the adventures of a girl, her dog, and two cats.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

project: window insulation

I should have tackled this project much earlier in the season, but this morning I managed to get through the first step of my window insulation project. All but one port light is now lined with bubble wrap. (I ran out of double-stick tape to do the last window so I'll knock it out once I've made a run to the store.)

I also have window shrink wrap, so I may add another layer of bubble wrap to the larger windows and then shrink wrap them. I've been told this small project will really help keep the boat warmer, and since I have metered electric, that will hopefully translate into some financial savings for me, as well. I figure I will leave the insulation up year-round since keeping cool air-conditioned air inside in the summer will be just as useful as keeping the heat inside in the winter.

In keeping with the maxim that every item on a boat should serve a least two functions, these are now my "curtains" as well. They have the nice benefit of allowing in light but very much obscuring the view for privacy. I had planned to sew curtains from some beautiful natural linen fabric I have, but I think curtains will actually make the interior look smaller and more cluttered. I may reconsider wanting curtains come springtime when I open those port lights and want the privacy...but for now I'm happy with my multitasking bubble wrap.

The other insulation-related tasks I still have to get to include filling the forward hatch with big fluffy insulation, tucking big fluffy insulation around the holding tank and random other places I find to fit it that are not otherwise storing things, and placing the pieces of Reflectix that I have up against the hull wherever I can to fight condensation and mold and to insulate the boat.

Christmas dinner last night... heat and serve mac and cheese.

It's not like my homemade, but it's pretty good and I'm very glad the holiday is over. Three years ago was the last Christmas I spent with my father. I was there at the cabin in Oregon, cooked up a feast, and watched football with my dad. This was the first Christmas since he died, and the holidays are now just a reminder that he's gone. Without a significant other or children to share the holidays with, I'd rather just fast-forward to spring.

Solar charger update: I charged up the Opteka solar panel I bought on Amazon and decided to try it out for charging my cell phone. It took a few hours to charge my phone from 55% to 100% but the solar panel still had juice in it.

It's nice to know I have that emergency back-up, even if it does require sunny weather. Today is a frightful mix of snow, sleet, and rain...another perilous trip down the finger pier, so pup dog is in for the day and I am hopeful it will just be raining when I need to take her out this evening.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

are you the mermaid?

At a holiday party over the weekend a stranger came up to me and asked "Are you the mermaid?" I was caught a bit off-guard by the question, but realizing the host must have mentioned that I live aboard I responded "Oh, yes, of course I am." Living aboard is a rather substantial life-change and likely seems even more so to those who live ashore, so I guess my having become a mermaid/liveaboard now defines a lot about me, both to others and to myself. By happenstance my long hair was in very mermaid-esque waves; perhaps I've found my Halloween costume for next year.

I told the floppy-haired sailor guy that I wish I were his mermaid, but that the heart wants what it wants. Not having heard from him in ten days I think it's fair to assume he doesn't want this mermaid anymore. I worry he's stuck in a depression over the need to let his ailing and very elderly cat, and best friend, go and I offered all my support in any way he may need, but he doesn't lean on anyone and I was surprised he even shared the details of his crew's illness with me. I know the heart simply wants what it wants and can't be reasoned with. I just wish that after very knowingly, purposefully making me fall in love with him, he'd have been kind and respectful enough to tell me I'd be easily cast aside. On some abstract level I know I deserve to be cherished, yet for the low-low price of a measly text message every day or two as he cruised he'd have had this smart, loyal, beautiful mermaid dutifully waiting for him. There was a time when he actually said he cared about me and even warned me he'd be out of cell and internet range so I wouldn't worry or think he'd forgotten me if I didn't hear from him for a few days. As heartbroken as I am, I do hope the radio silence is just from a lack of caring about me anymore, and not that he's become too sullen to function or fallen overboard.

On the subject of falling overboard, pup dog and I both came perilously close to going into the icy drink this morning. When we went above it was 36 degrees and everything topsides was wet from rain, but not icy. We proceeded up the side deck, I pulled the boat closer to the finger pier, and pup dog jumped off. She immediately went skidding and I was helpless to do anything. The finger pier is but 29 inches wide. There isn't space for her and I to stand side by side and to "pass" her on the pier I have to basically step over and around her. She seemed to get her footing and so I stepped over to the pier, too. It simply looked wet, not even the sparkle of frost, but it was really just the thinnest, invisible sheet of ice. Once there, I could see the grooves in it where pup dog had dug her claws and skidded.

Pup had made it halfway down the pier and stopped. I was taking the tiniest baby steps but it was so slippery I had to stop, too. Pup and I both stood motionless for quite a while. Any time I tried to nudge her to go forward just a bit, she balked and wanted to back up, which risked sending us both overboard. I felt I would not be able to keep my balance and thought perhaps I could crawl on my hands and knees. But as soon as I put a knee down it slid. I threw one leg over the pier and sat with the other beneath me. Pup dog tried to turn around and almost went over the edge. She sat and tried to scoot into my lap. We sat there together; I hugged her and cried. I told her I'm so very sorry I've put her through this horrible experience, that I'm such a terrible mother. I see the look on her sweet face every time I bring her back to the boat; she hates it. I tried to think of someone I could call nearby to bring us salt, but there is no one I would feel I could bother on Christmas morning. I drank my entire cup of morning coffee, wondering whether I should pour it on the pier or whether it would just freeze up worse. Could I make it back to the boat and get cat litter? Maybe. Would pup be able to stay still and calm without me next to her? Unlikely. I recalled seeing an opened bag of salt behind the dinghy rack, but that seven feet to shore might as well have been a marathon.

Pup dog suddenly made a run for it, skidding out along the way, giving me heart palpitations, but made it to shore. I scooted my butt inch by inch along the pier, and when I got to the bulkhead grabbed a cleat and went on my hands and knees to the grass. I didn't have car keys with me to go anywhere or money to buy anything, and had forgotten her leash for a walk. I found the bag of salt, almost all of which had solidified into a few enormous blocks. I brought it to our finger pier and kept digging to the bottom to find loose handfuls and step by step covered the pier as I went.

