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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Getting Started; Part 6

Well it’s Christmas morning 2012 and like that 7 year old I once was, I am up way too early on Christmas morning.  I noticed it has been a while since my last blog post, I hope the anticipation has not been too great.  I am now one semester away from my planned retirement. We still own a house and don’t own a boat.  We did spend a week looking down in Southern Florida in mid-December and have gotten the list of boats that we like and which would physically fit, head room for my 6'6" throughout being the prime sticking point, down to three with one that seems to be the best compromise of cost, performance, and comfort.  It’s a Fountain Pajot Bahia46 and we already can envision ourselves on the hook some place warmer.  We returned home from our trip to the worst dust storm in West Texas in over 30 years.  Winds at 35-40 knots with gusts over 50 knots. It took several days of clean up and just as I finished vacuuming out our pool….another dust storm.  Our Christmas present from Mother Nature today is, you guessed it, high winds, blowing dust, followed by show.   Yes if you did the math correctly, it will be snowing mud!  Other big changes since my last post, our oldest daughter Amber got married and became an instant mommy to a 3 yr. old stepson and that means the Admiral and I became instant; well we are not sure but instant something.  

OK so back to how we got here.  When we last left our duo the dream had been reborn and redefined.  You see we loved to sail but had no idea that one could live on a boat and just cruise around from place to place, but that is what people seemed to do.  We also had no idea how you could do that in a catamaran but it must have been possible since people were doing it.  We finally decided to find out and set out to book a charter, with a captain, for the entire family, including our handicapped son who as mentioned before, use to love to sail. I won’t go into the particulars about our son too much but we always believed that we should let him experience as much as possible since we never know what he’ll like(tolerate) or what he might enjoy.  

After a good deal of looking around on the Internet and a fair amount of sticker shock at the cost we decided to charter out of Miami on an Island Sprit 37 (the one in the banner picture.)  Captain Stacey was assigned to us, deposits made, plane tickets booked, and guide books studied.  Then the thing you always know will happen, it happens to us all, but yet you are never ready for it, my mother, after a short but intense illness died.  If you have lost a parent, then you understand that no matter how much you rationalize it, the loss is one you can’t prepare for.  My mom died in May at the age of 70; I was just about to turn 50 and I could not get over the reality that she was just 20 years older then I was about to become.  I pause just writing it now.  Life is such a short precious gift.  Not too long after we returned home from my mom and dad's one of us suggested inviting my father to go with us on the charter in July and after some consideration, he accepted.  So here we were, Jo and I, two teenage girls, the boy, and my dad heading off to Florida to meet Capt. Stacey.  Let me say, Capt. Stacey was like no one I had met to this point.  Skillfully and abundantly tattooed, a tugboat captain with a great sense of humor from whom I learned a lot.  

Now as I mentioned we were in Florida, heading from Miami down the Keys as far as we could.  It was hot, mostly windless, and buggy!  Oh did I mention HOT and guess what, there was no air conditioning on the boat.  I had never really thought of it, I just assumed, aside from the mountains and maybe Canada, there was air conditioning.  Well that’s not totally true, I knew a good portion of the worlds population didn’t have A/C and somehow prior to the 50’s/60’s neither did the majority of Americans but it had been so common place in our lives I just never though it wouldn’t be there.  I have since learned that you can have A/C on a sailboat but it requires generators, and that a wind scoop will direct all those wonderful trade winds down into your cabin (along with the rain that always seems to come at 0300hrs).  Mostly the girls and I compensated the heat by sleeping out on the trampoline of the boat; which happened to be named Bob’s Cat and my Dad being named Bob; ok so its funny to me.  Sleeping on the tramp was great until the afore mentioned 0300 rain came then we went scurrying for cover.  My son seemed to be impervious to the heat, well, his berth had the wind scoop, and slept like a rock until he woke up at dawn and then he was up hungry and not going back to sleep.  My wife and Dad, well remember I mentioned it being buggy, well they did battle each night with in their respective cabins full of mosquitos.  Even though they would lather up with DEET the buzzing of those little b@*%$@#! Kept them awake and the killing fields open.  In the morning their cabins were blood splattered from the mosquitos that didn’t make it out alive.  Near the end of the 10-day charter I found them both laughing manically after a sleepless night of killing.  Ok so the nights were rough but except for the one day we tried to get out into the Atlantic from the bay side and it was so rough many fish were fed, forcing the decision to stay on the bay side rather than the Atlantic side of the Keys, the days were filled with a lot of light air sailing or motor sailing, or just plain old motoring, swimming, snorkeling, and a couple trips ashore.  Getting our son on and off the boat was no easy task.  He didn’t understand the concept of the dingy so a lot of times someone stayed on board with him.  This was turning out, at least in my mind to be a disaster, a very expensive disaster.   At one snorkeling spot my father jumped in and the current was running so fast away from the boat he shot only to be grabbed by another moored vessel and Capt. Stacey jumping in after him.  In a Keystone Cops like fashion my eldest daughter and I got the dingy into the water, then put the drain plug in, got the engine started, and picked up my dad and Capt. Stacey.  I had visions of explaining to my brothers of how dad was swept off to Cuba by the current.  We got our chance to return the favor of the Good Samaritan boater when a young family got caught in the current and we pulled their two young children and mother out of the same H2o expressway my dad was on.  Eldest daughter and I did go snorkeling and saw a really big shark not too far below us, which ended our adventure for that afternoon.  Capt. Stacey showed me a little bit of navigation, let the girls steer, and although I think she was being kind, assured us that we weren’t her worse charter crew; needless to say we tipped her well.  Some take-always from that trip, first people do live on and cross-oceans on a 37’ and smaller boats even without A/C.  That “sailing” isn’t always about sailing and when there is no wind well you sit still or become a motorboat aka stinkpot.  I learned that as much as I wanted my son to love and enjoy sailing again, it wasn’t going to happen.  It was difficult for him to move around with so many changes in levels and because of that he sat a lot of the time and because of the inactivity his legs and feet swelled painfully and he was miserable.  Also, getting on and off the boat were harrowing experiences for both him and us that eventually involved a boson chair and a winch.  I learned, or feared, that the dream of sailing away was dead, that I would never get my wife back on a boat again and to be honest, I was not sure if I wanted to.   In retrospect I am sure that as I often do I put too much pressure on myself for this to be “perfect.”  I obsessed about the little things that didn’t work out the way I had imagined and failed to appreciate the wonderful things that did happen.  The principal thing being that after a very long hiatus from the water we were on the water, and not just some water but an ocean.  We would lie out under the stars at night, watched the sunrise and set and was oblivious to the world; but was that enough.

