Interview with James Brown, 2014 July 17

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Interview with James Brown, 2014 July 17
Brown, James ( Interviewee )
Taylor, Jessica ( Interviewer )
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
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Oral history interview


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Tidewater Main Street Development Project
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United States of America -- Virginia -- Mathews


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UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
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UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
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TMP 041 James Brown 7-17-2014 ( SPOHP )


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The Foundation for The Gator Nation An Equal Opportunity Institution Samuel Proctor Oral History Program College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Program Director : Dr. Paul Ortiz Office Manager : Tamarra Jenkins 241 Pugh Hall Digital Humanities Coordinator : Deborah Hendrix PO Box 115215 Gainesville, FL 32611 352 392 7168 35 2 846 1983 Fax The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (SPOHP) was founded by Dr. Samuel Proctor at the University of Florida in 1967. Its original projects were collections centered around Florida history with the purpose of preserving eyewitness acc ounts of economic, social, political, religious and intellectual life in Florida and the South. In the 45 years since its inception, SPOHP has collected over 5,000 interviews in its archives. Transcribed interviews are available through SPOHP for use by research scholars, students, journalists, and other interested groups. Material is frequently used for theses, dissertations, articles, books, documentaries, museum displays, and a variety of other public uses. As standard oral history practice dictates, S POHP recommends that researchers refer to both the transcript and audio of an interview when conducting their work. A selection of interviews are available online here through the UF Digital Collections and the UF Smathers Library system. Suggested corrections to transcripts will be reviewed and processed on a case by case basis. Oral history int erview t ranscripts available on the UF Digital Collections may be in draft or final format. SPOHP transcribers create interview transcripts by listen ing to the ori ginal oral history interview recording and typing a verbatim d ocument of it. The transcript i s written with careful attention to reflect original grammar and word choice of each interviewee; s ubjective or editorial changes are not made to their speech. The draft trans cript can also later undergo a final edit to ensure accuracy in spelling and form at I nterviewees can also provide their own spelli ng corrections SPOHP transcribers refer to the Merriam program specific transcribing style guide, accessible For more information abo ut SPOHP, visit or call the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program office at 352 392 7168. May 2015


TMP 041 Interviewee: James W. Brown Interviewer: Jessica Taylor Date: July 17, 2014 T: This is Jessica Taylor with James W. Brown on July 17, 2014 in Foster, Ma thews County, Virginia. Mr. Brown, can you please state your full name? B: James W. or Jim Brown. T: Okay. And when were you born? B: 1933. T: Okay. And where were you born? B: T: B: My father is Ralph Dona ld Brown from Swanton, Vermont, and at the time that I was born, gangster days. And he later became a public relations specialist. And my mother is Ruth Lisenby from a Wyoming ranch, and she and my dad met in Washington D.C. My mother had won the shor thand contest at the Laramie High School in her senior year, and the prize was a job working for the Wyoming state senator on Capitol Hill. [ Laughter] And my dad went to Washington to go to school after working on the auto assembly lines in Detroit for a w get an education, so he was putting himself through law school in D.C. when they met. They did all right for themselves during the Depression which was quite something.


TMP 041; Brown; Page 2 T: I mean, this is not the point of the interview, but I gotta ask, did your father ever tell you about his time in Chicago? B: Oh, yes. He was a great storyteller. Yeah, h e loved to tell us FBI stories. W hen neighborhood kids on Sunda y and fix po pcorn and tell us stories. W e were captivated. And I only wish I had had a tape recorder like that at the time. [Laughter ] T: Do you want to share any of those stories that he told you? B: Well, briefly I can tell you that he was involved in many of the famous g man aptors. They arms, full of b ullet holes. Baby Face Nelson, t he Barker Gang, and that wa s all during the early, mid 1930s when it was bad. The reason it got bad was that Prohibition had been repealed, and a lot of people who had been making a pretty good living as bootleggers all of a sudden were out of work. And they were accustomed to a goo d 1920s life style. When Prohibition was repealed, they turned to bank robbery and kidnapping, and it was for that reason that my father said that he thought that marijuana would never be legalized because it would lead to a crime wave. Are you understandin going on now? Yeah . One of my favorite stories that he told us was that in t rying to track down the Barker G ang, Ma Barker had t rained her five sons in crime. Well, t hey had no recourse in the [19] 30s. They chased them all over the country. They nearly got them at a place called Little Bohemia in Wisconsin, but


TMP 041; Brown; Page 3 dad was investigating around, just talking to people. They had learned tha t one of the boys, Freddy Barker, was an avid fisherman. So he started going around to fishing shops and places like that, and he got the word that some guy had decided to try to catch an alligator, and t asking the m echanic to fashion some giant hooks that could be fastened into half a barrel cut in half lengthwise. The plan was to put a baby piglet in the barrel and anchor it out in the swamps and line the barrel with hooks to try to catch the alligator. It turned ou t that that tip off led to locating the Barker household, and they were surrounded and had a terrible shootout. Everyone in the house was killed. T: Was your father involved in that shootout? B: Yeah. Yeah, he was a Tommy G un specialist. [Laughter ] Turns out that the machine gun s of the day, these Tommy G uns, were very difficult to aim because they tended had been raised on a dairy farm, had very strong forearms and hands from milking, so he could hold the thing down. Of course, as little kids we were just flat captivated. [Laughter] T: Yeah, Absolutely. B: T: Yeah. B: Oh, I have something to show you.


