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.

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 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.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

"Well, it's belongs to the lake now..."

I really wish I had been that mature, that calm, that wise when a errant job sheet wrapped itself around our port dorade box, tearing it loose from the deck, and tossing it into Lake Union.

It was our first daysail of the season and it was going well. We have not been off the dock for months, due to heavy schedules, some maintenance work, and really uncooperative weather. But we need to get off the dock, as our sail last weekend so aptly demonstrates.

Skill that we had developed over the previous season(s) have gotten rusty. I didn't communicate well to Kerry and we weren't watching the jibsheet well enough when we tacked.

This is what an intact dorade box and vent look like. We used to have two:

Intact starboard dorade box and vent.

The port side? It doesn't quite look as good.

Missing dorade box and vent, apparently held down by a few screws and some rotting plywood??!

Sometimes, sometimes, I just want to strangle whoever did this. Now, I could follow suit and just put the screws for the new box and vent into a place where the wood isn't rotted. Yeah, that would work just fine.

I think now.

So, I'm redesigning the whole mess.

I'm going with solid teak boxes, two brand new ones. I'm also shopping for the vents. I can get them in plastic, stainless, brass or bronze, in order of ascending co$t. In addition, I'm designing, and will have made, a set of rails that prevent sheets from snagging the vents again.

Nothing is more heartbreaking than ripping a piece of your lovely home off the deck and tossing it into the deep, especially if it's completely preventable.

Welcome to the not so fun aspect of owning a boat. It's not all sipping margaritas at anchor and watching the sun set.

More to come on this, what may end up being, a thousand-dollar saga -- and that is by budgeting and doing all the work myself.

Did I mention that the solid, cast-bronze vents can cost as much as a $1,000.00 each?

You bet I'm budgeting.

Monday, March 2, 2015

No One is Coming to Save You

I found this graffiti on Capitol Hill, here in Seattle. I was walking among the raucous and busy streets late at night when I spied this.

I stood there thinking, "This is, indeed, a truth."

There is a recent story of a father and son who arrived in Rhode Island late last year. They paid $10,000.00 for a 20 year old racing boat off eBay. They purchased this boat sight unseen. Their plans were to sail it back to Australia. When they told the seller their plans to leave and enter the North Atlantic in February, they were strongly cautioned not to leave in winter conditions.

"When he told me what he wanted to do, it didn't seem like a good idea to start with," the previous owner, said. "There's a reason there's no boats on the ocean in February. That's because it's not a safe place to be."

They didn't listen.

Now, after rescue, the sailors, both father and son, are spending a lot of time defending their choices and deflecting criticism. They have dismissed seasoned sailor's opinions that their rescue should have been unnecessary because their departure shouldn't have occurred in the first place.

They had planned to leave earlier, but repairs kept piling up, which pushed their schedule. They knew they were getting into times of bad weather but they let the schedule, along with their desire to get the boat home, influence their "go" decision.

So the USCG, in true competence and every-day heroics, rescued them off shore, in the middle of a snow storm.

Someone came to save them. We saved them.

Now, before we go any further, I'll state flat out that I am not discussing rescues, who pays for them and, if we all pay for them (mostly we do), who stops these people from 'wasting' resources with poor decisions. It's a waste of time to argue this. Nothing but circles and circles of rationalizations, victim blaming, Randian rationalizations about the convenience of 'personal responsibility' until the responsible person needs help, etc. Add the cries of glee by some that call this a Darwin award (like no stupid decisions were ever made by the speaker in their lifetime) and you have an almost perfect trifecta. One of narrow mindedness, armchair quarterbacking and an almost sociopathy in the disdain for the plights of others. Not going there, in this article at least.

I'm writing to talk about self-sufficiency and independence and the impacts on our decisions that inter-dependence engenders.

As the story above demonstrates, many are willing to 'take their chances' out there, on the understanding that, if something goes wrong, they can make a call, push a button, and someone will come and save them.

In many cases, boats that were abandoned have washed up on shore, or found floating intact and seaworthy. It's fear that drives people off boats in situations they don't understand and try to tackle in ignorance and unpreparedness. This is a common story, one that illustrates how unprepared many people are for the sea.

