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.  

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Halfway Back Blues

This is Part Two of a 3 Part Series.

As a bit of foreshadowing, a month or two previous I had felt the campervan transmission slip slightly. I checked and added some fluid at the time. When I rolled into Wilmington after 600 miles, I felt a little slip again. Half of the fluid remained from the previous month, so I added the rest. Both times, a little fluid seemed to bring the van, named The Moose by Mom, back to normal. However, a visit to a transmission shop was in order when I got back to Florida.

Right now, I’m on the road hiding out from COVID and earning a little money. Most weeks, I’m running up or down I-95; Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas. So the last thing I wanted to do was head down I-95 to get home. At the end of the last blog, I peeked at the map and headed out of Leland, NC on US-17, south toward Shallotte, Myrtle Beach, Georgetown and Charleston.

US-17 runs from Winchester, Virginia to Punta Gorda, Florida and is called the Coastal Highway. In the Carolinas it is near the coast, but not very coastal. My dreams of following the ocean back down to Florida were not going exactly as I had planned. I’d never been through Myrtle Beach and was shocked by the Vegas-style schlock and pulsating consumerism. Does any city, anywhere, need two PGA Golf Superstores? Out past Myrtle Beach, the scenery improved; low country scrub and southern Americana.

After Myrtle Beach, there was a sign for a  state park, but it was mostly swanky suburbs and golf resorts down through Pawley’s Island. Just before Georgetown there was a stretch of wilderness and I was starting to think about lunch.

In my head, Georgetown is a favorite place, but I’ve only been there once. A little more than five years ago, I was crewing on a Westsail 42, headed from New York to Panama [that story starts here]. In Norfolk, we had picked up the Captain’s father, who had caught a bug on the way up. He was really sick all the way through the Virginia/Carolina wilderness. At Georgetown, we pulled in to take the father to a doctor. It was Memorial Day and that meant going through the process at the local Emergency Room. 

The Waccamaw River flows south from up near Conway. Just before Georgetown, the Waccamaw is joined by the Great Pee Dee River, which wanders all over the Low Country but never gets very great. To the west of town, the Sampit River comes almost due east and joins the other two rivers to become the estuary of Winyah Bay. Previously, the Sampit had made hairpin curve before dumping into the bay. This was indigo and rice country in the colonial and antebellum years. Large slave plantations were established and many rivers and creeks in the area were diverted with complex earthworks built to support the trade. At some point, the Sampit made a shortcut into the bay and turned what had been the main channel up into downtown Georgetown to a quiet bayou. 

Georgetown is the second largest seaport in South Carolina. Exports were originally indigo and rice, then lumber and steel. A couple mills loom over the bayou, right next to downtown. The paper mill still operates and, depending on the wind direction, offers the usual pungent, pulp smell. The steel mill has been through a few owners in the last decades and I’m not sure it’s currently running. Heritage tourism is a big draw these days. The streets of the older side of town are quaint in all the ways you’d expect. Hurricane Hugo paid a ferocious visit here, but the bayfront has recovered and is touristy in an understated genteel kind of way.

During the previous trip, while the Captain and his dad were at the hospital, I got a chance to wander around Georgetown; cobblestones, old buildings, bookstores, and seafood restaurants. I bought a book and enjoyed some lunch. The father got some meds and we were off the next morning. 

On this trip south, I made a pass in the campervan but was uninspired. Call it a hangover from passing through the grinding tourism of Myrtle Beach, but I didn’t stop to hike around seeking seafood. Furthermore, I didn’t want to try and park The Moose on the narrow, old streets. On a residential street, a couple blocks clear of the tourists, I paused under a spanish moss laden oak tree and looked for some lunch options. I had a craving and Lamar’s Fish and Chips caught my eye. 

Lamar’s Fish and Chips was out past the Piggly Wiggly and the McDonald’s, in the westside neighborhoods that are modern, not antebellum country club. The hospital where the captain had taken his father was not far away. A block off the main drag, just beyond an abandoned CVS store, Lamar’s was a nondescript cinderblock building with a mansard looking cap on its facade. Inside, a counter was off to the left, the dining room on the right, closed for COVID with chairs atop tables all moved together. 

