Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Rule of Three

The little blue and white Cessna lifts off gently into the air, rising toward the little puffs of clouds. It's a beautiful day with just a bit of wind and it's my first cross country solo flight. On my lap sits my knee board, charts marked with my route and notes about radio channels to use at the airports I have to stop at clamped in its jaws. My hands, although sweaty from nerves, hold the wheel lightly but firmly, remembering my flight instructor's warning about feeling the plane's responses instead of man-handling it. I'm heading to Ohio from a small town south of Pittsburgh and I'm a bundle of mixed emotions - excited that I made it this far, worried that I might fail this test and let my instructor (who also happens to be my husband) down, and flat out scared to death of being this far away from familiar territory. I fall into a rhythm, though, checking my waypoints and listening to the thrum of the engine, wary of any hiccups. After half an hour or so, I glance down at the chart for my next waypoint, glance up, and there right in front of me is a large set of interconnected radio antennas that extend to a height above my flight path. I'm headed right for the support wires. Wanting to panic, wanting look at the chart and see where I went wrong, wanting to figure out where the hell I was, I instead look for traffic in all directions and turn the plane smoothly to avoid the antennas, hearing in my head my instructor's voice, "Always fly the plane first. If you get into trouble remember that - fly the plane first." I turned off to a section of empty fields, stabilized my flight and then studied the chart. Under the Rule of Three, this would be number one.

So what does this have to do with a sailing blog? There are a lot of similarities between flying and sailing, and I'm not referring to the oft-cited bit about the sail being like an airplane wing. I'm referring to crew and cockpit management. I'm referring to inexperience, and I'm referring to fear. In the Facebook group Women Who Sail that I belong to, I hear the stories over and over again, those of some nightmarish docking attempt, or a passage gone bad. While flying speeds leave you less time to deal with issues that come up, sailing emergencies require the same type of response. You must be trained to respond automatically, to quickly assess the issues at hand and to choose the appropriate response to yield the result of safety. Since many sailors are relatively new, like I was in the cross country trip described above, they are frequently lacking those response skills. Fear abounds. The trick, whether flying or sailing, is to follow the Rule of Three.

Major problems almost always begin as a progression of small events that, coupled together, begin the downward spiral of loss of control. Stop the progression, and you most likely will stop the event. Any irregularity that makes you uncomfortable, that makes you stop and take notice, should be considered one of the three. On past flights, we've had an instrument go out. No big deal as there are usually backups, but we still chalk it up as an event. Not too long after the instrument failure there might be some unexpected weather showing. Second event. Shortly after that you might develop a headache. Event three. At this point we always find a place to land. Three strikes you're out. On a slow-moving sailboat, there might not be any place to "land" nearby, but you can find an open piece of water and heave-to. Or if the event in question happens while trying to dock, you can leave the harbor and anchor for a bit, or heave-to, giving yourself time to take a break and regroup. If you're leaving for a long passage and the three happen early in the trip, you have the option of turning around and going back, waiting for another weather window.

The success of the Rule of Three depends very heavily on you being situationally aware, and in addition to inattention, it can be hijacked by pride and, more often, by a pressing adherence to a schedule. It can be very humbling to abort a docking maneuver with a dock lined with fellow sailors. You can also be pressured into doing something you're not comfortable with because the daughter you haven't seen for a year is waiting at the airport for you to pick her up. You must make a commitment at the onset to follow the Rule of Three. All crew members must agree to it, and no one may challenge a crew's assessment of an event as being one of the three. If anyone is unhappy, it affects the whole crew.

Clearly there are some catastrophic events that happen that are completely out of our control. Take the anchored sailboat that was slammed into at Elliot Key in Biscayne Bay a few years ago - drunk boater in a very fast-moving boat and zero chance of avoiding the accident. In those cases, just as in a flying emergency, remember to always sail the boat first. There's a tendency to freeze, to panic, but get control of the boat first before you stop to assess the situation. Those catastrophic events are clearly another level of discomfort, but committing to follow the Rule of Three is a sure-fire way to maximize your safety and comfort.

