Thursday, July 11, 2019

Throwback Thursday - The Destination

Whether you're preparing to go cruising, or whether you're transitioning to land or to another boat or adventure, feeling like you're never going to get there is a very common thing. I wrote this post less than a year before we left, but I suspect I'll feel exactly the same when we transition back to the boat at the end of our time here.

he Destination

I follow a blog called Terra D'Agua which, if you've never been, is worth looking at. One of the two writers, Tassio, wrote a thought-provoking piece about the destination being the journey. His quote:

"Who gives time to meet the paths of a place is usually rewarded with surprising moments of pure authenticity. For sure the stop over on the city or next port is really appreciated but when I travel I try not to focus only on my port of arrival, my destination is sometimes in between a place and the other."


I was thinking a lot on that quote today because it seems like the path to the destination of our departure is getting farther away instead of closer. The house won't sell, we're having mechanical issues, the mountain of things that would need done to actually move out of the house if it did sell is astronomical, etc etc. It discourages me sometimes because I keep celebrating birthdays in the meantime.

Then today, even though we couldn't sail (no water in the lake), I got a lot of canvas work done and Tim got a lot of teak cleaned and ready for refinishing, and we had some good times with friends at the marina, and for the moment it occurred to me that our departure, while it's a goal, is only a piece of the journey we're already on. 

So for now my destination is in between a place and the other.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Learning and teaching

There are now two Ukuleles living in our little apartment. The original Blue Soprano gifted me by Daughter Eldest and Family nearly two years ago, and a new wood Concert Uke with a finish as deep as on any good teak work. It is a pretty thing, with a slightly deeper tone and offering a little more room on the fret board on which my mechanic’s hands can fumble. I play them both, with Blue being my companion when I’m out on the road. That doesn’t happen very often, but it went with me to Dallas last month and will likely go along when I head to Orlando in a few days for another week of classroom work. In addition to plunking away at the strings, the urge to actually learn some music theory came over me…and I thought the theory of flight was confusing. But I think its good to keep learning new things.

Stumbling up to bare competence in Basic Ukulele with the goal of someday actually playing passible music keeps me on the student side of the student / guide equation, making a good balance to teaching in the jet. Though the people I work with are far from amateurs, their learning experience is a compressed, drinking-from-a-fire-hose marathon of classes, tests, Sim time and check rides. It is a high pressure learning environment.

Any learning curve is jagged, filled with slumps, valleys, and plateaus. Instructors need to remember that and, more importantly, remind students of this inescapable fact. Serious learning is never easy and never goes smoothly. Another fact is that mastering the rationale behind a physical skill is one thing, perfecting the skill quite another. Learning the physics behind and the complex relationships that form a musical scale helps in understanding just how the music should sound. But there is no escaping the fact that the fingers have to play that scale a thousand times before it sounds good enough to be included in a song. It was the same learning to sail. Classroom time spent learning the basics was time well spent. But no one becomes a sailor, or a pilot, in the classroom. No one becomes a good instructor sitting in a classroom either. Standing in front of one? Sure. Sitting in one? Not so much.

Which is the one tiny frustration I have right now, not doing a lot of teaching. Though I have worked with a couple of crews in the GFS, most of my time is still spent on internal training, with the class coming up being focused on meeting the requirements to teach European crews. I also get to spend some time as the right seat pilot for other FSI instructors doing their own internal training. It is all good stuff, adding to my own store of knowledge and offering up some good practice time. But I am really looking forward to more time spent working with those learning to fly a machine new to them.

And though it seems a little odd, being a student of the Uke helps make me a better instructor in the jet.

Ed Note: If you have always wanted to play the ukulele but feel like you're too old to start, read Tj's book, Learning From a Uke, available on Amazon.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Throwback Thursday - How to Cut a Pineapple the Easy Way

I did this video for YouTube and even on land I find it a very useful technique to utilize. I originally posted it on my companion site, Cruising Comforts, my companion cooking blog. The blog started out life as a collection of recipes that you could make in a boat galley, but after discovering that staying healthy is extremely difficult while cruising, I changed the focus. I started the Noom weight loss/lifestyle program after we settled in St. Louis, and the focus of the recipes became health related. I did leave all the comfort food recipes on the blog, though, because everybody needs a treat once in awhile...just not every day 😉

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Sistership Magazine

For any of you that might not know, there is an amazing new publication constructed largely for sailing women called Sistership Magazine. I've been writing a couple things for them and I wanted to draw attention to the publication in case any of you weren't aware of it. Here is a link to a free issue of it from November so that you can try before you buy. It's well worth the money, though, for a subscription.

The article that I wrote for them most recently was called The Challenge of Healthy Cruising, published in the June 2019 issue. It's a topic that became near and dear to my heart after we returned to land temporarily to build up the cruising kitty. I'd gained a lot of weight because it turns out that you spend way more time sitting while cruising than you do moving around (who knew?) 

I also entered one of their writing contests on the topic of "Changing Places" and just recently was notified that I won second place in the contest for my entry "The Sojourn." It was a story about the difficulty of returning to land after cruising almost six years. They publish anthologies of all of the best entries in each of their contests, and mine will be published in that anthology soon.

So if you're looking for a really high quality publication that deals with serious issues for women sailors and champions some pretty impressive women, give the free issue a try and support Sistership with a subscription.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Never ignore the good

London City Airport, England, identified as EGLC in the aviation world, is an interesting place.The single runway is 4948 feet long with the ramp area on the south side being less than half that length paralleling the west end.  There is no parallel taxiway for the length to the east. Aircraft landing east pull into a loop at the end of the runway to turn around and back taxi to the ramp, nose to nose with the inbound traffic. Because it lies among the city’s buildings the approach is steep, 5.5 degrees as compared to the standard 3.0 degrees. Departure corridors are equally steep in order to accommodate both safety and noise concerns. They fly airliners into the place. It takes special training and authorization to operate there, specific to the type of equipment being used.

