Breakdown leadsto artistic boon

Published on Thu, Jul 1, 2004 by ack Kintner

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Breakdown leads to artistic boon

By Jack Kintner

“We’re happy to be here, even though we’re marooned,” laughed Suzie Shaffer on board the sailboat she shares with her husband Roger, a retired airline pilot. The couple left their home in Olympia last month on a four-month cruise north, hopefully to Alaska.

But outside La Conner their engine “just died,” according to Roger and they’ve been stuck in Blaine since May 28 installing a replacement.
“We’re actually very lucky,” said Suzie, “because we lost the engine near a place where we could stay for a few weeks and fix it, and not in circumstances where we would need it for survival.” They found a rebuilt duplicate of their inboard, a 30-horsepower Atomic Four gasoline engine, and have been installing it themselves.

In the meantime, Suzie Shaffer has been passing her days when not helping her husband by painting watercolors of Blaine landmarks like the Peace Arch and the Plover, and, with the help of Steve Scheideman at Pelican Press, has printed them up as note cards.

“We just got a new laser printer a couple months ago,” Scheideman said, “and it’s got decent resolution, especially for watercolors like this.”
Shaffer said she and her husband fell in love with Blaine on their first visit in 2001, and had no trouble deciding to come here to repair their engine before heading north. “It’s a beautiful marina,” she said, “and the people here and all over town have been very friendly.”

She said all the art in evidence during the summer, especially the outdoor sculpture, left her amazed. Shaffer worked in stained glass and sculpture herself before trying her hand at watercolor last January, saying she wanted “something portable enough to take on the boat.” She’s kept track of their daily progress in a journal filled with sketches of places they’ve seen so far.

The Shaffers do not have a car but “have been offered rides so regularly it really isn’t something we need,” she said, “and anyway, we like walking. We hoof it everywhere.” One regular walk is from the Blaine marina across the border and through the Semiahmoo Reserve for lunch in White Rock.

Roger Shaffer has refurbished the interior and much of the rigging in the commodious Crown 34 that they bought a year ago from a Blaine broker. The big, sky-blue hull was made in Victoria in 1976. It was named Boru after an historical figure who ran the Vikings out of Ireland. “This boat happened to beat another one named Viking in a race,” said Suzie, “so Boru is fitting.

"He’s a fix-it guy,” Suzie said of her husband, “and likes to work on things himself.” Shaffer is a 1962 graduate of Annapolis, a naval aviator and an airline pilot who just retired from America West Airlines. Suzie Shaffer just retired from DeVry University, a nationwide network of 40 campuses she was able to serve by telecommuting from Olympia.

In the year they’ve had the boat they’ve raced in the south sound series out of their home port of Olympia, much of the time by themselves, and haven’t had any trouble with the small engine until now. “It just died,” said Roger Shaffer, “so we sailed to Blaine to put in for repair.”
That took a day during which the old engine was spared up until the last minute, when the Shaffers coaxed just enough out of its dying moments to slowly maneuver into the Blaine visitor’s dock. At press time they were still working out the kinks with the new engine but they hoped to be gone by the end of this week.

The Shaffers are used to self-sufficiency, having operated a 3,500 acre Montana cattle ranch for 20 years in Alder, nine miles west of Virginia City. Suzie was in charge much of the time while Roger commuted to whatever airline hub he happened to be flying from. “Our two boys learned that having 200 head of cattle means that the jobs they were given to do were always finished,” said Suzie Shaffer, “because it’s a matter of life and death.”

Son Roger Jr. works at the state department in Washington, D.C. Younger son Will, an Annapolis graduate and naval aviator like his father, is also a graduate of Harvard Business School.
Shaffer’s cards are available at Blackberry House and at the Port of Bellingham’s building in the Blaine Harbor. Until they leave, she can be contacted on her cell phone, 360/789-3846.