Thursday, May 12, 2016

May Mornings in the Marina

Some mornings you wake up and realize that all of those winter storms and windy nights in the marina were well worth the bother.
Today would be another one of those glorious days. The cat and I are now back down below, having just spent an enjoyable hour on deck watching the school of anchovies beneath us put on quite a fascinating show.

Springtime is transitioning for summer's arrival here in Gate Five: The fishing fleet is preparing for whatever season might happen; Seine skiff engines are revving up, pounding and grinding can be heard everywhere. The schooner Adventuress is back at the visitor's dock once more, boarding another bus-load of excitable middle-schoolers for a trip into the islands. The squally patches of catspaws, skittling their way across the water make me wish that my kayak repairs were finished and one or both of the Lightnings were back on this side of the bay... But hey, I'm not complaining.
Not one little bit.

So, anyways, these little fishy pals of mine have completely inspired me. They've actually made their way into the manuscript. Chapter 29 of Sea of a Thousand Words. You can "catch" them on the link below. (Sorry, puns are really not my forte).  Windline Press: "Sea of a Thousand Words" Chapter 29 


Sunday, May 1, 2016

Time's a Flyin'

Well, hello there.
It has been a few months since either of us have put words to screen for our Flota-Navium blog.
Jeff's new Kingfisher Craftsmen business has kept him hopping--so much so that a 65-foot annex had to be erected next to the original boat shop and there are now five boats underneath the tent.

For myself, I've spent the last three months putting 76,341 words to a manuscript. I am at chapter 26--there are 14 more chapters to go. (Needless to say, blog-time is low on my radar).

If you'd like to read an excerpt from the upcoming novel, entitled "Sea of a Thousand Words", you can click on the link and peruse Chpt 7. (My advice to you would be, don't read it if you've booked a vacay at the Oregon Coast anytime soon).  
Astoria's bridge (pre mega-quake).

Chapter excerpt from "Sea of a Thousand Words"

Jeff has promised to sit down and write a few posts about the various projects on some of these classic yachts he has in the tent. Right now, we have a Stephens 48-ft yacht and a Chris-Craft as well as a 1927 Ashcroft sloop, not to mention the new-to-us Lightning Bianca that will join Zeta, (both are classic wooden daysailers from the early 1940s).

Additionally, he will be blogging about the projects in store for our 36-ft Magellan ketch Sugaree, due to be hauled out in the next few weeks for some pretty serious off-shore refitting and re-powering.
(Plans for our South Pacific cruising are definitely still in the works, just got to get that kid through her freshman/sophomore year at University).

--But hey, that's Jeff's job to write about. Mine is to check back in and reconnect with our blogging friends and followers.
Rest assured more adventures to come!

I hope that you enjoy the chapter from my latest project. I am truly having a blast writing about it. (yeah, sorry 'bout that, Astoria).

You'll be hearing more from us again soon... Promise.

~ Chris and Jeffery

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Is the Live-aboard Life for You?

I had a fascinating conversation recently with a reader of my memoir  Prepare to Come About. It revolved around the chapters that describe moving and living aboard our boat(s). My reader wanted to know if our story would prompt more people to move onto boats--or any sort of "alternative living" scenario. "I hope so," I said. "That was certainly one of the reasons I wrote it."

"Yeah, but it's not for everybody. I mean, what about people who don't have the background or the 'emotional fortitude' you guys apparently have?"

Emotional fortitude gave me a real laugh. Would that be the fortitude required to brave our winter windstorms that can last up to a week, tearing through the marina and causing banshee-like howls from sailboat masts... Or the fortitude to maintain composure when the marine head is left running by one of our land-dwelling visitors, resulting in a fondue fountain of poo running across the soles and into the bilges? Exactly which kind of fortitude are we talking about here?

"Uh, well, all of it." Was the reply.

"Hmm, good point actually. I dunno."
                                                                         .   .   .

That particular conversation has been rattling around in my brain for the past couple of weeks. Especially as our lovely summer weather begins it's transformation into the fall pattern, propelling Juliet and me to quote incessantly from Game of Thrones and The Fellowship of the Ring... "We must now face the long dark of Moria," and "Winter is coming."

It's not hard to see why one would want to live aboard when the sun is shining, winds are calm and the outside of one's vessel functions as another living space. When one can toss lines at a whim and move their home to another dock or anchorage at ease. It is entirely another thing when the weather forecasts call for freezing temperatures, gale warnings and rain for months on end.

I have read articles from various sources lately that hint at a sharp increase in people moving aboard boats because of high rent rates or dissatisfaction with land dwelling. UK's The Guardian, recently wrote several pieces about Londoners migrating to canal boats as an option against being squeezed out of affordable housing in the city. The problems listed in that article are largely the same ones we face in the US.  The Washington Post  article sites high housing costs as the predominant reason more people are choosing life on the water.

