Sunday, June 29, 2008

To the Dam and Back

We just got back from our first real weekend of sailing. Several boats from the yacht club made the trek 4 miles to the dam at the south end of the lake to raft up together and watch the fireworks. We had incredible weather for this time of year, in the mid-seventies and low humidity. After a couple hours of various work projects, including the fitting of the new screen door we built for the companionway, we were off. The winds were 16 gusting to 22 and exactly from the direction we wanted to go (this is bad on a sailboat for those of you who don't know), so it took us about 20 tacks back and forth (which Tim did incredibly well and I did unbelievably poorly) and 5 hours of sailing to go 4 miles. Why, you ask, might someone want to do this? Because it's a kick sitting there realizing that in this day of extraordinary gas prices, you are making a 6,000 pound piece of fiberglass and teak slice through the water with nothing but the power of the wind. Pretty amazing if you ask me. Here is a picture of Nomad rafted up with the other boats.

And a picture of her captain along with a lot of other people from Boulder Yacht Club

And a picture of some of the amazing fireworks

We were completely beat after the day of sailing and headed to bed but not for long - a thunderstorm rolled in over the lake and had us moving pretty quickly to close the hatches and the companionway. We were really glad to have the cool weather since the boat had to be closed up tight. The storm passed before long and we were able to open the hatch soon after that and watch the stars. I could see Orion right out the hatch over my head and I was using it to make sure that we weren't dragging anchor. As I lay there I wondered how many other sailors over the centuries have done that?

We left pretty early this morning and headed back. The wind was forecast to be gusting 26-30 knots so we decided to put up a reefed mainsail, which for you non-sailors is a shortened sail. This turned out to be plenty and we made it all the way back to the marina in 2 hours with the wind pushing us from behind. The only problem was the waves which were coming off our port stern and causing the boat to roll pretty bad. Of course it was 3/4 of the way back before we realized that if we turned just a little bit further downwind we could avoid most of the rolling (Note to self: watch the expert sailor who leaves just before you to see what he does...) I took this video for my daughter Kristin who has motion problems in the front of my truck let alone in beam seas.

We made it back to the marina before lunch after dropping the mainsail with much more grace than before, and had a chance to use the pump-out station for the first time. First time for everything and definitely not the last for that.

After some badly needed cleanup of lines, sails, covers, etc., we sat under the porch at the marina and watched another rain shower roll in. The air was clean and crisp and as we sat there the hallyards on the boats were all dancing in the wind making the marina sound like one of those big wind chimes with the long tubes.

It just doesn't get much better than this.

Beams, reaches and waves

Our first weekend out on little Nomad was, (by my humble estimation) a huge success. Saturday morning saw us arriving at the marina around 9:30. We were a little later then we first intended but it so happens I ran across the MotoGP race live via Internet at about 6:30 in the morning, (it was mid-afternoon in Assen where the race was being run). Casey Stoner was destroying the field, putting better then 10 seconds on the second place finisher. In an amazing display of patience Deb puttered around the house waiting for the race to end, then we headed out for the dock.

As usual there was some work to do before we could leave the dock. First and foremost was fitting the screen door Deb and I designed and built to fit over the companionway. It works better then I thought it would and looks pretty sharp to boot. We got several nice complements and it completely frustrated the squadrons of mud wasps looking for places to build new nests.

The plan for the weekend’s adventure was to sail the length of the lake to the dam, tie up with boats from our marina in a thing called “rafting,” share some food, drink and stories, watch the fireworks display, spend the night, and sail home on Sunday. As always the plan was made with one eye on the weather. The forecast for both days included a lot of wind, (good for sailboats) rain showers, (a minor annoyance) and thunderstorms, (mmm…not good). But Saturday morning the sky was blue and the wind blowing not much more than 20 mph, (about 17 knots). It seemed reasonable so off we went. Deb was at the helm for this departure and, though a little nervous, she eased Nomad out of the slip with a touch of √©lan that was completely lacking on my first try. Once clear of the “No Wake” zone we hoisted sail. I’m getting better at that, having learned my lesson from the last time. Under full sail little Nomad took a bone in her teeth, (that’s the white water at the bow of a ship making good speed) and we headed off in a direction just shy of 40 degrees off the heading we needed to get to the dam. (And that, friends, is known as a “close reach” or “close hauled”.) It was a blast. At times little Nomad was heeled over slightly more than 20 degrees as she pounded her way down the lake. We probably had a little too much sail up, when the wind gusted (I think it was blowing a little harder than the forecast) we had to let the main sail go a little loose, (sailors call that easing the sheet) to ease up on the heel and hold our course. We tacked back and forth with our destination first 40 degrees off of one side of the bow, then 40 degrees off the other, trying to keep track of exactly where we were on the lake, watching for other boats, and trying to figure out which boats were in a race and where they might be racing. (At the end of the day we were told that we had cut through one race, but I have to admit I didn’t see it.)

