Saturday, June 27, 2015

A day in the rain

 Saturday, and it is supposed to rain all day. Normally that would prompt a touch of the blues, maybe a groan or two, from the deck monkey of Kintala. Rain will forestall outside work. Lack of parts has inside work stopped as well. We don't own a car for getting parts, and there is nowhere nearby to walk to for shopping, loafing, or eating ice cream. Oak Harbor is a great marina / boatyard, but it isn't like other marinas I have known. At our lake Carlyle sailing home of Boulder, weekends are when the clan gathers for fun, sailing, and parties. But a boatyard closes down for the weekends, and there are very few weekend sailors that hang around here. Here, the Wednesday night race series is the social focal point; weekends this place is like a ghost town. A ghost town in the rain, with very few people around, no club house, and no place else to go. We are sitting on the hard, surrounded by wet sand that gets tracked everywhere, not a palm tree, beach, or dolphin in sight. Not exactly living large on a yacht.

Daughters and families are far away. Our resent visit still fresh in my mind, the distance still a little heavy on my heart. Yet with all that I am a contented camper. There will be no real work accomplished today, no project to start, struggle with, or finish up. There will see some reading done, some writing, and I have already watched the cracking MotoGP race that was run early this morning (East Coast Time) at the Motul TT Assen.

Back in my old life a day off usually meant a day spent being very busy doing other stuff. The good news was that days off came on a regular bases, and we always kept track of when they were nigh. In this life, days off are rare. Not that big of a surprise since we often don't know what day it is. Not what day of the week, not what day of the month, sometimes we are not particularly positive just what month it is. Virtually every day something needs done on the boat. Weather and equipment failures can, and often do, change a restful day into a busy one, and a busy day into very hectic one indeed. Days under way fall into their very own category of existence, having nothing in common with everyday land living's categories of busy or bored, rested or exhausted, even well fed or hungry.

So today is a day in the rain, with nothing much to do, and that is going to be just fine with me.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The value of a thing

I take it as a given that people are generally undervalued, and things generally over valued. It is hard to tell when or where such an insidious inversion of value gets started, but there is evidence of it all around. It starts early. A child breaks a dish or spills a glass. The next thing that often happens is they get disciplined as if they did something wrong. A harsh word, a bit of yelling, maybe something more. At that moment the “thing” has more value than the kid.

Relationships are often sacrificed to things, people simply refusing to let go of something they hold dear, even at the cost of harming another. All of us have been victims. All of us have been perpetrators.

Often, the longer we hold onto a thing, the more value we think it has. In our minds the thing gets filled with history, memories, and emotions. It has become a talisman, its value far surpassing any original price tag. Usually being attached to such a talisman is harmless, filling the background of a life with fondness and a subtle joy. Items like a grandfather's pocket knife or a mother's wedding ring become something that could never be sold, partly because no one would ever meet the asking price. It is good that most such talismans are small and portable. They get left behind only when we shuffle off to whatever comes “after”. The next generation gets to struggle over the value.

Sometimes items bigger, less portable, and less worthy also become talismans. Items like houses, cars, and furniture. Items that cruisers often need to leave behind. Items whose selling price will help fund the kitty. And items that often seem much more valuable to the those doing the selling than to anyone who might be buying.

Deb and I sold just about everything we had to make it to this cruising life. The three big items were the house, the Z-car, and the motorcycle. There were smaller items sold as well, riding gear, tools, bits of this, pieces of that. We would have sold more of those kinds of things but we ran out of time. Selling things is labor intensive so, if you are heading this way, start selling early. It will take much longer than you think and, if our experience is indicative of “normal”, you will get far less than you believe the things are worth. It can be discouraging, discovering the things we value have less value than we thought.

But the truth is that meaning has value. Memories have value. Experiences have value. The best any thing can do is reflect the value of the meaning it helps one discover, the memories it helps one form, or the experiences it allows one to have. After those tasks are done, the thing has no value at all.

