03/21/2013 - 03/31/2013 33 °F
We have made the segue from house to boat, a more difficult one this time. As much as we are looking forward to this trip, it was very tough leaving the house. The physical transition was much easier; since no one will be staying at the house this time, other than, maybe, a visit, there was much less work to do... just pack and go. But the drive on I-40 felt like 10 years ago on Rte. 53, driving to work.
But the time away from our home seems to be more dearly purchased every year. Our "front yard" is a 2~3 acre orchard, maybe 100 feet from the front door, through some trees. The orchard was the critical element in our decision to purchase this land for our home. In the orchard are many apple trees and several huge Dogwoods all of which will, most years, bloom in absolute profusion. I have looked down from the knoll at their dense mass of flowers, the trees gravid with white, blending together, the acres so thick with color that I could imagine standing feet on the ground and head above the clouds. This will be the 5th year in a row that we will have missed this Spring cycle, an affirmation of life renewable. I am loathe to miss this again.
Later, when the blooms have fallen from the trees, the beauty moves from tree tops to shoe tops. Seemingly, thankfully, wonderfully, every type of trillium that ever existed has found a firm purchase in these mountains. In some places they carpet the ground; in others, a flower grows by itself, a precious solitaire, a gem sparkling in the dross. For reasons I know not, of the hundreds of flowers which grace this place from April through September, these are my favorites. I am loathe to miss them again.
The other thing is that we have said an awful lot of good-byes these past years, leaving our dear friends and family for too long; and then leaving all of the wonderful new friends we have made while on the boat. It's a conundrum, almost as if we exist in two parallel universes.
TS Eliot may have been a great poet but he was a lousy meteorologist and had never lived in these mountains. March is the cruelest month, an ineluctable fact. We planned to leave very early on 03/21. Took the dog out late the night before ..... no hay problema! A few hours later: una problema grande .... the temperature is 17 degrees and there are 1~2 inches of snow over ice. We should have been on the road by 0500; didn't start until 1200 and were lucky to get away then. NCDOT had, improbably, salted Panther Branch; that plus a few rays of sun and the roads were drivable. Of course, the hiatus was filled with scenes like this of the eponymous Panther Branch behind our mailbox.
In the context of heading north on a boat, the snow and ice evoked several words including s___, iceberg and Titanic. Having looked at the temperature forecast for the next week, we may be two months too early to be trying this.The drive to the boat seemed to reinforce this. No new green on any trees from the house to Oriental, almost 400 miles moving from 3,300-ft. in altitude to about 3-ft. The only trees in bloom were the Downy Serviceberry trees, almost always the first to flower. The point being: Spring is not very close even this far east and for this Al Gore got the Nobel Peace Prize for inventing global warming, or some such thing.
Since it has been so cold, so late in the Spring looking at the Jet Stream seemed like a reasonable endeavor. So I found a web site that has 10 day projections. On Friday, 03/22 the flow had dipped so far south that the graphic had it touching Mexico at the western end of Texas. Forecasts being what they are, the last week of March looks to be more of the same; early April maybe more normal or, at least, less bad.
I got to the boat a day ahead of Carol so it was my job to make the bed, always an awkward task in the cramped rear cabin with zero head room. As I started pulling out the pillows, it seemed that the pillow supply would never end. That got me to thinking that there are some things which regular guys will never be able to understand one of which is the endless fascination which many women, including Carol, seem to have with pillows, a fascination followed closely by candles. It must be an XX chromosomal thing, women getting in touch with their inner interior decorating selves or, perhaps like Shirley MacClain, channeling former lives when they were, in fact, interior decorators. It's a fact that even cave walls were "decorated" during the ice age. It's certain that the guys were too pooped from mastodon dueling and saber-toothed tiger wrestling to waste their time and precious calories on such trivial pursuits without some external motivation. It's a good thing that I'm kind of puny, not taking up much space in the cabin, not competing with the pillows. If it were to come down to a choice between me and the pillows, Carol might have a hard time arriving at a decision.
So, the mathematical expression to describe our sleeping quarters is: total pillows, T(p) = 6; Russ' pillows, R(p) = 1. So, how many are Carol's pillows, C(p)? As Mr. Ray would have said in SMSG Algebra I solve for C(p):
R(p) + C(p) = T(p)
If I have time to set up an Excel spread sheet I may provide the answer in a future blog entry.
The first stop in town was straight to the Yanmar dealer, Deaton's Yacht Service, to pick up the new start switch. It looked pretty much like the old one, a good omen. I had taken all of the pieces I was able to locate of both switches back to the house and made my best effort to cobble together one good switch from most of the parts from two ruined switches, the switch that could not be bought at any price. There was a certain logic to the switch once the OMG panic passed and focused desperation took control of the mental processes. Miracle of miracles .... the new one worked as promised and, an even greater miracle, so did the one with which I messed at the house. We are back in business! And, even if we are not in any danger of leaving soon, it's just nice to know that we could if we wanted to do so.
It's interesting how boat repair and maintenance changes your financial value perspective. Paying 10 times too much for a part seems like a pretty good deal when the only other viable option would cost about $2,000. So, the denouement is: I screwed the pooch big time, scrambled to a solution, learned a lesson at a price that will reinforce the learning but which obviates the need for suicidal depression and serious therapeutic drugs. Yet another in a long line of a boating humility transplants, none done with the benefit of anesthesia.
