Wednesday, January 28, 2015

One Half Magic …

… is so much better than no magic. We know people who have magic boats. Sitting quietly at anchor or on the mooring they suck all the energy they need directly out of the passing light of the sun or the gently moving currents of Mother Earth's atmosphere. It is all very cool and futuristic.

4:00 in the afternoon, sun almost down, still 4.8 amps going in!
Kintala makes her magic the old fashioned, internal combustion, way. Kind of stone aged, but it keeps the lights on. Or she did, right up until 1211 this afternoon. At 1211 a breaker was closed that allowed 200 watts worth of magic to flow. Two-hundred watts is probably not enough to carry the boat without an occasional jolt of internal combustion juice, but one half the magic is still pretty amazing. Truth to tell I wanted to just sit and stare at the amp meter for a while, mostly to convince myself that this project is finally done. I'm not sure what it was about the solar panel install that made it such a relentless grind. The salon table took much longer and was much more work. Rudder repair, keel joint repair, wind vane install, work bench / tool storage, not to mention the original blowed-up V-drive disaster; there have been so many serious projects that one would think something like installing solar panels is just another in a long line. But it wasn't. The solar panels were tied up with the summer of The Bear. The Bear crossed time lines with the Thing in PA. Somewhere in my subconscious little brain this project was more of the same, another bruising bit there was no avoiding.

At 1211 this afternoon it felt like 50 pounds slipped from my shoulders and disappeared into the bay. The sun shown brighter (On newly installed solar panels!), the air was cleaner, the wind blew gently, and the boat rode easy. For the first time in weeks, maybe months, maybe many months, life feels like life fits again.

With the solar panels doing their thing, Old Friend Alex of Yacht-a-Fun (newly met just today) offered a ride to the LPG tanks topped. Routine. But it is something one must do when getting ready to head to the Islands. Indeed, the only thing standing between Kintala and Island Places East Of Here is some provisioning and a weather window. It feels like we have caught up with the tribe, taken our place with the others “waiting to cross”.

Kintala's electrical system may be just half magic now, and maybe she is carrying just a half store of cruising magic. After all, the magic is mysterious stuff, impossible to measure, and doesn't often hang around long. But it has been a while since the crew of Kintala has felt its touch at all, so tonight is a good, good night.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


In our 43 years together we've experienced many departures. As pilots, we're very experienced with the term, a term that requires a huge amount of work in trip planning, weather planning, traffic avoidance. We've done too many of those kind of departures to even count. Then there's the departures from the multiple places we've called home over the years, also aviation-related since they always involved job changes in the ever-so-fluctuating aviation job market. Then there's the infamous departures related to our move onto the boat - leaving Boulder Marina, leaving Carlyle Lake, leaving Oak Harbor and leaving the U.S. But by far, the hardest are the departures from family and friends.

Some can't do it. Some find after a bit of cruising that they just can't tolerate the goodbyes, and they call it quits. It's maybe the most frequent question directed at me, that of how I can say goodbye to grandbabies that will be almost unrecognizable the next time I see them. It's a tough and justifiable question, and one I have a hard time helping people to understand.

For 38 years I gave nearly all of my available time and most of my money to my children and their children. It was a good run and my life is the richer for it by immeasurable amounts. But my children have their own lives, carved from their desires and, hopefully, from the opportunities we made available to them. They need the time to grow their families and shape their adult lives, lives that I am an inherent part of, but not the whole any longer. Cruising is my chance to spend some time making my life richer and more meaningful, crafting stories and memories to share with my grandkids, and finding opportunities to share this deeply satisfying lifestyle with them. It's a chance for me to be both more relevant and intentional in my living, a chance to stand true to my beliefs about society and our integration into it.

While some goodbyes are surely permanent and will leave a hole in our hearts, we view most cruising goodbyes as temporary. We visit family and friends and Skype or Facetime beckons for those in-between fixes. We have sundowners in the cockpit and share meals with good cruising friends and weeks, months, or years later we run into them. With the interconnectedness of the cruising community, there is always this feeling of belonging. If you participate, you are always part of that whole.

