Friday, December 30, 2016

Redefining Christmas

When we were raising our kids, I openly admit that we fell victim to the holiday guilt trip. We were shamed into spending money we didn't have on things we didn't need, most of which would be discarded within a few short weeks of Christmas, and all of which would get the axe when we downsized after the kids moved out. We were part of the corporate culture, good spenders trained well. But as keeper of the Christmas List, I was miserable, tired, stressed.

As we began to reassess "stuff" prior to moving onto Kintala full time to go cruising, holidays were one of those things that endured careful scrutiny. In order to assure that we had enough money to care for ourselves and not burden the girls at the end of our retirement, spending was going to have to be curtailed to an extreme measure. By that time we had seven grandchildren and, between birthdays and Christmas, we would have spent our entire monthly cruising budget on gifts and cards. I struggled with guilt and feelings of inferiority for a long time. We had a lifetime history of holiday giving and had succumbed to the propaganda that if you didn't spend a few thousand dollars on your kids and grandkids every Christmas, that you didn't love them.

As we began to log the cruising miles, it became apparent that we might have something to give after all. The experiences we were living, the stories resulting, and the future possibility of having the kids on board to share in them, all became a growing reality. We might not be able to buy the multiples of hundred dollar Lego sets, but we could share in the laughter at the antics of the dolphins.

On December 10th we left St. Louis in Daughter Eldest's van headed for the boat where they intended to spend a month as a trial for a summer with us in 2017. That month, which spanned Christmas, is rapidly drawing to a close (much to my daughter's dismay), and it has left me with a renewed appreciation of the benefits of the cruising life and the way it has changed our outlook.

It all started with Christmas morning. The kids had gone to Mass at the local Catholic church in Palmetto and, while they were gone, I placed a few small Lego minifigures wrapped in tiny packages on the back of the settee. They were met with delight, smiles, and a bunch of giggles. I had worried that they were too small, too insignificant, too inexpensive, to impress them, but my fears were unfounded. They were thrilled and spent the next couple hours assembling them and playing with them. Later that afternoon we went for a hike in the local part, Emerson Point Preserve, followed by Christmas dinner of roast chicken on the boat. It was a perfect day. There were no hours of opening mounds of presents, no boxes of leftover wrapping paper and ribbons to store, and no credit card bill to pay in January. There was only a sleepy, "This was the best Christmas ever!" heard from the aft cabin. The Legos will never be remembered when the kids are 40 and having their own Christmas with their kids, but the memories of Christmas on the boat will endure.

I recently heard of someone who made an Advent calendar that had little cards tucked into each pocket. On Thanksgiving afternoon, they filled out the cards, selecting someone for whom they would do something special, or to whom they would give a small gift or write a letter. It culminated for this family in delivering a basket of gifts to their local fire station on Christmas day. It takes unbelievable courage to step from the Lemming Stream, but there's probably never been a more important time in history to do so. Next Christmas, try to give the gift of experiences rather than gifts. Hug rather than buy. Dare to define your love through some other means than money.

I promise you it will be the most rewarding thing you do

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Close, oh so close.

Daughter Eldest and Family have been visiting for a couple of weeks, enjoying life on Kintala and a break from the winter weather gripping the midwest. We have played games, worked coloring books, hung out at the beach, and gone for rides in the “Ding”, grand daughter youngest's word for the dink. (I think it is going to be permanent.) The little ones all love going for rides in the Ding, something Grampy T hasn't learned in going on four years of living on the boat. With the Merc-on-the-Ding running acceptably again, power rides rather than oar rides are the new highlights of the day.

One thing we had not managed to accomplish was getting the whole crew out on Kintala for a sail, something we finally managed a day or so ago. The forecast was for very light winds, but the day was warm, the boat ready, and sometimes just heading out is enough, even to drift around for a while.
We did a bit better than that.

Clear of the river my internal wind sensors suggested there was enough of a breeze to hang out some canvas. Our newly installed wind indicator didn't agree, but it turns out there is a calibration routine needed when you mount a new breeze stick on the mast, and we haven't done that yet. And, opposite of what they drill into hard-core instrument pilots, the years on the water have taught me to trust what my body says is going on with the weather and the boat. Things like wind sensors and GPS maps provide supplementary, and sometimes suspect, information.

