Saturday, December 16, 2017

And then there were Ten…

Grand Daughter Newest made her debut early Friday morning. It was perfect timing on her part. There had been much concern that the drive to the Birth Center would happen during one of Florida’s nightmare rush hours. It seemed a good bet that, this being child 4 for Daughter Eldest, such could well lead to a delivery happening on the side of the road somewhere, sans any professional help. There was also the issue of the tide. Low tide would turn just getting Mom off the boat and to the van into a huge hurdle (forgive the pun). There was also the issue of getting the rest of the family, Dema, Grampy “T”, and children eldest, middle, and little, to the event; and what to do with the family for those first couple of post-birthday days when Mom and new baby could use some easy, quiet time to get acquainted and settled into some kind of routine.

Hotel rooms close to the Birth Center were reserved as the due date approached and, as each day passed, the reservations changed as required. A rental car took up residence off of Kintala’s pier, providing enough seats to get everyone where they needed to be while adding a bit of flexibility to respond to transportation needs. Bags were packed with the essentials and placed strategically, ready to be grabbed quickly. Phones were kept charged and checked periodically to make sure the ringing would be loud and unmistaken as the call to action. All of this excellent planning, by the way, being done by Dema; Grammy “T” just going to work each day while trying not to forget the assigned minor parts in the impending proceedings.

The starting gun for our part of the scramble went off at 0210, with the tide closer to high than low. A few minutes later we were at Blowing in the Wind, boat home of Daughter Eldest and family of soon to be another. Mom and Dad headed off to the Birth Center with Son Eldest who, it turned out, became a kind of Master of Ceremony at the actual birth. (More on that in a moment.) Even in Florida there is no rush hour at 0210, so long as there isn’t a hurricane inbound. (Now there is a thought sure to induce shudders of dread.) Mom, Dad, and Brother Eldest made it to the Birth Center with time to spare. There, Brother Eldest, just a couple of weeks short of his own 9th birthday, not only attended the arrival of his Sister Littlest, he held onto Mom’s hand, encouraged her through the last of the contractions, actually handed his new sister to his Mom for the first time, and cut the umbilical cord when the time came. An amazing display of poise and maturity that floored the professionals in attendance. So taken were they, that Big Brother is actually listed on the official paperwork as one of the doulas in attendance. (How cool is that!?) Future boyfriends are going to have a serious hurdle to clear when it comes to Big Brother, one that will likely surpass even that of Dad and Grampy “T”.

While all the serious stuff went on at the Birth Center, the rest of the family settled in at the hotel awaiting news. Brother (little) and Sister (soon to be not the littlest), having already been real troopers though awakened in the middle of the night to find Mom, Dad, and Brother Eldest long gone, being loaded into the rental car, and enduring the drive and settling into the hotel, faded off to sleep. The approaching dawn brought news that Little Alexandria Francesca had arrived safely in our midst and that Mom was doing well. A few hours later, the family reunited at the hotel where introductions were made all around and the stories were shared. That unique feeling of joy, mixed with relief, and seasoned with the wonder and love that the newly arrived bring with them into this world, infused the room.

Some people claim the mantel of “born to be a sailor”. Alexandria, if she so desires as she grows, can actually make the claim of having been born a sailor. Her first home is a sailboat, one that was (fortunately) floating on a high tide when the time came. How her life will unfold is a story yet to be told, but she is off to a unique start.

Welcome aboard Little One.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Which way

A couple weeks ago, we very much enjoyed a visit to nearby marina to partake in a Thanksgiving pot luck dinner. Living in the boat yard has kept us away from the live-aboard / cruiser community so it was good to be back among the tribe. While there, I recognized a person who had been in the boatyard to have his boat launched. We had talked for a few minutes back then and I got the short version of the part of his life that had led our paths to cross. He struck me as a bit eccentric - not unusual among our group - and affable; though more animated than is my normal approach to the world.

I was a little surprised then, while we were in line to fill our plates with goodies (and completely unprovoked by anything I had said since I hadn’t said anything at all) he stated, “I assume you are pretty conservative.”

“No,” I said, unable to suppress a smile. “Not even close.”

“Really?” I guess it was his turn to be surprised. “I hope you don't lean too far left.”

“How far is too far?”

He chewed on that for a moment then said, “Well, I know you are a person of faith.”

“No,” I replied still smiling, “Not even close.”

“I guess we’ll have to work on you.”

“I appreciate the thought, and feel free. Realize you will not be the first who has tried.”

Plates full, we headed off to different parts of the group, which was fine with me. But that short little exchange sparked a muse…

How far is too far?

How far is too far when it comes to seeing that every child has enough food, a roof over their head, access to health care, and a chance at an education? Does raising taxes on billionaires and corporations, or scrutinizing military spending cross some line into being a less caring people than taking care of kids? Single payer health care provides access to millions upon millions of people all across first world societies. Is suggesting the US should at the least seriously consider such an option, leaning so far that it will make our heath care system worse than it already is? Compared to the rest of the civilized world, is that even possible?

How far is too far in supporting universal human and civil rights? Where are those limits that should never be crossed - trying to ensure that our justice system actually dispenses justice, or insisting that law enforcement officials, themselves, operate within the law? If we refuse to incentivize prisoners and prisons as profit centers, is that going too far, somehow leading to the downfall of our society? Is providing medical care for individuals with serious mental health issues rather than locking them up in solitary confinement for months (or years) somehow leaning too far toward being a compassionate, enlightened, society?  It was Benjamin Franklin who said, “That it is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer, is a Maxim that has been long and generally approved.” I fear, in the America of today, it is a maxim no longer generally approved.

Is it leaning too far left to recognize that the 47 year "war on drugs" has been a abject failure? Once again, the rest of the civilized world has learned that treating drug addiction as a health care issue works. Treating it as a criminal issue, does not. It is actually something some Americans learned at least a generation ago, which is why there is a 21st Amendment to the Constitution.

How far is too far in the support of democracy? Is insisting that every American citizen of voting age has free and easy access to a polling place, and that their vote will actually be counted, a line that should not be crossed? Will making election day a national holiday, or changing “election day” into  "election week” somehow demote us to being a less democratic people? How about just getting rid of the electoral college, an anachronism that has twice in the last five elections put the loser of a national election  in the White House? Will a "one person - one vote" mandate for the office of President of the United States make us less democratic nation?

How far is too far in keeping the oceans that we sail over and live on healthy, capable of supporting the biodiversity that feeds much of the human population and produces about 70% of the oxygen that we breathe? If there is to be much of a future, is suggesting that we must balance our consumerism against fouling the water that we drink, tainting the air we breathe, and poisoning the food we eat leaning so far that it will - somehow - detract from our chances of survival? If future generations look back on us as wise, careful stewards of the planet, (which, at this rate, they are certainly not going to do) will they think that we “leaned too far" in bequeathing to them a planet they could survive in and enjoy?

It it leaning too far to realize that threatening to start a nuclear war in order to preempt a nuclear war is a horrifyingly stupid idea?

On the other hand, it is pretty easy to point out where leaning toward “law and order” can go too far. Leaning so far as to declare that “money is free speech” crossed some line into delusion. Greed never was a good idea but, as a society, we certainly lean pretty hard on propaganda and advertising trying to make it so. We have taken too much to leaning on war when trying to solve issues best left to diplomacy, and are paying a fearsome price in lives and treasure in support of that obsession.

