Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Simple Lessons I've Learned

By Kerry Christianson

So last week we got away from our home dock and went wandering a bit.  We stayed on a friend's mooring buoy one night, but otherwise chose to stay in marinas, including Bell Harbor, Port Ludlow, and Blake Island.  We had great experiences in all three, but as I watched other boaters coming and going around us, I realized I have learned lessons that seem obvious to me now, but somehow aren't always practiced by others.

When I was on my trip a couple of years ago with Linda Lewis from Blind Channel to Anacortes on her 45 foot trawler, she taught me many things about safe practices arriving at and leaving from a dock.  One thing she taught is that the person handling the lines should never have to "jump" off the boat.  The person at the helm should be able to get the boat close enough for the line handler to step off the boat safely.  Then, once I'm off, I can starting tying up the boat based on wind, current, etc., as the Skipper and I have discussed beforehand.  It can be fun to experiment with tying down lines in such a way that allows the skipper to use the line(s) to snug the boat into the slip.  Then once you're secured well enough, you both can adjust and add lines as needed to get fully settled in.

Last Sunday, as I made my way back from the shower in Port Ludlow, I noticed a large powerboat had its engine on and the Skipper was taking his place at the helm.  As I passed their finger pier, I noticed the bow line was off and thrown up onto the boat, and two women were still on the dock.  One was starting to climb aboard, and the other was finishing up by removing the remaining two dock lines from the cleats.  Meanwhile the Skipper shouts that everyone should be aboard, once, twice, and three times before she was able to actually get on board.  The wind was blowing the boat (gently) off the dock and she just about tripped on a cleat as she headed for the boat ladder to climb aboard.  Internally I just shook my head.  This is such an easy thing to avoid.

When preparing to leave the dock, remove all additional dock lines that aren't needed to hold the boat steady for the last few minutes while you prepare to depart.  Then the two (or three) lines that are still attached (usually bow and stern) should be run from the boat, down to the dock cleat or bull rail and *back* to the boat.  This allows for all crew to be on board the boat before leaving.  Now the Skipper and crew will determine which line to release first, based on current and wind conditions.  Once that line has been pulled back into the boat, proceed to the final line to bring it aboard also.  No one needs to be standing on the dock to release the lines!  Easy, huh?  After that I stand at the ready with a boat hook, just in case.  Once we're safely out of the dock area, I start putting away fenders and lines.  I wish more people would think through these things - it makes it all safer and easier for everyone.  Thank you Linda, for being my teacher - hopefully I'll be able to pass along a few pearls of your wisdom.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Slow the Fuck Down

There are times in your life when you just get in a groove, follow a path, chasing that goddamn ball to the exclusion of anything less important. I've been doing that ball chasing since February, working on a new novel and working on Brigadoon. I've made great progress in both arenas, with an additional benefit along the way; just slowing the fuck down.

Much of my work/life has been about performing -- and that meant agility and speed. As I progressed in my career I saw the speed tended to produce a lot of energy and a lot of 'fast failure' on a random track to success. People got hurt, either physically, emotionally, mentally or financially. Success, true success was rare, with mediocre accomplishments being touted as great things indeed. After that, it's time to rush off to the next initiative, burn up a lot of energy and time, and hope for the best. As I got older I started seeing more places for caution, maybe consideration before action, in a world surrounded by people who fix a mistake by doing the same thing again -- only faster, harder, and with more self promotion.

The last few months have really driven the lesson home of the work I can actually accomplish when I slow the fuck down. It's given me the time to think and consider the best use of my time. The projects don't move at a breakneck pace but, I'm finding I'm accomplishing much.

In the last few months, I've completed the first draft of a 50,000 word novel. The next process is copy editing, design and self-publishing. We hope to have it out soon. Right behind that is another writing project - a collection of motorcycle articles I wrote between 2001 and 2005. There are three other writing projects behind that one.

