Saturday, April 30, 2011

My Lake Runneth Over

When we brought That Tartan home we started out sitting in the mud at the bottom of the launch pit, then we bumped mud again near the entrance to the marina. I complained that the Corps had let all the water out of the lake, but they clearly know more about their business than I do.

Unrelenting rain has filled the lake to overflowing. Slips that normally have 5 to 6 feet between the keels and the bottom now show nearly 20. The east side breakwater is under water, the west side has but a couple of feet still poking out of the waves, the launch ramp is too short to use, the pump-out station is within inches of floating off its pilings, and it remains an open question if the docks will follow it onto the bank. Should that become a real possibility Nomad and The Tartan will motor out around the corner, set hooks, and stand by while Mother Earth figures out just how much water she has to drop on the mid-west this spring. The nice thing about floods and boats is that floods unfold rather slowly (usually) thus giving people time to figure out what to do with their boats. (Unlike, say, tornados and houses.)

Some figure this out better than others. With the breakwaters submerged and the winds touching the mid to high 30s in the gusts, our marina is more like an East Coast mooring field, open to enough wave and wind action to have the boats bouncing and tugging at the ends of their lines with marked enthusiasm. More enthusiasm than some boat owners have shown in prepping for the conditions. Work on The Tartan, while going pretty well today, was frequently interrupted. Knots came free on one boat allowing its fenders to blow right past us as worked on the deck. They were gathered up, a quick search spotted the boat that had only lengths of rope protecting the hull from the dock. (And not, as one might imagine, doing a very good job of it.) We tied the fenders back in place. And then walked around moving a bunch of other fenders that were not actually doing much in protecting the hulls from the piers.

Another boat, backed into its slip, was shredding its spring line. The cover of the outboard was quickly pounded into fiberglass shards as the wind and waves forced it back against the dock. Attempts to resecure the boat were thwarted by a Methuselah like pile of dock line knots so badly stressed that I could not clear the line from the cleat even with a screwdriver to use as a marlin spike. Nor could I figure out how in Titan's watery world they had tangled up the spring and two forward dock lines. In the end we looped another spring line over the old one, pulled the boat as far forward as we could, secured the line to an unused cleat across the dock, and went back about our business.

Tonight we sit on The Tartan as it rocks gently in the diminishing winds. The lake is still rising though, up probably a foot just today. At least it isn't raining...yet.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Boat Wrenching...

I've been a mechanic for a long, long time; but most of my efforts have been in the highly regulated field of flogging airplanes. Boat work is left to the discretion of the boat worker, and..well...not intending to insult anyone; it appears that some boat workers are not as skilled? careful? intelligent? as others. Not to put too fine a point on it, some appear to be just plain quacks. Lack of skill or serious moral failing does not appear to dampen their enthusiasm any, thus the most entertaining of efforts can be found in the dark places of a 30 year old boat. My favorite from last weekend...

If a system incorporates some kind of sensing switch, (say a float switch) and said switch goes Tango-Uniform, just wiring around it as if the designer didn't really have a good reason for adding a switch there in the first place? Generally not the best of ideas. Without a sensing switch the only thing standing between the pump and self destruction is a humble human hand controlling the power. Sump tank full - flip power switch "ON" - sump tank empty - humble human distracted by some passing bauble - pump runs dry - shredded neoprene impeller bits everywhere - frozen and shorted motor - power tripped to "OFF" - humble human still staring at passing bauble in total daze; the natural, universal progression of order to disorder when things are left to their own devices.

The good news is that it looks to be an easy fix. Add a switch and install a new impeller (as soon as I figure out a p/n). The motor, its spinning end free of impeller bits and able to spin to its little heart's content once again, wasn't shorted any more. Cool beans. The bad news is I'm starting to wonder just what really got inspected for all the inspection money we spent? If I certified an airplane and missed something like half a freaking pumping system not working, someone would be knocking on the shop door...

"I'm from the FAA and I'm here to help."

