Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Bucket of Jobs List

Occasionally, I get some gentle ribbing about how many jobs I've had in my life. I bring this up on the occasion of my retiring from the hospital. It is an occupational hazard of a wannabe vagabond writer to have had several jobs. To a career oriented person this would seem like a problem. Luckily for me, I don't self identify by what I do for a living. Further, my real career is exactly what I've been working on for the last five and a half years - fixing up a boat to go sailing and writing about it. Looking to my life, rather than my jobs, I've been on track and I'm good with that.

The job that I am starting in a week or so is ironically the one I thought I was going to do when I left the road in January of 2011. Back then I wasn't too happy when the training program was pushed out. In hindsight, I am impressed how carefully the company has brought on new people. Rather than bring on people in a panic and then have to let them go as new business expanded and contracted, they seem to have hired behind the curve of their growth. I can appreciate that from the shop floor, and from a businessperson's perspective as well.

So, I got into the pharmacy world. Being a Pharmacy Technician played well into my latent geeky tendencies. I have enjoyed the work and the people I've worked with; in both pharmacies. I worked with, and for, people who believed in me, supported me, and helped me at every turn. In the long run, however, the last two years have been an experiment to see if I could find a part time job that paid well enough to allow the extra boatwork time. In a perfect job, I could work part time to afford the hours I need at the boat, yet also afford the parts and supplies and living expenses to feed the boat project. Ultimately, the math was not working out and I'm headed back to a full time gig.

Beyond being full time, the new gig plays into skills and strengths I already have, and gives me the opportunity to polish those skills and learn more in the area of composites. Check out my visual resume. 'Composites' is a ten dollar word for fiberglass work, but 'composites' usually means a company that's a little more high tech and a little cleaner than just fiberglass. I was in a slew of 'fiberglass' shops down in Florida. This new place is clean and high tech, and seems to be well run. More on them later. I'm still on track, slowly but surely; different than I felt two Januarys ago. Everything I do is an attempt to promote my success at the boat project. Nothing else is permanent. This new gig is a good choice to further that effort.

While I was working in Customer Service many moons ago, I used to talk to a Mennonite gal a couple times a day. She worked at a large countertop shop that we supplied with laminate. Like anyone else around me, she heard a lot of my stories. She listened with a peculiar wonder and decided that I had lived many lives. I made a list of 'lives' for her back then. Lately, my stories have people thinking I've had a lot of jobs. The stories must at least be interesting enough for folks to pay attention to the mundane details of my resume. So here's the jobs list, starting about 1980:

  • Grocery Clerk

  • 7-11 Clerk

  • Salesman/Truck Driver, cheap paintings and frames

  • Research Associate, Shock and Vibration Laboratory, School of Packaging

  • Designer, Returnable Automotive Packaging

  • Sales Engineer, Automotive Packaging

  • Sales Engineer, Plastic Components

  • Founding Business Partner, Plastic Components and products made from recycled plastics

  • Taxi Driver

  • Baker

  • Plant Foreman, Automotive Accessories

  • Employment Recruiter (headhunter)

  • Waiter

  • Customer Service, hardwood plywood and countertop laminates

  • Office Manager, moulded wood products

  • Boat Broker

  • Truck Driver

  • Writer

  • Produce Clerk

  • Pharmacy Technician

Monday, September 10, 2012

Quick Monday Update

I worked at the hospital all weekend, but went back to the boat today after a morning meeting. Today was short, but a good day. Momentum is building as I work on finishing projects before snow flies. I'm removing lots of sticky notes from the 'To Do' columns of my project board [that is a good thing for those of you who never met Roger Batton].

I worked on the cockpit today. The drainage[pictured above] that runs along each side of the floor, and carries water to the drains, has been all smoothed out with epoxy paste.  It will get a little sanding tomorrow and then I'll glass over the floor. Besides paint, the cockpit floor project is finished!! It will get painted with the deck and cabin sides.

Also, I cleaned up the re-patch I wrote of before. It was a chopped hole in the deck last week [to the right] and now is pretty and smooth[to the left]. The after shot shows some of the work I re-did on the gunwale radius just because I couldn't stop myself.  Paint to come as above.

