Sunday, December 28, 2008

Global warming

Last week it didn't seem like global warming was having much of an impact on this winter; cold, cold and more cold! This week is a different story with temperatures near 70 degrees, rain, thunderstorms and even a tornado warning. (Within a week of New Year's day!) Today was warm enough for me to take the GSXR out for a romp. A short romp as the wind chill at speed sucked some of the warmth out of the day. The bad news is, with at least 2 and a half months to go, I got to thinking of spring. I have been spending a lot of time reading about sailboats trying to get through this winter.

One fun present for me this Christmas was a subscription to "Good Old Boat, The Sailing magazine for the REST of us!" You can read that as "those of us with little money." It is a good read with lots of boats older than Nomad that look in their prime. Good articles about servicing and replacing older systems fill the pages and somehow they make most of it sound like fun. (That's a pretty good trick if you have spent any time working on boats.) I've also found some good places on the web to read boat reviews and have run across a make or two that I hope to learn more about, maybe look at when we get to the next boat show. Also, if plans hold, I'll be in Ft. Lauderdale for a couple of days at the end of January. That would be a good time to find a boat or two to look at, maybe pretend that I can actually buy one of these days. Maybe I should just look for a job down there?

One of those boat reviews was on the Island Packet 460, close to the 465 that Deb and I looked at while in Annapolis. It sparked warm memories of a very good trip, and that's just the kind of thing a person needs to get through a winter.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas away from a frozen boat

It is getting pretty close to Christmas. There will be family get-togethers, lots of fun, laughter and celebrations. I'm not sure what my schedule will be since there is a flight hanging out there I will probably have to cover, but I will get a chance to be with all of my girls over the next few weeks. That is a pretty special thing.

In a way Christmas has gotten a bit harder. I can't be all the places I want to be. My parents are near Pittsburgh, as is Deb's Dad and Step-Mom. Brothers and sisters are also in Pittsburgh with one hanging out near Charlotte. Amber, Mike, Catherine and Mary are in Cape Cod, and though we will see them in a couple of days (Yeah!) next year their Christmas will be in Cape Cod. Kristin and Brian will Christmas in Indy this year, Kristin way too close to being due to venture too far from home. (Yeah again!) My family is now three families which sounds pretty amazing until I realize that I can't even count how many families my parent's "family" has become; seven, eight, more? Hard to tell.

Maybe one day Deb's and my Christmas will be celebrated rocking gently at anchor somewhere warm. (Please! The older I get the less I care for this "4-degree" stuff.) Even though we haven't been to the boat in a couple of weeks thoughts of being back on Nomad and ghosting across the lake again help with the cold, short days of winter. Already today the sun shone one minute longer than it did yesterday, tomorrow will be a bit longer again. But if we ever make it to that warm beech on a Christmas morning, thoughts of family will surely fill that day as they do these.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Musings of a "perfect" day

The rain hitting the windshield at 220 KIAS was making an amazing amount of noise. A rogue early winter front had stirred up thunderstorms and tornado watch boxes that slashed across every place we were supposed to go this day. One storm had settled over the Memphis airport closing it to inbound traffic. This was a bit of a concern since Memphis was our stated alternate should the clouds at Tunica be closer to the ground than we were allowed to get on the GPS approach. Normally we would carry enough gas to have an alternate to the alternate but the first stop of the day had been in Caruthersville. That airport is only 4000 feet long. Hauling a bunch of extra Jet A in and out of there, along with 6 passengers, was really not an option.

Our little jet's RADAR was painting a solid bit of red just ahead so I turned to ensure that the passengers all had their seat belts tight and had stowed the normal stuff corporate people have out in the back of an airplane, charts, books, computers, etc. It looked like the rest of the ride into Tunica was going to be a bit bumpy.

By day's end we would do two GPS approaches in rain and thick clouds, dodge a couple of thunderstorms, shed a little ice, and finish a night ILS approach with a landing on a rain soaked runway in a 15 knot direct cross-wind. It was a perfect day of flying.

I suspect the folks in the back of the airplane had a different opinion of how good a day it was. For them it was a bouncy, loud, somewhat uncomfortable day spent going from place to place in a narrow little tube; a part of their job they simply had to endure. Like most of the people I have worked for, (even one who fired me) they were really glad to have me up front on days when the sun wasn't shining, the wind wasn't calm and the runways weren't very long. They would rather have stayed home but there were people to meet and places to go...

Had we taken Nomad instead (and if the route was over water instead of land) it would have taken about 3 days and 16 hours to cover the 491 nautical miles flown that day. (Which is slightly longer than it took the Apollo astronauts to get to the moon. Weird.) A journey that long in Nomad would seem like a major adventure to me. Add in the same kind of rain and wind and I'll bet I would be wondering just what the heck I thought I was doing, going out in such stuff. And yet I know there are sailors in our little marina who would consider such a trip nearly perfect. Some day I hope to be one of them.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Winter's cold

"Winter's cold," can be interpreted a couple of different ways. "Winter is cold," is one. "Winter's cold," is another, taken that the chilly temperatures that belong to winter are being shared with us. And then there is the "winter's cold" that includes a stuffed up head, sniffling and constant cough that just won't go away. Around the St. Louis branch of the Akey clan all three takes on "Winter's cold," are equally valid.

This morning Deb had to run up to spend some time with Melanie so I was free to clunk around the house, run out to the airport, or go visit little Nomad to see how she was doing. The first thought was the airport, it isn't that far away and there are folks there I like to see. But Nomad has been on her own for a couple of weeks now and temperatures in the teens have returned for night time lows. I convinced myself I was feeling pretty good this morning so I headed out to Boulder.

The marina was completely empty, as in not a single soul anywhere. The ice has crept back into the dock area and several boats are completely encased. Even surrounded by bubblers Nomad's stern has ice against it. The boats with bubblers have ice whiskers growing off the hulls right at the water line where cold water gets splashed. Fenders are growing frozen stalagmites that trail onto and hold in place perfectly round little ice islands. Bubbler and ice noises are the only sounds.

With just enough of the cover open to gain entry and the heater on, Nomad's little interior warmed up pretty quickly. It also seemed like a good idea to put a top charge on the batteries and I turned on all the interior lights to chase the gloom away. There was a little ice in the bilge so I dumped in the last of our anti-freeze, checked all the dock lines and poked my head into both cockpit lockers looking for trouble. Everything looked shipshape so I retreated back into the warmth of the cabin. Inside I managed a quick repair on the toilet seat (there is always something to fix). But once again I had overestimated my personal energy state. Though I was hoping to putter around the boat for a good part of the day it was clearly better to head for home. The drive was a long one.

It isn't even officially winter yet but I will be glad when "Winter's cold" starts to give way to felling better and getting warmer.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Playing Hooky

Yesterday was spent getting the jet squared away for a long week of flying after the holiday. (For all you folks that are enjoying bashing corporate flying, I wish you would stop. Large, highly competitive corporations can no more do without airplanes than they can fax machines and computers.) Tomorrow will be spent doing a little more work on the airplane at the hangar. So today was spent working on Nomad. (I had my phone on me, they could call me if they needed me.)

There were just a few people at the marina today; the owner and his full-time mechanic / welder / engine and all-around-fix-anything guy...and me. Its going to be pretty cold during the nights and we will be away from the boat for about two weeks so I really needed to get the engine winterized. In addition the battery charging thing was just bugging me. (Airplanes, motorcycles or boats I have the same expectation, EVERYTHING needs to work.)

Things got done. I understand a bit more about how the boat works and the wiring improvement is good. The lake reflected blue sky, the seagulls were squawking, it was just cold enough to be comfortable working and the wind wasn't blowing too hard. Toward the end of the day I kind of ran out of steam, (this flu is a tough one) flopping down on the settee for a few minutes to keep from falling down. With the heater running Nomad's cabin was warm and the easy motion of the boat at rest rocked me just short of being asleep. I laid there gathering up enough energy to finish cleaning up tools and closing up the boat, fuzzy headed with aching body, and was maybe the most content person on the planet. Warm summer days and sandy beaches are the dream, but a cozy cabin after a day well spent was a pretty good reality.

