Sunday, October 26, 2008
It is fun to not stumble around the rigging trying to figure out what does what. And it was just a few months ago that the sight of Nomad heading to the pump out dock with me at the helm would have boys climbing trees to get a good view, dogs howling and mothers covering the little ones eyes so they wouldn't see the carnage. (Okay, it wasn't quite that bad but it wasn't pretty either.) I don't have to ask how to reef a sail or tighten a forestay whereas not that long ago I didn't know what a "forestay" was.
Flying and motorcycle riding have taught me another thing; just about the time I think I know something a pretty big piece of "humble pie" is about to be served up. Pilots can be a pretty arrogant bunch but only around other people. No pilot is ever arrogant when it comes to the sky. That would be a guaranteed way to get one's ass busted big time. I have noticed a bit of the same with sailors. They do a thing not everybody does and some of them do it a lot better than others of them. But all of them (all of us?) know full well that compared to even a little body of water like Carlyle lake (let alone an ocean) we don't actually amount to much. It takes absolutely no notice of us at all. I read a bit somewhere once upon a time, "The earth will spin and the sun will rise in the morning, birds will sing and fish will swim, and all of this will happen in spite of the wishes of every tyrant and every king that has ever ruled over men."
We are all getting pretty full of the idea that we are about to elect the leader of the free world and set the course of history. Maybe we should all take a deep breath, step back a moment, take a look at the sea or the sky, and remember just who we really are. From 40,000 feet all the feats of mankind actually look pretty small, dwarfed by even the ancient mountains of the east and the scale of the Gulf of Mexico. From just a few miles off shore, certainly no more than 10, land fades from view and we discover that most of the planet is a place we can only visit. This election may be important to us, but it might serve us all to remember that we are not that important. Maybe, if we remembered that, we would treat each other with a bit more kindness, be a little more gentle with our rhetoric, be a little less sure and full of ourselves.
That would be a good thing.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
While we were on the lake today, in some of the best wind we've had all summer, it occurred to me that we were no longer beginners. We were feeling the subtle shifts of weight and balance, hearing the slightest failing of the sails long before they required serious attention, trimming the sheets ever so slightly to tweek the last little bit of performance, or sometimes simply to ease Nomad's struggle upwind. We were, at last, ahead of the curve instead of behind, engaged in the ages-long dance with the water in a truly remarkable vessel. It was one of those magical days where everything comes together, when you are at peace with yourself and the sun is shining, where life is good and you require nothing more than the moment. I guess at last Tim can call himself a sailor.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Anyway, the Citation Ultra is a later model of the Citation I fly for the Isle, with bigger engines and a glass cockpit (somewhat like the one in the airliner I flew). It was a chance to try a new thing, fly with a new person, and see a different airplane. Most fun (beside flying with Jon who is a good guy) was being back in a glass cockpit. Details would bore a non-pilot to tears (and be hard to explain) but trust me, there is a huge difference in the old way we did things in the front end of airplanes and the new ways we do them now.
Nomad is old technology (as I've mentioned before). Even for a sailboat she is "traditional" without any of the "good stuff" now around for controlling sails. But it is all still kind of new to me and new things are what keeps life interesting. Not "new things" so much as in stuff you buy. (Though that can be fun too as evidenced by the new motorcycles that show up in my garage once in a while!) Rather new things as in things you experience and things you learn. They stretch the brain a little, work different muscles, make for different thoughts, shed a new light on something. Try the new thing in an environment that may be a bit of a challenge, like an airplane nose deep in the clouds doing 400 mph (Now where was that button for setting a new altitude?) or a boat banging through building waves (How was it I slow this thing down?) and there is a new emphasis on getting it right.
For example, I have always thought of myself as an independent sort of person. (I know, all us left wingers are supposed to be socialists and expect someone else to take care of us. But that's a whole different discussion for some other kind of blog.) But when I start thinking about living on a sailboat and (perhaps) doing some blue water cruising well, that is independence on a completely new plain. The "new thing" of learning some "old technology" has forced a new perspective on ideas like independence, responsibility, self reliance and being competent.
