Friday, March 20, 2020

A different kind of dark side

Unless you're a complete hermit living in a cave somewhere, it's likely that you're being surrounded on all sides by dark news and unpleasant impacts on your life. In addition to our own struggles with Social Distancing, it's been interesting to follow all of our cruising friends as they face challenges on their voyages north for the hurricane season. Many of the island nations frequented by cruisers have closed their borders, making it impossible to access food, water, and fuel. Even in the U.S., many marinas have closed completely, and others have limited service severely. It remains to be seen how many of those cruising boats don't make it north of the hurricane zone before June 1st, and to assess the resulting impact on the insurance industry. So far, we've been fortunate enough to still have employment, access to food, and not one of the ten of us living together is sick (which is a real challenge when you're dealing with 6 kids age 1-13.) We're counting our blessings, but feeling deeply for those of you that have been experiencing more difficult times.

As many of you know, we've put Kintala up for sale. Our intention is still to go back to cruising as soon as we have sufficient funds to do so but, with the collapse of the market, our retirement funds are taking a pretty severe hit, so that may come later rather than sooner. The one thing we do know, is that when we are able finally to go back, it needs to either be on a sailboat more attuned to the needs of older cruisers, or on a trawler. Since we'd never actually spent any prolonged time on a trawler, we decided to take a trawler course to see if it was indeed a lifestyle we wanted to pursue. I located a small school in Dania Beach, FL that used our favorite cruising grounds in Biscayne Bay for its four-day excursion. We signed on. This was six months ago, long before there was any realization that the world was soon to undergo a significant change due to a very small bug.

Fortunately for us, we had decided to drive instead of fly, so that we could extend the mini vacation into a real one by visiting our kids in Stuart the week after the trawler course, and could then haul a bunch of stuff with us for that second week in a hotel. It wasn't until the second or third day on the trawler that we began to hear the rumblings in the news about the rapidly arriving Social Distancing. Since we were there already, we continued on with our plans and had a wonderful time. So if you're sick and tired of hearing about the Coronavirus, read on as we share our takeaway from four days on The Dark Side.

The trawler we were taking the course on was a 1979 40-ft. sundeck model. Almost as soon as we boarded, we realized that this particular boat was one we would never consider. The interior was entirely crafted from that very dark, almost maroon-brown wood. The aft cabin was large, comfortable, and had a queen-sized bed, tons of storage, excellent ventilation via 4 openable ports, and a comfortable head with a large separate shower stall, but because of the dark wood it felt very claustrophobic. The salon area was wide open with plenty of room to have chairs to sit in as well as an L-shaped settee. The galley was down three steps and to port. It was almost twice the size of the one on Kintala and included a stove, oven, microwave, full-sized fridge, double sink and a good amount of storage, although honestly I think Kintala has more storage in her galley. To starboard was the second head. Forward was the second cabin with a pullman bed to starboard and a ton of workbench/storage space. The engine compartment was beneath the salon floor, but didn't really allow for much room to move around in it. The boat had a single Perkins and a genset.

Three steps up from the salon was the sundeck, a large space with room for a half dozen deck chairs and a cooler. This particular boat had a bimini over the sundeck instead of a hard top, and no enclosure, something I wondered about, given the proliferation of mozzies and no-seeums in Southern Florida. Three steps up from that was the flybridge which was pretty small considering the size of the boat. There were two captains' chairs in front of  the helm but barely enough room to add a folding chair behind them. The flybridge also had a canvas bimini and an enclosure on three sides.

Our first night was on the hook on North Lake in Hollywood, Florida. There wasn't much wind and North Lake is in the middle of a no-wake zone so we had a very peaceful evening. The following day we motored on down to Boca Chita, going through eleven bridges of which we only had to wait for one to open due to our 15-ft air draft.

The North Lake anchorage. It's a lot fuller than we've ever seen it before.

We spent the night at Boca, did an hour of docking practice in the morning, then headed up to No-Name Harbor where we spent a leisurely afternoon eating lunch at the restaurant and hiking the loop to the lighthouse before heading off to Hurricane Harbor. It was the first time we'd ever been in Hurricane Harbor but I assure you it won't be the last. Hurricane is at least 2-3 times bigger than No-Name and much less utilized. Granted, there's no shore access, but with the changes at No-Name (the loss of bathrooms and laundry facilities,) it makes No-Name a little less appealing anyway. We watched a beautiful sunset, then did a night transit to Marine Stadium where we anchored and had dinner on the boat.

