Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Travelling, Part I

First Impressions

NOTE: This is Part Two of a multiple part story.
Read Part One here

It’s an occupational hazard of a vagabond sailor to be travelling when you can’t really afford to. I was headed to South Carolina to buy a boat. My camper van is up for sale to pay for the boat, but Dad fronted me the proceeds so I could grab the deal … and I didn’t have a lot of travelling money. Further, I was taking a cousin up on her offer to help me fly standby. Sherry and her husband Ed had been longtime employees of an airline and got me on their ‘buddy’ program.

Thursday morning I headed to the airport in the wee hours of the morning. After I checked in with the agents at the gate as one of their standby passengers, I watched the room fill up with people. A flight had been cancelled the night before making this plane packed with people; frustrated people. I sat nearby and watched everyone board the plane. Then I watched a ridiculous family of four get turned away. They had arrived so late that the jetway was closed and locked. When I asked the agents if I would just get rolled to the next flight, they just looked at each other. I realized then that if I had been hovering near the gate, acting annoying, I might have gotten on that flight. They switched me to the next morning. Same flight. Same time.

Bro & his kids with me on Muskegon Lake
I talked to my cousin on the way home from the airport. The next morning’s flight was tight but looked OK. Suddenly, I had an extra day off, so I went to see my Grandma; who is 101 and a half (and two thirds practically), sharp as a tack and a pleasant conversationalist. I hadn’t seen her in a little while because I was sailing a lot up at Muskegon Lake. Later I chatted with Dad too, but soon went to bed anticipating another early morning.

Some time after midnight, I rolled over, awakened and checked my phone. I never check my phone in the middle of the night. Sherry had tried to call and sent a couple texts. I work third shift and sleep during the day, so my ringer is almost always off.  Friday’s flight had tightened up and it was looking grim to be able to get out of Grand Rapids in the morning; just a few hours away then. I shook myself awake and got online.

I found an amazingly cheap flight yet that afternoon, out of O’Hare in Chicago. I booked the flight, checked the South Shore Rail schedule, and was out the door by 02:30. At 03:15, my alarm went off and scared the hell out of me. I was already 45 minutes down the road before I had actually planned to get up.

Carroll Ave Station
I hit Michigan City and jumped on the second South Shore train of the morning. We rattled into Millenium Station and I walked outside onto the streets of Chicago into a beautiful Midwestern Summer morning. Five blocks or so later, I hopped on the Blue Line out to O’Hare. It had been a blur of rushed contingencies, but there I sat; at the gate, with a ticket, munching on some tropical trail mix, with 45 minutes to spare.

After touching down at Myrtle Beach International Airport, I grabbed a Lyft ride up to Little River, SC where the boat was gently rocking at the dock behind Don’s house. The driver and I had to get buzzed in at the island’s gate, so Don was waiting in his drive when we arrived. The house was a gorgeous, perfectly tropical-looking home, all stone and spanish tile, on a canal with a jeep in the drive and a hot rod pickup in the garage.

We chatted a bit and went out back to see the boat. Don was eager to answer any questions I had but let me crawl around the boat; to peek into all her nook and crannies, check the rig, the deck, the bilges, and whatever else I needed to check before making my decision. He’s a low key guy like me and we got on well right away. Don gave me a Danforth anchor and some lines out of his dock box. We started the engine and listened to it purr.

At Don's Dock
Like any other used boat in the universe, she needed a little more work than my online rose-colored glasses had thought. Totally normal. Yet, I could tell that the boat had been well taken care of and -- most important to me -- she was basically ready to sail. This was not a project. My boat project in Florida easily has 8 or 10 more months and $8,000 or 10,000 to invest. Don’s Bayfield -- now mine -- needs just a bit more than basic annual maintenance work; and some updates and personal preferences like some solar panels and a new VHF radio.

Some money changed hands but Don was asking so little he was basically giving me the boat. I spent more last year on boatyard storage. He really just wanted to find the boat a good home and only asked that I not flip her right away.

I was prepared with a bank check and a home-brewed Bill of Sale. We walked back to the house to do the paperwork; past the perfect South Carolina ICW backyard deck with gazebo, pool, etc.  Don’s girlfriend, Deborah, with the precise timing of a wonderful hostess, came down from the main level with a couple bottles of ice cold water; just what we needed! We each signed both copies of the Bill of Sale and I handed him the check. The last detail remaining, Don and I had to run to the bank to get his North Carolina title notarized.

