Monday, June 14, 2021

The First Month Back


After the trials and tribulations of waiting for The Moose, my campervan, I finally got back to Navassa and back to Ruth Ann the first week of May. It was so good to be back with my boat. As I mentioned last time, the yard had been very busy with hurricane damaged boats and Ruth Ann was still out in the field. 

I spent a couple days organizing, but got right into boatwork when the boat was moved into her new spot next to power and water. The first job was cleaning. Ruth Ann was dirty. Besides the usual boatyard detritus, a major construction project had started just down the road after I left last year. Lots of dust and a bit of green where the water drained off the deck and down the topsides. 


After making Ruth Ann more presentable, I got back into the wiring. There were about three generations of wire on the boat. Each previous owner seemed to have clipped the ends and ran new wire for new electronics. All that wire was still run throughout the boat. There wasn’t room in the nooks, crannies, and wireways to run any more wire! I spent a lot of time last year unwiring to make room. 

Last month I finally got down to my own wiring. I wired in the AC charger, set up the lithium batteries, wired a battery switch for the system, placed big fuses for the batteries, blew those fuses while wiring the inverter, replaced the fuses, and finished all the basic wiring that could be done. The wiring is fairly organized if I say so myself. Because of space constraints, I have two small DC panels; one for all the lights, accessories, and instruments, and the other for navigation lights. I had cabin lights and fans wired in last year, but had to trace a short on the port side. Everything works well now and I have been using the fans a lot. 

There are some electrical projects that will wait until later; like a Raspberry Pi for navigation and another Pi as a media center for my music and a few movies. Also, after the mast is down and the bowsprit re-installed, I have a couple more navigation lights to wire.

Speaking of the bowsprit, I disassembled, stripped varnish, oiled, painted, reassembled, and strengthened the bowsprit. I like teak oil more than varnish, especially for a liveaboard. Every couple months I can daub some more oil and my teak looks nice. Varnish looks spectacular for a few months but the care and maintenance is more work than oil, in my opinion. 

There were, of course, some blisters in the unpainted patches where the jack stand pads had been. A couple days in May were dedicated to grinding those blisters out. I am letting them dry a little, but will soon fill and fair them. Also, I am fiberglassing shut a hole where there used to be a throughull. I scarfed that out for lamination while I had my grinder out.

I was dreading getting to my engine. I am not yet a diesel mechanic of any value. For many months, I’ve been stewing about the engine and it’s condition. It got fairly cold last winter in the Carolinas and I hadn’t prepared the engine for freezing. Luckily, it appears I got away with it. I don’t think the chilly temperatures sustained long enough for any freezing to have happened. 

As I dug in, the engine was in much better shape than I had imagined. I cleaned up, scraped, and sanded. After a few splashes of OSPHO on the more rusty bits, I painted where it was needed. The engine looks great and I hope it is happy. On my list is to set up a water supply and run the engine to check it. 

When I moved the boat in June 2019 after buying her, I felt too much heat in the engine compartment. When I discovered an exhaust leak and diesel soot blown all over, I thought that a hose clamp had gone missing near the mixing elbow. Lo and behold, the riser that attaches the mixing elbow to the engine manifold was completely rusted and no longer even connected. The riser probably should have been replaced 15 years ago. Instead, someone had hid the problem by wrapping it up nicely with pipe insulation. Or maybe they thought they had fixed it. Further, the mixing elbow itself was cracked. 

It is actually possible that the cracked mixing elbow resulted from my failure to winterize the engine. However, the crack did not appear fresh. There was significant corrosion down into the crack itself. The condition of the riser certainly shows that this corner of the engine hasn’t gotten much attention over the years. 

That was a full month of boatwork. I have been treating this project like a job and showed up for work, seven days a week. I am proud of my progress. Alas, there have been a couple expensive surprises. The mixing elbow and riser were not cheap and before I even got here, I spent too much money sitting in Savannah waiting for my van to get fixed. I may do some temp work in the coming weeks. Nevertheless, I am committed to getting Ruth Ann back in the water this summer. It may be deep into September before I’m done, but summer lasts until the 22nd! 

