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.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

And then there were Ten…

Grand Daughter Newest made her debut early Friday morning. It was perfect timing on her part. There had been much concern that the drive to the Birth Center would happen during one of Florida’s nightmare rush hours. It seemed a good bet that, this being child 4 for Daughter Eldest, such could well lead to a delivery happening on the side of the road somewhere, sans any professional help. There was also the issue of the tide. Low tide would turn just getting Mom off the boat and to the van into a huge hurdle (forgive the pun). There was also the issue of getting the rest of the family, Dema, Grampy “T”, and children eldest, middle, and little, to the event; and what to do with the family for those first couple of post-birthday days when Mom and new baby could use some easy, quiet time to get acquainted and settled into some kind of routine.

Hotel rooms close to the Birth Center were reserved as the due date approached and, as each day passed, the reservations changed as required. A rental car took up residence off of Kintala’s pier, providing enough seats to get everyone where they needed to be while adding a bit of flexibility to respond to transportation needs. Bags were packed with the essentials and placed strategically, ready to be grabbed quickly. Phones were kept charged and checked periodically to make sure the ringing would be loud and unmistaken as the call to action. All of this excellent planning, by the way, being done by Dema; Grammy “T” just going to work each day while trying not to forget the assigned minor parts in the impending proceedings.

The starting gun for our part of the scramble went off at 0210, with the tide closer to high than low. A few minutes later we were at Blowing in the Wind, boat home of Daughter Eldest and family of soon to be another. Mom and Dad headed off to the Birth Center with Son Eldest who, it turned out, became a kind of Master of Ceremony at the actual birth. (More on that in a moment.) Even in Florida there is no rush hour at 0210, so long as there isn’t a hurricane inbound. (Now there is a thought sure to induce shudders of dread.) Mom, Dad, and Brother Eldest made it to the Birth Center with time to spare. There, Brother Eldest, just a couple of weeks short of his own 9th birthday, not only attended the arrival of his Sister Littlest, he held onto Mom’s hand, encouraged her through the last of the contractions, actually handed his new sister to his Mom for the first time, and cut the umbilical cord when the time came. An amazing display of poise and maturity that floored the professionals in attendance. So taken were they, that Big Brother is actually listed on the official paperwork as one of the doulas in attendance. (How cool is that!?) Future boyfriends are going to have a serious hurdle to clear when it comes to Big Brother, one that will likely surpass even those raised by Dad and Grampy “T”.

While all the serious stuff went on at the Birth Center, the rest of the family settled in at the hotel awaiting news. Brother (little) and Sister (soon to be not the littlest), having already been real troopers though awakened in the middle of the night to find Mom, Dad, and Brother Eldest long gone, being loaded into the rental car, and enduring the drive and settling into the hotel, faded off to sleep. The approaching dawn brought news that Little Alexandria Francesca had arrived safely in our midst and that Mom was doing well. A few hours later, the family reunited at the hotel where introductions were made all around and the stories were shared. That unique feeling of joy, mixed with relief, and seasoned with the wonder and love that the newly arrived bring with them into this world, infused the room.

Some people claim the mantel of “born to be a sailor”. Alexandria, if she so desires as she grows, can actually make the claim of having been born a sailor. Her first home is a sailboat, one that was (fortunately) floating on a high tide when the time came. How her life will unfold is a story yet to be told, but she is off to a unique start.

Welcome aboard Little One.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Which way

A couple weeks ago, we very much enjoyed a visit to nearby marina to partake in a Thanksgiving pot luck dinner. Living in the boat yard has kept us away from the live-aboard / cruiser community so it was good to be back among the tribe. While there, I recognized a person who had been in the boatyard to have his boat launched. We had talked for a few minutes back then and I got the short version of the part of his life that had led our paths to cross. He struck me as a bit eccentric - not unusual among our group - and affable; though more animated than is my normal approach to the world.

I was a little surprised then, while we were in line to fill our plates with goodies (and completely unprovoked by anything I had said since I hadn’t said anything at all) he stated, “I assume you are pretty conservative.”

“No,” I said, unable to suppress a smile. “Not even close.”

“Really?” I guess it was his turn to be surprised. “I hope you don't lean too far left.”

“How far is too far?”

He chewed on that for a moment then said, “Well, I know you are a person of faith.”

“No,” I replied still smiling, “Not even close.”

“I guess we’ll have to work on you.”

“I appreciate the thought, and feel free. Realize you will not be the first who has tried.”

Plates full, we headed off to different parts of the group, which was fine with me. But that short little exchange sparked a muse…

How far is too far?

How far is too far when it comes to seeing that every child has enough food, a roof over their head, access to health care, and a chance at an education? Does raising taxes on billionaires and corporations, or scrutinizing military spending cross some line into being a less caring people than taking care of kids? Single payer health care provides access to millions upon millions of people all across first world societies. Is suggesting the US should at the least seriously consider such an option, leaning so far that it will make our heath care system worse than it already is? Compared to the rest of the civilized world, is that even possible?

How far is too far in supporting universal human and civil rights? Where are those limits that should never be crossed - trying to ensure that our justice system actually dispenses justice, or insisting that law enforcement officials, themselves, operate within the law? If we refuse to incentivize prisoners and prisons as profit centers, is that going too far, somehow leading to the downfall of our society? Is providing medical care for individuals with serious mental health issues rather than locking them up in solitary confinement for months (or years) somehow leaning too far toward being a compassionate, enlightened, society?  It was Benjamin Franklin who said, “That it is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer, is a Maxim that has been long and generally approved.” I fear, in the America of today, it is a maxim no longer generally approved.

Is it leaning too far left to recognize that the 47 year "war on drugs" has been a abject failure? Once again, the rest of the civilized world has learned that treating drug addiction as a health care issue works. Treating it as a criminal issue, does not. It is actually something some Americans learned at least a generation ago, which is why there is a 21st Amendment to the Constitution.

How far is too far in the support of democracy? Is insisting that every American citizen of voting age has free and easy access to a polling place, and that their vote will actually be counted, a line that should not be crossed? Will making election day a national holiday, or changing “election day” into  "election week” somehow demote us to being a less democratic people? How about just getting rid of the electoral college, an anachronism that has twice in the last five elections put the loser of a national election  in the White House? Will a "one person - one vote" mandate for the office of President of the United States make us less democratic nation?

How far is too far in keeping the oceans that we sail over and live on healthy, capable of supporting the biodiversity that feeds much of the human population and produces about 70% of the oxygen that we breathe? If there is to be much of a future, is suggesting that we must balance our consumerism against fouling the water that we drink, tainting the air we breathe, and poisoning the food we eat leaning so far that it will - somehow - detract from our chances of survival? If future generations look back on us as wise, careful stewards of the planet, (which, at this rate, they are certainly not going to do) will they think that we “leaned too far" in bequeathing to them a planet they could survive in and enjoy?

It it leaning too far to realize that threatening to start a nuclear war in order to preempt a nuclear war is a horrifyingly stupid idea?

On the other hand, it is pretty easy to point out where leaning toward “law and order” can go too far. Leaning so far as to declare that “money is free speech” crossed some line into delusion. Greed never was a good idea but, as a society, we certainly lean pretty hard on propaganda and advertising trying to make it so. We have taken too much to leaning on war when trying to solve issues best left to diplomacy, and are paying a fearsome price in lives and treasure in support of that obsession.

When it comes to leaning, which way is the thing that matters at last as much as how far.