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.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Beer and a Scratch Off

One of my oft-told stories comes from my days having started a plastics manufacturing business in Florida. My business partner and I were off to a good start but had to walk away from our original financial backer and carry on with no money behind us. At one point, business was slow, there was no money in our accounts and my partner was with his wife, who was in the hospital. I spent a couple weeks by myself at the shop; cleaning, making cold calls by phone and trying to occupy myself. There was no business and not much to do. I had very little money to distract myself out in the world.

In fact, on this day, I was down to a couple dollars and a few coins. We had some invoices out but I didn’t have any idea when I might see more cash. This must have been in the days after the boat when I was living in a twenty-two foot Prowler camping trailer. I remember that I was driving the tan Ford
Home Sweet Lil' Trailer
Ranger with the broken gas gauge. I left the shop, and pulled into the Super America gas station just outside our industrial park. A grocery store would have been a better place to spend my last two dollars, but I wandered around inside looking at my options. Affording something to both fill my stomach and slake my thirst was not going to be possible.

This was also post-divorce. I had a few friends around town, but nowhere to go this day but back to my little trailer at the Circus City Trailer Park. Likely, in a fit of pride, I chose not to call on a friend. There might have been a little brown rice in my cupboard, but I had eaten through my larder in the days before. As I walked past the beer cooler in the store, I had a jubilant stick-it-to-the-universe revelation. I bought a tall boy of Coors Light, a scratch-off lottery ticket and walked out. I gave my present circumstances the bird and prepared to enjoy my beer.

It was still light out, but in those days I’m sure I opened the beer right there in the parking lot. I dug through my near empty pocket and found a dime to scratch the ticket right there on the steering wheel. The greyish foil balled up and crumbled into my lap, while I sipped my beer. Enjoying every drop while it was still ice cold - the only way to drink cheap American beer.

I can get caught up in defying the universe; one part martyr, one part vagabond and two parts stubborn. But my defiant moment was practically ruined when I won forty dollars!! That’s right, sitting there in my old pickup with an open container and a few cents in my pocket - I scored. It wasn’t the beginning but a confirmation of my life’s motto: “I’d rather be lucky than good.”

I went back inside to claim my $40 and then headed straight for the grocery store. In those days, if I avoided buying more beer, I probably ate for three weeks on forty bucks.

I spent nearly five years struggling against the universe, all kinds of unique setbacks and economic factors, and a location less than supportive of manufacturing in general. It was a holy quest for which I quite willingly sacrificed greatly. The business struggles did not directly cause the end of my young marriage, but was certainly a catalyst. I lived for a couple years on fifty bucks a week, drove a cab for a while, and did all kinds of day labor and crew work. Along the way, we stole all our equipment from ourselves, got sued for $600,000, and got teased but left at the altar by several potential “angel investors.” I learned a lot about business law. And I learned to struggle and grub for something that was important to me. In fact, my former partner is still running a business from the thermoforming machine we built back in 1991.

I’ve brought that same determination to my 'wandering the seas' project. It’s been ten years and I’ve got another 10 or 11 months to go. There’s been three boats and an uncounted number of jobs in three “careers” to get here. At varying times I’ve been defeated, frustrated, elated and sublimely joyous. I’m so close now that I know it is going to happen one way or the other. One lesson I’ve learned is to differentiate and prioritize the long term goal, the steps to get there and the little pesky details. The goal and the steps are clear cut by their nature and can be written down. The real progress relies on momentum. The key is to not get bogged down; to learn which pesky daily details need conquered and which should simply be ignored.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Day in the Life.

I have to admit that somehow I’ve wiggled myself into a good place. I am doing exactly what I want to be doing, I own the boat I have always wanted, and I’ve even fallen into an excellent job situation. Not just a good little company, but because Carroll Fulmer picked up a large contract just before I applied there, the specific fleet I was assigned to is perfect for me. They don’t pay the highest, but I get lots of miles and my schedule is uniquely flexible. Further, my boat is less than ten miles from one of the distribution centers I deliver to most often.

I rolled into town early last Tuesday morning for a couple days off and jumped into boatwork. Tuesday and Wednesday were productive days; even though I had a dentist appointment Wednesday afternoon. Wednesday evening and Thursday morning were scheduled for working on my book. All went well even though after the dentist I had to backtrack to the marina to pick up my forwarded mail. UPS tracking showed it had just arrived.

It was about 2.5 miles back to the marina and another mile back to the bus stop. All the while, I was eyeing the darkening sky. A large storm was forecast to bring heavy rain throughout the night. I was hoping to get back to the truck and off my bicycle before it hit. It is eight miles from the marina to the truckstop where I parked, and the bus does six of those miles for me if I time it right.

