Monday, May 25, 2009


Turns out the teak has been fairly well protected from the elements with all this varnish I've been slathering on. If only I could figure out a way to protect it from myself ....

DISASTER #1: While I was putting the dregs of my varnish on the companionway, Chip had been coating the newly repaired soft spots with epoxy. On the last brushstroke, I looked down at the cockpit grate I was standing on -- the one we just refinished last fall? Yeah, I was standing in a big, epoxy footprint. After a lot of hopping about saying words, I grabbed the paint thinner and a rag. Oh, boy. I was furiously scrubbing at the epoxy when I noticed the wave pattern of the footprint and looked at my flip-flops with a diamond pattern. The waves belonged to Mr. Epoxy himself, not me. I had only spread it around a little, making it worse. Teamwork.

I got it off and fortunately, the epoxy kicked before either of us made it into the house.

DISASTER #2: It was Saturday. I was out of my usual varnish, so I decided it would be a good time to try the new bulletproof variety my friend John Bayliss gave me.

You remember that gorgeous hatch garage I refinished last August? The one that got blown over onto the basketball hoop? I subsequently repaired the basketball hoop gouges and had it ready for bulletproofing.

John had explained to me how to use this amazing varnish -- months ago -- instructions I had long since forgotten.

The directions on the can would make a legal disclaimer look like a billboard. The only words I could read, even with a magnifying glass, were, "FOR PROFESSIONAL USE ONLY."

I'm thinking, "How hard can it be? It's a can of varnish." Danger.

On my first attempt, I put on one part of an (unbeknownst to me) three-part varnish. After three hours, it was still as wet as when I painted it on.

DISASTER #3: Now I realized it might be harder than I thought. A thorough search of the store room uncovered another part of what I now knew was a three-part varnish, thanks to some web searching.

So I'm thinking (I know, danger) leave the one part on, mix the two parts and put it over the one part and maybe it'll all kick.

Stop laughing.

After three hours, it was not only still wet, there was now an array of little creatures splayed out across my once beautiful garage.

An hour of scrubbing with paint thinner, and I'm bug-free and back where I started. Disasters 2 and 3 did not damage the varnish underneath.

I've now secured the third part of the three-part varnish along with instructions. It's raining and is predicted to continue for days.


Thank god for paint thinner.

Friday, May 22, 2009


As reported here before, we've settled into a bizarre pattern where we get intense flurries of activity on the business, the house, the boat, followed by weeks of utter silence.

We woke this morning expecting more quiet, but there was an email from a couple in D.C. looking to move to the Outer Banks. They are both in the wine business -- the husband for 25 years. They saw our ad for the store on craigslist and wondered if it was still for sale. It is.

This afternoon our realtor called to make an appointment to show the house, some action we hope might generate the need for those other folks to get MOVING.

While I was getting the house ready an email arrived from Jason in New England, who is itching to have a look at Isabella. He has a Catalina 29 to sell first, but wrote to say he has some good prospects.

Noise. Lots of noise today.

--Coat number three on the toe rails. Started filling in the damage on the garage. Another coat on the hatches as well.
--Chip's deck work turned out great. He has to grind down the holes and fill them. Then we're going to start painting the decks.
--I cleaned the windows on the dodger today. They look beautiful -- you can actually see through them now.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


I got another coat of varnish on today. That's the third on the toe rails, fourth on the companionway boards. The weather says I'll be able to keep coating for days.

Chip repaired the biggest of the soft spots on the cockpit deck. I jumped up and down on it this afternoon, and it feels like concrete.

Tonight I've transported dinner to the boat. We're cooking out here (as I write), drinking rum, watching the sun set, listening to a new playlist: island mix. We might be sitting behind our house, but it's as close to the islands as we'll get for now.

And you know what? It ain't that bad.

--The realtor for the folks threatening to make an offer says it might come by the weekend.
--Our friend Rob and his father-in-law John, mowed our lawn yesterday. Such a stroke of kindness. We're fortunate to have good friends.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


The other day our friend Rob said, "New Caledonia lagoon is a perfect spot to see green flashes."

That statement left me with so many questions.

First up, what the heck is a green flash? As Rob explained and Wikipedia confirms, it is an optical phenomena on an obstructed horizon when a quick green flash is visible just above the setting sun.

Once we cleared that up, I wondered about the definition of "lagoon," which also made me wonder about sounds and bays and so many other names we have for bodies of water. That seems like something a sailor should know.

Lagoon: a shallow salt or brackish body of water separated from a deeper sea by a sandbar or coral reef. The body of water behind a barrier reef or barrier islands is also called a lagoon. Who knew? We've been sailing on a lagoon behind our house!

Sound: Wikipedia's definition says it's a large sea or ocean inlet larger than a bay, deeper than a bight, wider than a fjord, or it may identify a narrow sea or ocean channel between two bodies of land (see also strait).

Bay: Water surrounded by land on three sides.

Bight: A body of water that is like a sound but shallower.

Fjord: A narrow inlet with steep sides created by glacial activity.

Strait: A narrow, navigable channel of water that connects two larger navigable bodies of water.

Ocean: A major body of saline water, and a principal component of the hydrosphere. Approximately 72% of the Earth's surface is covered by ocean, a continuous body of water that is customarily divided into several principal oceans and smaller seas.

Sea: Most commonly, a sea may refer to a large expanse of saline water connected with an ocean, but it is also used sometimes for a large saline lake that lacks a natural outlet.

Gulf: A large bay that is an arm of an ocean or sea.

