Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Strange kind of day

Work on Kintala continues. The cockpit is looking good with teak gleaming.  The bottom of the hull is also looking good, the last coat of black going on today. The bottom took a bit longer because, when it comes to being a customer rather than an employee, I can  be a real pain. The first coat of red was done and my friend doing the bottom paint started opening up the rest can of black. I asked, “How much red is left in the can?”

“About half a gallon.”

“Half a gallon? I live on the boat. Where IN the boat am I going to put a half gallon of paint, and what do you think I’m going to do with it? I’ve already paid for it, put it ON the boat where it will do me some good. I don’t want to take this thing out of the water again for at least two years.”

He laughed, put the black away, and started to spread the left over red on the keel and waterline. The same will happen with the black. It is likely to cost a bit more but, as usual, this job lurched out of control a couple of weeks ago. There is no use worrying about digging out of a hole until you know how deep the hole is going to be.

But that isn’t what made it a strange kind of day. While the bottom paint was going on I was sanding on the board we use to secure jugs at the rail. It takes a real beating hanging out on the edge of the deck as it does. Not only was it looking bad, there were some cracks and small chunks missing that needed attention. As I was sanding away on the first coats of primer another friend, who was working on the boat on the hard next to us, walked over to see what I was doing.

Apropos to nothing, the boat he is working on is a one of those go fast powerboats with a forward leaning arch over the cockpit. Though that arch is only a couple of feet taller than someone sitting at the helm, the owner/driver still managed to smack a bridge with it…at some kind of serious speed no less. He didn’t manage to tear the thing completely off, but the damage was pretty extensive. The name of the boat? “Sudden Impact.” It just doesn’t pay to tempt fate.

Anyway, when he asked how it was going, I told him I was just sanding down the primer coat. He will be doing the same on a gel coat repair soon so he smiled and went back to work. Just then, out of nowhere, a memory from more than 50 years ago overwhelmed my workbench and nearly took my breath away. It was of my Grandfather. We were down in the wood shop in the basement of his house in Rockford where he was showing me how to run a sander and explaining that it wasn’t unusual to sand most of the first coat of primer off of a project. “Take your time” he told me. “Do it right, because the finished work can’t look any better than the base coat.

It was my first schooling in the art of finishing wood, floating up from the distant past. I think my Grandfather would find the work being done on Ye Ol Tartan acceptable, though I have no doubt that, in his day, he would have gotten it done both better and faster. When we were not working in his shop or garden, he had a classic wooden power boat that we would use to go fishing. It was pretty much my only exposure to boats when I was young. I suspect he would be surprised to know that I live on a boat now, as I doubt a liveaboard lifestyle was one that ever occurred to him. Rockford, IL is a long, long way from big salt water and I can’t say for sure that my Grandfather ever got further away from that town than Pittsburgh, when he traveled to visit us.

My grandfather, grandmother, and four of the five of us kids
in front of their house in Rockford, IL
From that memory flowed another, that of attending my Grandmother’s funeral now many decades ago. I don’t remember just how old I was then, late teens maybe early twenties. Nor do I remember many of the details. What I do remember is thinking that I had never seen a man as deeply hurt as was my Grandfather that day. He clung to my Dad like a person completely lost, and he never recovered. It was barely a year later when his broken heart gave up trying to heal. Up to then I had never suspected how deep love could go.

Oddly, right up until today I never thought about how important I might have been in his life. I can’t say for sure that I was. I can’t say for sure that I wasn’t. He lived a long way away and we didn’t see each other more than a few days a year. But I have my own grand kids now, ones that I only see a few times a year, Not a day goes by that I don’t think of each of them, wonder what they are doing, how well they are growing up. Was it the same for him?

An echo from his life has been hanging around all day. It is a good echo, even tinged as it is with a bit of sadness that the memories are so few and faded.

Maybe he would have liked big water after all.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

All day, every day, working on the boat…

That isn’t literally true of course. We don’t work on the boat 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It just feels that way sometimes.