It’s two bus routes to my destination and after transferring to the second, it began to rain. Halfway through that route we drove through a torrential squall. Luckily, by the time I pulled my bike back off
the bus bike rack, it was barely sprinkling. I hopped on the bike and road through the damp streets, dodging the puddles and the rivulets along the curb.

Back at the truck, I organized my thoughts, my mail, and the spare clothes I had stuffed into my saddlebags. The good news was that everything was dry after the downpour. The saddlebags had still been attached to the bike out on the rack in front of the bus. Looking back on my workdays, I had got some good work done. The cockpit was lifted out of the way, the fuel returns were installed into the new tanks, and the tanks themselves were set in place in the engine room. The trouble was the great hole in the deck where the cockpit had been. I had covered the aft third of the boat with a couple tarps that were onboard but one was already torn and frayed, and the other was too cheap and thin to survive the blasting wind of the storm that had just started.

There is such a things as a boat sinking in the boatyard. A neglected boat will eventually develop leaks.
My tarped Cape Dory, 6 yrs ago. 
After a few years, the weight of rainwater in the boat can become too much for the cradle or the jack stands. Eventually, the whole thing will tip over or split open. Or more insidiously, fresh water can quickly rot any wood, structural or decorative, soaked by even a small amount. I had to come up with a plan.

Thursday afternoon, after a nap, I headed for Savannah to pick up a load. My next load was right back to Fort Pierce and as I headed down I-95, a plan began to come together. I needed good tarps and a bit of rope.

My first Florida job last winter was delivering sod to Home Depots and Lowes. Hence, I knew right where there was a hardware store with a large parking lot, just off the highway. At Titusville, I jumped off and grabbed three tarps and 50’ of some cheap line. Down to Fort Pierce, I dropped my load, hooked an empty trailer, and cut across town to the marina. I have gotten away with parking my tractor and trailer for a couple hours at a time right next to a No Parking sign on a short, orphaned side street that goes downhill from the new Federal Highway to the Old Dixie Highway it replaced. If someone ever buys the empty industrial site here, my sneaky parking will likely come to an end.

I grabbed the tarps, walked across the road and into the marina. It’s almost June, the start of Hurricane Season, and the boatyard is filling up. So many boats lying akimbo like beached whales, completely out of their element. Right next to Emma, I met Dan, a friend of Captain Tony and Carol, whom I knew online until I finally met them ‘IRL’ here at Riverside Marina. Dan and I joked about endless boatwork and compared notes about our coming engine installations. He's trying to launch next week; I'm looking at next year.

As expected, the storm I had barely escaped a couple days previous, had wrecked the cheap tarps over Emma’s cockpit. One had been slung over the boom like a tent, the other was draped over a storage tub laid upside down across the hole. The boom tent was shredded and water had collected in the lower tarp.

The lower tarp, despite being tattered and baked by the sun, now held a couple gallons of water. As I gathered the folds of the tarp and gingerly attempted to lift it, water began running out of the raggedly porous tarp. Suddenly, a fold below my grip opened up and the water dumped into the boat but was caught in the tub that had fallen below. OK, not so bad.

I lifted the tub and leveled it out the best I could to keep the water away from its rim. Just as I got it all to deck level, I discovered that someone had drilled in the bottom as it emptied into the engine room. Well, I got some of the water out.

With the tattered and wet tarps gathered and pitched overboard down to the ground, I set about re-tarping. The two good heavy-duty tarps went over the boom as a double layer tent which I tied tight from the corners. The smaller lighter tarp was stretched across the cockpit hole and over the tub which gave some shape and slope to prevent water collecting. The previous lower tarp had collected water because it was not tied down, but laid across the tub with buckets in the corners. This time I tied it tight like a rain fly.

Back on the ground, I gathered the old tarps and the trash to drag to a dumpster. I had forgotten my phone, so I have no picture of my handiwork, but I walked around Emma to evaluate her new storm readiness.

After hitting the dumpster and hiking back out to my truck, I got out of my sweaty shirt and climbed in. I turned the key, the truck roared to life, needles on the various gauges sprung to attention and I was ready to hit the road again. The onboard computer showed I’d only been off duty for an hour and twenty minutes. Good quick work to secure my girl, Emma. I drove around the block and headed north again on U.S. 1, nobody knew or cared that I had made a side trip for my own project.

Back toward Savannah and life is good.
Sunrise on the Chesapeake, 2 yrs ago. I'll be back soon.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Ten Years Ago ...

