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.)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Weekends and the inevitable Monday

One thing I've noticed is that owning a boat makes you much more aware of the weekends. We sat around last night, after coming home from the lake, planning out the remaining weekends till the ice hits. I decided two things: A)There's not enough of them B)There's not enough of them.

While complaining about this very thing at work one day, someone told me that Tim and I have "too many toys". I've been musing on the subject a lot since he said that, wondering if I was somehow guilty of using up someone else's share of toys, guilty of paying an inadequate amount of attention to the duties that beset me at work each week.

And then...I think about my sister-in-law's battle with melanoma these days and I decide that one can't have enough time spent playing with toys. We spend so much time concentrating on the process of making money, to what end? None of us knows whether we'll ever make it to retirement in the first place, or who we'll spend it with. I guess I've decided to enjoy it now, and to spend it with my favorite person.

I've always loved a poem called Life's Clock which has one line that is my mantra: "The present only is our own"

The Clock of Life

The clock of life is wound but once and no man has the power
To tell just when the hands will stop, at late or early hour.

To lose one's wealth is sad indeed, to lose one's health is more,
To lose one's soul is such a loss that no man can restore.

The present only is our own, so live, love, toil with a will,
Place no faith in tomorrow -- for the clock may then be still.

Robert H. Smith

It's funny but if you look in the dictionary at the word "beset" there's a nautical application (for those of you non-nautical folks): Unabridged (v 1.1) - Cite This Source - Share This
be·set Audio Help /bɪˈsɛt/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[bi-set] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation
–verb (used with object), -set, -set·ting.
1. to attack on all sides; assail; harass: to be beset by enemies; beset by difficulties.
2. to surround; hem in: a village beset on all sides by dense forest.
3. to set or place upon; bestud: a gold bracelet beset with jewels.
4. Nautical. to surround (a vessel) by ice, so that control of the helm is lost.
[Origin: bef. 1000; ME besetten, OE besettan. See be-, set]

The ice is closing in...and I intend to enjoy the water while I can and the wind (however little there is) in the sails.

Tick Tock.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Weekend Visitors

Saturday was the big pig roast at the Boulder Yacht Club. They started cooking Friday night. A whole frozen pig, band sawed along the backbone into two parts, was flopped into a huge, outdoor smoker. There was one vat of wood to keep the fire going and another vat of wood soaking in water to keep the smoke going. Some good folks worked through the night and they cooked that pig for about 16 hours, keeping it moist with some kind of marinade. It was a wonderful dinner, a good time, and that may have been the best-cooked pig I ever tasted.

The weekend’s sailing, however, was not so wonderful. Melanie joined us as our first official guest on Nomad. Saturday morning dawned cool, clear and just about dead calm. With Melanie onboard we gave it gallant try, but alas, no wind is no wind. Even our big geniker couldn’t find much traction in the light airs, finding just enough wind for us to hold steerageway and not much else. Still, being away from shore is always fun so we spent a few hours drifting slowly and enjoyed a good visit with our daughter. She stayed for the party and spent the night on Nomad with us, becoming our first overnight guest as well.

The “20% chance of rain” forecast for last night woke me around 2 am, the cold drops falling through the open port and landing on my bald head. We closed up the boat as much as we needed to stay dry and finished out the night trapped between the sound of water pooling and then pouring off our canvas cover onto the upper deck and carp munching on our hull. The change in weather did gave us hope that the winds today would be better. Kim and Steve are Catherine and Mary’s other “Dampas” and were at the marina bright and early this morning to join us on Nomad. They have never been on a cabin sailboat before and Deb and I were really looking forward to sharing the day with them. Melanie stayed as well,though her original plan had been to head for home this morning. She was hoping to get a little better sail today than yesterday provided.

Which is exactly what she got, a little better sail, very little better. Hoping to show all of our guests how much fun sailing could be we flew the geniker again but no wind is still no wind. About two hours out the breeze filled in just a little and we actually started to leave a small wake behind us, making maybe 2 or 2 ½ knots. We managed to get across the lake and back. Approaching the home marina we found a steady parade of boats making their way out onto the lake. Kim and Steve had a little more time so we tacked back out into the lake and for a while sailed center boat in a line of three abreast, which was pretty cool. With our big sail up we were even the fastest boat, (That won’t happen very often!) though none of us was actually going very fast. After a while we headed in, firing up the engine to make it back to the marina. By then all of boats that had filed out into the lake were sitting around motionless, looking for all the world like a pack of giant seagulls all sitting around in the glassy water. In the end though, it was a calm weekend on the lake, which makes for poor sailing.

