Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Hey, Sailor, Is That a Mast in Your Pocket?

For a sailor, the importance of maintaining an erect mast cannot be overemphasized. Any capable seaman should have a mast that towers above the deck - strong and proud. He should feel confident that his mast will perform when things get wet and hairy. Why, nothing could be more embarrassing than having your mast dangle uselessly while you're beating to weather. Of course, there is no shame in using augmentation to keep it up. Frankly, any sailor that claims his mast will stand erect without assistance is lying. In fact, my mast is supported by no less than eight attendants. You read that right; EIGHT. I have four gripping it at the tip and four more holding it on the shaft. You could say that my mast is supported from sloop to nuts.

My attendants have been on duty for a very long time - thirty years to be precise. I'm referring, of course, to my standing rigging (i.e., the wire ropes that support my mast). An unscientific poll of several marina mates suggests that it's not unusual for standing rigging to last this long. But, most of their boats have never left the confines of the Chesapeake Bay, and they've been sailed rather lightly over the years. Practical Sailor magazine suggests that it's a good idea to replace the rigging of an average cruising boat every 10-12 years... particularly if you plan to venture offshore. I'd say that I'm overdue.

There are basically two ways to replace standing rigging - with the mast up, or with the mast down. There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods, but since I plan to do more work to my mast besides just replacing the standing rigging, I've chosen to perform the work while the mast is down. It will save me several trips up the mast in a bosun's chair, and you really shouldn't climb a mast while the boat is out of the water anyway. So, how in the world do you remove a 300+ lb. aluminum mast while it towers nearly 60' in the air? With help, that's how. And a crane. Or, in my case, a dude with a bucket truck and lots of insurance.

I have to admit, I was rather apprehensive about this job beforehand. That's a mighty long and heavy stick, and it could do a lot of damage if something were to go wrong. Besides punching a giant hole in my boat, it could just as easily punch a giant hole in a person. Luckily, my friends aren't much smarter than I am, so I was able to convince three of them to help. It's amazing what you can cajole your buddies to do when you offer to buy pizza and beer. And, to be honest, they were probably hoping to see me blast a giant hole in the boat... pizza or not, because that's what buddies do.

The scheduled work day arrived, and the wind was howling! I wasn't sure if the wind was going to be a problem, but it certainly didn't seem good. I had visions of the mast swinging wildly about, knocking people from their feet, smashing windows, driving children and small animals like golf balls and finally getting tangled in the power lines thereby electrocuting everybody. While this blog post would have been a lot more interesting if those things happened, things actually went pretty well.

David, the "no-nonsense" bucket truck dude, showed up on time and immediately set to work. He had a rope secured to the mast and was towering above the masthead within 15 minutes. Once he had the mast secured, we went around the boat and released all of the rigging. After the last stay was free, David had control of the mast. Then he started lifting. And lifting. He kept lifting until it was apparent that he wasn't actually lifting anything. The mast wasn't moving. At this point, a lot of cussing and bleeding ensued. It turns out the mast wedge wasn't going to release the mast from the partners until we dug it out with screwdrivers and fingernails. And no job utilizing a screwdriver incorrectly ends without some swearing and bleeding.

After nearly an hour of gouging, ripping, stabbing and pulling, the mast wedge was free from the partners. A slight re-positioning of the bucket truck was all it took to lift the mast free from the deck. We had a few tag lines secured to the base of the mast so we could stop it from swinging as we guided it free of the deck. Once clear, David gently lowered the mast to the ground. The entire job took about 2.5 hours to complete. David mentioned that this was one of the more difficult mast jobs he had performed. I'm not sure if he was referring to the mast wedge problem, or if he was taking a jab at the crew. My guess is the latter. At any rate, he was compensated well for his time, and he agreed to put the mast back up when the time came. Now that I think about, the bird's eye view of working nincompoops is what will bring him back. We aim to please!

P.S. If you enjoy reading about how I expose my buddies to life-threatening hazards, make sure you subscribe by signing up right here! You can also follow us Facebook, Twitter and Google+! And, if you're feeling particularly generous and want to "Pay the Ransom," click here.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Steered in the Right Direction

I hatched this scheme of sailing away nearly four years ago. Four years isn't that long in the grand scheme of things. However, when you consider the emotional, physical, intellectual and monetary sacrifice it takes to make something like this a reality, it feels like an eternity! Having a departure deadline makes it even more stressful because my wheels are spinning 18-19 hours a day. It's like having a second (and sometimes third) full-time job... literally. In fact, we attended an Offshore Sailing seminar at the Annapolis Boat Show this past weekend, and one of the panelists said that some folks spend 10 years planning their trips. We're doing it in less than five, and we're doing it all ourselves. Let me tell you, I've lost more sleep than you can probably imagine planning this escapade.

