08/15/2014, Cap Sante Marina, Anacortes WA
Perched on the edge of the world, I'm still scrambling to gather loose ends. The autopilot remains non-functional, the VHF radio has developed a temperamental display screen, the wind instrument is with Raymarine back in Nashua, New Hampshire for repairs, and my venerable old White sewing machine has proven itself incapable of making the lee cloths. Solutions for these challenges are staged for the next few days, so I'm hoping for the best.
One success I'm especially pleased with is Mabrouka's new sails. They look great and draw great. She got new sail covers, too, so here's a pic:
Mabrouka's shakedown cruise in the San Juan Islands with the southbound crew went very well. Everyone gets along amiably enough, considering we're four old coots that will be confined together on a forty foot sailboat for a couple of weeks. I expect a personality clash or two, but everyone is positive and eager to share their experience and unique skills with one another. I was entertained to find that I'm the youngest of the crowd at just shy of 62 years old. Jim and Robert are both 64 and Ed will celebrate his 79th birthday a few days after our scheduled departure. Here's what I know of them.
One of the first things I said to the Coho Ho Ho group (a few of us now refer to ourselves lovingly as Hos) was that I wanted to take on volunteer crew for the transit to San Francisco. If Ed wasn't the first to express his interest, he was the most eager. At that time I was still thinking I'd be able to make my shakedown cruise a circum-Vancouver Island affair and Ed touted his resume of having already done it six and three-halves times. That's six full circumnavigations, two half-ways, and one trip up into Alaska that included sailing up the east coast of the island.
Attracted by the salty old guy's exuberance and the sea miles he had under his slickers, I invited Ed to sail with me over the July 4th holiday from Eagle Harbor to Poulsbo and back. Of course, sailing provides plenty of time to get acquainted and our various conversations included some good story swapping sessions. He had me intrigued from the beginning when he announced with a twinkled eye that he had a new girl friend, but "...I haven't slept with her yet!" Okay! Moving right along!
(Post script: JoAnn's made an honest man out of him. Ed, in a somewhat coy-proud way, let on that they're getting married! "For heaven's sake," we said. "You've only just met her!" "I know," Ed said, "but she makes me feel like a kid all the time." What a character!)
Ed was as spry as a billie goat on the trip to Poulsbo, handling lines with ease and enthusiasm, skillfully steering the boat, and generally being a good shipmate. Trudging around town and sharing a couple of meals convinced me that his vigor, experience, and good humor would make him good crew for the trip south, so soon after we threw off the dock lines from Poulsbo Yacht Club I invited him to join me. Before answering, he fessed up to having some health issues. He didn't give a lot of details, but they involved some circulatory problems that he has since addressed by taking a phalanx of natural supplements and modifying his diet to what he referred to as a "flexitarian" regimen. I was a little put aback by this, imagining how I might deal with a heart attack victim while 100 miles off the Oregon coast. I hadn't planned on installing an AED and didn't know how much space to allow for a stash of body bags, but assuming he'd take care of his special needs, decided to let my offer stand. Half an hour later he announced that he liked Mabrouka and would agree to sail to San Francisco.
We put up the gennaker after we rounded the northern tip of Bainbridge Island and when the colorful sail blossomed above the foredeck, Ed and his camera were drawn forward to the sprit, levering himself out over the water with one foot hooked into the bow pulpit so he could lean back and take photos looking up the mast. He spent fifteen minutes up there, craning this way and that, generally enjoying the sight of the sail and Mabrouka's movement across Puget Sound. When he finally came back to the cockpit, he amended his acceptance, saying he really liked how the boat sailed and he'd sign up for the trip to San Diego, too! How flattering.