Photo credit: Ercan Karakaş

Innsbruck, Austria is another interesting place. The airport’s field elevation is 1907', nestled in a picturesque valley and noted for the world class skiing on the surrounding mountains; mountains that are just shy of 10,000 feet tall. Approaches into that airport start letting down into the valley as much as 27 miles away, then wind their way to the airport with mountains framing the inbound path. Landing to the east, the point of the final turn that lines one up with the landing runway (known on the chart as WI005) is just 2.6 miles from the approach end. The runway itself slips into view a few moments before reaching that point. It is also a place that requires specialized training in any airplane one wants to fly into the place while the weather is down on its face.

America has mountains, skiing, and its own interesting airports, with Aspen, CO being among the most notorious. The Aspen airport elevation is 7837 feet with the surrounding mountains touching 14,000 feet. The RNAV (GPS) - F approach boasts a descent angle of 6.49 degrees, which is easily topped by that of the VOR DME - C approach with its ear popping angle of 9.61. Being in the US of A, home of the rugged individualist and cowboy loner, there is no special training or authorization required to saddle up and head to Aspen. The prudent, however, heading that way in a $20 mil jet loaded with VIPs, like to take a peek before jumping into the deep end. (An attitude much approved by insurance companies.)

A flight instructor working in a full motion simulator bolted to the ground in St. Louis gets to fly into all three. (It is a bit of a jolt to climb out of the Sim after a few hours of "flying" around London, then climb into a car to take I70 east to St. Louis.) I’ve been to Aspen for real. The London “flight” happened a day or so ago and I’ll be “heading” to Innsbruck, again, in a week or so. This plane has a special system's mode for steep approaches, one that raises the approach speed while allowing full spoilers to be deployed along with full flaps; a configuration not available during more normal approaches and landings. The procedure isn’t overly complicated, but it's always more comfortable to not try something new while “on the fly” at 200 knots.

Seeing new places, even if through view-screen “windows” looking out at a synthetic world, helps with making the transition to living a land-bound life. Outside of the Sim life is traffic, bustle, the constant barrage of propaganda, advertisements, and the relentless noise of civilization. It is a frenzy now ramping up to insane levels with the incoming national political campaigns beginning to unfold. (Those living on the water and off these shores should rejoice at being well insulated from the madness.)

Photo Credit: Andrew Jacob Byrnes (@jakeofsaltlake)
We have found a nearby bar that has not a single TV anywhere to be seen, a rare find nowadays. (It would be no surprise if some future civilization categorizes our fascination with TV as an addiction; and a fatal one at that.) Walks in the nearby parks, having a bit more resilience to life-threatening weather, and the endless joy of having grand kids around are more than just balms for the stationary soul. They are treasures in their own right, things to be cherished and celebrated. I miss the open water life, but life is rarely all bad or all good. No matter where life leads, one should never ignore the good while emphasizing the bad. Something I am still learning to do.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Throwback Thursday - The Three-Cent Wonder

This is another one of those most-visited posts. It has saved countless tools from departing the boat. I posted this originally on our product review blog page.

The three cent wonder

Posted by Deb
April 8, 2012
Some times the best is improvising. We were replacing the last of the water line in the Tartan this weekend, a project that has spanned over the course of a couple of weeks due to schedule conflicts. One of the last two hoses to do was the one to the V-berth peak tank which unfortunately butts right up against the holding tank with a space just exactly the size of my bicep to get into with a wrench to loosen the hose clamp and replace it on the new line. There isn't enough room to get a screwdriver in there, and not even a regular socket wrench, only our little mini handle wrench which is a slippery handle Snap-on one. The hose fitting also happens to be poised directly over the bilge which angles sharply down under the holding tank. See where I'm going with this?  If one were to drop said wrench, it would slide immediately under the holding tank where even a magnetic retrieval device would fail to reach. In the absence of one of those fancy and expensive tool wrist straps, necessity became the mother of invention and the following 3-cent tool was born:

Loop a rubber band around the tool and pull it tight. Add a second one and a third one, and put the third one around your wrist:

By the way I did, in fact, drop the tool not only once, but three times...

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Throwback Thursday - Just Passin' Through

This post is still one of the most visited posts of our blog. If you spend any time at all in social media, it's worth a read.

Just Passin' Through

Boats leak. A lot. So it was no surprise that a new drop of water slowly streamed its way down the teak siding beneath our headliner, and the irony of its resemblance to a tear was not lost on me. Boat leaks take a lot of work to fix. I sighed deeply.

The leak remained unchecked for some time. We were working our way down the East coast of Florida after having visited with five of our nine grandchildren, on our way to the West coast of Florida where we had arranged to work over the upcoming eight months to replenish our cruising funds. There simply was no time to stop and find the leak, and the summer would provide time in abundance to do so.

Having already tackled some more pressing issues after our arrival, the leak presented itself to the top of the list. It was, of course, part of a multi-project as all boat projects are multi-projects, cause and effect being intertwined in multiple systems in such a small space. The rebedding of the ports project required the removal of the trim around them, which meant the headliner panels were only six screws from being down. It was time.

Kintala is a Tartan 42, known for its soft decks and core damage. Our particular Tartan 42 had the deck core replaced a few years before we bought the boat, a job that was done from the inside of the cabin. We were in possession of photos of the job, one I was happy we had not been required to participate in. As I removed the first panel, I was pleased to see that all the trim pieces and furring strips were well marked, a sign of a professional job. But as I removed the second panel, there staring me in the face was someone's rest-stop-restroom-level declaration of abiding love. It had been scrawled in permanent marker on the new fiberglass, and overlaid with a fresh sheet of glass mat to lend it some permanency.

