Monday, March 29, 2010

Easy Owner Modification

Those of us with daysailers and/or weekenders browse the sailing magazines and boat shows with no small amount of envy. To have a real chart table, or a "nav station," well, that's just a pleasant dream. But in the meantime, we do the best that we can with what we have.

Like those on most small sailboats, our Seaward 26RK's table is small and it stows away neatly, but I couldn't figure out where to put my laptop everytime we need the table for something else. So, with a few scraps of 1" x 2" cedar, some 1/4" plywood, a couple of hinges, some 1/2" insulating foam, a piece of fishing line and a little stain, I built a simple "table-topper." Non-skid shelf covering, double-face taped to the table, keeps the computer from sliding around, and when the table is stowed, the lid is held firmly closed by the cabin headliner.

Overall construction is waterproof wood glue, and I drilled holes and glued in dowelling instead of using screws to secure the plywood to the cedar framing. We used a jigsaw to round off the square corners after the glued-in support wedges dried in place. We seldom create a custom wood shop look in our little garage bay, but those of us with physical disabilities, steeped in art of adaptation, generally lean toward function over form. This little modification functions quite well.

Monday, March 15, 2010

No Bananas Aboard

I recently finished reading Morgan’s Run, another great historic novel with sailboats aplenty. The myths and the superstitions surrounding seafarers are myriad, and it’s often hard to sort out those with true historical basis, from those spawned of alcohol consumption alone. Sometimes it just doesn’t matter . . . like this morning when my neighbor, Sandy, told me matter-of-factly that my friend, Gene, was a banana.

My prop-fouling disaster happened 50 yards off Sandy’s dock the other day, and I was telling her the story while she soaked my feet in salty water and ran an electrical current through the brine. (Ellie pays Sandy to do this to me, but I haven’t gotten up the courage to ask why. I just smile, try not to touch anything made of metal, and say “Thank you.”)

“Real sailors never take bananas on board ship,” she said earnestly, “and it sounds to me like Gene’s a banana.” I didn’t know which question to ask first, but fortunately I didn’t have to. Sandy went on: “Something about bugs or disease, I think, but maybe just really bad luck. Anyway, some people are definitely bananas, and you just can’t let them get on your boat. Gene’s definitely a banana.”

Well, that was that. You learn something new every day . . . and any day I leave Sandy’s without being electrocuted is a good day. I haven’t yet gotten around to telling Gene to stay in Miami if he wants to go boating again, but stranger things have happened. He did sink his buddy’s motorboat in Biscayne Bay a short while back, with eight hands on deck. He swore they were swamped by a passing cruise ship, but who’s to say that there weren’t bananas involved? (Or, at the very least, banana daiquiris?) According to Gene, there was a reality TV show film crew on the bay that day; apparently they filmed the sinking and interviewed all the wet folks. Gene says it’s going to be the season opener.

At my age, hindsight is 50/50, but I think, way back when we first met, Gene told me he was in a 911 type reality show once before, when he was a teenager, something about a swimming buddy breaking his neck while they were at the lake together. He said you can still find it on YouTube. I’m not saying Sandy’s right or anything, but Gene was at the wheel when my prop fouled the other day. In fact, he was blocking my view of the excess portside jib line all morning. No, I’m being silly. It was just an accident, that’s all. Accidents happen. (But why have I been hearing Jimmy Durante singing “Yes, we’ll have no bananas” in my head all day?)

Gotcha! Sounds

The world is full of gotcha! sounds. Every new (to you) house, car, motorcycle, power tool, and, yes, sailboat makes them. These intrusive noises are seldom harbingers of good news, and are almost always sorted out by accident. That is, nobody tells you in advance: “Mr. Foster, if you ever hear a loud CLANG, followed immediately by a metallic scraping noise and a shower of sparks, it probably means someone should have replaced those driveshaft bearings. Enjoy your hardly used Chevrolet!” Nope, it never happens like that; rather, you’re more likely to be driving along a winding, narrow, cliff-side road overlooking the Ohio River just outside Pittsburgh.

But I digress. My new sailboat’s first Gotcha! sound was actually nothing bad. Just a loud “thunk” when the retractable keel winch cable slips off an adjacent cable wrap just before I reach the “all up” position. Scary, but the boat’s designer assures me it’s nothing bad. Phew! Today’s Gotcha! sound, was also a “thunk,” but it was way louder, and followed by a pulse-stopping, metal-grinding, part-snarling moan. This terrible thunk/moan shut my 14HP diesel down, and even with my boundless lack of experience and/or expertise, I knew this sound couldn’t be as benign as its predecessor. We were dead in the water, a couple blocks from our neighbor’s dock, and drifting the wrong way. Thankfully, the massive ketch usually tied to the approaching pylons was on its way to the Panama Canal, so I assumed the owner wouldn’t mind if we tied off to ponder Life, the Universe, and Everything while we waited for a tow.