I ordered the fish and chips special, whiting; ten minutes. The bathrooms looked open, so I made a pitstop. In no time at all, Lamar emerged from the kitchen with my lunch. Steam wafted from under the clamshell’s lid as he asked what sauces I needed. Hot sauce. Thank you. He asked me where I was coming from and how I’d found his place. I told him I was on the road, headed south, craving seafood, and that I’d found him on Google Maps. 

“Well, I’ve been frying fish for forty eight years, I should know what I’m doing,” he said.

“I can’t wait to find out.”

“You’ll be back,” Lamar assured me. 

Back on US-17 headed south, I munched on the fish and chips which rested on some luggage between the front seats. Out past the mills in Georgetown, I was back in the low country and near a town called Mount Pleasant I started seeing little huts on the side of the road selling baskets. These woven sweetgrass baskets are a tradition brought to South Carolina by the West African slaves who eventually established the Gullah Community in the low country. Originally tools of rice production, these baskets are now a highly refined craft. Basic baskets sell for around $30, but as they get bigger and more intricate they can sell for more than $500. I’ve discovered since then the stretch of US-17 in the Mount Pleasant area has been designated the Sweetgrass Basket Makers Highway. 

The traffic thickened approaching Charleston, and in the stopping and going, the transmission slipped again. The slip was intermittent; still didn’t seem like real trouble. I was really hoping to make it to Florida. Rather than ‘stop and go’ all the way through Charleston, I jumped on the 526 bypass. I got all the way around the city but I could feel the transmission too often. Back at US17 in West Ashley, I stopped and put in another third of a jug of transmission fluid. Once again, it seemed to help. Maybe I could make it back if I just kept adding fluid. 

I know ... I know.  

I was way ahead of schedule. My four day weekend was designed to accommodate some fixing, sealing, or tarping as necessary at the boat. Fortunately, the boat was in great shape. By some intuition, I had left Navassa midday Wednesday rather than Thursday morning. When my load assignment came in, it wasn’t until Saturday evening. I had almost two days of slack, so I thought I might find a cheap motel on the way and spend some time writing. 

Where US-17 joins up with I-95, I pulled over to look for motel options. I had my eye on Hardeeville, SC, across the river from Savannah. There is a familiar truckstop there. I picked a motel near a Chinese restaurant, but offered me a deal I couldn’t resist. Two nights for $70 dollars right near where I was going to be anyway. I booked it and got going toward my little writing vacation. 

Leaving the gas station where I’d stopped, the Moose stalled. That’s new, but it started right back up. Over the highway bridge, I passed a cop on the ramp and as soon as my wheels touched I-95, I heard a quiet pop and the van started trailing white smoke. I drifted over to the shoulder blowing a line of smoke like a skywriter. Under the hood, there was no fire and the smoke had stopped. I gingerly moved several yards on the shoulder, but the smoke did not reappear. It was about 4:30 pm when I started moving slowly down the highway; toward the motel about twenty miles away.  

The exit ramp ended at a stop sign; on a hill. I was worried what would happen when I stepped strongly on the accelerator to get across through the traffic. Nevertheless, the uphill left turn went fine. Down the road a half mile, I made a looping turn into the motel parking lot. There was no more smoke, no fire, but I had left a long trail of fluid which was now dripping below the Moose. I tossed a rag under the leak and checked in at the motel. 

By the time I had a key and a room, it was right at five o’clock. Neither transmission shop in town would answer their phone. Now my plan was dependent on the drip. If there was a big puddle under the Moose in the morning, I was going to need a tow. But when morning came, the rag was damp but there was no puddle. The Moose and I made the eight miles over to the transmission shop. They needed a few hours to diagnose my problems, so I called a cab. Back at the motel, the writing wasn’t flowing easily as I waited for the phone to ring. 

The news was not good. The Moose needed a new transmission. It was going to be expensive. I had to explore some options. So much for writing, now I was ciphering.  