All of us have a perspective that is a mix of what we are and experience; pilot, parent, (grand parent!) believer, (or not), conservative, Libertarian, fisherman, motorcycle rider, musician, writer, mountain climber... a mix that makes each of us a little different from all the others. Different even while we share some pretty basic things. (Like human and US citizen.) The trick (maybe) is to not let perspectives set like concrete. To stir them around a little once in a while, look at what we think we know from some other angle.
To learn a new thing.
Monday, October 20, 2008
I love Fall. The cool, crisp air completely devoid of insects makes it actually pleasant to spend time outside in Missouri (something only you Missourians can really appreciate). You can see for miles in the blue sky since the summer haze is gone. The leaves are gorgeous and it's cool enough to sit in the sun and enjoy its warmth. It's a time to enjoy outdoor fires, hot chocolate, chicken soup, and to drag your favorite sweater and wooley socks out of the closet.
Unfortunately, Fall always seems to be followed by Winter. I hate Winter. While every winter's onset is the prospect of endless bleak, gray days, I have a particularly strong desire to avoid this one. The thought of Nomad rocking in slush with inches of snow on her bow is one I don't care much for. We got just a glimpse of how hard life on the water is in the cold this weekend, discovering that everything done on a boat is much more challenging wearing gloves, and no amount of warm clothes seem to be able to protect your cheeks and lips from the biting wind. Bittersweet a sailor's life in the winter - wishing for wind to fill the sails but wanting to find the nook in the cockpit that protects you from its gusts.
We have a few more weeks to enjoy the weather, then time to winterize Nomad and move her to her winter residence a good ways closer to the main dock. We bought a small heater to keep us warm on the nights we brave the elements to check on her, and the test run this weekend was a serious thumbs-up. I guess I'm as ready as can be to endure the long,long winter, but since this blog is, after all, The Retirement Project, I suspect a good bit of time will be spent here daydreaming about warm Caribbean waters and white sandy beaches.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
We went out with a friend again on a Friday night sail. The wind was brisk enough to put some heel on the boat and some chill in the air.
Saturday Deb and I pushed off in Nomad around 9:30 to find some light wind blowing straight out of the North. We wanted to head down to the dam (just about due South from the marina) but Nomad doesn't like the wind directly behind her. She actually goes a little better with the wind off one shoulder first then the other (as you are standing at the wheel). Sailors call this being on a "broad reach" and when you turn side to side with your butt to the wind like that, they call it "jibing." We jibed our way down the lake, back and forth from east shore to west, about 10 times. Each tack gaining just a little bit down wind, 5 miles sailed to get maybe 1 in the direction we wanted to go.
Turning for home we were now sailing as close to directly into the wind as we could, something sailors call "close hauled." One would think that we would slowly gain on the marina but it turns out there is a catch. Sailboats always slip a little sideways because of the pressure of the wind on the side of the boat, something they call "leeway." When the winds are light and the boat is going slow, the keel doesn't get much of a bite in the water and the leeway eats up any progress one might otherwise make toward the goal. In other words, no matter how hard we tried there was no heading we could hold that would get us any closer to home port. Without the engine we actually couldn't get from here to there. So we motored back to the dock and tied up just after the sun set in a spectacular display.
This morning the wind was rattling the trees. Just as we were getting ready to cast off a friend who sails Gale Force called in. He had spent the night on the hook because his engine had overheated while he was trying to motor home the night before (sound familiar?). Now he was looking for a tow to get him into the dock. Deb and I volunteered to go get him but as we were clearing the inlet our overheat alarm went off as well! A third friend headed out in Magic Dragon to gather up Gale Force. Since the wind was blowing Deb and I put up sails and went out to play in spite of our ailing motor. Nomad is a sailboat after all. To get in we used the same trick we have before, sailing deep into the inlet and starting the engine at the last possible minute to gain the slip.
Our engine turned out to be an easy fix. In addition to Nomad and Gale Force, we saw Sailing Fox going by under tow (her outboard had died) and we heard that Blue Moon got stranded with dead batteries. There was a bunch of mechanicing going on this afternoon in Boulder!
