Friday, November 24, 2017

Light at the end of the tunnel...

The sails are on Kintala. The Ding is in the water though, unfortunately, sans engine. The little Merc suffered a shifter failure, it seizing up completely in the Florida heat and humidity. That little motor really has proven to be a miserable bit of equipment, difficult to keep running at idle and prone to failures of the fuel valve, carburetor, and now, shifter. There doesn’t seem to be a cost effective option so we will continue to do the best we can with what we have.

Florida weather has finally given way to something other than brutal heat and humidity. The constant roar of air conditioning is gone with fresh air now flowing into the boat from open hatches and ports. It is remarkably delightful to lie under the covers and feel the evening or morning breeze drift by. One can stand to sit in the cockpit even after the sun has come up and, wonder of wonders, sip hot coffee! It will still be a while before we enjoy all this while riding to the anchor somewhere. Grand Baby soon-to-be-youngest is expected sometime in the next few weeks. Kintala will not be wandering anywhere until the new little one arrives and gets settled in a bit. We hope to make some weekend trips out into Tampa bay after that, spend some nights on the hook then return to our Snead Island slip for a few more weeks of work, before heading off to places south then east. It seems a long, long time since we were “cruisers” but at least it isn’t like the first time we were at Oak Harbor getting ready to set out on our maiden trip south down the ICW. In our fifth year of living on the boat, multiple trips to the Islands, three though the Keys, and now the better part of two years spent working in a boat yard; we do know our way around a little bit. This time, with departure at least on the horizon, there is very little of the “about to start on an adventure” feeling, more “getting back to where we want to be.’’

That will be weeks yet and, until then, “working on boats” is what fills the waking hours of the week. The other day a truck rolled into the yard with a new Marlow Hunter 47 in tow and parked it right off Kintala’s bow. Most of the folks around here seem to have a rather poor opinion of the breed, but it isn’t a bad looking boat and the interior is a floating Taj Mahal. About what one would expect for a boat that costs a big tick more than half a million dollars fresh from the boat show. I was strolling past it, heading for the head, when a friend made a joke and asked, “Is that your next boat?”

“Sure”, I replied. “All it takes is one modest sized lottery win.”

“You would actually buy a Hunter?”

“Why not?” I replied, much to his surprise.

Of course I probably wouldn’t buy a new Hunter, but not because it is a Hunter. I would be just as unlikely to buy a new Tartan, Beneteau, or Catalina. Horror stories from those who have bought new boats, and paid new boat prices, are pretty common. Warranties often sound like a politician’s promise, long on pretty words, short on actually doing anyone any good. My lottery money would go toward a two or three year old boat that has been used for more than weekend anchoring while having a good maintenance history. And I really wouldn’t care which manufacturer’s name was tattooed to its hide. For, regardless of who made it, it will sail just fine on a beam reach or off the wind.

How will they go to weather? The hard fact is I no longer care, for I try to do that as little as possible. It strains the rig, the ride is ugly, and it wears out the crew. If banging into the wind and waves is unavoidable, it is likely I will make like a trawler with a really tall antenna, fire up the engine, grit my teeth, and grind away until the weather improves or the anchor goes down. There are exceptions of course, those fantastic days where the wind is off the bow at just the right angle and speed, while the seas remain modest. All the sails go out, the boat heels just that artistic amount and slices through the water at 6 or 7 knots like some kind of magic carpet. On those perfect days, pretty much any boat will shine. Sure, one will point a little higher or go a little faster, but all will be a magic carpet ride and crews on any of them will be happy little campers. So how many such perfect days have we seen since leaving Oak Harbor that first time? A dozen, maybe less.

There is one pretty common design feature among new boats that I question, that of the fin keel and spade rudder combination. I know performance and handling made that call. I know that the boats should handle a modest grounding without real damage. (Run one hard onto a reef at hull speed and you are on your own, regardless,) But I still shudder at the thought of picking my way through the shallows so exposed, particularly on those boats where the rudder looks to be hanging deeper in the water than the keel.

I got into this muse because people often ask “what kind of boat is the best?" For my money, pretty much any modern boat is built, to a large degree, better than “good enough”. Handled properly and operated well, any of them will get the crew where they want to go with as much safety as the ocean gods will allow. It is the support system that are likely to drive you nuts: air conditioning, refrigerators and freezers, water makers, pumps, stoves, valves, sails, lines, and deck hardware. All of the boat manufacturers buy that equipment out of the same warehouses, and problems with those units get spread evenly throughout the fleet.

