Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Isolation, Boatwork, and Gratitude

I can’t really believe that this is 2020; and here it is almost April already. It’s getting weird out there too. Last year was a tough year for several reasons; for me and for my family. It was also a much more social year than I've had in a while. I am isolated today, like most everyone else, but I have been in partial social isolation for 13 years. I left my last ‘career’ job in 2007. After that I was driving a truck; plying the highways ostensibly to make money for a boat project and to escape normal life. Most of that time it was just me and the truck. I went from a world filled with a couple hundred emails a day, constant phone calls and meetings to one where I might talk to someone at a truckstop or on a loading dock once or twice a day. Perhaps I was practicing for today’s pandemic world.

Right now for me, social isolation means a lot of boatwork. I’m stocked up and hunkered down at a remote boatyard in North Carolina. My pantry is relatively full and I have lots of supplies to keep working on the boat. Since my last post, I have lightly sanded the entire hull below the waterline, ground out a couple hundred blisters, installed four of six new thruhulls, stripped varnish, sanded and oiled more than half of the teak, and started engineering the removal of the holding tank.

I feel pretty safe where I am. I feel good about getting a bunch of work done. Most of all, however, I am feeling a wave of gratitude. I am very lucky to be where I am, doing what I’m doing. I haven’t decided how to write about the situation, but I don’t have to work right now. I am able to devote my time to working on Ruth Ann, my Bayfield 29. I am not suddenly wealthy, but I able to get by for now, carefully. Lately, the weather is the only thing that occasionally gets in my way.

It is a new world for me to only have boatwork to do. I have an off day every once in a while when I feel like I haven’t accomplished much. Mostly, however, the gratitude that I am feeling is what drives me; it’s the wind in my sails.

The pandemic and all the news around it put me, like everyone else, in a strange place. For a few days I was obsessively checking the news. Not a panic really but I let the tsunami of news and information overtake my time. That reaction has passed and I feel focused again. I checked in with my family and some friends. The tsunami of my gratitude is what I’ll concentrate on from here on out. There are so many people who have supported my vision. Some simply listened to my crazy plans; others supported me in more tangible ways. I am very lucky just now, right here.

Thank you; all of you. Be well. Be safe and healthy.

BTW, this entire blog post, including some image editing, was done on my Raspberry Pi 4; perhaps bound to be my computer onboard; compact and powerful.

My Patreon account will be live by April First. Patreon is a website that helps people support their favorite creatives; writers, artists, musicians, etc. I am not working right now; just working on my boat, Ruth Ann. If you enjoy reading my blog and would like to support it, Patreon is an easy way to do such a thing, even a couple dollars a month is possible, amazingly helpful, and greatly appreciated.

Writing is my main thing. I will be posting to the blog at least twice a month. There will be some exclusive content for Patrons and early access to blogs. My book, YouTube updates, and a podcast will be coming, but I need to concentrate on getting Ruth Ann back in the water. I don't want to get too many irons in the fire until she floats again.

The sailing memoir book will trace my journey from a little Sunfish sailboat at scout camp, to being on the cusp of an extended cruise on the U. S. East Coast, in the Bahamas, the Caribbean, and Central America. Look for it later this year.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Hey, Wait A Minute!!

That's me part way down.

My last term at Michigan State University was a summer term, and I lived in a house with six other guys. It was a great house and a good bunch of roommates. A girl I spent some time with in the hot tub after a party there became my first wife. I often played guitar on the back deck with a guy who had chosen med school over touring with Amy Grant. I had an oddly curved tan line – white belly, tanned chest – from those sunny afternoons with a guitar in my lap.

My parents had moved to Houghton in Michigan’s Upper Penninsula and at some point most of my housemates and I organized a road trip up there. We used my parent’s house as a base camp to do all kinds of things including some rock climbing. I had never done any serious rock climbing before then, but the guys who had were keen to show me the ropes; and the webbing. We did some rappelling down the cliff at Douglass-Houghton Falls; more than a hundred feet down.

As a part of my introduction to rappelling, the guys handed me twenty feet or so of nylon webbing. Standing there ten feet from the cliff’s edge, I was guided through tying a harness around my waist and thighs. “Go around your waist, then around this thigh, tie it like this here, and then around there …” they instructed.

So it came my turn and I stood at the edge, the rope lay slack on the ground between me and the tree it was  tied to. I could see a hundred feet down between my ankles. I had to let my weight lean over the edge to take up the slack. None of what they had taught me would work if I didn’t take up that slack. The harness itself wouldn’t truly be tightened up around me, if that slack wasn’t taken up.

Hey, wait a minute! My brain screamed. I tied that harness; the harness my life was now going to depend on. I’ve never tied a harness like this before. What makes me qualified to tie a harness!?!

I’ve  had a similar thought recently. I am replacing the stainless steel wire rigging on my boat, the Ruth Ann, with synthetic rope; Dyneema specifically. What this means, however, is that I am splicing a bunch of rope in a very specific way; a way that I have not done before. That rope and my splices will be the very thing that holds my mast up and enables me to sail the sea.

“Hey, wait a minute!”

To further complicate my thoughts, new information has come to light. After completing eight of the nine deadeyes I needed, I ran across a blog post by the guy who originated the system I’m building. His post included a video that did not show up in my previous research. There I discovered one detail that I was doing incorrectly.

Now that one detail mostly made it more difficult for me to make them. It is likely that the deadeyes I had already made would probably have worked fine. By making the construction more difficult, however, the deadeyes are less smooth, less elegant. Dyneema is a twelve strand hollow braided line and is quite slippery. It doesn’t like traditional knots, and is therefore spliced in a unique way. Elegant and smooth, in this context, also means strength.