I’ve been living in the van, first while working on the boat and now on my weekends off the road. The Moose is chock full of stuff; boat stuff, life stuff, and food. I have five kinds of flour, dry beans, rice, and other provisions. There are two expensive lithium batteries for the boat on the floor of the van’s shower. Any option to ditch the Moose would have to include getting back to South Carolina somehow to pick up my stuff. I’d have to pay storage in the meantime and trust that wherever it was stored was secure. 

My overall plan is to remain in Florida through February; depending on COVID, the economy, et al. Basically, all my options for moving forward would be nearly as expensive as the transmission. The only real difference is that after moving from the van to the boat I will get some money back out of the van when I sell it. I decided to fix the van. The shop needed a half down deposit to get started. A big chunk of my ‘boat money’ disappeared into the van.  

Now I needed to get back to work. Because I had left North Carolina early, I actually had time to arrange for alternative travel plans back to Florida. I called back the little local taxi company and arranged a ride into Savannah. My trip back to Florida would mostly be by Greyhound bus. As luck would have it, the Greyhound station in Savannah is directly across the street from a funky motel where I’ve always wanted to stay. I booked a room at the Thunderbird Inn and the trip on my Greyhound app. I tried calling an airport shuttle that I’d seen nearby to work. They flatly rejected coming to get me from Greyhound. So I left the last leg’s arrangements for after I arrived. 

The Thunderbird Inn is an awesomely funky spot; bright colors, neon, and southern hospitality. There were moon pies on my pillow, complimentary RC Cola, and mid century modern decor. In the morning with coffee in the lobby: real Krispy Kreme Donuts. Before the sun the next morning, I walked a few blocks over to the Maple Street Biscuit Company; downtown, exposed brick, old wood floors, cool people. I had southern biscuits and gravy, but gravy made with shiitake mushrooms rather than sausage. Divine.

I hiked back to the Thunderbird, packed my bags and walked across the street. Eight hours on the bus to Orlando included a service dog, nonstop nervous natter, COVID conspiracy, apples, China, Afghanistan, the book of Revelations, Trump, Bush, Obama, Kennedy, and End Times. It was all I could do to stay out of the discussion that never stopped from the seat behind me. I was never so glad to arrive in Orlando. 

I got a ride on my Lyft app and began to relax. If I’d have stayed on my game a few more minutes, I would have reacted to all the taillights that appeared on the ramp to the Turnpike. Instead, Cinthya, the driver, and I had a wide ranging chat while we waited through a 45 minute delay. There was a multi-car accident between us and the next exit, so there was no escape. Cinthya is from Ecuador and has one kid in college with another starting high school. She enjoys life in the Orlando area but has much family back in Ecuador; including her Mom who moved back in retirement. 

The last turn toward the terminal is a very dark, lonely country road. I could feel a rise in the tension. I quickly apologized and assured my driver that just around the corner was a giant, well lit complex with a security guard, lots of trucks, and other people. We’d had such a long chat that I think there was a bit of trust, but that trust was tested staring down a lonely country road with some ol’ trucker in the back seat. I unloaded my bags by the guard shack and hit Lyft’s tip button extra hard as Cinthya headed back toward Orlando.  

The next day I was back on the road; back to earning money. I’ve arranged with the shop to come back in a month to pick up the fixed Moose. In the meantime, I don’t really have anywhere to go on my weekends. Yesterday, in the present, I hiked a four mile round trip to visit a produce stand with a taco food truck. Tacos Carnitas, real Mexican street style -- worth every step. 


Editor’s Note: I was in Publix this morning wearing my Thunderbird Inn t shirt. I had thought that I remembered the Thunderbird from visiting my now ex in-laws in Savannah thirty years ago. The cashier, a lady old enough to have been a snowbird for a very long time, asked if the Thunderbird was still open. I assured her that I had slept there a week ago. She told me that she and her husband had often stopped there on their way south for the winter from Ohio. The wistful tone of her voice made it seem like also a long time ago. 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Sneaking Up To North Carolina

This is Part One of a 3 Part Series. 

