Monday, August 25, 2008

Fix it

Deb’s description of this weekend’s sail covers it. About the only thing I can add is that I clearly have avoided being bitten by the “racer’s bug” when it comes to sailboats. I love every chance I get to sail on different boats and with people who know more about sailing than I do; which includes about everyone who has ever been around a sailboat. I suspect I will crew any chance I get, but the racing itself? I’m just not interested in taking someone's wind or using the rules of the road to force him off the mark. Maybe someday, but for now I just like going where we go, sitting in the shade, getting a cold one whenever the mood strikes and munching a peanut butter and jelly sammich for lunch.

Little Nomad’s list of discrepancies continues to grow, though getting to the marina after a couple of weeks away to discover that she had absolutely no water in her bilge was a pleasant surprise. The flip side of that discovery (since the bilge has a lot of water in it after every sail) is that the stuffing box has to be leaking whenever the engine is running or the prop is turning. Something that is now high on the priority list to understand and get fixed. We popped a water line while cleaning up after dinner Friday. An easy fix even at night down in the starboard lazarette, but a more permanent repair will be required. The water pump itself is somewhat intermittent; the wiring is exposed and stuff in the port lazarette can lean on the connection making the pump fail. The bilge pump is something I haven’t quite figured out yet either, it moves water up but not out. We are going to try a new pump and I suspect I need a check valve in the overboard line, but… And we have discovered a water stain forward on the starboard side of the V-birth. A stanchion is leaking, maybe; or a bowsprit bolt or water fill line. Cause and repair are yet to be determined. Both AC and DC power systems need attention and the winches need lubed.

None of this is really serious enough to keep us off the lake. And the fact is I am kind of putting off tackling some of them until the weather cools off a little. A boat in a slip, sheltered in a marina, in August in central IL, can be a brutally hot place; hot enough to take all the fun out of tinkering. We did take some time after Sunday’s nearly perfect day of sailing to remove all the fittings, pipes, seats, pulleys, etc., that were cluttering up the stern pulpit and starboard stanchions but where not being used for anything. (One or two of those parts are really, really removed, having slipped out of my sweaty fingers and landing in the water rather than the boat. At least I didn’t drop any tools!) All told I must have pulled 10 pounds of metal off the boat that was just along for the ride. As important, every single item was yet another place for a creepy to set up a home. There are a whole bunch of spiders looking for a new place to hide out this morning.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

There's races and then there's marathons...

Yesterday was slated to be the next race in the Boulder Yacht Club race series for 2008. We were to crew on the Hunter of our friend Steve, a few slips down from ours in the marina. Unfortunately, Saturday dawned hot and still. During the skipper's meeting at 9:30 the flag briefly stirred so we all motored out to the race course, a highly modified one consisting of a 1/2 mile equilateral triangle. It was such light wind that we mis-calculated our start and ended up nearly last although we did make up some time during the race. A second race was begun immediately. Our start was perfectly timed the second race and we charged across the start line at a whopping 1/2 knot per hour, managing to almost crash into someone nonetheless. It was an interesting few hours, albeit brain-burning heat out in the sunshine. We very rarely sail without the bimini up so more than 4 hours of exposure was a bit much for both of us.

When I woke up this morning I could see the mainsail halyard moving against the mast through the hatch - enough breeze to cause some hopeful optimism - so we got moving and were out on the lake by 8. There were only 2 of us out there at that time of the morning but it was perfect. A very nice breeze of 6-8 knots got us going, enough to keep both sails filled and a good little bow wake churning. The wind was due out of the north and we had left our depth finder at the house accidentally, so we opted to stay where we knew there was deep water. At our part of the lake, with winds out of the north, this basically means going back and forth across. We practiced perfecting our tacking and played with the finer nuances of sail trim, trying to learn how to steer by only using the sails instead of trimming the sails with the sheets (the lines attached to the back of the sails, for those of you non-sailors).

Evey time we got back near the marina opening we would look at each other trying to decide whether or not to head in. Each time we'd both laugh because neither of us wanted to stop. After lunch (our favorite sailing gourmet peanut butter and jelly sandwiches), a whole lot of other people decided we were having too much fun all by ourselves on the lake and by 1:00 the lake was chock full of sailboats, every make and model. We caught up with two of our marina neighbors and sailed with them for a while

All in all we sailed 8 and a half hours today, the longest marathon yet for us. After a couple weeks off for our vacation it was good to be back on the boat. Now if I could just figure out how to bottle it up to get me through the rest of the work week...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Breakfast at Boulder

Yesterday was one of those days at work that you really like to forget ever happened. I needed the mid-week pick-me-up so we met at the boat last night, even though it was only for a few hours. We were, once again, the only ones there for the night, save the Great Blue Heron and a hundred million stars. It was a clear, crisp night and almost cool enough to require the new quilt we have waiting in the compartment under the v-berth. A couple of pork chops, a salad and a rum and coke later we drifted off to sleep accompanied by the staccato of the carp-dance. Nothing remarkable, but boy it did the trick.