Monday, May 24, 2021

Boondock Blues

It was a story that could only have happened in the South. Not quite the angst of a Southern Gothic tale by the likes of Flannery O’Connor, but it was nearly peculiar enough. 

I had stopped in at the Piggly Wiggly for some groceries. The only reason I was at the Pig and not at Food Lion was that the good people of Brunswick County had lost their collective mind and were lining up at any station that appeared to still have gasoline. Like most Americans, these people were not real smart and prone to jittering panics over things like toilet paper and gasoline. Further, New Hanover and Brunswick, the counties around Wilmington, North Carolina get most of their gasoline from the port. However, when the news broke that the Colonial Pipeline had been hacked, Walmart sold out of gas cans and the people lined up at the station with ten or fifteen jerry cans in the back of their pickup truck. Gas wasn’t going to be that tight around here because of the port supply, but the panicky people made sure it got tight anyway. We had four or five days of dry gas stations until the port could catch back up.  As I navigated my way around all the gaslines to get back to the boatyard, it was easier to get into the Pig than into the Lion. 

Well, back at the Piggly Wiggly, it was dusk and I had stopped for some grub. As I got out of The Moose, my campervan, a man began to chat me up about my ride. One part of Southern Charm that I particularly enjoy is getting caught in a random, pleasant, yet surprisingly detailed discussion about things like campervans or gas shortages and such. Luckily, he didn’t want a peek inside. I’m concentrating on boatwork and The Moose is typically disheveled. But he thought it was a fabulous vehicle and got real excited when I told him that I would be looking to sell it in a couple months or so. 

He and his wife often travel to West Virginia to see the family. A campervan in which his wife could stretch out occasionally or use the bathroom would be perfect! I took his number and promised to call when I was going to put The Moose on the market. He wished me well and drove off. I went inside for some victuals.  

Now, I have a boat to get back in the water. In fact, it’s been fourteen years and four boats, and I’ve never been closer to accomplishing my goal. It won’t be long and I’ll be wandering off on a sailboat. It’s been my plan, nay obsession, for a good part of my life. Ruth Ann, my Bayfield 29, is in a remote boatyard outside Wilmington. Last year, I was here for six months, living next to the boat in The Moose. During the early panic of COVID, I rarely left and got a lot of work done. I took off for the second half of 2020 to drive a truck again; making some money and hiding out from the COVID closures and disruptions. While I was gone some of the rules changed. A couple of the other vagabonds who were living in the yard on their boats had pushed the limits of the owner. Therefore, I can’t live here full time now that I’m back. I’ve been cheating some on the weekends but most evenings I leave to boondock elsewhere. 

My primary boondock spot is the local Walmart parking lot. I park out in the far corner with the truckers. There are a couple regulars but I’ve been a little on edge about being there consistently Sunday through Thursday. I’m not really sure anyone is paying attention, but I’ve been waiting for someone to say something. I’ve been waiting to get busted.

So, last week I had grabbed some supper and pulled into the Walmart. Over in the corner with the trucks, I climbed inside, put the privacy curtain up in front of the windshield and pulled the curtain on the side door. A friend called and we were talking when someone rapped sharply on the driver's side window.  

This ... is what I’ve been fearing.  

“Just a minute,” I said slowly, “someone is knocking on my van.”  

“Hello!” I shouted to my visitor.  

“... can I help you?” 

No answer.  

“I don’t know what’s going on,” I told my friend. “Hang On.”

I stood up and peered out the windows up in the Moose’s cap. I shouted again, asking if I could help, suspecting that it might have actually been the truckdriver next door. Did he think I parked too close? I pulled back the corner of the privacy curtain just in time to see someone walk briskly past the driver's side heading toward the back. 


No answer. 

The person I saw in that moment appeared to have been wearing a chambray shirt over a t shirt and maybe some jeans. I was no longer concerned that it was someone official. It wasn’t Walmart. It wasn’t the cops. 

Well, huh. 

“Well, I’m back,” I told the friend. She wondered what was going on. Newly confident. Or no longer caring, I told her that I was eating a salad and talking to a friend and if it was important they’d be back. 

Still as I lay down to sleep I couldn’t stop wondering what the heck had happened. Why would some random person knock on the van but not answer? The windows were open and I’m sure they could hear me when I called out to them.  

