Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Travelling, Part I

First Impressions

This is Part Two of a series. 
The Other Parts:

It’s an occupational hazard of a vagabond sailor to be travelling when you can’t really afford to. I was headed to South Carolina to buy a boat. My camper van is up for sale to pay for the boat, but Dad fronted me the proceeds so I could grab the deal … and I didn’t have a lot of travelling money. Further, I was taking a cousin up on her offer to help me fly standby. Sherry and her husband Ed had been longtime employees of an airline and got me on their ‘buddy’ program.

Thursday morning I headed to the airport in the wee hours of the morning. After I checked in with the agents at the gate as one of their standby passengers, I watched the room fill up with people. A flight had been cancelled the night before making this plane packed with people; frustrated people. I sat nearby and watched everyone board the plane. Then I watched a ridiculous family of four get turned away. They had arrived so late that the jetway was closed and locked. When I asked the agents if I would just get rolled to the next flight, they just looked at each other. I realized then that if I had been hovering near the gate, acting annoying, I might have gotten on that flight. They switched me to the next morning. Same flight. Same time.

Bro & his kids with me on Muskegon Lake
I talked to my cousin on the way home from the airport. The next morning’s flight was tight but looked OK. Suddenly, I had an extra day off, so I went to see my Grandma; who is 101 and a half (and two thirds practically), sharp as a tack and a pleasant conversationalist. I hadn’t seen her in a little while because I was sailing a lot up at Muskegon Lake. Later I chatted with Dad too, but soon went to bed anticipating another early morning.

Some time after midnight, I rolled over, awakened and checked my phone. I never check my phone in the middle of the night. Sherry had tried to call and sent a couple texts. I work third shift and sleep during the day, so my ringer is almost always off.  Friday’s flight had tightened up and it was looking grim to be able to get out of Grand Rapids in the morning; just a few hours away then. I shook myself awake and got online.

I found an amazingly cheap flight yet that afternoon, out of O’Hare in Chicago. I booked the flight, checked the South Shore Rail schedule, and was out the door by 02:30. At 03:15, my alarm went off and scared the hell out of me. I was already 45 minutes down the road before I had actually planned to get up.

Carroll Ave Station
I hit Michigan City and jumped on the second South Shore train of the morning. We rattled into Millenium Station and I walked outside onto the streets of Chicago into a beautiful Midwestern Summer morning. Five blocks or so later, I hopped on the Blue Line out to O’Hare. It had been a blur of rushed contingencies, but there I sat; at the gate, with a ticket, munching on some tropical trail mix, with 45 minutes to spare.

After touching down at Myrtle Beach International Airport, I grabbed a Lyft ride up to Little River, SC where the boat was gently rocking at the dock behind Don’s house. The driver and I had to get buzzed in at the island’s gate, so Don was waiting in his drive when we arrived. The house was a gorgeous, perfectly tropical-looking home, all stone and spanish tile, on a canal with a jeep in the drive and a hot rod pickup in the garage.

We chatted a bit and went out back to see the boat. Don was eager to answer any questions I had but let me crawl around the boat; to peek into all her nook and crannies, check the rig, the deck, the bilges, and whatever else I needed to check before making my decision. He’s a low key guy like me and we got on well right away. Don gave me a Danforth anchor and some lines out of his dock box. We started the engine and listened to it purr.

At Don's Dock
Like any other used boat in the universe, she needed a little more work than my online rose-colored glasses had thought. Totally normal. Yet, I could tell that the boat had been well taken care of and -- most important to me -- she was basically ready to sail. This was not a project. My boat project in Florida easily has 8 or 10 more months and $8,000 or 10,000 to invest. Don’s Bayfield -- now mine -- needs just a bit more than basic annual maintenance work; and some updates and personal preferences like some solar panels and a new VHF radio.

Some money changed hands but Don was asking so little he was basically giving me the boat. I spent more last year on boatyard storage. He really just wanted to find the boat a good home and only asked that I not flip her right away.

I was prepared with a bank check and a home-brewed Bill of Sale. We walked back to the house to do the paperwork; past the perfect South Carolina ICW backyard deck with gazebo, pool, etc.  Don’s girlfriend, Deborah, with the precise timing of a wonderful hostess, came down from the main level with a couple bottles of ice cold water; just what we needed! We each signed both copies of the Bill of Sale and I handed him the check. The last detail remaining, Don and I had to run to the bank to get his North Carolina title notarized.

We had talked about Latitudes and Attitudes Magazine back when we first talked on the phone. Both of us had read it and appreciated regular guy perspective, absent of any yacht club pretensions. As we drove to the bank, Don asked me if I had written for the magazine. He had noticed my signature block on my emails and was remembering the regular Bubba Whartz columns. I assured him we weren’t the same guy, but that the column had originated in Sarasota where I had lived. I had been reading Bubba Whartz long before it was in a national magazine.

Don, being low key, let me tell him that I was going to organize the boat and then walk over to the grocery store and maybe to West Marine. I was planning on heading out in the morning. It was a really hot week in the Carolinas but I went to work cleaning up a bit and organizing the lines and spare equipment.

Then my phone rang.

“Is this Bubba the Pirate?” a now familiar voice asked me.