I managed to make it back aboard to grab her leash and give her a good mile+ walk. I worried she'd never agree to go back down that pier to the boat. I kept her on her leash--dangerous because if she fell she'd quickly pull me over, too--but I knew she'd balk without it. Her hind legs still skidded as she pushed off to jump aboard and then I had to convince her to wait for me, since we were still connected by a short four-foot leash. She balked about going down the side deck and slipped on it just before the cockpit. I told her she's so brave, that I'm so proud of her, that I'm so sorry I've put her through this. She's scared to jump down into the cockpit, but I think it will become mission critical for her to learn to do so and learn to do her business there. That could save our lives on an icy morning when she needs to relieve herself.

Now she's sleeping peacefully at my feet on the settee. Hopefully she'll forgive me, survive the winter aboard, and learn to enjoy the boat when we have warm summertime and can cruise and swim, and maybe our real life will begin.

Solar light update: here's a photo of one of the solar lights I bought on Amazon. They are really quite bright. I think I will take down all the holiday lights I strung around the bimini and just rely on the two solar lights. One is hung on the aft rail (pictured) and the other looped around the end of the boom.

The guy I'm hiring to help me with boat fixes and teach me along the way was too hungover yesterday to help me with the water pump and propane. I put my dirty dishes in a bucket and carried them ashore to wash in the bathroom sink. I bought deli cheese and meat and a loaf of bread to make sandwiches and a grabbed a few other items I can just microwave. Every surface in the boat is a cluttered mess, so it won't hurt for me to take a couple of days to clean and organize, and I would really like to move back into the spacious v-berth rather than being cramped on the settee, which doesn't really fit me and the dog. I'm too tenderhearted to make the poor pup sleep on the floor.

Well, time to see if I can rally myself to have a bite to eat and go for an afternoon run. I surely need the endorphins to pick me up. I'll be relieved to get past the holidays. Hopefully next year I can anchor out away from civilization from mid-November until mid-January and miss the whole affair.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

what goes up, must come down

Well, this morning the problem was the crazy low tide!

I couldn't budge the boat closer to the dock to let the pup dog ashore. I figured we were aground. But no, the stern lines were just way, way too tight due to the low tide. I definitely should have gone out in the night to loosen them up... And because they were so tight and with incredible load, I couldn't get the cleat hitch undone on either stern line...well, the initial hitch was no problem, but where the line wrapped around the cleat it was "trapped" in place by the tension of the line running to the piling.

I was beginning to think I'd either have to wait for the tide to come in or cut the lines... and believe me, between both the expense of these fancy New England Ropes dock lines and the emotional investment in them from having spliced them with the floppy-haired sailor guy, I was loathe to consider cutting them unless they were going to sink the boat. So I sat there wiggling them and waiting for any millimeter of slack caused by a wind gust, and eventually managed to tease them free. Once I had loosened the starboard stern line I was able to pull the boat over to the dock (I have now looped a spare line around the dock piling just for this purpose). Pup dog still looked askance at me asking her to jump up so high to that narrow finger pier, but her need to piddle eventually outweighed her hesitation. Getting her to reverse the process and make that long jump down onto the narrow side deck...not happening. So she's leashed to an Adirondack chair ashore, braving the cold wind and, hopefully, enjoying the sunny day to watch the ducks.

Friday, December 21, 2012

the tide is high, but I'm holding on

When I looked at the weather forecast yesterday and saw a gale warning in effect I got a bit worried about the winds and potential loss of power. The power did go out--for all of Annapolis--but it was a major transmission line that went down, rather than a weather-related outage. Gratefully, my shorepower came back on after an hour-and-a-half; a longer-term outage during the cold weather would be very problematic for the engine, water tank, holding tank, and the pets. A small generator to run from the dock in case of emergency would be a good idea, but the budget currently has other priorities.

Hardly got any sleep during the night with the boat rocking and rolling in the steady wind and strong gusts. It's not any inability to sleep with the rocking--that is one of the things I most love about sleeping aboard--but when it's really blowing I am in alert-mode trying to monitor all the sounds and movements of the boat to protect her from harm. On one trip out to adjust lines a gust snatched the hatch door out of my hands and tossed it in the cockpit. (Note my West Epoxy job held, though!) I kept hearing squeaking fenders and boat-versus-piling noises, but they appear to be other boats I'm hearing as my lines seem to be keeping me where I need to be in my slip.

I failed to anticipate the extremely high tide, however. Higher than the surge from Sandy. When I took the pup dog above this morning to head ashore we were high above the finger pier and she just gave me a look. "OK, we'll try in a couple hours when it's gone down a bit." Ooops! That was a good four hours before high tide; it was only going to get worse. I have tide clock apps on my phone, but really need a tide clock on the wall so it just becomes ingrained. It can be difficult for me to board and disembark the boat at a particularly high or low tide, but with the dog it can become far too difficult to manage safely.

I adjusted lines, pulled the boat as close to the pier as possible and begged pup dog to go for it. She managed and then I realized how difficult it would be for either of us to get back aboard. I went below and gathered laundry, a change of clothes, a book, and prepared to spend the day ashore until the tide brought the pier and deck closer to equilibrium. Here's a photo right after I jumped the few feet down from the deck to the dock; it doesn't seem like a big deal until you have to do it, arms full of stuff, and only a narrow pier to land on.

The entire intersection and park in front of Davis' Pub was flooded.

At Davis' I caught up with a guy known to be handy with boat fixes and explained that I'm in rather a jam to get my water pump fixed and need some hired help doing it. I also mentioned that it'd mean a lot to me to be able to cook aboard on Christmas, so if he could help me with setting up the propane for the stove and oven, I would be really happy. Basically, I have a lot of work to do on the boat, but tomorrow I just want to get the very basics: water and fire. Then we can start tackling the rest.

I needed to make an exchange at Target and utterly failed to think through that this is the Friday before Christmas. The traffic disaster in the parking garage, surrounding the shopping center, and within a ten block radius of the Annapolis Mall was ridiculous. So if you saw some crazy girl mumbling and cursing all the people buying cheap plastic crap from China for their kids for Christmas...yeah, that was me.