We have been told that people follow along with us on this blog to see how our cruising life is working out. I hope they aren’t too disappointed. So far our “cruising life” has come is short spurts. Between those limited months of moving, exploring, and getting to know many new faces, have been far more months of sitting and working. For the first couple of years the sitting and working always involved family boats. Even before dropping the dock lines to go cruising we had to deal with the initial problems with the V-drive / transmission failure. When the jobs went away and we decided to call it quits on the “American way of life” there were more months of work. Even before Kintala went on the truck for the trip east; the wind vane install and a repair on the bottom faring chewed through many weeks of near constant labor.

Once in Oak Harbor we thought we were close, but then came the labor needed to get Ye Old Tartan in big water without taking on said water. Labor that included hauling the boat out of the water, dropping the rudder, and taking on a pretty ugly fiberglass repair in the tiny space under the cockpit. We threw in a rudder repair while at it, just because it seemed like a good time to fix a rudder that was split all the way across its bottom.

Our first trip south saw us holed in Oriental for a few weeks struggling with the failing fuel injection pump. We got some cruising in after that, including our first trip to the Islands with our friend John.

The summer working on the Bear came next. Months went by, working through the Florida heat. Little did I know that was a precursor of life soon to be. We did make it back to the Chesapeake, where Kintala went up on the hard and, yes, we spent many a week working on her once again. It was good work, bottom paint and some interior changes that made living on her much, much more comfortable. But it was still seemingly endless days of gazing out at the anchorage wondering when we would find our way out there again.

We did, eventually, making it to the Islands for many glorious weeks. But that cruise was followed by the first stint of being a professional boat mechanic. It was good experience, and helped revive a nearly exhausted cruising kitty. Plan all you like for “retirement,” but don’t bet on it working out that way. Issues can and will pop up, and one is left to deal with them as best as possible.

We got another stint good of cruising in after that, visiting our beloved Abaco Islands and, this time, sailing all the way around them and back to the States. Then it was back around the Keys for a second season of fixing other people’s boats. That season ended a couple of weeks ago but we are far from being on our way again. I suspect it will be at least another month before we can sail off, and I will not be surprised if that estimate proves too optimistic.

Cruising, at least in our case, is just doing the best you can to get by while living on a boat. In some ways it is a lot easier than living on land simply because it is far easier to “get by” when one isn’t burdened with cars, houses, insurances, and an endless array of “stuff” rarely used but still taking up space.  But boats are labor intensive devices. The older they get the more labor intensive they become. As a life long mechanic and tinkerer my way of making peace with that reality has been to regard Kintala as a hobby as much as she is a home. So what if it takes a few more weeks to make the teak pretty and the bottom smooth? Why fret over changing pumps and plumbing, adding accumulators and inverters if, in the long run, it makes our daily living a bit more enjoyable? I spent endless hours tweaking the GXSR, working on projects out in the shop, keeping little airplanes flying, and working on houses. It helps to think of boat work as more of the same.

If our history is to repeat itself we will get “out there” again before too long. It may take a bit of effort to scrape the rust off of our sailing skills, rust acquired after months of sitting in one place. The good news is we have all of Tampa Bay to warm up in, and can take all the time we like. Until then it is...

All day, every day, working on the boat.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Anchorage Sim

Kintala is out of the water once again, this time for a real bottom job. What looked to be about eight layers of old paint was sanded off down to the gel coat. There are some minor blemishes and a nick or two that need attention. Three barrier coats will go on, followed by a couple of coats of bottom paint. Given that the boat is some 35 years old, we are pretty happy with what we have found. This is the perfect place to get such work done. People I have worked with for nearly two years are attending to our hull. Friends. People I trust. People who make a living doing exactly this kind of work.

Other projects are underway as as well. Our little Merc outboard, a unit that has never been my favorite, came a bit of a cropper. The shift lever locked up in its housing leading to the wimpy plastic handle shedding its insides, stripping itself bare of any grip. We pulled the power unit off to gain access to the shift mechanism thus verifying that the interconnecting rod was frozen solid in the housing. Torque supplied by my largest pair of vice grips simply sheared the shaft, even after heating, liberal applications of penetrating oil, and light tapping with a ball peen hammer.

Fortunately, the shaft is aluminum so drilling it out only cost one broken bit. Still, with most of the core gone, what was left of the shaft still refused to budge. By then the sun was setting and it was time to call it a day. The next morning had us moving Kintala into the lifting well so we didn’t get back to the Merc until later in the afternoon. Maybe it was the chilly temperatures reached overnight. Maybe it was being soaked in penetrating oil. Whatever the cause, a punch and some gentle persuasion caused the trashed out bit of shaft to actually move a little. Persuasion of a less gentle nature was applied, and the trashed out bit moved a bit more. Yeah! A few more taps and we were home, the part free and, even better, the housing itself undamaged.

