A Hard Day At Boat University

So I did it. I opened the floor up. Took the pipes apart. Figured, refigured, attached, detached, pumped, drained, and still couldn’t get the head to work. Amazing, right? Now it’s a little better than it was. I’m a lot grumpier. Elia not happy that  I was washing off toilet parts in the kitchen sink. Rough day at boat school.

I knew when I got this boat that I wasn’t getting the off the shelf model, and that it might need some work to get her into a “seaworthy” state. It was going to take a lot of love and attention. Cruising is going from exotic port to exotic port and fixing your boat. That’s what they say.

From high atop St. John

Part of getting the deep discount on the original purchase is knowing that the price will be paid somewhere. Either to somebody in the boat yard to get it fixed, or by fixing it myself. And as my cousin Clint so eloquently puts it. All Boatyards Suck! I was excited to learn about the systems. I like to fix things. And I realized that the only way I was going to learn about how things work was by fixing them when they broke. Be careful what you wish for at Boat University.

My usual method for fixing something is to break out the screw driver and vice grips and take it apart to see if I can figure it out. There is something inherently masculine about not needing help, not asking for advice. Head down, dive in, take it apart, and try not to drop anything in the bilge. When it goes back together hope that there aren’t any leftover parts.  In an amazing number of times I’ve found that this actually succeeds.

But I’ve been introduced to another way.  (Thanks Capt’n John) Turns out, there are manuals, where people that actually know how the thing works, describe in detail, sometimes with pictures and diagrams how it comes apart and goes back together. There are troubleshooting sections, FAQs. One can delve even deeper over the internet and find on youtube videos of people dealing with exactly that same problem who are excited to show you step by step how to fix it for free. And how about channel 68 on the VHF for a call out to other nearby sailors, for a part, for some advice. Professors are everywhere at Boat U if you know where to look for them.

Behind the electrical panel

Yesterday when trying to figure out the auto pilot after pushing all of the buttons and feeling like it must be time to call in the $95 an hour guys as a last resort I opened  the book. On page 17 it said, make sure that the unit is grounded. I looked and found that old Bob hadn’t bothered to hook up that particular wire.  No wonder it has been squirrelly for the last 2,500 miles. I ran the wire, butt crimped on both ends, shrink wrapped it, hooked it to the bonding plate.  Took it out for a test run. And miracle of miracles, it’s working great. Cheap day at Boat University!!!

I change my oil. Slowly the old used up sludge is drained away. Close the valve. Into the system comes the new lubricant. Fresh, untainted. As I am reluctantly learning, fixing the mechanicals can at times be much simpler than changing the thinking on the 58 year old male brain.

What Are You Avoiding?

Right now I’m avoiding changing out the plumbing in the head. It’s a stinky job that not only is inherently nasty, but involves weird twisting and bending, and getting into awkward positions all while dealing with old toilet pipes. And it’s not the kind of thing one can stop halfway through. Once started it really needs to be finished. So yes. Much rather write.

Under the head I must go!

And avoiding applying the next coat of varnish on the britework. And haven’t even starting rebedding all of the deck hardware. And then there is thinking about the rest of my life.

I’m told my saturn return is heading full force into my reality. Every 29 years or so we are given the chance to delve deeply into what the hell we are doing with our lives. Remember back around 29. Various paths were presented. Well here we are again. Been a dad. Worked hard for the money. And now what is it? Travel around the world in a floating house on a semi permanent vacation? Is that the next phase? Where is the “meaning” in that? Is it enough?

The plan is to go back to Boulder in early summer to continue the Dad phase to help shepherd Ethan through high school. But what does back home mean anyways. Life on a boat tends to make me leave many of my old problems behind. The questions are simple. The answers, fairly easy to come up with.

Stairs to Blackbeards’s Castle. St Thomas.

But “back home” is full of not only the stresses of today, but the accumulated stressors of living in the same house for over 30 years. Patterns and grooves of stress have been dug into the floor as I go into my office on a Sunday to pay the bills with money that never quite seemed to be enough. With computers that remember the deadlines of long, long nights just before going to the printer with not quite enough time. With the trauma of a marriage ending. The months spent caring for a sick girlfriend.

But then the joy, the beauty, the moose in the backyard, the kids growing up, the laughter, the music. The whole package. Once I’ve seen a truly different way of being, how to go back to the the old? And if so what to create in that old space that embraces the new?

The sailing life I’m hoping will give a good strong pause to the inevitability of the continuation of the continuum. I do have choices about where to go next in life, and getting away from the overwhelm might just help provide some clarity. But right now I feel very much in the gap. The future will unfold. But for me part of the learning is to let it, instead of to push it. The big questions arise. Much easier to just go and fix the head.

Orion from above. Caneel Hill St. John

Buying Bob’s Boat

I arrived at Reagan Airport on a rainy day in November, rented a car and headed to the eastern shore of Maryland. Clouded memories of my youth driving from Bethesda to Ocean City filled my mind. I hadn’t been to that part of the world in about 40 years and it was funny how familiar it all seemed. I spent the night in Annapolis where my dad used to take me to the Annapolis boat show. Went to a West Marine, then over the Bay Bridge, to Cambridge Md. To see the boat, to meet the owner. His name was Bob.

It all begins with Bob. Tuns out Bob was a survivalist, a hoarder, a cheapskate, an engineer, then  perhaps down on the list, a sailor. His first priority seemed to be how to save money and do it on the cheap. There was some method to his madness in his own brain, but unfortunately his brain had been scrambled in a car accident not too long ago so he had lost much of the ability to access his version of organization.