Getting close to home

After a bit more than a month, followed by a two day road trip with Friends Nancy and David, Kintala and her crew are reunited. We are not quite home, not yet. Our Tartan still sits on the hard. We will not be truly home until she is floating once again. But there are boats all around us and water that leads to the ocean is within sight. We are close. After the week that has passed being close is better than being far away.

Deb and I were in Charleston just a couple of months ago and enjoyed a walking tour of the historic downtown district. The area was full of families holding little hands or pushing strollers. Grandparents walked with grand kids, Dads carried babies in back backs, and Moms fussed over hats and sunscreen. There were Black faces, White faces, Asian Faces, hijabs, yarmulkes, dastars, and cowboy hats. The Waterfront Park was graced with a wedding party and filled with languages from all over the world. At one point we were within sight of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. None suspected the outrage of hate and evil that was lurking so close in space and time. Just a few blocks. Just a few weeks.

Nine people were gunned down in a church during a bible study / prayer meeting, murdered by a young man who sat with them for an hour before opening fire on people who had welcomed him into their church. Yet the same old debates go on over guns, race, and religion. The expected groups take up the expected sides, say the expected things, make the expected accusations, and hide behind the expected excuses. A theater full of families, a school full of children, and now a church full of worshipers. How can there be nothing new to say, with no real debate that this isn't normal, or that we can't long survive if this is the best we can do?

There is a tiny chance that the Confederate flag will be removed from its place of honor in SC. That it flew tall and arrogant while other symbols, including the American flag, were lowered to half staff in respect, strikes me as a particularly hideous insult to human beings everywhere. But even a hideous insult is nothing in comparison to such an act of savagery. My first thought was what does or doesn't happen to the Confederate flag in SC will have little meaning. But maybe something unexpected will happen.

Perhaps we have finally touched our nadir, reached our lowest point as a society, and will begin to wrestle with what we have become. Retiring a flag symbolic of those who fought a war in an effort to keep their slaves, even just talking seriously of retiring it, could be the first whisper of something new to say, the first pebble in an building avalanche of change. The definition of “neighbor” could become more inclusive rather than less. Circles of friends could grow rather than shrink. Political divides could be lowered rather than raised. America could react with courage rather than fear, compassion rather than hatred, look for enlightenment rather than react with tribalism.

Instead of trying to claim that “we” are the victims (including openly racist organizations who are afraid this most recent act of terrorism will put them in a bad light, proving that irony has no limits) we will look to and honor the real victims. Maybe we will see them as our neighbors and include them in our circle of friends. We could expect – even demand – that the political system react responsibly, intelligently, and with a bit of humility. (Okay, that last one is probably years beyond our reach. The last influences of a failed generation – mine – will have to fade away first.)

Even the darkest of corners is still a corner, a place that forces a change of direction. It may even be too dark to see the change of heading, but it happens nonetheless. Deep inside most of our mythology is the idea of a “remnant”, those who survived to carry on toward a better future regardless of current failures and disasters. Maybe they are just those who got to the corner first and and managed to followed it onto a new, if still hidden, path.

I like to think that some are already taking up a new way, having already discovered a corner needs be turned. Moving onto a boat, experiencing the world in a way unknown to most who live inside the boarders of the US, was just such a corner for us. Others find different ways to move away from the darkness. Chances are, if you are reading this blog, (and my rantings haven't driven you mad) you are doing the same, in your own way, and in your own time.

We are close to home. We are surrounded by boats, and water that leads to the ocean is within sight.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Shifing the balance

Our current stay inland is winding down. Yesterday was my final trip to the dentist to get a missing cap replaced. Later in the afternoon we said good-by to Daughter Youngest and her Daughter, always a tough thing for me. We are hoping for a solid offer on the condo before we leave, but it is on the market and that was what we needed to get done. Friends David and Nancy are headed this way; our ride back to Oak Harbor and home.

