Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lessons Learned

As most know, space aboard ship is limited, especially on a small boat like ours.  First priority always goes to those things needed for the boat, then, what is needed to keep the crew safe and healthy.  Far down at the bottom of the list come those superfluous comfort items for which there may or may not still be room.  When sailing through the lower latitudes clothing falls into this category.  For example, that fourth t-shirt a third is so extravagantly unnecessary its more likely to find use soaking up a bilge leak or oil spill.  Its at this point in the packing that the deepest cuts are made to one's personal items.
Having spent last winter sailing, albeit in slightly colder conditions (see: www.sailtocuba.blogspot.com).  I was well aware of just how stripped down a wardrobe is actually required for the stripped down existence of life on the waves.  Some friends were easier to convince than others. Today was our first laundry day in Ft. Lauderdale.  Becca, who had run out of clean clothes, declared it time.  Mark by now was recycling his underwear.  I was no longer wearing underwear.

All of our dirty clothes together still only totaled one load so everything went in together.  In went went our socks, our shorts and white t-shirts.  In went Becca's red pants.  Mark and I will spend the next four months dapper and dashing, dressed in subtle shades of pink.  They'll match our sunburns.

Work on the boat is largely finished.  We're down to the minutiae of pre-departure preparations now, and of course, loading everything onto the boat.  Everything four people will need for four months of living and sailing must fit into a space the size of a minivan with enough space still left over for us all to live comfortably.  In addition, we have to fit all the tools and glues and spare parts necessary to keep afloat a boat built the year my dad graduated from high school.  Its like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.

Progress has dropped to a crawl.  Slowly, the holds are filled with the big items and then the crevices in between packed with ever smaller ones until there is no wasted space left.  This ensures we will be able to fit everything on board that we need to.    It also ensures that we won't be able to find anything again until the end of the trip.

Weary of packing, tonight we took the evening off.  Our dinghy was back from the shop and newly patched so, we decided to take her out for an evening cruise through the canals. The air was hot and muggy, our new outboard was purring happily, and we were living the high life with ice cold Miller.  Mark asked if maybe we should bring the oars with us just in case.

"Naw, gotta learn to trust the motor," I said, giving him a fatherly clap on the shoulder.  We piled into the dinghy.  I opened the throttle and, all 2.5 horses churning, we roared up the New River, beers in hand.  The waters on the canal were calm but with the four of us inside, our dinghy sat low enough in the water that we got wet anyway.  When the beer ran out and dusk descended, we turned for home.  It was at that moment that the motor sputtered and died.  We were out of gas.  Mark observed that it would be nice to have oars at a time like this.  I informed him that questioning the captain's decisions was mutinous and mutiny would not be tolerated, not even in the dinghy.  With that, an uneasy quiet descended over the boat as the mosquitos whined and bit and we drifted slowly through the dark down the middle of the canal.

By the time we'd drifted to shore we'd come up with a plan.  Mark and Nate would stay and guard the boat.  Becca and I, the only two wearing shoes, would hike back to Strolla, get the oars, and return in the car.  The outboard took fuel at a mixture of 50:1 and we didn't have any mixed back at the boat so it was agreed that rowing back would be fastest.

Becca and I set off into the dark, cutting across backyards, navigating our way through the maze of canals and cul-de-sacs.  Using the highest visible landmark, the I-95 overpass, as our reference point, we arrived back safely at Laila's house.  I grabbed the oars from aboard Strolla, hopped in the car and raced back.  Nate and I exchanged places.  He'd volunteered to cook dinner tonight and had to get started.  Mark and I began the slow paddle back down river through the dark.  We made it back just in time for Nate's tacos.  Delicious.

Repair and Prepare

This past summer, while river guiding in Jackson Hole, WY, I was faced with a question.  What to do with my winter.  Most of my friends were staying in the mountains.  The skiing, they informed me, was quite enjoyable.  I do like to enjoy myself.  I, however, am a boat owner, the proud owner of a 31' elizabethan sloop named "Strolla," and being a boat owner carries with it certain responsibilities.

Strolla had been docked all summer at my friend Laila's house in Ft. Lauderdale or, more correctly, docked at her neighbor's house because Laila's dock space has been rented out.  The boat couldn't stay there forever, couldn't stay there much longer at all, in fact.  With the summer rafting season at an end it was time to make a decision, either sell it or sail it.  Both options would necessitate a trip to Florida.  To me, the choice was obvious, time to start recruiting a crew.

My friend from college and sailing partner from last Winter, Pete Hinman, was not interested in round two.  He was happily situated in New Hampshire with a job and a girl and a new rental home.  Fortunately, a seasonal resort like the one I was guiding for happened to be a great place to recruit adventurous compatriots.  Nearly everyone there was soon to be unemployed and with a lump sum of summer savings to apply towards the next endeavor.

The first two to bite were Nate and Rebecca.  They'd started dating while working in Vail, CO and had come to WY together, her to manage the bar and he to drive for the rafting department.  Next came Mark.  He'd originally left NJ for the Rockies in order to snowboard and had fallen into river guiding as a way to pass the summer.  I think leaving the mountains just as the winter season's first snows were falling was a hard decision for him.

We took a month off after the close of the season in WY and then met at Laila's house in Ft. Lauderdale on November 10th to get the boat ready.  I arrived a day early to inspect Strolla and see how she'd weathered the last six months.

Although in need of a little love, she looked pretty sound.  There were no insect infestations and no obvious signs of decay.  They were just hidden.  When I tried to shut the valve to the raw water cooling system, the handle broke off.  It had rusted through over the summer.  Fortunately, the handle broke off with the valve open so the motor could still draw water to cool itself.  This put it at the bottom of the priority repair list.

When I started the diesel motor up it ran sweetly, then started to sputter, then choked to a stop.  Top of the priority list.  I checked the fuel filter.  It was rusted over and full of slime.  Apparently, there had been a bit of water inside over the summer.  Yes, there was work to be done.

For the last ten days, the four of us have worked on the boat, all day every day.  As we pour over the boat, scraping and painting and reworking and repairing, the list of repairs shrinks faster than it grows and the progress is satisfying.

I had a good summer on the river and so I splurged on a few luxury items to make our lives a little easier this winter.  Among my purchases are a chartplotter (with charts), a shortwave radio so we could receive regular weather forecasts, a reliable outboard motor for the dinghy.  No, the old British Seagull motor my friend Pete and I had kicked and cursed all last Winter would not be coming with us.  Best of all, I bought a little refrigerator to fit under one of the benches.  Now, we'll be able to enjoy cold beer and crisp vegetables in the tropics!