Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Over and Under Bridges

The GW

For a time while I was truckdriving, I delivered office furniture; not like a mover but new stuff by the truckload. West Michigan has a history of building furniture and a lot of office furniture is still produced there. New York City is the office capital of the world, home to many furniture buyers, and always an adventure in a semi. Many drivers were reluctant to take those Big Apple furniture loads, so the company paid a $250 incentive bonus just for crossing the George Washington Bridge. I made several trips into the city. It’s funny how that $250 sounded like a good deal all the way across Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but as soon as I was near that bridge, it wasn’t such a good deal at all. Long Island loads were the best because I got the bonus for crossing the bridge even though I passed over Yonkers and escaped to the wider spaces beyond. 

I don’t know why anyone would want to drive a car in New York City, let alone a big truck. And yet, I’ve been into Queens, Brooklyn, Long Island City, Staten Island, and even to Manhattan many times driving a semi pulling a fifty three foot trailer. It was never boring. I’ve been in wall-to-wall traffic on Broadway and witnessed a fire truck slowly wrestling it’s way through, sirens blaring. Somewhat bemused at first, I watched the mayhem as people tried to move their cars enough to make a little room. After a few minutes, however, it occurred to me that there was a fire somewhere! As you might imagine, when I was able to sail under the George Washington Bridge and observe the incessant buzz and chaos of the Big Apple from the water -- that was a special day for me.

Bridge on Lost Lake Trail

I’ve always had an affection for bridges. I’m not sure when it started but it likely got a boost as a kid camping with my grandparents at Ludington State Park in Michigan. In the park, the Lost Lake Trail ran from the campground over several tiny islands on the western shore of Lake Hamlin. I haven’t been back to the park in many years, but back in the day the trail was very special. It had been built by the Conservation Corps during the Depression. Wooden walkways hovered over the marsh areas and gloriously quirky bridges of log and plank jumped between islands. We often got roused early for a morning hike with Granddad; each kid equipped with their own Dixie Cup. Toward the far end of the trail was a large patch of wild blueberries. We all came back with a cup full of blueberries, smiling through berry-stained teeth while trudging over quaint little bridges. Grandma was waiting at the campsite to make a spectacular batch of wild blueberry pancakes. 

I don’t remember the first time I saw the Mackinac Bridge but every kid from Michigan feels they own a part of it. I’ve lived and/or worked near many iconic bridges: the Ambassador in Detroit, and the Sunshine Skyway, the Gandy, the Howard Frankland, and the Courtney Campbell Causeway all in Tampa Bay. And, of course, the George Washington, Throgs Neck, the Whitestone, Verrazzano Narrows, and the Goethals; most of the NYC bridges that allow trucks. 

Foggy Ohio River

More recently, I’ve had a love affair with the bridge that crosses the Ohio River at Ravenswood, West Virginia. The William S. Ritchie Jr. Bridge is a beautiful example of a cantilever bridge; recently painted, shiny, and proud. During my truckdriving years, any load going from Michigan to Richmond, Charlotte, Charleston, or even Savannah, took me across the Ohio River at Ravenswood. I often stopped to take a picture. My favorite pic, though my eyes are closed, might be from when I stopped there with Dad. We were on the way to check on my boat after a hurricane. I had been fretting in Michigan while Dorian had gotten a little close to Wilmington.  

Dad and me at Ravenswood

As I finish my boatwork and get ready to set sail, I’ve been practically living under another bridge. The L. Bobby Brown Bridge carries I-140 over the Cape Fear River. The bridge also looms over the dock at the boatyard where Ruth Ann currently abides. The boatyard is fairly remote and the modern concrete span of this bridge bursts out of the piney riverbanks like some alien structure. It makes for an interesting contrast when the sky is awash with sunset colors. 

