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.

Dodger
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.
Bimini

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 Sailfar.net, 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.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Reunion Cruises


s/v Bella (photo by Sherry)

 … and suddenly it's October.

Bella is out of the water for the winter and I am back on the road. My main job now is saving boat money for next summer. Perhaps I can get caught up on my writing as well.

August was a month of reunions. My brother, Tim, and his family were visiting the States from Switzerland. Tim's and my schedules lined up so that we could go sailing. I hope to get the rest of the family out when they return next year. Part of the old family crew [see below] was back together and we had a great day of sailing. Even Bella was enjoying herself in a brisk breeze and plenty of sunshine. I think that was the day I lost a hat.
Lost Hat

A few days later, my crew from the lake crossing came out for another sail. Dave and I had a nice sail and we took Bella out on the big lake. It was the first time that I had her on Lake Michigan since Dave and I crossed from Milwaukee, so it was a double reunion of sorts.

Bella was back in her element out on the big lake and the wind was just right on our return; opposite what it had been in June. We took up the challenge to sail all the way up the channel into Muskegon Lake without using the engine. Bella crept along, wind at her back, as other sailboats under power and all the powerboats were passing us. We had to wiggle past the sheriff and a boat they had stopped halfway down the channel. As we ghosted by the USS Silversides Museum, I said I thought we were going to make it all the way.

Dave and I under tow in June
“Shut up!” Dave exclaimed, “I've been trying not to jinx us by saying that.”

Bella gracefully took us all the way. It was quite a victory over having to get a tow last time.

As much as I enjoyed sailing with Tim and Dave, the important reunion was the privilege of sailing again with my Dad. Somewhere around 1976, Mom and Dad bought the family a sailboat. I had come back from scout camp with a Small Boat Sailing Merit Badge. During his Navy days, Dad did a Far East tour in the western Pacific on the USS Bennington (CV-20), an 872 foot Essex Class Aircraft Carrier. While he was aboard, the Bennington was sent to Sydney to help the Aussies celebrate ANZAC Day. He later helped build the USS Enterprise (CVN-65); 1123 feet long! We thought we were qualified to sail a 15 foot Chrysler Mutineer.

My sailing experience started with a Sunfish on Arrowhead Lake at camp. The Sunfish has a single lateen sail and is a good basic sailboat. Our Mutineer, a sloop we named the Luff Boat, had a furling jib forward of the mainsail. Sailing a sloop seemed more like proper sailing. Dad was my first captain.

Mom and sister Amy didn't appreciate the heeling motion of the Luff Boat as much as the guys. Our crew was most often Tim handling the jib sheets, me on the main sheet and Dad on the tiller. We drilled, practiced and sailed in bristol fashion. Dad called out “Ready About” and “Hard Alee.”

Our crewing was proper and salty but not really formal. We were all learning and we talked about the wind, the points of sail and navigation on the many Michigan lakes where we sailed. Dad let us try our hand at the tiller. It was with Tim and Dad that my love of sail began. With them, I began to get a 'wind sense' and some skill as a sailor; many of the most important moments of my life.

It was with Tim and Dad when I first got addicted to the sensation of a sailboat shouldering into the waves. With them, I first learned the quiet joy of gurgling along barely making way and felt the exhilaration when heeled over tearing across the water. I can still feel those delicioius moments hiked out over the windward rail with the boat heeling so much I could see the centerboard ghosting under the water over my shoulder.

Later, Dad was confident enough in my seamanship that I was allowed to take the boat out myself. Often towing her behind the family Chevette to go sailing with a buddy or a girlfriend. It was during these days that I discovered the true love of my life – sailing. These last eight years specifically, but really my whole life has been trying to get back to sailing. I had a few boats when I lived in Florida and even lived on one for a while. I've been working hard to get to the point that I can sail off for a while on an extended cruise. Turns out its a lot of work to set yourself up to be a boat bum.
Captain Dad

Back to this August, my cousin Sherry and her son Ben came out from New Jersey to see Grandma Curtis. While they were here I was going to take them for a ride. The dock where I kept Bella is not quite stable. I had been looking around for a dock or a pier that was more solid. Dad has some balance issues these days and I wanted him to be comfortable enough to come out and go for a sail. I hadn't found it yet, when two cars worth of family showed up to watch me take Sherry and Ben out. Dad came walking right out on the dock to greet me. I was elated! When Sherry decided to stay on shore and take pictures, I asked if anyone else wanted to come along with Ben and I. Dad stepped right up! It was fun to have Ben aboard and talk to him about sailing. He and his dad have a Sunfish they rescued and are sailing in Jersey. No offense to Ben, but to have my Dad, my original captain and sailing mentor aboard was incredibly important to me.
Ben

It was an auspicious day! The wind was such that we ended up sailing up the lake toward the city. We didn't make it easy for Sherry, the photographer, to get any good shots until we were coming back.

Next year is going to be a big year for Bella and I. These special moments will be along with us as we sail south.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Lake Crossing, Part Three

This is third of three posts. Find the first and the second.

