Wednesday, May 23, 2012

An email exchange

I have exchanged a couple of emails with another sailor who was looking at a Tartan 42. He ended up buying the boat and is extremely happy with his purchase. I haven't asked his permission to share his side of the conversation, but upon review some of my side of the conversation might be of interest to someone looking to buy a boat. Here it is for what it is worth.

This was my response when he asked about our experience buying Kintala...

Thank you for your kind words about our little web site, we are glad you enjoy it. The Tartan you are considering appears to have been much better maintained than was our Kintala, and in fact, we've saved some of the pictures from the sale ad for ideas to do to our boat. I don't know if you have seen your boat yet, if not keep in mind that the pictures we had of ours made her appear to be in much better shape than she actually was and alluded to including some items that were not actually there after we made the offer on her, some of them essential like the v-berth mattress. A couple of purely aesthetic items we live with, and that did not show in the pictures include a warped and wrinkled spot in the cabin headliner and the ceiling of the V-berth area, which is also warped and wavy. Eyesores that no one seems to notice but me.

Had I to do it over here is how I should have approached inspecting Kintala. On the inside I would start by very methodically going through the boat, opening every single cover, looking in every cabinet, and examining every area I could access. Make notes of what you see, wiring runs, loose or missing fasteners, doors that don't seem to fit right, water stains, anything that just doesn't appear ship-shape to your eye. Then put power on the boat and flip every single switch, all the breakers, every fan switch, every light switch, run the water in the galley and the head, in particular run enough water down the head sink to make sure the sump tank switch and pump are working. (Kintala's was not; the switch had been removed and the pump had shorted due to running dry.) Someone had also removed the plumbing to heat the water heater from the engine cooling system. That is on my list of things to do.

Examine the head closely. Someone had butchered our system rather badly. The macerator had been removed, some of the hoses were missing, and the vent line for the holding tank dead-ended under the V-berth. We had to replace the head itself. The floor under it was badly water damaged, warped, and holding stink. We replaced both the floor and all of the head hoses as well. Kintala has two waste ports on the deck. The aft one doesn't go anywhere and I have never figured out why it is that way. There was also a deck wash fitting that had the plumbing behind it removed. I plumbed it back up when we replaced the head.

Fire up the stove, check that the oven works, make sure the LPG bottles are up to date and that the regulator / shut-off valve works. Take a look at the hinges on the bottle trunk and the lazarette lid. Minor item but I have been working on ours since we bought it.

If you don't do anything else have the engine, transmission and V-drive fluid analyzed. Had I done that we would have saved thousands of dollars in repair costs and months of frustration. Also look very carefully at the engine mounts. If they are not perfect plan on having them replaced first thing. On our Tartan there are additional mounting brackets for the V-drive as well as two more engine mounts to support it. We have replaced those mounts as well. Check the alignment on the prop shaft. Look carefully for oil leaks. I have yet to find and fix all of ours.

Inspect the battery mounting and wiring carefully. Kintala's batteries were simply sitting in the box unsecured. Though we have fixed that for now I think it is an item that will need addressed again before we hit big, blue water.

We have one soft spot in our deck; forward on the port side just aft of the forward waste fitting. Older Tartan's have a reputation for soft decks so have yours checked carefully. All of our running rigging was shot, we needed an new mainsail, and have done some stitching on our head sails. At some point in the past our standing rigging was replaced; all of ours has mechanical fittings. I had a rigging inspection done, hope ours is in good shape, but have since had reason to wonder how much faith I should put in the inspector. I have to say though, I am very, very pleased with the versatility of the cutter rig. It is one of my favorite items on the boat. The next time the mast is down I plan on replacing all of the sheaves.

Our auto-pilot doesn't work and there seems to be very little parts support for it. We are still debating what do do about that; new auto-pilot system or wind vane.

Look at the steering closely. Though Kintala is a great sailing boat she has a bit of a weird feedback in the helm, not sure how to describe it. It may be that our system just need lubed and adjusted a little. I simply haven't gotten that far down my to-do list yet. All of our exterior teak needed scrubbing as it had been neglected for several years.