What if no one was coming to save you? What would you do then?

Perish at sea?


Rescue yourself.

You rescue yourself every time you upgrade a critical system on your boat. You rescue yourself every time you learn more about weather, navigation and weather routing. You rescue yourself by carefully planning your routes without the driving date of a (sometimes arbitrary) schedule. In a hundred decisions before you leave, and hundreds after, you rescue yourself from ignorance, arrogance, hubris and laziness.

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.”

—Bertrand Russell (British mathematician and philosopher, 1872-1970)

When you read the stories of rescues, one common theme seems to rise up above all the other noise. The sailors being rescued were very confident, very sure of themselves, cannot be dissuaded by more experienced sailors; they aren't interested in information that flies in the face of what they want to do. These people are the same type who enter the wilderness without training, equipment and experience, ending up with a rescue by SAR volunteers. The arrogance of ignorance is poison to taking on endevours such as sailing.

"Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect."

— Captain A. G. Lamplugh, British Aviation Insurance Group, London. c. early 1930's.

The problem with this, as documented as the Dunning-Kruger effect, is that the incompetent don't know they are incompetent. They are often the ones so sure, so without doubt, as they stumble along to their eventual failure and doom. The sad part of, because of that self-blindness, that lack of doubt, they can never really get any better.

A good sailor (or aviator for that matter -- of which I am both), doubts. I'm not talking about the paralytic doubt that freezes one into inaction. I mean the kind of doubts that fuel us to redouble our efforts to sail a safe and seaworthy boat. We doubt our knowledge is good enough, so we study. Our skill set may not be there yet, so we work on our engines, our systems, our rigging and ourselves.

We see the trap of expecting someone else to help us in our darkest hour, so we do every single thing we can do to plot a course where that darkest hour doesn't come to pass. We rescue ourselves in every decision we make because, deep down, in our bones, we know, we really know...

"No one is coming to save you."

We have to save ourselves.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Living on the Cheap. Dying on the Cheap.

Boating, actually sailing, for that matter, is not a cheap sport. The inherent problem with owning a boat is the fact that, unlike cars, they aren't as mass produced. Sometimes, no one has the off-the-shelf part you need, so, you have to have it made. That's even more expensive.

What we have to understand about the prices we pay is that not all of them are unfair, or necessarily a ripoff. When a company does the R&D for an item and only sells 10,000 units, they will recover that cost in the price per unit. Actually, they must recover that cost or they cannot stay in business.  If the same unit was going into 5 million cars, they can spread the R&D out a bit and the cost comes down.

Does this mean that some marine supply stores don't sell the *exact* same thing you can pick up at the local hardware store for what seems like half the price? Of course some of them do. They play on the "everything on a boat is expensive" game and, some people pay it.

But what if you don't want to pay it?

See that? This is a perfect example of going on the cheap. It's a photo of wire nuts and short pieces of odd spliced wire on my bilge pump. They don't belong there. The wires were also non-marine (not tinned) and were corroded where the wire was nicked. The pump failed. For lack of a handful of waterproof crimp connectors, a crimping tool, and a couple feet of tinned wire, I had no bilge pump. The house water pump was wired the same way too. Someone before me tried to save about $50.00 on a cheaper bilge pump for their $100,000+ boat. If that pump failed to run and Brigadoon had water intrusion while we were away for the weekend -- sunk boat.

The solution is not to "go on the cheap". Going on the cheap bends your sense of reason. It drives you to get the best deal, which is only measured by getting the cheapest price. It frequently means the person going on the cheap has a big pile of rationalizations why their cheap unit is as good as your more expensive unit. Most of the time they are wrong, as they try to defend their decisions.

Price isn't the only factor here, people. Sure, in America, where we value price above everything else. We don't care where our iPads or iPhones are made, or under what conditions, as long as we get it at a good price.

What matters is value for the dollar. How many times have any of us bought the cheaper of two items, only to have it fail or break on us. We get upset. "Damn cheap Chinese crap!"

But, who bought that, "Damn cheap Chinese crap?"

