Thursday, September 14, 2017

Still in one piece

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 8, 2017

Pain Killer and Caffeine Crisis

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

Image courtesy of NOAA/CIRA

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

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

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

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

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

And it doesn’t care.

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

Everything stripped and taped over

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

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

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Irma

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

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

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

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



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

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

From the mouths of babes...

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


Friday, August 18, 2017

Uncle

Good morning from Snead Island
I was thinking back over the last week’s worth of work, searching for something that might be of interest to write about, but the week went by void of those “you have to be kidding me” moments. I did stumble across a fat black wire that, instead of being a ground, was connected directly to the battery switch. No circuit breakers or fuses; select “1” or “2” or “BOTH” and it would be ready to add a little sizzle to your day.  But this is the “classic” boat getting a new instrument panel so finding such things isn’t really a surprise. More of a surprise would be not finding such things. In any case the offending wire went away, along with another fat black wire that carried power to the bus side of the circuit breaker panel. That one was changed to a fat red wire since I was poking around in that area anyway. The only real issue at work lately has been the relentless heat. It has been brutal enough that even the “old hands", people who have been working through Florida summers for decades, were struggling.


On the other hand, the current social and political maelstrom pummeling the US is chock full of “you have to kidding me moments.” Indeed, there have been so many since January 20th that, honestly, I stopped paying much attention. I mean, really, once you know there is a crazy uncle living upstairs in your parents house, what more is there to know?

“How’s Uncle Chester doing these days?”

“I fear he has been a bit crazier that normal lately.”
“Really, how can you tell?”

“Well, yesterday he decided that Nazis can be “good people” And that people who stand up against Nazis are "bad people".

“Yep, that is crazy alright, even for Chester. What do the doctors say?

“Uncle Chester doesn’t go to see doctors anymore. He thinks he is smarter and knows more about medicine than every doctor who has ever lived. He is also sure all the doctors are out to get him and that they are telling us nothing but lies to make him look bad. He is medicating himself on ego and hubris."

“Damn, don’t know what can be done about that.”

“Not much. We put a buzzer on the back door so we know when he goes out, and hid the ‘nukes over in the neighbor’s garage.”

“Good idea. Would you pass the salt please?”

At some point, of course, Chester is going to be a danger to himself and everyone around. Sooner or later someone is going to have to step up and move him out of the house and into a facility where he can get some help. That, or someone is going to get hurt and Chester will end up in a different kind of facility. (The US is pretty far behind the rest of the civilized world when it comes to dealing with the mentally ill.)

For now the family has no choice but to bumble along wondering just how much worse Chester can get before something just has to be done. But, like families everywhere, we will put off doing anything until the last possible moment.

Hopefully it will not be a moment too late.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Taking Sides

My family was steeped in academia because my dad was a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh for his whole career. Very early in my life, we moved to South America for a position he took to help establish a school of electrical engineering at a university near Valparaiso, Chile. I was enrolled in an all-girls Catholic school there where I was one of only two white girls. At the tender age of six, I experienced racial prejudice from the receiving end. I was perplexed and hurt, as I had never witnessed racial prejudice first hand.

Once reestablished in the US, our whole family attended the university annual retreat for orientation of the incoming freshmen, of which my dad was a key organizer. Even as a young girl, I interacted with the college students from many countries. Our home was frequently host to international students. My whole family was at least bilingual, my older brother spoke at least three languages fluently and understood more. Our friends were of every race and ethnicity. This was the norm for me, this understanding that all peoples are equal and intrinsically valuable. To harbor hate or disdain towards another human being simply by reason of their culture or skin color was so foreign an idea that, after adopting our biracial child, I was floored at the visceral reaction of some folks.

We are a melting pot, a country populated by the influx of immigrants from many nations, drawn to the ideals of equality. The melding of multiple races is a difficult thing, but the richness of our culture lies in the good things brought to it by all of these immigrants. But we've forgotten this.

Recently, these cultures, which have woven so much beauty into the tapestry that we call the United States, have come under attack with none to come to their defense. We've become lazy and comfortable. As long as we have our favorite brand of beer and 258 channels of inane banter, we strive to avoid any conflict that might upset the balance and threaten our comfort. I confess, I'm guilty. I have always hated conflict of any kind, striving to please in order to stave off uncomfortable encounters. But for those in this country who have lived their entire lives in peace and with freedom, a wakeup call has ensued. It's time to take a side.

If you were listening at all, you could hear the murmurings among the thoughtful over recent months. "Surely this could never happen here the way it did in Germany." "We would never allow such a man to take control of our society, would we?" Yet, the thoughtful existed in Germany and were persuaded to agree or be silent.

Holocaust survivor Primo Levi writes:
"In spite of the varied possibilities for information, most Germans didn’t know because they didn’t want to know. Because, indeed, they wanted not to know. . . . In Hitler’s Germany a particular code was widespread: those who knew did not talk; those who did not know did not ask questions; those who did ask questions received no answers. In this way the typical German citizen won and defended his ignorance, which seemed to him sufficient justification of his adherence to Nazism. Shutting his mouth, his eyes and his ears, he built for himself the illusion of not knowing, hence not being an accomplice to the things taking place in front of his very door." (Levi, Survival and Reawakening, 381)
I suspect that as the immediacy of the Holocaust waned, many thoughtful people in Germany reviewed the events in their minds, wondering how such an atrocity could take place without their own realization of the danger. They were duped, led like lemmings to the cliff. Today, the pitter patter of little lemming feet marching toward the cliff sounds again.

Some have, and indeed will again, criticize the writers of this blog for being too political in a sailing blog. But what good will it do to have a sailing blog if we no longer have the freedom to write in it or, indeed, to even participate in the activity at all?  Will you build for yourself that illusion of not knowing, guilt laid at your door by passivity, or will you see this as the time to stand and take a side? I've chosen mine. I draw the line in the sand and I denounce hatred and bigotry and choose the side of love, inclusion and community. Will you join me?

