Once A Bum Always A Bum

In 1960 an older John Steinbeck felt disenchanted with and disconnected from the country he loved so much. He’d attained major success at this point and although the vagabond spirit still welled within him he, along with the decade, was approaching the 60’s.  He was living in Sag Harbor, NY and although it was home, it was a long way away from Monterey, California where he grew up.  So.. being John, he grew a beard, let his hair grow and decided it was time to travel this land and rediscover America.  He had GMC build him a “state of the art” pick up truck with a slide in camper for the back and in Rocinante (the name Don Quixote gave his horse), he and his standard poodle Charley (the mind reading dog) headed out in search of… America.

travels with charleyIf you’ve never read “Travels with Charley” you owe it to yourself to do so.  It’s only about 200 pages and within the first 5 pages, he tells the story of Hurricane Donna hitting their bay and the struggle he had saving his precious 22 foot sailboat “Fayre Eleyne,” named after his wife Elaine.  You’ll not read anything like it this I promise. Now… let me post my disclaimer:  If you read Cosmo, GQ or romance novels featuring men with names like Dirk and Leo, you should stop reading now.  If you think “Sex in the City” is on par with “War and Peace” and care more about Gucci than you do about Guinness, you should stop reading now.  In fact, if either of those two types are you… you in the wrong, f’ing place altogether!

Actually, I’ve probably read this book about 5 times.  I have a copy in my truck, one in my every day computer bag and one in my back pack that I fly with. I give them away regularly and if I’m ever stuck in traffic, waiting for someone or in the airport, I pull it out, open to any page and immerse myself for as long as I have.  It’s so poignant and relevant, it could have been written yesterday.

     “Having too many THINGS,” he says, “[Americans] spend their hours and money on the couch searching for a soul. A strange species we are. We can stand anything God and Nature throw at us save only plenty. If I wanted to destroy a nation, I would give it too much and I would have it on it’s knees, miserable, greedy and sick.”

Steinbeck argued that the trashing of America was suicidal; he urged restraint and conservation of natural resources.  He considered the wastefulness he saw everywhere around him and lack of caring for the environment as part of a greater malaise that seemed to have overwhelmed America.

Now… you must be asking yourself at this point, “what in the hell is he talking about?”  Why all this crap about Steinbeck in a blog about a boat.  Well, if you don’t recognize and identify with the passage I’ve posted above… stop reading now.  You’ll never identify with anything I write.  For today, I feel as disenchanted and disconnected as he probably did.  I bump into people on a daily basis staring into the palm of their hands; their “devices” that “make our lives easier.” Email, cell phones, texting, twitter… whatever… all these gadgets designed to “help us communicate” are stripping away the essence and creating huge interstates of space between us.

The “Moose” is my Rocinante and sailing is the reason for all the crap about Steinbeck.  There is no gadget developed yet, that can sail a boat in choppy seas and high wind.  Sure you got auto pilots and wind vanes… don’t argue semantics… because if there isn’t a human soul on board willing to brave the motion, the sea spray and chill, there is no auto pilot.  And every good sailor knows… auto pilots fail and windvane’s break. Then what.  A hand on tiller is all that prevents the broach.

So, do yourself a favor and grab a worn out copy of “Travels with Charley” and put down your freaking “smart” phone.  Turn off the Bachelor, Jersey shore, Biggest loser (which could quite possibly be you) and READ.  Breathe it all in. You’ll do yourself and quite possibly some of us a favor.  If you get offended by my last statement… you should have stopped reading a long time ago.

     “When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age.  In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked… once a bum always a bum. I set this matter down not to instruct others but to inform myself.”

Fair winds my friends.

Come Hell or High Water… And Most Likely, Both!

As spring 2010 arrived we were way behind.  The economy was now full on in the shitter. Stock market down, housing market collapsing and my job in serious jeopardy.  The thought of spending more money on an old boat grew even more daunting.  I mean lets face it… one could pick up a Tartan 27 online in decent shape for around 5k.  I’m well over that with this project and the end is not in sight.  But alas, we soldiered on. The prospect of buying a newer, bigger and more expensive boat was less attractive than finishing what I’d started.

head thru hullsHead thru hulls

So… with all of the thru hulls done, it was time to continue with the decks.  Moose had been under cover since December and now it was time to get these things fared and painted before the dog days of summer hit.  We pressed on day after day and spent every weekend out there in pursuit of a smooth deck with no ripples or bad seems. After many, many hours of sanding and mixing epoxy, we achieved that.  As most of you know who’ve done this job… it is a bitch.  When you think you’re done… you’re not.

The photo to the right shows Moose just prior to deck paint. She looks rough but structurally she’s in fantastic shape. The hatches, both front and rear were being rebuilt and varnished along with the coamings and grab rails.  I tried to use the original grab rails but many years of sanding reduced them significantly and when I screwed them back in, they split out.  As for the interior, we pulled out all the shelves, cabinet doors, head, holding tank and plumbing. We replaced all the hinges and knobs and I cut backing plates out of half inch Mahogany for all the stantion bases and deck hardware as well as the winch bases.  The Atomic 4 had been replaced by the previous owner with a Yanmar 2GM20F. She’s got about 800 hours on her and she purrs like a kitten.