We did have great visiting though, and discovered once again that a poor day of sailing is still better than a good day in an office, or cutting a yard, or doing about anything else; with the possible exceptions of visiting kids and grandkids. A day on a sailboat, talking kids and grandkids, is a good day indeed!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Road Buzzies

Deb and I spent the holiday weekend playing hide-n-seek with Sheriffs, State Police and various other traffic enforcement officials by leaving little Nomad to her own devices while we took the bikes to visit friends in the mountains of Arkansas. It was a shorter Labor Day ride this year as we chose to leave Saturday rather than making the late night run Friday after work. Though at times we set a pretty good pace both on the ride down and then home again today, yesterday was our only day to snort around the fantastic roads of the Ozark foothills with some fleet footed friends. The pace was a little less frenetic than years past since most of our group was riding two up and all of us had many, many miles in our rear view mirrors. (Meaning we were far older than the average sport bike crowd.) Still, we made change for a dollar more than once and Mr. Law-n-Order would not have been pleased had we tripped any of his radar traps. One Mr. Poe-Poe did pass us while we were bottled up waiting on a chance to pass a decrepit “good-ol-boy” pick up truck, shaking his finger at Deb as he went by. Even in a group of sport bikes all going the same speed Deb, all leaned over on her big red ZX-14 super bike, looks like she is the one speeding. (I would love to see the look on his face if he found out his gesture was aimed at a soon to be three time grandmother who could still outgun him, all his little Poe-Poe buddies, HIS mother AND his grandmother!)

Sunday night after the ride was time for some good cheer, tasty (and potent) libations, and friendly talk all around. Deb and I buying Nomad came up since moving onto a boat will inevitably mean the end of our serious motorcycle riding; something that has been a big, big part of our lives. Most of our closest friends have been made among motorcyclists, many of our fondest memories involve riding as well as some of our best adventures. Walking away from the bikes to climb onto a boat full time may be (assuming it happens) the biggest adjustment. Exploring that adjustment was the topic of much discussion.

I don’t think we actually settled the issue to anyone’s complete satisfaction. For myself I see the boat more as a “next-step” rather than a “replacement.” The argument can be made that the peak (if you will) of my riding is putting in multiple hundred-mile days on a super bike while being able to ride it to a good part of its potential. In a very real sense it just doesn’t get any better than that. But where to you go from there? Faster? Not a good idea. As fast as I can go is faster than most (not all, but most) people can go, and way, way faster than anyone should go. Further? To prove what? We get where we want to go, make Pittsburgh in a day, grind out miles that would cripple even some of the kids riding sport bikes. When we ride we enjoy what we know.

When we sail we explore what we don’t know.

Part of what I like about getting older is actually knowing a thing or two now, (unlike my 20 year old self who only thought he knew some stuff). And a big part of what I don’t like about getting older is mostly knowing what to expect. There is very little “new.” Most days are just minor variations on themes long since memorized. This is not all bad, or at all bad. Knowing what is coming makes up for my slowing reaction times, and I mean that in many more ways than just dodging the wayward SUV or building thunderstorm. There is a comfort in that, a certain dignity, expertise that cannot be faked or earned in any other way.

But… There is another side to living that gets harder and harder to hang onto, the side that is surprised, delighted, and exuberant. The bike still lets me touch that, on a long stretch of empty road when I pin the throttle, bang through the gears and howl with an engine that is pulling past 10 grand and putting $1.40 on the speedometer. Or those perfect corners when you trail brake all the way to the apex, feeling the tires come up on the edges, obliterating the “chicken-strip” and maybe slipping just a twitch as you dig it out of the corner. Right there, on that edge, is the real reason our hearts still beat and our blood still surges, but that gets harder to find as the years go by.

Maybe I hope that living on a sailboat will let me keep in touch with that part of living long past the time when I can throw a bike around like a kid. (And without the need to be that far outside the law. I’m not sure, but I think at a buck-40 you go straight to jail without passing “go.”) To find surprise in a new place, exuberance in a tack well done, delight at living in a different way.

Or perhaps, sitting here this evening after a good weekend of riding, I’m just enjoying a case of road buzzies?