Back in No-Name Harbor. Felt like coming home.
The sunset from Hurricane Harbor

Thursday morning, we headed off to a very tiny little hole called Lamar Lake on the northeast corner of Virginia Key. It was one of those places that would be impossible to get into with Kintala's draft so it was a real pleasure. After lunch, we headed back to the home marina where we found ourselves back on the dock before dinner, just in time to catch up with our good friends Bill and Ann who currently have their boat in the Hollywood marina on the dock.

The view of Miami from Lamar Lake
Trying to fix a chart plotter problem with his new chart plotter.

Just the room on the foredeck is almost enough to convince me...'s the takeaway:

Almost immediately we realized that a sundeck trawler of any brand wouldn't meet our needs, but for a reason totally unexpected. We both felt very isolated from the water on the trawler because of the height of the decks. It felt a lot like the difference between riding down the highway in an air-conditioned car rather than on the seat of a motorcycle enjoying the sun and the wind and the smell of bacon from the diner in the small town. It became almost immediately apparent that if we ended up on a trawler it would have to be a sedan or Europa model because the decks would be at water level.

The one place that the high deck was welcome was the flybridge. It was wonderful to be able to see more of the water, to be able to see better when docking, and to actually be able to see the front of the boat. Tim thought he would hate the flybridge but was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable it was to motor down the ICW being able to see everywhere.

It was fabulous to sit in the salon and have a 360° view of the anchorage. One of my biggest pet peeves about sailboats is that once you're below it's very hard to see out, unless you have a catamaran, pilot house or deck salon model. The windows were huge, but that alone raises the issue of heat in the summer. This particular boat had Phifertex panels snapped over the windows. It kept the interior cool, made it so you could see out but no one could see in, but it also added to the darkness of the interior.

I thought the motor noise would bother me but it didn't. The generator noise, on the other hand, was bothersome, but he only used it long enough to run the microwave. The batteries were adequately charged by our short runs each day. Any generator we had would have to be in a sound box. We would also put copious amounts of solar on any trawler we ended up on. I loves me some silent power.

Originally I thought I'd want a galley down, but after being in that galley I think I would prefer a galley up. Not a deal breaker, for sure, but just a preference. In many of the Yachtworld ads I've noticed the stove in one corner butted right up against the fridge and I've always said I wouldn't like that setup and gravitated towards the ones with the stove in the middle of the U-shaped galley. This galley had the stove in the middle of the U and I was able to see that I was right about the other style of galleys. It would be very difficult to use the oven in the arrangement with the stove in the corner.

Safe side decks are of tantamount importance, and one of the main reasons we're thinking about transitioning to a trawler at all. Most Europa models have the solid wall railings on the side decks as well as being covered. This boat had very narrow walkways along the sides with handrails mounted on the cabin top and no railings until you got up to the bow. Definitely a no-no for any boat we own.

The motion was one of our biggest questions before taking the trip. We had seen many trawlers during our six years of cruising that got tossed around in rolly anchorages and weren't sure how bad it would feel in the boat. The motion in the flybridge can get very aggressive because of the height from the water. Even on the ICW, the wakes of larger boats caused a rocking bad enough in the flybridge that you couldn't stand up or move between levels. Down below, on the other hand, those same wakes were almost not noticeable, and in the galley they were even less of an issue, a benefit of the galley down models that I hadn't considered prior to this trip. This boat had an extreme amount of clutter on every available surface (definitely NOT the way we live in a boat) and not a thing was tossed, even in the worst wakes.

I was worried about docking such a hulk of a boat. I needn't have worried. After a half hour of docking practice in Boca Chita, I wouldn't hesitate to dock the boat anywhere, any time. Our captain was one of the best dockers I've ever seen. He plopped the boat on the wall at No-Name in a space that was seriously not 10 feet longer than the boat and he did it all with one engine and no bow thruster. He taught us to rotate the boat in its own axis, again with only one engine and no bow thruster. I would much rather dock that hulk of a boat in close quarters than just about any sailboat I've ever been on, including Kintala.

Anchoring was such a pleasure. Just pull up, drop the hook, and back slowly. Tim loves him some electric windlass with a remote on the flybridge...

Going through bridges without waiting for openings was maybe the very best part of the whole gig. I HATE opening bridges. I hate waiting for them, I hate working with the bridge tenders. I hate waiting on tides for lower bridges and our tall mast. Nuf said.

