'Til the butter melts

Pursuing the cruising dream in 32' of sailing ketch


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Making others plans

There is a saying – often attributed to John Lennon (though I have no idea if that’s accurate) – which goes:

“Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”

There is another saying, most often heard in country music lyrics, (which, by the way, is what you often hear blairing across the anchorage as young men of a certain age and socio-economic status cruise by – alone – in their rather shiny and expensive fishing boats, not fishing) which goes:

“If you wanna hear God laugh, tell him your plans…”

So today we’re planning and laughing along with God – assuming that’s who’s responsible for the weather we’re having.

Florida is stuck in a weather rut. As weather ruts go, it’s really not a bad one. Mostly clear weather, mostly sunny, mostly pleasantly warm (low 80’s days, upper 60’s nights).  Only thing is the wind. It doesn’t stop. And it’s from a particularly unhelpful direction. Every. Single. Day.

North winds. Where I’m from, North winds are an oddity. Wind from the north means a change, a front’s passing or a large weather system is finding it’s way out. Lyrics from a song by the inestimable bard Gordon Bok come to mind:  

East wind’s rain and North wind’s clearing. Cold old Southwest wind’s a fair wind home.”

Well in the New England that’s generally true, but down here the weather never got the memo. Except for a couple brief periods of near-calm as a warm front came through, we’ve had winds from the north and northeast every day but a handful for weeks.


Wind so consistent, even the white pelicans are sitting it out. Well actually in fairness to the pelicans, they seem to be pretty much oblivious to the wind – north or otherwise. They still huddle in large groups as a social thing, and they fly – loose eschalon formation – whenever they feel like it.  I just wanted an excuse to use this really cool picture I took of a little place we call “Pelican Island” when we’re upwind of it, and  something less complimentary when we’re downwind…

Which sort of brings me – in a rambling, Tuesday-morning-with-nothing-to-do sort of way – to those “other plans” I mentioned earlier.  

Nicki and I had planned a short jaunt “outside” today. Outside meaning into the Gulf of Mexico, rather than in the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Outside is real sailing. Outside is exciting. Outside is the “real world”.

But when the wind has been blowing stink for a week from one direction, and the waves have decided to get into the act AND that’s exactly the direction you want to go…  We can plan all we want, but attempting to go north today is going to be a pissing, moaning, slamming exercise in frustration no matter how we slice it.  So we’re not.

Instead, a few random thoughts, in the form of seven nearly unanswerable questions:

  1. Now that so many of the 20ish white men down here are listening to the music which – in my youth – we identified with late-teen black men, what are the late-teen black men listening to? 
  2. Why is it nearly impossible to find an FM radio station down here that isn’t broadcasting either Bro-Country, or a bible-thumping misogynist?
  3. Why is “Bro-country” so popular among the 30-something men who clearly have some means, considering the boat they’re driving, and why are they alone in that boat, slowly cruising it back and forth past the docks and other boats, broken-hearted songs playing at a level meant to be heard a half-mile away, looking sad…
  4. Why do people buy sailboats, and then never sail them, even in near-perfect sailing conditions? (This question was voiced recently by a friend who sailed by several new-looking sailing vessels on a passage along the coast, all of whom had their sails tightly furled and were motoring in great discomfort due to the perfect sailing conditions previously mentioned. We see it all the time.)
  5. Why do pelicans flying in echelon formation always follow the leader precisely, even when the leader is making altitude deviations for no appearent reason? Are there invisible speed bumps in the air that I can’t see?
  6. What is it about watching a Brown Pelican quit flying and fall headlong into the water that makes me smile – Every. Single. Time. They don’t “dive”, they just quit.
  7. We’ve read that Anhingas hunt by spearing small fish on the end of their very pointy beak. Ok, so how do they get that fish off the beak and into the mouth without dropping it?

There’s your bit of randomness for the day.  I hope at least one of those questions causes you to stop in awe of the universe for a moment. Douglas Adams, eat your heart out.

