Sunday, March 28, 2010

Thrash and thrash again

The big news of the weekend is no news from Cape Cod. Baby Michael, grand baby #4, is due any minute but he is keeping Mom, Dad and the rest of us cooling our heels for now. Rest assured, even when thrashing on the boat, cell phones are kept close at hand.

And thrash we did. Deb power-washed the bottom of the hull and then disassembled the head faucet. (That thing is outrageously expensive for something made out of plastic parts. One would think it had "Cessna" stamped on it somewhere!) I worked on the cabin top, sea-hood, companionway hatch and sliders. When Deb got done doing what she was doing the boat looked a lot better. When I got done doing what I was doing the boat looked exactly the same as it had when I started. Ah well, at least the hatch works better now.

We came home last night. Some of our projects are waiting on parts while others are waiting on weather. Headliner glue and bottom paint need warm and dry, which were in short supply this weekend. (The cold and wind made Deb's task with the power-washer the toughest duty of the weekend.) But this morning some other stuff we had on order showed up. I spent an enjoyable afternoon with a Docto,cutting wheel and drill motor making dust and shinny new interior side panels for the V-berth and cabin.

(Never underestimate the joy to be found in a compressor and a drawer full of air tools! Sometimes I think I should have stayed in the shop and out of the cockpit. I have to admit though, generally they pay pilots better than they pay mechanics, and mechanics work a lot harder. I wonder, can you fit an air compressor on a 38' live-aboard?)

Friday afternoon I had a chance to go sailing for an hour or so with Schmitty, Anna, and Berry on Schmitty's "Alcestis." While it was so good to be back on the water, I was dressed for doing manual labor while shielded from the north east wind. By the time we picked up the dock lines my teeth were chattering hard enough to test the new crown I got put in last week! Still, one should never pass up a chance to go sailing.

I have to admit it is a bit odd to be working so hard on Nomad driven mainly by the idea of selling her. Not right away of course. It will (probably) be a year at least. And when we do sell her it will be to move off the land and onto a bigger, more capable boat, to start our full-time sailing adventure. (Keeping in mind, that is our plan. One should not make too many assumptions about what life will bring.) All this thrashing has brought up a bit of a new concern for me as well.

I knew nothing at all about sailboats when we bought Nomad, but I would not have guessed at the kinds of things we have found to repair / upgrade / replace; and she is a 1986, factory boat that has spent her whole life in fresh water. Given the amount of work needed just to keep her (or get her) in the shape I find acceptable, just how much work would be involved in an early 1980's salt water boat? (The kind that looks like will best fit our budget.) If we buy such a boat as our home will we spend a year in the yard, spending money like mad, trying to make it into something we feel secure living on? Should we move "age" up near the top of the list of things to consider? Quality of maintenance, not year of manufacture, is what is important when it comes to airplanes. I am sure the same is true of boats. But I can look at an airplane and its maintenance logs and get a good feel for what shape the machine is in. (A skill that didn't keep me from taking a job flying a Poppa-Oscar-Sierra Citation V! A plane, by the way, that spent much of its life near salt water...which didn't help its Poppa-Oscar-Sierra status at all.) Given the harsh environment endured by a salt-water boat, and the complete lack of formalized maintenance records, I'm starting to see age as a potentially serious problem.

I'm simply going to ignore things like Mickey-Mouse wiring, plastic faucets that cost a fortune, self-tapping screws chewing the snot out of parts everywhere I look, and cheap hose clamps keeping water out of the boat. I'm not sure how such things got into boats in the first place, but they can all be replaced as necessary. Things like companionway hatches that simply drag across the the cabin top, fiberglass to fiberglass, do kind of baffle me. I expect that kind of "engineering" on a child's toy, but can you imagine a car where the door ground the paint off the roof every time it was opened? K.I.S.S. has its good points, but sometimes I think boat manufacturers take it a bit too far.