I've also made progress in Brigadoon (pictures and more details coming soon):

  • Reconditioned the teak decks, leveling all calk and scrubbing well.
  • Stripped and reconditioned the teak on the cap rails, teak topsides, anchor platform, traveler arch, cockpit combing and cockpit sides. 
  • Managed a 2nd haul out, including bottom paint and new zincs
  • Managed an insurance-mandated valuation survey during the haul out.
  • Wrecked out the remains of the old head system, including the holding tank and all remaining hose.
  • Installed an ultra-sonic hull cleaning system, which included the head unit, installing four transducers to the hull and wiring back to the unit through countless bulkheads.
  • Cleaned the damn bilge.
  • Repaired a cooling system leak -- tracing it to chafed heat exchange hoses with the old water heater, which was leaking fresh water...
  • Removed and replaced the 6gal water heater, which included redesigning the water manifold to make it easier to flush and isolate parts of the system.
  • Removed the old teak deck box, designed a new one, ordered the parts and started assembly.
  • Removed and inspected both primary and secondary ground tackle.
  • Re-bed all chain plates and covers to solve deck leaks.
  • Re-painting the gold leaf scroll work and cove stripe.
  • and more
There is a lot more to do in the next six months as we prepare to leave Tacoma and head for Pt. Townsend in December. 

Something about the story of the tortoise and the hare rings clear and true right about now. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

We have bungee!

The great thing about bungees is now useful they are in managing slapping halyards, shock cording tarps, and securing gear. The bad thing about bungees is their life, which is rather short, especially if they are left outside for any length of time. Bungees do not like UV as it eats the stuff up in short order.

It doesn't eat the hooks though.

Now, one can just buy new bungees. That is the West Marine way.

One can buy bungee chord, the hog clips and hog pliers and make your own.

What if the hogs you bought were too small and you don't have the pliers?

This is how they want you to do it. The hog clip holds the bungee down.

But wait, if this can hold sails together...

Simple palm whipping ought to do it.

And done. 

Total time spent: about ten minutes.

Total cost saved: I never have to buy hog clips or hog pliers.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Last

This is our last year, and a coming year of last things.

We have been living aboard for five years. Our original plan was to commit to five years, then decide what to do next. Over those five years, we developed a new plan, called The Freedom project. We realized, one day, that we can take our blue water capable boat into blue water. I think it was about two years in. For the last three years we have been actively planning, adjusting plans, re-imagining plans, and executing plans to sail around the world. 

In those preliminary years we have made the following changes/improvements to Brigadoon:
  • Purchased new sails from Carol Hasse at Pt. Townsend Sails.
  • Replaced all the running rigging.
  • Replaced galley stove.
  • Replaced all the interior upholstery and cushions. 
  • Replaced the berth cushions with a custom memory foam mattress.
  • Replaced and upgraded our propane system, from tanks to range.
  • Replaced our battery bank, doubling our capacity.
  • Installed a NMEA 2000 network on Brigadoon.
  • Installed brand new Garmin instrumentation, including GMI 10 data displays.
  • Purchased Coastal Explorer charting software (we do not own a chart plotter).
  • Purchased a Portland Pudgy dinghy/lifeboat, active rescue system (we will not own a life raft).
  • Upgraded the engine diesel fuel filtration system to a dual Parker/Racor system.
  • Replaced our head with a Nature's Head composting head, and with great results.
  • Upgraded our 45lb CQR anchor to an 46lb Ultra
  • Purchased an Ultra stern reel with 400' of polypro floating line.
  • Purchased barely used Asymmetrical Spinnaker, with sock.
  • Replaced all lifelines with Dyneema.
  • Installed jacklines on centerline of boat.
  • Designed and installed dyneema lazy jacks to greatly improve mainsail dousing.
  • Purchased Ultra-SoniTec Untrasonic anti-fouling system to reduce the need for haul outs and bottom paint.
  • Scraped off much of the old varnish, replacing it with Teak Oil, which mildewed, which had to be removed. Now the teak is going as bare and gray as I can keep it now. 
  • Sewed fender covers with our nice new Sailrite machine.
  • Installed new clock/barometer/lamp combo in cabin.
  • Got our Dickenson diesel stove running in top shape.
  • Designed and installed bimini.
None of this includes regular repairs or maintenance things like, oil changes, impeller changes, belt changes, battery maintenance, sanding teak, fixing stanchion leaks, repairing shower sump pumps, replacing horrific wiring for our bulge pump, scraping varnish, scrubbing decks, hauling for bottom painting, and scrubbing and cleaning and polishing and scraping and sanding and and and...not that I'm complaining. 