Getting underway took just a few minutes instead of the 45-minute routine we normally carry out when moving Kintala. Fire up the engine, pull up to the anchor, raise it, go. Easy peesy. Surprisingly, this left us conflicted. The whole routine of readying a sailboat for movement has its own rhythm to it, one that blends with nature. Checking the weather, deciding on sail combinations, prepping lines, stowing things below and even what clothes you wear are all part of the routine. Would we miss that?

Questions also arose around the cruising community. Like it or not, there is still some discord between sailors and trawler operators. Would we lose that sense of community we so value? Would sailors feel welcomed by us or would they keep their distance just because we're on a power boat? We had discussions at great length about this with our sailor daughter and family. We all agreed that there is the basic issue of the fact that it's difficult for sail and trawler boats to travel together due to the difference in speed. But in my mind I can't reconcile the lack of community between the two groups since it appears that over 90% of trawler owners are former sailors. Have to think on that one a lot more.

I don't know what our decision will be. A lot depends on how the whole Corona virus pans out, what funds we're left with, how our health is, and what boats are available. But, for sure, the trip was really valuable because it made us assess just what it is that draws us to a life on the water. It's a life we love, and a life we're just not ready to give up yet.

Boca Chita
Boca Chita

Boca Chita

We really miss the trees in Florida. Tim is standing behind the tree to show our grandkids how big it is.
They would be all over this thing. They love to climb trees.
Boca Chita

The lighthouse at Boca Chita
Boca Chita

Boca Chita

The pier at Dania Beach
We ate really well. The Captain was an excellent cook and served all Keto.

Boca Chita

The wall on which I practiced docking the boat.

Biscayne Bay

Hurricane Harbor

Sorry for the blurry photo. I didn't take it. And, no, that isn't champagne all over Tim's shirt. It's just water.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Winter Blues

It's a common ailment among homo sapiens, that winter blues thing so appropriately named Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD.) It's also the one thing that I never had to deal with in the years we were on the boat. The only winter blues I had to deal with were in choosing the shade - shall we pick the deep dark navy blue of the Gulfstream, or the Cyan of the waters in the Abaco Sea, or the Aquamarine of the shallow waters around Treasure Cay?

Now that we're back on land (albeit we hope temporarily,) the winter blues have struck with a vengeance. Surprising, the name Winter Blues, because the one color we absolutely never see in St. Louis in the winter is blue. Gray skies, gray trees, gray streets, gray buildings, gray snow...anything but blue. This year I thought I'd stave off the onset by purchasing one of those Seasonal Affective Disorder lamps, you know the kind you're supposed to sit in front of for a portion of the day, the kind that is supposed to mimic exposure to the sun. Not so much. Sitting in front of light that has absolutely no warmth just doesn't do the trick. It's a far cry from sitting in the cockpit with your face turned into the sun. I've tried to keep things at bay with a rigorous exercise routine (which is working some good,) and some yoga before bed but, in the meantime, I think gazing at these photos of the blue I long for might just be the best medicine.  Hope you enjoy them along with me.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Walk Away...

We wrote a book about being on the buyer’s side of a boat purchase. It is a modestly popular book, selling much better than either of us had anticipated. One of the core ideas in that book was that any potential boat buyer should be spring-loaded to walk away from any deal for pretty much any reason. An idea that, rumor has it, prevented a few people who read the book from getting stuck with a boat that wasn’t right for them.

For now, we are temporarily on land, replenishing the cruising kitty and spending time with family we didn’t see enough of while out wandering the waterways. We are also looking, when the time comes, at going back to the cruising life as trawler dwellers rather than sail boaters. But even if we ultimately decide that sailing is still the way to go, we have decided that Kintala is not the boat on which to live out the closing chapters of our lives. A nearly all-out racing, big-blue-water boat with a few of the harshest racing edges smoothed out a little…making her come to life and romp across the waves as she was designed to do is a little more work than is comfortable for a short-handed crew on the plus end of middle-aged.

So we are now on the seller’s side of the boat purchase equation. An effort that is proving to be just as frustrating, and with just as many pitfalls, as being a buyer. And while my opinion of boat brokers has gone up during this process (our’s working relentlessly on our behalf), that of the marine industry in general, and surveyors in particular, has plummeted to new lows.

After a year of effort we finally had a buyer make an offer on the boat and put down a deposit. All was looking well for closing by the end of the year…then came the survey. The surveyor is said to be young, enthusiastic, not that experienced, and very thorough (I haven’t met her). She even climbed the mast to check the rigging and there discovered that all of the swaged fittings on the standing rigging are cracked.

