Monday, February 25, 2013

"Lazay-Lay Bon-Tom Roule"!

The "No Boat" dinner was this weekend. Though our original thought had been to "boat" before the "no boat" by heading to the lake Thursday and making the dinner Saturday, weather and a flu bug kept us in the city. The snow storm turned out as forecast blanketing the area with a nice coating of the white stuff. (Would someone please tell the Weather Channel that naming snowstorms is lame?) So much stuff has fallen lately that the Corps has declared the drought as less a problem than potential flooding. That means they are letting the lake down to 443 which will put Kintala in about 6 inches of water. But they are anticipating torrents of water in the coming weeks. So much in fact that they are talking (no promises) of making 447 normal summer pool this year, two feet above normal normal. (Make sense yet?) I think this all means that; 1) there should be plenty of water in the lake to sail this year and, 2) there will be enough water at the travel lift so Kintala can come out of the lake pretty much any time after early spring.

The party was a little wistful for me this year. We have many good friends here now. People who have taught us nearly everything we know about sailing, and fixing and maintaining a boat. They winced and laughed, sometimes with us, sometimes at us, as we floundered our way into this new-to-us world. Everyone offered help, a few came to the rescue when some effort of mine went astray. The whole crew pitched it to get Kintala's mast up. Friend Kort got me back down off that mast when the original halyard failed. The list of people who stepped up with help and advice during the v-drive disaster would include nearly every talented wrench-bender on the membership rolls.

But Lake Carlyle is a weekend party spot and recreational sailboat lake; a place where any good Cajun would smile and cry, "Lazay-Lay Bon-Tom Roule"! Letting the good times roll includes a nice sail, good food, a few evening libations, lots of laughter, a bonfire and some music, maybe a raft-up Saturday night. Having fun is the sole reason for having a boat and going to the lake.

For me the lake is a staging area for prepping a cruising boat and launching a major change in life style. Letting the good times roll means being on a roll, getting a project finished so I can start the next one. Time is running out. The house is on the market. Money is tight. The boat is not ready. We are not ready. Mind you I love it; the same way I love managing a difficult flight while making it look easy, or pulling off a perfect landing in nasty winds out of an approach to minimums. Having fun at the lake is not something I think about very often. Friends at the lake are not stingy with their fun and I mooch off of their good times when ever I can. But for the most part we have two completely different agendas that are bound to clash once in a while. I can't go sailing and fix engine oil leaks at the same time, party until two in the morning and be working in the bilge by nine, or sacrifice an entire Sunday work day to recovering from a hangover. I'm sure some grow tired of the relentless noise of my projects and shake their heads at my constant struggle with the to-do list.

As for getting projects done Deb has run circles around me lately. She finished the dodger and cushions ... I think I have finished making the drawings for the table. Then she did the research and found the right stuff for the build...special hi-tech marine plywood with a hard wood vernier. We hope to get some sourced this week and on its way. Then I can start making sawdust ... "Lazay-Lay Bon-Tom Roule"!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Settee Cushion Pics

I finished the starboard side this weekend so here's the final pics.




Friday, February 15, 2013

You can't do everything ...

... at the same time.

As we edge ever nearer to abandoning land living for being sea gypsies many thoughtful people have wondered how we can possibly find the latter to be better than the former. They point out that we have lived in St. Louis for a long time now, that we are (were?) avid long distance motorcycle riders and pilots. I am reminded that I have a good paying job that I like to do, that I do it for people I like to do it for, and that that is something rare in our world today and not to be discarded lightly. I am told that there are many people who dream of living in an interesting and classy part of major city surrounded by stages and theaters, eateries, parks, and world class universities. And many others who dream of living in a beautiful home with a working fireplace and a nice sized shop out in back. (These are two things I have always cherished in a home, neither of which exists on Kintala, or any other boat I can afford). More germane is that 2 of our 3 daughters live in this town, half of our son-in-laws, and 5 of the 7 grand kids.

