Tuesday, October 18, 2016

You can be Happy and Free

Rowing out to Eleanor, Spring 2015
When I got to Florida my plan did not come together nearly as fast as I'd hoped and, subsequently, it got expensive. I bought the boat sight unseen from Michigan, quit my job and moved to Florida. Before I moved from Michigan, I had a job in Fort Pierce where I wanted to keep the boat. When I got here, I got a storage unit. I didn't think I needed a place to stay, the plan was to sleep on the boat when I was in town. I was so busy when I first arrived that I couldn't get the boat ready to move her. Boat money was going into my gas tank to drive to Miami to work on the boat when I could, and for a room in a cheap motel whenever I couldn't.  I wasn’t home every night and the cheap motels really only added up to about what it would cost to have rented a room. Then again, if I'd been able to move the boat to Fort Pierce sooner, I wouldn’t have spent much money on rooms at all.

I'm on my third job in Florida and I've found the right place to be. I've taken an Over the Road trucking job where, for the next several months I'll be mostly just driving; home a couple nights a month. When I get my boat budget in the bank, I will quit the road to concentrate on the boatwork, with just a local part time job for food money.

Along the way, my Lincoln Town Car died; had to be put to sleep really. I hadn't moved the boat yet and still needed haul stuff. I had been driving around with a rolled up inflatable dinghy in the backseat and the trunk
My Emma in Miami
chock full of stuff for the boat as well as my trucking life. I had just a few hours to find a replacement vehicle and made a crappy deal on a old S10 pickup, but it had a cap on the bed and I could haul all my stuff. Then to top it off, the night Pete and I sailed Emma to Fort Pierce, someone broke into the pickup at the marina and got my backpack, my laptop and my checkbook.

In a stroke of luck that restored my faith in humanity, I got the bag back; minus the laptop, the checkbook and other random contents, of course. It’s a strange feeling of violation to know that stuff is missing but not know what stuff is missing. A guy, nay a saint named Glenn, was working construction down in the Grove and found my bag in the bushes. He called and emailed from the business card inside and then brought the bag to his office in Delray Beach, much closer to me. Though with a new job and no wheels, it actually took me some weeks to get down there to pick it up. He must have wondered about me.
[Editor's Note: E.M. - the Snoopy thumbdrive lives to tell another tale!]

By the time I got the boat moved, the S10 was already falling apart; about a month. The transmission linkage had slipped, the brakes were leaking and the power steering pump went out. I was not happy and the truck spent over a month back at the car lot getting fixed. The weeks without a vehicle were enlightening. I realized that I didn't need a car. I managed to make a deal with the devil and got the lot to keep the truck, freeing me of it. I got about half my money back if I count not having to pay for the repairs they had already done. Further, I don't have to put gas in it, don't have to maintain it and I don't have to insure it.

I cannot afford a good car while dedicating the funds necessary for fixing up the boat. Further, a bad car is an expensive option. Moreover, the lifestyle that I aspire to does not require a vehicle. I have new, stronger criteria to hold my options against. It also happens that the current job allows me to operate without a vehicle. I am happily carless, saving boat money and shopping for a bicycle.

One of the reasons I've rambled on is that I am motivated to show that I am doing this on very little money. What I invest in the boat, I am earning as I go along. The important thing is the clarity of purpose I have reached. Anyone can pursue their dreams, develop, and live a lifestyle that is of their own choosing.
What other people think you should do, or worse - what you think other people think you should do is pure bullshit; immaterial to your happiness. Much of the stress and discontent that people feel in our culture is a latent dissatisfaction with the “matrix” that we live in. It doesn’t take very many small decisions to get trapped
in the system. The system is a web of social pressures to conform; to follow along like sheep. Decisions that feel inconsequential and seem normal because everyone else seems to be making them are deadly, evil.
Living the life with Emma
Human beings were not made to be conformists. I understand that these calculations seem inhibited by marriage, kids, mortgage and debt. These are stones in the path not fences. I accept that my situation is not like anyone else's situation. However, the work can be done to pursue your dream regardless of where you are today.

It is not a compromise to work with your vision to fit into the resources you have at your disposal. You have already compromised your life to the social pressure to conform. Fulfilling your dream in a way that is possible to you is not just realistic, it is life affirming and will set you free. An old saw says "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." In the same way, don't let a huge unrealistic dream be the enemy of living a life of your own choosing.