Scraping old silicone sealant off gives you a lot of time to think. I wondered about the person who wrote the words. Did she still love Ritchie? Was it ever love at all? Did he care for her and respect and support her the way my husband does? Did he bring her smiles or is the scar of their relationship as permanent as this whimsical scrawl? Was it heartfelt, or a pre-Facebook careless need to indulge impulse?

Written communication is a voyage. Through it our thoughts, feelings, and questions travel from the nebulous jumble of impressions in our mind to concrete permanence. Used to be, once upon a time, that communication was labored over. A letter would be carefully crafted and often modified many times before the exact nuance of thought had been captured, a signature artfully assigned, and the stamp affixed. Its receipt would be considered a gift. The command of the English language was broad and deep, and communication an art form of itself. With the increase in the pace of life and the introduction of electronics, communication became – of necessity – fast and easy. Too easy. The letter labored over with love went the way of eight tracks. Impulsive blurting of feelings and impressions became commonplace. Complex thought was delegated to road-weary motivational posters. Subtle humor morphed into crudity.

A disclaimer: I don't yearn for days gone by. I'm a techno-geek and love all things electronic and computer. Without Skype and Facebook to see grandkids, cruising would be much less likely to succeed. But recently I've seen a disturbing trend among my compatriots. The ease of communication through emails, texts, and social media has been around long enough now that it has brought with it a fundamental change – not just in the form and substance of our communication, but in the way we think.

While processing news in short clips without in-depth analysis of the issues is its own whole topic of another discussion, processing relationships the same way is devastating. The overwhelming amount of information and the speed at which it is delivered, leaves us dashing off snippets of communication bereft of body language, voice tone, and eye expression. Carelessly hitting the Send button without reviewing the material in the framework of the person receiving has left many hurting, angry, or confused. The anonymity of internet forums and social media groups lends its own wild West aura to communication, unleashing trolls into the melee with no reliable way to sift their content from our friends'. And while the communication seems fleeting, it's frighteningly permanent, sitting in the cloud archives for eternity to haunt. Writing used to be a legacy to leave behind, a way of lending credence to our short time here. Looking at some of the things in my Facebook feed, I wonder exactly what kind of legacy we're leaving.

Whether you're a cruiser or not, we're all just passing through and time is short. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” I've been blessed that the cruising lifestyle has given me the opportunity to do both. Being far away from those I love, and sharing our adventures with others who wander, I've come to realize that the ability to communicate is both a treasure and a responsibility. The treasure is to be cherished, a means of fulfilling that very basic human need to connect with another; the responsibility lies in measuring its impact. Before it becomes your legacy.

The leak is fixed, the new headliner panels are up, and with it Ritchie's story has leapt from boat maintenance obscurity to the dubious social recognition of the World Wide Web. Besides getting a shiny, clean, new headliner, I also got a reinforced foundation for my thinking. Not a bad return from one little leak.

Friday, June 7, 2019


About a year ago we made friends with some folks who were buying a cat boat. We had looked at cat boats back in the day and, though we made no claims of being experts in the type, they wanted our thoughts as to how they might proceed. They ended up with the boat and have kept in touch while getting ready to go cruising. A while ago we got an email from them. They were sitting at a dock and, in one of those seemingly unlikely coincidences that also seem to happen pretty regularly in the cruising word, made friends with the boat that pulled onto the dock right next to them. It was smallish but obviously serious cruising boast, festooned with the normal cruising gear on deck; dink, water and fuel jugs, solar panels. The other thing that caught their attention was that is was a family boat, with two young boys moving purposely around the deck doing the chores of getting on a dock with practiced ease, with an even younger sister helping out where she could. Dad was at the helm, while Mom sat in the cockpit holding a toddler. Now that two cruising boats met and made quick friends isn't unusual at all. But the email included some pictures…

The boat was Blowin' In The Wind with Daughter Eldest and crew.

Photo courtesy of Scott Katz

I’m guessing there was laughter and smiles involved as the two crews made friends and discovered their mutual connection to Kintala.

Photo courtesy of Scott Katz

We haven’t seen the crew of BITW for a while and, in an odd reversal of roles, on any give day don’t have much of clue as to where they might be. Something Deb and I used to hear complaints about when Daughters (3) couldn’t tell their kids for sure what time zone, or country, DeMa and Grampy T were in. Often they weren’t even sure if we were in any country at all, perhaps being out in open water some where.

And just like that, a longing for being back living that life washed over me. So strong was the feeling that time seemed to stop as memory after memory demanded my attention. None of those memories were of broken bits, the long hours of labor needed to get the boat back in the water, or scary nights out on the foredeck trying to corral a wayward headsail. Instead there were memories of Wizard walks, raft ups, Dink driving lessons, sailing with and on BITW, making plans, and Ukulele lessons in a quiet cockpit far from the noises of civilization.

More, there were memories of a people whose schedules were their own, who lived so close to nature that every change in wind and current registered as something of which to be mindful, of dolphins, jumping rays, and pelicans gliding by with a majesty and grace no human flying contraption has yet duplicated. Memories of the kind of people who go to places utterly wild, unencumbered by any human touch, where the only help comes from what can be done with the skills and materials at hand. There is a whole community of people like that, living as free as any people can manage in this world of dependence that we have created. They are a special tribe. I used to be a member, and some of the people I love most in the world still are.

Somehow, sometime in the future, I hope to be a member once again.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Throwback Thursday - The Thrill is Gone

Weather apps and sources are probably the second most talked about issue amongst cruisers, right after anchors and anchoring. I did this post in 2018 after the Storm App was pulled from service. It deserves reposting as it generates new discussion about sources that others might not know about. So if you have some new favorite app, list it in the comments. Being pilot weather geeks, we prefer the text format forecasts and discussions, but I do miss me some Storm app...