I did safely return to my home airport that day. My instructor was pleased, and I had chalked up a learning experience that would also help me in my sailing adventures. The Rule of Three is an easy piece of safety equipment to add to your boat. So the next time you hear in your thoughts...

Stop. Regroup. And arrive happily and safely.

Friday, June 17, 2016

A Rambling Retirement

A few months ago we were interviewed by Where To Retire magazine for an article they were doing on nomadic retirement. The article was published this month in their July-August issue. Many thanks to Brent Stoller, the author, who did a tremendous job with the story. In addition to our story, he also interviewed and wrote about a couple who are bicycling, a couple who are house sitting, and a couple RVing through their retirement. It was an honor to be a part of the project. If you happen to see a copy laying around somewhere, take a few minutes to read the article.


Thursday, June 16, 2016

One word that matters

Living on a boat the way we do, one of the things we don't do much is drive. A fact that puts us on the fringe of American society all by itself. And sometimes I kind of miss it. The Z car was a hoot to drive. Tearing up the roads on the GSXR, who wouldn't miss that? There are fond stories of long road trips sprinkled throughout my life, all the way back to family vacations. A family-famous one has to do with two families, one station wagon, an impromptu desire to see Niagara Falls, and fog. But two marathon days of 1100 miles each within a week have, I suspect, satiated my thoughts of going driving for a while.


Twice we were nearly forced off the road by one of the 18-wheeled whales of the highway. One driver was talking on the phone in the midst of moderate to heavy traffic all moving at better than 70 miles an hour. The other was reading a newspaper! Really? What kind of brain sits at the controls of 80,000 pounds moving 70 miles per hour reading a newspaper? (I think that comes out to 1,135,534.04 joules of energy, enough to light a 1,135,534.04 watt bulb for one second. Damn brother, pay attention to where you point that thing!)


The trip also provoked a bit of concern over my land dwelling fellow human beings. For, in addition to driving, being back on land means being in hotel, which means being exposed to TV. There were three of them in the breakfast nook alone. Along with my Frosted Flakes I was served a constant stream of utterances from the Orange One who would be King. Utterances that, depending on the tilt of your own inner muse, could be described as gibberish, lunacy, fantasy, treason, or prophecy. It is rumored that there are a couple of other people also involved in the current election campaign, but it would be hard to prove by watching TV. The Orange One was pretty much the only face on the screen and, I have to admit, it looks like a face that would fit well on a box of Frosted Flakes.


All of which is entertaining, serving up tons of advertising dollars (the whole reason TV exists at all), and clearly keeps an entire class of people busy who otherwise would have little else to offer the rest of us. But it also makes one wonder just what the land dwellers are hoping to accomplish? Entertaining is one thing, governing is another, different thing. And the two don't have anything in common. It makes me glad I live on a boat fixed to land with only a few lines easily tossed.

Maybe my land dwelling friends should consider confining all of campaigning - reporting, speeches, policy proposals, promises - to live events that one can attend, or the written word. No TV coverage of any of it. People often say things “off the cuff,” so a politician claiming he “misspoke” or was “misinterpreted” is a given. But that rarely happens with what is written. Politics, decision making, policy, governing, these are things of real value, they matter. TV tends to trivialize everything and everyone. Indeed, the “Orange One” himself is trivialized. I have to admit though, I read his book once upon a time. It didn't make me think “President.” Huckster maybe, thief, poor excuse for a human being , but not "President." Buying a government, and running one, are also two different things. Actually, I suspect Tony Schwartz, who co-authored “The Art of the Deal” would be a better candidate.

Note: For the one or two who might read this blog and support Mr. Trump at the same time, no offense. I tried to take the man seriously but, really? Conspiracy Theorist in Chief? Executive Wooist? Most of the people on the planet crazy enough to think they are the smartest, or the toughest, or the ones with the best words, are not crazy enough to make that claim out loud. Doing so marks one as seriously unhinged.

