Saturday, February 24, 2018

Another go

Kintala went back in the water the other day, drawing many a comment on how good she looks as the travel lift rumbled along. She does look pretty good. Even better is that the good is more than just skin deep. Her hull is buffed and polished. (Pay no attention to the battle scares on her starboard side, they are just cosmetic.) Her bottom is blemish free, barrier coated, and sporting new paint. A noticeable leak and weak point on the starboard toe rail is repaired. Cockpit wood and toe rails are protected with layers of hard finish. We know the rig is solid and some new running rigging is in place. (Replacing running rigging is an ongoing kind of thing. A traveler line here or running back blocks there. Wherever lines go on sale we tend to pick the oldest “something” and replace it.)

There are only two areas where the boat still lacks a bit. One is the WesterBeast. It runs okay but is old, tired, dirty, noisy and drips. To a mechanic an engine is like a bank account. There is only so much power saved up in those blocks, pistons, rods and bearings. Every time it runs some of that power is withdrawn and, one of these days, that 36 year old account will be empty. We try and stretch it out with meticulous maintenance and sailing as much as we can, even when it means going really slow rather than the sailboat normal slow. It helps that we really like sailing and don’t usually mind going slow.

Kintala’s other weak point is the auto-pilot. This old airplane driver longs for a fully integrated system with multiple modes and programable way-points. The wind vane is cool in a touchy feely “look at how natural and Mother Earth friendly we are” kind of way.

It is also a major pain in the ass even when it is working

The rest of the boat's "navigation suite" is modest, to say the least. We navigate on I-pads with an old Garmin 4 inch screen GPS at the helm for cross checking and reference. Which is the way we like it. I am a big fan of modern navigation insofar as it means instant knowledge of exact position, speed, and current track. But having that information shouldn't interfere with looking out and around for general position, changing weather, traffic conflicts, and channel information. Visibility from the the cockpit of a sailboat is poor enough without having some big screen chart plotter nesting in an obtuse instrument pod mounted over the helm, dominating an already compromised scan. 

Kintala and I have never had the kind of relationship that some people seem to have with their boats. For the most part I describe our time together as "dysfunctional". But I have to admit that, watching her settle into the water, the old girl is growing on me a little. She is a great sailing boat, but sailing is sailing. Pretty much any sailing boat will do for our purposes and this one is still soft in the bilges, too narrow aft, and lacking in storage space. But she is paid for, ours, and almost ready to go.

And that makes her pretty near to perfect.

The family in their sailing dinghy
We have been here a long time. It has been a good time with family nearby. (This will likely be the hardest of all the hard good-bys that are part and parcel of this life.) We have had the chance to get the boat up to speed once again. I have logged another year of boat tech work, expanding my own skill level to the point where I am pretty comfortable with the hardware/mechanical side of this world. 

On the operations side Deb and I will both be licensed Captains as soon as the paperwork works its way though the paperwork mill. Now, if I could just figure out how to make the boat go backwards with any kind of grace…

It has been10 years since we first started looking at living on a boat. Eight since we bought Ye ‘ol Tartan. Going on five since we first left Oak Harbor. So far our cruising life hasn’t had a lot of the “fair winds and following seas ” everyone wishes on you when you head out. But at this point it is hard to imagine living any other way. 

And it is near time to toss off the dock lines and give it another go.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Strange kind of day

Work on Kintala continues. The cockpit is looking good with teak gleaming.  The bottom of the hull is also looking good, the last coat of black going on today. The bottom took a bit longer because, when it comes to being a customer rather than an employee, I can  be a real pain. The first coat of red was done and my friend doing the bottom paint started opening up the rest can of black. I asked, “How much red is left in the can?”

“About half a gallon.”

“Half a gallon? I live on the boat. Where IN the boat am I going to put a half gallon of paint, and what do you think I’m going to do with it? I’ve already paid for it, put it ON the boat where it will do me some good. I don’t want to take this thing out of the water again for at least two years.”

He laughed, put the black away, and started to spread the left over red on the keel and waterline. The same will happen with the black. It is likely to cost a bit more but, as usual, this job lurched out of control a couple of weeks ago. There is no use worrying about digging out of a hole until you know how deep the hole is going to be.

But that isn’t what made it a strange kind of day. While the bottom paint was going on I was sanding on the board we use to secure jugs at the rail. It takes a real beating hanging out on the edge of the deck as it does. Not only was it looking bad, there were some cracks and small chunks missing that needed attention. As I was sanding away on the first coats of primer another friend, who was working on the boat on the hard next to us, walked over to see what I was doing.

Apropos to nothing, the boat he is working on is a one of those go fast powerboats with a forward leaning arch over the cockpit. Though that arch is only a couple of feet taller than someone sitting at the helm, the owner/driver still managed to smack a bridge with it…at some kind of serious speed no less. He didn’t manage to tear the thing completely off, but the damage was pretty extensive. The name of the boat? “Sudden Impact.” It just doesn’t pay to tempt fate.

Anyway, when he asked how it was going, I told him I was just sanding down the primer coat. He will be doing the same on a gel coat repair soon so he smiled and went back to work. Just then, out of nowhere, a memory from more than 50 years ago overwhelmed my workbench and nearly took my breath away. It was of my Grandfather. We were down in the wood shop in the basement of his house in Rockford where he was showing me how to run a sander and explaining that it wasn’t unusual to sand most of the first coat of primer off of a project. “Take your time” he told me. “Do it right, because the finished work can’t look any better than the base coat.

It was my first schooling in the art of finishing wood, floating up from the distant past. I think my Grandfather would find the work being done on Ye Ol Tartan acceptable, though I have no doubt that, in his day, he would have gotten it done both better and faster. When we were not working in his shop or garden, he had a classic wooden power boat that we would use to go fishing. It was pretty much my only exposure to boats when I was young. I suspect he would be surprised to know that I live on a boat now, as I doubt a liveaboard lifestyle was one that ever occurred to him. Rockford, IL is a long, long way from big salt water and I can’t say for sure that my Grandfather ever got further away from that town than Pittsburgh, when he traveled to visit us.

My grandfather, grandmother, and four of the five of us kids
in front of their house in Rockford, IL
From that memory flowed another, that of attending my Grandmother’s funeral now many decades ago. I don’t remember just how old I was then, late teens maybe early twenties. Nor do I remember many of the details. What I do remember is thinking that I had never seen a man as deeply hurt as was my Grandfather that day. He clung to my Dad like a person completely lost, and he never recovered. It was barely a year later when his broken heart gave up trying to heal. Up to then I had never suspected how deep love could go.

Oddly, right up until today I never thought about how important I might have been in his life. I can’t say for sure that I was. I can’t say for sure that I wasn’t. He lived a long way away and we didn’t see each other more than a few days a year. But I have my own grand kids now, ones that I only see a few times a year, Not a day goes by that I don’t think of each of them, wonder what they are doing, how well they are growing up. Was it the same for him?

An echo from his life has been hanging around all day. It is a good echo, even tinged as it is with a bit of sadness that the memories are so few and faded.

Maybe he would have liked big water after all.