Today has that weird feeling of hanging in the balance, something that happens on every trip back to the loved ones. Sometime before we actually leave the focus will start to shift forward to the trip back east and the work we need to do to get Kintala in the water. Five big projects remain; bottom, bow, solar panel, interior / inverter mod, and auto-helm. Six if I include painting the non-skid. Or seven if the rigging inspection comes up with anything. Eight maybe, if adding a remote oil filter, changing all of the other filters, and getting the engine checks done gets included as a “major” project. Only the bottom paint and bow work need done to get the boat back riding to her anchor somewhere in the Chesapeake Bay, so I expect those to take top priority.

I am noticing an oddity to these trips back inland. On the one hand it gets harder and harder to leave Daughters, Sons-in Law, and Grand kids. This is especially so since it is likely our forays back to this place will get spaced further and and further apart as (if) we range farther and farther afield. A year isn't much time to a cruiser. But grand babies, only months or weeks old now, will not be babies a year from now.

On the other, it gets easier and easier to leave the rest of land life. In fact there is an increasing impulse to get as far away from it as possible, as soon as possible.

Maybe it's because the 2016 auction for the White House is under way. If you haven't paid any attention, let me tell you, most of the people offering themselves up for sale are plain, flat-out, nut cases. Somehow this system works up-side-down. The very worst of us rise to the top and vie for one of the most powerful positions in the world of politics. I understand it takes a serious bit of ego for someone to think they are the ones to do the job. But when did being a megalomaniac become part of the equation? Being far off shore when any of them takes the Oath of Office seems like a good idea.

Maybe American politics really isn't the problem. It has, after all, been this way for my entire adult life. Maybe it's just being exposed to the constant noise and rush and fear of living the American Dream. Those of us who live on the ocean live with a different kind of clock. Most noise comes from a natural cause. There is a different timbre and cadence, and it doesn't grind on the psyche like the noise of a siren or low flying helicopter.

Rushing around boats is usually bad form. It will lead to getting far less done at the expense of far more effort. And, anyway, "rushing" a sailboat is an exercise in futility. "In a hurry" and "on a sailboat" are contradictory ideas.

Fear is a thing most sailors know. But, most of the time anyway, we are afraid of real things. The seas a big, the forecast is wrong, or that wall cloud bearing down in the anchorage is going to rock our world for real and true. Supposed terrorists riding around on decrepit pick-up trucks a half a world a way? Nope, not far up on the things that scare me while out on open water.

It could be that my need to be back on the boat comes from getting a little crazy myself as the years go by. The reality of Mother Ocean and Sister Sky keeps me from falling off the (left) edge of the planet. Somehow the ocean feels more solid and life-bearing than does the concrete under a city. Bits of the sky peaking between the buildings is one thing; stars blazing from horizon to horizon quite another. Nothing will settle a spirit like being face to face with an entire universe.

Or maybe I have just learned to love a life that is simple, a light burden for the earth to carry, and connected with like-minded people living in the same environment. I am a content member of the cruising tribe now, in spite of the work and the effort. (See the list of stuff I need to do above.) It is where I need to be for my life to make any sense at all.

See, the balance is shifting already.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Not ever perfect...

When my grandfather was a very young man he was a Teamster. He was a Teamster when that meant driving teams of horses as the primary way of getting heavy things moved. He followed the “horse power” as it became a description of the amount of force an engine could apply to the same task of moving heavy things. Though he spent some years driving those new “teams” his real talent lie in keeping the new engines running. That made him a member of the very first generation of people who could rightly be called “mechanics”. One of the things he taught me was, “Getting it perfect will always be in the way of getting it done.” Words of wisdom for anyone who pays the bills by pushing completed jobs out the shop door.

It is a bit of wisdom that applies equally well to airplanes, motorcycles, boats, houses, and books.