The Thrill is Gone

The past few years of cruising, weather decisions have been made incredibly easy due to the entrance of the Storm weather app to the market in February of 2015. We were so impressed with it that I did a post about it, King of the Weather Apps. The Storm app enabled us to ditch a half dozen other apps because it had all the capabilities under one roof: daily and 7-day forecasts, marine zone forecasting, tropical storm warnings and tracks, a kick-ass radar, lightning, wind want it, it had it. But like a not-so-new teenage crush, or that zippy sports car that acquires its first ding, Storm began to lose its luster. First off, the marine forecasting  - even though it was offered under a subscription - was dropped. Then, a few months later, every time you opened the app it had an ad for the new Storm Radar app. A few months later it was no longer an option, but a mandatory upgrade. As of May 23rd, the Storm app will no longer be supported and only the Storm Radar will continue.

Storm was originally hosted by Weather Underground, a service originating from the University of Michigan in 1995. Even though The Weather Channel acquired Weather Underground in 2012, Storm was released in February of 2015 under the Weather Underground name. Storm was the app that TWC was using for its forecasting and tracking. In fact, that's where I first found out about it, while watching TWC tracking a hurricane. My only guess is that they didn't want everyone else having access to the same info (and therefore not needing TWC to interpret it for them) so they released the much less capable Storm Radar app and discontinued support for the Storm app.

In the already frustrating environment of Garmin's takeover of Active Captain and Navionics, the loss of Storm hits the cruising community hard. The information is not lost It's still all out there through NOAA (since that's where all apps get their input from anyway,) but it's not in an easy-to-use condensed format. It requires much more digging, and much more internet usage to get the same information, and nearly every cruiser finds internet bandwidth to be their most valuable currency. So what are we to do?

Some have elected to purchase subscriptions to weather routers like Chris Parker. He offers a great service to a good many people and I'm grateful he's there. But for former pilots like Tim and I, who have always done our own weather, it's not an option. We want to do our own forecasting and be responsible for our own weather decisions. I've spent the last few days while we're stuck in Marathon waiting on a weather window, to research all the options. A discussion of them follows. If you have any additional information or sources that might be helpful, please leave it in the comments below.

General Forecast Information:

  1. NOAA's New Experimental Forecast Chart: This is probably the best replacement alternative to the Storm App. Their new interactive map allows you to pan and zoom, and to click on your location on the chart for a detailed forecast. The chart looks like this: 

    You can see where I clicked on the Marathon area where we are located. When you click on the More Information link in the block, you get a wide variety of forecasting tools, charts, and maps all for your specific area.
  2. Weather Underground: Still one of the best general weather forecast sites. Typical radar, 10-day forecasts, precip, etc.
  3. Weather Bug: Same info, nicer layout, better radar.
  4. The Weather Channel ( Almost exactly the same format and news stories as Weather Underground, not surprising since they own them.
  5. Accuweather
  6. Intellicast
Marine Specific Forecasts:
  1. NOAA's Marine Forecast Home Page: This page gives you a wealth of information. You can get the coastal zone forecasts, the offshore zone forecasts, and the high seas forecasts by clicking on the zone block on the map. Here is the Coastal map:

    Once you click on the zone you want (in my case the South zone,) it will take you to the next page for that specific forecast.

    Continuing deeper, I clicked the Key West Zone and this is the next map:

    And, finally, I clicked on the Hawk Channel just outside Marathon to see what the conditions will be like for the next few days. Here is the forecast:

    If you click on the link in the lower right corner "Forecast Discussion," you will get a text discussion for the area which can be very helpful in discerning trends. Here is the discussion for this forecast
The same procedure is applied to get the Offshore Forecasts and the High Seas Forecasts.

The cat's meow, though, is a very cool interactive graphical forecast map for when you have adequate internet bandwidth. Using the drop-down menu in the upper lefthand corner you can get a forecast map for any of the following parameters:

Maximum Temperature (°F)
Minimum Temperature (°F)
Prob of Precipitation (%)
Precipitation Potential Index (%) experimental
Temperature (°F)
Apparent Temperature (°F)
Dew Point (°F)
Relative Humidity (%)
Wind Speed (kts)
Wind Gusts (kts)
Wind Direction
Sky Cover (%)
Precip Amount (in)
Snow Amount (in)
Ice Accumulation (in)
Total New Precip (in)
Total New Snow (in)
Total New Ice (in)
Snow or Sleet > 0.25in LE, Prob.(%)
Wave Height (ft)
Fire Weather
Maximum Relative Humidity (%)
Minimum Relative Humidity (%)
Dry Thunderstorms
Critical Fire Weather
Severe Weather
Convective Outlook
Tornado Probability(%)
Extreme Tornado Prob.(%)
Damaging T-storm Wind Prob.(%)
Extreme T-storm Wind Prob.(%)
Hail Probability(%)
Extreme Hail Prob.(%)
Total Prob. Severe T-Storms(%)
Total Prob. Extreme T-Storms(%)
Tropical Wind >34kts (Cumulative Prob)
Tropical Wind >50kts (Cumulative Prob)
Tropical Wind >64kts (Cumulative Prob)
Tropical Wind >34kts (Incremental Prob.)
Tropical Wind >50kts (Incremental Prob.)
Tropical Wind >64kts (Incremental Prob.)
Hurricane Wind Threat
Hurricane Storm Surge Threat
Hurricane Flooding Rain Threat
Hurricane Tornado Threat
Water Resources
Daily FRET (in)
Daily FRET Departure from Normal (in)
Total Weekly FRET (in)

There's a lot of other marine specific forecast pages and apps that you can use as well. Most are very specific in the information that they cover. Here is a list of the popular ones, although not comprehensive I'm sure.

  1. Passage Weather (Free - donation suggested)
  2. Predict Wind (Free or subscription), website or apps on both iOS or Android
  3. Wind Guru (Free or subscription) website or apps on both iOS or Android
  4. Sailflow (Free or subscription) website or apps on both iOS or Android
  5. Windy (Free) website or apps on both iOS or Android

Grib Forecast Apps:
  1. Pocket Grib (Initial cost) website or apps on both iOS or Android
  2. Predict Wind (Free GRIB viewer)
Prog Charts:

Because we have an aviation background, we use prog charts to help our forecasting. Prog charts are surface charts that span several days. It helps to see how the fronts move over the time period to understand the progression of the weather. You can get them at the Aviation Weather Center at the link below.