There is still much to do:
  • Purchase Portland Pudgy lifeboat kit for dinghy.
  • Purchase autopilot (still investigating options).
  • Pull mast and replace all standing rigging, including some minor redesign with the help of Brion Toss.
  • Inspect chainplates and replace if necessary.
  • Replace or reinforce Brigadoon's pilot house windows.
  • Purchase Rainman watermaker.
  • Purchase Honda EU2000i generator.
  • Purchase outboard for dinghy.
  • Haul and bottom paint.
  • Remove old holding tank.
  • And much much more that will pop up before we have leave.

We have one year left.

One year until Kerry resigns, we move to Pt. Townsend to do the second list, and prepare ourselves for a trip to Alaska, for just the summer, or an entire year. Kerry wants to see bears. We might go to Kodiak island, but I digress.

After that, it's points south and then the world. All of it.

But first, much to do. Much to do in our year of lasts.

We will see Kerry's last day at work, our last day in Tacoma, our last day in Pt. Townsend, in Washington, in the US, in North America, in the Pacific, the Indian Ocean....

I can't wait.

Friday, November 13, 2015

I quit

I quit on September 4, 2015. And it was Kerry's idea.

It’s been in the plan all along. The toughest thing was picking the date. Picking that date was actually making a commitment, drawing a line in the sand that said, “This is the day I resign from my corporate job.”

Then the day moves. It moves again. Then one more time. It doesn’t have to move much and we can compensate with our financial plans and goals but, the truth is, it kept moving. By our first plans we would have been sailing south by now. I know. Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.

Finally, after a soul searching weekend at the Perry Rendezvous, my wonderful Kerry suggested we make the date now. Like, “Why don’t you resign. You can work on your writing and work on the boat. All we have to do is figure out what the new plan is and agree.”


And I sat. I sat, staring at her. After 30 years of having to work, of needing to work, to support my family and my debt, someone was telling me I could be done. I almost didn’t believe it. But, she explained it. We can move some money from later to now and pay off Brigadoon. She can rework the financial plan now that we are debt free. This way we can do two of the big things we wanted to do. We can pay off our home, our yacht, our Brigadoon and Donn can resign from corporate life.
After the holiday weekend, I walked into my corporate job and handed in my very last ever resignation for an IT software company – ever. The last one. It was a surreal experience, both exciting and frightening. I mean, walking away from that job, from that money, and the potential savings. So much at stake.

So much at stake.

Maybe the thing to think about was not what, but who, was at stake.

As I sit here in my pilot house, in the pre-dawn hours of this day, two months later; I could not be happier. I’m up this early because it’s part of the agreement I wrote with Kerry. In exchange for being what I call a ‘kept man’ for the first time in my life, I agree to a few things.

I get up with her every day, before dawn. I walk/drive her to her bus/train stop. 

I come home to Brigadoon and write. My goal is 500 words a day. So far, my progress has been good and Kerry is satisfied with what I’m producing. We have put aside a quick publish of a set of motorcycle stories and have gone for the novel. It was her idea. Finish the novel. So far I’m over 33,000 words in with 20,000 to go but, the dailies are making it into the draft and Kerry likes the draft so, that is the writing.

I work on Brigadoon in the afternoons. So far I have done a lot of backbreaking cosmetic work on the hull topsides, re-engineered our stern navigation light, tackled a frozen shower sump pump (still in progress), set up our storage unit at the marina, sewn a splash cover for the kayak.

So mostly, in the mornings I write and in the afternoons work on Brigadoon.

As each day closes I prepare for Kerry coming home (this sounds so domestic, I know, but I’m kind of proud of it). Part of my agreement was that I would also be responsible for dinner. You see, she is the one with the two hour commute, and a fourteen hour work day -- not me. So, when she arrives  home, I have dinner ready.

Right after I meet her at the train/bus/trolley every day.

My days are my own. I’ve no agenda, no meetings, no task, obligation that I do not choose at each moment. Finally, my time is my own. I choose where and when I spend my energy. I am obligated to no one’s problems or commitments but my own.