Which is why, when you ask a boat tech “which is the worst boat," he or she is likely to name the one they are currently trying to fix.

So, for now, here is a lovely photo of the sunset last evening on our way back from a Thanksgiving potluck where we got to ogle some really beautiful boats and get to know their owners, a life for which we are very thankful.


Friday, November 10, 2017

Getting away

We are in Saint Louis for a couple of weeks. It had been too long since we had seen Daughters Middle and Youngest, their collective 6 of our grand kids, other family, and friends. Modern life is what it is, and it is hard to imagine living any other way than on our floating tiny house, wandering where we can when we can. Still, the days of extended family groups / tribes living together for a string of lifetimes, generations overlapping, is an image that has its attractions. Being surrounded by kids and grand kids, involved every day in the unfolding of their lives, and having them involved as mine unfolds, is certainly a life well lived. How does that compare to the experience of a larger world, knowing and learning from people who are not “my tribe”, and seeing a little bit of life and our place in the cosmos through a different lens? It doesn't really, they are two radically different ways of living. One chooses and, whatever the choice, will always have moments of wondering if it was the right path to take.



Whenever we are back “inland” and visiting like this, there is this feeling of being reconnected, though inundated might be an equally good description. Living on the boat, particularly when we are working like we are, is very much an ascetic lifestyle. Creature comforts are few, accented by times of outright discomfort when the weather turns foul. Lightning, when it is around, is a real and present danger. Kintala recently escaped a strike only because the boat next to her has a mast several feet taller. We walk to the bathhouse rain or shine, day or night. And I work outside, pretty much regardless of what the weather is doing. We are even more exposed to “outside” when riding to an anchor or mooring ball.

Here, in the city, we go outside, but we don't live there. “Outside” plays across the front windows like a sport’s show on bar TV. Some color and motion but no one is really paying any attention. Phase of the moon, state of the tide, time of sunrise, sunset, moon rise and moon set, all unknown and unimportant. And I mean really unimportant. None have any effect at all on the lives being led. Days go by and no one cares if it is hot or cold, raining or blazing sun, with winds topping 30 knots or it being dead calm.

There are many, perhaps a majority, who see that as one of the most positive things of modern life. We have conquered nature, made ourselves comfortable from her shenanigans except for the most extreme examples. That used to sound right, but I don’t know that I lean that way any more.

Occasionally, I drop by John Michael Greer's blog. His is an interesting take on the universe and, as a result, I have spent a little time reading up on the mythology. It turns out that living on the boat, close to nature, with a lot of time spent in the cockpit breathing deeply of the natural world we find while riding to anchor, all sounds very like his descriptions of Druid meditations. They take the idea of magic a bit more literally than seems likely to be true. But is it really that far removed from the impulse to petition a deity to do something or other? (These days those so inclined always seem to call on the deity after the hurricane strikes or the terrorist attacks, which seems a bit backward.)

I also wonder if the Druid's magic, or that of any other mythical ideology, is actually pretty closely related to those moments that brush by while standing watch far from land on a star filled night. Maybe, if one looks at it from the other side (so to speak), “magic” isn’t a matter of us changing something that is going on in the cosmos to our liking. It could be that "magic" is allowing the goings on of the cosmos to change us, shaping our journey here to be useful and eternal. Perhaps the reason the modern world is so lacking in wisdom is that we have cut ourselves off from the source, from the cathedral of the cosmos that is the foundation of our being.

In any case, getting away for us also means coming home. And leaving here will mean going home. There is something pretty special about that, something I haven’t fully grasped.

Maybe, someday, I will.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Of Faeries, Foliage, Fires and Friends

If you've never lived on a boat or gone cruising, you might wonder why we might sometimes need a vacation from the boat. "You're already vacationing in Paradise - how could you possibly need a vacation?" is a question we receive on occasion. But daily life on a boat is a special kind of intensity that you can't imagine unless you've been there, and everyone there needs a break once in a while, a reset of sorts. The past few months have left us deeply fatigued, with the heat and the political climate and the devastation the storms rendered on some of our favorite cruising grounds. We have a significant need of one of those resets to get us out of the funk. Ours came in the form of family visits to two of our three girls and six of our soon-to-be ten grandchildren in St. Louis.
This visit was scheduled apart from any holiday in an attempt to be back to the boat before grandchild #10 was born in December and also to hopefully avoid the holiday gift that keeps on giving in the form of the latest flu virus. It just happened to coincide with the turning of the leaves and, while it was a bit nippy for thin-blooded Florida travelers, offered many sunny days to walk to parks and play outside.

