Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Time to vote...

So Deb and I voted today via mail. I’m not going to say anything about how we voted, though those who know me can probably guess. I like voting by mail, it allows time to research each person and each item on the ballot as I go down the ballot. Something nearly impossible to do at an actual voting place.

It was possible to look up the resume and political history of each candidate even, (in some cases) to follow the electronic footprints of their social media contributions. It seems the most prudent thing to do is try to find words written by the candidates themselves, though a small dose of skepticism is warranted. What their opponents might say about them also has some merit, but must be taken with a huge helping of skepticism. Often what they say about their opponent says quite a bit about the kind of person they are themselves, and what kind of representative they might be.

In the case of voting to leave judges and justices in office, it helps to see on which side of an argument they often fall. Just who appointed them to the bench in the first place is also a pretty good indication of where their allegiances lie. Finding some of that information takes a bit of digging.

The real benefit of voting by mail comes when considering the list of state constitutional amendments. Those often seem to be deliberately written so as to be as confusing as possible. It is a puzzle why that would be. People voting by “giving it their best guess” would be as likely to get it wrong (according to the authors of the amendment) as to get it right. Wading through the verbiage to get to the real intent of the amendment can be a daunting task.

An additional problem is that many of the amendments bundled several, completely unrelated issues, into one vote. Voting for an issue for which one approves often means also voting for a different issue on which one is vehemently opposed. Balancing the “what I would like to see” from the “what I really don’t want to see” against each other can often lead to a near draw. In at least one case on this last ballot I voted against an amendment just because it was a near draw. First, do no harm. (Or, as in the case of a lot of voting these days, do no MORE harm.)

Of course anyone can do the same amount of research before going to a polling place, and all of us should. But the daily rush of normal living sometimes makes it hard to set aside the time to do so. It helps me to have ballot, black (or blue) pen in hand, access to information, and all the time I need to poke around as much as I want on each issue or candidate. I suspect that is about the only way democracy has much of a chance.

So our votes are cast and I can go back to not paying a lot of attention to the daily shenanigans of those in power. On the one hand I consider voting to be a near moral imperative. It is about the only way we have to voice an opinion that matters. On the other hand I’m not convinced it actually makes any difference, particularly on the national level. There is nothing about the electoral college, the design of the Senate, or the gerrymandering of the Congress, that is the least bit democratic. The majority opinion as regards those institutions is proving to be utterly inconsequential.  So, though I think we should all vote, and approach the privilege with near reverence, I also ponder the accuracy of the words once shared by the late comedian George Carlin.

“Everybody complains about politicians...”

But where do people think these politicians come from? They don’t fall out of the sky. They don’t pass through a membrane from another reality.

No, they come from American homes, American families, American schools, American churches, American businesses, and they’re elected by American voters. This is the best we can do, folks. It’s what our system produces...

So I vote, but with huge helping of skepticism thrown in. My deepest suspicion is that riding along on an empire in decline might be a bumpy passage, and there seems little chance that we can change the course of that history at this late date. But a minute chance of changing course is still better than no chance at all. Voting by mail makes it possible to do so as carefully and responsibly as I can.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Two Books...One Boat...Two Views...One Mind

The blog has been uncharacteristically quiet for the last couple of months.  Part of the reason is that we've been sitting still in Beaufort, SC and there hasn't been much to talk about. But the real reason is that our writing energies have been going new books.

It's an odd thing that each of us were writing new books separately and yet, somehow, managed to finish them both at the same time. As any of you who have written anything of any length know, those last few weeks before release are a flurry of edits and re-reads to the point that you have difficulty even focusing on the words. With each edit you think you're done, only to have a proofreader find yet another typo or formatting mistake. At long last, though, both are finished. And that brought up a whole new issue – how to release two such different books at the same time.

 I posed the question to a Women Who Sail writing group that I belong to, some of whom suggested that we should stagger the releases to allow for sufficient attention to each one. Great idea, but we wanted both books out in time for the Christmas gift giving season so there's insufficient time to do separate releases. Then there was the idea of setting up a marketing contest of sorts, allowing our readers to choose which book they wanted released first. After thinking about it, I realized I didn't want to pit our works against each other in such a way.

The longer I mused, the more I realized that the situation embodied our relationship. One of the reasons we have succeeded in cruising for so long is that we get along really well. We are a melded unit of nearly fifty years, with the kind of relationship that allows complex thoughts to pass between us with just a glance and a smile. Though we share that kind of bond, we also allow each other space to be independent characters, are happy in our own skins, and content to sit, sometimes for days, in total silence in each other's company. The new books are our individual reflections on two different subjects, reflections of two different individuals who happen to share a small boat as a living space.

Tj's is a short little book reflecting on the ways in which learning how to play a ukulele at age 63 changed his perception of the world around him. The uke was gifted to him by four of our grand kids nearly a year ago, and the book was birthed by far-ranging philosophical discussions between Tj and our eldest daughter about those changes. She – the poet writer – encouraged him to write them down, and Learning From a Uke – a small book for a small instrument was born. It's a short little book, thought-provoking and honest, that touches a bit on the difficulties of aging gracefully and the joys of learning something new at any age. It's one you can pick up over and over, each time finding something new.

