Thursday, February 23, 2017

Grunge Rock Hero to Homeless

I’m hitting the road hard lately; saving boat money. To that end, I am only home three or four days a month. If someone gave me a car, it wouldn’t be worth paying insurance or getting plates on it. Nevertheless, I still need to haul stuff around.

My world is actually pretty small when I’m in town. My storage unit is right up the hill from the marina. Pictured above is my garden wagon. The real work was the trip up the hill with a cumbersome rolled up inflatable dinghy topped with Emma’s mainsail. I didn’t get a picture of the trip up the hill, but the sight of this stuff reminded me of the morning I was knocked down from Grunge Rock Hero to Homeless.

Twenty six years ago, I was starting a business in Sarasota and I used to tell people I was a biathlete. I was living aboard a small sailboat and had sold the old car that had defaulted to me in the divorce. The boat was anchored off Bayfront Park in downtown Sarasota. Each morning I had to row to shore and then ride my
bike to work. The same lock and chain kept the bike and then the dinghy attached to a palm tree.

I always had an army surplus knapsack on my back; with a change of clothes, a book or two, and room for grabbing groceries on the way home. It was dirty work in the shop, so the change of clothes allowed me to go out with friends after work, or accept the occasional dinner invitation. It was always worth it, but going out usually meant leaving the bike at the shop to ride along with someone. The next morning would be complicated as I had to ride the bus as far as I could and then walk into the shop,

We were working our asses off in the shop, so my standard uniform in those days was a t shirt, cut off BDU cargo shorts; topped with a flannel shirt in the winter. My business partner, Don, had a couple kids. His daughter was into the lateset music and thought that I would fit right in with the Grunge Music scene coming out of Seattle. Flannel and Army Surplus were all the rage.

It was a similar uniform that got me into some amusing trouble. After one of those evenings, when I left my bike at the shop, and then got dropped off at the boat after dinner with friends. The next morning I walked to the bus and rode it north out of town. The last bus stop on US-301 was in front of an old motel turned apartments with an ancient trailer park out back. From there I had to walk about a mile to the shop. US-301 was a divided highway with a wide median and lots of weekday morning traffic. I sauntered into the shop, a little late, greeted my partner and got a cup of coffee for our morning planning ritual. Not long after sitting down, the shop phone rang.

“Pro Form Technologies, this is Todd.”

“Three people this morning have told me about my ex-husband walking down the highway looking like a homeless person!” The all-too-familiar-voice of my ex-wife filled my ear and half the room. Don smiled.

Before I could stop her, I heard all about how my walking down the road in my best Grunge Rock Hero look was ruining her life. When she paused for a breath, I said “You don’t get to do this anymore” and hung up the phone.

Well, that’s the way my ego-infused, fallible, human-male brain remembers the day. At this stage in my life, I can understand her frustration. She worked in a large office; the software division of a large accounting firm. We had attended several corporate events together so a lot of her coworkers knew me and I knew how nasty the office politics could get. On top of that, she had moved to Florida to be with me and neither of us had any family or close friends in the area. Just a few years later and now she had no reason to be where she found herself. I get that, now. And if I really did hang up on her, I feel bad about that too.

Eventually we got to be friends again and for a time we spoke on the phone every month or so. Life has a way of moving on. It dissipates and it complicates. Each of us had got into a situation where we haven’t been able to talk for several years. Just recently though, I heard from her long enough to discuss that life was pretty good for each of us and that neither of us had any regrets or hard feelings.

I’m good with that.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Emma's Engine! Emma's Engine!!

I was in town for the delivery of Emma’s engine and had some time to kill. The anticipation had me up early anyway, so I hiked over to the boat with some tools I’d bought. First order of business, the sloppy caulk all around the cockpit well. As I was scraping at the caulk, my gaze fell on the crappy lines on Emma’s mainsheet traveler. The traveler adjusts the lateral position of the line that controls the mainsail; the main sheet. A line from each side runs through a couple blocks, so that the traveler can be adjusted under load. The faded, fuzzy red lines were probably the oldest pieces of rope on the boat, and the port side had an ominous duct tape patch. Emma deserved better and I had to remove the eyesore. 