I usually do love Christmastime; though I hate the shopping and gifts part, I love decorating the tree and singing carols and cooking (oft-non-traditional) holiday feasts. But it doesn't feel like Christmas at all to me this year. I'm not doing any shopping, not sending any cards; honestly, that's a relief. But it's the first Christmas I can't call my father. The last two times I spoke with him were the day before he died and last Christmas Eve. And I'm in love with someone who doesn't celebrate Christmas or me, so the holidays are just a reminder of being alone.

Needed to wait out the tide, so I spent a few hours at my office, doing laundry, locating items for the upcoming trip to Miami and Key West, and baking garlic cheddar biscuits and orange-infused bittersweet break-up brownies. I think I needed the meditation of baking a pizza and kneading the dough. Or the lengthy distraction of baking a cake. But I filled a bag with biscuits that I can re-heat in the microwave aboard and made two dozen brownies, so I can practice some random acts of sweetness during the holidays.

By the time we arrived back at the boat, she was level with the finger pier and I simply had to pull her closer against the wind to get the pup to hop aboard. Once I settled in on the settee the entire pack, dog and two cats, climbed up to snuggle and prepare for another gusty night.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

fill 'er up

Well, linked my hose with the marina one, the connection spraying water everywhere. Filled the tank plus 10 gallon jugs. The water tank was happy to be filled but when I turned on the faucets...nothing. Fresh water pump is dead. I guess we know what tomorrow's priority project is.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

when the well runs dry

This time I'm not speaking metaphorically of my bank account, emotional fortitude, or mental health, all of which appear in daily jeopardy, I know. 

No, this time I am just left with the spigot on, but water only a trickle as I was about to wash my face. I feel like I filled my water tank not long ago and suspect it's quite large. But I have washed dishes somewhat liberally, many nights washed my face aboard before bed rather than schlepp to the bathhouse, have regularly filled a cup with water from the sink for flushing, since the raw water flush is not connected. I want to believe that water tank is bottomless. 

But worse than an empty tank I worry the fresh water pump that would run continuously has finally given up the ghost. Filling the water tank can be a hassle, but a new pump will be a few hundred dollars to replace and I'll need to have someone help me with that project. Pro tip: Install a foot pump for a backup!

fighting the kraken in the bilge

Today I bought this nifty anti-alien techno gun so that if that kraken in the bilge ever gets out, or the boat is attacked by aliens, or I just need to clean up the dog hair and kitty litter on the cabin sole, I've got it covered.

The floppy-haired sailor guy has a beautiful blue one (jealous) and when he showed it to me my eyes bulged and I oooh-ed and aaaah-ed, grabbed it, and said "This is for killing aliens, right? bang! bang! bang! bang!" Yes, he thought I was "bat-shit crazy," but come on, it looks like an alien-killing-machine not a "dust buster." I'm already impressed with the vroom-vroom suction power. With how much the pup dog sheds, I don't understand how she isn't bald. Perhaps I can even use it on the saber-toothed grasshoppers who keep invading the privacy of my new bathhouse. Those grasshoppers are enormous and they scare the bejezzus out of me, jumping all over the place and hopping in my bag of toiletries. Look out grasshoppers, now I'm armed and dangerous!

Also got a package today from Amazon with nifty new stuff for life aboard: (1) Cap'n Fatty Goodlander's "How to Inexpensively and Safely Buy, Outfit, and Sail a Small Vessel Around the World," (2) solar lights recommended by The Boat Galley, and (3) a small solar panel charger for cell phone and other small electronics.

The solar charged toys have to charge for a couple of days before I can use them, but I'll update with how they perform once I've been able to test them out. I feel so dependent on shore power right now, but aspire to increasingly be able to go "off the grid."

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

managing expectations

The past ten days since my last post have been rather a flurry of activity, though without some of the activity I most hoped to get to. With most things it seems, relying on others is a recipe for disappointment. I guess I need to manage my expectations more conservatively and then find myself happily surprised when something gets done. And just do as much as I possibly can myself, which is always my preference anyway.

Lining up boat labor is a challenge between schedules, weather, finances, and the propensity in Annapolis for many folks to begin drinking early in the day. Scheduling a haul-out to get work done appears to be a pipe-dream until Spring. The yard I thought would be pricier, but more professional, reliable, and accommodating was anything but. I was told that they were too busy hauling boats for the winter and my boat would be "in the way." The girl said she would check about scheduling and call back; naturally that call-back never came. Annapolis is a small town and as soon as I began to share my story of how difficult it is to get scheduled for a haul, (frustrating when I'm trying to spend some money in our local economy, here), several folks immediately knew which girl was a problem and apparently loses a lot of business for that yard (presumably unbeknownst to yard management/ownership). So, on both sides of Back Creek the customer service was sorely lacking and I'll likely take my boat south of Annapolis to get the work done. Although this was very important work I wanted to get done forthwith, a haul is now unlikely to happen until Spring because the temperatures are coming too close to freezing at night and I'm not winterizing systems on the boat--thus, I need the insulation of the warmer water to keep engine, water tank, and holding tank from freezing.

On the upside, I am now docked in my new marina! Happy to have a beautiful view, a bathhouse virtually to myself, and a large grassy yard for pup dog to play ball. The first night was a drama as I elected to dock bow in and that necessitated removal of lifelines so that pup dog could board. The couplers on the lifelines did not want to unscrew and I had to elicit late-night assistance. (Many thanks for always coming through!) It was also the frostiest the decks had gotten, and both pup dog and I had close calls coming down the side deck--not sure if the lifelines would keep us from falling overboard, but they do give me something to steady myself. Here is the frost aboard on our first morning waking in the new marina.

The view at the new marina is so serene...