My book came about because I was cleaning out and sorting the thousands of photos in my computer pictures folder the day after having another of the discussions we often have with new cruisers about how to get started. As I browsed through the photos, remembering those years of preparation prior to embarking on this adventure, many of them reminded me how easy it was to get totally wrapped up in the “how” of accomplishing it, and to lose sight of why I was doing it in the first place. I began to gather those in a folder and to write a short bit about each one. Being a writer, I wanted to capture in words the essence of this lifestyle that the photos captured so well. The Essence is a collection of those photos and vignettes that touch on what it means to me to live this life with the sea.

Both books are available in Kindle and print format; the print formats make for great holiday gifts. If you do read them, please leave a review on Amazon. It can't be emphasized enough how important reviews are to self-published writers. We also love to hear from our readers, so feedback is greatly appreciated – it's the way we learn to write better, and learning something new to improve yourself is always a welcome thing.

We hope that you take from them as much as they have given us in the writing of them.

Reflections on another hurricane

As has become our habit, we decided to scamper away from the oncoming Michael a bit earlier than originally planned. Even a modest ramp up in winds, consistent 20s with guests into the 30s, would rough up the waters between the boats and the dock more than we should risk with the little ones. In addition, unloading the boats in heavy rain is just more work with everything being slippery and heavy; not helpful when the Dink is already bouncing and banging around in the wind and waves. So we bailed a day early, still had bouncy rides back and forth from boat to dock, and got a little wet.

Settling into the hotel always comes with sigh of relief. Then it becomes a waiting game, fidgeting as the hours tick by while wondering just how hard a turn our lives are about to make. A turn over which, in the physical sense of a storm’s path, one has absolutely no control or influence. It is good exercise for my everyday, working philosophy; which includes accepting that most things that steer a life are outside of my control and are, therefore, not my responsibility. My responsibility is making sound and intelligent choices in the face of those things. Do that and be content with the outcome, whatever it might be, for that is the best anyone can do.

There was always a reasonable chance we would come through unscathed and, though we haven’t been back to the boats yet, there is no reason to think otherwise. The storm is now north and west of Beaufort, not even disturbing our sleep as it passed in the night.

Tomorrow we will return to the boats and go about returning to what is normal living for us. Many discussions will follow as to what to do next, where to go, and for how long. Dodging bullets is expensive, though not near as expensive as catching one. Establishing an income stream of some sort will be necessary for a while. Sorting that out will have much to do with the direction Kintala’s bow points over the coming months. Cruising, for us, was never about retiring onto a boat. So far it hasn’t been about just learning to live on a boat either. Instead it has been a matter of learning to make a living while living on a boat. We are working on it.

It would be silly, not to mention an act of awesome arrogance, to think a hurricane was the least influenced by anything any individual might do. Yet having to shrug off a little bit of “survivor’s guilt” still comes with the event. This makes the third time in 13 months that utter disaster has passed within a whisker, disrupting millions of lives, yet leaving ours basically untouched. Somewhere, deep inside, a soul knows that just isn’t fair, that it is pure luck to land in the “unharmed” side of the equation. People far more deserving of a stroke of luck landed on the opposite side; people with fewer choices, fewer resources, alone, now destitute, facing the bleakest of futures. There is something wrong with a heart that isn’t touched by that, that isn’t left puzzled, that doesn’t wonder “why?”

Then again, Daughter Eldest and family that includes four young kids, are among those who deserve a bit of luck. Maybe Deb and I didn’t catch an undeserved break so much as ride along in their bubble of fortune.

Anyway, it is time to get back outside. Three days in a hotel, sitting with walls on every side, a roof overhead, and a floor that doesn’t move with the wind and the water, is okay. The air conditioning is nice, the staff here a delight, snuggling under the covers at night a treat. We paid for three nights, nonrefundable (based on the forecasts) and so will make the best of our little vacation. But, even after a vacation, it is always good to get back home.

Our home is more exposed to Mother Earth than most. And it is clear She doesn’t much care about human kind one way or the other. Some might even suggest she is getting a bit testy over our collective choices, displeased with our stewardship, and short-tempered with our irresponsibility and short-sighted greed. I can’t say, and can’t change it anyway. What I do know is that three of the most powerful storms in US history have now passed close by and, no matter what path they took or what else they might have done, some of the people I love most in the world were out of their direct reach. That is the world we live in, the home that we have chosen. We live in it the best that we can.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Weather weary...

Knowing that, come morning, decisions will have to be made in the face yet another hurricane, makes for a poor night's sleep. Come morning we made a run to the dock, and were surprised by the best rainbow we have seen in a long while. We took it as a reminder that making the best decisions we can is all we can do, and the rest will unfold as it will.