All things considered it was a pretty cool weekend. The weather was autumn perfection, this morning's sail was fast and fun, we handled a problem with little fuss, and we even got a little work done on the boat. All weekend the normally pea-soup-looking lake water actually reflected the deep blue of the skies and sparkled in the sun. In fact I ended up with a pretty good sunburn on my face from the reflections! I was thinking on the way home that I am one of the luckiest people on the planet. But luck has a habit of setting its own schedule. Deb and I have seen our share of struggles in the past 30 odd years and there are sure to be more to come. At the moment though, the winds are fair and the weather kind. The only thing to do is to accept the gift as it comes and sail on.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
I need to head off in a little while for another full day of chasing paperwork around but I am still dragging from yesterday. So this will be a day of slogging along, not thinking too far ahead, just getting finished with the current task, making the next step, and then doing the next thing. Eventually I will get to the end of the day and then to the end of the week.
I don't like just slogging along. (Like this election. Does anyone else feel like we are never going to get to the end of this thing?) What is good about slogging along is that we are still moving. Even a slog is progress. Right now I am making progress toward a weekend with Deb on our little Nomad. It may be a slog, it may seem like nothing is moving but the fuel gauge, but it will get me there. Sometimes that is the best we can do and, for today, it is good enough.
Monday, October 13, 2008
The Cats in order from top to bottom:
The Antares 44i sits at the top of the heap, the tip of the mountain, the peak of perfection; and is completely out of reach unless mounds of money fall from the sky and land in my back yard. (Money that is actually worth something that is.) To give some idea of how much this thing costs I heard that the one at the show is owned by the dude who runs Haliburton; or maybe it was Blackwater? Anyway we are talking serious throw weight.
The Leopard / 40 or 46 are my personal favorites. There is nothing about these boats I would change except, a) finding a way to put a washer/dryer on the 40, and b) having one registered in my name.
Admiral 38; a close run on the Leopard. I really liked the cathedral ceilings in the hulls that make for a wonderfully open feel to being "down stairs." The main complaint is the finish of the fiberglass inside the boat which is not up to the standards of the Leopard. As a result the boat has a "hollow" sound to it when one is inside and the hulls look a bit industrial.
Lagoon 380. Nice, really nice. Not much to change on this one either but the inside finish is just shy of the Leopard while costing a bit more. It also has vertical windows in the salon which are a good idea for a whole host of reasons; room, not focusing the sun, good visibility, etc. But I think they are a bit ugly. The Admiral looks like a sea-going space ship; the Lagoon like a floating apartment.
Foutaine Pajot Mahe 36. This was a boat at the top of my "going in" list. But for a variety of small reasons it just didn't tug at the heartstrings like the Leopard or Admiral. Still a nice boat and if anyone wants to buy me one for Christmas I promise not to be disappointed.
Seawind 1160. This was another boat I really expected to like. But when we first boarded her I was vastly underwhelmed and just walked off the thing. The next day we got on her again and (for reasons I don't really understand) I liked it much better the second time around. This is a boat that needs to grow on you a little. Still, I don't think it would be much of a colder weather boat without some work.
All of the Mono's that I liked are Center Cockpit boats. They are a bit more troublesome to get aboard since the helm station itself is in a kind of tub located about a third of the way forward from the stern. The interiors of all the mono's were glowing wood and well thought out floor plans. (Cats, being much more sensitive to weight, have a lot of white fiberglass.)
Passport. This thing was just flat beautiful inside and out. If I had a choice between this one and an Admiral Cat it would be a hard, hard decision to make.
Island Packet 465. All around very nice boat with a long, blue-water pedigree. It also had a really, really nice master cabin aft. Its big sister, the 485, includes an office that any smart CEO would want to call her own. If you promise not to tell anyone I think the Island Packet is probably the most reasonable, biggest bang for the buck, option that we saw. I would not be surprised at all if we landed on one of these a few years from now. (She also has lines very similar to those of little Nomad.)
Since Deb and I have never actually sailed on a big catamaran the list is a bit premature. (Of course not having done anything like this didn't stop us from jumping in with both feet when it comes to sailboats. I offer as evidence to our willingness to try about anything a 27 foot Com-Pac currently floating in our slip.) The next step of the plan is to spend a few days learning to sail a Cat and taking a coastal cruising course at the same time. There are several 5 day classes offered along the East Coast and we are hoping to take advantage of one of them sometime next spring.
