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

Monday, December 30, 2013

auld lang syne

We seem to expect the new year to carry such a heavy load. Somehow that stroke of midnight is always supposed to bring something magical. Suddenly true love appears. Suddenly our lives are transformed. And so, year in and year out, we are left feeling empty and disappointed when that magical moment eludes us.

Three years ago I had my best New Year's Eve Eve, which was better by far than any New Year's Eve celebration I've ever had. I partied so hard on the 30th that on the 31st I was toasting with ginger ale and praying for it to stay down. But that NYE Eve was worth some pain the next day. A cute guy with those dark Jim Morrison curls I can't resist. Bubbly and sake. Broken champagne glasses in the bathroom sink. His New Year's resolution was to "reduce the takers in his life." A very good resolution.

Times long past. I wish I could turn back the clock and do so many things differently three years ago. But alas, time marches on whether we learn our lessons or not, whether we are ready for it or not. I was stronger then in many ways... 20 pounds lighter, a running machine, a party animal... but seeking out pain to remind myself I was alive. I'm stronger in other ways now, having survived the loss of my father and other heartbreak. Somehow I need to find that girl from three years ago. I'll bring her more balance, a focus on being free, and the patience to get there on her own. But I need her determination, physique, and passion.

I do think I need to reduce the takers in my life. I keep letting people drag me down because I'm too polite to say I just don't really need to know them or take care of them. I feel bad for the Charlie-Brown-Christmas-Tree guys, the awkward ones no one wants, but they always mistake kindness for something more. And when it comes to "something more" I must be a ruthless, merciless bitch. I have to remember not to settle. I must be the lioness, not the gazelle.

So, when I'm feeling that everything and everyone around is trying to pull me down, that my past will always haunt me, that I don't deserve happiness, love, and freedom, I have to find a way to forgive myself, "throw yesterday in a fire," and "live like a warrior." [For mobile/email readers here's the YouTube link as I don't think the embedded video works for mobile/email:].

NYE is a big happy 11th birthday to my babies; they'll always be kittens to me. They have kept me alive when my days have been dark. They are so much loveness, and I am blessed to have them. Best wishes to all for health, wealth, and peace in the new year.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

solitude, freedom, and starry nights

I'm not anti-social. I simply choose to be social on my own terms, when, where, and how it suits me, rather than society forcing its social expectations upon me. The ringer on my phone is off 99.9% of the time, I respond to texts and emails if and when I feel like it, and I don't feel obligated to answer when someone knocks on my hull. While many people see running as a social activity, I prefer to run alone. Going out for a run is my meditative time, my time to both focus and let my mind wander, and sometimes my spiritual space.

My willingness to go out and be social definitely ebbs and flows. Although I enjoy new adventures, I am also inclined to be a homebody. Before I moved aboard, I could easily spend a week without ever leaving my house, just letting the dog out into the yard to exercise and throwing a ball all over the house for her. I am perfectly happy to putter around in my pajamas reading, writing, listening to music, watching television, cooking and baking, and napping whenever the moods strikes me. This past Fourth of July I stayed in all day and night happily watching the entire first season of Game of Thrones. I recently went on a three-day binge of the latest two seasons (i.e. 24 episodes) of Homeland. But I can easily do without television, and just entertain myself with writing, reading, or working on a variety of half-finished projects.

Some people simply cannot handle silence or being alone. The Most Annoying Dockmate Ever (well, so far) is this kid who simply has to be constantly talking. He lives alone on his teeny tiny boat and although he is now two slips over, one can hear him on the telephone around the clock. Aside from the fact that virtually everything that comes out of his mouth is misinformed or insulting, what is most annoying is the inability to just be quiet. A lot of people are plagued with this affliction. Just because you are in a car with someone does not mean you have to engage in conversation the entire time.

Other people cannot handle being alone. They don't necessarily have to chatter on the entire time, but they either don't want to be left to entertain themselves or don't like going places alone. I'm used to doing most things on my own, whether eating out, running errands, going to a movie or museum, or traveling. I don't mind my own company, and enjoy being able to change my plans without conferring with anyone. I can also enjoy doing those things with others, but it's not a deal-breaker for me the way it is for some people.