I wasn’t going to post much to this blog, because I am not in Navassa working on the boat. I am waiting for all this craziness to end and the world to loosen back up. So I’m back on the road driving for a company that I’ve driven for before; hiding out from COVID and making a little money. Nevertheless, I was able to talk my way into a four day weekend and snuck up to North Carolina to check on my boat, sv Ruth Ann. I drove up in my campervan, known as The Moose.  

I’ve been suffering from a boat-related version of hypochondria. A few times a week my brain would wander off and suddenly I could imagine all the ways that Ruth Ann was suffering some damage up in the boatyard. I imagined her full of water, invaded by bees and wasps ... or mice and snakes. I pictured her leaning on her jackstands damaging the hull. Or she had fallen over sideways. It was mostly ridiculous, but after three months away, it was time to go check on her. 

I got back to the terminal near Leesburg, FL early on the last day of my week. It was easy to get organized, pack up, and head north by midday the day before I’d anticipated leaving. It had already been a full day starting in the wee hours, but I was motivated to see my boat. That evening, I made it as far as exit 49 in Georgia, near Darien. The Taco Bell there was still open, I grabbed a black bean something or other and parked the van among the big trucks out behind the BP station. I’d slept there before in my semi. 

The next morning, I was up early and ready to roll, but the Burger King was not yet open and the Parker’s gas station had no Parker’s Kitchen -- no quick breakfast to grab. So I crossed the highway and stumbled into the Waffle House. I ordered the two egg breakfast and a subscription to coffee. My hash browns are always “scattered, smothered, diced, and peppered;” scattered on the grill, smothered with grilled onions, diced grilled tomatoes, and jalapenos. I sat at the counter next to a chair covered in caution tape to promote social distancing. A scrawny dude with stringy hair sticking out the back of his Waffle House hat took my order. He looked a little out of place so early in the morning. Tattooed on his left hand knuckles was the word “King.”

He complimented me on my octopus tattoo and asked to see the treasure map tat that was peeking out from under the sleeve of my t shirt. He took more than a casual interest in the quality of my friend Emily’s work. I asked if “King” was a nickname. He said it was and told me he had just finished his tattoo apprenticeship when COVID hit and everything shut down. That explained his inexplicable occupation in the wee hours of a Tuesday morning. Then he showed me a Viking motif tattoo that he had done - his first tattoo as an artist. It was an impressive big black and grey tat, well done. He was experienced enough a server that he left me to my eggs after delivering my breakfast, but he cashed me out too fast and didn’t give me a chance to tip on my card. The other Waffle House employees that morning had the patina on them of years behind the counter, I know the tattoo dude will soon learn the ropes. 

I carried on that next day, my first official day of a four day weekend, and made it to the boatyard. No one was in the office when I arrived, but there was a little pile of mail for me. When I emerged from the john across the driveway, I ran right into Sam and Amy; the yard owner and the yard manager. We had a pleasant chat and I followed Amy into the office to pay my October rent. After some more chatting, I proclaimed that I hadn’t even seen my boat yet and left them. 

With a little trepidation, I drove through the yard. I wasn’t sure exactly where they had put Ruth Ann. The yard boys had moved Ruth Ann the day after I had left back in June, in order to get the boat behind her into the water. When I found her, she was standing out in the field, lonely, a little dirty, with the grass growing tall up around the feet of the jackstands. My ladder was locked on my little tool trailer. I grabbed it and climbed up into Ruth Ann’s cockpit. A sun baked, windblown tarp still covered the companionway; one of my worries.

The companionway has two small drop boards and a large louvered vent topboard. The vents are screened and the louvers will keep most rain out of the boat, but in a storm with near horizontal rain the louvers aren’t much protection. There’d been a couple good storms this summer and I’d imagined her filling with water through the companionway. I remembered debating whether to tarp the companionway or not. Ventilation is a good thing. Time away left me unable to recall my decision. Luckily, I had tarped. So, I untied the lines, folded the tarp, and removed the dropboards.  