While I find the process very exciting and rewarding, maintaining this level of focus can be exhausting. It's an insane amount of work for an intangible reward. To date, the payoff is merely an idea. I can imagine it, but that's it. I've never crossed an ocean. I've never anchored my boat in a tropical lagoon. I've never even captained a boat on saltwater before (the Chesapeake is brackish). Imagining the prize is easier because of the internet; ours is not the only cruising blog on the web - far from it, in fact. I've spent a lot of time reading about other's adventures, and they help me to stay on track. But there is one blog in particular that has offered more inspiration than most.

©2011 Matt Rutherford
Way back in 2011, I stumbled upon Solo Around the Americas. The blog belongs to Matt Rutherford, and it's there that he documented his 27,000-mile voyage around both North and South America... alone and non-stop! His route included the world's most treacherous oceans - the Arctic and Southern Oceans - and he did it in a tiny little 27' Albin Vega. The U.S. Sailing Hall of Fame called his achievement "unprecedented." I followed Matt's progress daily for the 10-months he was gone, and, if I didn't have to work, I would have been on City Dock in Annapolis to welcome him home. The fact that Matt accomplished something so HUGE, at the young age of 31, is impressive enough. However, what makes Matt even cooler is that he didn't do it for fame or fortune, he did it to raise money/awareness for other people via Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating. For somebody relatively new to sailing and with a severe case of wanderlust, I was inspired.

Fast-forward to the 2014 fall boat show in Annapolis, MD - just a few days ago. After four years of trying, this was the first year I could actually make it to the show. The boat show is an important event for someone outfitting a cruising boat on a budget because most vendors offer discounts on their gear. And, it seems every vendor on the planet is at the Annapolis show! It's huge; we spent two full days at the show and didn't step foot on a single boat. It's also a really great opportunity to compare competing products to determine what will work for you, your boat and your budget.

One piece of gear that I wanted to evaluate up-close was a windvane self-steering device. A self-steering device is often cited as one of the most important pieces of safety gear you can have aboard a cruising sailboat. It's unreasonable to expect two people to hand-steer a boat 24-hours a day for days/weeks on end. A self-steering device will "drive" the boat for you, so you can focus on other important things like: keeping a good watch, getting rest, attending to important systems and repairs, navigating, etc. Our boat came with an electric autopilot, but I wanted to relegate it to a backup device and get one that didn't use precious electricity.

Ken and Mike
The Monitor Windvane from Scanmar International is perhaps the best known wind-powered self-steering device on the market. And, it's for good reason. They make a rock solid product, and their customer service is world-renowned. Although a new Monitor was outside of our budget, I wanted to at least see one up close and talk to their reps about the product. We had a great visit with the Scanmar folks on Friday afternoon and spent about 30 minutes discussing their product with Hans Bernwall, the previous owner of the company. We left Hans with a new understanding of self-steering, an appreciation for their customer service and a solid background with which to compare other products on the market.

On Saturday morning we returned to the boat show to visit more vendors, but we also wanted to have another look at our favorite products. On our way past the Monitor booth, we noticed that they had an additional Monitor Windvane on display. What made this additional windvane special is that it had a sign on it advertising an unbelievably great price. The sign also said, "Matt Rutherford's Monitor!" I looked at Ludi and said, "If they're really selling this windvane at this price, with no additional/hidden charges, then I'm buying it right now!" The fact that it may have belonged to Matt Rutherford made the whole prospect even more appealing.

I staked my place in line as other interested shoppers started to swarm. Meanwhile, Ludi, always quick on the uptake, snatched the "for sale" sign from the windvane. Mike Scheck, the new owner of Scanmar, was the first person to help me. Mike confirmed the price, explained that it came with a full-warranty, several brand new parts and custom-made mounting brackets specifically designed for my boat. He also explained that this particular unit was installed on Matt Rutherford's boat earlier this year just before he set sail across the Pacific Ocean. Once Matt arrived in Japan, the unit was boxed up and sent to Annapolis. Mike also offered me a great deal on Matt's M-Rud (an emergency rudder designed to work the the Monitor). We shook hands to close the deal and made arrangements to pick up the device on Sunday afternoon.

The following day Ludi and I drove back to Annapolis to pick up the Monitor. Mike made arrangements with the cops to grant us access to an area normally closed to traffic so we could pick up the device. While Ludi waited with the car, I walked into the show with Mike to meet Matt and pick up our new windvane. Matt was waiting inside to help us carry the device out to the car. We had a nice discussion about windvanes, his adventures and an upcoming documentary about his historic voyage (that happened to be directed by an acquaintance of ours).