I made the last deadeye using this new information. It went together way better than my previous grommets. It was elegant and smooth. I looked at the previous eight with a newly jaundiced eye. I stared at them, molested them, twisted and pulled them. They seemed all right, seemed strong. In the end, I just couldn’t brook the thought of trusting them now that I knew they weren’t top notch; not 100% true to method. I removed the thimbles and threw away the grommets. It can only be chalked up as $100 worth of deadeye training.

I ordered some more dyneema; enough to build eight more good deadeyes; elegant and smooth. I’ll feel better banging to weather out at sea knowing that the deadeyes I made, that are holding up my mast as we crash through the waves – those deadeyes are as well built as I could make them.

In addition, I’ve discovered that Ruth Ann has lots of blisters below her waterline. For you landlubbers, blisters are shallow bubbles, just like a blister, on the skin of a boat’s hull. They are caused by tiny amounts of uncatalyzed resin left from the manufacturing process. That resin reacts with moisture to produce a gas which causes bumps on the hull. I am sanding and grinding a lot these days. Once the blisters are
all ground out, they’ll be patched with some glass cloth and epoxy resin. For the record, I'm grinding out the blister on the hull's surface. There are no additional holes in the boat. All the work on the hull though means the mast won’t be coming down real soon; a couple weeks anyway. I have some time to work out my elegant deadeye making process.

I’ve revised the Patreon statement below. Thanks for reading my blogs.

My Patreon account will be live by April First. Patreon is a website that helps people support their favorite creatives; writers, artists, musicians, etc. I am not working right now; just working on my boat, Ruth Ann. If you enjoy reading my blog and would like to support it, Patreon is an easy way to do such a thing, even a couple dollars a month is possible, amazingly helpful, and greatly appreciated.

Writing is my main thing. I will be posting to the blog at least twice a month. There will be some exclusive content for Patrons and early access to blogs. My book, YouTube updates, and a podcast will be coming, but I need to concentrate on getting Ruth Ann back in the water. I don't want to get too many irons in the fire until she floats again.

The sailing memoir book will trace my journey from a little Sunfish sailboat at scout camp, to being on the cusp of an extended cruise on the U. S. East Coast, in the Bahamas, the Caribbean, and Central America. Look for it later this year.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Finally ... Some Boatwork.

Brunswick Sunset by the highway

When we last left our hero he had blasted out of Florida bound for North Carolina fueled by high octane inspiration having spent a week on the water aboard Wade’s boat.

After riding with Wade back up to St. Augustine, from Stuart, I reset the camper van for travel and headed north. I stopped in Brunswick, GA at a Flying J Truckstop where I’ve slept many times; only this time not in the sleeper of a semi-tractor. From there, I pushed on to Navassa, NC and was finally back to the boatyard, back to my boat, sv Ruth Ann. The first priority was to sort through my stuff; what I had in the camper van and what was in the trailer next to the boat. A few tools I knew I was going to need were buried in the nose of the trailer. While I had been hiding from Winter in Florida, I had developed a preliminary project list based on my memory. Now that I was finally back, I needed to crawl around the boat, get my bearings, and compile an up-to-date list of jobs.

Also, the weather has occasionally reminded me that I arrived here a little early. Sometimes it is still downright cold! I've decided that I will persevere, do what I can when I can. I have, however, found a hostel over in Wilimington; an inexpensive spot where I can escape when it gets really damn cold. I'm actually here in the hostel the third weekend of February, 2020. There was a little snow in the air during the wee hours this morning and tonight it's going to be about 26 degrees!!!

Arriving after dark. 
Depressingly, back at the botyard, the bilge was full of rain water again, but I dug around and tracked down the source of the leaks. The big leaks were stopped but a couple stubborn small ones need more attention. The two biggest jobs I have are painting the bottom and re-rigging the mast. Of course, those major projects will each be accompanied by smaller related projects. There surely will be lots of other little projects that come up but I’m going to stay focused. Sailors can easily get bogged down in a boatyard as more and more little projects are discovered and beg to be started. All my jobs are prioritized by category: jobs that have to be done on the hard; jobs that would be easier to do on the hard; and jobs that can be done on the water. The boatyard that I found is a great spot; inexpensive with good people. But as soon I can get Ruth Ann back in the water, I can stop paying $300 a month for the space in the gravel where she sits.

Painting the bottom obviously has to be done while the boat is out of the water. The thruhulls were in bad shape and needed to be replaced before the bottom gets painted, so I’ve started there. Production boat companies, even the good ones, have always had the bad habit of cutting corners regarding so-called “skin fittings.” These are the valves that let water in or out of the boat through the “skin” of the hull. This is, of course, right where you would not want a leak. You would think that good hardware done well would be the norm. Alas, boat builders of “classic plastic” boats used a ball valve screwed on top of a threaded thruhull. This practice was not just lacking in structural integrity, the threads on the two parts are actually mismatched and cannot seal perfectly. Skin fittings done this way, especially done decades ago, are a weak link.

36 Year Old Ball Valve
My 36 year old “weak” skin fittings had, of course, corroded themselves together. Some of the valve handles had been carbon steel and were so thoroughly rusted they might as well have been made from saltine crackers. I tried coaxing, cussing, and cajoling the thruhulls. I tried debonding solvents and pipe wrenches with breaker bars. No joy. Obviously, drastic measures were necessary ... I decided to cut them out.

Under the Galley Sink
The bottoms of the five thruhulls were at the skin of the hull and could be seen from the outside. Inside the boat, however, the tops were under sinks, inside cabinets, and by the engine. Getting at them was one thing, finding a tool to cut them was another. I ended up using my cordless multi-tool oscillating cutter. It was reasonably compact and the blade could be set at different angles. Nevertheless, it is a finesse tool. Brute force was not possible; attempting to force it was actually counterproductive. Working the blade back and forth, one side of the pipe, then the other, and restarting after it bounced out, I gradually cut through the bronze pipe of each of the thruhulls. That detached the ball valves from the pipes, but each pipe was held inside the hull by a large bronze nut. These too were corroded in place. I had to cut each nut into thirds and pry each of the pieces sideways off the threaded pipe; each of five pipes. Once those mechanical attachments were clear it was simply a matter of hammering the rest of the pipe out of the hull -- until the last one.

