Saturday, January 28, 2012

It's not about the boat. Really.

I've been following the blog of one of our followers who is a few years behind us in the 5-year plan.  She's in that early stage of Boat Porn and the constant wondering and fretting over the boat that will be required for them to fulfill their dream.  I remember those days, because they were us until just very recently - last April to be exact.  But this weekend we took our annual train ride to Chicago for Strictly Sail and, it being the first boat show we attended where we weren't looking for "The Boat", I confess (in light of all the difficulties we've had with Kintala) to being just a tad worried that I might find myself regretting our choice of the Tartan once we got there and were confronted with all the nice, new, shiny boats. I was genuinely nervous about it and thought about it all the way to Chicago.

As Tim mentioned in his previous post, we had an opportunity to go hear John Kretschmer talk about his Atlantic crossings.  He prefaced his talk by saying that in the early years of your venture into cruising you're all about The Boat.  You want it to be perfect. You fret. You search. You buy. You pimp. Then he made a rather profound statement that was one of those epiphany moments that I seem to be having pretty frequently these days.  "It's not about the boat. It's about the life.  It's about the people."  I'm pretty sure if the Strictly Sail people heard that statement they probably wouldn't ask him back.  They desperately want you to believe that it's ALL about the boat so they can sell you all kinds of new shiny things.  But John's right.  It's about the life. It's about the people. No need for me to have worried at all, because now I can see that Kintala is just exactly the right boat.

Boat Show!

Kintala's blowed up drive train precluded Deb and I spending the funds necessary to make the Annapolis show this year. We made it to Chicago, which is still one of my most favorite of trips. So far as I am concerned there are only two truly civilized modes of transportation on the planet; trains and sailboats. (Outrageously overpowered sport bikes which, truth to tell, no sane person would think of riding at all, are a concession to the Infidels, Pagans, and Bohemians among us.) At Oh-dark-four-thirty Thursday morning we boarded the Lincoln Express in St. Louis. I promptly fell asleep and woke up in Chicago. A short cab ride later and we were standing outside the doors waiting for the show to start. How cool is that?

Thursday is the day for a boat show. It seemed like a couple of hundred of us had the place all to ourselves. Booths still pristine, no lines to look at the shiny new boats; its like having VIP tickets at every-day-folks prices. Even better, Deb and I climbed around every single one of the Hunter, Catalina, Jeanneau, and Dufour offerings as well as the Estero, and we didn't see a single boat we would want more than our Tartan. (Tartan didn't make the show, so Kintala didn't have to compete with a new 4000.) We did see a bunch of ideas we liked that may find their way onto Kintala one of these days.

This was the first show we have attended where we were not debating "The Boat". Instead we were looking at stuff that we would need to add to "The Boat" before we can get going; dink & motor, auto-pilot, and dodger. Then there are the things we would like to add; chart plotter, solar panels, wind generator, and a more efficient fridge. And then there was the stuff we hadn't thought about but suddenly discovered we probably should take care of; most importantly a furling system for our (to us) massive head sails that doesn't jam or try to jerk my

fingers out by the roots when I need to get the sail doused before a mid-western TWR thumps us a good one. Crawling out to the bow to unjam the furler while bucking across the Gulf stream hard on the wind? I'm thinking that's a game for the young and limber; two descriptions that have not applied to me for many a year.

All of that was a bit discouraging. Even if we go with just the must-have of the must-have; dink & motor plus auto pilot - the SBUs add up to about equal to the hole blown in our credit card by the V-drive. And that set us back a year. But our friend John Kretschmer was one of those giving seminars at the show this year, and one of his talks was "Atlantic Crossings." (He has done 20 of them.) One hour sitting in a room with him and all discouragement faded away. We are going to get Kintala under way if I have to shade-tree the V-drive and row a worn out Dink back and forth to shore. We are going to take a season on big blue water to figure out the things we haven't figured out on our little lake.

Then we are going to the Med.

Which makes me think the Chicago boat show might be bad for me. The first year we went we were still thinking of ourselves as Catamaran people who might go as far as the Bahamas. Last year we went and found Kintala. and figured the Western Atlantic would be our playground. This year we decided we should sail our Tartan around the Atlantic ocean...all the way around. Clearly Chicago does somethingt to my brain, or maybe its the train rides?

