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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.  

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

FAFFQ's ( Frequently Asked Family & Friend Questions)

Going to take the scenic route for a short trip here on the blog-way.  I should had warned you in the first blog something I tell my students; I never take the interstate when I have a choice, rather the scenic route, so this is a little of the scenic route.

As you know and perhaps have the scares to prove, we have just finished the holy trinity of the “family” holidays:  Thanksgiving, Christmas, and to a lesser degree New Years.  Now most of my holidays has been spent in a paint can as I renovate our house that we will be selling to buy the boat that will take us on our adventure; but (there’s always a but) we did venture both to Houston for Jo’s stepmothers 90 Birthday and to see her family then the day after Christmas to Colorado Springs to see my dad and his girlfriend (ok does that sound odd to anyone else).  Both those visits were, aside from their intended purpose, filled with questions that, well, questioned our sanity.  So I thought it would be interesting (well a least to me) to publically answer some of those questions and invite ones from you, so here goes!

1.     Are we crazy/insane/out of our mind/etc.?

This is easy; most of you know us, YES, next question. 

Well maybe a little more of an answer is needed.  Since I haven’t gotten beyond the “then I met a girl, with a boat” in my original thread of thought on Getting Started, some of this might not make sense.  Honestly if some of it makes sense I will be pleased.  I once read that going off to sea on a sailboat, you know sailing off into the sunset, was the modern day equivalent of sailing off the edge of the earth; you didn’t come back.  Crazy right?  Well since the world is round that if you keep your vessel upright and on top of the water (this is VERY important) that eventually you will end up in the general vicinity of where you began, give or take several thousand hundred miles.  It is, however, a total lifestyle change. Fires of all we will be going from something that is solid (except for my friends in California) land, to liquid i.e. water (since we will be sailing is the lower latitudes the only solid form of water, ice, we will see will be in our sundowner).  We will be going from over 3500 square feet of beautiful home (remember its for sale) to several hundred, if you include the deck, of constantly moving looking to bruise you boat.  Water is limited so showers are short, power is severely limited and reserved for those functions that keep you on top of the water and not running into things (you live off batteries), if you run out of flower, or Rum, there is no supermarket to run out to, there are no plumbers, electricians, doctors, or mechanics at sea, and you are at the mercy of mother nature.  Sounds like a blast, right, only a crazy person would do this.  So……

2.     Why go cruising on a small boat?

Well simple put, it’s the shared dream we both have had for a long time and life is all too short to not make your dreams a reality if you can.  Both Jo and I like adventure, (well me more that her) many of you have met our children!  We are attracted to the reality of waking up on the hook (anchored) in a secluded bay with no one else around and being able to take our island with us wherever we go.  Of course we like the idea of being self-sufficient and off-the-grid as much as possible.  I particularly like the idea that my new dress code will be shorts and flip-flops except when I have to check in and out of foreign countries.  We like the possibility of sharing our lifestyle with friends and meeting new friends who share our insanity.  We like the fact that it is not easy. 

3.     Will you have a homeport?

Yes and no.  Insomuch as will we have a home on land, no, we will remain a resident of a state, probably Texas but if not Florida.  Many cruisers make use of mail-forwarding services that function as their permanent residence on land for the sake of not only mail but for drivers licenses, passports, voting etc.  The one best set up to dealing with cruising sailors is in Florida, but there are many in Texas, and a large one in Houston which is where Jo’s family is so that might be best.  My father thinks we should have a condo or someplace on land to call home but the reality of the bank account will not allow for that.  In short, the boat is our home.  Where the boat is registered out of is another matter and has to do with taxes, which is why lawyers and brokers become involved in the process. 