Cracking Nuts
The last thruhull would not come out. I went back to  coaxing, cussing, and cajoling; especially cussing. I hit it with ever larger swings using ever larger hammers; hitting harder than I really ever wanted to hit on my hull. No luck. Finally, with a little help from the debonding solvent, I was able to slowly unscrew the thruhull from it's bullet-proof adhesive with brute force and a 1.5” wide quarter inch steel bar turned by a pipe wrench. Apparently, this forward thruhull had been repaired at some point because it was stuck with much better stuff than the rest.

While I was having all that fun with bronze fittings, whenever it was raining or too cold, I was inside the cozy camper van working on the dyneema deadeyes that will help hold up the mast. Also this week, I did some cleaning; I sealed some leaks. Boat parts were ordered; projects were recorded and prioritized. I got some keen advice from my boatyard neighbors about cleaning my oxidized fiberglass hull. I also finally removed the “Afraid Knot” name from the transom and began removing the boot stripes.

Sometimes you have to force it.
I now have real seacocks to replace the ball valves, along with backing pads, thruhulls, epoxy, and adhesive caulk. Hopefully by the end of next week, my hull will be watertight again. To make the deck completely watertight, I need to rebed a couple stanchion bases and the deck hatch. I also need to take a closer look at a portlight; either the gasket leaks or I may need to rebed it as well.

Once the seacocks are installed, I can paint the bottom. I’m going to raise the waterline an inch and a half or so, then apply a barrier coat before the bottom paint goes on. I’ve already talked with the boatyard about getting my mast down for the next big job. The mast has to come down for re-rigging and rewiring, but that will be a couple weeks and another post.

I’ve learned not to discuss dates, but I am super excited how fast Ruth Ann is coming together.
New Stuff!

A little polishing still needed. 

Also, I wanted to tell you that I am working on setting up a Patreon account. Patreon is a website that helps people support their favorite creatives; writers, artists, musicians, etc. I am not working right now; just working on my boat, Ruth Ann. Patreon is a nice, easy platform, but I am trying to set everything up in an organized, detailed, and thoughtful way. My plan is to continue writing in my old school, long form way, but on a more regular basis. For some time, I’ve also been working on a sailing memoir type of book; from my first experiences on a little Sunfish sailing at scout camp, to being on the cusp of an extended cruise on the U. S. East Coast, in the Bahamas, the Caribbean, and Central America. To promote the book and this site, I am developing a podcast that will be supplemented with occasional video updates on YouTube. Imagine the Bubba thePirate Blog with Bubba the Pirate Radio and Bubba the Pirate Radio on TV. I have no aspirations to make all of that a full-time job – my job is wandering -- but I’m thinking of monthly updates; maybe every couple of weeks. My focus is the writing, so the audio and video updates will not be slick, time-consuming productions; just fun, basic updates about where I’ve been and what I did. The blog posts, the podcast and the YouTube updates will be posted openly online. Any support through Patreon or PayPal will be greatly appreciated but is not required. There will be some small bits of bonus content, like previews of the book or something, for those who decide to support me.

Thanks. I’ll post details when they are ready.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Fancy Catch Up

This will be a cheerier, more typical post. In fact, so much has happened in the last couple weeks it will take more than one post to catch you up. The first part of the story actually starts the first week of January, when I was minding my own business in Waldo, Florida. It was too cold for boatwork in Wilmington, NC, so I had escaped to Northern Florida for December and January. And it has been occasionally too cold for me in Florida as well!

Anyway, my phone buzzed on a random Tuesday morning when a friend of mine – a sailor – was triumphantly letting me know that he and crew had just entered the St. John’s Inlet after a trip across open ocean from Charleston, South Carolina to Jacksonville. That trip had been a little rough, they were exuberant and deservedly proud of a passage well won. The last Wade knew, I was headed to Wilmington to work on my boat. He texted that they were headed for Saint Augustine the next day after anchoring for the night near Jacksonville. The boat, sv Aletheia, was going to be kept at a marina for about a month as Wade moved her down Florida’s coast to stage her for crossing over to the Bahamas later this year.

sv Aletheia, a stock photo
I surprised Wade by telling him that I was only about an hour from St. Augustine. Knowing they had probably flown in to move the boat and would fly back out, I offered to meet them there if they needed a ride around town. Wade said come on over, he’d buy dinner, and we were on.

The next day I wandered over in the camper van. I was walking around the marina looking for Aletheia and finally texted Wade that I had arrived.  At that exact moment, he and crew were in the marina office right behind me. A couple years ago, I had helped Wade move Aletheia and had connected online with a friend of his during that adventure. That friend, Chip, was the crew who had just made the trip from Charleston. It was great to meet in real life and after running around town for boat parts, the three of us had a nice dinner along with a pleasant, and lively, conversation.

Wade was working to stage his boat for crossing over to the Bahamas. In our conversation, he mentioned he was coming back in a month to move the boat further south and could use the help if I was free. I didn’t have to think twice about it.

One month later, Wade flew in and drove down to St. Augustine; I met him there. He decided, in the interest of time, we would not bother relocating a vehicle, but just sail the next morning. When we arrived down around Stuart, he would rent a car and drive us back to our vehicles where we started. The marina, however, balked at us leaving two vehicles in their lot for a week. They were especially squirrelly about me leaving an RV in their lot more than one night. While Wade called a couple hotels to pursue parking options, I walked across the road to an old Florida tourist attraction. They had a big parking lot but didn’t look very busy a month or more before Spring Break season.

