Monday, May 31, 2010

Dragging bumpers...

To a sailor "dragging bumpers" probably describes heading off with the fenders still dragging through the water. (Little Nomad suffers this indignity once in a while, her deck monkey occasionally forgetting that chore.) But I am still more pilot than sailor, and "dragging bumpers" is pilot speak for drag racing a thunderstorm to an airport. When I do it in the airplane I have a huge speed advantage ranging anywhere from 60 to 340 nm/p/h. I have onboard weather radar. And I usually have continuous weather updates from approach control and the tower. Doing it in a sailboat is a little different story.

After two days of pretty tame sailing and the season's first raft up Deb and I awoke this morning to the weekend's best winds. Knowing we had to keep and eye to the weather as storms were forecast, we headed out enjoying a really fun sail on a nearly empty, and quiet, lake. (The power boaters were out in droves this holiday. For most of the weekend all we could hear was the roar of motors turning dinosaur juice into noise. If my bike made that much of a racket they would throw me in jail! Early this morning though, they were apparently still nursing hangovers and had not yet taken to the water.)

We were about 3 miles south of the marina and on the other side of the lake when we decided that the clouds were taking on the solid look of approaching weather. Mid-western T-boomers can flash to life in surprisingly few minutes. Time to turn for home.

At first it was a struggle. The growing storms seemed to be sucking all the energy out of the sky. Wing on wing for a bit put us on a bad heading. A deep reach just shy of a run had us pointing better, but the GPS still showed only 1.6 knots on the VMG. This put the slip nearly 2 hours away. I wasn't sure we had two hours, but hey, we are (or are trying to be) sailors. Do the best you can with what you have and hold the diesel for last resort kinds of things. But as we watched the sky darkened and the first outlines of a wall cloud started to take shape. The VMG was up to 2.2, but we really had to make a decision on the engine. Best motor speed is about 4 knots. If we could catch a bit of wind we would do much better on the sails; I decided to hold off just a little longer.

It was a textbook example of getting it perfect. The wind freshened, Nomad leaned against the traces and soon we were making 5.8 knots directly for the "No Wake" buoy. Lightning danced behind us, thunder rumbled in an almost continuous song, waves danced, and the rain started to fall. But we had done everything we could think to do should we get caught flat footed in a gust front. The boat was closed up tight, the Bimini was folded up and secured, the fenders were deployed, we even had a plan for spinning up into the gust and blowing the halyards. That proved unnecessary as our timing was spot on. The incoming weather was pushing a huge ridge of air in front of it, and we rode that ridge right to the harbor inlet.

As we closed in on the marina, (us and a slew of others running for cover) we turned just enough to blanket the jib and dropped it to the deck. Even with the jib gone Nomad was making nearly 6 knots flying dead down wind on the main. Near the point we tacked the boat into the wind, dropped the sail neatly onto the boom and swung the bow for home. Friends waited for the dock lines as we coasted into the pier and I didn't quite get the last of the teak covers on before the deluge arrived.

I know I am a deranged individual. But riding that wind, playing right on the edge of an ugly gybe to keep the main sail full of push, making plans to cover possible contingencies like a massive gust or the engine failing at a bad moment, and working with Deb to get the things done we needed to get done, was some of the best minutes of sailing we have had so far. I love sitting at a quite anchor, swinging gently in my hammock and sipping a sundowner. I love rafting up with friends and splashing around with the kids in the lake. I love those easy tacks where everything seems to be on rails and you look up from your book once in a while just to check on traffic. But I really love it when you look to the sky, your boat, the water; read the weather, make the plans, and do it right. There is a whole bunch of stupid in the world and I contribute my share. But not today.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Those of you reading this who are fortunate enough to already be living on the water may have to dig through your memory a bit to recall these feelings; as may those who have enjoyed a life long addiction of messing around in boats...then again, maybe you won't.

We were not supposed to be sailing this weekend. We weren't even supposed to be at the boat. Spending time with grand kids was the weekend's only purpose. But we found our way to the marina late Saturday with me having about reached my "Dora video" limit. I love my grand babies, though at ages 3 1/2, 2- a little, 2 months, and two weeks, they can easily slide, swing, swim, cry and sleep (and watch Dora Videos) until Grandpa T is flat out of energy and interest. (In spite of Deb's insistence that I never grew up!)

