Monday, October 31, 2005

Choosing a Boat - Day 949

There are thousands of different makers of sailing vessels. All of them were built with a different purpose in mind. This makes for mind boggling choice fatigue.
Sailboats are:
1. Expensive
2. Expensive
3. Expensive
Picking the wrong boat for the task, be it cruising, racing or daysailing, will lead to misery. The fun part is that you really don't know the boat until you own it for a couple of years. This is one of the reasons that the saying "the best day of a sailors life is the day he buys his boat and the day he sells her" is so popular. It is absolutely crucial that a cruising family pick the right boat. This means that you have to look at many many boats and talk their owners into going for a sea trial.
Fortunately I love doing this. I hate looking at houses, I hate owning a house. I love looking at boats. My favorite phrase saying about boats is this:
Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing…nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t, whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else,or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular…

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Impossible odds - Day 950

I spent the last four days in Daytona Beach, Florida on a business trip. This is a dangerous place for a sailboat person. I just wanted to take a quick peek at one sailboat. I visited a marina at random, walked into a brokers office at random, he picked a boat to view based on my desire to see a bluewater boat and I ended up meeting the people who had my slip in Port Sheldon, MI. This is an impossible coincidence, meaning that it isn't. My brain still cannot comprehend the odds. I fell in love with the boat.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Three Days - 955

I can't take it anymore. Three days ago my life was sucked from the water and placed on a hard cold steel platform. The platform doesn't move for seven months. Seven cold months. I am on day three with the boat out and I don't know how I am going to make it a WHOLE FREEZING WINTER without sailing. The Great Lakes are awesome - for about three months of the year. I need to go someplace where I can sail more months of the year, like Vancouver. New Zealand! Sailing in Michigan is many many months of reading about sailing. Paracay Books must make a killing off of sailors trying to get their fix out of a book. Tomorrow I leave for Daytona, FL. on a business trip. I am going to spend the last day trying to bum a ride on a boat. If you are in the vicinity of Daytona and you see a untanned person looking hungrily at boats, grab him and administer sailing immediately.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Working together - Day 957

All I really want is to pull in the same direction with a team of people who trust each other. This is what I desire at work. This is what I desire at home. Nothing feels worse than a group of people working against each other. Mistrust, doubt, and selfishness run rampant. The cool sweet balm of life is working in a team that trusts you and forgives you and seeks to work with you. Love, peace, patience, gentleness, and self control reign in these situations. These times are rare. My best friends are the ones that work with me, who know and anticipate my next move. My best friends are the ones who don't seek to take me down when I mess up, but who seek to build me up.
This is why I sail: To work with a team.
When the team works, Sailing is wonderful.
When the team does not work, Sailing is painful.
A good day of sailing has nothing to do with the weather.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Amazing things you find out about people on a Sailboat- Day 960

Usually when you meet a person for the first time you are meeting them in an surroundings that they are used to being in. A party, for instance, is designed with elements that bring people together like food and drink and comfortable surroundings. When you meet someone there you get to see the person that they are trying to be. A sailing experience tends to strip away the nice veneer that people put up in front of each other. I have watched grown adults melt like children, and I have seen children rise to the task and act like adults. Seasickness is one of the more interesting side effects of sailing. I am convinced that seasickness is completely a thing that happens in your head. If you think you are going to get seasick, you most likely will. It is less likely for the skipper or the person at the helm to get seasick because in those positions you will feel like you are in control. I have been seasick only once in my life. It was a day that I felt a member of my crew was doubting me, and I wasn't at the helm. I was utterly amazed at how debilitating seasickness is. I have observed that the people that come on our boat who trust me and our crew and listen to what we tell them to do are less likely to get seasick. The ones who get sick are the ones who don't take the medicine and don't listen to the pre-trip briefing. Sailing requires that you work with other people. Sailing requires that you listen to a chain of command. If you don't work with others and listen, bad things happen. When someone comes on the boat, we get to find out who they really are. The fear of seasickness and waves tend to take all the pretense out of a person. Sailing is the anti-party. It is the place where I get to really meet the person, not the persona.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Sailing in too much wind, too little wind, or from the wrong direction - Day 962

