My penance in boat purgatory continues. The first step in the teak restoration process, stripping, is about halfway complete. Technically, the first step was to spend scads of cash on supplies - power sander, heat gun, scrapers, masking tape, varnish, thinner, teak brightener, shop vac, drop cloths, etc - but I digress. I seem to be making fairly decent progress. If not for life's myriad of unavoidable distractions such as doctor's appointments, tax preparation, house chores and the ubiquitous and unending mail (always bad news that requires time, or money, or both), I would probably be done.
Look Mommy, it's a floating Home Depot.
Despite the sore muscles and my new found ability to be a contortionist, sometimes I feel as though I am not working hard enough and should be much farther along. My son Ben keeps reminding me I am retired, there is no deadline, and, "It's not like you have anything else to do." Love that boy. I used to be a mover shaker (now I'm a sander scraper). While all this is true, there are so many projects to be completed on the boat, I'm wondering if I will ever be able to get out on the water. A salty dog once told me a boat is never 100%. There is always something to be done. I will try and keep this in mind and push my desire for perfection off to the side.
Day before yesterday was great. I knocked out the entire port side caprail in about seven hours. Heat gun blazing, I was stripping so good I should have been getting dollar bills stuffed in my underwear. Unfortunately, everything came to a screeching halt yesterday as I began work on the bowsprit. The bowsprit is the most forward portion of the boat (think Titanic - "I'm the king of the world") and is a very cool place on a number of levels.
From a utilitarian standpoint the area is essential for deploying and retrieving the anchor, but I like to hangout up there to read, play guitar, and enjoy a cocktail. It is constructed entirely of teak, has anchors and chain, and is a very manly place. I like it. Well I did until yesterday. The freakin' bowsprit is a veritable puzzle of teak. It has more nooks and crannies than Edward James Olmos' face. Whoever designed this thing clearly was not thinking about those who may have to maintain it. The lattice of wood was such that my scraping tool was useless. Resultantly, I spent five hours hunched into a ball scraping away old varnish with a razor blade and I'm only half done with the damn thing. The only upside to this ordeal was the pain in my back from sore muscles. It made sleep impossible which resulted in a nice early start to the day.
At least the weather has been good. Nice sunny days with temperatures just shy of 80. Aside from burning a hole in the hose of my new shop vac with the heat gun (I really need to watch my mouth when stuff like this happens - the folks next to me are live aboards with kids), and managing to sunburn the part of my scalp abandoned by a receding hairline (never used to have to put sunscreen there), it was a pretty good week.
"It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do."
Jerome K. Jerome
BOAT: Break Out Another Thousand
Boat: A hole in the water into which one throws money.
Cruising: Fixing your boat in exotic locations.
Before I embarked on my search for a boat I was warned to avoid excessive teak at all costs (particularly boats with teak decks... leaky teaky). While incredibly durable, expensive, and stunningly beautiful when properly varnished, teak is a pain in the arse to maintain. This is particularly true in the tropical environs where I have heard stories of sailors sitting on deck enjoying a beer, and watching the painstakingly applied varnish peel off before their very eyes.
Melissa isn't overly festooned with teak. She has teak caprails, bowsprit, grabrails, dorade boxes, hatch boards, and sea hood. Just enough to keep a retiree busy. In general, if teak is properly maintained at regular intervals, it's not a huge deal in keeping it up (every 3 to 6 months lightly sand and slap on a coat of varnish). However, the entire equation changes if the teak is neglected as in Melissa's case. Once teak is let go to this extent, all of the old varnish must be stripped off, the wood sanded, bleached, brightened, and new varnish applied. Oh, and you just don't apply a single coat of varnish and call it done. To do it right five to eight coats must be applied and the first two "treatment" coats don't count. In total this is a BIG effing deal even on a small boat.
I have died and gone to boat hell. I started this project a little over a week ago and I'm beginning to think I will be in my eighties, feeble, permanently hunchbacked, and unable to cruise by the time I'm done. It's like shoveling oil with a pitchfork. Step one is to strip off all of the old varnish. Sounds simple enough and in fact it's not rocket science, but varnish is some stubborn stuff. It can be a bit of a challenge to get it off without damaging the wood underneath. There are a couple solutions to this problem. One is the use of chemical strippers, the other is the use of a heat gun. I had been warned about using chemical strippers as they can really screw up your teak, if not applied properly, and are dangerous for both the applicator (humans) and the environment. I opted for the heat gun. Now, I know a thing or two about guns, but I had never heard of a heat gun. Turns out it's like a hairdryer on steroids. Fire it up, aim it at your intended victim (paint, varnish, etc.), and when the offending adherent starts to liquify, you scrape away at it with a paint scraper.