Deb swung the bow up and the main sail went aloft as smoothly as it ever has. There was just enough wind to give it shape as we fell away to a close reach; Kintala surged to a killer speed of a knot or so. The jib spun out without a hitch and the sheet pulled in tight. Speed went up to two plus, then a touch over three. We ghosted along that way for a few minutes, heading to drop the anchor at Egmont Key for lunch. After a few minutes I decided to spin out the staysail as well. There was no reason to think that it would help much, but the boat looks cool with everything flying. And why miss a chance to look cool? With its sheet pulled in equally tight both head sails started pulling in near perfect parallel. Even with the apparent wind hovering around a bare 10 knots, speed flirted with 5 with just a hint of heel to port. Whatever shortcomings our old Tartan offers as a full-time live aboard cruising boat, they get forgotten when she is sailing fast on little wind, fully dressed for the dance.

There are people who love bashing into the waves, spray flying and the boat galloping along at full song. And there are times when I like that as well. There are people who prefer to be running before 20 knots worth of breeze, boat running at near hull speed with just 15 knots or so left ruffling the deck. And there are times I like that as well. When running offshore for a couple of days (or weeks for the true sailors among us) it is best to love whatever is happening at the moment, for the choice of what kind of sail we are having is not ours to make.

But sometimes the choices - boat, crew, and weather - add up to nothing short of pure magic.
The winds faded as we approached the anchorage, which turned out to be completely potted over with crab buoys. Without bothering the Beast we dropped the hook in deeper water than we had planned and much further from the beach than we had hoped. Lunch was low key and clean-up a bit of a trial given the rolling. Though the wind really had faded, we chose to drift off the anchor. It was also pretty good conditions for trying out the rebuilt jib pole, though the fact is I am still not comfortable with the thing. (Yes, I have read all the articles and watched all the you-tube videos. So far something hasn't sunk in so I am still working on it.)

We drifted down wind at a knot or two for a couple of hours, poled out jib doing what it could in the zephyrs. With the day fading away and the river mouth in sight, the Beast was poked awake to get us home before dark.

Crawling into the v-berth, boat secure and kids happy, it was easy to feel that getting back to cruising is tantalizingly close.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Another good-bye

Last Friday was the last day of working at the yard for this season. Being the start of the Christmas Holiday it was also a half-day, with lunch provided by the owner. Afterward I stopped and talked with the Boss Boss for a few moments, thanking him for having had me around for the summer and voicing the hope that it had worked out as well for him as it had for us. He allowed as it had. The project boat on which I had done much of the electrical system rebuild, had not been projected to be a project near as involved as it had evolved into being. (He didn't put it that way.) He seemed to think I was a good fit for a job he had not planned on having to do during my interview. Even better many of the people I worked with seem pleased to hear that Kintala will be heading back this way sometime in the spring. I am secretly kind of proud about that. One of my specific goals for this summer was to be as “user friendly” as I could manage. While that may come natural for most people, I don't have an innate talent for playing well with others. Deep in the south, surrounded by a culture I don't always understand that has some, how shall we say, “quirks” that I find problematic, I suspected being a kind of puzzling loner was the best I would do. Instead I found people I am proud to call my friends.

So, as the sun rose over the still waters of the basin, with our old Tartan rocking gently to her mooring lines, I was a bit ambivalent about leaving here. It isn't that I am not looking forward to cruising once again, getting back to the life we worked so hard to get to in the first place. But there are people here I am going to miss seeing nearly every day, and the “say good-bye” that is part of cruising is my least favorite part.

In addition, I spent much of my life around technicians, pilots, and mechanics. By and large, they are people who know, somewhere deep in their soul, that each day working for someone else costs a little more than it pays. A knowledge accepted with a casual shrug, for that is simply the way that it is. I missed being a part of that clan, one marked by a tough edge, a hard earned expertise, and a deep feeling that being good at what they do matters. It is a clan where it is  easy to tell the difference between those who can and those who can't. They live in a world with few excuses. The judgment of who-is-who doesn't come from opinion poles, twitter followers, or even elections. The job gets done, or it doesn't get done. The machine works as it should and goes away, or it doesn't and comes back to get done right. It was good to spend time in a place where the residents are comfortable with that kind of clarity.