Sunday, April 24, 2011

New York Passage

While Tim is hard at work on the Tartan (seriously we need a name already...) I have been making a passage of a different sort - road passage to New York with my daughter and family.  My grandson, unfortunately, has had the misfortune of inheriting the family's Terrible Teeth and is requiring the services of his dental specialist in New York to save his yet-to-be adult teeth, so I drove to Indianapolis, stuffed me and my belongings in the back of their Chevy Aveo next to my grandson's carseat and began the long journey back to the East Coast.  12 peanut butter sammiches, 4 bananas,  2 boxes of raisins, 3 clementines, 1 apple, 2 glasses of milk, 18 repetitions of Itsy Bitsy Spider, 22 of Raffi's Brush your teeth, multiple toddler apps, and 2 naps later we arrived safely at the hotel in NYC.  A romp in the park with the soccer ball and all was well in Toddlerdome. The post-dentist recovery may not be so easy and Dema may have to pull out all the stops to make things better. It's a good thing we don't remember much of those formative years.

Tomorrow we meet up with grandson #2 and daughter #2 for a few more days It's a real pleasure getting to spend some quality time with the grandsons I rarely see.  I really only feel  mildly guilty leaving Tim to do all the boat work...

Try to get toddler action stopped on a cell phone camera...

Saturday, April 23, 2011


You might have heard that the St. Louis area got clobbered on Friday. The tornado that trashed Lambert International Airport also passed within just blocks of our house. Half an hour later, there 'bout, it appeared to have Boulder marina in its sights. A handful of the assembled debated where would be the best place to ride out such an event, the bath house maybe? Or perhaps against the back wall of the clubhouse? I figured a solid chuck of fiberglass that weighed in at around 23,000 pounds, was sitting low in the water without a mast, and hidden behind a breakwater made of boulders, would be about as good a place as any. But like all good mid-Westerners I stood out on the porch gazing westward figuring it was not yet time to run, and wondering if I could spot the thing amid all the lightning. There was clearly a big 'n nasty out there somewhere; but in the end it passed just a couple of miles to our north. First a nut-job with a laser, and then a big time storm that just misses both my house and then my boat(s) - and me standing next to them. Though the chances of winning are far smaller than the chances of getting my ticket punched by a tornado, maybe I should play the lottery next week anyway?

After all the excitement of last night today was just a long - rainy - have fun working on the boat - kind of day. The water system is figured out, leaks are spotted and marked, (the only good thing about all day rain) and the parts list is waiting for a visit to West Marine. I am still adding things to the work list faster than I am getting them off, but I will sleep pretty content tonight, feeling like the day was spent making solid progress.

I even went sailing for a bit with some friends, but incoming late afternoon storms chased us back to the marina after an hour or so. At least there is water in the lake now.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Laser Attack

At 20,000 feet and it was like rushing just above the tops of a jungle. The lower layer of clouds wasn’t the usual flat expanse or bunched up pack of cumulus, rather it was a thick layer with bulging domes towering a couple of hundred feet above us. Between the domes the air was clear all the way to the horizon. A few thousand feet above was an upper layer perfectly smooth along the bottom. Its dark edge was clearly visible against the fading glow at the very end of twilight. The sight was a rare enough combination to elicit comments from both of us sitting in the cockpit; such are the real reasons we fly.

With a clearance to cross JHAUN at 12,000 we started down about 30 NM east of the intersection. The layer below was thick, looked juicy with moisture and was just the right temperature for making ice; all the heats were on as we settled into the dark mass. Even the wingtip lights faded from view as we sank deeper into the murk, but SUS weather was advertised as 15,000 scattered with 10 miles of vis, out from under the edge of the dual overcasts.

