Saturday, November 21, 2009

Land Legs

I don't like them, land legs that is. This is the first weekend since March that we stayed home and did house things instead of being on the boat. I was the dutiful homeowner, raking leaves, cleaning out our backyard fountain, doing laundry, sweeping the garage, picking up a load of firewood for the winter...

...and counting the days till March. I've been reading John Kretschmer's Flirting with Mermaids this week and I can completely identify with his description of himself. After a few short days of being landlocked he's chomping at the bit, ready to be at sea again. Carlyle Lake may not be "the sea" in any sense of the word, but it's good enough for now and I'm ready enough to be on it again.

Defining adventure

According to Goggle earth, it is 2266 NM miles from Cape Cod to the Bahamas to Charleston, SC and back to Cape Cod. According to Flighttrak (The flight scheduling software we use at work.) we did 2115 NM on Friday, not quite the same distance but pretty close.

We racked up those miles going from St. Louis to Gulfport, MS then to Ft. Lauderdale, FL on to Freeport in the Bahamas, back to Ft. Lauderdale and finally back to St. Louis. Five legs, a pass through Customs in Freeport and and Ft. Lauderdale, a bumpy passage off the coast of FL though some building cue's, 1 night landing and 7 hours 42 minutes spent sitting in the cockpit during a 13 hour duty day. By the time we coasted to a stop at home base I felt like I had swum those miles.

For some reason, while taking a year to sail up and down the East Coast seems a huge adventure, flying SUS - GPT - FXE - MYGF - FXE - SUS? Not so much. I guess it is all a matter of what you are used to. And maybe its a matter of time spent as well. A year of sailing would include innumerable small events, strange sights, new places, multiple anchorages, storms, calm days, broken equipment, and many new stories to tell. A day slinging around around the bottom right corner of the country? Well...there were some big boats in the waters between FL and Freeport, my coworker managed two near perfect landings vs my three, kind of average, thunkers and clearing Customs? Even the office at Ft. Lauderdale, (the bane of my customs encounters over the years) was a pleasant, quick affair. Hard to label Friday's travels as much of an adventure.

Still, it beats sitting in an office all day long.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Naked Nomad

Nomad came out of the water today. It was a wet and somewhat chilly enterprise since it rained most of the day. Schmitty backed the travel lift down the ramp while I tossed the lines and got ready to sail, single hand, all the way across the marina. (Kidding, but it was the first and only time so far that Nomad and I have been out on the water alone.) There was only a tiny bit of wind so the little boat just coasted to a stop in the center of the lift and waited patiently while we set the slings and lifted her clear of the lake. A few minutes later she was sitting on her keel in the middle of the cradle, her mast just another stick in the forest that used to be the marina parking lot.

I was going to take a bunch of pictures of the boat shorn of Bimini, sails, and sheets and sitting contently on the hard, but I wasn't sure which would get me in deeper trouble, dropping Nomad out of the travel lift or ruining Deb's camera in the rain. Since Nomad settled into her cradle with no drama I figured I would err on the side of caution...the camera stayed tucked away and safe in the truck. I'm sure there will be pictures later, she isn't going anywhere for a while!

You know the season is truly over now. Not only is the boat dry, (except for the incessant rain) winterized and without canvas, but she is also empty of Rum, Coke and beer! I know, 'cause I went looking for a little sustenance to fend off the wet and chill after the first couple of hours of work and came up empty. Ah well, I was about to start the drive home anyway.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Really it's the last sail (really)

I can tell you that because the sails are in their bags in my garage. We took Nomad out Saturday morning with our friend Kort. He had just finished pulling off his bowsprit that got damaged in one of the races this past season and, being boatless, was looking for a ride. It was pretty cool so the very low wind speeds didn't bother any of us. We just drifted along at 2 knots across the lake and back and had a great time telling and listening to stories.

As far as we could tell we were the only boat out there besides Patriot.

The rest of the day was spent helping various people get their boats ready to pull and telling and listening to more stories. (In case you haven't figured it out yet from reading this blog, telling and listening to stories is probably the number one past time of sailors.) We finished the day off with a good dinner shared with our friend Barry and a spectacular sunset.

Sunday morning dawned foggy, cool, and still. The promised 10-15 knots wasn't materializing but there was enough breeze to go. Our friends Bill and Pam agreed to go along, their first sail on Nomad. The wind was out of the north and quite a bit chillier than Saturday. It was good to have a thermos of coffee and some freshly delivered Girl Scout cookies we bought from Kort's daughter.

When we came back to the marina we began the long job of removing the sails and the bimini and all of the extra lines for the winter and packing them into the truck.

There's a bittersweet mood hanging over the marina these last few weeks of the season. It's some of the best sailing of the year with good wind, no bugs, little traffic on the lake...but ever present the knowledge that this is the last sailing of the season followed by months of gray and cold and slush and early dark and long hard hours of catching up on all of the house repairs and work projects that have been ignored for the sailing season.

As I walk the dock toward the truck pushing the dock cart full of our summer life, I keep asking myself why it is that I don't live somewhere that I can do this full time. Can't find an answer. Guess I'll have all winter to come up with a good one.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Still an airplane driver...

