Thursday, May 25, 2023

The Summer Wind Was Blowin' In ...

Sunset at Broward Creek

Somewhere back in the day when karaoke had exploded onto the American scene, I found myself in a bar during a karaoke session. There were places then, especially in Japan where it all started, that existed as dedicated karaoke bars. In my experience, however, in the States, typically a DJ would show up at a regular bar with a karaoke machine; often on a regular night during the week. I vaguely remember being dressed up for some occasion, but it was a long time ago. I think my friends and I were there for some other reason, but karaoke was also happening in a large bar. 

“You should do it! Get up there and sing!” someone said. 

After the third or fourth “Come on, man!” I said “No way, the only way that I would get up there and sing a song is if they had “Summer Wind” by Frank Sinatra and I’m sure they don’t.” 

Au contraire, mon frere ...

Of course, one of my so-called friends snuck over to the DJ’s table to paw through the pile of 3-ring binders. There were racks and racks of karaoke music CDs. The friend found the binder full of songs beginning with the letter “S” and, sure enough, that bastard DJ had “Summer Wind.” My friend came bouncing back to our table, and with a wicked smile, informed me that “my song” was, in fact, available.  

In my memory, I just wasn’t drunk enough to get up on stage and try to sing like Sinatra. I am pretty sure that I continued to refuse. 

“Summer Wind” is still one of my favorite Sinatra songs. I had seven or eight Sinatra albums on vinyl in my collection, mixed in with jazz fusion, new wave, punk, straight up jazz, and a whole pile of other music; weird and wonderful. 

There was, in fact, one time that I did get up on stage and sing karaoke. I thought sure that I had told this story before but I can’t find it in any of my blogs. It may be in the unfinished book that I’ve not worked on in a while. 

The boarding house, courtesy of Google Maps

I was living in a boarding house in Bay City, Mi where I had found my first “escape” boat. There were a whole cast of characters in the house and one of them, as near an Irish Traveler as I’ve ever met, convinced me to go out one night. We ended up in a neighborhood bar on the north side of the river; the White Goose Inn, I think. My friend was desperately trying to impress a woman; I think he had arranged to meet her. But that very woman spent most of the night explaining to me why she had to cut herself to feel alive and showing off the little scars on her upper arm; like weird sergeant stripes or scratches from some B movie monster. The Traveler had been relegated to talking with the cutter’s reticent and humorless friend. He and I each had reluctant conversations over the din of karaoke. We both probably drank more than necessary to dilute the strangeness of the night. I barely remember getting up on stage to sing a Brooks and Dunn duet with my housemate. At some point, we each concluded that we should just head home and leave the cutter and her grumpy friend where they sat at the bar. 

In the morning when I stumbled down to the kitchen, somewhat hungover, there was an important looking summit going on. One of the guys in the house lived in a room just off the kitchen. He was a strange bird, but seemed to work very hard; cleaning and waxing the floors at the local Kroger five or six nights a week. When he had returned home that morning, one of his guitars and a pile of cash, meant to pay his next rent, were missing – and the Traveler was long gone. The other guys in the kitchen wanted to know everything that I knew about the missing housemate. I didn’t actually know much and wasn’t even sure why I had agreed to go out drinking with him. The floor guy related sadly that he had just shown off his guitars to the Traveler and might have absentmindedly revealed his rent stash by adding a twenty dollar bill to the pile as he spoke to our missing friend. He held no malice toward me, but I was the last guy to have been seen with the Traveler and thus had been slightly stained by association in some of my housemates’ opinion.


The salt marshes northeast of Jax

Summer Wind returned to my life last week in the form of a boat. As I entered the St. John’s River from the ICW, headed north, a boat called from behind to let me know he was going to overtake me and pass on my port side. The captain and his wife waved enthusiastically from deep under their bimini as they went by. That boat was the Summer Wind, from Clinton Township, outside Detroit, back ‘home’ in Michigan. The boat was a low-slung powerboat of a decent size with an inflatable stowed sideways up against the transom. It was getting toward the end of the day and I was aiming to reach a particular anchorage. When the Summer Wind and another sailboat turned to continue up the river toward Jacksonville, I was took some comfort. I was crossing the river to reenter the ICW at Sister’s Creek. As those other boats headed west, that meant that there were two less boats competing for whatever space was left in the anchorages ahead.

Inside Sister’s Creek there were a couple boat ramps and a free dock. It was Saturday evening and lots of boats were racing back to the ramps to haul out and go home. In contrast to the urban ICW south of the river, I was back in the wilderness. There were scattered clumps of trees on little hammocks and seagrass in every direction. Once I was far enough away from the traffic near the ramps, I began to enjoy the peace of wilderness again. 