Just beyond the traveler, hanging off the aft corner of the cabin, was the staysail sheet; the second oldest piece of line. I walked forward to loosen the other end. While I was up there, I snugged up the staysail boom and tied it tight. Back in the cockpit, I pulled the sheet through the blocks and flaked it at my feet. It occurred to me that I needed to measure all these lines for replacing them. The long staysail sheet could be used for something but the ratty traveler lines were pitched over the side and onto the ground. 

I sat and contemplated the scattered knives and scrapers that I had been de-caulking with. Over my head, the mainsail was still flaked and covered on the boom. When Hurricane Matthew threatened Emma last year, I had wrapped the mainsail cover like a roman sandal with a good piece of line. Looking up from where I sat, I wondered why I had left it all baking in the sun. With that I was resolved to take in the sail and stow the good line. Once I got started, all the running rigging, including the halyards, came down. The mast will be brought down for inspection and repair in a few months anyway. Emma is under bare poles now. 

I hung the mainsail cover, damp with dew, over the lifelines at the bow and decided to break for lunch. My food was in the truck, so I walked out to the front of the marina where I had parked and made a peanut butter sandwich. Just as I was cleaning up, the phone rang and Emma’s propulsion had arrived. The courier/mover guy had pulled into the gate and dialed my number and when I looked out the window, the engine was right below me. 

The guy I hired to pick up the engine describes himself as a Craigslist Entrepreneur. I got a couple quotes but just had a good feeling about this particular guy. In fact, his wife came along on the trip. Her sister lives nearby, so they have often driven past Riverside Marina. They would like to buy a sailboat and sail around once they retire and had always wanted to look around inside the marina. Now they had an excuse, and were getting paid to come!  

I was really happy to finally see Emma’s engine in person. It is a beautifully repainted and rebuilt Perkins 4.108. The Perkins is old school simple and rugged. And even better than that, the couple who brought it to me are super nice people! We spent quite a while chatting about boats and sailing; and wandering around the boatyard. They walked all the way back to see Emma and I explained my reasons for wanting her and why everyone has their own reasons. Different boats are for different cruising/sailing styles.  

It was after they had left when I finished stowing my mainsail and all the lines. I also took a bunch of
measurements of my engine bed inside the boat and the motor mounts on the engine. It’s not going to just drop right in but it will fit fine. Nothing is that easy; although this engine was an option on later models.

Later that afternoon, I celebrated and rode over to my favorite joint for a beer and my favorite: blackened mahi sliders; that’s three little, fancy fish sandwiches for you yankees up north. On Thursday, I went up to Marine Connection Wholesalers to look at fuel tanks and then rode over to the grocery store. By the time I took a nap and hit the road again Thursday night, I had probably done 6 or 8 miles on the bike. Lord knows I could use more miles like that rather than sitting on my ass in a semi truck. 


Now I need a couple fuel tanks and a transmission. Well, and an updated drive plate too. The fuel tanks have to go into the boat before the engine or they won’t fit. I bought the engine four or five months too soon, but it was a great deal on exactly the engine I wanted. Also, it was a hobby project of a dedicated mechanic. He tore it down completely, sandblasted and repainted individual parts before putting it back together with new gaskets and seals. It’s practically like having a new engine; pretty too.  

If you’re watching the narrative on the blog lately, this is exactly the engine I wanted to install in exactly the boat I wanted. I don’t know if I’m stubbornly patient or patiently stubborn. It may have taken me ten years(!) but I am lucky to be right where I am, doing exactly what I want to be doing.
Won't be long, honey!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Actual Boatwork Getting Done

Trucking to support my boat habit
Though I have only scheduled a couple days a month at home, I managed to get some actual boatwork done in this week while I was in town. My schedule was to be home a couple days next week, but trucking is really slow between the holidays and so I took them this week. While I’m concentrating on filling in the boat budget, I’m not putting any pressure on myself to get things done. Mostly, I fiddle around when I’m home. I’m not sure what got into me this week but I was motivated to get busy.


I have written before that the depth sounder on Emma was a useless and flaky. There was a little Hawkeye depth sounder attached to a door hinge so it could swing out into the companionway. The transducer, meant to hang off the transom a small boat, was unceremoniously glued inside the hull
under the starboard bunks. Further, the transducer was glued a fair distance above the keel on the
Flaky Hawkeye mount
curve of the hull. Hence, it was pointed well to starboard. The transducer works like most people imagine sonar does; a pulse is sent from the transducer and the depth is measured by how long it takes for the pulse to return. With it aimed off to the side, the pulse will either measure too much depth or the pulse will simply not return.


