Sunday, June 29, 2014

North again ... sort of

Quetzal as we found her November 2010 at Cooley's Landing
Back in late November of 2010 Deb and I joined John Kretschmer on his good ship Quetzal for a week trip to the Bahamas and back. Before we left we were still debating if going cruising was something we were really going to do. We sat on a bench in the marina where Quetzal was berthed and began debating just how quickly we could make going cruising a reality if, in fact, this trip made it clear that's what we wanted to do. And I'm sure we talked about what a cool thing it would be to, someday, sail our own boat back to that very same place.

Leaving through the 7th Avenue bridge on that first trip nearly 4 years ago

Friday evening I was completely surprised to find myself standing in that very same place as Daughter Eldest and I looked over the slip that was to be The Floating Bear's home for part of the summer. Neither Deb nor I remembered that Cooley's Landing, the place we had picked for getting some boat work done this summer, was the same place we boarded Quetzal for that memorable Bahamas Bash.  The 7th Avenue Bridge looked vaguely familiar when Daughter and I walked under it, but I couldn't imagine why.  Then I saw the bench where Deb and I had sat and talked and I remembered.  The one thought that never crossed either Deb's or my mind back in 2010, was that we would be stopping by the very same place in our boat, with Daughter Eldest, Son-in-Law, and two of soon-to-be-eight grand kids living in a nearby slip in their own boat.

I'm still a little astonished that things are working out that way.

The reason Daughter Eldest and I were standing looking at the slip was that The Floating Bear was still tied to the public floating dock on the other side of the bridge.  We were waiting for slack tide to avoid trying to slip between the pilings at Cooley's with a nasty cross current. Deciding that the water was tame enough to make the attempt, we headed back down the River Walk, got everyone on board, and hit the starter button. The Floating Bear chuffed to life, chocked, shut-down, and absolutely refused to start again.

Rats. So, so close. Yet so far away.

We had been underway all day, motoring up the ICW. It had been a fun trip and mostly new to me since that bit of the ICW is off limits to Kintala. (She doesn't fit under the Julia Tuttle bridge.) It is actually a beautiful stretch of water running through the heart of the metropolis area. As we motored passed South Lake a manatee took up position in our wake and nosed along behind us, snuffling up air every couple of minutes so close that the two grand sons could almost touch its snout; something that thrilled them to no end. Then we worked our way through Port Everglades, crossing the end of the channel headed toward the 17th Street bridge just ahead of an inbound, fully loaded, container ship. This thrilled the grand kids to no end as well, though it didn't thrill Grampy T near as much. The tiny Volvo was pushing as hard as it could and I wasn't sure what we would have done had the timing been just the slightest bit different. Oh well, better to be lucky than good.

After working our way though the tight and boat-busy New River then tying up to the floating dock to wait on the tide, we thought we had it made. Case Closed. Trip from Dinner Key to Cooley's landing for a couple of weeks of intensive boat work accomplished. So, so close.

Dead at the public dock much deliberation ensued, including a call to Tow Boat US.  That's when I learned my Tow Boat US Unlimited Gold policy does not, in fact, cover the boat I am driving if the owners of that boat are on board. (I wish they had pointed that out when we sent them a check.) Estimated cost for moving  The Floating Bear approximately 300 yards came to somewhere in the vicinity of $700. Yeah, like that was ever going to happen.  For $700 I'd take a rope in my teeth and try to drag the thing through the 7th avenue bridge swimming against the tide.  What do they think I am, a rich boat owner or something?

In the end Friend Bill drove up from Dinner Key and picked up Daughter Eldest and grand sons 2, taking them back to Kintala and Deb. Son-in-Law and yours truly were left to figure out a better way to end the trip than with me going swimming. By that time it was nearly midnight and after 12 hours of motoring in the bright FL sunshine and the aborted attempt from the day before, we just didn't have the energy to try and make something happen before morning. Brian and I set up a "drunk watch". It was Friday night on the Ft. Lauderdale River Walk. We saw various smiling and glassy-eyed people swerve down the walkway, bounce off the curb and come precariously close to stumbling into the New River. We wanted to make sure none decided The Floating Bear was their destination for the evening. (I might have been tempted to rent the V-berth to the cute couple that settled in on the dock just off our bow. They looked like they needed a room.) We watched people stumble their way onto other boats tied at the floating dock, fire up and motor away.  Boats with on board parties clearly in full swing moved past, some more-or-less in line with the "no wake" limit, others ... not so much. More than one power boat Captain toasted me with beer in fist while passing by.  It was quite a scene but not conducive to getting much sleep.

Saturday morning Brian headed off to find coffee while I tried to conjure up a good idea for getting The Floating Bear underway. The best I could come up with was that, after a full day of pushing up the ICW, the little Volvo had worked up a major sweat. Shutting down for a couple of hours on the floating dock left all that heat with no where to go. The engine had fired on the cool fuel left in the injector lines, but the fuel in the injector pump, located way too near the exhaust manifold to my way of thinking, had been boiled into mist. Blaming the night's delay to a vapor lock seemed like a reach, but the fact was turning the engine over did not result in fuel squirting out of the injector line. Clearly there was an air lock in there somewhere.

When in doubt, do the simple things first. Backing down the fuel system one fitting at a time showed no fuel at the injector pump bleed ports, but fuel at the injector pump inlet. (Which was good news as it suggested the lift pump was still lifting.) We bled the system (Brian having long since returned with a much needed cup of caffeine), got fuel flowing to the forward injector port and, with the last dying amps left in the Bear's questionable batteries turning the starter, our efforts were rewarded. The Floating Bear was ready to finish her inaugural trip.