The young lady at the ticket counter had to check with her boss [by texting him, man I feel old]. In no time at all, however, the good people at Marineland let me park my van in a corner of their lot for six days.

Wade and I went on a run for provisions, grabbed some tacos for dinner, and spent the night on the boat. The trip was going to be a couple hundred miles and we had five or six days to accomplish it. I had no schedule but Wade needed to spend a few days in Tennessee before going back to his two weeks on/two weeks off job. It was great to be on the water, but it was not a cruise. Our job was to deliver the boat and we needed to make time. We didn’t need navy discipline, but we had to keep moving at a reasonable pace. All in all, it couldn’t help but be a pleasant week. Wade is a really interesting character; he and I never seem to run out of things to discuss.

I was there to help as help can. That first morning, I handled the dock lines with a little help. A lady from a neighboring boat had given us each a slice of coffee cake and then gave us a final shove off the dock that was almost more than we needed, but I had managed to get onboard before her shove and we were off. The water was smooth as slate and the air was peaceful; if a little cool. It was mid morning as we left with the tide. Wade and Chip had slalomed through some tricky shoals near the Matanzas Inlet the month before, so we ambled back into the Intra Coastal Waterway(ICW) with none but the usual hazards to look out for. It was going to be a pleasant day and we chatted while Wade handled the helm most of that first day as he relished being reunited with Aletheia.

We were trying to burn up the fuel in the tank in order to have fresh fuel for Wade’s trip to the islands. For that reason, and for the lack of wind that first day, we never raised the sails. They were uncovered and ready if we needed them, but they never left their perch in the lazy jacks. There was a ghost in the generator, which would occasionally cause it to cough and die. I would take over the helm while Wade did some troubleshooting and re-started the system.

Aletheia is a conversation starter and always attracts attention. She is an Allied Princess, thirty six feet long, re-rigged as a Chinese Junk with an electric drive; battery-powered. She is a hybrid in all kinds of ways. Everywhere we went the people, even powerboaters, would smile and wave, take pictures, and gesture to each other. From the waterline to her graceful sheer, she perfectly embodies her model name – princess. Above her rails, she has a surprising profile. Rather than the triangular affect of a common sloop with one mast and angled stays, Aletheia has two unstayed masts with one extremely far forward. Two fully battened Chinese sails lay perpendicular to each mast, folded and at rest in their lazy jacks.

Below deck, invisible to the saltiest eyes, she is powered by an electric drive with a large battery bank and a small diesel generator. This secret attribute was a unique experience for me. The reserve power and range stored in the batteries is a tremendous advantage. At one point, we were approaching a drawbridge anticipating the scheduled opening when the diesel generator coughed and stopped. In the world of diesel powered boats this is not uncommon. Fuel filters clog at inopportune moments; air or water can sneak into the fuel lines. Diesels are efficient and reliable – to a point – but they can be finicky. Wade’s generator was relatively new on the boat and the system wasn’t quite dialed in all the way. The critical difference between a boat with only a diesel engine and Wade’s battery-operated, generator supported one, is that on almost any other boat, if the diesel stopped running the propeller would stop pushing the boat; no forward motion means no steerage.

The moment the generator stopped, we had the wind behind us accompanied by the tidal current; both pushing us toward the bridge; the very bridge that wasn’t going to open for twenty more minutes. On a solely diesel powered boat this would have been a sphincter-puckering panic situation. Another boat would have had to immediately drop an anchor, right there in the channel, get stopped, and try to fix the problem. Aletheia, on the other hand, has over an hour at cruising speed in her batteries (even more time at slow speed). When the diesel choked, Wade simply said “take it,” and left the helm to go below while I took over and calmly circled around upwind of the bridge on battery power. The bridge tender lowered the gates, raised the bridge on schedule, and we were on our way as peaceful as before. Wade got the generator restarted before the bridge was up, but even if he hadn’t I could have circled around waiting for the bridge and carried on once it was open under battery power alone.

Incidentally, reefing the sails on a junk-rigged boat is easier and more relaxed than dealing with a finicky generator. When I sailed on Aletheia before, Wade reefed the sails from the cockpit and was done before I realized that he had been explaining the reefing process to me.

We (mostly Wade) were troubleshooting the diesel generator’s buggaboo as we traveled. The generator would run fine for hours at a time and then cough and go silent. By the time we made Stuart, he had solved the issue. A couple fuel connections were just loose enough that an occasional trickle of air could get into the fuel. Wade will also change the fuel filters just as a precaution before heading across the Gulf Stream. We both think that the corrections he made during our shakedown will have the system running smoothly and reliably from now on.

January is a little early for Florida’s “season” and it was a cool week, but we were still surprised how few boats were on the ICW with us. We made Daytona that first evening and anchored just south of downtown. There were a few boats in the anchorage but we had plenty of room. It was cool, at first, to see the glow of the beach hotels and the Daytona Beach strip, but their bright lights obscured the stars once it was all the way dark. We made some dinner and went to bed. I had to get used to climbing into my quarter berth over and around the navigation station again.

The next day was another overcast one but easy weather made for a good day. We headed out a little after the sun and headed past the Ponce Inlet. Mosquito Lagoon opened up into a surprisingly wide stretch of water; none of it is deep so we stayed in the channel. Whenever Wade needed a break or wanted to check on something or just to give me a turn, he’d give me the helm, but the conversations rambled on, wherever either of us happened to be sitting.

You can't see NASA but I could
We got through the Haulover Channel, under its drawbridge and on past Titusville where NASA’s towers at Cape Canaveral loomed through the low clouds. Our stop that night was just south of the NASA Causeway Bridge in a deserted anchorage. Aletheia has an abundance of electric power and we had learned to load the Instant Pot about three in the afternoon so when we settled into that quiet anchorage, supper was ready. The unrhythmic buzz of random cars hitting the drawbridge’s metal grate was oddly peaceful but even that gradually tapered off as the traffic thinned and we finished eating.