port chain plate newHere you can see the chain plate template for the head to port just prior to getting her all glassed in with biaxial cloth.  I had the original chain plates checked out for stress cracks or elongation and they seemed to be fine.  So, after a good polish I bolted them on the outside of the knee, as they should have done in the first place!  Now, if we get water in, we’ll see it.  After all was said and done, this past March 2011 made it just about 2 1/2 years that we had into her and I couldn’t believe how much time and effort went into a boat that was less than 30 feet.  At she stands here, she’s got new deck core, new chain plate knees, thru hulls, centerboard pendant, new bottom, new hoses, electrical and electrical panels, fresh paint and a bankrupt owner!  Emotionally and financially…

port chain plateport chain plate

To the right is the glassed in chain plate as she looked before paint.  Came out pretty nice if you ask me. 6 layers of Biaxial cloth which has a layer of mat covered by 2 layers of cloth stitched together at 45 degree angles to each other.  So in actuality there are 18 layers of glass here.  God help me if I ever need to remove this.  As this summer ends, we’ve finished painting the whole interior of Moose with an oil based Alkyd house paint.  It was smelly but way cheaper than the interlux stuff and it came highly recommended by those in the know. Don Casey as well as many marine people I spoke to said it will hold up longer if done right and it’s tough as nails.  That said, Moose has a fresh white interior, new shelves and cabinetry.  We rebuilt the companionway ladder as well.

new electrical panelnew electrical panel

We recently spent the night out on the ball with a bottle of wine and a movie.  It’s been almost 3 years worth of blood, sweat and tears.  I usually stay as far away as I can from cliche’s but in this case it rings true.  I have scars on my knuckles, knees and skull to prove it.  I’ve poured buckets of sweat into that bilge and the tears… well, there were many nights that I thought to myself… “what the hell am I doing?  All this money and effort.  20 thousand dollars on a 5 thousand dollar boat.”  Oh, there were tears. But now, although we still have work to do, there is a vision making itself visible through the fog of “someday.” I still have to suss out some electrical issues but inspiration is rising.  It’s time. Moose must make way and by God… come hell or high water and most likely both, we’ll sail.

I’m Just Gonna Fix a Few Things… and some other stuff…

And so it goes and so it goes… a busy month has kept me from my boat and my thoughts about my boat.  When last visited, I was re guiling you of the adventures of the summer sailing.  The summer spent with friends that ended with  me pulling the ice box out of my little boat.  Well, if “I’d have only stopped there…” I believe was the quote. As you  can well imagine, I didn’t.  What followed was a two and a half year complete refit.  Stem to stern.  Here’s the reader’s digest version…

See, I have this mast that the previous owner rewired.  He did a good job putting in a tri-color mast light, anchor light, steaming light and vhf antenna.  But… he never ran a conduit in the mast to keep all those wires from dangling and swinging whenever you moved on the boat.  38 feet of wire, 4 of them to be exact, made a noise that was driving me mad.  The mast is keel stepped which for the non-sail boaters, means the mast doesn’t just stop on deck, it goes clear through a large opening in the deck down to the keel.  A very beefy and sea-worthy design. But, that puts the mast right in the v-birth, where we sleep. When the wind blows, the boat rocks, therefore making that 38 feet of unsecured wire smack the mast making it impossible for me to sleep. Picture someone standing on deck tapping the metal mast with a small screw driver… that’s kinda what it sounded like.  Melody, “Honey, just pretend it’s African music.”  Me, I’m just going to pull the mast and run some conduit up there for those wires.  Done.  Easy-peasy…  I say that a lot.  But… (I say that a lot too) That’s not how it happened.

It ended up like this;  Well, since I’ve got the mast out, I might as well fix these spreaders… Oh and I should just drill a hole or two and check those chain plate knees… Hmmm… not good.  I’ll just do the chain plates and then she’ll be good as new.  Well, I can’t really fix those chain plates and then put it all back together with those two soft spots in the deck.  So, we’ll do the conduit, spreaders, chain plates and the two soft spots… That’s it.  Done.  Easy-peasy.  I dropped the mast in March of ’09.  Got the chain plates cut out and the interior ground down by the end of July.  We’re were on schedule.

100 degrees10:30 am

Now let me expand here for a moment and quite possibly go off track for a spell.  Trying to describe the experience of grinding fiberglass in June and July in Nashville is beyond words.  Picture this if you will;  It’s 95 degrees outside, 110 degrees in the hull.  I have on a white suite, gloves, goggles and a respirator.  The grinder is whizzing.  The motor sounds like a cross between a dentist drill and chain saw. It’s throwing hot, sharp fiberglass dust into my face at a hundred miles an hour. No matter how I tilt my head or contort my body, the molten, stinging dust finds my face.  The sweat carries those tiny fibers under the bands holding my respirator and they grind slowly into my face and forehead.  Oh my God, it’s freaking awesome.  My neck is coated with white, infiltrating dust. Somehow it’s found it’s way under the gloves and cuffs of my white “sort of paper” suit and start to saw at my wrists.  And don’t even get me started on the fine few handfuls of that shit that found its way into the waist band of my boxers… pure joy.

tartan cut deckSummer comes to a close and I’m no longer on schedule. Not even close.  Fall arrived and with it an opportunity to get on a trailer.  We pulled Moose and I planned on taking the months of September and October off just to finish the chain plates, mast and deck.  September and October are historically the driest months in Tennessee.  Not this year.  It rained all but 9 days.  In that 9 days, I cut the decks off and got them re cored and almost glassed in.  One day while I was away from the boat a major storm hit, blowing the tarps off the boat… Needless to say, water found it’s way into the seams around the deck skin that I had yet to glass in fully.  I had to re-cut the decks.  My heart sank.  And for the first time in a very long time… I tasted that nasty, bitter, back of the tongue sensation of defeat.  We were now pushing November.  If I wasn’t done before Thanksgiving… I wasn’t going to be done.  Weather in Nashville is ridiculous… One minute it’s 75 and sunny and the next, it’s 27 and snowing… This year was exceptionally worse.  I felt the pressure from the club who wanted my nasty, tarped boat out of the yard and the trailer owner who, even though I was paying him, acted like some what of an asshole.  So feeling burden of time, I abandoned the decks. I got to the thru hulls thinking I could change out the thru hulls and get her back in the water, cover her and then come spring, sand, fair and paint the decks.  Melody was less than thrilled with spending every waking moment out in the cold, damp weather watching… helping me grind and drill holes in the boat.  The winter days grew dark early.  My soul was close behind.