I have an idea. Instead of giving untold trillions of dollars to every corporation with their hand out, why not give every family in America a half a mill, step back, and let us see what we can do with it? I know what I would do with mine.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ice in the Drink...

We drove to the marina yesterday (actually Tim drove and I rode the bike after picking it up at the shop where it had been for the last 2 weeks undergoing a major recall inspection) and when we crossed the bridge right before the entrance to the marina where you can look left off the bridge and down the creek all the way to the docks, we were a little shocked to see that the whole creek was frozen over. It's been uncharacteristically cold this November, hitting 17 degrees 2 nights in a row. This was a little discouraging since we hadn't had a chance to finish winterizing Nomad 2 weeks ago due to the family events and a rather unexpected date with the flu. We were greatly relieved to find that the head had not frozen but the batteries were dead so we weren't able to finish winterizing the engine fresh water circulating system. Fortunately it's warming up this week which will give us a few more days to tackle the problem. After spending a few hours tending to all of this, hanging out in Nomad in the darkened cabin (the winter cover is over all the hatches) with the heater on, and traipsing back and forth from the dock to the clubhouse to retrieve things, I discovered that a marina in the winter is a very noisy place. A good bit of the water in and around the docks was frozen, not too thick but probably 3/4" or so, and it turns out that when you walk on floating docks that are surrounded by ice it puts pressure on the ice and makes this very eery high-frequency twang / crack noise that travels along the ice and then echoes into the air, reminiscent of some sci-fi flick. The wind was blowing at a pretty good clip as well, so the rigging of the few boats left in the water was clanging pretty good against the masts. Then there was the sailor trying to move his boat a little closer to the main dock who was grinding through the ice to make the slip of his choice. Some of the ice had managed to break free from the slips that open onto the channel, so those pieces of ice were banging against the boats on that side of the dock. Dominating everything though was the sound of the few bubblers that some had already installed. Noisy creatures they are. It was an unfamiliar place, one that Old Man Winter surely ruled, and I felt a little displaced.

Since I was on the bike and needed to get home before the sun set and the thermometer dropped into unacceptable riding range (At 34 degrees I realize that's up to interpretation), I took off and left Tim to continue to battle the charging issue. I rode the whole 67 miles home thinking of white sandy beaches, warm blue water, and ice in its proper place, floating in fruity drinks with little umbrellas, feeling quite resentful that Old Man Winter had kicked me out of my favorite place to be. It was my first experience with winter in a marina and I have to tell you, I'm not too impressed.

Things I like, (that normal people don't).

It turned out I was wrong about things not freezing on the boat. The fresh water side of the engine cooling loop was iced up and when the engine tuned over the impeller got damaged. The engine had not turned even a full revolution before the battery died, but it was enough. The battery problem became the focus of my troubleshooting. It was turning into a long day.

It had started out pretty well. We had swung by the shop to pick up Deb's bike from the shop and then headed off with me following her to the lake. Little Nomad sat content in her slip but large sheets of ice laid throughout the shallowest parts of the marina. Ice makes a weird noise, similar to that made if you strike a taught cable, a zinging rip of sound, when it is disturbed. The sound of ice gives the marina a whole new and somewhat alien feel.

We treated the head, installed our big cabin cover for the first time, and pulled the Bimini cover. Then my engine struggles started. Even on shore power the batteries were dead, making it impossible to turn the engine over to suck anti-freeze into places it needs to be. The afternoon was fading and Deb still had a hour's ride to do. I finally talked her into heading off to get home before the sun and temperatures both fell, leaving me to play with the boat.

Marinas are a lot like airports deep into night; cold, often windy and mostly abandoned. This was suddenly a very familiar place; just me, a machine and a problem that needs fixed. I was having a blast. I do get a little frustrated working on the boat once in a while, mostly because I'm not always sure what I am doing. Airplanes I know; motorcycles are a long time hobby, but little Nomad's quirks often have me puzzling out systems that (if I do say so myself) are often poorly designed and badly executed. With some troubleshooting it appeared that our shore powered batter charging system wasn't doing its thing. I borrowed a charger and eventually got enough juice into the starting battery to turn the engine over. But even then Nomad was not sucking water as she should which led to the damaged impeller. Changing that was quickly done but by then batteries were once again flat. It was time for a strategic retreat. The weather is supposed to get warmer for a while, I have a few days later in the week when I can take another crack at it, and fun or not, I was just about done in with an hour's drive home myself.

Half way home I figured out what I should have done to do to the engine. It will be a simple procedure and may become the preferred way to treat the engine. The electrical system I simply have to tackle one problem at a time until I get all of the issues resolved. It is going to take some work.

In the morning the jet goes to the shop for some work. Deb's bike need steering head bearings. Nomad needs a new charging system, wiring, and engine work.

I am a happy man.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bodies and Boats and Woolly Buggers

So, about 48 hours after coming down with the flu that swept the family after our Indy get together, I decided to head off to the airport to check on some things. A little breakfast, a quick shower, dressed, shoes on...and right back into my chair. (I think it was picking up the shoes that did it.) The airport can wait until Monday.

The boat however, can't. Last night the temperature dipped to something like 17 degrees around here. That, friends and neighbors, is FREAKING COLD for November. I am not worried about one night's winter blast. If the little pond in our back yard didn't freeze (it didn't) there is not much chance anything on the boat would have. Still, it is time to admit that the sailing season is pretty much over for this year. I know that scientists are sure global warming is a reality and for the most part I believe them. But the woolly buggers around here are almost all black, suggesting they think Nomad will need a little bubble protection from ice before this winter is out. Who am I to argue with woolly buggers?

So beat up body or not tomorrow we need to tend to little Nomad's engine, get her oriented into the winter wind and probably move her to the other side of the slip so she is in place to share a bubblier with Margaritaville. There is some other stuff to do as well but it may have to wait. And this will probably be the first weekend since Nomad joined the family that we will not spend a night on board when not off somewhere else. With only 4 to consider winter is still about #10 on my favorite seasons scale.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


The weekend in Indy was everything a family get-together ought to be. Mom & Dad (mine), Kristin and Brian, Amber and Catherine and Mary, Melanie, Sheri, Paul, Pete and Amy and John and Paul, Kim and Steve, (Never ever miss a chance to see the grand babies and Kristin at the same time! Thanks for coming guys.) Deb and yours truly all added together tested the capacity of Kristin and Brian's little house. We pretty much filled it with talk and laughter, good food, gifts for Kristin (the baby shower being the excuse to get us all together) a lot of catching-up and much love. We also filled a couple of local restaurants, one for dinner Friday night and another for breakfast this morning. A few tears fell when it came time for 6 car loads of the clan to head off in various directions. And a special thanks to Melanie for all of her work in coordinating much the effort to get us all together.

My brother Tommy was the only one missing. His East Coast home is a far stretch away and his wife is working through a medical challenge. Both were sorely missed and many thoughts were with them.

But this is mostly a boat blog. Little Nomad was visited by a couple of real V.I.P.s this weekend; Catherine and Mary. Along with Amber, Melanie, Deb and yours still truly we made the short detour to the marina on the way back to St. Louis. I'm here to say that having grand kids on your sailboat is about the most fun thing there is, even when you stay in the slip. Mary was content to sit in Amber's lap, snug in Nomad's little cabin. Big sister Catherine discovered that sailboats are even more fun than jungle gyms. Up and down the companionway steps she went, undeterred even when Deb put the bottom washboard in to fend off the chill. Those are some pretty steep and tall steps for someone who has yet to reach their second birthday but Catherine mastered the technique. Then she decided that she was the Captain as well, giving orders as to who should sit where around the cockpit. She was a little less thrilled with walking along the deck to the bow. After a short stay near the mast and a couple of quick pictures taken by Aunt Melanie, Catherine was back in the cockpit for yet another trip down into Nomad's cabin.

