Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Magic dust

Sometimes boats and tools feels a bit like Santa and the Magic Dust. First some tools for the project are carried onto the boat. Then a few more tools get carried onto the boat, then a few more tools… (and if you get that reference you are giving away your age.) A spark chaser’s tool bag has strippers, crimpers, and cutters, with a couple of screw drivers and nut drivers. (Listed that way, it sounds a lot more interesting than it really is.) Other things in the bag, slip joint pliers, vice grips, measuring stick (rule to the lay person) and some other odds and ends get toted along but not often used.

A magic dust of a morning at Snead Island Boat Works

Then the job gets going and, what’s this - a hot wire wrapped a time or two around a fuel line? What fool did that?  Though one must admit, finding a wiring harness zip tied to fuel lines is pretty standard fare. So it's back to the golf cart for a flare nut wrench, maybe two; it being easier to undo the fuel line than splitting open a slimy harness (slime being what is left of electrical tape after a few decades deep in the damp parts of a boat). Later some holes need poked and some screws need set, so the boat gets a little more in the tool department, sniffing up drills, bits, and countersinks. Eventually, of course, the wiring harness needs split open anyway, so the valve cover bolts holding the clamps that hold the harness have to come out. This takes a ratchet, a short extension, and a socket. Hard to tell which socket though, since my calibrated eyeballs aren’t as accurate as they used to be, particularly in the dim recesses of an engine box. The bolts look to have 7/16 heads, so grab the 3/8 and 1/2 inch sockets as well and tote them to the boat. Later, the bracket holding some electrical gizmos that make timed sparks for the spark plugs needs to come off. It has bigger bolts. Maybe 9/16. The 1/2 is already laying around somewhere, but better grab the 5/8 as well. Oh, and a longer extension might save a bruised knuckle.

This goes on for a couple of days, tools rarely making it back off the boat since whatever was needed to get something off will clearly be needed to put it back on. Come the time when the job is finished or the powers-that-be need efforts focused on some other project, it will be amazing just how much magic dust the boat needed to sniff up to get all the goodies working as they should. Usually, right about this time, my old life making a living in airplane hangers launches a bit of paranoia my way. If there is one thing that chills the bones of an aircraft tech, it is the thought of some accident investigator pulling one of his or her tools out of the smoking wreckage of an airplane that just left the hanger. It is the main reason aircraft hangars are filled with orderly, carefully maintained rolling tool boxes filled with racks and slots.

Boat yards don’t have any such things. A wooden box on the back of the golf cart is considered rather plush. Mine has attracted comments because it has a couple of racks for sockets. Wrench sets are sequestered in custom made holders. Zippered bags hold punches, chisels and picks. It isn’t as professional as my old Snap-On roll-around, a style known as the “Taco Stand". Still, when it comes time to move on, making sure everything that got toted up on the boat is toted off is easier than just hoping that the pile of tools on the cart looks tall enough.

Truth to tell though, I’m not really sure it matters that much, except for the cost of replacing tools. In a boat, all kinds of things are left lying around in all kinds of scary places. Engine compartments are stuffed with loose jugs of oil and coolant, spare parts and loose junk stashed on pretty much any flat surface. Want to look at the batteries or generator? Move stuff out of the way first. When the flat surfaces are full up, plastic milk cartons, open-topped and unsecured, are a popular option for additional storage. I have found deck chairs lying on top of engines and boxes of parts sliding around on top of fuel tanks. And batteries…apparently battery boxes have some kind of attracting power for pressurized cans of things that can go “boom” in the dark.

Cockpit lockers are often even more scary. Life jackets, coils of line, boat hooks, and fishing nets get jammed into the same holes that provide access to rudder posts, steering cables, and autopilot rams. How it is that things keep working while being tossed around in a rambunctious sea is beyond me, but a forgotten wrench or screw drivers isn’t much of an additional threat.

Then again, maybe a touch of the magic dust helps?

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Still in one piece

Image from NASA.gov
So, for what is apparently no reason whatsoever, the baddest hurricane in Atlantic recorded history rampaged its way past Tampa without leaving so much as a scratch on my family. When we hurried back from PA last week to help prep boats and get the kids out of harm’s way, the prospects for such an outcome seemed slim. For a while, sitting in the hotel room in Atlanta and watching Irma track further and further to the west, there seemed little chance that we could come away unscathed. In the last few hours before reaching the Tampa area the storm wobbled north instead of north by north west. That sixty miles, in a storm that measured hundreds of miles across, was the difference between us spending the rest of this week getting things back to normal, and spending it trying to figure out how to rebuild our lives. A strange week, provoking some odd thoughts.



I have, after more than 5 decades of miscellaneous adventuring doing this or that, had my fair share of close calls. This one was different. My normal brushes with disaster normally have nothing to do with losing stuff and everything to do with me not being around to enjoy the stuff any longer. They also tended to last just minutes, sometimes seconds; not days. The profound sense of relief after this close call is balanced with being a bit embarrassed at being so relieved. It was, after all, only stuff that was at risk.

