Saturday, October 27, 2012

I wish ...

I knew what I was doing.

Last week was recurrent training week. Usually a bit of a bummer but the place was Long Beach, CA. Hard to have a bad week in Long Beach, CA - particularly when one hails from St. Louis, MO. Sessions in the sim were the usual mix of problem added to disaster. One of the more interesting scenarios involved a night departure into icy skies. The airspeed system failed in a subtle way that has lead to many a crash, but we caught it in time and applied one of the fundamental truths in aviation; Pitch + Power = Performance. Just as we got that settled both the engines flamed; pumps and ignition came on as per the memory items. The checklist recommends 200 knots to help refire the expired power plants but we had two problems with that. One, the airspeed indicator had already shot craps; 200 knots was anyone's guess. Two, pushing the nose over to 200 knots meant giving away altitude we needed to return to the departure airport. Pitch went to the best glide Angle of Attack, we declared an emergency (again) and turned back, nursing altitude until we broke out of the overcast with the airport in sight. Then all we had to do was manage the energy in order to arrive at the end of a runway, manually extend and lock the gear, finesse a "no-flap" landing, ignore the rest of the instrument panel that went dark in the flair due to the main battery having been depleted of electrons during the glide, and get the airplane stopped before running out of concrete by using the emergency brake handle.

Just another day in the office.

Compare that with today's attempt at sailing. Winds out of the north were 15 gusting to 20+. Kintala is tied in her slip facing north. No problem. I'll just back across to the empty slip, turn slightly, let the wind push the bow out into the alleyway, and we will motor out onto the lake just like I know what I am doing. Except ...

The stern stepped smartly to port as I powered back. The wind caught the wrong side of the bow and shoved it toward the dock. I backed away harder. The wind swung the bow all the way from North through East, grabbed the rest of the now exposed hull, and off we went, sideways and South. Unfortunately south lay another finger pier with a friends 33 foot boat poking out. Bump. Not a bad bump, but Kintala has a scratch or two she didn't have this morning.

Friends man handled our wayward selves, managed to corral bow and stern, pulled us back into the slip, (us having performed an ugly 180) and held fast while Deb fed a line to another pier to pull the bow the correct way, and eventually we motored out onto the lake, just like I knew what I was doing.

On the lake we flew a reef in the main and the small staysail. A perfect combination when the winds were better than 15 knots, gusting past 20. But this is Carlyle. Those same winds were often 8 gusting to 10, or a steady 20, or maybe a fading 5. Anything less than 15 and the small staysail might well have stayed in the bag. It simply didn't provide enough motivation for us to tack, something we usually need to do every few minutes on our little lake, particularly when the season's biggest race is underway and the water is full of boat going as fast as they can, often barely under control. We do our best to stay out of their way but that means tacking which, today, often meant putting Kintala in irons, wallowing around like a fat man in a baby pool, falling off, and then trying again. Somehow during this day we also managed to get the jib sheets tangled up so we couldn't get it deployed when we needed it and wore inflatable life vests all day that had never been armed. More ugly.

And cold. (Loves me some dodger!) After several hours of mal-practicing the art of sailing we were heading back. Getting on the dock was only slightly less a show than getting off but eventually Kintala was settled in. Bringing order to our disheveled deck took a little longer than normal and I'm not sure that I have warmed up completely yet, even several hours later.

It is a bit weird. In the aviation world, which I hope to leave one of these day, I am actually pretty good at doing what I do. No matter how bad things get, no matter what I am facing in the course of a flight, I never run out of ideas and there is never a time when I can't make the airplane do what I need it to do.

In the sailing world, which I hope to join one of these days, it is just the opposite. Things happen I didn't foresee and when they do I often don't have an answer right at my fingertips. While I'm trying to figure it out the boat heads off on its own merry way with me more passenger than Captain. I can put a 16,000 pound airplane moving at 200 knots to within inches of where it needs to be. I can't get Kinala, moving at 2 knots, anywhere near where I want her sometimes.

Weird. And today, a bit discouraging.

Maybe I should go back to just fixing the thing?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Dodger Phase III Complete

I finished the side curtains on the dodger which now completes Phase III. The side curtains zip off easy so we can take them off when we sail as they are in the way of the winch handle when they're attached. The next phase is to make an enclosure between the side curtains and the top edge so that the companionway can be closed off in the winter. Eventually we want to have a bridge between the bimini and the dodger and a full enclosure for the cockpit, but those are going to wait for awhile.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Rules for Reliability

I read a post recently titled “40 rules for a reliable sailboat”. It was a good read that sparked some musings of my own. Most would probably not consider me an expert, but we are getting closer to pulling the trigger on this thing and having a boat I can trust is an issue that lies close to my heart. So, expert or not, here are some of the things I think I know after two boats and five years into The Retirement Project.

