Tuesday, July 29, 2008


The Island Packet 350, which is the Island Packet 32' with a "sugar scoop" or swimming platform built into the transom. Some amenities on the 350 are alluring and the swim platform is definitely one of them. Otherwise getting on and off the boat is pain in your ass, not the boat's.

It's a happening little boat, same size as our Isabella with a different layout and about 20 years newer. We were skeptical about the pullman bed in the v-berth. The pullman is a rectangular bed canted to fit in a triangular-shaped room. One of the reasons we're boat shopping is that Isabella's v-berth is a bit too cozy for us, so we were anxious to see a boat the same size with a different design. We tried it out -- briefly. Not bad at all. No twangling feet. An acceptable width.

Overall we gave the 350 a 92. It helped that the one we saw was immaculate. You wouldn't think there could be hellholes in the water until you start boat shopping. We've seen some hideous creaking, filthy, molding, rusting heaps over the years. Those of us with good boats on the market should send those rat-trap owners a couple of bucks for making our boats seem like the QE2. That's how we felt when we boarded that 350. You just wanted to plop it in the water and go.

The aft cabin has a clever arrangement with leg room under the cockpit.

We hated the in-mast furling (there's electronic man again), but that's just specific to the one we saw.

The only negatives specific to the 350:
--Size. Not significantly bigger or better layout than Isabella.
--Stepping down from the cabin roof to the deck is a long way. It didn't seem comfortable or safe.
--Price. Because they are newer and still being made, they're expensive. The cheapest start at about $130K.

On to the 35' tomorrow...

--Sorted through 20 years of photos and threw away 90% of them. Whew! Only 28 more years to go...
--Laundry. Sigh. That doesn't count, does it.
--Cleared the store floor for a strip and rewax. That sort of counts. It's a facelift for selling the business.
--Exchanged email with someone interested in buying Isabella!!!

Monday, July 28, 2008


The Island packet 38'.
We looked at three boats yesterday, all Island Packets: 38', 350 and 35'.

Just for the hell of it, we decided to test our theory about when big is too big.

The 38 felt like an oceanliner compared to Isabella, but we both held our judgment. If we're going to have the downside of a bigger boat (expensive to buy and maintain, docking fees based on footage, difficult handling, etc.), we should be rewarded with amazing amenities below deck. The salon is a bit roomier than the 350 and the 35', and there's an extra bathroom that we don't need. But if I'm dropping an extra $20-$30K (!), I want heart-palpitations and jaw-dropping features to justify the expense. Didn't happen. Above the deck everything was bigger than we wanted, and bigger than I could handle on my own.

"The owner has this great electric winch for hoisting the main," Eddie, the broker, said helpfully.

Ah, electronic man. You'll see him crewing on a lot of boats. He's awesome but only if you can handle things without him. His helping hand is a luxury, but if you're relying on him to do something you can't and have no backup system, look out. He's notoriously unreliable. The going gets rough, electronic man is a deserter.

Technically, I could probably manage the 38' on my own by using some physics (double purchase) and elbow grease, but again, what are we gaining? A bathroom we don't need?

We eliminated the 38' Island Packet.

--more cds on the laptop
--more sanding
--another round of files in the trash
--no more IP38s to worry about!

Sunday, July 27, 2008


"Start sanding with 60 grit, then move up to 80, then 100. You can start varnishing at 120."

"How many coats of varnish?" I asked.


I gasped.

"Ain't none of it fun."

This was our oh-so-quotable friend John Bayliss talking. We were buying teak prep supplies and varnish at Bayliss Boatworks in Wanchese where John builds outrageously beautiful fishing yachts. We ask John's advice a lot, because, well, dude knows what he's talking about. See for yourself.

This day we were quizzing him about refinishing the cap rails.

Sailboat Primer: There's a very short wall that runs around the perimeter of some sailboat decks called a toe rail. We prefer boats that have more rather than less toe rail, which serves to give you a little standing/walking area when the boat is heeled over. Isabella's got a beautiful 8-inch-tall, 6-inch-wide toe rail topped with a plank of teak called the cap rail. That's 32 feet X 2 sides + 8 feet across the stern = um, a lot. That's what we're refinishing.

