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

Monday, September 30, 2013

reefer madness

Yes, I am in favor of full (medical and recreational, state and federal) legalization of marijuana, but no, I'm not talking about that kind of reefer. Boat folks tend to refer to their icebox/refrigerator/freezer units as "reefers." Mine is a converted icebox, meaning it is an icebox to which a cold plate and compressor have been added. Much of the weatherstripping on the lid had come off and replacement attempts were less than successful. The back side of the lid had no stripping at all. Around one corner condensation continually forms on the counter, meaning a lot of cold air is escaping and running up my electric bill. Eventually, the entire cold plate frosted up and condensation dripping back in from the counter top formed a large icicle inside the corner, further exacerbating the problem by preventing the lid from closing flush.

I finally got around to the project of removing everything from the fridge, putting it all in coolers on the deck, and defrosting. Once everything had melted, I used my micro Shop Vac to vacuum out the water. I used a razor blade to cut the old weatherstripping off the lid. The remaining adhesive wouldn't come off easily, but using a green scrubber pad and simple dish soap finally did the trick nicely and without having to buy anything I didn't already have aboard. Once the adhesive was all removed and the lid was dry, the real project began. I taped waxed paper around the ledge on which the lid rests and then put a large bead of silicone all around the perimeter of the lid. This method of creating a custom gasket came from The Boat Galley.

I used about two tubes of silicone, and wished I had had another or had just bought a caulking gun and a gun-sized tube. I made due with what I had. The silicone skins over in about ten minutes and cures in twenty-four hours. I waited about twenty minutes before setting the lid down on the waxed paper and then left it alone for twenty-four hours. A lot of the waxed paper stuck to the silicone gasket when I opened the lid, but it easily pulled off. Unfortunately, the way the lid hinges up from the back seems to have forced the silicone on the back edge up against the center insulation section of the lid. Although the lid is closing flush, I am still getting condensation on the counter along the back right corner. I am considering adding more silicone along those sides, but worry the same thing will happen. I'm wondering whether adding a bead of silicone along the side of either the lid or the reefer, rather than adding more to the underside of the lid, might work to seal that gap. But with that plan I am concerned about having the needed space for the lid to swing up to open. So, the project was partially successful, but will require some follow-up and tweaking.

Hunter keeps catching mice! Four last week. He dropped one on the side deck outside a port and I think I may have stepped on it when I went forward to deal with pumping out because it was partially squished and I've had a hard time trying to rinse all the mouse-guts off the deck. To keep track of his accomplishments, I've added a "mousenator" tally down on the right-hand side of the blog for anyone keeping score. I think he actually ate every last bit of this last one, which pleases me, as I do not enjoy the crime-scene clean-up. However, he was a small, feisty, cute little guy, with shiny black eyes and adorable little ears. Now all that cuteness is crunched up in Hunter's tummy. But believe me, as long as Hunter is aboard, no rodent will ever be chewing through any hoses on this boat! That cat is like a heat-seeking missile to mice. He got that last little guy within fifteen minutes of going ashore, and after dining on him he was crying at me wanting back outside to catch "dessert."

On the boating law front...boaters need to pipe up and respond to the survey on the anchoring and mooring field pilot program in Florida. (The link will take you to a page with links to the survey as well as the ordinances in the pilot program areas. Personally, the survey is poorly drafted, failing to ask the right questions or asking questions in a very skewed way.) As some readers may know, Florida municipalities began enacting all sorts of ordinances to restrict anchoring and attempt to get rid of folks living on their boats. There is a general attitude in Florida that all liveaboards are practically homeless, illegally pump overboard, and are unproductive members of society. Long before I myself became a liveaboard I battled that attitude and tried (in vain) to prevent the loss of liveaboard dockage while I served on the City of Miami Waterfront Advisory Board. In the years since I left Florida a pilot program was instituted allowing select areas in Florida to regulate mooring and anchoring. Despite its huge coastline and the importance of the maritime industry, Florida is very unfriendly to folks living on their boats and if one is a "liveaboard" forget about having much freedom or anchoring rights. Gratefully, the legal definition of "liveaboard" under Florida Statute sec. 327.02(17) basically encompasses folks who never use their boats for navigation. But to be on the safe side, once in Florida be sure to be a "cruiser," even if your cruising grounds are just from the mooring ball to the pump out station. I'm very interested in cruising down Florida way, but the anti-liveaboard attitude and excessive regulation make me want to find someplace else to go. I'm not very keen on government or anyone telling me what to do, which is probably exactly why they hate us uppity liveaboards.