The only real bugger up during this upwind run was a jib sheet (that would be a control rope) getting snagged on a mast cleat during a tack. By the time I got out on deck and fixed the problem the wind had pushed the bow off on a heading we didn’t intend. Another boat that was closing on us from behind took offense at our sudden turn and sailed really close off our bow. He seemed kind of serious but I just laughed. Since we were going roughly the same direction in the same wind, our combined closing speed might have been ½ knot making us, for all practical purposes, stationary. Missing us was a simple matter of turning slightly off the wind. That guy was taking himself and his lake sailing way too seriously. Besides that we were trying to tack away from him when the line snarled, so it's not like we got in his way deliberately. (We could have if we wanted, since his was the overtaking boat we had the right of way. It is something racers apparently do to each other all the time.) We also learned to close all the hatches and portholes when bashing through the waves like we were. Saturday night my pillow was a little damp from flying spray.

Finally reaching the dam we found a batch of boats from our marina already tied together. Mike and his family aboard “Orca” allowed that we should tie up next to them since they are fellow newbies, also on their first boat, and also on their first “raft up.”

It was an excellent evening of making new friends, the fireworks were cool, and sleeping on the boat as it bumped and squeaked alongside 6 other boats was actually pretty comfortable. A storm rolled through about midnight, but Deb and I had suspected it might and had set everything up for rain just in case. So other than getting up for a few minutes to close hatches and put in the wash boards, (closing up the companionway) it was no big deal. Riding out a bumper (meaning thunderstorm, not fender) in a boat is considerably more comfortable than riding one out in a tent.

This morning was as pretty a morning as I can remember with more stories, coffee and the best bacon and eggs anyone has ever had, ever. The weather forecast was a bit iffy though, so we cleaned up and were the first to head back up the lake. In deference to having had maybe a bit too much sail up the day before, and because we are experimenting with different sail sets to learn what Nomad likes, we decided to make the down wind run on a reefed mainsail. At first this down wind run was pretty easy sailing, no tacking, no pounding, no real heel and no spray splashing into the cockpit, just a bit of a wallowing motion as the waves swept around the stern.

As we moved up the lake the run turned into a beam reach, with the wind blowing directly over the (in this case) port side of the boat. Not bad at first but as we went along the ride got worse and worse, the boat rolling and corkscrewing as the waves grew to two feet and maybe a bit more. It was a beam reach all right, but it also meant that we were in a beam sea. And that, it turns out, is an ugly ride. (Sailors call it “sailing in the trough.” I’m sure they mean the trough of the waves but it also makes the boat wallow like a pig.) So we started jibing, putting the wind and waves on our port quarter, stern and bow. It made for a much, much better ride and we even went a little faster. But the sum total of these headings put home port about 90 degrees off our starboard side. That worked out though, since we ended up in a position to make a straight, down wind run into the marina. I think this constant interplay of wave, wind, heading and destination is why they call it sailing, not boating or traveling.

There weren’t as many boats on the lake today as I would have thought. It turns out a lot of people thought it was a bit too windy to go sailing. We heard more than a few comments along the lines of people being surprised that we were out there on our own. They should have joined us. It was two days of sailing I was glad we didn’t miss.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Thumper fish and other “goings-on.”

Deb and I spent last night on the boat. It was just our third night on the water. Somewhat to my surprise there was literally no one else on the docks beside us, which was both kind of fun and the polar opposite of our life in the city. As usual I got there first and started working on leaks, this time with complete (though I suspect temporary) success. Nomad is a dry boat at the moment. (Water system that is. The outside of the hull is wet and the bar is stocked with Rum ‘n Coke.)