The tragedy of Orlando unfolded while we were on land as well. TV carried the pictures. Those on screen did their best to add words that mattered, but failed. There were the instant accusations from the usual suspects. No one said anything not scripted, not the NRA, not “the left,” not “the right,” not the politicians, not the President.  CNN, MSNBC, Fox - one knew precisely what they would be saying without bothering to change the channel. There were the usual promises, words of “thoughts and prayers”. Which have, by now, proven to be utterly inconsequential. No one is thinking. No one is listening.

Orlando, San Bernardo, Colorado Springs, Roseburg, Chattanooga, Charleston, Isla Vista, Ft. Hood, Washington DC, Santa Monica, New Town, Brookfield, Minneapolis, Oak Creek, Aurora, Oakland, Seal Beach, Tucson, Manchester, Huntsville, Ft. Hood (again), Binghamton, Dekalb, Omaha, Blacksburg, Salt Lake City...

There is only one word that matters.  One that will count people as more important than profits. One that will elevate the freedom to live above the freedom to kill. One that can change the fear of having to risk living with others into the promise of being able to live with others. Unfortunately, it is one everyone has to agree on before anything can happen. One that those who profit, who love the violence, who need fear to stay in power, will never utter.

Enough.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Night Watch

The first night watch I ever stood was probably as a kid. Not really a night watch per say, just various organizations putting on an  “All Night Bowling Party”. It was as good a way as any to keep people like me off the streets and out of trouble. (Not really, I wasn't that person until a few years later.)

My first job was washing dishes at a fast food joint, working the shift after school. We normally got the kitchen cleaned up by 0100 or so. If I remember correctly I had to carry a letter of authorization so I could drive home. Being just 16 my license had a midnight curfew. Jobs after that included the night shift at an aircraft plant, then jobs where the shifts would run in excess of 24 hours in order to get a job done and out the door. (At non-union shops of course.) Once I landed in the commercial airline / commuter world night shifts were normal. The planes worked all day hauling people around, we worked all night making sure they were ready to go out the next day. I was the shop manager and responsible for hiring the crew. Night shift mechanics were a tough lot, doing tough work in the wee hours of the morning. Good at what they did, not easy to manage, and not normally the kind of people you take home for Sunday dinner.

Once I moved from the shop to the front seat of an airplane, night watches were a bit more regular. Many a pilot learned the basics to being a hard core professional plying the night freight runs that cross the country so you can absolutely, positively, get it the next day. Air ambulance and charter flying regularly happen overnight, as do international and corporate flights.

Sailors, even those of us who barely qualify or rarely get too far from shore, will regularly see a night through from start to finish. Have the weather get frisky and an entire anchorage or mooring field will enjoy the salt water version of an “All Night Bowling Party”.

Tonight, though, I stand a very different kind of night watch. Mom lies a couple of feet away, already lost to this world but her body hanging on to the habit of breathing. They have her on O2 for reasons I don't really understand. An IV line gives the nurses an easy way to administer the drugs that keep her comfortable. Earlier, much of the clan was gathered in her room, family who have been standing the watches, and they can use the break.

This is a quiet watch, the burble of the O2, the occasional soft grind of the IV pumps, Mom's slow breathing, the soft steps of care givers walking the hall; that's all there is to mark the passing hours. At four breaths a minute, sometimes three, the focus is simple, is there another breath after this? Certainly there can't be many, a few hundred, if that. Seems an odd way to measure out the last of a life, but there it is.

I can't really do anything, yet the feeling is that one of us should be here, that Mom not be alone. But, sitting here in this room I know one thing for sure: Mom is not alone, but I am. What ever gossamer thread some might imagine to be holding her to this world is but an illusion. In this room, at this moment, lies an old body long used, used well, and now used up. What ever purpose the cosmos had for it has been met. Also, in this room and at this moment, lies the mystery that haunts all of our days. Right here, right next to me; I can see it, touch it, feel its presence...but it remains a mystery.

Hours slip by. Daylight starts to show through the window shades. Social lore had me thinking that the dark hours after midnight would likely be the time, but Mom was the same. In fact her breathing had improved as the night wore on. Light now, still quiet, though a shoe scuff here or a door closing there made it clear the day was stirring. A change in the cadence of Mom's breathing caught my attention. For the first time since my arriving, emotions flitted across her forehead and lips. I started to stoke her hair, wondering if I should call someone in, deciding instead that, whatever was happening would happen regardless. A deep breath, a pause, another deep breath...