Hurricane Tracking:

  1. The definitive hurricane tracking site is NOAA's National Hurricane Center. It's also available on both iOS and Android as an app. While there's other sites out there doing it, they're all getting the info from NOAA so the NOAA Now app is the industry standard.
  2. Mike's Weather Page
  3. Tropical Tidbits
Hurricane Prep:

  1. Boat US has a fairly comprehensive site with hurricane prep information, including an assortment of checklists and guides.
  2. blank copy of our insurance hurricane plan the year we were planning on being at two different locations over the hurricane season.

Weather Routing Services

  1. Fast Seas
  2. Chris Parker Weather Routing
  3. Weather Routing, Inc.

Other helpful weather information:

Ride the training train

Training goes on, and on, and on… I do get to work with clients once in while now though, so far, it has all been in the GFS. I’m looking forward to an eventual chance to take a crew into the Sim, but I have no clue when that might happen. Getting the approval to work the class room appears to be many weeks away yet.

Some of the training did bring on a fun bit of coincidence. The Europeans came up with a new requirement for upset training to be included when anyone is learning a new jet. Since I am to (eventually) train EASA pilots, I had to take the training. An old acrobatic pilot being forced to toss a $20 mil simulated jet around a simulated sky? Sign me up!

The coincidence came in the form of my training partner for the Sim session. He was one of the clients I had worked with in the GFS, had just passed his type ride, and this was the last bit of training he had to do before heading off for home. It doesn’t get much better than flying with someone you helped train (even if just a minor bit of help). We did a total of three hours together, doing all kinds of things that will near get you dead in an airplane; massive wind shear hits low to Mother Earth on both take off and landing, wake turbulence rolling the plane to knife edge just a few hundred feet off the ground, and traffic conflicts with intruders both above and below. Even with all that we had a little time remaining in the Sim.

Sim time is rare and expensive so we generally don’t let any of it go to waste. Without warning or a pre-brief, the instructor failed both engines with the airplane 5000 feet in the sky and just barely within gliding distance of a usable runway. Since that is an altitude prone to being filled with migrating feathered friends, this is one of the more likely scenarios one might see out in the real world. No time for checklists or setting up an approach, fly-by-wire system gone and flight controls degraded with only one hydraulic system left, and no hydraulics for gear extension or brakes. Take your best guess at the runway you can reach, eyeball the rate of descent, call for flaps and gear when you think you have the runway made, and make it work. I think the Europeans are on to something with this training requirement, though the bird hit / all engines inoperative exercise wasn’t part of the deal.

This week is something new as well, teaming up with one of the program’s more experienced instructors to make up a crew for the GFS. The reason? We will be practice dummies for the program’s newest instructor. Since I went through the same thing not too long ago it should be interesting to be on the other side of that exercise. I also had a chance to sit in with a bunch of other instructors while representatives of the manufacturer of the airplane updated us on the latest support news. It was a very technical discussion which dug pretty deep into the minutia of system functions, approved procedures, and documentation. It might not be rocket science, but it isn’t tying your shoes either. It is rare to find myself in a room full of people who are more than equal to my inner airplane geek. I also got my hands on the maintenance training manuals for the airplane, pleasing my inner mechanic geek as well.

Which is good because my inner sailing geek isn’t nearly as pleased. Kintala sits forlorn in a FL boatyard, waiting for someone to take her back to sea. I try not to think about her much. With it being the hurricane time of the year we should be pushing north. It has been several years since we were last in the Chesapeake Bay and, even as I write this, I can picture Fishing Bay and our friends at Oak Harbor. But, being on the boat as long as we were taught us many things. One of the most important was that there are many parts of a voyage over which we have no control. Navigating that bit of the passage is the only real responsibility we have, doing it well - or not - is what matters. The “where” and the “why” and the “how did we get here?” Those don’t really matter much at all.

Eyeball it, and make it work.

Friday, May 31, 2019

A Texas surprise

Another week of training but a different kind of training, this time in Dallas. For the first time in nearly 4 decades I got instruction on instructing. Though it started out with me thinking that this was going to be four days of my life I was never going to get back, it turned out to be time well spent. It wasn’t so much new info as it was formalizing things learned long ago and practiced for years. What was new was learning to be not just a fight instructor, but a representative for an international organization. Different rules apply when the student is also the customer and the customer is always right.

There were 8 in the class from 4 different Training centers. Five of the eight were straight up flight instructors, including one who teaches on one of the world’s most sophisticated helicopters. She had spent a good part of her career flying off oil platforms all over the world, did a stint with the Maryland State police, and is now joining FSI. She had some pretty good stories and was an absolute joy to work with. 

Another in the class teaches maintenance techs, one dispatchers, and the eighth ocean crossing procedures. On day one the class instructor had us count; there was roughly 235 years of flight experience in the room: airline, military, corporate, crop dusting, acrobatics, chopper, glider, up high, down low, going fast, going slow…everything but balloons and astronauts. I am still blown away by the depth of field employed by the company.  But it wasn’t all good.

Word has it ours was the third to the last group who will benefit from this class. The training we received is being replaced by something more cost effective but will certainly be of less quality. I say that for two reasons. The first is that our instructor was a uniquely qualified person with decades of experience instructing flight instructors. The second is that he is going to be replaced, to a large degree, by e-learning. For some reason the human family has decided that actually interacting with other human beings is of no intrinsic value. It is claimed that listening to a recording of a voice, or the disembodied voice of a person standing in a room hundreds of miles away, is nearly as good as being in a classroom. And, in today’s world, nearly as good is good enough, particularly if it allows those who already have a pocket full of coins to pocket a few more.