This morning our good friends Bill and Tricia of Island Bound departed for places South. Since they were on a mooring ball right behind us, we had the opportunity to spend some quality time with them, to get to know these long time blog followers personally, to share some food and drink over sunsets. Next to them, blog followers Alex and Diann of Yacht-a-Fun are moored who we have yet to meet in person due to family travails. Behind us a few mooring balls are Paul and Deb of Kelly Nicole and over two are Keith and Katrina of Happy Dance. These are the type of friendships that you just don't say, "Goodbye" to. "Seeya later" was the sendoff of choice because, whether we actually ever do or not, these good folks will be such an integral part of our cruising community that we will actually see them in the face of every new cruiser we meet.

Goodbye? No. Fair Winds guys, and Following Seas. See you soon.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Liberty Ships

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Between 1941 and 1945, 2710 Liberty Ships were built to haul combatants and supplies to the battle fields of WWII. Those ships must have made up a large percentage of the guesstimated 1,768 Merchant Ships lost to war conditions. There appear to be no accurate records of Merchant mariners lost, but another guesstimate ranges toward 10,000. Mass produced, pressed hard in service, with an expected useful life of just five years, nothing about the Liberty ships hinted at glory or glitz. Theirs was a theater of unrelenting hard work and terrible risk offered in the service of their namesake … Liberty.

I sometimes think of Kintala as a kind of liberty ship. She doesn't carry the honor of service and sacrifice those sailing the stormy waters of a World War earned, but she does offer her crew a taste of personal liberty that is increasingly rare in this world. Sundowners and conversations shared with multiple fellow cruisers since we abandoned land living suggests I am not the only one who looks at my little floating home this way. We, as a tribe, take our liberty seriously. It is the thing most attractive about our little gypsy band.

Sometimes though, during amazing and enjoyable conversations, it seems that, as good as we are at living a liberated life, we are less good at recognizing what lies behind this life. The common idea seems to be that liberty is something we grasp and hold onto, by and for ourselves. An idea that plays well with the rugged individualist, Master of our Fate, ethos of America. But that isn't really true, and thinking that it is can put liberty at risk.

Liberty isn't a condition that we make for ourselves, it is a gift we accept from a community. It is, in fact, a rare and precious gift rarely offered in human history, and is only available to those who live in a society that cherishes the idea of personal liberty. Only in such a society are people protected from the power of the elite, of religion, of land owners and overlords. Only a society that actively and strenuously protects the civil liberties of all can offer the gift of liberty to any. No individual can wrest liberty from the mob, the crowd, the tyrant, or the oppressor. The lone “free spirit” is only as free as the community he or she lives in will allow.

Only in such a community can the gift of liberty be offered. Each individual is responsible for accepting that gift, unwrapping it and applying it to living as each sees fit. It is a gift we offer to each other. I can accept the gift of liberty offered to me by the whole. I can be part of the whole that offers the gift to you. But I can't offer it to myself, by myself. Liberty is a community thing. It is, at the risk of goring some oxes, a gift offered exclusively by enlightened, progressive, liberal societies that cherish the idea of civil rights being protected for all and offered to all.

When any society, group, or tribe abandons that responsibility, when people neglect to protect the liberty of their neighbors, the gift is lost for all. It is the scourge of this modern world. Here in America, mass media and our political elite have propagandized liberty, defining it as my right to tell you how to live, how to love, who to worship. Liberty is confined to allowing one to add as much as possible to some corporate bottom line, free only to consume as much as one can. A large part of the rest of the world has dismissed liberty as being of any value at all. Toeing the community line, be it religion, ruling party, or commercial interests, is the only consideration. (As in America, those three interests are often wrapped into a single, crushing, weight.)

The cruising community lives in quiet protest to the death of liberty, holds on to the gift, offers it to any who chose to come this way. Each of us goes our own way when and how we see fit. Some are world travelers, though there are parts of the world they can't go because the gift is not offered. Some, like the crew of Kintala, don't stray as far. But near or far we husband the gift for others, sharing information and skills and support so others of our tribe can continue on their way, when and how they see fit. And they husband the gift for us. It is a shared responsibility and, in a world increasingly hostile to the very idea of living unencumbered, light footed, and considerate of the world around us and the people in it, we are doing a pretty good job of holding on.