Among the projects we have worked on while being back on land for a while has been the final edit and revision of our book, How NOT to Buy a Cruising Boat. It was a different kind of project for us, not nearly as much pure physical effort as most of our projects, more fun in a way, and more frustrating as well. No matter how many times the written page gets reviewed, no matter how many talented people are doing the reviewing, at each new reading another imperfection will stand out, demanding to be fixed. The same word used too often, some awkward phrasing, and spelling and punctuation errors. Those, I was surprised to find out, are often open to debate among experts in English and writing. It turns out some of the "codes" are more like suggestions. But one still needs to work on getting it as correct as possible. But not perfect. Not ever perfect.

But we did get it done.

And so my bone-headed, often misguided, bumbling path from living in a house to living on a boat is out there for everyone to see, laugh at and, hopefully, learn from. There are surely other ways to do it wrong as even I can't make all of the mistakes myself. How NOT to Buy a Cruising Boat is my story of getting here in spite of myself. For any who are working at their own "Retirement Project" we offer it as a red flag set along roads we found rutted, potholed, and barely survivable; with hopes the reader will find an easier one that leads to the dream of cruising.

Along with being as honest as I can be about my own stumbling, there are some very harsh assessments of much of the boating industry. To my friends who are members of that industry who, in no way, deserve to be in the line of fire, all I can say is, "Sorry". Your dedication and help was fundamental to us making it "out here" but, in my experience, you are in the minority. Without you the cruising world would have collapsed into a playground exclusive to the very rich long, long ago.

Ed Note: The book is available on At the moment, only the printed paperback is available but the Kindle version will be released soon.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Anyone who sniffs... Love at First sight has clearly never been a grandparent. On Tuesday afternoon we backtracked to Indy to meet the newest member of our expanding tribe. As we walked in the door Daughter Eldest surrendered little Sophia into my grasp. After a quick glance with her killer gray eyes she snuggled against my shoulder and fell promptly to sleep. At 10 days old that is one third of her repertoire, eating and filling diapers being the remainder. I was instantly smitten and quite pleased that she was happy with me holding her for many, many hours over the next couple of days.

When not on baby duty there were additional hours spent with my two missing shipmates from last summer in Florida, grandsons Christopher and Julian. Christopher now puts his woodworking skills to use helping his Papa build frames for a growing body of extraordinary artwork. Julian spent much of the weekend correcting my nickname for him, “I'm NOT J-J!

Daughter Eldest and Son-in-Law are both serious, talented, artists. Daughter is working on a unique poetry that infuses two languages while creating a form of writing that invokes musical overtones. It is a daunting and daring voyage of the mind, one that has already taken her far beyond any place I could have imagined. She has imagined it for us, and her words can point the way for those of us less gifted. Tomorrow, new baby in arms, she is heading for a conference in Ohio where some of the brightest lights of her discipline have invited her to a workshop.

Son-in-Law is pushing at the very edge of painting / sculpture in a form I have never seen anyone else use. It is quite amazing and more than a little haunting, connecting with the thoughts that lie at the edge of the shadows waiting to be explored in the collective mind of human kind. There is no such a thing as empty, shallow conversation in their house.

They are raising three kids while defying a society that has rejected art, education, and wisdom as things less important than profit, ideology, and war. Yet the former are the very things that both make, and can salvage, our humanity. Daughter and Son-in-Law are deeply involved in what remains of the tattered traditions of academic and intelligentsia that once led this nation to the leading edge of history. That such a remnent survives in our culture gives me hope that all is not lost. A spark of progress still lies within these borders; the darkness has yet to completely overwhelming the future. Maybe, as the next few years roll by, the view from my little boat floating offshore will be one of renewal rather than failure.

Saying good-by was tough. Sophia may well be walking the next time I see her, and J-J will probably not be J-J. It isn't getting any easier, but I am getting better at putting up a good front. Most of the tears had dried before we got to the IL border. By the time we got back to Daughter Middle's home full of the laughter and love that comes with a family of five grand kids, all was well in my world.

Very well indeed.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

A perfect sail...

No, Kintala is still on the hard at Oak Harbor. She still needs weeks of work before we can splash her and go exploring some more. And we are still in St. Louis. But with the condo just a few more hours of work from being handed over to the broker, we decided to call it an early Friday and head out to our old stomping / sailing grounds of little Lake Carlyle.

