Saturday, July 7, 2018
I am not a superstitious guy, but it has been really hard to not think the universe is sending me some kind of message this past week. I started driving again for a company where I had been before. The first truck I was assigned lasted two and a half days before I took into the shop and it didn’t come back out. Then I drove 350 miles in a second truck only to have it die under me. I've always seemed to have had bad luck with International trucks.
On Tuesday, July 3rd, I picked up a load at a Savannah, GA warehouse. I took the back roads around to a small Pilot Truckstop to weigh the load. The fuel desk lady said, “Just a minute” over the intercom, so I turned the truck off because idling is discouraged. After she came back on and we did the scaling routine, the truck never started again. I spent a couple hours stuck right on the scale itself, in everybody’s way. Eventually, I got towed off the scale and to the International Trucks dealer in Savannah. It was mid afternoon the day before the July Fourth holiday when I arrived, and despite being plenty busy already, they ran the computer diagnostics right away. Their computer told them the same thing that the truck’s computer had been telling me; there was an electrical fault somewhere, perhaps near the ABS module. There was a short, somewhere, but all the fancy computers were not equipped to say exactly where. There was no simple fix or replacement. This, the latest in my troubles with International Trucks, is pretty bad timing for trying to get ahead on the money for Emma’s refit.
The mechanic finally showed up, took a look under the hood and declared that the truck could not be fixed on the street but needed to get to a shop. Now my company had to find me a tow truck and another tractor to take the load home. Eventually, after I had been stuck with the whimpy bunk heater for eleven or twelve hours, a tow truck showed up towing a day cab. He dropped the cab, and pulled the dead truck out from under my trailer. I dragged the paper load back to Michigan with a motel stop because I didn’t have a sleeper. A month or so later, I came into Ohio from Pennsylvania in another International trailing a long line of grey smoke like a skywriter. That one couldn't be fixed outside a shop either.
After four days, me in a hotel and the truck in a shop, road service declared my truck dead for now. Parts are on order, but it will be out of service a good while. This morning I await a ride from another driver back to Florida to get a third truck -- third truck in 8 days! He just called to tell me that his truck won’t start and is waiting on a road technician. Our company has Macks, Internationals and a few Freightliners. I have my suspicions what kind of truck he drives.
Wednesday, June 27, 2018
I got off the road last October and took what I thought was a part-time job. Turns out that we weren’t using the phrase ‘part-time’ in the same way. They called me PT because they couldn’t guarantee me 40 hours. However, if they needed 50 hours, they expected that I should be able to do that for them. They needed that a lot. That story is here.
So, I quit and went back to a small company that I had driven for in the past. I knew how they ran, so I asked beforehand, quite specifically, if they were on electronic logs yet. Oh, yes, they assured me. Their drivers use a logging app on their phone. I took that at face value, but after a couple weeks on the road, and a hundred dollar ticket, I figured out that they didn’t actually have the app properly hooked up to the truck. My initial hopes for this new gig is here.
|A Paper Log Example|
I have run on electronic logs for a long time and can squeeze every drop, every mile out of my available legal hours. In fact, when I inquired about going back to the last bigger company where I’d been, my former dispatcher immediately and unequivocally wanted me back in his fleet.
Which brings me back to the "this way" part of “I can’t do it *this*way* anymore." My holy quest to find a lucrative part-time position has failed. I was already living hand to mouth, paycheck to boat parts, when I got the large bill for my engine installation. Money was tight by design but had become a constriction. Summer is upon us here in Florida; August and September can be brutally hot especially working inside the boat. If I was working part-time, it would be August before my cashflow recovered. All of these factors have led me to make yet another change; third time since October I’ve quit a trucking job. It sucks but I'm going to concentrate on getting ahead financially. Instead of trying to do both at the same time, I'm going to earn the money and concentrate on boatwork later.
Most of last year, and a good part of 2016, I had a pretty stress-free trucking gig. If it wasn’t for my ill-conceived quest for less hours, I’d still be there. So, I’m going back
I can do just what I want and still get what I need. Why should I accept someone else’s BS?
Saturday, June 9, 2018
Sometimes I have to re-read my “I Really Don't Give A …” manifesto just to keep doing what I do. Some people may suppose that I have some kind of tenacity to still be working on this project after all this time. The truth is that I am a bit too stubborn, but mostly too dumb to quit at this point. And yet some days are not so easy.
