Friday, February 25, 2005

Astray of the Herd, Review by Ernest Herndon

Buddy advises not to be content with workaday world

I’m mad at Scott Williams.

Just when I’d gotten comfortable being an office flunky, my nose to the newspaper grindstone, my longtime camping buddy comes along with a book advising the opposite: Get outdoors, have adventures, break free!

Gee, thanks, pal.

Scott, who divides his time between Jackson and the Coast, has written and published a little book called “Astray of the Herd: Observations, Commentaries and Rants from Outside the Mainstream.” The book is a precursor to “On Island Time,” to be released this spring by University Press of Mississippi, about Scott’s epic sea kayaking voyage across the Caribbean.
While “On Island Time” will describe the journey, “Astray of the Herd” relates the philosophies Scott developed along the way. And they are not particularly comforting to us workaday folks.

“The only way to slow down the clock and claim a chunk of rapidly passing time is to exit the herd as I did and return to a simpler life in pace with the rhythms of Nature,” Scott asserts. “My kayak trip was an indulgence in time far beyond the experience of anyone running with the herd.”

Scott, you see, hasn’t held a “real” job since he abandoned his career as an electrical engineering technician as a young man to seek adventure. Since then, when not kayaking or sailing, he works as a self-employed carpenter, boatwright and free-lance writer.While he works hard, his schedule allows him to take off on trips when he gets the urge. He’s now 42 and apparently has no regrets.

“Many of those who put aside life in the present in favor of earning a secure retirement will, by the time they finally get to leave their job, be too sick or otherwise physically unfit to do anything fun,” he claims. “At this point in time they might wish they had lived differently, but it will then be too late.”

For a variety of reasons — the death of my mother last September, then having to put my stepdad into assisted living, and toiling on the Enterprise-Journal Perspective edition from January through March — I’ve scarcely ventured into the outdoors in forever.

Other than a single day trip down the Bogue Chitto with some church friends, I haven’t canoed, much less camped, since floating the Pascagoula River last April. Haven’t even thought about it, much. Too busy with other things. Then Scott hands me a copy of his book. And it stirs memories of what it feels like to strike out into the unknown with pack on back or paddle in hand. Here’s what he writes of his kayak explorations in Samana Bay, Dominican Republic:

“I followed the north shore of the bay for several miles, paddling past limestone cliffs that were overgrown in tropical vegetation. The landscape here was much greener than in the Bahamas, and water flowed in cascades from mountain streams emptying into the bay. Much of the coastline was too rugged for landing my sea kayak. At the far end of the estuary, mangrove jungle separated the open bay from any dry land, and I paddled through tunnels of overhanging branches that shut out the sunlight and cast dark shadows over secret waterways.”

Hey, thanks, Scott. As if I needed these fanciful images to distract me. Don’t you know I’ve got work to do, cares to fret over? And yet, there has been a touch of spring in the air, flowers blooming among the pines — a perfect time to slide a boat into the water....

“Astray of the Herd” (softcover, 168 pages) is available for $12 at

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Documenting the Construction of a Mississippi Backwoods Drifter

The Mississippi Backwoods Drifter is a boat I designed in 1998 after much discussion with my long-time canoeing and camping buddy, Mississippi author and outdoor writer, Ernest Herndon. Ernest and I often discussed and compared the relative merits of canoes and the ubiquitous johnboats that are so common in Mississippi. Ernest had floated rivers in both types of craft, but preferred the canoe because the johnboats in common use are generally too big and too heavy for twisting creeks, and don't paddle well because of the wide, squared-off stern that is designed to accommodate an outboard motor. Early johnboats, commonly used throughout the south before the invention of outboard motors, were generally narrower and like a canoe, were double-ended, or symmetrical, though still squared off in an upswept pram-bow shape like the bows of modern johnboats.

Being double-ended, these boats were much easier to paddle, and lack the drag that the wide flat stern of a motor boat creates. The boat tapers back symmetrically to the stern the same as a canoe, so the stern paddler is sitting in a position that gives better access to the water for guide strokes and other maneuvers that would be difficult in a wide-sterned johnboat.

So why a flat-bottomed, pram-ended boat rather than a traditional canoe? What are the advantages? There is no question that the traditional canoe derived from northwoods Native American design is one of the best boats ever devised for a wide variety of conditions. Canoes are equally at home on lakes and rivers of most sizes, but canoes that are long enough to efficiently travel on windswept lakes or carry enough gear for expedition length trips are a bit unwieldy on some of the fast running, twisting creeks of south Mississippi that Ernest and I like to explore. By eliminating the sharp ends that enable a canoe to so efficiently cut through wind-driven waves on more open waters, the Backwoods Drifter's double pram ends allow almost the same load-carrying ability in a much shorter 12-foot length. The flat bottom allows standing and poling as well, which is also tricky in a canoe. The Backwoods Drifter can spin 180 degrees in its own length, making tricky maneuvers a breeze without the risk of capsize that would be more likely in a canoe. All in all, it's a great boat for what it is designed for, and it can be easily carried in the bed of a pickup to the launch site without the need for rooftop racks like longer canoes and kayaks.

I am currently building a Backwoods Drifter for a customer in east Texas, and I am documenting the entire construction process so that I can produce a complete set of plans with photos that will soon be available for sale for those who want to build their own boat. I will post regular updates and photos here during the construction of this particular Backwoods Drifter.