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Get it to work

"Out There"
Years as a corporate and charter pilot gave me the opportunity to interact with very rich people way more than any normal person should be expected to endure. They were, by and large, pretty average folk. They didn’t work any harder than most, weren’t any smarter than most, didn’t speak with an elegance that would catch one’s attention, or exude any particular wisdom. The vast majority were second or third generation money; setting off on their adult journey with a nice head start in education, health care, and connections all bequeathed to them by parents or grand parents. It is a head start any of us would have provided for our kids and grand kids as well, so such is just an observation, not a criticism.

Most of them did have this aura of entitlement about them, as if they had somehow earned the privilege of their birth. And many of them, though they were pretty ordinary in most ways, also shared a trait not quite as common among the rest of us. Almost to a person, and regardless of the luxury of their cars, the size and number of their homes, the hangars and garages stuffed with various kinds of toys, the number of ex’s, and any current entourage of mistresses or boy toys, they eventually got around to boasting of how cheap they were. It was like a badge of honor they had to pull out and polish for all to see. I don’t know if they made the same claim to limo drivers, cooks, grounds keepers, or other hired help, but it was a claim I heard many a time while loading bags aboard some corporate jet or turbo-prop.

Oddly enough, and contrary to how they lived, it was a claim that was also, somehow, true. I remember a rich man (let’s call him…oh “John”) inviting some friends to ride along for a day trip from PA to FL. He was going to take his turbo-prop for a spin to “get some lunch”. A week later his friends were a bit incensed when they got billed for their share of the fuel burned. I wasn’t sure which was more amusing, that “John” would make such a demand, or that people rich enough to be his “friends” would balk at ponying up. It was long ago and one of my first introductions into the strange doings of the well-to-do, but similar stories became the norm as the years wore on. (Here is a free tip, if a rich person offers to “take you to lunch” for some reason, be sure to take your wallet. Unless it is a “date” they are offering to drive, not pay for your meal.)

Working as a mechanic in a boat yard has landed me at the edge of that world once again. Though I don’t talk directly to owners very often or for very long, this weird obsession with being known as “cheap” can pop up in odd little ways. One of our current projects is a brand of ‘hobby” boat; a smallish, old-school kind of power/fishing boat with lots of teak and classic “looks”. The amount of money being spent on the project must be massive; board feet of teak being refinished and a all new instrument panel. Nothing cheap about that, right?  But this is all stuff one can see. Things that can’t be seen, like the wiring disasters that lie in the bilge, those are fine. There is no VHF in the new panel, though the stereo is first class. I have been given “cart blanche” to wire the helm, but I’m not really sure what that means. We are using the old breaker panel and most of the wiring strung throughout the boat, rank as much of it is. I do have to admit that if “cheap” keeps me out of the grungy bilge and its equally grungy wiring, that will be fine with me.

“Looks” is a big part of what this project is about; ascetics more than function. Building up the new instrument panel will be an exercise in getting everything to fit as close to perfect as possible. Such is easy in a “new school” shop of C-n-C machines, laser cutters, and computer generated graphics. More challenging is getting close to perfection using only a jig saw, the odd assortment of hole saws, a barrel sander, and a measuring tape. I cheated a bit with that last one, digging out my old sheet metal mechanic’s 12 inch rule marked in hundreds of an inch. I laughed, remembering an old ditty tossed around many a fabrication shop….

“Measure with a micrometer, cut with an ax, install with a hammer, paint it to match.”

It makes, in an “old-school” kind of way, for an interesting bit of work. The boat is on the hard though, out in the open and siting in the sun. The teak work means the bimini is removed; so “interesting” includes trying to not melt in the Florida summer.

A couple of other projects I played a part in have been finished, and I was tasked with doing the sea trials, a new and pleasant experience for me. Another tech and I did two trips in the boat that got a whole new autopilot system. The first trip was a bust, the auto pilot refusing to helm the boat even though the set-ups at the dock had been completed. A reset of the rudder position indicator, even though all indications were that it was indexed correctly, and a restart of the set-up procedures from scratch, got the auto pilot up to speed. It was a fun boat to helm, though the diminutive cockpit put the end of the boom right in one’s face when standing at the wheel. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to back up compared to Kintala.

A day or so later the same tech and I took a Catalina out to set up its auto pilot. This boat had been struck by lightning, virtually every single electrical component on the boat has been replaced. Once again it took a couple of tries to get the thing working but, this time, we didn’t bother coming back to the dock. Instead we just put the boat in neutral and let it drift while doing the “dock side” pre-sets. A couple of slow circles after that aligned the compass. That last step was a thing called “auto-learn”. One turns the boat over to the auto pilot and watches it slalom the boat down the waterway. I’m not sure what the thing is learning and it makes for a weird ride while the boat slews port and starboard a total of 15 times. It took three tries to get through this step as the electronic driver kept turning the boat toward shallow water. Eventually we figured out just how much room was needed and what general direction the boat would end up going; in this case a slow arc to starboard. After the third try we got a “COMPLETE” on the MFD. A few minutes trying the various auto pilot modes confirmed that all was copacetic and we headed back in.

It was good to be back out on more open water again. The life I was hoping to live is out there. Even though this time at the dock is necessary for a lot of reasons, and I am utterly (and gladly) under the spell of grandsons (2) and grand daughter (youngest), “out there” is still the goal. Short visits out there are fun, even if they are just to get something to work.

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Ed Note:

And totally unrelated, here's a shameless plug for the brightwork that my son-in-law is doing here at Snead Island. He's an artist by trade and it shows in the quality of his work