Now having spent several more days sailing with him, Ed's demonstrated a couple of quirks that, while they remain a source of some entertainment to good natured people, may rub a bit after a while in close quarters. We'll see. One is to repeatedly call me Joe, but he even used Honey once. I don't know where the heck THAT came from
Another is that he's a strong proponent of labeling our cups and mugs, maintaining that it cuts back on the amount of rinsing required. Okay, that's easy! Jim and I humored him on our trip to Port Ludlow with blue masking tape and a Magic Marker, but I removed the tags the following week to reclaim a little bit of my personal space. It was only a few minutes after coming aboard in Kingston on our way to the San Juans that he promoted his idea once again, so the name tags were reinstalled. This time we used white duct tape and, excepting Ed's, the monikers on our mugs evolved to nicknames. Somehow the duct tape doesn't hold onto the marker as well, so they had to be rewritten a couple of times, devolving a little each cycle. Yesterday I institutionalized Ed's idea for the cruise south by getting out an actual label maker and semi-permanently assigning tumblers. Ed is now the Ed-meister, Jim has become Sparky (I can't remember why) and Robert is Le Chef. I'm Captain Joe.
The quirk that threatens to irritate is that, in situations where the data seems to be of particular interest to him, Ed will continually read out the boat speed or the depth to everyone. Well, not just read it out, announce it in increasing decibel levels as he approaches what he considers a critical value. Sometimes the increase works in both directions, getting louder with the excitement of approaching the goal, then even louder still as the goal recedes. How is that possible? Monday, as we were fighting north against the southbound ebb current out of Guemes Channel, he'd found a back eddy that was contrarily helping our progress. While our speed through the water was around 6 to 6-1/2 knots, our speed over ground had been down in the three-points. Ed's helmsmanship had taken us over nearer to shore where we'd sky-rocketed up near six. As it increased even more he began, "Six point one, ...six point TWO, ...SIX POINT THREE!"
Jim escaped to the bow of the boat and I laughed. Robert was oblivious down in his usual station cooking up a storm in the galley.
Well, I'd intended to do profiles on Jim and Robert in this post as well, but I've used up too much of your time on Ed alone. He's just provided so much fodder. Stay tuned. I can't promise as much entertainment with the rest of the crew, but time perhaps will tell.
08/04/2014, Jibe Espresso at Shilshole Bay Marina
Aside from my previous post on my trip to Blakely Island with Lisa, there've been many weeks left out of my updates. Rest assured, there's more to catch up on and I may yet pummel you with additional details. Right now I'm down in Ashland for a couple of days visiting with my youngest one last time before I hit the high seas. She graduated from Southern Oregon University this past term, so there's a bit of that celebration, too.
If I were really going to catch you up on activities I'd have to remember what I've already told you about. That's too hard. I will offer the summary statement that I've disproven the prediction I made in my Alphas and Omegas post that I'd probably made my last exit from Lake Union. This is a happy circumstance that was generated by an unhappy one. First for happy: spending time in one of my favorite places with some of my favorite people. The unhappy circumstance is that I'm having to make a fairly significant repair to my rig. Here's the back story.
Boat projects are still ongoing, with new ones turning up even more frequently than the old ones get crossed off, but Mabrouka has still gotten out for her paces a couple of times in the past four weeks. July 3rd and 4th saw Ed Davis (one of my Ho Ho crew) and I sailing to Poulsbo with Tyee Yacht Club to join Poulsbo Yacht Club for barbecue and Independence Day fireworks on Liberty Bay, then back to Eagle Harbor for Tyee's own celebration bearing witness to Bainbridge Island's 4th of July display. I punctuated an extended post-holiday stay anchored in Eagle Harbor with two trips across to Shilshole to get the new mainsail fitted and to attend Coho Ho Ho meetings.
The second trip was a shakedown sail to Port Ludlow this past Thursday and Friday with Ed Davis and Jim Herman, another Ho Ho crew member. Although Ed had had the time to become familiar with Mabrouka on the 4th of July trip, this was Jim's first time on the boat. We got some good sailing in on Thursday, dropping anchor in my favorite back cove in the early evening. After sundowners, dinner, and a barrage of dirty jokes, we settled in for some reading and rope splicing. How manly of us. There may have even been some belching and farting.
Our Friday morning start was stifled when I ran out of propane in the process of heating water for the morning coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. I hopped right in the dinghy and putted to the nearby Port Ludlow Marina with the propane tanks, though, so we were back in operation before long and Ed scrambled up a hearty breakfast that fueled us for a few hours of poking at the boat.