So there I sat Saturday evening, stretched out on the foredeck, leaning against the cabin top and gazing at an absolutely stunning 3/4 moon though my 7X binocs. Nearby cockpits were filled with good friends sharing the easy laughter so natural to boats. And suddenly, here at the start of my third season, I was completely struck at being so lucky as to be sitting on my own boat, at this magical place, Deb by my side, Nomad nodding easy on her dock lines.

Sunday morning dawned as the first real day of summer, a promise of hot to come and already humid. The "to do" list called and soon the sweat was dripping off my nose into the newly painted bilge while I reinstalled the pump. Other work got done and then Deb realized that the items remaining on "THE LIST" were either waiting on parts or were cosmetic and could sit undone to another day.

"Any reason we can't go sailing?" That was all she had to say to completely change my focus from "getting stuff done" to "getting off the dock."

The yearly shake-down cruise for those of us forced to endure the off season is (at least for me) more of a crew shake than a boat shake; though I was pleased that nothing failed on little Nomad in spite of all our work. But we got going, got the canvas up and trimmed, and picked a good point of sail with little drama. Within minutes all was well and I was again just amazed at the whole thing...the boat, the water, the sailing, and the fact that we were completely at ease in this unique little world.

Some 5 hours later we were back at the dock and, okay, I am a little out of practice putting Nomad back at her pier. At least our new life-line rig made it easy for Deb to step off the foredeck and lasso our out-of-position bow. Benefiting from the additional cooling loop of our new water heater, our little diesel was running 15 degrees cooler than last year and dug right in when I needed it to help fix my screwed up approach. So ended a day as close to perfect as anyone can dare to expect.

And guess what? The grand kids will be around for another week and I can't wait to see them starting this afternoon.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Best laid plans...

We intended to work on the boat this one last day and sail next weekend.  Really.  We really did.  We got up early and were hard at work bending on the sails and filling the water system and checking all of our new plumbing fixtures and water heater for leaks, and cleaning out lockers, and...then the boats began filing out of their slips one by one, many of them for their season maiden voyages, all of them waving as they passed by... and by 12:39 I said "Enough.  I'm tired of working on the boat.  Let's go sailing."  I'm sure you realize by now how difficult it was to talk Tim into it.  Within 15 minutes we were trying to remember how to back out of our slip (has it really been 7 months since we last did this???) and we had barely cleared the mouth of the channel before we turned up into the wind, hoisted the mainsail, and shut off the engine.  The feeling of relief was palpable, very nearly of opiate proportions.  The accumulated tension of the last few months of work slid away with the bubbles swirling from the rudder and for the next 5 hours there was nothing but me, Tim, Nomad, the water, the blue sky, the puffy white clouds, and the ever present peanut butter and jelly and Cheezits.  12-16 knots of perfect wind and Nomad was clipping along at 6.2 knots on her clean bottom and slick new sides.  We made several trips back and forth across the lake along with a short tour of Cove 4 and Coles Creek (just to be sure they were still there for our upcoming cove-outs) and headed back to the marina.  When we arrived at the mouth of the channel someone else was headed in so, of course, we decided to give them lots of room and after a textbook jibe went for another spin across the lake.  

It was a perfect afternoon doing my favorite thing with my favorite person.  It just doesn't get any better than this.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Tic Toc...

...goes the clock.  I'm sitting here in my daughter's living room listening to her noisy wall clock count the seconds.  I'm here helping her to adjust to New Mommy Life after bringing our latest grandchild home from the hospital yesterday and in between laundry, cooking, and baby burping I've had a fair amount of quiet time to spend thinking while Melanie and Kali catch a few much needed winks. My philosophical ruminations have yielded the following conclusions so far:

1.  A lot of people never go cruising because of grandbabies.
2.  A lot of people never go cruising because of the unhappiness of one spouse (usually the female) with The Plan.
3.  A lot of people wait till it's too late to go cruising and then can't because of illness or disability of some kind intervenes.
4.  A lot of people  never go cruising because they get caught up in the endless and insidious responsibilities of daily living and before they know it, it's too late to go cruising.
5.  A lot of people (mostly the female gender) never go cruising  because they have lived their entire lives for other people and out of some misguided obligation rooted deeply in guilt, find themselves unable to latch onto a dream of their own, believing they don't deserve it.