The Wilmington area rivers are somewhat counterintuitive. The Cape Fear River comes up to Wilmington from the Atlantic; right into downtown. The river seems to continue on past the city to the Northeast. There is also a smaller river that comes in from the west right across from the downtown Riverwalk. When I brought Ruth Ann to the boatyard, I came up the river into Wilmington. Downtown was on my right and the Battleship North Carolina on the left, when I turned up that smaller river to get to Navassa. I don’t know the history or the reason, but the smaller river is actually the continuation of the Cape Fear River. It wanders to the northwest through the wilderness, up through Fayetteville, and on to Jordan Lake just south of Chapel Hill. The larger river that seems contiguous with the flow out to sea is called the Northeast Cape Fear River once it passes Wilmington. The Northeast Cape Fear does a good amount of wandering too, but peters out somewhere northwest of Buelaville, NC; not near as far north as the Cape Fear gets. 

The L Bobby Brown

When I am headed to work lately, I get on I-140 at Cedar HIll Road and cross the Cape Fear right away. Then I cross the Northeast Cape Fear before I get to my exit into to the city for work. It is a glorious way to start my workdays. The sun is just coming up and painting the sky in pinks and oranges every single day. The Cape Fear River snakes through the cordgrass marshes toward Wilmington, glowing like liquid topaz as the morning light fills in. Then crossing the Northeast Cape Fear, the limbless, naked, swamp-dead cedars stand in uneven rows on the far bank. In the morning stillness, the trees are perfectly reflected in the flat calm river like an old comb; not quite evenly spaced, not all perfectly vertical. It’s frustrating that I can’t take a picture for you, but over the rivers and the marshlands, the highway is basically a continuous bridge for the first five or six miles. There is too much morning traffic and not enough shoulder to pause for a quick snap. Trust me though, it’s better than coffee to get your day on track. 

CSX Bascule Bridge, Navassa

Ruth Ann and I will be back on the water in Late September or Early October. We will launch just south of that bridge and head away further south. We won’t go under, but I will salute the bridge that I’ve been enjoying for a couple years now. Around the bend, downriver from the boatyard is an ancient bascule bridge operated with sauntering southern grandeur by the CSX Railroad. Coming up the river in July 2019, I circled below the bridge for quite awhile waiting for the bridgetender to actually open it. He has to walk across the bridge to close a safety gate before raising the span. You would think he had nothing on his mind but the stroll as he ambled across, shut the gate, and ambled back. He disappeared into the bridgehouse and it was several minutes before the bridge creaked and groaned. The counterweights finally quivered and began to move. I thanked him anyway as I knew I would be back the other way sometime.

Next month after reaching Wilmington, I’ll go back under the Memorial Bridge downtown and head down the river. It’s then we’ll actually be on our way. I’m either going to head straight out into the Atlantic and then up toward the Chesapeake or, more likely, I’ll sneak through Snow’s Cut ‘north’ on the ICW to Wrightsville Beach and spend a few days sailing and adjusting the rig and sails before sailing on.

If you’d like to be one of the first to know, one of the first to celebrate with me, consider becoming a Patron at the link above to Patreon. Even a buck or two a month makes a huge difference. Patrons get early access to the blog, along with other perks like BtP swag, occasional live chats, and sneak peaks at the book I’m writing.There will be a Live Patron Event online during and after the launch, as technology and bandwidth allow. Thanks to everyone for their support. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

More Boatwork, Less Time, with less and less To Do


In the month of July, my boatwork schedule changed a bit because of the side gig. The job is going well. The people are good folks and the work is endlessly interesting; nearly to a fault. At times, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel as none of them have the time or the patience to do what I’m doing for them. When I first arrived, I was worried how much work there actually was, but the longer I’m there the more I worry they’re going to want me longer than I’d like to be there. That’s not such a bad position to be in. 