I think those who crewed the original Liberty Ships would be proud of what we have done with the gift they labored and sacrificed to protect.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Bear floats away ...

The Floating Bear has found a new home. Daughter Eldest and Family did all they could to find their way back to a life on the water, but it just isn't to be … for now. Regardless of what their future might hold, the idea of The Bear sitting alone on the mooring doing a slow decline to “abandoned boat” status, was too sad. The Bear deserved better and Daughter Eldest figured out how to make that happen. So today Deb and I helped the new owner find his way around the boat.

He is a young licensed Captain who works here in Dinner Key, and The Bear is his first boat. He went out of his way to help Daughter Eldest and Family the months they lived here and is a good friend of the clan. All said and done the Family can face a future that does not include the constant financial drain of owning a boat, and a young Captain has his own piece of life on the water. Not the desired outcome, but not a bad one either. The next time you are sitting in the cockpit, sundowner glass cold in hand, have a good thought for The Bear and her Captains, both old and new. May they all find the wind at their backs and following seas.

Living on the water has taught me that we are much more like flotsam and much less “The Captain of My Fate” than we, particularly us strutting Americans, like to admit. Daughter Eldest and Family are safe and warm while awaiting the arrival of Grand Child Newest sometime in May. The Bear is in the hands of an enthusiastic new owner. All is well with the world. Except I'm not there yet. For me a lingering sense of failure surrounds the Saga of The Floating Bear. By any rationale I can manage, two parts of my family have taken nothing short of a massive flogging. Floggings that, no matter how many insist otherwise, happened on my watch. My best efforts only managed to make things worse. When the family needed at least a marginally competent Captain, I managed flotsam. The Universe was playing Master Level Chess. I came to the board sucking my thumb and clutching my Blankie.

Still, there is a thing about flotsam that most of us miss. Regardless of how rough the sea, flotsam just keeps on floating. Towering waves? No matter. Giant breakers rolling massive ships on their ear? Passes almost unnoticed. Sink a bit of flotsam deep as you like, it pops to the surface ready to go on as far as the wind blows or current runs. Indeed, flotsam goes on long after the Captain has met his match and taken up residence in Mr. Jones' Water Side Hotel.

I doubt I'll ever be flotsam enough to shrug The Bear off completely. There will always be this nagging feeling that I got that one wrong. But maybe I'll be flotsam enough to keep going anyway.

Saturday, January 17, 2015


LBC (Life Before Cruising) meant very little free time. Tim and I both worked. A lot. When we were home, our time was filled with tending to the business of life outside of work - cooking, cleaning, laundry, yard work, vehicle work, and the endless list of errands that accompany land life. It also meant that we had very little time for friends. It's a good thing that we happened to be best friends because we didn't spend much time with anybody else.

LAC (Life After Cruising) has been another story. We've met more people in the 18 months since we pulled out of our home slip than we had met in the 20 years prior. Maybe it's because we have more time to spend in the quality kind of discussion that builds relationships. Maybe it's because that discussion is not hampered by scattered concentration that is thinking about the million things that need done before the next work day. Maybe it's because we all share the same love of the water and of this unique lifestyle, a common ground of experience that paves the way for easy friendship. Whatever the reason, we're endlessly grateful for the many deep friendships we've forged around our life of cruising.

We got to spend the evening on Kelly Nicole, our good friends Paul and Deb's Morgan 44 Center Cockpit, telling stories and talking about their impending departure for places South. They will likely beat  us out of here and, since they are heading to the deep reaches of the Caribbean and we are not, we will likely not see them again for some time. It was a good evening filled with excellent food and lots of laughter and as we climbed into the dinghy I realized that even if we don't see them for a couple years, when we are again reunited, we will pick up right where we left off. It is the way of Cruisers, and one of the things I most cherish about this lifestyle, this sense of belonging to a group of like-minded souls who really care. As tired as the song is, I still keep humming this bit of the Cheers theme:

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
And they're always glad you came;
You want to be where you can see,
Our troubles are all the same;
You want to be where everybody knows your name. 


