Friday, October 22, 2021

Superstitious Mine

I don’t have many superstitions on land, but I have a few around the sea. Occasionally, I make fun of old sailors’ superstitions by participating in them. Other times, it feels more serious than I’d like to admit. I may have told a version of this first story back in 2014, but it’s a good segue into a tale about last weekend. 

In 2013, I had been working on my first boat for about six years and I was really burnt out. Late in the year, I had a heart-opening conversation with a good friend. She gave me the vocabulary that I needed to give myself permission to move on; to give up the boat project I had started with. The traumatic process of letting that first boat go is described in this post

Of course, a sailor is always looking at boats; especially a boatless sailor. Way sooner than I had expected or planned, I found a great boat at a good price. That boat was Bella, an Albin Vega. The story of buying Bella is here. I had found her on Craigslist, went and looked at her in a freezing cold Wisconsin barn in December, and worked out a deal to buy her with a little help from a wonderful friend. When the snow and ice finally melted, I was able to get some time off work to go back to Wisconsin and bring her home. That finally brings us to the superstitions. 

I had owned the boat starting in mid-winter. The Winter Storage bill had been paid, so all I had to do was wait until it was warm enough to go see her again. During that time, I started obsessing about her name. Bella was nice, but it didn’t connect with me at first. I started making lists -- and lists -- of potential names. I’m mostly Irish so I looked up salty names and phrases in Gaelic. I considered Spanish and Portuguese names for some reason. Of course there were options in English, but also in Ojibwe. I fretted and deliberated on many, many potential names. It became a problem; an addiction. While I waited to go get my boat, I had nothing more to do than to grind and grind my brain about her name. 

It felt especially important for me to decide on the name before I went back to retrieve her. I was never sure how superstitious I actually was (still not sure), but I knew that I would have been pushing my luck if I had sailed her across the Lake as "Bella" and then changed her name. It needed to be settled before I launched her again. That was my rationale in deference to Posiedon, Ruler of the Seas.

In the end, I gave up. I had wound myself so tightly about her name that I eventually snapped. I decided to just keep the name. It was a good name; “beauty” in Italian. It also fell in line with my two rules about boat names. First, a boat name should be easy to say and to understand over the radio. And second, the story behind the name can’t be too cute or too convoluted. You will likely be asked many times, “so how did you come to name her that?” The story has to be one that you can stand to tell perhaps several times a day whenever you are with the boat. In keeping the original name my story was abbreviated to simply “that was her name when I bought her.”

When May came around and the snow was gone, I got back to Wisconsin, back to the storage barn, crawled inside to survey my little ship … and nearly fell over at what I found. I had not noticed back on that chilly day in December, but above the door into the forward area of the boat was a small plaque. It was a thin rectangle of metal, laser-cut with the name “Bella” in script. If I had changed her name and attempted to remove that little plaque -- for certain there would have been two screw holes left in the wood, but also, and most likely, the shadow of “Bella” would have been a permanent mark in the finish. Surely the varnish on the door frame had faded over time, but the rectangle and “Bella” was protecting the finish underneath. Superstitious or not, to some degree or more, I would have been completely shaken by the bad precedent of the old name remaining aboard. Further, I didn’t have time to sand and refinish the frame before leaving. 

If you’d like to read the story of meeting Bella again, prepping her, and crossing Lake Michigan without an engine, that story starts here. Click on “Newer Post” at the bottom of each page to get the whole story.

I was happy to have kept the name “Bella” and perhaps to have kept myself and my little ship in the good graces of Poseidon, Davy Jones, and Old Hob. [ certainly not the words of a skeptic ]

That brings me to this last weekend. 