When it comes to leaning, which way is the thing that matters at last as much as how far.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Instacart - a Review


Last year, we were sitting in No-Name Harbor on a very hot day and we needed to provision. The Winn Dixie is a mile and a half away by foot or a $7.00 cab fare. To be honest, I was just beat from the last  months of working on the boat, and didn't feel like the walk. I had heard about Instacart, an online service offered through Publix locally, and one I often thought was tailor made for cruising sailors. I went online and signed up, filled out a cart which included a lot of the heavy items I would have had to lug back on my rolly cart. After seeing the "service fee" of 10% and the delivery fee, I backed out of the cart, put on my shoes and started walking. It was, after all, a beautiful day and at least half of the walk was through the lovely Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park trails.

Fast forward to today. My daughter is living here with us and is expecting in two weeks. She's not feeling particularly well at this point, the birth center is a hefty drive away, and we share a car. Being 15 minutes away from the marina with a cart full of groceries and receiving a call that she was in labor and needed the car - STAT - was not my idea of a good time, so I thought I'd try the Instacart again just in case things had changed for the better in the last year.

I filled my cart, concentrating on the sale items they listed. I also added a lot of the heavy items I wouldn't want to haul in the bike trailer, my second traveling option. I got to the cart and there is still a 10% "service charge", which I assumed was the shopping fee for the shopper. On my order it was less than $15.00 and the delivery fee was free for my first order so I decided to give it a go. Bicycling is free, but the 2-1/2 hours it would have taken me to bike in, shop, and bike back were certainly not as good as that same 2-1/2 hours playing UNO with my grandkids.

The ordering process is pretty straightforward in their iOS app. It's easy to navigate, and the items are well described. A full nutritional value and ingredient list are provided so it's easy to compare products. The shopping cart is easy to understand, quantities are easy to adjust, and items are easy to add or remove. Coupon items have their own tab and are easy to browse through. Once in the checkout process, the service fee and delivery charges are clear. I placed my order just after 2:00 pm and my initial delivery was supposed to be between 4-5:00.

Close to 4:00 I checked the app and was a bit surprised to see that my order hadn't been picked yet. I guess to be fair though, it was Black Friday. It wasn't until 5:12 that I got the first text saying that my shopper had started shopping. At 5:31 I received my first text regarding any problems. One of the items that was on sale was out of stock and had been refunded from the order. It gives you a link in the text to go to where you can either approve the removal of the item or change it to something else.

At 5:50 I received the second text of an issue. Another item I wanted was out of stock and the text said that my shopper had replaced it with a similar item. Because the item was a very specific item required by my food-sensitive grandkids, it was necessary for me to go in and remove the item because there was no substitute. At 6:24 I received another text about another replacement. This time I was able to go in and change it to something I wanted rather than the one he had chosen. Two other changes brought the total to 5 changes out of 29 items.

At 7:05 I received a text that the shopper was on the way. The shopper arrived promptly, was efficient, courteous, and helpful. I had a chance to speak with him about his role in the shopping experience and I learned some things that may impact your decision whether to use this service.

1. The "service fee" is a fee that is defined on their site, instacart.com:

What is the Service Fee?

The Service Fee is used to provide customer support and recognize the efforts of the whole team for providing you with great service.

Is the Service Fee a tip? 

The Service Fee allows Instacart to operate our service and provide customer support. This payment is distinct from a tip as it does not go directly to the shopper delivering your order.

The service fee is 10%. My shopper told me that it used to be the tip, but that recently they changed it from a direct tip to the shopper, to a fee collected for "the whole team" as it says above. He was unsure who "the whole team" was. The shopper collects $.40 per item shopped and a delivery payment of $4.50, which used to be $9.00 and was recently reduced. For my 29 items, that equaled $11.60 for over two hours of work at a whopping $5.80 per hour less gas in the car (they use their own.) He also told me that if he drives over 13 miles he gets another $5.00 for the delivery but that frequently they give him two orders to do at the same time, one within a few miles, and one 20 miles away.

2. The Tip:

After receiving my order, which was well packed, I received a text that had a link to rate the experience as well as to make "adjustments" to my order. The "adjustments" are in fact a place to add the tip for the shopper, 100% of which goes to the shopper. None of the service fee appears to go to the shopper.

3. Prices:

I'm one of those people that is freakish about number memory. I still remember my phone number from when I was a young child and I know the price of almost everything I routinely buy. So it was easy for me to compare the prices on Instacart to those in the actual store. Almost all of the prices were higher than in the store. For instance, the gallon of organic milk I usually buy is $5.99 in the store. It was $6.69 on Instacart. The Kambucha I get is usually $8.99 for the big bottle and it was $9.99 on Instacart. The Second Nature trail mix I usually buy is $5.99 in the store, $6.49 on Instacart so you can see that there is already more than a 10% markup on some items even before the 10% service fee. There were a few that were cheaper because they were on sale on Instacart and weren't on sale in the store. The difference was not enough to make up for the marked up items.

So...would I use it again? I can honestly say that I wouldn't use it again unless it was an exceptional situation - I was sick and couldn't drive, I had no possible transportation to the store, I needed a prescription filled. There were some points in the process that I felt a bit "trapped" or maybe "coerced" is the right word. Had I known right up front that I would spend 10% more for the items, 10% for the processing fee, and 10% for the tip, I wouldn't have done it. You find these out bit by bit after you are already committed.

I'm also a bit gun shy around any company that abuses its workers. If I have any other option, I rarely use Walmart just for that reason. The way this company uses independent contractors reeks a bit of the way my daughter and son-in-law were exploited as graduate students. Were I to use it again it would be with the full knowledge that I was paying 30% more for the privilege of curling up in my cockpit with a good book instead of schlepping to the store on Black Friday. If you decide to use the service, I only ask that you treat your shopper fairly and add a reasonable tip.

Locally, for me, it only lists Publix and CVS and a couple other small stores, but in larger cities there are a lot of other stores like Whole Foods, Costco, Kroger, ABC Fine Wine and Spirits, Petco, Shop and Save, Schnucks, and The Food Emporium. That list is far from incomplete. You have to get online and check out your zipcode to see what stores are available in your area.

Clearly there are some benefits of having this service. But to use it regularly as your sole means of provisioning is a habit best left to those in mega yachts with a much bigger budget than Kintala's.

Light at the end of the tunnel...

The sails are on Kintala. The Ding is in the water though, unfortunately, sans engine. The little Merc suffered a shifter failure, it seizing up completely in the Florida heat and humidity. That little motor really has proven to be a miserable bit of equipment, difficult to keep running at idle and prone to failures of the fuel valve, carburetor, and now, shifter. There doesn’t seem to be a cost effective option so we will continue to do the best we can with what we have.

Florida weather has finally given way to something other than brutal heat and humidity. The constant roar of air conditioning is gone with fresh air now flowing into the boat from open hatches and ports. It is remarkably delightful to lie under the covers and feel the evening or morning breeze drift by. One can stand to sit in the cockpit even after the sun has come up and, wonder of wonders, sip hot coffee! It will still be a while before we enjoy all this while riding to the anchor somewhere. Grand Baby soon-to-be-youngest is expected sometime in the next few weeks. Kintala will not be wandering anywhere until the new little one arrives and gets settled in a bit. We hope to make some weekend trips out into Tampa bay after that, spend some nights on the hook then return to our Snead Island slip for a few more weeks of work, before heading off to places south then east. It seems a long, long time since we were “cruisers” but at least it isn’t like the first time we were at Oak Harbor getting ready to set out on our maiden trip south down the ICW. In our fifth year of living on the boat, multiple trips to the Islands, three though the Keys, and now the better part of two years spent working in a boat yard; we do know our way around a little bit. This time, with departure at least on the horizon, there is very little of the “about to start on an adventure” feeling, more “getting back to where we want to be.’’

