Thursday, February 28, 2019

Back in the Box

Done with the sim observation week, and it went a bit better than pretty well. I started this with a tendency to look at Sim instruction as just one of those things one had to put up with for the chance to get back into a classroom setting. All of the hours spent in the front seats of Sims over the years had dulled any enthusiasm for working in the box. These last few days have eased that feeling somewhat. The Sim is a unique training environment; a multi-million dollar, full-motion chalkboard used to study and master some pretty complex challenges. At the start of the week the crew I was with was tentatively poking at switches just to get the flight deck powered up and the engines running. Today nothing—not badly degraded flight controls, one engine gone, or 3 of their 4 instrument screens dead in the panel—kept them from flying near perfect night instrument approaches to absolute minimums, usually ending with a gentle touchdown and the airplane coming to a stop with the nose gear on the center line. This is training the way training ought to be, and is pretty close to as much fun as a person can have while, at the same time, just working for a living. (No, we didn’t do any single-engine dump truck jumping. It turns out I’m not the only one who thinks such things are a waste of training time.) Meeting with them after their successful check rides was cool, and they were even kind enough to say that what little input I offered over our week together in the sim was helpful.

Photo courtesy of
My next task is to “teach” the Initial Pilot sim sessions to two Flight Safety Instructors pretending to be clients, while a third Instructor teaches me the simulator ropes. And that has led to one of the cooler things that has happened to me lately. (Though the idea of four Flight Instructors in the same Sim provokes images of four doctors in a Bonanza. Its an insider joke, don't worry if you don't get it.)

Years ago, I had a chance to teach a class on high altitude/turbine flight operations at St. Louis University, something that lasted nearly eight years. After that job faded away, there was some time spent as an Airline Captain. Fun job, but the pay was hard to live on. (Regional pilot pay back in those days was another inside joke.) I left that job to fly a corporate jet around the country for about a decade and, when the ax fell on that gig, Deb and I headed out on Kintala.

Now, something near 20 years later, one of the pilots I will be practicing on will be someone who sat in one of those classes at St. Louis University. He is a fully qualified Sim and ground school instructor for the Legacy, and it is likely he will have much of value to share about teaching others to fly this thing.

I have stumbled across several students from those SLU days: a young lady flying Apache Helicopters for the Army, several who are now wearing 4 stripes and flogging airlines around the world, one who flies B2 stealth bombers…I don’t claim to have had anything at all to do with their success, though it was kind of fun that such meetings always included smiles, laughter, and good stories. But to be working with one of them, having him show me the way around this high-tech wonder jet? That’s enough to make an old flight instructor feel pretty good about the paths life has taken; enough to have me truly looking forward to being “back in the box.”

Throwback Thursday - Navigating the Ups and Downs

Throwback Thursday - original post Monday, May 2, 2016

Navigating the Ups and Downs

I belong to a women's Facebook Group called Women Who Sail. It was started by Charlotte Kaufman of The Rebel Heart, and has grown to over 8,000 members. Even with all those members, the tenor has remained helpful, caring, and positive, a feat that not many online sailing or boating communities can claim. If you are a woman who sails, or motors, or dreams of either, it is a tremendous resource.

One of the common threads in the group posts is that of discouraged ladies seeking some support and encouragement. While only a fraction of the members are full time cruisers or dreamers of such, selling everything and moving onto a boat can be the most trying venture a person can attempt. Once cruising, the learning curve is steep; the unexpected can sometimes be overwhelming. Among long-term cruisers, it is a well-known fact and oft-sited meme, that of the highs being higher and the lows being lower than land life and each cruiser has to find their own way through. I was thinking particularly about this issue this morning because after checking a few things off my project list yesterday and feeling pretty good about it, this morning I made the mistake of asking Tim what was on his list. Wow.

So how do we navigate those ups and downs, highs and lows? Clearly, the highs are great. Those fantastic take-your-breath-away sunsets, the hour long parade of dolphins dancing in your wake, the sight of that rare Tropic Bird, the lightning on the horizon and, yes, finishing a water pump overhaul and installation. The lows? They come in all sorts.

