Sunday, July 27, 2014

Rain delay

(Admiral and Co-owner of The Floating Bear, and my Daughter Eldest, has absolutely forbidden me working on the boat today. So I thought I would see if this computer still worked and maybe scribble a few words born of yesterday's efforts.)

Florida can be a difficult place to get work done, and someone should do a serious investigation on how it got the name, "The Sunshine State". Pure marketing propaganda would be my guess. The rain came again this morning. It was that special kind of Florida rain that thunders straight down in torrents that would near drown anyone foolish enough to look up and try to take a breath. Which meant trying to rebed the missing port in The Floating Bear had to be abandoned. In fact all work had to stop since the tarp had to go back over the cabin to cover the myriad of other open holes yet to be addressed after all of the sailing hardware was removed. Trying to do major boat work in a Florida summer is to take a graduate class in patience and adaptability.

For a while Grand Son JJ and I, both already soaked to the bone, sat on the cabin top under the sun cover and sang "BOOM" back to the sky whenever it sang "BOOM" to us first. We watched the occasional mega-yacht go by, windshield wipers slapping back and forth, and called out "Big Boat" to the ducks paddling around the pier. Ducks don't care about the rain. Fine for them, they don't have ports needing to be installed.

After a time it became clear that the forecast for a sunny day with a slight chance of rain was more marketing propaganda. The Floating Bear was buttoned up and the crew dispersed for lunch and hair cuts. I still hope to get the cabin mostly sealed today with the hope of getting the boat "dock side livable". (Ed note: didn't happen.) She has shore power and one battery bank. The rest of the electrical work can wait. Plumbing needs plumbed and the glass work in the cabin has priority. There are still weeks of work to do, and Kintala is waiting in the wings for her own projects to get started.

It would seem that, after a short taste of the cruising life last winter in the Abaco Islands, Kintala's journey has taken an unexpected turn. She has moved just once in the last three months and isn't likely to move again for at least three more. Our friends in lake Carlyle will do far more cruising this summer than will we. Basically we have taken up residence in a hurricane hole on the New River, just at the end of the Ft. Lauderdale River Walk, and become journeymen shipwrights. Work is now an all day, daily affair; but one that is depleting the cruising kitty rather than adding to it. The future is a little uncertain.

As much as we all hate to admit it, the future is always a little uncertain. We are not cruising in the usual sense, but we are still on a journey. We still live on the boat, relaxing by sitting in the cockpit and watching the water world go by. Though, according to Blue Chart, the far bank is about 180 feet away. This is a pretty small water world for a blue water cruising boat. We are working far harder than our old land jobs used to demand, and the toll on my 59-year-old body (Thank you all for the good Birthday Wishes!) is higher than it used to be. Kintala's interior is a bit of a wreck; now home to six people, two of which radiate the endless energy of young boys. That is also a harder on my 59-year-old body than it used to be.

But I get to sit on a sailboat cabin top, laughing at the ducks with my two-year-old grandson, cuddling to stay warm in the cool rain, and sing "BOOM" back at the sky.  

Friday, July 25, 2014


Almost eight years ago I hung over the railing in our condo stairway and said to Tim, "What would you think about retiring onto a boat?" I had been researching ways to retire that we would be able to afford and, being both employed in the aviation industry, retiring at all was a stretch. I believe his answer as he looked up from his motorcycle magazine was "Okaaaaay?"

Today is Tim's birthday. It's the 43rd one that we've spent together. Some have been happy, some long, some even forgotten, but this one is the best yet because I get to celebrate this man who has always supported me in whatever my venture, who dropped everything he ever knew to follow me in my dream, who has stuck with me this last year even though a good bit of it has been some of the most difficult stuff we've ever tackled. It might be his birthday, but he's the best present I've ever gotten.

Happy Birthday, Love


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Long Days

Sometimes you just have to take your smiles wherever you can get them.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Yin and Yang

Photo courtesy of Brian Prugh
The repair / modification / refit of The Floating Bear has flung me into a yin / yang world. Taking this abused, neglected, poorly built Papa Oscar Sierra of a sailboat and turning it into a safe, more comfortable home for Daughter Eldest and Family is a really worthwhile project. It is also kind of fun, and more than a bit of a challenge.