And yes, I realize that observation is being made by someone who prefers that interactions with his fellow human be taken in small doses. A classroom with 8 or 10 or a Sim / GFS with 2 is perfect, and likely one of the reasons I am enjoying this job as much as I am.

I was awarded another surprise on this visit, the making of a new friend. Mark is a hard core Texican, born and bred. He lives on 25 acres of hallowed Texas soil, owns enough weapons to arm his own little militia, and usually has more than one either on his body or within close reach. In fact I pretty sure there were at least 3 in the car with us, but he is so comfortable with the whole idea that he didn’t make an issue of, or boast about, his guns. Which made me somewhat comfortable with the whole idea as well. He listens to right-wing radio and loves him some Donald Trump and a pickup truck, though we did ride around in his Japanese 4 door. 

He sat next to me in class and, nearly instantly, we recognized a kindred spirit. We enjoyed two dinners together and spent most of the break time exchanging rogue smiles and skeptical glances over some of the things being said in the class. In spite of that connection I think, at first, he was also puzzled by and curious about someone who, though aware of what is going on in the world around, doesn’t really pay much attention. The fact that I can both; a) know something is vitally important but, b) dismiss it anyway because I know I can’t do anything about it, seemed kind of new to him. But I think he likes the idea. Anyway, I don’t make new friends that often, and have to admit to being a bit surprised that this trip to Texas offered me a chance to do just that. 

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Throwback Thursday - The Rule of Three

This is one of our most shared posts ever. It's a good rule to live by on a boat, or in life in general.

The Rule of Three

The little blue and white Cessna lifts off gently into the air, rising toward the little puffs of clouds. It's a beautiful day with just a bit of wind and it's my first cross country solo flight. On my lap sits my knee board, charts marked with my route and notes about radio channels to use at the airports I have to stop at clamped in its jaws. My hands, although sweaty from nerves, hold the wheel lightly but firmly, remembering my flight instructor's warning about feeling the plane's responses instead of man-handling it. I'm heading to Ohio from a small town south of Pittsburgh and I'm a bundle of mixed emotions - excited that I made it this far, worried that I might fail this test and let my instructor (who also happens to be my husband) down, and flat out scared to death of being this far away from familiar territory. I fall into a rhythm, though, checking my waypoints and listening to the thrum of the engine, wary of any hiccups. After half an hour or so, I glance down at the chart for my next waypoint, glance up, and there right in front of me is a large set of interconnected radio antennas that extend to a height above my flight path. I'm headed right for the support wires. Wanting to panic, wanting look at the chart and see where I went wrong, wanting to figure out where the hell I was, I instead look for traffic in all directions and turn the plane smoothly to avoid the antennas, hearing in my head my instructor's voice, "Always fly the plane first. If you get into trouble remember that - fly the plane first." I turned off to a section of empty fields, stabilized my flight and then studied the chart. Under the Rule of Three, this would be number one.

So what does this have to do with a sailing blog? There are a lot of similarities between flying and sailing, and I'm not referring to the oft-cited bit about the sail being like an airplane wing. I'm referring to crew and cockpit management. I'm referring to inexperience, and I'm referring to fear. In the Facebook group Women Who Sail that I belong to, I hear the stories over and over again, those of some nightmarish docking attempt, or a passage gone bad. While flying speeds leave you less time to deal with issues that come up, sailing emergencies require the same type of response. You must be trained to respond automatically, to quickly assess the issues at hand and to choose the appropriate response to yield the result of safety. Since many sailors are relatively new, like I was in the cross country trip described above, they are frequently lacking those response skills. Fear abounds. The trick, whether flying or sailing, is to follow the Rule of Three.

Major problems almost always begin as a progression of small events that, coupled together, begin the downward spiral of loss of control. Stop the progression, and you most likely will stop the event. Any irregularity that makes you uncomfortable, that makes you stop and take notice, should be considered one of the three. On past flights, we've had an instrument go out. No big deal as there are usually backups, but we still chalk it up as an event. Not too long after the instrument failure there might be some unexpected weather showing. Second event. Shortly after that you might develop a headache. Event three. At this point we always find a place to land. Three strikes you're out. On a slow-moving sailboat, there might not be any place to "land" nearby, but you can find an open piece of water and heave-to. Or if the event in question happens while trying to dock, you can leave the harbor and anchor for a bit, or heave-to, giving yourself time to take a break and regroup. If you're leaving for a long passage and the three happen early in the trip, you have the option of turning around and going back, waiting for another weather window.

The success of the Rule of Three depends very heavily on you being situationally aware, and in addition to inattention, it can be hijacked by pride and, more often, by a pressing adherence to a schedule. It can be very humbling to abort a docking maneuver with a dock lined with fellow sailors. You can also be pressured into doing something you're not comfortable with because the daughter you haven't seen for a year is waiting at the airport for you to pick her up. You must make a commitment at the onset to follow the Rule of Three. All crew members must agree to it, and no one may challenge a crew's assessment of an event as being one of the three. If anyone is unhappy, it affects the whole crew.

Clearly there are some catastrophic events that happen that are completely out of our control. Take the anchored sailboat that was slammed into at Elliot Key in Biscayne Bay a few years ago - drunk boater in a very fast-moving boat and zero chance of avoiding the accident. In those cases, just as in a flying emergency, remember to always sail the boat first. There's a tendency to freeze, to panic, but get control of the boat first before you stop to assess the situation. Those catastrophic events are clearly another level of discomfort, but committing to follow the Rule of Three is a sure-fire way to maximize your safety and comfort.

I did safely return to my home airport that day. My instructor was pleased, and I had chalked up a learning experience that would also help me in my sailing adventures. The Rule of Three is an easy piece of safety equipment to add to your boat. So the next time you hear in your thoughts...