In the mornings, I sometimes get a cup of coffee from the nearby Dunkin Donuts. No donuts, but I do occasionally get a bagel (not much better). The morning after the strange knocking incident, I folded my linens, folded up the couch, and opened up the curtains. I walked around and hopped in to drive off. I had driven a hundred yards or so when I noticed the note under my windshield wiper. Well, hell. I stopped to grab the note.  

“I forgot to ask you. Is this a 6 cylinder or 8?

Mike 617-5674.” 

Written on a folded envelope.


It was the guy from Piggly Wiggly; apparently still enthusiastically considering the possibility of buying The Moose. He must have been giddy to have run into me again on the other side of town. I can only imagine that he heard me say “just a minute, someone is knocking” and decided not to bother me any further. It would have helped to know as I tried to sleep afterward.

To make the story one notch better, inside the folded envelope was a shopping list. From the mundane fruits and veggies to mayo and a couple bottles of water, the list also included a bottle of GasX but with the word “price” circled next to it. Apparently, someone is having intestinal discomfort but not enough to splurge on GasX if it’s too expensive. Also listed was the very specific “70% cacao chocolate bar” and a reminder to pay the water bill.  

Then I turned the envelope over. The Internal Revenue Service was corresponding with someone else, not Mike. So, did he find an envelope and make a list? Or did he find someone’s discarded list to write me a note. More mysteries, but what the heck? That just keeps life interesting. 

I keep remembering to call Mike when it’s a little early or already a little late. I’ll call him this evening. First, I need to check The Moose. I’m not sure, but I think it’s an 8 cylinder engine. I can tell you all kinds of minute details about my boat, but I don’t have the brainspace for the van’s specifications. In the meantime, I’m happy to be downsouth and plenty happy with the progress I’m making on the project list. Ruth Ann will be back in the water this summer! 

Monday, May 17, 2021

Back in North Carolina

In the last post, I picked up The Moose, my campervan, the last weekend in April. I headed south to get back to a storage unit full of what had been in the van. The weather near the storage unit was turning bad, so I drove the 300 miles from Savannah to Minneola, FL and emptied the storage unit -- all in one day. 

The Moose was disorganized and full, so I spent the night in a nearby motel. I was tired and needed a shower anyway. The next day, I only went as far as Orange Park to be near my mail service. First thing Monday morning, I picked up my mail just in case my last paycheck had arrived. It hadn’t. So I kept trudging north. 

After a light day the day before, I was going to trek from just south of Jacksonville all the way to the boatyard. I didn't get started very early and spent a good part of the morning getting my mail and giving The Moose a wash. It was going to be dark by the time I got to Navassa, so I picked a spot to stop in South Carolina and booked another cheap motel. 

In some little town off I-95, somewhere past Florence, I checked into the motel I had booked. There was a Waffle House across the road, a Huddle House next door, and a sprinkling of the usual fast food joints. One of my goals in this new segment of my life is to eat healthier than I had while truckdriving. Toward that end, I walked past the Huddle House and the Backyard Burgers to get a salad at Wendy’s. The Backyard was closing and I was concerned about Wendy’s, but a car came around their building to the drive thru window. They must still be open. 

As I walked around the building, I could see that all the chairs were up on the tables. Pre-COVID this would have been a bad sign, but nowadays it’s often just to regulate social distancing or to indicate no dining in. Three or four employees were sitting around a table in one of the booths. I opened the door and stepped inside to find the booth of employees staring at me blankly. 

“Are you open?” I asked slowly. 

“Yes, baby, but drive thru only” came the answer. 

Even if I hadn’t already parked after a long day, the drive thru wasn’t going to do me any good as the van is too tall.  

I walked back into the cool night. 

Generally, I prefer a Waffle House to a Huddle House, but the road was pretty busy for a Monday night. Big noisy pickups and thumping cars careened back and forth, pulsing in and out of driveways as the fast food joints began to close. 

Hungry, tired, and chagrined, I stumbled back to the Huddle House. 

Inside the Huddle, several booths were occupied and a couple employees acted busy behind the counter. It was curious how busy they thought they were, for nearly every other table was covered with dirty dishes, wadded napkins, and scattered flatware. I waited to catch someone’s eye and eventually got the same blank stare. 