TMP 041; Brown; Page 4 T: Okay. [Laughter] [INTERRUPTION IN INTERVIEW] B: T: What? B: Yeah. They were going through his flat in Chicago after they nailed him outside that theater, and I think it was the year I was born. My dad picked that up. o the rest of it. There were three sizes, nesting, brass, chrome plated jiggers in a little leather case. I T: et me take a picture with it, right? B: Okay. [Laughter] T: B: Yeah, we ought to get out a bottle of gin and have one. [Laughter] T: Did he ever tell you anything about the personalities of these guys that he caught, or did he ever catch any of them alive? B: Oh, y es. He said that he was very close to the crime world and decided that he really did not lik e criminals for the most part. He f or that reason felt that he was so fortunate to have a job during the Depression so that he was not forced into that world as a participant. But he also had a rather low regard for the workings of the justice system and felt a bit two faced about gunni ng people down and


TMP 041; Brown; Page 5 putting them in prison and stuff like that And long afterward, when I was in my early twenties, I guess, we lived in San Francisco, and I remember Dad every Sunday used to go out to Alcatraz, which was still operating in those days, to visit with someone that he had helped to put there and who he subsequently learned aving such a difficult time with all of the incarcerations that are not al together effective these days. It just happens that one of my clients in fact, my youngest client a guy who came to me to buy my boat plans when he was sixteen this was in Californ ia he has subsequently done a lot of remarkable boat work, and also become a prime mover in the Aquaponics movement. He and his wife were about ready to lose their land in Hawaii from having overinvested in their Aquaponics and being unable to meet their m ortgage. So to get themselves out of trouble, they decided to grow some marijuana l ike everyone else in the region of waiting to find out what was going to happen, a lot of litigation and incredible cost s and all of that, and they are now about to begin serving their sentence s the shortest sentence that the F eds give anybody: six months. A them will be at hom e to take care of the business and their kids. They have two visionary. He has very forwar d thinking views about the future of wind powered


TMP 041; Brown; Page 6 transportation, particularly in the Hawaiian Islands. Having this on his record is going to make it very difficult for him to raise the funds and do other things in order to actually go i nto hauling Fed Ex an d UPS cargo and people and vehicles between the Hawai ian Islands in a multihul l sailing vessel which is his dream. I re pretty well shot down, but the vision is there. An help him publicize that vision . l repercussions for some time. B ow wave. happening in Colorado. [Laughter] T: B: T: Tell me about yo ur childhood. I understand that you lived in several different places. B: Oh, y eah. When I was a little kid, we moved an awful lot because my dad was being shifted around a lot. At one point, the underworld was coming after the families of the FBI agents, and my dad, who was one of the few of the agents who had little kids, was quite concerned about t hat. And along about that time I guess I wa s about four or five years old my mom and dad had a dreadful automobile accident. My mother went out through the windshield and down the highway, and she was in the hospital incapacitated one way or another for about


TMP 041; Brown; Page 7 three years. During that time, my dad shifted me and my brother between his Wyo ming ranches and Vermont farms as little kids. The older I get, the more I realize what a part of me all of that experience was. T: Yeah. In what way? B: Oh, I still have a very warm feeling for agrarian lifestyle and for animals and for hard scrabble sub sistence farming and ranching existence that went on during the Depression. Those people never had any money, but they were never hungry. [Laughter] And I think that if we were to have an equivalent economic collapse these days that an awful lot of us woul barely saved us from going int o a Depression that would make the 1930s look T: Wow. So the underworld never actually came after your family, right? B: No, but I remember my poor mother living behind a big chain on the door and know what the heck was going on. Hard times were normal to they were all very good to us as little kids. Although we did experience some level of parental abandonment, not that I knew it at the time, but looking back on it now, I think it had a lot to do with my interest in seafaring. I think it had a lot to do with the coming to enjoy the urgency of


TMP 041; Brown; Page 8 seafaring, of ar ra to day basis, particularly in terms of navigation and anchoring. And the seafaring itself, just contending with way, having the ports of call separated one from another by ti me at sea tends to very starkly emphasize the contrasts between one place and another. Getting on the boat at point A and getting off at point B was really what attracted my wife to sailing with me. She thought that was amazing [Laughter] to just end up i n a totally different p lace after splashing around in the big briny for a few days or whatever it takes. I think a lot of that urgency, having to make your own decisions, really thinking on your feet and seeing the results promptly good or bad, right or w and mountaineering and all that has something like that h appening. B ut when you go to sea you really are steppi that environment. It takes a lot of getting used to, a lot of physiological and psychological adjustments required to go out in the ocean. Especially at night. The first time you find yourself offshore in the dark [Laughter] W here am I? T: sort of symbolic sense. B: The escapism and paranoia in it. There always has been for me. I think the reason I