And then my radio crackled to life. It was Summer Wind. 

“We got lost, so I’m passing you again.”  

“No worries,” I replied. 

Very soon after passing me, the Summer Wind turned up the Fort George River. I just had the inkling that he would have wanted to continue on toward Fernandina Beach where I was headed. However, I checked my chart and there was a marina, and a couple anchorages down that way. I wondered what his wife was thinking as I again continued past another turn they had just made. He wasn’t my responsibility anyway, so I carried on. In the fading daylight, I was pushing to the farthest anchorage I thought I could reach. 

A half mile later, I passed the two ends of an oxbow created when the channel was cut through. The next wide spot was where Broward Creek flowed into the channel and that was my anchorage. The radio crackled again. Summer Wind was calling a Pan Pan (one step down from Mayday), they were aground somewhere down the Fort George River. The Coast Guard quickly answered and asked if they were alright. With no one in danger, the Coastie asked if Summer Wind had commercial tow coverage.  

“Yeah, but I’d rather not use it,” came the bizarrely naive reply. 

I was beginning to understand that Summer Wind’s captain was not an experienced boater. As I approached my anchorage and circled around before dropping my hook, the Coast Guard and Summer Wind were having a strange, and even strained, conversation. I was trying to ignore them until I got anchored.

As I started prepping my supper, the Coast Guard was calling after Summer Wind who was not answering. I was a bit shocked that they would just ignore the Coasties, but I think it confirms their lack of experience; lack of seamanship for sure. A while later – honestly, I don’t remember if it was that evening as it grew dark or the next morning – a boat slowly made its way past Ruth Ann and me with an engine that sounded half defeated. There was a dinghy hanging strangely off the transom and I think it was Summer Wind, but I couldn’t see the boat name and they didn’t call again. Regret and frustration hung in the air like a fog. I have a feeling that the captain had roared back and forth until he got his boat free, and may have done some damage to his drivetrain; let alone to the poor flora and fauna underneath wherever he had grounded his boat. I never saw nor heard from the Summer Wind again. 

Fernandina Mooring

The next morning, with a bald eagle supervising me majestically, I hauled the anchor and finished the last few hours of motoring to Fernandina Beach. There I spent a couple nights on a mooring ball for the convenience of getting back and forth to shore. It was from the Fernandina Harbour mooring field that I picked up my new dinghy and gave away the deflatable. My new life rowing a hard dinghy rather than messing with an inflatable and an outboard has been liberating. I love my new little boat. 

My Eagle Friend

Besides picking up my dinghy, I did some laundry, had a hot shower, and got some provisions there. On the third day, I headed back down toward Jacksonville and Green Cove Springs. I have some bureaucratic chores and a few boat projects to do. GCS is the home of my mail service, my permanent mailing address for many years, and soon to be my official domicile. I’m getting a Florida Drivers License and registering the boat here. 

Retracing my route back toward Jacksonville, I couldn’t help but think about the Summer Wind and her poor captain. I’ve made up a whole story about him, his wife, and his boat. My story is a generalization of course, but I’ve met plenty of men like my vision of him. A man like that might never recover from embarrassing himself in front of his wife. There’s a better than even chance that they will sell the boat in a few months and head back to Michigan never to speak of boats or rivers again. 

Or they might have gotten good and drunk in Fernandina, and blown off enough steam to have called a mechanic in order to carry on; perhaps a bit wiser or more humble. 

As I passed the stretch of water where I had last seen the poor captain’s boat, I couldn’t help myself. I searched up “Summer Wind” by ol’ Frank on Google Music, connected my good Bluetooth speaker, cranked it up, and bellowed along as Ruth Ann and I covered the last few miles of Sister’s Creek. 

“The summer wind

was blowin’ in, 

from across the sea.”  

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Thursday, May 18, 2023

The Newest Member of the Fam

My love/hate relationship with my inflatable dinghy had turned to mostly hate. I was having to inflate it every morning and even after going ashore, I’d often have to blow it up some more before going back out to Ruth Ann. In addition, I didn’t feel comfortable leaving the outboard on the dinghy too long in case it lost enough air to risk sinking. Plus it was so damn heavy, it was hard to move around. I would end up leaving it in the water and after 10 or 12 days I’d have a couple hours of work to remove the barnacles. 

And then the outboard stopped wanting to cooperate. 

The ‘deflatable,’ as I had come to call it, was a 9.5’ Achilles dinghy; a great little tender. I bought her from a Canadian couple in Ft. Pierce about 7 years ago. A captain I had crewed for and myself had ended up in the same marina and he brought the Canadians to me saying “This is a great deal. You should buy this.” So I did. 