Which, after the mid-night ride last night, has us back on Kintala this evening. Deb worked a contract job on another boat this afternoon while I managed to bolt our re-sized nav bench / storage bin in place. It isn't finished just yet, the lid awaits cushion and installation. But at least one project is as far as I can get it tonight, and that is putting a pleasant glow on the day. (The Rum & Coke I just finished isn't hurting that cause either.)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Mood Camera - INOP

For those of you who have the fortune of being blissfully unaware of aviation jargon, there is a thing called a squawk list, a list of items on an aircraft that, after routine inspection or a flight, are found needing repair or replacement which are given a designation such as Mood Camera - INOP.  When I got up this morning to pay dues on my really excellent Moscato from last night, I poked my head out the companionway to find an incredibly beautiful scene - fog, mist, gulls circling around the marina in a cloud...There was a mood there, a realization that the gulls and the fog and the mist all belonged there, that they were doing what they had done for millennia, and that amazingly I had the privilege of being there at that particular moment.  I grabbed the camera and tried to get a video, but the mood was immediately lost, as if indignant that I had tried to capture it and somehow strip its authenticity.  I had one of those epiphany moments though, the complete and total understanding of cruisers who, when asked what one thing they would tell prospective cruisers, all say, "Go Now!" because, while you can read all the blogs in the world, and watch all the sailing videos on YouTube, and talk to all the sailors you run across, unless you're there in the middle of the fog and mist and clouds of gulls you're just going to miss the experience.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Ice Queen

One thing Missouri and Southern Illinois are famous for is a winter full of ice.  St. Louis, where our condo is, and Carlyle Lake, where our home is, both happen to fall right along the line where the jetstream makes its winter dip into the plains, leaving a perfect meteorological highway for the Gulf of Mexico moisture to track up the front lines.  Sometimes we get a little snow, sometimes we get a little rain, but most of the time we get ice.  A . Lot . Of . Ice. 

 This weekend we escaped the worst of it, getting only about a 1/4" of the nasty stuff, but when you can't use the head due to winterizing and your 55-year-old bladder calls at 3:00am, it can seem like an insurmountable obstacle to relief to make it all the way to the bath house at the top of the hill.

Traveling up the severely slanted walkway to and from the clubhouse isn't too bad because there's a decent handrail, but the docks are glare ice and they have no handrail so getting across to the walkway requires a steadying of shaky legs that I just don't seem to have at 3:00am.  Ahhhh to be young again.

All in all Kintala seems to be enduring the winter fairly well.  The summer covers that we put on to protect her (in lieu of the winter ones we couldn't afford) have held up dramatically well in spite of 60+mph winds in 2 different storms.  The plywood hatch covers that we put on while the hatches were out for overhaul are not leaking in the least, our cheapo dorade plugs are doing their job quite nicely and our foam floor mat is keeping our toes toasty.  If you gotta get through winter in Missouri I guess Kintala is getting us through with as  much flair as is possible, and for that I'm very grateful.  I'm very much looking forward to the first day that I can throw everything open and let the warm Spring air rush through.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Abandoning a perfectly good ship

No, not Kintala. Kintala is a lot of things but a "perfectly good ship" isn't one of them. (At least at the moment.) I'm still grinding away on the list of things needing done before our Tartan is an operable boat once again.

I was talking with an old friend today. When he asked how things were going all I could think to say was, "Pretty good." Pretty good? I get paid a lot of money to do a job I like doing. Many of the people I love most in the world live close at hand. I drive a 350Z that makes a $1.20 with ease, meeting my occasional need for a burst of speed. (I does miss me some GSXR sometimes - a bike that filled my rush junkie need for a rush better than any ground bound vehicle I have ever known.) I live in the CWE in a pretty nice condo. I laugh much more than I cry, find joy every day and sadness only once in a while. On those rare times when I do get angry it is usually when involved in a fight I need to be involved in. And though not really one of the "good guys" I do feel I manage to be on their side when push comes to shove.

Deb keeps me around.

Pretty good?

"So," my friend asked, "when you get on the boat how will your life be better?"

I had to think on that for a bit, and the truth is I don't know that it will be better. All I know for sure is that it will be different.

And that is the point.