Anyway, more thrashing to come with bottom paint and interior install now near the top of the list.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The what and the why

There is no way to avoid it, we spend a lot of hours working on little Nomad. Much of the work is pretty serious stuff, engine cooling systems, electrical charging systems, bottom paint, re-bedding life line supports and bow pulpits; the kind of stuff that makes the boat work better and sailing her safer. (Though I tend to play it down a bit, it is possible to get seriously hurt on any sailboat, even on our little lake.) Jobs like replacing the step carpet, water damaged and moldy side panels, head hoses, and headliner, keep her cleaner and dryer and a more healthy place to spend one's days. New interior lights make her cabin that much more inviting. And all that teak work? That just makes her pretty.

We spend a lot of hours working on the boat, but not near as many hours as we spend working at jobs to support the boat, and the house, and cars and bikes... We enjoy all of those things but sometimes I wonder about the "degrees of separation" between what I am doing and why I am doing it. When I work on the boat there is no separation at all between the what and the why. My hands are in direct contact with my goal, get the boat in the water and enhance my experience of living on her for the weekends. When I'm at work, sometimes, I am not at all sure just what I am doing sitting at this desk, and I sure as stink sometimes wonder why.

Living on a boat, I imagine, is not the only way to have such an intimate connection with a life. A farmer might pull it off, a rancher, maybe a mountain man. But I have never been any good at making things grow, I don't really care for animals, (particularly ones that are much larger than I am and can kick me into next week) and there are no mountain men any more. I do machines, and have a killer case of wanderlust. At the end of a "boat-work" day I can pour a Rum & Coke and sit right down in the middle of what I got done that day. And then, if I want, I can pull up an anchor and head off somewhere else. (Unless we are on the hard!)

I suspect I am more than a little out of step with my world. From our first days at school we are taught to find our place in a complex society where the bit we learn to do can be added to the bit someone else has learned to do, all the bits added together, run through an even more complex medium of exchange and distribution, and somehow it adds up that most of us can pay to have a roof over our head and food on the table. It works pretty well too, modern society taking better care of more people than at any time in all of history. (Well, recent history might be an exception. The bits aren't adding up as well as they used to.)

But sometimes my bit doesn't seem to make a lot of sense, and how all the bits add up to credit card bills and house payments, a little vague. The bit I do this morning will be forgotten by lunch, the bit this afternoon lost in the haze before the drive home ends. Come evening I am not exactly sure what I spent the hours doing, or why it was worth one of my allotted days. In fact I can't think of anyone, anymore, who works for the shear joy of doing what they do. And that may be the saddest thought I have had in a while.

But it also explains my fascination with working on Nomad. I love working on our little boat, and not just to get her back in the water. I enjoy making her work a little better and look a little nicer. And when she does splash and make her way into the lake once again, she will be a tiny spec of form, function and joy moving across the water. In fact, I am of the opinion that every boat that hoists sails makes that day a better day. In the scales of the world having a good day or a bad one, a set of sails pulling hard in the breeze offsets a lot of ugly.

30 Hours of sweat and smiles

It has been a bit slow in my little part of the aviation world so I headed out to the marina Friday after lunch. It seemed reasonable to get a jump on the project list before the forecast rain, wind and cold moved in for the weekend. I expected nothing more than a pleasent "work weekend" so pulling into the marina and finding various friends in full party prep was a pleasant surprise. I went to thrashing on little Nomad for the afternoon. But when Deb arrived after her workday tools were laid aside and we joined the assembled. One of the marina's favorite families was celebrating a combination 12th birthday for a daughter and 27th anniversary for Mom and Dad. (Fortunately I had tossed an unopened bottle of The Captain into my bag and was able to offer my bit for the party.)

Dinner consumed we loaded chairs, coolers and sundry support material onto a trailer towed behind a equally laden pickup truck, and headed off for an impromptu bonfire. A bunch of us sat in the chairs, on the trailer, for the ride. (Please keep hands and feet...) Work the State has been doing at the park produced a huge pile of brush and somehow we had permission to set said pile on fire. (At least someone claimed we had permission from somewhere, which was good enough to this bunch of fun loving pyromaniacs. Besides, the group includes a working Fire Chief from one of the nearby towns...we were covered.)

