Thursday, December 13, 2018

Stumbling my way through…

People who live on land have made this getting back to land thing far more difficult than it needs to be. Out on the water people tend to take your word for things. People “buddy boat” for weeks or months starting out with just a simple agreement between two crews who, likely, hardly know each other. They start to respect each other pretty quickly when making joint decisions on weather and routing. Should one boat run into some kind of trouble, the other will step up and help in every way possible. Often, in our experience, “buddies” will go far above and beyond what would be expected to get their new friends out of whatever jam they have found themselves in. Such is born without so much as a handshake, just people meeting, talking, finding they have a common goal, and then agreeing to help each other along for while. Which is sort of what it should be like to have a job.

No one thinks that the other crew might be lying about their level of experience, no one doubts that the stories told are basically true. It must be admitted that sailors are at least as good as those who fish at telling stories, but somehow that gets taken into account and all is well. No one thinks that the story will be exaggerated to the point where claims of knowledge and ability are being exaggerated. In fact it is often the other way around. People who have had thousands upon thousands of miles slip under their keels, with more stamps in their passports than most people have bills, are almost shy about their adventures. Telling tales is one thing, baseless and exaggerated boasting quite another. Rarely have I seen the latter among the cruising community.

One of our first buddy boats

That level of trust is seen in other ways. During our years on the water, we often helped out another crew with some mechanical problem. It was never necessary to offer proof that I knew enough to help. It was just assumed that I would help as much as I could, or at least not make matters worse.

Ah, but moving to land…

We bought a car. Part of that buying process involves getting it registered. Part of that registration process means listing an address. We don’t yet have an official address in Missouri, even though this is where I am currently living and where the job is located. We listed the address of the apartment we have a tentative agreement to lease. But we can’t sign that lease until I can prove I have a job. So, when the official job offer came in my email I forwarded it to the leasing office. The email, rightly so, didn’t actually have a benefits package or pay scale listed and so wasn’t good enough for the leasing office. Now I have to take a paper copy of the benefits package to the leasing office. I can tell them how much I will be making over the phone, but that isn’t good enough either. They need to see a piece of paper. In the meantime the car registrations ended up going to a place where we don’t actually live yet, and have since disappeared into the unknown. Surely ours are not the first registrations ever lost and we will be able to get duplicates. And just as surely it will be a pain in the ass, having to prove to some agent somewhere that I am who I say I am and I actually own the car they already know I own.

Then there is the background check. My resume goes back roughly 45 years. The contract company doing the background check sent me an email. They couldn’t verify that I actually attended the tech school I attended right out of High School in order to start my career, and insisted I send some kind of document. Oddly enough, my graduation certificate was actually near at hand. I took a picture of it and posted it in an email, a picture anyone halfway competent with photo shop could likely fabricate in less than 5 minutes. But it made them happy. Now though, they can’t verify that I actually worked at one company for eight years. They can verify the first five years, after that? Nada. They want me to contact the IRS, come up with some documents, and email them along. I will do it of course, but I thought the whole idea of a background check was to independently verify the claimed background. If you are going believe in the documents I send that can easily be fabricated, why not just believe my resume in the first place? The really weird thing, those last 3 years were spent flying with the person who brought me to this job, a person who as been a FS instructor for more than 5 years. If they want to verify I worked there, all they have to do is ask him. Hell, we went to Flight Safety together at least twice in those last three years for recurrent training.

Land living apparently makes one skeptical of everything and everybody. Nothing is taken at face value, no one’s word is good, everyone is assumed to be running some kind of scam. I guess that is understandable, just look around. The land lets people get away with things, things big water would use to administer a major smackdown.

All who live out on big water face the same challenges, deal with the same kinds of problems, have to have mastered the same basic skills. There is no where to hide when things go awry, and when they do everyone caught tends to work together; first to survive, then to recover. When cruisers meet it is something they know that they share. Somehow big water has infused much of the cruising community with a basic honesty.

Something I never thought about much until heading back to land, and something I really, really miss at the moment.

Monday, December 10, 2018


It has been several weeks since I put Kintala in the rear view mirror, heading back to St. Louis to work for Flight Safety International as a ground / sim instructor. The job is secure now, with the official start date less than two weeks away. There will be a ton of training / preparation work before I actually stand in front of a class room full of pilots or saddle up in a sim. First there is the required pile of paperwork to complete. There is an old saying in aviation that goes along the lines of - an airplane can’t fly until the weight of the design, test, and certification paperwork is at least equal to the maximum take-off weight of the aircraft. Digital files and computers have reduced that stack somewhat, but it looks like pre-employment paperwork for flight instructors has to equal about half the applicant’s body weight before they can be turned loose.

Once the paperwork is complete and indoc finished, the real training begins. There is computer-aided training on subjects yet to be disclosed. Then there is a new type rating for the aircraft they want me to teach, the Embraer Legacy 500. This will be my fourth type rating, the third I have earned at Flight Safety. A type rating is a month-long training exercise whose intensity is hard to describe. Modern day full-motion simulators are marvels of engineering. It is quite easy to forget that one is attached to Mother Earth, and so no matter how badly a maneuver might get botched, the ground will not rise up and smite thee. The risk might be simulated, but the tension on the flight deck can get very real indeed. There are emergency procedures; engine failures at the most critical moments of a departure roll, wind shear encounters, explosive decompression, flight control anomalies, fire…that must be utterly mastered. Perfect execution, in these cases, is just barely good enough. 