The next morning we were off again and headed down past Cocoa and Melbourne. Almost five years ago, Wade and I were both aboard sv Eleanor with Alex Dorsey right there in Melbourne. As we passed through, I texted a hello to a friend in my Southwest Michigan/Northern Indiana circle. He called back right away and we had a nice chat as Aletheia passed by the end of the Eau Gallie River. After hanging up, I stood on the stern and waved my arms in case he could see us from his dock. That night we anchored off the channel near Micco, just north of Sebastian. The anchorage was an open roadstead in the Indian River Aquatic Preserve but we had a calm night; even as the next day’s weather forecast began to look grim. 

When we woke Saturday morning, we were within a day’s sail of our destination, but there was a small craft advisory in the forecast. The largest part of the storm sounded like it was well south of Stuart, but forecasts and advisories can be confusing; muddling and conflating offshore vs. ICW. And the land forecast is often significantly different from the marine forecast for adjacent areas. We sallied forth anyway.

From Sebastian down through the narrow twists at Vero Beach and on toward Fort Pierce, we kept evaluating and philosophizing about the weather. Fort Pierce was the last place with any small coves or marinas where we could hide. From there all the way down to Stuart is open flats with very few protective features to hide in or behind. The one bridge along the way that offered a bit of shelter was so far south it was only three more miles past it to our destination: the marina at the Marriott Hutchinson Island Resort.

We listened to the chatter on the VHF radio and even spoke with a few fellow travelers as we passed each other on the water. Some sounded oblivious, others were overly cautious and even paranoid. One couple from Quebec thought they had heard we would have fifty knots of wind. I don’t think they trusted that we hadn’t heard any similar forecast. Another couple, traveling from Annapolis on their first big powerboat trip took our advice and beat us into the marina at Hutchinson Island.

So much rain and fog, camera couldn't focus
It was a wet slog all day long. The rain stopped occasionally, but mostly went from steady sprinkles to a downpour and back to sprinkles. All my sailing stuff was by my boat in North Carolina and I had somehow purchased a rain suit that was too small. I remember reading tags and choosing what I thought was the right one, but the first time I sat down I ripped the pants wide open. The ever-prepared captain has two of nearly everything, and Wade immediately produced a spare rain suit for me to wear.

Ugly clouds came and went. Visibility shrunk and returned, but we motored on and never really considered stopping or turning around. Besides, it had rained so steadily that each of our rain suits had been gradually overwhelmed; finally finishing the trip seemed the most pleasant option.

The Hutchinson Island Resort Marina is just beyond and tight against the southeast end of the Ernest Lyons Bridge on the island side. We arrived at the marina just as the last gasp of the front was rolling through. Wade piloted Aletheia between two rows of large, expensive boats in gusty wind and a tricky current. Our slip was the last one, all the way in, on the right. As the boat arced its way into the slip, I was near the bow, ready with dock lines as the marina attendant zipped along the cross dock on his golf cart.  I started to silently worry that Wade was cutting a little close to the towering, budget-busting boat in the next slip. Aletheia is Wade’s boat, however, and he knows her well. My perspective was very different from his thirty feet behind me at the wheel. He slid us right into the slip like the boat was on rails. Wade had performed a beautiful, next level landing at the dock. Regardless of his captaining skills though we must have been a sight in the fading light; two guys looking like drowned rats on a curious boat.

Our first priorities were hot showers and dry clothes. After accomplishing those missions, Wade bought us a nice dinner at the poolside grill to celebrate our arrival. Various cohorts of an expensive wedding party milled around in the chilly open-air pool area determined to act like it was Spring Break and not early February. Still, however, there were way more cuddly bathrobes to be seen than tan lines.

We wrangled some local boat parts to finish a couple maintenance tasks and I tried to take Wade to my favorite dive bar/fish joint. It was Super Bowl Sunday and yet inexplicably the place was closed. My backup choice was a place where I had never been. They were a little slow but the food was good. After some careful checking and coordinating, the rental car schedule caused us to stay another night aboard. I literally had no schedule to worry about. Staying aboard the boat in a slip that was paid for made much more sense than driving north to have to wait until the next day to give the car back.

Monday morning, Wade drove us back to our vehicles in St. Augustine. We stopped at a marine consignment shop and then turned in the rental car. Enterprise dropped us off at the marina and I was very happy to see my camper van still there; neither stolen nor towed. Wade and I said shook hands on another successful mission. He left for Tennessee with a dinghy hanging off the back of his truck and I walked across the road to Marineland. I bought a couple shirts and a pair of shot glasses for a friend with a collection. At the counter, I asked the gal to pass on my appreciation for letting me to park there.

I got my bike out from inside the van and re-hung it on the back. And as I opened the curtains and
tossed my duffel bag on the couch – I was crackling with inspiration and boatwork energy. A week on the water had been the perfect way to re-focus on my own project. I had made a deal with myself: as long as there were no nightly lows in the 10 Day Forecast lower than 35 degrees, I was headed back to Wilmington. Done. Adios, Florida.

In anticipation of good weather and inspiration, before I left my hideaway spot in northern Florida, I had packed the camper van to be ready to hit the highway. I was halfway across South Carolina when I called the campground in Waldo to tell them I wouldn’t be back.

Currently, I’m at the boat. I’ve been here a couple weeks already and made a good bit of progress, but that will have to wait for the next post.