Forty-nine hours and thirty-seven minutes after the trip was started for the first time, 25 hours and seventeen minutes after the trip was started for the second time, and 20 minutes after the engine shuddered its way to life at the floating dock, The Floating Bear was snug at her new pier. Deb and the rest of the crew joined Brian and I in the afternoon and we all spent the rest of the day relaxing while grand kids (2) explored their new digs and the adults talked of tasks to come.  The long days soon caught up to us all though, and early enough everyone found their way into a berth for some much needed sleep, with Deb and I settling for a cool night in the cockpit.

This morning we went for a walk, searching for coffee and just enjoying being together again. We marveled some more about being back where our cruising plans became a true goal, a goal that is now an accomplishment for us and an unexpected new adventure for part of our family. Then, after a few more hours spent with the kids, we hopped the public transit back to Dinner Key.

The plan is for Kintala to drop her mooring ball tomorrow and head for No Name Harbor. There we will enjoy being on the hook for the first time in what feels like months while waiting out some expected storms in a less exposed place. Later in the week we hope to catch a weather window for our own trip north to join The Floating Bear and crew.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

North ... sort of

Floating Bear (still Obsession till the official name change) dropped her Dinner Key mooring ball this morning and headed for a place north, sporting a full crew of Daughter Eldest and Family, plus Grampy T. (That would be me.) It was the first time the boat has moved with the intent of ending the day someplace else, and the first time she had been sailed by her new owners. It was also the first time her new owners had sailed anything, which is why Grampy T was tagging along.

What little wind troubled the surface waters was blowing directly out of the direction we needed to go. Brian set the little 13 HP Volvo to a friendly sounding RPM and we set off at a sedate 4.2 knots. It kind of reminded me of little Nomad, though a US 30 is a much sleeker looking boat than is the ComPac 27.
I think Julian may never forgive me for posting this pic...

Once clearing the channel we took up a heading toward the Rickenbacker Causeway, an imposing looking structure that spans Biscayne Bay from Coral Gables to Virginia Key. As we closed in on the bit boats go under, a really nice looking Mini-Mega-Yacht pulled up behind us. We moved to starboard to let him by, but the Captain waved us on from the flying bridge, which looked to be nearly as far off the water as the top of Floating Bear's mast. Once clear the Yacht turned off the ICW heading toward what looked like a Mega Yacht landing zone, Rickenbacker Marina maybe? As he pulled away he shouted out that he didn't see any water coming out our exhaust. I took a quick glance at the temp gauge. Yikes! He was right.

Brian pulled the throttle back to idle while I scrambled forward to drop the hook. There was plenty of space and not much traffic. We coasted to a stop a couple of hundred feet from the Green 67 marker, grabbed a piece of the bottom and put the Volvo to sleep before it could hurt itself. It seemed to me that, years ago on one of our first attempts at sailing Nomad, something similar happened. Hot engine, drop a hook, figure it out. Of course this time was on Biscayne Bay instead of Lake Carlyle.

We have a Tow Boat US Gold card, and we talked about giving them a call. But I consider them an emergency service, someone you call when the boat is at risk. The sun was shining, the boat was floating, and the wind was picking up just a little. Hardly an emergency. We picked up the hook, spun out the head sail, eased our way back under the bridge, and headed for Dinner Key. After a bit we added the main, trundled along to a spot outside the mooring field where we could drop the hook, rolled up the head sail, spun up into the wind, booting the anchor off the deck, and dropped the main.

Sailing onto the hook after the engine packed it in. Pretty much any thoughts of seriously considering a trawler died right there. Deb dinked out to meet us with some gear so Brian could dive on the boat and see if the inlet was clogged. It didn't appear to be. After some more discussion of calling for a tow we decided to try for the mooring field. We motored up to the channel inlet markers, spun out the jib once more as we turned the corner, rested the hot motor and sailed down the channel. At the marina inlet the sail came in, the motor came on for one more short stretch to the ball, Deb handed the line up from the dink, and Floating Bear was back where she started.

All we could find wrong was what appeared to be a kinked line between the water pump and the engine block. Water flowed from the through-hull to the impeller. The impeller looked brand new. We changed the line and ran the engine for a while with the temps never going above 150. I'm not very confident that we found the problem, but we are going to give it another try in the morning anyway.

After all, what's the worst that can happen? Sail off the hook, have a pleasant downhill run back to the Key, sail onto the hook, poke around, sail down the channel, pick up a mooring, get a cold one? That's actually a pretty good day ...

... and lets see a trawler do that.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Impure thoughts

Deb and I went to look at a Trawler the other day. It is for sale in the marina at Dinner Key, a short dink ride and walk to see how the other half lives.

We have had a lot of talks about the difference between what we thought being full time live-aboard cruisers would be, and what it turns such a life is really like. And so far, the "living-aboard" part outweighs the "cruising" part by a better then 10 to 1 margin, if one just compares days spent swinging on a hook, mooring ball, or at a pier to days underway. Kintala, as I have said before, doesn't really set the world on fire when it comes to living-aboard but flat lights up the waves when running under a full press of sail. Sadly, this last stretch of weeks on a mooring ball with family nearby has put a spotlight on her shortcomings. We all get together for our evening meal. Having six aboard for dinner is an exercise in getting in each other's way. The tiny cockpit and vertical companionway, which completely isolates the galley from the outside, are the main constraints to an otherwise pleasant gathering.

So, anyway, we thought we would take a short venture to see what we see. After all, having never been around boats until we started looking for a way to escape corporate America as soon as possible, Deb and I ended up as sailors kind of by default. I've never actually spent any time on a live-aboard power boat of any kind, and we have been thinking that might be some pretty good living for a lot of reasons. Reasons that this look-at confirmed.