Big problem.

Big, big problem.

A problem big enough to set any return to the cruising life back a year or more. Rigging is expensive, and getting the job done remotely? A recipe for nothing but endless heartache and delay. Then we would have to start the boat selling process all over again.

We were a bit stunned to hear the news. Kintala’s rigging is only six year old. We had it installed at Oak Harbor just before setting out, an outfit known for building and installing racing rigging. They let me help build and install the rig. Though I am not a sailboat expert (or at least I wasn’t back then) I had spent nearly 4 decades in aircraft maintenance. Wire rigging is nothing new or special just because it is on a boat rather than a plane. It was a fun (if expensive) project and I am forever grateful to the good folks at Oak Harbor for showing me the ropes.

Kintala’s potential buyers, after thinking about it for a day or so, decided that offering a lower price then facing the repairs was not what they wanted, and backed out of the deal. Yes, they read the book and, yes, I was getting a taste of my own advice. I understood, as I would have done the same. Still, we are on the other end of the equation now and it is a pretty massive blow. But life is what it is. Kintala is an older boat. Though we loved her and spent uncounted hours and dollars getting her in the best shape we could, she is not perfect.

Within minutes of learning that the deal was dead, Deb was on the phone, getting quotes on fixing the rig along with other items the surveyor listed that helped scare off the buyers. One is the typical keel smile present on nearly every boat I have ever worked on with a bolted on keel. Another is a soft spot in the foredeck that will take any half-competent glass worker a couple of days to fix. We were told the survey makes a pretty big deal out of each, though I have no clue why that would be the case. I haven’t actually seen the survey. I was told I might be able to buy a copy of it if I liked, something that is not likely to happen before the sun explodes and swallows up this little planet. You will see why in a moment.

As it turned out, the rigger recommended by the yard was actually working in the yard when Deb called him. He was stepping a mast and allowed as he would take a look at Kintala and get us a quote asap. Barely an hour later he called with the news. There is nothing wrong with the rig. What the surveyor described as “cracks” are, in fact, the normal tooling marks that come with building a rig.

Truth to tell, I suspected all along that was what he was going to say. As mentioned, I helped build and install that rig. It is oversized for the boat and we aren’t racers, never pushing the boat to anywhere near its maximum capacity. The only other explanation for what the surveyor “found” was the fittings themselves being defective: not impossible, but pretty unlikely. But it appears to be too late as far as the buyers are concerned. They are new to this cruising world, paid a lot of money for that survey, and are not likely to be easily convinced that there is nothing much wrong with the boat after all.

(A big shout-out to the rigger here. He knew about the survey, could have easily given us a reasonable "quote" for fixing the rig, spent a week working on other things, and sent us a bill along with a couple of cracked fittings laying around his shop.  Being a thousand miles away he might well have gotten away with it.)

So here we are. The rig is fine but the “survey” is out there, authored by a person who, apparently, doesn't have a clue. How a surveyor cannot know about tooling marks and rigging is simply beyond understanding. It is central to what they should know as experts inspecting a boat. Worse, my experience is that a bad survey is like getting a DUI. Even if it turns out the machine was out of calibration and pinged you for the single beer you had at lunch, the stink will linger.

The rigger has agreed to send us a written report on his findings, and we are working toward getting the “smile” and soft deck spot fixed. They are minor issues that a) are likely part of nearly every older boat currently for sale and b) if we were still on the boat, we could fix in about a week. (Indeed, Kintala’s keel smiled at us the first time we saw her, and I’ve fixed two other soft spots on the deck in the ensuing years.) But they now carry “offical” surveyed stink as well.

I guess the good news, for us anyway, is that - had the buyers offered a price contingent on the rig needing repaired - we would have likely said "fine". They would have then had the happy experience of finding out there was nothing wrong and walked away with a smoking good deal on a pretty nice boat. So, in this case, my advice cut both ways.

