Nearly Thoughtless Thursday: I Could Do It Too

For some time now, my wife Pamela has been following a blog called Zero to Cruising. Started by some visionary folks who, many years ago, were in the same boat we’re in now (figuratively, not literally), it’s one of several blogs and other creative endeavors that fueled her dream to buy and live on a sailboat.

And a few weeks ago, these folks shared a video about some other visionary folks—specifically, a family that has managed to capture, in beautiful world-wide sound and color, the quickening spirit of a life on the water.

Of course, I hate all these people.

But please don’t get me wrong. It’s only because I know I’m yet too small to be like any of them. And that’s one reason I’m genuinely thankful to be aboard Meander this Thanksgiving Day. Room to grow.

That is, if I’m up to it. I guess we’ll see.

Meanwhile, if you have thirteen minutes and forty-three seconds to spare, this glimpse from the deck of a cruising family’s sailboat might give you some insight into why Pam has been thinking about the cruising life all these years.

Newbie Cruisers: The First Three Months of Bimini Dream

When my wife and I first decided five years ago that we would someday go cruising as liveaboards in our own sailboat, we were keenly aware that neither of us knew the first thing about sailing. So we started the pursuit of this dream by throwing ourselves into studying the art.

Book learning. . .

We began with the books, learning from them what we could of the wind and the water, of the behavior of the boats that ride them, and of the vocabulary used to describe that behavior.

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“The Complete Sailor” by David Seidman. One of our earliest. Still one of our favorites.

. . . is never enough.

Soon thereafter, we hit the wind and water we had been reading about. And in our first few years of struggling to get our boats to behave the way the books said they would, we began to learn a whole new boat vocabulary, much of it completely inappropriate for a family-rated blog. (Let’s just say we discovered that the salt in “salty language” comes from the sea.)

Of course, we could not expect otherwise. Books are a fine place to start, of course. But in cruising as in life, there’s just no substitute for going through a thing–the old chestnut eventually comes around to reassert itself: “Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.” And bad judgment is OK as long as you live to tell about it.

aground

Of course, when possible, it is preferable to learn from the experience of others.

So far we’ve come

So, three months into the life we’ve been dreaming about for the past five years, it seems like a good time to take a look back at Bimini Dream and see what living aboard Meander has taught us so far.

It goes without saying, of course, that we’ve barely scratched the surface. And it’s just as well, at least until I’ve mastered snorkeling.

snorkeling guy

Actually, I’m not sure I can pull this off.

So far to go

If anyone were to ask about a newbie cruiser’s life on the water, I would sum up the first three months as follows.

All the things you will go through—the things that leap out at you from your decks, from the docks, from the marinas and the boatyards, from the supply stores and the chandleries, and from your own books and computers as you try to wrestle the rest to the ground—all these things might well conspire together to push the wonderful reasons you started this broad reach right out of your head.

Don’t panic, and don’t despair. The next time your sails take you out on the water, you’ll remember.

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PHOTO CREDITS
–Book: Mike Webster.
Ship aground on the beach of of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island by John Solaro, shared under a Creative Commons license via photopin.
Above the overworld from underworld by daveynin, shared under another Creative Commons license via photopin.
–Between the bridges: Mike Webster.

Self-inflicted Silence

Time flies when you’re having fun.

Or, as is more usual in my case, when you’re sitting around on your sailboat waiting for someone to remedy some stupid thing you’ve done that has cut you off from your computer so you can get around to writing your blog again.

Remote operations

At the height of our recently completed trip to Southern New Jersey to visit my brother Andy and his family, we stayed in a beautifully set but rather isolated marina that left us without the RF bars needed to communicate reliably with the outside world. And since my trip planning and blog posting activities rely on those bars, Andy picked me up one evening after work and drove me forty minutes to the better connected family home to work through the evening and spend the night.

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Sure, it’s pretty, but where’s the wifi?

With me were a laptop and its key accessories. I also had a set of charts, loosely laid in an elegantly conceived kitchen trash bag to protect against dirt while mitigating creasing. And finally, to determine distances and compass headings on the charts, I had transported a divider and a parallel rule in the same trash bag.

Well, I had the divider anyway. At the dining room table, I discovered that I had apparently left the parallel rule on the boat, leaving me a step short of completing my navigational task.

But at least I got a blog post off.

Unforced errors

The next afternoon, my sister-in-law Brenda returned me to Meander, and I sat down that evening to finish my trip planning.

That’s when I found out my parallel rule was not on the boat after all.

“Ah ha,” I said, “I knew I brought it to their house! It’s probably just sitting around somewhere unexpected, maybe in Brenda’s kitchen! But that kitchen is forty minutes away, by gum! I can’t ask her to drive it to me! But we’re starting our return trip to Cambridge first thing tomorrow morning, darn it! That’s OK, though! I know what I’ll do! First, I’ll stop talking to myself in all these italics and exclamation points, golly gee whiz! Then, I’ll email Brenda and ask her to ship the parallel rule back to our Cambridge address.”

