Wednesday, April 15, 2015

My Life as a Swab

Best Resignation Letter Ever:  "Umm ... I have to quit because I'm helping a guy sail his boat to Panama."

I drove from Michigan to Newark International Airport to pick up Alex a couple Sundays ago and we got to work on his boat here at Stony Point on the Hudson River. Once s/v Eleanor is ready, the plan is to sail down the East Coast on the Atlantic Inter-Coastal Waterway with some jumps offshore. After a little time in Florida and the Bahamas, we will head through the Windward Passage and on to Panama.

The first few nights here in Stony Point were a bit cold but we really started the right week; just as the weather changed. Spring is springing, the days are getting warmer and we are making good progress on boat projects.

Eleanor is a Westsail 42; a beautiful cutter ketch. We have installed a woodstove, a hydraulic autopilot and removed the furler. We've googled and stressed about rod ends, thread sizes, manuals and various installation instructions. There's wiring to finish at the autopilot controls and various bits to install like a wind vane, another bilge pump, a transducer, a new headstay and a new furler. The schedule is tight to get to Panama before Hurricane Season, but we are doing well and life is good.

I am crew, barely qualified as a swab, but I've been helping all I can to help get Eleanor ready and doing some cooking in the galley. It is a privilege, and a luxury, to defer to the judgement of a knowledgeable captain. I am not in charge of anything and get to learn stuff at every turn.

So, I quit my job and drove 12 hours to spend three months or so in relatively close quarters with a guy I'd never met. There were many uncertainties about this endeavor. And everyting is working out great actually.  What is life changing is the openness and direct experience of not knowing exactly what's next and not having to care about it. There is no worrying or planning, I am allowing the path to emerge just ahead of my footsteps. Whether we imagine its a red carpet or a thorny path that lies ahead of us, neither really exists. I just step toward that which will make my life better at that moment. The rest takes care of itself.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

An Unplanned Delay to my Non-Plan Plan.

My poor Bella waits another year.
Back in 1986, I entered the corporate world and hit the road selling automotive packaging in Detroit. Each morning I read a few motivational quotes and reminders that were scrawled in the back of my calendar. Not unlike the chants I often do now, these quotes helped to set my intentions for the day. One of the quotes was "Luck is when preparation meets opportunity" apparently spoken by Seneca, a first century Stoic philosopher. Yesterday, the preparation I've been doing for several years met the opportunity of a lifetime.

My trip on my boat, Bella, will be delayed for a year. I have the chance to help Alex Dorsey, a well known sailor, writer and documentarian, sail his boat from the Hudson River upstream of New York City to Panama. This incredible opportunity came together rapidly and I will be leaving for New York in a couple weeks. We will head south, hopefully yet in April, out around New Jersey and into the Inter Coastal Waterway, then down to Florida where we will jump offshore to
Alex and Eleanor last fall.
Panama; likely through the Windward Passage between Haiti and Cuba. This will be rock solid foundational experience for my own planned voyaging.

Alex, and his wife Carla, have two(!) boats right now. The Westsail 42 in New York needs to get to Panama so they can move their stuff over and sell their current boat. There is a little bit of prep work to be done in New York and then we'll be off. We are hoping to get to Panama in July, just skirting the beginning of hurricane season. I'll fly home in August or September. Then I'll have to get back to work to save money again for my trip.  Bella and I are on the same Non-Plan Plan, but with an unplanned delay of opportunity. Perfect! 

Information about the boat is here.

Alex and Carla
Alex, Carla and another sailor blog at his site here. Check the "Blogs" menu tab. Also on the site, you can watch both of Alex' original documentaries.

"Eat when you're hungry,
work when you're broke."
    - Bubba the Pirate.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Celebrate with Me!

Bella in a Milwaukee Boatyard, 12/2013
I've never been a very good example of anything, except perhaps being too stubborn to give up on an idea; too dumb to understand the odds stacked against me. The last week or so has been full of important anniversaries of how seven years of stubborn has actually worked out. I invite you to celebrate with me. Last December, I emailed a guy in Milwaukee about a boat he was selling. That boat turned out to be s/v Bella, now the love of my life. Bella and I are sailing south next summer.

Most of my adult life I've been dreaming of and working toward living on a boat. I actually did for a while in Sarasota. I found a boat and quit my last “career” job in April 2007 and set to work pursuing my dream in earnest. That boat was quite a project and like an old house, for every project I got started I found three more that needed done. I kept slogging along but my dream was about sailing not about perpetual boatwork.