We are certainly looking forward to the day when they join us on the lake for a sail. And maybe someday we will sail to where ever they are living to spend a summer. Gathering up all the grand kids (how ever many that turns out to be) as crew for a week long sail is a "dream-I-hope-to-see" some day. I would make it happen tomorrow if I could figure out a way.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Slow boat to nowhere

Little Nomad didn't make it out on the lake this weekend. Deb was not feeling 100% and there really was work to do on the boat. So Saturday we winterized the water system, checked over the engine cooling system (again) and tried to turn the boat around to park it stern first against the dock. This seemed like a good idea at the time, it would point the bow into the oncoming winter storms and make access from the cockpit to the dock a lot easier. Deb backed Nomad out of the slip and gave it as good a try as possible, jockeying throttle and helm while trying to keep the bow under control. But the stiff wind had a lot more to say about which way the boat was going than the rudder and underpowered little motor. After several tries she swung the boat close enough to the dock so I could jump on and take a turn. (I had been standing on shore side to handle the lines.) I'm not sure I even got as close as she had and in the end we nosed Nomad into her normal "at dock" orientation and called it a day. Sometimes you get da boat and sometimes da boat gets you.

With Deb fighting a bug we headed home Saturday and spent the rest of the weekend parked in front of the fireplace and watching a series of really bad movies. (Did you ever wonder why Blockbuster has hundreds of titles on the shelves that you have never heard of? Trust me, its because they suck.)

Next weekend its off to Indy for the big party for Kristin. All my girls together in one place; Deb, Kristin, Amber, Melanie, Catherine and Mary; AND my Mom AND my Sister! How cool is that? My Dad and two of three Brothers well be there as well...Indy may never be the same.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Not quite over

Just like the election (with a few votes to be counted here and there) the boating season is not quite over. I hope to get to the marina early tomorrow but a visit to the office has to come first so "early" might be a relative term. A little boat maintenance is first on the "to-do" list. (As usual.)

While at lunch in Bettendorf, Iowa today friend Cooper (my normal crew mate in the Citation) asked how the first season had gone; if I had enjoyed the boat as much as I expected. I told him we had but later I got to thinking about it. We have certainly enjoyed owning little Nomad this year but it has been so much more than that as well. First and foremost we (bad pun warning) tested the waters when it comes to living on a boat full time. We spent just about a month's worth of nights onboard this season and a little more than a month's worth of days sailing. And it was never enough time. I really think, if the lake was within a half hour drive of work, we would spend more nights in the V-berth then we would in the Central West End.

At least until old man winter really arrives. We can't sail south to warmer temps as the lake is only 5 miles long! Since the "door" on the boat is really an overhead hatch that slides back out of the way opening it after a winter night's snowfall will be rude way to start a day. Midnight trips to the bathroom will require planning and perseverance and keeping warm in a boat floating in near freezing water is certainly going to pose a challenge. The Central West End in the middle of February will clearly be the more comfortable abode.

But if we could sail south, or if we lived somewhere warmer year around and with work close enough to the water to live on a boat I suspect we would think seriously about making the move. And that's a pretty impressive thing to figure out before the first season comes to an end.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Almost perfect

This was a pretty good weekend. The only real disappointment was the lack of wind Saturday when Steve and his friends Vince and Karen came out for a sail. With the drifter up little Nomad did her best but putting a few bubbles in an easy wake was all she could make of the wind. We enjoyed the visit anyway and they have an open invitation to try again whenever they like.

Once back in the slip I took to testing the tension of the fore stay by stringing up the hammock and filling it with approximately 175 pounds of dead weight. A little Rum-N-Coke helped keep the test going well into the afternoon. While I was involved with this complex series of equipment assessments Deb was just puttering around by wiring up and assembling the GPS system.

After surviving yet another party at the yacht club with the normal late night stay around a blazing bonfire, we woke up this morning to steady winds in the 9 to 14 knot range. Headed out in the wake of another "early bird" we watched as the newly installed GPS system gave us a continuous readout of our exact speed. This was the first time we had anything but a guess when it came to estimating how fast we have been going across the water and, as it turns out, we have been dissing little Nomad a bit. For all of our talk of our slow cruiser boat we found ourselves making a solid 4+ knots when we might have estimated we were doing about 2. The wind was steady all day and at one point, on a broad reach with a following sea, the GPS clicked up to 6.3 knots. That's just shy of our estimated max hull speed of about 6.7 knots while flying our pretty small jib in winds of 15 knots. Pretty cool stuff! A bit later I was at the helm and got to playing wind gusts against sail to try and bury the gunwales in the water. Nomad never got leaned over quite far enough but we got pretty close.

As an added bonus flocks of giant white pelicans are using the lake as a stop over on their yearly migration. These are just amazingly beautiful birds with white bodies, black tipped wings and bright yellow, almost golden, bills. They are also fantastic fliers. And they are big, six feet and more from wingtip to wingtip. I have to say that they classed up the joint by dropping by. Even the seagulls seemed on their best behavior in light of the visiting dignitaries.

Sadly enough the coming winter and this weekend's time change make for an early setting sun. We were on the bikes this weekend and really wanted to be off the back roads before dark. To do so we had to make the slip by 2 pm. Heading back in I learned we should drop the head sail first, not the main. With the main down and the wind still blowing I simply could not control the bow, making Deb's job out on the deck a little harder than it needed to be. There is some beginner in me yet. While putting Nomad to bed I found some more anti-freeze in the bilge water instead of the engine where it belongs. So next week's first task is yet another search for a coolant leak. Tell me again why we put motors on boats? This little diesel is getting to be a major pain in the butt. But all things considered it was still pretty close to a perfect weekend with friends on board, a fun time Saturday night, and near postcard winds and weather today.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


I'm not so sure about being a sailor but I am certainly not a complete beginner any longer. As our first season of owning and sailing our little boat comes to a close it is kind of amazing just how much we have learned. Still, we have never been out in weather or low visibility, (Low vis on our lake full of obstructions would get some attention!) and honestly, waves in a lake that is about 20 feet deep at max can't really get very big. No chance of burying the bow or getting "green water" up on the deck.

It is fun to not stumble around the rigging trying to figure out what does what. And it was just a few months ago that the sight of Nomad heading to the pump out dock with me at the helm would have boys climbing trees to get a good view, dogs howling and mothers covering the little ones eyes so they wouldn't see the carnage. (Okay, it wasn't quite that bad but it wasn't pretty either.) I don't have to ask how to reef a sail or tighten a forestay whereas not that long ago I didn't know what a "forestay" was.

Flying and motorcycle riding have taught me another thing; just about the time I think I know something a pretty big piece of "humble pie" is about to be served up. Pilots can be a pretty arrogant bunch but only around other people. No pilot is ever arrogant when it comes to the sky. That would be a guaranteed way to get one's ass busted big time. I have noticed a bit of the same with sailors. They do a thing not everybody does and some of them do it a lot better than others of them. But all of them (all of us?) know full well that compared to even a little body of water like Carlyle lake (let alone an ocean) we don't actually amount to much. It takes absolutely no notice of us at all. I read a bit somewhere once upon a time, "The earth will spin and the sun will rise in the morning, birds will sing and fish will swim, and all of this will happen in spite of the wishes of every tyrant and every king that has ever ruled over men."

We are all getting pretty full of the idea that we are about to elect the leader of the free world and set the course of history. Maybe we should all take a deep breath, step back a moment, take a look at the sea or the sky, and remember just who we really are. From 40,000 feet all the feats of mankind actually look pretty small, dwarfed by even the ancient mountains of the east and the scale of the Gulf of Mexico. From just a few miles off shore, certainly no more than 10, land fades from view and we discover that most of the planet is a place we can only visit. This election may be important to us, but it might serve us all to remember that we are not that important. Maybe, if we remembered that, we would treat each other with a bit more kindness, be a little more gentle with our rhetoric, be a little less sure and full of ourselves.

That would be a good thing.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Sailor

Tim said once at the beginning of our venture into sailboat-owning that he couldn't call himself a sailor.....not yet. A sailor to him was someone who had earned the right, who had actually sailed, who had gained the experience of days on the water in all conditions, whose boat had at some point made the transformation from awkward acquaintance to mistress.