Part 7: So now… we sail?

To pick up where we left off, the boat (that’s what she’s called so far) arrived in Nashville and the family departed Nashville.  After a short stint in re-hab (joke) I’m back to normal and ready to get out to the lake and rig up the boat for a Nashville maiden voyage.  We invite some friends who lovingly helped bend on the sails and supplied the alcohol. Everyone knows you can’t hang out on or near a boat without booze.  And after a family visit and the hatch drama, alcohol was a welcome deck hand.

Jeremy, Tommy Me and Graham

So now we sail.  And we sailed a lot the summer of ’07.  My friend Jeremy Greer, photographer, furniture designer extraordinaire and fellow sailor took hundreds of photos. But you’ll have to imagine them because he never SHOWS THEM TO ANYONE!  But you can go to jeremygreer.com to see his other amazing stuff. You will be blown away… I promise.  Just don’t expect to see any of the photos that I’ve been begging and pleading for in order to make my blog cohesive. You know, those photos that would tell this story perfectly and in such detail that you’d all be captivated and encouraged to come back and read more. No.  You won’t see those photos.  You won’t see the photos of the winter sail we did in 25 degree weather where we took a knock down and when we righted, a small minnow was frozen to the metal of the rail… nope. You won’t see those. Don’t ask.  You won’t see the photos from the day we sailed with Matt’s dad (you don’t know Matt yet) in 30 to 40 mph winds and 2 -3 foot waves on an inland lake, making 7 knots at one point. Nor will you see the pleasant, calm and near perfect night we all motored out in twilight enjoying some Miller High Life… it’s the Champaign of beers you know.  Jeremy took pictures of all of that.  They are beautiful because I saw them once… once.  On the small 2.5 inch LCD screen of his Cannon 7D, D7, 5D… whatever the freaking thing is. But alas… My “friend” Jeremy’s grasp on those photos is so tight if you put a chunk of coal in his palm you’d have a diamond in two weeks. I do love my friend Jeremy… the one at www.jeremygreer.com. You know, one could possibly send an email via that site requesting… gasp! No, that would be inhumane to suggest such a thing.

Ok… enough Shakespearean bullshit.  My friend Jeremy is a turd. So you’re going to have to go back to when you were a child and use your “imagination”. WHAT! Dare I say… damn you mouth… Imagination… Oh… the horror.  Anyway… we sailed a lot. Me, Jeremy and Matt Behnke of “The Behnke’s” fame. Singer / songwriter and woodworker extraordinaire. Yes I hung out with a lot of extraordinaire’s  what of it.
(I’m losing focus… can you feel it?)

Then one day, it happened.  Matt and Jenny, his wife, singer / songwriter and 2nd half of the Behnke’s… decided to move. Leave Nashville.  Leave me. They sold their gorgeous 1961 Swiftsure and moved to Oregon.  Then… it happened.  Jeremy and his lovely wife Sarah decided to move! WTF!  Where is everyone going?!  They sold their Tanzer 25 and moved to New Hampshire.  Me and the girl were left behind.  There was only one thing left to do.

Remodel. If I didn’t have my sailing buddies, what fun was sailing?  I had done some ocean trips with another friend and now my little inland lake held no allure.  The luster had worn off.  The endless shifting winds and red-neck speed boats held no charm.  I mean one can only take so many drunk red-neck girls flashing you from a jet-ski before it becomes “old hat”.  It was time for something new.  Time to tear out the old leaky icebox. Oh boy.  If I had only stopped there.

*Note:  I love my friend Jeremy.  I just felt like busting his balls a little.  You should indeed see his website.

Part 6: Welcome to Nashville. Now y’all go home!

Judging by the lack of comments left on this page, I’m lead to believe that most of you think I made this stuff up. You know, for effect. I have an old friend who says, “never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.” And while I tend to agree with that to some degree I have to say when the truth is a good story… well what more could a man ask for.  I’ve spent 20 years as a songwriter trying to make stuff up… I found out later, writing about the truth suits me much better than making stuff up. I guess that’s why I’m not employed as a songwriter anymore. Hm, maybe people don’t want to hear the truth.

Ok, so Snookie, along with the cast of Dancing With The Stars, Glee and Charlie Sheen, yeah, Charlie Sheen, were all involved in a high speed chase and the cut off the guy delivering my boat! He swerved and there was a huge explosion… ah, never mind.  I don’t think I have any tiger blood in me… the story of the Flying Hatch stands as written.

Which leads to quite the “anti-climactic” follow up post huh.  Well, Michael and Michael did indeed hang out and along with the mystical hatch brought along some ghosts for the machine.  See, Nashville had been experiencing about 30 days of 95+ temps with no rain.  I think when they arrived, we’d had 11 straight days over 100 degrees.  Everything was brown.  I mean dead, dry, crumbling and brown, brown.  Deader than “Charles In Charge” re-runs.  And that’s dead.  The first night they were here, my AC went down.  Down like Heidi Fleiss. Ok… enough with the euphumisms… You get the drift… drifting like Minnesota… ah, sorry.