Before I could even get settled into my new slip I had to hop in the car for a road trip to Virginia Beach and Norfolk. Woefully undertrained, I decided to go ahead and take a stab at my 50K trail race, the Seashore Nature Trail 50K put on by the Tidewater Striders. (For those not obsessed with these things, a 50K is 31.07 miles, about 5 miles more than a marathon, though in many trail races the mileage may be more like 34 to 38). Every race is an exercise in managing expectations, but particularly when one is feeling unprepared. Real training was to be four-and-a-half months of intense training, often running a painful 10-miler the day after a 16, 18, or 20 mile run, with a marathon three weeks before the 50K. Training pretty much fell apart as my days were filled with boat shopping and then moving aboard. I think I managed a few 14-milers (sometimes with a 10-miler the next day), a couple of 16s, an 18, and a 20. I was very sick leading up to the NCR Trail Marathon I had hoped to run, and had to pass on it. But in recent weeks I had had some very good runs, having re-found what I love and need from running: my alone time, my meditative time, a space to let my mind wander, work through problems, and try to let go my troubles. With a cut-off time of 8.5 hours, I mostly set my goal as coming in under the deadline, but my primary goal was to finish in around 6.5 hours. The race was well-organized, volunteers were very friendly and encouraging, and the course was quite beautiful. The course wound through woods, bogs, and wetlands, and had us running on packed dirt, leaves, pine needles, wooden footbridges, and sand. I was grateful to have worn my Dirty Girl Gaiters and kept the sand out of my shoes! The Spanish Moss hanging from the trees in various sections of the course was just gorgeous. Some sections of the trails had many tree roots to trip on, often hidden beneath the leaves covering the trail; although I had a few trips and twists, I never fell.

As I began running, just kept going, and then reached the first aid station 5 miles in, I managed to make two important commitments that got me through the race with a time I can be pleased with and feeling that I finished strong, not beaten down. First, I decided I would not walk one inch of the race. I stopped at every aid station, used the porta-potty, stretched, ate PB&Js and potato chips, drank lots of Mountain Dew (a/k/a ultrarunner fuel). But as soon as I left the aid station, I was back to running. I may have shuffled along slowly at times, but I never walked. Second, I decided I would not stop except at aid stations. Stopping and walking often seem like a needed and logical respite for sore legs, but they allow the pain in one's legs to flow up into one's mind and undermine the necessary resolve to keep going. My Achilles tendons were burning, one knee was getting cranky, soles of my feet were begging for squishy insoles. But despite those protestations, I knew deep down, and repeatedly told myself (yes, often mumbling aloud) that "your legs know what to do, just let them go; stop thinking about it and just let them do the work." Distance running surely benefits from training and strong legs, but in the end, it is a mental sport. Until one is there, it is hard to imagine how difficult it is to control one's mind in the face of pain and exhaustion, but that is the true challenge to the sport: the ability to turn off one's mind, let it trust in the auto-pilot, and just let one's legs "go."

I finished in 6:40:27, sprinting in the last little stretch. An average pace of 12:53 per mile. And while I was, of course, sore the next couple of days, I was already going down the stairs forward (not backward) the day after the race! Undertrained, did not carb-load or hydrate as much as I should have in the days before the race, but a personal record for 50K and feeling good.

Reaffirming to myself that the well of my mental and emotional strength runs deep was especially important as I face the first Christmas since my father's death, still missing him terribly and breaking down just about every day, and as I tend to the heartache of missing my floppy-haired sailor guy and not knowing if he misses me. What I lack in physical strength and mechanical skill, I know I make up for in resilience, empathy, and stick-to-it-tiveness. I'm counting on those qualities to keep my heart going in the ultramarathon of love and life.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

trying to stay afloat

It's been a very tough week but I'm trying to stay afloat--literally, financially, and mentally.

Had expected to get hauled this week and complete various and sundry repairs and upgrades aboard, but most importantly replacing seacocks and servicing/installing bilge pumps. When my helper backed out last minute for a real gig, I was left scrambling. In addition to needing knowledgeable assistance with the projects, I also need to arrange the haul-out and had little luck getting it lined up. Some places winterize their travel lifts, one place I tried only had a crane (not feasible for my boat). The yard I had planned to use literally never answers their phone or returns messages, (same experience when I was looking into slips there), and apparently scheduling me for a haul was a low priority for the guy who could do it once he realized he wasn't going to get anywhere with me. Gratefully, I have found someone to help me with the work; just hoping it doesn't kill my budget. Going to go ahead and schedule the haul-out at a more expensive spot but that will actually be responsive, and perhaps I'll even be able to stay aboard while on the hard, which would simplify things (though pup dog will still have to crash somewhere else). The luxury of an ElectroScan waste treatment unit looks to be a pipe dream for now, just too expensive.

Aside from the repairs being generally necessary, the real heartburn came from discovering that the raw water line previously hooked to the head had been disconnected and left open under the sink and that the seacock for that line is frozen open; if the hose falls below the waterline, the boat can flood and sink. I bought wooden plugs, jammed one in the fitting at the end of the hose, added some duct tape as well, and situated the line so it will stay upward and hopefully above the water line.

Spent seemingly endless hours at the depressing task of applying for jobs. The idea of going back to law is so demoralizing. But most law jobs I cannot get either because I am overqualified, or underqualified, or not admitted in the state they want. I wouldn't even need that many mediation clients to do well and dig myself out of the bottomless pit of student debt--and I actually enjoy helping people through mediation--but the telephone just isn't ringing. I am hoping a newfound potential venture, which would permit me to work from from the boat while cruising, will offer some hope, and ultimately money; but I've been down that road before...getting my hopes up only to end up even more broke than before. I just wish I had real, tangible skills. All those "soft" skills one gets from liberal arts and law school and business school--pretty much worthless.

On top of all my other stresses the cats decided they had it in for me. I have knocked myself out trying to make them comfortable aboard and trying to find a cat litter they are happier with so we can have fewer "out of box" incidents. Apparently they had had it with the Feline Pine and one morning I stepped in a pile of cat shit with my Birkenstocks--a real pain getting it out of the grooves in the sole. When I came back from errands that afternoon, one of the cats had peed on the settee where pup dog and I have been sleeping. At that point I simply melted down. I screamed at them that I have given up so many opportunities, go without medical care so they can go to the vet, live in abject poverty, all so I could keep them and fulfill my commitment to care for them. I swore over and over I never want pets again as long as I live. At least they have been nice to me the past couple of days, but I needed my pack to be kind to me when it's just us against the world.