In my book, I write about our decision to shift to water life and describe the process we went through to find just the right vessel (coining the phrase "divorce-boats" along the way). We both arrived at the decision differently--Jeff because of his romanticism, me from a point of frustration with normality. Both of us however, were in complete agreement that a life more off the grid was what we were hoping to achieve.

"Little" Kwaietek alongside the big Z.
Since our dramatic lifestyle change, we've gained a lot of insight about the "fortitude" often required of liveaboards. It has been over five years now and still we continue to learn more. Jeff and I were lucky in that we'd gained experience sailing prior to living aboard. We also met quite a few seasoned water-dwellers once the purchase of 63-foot Kwaietek went through. The eighteen month period between buying our boat and actually moving onboard gave us plenty of time to talk with other liveaboards and gain some valuable advice. Not to mention the fact that Juliet and I lived onboard the 160-foot schooner Zodiac for almost a year while Jeffery finished the remodel and subsequent sale of our Seattle house. The Zodiac was a pretty luxurious transition boat in which to get our liveaboard life jump-started.

Not everyone has the opportunities that we did when it comes to making the big switch to life on the docks. We have watched a few couples attempt to make a go of it. Several of them threw in the towel after particularly wretched storms. We give them credit for trying and certainly respect them for knowing when enough was enough.  One couple who've recently moved onto the docks is of concern to me right now. With no prior boat experience for the wife, weight and physical handicaps for both of them, I watch as slips and falls have occurred numerous times over the summer. Their sailboat is small (relatively speaking in liveaboard terms) and has a high freeboard. Their steps ended up blowing away in the last big storm causing issues for getting on and off the boat. I worry for their safety this coming winter and wonder if one of us will be required to help them out of the water should any of these obstacles cause an accident--a consideration that comes with risks for all involved in a winter-storm-rescue situation off a dock.

One of the other considerations when opting for life on boats is finding the proper vessel to use as a home. This is a huge consideration and one that, (if not blessed with being or knowing a shipwright), can cause significant problems down the line. A buyer's survey is well worth the time and cost to obtain and is different from a survey furnished for the seller in some critical ways. Boat appraisals differ from houses in this sense, as the materials they are constructed from, the purpose of the vessel and even the places it has traveled to, all greatly factor into the condition. If you're considering purchasing a used boat, do the research and find a surveyor who specializes in whatever kind of vessel you are looking into.

When we narrowed our search down to Kwaietek, we found a great surveyor who'd inspected many of the old BC Forestry boats and was routinely hired by many of the other forestry boat owners. He knew their construction and specs, knew about some of their idiosyncrasies and had resources for solutions. Based on his observations and recommendations, we felt secure in our decision to move forward with the purchase.

Conversely, we know of at least three vessels whose owners are currently reaping the high financial and emotional repercussions of not having surveys performed. (The fact that Jeff is a shipwright, and makes his living off of fixing these dilemmas might have something to do with it). These boat owners are paying tens of thousands of dollars to restore or just repair their homes in order to keep them afloat. Again, when a boat loses it's ability to be water-tight, it is a vastly different consequence than when the roof of your house springs a leak.  The take-away here is: get a buyer's survey!

The condition of a potential boat-dwelling is not the only factor for consideration. The type of boat to live aboard is of equal--perhaps even primary importance. Again, I admit that we are lucky in the regard of having multiple boats at our disposal. Our first boat Sugaree, is a 40-foot sailboat. Although comfortable and versatile as a cruising boat, we knew she wouldn't work as a permanent home for us--primarily because of Jeff's height. We've kept her to use as our play-time vessel. We looked specifically for vessels that had headroom, ample sunlight and multiple living areas. Kwaietek fit the bill perfectly for our family in those regards. It did not bother me to have to walk through her engine room in order to get between our galley and the rest of the boat. However, some people might not be keen on that feature. The key in searching out styles and types of boats is to know what your preferences are in advance.

Some former liveaboard neighbors of ours split up due in large part, to the differing expectations of what they each wanted from the experience. It is vitally important to talk through what you want and don't want from living onboard a boat.
Once you've landed on what kind of boat you want to live upon, you also need to look closely at where you would eventually moor it. Many marinas have a "no-liveaboard" policy, or have restricted numbers of liveaboard slips. Some marinas just adopt a don't ask-don't tell policy. The marinas that do have liveaboard slips often vary drastically in the services and corresponding fees that apply and it's wise to get a list and description from their office. Important factors to consider are things such as pump-out facilities, power (and the amperage), water, dock-carts, access to public transportation and stores etc.  As for the pump-out facilities, more and more marinas are adding a liveaboard fee for pumping out, whether it is used or not. Personally I am in favor of this policy, and I truly wish our own marina would adopt it. I'm ashamed of some of the liveaboards on our gate (and there are truly are too many of them), who continue to pump their sewage directly into the marina water rather then using the pump-out cart. It is disgusting and hypocritical and it boils down to nothing but laziness. Ugh.