Last spring as I helped prep and deliver a Westsail, we found that the Westsail hulls are too thick for a depth transducer to work from the inside; even with a proper set up. When Emma’s flaky transducer seemed to be working at one point down in Miami, I tied a piece of bronze pipe to a flag halyard as a lead line. The actual depth I measured was at least four feet shallower(!) than the readings from the Hawkeye. Yesterday, I removed the silly hinge mount, unstrung the wire from its run through the cabinetry and knocked the transducer off the inside of the hull.


Yanked transducer and nut
When Emma was hauled here in Ft. P, lo and behold, I found another transducer from outside the hull. I located it from the inside this week. This one was a proper through-the-hull transducer. I have to assume that it wasn’t working. Not only was it replaced with the elaborately useless Hawkeye, but they snipped the wires so close to the bronze that it would be impossible to rewire even if it could be tested. I yanked it out too.


The seacocks in the picture are not mine but a picture from the web. My cockpit drains each have an identical Groco seacock. The one to port was open but not operable. I took it apart and fixed it. They are old school with the rubber cylinder inside and no longer made. This type of seacock is prone to
Someone else's seacocks
weep a little bit of water. I may replace them, but keeping them would be a couple hundred dollars I don’t have to spend. I’ll do some research. They are robust which seems good.


I also took up the floor in the main cabin to inspect the bilges and the tankage underneath. I’ve only been able to spy a small area from the access hatch for the tanks. The floors are sturdy, but just plywood. Right at the bottom of the companionway is a section of the original planked floor which looks salty but is well worn. Into the main cabin, the floors are plywood all the way forward to the V berth. I would like to redo the floors with a little more care.


The "Beam"
In taking up the floors, I found a small “beam” placed between the hull beams. This kind of stuff drives me a little crazy. I don’t know what the intended use of this “beam” was, but it is two pieces of wood with plywood gussets and a whopping four screws. It may have been intended to help hold the smaller piece of floor in place. However, when I stepped on it, I thought it was rotten. It isn’t rotten, but the four screws holding the pieces together are just not enough to be structural. It just bends there.

I don’t know much about Emma’s history. Two owners back was quite a vagabond I understand. I can’t really blame him for the seemingly slapdash approach to boat maintenance. He must have been really living on the edge and for that I can commend him. However, I’m now having to catch up and fix this approach. There was some creative salvaging going on to keep the boat going. Things like this “beam,” the extensive wiring done with old school 22/4 phone wire, the odd color choices of interior paint, the 2x4 boomkin and its 2x6 cousin, the bowsprit. Even the interior lights which are blindingly bright LEDs look as if they might have been stolen out of a call center office. I am just thankful to have been able to find her and bring her back to fashion. Granted I am aiming for “Shrimp Boat Finish” rather than “Bristol Yacht Fashion,” but Emma will soon be a lovely girl again -- and safe and seaworthy too.
Main, Staysail and Yankee

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Patience Grasshopper


[Editor’s Note: The author owns the box set of Kung Fu show episodes]


December has been hard on my brain; and my heart. I didn’t spend much time with Emma in November and December and my brain started to wander. Three months into my boat fund building schedule was starting to wear on me - I only see Emma a couple days a month for now. I started to think that I could afford a better-equipped boat for the money that I’m going to spend on Emma this year. After abstaining for months, I started looking at used boats online. There was a boat nearby that has been on the market a while but hadn’t sold. The owner already lowered the price a couple times and was probably willing to make a deal. The boat wasn’t exactly what I wanted but was well equipped. And, in my patience-deprived brain, I could be sailing again -- this year!


I got to spend a couple days with Mom and Dad in November. They brought me some boat things
Can't beat the Mahi Sliders! 
that I still had in Michigan. After running me all over town doing errands, we had lunch at my new favorite place, 12a Bouy. It was wonderful to hang out a while as I hadn’t seen them since moving in February.


I had been worried that Emma had termites or something, and on an errand with Mom and Dad I picked up a box of insect bombs. In two places down below, small amounts of what looked like sawdust kept appearing. I had swept the dust from the forward bench of the dinette and from the top step of the companionway, only to see the dust had reappeared on my return. The fear of what insect damage might be happening aboard added to the doubts about my plan.