Last August I had a long, heart-opening discussion with a friend. Accidentally, I had laid bare exactly what I needed to do next. Before I knew it I had placed an ad online that began: “I'm broke, I'm exhausted ...” 12 hours and 4 emails later, I had found the boat a new home; I was free again.

Well, free more in the sense of free fall. There were a few rough days back then. Friends and family will attest that I went through a period of swimming in possibilities. I was going to take a months long Zen retreat, then I was going to move to San Francisco; wait … Boston. There was a live-in internship at a homeless shelter I looked into; a motorcycle, an RV, etc. Without the project I'd been working on for seven years, I no longer had anything looming over me every day. Suddenly, I had no forward motion. Without forward motion, called 'way' by sailors, a boat has no steerage. I was that rudderless boat for a time.

Since I found another boat and things are back on track, more than one friend has complimented me for giving over to the universe, for trusting that things would work out. I have smiled and nodded at the idea, but the trust story is apocryphal. At the time I never thought “OK, I will now let the universe handle this.” I was pretty messed up. I'm sure I drove those around me crazy as every day came a new, really important idea of what I could do next.
Bella, getting ready, June 2014

Not knowing anything better to do, I kept stumbling toward my vague plan. Somewhere deep in my heart, I knew that if I didn't keep working toward a boat and a voyage, as I took my last breath on this planet I would wonder what it would have been like. The takeaway for me was that my plan was good, I had simply picked the wrong boat. I no longer needed to be local. I needed a lucrative job to save money for the next boat. I won't rehash the details again. I have written about my frustrations, letting go of the last boat, finding Bella and getting help to buy her, getting her ready and sailing her 'home' across LakeMichigan.

The first anniversary was December Second; the day I sent the email inquiring about a boat I saw on the Milwaukee Craigslist. December Third, I learned she was still available; December 10, I went to see her; and despite thinking I would play it cool, I made the deal on the 11th. Along the way, even before I had gone to see Bella, I was tightening up the details with a friend who helped me buy her before I had had time to build my savings.

Voyaging is not about sitting in some idyllic harbor watching the sun set, its about raising the anchor and moving on. OK, there will be sunsets in idyllic harbors too. Perhaps a part of being stubborn is a way of trusting the universe. Either way, I went from letting go of an onerous project to finding a boat that was ready to sail. In August of 2013, I watched my project boat go off down the highway, out of my life. Four months later, I had found Bella. This last June, I sailed her 'home' to Muskegon from Milwaukee. In 7 or 8 months, Bella and I are headed south. The one thing I've wanted to do most of my life.

No one dream is like another. What is your dream? Celebrate with me by pursuing yours! If you let go of the specifics of how you think it should go, the universe will help. Like sailing, you can't always go straight from Point A to Point B but if you learn to use the wind you can get there from another angle. Maybe you want to start a bakery, a dog shelter or a tree farm. Maybe you don't want a major change but you want time to make art or to learn to play an instrument. You might want to find a way to help others; a way to serve, to strive and thrive. Whatever it is, please be stubborn. Don't be hold tight to how you think it should be done, but be open to another way, but keep a 'weather eye' on your goal. Look to the horizon and don't get mesmerized by the water right in front of you.
On toward the horizon ...

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Non-Plan Plan

Many people are curious about my plans. Some of my closest family and friends might be a little concerned too. I thought I would write a few ideas down to explain my non-plan. Please use the comments section below to ask any other questions you might have. I am wide open to constructive dialogue, but I will not necessarily defend or explain my particular choices ad infinitum. This is a lifestyle choice that is out of the mainstream; not only do I accept that, I revel in it. Further, I may not be able to explain my plans in words that everyone will understand. This is not my problem, it is theirs.

There are a few things that I want to do to Bella in the spring. I will be making a dodger and possibly a bimini. There are some organization and preparation details to take care of. The interior cushions could be reupholstered. I need to make some decisions about batteries, solar and wind power generation and the inboard diesel. There is a slightly better than even chance that I will pull the engine and replace it with some kind of sculling oar, Chinese or Bahamian. These are real propulsion options. Check out a couple Youtubes: here, here or here. The sails are in quite good condition, but I will be going over them closely to be certain. Also, I will have the marina tune my standing rigging before she goes back in the water.

The first part of the my vague plan begins around July 15, 2015. Bella and I will begin to move toward the Bahamas. We will sail up and over Michigan, out the Erie Canal to the Hudson River, to the Atlantic at New York Harbor and then south through the Intercoastal Waterway to Florida. I have a tentative schedule to meet a fellow sailors in the Bahamas next winter. We are all regulars on, a discussion board for small boat sailors.