4.     What kind of boat will you have?

Although we haven’t picked out the boat, we do know we want a catamaran (two hulls) as opposed to a mono hull (one hull).  The joke is, at least I think it is a joke, that with a cat if we get in a fight one can sleep in one hull and one in the other.  The real reason is we like the space and comfort afforded to us on two hulls.  There are lots of particulars involved but for now I will keep it basic. Living accommodations are located in the two hulls (the part that sits on the water) as well as the heads (restrooms) showers, and Jo’s sewing space.  The galley (kitchen) and eating/social space (salon) are located on the bridge-deck (the space between the two hulls).  Now some cats have the galley in one of the hulls but for now we will keep it in the salon, which makes it a “galley-up” arrangement.  The area outside the salon, usually aft (towards the back) also is a social space as well as often the helm (where you steer).  Forward of the salon is the foredeck that on most cat’s consist of a mesh trampoline like with the popular beach cats. 

As for which specific cat, well we have a short list that is always evolving.  A delivery captain, mentor, and friend of mine told me there are three things to consider when buying a boat: performance, comfort, and price.  The catch is, at least for most of us, you only get two of the three.  Since the cat we buy is directly tied to what we sell our house for one of my two in price and since we want to live aboard comfort is the second.  Yes you can have all three, it’s called a Gunboat and it costs 1.5 million or more.  The next consideration is new or used again price comes into consideration.  A friend asked me what does something like what you want cost?  This is the downside of a cat; for the most part they are considerably more expensive that a mono hull.  So for us, used, ideally 5-7 years old but an older vessel that is seaworthy and not been beat to death could work. For an example of what we are looking at go to:

5.     Are they safe?  Won’t they flip-over or sink?

The joke among mono hull sailors is that a cat’s most natural position is upside down, to which the cat sailors reply is the most natural position for a mono hull is on the bottom of the ocean.  Nothing is un-sinkable; if you try hard enough you can send anything to the bottom of the ocean.  Without going into Navel Architecture, the key to staying afloat on a mono hull is to stay upright.  The keel accomplishes this; a big heavy piece of led incased in fiberglass and bolted to the bottom of the hull.  It works to counterbalance the forces of the wind and weight of the mast (the big stick thing where the sail lives) and mainsail.  If for any reason the keel falls off (it happens more than you’d think) the boat goes down; not good.  With a cat, the weight and forces placed on the mast and rigging is counterbalances by the width of the boat.  Common design practices dictate the width (beam) is at least half the length.  There are minimal keels that serve to help the cat sail closer to the wind but it is the beam that keeps it upright.  In addition, they are designed in such a way that even if one or two of the hulls are filled with water the bridge deck will keep them afloat; you wont go anywhere but your afloat until help comes.  There are other things that can go wrong and make for a very bad day but the same is true of driving in Lubbock, Houston, or Dallas; well anywhere for that matter.

Here’s an interesting perspective from a cat sailor/broker:

This brings us to the next question:

6.     Aren’t you, scared?

 Of course, but with planning and common sense seamanship we should be ok.  I have taken several of the ASA (American Sailing Association) classes, in fact almost all of them and will be starting work on my USCG Masters License in the fall.  We have chartered several boats; one with just the two of us, and I am planning to take diesel mechanics classes (auxiliary engines are a necessity in my opinion) and we will be taking wilderness first aid or advanced first aid training.  We will control all we can control and hope for good luck and the kindness of strangers for the rest.  Speaking of strangers…..

7.     What about pirates, are you going to carry guns?

Pirates are a concern but we will stay away from Somali, Yemen, and parts of Indonesia and trouble spots in the Caribbean.   Most of what I have read and talked to others about is not what is going on in the waters off the coast of Somali, but more akin to armed robbery; yes sometimes with tragic consequences.  As of now I have no plans to carry guns.  The rest of the world, especially the third world, doesn’t embrace the 2nd amendment the way we do in the USA.  You must declare your guns when you check into the country at which time they keep either your guns or bullets until you leave their country and since guns & bullets go together one without the other is useless.   If you decide not to declare your weapon, well you don’t want to do that.  We will carry wasp/bear/pepper spray and maybe a Taser but for the most part we will try to avoid those locations known for this kind of activity.    