Our partner, the sun, did a great job of stripping off the old varnish. We just had to knock off the last of it in most spots. Start with 60 grit by hand along the curved edges. The flat top can be knocked down with the palm sander with 60 grit. Then sand with 80 grit by machine, by hand, 100 grit, 120 grit. Clean. Tape everything. Wipe with tack cloth. First coat of varnish cut with 50% mineral spirits. Let dry for 12 hours. Rub down with Scotch Brite pad. Clean. Wipe with tack cloth. Second coat with 25% mineral spirits. Let dry for 12 hours. Rub down. Clean, wipe, varnish. Repeat. Retape after three coats .... you get the idea. Add the v-berth hatch and the large "garage" that covers the main hatch, and we've got miles of teak before we sleep.

Ain't none of it fun.

--23 cds copied to laptop. trying not to think about how many to go.
--engine on Isabella repaired (mostly) at $800*
--first round of toe rail sanding done between rain days
--one file box of old paperwork DONE

*note to us: take a damn diesel repair class.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


There's not any one thing about shoving off that's difficult. It's just the volume of the not-so-difficult things that gets overwhelming.

Of course, selling the business, selling the house, selling the boat and buying a boat are extra large and each has its own associated, very long TO DO list, but then there's the life onboard list:

--figure out how to get web connection on the boat
--find the best cell phone option
--learn single side band lingo and get license
--decide where to keep state residency for tax purposes
--figure out that whole mail thing -- where to forward it, what is necessary
--kitchen supplies: what do we have to have
--clothing: how much and what
--electronics: what's critical; what's luxury; what's outdated
--music: start loading up the ipod; get rid of cds; get a dock with speakers that can withstand marine environment
--computers: how many? waterproof cases. backing up.
--camera: how many? still and video? cost.
--ditch bag
--buy a dinghy/life raft
--build a first aid kit
--hone down/build up the onboard library
--tools: what do we need; get them
--backup equipment: need extras of just about everything onboard
--provisioning: what do we want on hand when we shove off
--get eating utensils made: have wooden bowls and plates made
--take navigation class (yeah)
--research, try on and then purchase foul weather gear
--go to various doctors for physicals, eye checks, getting-old exams, skin protection, etc.
--keep a list of things to do.

And that's just off the top of my head.

Friday, July 25, 2008


Okay, that bigger boat, continued.

More about what we're looking for .... We think heavy is good, not personally Rubinesque, but in boats. A heavy boat sits nicely in the water, glides along without being tossed by every little ripple. They look like little ships, fat -- or beamy in boat terminology. every foot wider means a marked difference below decks where we'll live.

We also prefer full keel boats.

Sailboat primer: The keel is the "wing" below the water that keeps the boat from going belly-up when the wind hits the sails. The keel leans against the water and creates forward motion, much like the wing on an airplane creates lift. Some boats have a little wing-shaped keel that's called, oddly enough, a wing keel. A full keel runs almost the entire length of the boat. The surface area needed to make the science work is spread out horizontally instead of vertically. In other words, it goes wide instead of deep, so you can sail in shallower water -- important in the Caribbean where the water is shallow.

So now we have our requirements: Full keel, cutter, beamy, heavy. That leaves us with:
Downeast. Have one.
Westsail. Tried it. Don't like it.
Cabo Rico. Considering.
Island Packet. Going to look at them this weekend. I'll be talking a lot more about these boats as we look at them.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


On planet me there are only three rules that justify using jargon:
  • RULE #1: if there's no more common reference that is clear
  • RULE #2: if the new term is more concise and therefore saves syllables/time*
  • RULE #3: they're such fabulous words, you can't resist
*Rule #2 Amendment: a grace syllable is allowed if only one syllable is at stake. majority opinion (that's me) holds that saving time is not always paramount when you're traveling at 5 mph. On a long, light-winded passage, complete revocation of Rule #2 can be brought under advisement.

There are things on a sailboat that clearly qualify under Rule #1. They are unique and flat out require their own words.