That will be weeks yet and, until then, “working on boats” is what fills the waking hours of the week. The other day a truck rolled into the yard with a new Marlow Hunter 47 in tow and parked it right off Kintala’s bow. Most of the folks around here seem to have a rather poor opinion of the breed, but it isn’t a bad looking boat and the interior is a floating Taj Mahal. About what one would expect for a boat that costs a big tick more than half a million dollars fresh from the boat show. I was strolling past it, heading for the head, when a friend made a joke and asked, “Is that your next boat?”

“Sure”, I replied. “All it takes is one modest sized lottery win.”

“You would actually buy a Hunter?”

“Why not?” I replied, much to his surprise.

Of course I probably wouldn’t buy a new Hunter, but not because it is a Hunter. I would be just as unlikely to buy a new Tartan, Beneteau, or Catalina. Horror stories from those who have bought new boats, and paid new boat prices, are pretty common. Warranties often sound like a politician’s promise, long on pretty words, short on actually doing anyone any good. My lottery money would go toward a two or three year old boat that has been used for more than weekend anchoring while having a good maintenance history. And I really wouldn’t care which manufacturer’s name was tattooed to its hide. For, regardless of who made it, it will sail just fine on a beam reach or off the wind.

How will they go to weather? The hard fact is I no longer care, for I try to do that as little as possible. It strains the rig, the ride is ugly, and it wears out the crew. If banging into the wind and waves is unavoidable, it is likely I will make like a trawler with a really tall antenna, fire up the engine, grit my teeth, and grind away until the weather improves or the anchor goes down. There are exceptions of course, those fantastic days where the wind is off the bow at just the right angle and speed, while the seas remain modest. All the sails go out, the boat heels just that artistic amount and slices through the water at 6 or 7 knots like some kind of magic carpet. On those perfect days, pretty much any boat will shine. Sure, one will point a little higher or go a little faster, but all will be a magic carpet ride and crews on any of them will be happy little campers. So how many such perfect days have we seen since leaving Oak Harbor that first time? A dozen, maybe less.

There is one pretty common design feature among new boats that I question, that of the fin keel and spade rudder combination. I know performance and handling made that call. I know that the boats should handle a modest grounding without real damage. (Run one hard onto a reef at hull speed and you are on your own, regardless,) But I still shudder at the thought of picking my way through the shallows so exposed, particularly on those boats where the rudder looks to be hanging deeper in the water than the keel.

I got into this muse because people often ask “what kind of boat is the best?" For my money, pretty much any modern boat is built, to a large degree, better than “good enough”. Handled properly and operated well, any of them will get the crew where they want to go with as much safety as the ocean gods will allow. It is the support system that are likely to drive you nuts: air conditioning, refrigerators and freezers, water makers, pumps, stoves, valves, sails, lines, and deck hardware. All of the boat manufacturers buy that equipment out of the same warehouses, and problems with those units get spread evenly throughout the fleet.

Which is why, when you ask a boat tech “which is the worst boat," he or she is likely to name the one they are currently trying to fix.

So, for now, here is a lovely photo of the sunset last evening on our way back from a Thanksgiving potluck where we got to ogle some really beautiful boats and get to know their owners, a life for which we are very thankful.


Friday, November 10, 2017

Getting away

We are in Saint Louis for a couple of weeks. It had been too long since we had seen Daughters Middle and Youngest, their collective 6 of our grand kids, other family, and friends. Modern life is what it is, and it is hard to imagine living any other way than on our floating tiny house, wandering where we can when we can. Still, the days of extended family groups / tribes living together for a string of lifetimes, generations overlapping, is an image that has its attractions. Being surrounded by kids and grand kids, involved every day in the unfolding of their lives, and having them involved as mine unfolds, is certainly a life well lived. How does that compare to the experience of a larger world, knowing and learning from people who are not “my tribe”, and seeing a little bit of life and our place in the cosmos through a different lens? It doesn't really, they are two radically different ways of living. One chooses and, whatever the choice, will always have moments of wondering if it was the right path to take.



Whenever we are back “inland” and visiting like this, there is this feeling of being reconnected, though inundated might be an equally good description. Living on the boat, particularly when we are working like we are, is very much an ascetic lifestyle. Creature comforts are few, accented by times of outright discomfort when the weather turns foul. Lightning, when it is around, is a real and present danger. Kintala recently escaped a strike only because the boat next to her has a mast several feet taller. We walk to the bathhouse rain or shine, day or night. And I work outside, pretty much regardless of what the weather is doing. We are even more exposed to “outside” when riding to an anchor or mooring ball.

Here, in the city, we go outside, but we don't live there. “Outside” plays across the front windows like a sport’s show on bar TV. Some color and motion but no one is really paying any attention. Phase of the moon, state of the tide, time of sunrise, sunset, moon rise and moon set, all unknown and unimportant. And I mean really unimportant. None have any effect at all on the lives being led. Days go by and no one cares if it is hot or cold, raining or blazing sun, with winds topping 30 knots or it being dead calm.

There are many, perhaps a majority, who see that as one of the most positive things of modern life. We have conquered nature, made ourselves comfortable from her shenanigans except for the most extreme examples. That used to sound right, but I don’t know that I lean that way any more.

Occasionally, I drop by John Michael Greer's blog. His is an interesting take on the universe and, as a result, I have spent a little time reading up on the mythology. It turns out that living on the boat, close to nature, with a lot of time spent in the cockpit breathing deeply of the natural world we find while riding to anchor, all sounds very like his descriptions of Druid meditations. They take the idea of magic a bit more literally than seems likely to be true. But is it really that far removed from the impulse to petition a deity to do something or other? (These days those so inclined always seem to call on the deity after the hurricane strikes or the terrorist attacks, which seems a bit backward.)

I also wonder if the Druid's magic, or that of any other mythical ideology, is actually pretty closely related to those moments that brush by while standing watch far from land on a star filled night. Maybe, if one looks at it from the other side (so to speak), “magic” isn’t a matter of us changing something that is going on in the cosmos to our liking. It could be that "magic" is allowing the goings on of the cosmos to change us, shaping our journey here to be useful and eternal. Perhaps the reason the modern world is so lacking in wisdom is that we have cut ourselves off from the source, from the cathedral of the cosmos that is the foundation of our being.

In any case, getting away for us also means coming home. And leaving here will mean going home. There is something pretty special about that, something I haven’t fully grasped.

Maybe, someday, I will.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Of Faeries, Foliage, Fires and Friends

If you've never lived on a boat or gone cruising, you might wonder why we might sometimes need a vacation from the boat. "You're already vacationing in Paradise - how could you possibly need a vacation?" is a question we receive on occasion. But daily life on a boat is a special kind of intensity that you can't imagine unless you've been there, and everyone there needs a break once in a while, a reset of sorts. The past few months have left us deeply fatigued, with the heat and the political climate and the devastation the storms rendered on some of our favorite cruising grounds. We have a significant need of one of those resets to get us out of the funk. Ours came in the form of family visits to two of our three girls and six of our soon-to-be ten grandchildren in St. Louis.
This visit was scheduled apart from any holiday in an attempt to be back to the boat before grandchild #10 was born in December and also to hopefully avoid the holiday gift that keeps on giving in the form of the latest flu virus. It just happened to coincide with the turning of the leaves and, while it was a bit nippy for thin-blooded Florida travelers, offered many sunny days to walk to parks and play outside.