On first brush another consideration is that all of the Cats seem slanted to "warm weather, island hopping" kind of sailing. The Mono's looked a bit more purposeful, like they could take on the Northern climes or Southern Sea and have a fair chance of giving their owners a good time and a cozy place to live. Probably an illusion but something I need to square away in my own thinking. I can easily imagine that Deb and I will not be just warm weather kinds of people, and may look for some sailing where you might find a little snow on the deck once in a while.
For now though, we are going to enjoy the changing season right here on our lake in IL. The next few weekends are "on the boat" weekends. (Well, I might have one contract trip on a Sunday.) I want to put some serious time in on Nomad and just enjoy having the boat and being on the lake. The leaves are starting to change around here and with any luck we will find some wind to play with this month.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
First, a huge "Love you guys!" to Matt, Tiff, Campbell, John and Lara, who made the trip a delight. Matt and Tiff and their daughter Campbell (just a few months older than Catherine) even came with us to the show on Saturday. It was great to get their impression of the ones we liked and they let us use Campbell for "grand kid tests." She approved of all the boats, even climbing under the covers on a couple of the bunks to check out their suitability for a nap. Important stuff. It was also our first time to meet Lara (she and John are recently married) and I was completely charmed.
So what about the show itself? Fantastic if a bit smaller than I thought. The entire show sight would fit in the corner of Oshkosh, the National Business Aviation Association meet, or Sun-N-Fun (3 big aviation shows) and barely be noticed. Still, the docks were stuffed with sailboats of every description and supply vendors filled the tents on shore. Deb and I had plenty of hulls to mull over, and we climbed on and off of literally dozens of boats over the course of two days. Many of them several times. We met and talked with owners. We listened to sales pitches. We gazed at masts and rigging that made Nomad's look short and light. We saw RADARS and plotters, auto-pilots, fantastic interiors, engine rooms to make a mechanic's eyes shine and helm stations that promised adventure far over the horizon. Dock lines creaked, waves slapped gently at a multitude of hulls, the weather was perfect, and all the hardware as shiny as it could be.
Much to my surprise the catamaran vs mono hull debate lingers. We dropped one Cat completely from consideration as a live-aboard boat. (The Gemini 105 for anyone who cares). It was simply too lightly built and too tight inside. We would pick a 45 foot center cockpit mono hull first. In fact the center cockpit boats made a very favorable impression all around, and one was drop-dead gorgeous. (For $1.2 mil new it freaking well better be!) So we are now looking at catamaran v center cockpit monohull. (Aft cockpit mono hulls did fall pretty far out of consideration as well. When the weather goes interesting I don't want a monster sea that close to my ass. More to the point the aft cabin in a center cockpit boat is just amazing.)
But here's the main thing, all boat details aside. Of the numerous center cockpit mono hulls and Cruising Cats we looked at (less the 105) none would be a disappointment. I would call any of them "home" without a second thought; and would point each toward deep water at the first opportunity. For all the boats we lusted over it turns out the boat itself is not the thing. The thing is the going.
So a new debate has taken over from the boat debate. No so much "which" but "when?" Now we are sneaking up on the idea of picking a time, December of 2011 say, or July of 2012. (We haven't gotten that far yet.) When that day comes, put the house up for sale, dump whatever is left that will not fit on a boat, and then find a boat. Work up the list of "most lusted after" (more on that later) get the best boat we can for the money we have, and make it happen.
It is the one thing I didn't really expect to learn at the boat show.
Sailing has opened up the door to more friendships for us than any other activity we've been involved with and I've been turning that thought over in my mind trying to decide exactly why that is. In the aviation world there's a huge amount of arrogance, some justified I suppose by the amount of work required to attain the various certifications and hours of experience, and in the motorcycling world an enormous amount of testosterone, neither of which are conducive to the kind of quick, easy friendships that last a long time. Enter sailing, and within 4 months we have a long roster of friends that would spend the day helping us fix our engine in 100 degree heat, just for the asking and a few bottles of the brew of choice. There's no ridicule because your skills aren't as good as the tenants in the next slip, in fact, only an excessive amount of encouragement and acknowledgment that "we've all been there before" Laughter is in abundance, and solid advice flows as freely as the rum and coke. People look out for each other and each other's boats, and when they ask how you've been they genuinely want to know. Going to the marina always means a good dose of "Cheers".