We had a highly recommended surveyor do a survey on the boat AND had two different "mechanics" do a systems inspection and a rigging inspection. It was a complete waste of time and money as they missed virtually everything that was wrong with the boat. The survey we had to do for insurance; the additional inspections seemed like a good idea at the time.

Good luck. For all of our problems I am pretty pleased with our Tartan. She wasn't the boat I thought I had paid for, but she will be a good boat for us when we are done. She is, in my humble opinion, the prettiest boat on our lake and quite a sight with her big mainsail pulling hard and both head-sails full.

If you have any other questions feel free to ask.


He bought his boat and, as I said, is very happy with it.  His was (is) a very well maintained boat that had benefited from the loving care of a dedicated owner and the ministrations of gifted, professional, mechanics and craftsmen.  Apparently my blog entries about Kintala and my general low opinion of the marine industry caught his attention since his experience as a Tartan buyer has been nothing but positive.  He has offered to help us in any way he can to get Kintala back up to speed, taking pictures of his boat, getting us technical information, and has issued a standing invitation for us to visit so we can poke around a Tartan as a Tartan should be to learn what we can. 

Here was my response to his generous offer:

Thanks for the kind words and the offer. I am about as pleased as I can be that your boat experience has been opposite of mine. Last weekend I actually got the V-drive back in the boat and a good bit of the drive train assembled. There is still a ways to go before I try and start the engine, but at least we are making progress.

One thing I try and do on our blog is be as accurate and truthful as I can. We all hear the good tales about people who are cruising and, as one would expect, all the industry mags do their best to promote the lifestyle and paint an alluring picture of the boating world. My experience, and I am finding out mine is not unique at all, cuts against the grain of all the feel-good stories. I would hate if anyone who read our blog thought that everyone has an experience with the marine industry that is as negative as mine. I would hate it equally if anyone reading my blog thought that jumping into a 30-year-old boat project held no possibility of getting badly burned by the dishonesty, lack of skill, and just plain chicanery that (again in my experience) is pervasive throughout the industry. I am a pretty determined individual, a better than average mechanic, make a pretty good living, and have the unrelenting support of Deb who is even more determined (and in many ways much more capable) than I. Even with all that in my favor I am right at my limit of being able to pull this thing off.

And I think that is a story that other people who are thinking of trying this should hear.

I love being in the sky, deep in the flight levels, and all that is involved in getting there. But I don't actually care for airplanes that much - they are just tools, necessary accessories in order to enjoy the experience of flight. And I love being on the water, far off shore in the deep watches of the night and making my way on the wind. And for that a sailboat is a necessary accessory. But I have pretty much gotten over my infatuation with boats.

Thanks again. I may well take you up on providing some pictures of the things on your boat. And certainly, if I am ever in your neck of the woods I will take advantage of your offer to see a Tartan 42 in all her glory.

Good sailing.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

I know a guy...

...who is already out cruising. Actually we have yet to meet, but I read his blog and he reads ours. Anyway, he spends his summers working on boats to fill the cruising kitty. When the housing market fell on its butt taking the economy and Deb's job with it, we started thinking we might have to do something similar when we head out.

We may have to re-think that thought. I just spent 8 hours installing the V-drive in Kintala. I have never tangled with a job as utterly insane as this one...and I am a guy who has changed the outboard fuel cells in King Airs, the inboard fuel cells in Navajos, and done mag work and rigged the gear doors on early model Cessna 337s. Who ever designed the V-drive / bracket / up-side-down engine mount maze that is a Tartan 42 drive train is a severely damaged individual.  I have, and I mean this literally, come out of street fights where I felt better than I do right now. Not the ones where you win after the other guy gets in a good lick or two. No, this is more like the ones where the other guy lays a serious beating upon you; makes you think about crawling under the bed with your buddy Jack and not coming up for air for days. My arms are scratched, torn and bleeding and the fingers on my left hand are numb. (Making it fun to try and type.) My left shoulder feels like its been dislocated and my back is threatening to revolt. Joints I didn't think I was using are bitching up a storm. As soon as I make the drive home the plan is to wash down a hand full of aspirin with a Rum & Coke and hope I can get out of bed come morning.