Loneliness can sometimes be the hardest. The cruising community is in a constant state of flux depending on where you happen to be at the moment. Dinner Key Mooring Field? Tons of cruisers, lots of community and social functions. Hoffman Cay in the Berry Islands? Better like your shipmates because they're the only ones you're going to see. Then there's the ever-present missing of family members back on shore: aging parents and grandbabies that grow up entirely too fast.

The current state of boat maintenance is probably the other main cause of deep lows. You spend a lot of time maintaining the boat and yet it will knock the feet right out from under you every chance it gets. We have a good friend who finally got to leave the dock after a long summer refit, only to have it break down a few times on their way south. Again. And they're not isolated. Two other friends have been held hostage by the dock for over a month waiting on parts to fix major issues on the boat - transmissions and rudders.

I've had someone tell me it's all about your attitude. I admire people who can just buckle down and say, "OK this thing sucks but I'm going to just be happy anyway." If I had that sort of emotional discipline, I wouldn't be carrying around 20 extra pounds. I've also had land-bound friends wonder how you could possibly ever claim the right to be depressed when you're living the life in paradise. You know the answer to that one, the exceedingly well-used (or abused) phrase "Cruising is fixing your boat in exotic places" thing. Boat maintenance brings with it physical pain (at least for those of us who are aging boat owners), stress over money (unless you are independently wealthy), and endless frustration because you can't find things, parts are unavailable, you don't have the proper tools or expertise, or the weather is not cooperating.

Ah The master of highs and lows, if you'll pardon the pun. The weather rules the cruising life and, inevitably, the sun will be bright and too hot when you need to do stainless polishing, the wind and rain will be ice cold when you have to travel down the ICW, the storm will be the strongest when you have people anchored too close, and rain will pin you inside a very small space for days. But that pristine steel blue sky after a cold front? The salty, light breeze whispering through the palms on shore? The deep reds and golds of a sunset reflected in the clouds? We live in the weather and these stunning displays that so many land dwellers miss are the stuff of good cruising dreams.

For me, navigating the highs and lows involves finding ways to maneuver things around me to a manageable flow. One of the ways I do this is through lists. I am a meticulous list keeper. I put everything on The List no matter how small, just so I can check it off. Checking something off makes me feel like I'm accomplishing something, like I'm making some progress. If I'm installing a new bilge pump then the list might get four entries: research type of pump to buy, buy pump, run wiring, install pump. I do this, because many projects take days and if I just put, "install new bilge pump", I might not get to check off anything for a week. I will end each day feeling like I haven't accomplished anything. If the lows are getting to me, I find something quick and easy to get off the list and I immediately feel better. This approach doesn't work for everyone. Tim absolutely hates lists. He feels like they sit there mocking him, a constant reminder of his inability to stay on top of things. Fortunately for us, the two of us are bummed by different things so we rarely are at the low together and can encourage each other. You have to decide what works for you and for your partner if you're in a relationship

Another way to maneuver things around me to make it better is by simply taking a break. Go for a walk. Watch a funny movie. Read a book. Play a game. Cook a new recipe. Call a friend. Announce a day off and go for a hike in the park or a bike ride. Blow the conch horn at sunset. Anything that will allow you to take a deep breath and renew your energy to tackle things again.

All of life is waves and cycles and seasons, something that you don't think of much when you're living on land, but something that is acutely accented when living on the water. I wouldn't trade the intensity of life here for anything. Sure, it comes with the cost of those deep lows, but that's a price I'm willing to pay. Any life richly lived comes with a cost. I'm learning to find ways to mitigate the depth of the lows and, in the process, I'm accumulating a wealth of memories, experiences, and stories for the grandkids. So if you're planning to cruise some day and you hear fearsome stories of weather and boat maintenance nightmares, don't let them scare you away.