When I overhear people checking in with their spouses and significant others it makes me so grateful that is not part of my life anymore. I don't have to check in, be anywhere any particular time, or answer to anyone. Well, I do have to answer to the pets, who need to be fed and cared for. Sometimes even that responsibility somewhat overwhelms me, but they are my pack and I am so thankful to have them; they are worth sacrificing a bit of my freedom for.

This rant was partially inspired by someone making the mistake of dock-mothering me.  Twice dropping by uninvited, once with a snow shovel, though I already have two aboard. Calling me to say the pump-out boat was out, as they are every Saturday, which I obviously already knew since I hail them on the magical VHF radio when I need them. Emailing me to tell me what the tides would be. Seriously? That's pretty much where I snapped. I tried to be kind, said I know he just wants to be helpful, but: don't dock-mother me.

I had made the mistake of mentioning offhand that I had taken the boat out and the tide was too low when I returned for me to get the boat all the way back into the slip. In the winter there just isn't much water in my marina and I was threading a narrow needle to get out and back in at high tide, but there just wasn't enough water at the bulkhead end of my slip and the rudder stuck in the mud. As with many people who are poor listeners, the dockmother must have heard not a simple statement of fact, but a desperate plea for help that simply wasn't there. I waited 24 hours for a better high tide and easily pulled her in to where I wanted her; pup dog could once again happily use her ramp to board and disembark.

The rub was that this guy just presumed to plan to come over and pull the boat in (cringe), and to tell me the tides, as if I don't know what the tides are doing (guess what? there's an app for that... indeed, I have several!). I know I sound overly sensitive. Perhaps I am. If it was just one of these things, I'd concede that. But taken as a whole and in combination with other past behavior, I think he was out of bounds. I should have stopped him in his tracks the first time he dropped by my boat unannounced. He had a very bad habit the year before of just boarding the boat next to his. I know that because I was sometimes on that boat when he did so. Sometimes the owner of that boat and I were in a state of undress when the dockmother would step aboard and say "hey, what are you guys up to?" It really pissed off the guy that owned the boat, but I don't think he ever said anything. So, it's an issue of boundaries. The dockmother doesn't respect them enough and I'm very aggressive in defending mine. Not a good combination.

Also related to privacy and freedom from meddling, I've been more upset lately about the lack of Fourth Amendment rights aboard. I am constantly amazed at the number of boaters who do not realize they have no Fourth Amendment protections aboard when it comes to the Coast Guard boarding a vessel. It's been the law for over 200 years but that doesn't make it right and it should change. The anemic lobbying efforts out there to protect boaters are ineffective and are prone to roll over to state and federal wishes rather than take a stand and offend the powers-that-be. If you're living aboard or cruising in the US, we really need to start organizing and fighting in court, at the ballot box, and in the legislative process; being polite has not worked and never will. For more background on our lack of rights aboard and what it means as a practical matter check out this SAILfeed post and this thread on Cruisers' Forum.

Now that I may be heading to Florida, I'm particularly concerned about rights aboard. Florida is notoriously anti-liveaboard/cruiser. Florida pretty much views all people living on their boats as derelicts, homeless, pumping sewage overboard. Quite frankly, the people I know who do illegally pump overboard are the very wealthy. Most of us impoverished folks on our boats are sort of hippy green environmental types who don't pollute and have a low carbon footprint. But god forbid the facts ever get in the way of Florida and others trampling on us. *Sigh* They also like to say we don't pay taxes so we shouldn't get any services. That isn't actually how our system works in this country, but just because someone does not directly pay property taxes does not mean they are not paying them indirectly (just as a tenant does) or that they aren't paying plenty of other taxes, such as the exorbitant sales taxes in Florida. In Florida's attempt to rid their waters of boats with people living on them, a few areas of the state are in a pilot program to allow local government to "regulate" (read: eliminate) anchoring in their waters. One of the purported goals of the program is to increase access to the state's waters, but since the actions taken under the program involve replacing anchorages with paid mooring fields and instituting rules and regulations aplenty in the mooring fields and government docks, the regulations are actually an impediment to using Florida waters. In the Keys, the pilot program requires having proof that one's boat has been pumped out in the past seven days. Seriously? It takes 5 or 6 weeks to fill my holding tank. I understand that some boats may have smaller tanks and/or more people, but a weekly requirement is extreme and intrusive. I couldn't believe it when I saw that Miami's Dinner Key mooring field requires pump out every 72 hours. Wow. These people are just far more involved in my bodily processes than can possibly be reasonable. Most liveaboards don't pump overboard. But even if they did, it is a drop in the pollution bucket. Our waters are polluted by shore-based waste treatment overflow, agricultural and golf course fertilizer runoff, et cetera. I would at least have more respect for Florida if they would just state the truth: that they are trying to outlaw poverty. My stomach sort of turns at the thought of going back to Florida. I haven't had time to research the federal case law, but I hope the guy who is challenging the pilot program kicks some local government ass.