We somehow made it home, us to Lubbock, via Dallas then a 350-mile drive, Dad to Colorado Springs. Shortly after that the semester began and I was back to the reality of teaching, designing, harping at my daughters to do their homework, and the never-ending routine that was my son.  Don’t get me wrong, it was a good existence, I loved doing what I was doing and so far my teenage daughters had made the experience of having teenage daughters fairly uneventful with the occasional skirmish with their mom, but I couldn’t help but feel that something had changed; something had changed, I just misinterpreted the change.  Now I must admit, the details are fuzzy but at some point Jo suggested we go sailing again but this time we go to the Bahamas and we do the sailing.  Ok game on, but wait, I have no idea how to play this game.  Sure I could move a beach cat from point A-to-B but something big enough to live on, not so sure.  While on the s/v Bob’s Cat, I talked to Capt. Stacey a lot about how you learn all this stuff i.e. how to sail/handle one of these cats.  She told me there were classes through the American Sailing Association (ASA); of course she was an instructor.  She even thought I could challenge the first class 101 and in essence clep-out of it; nice ego boost.  So with Jo’s blessing I found a class on the Texas coast near Houston, visited with the instructor, and signed up for ASA 101 Basic Keelboat Sailing, followed by ASA 103 Costal Cruising.  As I mentioned earlier, we had wanted to go sailing in the Bahamas, specifically Abaco, which turns out to be a sailor’s paradise.  We looked at our options there, and I became fascinated with the Maine Cat 41 that was available.  There was also a Maine Cat 30, which was a more realistic option.  My reasoned brain concluded that if I were going to sail either of those vessels, it would be good to train on those vessels.  Through Abaco Multihull Charters who had the Maine Cats for charter and in discussion with the boat builders wife I was directed to theTracey Sailing School and my next two ASA courses ASA 104 Bareboat Cruising and the one I had been waiting for ASA 114 Cruising Catamaran!

Captain Stacey
Coming up in part 7, Captain Ralph, my long lost brother from a different mother, his lovely wife Arleen, a not so pleasant or laid-backed Captain Ron, and two weeks in Abaco on two different Maine Cats.

Images for the Charter:

I am just too cool for these people!
E & Dad
Again, I got my cool on!

Enough of this!
Should I tell Capt. Stacey how many times I
Wrecked Dad's Truck?
Captain Snooze 

Now this is what I am saying!!!!

The Admrial
What no beer for me!
If Not for the courage of the fearless Captain the crew of Bob's Cat would be lost.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Getting Started Part V; Da Dream Boss Da Dream

So I left off with the dream having faded away or in reality was dead.  We were living in a part of the world where the average rainfall is 18”, without a boat and a fulltime focus on my career at Texas Tech.  The first several years (hmm 20) here I was working 12 hour days seven days a week even over holidays so there was little time for much else.  Two major events in our lives that brought major changes to our family were about to sucker-punch us and keep us tied to both land and Lubbock for the foreseeable future.   So that was that, sailing, water, and boats had faded from our lives and the ocean had yet to enter mine.  If I thought about it at all I am sure I thought this was a natural progression from one lifestyle to another; right I was an adult, a grownup, family responsibilities and graduate school loans to pay off so I worked, a lot.  The thought of retirement was non-existent.  Jo would swear that I would work until I dropped dead and she was probably right.  That’s what you do right; work until you can’t work any more?  Now don’t get me wrong, I loved my work.  I was designing scenery and lighting for shows from here in Lubbock to off-Broadway in NYC to St Petersburg, Russia and a lot of places in-between.  It turned out I was a pretty good teacher and more importantly I liked it.  When the opportunity presented itself to serve as Director of Theatre, in effect producer for the department, I slid into that role just as I did becoming department Chair 11 years ago.  If you were to plot a career path, this would have been a pretty good one.  Then in 1996 the theatre department formed a partnership with a Texas Tech alumni and his wife to create what became known as the Angle Fire Mountain Theatre in Angel Fire NM.  That opportunity led me to two passions, first, fly fishing which seemed to be the thing to do in the mountains, and after a lesson or two and a lot of sucking at it, I had gotten pretty good at it and still enjoy fishing for anything that swims, salt or fresh water with some feathers tied on a hook; preferably feathers that I tied on. The second passion my Julys in Angle Fire gave me, was one for the islands and the ocean as well as the awakening a dormant dream.  Now if I were you I would be confused wondering what a summer mountain theatre had to do with the ocean and the islands; ok that’s fair.  The answer came in a kind offer from an earthbound saint named Jimmy Linton, the then Property Manager for Angel Fire Resort, who’s generous offer ended up taking our lives on the course they are now headed.