The first visit to the park was with our St. Charles granddaughter. After spending some time on the playground, we ventured along the path and found a colorfully painted rock hidden in a dip in the bark of a fallen tree. It turns out that there is a new fad of hiding rocks with pretty pictures and happy sayings painted on them where others can stumble on them. They're called Kindness Rocks and their entire goal is to make people happy. They must be working, because my granddaughter had a big smile on her face and, soon after, found some to paint and hide herself.

The visit to our city-dwelling grandkids offered a backyard bonfire and s'mores with some neighbors, a cool night where the fire was welcome and the aroma of hickory sparked a stroll down the memory lane of camping trips. Later in the week, we had a chance to share some coffee and conversation with good friends from our early sailing days on Carlyle Lake, a conversation that lasted till we were kicked out at closing. Even though the week was packed with soccer and school, time was allowed for some walks through Tower Grove park as well as some long walks through the Flora Avenue park near their home. A few brief moments into the walk today yielded some happy squeals from the kids, who had found a Faerie house nestled in the cleft of the trunk of a rather large tree. Having been so isolated from the popular and trendy for so many months, I was unaware of the Faerie house movement, where kids and some grownups are making tiny little houses at the base of trees in parks and yards to welcome the Wee Folks and pass along a smile in the doing of it. Today on our walk we counted 34 of them in all stages of intricate and whimsical. Along the way, we enjoyed the peak of the leaf season, a pileup of leaves in which to jump, and a visit to our favorite ice cream parlor, Ices Plain and Fancy.



Tomorrow we make our way back. It will be difficult to leave the kids. Our near future plans are uncertain, the political climate shows no indication of changing, and then there's always the fact that Tim still has a couple months of work left to grind through. But we'll leave here refreshed. In addition to our bags, we carry with us a feeling of hope, a sureness that this new generation will find a way to restore life as it should be: a life full of kindness, laughter, whimsy and imagination. 






Sunday, October 22, 2017

Odd Days

When you first think about going cruising, your focus is intense.  You have a goal, a plan, and a list of things to make it all happen. If you're fortunate, like us, you're rewarded with a couple years of intensely beautiful experiences - sunsets, new friends, dolphins, manatees, and an occasional moonlit passage.

After a few years, you might find yourself stuck on a dock working to replenish the cruising kitty like we are, and things are suddenly different. You're not cruising, but you're not really landlubbers either. You're stuck in this odd, fuzzy time of endlessly hot days, feeling a bit like the floating experience when coming out of general anesthesia - one foot in each world but not fully in either one.

The past six months on the dock have been odd days like this - floating - but not focused. Days meander by, but no thought is given to where we go next. No boat projects are being done because the need to have them completed is just too far away to think about.

The last week or so, though, the weather has made a decided shift toward Fall. For the first time in months we dipped below the 90° mark for a high. The breezes have picked up, announcing the approaching cold fronts. Something smells different in the air, a hint of dry leaves (although there aren't many trees that shed them here), and an occasional sniff of a wood fire somewhere takes me back to my days in Pennsylvania where the first fire in the fireplace signaled the change of seasons. It was just enough to break me out of the fog and start me thinking about what needed to be done to Kintala before we could leave the dock.

As I sat at the nav station working on a list, I could no longer ignore the weather station that resides just under the switch panel that has been inop since Spring. A new set of batteries, a spray of contact cleaner and a few wipes with emery cloth, and the weather station sprang to life once again. It took about 30 minutes, including the removal and reinstallation, a piece of our normal cruising life reinstated. While it might seem like a ridiculously small thing, that one little thing did much to lift my mood and put a smile on my face.

If you find yourself having to stop cruising for a while to replenish the cruising kitty (and most cruisers do at some point unless they are independently wealthy), there are a few things that I've learned these past two summers and I thought I'd pass them along.

  • Nurture your dream while you're dock bound. Remember why you wanted to go cruising in the first place and find fellow cruisers to spend time with who can encourage you.
  • Enjoy the little things. For me this past summer, it's been time spent getting to know three of our nine grandchildren. In the past few years we've only visited occasionally and there is no substitute for the day-in, day-out contact we've experienced the last few months.
  • Find something to be thankful for every day. Your health, your friends, your supportive spouse, your home.
  • Take care of yourself. Walk, ride a bike, eat well, read a good book.
  • Connect with old friends and distant family members.
  • Get lots of sleep.
Although I'm working part time now at a sail loft in town, I'm finding a few hours here and there to start on our project list which is mercifully short this year. All of our exterior teak needs refinished, our wind instrument needs repaired or replaced, our head plumbing needs the addition of a system to empty the holding tank at sea, and an errant leak needs chased down that dared to mar my new headliner from last summer's project list. These projects will be tackled while we await grandchild #10, due in mid-December, after which we'll start creating the possible routes to wherever we end up going this cruising season, a lot of which will be dependent on the condition of marinas along the way.

For now, here's a hodge podge of photos from the last few weeks, glimpses of sunlight through the fog.

A sail I'm restitching at my part time job with Sunrise Sails Plus. It's off a 65 foot ketch rig.


There's always time to climb a tree around here.

He was pretty happy with this coconut which he rescued from the water just outside the marina.
















About half of the toe rail is now sanded. Next boat has metal toe rails...


The Coast Guard and Florida Fish and Wildlife have been raising these sunken boats to be hauled out and trucked away in a combined effort to clean up the local waterways. Some of them have been sunken for years, others fell prey to Irma

This was somebody's awesome power boat at some point



Cockpit time

One of the real joys of living on a boat, at least for me, is time spent sitting in the cockpit. The best cockpit time is evening and night while riding to the hook in a quiet anchorage. Mornings are good too, though I am not normally much of a morning person. The boat moves gently, pitching and rolling easy, swinging slow to light winds and changing currents. With a bit of luck dolphins or manatees will wander near while pelicans wheel by in close formation, wingtips just off the surface. If the water is clear enough to see the bottom, one has the feeling of floating above the earth and resting off the shore at the same time. After a few minutes the boat itself gets absorbed into and becomes part of the scene, then the cockpit, then its occupant. My guess is that land dwellers spend a lot of money on pharmaceuticals and counseling, or a lot of time sitting in bars or cathedrals, or all of the above, seeking just a hint of what one can find sitting in a cockpit of a sailboat, resting easily in the world.

In these parts though, there hasn’t been much cockpit time the last few months.

Except for the occasional passing hurricane / tropical storm / tornado, this summer has passed as still, hot, and humid. There was a day or two where it was just barely comfortable enough to sit in the cockpit at the end of the work day and down a cold beer. But even on those days a cool shower called and, soon enough, the insects would go looking for their evening meal. Florida can be a tough place to live in the summer when one is living this close to nature and filling the cruising kitty by working outside. Except for the time spent riding out Irma on the hard, Kintala has spent the last many months hemmed in, surrounded by pilings, with a boat tied close to her starboard side and a dull gray metal shed inches from her port side. There isn’t much to see, looking out of her ports.

This morning dawned just a bit cooler, with a breeze blowing hard enough to keep the insects grounded. Our neighbor to starboard left for a sail down to Key West, where they plan to spend a couple of days. No one has moved the shed, but it does help block the afternoon sun. If I hold my head just right, looking aft and slightly to starboard, the binnacle blocks the view of the nearest piling, it is a good several hundred feet across the basin, and the occasional pelican soars past. The local family of manatees poke their noses out of the water, blow and snort, and drift back down to the bottom to do whatever it is that manatees do to pass the time. There is no seeing the bottom and the boat moves gently right up until one of the mooring lines checks her up but, hey, I’ll take what I can get.