Sewage in the marina is NOT OK.

Some of the factors that you should think about are actually the really small ones and usually boil down to personal preferences. For instance, look around the docks--are there a great number of sailboats nearby? This matters only if you are someone who might not want to hear the constant slap slap slap of halyards whacking into masts during windy periods. (As a sailor girl, I never thought that this sound would bother me and yet I found it almost unbearable when staying in a Seattle marina full of hundreds of aluminum-masted sailboats... who knew)?  Perhaps you are faced with a marina that is full of work boats? If you are not the type of person who wants to listen to the sound of equipment and big engines all the time, then you might not want to select that kind of a dock. Personally, I am happiest surrounded by the big working boats--but I realize that isn't everyone's cup of tea... rum... whatever.

Love our big old workhorse neighbors in the 'hood.

When we were looking around at marinas originally, we found quite a few with moorage rates that were much lower than others in the region. Our initial impulse was to save money and rent at one of those places. Then we thought about how our personalities and lifestyle preferences would play into living in one of those places. We ended up in Bellingham where the town, people and aesthetics most closely resembled our own tastes. We pay more, but ultimately our experience is better because of it. If you are fortunate enough to have options available, it is definitely a factor worth considering.

Finally, and I believe that I've saved the most important for last, is the matter of people. A vast, complicated subject that requires one to look inward as well as out. What kind of a person are you? Do you like interacting with all sorts of folk? Are you gregarious, introverted, do you handle conflict or crisis well? Do you see living aboard as a means to get away from the hustle and bustle of the outside world--escape the necessity of  interacting with others? Just trust me, this is a huge issue in which to spend a lengthy time contemplating upon before you actually move onto a boat. Contrary to popular belief, living on the water is not all solitude, communion with nature and tranquility... It most often is slatting halyards, bow-thrusters, loud stereo systems and diesel exhaust. Life in a marina is not dissimilar at times, to life in a trailer park. The difference, as one of our wizened neighbors describes it, is that most of us who live aboard have chosen to do so out of aesthetic reasons. Therefore, we try and treat our fellow inhabitants with care, aware as we fully are, of what can happen when the balance is upset.

Good dock neighbors are the best of folk.

I have spent years blogging about marina life, and many of our previous Flota-Navium posts are concerned with how to make life in the harbor safer and more pleasant. Therefore, I will allude to these posts rather then expound further. Suffice to say, one will always encounter those who view things differently and it is how one can deal (internally and externally), with the "others" that can make living in close quarters a positive experience... Yeah, yeah, yeah, it is definitely easier said than done, and I'm still learning. My Scottish temperament is frequently at odds with my diplomatic skills in this regard. 

But, having laid out some of the challenges of living in close quarters on the water, it is only fair to touch upon the benefits. As a result of our location and the conditions that affect us all, we are typically a very caring and care-full bunch of people. Quick to lend a hand or catch a line, mindful of each others boats and property. Liveaboards are typically a big asset to marinas when it comes to reporting alarms, intruders or vessels in need of attention. We value and trust most of our marina neighbors and enjoy getting together with them for special dock events. In that aspect, living aboard is much the same as living on land--just perhaps more necessary. (Sort of like pioneers and settlers in the old days, I suppose).

Home Sweet Home

For whatever reason you might be considering a switch to the lifestyle of boats on the water, just be aware that it will challenge you in one way or another. The liveaboard lifestyle makes you confront who you are as a  person; what you're willing to accept and what you are unable to cope with. It will force you to quickly learn what your real priorities are in life, whether or not you are ready to do so.
It is rewarding and it is humbling. Most of all, life on the water brings you back to the simplicity of living; mundane at times and overwhelmingly grandiose at others.
I wouldn't trade it for anything.

 ~ Chris

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Everything happens for a reason, sometimes it's because you're stubborn and make bad decisions.

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias wherein unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than is accurate. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their ineptitude.
~ Wikipedia
                                                                     .      .      . 


We watched as our neighbor's mast slipped out of view from our cabin's skylight at precisely midnight--just like he told us it would. I turned to my husband and said, "There he goes, care to lay odds on when the helicopters will drop rescue swimmers to save im?" We had a chuckle and rolled back toward our pillows to go to sleep.

That was almost a week and a half ago. Since then we've learned that, as we jokingly predicted, the Coast Guard did indeed pluck him (and two other passengers) from the sea, 53 miles off California's coastline. And since then both Jeff and I, and several of our dockside neighbors have been reflecting on what our obligations were in the year and especially the months leading up to his departure.