When I started this journey I came up with a slogan. It began a bit of a joke, but solidified into the underlying philosophy of my vagabond life.
“Eat When You’re Hungry.
Work When You’re Broke.”
I haven’t fully escaped on a boat yet, so the slogan hasn’t been fully implemented. It has, however, guided my life. Even now, where I thought I was going, and where I wanted to be are subject to changes wrought by this guiding philosophy. After months of wrangling at one job and ultimately switching jobs just to get to a part time schedule, last week I negotiated to become less part time already. My vagabond philosophy turned me around and changed what I thought I was doing.
It will help to start at the beginning of my current situation. In January 2016, I bought my boat, s/v Emma, sight unseen from Michigan because she was exactly the boat I wanted. She was also one that I could afford because she had been neglected ... and had no engine. Buying the boat and moving to Florida took most of the money I had at the time. I went to straight to work near the boat to get back to flush. Soon after, I found a lovingly rebuilt engine at a great price and was able to jump on the opportunity. It was several thousand dollars and most of the boat money I had accumulated by then. I am basically earning the funds to refit Emma as I go along.
My poor engine sat in a shed at the marina for 14 months and through two hurricanes; not exactly Plan A. It came together last month for the normally-very-busy marina mechanic to have time to align and install my engine. I am doing as much of my own work as I can, but the prospect of aligning the engine was keeping me up at night. It was a critical project that was not going to be easy and -- today -- I am still not a very good diesel mechanic. When it became possible to have a pro do it, I jumped at the chance. Walton came up with a project plan which I approved without a formal quote. I know … I know. But the work had to be done and a window opened to have it done professionally. Not to mention that the meter had been running all along and I was paying for engine storage in the shed.
My boat had a couple metal rails in the engine space where an engine had been. The engine I bought was not the same as whatever engine had been there. The work that needed to be done included lowering the engine into the boat, marking and then removing the rails, modifying, strengthening, and re-installing those rails, aligning the engine and driveshaft, replacing the cutlass bearing and then bolting everything down. Even if I had been able to successfully complete all those steps, it would have taken me months of trial and error and learning by doing to accomplish.
After I said ‘do it', in a moment of panic, I ran to talk to the ladies in the office and made my bargain. I had said, “I’ve approved Walton’s plan, but I don’t have any idea how much it’s going to cost, it may take me a couple months to pay for it all. If that’s not OK, then we need to slow him down and run some numbers.” Beside the normal interruptions of being the one on-site mechanic, Walton's work never stopped.
Last week, I came home from the new gig on the road and saw the driveshaft sticking out Emma’s stern tube. This is great news … and not so great. When I paid my boatyard rent for June, I got the bill for all of Walton’s work. I really never had any idea what it might cost. Occasionally, I thought it would be fairly inexpensive; other times I just didn’t want to think about it. The bill was actually almost twice the highest number I had worried about. Oh, boy.
That brings us back to “less part time already” from above. My new trucking gig is with a small company that I had briefly driven for before. My new schedule was going to be one week on, one week off. I had visions of huge numbers of boat projects getting crossed off my list. That schedule lasted exactly one month. To pay the marina off in a reasonable time, most of each paycheck would have to go to them for a while. I’ve had a couple weeks like that and it isn’t much fun to have to lay low without the funds to do much boatwork. I decided to take the initiative and pick up some more time at work. So, I went from every other week to three weeks out and one week home. I’ll still get a little bit done in the short term, but more importantly I’ll be able to pay my bill and keep the marina fairly happy.
I don’t mean to be coy about financial numbers, I just felt they would be clumsy in the narrative above. I am doing this project on practically no money, but that was the basic plan anyway. I want to show that a big dream can be accomplished with small cashflow. I bought my boat for $6000; and then moved to Florida. The engine I found was $4000 and the storage, plus labor and miscellaneous parts to install the engine was another $5000. Beside this $15,000, I have about $2000 in other parts that I had previously purchased. By the time I dress up the interior and get some electronics and other equipment, I will probably spend another $8000. Importantly, I will have done so much of the work myself that when I’m done I will have an intimate knowledge of my boat and her systems. This will help me keep future maintenance costs down.
The week I moved to Florida back in 2016, a Westsail 32 only a couple years younger than Emma, but painted, polished and ready to sail, was listed near me for $52,000. Now, they weren’t going to get their initial asking price, but they likely got between 25 and 30 thousand for her.