Yes, one could argue that being a kept man like this trades one master for another but, I like this one a lot better.

Now, for the rest of the plan.

I can't tell you, though, just how god damn wonderful it feels to be this kind of free.

I sometimes just sit and look out the window, across the water, in utter disbelief in how incredibly lucky I am and how foolish it would be to waste any of the time I have left.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Asking for Help

On a Facebook group I’m on, a new boat owner recently asked for a little help. They had just purchased the boat and said they were a little nervous about taking her 30 miles to her new berth. Someone (that would be med) suggested just hiring a professional Captain for the trip. It would be a great learning opportunity.

This suggestion was immediately met with a dismissal.

“It’s only 30 miles. Who needs a captain for that? Just go do it,” they wrote.

This is the perfect dismissive advice to shame someone into doing something stupid. If someone says they want help, if they say they aren’t comfortable, it’s an honest thing to say. Asking for help means you are a better sailor, not a worse one.

Hiring a Captain is not a big deal. It's a learning opportunity. I've been sailing since I was nine. I know how to sail. When I bought Brigadoon (my largest, heaviest and most complex boat ever to date), I had been off the water for a decade. She is a serious cruising boat, with much heavier gear, higher loads, and a higher possibility for damage or injury. I knew how to sail but I wanted to ensure I was ready for Brigadoon.

I went to Seattle Sailing and hired a professional captain for a "checkride". When I was a pilot we did this all the time to ensure competency, good decision making, and safety. It’s required for pilots and for good reason. The good idea isn’t restricted to pilots, though. Why not get someone to check you out, give you an opportunity to learn, and make you a better (sailor, aviator, motorcyclist, climber, etc.)?  We went out in a comparable sized boat. He walked me through everything. I knew almost all of it but I still learned a thing or two.

There was another benefit. I had another experienced sailor’s eyes on me. They saw habits that are invisible to me. They suggested possible ways to do things. They provided me with some local knowledge.

I’ve always liked teachers. Years of studying under various mentors have driven home the value of being a student, of discovering how little I know about something, and how much there is yet to know. Competence blindness is an easy trap to fall into. We get comfortable with what we know. We ignore the shortcuts or mistakes we make because nothing bad has happened yet. We avoid learning some skills or taking on some challenges because, well, we don’t want to be challenged. It’s the easy thing to do; lie to ourselves about our skills and abilities because it’s convenient.

I welcome the observations, even the criticisms, of those with more experience, even just different experience, than myself. The outside eye is usually more honest than our own. It pays to listen to informed opinions.

Hire someone to teach you. Find a mentor. Learn from them.

It doesn't mean a person isn't competent. It means they are ensuring their competence is better than they would normally be willing to settle for. Don’t settle with what skills and abilities you currently have. You might think they are enough. You might be right. It will take just one situation where you are wrong.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Freedom as a Journey


This whole idea started out with the crazy concept that we would buy and live on a boat. It was actually her father’s fault. He suggested it one day as we were leaving a visit on his Tayana 37. Little did I know this would lead us down a road that brings us today – here.

At first, the commitment was simple, we sell the condo and live on a boat. We were going to live aboard a sailboat for five years. We needed a commitment and a plan. Over the years the plan has grown more complex and ambitious, but, it has proven to be the right path for us.

Yes, one can live on a beautiful sailboat, literally in the middle of a beautiful city, enjoying views that cost millions for landlubbers, but that isn’t what this sailboat is for. That isn’t what the plan became. It became The Freedom Project.

About a year or so in, while looking at our debt, and thinking about the capabilities of Brigadoon, we considered another course. What if we didn’t just live on the boat, keeping the same rat-race jobs, running though the same corporate grinder, serving the same masters that we always have? What if we actually went somewhere? Yes, one can cruise the Puget Sound and Salish Sea for a lifetime and never find every bay, harbor, or little coastal town. But, what if we went beyond the big front yard that is the Puget Sound? What if we want Out There? What if we saw the world? 

All of it.

