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.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Goodbye Seattle

Leaving and me have always had a unique relationship. Like most, I want to be liked, wanted, have friends, a place to stay, places to go, and have things to do.

Leaving these things is always hard for me, for many of them were in such scarcity when I was younger. That meant that leaving was not only a way to seek things I need, but to discard things that no longer serve me.

So, while remembering the good things I have had -- I bring those with me as much as possible -- the lessons, the relationships, the new goals...

All the while, looking back for a moment, and set down the things that I don't need or want anymore. See that pile of dishonest people, the gentrification of this city, the increasing traffic, former friends or lovers who were not what they seemed. AS a matter of fact, they were horrible in how they treated others, including me. This would include the companies and managers who lied to me, those that didn't support me when I needed it, the lover who dumped me the day after my father died (forever connecting her to his death); the list isn't long but it is painful. If you can see this post, you are not on that list. So, discardia serves me well in this case.

I moved up to Seattle with a dream in late 1988, with hopes of starting a new career and, well, I did. Starting early 1989, I picked up a career path that led me where I am today. It isn't where I belong -- I know that now -- but it's served me and my family financially. That has allowed me step into a beautifully intricate trap in order to provide for my family. I didn't know it was a trap at the time but, regardless, it was what I needed at the time.

From 1988 to 2007, I never was able to live in Seattle, though I came here frequently. We had friends here. We opened a business on Capitol Hill (Beyond the Edge Cafe). We failed at that business within a year. But, hey, I learned a lot. But I had to live outside of Seattle for a very long time. But I made a promise to my family to be employed and to live in the Kent School District for the better schools.

Then I was finally able to move here. I bought a condo on Capitol Hill in 2007 (the year dad died), married my Kerry in 2009, and moved aboard Brigadoon in 2010.

This coming Saturday, we slip the lines at Tillicum Marina for the last time, head west, raising tree drawbridges and navigating the locks for the last time. We head south for Foss Harbor Marina in Tacoma. We aren't leaving Seattle all together just yet. We still plan to commute here (by train or express bus) for a while.

It's been a while Seattle. You were the jewel in my eye for so long. In many ways you still are. You will always be one of my favorite places to live and, well, I've lived in many.

And to all the people who cared for me, who treated me well, who worked with me on art at LRS, who played music with me, who shared themselves and allowed me to do the same; thank you and I love you.

Here's to taking the first step towards the new dream.

To See the World -- eventually.

Monday, July 27, 2015

A time of change (post by Kerry)

So we’re moving.  I know we've mentioned this a couple of times now, but the stuff going on inside, the emotions around this particular step in our journey have been knocking around my brain for the last couple of weeks as it becomes more and more real.  I’ve lived in Seattle (and a few outlying neighborhoods) since 1978.  I spent a couple years in Minnesota after high school and one year in Idaho after college… but otherwise – this has been home.  In order: There was the small rental cottage on Mercer Island that my mom and I moved to from Massachusetts when I was nine; the house my mom bought in North Bend, where we lived for about three years during middle school; then the one bedroom condo in Rainier Beach we moved into, when Mom married Ray, right over the water on Lake Washington.  Next, during my Senior year in High School – we rented a beautiful brick tudor in the Seward Park area while the owners were on sabbatical in France.  I spent the summer after high school with my parents in an apartment overlooking Southcenter Mall.
This is when I left for a couple of years and while I was gone, my parents and grandparents built a wonderful Cape Cod style house out in Woodinville.  When I returned at the age of 19, I lived there in a three generation household for two years while working and starting at Cornish.  At the end of my first year of Cornish College, I began my apartment years – first on Capitol Hill in a small studio for $350 per month (crazy right?), then on Queen Anne with a couple of my classmates in a duplex with a view to die for. 

Cue another year away – falling in love and working in a theater in Sun Valley Idaho.  I moved back to Washington with Rob and lived with my family again out in Woodinville until we married in 1995.  Then there were our houses as a couple – the two rentals in Northgate, literally three houses away from each other, and then our first home ownership – a cute three bedroom rambler in Top Hat, nestled between Burien and White Center.

After the divorce, I sold my car and moved downtown into Tower 801 – a pie shaped apartment where I started to figure out who I wanted to be at the age of 36.  My sister, Zanne, decided to move to Seattle at this point and after two years on my own, we decided to shack up as roommates – first in a beautiful three story rental house on 25th and Madison, then in a townhouse Zanne purchased over on Yesler.  It was at this point that Donn and I got engaged, married, and moved in together in the winter of 2008/2009.  We lived in his condo at 24th and Madison for almost two years before we made our last move – onto the boat in a gorgeous slip on Lake Union in Fremont. 

