Monday, September 28, 2009

Life Laps

Nomad did two laps of the lake on Sunday. The first with Captain Christopher (age 9 months) in charge. Kristin, Brian and Christopher joined us Saturday morning for a weekend on the boat. We did do a short sail Saturday, but a building storm and nearby lightning made getting back to the dock look like a really good idea. (The lightning was close enough to prompt me into taking the instruments off line and below, and not letting anyone else get near the mast.)



Christopher loves being on the boat, and he is surely in charge. He takes the helm whenever he likes, plays with winches, and likes working the jib sheets. (Mom keeps him restricted to the lazy sheet. Christopher might be the Captain, but Mom is still Mom!) He is also pretty good at giving orders. "Gggrrr..." means "turn to port." "Rrrrrr..." equals "trim that main sheet please" And "EEEeeeeiiiiii...!" translates into "Wow this is FUN!" Or maybe, "What do you think you are doing Grandpa T?" I'm not sure about that one.

The Kids needed to head for home Sunday, so after our morning sail in Force 3 winds we headed for the dock. In the channel Kristin's phone rang with GOOD NEWS, they have a solid offer on their house in Indy, an offer equal to the max they had realistically hoped to get. They are about to start a new lap in their life, the big adventure to the East Coast is underway. (Of course for DeeMa and Grandpa T, there is a tinge of sadness in this good news. Kristin, Brian and Christopher will soon be far, far away; joining Amber, Mike, Catherine, May-may, and baby-on-the-way in Cape Cod.) Later Deb and I went out again, the Force 5 - 6 winds being just too inviting to ignore. We left the main full and joined the fleet of other boats all scooting around in the waves. There was even a kite-boarder out playing. (The first one of those we have seen in Carlyle.)

It was a fun sail. Hard on the wind Nomad came close to burying a rail a couple of times. And one of these days we are going to remember; when the heel reaches 35 degrees to port everything above the starboard settee, books, water jugs, hats, all of it, will fly across the cabin. No big deal during a day sail on our little lake, but something to keep in mind for living on board and heading off on a multi-day journey. Heading back to the marina was really fun. The bearing for home put us on Nomad's best point of sail, a deep reach just short of a run. On that heading the waves were hitting the stern slightly off the starboard quarter, a soft hit since our speed nearly matched that of the waves. The result was near magic, coasting toward the slip like a kid heading down a long, straight slope on an old coaster bike. At one point the GPS claimed we were making 6.5 knots, a record for us (we think). But one would never know it from the ride, Nomad's easy motion belying our speed. Closing up the boat was a bit somber. Not only was it the end of a perfect weekend, it is getting near the end of the season. It was also (probably) one of the last times Christopher will be Nomad's Captain. Soon he will be living pretty far away. I guess we just have to find a way to get the boat to him.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Musings on Why

I crossed paths with a guy at the airport today. He used to hang out in the office next to mine, providing mechanical support for one of the Lear Jets parked in the hangar. On a recent Thursday he came to work and was told Friday would be his last day...after 30 years. By Friday afternoon he had no benefits, no health insurance, and no income. To keep the bank from taking his house he was forced to accept the Company's offer of "contract work" at half his old per hour pay, come when they call, take it or leave it. It might not be enough to save his house, but it may put off the inevitable for a couple of months. Near the end of his career anyway, (like me) finding another job, particularly one in this area, is going to be nigh on impossible. A lifetime of effort and service dismissed without care, sacrificed to some department "bottom line" somewhere. It is every working person's nightmare come true.

I have a pilot friend who is in the same fix. Looking for any job he can find in order to keep the bank at bay long enough to find a flying job somewhere, anywhere, that he can afford to move to, is his full time occupation. Younger than I am and with with two kids at home, his horizons are looking bleak these days as well. Aviation is dying. The skill sets those of us who make a living in the sky developed to stay alive are not readily transferred to some other occupation.

There is an old saw that is not really funny anymore.
Question: "What do you call a pilot who is not sitting in a cockpit?"
Answer: "Unskilled labor."