Even if we get in the water and I hate it, I can sell her without losing my shirt.
Don’t worry, I won’t.
Tuesday, May 29, 2018
|Aletheia in her glory|
When we last left our heroes, they were having an epic dinner aboard Aletheia lying at anchor at Wrightsville Beach.
Both the captain and I really wanted to do some offshore sailing and yet among our many compatible aspects -- we are both fairly conservative sailors. Neither of us would make the jump offshore in adverse conditions just to say we had done it. In addition, though we spent the night right at the Masonboro Inlet, the Frying Pan Shoals extended well out into the Atlantic between us and Charleston. We would have had to sail fairly far offshore before we could turn to the southwest and make for our destination. In fact, many sailors traversing the East Coast will come inside between Masonboro and Cape Fear just to avoid having to go out and around those shoals.
As keen as we both were, it didn’t make a lot of sense for us to go offshore from Wrightsville. We
|Wrightsville Beach Anchorage|
We left Wrightsville Beach early on Sunday morning and ran down to Snows Cut. The Cut crosses over to the Cape Fear River and is often a difficult stretch. At one narrow point, again against the tide flow, we were maxed out and creeping along barely more than a knot over the ground. We had a little help from the sails and got through it - ever so slowly. After the cut, the ICW angles across some shallows to join the Cape Fear River. On the river, midday Sunday, there were no ships in sight, but we finally sailed through ship infrastructure; range marks, bigger bouys, and a large natural gas terminal.
|One of the last bouys outbound|
It would be twenty five hours or so across to Charleston, we set the auto pilot and decided to take three hour watches once it got dark. Often an auto pilot won’t steer a sailing course because it can’t read or react to the wind. Our wind held steady though, and the autopilot steered all night. Our timing was tight and the Captain wanted us to stay within a half mile of the rhumb line to avoid a bunch of extra sea miles. Holding close to the rhumb line though precluded sailing for comfort and my watch at dusk was really rolly. For three hours the boat never stopped moving for a second. We were rolling heavily from side to side plus the normal forward and back motion. I began to feel a little green around the gills. When Wade relieved me, I went below to nap and was down there about 15 seconds when I climbed right back up and leaned over the rail. I don’t remember ever being sick on a boat before. Any way, bless the fish, here’s my supper. I posted 4 mini videos on YouTube of our time at sea here.
The sea moderated and it was a beautiful sail overnight to Charleston. Somehow all along the entire trip, our timing had always been good; just when we needed it most. We hit Charleston Harbor just as the tide turned in our favor. We sailed dead downwind up the channel as the Monrovia-flagged Primavera container ship passed us. We had talked with someone on the ship’s bridge, and promised to stay well to starboard as she past.
All along our trip we were often stared at and photographed. Aletheia is a distinctive beauty. Her junk
Once in the harbor, we had to make for Elliot Cut to get over to the Stono River and the St. Johns Yacht Harbor, Aletheia’s new home. One bridge on Elliot Cut doesn’t open for boats during rush hour for commuters. To wait it out, we anchored across from the City Marina, the very marina where Wade and I had met three years ago on another boat. After waiting, we hauled anchor and slogged our way through another channel with a squeeze point and a current against us. The marina had closed before we could get there, so we anchored just down river from them, under another bridge. The sun was just going down Monday evening as we made supper and anticipated our formal arrival the next day.
|St. Johns Yacht Harbor under the bridge|
We had made an epic run from early Sunday morning to sundown Monday: left Wrightsville Beach; down to Cape Fear; out into the ocean; sailed all night; arrived at Charleston Monday afternoon; waited for a bridge; and finally anchored right near the marina. Then Tuesday settled in at the marina before an eleven or twelve hour road trip into the wee hours Wednesday morning. After a nap, we took the rental car back and had returned to Aletheia about an hour before my buddy, Brian, called to say he had arrived for lunch. Badass.
Wednesday evening I had a pleasant dinner with Wade and his Charleston friend, Nat, whom I had first met with Wade when they stopped by s/v Eleanor three years before. Thursday, we ran some errands around town and Wade dropped me off at the Greyhound station for my trip back to Florida and my boat, s/v Emma. The trip was just what I needed to recharge my vagabond soul. I am working my to-do list with increased vigor. My new trucking gig is seven days on, seven days off; good for getting on with the boatwork. In addition, while I was away, the marina’s mechanic was aligning and installing my engine! My boat project is way ahead of where it was when I left! What a time! Good sailing with a good friend on the good ship, Aletheia. Life is good; so good. How many good’s can fit into one paragraph?