“Sit anywhere?”I asked. She just nodded. 

Two booths looked available. The first was right next to the passage in and out of the grill area, so I kept walking. As I approached the very last booth in the back, I could see that the table was covered with puddles of water. The dishes had been cleared but the table never got wiped down. 

I went back to the table by the grill. 

There is nothing healthy to eat at a Huddle House, nor a Waffle House for that matter. That’s not the point. I had breakfast after dark and stumbled back to the motel. 

The next morning was an easy jaunt up I-95 and across US74 to the boatyard. 

I was back. 

Time to finish the work I had started. We are going to be back in the water this summer.  

Unbeknown to me, the yard had been very busy while I was gone. Just down the Cape Fear River is Southport, North Carolina. The Southport Marina was devastated by Hurricane Isaiah in 2020. The docks and all the boats had been swept ashore and piled up at the clubhouse porch. Thirty five boats were brought to Cape Fear Boat Works for repairs. They are just now getting back to a normal schedule. 

Ruth Ann has spent the last ten months or so out in the yard. Sam and his good people were going to move my boat back near power and water but hadn’t yet by the time I arrived. 

I spent a couple days organizing The Moose, cleaning up and preparing. After a couple days, the yard launched another boat and moved Ruth Ann into the vacant spot. I moved my tool trailer over next to her, set up camp, and got to work. 

More about that … next time.  

Friday, April 23, 2021

Deja Moose, Part Free

The Moose is back!!!

[This is Part Three of a Three Part Series, start with Part One here.]

Not quite a week later, I checked in with John. He had made an appointment with a Ford garage to straighten out the computer which still wasn’t performing properly. But he and Ford had disagreed he said. Furthermore, because his injury was slowing him down, and he was a bit stumped troubleshooting The Moose, he was taking the van to a friend of his who had been in the transmission business just as long. 

Call me Monday, I got. 

I was in a bit of a pinch. My resignation was effective Saturday and I had no wheels. Further, Nancy had volunteered to drive me north once again, but due to some family commitments she could only do it that weekend. 

Counting my blessings, I accepted and we planned another roadtrip. 

I finished my last delivery, cleaned out and cleaned up my truck, and turned it in with my fuel card and company ID. When Nancy arrived, I smiled ruefully and told her the van wasn’t quite ready yet. We dropped some of my truck stuff off at the storage unit and headed North anyway. 

Once again, my limit was about Brunswick. We had some really good Thai food and then a great breakfast the next morning; our second time at the Sunrise Diner. I highly recommend it. 

Back in Savannah, we took a nice walk along the riverfront and watched the tourists mill around and buy ridiculous things. The pralines, however, were not ridiculous, they were delicious. (Thanks, Nancy!) We had a snacky supper and I bought a few groceries to hang out in a motel for a few days and crossed my fingers to get my van back soon. 

Nancy headed back home and I settled in to hang out and write. Soon to be back to boatwork, I was going to start blogging again once I got to North Carolina. So I flexed my writing muscles by posting a true life trucking tale over at my secret other blog and began working on these Chronicles of The Moose. I got involved in my work on Monday, and called Tuesday when I hadn’t heard anything yet. I talked to Randy, John’s father, who often answers the shop phone. I didn’t get a lot of detail, but Ford apparently won the argument as another computer was on the way, will be here Wednesday, call me Thursday. 

And so I ended up hanging out in Savannah for a couple more days. I called Thursday, just as John had finished test driving The Moose. It runs great, but let me testdrive it a time or two today, just to be sure, call me this afternoon, he said. When I called back, one of his guys had just run to McDonalds -- in my van, a test drive, he said -- I'll call you when he gets back. But he didn't call. He had once called me about 7:30pm. So, I waited, but got no call.   

It’s now Thursday evening as I write this and I will have my van back in the morning. I think.