First and foremost the thing was huge. Okay, it was 44' to start with, making it slightly longer than Kintala. But there was easily 4 times the living space inside the boat, and maybe 10 times more storage area. The engine room held more stuff, two engines, generator, huge battery bank, four fuel tanks, two water tanks, a holding tank, than would fit inside all of Kintala. There was a massive salon, two cabins, two heads, and an office. The outside usable deck area was again, easily 4 times that of Kintala. There was a back porch big enough for a table and chair set. And then there was a flying bridge big enough to seat 4, with another small table.  Kintala is a single living floor with a deck over it.  This trawler was split level with four different "floors".  Having lived on Kintala for most of the past year it was just an overwhelming amount of living space.

There was heat. There was air con. There was an inside steering station. There was a big 'fridge, a freezer with room for ice cream, and an ice maker. There was a microwave.

I couldn't get off the thing fast enough.

No, I don't think living on a trawler would cost that much more than living on Kintala. Sure it burns gas to go and has a big 'ol generator to make power. But the only reason one would ever be near a pier would be to fill the tanks, and that might be once a year. Other than that one could live almost completely independently, and do so comfortably. One would have to pick a Gulf Stream crossing day rather carefully, but we do that anyway. I don't think it would be as comfortable a ride while underway, but it would be fine swinging at anchor. In fact it would likely be more stable than the bowl-bottomed Kintala.

I still couldn't get off the thing fast enough.

It is no secret that I have had my disappointments with Kintala. It is no secret we picked the wrong boat for what we are doing.  But on the dink ride back I had to admit that she is, without a doubt, the best looking boat in the marina or on the mooring field. She is a capable, long distance cruiser with near perfect lines, even if we are not capable, long distance sailors. I like her interior, the feeling of being on a boat and not in a floating condo.  And really, just how much space does one need anyway?

There is much I don't like about her, but she is my boat after all. Being able to say that has come to be important to me. She is a total failure of a live-aboard when there are more than two people on her, but Deb and I are just two people.

I don't know. We are hoping to do this for many years, and there is much about living easier that appeals. We will be in Ft. Lauderdale for a couple of months more with plenty of opportunity to look around. Maybe some powerboat somewhere will fit the budget and the life better. Maybe a different sailboat is the answer.

And maybe we have the answer already, and she just needs a little more work.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Storms and choices

The Mother ship filled the western horizon. Another monster storm was headed our way and it looked wicked. (I would have preferred a real mother ship complete with big-eyed aliens, this endless run of thunderstorms is starting to get old.) The wall cloud spanned at least 20 miles and sported a clear rotation. Tendrils of cloud hung low in scary places and no one, least of all me, would have been surprised if a full blown ugly started probing for the ground below.

Daughter Eldest, Son-in-Law Second, and grand kids second and sixth had joined us for dinner. They spent most of the day at a Spanish Mass, having started their Sunday hours before mine. Grampy T (that would be me) is a happy heathen who sleeps in on Sundays without a second thought, yet virtually all of the people I love most in the world are people of faith. In fact Son-in-Law First is a Catholic Priest. (It is a long story that I don't actually understand myself.) They all love me as much as I love them so all is well in the extended family of Kintala. If the rest of the human family would learn to do the same, much would be better in their world as well.

The Mother ship drew closer and the radar image showed a pronounced bow echo pushing our way. We made haste to clear the decks of anything that could go flying in the expected wind gust and literally battened down the hatches. Grand child second joined me under the dodger looking for signs of water spouts. Truth to tell I would rather have had them all in a jet, eight miles high and able to run at 500 knots. But I left that world more than a year ago. Corporate America burned my life down without a care (metaphorically speaking) in a Board Room dog fight. It wasn't the first time the powers that be had praised me for years for my excellent work on their behalf, then showed me the door without so much as a "thank you".  But I was determined to make it the last. We pointed Kintala's bow toward the horizon and never looked back. This is not to say that, should America ever decide to free itself from the tyranny of profit-over-everything, I will pass on the chance to (metaphorically speaking – of course) burn down the houses of those who torched mine. But I live on the ocean now, far way from those kinds of people and glad of it. Part of that means swinging the bow into the storm and accepting what comes.

Daughter Eldest and family live on the nearby Floating Bear for different reasons. They are artists and writers, creators of beauty and seekers of truth in a culture that has rejected both. For them the American Dream of endless hours spent serving the god of profit-over-everything, to pay for things they don't really want or need, amounts to a soul crushing life of misery. They are seeking a different path, one which also requires swinging the bow into the storm and accepting what comes.

And so our little family of social rejects (which is just the opposite of how it sounds) watched the Mother ship swallow the city of Coconut Grove. Whatever that rotating wall cloud was spawning was now hidden in the rain shield sweeping across the mooring field. The winds built, 15 – 20 – 25 – touched 30, and then fell away. Rain pounded the waves flat. Lighting flashed, thunder shook the rigging... Deb served up the dinner she had been cooking and all was well.

Sometimes, not always but sometimes, the storms we face for daring to live a different way are full of bluster and noise and are scary looking, but pass without doing any real harm. The rain eased and the crew of Floating Bear rode the dink home. I sat in my cockpit and watched the lightning flash and fade on the far horizon. Overhead the stars shone while off to the side the clouds glowed with the city lights. Kintala rode easy to her mooring. We don't live like most people do and that suits me just fine.

We will be on the move soon, but not as far north as we thought. Too much time was needed to do that thing I needed to do. Kintala and The Floating Bear will move north about 30 miles, risking the Florida heat, bugs, and hurricanes this year. We will do what we need to do, and then keep going.