Just one drawer

Bob’s boat was organized much like Bob’s brain. Lots and lots of stuff pushed into every drawer and every shelf. It was filling the seats, the heads, the galley, the v berth, the stern cabin. Upon first inspection it felt like being at the auction of an abandoned storage locker. You could peer across the rope getting glimpses of possible surprises within. No way of telling if it was crammed full with treasures, or trash. It seemed like in some of those drawers there would be the special somethings that made it all worthwhile. But how to be sure?

90 Hp Ford Lehman. Lots of Umphh!!!

The bones looked good. The surveyor said perhaps a diamond in the rough. He liked it. I liked him. The engine inspector was a good old boy that people kept saying was the best.  He said he could tell almost everything about an engine by just sitting and feeling the vibration. His ass said yes. This boat had a lot of potential. And at some point in it’s life it had been loved.

You can find out amazing qualities of a person by inspecting their boat. How was it maintained? Was it cherished, lavished upon? It is also a testament to the personal economy of the owner. People seem to go through times of abundance and scarcity, and nowhere is it more apparent than in what they spend to keep their boat floating. But throughout abundance and the tight times there is an undercurrent of the personality of the owner.

Are they an artist? Do they do things the right way, the easy way, the temporary way, the half way? And as easy as it is to point the figure at Bob I find I too am giving a choice every day. I would like to say I have always taken the highest possible course. But of course one can not escape oneself, one’s history, one’s own personal Bob. Where is the Bob within? So easy to point out in others. Mine is more cloaked and nuanced.

And then, for me, the struggle between trying to do something that actually makes sense, and my ongoing ability to get caught up in the moment and do something crazy. I’ve sold things. I’ve bought things. I understand the emotional high of desperately wanting it, and not listening to the signs that maybe this wasn’t the right time or the right idea or perhaps the right boat.

I meditated. I pondered. I bonded. I skyped Elia. I called Brother Ben. I stood on the dock looking at her and just felt so damned happy.

I made an offer. There were concessions. We reached consensus. The deal was to leave all the stuff on the boat. I would pick through it later. I had a month to back out if I needed. Many things had to fall into place.

Ethan headed to a year abroad?

Ethan was planning on going for a year abroad. Should know by December 10th. Elia was getting better, but had to get a sense of how that was shaking out.

Maxo off to college?

Maxo was talking about next year. College? Gap year?

And then of course there was the small problem of coming up with the money…

Boat porn on the inter web had it’s tentacles in me …

img_1217Welcome to our blog. As we begin this record Elia and I are in the British Virgin Islands and planning on spending this fall/winter/ spring in the Caribbean on Orion, our 42’ Brewer 12.8 sailboat. Parts of our story will be told by Elia, parts by myself, so we are hoping to give a view from a couple of different perspectives. The thinking is not so much to share an ongoing travel itinerary, but more of a look at life in our world. Thanks for reading…


Where it all began:

Malcolm here.

The fall of 2015 was incredibly tough on Elia, and on me. She was dealing with being sick and we spent the fall in hospitals, in and out of surgeries, dealing with doctors. Much intensity. Many thoughts about life and the future and what do we want out of it all. What is important.

My take away was that I wanted to live now, not wait for the future when the money all made sense or when the stars aligned correctly. It turned out that even if you eat right, live clean, dance like nobody’s watching, and do a lot of yoga, you never really knew when the universe was going to come along and scramble all of those stars. Perhaps just when you thought it was all headed your way.

My boat addiction had been building for about a year, with many an evening spent online researching, dreaming. What type would be best? What could I afford? Where is the value? What is necessary, what are frills? All of this is the fun part of boat ownership that actually doesn’t cost money. Boats boats boats. On my mind. Not escaping. Grabbing hold. Such power a good strong addiction can exert over me. It had been a dream for many years. Boat porn on the inter web had it’s tentacles in me.

With Elia so sick there was some combination of desperately wanting to escape the pain of it. To go away with her and get healed together. I didn’t consider that she might not get well. No plan B entered my mind. It was going to happen. I was going to make it happen. Control over her sickness? Some control over my life where I could? I knew it was something that I wanted for me. I thought it was something that would be healing for her, and for us.

It was November. I figured perhaps a good time to get something for less than someone might take in the spring. We had looked at various possibilities while visiting my mom in Florida.  We saw a 42’ Bristol. Nice but tired and expensive. A 36’ Shannon. Way too small, tight, claustrophobic. Gulfstar? Possible but only rated so/so. Morgan? Cheap, but not built well. Many high end offerings that were shiny and new and oh so expensive. Wood, no. Steel, no. Fiberglass, yes. A center cockpit gave you an aft cabin. There was a door for separation. We both thought that we would want some space. 36’ seemed too small. 46’ too big. Sloop rig best. U shaped galley. Big fuel and water tanks. Shallow draft helpful. I had narrowed the search down to a few different options that were old enough to make them affordable, built rock solid, great reviews, etc. I kept coming back to 42’ Brewers.

There were 3 different Brewer 12.8’s that were available. One in Maine, one in Florida, and one in the Chesapeake Bay. The wheels started turning. They were all around $70,000-$80,000. Too much money. I sent out offers to each of them for $45,000, just to see if anything might happen. Florida said he would come down, but not nearly that much. Maine came back with $60,000. Chesapeake, $55,000. I dug deeper into the pictures, the descriptions, the history. Chesapeake was looking good. $47,500? His broker came back and said that he would go down to $50 but not any lower.Maine was down to $60 but the boat was sitting in his backyard, hadn’t been loved for awhile, seemed off. Based on my research $50 was the lowest I had ever seen for these, or similar, boats.

The way the boat buying game works is that you offer a price. If they accept it you sign a contract and then have a certain amount of time to go over it and make sure you know what you are getting. At any point in that process you can walk away. We agreed on $50k. It was time to actually go see this boat.orion-at-rest

It was December. Winter was closing in. I flew to Cambridge Md.