With my AC unit pumping out nothing but warm air, the house was hot. Sweltering is a decent word. Shit. This wasn’t good.  The older brother shows up, first time visit and now, we’re all lying on the floor in our underwear with box fans blowing all over the place. It was horrible.  I was mortified.  Then, a day or so later, my brother flushes the toilet… and it breaks.  Now, no AC and no place to… well, you know… this is not good. AC repair people are booked solid… of course… we’ve had a month of 100 degree temps. Everyone’s AC is down… shit. Another night of boxers and box fans.  Looks like we’re off to Home Depot!

Upon our return, Michael and I prepare for fixing the toilet, laughing our asses off at the sudden collapse at my house after living there trouble free for three plus years and Melody, that’s the girl, is in the kitchen doing the dishes.  She’s laughing at us laughing at the toilet and now everyone is laughing.  As she’s rinsing a plate in a sink full of water, the drain trap drops off.  I mean just falls straight off the bottom of the sink… A threaded pvc pipe that’s been there for years just decides it’s “time to go.”  Water is pouring from the sink out of the cabinets and onto my hardwood floors… Nobody is laughing anymore.  Actually, we are.  I’m tossing in some major four letter words, but… in between, I’m laughing.  Kind-a.

After a week of this total ridiculousness, I send them home.  I’m glad they came but I was glad they left!  To this day, I’ve not done a single thing to my AC unit.  I’ve had it checked, and re-checked, cleaned and re-inspected and nobody can tell me what went wrong.  It simply gave up the ghost for one long week and has run like a charm since.  Toilet? No problem.  Sink?  Replaced the trap, no problem.  Needless to say, I’ve got several box fans still sitting in the shed awaiting my family’s next visit.

Part 5: The Flying Hatch; Mystical Mumbo-Jumbo and Who Really Chose Whom

Long title I know but this is where it gets good.  The reason I started this whole thing in the first place.  This is in fact where the rubber meets the literary road. Where the distance between fact and fiction shrinks and worlds collide to blur the lines between what we ‘believe’ happened, the time and space in which we think it happened and what truly happened.  Probability and chance are put to the test and I’m left wondering did I pick this boat or did this boat pick me? In relativistic contexts, however, time cannot be separated from the three dimensions of space, because the observed rate at which time passes for an object depends on the object’s velocity relative to the observer and also on the strength of intense gravitational field which can slow the passage of time. I know… that’s a lot to live up to but when I think about the events surrounding this fateful day, I still get goose-bumps.  So grab a cold one or a hot cup of tea and get comfy this could be a bit involved.

In the 17 years I’d lived in Nashville (at the time of the event in ’07) my family and members thereof have visited about twice. So I had mixed emotions when my older brother Michael told me of his spontaneous decision to drive down to see me with his son Michael, my nephew.  Michael my oldest brother, second of 5 children, was going through a bit of a divorce and decided he and his son needed some quality time away from the bullshit and a road trip to Nashville was just what the doctor ordered.  For me, it was a bit ill-timed since I had been waiting for the arrival of my new old boat and I wanted to spend the entire weekend getting her settled in and ready for her new home. I was not planning on docking her and entertaining my brother and nephew who no doubt, were nowhere near as excited or obsessed about this old boat. But hey how often does this happen right? The Girl said, “Look, just chill out and enjoy your family. There’s plenty of time for the boat.” Rational thought. Reason.  Turns out, my boat was scheduled to arrive on Friday, August 24. My brother, Saturday, August 25.  What are the chances?

Richie, the truck driver in charge of transporting my baby safely over the high-ways and by-ways, calls me once underway to tell me all is good. “She’s riding nice and smooth. Load is level and balanced. We should roll in around 3 or 4 tomorrow afternoon,” He says.  I’m elated.  I have some ceremonial Champagne on ice, some Red Stripes and limes and no plans for the night but to sit on the dock and stare at her… the boat… not the girl.

Now… when your phone rings really early or really late, it’s either bad news or really good news. Usually never the latter.  I had been watching the weather, traffic reports, meteoric activity and the zodiac to make sure nothing bad could possibly befall my big plans but when Richie called me this particular morning I got a weird vibe. A very bad vibe. He said, “Man, I have some bad news.  Nothing like this has ever happened to me in 10 years of hauling boats.” My heart sank.  The wind went out of my gut like I had just taken a shot from Mike Tyson, before the face tattoo.  I’m sure I went pale as I sank into my office chair.  I stared across my desk to a bag I’d packed with all my “beach bum” attire for the afternoon event.  No black tie for me… uh-uh… Ragged out cammo shorts, worn t-shirt and flip flops. Smelly old flip flops. All of it about to become meaningless.

Ironically, the hatch is shown here                                the week before

Richie told me he stopped for the night, just prior to Blacksburg, Virginia.  It had been raining and got pretty bad so he pulled into a hotel, did a once over on the boat, made sure she was good and tight and retired early.  He got up, hit the road and made good progress to Bristol, TN where he stopped for gas.  He did another quick check and that’s when he noticed it… my hatch was gone.  The companionway that enables you to enter the cabin below is covered by a sliding hatch.  This hatch contains the little bronze identification plate that is like the boats birth certificate.  Not only is it a crucial part of it’s history, it covers the opening to the whole salon below and it’s impossible to get another one. They don’t make them anymore! This boat was manufactured in 1970.  I’d have to find a scrap one, or one from another brand of boat that would inevitably not fit right!  Worse yet, I’d have to build something and ah, shit… the whole day, the event, the symbolism surrounding the boat was ruined.  Dashed before she barely hit the state line.