Epilogue [Friday, April 23]: 

I picked the van up this morning. The full tale of the van may never be told but the outline I got is flabbergasting. The original rebuilt transmission had been slipping, but the engine was also stalling. They just happened to have a matching transmission in the shop this month, so I got a new rebuilt transmission. However, the stalling problem persisted. The first replacement computer didn’t fix the trouble and John didn’t want to believe Ford that the computer he had found wasn’t any good. After talking with his friend in the business, apparently it seemed that Ford might be right. They ordered another computer, but when it came in, two days later, the stalling problem was still there. Rather than giving up, or setting the van on fire, John and his guys dove deeper. At some point Wednesday evening or Thursday morning, they finally solved it. A bad ground on a headlight [FFS!] had been causing enough electrical mischief to knock the nearby computer and disguise as a problem there.

I can’t explain it but I trusted John throughout this ordeal. I wasn’t always completely patient, but I understood that the van was in good hands and I had no choice anyway. This whole computer thing toward the end was pushing it, but what else could I do? In my humble opinion, a chain store transmission shop would have sent me packing a month ago. Not only did John and his wizardry fix the most unlikely problem, not only had he been working on my van on and off for nearly a month, he considered it under warranty and charged me nothing. I cannot, for the life of me, figure how a bad ground on a headlight would be covered under a transmission warranty -- but I'll take it. And John wouldn't consider taking any of my money (I asked ... but only once). Sometimes it pays to be a half-broke, weirdo vagabond.  

And how does it feel to finally be headed back to my boat? Call me Monday. 

Actually, I’m headed to Florida to get my stuff out of storage, then I’m headed to the boat. In case you’re keeping track, I came to Florida from Michigan in November 2019 to clean out a different storage unit and then head to my boat in North Carolina. I know the way. The Moose knows the way. And Ruth Ann is getting impatient with both of us.

I can't wait to get back to Life On The Water!!!

Deja Moose, Part Deux

Museum Garden

This is Part Two of a Three Part Series, start with Part One here.

Two weeks later. 

This is where the wheels start to come off of the story, but it’s only the beginning of the gonzo weirdness to come. John, the owner and chief mechanic of the transmission shop suffered a serious back injury. Nevertheless, he was still trying to keep up with his regular business and take care of a warranty issue for some weirdo vagabond and his camper van. He thought the van would be done the following week. I was chomping at the bit to get back to my boat, so I submitted my two week notice at work. Cheerfully assuming that I would have the van back by the end of the next week. 

I finally talked to John at the shop the day before Nancy and I were going to head back up to Savannah. He explained his injury had kept him from the shop for a few days but he thought the van was done. “Let me take it for a test drive and call me back in the morning,” he said. Well, ‘in the morning’ was going to be into my ‘weekend’ and I had already arranged a ride. I called Nancy to explain that I thought the van was going to be done by the time we got there, but I couldn’t be certain. We decided the worst thing that could happen was a nice day in Savannah and no van. So we hit the road; took the chance. 

The Thunderbird

Same deal, as usual, I ended my week early in the morning. The company I drove for was good to us drivers. If you drove that day, that day was a workday; your weekend would be the next two whole days. Many trucking companies think a ‘weekend’ is the 48 hours after you turn your truck off and expect you right back. We hit the road on my ‘Friday’ and made Savannah by evening. I tried to get us into the wonderfully quaint and cool Thunderbird Inn, but they were full; something about the azaleas being in bloom. We had a nice dinner on the sidewalk downtown and headed back out toward the highway. 

The next morning, however, I learned the van wasn’t ready. The same trouble with stalling in reverse had snuck back into the picture. “Call me back this afternoon,” he said. So, Nancy and I hit the Ships of the Sea Museum, enjoyed the museum’s garden, drove through the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, and wandered out to Tybee Island Beach and the Atlantic. Man, it was good to dip my toes into Mother Ocean. The beach, however, just wasn’t as nice as some of the sugar sand beaches I’m used to in Florida and Michigan. 

I talked to John near the end of the day and I could hear the frustration and exhaustion in his voice. Half crippled by the back injury, he was still working desperately to fix my van. He had begun to suspect it was the computer rather than the transmission that was stalling the engine. He had a similar computer in the shop and had hot-wired it into the van. It then drove fine. So he had ordered an appropriate computer online and the van should be ready the next week. 

Nancy and I had had a nice day in Savannah, but I needed to get back to work; with or without my van. So, we headed back south. I had a week left at work and no wheels.