We had talked about Latitudes and Attitudes Magazine back when we first talked on the phone. Both of us had read it and appreciated regular guy perspective, absent of any yacht club pretensions. As we drove to the bank, Don asked me if I had written for the magazine. He had noticed my signature block on my emails and was remembering the regular Bubba Whartz columns. I assured him we weren’t the same guy, but that the column had originated in Sarasota where I had lived. I had been reading Bubba Whartz long before it was in a national magazine.

Don, being low key, let me tell him that I was going to organize the boat and then walk over to the grocery store and maybe to West Marine. I was planning on heading out in the morning. It was a really hot week in the Carolinas but I went to work cleaning up a bit and organizing the lines and spare equipment.

Then my phone rang.

“Is this Bubba the Pirate?” a now familiar voice asked me.


Deborah’s charming southern accent cascaded over me. “You are NOT walking to the store. It is too hot. In fact, you can take a shower downstairs when you’re done and then we know of a nice place for a steak or some ribs. After that we’ll go to the store, so you can get whatever you need. You just let us know when you’re ready.”

With an offer like that, it wasn’t long and I was ready. They took me to a popular spot in Myrtle Beach where Don & Deborah are regulars. We got a good table overlooking the ICW; their regular table, it seems. I imagine some of the people out front with their little blinking buzzer restaurant-waiting-alarm-things, wondered how we got in so fast.

We had a great meal and a nice chat. Afterward, at Walmart, I grabbed some toiletries that I couldn’t carry on the plane, and provisions for a couple days on the boat; including four gallons of water. With all that and my sailing dreams rolling around in my head, I prepared to sleep on the boat. It was a sticky Carolina night, but I drifted off, dreaming about red and green buoys, seagulls and pelicans.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Changes and Chances

The good ship s/v Eleanor in 2015
NOTE: This is Part One of a multi-part story. 
The Other Parts:
Part Two is here

Four years ago, I was travelling on a boat with a guy who was writing a script. His beautiful story was, in part, about an older gentleman wanting to find a good home for his boat. In early July, that same basic plot happened to me. Some money changed hands, but so little he basically gave me a boat.

When I decided that I would stay in Michigan through the summer this year, I bought a daysailer and have been keeping it at a dock on Muskegon Lake. As soon as that boat was in the water in late May, I was sailing as often as I could; reconnecting with sailing. Twelve years ago, when I planned my escape from the rat race, I meant to spend my time sailing. Instead, I have been working on boats. The first boat was a project, the second sailed but was a little small, and the third, my Westsail in Florida, was a major project. Sailing the little daysailer here in Michigan had returned me to the simple, robust joy of wind and water.

It had been a hard winter and spring and sailing was my therapy. I came back to Michigan in October to help Mom and Dad through some health issues. My sister is right nearby as well; I just came to help as much as I could. Mom lost her fight in April and since then we’ve all been trying to get our bearings again; especially Dad. I had committed to being here until the fall before going back to my boatwork project, but I was looking at my life in a different way.

The Bayfield 29
I’ve been hanging around a non-commercial small boat sailing discussion website for at least fifteen years. The last week of June, Kurt, who runs the site, posted about a boat that could be had cheaply. The key paragraph stated: “local fella, getting older, doesn’t use boat anymore, looking for someone who’ll give her a good home and usage to take her away.” I ignored the ad for several days. I had enough going on with a big boat project in  Florida and a little boat in Michigan; the last thing I needed was another boat.

The Fourth of July holiday was to be an epic sailing weekend. My camper van was set up and I was headed to the lake to just stay up there and sail and sail ... and sail. That first day out I sailed all morning long.

And I kept thinking about that “local fella” and his boat.

If I could work into a deal where I had a boat that was almost ready to sail, one I could polish up, set up how I wanted, and start the vagabond sailing life I wanted -- why wouldn’t I? How could I not?

The Florida Project
The boat is a Bayfield 29. It is not near the badass ocean boat that the Westsail is. And while I think that what makes a boat a bluewater boat is 40+% the skipper, the Bayfield is not a boat to take around the world. The Westsail could, and has, gone anywhere a decent skipper could take her. I decided that I could handle that compromise if it meant I’d be sailing sooner rather than later. The U.S. East Coast, Caribbean and Central America are all still comfortably at play. I really want to voyage to Ireland and Scotland, and I think that after some experience sailing her, the boat and I could consider making that trip too.

