Monday, June 28, 2010

A Side Note

One of the main reasons that we get along so well I believe is that we each have our areas of expertise and we rarely venture into the other's area.  This is probably why Tim, being the best flight instructor I know, was able to teach me to fly in spite of the many bets against our success on our little airport at the time.  It's also why he hired me to do the parts in that same facility, I being OCD when it comes to organization.  He can't cook worth a flip but he's the best weather reader I've known.  On the boat he tends to take care of the mechanical jobs as well as most outside jobs and I tend to take care of the inside of the boat, cooking, and cleaning and teak refinishing both inside and out.  We usually gravitate to those jobs we either are good at or just plain like to do.

The same principles apply to the blog.  Tim is by far the better writer than I so he does most posts, but when it comes to the camera he gets a little faint.  So most posts are written without pictures and then when I get around to uploading the pictures I include them in his post.  So when you read his posts, be sure to go back to the previous one and look at the pictures!

Young hands

I was thinking that we really didn't do much this weekend, sailed around some, spent a couple of nights on the hook, enjoyed good food and the company of friends. And you know, that is actually a weekend full.

We did have guests on board; an expat Doctor from China and his daughter. John had a interesting story to tell of growing up in Beijing (where much of his family still lives) and finding his way to the US. He visits China now but has no plans of moving back. His daughter, Emily, was born in the US and will have the benefit of two cultures in her personal history. They speak Chinese in their home and visit family regularly, spending a couple of months each summer in the "Old Country." (And when one is talking of China, one is talking of a truly "Old Country.")

Though this was their first time on a sailboat Emily asked if she could take a turn at the wheel, certainly the youngest hands (not counting 6 month old Christopher) Nomad has ever had on her helm. With just a few minutes of coaching Emily looked completely at ease, holding the bow tight to the wind, occasionally falling away a bit to catch the shifting breeze or steer around traffic. Her Dad beamed with pride.

In addition to Emily two young ladies from the marina were also along for the ride, the number of teen aged girls equalling the number of adults in the crew. It was certainly Nomad's "chattiest" sail to date. I am a once-upon-a-time father of 3 teen-aged girls but most of what I overheard made absolutely no sense to me. They could have been gabbing in Chinese. Clearly I am far, far out of the loop when it comes to American "teen-speak" these days! It was fun though. When we dropped the hook just outside of the marina for a little swimming the girls turned Nomad's bow into a diving (well, jumping) platform. Soon they were giving out scores for form, entry and splash.

Rumor has it I am not that fond of most children most of the time. There is not much occasion for me to be around young people and I can't say that bothers me much. (Unless you count the grand kids.) I hear the same complaints about American youth as you, too much TV, too many video games, no incentive, a sense of entitlement they haven't earned, not willing to work hard, no respect. (I believe much the same things were said about us when we were young, though in my case they probably had a point!) But these young ladies were poised, gracious, polite and enthusiastic. They are all straight A students, talked of a future of being doctors, one would be off to horse camp by the end of the day, one would be off to China a few days after that. Given the current state of the world it is tempting to think we will all be in better hands when the likes of these young people take over... and the sooner the better.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Port and Starboard

We've been together an incredibly long time.  38 years to be exact, and considering that the 38 years began at age 15 I figure it qualifies as nothing short of amazing, so it's not often that I have any marital epiphanies or even minor "Ah haaaa" moments since by now, most of those moments have already been penned into the marriage almanac of Tim and Deb. On occasion, though, usually when I'm not paying the least attention,  I stumble on some wonderful little piece of insight and then promptly wonder why it is that it took me so long to see what was blatantly obvious in the first place.

So it was two weekends ago.  Tim is always ready to dive right into any challenge, fully confident in his ability to accomplish the task.  I,on the other hand am...well...not.  He has been pestering to sail into the slip for some time now, routinely discouraged, the always-worried-about-what-could-happen first officer.  Frustration inevitably ensues, him because he can't do what he wants without my help to do it, and me because I realize I'm holding him back out of fear.  Two weekends ago we headed for Coles Creek to do some swimming and relieve the oppressing heat,  and since it wasn't very windy and there weren't many boats we decided to try to sail into the cove and anchor without ever turning the engine on.  Not only did we do it once Saturday, but we did it again Sunday and then even sailed off the anchor when we left.