I didn’t know what to say.  I was surprisingly calm.  Richie and I went back and forth with the “…are you sure’s?” and “Do you think…” but aside from his astonishment of how it could have possibly gotten out from underneath the mast and all the rigging that was lying on top of it, “I’m really sorry” is all he could come up with.  He said there’s no way of knowing where it came off… It could be anywhere from Blacksburg, VA to Bristol, TN.  So now, I had the image of my girl in my head.  I heard her calm voice tell me to “be bigger.” I knew in my heart that nothing could be done at this point and my main goal was to not make Richie feel worse.  He knew I was upset but he had no idea of the sensationalistic bullshit I attached to this day.  He had no idea that I attached my whole “new chapter” to this vessel and I wasn’t going to tell him.  I just wanted to make sure he was ok. There are lessons everywhere we just have to see em’.  Other than make some calls to the Virginia Highway Patrol and notify them of my loss, there was little I could do.  I called the Virginia Department of Transportation and told them.  Maybe one of their road crews picking up garbage and dead, bloated raccoons, would find it.  Telling them what to look for gave me a one in a million chance and maybe not even that.  I called the Tartan factory in Ohio where they still make new, fancy, composite million dollar yachts and spoke to a guy who said, “man… I’m sorry to hear that.  You could probably find someone to build one for you.  It’ll cost alot.” Hm, thanks.  I think I knew that.

Michael and Michael

Of course I started making phone calls, cancelling the afternoon celebration.  I didn’t want anyone to witness the arrival of my “handicapped” vessel.  For that meant everyone would see my “oh-so-close” attempt at something grand.  No way.  Don’t come. The party is cancelled. My friend Jeremy Greer refused to accept that proposal.  To this day, I thank him.  He said he was coming. That was that.  The next call was to my brother. I tried not to sound disappointed since he’s so… well you just have to know Michael.  The entire world could crash straight into his face (and has) and he’ll say something like, “Ah, it’s ok.  Lotta people don’t have a face for something to crash into.”  Let’s just say, he’s got a grip. A major grip on things and sometimes it pisses me off becuase I’d like to be upset and irrational but I can’t cause he’ll just start laughing at me.  He’ll show me in about 5 seconds just how full of shit I am… and that… I sometimes hate.  Anyway,  I call him… It’s now been about 45 minutes since I got the news of my “flying hatch” and I try my best to gloss over it but I’m upset.  I give him a brief account of what happened and what the hatch is, etc… but he’s not a boater and he tries to be sympathetic but he also has no idea of the sensationalistic bullshit I’ve attached… well you get the idea. Anyway, I tell him it looks like a large pizza box and it’s probably smashed by now… laying on the highway, rundown by hundreds of 18 wheelers and dashed to bits of fiberglass strands floating on the breeze.  We joke for a minute and I say, “So, if you see it, stop and get the little bronze plaque.  That’s really all I care about at this point.” Then I say, “So where are you guys?”  Michael says, “Oh, we just passed Blacksburg, Virginia.” I almost shit my pants.

Now, this is where all that crap about karma and time and space continuum comes into play.  What we perceive may not be that at all. I say to Michael, “That’s where Richie stopped for the night!”  It could be anywhere between where you are and Bristol.”  Michael says so very matter-of-factly “Oh, cool.  We’ll find it.  Don’t let this bum you out.  We’ll call you later.”  Do I really need to go into the probability and chance aspect of them finding the hatch? I mean really. Do I need to point out specifics such as, if the call was an hour earlier or later? Would he have forgotten to keep an eye out?  Did he pass it?  Is this hatch even in the realm of physical reality at this point?  Did it launch itself high into the air at 70 miles an hour and off into the miles of woodlands adjacent to the Virginia highways, to be found 10 years from now when they fruitlessly try to widen the road? Did it come off in a parking lot? Did it in fact, get smashed by truck after truck into a veritable pulp of stranded glass so as not even to be recognizable as anything pertinent… ever?  Do you get what I’m saying here? People… Seriously…

My phone rings about 40 minutes later.  I’m leaving West Marine in Old Hickory when I answer it. It’s Michael.  Acutally… when I answer, my nephew Michael says, “Uncle Chris! Guess what?”  I’m not sure what’s coming but I hope he’s not being a ruthless bastard and playing a joke when I hear, “We found it! We found your hatch.”  I’m searching my brain for the right words since he’s only a 13 year old kid and “fuck you!” is a little harsh… So I come up with a “your kidding? Cmon’ Michael… that’s not cool.”  And I can hear my brother Michael laughing… that laugh… the one that pisses me off so much when he makes me realize I’m being an idiot.  Only this time… it’s nothing but joy.  They actually found my hatch… “The Flying Hatch” as we called it.  Pad lock still in place. Bronze plaque held in place by two small brads, folded in half with a perfect crease from where it struck the guard rail and bounced back onto the shoulder of the highway.  I kid you not.

The Flying Hatch has been rebuilt, varnished, patched and painted so you’d never know what happened.  You’d never know of course, if not for the perfect crease that went unrepaired down the front of the little bronze plate and engraving that reads “Hull #466”.

Part 4: “You’re gonna need to change your flight”

I hated to leave the story in mid-swing but it was growing a bit long-winded and that’s no fun for a blog.  I’ll have to break most of these stories into segments.  Also, I’m old and I can’t remember… Where were we?