It's a life well lived and worth every bit of effort.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Changing Landscapes

When we left in 2013 we were part of what my good friend Paul (of S/V Kelly Nicole) has taken to calling "The Class of 2013." There were a group of us taking off then from various places: Paul and Deb from New York, and Bruce and Tammy (of Dos Libras) from South Carolina, and us from Annapolis. We met and tag-teamed that first few months, but Paul and Deb and Bruce and Tammy opted to go on to places farther than we intended to go. We split up physically, but always kept in touch. We consider them to be some of our best friends. Two years later, overachievers Bonnie and Craig both known from our aviation years in our home port of St. Louis, MO, decided to skip a few grades and move into the Class of '13. They left from Annapolis as well and quickly hop-scotched past us to join Paul and Deb.

The years passed, the friendships grew stronger (thanks in large part to social media,) but Paul and Deb pushed on to Granada, Bruce and Tammy bounced around the Gulf, Bahamas and Caribbean, we did the north in the summer/south in the Bahamas thing and Bonnie and Craig settled in the area around Puerto Rico. A year in to their cruising, Bonnie and Craig bought an RV. They sailed the boat in the winter, and traveled in the RV in the summer while the boat was on the hard for hurricane season. Flash forward to today: they just listed the boat for sale.

You hear it all the time: the most difficult part of cruising is the goodbyes. You meet cruisers in anchorages, on docks, at the dinghy dock, in cruiser hangouts, or on the radio underway. You form these deeply connected friendships in an unbelievably short time. No need to find out what you have in common, because you're coming from basically the same experiences and share the values of the cruising life. You skip all the small-talk niceties, and delve right into the meat of the relationship. Then a few days later, you're all headed different directions and have to say goodbye.  You know you'll likely see them again, and when you do you'll pick up just where you left off, but the landscape changes.

For the Class of '13, the landscape has changed pretty significantly. Tammy and Bruce bought a condo in Puerto Rico and are transitioning from Dos Libras to land, we've had to return to land (albeit temporarily) to make more money, Bonnie and Craig are moving off the water to their next adventure, and we're all living vicariously through Paul and Deb as they travel the Caribbean. While I have a completely different view out my window than I did out Kintala's port in 2013, it's the change inside me that matters most. The richness that these folks have brought to our lives, the shared experiences, the shared commitment to a life well-lived, are all something that I will always carry with me. Nowhere else in my life have I developed friendships like the ones in the cruising community, not just those in the Class of '13, but entirely too many others to list in a blog post. So no matter how much the landscape might change, the foundation of this magical life with the sea remains.

So if you're looking to join the cruising landscape, I can tell you that this catamaran is a very well-maintained one worth your consideration. Bonnie and Craig, both coming out of the aviation community, are just as anal as we are about maintenance and care, and the PDQ 36 has long been recognized as one of the better sailing catamarans. And if catamarans aren't your thing, keep in mind that Kintala is still for sale, recently reduced in price to $74,900, so Class of 2019 step up to the plate!

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Throwback Thursday - Destinations

Since we're stuck on land for a while I thought I'd join the Throwback Thursday bandwagon and highlight some posts from our 11 years of blogging. Yes, 11 years. Seems impossible that much time has passed since we first started on this journey.

For the first one, I thought I'd highlight this post that Tim wrote when he was on land helping his sister to move his parents into a nursing home. While the reasons for land dwelling are much less stressful this time, I was surprised at how pertinent it still is. Enjoy!


Friday, May 30, 2014
Posted by Tj

I am still not used to traffic. Every trip seems more like a ride through a shooting gallery. Vehicles of all shapes and sizes switching lanes, dodging in and out, pushing lights, and getting as close to other vehicles as possible. It is as if the drivers think filling up every available inch will somehow get them to their destination a fraction of a second sooner. "Trust me," I want to tell them, "it doesn't". Then I want to add, "And your destination isn't that important anyway."