So it looks like our sojourn on land will likely be extended a bit. Life is what it is. And if one chooses to take part in the business of boats…well…life is what it is.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Throwback Thursday - The "Why we do this" Series

If asked what the best thing about our nearly six years of cruising was, I would immediately respond, "The Cruising Community." I admit that when we dreamed of doing this, that would not have even hit my radar, but in these years of cruising we have met more life-long friends than we did in the 57 years before. This post captures the very best of it all. And here are photos of the ones who made it possible:

David and Nancy to the right - October 2013

Wayne and Sue on the right - Dec of 2015

The Talking Pumpkin

Halloween was a big deal in the neighborhood; a suburban enclave where our "baby boom" generation was born and lived its early years. Hundreds of kids would go door to door in costume, collecting enough candy to keep a sugar buzz going clean through to the New Year. Houses were in costume as well, some modestly with just a pumpkin on the doorstep and maybe a sheet thrown over small shrub as a welcoming "ghost". Others were more elaborate; family members in full scary makeup and costume, garages and lower levels turned into haunted houses, off-key dirges playing in the background, and lighting to fit the intended theater.

Our house fell somewhere in the middle, but still managed to be the talk of the neighborhood. Each year we would find the biggest pumpkin we could, hollow it out, carve a scary face, and set it in the window by the door. Hidden inside the pumpkin was a dim light to set the scary face aglow, and a speaker. Hidden in the darkened room with microphone in hand was my Dad, the voice of the Talking Pumpkin.

It was a pretty innovative use of technology for the early 1960s, which turned into a kind of neighborhood staple. As the years went by people would drive in to introduce their kids to the Talking Pumpkin, little ones giggling but also looking around, not exactly sure what to make of the mysterious voice.  It was all good fun.

Pops at our eldest daughter's wedding in  2005
On Sunday, October 18th, 2015, late in the afternoon, the Talking Pumpkin fell silent. The news came via the tiny speaker held in my hand, the voice of Brother Youngest telling me that our Father had passed away suddenly, fallen by a massive heart attack.

Kintala was anchored at the edge of the grid, waiting out some weather. It took more than an hour of broken communications and dropped calls to get the news to Daughters Three. The logistics of finding a safe place to dock the boat for several weeks, then finding our way to PA as quickly as possible, looked to be nightmarish.

But then...

Two years ago, on our first trip down the ICW, the Beast sprung a massive fuel leak forcing us to spend a month in Oriental, NC. We were there over Thanksgiving, our first away from family. Chris and Sherry were also away from family, working to get their own cruising plans together. We shared Thanksgiving dinner at a local eatery that caters to the cruising tribe, and they became some of the earliest of our cruising friends. As it turns out they bought a slip in Oriental but their boat is currently on the hard. Seeing us heading south they had gotten in touch with us once again, enticing us to stop in Oriental with the offer of a free slip and a chance to catch up.

Oriental was a day's sail away when we got the news, and they offered us the slip for as long as we needed. We arrived after a glorious day of sailing to be met by Friends Mizzy and Brian. After a couple of days of buddy boating they had beaten us to Oriental by a few hours and so were on hand to help ease Kintala safely onto the dock. Over dinner that night their gentle conversation and obvious care helped ease our hearts as well.

A week or so ago Friends Nancy and David cut their Seaward 32 loose from Oak Harbor and pointed the bow south, leaving their car behind as they normally do. A car free for us to use if they could work out a way to get it to us, or us to it. So they did. Currently in Hampton and having already made plans to rent a car for a day to do some chores, they left at O-So-Dark-Thirty the next morning and drove to Oriental. After a quick coffee with the Gang from Oak Harbor (Mizzy, Brian, Nancy, David, and us) they loaded us aboard the rental and headed north. At about that same time other members of the Gang from Oak Harbor, Wayne and Sue, themselves just two days away from dropping the lines and sailing off, got in their car and headed south.

The two vehicles met at a truck stop somewhere south of Richmond. Deb and I were handed off for the next leg of this Pony Express of Kindness. By late afternoon we were back at Oak Harbor loading up. Barely 36 hours after picking up Kintala's hook in the remote waters of the Pungo River and unsure of how we were going to get where we needed to be, we were pulling into the driveway of family with all transportation worries behind us.

There are no words big enough or deep enough to describe people who step up like that, utterly careless of their own plans and time; not expecting, indeed rejecting, any idea of getting something in return. They had friends in need and that was all that mattered.

If a person be very lucky in life they will accrue debts like these. Debts that can never be repaid.

Debts that can never be forgotten.

Pops and his brother Gene
We will be away from the boat for a few weeks. Kintala will sit quietly, as will this blog. Fathers die. Sons and Daughters lay them to rest, struggling with a world that is somehow, fundamentally different than it was. Then we look to our own sons and daughters.

And the journey goes on.

Pops and Tim and our eldest daughter at their 50th wedding anniversary in 2004