While we were on the lake today, in some of the best wind we've had all summer, it occurred to me that we were no longer beginners. We were feeling the subtle shifts of weight and balance, hearing the slightest failing of the sails long before they required serious attention, trimming the sheets ever so slightly to tweek the last little bit of performance, or sometimes simply to ease Nomad's struggle upwind. We were, at last, ahead of the curve instead of behind, engaged in the ages-long dance with the water in a truly remarkable vessel. It was one of those magical days where everything comes together, when you are at peace with yourself and the sun is shining, where life is good and you require nothing more than the moment. I guess at last Tim can call himself a sailor.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

New things

It will be a short weekend on the boat, just tomorrow evening and Saturday. I have to be home Saturday night for an early morning get-up-and-go Sunday to do the second half of a contract trip I started today. We took a Citation Ultra to FL, left it and airlined it home. Sunday we do the reverse. (By we I mean myself and Jon who manages the airplane for a family. He uses all contract pilots for now. The Citation is new to him so he wanted to fly with some people who have time in the airplane before he hires on a permanent FO.)

Anyway, the Citation Ultra is a later model of the Citation I fly for the Isle, with bigger engines and a glass cockpit (somewhat like the one in the airliner I flew). It was a chance to try a new thing, fly with a new person, and see a different airplane. Most fun (beside flying with Jon who is a good guy) was being back in a glass cockpit. Details would bore a non-pilot to tears (and be hard to explain) but trust me, there is a huge difference in the old way we did things in the front end of airplanes and the new ways we do them now.

Nomad is old technology (as I've mentioned before). Even for a sailboat she is "traditional" without any of the "good stuff" now around for controlling sails. But it is all still kind of new to me and new things are what keeps life interesting. Not "new things" so much as in stuff you buy. (Though that can be fun too as evidenced by the new motorcycles that show up in my garage once in a while!) Rather new things as in things you experience and things you learn. They stretch the brain a little, work different muscles, make for different thoughts, shed a new light on something. Try the new thing in an environment that may be a bit of a challenge, like an airplane nose deep in the clouds doing 400 mph (Now where was that button for setting a new altitude?) or a boat banging through building waves (How was it I slow this thing down?) and there is a new emphasis on getting it right.

For example, I have always thought of myself as an independent sort of person. (I know, all us left wingers are supposed to be socialists and expect someone else to take care of us. But that's a whole different discussion for some other kind of blog.) But when I start thinking about living on a sailboat and (perhaps) doing some blue water cruising well, that is independence on a completely new plain. The "new thing" of learning some "old technology" has forced a new perspective on ideas like independence, responsibility, self reliance and being competent.

All of us have a perspective that is a mix of what we are and experience; pilot, parent, (grand parent!) believer, (or not), conservative, Libertarian, fisherman, motorcycle rider, musician, writer, mountain climber... a mix that makes each of us a little different from all the others. Different even while we share some pretty basic things. (Like human and US citizen.) The trick (maybe) is to not let perspectives set like concrete. To stir them around a little once in a while, look at what we think we know from some other angle.

To learn a new thing.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Love - Hate relationship

I love Fall. The cool, crisp air completely devoid of insects makes it actually pleasant to spend time outside in Missouri (something only you Missourians can really appreciate). You can see for miles in the blue sky since the summer haze is gone. The leaves are gorgeous and it's cool enough to sit in the sun and enjoy its warmth. It's a time to enjoy outdoor fires, hot chocolate, chicken soup, and to drag your favorite sweater and wooley socks out of the closet.

Unfortunately, Fall always seems to be followed by Winter. I hate Winter. While every winter's onset is the prospect of endless bleak, gray days, I have a particularly strong desire to avoid this one. The thought of Nomad rocking in slush with inches of snow on her bow is one I don't care much for. We got just a glimpse of how hard life on the water is in the cold this weekend, discovering that everything done on a boat is much more challenging wearing gloves, and no amount of warm clothes seem to be able to protect your cheeks and lips from the biting wind. Bittersweet a sailor's life in the winter - wishing for wind to fill the sails but wanting to find the nook in the cockpit that protects you from its gusts.

We have a few more weeks to enjoy the weather, then time to winterize Nomad and move her to her winter residence a good ways closer to the main dock. We bought a small heater to keep us warm on the nights we brave the elements to check on her, and the test run this weekend was a serious thumbs-up. I guess I'm as ready as can be to endure the long,long winter, but since this blog is, after all, The Retirement Project, I suspect a good bit of time will be spent here daydreaming about warm Caribbean waters and white sandy beaches.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

5 will get you 1, maybe

After all of the fantastic (and fantastically expensive) boats we saw last weekend it was a real pleasure to get back to our modest little Nomad once again. She isn't very new, very big or very fancy, but she is the perfect boat for learning while sailing on our landlocked lake. One thing we discovered this weekend, when the winds are light, you really can't get there from here.

We went out with a friend again on a Friday night sail. The wind was brisk enough to put some heel on the boat and some chill in the air.

Saturday Deb and I pushed off in Nomad around 9:30 to find some light wind blowing straight out of the North. We wanted to head down to the dam (just about due South from the marina) but Nomad doesn't like the wind directly behind her. She actually goes a little better with the wind off one shoulder first then the other (as you are standing at the wheel). Sailors call this being on a "broad reach" and when you turn side to side with your butt to the wind like that, they call it "jibing." We jibed our way down the lake, back and forth from east shore to west, about 10 times. Each tack gaining just a little bit down wind, 5 miles sailed to get maybe 1 in the direction we wanted to go.

Turning for home we were now sailing as close to directly into the wind as we could, something sailors call "close hauled." One would think that we would slowly gain on the marina but it turns out there is a catch. Sailboats always slip a little sideways because of the pressure of the wind on the side of the boat, something they call "leeway." When the winds are light and the boat is going slow, the keel doesn't get much of a bite in the water and the leeway eats up any progress one might otherwise make toward the goal. In other words, no matter how hard we tried there was no heading we could hold that would get us any closer to home port. Without the engine we actually couldn't get from here to there. So we motored back to the dock and tied up just after the sun set in a spectacular display.

This morning the wind was rattling the trees. Just as we were getting ready to cast off a friend who sails Gale Force called in. He had spent the night on the hook because his engine had overheated while he was trying to motor home the night before (sound familiar?). Now he was looking for a tow to get him into the dock. Deb and I volunteered to go get him but as we were clearing the inlet our overheat alarm went off as well! A third friend headed out in Magic Dragon to gather up Gale Force. Since the wind was blowing Deb and I put up sails and went out to play in spite of our ailing motor. Nomad is a sailboat after all. To get in we used the same trick we have before, sailing deep into the inlet and starting the engine at the last possible minute to gain the slip.

Our engine turned out to be an easy fix. In addition to Nomad and Gale Force, we saw Sailing Fox going by under tow (her outboard had died) and we heard that Blue Moon got stranded with dead batteries. There was a bunch of mechanicing going on this afternoon in Boulder!

All things considered it was a pretty cool weekend. The weather was autumn perfection, this morning's sail was fast and fun, we handled a problem with little fuss, and we even got a little work done on the boat. All weekend the normally pea-soup-looking lake water actually reflected the deep blue of the skies and sparkled in the sun. In fact I ended up with a pretty good sunburn on my face from the reflections! I was thinking on the way home that I am one of the luckiest people on the planet. But luck has a habit of setting its own schedule. Deb and I have seen our share of struggles in the past 30 odd years and there are sure to be more to come. At the moment though, the winds are fair and the weather kind. The only thing to do is to accept the gift as it comes and sail on.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Slogging along

I got in pretty late last night after three long days of flying and one overnight. (In Gulfport, where I got a chance to walk the marina in the morning and look at boats.) We drag raced a little cold front into the airport near Indy; landing just before the winds and rain lashed at the runway. Then we flew home in night, IMC skies, buried in clouds and even picking up a little ice. Normally this is one of my favorite things to do but last night I was feeling the miles, nursing a headache, and flying with a slight fever. Somewhere over Nashville (on the first leg) the FMS was telling me we were doing 415 knots over the ground. You couldn't prove it by me. It felt like we were suspended motionless in a sky that wasn't changing. The only things that appeared to be moving at all were the fuel gauges. Instead of being fun it was mostly a slog. I was glad to finally pull up in front of the house.

