Monday, October 16, 2017

Learning the Ropes in a Sailor's Town

So … this weekend I learned the Rogerson Variation of the the McDonald Brummel splice for high modulus polyethylene fiber cordage! Woo! I attended the 59 North Sailing seminars on rigging and sail repair. Hanging out with a bunch of sailors can never be bad, but the intense learning we did along the way made for an incredibly productive time.

Brion Toss, renown rigger and author, was the speaker Friday afternoon and Saturday. We dove deep into rigging with his talks, a couple dock walks, some hands-on knots and splices, and an incline test and critique of a student’s boat at the marina. There was only two math formulas, but all kinds of juicy, red meat, technical information about keeping your mast up and control of your sails.

Nearly everyone has furling gear on their boat. Some of both the rigging and the sail repair seminars
Rigging Shop, Port of Annapolis Marina
began with the assumption that all of our boats had furlers; at least on the bow. One great moment for me came when I confessed in front of the class that I don’t like furlers. “Am I a fool or a luddite?” I asked Mr. Toss. He didn't flinch and seemed to sympathize with my philosophy.

Most of our ‘class time’ was in the shop at Chesapeake Sailmakers. Chuck O’Malley, founder of the loft, spoke to us on Sunday. He went over materials, methods, and designs early, and in the afternoon talked at length about lifespan, damage, abuse, and repair of sails. Chuck says he doesn’t make “white triangles,” he makes sails. Developing a relationship with a boat and her sailors, Chuck brings his knowledge and experience to bear and offers just the right solution. “Up to the point where the boat will still notice the difference.”

I came away with all kinds of new knowledge and some new friends. Details of rope and wire and Dacron; knots and splices and sail shapes are still oozing out my ears -- my brain is full!! Yet, I know exactly what I’m going to do with my rig and have a great idea to make my main sail track buttery smooth.

And(!) I got to chat with Matt Rutherford, he was the first to sail non-stop around the Americas. He sailed an Albin Vega, like my Bella, non-stop from Annapolis, up and over the top of Canada, down the Pacific Coast to Cape Horn, around and up past South America and back to Annapolis. He now does ocean research for NASA and the Smithsonian aboard his 42’ steel schooner.

The seminars were almost three miles away from the house where I got an AirBnB room. It was really enjoyable to walk more than five miles a day, all weekend. I also had some great seafood and got to hang around a great sailor’s town. It’s been incredible, and soul satisfying, how much of the small talk at the next table, in the store, even just out on the sidewalk was about boats; most often sailboats.

Two and half years ago, Alex and I spent a night at anchor up Weems Creek in Annapolis on our way south with his Westsail, Eleanor. Now I know a couple even better places. I’ll be back. Emma’s gonna love to visit.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

If it was easy ... Part 42

Last month I was in town and cleaned any non-essential things out of my truck in anticipation of quitting. At the time, the gasket material for my portlights had come in, so I got a small boat project done too. Last week, I indeed ended my Over-The-Road driving career. 

The company I had been driving for bought me a bus ticket home after I dropped my truck off at the company headquarters. It was late on a Wednesday when I got back to Fort Pierce. The city bus was shut down for the evening, so I grabbed a taxi to the marina. The cupboards were pretty bare aboard Emma and I was too tired to walk a mile to the grocery. The rain started almost as soon as I was settled. The first couple days I was at the marina it rained and rained. This helped me identify that a few of the leaks I had blamed on the old gaskets were actually coming in around the ports. 

The next morning, still raining, I went through a few cans in the galley and chose Clam Chowder for breakfast. By midday, the sun had peaked out and I walked up to the store. Something like normal life was making a start. 

I've found a pretty ideal part-time job -- good pay and 3 days a week, but 30 miles away.
First, however, I am spending an extra long weekend in Annapolis learning about sail repair and rigging. The new job wants me to start as soon as I get back. So, I spent my first couple days as a local resident shopping for a car. This entailed a four mile round trip walking into town on Friday and then a 2 mile walk back on Saturday morning to buy a car with my debit card. And(!) I had planned on never having another vehicle. 