So why is this? At first I thought it was because sailing can be a humbling experience...you know the idea of not being able to properly control a machine going a whopping 4 knots. But aviation can also be humbling, and I've been humbled more times than I care to think about on the various bikes I've owned over the years. I suppose it may have something to do with the fact that both aviation and motorcycling tend to draw the severest of the Type-A personalities, but I threw that idea out fairly quickly because so many sailors are also pilots and motorcyclists. After a lot of mulling over this for a week I felt like I was still where I began.
Well...not quite, maybe, because I did manage to come to the conclusion that some things are just better not explained. Friendship in any walk of life is a mystery, and the gift of it, (and the giver), is something not to be taken for granted. It involves trust and caring and empathy and giving and it's most brutal enemy is neglect. The passing of my good buddy Itchy Dog has left a lot of people who loved him hurting, but it has done one good thing. It's made me thankful for each of you I call friend. Good hunting Itchy...
Thursday, October 9, 2008
And a good time for it, I say. At the moment it looks like retirement might be a bit further away than we thought. (Us and everyone else with a 401k and a house.) There sure are a bunch of clouds on the horizon and (in boat talk) it might be time to reef the sails and figure this is a storm that will be hard to avoid. It is difficult to see to the other side of this one; a serious economic decline coupled with a political debate that gets uglier, more mean spirited and more filled with hate with each passing day. Maybe this is the way it has always been? The days of Vietnam and Nixon, Watergate and riots, saw bodies lying on University lawns, tear gas in the streets and whole city blocks reduced to war torn rubble. I remember tanks on the roads of D.C. and I doubt that the death toll of those tragic times has ever really been told. It hurts my heart to think that those days may be upon us once again.
We survived it once. But this time the divide may be even deeper, the two sides more vehement, the hate more passionate. No matter which side wins the current election, after the things said and the charges flung how can either claim to represent the whole? Who on the right will willingly support a President Obama? Who on the left a President McCain (or Palin)? It seems that neither side can bare the thought of living in the country the other side wants to build.
And neither side speaks for those of us who would hope the country is big enough for both. When did we decide that the woman who wants to stay home and take care of her family couldn't live next door to the woman who wants to fly airplanes for a living or run a business? Who decided one was better than the other, and when and how? When did we determine that the air was so poisoned by the religious or the atheist that the other couldn't breathe it any more? When did it become my business to tell you who you could love, how you could live, what you could eat or drink (or smoke); and when did it become your job to decide those same things for me? When did it happen that any of us decided that we, and we alone, were the only adults in the room?
Scary times indeed. But for tomorrow and Saturday and Sunday the biggest and baddest debates I want to hear are; catamaran or mono hull, in-mast furling or lazy jacks, hank-on or rollers, and how big an anchor is big enough? In the end we all sail the same sea and a large enough storm can take us all to the bottom.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
New friend Parks on "October Breeze" needed crew for this weekend's charity race. Deb and I were more than glad to sign up, learn from a long time sailor and see a new boat. ("October Breeze" by the way, is a sweetheart.) There is a handicap system for sailboats to try and make the racing fun that they call a "perf." (Not sure what that means either.) However it works, I don't think they gave "October Breeze" enough of it for having me on board during a race. Still, we didn't finish last, or even next to last. (Okay, we did finish next to next to last.)
There wasn't much wind on Saturday (big surprise) but we still managed some excitement. At the first turn (sailors call it a "mark") someone did something unexpected, charging through a line of boats where there really wasn't a hole, and causing a real mealy. Friend Kort (guru of the night sail a few weeks ago) got cut-off at the pass and had to fend off the offending boat literally by hand. Since there was 4 our 5 of us all trying to ease around the same floating buoy at the same time a real domino effect ensued. Boats were going in all directions trying to 1) get around the turn without, 2) banging into another boat while, 3) trying to figure out what the wind was doing. The good news is that, whatever the wind was doing, it wasn't doing very hard. So the whole thing unfolded in a kind of slow motion with no harm done.
After the turn Kort's boat and "October Breeze" sailed (drifted more like it) side by side to the next mark within just a couple of feet of each other. The two crews chatted back and forth most of the way. Sailboat "racing" is really a different kind of animal.