The first visit to the park was with our St. Charles granddaughter. After spending some time on the playground, we ventured along the path and found a colorfully painted rock hidden in a dip in the bark of a fallen tree. It turns out that there is a new fad of hiding rocks with pretty pictures and happy sayings painted on them where others can stumble on them. They're called Kindness Rocks and their entire goal is to make people happy. They must be working, because my granddaughter had a big smile on her face and, soon after, found some to paint and hide herself.

The visit to our city-dwelling grandkids offered a backyard bonfire and s'mores with some neighbors, a cool night where the fire was welcome and the aroma of hickory sparked a stroll down the memory lane of camping trips. Later in the week, we had a chance to share some coffee and conversation with good friends from our early sailing days on Carlyle Lake, a conversation that lasted till we were kicked out at closing. Even though the week was packed with soccer and school, time was allowed for some walks through Tower Grove park as well as some long walks through the Flora Avenue park near their home. A few brief moments into the walk today yielded some happy squeals from the kids, who had found a Faerie house nestled in the cleft of the trunk of a rather large tree. Having been so isolated from the popular and trendy for so many months, I was unaware of the Faerie house movement, where kids and some grownups are making tiny little houses at the base of trees in parks and yards to welcome the Wee Folks and pass along a smile in the doing of it. Today on our walk we counted 34 of them in all stages of intricate and whimsical. Along the way, we enjoyed the peak of the leaf season, a pileup of leaves in which to jump, and a visit to our favorite ice cream parlor, Ices Plain and Fancy.



Tomorrow we make our way back. It will be difficult to leave the kids. Our near future plans are uncertain, the political climate shows no indication of changing, and then there's always the fact that Tim still has a couple months of work left to grind through. But we'll leave here refreshed. In addition to our bags, we carry with us a feeling of hope, a sureness that this new generation will find a way to restore life as it should be: a life full of kindness, laughter, whimsy and imagination. 






Sunday, October 22, 2017

Odd Days

When you first think about going cruising, your focus is intense.  You have a goal, a plan, and a list of things to make it all happen. If you're fortunate, like us, you're rewarded with a couple years of intensely beautiful experiences - sunsets, new friends, dolphins, manatees, and an occasional moonlit passage.

After a few years, you might find yourself stuck on a dock working to replenish the cruising kitty like we are, and things are suddenly different. You're not cruising, but you're not really landlubbers either. You're stuck in this odd, fuzzy time of endlessly hot days, feeling a bit like the floating experience when coming out of general anesthesia - one foot in each world but not fully in either one.

The past six months on the dock have been odd days like this - floating - but not focused. Days meander by, but no thought is given to where we go next. No boat projects are being done because the need to have them completed is just too far away to think about.

The last week or so, though, the weather has made a decided shift toward Fall. For the first time in months we dipped below the 90° mark for a high. The breezes have picked up, announcing the approaching cold fronts. Something smells different in the air, a hint of dry leaves (although there aren't many trees that shed them here), and an occasional sniff of a wood fire somewhere takes me back to my days in Pennsylvania where the first fire in the fireplace signaled the change of seasons. It was just enough to break me out of the fog and start me thinking about what needed to be done to Kintala before we could leave the dock.

As I sat at the nav station working on a list, I could no longer ignore the weather station that resides just under the switch panel that has been inop since Spring. A new set of batteries, a spray of contact cleaner and a few wipes with emery cloth, and the weather station sprang to life once again. It took about 30 minutes, including the removal and reinstallation, a piece of our normal cruising life reinstated. While it might seem like a ridiculously small thing, that one little thing did much to lift my mood and put a smile on my face.

If you find yourself having to stop cruising for a while to replenish the cruising kitty (and most cruisers do at some point unless they are independently wealthy), there are a few things that I've learned these past two summers and I thought I'd pass them along.