Another point of discussion is that Deb and I are not really "boat people". We didn't grow up on a sailboat or around people who lived on sailboats. The fact is we didn't know anything about sailboats until a few short years ago. Worse, maybe, is that we do know that living on a sailboat is nothing like the magazines suggest. We know about being sea sick. We have sat a long night at anchor watch, wet and cold and not exactly sure what we would do should the hook start to drag. Lightning has crashed down all around us and we have wrestled with sails on a narrow foredeck when the winds picked up. I don't scare easy but I know when to pay attention because things are getting interesting. And though I don't have a lot of open water experience, the little I do have suggests that things get interesting often on a small sailboat in open water.

The thoughtful people are not easily answered. Why would two baby boomers walk away from a life that most everyone else on the planet wishes they could live?  Explaining why living sans creature comforts, just plain everyday comforts, and security, is not easy in a society as geared toward safety and security as is this one.  But for some of us living well is not the same as living easy.  Living well can mean living where one's best can be called for at any time. It can mean not always being comfortable and not always having the answer when figuring it out matters. For those on a short handed crew it can mean being with someone on whom one can bet one's life without a moment's hesitation or a second thought. At this point in my life living well includes living light, mobile, and without a lot of accumulated possessions dragging on my bank account, my time, or my options. It turns out KISS is more wisdom than humor.

The family part is even harder to explain. I missed my girls when they grew up and moved away. When they came back for whatever reasons, the times we had one or the other of them living with us as adults rank right at the top of my favorite years. But I don't need to be the Dad who is always around, always dropping by, always near. My girls are more grown up, more capable, than that. They love me but, in ways that make me very proud, they don't need me. As for the grand kids, my hope is that their lives will be made more interesting, more whole, and more connected with the world by knowing that their Dema and Grampy-T lived on a sailboat and wandered around the oceans learning and experiencing things.

I hope there are years where they spend a couple of weeks with us, learning and experiencing things for themselves. I hope they pass the things that they learn and the experiences they have to my great-grand-kids and thus make their world just a little bit bigger as well. I hope the cockpit of Kintala becomes a time machine. Not one that moves through time but rather slows it in a too busy world, slows it so a kid can listen to the stories of his Grandpa. There needs to be places where one generation can hear what another has learned without a TV in the background blaring commercials, where bedtimes and soccer practice and homework are kept at bay while wisdom and love can be shared without interruption. A sailboat sitting in a quiet anchor can be just such a place of magic.

I can't do those things, pass on that learning, open the door to those experiences, and stay in St. Louis at the same time.

I had a friend once who declared that my desire to wander a chunk of the world by sailboat, in my own time and way, was pure selfishness. He claimed I was running out on my kids and grand kids and away from one thing or other. He couldn't have been more wrong and, though I wish it had gone differently, he isn't a friend any longer. Still, I suspect there are a lot of people who think his point of view more valid than mine. There probably isn't much I can do about that. The very act of trying to live a way different from "the norm" puts one slightly outside the reckoning of the majority. Even the thoughtful ones will find it difficult to understand. Then again, it isn't easy to explain either.

But sometimes we have to try.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Evolution of a Cruiser

Seeing as we're nearing the end of the Five.Year.Plan., I've been thinking a lot about the origination of this dream we've had to cruise, and the changes in the boat(s) and us and The Plan. Both we and The Plan have evolved over these last five years, and for those of you who might be just starting out on this venture, or simply wondering whether it could be possible, here's my thoughts on the stages we've gone through.