When the pets finally got their shit in check, it started overflowing elsewhere...backing up into the head, likely meaning the holding tank was full. Didn't quite make it four weeks since the last pump-out. But I'm lucky to have a friend willing to take my boat for a little "cruise" to the pump out station. After having to seriously fend us off pilings and boats when I tried to pull it out of the slip last time, he volunteered for the outbound trip and I could take the return.

Here's what pumping out entails...a giant shit-sucking vacuum; and, yes, that's a lovely observation window in the hose.

I just took the helm for a little cruise down Back Creek and turned it back over to my friend when we got into the much tighter confines of my marina, but little by little I am getting better at handling my boat. And I'll be back out for the frostbite races tomorrow, so studying as much as I can for the sailing lesson opportunity.

Here's the pup dog at the bow as we headed up the creek, and then me at the helm on the return.

Being left and forgotten hurts. A week ago I sent the floppy-haired sailor guy the most heartfelt, sweet, and romantic letter I've surely ever written. What I've received is radio silence. Though I would get weather reports and photographs, he ignored my occasional messages with questions or updates about my boat projects, and I worried he mistakenly thought that boat knowledge and fix-it skill was what I wanted him for. Just in case, I made clear that was quite far from the case and explained just what I do see and value in him. I'm a low-maintenance gal when it comes to love; I don't need (or want) flowers and chocolates and diamonds; I don't need (or want) constant sappy affirmations of affection. (I'll admit I do want someone to make me soup and cheese bread and play me a beautiful song or two.) And I understand being busy and traveling. But if you care about and miss someone, you need to tell them that every once in awhile, lest they drift away. I guess I need to batten down the hatches to my heart, because I'm just not strong enough to weather the storm of heartache anymore.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

two months aboard and counting

Well, I have made it past my two-month anniversary aboard, which was back on December 2. I guess it was fitting for that anniversary that I went "frostbiting" that afternoon--sailing races in the cold weather. I have managed to connect with a couple who owns a J/80 race boat and was kind enough to let me tag along as crew--though I was really just ballast (or "rail meat") during the races. But before the first race they handed me the tiller and had me tack back and forth across the Severn as we waited to line up for the race start. I went into it with the view that as long as I did not go overboard or cry, it was a successful day; I didn't come close to either. Captain and crew were very patient and throughout the races explained what they were doing and why and instructed me on various aspects of the rigging and terminology. It can seem like an overwhelming amount of information, but if I stick with it through the winter, (they break for late December and January, but pick back up again in February), I think I will have a very good head start for learning to sail my boat in the spring.

On Monday I finally managed to get out to a firing range and shoot my 12 gauge shotgun and have the bruises to prove it. My friend's AR-15 and Glocks seemed like a breeze in comparison. Just a dozen rounds, half bird shot, half buck shot, and my shoulder and upper arm are black and blue. I did lean into the butt as advised, but that gun is going to have a hell of a kick for me no matter what I do. Gratefully, if I ever need to fire it, one or two shots will clearly suffice. I'd be loathe to fire it in my boat and damage her, but if self-defense required it, at least now I know what to expect from the gun and how to use it. I would never shoot unless it was self-defense, which includes shooting nature. If a bear, mountain lion, or alligator were a threat to my pets or myself, I would defend us, just as I would against a human threat, but I just can't wrap my head around people killing wildlife for entertainment.

I had been expecting to get hauled out and be making major repairs to the boat tomorrow and Friday, but my friend who was going to help me took a boat delivery gig and won't be back for a couple of weeks. Now I have to scramble to find the needed help, hopefully find a discount on the parts, and find a good yard for the haul. Getting hauled in Annapolis is just silly expensive, and some yards require that you use their vendors rather than do work yourself. Some of the repairs are important safety issues, and I know I will sleep better going out of town for races this month and next if those repairs are already complete. Some five or six seacocks need to be replaced, a primary automatic bilge pump serviced or installed, the secondary bilge pump (currently a shower sump) likely to be replaced, and was hoping to replace vent hoses and install a new toilet and an ElectroScan. The seacock and bilge pump work is definitely best done out of the water, and the head upgrades would be easier that way, especially with the opportunity to pump out right before so the system is as cleared out as possible. I would also like to get the boat named changed, which is much easier to do on the hard rather than trying to work from a dingy or float. I know the boat name is not a safety issue and may seem a frivolous expense when I am so broke, but I know getting her re-named will somehow seal our bond.

Wish I could also get that chartplotter for my heart, but they sure seem hard to find. Missing my floppy-haired sailor guy but never quite knowing if the feeling is mutual. Friends here have never seen me fall for anyone before; I shoot most guys down, refuse to date, and am incredibly picky. I've settled in the past and don't ever want to do so again. Friends here have said a guy I'm sweet on is crazy not to do everything in his power to have me with him. I appreciate the sentiment, though I also don't want the responsibility of someone's life centering around me. To me, real love requires two whole, autonomous people who are better together, but are able to stand alone. But I also know that what you don't nurture cannot grow and will eventually wither. Are weather updates and photographs as he heads south his way of showing I'm missed and in his thoughts... or are they just weather reports and photos? Being left to wonder leaves something to be desired.

Headed over to Port Annapolis yesterday evening for sundowners and got to catch up with the folks whom, my income and skills permitting, I will caravan with down the ICW next fall. I'm so grateful to have met such wonderful people through living aboard. I often hear others also comment that one of the best parts of living aboard is the wonderful community of fellow liveaboards you meet and the lifelong friendships that develop. I have certainly faced some challenges and frustrations aboard, and will continue to do so, and the encouragement and camaraderie of my fellow liveaboards here is priceless.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

essential provisioning

Really love my Myers Dark, but being a boater on a budget, had to go for the Gosling's ($23) instead of Myers ($41) and Carolans instead of Bailey's this go-around. Now I've got all my essential provisions for making my favorite cold-weather drinks: Peppermint Patties, Hot Buttered Rum, and Irish Coffee.