My hopes of going south sooner than later depend on banking some cash from the sale of my furniture and other stuff, as well as getting necessary gear and making certain repairs. So far I've only managed to sell the three largest furniture pieces and still have a crazy amount of furniture, artwork, clothes, and shoes cluttering up my life and holding me back. I'm hoping to spend a couple days having a moving sale and just suck it up and deal with the random public coming through. One way or another, everything must go! Not only do I need the cash to pay bills, the longer everything sits around the more it costs me to store it. Having all this "stuff" hanging over my head is interfering with my marathon and ultra training and with getting projects done aboard, so I'll be incredibly relieved when it's all gone.

On a positive note, several goodies from my Amazon wish list have arrived or are on their way. From financial donations and wish list items, to helpful books and rum, I am immensely grateful for the support (both financial and moral) from friends and readers. It means a lot to me and I won't forget it. I do my best to pay it forward and help those I can. There will always be an endless supply of doubters, but anyone who thinks I won't accomplish whatever I set my mind to clearly doesn't know me at all. The plan may have some amorphous outlines, but I'll leave them squishy and keep the plan a flexible "there is no plan," because I'd rather just make things up as I go and keep everyone on their toes (myself included). Where I'm going isn't a place, there is no lat and long to head for. It isn't the state of Florida, or Maryland, or the Carolinas. I'm plotting a course to a state of mind, a state of being, a state of peace.

Friday, September 20, 2013

cat and mouse

Under the gun to pay bills, it was just my luck to have two shifts cancelled so far this week. I tried to make the best of the unexpected time off and schlepped an enormous bag with three loads of laundry to the little laundromat downtown. No one ever seems to hang out in the laundromat waiting and it seems like a nice enough spot that no one will steal my panties, so I went across the street for a couple pints. I brought along homework. (See photo.)

I was studying up on battery systems aboard because I was meeting later that day with a friend to discuss my power needs so I could plan out battery bank upgrades and my solar power requirements. I still need to sit down with an Excel spreadsheet and run all the numbers on my load requirements both at a marina (with the luxury of shore power) and on the hook. I'm hoping that a couple of solar panels will suffice to keep my batteries charged if I try living on a mooring ball or so that I can cruise south and spend a few nights on the hook for every one in a marina. No way I could afford a marina every night heading south.

My friend bravely climbed in the lazarette to peek at the current batteries. Looks like I have a small sealed battery for my engine start, and then two large flooded batteries for my house bank. I knew that one of the house batteries is dead, so the plan will be to replace both with a series of golf cart batteries (which I should be able to lift) instead of the huge marine batteries I have now. Looks like I need to add some distilled water to the working battery, so I brought a gallon back to the boat and now have to crawl down and figure out how to fill it. I'm sure it's not that complicated, but since I've never done it before I'm always nervous about screwing something up. Not sure when I'll get around to an upgrade on the battery bank, as it isn't in the budget right now, but I at least want to know what my power needs are and try to get a sufficient solar array in place.

Another liveaboard friend met up with us and we headed to Vin 909 for dinner. It's the top Zagat-rated restaurant in town, doesn't take reservations, and serves up great, affordable food in a mellow atmosphere. I insisted they let me choreograph the meal for us all to share. A friend selected a bottle of merlot for the table. We started with a selection of three cheeses (served with apples, walnuts, crostini, and a tomato jam). Then came a margarita pizza. For thin-crust, this is the best pizza in town, bar none. (At at $9.50, a steal.) We still needed a little something before dessert, so a plate of warm olives and almonds with crostini was the third course. We finished with the not-to-be-missed butterscotch pudding. If you're in Annapolis, drop by Vin in Eastport for some eats.