OK, rant over, for now.

So, how did I end up only partially docked in my slip the other week? I dragged a friend out for a quick one-hour anchoring lesson. I motored out into the cove before Back Creek proper. We discussed the various steps I should be taking in preparation for anchoring solo. I got the boat stopped and we went to the bow. I measured out about 60 feet of rode and cleated it off. My friend showed me how to figure eight all the rode on the foredeck so it is free to run once I lower the anchor. I dropped the hook and we backed down to set it. Then came the "fun" part. Rather than motoring up to the anchor, I pulled us there with the rode. I had a hard time pulling the anchor in, so in the spirit of learning and doing it myself, my friend showed me how to run the rode back to the jib winch and I slowed grinded it up. Definitely a workout for the arms and back. Once the anchor was pretty close I went up on the bow sprit and tried to lift it out. The problem was that this anchor was mounted on a bracket on the bow pulpit, so I needed to lift it around the bow sprit and up onto the bracket. Easier said than done, trust me. I had some tough moments with my broken finger not too pleased with the process, but finally managed to do it. My friend suggested using the larger Bruce anchor in the future; it is mounted beneath the bow sprit so it will be simpler to bring it up solo. He also suggested setting up a remote release with a snap shackle tied to a small line that I can pull from the cockpit to drop the anchor and then back down on it once the rode has run off the deck. We were going to do another practice round but I nervously looked at my watch and suggested that we were one hour off the highest tide and should get back before it dropped too far. Well, you know the rest of the story... But I did do a very nice job docking her; no fending needed and (knock on wood) never even bumped anything.

As were were going in and out of the channel I was nervous about clearing around a trimaran that has been anchored there for over a month. It is probably home-built, and certainly has a lot of DIY work, including a wild paint job. We snapped this photo as we went by. The next day I asked the pump out guys what the story was and wondered why he was still there when others had been ticketed in that spot. The harbormaster's guys, to their great credit, told me not to worry about him and that he's a really nice guy, not bothering anyone. (Talk about 180-degrees from the treatment he'd get in Florida). I had been worried about not being able to get past him when coming and going, and bitched about it a few times (shame on me), but admittedly I didn't end up having any problem and I think either way he swings in the wind I could squeak by on one side or the other.

The next day I was filling my new back-up propane tank at the hardware store and there was a guy just finishing up ahead of me. He was wearing foulies and had a bicycle with a cart attached. I noticed the bicycle had this crazy yellow/red/blue paint job and all of a sudden I realized "Hey, are you Lapisi?" His eyes lit up and he smiled and nodded. He's a very friendly French-Canadian with a thick accent. We chatted for a while. He mentioned plans to leave soon and even offered to buddy-boat south with me, which would actually be very cool. I could still be on my boat solo but have someone experienced (and experienced at doing it on the hook and on a shoestring budget) to provide some back-up and moral support. He confirmed he's got a little wood stove aboard for heat and said that despite the cold, he could never be in a marina. His boat doesn't like to be tied up like that, he said. She needs to be able to swing in the wind and he wants to be able to see all the stars. It was a beautiful little glimpse into the soul of a cruiser. One with his boat. Not wanting her to be tied down any more than he is.

"Living the dream" isn't about palm trees and fruity rum drinks; it's about not being tied up or tied down, swinging with the wind under the stars, and being free.

[Post script: I later learned the trimaran is named Lapis Lazuli.  I mistakenly thought the name was Lapisi because of a chainplate or other linear hardware painted blue and that appeared to be an "i" at the end of "Lapis." "Lazuli appears on the starboard side.]

