Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mind sets

Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect.

I am reading another sailing book and am once again struck by the thought, “How &*%!+@ stupid can you be?” Maybe it is just the pilot in me, but sailors seem to count as “adventure” doing the dumbest thing possible and then, somehow, surviving to tell the tale. A pilot who routinely pushed the environment, weather, and machinery as hard as these guys do would be routinely dead. I may sail a boat, I may even get the chance to live on a boat and do some blue water sailing, but I doubt I will ever be able to approach it with such a callous disregard for what penalties might be extracted. For good or ill I will always be a pilot. I don’t challenge the elements. (Futile that, the elements always win.) I let them dictate what I can do, where I can go and when I can leave. I don’t push machinery past the breaking point hoping I can figure out a way to fix it on the fly. (And I am a pretty good mechanic.) Only a grave lies at the end of that path. When you get short on spares, stop and get more spares! Don’t keep going thinking you can use your dishes to make a manifold for your exhaust system. No pilot in his or her right mind would launch knowing major systems, parts, bits or various pieces were already past the point of failure.

I don’t get the mindset. With all the talk of being independent and self-sufficient the stories have busted boats limping into distant ports, the Captain broke and begging for help. Where it not for the kindness of strangers and the largeness of Governments they would never leave port again. (And maybe, for some of them, what would be the best thing possible.) When the ultimate failure, (a sinking boat) finally does catch up with some of these people they count on others risking their own lives to come pluck the “adventurer” out of the sea. How is that independent or self-sufficient?

I think I understand that being at sea is the choice to accept a certain amount of risk and deliberately putting one’s self in a place where help is far away. Flying is much the same. Even the best of plans cannot account for every possibility and things will happen that draw the line between the quick and the dead. Knowing that is part of the reason we go. But the idea is to reduce the chances of such a thing happening, not deliberately court such a trip to the very, very edge.

I'm sure glad some of these people aren't pilots. I would hate to be a passenger on either their boats or their airplanes.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Not quite Monday yet

Nomad stayed in her slip today. It was a great day for sailing and I had every intention of trying a little single-handed work. But before heading out I decided I really should fix the leak in the porthole over Deb's side of the V-berth. That didn't take too long and since I had a fresh tube of sealer open it seemed like a good idea to fix the leak in the aft overhead hatch. Ahh that? That took a little longer, most of the rest of the day longer in fact. The last person who put in that hatch took the "quantity is better than quality installation" approach in regards to clear silicone sealant. There were gobs of that stuff everywhere, even smeared onto the part of the hatch that hinges up! Hours of work with a wire brush in the drill, alcohol soaked scotch bright, and sweat dripping off my nose still wasn't enough to get it completely clean, but at least it is better. In fact it is so much better that (naturally) doing the front one is now on the "to-do" list.

I didn't go sailing but Deb decided that she needed to spend a night on the boat before going back to work. Which makes this a pretty good night.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Dark at Night

For the first time in untold years a day has gone by and Deb and I haven't talked. After a long week of flying, an early get up this morning in Ft. Lauderdale, and the drive to the lake, I was looking forward to hearing her voice. I missed her call but when I booted up the 'puter to make this entry, her post made my day.

I was out on Nomad when she called, doing a night sail with Barry. His Juno is being fitted with a new main sail and is temporarily out of commission. Being in need of a sailing fix, and since Deb and I have enjoyed many a night sail on his boat, it only seemed fair that Nomad stand in.

I mentioned to Barry that this was the first time I had successfully backed out of the slip since Deb normally handles the helm when we start out. (The one and only other time I tried, on our very first sail, we ended up facing the wrong direction.) He laughed, saying, "Well I guess we know who owns this boat."

It wasn't quite full dark when we started. Barry took the helm while I hoisted the sails. We turned to a broad reach down the lake, set the trim, and ambled off at a sedate pace. Big boomers were lighting up the sky to the east while in the west the sun set in a blazing red sky. After an hour or so we had managed about 1/3 of the way down the lake. Now in full darkness the storms looked menacingly close, though in reality they were moving away. We made a single tack, pointed toward the marina, and started for home. We chatted airplanes and boats, Barry showed me a few pointers on setting the sails in the very light breeze, and eventually we drew a bead on the point by turning dead down wind. The jib was completely blanked by the main and started luffing, so I dropped it to the deck, started our little motor, sheeted the main in tight and dropped it as well while Barry steered down the channel. This all went pretty well. Even in the dark I could find the lines, clutches, and other bits needed to stow the sails. It was still a good idea to step carefully though. The lake water looks a bit uninviting at night.