TMP 041; Brown; Page 9 got into boats was that I failed at everything else I try. [Laughter] I was a college student and doing ass ignments. So, I got into boats and it was salvation, actually, for me. I t was just tremendous to go down, g et a job on a boat and go. And I had a very intense traditional yachting backgro und. I it was charter boating. I was sailing in these big schooners what we call wind jammers nowa days, that were hauling passengers for hire around the Cari b bean from Florida to the Bahamas and Cuba and Mexico. That was very stimulatin g to me. First of all, I loved the boats, and the guy I was working for this man Mike B urke, who was the original wind jammer cruises guy, star ted taking sun seekers and skin diving parties out into tropic waters. His real motive was that he loved the boats, and there were a lot of grand yachts around that were disused and crumbling because they were too expensive to keep going after income tax came d buy up these old boats and we was on what you might s thought that yachting per se was a bit frivolous, particularly yacht racing, but I got into it. I did a l ittle racing. I learned a recreational boating, floating around. What we call cruising these da ys, or cultures by way of the harbor front which is an intense way to enter a foreign culture. I found that to be very attractive. Particularly, when I began to learn som e


TMP 041; Brown; Page 10 Spanish f rom my Cuban girlfriend, all of a sudden I began to really believe in that thing, I think it was Julius Caesar who said, he who speaks two tongues leads always thought of my Spanish. And my Spanish i I can get along. I can talk politics and stuff [Laughter] a little bit. That particular aspect of sailing was the real bait for me. Later, after I met my wife Joanna, who is from Kansas and had only been on a sailboat once in her life b efore we met, on ou r first date we went out for a flat calm moonlit sail on San Francis co Bay. And it was late autumn and the anchovies were running in the bay, and the bay wa s teeming with life. Birds and sea l ions and fish just roiling all around us as we drifted around in a calm. We watched the city light up, and it was really magical, and after that, she could take anything. [Laughter] She sailed with me for years, but we finally got old enough so that it was physically difficult. The last real trip we made, Jessica, was but the gist of it was we got kicked around in the Gulf Stream a couple of times, and it really made us realize that we were in danger of get ting hurt or making a boat right out in front of the house here. If I p in the yard right here. I call the highway wrecker truck and drag it up right a few steps from my shop for doing the maintenance. So I designed that boat in about, I guess 1964 or [196] 5 or something. I built the thing in our yard there in California, O akwoods was down in the bottom of a box canyon. I built it every stick while


TMP 041; Brown; Page 11 our kids were little kids, but they grew up around the action. By the time they were eleven and twelve, we had finally gotten our affairs in order, developed our yacht design bu siness, which was primarily selling plans to other owner builders, backyard builders. That was our primary business. We had developed that to the point where we could dump it on our friends, [Laughter] and we took off, and we essentially took about three years for sure and more like five years off at age forty, which I stil l think of as a tremendous coup We just were so luck y to be able to pull that off. [Laughter] B ut of course, one never recovers from a thing like that. Professionally, I abandoned my ca reer right when it was getting interesting. Let me outta here! And this all started with escapism, huh? A nd we were escaping. California was getting crazy. This was the early [19]70s, and all during the late [19]60s and early [19]70s, we circulated in a gr oup of people that were rather radical. A lot o f my clients, for instance, some of them were people that were working at the radiation laboratory in Berkeley and in the early phases of Silicon Valley. A lot of them were also roust abouts that were at that time able to get a pretty good job in one day anywhere in the country, so they had conf idence in undertaking big, long term proj ects like building your own sea going sailboat, some of them having never even built a bird house previously. This was my cliente le: m otorcyclists getting into multi hulls at the time. I got into multi hulls t his is another part of the story, but in the late [19]60s and early [19]70s, California was getting pretty c razy, and we wanted, for one thing, to get our kids out of there w h ere we were living in that Santa Cruz area there, which has since become a


TMP 041; Brown; Page 12 major university town. They were building the university at that time, UC Santa Cruz. It was getting druggy, and t he boys had grown up knowing that we were gonna go for a big deal boat ride someday, so they were behind it. But I think if we had waited one more year, going on in our business that I had heck of a time findi ng the space and time to work on it. It took us three and a half years to build that boat, and the last ten months I was able to start gum ping my business on our friends, John Marples and Tom Freeman, who subsequently took it over for us when we left. I wa s able to devote almost full time to finishing the boat. And I just barely got it done in time for the boys to be still young enough to be willing to extricate themselves from their own peer group and flee. We literally fled from California because well, think of the culture of the time. Kids were growing up going through nuclear attack drills in school, and about the time the hippies began to take over the University of California at Berkeley and start fires in the buildings and stuff and Ronald Regan, t hen governor of California, sent in the National Guard. It was right about then that we really started to sell boat plans, and people were looking for a last dit to go syndrome, and I think it explains a lot of yacht ownershi p. Most yachts spend 99.99 percent of their lives sitting at the dock idle, testaments to what I call wast ed wealth. The people that spend that kind of money, w ho can spend that kind of money are getting something for is the ability to go down to the boat with a truckload of groceries, and untie the ng really nasty going


TMP 041; Brown; Page 13 on. T r money i n other ways. You can rent one, you know? want to be able to get on it now and go. I think that explains a lot of it, and that was particularly true in the late [19]60s and early [19]7 0s in California. Escapism and p aranoia. T: Wow. B: that I went from these big, traditional schoo ners, very traditional yachts. T he last real charter boat that I sailed in I sailed as mate in a 15 1 foot steel stafle schooner. It was one of the yachts of British royalty that ended up in the Bahamas on a reef. T his guy Mike Burke was able to buy it for pennies, and it was out of the movies, just an incredible boat. We had no idea how to run the thing [Laughter] but we were able to get ahold of a few of the members of the original crew who were black Bahamians. So my introduction to sailing included lots of cultural exchange, including being the only white guy in a crew of eight Bahamians. Because of my white skin, being in a position of authority but having no idea what to do or how to tell people to do it, and havi ng to learn from these people p articularly th is wonderful guy, about a fifty year old Bahamian who was built like just an incredible physi que, and link. [Laughter] That was Fred McKenzie, and he taught me the ways of a wind jammer. He nursed me along, he and others in the crew.