While sailing wing-on-wing back to the marina I was pondering this latest development, trying to figure out what had made it different, why I was comfortable with it , and why we were ultimately successful.  I realized that the difference lay in planning.  Before we headed into the cove we talked for a while about what would happen, how we would do it, and what we would do if things went wrong.  Before we left, we ran down the same list, each step clear in my mind.  OK so some of you might think this is painfully obvious, but in reality small lake sailing is pretty laid back and seldom requires the need for this much advance planning.  We did it though, and the end result was an incredibly satisfying feeling of a job well done.

My reflections on the day left me with a list of good lessons for the ocean, someday soon I hope:

1. Planning may mean different things to different people and the planning must be done to every crew member's satisfaction.  That being said, I need to not plan things to death and relax a little.
2. Confidence is built a little at a time by taking a risk here and there and finding that you really are capable.
3. Communication, clear and abundant, is a good thing on a boat.

And the last surprising conclusion?  I need to swear off NPR because the news is only leaving me with the constant companion of worry that seems to be permeating into my weekends.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Just a little...

stupid that is. I added just a little stupid to the world this past weekend. As Deb mentioned we were on the hook Friday and Saturday night rather than at the pier. Friday we were alone and enjoying having the cove all to ourselves. Deb pulled up the RADAR around midnight, (just before we called it a day) and found there was some stuff painting pretty far north. She asked what I thought we should do. I, being the expert weather / pilot type person that I am, decided that the weather probably wouldn't make it to us. Even if it did I announced that we would hear the thunder off in the distance and have plenty of time to secure the boat for what was sure to be a minor blow.

You know what happened next. At 0200 in the morning I flew out of the berth in my all-together with Nomad heeling over and swinging around her anchor under the onslaught of a vigorous gust front. Grabbing a pair of pants I headed up the companion way to try and tame the wildly flogging covers and Bimini. On deck the strobe lightning turned my Charley Chaplin routine into some kind of weird DEVO video. I was grabbing at lines and hugging canvas with one hand while trying to keep the pitching and windblown deck from tossing my (nearly) all-together self into the dark lake water with the other. (I should have grabbed a life vest instead of pants - now that would have been a scene!)

Fortunately the gust front hit before the rains came, giving us a chance to close up the boat and get some gear ready. The RADAR now showed that a massive storm system had spun up and would pummel the lake for hours. We sat wedged in the cabin until near dawn with the boat pitching and rolling, intermittent heavy rain falling and an entertaining (and close) lightning show. I made the trip forward a couple of times to check on the anchor. (With rain gear and life vest. I learn slow, but I learn.) Truth to tell, had we dragged all that would have happened is little Nomad would have settled herself into the mud bottom; exciting but with very little chance of serious damage. (Nomad, by the way, never dragged an inch. About the only smart thing I had done was set her over-sized CQR anchor good and hard, with 60+ foot of rode, in a place where we had plenty of room to swing.)

Saturday afternoon there were more storms forecast, and more red on the RADAR. This time we folded up the Bimini, got the wash boards out, set an extra line or two between the rafted up boats, (there were 3 of us) and laid out an extra anchor. We all decided to put off cooking until the storms had passed, chowing down on cheese, sausage and snacks while watching the approaching rain. And you know what happened next. The storms broke apart as they reached the lake, one going north of us, one south. We never felt even a single drop of rain or experienced more than a gentle breeze. But we were ready!

We did some sailing as well, with the best being the Friday evening run to the cove in a nice breeze. The rest of the weekend? Well, remember those calm days I said were bound to come? They did.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

48 hours

No, not the TV show, the boat weekend.  We've been itching to get back to our coving out weekends, but the lack of a holding tank and various marina parties were keeping us tied to the dock.  This weekend, though, finally gave us the opportunity to leave the dock on Friday after work and not touch land for 48 hours.

