Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Lost my sea legs ...

First off let me say that any weekend we spend on the boat is likely a better weekend than it would have been had we spent it somewhere else. We don't live and work on a boat 2 or 3 (or sometimes 4) days a week because someone is threatening to cut off my hair (Good luck with that!), drain all the gas out of my motorcycle, or take away my birthday. No, we love being at the lake and on the water. In fact, I am slowly learning to kind of like my boat again ... slowly ... kind of ...

But the truth is a weekend spent at the dock is not quite as good as a weekend spent out on the lake. Sailing the day away, spending the night snug in our favorite cove to sail the next day away as well? Those days are so good that I don't think they count against the days we get to spend on this earth. I think they are freebies, with a hint of heaven in them already. Besides, I miss my Sunday night case of the leans from having had a moving boat under me for the better part of 48 hours.

It is easier to get work done while on the dock with Air Con, AC power available, unlimited water, the dock box near by, (Chuck full of extra tools and necessary chemicals - where do true cruisers put that stuff?) and ready advise from any (or all) of the assembled. And yes, there is plenty of work to do. The current list of "big stuff" to get done before we take to blue water includes the dodger (haven't yet screwed up the courage to start that project), self-steering rig, (don't know about the courage but lacking the cash at the moment), we still have to decide on dingy type, size, and power, there are oil leaks to track down and beat into submission, solar power, wind vane ... you get the idea.

There was a well-attended raft up Saturday night, but Ye Old Depth meter still reads "0.0" under the keel while sitting at the dock.  We decided to stay in.  The report Sunday was that most everyone bumped bottom somewhere, that some bumped pretty hard, and that at least one hit something with enough umph to have crew on deck grabbing rigging to stay on board. As of this moment the forecast is for a slight chance of showers, temps back in the 100s, without a good, soaking rain, in sight.  Except for bumming occasional rides with our shallower friends (keels, not personality), for the foreseeable future we will spend weekends living on a sailboat without actually sailing the boat. I guess Mother Nature wants us working on the boat instead.

But my sea legs are getting pretty weak.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Risk Management

If you have been hanging around here long enough you probably know that I collect denarii' by driving the corporate airplane hither and yon. My official title is (try not to laugh) – Director of Flight Operations / Chief Pilot. All corporations seem to like big titles; “Airplane Driver” would be more accurate. In reality though, what I really am is a professional risk manager. Among other tools, my department uses a paperwork procedure called a Safety Management System. It is geared directly at identifying the first link in an accident chain and includes 13 risk specifics that must be categorized on every flight as “Normal”, “Slightly Elevated”, “Elevated”, or “Unacceptable”.

I am also a risk taker, some might say “rush junkie”. I fly jets for a living, playing high speed chess with thunderstorms that dwarf Mount Everest and once held a low-level card for flying unlimited acrobatics close to the ground.  I ride very fast motorcycles (sometimes very fast) and sail tiny little boats on a great big ocean whenever I can – with the plan to live that way someday. I have not survived this long by ignoring the multitude of things that can get me killed in any given week. Managing risk, spotting potential hazards and working to minimize them, is as ingrained into me as is breathing.

And because it is, this past weekend at the lake left me puzzled as to why my assessment of risks had slacked off, disappointed that I have been making some very poor decisions, angry at myself for being so easily sucked into a potential disaster, and completely embarrassed at my part in putting so many people at such unnecessary risk. I am not criticizing anyone but myself – learn what you will without judging anyone but me.

Let us admit that Lake Carlyle is a benign environment. It is hard to imagine a chain of events that would lead to anyone getting hurt, though it must be admitted that nearly every year someone manages to get killed there. It is shallow, doesn’t have much fetch, and I sail a 42 foot blue-water boat in what is, essentially, a sailboat simulator. A thousand or more people gather every weekend to party, sail, go boating, swimming, tubing, wading, sit around fires, cook out … Middle America being Middle Americans. What could possibly go wrong?

But consider this:
- A moonless night with a partial overcast.
- The enthusiastic consumption of gin, beer, and rum. Of the adults on the 6-boat raft,  the only two I'm sure were below the legal limit for driving were Deb (who barely drinks at all) and me (who simply abhors the idea of being out of control in any way, shape, or form.) Two of the others may not have had much to drink, I wasn't really keeping tabs; but when the chips went down I wasn't sure who could do what.
- 3 kids on holiday.
- One of the adults suffering from at least 4 days of abdominal pain without going to a doctor (no insurance) but still choosing to be several hours from help in the middle of a lake in the middle of - basically - nowhere.
- Allowing my boat, with its over sized ground tackle, to be the “anchor” boat in an overnight raft several miles from any point of access to shore.