The world's oceans are:

The top ten seas by size:
South China
Bering Sea
Gulf of Mexico

(By the way, that's New Caledonia lagoon in the photo. The picture came from a web site that didn't list the photographer.)

Saturday, May 16, 2009


In journalism school, I learned to write about things from an emotional distance, to be objective, remove myself from the picture entirely. That sort of low-impact, impersonal writing became so ingrained that when I started this blog, I resisted putting myself back in the picture. Ten months later, I'm not sure I've completely succeeded. The fact that I should be writing about our intensely personal struggle to realize a dream makes my brain clot up and stall, my emotions freeze in place. At the most difficult junctures, instead of writing about the complicated wrestling match we're having with the universe, I write about bicycle blenders and varnish.

In our most generous dreams we would have been on the water by now. Our house and business would have laid an egg gold enough to keep us cruising on interest alone.

Instead, we've spent the last eight months in suspended animation, continuing to sustain this life we so badly want to leave behind, a life that is a stepping stone, a step we thought we'd already taken. We try hard to stay in the moment, to enjoy what's at hand, but it's more like wearing blinders. I suppress thoughts of anchoring in Hopetown harbor because it makes me cry. Or maybe that's just menopause.

If everything had fallen into place last fall, we would have sauntered blindly into cruising like it was simply there because we wanted it to be. So now I have a cliched appreciation for the thing I've worked hard to attain. There's probably an appropriate children's fable to insert here, but as with any trite lesson, we never learn it from the knowing. Those fables are only useful as labels to put on things we learned on the cold, hard field of life.

Our neighbors across the canal had a dream akin to ours. When their son went away to college they planned to sell their house and remake their lives in a mountain cabin. As they scrabbled through this grueling phase we know so well, waiting for their house to sell, watching the market crumble around them, their property devaluing, the stress pushed them apart. The house sold but hope died along with the dream.

What children's fable teaches the richness of turning toward those you love when times are hard, the value of gaining strength from weakness rather than succumbing to it, of feeding each other hope when the cupboard seems bare?

That's why we set our anchor so deep.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Remember last August? Boy, I sure do. I spent weeks refinishing the teak toe rails on Isabella. I attempted to follow all the rules, every damn one of them.

A quick eight months later, here I was:

After procrastinating like it was a college paper, I finally got myself out there last Sunday and started sanding -- again. Turns out I made pretty short work of it. After some help from Chip taping and wiping them down, I've slapped on two coats of varnish. See photo below.

What went wrong? Boy, have I put a lot of thought into that one. Here's my take:

1. I was too obsessed with brushstrokes. I put the varnish on too thinly and then made it worse by tipping it too much. The tipping took off the most varnish on the curves where the wood is most vulnerable (see above photo).
2. I oversanded between coats, again, especially on those same curves. I LOVE it when I get a smooth surface that doesn't show any brushstrokes or any grain. I obsessed.
3. I didn't put on enough coats. This was exhaustion rather than perfectionism, but user error nonetheless.

Because of all of the above, the curves probably had at most two coats of thin varnish on them.

So, on this round, I'm breaking some rules, taking no prisoners. I sanded, but not completely. Some of the healthier patches of varnish were left to be recoated. I didn't obsess over getting even color by sanding through all the spots. There will be much more "character" this time.

I coated more thickly and am letting the varnish flatten on its own. I ScotchBrite-ed instead of sanding between coats to minimize lifting off too much varnish. I plan to put on 236,042 coats.

Lesson learned. Save my perfectionism for the interior. My toe rails may be less perfect but their better protected.

--Chip did an experimental run on patching a soft spot on the deck. More on that later.....
--Showing the house today AND tomorrow.

Friday, May 8, 2009


I was looking through the cache of stuff that we'll be taking on the boat. It's a cache painstakingly culled from an entire household of belongings. A sampling:

--Four Christmas stockings (we're hoping the kids can spend a few holidays with us)
--A sewing kit
--A neck pillow
--Queen-size memory foam mattress topper
--Two beach blankets with corner spikes
--Two beach towels
--Three soft-side coolers
--A binder of clipped recipes
--A small bag of even smaller Christmas ornaments
--Two sketch pads
--Rain jackets
--Origami paper
--Five nylon grocery bags
--Four quick-drying bath towels
--First aid kit (a starter)
--Two water-resistant wallets
--A memory foam pillow
--A portable grill
--an apron
--Navigation supplies
--A bottle of Presidential 2003 Vintage Port (priorities)
--A waterproof bag
--Some velcro
--Two wool blankets
--A splicing kit
--Your mom
--A crossstitch kit
--Some old charts
--Several children's books
--Trivial Pursuit cards
--Sketching supplies
--A magnifying glass
--A yoga mat
--Several dictionaries (yeah, that should be pared down)
--A sextant
--Some books
--Decks of cards
--A hand-cranked blender
--A very small stuffed rabbit with very large feet

--Someone is still threatening to make an offer on the house. Hollow threat, so far. New people looking tomorrow.
--We continue to get inquiries about the business and have prospects in several stages of moving forward.
--We're gearing up at the wine shop for another summer season. We hope to run really lean and boost our cruising kitty.
--I have a few new projects to undertake on Isabella -- starting soon
--I'm bidding on some freelance writing to test those waters
--Submitted an article to Living Aboard magazine today. Will let you know what happens with that.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


After a riotous start, this week calmed right down for a placid end. All's quiet on the eastern front.

Our fate rests with banks. We have three people out there attempting to qualify for loans to buy our house and business. Maybe some bailout cash will come our way.

Or maybe not.

In the meantime, it's good we're so well qualified for waiting.