At JHAUN Kansas City Center handed us over to St. Louis approach, which then cleared us down to 5000 feet. At 5000 we crossed the Mississippi, now in the clear, and spotted the green / white rotating beacon that marks home base, still some 20 miles away. One cycle of the boots shed the last of the ice off the wings. Cleared out of 5 down to 4000 feet the TCAS (traffic alert and collision avoidance system) and Approach both advised of an aircraft climbing up toward our altitude off the starboard side. (I was FO on this flight and so sitting on that side of the cockpit.) Spotting traffic against the ground lights of a big city is often difficult, but I have a lot of practice and called the traffic in sight a few seconds later. As is my habit I continued a visual sweep of the ground lights as we started down, leaning forward to look past my co-captain…

…just then a blinding green light exploded in the cockpit. Some gutter crawling, motherless bit of worm turd had launched a laser attack that caught me full in the face, lancing directing into eyes completely acclimated to night by nearly an hour spent between and in the clouds. It hurt.

Both of us flinched away as we were swept again and again, but the first hit was the one that mattered. Fortunately my vision mostly cleared a few moments later and we finished the approach and landing without incident. (My eyes felt like grit for the rest of the evening but this morning I am fine; if still spitting mad.) I had informed Approach of the attack as it happened; the response? “Was it the red one or the green one?”

Was it the red one or the green one! Apparently a collection of pond scum is making a habit of assaulting aircraft cockpits with industrial strength lasers as they let down into the St. Louis area. We could have been anything from an eight passenger corporate jet to a 200 passenger airliner. The cockpit of a fast moving jet down low and on an approach is a busy place. It is not hard to envision such an assault as the first link in a fatal chain of events. Surely the hand behind the laser was hoping for such a result. What kind of slime attacks people they can’t possibly know and who have certainly done the attacker no personal harm?

Anyone on an airplane that assaulted the flight crew in like manor would be treated by the TSA and Dept. of Homeland Security as a terrorist; likely to disappear into the Bush/Obama gulag system and never see the light of day again. I certainly wouldn’t protest. But 5 minutes of “free time” in a room with me and a baseball bat would accomplish roughly the same thing, and cost the taxpayers a lot less money.

(We now return to our regularly scheduled blog of a mild mannered, middle-aged bloke working to move onto a sailboat.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Nitty of the Gritty...

Friends of the blog have asked details on the glitches, offering help. (Thanks Bill!) The main plumbing SNAFU* at the moment is the short in the sump pump. I planned on troubleshooting it Sunday but got side tracked. (The Tartan is attracting a lot of attention here at the start of a new season. Visiting friends deserve better than talking to the seat of my jeans as I disappear, head first, under the sink.) The pump may well be toast but the system is suffering a hard short with an instant trip of the C/B - I wouldn't be surprised to find the fault in the wiring. Having spent Saturday in the bilge I didn't have the time to visit the dark areas of the galley - the joys of that plumbing are yet to be experienced. I'm not even sure (yet) where the sink drain exits the boat, but it doesn't look like it goes to the sump tank. There are feet of hose, pumps, switches and filters under the floor forward of the mast that remain a mystery as well, though I suspect they are part of the A/C system.

Getting the mast up is also a priority. It is simply too big and vulnerable to leave in the parking lot / work area as the season spins up and more and more people get to flogging on their boats. Then will be the head replacement. The base where the throne is mounted is looking kind of mushy...might as well install the high tech "royal seat" as part of the work list of fixing the head.

*The first of the three stages of mechanical mayhem:
SNAFU - the stage where you expect to find things porked, bent, frozen, leaking and inoperative that you didn't expect. Normal "back yard" engineering, a goodly number of tools, some cash, and usually a little shed blood will see it right, or at least functional.

TARFU - sometimes the result of inept and/or stupid trying to deal with SNAFU, but often a case of the unexpected really being unexpected. Expensive tools may be required, serious cash outlays loom, and expert advice and skills will have an equal chance of reducing the state of affairs back to SNAFU or escalating them to FUBAR.

FUBAR - Think Japan and 'nuke plants...

All boats come with some SNAFU installed at the factory. Passing decades will inevitably result in portions of the installed SNAFU morphing into TARFU. With a little luck The Tartan will be free of least I hope so.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Smitten by a Tartan...

...and then smitten again - bilge full of oil and water. Empty bilge bucket by bucket, buckets to be hauled up the hill to the haz-mat barrel. Scrub bilge again and again until all ugly oil smell finally goes away. (We are kind of fond of the mink, beaver, blue herons and other birds that make their home around here. No oil in the lake if we can help it.)