I want to show that it can be done. It doesn’t have to be a sailboat. In most cases, it shouldn’t be a sailboat. Your passion is as unique as you are. Whatever it is, pursue it. If it seems unaffordable or unattainable, keep
Swiss Mountain Roller Coaster, this spring.
working at it, nibble away at possibilities and reimagine your priorities until you find a way to do it. Yes, it can be done. It might not become exactly what you are imagining today but if you get your intentions and motivations whittled down to their essence, there will be a way to accomplish your goals with what you have access to. You can be happy and free.

Sticking to a Good Plan

I was on a night watch as we jumped from Charleston to Jacksonville; avoiding the shallow Georgia ICW. The full moon hung over the horizon like an old silver coin. The moonlight shattered against the Atlantic and glistened across the waves like a trail of mirror shards. It was holy and sublime. I was smitten.

It had been building inside me for the whole trip. I had been impressed with the boat’s construction as I helped Alex with the final preparations and launch of Eleanor. We had sailed her from Stony Point, NY on the Hudson River down the East Coast to Fort Pierce, Florida. This was actually my second night watch offshore guiding Eleanor, a Westsail 42, as she sailed with confidence and comfort. As she gently made her way across the sea, all I really had to do was mind the autopilot. I decided I never wanted another boat. I had to find a Westsail of my own.

With a little more patience, financial and otherwise, I could be sailing already. Yet instead of already hanging out in the Bahamas, or wandering the Chesapeake, I have a couple years of boatwork ahead of me … again. All because of that life-changing trip aboard Eleanor. So like any other heartsick fool, I've made some rash decisions to get what I want. If my life with this boat is a poker game, I'm all in. This is, however, the way to get it done. I am living the exact life that I want to live. Everything, absolutely everything, is contingent on getting Emma to sea. There is no longer any room for things I don't need or want. Beside that as philosophy, my new home is a floating ellipse, just 32 by 11 feet.

After some searching, I found a Westsail 32 that I could afford. That meant that I found one that needed a lot of work. The owner then had supposedly bought the boat from a young vagabond. The boat, a work in progress, had been swinging from one of the better mooring locations at the Coconut Grove Sailing Club. The club is kind of swanky. He called it a “drinking club with a sailing problem.” However, my impression
was that the club considered the boat an eyesore and wanted the Westsail out of their mooring field. I met the owner just at the right moment when he up with the Westsail project, had found another boat, and just wanted to get rid of her.

I told the story before but someone put a link to the Miami Craigslist on the Westsail Facebook page. The short version is that I got a Westsail 32 for $6000 floating on a mooring in Miami. W32's, polished and painted, have been selling for over $20,000; some for much more depending on how they are equipped.  Essentially, I bought the hull; anything else that works is gravy. Well … and she has no engine.

I could have waited a little longer, saved more money, and bought a boat that seemed more ready. The truth of the matter is that I will never be able to buy a new boat or even a recent one. Therefore, no matter what older used boat I bought, I would inherit a certain number of problems and things that needed fixed. I have a lot of work to do on my Westsail, but I am starting with a  rock solid hull of a proven design; no compromise. When I am finished with the Emma's refit, I will know her intimately and will have personally fixed or replaced everything necessary for safe voyaging. The Westsail 32, like the WS28 and WS42, is a proven ocean capable ship that has been sailed all over and indeed around the world.

So, I could have done it differently, but I am doing it the best way I know. I have the boat and the plan and I'm living the dream. All it takes is sticking to a good plan; see the next post. Thanks.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Late Night Storm Prep

19:30 the night before. 
Hurricane Matthew passed by Fort Pierce last night; a fair distance offshore luckily. A week ago, it became forecast that he would come pretty close to Riverside Marina where I keep Emma. I asked my dispatcher that one of my next couple loads be to Fort Pierce so I could sneak 30 or 40 minutes to prep the boat for the storm. With a Walmart Distribution Center right in Fort Pierce, it is fairly easy for me to get a load there. The dispatchers at this company seem to take good care of me. My very next load assignment was to Fort Pierce from Savannah, GA.

I've discovered a spot on a nearby side street where I can park my semi, trailer and all, and walk a few hundred feet into the marina gate. After I delivered my load, it was about 3:00 in the morning and I had the streets to myself. Out past the Publix on the north side of town, I turned down Naco Road and coasted down the hill. Right before the stop sign there is a patch of cement that used to be a driveway. Pulling into the grass and parking the cab over the cement, I could get out of the way and off the street. Several times I've parked here for an hour or two and had no trouble.