Once in the marina Barry allowed as, since it is (sort of) my boat, I could put it in the slip. It turned out this was much easier said than done, even in the total calm behind the breakwater. The moon had set and the parking lot lights were more of a hinder than a help, reflecting off the water and making it very hard to see the docks and other boats in the dark. I managed to find Nomad's berth and slipped us in with little drama, but I'm thinking it was more luck than skill. Next time I will have flashlights at hand; the stars alone (amazing as they are on a dark lake) are simply not enough to see by.

I'm sitting alone now on my little boat, fading fast and astonished at how empty it feels without Deb on board. We will hook up tomorrow sometime, somewhere, and that will be the best part of my birthday.

Happy Birthday Captain

Tomorrow is Tim's birthday and for any of you who don't know us that well, this will continue our streak of something like 20 years that we haven't spent it together (maybe even 25?). Tim is on Nomad tonight and I am in Indianapolis doing battle with a rather incredible amount of poison ivy in my son-in-law's yard since he is critically allergic to the stuff. To his credit, he did try to deal with it himself but somehow or another the vile juice snuck between his shirt and gloves and now he's miserably covered with weeping blisters. Mom-in-law to the rescue. The yard is shaping up nicely in preparation for their home sale. I do believe, though, that this is the first time that our not being together on Tim's birthday was due to me - usually it's a flight of his that does the duty.

At any rate, Happy Birthday Captain. And whether we happen to be together to celebrate it or not, my heart is with you today and every other one.

Friday, July 24, 2009


Yesterday I had a difficult day at work. Not because it was busy, but because it wasn't. I don't tolerate boredom well and after affixing address stickers to 500 brochures I decided to take my lunch to the park and read a book in the sunshine.

I was sitting there munching on Subway and mulling over what my family says are the vagaries of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged when a sudden breeze caught the fancy of the redbud's leaves over my picnic table and the noise, quite like the mixture of rushing wind and water, caused a sudden transformation of scene in my mind to the middle of the ocean. I closed my eyes, and for a few minutes I was there - even to the point of drawing the rolling motion from the memory banks of last week's sail.

While not the stuff of great philosophical treatises or the wannabees like the well-worn tome I held in my hand, I was nonetheless overcome with the realization that I live with a lot of meaningless noise. Copiers, computers, fans, lathes (I work for a machine shop), trucks, and an assorment of whining of various tones depending on which coworker I happen to be standing near. This simple tree brought home the point so well that one of the greatest reasons I want to go cruising is to trade off these meaningless noises for those of some worth - the primeval screech of the great blue heron,the high-pitched whistle of wind in the rigging, the gentle flapping of the flag, the churning of the wake at the bow, the frogs and crickets near shore, and best of all, the laughter.

When I got back to my office and faced the ever growing pile of brochures, I decided that if I can't eliminate these noises I would at least cover them up and began to search for some music to listen to while I worked. If your noises are becoming unbearable and you, like me, can't make it to the middle of the ocean on your favorite sailboat, you can at least enjoy some happy sounds in the form of Tommy Emmanuel. Enjoy!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Scenic Views

Well, our unnecessary trip up the mast (see previous post) produced, if nothing else, a fantastically scenic view of the marina.

The weekend was incredible weather with 58 lows and 78 highs, one of those impossibly rare St. Louis July glimpses into September. I'll try to remember this weekend in the middle of August when it's 104 and 99% humidity...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Learning things the easy way...

...is apparently not my style. There I was sitting in the bosun's chair, swinging at the top of the mast, only to learn that our Windex wasn't broken.

In fact it was working absolutely perfect, better (it would appear) than it ever had before. How so? Well, it turns out our Windex rides on a pivot with a weight at the bottom and the arrow thingy at the top. When Nomad heals over the wind arrow and little feathers stay parallel to the horizon. I'm not sure why it was designed that way, nor am I sure why we never noticed that it worked that way before. But this morning when we left the slip Deb and I both looked up and were convinced that thing was about to fall off the top of the mast. So back to the slip we went. Jeff loaned us a bosun's chair and provided the muscle to winch me aloft on the main halyard. (Thanks again Jeff!)

It was actually kind of fun though the mast of a sail boat moves a lot more than the top of a rock climbing wall! But I could have learned all I needed to learn about the Windex by simply grabbing the binoculars and looking. (I didn't think of that until later.)