Easy peezy but one must exercise caution with guns, and the heat gun is no exception. While engaged in this drudgery on the deck of my soon to be beautiful boat, a curious seal roaming the marina swam over to see what I was up to. Heat gun blazing, I momentarily shifted my attention to this seagoing K-9 and blackened a three inch swath of my grabrail. Nothing a bit of sanding won't cure, but lesson learned.
I'm an esoteric sort of dude - thinker, planner, concept kind of guy. I like to ponder philosophy, the grand meaning of things, why we're here, why now, and so on. And while I can spend hours contemplating whether or not a dog can smile, I am woefully inept at even the most basic auto maintenance, or home improvement task. I am the kind of person who, while trying to save 35 bucks on an oil change, will attempt it myself and do 400 dollars of damage screwing up some unrelated part. Seriously, I'm horrible at this stuff.
Well, part of my mid-life makeover is to embrace things I have previously avoided, been uncomfortable with, or otherwise sucked at. A boat is like an autonomous, self-sufficient, city. It has a plumbing system, an electrical system, engine, rigging, sails, radios, and electronics. All this stuff will, at one time or another, break and need to be repaired. Murphy's Law being what it is, the repairs will likely occur in the middle of the ocean or in some isolated third world anchorage with little prospect of dialing up the local repair guy to come fix it. I have got to learn how this stuff works and how to fix it. I know it can't be all that tough, but I find the thought of attempting a self-repair of a diesel engine utterly intimidating. I can write a master's thesis on the biological etiology of conduct disorder, but I nearly piss myself every time I reach into my tool kit. It's ridiculous.
I have accepted the fact that this is an issue and am doing something about it. The upside to buying a "fixer upper" boat is there is tons of work to be done. Well heeled yachties will often times hire this work out, but I see it as an opportunity to get some hands on experience fixing stuff. Besides, I'm nothing close to being well heeled - well flip-flopped, perhaps - not well heeled. The worse thing that can happen is I totally screw something up and have to get someone to help me. Big deal. To hedge my bets I've enrolled in a couple classes, marine electrical systems and marine diesels, at my local community college which should at least give me a frame of reference.
The first project I'm going to attempt shouldn't be all that complex (I didn't say easy). I want to start with something fairly simple to build up some confidence, but at the same time provide a vast visual improvement to the boat. When things are unkempt, out of place, or visually unappealing, my OCD kicks in and it drives me nuts. This is how I feel when I look at the boat now in its current condition. Beautiful as she is, she has been neglected for many years and it shows. The once gorgeous teak is molded, stained, and pealing. The gel coat is oxidized and faded. Pretentious as it may be, people are largely judged by how they maintain their possessions. If the exterior of your home looks like ass, it's a safe bet the interior, as well as the owner's personal life and relationships, look like ass as well. I don't want to be that guy. With this in mind, I have elected to make restoration of the teak my first project.
In December I finally got access to my retirement account and started boat shopping in earnest. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted and how much I was willing to spend. Figuring out what type of boat actually proved easier than determining the budget. A truly bluewater capable cruising yacht has, arguably among the cruising community, some very specific characteristics. I say arguably because sailors are an opinionated bunch and there is not a universally accepted consensus on just what constitutes offshore capable. Sailboats are designed and manufactured with specific uses in mind. There are boats for day sailing, coastal cruising, as well as purpose built voyaging yachts designed to negotiate virtually any ocean anywhere in the world. Having said that, people have crossed oceans in day sailers, coastal cruisers, kayaks, and every sort of buoyant detritus imaginable. Hence, the disagreement among some regarding what "capable" means. By and large experienced sailors of sound mind would typically agree a purpose built boat, seaworthy, and of rock solid construction is in order for crossing oceans.
This is the sort of boat I was in the market for. I initially gave myself a boat budget of 100k and felt a vessel of about 40 feet in length would fit the bill nicely. I soon learned that a well found bluewater capable forty footer in my price range was about as easy to find as D.B. Cooper. Sure, they were out there, but for what my 100k would buy I would need to dump another 100k to get the scow seaworthy and livable. Furthermore, I didn't want to shoot my entire wad on a boat and have nothing left for cruising and contingencies. I also wanted to set aside some money for my exit plan. While the romantic life of a swashbuckling international man of leisure roaming from place to place on the high seas may sound like something one can do indefinitely, the realities of life suggest differently. Remember when you got your first REAL job? How you said, oh man, I love this and am going to do it forever. Well, how'd that work out for ya?
