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.

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