TMP 041; Brown; Page 14 T: You did talk a little bit about the experience of going into a port tow n and that it was intense. Could you break that down for me? B: Going into? T: Port towns. B: Port towns. Oh, yeah. Uh huh. First of all, is finding your way into a harbor. like landing an aircraft. A nd so often it seems to happen at night and wher e like that that drew almost fifteen feet of water, which is a real hazard trying to get in and out of many of the harbors, particularly in s reef city all over the place. So, once you find yourself into protected getting kicked around out there. Whoo, you get the anchor down or you get tied up to a moorin customs and immigration people, and you may have to go through a quarantine o pa y. T experience, lik e where do we go to get water for our fresh water? Where do we go to get fuel? you could be contending with the local coast guard who decide s that you have some kind of a safety violation, and you have to run all over town to try to avoid having it cost a lot of money. [Laughter] Anyway, and this guy Burke was a pirate. I mean, he was a real scoundrel in many ways. And we were always running f rom the fuzz. We got run out of Miami for safety violations and started to


TMP 041; Brown; Page 15 operate out of Nassau, Bahamas. Nassau was after us for all kinds of graft, so we went around to the other side of that particular island that they call New Providence Island. Ther e was another port on the other side, and we operated there for a while, finally ended up having to operate out of Havana, Cuba. Now, some English, [Laughter] and she said, I know my Cuba. T he Bahamians in the crew were e ffectively British in culture, and t hey thought nothing of going around predisposition : still one of the filthiest, most perverse citi es in the worl d. B ut the Anyway, I had some sea time when I later found myself in California, wanting to learn about fiberglass. It was a new material at the time, and I searched around and found that the American company that was building the fi rst large fiberglass boats in this country was located at Sausalito, California, outfit called Coleman Boat and Plastics Company. So I rode my moto rcycle from New Hampshire to Sausalito and walked in nted to learn about it because a friend of mine and I wanted to buil d a boat out of this stuff for ourselves. It just happened that in that town, or in the neighboring town of Mill Valley, there lived a man named Arthur Piver P i v e r, rhymes with diver. And h e was, has been since cred ited as being the father of the mode rn trimaran, the three hull, multihull sailboat. There are two hulls, the catamaran, twin hulls, and


TMP 041; Brown; Page 16 then there are the trimarans that have one main hull in the middle and two smaller outrigger hulls spaced wide apart on each side. Piver was the guy that d esigned the first modern trimarans that really worked. Course, the configuration is ancient, goes back probably way before Christ, the double outrigger canoe is what it is. It had an inherent rightness that all it was waiting for was to have a little mode r n technology and material supplied to that configuration and all of a sudden, we had a marvelously seaworthy littl e boat. These were little boats: si xteen feet, twenty feet, twenty four feet. And I just happened to find myself in the same town with this g uy, and I wanted a boat. Here was San Francisco Bay, and all I had was a motorcycle. Beautiful, the best place to sail in the whole country. One of the finest yachting centers in the world, w ind all the time wind, and roaring tidal currents going in and out underneath that Golden Gate Bridge. Very exciting sailing. I met this guy Piver with the help of a friend of mine who I knew. I was living in a houseboat on the Sausalito waterfront left over from the wartime, de met this guy Piver, and it turned out that he too was a schooner man. His father had owned a beautiful traditional schooner rig yacht, and so we had something to talk about. I became in terested in his boats an d became one of his disciples. H e had several at the time. Just a bunch of young kids who were stoked up about being able to go three times as fast as any other sailboat around. [Laughter] We built these boats outta junk. I mean, th e y were real prototy pes: al ways cracking up, brok en masts and rudders and center boards. We finally learned to plan our trips upwind and up tide so that if something broke we could get back. Never go


TMP 041; Brown; Page 17 out the Golden Gate on an ebb tide, man, because you may never come back. [Laughter] So anyway, been a rather vocal proponent of the type, and it was hard knocks for a long time because the boats were countercultural. The traditional yachting establ ishment was really quite offended by the advent of these upstart contraptions. We got a lot of water, had a lot of good joking and some very nasty retribution coming our way from going out on Sunday afternoon and sailing through the fleet when ng to race. We brought it on ourselves, but we had this wonderful exclusiveness. efinitely considered to be the lunatic fringe. It was a lot of fun because we had support. There were enough others now becoming in terested in m ultihulls that, even as an amateur like myself with n o training in design whatsoever; I had never even taken a course in mechanical drawing. I had to be totally self taught, and would have made it a lot easier if I had some education in that department. Bu t I had had some education, and the best thing I had when I went into being a yacht designer was I was able to write. So I wrote about what I was doing and what was happening with multihulls and all of that stuff and developed a reputation that I am still rather proud of, and we had enough people buying our plans so that we were able to have a family and build our own boat and boogie. [Laughter] But there was escaping to somethin g as well as from something. There must b e some unspecified sanctuary somewhere that we could discover in our little private space machine.