Additionally, boats are expensive little buggers. Nobody NEEDS a boat. They are discretionary items intended for folks who have some extra money laying around. Like a Prada bag, or a Rolex, the exclusivity of a yacht is typically reflected in its price. Furthermore, the damn thing spends all its time sitting in a solvent continually bombarded by the elements. Things are either broken or in the process of braking and, consequently, require continuous, unfettered, unmitigated, maintenance. While researching various boat and boat related costs, I learned that with every ten foot increase in boat length, the maintenance costs double. So a 40 foot boat would cost twice that of a 30 footer. This rule also applies to the ancillary gear outfitted on the boat. A big boat needs a bigger anchor than a small boat: more money. A big boat needs bigger sails, lines, rigging... Get the picture.
With the above in mind, I took a hard look at my budget and decided I needed to scale it back and be less ambitious. I adjusted my expectations and started looking at smaller boats. My yacht broker, the truly amazing and honest (yes, honest yacht broker. I know, I thought this to be an oxymoron as well) Tari Soderling of Newport Coast Yachts had to have been getting tired of carting me all over Southern California to look at meagerly priced vessels. I have little doubt that any commission received from my purchase went directly to her gas bill. Nonetheless, our galavanting from marina to marina paid off one sunny morning in Dana Point Harbor when I came across a 1983 Pacific Seacraft Orion 27. I know what you're thinking: He's 6'2", 200lbs, isn't 27 feet a bit tight. Well, yes it is, but the Orion is a rock solid purpose built bluewater voyaging sailboat with all the essentials in a small, yet ergonomic, package. Oh, and did I mention the price was right? These little boats have quite the history of global travel with at least one recorded circumnavigation.
The previous owner of my particular vessel purchased the boat around 2005 and immediately dumped copious amounts of money into it getting her in shape for a sail down to Central America. The trip was a box on this fellow's bucket list. He got the boat completely refitted, loaded up the old lady, and the two of them went down to Costa Rica and back. Box checked.
Upon his return home in 2007, the poor sod became ill with Parkinson's. Understandably, the boat was no longer a priority and was consequently neglected. Ultimately these health issues resulted in placing the boat up for sale. Upon the acceptance of my offer and the requisite signing of documents, I can only imagine the sadness of having to let this boat go. To you sir, I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity, as well as a great deal, and I pledge to do my level best to love and care for your boat. I know she will serve me well, just as she did you. Thank you.
Having sat in the marina for the better part of five years, the boat looked to be in pretty rough shape cosmetically. I was more concerned about the boat's systems as the cosmetic stuff is a relatively easy (though time consuming and not cheap) to fix. Prior to purchase I hired independent and separate surveys for the vessel, engine, and rigging. All three surveys came back with glowing marks. In fact, one surveyor said if I didn't buy the boat, he would.
I put my money on the table and about a week later I was a boat owner - both exciting and terrifying at the same time. Exciting in that I'm a boat owner, a yachtsman by damn. Terrifying in that boats are like children. They require attention and the more attention you bestow on them the better they turn out. Also like children they cost money - lots and lots of money.
As I was going through the purchasing process I made clear to my broker I wanted to change the boat's name. I know, I know, sailors believe it bad luck to change a vessel's name. Although, I've been told it's okay if you do it at purchase before you actually own the boat. Nonetheless, I fully intend to do the whole boat name changing ceremony thing to appease King Neptune... just in case. Can't be too careful.
So why Sweet Melissa, you ask? Well, if you haven't guessed, she is named after the Allman Brother's song "Melissa," written by Gregg and Duane Allman in 1967 and released 1972. For some reason this song has always resonated with me. It's a tapestry of sound, story, and feeling that infuses a sense freedom, motion, and comfort, but also sadness, loneliness, and melancholy. The song speaks to me, is me, and is the perfect name for my boat. I encourage you to listen to the song. See where it takes you: Click here
It's a little difficult for me to fully embrace the whole concept of blogging. During my professional career, personal information was fiercely protected by measures that many would consider on par with clinical paranoia. However, in an occupation where bad guys seek out and use any little nugget of information to compromise or kill you (or worse yet, your family), it is easy to understand this level of vigilance. Being candid and sharing thoughts, opinions, events, emotions, milestones, etc. in an open format, accessible to anyone, is completely alien to me. Nonetheless, I feel it's important to get past this trepidation and embrace the idea for a couple reasons.
First, I think it will be good for me. Above I stated I no longer wanted to be the person I used to be, and in fact am not that person anymore. I no longer do that job and therefore need not be overly concerned about what I disclose in a public forum (to a degree of course).
Second, having a place in the cyber world where family and friends can periodically check in and see what I'm up to seems both kind and convenient.