After dinner I strung up the Bimini extension we discovered in the “parts” bag. It really works well, covering the cabin from the front edge of the cockpit Bimini all the way to the mast. That means we can leave the companionway and aft hatch open even if it rains. Then we headed off to the showers so I could wash off the leak repair dirt and sweat. Walking back to the boat cooled off and cleaned up I couldn’t help but be pleased at how good little Nomad looked sitting on the water with all of her portholes glowing with light, Bimini strung just so, fenders hanging straight and all her dock lines neat and taunt. She really is a pretty little boat.

After some reading while rocking gently at the dock, (sailing stories of course) it was time to call it a day. I still haven’t figured out a graceful way of getting into a V berth. For now I crawl in headfirst, (keep your head down, the foot end is kind of thin in the vertical room department) then do a kind of U-turn to get my head pointed aft. Its kind of awkward since the foot end, being the same shape as the bow, is narrow as well as low. With a partner already settled in it gets to be a Chinese body puzzle. (Not, mind you, necessarily a bad thing.)

I don’t think we were tucked in the V berth for more than a couple of minutes before something started thumping the boat. (Stop your snickering, I mean from the outside.) At first it sounded like it was up on deck and we both assumed some kind of bird was pecking at bugs. Spiders love sailboats. I have never seen so many eight-legged little critters running around before and, in spite of my inherent “shudder factor” around spiders, I am getting kind of used to them. Oh I’ll still jump if one falls out of the Bimini cover and lands on my arm, (yep – ugly, black, fuzzy looking thing that jumped even further than I did) but brushing away cobwebs barehanded is now a normal practice. So my first guess was that a spider eating bird was having some hors d'oeuvres, banging the deck with its beak every time it snagged some arachnid munchies.

We tried to spot what kind of bird it might be but saw nothing on the deck. The “thumper” went away so we settled back in with a bird mystery. Just about asleep the thumping started again, this time clearly below the waterline and in fact, almost directly below where I was laying. Not a bird but some kind of “thumper fish.” And it was banging away at the hull with some enthusiasm. When I put my hand on the boat next to my berth I could feel the vibes with each “thump.” I don’t know what kind of fish it was nor have I any idea what it was up to, but it was sure making a racket. It did whatever it was doing for quite a while before swimming off to do whatever thumper fish do in the middle of the night. (That assumes it was even a fish. It sounded like I imagine it would sound if one were to slap the bottom of the boat with a raw fishtail. But maybe it was a turtle, or a duck?)

On a boat one is much more a part of the surroundings than in a house or car. It’s more like being in a tent or on a bike, involved in anything that is going on nearby. That’s part of the reason I like it, but it will take a while to sort out all the new “goings on.” We will get to do some of that this weekend as it will be the first full weekend we spend on the lake free to sail whenever we want.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Chasing water

Some home projects kept me from heading to the marina until just after lunch. But one of those projects was to go by the bank, get the last check for Nomad certified, and then stop by the Post Office to get said check on its way. By my lights that makes Nomad officially ours, so it was a good day to be on the boat even for just a little while.

It appears that chasing leaks is a full time job when it comes to boats. At the start of the afternoon I knew I had two. I thought I had them both stopped but as it turned out I was only half right. One is fixed. The other not. Working on those two I found two more. One of those I did get stopped but the second appears to be at the back of the engine; heat exchanger for the water heater maybe? I don’t know yet, but I am 2 for 4 in the leak department today. Which means I started the day thinking I had just two leaks, fixed two leaks, and ended the day thinking I have two leaks.

I also found a problem with the bilge pump system. The float switch that turns the pump on automatically should the water level rise had come loose, it would just rise right along with the water and never turn the pump on. That would be bad. It was an easy fix though and it gave me a chance to get friendly with the bilge pump and associated hoses. And I am here to say the bilge water really is some pretty disgusting stuff.

The day ended with a bit of a dilemma. I had walked around the marina to see how many boats were left on shore power. There were only a few, the rest were clearly unplugged from land. That made sense. Should the charging system go weird overheated batteries are as good a way to start a fire as any. (Boat fires are a real concern; there are fire extinguishers everywhere in a marina. Nomad has three and I am thinking of adding one in the cockpit.) But the bilge pump runs on the batteries. Should the boat develop a leak and the pump start running hard to keep the water down, those batteries would eventually fade away. Which would let the water rise, which would lead to that thing I mentioned before about getting to the dock to find only a mast sticking out of the water. Fire or water, which is the bigger risk? In the end I decided to risk flooding to fire. Nomad’s hull is solid and the thru-hulls closed. The only water in the boat is the 40 gallons or so in the tank, and it is already on the boat so it can’t be enough to make her sink. Even if the tank split and flooded the inside of the cabin the boat would still float.