TMP 041; Brown; Page 18 T: [Laughter] Space machine. B: Yeah. Y our boat i put your head down, and your own food, your own family, your own music. The boat really becomes a microcosm of the home, and having lived on the boat is one reason why this place is so spare. That great Dick Newick who was a dear friend, and he looked at that cabinet when I was building it, and he was here one day, and I said, gee g oing to be able to live with it? to build the pantry out th rty eight years Jessica T: B: In this shack T: At the time, how did you feel about upsetting the old lights? B: The traditional yachting establishment? How did I feel about it? Well, I understood the conflict because I came out of mo nohulls. I knew all about nautica l tradition. I knew that perhaps more than any other occupational archetype of person, sailors tend to stay with what works for them now. My God, most of the people that came into multihulls were not from that background, and the only


TMP 041; Brown; Page 19 knew what the problems were, and so I could speak to them in design. T: Well, w ith that background, why fiberglass? B: fiberglass. We use fiberglass all right, but most of my boats and most of the early multihulls were made of wood, and the reason is that wood is l ighter for its strength, stronger for its weight than fiberglass by far. Fiberglass is heavy, and multihulls depend on light boats, particularly sailboats. Traditional sailboats, they have a fierce dynami c problem to overcome somehow to sail Are you a sailor? The wind tends to tip the boat over. It blows in the sails and it pushes sideways on the sails more than forward usually. And that sideways force has to be opposed by a big chunk of ballast, usually lead, down in the keel of the boat, so that when the wind tries to heel or list the boat over, the weight way down there under the water tends to resist that overturning force generat ed by the wind in the sails. And that weight much lighter, that the amount of that weight well, for instance, in the last of the up boats, the ballast to weight ratio between the ballast and the rest of the entire structure is about ten to one. So they have built this incredibly lightweight structure and increased its weigh t by a factor of nine [Laughter] in order to keep it upright. Whereas, in multihulls, whic h is now the up races are being run, in trimarans first, and now in


TMP 041; Brown; Page 20 catamarans, they get rid of all that ballast, for one thing, and because the te construction. The wall of the hull for instance, is a sandwich. I t has chemical foam, usually pol yurethane foam in the middle of the sandwich with very lightweight skins of carbon fiber on both sides. Call it the skin foam skin construction method. So the weight of the structure can be dramatically reduced, strength. There are lots of different ways to measure strength, but what you really need in a boat hull is not so much the sea is always trying to crush the thing. Hydr ostatic pressure pushing in on it, waves wacking on it. When you get going fast, water is like concrete. Like when they used to shoot cannonballs at each other, cannonballs would skip across the st eno ugh, hitting water is like just making a cannonball skip. The structural problems are extreme. With mulithulls, we can get rid of so much of the weight that they can be made to o be good for something besides going fast, you gotta carry some weight. You gotta be able to provisions, in our case a thirty one foot plywood box thing that I built in my backyard, so it gets to be more burdensome t out of the way to float the weight that we needed in what I call highly specialized work boat. The cruising boat is a highly specialized work boat, and it has to carry


TMP 041; Brown; Page 21 some weight. But you end up living like a backpacker, try to keep the weight down. That was another p art of our discipline. We really learned a lot about how to live in a Spartan manner. T: Is carbon fiber something that anyone can work with or is that a more specialized production method? B: as a matter of fact, but it is something that one can use in the backyard, although, its origin is aerospace. The development of a l ot of these modern materials well, for insta nce, coming out of World War II right after the war in the late [19]40s and [19]50s, was the first time that what we think as very common things became widely available lik e plywood and the light metals: aluminu m and stainless steel and fiberglass as sheeting, as those thin skins over the outside of plywood hulls. From the wood, we get the stiffness and from the fiberglass we get the resistance to the elements: the durability, the longevity. Particularly now wit h epoxy resin to saturate the fiberglass [inaudible 1:00:56] inside and ou t. are easily able to last for generations. because the usual image of a wooden gonna rot out eventually. But, now the eventual is way out there. So carbon fiber and fiberglass, t he original resin used saturate fiberglass cloth ylon cloth is made out of. Oh, t other thing that came along, postwar, was synthetic fibers for sail cloth and cordage. Amazing stuff, relative to what we dealt with in the old schooners that I sailed in: hemp ro pe and sails made out of flax. Oh, e ven the


TMP 041; Brown; Page 22 paints and the maintenance mater ials and all of that stuff were right out of British admiralty days St p until the point: it was the application of modern technology and materials to the multihull co ncept, which is ancient. That was wh at made the modern multihull happen. And when I say modern, what I really mean is lightweight. So, without that le a d down there, but with these hulls spread wide apart, a ll of a sudden, the It be comes very stable, stiff, a out of the top of the sails; it stands up to it and converts that wind en ergy into forward thrust. And the boats can really take off for another princip le reason. The monohull single hull traditional sailboat also has to be wide to help it keep from tipping over. But, the individual hulls of a multihull can be narrow, very narr ow real limiting factoring in the speed of a boat. T: Was the wood epoxy technology yours? B: No, unh uh. That was developed . Well, it was around for a while, but it was popularized and significantly developed by my friend Meade Gougeon G o u g e o n, now of the West S ystem bran d of epoxy products, which almost backyard does speak to the future because most of the materials are renewable. And you