Those of you who know me, especially the “me” of several years ago can attest that I was sometimes a bit intense.  Stress was not just a word but a lifestyle.  A lifestyle that would most likely place me on the road to the heart attack I was sure to have.  While we were moving one of the productions into the summer venue in 2001, Jimmy made me an offer I could not refuse.  Seeing that I was driving myself and those around me crazy he asked me, “where would you and Jo like to go on vacation if you didn’t have to worry about where you would stay?”  Without thinking about it, or knowing why, I said the Bahamas.  Shortly after that he came up to me with a condo for us to use in Marsh Harbor; Abaco; the Bahamas for the next summer, all we had to do was get ourselves there.  Well it wasn’t quite that simple; we had to arrange someone for our daughters to stay with; hello mom & dad!  Then there was Erik.  Finding a sitter for a multi handicapped child for a night out is bad enough, but long term, live-in care while we were in another country is another.  We got lucky, in that one of his teacher aids in High School who knew and worked with Erik was willing and available.  Airplane tickets were bought, us to Ft Lauderdale and on to Abaco, girls to Colorado Springs.  Hotels while in transit were booked; passports were located, and renewed.  Seems that the old passports had one stamp in them for a trip to London years before and we swore we would not let the new ones go down with only one stamp in them.  Then in August of 2002 be headed off for a real vacation!  By real vacation I mean no family destinations or children, just the two of us somewhere neither of us had been or knew what to expect.  We had gone on long weekends but nothing like this.  We knew nothing about where we were staying, only had a vague idea of how to get there once we got off the plane.  You might say this fits into the Captain Bob Bitchin philosophy of The Difference Between an Adventure and an Ordeal is Attitude, and we had the right attitude for this adventure.  In late July of 2002, with the exception of Erik, we drove to Dallas to catch a plane the next night, the girls to Colorado (their first time on a plane alone) and Jo and me to Ft Lauderdale for the night and a morning flight across a big blue ocean (well about 90 miles of it.)  

Nothing like this way out in West Texas-

As we approached the airport in Marsh Harbor out both sides of the plane you could see the wreckage of planes that didn’t quite make it, whether they were running from the DEA, local authorities, of just the victim of bad luck and/or bad weather it didn’t matter.  The Bahamians saw little value in removing the wreckage.  If it was in the water, once the fuel and other things that could harm the environment or be sold off were removed they let the plane return to the sea creating an artificial reef.  If they were on land the vegetation would quickly claim them and besides what would they do with it; so where it fell, it lived, unless it was blocking the runway then it was pulled off to the side.  When we got off the plane heat and humidity like we had never experienced in the states hit us; remember, attitude!  A sudden shower soaked our luggage that was sitting on the tarmac and the two of us as we waited to clear in through customs and immigration; attitude!  We grabbed a taxi or they grabbed us and off we went.  Third world taxis are different.  These were private vehicles, mostly mini vans, and the drivers are intensely proud of their taxi and expected you to respect it as if it were your car.  From the first taxi driver, who you would contact mostly by VHF radio, to everyone we met, we fell in love with the Bahamian people; a mixture of Africans who’s ancestors were brought there against their will and British loyalist who fled America instead of fighting the British during the Revolutionary war.  Plants we struggled to get to grow in Lubbock such as bougainvillea grew like weeds, there were palm trees everywhere, the squawk of parrots in the trees, and water a blue I had never seen outside of a paint tube.  Now, I had been to the Texas Coast and any similarity between that salt water and the water in the Bahamas is only due to salt content.   Our flight was earlier than when we could check in to the condo, which turned out to be steps from the Sea of Abaco; God Bless you Jimmy, so we decided to walk up the drive and get a drink; so what if it was only mid-morning, we were not only on vacation; we were on island time mon.  Someone we met on the plane told us about this place called Sapodilly’s with its specialty drink called the Dilly Willy. It consists of Nassau Royale, 151 proof rum, grenadine, and various fruit juices.  We ordered two and some Conch Fritters and all of a sudden every Jimmy Buffett song I knew came to mind and I don’t think the smile left Jo’s face for the week.  The week flew by with trips to a pig roast at Nippers on Great Guana Cay (pronounced Key), a trip to Treasure Cay with sand so white it was blinding and as soft a talcum powder, and on one rainy day, the result of being on the back side of a hurricane, we rented a car and discovered what we knew had to be that One Particular Harbor not just because it had a cheeseburger in paradise and no it wasn’t some lame marketing thing where it was named that, it was the best cheeseburger we had ever had and we were in paradise.  It was there at Pete’s Pub where we drank too much Kalik (an outstanding Bahamian beer) toured the gallery and foundry; see: and learned the history of Randolph Johnson, that we really fell in love with the islands.  We traveled further south on the island and discovered little hamlets, bars, beaches, and invisible cows (you have to ask Jo about that one.) 