...and then smitten again - unused wiring strung all over the bilge, bare ends hanging, electron bridges to nowhere. Hundreds of feet of damaged, spliced, mystery wire tracked, unstrung and tossed into the trash. Remaining wires rerouted (some apparently run by a mad-man on cheap drugs) and secured where they will not be rubbing on sharp edges or lying in water.

...and then again - sump tank leaks, float switch missing, sump pump throws the breaker at you when you try and turn in on. The good news is that spending a day grudging around in the bilge gave me a chance to figure out how the water system is supposed to work. Now all I have to do is figure out why it isn't working.

...and again - lights throughout the boat do not work; some with broken bulbs still in the sockets, some just burned out, and some inop for reasons yet to be determined.

...and - the bimini (which looked pretty good in the pictures) is barely hanging onto its frame; stitching shot, seams failing, straps dirty and stiff. The frame itself is about 6 inches too high, looks weird, and will certainly feel the gentle ministrations of a cutting disk before too many weeks go by. The pictures also showed a solid brace from the aft arch to the stern pulpit, such brace nowhere to be found now.

Then there are the surprises, as in opening up a box and wondering, "What the hell does this thing fit, or do? Why is it on this boat? The stove is a mystery. I'm afraid to try the on board heater until I get a chance to look over the gas lines and least I think the heater works off the gas. Maybe it doesn't? The things I don't know about this boat far outnumber the things I do know.

And yet as I type this we have moved most of our stuff from Nomad to The Tartan. At least part of the shore power system works; music is playing, the heater spins up once in a while to keep off the chill, the 'fridge is running and the coke is cold. We are secured to the pier port side to and resting on two stern, two bow and a spring line. A constant parade of friends have been aboard and the universal consensus is that we did pretty well for ourselves. This will be our first night in our home to be.

Now if she will just tell us her name...

Yes, it's really that long. The stern is flush with the sterns of the other boats in the row.
Stern-to Nomad

Home Sweet Home

Thursday, April 14, 2011

May I suggest that...

...with the exception of your personal boat, the Tartan 42 is the prettiest boat, ever, to take to the water.

(Okay, I admit to being totally smitten. You knew it was bound to happen.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Ok NOW I'm excited

(A slightly modified post - recreating the one that accidentally was deleted...)

Over the past 10 weeks people have been asking me if I'm excited yet.  I purposely kept myself from being excited because let's face it, stuff happens and I didn't want to be disappointed if something did. But sitting there waiting for the truck to pop over the hill on the road into the marina I felt a bit like a husband pacing the waiting room waiting for his baby to be born.  I very nearly jumped up and down as I heard the engine of the truck laboring to climb the hill to the marina with its heavy load.

I'll let the pictures tell the rest of the story.

 Nearing the end of her long trek from Chicago

 Impossibly skinny rails to hit with the tires...

Ready to lower her into the water 

Waiting on them to fill the lift with gas

 Man this is one seriously lonnnnng boat!

 Schmidty's Sea Tow just in case we have engine troubles

 Our first sunset on the boat

Here she sits in her new

Do you like apples?

Deb and I paced the piers most of the day as word from the transport company was a 1600 arrival. Finally the appointed hour arrived, Schmitty provided transport across the lake in his jetboat; to help with the lift, make sure we got underway, and provide a tender boat if needed. (Not only is Schmitty a good friend, he is a Guru of All Things Sailboat.)

Standing around waiting just minutes before the truck appeared at the gate, we watched a nearly new Seaward 36 bang the edge of a pier and ricochet off the bow of anther boat as its new owner tried to figure out how to make it go, turn, back and stop. Not a good omen as this would be my first time to helm The Tartan, and only the second time at the helm of a boat longer than 40 feet. A little voice in my head spoke up, "What ever you do, be considerably less entertaining than that guy!"