Deja Moose, Part One

It was a pretty simple plan when it started. Nothing complicated. I needed to get my half crippled camper van, The Moose, back to a shop in South Carolina for warranty work. The shop is just across the river from Savannah. Then I’d need to go back and get it in a week or so. 


I have a terrific friend, Nancy, who just happened to be nearby. We’ve known each other since we were nine years old and have been through all kinds of adventures; with our families when we were young as well as later in life. She was going to follow me up as I tried to get the van back to the transmission shop. I was still working in Florida about five hours away. A week or so later, if all went according to plan, I would have my van back just in time to quit my job and head back to my boat, sv Ruth Ann, in North Carolina.  

In fact, Nancy knows me so well, the ‘Deja Moose’ part of the title of this blog was her idea; it fits perfectly with the story and even with my style. 

The transmission shop had installed a rebuilt transmission last fall but it had started acting up. Being so far away, I first took it to a local shop hoping that a tune up or a simple fix external to the transmission would do the trick. 

No such luck. 

The local shop confirmed my fear that there was indeed a problem with the transmission. It seemed to affect only the reverse gear but they couldn’t be sure it was only reverse or how and when it might get worse. Since it was under warranty, they recommended I take it back to the original shop. 

They also only gave me a 50/50 chance of making it back to Savannah if I tried to drive there. 

I considered all kinds of options to get the van to the shop without driving it but all were several hundred dollars. I just couldn’t bring myself to spend a bunch of boat money on the van. I’d already taken two hits last fall; buying the rebuilt transmission and I had lost almost three weeks to COVID.

I’ve been driving a truck based in Florida on a seven days out, two days off schedule, but I arranged to have an extra day off. I might need that extra time if there were any problems with the van on the way. I had decided to chance it and drive up, but I was being as practical as possible. 

I’ve been living in The Moose since November 2019. Full time until June and then just on weekends after I started truckdriving again. Before that, when I was working nights in Michigan while helping Mom and Dad, I actually slept in the van in the driveway where it was quieter during the day. So the van and I go way back. Further, I had lots of stuff in the van: clothes, food, boat stuff, and books. If the van broke down on the way to Savannah, I’d be stuck with all my stuff somewhere along the road. So I rented a storage unit in Florida and packed up my stuff in boxes the previous week. 

It was auspicious that Nancy happened to be nearby. She arranged to borrow her Mom’s car to follow me up (thanks, Elna). My week ended fairly early in the morning on what was, in effect, my Friday. So I nearly had an extra day -- almost a four day, three day weekend. When Nancy came by to join the northbound caravan, the first thing we did was empty the van into the storage unit. I just had to park it where I didn’t have to back out. I had already worked that day, then schlepped all my stuff into storage, and hit the road. We made it as far as Brunswick before I ran out of steam. 
Holy Shiitake!

The next morning, it was only an hour and a half to the transmission shop. We had a big breakfast at the Sunrise Diner and hit the road. The van made it all the way without a hiccup. It was a quiet Sunday morning when I stashed the key in the van’s grill and left a voicemail for the shop. Just then, we realized that I still had two more days off and we were halfway to my boat. I hadn’t seen her since the previous October and Nancy was keen to see her in person. 

So … why not? 

We took a leisurely ride through the low country, grabbed a Holy Shiitake pizza at the Mellow Mushroom in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, and got to the boatyard in North Carolina by supper time. [Editor's Note: Holy Shiitake pizza: 3 kinds of mushrooms, carmelized onions, mozz, and a garlic aioli swirl all on an olive oil and garlic base. YUM!]

When I was living at the boatyard last year, Sam, the owner, would often come out on Sunday afternoons with his family. He occasionally mowed the lawn, though he had a guy who did that. Also, his grandkids would sometimes ram around the outer edges of the boatyard on their fourwheelers. Sam was just leaving that evening when we arrived. He waved and smiled. 

The first problem I had was that in all the keys I had on three carefully curated keychains, not one of them was for the lock on my tool trailer, the lock on my ladder, or the one on the companionway to the boat. I could picture a lone key that I had found while packing the van. I had looked at it the week before and decided I didn’t know what it unlocked, so I packed it. Now, I think I know exactly what it was for. 