That good. Thanks, Wade.
|Aboard Emma with my Aletheia Hat!|
Monday, May 21, 2018
|The creek at Sea Harbour Yacht Club|
I was crewing on a delivery of a Westsail 42 down the East Coast when I met Wade. He had crewed on the famous W42, Fiona, and was keen to join us for a time. The boat wasn’t departing for a couple days and he was spending some time in the city, but he stopped by with a Charleston friend at the City Marina to introduce himself. Wade is a very interesting guy. We became fast friends between Charleston and Melbourne, FL, where the trip ended prematurely.
After a day and a half of minor boat projects, prepping and provisioning, all was well, hale and hearty. We departed early on a Wednesday morning, silently pushed by the electric motor out of the marina creek and into the Neuse River. Gosh, it was such a pleasure to be back on the water. My boat and I are stranded on the gravel of a Florida boatyard for several more months. The Neuese is a wide enough river I could get used to the versatile junk rig sails and learn the details of the electric motor, the battery bank and power generation. I had seriously considered an electric motor for my Emma, but had found a great deal on an impressively rebuilt Perkins diesel.
It was a pleasant leg up and across the Neuse to Adams Creek. At the creek, we were greeted by stronger than expected wind and current. The inlets and outlets between the sea, the rivers and the ICW prevented me from ever being able to predict the direction or strength of the tide flow. Suddenly, Aletheia was having trouble holding her own. We were making very little way and I was having trouble tacking her; really feeling out of control. I can’t remember why I was steering just then, but poor Aletheia was going back and forth across the channel in the midst of some powerboat traffic. As I tried to tack I only got blown over the other way. I called from help from Wade! The captain may have noted in the logbook that his crew was having a pucker at the lower end of his alimentary canal.
The junk rig is elegantly simple but just different enough from the fore and aft rigs that I have sailed that it took some time to get used to working those beautiful batwing sails. Aletheia has two masts each with a similarly shaped sail. As different as the sailing was, when trying to tack -- turning into the wind for you land lubbers -- I needed to think of the forward sail like a jib on a sloop anyway. Once Wade had me releasing the sheet of the forward sail as I came about, I could manage a proper tack.
|Sunset on Adams Creek|
The next morning, we were up with the sun and started down the creek in the stillness of the morning. And … we still couldn’t make much way. There was no wind and very little current, but we were struggling to creep along. After circling back the the anchorage, we decided the propellor must be fouled. Wade prepped to jump into Adams Creek … in April. I changed into my swim trunks as well, just in case. Luckily for me, after his initial shock, the Captain, a regular resident of Alaska, decided the water wasn’t so bad. He quickly found the prop was, in fact, fouled -- not fish line or rope on the shaft -- but barnacles on the blades. I dug out a putty knife and the Captain had our prop clean after several dives. We raised the anchor a second time and headed south. The clean prop made all the difference! We later learned that the marina we’d left had suffered a barnacle bloom.
That second day, even with a false start, was a good run. It was so easy to motorsail with the junk rig.
We motorsailed down to Beaufort and then stayed on the ICW as the forecast and the tides precluded us from going offshore. We were near enough to civilization that we usually had cellular data and could check the marine forecasts and tide info, or download GRIB files. We anchored for the night off the ICW just above Swansboro.
The next morning we were off early and continued down the ICW. After some time, silently, electrically plying the ICW, the channel had turned and we decided to raise the sails to take advantage of our new angle on the wind. Unfortunately, we were approaching the New River Inlet, a confused delta below Camp Lejuene. The occasional roar of military jets added to the milieu as I worked to raise the sails. Just as we were moving into an area of bouys that are regularly moved to mark the shifting sands, Wade was steering as I was hauling lines and halyards. Every time he leaned one way to check the position of the channel, I would move to block his view; oblivious of the scattered bouys he was trying to decipher. Where the main part of the New River crosses the ICW, the channel had not simply shifted -- it had changed dramatically. Suddenly a bouy we needed to keep to our right was well to our left … and we ran aground.
I must say it was a luxury cruise for me. The last delivery I crewed on, I cooked about ⅔ the meals (I was happy to do so, cooking is one of my pleasures). This time, however, Wade cooked and fed me like a king. We had steaks for dinner and with our eggs a couple mornings. There were wonderful lunches - often cold cuts and cheese with whole grain bread. I cooked one meal the whole time -- mostly because I wanted to at least once.