Things one doesn’t think much about on land.

Deb made it to the boat after work and brought dinner. She is pretty comfortable with the alcohol stove, (think giant sterno cans) and dinner, sitting in the cockpit as the boat tugged at her lines, was fabulous. If there is a better way to spend an evening I haven’t found it yet.

I'm off to FL tomorrow and we have a trip to Indy this weekend. (The big news isn't the boat but that Kristin and Brian have a house!) For the next week or so Nomad will have to fend for herself.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Tomorrow I hope to spend the day working on Nomad. She doesn’t need much but I would like to dress up some of the wiring and see what I can do about the minor water leaks. Deb hopes to meet me at the marina after work where we can look at new screens for the companionway. Mostly I think we both just want to hang around Nomad some. Its sill a little hard to believe that the retirement project has progressed to the point where we actually own a boat and know at least the rudiments of how to sail her. At the moment I think I more about sailing a boat then I do about maintaining a boat. I wonder about things like stuffing boxes, how much water is too much water on our side of the hull, what is the best routine for putting up sails, stowing fenders, (for some reason I keep wanting to call them “bumpers”) what would be the best way to run all the sheets, should I try to figure out the rest of the jiffy reefing, stuff I never knew anyone ever thought about. Yet sailors have been thinking on things like these for hundreds and even thousands of years.

Somehow that strikes me as something special. My industry, aviation, has such a short history. There are even photographs of the very first powered flight. When I worked for the University I flew a 1929 copy of a 1917 airplane. (It didn’t fly very well. There is a reason we don’t build them that way anymore.) My grandfather was born before the first powered airplane ever left the ground. One could reasonably count me as a “greybeard” in the aviation world. I have 30+ years of mucking around airports and hangars, 10,000 hours in the sky, a couple of type ratings and a whole list of letters after my name; ATP, CFI, CFII, MEI, A&P, IA, DME. I have been a D.O.M., D.O.O., Check Airman, Chief Pilot, Chief Inspector, and my beard really is grey. But at most I am only of the fourth generation of “greybeard” in the industry of the air.

On the other hand sailing has a history that stretches back before there was writing, let alone photographs. The physics of sail, wind and keel haven’t changed since the dawn of human kind’s first explorations of the sea. I’ll bet you could pluck a deckhand right out of the 12th century, drop him down on Nomad’s fiberglass deck, and he would be able to hoist and set the sails without a word spoken and on his very first try. He might marvel at the lightness of the sailcloth, gaze puzzled at the depth finder screen, run the nylon sheets though his hands with wonder, and would certainly have no clue that the big chunk of metal under the steps could make the boat go without the wind, but he would know how to sail the boat. I don’t know why that strikes me as being pretty cool, but it does.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Nomad's maiden voyage (Tim's take)

Solo maiden voyage!

As you have seen Deb and I took Nomad out for the first time today. Not only was it our first time in a boat that we own, it was our first time without someone more knowledgeable along to keep us out of trouble. A leap into the deep end (so to speak). Though we took the sailing courses this felt like the first day of class to me. So feel free to laugh at my lessons learned, I did. After all, though sailing can be deadly serious business, this is mostly about learning a new thing and having fun. Beside, today was as close to a controlled environment as it is possible to get.

We got off to a less than stellar inauguration with me trying to back out of our dock. Prop walk on our boat is to port, where the dock is. So the back of the boat wanted to hit the dock. The wind was out of the southwest, on our starboard side. So the front of the boat wanted to hit the dock as well. Somehow I managed to miss the dock but ended up with the boat pointing the wrong way, up the dead end to the boat ramp. “No problem,” I figured, “I’ll just pull into this convenient empty slip, back out again, and get going in the right direction.” That however, started going bad as well. So LESSON #1: When your wife says “put the wheel all the way THIS way,” put the wheel all the way this way. It will, in all probability, get you facing in the right direction and headed out of the marina rather than in.