Me and my Bro… It’s all his fault

Oh yeah,  Jimmy and Mishi were ordering coffee at the Coffee Shop with the big plastic guy in front while I discovered yet another boat to go look at.  When Jim came out, I mentioned it briefly and dejectedly as I felt it was just a continuing “Wild Goose” chase.  (Which is a funny choice of words since the original name of the boat was Goose).  To my amazement, Jimmy said, “Let’s go look at it!”  I said, “Nah, it’s probably another shot in the dark.”  But… when Mishi chimed in, with her positive “what else are we going to do it’s a beautiful day for a drive?” we decided yet again, “What the hell!”  It’s early… let’s take a ride.

And we did.  To Toms River.  On the way up, we got a little turned around and while we felt we were in the right neighborhood, we weren’t sure.  So, Jimmy being Jimmy, decided to ask one of New Jersey’s finest… Um… while he had someone pulled over!  As Jimmy got out of our car… to many mutter mumbles of… “Jim… don’t!” The cop graciously and in his best Tony Soprano cranked out a, “…You’re kidding me right?!  Don’t approach me sir!” I think, no… I know… there was a major straight arm, talk to the hand with a head shake there too. Of course my loving brother didn’t understand why he couldn’t just answer a simple question!  And That’s why I love my brother!

                 Love at first sight

We find the marina.  We find the boat.  And this is how she looked when we walked down onto the dock.  This is that actual morning.  My brother had the good sense to snap a pic.  And that’s why I love my brother.  With coffee and his sweet little dog Cheech in tow, he got out to the dock first and as I got out of the car to join him I heard him yell, “Yo Mo!  You’re gonna need to change your flight!” He was right.

When I got down onto the dock, I simply fell in love with this old boat.  But this boat was not what I wanted.  She was in fact, third or fourth on my list… But man, she was sweet.  Such a salty little vessel.  Classic lines. Lots of teak.  I called the guy and said, “hey, I’m standing on the dock looking at your boat for sale and I’m wondering if you might have a few minutes to come meet me? I’m sorry it’s so last minute but I have a flight to catch at around 3 pm… outta Philly…”  He pleasantly said, “I live right around the corner… I’ll be right over.”  Wow!  Dumb luck huh.

Tom pulled up knowing that I was short on time and got right into readying the boat for a short cruise.  I was nervous, already suffering Catholic guilt / buyers remorse and I haven’t purchased a thing! I know it’s crazy.  Off we went, out of the channel into Barnegat Bay and if I haven’t said it already…  It was beautiful. The God’s were smiling on us. It was August 11 and a warm, perfect breeze filled the jib. She sailed like a dream. Balanced and smooth.  Heavy through any chop and I was smitten.  I kept telling myself, this isn’t the boat you wanted. Don’t fall in love… just keep a clear head, etc… but I couldn’t. It was as if Brooklyn Decker gave me a hug and peck on the cheek and I blurted out, “I love you!”  Um… ahem… did I just say that?  Woah, fella. Back up… slowly.  Anyway, I made an offer. Less than what he had come down to and I was sure he would be offended and it would be refused.  It wasn’t.

“The Girl” yes…happy.

NOW… I had the panic attack.  Internal dialogue full bore:  “What the hell did you just do! This isn’t your big blue water boat! Oh, now what…” Then, silence.  It all went quiet as we sailed back into the channel and put her up in her slip.  Tom said, “You know… we should drive to my place so I can run it by my wife and make sure she’s cool with it.”  Fine.  We did. She was… but when he told her they sold the boat… I could see a tiny bit of disbelief in her eyes.  I wonder if they miss the old girl.  Cut to me dialing my cell phone… you know we did that at one point… Ring… Ring… the girl, “Hello?”  Me, “Honey… we bought a boat!”

The sail before prepping her for travel

For anyone paying attention, this is NOT the way to buy a 35 + year old boat.  Nope. Nadda.  You should make an offer contingent on a survey.  Pay the several hundred dollars to have a surveyor to come out and run through that boat with a fine toothed comb.  Your instructions to him should be close to this… “Please! Give me every reason NOT TO BUY THIS BOAT!!!!” and then turn him lose and stand back.  Not me.  Nope. I knew I was going to bring her home, sail her for the summer and promptly tear her to ribbons and fix every, single sliver of weakness.  She was Cher and I was a plastic surgeon with a Beverly Hills mortgage!  She had good cheek bones but some serious wear… Strong points that could use some “accentuating” if you will.  Please… don’t follow my lead… My advice after “don’t buy a boat” would be “don’t buy a 35 year old boat”  and after that… “Don’t be a dumb-ass and buy a 35 year old boat without a survey!”   If you do… I’ll say a prayer for you.  There is that nagging lapsed Catholic again.

A couple weeks later I flew back with the girl and showed her our new, very old boat.  We all went out for a sail and then readied her for the trip to Nashville.  Took down the sails, boom, blocks and lines, stowed them all carefully and made all preparations with the yard to have her pulled, mast stepped and bottom pressure washed.  My baby was headed for the highway and the long nerve-racking trip to her new port.  Fresh Water.

Part 3: Jimmy and the Bagel Guy

So here we are.  The San Juan 24… ‘Whore of the Sea’ carried me through a spectacular summer, fall and winter of 2006.  I met a great girl. We sailed and spent weekends on the lake, sailed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Cut to summer of 2007 and change is in the air. The boat…not the girl.