After securing a car, I wanted to seal up my ports before I left town. With a little more than two days to spend, I tore all 14 bronze ports out in the main cabin. The cabin walls were in good shape despite the leaks. I cleaned up the surfaces inside and out; and then set out to clean up the ports themselves. Old caulk and wood fiber came off with relative ease. It was the drips and slops from careless interior painting that caused the most work, but I managed to maintain most of the wonderful patina of the 45 year old bronze beauties. 

When I got ready to re-install the ports on the morning of my last day in town, I discovered that my caulk was solid in the tubes. The label said “do not store above 80 degrees.” Apparently, a year inside a locked boat in Florida was too much. I ran to the boat store; and the post office on a side errand. It’s just my luck that right after pledging to get back to ‘plant-based’, I discovered the closest USPS counter inside a restaurant that makes a fabulously decadent Cafe Con Leche! 

Just after 4:00p, I was finished with the ports and wandered over to the marina office. Some special black caulk, for my next project, had arrived. Also, I wanted to let them know my ‘new’ car would be hanging around for a week without me. Back at the boat, I removed the rattling shade tarp and called the taxi again. 

This time, however, my little local taxi guy was not available. I called Yellow Cab and they have given up on Fort Pierce and shut down. So, I schlepped my heavy duffel and book bag a mile to the city bus. I just missed the 5:30p bus. In fact, I saw him diappear down Jaunita Avenue. As I sat there, in the sun, waiting on the 6:30 bus, I realized that this later bus was only going to get me to the Central Transit Station before the buses quit running. So, lord help my ex-taxi soul, I installed Lyft on my phone and had a ride in 10 minutes. Charmaine took me out to the Motel 6 where I had a wonderful hot shower and slept like a mummy in a king-sized bed the night before I traveled. 

I hiked with the same duffel from the motel over to the Love’s Truckstop where Greyhound picks up. All went well, up through Jacksonville, then Savannah but came to a screeching halt in Fayetteville, NC. There we spent 8 hours locked in limbo by a missing driver. It was a good test of patience and equanimity, but in the end Greyhound did me right. This evening I’ll get to Baltimore and then they’ll send me in a taxi to Annapolis. If all those T’s get crossed, I’ll make it to the start of my seminar tomorrow. 

I am attending a couple seminars put on by Andy and Mia of 59 North Sailing. One is on sail repair and the other is on rigging -- the next big project after I install the diesel engine. Life is good. If it was easy, everybody would be doing it. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

In a few days ...

I might actually miss the ol' Mack. 
In a few days, the next facet of my journey begins. I’m ending my Over-the-Road driving career. Emma, my Westsail 32 cutter, will be my home and my full-time job. I’ve been hitting the road really hard for the last year saving money for Emma’s refit. 

The last month has been intense. Besides preparing to quit trucking, there was a little storm, named Irma, that came by. I rode out the storm in Jacksonville and Emma is fine. 

It’s a difficult decision to leave this company. I have a great dispatcher and everyone in the office is helpful and committed. Last month, when It became clear that Irma was going to come to Florida, I asked the weekend dispatch crew for a Fort Pierce load if one came up. Five hours later, I was on my way. 

After a ‘drop-and-hook’ at the warehouse in Fort Pierce, I ran across town to the marina. With the truck parked along a side street, I spent an hour and a half buttoning up Emma. I pulled down some shade tarps and tied down the hard dinghy. I put the cockpit back in place, sealed it with some weatherstripping, but didn’t screw it down. When I crawled down the ladder, she was as prepared as I could make her. 

In the week before the storm, I was running loads around Florida, South Carolina and Georgia. Each time I stopped somewhere, I checked the National Hurricane Center website. The early forecasts had Irma raking up the east coast of Florida or just missing and heading toward the Carolinas close offshore. With a storm as big as she was, neither of these options was good for a guy with a boat on the Treasure Coast. At least, my boat is ‘on-the-hard’ not in the water. The forecasts began leaning to the west. In the end, Irma tore up the Gulf Coast instead. This was good for me and my boat, but not so good for my friends and family over there. 

When Irma was clawing across The Keys, I delivered a load south of Valdosta. Dispatch asked if I
Fisherman's Wharf, Ft. Pierce, after the storm
wanted to ‘bobtail’ home; toward the storm! I guess this made sense to ask drivers who had homes and families. I opted to run to Jacksonville and hide. 