Hoping to get hauled and work on the boat at the end of next week. Trying to find a good boatyard where my friend and I can do the work self-service and the haul-out is not outrageously priced. Very excited to get a few of these essential repairs made and a couple of creature-comfort upgrades done. The boat will always be a work in progress, but every boat is; "the list" is never done.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

making moves

A terrible cold side-lined me for a week, causing me to miss a marathon (which was also to serve as a final long training run for the upcoming 50K). Friends warned me to be particularly careful about the cold now that I live aboard; being in a cold, damp boat can turn a cold into "a quick cab ride to pneumonia" as one friend put it. Now that I feel mostly recovered, I am under the gun to catch up on the many, many projects before me.

One useful exercise I did work on while nursing my cold was a list of all the fixes and upgrades I need or want to make on the boat. There are over fifty entries on the list so far (from small items like changing to LED light bulbs to larger projects like removing and re-bedding all the chain plates). Project Gitrot is in a holding pattern at the moment due to a few wet days and considering whether the rot is simply too extensive to fill and a new mahogany threshold should be installed instead. Only a few days away from two months' aboard, I would really like to have my propane stove and oven up and running as soon as possible, and will try to push that to the forefront in the next couple of days. It seems like a simple enough exercise, but never having even used a gas grill before, I have a healthy fear of making any mistakes with the propane, so this is a project I want some help with.

So far this week has brought some big changes. On Monday I sold my Honda Element. It was, as the floppy-haired sailor had put it, my only asset of any real value. It is very hard to be in such financial straits that I have to sell my car to pay the bills, eat, and make some core boat repairs. But such is life. I reconciled myself to it, and was lucky to have a friend who helped me get through the process quickly, maximize my sale price, and move on.

On Tuesday I signed the lease for my new slip. I am very excited to move! I have the slip as of January 1, but am hopeful the owner will let me come over a little early and get settled in. We'll only be four blocks from our current marina, so still able to enjoy being within walking distance of so much and still have the sense of neighborhood Eastport offers. No long icy docks to walk down; just a short stroll to the bathhouse; currently no competition for the bathhouse; nice grassy lawn for pup dog to play (and piddle); a longer finger dock that may allow me to use the actual boarding gate rather than tying the lifelines back; a better shore power set up; almost certainly an easier in and out of the slip so I can use the boat more; a quiet, scenic view.

On Wednesday I bought my new-to-me car, a clay-colored Buick Century. Where my Honda was hippy-dippy, covered with bumper stickers, and let everyone in town know where I was, the new car is entirely under the radar. I am already loving the car. Big comfy seats, an easy, smooth ride. A huge trunk to use as a dock box. I had the car detailed so I'll feel like I am starting fresh. Now I need to remove the couple of stickers on it with a blade and some WD-40, load it up, and cover the back seat for pup dog to chill.

Today I have a friend coming by to look at some boat issues and hopefully help me identify parts I need to purchase. Tonight is the marathon training group party; it will be great to see some friends I haven't seen much of (or at all) in the past couple of months, but bittersweet that I missed my marathon on Saturday.

Here's another of my neighbors. He hung out all morning catching fish.

Life aboard is very different than being ashore. But at the same time, it is often just different versions of the same things we once had on land. Instead of deer and fox in my yard, I have heron and otters. Instead of mowing a lawn, I scrub the decks. And, to my great chagrin, instead of the damn gumballs from the sycamore all over my deck and yard, I have bird poop all over the deck from those damn birds perching on my spreaders.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

project: git-rot (day 1)

I noticed a small scuffed up, deteriorating spot at the threshold into the cabin not long after moving aboard. The area gradually became larger and I was concerned about the integrity of the wood. One day I showed it to the floppy-haired sailor guy and asked for his diagnosis. He dug around at it a bit and the wood just fluffed off. Diagnosis: dry rot. Prescription: "Git"-Rot. I did not get instructions for cleaning the wound or applying the medicine, but on my little shopping list went "Git-Rot" and when I was at the local marine supply I specifically sought it out.

Today, a few weeks later, I began Project "Git"-Rot. A few days ago a friend had looked at it and used a dull knife to test the extent of the damage--significant. The likely source of leaks down the bulkhead at the navigation desk/electrical panel and galley. I was advised to dig as much out as possible before filling it.


I began digging out the rot and initially planned to throw away what was being removed. Then I read the product instructions. While I knew that the area should be as dry as possible and to use a spike or drill to put holes in the areas around the rot for the epoxy to fill, I did not realize that sawdust or the shredded rotted wood needed to be used as filler in order to maintain the contour of the wood piece. I began to save the shredded wood and what was wet was set aside to be dried.

I also learned that the product is a two-part epoxy that must be used within 20 minutes of mixing and that it may heat up so much within 20 minutes that the plastic container actually melts. Not quite sure how I am supposed to dispose of it if the bottle is subject to melting right in my hands. 

I used a table knife, spoon, and large and small needle-nose pliers to work at the rotted wood and try to get it all out. Based on the angles of access and the extent and location of leaks, I am concerned I won't be able to reach all the rotted areas. I may drill holes in the threshold to allow hidden areas to be filled. As you can see, the rot went all the way through the side of the door frame. I'm not sure how to protect the fiberglass from the epoxy that I need to have spread all the way through that hole.

With sunset approaching and knowing the wood was too wet to undertake the application of the epoxy today, I covered the holes with blue tape to try to keep extra moisture from the night's frost out. I will likely try using a hair dryer to help dry the wood before applying the epoxy in the next couple of days. (To be continued...)

frosty docks

Although there was a little frost on the docks yesterday morning, this morning was the first where the docks were white. Little paw prints were visible from the dock dogs getting their morning walks. Where the cool weather had been useful insofar as I could store extra beer in the cockpit and keep it cool, (the fridge does not hold much), I now worry about it freezing and exploding--cleaning up frozen beer is a sticky mess.

Speaking of things freezing, my mission to find the "sweet spot" for my fridge's thermostat continues. I am trying to find a spot where a few items can be kept frozen, but beer and sodas do not freeze. I have already had yogurt, cheese, beer, and ginger ale freeze, and Red Bull and diet Dr. Pepper explode in the fridge. But if I turn the thermostat too warm, the frozen items thaw and must be thrown away. And, alas, I have a large bottle of orange juice that should have been used by yesterday and two cheap bottles of champagne to make mimosas with it, but have not been able to get friends over to help me drink it all up. I guess I'll be having a lot of mimosas for my Thanksgiving dinner afloat.