The major effort of the day was to investigate things up the masts where I'd identified a couple of loose screws that needed to be checked and tightened. Ed, being the lightest of us, was the loose screw that Jim and I hauled up in the bosun's chair. As he diligently kept us apprised of the screws he checked ("One, two, ...thirty-seven, thirty-eight, ...fifty-one...") we cranked Ed up the mast a foot or two at a time ("Okay, up a foot, ...whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!)" or eased him down ("No, wait. The safety line is stuck on a screw!").
As much work as that was for us, it was Ed that I felt sorry for. He's a wiry old guy and his scrawny little butt didn't carry much padding aloft, so that wood and canvas seat got pretty uncomfortable for him after a while. With the mizzen mast done with no notable issues, we took pause for lunch and a midday break. Back to work afterwards, it was halfway up the main mast that Ed advised us that his 79th birthday was coming up in a couple of weeks, and he hoped to be going up masts well into his eighties. I guess my birthday present to him was the padding I'd added to the bosun's chair seat just before banishing him aloft again.
Okay, so the upshot of this was that Ed's trip up the main mast found a loose screw that wouldn't be tightened. In this case, applying the screw driver only resulted in continuous screwing. The wood at the heel of the starboard spreader was harboring some dry rot. (The spreaders are the stick-a-ma-bobs that project at right angles out from the mast and stiffen it against compression load from the shrouds. Uh, the shrouds ... those are the up-and-down cable-y kinda thingies that hold the mast upright. Dry rot, ...well, if you don't know what dry rot is you're missing the point, anyway.) Ed kept apologizing as he probed the wood and little blobs of spongy brown stuff fell to the deck and I kept complaining that he was making me sad. Still, he kept on poking his finger into the soft spot, repeatedly sharing the results as I stood on the deck below attempting to stiffen my lip with every pronouncement.
As is commonly said with such news as this on a boat, we all nodded sagely, agreeing with our vast seagoing wisdom that it was better for us to find this now than have the spreader announce it independently with crunching noises while crumpling under the strain of a raging gale. Still, I only admitted that in a certain crumpling tone of my own. Nevertheless, we trusted the weakened rig enough to have a really great sail back toward Seattle. The new genoa performed fantastically under a broadening reach as we rolled by Foul Weather Bluff and past Point No Point. After dropping Ed off where we'd picked him up in Kingston, Jim and I motored in the dark across to Shilshole where I got a transient slip for Friday night.
The next day Jim and his friend, LB, helped me motor through the locks to the Tyee YC dock on Lake Union. I'd intended to camp out there for a few days while making repairs, but at Karyn-with-a-Y's behest, I shifted Mabrouka over to tie up at Kathy's houseboat instead. (Thank you SO much, Kathy. It is much MUCH more pleasant at your place.) So, I'd been welcomed back to my old neighborhood by generous neighbors and the nostalgic horns of the Fremont Bridge, two things I thought I might never experience again.
I'd taken the spreader down on Saturday afternoon, so Mabrouka looked a little forlorn with a few dangly bits hanging from the starboard side of the mast. Jim's a boatwright and has access to a shop, so he and I had planned on going to Crosscut Lumber on Monday to get some spruce, then to his shop to make new spreaders. Lisa joined us a little after 9 AM, so we were off to a fairly early start. Working with wood is almost always a fulfilling experience, so the occasion for this repair wasn't all bad. The three of us had a good time sawing and planing and shaving and sanding. By mid-afternoon we had a new starboard spreader shaped and sealed, plus a rougher blank ready for the future replacement of the port spreader just for good measure.
The next day Lisa and I set off for a couple of days at Blake Island while Jim sealed up the spreaders with some epoxy and a coat of paint. The trip was a slight disappointment for Lisa, since she'd asked to go on an actual sail before I set off for the wide ocean. With only one spreader in place, we were only able to motor. Leaving our adventures at Blake Island for a separate post, I returned her to dry land on Wednesday afternoon, then met the sail makers at Shilshole Bay Marina to (finally) take delivery of the new main and the new sail covers.