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C.L.O.D.ing

Among cruisers there are a number of acronyms and terms used to describe the conditions and situations that are unique to the cruising life.  It’s the same amongst R.V. Folks or pilots or quilt makers – a unique area of interest invites a unique vocabulary. 

Hence my title: C.L.O.D. Stands for “Cruiser Living On Dirt”.  And that would be us.

There are others, of course, but not many that have found their way into our lexicon. “Swallow the anchor” describes the act of giving up cruising entirely, selling the boat, getting a house, accepting a job…  Scary stuff.  

And then there’s “DH”, used by female sailors to refer to their male partners. Sometimes it stands for “Dear Husband”, sometimes “Dumb Husband”, and sometimes…  Well, you get the idea.

But being a CLOD is assumed to be temporary. Some CLOD’s, it’s true, have actually sold their boat, but they are understood to be between boats, not through with them. 

In the case of Sionna’s crew, however, we are literally “between” boats. “Boats” plural!

Sionna is, of course, stored in Florida, and we hope she’s safe and sound and eagerly awaiting our return. In the meantime, however, we’ve got this other boat here in Maine, a boat we thought had left our lives for good.



Honfleur is a Tanzer 7.5 (meter).  She came to me back in 2008 as a “free” boat – and I’ve been spending money on her ever since.  We sold her last spring, but some big life changes happened for the woman who bought her, and by last November she’d come back to us, looking for a home… 

So in between working at carpentry and heat pump installations for me and job searches for Nicki, we’ve been working on cleaning up the “Little Boat”, as we’ve come to call her, and are rather looking forward to having a boat to play with around the harbor on a nice day.  Working and income creation come first, but it’ll be nice to slip out for an afternoon on the water now and gain, while we prepare for the next phase of Commuter Cruising.
CLOD’s we may be, but we’re also TBNH’s: “Two Boats, No House”!


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Out of time

(This post was actually written prior to the one just published about hauling out, but due to a freak wormhole which opened up in the space-time continuum, the publishing order was reversed. I hate wet paper bags…). (That was an inside joke for you Douglas Adams fans out there. The rest of you can just pretend it didn’t happen.)
It appears that I’ll be breaking my own rule about this blog.

I’ve made it a policy to post chronologically these last couple of years. It seemed the fairest way to present the story, easier for readers to follow, and easier for me to avoid repetition.

But as our time in this first cruise runs down, I’ve become strangely reticent about investing the time in keeping the story current. In part, that may be due to the temperature: it’s May 3rd as I write this, and it’s been 90 degrees this afternoon, even in the shade under the sun awning. It’s hot, and there’s hardly a breeze. Weather like that doesn’t give you much motivation.

Or perhaps it’s just an unwillingness to spend time behind the keyboard when I could be spending it watching the pelicans, or the osprey, or the sardines that congregate in the shadow of Sionna whenever we stop for more than a few minutes…

Today we moved Sionna into the canal which leads to the boat yard where we’ll be storing her – on the hard (out of the water) – while we return to Maine for the summer, more eye surgeries, and hopefully some paid work. When we set out for this trip, we had many expectations that we tried to suppress, and we had dreams and plans which we have – largely – followed. Much of that we’ve accomplished, while some – like sudden blindness and surgeries – was more adventure than we’d ever have chosen. It’s been good.

But we’re left wondering, too. Wondering about the paths we didn’t take. Wondering how we may have changed in this 9-month odyssey. Wondering how Maine and Rockland may have changed, and who we’ll see first as we greet old friends? 
And we wonder how it’ll feel to leave Sionna – very much our home, and now very much our partner and friend – in the hands and land of strangers.




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Roll, roll, roll your boat…

We love our boat. She’s strong, capable, amazingly roomy for her 32 feet, well built and well equipped. Sionna is the perfect boat for us. But she does have one vice.

She likes to roll.
Any time the wake of a boat or a sea comes along at anything close to broadside to our old fat boat, she sets up a motion that’s like riding a round-barreled pony who’s determined to roll in the grass. Baaack and forth, Baaack and forth…. Every boat around us is gently riding to the swell, and Sionna is tossing dishes across the cabin while Nicki and I hold on for dear life. And sleeping? I don’t think so.