“Reliable sailboat” needs a careful definition. If a reliable sailboat means a hull that will float, can be moved considerable distance by the wind, can be steered to some useful degree, and is not easily destroyed by big winds and waves, then there is hope of finding such a thing. Hope. The friend’s C & C that sank recently while sitting at the dock speaks to how vain that hope can be. All indications are that the culprit was a valve on the head left in the wrong position. Are you kidding me? In my world (aviation) such a poor design would likely be considered criminal and would surly lead to someone being sued out of business. (Though it is unlikely such a stupid idea would pass the certification process in the first place.) Kintala has 5 holes in the hull below the waterline. Five places where a hack maintenance job or valve failure will sink the boat. Chain plates? Standing rigging? Running rigging? Steering failures? Just floating and moving under wind power is far from being a given “reliable” when it comes to a sailboat.

Now define a reliable sailboat as a hull that will float, move with and without wind, provide heat and light, keep one dry in all conditions, cook food, store and dispose of waste, generate DC and AC power for electronics, toys and refrigeration, steer itself, carry enough stores to keep a crew alive for weeks or months, and maybe provide hydraulic power for the hardware needed to control the sails and the autopilot. If I can keep most of that stuff working on Kintala most of the time I think I am doing pretty well. (Remember, I am a life a life-long aircraft mechanic. Fixing stuff is about the only thing where I can make some claim of knowing what I am doing.)

My experience is that sailboats are simply too poorly designed, constructed, and maintained to ever be considered “reliable” in the normal sense of the word. No. At best a reliable boat is one that it will keep us alive in most conditions while not making us so miserable as to take all the fun out of living.

With that rather low bar set, here are some of my rules for keeping a boat “reliable”

There is an old adage in aviation, “Never trust your life to an engine.” Not always possible but a worthy pursuit. It is the same with a sailboat. To trust one’s life to an engine is to trust in luck. To stack the luck in your favor try to keep the engine as perfect as feasible knowing full well it isn’t possible. Even one modest engine will require so much routine maintenance on oil, fuel, cooling, exhaust, starting and mounting systems as to be a nearly full time job all by itself. Do the best you can, but never count on the thing.

Even old, worn out sails will keep the boat moving right up to the moment they disintegrate. A brandy new racing sail is a thing of beauty, but a re-sewn, well-used but sturdy sail will move the boat at hull speed in any reasonable wind. Kintala may well head out with one main sail, two headsails, two stay sails, and two storm sails for a total of 7. None will be new when we leave but they will get the job done for a long, long time. And they don’t take a lot of maintenance. I wish we didn’t need engines.

Sails are more reliable than the rigging from which they fly. Standing rigging is a pain but it simply must be inspected regularly and repaired as required. Must. There is no getting out of it. I admit to being a slacker on the lake, but once we head out trips up the mast will become a regular thing, with a magnifying glass and a rag to rub over the wires. There is simply no other way to ensure that the mast will stay standing. Forced with a choice between fixing an oil leak or inspecting the rigging, inspect the rigging. I’m thinking if I’m not up the mast at least once a month once we go, I can’t possibly be on a reliable sailboat.

Electrical systems make the difference between living comfortably and living miserably, and do it on a sliding scale. The more elaborate the system, the more capable, the better the living. If installed properly they don’t take near the effort of engines, but that “installed properly” is the catch. The electrical systems on boats, particularly older boats, are a hacked together mash of inexpert efforts, poor planning, and even poorer execution. Getting the electrics up to speed will be the bane of your existence…but then it will get better. (Getting Kintala’s batteries, wiring, electrics and generating capacity up to speed looms over me like a doom yet to fall…and it has to be done soon. Worse, I know I’ll never get it where I want to be. To get there I would have to strip the boat and start from scratch. I’m neither young enough nor rich enough for that.)

The living quarters have to be dry, at least most of the time in most conditions. The boat simply cannot leak. It is somewhat depressing that hatches and ports were clearly not designed with that requirement in mind. But the effort to keep the boat dry inside is worth it.

The head system has to work or you can’t live there.