  • Nurture your dream while you're dock bound. Remember why you wanted to go cruising in the first place and find fellow cruisers to spend time with who can encourage you.
  • Enjoy the little things. For me this past summer, it's been time spent getting to know three of our nine grandchildren. In the past few years we've only visited occasionally and there is no substitute for the day-in, day-out contact we've experienced the last few months.
  • Find something to be thankful for every day. Your health, your friends, your supportive spouse, your home.
  • Take care of yourself. Walk, ride a bike, eat well, read a good book.
  • Connect with old friends and distant family members.
  • Get lots of sleep.
Although I'm working part time now at a sail loft in town, I'm finding a few hours here and there to start on our project list which is mercifully short this year. All of our exterior teak needs refinished, our wind instrument needs repaired or replaced, our head plumbing needs the addition of a system to empty the holding tank at sea, and an errant leak needs chased down that dared to mar my new headliner from last summer's project list. These projects will be tackled while we await grandchild #10, due in mid-December, after which we'll start creating the possible routes to wherever we end up going this cruising season, a lot of which will be dependent on the condition of marinas along the way.

For now, here's a hodge podge of photos from the last few weeks, glimpses of sunlight through the fog.

A sail I'm restitching at my part time job with Sunrise Sails Plus. It's off a 65 foot ketch rig.


There's always time to climb a tree around here.

He was pretty happy with this coconut which he rescued from the water just outside the marina.
















About half of the toe rail is now sanded. Next boat has metal toe rails...


The Coast Guard and Florida Fish and Wildlife have been raising these sunken boats to be hauled out and trucked away in a combined effort to clean up the local waterways. Some of them have been sunken for years, others fell prey to Irma

This was somebody's awesome power boat at some point



Cockpit time

One of the real joys of living on a boat, at least for me, is time spent sitting in the cockpit. The best cockpit time is evening and night while riding to the hook in a quiet anchorage. Mornings are good too, though I am not normally much of a morning person. The boat moves gently, pitching and rolling easy, swinging slow to light winds and changing currents. With a bit of luck dolphins or manatees will wander near while pelicans wheel by in close formation, wingtips just off the surface. If the water is clear enough to see the bottom, one has the feeling of floating above the earth and resting off the shore at the same time. After a few minutes the boat itself gets absorbed into and becomes part of the scene, then the cockpit, then its occupant. My guess is that land dwellers spend a lot of money on pharmaceuticals and counseling, or a lot of time sitting in bars or cathedrals, or all of the above, seeking just a hint of what one can find sitting in a cockpit of a sailboat, resting easily in the world.

In these parts though, there hasn’t been much cockpit time the last few months.

Except for the occasional passing hurricane / tropical storm / tornado, this summer has passed as still, hot, and humid. There was a day or two where it was just barely comfortable enough to sit in the cockpit at the end of the work day and down a cold beer. But even on those days a cool shower called and, soon enough, the insects would go looking for their evening meal. Florida can be a tough place to live in the summer when one is living this close to nature and filling the cruising kitty by working outside. Except for the time spent riding out Irma on the hard, Kintala has spent the last many months hemmed in, surrounded by pilings, with a boat tied close to her starboard side and a dull gray metal shed inches from her port side. There isn’t much to see, looking out of her ports.

This morning dawned just a bit cooler, with a breeze blowing hard enough to keep the insects grounded. Our neighbor to starboard left for a sail down to Key West, where they plan to spend a couple of days. No one has moved the shed, but it does help block the afternoon sun. If I hold my head just right, looking aft and slightly to starboard, the binnacle blocks the view of the nearest piling, it is a good several hundred feet across the basin, and the occasional pelican soars past. The local family of manatees poke their noses out of the water, blow and snort, and drift back down to the bottom to do whatever it is that manatees do to pass the time. There is no seeing the bottom and the boat moves gently right up until one of the mooring lines checks her up but, hey, I’ll take what I can get.

Though future plans are still vague, next week we will be heading out for a couple of weeks of visiting in St. Louis. The hope is that, once we return, the Florida summer will have broken enough that the air conditioning can be removed from our deck. It will be November after all. Friends north are already talking about freezing temperatures at night and daytime highs in the 50s. With the last of the hurricane season fading away (hopefully), we can bend on the sails as well. Kintala will be a sailboat once again, and Tampa Bay is just a around the corner. There is no reason we can’t spend a few weekends out there. Maybe more than a few, depending on how long we end up staying on this side of the state.

Find a little quality cockpit time.