Also, I wanted to tell you that I am working on setting up a Patreon account. Patreon is a website that helps people support their favorite creatives; writers, artists, musicians, etc. I am not working right now; just working on my boat, Ruth Ann. Patreon is an easy and useful platform, but I am trying to set everything up in an organized, detailed, and thoughtful way. My plan is to continue writing in my old school, long form way, but on a more regular basis. For some time, I’ve also been working on a sailing memoir type of book; from my first experiences on a little Sunfish sailing at scout camp, to being on the cusp of an extended cruise on the U. S. East Coast, in the Bahamas, the Caribbean, and Central America. To promote the book and this site, I am developing a podcast that will be supplemented with occasional video updates on YouTube. Imagine the Bubba thePirate Blog with Bubba the Pirate Radio and Bubba the Pirate Radio on TV. I have no aspirations to make all of that a full-time job – my job is wandering. I’m thinking of monthly updates; maybe every couple of weeks. My focus is the writing, so the audio and video updates will not be slick, time-consuming productions; just fun, basic updates about where I’ve been and what I did. The blog posts, the podcast and the YouTube updates will be posted openly online. Any support through Patreon or PayPal will be greatly appreciated but is not required. There will be some small bits of bonus content, like previews of the book or something, for those who decide to support me.

Thanks. I’ll post details when they are ready.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

A Different Perspective

I am in a really good place right now. Confident, relaxed and right with world in more ways than usual. I had two conversations recently that really opened my heart and put me on firmer ground than I’ve felt in a long time. In a way, both were long, lazy, catch-up conversations with old friends. Because of the generosity of spirit of both these friends, I am even more comfortable in my own skin today. This new perspective has allowed me to trust that a good effort toward living a good life will allow things to work out in the best way. It's really quite simple. Don't fight it. This will be a different kind of post for this blog, but it is boat-related toward the end.

Five years or so ago, I quit playing the guitar. I had just enough arthritis in my left hand that it was difficult, and occasionally painful, to play. At the time, I had a lot of my personal identity wrapped up in being a guitar player. I have often said that I don’t practice regret, but there have been a couple frustrations, or disappointments in my life; close perhaps but not fully a regret. I’ve always been frustrated that I didn’t pursue music more than I did; even as a so-called career path.

The other frustration: I first lived on a boat in the early 1990s after a divorce. Those were lean days as I was starting a business too, but they were some of the best days of my life. The boat was anchored off a park, downtown Sarasota, where I rowed to shore each morning, locked my dinghy to a palm tree, and biked to work. I knew then that all I really wanted to do was bum around on a boat. I can’t believe that I tried a couple more times to have a normal career before I committed to the sailing life.

Back to the guitar: it has been with me a long time. Here is a picture of me with a toy guitar looking like I’m on top of the world. Ironically, right behind me is Uncle Bob who later taught me to actually play a real guitar.

Uncle Bob and Aunt Chris sang beautifully together, with Bob playing as they sang; often around a campfire. We were a camping family and sometimes had big campground-wide sing-a-long jam sessions at a state park campground. One year Uncle Bob showed me a couple chords and by the time I was eleven or twelve, he was instrumental in me acquiring my first guitar.

I began playing and sometimes singing around the campfire too. In eighth grade, our school had a camp where we all went to a park on the southside of town for a night or two. I had brought my guitar and at one point had a circle of girls around me and my guitar, but I couldn’t get it tuned up. I’m pretty sure that would have been life-changing if I had crooned away to a bunch of girls at such a young age. Further, I’m quite certain that the problem was my barely trained ear and not the guitar. If I’d have just started playing rather than obsessing about the tuning, I would have been all right.

In high school, I played in a couple bands and jammed with others. One band actually got to play a couple songs at a school dance. We also played in a school band variety show and over the lunch hour at some regional high school leadership conference. That band’s specialty was Rick Springfield music but hey – it was a special kind of thrill to watch people dancing to music that we were playing.

I was also interested in jazz and took jazz guitar lessons. Not only did I play in my school’s jazz band, I played in a jazz band as a part of the Michigan Lions All-State Band. We actually traveled to an International Lions Club Convention in Phoenix; me traveling with my baritone horn AND my guitar. [ technically then, I’ve toured as a guitar player ] I wasn’t that good, but I knew just enough to fake it.

I even had the audacity to tryout for the Michigan State University jazz band and took a jazz improvisation class along with my other classes. In a back-handed compliment, the Director of Jazz Music at MSU, who was teaching the improv class, told me that my playing was very interesting, but that I really needed to know my instrument a little better to actually pull it off.

This was about the peak of my first era of playing the guitar. It didn’t help that my new girlfriend had just previously had a boyfriend who was an accomplished guitar player. The first few bits that I played for her impressed so little that I just put it down. College and a nascent career kept me from getting back into playing. For years, each time I moved, I moved a guitar with me but never touched it.

Ironically, losing the tip of my finger led me to get back into the guitar. At a Thanksgiving dinner, after my finger had healed, a brother-in-law showed me his treasure – the guitar his father had played as a Chicago jazz man. It was a beautiful hollow body guitar with an arched fretboard. He let me try it – and I played a little! I was thrilled that what was left of my fingertip could still manage hold a string down. I was so outwardly happy that the next month that brother- and sister-in-law gave me a a guitar for Christmas. It was an inexpensive Yamaha but it was priceless to me simply because I was playing again.

After another divorce, I dove into the guitar as therapy and got to the point where I could play for a couple hours around a campfire from the songs I had memorized. I dragged my poor campfire friends from post-divorce sappy, bitter love songs through to a pretty good repertoire of folk rock, blues and americana tunes. I was reasonably successful with a couple tunes on an open mic stage at the Niles Bluegrass Festival. Then there was a difficult open mic session at The Livery in Benton Harbor. I had never used a microphone before and didn’t do it well. I played a lot. There were lots of campfires. I was a great success as long as my audience was just a little less sober than I was.

One of my best friends and I played together and sang for over four hours in the middle of the night after his daughter’s wedding reception. Whenever there’s a post on Facebook about their anniversary I can remember the last peak of my playing. It was shortly after that post-reception jam session that I began to have trouble with my arthritic finger.