There was no sense of presence and no sense of loss, only a profound stillness. Mom's body, animated only moments before, now appeared as a thing long hushed, an ancient monument. No definition of “time” seemed capable of spanning the difference. An official pronouncement was made, calls were initiated, the clan began to gather and the stillness faded into the background.

The watch was done.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Storms...

Living on a boat puts one in close proximity to storms. There are the thunderstorms that rampage across Biscayne Bay on a summer afternoon, big and dark and looking like the Mother Ship has finally arrived. There are cold front storms that rage across the Abaco Sea, pulling out bow chocks and making for long, sleepless nights. Among the Grand daddy of storms are the hurricanes that fill whole chucks of ocean and cause some of us tiny humans to spend several days prepping a boat while making plans to run and hide as far inland as we can get.

At the moment we are getting bashed around by a not-quite-a-hurricane tropical storm. Winds are pushing 50 knots in the gusts, breaking waves breach the inlet to the small basin of the boat yard, and the finger pier disappeared under water with the near new moon high tide + storm surge. Deb spent the day nursing the boat while I worked a full day; outside when the weather gave us a break and inside when the rains and winds raged. All in all I have to admit that I don't much care for tropical storms. This one made for a hard day at work and, with the peak winds forecast to arrive around 0100 with gusts in the 60 knot range, for a mostly sleepless night.

That is more of a problem than usual since we will be heading out in the wee hours of Wednesday morning for a 16 hour drive to PA; where a different kind of storm awaits. It has been eight moths since my Dad passed away, and my Mom's broken heart has started to falter. She was moved into hospice care a day or so ago. Family is gathering and the necessary things are being done, for it isn't like we haven't seen this day coming. Indeed, in some ways it is amazing that she managed this long.

And though it is a hard time, I am also heartened. Her's was a good life, and it is drawing to a good close. Two of my brothers and my sister are there and, understanding Mom's wishes, realized that once a race is over, people need to quit running. Mom doesn't need to be told that she needs to eat, needs to take her meds, needs to do this or needs to do that. Body and mind have moved passed "needs", and it was time to make a different choice.

Those at the hospice have been amazingly kind, honest, and understanding. Mom is not fighting her way, crushed by a debilitating and painful disease, sick and hurt and scared. She is surrounded by kind hearts, by gentle touches, by words of love and comfort. All the cares and trials of this life have already fallen by the wayside. No one could ask for anything more for a person they love.

We have a habit in this country of seeing anything we don't like, don't understand, or that makes us uncomfortable, as “the enemy”, dying being near the top of that list. Dying often comes wrapped in the worst kinds of tragedy that we all dread, involving the young, steeped in violence, or appearing out of nowhere on an otherwise unremarkable day to rend giant holes in our lives. But it is also a part of the only life we know, and it can be met - and endured - with dignity, with grace, and with courage.

It isn't likely that we can make it to PA before Mom leaves. Pinned by a tropical storm, with nearly 1100 miles to cover once we can get going...some things you can do, some things just can't happen. But it doesn't matter. Family will gather. Love will be shared. And life will go on...

...in spite of the storm.


Saturday, June 4, 2016

Just some beauty for you this Saturday

My grandson has been working in the garden with his 80-year old neighbor, so when we chatted with him on the phone a few days ago he was asking if there were any flowers around us. Grampy-T being Grampy, said no. He's a bit busy being Worker Man to notice things like flowers, so I took some time to take some photos of the beautiful flowers around here just for my grandson. I also included some photos from the observation tower in the park. Enjoy!




These trees bloom late in Spring. I have to stop and look at this one every time I ride by.
All the Osprey babies are getting ready to take flight.. There are a half dozen broods in nests around here.
Turtles are everywhere in the park

View from the observation tower in the park

View from the observation tower in the park
One of the many amazing trees around here.

A Spanish moss swing in the tree. Spanish moss is everywhere here.