Last I was telling the story, I thought I saw snow. The first week of June, Dave and I were sailing across Lake Michigan bringing my boat, s/v Bella, home from Milwaukee where I had found her. It was very cold. The Mid Lake Buoy had reported 39 degree water temperature midday Tuesday. We left that afternoon and sailed all night into Wednesday morning. After dark, I had occasionally shined a flashlight at the wind vane on top of the mast. Somewhere around 3:00a, I saw little flaky things blowing across the beam of light. I didn't need to see that.

By 5:00a or so, I figured that we were well across the northbound shipping lanes. We could rest easy that freighters were unlikely for the rest of the trip. About that time, I saw another sailboat. It was five or ten miles away, motoring south and west, a white hull and bare mast like a ghost in the moonlight. Put some damn sail up, I thought to myself. It was a beautiful night for a sail.

The sun came up and Bella started to warm up. We had most of the trip behind us. Though we were getting back into cellular range, our phones and Dave's iPad were running out of juice. I managed to text an ETA to our ground crew. Mom and Dad, and Nancy would be waiting on shore and taking lots of pictures. My optimistic ETA turned out to be wildly inaccurate, but that's sailing. 
Dave's iPad tracked us until its battery died.

Approaching Muskegon with more than 10 hours on the tiller, my brain started playing tricks on me. The coast ran for miles and miles to the south. The far away dunes looked for all the world like a jetty sticking out into the lake. The lighter color of the shallow water along the beaches could have been the mud trail of a river emptying into the big lake. Or it might be a sand bar! I strained my eyes, hand twitching on the tiller, ready to come about at a moment's notice.

Gradually, the coast came into better focus. I compared the smokestacks on the horizon with those on the chart. The GPS was locked in on the coordinates of the Muskegon jetty and it still wanted me to head a little south of east. I wasn't completely convinced but I trusted the stacks on the chart and the GPS. We sallied ... well, sailed forth.

On the Michigan side of the lake, the forecast was for stronger winds, 15-20 knots, and the chance of rain. Bella was in her element. She healed over, lee rail almost in the foam and I thought heard her snort like a thoroughbred. I felt safe and dry but was concerned about handling all the lines if I had to tack in a hurry. I called to Dave for help.

Headed more south than east with a shift of the wind, I could finally see the Muskegon jetties. We were pointing toward the beach north of the jetty but I wanted to get in close before tacking. It was going to be tricky getting up the channel. With Dave helping me sail Bella, I raised some signal flags to make a grand entrance into Muskegon. Dave called me Captain Subtle and teased that the drag of the flags was costing us at least a knot of forward progress. Nevertheless, Bella was decked out like a debutante and I was a proud skipper.

We tacked south toward the jetty. I waited as long as I could stand and we tacked in toward Muskegon but we couldn't make the channel. I'm not a racer and more than a little rusty anyway, but slicing acute angles out in the lake is hard. We sailed back to the north, then tacked down along the same track and past the entrance. I waited, waited some more, cursed myself, waited some more, and finally tacked – dammit – we missed the entrance again. Back to the north and then south again. This time closer to the end of the pier.

And then I heard the securite call from the Lake Express.

The Lake Express is the Milwaukee to Muskegon ferry. She was letting all stations know that she was coming into channel at Muskegon in ten minutes. I hailed them on the radio and practiced my real-sailor-radio-etiquette. On a working channel I told them that I was a sailing vessel also approaching Muskegon but would stay well out of their way.

Staying out of their way was a bit of a joke. The Lake Express crosses the lake in two and a half hours. We were almost 22 hours into our trip and only just approaching the coast. Worse yet, on our way out Tuesday, we had seen the ferry go into Milwaukee for the night. Here in Muskegon, Wednesday morning, she would enter the channel, cross Muskegon Lake, disembark her passengers, load again, and - dammit - leave for Milwaukee, all before we managed to enter the channel.

Back on Bella, we sliced as thin as we could closer to the jetty and then way, way past. This time, tacking back, we managed to enter the outer harbor. I was amazed how close to the wind Bella could sail! At times, she was headed so close into the wind, the wind vane practically pointed in the direction we were sailing.

We sliced back and forth inside the jetties; Bella was ripping. I could tell she just loved a broad reach. A broad reach is the fastest point of sail where a boat crosses the wind, rather than sails into it. Her theoretical hull speed is 6.4 knots. Dave called out when we hit 6 knots! It never felt like she was out of control. We were safe and dry and within a half a knot of her top speed. It was awesome sailing!

It was raining a little too.

I handed the tiller to Dave and went below to check the heading of the channel. If the wind direction out on the lake held near shore and I could get Bella pointed close to the wind on the starboard side of the channel, we could inch our way into the lake. We flew back and forth across the channel entrance looking for the right tack but we could not cut it close enough. The geography of the dunes and the seawalls of the channel funneled the wind straight out into the lake. Try as we might, we could not sail right into the wind and without an engine that was it. I dropped anchor just north of the channel mouth and called for a tow.

Next I had to get all those damn signal flags down. Even Captain Subtle can't make a grand entrance under tow.

The trip from outside the channel into the marina was complicated and at times infuriating. I'm not even sure I want to tell that part of the story. Nothing can diminish the fact that we made it. A couple of rusty sailors had crossed almost 75 miles of open water on the fifth largest lake in the world. We had survived more than 22 hours, overnight, just Bella and us against the elements. It was wonderful, it was amazing, and it is exactly what I have always wanted to do.
Home Dock, Torresen Marine