By the time I was dropping and running, Jacksonville was out of the forecast cone for the eye of the storm. I didn’t have enough hours to run any further. It turned out to be a good position to restart right after the storm. I got to a Pilot Truckstop and parked between a couple big trucks. We were all somewhat protected by the highway embankment nearby. Shortly, the Pilot sent all their employees home. Soon after that, the power went out in the neighborhood.

My truck rocked and rolled as the outer storm bands came across northeast Florida. A couple times, a blast of wind really shook the truck, but I never felt like I was in danger. I looked out a few times, but in the rain and wind, it didn’t make much sense to get out and walk around a closed truckstop. Palm trees look very strange when all the fronds are folded over to one side. I ended up leaving before the station was open again. 

Once freight started moving, my first load was for a Home Depot near Fort Lauderdale. It felt good to be helping in a small way. The morning after the storm passed, my Marina posted that “all boats are standing.” It was ‘mostly’ true. Later that day, a couple good friends, locals, texted me pictures of Emma still standing. It was a great relief. Another couple, new friends, had offered to do the same. I’m mighty lucky to have made several good connections in Fort Pierce; even without really having been a ‘local’ yet.

Emma is fine. There was 25 gallons of rain in the bilges because the cockpit wasn’t sealed. One non-critical tarp was ripped off. The scariest thing was that Emma wiggled enough in the wind that the jackstands had moved a bit. I’ve already pumped her out, cleaned her up and tightened her stands. Life is good. 

In the days just after the storm, I was driving around Florida, Georgia and Alabama. I didn’t see much structural damage, but there were hundreds of trees down. As I drove down I-75 and up I-95, the highway crews had already been out cutting back literally miles and miles of trees that had fallen onto the road or shoulder. Everywhere I went the shoulders were littered with piles of wood chopped up quickly by chainsaw. Fresh cut log ends poked out of the woods; some still within inches of the traffic as it whizzed by. 

Knowing that Emma was fine, I stuck with my months-old plans and submitted my two week notice at work. I’m going to focus on Emma. My
Emma, doin' just fine.
project plans are a little
richer than the boat fund as it stands. In addition, I’ve never done well with a wide open schedule. So I am looking into part time opportunities that will keep me disciplined, but won’t interfere with my boatwork. One way or another, I have plenty of boatwork to do. With a small, steady income over the next months of boatwork, I may be able to afford some extra things for Emma and a couple cameras for recording my wandering.

I’m really excited!! The first week of October I’ll be living aboard Emma where she sits in the gravel and spending as much of my time with her as I can. In addition to boatwork, I’ll be working the 'road' off my fat-assed trucker body. I can't wait to cook for myself again!!! I can't wait to eat actual vegetables and give up road food!! I can't wait to be plant-based again!! I can't wait!!!   

Thursday, August 24, 2017

I really don't give a ....

This guy doesn't care what you think.
I like to think that I don’t care what anyone else thinks. I might have even said that out loud to a trusted friend. In the last ten years, I’ve certainly been living my life like I don’t care. Still sometimes it feels like I’m stuck in some perpetual transition without much to show for it. When I get into a funk, I feel like I’ve been talking shit all this time. Ten years later and I’m still just that guy who quit his office job to sail off on an old sailboat but ended up driving a truck just to fix the damn thing.

A trucking schedule hasn’t helped my unease. My neighbors in the boatyard were a little baffled each time I only showed up for a couple days a month. Today, all of them have launched their boats and are gone. Very few friends from home or family have seen Emma. I get uptight about visitors. In fact, on a couple occasions, I’ve responded in a bafflingly shrill way to a friend’s simple inquiry about stopping by.

Either I don’t care what anybody thinks …
        … or I do.

Now, the fact is most days I’m damn proud of where I am, but I can’t always sustain that pride. Driving a truck down the highway can be a never-ending, monotonous slog. The sheer detachment from my chosen lifestyle eats away at my confidence, intentions and motivation. I’ve been away from svEmma for far too long. It makes me antsy, and especially antsy to start the work on her, just to get something done -- anything.