  1. Curiosity: Most people who have actually accomplished the dream of cruising have difficulty pinpointing that one moment when the first thought crept into their consciousness. It might have been a picture, a chance meeting with a sailor, an ad in a magazine, a really bad job, a brush with mortality. For me it was the really bad job, a job I wanted out of in the worst way, which left me thinking about retiring early, only to be followed by the thought that we didn't have enough money to retire early, at least near the water which was the only place we would ever want to retire. Curiosity meets the internet and voilá, pictures of houseboats appeared with space enough to put both bikes on the aft porch. This was quickly followed by ocean-going trawler pictures after #2 daughter moved to Cape Cod. This was even more rapidly followed by the realization that is costs a LOT of money to move trawlers at $4.25 a gallon. Google dug into its cookie jar and fortuitously found an ad for St. Louis Sailing Center which it obligingly put in the sidebar. Hmmmmmm curiosity. It seems we had a sailing lake an hour's drive from the city with sailing lessons on it. Curiosity led us through two sailing classes, and we were hooked.
  2. Baby Steps: So after curiosity comes the realization that we just might in fact be interested in this, so where do we go next? Buy a boat? More classes? Charters? The next few months were spent looking for a suitable boat to practice on. We lucked out with Nomad, our first boat, a very well maintained Compac 27. We had a grand total of 4 days of sailing under our belts the day we signed the papers, so baby steps were the order of the day. Lots and lots (and lots) of learning, even more mistakes, but ever so slowly we became more steady on our sea legs.
  3. When the "rope" becomes a "sheet": All of a sudden you go sailing one day and it occurs to you that you just asked your sailing partner to trim the sheet. You've come a long way from "Hey grab that rope there and pull it a bit". 
  4. The Spreadsheet Stage: Somewhere in the  middle of this time, Curiosity changed to The Plan. Spreadsheets started filling the My Documents folders on both our computers. Spreadsheets to compare possible bluewater boats, spreadsheets to track the cost of cruising, spreadsheets to track our sailing time, spreadsheets to track everything that needs to be sold prior to leaving...anyone who has gone through this stage is smiling right now. 
  5. The Yachtworld Stage: Once we realized that we were definitely going to do this if there was any possible way, we began to seriously search for the perfect bluewater boat. Had Nomad been a Compac 35 instead of a 27, we would most likely have kept her and at least started our cruising life on her, but we knew we needed a boat that had standing headroom for Tim. We had a list of 26 characteristics in our bluewater boat shpreadsheet that included stuff like a U-shaped galley, a high bridgedeck to the companionway, good handholds, smaller cockpit, etc. Every evening was spent searching and Boats were added to the spreadsheets, rated against the 26 characteristics and given a score, and some were later removed.
  6. The Testing Stage: We decided we needed to take a couple bluewater trips to test some boats so we could better choose. We set up three trips. The first was to Pensacola Beach, FL to take an ASA 114 Catamaran course on a Lavezzi 40. We liked cats and we needed to see if we still liked them after the course. The second trip was on a Pearson 35 on a circumnavigation of Long Island. The third trip was with John Kretschmer on his Kaufman 47 from Ft. Lauderdale to the Bahamas, down to the Berry Islands, and back. This approach of sampling possible boats was probably the smartest thing we did. We realized that a) we liked cats but we can't afford a bluewater capable one, b) a 35-foot is too small for us to live on full time c) we will NEVER allow our boat to be in the terrible state of disrepair that the Pearson was in d) a 47-foot boat is probably a little large for us e) we absolutely love the Bahamas and f) we need to get going - SOON. We absolutely loved the bluewater passages - especially the night watches - and these three trips over the course of just a few months gave us a good base of comparison and really solidified our desire to go.
  7. The Boat Show Stage:  We started attending every boat show we could afford to go to across several of these other stages. We went to the Annapolis show a couple of years but quickly realized that we can't afford anything offered there at all. We took Amtrak to Chicago for the show in late January a couple of years, and it was at this show in 2011 that we found Kintala, for sale through one of the brokers who had a booth at the show. We continue to go to boat shows even though we've already found The Boat, because we get all kinds of good ideas for dressing up Kintala when we go there.
  8. The B.O.A.T. stage (otherwise known as the Drain Stage): Even before the day we signed the papers, the bank account started its precipitous decline. Surveys, rigging inspections, trips back to Chicago, cleaning supplies, insurance, electrical inspections...then the transport company and the real dive in the account began. UPS beat a path to our door as parts, parts, parts, and more parts (and did I say parts?) began to arrive. Each installation opened up another can of worms and the account bled faster. I'm not trying to scare anyone thinking about doing this, but you seriously need at least 30% of the money you paid for your boat for the refit, and quite possibly 50% on some boats. the 30% will only apply if you do ALL of the work yourself. 50% is conservative if you intend to farm it out.
  9. The "Stuff" Stage: About this time I began to get a little panicky as I looked around the house and realized all the stuff I was going to have to deal with prior to leaving. We've been together 41 years and it never ceases to amaze me how much stuff 2 people can accumulate in 41 years. Fortunately for me, daughter #2 needed to share our house for a year while they paid some bills and transitioned from life in Cape Cod to life in St. Louis. I Ebay'd, Craigslisted, ReUseIt-ed, and dumpstered a good portion of our stuff. The rest that we weren't sure if the kids would  need we put into storage, a storage that they would share with us when they arrived. Ten months later they moved out and I have defiantly refused to put anything into those empty cupboards left by their departure. I'm now dealing with the small pile of things in the garage that came back to the house after we emptied the storage center, selling the remaining few pieces of furniture and trying to throw away as much else as I can. The garage is still a major project to deal with, but fortunately for me it's mostly Tim's job sorting tools.
  10. The Sign: The day you put the For Sale sign in the front yard is a pretty major commitment to the cruising life. I know of a future cruiser who put his house up for sale thinking that it would take months to sell and he would have a lot of time to deal with #9 above. His house sold in 2 weeks and he was left scrambling. Unfortunately that did not happen with us. We've had our house on the market for a while and even though the lookers are increasing, we have yet to have an offer. The thing about The Sign is that it's the first stage of cutting loose from the anchor of land life. It begins this mental distancing of a sort, and a few months ago I realized that the boat was now home and the condo was someplace we went for a few days a week in the city.
  11. Waiting and Watching:  We've dumped pretty much all the stuff we can until we sell the house, and we can't cruise till we do sell the house, so now we're just continuing to pick away at the projects while we wait. Being a cruiser is a mindset, not an action. It's a mindset of choosing to live life without the bonds of other people's dreams for you. It's a laid-back, roll-with-the-punches lifestyle that realizes life can be good in many colors and flavors. So while you're not technically a cruiser if you're not cruising, I know a lot of NBPs (non boating persons) who could be easily classed in the cruiser community. So for the time being, I'm enjoying the boat projects, the cruising kitty is building every day, and one day soon the house is going to sell and the clock will start ticking down in earnest. 
Some might say I'm still a wannabe, but in my mind I've already left.