The rules of Sailing are as follows: You have too much wind, to little wind, or it is from the wrong direction. If you are going to like sailing you pretty much have to enjoy each of these three modes of sailing. I enjoy all three, the third only if I am not trying to make a schedule. (Another rule from sailing - no making schedules.) They are all part of the challenge that makes it fun. If you find yourself repeating the trifecta mantra of too much, too little, or wrong direction there is a name for you: Powerboater. Yes, a twin engine system is in your future. You will enjoy filling your diesel tanks while proclaiming with pride that you used to have a sailboat and now you don't need to bother with the wind. There is a huge divide between the powerboat community and the sailboat community. Here is why. It is a light air day and I have spent the last half hour getting my sails set up just right and getting the boat moving. Along comes Mr. Powerboater who sees a sailboat as something to investigate, but not slow down for. Mr. Powerboater blows by me at 45 knots. I am forced to turn into his wake or get soaked and start trimming all over again.
This is why I listen to my VHF radio so closely. I have towed three of these smokers in after their engine has failed. Nothing makes me happier than towing a powerboat in from three miles out - at 4 knots.
One sailboat: 20 grand.
VHF radio: 200 dollars.
Towing a powerboater who completely depends on his engine: Priceless.

Monday, October 17, 2005

What do you really know how to do? - Day 963

He was late because the tow truck took a long time to come and change his tire. Not because the spare or the jack was missing, not because the spare was flat. He was late because he did not know how. Huh? This got me to thinking. What do I really know how to do? The short answer is not very much, but a whole lot more than many. My brother and law is a dairy farmer. He understands crops, planting, animals. I would starve if my life depended on my ability to raise my own food. There is something wrong with that in my mind. Ask yourself, what do you really know how to do? Isaac Asimov wrote three books together called the Foundation trilogy. In these stories a galactic empire has ruled for two thousand years, but in the end the empire decays because nobody can repair the basic infrastructure of life like power plants and transportation. My own job is becoming specialized. As automobiles become complex, fewer techs actually can diagnose them. Cars become more reliable and the number of technicians go down every year even while the number of vehicles on the road go up. As the number of techs go down, the number of qualified techs is going down faster. Customer service overall is down.
As yourself, what do you really know? If your car stops, could you get it going? Your dad could. If the power went off, could you survive?

Never before have so many known so little about so much.

A grease fire in a Burger King in London shuts down Heathrow airport. The economy lost millions. A single grease fire.

A power disruption starts a cascade of power disruptions and the entire east coast of the USA is shut down. People react like it is the end of the world.

It just seems that as we "progress" we now have grown men who cant change a tire, fix a broken front door, grow a crop. We have become so specialized we are as a culture very thin in our general knowledge. Virtual reality is more interesting I guess. What does it say when the typical 20 something can get to the fifth level of his video game, but doesn't know how to check his coolant? I don't think it is progress when the typical person from a century ago had a greater knowledge base than what I see now. We just know our celebrities better.

I love sailing for this fact - you had better know your basics or you will quickly get into trouble. You have to know weather, astronomy, navigation, the difference between good drinking water and bad, international laws, radar, engine repair, electrical repair, and safety. In short, when you are on a boat more than 20 miles from shore you are on your own. No towing company or Plumber to call. You are it.

Just the way it should be.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

OK, so I like the cold - Day 964

I was just checking out s/v Vagabond's website ( I have seen hundreds of sites devoted to cruising in the Bahamas. The photos top anything I have seen on a Pacific Island. Check out some of their wintering photos. I think I want a steel hull. Insulated. Heated. I can always put another layer of clothing on. This past summer convinced me that I am not a high temperature person. There is just nothing like cold crisp air.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Cruiser Wannabe - Day 965

I have no clue. There is so much I have to learn about sailing. The other night I tried my hand at using a gnomonic chart and although I understand what it is for, I don't know how to use it. I don't want to be dependent on the GPS for great circle plotting. If you don't understand the previous sentences, don't worry because two weeks ago I didn't either. When I tell someone that I am planning on sailing around the world one of the first questions I get asked is where I learned how to sail. In past tense. I didn't learn, I am learning how to sail the only way you can - by sailing. So I am a wannabe. I hope that I never reach the point where sailing is old hat like my present job. I like not having a clue. Go ahead, ask me what I am going to do when (insert pirate attack, hurricane, broken bone, fall off boat) happens. I don't know. I read about what you are supposed to do to prepare for these things. I don't know what I am going to do because I have never had these things happen to me. I want to ask everyone else - why are you so afraid of the world? Pirates, sleeping whales and hurricanes are something to prepare for. They are not reasons to stay tied to the dock. So I ready myself for everything that I can, get training where possible and then cast off.
I took a car door apart for the latch this last week at work. Do you want to know what protects you from a side impact event? Open your closet door and look at the rod holding your shirt hangers up. Your car's door has a similar looking device. You might as well ride a motorcycle for all the protection your car gives you for a side impact situation. Now, count up all the intersections you will go through on your way to work. I go through five. Most people go through more. All it takes is one person talking on the cell to miss the red and you are dead. Now compare the chances of highway deaths to cruisers dying at sea. The insurance for the cruiser is less. The cruiser is taking less of a risk. I prefer the latter.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Plotting the Second Year - Day 967

