Friday, May 31, 2013

All hail....THE BOY

This is a post to give massive credit to all men, and mine in particular. 

Living on a sailboat sounds very romantic.  Sure, we've sailed into the sunset, and we've had nightly cocktails on the poop deck, surrounded by the gentle lapping of the ocean against our hull, and we've explored places that one can only get to by boat.  We've smiled indulgently when people dinghy or kayak up to us, exclaiming about how much they like the look of our ketch.  We shake our heads when we read Facebook postings about snowstorms in May where we used to live.  We wonder at some of our friends plowing through the dreaded 16 hour workday, and if they think it's still worth it.  However......

When I was in school, primarily junior and senior high, while the boys had their noses into batteries, and science experiments, and shop classes disassembling and then reassembling engines, and mechanical "stuff", I was learning useful things like how to poach an egg (I'm not sure it warranted an entire day), how to sew a button on by hand (really?!?! that needs a class?!?!) and how to type, because as I was a girl, if I was so unfortunate as to have to enter the work force, I at least could then type a letter, and do a bit of steno work.  One semester I learned how to use a sewing machine.  I think it was the most useful thing I learned in school. 

Meanwhile, the boys were standing at their fathers' elbows handing them tools, learning how to cuss, and how to fix a car with a piece of duct tape, a bit of bailing wire, and a hammer.  They took shop class, and it actually seemed like it was required for a guy to spend at least one or two years up to their elbows in grease.  Most teenaged boys would go through a few cars, working their way up from the $500 beater, fixing it, trading it up, and onto their next challenge.  They'd get enough money to buy the "cool" body, never minding that the engine and systems might be compromised.  That, they knew they could fix.  The look of the thing tho - that you had to buy.  I am so grateful that Ron, my able and trusty captain on the boat, and in life, was one of those boys that didn't get the car given to them, that he learned how a battery worked, and that he's not afraid to get dirty.

The last week has been a challenge.  Our new solar panels arrived from Florida, as did our new radar.  Fellow boaters will know that just because you spent the money to get some new cool gear for your vessel, the easy work, paying for it, has been done.  The hard work is just beginning.  Installing the new panels was an exercise in patience.  Headliners had to come down, wiring had to be fed throughout the boat, new charge controllers needed to be hooked up, and then the boat had to be put back together.  The radar entailed more wiring, climbing up the mast in a pitching and rolling anchorage, securing the mount so it wouldn't, YET AGAIN, come undone and fall into the ocean while underway.  Drilling through decks, punching holes in the mast, it all takes time, effort, patience, knowledge, and a willingness to know that it's done right by doing it yourself.  All the while, envision being in a wet sauna.  You know, the one you pay big bucks for each time you're in a resort or at the gym.  The kind that people willing sit in in their homes, or hotels.  We get to do it for free, except we don't get to open the door and walk out.  Drinking gallons of water each day, without having to go to the head, refutes Newton's "for each action, there is an opposite, and equal, reaction".

So the above is the fun stuff.

In the midst of all this positive change, ongoing is our !@#$%!@#$% generator.  I have extolled the virtues of my sewing machine, made by Sears, but here I DO endorse Newton......for my positive action towards the Kenmore brand, I have an opposite and equally negative reaction to Entec and their piece of shit generators.  There is not one week that goes by that Ron does not have to work on that thing.  This last month has seen him rebuild the fuel pump, both water pumps, and the starter motor.  Hoses for both the coolant and fuel started leaking.....requiring more time with his hands in the grease, and covered in sweat. We know several other boats with these types of generators.  One pitched it overboard in a fit of pique, and one spends several hundred dollars every month or so to get it worked on.  Each morning, when we're ready to fire up the thing, I hold my breath to see if it will start, and if it does, how long it will keep going.  With the money we've spent on new parts, we could have purchased a new Honda 2000 and probably would have come out even.
If his head isn't in the toilet, it's in the generator
A few years ago, I decided that I needed to be a part of the smooth operation of our systems onboard.  We had an interesting battery monitor, one that Ron wasn't familiar with.  I thought I'd take this on, learn about it, read the instruction manual and really get to know how it worked.  Not only could I not figure the first paragraph out, I had to ask Ron for definitions of 9 out of 10 of the words in the very first sentence and what they meant.  I don't have the patience that my man does, (good thing I was never a mother!) and threw the booklet aside in disgust.

For those of you contemplating this lifestyle, it has it's wonderful moments.  But make sure that SOMEONE on the boat knows about mechanical stuff, how to fix a pump or two, and how to do a bit of wiring.  If no one does, YESTERDAY is the time to enroll in a class or two.  Forget about taking a sailing course - that's the easy part.  Anyone can's the other systems maintenance that is crucial to your life and wellbeing of the boat, and all aboard.

Either that, or bring lots of cash, cuz you're going to need it! 

Monday, May 20, 2013

We are Travelers, with a CAPITAL T

We are travelers.  As our mode of transport is a sailboat some would call us sailors, and while we DO sail, mostly we travel.  As travelers by boat, we face a number of challenges and hurdles, like hurricanes, tides, currents, squalls, rolly anchorages, inadequate exercise, cramped living, etc., etc., etc.  All these things considered, traveling by boat is infinitely better than traveling by any other mode of transport. 

I have just returned from Vancouver, BC, with a quick stopover in San Diego before returning back here to our favourite spot in Panama City, the La Playita anchorage.  As such, it really was a case of trains, planes and automobiles, and that was before I even got out of Panama.  A few thoughts….