While Tim has fostered the dream of flying since he was 5, I have never had a dream, content to simply follow along and enable his, or those of my kids, for the 35 years of our marriage.

Then I went sailing.

And now I have a dream.

The dream is simply mine, although I'm fortunate enough to have a man who is eager to share it.  And while I'm enjoying every minute of each of my 5 grandkids' visits, there will soon come a time when the only clock I have will be the one I use to navigate.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Boat's in the water...

There's no water in the boat...

All is well with my little world...

Waiting on the lift...

Up ship...

Under way across the parking lot...

Stern in the water...

An abandoned work sight is a beautiful thing.

Nomad was out of the water for 178 days.  Though she is not quite done, (the holding tank, painting the bilge, and some other odds and ends remain on the off season's "to do" list) at least she is safely down off the hard and floating on her hull.  I had hoped to bend on the main and check the water system, but other (read "Grandpa T") duties called.  Melanie and little Kali (Grand baby #5!) left the hospital for home today.  Grandpa T is on call for next weekend as well, so the first sail may still be a couple of weeks away.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


There was a "boat bash" at our little marina. Nomad wasn't involved, fortunately, though that is of no solace to those that were. The details will be a bit vague, partly due to the original telling being a bit vague, and because everyone involved is a friend.

But some stories are just too good to pass up...

So it came to pass last week that a night fell with a perfect breeze, calling the few assembled to an early season moonlight sail. Vastly experienced and sailing one of the better boats on the lake a crew of 5 headed past the breakwater for what was later described as a perfect romp. Two of the 5 were enjoying a most blusterous evening, those two being Captain Morgan and First Mate Tequila. Rumor has it Captain Morgan was at the helm when the boat approached her pier a few hours after heading out, though at least one of the crew claims that the first mate should get most of the blame. In any case the good Captain's ability to discern speed, space and direction was a bit out of calibration. The boat, supplying all of the muscle but being devoid of any brains, came hurtling down between the docks at what ever speed she could muster at the selected 2200 rpm, something close to 5 knots. At such velocity, at night, and through a fog of 100 proof, a successful docking was a long shot.

An untimely helm hard to starboard and a way too late call for full reverse resulted in the boat being aimed at the wrong side of her home pier. A trim little Catalina sat in that space, minding her own business and properly tied bow, spring and stern. The aft line caught the full onslaught of the out of control boat but held fast. Lurching sideways under the blow the Catalina pinned the marauder's still fast-moving bow hard against a corner of the concrete floating dock. When the debris settled said bow sported nearly 2 feet of gash opened clean into the V-birth. Skewered by the errant boat's bow sprit, the aft stanchion of the Catalina's stern pulpit had been torn out of the fiberglass with tubing folded over into the cockpit. Though the smaller and lighter of the two boats, the Catalina had defended herself well. At least she didn't have a hole punched all the way through her hull.

Though I hope to get Nomad in the water this week, I'm kind of glad she was up on the hard. The boat in question had passed right by her slip, the crunch occurring just a few finger piers from ours. I might have been a tad miffed had Nomad had her stern pulpit ripped free, though when it was all said and done only fiberglass got damaged. And that's what insurance is for.

As for the contribution of Captain Morgan and First Mate Tequila, I'm a bit ambivalent. I'm not much of a drinker myself, (getting too old to pay the dues in the morning). And I certainly can't advocate crashing boats. But...

I tire of the button down, Victorian, everyone marching to the drum of utter responsibility, take no chances, don't do anything stupid, world I live in. Most of us carry a few battle scars from stupid, its part of what makes us human. And in our world right now, somehow "responsible" leads to wars, Wall Street shenanigans, hatred, intolerance, oppression, tyranny, and religious lunacy. Maybe a few happy drunks wrinkling up some fiberglass isn't the worst thing that can happen in a week?