Big open water brings that kind of clarity as well, sometimes with an even harder and sharper edge. Those of us who venture that way often gather and share stories of the experience. But for the most part we go out as single handers, in pairs, or small crews of friends or family. We also do it in intense little bursts of days or sometimes weeks. It isn't (usually) a day in, day out kind of thing shared by a select group working together. As much as I am looking forward to living that way again, the time spend here was good time, and I am glad we came this way.

There are people who get the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve off from work, some with pay, some without. For me the first Monday after Christmas was the first day of my (temporary) re-retirement and transition back into the cruising life. The first steps in that transformation included getting Kintala off the dock, motoring up and across the river for fuel and a pump out, and then a few hours spent sailing to work all of the stuff that makes a sailboat a sailboat. Since it was also the first serious shake-down cruise after months of being on the dock doing a lot of re-fitting, Daughter Eldest and Family waved us off from the shore. Little ones do not belong on shake-down cruises, no matter how benign or low key.
As it turns out Deb and I were kind of glad they weren't around, as any claim of us being any kind of serious sailors would have been put in serious doubt. We got off the dock okay, even found our way to the Twin Dolphin Marina and settled onto the fuel dock without drama. (Nice place by the way, with good and friendly hands willing to help anyway they can.) Unfortunately we had to get off of the fuel dock and get turned around in a tight basin, with a cross wind. 

It didn't go well. 

At least I have learned that going slow is the way to go, making sudden stops more a “bump” than a “crash”. After multiple tries, with real sailors giving us advice from the bows of their boats to “back into the wind”, and a bit of luck, I managed to get Kintala turned around and back out on the Manatee River. Though I don't envy the maintenance bills that come with a bow thruster, I sure wished I had one. 

I didn't actually bump anything, let alone crash. A small balm for my battered pride. People haven't yelled advice to me from shore since our days back on the lake in IL but, truth to tell, I earned it. Years ago, in one of the first posts on this blog, I said something about sailboats handling like a loaf of bread. Some things haven't changed.

Once back out on the river we turned downwind, let the jib fly, and gave the Beast a rest. For the first time in too many days we were sailing on our own boat once again. It should have been glorious. And it was - sort of. But neither one of us is really healthy yet, and the pure effort it takes to rig sails, stow lines and fenders, and keep the deck and cockpit of any sailboat under way under control, was taking its toll. Turning back toward Snead Island we came up tight on the wind, tacking our way up the channel. Flying the main would have been the right choice, but Kintala does pretty good on just her head sail, and handling one sail was enough.

Actually, it was more than enough. Lines snagged, blocks experienced minor jams, and our timing was off. Even tacking just the staysail went less than smoothly. In reality everything on the boat pretty much worked the way it should, except for the crew. We were just ham fisted amateurs, off the water and away from the demands of sailing Kintala well for way too many months. 
Only one mechanical task lies between us and dropping the dock lines for real. The little Merc is not happy, refusing to idle even after a good sonic cleaning of its tiny carburetor bits. Last time around it took several tries to get the idle jet clear and it looks like a repeat performance. I can't really complain though, the poor thing has hung on the stern rail for months, completely ignored as other tasks filled the days.

It is tempting to hope that all of the summer's work will pay off with an easy winter of sailing in the Islands. But it also has (to me anyway) value all of its own. Kintala is arguably in better shape than she has been since we bought her, safer, and much more user friendly. And it is safe to bet that both Deb and I have vastly expanded our knowledge base of boat repair and maintenance. Regardless of what the next few months bring, I think we can rest easy in the knowledge that we have done a lot of hard and necessary work, and made the best choices we could.

Now all we have to do is knock off a little more rust, and hope that our sea legs return soon.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Best Day Ever!