Stop. Regroup. And arrive happily and safely.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Throwback Thursday - Far From Home

Tim wrote this post while he was in Pittsburgh helping his siblings with the transfer of his parents from their home to a nursing home. It was a very difficult time for all involved. He was there alone; I was working on the boat in Miami for that six weeks. The observations are very applicable to anyone looking to cruise.

Far from home

I am back in the "normal" world for a while; suburbia, cars, traffic jams, sirens, guns, noise, and news. I have put more miles in driving the last 4 days than I had in the last 7 months, and I'm having trouble remembering why I used to enjoy it as much as I did. On the other hand there is ice cream in the fridge, cold milk, (that doesn't cost $12 / gal) and pretty good and consistent Internet access. Not sure the balance comes out in favor of "normal," but it isn't all bad.

Being 1000 miles away from Deb and the ocean? That is pretty much all bad.

Being away is also giving me a chance to take a look at our new life from a little different perspective, an opportunity to think about where we were, where we are, and how it looks like we are doing.

One thing that stands out is that full time living aboard and cruising is a far, far different endeavor than sailing, chartering, or living on a boat as an alternate to having a house or an apartment. It is its own, completely unique, thing. Even more, it is different for every person who is "out there" doing it.

As much as I loved sailing on Carlyle and appreciate the things we did learn about handling and living on a boat there, it really wasn't much preparation for what we are doing now. Having a boat as our one and only home is a far cry from visiting the lake on weekends. Mostly those years allowed us to get a lot of work done on our soon-to-be ocean going house, and make some life long friends.

I'm not sure chartering is much like living aboard either. We did take three week-plus training / cruising trips that might be counted as charters. Truth to tell they were not much of a hint as to what living aboard full time is like. Provisioning, watering, finding pump outs, 24 / 7, 365-days-a-year weather watch, these are our constant companions now. For many of us full time cruising means going "all in." There is no alternative, no plan B, no place to fall back to if it all goes bad. Virtually everything we own floats with Kintala. Every weather decision, every day under way, every harbor entered or Current Cut attempted, is an all or nothing deal. Flub it badly and we are homeless . . . at best.

As valuable as those trips were for us choosing a boat, the fact is both Deb and I are pretty sure the Tartan 42 wasn't the best choice. It is too much the racing boat and not enough the living-on boat. Romping across the Gulf Stream was great. The total time required to go both ways was less than two full days of sailing. (Biscayne Bay to West End + Bimini to Biscayne Bay.)

Living on a Tartan 42 is often a trial, and we do that all the time. For us, a boat just has to be as stable as possible riding to its anchor or a mooring, has to have sufficient storage, and has to have a cockpit comfortable for near full-time occupancy. An island bed would be nice and, contrary to what I had been told, would not be a problem on a passage. Neither of us sleeps in a bed on passage; short handed crews don't often get that far apart.

Once upon a time I claimed a center cockpit boat was a better idea than an aft cockpit, low free board boat because, "I didn't want the ocean that close to my ass." Now I would take an open transom boat without a second thought, so long as the cockpit was big, roomy, and comfortable. It would also make getting on and off the boat from a dink a lot easier. Yet a center cockpit ketch rig would be an excellent basic platform for a live-a-board cruiser. Not because the ocean isn't that close to my ass, but because the sail plan is easy to manage, the aft cabin can be a great place to live, two heads are pretty standard, engine access is likely acceptable, and storage is better.

The cruising community is not much like America. These are people with different motivations, different ideas of what it means to be responsible, with a close and personal relationship with the natural world. Many are from Canada and Europe and are not nearly as impressed with Americans as Americans tend to be with themselves. Most know well their turn will come to need a little help, and so they offer the same with little hesitation.

It isn't that religion and politics are left on the beach, but even among American cruisers no one wears them on their sleeve. There are a few gun nuts, some religious fundamentalists, but none have been offensive or overbearing. Not once have I been told I am going to hell and no one has waved a gun around. Individual political leanings deemed important on land haven't disappeared. But they don't mean as much as they once did. Maybe it's because the ocean will drown Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Tea-partiers, Socialists, people who like their universal health care, and even Texans, with equal enthusiasm. Being capable on the water is the measure that matters once any nation and its politics fall below the horizon.

Even for us Americans who have only accomplished a single "ocean crossing" to the Islands and have managed to live there for just a couple of months, the world appears bigger and the center of the map isn't - automatically - the US-of-A. There are whole other societies doing things in a whole other way, with a history completely different from this country. There is a whole planet where people screw things up in new and unique ways, not just American ways. (The Democratic and Republican ways of screwing things up are getting repetitive. We need to come up with some new material.) Being arrogant about "being an American" works inside these borders, where boasting counts more than doing. Outside these borders it makes you look like a wanker.

As much work as living on the water might be, no matter that a different boat might make that life a lot easier, being back for a visit has made it clear that I really don't want to be living anything but a cruising life. Most mornings on Kintala I take a cup of coffee out to the cockpit, sit back, and start my day slow and easy. I actually look up to see if it looks like the forecasts are reasonable. The sky and the sea fill my senses. Sometimes we are in the middle of a city, sometimes surrounded by other boats . . . and sometimes not. Any way I look at it, it is a good way to start a day. Most days end in pretty much the same way except the drink is cold and has a bit more horsepower.

My new world feels far, far, away at the moment, and I long to be home.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Throwback Thursday - The True Cost of Cruising

We get a lot of questions about how much it costs to cruise. For specific answers to that question, we keep a list of blogs in the right sidebar that post their cruising costs, ours included - although I'm way behind in updating it, I confess. This post, though, is about a different kind of cost you pay when cruising - that of missing family and friends. If you're in the planning stages of cruising, this is definitely a cost that needs to be considered.

The True Cost of Cruising

The five grandkids are now eleven...
Daughters and five grand kids . . . today was the day we said the rest of the hard good-byes. I was doing okay right through the day, playing, reading books, explaining to the two oldest girls why we were staying at a marina they had never visited and then explaining about travel lifts and trucks. But at the end of the day, just when it looked like I might hold it together the youngest, with no clue what he was about to do to my heart, crawled to my feet, held his arms up to be lifted, then tucked his face into my shoulder . . . 