It looks like Hurricane Michael is going to give Beaufort a solid thumping, putting the boats in the north east quadrant of the storm as it passes early Thursday morning. The leading edge of tropical force winds is due to arrive Wednesday mid day and last through Thursday, maybe into Friday. Hours of winds up to 70 mph is a long, uncomfortable, scary ride on a boat riding to a mooring ball for any adult. For kids it would be downright terrifying.

So here we go again. This time we will be staying in Beaufort, heading for a local hotel rather than renting a car and running inland. That will help ease the debris field that is our bank statement every time we have to do this, "this" being the third time in 18 months. Which is why we are "weather weary." Prepping for storms and evacuating is a high workload, high stress decision. Always, in the back of your mind, is the thought, "Is this the one that tags us?"  Carrying that thought around is a load, all by itself.

Michael will (Should?) pass inland of us, which is another reason for not running too far. We would have to put a lot of miles in to avoid riding out a tropical storm in a hotel. We can do that just as easy here. Besides,  I'm not sure we have enough of a head start.Thirty-six hours ago the debate was over a low pressure area that might develop tropical characteristics. This morning the debate is over how major this major storm is going to be, with just two days warning for friends in the great bend area. By the end of the day it seemed clear that Michael is going to be a big deal indeed.

We have taken 60 knot winds without damage several times before, but are doing a near full boat prep anyway.  Clearing the decks and tying the main sail down to within an inch of its life only took a couple of hours. The new mooring lines are still on, and we will add the safety lines on top of those. It helps that, in a fit of mild paranoia, we didn’t put the head sails back up after Florence. There wasn’t any reason to think that Mother Earth was done cooking up hurricanes this season. Worse, She appears to have a recipe for microwaving up a storm in just a few days, and they have been consistently big, powerful, and serious. The only good news is that Michael will have to plow its way across a good chunk of land before it gets here, so there is reason to think all will be well after a couple of days in a hotel. But staying on the boat means betting one's life on that being true, and I'm not that much of a gambler.

Big storms do big damage. This one doesn’t have to shift very far to the east to be a serious, serious threat to the entire south east coast of the US. So this will be another week of work and worry. Truth to tell, one of these days, some careful thought will have to be given to just how viable living on a boat in the south east US might be. But for now, all we can do is make the best short term decisions that we can based on what we know at this moment. That means getting to work to prep that boat and getting people we love into a stout shelter to ride out the storm. It is the best we can do to insure there are more rainbows in our future.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Things I used to do

We are back to the “living in a mooring field” routine. We have just about decided, whenever Kintala runs out of water, to drop the mooring lines and head to the dock. It doesn’t take any more time than repeated runs in the Ding hauling water jugs, is easier on the back, warms up the oil in the Beast, and wakes all the accessory gear out of its slumber to make sure it all still works. It is also some practice for one part of running a boat where I could use some practice, getting on and off a dock. Not serious practice since the fuel dock here is really easy, an open face dock that sits parallel to the current flow. The only trick is to wait for something other than peak for that current, and not go in on a weekend. I’m pretty shy about the current, it can peak out at near two knots here, and I don’t want to push my luck.

It didn’t used to be that way.

Once upon a long, long time ago Deb and I owned a little Cessna 150 airplane. It was equipped with an engine having 50% more horsepower than the original, and modified wings. All which added up to impressive short take off and landing capabilities. (STOL in pilot speak.) It could also fly at very low indicated airspeeds. (And do a pretty decent loop and barrel roll, though don’t tell anyone I told you that.) One day I didn’t have much to do and the wind at the airport where we based was howling directly down the runway at something like 40 knots. So I went out to fly, doing repeated take offs and landings just for fun. (Touch and goes in pilot speak.)

Normally one flies a rectangle pattern around an airport. But that day launching into that wind was almost a vertical take off. Accelerating to near cruise speed while in a slight climb would bring the far end of the runway underneath.  Then the 150 could be slowed and flown at a low enough airspeed for it to drift backward down the runway at about 20 knots, still nose into the wind and under full control. When the approach end of the runway passed below, putting the nose down and accelerating would get the wheels over the runway, then, if the power was played just right, they would touch down and barely spin. I don’t recall having managed a perfect hover landing, but I got pretty close. It was a hoot. But now I can’t imagine what I was thinking or why I would try such a thing. And yes (for those who know a bit about little airplanes and big winds) taxiing to the runway and then back to the hanger was, by far, the most difficult part of the flight. Forty knots worth of wind is enough to put a 150 on its back if one taxis without paying attention.

These days I would not even try to bring Kintala to a dock in a 3 knot current, even with a clear approach path. It should work. Drive up close at a shallow angle, use the Beast just enough to equal the boat speed to the current, and hand a line over without comment. But back in my Cessna 150 days I was too young to know better, too sure of myself to think of all the things that could have gone wrong, and was a far better airplane driver (then) than I am boat pilot (now).

We’ll wait to near slack current to go fill the water tanks.