Starting to clean off the project board is truly exciting. The little clean-up-detail projects more than outweigh the large projects. The chainplates, standing rigging and re-stepping the mast are big projects that are all going to be on next Spring's list. I might yet get the last two portlights in this year. When it gets too cold for paint and epoxy, I'll move inside to work on some wiring and cabinetry work.

I keep daydreaming up new projects. Most of these are whimsy to be ignored, but a great one came to me today - a teak grate table for the cockpit/cabin that I can make from the scrap teak I got removing the toe rail and rub rail!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Fancy Catch Up

So, it's been about five weeks since my last post. The time has come for a "Fancy Catch Up." By the way, back when I was truck driving, I used to pick up Red Gold Tomato products, made with pride in Alexandria, Indiana.

A couple weeks or so ago, I shed one of the part time jobs I had. I miss the people there, but my schedule was getting too tight. Several projects down at the boat required more time than money anyway.

I've been spending my free time where I should be, hard at work down at Tower Marine. The project with the biggest splash was getting some paint on her. It's only primer, but the boat is all one color above the waterline. That's a big deal. It is still exciting to drive up and see her. 

The important part of one color was to be able to check the radiused gunwale; a big project from last fall. Without the distraction of all the colors of all my repair work, it is smooth. I am very happy with the result. It's not perfect but it nearly looks like it was made that way.

The frustrating re-patch that I wrote about last time is fixed and is probably stronger than it had been anyway. I had to give up on the skin. Originally, I had carefully cut through the top skin and saved it to cover over again. The skin was beyond saving, so I ended up just fairing it in with epoxy putty. More on that in another post.

With a "little touch up and a little paint" to show the boatyard folks, I dove into the next project on the list and the rotten balsa wood started flying. The cockpit floor was a known issue when I bought the boat. Some inept previous owner had screwed something to the floor of the cockpit without sealing the holes. When they sold the boat, they kept whatever it was, but left the holes in the floor. These holes allowed the core to get soaked by the elements and the structure of the floor was compromised.

Of course, not all the damn balsa was rotten. The rotten wood came up like warm butter, but about 30% of the balsa was just fine - solid. It had to be cut out, pried out, and ground down. In the fight, the bottom skin of fiberglass got perforated in a few places. But the wood came out - two solid days on my hands and knees in the blazing sun. I taped some of the worst holes and put down two layers of glass cloth; big layers of cloth.

After the glassing had cured, I installed my pre-cut and pre-coated 5/8" plywood new floor. It is rock solid. I haven't jumped up and down on it yet, but I will happily face a storm standing right there at the tiller.

The floor still needs a couple layers of glass cloth on top and some paint, but it is puttied in, smoothed over and sealed up. The re-patch is looking good too. It has been sanded down enough to get painted soon.

Further, there was one spot on the gunwale that had a little ripple. It was the one place that it was a little too obvious that I had been carving on it with an angle grinder.  My obsessive compulsion came swinging back and I did some more work there to bring it up to standards that my old friends in the Florida boat business would approve of. It feels so good to be making lots recognizable progress.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

One step forward . . . .

It's really not as bad as one step forward and two steps back, but I left the boat rather frustrated today. A repair that I made two summers ago was undone - by me.

I had replaced a small spot of deck core back in 2010. To do so, I carefully cut and peeled off the top "skin" of deck fiberglass, dug out the damp balsa core, cut and planed a replacement piece out of plywood, and epoxied it all back together including the top skin. It wasn't perfect, but it was pretty good. I've been working on and off between other projects to smooth out this patch ever since.

Friday, I noticed a void in a spot at the edge of my repair. It was where I had laid some of the top skin back over good core. The easy fix was to just cut off the loose skin and fill it with fairing epoxy.

A little more grinding nearby and I discovered the truly disconcerting and bigger
problem. In my grinding and sanding to smooth the repaired area, apparently I had sanded off what epoxy was sealing a straight line butt joint between the repair and some solid deck. Water has been wicking into this seam - basically all last Summer through this weekend. The entire piece of my replacement plywood core was so damp that I could peel the veneers out one by one. The stink of wet pine is just disgusting - and in this case disheartening as well.