We live on the boat every weekend, mind you, and we cove out most of the weekend nights each season, but this is the first time that we've ever been on the boat the whole weekend without spending any time at the marina or various other lake functions at some point Saturday.  This might not seem like such a big deal to those of you who live on  your boats full time, but it was nice to know that we can weather a pretty large thunderstorm (Friday night) in a 27 foot boat and spend a weekend in 105ยบ heat index without either going crazy or getting on each other's nerves and to realize that at the end of the weekend we would much rather be going back to the cove than going home.  It was all in all a perfect weekend with my favorite person in one of my favorite places.  It just doesn't get much better than that.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A beautiful thing

We spent a good bit of last weekend sanding and refinishing a few pieces of teak on Nomad.  It had been raining a lot since then so when I got to the marina Friday night it was with great pleasure that I saw the water beaded up on our 4 coats of polyurethane.  You see, I got very tired of doing the annual Cetol thing so we've been gradually converting over the whole boat to polyurethane so we can get a few years out of it.  You can't see in this picture, but the polyurethane really made the grain pop.  It's beautiful in the sunlight.

The teak wasn't the only beautiful thing this weekend.  The whole weekend was perfect, a nice birthday present for me since my birthday is tomorrow.  We had a couple really terrific sails, 2 times of sailing to anchor without the motor ( a huge deal for me, the newbie who really likes to have the engine to depend on), one first of sailing off the anchor (again without the motor), excellent time with good friends, and good food. One of our friends made the comment "It's like being on vacation every weekend.  And that it is.  Too bad vacation has to end with Monday morning...

Look at the sailboat!

Thus spoke a little girl playing on her parent's pontoon boat; and with good reason. When they had dropped a hook just outside of the "NO WAKE" buoys at Coles Creek, Nomad was a couple of hundred feet away nodding on her own anchor line. Deb and I had decided to pick up our own anchor and head for home. Since the wind was on the light side but out of a good direction for such antics, we were going to give it a go without the help of our engine. (Twice this weekend we sailed into Coles Creek, spun up into the wind, dropped a hook and the sails, and had settled in without the aid of our own little noise maker.) As the little girl watched our main went up and as the anchor came on board, our big drifter blossomed out of its bag, Nomad picked up the traces, and we passed off the bow of the pontoon family accelerating out into the lake. I'll bet it looked pretty cool!

I know its silly to get such pleasure out of so mundane a thing as sailing off the hook, but I'm pretty easily entertained. It was something new for Deb and I to try, it was fun, and a little girl got a kick out of it. That's all pretty good stuff for a Sunday afternoon. And the "pretty good stuff" is why we sail at all. Among the other good stuff of the weekend was the annual marina party which focused on checking out other people's boats, meeting some new friends, and watching a spectacular lightning display played out in front of a double rainbow. All stuff you can't get on your TV screen.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Our three favorite words

Last weekend being a holiday weekend, the first holiday of the summer season, and really hot, the lake was completely inundated with power boats.  As Tim mentioned in his posts from that occasion, power boats blasted every which way, blaring their engines and stereo systems and indulging in insane amounts of stupid.  So it was that this weekend we coined our three favorite words, those words which we will wait eagerly to hear each weekend from our esteemed power boating friends..."It's too choppy".  Wooo hoooooo! A whole weekend of sailboats alone on the lake swishing through the waves and raising a bow or two in honor of the empty powerboat party beach.  What a blast.

I haven't looked at the weather forecast for next weekend, but I'm sure it will be dead flat calm.


As in, "We Did A Lot Of Stuff," these past couple of days. Most important but least exciting was a trip to the pump out. Little Nomad is a fully functioning cabin boat once again, new holding tank installed. I was down in the lazarette (as usual) sweat dripping off my nose (also as usual) wrestling with the fat, gray, wire-reinforced tubing that runs to and from the tank, (near the girth of a full grown boa constrictor and about as cooperative) when it occurred to me we should change the name of this blog. Clearly, living on a sailboat has nothing to do with "retirement." We also worked on some teak (looks fine but doesn't seem to last a long time) and wrestled (unsuccessfully as it turned out) with the leaks on the new water heater. (Jobs for next weekend.)