TMP 041; Brown; Page 23 can build amazing structures out of it and you can do it in your back yard. You stuff like that. After c arpenters tools and materials in order to work with this stuff. T: between modern and traditional as I thought that I would see. And I was wondering with that kind of in mind, what your thoughts a re on the traditional wood boat builders in Ma thews particularly? B: Oh! See, let me emphasize that I love boats; I love all kinds of boats. For a long time, I thought the bigger, the better, but now I think that the amount of fun you h ave with a boat is kind of inversely proportionate to its size. These guys that are l strung out on traditional boatbuilding, materials, and techniques, are living in a wonderful space. They have a great place to invest their consciousness. I w The preservation of skills that they are utilizing and perpetuating, and the materials, some of which they ca really good wood anymore for the classic methods of boat building. It takes a very noble species of wood. But they can still get it sometimes; lot of it is, not all of it. The one thing that the traditional boatperson does not realize is the extent to which nostalgia is governing his activities. He needs to know that those materials and those skills were the ultimate cut ting edge of


TMP 041; Brown; Page 24 technology at the time they were developed. The guys that figured out how to build a boat with carvel planking, they were out there in their age. And for that reason, I feel that they should not have disdain for those who are trying to be out Wooden Boat Magazine as a platform for my writing for a long time. I was their token radical. Whe n they started publishing my stuff, the y took a lot of water for it [Laughter] But now, i f you go up to the Wooden Boat h eadquarters up there in Maine. At Brooklyn, Maine is where the magazine headquarters are. And they have a boatbuilding school attached Shangri an absolutely utopian setting up there for boat buffs. And you go up there now and all the shops in the sch em are into very lightweight boatbuilding. Not all of them, but some of them, are into very lightweight boatbuilding. So, then, if you pick up the magazine and look at the launc pages of the magazine are devoted to small photographs with brie f descriptions of all of a bi them, and I east seventy five, maybe ninety five, percent of those boats are built with wood and epoxy. And many of them are very light construction So, there has been an abso lute revolution in the backyard, or professional shop, boatbuilding business, not only in th e wood level, but also o n the so called composite level: this skin foam skin


TMP 041; Brown; Page 25 method that I mentioned lot of wonderful aluminum boats around. They all have their problems. All of them have maintenanc e difficulties. All of them h em have your own catamaran in your garage if the plans are designed for owner builders. chool to learn that stuff. Anyway, the real answer to your question is that, in Ma thews, tradition wins. And, in fact, the whole northeastern United States is really, I would call, beautifully hidebound. The seat of American yachting is Newport, Rhode Isla nd with Annapolis, Maryland a close second. Most of it is traditional yachting. A nd most of the boatbuilding, most of the boats that people are willing to pay money for these d ays to have built are big, opulent, conspicuously consumptive yachts built to look traditional and to weigh even the most classic designs of all, boats that were never intended to rece ive in board engines now are stacked full of machinery, systems, and tankage, and a ll of that stuff at thing illustrations of that. For instance, the first American to sail around the world alone a guy named Joshua Slocum. He did it in, I guess, the late [19]20s. Was it


TMP 041; Brown; Page 26 maybe the early [19]30s too? He sailed around the world all by himself in a wreck of an old boat that he rescued. It had been abandoned and he named it The Spray And it had marvelous self steering properties. For a single handed the boat while you sleep. So, this old Spray had wonderful self steering properties. Of course, he wrote a book handed sailing, called Sailing Alone around the World Joshua Slocum. And he ins pired a great many people to go sailing. And a great many of them decided that they wanted a Spray and so there have been many replicas of The Spray built. And the only ones that self steer are the ones that do not have engines in them. [Laughter] S o ther all reproductions of ancient boats. And many of them are really done as closely as can be done t o the traditional construction materials. I mean, m any of the people really go hog old car in Cuba or something an old American car anything to make the thing genuine, bu t if you look closely . Like, I heard this wonderful story about in Greece where they tried to build reproduct ions of the ancient triremes . T [Laughter] They had to put epoxy in the holes for the woode n pegs in order to hold these boats together. So, there definit ely is a schism, as you said, a n antithesis fun to talk about it. And nowa h at upon like we used to be cause


TMP 041; Brown; Page 27 mu ltihulls are now it! I mean, the recreational boating industry has been hit hard by the depression. The people who really have mega bucks, they can build big yachts And so the boatyards in Mai ne that are still operating, a nd also some on the west coast, are building very big, very expensive yachts. But, all of the other boating action has been reduced down to trailer their boats in marinas anymore and stuf f like that. Either that, or the boa ts that are being manufactured, in production m em are multihulls. T: Where do you situate yourself in the consumer society that you kind of keep mentioning, as far yachting and opulence and the fake authenticity ? Is that a B: No. No, I think I have an answer for that. Where I situate myself is in the littoral zone. Littoral, around the edges. I think that our . And I also consider myself to be extremely lucky to be there. The consumer society has become so opulent and so ve chosen not to participate in that level. That is, I decided not to go to work at a job that would allow me to afford to be able to do that. And the reason that we ended up w ith a waterfront home in a beautiful a rea does not suggest opulence. W e were just f lat lucky to get this place. Flew in here in a sailboat, made friends with a local banker. We got in to this place for no money down It was an amazing streak of luck. I gues s the other part of the answ er is that travelling in a boat, particularly to what you mi ght call third world locations, we spent a lot of time in s ome squalid harbors. A ltogether on our trip, we actually moved ashore for over a year and a half in total in different places.