It is entirely possible to polish a turd to a high sheen, and a complete waste of time. On the other hand, if a boat looks like a turd, it probably is. Polishing metal and finishing wood helps keep them from corroding and rotting, respectively. Keeping ports clean and clear lets the light shine in. Everyone gets to decide for themselves how much polishing is necessity, and how much is vanity.

To live on a boat is to live on a machine, one operating in a hostile environment, often far from support, designed by people whose real goal was to make a buck selling boats to the charter market, and built by the lowest bidder cutting every corner that could be cut. Keeping it working has to be part of the fun or you need to move back into a house. Which brings me to another adage in aviation. A good pilot should never, ever, be surprised by an airplane. Disappointed maybe, but never surprised.

If Kintala never surprises me I'll consider her a "reliable sailboat."

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sea Legs

As Tim mentioned in the previous post, the wind was howling pretty much all weekend at the lake, and being as he was tied up with a marina motorcycle ride, I decided to work on the side curtains for the dodger. I finished only one side as the project turned out to be a little more time-consuming than I thought it would be (there's a surprise - a boat project taking longer than expected?), but I had a good time anyway, with Crosby Stills Nash and Young on Pandora in the background. It was warm enough to leave all the ports and the hatches and companionway open and we didn't even need the screens since the mud daubers seem to have gone to ground for the winter and all the flies have dizzily fallen to the deck. I sewed away while the boat heeled 15° in the 30+ knot winds, climbing up and down the companionway steps a hundred times to fit, cut, fit, sew, fit, sew, and after cleaning everything up at the end of the day and beginning to cook dinner, it occurred to me that this was likely what a mooring or anchorage was going to be like in the ocean and that I had managed to work all day without any difficulty. It felt pretty good to have my sea legs, even though it was only on our little lake. Of course, even on our little lake the 2 foot waves were enough to toss a small Hunter so badly that they launched their anchor off the boat and tore up their anchor bracket and sent them flying back in the channel so fast that they missed the turn the first time and had to do it again. Even though there wasn't any sailing going on, it was a good weekend. But then...any weekend on the boat is a most excellent weekend.

Hard week

I spent a couple of extra days at the boat again this week, trying to get the project list under control.  At the top of the list was sealing the toe rail to the deck.  It got done, but it didn't go particularly well.  The sealer we used must have come straight from the tool box of DE devil; it couldn't be worked after it came out of the tube, if it got somewhere it shouldn't it stuck and smeared and was nearly impossible to clean. At one point, working to get a good tape line around stanchions and fittings and such, I started to wonder, "When can I retire from retiring onto a boat?"

The day promised to be another that would end with sore joints, aching bones, and a dog-tired climb into the V-berth. I like working on things. I like working on this thing. But sometimes it is just relentless hard work and not a lot of fun. Still, the efforts of Thursday and Friday seemed to pay off and the inboard deck-to-toe-rail seam, both port and starboard, should now be water tight. So I took Saturday off and went for a motorcycle ride.

A bit of a strange one I admit, even for me. It started with a 100 mile run to meet the other riders. (All friends from the marina. We were starting 100 miles away because that's where the good roads are.) Mounted up we rode about 50 miles with 4 stops for a "break" along the way, one of which included lunch. After lunch I rode back to the marina for a total day of about 270 miles. The other riders were all on cruisers with me on an all out sport bike. It was a slow ride, but a lot of fun.  (I did scoot off ahead for one short bust of strafing corners at, shall we say, "extra-legal" speeds. But I played nice for most of the day.)

Deb worked on the side curtains for the dodger, but I wouldn't have accomplished much had I stayed around. Winds this weekend have consistently gusted past 35 knots and it rained all of last night. Kintala has been dancing on her lines and banging against the fenders with a lot of enthusiasm for a boat that weighs some 25,000 pounds. It will be interesting riding out big winds on a hook or mooring ball somewhere, with no dock or snug clubhouse around in which to sit out the blow. Maybe that's when I'll have retired from retiring onto a boat?

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Rebel Heart

Anyone who has followed this blog for awhile knows that I have about 20 blogs that I follow (with the help of Google Reader), all for various reasons that apply to our preparing for The Retirement Project. One of the blogs in there now is The Rebel Heart, a couple of folks much younger than we are and a bit ahead of our schedule. Eric recently wrote a post called "16 Days until we leave the country" in which he listed the things he has dealt with while in the last throes of their departure planning. He eloquently put into words a lot of things that I have been thinking about, things that I have not been able to adequately explain to our non-sailing friends and family, things that I have sometimes given a back seat to while dealing with The Project List, and rather than try to struggle putting it in my own words, I asked him if I could share it with you here. He graciously gave permission, so here is an excerpt from the full post which you can read at the above link if you'd like:

Who would have thought sailing a boat around the world would be so expensive?