It is better to be lucky than good.

Primer coat curing
The new parts arrived and were installed. Added to the $100+ worth of fuel parts Deb installed earlier, the miserable little Merc should be about as good as it is going to get. Which isn't to say I expect it start on the first pull. My guess is it will take a few hours of nursing, cursing, and cleaning to get it chugging away once again. We are also doing all the bright work on the boat, a task that is at least a full year overdue. The good folks here at the yard have agreed to let us sit in the stands to put the finish on the toe rail.  Scaffolding is a lot easier and quicker to work from, easier than trying to wield a finishing brush while in the Ding. Sitting up here we also discovered an elusive fresh water system leak that has been lurking around the boat for a good while. It turned out the pump itself would drool water depending on just where the shaft stopped spinning. A new, and much (much) quieter pump was installed. An accumulator was added to the system as well, something we should have done long ago. (One could barely talk over the noise the old pump would make while running.)

Though it is all good stuff and Kintala will be in the best shape of her life when splashed, it feels like we are going backwards. Indeed, sitting on the hard, the boat in the usual state of disrepair that comes with sitting on the keel, the "to do" list far from being completed? Escaping the shore looks further away, not closer.

One nice thing is that being on the hard, at least around here, comes with a really excellent view. In the slip most of what we see are other boats really, really close, a wall, and a bit of water off the stern. On the hard we have an elevated view of the Manatee River all the way to Tampa Bay and out to the horizon. Sitting in the cockpit on a cool morning, sipping coffee?  It feels pretty good after nearly a year of working in the boat yard.

We are still working pretty hard, but at least we can pretend the scene is near that of riding to the anchor.

It helps.

Friday, January 12, 2018

A friend goes East…a friend goes West

It could be argued that our first year of cruising was our best year so far. An amazing confluence of coincidences gathered several people from Carlyle Lake, 800 miles to the west, in Oak Harbor Marina near the tip of the Chesapeake Bay. They became our first “cruiser clan,” helping us in uncountable ways as we struggled to get Kintala cruise-worthy and us launched into this new lifestyle. John was in that group, a solo sailor and new cruiser himself, working his way down the ICW for the first time in Ellida; his Hallberg Rassy 31. His wife, Mari, was completely supportive of his adventuring but open water sailing in a small boat was not her cup of tea.

John, Deb, Tim, Nancy, David  (The Tradewinds East Gang)
before we all took off from Oak Harbor Marina in Pasadena, MD

John leaving Oak Harbor in October 2013

John managed to drop his Oak Harbor dock lines several weeks ahead of us. We kept in touch and he became a kind of emotional scout, breaking the trail as we bumbled our way south that first time. Kintala caught up with Ellida in Biscayne Bay where we shared tales of mistakes made and near disasters avoided, feeling pretty good about making it all the way to Florida still in one piece. John was determined to continue on to the Bahamas but Deb and I were less sure of ourselves. Managing our Tartan 42 had proven more of a challenge than we had anticipated, even along the protected waters of the ICW. Our first open water / overnight jump from Charleston to Fernandina Beach had been both exhilarating and magical. It had also underlined just how steep a learning curve we had yet to climb to being a competent short-handed crew sailing a 42 foot boat far out of sight of land, and at night. We had decided a more modest approach to cruising would be prudent. Biscayne Bay, the Florida Keys, and maybe the “Just Like the Bahamas” waters of Florida’s Great Bend would be our first year’s cruising grounds.

John was determined to make it to the Islands but, being a new cruiser himself, wanted company. Our company. Particularly our company on what would be his first overnight, open water jump from Biscayne Bay to West End. He began a subtle campaign to lure us east. His argument, like his approach to nearly everything, was easy going and quiet. The Islands were far closer than the West coast of Florida and a much easier sail. (He couldn’t possibly have known that to be a fact but the years have proven him completely correct.) We would spend less money living and sailing in the Islands for a few months than we would living and sailing in the States. (The cruising kitty had already taken a beating from delays and broken boat bits on the trip south.) And, well, we were cruisers and real cruisers went to the Islands for the winter. (It turns out that real cruisers do whatever they want, can afford, or can get away with; but we had not learned that lesson yet.)