We ran north in a compact rental car filled mostly with clothes, electronics, and a few odds and ends. Next time I think I’ll take some tools along…just in case. Had things gone the other way it would be difficult to replenish the cruising kitty and get our feet back under us based on just my good looks and sunny disposition. A few screw drivers, a handful of wrenches, and a hammer or two wouldn’t take up much room. They could also have ended up being the most useful things still in my possession.

We may be hanging around the Tampa Bay area longer than we thought. Key West, Marathon, Biscayne Bay, and the Dinner Key marina took a real beating. There are stories of sunken and lost boats with navigation markers missing in pretty much all the water that surrounds Florida. We often think of Biscayne Bay as our “US home”, and Dinner Key is one of our favorite places. But those are all places that will be a long time recovering, and really don’t need us in the way until they do. So it may be a while before leaving the Tampa area via a small sail boat makes a lot of sense. And it may be a while before leaving a job fixing boats in the Florida area makes a lot of sense either.

A photo by Douglas Hanks as seen in a miamiherald.com article

I am not a fan of Florida’s Governor Rick Scott who, among his other policy failures, walks in lock step with the science-rejecting Republican party. Yet he relied on that very same science to track the hurricane’s progress, to anticipate storm surges and flooding potentials, and to estimate potential wind damage. He issued evacuation orders base on what the scientists were telling him without hesitation, and likely saved many lives in the process. He was relentless in his warnings about the dangers of this storm and was tireless in addressing issues like fuel shortages in order to get people the resources they needed to flee. He must have been instrumental in getting the hundreds upon hundreds of utility company trucks and crews flowing into the sate to restore power and repair infrastructure. It is too early to tell how he will fair now that the storm has passed and the long, and expensive, clean-up commences. But there is reason to hope he will look past his ideology and see the needs of people instead. A rare and wonderful thing for any American politician to do these days, Republican or Democrat.

Survivor’s guilt is a real thing. We know so many people whose boats were lost, who are still in shock just trying to grasp the enormity of the blow they have taken. Good people, the kind you hope your kids and grand kids grow up to be. Seasoned too, many of them; well aware of the challenges of living this close to nature, not easily caught off-guard and unprepared. But no one can stand up to a storm like this one. Luck, good and bad, makes the call. And yet, somehow, that isn’t enough to explain why some lives have been irrevocably split between "before Irma" and "after" while, for others, Irma will fade quickly from everyday thoughts.

The spike in fuel costs from Harvey and the fuel shortages in Florida in the face of an impending Irma have me rethinking the thought of buying a trawler. No gas, no go, no matter what. I know they shouldn’t…but they do.

The paint booth we fixed after the Monday morning tropical storm of a few weeks ago wasn’t up to this challenge. It caved in, part of it landing on the stern rail of a boat strapped down near by. That appears to be the only damage done. Maybe we should have left that rope tied to the tree?

We spent nearly 70 hours driving since leaving for PA, 70 hours in 12 days. I don’t like driving that much any more. If I ever do buy another car, it will certainly not be a Chevy Sonic. What a horrible little thing. I’m glad it belongs to Enterprise and not to me.

Weather in Pittsburgh was in the mid to upper 60s, low 70s during the day. Weather in Atlanta was upper 60s to low 70s. Here in Florida the forecast is for upper-upper 80s, some 90s…all the way to the end of the forecast period. Hurricanes, thunderstorms, (it turns out the boat parked next to us took a lightning hit which wiped out all of its - very expensive - electronics) floods, heat. The weather in Florida is getting old.

Backing Kintala out of the haul out pit to put her back in her slip reminded me that she still doesn’t reverse worth a damn.

But I am sure glad she is still in one piece.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Pain Killer and Caffeine Crisis

We loaded up the compact rental car and left last Friday after work, taking advantage of the holiday weekend to visit family in PA. It was supposed to be a week-long visit with us arriving back at the boat on Sunday a week. By Tuesday morning it was clear that we needed to be back in Florida as quickly as possible. It was a 15 hour run back to Kintala, with an arrival of around 0200 Wednesday morning. Pain killers kept the rental car kinks at bay, and caffeine made it possible to keep on going.

Image courtesy of NOAA/CIRA

While we were on the road Daughter Eldest and family had prepped and packed. Deb and I boarded Kintala as quietly as we could so as not to wake sleeping grand kids (3) and an exhausted Mom and Dad. A few hours later dawn arrived. We helped them load the last stuff in the van, shared teary hugs all around, and sent them northward. We didn’t know then, and we don’t know yet, if there will be anything left of the life we had made together this summer at Snead Island.