I had always intended to sell the ‘Whore,’ the boat, not the girl… and now I had an offer.  I wanted a bigger boat. One that would take me out on the ocean with confidence.  A craft that was built to take the pounding of the ocean and my San Juan 24, while a fantastic craft, was a racer. She would not do well in a big blow at sea.   Plus, she had little room for storage and no proper head… that’s toilet in boat speak.  In June of ’07 I watched the truck and trailer take that whore away. I have to say I was a bit conflicted. NOW what?  No boat.  I only got 4K for her and after all the work, I probably broke even.  None-the-less… now I could get a “big boy” boat.  Or so I thought.  I knew how expensive “big boy” boats were and I had nowhere near enough for one.  But… I read, researched and compiled. I had long lists, short lists, pros and cons.  Fact, fiction and conjecture.  I drove my new found girlfriend absolutely mad with boat talk.  Ask her.  I still do.  Never-the-less, I had my eye on an Alberg 30.  Now I could go off on a tangent here and tell you all the world class stories about this famous boat but I won’t.  Like I said before, you can Google and find out all you want.  Back to the A30.  Such a classic. So well designed and SO expensive… scratch, scratch, scratch… That’s the sound of me scratching that boat OFF my list.  That activity gets repeated quite often until my list contains about 3 boats that I have a realistic chance of owning; A Westerly Centaur 26.  A Pearson Triton 28 and a Tartan 27.  None of these, mind you, considered “Blue Water” boats by most.  And while all have made impressive voyages with modifications the Tartan 27 was designed and built as a racing / cruiser in her day.  A very heavy racer I might add.  Turns out they way over-built all these boats but by now… all of these boats would be about 25 years old and very long in the tooth.  But what’s a boy to do.  Buy what you can pay for that’s what.  But I’m a ‘Romantic!’ I’m not practical, pragmatic, pra… What? Wait this is America damn it!  Loans! Equity! Borrow! Borrow! Borrow! Nah.  Not my style. I like projects, under-dogs…

My criteria for my next vessel was pretty detailed but mostly I wanted a well built boat, under 30 feet with a keel that drew less than 5 feet. The deeper the draft the deeper the water you need under the boat.  Anyway… I ended up going after the Centaur 26.  A bulky, not attractive and not a particularly good English boat that are rare in the U.S.
OF COURSE I DID!  I couldn’t pick the “dime a dozen” boat.  I had to go for the quirky British boat. Fat chance of finding one around here… Nashville… excuse me!  I’d have a better chance of finding Paris Hilton a job than a Westerly.  A Kardashian sister that was still a virgin… with a job.

I found one.  20 minutes from my house… but it was sinking. I know what your thinking.  But it was sinking.  I had to write that, it rhymed.  I didn’t buy it.  I tried…. but he turned my offer down. Thank God.  I found another in Key Largo, Florida.  I flew down, met the guy… the owner from Long Island and soon discovered that the photos of a PRISTINE Centaur 26 were taken oh, 5 years before. He posted photos that were taken when he bought the boat. The boat I saw was a sun baked, paint peeling, canvas rotted bucket of shit.  Every time I pushed a button or wanted to see something work he said something like, “Oh, that’s awesome, it’s just not hooked up yet.” “Oooh, I love having that on here but I just need connect that wire.” “I’d start the motor but one of the belts is missing and blah, blah, blah!!!!” I was pissed.  I said, “You’re kidding right?  You have to be fucking kidding me.  I had conversations on the phone with you… I flew down here, got a hotel, rented a car and this… THIS is the boat?!”  Needless to say, he didn’t accept my offer. Granted it was just a middle finger… I think he expected more.

So I kept looking. And looking.  I persuaded my buddy Matt to take a road trip.  We drove to Mobile, Alabama. Then to Destin, Florida… Tampa… across to Stuart, Florida where the guy didn’t show up to even show us the boat. Then to St. Augustine and finally back to Nashville. Empty handed. No luck.  None. Zilch. So I kept looking… and found one.  A Westerly up in South Hampton.  Yep, Long Island.  What the hell! I’ll take a trip, meet my brother Jimmy (see I’m getting there… slowly) and we’ll take a ride up to the Hamptons and see a boat.  So I go. Jimmy picks me up at the airport in Philly, we drive to his house in Brigantine, NJ and I call the guy in the Hamptons.  Now having been burned once… I ask many, many pertinent questions and we go.  Long drive but a beautiful day.  We get there, he’s a nice guy with a new baby and no time for the boat.  We take it out for a sail and I’m completely unimpressed.  Heartbroke actually.  She sailed worse than what I read about them. Granted… the rig was a little disorganized, there was no boom vang, little wind and I definitely didn’t sail her long enough to work out the kinks.  We left.  I made no offer.  Disheartened and completely frustrated we head back to Brigantine and I prepare to leave the next morning.Cut to the next morning.  Me, Jimmy and his girlfriend Mishi, short for Michelle, head out to get a cup of coffee at the Bagel joint around the corner… see… I’m getting there… slowly… As Jimmy and Mishi place their order I head outside with my laptop and coffee to wait and enjoy the sun, check my email and check in for my flight.  As I start to browse the web, I end up on a boat site… of course… I told you I was obsessed… and what do I see but a Tartan 27 for sale.  Now I had seen this boat about 6 months before and made the guy and offer, which he refused.  Now, he had the boat listed for what I offered. The funny part, it was about 20 miles away in Toms River, NJ.  Now guess what happens next?

jimmy and the bagel guyPart 4…

Whore of the Sea

I know what you’re thinking… but… dare I say, it’s not what your thinking!  Taken from Hemingway’s “Old Man and the Sea”, it was a name given to the Portuguese Man O’ War due to the mistrust the animal set into fishermen.  For me, blind faith… I’d love to say youthful enthusiasm but I’m old enough to know better.