When we got back to the boat we might have had a couple too many shots of Myers Dark rum. One of the cats went missing and despite looking everywhere in the yard, calling him, and banging the food bowls, he wouldn't come home. The cats have always been inside-only until the past few months. Although they have claws and aren't tiny, they don't know about the dangers of the, foxes, other cats, bad people. I broke down in tears because I couldn't find him. I left ports open so he could jump in, though it meant the other cat could also get out. When I woke at 7AM I shot of out bed: "Hunter!" I looked everywhere, but he wasn't on the boat. I went topsides and clanged the cat bowls and he came running. A huge sigh of relief. I have no idea if he catted around all night or slept aboard, but thank god he came home safe and sound.

Now I've clearly created monsters; they cry at the door if I lock them in. It's finally cool enough that I can avoid running the air conditioning if I leave the ports open for a breeze, but that means they jump in and out through the broken screens as they please. If something happens to them, I will blame myself forever. I am trying to tell myself that they are happier than they ever have been; chewing grass, lounging in the sun, rolling in dirt, and killing things. If their lives are shortened by going outside I will be crushed. But perhaps their lives will have been fuller, happier, more adventurous. Not unlike my own. I think of the conversation between Dory and Nemo's dad in Finding Nemo; he says he promised Nemo he wouldn't let anything happen to him, but Dory wisely notes that not having anything happen isn't very fun for little Nemo.

Once the cat drama had subsided I headed to Baltimore to see my sister, who was in town on business. We spent the late morning and early afternoon at the National Aquarium. Seeing all the beautiful reef exhibits just fuels my desire to be where the water is clear for snorkeling. I always thought the water in Miami and the Keys was terrible compared to the Bahamas and Barbados, but compared to the two inches of visibility in the Chesapeake, South Florida water is crystal clear. I remember running from downtown Miami over to Key Biscayne and easily seeing the barracuda hanging out in four to six feet of water. The aquarium is huge and as we went through the Amazon exhibits my sister recounted various fish and other wildlife she'd seen as a child living in South America. Of course, I loved seeing the jellyfish exhibit again. They are such interesting and beautiful creatures. And naturally, we had to take pictures standing in the Megalodon jaws.

One of my big stressors right now is trying to sell my furniture and other belongings. I need to get out of the office I rented; my lease is finally up and I've only had one client in the past year so time to let it go. I also need to gather as much cash as I possibly can if I want to cruise away soon rather than being stuck another year. I haven't managed to get any interest from local friends in buying any of my stuff, so I started putting things on craigslist. Unfortunately, far and away most of the responses are scammers. When someone texts me, when I said to call, and then asks for pictures and the asking price, both of which are in the ad, it's pretty obvious they are scammers. And if not, they are clearly too stupid to bother dealing with. Sigh.

Yesterday new neighbors pulled in two slips over. They apparently only work three weeks a year, for the Annapolis boat show. So, for the next few weeks I'll have liveaboard neighbors again. I hear my main halyard slapping against the mast in the wind and hope they don't hate me already! Guess I better go tie it out before they complain. They've been living aboard for 11 years now and the wife said she's too old to live in a house anymore. Yep, we liveaboards are just cut from a different cloth.

I was catching up on reading when Hunter jumped down into the salon. He stood very still and I had a bad feeling. Yep, a big, juicy mouse in this jaws. He gently set it down. Ick! And not quite dead. Double ick! I scrambled off the couch and put on shoes before he could start eviscerating it next to me. He played with it a bit. He kept talking to me: "Meow-row;" "Look mom, I brought this for you;" "Meow-Row;" "Look mom, I am a mighty warrior." I told him he is a good kitty, a mighty hunter, but could he please stop bringing mice and cicadas inside the boat. Please. Then the crunch, crunch, crunch of little bones! I plugged my ears. Luckily, he grabbed it and jumped back topsides. Unfortunately, he ate half of it on the deck and there it sits, covered up by a blood-soaked paper towel. Ick, ick, ick! This is when I really wish I had a guy to come clean up icky dead things for me. This is when it's hard being a single girl on her boat. I almost hoped the dog would finish it off. I'm going to spare you all photos of the remaining ickiness. But if anyone is volunteering to come clean up the crime scene... I'm not too proud to accept a little help. And I pay in rum.