Sometimes awesome things happen! This was one of them. Not only did I score a fabulous deal on an essential piece of gear (that I wouldn't have otherwise been able to afford), I also found a fabulous company to work with and met an early inspiration to my cruising dreams.

Matt, Ludi and Ken

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

In Waves

It's been a crazy couple of weeks here at Don't Pay the Ransom, and it's only going to get crazier over the next few months! To bring everyone up-to-speed:

I made a whirlwind trip to New York over the weekend to buy some sails! That's right; I said sails! It seems a fellow Morgan 382 owner recently upgraded his relatively new cruising sails to high-speed racing sails. As such, he no longer needed the cruising sails, and he offered them to me at a price that I couldn't refuse. I got a Vermont Sailing Partners mainsail and a Doyle 135% genoa, and they really are in excellent condition! This kind gentleman also threw-in (for free) all new running rigging and a smaller 90% working jib. I'm telling you that I saved a bundle of scratch. Hello, windvane self-steering!


Remember this? Well, we'll be taking delivery of our new sail arch early next week. Our newest ally, Atlantic Towers is sending us one of their "Tower in a Box" sail arches. I can't tell you how jazzed we are about this product! After getting a few quotes for a custom arch, I was devising a plan to live without the convenience. Yes, they're that expensive. Well that problem has been solved. I can't wait to get this thing installed so I can start hanging stuff off of it! That's not our boat in the photo, but you can see how we plan to use our new arch!

While we're on the topic of allies... the good folks over at Electrosense are currently customizing our Vigilance Waste Water Monitor to solve our holding tank problem. Electrosense was our first ally, so this unit will hold a special place in our hearts. I suppose that sounds a little strange, doesn't it? I mean, how many people hold waste water dear? My guess is that the number is pretty low.  Oh well - small victories!

Finally, the United States Sailboat Show is taking place this weekend in Annapolis, MD. I've been trying to make it to the fall boat show for the last five years, but something has always gotten in the way. There is no way that I'm missing it this year... all of those vendors, all of that gear, all of those boats, and all of those Pusser's Painkillers!

It's very exciting to see the last several months of planning start to take shape. Normally, it seems like winters last forever. With all we have to accomplish over the next several months, I'm sure we'll be wondering where the time went!

Friday, September 26, 2014

The "F" Word(s)

I'm fast finding that finances and flexibility are first and foremost for effectively facilitating functional freedom... frankly. 

Allow me to explain with an example.

You know what is annoying? Ketchup (or, catsup for my communist readers). Also, Mondays. Why is ketchup so annoying? Because there are just too many options to chose from on the supermarket shelves. Just once I'd like to walk into the supermarket and grab the one and only bottle of ketchup available. Any brand - doesn't matter. As long as it's ketchup (or, catsup, as it were). And cheap. If the store has Heinz, fine. Hunts? I can live with that. Deciding takes time, and I'm a busy dude. I'm sure I don't have to tell you why Mondays are annoying.

How does this example relate to my thesis? Because the flexibility to accept whatever brand of cheap ketchup that's available frees up valuable decision-making time. Time is freedom. And, cheap puts money in my pocket. Money is also freedom.

How does this relate to my blog? Well, it turns out that ketchup is also analogous to sails. Who knew? You see, I need sails. The sails that came with my boat are old, thin and stretched out. Just like old underwear. In fact, my current sails even have holes in them. And stains. Well, would you look at that? Ketchup = sails = old drawers. Anyway, just like you would't want to get into an automobile accident wearing old and dirty underwear, you don't want to show up in the tropics with nasty old sails. It doesn't look good, and folks might judge your momma.

New sails are expensive. Really expensive, in fact. So, I'm in the market for used sails in good condition. There are a whole lot of used sails on the shelves these days. Unfortunately, 99.9999% of those sails were designed for an entirely different boat than mine. However, many of them can be made to work if need be. I don't want to wear girls underpants, but I would if I had an automobile accident scheduled and hadn't had an opportunity to do laundry.

So there you have it. Cheap sails that can be made to work equals freedom. And ketchup (catsup).

What "F" word were you thinking about?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Out With the Old, And.... That's It!

“You buy furniture. You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life. Buy the sofa, then for a couple years you're satisfied that no matter what goes wrong, at least you've got your sofa issue handled. Then the right set of dishes. Then the perfect bed. The drapes. The rug. Then you're trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you." Tyler DurdenFight Club

Clutter wears many different hats. It can be physical "stuff" that demands and consumes space. It can be multiple responsibilities that pull you in many directions at the same time. It can be things like traffic, television, YouTube, Facebook, etc. that creep into your life and steal your precious time. However, clutter is nearly always a distraction that prevents you from experiencing life to the fullest.