Transmission on the engine
Ten years ago, I quit my last “career” job. I had bought an old sailboat that I foolishly thought I could escape with by that fall. Three boats later, though it’s been frustrating, and more than occasionally painfully slow, the good ship, sv Emma, and I are on the cusp of ocean sailing. Toward that end I now have fuel tanks and a transmission to go with the engine that I found a couple months ago. The pieces are assembled and ready to be installed.

The next big project is the standing rigging. The engine will get dropped into the boat and the mast taken down on the same day, with the same crane. The mast will be inspected along with the standing rigging and all the related bits and pieces -- tangs and shackles, etc. I expect to replace much of the hardware bits and
Emma in the yard
all the wire rope. After that all my boat projects are small and medium sized. At some point next year, Emma will go back in the water and we can sail occasionally while the last projects are finished.

Nevertheless, it has been a slog. Many times I’ve questioned just what I was trying to accomplish. My resume is a wreck -- as if that mattered to me anymore. In the last ten years, besides trying to find the right boat, I’ve tried to find the right kind of work. Working full time, I had boat money to spare, but not much time for boatwork. When I worked part time, I got lots of boatwork done but didn’t have the cash flow to sustain it. The key to my success has been that I’m simply too stubborn to quit. And I am actually quite comfortable with my ‘bombed-out’ resume; it is a solid reflection of my dedication to the boat project over my career.

My first boat had a good pedigree but turned out to be more project that boat. It only took me six years to figure that out. The second boat was a good, seaworthy boat, but she was a little bit small. I knew I would outgrow her sooner than later, but she was going to get me out of the Great Lakes and to a few islands at least.
The first boat, a Cape Dory 28

After I helped deliver a Westsail 42 from Stony Point, NY to Florida in 2015, I knew that I had to have a Westsail of my own. I’ve told both stories previously, but after sailing Alex’s Eleanor, I found my Emma, a 32 footer, floating at a mooring in Miami. 

I used to look at used sailboats online like some guys look at porn. I still bump into used boats through some of my sailing-related Facebook groups. Every once in awhile, I’ll see a bargain, or a well equipped boat, and feel that tug of doubt. Do I have the right boat yet? Why am I doing all this work on land? Why am I not sailing? Eventually, the answer always comes back to “yes.” I absolutely have the right boat for me.

My second smaller boat, Bella, had the advantage of being in the water. I sailed her like crazy in 2014! Escaping with that boat, a 27’ Albin Vega, would have been like living in a nice camper. Doable, certainly. Emma, my current boat, is a big, heavy girl. She is roomy and stable with an unquestionable reputation for
Bella, photo by Sherry
safe, long distance ocean sailing. Living aboard her will literally be my retiring to a nice apartment. Further, refitting Emma -- all this work -- is the perfect expression of my used boat philosophy.

The reality of my situation is that I was never going to afford to spend tens of thousands all at once on a boat. Further, a used boat will always come with some surprises. Surprises can be tedious, and more often than not expensive. One oft-quoted rule of thumb is to plan on spending half again what you just paid for a used boat to get her ready for serious sailing. The more you spend on a used boat, you might expect fewer surprises. However, they wouldn’t be surprises if you could expect them. Even brand new boats can have surprises. I just read about a recent batch of brand new catamarans with immediate osmosis issues in the hulls. I bought Emma so cheaply, all these numbers, ratios or rules of thumb are not much use.

Rowing out to Eleanor, 2015
Even now with an engine and transmission bought for her, I only have about $12,000 invested in my boat. There are boats out there, of course, for $10,000 or $12,000 that can be sailed away today. The purchase price, however, does not include the cost of the proverbial surprises. It’s a bit more than $4,000 a year to keep her at a dock or in a boatyard. I’ve not added that into the total investment as is would be a wash between my boat or another.

Rather than spend 10 or 15, or even $50,000, I bought the best hull I could find; a well proven design in good shape. When I re-launch her, she will almost be rebuilt: new engine, new rig, new bowsprit and boomkin, new galley, new cushions and upholstery, and a refreshed interior. I’m not saying I can beat every surprise, but nearly all of the typical surprises will have been addressed. When she’s back in the water, I will have around $22,000 invested -- along with gallons of sweat equity. A Westsail 32 was recently listed for sale here in Florida. That boat is well equipped and a couple years younger than Emma. They are asking $52,000.
My Emma in Miami

This is my philosophy: buy the best hull you can find and refit her well; take care of the potential surprises. Especially, if you can do most of the work yourself. When Emma and I take off, I will have a rock solid boat under my feet. I will know the boat and her systems inside and out. I can’t wait to show her around.