Previous to both the peaks in my playing, I had staked my own identity on being a guitar player. One of the curious features of my high school senior pictures, besides the 1980s square-bottom knit tie, was the very visible brass belt buckle – a shiny Guitar Player Magazine logo. Later in life, my Facebook profile had emphasized my guitar playing too.

Back in the day, I had been told that it was imperative to go to college immediately following high school. More than occasionally, I’ve wished that I had paused long enough to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life. Not that I would have known at eighteen anyway, but I feel I likely would have gone into music in some way. Nevertheless, arthritis is increasingly telling me what I can and can’t do with my hands. The wisdom I have gained just recently has allowed me to see how thankful I actually am that I didn’t get what I had once thought I wanted. Losing some of my dexterity might have been devastating if I had built a career around the guitar; or even just music more generally.

In much the same way, I’ve been frustrated that I kept trying to fit other people’s definition of “normal.” It has taken so long to give up on a career-based life. Further, it has been a long, arduous journey just to break free from “normal” once I had decided to pursue vagabonding by sail.

This new perspective has allowed me to see that I am actually very thankful the boat life has taken so long. I’ve been working on “escaping” for twelve years, but the universe knew what it was doing. Last year, when Mom needed me, I wasn’t off on some remote island; out of touch. I was able to stop what I was doing and go back to Michigan to help the family help her. I had the privilege of spending precious time with Mom, and with Dad, in her last months. So very thankful.

 And before I left Michigan to return to my life on the water, I ended up with a different boat. As I’ve written this new-to-me boat is a bit of a compromise. She is not quite as big as the boat I was working on. And she is not the badass ocean boat that my previous project could have been. She is, however, nearly ready to sail, very capable and will take me many places I’ve longed to go. The previous boat was ready to handle more than I might ever be capable of and could easily have gone around the world. This new boat, the Ruth Ann, will keep me in a slightly less wide open state of mind. Once I was presented with this new opportunity, it was a very conscious choice to force myself to be more practical.

So, about the universe and this life; anyone’s life. Don’t rush it; whatever it is that you’re doing. Keep at it – I’ve been working my ass off all this time – but don’t lament if it’s not happening the way you envisioned or as fast as you thought you wanted it to go. Keep your mind and your heart open, as much to where you might be needed as to where you want to go. The universe knows what it’s doing. If you are focused – but open – things will come together, eventually, in ways that are better for you and bigger than your imagination could have conjured on its own.

For what it's worth, and maybe perfectly in line with all that I've just said, I have been dragging around a couple ukuleles and lately have finally had the time and the inclination to try and play a little. It's working. There is something about the smaller neck that is allowing me to play comfortably. It is an unexpected blessing to have some musical therapy back in my life.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The Update That Wasn't Going To Be From The Road

After almost 2500 miles of driving, I was finally in Wilmington; finally back where the boat was. I could finally get to work getting her back in the water.

Except that I was sick as a dog. All the way from Fort Pierce to Wilmington, I had only managed to drive a couple hundred miles a day. The last two nights I stayed in motels rather than boondocking in the van. My head was all clogged up and it was sliding down into my lungs. A couple years ago, a similar cold had taken up in my inner ear and I had ended up in the emergency room. I was fearful that that could happen again. And if I had gotten pneumonia and needed similar medical attention, I’d either have to activate COBRA from the job I’d just left or fund it myself. Either would be an expensive option.

I bought all the cold medicine I could think of and carried on. When I’d finally arrived at the boatyard, I had just enough energy to pay my December rent and then head into town for another motel room.

By Friday, I was feeling a little better but mostly I was just disgusted that I wasn’t at least next to the boat; ready to work. It was a roller coaster of emotion and frustration to finally be back in Wilmington and not be able to do any work. Leaving the motel, I wandered back to the boatyard and set up camp. It was hard to find a working outlet to plug in the van, but the furnace hadn’t been working and I was going to need my little electric heater. I unhooked the trailer and fiddled around next to the boat.

It wasn’t long and the late afternoon chill was coming on. Inside the van, I made some supper, read a while, and finally made up the bed. It was going down into the forties that night; which was a little better than the last couple. When I woke, I felt sicker than I’d been all week. The electric heater had barely kept up with the chill but had dried the air so much that I could hardly swallow. This was not going to work.

That night, and two more nights later in the week, were going to be in the thirties. I made motel reservations for those chilly nights and headed into town. I was so distracted and sick that I left my ladder unlocked and the extension cord plugged into the building on one end, the other end hanging on a jack stand. I picked up more cold medicine, some soup and headed for the motel bed.

The next morning I was just as sick. I paid for four more nights to bridge to my other reservation and hunkered down to stay. With the “Do Not Disturb” sign hanging on the door, I slept, ate a little, drank a lot of water, and sweated through the sheets without leaving the room for three days. When I began to feel just well enough to go for a drive, I headed back to the boatyard, retrieved the cord, locked up my ladder and decided to check out a marine consignment shop down by Southport, NC. I found a little celestial navigation gadget I couldn’t live without, but by the time I got back to the motel I had sweated through my shirt. Not stained with sweat, but soaked. The shirt might has well just come out of the washing machine. I was really sick of being sick.

Back at the motel, I started looking into the weather. There were more thirties coming in forecast for the following week. Weather history data made the situation look grim and I started to consider leeaving town Thursday morning another night in the thirties popped up in the 10 Day Forecast and my mind was made up. All indications were that the rest of December and through January nightly lows were going to be in the thirties and forties; daytime highs would be 40s and 50s with the occasional 60 or 62. The highs, however, lasted for about 45 minutes in mid afternoon. The average temperature was likely to be too low for paint, resin, or caulk; all things I needed to do. Winter days were short enough already but waiting for it to warm up and then quitting before supper was not a formula for getting much done. And what little I could accomplish would be in miserable weather regardless.