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I hope he doesn’t leave me somewhere by accident, unless it’s in a room with open bags of endless kibble.

As I opened the laptop’s email client, however, I was interrupted by a popup screen that informed me, “Your battery is down to 7%. Please recharge.”

And that’s when I found out that my laptop’s power cord and charger weren’t on the boat either.

A helping hand

One phone call later, Brenda found the power cord and charger sitting on her dining room table. . . you know, right where I left them. But the parallel rule’s recovery had to wait for the return of daylight. Brenda found it the next morning out in the driveway, where it had slid from my trash bag the previous evening as I’d gotten out of the truck.

And since the morning in question was a Saturday morning, the post office in their rural hometown was closed, delaying shipment for two days.

But the following Monday, Brenda promptly got them into the mail, and I received them three days thereafter. And as a result, I’m now head-over-heels in love with my sister-in-law.

My wife gets it completely, but please don’t tell my brother.

I can keep silent. For a price.

I can keep silent. For a price.

Something Wagging

So my laptop sat in its bag this past week, completely inoperative with a 7% charge remaining in its battery.

And, noting my second prolonged blogging silence in three weeks, many in my readership would have had to wonder if I finally managed to send Meander down to Davy Jones’ locker, carrying us and Honey the golden retriever with her, if they didn’t know that my wife Pamela has a blog, too.

I mentioned the blog, Something Wagging This Way Comes, in my last post, although I forgot in my haste to provide a link to it. Pam has been writing it consistently now for more than five years. And although it revolves around Honey (and, by extension, all dogs and the people who love them) rather than Meander, the fact that Honey now lives on Meander means Pam’s dog-oriented blog often more reliably portrays aspects of our boat life than my boat-oriented blog does.

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When the gloves come off, they’ll keep you posted.

So if my occasional lapses on Bimini Dream ever leave you in doubt about Meander, please drop in on Something Wagging or its Facebook page and take a look around. There’s a reasonable chance that Pam will have left recent clues about what’s going on here. (Also, the pictures are cuter.)

In the meantime, I’ll still be on board here, probably continuing to try to recover the things I keep losing.

Things like my competence. And my sanity.

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PHOTO CREDITS
Honey licking her chops: Pamela Webster.
All other photos: Mike Webster.

Get On With It

When I started this blog, I thought to myself, “Surely, this boat will give me something to write about.”

What I had no way to account for at that time was how little time I would have to write it.

This is no doubt due to a certain naïveté with which I am maddeningly—uh, I mean, endearingly—afflicted. Then, I rather saw my wife and me hopping merrily onto Meander, taking a few days to get to know her, taking another few days to settle in, and then spending the rest of our happy days drifting carefree from one port of call to another while I collected fascinating photos and produced amusing anecdotes for posting at an easygoing rate of, let’s say, five times a week.

Now, less than three months later, I have a very clear picture of the things I didn’t think to set aside time for. Chief among the more recent ones: chronic trouble with our fuel line.

Having moved past them, and having since left Cambridge, MD to arrive at the unlikely mid-November cruising destination of Greenwich, NJ, I am given the gift of a moment in which to try to remedy the fact that I haven’t posted anything here in nearly two weeks. The dismay I feel at this fact is uncomfortable. But not unexpected.

This seems like a good time to fill in the first of those two weeks.

Getting Smart

At last writing, Meander was still in the Cambridge Municipal Yacht Basin, and I was hanging my head over a small contribution I had made to the petrochemical pollution of the Chesapeake Bay when I blew some diesel fuel off the boat after botching the setup of a pressure test on our fuel line.

Up to that moment, we had suffered no fewer than three engine failures with Meander already underway as we tried to leave the marina on various errands, and we had determined that the probable cause was air intrusion into the fuel line. The first two failures were successfully, if temporarily, addressed in the field by Ralph, a mechanic from the nearby Yacht Maintenance Company. It was after the third failure that, trying to apply Pam’s research into the several places a compromised fuel line could be admitting air, I tried to pinpoint the location of the leak with surgical precision by running the homemade test that unmade our small corner of our marina.

After that debacle, we made two decisions.

First, I was no longer going to try to find and fix the air intrusion at its precise location. By that time, Pam had read too many stories of cruisers who had ended up locked into months-long cycles of Lather-Rinse-Repeat using that approach. Rather, we were going to rebuild the entire line from the diesel tank to the secondary filter, replacing every single hose, clamp, fitting, seal and gasket to which we could get access with new materials, and knowing when we were done that we would be truly done with it for many years.