Then again, we did not go cruising to spend 10 – 12 hours a day of a Southern Florida summer trying to salvage a disaster boat and turn it into something useful. Killer restraints on budgets and time don't add anything to the experience. Every dime spent has to be squeezed out of an already thin account somewhere. Until The Floating Bear is habitable some of the people I love most in the world are basically homeless.

So sometimes I can be found humming and content as I tear up rotten floorboards and tear down equally rotten headliners. Just hours later I can be found groaning in pain as badly fiberglass burned arms torture me through yet another sleepless night. The dink commute to work is normally the hardest part of the day with me at my lowest. There is so much to do and so many disasters to avoid. Glass work outside in Florida heat and humidity, grinding and laying, fairing and sanding, in full tyvek gear and full face breathing mask, ranks near the top of the miserable job list. Crawling down into a sun-baked lazarette to work on a totally screwed up drive train may rank even higher. Florida thunderstorms pop up and undo hours of prep work. It is hard to look forward to a day like that.

The dink ride home is the highlight of the day. Decisions got made. Work got done. The Floating Bear is just a little bit less of a disaster. (Though that would be hard to tell from looking at her unless one has been involved in projects like this before.) My old body is sore, hands chafed and often bleeding at bit, but that is what happens when one wrangles bad stuff into good. And I have to admit I enjoy the camaraderie of tough men doing hard work, something completely lost to the white collar, air conditioned crowd.

Dennis Carter is from Nicaragua. He laughs at my Spanish and lays down some of the prettiest glass work you will ever see. Freddy is rumored to be a crack addict trying to keep it together. But he would work any CEO in the country into the cardiac ICU if they tried to match him grinder for grinder. He doesn't talk much and is surprised that I treat him as an equal.

For it seems I have become a bit of a story. This is a yard of mega yachts and 80' sport fishing boats. Owners step out of air conditioned BMW's and Mercedes to complain to managers. The skilled people actually doing the work rate hardly a glance. Then there is me. The word is out that I used to fly jets, that this is my "other" boat, and that I am paying serious bucks to sweat and grind.
Which, to the skilled, makes me either bat-shit crazy or just plain stupid. They haven't decided which yet and, truth be told, neither have I. But this is a thing that has to be done and maybe being a little of both is the secret to making it to the end.

For now though, it doesn't feel like there is an end. Just another day, another task, a dink ride in and a dink ride home when the day finally ends. Each day has some yin and some yang. Some tasks go well. The keel repair is nearly done, the rudder work is forging ahead with parts arriving, old thru hulls are sealed, the compression post step is repaired. The old floor is gone and most of a new one is fitted.

Other tasks are still an uphill slog. Removing the worn shaft coupler was a monster and the new stuffing box is going to be a couple of days late. We still await word on the usability of the old shaft. No decision has been made on the new prop. Work has yet to commence on the wiring / bilge pumps / gray water tank / new head and holding tank install. Only half the cabin overhead is ground and ready for paint. There is still some deck hardware to remove, one exterior grab rail broke and will have to be repaired; there is soft and rotten wood everywhere. The spot where the old mast step folded down the cabin top is going to be more of a task than hoped.

 Another dink ride. Another day  Yin and yang.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Sellers Beware

I'm probably the least violent person you will ever meet. I'm pretty thick skinned and if you piss me off you had to work at it really hard. I hate anything to do with guns, I abhor war in any form, and I generally back off from confrontation in general unless I, or someone I love, have been wronged. So you can imagine just how much it would take me to get to the point of telling you that I want to do physical harm to the guy who sold The Floating Bear to my kids.

The Bear's original name was Obsession. The previous owner was clearly not obsessed with anything but getting out of what was even more clearly a bad purchase he had made. Along come two newbies, and he saw his chance. The only problem? Those two newbies were putting two small children on the boat. My grandchildren.

You want to believe that things are different in the boating community.  After cruising for a year we've found that to be true in the cruising community and we certainly had the background of a fantastic group of people in our home marina in Carlyle, IL, but something happens to people when they sell their boat. All of a sudden they develop a severe case of selective memory.

Brad (name not changed to protect the innocent) willingly sold my kids a boat with serious, nearly fatal faults. And yes, before you leave a hundred comments about it, it was definitely their responsibility to have the boat inspected. Unfortunately, their mechanic father was otherwise indisposed in the islands. They were broke, needed a place to live, it was an inexpensive boat, it was where they needed it to be when they needed it to be there and did I say they were broke? They made many mistakes, the biggest of which was trusting a boat owner that said he "fixed the rudder", but you still find yourself hoping that any human being looking at those two toddlers could not find it in themselves to sell a boat with these chainplate mounts.