I have planned to go over to my office today to work on unpacking, cleaning, and photographing items to sell. I am unable to get released from my office lease, and so must try to find a way to pay that overhead; hoping business will pick up soon. Although I will likely have to keep the office through September, I plan to move ahead with dramatically downsizing, selling the bulk of items there, and just holding onto sufficient items to furnish the office for meetings with clients.  While I am over there I may try to actually cook--a luxury I have done without for almost two months now. I will be very thankful if I am ever able to get my propane stove and oven hooked up and working.

Naturally, as soon as I bragged several days ago about Buttercup going up the stairs herself, and without towels or anything down on the steps, she promptly stopped doing so. Now she will not even go up them with towels down and simply pushes the towels off the steps and fusses for me to lift her. Not a situation I can live with much longer so I guess I will have to go back to my plan of ordering ample black nylon cord and either wrapping the steps and including decorative knot patterns for tread (the solution suggested by the floppy-haired sailor guy) or making decorative rope mats that are nailed onto the steps (a suggestion from The Marlinspike Sailor). I have decided ropework will look and feel better than Treadmaster and will be a nice opportunity to learn and practice the decorative knots.

I look forward to getting to a place where I have the skills and funds to simply handle all my boat issues on my own. I do not think there is anything wrong with asking for help, as much as I dislike doing so. We all have different skills to offer and I help others often in the areas where I have the skills to do so. However, there comes a point when there are simply too many cooks in the kitchen. I am lucky to live aboard in the sailing capitol of the US, if not the world, and be surrounded by people who have ample boat repair and sailing experience. At the same time, unrequested advice is tiring and despite every person feeling expert, there are many ways to skin a cat and only I am the one to decide which is right for me. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

project: fix hatch door (with photos)

The hatch door to the boat has been broken since before I bought it. It has been an inconvenience setting it in its place and the other day I finally took a stab at a fix. I had sought various opinions on how to tackle the problem. On the repair side there was a mostly even split between folks recommending Gorilla Glue and those recommending West System epoxy. The floppy-haired sailor guy, (who is always right mind you), strongly urged me to simply draw out a pattern and make a new door. I trust I can obtain the tools and figure out how to fashion a new door, but decided to first experiment with West System epoxy since it has so many uses on a boat and this would be a relatively harmless place for me to learn how to use it. If the epoxy doesn't work, I can always make a new door, and I'm sure I will want to do so eventually.

Here's a before picture with the hinges already removed from the door.

I used West System 105 resin, 205 hardener, and then added adhesive filler to thicken the mixture to a peanut-butter-like consistency. I think the first batch was not as thick as the second, which filled gaps better. The instructions warn that one only has about 15 minutes to work with the epoxy before it begins setting, so my friend Mike and I were trying to work quickly and learn on the go. It was definitely a two-person job to have the pieces held together properly while the other applied the epoxy.

Here's the work in progess and then clamped to dry:

Epoxy is supposed to be somewhat set in a few hours but not ready for load-bearing for 24, but that also assumes 70 degree weather. Epoxy cures more slowly in the cold, and we've been bouncing between about 38 and 55 here in Annapolis the past few days. After four hours it was still very sticky and even the next morning was slightly tacky to the touch. After 24 hours it seemed generally hardened, so I removed the clamps and have been placing and removing it very carefully.

Here is the door in place. The hinges still need to be reattached, but some screw holes at the top must first be filled (likely with dowels) before re-sinking the screws.

But what did I do for 24 hours without a door?

Maximus escaped no less than 6 times while the door was out of commission. When the weather is nice I place a dog gate across the door to keep the cat in, but he's smartened up and realizes he can just push it out of the way because it is very lightweight. Luckily, Max responds quickly to the sound of a rattling food bin so I was able to keep him from running too far down the docks.

The other problem being without a door was the cold. It was getting down to 38 degrees or so overnight and windy. I had little choice but to improvise, so I taped a black garbage bag over the companionway. Outside I simply used blue painter's tape and then rested the dog gate against the bag. From the inside overnight I used duct tape to seal it up as best I could to keep heat in. Here is a photo of it just lackadaisically taped during the day when I was coming and going frequently. So elegant, no?

Even without the door on its hinges, having just one piece to insert and remove without having to try to "set" the two broken pieces together has been a big improvement.  Eventually, I will undertake "Project: build new hatch door," but I am hoping this will be a functional solution in the interim and it let me take my first stab at using West System epoxy so I will be more confident and prepared for the next time I need to use it.

Friday, November 16, 2012

diving in

Walked the dog this morning our usual one-mile route around the Horn Point section of Eastport. Here is our early morning view off Horn Point while pup dog plays in the sand.

For the past several days pup dog has managed to come up the stairs without any towels down on them for traction, so I am proud of her making some progress. Now and again she balks, as she occasionally does with getting on and off the boat, but overall she is coming along and getting her sea legs. She still jumps from the top step over the next three to the cabin sole, which I fear is not good for her joints long-term, but at least I do not have to have sail bags taking up so much space in the cabin.

Diving into the idea of shedding the majority of my "stuff." There are a few things I would never be able to part with nor fit on the boat, so a small storage unit will likely be needed, but if I can trade that expense for an office, the savings will be significant. Began the discussions last night to sell my car and should hear today what sort of price I can get for it through a friend who is an auto wholesaler. Will then need to see cars he has in my price range to try to scoop up a cheap, serviceable dock box. Once various cleaning and minor projects are taken care of aboard, will try to get to the office in the coming days to photograph shoes, handbags, knick-knacks, kitchen items, and furniture and start trying to sell things to Facebook friends and then via craigslist et cetera as necessary. Will try to find out this evening about where I might maximize my sales of the furniture and original artwork.

I have held on so tightly to expensive furniture because I know I will likely never again be able to afford to replace it and letting it go seemed an admission of my failures. And while that is true, keeping the furniture only holds me down. It is time to just let it all go and consider everything lost to the hurricane that is my life. Once the storm has passed perhaps I will have clear skies and calmer seas ahead of me.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

doubling down

Just over six weeks ago I moved aboard. My initial plan was to live aboard year-round here in Annapolis, where I have started putting down some roots in the past two-and-a-half years since I moved here. I rented an office, which allowed me to avoid one of the hardest (and most liberating) aspects of moving aboard--letting go of all the "stuff." I dislike the expense of an office without enough clients to cover the costs involved, but could not face losing the various material things that have represented home to me.