After getting turned around and going around two 90 degree turns it occurred to me that I should let off on the steering lock. LESSON #2: The boat steers a lot easier if the helm lock is free.

We worked our way slowly out to the mouth of the river and on toward the lake, passing several inbound boats along the way. In the “No Wake” zone our passing speeds were pretty slow, but after my clumsy start I wasn’t at all sure I knew how to drive little Nomad yet. It seemed like pretty heavy traffic to me. Once actually in the lake with a light breeze stirring it seemed like a good time to put up a sail. The jib seemed a reasonable choice to start with and I asked Deb to take the helm so I could go forward and hoist a sail. (This would be the first such hoisting I have ever attended.) The jib was hanked onto the head stay but I had not yet latched the halyard or down haul to the head of the sail, which meant going out to the very end of the bow sprit. LESSON #3: Get the sails ready to hoist before sailing out into the lake.

The jib went part way up then jammed on the down haul line, which had developed a small tangle just where it goes through a lock. I moved aft, cleared the tangle and moved back to the mast to continue hauling up the sail. LESSON #4: Get all those ropes under control.

With the jib flying, a nice breeze blowing and Deb at the helm, Nomad, for the first time in a couple of years, started moving under sail. I have to say I think our little boat was pretty pleased and rewarded our amateur efforts by leaving a bit of a wake behind us as we moved along. Too, too cool. After a while we got pretty comfortable and decided to hoist the main. Nomad has a more traditional sail plan so to do things like hoisting sails one must move out of the cockpit, onto the cabin roof and out to the mast. It can’t be more then 10 or 12 feet, but it feels a lot longer when the boat is rolling and pitching (even just the little bit it was today) under your feet. After a bit the main was flying along with the jib, but: SEE LESSON #4 again.

We started tacking back and forth across the lake, getting more and more comfortable doing the things a sailor has to do to keep a boat moving. Then, in the middle of a jibe the jib sheets kind of locked up, killing our turn and our speed. As it turns out the port jib sheet had tangled up on the still open forward hatch. LESSON #5: Close the freaking hatch before ropes start flapping all over the place.

After that things settled down to a pretty nice sail. Deb and I had lots of conversations about who had the right of way as we encountered different boats going in different directions. I felt pretty good that none of the sailboats seemed to be going that much faster then we were and, for the most part, when we were on a similar tack we were holding similar headings. Like they say, copying one person during a test is cheating, copying everyone is resource management. Keeping an eye on what the other boats on the lake are doing is a good way to learn. We played with the sails, seeing what would happen if we eased a sheet or trimmed a sail up a little tighter. It seems our little boat will actually point pretty far up into the wind. She seems pretty light on the helm and rode the small waves and occasional bigger boat wakes well. We had some tunes playing on the CD, ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I drank a couple of cold ones, and generally just had a blast ghosting across the water. Toward mid-afternoon the wind died. Instead of firing up the engine we set the sails as best we could and just kind of drifted back toward the marina. It took a while but we weren’t in much of a hurry and the marina grew slowly larger. Then it came time to take the sails down. Deb wanted to do that so I stayed at the helm. She asked me a bunch of questions but I have never UN-hoisted sails either, so I’m not sure my suggestions were actually of much help. She got the sails down with little drama, lashed the main to the boom and we worked our way back to the dock with the little engine knocking away at dead slow. I made a better job of docking than I did undocking, and so finished our first lake adventure.

I spend the next week flying the jet back and forth across a big chunk of the country, from Denver to Ft. Lauderdale at something like 400 knots. But I suspect my mind will be wandering a bit, replaying the first hours Deb and I spent on our boat, just the two of us, probably never making more than 4 knots and never getting more than a couple of miles (if that) from the dock. LESSON #6: Actually sailing a boat is just too, too cool.

Nomad's Maiden Voyage (Deb's Take)

So we managed to get the boat out of the dock and into the lake with no damage. We motored clear of the buoys and got the jib up without either of us falling in the water. The winds were about 12knots and we sailed along with just the jib up for quite a while just getting used to the way Nomad handles.

After a while we got the courage to put the mainsail up. You have to understand that in both the classes we took, the boat we used had roller furling sails. If you wanted to put the sails up you just rolled them out. Nomad's sails are hanked on with clips which is much more involved and a little more prone to dumping a crew member into the drink if done wrong or by inexperienced (aka us) sailors.