The whole family stood in front of the world map on the wall and watched as I plotted our second year out at sea. Our first year is going to be spent in the Great Lakes. Our second year we hope to cross the pond to Europe. We would like to leave the St. Lawrence Seaway and head for Greenland, cross over to Iceland, and end up in the Netherlands. All of this was very preliminary and may be a crazy way to cross, but it was exciting for the whole family to look at the map and figure out where these places are and dream. We have a lot to learn about the world. We talked about how different we would be when we got back to Michigan. Let's blow this popsicle stand!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Leaving the life you live - Day 968

I used to work at a meat processing plant in high school. It was awful work all done at 32 degrees F. I would get soaked to the skin, underwear and all, in blood. Cold blood. And I did it for 5.75 and hour. I loved it. I was working with adults. I could work hard. The thing that made it bearable to me was the fact that I knew that I was going to only do it for the summer. Every day, everybody I worked with complained about their job at break, lunch, afternoon break and everytime the boss was out of earshot. The complaining never stopped. Ever. I haven't worked there for 18 years. I drive by there and see the same red Chevy truck that one of the guys bought brand new the summer I worked there. That man is still in that square room. He is able to see his breath all day at work. He is standing in blood. He is cutting up meat for restaurants. In a way I admire this. It is kind of a long obedience in the same direction. It is what he does. I think that in a way he kind of enjoys it, even though he complains every moment he can. I can still hear him.
I could never do it.
Working at this pace and doing what I am doing is still a very enjoyable part of my life. In fact, I am probably investing in auto repair the same or more than I ever have and could not see myself in a situation where I was not diagnosing and improving something. It is who I am. It is not, though, all I will ever be. This is what it means to me to dream. To paraphrase Brad Pitt, "I want more". Brad makes this a universal statement of every man. I am not so sure. I look around me and what I see is herds of people who want nothing to change and definitely do not want more challenge. I want to stretch and grow. Sailing is one of those things that challenges me from every side. I have to be a better leader, better navigator, better decision maker. I have to balance several conflicting needs in an adverse environment while leading a tired and seasick crew with equanimity. In short, I HAVE to be more than what I am. My brother Newton calls sailing constantly walking along the edge of a cliff. You are always on the edge. Even sitting at anchor you are in danger of dragging, fouling, sinking, getting hit or robbed. Sailing requires a diligence that pays off in the ability to go places and see things that a very few can. It is like farming in that you are making your own life, except you have freedom. The vessel that we take this trip on will be called Precipice, a cliff, the edge. If you are not living on the edge you are taking up to much space.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Food - Day 970

The canned chili from Costco is the best I have ever tasted. One of our goals when we finally cast off of our slip is to live without refrigeration. Refrigerators are expensive in equipment and in amp hours. A sailboat with solar power and a wind generator can create per day about as much power as your car battery can store. So all the things we do like lighting, radio, computer, water pumps and water maker all have to stay within this tight budget. Refrigeration tips the scale forcing you to run your engine every day. I hate running the engine. The best part of leaving port is shutting the engine off, no matter how light the wind is. I hate paying for fuel. I like free solar power. This means life without a refrigerator. This means that we are learning to eat from a can. Both my wife and I grew up eating fresh or frozen fresh vegetables from the garden. We were not looking forward to the canned thing. We have been surprised, the canning people have gotten better at making their wares seem like real food. Either way we are finding out what we like in the canned food department and learning how to live without the refrigerator. Except for the ice cream . . .

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Welcome to the Great White North - Day 972