This morning, waiting to turn left, the buzz of a sport bike pulled up and filled the spot just off my starboard side. It was a cute little baby Ninja (maybe the 250 R) piloted by an equally cute (from what I could see – she was wearing a helmet and full armored gear) young lady. A moment later and the picture in my mind shifted to that of Deb astride her fully grown Ninja 1400Z. Thousands upon thousands of miles passed under our wheels, with me usually off her port side and a bike length or so in trail. It is the part of my old life that I miss the most, though truth to tell our go-blinding-fast-and-scare-the-snot-out-of-the-cage-drivers days are fading ever further into the past.

Between us, we clocked maybe a half a million miles on two wheels; mountains, deserts, forests; rain, snow and heat. We wore out a list of bikes too long to remember. For all of those miles the destination wasn't that important. It was only an excuse to go. What mattered was that we were moving, seeing new things, having an adventure, doing something not everyone does in a way not everyone does it.

Our new life on the boat is the very essence of moving with little care of the destination. Each place is temporary anyway. We will be there for a while. Then we will be off to someplace else.

I think things like that living, as I am, this in-between life. This destination is important, important enough to keep me in one place for weeks. This is a place I have to be, and having to be in a place changes the color of everything. In this place, first I do what I have to do, then I do what I should do, then I do what I can do.  There is never a time when I am doing what I want to do.

Living on the boat I might be cold, might be a hungry or seasick, might be hot and sticky. There are times when I wish we were at the destination, temporary as it might be. But on some level too deep to think about very often, I am almost always doing what I want to do.

And I wondered, sitting at that light, if a destination IS a destination because it is a place we have to go to do a thing we have to do.  Maybe that's why land dwellers have such a hard time. They are always at a destination doing what they have to do. Then they hurry to the next destination to do what they have to do again.  Maybe the mad rush is nothing more than a vain hope that the next destination will be different, a place where they can do what they want to do.

A place where they can live as they want to live.

The green turn arrow flashed while I gazed at the baby Ninja. The guy behind me hit the horn a microsecond later.

I am a visitor in his world now, an outsider who has forgotten the rules. It never even occurred to me to flash him the single digit of estimated IQ.  Even if it had I hope I wouldn't have. Guests should be polite. I moved along to this place I need to be. But soon I will leave destinations behind once again.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The way it is.

Slowly, and somewhat against my will, the integration back into the world of land dwellers continues. I am starting to drive a little faster. The highway part of the route to and from the shop works best when big parts of it get done in the left lane. Two of the off ramps used are left exits, with one of those dumping me off into the left lane of another highway. From there it is about 1/2 mile to get across four lanes of traffic to a right exit. When in the left lane, it seems best to try and keep up, but ten over is about as fast as I care to go. It’s usually enough, particularly when the schedule has me making the trip around rush hour. Non-rush hour traffic is light enough that leaving the lane switch to the last minute isn’t a problem. On those days,speeds in the fast lane run 20/25 over…and more. Best to leave that bit of concrete to those in a real hurry to get to their next accident.

The drive through town to the highway has its own displays of land dweller foolishness. I don’t understand those who just blow through red lights without even slowing, something witnessed on an average of once a day. I can’t get my head around the idea of someone thinking that they are so important that traffic laws simply don’t apply to them. I sometime wonder if they think the laws of reaction times, momentum, braking traction, and impact “g” forces, don’t apply to them either. Then again, thinking isn’t likely one of their strong suits. Such drivers are, admittedly, a minority. Maybe Darwin keeps them from multiplying too rapidly.

Unsurprisingly, the job is helping ease the transition. In the aviation world, the people not big on thinking don’t get very far or last very long. (Darwin rules again.) Being among the tribe of hard-core, professional aviators helps take some of the sting out of not being among the tribe of cruisers. The job, now, is to sit through the exact same class/cockpit trainer/sim sessions as completed barely a week ago. Observing is the task at hand, concentrating more on how the material is taught rather than what is being taught. There is still a lot of learning going on. Knowing enough to pass the check rides and exams is not near to knowing enough to teach.