Lately life also feels like a game of cat and mouse. Constantly chasing bills, stalking a series of goals that always seem shifting, elusive, just out of reach. But like Hunter, I am a mighty warrior. I decided a few years ago that no longer would I be the gazelle in this life. I am the lioness and I am going to catch my dreams.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

i don't wanna wait

I don't want to wait another year to live my life. I can be fairly certain I won't be less broke. The future ahead is all shoestring, and I'll just have to find a way to make it work. Nothing ties me down to any place any more, so it seems crazy to stay stuck, aground, just waiting.

Of course there is always more to do, more preparation, more repairs, more gear. We'll just have to see how much progress I can make and take it from there. I did start putting together my wish list of equipment that would make cruising away a reality. There is just so much to see and do and explore, so many adventures to be had, new things to learn. I have to find a way to get myself unstuck from this Chesapeake mud.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

don't tell me that i won't

For all the naysayers out there. This is currently my personal anthem.

There's just going to come a day that I throw off the lines and go. It won't be the first time I've just headed out, not knowing where I'm going, how I'll get there, or what will be, and it won't be the last. And I am just fine with that. I'm not living my life for anyone else anymore or ever again. I won't be enslaved to my insurmountable student debt or society's expectations. Life is just too short to be spent as a meaningless cog in the wheel, working too hard to buy things we don't need. I find it deeply sad that our economy revolves around convincing people to buy cheap plastic shit from China, filling landfills with it, and then working to the bone to buy more of it.

It isn't always pretty. It doesn't always work the first time. Things don't go as planned. That's life. But I can and will go south with this boat. We will survive, possibly even thrive. Will we have financial success? No, it's a given that is a thing of the past. But I don't care about those measures of success any more. My boat, my pack, and I, we are going to cruise away, make our own way, create our own adventures, and leave the naysayers in our wake.

Heard a little rumor that would make winter aboard far less stressful: the Harbormaster may run the pump out boat on Saturdays through the winter. I jumped for joy and begged the pump out guy to please tell the Harbormaster how important this would be for the many folks who live aboard here in Annapolis even through the winter. So, fingers crossed. I still need to get around to writing a formal letter in support of such a service.

Started to try applying some organization to the boat, though once again my efforts have been derailed due to other pressing time commitments. But I did give the bilge a once-over and vacuumed out all the spider webs, though I still need to get in there with a shop vac to remove the lowest level of water that the bilge pump doesn't reach.

Then I tried to start tackling what seem like bottomless piles of clothes and shoes. But I managed to rationalize my main hanging locker a bit and that will make further progress on that front simpler. Many of the things I need to hang, like dresses, are too long for the hanging locker anyway. I decided to move them to the back of the stateroom door, where they fit perfectly, and convert some of the hanging locker into shelves with a few stacked milk crates. I tucked cat carriers in the space behind the crates. I can't afford to let any space aboard go unused. A hanging shoe organizer fit nicely but was two cubbies too long, so I cut them off. I will probably turn the one salvaged one into a little bag for tools or something.

Last Thursday I had an offer from a very experienced boater friend to come practice docking. We previously had an in-depth theoretical discussion of my docking situation, but now he could come help in person. Although I had a zillion chores for the day, I didn't think twice about putting them aside to seize the opportunity for serious docking lessons. The first stage of the lessons was practicing stopping the boat and practicing approaching mooring balls in reverse. It definitely takes a lot more time for the boat to respond in reverse than in forward, but eventually she does. We also learned that the dog thinks mooring balls need to be fetched. I'm going to blame some of my sloppier approaches in part on trying to keep the dog from jumping overboard as I tried to steer to or between mooring balls. We made five separate approaches to dock in my slip. Two of the five were very good, went just as I envisioned, backing right between the pilings as I wanted. My friend asked me to admit that my last one was "perfect," but I feel like there isn't really any perfect docking situation. But I should accept the compliment and feel a little more confident that I am getting better at handling her in close quarters. Though three of the passes I elected to just head back out and try again, in every case with some maneuvering I could have put her in the slip, and we never hit anything, so all in all, it was a very successful 2.5 hour docking lesson. Thanks, Chris; I truly appreciate all the patience and guidance!