I'm almost glad that we had to get up early to return to work this morning. If we hadn't, we would have missed the most spectacular sunrise I've seen out there yet:

Breakfast was a Marathon bar on the dock watching the remnants of this glory fade away. Again, nothing remarkable, but it was probably the most elegant breakfast I've had in a while. Friday can't come soon enough.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I was reading an interesting article in Newsweek magazine about how owning a house, though the quintessential American dream, may not be such a good idea for many (if not most) of us. Houses are big, suck up energy, are empty much of the time and, even when we are home, a good part of them is still empty. They cost big bucks to finance, repair, and support, and chew up enough of a budget to easily make even a middle-class income family “house poor.” They can be hard to get out of once purchased. (A statement that falls squarely in the “No Shit Sherlock” department.)

I don’t know what “most” of us should be doing. Most of the time I’m not sure what I should be doing. But I felt a resonance with the author’s view of home ownership. Don’t get me wrong; I really like our house in the Central West End. As soon as we finish up the hard wood floor installation I suspect I will like it even more. But I can’t say I prefer the CWE to the marina. I can’t say that I prefer the sounds of the city to the sounds of the lake. (Carp noises aside; which are even more annoying then the howling of neighbor dogs.) The fact that the boat has no yard or grass is a huge plus for me. From an energy standpoint a house has no chance against a boat, particularly a modern boat with wind generators, solar panels and very efficient engine driven generators driving equally efficient appliances.

And, (a big thing for people like me) the boat can move. It isn’t rooted to a place. Any job within 20 miles or so of any ocean becomes a place I can move my home. Though my current bosses are first class people whom I enjoy working with and for, they are the exception to the rule in my life of aviation. How sweet would it be if no boss could have hooks deep enough into anyone that the anyone couldn’t just toss the job back on the desk and walk (or sail) away? How much better would we be as a society if most of us felt a little less “indentured." How much better would working people be treated everywhere if most really, really had the option of not going to this or that particular job every day? It isn't that we don't like to work. Most of us do like to work, we like to contribute, create, be involved, make a difference.

The other half of the quintessential American dream is to be independent, self reliant, and beholding to no one. We want to make a difference, but we would like to do it on our terms, in our time, and it our way. It is one of the things I love about being in the airplane. Once the wheels are in the wells it matters not who is sitting behind me; it is my show. The calls I make are the only ones that matter. The decisions, the responsibilities and the consequences are mine to make, to carry and to suffer; at least until the tires brush Mother Earth once again.

The fun of sailing, the enjoyment of learning a new thing or two, the smiles that come from seeing the world from a slightly different place and in a slightly different way, are big parts of being on the boat for me. But deeper maybe, more important though less noticeable, is the idea that when on the boat my life is mine to live as I choose. I pick the risks to be run and the ones to be avoided, the places to go and the places to pass by and maybe, with a little extra cash in my pocket that used to go to supporting a house, I have some other choices I don't have now.

Like I said, I don’t really know. But if I make it to the boat tonight I think I will sit in the cockpit, sip on a Rum-N-Coke, and enjoy living on a boat for a few hours anyway.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

An ocean visit

Deb, Amber, Mary, Catherine and I spent today on Nantucket Island. We boarded the fast (22 kt) ferry at Cape Cod this morning and a little more than an hour later were slowly making our way through the harbor at Nantucket. I am a new sailboat enthusiast whose home marina is on a little lake in Illinois where a 36-foot Albin looks like a big boat. This was a whole different world.

The marina was packed with an exquisite collection of every kind of sailboat one could imagine.

Long, lean racing hulls, 50 feet and longer with massive masts and low deck profiles were tied side by side along the docks. Classic wooden boats with oiled decks and timber masts glowing in the sun bobbed gently on mooring balls. Tiny sailing dingys darted in and out among their larger sisters, at the tillers young sailors showing a surprising amount of skill, and no little daring. There was even a sweet looking Chinese junk with its strange looking cocked-up top-boom sail rig moving slowly through the inner harbor.

Among all the sailing splendor, tied up stern into a dock we could walk down, (multi-millionaire row where massive yachts including a couple of truly huge sailboats were tied, was off limits to mere day trippers) lay a Lagoon 440. It was Deb’s first chance to see a cruising catamaran up close and floating in its natural habitat. I believe that any debate we might have once had on mono vs. multi-hull is now settled. She was really surprised at how much beam a Cat actually has, and the windowed luxury of the Lagoon’s massive salon is a stunner. As Amber put it, “I’ve lived in apartments smaller than that.” Just one hull of the Lagoon would have as much, if not more, space in it than all of little Nomad. I think the debate now will be on just how much Cat is enough. The Annapolis boat show in October should go a long way in helping to narrow down the size range.

The ride out and back was on a powered ferry of 100’ or so and it was my first time on the open ocean in literally decades.