And sometimes I think its better to be in a story then it is to just watch one. If it happens to be a politically incorrect story, well, maybe, that's not always so bad either. After all, when was the last time you had such a rip-snorting time that you went for a night sail, got a snoot full, completely missed your pier, and bashed a hole in the side of your boat? Embarrassing sure, but what's your best story from last week, watching a re-run of "Dancing with the Stars?"

Though 800 rpm might have worked a little better...

I'm a believer

Not very often that a product comes along that  makes Tim say "Wow" but I believe we've found it.  After being horribly disappointed with the performance of the 3M hull restorer we used a few years ago, we visited the PolyPrep and PoliGlow system booth at the Annapolis boat show in October and cautiously decided we wanted to try it.  Being forever the skeptics, we realize that there can sometimes be a rather wide gap between promised and actual performance.  So we were pretty thrilled when a box of the stuff came up for sale at our local yacht club annual yard sale for $10. Not near the risk of the full price if it didn't perform. This was the weekend to finally try it, and all I can say (and every person who passed by Nomad)  is "Wow".  Judge for yourself - remember that this is 1986 vintage fiberglass that until yesterday was chalky white oxidation.

She's all pretty, including some deck polishing done today, and ready to splash on Thursday.  Wooooo Hoooo!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Getting there

Nomad gets a sleek new bottom

Sailing a boat usually involves a destination, be it a cove at the other end of a lake or a harbor in some distant country. (For little Nomad its always the former.) The path to that destination is a bit ambiguous. Zags and zigs dictated by wind shifts, waves, and other boats make "the shortest distance between two points," something that can only be measured after the least for a sailboat. It turns out getting from the hard to the wet is pretty much the same kind of thing. (Something sailors have known from time immemorial, but this is the first boat Deb and I have ever taken out of the water "for a little work.")

I was down in the starboard lazarette drilling a hole in the forward bulkhead to run some new plumbing into the head, the goal being a shower in Nomad that actually works. I had various tools spread out on top of the holding tank, which is bolted against that same bulkhead and makes a good little work table if one is in that particular hole, when I said to myself, "Why is my shoe getting wet?"

Why was my shoe getting wet? Because the holding tank was dribbling on it though a small hole in the bottom, inboard corner. Not what I was expecting. Trailing out from under my shoe was a faint water stain leading to the bilge. Deb popped the cover off the bilge to discover that The Blob's little cousin was breeding down there. Not as lethal as the original 1958 movie version, but just as disgusting. Hours later the bilge was clean and dry, something that you couldn't say about Deb. She insisted on evicting the alien living in her boat, apparently betting that I would get my share of gross when it came time to pull the failed holding tank and not wanting to miss any of the fun. I won that particular bet. The holding tank popped out of the lazarette in about 10 minutes with nary a whiff of gross.

The errant holding tank

Being on a roll I decided to drop down in the port lazarette and figure out what we needed to make the water heater work. After all, what's the use of putting in a shower if all that comes out of it is cold water? Turns out what we needed to fix the water heater was a new water heater. (It seems 26 year old aluminum tanks and various liquids don't actually play well together. Who would have guessed?) Another turn, a friend had a brandy-new, still in the plastic, 10 gallon water heater for sale at the marina. It took a bit to find 10 gallons worth of space in a place that used to hold 7, but by mid-afternoon the deed was done and Nomad now boasts (or will when the high-tech plastic holding tank arrives) some modern plumbing to go with her new interior parts.

All of this is well and good...headliner, interior panels, steps, swim ladder, new life lines, repaired and painted hatch / seahood, overhauled prop, re-bedded stanchions, shiny bow sprit, cockpit grids, bottom scraped / sanded / painted, shower installed, head faucet replaced, holding tank, water heater, rigging tweaks, chafing tape...but the destination is getting the boat back in the lake. Countless excursions to various supply shops, endless trips up and down the step ladder, bilge dives, lazarette crawls, over births, under settees, from the tip of the bow sprit around and around the hull to behind the rudder post; about the only place I haven't been yet is up the mast. (I need to go up the mast, but up the mast while up on the hard? No thank you. I'll wait until Nomad is back in the water.) Though its just a couple of hundred feet from where she sits to the water's edge, the path between the two is much, much longer.

But we're getting there...