But along with the grunt work was some fantastic sailing! Two days in a row, over a weekend no less, the lake was lumped up with whitecaps and steady Force 4 - 5 wind. Saturday we had guests on Nomad. They own a nice sailboat that has seen them do a ton of work. But their introduction to sailing was a bit unfortunate. It seems one of the marina's die-hard racers took them out on an early romp and managed to put the fear of drowning in them. I'm sure he didn't mean to, but I learned a long time ago that what is good fun and excitement for some is a near death experience for others. (I have been told that my antics in acro planes and on motorcycles strike normal people as near suicidal. I don't get it, but then I gave up long ago thinking of myself as "normal.") For most its better to sneak up on having a boat on its ear with water flying into the cockpit

With a reef in her main and her sails trimmed on the soft side Nomad was every inch the solid cruising boat, showing our guests a really good time. For the most part I just stayed out of the way while our friends took turns at the helm and Deb showed them how to trim the sheets, hold a point of sail, and tack the boat. (Among countless other skills Deb is an excellent instructor.) We hove to for a fantastic lunch, and the only one who didn't seem to have the best of times was their little dog. He lost his breakfast not long after we left the dock. No harm done, after that he settled in and seemed to sleep most of the day. (Dog on board, another first for Nomad.)

Saturday evening was the highlight...a real wave basher on Juno. Friend Barry wanted to get some tacking angle numbers on his boat; the good winds and empty lake offered the perfect venue. With Kort on board as well the four of us headed out. With her full main flying and most of her trick jib rolled out Juno dug a rail into the lake and took off. Deb had the hardest job of the evening, wedged into the companionway writing down the compass headings as Barry shouted them out to her. Kort and I handled the sheets, Kort an expert sailor, me just doing what I was told. I got better at the timing though as we tacked time after time, each one a bit smoother than the last. We "washed the windows" on both sides of the cabin trunk, Barry got his numbers, Kort took the helm for a while, and then let me have a go. What an absolute blast! Later, running out of lake to play in, we set the sails wing-on-wing as we turned for home. I was still on the helm, but with the boat catching up to the fading wind of the late evening, Barry took over once again. That was fine with me. It is one thing for the owner / Captain to flog a $3500 Kevlar sail set on a custom built roller furler, quite another for me to do it. I had not helmed a boat like that, in those kinds of conditions, before. I'm still grinning like a school boy.

Saturday night late the winds returned and Sunday dawned full of promise. Nomad left her slip for a one-tack-to-the-dam, one-tack-home romp that saw 6.4 on the GPS several times. It was such a perfect weekend that you just know we have a bunch of dead-calm days in our future...dues must be paid.

On a completely different subject it turns out Deb and I will not be sailing a 38' monohull in the Gulf this 4th of July. The trip has been cancelled due to the oil spill. I feel like I should say something profound about that, but I have not the skill, the words, or the wisdom. One can't but hurt for those who have lost a life's worth of work and effort to this unfolding disaster, though that helps them not at all.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Powerboat follies

I like to think of myself as an ecumenical kind of person. It is none of my concern, and I really have no opinion, on what god(s) you choose to follow. (So long as you don't use your religion as an excuse to trash another person's life or do them harm.) Likewise with the motorcycle you ride. I have had everything in my garage from a race replica GSXR1000 to a Gold Wing with a side-car to a Harley. Your car is your choice and I hope you enjoy it. (So long as you don't get in the "fast lane" to do the speed limit!) I care not if your airplane has one wing or two, open cockpits or jet engines or no engines. I only ask that you be responsible for its use and, if you must be stupid, try to kill only yourself.

And so it is with boats. I am a mono-hull sailor at the moment, but I would love to live on a Cat. I liked sailing the tri and hope to do so again. My Grandfather used to own a classic wooden powerboat that we used to go fishing when I was a child. On one of our last family vacations before the girls left the nest we rented a pontoon boat for an excellent day. So with that in mind...

The assembled decided to reassemble at Coles Creek for some swimming, story telling, and maybe a cold one or two. S/V Gail Force was first on the scene. Her Captain, knowing that company would share his hook, set it well with a good amount of scope. S/V Miss My Money arrived, then Nomad, and finally Moonbeams. Each tied bow, stern, and spring and general holiday making ensued.

Off our collective bows, and directly over Gail Force's anchor, powerboats began to clump together. It was an eclectic group including pontoon boats, bass boats, little run-a-bouts, big-engined screamers, and one odd looking thing that had what appeared to be huge speakers hung on Bimini tubing mounted fore and aft. As each pulled in they tied off some bow to bow, some bow to stern, which ever way they were pointed at the moment. Methuselah tangles of thin, multi-colored nylon line appeared haphazardly looped around cleats and tubing and what-not, the odd wrap hanging into the lake. It appeared that more than half dropped tiny anchors off the bow, straight into the mud with zero scope. It must have been an odd looking rope forest under the boats, with anchors landing everywhere. Kids hit the water, dogs joined in, fun and games for all.