We tacked back and forth and managed to make it most of the way across the lake and a good bit toward the dam before we figured we probably better head back. The winds at Carlyle Lake have this nasty habit of taking a siesta from around 11:30 to 1:30 or 2:00, so coming back was a slow process. There was enough wind though to make a very slight wake, so we evntually made it close enough to drop the sails and turn on the motor right before the buoys for the marina. We got back into our slip with a little more grace than we left, and added another 6 hours to our sailing logbooks.

We had a great weekend. Saturday was my birthday and Sunday was Father's Day. Time spent with family, new friends, and a fabulous boat. What more can you ask?

The Captain with his very first cup of coffe on Nomad.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Keeping afloat

I wonder if every new boat owner has the same uneasy thought of going to the dock to find only the top of a mast sticking out of the water? I had almost talked myself into riding out to the marina today just to check and even took a set of boat keys with me to work. But airplane problems intervened and I spent the day first, trying to figure out why both main tires on the Citation were trashed and second, how I could get them replaced in time to cover the trips coming up. As it turned out yesterday’s commuter like schedule, with a couple of very short trips and very fast turns in the Gulf coast heat simply overwhelmed tires that were near the end of their service life anyway. Never getting a chance to cool and subjected to multiple long taxi routes in both Gulfport and New Orleans the tires simply overheated, shed layers of too soft rubber and scorched their way through to the cords. Thirty plus years I have been around airplanes and this is the first time I’ve managed to fry a set of tires simply by working them too hard; learn something new every day.

Most of tomorrow will be spent having technicians drive in from Alton to jack the airplane and replace the tires. So we can’t plan on making it to the boat until Saturday morning. I guess if it hasn’t sunk by now it will still be floating a couple of mornings from now. I know I turned off the batteries and closed the thru-hulls, but I think I’m going to need to write an airplane-like checklist I can have on the boat. Something I can look over both before pulling out of the dock and before leaving the boat behind. After more than 3 decades pilot habits will not be broken.

While at the office this morning, and for the second time in as many weeks, I got word that a friend had passed. Ken was another friend from the airport with whom I had flown on many occasions. He had a stroke last night and died this morning. There are probably not two middle-aged white guys anywhere who are more opposite then Ken and I. He was ex-military (Vietnam Vet), pro-gun, conservative, religious, and to my way of thinking both a bit sexist and a little intolerant. But I considered him a friend. He was also a superb craftsman and artist. He had a Piper Cub dressed up in its military uniform as a L4 that we flew many times. The airplane was as perfect as any I have seen and Ken was as good a Cub pilot as there can be found anywhere. One of the rare times when I actually used my CFI was giving Ken his biennial flight reviews in his beloved Cub. It was both a huge amount of fun and a complete waste of time. He could, on demand and in nearly any wind, land that thing on any spot and on either wheel, out of a full wall-banger of a slip or at the end of most gentle of glides, three-point or wheel, power off or power on. I doubt that airplane will ever be flown that well again. He was also in the process of building a Fokker Tri-Plane replica. The fuselage and wing work are pure art. Ken will never finish that project, a sad and pointed reminder that we do not set the margins of our lives, neither the start nor the end. But we do set the limits.

By buying Nomad Deb and I decided not to wait but to move the limits of our lives, just a little, while we had the chance. To learn a new thing or two, see a new place, look at the world from sea level rather then the flight levels. This evening, knowing full well that we can plan for tomorrows but can’t make promises for them, I am pretty content with having taken the chance to buy the boat. The trick now is to enjoy every moment, every wave, every time we leave the dock and every time we return, to keep it afloat as long as I can.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Wetter is better

It turns out that putting a boat in the water can make for a bit of a long day. I got to the marina around 9 to open up the boat, empty out the lockers, (so I had an unobstructed view in case water should be where water shouldn’t be) and generally check things over one more time. I also had to undo the head stay to get it out of the way. Around 11 (after a few minutes on the charger) the marina’s big tractor was started and the lift gantry was backed into place. Straps were slung under the boat and little Nomad was hoisted off of its cradle with ease. That gave me access to the 4 spots on the hull that still needed painted. I have to say I was a bit uneasy working beneath 6000 pounds of boat hanging on a couple of straps and cables. By noon all the paint and touchup work was done so I headed into town to get some lunch. The plan was to launch the boat around 3, giving the paint a chance to dry as well as giving Gary (the boat broker and Commodore of the yacht club) a chance to round up some help and get to the marina to show me what to do. I have never even seen a sailboat launched before and was more than a little curious about the whole process.