It's taken me a while to get over my early training. You see, my father served in the military in this country for 23 years. We had a family of six. My father worked second jobs. My mother worked. We were military poor. I was raised in an environment of scarcity, of worry over money, for fear of survival.

Fortunately, today, things are different for us. We have valuable skills that we can sell in corporate environs. We are beyond simply surviving and, for that, we're thankful. In our efforts to pay down debt and becoming truly "free", free from the yoke that debt puts on our shoulders and gives our creditors power over us. So, we shovel money towards debt (might be zero in mid to late summer).

I don't live in a environment of scarcity anymore but, that doesn't mean I'm foolish with my money.

So, what does this have to do with "going on the cheap"?


My background of scarcity might drive me to go on the cheap. However, I've learned, over the years that quality matters. If I'm trusting my life, I said, "trusting my life", to the safety and seaworthiness of my vessel and her systems, my primary motivation is not to save a dollar today only to die one dollar richer because a cheap unit failed.

There is always something cheaper that you think can do the job my thing does. I will not argue that. I will argue that, if price is your only consideration, you will get shortchanged eventually, perhaps at great cost, maybe a life.

Balance quality in what you do. You invest in quality and buy the best you can afford.

Save money in creative ways. Anchor out. Cook on board. Learn to splice your own lines. Don't buy useless doo-dads to hang fenders with. Learn to tie a round turn and two half hitches -- you already own the line on the fender. Learn how to use it. Save money in practical ways. That way, it's there when you need to buy the best diesel filtration, bilge pumps, safety harnesses, sails, and engine parts you can afford.

How has this worked out for us?

Our battery replacement project coast 5K. It ended up with the right parts, the right install, and a reliable and flexible system.

Our Portland Pudgy Dinghy and Active Rescue System was almost 5K with the electrical system and sail rig. The lifeboat canopy for this lifeboat (more than just a dink) will cost another $2,500. However, a life raft can cost about $5,000 plus an additional $1,000 a year to certify for a one time use item.

Our planned wind vane self-steering system will cost about $5,000, plus install. Aside from steering our boat so we don't have to, it provides a completely redundant rudder for Brigadoon. If our rudder fails, we can still steer. That's value added to the primary purpose of the unit.

Our sails cost about 14K. Yes, I could have paid less. I could have gone to any number of companies that took measurements (some have you measure) for sails made in Southeast Asia. We could have gotten those sails for about 40% off. Yet, our sails are clearly of a better quality. They are made locally, here in Pt. Townsend. Sail material arrives at one end, and finished, hand-made sails of the highest quality come out the other. Our vendor is here. That is valuable to us.

All these decisions were weighed on value. It was value that drove us to these purchases. It was value that drove us to save the cash for these purchases so we aren't in debt. Our money is our life energy. We sell our souls, our time, to corporations so we can have nice things. We won't waste money but we won't be afraid of quality either.

There are many ways to save money, yet still have quality. Yes, the stainless hardware (if it's the right quality) is just fine for marine use. Alkyd Enamel paint from any quality paint vendor will work just fine in marine applications and will be about half the cost of 'marine' paint. Heat shrink from my hardware store is cheaper -- it's still the same stuff. So, there is nothing wrong with finding value at a cheaper price.

Just don't buy crap that fails that you have to replace. Don't be cheap on stuff that can affect the safety of your boat or yourself.

I see it time and time again, in person and on the net. People put non-marine propane installations in boats. Use the cheapest lines they can for mooring lines. Buy the cheapest chain for anchoring. Thin wall stainless tubing is cheaper than thicker wall stuff. It's also weaker. Cheap anchors bend and break. Cheap light fixtures burn up. Cheap electronics fail. If all you look at is price, you will get burned, sooner or later.

Don't be so focused on living on the cheap that you end up dying because of it too.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The 2015 Boat Show...decisions, decisions...

Each year, we make plans on attending the boat show. It's a chance to spend a week totally focused on the boat, our plans, and the execution of same. We can talk about stuff all we want but, if we don't execute on that talk, this will never happen.