Here is an interesting websites with up to date piracy reports:

8.     Communications, how will you stay in touch?

It is easier than even with sat phones, the Wi-Fi all over the world and even cell phones.  We will also have a Single Sideband Radio SSB that will be hooked up to a modem for email and weather files.  We will have a Spot locator on board that will send locations to my Facebook page and of course I hope to keep this blog going.  We will also have emergency locator devices that will help locate us and send a distress message if we get in trouble.

9.     So what are you going to name your boat?

No one really has asked but I thought it would be interesting.  Of course it the boat already has a name a renaming ritual must be followed so we might leave it as is if we like it but right now (in no particular order) are names we have been kicking around:

Ob-La-Di (the dinghy Ob-La-Da)
Naked Turtle (Jo’s suggestion)
Sweat & Grace
Turn the Page
Semi True Story
Not Fade Away

Yes, all except Naked Turtle have ties to music.

The list is developing so feel free to suggest names.

10. What will you do with all your possessions?

Can you say estate sale?  No really, we plan to take very little with us, store some for at least a year and sell or giveaway the rest.  The house goes on the market this March, and if it sells quick and for enough we will move into an apartment until we cast-off the dock lines.

The biggest position in question is Jo’s long arm quilting machine.  The plan now is to break it down (it fit in the back of her Prius) make the machine head as water tight as possible and spray it all with WD 40 and when we decide to anchor in one location for a while see if we can find some space on the hard (land) to sit it up for her to do her work and to help others with their quilting.  All my fly fishing gear is pretty compact so it doesn’t take up much the space.  We are in the process of striking Christmas and have invited the girls over to take what they (some tears were involved) want and we will take one box of special decorations and sell/giveaway the rest.  For me the biggest question is what to do with work product of over 30 years of designing scenery and lights.  Drawings, renderings, models, there is a lot of shit I have accumulated.  I was going through my attic the other day and found my first rendering from undergraduate school (1976) and I have designed over 200 shows since then.  One thought is a huge bonfire.  It tired that after I graduated from TTU with my Italian books and Steve and I set the back yard on fire, so maybe not the best idea.  I may give them away, let my daughters take what they want, I just don’t know.  Other than that we are culling down and try not to buy anything that doesn’t fit on or is needed on the boat.  Things I know we won’t need:  sweaters, heavy winter gear, suits (well except one for marrying and burying) and ties, god I hate ties!  So if you’re around it will be one hell of a fire sale.

11. What about your children and family, aren’t you being selfish?

Those of you, who know us and know our son, know this is the single biggest issue.  As I posted to Facebook back in July of 2009, Erik is now in a group home with three other men.  Think of the Boy’s Next Door meets Animal House.  He had lived with us for 29 years and we knew this move was inevitable whether we sailed away or not.  I will say that we are mostly pleased with how it has worked out and he seems happy and is always content to go back to his house after a Sunday visit with mom and dad.  I am sure when we are physically gone from Lubbock there will be new anxiety on our part, maybe his too.  As for the girls, well that too will be rough but they will be fine and we have faith that even though nether has found a “career path” as we would define it they have a solid foundation.  It also solves the age-old question of what for Christmas; airplane tickets. 

So are we being selfish?  I’ll leave that up to those out there who like to pass judgment on others, as for us, it depends on which day you ask me and only time will tell if we have made the right decision. 

12. When is this “plan” going to happen?

Well as of today, 3, January 2012, 495 days, or May 2013, and yes there will be a party.  Jo is pushing for Las Vegas but I am angling for here or New Orleans.

Got any ideas?

OK, so these are some of the FAFFQ’s if you have your own please put them in the comments and I will answer them.  Oh, and if one of them is:  Can we come visit you on the boat?  The answer is, we are looking forward to it!