Though future plans are still vague, next week we will be heading out for a couple of weeks of visiting in St. Louis. The hope is that, once we return, the Florida summer will have broken enough that the air conditioning can be removed from our deck. It will be November after all. Friends north are already talking about freezing temperatures at night and daytime highs in the 50s. With the last of the hurricane season fading away (hopefully), we can bend on the sails as well. Kintala will be a sailboat once again, and Tampa Bay is just a around the corner. There is no reason we can’t spend a few weekends out there. Maybe more than a few, depending on how long we end up staying on this side of the state.

Find a little quality cockpit time.

And rest a little easier in the world.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Imps

I have an Imp in my life. She is the right size, though the bleached blonde hair and dancing blue eyes, instead of bat wings and tiny horns, tend to mask her Impish nature. However, when it comes to mischief and the determination to being the center of attention, no Imp is her better. Which makes perfect sense. Why shouldn’t a near endless flurry of pure joy, boundless curiosity, and fearless adventurism be the center of attention? A touch of the mischief just comes with the territory.

A couple of weeks ago, a small lump appeared in the middle of my Imp’s little tummy. It was coy, sometimes noticeable and sometimes not. Every adult in her life immediately moved right up to the edge of panic and hovered there. Her Doctor insisted there was no real reason to worry. Our Imp was eating and sleeping well, never complaining of feeling bad, or showing any sign of being in pain. Still, he couldn’t say what the lump was was, only what is wasn’t. And what it wasn’t was a (rather common place) hernia. He scheduled an ultrasound for several days later, allowing that it could be canceled depending on what he learned from further research and conferring with other doctors.

Ultrasounds are moderately expensive tests on toddlers, and the Imp is among the many in our country whose family can only afford health insurance that comes with a crippling high deductible. Which puts one in a weird state of mind, hoping that any looming medical bills remain as “out of pocket” expenses. Such could easily drive us into a financial hole so deep that climbing out would take several years, as happened with a cancer scare a few years ago. (One of the contributing factors to us being in Bradenton these last two summers.) But chewing through the deductible to actually get insurance support would mean entering that place from where the panic wells. Perhaps the Doctor would come up with something, and the ultrasound could be canceled.

The several days passed and the Doctor could not find any explanation for the lump that would negate the need for an ultrasound. So the Imp, accompanied by Mom, headed off to the hospital. Apparently ultrasounds are common procedures for those who ended up having reason to fear the worst. My little Imp was the healthiest one in the room. It was a thought that brought a deep ache to the heart and allowed the panic to edge in a bit closer. Why should fate smile upon those I love when so many, so deeply loved by others, dwell in the valley of the Shadow?

At the end of the test, the technician was nothing but encouraging. According to him, had the test shown anything of real concern, the radiologist overseeing the procedure would have admitted the Imp to the hospital forthwith. That she was sent home to await the diagnosis was a a positive omen. But, once again, though they got a bunch of “good” pictures no one would say for sure what this thing was, or even what it wasn’t. The panic edged away a bit, but it didn’t disappear.

Two days later came word, and the panic died. The Imp has a hernia after all, it just isn’t a very common one. Surprisingly, while spreading the good news to family, we found out my Sister was born with the exact same kind of hernia and has had it all of her life. Surgery was never required nor has the condition done her any harm. Good news made even better, but it seems there is still some room for debate. Word has it general anesthesia and invasive surgery have already been broached by the professionals.

When one climbs aboard an airplane the professionalism of those flying is assumed. There is good reason for the assumption since the crew, as the saying goes “will be the first ones in the hole.” They have skin in the game, and those in the back of the plane ride along on the crews determination to end the day in one piece. But it is difficult to make that assumption of the medical profession in the US.

Our medical industry is a profit center, not a health center. It would be far more lucrative for that industry if the Imp undergoes surgery rather than just going about her life. A stay in the hospital, specialists and drugs, doctors and nurses…what do you guess - $10,000 - $20,000? And the thing is, if something goes terribly wrong, no one in the operating room “will be the first one in the hole”. In fact, they will get paid anyway. Will they “feel bad?" Sure. They are human beings after all. But they have likely “felt bad” before, and will “feel bad” again. In the mean time they have student loans to pay off, mortgages to meet, and dinner to put on the table. American’s ratio of health care returned for dollars spent is the worst in the first world. Ours is also the only one based on making a profit rather than making people well. Are the two connected? Many insist not. Indeed, some insist that "market forces" will make for the best health care. I suspect (if you will forgive the pun) they are whistling past the grave yard.

It would be nice to think that we, as a people, have earned better than that. Maybe, much like a chain can be no stronger than its weakest link, a nation can’t rise above the level of its average collective wisdom. It is starting to look like this is the best we can do, the wisest we will ever be. This generation of America is never going to fix its health care system. We have reached the limit of our collective wisdom.

My hope is that such is a generational thing. There is a whole new generation of Imps out there. One of them owns a big part of my heart. She is fine. And my belief is she, and they, are going to be much wiser than we.

Assuming we let them live that long.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Magic dust

Sometimes boats and tools feels a bit like Santa and the Magic Dust. First some tools for the project are carried onto the boat. Then a few more tools get carried onto the boat, then a few more tools… (and if you get that reference you are giving away your age.) A spark chaser’s tool bag has strippers, crimpers, and cutters, with a couple of screw drivers and nut drivers. (Listed that way, it sounds a lot more interesting than it really is.) Other things in the bag, slip joint pliers, vice grips, measuring stick (rule to the lay person) and some other odds and ends get toted along but not often used.

A magic dust of a morning at Snead Island Boat Works

Then the job gets going and, what’s this - a hot wire wrapped a time or two around a fuel line? What fool did that?  Though one must admit, finding a wiring harness zip tied to fuel lines is pretty standard fare. So it's back to the golf cart for a flare nut wrench, maybe two; it being easier to undo the fuel line than splitting open a slimy harness (slime being what is left of electrical tape after a few decades deep in the damp parts of a boat). Later some holes need poked and some screws need set, so the boat gets a little more in the tool department, sniffing up drills, bits, and countersinks. Eventually, of course, the wiring harness needs split open anyway, so the valve cover bolts holding the clamps that hold the harness have to come out. This takes a ratchet, a short extension, and a socket. Hard to tell which socket though, since my calibrated eyeballs aren’t as accurate as they used to be, particularly in the dim recesses of an engine box. The bolts look to have 7/16 heads, so grab the 3/8 and 1/2 inch sockets as well and tote them to the boat. Later, the bracket holding some electrical gizmos that make timed sparks for the spark plugs needs to come off. It has bigger bolts. Maybe 9/16. The 1/2 is already laying around somewhere, but better grab the 5/8 as well. Oh, and a longer extension might save a bruised knuckle.

This goes on for a couple of days, tools rarely making it back off the boat since whatever was needed to get something off will clearly be needed to put it back on. Come the time when the job is finished or the powers-that-be need efforts focused on some other project, it will be amazing just how much magic dust the boat needed to sniff up to get all the goodies working as they should. Usually, right about this time, my old life making a living in airplane hangers launches a bit of paranoia my way. If there is one thing that chills the bones of an aircraft tech, it is the thought of some accident investigator pulling one of his or her tools out of the smoking wreckage of an airplane that just left the hanger. It is the main reason aircraft hangars are filled with orderly, carefully maintained rolling tool boxes filled with racks and slots.

Boat yards don’t have any such things. A wooden box on the back of the golf cart is considered rather plush. Mine has attracted comments because it has a couple of racks for sockets. Wrench sets are sequestered in custom made holders. Zippered bags hold punches, chisels and picks. It isn’t as professional as my old Snap-On roll-around, a style known as the “Taco Stand". Still, when it comes time to move on, making sure everything that got toted up on the boat is toted off is easier than just hoping that the pile of tools on the cart looks tall enough.