In the meantime, some evenings but mostly on weekends, the boatwork continues. The bowsprit has been re-installed on the bow. I had some chainplates made and installed them. I was chasing a leak near the bow for what seemed like most of the month. It turned out that it wasn’t any of the numerous bolts in the hull and deck joint, but a little screw in a zip tie holding a wire. At first I thought that the screw had somehow pierced through to the deck, but I believe it was more complicated than that. I was caulking everything I could think that might be leaking and happened to bump the starboard bow chock. The chock was a little loose with rotten wood underneath. This is probably where the leak began. My current theory is that the water entered by the loose bolts of the chock, and was running down the hull and deck joint to the little screw. The screw was into the joint, but was not long enough to reach the deck. It was also just loose enough to let the water drain. This screw happened to be inside the cupboard behind my composting head. The drips fell onto a wooden shelf in the cupboard which now needs to be replaced. Somehow the water was also draining further and collecting just behind the bulkhead that separates the head from the forward storage locker. Some of that plywood wall is going to need fixing too.  

The most challenging work was getting the cap shrouds on the mast. My mast is an Isomat mast from France and was probably the state of the art in the mid-eighties. The mast has nine stays; two lower shrouds each side, two cap shrouds, a forestay, a backstay and a staysail stay all connected at the top with stemballs; a lollipop-looking termination. Looking up at the mast from the ground, I was fairly sure I had found a fitting to connect the tops of the lower shrouds but I wasn’t sure it would work for the rest. I ordered just four of those fittings, and used them to test eight of the connections. The staysail stay has a different connection. 

Those stemball fittings were not going to work for the cap shrouds. The shrouds connect the top of the mast to the sides of the hull. They actually enter the mast twenty or thirty inches below the top, cross internally, and connect to the masthead from below, inside. The masthead is welded onto the top of the mast. This left me only a small slot to work with; about an inch and a half wide and six or seven inches long. The shrouds would terminate with a spliced eye around a part that I had purchased from Colligo. Those parts, however, would not fit through the side of the mast. I had to run the dyneema rope through the side of the mast, up and out the top of the masthead. An eye was made in each shroud to capture the Colligo parts which were designed to accept a dyneema loop or eye on one end with a fork on the other end. The forks would each capture the end of a standard stemball and attach with a clevis pin. 

I had practiced assembling all these parts in my head for days. It actually went exactly how I had imagined which never happens with boatwork but I’m getting ahead of the story. 

With the stemballs inside the masthead, just beyond my fingertips, the finished shroud end assemblies had to be pushed back into the mast and aligned with the hole in the stemball. All taking place beyond my reach and nearly out of sight. This took a few tries and plenty of cussing, but mostly patience upon patience. More than once I stepped away and walked around for a minute to clear my head. With a menagerie of tools and some heavy gauge copper wire to fish with, I managed to wiggle the stemball into the fork inside the mast. Once aligned, the clevis pin was carefully lead into the mast gripped by a pair of channel lock pliers. The pin entered the fork easily, but wouldn’t go through the not-yet-perfectly-aligned stemball. Another gentle wiggle and -- click -- the pin fell into place. I had done it! 

Nevertheless, that wasn’t the last step. I still needed to get a cotter pin into the clevis to make the connection permanent. I carefully rotated the parts by turning the stemball from the top and twisting the rope from below. Once I could see the hole, the cotter was placed with the same long pliers. Then with a collection of picks, pliers, and more screwdrivers, I carefully turned the clevis pin around so I could spread the cotter ends.


The second one was only slightly easier. 

Two more of the original style stemballs are on backorder. The T connection for the staysail stay is on the same order and will all ship soon. I have already built the lower shrouds, but they are not yet connected to the mast as there isn’t a good way to keep them up off the ground in the interim. Once I have the backordered parts, I can install the rest of my standing rigging. Then the mast can go back up. The lower connection points of the shrouds will be built in place once the shrouds are hanging from the vertical mast. 

With the leak chased, the chainplates in, and the cap shrouds handled, I could return to the bowsprit. It is back on the bow and the joint between it and the hull is caulked. In the last week, I’ve been working on getting the bow pulpit bases back in place and ready for the pulpit’s return. My list is still occasionally daunting, but it gets shorter and shorter all the time! 