(The only other ocean trips involved diving as a teen-ager in Florida and one trip to San Clemente Island from San Diego in the early '70s.) The trip back to Cape Cod was the more spectacular of the two. With swells running maybe 3 to four feet and whitecaps all around you couldn’t have hit me hard enough to wipe the smile off my face. How I would have loved to have made that passage by sail! We passed several sailboats flying all their canvass, heeled over and throwing spray off their bows. I hope their crews enjoyed the sailing half as much as I enjoyed the show.

It may still not be something we can make happen, but the desire to retire onto a catamaran, (and maybe, someday, spend some time in Nantucket’s harbor) was certainly stoked by today’s visit. The open ocean, the short time spent out of sight of any land, and the shear numbers of sailboats both at Nantucket and (to a lesser degree) at the marina on Cape Cod, now tugs incessantly on my imagination. There are no sailors in my family history nor any ocean in my background, but I sure hope there are some of both in my future.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The conundrum

My eldest daughter, Kristin, has a thing about noise, specifically man-made machine-type white noise, the type of which seems to proliferate with the advance of technology. While I, ever the technocrat, adore all things technologically cool, it occurred to me this weekend as Tim pulled the fuel lever to kill the engine that she may have something there. The silence enveloped me in the cockpit, punctuated only by the breeze, the bow wave, and the occasional seagull and I found myself sighing with relief. So much so, that when we neared "Party Beach", a strip of sand that hosts 3 or 4 dozen power boats each weekend, and began to play chicken with said bearers of drunken party-goers, I found myself bearing away just enough to head out to quieter waters at the roaring speed of about 1 knot. This may seem strange for the rider of the world's fastest production motorcycle and is, in fact, a conundrum I have been unable to answer yet when asked (and it happens often). There is something so primitively basic about the need for peace and quiet: thoughts need time to dance and blend without interruption, in order to culminate in those rare and wonderful epiphanies we sailors are famous for.

And yet...we packed up the bikes tonight to head home and as soon as I twisted the throttle...I guess I have a need for speed sometimes as well. I guess I'll have to ponder it a little longer next time on the boat. If those power boaters will just leave me alone long enough to think, that is.

Batting 1000

This marina weekend got a late start. I was out driving the jet until late Friday evening making it Saturday morning before we could head to the lake. But first I had to plug a hole in the GSXR’s back tire. The bike felt funny on the last ride and sure enough the gage showed just 7 PSI holding up the rear. The rest had leaked out around a nail. Deb suggested that we ride straight to the bike shop and get new rubber but, seeing as this back tire had less than 1000 miles on it and skins for a sport bike are pricey, I decided that riding on a plug would be fine. (This would be the first of many times this weekend where Deb was batting 1000 and I was swinging at air.)

We headed to the boat and (you guessed it) about half way there and for the first time in many decades of plugging tires this one failed me miserably. Now, instead of having a tiny little hole partly filled by a nail, I had a great big hole were a plug used to be. The tire went really flat, the bike started to squirm and I ducked for the shoulder. The good news is I got it stopped before my nice fancy chromed-out rim got damaged. The bad news is that a GSXR sits up pretty straight on its kickstand at all times. With an airless rear tire she can (and did) flop onto her side like a spoiled child pitching a fit. I am embarrassed to admit that I threw a little fit of my own. After helping pick up the bike Deb rode off to find some Fix-a-Flat while I cooled off and put another plug in the tire. She came back with a jiffy little compressor rig and, instead of filling my tire with slime we just pumped it up and headed for the bike shop. (Her second home run of the day.) Two new tires later, (the front being worn to the wear bars) and we really were on our way to the boat.

As late as we were, we hurried to make it onto the lake, prepping Nomad in record time and hitting the starter button... but nothing happened. Somehow the battery(s) were dead, or so it seemed. Shore power had them charged in just a little while and off we went, slipping the lines and heading out into a very nice sail in a North wind. Deb wanted to drop the hook so we could eat and watch the sunset. I wasn’t in the mood to try something new but I let her talk me into it. We set the anchor just outside of our home marina. It was perfect, dinner was great and riding on the hook is a lot of fun. When it came time to head in, the batteries appeared to be dead yet again and I went into full grump mode, figuring we would have to call for another tow. From below Deb suggested that we try a different setting on the DC power switch first. (It has four; “OFF – 1 – ALL – 2.) Home runs number three and four, the engine fired right up. Then she did a really nice job of driving the boat up the rode making it easy me for me to get the anchor on board.

This morning the weather threatened thunderstorms so we didn’t head out until early afternoon. Though we have yet to figure out the battery / start thing it was a pretty good bet that we could get the engine started to get home. By the time we cleared the breakwater the wind had faded to modest. Deb suggested we fly the drifter and though I was kind of slow to agree, (you would think I would have learned by now) I switched head sails and off we went on another pretty nice little sail. We played with sail settings for a while then returned to the marina to button the boat up for 3 weeks or so. By this time next week we hope to be in Cape Cod. Little Nomad will be on her own while Deb and I visit family from Indy to the east coast and finally get to meet our new grand daughter.