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.