Grandsons (2) were pretty impressed with Grampa T riding the crane to the top of the mast. They were even more impressed when, once the job was done, Boss New let them pull on the levers that folded in the hydraulic support legs. If you want to see the biggest smiles in the universe, let a little boy run a real live crane. When he does, (and then gets his favorite dish for dinner) he will loudly proclaim that this has been the "BEST DAY EVER!" Who knows, maybe he is right. Maybe, in the sum total of everything that happened in the whole cosmos in the last 24 hours, this was the best day ever. 

By the end of the day I was sporting a pretty good smile myself. Kintala's new inner forestay and much better furling system for the staysail are in place. (Thank you again Mizzy and Brain!)The furling line is run, and a new halyard is rigged and spliced, waiting to hoist the sail. I've done a couple of dozen line splices but, for some reason, went into total brain fade when trying to do this one. After botching several tries (and wasting some brand new line) it was time to take a break and figure out what was wrong with my hand / brain connection. Ditching the written directions and watching a video helped, and the next try ended in success. By the time it was all done the wind had picked up into the low 20s. I was feeling a bit beat in spite of the smile, so decided to wait until this morning to bend on the last of Kintala's normal sailing suit. Everyone on the boat is, more or less, on the mend. Some more. Some less.

The plan is for next week to be my last week of working on the clock for this season. Then all attention will turn to final prep to get on our way. There are still a few minor items to clear; a new bit of exhaust hose and some rework on the throttle will finish up the Beast. The Dink is inflated but the Merc hasn't been run in months, and it isn't likely to run without some TLC of its own. 

Though it is tempting to feel that we are close to getting back to our cruising life, the more years I put in the less likely I am to talk about things that haven't happened yet as if they are inevitable. Arabic speaking religious people, Muslim, Christian, and Jew, share a saying “Inshallah”; “If god wills.” Though I have no god belief I find a good bit of wisdom in the sentiment. We are creatures of the moment. The past fades rapidly into uncertain memory, the future waivers between a guess and a plan.

There might be another bit of wisdom lurking in “Inshallah”. We often choose to do a little bit of evil in the moment with the idea that it will bring a lot of good in the future. And it sometimes works out that way. But I'm beginning to think it works out that way much less often than our fuzzy memory likes to suggest. It may be best to avoid doing the little evils, even with the best of intentions, if at all possible. And if this moment brings a chance to do any little thing that will bring on a smile big enough to light up a universe, well, that is a chance that should always be taken.

Just hours after writing the above I headed out to the deck to hoist Kintala's last sail. Grandsons (2) were excited about helping. We unfolded the sail, ran the sheets, hoisted it aloft, and tugged on the furling line to wrap up this last big project. Tugged on the furling line. Tugged. 

Something was jammed at the top of the sail. Yesterday's BEST DAY EVER ran away laughing as my mood spiraled down, down, and then down some more. We dropped the sail back to the deck and I retired to the v-berth, mostly to ignore the need to come up with a plan. I was just done.

A little later Deb, who was away at the store when all this happened, called from the foredeck. Dragging my cough racked body up the companionway was as big a chore as I have faced recently. It appears a serious downer will give a waning flu a new burst of life. Going forward I found Young Steven, a rigger here at the yard, and Deb deep in debate. He believed he could fix the problem pretty easily, and do it aloft. Just minutes later he was in his climbing rig and headed up the mast, tool bucket in tow. It turned out the fix wasn't as easy as he thought but that didn't matter. He kept at it, spending more than an hour aloft, then dropping the stay where he could get a better grip and angle on the problem. Then he went back up the mast to re-rig the stay. By early afternoon we were exactly were we had intended to be by the end of the day, stay secure and the last of Kintala's working sails in place.

Young Steven lives on his boat part time though, with schooling his primary goal, cruising is just a thought for later. But I think I'll nominate him for honorary cruiser status. His dogged efforts may not have turned today into another BEST DAY EVER, but he came pretty close. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Last Soldier Standing

Hiding in the tupperware cupboard is the best game ever
The plan was to put the boat back in the water on Thursday, December 1st, drive to the airport in Tampa and begin a 10 day vacation visiting our 9 grandkids. It went so smoothly, right down to getting the TSA Pre line at security. During visits with Daughter Youngest and Daughter Middle, cookies were made, good meals consumed, games played, crafts crafted, son-in-laws ordained into the priesthood, (did you catch that last one?), and the visit culminated with a trip to our favorite ice cream store, Ices Plain and Fancy. It just couldn't get any better, except that Granddaughter #1 was sick. She spend a couple days on the couch sleeping, and within a day Granddaughter #2 was showing the tell tale signs.