It is a difficult thing to keep your mind, and your efforts, focused on a long term goal. Even with a prioritized project list and steady work, there will be moments when doubt will creep in. When those moments soak into days, doubt sets up camp and stays. My goal remains to spend as much time as I can cruising under sail -- sailing.  And yet here I am again with a fair stretch of boatwork ahead of me. Nine years of working toward my goal of sailing, I am still working on a damn boat. Nevertheless Emma is the best, most ocean-capable of the three I’ve owned. With her, here on the Atlantic Coast of Florida, I am closer than I have ever been to achieving my goal. Nevertheless, my vagabond heart complains that I am still not sailing; still not doing that one thing that I want to be doing.


Pete at the tiller
Pining for sea time does make me appreciate the wonderful sail from Miami. Sailing at night is like going to church for me. It was a great sail and Pete was good company and great crew. I can’t wait to get back on the water -- on this beautiful cutter that I own.  


The downside of driving for a living is the 12 hours a day in my own head. Rolling down the highway this last month, one moment I was configuring an offer on another boat. The next moment, I was staying with Emma. For a natural born, daydreamer, such vivid thoughts are all consuming. The flip-flops are disruptive and painful. The grinding indecision even affected my sleep.  


The upside of driving for a living is the 12 hours a day in my own head. I deactivated my Facebook profile in August in order to take a personal retreat into my analog life. It was a chance to concentrate on accomplishing things that I really wanted to be doing. These projects included reinvigorating my
Who says truckin' ain't pretty? 
meditation practice, writing more often and finishing several books I had with me in the truck. It was this time, gaining control of life in my own head that may have allowed me to think openly about whether I was on the right track. In the end, I believe that the unencumbered time in my analog life helped to solve my conundrum.


After taking a deep breath, I fell back on the careful analysis of pro and con that I learned from my coach back in 2006 and 2007. This new task was a welcome replacement to a brain flipping and flopping aimlessly down the highway. Realistically, comparing how well equipped an unknown used boat might be with the funds I might invest in Emma’s refit is just apples and oranges. There are so many potential hidden problems on a used boat that any comparison without a close look or a real survey is empty conjecture. Emma needs a lot of work but, for me, she is a known quantity. The Westsail 32 is exactly the boat that I wanted after helping to sail Eleanor, a Westsail 42, down the East Coast in 2015. Emma is everything that I want in a boat; a heavy displacement, full keel, transom-hung rudder, commodious, ocean capable, liveaboard sailboat. The fact that she is rigged as a cutter is a welcome bonus.


After the highway-head analysis, the fact that Emma is the devil I know tipped the scales in her favor.
Sailing north in July
There will no longer be any unknowns when I have finished. I will know her intimately and everything required to make a safe and comfortable voyage -- anywhere in the world -- will be aboard. We might not have radar or pressurized hot water, but my original plan never included those things anyway. Mindless comparisons don’t hold water.


There will always be surprises buying a used boat. The scale, and especially the cost, of used boat surprises cannot be known, of course. By definition, comparing the money I plan to spend refitting Emma to the asking price of some other used boat ignores these potential surprises. Just a small number of surprises could drastically change this already faulty sense of equivalence. Further, none of the boats I looked at aligned very well with my stated criteria.


Whatever your passion is, whatever path you have chosen to pursue, eventually you will be haunted by doubt. Blazing your own trail was never for the faint-hearted. If you are on your path, you don’t have to be distracted by doubt. Accept that it was inevitable and that you can work through it. When the moment is right, take a deep breath and drop into your analysis. For me, nothing beats writing out all the pros and cons.


It’s just as important to be reflective as it is to be ambitious and persistent. Your analysis should be thorough. It’s OK if you end up deciding to make a change. Your plans should never be so rigid that you can’t steer toward your goal in changing conditions. And plans should also be open enough that if it becomes apparent through careful consideration that you need a new plan, you will need to let this one go.


I have a good plan and a great boat. Emma may be a diamond-in-the-rough, but she is mine. Looking at the current asking prices for Westsail 32s online, I could spend twice what I plan to and still break even selling her in the middle of the price range.  Sometimes, I just have to write it all out to remind myself.
Livin' the Life, summer 2016