Deborah’s charming southern accent cascaded over me. “You are NOT walking to the store. It is too hot. In fact, you can take a shower downstairs when you’re done and then we know of a nice place for a steak or some ribs. After that we’ll go to the store, so you can get whatever you need. You just let us know when you’re ready.”

With an offer like that, it wasn’t long and I was ready. They took me to a popular spot in Myrtle Beach where Don & Deborah are regulars. We got a good table overlooking the ICW; their regular table, it seems. I imagine some of the people out front with their little blinking buzzer restaurant-waiting-alarm-things, wondered how we got in so fast.

We had a great meal and a nice chat. Afterward, at Walmart, I grabbed some toiletries that I couldn’t carry on the plane, and provisions for a couple days on the boat; including four gallons of water. With all that and my sailing dreams rolling around in my head, I prepared to sleep on the boat. It was a sticky Carolina night, but I drifted off, dreaming about red and green buoys, seagulls and pelicans.

This is Part Two of a series. 
The Other Parts:

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Changes and Chances

The good ship s/v Eleanor in 2015
This is Part One of a multi-part story. 
The Other Parts:

Four years ago, I was travelling on a boat with a guy who was writing a script. His beautiful story was, in part, about an older gentleman wanting to find a good home for his boat. In early July, that same basic plot happened to me. Some money changed hands, but so little he basically gave me a boat.

When I decided that I would stay in Michigan through the summer this year, I bought a daysailer and have been keeping it at a dock on Muskegon Lake. As soon as that boat was in the water in late May, I was sailing as often as I could; reconnecting with sailing. Twelve years ago, when I planned my escape from the rat race, I meant to spend my time sailing. Instead, I have been working on boats. The first boat was a project, the second sailed but was a little small, and the third, my Westsail in Florida, was a major project. Sailing the little daysailer here in Michigan had returned me to the simple, robust joy of wind and water.

It had been a hard winter and spring and sailing was my therapy. I came back to Michigan in October to help Mom and Dad through some health issues. My sister is right nearby as well; I just came to help as much as I could. Mom lost her fight in April and since then we’ve all been trying to get our bearings again; especially Dad. I had committed to being here until the fall before going back to my boatwork project, but I was looking at my life in a different way.

The Bayfield 29
I’ve been hanging around a non-commercial small boat sailing discussion website for at least fifteen years. The last week of June, Kurt, who runs the site, posted about a boat that could be had cheaply. The key paragraph stated: “local fella, getting older, doesn’t use boat anymore, looking for someone who’ll give her a good home and usage to take her away.” I ignored the ad for several days. I had enough going on with a big boat project in  Florida and a little boat in Michigan; the last thing I needed was another boat.

The Fourth of July holiday was to be an epic sailing weekend. My camper van was set up and I was headed to the lake to just stay up there and sail and sail ... and sail. That first day out I sailed all morning long.

And I kept thinking about that “local fella” and his boat.

If I could work into a deal where I had a boat that was almost ready to sail, one I could polish up, set up how I wanted, and start the vagabond sailing life I wanted -- why wouldn’t I? How could I not?

The Florida Project
The boat is a Bayfield 29. It is not near the badass ocean boat that the Westsail is. And while I think that what makes a boat a bluewater boat is 40+% the skipper, the Bayfield is not a boat to take around the world. The Westsail could, and has, gone anywhere a decent skipper could take her. I decided that I could handle that compromise if it meant I’d be sailing sooner rather than later. The U.S. East Coast, Caribbean and Central America are all still comfortably at play. I really want to voyage to Ireland and Scotland, and I think that after some experience sailing her, the boat and I could consider making that trip too.

I sent a message to Kurt just before the Fourth saying “If that boat is still available, I’d like to talk to your Bayfield guy.” Before the weekend was up, I got Kurt’s reply that he was checking with his guy. Just a few hours later, I had the owner’s contact information.

I talked on the phone a while with Don, and had a good feeling from the start. He figures, in the last 12 years or so, he’s got $30,000 in the boat. After talking about his boat, and boats in general, I asked him what he needed out of the boat and how creative he wanted to be. He named his price; less than what I spent last year on boat storage. Any less and he thought he would feel like he was paying me to take it. I had a quarterly bonus coming and I could sell the camper van I had just inherited, but Don wanted to be able to use his dock. He had three boats but just two spots on his dock; one taken up by the sailboat that he didn’t use anymore. I wasn’t going to be able to leave her there for long. My plan to cobble the money together wasn’t going to work.

The chance to leapfrog over a bunch of boatwork and start sailing many months sooner I thought I would was too enticing. I checked with Dad if there would be any hard feelings if I sold the camper van that I had so recently inherited. And then he and I worked out a deal to front me the proceeds from selling the van so that I could grab the boat deal before it was gone.

All along I had some days off on the calendar to go to Florida and check on my project boat. Instead I was headed to South Carolina to pick up another boat.

And that’s when the adventure really began …
This is Part One of a series. 
The Other Parts:

Homeward Epilogue

sv Ruth Ann in Beaufort, SC, 12/23 Ruth Ann is the last in a series of boats on which I was attempting to escape. I found her when I found a...