I sent a message to Kurt just before the Fourth saying “If that boat is still available, I’d like to talk to your Bayfield guy.” Before the weekend was up, I got Kurt’s reply that he was checking with his guy. Just a few hours later, I had the owner’s contact information.

I talked on the phone a while with Don, and had a good feeling from the start. He figures, in the last 12 years or so, he’s got $30,000 in the boat. After talking about his boat, and boats in general, I asked him what he needed out of the boat and how creative he wanted to be. He named his price; less than what I spent last year on boat storage. Any less and he thought he would feel like he was paying me to take it. I had a quarterly bonus coming and I could sell the camper van I had just inherited, but Don wanted to be able to use his dock. He had three boats but just two spots on his dock; one taken up by the sailboat that he didn’t use anymore. I wasn’t going to be able to leave her there for long. My plan to cobble the money together wasn’t going to work.

The chance to leapfrog over a bunch of boatwork and start sailing many months sooner I thought I would was too enticing. I checked with Dad if there would be any hard feelings if I sold the camper van that I had so recently inherited. And then he and I worked out a deal to front me the proceeds from selling the van so that I could grab the boat deal before it was gone.

All along I had some days off on the calendar to go to Florida and check on my project boat. Instead I was headed to South Carolina to pick up another boat.

And that’s when the adventure really began …
NOTE: This is Part One of a multi-part story. 
The Other Parts:
Part Two is here

Monday, June 17, 2019

Nailed It

There’s an old joke about a preacher who loved golf. After a couple rainy weeks, he was itching to get back out on the links. When he realized that the first nice day in weeks was a Sunday morning, he faced a quandary. Ultimately, he decided to call in sick and have the head lay speaker take his place. As punishment for this transgression, God gave him a hole-in-one on each hole. So, of course, he couldn’t tell anyone about his glorious round of golf.

I faced a similar situation on my second day out on Lola. The first day out involved some tribulation that I’ve written about but will submit that bit to a magazine (I’ll keep you posted).  When I went out again on a Sunday, I was out to redeem myself. The wind was light and the weather was just warm enough to enjoy the day. I readied Lola’s lines and sails and pushed her out of the slip. Lola had only a canoe paddle for auxiliary propulsion at that time.

In mid afternoon, I paddled out of the marina basin and set about to raise the main. Lola is still new to me so I haven’t perfected all the little bits, like raising the main. As I fiddled with the main and got the sheet tangled with the tiller, we drifted a little close to shore; a point that juts out between marinas. So I paddled some more and then managed to get the main most the way up, but not quite tight.  I ended up sailing slowly back across the front of my marina with a little slack at the clew.

This wouldn’t have been so bad, but for the two race crews that were coming in off the big lake. These big, sleek boats ghosted by as I tried to sail myself out of trouble with a sagging main. The crews, in their matching shirts and expensive watches, barely deigned to glance in my direction. I smiled and sailed on in a boat that cost a fraction of what their boss spent on rope -- or shirts.

I like to think I don’t wear my ego on my sleeve and I was just out enjoying myself. Lola got past the marina and all the hazards sticking out into the lake, to a spot where I could fix the main and raise the jib. From the far southwest corner of Muskegon Lake, I turned Lola’s bow toward the city and we had a glorious afternoon sail.

We sailed east toward the Milwaukee Clipper ship museum, then back toward the State Park on the north shore and down into the corner again. In Bluffton Bay, I dropped the main well upwind of my dock, flaked it roughly and tied it to the boom. In the gentlest of wind, we sailed downwind under just the jib directly toward the east basin of Torresen Marine.

In the basin, I untied the jib halyard, hooked it under a horn of the cleat and sat at the tiller keeping the jib taut. We crept along the pier ends until we arrived at mine. I let go the halyard and doused the jib with the downhaul. Lola traced a long, round circle and just as she nosed into her slip, I walked up to the bow, grabbed the bowline and stepped onto the dock. In my head it was like nailing a landing off the uneven bars at the Olympics. It was beautiful. Effortless. Graceful.