The first time 6500 pound Nomad was up in a lift and heading for the water was a bit exciting for a newbe. Seeing 23,000 pounds of Tartan 42 being trammeled out over "The Pit"? Yep, that was pretty exciting as well. Actually, it was hard to keep from jumping up and down shouting "Look at the Pretty Boat!" The only glitch in the whole process of truck-on lift-water-off lift-across lake-home pier was the lift running out of gas with Deb, myself and The Tartan still about two feet from floating. Getting to the fuel filler, which was now some 10 feet in the air over the rip-rap, took close to an hour. Motivation restored and The Tartan settled the last couple of inches, the straps went slack...are we floating? Mmmm, not quite. The Corps is being stingy with the water level this spring and the keel was resting slightly below the bottom of the pit. Jetboat to the rescue.

Floating free at last Schmitty pulled our stern through a 270 to get the bow pointed toward home and cut us loose. Deb, The Tartan and I were on our own for the very first time. I can't tell you how she sails as the mast is a week or more from being ready to step. But Oh Boy does she motor sweeeeeeet! With the RPM at some comfortable rumble we surged across the lake at more than 8 kts. Eight knots. The only way little Nomad would go that fast on her own would be to drop her about 14 feet out of the travel lift.

Just as the sun set we nosed VERY CAREFULLY up to the pier. Waiting hands caught the lines, warped us in against the fenders, and we were home.

Flogging the jet to places East. There is a Tartan 42 floating in Lake about them apples?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

People Who Read Books

One of the things I love most about sailors, and one of the reasons I hope to be counted as a full-fledged member of the society someday, is that sailors are People Who Read Books. Nearly every blog, every article, every mention of serious sailors and the way they lead their lives talks of the joy of settling into a comfortable spot, often listening to the rain patter on the deck with the wind whispering through the rigging, getting a hot cup of joe (or tea) and reading a book. All kinds of books even. Trashy romance novels, serious historical tomes, biographies, books on politics, books on religion, books on weather and navigation (naturally)...making room for the library is a constant theme when it comes to using the limited space on boats. (A big reason why I loves me some Kindle!)

Not only do sailors read books, but the ideas in those books find a home in the mind and worldview. Sipping a cold one and debating the "theme of the day" as the sun sets, I love how sailor thoughts don't usually come from TV or talk radio, a rare thing in our world today. I even have a guess as to why that might be. On TV and talk radio everyone claims to be an expert on every subject, which means that none of them really know anything about anything. That may work at the Mall, but out on the water? The ocean (and often enough even the lakes) will laugh at, abuse, and sometimes kill off the fool who pretends to be an expert. At some visceral level sailors know this (as do pilots). While foolishness is often a shared source for laughter and good times, fools are rarely tolerated for long.

Underneath all of laughter and easy comradery, serious sailors are serious people. Given a choice I would much rather be around people who take living seriously, who labor to be experts at things like boat work and seamanship, who need to know what the weather is going to do because to get it wrong is to risk everything, who cannot mistake propaganda for the truth, who must know from which direction the wind really is blowing. And yet, by some near magic touch of knowing the scale of human life to ocean, serious sailors don't often take themselves too seriously.

I wish there were more like you around.

Monday, April 4, 2011


I was 19 years old, married for a whopping 3 months, and everything we owned was now stuffed into a '69  Chevy van, including the incorrigible mutt formerly known as Jeremy.  We were coasting down the gravel driveway of Tim's parents' house, waving goodbye to our mothers who were holding each other tight and, I'm sure, crying, although we were already too far away to see for sure.  It was the first day of our grand adventure into adult life, the first day of a sometimes regrettable 5 day discovery of every inch of the shoulder of route 70 where Tim got to try out his newly acquired Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics A & P license trying to coax that van to Wichita in time to make his first day at Boeing without getting fired for being late.

We endured a good bit of hardship those first few years, being dirt poor, finding ourselves homeless due to a tornado, 1000 miles away from any family help, being newly married, dirt poor and did I mention dirt poor?  We had our first child in those years and somehow managed not only to survive, but to thrive.  Jobs in aviation have a way of encouraging the nomadic lifestyle, a fact demonstrated by the next 5 or 6 jobs and 4 states where we bought homes, had more children, sold homes, bought more homes and finally ended up here lifting the shrink wrap off our first boat purchase in 32 years of marriage to find the name Nomad painted boldly on the stern.  I think we both nearly died laughing at the appropriateness of it all.