Fill the cruising kitty by working on boats? I'd rather get paid for evaluating experimental dental procedures.

But the good news is the V-drive is installed, the shaft is aligned (I think), the cooling loop is closed, and all 6 mounts are in. One more insanely hard day of effort, maybe two, and Kintala might actually be a boat again. That, or I will discover something that I don't know about yet, in which case I will still try and convince myself we are making progress.

Right now it is time to pack up, head home, nurse my wounds, and take a bit of joy out of a long, hard fought day. I'm pretty happy to have gotten this far this weekend.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


Where have I been? Where am I know? Chicago, Beaumont, Chicago, Natchez, Vicksburg, Moline, Waterloo, Madison, Milwaukee, Green all kind of runs together after a while. Three hotel four. We bailed out of a Holiday Inn express where the security system kept locking us out of our own rooms and the manager needed a master key-card to open the gym. (Which was a small room of busted up old work-out gear that was probably doing me more harm than good.) There was an extra rental car in there as well. The original one in Beaumont sounded like it was going to shed the front left wheel every time we hit the brakes or went around a right hand corner.

Milwaukee in the morning, at the lake come night fall. But even being on the boat feels a little weird. Deb is in another town waiting with Daughter Eldest for grand baby #6 to make his entrance. She left the day before I did, which was 11 days ago now. Not sure when we will be in the same town at the same time again. Somehow Kintala isn't quite Kintala with just one of us on board. The V-drive was sitting in the living room though, and with more trips next week it just didn't make sense to drive to where Deb is, spend a few hours, and drive back to St. Louis. So me, the V-drive, and Kintala are all in the same place at the same time.

I might even get some work done on it tomorrow. I didn't today. Friend Thor shanghaied me for the first race of the year the moment I got on the property. He knows I'm not a racer, but I have nearly as much sailing time on Grey Hound as he has, I can pull on a rope pretty hard when instructed, and so off we went with Kacey as another pair of racing hands. Even with me on board Thor's big Tri is too fast to not cross the line first, though I'm not sure how we did on corrected time. Someone told me the "perf" is -25. Not sure what that means, don't really care, but I suspect it means something like he has to sail twice the distance in half the time as everyone else. In any case it was 5 hours of sailing on a really nice day. (The race didn't take 5 hours. After it was over we collected the marks and then went to play for a while.)

Tonight there is a big party for new members - in fact it is in full swing even as I write. Maybe I'll join it in a little while. For now though, after seemingly endless days on the road with Deb off somewhere else, I think I'll just sit on my boat and try to figure out where I am.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Salt water smell

Those who have made the transition to boat living probably don't much notice the salt water smell all around them anymore. That is how the human nose works; after a while smells fade into the background. And, given that even the cleanest and most meticulously maintained boats still manage to be pretty stinky places sometimes, that is probably a pretty good thing.

Thursday the pilot in me was tasked with bringing a plane load to the Gulf Coast for some big goings-on; big enough to keep us here over the weekend. Mmm...a couple of days to kill, a rental car, blue water somewhere not too far away? The sailor in me thinks its time to go a-wondering. The Maps-app on the smart phone suggests there is a place called the "Sabine Pass Battleground State Historical Park" south of the hotel and down near big water. Never heard of, it but it sounds interesting. It may be a smart phone, but it apparently isn't exactly sure where the Battleground is, or maybe where it is - either way when we get to where it says we should be, we are somewhere else.  The Sabine Pass Port Authority, (which sounds close) doesn't look much like a State Historical Park but the locked gate keeps us from going any further. A working-looking pick-up truck pulls up along side of our rental car and I tell him what we are looking for.

"Follow us." An offer too good to refuse. And a few miles later we pull through the gate to one of the neatest places I have seen in a while. I'm not much of a Civil War buff and, being an East Coast kind of person, wasn't much aware that the Civil War raged this far west. It did though. The park lies right along the Sabine River inlet hard against a giant ship loading gantry and surrounded by oil platforms waiting to be towed out into the gulf and put to work. People who know me suspect I am not much of a fit with the southern, particularly TX, mentality. But this is the kind of place I like; worked over and hard working, a place full of boats but not a party-barge in sight. Someday maybe I'll bring a sailboat this way.