I need to head off in a little while for another full day of chasing paperwork around but I am still dragging from yesterday. So this will be a day of slogging along, not thinking too far ahead, just getting finished with the current task, making the next step, and then doing the next thing. Eventually I will get to the end of the day and then to the end of the week.

I don't like just slogging along. (Like this election. Does anyone else feel like we are never going to get to the end of this thing?) What is good about slogging along is that we are still moving. Even a slog is progress. Right now I am making progress toward a weekend with Deb on our little Nomad. It may be a slog, it may seem like nothing is moving but the fuel gauge, but it will get me there. Sometimes that is the best we can do and, for today, it is good enough.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Boat (2)

The nitty gritty on the boats.

The Cats in order from top to bottom:

The Antares 44i sits at the top of the heap, the tip of the mountain, the peak of perfection; and is completely out of reach unless mounds of money fall from the sky and land in my back yard. (Money that is actually worth something that is.) To give some idea of how much this thing costs I heard that the one at the show is owned by the dude who runs Haliburton; or maybe it was Blackwater? Anyway we are talking serious throw weight.

The Leopard / 40 or 46 are my personal favorites. There is nothing about these boats I would change except, a) finding a way to put a washer/dryer on the 40, and b) having one registered in my name.

Admiral 38; a close run on the Leopard. I really liked the cathedral ceilings in the hulls that make for a wonderfully open feel to being "down stairs." The main complaint is the finish of the fiberglass inside the boat which is not up to the standards of the Leopard. As a result the boat has a "hollow" sound to it when one is inside and the hulls look a bit industrial.

Lagoon 380. Nice, really nice. Not much to change on this one either but the inside finish is just shy of the Leopard while costing a bit more. It also has vertical windows in the salon which are a good idea for a whole host of reasons; room, not focusing the sun, good visibility, etc. But I think they are a bit ugly. The Admiral looks like a sea-going space ship; the Lagoon like a floating apartment.

Foutaine Pajot Mahe 36. This was a boat at the top of my "going in" list. But for a variety of small reasons it just didn't tug at the heartstrings like the Leopard or Admiral. Still a nice boat and if anyone wants to buy me one for Christmas I promise not to be disappointed.

Seawind 1160. This was another boat I really expected to like. But when we first boarded her I was vastly underwhelmed and just walked off the thing. The next day we got on her again and (for reasons I don't really understand) I liked it much better the second time around. This is a boat that needs to grow on you a little. Still, I don't think it would be much of a colder weather boat without some work.

Mono Hulls
All of the Mono's that I liked are Center Cockpit boats. They are a bit more troublesome to get aboard since the helm station itself is in a kind of tub located about a third of the way forward from the stern. The interiors of all the mono's were glowing wood and well thought out floor plans. (Cats, being much more sensitive to weight, have a lot of white fiberglass.)

Passport. This thing was just flat beautiful inside and out. If I had a choice between this one and an Admiral Cat it would be a hard, hard decision to make.

Island Packet 465. All around very nice boat with a long, blue-water pedigree. It also had a really, really nice master cabin aft. Its big sister, the 485, includes an office that any smart CEO would want to call her own. If you promise not to tell anyone I think the Island Packet is probably the most reasonable, biggest bang for the buck, option that we saw. I would not be surprised at all if we landed on one of these a few years from now. (She also has lines very similar to those of little Nomad.)

Since Deb and I have never actually sailed on a big catamaran the list is a bit premature. (Of course not having done anything like this didn't stop us from jumping in with both feet when it comes to sailboats. I offer as evidence to our willingness to try about anything a 27 foot Com-Pac currently floating in our slip.) The next step of the plan is to spend a few days learning to sail a Cat and taking a coastal cruising course at the same time. There are several 5 day classes offered along the East Coast and we are hoping to take advantage of one of them sometime next spring.

On first brush another consideration is that all of the Cats seem slanted to "warm weather, island hopping" kind of sailing. The Mono's looked a bit more purposeful, like they could take on the Northern climes or Southern Sea and have a fair chance of giving their owners a good time and a cozy place to live. Probably an illusion but something I need to square away in my own thinking. I can easily imagine that Deb and I will not be just warm weather kinds of people, and may look for some sailing where you might find a little snow on the deck once in a while.

For now though, we are going to enjoy the changing season right here on our lake in IL. The next few weekends are "on the boat" weekends. (Well, I might have one contract trip on a Sunday.) I want to put some serious time in on Nomad and just enjoy having the boat and being on the lake. The leaves are starting to change around here and with any luck we will find some wind to play with this month.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Boat (1)

We got home from the airport just a few hours ago. These last 3 days were about as much fun stuffed into one weekend as I can remember, but some of the details will have to wait. It is already getting late and I have an early flight tomorrow, so just the highlights while they are fresh in my mind.

First, a huge "Love you guys!" to Matt, Tiff, Campbell, John and Lara, who made the trip a delight. Matt and Tiff and their daughter Campbell (just a few months older than Catherine) even came with us to the show on Saturday. It was great to get their impression of the ones we liked and they let us use Campbell for "grand kid tests." She approved of all the boats, even climbing under the covers on a couple of the bunks to check out their suitability for a nap. Important stuff. It was also our first time to meet Lara (she and John are recently married) and I was completely charmed.

So what about the show itself? Fantastic if a bit smaller than I thought. The entire show sight would fit in the corner of Oshkosh, the National Business Aviation Association meet, or Sun-N-Fun (3 big aviation shows) and barely be noticed. Still, the docks were stuffed with sailboats of every description and supply vendors filled the tents on shore. Deb and I had plenty of hulls to mull over, and we climbed on and off of literally dozens of boats over the course of two days. Many of them several times. We met and talked with owners. We listened to sales pitches. We gazed at masts and rigging that made Nomad's look short and light. We saw RADARS and plotters, auto-pilots, fantastic interiors, engine rooms to make a mechanic's eyes shine and helm stations that promised adventure far over the horizon. Dock lines creaked, waves slapped gently at a multitude of hulls, the weather was perfect, and all the hardware as shiny as it could be.

Much to my surprise the catamaran vs mono hull debate lingers. We dropped one Cat completely from consideration as a live-aboard boat. (The Gemini 105 for anyone who cares). It was simply too lightly built and too tight inside. We would pick a 45 foot center cockpit mono hull first. In fact the center cockpit boats made a very favorable impression all around, and one was drop-dead gorgeous. (For $1.2 mil new it freaking well better be!) So we are now looking at catamaran v center cockpit monohull. (Aft cockpit mono hulls did fall pretty far out of consideration as well. When the weather goes interesting I don't want a monster sea that close to my ass. More to the point the aft cabin in a center cockpit boat is just amazing.)

But here's the main thing, all boat details aside. Of the numerous center cockpit mono hulls and Cruising Cats we looked at (less the 105) none would be a disappointment. I would call any of them "home" without a second thought; and would point each toward deep water at the first opportunity. For all the boats we lusted over it turns out the boat itself is not the thing. The thing is the going.

So a new debate has taken over from the boat debate. No so much "which" but "when?" Now we are sneaking up on the idea of picking a time, December of 2011 say, or July of 2012. (We haven't gotten that far yet.) When that day comes, put the house up for sale, dump whatever is left that will not fit on a boat, and then find a boat. Work up the list of "most lusted after" (more on that later) get the best boat we can for the money we have, and make it happen.

It is the one thing I didn't really expect to learn at the boat show.


As Tim mentioned in a previous post, I lost a very good 4-legged friend in recent days. Reminiscing about the unconditional friendship that dog gave me for many years led to general thoughts on the subject, and the fact that so much of what appeals about cruising to sailors is the development of friendships. I've been thinking a lot about the issue since then.