Bowsprit. Perfect Rule #1 example. It doesn't have a land equivalent unless you count a hood ornament. A hood ornament on a boat is about as silly as referring to the bowsprit on an SUV.

V-berth. Not many triangular shaped rooms -- or beds -- on land, so v-berth is allowed under Rule #1, no room for confusion. It's allowed under #2 if you were going to call it "that triangle-shaped bed."

Transom, jib, spinnaker, halyards and boom gallows. Mast, anchor, hatch. All good. All qualify for 1, 2 and sometimes 3.

Aground. Definitely qualifies under #2. You could say "we hit the bottom!" but "aground" saves several syllables. Clear. Concise. Abrupt even.

Port and starboard firmly qualify under #1. When you're at the bow facing back and someone's at the stern facing forward, it pays to be extremely clear. "Iceberg on the left!!!" Maybe that's when they started using "port" and "starboard" ....

Many sailing words qualify under Rule #3. They're too literary and romantic to abandon: crow's nest, daggerboard, dead reckoning, eye of the wind, loose-footed, fathom, in irons, lifeline. All great words.

Some sailing words are so practical and descriptive they've jumped ship: overboard (so to speak), anchor. Even keel, ballast. cockpit. Bridge (that one travelled all the way into the future).

On my boat, using my rules, there are lot of words that will walk the plank.

For instance, why do we need to call it a "head" when there are so many other perfectly good words? Can, john, potty, crapper, powder room, even restroom, bathroom. Please. "Head" is easily disqualified under Rule #1. You could argue that "bathroom" has two syllables, while "head" has only one. This is a great example of allowing a grace syllable. We'll schedule in that extra .005 seconds required to say that second syllable. I would also argue that "head" has many meanings, "bathroom" only one. Clear wins the day -- or loses the head.

Galley. Booted under Rule #1. Kitchen is a perfectly good word. Same number of syllables. There is an argument for Rule #3 here. Galley is a lovely word. The watery jury is still out on that one.

On the hard. Disqualified on all counts. "Out of the water" is perfectly clear. Any conservation of syllables is quickly forfeited when someone asks, "What the heck does 'on the hard' mean?" Even under Rule #3, it's clearly resistible.

Sole. Eliminated by Rule #1. Floor is clear, concise. No extra syllables. No room for misinterpretation. "Sole" could easily be misinterpreted to be the bottom of the shoe, the fish on the line or the reason to live.

Porthole. Rule #1.
"Open that window."
"Oh, did you mean this porthole?"
"No, port-hole. The window."

The stern.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


We're boat shopping --again. When we bought Isabella in 2003, we thought she was going to be our cruising boat. But then we made the list of things Isabella needed before we could launch. Holy cow, the list was longer than my arm and more expensive than our house (not really, but truly $50K++). Besides, once we sell the store, I'm not that interested in working my ass off in a boatyard for 8-10 months.

The decision to get another boat was liberating, but since we accepted the possibility that we needed to change boats, the options got wider and wider, or more accurately, longer. We slept on Isabella for several nights to visualize living aboard. There are so many other factors that rob you of rest on a boat -- motion, storms, worrying about your anchor, strange sounds, night passages, wind shifts -- comfort is right up there on the priority list with buoyancy. When you're in bed and the conditions allow, you damn well want to be sleeping, not banging shoulders and twangling feet, no matter how romantic that might be on a weekend sail.

Six years ago when we bought Isabella, we limited ourselves to boats 35' and smaller. We feel that both of us have to be physically able to single hand our boat. Even minor factors -- like seasickness or a sprained wrist -- could take half our crew of two out of rotation. So I, being the weaker party, have to be able to handle the boat alone. When I've sailed boats over 35' , the scale of operations jumps just out of my confidence zone. Imagine going from driving an RV to a small semi truck. While you might manage the big rig fine under normal conditions, you have that nervous feeling that if anything goes south, you're out of your league.

For similar reasons we opted for a cutter rig.