I had ordered vinyl graphics for sv Ruth Ann; her name and hailing port. And after hanging them in different spots and deciding on the best location, I cleaned the hull and applied them. Ruth Ann is a U.S. Coast Guard Documented Vessel, so her name must be in letters four inches tall. I think that that is supposed to apply to the hailing port as well but I had some spacing problems. “Ruth Ann,” just seven letters and a space, is too wide for my transom at four inches tall. I have a windvane mounted at the center and a swim ladder to port, so I only have the transom’s starboard half for her name and hailing port. What I decided to do was put “Ruth Ann” on each forward quarter in 4” high letters, but put “Ruth Ann, Detroit, Mi” in two lines on the transom in letters sized to fit. I think I will be all right. 

After I had emblazoned her name on the topsides, I confirmed that there was no evidence of the old name aboard. Then last Friday night, I caught Mike, one of my boatyard friends, and we walked out to the dock on the river. I had a slip of paper with the old name written on it and a pint of Wild Turkey. Bourbon has become my traditional boat christening liquid and Wild Turkey has been my bourbon for a long while. I’m not really a champagne kind of guy and the boats I’ve owned are not champagne boats either. I poured a shot for Mike and one for Poseidon (I only had two shot glasses). I raised a glass and said:  

“Poseidon, Ruler of the Seas, I beseech thee. My little boat has had many names; the last being neither proper nor fitting for a sailing ship such as her. Please strike that name from your ledger as I will be christening her in honor of my mother and grandmother in the coming weeks. Please keep an eye on my boat and I as we travel your waters.”

And with that, I heartily pitched a shot of Wild Turkey 101 into the Cape Fear River. And then I slipped the paper and the old name into the water to dissolve in the river on its way to the sea. Finally, I poured a shot for myself and another for Mike. We may have had a few more right there on that peaceful night. 

The water here is brackish, a mix of freshwater and salt, and very much connected to the sea. The Atlantic’s tidal currents come all the way here; 35 miles or so upstream. The river actually flows backward at the peak of the flooding tide and races a little faster when the tide is in full ebb. The river will carry the drink and the stricken name straight to Poseidon himself. 

It’s no secret that the boat’s most recent name was “Afraid Knot;” a name altogether too cute and too corny for a proper sailboat. Such a name is befitting only of a lowly, prosaic powerboat. I’ll have no reason to speak of such a name any longer. 

So … was I playing with an old sailor’s superstition? making fun? or was I taking it all very seriously? I don't know what to tell you, but I do know that the first time through, I had forgotten the piece of paper and had go get it in order to do it all over again to make sure that all was right with Poseidon. Sounds pretty superstitious to me. 

Here’s to old sailboats and oak barrel-aged whiskey.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Struggles, Schmuggles

Post Road Trip, loaded bags.

I don’t deserve this bike, but that is getting way ahead of the story. 

It turned out to be kind of ironic that I was working on a blog post about my struggle and all that it can take to dump a career and get a boat set up for off-the-grid travel on the water. I started working on a piece about self sabotage, but it had transformed into a curious review of my project. “Fourteen years and four boats” was the opening line. It all seems a little ridiculous. I can’t decide if I’m a special kind of stupid or a special kind of stubborn or whether I have been on the right track all along. It’s probably a combination of all three, but I wouldn’t want to weigh out how much of each is in there. 

I’ve been through all of the classic self sabotage routines. Procrastination. Time wasting. Burn Out. Distractions. Etc.  Luckily, it had gotten bad enough for me that I could recognize it. Many people suffer from self sabotage without ever realizing that they are doing it to themselves. 

I’ve actually been lucky even after all these years. I’ve learned an awful lot and I’ve done some great sailing too. It was especially lucky that I decided to cash out my 401(k) in 2007. I literally bought that first boat with my so-called retirement funds mere months before the 2008 crash and Great Recession. I had cashed out for a greater purpose, a righteous quest, just before I would have lost a lot of dollar value. 

I got bogged down on that project but I did some good work and she taught me some things. I’ve made better decisions each time from the knowledge I gained on the previous boat. Money, in dollars, is not even the point. I don’t consider that I made an investment in a boat; that’s a fool’s errand. What I’ve done is invested in myself; in the lifestyle I want and in my own skills through the medium of those four boats. 