Sailors approach their DC electrical systems with a laid back, caviler attitude that has always bothered me for some reason. Most of them understand DC systems a lot better than your average shade-tree car mechanic. They talk about house banks, charging systems, starting batteries and electrical load with the easy familiarity of people who know of what they speak. There is absolutely nothing "wrong" with what they say or how they operate their boats. And yet, as soon as I shut off the engine on any sailboat, this little voice echos in my head, "we are draining the batteries!" It bugs me to no end.

Then, last week, I checked out in a new kind of little single engine airplane. (New to me anyway.) It had an all glass panel and autopilot but only one generator and one battery. And I remember thinking there was no way I would take that thing into a night, cloud-filled, sky. It simply didn’t have enough DC system for all those fancy electronics. Aha!

My internal pilot warning system flashes code red at even the thought of running on battery power only. The first item on the check list for a full DC generator failure in the jet is to switch to “EMERGENCY POWER.” That action severely limits the amount of electrical load on the battery by shutting down all but the most important systems on the airplane. The check list then notes that even with a fully charged battery, there is but 30 minutes remaining before the battery is dead. Given the wrong set of circumstances (see below) everyone on board may well end up the same. "Batteries only” ranks high on the aviator's “up the creek without a paddle” list, topped only by being on fire or having a wing break off. (I did a one engine inoperative, full DC failure in night, IFR skies with an approach to minimums, during my last training session in the simulator. It took me two tries to get it right and yes, that means I crashed on the first try. I owed my training partner a beer that night…for killing him.)

A sailor treats his or her batteries like the driver of a car does a gas tank. Fill it (them) up with petrol (electrical potential) and head off. When it gets close to empty (or they get close to dead) stop and fill it up again (or bring some system online to top them off). A sail boat will run for days and days on battery power only. That is the normal state of affairs. Screw up and run the batteries dead (or the tank empty for that matter) and it will probably be nothing but a bit of an embarrassment. It may be a minor inconvenience. Shoot, it might even be a major pain in the butt. But only in the rarest of circumstances would it put one’s life in immanent danger.

In airplanes battery power (And gas of course!) are life and death consumables.

So I guess I am still an airplane driver pretending to be a sailor. Now that I figured it out though, maybe it won't bug me so much?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Last, last sail

Really...well maybe, and maybe not. Deb and I are planning on spending next weekend on the boat and then pulling her on that Monday. Maybe that will be the last, last, last sail. But today was winds of F-4, clear blue skies, and 70 degree November no less! How could we miss a day like this? So Kristin, Brian, Christoper, Deb and I piled into the truck this morning and headed to the (very, very full) lake. The marina was a busy place today. Lots of people were pulling boats, others were getting boats ready to pull, and a couple of us were lucky enough to go sailing and worry about pulling boats later.

There was only 5 feet or so of breakwater showing above the waves and Nomad had 15 feet of water under her keel sitting in the slip. There is so much water in the lake that the channel buoys were actually useful. Once clear we set a reef in the main (in deference to having little Christopher aboard once again) and flew the working jib. Nomad headed out at 4+ knots. For some reason that probably has to do with winds v shores v the shape of the lake, it was hard to find an outbound point of sail that wasn't in the trough. As a result it wasn't the best ride, Nomad rolling side to side as she shouldered though the waves.

Deb and I enjoyed the ride but I think it was a little harder one or two of our guests. Besides, though the temperatures weren't November temperatures, the sun is still a November, after the time change, sun. By early afternoon we were back in, various crew members lounging in various places; Brian in the hammock, Deb below, and Christopher curled up in Kristin's arms. Eventually we closed up the boat and head off though both Grandpa-T and Christopher pouted a bit at having to leave.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Shop visit

So it came to pass that we needed to take the jet over to the shop to get an engine ice protection system fixed. (This will lead to something about boats, promise.) I did some preliminary troubleshooting from the cockpit and decided that, for whatever reason, a bleed valve was not opening. This was obvious since the engine temperature wasn't climbing like it normally would with some hot bleed air being siphoned off the compressor stack. I know it sounds backwards but trust me, that's the way turbine engines work.

I am an ex-director of maintenance and a long time wrench, which makes me a major pain for a shop mechanic. Knowing that, I try to hang out in the pilot lounge where I belong, letting the full time techs work on the airplane without me being underfoot. But this problem had me curious and so I had to jump in. It turns out there was a bleed valve failing to open, but it wasn't the valve's fault. There is a relay controlled by a switch that holds the valve shut as long as the engine is running at less than 61% power; this whole system being a second power path running parallel to the primary ice control with its switch in the cockpit. That relay had failed keeping power on the valve all the time. I know that sounds backwards as well, but this system is powered off. This way, should the electrics fail for some reason on a dark and icy night, the engine ice protection system (which uses hot bleed air to melt the ice) will automatically come "on." (Smart folks, those airplane engineers.)

It has been a long time since I have been that deep into a system repair and I have to admit it was fun. I like figuring out how systems are supposed to work and then hunting down the reason that they don't. And I like doing this best on integrated systems; i.e. an ice protection system that uses DC electric power to control air valves that shunt compressor air to various parts of an airframe.

And that's how we get to the boat part. A boat may have DC power, AC circuits, electronics, winches, sails, generators (sometimes), water storage and distribution systems, ground tackle deploy and retract capabilities, and a diesel engine (or two) all integrated together into one big mobile machine that allows for both travel and living at the same time. How cool is that? Keeping one going just has to be the kind of thing an old wrench hand will find both challenging and (sometimes anyway) enjoyable.