Friday, January 16, 2015

Taking it easy ...

The plan for today was to ease back into life on the boat. Deb is still sore from having America's health care system prove to itself that she did not have a life-threatening disease. I am suffering from the post-daughter-post-grand kid visit blues. I admit to being more suited to life on the water than with the steady drum of a house full of children quickly overwhelming my senses. That doesn't mean that being far away from them doesn't make the heart hurt. It will take me a few days to remember the smiles without remembering the good-byes. In any case, the goals for today were pretty modest: get the dink leak fixed, launch it and get the motor running and, maybe, do a little more clean-up work in the inside of our little floating home. 

 (Ed Note: The dink leak deserves a special comment. When you have water working its way into your inflatable, don't automatically assume it's a leak in the body of the dinghy. If you have one of those drains in the transom that swivels open and closed, take it apart and replace the diaphragm. The diaphragms on them are incredibly flimsy and tear easily. It's worth a couple bucks and 10 minutes of your time.

I am on record as having nothing good to say about the little Merc outboard that shoves the dink on its way. It has been a constant pain since we first brought it into the family. It has never responded well to sitting and now it has been sitting for a month, untended, unused, and unloved. No telling what kind of fit it would throw at being called back into service. Anticipating the worst I turned on the fuel, eased though four pulls with the ignition off just to limber things up, set the choke to full, took a breath, and gave the cord one more genteel yank. The Merc fired up and settled into an easy idle like it had been running all day. I'll be a son of a skeptic, one freaking pull! No one can ask more of an outboard than that it start up first pull and run like a top.

Feeling pretty good about the world, our reworked Bimini frame caught my eye. We hurried to get the solar panels mounted before heading to cold country, and some of the support tubes I added were just wrong; odd angles, weird aesthetics, funky looking … wrong. Gazing at them in the glow of Merc magic the fix to making them right was obvious. Even more surprising, it actually worked out mostly as envisioned. The only down side was working in stainless. Tubes needed re-cut, a task plus when one is hacking up a lung while cutting with a hack saw.  Also, I don't much care for the Allen head lock screws that are supposed to hold the tubes in place. They are okay so long as the loads are all in compression, but under tension? Under tension I am much happier to see blind rivets instead. That way, pretty much no matter how hard the wind blows, tubes can not be pulled out of fittings, thus letting the Bimimi flap its way into the wild blue. But that means drilling stainless steel tubes and installing stainless steel blind rivets, neither of which is particularly easy when one is working with hand tools in the small cockpit of a cruising boat. (Wood workers have no idea how good they have it when it comes cutting, drilling, and fastening.) Though the job was pretty “easy” it still took the better part of six hours, with wrist and arms now complaining about wrestling steel all day.

Deb, being barely a week out of surgery, was going to take it even easier today. A small load of dishes needed done which is a pretty easy job, so long as the drain actually drains. Kintala's didn't. Deb, knowing that I was elbow deep in steel bits, just dove in and started taking the drains apart. The first I knew about it is when she came up the companionway ladder to show me a drain line completely blocked with some evil looking, vile smelling …. something. A couple of hours later she had the drains fixed and the dishes done, finishing up about the same time I was putting the last rivet in place. So, tonight, Kintala's Bimini frame is much improved, her sink drains are much improved, her dishes are clean, and her crew – in spite of being a bit worse for the wear – is pretty much back into the swing of all things cruiser.

Tomorrow we are going to take it easy. I may even get back to estudiando un poco de espaƱol.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Home is …

... where a body can thump around the deck barefoot, on Jan 15, without having toes freeze off and fall into the water.

... where the funky aroma of boat greets the nose as the hatch slides back, leading to a couple of hours of mold patrol even before the bags get unpacked.

... where one tosses the dink in the water, not to get back off the boat, but just to clear the forward hatch so it can be be fully opened, the inflow of salt air pushing some of the funk out the companionway.

... where the tiny solar panel keeps the batteries near full charge and the generator, brought to bear for the first time in near a month, runs just off idle even with the 'fridge working hard to make cold again.

... where Biscayne bay lays quiet, giving a pair of returning sailors a chance to regain the use of their sea legs.