Boulder Yacht Club's annual Tapas at the Dock party was this weekend. Friend Jeff and several others were off chartering in the BVI, but he offered Gail Force as a place to park our gear and lay a weary head after each day's festivities. Such an offer was too good to pass up.

It was evening by the time we made it to the Tradewinds marina with the hope of touching base with some friends made during the initial weeks of getting Kintala ready to go on the truck. Unfortunately, one boat was heading out for a night sail when we pulled into the parking lot and no one else showed by the time we had finished our pizza. With it getting late and us feeling the efforts of the last few weeks we headed off for Boulder.

The lights were on in club house and a collection of life-long friends were gathered around trading stories. Walking though the door was like stepping back in time. Heartfelt greetings all around and soon we were settled in as if two years had never passed, telling stories and catching up on local goings on. Friday had nearly become Saturday before we found our way to Jeff's well-maintained Hunter and settled in for the night.

It felt so good to be back on the water, the boat moving just that little bit against her dock lines. I even smiled at the thump of carp on the bottom of the boat, a sound traded for that of sizzling shrimp at many of the places we anchor now. The moan of the coal train floated over the boat while the pterodactyl cry of the blue herons raked the marina. Two years...I couldn't make the time lines fit together.

Our good friend Bob and yes, alcohol was involved. 
Photo credit Emily Elden
Saturday dawned clear and nearly windless. The scheduled race was canceled for lack of motivation and we spent the day greeting familiar faces, walking the dock while hearing tales of who had sold, who had bought, who was still around, who had moved on. At 1800 the party officially started. We all walked the docks some more, now well fortified with various concoctions of drink (some hi-test, others pure rocket fuel), food, costumes, and boats open for inspection. The party went late and this morning started kind of slow.

By mid-morning pretty much everyone was accounted for. Even better the wind was blowing a steady 15, gusts to 20. Residual affects from the night before were forgotten as several crews started prepping for some hours on the water. Pam and Bill gathered up a crew of eight to get Paradise underway for only the second time this season. The mid-west winter was nearly as bad as the one that beat on Oak Harbor. Many are getting a late start on the season and, as a result, today was just the first or second time out for nearly everyone. Deb elected to stay in the club house and finish up the final edit of the book with the help of Best of Friend / English teacher / book editor, Emily.

I went sailing.

Motoring out of the marina it was hard to grasp just how much has happened, how drastically our lives have changed, since the last time I rode a boat around that corner. The lake that opened up off the bow was much bigger than the one that resides in my memory, the dam appearing much further away. The main went up with a single reef, soon joined by a full jib. Waves were barely a foot or two, though some sported little whitecaps in an effort to look respectable. Once in a while the bow would catch one just right, tossing enough spray over the boat to wet the spot at the base of the mast. The same spot where I was sitting with a content smile on my face, lost in the feeling that I was riding a sail driven time-machine.

We tacked back and forth on the southwest wind, working toward the dam and Coles Creek. I barely recognized where we were, my memory of the place skewed by the miles of blue water that have become our home. A couple of hours passed and then it was time to point the bow away from the wind, back toward the marina. It seemed too soon to me, but for people living on land “weekend” is a word with real meaning. Monday is a day to be reckoned with and some on board faced a pretty good drive to get back to their world. The main was tucked away and we jibed past party beach toward the barn. With the wind and waves just off the stern and the jib full and pulling hard, a more perfect point of sail could not be had. At the last minute we fell away from the channel marker onto a jib-only broad reach. Approaching Monday or no, making one more pass across the lake and back met with everyone's approval.

Being back on Carlyle, sailing with old friends on such a perfect day, was a sublime treat after weeks on the road. We have a good life now and the day on the water has me eager to get back to it. But our old life was a good one as well, with treasures of its own. Lake Carlyle, muddy water, carp banging on the bottom of the boat at night, shallow spots and all, was one of them.