In hindsight, trying to make time on a delivery run on the stretch of ICW between the Figure Eight Bridge and Wrightsville Beach -- on a weekend day -- was a strategic mistake. Not only were we fighting the wind and current, and the limited manueverability of a large sailboat, we also had the weekend crowd and their swarming powerboats. No one aboard those little buzzing boats seemed to know why we were making slow circles in front of a closed bridge. They wouldn’t have undertood that we were not only limited by our height but the channel for our four and half foot keel was a lot narrower than it appeared on the surface.
All the while we were calling Wrightsville marinas wanting to tie up for some fuel and a run to the grocery store. Nobody wanted to accomodate our provisioning on a weekend. And once we got under the Wrightsville Beach Bridge and near those marinas, we didn’t want to try and make our way through the maddening crowds just to get some fuel anyway. We decided to anchor at Wrightsville and go ashore in the dinghy.
Wade made contact with a resort hotel and gained permission to use their dock. For some reason, I was steering again, but I got us off the ICW, down toward the Masonboro Inlet and into the anchorage just fine. As we piled into the dinghy we joked about two big lunks, our trash, and four jerry jugs fitting aboard. Just then we realized that three years before, in an identical dinghy, he and I had rowed ashore at Melbourne, FL for fried chicken.
We made it across the choppy bay and pulled up to the dock at the Blockade Runner Resort. The guy
|Sunset at Wrightsville Beach Anchorage|
Once we got back to the resort, we had four full jerry jugs of gasoline and several bags of groceries to fit, with us, in the dinghy. Nevertheless, we made it back out to Aletheia. Even if we hadn’t been famished from all the day’s activities, dinner would have been epic; ribeyes on the grill, baked yams, and a huge salad from our leftover lettuce, fresh veggies and chopped fresh cabbage.
Stay tuned for Part Two. It will be available in a few days right here.
Saturday, May 19, 2018
Note: Many of you know that I recently spent some time in the Carolinas helping a friend move his boat. I am working on a full report of this epic trip. In the meantime, here is a reflection on life in the boatyard.
Gratitude runs in surplus aboard sv Emma. Even as I lay a bit low this week, not wanting to spend much money for I have a bill of some unknown heft coming from the marina. Still, I sleep every night under Emma’s forward hatch. The stars peak from behind clouds in a nightly game of hide and seek with the moon. The summer heat and humidity have not yet come and each night a soft, cool seabreeze caresses my cheek. It is lovely. It is relaxing in a way that I cannot begin to describe.
One of my favorite things is to leave the hatch open even as rain is due to approach overnight. I can’t
Last night most all the above procedure went off without a hitch. A few discreet drops on my forehead and I arose. The forward hatch came down -- I set the little bracket that allows me to leave open just a crack. I walked aft to make sure that my portlights were closed and checked if the wind was pushing rain into the companionway. I don’t have dropboards yet, just a piece of plywood cut to fit. Many nights this board is not closed; just leaning against the opening to allow a bit of air to flow.
A fan was running so I squinted to check the amps left in my battery bank. The amps are displayed on the charge controller which is mounted in a cabinet next to the companionway. As I leaned a bit over the counter to make out the unlit display, something wasn’t quite right about the board in the companionway. It was one of those all-too-human moments when you’ve seen something but it takes a bit longer than usual for the perception, or a clear enough perception of that thing to soak into your brain. Simultaneously, I realized both that something was sticking up on what should have been the flat top of the board AND that I was being watched!
Florida has lizards. Even if you’ve only vacationed here once, you've probably seen our little lizards scurrying around. They seem to thrive at the edges of landscaping and in other shady spots. Here, they run around among the shadows of boats on the rocks and the cement of the boatyard. For some reason, one of these ubiquitous lizards was checking me out in the middle of the night. The lizards have a pulsing stance. I suspect it’s their breathing, but it might just be a tense awareness. I could just see the top of this lizard’s head, bobbing slightly. He seemed larger than his local brethen I’ve seen. We stared at each other a moment; his head bobbing slowly as the gears of my brain rattled and ground. Then I gently bumped the board and he or she ran off. I’m not sure what their intentions are but I’m not really looking for a summer roommate.
at May 19, 2018
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