As we speak with several of our sailing and cruising neighbors; people who have also attempted to pass on advice or drop subtle hints, our conversation always comes back to, "Did we make ourselves clear? Could we have done anything more?" The consensus is no, we could not, at least not in this situation.

Our first hint that things might have been amiss was when he showed up in the marina, late summer of 2013. We all learned that he'd purchased the 55' sailboat boat sight unseen--online in fact--planning to leave with his wife that fall for cruising offshore to points south. With smaller craft experience on the great lakes under his belt, we didn't give it much thought. Turns out, the cruising dream was not entirely mutual and soon enough our neighbor was a bachelor on the new boat.

Shortly thereafter, one of our long-term neighbors was asked to help him get the big sailboat off the dock. Trouble with lines and line-handling ensued and several other experienced, well meaning neighbors offered advice on separate occasions. Over the course of the fall and into the spring, advice was offered and ignored. It became pretty obvious that the vessel was just "too much boat" for his experience. Over the course of the first year, he took the vessel out a half dozen times for over-nighters or weekends in the bay or nearby islands. Always in calm weather and usually to a dock. Always needing help upon returning to the dock. Always ignoring subtleties and warnings from those around him.

Last summer I suggested that he would benefit from a two-day seminar called "Basic Off-shore Safety and Survival" taught by a retired rescue swimmer and inspector. To his credit, he signed up and participated in the class. After the course, he was given the advise to go out and get more experience--to practice what he'd learned and to increase his "sphincter factor" with increasingly bigger wind and waves before heading offshore. Since taking that course, he went out once or twice for an over-nighter in a little bay about eight miles from the marina. No rough weather, no big waves, no sphincter-factor action.

Last winter, with a powerful windstorm beating down on the marina, the headsail on his boat began to tear and unfurl from the top down in 70-80 knot gusts. Jeff and I helped him try to secure it and were rather alarmed at his lack of knowledge about the location of his lines, his body-mechanics when on-deck in high winds and the condition of his dock lines. It was at that point I lost all confidence in his ability to handle a boat of that size.

As the weeks drew nearer to his departure, those of us on the dock who knew and were concerned, started to watch for signs of preparedness. Rig checks? No. System checks? No. Provisioning? No. Finally a six-person life raft arrived and was stowed onboard. As the weeks turned to days, our neighbor's wife arrived back on the dock. We had heard that he'd talked her into going on the voyage... Nope, not to be. She knew about his experience--or lack of--and refused, and in fact, tried to talk him out of going. Unsuccessful in her attempt to dissuade him, she left for good and the inhabitants of our dock worried yet again about the soundness of his plan. Two days later his passengers arrived; A buddy from his home state in the mid-west and a woman who, up until she stepped aboard his vessel, had never been on a boat before.

Still, we shook our collective heads and muttered to ourselves what a stubborn, bull-headed guy he was and let it be.  His boat left at midnight the following day. After my off-hand quip to Jeff, we didn't think anymore about it--that is until one of our other neighbors came by the next morning to relay a phone call he'd received. Apparently, after running all night in the islands with no relief-watch (as nobody else had experience at the helm), they passed Port Angeles to discover thick fog all around. The phone conversation went like this: (Sailboat): "Boy, this fog sorta' follows the boat around huh? I kind of thought there'd be more ships out here, but I don't see a one."...
(Our friend at dock): "You do have your radar on, right?"
(Sailboat): Well, yeah, but it's only showing these big green blobs, I thought that was land or islands." (Friend at dock): "Those are ships!"
(Sailboat): Oh wow! Yeah, I can see em now--there's a bunch of boats out here!"

At that point, we realized that A): He'd never been in PNW fog nor had he any experience sailing at night and, B): He had not used radar prior to setting out on this trip,  C.) Against advice, he intended to head 60 miles offshore to "get some experience."  At that point, the jokes and sarcastic remarks gave way to real concern for the safety of his passengers.

"Maybe we should have done an intervention, y'know, like before?" I asked. Our friend, a retired Vietnam helicopter pilot and an experienced cruiser, replied, "Wouldn't done a damn bit a good in his case. Trust me, I've tried."

Our dock-mates had successfully pulled off one intervention just a couple of years back. A novice sailing family on the dock had also purchased a sailboat with intentions of sailing offshore to Mexico. Similar situation and even less experience--but with a toddler onboard. The entire dock--in fact, the entire gate--had so many reservations about their well-being that they appointed Jeffery (always the diplomat), to pay a visit to the family a few weeks before departure and suggest a delivery captain accompany them. They followed the advise and made it safely to their destination port, albeit with severe sea-sickness the entire route.