07/30/2014, Blake Island State Marine Park, WA
My last update wandered around the topic of having to replace the starboard spreader on Mabrouka's mast. That used the setting of a sail to Port Ludlow with Ed and Jim as the backdrop to discovering the problem. Since then, the replacement has been installed aloft, with me hoisting myself up the mast and Jim down below making small adjustments to the fittings and sending tools and supplies up to me. It looks grrrrrreate, except that now it inspires installation of the port side as well. If you read my previous post, you'll know that a new one has been made for that, too. Fortunately a replacement is not actually required and refreshing the old one can wait until Mexico.
Before putting up the starboard spreader, Lisa and I went for a nice overnighter at Blake Island. It was around noon on Tuesday that we left Kathy's houseboat on Lake Union for the LAST last time. Honest! Our passage out the ship canal and through the locks was uneventful with a corridor of clear blue sky widening above us through the trees as we motored west toward The Sound. The draw bridges at Fremont and Ballard eventually obliged when we honked our horn to request passage, but the Chittenden Locks were a little more begrudging. After the Navy divers and their big grey boat got out of our way, Lisa and I shepherded Mabrouka safely through to open water and a casual putt over to Blake Island. There was a little dos-i-doing when we found no open buoys along the west side of the island and readied the anchor, but the northernmost spot opened up at the last second and we raced up to snag it before any outliers could beat us to it.
Then laziness set in. What exactly DID we do? I can't remember. I think I fiddled a bit. We may have had a beer. Eventually we motored the 30 yards to shore and paid our mooring fee. There was dinner and a DVD, but that was about it.
Waking up early the next morning, I went topside to avoid disturbing Lisa's beauty sleep. I'd taken my camera to stalk wild life on the beach, but instead had my attention pulled the other direction with a flyby by the USNS John Glenn. It looked like a big, black tanker that had misplaced all the tanks between the bow and stern from the waterline up. I'd noted it down by the Navy fuel pier the previous afternoon and pointed it out to Lisa. Expounding with my vast experience in shipbuilding, I carefully explained that it was a submersible ship designed to ballast itself down, sinking deep in the water until just its bow and stern floated above. That would allow smaller ships and other floating thingies to park on its submerged deck after which it would float back up, lifting them out of the water for transport to distant ports.
Now she'd sidled up only a quarter mile away and, clearly in sight above the fog, her bow armed me with a name that had not previously been visible in the distance. Starting my day with a life-rending shock, I Googled up some info on the ship and learned that I had been wrong. The John Glenn is NOT a submersible, it's a Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) intended as sort of a mobile, floating pier to service air-cushion vehicles (LCACs) and roll-on/roll-off (RoRo) ships. (See http://www.naval-technology.com/projects/mobile-landing-platform-mlp-ship/.) It also turns out it was built by my old employer, National Steel and Shipbuilding Company in San Diego. Hurray, guys!
Eventually Lisa got up and after a hearty breakfast of pancakes and bacon, we motored in the Pudgy around the north end of the island to the visitor center/park where we spent some time photo-strolling at the beach, around the park, and up one of the walking paths. It was a beautifully warm day with the sun dappling our path through the island of trees overhead.
With digital fawns, chickadees, raccoons and distant volcanoes stored in the Canon, we headed back to Mabrouka. On the way we came up with a new marine term. It's very technical: The Raccoon Tide. That's about mid-way between high tide and low when all the raccoons in the universe come out to forage on what I fear are probably slimy little snacks that wriggle from the mud. We didn't exercise the diligence actually to count all of them, but I'm sure we would have tallied over twenty raccoons within sight around the north end of Blake Island if we'd bothered. There must be something REALLY tasty out there.
We dropped our buoy a little after noon and set off to get Lisa back to Shilshole for an evening appointment with social destiny. The return trip was adventurized by the Coast Guard and the US and Canadian navies forming up for their annual Fleet Week parade past downtown Seattle. The ships took turns posing grandly for us in front of the Space Needle as we motored northward over a Puget Sound that calmly reflected the clear blue skies. Coming up to West Point, we joined a parade of our own with three tug/barge combinations and the tour boat, Goodtimes II. They were all headed in through the locks we passed out of on the previous day, but we got on the radio and negotiated passage with them only as far as Shilshole Bay Marina.