1) Rules are different outside of North America.  My taxi driver, who I picked up for a dollar to take me to the central location for the buses, was busy texting and talking the ENTIRE ½ hour I was with him.  Strangely, I was more impressed with his multitasking, than I was fearful of my life.  Maybe here the men can do more than one thing without causing a traffic jam, or an accident?

2)  After my taxi ride, I embarked upon the hottest trip I’ve ever been on in a bus.  Although the municipal buses here in Panama City are brand new, sparkly clean, and have lots of legroom (when used appropriately) they do not have shades, the windows do not open, and there are about 10% of the ones needed out on the road.  Hence, my trip from the central bus depot was like standing in an oven with every one of my friends (from my whole life).  Of course, the 20 minute trip took 2 hours because everyone from Panama City wanted to get on this particular bus.

3) The whole world does not have the same temperatures that we do here in Central America.  Was my brain addled from the heat and the humidity from the last 3 years?  I don’t know, but what I am now well aware of is that one pair of flipflops to go to one of the most sophisticated and cosmopolitan cities in North America is inadequate, inappropriate, and downright cold.  I was channeling my inner geisha girl when faced with my midnight to 6am layover in Chicago, I pulled a pair of ankle socks out of my backpack and tried to warm the icicles that used to be my toes, wearing them with my sandals.  It didn’t work and it looked stupid.  

4) I get the whole security checkpoint thing.  I’ve defended it, I understand it, I also rue it.  When one is employed (as I used to be) and traveling for business, you are on someone else’s clock.  You can stand in line waiting for……who knows what, but you can do it because it’s frankly part of the job.  Who cares?  You are still getting your paycheck if you stand in line, or are in a business meeting.  When you are NOT working, all of a sudden, the hour you spend in those lines is an hour closer to the time you meet your maker.  I’m not interested in that.  Therefore, I want a line especially for me to avoid wasting my life being told to take off the above flipflops (there could be a bomb in there), spread my arms and pretending I’m making snow angels, and defending my lifestyle to a bunch of unimaginative Immigration officials. 

5) WTF?  $6.02 for a cup of coffee and a scone?  I must admit tho that the absence of the drone of a generator was appreciated. Not worth $6.02, but appreciated.

6) North America has GOT to get their shit together.  Why can I get free internet in the Panama City and San Salvador airports, but have to pay in Chicago? 

I could go on and on.  Most of my friends from “before” are in the travel/tourism business, so they live all of the above and so much more.  I could do it when I was younger, but life now is so much more precious.  I’m starting to realize that perhaps I may not live forever, and so each day and moment is appreciated more than ever.  Our sailing lifestyle may have its own set of challenges, but they are all a part of this choice we’ve made and they frankly make so much better stories than…..”today I stood in line at the airport to get told to disrobe, and not talk back to lesser educated, less traveled, and incredibly boring individuals.”  I’ll take my 8 hour trip to the market for eggs, my 600 square feet of living space, my language-challenged taxi rides, and my dodging of wind squalls any day, over all those sorry disaffected souls, standing bleary and blankly in line. 

I just wish this lifestyle paid better. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Disaster at Sea

It's only now that I can write about it.  Traumatic events have a way of numbing your brain until your heart (and your wallet) can handle it.  We had a disaster at sea......

I say we, but I was only a part of the recovery.  Not the initial tragedy.  I had made the great escape last fall from El Salvador.  I don't know whether it was hormones, or whether my body core, after 2 years living in steamy and sweltering conditions had had enough.   I told Ron, under the guise of needing to go for "boat parts", that I need to head north, so I booked myself a plane ticket to the LAND OF PLENTY - the US of A, in order to really escape the heat.

During cocktail hour, on the day prior to heading back to El Salvador from San Diego, I got a phone call.  Now, let me explain.  4:28pm on any given day is sacred in the Reimer household.  It's when we can exhale, talk about the day, and get busy with a drink.  Ron knows this, and yet......when I heard it was him on the phone, calling at this most inopportune time, I knew it was either really good news, or not.

It wasn't.

Apparently, our mizzen decided it had had enough.  For those of you non-sailors, that's the smaller mast on the back of the boat, the one that is "ONLY" 35 feet tall, and the one that holds the wind generator and radar, two fairly important components in our sailing arsenal.  Now lest you think that we had stressed the thing beyond endurance, it was a calm morning, we were anchored where we had been for the past 4 months in an estuary, it was dead calm, and Ron was down below happily plucking away at his computer.  He said he heard a roar, thought someone in another boat was bearing down on him, or that the world was coming to an end.  For a sailor, in simple terms, it was.

There are these things called chainplates.  They are the metal bits that run from deck level, down through the deck to below and bolt to the side of the hull.  Above deck, they have the wire bits attached and in turn, hold the masts up.  For our mizzen, we had 3 of these things on each side, and one of the them had given up the ghost, sending the mizzen crashing down.  Breaking it's fall was the bbq, installed on the railing.

Initially, the first thought is...."can we put her back together?", to be swiftly followed by...."of course we can, but how much is it going to cost?" 

Suffice it to say that we had our work cut out for us, but nothing on a boat, save a holing that leaves you on the ocean floor, is unfixable.  And this wasn't going to cut our sailing careers short, not for a minute.  We just had to walk through it, step by step, making lists, getting things replaced and made, and make a few decisions.  All was not lost.

Following are a few pics that tell the tale.....without showing the tears.

Friends at the ready
Bit of a mess
New use for a pillow
New view
Twisted mess

Last 10" removed
New Gooseneck

New Maststep
New tangs for future davits
Back up without the wind generator
This is a heartfelt thank you to all of our friends, fellow cruisers, and the people of San Salvador that were instrumental in getting us going again.