I punched "Off Duty" on the eLog terminal and climbed out of the cab. Right by the door, I keep a headlamp and I pulled it on. The street is always quiet out here. The marina is on Old Dixie Highway. When a street is named Old Dixie Highway you know that traffic has been usurped by some newer thoroughfare. Federal Highway (US 1) is just a block up the hill.

I crossed the street and walked around the huge puddle that always collects just outside the railroad tracks from the marina after a rain. In the gate, I stepped into the jungle of boats on cradles. Lots of puddles and loose wet sand let me know a good rain had passed by recently. Crunching through the gravel, I glanced at a few boats where I knew others were living aboard in the yard. Several boats have permanent residents. Some of these boats are here for a couple weeks and quick projects. Other boats may never leave, but several in various stages of repair or neglect are lived in. I was hoping that I wouldn't wake anyone but the crunching of my feet was soon drowned out as a train roared by reverberating the steel on steel thrum of the train's wheels and the screech of her horn in the heavy humid air.

I can't tell you the gentle swell I feel in my heart when I come around the catamaran from Thunder Bay, Ontario and see my girl sitting there in the moonlight. Emma was waiting patiently. She seemed to understand that I have to stay away for a time to fund her resurrection. When Emma was first hauled out, I borrowed an eight foot orphan section of an extension ladder. I told Jason in the yard that I had it. He thanked me and said they would come get it if they needed it. Whenever I come home, I worry that they've needed the little ladder, but tonight it still leans against Emma's ribs, tied at the top to a couple stanchions.

My mission that night was to prep Emma for the coming storm. I climbed the ladder and stepped onto her deck. It is good to be here, my girl. The tarps that have kept the heat of the sun off the cabin roof came down. I folded them and collected the lines and bungie cords that had held them. Its amazing how much differene the shade has made to the temperature inside the boat. Next, the dinghy had been leaning against the port side lifelines in perfect wind catching position. I hauled it toward the bow and tied it down against the sampson posts. The forward hatch doesn't have a latch and I was concerned about it getting lifted in the wind. The dinghy was now tightly lashed over the top of it. Two birds, one stone. I went below.

In the cabin, I double checked that all the portlights were shut and dogged tight. I checked the bilges and  did a walkthrough just to recheck all that I thought needed checked. I decided to disconnect the solar panels from the charge controller. I wasn't sure how much that would help or hurt but if panels got blown down and were shorting out, maybe it would prevent catastrophic damage to the battery bank.

Back in the cockpit, I thought I heard someone stirring about. An older guy lives on a close boat back toward the fence. I didn't want to look over there, squinting in the dark but shining my headlamp directly toward his boat. No one said anything and I was busy, so I carried on. I took a long look around the deck. Everything looked as good as I thought it could get, but I grabbed spare python strap and snugged up the lines holding the dinghy down.

I climbed down my little ladder and did a walk around Emma from the ground. From the corner of the Thunder Bay catamaran, I gave her a good look. Puffing my chest, I tried to imagine hurricane winds, or at least the big bad wolf, blowing across her bow. There didn't seem to be anything more for me to do. I walked back through the maze of boats; crunching as I went.

The ground is a crusty blend of packed earth and leftover concrete. The property used to be a cement plant. On top of this crust is a blend of human and boat trash. As I walked back to my semi, I passed extension chords running every which way, pieces of rope, bits of hose, various bottle caps and crushed cans, a right foot sandal, a maxi pad, the lid to a shoe box, several chunks of rigid foam insulation, some boards and the frame for a bimini. Not everyone here are slobs, and I can empathize with getting distracted after having set something down "for just a minute." Nevertheless, some are not taking the care they should. That is exactly the reason, especially on a small boat, that everything have a place and everything get put away when not needed. Its a part of good seamanship actually and that should extend to the boatyard. I'm not perfect either. There is a stainless steel aft pulpit I left hugging Emma's bow on the ground and a bucket with about forty feet of chain under her hip. Its more out of the way there than on deck, but still a little low class.

The air was heavy with the humidity of the recent rain, but there was no sign of the approaching storm on the wind or in the clouds obscuring the stars. I walked out onto the street and climbed back up into the cab of my semi. There wasn't anything else I could do but hope that Matthew would go easy on me. And I had to hit the road for Savannah.

Just by chance I had asked for the next Sunday and Monday off. I'll be home right after the storm to assess if any damage occurred.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Miami to Fort Pierce, Part II

Sunset over SE Florida
This is Part II of the Miami to Fort Pierce trip. For Part I, please click here.