Down below, I stood in the galley and absorbed the state of things. There were no obvious signs of moisture or leaks, no smell of mildew or sour standing water. I hadn’t finished the wiring when I left, so it still looked like an old house being remodeled. There were spare parts and components lying about, wires hanging from cupboards with switches and fixtures next to them awaiting installation. I had put all the tools away, but it was a little messy. 

The boom was off the mast and down below which had to be moved so I could get to the floorboards. Another swell of drama rolled on me as I lifted the hatch to look in the bilges. The summer before, when Dad and I travelled to North Carolina from Michigan after Hurricane Dorian, I had pumped about thirty gallons of water out of the bilges. One of my hypochodrial worries was another full bilge. I had worked pretty hard to trace and fix leaks while I was with Ruth Ann earlier this year. That work paid off when I slowly lifted the hatch and saw about a half cup of water below. The Bayfield 29 has a keel stepped mast so there will always be some drips of water that make it down the mast and into the bilge. That’s just part of the game. A half cup, I can live with. 

I talked with some of my boatyard neighbors. Most of them, I had wished for their own sakes, that they had gotten boats back in the water and left, but here they still were. Some trapped by a decent job nearby, some confronted endless projects with limited funds, others just kind of got stuck, but it was good to see them all, regardless. Boat people are my people; even boat people on land. 

I spent the night with the Moose almost under an Army fire rescue boat in the yard for annual maintenance. In the morning, I retarped the companionway and put away my ladder. Inside the tool trailer, I was glad to find very little mildew or corrosion. Before locking the trailer back up, I laid a bag of kitty litter in the back and sliced open the top to absorb moisture. With that, I was done with my check up. I had taken a couple extra days in case I needed to take care of some emergency, but it hadn’t been necessary. I was craving some seafood, but I didn’t have anything left to do in Navassa. I decided I would leave early and avoid the highway back to Florida. My current job has me practically living on I-95; why would I want to take I-95 all the way home? I said my goodbyes and headed south down US 17. 

Friday, July 24, 2020

Last Post ... for a time.

Good gracious, I miss her already.
I have announced on my social media, but not here on the blog, that I am back on the road. It’s my opinion that the COVID-19 situation is only going to get worse for a while yet. It made sense for me to get a regular job now rather than wait until the world is in even more a panic. I didn’t want to be hung out as a freelancer or out on a small boat looking for work; or worse yet, looking for food. 

The Bubba the Pirate blog has always been exclusively about my boats and boat-related adventures so this will be the last post on the Bubba the Pirate blog for a while. I have three blogs because I’m an idiot and a glutton for punishment. The other two, however, have languished recently as most of my content has been boat related. Now that I’m on the road again, I’ll be back to telling road stories. To maintain my own imagined consistencies, I’ll be posting those stories on my writing blog here. There’s lots of stories there from the road and elsewhere.   

I just posted a “I’d rather be lucky than good” story there. Please check it out. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Sailing North

I’ve learned over the last thirteen years of boatwork that I shouldn’t talk about dates and deadlines. Despite all that, I thought I would share some brief thoughts about my near-term sailing plans. I’m trying to keep to a regular schedule with the blog, but I’ve had a few good days of boatwork which nearly made me late for my Thursday deadline. The boat will soon be back in the water. I’m not going to say how soon, but soon enough that I’m thinking about sailing; where, when and how. Two things are going to stipulate that I move north first. 

The First of June is the start of hurricane season. It will be a while after that day that sv Ruth Ann is back in the water. I have liability only insurance on the boat but anyone more fully insured is required to be north of Norfolk, VA or Cape Henry by June. Heading south would not make a lot of sense because of the season, but it will also be plenty hot for a boat with no air conditioning. My new weather philosophy will be if it’s too hot, go north; too cold, south.  

The other reason to head north is a “Sail-In” gathering. I’ve been hanging around an old fashioned discussion board on these interwebs for well over 15 years; -- small boats, long distances. As a matter of fact, I found Ruth Ann through that very site. You can see that story here. The second weekend of September several of us SailFar-ers are going to meet up in an anchorage south of Annapolis, MD. That is just far enough away that I am quite sure that I can make it. I’ve signed on. I’m doing something wrong if Ruth Ann is not sailing by November. 