Along with the simulator training are forays deep into the aircraft systems: normal operations, failure modes, redundancies, limits, reversion modes…hydraulics, electrical, flight controls, pressurization, air conditioning, de-ice systems, auto-brakes…  Yes, there will be a test and no, it will not be graded on a curve. Every professional pilot in every airliner cockpit has been through similar training. That is a good part of the reason for it being safer riding along in an airliner that has lost an engine and half of its flight instruments on a dark and stormy Saturday night, than it is driving down the road on that same dark and stormy Saturday night after the bars have closed. On a sunny Sunday morning with all the systems up and running normally, it is safer to be sitting in an airliner than to be sitting in church.

For flight instructors there is another whole area of training required, that of learning how to use the training aids, those being the simulator, graphical flight simulator (GFS - otherwise known as a cockpit procedures trainer to us old pilots) and the myriad training aids used in the classroom. There will also be a week’s worth of instructing on being an instructor, something I am quite curious about and looking forward to doing. It all sounds rather daunting even if I have been through it several times before, and have spent hundreds of hours standing in front of a class room full of students. 

Will the upcoming years be interesting, challenging, and worth while? Yes. Will they be as good as those same years spent on Kintala, wandering hither and yon, being part of the cruising family? I honestly don’t know. My thoughts easily drift back to quiet anchorages, clear waters, and overnight passages; both easy and not so easy. Most of my dreams are of being on the boat, the first waking moments bring a touch of regret as the dreams give way to being back on land. My feeling is this is going to be both better than I had hoped, and harder than I had imagined. Its a bit like that first crossing to the Islands, half way there in the middle of the night, lightning on the horizon, lumpy waves occasionally splashing into the cockpit. One part of the brain says, "Relax, it will be fine. You know what you are doing." But some other part of the brain says, "Are you crazy? What are you doing here?"

For the curious, the link shows the exact place that will be my working "home," and the very sim I am about to learn.

Friday, December 7, 2018

We own a car...

We own a car. I know “American Normal” is to own at least one car, usually more. In fact, at this moment, we actually own two, though that will soon be rectified and is part of another story. But the fact is we have been rather happy with not owning a car for these past five years. When needed, we would rent a car for a day, weekend, or for a trip to see Daughters and families. We used one when we needed one, paid for it, and didn’t pay for having one around when it wasn’t being used. If we had owned a car it would have been hard to come up with a way to move the car as we wandered around. Even a small one wouldn’t fit on the deck, and trying to tow one behind Kintala would likely not work out very well. So we made do without. But now we need a car nearly every day as there is no public transportation that works with my new schedule.

I have a schedule. I know it is “American Normal” to have one’s life ruled by schedules. There are schedules for work, kids' soccer, church or other social obligations; people have self imposed schedules to catch sports games on TV or particular TV shows. Cruising “schedules” are a whole ‘nuther thing, spanning hurricane seasons and month long tide schedules. They shift and change; the schedule that worked northbound in the spring would bring nothing but trouble if tried southbound in the fall. On the boat, most of the time, if something caught my interest that kept me up most of the night, no problem. There was no alarm set for the morning and I could sleep as long as needed. But soon there will be a “schedule to keep,” though it is still likely to be different from most “land schedules.” 

Oddly enough, though airline passengers think of nothing but the schedule, and get rather irritated when a carrier doesn’t hold to the schedule, for people who actually work in the flying end of aviation “schedule” is a misnomer. Flying work comes at all hours of the day and night, everyday of the year. Some trips last a day, others two or three and, depending on the particular segment of aviation one is in, can run on for a week or more. In the training world that I am about to enter, the full motion sims (each of which cost in the millions of dollars range) normally work 20 hours a day, pretty much every day of the week. Since “flight time,” even in a sim, has daily limits set by regulation, it takes roughly two and a half instructors to ride herd on the crews training each day. Someone gets to head for work around 0300 in the A type M in order to crank up the sim at 0400. Someone else gets to shut the thing down at Midnight. The time slots shift so constantly that one of the questions during my official interview was if having a not-really-a-schedule schedule would be difficult for me. 

So my soon-to-be schedule-less schedule requires a car. And it turns out I’m not much of a city driver any more. In fact I’m not much of any kind of driver. I have turned in to that “old guy” who sets the cruise control at 5 over the speed limit and then goes about my business. Oh, I try to stay out of the “fast lane” so long as my exit doesn’t get off from that side. But if it does I’m not likely to speed up for the last mile or two just because the guy behind me is pounding on his steering wheel and shaking his fist at me. If I notice at all I’ll just wave back. Truth to tell though, I would rather try and get Kintala on a dock in a 3 knot cross current or cross the Gulf Stream on a dark and bumpy night, than tangle with Rt 40 through St. Louis at rush hour. I think doing the latter is far more hazardous. I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but some of these land dweller types are in an awful hurry for people who can’t drive very well.