Our neighbor's boat from the cockpit
Daughter Youngest dropped us at the airport at O-Dark-Thirty where the final “good-by” lingered. Just after sunrise, Southwest Flight 288 rolled onto runway 30L, spun up the turbines and turned thousands of pounds of refined dinosaur juice into thunder and thrust. Before half the day was gone the flight crew dropped the jet gently onto 27R at FLL. Friends Bill and Ann provided the ride past the store and back to the marina, then fired up their dink to haul me and a pile of stuff out to the mooring field. Deb followed a few minutes later, taking the shuttle after checking in at the office and picking up packages and mail.

Once aboard we found a box of cookies and a bag of coffee sitting on the nav station, beside a note welcoming us home. By evening we were sitting in the cockpit watching the lights of Miami wink on as the sun faded out. The transition from winter in St. Louis to Kintala in southern Florida is a jarring one.

Tomorrow we will pick up where we left off, try to settle into a routine once again. I want to get back to working on Spanish, getting a bit more exercise, and getting Kintala that much closer to being the boat we want her to be. We made it back, but the visit north looks to make for a serious heading change. Plans for “next” are completely undetermined, but coasting easily into the sunset is no longer among them. Perhaps it was unreasonable to ever think that is was.

No matter. We stand on a deck once again, not a floor. Forward is the bow. Ports and hatches open to let in the air and the sunshine. Land is a few hundred yards away. Gulls and pelicans fly overhead. Dinner was in the cockpit and soon the v-berth will rock us gently to sleep.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Figure it out ...

Deb has let spill part of the tale of our Holiday trip to the center of winter's abode. There is nothing like ice and snow and sub-zero temperatures when one has been living in the sub-tropics for more than a year. (Note to self, schedule visits North in spring or fall, Christmas notwithstanding.) There is nothing quite like starting the year with a cancer scare, a migraine, and the worst cold / respiratory infection I can remember. And there is nothing like taking a second, or third – depending on how you count – major financial hit since starting this cruising life. We are now pretty deeply into the land of, “What do we do now?”

I have been hit by a truck and can say with some authority that these past few weeks have not been as bad as that experience. But they have been close.

Yet sitting next to me as I hash out the first draft of this post sits Grand Child 7, two years old and talking up a storm. We are going over the puzzle assembled earlier, pointing out ducks and sheep, cows and horses. He has learned the new word “silo”, but the tractor is still his favorite part of the picture. Earlier we assembled blocks, and before that he lured me off the couch and onto the floor so we could wrestle. Believe it or not he always manages to pin me after a bit of tussle, sometimes with the help of his brother.

We have spent time with Daughters Middle and Youngest, both doing all they can to make the last few days as easy as possible while waiting to see what turn life might be taking. We have gotten to know the Grand Parents of one of our Grand Children much better. Indeed, they offered their home as a quiet, fireplace-warmed port in a storm. One where Deb could rest for a couple of days after surgery. Bare acquaintances before, they have become friends to whom we are deeply indebted for their kindness. Others offered their homes as well, since it would have been hard to keep the Grandchildren (5) of Daughter Middle's home from jumping all over DeMa as soon as she walked in the door from the hospital.  Though we long to be home, the weeks added to our stay turned out to be all for the good.

We may yet catch up with a couple of friends dearly missed these past months, and have even latched onto a Realtor who is pretty sure he can sell our place come June, for a good price and in less than 60 days. I don't know if he can do it, but he sure thinks he can. Someone looking at our past month though eyes other than Deb's or mine, would see a remarkable human story. Hell, even Southwest Airlines got into the act, rescheduling our flight home a couple of times as medical needs dictated, and doing so with a minimum of fuss or hassle. (Take that Santa Clause!) And while we have been working our way through all this Kintala has been under the watchful eye of friends moored nearby. One less thing to worry about so, THANKS GUYS! When we get home sundowners will be on Kintala, and we can all talk of plans to head to the Islands.