Friday, December 13, 2013

me, myself, and i (+ project: port lights)

Well, actually, it's me, pup, and the cats. My intrepid crew. Although I would prefer to make the trip south with just my pack, enjoying the solitude, making our own adventure, and setting our own pace, it would certainly be simpler and faster if I had crew along to help. Going solo means being stuck at the helm the entire day under way, with no one to take the wheel for even a few minutes here and there so that I can piss or make coffee or check on the pets. I will likely need to bring every item I'll need for the day up to the cockpit with me and forego drinking much coffee along the way. It also means no one to help me watch out for crab pots, to help me with anchoring and docking the boat, or to help with getting the dog in and out of a dinghy to go ashore.

Despite my preference for being on my own, it isn't that I haven't tried to round up crew. I am loathe to ask for help but I sucked it up and asked virtually everyone that made any sense, many who did not, and random strangers, to boot. Between the cold weather, an old boat, and the furry crew, I guess folks just don't see the appeal. Clearly, they haven't had my butterscotch brownies.

A smattering of people think I can do it and tell me to just cast off the lines and get going. Most think there is no chance I can do it on my own and that I'll be heading to certain death. *Sigh.* I'm not talking about taking my boat solo past Cape Hatteras (the "graveyard of the Atlantic"). We're talking about 21+ day trips down the intracoastal waterway. It's a slow bird-watching trip with lots of time spent idling waiting for bridges to open. Yes, I'm worried about various areas with notoriously strong current since I haven't had to deal with much of any current here in Annapolis. Yes, I will have to time tides because the water is shallow in the ICW and I don't want to run aground constantly. Yes, I will have to wait out weather at times and carefully plan my weather for crossing the Albemarle Sound. But as I have said before, stupider, drunker people in less seaworthy boats than mine have circumnavigated and made it home alive. Surely I can make it down the ICW in one piece.

It's disheartening the lack of faith people have in me, but I guess that's why I'm a single girl on her boat with a furry crew. It's me and my pack, we're used to being on our own and just having to believe in ourselves and keep on keeping on.

I'm probably most concerned with anchoring, docking, and locking through by myself. Those are the times that a second set of hands really comes in handy. But I'll just have to buckle down and practice the anchoring and docking as much as I can before I go. Unfortunately, being aground in my slip much of the time during winter means I can't get my boat out for that practice and no telling whether I'd have enough water under my keel to make it out of the slip when I got a decent weather window to head out. Yesterday I picked up my new Gill offshore foul weather jacket. When I bought bibs and a jacket at Annapolis Performance Sailing, I had wanted to walk out with everything that day. The women's jacket that fit me was in red, which isn't my thing, so I went with a men's jacket in graphite. After further consideration, I decided having a jacket with arms that extended a couple inches past my fingertips was not going to work out. And this gear isn't exactly inexpensive. The guys at APS were great and readily exchanged it for me, called to press Gill to get the new ladies' graphite one shipped out, and gave me a Black Friday discount that hadn't been applied earlier. APS may be racer-oriented and on the pricier end, but every experience I've had there has been great. They patiently answer my questions and never talk down to me because I'm a "girl," (a universal experience at West Marine). OK, I'll admit it doesn't hurt that they have some cute young guys working there... anyone who reads this blog knows I have my weaknesses...

The pre-departure punchlist is rather lengthy and I was set back on progress by a cash flow crunch, several days of snow and rain, and being stood up by my handyman. I'm eager to leave, ready for an adventure, tired of Annapolis. But my current thinking is that I'll try to stay in the general area for another couple months to knock out work on my boat where I know vendors. Heading out in March would still be chilly, but if spring comes early it could be quite nice, days for the transit would be longer, and I may be able to line up a crew member to help. The latter is tough. I'd absolutely prefer to make the trip alone and not have to be in tight quarters with someone, getting on each other's nerves. Even the dearest friend can grow tiresome quickly with no way to take a break from each other. But if the right cute, young, floppy-haired guy came along...

Sunday night's mix of snow and sleet left about a quarter-inch of ice all along my pier, plus icicles on the boom and lifelines. Good thing I had plenty of ice melt to put down.

