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.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

I Can't Do This Anymore!

Well … I can't do it *this*way* anymore.

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
When I drove for them back in the paper log days, they ran my ass off and expected me to make it look legal afterward in my logs. That was exactly what I was trying to avoid, but the temptation of a flexible part time schedule clouded my judgement. Their drivers are doing the same fix-it-later thing as before; now with a sexy phone app to give the appearance of compliance. Many of the drivers probably appreciate that they can run as many miles as they’d like, but I can make plenty of money and do it legally. I don’t mind running hard; I’ve done it. I just don’t want to have to think so hard to cover my tracks. In addition, there are so many crazy drivers out there. Even a minor fender bender with one of those crazies would be a massive, expensive hassle if I was found to be running outside my legal hours.

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. 

Boatyard Basin
One of the dangers of living in a boatyard in Florida, is getting bogged down in the boatyard lifestyle. It is easy enough to live this way. In an out-of-the-way place like Riverside Marina, you can exist in this purgatory of almost being ready to re-launch your boat -- for decades. These boat projects can be a bit like a tide. The tide of positive energy and forward motion comes in sometimes with great strength, but diminishes as it approaches slackwater. Just at the turn of the tide there is almost no energy before it ebbs and starts to go back out; backward motion. The boatyard trap is that slack moment when it is so quiet that you don’t realize the tide has turned against you. In the yard right near Emma, guys and their boats who have been *almost*ready* so long that they don’t even know they are getting less ready every week. They are drifting further and further away from being ready. I consider this job change a preemptive strike against the boatyard life. In order to make it to the Sailing Life I aspire, I must not get caught up in the boatyard life.

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
because I need the money. I’m going to cover the boat up, work full-time for 6 ot 7 months, scrimp and save and then get back to boatwork in cooler weather. Come January or February, I will have a good nest egg and I can concentrate on boatwork. This way I can drop all my current stress about miles, eLogs and the little time or money I have for the boat. Emma and I are stuck where we are for this hurricane season, but we can get back in the water before the next.

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

Oof - Breaking Free is Hard.

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.

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 real...