of A Sailor

Organizing our attic over spring break, I was reminded about two model sailboats passed along to my father, Ralph Cameron Mitchell, from his father, Cyril William Mitchell. Originally from Nova Scotia, C.W. Mitchell had worked as a deckhand on boats in Halifax harbor and had an affinity for sailboats, the sea and all things maritime.

He had sculpted the hulls of the boats from a piece of wood using only a spokeshave, a whittling knife and sandpaper. The sails were also handcrafted using a manual sewing machine, as were the masts, booms and rigging. But the boats had fallen into a state of disrepair and were in need of reconditioning and some tender loving care.

One is an elaborate sailing ship (top) reminiscent of the Bluenose (above), a celebrated Canadian racing schooner built in 1921. The name “bluenose” originated from a moniker for natives of Nova Scotia. For 17 years, the ship was a champion racing vessel that neither American nor Canadian challenger could catch in a race.

The other is a simple single-mast boat (bottom) that I remember sailing with my father down in the model yacht lagoon fed by Crystal Springs Creek at Westmoreland Park (below), close to my grandmother’s house near Reed College. My Dad taught science classes at the quirky private school during the summer.

C.W., a certified public accountant by trade and controller at the Meier & Frank Company in Portland, had built a number of ships, and I was suddenly motivated to restore the two models. Inquiring at Eugene Toy and Hobby, I found a local hobbyist, Larry Standifer, who said he was more than willing to refurbish the boats.

Standifer, a Bend native and former trainer for University of Oregon athletics and physical therapist, is a craftsman of boats and much more in his own right, and he gave me a tour of his handiwork at his home in South Eugene. A couple weeks later, here I am with two family mementos, both of which are now (ahem) in “ship shape.”