A quick sailboat rig primer: A cutter has a single mast but three sails. All sailboats have a mainsail, the one behind the mast that swings back and forth on the boom, and a jib, which is in front of the mast and extends from the bow and up to meet the main at the top of the mast. From the side, it looks like a triangle cut in half vertically. A cutter has an additional small sail "cutting" between the main and the jib, in front of the mast and behind the jib.

Because of that extra sail area added by the staysail, a cutter mast is usually shorter and each sail is consequently smaller. The science of that means more "gears" or power options and easier handling for me, because a smaller sail filled with wind is less powerful. Imagine flying a kite. Fun. Now imagine flying a kite the size of a house. Exciting but dangerous. A few square feet of sail can add a crazy amount of load to equipment, lines and the people operating them. Frankly, huge sails and the load they create in heavy winds, scare the hooey out of me.

More on our shopping and boat philosophy later. For now, Isabella needs some sanding and varnishing sigh.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


"Is that the Absinthe? She could totally rock the Manx!"

Someone actually said that about me today. Any guesses? Seriously, I don't think I've rocked anything but a baby since the 90s.

Sometimes you feel out of your element. Today was my time.

I was in Outer Banks Boarding Company, a groovy surf shop where they sell several forms of cool -- for water, for snow, for sand.

The sunglasses display glowed in the middle of the store like a late night gas station. I peered in awe at the sunglasses through locked glass doors, as if admiring the Hope diamond -- if the hope diamond had a logo.

Under duress, I might have come up with sunglasses brands RayBan and Oakley. But these? Electric. Von Zipper. Never heard of them. People have probably been being cool all around me. I've been clueless.

"How much do I have to spend to get polarized?" I asked.

"Over a hundred," replied my groovy friend Sam.

"How much just to look cool?" I asked, foolishly thinking that might be cheaper.

"Even more," he said.

Plastic or glass? Polarized or not? Sam patiently explained the pros and cons. Glass costs more and is heavier but doesn't scratch as easily. Polarized lenses block the glare but cost almost 50% more.

Style. Have you ever seen an ultra magnified photo of a fly? That's what some of these frames looked like -- or what I looked like with them on. It was like standing behind two of those concave security mirrors. Weird.

"Humor me," Sam said handing me some supersized white sunglasses, square frames with gold at each corner. Garish. Loud. Hot. I can't afford the wardrobe to support them. Or the manicure. Or the car.

I wanted Von Zippers so I could keep saying "Von Zipper."

I tried pair after pair after pair. We took a vote. The winner: Electric Crossover in tortoise shell. Polarized, of course.

$120 later, I rock the Crossover. Dude. See for yourself:

Monday, July 21, 2008


My father came from a family of collectors. That is, if you would use "collector" to describe Fred Sanford. Dad's entire family had something in their genetic code that caused them to accumulate what most of us would consider abject junk. For instance, as a kid, when we visited my aunt, we had to walk through the house on a narrow, maze-like path wending through mounds of junk, piles of newspapers and magazines, stacks of flea market "bargains." When you sat in a chair, you could lean your head back against the pile of magazines behind you. And recently, after one of my dad's brothers died, his wife found a huge bin filled with hundreds and hundreds of plastic balls from roll-on deodorant. That was just one of the "treasures" she's wading through in a workshop the size of a large house. And then there's the piles of stuff in the yard, in the house, the junked cars. It is a legacy that will take my aunt the better part of a decade to unload.

While my father had the same tendencies, he did a better job of keeping it in check (thanks in part to my mom walking behind him with a shovel). His collections tended toward more utilitarian things like tools and clothing. But left unchecked he would start stockpiling. Any time he picked up a new hobby, of which there were many, he accumulated all the accoutrement. When he started golfing, he bought successive set of clubs, raincoats, golfball washers, hand carts and minor doodads like handfuls of decorative ball markers. When he started painting, the garage filled up with bins of brushes, tube after tube of paint, easels, canvases and frames. Sculpting, jewelry making, gardening, landscaping. Each hobby came with all new tools.