I had been waiting on a guy who was going to look at the van’s furnace. He is a mobile boat and RV repair service, but was having a busy week. He said he had an opening Wednesday afternoon and would try to stop by Monday to see if he needed to order any parts, but ended up not having time. By Wednesday, I was ready to leave town but really wanted to have him take a look. I didn’t have anything better to do than hang around anyway. Yet, afternoon came and went. About Six o’clock I finally heard from him. He was running behind on the previous job but still trying to make it to me. At quarter after seven, he texted that he was on his way. We met in the parking lot ... in the dark ... and the van furnace started right up and ran fine. The good news: I had heat. The bad news: I don’t know why I didn’t before. He graciously didn’t charge me a thing for the five minutes he was there.

In the morning, I started calling around for a campsite in Florida. Unfortunately, a good portion of the retired population east of the Mississippi was also looking for a campsite in Florida. The Savannas Recreation Area in my beloved Fort Pierce was full. A couple options I remembered from my travels were also full. Several spots I found online either only rented by the season or were hugely expensive. I just needed a spot near some groceries where I could stay put and read and write to my heart’s content without spending too much money. Then I remembered a place in Waldo, FL; north central, inland part of the state. I had fueled up many times and occasionally slept at the truckstop next door. They had a spot for me and it was very affordable.

The Arena at Dixieland Music Park
The Dixieland RV Park used to be the Dixieland Music Park. Some of the infrastructure is still here. Their website even features pictures of guitar pickers and campfires. Sadly, either the musicians aren’t here yet or this genuine part of Old Florida is following much of the rest into the dust of memory. Actually, a fair number of my fellow campers are working people trying to, or having to, live cheaply [Murica]. Out front is the Classic Cafe, a breakfast and lunch diner connected to the campground. I’ve actually eaten there a couple times in my previous travels. Further, right across the road is a Dollar General with a surprising amount of groceries and just up the road from there, on Saturday and Sunday, is a Farmer’s Market. My mail service is about forty-five minutes away and I’ve been through here so many times when I was truckdriving in Florida that it almost feels like home.

The Farmer’s Market is inside the Waldo Flea Market, which is now called the Waldo Farmers and Flea Market and run by second generation family. I managed to stop there a few times while truckdriving too. A couple vendors have quite a good selection of fruit and veg. There is also a lady there selling homemade salsas, chutneys and sauces. I can’t wait to try some of that out. The Flea Market is a trip; rusty, dusty Florida crackers selling rusty, dusty stuff to other dusty crackers.

I’ll be here through at least the third week of January. I have a few boat projects I can work on here and I’ll get some writing done. Most of all I’ll be tolerably warm and less frustrated. As soon as it looks like the weather is improving in Wilmington, I’m just a long day’s drive away. And I’ve almost shaken the head and chest cold to boot.
Home Sweet Van

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Check-In from the Road

Technically, I have three blogs [ I know … I’m an idiot]. There is a blog of my non-boat writing and rambling, also where my published works are. The other is of my journey, or return, to Buddhism. This blog here is about my boats and adventures with them. This particular post, however, straddles the ground of all three. So I’ve decided to post it on my most active, most relevant blog. Lately, the other two are rarely updated.

When I got back to Michigan last year, I was near what I still consider to be my home temple. Though I never made it to a Sunday Service, I was attending the Thursday morning discussion group. It was small and comfortable with good people; old friends and new alike.

My last meeting with the group, we were discussing “Old Path, White Clouds,” Thich Nhat Hanh’s biography of the Buddha. In a chapter about a young man joining the Buddha to become a monk, there was a line that really struck me. Speaking of the boy, it said “it seemed to Svasti [the boy] that the Buddha walked just to enjoy the walking, unconcerned about arriving anywhere at all.” The Buddha and his monks were on a ten day journey - walking.

That line perfectly sums up the life that I’ve been working toward for the last twelve years. As I travel this week to get back to the life I’ve been working on, it is a privilege that I can do exactly that. Substitute ‘sailing’ for ‘walking’ and I will "travel just to enjoy the sailing, unconcerned about arriving anywhere in particular."

Swamp hike
I’ve spent a week in Fort Pierce emptying a storage unit, seeing some friends, and doing some hiking at the recreation area where I was camping. Despite not having any plans for Thanksgiving I had two Turkey Day Dinners; one with a cousin, her husband, and her in-laws, the other with a local friend and the family of a friend of hers. It was a nice finale, a transition from this life to the coming Carolina solitude and boatwork.

I also managed to stop into a couple of my favorite restaurants. I’m sitting here writing and posting from the porch at the P.P. Cobb General Store; a fantastic place for breakfast, lunch or coffee. The chef, Danae and her deliciously creative offerings can’t be beat; neither can the coffee. And my friend, Nancy, will make sure you have everything you need and that your mug is never empty. When I get my book done, at least a third of the drafts were written right here on this porch.

This morning, after breakfast, I’m going to hit Blind Creek Beach one more time and then head north. I’ll stop in Green Cove Springs for my mail and then on to the boat and boatwork. It’s going to be cold at night in Wilmington, but only for a few days. Once there, I have some cleaning, sanding and polishing, and a few small repairs to do; then Ruth Ann will be back in the water.

French Toasted Challah Bread @ PP Cobb!!
I don’t have a schedule or any solid plans (and usually won’t) but in March I’m taking a course at Chapman School of Seamanship on Yacht Surveying; the equivalent of home inspection but for boats. It will be something I can do when I feel like I need to or want to. Another feather in my cap, another shingle to hang along with my canvaswork and sail repair.

I hope this finds you all well.

The porch at P.P. Cobb

Isolation, Boatwork, and Gratitude

I can’t really believe that this is 2020; and here it is almost April already. It’s getting weird out there too. Last year was a tough yea...