Still …

… it looks like we will start our second year out beat up, scarred, sick, and limping. The cold of the ICW, engine failure in Oriental, the PA Thing, the summer of the Bear, and this past two weeks of dealing with the most expensive health care system on the planet, have added up to the hardest run we have faced since ... well ... since I got hit by a truck the first time around. Only two on that list were not the direct result of moving onto the boat, and those were much harder to handle from a floating base than they would have been from a fixed one. At the moment it feels like going forward isn't so much determination or choice as it is just force of habit. We live on a boat. Tomorrow is another day. Figure it out.

That is, after all, what life boils down to, figuring it out. How to live the life we want. How to see the things we want to see. How to face the things we have no control over which, as it turns out, is most of them. And how to look back and say, "That was a life well lived."

First though, is a couple of more days with wrestling matches, block buildings, and puzzles.  We are doing okay.

Friday, January 9, 2015

To the brink and back

It's been pretty quiet here on The Retirement Project at a time when it should have been bustling with news of final boat projects and waiting on weather windows to cross to the Bahamas. So in case you've been missing us, we've been busy, just not with Kintala.

A month ago we arrived at the airport in St. Louis for what we thought was going to be a two week visit with grand babies. Since St. Louis is sort of our home base and our daughter does our mail and banking, we've kept our doctors here. So the day after we arrived I trudged off to St. Luke's Hospital to have my routine mammogram. Only it wasn't. Routine, that is. Hiding amongst my normal breast tissue was a small lesion. While the radiologist said that there was a good chance it was benign, he wanted to be sure. Me too.

After explaining to the radiologist that I live on a boat and that I was getting ready to head to the Bahamas where medical care was likely to be scarce, he made a few phone calls and was able to get me in immediately for a biopsy. I had the biopsy and waited the four days for the results. They were inconclusive, which meant a more detailed biopsy under general anesthesia in surgery. Wednesday was a very long day of prep and outpatient surgery. And waiting. More waiting. Today I got the phone call with the news that I wanted to hear. The lesion was benign and I'm clear to go back to the boat.

Living on a boat has done many things for us, but maybe the most profound thing I've learned is that any illusion we have that we control our lives is just that, an illusion. Every day you live on a boat you realize that Mother Nature rules. She rules our environment, she rules our bodies, and learning to live in harmony with her is paramount to happiness. So as we regale you with our "plans", remember that they are as fragile as the shoreline in a hurricane. We make them because we need some frame of reference for our forward movement, but the reality of it is that very few of our plans have actually come to pass since we left to go full time cruising. Being flexible, fluid, and adaptable is the only way to flourish in this lifestyle.

Thursday we hop on a plane to return to Miami to finish our last few projects and catch a weather window to the Islands for what we hope is finally, finally a break. If Mother Nature agrees.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Ice Cream home run …

Or is it touchdown this time of the year? Not sure. Don't care. But you know you have scored big in the ice cream department when, on a cold, rainy, gray, winter-time day in St. Louis, the ice cream shop is filled to capacity with the line stretching clear to the door. And just a short walk from Daughter Middle's house.

Photo courtesy of

The four adults bundled up the five grand kids and headed off down the block, not even sure the shop would be open on a day like this. The timing was right and we got in just before the afternoon rush. Why would an ice cream shop be doing such a bang-up business on January the third in the middle of snow country? Simple, because Ices Plain and Fancy serves about the best ice cream I've ever scooped up with a spoon. They make it right in front of you, using liquid nitrogen to chill the mixture in seconds while it gets whipped in the bowl. Cold smoke flows out of the bowl and over the counter aa the flavored cream is whipped, which is a pretty fun effect that will thrill grand kids to no end.  It also makes for a smooth, flavorful concoction perfect for waffle cones, which are made on sight fresh each day. I had Cherry Cordial, the best I've ever tasted. Deb had Butter Pecan, the best she's ever tasted. Two of the grand kids had Mint Chocolate Chip. Two others had Rocky Road. The fifth stayed nestled close to Mom being, at five weeks, a bit young for ice cream.

If someone builds a shop like this one in the Abacos somewhere, it would be hard to find a reason to be anywhere else.

With any luck we will be back on the boat soon. And soon after that heading east. The Abacos are calling, even if they do lack the best ice cream shop in the world.