The luckiest bit of all was in 2018, when my mom got sick, that I could pack up and go home to help. If I had managed to already have had a boat in the water at that time, the logistics of heading home would have been much more complicated. It was a precious privilege to have spent so much time with Mom in her last few months. I had had a boat in Florida, but it was not very close to completion. I simply tarped that boat and left. I spent the rest of that summer in Michigan; precious time with Dad and did a little sailing too. In the end, I managed to sell the Florida project as the opportunity to acquire Ruth Ann came up. 

That special kind of stubbornness showed up today. Stubbornness that kept me going and helped me solve a problem. I was on my way to the temp job, had stopped for gas, and then was only a couple miles away when I heard my serpentine belt go. The Alternator Light came on immediately. I was coming to a stop in the left turn lane of a red stoplight when it had happened. When I got the green arrow, I quickly realized that I also had no power steering. And then the temperature gauge started climbing. Going on into work was no longer an option. The lumberyard where I was working is way out in the country with a gate and a long driveway that would have complicated any recovery of the van if it wouldn’t start at the end of the day. I drove right by the yard and called in at both the shop where I was headed and the temp agency. 

I kept my eye on the temperature gauge except when I was wrestling the steering wheel around a corner. On the small stretch of unavoidable freeway, I had my hazard lights flashing at first, but  was able to sneak up to 55 miles per hour in the cool morning air without pushing the temperature out of the ‘normal’ range. When the Moose and I coasted down the long hill toward the Navassa exit, the temperature went down significantly. I crept down Royster Road to the boatyard where all my tools were. As the gate slowly opened, I noticed that the morning sun was shining through a couple trees that stand over the dock. Of course, I had to stop and grab a picture. Then I lurched over to where sv Ruth Ann sits and backed into my usual spot. 

I plugged the campervan in right away because the battery charger tops up both the house bank and the starting battery. The side windows were still down, so I tried to restart the van, but it struggled. The windows closed with just the dwindling battery power. The engine needed to cool before I could do any diagnosis, so I opened the hood and let it rest while I cleaned up my bike. I was going to need the bike.  

My poor bike has been neglected for over a year. I used it a little last summer, but it spent a long time chained to a fence in the driver parking area of a truck terminal. The poor thing has been chained to the tongue of my tool trailer since about April. I am ashamed of how I have neglected this bike. A flowering vine of some kind had nearly swallowed it. That morning I hacked back all the vegetation and then cleaned up and greased up the bike to make up for my neglect. The front tire checked out fine, but I needed to replace the rear tube as there were a couple leaky patches on it already.

When I decided that the engine was cool enough, I started poking around. To my amazement it wasn’t the belt at all. In fact, the belt was still in one piece and not in too bad of shape under the hood. The belt tensioner pulley bearings had failed and the plastic wheel spun until it melted … and fell off!!  I found the gnarled pulley caught in the front end suspension; it had made the trip all the way home. 

I started checking online and dug up the Haynes manual that I had. The Moose is a campervan built on a Ford E250 work van chassis. All the relevant mechanical information is the same. The manual wasn’t a great help other than the names and locations of parts. YouTube wasn’t that much better, but it’s probably not YouTube’s fault. My campervan is a 1994; 27 years old. Many of the videos were about more recent model vans and, of course, since 1998 or so the belt tensioner design had changed significantly. Nevertheless, I was able to glean some solid information and confidence. The most helpful video was actually about an F150 pickup truck about the same age as The Moose.


If you had asked me two weeks ago -- hell, four days ago -- to point at the belt tensioner, I would have been stumped. I knew what a belt tensioner did, but I didn’t know exactly where it was on this engine. I had never needed to be too deep under the hood of The Moose. I know now! 