Were Deb and I born 500 years ago we might have been on one of the ships heading for the "New World." (Not that it was new to the civilizations already living here.) Two hundred years ago we might have been in a wagon train heading out to the "New Frontier." (Not that that was new to the civilizations already living there!) A hundred years from now we might have been on one of the "colony ships" heading to Mars or one of the moons of Jupiter. A chance to see and experience a new thing and help build a new kind of living? Why miss a chance to do that?

But we live here, not "back then" or "out there". What we can do is try a new way of living for us; lighter, simpler, more mobile, part of the seascape rather than voyeurs. And we may yet be counted as one of a vanguard, the leading edge of using technology wisely, shepherding energy use and consumption into good living without trashing the planet as we go.

That would be a perfectly good ship to be on as well.

In the meantime we are at the boat for a couple of days. Part of this weekend needs our attention back in the city and we missed being at the lake last weekend as well. So we made our escape to our dockside mini-condo in spite of the sub-freezing temperatures due over the next 36 hours. We will take the chance to fit the new nav station seat / storage box. (Ops, somewhere we measured something wrong. Nothing that 6 inches worth of rework here and 4 inches worth of rework there, along with a new end piece, can't fix. Have table saw - can handle.) Some other odd little task or two might get some attention. This cold and basically alone at the marina, it is best to pace one's self and take a little extra care with every move. Fiberglass gets brittle and water gets cold.

No use breaking a perfectly good ship.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Navionics review

As Tim has inferred here previously, I follow a lot of blogs in my Google Reader.  I've chosen them all very carefully, either for their cruising location, or their ideas, or their knowledge, or their departure timing, or their very helpful financial info, or their honesty, or their expertise, or their photography, or sometimes just for their sense of humor

Today I was pretty pleased to see a review in one of them for the Navionics software for the iPad, the way that I believe we will end up navigating although, being an Android junkie, we may end up doing it on a Motorola Xoom (gasp) instead. I thought I'd pass the link for the review along to you just in case you've wondered about it yourself.  Please comment if you've either tried it already or have done a ton of research on it.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Second-hand sailor

We are not on Kintala this weekend, moving day for Daughter Youngest and her daughter Kali. With a 3 day work trip scheduled to start Monday and a garage full of Kintala projects, staying in the city just seemed like the responsible thing to do. Days lost to a flu bug, work at work, and real winter temperatures have slowed progress in the shop. March 1 is barely 7 weeks away and the Tartan is far from a working boat at the moment.

Though I am clearly the master of a second hand boat, (or perhaps it is the other way around) that isn't the reason I'm feeling like a second hand sailor. It has been over a year since Deb and I have seen big blue water from the deck of a boat; uncounted days since Kintala was towed home with a shattered drive train. Rope callouses have long faded, replaced by sanding block and screwdriver callouses. I would worry about getting seasick at the dock should a good wind blow, but the lake is so low that Kintala is basically sitting in the mud. She doesn't rock much.

Hard to call one's self a sailor when one doesn't go sailing and has a boat that can't go sailing. Ah but there is hope. Winter-broken-shallow lake-season in St. Louis just happens to be the same time of the year that cruisers uncounted head for the islands. Their first hand sailing stories fill blogs galore, night passages, narrow channels, anchoring hilarity's, sandy beaches and clear warm water!

None of them are on new boats either.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Many more recipes

Just a note to encourage you to click on the Cruising Comforts tab above to visit my new sister-blog.  I've added quite a few more recipes to it this week.  By the way, all the folks in the marina are quite happy with the new blog as they get to benefit from all the recipes.

This week, a terrific fish chowder for the cool weather, some tender cheddar drop biscuits to go with, and some nutritious muffins (yes, I kid you not they really are) for the morning after.

A walk in the park

Literally. A state park borders the marina. Deb and I walk it nearly every day we are on the boat. In many ways this morning's sojourn was just another meander past the empty camping spaces. A few red squirrels scampered here and there and except for the distant roar of an air boat, (sorry - I hate those things - I know they are perfect for swamp lands but there are no swamps around here and they are just obnoxiously loud) it was quiet with a warm sun and a barely moving cold breeze. We watched tens of thousands of geese fly overhead heading south, marveled at a giant swirl of sea gulls maneuvering over a shallows, (never seen them do that before) and talked of how five years have passed since we first came this way. And somehow the whole experience took on an ethereal glow - another touch of magic carried in on a cool northwest wind. This is a good place to be and a good time to be here.