I have never felt so at home, so relaxed, so depressed and anxious, all at the same time.  You see turns out that Abaco is arguably the sailing capital of the Bahamas if not the Caribbean, with protected seas from its out islands, constant winds, and wonderful anchorages with good holding.  There were sailboats everywhere.  Big, little, and huge; everything from square-riggers to Bahamian racing sloops, and something I had heard of but never seen, a cruising catamaran.  We wandered the docks of the Moorings (we later learned it is a big charter outfit) dazed and amazed.  I was overwhelmed as I looked at the complex rigging, lines, and scale of everything. Most amazingly, people were living on them!  My mind was flooded with questions, where do you sleep, how big of a crew do you need to sail one of these, and mostly, how do I get my ass to on one of them?

I turned 47 that trip, and while I was dining on Bahamian crawfish (aka spiney lobster), cracked conch, and more rum drinks overlooking sunset on the sea of Abaco and the sailboats docked there, a strange sense of Déjà Vu came over me as I though “I remember this dream” and I know Jo did too.  As I said, our time there ended much too soon and before I knew it we were back on an airplane with a backpack full of conch shells and luggage full of duty-free rum.  Once back in Lauderdale everything seemed, well, just not as nice.  The seafood we ate the night before we flew to Abaco at the restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale and tasted so wonderful, especially compared to what we could get in Lubbock, but now tasted like Long John Silvers or Dead Lobster.  I was annoyed by the pace and rudeness of everything and everyone; I was back in the States. “I vex that this not Abaco!” (Again, ask Jo to interpret that one.)

Jimmy offered a condo in the same location the next year and we went, of course.  Visited cays we hadn’t the first time, enjoyed the island at a slightly less frantic pace but made the mistake of trying to reproduce the exact same experience as the first visit and that was impossible. There is something about your first time of anything, first love, first kiss, first - hmm better stop there, but you know the feeling.   The second time is good, maybe great, but its not the “first time.”  The second trip however, provided the real motivation to get off land and on the water and that is where we will go in part 6-

A postscript:
I occurred to me after writing this that in a couple days it will be exactly 10 years since that night we spent in Abaco celebrating my birth.  In one way I can’t believe it has just been 10 years and if all goes according to plan the celebration of my next trip around the sun will be spent back in some particular harbor.

Da Plane!

Jo's first (but not last) Willy Dilly

Our Condo - God Bless You Jimmy!

The Beach at Nippers, Atlantic
Ocean in the Background

We Were At Nippers Down in Abaco

Limin at Treasure Cay

Treasure Cay

Da Beach at Treasure Cay

Pete's Pub in that
One Particular Harbour

Ahhhhh Kalik!

Now That's Some Fresnel Lens

The Lighthouse n Hope Town
One of the only remaining kerosine lighthouses

Fired Fish, Mac & Cheese, Peas & Rice, and Crawfish
Now That's Some Dinner (along with cold Kalik of course)
You Wonder Why You Ever Go Home

Not Happy At All Are We

I Remember This Dream!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Getting Started Part IV


Ok, so when we left this blog last, we had sold the house then it was not sold, placing us in a holding pattern until it sells.  Jo is ready to go.  She got fed-up with her job and officially started her retirement last week.  As for me, I am no longer Chair and Director of Theatre at Texas Tech’s Theatre and Dance Department and am living in self-imposed exile across campus; so all is good.  We, well I, did go through a period of self doubt, thinking that I should put this off another year (2014 instead of 2013) in the hopes our daughters would have a life path that wasn’t day-to-day, but I have come to my senses, so as of this posting we have 297 days left until I retire and depending of the sale of the house and purchase of a boat we will be wakening on water for the next ____ number of years.  Jo and I celebrated our 33rd Anniversary 14 July and hoped our next is celebrated on the hook somewhere out of the hurricane belt.  Come on funny feelin’
So where were we the last time I talked about sailing; oh yes I had just left graduate school.  Right out of school, I had four job offers, one in Green Bay WI, one in Westchester PA, one, oh crap I forget where it was, and finally one in Ruston LA.  Green Bay, although had a “great” lake to sail on was too cold; Westchester, well was too, hmm how do I put this, well let’s say not the right job; and Ruston, well although it was too hot (catch the Goldilocks thing?) the people there made Ruston just right.  The down sides of Ruston was the closest lake was: a.) a one-hour drive; b.) had alligators and BIG water moccasins; and c.) like many southern lakes was mostly filled with dead trees, good for bass, bad for gel coat.  However, it did have a small yacht club and a handful of catamarans.  This gave us shore side facilities (i.e. a head) that made the Admiral and the boy happy, so we put our name up for membership and scraped up the money to join.    We moved the Prindle and the Magnum 360 (windsurfer) out to the lake and worked to find the time to enjoy them.  I still did a fair piece of solo sailing but spent a lot of time on the windsurfer but despite my intense desire to “not suck” at it, like surfing, is not a sport for a 6’6” 280# man; but did get where I could sail out tack and sail back in without falling off. This was a good thing as one afternoon as I was holding on for dear life I noticed one of those afore mentioned water moccasins, about 100’, hmm… ok 4-5’ long just trailing along behind me hoping for a bite.  The group of cats did hold some Sunday beer-can races so that gave me the chance to perfect or improve on my sailing tactics. While in grad school in  IL,  there was a very active racing community.  Although I never won, never placed, or even showed, I learned about reading the water and that the shortest distance between two points may be a straight line but sailing where the wind was is the fastest.   So one Sunday afternoon while the fleet in LA tacked right (Starboard) for what looked like the best lay-line to the finish line, I tacked to the left (Port) and picked up a great breeze and beat the fleet to the finish line by several minutes.  I know for some the thought of watching sailboats race is as exciting as watching paint dry but do yourself a favor and on the you-tube type in Americas Cup 45 trials and watch some of the downloads of the AC 45 trials; what I did was just like that but without the carbon fiber, multi-million dollar racing boat, and true professional crew, but it was every bit as much wet and fun. 