My first instinct upon hearing today’s Gotcha! sound had been to glance at the depth finder. I’ve now logged enough hours practicing motoring maneuvers in Lake Louise to not only have created layers upon layers of chart plotter etcha-sketch lines any kindergartener would be proud of, but also to know that I’d never seen a depth reading under ten and a half feet. But I had to look. Eleven feet deep . . . we didn’t hit bottom.

I couldn’t bear the thought that my brand new transmission had conked out, but since there wasn’t a lobster pot anywhere near Lake Louise, I was hard pressed to sort out the puzzle . . . until my roving eye passed around the deck for the hundredth time. Why did the self-tailing tang on my port jib winch look bent? And worse, why was the red line headed over the port rail instead of being tied neatly to the stern rails like its starboard twin? GOTCHA!

OK, bad stuff happens, and sailboat lines, like sound reinforcement cables, are the blessing and the bane of Life, the Universe, and Everything. They are like wayward children, prone to sneak off the reservation at the slightest provocation, and until I get someone to cut the last bit of line off my prop, I’ll not know the extent of the damage. Who said "bad luck is better than no luck at all?" I'd like a word with them……

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Fits and Starts

This business of getting a 59-year-old quadriplegic back into sailing is far more complicated and time consuming an endeavor than any sane gimp might want to embark upon, but that’s what adaptation is all about: living and enjoying life . . . even if getting at the heart of it is usually more difficult. My new Seaward 26RK was delivered on the 18th of January, in the midst of the coldest, longest, stretch of real winter anybody in the Florida Keys can remember. Day after day, the highs have been in the 50’s/60’s, and the lows have been in the 40’s on far too many nights. Here in the tropics, where the average daily temp is 82, that’s a serious challenge to any local, let alone an arthritic old geezer like me, but that’s just one of many reasons I’ve had nothing to blog about ‘till now.

Fortunately, we got a lot accomplished in the past month or so, even if practicing our seapersonship wasn’t included in the list. The big deal was electrical independence. Since my dream has been to explore the Keys at my leisure, and since I suspected that I’d need to stop and rest more often than most, I wanted to be able to crank up the microwave and the laptop whenever I wished . . . without having to crank up the 14hp Yanmar diesel inboard to keep the batteries up. I planned on having a solar panel from the beginning, but it didn’t take much to talk me into adding a wind generator too. While they were at it, I had them double my battery banks, add a more detailed battery monitor and a DC “cigarette plug” outlet, and move a few electrical items to more accessible locations. “Up ‘till now,” said Mike the electrician from S.A.L.T. in Marathon, “this has been Hake’s boat. My job is to help you make it your boat.” And when he finished, Mike presented us with a complete electrical schematic of our boat!

The other issue keeping us on the shore has been dock height. Here on the ocean side, tides range two to three feet, and our neighbor’s seawall (they’ve been graciously letting us dock there!) is meant more for luxury yachts than for little daysailers like ours, so in order for my boom hoist to lift me out of my wheelchair, the tide needs to be up, along with the boat’s topping lift. We used a block and a couple of cable clamps to move Nick Hake’s adjustable topping lift device another 18 inches up the topping line (Nick offered us a shorter topping line, but that meant bringing the mast down or sending Ellie up in my bosun’s chair, so we respectfully declined!), so now we can crank the boom high enough to function on this (or almost any?) dock, but the more severe boom angle makes the swing onboard and off a bit more precarious. It’s nothing Ellie and I can’t handle, but I don’t think I could manage it alone. So we’ve located a marina on the gulfside, and secured a slip where the dock is almost two feet lower, and the tide range is halved . . . easier for everyone. Our next outing will be the 22-mile trip up through Channel #5, under the Long Key bridge, and back down on the other side.

Yesterday, even the tide and the cold winds couldn’t keep us off the Eleanor P, and so we loaded up and went to work on the most basic skill set necessary to turn us into sailors . . . motoring. It sounds strange, but learning how to handle your boat at or near the dock is where most newbies fail to do their homework. The result is a lot of damage to boats, docks, and people. We’ve watched some of the movie and YouTube boat crashing scenes and don’t want to add our clip to that particular wall of shame, so we spent two hours practicing on Lake Louise in forward, and in reverse, and doing dock approaches. I am so glad I spent a small fortune on bow thrusters, but I’m still going to need way more practice before I can bring the Eleanor P in alone. Thankfully, yesterday’s outing taught me that I will be able to do it eventually.

Before quitting for the day, and even though the cold wind was doing a number on my neck and shoulders, I just had to go out to sea. I’ve never skippered a boat in the ocean before. I have countless hours in the Intracoastal Waterway, thanks to my time in the crabbing business up in central Florida, but aside from being a passenger on cruise ships and party fishing boats, I’ve never taken the helm and gone to sea. As the Eleanor P slipped out of the causeway, though Hawk’s Channel, and out into open water, it was nearly impossible not to raise the sail, and had I not been cold to the bone, I probably would have done it. Next time, for sure!