In January of 2006 I showed up at Harbor Island Yacht Club in Old Hickory, TN.  I got word from a friend that this was the only “real” sailboat club in the area so I went out there one day only to find a massive iron gate.  And I waited… until someone drove out.  When they did of course I sped in before the gate closed and if I stopped there I would have felt like I achieved something.  Getting into a gated club… without asking or explaining?  We all have that little hooligan in us that wants to feel like we’re getting away with something don’t we?  Ok, I have that little hooligan… Anyway, I got in and it just so happened to be a Saturday afternoon when they were getting ready for a race.  It’s called the Winter Series and it goes on every Saturday from Thanksgiving to the first of March.  I was walking around checking out all the boats and bumped into a guy who said, “you racing?” I’m not, I said.  A friend told me to come check the place out said if I wanted to race I could probably find a ride.  Kent (the guy) said, “Well I could use a hand setting these markers.” So I jumped onto a small power boat and headed out to set the big orange markers that designate the turning points in the race.  We talked on the way and I ended up hanging around out there every spare minute I had.  I volunteered to work with the Sea Scout troop out there and did whatever I could to find a ride on a boat.  Good weather. Bad weather. Day or night.  I was hooked.

Whore of the Sea already!  I know, I know. One day in March, I pulled in to find a group of guys standing on the dock next to a shabby looking boat. Sails and covers were torn.  Decks were filthy and covered with bird shit. The lines were crusty and permanently bent in shapes they’d been coiled into long, long ago. The interior had two feet of murky green water sloshing around in there and the carpeted walls were black with mildew.  The cockpit lockers cracked and whined when you stepped aboard and the teak looked as if it had never seen a can of varnish let alone a proper 7 to 10 coats.  I said, “What’s the deal?” A friend said, ‘the club owns it.  they’ve been trying to sell it but now we just need to get rid of it.  They’re gonna cut it up and chuck it in the dumpster.”  Remember now… I’m a… Ro`mantic… “What! Are you kidding? I can fix that!”  Keeping in mind, I’ve only really been sailing for about 3 months aside from some minor dinghy sailing about 20 years prior.  They all looked at me just like you’re looking right now.  I most of the sentiments went something like this, ” ARE YOU NUTS?”

$1000.00 and a borrowed trailer later she was in STOW - San Juan 24 my backyard! Deal of the Century! Okay, maybe not.  I stripped that boat of every nut, bolt, line, hinge and wire.  I got up every morning and worked from 5 am until it was time to shower and head to work.  I came home after work and got right back into my grungy clothes and worked til’ dark.  I read every book on fiberglass repair and boat wiring imaginable.  I stumbled onto the bible “Good Old Boat” by Mr. Don Casey and I was delivered!

In August of that year, just a scant 5 months later, she was back in the water.  Sailing like a dream and no one at the club believed it was the same boat… nobody except one guy,  Bruce Richards.  Bruce is a legendary dinghy sailor who’s won titles all over the country.  He’s a small man but he’s got this vibe about him. He’s got the constitution of a jockey.   A world class jockey who drives champion thoroughbreds.  Swagger.  Calm, quiet swagger.  He stopped me one day when I pulled to the dock and said, “I’m glad you saved her.  She’s a champion you know.”  I looked around thinking, “Me?  Is he talking to me.” “Oh, yeah… thanks” I said, not knowing what the hell neither he nor I was talking about. “Do you know the history of that boat?” he said pointing to my now shimmering San Juan 24, hull number 206.  Uh, no… other than almost getting chopped up and chucked into  a dumpster, I don’t know anything.  Bruce went on to tell me that in 1983 or there about, my boat, “Whore of the Sea” won the national sailing title.  I couldn’t believe it!  That’s a big deal.  She had champion pedigree  and they were going to “put her down.”  He had a spry grin on his face when I repeated, “Whore of the Sea?”  Yep, he said, that’s her name.  And then he just turned around, still with that little grin and walked away.  He didn’t ever turn back but I heard him say, I’m glad you saved her.

To this day, I’ve searched high and low to find any record of that race.  I’ve asked any and everyone I could find if they know, knew or heard anything about the boat, the race or the jockey… the skipper.  The one who rode that champ to the line.
I wonder if his name was Bruce.

Hull #466

New Tartan 27

It’s time… time to write something about my 1970 Tartan 27.  Designed by the legendary team of Sparkman & Stephens back in the early 60’s, the Tartan 27 was their first fiberglass design.  But you can find out all of this online.  The “nuts and bolts” if you will. Just Google “Tartan 27” and you’ll find a wealth of information, specs and conjecture surrounding this now famous boat.  With over 700 hulls built, there is much to be said.

Thing is, I couldn’t really find too many personal accounts from people who’ve owned these boats.  Yes, there’s an owners forum on Yahoo and a few Tartan Ownership Groups around the country but I’m interested in the individual stories… I’m interested in the folks who bought these boats new and have passed them down through the years.  I want to read stories from the people like me who discovered this boat, fell in love and decided that spending twice what she’s worth to re-build her was somehow a worthwhile endeavor. Indeed there are many, many stories about many, many boats and hundreds of blogs about the “romantic” who’s thrown caution to the wind, sold everything and bought a boat to sail the high seas.  This isn’t that kind of blog.  At least not yet.

This is the story about the “romantic” with little cash.  The Romantic (with a capital “R”) that lies in most of us… You know the one… the one that dreams, hopes and plans. Then… life gets in the way and postpones those plans or cancels them altogether… But let’s hold off on that for just a minute.  After all, as a Romantic, I’d never admit defeat on the first page…  first day of a new blog.  So this is the launch, if you will, the maiden voyage of a story about a boat.  An old boat.  But a boat with a story to tell…

This story is about my boat “Moose.”