One of my favorite running routes.
Friday I managed to get my buns in gear and run 14 miles. I'm behind on marathon and ultra training, but not too late to get there. I just need to be better about getting in all my "short" runs during the week. They are easy to put off but they are the backbone of training and getting one's legs strong, so I need to get in a good routine to stick with them. It's just a challenge as my schedule is a juggle, but the running is my "me" time so I can eat food I enjoy, get slim and sexy, and generally keep the stress from running me down. The 14-miler wasn't beautiful, though the weather and scenery were, but I knocked it out, took a nice steam afterwards, and wasn't sore the next day. (This week's long run: 16 miles.)

Saturday morning I jammed some Slightly Stoopid and danced around the boat as I baked brownies. Two dozen each Butterscotch Brownies and Cocoa Brownies. The oven is small, so I can only bake one pan-full at a time. I moved the rack up in the oven so the flame wouldn't be so strong on the bottom of the pan, flipped the pan halfway through so the side getting the heat from the flame wouldn't overcook, and timed them very carefully. Definitely the best batches aboard so far and generally very good batches overall. Half of the brownies went in a care package and half are aboard. I need to start giving them away lest I eat them and undermine my hard work running!

I started gifting cookies and cake to local bands and bartenders a couple of summers ago as preventive medicine for my chronic habit of collecting broken, defective, wayward, or hapless guys and trying to nurture and fix them. By giving away my yummy baked goods I could satisfy that drive to nurture, and have a better chance at avoiding taking in the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree of men, the sad-puppy-at-the-pound guy. I admit I have a hopeless weakness for floppy hair; blame it on my first love and my first lover. Being aboard and having less ability to churn out baked goods en masse, I got out of the habit of nurturing through baking and started relapsing into collecting the broken or wayward boys. I really have to get my act together and stop selling myself short. I deserve nothing less than a guy who is going to make damn sure he rocks my world. And I really should hold out not just for that, but for something real and meaningful. Eventually, I'll find a kindred spirit to cruise away with this mermaid. Until then, I'm busy having my own adventures and charting my own course.

Thirty-plus hours of intensive sailing lessons on a 26-footer is not the same as handling my 37-footer. So although I have learned a lot and feel far more comfortable sailing, my boat remains a challenge. Saturday afternoon was supposed to be a nice day sail with friends. Come Saturday morning, however, no one could make it. It was my first chance to sail my boat myself, my first chance since my basic keelboat course, and possibly my last Saturday off work for the foreseeable future. When no one could or would come out, I was crushed. I let myself be pretty upset and disappointed for a bit and then set about salvaging the day with errands and boat chores. Then at the last minute I heard from friends wanting to go out for a sail.

We got a much later start than planned due to schedules and a couple hours of struggling with the jib furler and then just the usual details of taking the boat out, e.g., unplugging from shore power, removing the dog ramp that is tied to the boat and the dock, dropping the dodger so I can see, and removing loose items from the decks. We motored out of Back Creek, having to dodge several sailboats anchored pretty much smack in the middle of the creek where all the boat traffic is trying to transit. I headed out a ways to find a place where the marine traffic was lighter so we could hoist the sails without having to worry so much about avoiding collisions.