Erik kept sailing and still loved the water.  One afternoon he was in his regular position, leaning over the front crossbeam splashing in the water as we moved along at a safe speed, (important rule; no hull flying with the boy on board) when mom and I heard a splash and there was no Erik. As I was on the helm, which placed me towards the rear (aft or stern) of the cat and felt something moving under the trampoline and soon enough out the stern popped Erik.  I was there to snatch his PFD (lifejacket) hauled him back on board and he scampered right back into splash position, but this time on a tether that leashed him to the trampoline. Speaking of leaving the boat when it is not your idea or plan, in Part II of this blog I failed to mention a time early in my sailing life, when I went off the boat and almost never came back.  Jo was pregnant with our soon to be son and we were on our way to meet some friends to float a river in NE Oklahoma.  We had the Sidewinder in tow and I wanted to get some time on lake Hefner in.  It was early season and still cold so I was in jeans, a heavy sweater, tennis shoes, and NO PFD. Not only is a little knowledge a dangerous thing but also it can be a deadly thing.  The day started gray but they were high clouds and the wind was good.  I don’t remember how long into the sail it was but I noticed a helicopter with a red flashing light flying towards me and behind it a wicked black line of clouds.  Later I realized it was a squall line preceding a cold front.  Just about the time I realized I was about to be in trouble, I was in deep trouble.  The wind shifted 180° at over 40knots.  I went from a close reach to a run in a heartbeat and I tried to let out as much line on the mainsheet (the rope that controls the big mainsail) as I could sheeting out and trying to furl (roll up) the jib at the same time.  Poor line management led to a knot in the mainsheet and the mainsail stopped going out and the boat sped up until it pitch poled sending me flying into the water, panicked and cold.   The waves must have been 7-8’ on a shallow lake and I was in trouble.  At one point a feeling came over me that I could just let go and everything would be all right.  I don’t know if the bright light I saw was the other side or the sun above the water; see, I was under the water at that point.  Something told me to fight and the next thing I knew I was on top of the water hanging on to the boat with a rescue vessel on its way.  When I got aboard the rescue boat it had 4 big-ass outboards and as we cut across the waves the boat left the water completely, I was lucky to be alive.  Of course I was more worried I had lost my wife’s sailboat not that I had almost widowed her.  When I found the Sidewinder across the lake washed up on shore she was ok except for a broken u-bracket on the jib fuller.  A group of old fishermen came over and watched as I struggled to get the boat back on the trailer and after that was accomplished they came over to tell me they thought I was dead; it was at that point the gravity of the situation hit me; little did I know the worse was yet to come.  Jo was waiting on the front lawn of the house we were staying at when I pulled up and let’s just say it didn’t go well.  We all remember from our childhood any time our parents started counting, you knew if they got to 3 you were dead-meat; well this was event was 1.  #2 came several years ago when a building collapsed on me killing the person sitting where I usually did for lunch.  I won’t go into details but if you Google Little Panda, roof collapse, or go to: you can get the full story, and no I was not one who sued.  Having escaped virtually injury free I felt to sue would be slapping my good karma in the face.  Ok, enough with the disasters back to sailing.

We took one trip down to Houston while we were Ruston with the boat.  Jo’s brother Jon, as I mentioned in earlier blog entries, had a G-Cat and we hatched a plan to hit the dike at Texas City so off we went with beer, sunscreen, two cats and a windsurfer for my first taste of offshore winds.  They were nothing like the fluky winds on the lakes I had sailed they were constant and strong.  There must have been a hundred cats’ and half as many windsurfers, all out there to go as fast as possible.  For one run I went out solo and had strapped in the harness, legs extended fully off the port pontoon with it just kissing the top of the water, I was at maximum hull speed; damn I was on fire, then I decided to unpack the windsurfer, bad move!  Got caught in the flooding tide headed straight for the shipping channel unable to get back to the beach.  While technically I thought I had the right of way, I had yet to learn about the law of gross tonnage as well as their ability to maneuver in a restricted channel, I think that is #1 in the pecking order according to the Coast Guard Regs.  All around me kids half my age were zipping here-and-there, effortlessly.  Luckily my group on shore had had their fun with my circumstance and Jon hopped on his cat and came and towed me in; still the shore side entertainment!  I came to two conclusions that day, first, sailing on the “ocean” ok bay in the Gulf of Mexico beat lake sailing any day and second, I was never going to look good on a windsurfer.  I kept trying but was more realistic about my abilities.  Facing those kinds of realities, well lets say were not my one of my known qualities in my youth, luckily for all concerned, I have gotten better in that regard as my hair has abandoned me and what is left is gray not red.  We headed back to Ruston, sailed when we could, but with a Special Needs son LA was not the best place to be for his educational and developmental needs so we decided to move on.  

I started looking and again had several offers but decided on a position at the University of Wisconsin Lacrosse.  At that time (not now, sorry to report) WI had some of the most progressive Special Ed programs in the country, and it was on the banks of a wide part of the Mississippi River so we had a place to sail, the problem was the house we rented had no convenient place to park the boat so we did not sail one day in the 10 months we were there; it should be noted that i swear it was winter 8 of those 10 months and I wasn't ready to take up ice boats.  This led us to 1988, when I took the job that morphed into the job I am about to retire from at Texas Tech in Lubbock TX. There is a lot to recommend Lubbock but sailing is not one of them.  The lakes arre small and geared toward water skiing and fishing and within a year we sold the Prindle to an Airman from CA who was getting shipped back to San Diego from the local AF Base.  They say the two best days in a sailor’s life is the day they buy their boat and the day they sell it; well they got half of it right, the first half.  Selling the Prindle made sense but put an exclamation point on the end of our sailing life.  Now don’t ask me why I the never sold windsurfer, it eventually decayed in our back yard and the dream faded into jobs, kids, and life in general.