As the afternoon wore on the wind worked the powerboats ever closer to our bows. It looked like one end of their line would drift a bit, catch, than the other end would kind of pivot around, catch, and the whole dance would start again. With nary a spring line to be found and the bow-bow-stern-bow-stern-stern lines tangled, stretching and slowing coming undone, the whole mass slowly disintegrated into a giant horseshoe wrapped around Gail Force's rode. One end of the line drifted ever closer to Nomad's bow, the other end bent around to approach Moonbeams. There were plenty of fenders deployed on the sailboats so the only concern was that one of the power folks would cut our collective anchor rode when they left. We started taking bets on how close they would get before one of them looked up.

It finally occurred to our horsepower dependent friends that they were drifting and coming apart, and it appeared they decided to go home. On the port end of the ragged line (as we faced them) two boats cast off but, for reasons unknown, stayed tied bow to stern with each other. One started up, (kids and dogs way to close) the engine making an ugly sound that caught every one's ear. Moments later a young lady on the other boat, showing lots of skin but very little comprehension, stood at the bow holding a frayed end of an anchor line. The pair began to drift toward Nomad's side while a young man dove on the prop to see if it was fouled. There was someone sitting at the wheel, (I am reluctant to call him the Captain.) hand apparently on the starting button. A few heart beats later the engine barked to life once more and the two boats began to move, one being dragged backward through the water. As they turned we could see someone hanging on the bow / stern line, also being dragged backward through the water!

As that pair moved away the next three boats untied from the rest but, once again, stayed bound to each other. Apparently none had an anchor out and they also started to drift toward Nomad. One (with his stern toward us) wanted to start his motor, but there was a woman just off his bow on one of those floating chairs, beer in hand, who was making fun of the fact that she couldn't get out of the way and didn't know which way to go in any case. The clearly frustrated driver, with embarrassed glances at our ever approaching hull, shouted to the pontoon boat at the other end of the 3-ship raft, (who was bow to Nomad) to start up and back away. It was a nice thought, but all that managed was to pivot the 3 boats around. They drifted down our port side with a few feet to spare, finally got something figured out, and each motored away. (The end powerboat with a burst of power that ignored the "NO WAKE" zone we were in.)

While all this was going on the rest took flight. Boats drifted off in all directions, engines started which drowned out the sound of people calling to see if their sterns were clear. Several moved out still dragging tubes at the end of long lines, just that many more hazards for the others to try and avoid. Somewhere in there another pontoon boat drifted past Nomad, her Captain apparently trying to figure out if he had all his crew on board and oblivious to our shadow falling across his ship. That was understandable. His "crew" appeared to fill every square foot of his floating porch, which had maybe two inches of bridge deck clearance showing. It was inevitable that one of these guys would head straight for our anchor line, and one did. Multiple shouts of warning got this Captain's attention and a burst of reverse churned the water just in time to keep him from setting us adrift as well. Fortunately there was no one behind him as he never looked before backing away, spinning the helm, and hitting the gas. A couple of wave runners had joined the fray, zipping around tossing wakes and waves just to add to the mayhem. I have, of course, heard many a story of powerboat follies in my couple of years in the sailboat world. Never did I expect a front row seat to so many of them being played out at one time. It was nothing short of amazing. The show ended with them scattering out of the cove like so many water bugs.

A half hour or so after the noise of the powerboats had drifted off we untied from our first raft-up of the season and headed home. (We would have stayed the night but our new holding tank has yet to arrive.) There was enough wind to work the drifter and as we headed up the lake we got a nice look at a new boat to our marina. She is a home built, cat-rigged ketch that is a real work of art, and she was out on her maiden sail. Cast against the setting sun, centered in the light splashing across the water, moving silently and gracefully along with her main and mizzen trimmed tight to the wind, she was the polar opposite of the powerboat display.

To each his own. The powerboats had a good party, only one anchor was lost, and (so far as I know) no one got hurt and no boats got damaged. Something that, I am forced to admit, can't always be said about the merry band of sail boaters in our home marina. Still, I think sailboat mayhem has a bit more class, so I'll stay with little Nomad for now, thank you.