Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The urges of geese

Last weekend Deb and I made the run to Indy. (I think weekend runs to Indy will fill a couple of otherwise on-the-boat-weekends this year.) On the way home we stopped by the marina to check on Nomad. Somehow we managed to leave town without taking a boat key with us. All we could really ensure was that she was still floating and tied securely in her slip. We also checked out the big river / house boat that has moved onto the dock down from Nomad. It seems one of the other marinas on the lake has seen a serious rise in slip fees. Rumor has it a lot of new boats will be tied up around our little Com-Pac 27 this year. The river boat was an impressive piece and one could surely live aboard in comfort; but I am pleased that Deb and I are looking to the sailboat / ocean route instead. The river boat just looks like a floating house. And rivers, if I am honest, don't get far enough away from land to tug at my wanderlust.

Wanderlust. A serious disease with no known cure. Mine has been smoldering, banked by a winter too cold to do much riding and an economy that has put mine (and a lot of other airplanes) in the hanger more often than I like. It has been weeks since I have been "on the wind." Chaffing like a poorly tended line, working too hard at any project to distract myself from this inner irritation, I have become short tempered and hard to live with, pacing about the place even as I enjoy what we have made.

And then we saw the geese.

Thousands, 10s of thousands, of geese met us at the lake this weekend. They literally blackened the sky as they took off from the fields, jockeyed positions to fan out into long lines of formation flying, and headed off north east. Clouds of them lifted, looking for all the world like tiny thunderheads building over the dam and into the still cold sky. It was breathtaking, numbers uncountable, responding to an ancient instinct and rules of cooperation known only to animals on the fly. Those of us bound to Mother Earth were completely ignored by and of utterly no consequence to the airborne concert of noise and motion and spectacle.

Geese respond to an urge they can't name and don't pretend to understand. They don't really make any plan. I suspect they have no clue of where they are headed. Maybe they have no idea that they are headed anywhere. Maybe being "on the wind" is simply the life of a goose. In any case they just go. It may well be that they can't NOT go. It is what makes them geese.

Afterward, during the ride to St. Louis, (with the heater cranked to high to fight off the cold) I got to wondering how it is I have never seen such a thing before? Surely geese have been collecting in such numbers for all of time geese have flown anywhere. Clearly the lake is a regular stop on their travels. For more than a decade I have lived barely an hour from that lake. Yet this was the first time I have experienced one of nature's more amazing displays. For all of my miles on motorcycles, hours in the air, nights in tents and time spent sitting alone in empty places in the world, this is one that I missed. And it was just outside of being in my own back yard.

How many more utterly unsuspected yet astounding things are there to see out there? What surprises wait on an open ocean in a small boat? What is there to find along thousands of miles of coastline, poking among islands, anchored off of beeches or settling into new coves for a day or a week or a month? I don't know. I may never know. But I am fully caught up in the need to try and find out. I no more understand the need to try than the geese their need to go.

So now I'm a little bit better and a little bit worse. Figuring out how to go, working to be able to go, is also a part of the going. The only hint on the outside that we are on our way is little Nomad tied to her slip in a land-locked lake about as far from an ocean as is possible to be. But on the inside? The need to go is tied to a kind of thought that we have already left. How far we can get is not known. Maybe to where a boat is home. Maybe to where home is the East coast, or the East coast and the Keys, or the East coast and the Keys and the Islands. Maybe we can't get that far. But somewhere in the fever of my wanderlust I know the going is a thing in the past.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

It's not teak...but it is tropical.

So finally we have a picture of our new bamboo floor which we just finished laying. It was perhaps the most ambitious project we have undertaken to date, but it's hard to know as we sit and look over all the things we have done to the house over the last few years what one thing has made the most difference or provides the most satisfaction. Each thing we did - the lighting, the paint, the blinds, tearing out the walls, the floor...each adds its own essence to the whole. I had someone at work ask me this week why we were spending so much effort doing things to a house that we intended to leave before too long. I guess, even though it's not teak, that I see the floor project as an investment in our working relationship, a relationship we will certainly need to have perfected in order to keep a boat functioning well. The project, being spread over nearly 3 years, has taught me to visualize the end result and plan the necessary steps to reach the goal. For those of you non-sailors, this is a very important skill when attempting to place a large boat precisely where you would like it to be in relationship to a dock, other boats, or an inconveniently placed reef. And I guess there is also the fact that neither Tim nor I find it easy to sit for very long without doing something, ergo the reason we will make such terrific sailors some day. And since some day is farther away than I would like it, at the very least, keeps me occupied while I wait.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Stepping back is stepping up?

The economy is, of course, THE ISSUE. Except, well, it isn't. It is not the "end of the world as we know it." The world as we know it goes through this kind of thing on a pretty regular basis. Unemployment stalks the land but the vast majority of us are still employed. Yet there is something subtle but (perhaps) profound afoot; the idea that the days of debt driven obsessive consumerism have passed. (A "Mea Culpa" here; we own two motorcycles, a pick-up truck, and a boat. We live in the Central West End and have a working fire place. These past couple of weeks we did our bit for the economy by buying a big screen TV and putting in a hardwood floor. A lot of what some people criticize as consumerism I see as people just trying to live as best and as comfortably as they can. Oh, and I make my living driving a corporate jet. Me bad.)