We're about a week into a new litter "system" for the cats. I told the cats it's not just any litter box. No, they are fancy, important cats that get a "system." The Tidy Cats Breeze had been recommended on The Boat Galley via a cruiser with cats. Naturally, it uses special litter pellets and pee pads to lock you into ongoing purchases, but I found those things on Amazon at not unreasonable prices. The box has a grate in the bottom and the pee goes through the grate and into a pee pad in a tray below. After one week the pad was totally full, but there wasn't any cat pee smell at all. I'll likely change the pad more than once a week since I have two cats aboard. The pellets are sort of large and hard. The poop doesn't stick to them at all so you just scoop out the poop very easily and the box is clean. No gritty litter getting kicked and tracked everywhere. The cats seemed unsure at first and we had one "out-of-box incident," but it looks like I have compliance now and this system is noticeably less smelly. One very important benefit: instead of going through 30 pounds of bulky, hard-to-store clumping litter a month, this will use just one or two 3.5 pound bags of pellets. Much lighter to carry aboard and far easier to store.

Project Screen and Gasket Replacement: I bought new gaskets and screens from Beckson several months ago but hadn't gotten around to replacing them. All the screens were ripped and a few of my port lights would leak when it rained. I happened to have an afternoon that was sunny and dry, with snow and rain expected the following days, so I decided to tackle the project. It doesn't seem like a tough project and the only tool required is a wooden mallet. But the frustration level over those gaskets can get pretty high. They just don't want to go in the little groove. Then you get it in and when you think you've finished the last corner you step back and one of the other corners has popped out. Arrgggghhhh! OK, deep breath. As the guy at Beckson had told me, the first one was definitely the hardest and they would each be progressively less hard (I can't really say "easier" with a straight face). For one port I had an internal rain shield so I can leave the port open for ventilation without rain coming in. It's basically a piece of smoked Lexan with a screen at the top half and two louvers to keep the rain off. I expected the gasket project to have been an utter failure and rain to be gushing in everywhere. But to my pleasant surprise, only the port in the head leaked. I tightened down a couple of the dogs and voila, leak stopped. Where I actually see water coming in on most of them is at the screws, which has nothing to do with my gasket replacement project. Once I get some nice weather I'll go topsides and put a little silicone over the screws and a bead of silicone along the bottom and part-way up the sides of the ports even though it's probably overkill. Here's a "before" with a crappy-looking ripped screen, and then an "after" with a shiny new internal rain shield installed. Definitely a classier look.

Ah, but the port lights still looked pretty junky from the inside because I have pieces of silver Reflectix insulation in each of them to keep heat in and condensation down. I had commented on how nice the little inserts over a friend's ports were and she told me they just bought place mats at Michael's and then cut them to fit as sleek little "curtains." I happened to have some place mats with an interesting texture and which seem to be some kind of heavy duty paper or possibly bamboo that may hold up for a while. The color isn't my first choice, but I figured this was a good way to experiment. So...

Take some 3M Super 77 spray adhesive (note: expect this to make a major mess of your nail polish if you forget to put on gloves... ask me how I know), add green place mats, and let's see what happens!

That third photo is a different little project I just tackled, too. I read a comment on Cruiser's Forum saying that an aluminum mast is a heat sink sucking all the warmth in the cabin up and out. I had my heater running on high next to the mast. I felt the mast and it was very cold. Hmmm... I had a huge roll of Reflectix laying around so why not. I wrapped the mast in the insulation and duct-taped it, then slid it around so the duct tape is hidden. I think I'll take an old sail and make a cover to zip or tie around over the insulation instead of having this shiny silver disco pole in the middle of the salon.

OK, back to the "curtains." I sprayed each piece of Reflectix on one side with the adhesive and then pressed it down on the place mat. Then I just followed around the shape of the insulation to cut away the excess place mat. I'm actually quite pleased with how this came out. I'm not huge on green, but it's OK for now and I may just make another set from an old sail or other fabric I like. I have four other larger windows which don't open, and now I just need to cover the insulation in them the same way. Guess it's time to start hacking up that old sail!

Off to a holiday party tonight and tomorrow is the lighted boat parade here in Annapolis. The lights are pretty but this will be my fourth year and I expect it will be the same decorations I've seen for the last three years. It sure would be nice if they required the entrants to change things up.