Sailing has opened up the door to more friendships for us than any other activity we've been involved with and I've been turning that thought over in my mind trying to decide exactly why that is. In the aviation world there's a huge amount of arrogance, some justified I suppose by the amount of work required to attain the various certifications and hours of experience, and in the motorcycling world an enormous amount of testosterone, neither of which are conducive to the kind of quick, easy friendships that last a long time. Enter sailing, and within 4 months we have a long roster of friends that would spend the day helping us fix our engine in 100 degree heat, just for the asking and a few bottles of the brew of choice. There's no ridicule because your skills aren't as good as the tenants in the next slip, in fact, only an excessive amount of encouragement and acknowledgment that "we've all been there before" Laughter is in abundance, and solid advice flows as freely as the rum and coke. People look out for each other and each other's boats, and when they ask how you've been they genuinely want to know. Going to the marina always means a good dose of "Cheers".

So why is this? At first I thought it was because sailing can be a humbling know the idea of not being able to properly control a machine going a whopping 4 knots. But aviation can also be humbling, and I've been humbled more times than I care to think about on the various bikes I've owned over the years. I suppose it may have something to do with the fact that both aviation and motorcycling tend to draw the severest of the Type-A personalities, but I threw that idea out fairly quickly because so many sailors are also pilots and motorcyclists. After a lot of mulling over this for a week I felt like I was still where I began.

Well...not quite, maybe, because I did manage to come to the conclusion that some things are just better not explained. Friendship in any walk of life is a mystery, and the gift of it, (and the giver), is something not to be taken for granted. It involves trust and caring and empathy and giving and it's most brutal enemy is neglect. The passing of my good buddy Itchy Dog has left a lot of people who loved him hurting, but it has done one good thing. It's made me thankful for each of you I call friend. Good hunting Itchy...

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Boat show...pre

In just a few hours Deb and I should be jumping on a plane and heading for the boat show and a visit with some in the family we rarely get to see. Pretty exciting stuff. Though there is a whole list of boats we want to check out I hope we still have a little time to be surprised, to see some boat we haven't heard of before, maybe run across the "right" one without knowing it yet. I'm sure we will never see all that we want to see in just a day and a half, but it should be pretty cool for Deb to get her first "on the boat" look at the catamarans and center cockpit mono hulls we have been reading about for months. A weekend to spend with her playing in the world's biggest toy store. How much fun is that?

And a good time for it, I say. At the moment it looks like retirement might be a bit further away than we thought. (Us and everyone else with a 401k and a house.) There sure are a bunch of clouds on the horizon and (in boat talk) it might be time to reef the sails and figure this is a storm that will be hard to avoid. It is difficult to see to the other side of this one; a serious economic decline coupled with a political debate that gets uglier, more mean spirited and more filled with hate with each passing day. Maybe this is the way it has always been? The days of Vietnam and Nixon, Watergate and riots, saw bodies lying on University lawns, tear gas in the streets and whole city blocks reduced to war torn rubble. I remember tanks on the roads of D.C. and I doubt that the death toll of those tragic times has ever really been told. It hurts my heart to think that those days may be upon us once again.

We survived it once. But this time the divide may be even deeper, the two sides more vehement, the hate more passionate. No matter which side wins the current election, after the things said and the charges flung how can either claim to represent the whole? Who on the right will willingly support a President Obama? Who on the left a President McCain (or Palin)? It seems that neither side can bare the thought of living in the country the other side wants to build.

And neither side speaks for those of us who would hope the country is big enough for both. When did we decide that the woman who wants to stay home and take care of her family couldn't live next door to the woman who wants to fly airplanes for a living or run a business? Who decided one was better than the other, and when and how? When did we determine that the air was so poisoned by the religious or the atheist that the other couldn't breathe it any more? When did it become my business to tell you who you could love, how you could live, what you could eat or drink (or smoke); and when did it become your job to decide those same things for me? When did it happen that any of us decided that we, and we alone, were the only adults in the room?

Scary times indeed. But for tomorrow and Saturday and Sunday the biggest and baddest debates I want to hear are; catamaran or mono hull, in-mast furling or lazy jacks, hank-on or rollers, and how big an anchor is big enough? In the end we all sail the same sea and a large enough storm can take us all to the bottom.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

On Boat Weekend

We finally made it all the way around a race course. But it wasn't on Nomad and I (clearly) wasn't acting as the skipper. The course, as laid out, was "Olympic Modified." At least one other captain had no more clue what that meant then I did. As he put it, "I know what Olympic means. I know what modified means. But Olympic Modified?"

New friend Parks on "October Breeze" needed crew for this weekend's charity race. Deb and I were more than glad to sign up, learn from a long time sailor and see a new boat. ("October Breeze" by the way, is a sweetheart.) There is a handicap system for sailboats to try and make the racing fun that they call a "perf." (Not sure what that means either.) However it works, I don't think they gave "October Breeze" enough of it for having me on board during a race. Still, we didn't finish last, or even next to last. (Okay, we did finish next to next to last.)

There wasn't much wind on Saturday (big surprise) but we still managed some excitement. At the first turn (sailors call it a "mark") someone did something unexpected, charging through a line of boats where there really wasn't a hole, and causing a real mealy. Friend Kort (guru of the night sail a few weeks ago) got cut-off at the pass and had to fend off the offending boat literally by hand. Since there was 4 our 5 of us all trying to ease around the same floating buoy at the same time a real domino effect ensued. Boats were going in all directions trying to 1) get around the turn without, 2) banging into another boat while, 3) trying to figure out what the wind was doing. The good news is that, whatever the wind was doing, it wasn't doing very hard. So the whole thing unfolded in a kind of slow motion with no harm done.

After the turn Kort's boat and "October Breeze" sailed (drifted more like it) side by side to the next mark within just a couple of feet of each other. The two crews chatted back and forth most of the way. Sailboat "racing" is really a different kind of animal.

There was a big party that night with a wonderful bonfire. This morning we got up, endured our first yacht club membership meeting (pretty much like any kind of membership meeting you have ever attended) and then took Nomad out to see if the 10 mph winds forecast for the day would actually show. They did, in gusts and spurts. Eventually all of the flat spots on the lake filled in with cat's paws, and the wind was more or less (sometimes less than less) steady. The highlight of the day's sail was when Deb got us set up on the best wing-on-wing run we have managed in little Nomad yet. With our big drifter hanging far off the port side and the main shoved over to starboard I think we cut a pretty impressive pose. We used some of the stuff we had picked up from Parks during the race to play with the sails, setting the main sheet and then using the traveler more and adjusting the jib cars, to get the most out of the little wind we found. It all worked pretty well.

Deb ended the weekend with some sad news about a four-legged-friend. Itchy was a happy "airport dog" from her last job that she used to walk during lunch and who was good company in the office day in and day out. Those who have known the love of a good animal will understand her loss.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Skipper Lite

adj. Slang
Having less substance or weight or fewer calories than something else: "lite music, shimmering on the surface and squishy soft at the core" (Mother Jones).

Someone should look into the mysterious law of physics that accounts for the fact that, any desk, anywhere, left unattended for more than 60 seconds, will attract pieces of paper at a rate that seems to defy the 2ed law of thermodynamics. I was away from one of my desks for a couple of days of flying people around so, sure enough, I had to spend today sorting, reading, initialing and forwarding various bits to various places. (Some only had to go as far as the wastebasket at my feet. I expect to get an edict someday requiring me to initial those ones as well, just to verify that I have the authority to give me permission to throw them away.)

Anyway, (and to get to the title of this little piece) during the day I had a short conversation with my boss. He is pretty high up in our organization with a desk full of real problems to deal with. Like many who work at that stratospheric level his problems seem to grow more complex and intractable with each passing day. As it turns out one of my problems, trying to keep the airplane in the sky while finishing up what has grown into the avionics refit from hell, had intersected with one of his problems, just trying to keep the airplane. He assured me that he had prevailed and that I need not update my resume. (Don’t tell anyone, but like every pilot I know my resume is always up to date.) But now would not be a good time for another extended visit to the shop.