Reality Check

Sometimes cruising on a sailboat looks like this:

And if you're really fortunate, sometimes cruising looks like this:

Today, cruising looked like this:

At least if I gotta use an ice scraper, I'd rather be using it to scrape barnacles than ice...

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Rain. It was raining. Again. Deb looked none too happy with my decision. Having run out to Kintala to grab some stuff for an overnight passage, the dink was bringing her back to the fuel dock in the rain. I was out in the rain as well, helping finish up the task of putting water and 100 gallons of fuel in a Moellenmacher built, 97 foot, steel hull ketch rig known around the mooring field as Thunderbird V.  Her real name is Sir Martin II, to be changed when the paperwork gets caught up. She's one of a fleet of boats that make up the International Rescue Group, a humanitarian aid foundation that helps victims of natural disasters by delivering to them food, water, and medicines.  During the morning cruiser's net Ray, her Captain and also founder of the organization, had asked for some help getting off the hook and onto the fuel dock. Deb and I and a few others volunteered. During the short re-positioning, which actually took most of an hour, Ray and his only crew, Jeff, told us they were going to Ft. Lauderdale to take an offered private dock behind a McMansion. Anyone who wanted to come along on the overnight passage up the Gulf Stream was welcome.

Which is how Deb ended up on a rain soaked dink ride. She isn't fond of last minute sailing decisions; an off-the-cuff overnight ride on a boat we didn't know, with a captain we didn't know well, in weather that has included serious thunderstorms nearly every day for more than a month? Not her cup of tea. But she is fond of me and I really wanted to go out and play in this Big-Mother of a boat.

About the time the last of the water went into the tanks, sheets of water started pounding on the cabin top. Lightning flashed, thunder rolled, but at least the wind stayed reasonable. Ray suggested we wait a bit, which is the kind of prudent approach I like in a Captain. Eventually the storm eased to just a steady light rain. Thunderbird V rumbled to life, eased back off the dock, made a careful 160 to port and headed toward the channel. With rain, a setting sun hidden by a thick deck of clouds, and the fact that Thunderbird V is a pilot house boat with the worst sight lines I have ever experienced from a helm, visibility was less then stellar. Then word came down that the navigation system wasn't coming on line.

Ten minutes into the passage found me standing at the bow giving hand signals to guide us out of the narrow channel. Not what I expected while drinking my morning coffee. Lightning started flashing, thunder rolled, and the rains fell once again. I stood my ground in the fore peak. It has been a tough couple of months for me, but I was back on a boat, under way, heading out for an open water overnight passage. I offered a single finger salute to the sky as we made Biscayne Bay. The sky could rage all it wanted.  Given the thrashing I had been taking, I just wasn't impressed.

Once back in the pilot house Ray offered me the helm. The nav system had been rebooted and was working well but he wasn't happy with the engine. It sounded okay to me but Ray said it was burning more fuel than normal. He found a power setting he liked and we settled into a sedate 3.5 knot cruise. We had the whole night to get to Port Everglades so speed was not of any kind of essence. Good thing.

Settled in the (inside) helm, feeling the energy state of this mass of machine, steering with the equivalent of an auto-pilot heading bug, electronic nav dialed in, radar sweeping a 3 mile ark, lightning detector (sparkle machine to a pilot) sparking, radio humming with traffic, AIS (TCAS to a pilot) showing nearby boats ... I was a happy, happy man.

I was a bit less of a happy man at 0130. The nav screen had just blinked out and the auto-pilot low battery alarm was chirping. A few minutes later Ray had it all back up. It seems Thunderbird V has a Hodge-podge electrical system; part European, part American, part AC, part DC, with converters and inverters, shunt circuits, generators, isolation buses, two generators, and two different kinds of alternators driven by the engine. One of which wasn't working. The one that charged the battery that runs the electrical / navionics type stuff at the helm.

After a bit of discussion about speed and distance and the time we wanted to get to the Port Everglades inlet, about fuel burns and engine health and alternators, we just shut everything off except one small generator to keep the battery alive. Then we let the Gulf Stream carry us north, moving tons and tons of boat for free. The only concern was traffic and our inability to get out of the way. But with the AIS and RADAR still on, and a fresh pair of eyes taking up the helm every couple of hours, all was well in our part of the ocean. A little while later I handed the watch off to Jeff, went below, and the rest of the night passed without bothering me in the least.

I woke up to find Ray and Deb handling the boat with Jeff still below catching some sleep. There was a discussion going on about just where the inlet markers were, and how we were approaching them. The engine was pushing us directly towards the coast with the nav system suggesting our boat heading and course over ground (COG) were nearly identical and taking us straight toward the channel. The only problem was the markers were well off to our north, straight ahead was only coastline.

Taking a scan around the helm instruments I noticed the remote compass indicator showing something like 020 degrees, the boat was heading pretty much due west. None of the other instruments on the panel with the compass indicator seemed to be working either. No stray sparks on the sparkle machine, no info on the secondary AIS. My guess was that, somewhere in the night, the electrical system had confused itself somehow and the breaker to the bus for those instruments got tripped. Ray knew where that breaker was, found it, closed it, and in a few minutes the nav system had figured out where it was, were it was pointed, and where it was going.  All was well with our little world again.

Working though the bridges south was kind of fun. All along the shore and at each bridge people could be seen taking pictures as this grand old Dame of a sailboat eased through the waters. I was feeling privileged to be on board and pleased that I had actually offered some value as a crew member.