Next time, I’ll share how the dream was reborn, a dream that I know has saved both my sanity and so far my life.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


As the saying goes: “if it weren’t for bad luck we’d have no luck at all”.  I have to say the last month (give or take) has proven that saying somewhat true. 

When I left the last installment of Getting Started there was a hint that a big announcement was forthcoming; to quote again “we plan the gods laugh.”  At that time we had what looked to be a rock-solid contract (cash) on our house.  I envisioned my next post to be a picture of me with a sold sign in our front yard.  I had contacted our boat broker and told him to start the hunt.  We began culling-down possessions and eating our way through the deep freezer.  Then we got a call from our relator telling us that the buyer in NJ was counting on inheritance from his recently departed father which had not happened yet so he would have to go to the bank for part of the sale price.  Ok no problem, he and his girlfriend (in Lubbock) still wanted the house and he could come up with around 60% down and finance the rest using his condo in NJ; ok no problem. We continued forward.  We packed the house, arranged for an estate sale company to sell that we weren’t taking with us (which was most of it) down to the walls, and signed a lease on an apartment.  Then, not 24hrs later my realtor called telling me the NJ buyer didn’t get the loan because there were outstanding claims on the fathers company and from what she could tell the collateral (his condo) was in the company’s name.  So, we unpacked the house, broke the lease, canceled the estate sale, and put the boat broker on hold.  Again it felt as if we had pitch-poled.  So now we are back to square one and trying to gain momentum in the real estate market. So I guess this is part of Getting Started, even though it feels like Getting Stalled. 

Next time I will continue with the tale of how we got started down this watery path but for now, if you know someone looking for a great house in Lubbock Texas, give me a call!  Until then-

Fair Winds and Following Seas

Friday, April 6, 2012

Getting Started Part III

For those of you I left on the edge of your seat/keyboard since my last post and appeared to sail on the edge of the earth, sorry.  Between my last post and just a week ago Jo and I were in a mad dash to finish work on the house and get it on the market, both of which are done and I hope in my next posting I can bring you news regarding sale of the house.  This mad dash over the last year has all been to get the house to this point; finally it has nearly ended and before we can cool-down we are in the starting blocks for the next one.  It seems that that is the story, of not just ours, but a lot of our friends lives, one mad dash from one phase to the other until we hit the final wall; and yes, I question the logic in that.  I hope with this plan/plot/pursuit we are about to undertake we will at least “gear-down” a bit.  Of course I say that at 04:10 a.m. sitting in a Long Beach, CA hotel unable to sleep for the last hour or so because my mind is racing. 

I am here at USITT (United States Institute of Theatre Technology), which proves to be bittersweet, for several reasons.  This organization and all the friends and colleagues I have met here represent a part of my life I am moving away from very soon.  Former teachers like Bernie, dear friends I have met through USITT like Le, Holly, and Mike, Steve, classmates from TTU and Illinois, and most importantly former students who now have their own students and careers.  I will miss it and them dearly.

A Prindle (not ours)
OK, enough preambles, back to the story, Getting Ready; Part III.  So, when I last left you I was off to Graduate School, or Three Years Without Sleep.  I went to the University of Illinois for a couple of reasons, first they accepted me on the basis of my portfolio not grades, no GRE was required, they scholarship-paid my tuition and fees, and the Krannert Center offered opportunities that other places I was looking at did not.  The one reason I did not choose it was for the sailing opportunities.  I knew that there was no way I would have the time to sail (remember, Three Years Without Sleep).  Of course, we did find opportunities to sail in the small lakes around Champaign – Urbana, then one day (don’t they all start like that) I was reading the classified ads and there it was, an 18’ Prindle Catamaran, in Springfield Illinois for sale.  While we were in Amarillo, our friend at the Texas Sailing Center had taken us out on a Hobie Cat at one of the only large reservoirs in the area and although it was not like the flying-a-hull, hair-on-fire experience that you see in all the promos for beach life in California or Florida it put the hook in our mouths, Springfield set the hook.  I suppose I can fess-up and all statutes of limitations have run out but there are these things called graduate student loans, and by our way of thinking, they were intended to help you live/survive graduate school and this Prindle was our survival.  So we went to look at her.  The guy selling her thought we were just looking for a free sail so it took some convincing that we were serious, but it finally worked and he took us out, showed us how to rig her and the very basics of how to sail her in almost non-existent winds.  We left that day both excited and scared out of our wits.  Here I was at grad school, we had a child who we had just learned at the age of almost 2 suffered from some life affecting handicaps, and we were only three years into a marriage; what could go wrong?  So we bought the boat.  One Sunday I drove to Springfield, gave the guy the biggest check I had ever written and hooked it up to our red Pontiac and headed home all the way experiencing uncontrollable excitement and depression.  If you are good at math, you probably realize we now own two boats.  Hey Neil!  One of the students in the undergraduate tech-production program and I had become drinking buddies and his wife, Jo, Erik, and I would take the Sidewinder out sailing on the rare free Sunday and even took a short sailing holiday later down to a lake in Northern MO near Hannibal which of course we all know is home of one of the greatest inspirations to grab a boat or raft and cast off the dock lines of all times, Mark Twain.  So, long story just slightly less long, Neil bought the Sidewinder, which followed him post graduation to Austin and had a good life on the many lakes of the hill country.  Some years later I heard Neil traded up to a 22’ something with one hull, and then eventually beat me to the good life and retired from his job and is living somewhere down-island diving and building his piece of paradise.  Keep the beer cold Neil, we’ll be there soon!