Today I was cutting out my repair and digging up the damp plywood. My plywood core had fit so well, in fact, that it was touching good balsa core and dampened still more. I had to cut an inch or two wider to dig out newly damp balsa core. Arrrgghh! I usually keep a clean camp at boat yard, but as the top photo indicates I was throwing damp plywood veneers willy-nilly. With all the grinding and sanding I'd done in the meantime, it made no sense to save the top skin anymore.

I'm going back tomorrow to do a little more digging and then cut another replacement piece. I just covered it up and left in disgust tonight.  I'll glass the repair in and then fair the whole thing rather than relying on the old skin for the smooth surface it ain't got anymore anyway.

This repair was several steps ago, so I don't really feel any bad continuity about steps forward vs. back. Nevertheless, it was especially frustrating as I was out shopping for paint and primer this weekend. That project has been pushed out at least week. But the work continues. A bad day hacking my boat to pieces still beats a good day at work.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Between Home and a Hard Place

Last week I downloaded the sailing movie, “Between Home” [trailer here, download here], an exceptionally well filmed documentary of a young man's intrepid journey across two oceans and the continent in between. The movie, by Jack Rath, is about human endurance and self discovery and flirts along the way with bigger questions of home and place and life. Nick Jaffe, German and Australian, found himself in Berlin searching for clues about a father he never knew. At some point it seemed like a good idea to go back to Australia; not by expensive airliner, but by an inexpensive, barely fit sailboat; a boat he named "Constellation."

At first, of course, the scenes of sailing had me nearly doubled over in existential pain because my boat is not yet in the water. It's bittersweet to see a small boat sailing on the open sea as I want to be there with mine so badly. There are days when fear and doubt and land-locked angst creep across my brain like a nagging, oozing rash. Concentration fails me as I trudge from one project to another; all the while wondering if I can finish, if I want to, if the boat will be worth the effort, etc. Nick and Constellation ended up doing me a favor.

It seems that Nick had some debts when he left including buying the boat on credit. Early one morning, he turned sea bandit and left a British marina without paying off his bill. After crossing an ocean, in the midst of Caribbean paradise, Nick was worried about money. He had also to worry about his boat. Besides being excruciatingly broke, his boat needed repairs to make it across the Pacific Ocean. Rather than sailing on to Panama, the young captain decided to head to New York, home of his stepfather, to work and raise some money for repairs and the rest of the journey. Through the generosity of several Americans, including the boat yard he had wandered into, Constellation was re-rigged and brought closer to bristol fashion. Nick was able to truck the boat to California to start his Pacific crossing. This is an epic, two year story of determination and temerity. As I understand from KTL, all debts to mariners have been settled. Still it was an uncomfortable reality for Nick as he traveled.

I'm still working on my boat which is high and dry on the gravel in a boatyard, but I'm feeling better about the whole project just now. My trip will be different. I am virtually debt free already and my boat, if I'm successful, will be stronger and ready for nearly anything. She'll be more capable than I at first. Some of the work I'm doing is inspired by Fred Bickum and his boat Fenix, who went all the way around the globe in a Cape Dory 28, same as mine. While I'm not that ambitious, my boat has benefited from the work Fred did on his. My boat will be strong, moderately equipped and well found. And for now, it seems my brain, and my heart, will have benefited from the work that Nick has done. It's slow going, hard work, and more than occasionally frustrating, but I'm doing it right. When I finally leave, I'll have not many worries more than the weather.


Images lifted from Nick's and Jack's sites.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Bow to the Grindstone

Hoorah! The gunwale is completely glassed!! Last fall it got too cold to work with epoxy before I was able to do the last five or six feet of fiberglassing. What I had left to do was also the trickiest part; right at the bow.

I glassed four layers today. It was so hot that the epoxy was kicking off before I could have a drink of water and admire my work.  At the bow, I had to cut pleats in the cloth and carefully wrap it around the multipe curves and angles.  It was a little like trying to iron a shirt after you'd already put it on.

