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Pickle Barrel Raft
March 26, 2017

bernie harberts raft pickle barrel barrel raft shanty boat adventure
Some voyages include dolphins off the bow (Falkland Islands, Southern Ocean). Others entail pickle barrels lashed up under a deck (western North Carolina). Both are fine ways to sally forth.

Some days, a man dreams of sailing away in a schooner, dolphins dodging the striker stay. Others he’s content with a pond and a pickle barrel. It’s okay to take a break from pursuing something big to take a shot at something a bit, well, tangential.

Thing is, there’s an ebb and flow between life on the road and life at home, digesting the latest journey, pondering the next. Right now, I’m about midway through this cycle.

A year and a half ago, my friends asked me if I’d help them sail their wood ketch from the Falkland Islands to South Georgia, off Antarctica. Of course I went and lost myself in that dark nether part of the ocean world.

That was the Southern Ocean, that watery universe of glacier blue icebergs and business-suited penguins. That was the ocean so cold sailors joked the only reason to wear a bright colored life jacket was to make it easier to find the body. The ocean that could put your vessel on the rocks at the whim of a gale.

This was Shackleton’s part of the world, where all skin that could be covered was protected which is why men, including me, grew beards.

bernie harberts south georgia, ice berg southern ocean sailor raft pickle barrel barrel raft shanty boat adventure
My beard offered good protection from the bitter winds blowing off Antarctica and nearby icebergs. It offered no protection from sailing in to icebergs, like the one in the background. Yes, that still happens in the Age of Autonomous Vehicles and Machine Learning. (53 degrees South, off South Georgia, Southern Ocean)

Which brings us back to now. I’m home in western North Carolina. Home on the farm more concerned about the last frost date than being sunk by an ice berg. The beard is gone.

bernie harberts south georgia, ice berg southern ocean sailor raft pickle barrel barrel raft shanty boat adventure
Thank you: here, I’m thanking some of the many folks that are helping underwrite the Lost Sea Expedition documentary. The 4-part series is heading toward Public Television. It’s my way of taking viewers on the road with mule Polly and me. It would be great if you could help us out!

It’s been a time of great focus. Instead of running away, the focus has been on staying home to bring one of my all-time favorite runaways to Public Television. That would be the Lost Sea Expedition , the 4-part documentary about my 14 month Canada to Mexico wagon voyage.

Currently we (Julia and I and a bunch of other folks) are working on fundraising and distribution.

Thing is, I’ve got wiggle worms in my blood. Sure, I can stand in front of my computer for hours and weeks editing film footage. But when Julia asked me one day, “hey, could we use foam to build a raft?” I said, “well, barrels would be better.”

24 hours later, we had 10 pickle barrels waiting to be assembled in to a raft. 48 hours later, we had a frame cobbled together.
72 hours later, we had a forest fire. Damn. So…….4 months later, we’d converted those barrels, bolts and boards in to a 10’ X 10’ raft.

Cool!

Here are some photos of the whole caper unfolding.

bernie harberts raft pickle barrel barrel raft shanty boat adventure
Pickle barrels: I keep calling them “pickle barrels” but they actually contained vinegar. Here, Snookie supervises as Julia and I seal each bung with silicone caulk.
bernie harberts raft pickle barrel barrel raft shanty boat adventure
The frame is made of pressure treated wood – aka “poison pine”. Instead of using 2” x 6” boards, I built it with 2” X 10” lumber. Having just come back from the Southern Ocean, I guess I was still worried about ice bergs. I know. That’s sorta paranoid given we’re 300 miles from the ocean. I hadn’t reckoned on the extra weight this would add to the vessel. So….. I went back with a chainsaw and cut out sections of each beam. This reduced the weight without affecting the strength much. The diagonal wires attached to the corner posts keep the raft square.
bernie harberts raft pickle barrel barrel raft shanty boat adventure
My back woods construction site. No, this vessel is not Coast Guard approved.
bernie harberts raft pickle barrel barrel raft shanty boat adventure
Strikin’ a pose: the raft ready for launching. Every vessel needs a flag. In this case, a piece of Danger Red plastic we tied to the end of the over-length boards we hauled home from the building supply store.
bernie harberts raft pickle barrel barrel raft shanty boat adventure
Launch: instead of using Polly the mule to push the raft in to the pond (romantic) we used the New Holland tractor (boring but effective).
bernie harberts raft pickle barrel barrel raft shanty boat adventure
Going from land to pond critter. The rafts moments before touching the water.
bernie harberts raft pickle barrel barrel raft shanty boat adventure
She floats! Yes, that’s wood smoke wafting up from the deck. It comes from….
bernie harberts raft pickle barrel barrel raft shanty boat adventure
…the burn barrel every proper raft needs. In this case, I used an old cast iron pot. It came from my good buddy Kenny Tyndall – river dweller, scrap yard man and mule driver.
bernie harberts raft pickle barrel barrel raft shanty boat adventure
A ceremonial toast

The lesson to all this? Sometimes, it’s okay to throw in a few small side projects while aiming at something big.

In the case of the Lost Sea Expedition , that voyage took 14 months. Turning that footage in to a Public Television series has taken much, much longer. In that time, my restless spirit has raised its head numerous time. Sometimes a few barrels, bolts and boards are enough to bring temporary relief. They’re enough to keep me slogging ahead with a much bigger project.

bernie harberts raft pickle barrel barrel raft shanty boat adventure
Snookie never had any doubts the raft would float. Funny how quickly he’s sliding in to the shanty boat dog lifestyle.

Of course, now Julia, Snookie, my brother Christian (who took a bunch of these photos) and I are ready to haul the Pickle Raft to the nearest river and float ‘er down to the sea. But first I have a documentary to finish.

So tell me, what does your lateral project, your personal, symbolic “pickle raft”, look like?

Pickle Raft specs:
Dimensions: 10’ x 10’
Draft: 8”
Capacity: 6 humans, 2 dogs
Big (55 gal) barrels: 8
Med (40 gal) barrels: 2
Barrel source: Craigslist / Charlotte, NC
Cost (est): $500 = lots of free stuff around the farm + barrels ($100) + hardware ($100) + lumber ($300)
Time to build: 40 hours over 4 months (I hadn’t planned on the forest fire….)

Posted Sunday March 26, 2017 by Bernie
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