John as we headed out of the channel from No Name Harbor in Biscayne Bay, FL

Waiting out water spouts off West End Bahamas
In the end he won us over and on Feb 21st Kintala and Ellida weighed anchors, headed out the channel south of No Name Harbor, and set sail for West End, Bahama. Ellida made much better time, John blasting through the storms that we elected to sail around. He was waiting at the dock at old Bahama Bay, greeting us with a huge smile. We had sailed to the Islands, how about them apples? We waited out some ugly weather then headed off to explore the Abaco Islands. Getting there meant our first passage through Indian Rock Passage north of West End. Kintala led the way right up to the entrance of the pass, where I chickened out in the face of breaking water to both port and starboard in the narrow, shallow cut. I had visions of us ending our cruising life right there.

John and Ellida heading to Mangrove Cay after going through Indian Cut in the Bahamas

John figured if everyone else could do it, we could do it too. Though Ellida was smaller than Kintala, she drew a bit more water. So long as she didn’t hit anything Kintala should be okay. John happily took the lead and I followed him through so tense I could barely breathe.

We passed with no problem at all.

Later that day John took the picture of Kintala that is at the top of the blog; sailing alongside us in the waters north of Grand Bahama Island. It was one of those magical sails, and one of the best we have ever had. The two boats stood nearly upright yet hard on the wind, ghosting over placid water so clear we could watch the bottom pass under the keels.

We traveled together for many weeks after that, anchoring together in various Cays, waiting out weather, and exploring our first Bahamian towns. It was every bit the adventure that we had hoped cruising would be. That trip set the tone and the goals, established the life style that we have been working to keep up with ever since. John left Ellida in the Islands after that trip, putting her on the hard for the hurricane season and returning home to Mari until autumn. We sailed back to the States, living aboard and sailing Kintala, working to match the joy and adventure of that first trip abroad.

We crossed paths with John several times over the years, as cruisers are wont to do. But we never sailed together after that. The last time we saw him was over lunch, he and Mari, Deb and I, at a restaurant near the Dinner Key mooring field.

Our friend John passed away a couple of days ago. His struggle with failing lungs had been evident from the first day we met, but he never talked of it much, made an issue of it, or let it stop him from realizing the dream of sailing his boat over the horizon. His quiet dedication to living life on his terms had a deep influence on our path, Our adventure would have taken a much different turn had John not lured us to the Islands that first year. Given some of the set-backs we have endured since, it isn’t beyond the realm of possibly that we would never have made it at all. And yet the impact of John’s quiet but unshakable determination, his indomitable heart and courage, went mostly unnoticed - right up until I sat down to write this post.

Unassuming and dedicated to minding his own business, he would have taken quite a bit of pleasure in that.

Fair winds John, and thank you.

Ellida at Sunset, Great Sale Cay Bahamas

Sunrise off Great Sale Cay

John blowing his water bottle horn in the shortest St. Patrick's Day parade, Green Turtle Cay Bahamas 3-17-14

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Lucky man

Several years ago two of my grandsons sat alongside me under one of the picnic pavilions at the marina in Middle River, Ft Lauderdale. We were hand sanding a new part for Kintala’s interior, they being way too young for power tools. It remains one of my favorite “I am a grandpa” memories. Time rolls on, grandsons grow, and boats like Kintala always seem to have something that needs sanded and refinished. It is a kind of cosmic regenerating circle work, like the grass growing in the yard. Between that time and now they moved to Indiana, then Missouri, and now live on a boat just a few slips away from us. They have also grown up enough to tangle with palm sanders.

And they loved it.

Sanding in 2014

Fortunately we have three aboard. Yeah, I know. We have also moved all of my tools off of the work golf cart and back into our the aft cabin’s work bench area. Ye Old Tartan now lists about 3 degrees to starboard even in dead calm winds. We really should go through and “down size” the tool collection again.  We thought about it, then just found cubbies and holes to stash the ones we don’t use that often; like 3 or four of the 7 3/8’s drive ratchets we have aboard. There is the short one, the normal length one, the long one, the one with a swivel head, the one with a 3/8s on one side and 1/4 on the other side, the main one that is a Snap-on unit I have had since my days in tech school, and a cheap-assed one that serves mostly as a hammer. There is actually an eighth one that is part of a metric 3/8s set that rests in its own box. It stays with the set. (Along with the 3 and 8 inch extensions, of which we also have several floating around.) Going to sea with a retired mechanic has its challenges.