Mike, the instructor this past week, is the fourth I have worked with since hiring on. The first three got me – six years away from a flight deck – past an FAA type ride in the Legacy fly-by-wire-gee-whiz wonder bird, in three weeks. A pretty good demonstration of just how good they are at what they do. Watching Mike, with an eye toward working the classroom gee-whiz wonders and watching how he interacts with the group did (as I fully expected) highlight just how challenging – and fun – this is going to be. And there are still two areas of instruction, the cockpit trainer and the actual simulator, to be mastered.

Another help in taking the sting away from being off the boat comes from spending time with the pilots being trained. The current class includes pilots from Mexico, France, Germany (who was born in Brazil), and the US. One of the American pilots was a contract guy who has flown pretty much everywhere there is to fly, including Russia and China. This group of seven pilots is, collectively, fluent in at least 6 languages. They are very much the kind of people we routinely met while traveling on Kintala: adventuresome, capable, friendly, smart, and at ease with other cultures and ideas. It is just flat-out fun to be around them, listen to their stories, and work with them as they get a handle on this new bird.

It all helps.

The crew of Blown’ In the Wind is spending a few days on the dock where Kintala is sitting with the broker. They say it is strange to see her there without Deb and I nearby. It is even stranger having them “out there” while heading off to work each day. I try not to think of it too often; the job, Daughters (Two), and the grandkid gang of 7 are all good reasons to have taken this path. But sometimes the nights pass slow, with the lights of the city and the noise of the adjoining apartments rubbing raw against the nights of silence and darkness riding to the anchor off some uninhabited cay. At other times a thought or memory will sneak up and freeze my world for just a moment, right in the middle of the day. Those usually pass quickly, though the ghost of a hurt may linger for a while. Some of the people I love, and a world I miss, are very far away. And that’s just the way it is going to be for a while.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Just another ride?

One thing that seemed a pretty sure bet when we left land and moved onto a boat, was that there would be no more check rides in the future, let alone two check rides in five days. It would have been a bad bet to take.

Photo courtesy of

The first was Monday’s “easy” ride, the one to check the box required by the European authorities. That one was done with my new friend from Germany and was actually two, two-hour rides. Michael took the left (Captain’s) seat for the first ride with me on the right. Then we switched for the second ride. Like most jets, and in spite of all the high tech gee-wizardry that is supposed to make this one “easy” to fly, it is a two pilot airplane. When things start to go wonky, with warning lights flashing and aural alerts filling the flight deck, they can be two very busy people, with each person’s hands being filled with different tasks. The nice thing about European (EASA) rides is that they are not “jeopardy” events. One can’t really fail the ride. If a maneuver isn’t performed up to standard the crew simply does it again, learns from whatever mistake it was that they made, and moves on. There is always the possibility that someone will come along who simply can’t figure out how to do it right, but that is a pretty rare event at this level of aviation. These are not teenaged kids working toward their first solo flight in a single engine piston banger.

Another good thing about EASA rides is they focus on crew coordination and decision making, using the aircraft's capabilities to minimize risk. When things start to go wrong, the crew is expected to reduce the risks involved as much as possible. Checking destination weather, finding alternate airports, requesting priority handling to simplify the approach procedure as much as possible, are all expected to be part of the crew’s actions. Of course things still go wrong on an EASA check ride. Though there is a good chance that a pilot starting out today will never see a honest to goodness flashing red light in an actual cockpit, you have to practice something.

The second ride, the FAA sanctioned ride, was Friday. The FAA is the last aviation entity on the planet to still insist on “jeopardy” rides. Lose too much airspeed during one kind of maneuver, gain or lose too much altitude during another maneuver, and the examiner is required to terminate the ride, no second chances. The applicant is sent home with a “pink slip” and a notice goes in the federal records of a failed attempt to get a new rating. They can’t take away your birthday or anything, and a second ride can be scheduled after a certain amount of retraining is logged. The bitch with this approach is that anyone can have a bad day, and a ride can be “busted” even if the outcome of the flight was never in doubt. (You can read that as meaning it didn’t get near to crashing and no one was going to get hurt.)