On this past Saturday morning, our friend stopped by to give us the new update: They had abandoned ship and been lifted out by helicopter. At the time of rescue, the sea state was 1.5 meters 11 seconds apart. We were incredulous. Suddenly, the jokes and laying odds on how soon they'd need a Coast Guard assist weren't so outrageously funny any longer. "Wow," Jeff said, "Just, wow."

The dock was buzzing with stories from all who'd offered advice or given warnings over the last two years. We kept asking "Could we have made a difference?" "Might there have been a more forthright way to tell him he did not have the experience to go offshore?"

Later in the day, more information came out; news from local media stations and reports from the Coast Guard's website. The boat had been hit pretty hard the night before with 60 knot gusts and high seas that tore some sails, his engine stopped working and sea-sickness had taken down the crew, they chose to abandon the boat the next morning. We then learned that by Sunday, the USCG located the boat adrift miles away and towed it back into shore. We saw a photograph of our former neighbor posing with the Coast Guard swimmer and the pilots, he was grinning from ear to ear.  Secretly, I was sort of disappointed that they'd brought his boat back to him at no cost. I sort of wanted him to have had to work to get it back--maybe as some sort of a teaching moment. But then our friend reminded me that he'd put his soon-to-be-ex-wife's retirement into the purchase of the boat and I was glad, for her sake, that it had been returned unharmed.

"I hope he learned a lesson from this at least. Maybe he'll think twice before going offshore with passengers," I remarked.

"I doubt it," was Jeff's reply.

Sure enough, we read a copy of his recent email to our friend yesterday. An account full of smiley face emoticons that ended with "What have I learned: I learned to batten down the appliances and put seatbelts with shoulder straps on the sofas! Oh and maybe to not let out even a small sail in 60 mph wind without a knot in the drum to stop it a foot or two."

I confess, I'm still a little angry at the cavalier way he's handled this. No mention of the lives he put in danger, the realization of how unprepared he was to face open ocean conditions and how little he'd done to his vessel to make sure it could handle rough conditions. My fear is that he will go out again, put more lives at risk onboard as well as those who will doubtlessly go out to save him, and he will just continue to look at it as the way things are done.

In recent years, there's been talk of having people pay for the USCG rescues. Perhaps it would serve as a deterrent to those who blithely go to sea; unprepared and ready to use the helicopters and rescue swimmers as a taxi ride to shore when things get inconvenient or dicey on the seas. However, I agree with those in the know, like my friend Mario Vittone, who warn that adding a price tag to a rescue would in fact make it more dangerous--people would wait too long before calling for help or not at all rather than pay. It's a pity there isn't an in-between option.

Regardless of whether this particular individual will learn anything from his near-loss or not, we have learned a valuable lesson: There is a time when intervening is a good thing, and if done in good spirit and diplomatically, it can be completely appropriate. I am glad (for the sake of his passengers and particularly for the woman  who'd never been on a boat), that they made it through the ordeal. It would be tragic to be certain, if I was now reflecting on what we might have done to prevent loss of life. I will no longer shake my head and make jokes as the boat leaves the dock. If there is a serious doubt in my mind about someone's physical or emotional readiness, I'm going to share my concern with them. I would hope that those who have more experience than I would do the same for me.

As I write this post, our dockmates nearby on Jessica E have just returned from sailing around Vancouver island on their 55-foot sailboat.  "How'd it go?" We asked them as they tied up.

"Fabulous!" He said, "but going on the outside is completely different than sailing in the inside passage. We had some real days!"

I'm looking forward to sitting down over a few bottles of wine with our newly returned neighbors and hearing their stories about sailing to windward of Vancouver island. Especially since Jeff and I are gearing up for our own circumnavigation. His last trips up to Alaska put him outside more than a few times and he remembers them very well. My memories of seasickness in rough seas have stayed with me for years. Nevertheless, it is all part of the process.

There is something very admirable in having the kind of adventuresome spirit that urges you to go to sea... To toss the lines and simply disappear. However, there is prudence in preparation and training.
As Mario is wont to say, "Never confuse a lack of failure for success."

~ Chris and Jeff

*For those who are considering cruising offshore, there are abundant courses available to participate in--everything from hands on "two-weeks-before-the-mast" type programs like Amanda and John Neal's Mahina Expeditions to seminars like VLinc's "BOSS" class. There are fantastic resources like Larry and Lynn Pardey's book Storm Tactics, Handling Storms at Sea by Hal Roth and Adlard Cole's book on Heavy Weather Sailing, heck, you could build a library with books about cruising offshore and troubleshooting systems while underway!

Also, here is my favorite article from Mario about an early rescue:  Expect the Unexpected

Monday, June 22, 2015

Of Horatio Hornblower and Fire Ships

Recently, I re-re-rewatched A&E's Horatio Hornblower series, a ritual before most sailing seasons it seems. The episode entitled "The Fire Ship" is one of my favorites for many reasons--not the least for Horatio's exciting rescue of the Indefatigable from a flaming Spanish vessel turned loose amidst the fleet. I imagined (for like the hundredth time), what it would be like to experience such a horrendous event, up close and personal.