The last few hundred yards of the trip turned out to be the most challenging. This was a big boat, with a 7 foot draft, working its way through some tight and shallow places. The destination pier was located pretty deep in South Lake. Twice we bumped into the bottom and had to wait for the rising tide to break us loose. The pier itself was barely large enough with an ugly approach and some bothersome pilings to negotiate. It took a bit of a fancy anchor / line / warping dance on the part of all four of us to bring Thunderbird V safely to rest at her new home. Just minutes later the lighting flashed, the thunder crashed, and the rains lashed. (The lightning was hitting the ground barely a half mile from the boat.)

As the worst of the rain eased to a shower Deb and I headed off to work the public transportation system back to Dinner Key. Glancing back Thunderbird V dominated the scene.

Thanks Ray. Thanks Jeff. That was a really good time.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Costs updated

Kintala's cost of cruising figures have been updated. After reviewing them, here are some things I've learned.
  • We are still spending too much on mooring and docking, something that can't really be avoided at the moment since we're trying to help various family members through difficult times. That is just part of the cost of helping.
  • We spent way too much on bank charges from using our credit card in the Bahamas. We need to take more cash so we avoid those charges.
  • I learned that I have no desire to track cash expenditures to the penny the way that some cruisers do. You will see in our monthly expenditures a category entitled "Cash". These are ATM withdrawals and the money is typically spent on food, gas, water, propane, and the dining out expenses required to pay for WiFi in the islands and the percentages of that cash are about the same as the percentage of the items that were categorized. If you're one of those people who can spend hours writing down every single cash receipt while looking out at the expanse of turquoise waters, I admire you and wish you well. I would normally have at least totaled up receipts, but the fact is that in the Bahamas most businesses don't give you receipts and if they do they are not itemized so you have no clue what they were for in the first place.
  • Our monthly average since January has been $2589.01 which is substantially higher than we want and/or need it to be so we'll be working to reduce that. Our year to date expenses are as follows so you can see the percentage:

  • Our health insurance is the only bill that doesn't show in these reports. We're currently paying $310 for it monthly but that is going to change dramatically the end of this year and I'll be doing a post about it the nightmare that is our reality when we get a little closer to that time.
When we were getting ready to cruise, the sites that offered these figures were extremely helpful in our preparations so I hope that these will help someone else.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Reset ...

Car, tram, airplane, van, train, metro-link, bus, dink ... HOME!

For more than a month I lived alternating between four rooms, each roughly the same size and shape. The floors were smooth and carpeted and still, never once rippling to send light dancing in all directions. The walls were hard rectangles equally still. Except for a louvered hole here and there, no breeze flowed through them. Except for a window here and there, no light flowed through them either. No matter which way I turned the view extended a few feet and was stopped by a drab so dull as to be numbing. Looking up was even worse. Instead of sky and sun and an entire cosmos of stars laid out in a feast for the soul, there was only more drab. The sound was muted. The colors were muted. Even the temperature was muted.

Three of the rooms held a resident TV which was usually the only source of pretend movement. The TV didn't move of course, just the obviously 2D pictures that danced across the screen. They weren't pretty pictures either. It was hard to tell which was more insipid, trite, shallow, violent, and twisted, the news, the "shows", or the commercials. I finally decided it was a draw. "News" that has been thousands of years in the making got summed up in minutes by people who clearly had no clue. Not only did they sum it up, they were quick to suggest what it all "meant" and who should be blamed for it. TV shows from decades ago (a station called MeTV – don't bother) were openly racist, overwhelmingly sexist, and just as violent as the modern versions but lacking the special effects. At least the commercials were honest about being pure propaganda. Some were so blatantly BS that I swear the narrator / actor / pitchman was winking at the camera. It was almost as if he / she were saying, "We know nobody believes this crap, but they pay me big money to say it like I believe it, and you should see the size of my house".

Then, yesterday, I scrambled up the last of the eggs in the 'fridge, toasted the last English muffin, downed the last of the orange juice, and brewed some coffee in the last of the coffee filters. (It was actually the second pot through that filter. There was one less filter than there were days, so it got recycled to fuel my heading home.)

The car ride started at 1115, the dink bumped Kintala's starboard side right at 2200. It was dark. Thunderstorms flashed out to the east, northeast, and southeast. The bow swung back and forth, unable to decide which one was heading our way. I sat in the cockpit trying to get my bearings. Apparently us human beings calibrate our senses to fit the surroundings. Lightning on a horizon open in all directions, wind shifts and temperature changes, stars and a near full moon back-lighting a massive thunderhead and its ice-cap cloud, waves splintering the moonlight and sending it dancing in all directions. My room-dulled senses where being overwhelmed.

I didn't sleep much. The boat was uneasy, or I was. One of the storms finally found its way overhead. The sound of the wind hummed in the rigging, lightning flashed, thunder rolled; none of it was muted, none of it was dulled. This morning I stumbled my way through the morning routine sleep deprived and wishing I could take it easy. But we need to get heading north this week and there are tasks that must be done.

While others tended to shopping and laundry and taking care of kids, I humped 140 gallons of water to the boat in four trips. It is summertime in southern Florida. The sun fried my indoor pale skin. Muscles used to sitting for hours and challenged only by pushing wheelchairs down padded hallways, balked. Feet long laced up in shoes searched for purchase on a deck that wasn't as familiar as it should have been. Hands as soft as a CEO's pampered paws chafed at hoses and lines, cramped at the weight of water jugs. By the end of the day I was sore, tired, dehydrated, slightly ill, and maybe a bit touched by the heat.