There is no explanation for the wanderer's soul. There is no cure for wanderlust. I have been unhappy being in one place since (so I am told anyway) my first day of first grade. Less than an hour of being penned in one room and I had had enough. The twelve years that followed, all in the same school district, were pure misery. It showed in my grades, in my list of detentions, in the fights and the brushes with police. I was that kid none of the other kids were allowed to hang out with. Quite literally, they let me out after my Senior year because no one wanted to see me there again.

The two years of technical school were a slight improvement; partly because I was the kid right out of high school in a class mostly made up of people recently out of the jungles of 'Nam. They were a tough lot, several more than a little crazy, many of whom took a liking to the combative kid who (I now suspect) reminded them of themselves before someone started shooting at them. It also helped that only half our day was spent in a classroom; the other half we spent out in the shop. Still penned in, but better than a desk. To this day, no one knows how often I dreamed of just walking away from that place and how close I came to doing it . . . the future I hoped to share with Deb being the only thing that kept me going back.

They let us "graduate" a few weeks early to fill jobs rebuilding B-52s. Deb and I headed west and never looked back. We spent 4 years in one place, 14 in another, 2 in a third, then landed in St. Louis. But we wandered constantly: me as a pilot, both of us as bikers. And no place ever felt like a "home," just a town with a job.

Now, finally, we are on the verge of heading off again; this time for a wanderer's dream come true. No place is home, but anywhere can be our front yard. The challenge of new skills to learn, the lure of new places to see, experiencing life in a way unsuspected just six years ago, and no one can tell us we have to "stay here and do this." But the dream has a price just shy of being too high . . . a price no one but a wanderer would even think about paying.

We like to say that there is no choice, that the wanderer wouldn't be the person he or she is if they could stop. Perhaps that is true. We are going, after all. But I like to think that the price will be a fair one. That in the end the people we love who don't wander with us love us anyway; that they share our adventures and find a larger view of the world. That, in the end, the stories of our lives will be full, even if the main characters in our hearts are not written into every page.

For that is the true cost of cruising.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Throwback Thursday - Little Bits of Magic

When I think back on all of the things that happened to us during our years on Kintala, this is still one that ranks in the top five. It will forever be the definition of cruising magic.

Little bits of magic

Kintala is on a mooring ball in Marathon for a couple of days. This is a very well spoken of and popular place among the cruising tribe that frequents these parts. It took a beating from Irma, has recovered some, but it will be a while (if ever) before all of the scars are gone. For all of its charms, it has never ranked that high on Deb’s or my list of places we love to be. Though there are far fewer boats than we are used to seeing, it is still a crowded place. The mooring balls are closely spaced. Pulling up to one is like taking a room in a hotel, or pitching a tent in the middle of a parking lot. Still, it is about the only place to stop on the way around the Keys, and this is our fourth time here.

The anchorage at Shark River with a sunset muted by the
haze from the fires burning in Florida
It stands in stark contrast to the anchorage in Little Shark River, which was exactly the kind of place we have come to enjoy. There were only two boats sharing the space with us. It was quiet and dark. Really, really dark. The kind of dark that lets the night sky overwhelm one’s sense of space, size, and time. “The sea is so big, and my boat is so small,” is a common thought for those who take to big water. In Shark River at night the universe becomes the ocean, and the whole of Mother Earth our -  shared - little boat. Indeed, comparing the size of the ocean to a boat, vs the size of the universe to a single planet, our common boat is tiny beyond comprehension.

I like being in places where it seems some wise old spirit lives, offering up nuggets of insight just to see what you dare do with them.

The sail from Marco to Shark River was a pretty good sail all of its own. Kintala touched 7 knots on several occasions, flying every bit of sail available close against a 10 to 20 knot wind for a good part of the day. But, as good as the sailing was, it was a different bit of magic that marked the day. Flitting all around were these tiny little birds. I have no idea if it is migration time for the little fluff balls, or if a week of stiff winds out of the East had blown a bunch of them out over the water. In any case, there were enough of them around to make it impossible not to notice.

Early in the afternoon Kintala was some 20 miles off shore, groups of the little birds occasionally making low passes over the boat. Eventually one landed. In fact he flew aboard and touched down on my leg as I sat in the cockpit. After sizing me up for a minute or two he flew around a bit as if checking the place out, then scooted off over the water once again. A few minutes after that he was back with a friend. They both fluttered hither and yon, hanging off of lines, checking out the inside of the dodger, poking around the piles of sheets scattered here and there.

Then there were four, then six, and ultimately eight, all hitching a ride back closer to shore.

They put on quite a show, landing on feet and arms, heads and legs. They chased bugs, and even brought down several dragon flies that were not all that much smaller than the birds themselves. They drank water out of a cup, fought over bug parts, fluttered around, sat and preened, hopped up on our fingers, and even let us pet them. There were so many of them that we had to move about slowly, looking where we were about to step or sit, for fear of squashing one of our little guests.

Nether of us had ever seen such a thing before.

Eventually they started to flutter off, the last one riding along in the cockpit for a half hour or so all alone, as if glad to have a bit of space for a while. I have no clue what they were up to, or where they were going, but it was a treat to have them stop by and keep us company for a while. I wonder what kind of stories they might share about us, whenever it is that they get where they are going.

The next day we stayed closer to shore, running off the wind in the lee of the land, which kept the swell down to something comfortable. It was another good day of sailing, but just one little bird dropped by, sitting on the deck for a while, then flashing away in a burst of colored frenzy.

So, after five days of sailing spread out over a little more than a week, Kintala is out of the Gulf of Mexico and back in sight of the Atlantic Ocean.

And that feels a bit magical as well.