This must have been seriously weighing me. Because, now that this issue is resolved, I am much more enthusiastic about the trip.
I had thought that the boatyard work was done, and it was until I changed my mind. When the new engine was installed in Ft. Lauderdale, the folks said that there was no way to have individual gauges for the engine; the only choice was the built in control panel alarms. The problem with alarms is that they only sound when a problem is beyond remediation. I have missed the gauges we had with the old engine, ones I had installed, and have occasionally felt quite vulnerable without them. Every boating publication or website recommends gauges. So, while at the Yanmar dealer here in Oriental I decided to ask the gauge question again. What a non-surprise! These guys know their business and we are getting oil pressure and engine coolant temperature gauges installed, along with a new fuel gauge which matches the other two. I can only wish that we had had the engine installed here because I trust these guys.
It will take a few days underway to "learn" the readings of the new gauges, i.e. what's normal. Once done, we'll feel much better, much safer when the engine is running. Of course, with the old engine we had many reasons to worry; it was bad for overheating among its several other failings. With the new engine ... no worries, but it will nice to know.
Of course, even the most mundane things, like going to a boatyard, provide lessons. We had some local knowledge about the area but it has been, over the years, largely forgotten. One of the forgotten things was that winds from the SW literally blow water away from the area causing shallow waters to become even more shallow. Coming into Whittaker Creek I was trying to steer while talking on the VHF, multitasking. While not looking at the depth gauge in a normally OK part of the channel I ran hard aground. After a few minutes we managed to get free, but this was more difficult than it should have been because I couldn't guess where the water might be deeper. Once again I had to admonish myself about the "unguarded moment." The other was a more serious lesson/reminder; the wife of the young man doing the work on the boat has stage 4 pancreatic cancer; they have two high school age children. This reminder just seemed to forcibly reorient my mind to the glass being 98% full and how very, very fortunate Carol and I have been getting past our several serious health challenges. This reorientation is a good thing for us; it is just sad that the currency to purchase it is someone else's tragic misfortune.
On Monday, March 25th, 2013 Carol had her 67th birthday, the fourth consecutive such occasion on the boat. It may actually be five in a row; I don't recall whether she came to the boat from Tallahassee in 2009 to celebrate; that year she was deeply invested with helping Joan, her sister, through a very difficult time. Anyway, if she's no longer the potential Playboy hotty selection she once was (she really, truly still believes that the guy really, truly was a Playboy photographer), when AARP magazine starts its new centerfold program I'm sure she'll be a much sought after age group candidate.
While working on trip preparation I articulated a thought that is so blindingly obvious but one for which I had never put the right words in the right order. As a "captain" I spend most of my time actively involved in risk management, no different from my career or, I suppose, much of my life. Identify the risks, figure out which can be avoided and which can be attenuated, rank order the rest and have plans to deal with them and never, ever allow yourself to be surprised, surprise being the ultimate failure in managing risk because, a priori, there has been no preparation for the situation. Thinking and acting on the fly under duress exposes all our human frailties.
Obvious risk management: the new gauges, proof reading the way point list, inspecting the anchor chain, the new water separating fuel funnel, belonging to both Sea Tow and Towboat US, etc. ditto, ditto, and more ditto. Since we've already been doing this the insight is not transformative but it may lend itself to new ways to organize the several tasks we have been doing as a matter of course.
Of course, the serious business of managing risk occasionally becomes farcical. To wit, I carry two belts on board, just in case. These were same style that millions of servicemen, including me, have worn. Old technology, proven to be durable and reliable except that in the space of about four days both buckles broke. Imagine the odds. Not a catastrophe but with my deficient butt my jeans were tending to ride around my knees. Had it not been for the cold temperatures I wouldn't have minded this very much; others with more delicate sensitivities tended to be put off by the whole idea so Carol bought me a new one one the way to the boat.
Not from a sailor, who would have said trim the sails, but good advise, regardless.
So, boatyard work is done. Two more projects on board: do the 100-hr. maintenance even though it was done fairly recently. Some things just have to be looked at before setting off on a long trip. Having just overhauled the marine toilet, I decided that it is not working as it should, perhaps a factor of it being 11 years old or, maybe, just Carol's overuse and abuse. Regardless, I have decided to replace the entire pumping mechanism since I have no good reference on how it should really work, having first used this one at 5-yrs. old. A poorly functioning head mechanism could make for a very long trip and an unhappy crew.
All will work be done by Sunday, March 31st, or not; the closer we get to 04/01 the more items get posted to the to-do list and there is less time to complete the work. The list sort of accentuates the differences between our different natures. I add to the list many times a day; Carol looks at the list, maybe, once a week. Then I go nuclear because things are not getting done and she wonders what the problem is.
After completing our work, it will just be a waiting game on ambient temperature. The trip north to Norfolk is about 155 nm. up the ICW through largely unpopulated areas with few marinas. This may mean a minimum of 2 nights anchoring out, an enticing prospect unless the temperatures are in the 40's, or lower, over night. The good news in this is that the Vernal equinox was 03/20/13, so we now have light for at least 12 hours, useful light of at least 11 hours. Making the trip in three days is a stretch, but possible. I suppose it qualifies as irony that I know more about our plans for Maine than I do for the first leg of the trip. This needs my attention