There are some people who can live in one place all their lives and have never traveled more than 50 miles away from home.  There are some that find they have to travel that wish they didn't.  And there are some like us who, being true nomads, are chafing at the bit after 5 years in one place.  Don't get me wrong, change hasn't always been welcome.  A few of the job-related moves were unbelievable tests of character and fortitude, but each experience was a thread of a different color in the tapestry, an exercise in strength-building, a step in the journey to this place we find ourselves today, getting ready to fit all our belongings once again into a small space and take off for a new adventure.  Like our adventure nearly 40 years ago, we don't have any assurance of its outcome, or promises of a hardship-free journey but like Canadian author Rita Golden Gelman says, "“Risk-taking, trust, and serendipity are key ingredients of joy. Without risk, nothing new ever happens. Without trust, fear creeps in. Without serendipity, there are no surprises.”   Let the adventures begin!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Working memories

I love it when a name drifts up from the deep memories...Rusty. (I even remember his last name but should probably keep it to myself. I suspect there are a few people out there would not care to be associated with me in any way, shape or form. You'll see why in a moment.)

Years and years (and years!) ago I spent a summer doing volunteer work at a camp for inner city kids. (Yep, I'm one of those damned bleeding heart liberals after all.) A church camp even. This was before Pat, Jerry, and Newt had a private meeting with God where it was revealed that he (god) is the world's Leading Conservative, liberals really are damned as well as having the whole thing wrong, and money shouldn't be spent on camps for inner city kids when those same funds can be invested in Wall Street and weapons. Not long after the country went stark raving mad, soon to be followed by a good part of the rest of the world. Religious leaders quit pretending to care about much other than keeping young women and gay people from having sex, (and in some parts of the world blowing each other up) and I quit pretending to believe anything religious leaders said.

But in the day's before we knew any better, Rusty and I worked that summer Church camp as the "stump pulling team." A forest area had been cleared to make a dirt track so the kids could learn to ride and race a batch of off-road motorcycles donated by Honda. (This was apparently before us damned liberals invented tort law and environmentalism, just to put a twist in the Big Guy's shorts.) Clearly the stumps had to be removed. I'm not sure why Rusty and I got the nod though he was a varsity wrestler and I on the varsity swim team, we were just 16, hopelessly enthusiastic, and near indestructible. (A good trait when one is spending 12 hours a day in the Pennsylvania summer hacking out tree stumps by hand.)

I thought of ol' Rusty yesterday because I was once again hacking away at a tree stump; this time in my back yard in Missouri. About half way through my right wrist gave up and I traded jobs with Deb. (My days of being near indestructible are long years past as well!) The stump eventually fell over, we planted a baby tree in its place, and thus the last of the really high effort tasks needing done on the house was complete. There is still stuff to do but it is easier, evening work to dress up the yard. It looks like we will make the May first date for putting the house on the market after all. (If you know anyone who wants a nice, 3 bedroom Condo in the Central West End of St. Louis, you might mention that you know of just such a place.)

With the house to-do list nearly under control we headed to the lake this morning. Alas, as much as I would like to feel Nomad under sail again the winds were steady at 20+ and gusting near 50 at times. Thinking it would be silly to break her now, it seemed best to leave our little Com-Pac tied safely to the pier. In addition to the wind the Corps has let all the water out of the lake in anticipation of spring floods. Well, no quite all of it, but at least one boat wasn't tied to her pier so much as stuck in the mud next to it. Makes it a bit hard to get underway, that.

With a little luck and some cooperation from the IL D.O.T. The Tartan may make its way from Chicago to Carlyle late next week. Add a little cooperation from the weather and the Army Corps of Engineers to raise the lake a bit, and she may even make it to the pier by this time next week. Its getting pretty close to exciting.