One of the major appeals of cruising is that it provides an opportunity to de-clutter my life. There is no cable television at sea. There are no soccer games, homeowners' associations, night meetings for work or traffic jams. And there is no room for piles and piles of boxes!

The vast majority of my possessions have sat unused for 10 or 12 years. Seriously, short of moving them from state to state and house to house, I haven't touched 90% of my belongings for so long that I've forgotten what I even own. In fact, if you said that I own a bunch of full boxes, you'd be correct. I'd be willing to bet that most of my readers are in the same predicament. Shit accumulates. It's stuffed into storage. And then more shit accumulates. Eventually, managing the volume of your crap becomes a full-time job. Or, more likely, you're too busy to mess with it, so nothing gets accomplished. 

I've been on the downsizing path for a few years now... ever since I made the decision to buy a boat and sail over the horizon. Boats are small spaces and storage units cost money. So, taking it with me is out of the question, and why waste money storing stuff that I don't even use? Most of the big stuff (like the furniture, stereo, lawnmower, grill, etc.) has been gone since I sold the house 2 years ago. The big-screen television was gone before that (what a time-suck that thing was). Heck, I even got rid of the dining room table last year because it wouldn't fit in my tiny new apartment. 

Now, besides a few boxes of donation-worthy stuff, all I'm left with is my bedroom furniture and music-making equipment: guitars, amplifiers, recording equipment, etc. Getting rid of this stuff has been difficult on several fronts. First of all, if you play guitar, then you know how easy it is to become emotionally attached to your instruments. Secondly, a lot of my stuff is hard to sell because it's specialized and, therefore, has a smaller market. For example, not everyone that plays guitar needs a recording studio or a giant, melt your face off, amplifier. So, I've been doing the craigslist/eBay dance for several months. What a pain in the ass! I don't see how most of these folks even have jobs - they're ridiculously unreliable.

However, I'm almost there. My possessions are becoming leaner by the day, and it's a VERY liberating experience. Tyler Durden was right; your stuff really does end up owning you. More importantly, if you're not careful, you'll miss the next big opportunity because it's hidden inside one of those full boxes.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

What's In a Name?

"Don't pay the ransom? Is this guy nuts?"

I have to admit that the name does seem a little reckless - particularly when you consider that our plans will lead us far from the relatively safe confines of the continental United States. One lovely assbag on an internet discussion forum actually commended me for the name... suggesting that it was an authorization for "would be" saviors to spend their money on more important things. While I'm not sure what could be more important, my guess is that he would pay for cable TV service. Hmph. We did toss around the idea of calling the blog something sappy and corny, à la Blue Water Dream Fantasy Miracle Adventure, however, we (read: I) decided that it would be better to sound like a badass than to get beat up. Sometimes machismo is paramount.


So where did I get the name? If you Google the term, you'll find a reference to an inspired country/western ditty from 1972 by the artist, Nat Stuckey. Yeah; I've never heard of him either. The song actually made it to #18 on the US country charts, but that doesn't mean anything here because I had never heard the song. While the tune may have long since faded from the charts, its message is timeless... if you get caught doing something that you're not supposed to be doing, lie about it. Pretty wholesome, huh? Though I had never heard the song before, there is a really good chance that my late stepfather, Terry, had.

Terry was a huge fan of music, and he seemed to know every song ever recorded. As such, he probably also knew Nat Stuckey's number. Terry also frequently used the phrase "don't pay the ransom." Are these two facts related? I cannot say for sure, but it seems likely. He had a knack for identifying and incorporating humorous lines from movies into his own vernacular. So, it's not too much of a stretch to assume that he also "borrowed" this phrase. However, unlike Nat Stuckey (who used the phrase to get out of trouble), Terry would say it before he got into any. For example, while walking out the door to visit friends, he'd say, "I'm off to the bar. Don't pay the ransom!" And then he would belt out his trademark laugh. The memory of it still makes me smile.

So, that's the story of the name - Terry (probably) borrowed it from Nat, and I'm borrowing it from him. It's my way of paying tribute to Terry - a wonderful man that brought a lot of joy into the world. So, here's to Terry... we're off to the bar! The beach. The tropics. We're calling in kidnapped, so don't expect us at the office on Monday.

And, just to be clear, we're using it as a figure of speech!

P.S. It bears repeating; the name of the blog is merely a figure of speech! If you ever receive a message demanding a ransom for our safe return, then, by all means... PAY THE DAMN RANSOM! You'll find seed money in our storage unit... it's in a box labeled, " Open In Case of Kidnapping."