Monday, November 17, 2014

All It's Cracked Up To Be

Refitting an old boat is the perfect enterprise for practicing the art of anger suppression. It is also a VERY good activity for refining your usage of swear words. I can arrange expletives so deftly that you'd think I was delivering an X-rated commencement address to a graduating class of one-legged pole-dancers. Seriously, I've stabbed myself in the hand with a rusty screwdriver with nary a complaint. I've spilled the contents of a 30-year old manual toilet pump all over myself and giggled like a schoolgirl. Why, I've smacked myself in the face with a hammer so hard my eye turned purple; I still sat through meetings the following day like there was nothing unusual about my face. 

All of this in preparation for the following. 

I went to the boat over the weekend to test-fit some new gear and to take measurements for our new Tides Marine Sail Track (thanks to our awesome sponsor, Tides Marine). While I did perform a cursory inspection of the mast shortly after I pulled it several weeks ago, I haven't had the time to really "dig in" to a full inspection. Unfortunately, as I was pulling the tape measure along the mast, something unusual caught my eye. Something not good. Something not good at all.

My mast is cracked. Yup. That giant stick I so carefully plucked out of the boat a few weeks ago? It's cracked. What does this mean? It means that there is a crack. In the frickin' mast! For my non-sailing readers... masts aren't supposed to have cracks in them. Heck, masts aren't even supposed to have hairline cracks. Sho 'nuff. Right where the lower shrouds attach to the mast. Cracked. What a bummer! I believe that it's repairable. More correctly, I want to believe that it's repairable, because buying a new mast is definitely not in the budget!

Here is the thing. I didn't get mad. I didn't even swear. In fact, if I reacted at all, it was more along the lines of, "Of course there is a crack in the mast." I just finished taking my measurements and drove home... even stayed within the speed limit. I then updated my "expense" spreadsheet with a few numbers... followed by a few zeroes. Finally, I tore up my resignation letter because me thinks it needs some serious editing.

Luckily, winter is almost here. I love winter.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Few

An orange glow from the outdated carpet fills my vision as I force open my eyelids. I rub my eyes and gaze around the room from the couch where I've slept for the last five weeks. Empty beer cans, pizza boxes, crumpled cigarette packages and red plastic cups litter the floor. Discarded reminders from last night's party – one in an endless stream of all-nighters since I graduated from high school last year. A stranger is sleeping in the fetal position in one corner of the room. His Judas Priest concert t-shirt is nearly torn from his back, and he is bleeding from a fresh wound on his left knee.

The stifling heat and my sweat dampened shirt tell me that the sun rose hours ago. My mornings haven't started before noon for well over a year. Today is no different. I swing my feet to the floor, stretch and light a cigarette. I have a splitting headache, and my mouth is so dry I can barely swallow. Just once it would be nice to wake up without a hangover, but I don’t dare back out of a party for fear of public ridicule.

It doesn't matter what day it is – not that I could remember anyway. I've been willingly unemployed for months and have nowhere to be. I cannot remember why I quit my last job. Most likely because it was Wendy's. Flipping burgers, going home smelling like grease, working evenings... any complaint was a good enough reason for me to leave a job. How many jobs have I left in the past year? I can't remember. The jobs in this dying town aren't worth staying at anyway.

The kitchen is in worse condition than the living room. The sink is overflowing with dirty dishes. Macaroni and cheese is drying in a pot on the stovetop. The floor is wet with spilled beer, and the entire house smells like a bar. My god, who lives like this? I rummage through the fridge looking for something cold to quench my thirst. Cherry Kool-Aid. That will do just fine. I walk outside in my bare feet and sit on the concrete steps of the trailer.

I light another cigarette and scan the trailer park. It looks different today for some reason. The underpinning is missing from well over half of the trailers. I hadn’t noticed that before. Did we do that in our drunken stupor last night? The grass is knee-high in some yards while others are bare of any groundcover. How many of the neighborhood cars actually run? Most have flat tires. Or no tires. It’s not like their owners need them anyway. Most of them are unemployed, too.

My old man has been on my case for months to do something with myself. Get a job. Go to school. Join the military. He doesn’t care, but it kills him to watch me waste my life away partying. None of those things felt that important to me. Fun was the only thing that mattered. Until recently. 

The above story is true. All of it. It describes the state of my life twenty-two years ago. While I was having loads of fun, I wasn't going anywhere. I wasn't doing anything. Granted, I was a kid, but sooner or later we all have to grow up. That is what I decided to do that day while I sat smoking on those steps. That was the day I decided to join the United States Marine Corps. It was a decision that would forever alter the course of my life.

The next day I was in a car with Corporal Coffee. He had driven nearly two hours to pick me up. I had long hair and was likely hungover when we walked into the St. Charles, MO recruiting station. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I sobered up quickly enough when I met Gunny Foster. The Marine Corps mascot is a bulldog named Chesty, and Gunny looked just like him. He was short, ugly, packed solid with muscle, and he growled when he spoke. He had a wad of chewing tobacco in his lip and even drooled a little. Just like a dog. Everything about Gunny screamed Marine. He had a foul mouth. A horseshoe haircut. Tattoos carved into his thick forearms. He was a bad dude.

Gunny was talking with another potential recruit when Corporal Coffee escorted me into the office. The kid was a mess. Skinny and frail. Coke-bottle glasses. His neck extended straight down to his elbows – bypassing his non-existent shoulders. Squirrelly. I couldn't say much given my appearance that day, but this kid didn't look like Marine Corps material to me. Apparently Gunny agreed because a few seconds later he picked up the phone and dialed. He grunted something into the receiver and hung up. A few minutes later an Air Force recruiter walked into the office. Gunny told the kid he should go with him, and he did.

Gunny Foster didn't have to do too much recruiting with me. He asked me why I was sitting in his office, and I told him I wanted to enlist. I said that I could be ready to go within a week. Stone-faced,  Gunny responded by asking if there was anything wrong with me that would make my dick fall off. Seriously. That is what he asked me. I told him that I didn't think so. He then pulled out some paperwork for me to sign, and that was pretty much it. I had just “joined” the Marine Corps.

I didn't know it at the time, but I gained another a family that day. An untold number of new brothers and sisters. A family comprised of the best friends I've had before or since. A family that grows each time I meet a fellow Marine. Not a day has passed since I got out that I don't think about my time serving. Not a day has passed where I don't think of the people I served with and how I miss them dearly. I got out of the Marine Corps over sixteen years ago, but in my heart I never left.

“Once a Marine, Always a Marine.”

Today is the 239th birthday of the United States Marine Corps. All around the world, Marines young and old will come together to celebrate what makes us special. If you know a Marine, make sure to tell him/her “Happy Birthday.” We might be 239 years old, but we never tire of hearing it!

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?