Ruth Ann has been out in a field since I left and was pretty dirty, but she was fine. I had some errands the next morning, so we headed into town. I bought a hacksaw and a pair of padlocks, then we grabbed some takeout from my favorite little family-run sushi shop. 

The next morning, in Wilmington, we grabbed bagels and Dunkin coffee. Back at the boatyard, I broke into my tool trailer. The tools looked fine; none missing and not much rust. I’ll be curious if my Milwaukee rechargeable batteries survived the idle time. But that will come later. With the trailer now open, I had access to my angle grinder. I lamented that there wasn’t any power way out here and Nancy reminded me that my generator was in the trunk of her car. 


I fired up the generator and was through the lock on the ladder in no time. Next stop, ladder in hand, was the boat. 

I set up the generator and threw an extension chord up into the cockpit. We climbed aboard Ruth Ann and I buzzed my way through the lock with a random piece of boatyard 2X4 behind it to protect Ruth Ann’s woodwork. We went down inside to take a look. I gave Nancy the nickel tour. All the boat parts I had bought were still there; solar panels, windvane, and electrical stuff. There were no bugs, no critters, and only about a half a cup of water in the bilge. That was a wonderful relief.  Life is good. I’ll be back here in a couple weeks, I thought. So we locked everything back up and headed south.
The Lil' Tool Trailer

Nancy had followed me to Savannah, we had road-tripped on to Ruth Ann, and then ran all the way back down to Florida so I could go back to work. It was a huge help and some good fun. And(!) she took my SPOT satellite messenger with her to update the firmware. I don’t have either the required Windows or Apple machine. It wasn’t very complicated but she was a computer savvy person I could trust.  

It was an awesome roadtrip and Nancy thought she could help get me back to The Moose when it was ready. Little did she know how complicated that might become; never boring, and more than occasionally fun. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Fetching The Moose, Catching 'Rona

This is Part Three of a Three Part Series. 

To finish the story that started with me sneaking up to North Carolina to check on my boat, I had to return to South Carolina to pick up The Moose and its new transmission.

What I had in mind was to get a ride somehow down to the Greyhound station in Orlando, ride the bus back to Savannah, and then take a taxi across the river to Hardeeville, SC. The reverse of how I had got back to work after the breakdown. But I have a wonderful friend who had a plan for me and wouldn't take no for an answer.

One of my side jobs when I came to Florida a few years ago was delivering sod to Lowe's and Home Depot stores. The job was totally fun in a little boy kind of way; lots of toys. I hauled a flatbed trailer that I often had to load myself. Loading the trailer at the sod farm meant using a tractor size forklift with great big tires to get around in the sandy farmyard. Once I loaded the trailer and headed to the stores, I had a three-wheel forklift hanging off the back of the trailer. They could have paid me in sandwiches for all the fun I had in the middle of the night buzzing around a parking lot, grabbing pallets of sod off the trailer, and dropping it near the Garden Center. Carla worked in the office at the sod farm and for some reason, between loads or at the end of my day, Carla and I would get to chatting about everything and anything from the most mundane to the deepest topics. She often had to kick me out of her office to get work done. We became fast friends and have stayed in touch even after I left the company.

Several months ago, I drove a moving van to help move Carla and her husband, Tim. So when she heard that I needed to get back to South Carolina, she made a plan. She didn't necessarily insist but simply assumed that they would help me out. It is wonderful to have friends like that. 

The plan was a relay. I'd been without wheels for over a month, so Carla drove down from Jacksonville to where I work in Central Florida. Back in Jacksonville, I switched cars and Tim took me the rest of the way to Hardeeville. They would not consider my offer of gas money or anything. Carla even bought us lunch which Tim and I enjoyed as we chatted our way up through Georgia to the transmission shop.

My boat money account took a hit having to replace the transmission in the camper van, but I really didn't have an option that was less expensive. Any other option that might have included abandoning the van would have required me to make my way back to South Carolina to get all my stuff. I was living in the van while working on the boat and have been lately on my weekends away from driving the truck. I have all kinds of life stuff and boat stuff in the van; and the van pantry is full of dry goods. I’m well provisioned for a guy who rarely cooks these days.