When dad was in his early 60s he had a massive heart attack that destroyed more than a third of his heart. His doctors told my mother and me that there was only a 50% chance he would be with us five years later. But despite several more episodes and a few minor strokes dad kept trekking for another 14 years. However that heart attack realigned his image of the world as his storage unit. For many years before he died, he methodically began to divest himself of decades and decades of stuff. He gave away, threw away, sold and bartered until at the time of his death, he left us one closet full of clothing, one small bookshelf of tools, the computer equipment from his still-active appraisal business and one beautifully distilled drawer of keepsakes.

As with any act of kindness, the value of it is seeded by the level of effort behind it. Even though I did not inherit that collector's gene, I go through intense emotional upheaval as I dispose of my stuff. And I do it for very selfish reasons: because I want to live on a boat. My father, who must have paid an immense emotional toll during the process, did it as an act of pure selflessness: because he wanted to leave us a legacy of treasures, not burdens.

It was the ultimate act of kindness.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


It is not possible to take an entire land wardrobe onto a small cruising boat. Okay, technically it's possible, but it's definitely not advisable. To reach cruising weight, I've got to pitch about 80% of my clothing. As I sorted through my closet yesterday, the "keep" pile loomed large and the "ditch" pile barely qualified as a pile. I was following an equation something like this:

I/Is + G = K

I = Inertia. Doing nothing is the greatest temptation of them all. Without a sailboat in my near future, I would allow every piece of questionable cloth to hunker down and stay. Even WITH a sailboat out there, I was having trouble. If there was any doubt about whether it should stay or go, staying automatically became the overriding factor.

Is = Insecurity. A fabulous outfit can mask any number of insecurities -- emotional and physical. In fact, a good wardrobe helps you cover all the bases, even that pitcher's mound on your backside. Stripping away all those masking options was leaving me feeling naked and insecure.

G = Guilt. The contents of one garbage bag represents at least 500 bucks, probably more. Trying to justify giving it away racked me with guilt.

And the K = Keep it. Yes, do the math and everything stays.

In order to bypass this mental math, I instituted a measuring cup and the Archimedes Principle. I allowed myself a large plastic bin that can hold any combination of outfits, shoes, accessories, bathing suits, etc. However, once it was full, that's where Archimedes stepped in. If something went in, it automatically displaced something else as if the contents were liquid. No mounding, no squishing.

The new equation: PB = SA or Plastic Bin equals Sailing Away.

Then when I looked at those five sweatshirts, it was easier to ditch three, because they're too bulky. That cute red sweater? Too impractical. Black wool blazer? Too formal. Gray wool pants? Too hot. Doc Martens? Too everything.

If I was feeling indecisive, I just looked at that plastic bin and the decision got a lot easier.

Three sweatshirts, the red sweater, the black wool blazer, they all went in white trash bags. Before I had a chance to second guess myself, I tossed them --five bags full -- in my car and headed for Goodwill.

Bag #1, filled with Inertia, straight down the chute. Bag #2, jammed with Insecurity, whoosh. Bag by bag, all gone. As each bag emptied, the white plastic, now lighter than air, fluttered in the wind and turned into wings.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Today we planted dwarf Yaupon hollies in the backyard. What the heck does that have to do with cruising on a sailboat?

At the beginning of To Kill a Mockingbird, Jem and Scout argue about when their story started. It's a valid argument. Does any story have a beginning?

Maybe mine started in the '60s when I first played Swiss Family Robinson in the willow tree behind our house in landlocked New Mexico. Maybe it started when I met Chip who already owned a sailboat and shared the dream of cruising. Maybe it doesn't start until we throw the lines and hit the open water.

Either way, my official log begins today. Those hollies are meant to make the house more attractive to a potential buyer. To realize our dream, we must tick off some very large items at the beginning of our TO DO list:

1. Sell the wine shop
2. Sell the house
3. Sell the current boat
4. Buy our cruising boat.

The true adventure might not start until we reach open water, but the real work of getting onboard starts months, years before. It might not make the most interesting reading, so I log it for my own use. If you're visiting from the future, you might want to skip ahead to the really great stuff later on. If you think of it, drop me a note, so I know what to look forward to.

In the meantime, I'll be getting ready to make that future adventure happen: giving away my clothes; selling my car; buying wooden dishes; finding the right home for my precious belongings; liquidating a life.