Anywhere but the lake and I would go absolutely ballistic at anyone being so dull to the potential for disaster.

Long story short, no one got hurt. But at one point I was trying to hold a basically incoherent, alternately inert and then combative person on the fore peak of a sailboat being helmed by a single crew member trying to get us back to the marina for medical help. None of us were wearing a life vest. The person I was holding had passed out cold on the deck of Kintala, narrowly missed cracking her head open on our mid-ship cleat as she fell, and I simply didn’t have enough capable people around to get one on her inert form.

The skipper of her boat had moved from the end of the raft and pushed his bow against the stern line between Kintala and the boat next to us - pinning the three in place with his anchor roller about at Kintala's midships. It was the only way I could think of to get her moved, as there was no way to carry her across the tangle of rigging that is a sailboat raft-up. And that’s how I ended up clinging to the fore peak.

I was too preoccupied with the unfolding drama to think of putting a life jacket on myself. About half way to safety I really wished I had thought of it when she passed out yet again (having come to trying to stand up to “check on her kids”) and damn near fell through the life lines. (Said kids were asleep below and yes – I know that borders on criminal negligence. There is no defense for being in the middle of this debacle.) I had one leg hanging off the bow, one arm wrapped around her, with the other hand gripping a cleat to keep us both from going overboard. I knew if she fell into that black night in her condition the chances of surviving without aid were nil. I also knew (having once been a trained rescue swimmer) that going in after her could prove fatal as well. But I know me, and I probably would have gone in after her anyway. (It is my observation of many years that there is precious little distance between “brave” and “stupid”.) I was, literally, holding on for dear life on our quiet little lake during a placid summer’s eve.

When the highlight of the evening is that no one is dead or maimed, one can bet it has been a bad night. Clearly we made it back, no one got hurt, and I suspect Deb is the only other person who knows just how close we came to having lead parts in a tragic news story. My guess is that the consensus of those around the marina, who hear the story, will be it was never as serious as these words imply. So be it.

Kintala’s days of being the pivot boat in an all-out party raft-up are on hold. Such antics are not getting us any closer to blue water. In fact, should someone get seriously hurt on our boat due to what a court would find as negligence, we could lose everything and never see blue water at all. I love the folks at our marina, count them as good friends, hope to learn a lot more from the excellent sailors that fill the ranks, and will be glad to lend a hand when ever I can. But risks are being taken that I have been slow to recognize and am uncomfortable sharing. Kintala will be spending a lot of nights out on her own. And I’m going to be a damn sight more careful than I have been, even on our quiet little lake.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Nearby destinations

We had basically decided to keep Kintala at her pier this weekend as the lake level is still down; but a raft up beckoned, other 5 footers had come and gone without getting stuck, so we decided to give it a try. Turning into the channel from the marina the GPS was showing 4.8 knots at 2500 RPM - and the depth gage 0.0 feet under the keel. The boat took on a funny little pitching motion, the RPM stayed at 2500, but the GPS clocked backward ... 4.7 - 4.5 - 4.4 and finally 4.1 just as we passed the point. There the depth lept to 0.1 and the boat surged to 5.7 knots - still at 2500 RPM. We were pushing a knot and a half of mud out of the way.

The raft-up point was a short motor with the depth hovering around 3 feet the whole way, falling to a bit less than 2 as we settled into the line. Twelve sailboats, two tooners, and two power boats eventually joined the party. (We are an ecumenical group; if it floats it is welcome.) Six sailboats stayed the night. The crescent moon set early, putting on a spectacular show and then leaving the sky dark for the stars to strut their stuff.

This morning we bulled our way back down the channel early as we had an invitation to a granddaughter's fourth birthday party that we didn't want to miss. We must have found the path we plowed exiting since the speed never dropped below 4.5 on the GPS. Once in the marina though, things took a different turn. Kintala has a thing called a shoal keel, or maybe its a scheel keel, not sure - anyway it is a bit wide, flat on the bottom, and slopes from bow to stern. Backing down the fairway toward the slip I was pulling a lot of power but not going very fast. Even worse the boat was steering weird, which is saying something going backwards since, even at best, she always steers weird when going stern first. I'm sure our keel was trying to dig into the mud rather than climbing up over, and it was beginning to look like we might stop up the fairway like a cork in a bottle. We managed to press on, though I had the distinct feeling of pushing the eraser of a pencil through goo by shoving on the pointy end. Usually, about a boat length and a half from home, selecting neutral allows us an easy drift into place. Today? Neutral stopped us nearly dead in our tracks; which was okay since the stern wouldn't swing as it usually does to track just inches off the pier. Fortunately friendly hands were standing by to fend us off and then help pull us into place.