So now we have this 2-hulled boat, no time to go sailing, a good hour to the nearest lake of any size, and no real idea what we were doing (sounds like a recurring theme in our lives.)  To say there was a learning curve would be an understatement.  The first time out, Jo, Erik, and I must have been the type of shore side entertainment we all enjoy, well except those of us who are the entertainment.  First mistake was trying to use the traditional boat dock with something that wasn’t a bass or ski boat and then trying to sail around the bass and ski boats, but we prevailed and must have at least survived.  While out that day we spotted a muddy little beach of sorts with other s/v (sailing vessels) that looked like ours.  After some time we met a few of this lunatic fringe and realized it was a club of sorts.  No meetings, dues, or blue blazers just cat sailors.  We learned from them how to cast off from the beach instead of the boat ramp and more importantly how to sail and rig-up single handedly.  I learned not to lose your footing when you fly a hull or you get very wet, which led to learning how to right a cat when she’s on her side or all the way over, and what it meant to pitch-pole a boat. For those of you unfamiliar with the term it basically means sailing faster than you should and making the cat do a cartwheel of sorts by burying the front leeward hull (the side the wind is not coming from) down into the water bringing all forward motion to an immediate standstill.  Since we all learned in science class or when we tried to go to far on a date, every action has an immediate and opposite reaction, going too fast in one direction will often lead to a slap in the face.

Time went on and we/I got better.  Our son loved the water and sailed with us when we had the chance to go out as a family, but often I went out by myself during the summer when I was not taking classes, painting scenery, working on the house we foolishly bought, or taking care of the boy.  Eventually I was invited to race.  OK, here we get into an area I am choosing to avoid, racing, well better put racing with your spouse as crew, just not going to go there.  I did participate in two out-of-town races in southern Illinois at the Whale-of-a-Sail Regatta and have the mugs to prove it.   Even though I enjoyed racing and even bought a book written by Phillip Berman who I got to meet a few years ago, I never had a future as a racing star or Olympic champion.  First off, beach cats, should I say racing cats, are sensitive to weight and for those of you who have met me I can best be described by Lord Richard Buckley and later Jimmy Buffett in God’s Own Drunk as possessing a 27 acre body.  But I had fun, and the comradely was a large part of it. 

In retrospect, it was a good thing I went to grad school in Illinois.  If I had gone in San Diego where it is endless summer I would have never gone to class and would have become a sailing bum long before I could really appreciate the life, but, being in a part of the world with things like blizzard warnings and life threatening wind chills, the cat had to hibernate and I just had to wait for the few days in the summer when we could go sailing.  You know the rap on teachers; we only work 9 months out of the year.  Well in nearly 30 years of this I have had two summers off when I wasn’t teaching or doing summer theatre and one of those was while in grad school between my second and third year.  During this time I sailed whenever I had gas money for my Subaru and a fair breeze.  Usually I would take care of stuff around money-pit with an indoor swimming pool (house with leaky basement) and then head off for the lake.  Lunch was a snickers bar on the way home and often times in the dog days of a Midwest summer I floated more than sailed but I was on the water.  Jo and Erik came when they could but for the most part I was often alone on the lake. 

We threw in a couple of summer trips mostly connected to family events and of course towed the sailboat wherever we went.  At my brother’s wedding I piled on three large persons plus myself in too much wind and damn near swamped her, and at a gathering of Jo’s clan at some lake in central Texas her brother, Jon, brought his 18’ G-Cat and we sailed from morning to night.  When I graduated Jo bought me a used sailboard (windsurfer) which I was determined not to suck at, determination is a good thing although not a guarantee of success and in case - are there any government auditors out there? -  I did use part of another student loan to replace the stock main sail with a racing main but that was the only real graying of the loan rules, and the loan got paid back in full and even ahead of time, and as previously postulated, I survived the Three Years Without Sleep.

Graduate school ended and I had several offers at geographically diverse universities but for all the right reasons we landed in Ruston LA, which is where, I will leave this installment.

A postscript; I have been home from USTT for a week now and I hope I will be able to report soon that two of the four steeps necessary to make this jump are complete.  If I am the dog I would be getting nervous!  

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Getting Started Part II

It’s just another typical day in West Texas, the wind is blowing over 50knts and the sky is end-of-the-world red/brown.  I have just spent the better part of the morning in dream vs. reality world, or and thought I might want to stop looking and dreaming and go back to something useful, like blogging; oh well.