More info and photos of finished boats are available at:

Friday, February 18, 2005

Kayaker Attempting 30,000 mile trip for MS

John Latecki Jr. is attempting to set a new world record for the longest kayaking trip by paddling 30,000 miles to raise awareness about Multiple Sclerosis. Here is a link to his website where you can read excerpts from his journal about the trip:

John's sister, Julie Mcafee has Multiple Sclerosis and is his inspiration for the trip. I lost my mother to this same disease and know first-hand the effects of MS, and applaude John's efforts and wish him success on this journey.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Free Digital Publishing

Print on Demand (POD) technology has opened up a whole new world for those wanting to publish specialized books, booklets, reports, calendars or photo collections that might not be suitable for a conventional commercial publisher. Even though I have written three book-length projects under contract for a conventional publisher (University Press of Mississippi), there are several projects I have in mind that I want to publish that are better suited for the flexibility of POD publishing.

One such project is Building the Backwoods Drifter, which will consist of complete plans and instructions for home boatbuilders wishing to build their own version of this boat. I've had lots of inquiries about this boat over the years since I first designed it for Ernest Herndon, but many people who would love to own such a boat are put-off when they find out what it would cost to have it professionally built by me. I'm working on the plans and instructions now, and with POD technology, I can offer them in a bookstore-quality format, even though it is a limited-interest subject and I may need only a few copies at a time. (more about the Backwoods Drifter)

As POD came into widespread use in the past few years, many companies offering this sort of publishing were charging authors exhorbiant fees for setting-up their manuscripts, designing covers, assigning ISBNs, etc. Now it is possible for the author to take complete control and publish through a POD printer without spending a dime, other than for the copies of the book actually published. One such company that has made this possible is LuLu Press, Inc, ( This company provides through their website all the tools you need to convert your manuscript to a print-ready PDF document, and to upload your custom cover art, assuming you can create it yourself in a design program like Adobe Photoshop, or Photoshop Elements. I found that I thoroughly enjoyed the book design process, from page-layout and typesetting to cover design. If you have a problem with any of the steps, Lulu has an active community of publishing enthusiasts on their online forums who can and will answer any questions and help you through the process.

Most Recent Book Project

I recently decided to publish a book I've been working on from time to time over an extended period, but which got put on the back burner due to the other projects that have been taking all of my spare time. This book is quite a bit different than my other works in that it is a collection of short observations and commentaries woven together into a narrative that is loosely based on my Caribbean kayak trip.

Since my full-length narrative of the this trip: On Island Time: Kayaking the Caribbean, is scheduled to be released in May, I decided to go ahead and publish Astray of the Herd: Observations, Commentaries and Rants as a companion book. Astray of the Herd is made up of the sort of stuff you might discusss around a campfire while temporarily free of running with "the herd" that makes up the bulk of society back in the "real" world. In these observations I have examined a wide range of concepts, material objects, technologies, and beliefs from the point of view of one who at least at the time was far removed from them and not in need of them. It's mostly humorous in nature, but I think a lot of it is true as well. Those who read parts of the manuscript urged me to make it available to my readers, so that is what I have done.

It was a fun book to write and I would like to write more of this kind of commentary, which is partly why I started this blog. In the future I plan to expand on some of the topics addressed in Astray of the Herd right here in a format where readers can contribute their own comments or counter-arguements. More about the book is available at this page:

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Welcome to "Island Time Online"

Island Time Online is the latest addition to my website for 2005, as I have decided to join in on the blogging concept as the best way to post regular updates, articles and general commentaries online for those who are interested. As many readers already know, "island time" denotes a state of mind common in the "little" latitudes where the heat and humidity slows everything down and where there is always a manana to accomplish those things which cannot be accomplished today. I first became acquainted with this way of life when I found myself living on "island time" during my kayak journey to the Caribbean back in 1988-89. Now after all those years my book about that trip of a lifetime is about to be released under the title: On Island Time: Kayaking the Caribbean, University Press of Mississippi, May 2005. The title says it all in conveying a sense of what it was like to slow down to the pace of three miles an hour for months at a time, which is something most people don't get to experience enough of these days.

That trip taught me a lot about patience by forcing me to wait and to travel at the pace wind and weather conditions permitted. Anyone who has done a long paddling, sailing, cycling or hiking trip knows that nature is in control and human concepts of time must be abandoned. But back in the "real" world we immediately tend to get swept back into the rush of trying to do too many things at once, and trying to force results before waiting to see the fruits of our labors take shape and ripen slowly over time.

Writing, like travel in a small boat, certainly requires patience and can be a journey fraught with obstacles and frustrations. Writing the books I have been working on in the past two years has at times seemed like slogging to windward against the trade winds, being blown backward almost as fast as I could paddle in the direction of my goals. But just as each paddle stroke takes you almost imperceptibly forward, each word, line and paragraph eventually forms itself into the context of a longer manuscript and before you realize it, that distant shore is within reach. The journey is complete and dreams of the next one begin to take shape.

Island Time Online is about exploring the world one step at a time, and taking as much time as it requires to do so. Topics will be as diverse as my varied interests have always been, and postings here will range from how-to articles to new products and book reviews to news relating to boating, writing and publishing. Your comments and suggestions are welcome ( as I set off on yet another new adventure in the form of online blogging.