Saturday morning we packed up Daughter Eldest's van with enough stuff for them to visit the boat for a few weeks. We took off toward Florida a mere 1/2 hour after planned departure (amazing feat with three kids under 8) and had a great time playing peek-a-boo through the headreast of the seat with the Granddaughter Littlest and Lego Star Wars games on the iPads with the two boys. They were wonderful and the time flew by. Round about the late afternoon, while we were looking for a hotel to spend the night, my throat started burning. Uh Oh...

I was the sickest, with a vicious sore throat, high fever, and deep, racking cough low in the chest. Tim soon followed, succumbing after an attempted first day back at work on Monday. He spent the next 36 hours in bed and, although he left for work this morning, I expect him back by lunch. Kristin and Brian and two of the little ones were downed yesterday, leaving only the middle one standing. He devoured dinner and we thought he just might bypass the wrath of this bug. Within an  hour of going to bed he was awake, screaming. The Last Soldier had fallen.

Over the summer when people asked us what our cruising plans were and we spoke of having our Eldest daughter's family on board for a few weeks over the holidays before heading to the islands, the universal response was, "What, are you crazy???" "Seven people onyour boat?" They've visited before and, being boat people, they get the constraints of space, water, and power. We get along well and enjoy each other's company. Dealing with this bug with seven of us on the boat has perfectly illustrated the necessity for kindness, caring, patience, and a sense of humor that living in small spaces requires. This kind of living requires mindfulness: choosing to be kind and caring, a polar opposite of the cold, spiteful, political climate we find ourselves in right now. And if it takes a vicious virus to help me remember that, I guess that I can live with that.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Mud on the anchor

Kintala splashed without incident. The Beast fired right up with shift and throttle still working smooth as silk. The Engine Guru suggested we go out into the river and run for a bit to polish in the new dripless seal, so I ghosted back out of the haul out pit, swung the bow to port, and eased between the pilings marking the yard's basin out into the Manatee.

We were making nearly 4 knots at 1800 rpm, the Beast rumbling smoothly along. Amazing what a new prop, shaft, cutlass bearing, and a properly aligned engine will do; though I resisted the temptation to run over the nearest crap pot just because I could. (Not really, those things still look like tiny little mines to me, tuned to sense fiberglass, and just waiting to go off whenever we get near one.)

Just a few hundred yards out into the river the engine temperature started to spike. Disappointing but not completely unexpected. We had drained part of the cooling system getting the lines to the water heater out of the way for access. Like every older boat I have tangled with, bleeding that part of the cooling loop on Kintala isn't easy. With the first thought being to not hurt the Beast we shut it down to cool off and tossed the anchor off the bow. It was like stepping through some kind of time portal.

Wow, this is why we came this way. It seemed like forever since we rode quietly to anchor, the boat nodding gently, swung into the wind. The temptation was to spend the rest of the day right where we were, maybe even the night as well.

But there were other needs pressing on the day so, after a while, we stirred ourselves back into “get it going again” mode. As expected, the coolant level was fine. It doesn't take much air to lock up the system. (Something I still don't quite understand. The boat's water system pump doesn't have any problem pushing the bubbles out of the way, and I have never heard of anyone air locking the cooling system on a car, truck, tractor, or motorcycle.) Kintala has a valve that will bypass the water heater. With that open and the engine temp falling back to 160, we cranked the Beast awake and putted back to the marina with the temp seeming to settle somewhere near normal. I managed a near perfect landing back in the slip, something that rarely happens when pilings are involved.

Tied to once again, the main item pressing on the day came to the fore: catching a plane that evening that would take us to St. Louis, kids, and grand kids. Which was about the only thing that could get me to pull up the anchor and head back in.

Though there is a couple of more weeks of work left once we return, both in the yard and on Kintala herself, we are on the verge of getting back to the cruising life. Soon having mud on the anchor will be the norm once again.

It will be good to be home.