There are people sailing the world's oceans on the cheap but if you look at even a meager vessel (I'd put us in that category), it costs a lot of money. Just routine engine work and rigging, nothing fancy and not repairing anything that was necessarily broken, will top out around $10,000. Bottom paint, thru hulls, seacocks, basic electronics, and some used sails bring the refit costs up around $20,000 - $30,000. That's a lot of money. Granted, we saved up for this trip for years, but it's pretty impressive watching that much cash slip through your fingers. Even more impressive is knowing that you could hit a rock and sink the whole damn boat, making it a really fancy artificial reef. Money is relative of course. To one person $10,000 is pocket change, to someone else it's a life-altering sum of money.

I'm really glad we're doing this.

Believe me, there have been some challenges, and in a lot of ways our biggest challenges have yet to show up. Even with that, it just feels right. We spend more time together as a family than ever before. Cora grows up around adults doing things right in front of her. Ask anyone with children and they'll tell you how fast time goes. I heard an expression that in parenting the days never end and the years fly by. It's true and although I'm not an old man (yet) I'm in my mid 30's and time is zipping by faster than ever. There will be a point in our lives, hopefully not for a very long time, where we simply won't be physically able to sail a boat around the world. 

I really had no idea what the heck I was getting us into.

Any event in life that's so big that it is truly transformative simply cannot be fully prepared for. No one is ready to have children, no one is ready to be married, no one is ready for a loved one to die. You can think about them a bit, run some thoughts through your head, and then you go back your normal thinking. A transformative event is one that's so different and consuming that it forces you to change the very nature of your cognition and the way you perceive the world. Anything you can wrap your head around in advance, by definition, is not transformative. 

Your life isn't as delicate as you think.

The really bad stuff in life that can ruin you is outside your control. Asteroids, revolution, global pandemics, horrible car accidents, death of loved ones, etc: you can't control those. People think they have way more control over their lives than they really do. If you play it close to your chest your whole life, you'll never really know what you can accomplish. This wouldn't be so much of a problem if it wasn't for the fact that you're going to be dead. Sooner than you'd like to think. Don't spend your life managing to over extend yourself as little as possible. 

Work, in and of itself, has value.

Taking pride in something can only happen, or should only happen, if you've done something good enough to warrant it. Because you're not really taking pride in the object, you're taking pride in your work. When you see someone working hard on something, you're drawn to it. You want to help people who are busting their ass: we respect hard work and the people who do it. People who work hard motivate us and help to clear mental obstacles. 

Never (or rarely) back up and look at the whole thing.

Years ago I walked into my then-boss' office and had a minor meltdown, freaking out about all the work I had to do. He sort of laughed at me and said, "What a second, you actually looked at everything you need to do? Don't ever do that man, it will blow your mind!" It might sound weird, but it's true. You want to check out the big picture every now and then to make sure that what you're doing lines up with it, but the only way things get done is by breaking them into small pieces. Not only do you need to make huge projects manageable, but often there's enough complexity in the small individual steps that they will require your total focus and you can't really spend a lot of time thinking about everything else. 
Thanks Eric for your insightful thoughts on the subject. I couldn't have said it better.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Change of seasons

Fall fell on us with a thud. It seems just a week ago that the days topped out at near 110 degrees with swarms of bugs to harass every step taken outdoors and the lake so low that Kintala was sitting on the bottom in her slip. This weekend night time temps dipped into the 30s, hot buttered rum was the drink of choice, the heater appeared in the center of the salon once again while jeans and sweatshirts and watch caps were all back in fashion. I love it but clearly this sailing season is coming to a close.

Deck Monkey finally gets a break
Deb and I agree that the dodger ranks at the very top of the "good things we have done to the boat" list. We got off the dock for a couple of hours today. Out on the lake it bordered on "cold" rather than "cool", but snug behind the dodger the deck monkey was toasty and comfortable. It was easy to imagine anchor watches passing much easier on a cool and windy night or spray being shouldered aside on a lumpy passage. A few metal pipes, some plastic and canvas stitched together, and almost by magic Kintala has taken on a much more purposeful air.