Having avoided being crushed by the big boys, I got Lisa back to the dock at a timely 2pm. While she headed off for Olympia, I set upon some more cruise prep chores. Ah, I'll be glad to finally call an end to all that, throw my dice on the craps table of the ocean, and sail off for San Francisco in a couple of weeks.
07/01/2014, Tyee YC Outstation, Eagle Harbor, Bainbridge, WA
Mostly as a way to bolster my standing among the cruisers of the world in terms of fortitude and technical expertise in the completion of boat projects, I'm happy to offer a brief summary of progress. Here's an annotated version of the list I posted in my Winter Update post from early last February:
install the new SSB [Installation complete, though I still have to commission it and learn how to use it.]
purchase and install new refrigeration machinery [DONE! It's doing a great job of keeping food at much lower energy demands than the old unit!]
purchase and install a new autopilot [About 3/4 done. All electronic components are installed and the mechanical portion that drives the actual rudder is about half done. If all that works, I'll still have to figure out how to interface with my navigation system.]
design, machine, and fit a double-pulley to drive the high-output alternator [Done, and working great. The old system used to squeal in protest when asked to charge the batteries, but the new system is very stoic. The new belts produced a fair amount of rubber dust in their first few hours of breaking in which I attribute to slight variation from the standard v-belt groove profile. They've stopped that now and I'm very pleased!]
pull and paint the masts and inspect structural components [Pulling and painting masts will still have to wait for the cheaper labor rates down in Mexico. I am also just plain out of time before departure on the Coho Ho Ho. I have inspected most of the chain plates on the starboard side, at least from the inside. They look pretty good and have bolstered my confidence in their integrity.]
sell one or both existing dinghies and replace with a new Portland Pudgy [My friend Len bought the old RIB, although I had to invest $850 in engine repair to even put it on the market. The Grandy skiff has not attracted enough of the right kind of attention to give me much encouragement. I don't know what I'll be doing with her at this point. The new Portland Pudgy has been in service for a couple of weeks now, although delivery of the lifeboat canopy and the solar panel were back ordered. It's proving to be a fun little boat under oars and outboard, but I have yet to try out the sailing rig.]
add a second house battery to double available amp-hours [Done, along with the addition of a separate Comms battery and charging management system.]
test fit and, if necessary, reconfigure the emergency steering tiller [Done! I'm glad I did this, though it was only an educational process. I learned that I'll have to remove the wheel to give the tiller enough clearance for use.]
add a Forespar whisker pole for the genoa and gennaker [Done, though yet to be used away from the dock.]
add another set of reefing points on the mizzen sail [I've decided this won't be necessary.]
replace the staysail and rig new sheets [The staysail has been replaced, but I've decided to stay with the old sheet system.]
add a storm jib. [Done.]
Of course, the list has expanded.
06/29/2014, Eagle Harbor, Bainbridge Island, WA
Busy busy, ...and not. I have to say that maintaining my retired lifestyle takes a toll on my time. First of all, there's scheduling around my local coffee shop's lackadaisical office hours: Rooster's doesn't open until 7am on weekdays (OMG!) and 8am on Saturday and Sunday! Well, you get used to a place, don't you? I'll eventually have to get back to last summer's routine of making myself a back bay latte on the boat and munching on an English muffin, but I do enjoy being served with coffee and pastry. Until then I struggle to sleep in late to match my barrista's hours.
The new Portland Pudgy dinghy was delivered a couple of weeks ago and I continue to explore that toy. I refer to it as the Leatherman of dinghies, since it does triple duty serving also as a sailing dinghy and a lifeboat. Its second-hand outboard, a 2.3HP Honda, gave me a little trouble starting for the first time, but since I drained the carburetor and put dry gas in the tank, it's been a champ. Even wrapped up in shiny silver plastic and metal, it's still strikes me just as an old Seagull engine at heart with a simple pull cord, a choke, and a throttle. No gears, ...you spin the thing around one-eighty for reverse.
