Sunday, March 29, 2009

Snow flakes, Snow Geese,and Whipping Wind

The past week we've had flowers blooming on our trees and warm sunshine abundant. Old Man Winter, in a toddler tantrum similar to my granddaughter's, decided to show us who's boss this weekend with one last bout of winter ice and snow, just enough to kill all the daffodils that were cheerily swaying on warm breezes just 3 days ago. Unfortunately timed, this fit of his, with the only days off Tim and I were to have together on the boat. In spite of the fearful forecast projected for Saturday, we headed out to the marina Friday anyway, because a bad day on the boat is still better than a good day elsewhere. We were the only ones who challenged the weatherman's warning and after dinner in the marina clubhouse we spent a half hour bundled up in the cockpit enjoying the lack of human noise and the announcement by the local frog chorus that they had returned and were open for business. Morning came with the decision that Tim would head to Pittsburgh earlier than his planned Monday morning departure, to relieve his sister from hospital duty (their mom has been ensconced in the hospital for 2 weeks after a fall) and give her a much-needed rest. The decision of stay or go home for me was made rather easily. I figured if I was going to learn to live on a boat full-time, then I should expect to learn to live on a boat in cold, windy, icy, gray, nasty...well you get the Since it was too cold and wet to accomplish any of the boat projects I had on my to-do list, I spent the day puttering around the marina, building a wine rack for the clubhouse, a project I'd been putting off for some time, and chatting occasionaly with the marina office manager. Toward the end of her shift she asked if I was staying all night to which I answered yes. "All by yourself?" she asked. "Why would you do that? You're nuts!" I wondered about this myself as I braved the 35 knot wind and 40 degree temperatures to head back to the boat after my canned chicken soup dinner. I wondered why I was actually doing this when I had a perfectly warm house with a functioning fireplace just an hour and ten minutes away. Just then I rounded the corner at the end of our dock and found myself face to face with a great blue heron who hadn't heard me coming due to the howling of the wind and hadn't seen me due to the bulk of the houseboat moored at the corner slip. We eyed each other, he assessing the threat, me soaking in every detail of his perfect beauty before he would finally muster the strength to draw his 7 foot wing span into the heavy wind, leaving me with that prehistoric, garbling cry reminisent of his ancestors. I stood there for a moment longer, oblivious to the wind and snowflakes whipping around me, and said out loud "That's why."

For some, a boat is an end. For them it's about speed, or the latest model, or the race trophies, or the tinkering, or the horsepower. For me, the boat is the means. The boat gives me the excuse to be on the dock at the exact same time as the heron, or the sky full of snow geese, or the ball of fire sinking in the western sky. It gives me an excuse to curl up in the V-berth wrapped in the boat quilt and read a sailing yarn cover to cover without the guilt of undone laundry on the closet floor. "But the means to what?" you say. "All means have an end" The end for me is to sit in my rocker when I'm too feeble to sail any longer, and know that I experienced more than the three walls of my cubicle. And if doing that requires a rough weekend in freezing, icy, wind gusts, then bring it on, Old Man Winter!

Saturday, March 21, 2009


There was a light sprinkle or two last night. It is hard to describe just how satisfying it is to lie snuggled under the quilt while listening to the rain hit the overhead hatches. If you have ever spent a night dry and warm in a tent while the rain fell outside, you know the feeling. Now add the gentle movement of the boat, a line or two slapping lightly in the wind, and the creaking of fenders against the dock, and you get a hint of just how well we slept.

This was a good day after a good night, though we spent it at the dock. Engine work filled most of it for me, putting stores on board was on Deb's "to do" list. We also ran up the main sail for a clean and check, mounted the Bimini, ran a couple of lines and straightened up the dock box. (Dock boxes are like garages. No matter how hard you try they fill to overflowing with stuff you think you need but never seem to use!) Tomorrow I hope to run the engine and start hunting down coolant leaks.

A few others are working on their boats as well, but for the most part the marina has been a quiet place this weekend. I am looking forward to the friends and fun of summer, but if there is a better way to celebrate the first weekend of spring then having a marina mostly to yourself with a boat to sleep on at night and play with during the day, I can't imagine what it would be.

Friday, March 20, 2009


This is the first official day of spring. (Yeah!) This is our first night on the boat for this season. (Yeah again!) This is also the first time I have actually made an entry on our blog while sitting on the boat. (Ain't wireless neat?) I only wish I could say we were rocking gently at anchor where the water is blue, the beaches are white, the air is warm and I am sipping on a frozen margarita. But we are securely tied to our slip where the water is brown, the beaches are mud and the air is cool. As for the frozen margarita, well, a Rum & Coke on ice will have to do; as soon as I find a little Rum, a little Coke and a little ice.

Still, I am lucky enough to be on Nomad with Deb this weekend, which makes me lucky enough. The week just past was unexpectedly hard, even harsh. Those to come make no promise of being easier. But being on a boat helps me put things in perspective. The larger world of water and gulls, breezes and open skies, reminds me that all of us who share this little planet face similar challenges, shared hard times, common sorrows, and unexpected hurts. We take our turn in the drama of living. When a bit of luck comes our way we need to remember to smile and appreciate the moment.