All of a sudden winter cometh. Three days ago it was 85 degrees out. Today on the lake it peaked at 52 degrees. We went from shorts to several layers of wool and long johns. Sailing is still enjoyable at this temperature, but different. It takes on more of a feel of camping out. Sailing becomes more outdoors in the cold. I enjoy the cool weather, I always have. I can always add another layer of clothing. When the temp is 98 at 90 percent humidity I cant find another layer of clothing to take off. Looks like the haulout date is going to be October 22 this year. Still much earlier than our latest haulout of November 17 (and that sailing day is worth a blog in and of itself - coming in November.
The girls played up on deck like it was a balmy day, but they did run down below to warm up in the heated cabin. Rachael took a nap and Deb took the helm for the whole trip and docked the boat. Deb and Rachael are going to have to work on leaving and arriving. Nothing like stopping tons of boat with no brakes. Too slow and you have no rudder, too fast and you are going to leave a rookie mark on the dock. Deb managed a crosswind and limited visibility from roving children and slipped into dock like a pro. Next up - leaving the dock, a much more difficult maneuver. We all spent the meal (dinner at Chili's) talking about sailing around the world and finding a man for Rachael.
Wanted: Male companion that can handle conflict, close quarters, immune to seasickness, willing to travel around the world in a boat and work in foreign countries. Must be good with children and willing to learn to sail. Legal skills or diplomatic skills a plus. Christ like character a must. No need to walk on water, just be willing to carry it from dingy to boat over and over.
To see if you are qualified cut 2 feet off the length of a 4x8 piece of plywood. Now cut that piece in half and lay it horizontally at about a 20 degree tilt. Sleep on this for three hours. Get up and sit on the front steps of your house at 3AM, grip the railing to the steps, and look for anything moving toward your house. Now sell everything you own, except what you can fit in your pillowcase and then spray your belongings in the pillowcase with saltwater and then use it as a pillow when sleeping on your 2x6 piece of plywood. Now fill three milk jugs with water. This is what you will use for the next week for cooking, bathing and drinking. If the above seems like fun maybe she is the one for you.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Remember the dream- DAY974

Children dream large, unaware of cages. Youths dream large but are caged. Adults make their cage and can’t remember their dream. I have built my cage and I don’t like it. I look at others in their cages and wonder if they ever dream.
Sailing takes me out of the cage.
But I need a cage to afford to sail. At least it seems like it. It is so safe and comfortable. I know where my paycheck is coming from. It is known. Dreams require going into the unknown. When I was a child I didn’t realize that you had to take others with you when you dreamed. I guess little boys don’t dream of that day of being married. What if your dream isn’t the dream of those around you. Is this why marriage fails? Different dreams? Does one like the cage they built and the other wish to be free? Lucky me, my wife is happiest when she is with me – caged or not. She has been with me through my failure in business, a broken dream. Pain. She was still there. When you take your children on your dream is it ok that they don’t choose your dream? They seem unaware. They are happiest when they are trusted, and nurtured and loved. Poor or rich isn’t a cage for them. Is this something about what Jesus said when he said be like the children? What is your dream? Did you build your cage in an attempt to reach a dream? Did you forget the dream in the process? I did.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Taking the Boat out- 975 Days

Every year we go through this same struggle. The boat has to come out of the water before the frost of Michigan freezes it. We never want to take it out. Reality is that we don't get it out much after labor day because of the children's school schedule of soccer, gymnastics, cello, and dance. We really should take it out the weekend after labor day, but doing so is like taking part of your life away. I really miss the sailing. Sailing pours life into me like no other thing I do. I used to love winter when I could snowmobile my heart away as a child. Now winter is a long dark frozen wasteland of reading about sailing. I can hardly handle it.
I hope that somebody needs a delivery done this year. I think I would take the time to do the delivery this year. I don't think I can make the whole season without a fix.
Help help, I am being oppressed!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

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Monday, October 03, 2005

Rachael's sailing history

I was raised on a farm with six other siblings. We were expected to work at a young age during the long hot, humid, summer. One way that this would remain bearable was taking a break and trailering dad's 24 foot sailboat to Lake Macatawa in Holland. We had a system all worked out for getting the mast ready and getting the boat in the water. We would then motor (what seemed like ages) the boat up to Lake Michigan with our feet hanging over the side. O wow, fresh air and lots of fresh water, and no stinky work for the afternoon! We would then head south to what we would call the "sand bowl". We would anchor there, jump in the cold water, swim to the beach, climb the dunes, run down like man men and if we were lucky have some burgers with cheese to grill. Reluctantly going home we would drag behind the boat on ropes and life jackets staying in the water as long as possible. Eventually we would climb back on board all sunburned and ready for dozing on deck.

These were usually the extent of my sailing trips as a child, short trips. Ironically, looking back i think dad motored most of the time. Our time was limited leaving us with limited places to go, the wind usually not in our favor.

(some inside thoughts)
So why do i love sailing so much? Was it a good childhood memory of an escape from a long week of working? A sense of community of working with siblings and getting us together outside of work? We did more motoring than sailing, so was it just being on the water that i liked? Where did that good feeling of just loving it come from? Who knows, i still love it.