The new main and genoa sails were expanding panel by panel across the sail maker's loft floor as of late last week. Ballard Sails had an equipment failure that delayed their start, but promises on-time delivery. The genoa gets a strip of UV resistant material along the trailing edges to protect it from the sun when it's rolled up around the head stay. People typically choose to make that of Sunbrella canvas that matches the sail covers. Lisa helped pick out a shade of burgundy that I think will go well with the tweedy tan of the dodger. A recent lesson-learned with the new mizzen and stay sails is that old covers never fit over crisp, new sails, so I ordered new covers for the main, mizzen and stay sail. If you were to take even a casual look at the old covers, you'd know that I've been putting off this purchase for far too long. I've also ordered some extra material so I can remake hatch covers, etc. in my spare time.
Installation of the new WH autopilot is the biggest of my personal undertakings. After the Coho Ho Ho trip to Anacortes, I returned to Eagle Harbor and its wonderful little harbor town, Winslow. Besides being convenient to the Seattle ferry and with easy access to my yacht club's outstation for power, water, and the occasional yacht club "do", it is also Wil Hamm's home town. He is the owner, chief cook, and bottle washer for WH Autopilots (go figger) and maintains his shop just a short bus ride out of Winslow. Wil came down to the public dock himself a couple of weeks ago to deliver all the various autopilot system components. That week I built a foundation for the Rudder Angle Transmitter (Mabrouka now has a resident RAT on board) and devised linkage to the steering system. Lisa's Father's Day present was to come over that Sunday from Seattle to help install the system. We only got the primary electronics boxes mounted, but Lisa was invaluable in helping me think through the pros and cons of the various options for locations and cable runs. Thanks, Lisa, for keeping me honest! It was still several more days before I got everything else installed and all the wires run and commissioning was delayed due to mandatory attendance at my yacht club's weekend-long Peace, Boats and Rock-n-Roll party.
I wrested myself from my grueling social schedule to start the system up the following monday, but my lack of electronical confidence, some engineerese (i.e. lousy English) in the autopilot manual, and the unexplained behavior of an indicator light prompted me to ask for Wil's assistance in commissioning the system. Again, it was Wil himself that came to the boat. The painful crux of a significantly longer story is that my plan to use the existing power ram from my old Alpha system to drive the rudder has been thwarted, so I've forked out some more cash for WH's hydraulic system. Yesterday I ripped out the old ram and started building foundations for the new one and it's dedicated hydraulic pump. It will probably be another week or two, social engagements considered, before I get that working.
So, it's time for me to take leave of the Rooster and get back to work. Today I'll try to fiberglass in the new hydraulic pump foundation, configure the mount for the ram, and choose a spot to hang the head tank for the hydraulic oil. Oh what fun!
06/25/2014, On Eagle Harbor, Bainbridge Island, WA
I'm gratified, but often a little ashamed of myself when, now and again, people ask if I've put up any new blog posts. Supposedly that means they're reading and maybe even looking forward to them. Perhaps they're just making polite conversation, but then as now my response is, "No." Distractions with weekend trips and ongoing projects mean I haven't written in a while, but now that I think of it there has been a subject brewing in the back of my mind. For those of you who tire of the project descriptions I impose upon you when I don't have anything profound to say, get ready for profundity!
It was oh-dark-thirty on June 6th when I hauled in my mooring lines from the Tyee Yacht Club dock on Lake Union. There's the fun back story of my daughter's stolen, then miraculously recovered car to explain the 3:45 am departure, but just leave it to say that I was up anyway and not likely to go back to sleep, so I made a beginning to the weekend trip up to Anacortes for the Coho Ho Ho diesel engine maintenance seminar. (See my Facebook post of June 11th.)
The green flash of the channel marker south of Gasworks Park mirroring on the still waters of Lake Union promised a calm trip out the Lake Washington Ship Canal. Hovering under the Aurora Bridge that arched high above, I called out to the Freemont Bridge tender with one long and one short blast of my air horn to open up and let me through. The sound was a dagger in the night and I think I actually cringed to imagine what my friends and one-time neighbors right there at Lee's Landing Marina would think if they knew it'd been me making all that racket at such a wee hour.