After a slow start we managed to get moving, and eventually got up to 5.6 knots under sail. The boat clearly likes sailing a beam reach. However, we had wanted to sail upwind to the south and drop the hook. But try as we might we never could get her close hauled. I suspect a good portion of the problem is that the jib wouldn't trim in beyond a beam reach. The very aft blocks we used for the jib simply wouldn't allow the trim we needed. I had wondered why there were some blocks shackled at the bow to some anchor rode. I also never understood how the cars on the traveler attached to the toe rail could be for sheets since the opening on the cars faces athwartships rather than fore and aft, so they wouldn't be any good at "guiding" the sheet the way some guides along the side deck keep the furling line in order. After Saturday was done and gone I had an "A-ha!" moment in the middle of the night. Those blocks almost certainly need to be shackled to the cars. Then I can adjust the cars on the traveler as needed to help me get the best angle on the jib for the conditions. I'll have to verify that that is the case, but I mostly trust my instinct on that one.

Although we mostly just headed back and forth across the bay on a beam reach, it was a lovely sail. Pup dog had to be restrained repeatedly because she has such a strong instinct to fetch that she wanted to jump in and fetch every crab pot buoy she saw. When sunset was nearing we readied to head back in. We got up some speed so we could tack and head back. Try as we might we could not get tacked across the wind. I'd get us up to 5 knots, the wheel would be hard over, and the boat would just stall out head to wind.

No worries, this is what engines are for. I would've liked to sail her closer to the channel before powering up, but we did want to get in before dark. We dropped the sails and I hit the "start" button. Nothing. No vroom-vroom, no straining or coughing. Just nothing. I ran up and down the companionway checking the battery monitor and my electrical panel and trying the start button again. How the starter had just given up the ghost I didn't know. Well, no worries, this is what unlimited on-water towing from TowBoatUS is for. I was definitely disappointed to have my very first time sailing her myself end with being towed in. The sense of defeat. The public humiliation. I might have fussed and trouble-shot a little longer if I were alone, but I didn't want my crew to be worried, so I decided it was time to "get my money's worth" for that tow policy and call it in.

I called another liveaboard friend and let him know my cell phone battery was getting low and if the tow couldn't put us in the slip, we might need a dinghy hop. He graciously offered to monitor VHF channel 16 in case we needed to hail him for help. Night came on quickly and despite the stressful and unplanned circumstances, I tried to enjoy this night sail as best I could. We rehoisted the main to try to get ourselves to shallower water where we might anchor while waiting for the tow, or at least get out of the main shipping channel. But the boat pretty much sailed us and we ended up under the Bay Bridge. At just that time the tow boat was hailing us on the radio. I told him we were under the bridge and heading north. He asked if we were under sail or drifting. I paused a second and then shouted, "Both!" There was radio silence for a minute while he clearly had a good belly laugh at this wayward drifting sailor. But we managed to get north and thread a narrow path between the shipping channel and the shallow areas where we could run aground. The tow boat caught up with us, reassured us, and we were quickly heading home. The most harrowing part of the trip for me was when as we were under tow and moving pretty quickly Hunter came out the companionway and almost jumped overboard. Poor seasick kitty still has not adjusted to sailing and wouldn't take his Dramamine. Had he jumped, it'd have been virtually impossible to find a grey cat in the black night water or to stop quickly enough and turn about while under tow. Lesson learned that the hatch needs to remain closed when the boat is under way.

About halfway home I happened to look down at the pedestal and the gear shifter caught my eye. It was one of those time-standing-still moments when all the snippets of a story flash by in sequence and... "a-ha!" I chuckled to myself then turned to each side and smiled at my crew. "Don't kill me," I said, "but the gear is in forward... and the engine will only start in neutral." We all paused for a second and then laughed hysterically. We decided it'd be best to just let the tow boat get us to the slip and then check my theory after we were docked. We got tucked into the slip and the tow guy gave me some paperwork and very sweetly, very concerned, said he hoped the engine was going to be OK. Once he had left, the engine started right up without a hitch. Well, I'll NEVER again forget to check that she's in neutral when I'm starting her, will I?

A huge shout out and thank you to my hardworking and patient crew, Lane and Eli. It wasn't a perfect cruise, but it was an unforgettable one.

So my first time sailing Ambrosia was also my first night sail and my first tow. C'est la vie. No one was hurt, we never hit anything, and it was all an opportunity to practice and learn. It isn't always pretty. It doesn't always go as planned. But don't tell me that I won't.