A little more sanding and the gunwale will be complete. Then . . . . wait . . . . more sanding!! The rest of the hull will be prepped and at least the primer coat will go on. It is so much more fun when all the hard work leads to actual physical improvements. I can do this!!!!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Swab the deck, oil the teak!

Today was a bit of a lay day. Just as I was rolling in to the marina, a good friend called and came by to see the boat and visit. It was pretty hot, so we ran into Douglas to the Respite Coffee shop for an iced Americano.

Earlier in the week, another friend stopped by the boat. Sometimes it takes giving a tour to notice the obvious. I hadn't oiled my teak in about 18 months. So, I broke out the tung oil and mineral spirits and went about it today. It was almost like having a real boat instead of a project. I was making her prettier instead of building or tearing down. A nice relaxing day, but a necessary accomplishment as well.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Fair to Middling

'Fair to Middling' is a phrase from farming to describe a range of quality of animals and produce. The loosely defined grades were 'good', 'fair, 'middling', 'ordinary' and 'poor.' So 'Fair to Middling' was in the middle leaning toward good. 'Fair' by itself, is also a verb - to smoothen or even a surface.  I got a little obsessed fairing the radius I'm working into the gunwale of the boat.  Obsessed in the best possible way.

Back in 1992, when Disney's Aladdin movie came out, the Ringling Bros. & Barnum Bailey Circus which is based in Sarasota, was using an Aladdin theme at their souvenir tables. The vendors wanted minarets and they came to us - a small plastics job shop in town. I built the mold for the onion top part of the minaret. The minarets were molded in halves which were then put together and stuck on top of a section of 12" PVC pipe with an Arabesque window cut out of it. The whole thing was topped
off with a fancy finial the circus people made; that included a door knob as I recall.

The difficulty came in the phrase "put them together." The two halves had to have the exact same contour on each side for them to fit together in the three dimensional minaret. I made a backbone and ribs out of carefully cut pieces of plywood and then filled and shaped with bondo. After getting a rough shape, I made a template to check the curves and carefully sanded and filled until the minaret was completely symmetrical. It was this obsession with symmetry that hooked me again.

I could only imagine, sitting at the tiller while crossing an ocean, during the second week at sea; among the albatross and the whales, my brothers;  with the deepest bluewater from horizon to horizon; and all I can do is stare at this little skip in the curve of the gunwale where I had done my repairs. So, I sanded and filled, and sanded some more. Then I carefully sanded by hand, filled the low spots, and worked the high ones. There is sixty five feet of gunwale down the port side, across the stern and back forward to starboard. I was making about 15" an hour and having to make two passes.

Then again, it damn near looks like it was built that way now. I have to say that it is coming along nicely - slow like sculpture - but nice.

Just in case you missed the musical allusion above. OK, the dolphins can make me cry.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

#^@!, I don't want to do this anymore!

There are days I don't even know if I want to do this anymore. Usually in Late Winter/Early Spring, when I haven't been near her for weeks or months. The separation doesn't make my heart grow fonder, it makes my mind wander. Did I buy the right boat? Did I do the right thing? Am I still on the path? Is this path the right path? What the $%^ am I doing with my life?

It is hard enough to remain committed to such a long range project, and to do it on a shoestring, but being away from her – physically disconnected – is so disheartening. The project leers at me like Sendak's Wild Things. Without the contact, without the least amount of progress, the steps melt into a monolith, progress made is forgotten. I get frozen just looking at the whole thing. I get scared.

And then I get to spend some time with her. And like Max, I conquered the Wild Things by "staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once." A couple weeks ago, the tarp came off. The bilge was dry in Spring for the first time ever. I've been back a couple times, but today was nearly a full day. Dad and I cleaned her up with a couple sponge mops. And while Dad painted a couple bits for me, I began sanding again. The radius project really is moving along. These last long steps are sanding and fairing.