But grand kids needed to go swimming and I couldn't bring myself to say "no". We beached the dingy on the island near the marina and I waded out into neck deep water keeping an eye on the little ones. The water was warm enough to ease sore muscles but still cool enough to leech the heat out of my core. The sun settled behind the next round of thunderstorms. Back on Kintala a cold shower washed away the salt and the last of the sting from my sunburned arms. Dinner was served and along with the chicken, rice, fruit, and corn were glasses of water and a cold drink. The kids went back to Floating Bear for the night. Deb and I settled into the cockpit for the rest of a quiet evening. Lightning danced on the western horizon. A near full moon rose to flood the flanks of the storms with a pure white light, but Kintala kept her bow pointing the other way. Not sure we will see any rain tonight. But unlike last night the place was familiar, comfortable, ...


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Nature Rules

Probably the biggest lesson you learn when you start cruising is that Nature Rules. Yesterday the kids had plans to get a lot of stuff done on their boat before dinner, and then Nature said, "Nah Uhhhh...."

The kids decided they'd rather ride that one out on a bit bigger boat since they had one available, and closed up their boat tight and headed over. Brian has been studying the weather since their transition to the boat and made the comment that it is so much more interesting to see it from the water since you can see so much farther and actually watch it develop. Earlier in the afternoon we could see the blow off from the top of the storm over our heads, even hours before the storm actually got here. it was clear it was going to be a big one.

After checking mooring line chafe guards, securing small items on deck, and clearing the propane lines, we sat under the dodger and watched as it approached. It turned out to be a non-event for us despite its threatening appearance, but some other people near us got hit hard. As you can see by our position marker in the radar pic, Miami has a way of breaking up approaching storms with its concrete island effect so we passed through the middle of two large cells relatively unscathed. You just never know which ones are going to hit you hard and which ones you'll escape, though, so each and every one requires careful preparation on the deck. As I've stated before in this blog, I firmly believe in the Black Box Theory so we always prepare as if each and every major storm is going to be the big one that can bite. And, since I've already had one person ask me why I do this, we turned our propane off at the tank and cleared our propane lines because it was forecast to be a big lightning event. After yesterday's trauma here in the mooring field I was pretty prickly on boat fires.

This morning dawned clear and calm, it's my birthday, and Tim is coming home so it promises to be a great day. Just a few minutes ago the crew of The Floating Bear paddled over in the dinghy named Eeyore and serenaded me with "Happy Birthday to You" and delivered some creative artwork done especially for me by the kids. I can honestly say I've never been serenaded from a dinghy before and I've never had a birthday gift delivered by one either. Even after all these years of living on a boat and nearly a year of cruising there are still firsts. It's what makes this life so interesting. Happy Day everyone!

Friday, June 13, 2014

One Last Hero . . .

The thing I came here to do is nearly done.  In about 48 hours I should be back on board Kintala and making plans to push north.  Its time to be on the move once again.

While it is long past time for me to be back among my own, I can't really begrudge the last six weeks, even if it did mean being back in a world I don't enjoy. Cars, traffic, noise, crowded buildings, TV, and along with the TV a snoot full of "news." I don't know if anyone else has noticed, but the world is kind of screwed up. The vast majority of the people in the news - world leaders, decision makers, and criminals of all types (some of them the aforementioned world leaders and decision makers) - are pathetically bad excuses for human beings. This is the best we can do? If so, it would seem the human race is bent on making its presence in the cosmos short, unpleasant, and utterly inconsequential. And I have come to accept as a brutal truth an idea I once held as a merely interesting observation: the more power one has, the less human one is. So far as I have seen there are no heroes on the world's stage, just the worst our kind has to offer doing all the harm they can manage.

But that has just been a side-bar observation to doing the thing I needed to do and, like I said, the thing I came here to do is nearly done. Part of winding things up has me joining my parents for their meals at the new home. Seating is arranged to encourage people to be part of the community and my parents share their table with the only other married couple in the place. At the table next to theirs a single woman has sat alone for every meal. That seemed a bit strange to me, so last night I pushed my chair back and met Mary.

Mary is a war widow. Yes, THAT war. As a newlywed she lost her young husband in the Battle of the Bulge. She never remarried. You can see why in the echo of the love that still shines in her eyes these seven decades after her loss. Her brother was killed in that war as well, though she didn't tell me exactly where or how.

Alone, Mary raised a daughter who never knew her father. She told me her story without a hint of self-pity or a single word of complaint.  In fact she smiled a lot, and laughed, and explained that she normally sat alone because many of the others are uncomfortable around her. Having spent some time with her, my guess is they are just worn down by her exuberance. I am 30+ years her junior and can usually hold my own when it comes to slinging words, but I was hard pressed to volley some of her serves.  Her court is no place for the timid or the shy.  And while I believe I held up the honor of telling sailor's tales well, I had no match for her life's story or the style with which she has lived it. Somehow, in a life marred with a hurt too deep for me to imagine, she found joy enough to share.

I'm going home soon, but I got the chance to meet one last hero before I do.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The one that DIDN'T get away

So it would seem that we have quite the budding fisherman aboard Kintala. Today Christopher was experimenting with chicken as bait because he doesn't like putting the "stinky shrimp" on the hook. Piece after piece of chicken was snatched by the little fish in less than 10 seconds. Tiring of feeding the little fish with no results, he decided to thread a whole chicken drumstick bone to the hook by the gristle and lower it to the bottom in hopes of catching a crab. Since I don't have a fishing license yet, I'm not allowed to help him fish in any way so I was enjoying the incredible moon rise on the horizon reflecting in the very nearly still water while I made sure he didn't fall off the boat. All of a sudden he said, "Dema my line is going under the boat and it's heavy. He wound the line up on his Cuban yo-yo and lo and behold there was a really decent sized Gray Snapper on the end. He landed the thing on deck and the grin on his face was a mile wide. After doing some research on the type and keep regulations, we discovered it was even more of a catch than we thought. The minimums for Gray Snapper are 10" and Christopher's was 13.5". Two hours later the fish had been converted to fillets for dinner tomorrow and a couple quarts of fish stock.