It’s also true that I’ve never quite had the money to do what I’m doing. I’m perpetually living on the edge which adds its own layer of anxiety. When I cashed out my 401(k) and used some of it to buy an old sailboat, I thought I was loaded. I was going to fix her up and be gone by the fall. Yet I was going broke in less than two months and that boat, the first of three, was nowhere near seaworthy yet. Since then my boat habit has been supported exclusively by earning the cash as I go along.

When I bought Emma, I spent all the money I had. Then I quit my job and moved to Florida. The funds
Emma in Miami
to do the work to get her back in the water have had to be earned once I got here. This last year I’ve hit the highway hard to earn that money. When she’s nearly ready to launch again, I may have to work a while for cruising money.

The road hasn’t completely distracted me though. I have made many decisions that need only be implemented; rigging, sails, wiring, lighting, layout, plumbing, upholstery etc. Even though poor Emma looks a lot like she did last July when the travelift set her down out back at Riverside Marina, I’ve been acquiring parts and supplies too. Diesel fuel tanks are in place, but need to be strapped down. My good ol’ 50 horsepower Perkins diesel will be the first big project; it only waits to be installed. The cockpit is removed for all the engine related tasks. I also already have thru-hulls, hose, fittings and a sea strainer to hook up the engine’s cooling system. I have a 3 burner propane stove with an oven to install in the galley. Part of the main salon ceiling is already removed to facilitate rewiring. A composting toilet is in place but needs to be permanently installed.

Perkins 4-108
There … a deep breath. I feel better already. A stolen moment of peace on the road and suddenly, I have a new perspective on my anxieties. How could I have kept up this effort for ten years, through three boats and driving all over the country, if I actually cared what anyone else thought? It seems to me, just as likely, that I was feeling exasperated at the prospect of explaining myself and my choices all over again. It has been a fun story to tell, but any story can get stale in the retelling. I’d like to talk less and do more. I may not have been anxious at all; at least not recently. Without a doubt, one of the keys to my success is more than a positive attitude, it’s a bulletproof attitude. I really don’t give a fuck.

Now some may think that was uncouth, even melodramatic. Others may think I’m just using the word for shock value, or that I’m acting out due to some past trouble. I submit that the humble f-bomb is
simply idiomatic to the 21st Century. It’s also nearly the most appropriately suitable word for the
spiritual freedom I’m trying to convey.

I am human. I can feel emotional jolts in daily life. It’s not that I don’t feel anything. The fact is, however, that there is nothing outside of myself and what I want to accomplish that affects my daily life. No one else has a vote. It would not matter if my boat burned down where she stands; or if I launched her and she sunk; or if I only got a few hundred miles from Fort Pierce and lost her in a storm. As long as I am still alive, I would simply go back to work for a time and find another boat. This is it. This is the plan. Nothing else matters. No other fucks are given.

I know I have the capacities and the stamina to accomplish what I aim to do. However, because I am doing this right now, because this is my plan -- I am self contained and self actualized. There doesn’t ever have to be anything other than this right here. I am a happy man. Full stop.

You may think that I really am anti-social; maybe even an asshole. You’re proving my point. Instead of accomplishing what *you* want, you’re spending your precious time worrying that I’m a sociopath who likes to use the F word. Fuck that. Get over it and live *your* life. Most people live behind a layer of self-doubt, gossip and confusion. They care what other people think, they care about what other people have, they care about trying to impress other people, they care about doing what other people would want them to do. There are people I love and admire, of course. In my opinion, because I strive to live without those typical everyday worries, I have more direct and intimate relationships with my friends and family. There is none of the self-effacing voodoo of obsessing over past or future. Pure love is only experienced in the present moment. Please watch Sarah Knight’s TEDx talk below. "It’s just the tip of the fuckberg."

Now I have to go sit somewhere and consider if the reason it took me eight days to get this post up was just my schedule or if I was worried what you would think. Fuck.

The first week of October will be my last on the road for a while; perhaps for good. I’ll be working on Emma full time for a few months. My complete focus will be on getting her prepped and launched. I haven’t ruled out a part time job so that I don’t spend boat money on food, but we’ll see. Emma will finally be my major priority.