It’s been almost five years.  And now, although I’ll still be working in South Lake Union, my life and focus are moving away from Seattle to Tacoma.  My actual home won’t be changing, which is kind of cool – no need to pack or clean or any of the typical “moving” activities.  Just untie the lines, and head for our last pass through the bridges and locks out into Puget Sound this coming Saturday.  Six hours or so later, we should be in our new slip in Foss Harbor Marina.

I’ve had a truly amazing life in this city – filled with theater, dance, friends, lovers, family, and so many adventures and escapades.  I am lucky - I have some incredible memories to carry with me and so many friends who will always be in my heart.  But I feel ready for this shift, this turning away from my history here.  This move marks the next step, the beginning of our effort to pull away – point our bow towards our future of sailing, travelling, seeing more of this world beyond the Northwest.  For now, we aim for Tacoma and exploring the South Sound as much as possible before we cut the dock lines for good and go on the Grand Adventure that awaits….

Friday, July 24, 2015

Standing in Two Worlds

I'm sitting at a desk in a corporate environment. Yet, my mind sometimes drifts to somewhere else, to being someone else entirely. There is this almost overwhelming desire to get up and just -- well, just leave.

Not just yet though. Not just yet. I am grounded here, both feet firmly planted on the ground, in this place, by my responsibilities, by my commitments and promises. I don't take those lightly. It's gotten me where I am today; financially successful by most standards. But, more importantly, it allows me to start placing one of my feet somewhere else.

Somewhere else that is different indeed. Forced socialization is left behind. I answer to no one with the exception of myself. I am responsible to no one but myself and my lovely First Mate. There are no schedules to keep. Deadlines do not dominate my life. Politics, dealing with it, navigating around it in this dysfunctional tribe called a corporation; they exist no more. My biggest problem is dying at sea.

I started working at 18. That was thirty-eight years ago. For thirty-eight years I have worked for someone else, running the rat race in some form or another, trying to be a good, responsible citizen. I've raised two children, held down good, gainful, employment. I've bought houses. I've been a good father, employee, and neighbor. I did all the things I was told I'm supposed to do. Get a job, start a family, keep up with bills, try to save money, try to retire...you know the drill. There was never a time in that 38 years where I was not in debt.

I'm sitting in a desk at a corporate environment. There is a reason I'm here but it's not the reason they think I'm here.

I'm here to be free. I'll take their money and spend parts of my life here because, in the end, it will serve me.

So, lightly, but not just yet, I'm stepping into a new world.

Years from now, I'm sure I'll be laughing while on watch, gazing out over the moonlit seas. I'll look back on my wonderful life, my beautiful children, their mother (whom I still do love by the way), my basically good health, and good opportunities. I will silently thank the sea for carrying me, Brigadoon for keeping us safe, my beautiful and loving First Mate who is off-watch and sleeping.

I will thank them for allowing me to leave parts of my life behind that no longer serve me.

Gazing down at the dolphins playing in our bow wave, watching the backbone of the sky light up the night sky, I will give thanks to all around me.

For the freedom to die at sea.

Speed. There are many kinds...

I sometimes answer questions on facebook and realized some of them might be useful to share here.

For example, in the photo above, we are making a whopping 1.8 knots. That is GPS, or actual speed. Water speed was about 5 knots.

There are different kinds of speed indicators for your boat.

Knowing the difference is useful when you are dealing with currents, be they caused by rivers, tides or wind.

Boat speed in water is the actual speed that the water is passing by the sensor and the actual speed your boat is making though the water. This is a combination of your boat progress and any currents. Those currents can add speed or take it away. One knot current against you will show the same water speed because your boat is moving though the water, and water is flowing past the hull.

GPS speed is measured against the surface of the earth. It is the actual speed, actual progress, you are making over the earth. It's your true speed.

If you are directly facing a one knot current and are showing five knots of water speed, your true speed would be about four knots.

If you are facing a five knot current, in a five knot boat, your true speed can be zero.

This is why it's useful to know the difference between the two numbers. They can tell you a lot about your surroundings.

Remember, your water speed is relative. The sum of your water speed and currents is your actual speed.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Where is Home?