There was a big party that night with a wonderful bonfire. This morning we got up, endured our first yacht club membership meeting (pretty much like any kind of membership meeting you have ever attended) and then took Nomad out to see if the 10 mph winds forecast for the day would actually show. They did, in gusts and spurts. Eventually all of the flat spots on the lake filled in with cat's paws, and the wind was more or less (sometimes less than less) steady. The highlight of the day's sail was when Deb got us set up on the best wing-on-wing run we have managed in little Nomad yet. With our big drifter hanging far off the port side and the main shoved over to starboard I think we cut a pretty impressive pose. We used some of the stuff we had picked up from Parks during the race to play with the sails, setting the main sheet and then using the traveler more and adjusting the jib cars, to get the most out of the little wind we found. It all worked pretty well.
Deb ended the weekend with some sad news about a four-legged-friend. Itchy was a happy "airport dog" from her last job that she used to walk during lunch and who was good company in the office day in and day out. Those who have known the love of a good animal will understand her loss.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
Having less substance or weight or fewer calories than something else: "lite music, shimmering on the surface and squishy soft at the core" (Mother Jones).
Someone should look into the mysterious law of physics that accounts for the fact that, any desk, anywhere, left unattended for more than 60 seconds, will attract pieces of paper at a rate that seems to defy the 2ed law of thermodynamics. I was away from one of my desks for a couple of days of flying people around so, sure enough, I had to spend today sorting, reading, initialing and forwarding various bits to various places. (Some only had to go as far as the wastebasket at my feet. I expect to get an edict someday requiring me to initial those ones as well, just to verify that I have the authority to give me permission to throw them away.)
Anyway, (and to get to the title of this little piece) during the day I had a short conversation with my boss. He is pretty high up in our organization with a desk full of real problems to deal with. Like many who work at that stratospheric level his problems seem to grow more complex and intractable with each passing day. As it turns out one of my problems, trying to keep the airplane in the sky while finishing up what has grown into the avionics refit from hell, had intersected with one of his problems, just trying to keep the airplane. He assured me that he had prevailed and that I need not update my resume. (Don’t tell anyone, but like every pilot I know my resume is always up to date.) But now would not be a good time for another extended visit to the shop.
So it came to pass that as I was riding home this afternoon (the long way around, explanation in a moment) I was mulling over the realization once again that there are people completely unknown to me and without a care of me at all, who making decisions that could have a direct and immediate impact on my very next day, or even what remains of this one. It was a stark reminder that I am just “Skipper Lite” when it comes to my own life. The reminder was reinforced when I got to the Rt 170 South on ramp...which was blocked by police cars and flashing lights. It seems someone judged important by someone else was going to some kind of debate at Wash U to be held later this evening. This person’s need to move down the road superseded that of hundreds of others judged much less important. (Really, I know about the VP debate but I am ignoring this latest orgy of election showmanship as much as possible. And that is all I intend to say about politics on this blog!)
I know there are conflicting and overwhelming forces that constrain and set the limits on all of our lives…but I hate being “Skipper Lite.” I hate the idea that the rub line of my day is drawn at the whim of others, that I can helm only a few degrees off the wind or up. Someone else can throw the anchor anytime they like bringing me to a dead stop in the water, or punch a hole in the hull and have me scrambling for a safe harbor where none show on the charts.
As I have said before that is one of the things I love about being in the sky. With the wheels in the wells, the air passing by a 500 + mph, 8 miles high in a sky full of weather, the Pilot in Command is just that. The outcome of the flight depends almost entirely on his or her decisions, skills and insights. The beauty of high altitude flight, the storms and the stars and the sunsets and the clouds; the new places and the perfect landings; the elation of the rush down the runway for the day’s initial departure and the magic of that very first foot of altitude; as wonderful as it all is, it turns out these are not the things that draw me back to the cockpit time after time.
And so I have discovered the lure of living on a boat. It isn’t just the beauty of the water, the rush of the wind in the sails, the sound of the rigging, the new places to see and the new things to learn. It turns out sails really are like wings. When each is filled with the wind “Skipper Lite” is forced to stay behind. Once the land recedes (below or behind it does not matter) then a person can be responsible for the journey. The directions ours to figure out, the starts and stops ours to chose.
For some maybe, none of this matters at all. Maybe for most. For others it is all that matters. I guess I am one of the "others."