What does all this have to do with Deb and I and little Nomad? Maybe not a lot. On the other hand, maybe more than it appears at first. Nomad isn't big, but we could live on her if we needed to. She can't sail oceans, but she can handle rivers and coastal cruising, at least for a while. (And as long as we are careful with the weather!) She isn't paid off either, but that we could manage even if we took a beating on the house, cars, motorcycles, tools, furniture and other sundry items that would not fit on a Com-Pac 27. We wouldn't end up quite where we are trying to go. But with a boat to live on, skills to trade for necessities, and destinations to sail toward, we would be 90% of the way. It wouldn't be ideal, but it would be better than a lot of people have and we would find a way to make it work.

(An aside for those who are thinking "health insurance." Yep, that would be a problem, but consider this. Regardless of how our health insurance is administered, be it "socialized medicine," profit only care driven by HMOs and insurance companies, or the ministrations of the local witch doctor; if we have the best of the best or none at all... We live, we get sick or hurt, and we die. And maybe, just maybe, those last few months or years, hanging on in pain, with diminished capabilities, minds gone, bodies out of control, racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars of bills that someone, somewhere, is going to have to pay, maybe that isn't the best we can do?)

So I'm thinking that is the "why" of trying to live on a boat. Isolated a bit from the tyranny of the "profit motive," (something I am finding more and more distasteful as I grow older) with maybe just a little distance between me and the shore where the "powers-that-be" hold absolute sway, low enough to be below the radar as it were, (In spite of mast height!) little Nomad offers an option, a place a bit safe and slightly out of reach of those who care nothing about me at all. Religious fanatics, political fundamentalists, the power hungry, those who are sure they know more about how I should live than I do, maybe they can't swim that well?

Besides, living on a boat is just plain cool.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A short visit

They put fresh chip & seal on the short, park-entrance road, that leads to the marina. Add a little rain (actually more than a little) and throw in me riding Deb's ZX-14 after a hard run from recurrent training in Toledo, and you get a few moments of "front-wheel-pushing-toward-the-ditch" excitement. (I had departed Toledo yesterday afternoon and made it to near Indy before running out of daylight and energy. This morning I hit the road just as the sun was broaching the horizon in my mirrors, slogged through a couple of hundred of miles of rain, and turned onto the new gravel around 10:30 in the morning. Fun ride!)

Ditching a dripping helmet and damp gloves I headed straight to the coffee pot for a fresh cup of warmth. Then I headed out on the porch to say my "hellos" to the assembled and to peel off a couple of layers of damp riding cloths. I have to admit that my heart skipped a little beat when I spotted Deb walking along the dock, heading to the clubhouse from the boat. I had been nearly a week on the road but seeing her headed my way with Nomad in the background and the lake all fuzzy in the rain induced fog, I knew I was home.

There was no wind in spite of the rain showers so Nomad didn't leave the dock. She just rocked easy while we ate lunch and caught a bit of a nap. (Dawn being a long time and hundreds of miles past!) After that we closed her up, I dumped the bags in the car, and we headed for St. Louis.

It was a short visit, but at the end of a long week? Perfect.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Land living...

We discovered this morning that our truck got broken into...again. I just read an article where State Police are going to be allowed to draw my blood whenever they like (to see if I have been drinking). I am working through the 52 some odd possible requirements I have to fulfill if I want to bring a plane load of American citizens (and company Big Wigs) back into America in a airplane Registered and built in America and flown by an American pilot, me. But before that trip goes I have to get a new American Issued Pilot License that has an endorsement to the effect that I can speak English.

I am about to head off to recurrent training where I have to produce a passport, (my FAA issued Pilot License will not do) to prove that I am an American BEFORE I can even enter a classroom; the class to be held on an airplane I have been flying for 3 years now. During the simulator part of the training I have to produce a valid Medical certificate even though the sim is bolted solidly to Mother Earth and can't possibly crash into anything, even if I die sitting in the left hand seat while in the middle of a "flight."

(Though I try and stay away from politics on this blog, politics is part of living. If you will indulge me for just one moment, the Transportation Security Agency is now an agency completely out of control, and clearly more of a threat than some rag-tag band of dark-ages religious fanatics literally hiding under a bunch of rocks in some utterly forsaken rat hole on the other side of the world.)

During my travels this morning to visit the shop where our airplane is in maintenance, then to meet Deb to pick up the truck and drop it off at its own shop, I saw 5 (Count 'em FIVE!) State Sanctioned Harassment Teams lurking along the side of the road, (otherwise known as "Traffic Cops"). Their sole goal being to pick people at random (people just going about their daily business) and subject them to some government sanctioned extortion. I guess handing out tickets to Soccer Moms is cost effective, stopping car break ins not so much.