Monday, February 11, 2013

More Cushion Details Per Request

A couple people have asked for more details on the materials I used in the cushion making so here you are: The fabric is Sunbrella interior marine fabric from Sailrite. I won't shop anywhere else because their customer service and educational tools are the best. The fabric is designed to resist soiling and moisture. Beware of using regular upholstery fabrics to save money. You get what you pay for and if you use regular house upholstery fabrics you will be recovering your cushions again in just a few years. I used their cushion underlining for the bottom of the bottom cushions which is non-skid and breathable and a third the cost of the fabric so it saves money. I also used batting over the foam to plump them up a bit. Here is the link for the specific fabrics I used:

Cushion Underling

Sunbrella Linen Natural


You also need V-69 weight thread and #18 needles in the machine.

While I'm on the topic of sewing, I've wanted one of Sailrite's Engel Hotknife for a long time but I just don't have the extra change to lay down for one so I found a less expensive alternative. When we were at the Chicago Boat Show West Marine Rigging had some Panther Portable Rope Cutting Guns for an incredible $37.95. I bought one and then bought the Engel tip from Sailrite. With a little modification (removing the plate between the wires) the tip fit the Panther gun and works flawlessly. The gun heats up in 5 seconds when you pull the trigger and cools down almost as fast, so you don't use a lot of electricity. Having that gun saved me about 20% on time when I did the second bottom cushion over the first one which I did with a soldering pencil.

If you have anymore questions just leave them in the comments and I'll address them there.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Slow weekend

There isn't much for me to say about this weekend passed as I didn't actually accomplish much. On the other hand Deb about set the Sailrite aflame almost finishing yet another big-time improvement to Kintala. It's her project though, so she gets to boast about it.