Last weekend's fire that engulfed the covered boat-sheds in the Tacoma Narrow's marina caused over five million dollars in damages and had me thinking about fires and ships all over again.

I've witnessed a few boatyard and marina fires for myself in the past decade: In early 2007, while Zodiac was in drydock, a small vessel caught fire across the canal from us. We watched with mounting dread as it burned through it's mooring lines and drifted toward us--a smoky black inferno. There was no way to get the Zodiac out of harm's way, sitting as she was on jack-stands and keel blocks. The actions of the Seattle police saved us that day. By attaching the fireball-vessel to their boat, they towed it into the middle of the lake and extinguished the flames.

Independence Day in 2013 was the Lake Union boat storage fire that occurred right before the big fireworks show was to begin. Over a dozen boats were lost in that one. I stood on Zodiac's foredeck from across the lake and watched the mushroom-cloud of thick smoke that served as a backdrop for the entire fireworks display that night.

The fire that I will never forget is 2012's tragic episode in Squalicum marina. Jeff and I woke to the sound of helicopters overhead. It wasn't until we turned on the news that we discovered two other live-aboards had perished inside their boat nearby. We watched in stunned silence as the events portrayed on the screen played out just 400 yards from our wheelhouse. By the end of the day over twelve boats had been destroyed along with most of the dock's structure.

The threat of fire ships is never far from any boat owner--especially those who choose to live aboard in marinas packed tightly with other vessels. The diverse variety and condition of crafts at our gate alone is a pretty typical example of what an average American marina hosts. Everything from century-old wooden boats to rows of fiberglass yachts as well as workboats, charter boats and the occasional derelict or abandoned relic. Each kind of vessel and each type of owner present their own particular set of  issues.

For instance, take our boat Kwaietek: She's well maintained and pretty regularly safety-checked, however she is also an old boat comprised completely of diesel soaked oak and fir--decades of it. Her engine room is midship below deck, a fire in our engine room would engulf her entire structure very quickly. (Knocking wood right now).  The advantages: we are live-aboards hence always around or nearby, we are pretty safety-conscience owners who keep an eye on systems. The disadvantages: we are live-aboards hence always around: we cook, use electrical equipment and are prone to human error like everybody else.
That's one type of vessel. Another type would be the rows of fiberglass charter boats that sit vacant at dock for weeks at a time and then fill with bare-boat customers eager to cruise the islands. The advantages: Most charter yachts are managed by businesses that professionally clean and maintain the vessels. This ensures a benchmark of safety requirements and oversights. (Last year an employee smelled smoke on one of the boats she was cleaning and called the fire department before it could fully ignite). The disadvantages: bare-boat charterers range in skill and experience levels and not all have experience around boats and their systems.

The issues surrounding derelict vessels are pretty self apparent. For instance, two years ago, we had a neighboring boat in our slip whose owner had moved away (a divorce necessitated division of assets and this vessel was caught up in negotiations). The absentee owner left an open invitation for friends and some area drifters to crash on his boat in his absence. Eventually it became sort of a maritime flop house. Late night parties, drug deals and smokers on the fantail were a constant concern to many of us who watched things transpire over the winter. I spent countless hours calculating the speed of burn and how fast we could start our engine should the adjacent boat go up in flames. I finally deciding that cutting lines and pushing out would be the smartest move.

In truth, should an adjacent boat become engulfed in flames, the odds of getting our own vessels out of harm's way in time are pretty slim. It is one of those facts of life that we silently acknowledge and then push out of our minds.

Having stated this, I want to be quick to point out that there are quite a large number of things that we can do to help lesson the chances of such a situation occurring. Below is a list of the most common reasons fires occur on vessels.  [From SeaWorthy Magazine]
  1. AC and DC wiring/appliance - 55%
  2. Engine/Transmission Overheat - 24%
  3. Fuel Leaks - 8%
  4. Miscellaneous - 7%
  5. Unknown - 5%
  6. Stove - 1%
Recognizing the leading causes is one thing, knowing how to prevent fires from these items is is a whole other matter. There are several great resources to check out in this regard and I'll list some below--please feel free to mention any others in the comments section below.