One of the best things about this lifestyle for me is the chance to make lasting memories like this. They are imprinted so much more dramatically than land-based life. Seriously, where else can you finish your dinner and take two steps to the lifelines and catch tomorrow's dinner, and all done with the view of the setting sun and rising moon on opposite horizons?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The one that got away

My grandson Christopher rode the Coconut Grove Circulator with me up to West Marine today so we could replenish the toilet chemicals, a totally uninteresting but very necessary errand which he accepted graciously. His reward was a bag of very smelly frozen shrimp for bait so he could fish for his dinner. In Florida kids under 16 can fish without a license, but adults are not permitted to help in any way unless they are licensed, which we are not, so he wrinkled up his nose and put the shrimp on the hook. A few minutes later the line tugged but the hook returned to the surface empty, thanks to the many crabs that dot the bottom of Biscayne Bay. The scenario repeated itself multiple times as the bait bag shrank when all of a sudden a tug was followed by some screams of delight and a fish that made it a-l-m-o-s-t to the deck before flipping off the hook. More toddler persistence and within a few minutes he'd landed another, his first fish ever caught. It was too small to be kept and, to be quite honest, I don't even know what kind of fish it is as it doesn't show up in my fish identification guide for Florida, but he's not to be deterred. A fisherman was born today, and I think Kintala was pretty happy to be the platform.

Monday, June 9, 2014


It's 8:20 and the sun just sank below the horizon a few minutes ago. A day's worth of jet ski wakes is finally settling to a leaden wallow, reflecting a thunderstorm's sun-backed edges in hot pink while, farther North, Miami's skyline begins to twinkle with the onset of the big city's nightlife. The boats around me are pointing haphazardly, their swing to the mooring ball a victim of the last boat to pass down the channel rather than the barest of whispers of wind that tease the flags in the mooring field. The evening is amazingly quiet though crickets can be heard from the island, their song broken only by the occasional sport bike honking on the throttle in the city. Then, in the distance, a crescendo of laughter and the gleeful voice of my two-year-old grandson as his papa plies the channel with the sad, gray, old dinghy they have come to name Eeyore. "Splash! Splash, Papa!" he shouts out, even though there isn't a single wave to grant his wishes.

The Floating Bear, yet to be renamed in an official renaming ceremony.

I watch them as they make their way out the channel to their boat, The Floating Bear. It will be their first night sleeping aboard, a kind of test run to see if any changes need to be made for more permanent living before Grampy T arrives on Saturday. All is very quiet on Kintala this evening but I can hear the kids bantering and the content voices of their parents as they settle in for their first night in their new home. Soon the laughter dies down and the crickets once again dominate. Life is good.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Counting down …

I have been away from home for what feels like a very, very long time. In actuality it has only been thirty days as of today, and there are only eight more to go. While I have been away from home for what seems like a lifetime, Daughter Eldest and her family have been at their new boat home, “Floating Bear”, for what I would guess feels like a very short time. The quantum mechanics folks are onto something, time really is a very weird thing.

Floating Bear is on a mooring ball next to Kintala, which has been the actual “home” for all involved for the last few weeks. Floating Bear, like every boat I have ever heard of, was sold as a “good boat ready to sail” and discovered to be a “man this thing needs a lot of work” boat instead. All who have ever trod this path learned that it is tons easier to work on a boat that is not one's living space at the same time. So Kintala became the default support vessel, crew rest area, parts supplier, and work shop for Floating Bear.  

A couple of days before my return Floating Bear will take on the task of being an actual home, not just a potential one.  Her new crew will move aboard, take up residence, and start figuring out how to live on this thing.  A few days after my return our mini-flotilla will head north.

Then the fun will really begin.

I have mentioned before that living on a boat full time is a far, far different thing than living on a boat for weekends. And that living on a boat full time that is under way is an ever further thing from living on a boat in a marina or on a mooring. Floating Bear will go from project to home to being an adventure, just like every full time, live aboard, cruising boat ever has. The crew of Floating Bear has jumped into the deep end of the ocean, feet first, assuming they can learn how to swim.  It is a pretty bold thing they have done.

I just wanted them to know how proud I am to be “Grampy T” to such a crew, and that I can hardly wait to see them again.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Making Do

One of the things you hear spoken by cruisers the most is how all things on a boat are a compromise. There is truly no perfect cruising boat, and finding the boat you want to cruise in involves compromising on the list of features that you've dreamed of. In our case the one major thing we compromised on was the fact that we wanted a head in the aft portion of the boat, just by the companionway, a shorter walk in wet foulies and a convenient place to hang those when coming off watch. Kintala's one head is just aft of the V-berth and can be a challenge in steep seas.

Learning to compromise, or make do, is a valuable skill for cruising in many ways, not just in choosing a boat. I've found that the ability to roll with it, to be flexible, to find substitutes, are all skills called for multiple times a day. Never has this become more evident than in the last two weeks with toddlers living in the constrained space that is Kintala's cabins. Take two retired people who, for the last two months, have leisurely sipped coffee in the cockpit until late morning and eaten dinner in the same cockpit while enjoying the setting sun (with many leisurely hours of reading in between), add two very energetic toddlers, and clearly compromise is the order of the day.