Second, I wasn’t going to go it alone this time. Rather, we would move Meander to the Yacht of Maintenance Company, where someone with a little more experience with diesel engines than I have (read, almost anyone on the planet) might mercifully take the gun out of my hand if he or she noticed I was waving it in the wrong direction.

Yacht Maintenance Company

And so on Thursday, October 29, the folks at the Yacht Maintenance Company sent Ralph out to us once more to bleed our engine, get us started, and, should the fuel line choose to suck in one last breath of unauthorized air, stay aboard with us during the half-mile ride.

After a blessedly uneventful trip that left Meander safe and secure on their dock, Braxton, the official Service Manager and my unofficial Hand Holder, came quickly to a willing and workable arrangement with us, allowing us to do our own work on the understanding that we would buy our repair materials through their parts department.

As Braxton said, “We’re easy here.”

She started us off by sending Ralph and assistant service manager Scott out to pump the remaining diesel in our fuel tank into a clean storage drum. And after that, life became simple and direct.

Each morning, I would banish Pam and Honey from the boat so I could have simultaneous and unobstructed access to the engine compartment, the fuel tank under the cabin floor and the bilge spaces between them. I would then pull apart the fuel line, length by length and piece by piece, and bring the pieces to Art, the official Parts Manager and my unofficial Baby Sitter. Art would sit with me half an hour at a time sorting through the materials he could replace from stock, the ones he needed to order for next-day delivery, and the ones whose lack of availability mandated the invention of a reasonable workaround.

Art, as Baby Sitter, was also in a position to offer life lessons.

“Art, why is it that every replacement you give me looks a little different than the original I gave you?”

“Mike, that’s going to happen a lot on a twenty-five-year-old boat.”

Then I would take my newly acquired parts back to the boat, installing them length by length and piece by piece, until I got to a piece whose installation logic defied me—for instance, the fuel tank pickup tube whose outlet should have faced toward the back of the boat when I tightened it, but which ended up facing forward instead. Then Braxton would send Ralph aboard again, and Ralph would straighten it out.

So if you don’t own your own boat, go out right now and buy one. Then sail or motor it into Cambridge, MD, break it, bring it over to the Yacht Maintenance Company, and let these people take care of you. They are terrific.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Pam

Meanwhile, Pam would never be caught lounging during an exile I imposed for my personal productivity. Rather, she would find her own ways to be productive: working on her own blog about Honey, Something Wagging This Way Comes, from remote wifi hot spots; running errands to the grocery store, the library and the post office; arranging takeout lunches; spending half a day walking our clothing and bedding two and a half miles to the laundromat and back.

At the end of each day, she would come back to the boat, cook dinner for us, and listen to me kvetch and moan about how little I had gotten accomplished.

And, toward the end of our stay, she would take that one last long trip to the grocery store, unaccompanied by her usual Sherpa, to provision for our trip to southern New Jersey.

Getting On With It

And so passed the first week of my recent blogging silence.

On Tuesday, November 3, I finished up the fuel line replacement at 5:30 PM. On Wednesday, November 4, Ralph pumped the fuel back into our tank, we took Meander out for a blessedly uneventful hour-long field test, and we prepared to depart Cambridge the next day.

On the morning of Thursday, November 5, one week after landing at the Yacht Maintenance Company, we turned the ignition key and pressed the starter button. The engine turned over, but failed to catch.

We waited a few seconds, then pressed the button again. The engine again failed to catch.

With a sigh, we waited a few seconds more, and pressed the button again.

The engine caught and sputtered a little.

I reached up to the throttle and pulled it forward a little, and the engine got over its cough and settled into a healthy putt-putt.

And so, ever onward. We steered Meander out into the Choptank River, and, saying Goodbye-For-Now to our newly adopted home port of Cambridge, MD, set off for southern New Jersey here in mid-November. On the way, we stopped on three different nights at three different marinas, and the engine started without drama or objection each morning thereafter. So we think we have this fuel thing licked for the moment, and hopefully for the next ten years.

Oh, right. You asked, “Why travel north to southern New Jersey of all places, when everyone else in a boat on the U.S. East Coast is headed south to Florida at this time of year?”

Because my brother, the diesel mechanic who put us onto the path to solve the starter circuit troubles we were having a few weeks ago before all this fuel line nonsense began, lives in southern New Jersey. And there’s no going south until we’ve given him and his family at look at the boat.

And I’m awfully glad he’s here. Because after our fourth night in our fourth marina, we tried to start the engine to charge our house batteries; and once again, readers of this blog will have already guessed.

The starter circuit I thought I fixed is suddenly and inexplicably on the blink.

When I started this blog, I thought to myself, “Surely, this boat will give me something to write about.” But I hadn’t thought that what I’d be writing about would be Endless Engine Trouble.