And rest a little easier in the world.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Imps

I have an Imp in my life. She is the right size, though the bleached blonde hair and dancing blue eyes, instead of bat wings and tiny horns, tend to mask her Impish nature. However, when it comes to mischief and the determination to being the center of attention, no Imp is her better. Which makes perfect sense. Why shouldn’t a near endless flurry of pure joy, boundless curiosity, and fearless adventurism be the center of attention? A touch of the mischief just comes with the territory.

A couple of weeks ago, a small lump appeared in the middle of my Imp’s little tummy. It was coy, sometimes noticeable and sometimes not. Every adult in her life immediately moved right up to the edge of panic and hovered there. Her Doctor insisted there was no real reason to worry. Our Imp was eating and sleeping well, never complaining of feeling bad, or showing any sign of being in pain. Still, he couldn’t say what the lump was was, only what is wasn’t. And what it wasn’t was a (rather common place) hernia. He scheduled an ultrasound for several days later, allowing that it could be canceled depending on what he learned from further research and conferring with other doctors.

Ultrasounds are moderately expensive tests on toddlers, and the Imp is among the many in our country whose family can only afford health insurance that comes with a crippling high deductible. Which puts one in a weird state of mind, hoping that any looming medical bills remain as “out of pocket” expenses. Such could easily drive us into a financial hole so deep that climbing out would take several years, as happened with a cancer scare a few years ago. (One of the contributing factors to us being in Bradenton these last two summers.) But chewing through the deductible to actually get insurance support would mean entering that place from where the panic wells. Perhaps the Doctor would come up with something, and the ultrasound could be canceled.

The several days passed and the Doctor could not find any explanation for the lump that would negate the need for an ultrasound. So the Imp, accompanied by Mom, headed off to the hospital. Apparently ultrasounds are common procedures for those who ended up having reason to fear the worst. My little Imp was the healthiest one in the room. It was a thought that brought a deep ache to the heart and allowed the panic to edge in a bit closer. Why should fate smile upon those I love when so many, so deeply loved by others, dwell in the valley of the Shadow?

At the end of the test, the technician was nothing but encouraging. According to him, had the test shown anything of real concern, the radiologist overseeing the procedure would have admitted the Imp to the hospital forthwith. That she was sent home to await the diagnosis was a a positive omen. But, once again, though they got a bunch of “good” pictures no one would say for sure what this thing was, or even what it wasn’t. The panic edged away a bit, but it didn’t disappear.

Two days later came word, and the panic died. The Imp has a hernia after all, it just isn’t a very common one. Surprisingly, while spreading the good news to family, we found out my Sister was born with the exact same kind of hernia and has had it all of her life. Surgery was never required nor has the condition done her any harm. Good news made even better, but it seems there is still some room for debate. Word has it general anesthesia and invasive surgery have already been broached by the professionals.

When one climbs aboard an airplane the professionalism of those flying is assumed. There is good reason for the assumption since the crew, as the saying goes “will be the first ones in the hole.” They have skin in the game, and those in the back of the plane ride along on the crews determination to end the day in one piece. But it is difficult to make that assumption of the medical profession in the US.

Our medical industry is a profit center, not a health center. It would be far more lucrative for that industry if the Imp undergoes surgery rather than just going about her life. A stay in the hospital, specialists and drugs, doctors and nurses…what do you guess - $10,000 - $20,000? And the thing is, if something goes terribly wrong, no one in the operating room “will be the first one in the hole”. In fact, they will get paid anyway. Will they “feel bad?" Sure. They are human beings after all. But they have likely “felt bad” before, and will “feel bad” again. In the mean time they have student loans to pay off, mortgages to meet, and dinner to put on the table. American’s ratio of health care returned for dollars spent is the worst in the first world. Ours is also the only one based on making a profit rather than making people well. Are the two connected? Many insist not. Indeed, some insist that "market forces" will make for the best health care. I suspect (if you will forgive the pun) they are whistling past the grave yard.

It would be nice to think that we, as a people, have earned better than that. Maybe, much like a chain can be no stronger than its weakest link, a nation can’t rise above the level of its average collective wisdom. It is starting to look like this is the best we can do, the wisest we will ever be. This generation of America is never going to fix its health care system. We have reached the limit of our collective wisdom.

My hope is that such is a generational thing. There is a whole new generation of Imps out there. One of them owns a big part of my heart. She is fine. And my belief is she, and they, are going to be much wiser than we.

Assuming we let them live that long.