During this check ride, one gets to demonstrate all kinds of skills that will never be called upon again. Steep turns in an airplane deliberately designed to correct any roll attitude greater than 33 degrees is one. The required 45 degree angle can be commanded, but one is literally fighting the airplane’s flight management system the entire time. Oh, and don’t gain or lose about a wing’s span worth of altitude while doing so, even if the ground is 10,000 feet away. Do so and the ride is a bust, come back another day to try again.

The same can be said for performing aerodynamic stalls, when the wing quits flying from too low an airspeed. Millions upon millions of dollars were spent when designing this aircraft to ensure that it could not be stalled. So, during an FAA check ride, some (not all) of the multiple layers of protection are switched off. Then the pilot can provoke a stall warning (not an actual stall) in order to demonstrate the “skill” of recovering from something that hasn’t actually happened yet. It is a bit like chopping off a foot to demonstrate the skill of hopping around on one leg.

After doing things in the airplane that the airplane was designed not to do, one gets to demonstrate the ability to handle multiple, cascading failures by making the poorest possible risk management decisions. No pilot I know would ever, with an engine shut down (OEI), press on to an airport where the weather was at minimums for making the approach. Nor would any airport I have ever flown to allow a piece of equipment to blunder onto a runway in front of an emergency aircraft, thus provoking a single engine low altitude (barely 50 feet in the air, less than the length of the aircraft) abort and missed approach. But an FAA check ride requires pretend stupid topped with a dash of silly. After the abort, the sky will miraculously clear and turn into day for the next landing, but the flaps will fail. A OEI / no flaps landing is like tip-toeing through a mine field. One faltering step will have the airplane careening through the grass on the side of the runway. (A sure way to bust any kind of check ride is to crash, even if it is a Sim.)

A saying that floats around the aviation world goes something like this, “It is best to exercise superior judgment and avoid demonstrating superior skills.” On the FAA ride we do just the opposite. The good news is that the Legacy 500 is such an overpowered little brute that it barely notices that an engine has packed it in for the day. So, what it taketh away in cooperating with steep turns, it giveth back when jumping over a wayward dump truck. The no flap, OEI landing? Just take it easy with the single thrust reverser, don’t pounce on the brakes with too much enthusiasm, and all should be well. (That is, by the way, just the highlights of the things that go wrong on this two hour check ride.)

For me the ride mostly demonstrated that it takes more than a few weeks to scrape off 6 years worth of salt water accumulated rust. Still, it went okay. The Check Airman was fair in his assessment of the things I could have done better and, to a large extent, all involved are well aware that check rides have little to do with actually using the airplane to move around the country day after day. I would have been quite comfortable to walk out of the sim, climb up into an actual Legacy, and head off somewhere; the Check Airman would have put his family on board behind me. When it comes right down to it, that is every Check Airman's actual pass/fail criteria. And it is the best one I can think of.

After the “official” ride was over, we had a good discussion of how I, as a flight instructor, can help him do his job as a Pilot Examiner. The people he checks will soon include people I have helped train. We are on the same side when it comes to getting them ready for both the check ride and the real world. Sometimes that is a delicate balancing act between two contradictory sets of standards.

With the rides over, and a new type rating in my pocket, the heat is off a bit. I am past the point where the job could still have gone very wrong, leaving us with few options for getting back to a boat someday. I have been “at the shop” pretty much every day since training started three weeks ago. When not working the GFS I was at home pouring over manuals, procedures, and test questions, often far into the night. Though not the FAA’s doing, to me this check ride carried more potential “jeopardy” than any other I have taken.

It will be good to get back to a more normal schedule. I am really looking forward to concentrating on getting to the front of a classroom, rather than to the front seat of the airplane. After all, they hired me to teach, not to fly.