The table project took another step forward with a more ridged template made of insulation board set in place.  Then friends Kacey and James accepted an invitation to be guinea pigs, sitting at the pretend-a-table and offering critique. As a result the new table will be an inch lower than the old, a couple of inches shorter, and a couple of inches wider. It will still be a rather slow project though, as decisions about materials for the table have yet to be settled. Right now we are exploring composites for added strength but less weight, a consideration with a table that has to be lifted up out of the way. But wood may still win out in the end.

One third of the way through February. Winter is getting shorter a lot faster than the project list. Which shouldn't surprise me anymore but somehow still does.

Looking forward to this again soon...

Tick √

We've had a couple good weekends making progress on projects and it's a real high (I know - we're nerds). Last weekend I got the pilot berth and both settee bottom cushions recovered, and this weekend I got the missing starboard 2 back cushions built and covered. All I have left to do is to build and cover the port backrest 2 cushions next weekend and I'll be able to tick this project off the list. It's been on the list maybe longer than any other single project so it will feel good to get it checked off. Even though I'm not quite done, I'm so happy with the results that I thought I'd pass them on for your approval. And yes, we agonized for weeks over the color choice of white, but after seeing so many other Tartan 42s with white cushions, and realizing how much it would lighten up the dark interior, we decided to take the plunge. We will, of course, be coating them with Scotchguard.

This is the before. The cushions were covered with a very expensive ultrasuede material, but was so poorly sewn that they came off every time you sat on them. I sure hope they didn't pay very much money for the labor. It was a real waste of excellent material. The blue was also too dark for the dark interior. The backrest cushions were never in the boat when we bought it. There were screw holes where the snap bases used to be to hold the cushions, but, like so many other things on this boat, they were missing. It was also impossible to get comfortable on the seats since the bottom cushion was too wide to lean back. You had to put a couple pillows behind you just to lean back to read a book. I decided to build two backrest cushions so we could easily access the storage lockers that you see here behind the settee.

This is the after. We may yet add the missing end cushions but I first have to finish the port side backrest cushions. For the time being we're using pillows there.

We have a saying that we used in our family with our kids when we were faced with a long or difficult project or list of projects: "Left foot, right foot". One at a time, little by little, but progress nonetheless.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Let it be ... not

Sometimes you fix things. Sometimes you change things. And some things you just let be. It does not appear I am much good at that last one; a trait that appears common among cruising sailors. Maybe I'll fit in after all?

A Tartan 42 is a Tartan 42, and that means an interior with a fold up table running down the middle of the cabin. Not a bad use of space but it results in a very narrow isle between the galley / nav station at one end of the cabin and the V-berth / head in the other end. If I am sitting on the starboard side lacing up my boots Deb can't get by. No big deal. We don't mind dancing around one another once in a while. (One can't sit on the port side and lace up one's boots as the table, even folded down, is in the way.) But whenever we do do our passing dance I am reminded of
little Nomad and the space provided by folding up the table in her modest interior.

As mentioned before, we got a look at the Blue Jacket yacht last week in Chicago, a thoroughly modern boat with a fold up table, and were quite taken with the whole idea. Why can't a Tartan 42 have a fold up table? All that needs done is designing, building, fitting and installing said table, getting the old fittings out of the deck, moving some stuff off the bulkhead where the table needs to fit, and making sure there is enough backing in the mounting that the table actually stays mounted to the bulkhead should the going get bouncy. What could possibly go wrong?

Cardboard mockup of cabinet area - shelves TBD

So today, after getting Deb's storage area under the pilot berth finished and returning to the boat late last evening after the day trip to places east, I moved a new table to the top of my "do it next" list. Deb thinks we should be doing the aft cabin first, but she knows "project fever" when she sees it. Being wise in the ways of living with a demented mechanic she chose to work on her own "make it better" project and left me to have at it. Cardboard, scrap bits of insulation board, duct tape, scissors; by afternoon a mocked up table was stuck to the bulkhead while I figured out hinge points and clearances. It looks like it will work so ordering wood comes next.