Hmmm...all I need is a remote control for an autopilot...

For reasons not particularly clear we thought today would be a good day to fly a staysail. We haven't set the rig that way for a while ... and it showed.  We picked the bigger of our two staysails and by day's end had decided it would spend most of its time in the bag. Still, Kintala is a happy boat with a staysail in the wind and it looks like the smaller of our jibs (which is what we have on the furler now) along with the smaller of the staysails and the main with appropriate reefs, will be our normal working set when out on big water. It is good to be closing in on the boat in this way. Ever since the V-drive went tango-uniform the to-do list has been the focus of our efforts. Getting the boat squared away was one of the reasons for buying one that we could move to the lake. But the other reason was to get comfortable with sailing and living on the thing, and that side of the equation has taken a back seat this season. So even though today was a short day on the water, it was a good day for learning.

We hope to have a few weekends of sailing left in the season to learn some more good things, but when we came back in we tied up starboard side to and bow north rather than the accustomed port side to and bow south. This seems a better way to ride out the winter winds while taking full advantage of the dodger so we decided to figure out the details of tying up this way today. There are more details than one would think and it took a while to get the boat secure in its new orientation. But it feels odd. The sun comes in the wrong ports at the wrong time of the day, people are visible on the wrong side while their voices come in from the wrong angle, and the boat actually looks bigger facing that way. (I know, I know! ... but it does.) I just hope I get used to it before heading to the head some dark winter night and stepping off the port side thinking there will be a pier under my foot.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Zen and relentless pounding

It is morning in the marina and I can actually hear the bristles of my brush as they flow across the toe rail, leaving a coat of shiny in their wake. Day two of a mid-week sojourn means the clear coat is going on. Four more hours, maybe five, and the exterior teak will be done. There is no way to hurry the process. Wipe three sections with thinner, block sand where necessary, coat two sections with deliberate care, slide down the deck taking tool bucket, brush and paint can along, wipe three sections. Repeat from bow to stern on the starboard side, from stern to bow on the port side; 42 feet and a little more each way. Same as yesterday.

There are few people in the marina at mid-week. Those who are around are mostly working just as hard on their own projects. Friend Donna has borrowed our little pressure washer to start the cleanup on her just-raised-off-the-bottom C&C. She is in a much better mood than I would be if our roles were reversed. Two mechanics are sweating over the C&C's little engine, flushing out the bad to bring it back to life. Friend Schmidty is struggling with a flat tire on the lift. Repeated blows with a sledge hammer evidence the fact that it has been many decades and uncounted dunkings since the the axle was last removed. Schmidty will eventually prevail, but the axle hangs on for nearly 6 hours before finally giving way. The lift will be back in service before next day's noon.

Bright work is the Zen of boat maintenance but also on my list this mid-week is a completely blocked sink drain. Experience suggests it will be the opposite of Zen, and I expect a frustrating repair on a hacked together, spooged-up, probably factory installed bit of ugly awaits. I am not disappointed. Said drain turns out to be a 60 inch length of engine exhaust hose clamped to pipe thread fitting on the through-hull end and squished-clamped onto the sink PVC at the other. The only way to get it out of the boat is to cut it in three pieces, side cutters brought into play to chop through the wire reinforcing. It turns out the cloth inside, designed to withstand hot exhaust gases not soak in sink scum, had rotted into sink plugging, scuzz collecting little bits. Thank you Mr. Tartan - it is a good thing your boats sail better than they work.

Clean cross section cut of the clog

What was dug out.
There were multiple hunks of fabric hose lining.

Also on the list was the window repair. Even as I type the scarfed in bit of trim is clamped in place, mondo-sticky stuff hardening into a perminate bond. With a little luck and careful choice of stain color, the cabin should be shed of duct tape by weekend's end.

I'm back in the city now with work work rather than boat work the focus of the rest of the week. But it was a good couple of days. Kintala feels more and more like a boat that is getting done rather than a project that has no end. Anything that is a machine will always need maintenance, but much like the axle on the lift, the big items are slowly giving way under relentless pounding. It is reported that a wise man once said those who win are not always the fastest or the strongest or the brightest, just the ones not smart enough to quit. I'm guessing I qualify.

(Of course another wise man once said the race doesn't always go to the swift, or the fight to the strong, but that is the way to bet! Still, I'm feeling like Kintala is coming my way, finally.)