Anyone know a good rain dance? Until some H20 falls from the sky around here, Kintala is staying right were she is.

The birthday party was a hoot though.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Destination

I follow a blog called Terra D'Agua which, if you've never been, is worth looking at. One of the two writers, Tassio, wrote a thought-provoking piece about the destination being the journey. His quote:

"Who gives time to meet the paths of a place is usually rewarded with surprising moments of pure authenticity. For sure the stop over on the city or next port is really appreciated but when I travel I try not to focus only on my port of arrival, my destination is sometimes in between a place and the other."


I was thinking a lot on that quote today because it seems like the path to the destination of our departure is getting farther away instead of closer. The house won't sell, we're having mechanical issues, the mountain of things that would need done to actually move out of the house if it did sell is astronomical, etc etc. It discourages me sometimes because I keep celebrating birthdays in the meantime.

Then today, even though we couldn't sail (no water in the lake), I got a lot of canvas work done and Tim got a lot of teak cleaned and ready for refinishing, and we had some good times with friends at the marina, and for the moment it occurred to me that our departure, while it's a goal, is only a piece of the journey we're already on. 

So for now my destination is in between a place and the other.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


Warm white LEDs look just like incandescent lights
After a couple of weeks of procrastination the last of the lights in the galley got changed to an L.E.D. bar today. As far as boat jobs go it was pretty straight-forward; a half hour job that only took two hours. For a moment it did appear a trip into town would be required as the bar came without a switch - a trip that would make it an even more normal boat task.  As it turned out the old switch could be cannibalized off the original light and mounted into the side of a galley cabinet, making for a rather neat installation and saving a road trip.
The switch just where your hand wants to find it
It was job #100 on my "Maintenance Completed" list. True, that list is more than a little arbitrary. For example job #10 "Install screen on anchor locker door" took about 20 minutes. (The anchor locker door is at the foot of the V-berth. Winged six-legged creatures would find their way into the anchor locker, buzz through the louvers on the door, and nibble on my toes during the night.) Item #97, "Replace damaged V-drive / tranny / test run," took about 8 months. There is no good reason to keep such a list going, and it isn't an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination, but old airplane mechanic habits die hard.

It was pretty much the first job completed since the V-drive repair was finished. A month ago just the thought of going into the aft cabin to get a tool provoked a sharp pain that hit me right between the eyes. "Kintala" as "project" had just about sucked all the joy out of heading to the lake. When it was done we had two weekends of easy sailing with a couple of raft-ups, and then spent last weekend in the city with new grand son youngest. (A one-month-old and lake temperatures nearing 110 seemed a poor mix.)

Light bar looking from below - that's a lot of LEDs!
We thought about heading out to spend this weekend off the pier but (as you might be aware) there hasn't been a lot of water falling from the sky in these parts lately. The lake is short of summer pool making "shallow" the word of the day. Last night a boat full of the assembled went out for a late sail that turned into a stop.  They were the last ones up, no one answered the phone when they called for aid, so they spent the night coved out without bothering with a cove. They did leave a message however; first thing this morning help was dispatched to pull them back into what passes for deep water around here.  Of course there is more to the story - an engine that failed on the way out preventing them from trying to power out of the mud - a shallow spot were none of the experienced assembled on board had ever grounded before - and enough Captain Morgan influence to make having the whole bunch jump into the dark water near the middle of the lake to push seem like a bad idea.  Wisdom prevailed and they settled in to wait for the dawn.

Deb's bright galley - all these lights for a fraction of the draw of the one old one.
Changing a light seemed a better option to digging furrows in the lake bottom.

Job #100.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Enjoying the moment

As Tim posted earlier, this weekend was the Fourth of July fireworks festivities at Carlyle Lake. This is usually a pretty rowdy affair as evidenced by our 2011 powerboat fiasco, but the 107° heat scared all but the most hardy away and left us with a very laid-back group to celebrate with.