So it came to pass that as I was riding home this afternoon (the long way around, explanation in a moment) I was mulling over the realization once again that there are people completely unknown to me and without a care of me at all, who making decisions that could have a direct and immediate impact on my very next day, or even what remains of this one. It was a stark reminder that I am just “Skipper Lite” when it comes to my own life. The reminder was reinforced when I got to the Rt 170 South on ramp...which was blocked by police cars and flashing lights. It seems someone judged important by someone else was going to some kind of debate at Wash U to be held later this evening. This person’s need to move down the road superseded that of hundreds of others judged much less important. (Really, I know about the VP debate but I am ignoring this latest orgy of election showmanship as much as possible. And that is all I intend to say about politics on this blog!)

I know there are conflicting and overwhelming forces that constrain and set the limits on all of our lives…but I hate being “Skipper Lite.” I hate the idea that the rub line of my day is drawn at the whim of others, that I can helm only a few degrees off the wind or up. Someone else can throw the anchor anytime they like bringing me to a dead stop in the water, or punch a hole in the hull and have me scrambling for a safe harbor where none show on the charts.

As I have said before that is one of the things I love about being in the sky. With the wheels in the wells, the air passing by a 500 + mph, 8 miles high in a sky full of weather, the Pilot in Command is just that. The outcome of the flight depends almost entirely on his or her decisions, skills and insights. The beauty of high altitude flight, the storms and the stars and the sunsets and the clouds; the new places and the perfect landings; the elation of the rush down the runway for the day’s initial departure and the magic of that very first foot of altitude; as wonderful as it all is, it turns out these are not the things that draw me back to the cockpit time after time.

And so I have discovered the lure of living on a boat. It isn’t just the beauty of the water, the rush of the wind in the sails, the sound of the rigging, the new places to see and the new things to learn. It turns out sails really are like wings. When each is filled with the wind “Skipper Lite” is forced to stay behind. Once the land recedes (below or behind it does not matter) then a person can be responsible for the journey. The directions ours to figure out, the starts and stops ours to chose.

For some maybe, none of this matters at all. Maybe for most. For others it is all that matters. I guess I am one of the "others."

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Off Boat Weekends and favorite places

Our schedule of making it to the boat every other weekend continues, this past one spent in Indy. We spent the time visiting Kristin and Brain and helping them do a few projects on the house to get it ready for the colder temperatures of winter. The ride out Friday night was much better then our last ride between St. Louis and Indy though it was a little cool after the sun disappeared from our mirrors. The time spent visiting was great (as always) and the ride home today was a blast. Instead of yet another run on Rt 70 we took the back road (Rt 40) and enjoyed some two lane wanderings. The visit, and in particular the work, reminded me that there are some things to do around here as well. The house doesn't need any winter prep but there are a couple of other projects still incomplete.

Nomad (our other house) needs both winter prep and has several projects still incomplete. We are going to leave her in the water this year in hopes of getting in as many sailing days as we can. Friends from the marina have told stories of how the best sailing of last year came in November. We would hate to miss some good days. But as usual timing is everything. Winterize too soon and one will find one's self dock bound when the breeze is stirring and the halyards are banging away impatient to lift sails. Part of winterizing the boat is treating the engine cooling system, (yes that engine cooling system) which makes the engine inoperable. Well not exactly inoperable, but after operating it would need treated yet again.

Winterize too late and bad things can happen, up to and including burst lines which can then put little Nomad on the bottom. Clearly erring on the side of caution is the better part of valor. Still, we are pretty safe through the end of November and are looking forward to a few more weekends where we can take to the lake.

Like next weekend. Last week was recurrent training for me. Not my favorite thing even when it goes well which, this trip to Dallas, it didn't. Classroom time was a disappointment and the simulator we used was tired. In addition to a continuous string of minor glitches it suffer a major failure on each of my "flights." Not a good thing given the amount of $$ such training costs these days. Next week, (starting first thing in the morning actually) we get the airplane from maintenance and head out for a couple of days of flying. (Finally! Deb loves me but will be glad to get me out of the house and back in the air for a couple of days. She says I get crabby when I'm on the ground this long, which I claim is a slight exaggeration.) Even then by the end of the week I'll be pretty glad to be back on Nomad for a day or so.

It seems a little odd how our little boat, in it's remote slip at an out-of-the-way marina tucked away on a land locked lake, has so quickly become one of my favorite places. I'm sure part of the charm is that it is all pretty new. The forest of masts along the docks, the noises and the smells, the things we need to do and the people we meet, all fall far outside of my normal routine. The definition of routine in my life is sitting in the jet at 41,000 feet doing 550 mph. I know exactly what to expect, know pretty much what I am going to see (which is still pretty cool stuff) and as my coffee cup at work claims, "I love the smell of jet fuel in the morning." Yet somehow that is also one of my favorite places.

Come to think of it, hustling down Rt 40 with Deb in the lead is a favorite place, as is Cape Cod and Indy, Monroeville, St. Louis, just about anyplace that has an ocean lapping at its shores, or has mountains or a desert. I wonder if there is a limit to how many "favorite places" a person can have before they are not "favorite places" any more? Anyway, Nomad has become another one of mine.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Racing Nomad

Well, we tried to race Nomad but the wind was pretty light and, truth to tell, when it comes to racing I'm not very skilled. I can get where we want to go, eventually, sometimes the long way around...but that is not racing.

Like Deb I was just amazed at the night sail and it was so much fun to be out in a good wind again. Bashing our way through waves that threw spray into the cockpit, heeling hard, (We actually dragged the end of the boom in the water a couple of times!) and listening to the water rush past the hull are the things that make sailing, well, sailing. Throw in the moon light and the dark, the reflections and the dance of waves in the dark and it was close to being magic. I sure hope we get to do a lot more sailing after the sun goes down. I also hope that fall brings a few more breezy days for us to go out and play.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The wind that was and the race that wasn't

I've come to the conclusion that all weather forecasters are clueless.

Boulder Yacht Club was sponsoring a race on Saturday so some of us had gathered in the club house the night before for dinner and to talk about the upcoming race. Discussions over dinner centered around the lack of wind that evening and whether the Saturday forecast of 5-10 would actually come to pass. You have to understand that sailors are an obsessive lot, obsessed with only one thing: wind. Clubhouse discussions are nearly always comprised of strong winds, knock-down gusts, hurricane remnants, microbursts, or the lack of any of the aforementioned. Come 8:30 or so, one of the guys left the building for a moment to use the facilities across the way. He returned with a big grin to inform us all that it was blowing - really blowing. Within 15 minutes we were crew for a night sail on a Catalina 27 owned and frequently sailed by Kort from a slip just a few down from Nomad. This being our first night sail at all, we had no frame of reference and were completely delighted to find ourselves racing across 2 ft waves in the pitch black, guided only by the compass, the GPS, and our combined knowledge of the lake. At some points we were heeled over to the point that I was very nearly standing vertical as I braced my feet on the opposite cockpit seat. Tim got to man the helm through most of the sail which he thoroughly enjoyed. He was working incredibly hard to keep the boat on course though. After an hour or so the wind started to settle a little, the moon came out, and we worked our way back to the marina wing-on-wing on a downwind breeze. It was absolutely the most fabulous sail we've had in a while, and completely (did I say "completely"?) un-forecast by the weather experts.

Saturday, race day, dawns with just the tiniest bit of movement in the clubhouse flag. Forecasters are still sticking to their 5-10 prediction, but unbeknownst to them, the wind had come and gone the night before. We headed out in Nomad to attempt the race course, only to give up a few hours later after only having completed one leg of the course, even with the drifter on.

The moral of the story is quite appropriate to many things in life. Don't pay any attention to the weather forecasters. When the wind blows, go sailing. If you wait till the planned race it may not be there, and you just might miss the best sailing ever.

Captain's Quarters

I met Tim at the boat on Thursday night because he was going to sail with some friends from the Com-pac forum early Friday. We spend a night on the boat in the middle of the week fairly often, but this is the first chilly night that we have, so we had to dig the new quilt out from under the V-berth. I bought the quilt because it's ultra-light and made of some kind of silky material that would dry quickly in the event that it got wet. For those of you who have never actually lived on a boat and think you might want to some day, take note: this is a good plan, since everything that is on a boat will eventually get wet. If it doesn't get wet from the bow spray coming in the portholes while you sail, it will get wet when you don't move quickly enough to close the hatch that resides directly over the V-berth when it starts raining at 2:30am, or it will get wet when you come in the boat with wet rain gear on, or it will get wet when the water jug you have resting on the shelf above it suddenly decides to spring a leak.