Hence my latest project – creating a “flopper stopper” – a device to catch hold of the water next to the hull and use its weight to reduce and dampen the roll.


The idea isn’t new, and it isn’t original. I’ve read several articles over the years about various designs, and a couple of fellow cruisers have shared ideas as well. The one I made is based pretty closely on a recent article in “Good Old Boat” magazine, so here’s a shoutout to a truly excellent publication!  

Materials are all found items: An old milk crate Nicki’s had since childhood is the base, the fabric is an old sail from the boat we didn’t restore (thank you Renaissance!) the weight was in Sionna’s bilge when we got her, and the line and clips were repurposed from various corners of the boat.


Once deployed, the flopper-stopper is below the waters surface, but it acts like a weighted bucket with a one-way valve in the bottom. Water can come up into the bottom easily, but is slowed significantly in escaping, using the weight of the water to slow the roll of the boat side-to-side.


The horizontal pole just holds the unit at a distance from the hull, creating leverage, and the two lower lines keep the whole works out perpendicular to the hull. The support is a halyard from the top of the mast.


Does it work? Certainly it helps, but there hasn’t been a huge amount of wake or swell this afternoon to test it. Mostly we seem to be riding up and down on the swells, with only a little roll thrown in.

 Cautious optimism reigns until proven unfounded!


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That old devil Sound

Ah that old devil, the Long Island Sound. There must be a song about that.

Not that Buzzards Bay, Rhode Island Sound, Block Island Sound and Long Island Sound aren’t – in their own right – beautiful stretches of water. They most certainly are. But for a boat – particularly a sailboat – with a desire to actually go somewhere, they are proving to be a most challenging and awkward set of mini-seas.

We are so done with the Sounds.

The reasons we’re ready for something different are Three: Depth, current, and population. Let me explain.

Depth: This area between Cape Cod at the east end and New York City to the west is, on average, very shallow. In Buzzards Bay we found depths less than 35 feet in areas where we were nearly out of sight of all land, and there are much shallower areas – sometimes alarmingly shallow – out in what we Maine sailors would think to be “safe” water. 

This isn’t a safety issue, as we have good charts and maintain a watch on our position as a matter of course, but shallow water has other vices, particularly when combined with:

Current: We have currents in Maine, but not like they have here. In Maine waters, there are generally two currents in a day – in and out – and they follow the rise and fall of the tides within an hour or so. 

(A brief aside to define terms: Tide – the cyclical increase and decrease of water depth caused by the gravitational effect of the moon and – to a lesser extent – the sun. Current: the movement of water horizontally through an area as a result of the change in the tide and – less often – the effect of wind.)

But not so in the Sounds, where each tide change seems to be nearly divorced from the current it produces. The current charts in my “Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book” look like a pot of pasta gone bad, and reference a tide as much as five hours prior or hence – madness!

But in addition to dictating our movements (it’s not worth sailing against a current over a knot – you get nowhere), current over a shallow bottom crates waves and rips and eddies that make life miserable, rough and wet, and current against the wind creates waves completely out of proportion to the wind itself. You can quickly find yourself at a complete standstill as each wall of water slams the bow of the boat and reduces your speed over the ground to a crawl. It’s just not pleasant, though the resulting salt bath can be very refreshing!

It was never like this back in dear old Maine.

Population: There are people down here. Lots of people. And power boats. Lots of power boats. They all seem to want to go from point A to point B very fast, and they almost never seem to think about what the wake they’re creating is going to do to other boats and people on shore. 