Brigadoon is our home. It’s been our home for the last five years. Over those five years we have been fortunate enough to live on Lake Union, here in Seattle. We have a great spot on the end of the dock, our marina is old but run well, we get along well with the owner, and our neighbors have (mostly) been good neighbors. They’re definitely a mixed bag. There was the guy who rode his motorcycle down the dock to park it next to his boat. There was the crazy cat lady who had flower pots all over her side of the dock for her cats to shit in. Entertaining us was the drunk Aussie who was offensive at times but overall a really nice guy. But they were all nice people – truly.

Then, there’s the shipyard…

Where is home? It’s where the boat is moored.

That is about to change.

A couple weeks ago, we were out on the Sound, returning from a friend’s place up north. Another friend was headed south also. As we sailed away, we had a nice northerly at 8-10, which made our asymmetrical spinnaker pull us along at a good 6 knots. Everything was going superb as we worked our way from Port Susan down past Hat Island, just off Everett. Our good friend, Kim, was sailing ahead of us about 3 nautical miles. The forecast was for possible dry lightning in the afternoon. We did get some, with flashes happening over the Cascades to the east, along with some between clouds. 

It wasn’t that severe and it wasn’t close, so we sailed on.

We had planned well for this trip, deciding to set watches for ourselves. This was the suggestion of my lovely and very smart First Mate. Kerry thought it would make for good practice. I agreed. So, we set watches of one hour on and one hour off. This kept us from standing around, fidgeting together, not resting, and basically not getting any time off. Kerry was below, off watch, when I saw the black line on the water.

It was about 5 nautical miles away.

I walked to the foredeck to get a better look. It was closer now. I could see black water, with ever increasing white caps behind it, like white horses climbing out of the Sound. Then I looked up. I looked up at our brand new spinnaker, full with only eight knots of wind filling it from behind. I knew that spinnaker had to come down right now. “Kerry! I need you on deck now!” I shouted as I moved forward to douse the spinnaker. The dark line on the horizon was now less than a mile away. 

There was a wall of wind coming at us, a squall, if you will, and it was going to hit us right on the nose. I completed the fastest spinnaker douse in my entire sailing career. Thank god I had an ATN sock on that spinnaker. It was doused and then down on deck in less than 2 minutes. And that’s when the storm hit us. Looking back I could see Kerry in the cockpit at the wheel.  She yelled out “What course should I take?” I looked over at Kim’s boat. I saw what he was doing. Turning back to Kerry, I shouted “Do you see Kim? Do exactly what he is doing!”

And she did.

We were fine. The winds were 25-30 knots. The seas were very confused. But we were just fine. We didn’t make any big mistakes and no one was hurt. The thing that most comes to mind is that, while not completely incompetent, we weren’t exactly relaxed in the process. Because, we should have been. We were in solid boat with good gear and enough experience where we should have been comfortable.

That’s the lesson. We need more of this. We need to be out there in the Puget Sound sailing in salt water and running into storms. Right now, we have a minimum of three drawbridges and the Ballard Locks to transit just to go sailing in Puget Sound. It’s a two hour trip on a good day. Lake Union is a little small and busy sometimes for Brigadoon. All this adds up to; We don’t get out often enough.

As of August 1st, we’ll be in our new slip on the Sound. We looked at many different marinas, some of them quite shabby but endearing nonetheless. Which begs the question – why would anyone, no matter how beautiful the marina might be, live in such a place with a dirty rundown bathroom and no laundry facilities anywhere in town? Three other marinas we researched were all in close proximity to each other.  Two of those were within walking distance of the Bainbridge Island Ferry.  We would have access to the Sound, a manageable commute, and a nice, modern, rich, town. Why didn’t we choose Bainbridge?

We found a better marina in Commencement Bay on the edges of the city of Tacoma. One cannot deny that Tacoma has revitalized the waterfront and, excepting its reputation, it’s actually quite a pleasant neighborhood. Oh, and the paper mill smell seems to have gone. The Foss Harbor Marina is clean, modern, well managed, amenity rich, and populated by some really nice people. There is a large liveaboard population, which is to our advantage.

This puts us within 200 yards from the entrance of Commencement Bay. At that point, we are in the South Puget Sound. We will have the time, the access, the desire, and the wherewithal to actually sail this boat as much as we need. The South Sound awaits us. We’re gonna do some sailing.