Many people do go out there. They save their money – a “cruising kitty”, develop a monthly budget, buy a boat, make some plans, take a sabbatical from work, go cruising, and return to the rat race when the money runs out. That is not our plan. I find no appeal in taking a vacation from a master, only to return after I’ve ‘rested’. Rested up for what? For more of the same?

No. We decided that, if we are to travel, it must be as unencumbered as possible by obligations to others. Those obligations mostly took the form of debt. We owed someone for a house, a car, a boat; it all adds up to a burden that cannot be ignored if one is at all responsible. If we want to maintain a good credit rating, and live a peaceful life free of requests to pay, we have to pay our bills. Paying bills means income and, since we have not won the lottery, that means a well paying job. We have had to choose the right jobs and stick with them until we reached our goals. For me, it didn’t matter if I liked the job or not. It was where the money was. 

The Freedom Project was born. It was simple. Get the boat, live aboard, pay off debt, upgrade the boat and ourselves. Leave. Last Friday, we executed on one of the most important parts, freeing us to concentrate on a future of our choosing, not determined by the burden of obligation. It’s taken a great deal of planning and work to pull this off. It was a good plan and it’s still working.

We now own Brigadoon free and clear. This was our last debt. We have no more financial obligations to anyone else. We are debt free.

This means that, instead of taking a vacation along with an eventual return to corporate life and all it entails, we can simply go. It is actually possible for us to go right now – right now. We’d go with less and we’d go before we are ready, but we could go if necessary.

Until then, we continue to execute the rest of the plan.

Being free of the corporate environment brings a greater feeling of lightness, of unburdening, than I had thought possible. The freedom from debt, obligation, possessions is enlightenment. I’ve written about this before; how I would gladly trade the relative safety and security (such as it can be in the corporate world) of a job for, well, something else. Something not at all secure, not as well paying, not as – oh hell, there is no whitewashing it.

Corporations and corporate life are a special type of hell, created for manufacturing money.  The only reason most people are there is so they can keep up with their debt. Yes, there are those that have good jobs, with decent companies, working for good bosses, with competent co-workers, all cooperating on something interesting. In my 25 years of experience in various corporate environs, I have seen very little like I’ve just described. The forced socialization of the corporation, where we trade our autonomy for money, creates a toxic environment. It’s an environment where common sense, intelligent discourse, real problem solving, and real accomplishment are a true rarity. I’ve spent 25 years, the lifetime of a whole young person, working in corporate IT nonsense factories. IT is a place where the drama queens rule, the only planning acceptable is simply demanding something be done sooner, and incompetence is often its own reward, especially when camouflaged by a healthy dose of politics. Don’t tell me it’s better where you are. I'll admit that it could be but, winning at this game is not a medal or trophy I want. Saying it’s better is like saying that this master doesn’t beat me as much as your master does and, well, the food is fresher. It’s still the same grind, for the same masters, for the same breadcrumbs. How much does your CEO make compared to you? Are you getting a good review this year? What if your boss decides you aren’t getting a good review? What if your review doesn't matter because the stack ranking your company adopted poisons your contributions and hard work anyway? Are they going to offshore your job next? Remember, your boss has said that he can hire three people in India for the cost of you. How about that late night call with the underpaid offshore team in Pune, India on the project that is in a death spiral? At least there’s the paycheck that one can spend on that new big screen TV or that vacation to the swim up bar in Mexico before having to return to the same damn job.

It’s a trap. It is.

It’s one we are casting off, little by little, but casting off none the less.

I’ve joked from time to time that I would trade every lousy business meeting, every out of context nonsensical email from the person no one in the office wants to talk to anymore, every political stunt I’ve had to witness, all the positioning and maneuvering for position and power, for my own chance to simply survive at sea.

I’ll take that chance. We will take that chance.

The last few weeks have been a storm of events and plans that have brought us here. Here is good. It’s a place where we cast off some of the older burdens, some we never knew we were agreeing to at the time. It’s a place where we can look out over the water, think of going there, and there, and there, and leaving this world behind.

I am retired. I’m starting a new path in life as an author.

Brigadoon is paid off. She is ours.

There are more upgrades to do and plans to execute but, our time is finally near.

It seems almost here. It's just over the horizon.

You know, that way. That's our course now.