Truth to tell though, I’m not really sure it matters that much, except for the cost of replacing tools. In a boat, all kinds of things are left lying around in all kinds of scary places. Engine compartments are stuffed with loose jugs of oil and coolant, spare parts and loose junk stashed on pretty much any flat surface. Want to look at the batteries or generator? Move stuff out of the way first. When the flat surfaces are full up, plastic milk cartons, open-topped and unsecured, are a popular option for additional storage. I have found deck chairs lying on top of engines and boxes of parts sliding around on top of fuel tanks. And batteries…apparently battery boxes have some kind of attracting power for pressurized cans of things that can go “boom” in the dark.

Cockpit lockers are often even more scary. Life jackets, coils of line, boat hooks, and fishing nets get jammed into the same holes that provide access to rudder posts, steering cables, and autopilot rams. How it is that things keep working while being tossed around in a rambunctious sea is beyond me, but a forgotten wrench or screw drivers isn’t much of an additional threat.

Then again, maybe a touch of the magic dust helps?

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Still in one piece

Image from NASA.gov
So, for what is apparently no reason whatsoever, the baddest hurricane in Atlantic recorded history rampaged its way past Tampa without leaving so much as a scratch on my family. When we hurried back from PA last week to help prep boats and get the kids out of harm’s way, the prospects for such an outcome seemed slim. For a while, sitting in the hotel room in Atlanta and watching Irma track further and further to the west, there seemed little chance that we could come away unscathed. In the last few hours before reaching the Tampa area the storm wobbled north instead of north by north west. That sixty miles, in a storm that measured hundreds of miles across, was the difference between us spending the rest of this week getting things back to normal, and spending it trying to figure out how to rebuild our lives. A strange week, provoking some odd thoughts.



I have, after more than 5 decades of miscellaneous adventuring doing this or that, had my fair share of close calls. This one was different. My normal brushes with disaster normally have nothing to do with losing stuff and everything to do with me not being around to enjoy the stuff any longer. They also tended to last just minutes, sometimes seconds; not days. The profound sense of relief after this close call is balanced with being a bit embarrassed at being so relieved. It was, after all, only stuff that was at risk.

We ran north in a compact rental car filled mostly with clothes, electronics, and a few odds and ends. Next time I think I’ll take some tools along…just in case. Had things gone the other way it would be difficult to replenish the cruising kitty and get our feet back under us based on just my good looks and sunny disposition. A few screw drivers, a handful of wrenches, and a hammer or two wouldn’t take up much room. They could also have ended up being the most useful things still in my possession.

We may be hanging around the Tampa Bay area longer than we thought. Key West, Marathon, Biscayne Bay, and the Dinner Key marina took a real beating. There are stories of sunken and lost boats with navigation markers missing in pretty much all the water that surrounds Florida. We often think of Biscayne Bay as our “US home”, and Dinner Key is one of our favorite places. But those are all places that will be a long time recovering, and really don’t need us in the way until they do. So it may be a while before leaving the Tampa area via a small sail boat makes a lot of sense. And it may be a while before leaving a job fixing boats in the Florida area makes a lot of sense either.

A photo by Douglas Hanks as seen in a miamiherald.com article

I am not a fan of Florida’s Governor Rick Scott who, among his other policy failures, walks in lock step with the science-rejecting Republican party. Yet he relied on that very same science to track the hurricane’s progress, to anticipate storm surges and flooding potentials, and to estimate potential wind damage. He issued evacuation orders base on what the scientists were telling him without hesitation, and likely saved many lives in the process. He was relentless in his warnings about the dangers of this storm and was tireless in addressing issues like fuel shortages in order to get people the resources they needed to flee. He must have been instrumental in getting the hundreds upon hundreds of utility company trucks and crews flowing into the sate to restore power and repair infrastructure. It is too early to tell how he will fair now that the storm has passed and the long, and expensive, clean-up commences. But there is reason to hope he will look past his ideology and see the needs of people instead. A rare and wonderful thing for any American politician to do these days, Republican or Democrat.

Survivor’s guilt is a real thing. We know so many people whose boats were lost, who are still in shock just trying to grasp the enormity of the blow they have taken. Good people, the kind you hope your kids and grand kids grow up to be. Seasoned too, many of them; well aware of the challenges of living this close to nature, not easily caught off-guard and unprepared. But no one can stand up to a storm like this one. Luck, good and bad, makes the call. And yet, somehow, that isn’t enough to explain why some lives have been irrevocably split between "before Irma" and "after" while, for others, Irma will fade quickly from everyday thoughts.

The spike in fuel costs from Harvey and the fuel shortages in Florida in the face of an impending Irma have me rethinking the thought of buying a trawler. No gas, no go, no matter what. I know they shouldn’t…but they do.

The paint booth we fixed after the Monday morning tropical storm of a few weeks ago wasn’t up to this challenge. It caved in, part of it landing on the stern rail of a boat strapped down near by. That appears to be the only damage done. Maybe we should have left that rope tied to the tree?

We spent nearly 70 hours driving since leaving for PA, 70 hours in 12 days. I don’t like driving that much any more. If I ever do buy another car, it will certainly not be a Chevy Sonic. What a horrible little thing. I’m glad it belongs to Enterprise and not to me.

Weather in Pittsburgh was in the mid to upper 60s, low 70s during the day. Weather in Atlanta was upper 60s to low 70s. Here in Florida the forecast is for upper-upper 80s, some 90s…all the way to the end of the forecast period. Hurricanes, thunderstorms, (it turns out the boat parked next to us took a lightning hit which wiped out all of its - very expensive - electronics) floods, heat. The weather in Florida is getting old.

Backing Kintala out of the haul out pit to put her back in her slip reminded me that she still doesn’t reverse worth a damn.

But I am sure glad she is still in one piece.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Pain Killer and Caffeine Crisis

We loaded up the compact rental car and left last Friday after work, taking advantage of the holiday weekend to visit family in PA. It was supposed to be a week-long visit with us arriving back at the boat on Sunday a week. By Tuesday morning it was clear that we needed to be back in Florida as quickly as possible. It was a 15 hour run back to Kintala, with an arrival of around 0200 Wednesday morning. Pain killers kept the rental car kinks at bay, and caffeine made it possible to keep on going.

Image courtesy of NOAA/CIRA

While we were on the road Daughter Eldest and family had prepped and packed. Deb and I boarded Kintala as quietly as we could so as not to wake sleeping grand kids (3) and an exhausted Mom and Dad. A few hours later dawn arrived. We helped them load the last stuff in the van, shared teary hugs all around, and sent them northward. We didn’t know then, and we don’t know yet, if there will be anything left of the life we had made together this summer at Snead Island.

One of a long long line of red lights averaging 35mph
With the kids on the move out of harm’s way I joined the crew working to get boats hauled, blocked, strapped down and stripped while Deb started getting Kintala ready to be pulled from the water. The initial plan was for me to work the day, spend a last night on the boat, haul it Thursday morning, and head out to catch up with Daughter Eldest at the hotel in Atlanta that we had booked before leaving PA. But she called a few hours later with news of traffic already slowing to a crawl, and suggested we get while the getting was good. Boss-not-so-new understood, encouraging me to punch out to help Deb and, a few hours later, moving Kintala to the head of the line for getting hauled. We stripped off canvas and solar panels, lines were secured, the anchor got dropped and tied to a nearby post, hurricane straps were ready to tie her to stakes driven deep into the ground, and all ports, hatches and holes were taped shut. By 1900 there was nothing left to do but give her hull a last pat, wish her good luck, and get on the road ourselves. That last 36 hours had seen just 4 hours of sleep, and there were miles and miles yet to go.