Drinks provisioned and chairs set to windward various small flames were applied around the perimeter. Within minutes the largest fire I have ever seen that didn't involve sirens, flashing lights and hard working fireman, filled the night sky like some kind of erupting, baby volcano. It was impressive. (And is probably still burning.) The tales, laughter, stories, and general levity one would expect when a group of friends gathered for the first time after a long, cold winter, filled the night. There was even the occasional Tom-foolery as a chorus line of the slightly inebriated tried to kick a giant tree trunk back into the flames. (A effort doomed to failure, the line driven back by the intense infra-red saturating exposed skin.) The first ad-hoc party of the new sailing season could only be described as a roaring success.

Around midnight most of the revelers had disappeared into various boats, bunks and campers. With Nomad's interior being far from inhabitable Deb and I crashed on the clubhouse floor. This morning work resumed and, added to what I got done yesterday, several items were knocked off our list. The interior steps are back in place and look pretty good (if I do say so myself). Steps for the swim ladder have been mounted as well, which turned out to be a real job. The original plan of mounting the steps with self-tapping screws was abandoned when the ladder stripped the hardened steel threads off the first screw I tried to install. Who knew boat swim ladders were made of such tuff stuff? Measuring, drilling and burring 12 holes to mount 3 steps ended up taking hours and costing several shattered drill bits. Once the holes had been drilled each screw had to be cut to just the right length to take an acorn nut; sharp bits of steel hanging underwater to slash bare tootsies striking me as a bad idea. It got done though, and coming dips in the lake to counter summertime sweltering temps will no longer require risking a broken leg to get back on board.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Boat parts go on...

...and boat parts come off.

Schmitty, (our world class marina manager) had a busy week. We noticed last weekend that someone had painted a dashed white line from the road to the bath house, under the bows of Nomad's row of boats. The great State of Illinois (apparently spending some stimulus money) is laying new sewer lines in the campground. The white lines on the ground suggested that the marina bath houses might be included in the new plumbing. Indeed they are, but the State waits not for sailing season and a whole row of boats sat in the way of progress. With digging due to start tomorrow they all had to be moved, cradles, ladders, anchors and all. It was a pleasant surprise to find that little Nomad now sits right in front of the marina's work shop. (Never underestimate friends in high places, thanks Schmitty!)

Which helped the work go a bit easier today. Spring has apparently taken a "spring break" of its own. Though it isn't really winter again, with drizzle, a stiff breeze and temps in the mid 40s, the marina would not make any one's "places to go" list this weekend. It certainly wasn't the best of days to be working outside, but I really wanted to see some parts go back on the boat. We fumbled a bit with gloved hands and cold fingers and I made a few extra trips up and down the ladder to pick up dropped washers and assorted bits. When she wasn't up in the V-berth helping mount the bow pulpit, Deb started pulling the carpet off the steps in the companionway. The plan was to install some non-skid and get rid of the old, smelly, dirt encrusted fabric. But with the carpet removed the steps were just too trashed to leave in place, so...boat parts come off. The steps have taken the place of the bow sprit in the shop, next to go under the palm sander.

Still, little Nomad looks a little less like some forlorn project boat now that her bow sprit and pulpit are back in place. With new mica backing plates (cut on Barry's band saw located in the warmer shop, thanks Barry) under the bow pulpit stanchions to help spread the load, she may even be a bit better than factory. And, since the mica came from the toolbox of a friend who works on the jet, (thanks Randy!) with aircraft quality mica under her deck, Nomad will probably be a little faster as well, don't you think?

While up on the bow bolting some bolts, a marina friend wandered by (Deb and I weren't the only people working in the drizzle) to ask when the boat would be for sale. Apparently word has gotten around that we hope to have both the boat and the house ready for market by the end of this year. "Maybe next spring," we told him. He kind of smiled, "So many people talk about going, but you two are actually doing it."

It is a nice thought but I had to remind him that we haven't left yet. It is a plan. It is a plan we are working hard at seeing through. But so far it is still just a plan. I am a firm believer in working hard for a goal. I know well that without a vision nothing of value ever happens. But vision and work cannot account for everything, it also takes a little luck. And so far, Deb and I have been pretty lucky.

After all, some boat parts did go back on today.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Boat Work Take II

...and two airplanes. (See below.) Deb forgot the two airplanes in the "35 years worth of things we have done." Those two airplanes taught me a very valuable lesson, boats are NOT the most expensive things to have around. After kids and airplanes, boats can rank no higher than #3.