This may still end up something I should have let be. After all Kintala has been ours for more than two years now and we have lived in her just fine with the factory table. As far as I know every Tartan 42 ever built has a fixed table in the middle so it isn't like this is some major flaw in the design. And there is always the possibility of some "show stopper" lurking out there somewhere that makes the whole idea just too silly to actually work. (With all due respect to Gene Kranz, Flight Director of Apollo 13 fame - failure is always an option.)

On the other hand the new table will make the inside of the boat a lot more "living friendly". It is cold and snowy in these parts so inside jobs are the jobs of choice - and this is a good inside job. Besides, why have a boat at all if you can't do things like this to it?


Thought you might get a kick out of the footprints on the dock this morning after our snowfall last night.

By the way, that's my size 10-1/2 foot that you're comparing the great blue heron's to.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Culture Shock

Do you ever listen to NPR on the radio while you're driving, maybe not paying full attention to the show but the words running in the background and then, all of a sudden, a phrase or sentence will just reach out and slap you in the face and leave you scurrying to turn up the volume and trying to find out who the heck said it?  I had such an experience driving home from the lake a couple weeks ago and I've been mulling it over ever since. Tim and I had taken separate cars and I was heading to our granddaughter's 6th birthday party a little early to help out. To the Best of Our Knowledge was the background to the insanity of transportation that we call St. Louis traffic, and they were doing an interview with the third wife of Phillip K. Dick, perhaps the most prolific science fiction writer of our time. She has written a new biography called "In Search of Phillip K. Dick", her own attempt to understand a complicated relationship and its demise, and in the process of the interview made the statement, "He was a very unusual man and he was a very great genius, I think, and his circuits weren't wired the same as many other people, but on the other end we have a culture of extreme conformity in this country so maybe he wasn't that far out."  A culture of extreme conformity.  Slap. Reach for the dial.

All of a sudden pieces started falling into place in my ruminations. I thought about the time we lived in the suburbs of St. Louis in a neighborhood much like the one pictured here. Three bedroom, 2-1/2 bath, 2 car garage, and 2.2 children. Oh, and white. Very, very white. At the time the requisite mini van was in every driveway, the dog in the back yards, the blue light of TVs flickering on the curtain linings, the proper brand of tennis shoe on the kids' feet, and when discussion was held at all, it was politically correct snippets over the picket fence. Being good hippies of the 70s, what did we do? We rode motorcycles, shopped at Goodwill, voted left, threw out the TV, and moved into the city. The colorful city.

Ahhh...a bit better. Only in the city can you receive a smile and a "God bless you" from a thin, old, black man pushing a shopping cart mounded twice as high as he is tall with all his belongings. Only in the city can you smile at a woman belting out Gospel songs on a busy street corner for no other reason than to make people happy. Colorful, never boring, not nearly the conformity of the suburbs and yet...just as in the suburbs, all around you people scurry to and from work in the endless quest for enough money to pay for the house that's too big and the car that's too fancy and the clothes from Plaza Frontenac and the food from Straubs. Still a culture of conformity, just dressed up a bit. And we were sucked in. Still no TV, still riding motorcycles, still shopping at Goodwill (now just down the street), but working way too hard just to pay for the house in the city, half of the rooms which we didn't even use.

As I read the blogs of 20 other cruisers the one recurring theme is the satisfacton they all get from being enmeshed in another culture. While they all tell of the initial culture shock of living without a McDonalds and Walmart on every corner, they begin to understand through another's eyes that life can be lived quite happily without being chained to consumerism. Don't get me wrong, I'm the first to admit that we have benefited from our culture of consumerism. We wouldn't own the boat at all if we hadn't had the equity in the house to pay for it. I'm grateful for that, for sure, but at 56 I'm feeling a pretty strong desire to try something else. I don't think I'm alone in this. As I chat with people in a normal week, a good many of them seem to be longing for something with a little more meaning. Maybe a little culture shock is just what the doctor ordered.