Even as we work on getting away. You see before the walk, as we were stumbling our way out of the v-berth pretty late this morning, (It was a long day of flying yesterday on very little sleep - really!) the chat was of being "boat bums." We decided that "boat bumming" wasn't really a matter of endurance so much as the experience of the moment. Any time one has 30 seconds or so to be on the boat doing exactly what one wants to do, one is indulging in boat bummery. That "doing" could be lounging around in the berth, starting up a pot of coffee, fixing something that needs fixing, standing a night watch, or tapping out words for a blog; it doesn't matter so long as the doing of it is one's own choice and it is being done on or around a boat.

The trick is to string those 30 second bits into minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years. Right now we manage day and long-weekend strings. We have managed week-long strings in the past and will get to month and year-long strings as soon as we can.

The goal to be, not just boat bums, (though that is a worthy goal) but to be EXPERIENCED boat bums; EXPERT boat bums; to be counted as among THOSE MOST EXALTED of all boat bums...


Monday, January 2, 2012

Plan B people

Deb and I follow a fair number of cruiser blogs (Deb more than I). Some are far, far ahead of us, seasoned citizens of the sea who long ago forgot what it means to have a land base. Others have just recently cast their dock lines, are justly proud of having made their escape, but are still learning their way. There are a few following us. Just starting out on a 5 year plan they jinn up spread sheets and get subscriptions to every sailing magazine under the sun. They know where they want to go but getting there is still mostly mystery.

And a few are like us, right on the verge of taking the plunge but catching a heel at the last moment. Housing prices tumbled, jobs went away, savings accounts took massive hits, unexpected little ones came along, (kids or grand kids); 5 year plan A's subject to events beyond any one's control. Plan A's abandoned, plan B's put into play.

Inevitably that means a departure delay. (If we got away on time it would still be Plan A.) Our plan B adds another year and Kintala will likely set sail minus some systems I had hoped to install. Others will add 18 to 24 months and may start out with a different boat altogether. Plans for circumnavigations may morph into winters in the Bahamas. Winters in the Bahamas morph into coastal cruises.

Plan B people have learned a valuable lesson early, things never work out as envisioned and sailors must be flexible to reach the ultimate goal. We are also a pretty hard-headed bunch. If plan B doesn't work we will invent a plan C, or D. I have to admit that it feels like we are grinding our way off a lee shore in a heavy blow. (Not that I have ever ground my way off a lee shore in a heavy blow - but I have read the books!) Every tack we make seems to put us bow into the wind, on the verge of loosing control and getting shoved back onto the rocks. The danger is real. Every penny we have saved in a lifetime of work, every dime invested in the house, vacation money and time, is tied up in this effort to go cruising. It is an all-or-nothing deal and (with all due respect to NASA) failure is always an option.

2012 will be the year of Plan B people.

Home Sweet Home

Today is the last day of the holidays, at least according to the government's calendar.  We have all of our Christmas decorations put away so the kids have more room to play, the remnants of the Christmas cookie supply is safely stashed in the garage in a cooler so as not to tempt us unless we really want to threaten the post-holiday shape-up, and our moods are settling into Missouri long-winter survival mode. 

We had a good visit in Pittsburgh the past 5 days with family that we don't get to see often enough, including my brother-in-law who I haven't seen in nearly 10 years and my all-too-quickly growing niece who is a gem by any definition.  We enjoyed some hearty debates with my brother and sister-in-law over religion and politics, something you just can't do in the Midwest without offending someone, so it was pretty refreshing. Of course, that would be hearty debates set against the background of a magazine-display quality room, crackling fireplace, and the smell of spiced tea and hot chocolate...The weather cooperated with the Z-car and didn't dump any snow on us the 1300 miles we traveled, and other than having a pretty much constant low-grade headache from the excess sugar which we're not used to, we seem to have come through without the typical holiday traumas that are associated with long-distance travel. 

We stopped at the marina on the way back to the city and were greeted with winds gusting to 45 and some light, fluffy snowflakes between the gulls.  A friend of ours was kind enough to turn the heater on our boat so it was warm and cozy to greet us.  We spent a nice evening with the same friend laughing over a very old showing of The Office and a long, wonderful night in the V-berth.  This morning I'm feeling very refreshed and ready to tackle the next 3 months of boat work with a vengeance.

It's good to be home.