Note: Not us in the boat or our boat
Where were we; oh yes I met a girl and she had a sailboat.  We met in OK City where I was working as the Scenic Artist for the then, Oklahoma Theatre Center.  I had gone from a lucrative job with an advertising art agency designing lighting systems for their installations, making serious coin for 1978 to basically slave wages in  a job where we were happy when we got off early on our day off.  Jo was working as a volunteer for the American College Theatre Festival that was being housed in our theatre, so that’s where we met.  I asked her out and although she was seeing someone else she said yes.  It was on our first date, she was late; a recurring theme I came to know as ‘Taylor Time’.  I waited out front till she got home, met her roommate and saw the boat sitting there in her garage, a 16’ Sidewinder sailboat.  The timing of when we met however was not in my favor for learning how to sail unless I stayed in her favor.  You see it was late October (Halloween as a matter-a-fact) and that meant the air and especially the water was cold and if you know Jo she does not do cold.  Since family and friends might be reading this I will spare you the details of the next several months but suffice to say something clicked because we met in October, were engaged in January, and married in July and will be celebrating our 33rd anniversary this July.

Ok enough with the true romance; this is a sailing blog after all.   Once it got warm enough she introduced me the obsession that has lead me and others to question my sanity; she took me sailing.  Another thing also conspired to lead me here --that would be Jimmy Buffett who I was just starting to really get into.  There is a Gulf Coast singer, Kelly McGuire, who has a song “Blame It On Buffett”, his line: I had island dreams before I ever raised a main up a mast, well that kind of summed it up; I dreamed of tropical islands and sailboats.  I don’t think Jo had any idea the inner Popeye she was unleashing; I know I didn’t.  Actually, when it comes down to “blame” it really is her father’s fault, who bought the Sidewinder as an appeasement to his children after one his many moves when they were growing up.   Ok, so summer finally came and we sailed.  The job at the theatre ended and we sailed.  I collected unemployment and picked up “off-the-books” jobs and we sailed.  There were times when a meal consisted of a box of McDonalds cookies split between us but we found enough money for gas so, you know, we could sail.  I learned absolutely no theory just practice.  In Lake Heffner, where we sailed, no swimming was allowed and as cold as OKC got in the winter it was equally as hot in the summer.  Because of the swimming ban the only way to cool off was to flip the boat.  Now I didn’t know much but I did know that the wet side was supposed to be wet and the dry, well dry but amazingly enough if the dry side became the wet side it could be righted and become dry again; most of the time.   Lake Heffner was perfect, a big reservoir with no speed boats (a.k.a. stinkpots) no skiers and it was before the cursed Jet Ski.  There were small fishing boats but mostly sailboats.  There were big monohulls from the Yacht Club; too fancy and expensive for us, and us the trailer-sailor crowd.  The YC held races (regattas) which not being members we were not allowed to participate in, but we could sail through the middle of their course.  Besides, as competitive as I was (ok am), Jo isn’t, so me going all captain on her, on her boat would have ended my days of sailing.  The other things on the lake were boats I thought were relegated to the West Coast, beach catamarans.  They were fast, wet, and way cool.  

In the midst of this sailing fest we were enjoying I knew that I needed to get a “real job” so I sent out some applications/résumés to theatre companies looking for a designer/technical director and landed a position in Amarillo TX.  Ok I know what you are saying, not much sailing in West Texas; and you are right, but there were a couple of small lakes and one big one and besides there was a sailboat shop there so how bad could it be?  Well not bad but far, it was at least 1-1/2 hour to any water so our sailing was severely limited.  Besides, I was working at a theatre as the does-everything-and-everything-else guy so free time was at a premium; but we did get out a few times a year.  Once, when West Texas Sailing held an event on the biggest lake, Meredith (sadly now on its way to extinction due to drought and poor resource management), one of the boats out there was a catamaran, a Nacra 5.2; a cat built for speed, and we got a ride.  Well Jo did.  I took our boat out with a couple of buddies, and remember I told you I had learned no theory, well Meredith is deep in a canyon and the wind when it blows does weird things.  The other thing I came to learn is you can not steer a boat that is sitting dead in the water and you are at the will of the currents, in this case the current created by the dam spillway.  No matter what I did I could not get the boat to go anywhere except towards the spillway.  A nice park ranger lady came out and told us we were not allowed where we were and left, so my two passengers and me used our arms to paddle back in.  I learned many things that day.  First if you don’t have wind you are going nowhere, if you don’t have an auxiliary engine get a paddle, and most importantly when you screw-up in front of a bunch of other sailors well you are the entertainment!  Somehow we made it to shore, not being a graceful looser I was not at my best and somehow in the process I lost my wedding ring.  Maybe I was not the next Dennis Conner (you just need to Google him.) 

During our first year there a man I admired greatly passed away all too soon; my Grandfather.  I went to his funeral, in Denver, and when I got back home the having children before we were too old to enjoy our grandchildren came up.  Now mind you Jo was 26 and I had just turned 25 but it seemed old.  If I had known how easy it was to get someone pregnant I would have been more carful in my youth.  In November of 1980 Big E was born, premature and in ICU for a week.  Now many of you know our son and I won’t spend time here visiting that subject but regardless of problems or not, a sailboat did not seem like the proper place for an infant, so sailing was curtailed.  Plus, the life of a designer/TD demands an average 60+hour workweek, and we were broke.  No health insurance and $30,000 in medical bills.  The boat sat in the back storage shed and we did what we needed to survive. 

After three years in Amarillo, working like a dog for slave wages (still less than I was making at the Art Agency out of undergraduate school) I realized that I needed to uproot my perfect little family and go to graduate school.  With a Masters in Fine Arts in Design I could get paid by a university to design and more importantly have health insurance and besides, how hard could teaching be?  I don’t know why but I decided that I needed to go to the University of Illinois and study at the Krannert Center for the performing Arts and believe it or not this is where our sailing life took another unexpected turn, a turn that placed it on a collision course with what’s coming next in our lives.