Depending when I get Ruth Ann launched, I will have some time to wander the U.S. East Coast. The world is still a strange place right now, but the Chesapeake Bay area seems to be opening up. I have always wanted to gunkhole around the Bay. I could get there in four or five days. So if there were no hurricanes brewing in the Atlantic when I left, Ruth Ann and I would have plenty of time to make it there safely; even offshore. Heading north, offshore makes sense with the Gulfstream Current helping. Coming south, it would make sense to use the Intra Coastal Waterway(ICW). 

I might jump from Masonboro Inlet to the Chesapeake or go straight out the Cape Fear River to round both the Frying Pan Shoals and Cape Hatteras on the way. After a rest in Hampton or Norfolk, I’d jump offshore again to the Delaware River; likely taking a break at Cape May. After that I could jump again and head to Atlantic Highlands, NJ. This is the place where Alex and I were stuck for several days waiting on the weather to jump around the State of New Jersey going south. A significant place in my sailing history; the start of my first ocean sailing. That’s likely all I’d have time for. 

There are family and friends I could see along the way. And watching the calendar, I would head south
in time to make the SailFar Sail-In. If I had made it as far as Atlantic Highlands, then Ruth Ann and I would have to go offshore again to get around New Jersey. This time at Cape May, I would head up the Delaware River to get to the C&D Canal. Across the canal to the top of the Chesapeake, I could then sail southwest, down past Aberdeen and Baltimore, sneak under the Bay Bridge and then head for the Rode River anchorage and meet up with my fellow sailors. All of that might take two or three days; anchoring at night. 

Once the meetup was over, if I’d made it that far, I’ll have to be looking for some way to earn some money; the proverbial cruising kitty. Frankly, it’s likely to be cooler than I prefer in mid-September near Annapolis. I’ll be ready to head south; down the ICW.  Down the Chesapeake to Norfolk, VA, then into the Elizabeth River and the ICW through the rest of Virginia and the Carolinas. From Charleston, or Port Royal, I might jump offshore to cut the corner to Jacksonville. I would like to visit the backwaters of Georgia; Darien and Brunswick, but Georgia is becoming a less friendly place for cruising sailors like me – like Florida. But … I have contacts, and friends, in Florida. I’ll likely head there to make a little money and ride out the winter. There are three or four situations in Florida where I could walk right in and have a job again. That counts for something. I could save money even while living out of a marina or a mooring field. We’ll see. I’ll keep you posted. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Two Piles

Not so long ago, I saw some good advice in the Tiny Liveaboard Facebook Group. Someone suggested that in preparation for moving aboard a small boat one should make two piles. One pile of all the things that you don’t really need; things that you haven’t even touched for months. In the other pile place all the things that you feel you can’t live without. It is important to take time to carefully consider each item and which pile it belongs in. Most important of all, once you have everything carefully sorted -- throw away both piles.

I lived aboard a very small boat in the 1990s, and I should have known how little I could have brought with me. Still, I showed up in North Carolina after cleaning out my space in Dad’s basement – AND – having emptied a storage unit in Florida near my last boat project. I have a small trailer here full of stuff that I thought I couldn’t live without. Some of what I have is boat-worthy, but not much. I did actually find a couple kitchen items that I threw in a box years ago that have become quite useful in the campervan galley while I’m waiting to use them on the boat. But many of the things in my pile(not yet two piles) are things that I valued some time ago. I am a different man and a different sailor than I was then – and I’m working on a different boat.

Some decisions are easy and quick. I opened a box recently and couldn’t decide if it had been apartment stuff, truck stuff, or boat stuff. It had been years since I had laid eyes on any it. Just looking at the top layer, I knew none of it was needed in my life today. I also knew that handling each individual thing would be such a temptation to keep some of them. I closed the box, picked it up, and marched right to the dumpster. Such a satisfying clunk when it all hit the bottom.