I did not set out on this new adventure with the plan of being a "cruising liveaboard," though I certainly did not want to be dockbound, either. But even in this short span of time aboard, my perspective, goals, and priorities are fundamentally changing. Things have been hard. So many things aboard are broken, dirty, and disorganized. The feeling of "camping" has extended beyond my 3-week target with no immediate end in sight. The docks are getting slippery with frost and going ashore to shower in the cold can be a chore, particularly if there is a line to use the facilities. While I have spent a lot of time on the water, I simply threw lines and drank rum runners. I don't know how to run or sail my boat myself, and lack the mechanical fix-it skills to make all the needed repairs and upgrades. At this point it would be easy--perhaps logical--to say "I am in over my head" and throw in the towel.

Instead, I see myself doubling down. I am increasingly apt to sell the furniture, downsize my collection of kitchen gadgetry, let go the collection of shoes and handbags. So many things I felt I could not let go of. But in the past two months I have not even removed the same simple pair of earrings and necklace. So, all the jewelry I could not live without...I have. I lived without all my "stuff" during my nomadic year traveling from Miami to Virginia to Maryland to Oregon to Virginia to Maryland. Do I still want to have some nice things that let me be spoiled? Will I still have more shoes than guys think anyone should have? Of course. But perhaps it is time to let go of all those things which now seem such a financial burden on me to house and which simply tie me down. I would rather be surrounded by good company than stuff, would rather have freedom than stability. I would readily trade my beloved dining table for equipment and repairs I need on the boat. And with looming bills and no income, I am once again forced to consider selling my car. The car is a great dock box for storing things I need handy but cannot fit on the boat, and having a car is a necessity in Annapolis, but bills have to be paid and the equity in the car may better serve me invested in the boat.

Many hard decisions to be made in short order. But if I am to do this, I think I must go all in. I want my boat to be safe and sound, but also comfortable and home; that will require time, money, sweat, and tears. I don't want to continue feeling I do not know my boat, that she is a mystery to me. I want to know every nook and cranny, be able to at least take a stab at most any repair, and be able to take my boat wherever I want, whenever I want.

Ran into a liveaboard friend last night and in catching him up on my liveaboard adventure lamented being left behind when the floppy-haired sailor guy went south for the winter. I am grateful to my friend for reminding me I am one in a million and not to settle for anyone that won't do everything in his power to have me with him. I hope I'm not forgotten, but I have to remember that I deserve to have someone as crazy about me as I am about him.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


I think this one will leave a nice scar. The bruise must be deep because it is painful to have anything touch the area, but it is not yet black and blue. Putting antibiotic ointment and tea tree oil in hopes of nipping any infection in the bud.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

goodbye dock water (with photos)

Although we are only flirting with lows in the upper 30s right now, the dock water at the marina was turned off yesterday. In preparation for the inconvenience of having to take a long, long hose down the dock to fill my water tank, two days ago I tried to get the most I could from the water at my slip. We had a day warm enough for flip flops, so I washed the decks. Filled several gallon jugs with water for the pets. Filled my water tank. A certain cat decided the freshly washed decks were a perfect place to leave some kitty tracks.

Although terrified of bringing a hose into the boat since the primary bilge pump is not running properly, I brought the hose in and sprayed down the bilge to get rid of (or at least reduce) the general ick and primordial soup that lives there. I took the musty, swollen hatches from the floor and set them in the sun on deck to dry out while I cleaned and ran the secondary bilge pump at regular intervals trying to clear out as much water as possible. In my little cleaning frenzy (and these only come along in short, intermittent bursts) I elected to change out the cats' litter boxes. One of those boxes resides adjacent to the area where the bilge hatches had been removed. Naturally, I took one misstep backwards, my leg fell into the bilge, and I careened into the space heater. I hurt in so many places that I decided it was best if I just laid there on the cabin sole a bit before determining where all I might be bleeding. Although banged up a bit, the only real damage is a little chunk missing from my shin. It's looking rather unhappy so I'm trying to slather it with antibiotic ointment and hope the primordial ooze in the bilge doesn't get in my bloodstream. Two days later it looks much angrier than in the photo below, taken right after the fall.

In my misstep into the bilge I managed to smash into electrical wires and the secondary bilge pump had ceased running. Luckily, I found two wires that looked as though they belonged together, dried them off, and re-connected them. Voila! Secondary bilge pump back online and crisis averted.

But the day had just begun! Worried that with dock water being shut off, pump out facilities may start shutting down, too, I wrangled a friend into helping me take the boat over for a pump out. He asked me if I wanted to take the helm bringing her out of the slip. Since it's a tight parking space and fancy, expensive boats at the snooty marina across the way that I risk hitting, I was pretty nervous. But he is good at leading me to believe he doesn't fear for his life with me behind the wheel, so I went for it. There were some frantic moments as the boat did not seem to want to reverse and I headed for a boat and piling across the way, but we managed to get out into the channel without hitting anything. Little by little I will get more confident with running my boat, but it does take some getting used to and does not steer like a car! There was a long line of boats waiting for the pump out, so everyone was hovering and circling and drifting while the seventy-degree weather also brought heavy traffic to the channel as everyone enjoyed what might be the last warm day to get out on the bay. With so many boats all around and feeling I was getting blown too close to a boat docked along a bulkhead, I had a minor panic attack and my friend had to take over. (Thank you, Phil, for all the help, for backing her into the slip like a pro, and for nudging me to go ahead and take the helm.)

Once we finally got pumped out I coaxed the pup dog topside and we took a little cruise out of Back Creek before heading back to the slip.

Although I am not there yet, within a year I am certain I will be, and I think the most important things I will gain from becoming a liveaboard will be freedom (to cast off the lines and just "go"), confidence that I can tackle whatever problem gets thrown at me, and the friendships with the wonderful, colorful, and generous liveaboards who have cruised into my life.