Traffic traffic everywhere and this was 2 days early
Pain killers and caffeine.

Daughter Eldest and family couldn’t make it to Atlanta. They bailed in Valdosta to a hotel they had booked from the car. As it turned out we couldn’t make it to Atlanta either, and so crashed at their hotel room around 0100 Thursday. After a few hours of sleep Deb and I headed for Atlanta while Daughter Eldest and family spent one more day in Valdosta. Rt. 75 was an on-and-off parking lot with a couple of wrecks strewn here and there just for ambiance. The day ended earlier than the last few, but sleep came hard. Not enough pain killer, too much caffeine.

This morning we moved to a second hotel, the one we had originally made the 5 day reservations at when we thought we were leaving Florida a day later. Plans change when one is a refugee. And there are tens of thousands of us at the moment. Though the original thought was that we could leave here to return to Florida, that may not be possible. At the moment all predictions are pretty grim. Sunday or Monday we will find out if there is anything to return to and, if so, when returning would make sense. One tries not to hope too much, but giving up hope is hard as well. The future is, right now, up to the largest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic.

And it doesn’t care.

In spite of it all we have been extraordinarily fortunate. We were working at a boat yard when this thing blew up, and our boat has as good a chance of surviving as any. We are refugees. But we run in an air-conditioned car with music and internet access. When it rains we are dry. There are funds in the bank for gas, food, and hotel rooms. Should the worst happen, we have a support network of friends and family who will help as we work to rebuild what has been lost. There are many, many people not nearly as fortunate as we, and our hearts go out to those who have taken a much harder hit.

Everything stripped and taped over

We are just one family of the thousands and thousands who have fled but, for others, running to safety really wasn’t an option. Cruisers are, at heart, wanderers. Moving because of weather is part and parcel of how we live, as is just picking up and heading off  because we feel like it. But we don’t live like most. Picking up and leaving is not a part of most people’s hearts, even in the face of Category 4 hurricane. So we have friends and co-workers who are in the strike zone. They will board up, hunker down, and hope for the best. I hope their luck holds, but I fear they are in for a ride they may boast about later, but never voluntarily take again.

In any case I suspect there are more pain killers and caffeine to go before this is all over.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Irma

I've always been interested in the meaning of names. In fact, we chose each of our three girls' names based on their meanings and the girls have surprisingly grown up to model the meanings of those names. So it's no surprise that I became curious as to what the name Irma meant since she is about to unleash a hurtin' on us. It turns out that Irma means "world" as in "a world of hurt" and "dramatically changing mine."

We attempted to go visit family in Pittsburgh, PA over Labor Day and the following week. We knew that Irma was heading east toward the Leeward Islands, but all tracks agreed that she would turn north and veer out into the Atlantic so we went anyway. We should learn. Right before Tropical Storm Hermine charged toward land just 60 miles north of us, changing into a Cat 1 hurricane in the hour before landfall, a forecaster said, "There is no possible scenario in which this storm becomes a hurricane before landfall." Yeah.

So we found ourselves cutting short our vacation and rushing back to prep Kintala to be hauled out. The kids are still there and have been frantically prepping the boat for haulout tomorrow morning, calling us with frequent updates. After that, we head out with what we can carry to Atlanta where we have hotel rooms waiting.

The cruising life has so many benefits - the life of few possessions, a lighter footprint on the earth - and then that big one, the closeness to nature. It also is a life of intensity - colors are brilliant, smells and sounds are enhanced - but the intensity in closeness to nature can sometimes be a challenge. The reality of it is that we are just along for the ride and Mother.Nature.Always.Rules.



So we drive south against the flow of evacuation traffic so we can do the final prep for our girl and wish her the best. Our friend Brittany from Windtraveler.net has a daughter who summed it up just right:

"Don't worry mommy. If our stuff tips over it's okay, it's just stuff. The most important things are people." 

From the mouths of babes...

Wish us well as we go about trying to salvage what we can from this cruising life.


Friday, August 18, 2017

Uncle

Good morning from Snead Island
I was thinking back over the last week’s worth of work, searching for something that might be of interest to write about, but the week went by void of those “you have to be kidding me” moments. I did stumble across a fat black wire that, instead of being a ground, was connected directly to the battery switch. No circuit breakers or fuses; select “1” or “2” or “BOTH” and it would be ready to add a little sizzle to your day.  But this is the “classic” boat getting a new instrument panel so finding such things isn’t really a surprise. More of a surprise would be not finding such things. In any case the offending wire went away, along with another fat black wire that carried power to the bus side of the circuit breaker panel. That one was changed to a fat red wire since I was poking around in that area anyway. The only real issue at work lately has been the relentless heat. It has been brutal enough that even the “old hands", people who have been working through Florida summers for decades, were struggling.


On the other hand, the current social and political maelstrom pummeling the US is chock full of “you have to kidding me moments.” Indeed, there have been so many since January 20th that, honestly, I stopped paying much attention. I mean, really, once you know there is a crazy uncle living upstairs in your parents house, what more is there to know?

“How’s Uncle Chester doing these days?”

“I fear he has been a bit crazier that normal lately.”
“Really, how can you tell?”

“Well, yesterday he decided that Nazis can be “good people” And that people who stand up against Nazis are "bad people".

“Yep, that is crazy alright, even for Chester. What do the doctors say?

“Uncle Chester doesn’t go to see doctors anymore. He thinks he is smarter and knows more about medicine than every doctor who has ever lived. He is also sure all the doctors are out to get him and that they are telling us nothing but lies to make him look bad. He is medicating himself on ego and hubris."

“Damn, don’t know what can be done about that.”

“Not much. We put a buzzer on the back door so we know when he goes out, and hid the ‘nukes over in the neighbor’s garage.”

“Good idea. Would you pass the salt please?”

At some point, of course, Chester is going to be a danger to himself and everyone around. Sooner or later someone is going to have to step up and move him out of the house and into a facility where he can get some help. That, or someone is going to get hurt and Chester will end up in a different kind of facility. (The US is pretty far behind the rest of the civilized world when it comes to dealing with the mentally ill.)

For now the family has no choice but to bumble along wondering just how much worse Chester can get before something just has to be done. But, like families everywhere, we will put off doing anything until the last possible moment.

Hopefully it will not be a moment too late.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Taking Sides

My family was steeped in academia because my dad was a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh for his whole career. Very early in my life, we moved to South America for a position he took to help establish a school of electrical engineering at a university near Valparaiso, Chile. I was enrolled in an all-girls Catholic school there where I was one of only two white girls. At the tender age of six, I experienced racial prejudice from the receiving end. I was perplexed and hurt, as I had never witnessed racial prejudice first hand.

Once reestablished in the US, our whole family attended the university annual retreat for orientation of the incoming freshmen, of which my dad was a key organizer. Even as a young girl, I interacted with the college students from many countries. Our home was frequently host to international students. My whole family was at least bilingual, my older brother spoke at least three languages fluently and understood more. Our friends were of every race and ethnicity. This was the norm for me, this understanding that all peoples are equal and intrinsically valuable. To harbor hate or disdain towards another human being simply by reason of their culture or skin color was so foreign an idea that, after adopting our biracial child, I was floored at the visceral reaction of some folks.

We are a melting pot, a country populated by the influx of immigrants from many nations, drawn to the ideals of equality. The melding of multiple races is a difficult thing, but the richness of our culture lies in the good things brought to it by all of these immigrants. But we've forgotten this.