In our society of instant gratification, "making do" has earned a very negative connotation. We seldom have to wait more than a few minutes for whatever it is we desire - cash from the ATM, movies on demand, news on the internet, digital photography, research through Google, banking online. Just taking a stroll down the cereal aisle of your local supermarket will yield literally hundreds of types of cereal in multiple brands. We want it the way we want it. Exactly. We want it now. Compromise is as foreign to us as the countries we may wish to visit some day.

It seems many of the cruisers we see struggling have failed to master this skill. We've seen both husbands and wives living in worlds of self-gratification to the detriment of their spouse's happiness. Facebook group posts are rife with the rants of disappointed cruisers, and cruising forums bring out the very worst of edgy bitterness.

I had this lesson brought home to me this past week when the knob to my oven broke. It was badly corroded due to the neglect and misuse of previous owners and can't be repaired since the manufacturer has been out of business for 15 years. We will eventually need to do something to either fix it ourselves or to replace it, but this past week we've been practicing compromise. Instead of baking bread in the oven I've become a fairly proficient pressure cooker bread baker. It's a skill I've wanted to master for some time but I just could never get motivated to do so when I had a perfectly good oven. It occurred to me that sometimes these hardships are a good thing. We are pushed to learn and to grow, we dust off that seldom used skill of critical thinking, our creativity gets a good burst of new energy, and we get to enjoy a feeling of accomplishment that previously only MacGyver was privy to.

Now if somebody could just figure out how to teach this to a toddler...

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Tribes and communities ...

We human beings are tribal animals. Sometimes that is a bad thing, leading to a destructive world view of "us" vs "them."  Mostly it is just part of who we are, helping us find a place that fits, setting up the rules of engagement, sorting out who is supposed to do what.  We like to imagine we are intelligent creatures, but when it comes to tribal life most of what we do is instinct, bred so deep into our DNA that we don't even notice.

In a simple society, a person belongs to a single tribe.  As society gets more complex, any one person becomes a member of overlapping tribes. There are the tribes of work, of home, of church, of the voting booth. There are tribes of pro-this or anti-that, tribes based on skin color, body shape, and chosen method of transportation. Then there are tribes within the tribes: bikers are also sport-bikers or Harley riders, dirt-bikers or those with an Iron Butt. Sometimes these tribes are at cross-purposes. My guess is that a lot of the stress land dwellers know comes from trying to sort out the conflicting demands of the different tribes they call their own.

The cruising community, by its very nature, bucks this trend. The tribe of home is left behind, as is that of work, and of church. This is not to suggest cruisers are a tribe of heathens, but going to the same building with the same people once or twice a week gets a bit difficult when this Sunday finds one in one country, the next in a different country. (Though some of us are, indeed, heathens.) Most human tribes have given up wandering as a life style, the main reason ours is so different.

We do have our stink or stick boaters. But the truth is most live-a-board long term wanderers fly canvas when they can. And many of the tug and trawler crowd flew canvas once upon a time, so the tribal lines are blurred. (Jet skiers need not apply, unless they pull the jet ski behind a boat, not a pick-up truck.) In any case, joining the tribe of cruisers means leaving many other tribes behind.

For weeks now I have been in this place doing this thing I need to do. I expected it to be a long, sad, somewhat lonely sojourn far from my own tribe. Instead, I found myself part of a completely unexpected, and unsuspected tribe. Tonight, as I was waiting for the elevator, I noticed Grandma and Helen. Grandma speaks okay, but her conversations come from places far away in distance and time. A series of strokes left Helen unable to talk. She makes noises and waves her one good hand. Their wheelchairs were rafted up starboard side to. They were holding hands, clearly communicating; two friends far out to sea, helping each other along. A month ago I would not have noticed what was happening, but I am part of their tribe now. Grandma stops me in the hall to tell me Mom is going to be alright. Helen never fails to notice when I walk by, and I never fail to notice her. Somehow I know her noises and hand waving mean "Hi."

Molly is getting ready to leave the rehab center and move to a nursing home, having mostly overcome the paralysis caused by a stroke. Her boyfriend, Joe, will move with her. They have been together for a long time, and will finish their journey that way as well. I know this because Molly shares a table with Mom for lunch, and we have become friends. Mary has lost parts of both legs to diabetes. She spends much of each day in her chair, wheeling slowly up and down the hall checking things out, stopping to watch, often talking with others in a slow and labored voice. She always stops to talk with me. I always stop to listen. Where a month ago I saw people aimlessly wondering a hallway now, most often, I recognize a person looking for the doorway of a friend.

John once played in the Sugar Bowl. Now he works his legs from a wheelchair, laughing and cracking jokes that, sometimes, only he understands. He is usually in a better mood than is his therapist, which is pretty damned astounding, if you ask me.

All is not sweetness and light. The end of life is the hardest, most harrowing journey of all. Fear is a part of it, as is anger, resentment, and many, many tears. Often the members of this tribe live day-to-day, face-to-face, with a reality the rest of us spend a lifetime trying to ignore. For most this is their one, and last, tribe. But it is a human tribe, perhaps the most human I have ever seen.

I am going to miss these people when I leave. Still, this tribe lives in a hard place of walls and meds and near constant pain. For some of them it is a trial just to get outside, to see the sky without glass in the way, to feel a breeze that isn't coming out of a vent. And in spite of the walls, the seat belts on their chairs, the bars everywhere to keep the standing from falling, the call buttons, and the vigilance of the good folks who oversee this tribe, they sense they are far from safe. This most human of tribes knows a constant danger lurks. They do what they can to face it together

I will hold the time they accepted me into their tribe as a gift, a chance to learn some things I would never have otherwise learned. But I long to be home, back with the tribe of the open sea. I am not brave enough, or tough enough, to be a true member of this tribe yet.

But they have taught me to be human enough.