After the gunwale is faired, the rest of the hull will be prepped and she'll finally have some paint on her again; primer, at least. Also on the docket this Summer is replacing the cockpit floor. It will be reinforced and a couple access hatches will be installed. On Rain Days, I have some cabinetry work and wiring to do down below. It is so...damn...good to finally be back in Douglas working on my boat!!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Real Juice

Its funny how something unexpectedly profound can spill out of your mouth unfiltered. If you aren't too uptight, there are moments in your life when real juice can spill. The adventurer inside you is usually drowned out by the roar of life's machinery. It is hard work to slow down enough so that a few drops of honest, personal blood can ooze to the surface. I can't remember the last time I allowed this to happen. It happened just the other night.

My boat project really languished last summer. I had decided to change careers; to get a little closer to the boat in order to make better progress. To do so, I spent nearly six months trudging through some career training and working hard just to eat. I felt disconnected from my boat; mostly because I was. There were days when I couldn't concentrate enough to remember exactly why or what I was doing. Other days I wondered if it wasn't just some scheme to run away from life. I really don't have any responsibilities to tie me down, but running away, if that's was it, might not be very mature nor exactly healthy.

With five years invested physically, and the kernel of a dream that goes back to before I could drive a car, I need to finish the boat. I need to see this through – one, to finally finish one of my grand schemes; and two, to not end up always wondering what I might have been able to accomplish. The boat and I will wander, someday. My lifestyle is pared down and with help, and a lot of love from family and friends, I've set my life up so I can just go – eventually.

But without the spark, some kind of drive, any project will dwindle. Without knowing the “why,” the “how” and “where” and “when” of a dream just aren't sufficient. We've all heard musicians, or watched actors or artists, who are proficient at the mechanical and technical aspects of their craft; the hows and wheres. Without some soul, however, some indefinable core characteristic, they fall flat. Gibbon in “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” wrote of when “freakishness pretends to originality and enthusiasm masquerades as vitality.” Without some real “why,” freakishness and enthusiasm lurk around the next bend. They won't steal you soul, but they'll hide it from you.

Concurrent with my boat project, my world view has been changing. I started two businesses before I was 32 years old and was hard charging … at one time. Several other career stops involved contributing on creative and entrepreneurial levels. I was a radical capitalist, a rugged individualist, and an atheist for almost 20 years. But I wore the hard crust like a cheap disguise, like a dollar store Halloween costume. It didn't fit so well and it chafed at my arms and neck.

In the last few years, I've slowly begun to shed the crust. Events in the world, events in my life, and some in my heart, chipped away at the crust until it fell away like a body cast removed, revealing the emaciated limbs of the real human I had actually wanted to be.

The new, real me that I've always been, recoils at the harshness of the world we live in. With new eyes, I can see painfully simple, and simply painful truths about the world. Children go to bed hungry in the world's richest country. Brutal, repressive countries furnish their citizens with health care, even while enslaving them. Meanwhile, the land of the free and the brave is going bankrupt, in large part, because so many are trapped in the quick sand of our broken health care system. Furthermore, we live in a world where everyone thinks they have the right to be right and would rather scream at each other than quietly work together to solve these and other problems.

I was cruising Facebook the other night when I ran across the fresh smell of real juice. An acquaintance of mine was getting back on her game and talked of returning to her creative pursuits. She made a short but ambitious bucket list and challenged her friends to do the same. Nearly without thinking, I wrote these words: “wander the Central American Gulf Coast and Caribbean while trying to help preserve the reefs and natural places.” The words rang in my head like a temple bell lingering in the fog.

I'm not sure what this will entail. I don't know if this is really it, but its an exciting, fresh approach. Recently, I ran across Oceans Watch. The plastic filled mid-ocean gyres are depressing news. The Gulf Oil Spill spoiled some of the places where I had planned to sail. I dreamt about a project, a coffee table book or a website, that features beautiful coastline pictures from a distance and then a close up, at the same spot, of the inevitable beach trash. Perhaps there has been some momentum building for some time. At the very least, this is a good wintertime project; while I'm putting some money away for boatwork season. Maybe I can wander off and yet still make a difference somehow.