This year we were focused on getting information about a few major and projects:

  • Water Maker
  • Self Steering
  • Power generation (alternator/generators, solar, wind, hydro)
  • Batteries
The show also provides us opportunities to consider ideas that pop up during the show. Some of these were:
  • Honda gas powered generator
  • Honda gas powered outboard for Fiona, our Portland Pudgy
  • Propane powered outboard
  • Electric drive for Brigadoon (flirted with this for a day or so)
So, here are some of the things we are considering.

Water Makers

There are many models out there. They range in capacity, power, ease of use, simplicity vs. complexity, cost, and support. We've heard horror stories involving failed units, lousy customer support and difficulty in maintenance. We decided that we would focus on the systems we could see at the show.

Watermakers range in price from about $4K on up to $11K for one that will fit out needs on Brigadoon. That's a large range. Some of the units are very simple and others have a lot of touch screen electronics. We are wary of this level of features and complexity as we just can't run down to the corner store to get a replacement if it fails.

RO Watermaker

The RO unit is one we have noticed before. It's AC driven. This means we have to power it from our batteries, through an inverter. This is not easy to do and, since pulling AC from a  DC batter pack can lose 15-20% power, it's not a good choice. Well, they have an answer. They power it with a Honda 2000i generator. 

Well, that got us doing down the road that suggested gasoline on the boat. If we go with this, we have to have gasoline for the generator. And the generator can be used to put electrons back into our batteries. That also means that, since we have gas on the boat, we can get a Honda 2hp outboard too. They are great engines. So, by purchasing a watermaker to the tune of about $4-5K, I would also have to purchase a generator for $1K, and end up with an outboard that coasts about $1K. 

It's a good watermaker, but I'm not sure of the path it leads us towards; explosive gasoline on the boat.

ECHO Tec Water Maker, sold by Hydrovane.
 The ECHO Tec is sold by the same company that sells the windvane steering we will purchase next year. The unit is either powered by the DC motor you see here, or an engine mounted pump to the right. Either way, the system is price competitive, simple, and serviceable.

We don't think we want to load up our diesel auxillary engine with the pump. At only 27 hoursepower, our engine needs all the power it can get and, I don't know if I want to side load the crankshaft to drive the high pressure water pump. This is also true for large alternators.


Back side of diesel genset, water maker pump, and large DC generator.

Diesel Genset with water maker pump, large DC generator, and refrigeration pump.
We saw this unit a couple years ago and deemed it too expensive. However...

This is a Kubota diesel genset. It's is reliable, is built to carry large loads of the high pressure water pump for the water maker and a large DC generator for topping up our batteries. It's starting to make sense. The cost of this unit is comparable to another water maker, plus generator, upgrading the engine to take the generator loads to fill the batteries to run the DC watermaker's a rabbit hole.

But this. This is a generator. It's a simple machine. It's not that large. It should fit in the stern compartment, behind the engine. All in all, we are seriously considering this unit.

Why? No need to purchase a Honda generator. No gasoline on the boat. It runs on fuel we already have. We don't need to upgrade our drive motor with a big alternator or pump. That way, the only time we are running the engine on Brigadoon is to -- and this is key -- move the boat.

Self Steering

Hydrovane Self Steering unit

Beautiful workmanship here in the guts of the Hydrovane.
Self steering is crucial to crossing oceans. There is not way a person on watch can steer a boat the whole time. You need the machine to do that for you. Because Brigadoon is a pilot house sailboat, with two separate steering stations, we need a unit that is independent from out steering. A regular system that attaches to the wheel in the cockpit is likely to have issues with friction in our steering system.

Besides, what do you do in a boat with a rudder failure? If you have this, you don't worry about it. The Hydrovane has a separate rudder that hangs off the back of the boat. If our main rudder fails, we can use this one. The black handle you see in the second picture is the emergency tiller. 

We have little doubt we will put this system on the boat in 2016.


Replacement Spreader Lights
Our spreader lights are really crappy old Perko units. They are dim, corroded and incandescent. We want all LCD lighting on Brigadoon so, I looked at the new LED lights flooding the market. Many of them use only a few watts but put out impressive amounts of light. Well, we found a model we like at a good price. Stay tuned for the pictures of me climbing the mast and installing these. 