Port of Bellingham prevention guide
Boat Safe
Fire Prevention for Boaters 
Marina Fire Safety/City of Seattle
Previous Flota Navium post

Here are some of the measures that we've adopted after a few years of experience: Unplug our appliances when not in use; purchase only electronics/appliances either marine-specific and/or UL certification and continuously check condition of wiring and circuitry; keeping our solvents and flammables and rags off the vessel as often as possible, (although I write this while in mid-brightwork on all three vessels, so I'm breaking this rule as you read it); appoint a "safety officer" on the vessel to confirm that all systems are in good shape; replace batteries on alarms and flashlights on the winter and summer solstices as a standard practice and check them monthly; practice fire and abandon-ship drills and modify protocols as needed; place appropriate fire extinguishers in every room/ level of boat (2 in engine room fore and aft); keep all exits and our finger pier free and clear; hang emergency knives and lights at each entrance/egress as well as in each stateroom. And above all, be vigilant of not only our vessels but the ones around us.

There are a myriad of websites, books and experts out there to help you come up with a safety checklist on your vessel or your covered workspace. Both Jeff and I have taken certifications in this subject matter as part of our licensing and would be happy to consult or send you links if you contact us.

The way I see it, the more folks who are actively working on fire prevention in marinas or in crowded anchorages means there's much less likelihood of someone having to pull an epic Horatio move. (I for one, am not that nimble anymore and really hate to sweat).

~ Chris

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Keeping it Real

The schooner Lavengro hauled out in our boat yard.
When Jeff and I considered the type of model upon which to base his new business Kingfisher Craftsmen, we took several factors into consideration. Foremost was how to provide the much needed maritime services in this region and still keep true to our lifestyle goal. We learned the hard way from my former Seattle business, just how quickly a promising venture can consume one's family life and quality time and we have no interest in repeating our past mistakes. (Yes, success can actually be a real pain in the ass sometimes).

And the solution? We decided we needed to make it a job that will combine what we both love to do with what we are very good at doing and then make sure we include our family and our friends in the big adventure. So, this is what we've set out to accomplish.

Kingfisher Craftsmen just took possession of our new boatshop located within the Port of Bellingham's Fairhaven marine industrial complex. We have a large area for the carpentry and woodworking projects as well as space allocated for fabrication and welding. There is a big loft above to lay out canvas and paint projects as well as a reception area and a design studio/office. Juliet even has her own studio in which to write and paint. Now we can all be together and combine our various specialties. It's a really exciting prospect.

The good news is that there are a large number of wooden boats in Bellingham and a growing number of owners who'd prefer to keep them up here rather than trek south for shipwrights. We're pleased to discover that we've landed in a niche market with a distinct need--one we're more than happy to fill.

In the past decade both Jeff and I have been fortunate enough to have worked with and learned from many of the old masters in the traditional maritime trades. The experiences that we've gained from various shipwrights, riggers and mariners has been invaluable and we're applying it to the skills we've already amassed in our own respective careers as trades-people in the contracting, fabricating and painting trades. A combined 60+ years of professional experience is pretty impressive if I do say so myself.

It's a true asset to possess the skills we gained from our theatrical backgrounds. Jeff's focus as a theatrical rigger and stage carpenter has been hugely beneficial--especially when it came to projects like re-masting the Zodiac. He re-engineered the rigging diagrams from the old masts and was able to piece together the incomplete schematics as well as the (quite literally), missing chunks of mast; in the end arriving at a new rig and mast that fit perfectly with the existing rig components.  His current projects have consisted of odd shapes and complex joinery--all of which he routinely dealt with when building sets onstage and designing solutions for unique situations.

I started my painting career before I finished high school and have been an on-again-off-again professional scenic artist in theater and motion picture production since the mid-eighties. I've since transitioned to marine painting and brightwork jobs and found I really enjoy the process of bringing dull wood back to life. It also allows me to work with Jeff again--just like in our theater days from way back. My degree as a theatrical designer has been a big help in a wide variety of jobs, not the least of which has been on our own boats.

As we take on more marine related projects, we're adding some of our talented friends to the pool of craftsmen. Metal fabrication, welding and foundry work are a few of the skills we can now add to the list of trades offered. I'm really looking forward to the new apprentices and interns that are coming onboard (so to speak) this summer and fall. It will be a thrill to help pass on some of these traditional skills to new tradesmen.

It is no secret that the corkers, marlinspike seamen and master shipwrights of the last generation are diminishing. Boats are increasingly made from materials such as fiberglass, steel and aluminum. These craftsmen who specialize in wood are becoming harder to find. Nevertheless, their skills are still necessary and their old tricks and knowledge cannot be allowed to disappear. The same was true decades ago in theater as the older scenics retired; artists who painted vast canvases on shop floors with their brushes affixed to bamboo sticks, their pigments mixed with animal glue and the renderings gridded out to scale on cardboard. Nowadays much of what is created for theater productions is simply scanned from a computerized design and digitally printed onto a canvas. Many of the traditional skills are lost for good.