My issue is books. I am a voracious reader and I’ve been collecting books for a long time. Some were resources to have on a boat. Others were books that I was looking forward to digesting when the pace of my life slowed; like “The Essays of E.B. White.” Many were just my favorites; favorite books, favorite authors, favorite topics. I just can’t take them all. I probably could not have taken them all on my last boat which had almost double the displacement as Ruth Ann.

Nevertheless, I have made some recent progress in lightening my load. I’m loath to confess that a few books went into the dumpster too. It was a shameful thing to do, but in this time we’re in, the schedule I’m on, and as isolated as I am right now – it was just a cold, hard fact of my life. Lots of goofy trinkets I’d been saving are gone. Duplicate items and things that I know now that I won’t need are gone. There are three tubs in the nose of my little trailer that I have yet to go through. At least two of them have more books! A great majority will be replaced by ebooks.

Then there are tools. I have a pretty good collection of tools for a vagabond. Many will be necessary to properly maintain my boat. As I work on her now, I’m sifting for which tools I really need and which I could do without. Some of the bigger things are going to be hard to stow. My sewing machine will not only allow me to fix my own sails and do my own canvaswork, but I should be able to make a little money doing the same for other boaters. A shop vac, even a small one, however, is not likely to make the cut (I currently have two).

Perhaps the biggest benefit to all this work minimizing doesn’t pertain to “things” at all but to my life. In making decisions about what things I might need, I’ve had to repeatedly consider exactly what my life is going to be like. How would I know what types of things I should keep if I hadn’t already considered, in detail, how I was going to live?

When I first started this plan to escape on a boat, it was mostly about bikinis and booze; chasing the former, encouraged by the latter. For a few years now it has become more about a quiet lifestyle; more like a personal retreat than a party. I’m looking for peace and a simpler life. I’m looking forward to days with nothing pressing when preparing coffee and a simple but delicious breakfast might take a few hours to accomplish. I am already very content and know my priorities and aspirations very well.

I am currently buried in boat stuff. Two weeks ago, I ordered a bunch of stuff for Ruth Ann. It’s all arrived now. I’m set for boatwork chores well into June. Barrier coat and bottom paint should go on the hull next week, if the weather cooperates. While the weather is not cooperating, I have been rewiring the boat working inside. I have solar panels, wire, brackets, fittings, lights and lithium batteries to install. By the time you read this I will have gone up the mast to remove the last shackle of the furler. While I’m up there I’ll measure the stemballs, a mast fitting, so that I can order them. I’m hoping that the mast will come down in the next week or so. That depends on the schedule of the boatyard. I am so close to getting all I need done that if the boatyard doesn’t have time, I will do as much as I can by climbing the mast. Stay tuned!

Monday, April 27, 2020

The Other Boat

Boatyard Neighbors at Sunset

An unusual thing happened that made me notice something else had settled. It was apparent that I was just perceiving what had already baked in; was already done.

Hanging around a boatyard is being with my tribe. We have disparate opinions about politics, power vs. sail, and all sorts of things, but we can talk about boats for days. I was describing to my neighbor a trip I had taken down the U.S. East Coast, crewing on Eleanor, a Westsail 42. [The telling of that whole story starts here.] I had said that if money was no object and I could have any boat, I would likely choose a Westsail just like Eleanor; even though they haven’t been produced since the late 1980s.

This neighbor occasionally tries to convince his wife that they should have a sailboat rather than their curiously beautiful British workboat turned cruiser. Just then, he remembered having looked at a boat nearby that was like the one I described. He thought it could be had for cheap.

It turned out that he had seen a Tartan not a Westsail, but another beautiful, solidly-built boat about forty two feet long. It was a ketch just like Eleanor and had been featured in a magazine at one time. Apparently, it had been partially sunk but rescued by a skilled salvage crew. She had been saved, preserved, and now spends her days motoring a bit around Georgetown, SC. The story was, the salvager didn’t really know what to do with her and was getting bored. She might be headed to the scrapyard. Or … an ambitious sailor might be able to have her for the scrap value of the lead in her keel.

I saw pictures, recent ones. I received the phone number. I read the article.

Pic from the magazine, not current.
She is still beautiful; even after some trauma and benign neglect.