Finally, through open discussion on a blog site specifically catering to the sailing community, I can exchange information with folks who have done, or are doing, what I intend to do. It seems a mutually beneficial environment where I can share my experiences as well as learn from the experiences of others. Who knows, maybe I'll even make some new friends along the way.
My sister keeps bugging me to establish a Facebook page and I most likely will, but the thought of it makes me feel like such a hypocrite. I have always been outspoken in my loathing for our social media obsessed, self-absorbed, pop culture. People seem to judge their self-worth based on how many friends they have on Facebook, or how many followers on Twitter. LOL, OMG, BRB, TTYL, LMFAO have found a permanent home in the vernacular - WTF? With so many texting cell phone junkies populating the freeways, I felt safer dodging IEDs in Iraq than I do driving down the 405. I don't like Mark Zuckerberg. I think he's a classless hoodie clad weasel who epitomizes all that's wrong with the Silicon Valley tech weenies. I don't believe social media to be all that social. It seems people are spending so much time wanking about with Facebook, Twitter, etc, etc, etc, that we have lost our ability to interact and truly communicate with each other in a meaningful way. It strikes me as rather ironic how social media results in social isolation. It will be interesting to see how all this effects the long-term mental health of our society. Perhaps we're seeing it already.
Still, there is an upside to Facebook and the like. The political and cultural revolutions occurring around the globe, particularly in the Middle East, can largely be attributed to social media. Extended families are provided a mechanism with which they can stay in touch, in real time, and for free. Old "Friends," and I use that term loosely, can find (stalk) you and reconnect. If, over the years, they have devolved into douche bags you can always un-friend them. I want to know how to do that in real life. Anyway, if it makes it easier for my sister, niece, and nephew to stay connected with me, I guess I'll eat crow and take the plunge. Don't worry. I do not intend to start wearing hoodies as business attire, steal intellectual property, or sell your personal information and photographs for fun and profit.
A 26 year career in the U.S Military was brought to an abrupt end following my third tour in the Middle East. I know, I should have stopped at two, but it's not like I had much say in the matter. Unfortunately, the nature of my injuries necessitated an early retirement with the promise of a lifetime of medical problems. Following three years of rehab, treatment, and bureaucratic tomfoolery as only the military can muster, I was medically retired and set loose upon the world. The upside to this, thus far, depressing story is I didn't have to stress over finding a job. I had sufficient years of service to qualify for a meager, but satisfactory, pension (I'm not cruising down PCH in a Bentley, but I'm not eating cat food either). Moreover, I have this incredible opportunity to reinvent myself and be whoever and whatever I want. With a lifetime characterized by conflict, confrontation, and violence, I am more than ready to close this chapter of my life and start anew.
So, who do I want to be? What do I want to do? Behind me lies a trail of destruction - the resulting sum of man's mistrust of one another. As Master Yoda so famously once said, "Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering." Moving forward I want to be the counterpoint to who I was before. I endeavor to create, learn, give back, embrace and appreciate my surroundings and all that inhabits them. I aim to avoid the Dark Side.
I'm a Pisces and Pisces love the water. I also have an insatiable wanderlust, an incessant need to be on the move, seeing and experiencing new places. When you combine these factors with a desire for adventure, self-reliance, quiet introspection, and a "do I have what it takes" curiosity, there is only one conclusion: sailing. My family must thinks I'm nuts for wanting to get in a little boat and cross oceans, and perhaps I am (I'm definitely bonkers on other levels - thank you PTSD). Nonetheless, this is something I must do. I refuse to wind up an old man in a nursing home lamenting to my diaper clad compadres about the things in life I COULD have done. Sorry, but I ain't going out like that. Better to die on your feet than live on your knees. Besides, the worst possible thing that could happen is death. But guess what? Death is coming no matter what you chose to do.
By now you have probably gleaned that a life of quiet desperation just isn't my gig. I'm going cruising! I don't know how far and I don't know how long - an open ended sort of affair - maybe 10 months, maybe 10 years. It is important to know this isn't a harebrained idea that just popped into my head. I first learned to sail as a Boy Scout at 14 and have been monkeying around with boats ever since. Despite my experience and numerous US Sailing certifications, classes, and seminars, I have much to learn before tossing off the dock lines and heading to points unknown. Virtually every time I'm out on the water Neptune reminds me that I really don't know dick. These lessons are particularly poignant when attempting to do things alone without crew. Yeah, it can be interesting. As I prepare for this grand adventure I will keep you posted on my preparations and am hopeful some of the more experienced folks reading this blog will chime in and advise me on that which I overlooked or may not have considered.