After inspecting, buying, cleaning, painting and hoisting, the actual launch was a bit anticlimactic, which is not a bad thing. Craig fired up the tractor again, (after more time on the charger) and just hauled the boat over to the launch ramp. Gary and I rode on the boat as it was backed down the ramp. There was no splash, just the sudden realization that we were floating, not hanging. We eased the boat out of the web of steel that had carried her to the water, Craig drove away and our boat was back in its natural habitat. Gary hit the starter and the 10 HP diesel fired up instantly, settling into a smooth idle. I was a bit behind the process though, and realized that the thru-hull valve for the water inlet was still closed. It only takes a moment to open it, but I banged my knee pretty good in my haste to get down into the starboard locker to reach it. Getting in a hurry on a boat seems to be about as bad an idea as getting in a hurry with an airplane. Bad things happen. It’s much better to plan ahead a little and then move with some deliberation.

Gary gave me the helm and for the first time in my life I was driving a boat through a marina full of other boats. It seemed a really good time to go slow and I was reminded of lesson #2; a slow moving 27 foot sailboat handles as much like a loaf of bread as a slow moving 31 foot boat. Idle RPM seemed perfect for my (lack of) boat handling skills and I managed to guide Nomad into her berth almost as if I had some real clue about what I was doing. It was all remarkably fun. (And made much easier by the total lack of wind.)

Later I started putting stuff on the boat, stuff like sails and the Bimini. I got the head stay back on and tightened, (a first) hanked on the jib (another first) and stuffed it in its bag. Wrestling with the jib was a bit of a handful just sitting at the dock. Out on the water with the wind blowing and the boat bouncing? The Bimini was a puzzle as well, and I ended up putting it together three times before I decided it was correct. Then I sat and drank a Coke staring at the Bimini and decided I had it on backwards. I turned it around and this time I really do think its right.

There is still a lot to do. The main sail has to go on along with its cover. I haven’t quite figured out all of the electrical system yet and still need to run the power cable on the dock. The water tank needs filled. All stuff we will attempt to finish this weekend. Still, Deb came to the marina after work and for a little while we sat on foredeck, leaned against the cabin and were just kind of astonished / delighted where we were and what we were doing. By then it was well after 6 pm and I was starting to feel the heat, the hours and the miles. But we have a boat and it is in the water. And that is just way cool.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Well Tim will have to tell you all about putting the boat in the water today because, unfortunately, I had to work. But the picture and video posting are my job, so here's a few of his busy day:

In the sling and ready to move to the water.

After you lift it off the jacks you have to paint the piece of the bottom that the jacks were resting on.

The new captain

Nomad is finally off the hard and in the water where she belongs!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Let the games begin

Another weekend is nearly done and little Nomad is within a couple of days of getting wet again. At least, that is the plan at the moment. Deb and I spent the last two days working on the boat, staying over Saturday night so we could get started on the bottom paint first thing this morning. The V berth was surprisingly big and comfortable, but even with the wind blowing around 20 knots at times and all the vents open, it was pretty warm. And I guess boats like to move. Even on the hard I could feel some subtle swaying as the wind played with the boat.

We read and heard all kinds of horror stories about how difficult it is to paint the bottom of a boat. The paint is some special kind of stuff that costs a fortune and has copper powder in it to keep uglies from growing on the bottom and slowing the boat down. (A definite no-no in a boat that can only do 6 knots or so anyway.) As it turns out painting the bottom is not that big a deal, its just paint after all. We had a harder time painting the living room. Bottom paint looks pretty cool though, and with the rest of the hull cleaned and waxed our little boat seems eager to get off her stand and back into the lake.