Chines Yuloh

By starting in July I will have a fair amount of time to wander as I go. This is not a boat delivery where I have to go straight from Muskegon to Green Turtle Cay on a schedule. I will have three or four months to do four or five weeks of sailing. I want to get near Jacksonville before mid October simply to avoid getting too cold. Hopefully, as I wander my exit from the Great Lakes I can have people join me for parts of the trip. Keep an eye on social media for arranging to make a passage, if possible.
Bahamian Oar

In early 2016, after a couple months or so in the Bahamas, it will be time to come back to the States and find a good marina. I will work nearby and eventually have the boat hauled out of the water. In May 2016, I'll come back to Michigan, probably by bus, and spend a few weeks here around a graduation party I am committed and honored to attend. Then I will go back to Bella.

There are some additional boat maintenance and upgrade possibilities that I will do at this time. I'll likely work some more again. Replacing the standing rigging is a possible project. I might also resurrect the stove side of the galley that the previous owner took out. Unless I get north of Florida when I come back from the Bahamas, it will be hurricane season until November so I'll have time to do some boat work as needed. With these upgrades, Bella will be ready for some serious sailing. We are going to explore the Caribbean Sea. Once again, hopefully some friends and family will join me for a passage or meet me on some island somewhere.

The Caribbean Sea is over a million square miles. A sailor could never explore it all. The Caymans, Jamaica, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, USVI, BVI, and maybe the Lesser Antilles are all on my mental list. I would like to explore Central America as well. The Rio Dulce has stuck in my vagabond heart since I read an article in Cruising World Magazine twenty some years ago. And I'd like to see Costa Rica and Panama as well. There will be no schedule or plan. If I love a place, I'll stay a while. If I hear about some other cool place, I'll go see it. If I start cruising with other boats, I might go where they go a few times. When money gets low, I'll wander back to the States.

In my voyage dreaming I would really like to cross an ocean. I don't think I am ambitious enough to think about circumnavigating, but an ocean crossing is very possible; probable even. Ireland and Sweden are in my ancestry. I would love to sail there and maybe down to Portugal and the Azores before returning to the Caribbean. Bella could do it with a little prep. We'll see if I can get my brain and my wallet that far.

Bella is a very seaworthy little ship. She is an Albin Vega, a Swedish boat with an ocean going pedigree. Vegas have sailed the globe with literally hundreds of ocean crossings. Her accommodations are on the spartan side, but that is right where I want them. I will not have refrigeration or air conditioning for they use too much battery power. Initially, I will cook on the single burner swing stove that I used this summer. There is also have a propane grill hanging on the stern pulpit. Electricity will be supplied by a battery bank charged from solar and wind. I will carry staples like rice, beans, flour and dried vegetables, as well as the some cabbage, potatoes and onions. I will not be a tourist, I am a vagabond. When I find a spot to stay, I will shop where the locals shop and eat what the locals eat. There will be plenty of fresh produce and fruit along the way. I'll also have fishing gear with me. The wannabe chef in me can't wait to learn to cook new things from the people I meet along the way.

I will carry a basic prepaid cellphone for necessary communication with governments and marinas. All other communication will be by email, social media and Skype/GoogleChat. This voyage is a bit of personal retreat too. The last thing I want is a smart phone type of tether to the so called real world. Bella has all the required safety equipment plus a VHF radio with GPS and AIS. We will carry a device like an inReach or a Spot so our position will be tracked in real time. The InReach allows for some two way communication as well so I could post to social media and notify about delays, etc. from wherever I am. Further, before setting out on any particular voyage, I will post/submit a float plan. My relative departure and arrival dates and locations will be known. Besides allowing for status updates from anywhere at sea, the inReach and the Spot both have a panic button for emergencies. My safety will, however, be my own concern and responsibility. There will be no reason for reports or inquiries to be made to any authorities if I am overdue.

In 2006 I coined the Bubba the Pirate motto: “Eat When You're Hungry. Work When You're Broke.” This is the guiding principle of my non-plan. I will work to fill my “Cruising Kitty,” then I'll go sailing. I will wander until my cash situation is lowered to some predetermined threshold and then I will work again. The Caribbean is a good place to start this routine as with a little planning I can easily wander back to the States to work. An ocean crossing would require a much larger cruising kitty which would have to be preceded by a longer work period. All this will either come together or it won't. It will be fine either way. The only reasonably solid plan is out of the Great Lakes to the Bahamas and then back to Michigan for a time. I'll keep you posted after that.