The Achilles had an aluminum slat floor so that it could be rolled up when deflated. But that floor was incredibly heavy. Also, the aluminum had already started to corrode when I bought it. Several years in storage while I worked on my last two boats probably didn’t do the floor any good. The ends of the slats get tucked under the port and starboard tubes when the tender is all blown up. This put the jagged corroded ends of the slats dangerously close to the skin. I had had the Achilles blown up in the boatyard in NC last fall, but it was January before it was unrolled and inflated for use on the water. In the process, two air leaks had developed; one each port and starboard. The proper kit to repair an air leak in a hypalon inflatable is pretty expensive and my budget has been squeaky tight for most of the beginning of this year. 

From the Spindrift Webpage

I started looking around for some options. I looked at dinghies and kayaks on Craigslist and on Facebook Marketplace. I knew I was headed up toward Jacksonville, so I was looking around here.  I also looked at buying plans to build my own. The best part about D.I.Y. building a dinghy is the option of building a nesting dinghy. Nesting dinghies come apart and store in a small bundle with the bow section inside the aft section. But nesting dinghies are unique to cruisers and there is no market. No one makes and sells a nesting dinghy. I actually bought the plans for one dinghy and then found a better version but hadn’t bought those plans yet. That better version was called a Spindrift and the plans came in four sizes. Nevertheless, a Spindrift build would take nearly $3000 in materials alone.

In the last week or so, I had found a Glen-L 8 Ball dinghy on Marketplace. Glen-L is a boat plans business that was a mainstay since the 1950s in the classified ads of Popular Mechanics, Wooden Boat Magazine, the Small Boat Journal, etc. It was not a nesting dinghy but at eight foot long it would just fit onto Ruth Ann’s bow. The seller said that it had been his childhood boat and was “mid-refinishing.” I have done enough boatwork that ‘mid-refinishing’ was not a red flag, but it made me curious. The downside would be that I’d have to find a space where I could finish the refinishing. That would mean renting some space somewhere, somehow. Ruth Ann would also have to be kept somewhere. An ideal solution would be a dock or a mooring at a boatyard where I could keep Ruth Ann while working on the 8 Ball. But now the unknowns were starting to add up to an unknown cost. The 8 Ball was only $500 and I was researching my options for space. If I built something like a Spindrift, I’d need to find some space for that as well; likely for a longer period of time. Plus, my budget was still squeaky tight. I had no near term solution for financing any of those projects, but I was going through repair kits and had already worn one air pump out. The Achilles was like an unreliable car and it frustrated me on a daily basis. If it suddenly went completely bad, I’d have no way to get ashore; no way to get groceries. 

And then Dad decided to send all us kids a check as a gift/distribution from the estate/funds that he and Mom had saved up over the years. I suddenly had some options. Thanks, Dad!

I went back to the Marketplace ad for the 8 Ball and noticed a line at the end that said “Currently located in Myrtle Beach.” What!?! I don’t know if I had missed that before or if it was new information. Facebook had served up the ad while I was looking inside a 25 mile radius around Jacksonville. I messaged the seller to ask and he said “Yes, I’ve relocated.” I still don’t know if that had just happened or what. His seller profile shows a bunch of boat stuff that had sold, that was located in Jacksonville. His About Info on Facebook still shows that he works in Chicago(!), so who knows when …

I told him that I would be passing through Myrtle in several weeks and I would check to see if the 8 Ball was still available then and went back to my search. 

There were lots of kayaks for sale around Jacksonville, but Jacksonville is a large place and I don’t have a car. I might be able to get someone to deliver their kayak, but that added another wrinkle to the process.  I went back to the Jacksonville Craiglist to check for a dinghy again. Right at the top of the search results was a boat I had seen before. The cover photo was a wide shot of the side of the boat and it looked large. It also looked like a dinghy racing boat, not a tender dinghy. There are many classes, called one design racing, where people all race the same model of a small boat. Those boats are often called dinghies as well. I had seen that same ad at the top for days while I was searching. It just didn’t look like the kind of boat I was looking for so I hadn’t really ‘looked.’ On Thursday last week, for some reason, my eyes slowed down just enough to ‘see.’  

Spindrift! Wait … what! 

The dinghy I had been ignoring was a Spindrift; my best case possibility. What!?!  

I clicked on the ad to learn that not only was this pretty little boat a Spindrift, it was a nesting version of the Spindrift and it was already built. The price on that boat was about 2/3 the cost of materials! I tried to call, but got no answer so I sent an email.  

This was the day I was leaving New Smyrna Beach. I had intended to go out the Ponce Inlet and sail up to Jacksonville. In fact, I had told the seller that I might be out of phone signal for a few days but that I was very interested. If you saw my social media post last week, as I was headed out the sketchy, narrow inlet, a dredge ship did a couple U-turns right in front of me with no warning, no hornblasts, no radio announcement or anything. As I was turning around and heading up the ICW, away from the dancing dredge, my phone, down inside Ruth Ann, was ringing. 