So the dock box at the end of the pier was turned into a work table for Grampy T and two sheets of wood were laid on the ground for the kids.  Extension cords were run and the five teak parts taken off the cockpit seats and companionway were parsed out to my “worker men.” There was a little trepidation to go along with their excitement since they hear constant warnings about how easy it is to get hurt with a power tool. Palm sanders are likely the least dangerous power tool of all, but still…these boys are nine and five respectively. A sanded finger would make me very unpopular with Mom.

Proper technique was reviewed. Sand the piece, don’t scrub at it. Keep the sander moving when it is touching on the wood. Go with the grain. And sand old varnish not newly exposed wood. They fired up, their little faces scrunched up in that particular way kids have when they are concentrating, and the dust started to fly.

It was pure magic for Grandpa.

I was an instructor for the first hour or so, watching carefully as they got to know the work. At times I would put my hand over theirs on the sander, adjusting the cadence and length of their stroke or letting them know that they didn’t need to lean so hard on the tool. They are quick learners and were soon flying solo.

It was a popular show for some of the other crews hanging around the boat yard, doing their own projects in preparation for heading out. One passer by made the comment, “You are a lucky man.”

I suspect he doesn't know just how right he is.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Third time's a charm...

A common comment around many a maintenance shop, be it planes, bikes, or boats, is “Practice makes permanent”. The gist is the person who manages some odd ball or unpleasant task will, most likely, get to do it again the next time that one comes through the shop door. It makes for a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, any good technician wants the reputation of being able to fix about anything, figuring it out, coming up with a solution, making it work. After all, someone built or installed the thing in the first place. Who wants to admit to not being at least that capable or smart?

On the other hand, does one really want to be the “go to” expert when it comes to pulling holding tanks or rebuilding heads? How about being the person who can climb down into any ugly, dirty, tiny, sharp-edged filled hole toting tools and grinders? Even tasks that are normally kind of fun, like climbing a mast, are much less fun when it is the third one of the day or the wind is blowing and the waves are rocking the boat. (We use a climbing rig around here as moving the crane in place for a simple light repair chews up too much labor time. And no, this old guy wasn’t one of the “permanent” mast guys - though I did use the harness a couple of times on easy jobs just because I could.)

But being a boat tech was never on my list of "things I want to do for the rest of my life." And so it came to pass that Friday was my last official day of punching a time clock. My first “last day” was when we moved the boat to Oak Harbor, moved aboard, and headed south. Unexpected expenses made it necessary to refill the the cruising kitty and “retirement” was put on hold for a summer season. It went well, we retired again and headed off to the islands. Life lined up to have us back here and on the clock for a second stint of “filling the kitty”. That has worked out really well in ways completely unexpected. Still, we always knew that the time would come to work on throwing the dock lines once again.

This makes the third attempt at being retired and, in this case, “practice makes permanent” would be okay with me. Not sure how much confidence I have that it will work out that way, but we have managed pretty well so far. No reason not to keep giving it a try.

It will still be a while before Kintala rides to an anchor or mooring ball as she requires a bit of tender loving care of her own. Care that wasn’t as forthcoming this past summer as we had hoped, mostly because a whole tribe of grand kids were around to fill up the days. A real bottom job, all the way down to the gel coat for a barrier coat, is on the schedule. There are some plumbing mods to make (yes in the head system), a few rigging issues, brightwork, and an assortment of odds and ends we want to address. Estimated time of completion and departure sometime near the end of January.

I’m sure the enthusiasm for working on my own boat will return after the first few minutes of working on the first project. That will likely be replacing some of the running rigging, a low key way to get up and running on personal boat projects. Later we will have to work on the habits of living off the grid once again, conserving water and battery power, planning ahead for making stops to add fuel and stores, keeping an even closer eye on the weather.

But for now, just having the time clock out of my life feels pretty good.