With more than a little apprehension, I started looking around online for a belt tensioner. Last fall when I was having transmission trouble and a funny noise, a local Florida shop quoted me almost $900 for replacing the belt tensioner and something else. I’m curious to find that paperwork because in my memory the tensioner was the majority of the $900. The other thing, which I don’t remember clearly, was actually a misdiagnosis of something else that was fixed when the rebuilt transmission was replaced. I haven’t been having any belt problems and I kind of ignored that recommendation because the other recommendation was faulty. 

The Auto Zone website said that a belt tensioner was in stock locally but I called to make sure. They indeed had a couple in stock and plenty of belts too. And for way less money than I had feared. At the boatyard, the crew were just arriving and starting their day. My other friends who are working on their boats here weren’t around yet that early. I wasn’t going to wake someone or pull someone from their job for what really wasn’t an emergency, so I turned to the bike. It was going to be an adventure; and a good story. I don’t think I ever biked into town last year, but I always meant to. The pannier bags were in the back of the van, in the shower actually which I use for storage. The bike was clean and ready to go. And it looked great with the bags on again. I was off. 

On my way past the office, Sam, the owner of the boatyard, had just arrived. 

“Good morning,” I yelled as I pedalled on by.

“Alright!” he answered enthusiastically.

It’s four miles to the Auto Zone from the boatyard and it was a pleasantly cool morning. I waited for the light at Village Road, then swung around behind the Walgreens, and locked the bike in front of the parts store. No sense in making it easy for someone to grab. The Auto Zone guys were great and it turned out that I could buy just the pulley rather than the whole belt tensioner mechanism. I bought a new belt as well. Another half mile down the road was a Food Lion and I had a grocery list too just in case I was stuck at the boatyard all weekend. 

As I came around the corner of the grocery store, I noticed that Brodee Dogs was open. With COVID and the economy and all, Brodee hadn’t been open much when I was around in town. I hadn’t had a dog since last year. It was about lunchtime by then, so -- hey -- this how we do up car repair around here: I stopped for lunch. I had a Tarheel Dog and a Gaelic Ale from Highland Brewing in Asheville, NC. The Gaelic Ale was a rich, full bodied Amber Ale and was so good that I didn’t even get a picture of the Tarheel dog; one of my favorites. After a dog and a beer, I grabbed some groceries, packed them up, and pedalled back out to the boatyard. It was about a nine mile round trip, but the Gaelic Ale in the middle made it an enjoyable ride on a beautiful day. 

The belt tensioner pulley went on very quickly; almost anticlimactically. I had a bit of fun running the new serpentine belt over and around 7 or 8 pulleys and getting it seated and tensioned. Nevertheless, the van started right up and purred as usual without heating up. Success! 

The Load, 2 bags worth

My whole boat project story has been a bit like that day. Escaping ‘the system’ is actually harder than it seems. With some regularity, an obstacle shows up unexpectedly and must be dealt with or fixed. These obstacles can lead right into self sabotage modes. They can cause a cascade of burnt out feelings or, in many cases, become a rich source of distraction and procrastination. It takes some discipline to think “all right, I’m going to fix this properly but as quickly as possible and get right back to my project.” I am so close now to the life that I want that even a belt tensioner pulley failure can’t slow me down much. Further, I’ve exchanged emails with the temp agency, told them that I had fixed the van, and I am still on to work at the lumberyard next week.

It’s another one of those quirky things about doing whatever I need to do to get off-the-grid. Mondays and Tuesdays, I am in a button down workshirt consulting on inventory issues, developing policy ideas, and often working for hours in their computer system. The rest of the week, in t shirt, jeans, leather gloves, and a sun hat, I am grunt labor schlepping lumber around the county; hand-unloading it and carrying it across lumpy, dirty job sites. It’s great exercise actually.  

Now ... back to boatwork.

If you’d like to be one of the first to know, one of the first to celebrate with me, when Ruth Ann and I are back in the water, 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. 

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

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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! 

Superstitious Mine

I don’t have many superstitions on land, but I have a few around the sea. Occasionally, I make fun of old sailors’ superstitions by particip...