Of course we don't have kids at home anymore, and the airplanes are long, long

Nomad is still shedding parts like a dog shedding its winter coat. The bow pulpit and wood insert for the bowsprit came off this past weekend. The pulpit ended up stashed in the cockpit, (it doesn't fit in the Z). The bowsprit is sitting on the sawhorses in the shop awaiting its turn to go under the palm sander. Gotta get that done this week so the reinforced pulpit can go back on, which has to happen before the headliner can go back up, which has to happen before the V-berth and settee side panels can go back in. A Giant 3-D jigsaw puzzle, that's what Nomad is at the moment!

There is one item less on the "to-do-before-we-go-back-in-the-water" list, the rubrails have been pulled, the hull / deck seam inspected and repaired as required, and everything has been put back together with a nice coat of tire shine on the rubber rubrails. (Life is too short to sail an ugly boat!) All in all it took most of 3 days worth of effort to fix what needed to be fixed, clean what needed to be cleaned, seal what needed to be sealed, and put it all back together. And that was on a job I thought was going to be a "quick and easy" kind of thing. Goes to show what I know about boat work.

While I made endless trips up and down the ladder, Deb settled underneath the boat and started to work on the bottom. Hers was an ugly day full of dust, awkward positions, and overhead reaches. As usual she just kept at it and, by the time the day was over, Nomad had shed most of the scuz accumulated by sitting in the water for a couple of years.

It is an absolute joy to be back at the marina, which is slowly shedding the deep freeze slumber of the past few months and showing signs of life. Several boats are undergoing ministrations at the hands of owners and crews. People come and go, tools and parts are swapped and borrowed as needed, and the dredge is digging the bottom out of the marina. Soon, (but not soon enough) Nomad will be back in her slip and our normal, weekend address once again.

March 8, 1975

On this day 35 years ago I was a lot colder. It was blustery and gray and 36 degrees, not the 56 it was today. How do I remember this? Because 35 years ago today I was walking down the aisle in my "hippy" wedding dress, complete with fresh daisies in my hair. No one thought we would make it, and in fact, were quite vocal about announcing it, but alas 35 years and we are still at it.

It's been a grand adventure. 3 kids, 5 grandkids, 17 houses, more jobs than I can count (and I mean that literally - I tried and failed), one serious car accident, multitudinous pets, umpteen motorcycles, and one sailboat later we are still dreaming and planning and working hard to a goal. That is, after all, the secret to our success. We are best friends who would rather spend time with each other than anyone else, and we always have a dream. I can absolutely not think of another person I would rather share it with than this man who 35 years ago today looked at me and said "I do."

Happy Anniversary T-bo.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Point

In sailing stories, blogs, books, magazine articles, or any other dictum of the Old Salt, The Point is an inevitable chapter of discussion.  Rounding a point in sailing usually involves weather, currents, wind, nasty underwater obstructions,weather,currents, and did I say weather?  New sailors approach these points with a mixture of excitement and some trepidation, checking and re-checking charts and instruments, eyes riveted to the water looking for the errant rock rising up out of the waves. Once round, though, a transition takes place, the moment of apprehension washing away with the water rushing by the hull and in its place is a burgeoning boost of self confidence, determination, pride, and the solid assurance of doing what one was meant to do. 

We're approaching that point, maybe even alongside it.  We've left the endless days of examining every type of boat that exists, through sailing magazines, boat shows and the ever-present  We've now settled on just a couple, maybe three, that fit most of the requirements we want the boat to meet.  More importantly, we've set a goal to have the house and the boat both ready to sell by the end of the year.  All sorts of projects are underway as a result, the bathroom grout is being dug out and replaced, the back door is being replaced, the kitchen floor is going to be re-tiled in a month or two, and as Tim has mentioned in his recent posts, Nomad is in a temporary state of disrepair as she gets a new headliner and some new side panels and a freshly overhauled prop and fresh bottom paint and new lifelines...

I'm standing on the bow of our adventure with my eyes peeled for anything that might pop up and put a halt to our journey, ready to steer around it.  I'm ready to round Point Dream.