Recently, these cultures, which have woven so much beauty into the tapestry that we call the United States, have come under attack with none to come to their defense. We've become lazy and comfortable. As long as we have our favorite brand of beer and 258 channels of inane banter, we strive to avoid any conflict that might upset the balance and threaten our comfort. I confess, I'm guilty. I have always hated conflict of any kind, striving to please in order to stave off uncomfortable encounters. But for those in this country who have lived their entire lives in peace and with freedom, a wakeup call has ensued. It's time to take a side.

If you were listening at all, you could hear the murmurings among the thoughtful over recent months. "Surely this could never happen here the way it did in Germany." "We would never allow such a man to take control of our society, would we?" Yet, the thoughtful existed in Germany and were persuaded to agree or be silent.

Holocaust survivor Primo Levi writes:
"In spite of the varied possibilities for information, most Germans didn’t know because they didn’t want to know. Because, indeed, they wanted not to know. . . . In Hitler’s Germany a particular code was widespread: those who knew did not talk; those who did not know did not ask questions; those who did ask questions received no answers. In this way the typical German citizen won and defended his ignorance, which seemed to him sufficient justification of his adherence to Nazism. Shutting his mouth, his eyes and his ears, he built for himself the illusion of not knowing, hence not being an accomplice to the things taking place in front of his very door." (Levi, Survival and Reawakening, 381)
I suspect that as the immediacy of the Holocaust waned, many thoughtful people in Germany reviewed the events in their minds, wondering how such an atrocity could take place without their own realization of the danger. They were duped, led like lemmings to the cliff. Today, the pitter patter of little lemming feet marching toward the cliff sounds again.

Some have, and indeed will again, criticize the writers of this blog for being too political in a sailing blog. But what good will it do to have a sailing blog if we no longer have the freedom to write in it or, indeed, to even participate in the activity at all?  Will you build for yourself that illusion of not knowing, guilt laid at your door by passivity, or will you see this as the time to stand and take a side? I've chosen mine. I draw the line in the sand and I denounce hatred and bigotry and choose the side of love, inclusion and community. Will you join me?

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Get it to work

"Out There"
Years as a corporate and charter pilot gave me the opportunity to interact with very rich people way more than any normal person should be expected to endure. They were, by and large, pretty average folk. They didn’t work any harder than most, weren’t any smarter than most, didn’t speak with an elegance that would catch one’s attention, or exude any particular wisdom. The vast majority were second or third generation money; setting off on their adult journey with a nice head start in education, health care, and connections all bequeathed to them by parents or grand parents. It is a head start any of us would have provided for our kids and grand kids as well, so such is just an observation, not a criticism.

Most of them did have this aura of entitlement about them, as if they had somehow earned the privilege of their birth. And many of them, though they were pretty ordinary in most ways, also shared a trait not quite as common among the rest of us. Almost to a person, and regardless of the luxury of their cars, the size and number of their homes, the hangars and garages stuffed with various kinds of toys, the number of ex’s, and any current entourage of mistresses or boy toys, they eventually got around to boasting of how cheap they were. It was like a badge of honor they had to pull out and polish for all to see. I don’t know if they made the same claim to limo drivers, cooks, grounds keepers, or other hired help, but it was a claim I heard many a time while loading bags aboard some corporate jet or turbo-prop.

Oddly enough, and contrary to how they lived, it was a claim that was also, somehow, true. I remember a rich man (let’s call him…oh “John”) inviting some friends to ride along for a day trip from PA to FL. He was going to take his turbo-prop for a spin to “get some lunch”. A week later his friends were a bit incensed when they got billed for their share of the fuel burned. I wasn’t sure which was more amusing, that “John” would make such a demand, or that people rich enough to be his “friends” would balk at ponying up. It was long ago and one of my first introductions into the strange doings of the well-to-do, but similar stories became the norm as the years wore on. (Here is a free tip, if a rich person offers to “take you to lunch” for some reason, be sure to take your wallet. Unless it is a “date” they are offering to drive, not pay for your meal.)

Working as a mechanic in a boat yard has landed me at the edge of that world once again. Though I don’t talk directly to owners very often or for very long, this weird obsession with being known as “cheap” can pop up in odd little ways. One of our current projects is a brand of ‘hobby” boat; a smallish, old-school kind of power/fishing boat with lots of teak and classic “looks”. The amount of money being spent on the project must be massive; board feet of teak being refinished and a all new instrument panel. Nothing cheap about that, right?  But this is all stuff one can see. Things that can’t be seen, like the wiring disasters that lie in the bilge, those are fine. There is no VHF in the new panel, though the stereo is first class. I have been given “cart blanche” to wire the helm, but I’m not really sure what that means. We are using the old breaker panel and most of the wiring strung throughout the boat, rank as much of it is. I do have to admit that if “cheap” keeps me out of the grungy bilge and its equally grungy wiring, that will be fine with me.

“Looks” is a big part of what this project is about; ascetics more than function. Building up the new instrument panel will be an exercise in getting everything to fit as close to perfect as possible. Such is easy in a “new school” shop of C-n-C machines, laser cutters, and computer generated graphics. More challenging is getting close to perfection using only a jig saw, the odd assortment of hole saws, a barrel sander, and a measuring tape. I cheated a bit with that last one, digging out my old sheet metal mechanic’s 12 inch rule marked in hundreds of an inch. I laughed, remembering an old ditty tossed around many a fabrication shop….

“Measure with a micrometer, cut with an ax, install with a hammer, paint it to match.”

It makes, in an “old-school” kind of way, for an interesting bit of work. The boat is on the hard though, out in the open and siting in the sun. The teak work means the bimini is removed; so “interesting” includes trying to not melt in the Florida summer.

A couple of other projects I played a part in have been finished, and I was tasked with doing the sea trials, a new and pleasant experience for me. Another tech and I did two trips in the boat that got a whole new autopilot system. The first trip was a bust, the auto pilot refusing to helm the boat even though the set-ups at the dock had been completed. A reset of the rudder position indicator, even though all indications were that it was indexed correctly, and a restart of the set-up procedures from scratch, got the auto pilot up to speed. It was a fun boat to helm, though the diminutive cockpit put the end of the boom right in one’s face when standing at the wheel. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to back up compared to Kintala.

A day or so later the same tech and I took a Catalina out to set up its auto pilot. This boat had been struck by lightning, virtually every single electrical component on the boat has been replaced. Once again it took a couple of tries to get the thing working but, this time, we didn’t bother coming back to the dock. Instead we just put the boat in neutral and let it drift while doing the “dock side” pre-sets. A couple of slow circles after that aligned the compass. That last step was a thing called “auto-learn”. One turns the boat over to the auto pilot and watches it slalom the boat down the waterway. I’m not sure what the thing is learning and it makes for a weird ride while the boat slews port and starboard a total of 15 times. It took three tries to get through this step as the electronic driver kept turning the boat toward shallow water. Eventually we figured out just how much room was needed and what general direction the boat would end up going; in this case a slow arc to starboard. After the third try we got a “COMPLETE” on the MFD. A few minutes trying the various auto pilot modes confirmed that all was copacetic and we headed back in.

It was good to be back out on more open water again. The life I was hoping to live is out there. Even though this time at the dock is necessary for a lot of reasons, and I am utterly (and gladly) under the spell of grandsons (2) and grand daughter (youngest), “out there” is still the goal. Short visits out there are fun, even if they are just to get something to work.

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Ed Note:

And totally unrelated, here's a shameless plug for the brightwork that my son-in-law is doing here at Snead Island. He's an artist by trade and it shows in the quality of his work