Well, they’re just going to have to wait, I grumbled to myself as I watched the buoys and markers ahead and piloted my way out of one channel and into the ICW. 

Then I remembered that I had left a message for the Spindrift seller! I set the autopilot and dove below to recover my phone.  

I indeed had a pleasant voicemail from Don, the builder/seller of the Spindrift. Leaving Audrey, the autopilot, in charge, I stepped forward of the dodger to get out of the engine noise in the cockpit. I sat on the starboard side of Ruth Ann’s cabin and called the seller back. I gave him a brief description of the dredge in the inlet and we talked about the Spindrift. It was still available. He had a guy coming to look at it on Wednesday, but “he’s kind of a jerk and I don’t really want to sell it to him.” 

“Do you do Paypal?” I asked, “I’ll send you the money right now if we can do the deal.”  I could hardly contain my excitement or keep from talking too fast. 

“Sure,” he said. And we made the deal. 

I returned to the cockpit where I could keep a better eye on the channel and the traffic. With the autopilot minding the wheel, I transferred some money with my credit union’s app and as soon as Don emailed me his Paypal address, I sent him the money and changed course for Fernandina. I had just bought my dream dinghy. This was going to be life-changing. 

It took me three days to get all the way here, and I could hardly stand it. I started working on the project in my head. Don’s Spindrift was the 11. I probably would have built the 9 foot version if I had built one myself. The Spindrift 11 is a lot of boat for Ruth Ann, but because it comes apart and nests together, it takes up less space on deck than the 8 Ball would have. I did have a slight panic when I started thinking about all the dinghy components that I’ll have to store. It was too late to do anything but sally forth because I had already sent the money. I had lots of time to think as I gurgled up the ICW. This was almost exactly the dinghy I had always wanted. Just get it done.


The Spindrift has a sail rig, so I can sail her in addition to rowing. I will no longer use an outboard. My experience over the last several months living on the water confirms that I can live without an outboard. There will be compromises; there always are in boats as well as in life. There might be a few days now and then when I can’t go ashore because of the weather. There might be areas where I can’t stop because it would be such a long trip ashore (but only in the most unusual wind conditions). 

I met Don this afternoon here in Fernandina Beach. He delivered the Spindrift right to the marina where I got a mooring ball earlier. We slid the boat out of the back of his pickup, he wished me well, and was off. I sent him the straight amount in Paypal and told him that I would cover the fees when I saw him. He wasn’t worried about it and might have had some family commitments on Mothers Day. The sail for the dinghy is being made up on Cape Cod and won’t be available until June. I’m headed down to Green Cove Springs to do some bureaucratic chores and some boat projects. I’ll likely just stop here on my way up north to pick up the sail. Don is supposed to email me his address so I can cover his Paypal fees, but otherwise I’ll do it when I return for the sail. 

The main feature is that the Spindrift will split into two pieces and store in a small space. Moreover, because the boat is light and easy to move the two pieces around, I'll be able to bring her on deck at night not only for security's sake but also to prevent barnacles from having time to grab on. Way less clean up! 

So far, I love the way she rows! The hull is a very efficient V-bottom shape and the oars are proper rowing oars. The sailing rig includes a daggerboard, rudder, and boom as well as a mast which comes apart into three sections for ease of storage. ‘Ease of storage’ is a thing because Ruth Ann is a small boat. However, while sailing up here I developed a plan. I’m going to lay in a supply of Starboard or similar material to make some chocks that the nested dinghy will fit into when tied down. Speaking of ‘tied down,’ I will add some padeyes near the chocks to securely and tightly tie her down. I will also fabricate some similar individual chocks to tie down the two oars, the three mast sections, and the boom. These parts will stow parallel with the boat along the cabin roof. The rudder and the daggerboard will fit into the port cockpit lazarette where the inflatable thwarts and oars were stored.

Speaking of the inflatable … err, deflatable ... I’ve already given it away. In the next few weeks, I’ll either tune up my outboard and try to sell it  …  or punt and give it away as well. 

I am so excited to have eliminated a fossil fuel powered mode of transportation. I’ll probably always have the diesel auxiliary engine inside Ruth Ann, but now it is no longer necessary to also buy and store gasoline for the dinghy outboard. 

I can’t wait to sail the Spindrift. Even in the Bahamas where it might be a couple miles from an anchorage to a settlement or a good bar, in all but the most inclement weather, I will be able to sail ashore from Ruth Ann and back out again. 

Life is so damn good. Speaking of good: I'd still rather be lucky than good. 

Tonight behind Ruth Ann

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