And then I flew back to Michigan. 

It's been a couple years. One of the motivations for visiting Michigan was to see Dad, the rest of the family, and a few friends before the boat is back in the water. With my commitments at the side gig and the boatwork I have left to do, sv Ruth Ann will be launched in September or October. If you'd like be one of the first to know, one of the first to celebrate with me, consider becoming a Patron at the link to Patreon above. Even a buck or two a month makes a huge difference. Patrons get a copy of each blog the week before it is published publicly, along with other perks. There will be a Live Patron Event online either during the launch, just after, or perhaps both. Thanks for everyone's support.   

Monday, June 28, 2021

The Coolest, Most Perfect Gig

Mast coming down

The coolest thing just happened but I have to catch you up to that. 

I’ve been working really hard on the boat and got lots of stuff done in June. The mast is down and I’ve started the rigging project. The lower shrouds are built and waiting to be installed. I wrestled and wrangled the cap shroud terminals into the masthead. The bowsprit is now completed with a new cast bronze stemhead and the bow roller back on. It is sitting on the bow waiting to get installed. I installed brackets on the stern railing for solar panels, serviced my winches and the binnacle steering, gave away my furling genoa, pulled wire down through the mast, and re-installed a couple chainplates. I’m still waiting on some backordered parts, including the terminal ends for the forestay and backstay, and the hose I need to reconnect the mixing elbow on the engine exhaust.

I’ve also been working with a temp agency to find a little work to pad my nest before the boat gets launched. The first gig was delivering building materials like vinyl siding, doors, and windows. That was real work, man. Everything was either heavy or bulky or both. We had to hand unload and carry the stuff across lumpy job sites where houses were being built. I went through three shirts and almost a gallon of water that day. It was fun, however, when the crew and I finally talked enough for them to find out how old I was. They, all in their twenties and early thirties, were amazed that I had literally been keeping up all day! That was pretty cool for an old, fat guy like me. Then another half a day’s work unloading more vinyl siding for a different company from a storage trailer to a gooseneck trailer; another hot day.

The gooseneck trailer arrived behind a great big pickup truck driven by an honest-to-goodness, badass Carolina farm girl. She is some kind of manager for a construction company, but arrived in a miniskirt and cowboy boots. We were in a yard full of storage trailers next to a Costco store. I said I’d go get some gloves and my jug of water. She said all right, I’m going to put some pants on. No nonsense. All business. I walked across the yard and paused to be polite. She changed her clothes by the drivers door of the truck; not caring one bit about anything. We had her vinyl siding out of storage and onto her trailer way faster than she anticipated. She was super happy with how it went and how I went. I had a harder time keeping up with her than the boys at the first place. I got a farmgirl handshake, her blessing, and an offer to be my reference any time I needed one. That was a good day -- morning actually. I really pushed myself on both occasions and was happy that I’ve still got it, kinda, mostly. Or as the country song says “I’m not as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.” 

And then things opened up in the weirdest way. Wednesday I had an interview through the agency that I thought went really well. It was a receiving job at a warehouse. More building materials and likely as hot, but not in the sun and not heavy, bulky stuff. Then in the afternoon, I had an excruciating interview with a trucking company. The manager, also wife and co-owner, was trying to get me to say exactly how long I was going to be available. I was trying to be as honest as possible while also not telling her exactly how long I thought I was going to be available. I didn’t really know how long I wanted to be available -- that is until I got done avoiding saying so. Now I know, I don’t want to be in Wilmington more than 6 months; only three if I can help it. There ... I said it. 

The agency was having some trouble finding work for me. I was playing with all my cards on the table and said out loud: I don’t want temp-to-perm, I want temporary and I only want it for about three months. In this new economy, many many companies are using temp agencies for recruiting and to cover what used to be a probationary period. The company brings in temps and can keep any good ones, while just letting the agency tell the mediocre ones not to come back. Several companies thought I looked like a good candidate, but they wanted someone who was going to stick around. Case-in-point: the first building materials company said no to a few months, but then they needed an extra pair of hands, a strong back, and a weak mind for a day or two.