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Road trip

This weekend Deb and I celebrated our anniversary by making an impromptu road trip to check out some sailboats. Such trips have been a staple of our 34 years married. Part of our family lore is having bags packed and at the ready, and nearly any excuse is good enough to get us out the door. This weekend we had a couple of excuses that were better than average; anniversary, nice weather, and a Gozzard 36 for sale at a place we had never visited.

Green Turtle Bay is a very nice resort / marina a few miles south of Paducah, on the Kentucky and Barkley Lakes. It is deep in the area devastated by last winter's ice storm and we were stunned at the damage done. I have never seen anything quite like it; thousands of trees just knocked over by the weight; thousands more with limbs sheared or trunks simply splintered. For hundreds of square miles roads, rail roads, camping areas, homes, backyards, and fields were covered with uncounted millions of tons of debris. The songs of chain saws filled the day Saturday and will fill many, many more before the work is done. Even then it will be years before the forests recover.

The area around the lake, though equally damaged, is still a very pretty place. Pretty but a bit odd. It turns out Kentucky Dam lies in a dry county. (Two massive lakes in a "dry" county. Ours is a very strange language.) There is something fundamentally uncivilized about a place where you can't buy a Rum & Coke to go with dinner.

The Gozzard is (as regular readers here know) on our short list of mono-hulls. But we have never actually set foot on one so the chance to step aboard a real live example was not to be missed. As often happens with such trips serendipity played a part and the owner, (who actually lives only 5 miles or so from our house in St. Louis) was in KN this weekend as well. He was only too glad to give us the grand tour and share his stories of cruising the Gulf. It turns out he used to belong to the club in Boulder and one of his old boats, a 30' Catalina named Paradise, is tied to a slip not far from Nomad.

Details are details but the Gozzard may well be on a short-short list, though Deb and I both agree that 36 feet is about as small a mono-hull as we would like to consider for full time living. Even though a tad short it was a very cool boat with a myriad of well thought out little details and first rate workmanship. And "tad short" applies to just the inside. With a 6 foot bow sprite and dingy divots the overall length of the Gozzard 36, stem to stern as they say, is just shy of 50 feet!

After a night in a very nice one-bedroom condo overlooking the marina we headed back to St. Louis via Boulder and some time spent on Nomad. (We didn't mention the Gozzard while on board.) The winds were howling today, at times gusting past 40 knots. All the boats still in slips heeled over in unison; leaned on by the enthusiastic breeze. Halyards were set to clanking all over the yard. A friend's home-made boat box lid proved no match as it was pried open, ripped from its hinges and sent spinning into the water between the docks. I fished it out with a boat hook as it floated by since it has some sharp metal edges and I'd hate to see it gouge another boat. I'll return it later.

Deb and I did the normal stuff to care for Nomad while being careful to keep hats (and bodies) from taking a similar dip. Working around a rolling boat with lines strung all over to hold on covers; it would be easy to miss a step or catch a toe and end up wet, cold and embarrassed (or worse). At the end of the afternoon we kind of crashed in the v-berth for a while. It was pleasant indeed to be curled up together, safe on board while the winds whipped overhead, feeling our little boat rock against her lines and bump her fenders against the dock.

In fact it felt like home.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Closer every day

...the season, that is. The Boulder Marina "No Boat" party was last Saturday at a hotel far from the docks. It was a good time for seeing everyone we have missed seeing at the marina over the winter. Lots of laughs, lots of stories, lots of cheer and maybe (just maybe mind you) some small indulgences in a bit of alcoholic beverage filled the evening.

Sunday morning I made the run out to the boat. As it turns out I was the first official "customer" of the new boating season which, (so I was told) starts on March Uno each year. March or not I was dressed in 5 layers and it was still a bit too cold to spend a lot of time on the dock. As usual I checked the dock lines, charged the batteries, fired up the heater to drive out a little moisture, checked the bilge, and generally poked around while listening to a little Eric Clapton on the CD player. Though it was too cold it was kind of nice to be on the boat without having to brush away spider webs, dodge dive-bombing wasps, or slap away hungry mosquitoes. Warm(er) weather is promised by the end of the week and it can't get here to soon for me.

When we first bought Nomad she seemed small inside. As the season went on our little boat grew a bit bigger each time we were on her, finally growing to just the right size. Back on her last Sunday she seemed a little small again. My guess is in a few weeks she will be just the right size once more. Last season we only did two "nights out" on the boat, both raft-ups. This year I hope to make it a regular habit of sailing away from the dock Friday night or Saturday morning and not tying back in until Sunday afternoon. I also hope to do our first solo night sail this year. Just for learning's sake Deb and I also want to take a turn at "single handing" the boat; forcing the other to sit and watch while we try to sail Nomad by ourselves. (Deb may have to lock me in the head!) It should be a fun year.