One of a long long line of red lights averaging 35mph
With the kids on the move out of harm’s way I joined the crew working to get boats hauled, blocked, strapped down and stripped while Deb started getting Kintala ready to be pulled from the water. The initial plan was for me to work the day, spend a last night on the boat, haul it Thursday morning, and head out to catch up with Daughter Eldest at the hotel in Atlanta that we had booked before leaving PA. But she called a few hours later with news of traffic already slowing to a crawl, and suggested we get while the getting was good. Boss-not-so-new understood, encouraging me to punch out to help Deb and, a few hours later, moving Kintala to the head of the line for getting hauled. We stripped off canvas and solar panels, lines were secured, the anchor got dropped and tied to a nearby post, hurricane straps were ready to tie her to stakes driven deep into the ground, and all ports, hatches and holes were taped shut. By 1900 there was nothing left to do but give her hull a last pat, wish her good luck, and get on the road ourselves. That last 36 hours had seen just 4 hours of sleep, and there were miles and miles yet to go.

Traffic traffic everywhere and this was 2 days early
Pain killers and caffeine.

Daughter Eldest and family couldn’t make it to Atlanta. They bailed in Valdosta to a hotel they had booked from the car. As it turned out we couldn’t make it to Atlanta either, and so crashed at their hotel room around 0100 Thursday. After a few hours of sleep Deb and I headed for Atlanta while Daughter Eldest and family spent one more day in Valdosta. Rt. 75 was an on-and-off parking lot with a couple of wrecks strewn here and there just for ambiance. The day ended earlier than the last few, but sleep came hard. Not enough pain killer, too much caffeine.

This morning we moved to a second hotel, the one we had originally made the 5 day reservations at when we thought we were leaving Florida a day later. Plans change when one is a refugee. And there are tens of thousands of us at the moment. Though the original thought was that we could leave here to return to Florida, that may not be possible. At the moment all predictions are pretty grim. Sunday or Monday we will find out if there is anything to return to and, if so, when returning would make sense. One tries not to hope too much, but giving up hope is hard as well. The future is, right now, up to the largest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic.

And it doesn’t care.

In spite of it all we have been extraordinarily fortunate. We were working at a boat yard when this thing blew up, and our boat has as good a chance of surviving as any. We are refugees. But we run in an air-conditioned car with music and internet access. When it rains we are dry. There are funds in the bank for gas, food, and hotel rooms. Should the worst happen, we have a support network of friends and family who will help as we work to rebuild what has been lost. There are many, many people not nearly as fortunate as we, and our hearts go out to those who have taken a much harder hit.

Everything stripped and taped over

We are just one family of the thousands and thousands who have fled but, for others, running to safety really wasn’t an option. Cruisers are, at heart, wanderers. Moving because of weather is part and parcel of how we live, as is just picking up and heading off  because we feel like it. But we don’t live like most. Picking up and leaving is not a part of most people’s hearts, even in the face of Category 4 hurricane. So we have friends and co-workers who are in the strike zone. They will board up, hunker down, and hope for the best. I hope their luck holds, but I fear they are in for a ride they may boast about later, but never voluntarily take again.

In any case I suspect there are more pain killers and caffeine to go before this is all over.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Irma

I've always been interested in the meaning of names. In fact, we chose each of our three girls' names based on their meanings and the girls have surprisingly grown up to model the meanings of those names. So it's no surprise that I became curious as to what the name Irma meant since she is about to unleash a hurtin' on us. It turns out that Irma means "world" as in "a world of hurt" and "dramatically changing mine."

We attempted to go visit family in Pittsburgh, PA over Labor Day and the following week. We knew that Irma was heading east toward the Leeward Islands, but all tracks agreed that she would turn north and veer out into the Atlantic so we went anyway. We should learn. Right before Tropical Storm Hermine charged toward land just 60 miles north of us, changing into a Cat 1 hurricane in the hour before landfall, a forecaster said, "There is no possible scenario in which this storm becomes a hurricane before landfall." Yeah.

So we found ourselves cutting short our vacation and rushing back to prep Kintala to be hauled out. The kids are still there and have been frantically prepping the boat for haulout tomorrow morning, calling us with frequent updates. After that, we head out with what we can carry to Atlanta where we have hotel rooms waiting.

The cruising life has so many benefits - the life of few possessions, a lighter footprint on the earth - and then that big one, the closeness to nature. It also is a life of intensity - colors are brilliant, smells and sounds are enhanced - but the intensity in closeness to nature can sometimes be a challenge. The reality of it is that we are just along for the ride and Mother.Nature.Always.Rules.



So we drive south against the flow of evacuation traffic so we can do the final prep for our girl and wish her the best. Our friend Brittany from Windtraveler.net has a daughter who summed it up just right:

"Don't worry mommy. If our stuff tips over it's okay, it's just stuff. The most important things are people." 

From the mouths of babes...

Wish us well as we go about trying to salvage what we can from this cruising life.