The new transmission was going to cost $4,000. The shop needed a deposit to get the work started. Luckily, I had been saving for the boat. Everyone I met in that small town said I had picked the best transmission guys around. I didn’t have much choice, but don’t mind that I lucked out. When Tim dropped me back at the shop, I learned how right the townsfolk had been. The man at the counter (the owner, I think) explained that they had used a different supplier than they had originally planned which saved us all some money. My bill was more than $400 less than their estimate; wonderful. I had delayed returning to fetch the van until I had earned enough to pay off the second half of the new transmission. I was stretched pretty thin. It is always a privilege to work with such honest people. 

I got lazy on the way home and stopped to boondock for the night at a truck stop. I've done this before but I always forget that sleeping with all the windows open next to a bunch of idling semis is not so healthy. There's an awful lot of diesel soot in the air and, depending on the wind direction, I can wake with heavy lungs and a scratchy throat. Nevertheless, I was back at my truck Friday afternoon, loaded, and ready to hit the road.

Saturday afternoon I started to have a funny cough in the back of my throat that was worse by evening. Sometime before midnight I was really very sick. Either Saturday or Sunday, it's hard to recall, I had a load that got canceled. I told my dispatcher that I felt like crap and that if he didn't need me I would just sleep until the next day. I slept more than 20 hours but still woke up with a fever and chills. I was sweating through the sheets and the cough had dropped into my chest. At first, I blamed the crowded truckstop air. Then I tried to convince myself it was just a cold. 

I dragged around the rest of the week like a zombie. My fever came and went, but after that one day or so of being really sick, it moderated. I was stuck out on the road and had very little energy but kept going with caffeine. My appetite disappeared. I was literally buying something to eat because I knew that I needed something in my stomach not because I had any inkling of hunger. I had no desire to eat anything. More than once, I bought one of those nasty convenience store wedge sandwiches, struggled to eat half, and threw the rest out because I could eat no more. About Thursday, while nibbling at another sandwich, I was trying to decide if I could taste it. That's when I thought [dummy!] if you have to think about it, you've lost your sense of taste. It was then that I stopped trying to convince myself it was just a cold. I needed to get tested for COVID.

I finally got home on Friday, booked a room, slept all day Saturday, and got a COVID test on Sunday. I didn't want to be stuck in the camper van sweating and coughing. Monday, I told work I was waiting on a test result and hunkered down in the motel. On Tuesday I got a positive result and didn’t leave the motel for almost two weeks; more lost boat money.

There were a couple of times during that first week I felt so run down that I began to wonder if I was seriously ill. After that, even after the positive result, my experience was moderate. It was no fun, but I think I had a mild case. What really worried me, and was always on my mind, was whether I might have exposed my friends. They had been nice enough to give me a long ride on Thursday, by Saturday I felt it, and Sunday I was really sick. That was too close for comfort. Besides worry, I felt a bit selfish and shameful for not having just gotten myself back to the van. Even if I had avoided exposing my friends however, I could not have gotten back to The Moose without potentially exposing a bunch of strangers. This is the world of 2020. We must always worry about exposing or getting exposed. I am very grateful that my friends helped me get to South Carolina. Thankfully, Carla and Tim are fine and didn’t seem to catch anything from me.

My COVID experience was fairly mild compared to what I've read in the news. I was really only quite ill for a day and a half. After struggling for several days on the road, I spent a couple weeks in a motel, mostly sleeping. During my stay, my sweet sister arranged for a couple meals to be delivered. First, I got three kinds of soup and some chicken fried rice that was wonderful for my convalescence. When I began to feel a little bit better, she sent a vegetarian appetizer platter from an Indian place. I also downloaded some apps and had groceries delivered from Publix and some good Chinese too. 

I've been back to work two weeks and I’m feeling much better. My brain is finally back but I'm still regaining my strength and stamina. I’m back on my mission, back at work, and saving money. Early in the Spring, I’ll get back to NC and sv Ruth Ann, to finish the work, and get her back in the water.


First image is mine. The Donkey forklift image is from Donkey Forklifts. I grabbed the parked trucks from Getty through Google. The Coronavirus image is from the CDC.  

The First Month Back

Before After the trials and tribulations of waiting for The Moose, my campervan, I finally got back to Navassa and back to Ruth Ann the firs...