Did I mention that this pissed me off?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Dashed Dreams and Pooh-isms

It starts as a thought. Sometimes it's as nebulous as a fleeting image amid the shifting colors and shapes that frequent our closed eyes, those ones in that few moments between the sigh of stretching out in bed after a long day and the blessed descent into deep sleep. Sometimes it's a nagging poke in our busy, workaday consciousness demanding attention when we have little to give, plaguing us like a fly at which we swat, irritated.

The thought falls on fertile ground. The thought lurks in the darkness of the fertile soil, tenuous little shoots breaking through the hard shell of the seed to take root, small ones at first that will grow with water and sunshine.

The Thought becomes an idea. The Idea can't be ignored. It's a force to be reckoned with, pushing aside meetings, appointments, to-do lists, and schedules. You begin to hear musings like, “What if?” and “Maybe we could...” and “I'll look on, you know, just to see what's out there...”

The Idea becomes a dream. The Dream is all-encompassing. It involves your desire to live with less: less of a carbon footprint, less money, less “stuff” as an encumbrance, less stress. It might involve looking to travel. It might involve looking to escape. It might mean looking for a place to live with a view. You look at big boats you can't possibly ever hope to afford. You look at boats with all the comforts of home. You look at staunch blue water sailboats because you aspire to be Joshua Slocum. You pour over maps and glossy magazines with pictures of white, sandy beaches and aquamarine waters. Your umbrella drink is already in your hand as you swing in the hammock in the shade of a coconut palm.

The Dream becomes a plan. The Plan is usually the oft-intoned 5-year plan. Five years to look for and buy a boat, to take sailing classes, to purge yourselves of “stuff”, finish out your employment, move aboard, and cast off the dock lines. Ambitious? Yes. Doable? Yes.

In the same way as the seedling, this process is fragile and fraught with opportunities to fail. The process requires a mind open to new possibilities, to adventure, to change. It requires constant care. It requires thoughtful and careful choices, and it requires a tremendous amount of luck. Remove any of these and the beauty of a dream can fall by the wayside like so much refuse.

Our kids came dangerously close to this cliff yesterday. We hauled The Floating Bear out at a local marina in Ft. Lauderdale where they had made arrangements with a local mechanic to fix some of the more pressing issues so they could get on their way to their lives in Coconut Grove. The news was bad. In fact, the news was about as bad as it gets. The boat needs much more work than they anticipated, much more work than they have the financial resources to pay for, and even the mechanic who would be the beneficiary of the large check advised that our money would be better spent on another boat rather than the current money pit that is The Floating Bear. The Dream spiraled downward ever faster as the afternoon turned into evening and conversations became less hopeful.

Right around this time, as Tim and I walked back from the marina lounge, we happened to stop to chat with our friend Gillis, a full-time resident at the marina. Not being financially or emotionally involved in the drama of the Bear, he was able to offer some rather sage advice. He asked what their goal was.

Epiphany. We had lost site of the goal. The kids' goal was to find a sustainable, affordable way of living that would allow them to pursue their dream of writing and painting. While they love the idea of a sailboat and its way of fitting into nature in such a way as to compliment it rather than destroy it, they don't need a sailboat right now. They need a place to live. The Floating Bear didn't need to be The Sailing Bear.Very nearly all of the major repairs were related to The Bear's ability to ply the waters elegantly with canvas. Desirable? Yes. Necessary to reach the goal? No.

Discussions picked up this morning. Ideas were flung around, modified, tested, held up to the light, and some discarded. A hint of hope sifted through the conversation. The Dream began to be restored and a new Plan evolved. Tomorrow the Bear will begin the transformation from sailing boat to floating home and, as it is the home of an artist, a writer, and two small Pooh fans, it will undoubtedly be as creative as the original Floating Bear.  The Bear's days of sailing are over, but like its namesake, I think The Bear will carry her family safely through the floods that have been threatening, and when passersby exclaim that something (the mast) is missing from The Bear, they will have Pooh's words handy for retort: "I ought to say," explained Pooh as they walked down to the shore of the island, "that it isn't just an ordinary sort of boat."