A dark vacuum of quiet followed, drawing my mind into a moment's thoughtfulness. It's funny how a sluggish few seconds at four in the AM can be filled with images that shoot through your head at light speed. Without even realizing it had happened, I imagined a decade or so of firsts and lasts, beginnings and endings stretching out before me. Mostly I wondered if this would be the last time I'd transit beneath the fading blue trusses of the Freemont Bridge, ...ever?
Indeed, the sounds of the bridge had become a comfortable backdrop for my life in the winter and spring months of 2013-14, ...the horns of the waiting boats begging passage and the answering assent or rejection by the bridge tender, sighing a long-short or barking a short-short-short-short-short with his own booming horn. An affirmation is followed by warning bells that rise up in clouds around the bridge as half a dozen traffic barriers perform slow-mo karate chops that stop a couple of feet shy of shattering the road's surface. On a sunny day pedestrians and cyclists can be seen leaning over the railings, holding on to hats and sunglasses while they strain to see who has disturbed their commutes and strolls, at once both frustrated and fascinated by the waterborne miscreants below.
Back in the present, I remained drifting slowly downstream in the slight current, stilettos of light holding Mabrouka hostage on the water as we awaited the bridge keeper's response to my own inquiry. Loathe to upset the night with my horn again, I called to him via channel 13 on the VHF radio. He responded quickly, but from the Ballard Bridge half a mile west and I was reminded that he rotated between the canal's four bridges at these early hours. He predicted opening in about 15 minutes, but managed a little less than that and I had the pleasure of actually seeing him wave as I motored beneath the yawning structure. If anyone else observed Mabrouka's passage from behind the railings, the morning was not yet shedding enough light to betray their presence.
Of all the times I'd been through the canal, every bridge passage had seemed like a blind handshake, a warm exchange of service graciously performed and thankfully accepted, but anonymous. I have always been fastidious in waving a thank you as I made my way under the control towers, but never seen a response through the skies reflected off the windows above. Seeing the attendant that one time, it occurred to me at that early hour that this was both a first AND a last.
So, I'm off on a cruise of firsts and lasts. Sadly, for the near term, I know that many of my experiences will be lasts. Last time under the Freemont Bridge, last time through the Chittenden Locks, last time saying goodbye to Seattle friends. There will be new friends along the way. The cruiser's life is, I gather, a series of first time meetings, some fleeting friendships that are at once both beginnings and endings, and others that will linger into long time relationships. Some friendships will bounce along with me from port to port, others will submerge only to pop up along some distant shore. Hopefully, like my dear friends at Tyee Yacht Club, some will resist the weathering effects of time and distance.
As with most people, I think, few of the many good friendships in my life are deeply intimate ones. What's more, I've become largely a solitary person in recent years and suppose that's one reason I've chosen the cruising life. On the other hand, I am not innately adventurous and the prospect of a series of first experiences stretching out before me is as scary as it is exciting. For those of my friends that find this surprising, don't let the fact that I'm choosing this life fool you. This madness is driven more by the rejection of my naturally dull nature than it is an emergent strain of adrenaline junky-nous running through my soul.
That being said, I recognize that any life accomplishments that I look back upon with pride and pleasure are those when I've jumped off a cliff and, thankfully, learned to fly before I hit the ground. My choice to leave home for the distant east coast to begin a new college and career, the birth of my daughters, training for and then completing the STP in one day, retiring at the infantile age of 59-1/2, ...all have proven to be positive growth experiences that can hardly be explained by any vocabulary that I possess. This latest growth experience will require a long, drawn out explanation yet to be realized in this cruising blog. Stay tuned. In the end, your judgement will be required.
I leave you with this photo, not because it's relevant, but because it reminds me of some of my favorite humans. Elvis, pictured here, was one of those little nothings of a toy that the girls absolutely loved when they were little, ...like five years old. I remember watching the three of them in my rear view mirror sitting in the back seat of the Suburban as we drove across the Saudi Arabian desert, each with their ridiculous stuffed cat in their little hands doing the moves to Roxette's "Joyride". I keep that memory in a special place. The peace sign pendant was a spontaneous gift from Karyn Borcich. Elvis is now Peace Elvis. Thanks, Karyn.