The odd thing is that our goal, (Deb's and mine) really is to downsize, to live simpler, to live lighter on the earth. I don't think we will have pick-up trucks and big screen TVs on the boat. We may lack air conditioning, big refrigerators, closets full of clothes, video games, walls full of pictures, shelves full of do-dads and garages full of tools. (Okay, that last one might hurt a bit. We may stash a couple of motorcycles in a garage somewhere.) We might still have a hard wood floor, sort of, if we end up in a mono-hull. The very nature of living on a boat will make power consumption THE issue when it comes to our personal "consumerism." And living on a sailboat is about as "green" as a person can be. (Not counting the occasional bout of sea sickness!) If we manage to make 100 miles in a day's traveling we will be really moving, but all we will use is a little wind. When I think of it our very definition of "living better" is to reduce (at least to some people's thinking) our "standard of living."

That "standard" is something unique to each. For some it may still be that bigger, newer car, new kitchen, or house with some more bedrooms and cathedral ceiling. And I say more power to them. I hope they get there, sit on their back porch, and smile at their good fortune. For others though, that "back porch" may be a bit smaller, partially filled with a pair of big chrome wheels, have a bunch of ropes running this way and that, be cooled only by the breeze, and move gently with the motion of the waves. The schedule set by the winds and the tides, the "yard" whatever lies off the bow, and the stuff that is owned fits on a floating platform of some 600 square feet or less. For some stepping back really is stepping up.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Gearing up

Except for a test ride (a bit chilly this morning around here) Deb's bike is done. The floor is done. The TV shouldn't be that big of a deal so the house is done for the season. Projects have gone into the "completed" file and its nice to have things a little bit under control again. And with the weather warming up in fits and starts I am getting ready to have the major projects center around Nomad once again. Engine, electrical, water and instrument systems all have items I hope to get squared away before too much of the season has passed.

The engine in particular has become a kind of personal crusade. As mentioned before, 2 cylinders, 9 HP, an alternator, starter, cooling loop and (supposedly) supporting a water heater, how can such a simple lump be such a constant source of problems? I am determined to beat that thing into submission this year.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Short visit

I had a few hours after getting the truck estimate done so I headed out to the lake to check on little Nomad. (One bad thing about living in the city, the truck got broken into for the second time in about six months.) As the pictures below show the lake looks like the frozen tundra; ice locked, snow covered, windswept and really cold! But in the marina, even with a cockpit full of snow, Nomad was nodding contently in her slip. The ice shelf was being held at bay just a few feet from her stern by the various bubblers around her. As before I checked the lines and the water line in the bilge, put a top charge on the batteries and just generally looked around to be sure there was no water where water shouldn't be.

While the batteries were getting the last of the added electrons stuffed in them I stretched out on the port side settee. For a little while I just enjoyed being on the water, feeling the boats gentle motions as she noodled between the bow and stern lines. Lying there I began to wonder if Nomad could be an ocean boat. After all people uncounted had sailed boats as small and even smaller around the world. She would need new sails of course, and something would have to be done with the bitch of a engine she carries. (How can a tiny motor of two cylinders and 9 HP be such a constant pain in the ass?) All in all it could be done.

Of course it came time to head home and as I got ready to leave I had to admit that I could live on Nomad, in fact I would live on Nomad if the choice was between that and not making it to a boat at all. But I doubt that will be the path we take. The economy is a bad as most of us alive have ever seen. But the land isn't going anywhere, or the water, lakes and sea. People still need to live and we will figure out a way. The sun keeps rising, the moon goes though its phases, already there are hints that the birds know spring is near so they are getting ready to head north. This time of trouble shall pass like they all do. Then we will be onto the next thing, the next crisis, the next war. And maybe, someday, we will learn to build the next peace, the next bit of prosperity, take the next step toward a society that is good for the many and not just the few.

One thing the future is sure to bring is warmer days and sailboats being on the wind yet again.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Some Winter Pictures

Just some pictures of the lake this past week for you.

The lake as viewed from the boat launch parking lot across from the marina.

The bubblers are keeping the ice at bay (pun intended).

Just a little snow in the cockpit.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Winter (blacks &) blues

Some of the snow melted over the weekend but it is getting cold again this week. Instead of making it out to the boat Deb and I started the big floor project. Digging into a major project is both fun and helps the winter pass. It can also make for some sore limbs, torn callouses and bruised fingers. After all these years of swinging hammers and working with tools and I still manage to catch a finger once in a while. About 20% of the new floor is down, which, considering the prep work before and the trim work after, makes me guess about 30% of the job is done.

After working all day we have spent short evenings debating various mono-hulls. If we ever find the cash a Catamaran is definitely the boat of choice, a Leopard 38 being top dog at the moment. (Couldn't resist the play with words, sorry.) In the mono-hull, pretending that price doesn't matter debate, I've taken up the Dufour flag. The sleek deck and cabin have won me over. Deb is rooting for the Gozzard. She really likes the interior of that boat with its convertible V-berth / lounge / dining area. (I have to admit that it is pretty trick.) And back closer to the real world the Gozzard may actually be a viable option some day. A solid, well made boat with various models that have been around for a while...there are some really attractive Gozzards for sale at prices that don't quite take one's breath away.

If we were looking at cars this would be called, "tire kicking." I'm not sure what the proper slang is when referring to sailboats. "Hull gazing," or "sheet yanking" maybe? Whatever they call it there are a lot of nice boats out there. I think, when the time comes, we will certainly find the right boat for us. Deb disagrees. She thinks we are going to find the right boat long before we think the time has come.