TMP 041; Brown; Page 28 Particularly in Guatemala. That kind of exposure to people w ho really are living on the day to day subsistence level and finding them to be so extremely generous at the same time, that was really a shakeup for me, particularly, but for al l of us, to realize people who we re absolutely threadbare would give us anything. Of course, it was part of an exchange program ve us something and nobody said thank you. It was alw ays reciprocate in kind After living w ith that for a while, finally coming to understand how to barter and why and learni ng enough of the local language, which i n our case was mostly Spanish w e all went to school, incidentally, in Guatemala, in tents. Spanish exposure in Guatemala. We came awa y with enough language to feel like we could go anywhere in that realm and make out okay. E have the boat, we could move in and live there. We could work there, we could grow up there. That feeling of belonging in the world, to that extent, which as an aside I must say combines with another sense of belonging at sea, wherein one becomes quote, wild, in terms of wild people. Seafaring requires that level of awareness. When you combine those two and then come back and find yourself coming up through the waterway in south Florida and looking at the condos and everything that would float was in constant service. Plugging ourselves back into our own homeland, we all experien called reverse c ulture shock. It seemed phony. I people that liv e in it


TMP 041; Brown; Page 29 time at sea that reveals the starkness of differences between two destinations, two cultures, two languages, two lifestyle s. You can call it lifestyle, I guess, is too. There is identity in it, yes. T T: Yeah! Yeah. I would feel onstant camber construction. B: Oh! I like the way you pronounce it. T: Did I not do it right? B: way. Yeah. Constant camber cause most people say it that way, is nothing but a sort of streamlined method of another boat building discipline called cold molding, and hot molding was a method develop ed primarily by the British during World War II for building their mosquito bombers, which were wooden aircraft. And the method involves u sing very thin layers of veneer, very thin slices of wood that are l aminated like plywood, like what this floor is mad e of. It has one layer of grain going this way, another going that way, and another going that way. And usually there are an odd number of laminates for getting however thick you want. What hot molding did was allow the construction of plywood into compoun d curved surfaces: s urfaces like the shape of the fuselage of an aircraft, or the wing


TMP 041; Brown; Page 30 of an aircraft. That is getting away from flat sheet plywood into compound curved, but molded wood surfaces. And the individual layers in the surface in these laminated panels, in the case of the British aircraft, they were u sing an w ell, we would call it stuff in it. It requires a lot of pressure. And to get it to kick off quickly, it requires he at. And so the British made mold s out of aluminum that were in the shap e that they wanted for the wing or the nose, or whatever it was. And then they would lay multiple layers of veneer diagonally with one layer opposed in direction to the next layer in order to get the thing to take on a compound curvature that is bent down in one direction and also ben t down in the other direction: l ongitudinally curved and transversally curved. They could also do comple x surfaces; t hat is, bent down across wise and bent up lengthwise. They could get wood to take on the nature of a panel that was not flat. And out of that material they made aircraft and they were very sophisticate d aircraft, extremely competitive with the Germans. As a matter of fact, the mosquito bombers, they were bomb ers that could fly fast. They could fly fast enough to fly away from the Luftwaffe. And they were made out of hot molded wood. Well, after the war, along came epoxy, or other adhesives, that . No, it was the urea formaldehyde glues and the resorcinol glues that did require pressure after the war, but did not necessarily require heat. And that became cold molding. And then, along came something we had somethin g that we could deal with on a non industrial level. We could generate enough pressure to mold the compound, curved sides of a


TMP 041; Brown; Page 31 hull in a chicken house like this. This is where we developed it, right out there. So, we lay laye rs of veneer over that mold, then let the epoxy cure with epoxy in between each layer, and everything stapled down. We had to riddle it with staples just to hold it together until the epoxy cured. Then we cou ld pop that thing off of there tha t whole compou nd, curved panel with the help of this guy Meade Gougeon, he realized that we were all set up for to build a mold airtight, then put down all these layers of veneer with goo in em, then cover t he whole thing up with a plastic bag, and seal it up around the edges, and suck the air out. And all of a sudden, we had about ten pounds of atmospheric pressure pushing down on one side and up on the other side to squeeze all of this stuff together in the epoxy set up. All of a sudden, we were playing boat G od, Jessica. We could build these amazing structures. It atbuilding. So, I was able to take that technology and transfer it to other places in the 1980s. I had these wonderful boatbuilding training projects in several places overseas where I was able to work with tribespeople in almost grass shack, almost grass skirt type settings. Help those folks get more modern boats into their fishing and transport fleets. And the problem was that they had run out o f the traditional materials;