Another good thing about staying on the boat last night and getting up early to paint her was that we had the work done in time to go sailing with a new friend this afternoon. Schmitty is the vice commodore of the club, saw us working on Nomad, came over, introduced himself and invited us out on the lake with him and his friends. Schmitty owns a Catalina 31, which is a really nice boat. (Not as nice as Nomad, but bigger. Schmidty would probably disagree.) The wind was blowing with gusts to 28 knots, stirring up white caps on the lake and apparently keeping a lot of people at the dock. (I know it was gusting to 28 knots because I checked the pilot weather for the nearby airport. I haven’t learned yet where sailors go to get their weather.) Those who stayed at the dock missed a really fun day. Flying just a piece of a headsail we rounded the exit from the dock area and plowed our way out into the lake. Once in a while we smacked a wave hard enough to throw spray all the way back to the cockpit. Tacking back and forth trying to make our way south I realized something I knew about sailboats, but never experienced. Sailors always talk about “beating to weather” when they go upwind. Now I understand. A sailboat can’t sail straight into the wind; about 40 degrees off the wind is the best they can do. But the waves run more or less directly downwind, putting the boat at an awkward angle to the prevailing sea. (Or lake in this case.) The boat corkscrews itself across the waves making for a really weird kind of ride with a lot of yawing motion. I can certainly see where beating to weather for several days nonstop while trying to make a long passage could wear a person out.

Schmitty let Deb and I take the helm for most of the day. I expect I tripled my sailing experience in this one afternoon’s sail. Which is kind of the purpose behind buying the boat in the first place. The games have definitely begun.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Between weekends

Deb and I spent last Sunday working on Nomad. Deb got her sparkling on the inside while I poked around the engine and systems to make sure things were tight and to get some idea of what I am dealing with. Truth to tell the little boat looks to be a pretty simple piece of equipment. The 10 HP Yanmer is about as basic an engine as has ever been made. The water, waste and electrical systems are straightforward and have all been well maintained. The outside of the hull shows a bit of oxidation from sitting on the hard so long, but a good working over with a restorative, a coat of wax and some bottom paint will fix that. I even made some progress in figuring out the running rigging. Standing on the bowsprit, holding onto the head stay to play with the anchor it struck me that a sailboat up on the hard and sitting on stands is pretty close to every kid’s dream tree house.

Maybe that’s why it seems so many sailors are pilots and bikers as well? We are all just big kids playing with our favorite toys. Serious toys though. On the way home from the lake a friend who works for the FAA called. While Deb and I were getting to know Nomad another friend had been killed flying the immaculate little bi-plane he had spent 17 years building, finishing it barely two years ago. I had flown with Dave in his award-winning Acro Sport on several occasions. He was as careful a pilot as he was a gifted craftsman. His loss is both tragic and mysterious.

Airplane, boats, motorcycles; we love these things, the places they take us and the adventurers we find with them. But only a fool would ignore the fact that part of the reason we do love them is the challenge and the risk involved of going to the places they can go. The sky, the water and the open road offer rewards that can’t be found just sitting watching life go by, but each cares not what our plans for tomorrow might be. And sometime each of them can be just plain mean.

Yet that is not the whole story. I am in the middle of a four day run of flights. (I spent last night in Biloxi again. This morning I walked around the docks looking at sailboats and kept thinking to myself, “How cool, I own one of these!) On Tuesday we were supposed to go from St. Louis to Moline, IL and then on to several other places. There was some tough weather out there but a look at the RADAR showed a clear path. In spite of what the RADAR suggested the sky folded up and started dumping huge amounts of driving rain on Moline before we could get there. We aborted to Peoria, IL to figure out what to do. We decided to run the trip backwards, getting to Moline as the last stop rather then the first. And it worked for most of the day. But by the time we left Moline for St. Louis the sky was once again in a poor mood with rapidly building thunderstorms filing up in a line across our path. They were as big and dark as any storms I have seen, throwing lightning, hail and rain across several states while dropping the occasional tornado to really tear things up. At 19,000 feet our little Citation sailed through a slot in the storms that was barely 25 miles wide with the blow-off from the monster to our West forming a cloud roof over our head. We could see blue sky, lighting, sheets of virga and tumultuous boiling clouds all at the same time yet we coasted through with barely a bump to mark our sneaking past Thor’s kitchen. It was spectacular. In all the history of human kind how many people have had the chance to see something like that?

I expect the boat to show us some pretty special things as well. Maybe not bowsprit to lighting (or maybe) but how about ink black water reflecting a canopy of stars? Maybe we’ll see waves big enough to be both scary and fun and certainly wind enough to challenge my meager boat handling skills. So even if it is just your average kind of lake in the middle of Illinois, I am eager to get little Nomad wet and let the travels begin.