Again, I was lucky to have met and learned from a couple of the old (and I mean old) masters. My father was a designer and student of Arnold Gillette--he wrote the book, literally wrote the book on scenecraft. He taught me some tricks for painting and drawing once when visiting our home. He gave me a rendering of one of his designs shortly before his death. I treasure that rendering (and my father covets it still).

As we launch this new enterprise, I am keen on taking the best of what I've learned from running my own business and making sure not to repeat the worst of what we learned the hard way. I want to combine the tricks and skills from the wisdom of our predecessors and blend them with the innovations and ideas of those who are coming into the workplace. Most of all I want to keep learning and creating. The fact that we can do it with each other and with our friends, just makes it all the more exciting.

Kingfisher Craftsmen

                                      ~  Chris

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Somewhere Near the Outer Margins of the Grid

I doubt it's possible in this age of technology to achieve life completely off of the grid... You know, somewhere just short of an uncharted island with a volleyball named Wilson.

Living in the marina of a medium-sized town, we don't even come close to that degree of disconnection. However, we do try our best much of the time and comparatively, we're better off than six years ago when we occupied a 4,000 sq. foot house with three cars and a whole lot of stuff.

For those who've read my latest book, you're no doubt familiar with the reasons why we sought life on the margins. For those who are not familiar with our story, just know that we had good reason. (you can find out more by clicking this Goodreads link). 

Suffice to say that in 2009, we sold our Seattle house, downsized onto a 63-ft, 92-year-old boat and began a much different kind of existence. And here I write 'began' as it is an unfinished, continuous process--one that is fluid with victories and defeats that occur simultaneously.  Nevertheless, it is a process--a journey and that is what I value the most.

It is true that I occasionally miss the busy-ness of my former lifestyle. As a natural-born entrepreneur and chronic multi-tasker, I really did enjoy running my small business while establishing a non-profit and building up a board of directors. I had five children at home with countless friends and schoolmates in and out of the doors at all hours for many years.  I chatted and counseled daily with dozens of pregnant women and new mothers--over 5,000 families by the time I closed my business. And once we moved away from the frenetic city, I satisfied my craving for organizing and creating things by becoming the mate on a tall ship charter boat spending several years marketing, training crew, helping the captain to run operations ashore and onboard the Zodiac.

By contrast, we now live quite a slow-paced existence on our own little vessel. I spend quiet days writing and working on wooden boats. All but one of my children are grown and leading their lives in other towns and states with the youngest preparing to move away for college next year. Days go by before I realize I've not stepped foot on terra firma (as long as I don't count our floating docks). Our lives are made even more simple and removed from the affairs of land and I am becoming increasingly receptive to the lure of open water, the solitude, immediacy and simplicity of cruising offshore.

I began to ponder about this way of life earlier in the week, when one of our neighboring fishermen gave us several tuna and a Mahi Mahi (a way of thanking Jeffery for some carpentry work he'd recently completed on their boat). I garnished the fish with several Meyer's lemons we received as a gift from our cruising liveaboard dockmates. The planters of herbs I keep on our boat deck provided plenty of seasoning for our meal.  It dawned on me, how much I appreciate the way I cook now and the manner in which we obtain it. (I am baking sourdough bread as I write this post and plan to walk it down to our Alaska-bound friends on the Debra D to take north with them).

Sure, these occurrences are certainly no different from any land-based community, I admit. Yet it is the zen-ness of life on the dock, the transitory nature of all things boat related that makes them seem so special. Jeff once remarked that he loved the sailing lifestyle and enjoyed crewing on the Zodiac because one has the opportunity to meet so many new and interesting people and there's so much fascinating stuff to talk about and share, and then you pull your anchor or toss up your lines right before you've stayed too long. I think he summed it up best by saying, "I get to know people just enough to appreciate them but not long enough to get to really dislike any of them." To that I would add, that you're fully aware you'll be separating soon enough, so you actively look for those things in others that you're able to enjoy and don't bother with the things that don't really matter.

 As Bilbo Baggins is wont to say, "It's no bad thing celebrating a simple life."

Dramatic change it seems, has a way of following our family, always looking to get it's foot in the door. One of the universities to which our youngest has applied is the U. of Otago, on the southern island of New Zealand. As we draw closer to the time when she'll learn if she'll be heading to the southern hemisphere, that old familiar urge to disconnect is growing stronger once again. We've always wanted to move to New Zealand and Jeffery and I have often talked about sailing to the south Pacific. Our conversations evolve into downsizing yet again, to that of refitting Sugaree for open water cruising... to wrapping up our commitments on land... to starting another adventure, inching off that damn grid just a wee bit more each time we do.

I've got some trepidation about my ability to be completely alone without the distractions that I say I loathe but sometimes crave. I'm eager to unplug and yet anxious about the degrees of our disconnection.

Who knows what's in store for us, but it is the myriad of possibilities out there that keep me going.

~ Chris