TMP 041; Brown; Page 32 their own indige nous marine architect required ou t. The loggers had taken it, or they had used it up. And so, with this co nstant camber method and epoxy p articularly because of epoxy we were able to build pretty good boats out of junk wood. T: What specific places were you set up to do that? B: Oh boy. My first project was in Africa. I was talking about this method with this guy Dick Newick, this very famous multihull designer. A guy who had a more profound influence on multihull design than anyone else, I think, is Dick Newick. I w as talking with him ab out it, and we we re saying that we thought it was such a architecture to bring a more modern sail propelled workboat to the third world. We were talking about it one evening around this ta ble with Phil and Anne Weld. And Phil Weld is probably still the most venerated American multihull sailor. He prestigious race at age sixty five sailing against twenty five younger competitors. He won what we cal l the Ostar, a s ingle handed transatlantic race: one man, one boat, against the wind, across the north Atlantic. And he won that race in 1980. This happened before that. This was in the late [19]70s that this happened here and we were saying, gee what about a modern workboat? And Phil and Anne, who had substantial resources, wrote us a letter the following week. Phil wrote us a letter, we heard you talking, when can you start? [Laughter] happened. We were later sail Newi ck design. An incredible thing: a sixty foot, ocean racing, trimaran called


TMP 041; Brown; Page 33 Rogue Wave We were sailing in it, in a race in the Caribbean. We we re racing around the Caribbean I slands in this absolutely w onderful fixture and we were talking in the cockpit. Here we are booming through the Caribbean moonlight, you know, somewhere between fifteen and twenty knots. Brrr just steaming along with peels of spray coming off the lee hull, just not e ven coming down until the boats gone three boat lengths r omping up and workboat. And we also had in the crew a guy named Keith Taylor, who was the editor of Sail M agazine at the time. Well, he went back to Boston and wrote an article about the race. And in the race, he put one paragraph about this workboat project. And the next thing I knew, I got a telephone call from a guy at the World Bank up in Washington. And he said, hey [Laughter] T alk or five times and ended up with a little factory in Burund i, which is a landlocked country except for its coast on Lake T Sahara E ast Africa, so, we built a bunch of fishing canoes. The funny thing about it was t hat it happened in some of my other projects, too. These were bootstrap development projects. This one was financed by the World Bank. And what they were trying to [Laughter] But the project went into profit and that was the problem. The money


TMP 041; Brown; Page 34 places, too. Then we went to the Phil ippines. That was a private client, a furniture manufacturer. Am I talking too much? T: B: making the bottom of their ban g kas. B ut, this was multihull city now: the Philippines. The official government estimate was that there were about seven hundred thousand ban g kas in the Philippines. And a ban g ka is a double seven hundred thousand of them in da ily service in this country of eight thousand islands. And man, they really needed boats. So, we got cranked up in a disused furniture factory at Cebu, Philippines to crank out just the main hulls for these ban g ka trimarans. We were just getting into it and the governme nt was negotiating with the World Bank for a loan to install a similar thing that they were doing in Burundi, which was what they call an integrated agricultural development project. And fisheries was part of the agriculture. And they were doing th e same thing in the Philippines: they were getting ready to loan the Philippines a lot of money. The Philippines, at the time, was the largest borrower from the World Bank. A lot of smelly things had happened to the money. We were just ready to go: t hey were gonn a put in what and pay for them with a portion of their catch and the government would then market that catch in order to try to recoup the cost of the boats. Just as we were get ting ready to roll, along came Imelda Marcos, who tried to get her fingers on


TMP 041; Brown; Page 35 the money. And the World Bank withdrew the loan offer and, as a matter of fact, k Remember that? Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos were the dictators of the Phil ippines at that time, mid 1980s. And so that project fell apart, a lthough our trainees, the guys that we trained in making constant camber panels, they stuck around. We had one American in the group and he had a private boat shop there at Cebu for years. B ut, he was building mostly pleasure be able to cut down a tree in order to get a boat, and n o trees. The same t hing happened in Tuvalu. These wonderful names, Jessica: i n Burundi, it was Bujumbura is the capital there where we were working. Bujumbura, Burundi. And then Funafuti, Tuvalu. And Tuvalu is an island nation in the dead middle of the Pacific Ocean that has eight little atolls, about fifteen square miles of total territory in the country, and 1.3 million square miles of sovereign sea territory. They need boats bad. [Laughter] God, I m ean, these situations. How did I get myself into this? Who, me? You want me to try to fix a problem like that? constant camber project in there. We imported constant cam ber panels from the Philippines for that operation in Tuvalu. And that went well; we had a good time. We had a great . My son and I e lder son Steven went out there for that one. I was only there for about three months, but he stayed on for a couple years. And we had a long story; we en ded up with a Polynesian family It was great. Then, the next one was Honduras. It was not constant camber; there was no place for constant camber in tha t setting on the Mosquito Coast: the so called Miskito


TMP 041; Brown; Page 36 Indians of Honduras. And we ended up bringing fifteen of these Miskito Indians up to the wooden boat school in Maine for six weeks of a boatbuilding trainin g program and plank on frame d ugouts is what they were. They were dugout canoes made out of planks. And that was maybe my best shot. We had a more intense, more satisfying, even tear jerking cross cultural exchange with those people than anything else. I t was r still going, as far as I know, down there in the jungle. T: B: Yeah. It is kind of amazing when I think about it now. It was all luck though, blind luck. So much of it is personal contact My friends led me into this stuff. Like the guy that got me to Tuvalu, his father was the manager for Save the Children in Tuvalu. And his father was home on vacation, here, and his son was building a just like Dave Machen, sending me to you and you to me. T: Yeah Here let me stop it for a second. [End of i nterview] Transcribed by: Annem arie Nichols and Austyn Szempruch, September 16, 2014 Audit edited by: Jessica Taylor, September 21, 2014 Final edited by: Jessica Taylor