Of course the stories abound as to Coast Guard goon squads tramping all over cruiser boats being operated by retired couples, endless paperwork hassles just trying to enter a port to buy a little fuel and groceries, and pirates. So maybe water living is subject to much the same constant hassle level as land living?

Then again...maybe not.

It is hard to imagine that it can be any worse. And either way, at least at the end of the day, one could sit in one's cockpit rocked gently by the sea, toast the setting sun, and draw a bit of comfort from the fact that neither the sky nor the sea pays any attention at all to the follies of human kind.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Two-boat, half-weekend.

It was good to step aboard Nomad and all was as we had left her 18 days ago. Settling into the routine of unbuttoning the boat on a perfect day reminded me of why we like this lifestyle so much. Kathy and Arild were headed for the lake as well to join us for a Friday night cove out and Saturday sail, only fair since their ranch had been the center of operations for last weekend's motorcycle shenanigans.

One other boat mumbled past us as our little motor carried us to Coles Creek. (Under power sailboats sort of putter along making a muted, gurgling kind of noise which suggests that, while they understand the need to move under mechanical urgings once in a while, they are not completely happy about it.) Nomad is no faster under power than she is under sail. By the time she had set her hook just inside the "NO WAKE" markers this other boat was already settled in for the night a few hundred feet away. Dinner was a feast that filled our cabin with good food and good talk. Later our guests disappeared into the V-berth while Deb and I were lazying around in the cockpit. We decided we were pretty comfortable so sleeping bags and pillows were hauled up the companionway. We spent a perfect night under the Bimini, Nomad barely moving in the quiet cove.

Light winds were forecast for Saturday so after an awesome breakfast (cheese omelets, sausage, raisin-cinnamon toast, and coffee for 4 off our little two-burner alcohol stove) we headed off into the lake flying our big drifter. It was slow going at first, just 2 knots or so, wing on wing going dead downwind. It seemed the dam was a long way away so we turned up the lake and into a freshening breeze; a breeze that became increasingly funky...gusting and fading while shifting 20 to 30 degrees at a time. Nomad would go from moving easily across a smooth lake to heeling hard in bumpy wavelets and then settle back again. At one point we actually dipped a rail into the water, (something Deb and I enjoyed, Arild laughed at, and Kathy found less than amusing). A somewhat weird but fun sail.

I expected a mid-day fade to the winds so we put into the dock thinking about heading home. (Kathy and Arild were teaching a class on Sunday; Deb and I needed to take Amber, Catherine and Mary to the airport after their visit.) But Barry was looking for crew for an end of the day run and I thought Kathy and Arild might enjoy a night sail on Juno as much as Deb and I do. And I was right. (Besides, turn down a night sail on Juno? No chance.)

Juno strutted her stuff romping up and down the lake in a solid wind. The stars glittered, Jupiter shone brightly, and waves foamed and hissed along the hull as Arild learned the fine art of tacking Juno's big jib. His task was complicated a bit as he had spent the day trying to learn to tack Nomad and the two boats are as different as night and day when it comes to getting them cleanly through the wind. Nomad wants her head sail backed solidly before tossing the lazy sheet and picking up the tension on the downwind side. (Learning the proper moment to let the jib cross the deck has taken Deb and I nearly two seasons of practice, and untold hundreds of tacks.) Juno needs no such coaxing. As soon as the jib starts to rattle toss the now lazy sheet and grind like crazy to pick up the tension on the other line. It is a matter of style and timing that is a lot harder to master than it sounds, and having two such completely different boats tossed at him on his first day on the winch was a challenge. Arild stuck with it and by the end of the night had graduated from landlubber to "grinder basic," which is still a rank or two below "deck monkey."

I got to be the deck monkey for the evening and had great fun. We changed head sails a couple of times, using the jib to cross the lake, setting a big spinnaker for the down wind run to the dam, and then back to the jib for the beat into the wind which was, by then, blowing directly out of the heading to Boulder. While Arild worked the starboard winch and I clambered around the boat, (with a short stint below to catch a nap) Deb spent a good bit of the evening at the helm. She loves sailing Juno and though Barry is good about sharing pointers Deb doesn't need much advice any more. She kept the sails full as we worked our way home through the night. Alas, even good sails must come to an end and Barry eased his Albin back into her slip in time for Deb and I to be on the bikes by 2200. It was midnight by the time we climbed into our Central West End berth. Though not equal to the cockpit of Nomad under the stars, it did feel pretty good.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I, on the other hand... probably 6 months to a year behind Deb in my "walking away from the land" transition. (Not that I am going to let her cast off without me!)