First lesson of the weekend learned we headed off for a pretty nice sail with Melanie aboard. A few hours later we dropped her back at the dock and headed out for an impromptu cove-out and raft up with Jeff and friends from West. (First met during my wave runner excursion.) We sailed into Coles Creek, tied up with Gail Force on our port side, and started lesson #2. You see Coles Creek is on the east side of the lake. The wind was blowing pretty hard out of the northwest. Waves had the whole width of the lake to gather up momentum before reaching our little party. (Sailors call that "fetch.") With Bill's Paradise tied up on our starboard side little Nomad was between two bigger, heavier boats. Those boats kind of squeezed said waves between them. Nomad was not happy. She jerked back and forth against the bow lines, pitching up and down and banging against the fenders pinning her on both sides. We spent the night anyway, (the party, food, drink and conversations were worth the discomfort) and by this morning the winds had died and we were sitting pretty.

It was so pretty we were the last to leave, using the motor to get back to Boulder in the early afternoon. But it cost us an uncomfortable night to learn a couple of good lessons about where to anchor and how to raft up in Nomad when the waves are choppy. Of course sailing books are full of lessons about anchoring and rafting up, the dangers (not much danger on the lake) of being off a lee shore, and how to pick spots that are sheltered from the waves. But that would be the easy way.

Closing up the boat we learned one last new thing. For some reason I started to wonder why all the cold air from the icebox doesn't just flow out the drain. (Don't ask, even I don't know where that thought came from.) Deb didn't think it mattered much since the icebox does, in fact, stay cold, making it obvious that the cold air doesn't leak out. She was right of course but now I was stuck with a curiosity. A simple experiment proved that the icebox drains into the bilge. Who would have thought that? (Well, as it turns out a lot of sailboat iceboxes drain into the bilge.) Anyway the mystery of the water in the bilge is solved, and I guess the cold air leaks into there as well (but at a slow enough rate that it doesn't matter). In any case that was the easiest lesson of the whole weekend.

Friday, July 17, 2009

July 17?

I know that's what the calendar says (well, the date on my phone anyway). But I wonder. It is barely 70 degrees in little Nomad's cabin at the moment and the weather gurus suggest it will be 59 come morning. The humidity is so low that I actually stepped outside today without my glasses fogging over. For a second there I was concerned that something had happened to my eyes.

I have to say it couldn't have come on a better weekend. Last week had a couple of long flying days in it, the kind that beat you up just enough so that even a good night's sleep isn't really enough to recover. Next week is going to just be a plain old grind. We head out Monday mid day and will not be home again until Saturday; 17 legs, 6 cities, 20+ hours of block time, more duty time than I can count, departure times that range from 0700 in the morning to 2200 at night, and full loads of passengers and bags. Fun really, but the kind of fun that can wear a person out. A weekend on little Nomad is a good way to take a deep breath before plunging into the coming fray.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Life of Leisure

The prescription for the weekend was one and a half days of complete leisure for Kristin and Brian. No problem I say.

There were, however, the small issues of this being the first time on our little sailboat, the first time to ever actually sail, the first time for Christopher to have a really long car trip let alone a first sailing experience, the first time we've had more than one overnite guest on the boat at one time...lots of firsts and that usually translates into lots of stress, all the more so when it involves a six month old baby.

Yet, within 15 minutes of being there, Brian decided that this boat had all the space and all the "stuff" necessary to sustain life without complications and Kristin and the baby were laughing and tickling in the V-berth

After a gourmet breakfast of Golden Grahams, Lucky Charms and at least some healthy food in the form of Yoplait Light, we headed out for their first sail. The wind was a little frisky, in the 12-16 knot range with some whitecaps all around, but Christopher was safely in the Moby, and with a reef in the main we sailed out of the marina and enjoyed a trip a good part across the lake and back. It turns out that all three are natural born sailors and handled the choppy waves just fine. Brian got his first of a few good naps after that while I got dinner ready. There were quite a few people at the marina yesterday evening due to the club races, so we had a chance to grill out and eat on the patio with a group of marina friends.

It was a very early bed time for everyone since we'd all gotten up early that morning.

This morning our friend Barry spent some time with us in the cockpit over coffe and pancakes discussing the finer points of Aristotle, Aquinas, Chesterton, Hume and a few others I'm sure I've forgotten. Barry was clearly in heaven, having someone to discuss philosophy with, and Kristin and Brian were thrilled to have someone who actually understands half of what they read (The philosophy gene is one Kristin did NOT get from me...)