The park itself was filled with High School kids on an outing, but still managed to invoke (in me anyway) that bit of somberness I find anytime I stand on ground where my fellow human beings sacrificed (or tossed away - depending on your point of view) young lives over arguments that old men were having.

It wasn't as good as being on Kintala this weekend, working with Deb and thrashing on a V-drive. But the smell of salt water is an okay substitute, and memories of the park will last a long time.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Toddler Time

I read an account recently of an experiment by the Washington Post to see if people could recognize beauty out of context in the middle of their regular, busy day. They placed the famous violinist Joshua Bell in the middle of the Metro station in D.C. in the middle of rush hour where he proceeded to play for 43 minutes on a 3.5 million dollar violin. If you live in the city, the result was highly predictable and the article is worth the reading. This incident stood out in my mind because it was laid against the background of a book that I'm reading and I've mentioned before, Leisure, the basis of culture by Josef Pieper. The horribly watered-down gist of it, for those of you who don't have time to read a philosophical tome, is that we don't have time to see beauty.

In the experiment, the one consistent result was that every single child that passed the violinist wanted to stop and listen, and every one of their parents tugged them along because they didn't have time to stop. I get to spend a lot of time with toddlers these days, and in our walks to parks and fields and lakes, they're teaching me to stop and stare. Mostly this is because it takes toddlers a lot of time to process things, but others it's just the pure joy of watching something whether it's a bee on a flower or a bunny hopping or a worm crawling. The Washington Post report mentions a poem called Leisure by W.H. Davies, an early 20th century hobo who, like toddlers, had nothing but time:

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

In spite of my toddler walks, I still find myself pulled by the daily to-do list. I think the thing that I'm looking forward to more than anything about cruising is having the time to stop and look and listen and see and appreciate beauty for no reason other than just for what it is. Maybe that's what more of us need - if we can't see beauty out of context then maybe we need to move ourselves into context. You can't get much more in context than sailing a boat in the middle of nature.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Sighs and smiles

The season is in near full swing at Boulder marina.  Boats are splashing making room for the cars filling up the parking lot each weekend. Saturday morning I was sitting on the porch having coffee with the assembled, watching as one boat after another puttered out into the lake for what must have been a first sail of the year for some, and was overcome by a giant internal will be many weeks yet before Kintala can join the parade.

Instead I went back to work on a  couple of minor projects since the V-drive is still somewhere on the East Coast.  While wielding the palm sander someone asked, "Don't you ever stop working?"

The only answer I had was, "Is the boat ever fixed?" Sigh.

Later though, Friend Thor asked us along as he was taking his Grey Hound out for a run. Eleven people scrambled onto tramps and amas but the massive expanse of a 33' tri handled the crowd with ease. Five of the group were kids while only four of the adults had any crew experience, but the winds were easy and the sailing was grand. We even tossed the hook for a little swimming. It was near 90 degrees on May the 5, the water was perfect, the kids were laughing, we were on a fantastic boat...


Sunday Grey Hound made play of the lake for much of the day with just Thor, Deb and I on board. It was easily one of the top 3 day sails I have ever enjoyed. The winds were on the light side and from the wrong direction, forcing multiple tacks and jibes to get down the length of the lake toward the dam. Once there we got a good view of a race, lots of little boats charging around. Friend Cort was crew on one of those boats and, as his race ended while we were in the vicinity, headed over to check out Thor's new ride. Keeping station just a couple of feet aft and off our

leeward side he wondered if we might have a couple cold ones on board we could spare for thirsty competitors. As it turned out we did and a few minutes later, sailing in close formation, I tossed them over.

More smiles.

Oh, and one of my little jobs this weekend was painting the aft hatch red. I think it looks pretty good, if I do say so myself. (And I do, since the Admiral happens to think I am daft on this one.)


Saturday, May 5, 2012

Fish Cakes

For all you cruisers with loads of surplus fish or shellfish that you just don't know what to do with, I just put up a new recipe over on the Cruising Comforts page for Fish Cakes. We had them last night and they are absolutely one of my favorite meals. Enjoy!