I really had a good time the last two weekends being just a wandering biker again; no real plan other than the day's ride and the anticipation of time spent with people who have a similar interest. (Ten's of thousands at Indy, just 7 of us in Arkansas.) Tracking Deb's big ZX-14 on the way home, coasting over the hills along Rt 160, the fog burning away, the day getting warmer, (and going at a much saner pace than we had the day before) it really was hard to imagine a better way to spend some time. And though I feel the passing years as much as anyone I never really have the idea that I'm too old to do things I can still do and enjoy; an attitude that might change drastically should I ever toss the GSXR down the road at a buck +!

(Last week THE BOSS of our company asked what I was doing over the weekend. I told her we were going to Arkansas to give the State Troopers someone to chase around. She asked if I was ever going to "outgrow" such antics? I suggested, since I am already 54, that it didn't look like it. And its not just me. One of our riding buddies and new friends from this last weekend's road games is a young 63, recovering from a nasty $1.20 night crash suffered a while ago, and feathered the rear tire on his R1 right to the edge. There's the definition of a sport biker for you!)

Still, it would have been fun to drop the lines on Friday evening and not return to the dock until Monday evening...

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Strings and Things

The second day of our ASA 103 course we got to the marina early and we were sitting in the cockpit of the Catalina 31 in sweatshirts drinking coffee and enjoying the crisp fall morning. Even though I am credited for the plans to retire to a sailboat, it was Tim who said "we gotta find a way to do this" as he leaned back in the stern seat and closed his eyes to let the sun warm his face. It was the beginning of our Five Year Plan.

We've done pretty well so far, taking four ASA courses, buying a boat, living on her every weekend and learning about the systems and the new way of life in confined spaces. I've started the slow process of cleaning out closets and paying down bills. We've read everything we can get our hands on and talked to everyone who will put up with our questions. It appears that we've gotten to that place in our Five Year Plan where we're beginning to think about those things that will be last to deal with, the hardest to part with, the last string to cut.

In nearly every story, article, and interview we read, the question eventually comes up - what were the hardest things you had to say goodbye to when making the break from land? I pay close attention to these in preparation for my own cutting of the strings. There is a certain amount of trepidation involved in my ruminations, a fear that when the time comes I may not be able to follow through. This is also a feeling that every liveaboard cruiser has dealt with, so at least I do not go there alone.

This weekend was a weekend away from the boat, a trek to our annual sport bike rally in the north central portion of Arkansas.

The 300 mile ride there gave me plenty of time to think about the situation, objectively removed from Nomad. Clearly, the ZX-14 is at the top of the list. Clipping along on fantastic Arkansas roads deep into triple digits is an adrenaline rush that would be difficult to match. On the other hand, as I sat around the bonfire later that evening, it occurred to me that I'm probably getting a little too old to be rip-snorting around Arkansas roads deep into triple digits. As if on cue, just moments later I remembered sitting on the Lavezzi 40 catamaran during our Memorial Day ASA 104 /113 course and thinking I could very easily call home and tell them to sell everything and send me a check. I could have walked away and not looked back.

It's an odd place to be, this in-between stage in our Five Year Plan. One foot on land, one foot on the boat...looking back...looking forward...but I find myself looking back less and forward more. It surely helps that our cruising will take us to visit family that we don't see now. A lot of cruisers are saying goodbye to family when they leave the land which makes it bittersweet. Our ventures, though, will be taking us to grandkids, nephews, friends. It also helps that I desperately want to simplify life. At the moment, every minute of every day is accounted for - laundry, bills, cooking, cleaning, helping our kids, and the miriad of daily errands that living on land requires. I want desperately to get up in the morning and have nothing better to do than drink my coffee in the cockpit while I plan the day's boat chores and watch the great blue heron scout his breakfast.

As much fun as I've had this weekend, I can see the strings holding me to land growing threadbare. When the time comes, I'll be ready.