Now I recognize that this is something I’m going to have to accept, or at least learn to deal with – the ICW is chock full of boaters who’s total knowledge of nautical lore and boating etiquette is how to turn the key – they’re completely clueless. Are powerboaters truly a lower form of life than sailors, as many suggest? Well, the jury’s still out on that one. I hope not, but some days I wonder…


So the last four days have consisted of lots of motoring. Depart the anchorage at a time that should give a favorable current, sail as long as there’s wind AND the wind against current hasn’t created a ludicrous chop, then give up and motor straight into the chop to the next anchorage. In the process we’ve discovered a slow leak from the raw water pump for the engine cooling system that’s going to require a replacement pump. Getting parts to a yacht in transit is the subject of an entire post, but we’re hoping to rendezvous with a new pump in Manhasset, NY in a few days so we can install it before our transit of the East River and New York Harbor. With luck, the new pump will also cure the old ones habit of eating drive belts – a maintenance two-fer!  

Fingers crossed.


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“Storage” – the A to Z Challenge

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“Storage”, in the context of cruising, gets divided into two major sub-issues.

First, there’s the issue of owning a boat, and where you’re going to put it when it’s not in the water. The other quandary is what to do with your “stuff” when you move out of your house/apartment/hovel and onto the boat.

For anyone not familiar with boats, the question of where to put it when it’s not in the water might come as a surprise. I mean, it’s a boat, right?  So… it’s meant to be, like, in the water, right?

Well, yes and no.   At the moment, we live in Maine. We have this thing called “winter” up here, and during the winter water does this weird thing where it gets stiff and sharp and unpredictable…  You can leave a boat in the water here, yes, if it’s a sheltered location, but the risk of damage to the boat is significant, so as a general rule no one does – boats are hauled out when it gets too cold to be comfortable on the water (usually sometime in October, depending on the year) and stored ashore, hopefully under some sort of shelter, or at least a tarp to keep the snow and rain off.  The picture above is of Sionna in our greenhouse-style boatshed. (We closed off the end of the shed after putting her inside.)

But we’re leaving this rental house in July this year, taking Sionna down the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) to Florida, and next summer will be leaving her in Florida while we come back to Maine to work for the summer.  Oops, storage again!  Where do you put your boat when you’re going to be 1500 miles away for the 5 months of summer?

And what about your stuff? Furniture and clothing and knick-knacks and tools…

That’s where the storage unit picture comes in.  We don’t have a whole lot of stuff, really, (see “D” – Downsizing) but we have some, and we’re hoping we can wedge it all into a 5′ x 10′ storage unit in town. Except for the tools and boat parts, which will be packed into a 7′ x 8′ utility trailer and parked at a friend’s house.  For free – but he gets to borrow my tools any time he wants.
IndiantownArial

As for Sionna, she’ll be staying in a boat yard in south-central Florida while we’re gone, out of the water, and we’ll be watching the weather forecasts and praying no hurricanes decide to make a Florida landfall.  Cruising does have its share of worries, just like real life.


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“Reality” – the A to Z Challenge

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So what’s your reality?  In my experience, Basset Hounds don’t fly – but does that mean they can’t?

Is the glass half full, or half empty? Are you a victim of life, or a creator of your experience? Do you make things happen, or does everything happen to you?

Nicki and I are strong believers in the concept of “manifestation”. This is A largely Buddhist concept, the basic premise being that humans – by their thoughts and intentions – gradually shape their experience and environment to their will. And while we’re not Buddhists by any stretch, we’ve both had enough experiences of dearly held desires becoming our reality to feel that we better be pretty careful what we wish for.

And conversely, if I get into a negative frame of mind (yeah, that happens!), it’s amazing and  frightening what painful, unsettling and downright unpleasant experiences I can create if I try. It works both ways.

Now, if you’re thinking this is all hooey and voodoo, you might find a quick introduction to  Quantum Physics intriguing.  I’d recommend the movie What the Bleep Do We Know?” (That’s a link to a 4-minute trailer). The movie itself is entertaining, enlightening, and thought-provoking.

Or you might decide it’s a load of crap, or just too confusing, or it might offend your sense of order or your religious beliefs or the gut need you have to know that everything is pre-ordained and beyond your control.  That’s ok too.

After all, you’re creating your reality right now.  But if I might make one suggestion?

Make it a good reality.

Toast

Life’s too short to write yourself into a bad novel.