The cost of sailing - 977 DAYS

The cost of sailing. The average person puts $1k a year into just maintaining their car. I been in this business 18 years and have had many argue that they put less, but they are usually using the “ignore” breakdown maintenance plan and treat their car like a reverse stock market. It usually doesn’t work. Our customers who keep their cars maintained like they should get to choose when they spend the money. The ones who avoid it spend more, and they don’t get to choose when they spend it. Well, sailboats work in a very similar way. I constantly hear people griping about how much their boats cost. I don’t think they keep track how much their car costs them. The average Michigan family spends 7K a year on automobile transportation for payments, insurance, gas, maintenance, licensing etc. A typical 30-40 foot sailboat is going to run you about the same bill over a fifteen year period if you slip your boat and pay for storage in the winter. This IS a huge investment. But is isn’t the end of the world compared to what my customers pay for their cars. For that price I get a waterfront home that allows me to take my family on adventures all over the great lakes. Priceless.
The cost problem comes from the expectations of what something costs and what it really costs. The problem with most people’s boats is that they haven’t been building the cost of owning the boat into their life since they were sixteen. Now the boat starts demanding what is know as a “boat buck” (one thoooouuuuuussand dollars) for bottom care and sails and rigging and all the junk that seems to find its way screwed or bolted on and the griping starts. The reality is that something 30 feet long has a lot of care it is going to need. Washing, painting, fixing, tuning etc.
To those who like griping: I hear that golf is a good addiction for wannabe sailors. Try it.
To those who are thinking about owning a boat: You take the amount you think this is going to cost and multiply by five. Or ten. Do you really want to do this? They say that the two best days of a boat owner’s life are the day you buy the boat and the day you sell the boat. The latter comes from unreasonable expectations. Please please go into it with eyes open. You will only ruin it for yourself and turn even more people off from this phenomenal sport that now ranks behind bowling in popularity.
My budget for the boat has a hefty maintenance tag. On purpose. I watch people do stupid things to their cars all day at work. They try to cheat the maintenance god and it always gets them. I don’t like things that break at 3AM 45 miles from shore. It is worth every penny.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The most difficult part - 978 DAYS

The most difficult part of sailing isn’t the knowing how to sail part. It is the people. I realize that there are those who go solo, but most of sailing is done in a team fashion. Any successful endeavor requires leadership, vision, planning, discipline, and grace. These are all people words. Fixing rigging is easy compared to working the rigging with somebody. For real fun I love to watch people anchor their boats. Anchoring requires one person to helm the boat and operate the motor and one person to drop the anchor. It sounds absurdly simple and it is, but almost everyone I know turns it into clash of person vs. person. All the person in front has to do is let the anchor go. All the person at the helm has to do is say when. Neither get it right and tempers inevitably flare. Sailing requires a certain amount of patience with each other that you just don’t find in everyday life. Probably the closest thing I can think of is when one person has the map in the car and one person has to drive. That endeavor pales in comparison to dropping and setting an anchor. Now try setting a spinnaker or something even more complex when you are seasick and tired. I feel over and over again that I really need to grow up more to be able to sail. This is what a sailboat does for me; it forces me to grow up. My family is learning to trust each other more each time we go out. Everybody is learning to work together and COMMUNICATE with each other in a way that normal landbound life is not apt to do.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

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In the beginning - 980 DAYS

I have spent a large portion of my life in boats. My father was a canoe racer and I grew up thinking that everybody spent several hours of their day in a canoe. A sailboat large enough to carry your entire family and all their stuff may seem like a long stretch relation wise to a canoe, but I find they are similar. When I am in a sailboat I am speaking my native language with the world. I am truly most comfortable when I am moving a boat through the water. Sailing is a discipline. Much of who I am was learned through hours of hard work in a canoe learning currents, memorizing rivers and corners and shallows and submerged trees . Canoeing was how my father shaped me into a man. Sailing allows me to take my whole family along on an adventure where our actions together allow us to learn and grow and become mature and complete. Sailing requires and infinite knowledge set. You could never know all you could know. Ever.
Sailing is how our family relates to each other. Most of the families I know have a center that brings them together so that they spend time together. That center is usually the television. Most of these families dont realize that the only place that they all do something together regularly is in front of the TV. I am not knocking them for this, at least they are together - and this is a huge arguement for not letting your kids have their own TV, you would then never do anything together.
Sailing takes that together time and amplifies it. My daughter, Jannelle who is 8 sails a 27 foot boat and is leaning the "rules of the road". Her attention span is good for about a half hour at the helm. She sailed 12 miles in the Florida Keys (this is a two hour span) and sliced a perfect straight line on the GPS. The point is I get to do this with her. Sailing kicks any video game I have ever played.
This blog is going to be about how we as a family sell everything we have, buy a boat and circumnavigate the world. Hope we make it.