I won't repeat the tales of today's sail since you can read Tim's previous post, but here are some good pictures.

Kristin and Brian headed home this afternoon just in time to get ahead of the storms marching across the plains. Both were pleasantly tired from the fresh air and gently rocking boat, but I think the prescription of a day and a half of leisure was successfully filled.

Starting Early

Should Christopher decide to make sailing a part of his life, and should someone someday ask him how long he has been sailing, he will be able to say, "I first held a jib sheet for a tack, and had my hands on the helm, when I was six months old."

Of course he was chewing on them, but we don't need to tell anyone that.

Christopher was also responsible for our early start today, waking at his accustomed 6:30 AM Indy time. That, according to Nomad standard marina time, was actually 5:30 AM. Which meant the whole crew was up, fed, and ready to take advantage of the early morning breeze. In fact, we enjoyed a near perfect sail, making close to 6 knots on the drifter with yesterday's reef shaken out of the main.

Brian spent some time on the helm, Kristin and Christopher alternately laughed and napped in the V-berth, and a wonderful time was had by all. I was also pretty pleased that Deb and I made a good call on the winds for the day. Instead of being stranded far from home when the calm descended we had sailed up, down, back, forth and around, ending up just off the point when sailboating turned into drifting aimlessly. Being in a good place we tossed the hook for lunch and also had a nice visit over Kristin and Brian's future plans. Plans which include moving east toward salt water! Which means Deb and I will not have to find a way to sail a boat to Indy.

After hanging on the hook for a while I noticed a bunch of boats heading into the marina. A quick check of the RADAR (thank you Verizon Wireless) showed some ugly weather inbound. Hook up, to the pump out, on the slip, packed up, cars loaded, boat closed - all before the rains arrived. (Not much before, but a minute is as good as an hour.) It's always good to start early.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

What was you thinking, Grandpa T...

...taking Kristin, Brian, and little Christopher out for their first sail in the face of an oncoming cold front?

Never fear, all is well. It was just a bit more exuberant than was the goal. And I didn't do it on purpose. There were some rumblings of thunder last night and early this morning with enough rain to uncover a leak in the starboard, forward, port hole. (Something to add to the "fix it" list.) When the kids got here it was still raining a bit but all of the RADAR pictures showed Carlyle near the edge with the rain moving away. In addition wind forecasts were in the 8 to 10 knot range. It looked like a perfect time for an introduction to sailing.

The trees were moving a bit more than "8 to 10" so we put a reef in the main and hanked on the little jib. Kristin and Christopher took station in the aft cockpit, Deb took the helm and I had Brian's help for the deck monkey tasks. We motored out, put up some sail, dodged the race, (the course was set up just outside the marina entrance) and set off across the lake in a brisk, near 20 knot breeze. The waves were pretty busy and little Nomad pitched and rolled a bit as she threw the occasional spray into the cockpit and danced off at nearly 6 knots. Pretty exciting stuff for the first time on a sailboat! Much to my relief the kids were doing better than fine and having a good time. However, off to the west it was clearly raining pretty hard. After some debate we decided that caution is a good thing and we made the call to take a tack toward home. As we did the first peals of thunder drifted over the boat along with the first drops of rain. Kristin took Christopher below while Deb, Brian and I dropped sails, started the motor, set fenders, and readied lines for a quick docking.

It was a bit shorter sail than we might have wished and we hope to get in another come morning. It's dark now. Kristin and Christopher are completely zonked out in the V-berth. Brian is up on the foredeck checking out the view from the hammock. Deb is drifting off on the starboard settee while I am writing this. And we have another first. For this is the first time a grand kid is spending the night on Nomad. So far I'd say Christopher, Mom and Dad kind of like it, and Grandpa T is thinking that is about the coolest thing ever.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


We missed being on the boat this past holiday weekend but we missed for a good reason; we were in PA visiting family. Visiting family is always a good thing, maybe not as good as having family come visit us on a catamaran, but we haven’t actually had a chance to try that one out yet. So we “helmed” the pickup east along concrete river route 70 at a constant 65.173 knots, (more or less). It was a good visit and it would have been an easy trip home except, well, it was another 10 hours in the truck (which was about 10 hours more than I needed in one weekend).

Though not on the boat family and friends talked a lot about our plans for the boat. It was fun to tell some of our stories and explain our goals to folks who mostly just try to figure out what we are up to from this blog. If I’m not mistaken a couple of them may come to visit us at some future date on some distant shore.