We need electrons on Brigadoon. They need to be held in large batteries. When it comes to power, where you might pay cents for your kilowatt hours, on boats they are more on the order of dollars or tens of dollars. Generating power and storing it takes money. You need a place to store it and a way to make it. 

We took a great class on boat systems from Nigel Calder on Saturday. The three hour talk was well worth our time. We learned about the requirements and complexities of generating and storing power on board. After attending that seminar, we don't think bolting large loads on our ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) just to make water; that doesn't make that much sense. 

Battery technology is really gaining ground. There are flooded batteries (cheap and powerful but not a long life along with requiring regular maintenance). There are AGM (sealed batteries, sometimes called gel cells, that are more expensive and require almost no maintenance. Then there are Lithium Ion batteries. We agree with Nigel that these are not suited for boats. They are too prone to suffer from thermal runaway for our taste. I don't want an unbalanced battery to set itself on fire and burn a hole in our boat while setting the whole thing on fire.

AGM technology is getting there in capacity and cost over flooded. We have about 500 ah (amp hours) in flooded cells right now. There is newer technology on the way for AGMs that looks promising. They can accept a very high charge rate and perform well over many discharge/charge cycles.

We will likely replace our flooded cells with newer AGMs in 2016.

Wind Generators

We know that wind turbines get a bad rap due to the noise some models make. And yes, the winds (10-15 knots) make for good wind but not a good anchorage. Where there is good anchorage, there is little wind. So, why get one? 

The wind, my friend, it is free. It's not a major component of our power generation but it may supplement. I like power from multiple sources so...

Hydro Generators

These are really coming to the fore. Since water is denser than air, the generator is smaller and can generate more power. The nice thing about this model is it's being sold by the Hydrovane guys. They even make a bracket that attaches the generator to the post for the self steering unit. 

Now, this unit is not cheap. It costs thousands but, it's extremely reliable and it generates a lot of power. The fact that it's used on the Vendee Globe and other ocean races speaks to the capabilities of the unit.

We are watching this one too.

Solar Generation

We will get solar. We just haven't decided on which unit yet. Since electronics, especially solar, is making such huge gains over the last couple years, we feel good about holding off on this one until 2016.

Electric Drive for Brigadoon (no -go)

Yes, we actually thought about this. There are some boats out there that have electric drive setups. It makes sense for sailboats because, most of the time, the engine is used to get in and out of a harbor, or through a canal, or a set of locks. That usually doesn't take much power. An electric drive might work. 

All you have to do is tear out the diesel engine (no more oil changes, no more diesel fuel, no more maintenance), build a huge batter bank, and find a way to charge it. Unfortunately the technology isn't quite there yet. Power generation and battery storage needs to catch up the new motors before I'm willing to cross the globe with such a setup. It was a good exercise but, it really came down to putting a large generator on board - much larger than the Kubota above. 

Why tear out one diesel engine to simply replace it with a generator of the same size?

VHF Radio

Our current VHF is a decent radio. It has never failed to perform. However, we don't have AIS capability or DSC ship to ship capability. This radio has that. This means that, even though we will add an AIS transponder to the boat, this will give us an additional AIS receiver, along with a RAM (Remote Access Mic) for the cockpit. We picked this up at the show and will install it this week. The other radio? It gets boxed as a spare.

SSB (Single Sideband) Radio

This a mainstay of cruisers around the world. VHF only reaches so far and, it can't pass data. SSB is long range and can pass data (with the right modem), which means you can get weather charts and email. The system were more complex and expensive but, we think we found a simpler install method that is less expensive, while still using a high quality radio. This is another 2016 item.

In Summary

It was a good show. We made some good decisions around systems, gained some good knowledge from Nigel Calder, got new spreader lights, a new VHF radio, and some galley sundries.

It's a real challenge, figuring out what to do. There are plenty of people out there who are more than willing to sell you something you don't need for a price you can barely afford, to laugh it off as, "well, you need this or you can't go cruising and it's always expensive."

Sorry, not playing that game.

We are going for value, usefulness, simplicity, ease of maintenance and I think we are on the right track.