I am rarely more than a few feet from my camera while we're on the boat, taking pictures of other people's boats for my Carlyle picture blog, but this weekend I hardly took any pictures at all. It might have been the heat that just flat out sapped all my energy out of me, but I found myself laying on the trampoline of Grey Hound, (Thor's new Farrier 33 trimaran that makes a great platform for watching fireworks) with my camera 4 boats away in Kintala's salon. I thought for a moment about going to get it, since Carlyle's fireworks rival any big city's in quality and these were going to be displayed directly over the nearly full moon, but just as I'd about decided to drag my seriously hot and tired behind off the tramp, someone behind me said, "Oh I forgot my camera down below." Her husband said, "Leave it there. Just enjoy the moment. You'll remember it forever anyway." I thought about that and decided that he was absolutely right. So while I'd love to have some pictures for the blog for you of fireworks displayed over the moon, you'll just have to take my word for it that it was spectacular and I will indeed remember it forever.  Hope you all have a great Fourth of July celebrating the freedom that we have in this country to be able to choose to go cruising, or whatever your dream might happen to be.


According to the sages and the keepers of the data, the last 6 months around here have been the driest on record. That would be a good excuse for why at least 3 of us found our way onto the ground this past weekend. Would be, except for the fact that the Army Corps of Engineers has managed to keep the lake level within inches of normal. Maybe they just moved the shallow spots around to make it more sporting?

Deb was at the helm as we motored into the cove for the yearly Fourth of July raft-up-to-watch-the-fire-works party. We spotted Miss My Money being pulled off a shallow spot by a jet ski from Gail Force; who had come up stopped at that same spot earlier. Deb decided to follow as Miss My Money motored around some other boats to saddle up to Gail Force, where Friend Jeff has found a spot deep enough to float. As Kintala turned to drop the hook and settle into the building raft, we looked back to see Friend Joel swinging out on a halyard, trying to rock his keel free from the bottom ... and he was in the deep part of the cove and right next to the "NO WAKE" marker leading into the West Access marina.

There were other tales of shallow spots as the assembled eventually totaled 13 boats. Three departed after the show (typically good but a little shorter than years passed - hard times have touched most of what all of us do these days), leaving 10 crews to brave the record heat. Swimming and drinking lots of fluids seemed to do the trick, though Deb and I were a little uncomfortable below, even with the fans running. After more swimming this morning most of the assembled headed up the lake. Kintala and two other boats hung around hanging, we thought, on Kintala's buried hook.

Except it wasn't that buried, something that no one really noticed until the far shore wasn't so far. Kintala slowly backed her rudder into the mud and brought the other two boats up short while they each had a few inches of water to play in. They cast off and stood by to see if we needed help, but we weren't stuck very hard and our newly operating engine found it an easy task to push us back into deep water (that being anything that reads over .5 on the depth sounder).

Kintala draws about 5 feet, there was less (way less) than 2 feet under her keel, and it’s about 4 feet up to her anchor roller ... 11 feet ... max. I know I dragged in at least 25 feet of chain; yet the anchor came up without a spot of mud. It’s a puzzle.

Before heading out this weekend we pulled the big screacher off the furler and put up the smallest of the head sails. It is easy to get Kintala over canvased and we have been reading about modest sized head sails being the choice of experience. Fly the right sized stay sail with the smaller jib and I'll bet Kintala would be a happy boat out on the open water. But flying the cutter is a lot of work; say 1/2 hour extra to rig and an equal amount to un-rig, plus the added effort of tacking two head sails. (We do a lot of tacking on the lake, dozens of them over a normal weekend.) The extra speed would make a lot of sense on a full day's run down the coast or across the Gulf Stream - but the math doesn't work at Carlyle. At best the extra speed would mean 10 or 15 minutes difference at the other end of the lake...for at least an extra hour's work and triple the effort of every tack. We need the practice of course, but practice will have to wait until temperatures fall back below 100+.

While my paranoia is getting better (at least when it comes to the engine repair) I still start at any new noise and can't keep my eyes off the engine gages. Outbound at the beginning of the weekend there was a new rattle from below. Turns out that the right RPM starts a sympathetic vibration which has the burner tops on the stove dancing against our new counter top ... and when we bounced something off the hull inbound at the end of the weekend my first thought was that a belt had failed and gone flying against the engine box. Wouldn't it be wonderful if sailboats didn't need engines?