This morning I got an email that the warehouse had chosen someone else. Then another email for another interview; one that sounded really interesting. Then yet another email that they had a check waiting for me for last week’s work. At least that's a positive. Cool.  

I was actually a couple minutes late to the interview. Market Street, Wilmington, on a Thursday afternoon was amazing and kind of stupid. I could see the sign where I was headed for nearly ten minutes before I finally got there. I was a little sheepish when I first arrived. It didn’t matter. I explained that I was stuck in traffic and it was nothing but a chuckle. I think I had the gig before I walked in the door. I certainly had it before I regaled them with any stories about where I’d been and what I’d done. I do know that they liked my past involvement in process improvement. They especially liked when I told them how I had learned to ask the rank and file people about what they were doing and what they were used to in order to develop a system that everyone would buy into. I consider it an arrogant mistake to walk into a situation like this one and develop a system from scratch without consulting the people who were going to use the system. 

Also, a side note on resumes; especially older people’s resumes. I forget the fancy name for the format, but the top half of my resume is a list of my qualifications. It is written like advertisement about me. My qualifications are split into five categories: Commercial Truck Driver, Customer Service, Technical Skills, Process Improvement and Documentation, and Supervision. Each category has two or three lines highlighting specific examples of those qualifications. Then the bottom half of the page is my employment history; one line for each job, except for one company where I had grown through three positions. Each listing is just the basic facts: company, location, job title, and dates. This format has been very effective for me in the past. 

These guys were looking at the very bottom of my resume -- ancient history. But they were driven there by the qualifications at the top and they liked what they saw. And two crusty mechanic shop manager types were very curious about my boat project. They had a project of their own, one that was probably only a couple months of work. Perfect.

Their parts department is a mess. It has gotten out of control for a variety of reasons. They had another guy in to fix it. He had started well but didn’t ask enough questions and had gotten a little sideways, stirred up their inventory some more, and then left. They wanted, and desperately needed, someone to clean up the space, count their inventory, set up the shelves in a way that makes sense to the mechanics, reinstall the barcoded shelf tags where needed, and perhaps even write up an inventory plan to pass on to the next guy. The next guy is a service writer/parts department position that they are trying to squeeze into the budget for next year. I have no interest in that future gig, but to spend a couple months sorting and planning their parts inventory is perfect for me, perfect for my sv Ruth Ann.

And sounds perfect to them. 

By the time I left this afternoon, we were all excited. I am dusting off some ancient office manager skills (sorry, production office coordinator - that company didn’t want to pay for the word 'manager'). I emailed the temp agency that it had gone well and I was starting on Monday. She answered back “Oh my gosh. That is amazing.” 

I’m not sure how to take that.

I am getting so close to finishing the boat. There are lots of little details to take care of and I need to finish re-rigging the mast, crank the engine to test it, and put another couple coats of bottom paint on her. When the boat is ready to launch, the campervan will be sold (I think I have it sold already). However, I didn't want to run low on boat funds so close to being done; just in case. My nest needed a little more padding before launching the boat. This new gig is just perfect.  

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Housekeeping Item

Subscribe by email. 

Next month Google is killing off their feedburner service. What this means to us is that if you are subscribed to this blog and get an email each time I post something, that will no longer work after next month.

If you would like to receive email updates regarding my posts, please resubscribe using the new form that is now at the top right of the blog page. This is a service called Follow It and will do what Feedburner was doing for us. I am not using Follow It's full capacity to spam you with promotions, but you will receive an email for each new post as before.

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.  

Over and Under Bridges

The GW For a time while I was truckdriving, I delivered office furniture; not like a mover but new stuff by the truckload. West Michigan has...