But I digress. Friday morning rolls around and I have to be out of bed by 5:45 in order to make it to work on time. Alas, the quilt seems to work even better than anticipated and it turns out that getting out of bed to go to work is much harder when that bed is gently rocking on the water and an unexpectedly cool breeze is wafting through the hatch and you are snuggled deep under this fabulous quilt. Being the self-disciplined person that I am I managed to pull it off, but not by much. Here's a picture of the V-berth with the new quilt.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Looking East, (or West or South)

Tomorrow I hope to head to the boat and stay over until Saturday evening. (I leave for Dallas Sunday to spend a few days sitting in The Box.) Though generally a good thing (being at the boat not sitting in The Box) I’m feeling restless and a bit disconnected from my own life. I get this way sometimes. I’m sure it’s a mental defect left over from serving endless years sitting in classrooms and dreaming about being anywhere else. When working mostly means flying then working isn’t so bad. (Flying, after all, is about the perfect job for a person with near terminal wanderlust.) When working means mostly gathering papers on my desk, reviewing them, initialing them, and then carrying them over to another desk? Then I have bad flashbacks to Jr. High. Not that Jr. High was any better or worse than Sr. High, grade school, kindergarten or tech school. I pretty much hated them all.

But back then I didn’t own a sailboat, one that can (supposedly) carry me away to just about anyplace on the planet that is washed by saltwater. So right about now I’m thinking it’s a good thing Nomad is in a lake. Of course even if Nomad had access to saltwater it would be impossible to just sail away. I’m not exactly sure why it would be impossible though I suspect there are laws somewhere about just leaving all your stuff behind for someone else to worry about. When I get like this there is a bit from J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories that flits through my mind. I can’t say that it actually helps any or that I even know what it means. Maybe Tolkien didn’t either? But it sounds good and tugs at the wanderer in me. So maybe when I get to the dock I’ll pretend that the lake flows into a river that leads to a gulf that opens up on an ocean. We can’t leave just yet but knowing that we are trying to some day does kind of help.

“Around the corner there may wait some unknown path or hidden gate.
And though I oft have passed them by the day will come at last when I
Will take the secret paths that run
East of the Moon
West of the Sun”

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Bucket List

I've been accused of a lot of things during the course of my life by a lot of different people in all walks of life. After watching The Bucket List this evening, and spending that 2 hours perusing the various thoughts and emotions such a film provokes, it occurred to me that the central theme of all these accusations seems to be that I'm a rush junkie, that I have too many dangerous hobbies that put my family at risk. Somewhere around Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson's failed attempt to see Mt. Everest I realized that I could more properly be characterized as a life junkie. I would much rather spend the afternoon astride 170 ponies blazing a path through Ike's aftermath on route 70 than watching it from the cab of a Silverado. I would have missed the smell of the fajitas from the Mexican restaurant and the guy's pipe smoke wafting out of the old Cadillac. I would never have noticed the smell of the Mississippi river as we approached the arch. I would have missed the 6 year old girl drawing pictures in the steamed up back window of the SUV and her surprised face as she pointed at me and said, "Look Mommy it's a girl!" I would definitely miss the total satisfaction of having completed a particularly difficult rock climbing route, and the thrill of having the gunnels in the water on a particularly windy day at the lake. I would have missed (OK all you macho guys skip this part) being wrapped up in Tim's arms as he held us both tightly to the railing on the bleachers this weekend in the 60 mph gusts that finally ended the race. Maybe I am a rush junkie. Or maybe the real "rush" junkies are the ones rushing through life without ever experiencing it.

So what's on my Bucket List you say? I've crossed off most of it: the marrying-my-best-friend one, the pilot's-license one, the fastest-production-motorcycle-in-the-world one, the spelunking and rock climbing and aerobatics ones. I add one and scratch one as I go through my life. Some have been there a while like the desire to see where my ancestors came from in Scotland and Ireland some day and some have only recently been added like the living-on-the-sailboat one. I guess in a way this blog is my Bucket List, the description of living life large. A "rush junkie" you say? Absolutely - I want to experience every sight, smell, taste, sound, and feel that my days have to offer, up close and personal.

Apparent Wind

In sailing terms my apparent wind was directly on the bow at around 115 knots. Of course that would be a pretty ugly (and possibly fatal) ride on a sailboat. In this case the “bow” was the nose fairing on my GSXR 1000 and the apparent wind was the combination of our indicated speed of around 90 mph and the 20 to 30 mph wind we were bashing our way through. We were on our way home from the inaugural Moto GP race at the Indianapolis Speedway and a weekend visit with Kristin and Brian.

To most people the weekend would have to rank as a near total bust. As improbable as it sounds a hurricane had formed itself off the coast of Africa, traveled across the Atlantic, beat up Cuba and Hayti, filled the Gulf, hammered Texas, flowed northeast and arrived at the Brickyard at the exact same time that the first ever Moto GP race at the venerable facility was scheduled to start. What are the odds of that? (Well, 100% apparently.) Friday practice should have been done on wave runners instead of motorcycles. There was standing water all over the track and a literal stream flowing across turn one. This did not prevent the Moto GP guys from howling down the front straight at better then 150 mph and braking, somehow in all the water standing on the front straight, to plow though even more water at a lean and at some still insane speed. Saturday was nice in spite of the forecast. Brian and I got to watch the only laps to be turned all weekend on a dry track and by GP qualifying time those guys were absolutely flying.

Sunday saw Deb and I high in the stands waiting for a race that might never start. We had scrambled all weekend making travel plans to ensure that we got home Sunday night regardless of the weather (work called). If they had rescheduled the race for Monday we would simply have to try again another year. As it turned out they started the race, got in about 16 laps in steadily deteriorating weather, and finally cried “Uncle” and threw in the red flag. By then it looked like the only person still “racing” was a bloke named Valentino Rossi, (5 times world Champ and looking to gain the title again this year). Everyone else looked to be just hanging on for dear life. Understandable. Up in the stands we spectators were riding out driving rains and breathtaking winds. I don’t know how high the gusts were, but it was certainly the highest winds I have ever felt while standing outside and exposed. Debris was flying all over the place, cans and plastic and even a cooler or two. The famous square pole that sits near the start/finish line at Indy to list the race positions was visibly swaying, power off, lights out and dark. It was a bit of a ride for everyone, racers and watchers alike.

Anyway, after a long day at the track and “good-byes” at Kristin and Brian’s house, here we were running for home and still being spit on by the diminishing energy that was once known as “Ike.” Night fell as Deb kept an unrelenting pace, her big ZX-14 oblivious to the dying storm and thundering westward. The GSXR and I trailed along, me laughing at us two grandparents being out on a night like this. I don’t know where it comes from, this strange twist of the mind that finds life and joy in being nose to nose with dying hurricanes, bashing through a dark night on a pair of motorcycles, or thinking about heading to sea in a man made craft driven by wind in sails. What most would call a weekend ruined I recall as a low-key kind of adventure, good story stuff, and something I’m glad I didn’t miss.

Adventures seem to work that way. We should have taken the truck. We knew the weather was iffy, I knew work would probably call and it didn't take a pilot to suspect that Sunday could be a tough day for anyone outside. But we took the bikes instead. Once on the bikes we should have bailed out Saturday evening and run for home before the storm. Sure we would have missed the race, but how much sense does it make to risk that kind of possible ride for a couple of hundred dollars in tickets? At the last minute, with the rain still falling and the wind still blowing, we could have left the bikes in Indy for a couple of weeks and used the kids' car to get home. We mounted up instead, encased in multiple layers against the falling temps.

It was a fun ride home and a really good weekend. Next week we get back to Nomad and I may get a chance to show her to a couple from Kansas City who are looking to by a Com-Pac of their own. (No, Nomad is not for sale. They just want to see one before writing a check.)