And as I looked about, ego smack dab on my sleeve  …  there hadn’t been a soul there to see it.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

That evening I went for a sail, by mistake.

This is a placeholder for a post that is being submitted first for publication. You'll see it here, second.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Reboot the Blog

Emma where I found her
I am working on restarting my blogging. My current plan is to stay in Michigan until the fall, helping Dad get his bearings after we lost Mom in April. I have a small sailboat on Muskegon Lake as a part of my own reboot and recovery.

First, before I start sailing, I need to thank some amazing friends - two couples in Florida and a friend in Michigan who made my day - nay, my month - a couple months ago.

Emma waiting for me
All the way back before the first of the year, between the holidays and within a week of each other, Brenda and Gary as well as Carla and Tim, bothered to stop in at Riverside Marina, trudge back to where Emma lies and snap a few photos just to reassure me. It was a wonderful relief to see her sitting where I left her, waiting for my return, with tarps that were still in pretty good shape. Thanks all of y’all, you’re the best.

Despite my plan to stay in Michigan, I am taking a trip down to see Emma and all those special people in July or so. I can assess how the boat is doing, perhaps clean her up a little, and replace the tarps.

Not a good picture, but I was moved
A couple months ago, I visited a friend at his new office. Another friend and I actually used his conference space to touch up my vagabond, handpoke tattoos. Dave has renovated a beautiful, old building in Grand Rapids. His new office is open and spacious with a new wood floor, a cluster of desks in the front with a conference table toward the back in a corner full of windows. Out front, a couple of his degrees were hung with a small pile of other professional stuff in frames ready to hang. Dave was eager to show me a large frame hung on its own in the conference area.

Bella rounding the Muskegon Channel jetty
You see, Dave had been my crew bringing a sailboat, Bella, across Lake Michigan from Milwaukee, Wi to Muskegon, Mi, without a working engine. I could never have pulled it off without his help or that of my ground crew, Nancy. I had brought them both a crew certificate in appreciation of their help - mostly on a lark.  Nodding to the frame, he said that’s a better story than all those frames up front. It was humbling but also so good for my vagabond sailor heart to feel how special the trip, and therefore the certificate, was for Dave. It was an incredible trip for me too. Read about it in three parts starting here.

I realized immediately I needed to purchase another certificate. Pete, another sailing buddy, had helped me move my current big boat, Emma, from Miami to Fort Pierce -- with no engine (apparently that’s a thing of mine). Back when we did that second trip, I was pretty broke with a pickup truck that was falling apart; and that was broken into the night Pete and I sailed north. I got online right away and ordered a crew certificate for Pete. The story of that trip starts here.

Pete at the helm on Emma

Dave and I will have a reunion cruise sometime this summer. I’ll have to let Pete know that if he’s near Lake Michigan, we could go sailing too. I am keeping Lola, the Gulf Coast 18 I bought, at a dock in the same marina where Dave and I arrived five years ago next week aboard Bella, an Albin Vega. As for Brenda and Gary or Carla and Tim, I will be bringing Lola with me when I return to Florida in the fall. We’ll definitely do some sailing down there before Emma, my Westsail 32, is back in the water.

Thanks, Dave. Thanks, Pete.

Cheers everybody. Life is OK. 

Thursday, September 27, 2018


I am in Michigan for several months, helping the family. Emma is buttoned up and waiting for me in Ft. Pierce. Here's hoping that there are no major storms through the end of the hurricane season.

Thanks for your support. See you soon.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Suspiciously Superstitious

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.

It was the winter of either 2014 or 2015, I was delivering truckloads of office furniture which often went to the Northeast; especially New York City and New Jersey. Whenever I had a load to Brooklyn or the southside of Manhattan, my load back to Michigan was usually huge rolls of paper from a mill on Staten Island. Many times before I had spent the night at the end of a cul de sac on Staten Island surrounded by the papermill, a defunct landfill and a power plant. That night it was about eight degrees and the bunk heater was just not keeping up. I started idling the truck, turned the heat up and fell asleep. About 3:00 AM, the truck woke me by dying. It would not start again. I called our road service people and they began looking for a roadside technician in New York City on a Saturday night.

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.

The Travelling, Part I

First Impressions NOTE: This is Part Two of a multiple part story. Read Part One  here .  It’s an occupational hazard of a vagabo...