Pete and I watched the sun go down over Boca Raton and then come back up over the Atlantic Horizon as we passed Jupiter (not the planet, the town in Florida). The night was clear and billions of amazing stars twinkled in every corner of the sky. My crew saw a dolphin, but there wasn't much for wildlife other than the phosphorescence we saw at night as nearby waves disturbed the water. No ships were near enough during the night to cause us any concern.

Being able to watch a beautiful sunset and still be there when the sun rises is like going to church for me. In the morning, a fuzzy line at the horizon began to emerge out of the darkness. Gradually the line hardened in soft colors, clouds became discernible and the sky changed from black to blue and grey. Soon the whole horizon splashed with purple, peach and orange. And finally, with the sun peaking through, the sky filled with the yellows and oranges of a new day. It was sublime and holy.

Once we got to Fort Pierce, the wind was blowing straight down the channel [Editor's Note: sound
Ft. Pierce Inlet
?] Damned if I didn't try to sail in anyway. While Pete was telling me it couldn't be done, I inched my way toward the last pair of day markers. We were out of the channel a bit as I tried to slice the wind thin enough to make it in under sail. The Fort Pierce Inlet has a dogleg turn about a third of the way in from the Atlantic. If I just could have made it to that turn, we might have sailed all the way in. Alas, Pete was right – dammit – it couldn't be done. After gently bumping the bottom, testing Emma's patience, I pushed the tiller over and we spun back into open water. We were starting to get the hang of sailing a cutter. Patience with the jib sheet is critical, but even with a couple rank amateur cutter sailors, Emma tacked nicely for a heavy girl.

And we called for another tow. Happily, this one was considered an emergency. Pete and I made a big lazy circle toward open water and just as we headed back toward the inlet, our tow was already steaming toward us.

The Cormorant, Fort Pierce, FL
As I was pushing my luck trying to sail through, a Coast Guard cutter (same term, but not a sailboat) came by, passing us as she headed in. As we were towed past the Coast Guard Station, home to the cutter we'd seen, the Commanding Officer spotted us and sent a launch to investigate. The Coasties later told us the CO was convinced on seeing an old sailboat getting towed, we must be drug smugglers.

I had told the marina that we would arrive Thursday afternoon or Friday morning. Having arrived at 8:30 Thursday morning, we were really early (thanks, Gulf Stream). Further, there is some kind of friction between the tow boat company and my marina. Towboat/US wasn't going to tow me in until they talked to the marina manager. Apparently, the tow guys were worried about being able to maneuver Emma, or any boat, into the slipway without damaging theirs or anyone else's boat. Riverside's channel is tight and the docks are full of boats of every variety; sailboats, fishing boats, catamarans, trawlers, etc.

When it was all said and done, I couldn't get into the marina at 8:30 am because Emma and I were
Riverside and the spoil island.
scheduled for the afternoon; they had a full schedule for the day. Fair enough. They planned their day based on when I said I would be there. Towboat/US towed us to a spot off the Intracoastal Waterway, next to a spoil island and right across from the marina. We dropped anchor and as I signed the tow bill the USCG launch hovered nearby.

“Don't worry, they're just training,” the tow captain assured us.

When the launch arrived, however, we learned we were suspected drug smugglers. The Petty Officer chuckled and said “I could see how high your boat was floating in the water. I knew you weren't smuggling anything.” We got the inspection; PFDs, fire extinguisher and – oh, shit – a signaling device. I meant to grab a bag out of storage that was stuffed with miscellaneous boat stuff – including a couple air horns and a whistle – regulation signaling devices. I had no such device; a USCG requirement. On top of that, my crew's passport and license were Canadian; a whole different number to call; a different system to check.

Nevertheless, since we were nice guys and cooperative, despite the boat being a mess from the overnight passage, but mostly because the Petty Officer knew from our conversation that I was headed right across the river to be hauled out for more than a year, we got a pass for the missing signaling devices.

Mid-afternoon, Towboat/US came back to tow us in. Emma was skillfully nudged into the slipway. Riverside Marina hauled her out of the water, pressure washed her hull, and parked her out back on jackstands. We're in the northwest corner of their yard. I can't say enough how well I was treated by Towboat/US at each end of the trip. Riverside not only took care of setting Emma in a safe spot 'on the hard', but they have been great to work with ever since.

Emma is in her new temporary home and my work has begun. Finally, all my stuff is in the same