Not so long ago, a previous version of me would have spent the next few days sifting through the details, doing the math, and daydreaming big plans. I often did this without any real thought of trying to purchase some prospective boat. But other times I would sink into detailed planning, get emotionally involved, even discuss options with an owner, and end up heartbroken when I couldn’t pull it off.

I haven’t seen this boat in person and there are several red flags about her. Set aside that the used sailboat market is not so soft that someone else would not have grabbed a feasible project by now. I don’t know the story or the extent of the sinking. The sails are supposedly shot, but there might be another set. And a bigger boat is always more expensive; to maintain, to dock, to run. None of this, however, would have slowed me down before. Hell, I bought a boat in Miami that had no engine, from Michigan sight unseen, and subsequently sailed her over a hundred miles in the Atlantic to get her to a yard where I could work on her.

I was never really turned on for some reason, but the magazine article was chock full of other details that were not positive. The article was titled “The Geriatric Ketch” and was all about how the previous owners, an older couple, had set the boat up to assist them in continuing to sail in their autumn years. The boat bristled with gadgets and labor saving devices, like electric winches. There were modifications to the keel. Every sail was on a furler. I don’t even like furlers, but that might not have stopped the previous me. That me would have likely been obsessed with the idea that a beautiful, fixable forty two foot ketch could be had for round about $9000.00. It seemed strange, but even after all that neighborly boat talk, I was unfazed. I couldn't have cared less.

I had read the article on my phone from a lawn chair in the shadow of the boat that sits right behind my Ruth Ann. I’d been sanding all morning when I struck up a conversation with the neighbor. I set the phone down just as the sun climbed over the building behind us; splashing afternoon sun all over my boat. I’m working hard to bring her back to her glory and that work stood out in the bright contrasts. The port side of the hull was mostly smooth again. She was generally clean and finally looked like someone was taking care of her. No streaks of dirt from the rain. No moss in the shadows. No sun-eaten ropes hanging around. Halyards were coiled and stowed. They only bang the mast in the strongest wind. Her transom is clean waiting for a proper name and hail. The teak that I had stripped, sanded and oiled glistened darkly, relishing its renewal.

She had overheard our conversation about the other boat. Her trailboards quivered and her shoulders sagged against the jackstands that held her upright. I could sense that I had confused her. We have made so many promises to each other. But I felt nothing about that other boat. There was no swell of curiosity. I couldn’t even bring myself to play with the details just for the sake of playing. I didn’t look up her displacement, what kind of keel she had, or the price of scrap lead.

All I could do for Ruth Ann was get back to work. I picked up the sander, grabbed a fresh sanding disc and snapped on my ear muffs. She’ll know soon enough.

Ruth Ann is a bit small; storage is going to be a concern, but she’s mine. She is a great boat for places like the Bahamas, Chesapeake Bay, and Pamlico Sound. She can probably cross an ocean too, and she and I are going to work on that for the future. I know just what she needs and there isn’t that much. Ruth Ann and I are very close to setting off. There’s just no sense in starting over on another project; no matter how luxurious the possibilities are. And besides I can feel that I am committed. I wasn’t sure of that until now, but this is it. She and I are the plan.

This might not sound like much of a revelation, especially to a landlubber, but it feels significant to me. The analogies to falling in love are obvious but too cute. I’ve been committed to this lifestyle but have never been committed to a particular boat [‘obviously’ some of you groan]. Surely part of it is that I’ve never been as close as I am today to actually being able to push off and start to wander.

In thirteen years, I’ve never been this close to my dream. I can feel it! For the resources I have and the plans I’ve made, Ruth Ann is just about perfect. We can work together to handle whatever isn’t. Depending on how the world turns out in the near future, Ruth Ann and I will be cruising the U.S. East Coast this summer. And if this pandemic situation relaxes enough, we’ll be in the Bahamas for sure next fall and winter. Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Haiti, Jamaica, even Colombia and Panama are all also within the realm of possibility. Stay tuned.

I’ll be ordering barrier coat and bottom paint by next week. The work continues.

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 ha...