Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Suddenly Sailing - Meanwhile, in Seattle...

It's been a slow few months for boating, and an incredibly busy few months for life. This entry will touch on a few things I've been meaning to write about:

- The Boat Hunt
- Reading 
- Costs

The Boat Hunt

The last time I wrote about what we were looking for was after the boat show, I believe. At that point, we weren't terribly impressed with the run-of-the-mill Hunters and Beneteaus and so on. It turns out that we're both pretty darn eccentric when it comes to what we like in a boat - The Sir a little more so than myself.

At one point, we found an absolutely beautiful steel schooner, which someone purchased while we were determining whether or not we'd be'd be getting in way over our heads with such a unique boat. It turned out that it actually would have been an excellent boat for us to pursue, but we were too late by the time we even contacted the seller. It was a huge setback, as The Sir could barely look at other boats after missing out on it. 

With The Sir more or less out of commission, I was left leading the hunt fora boat that would suit us both. The steel-hulled schooner was quite traditional, with a gaff rig and full keel. We spent a fair amount of time reading up about alternative rigs and steel construction vs. fiberglass. And while each element has its trade-offs, it turned out there was no reason for us not to keep looking for similar ships - except for how comparatively rare they are. 

For those who aren't terribly into boats, a few notes on rigs and keels:

The rig refers to how the mast(s) and sails are arranged. A sloop has a single mast, and a schooner has a taller rear mast and a shorter front mast (sometimes the masts are the same height). A gaff rig has a quadrilateral sail - the top, or head, of the sail is smaller and the rear edge is the highest point. A bermuda or marconi rig is what you see on a normal sloop boat. These are the boats with a large, triangular mainsail. So, you'll usually hear things like "bermuda rigged sloop" (single mast, triangular sails) or "gaff rigged schooner" (two masts, at least one quadrangular sail). Fun, silly, sailor-speak trivia - mainsail is actually pronounced without the "ai" in sail.That's right, it's mains'l. And no one who actually sails will look at you like a jackass if you say it that way, no matter how dumb you feel saying it. 

As for keels, the keel keeps the boat from tipping over when you're sailing. It acts as a counterbalance to the forces of wind on the sails and also allows the boat to cut through the water in a way that generates lift. Most modern boats have a fin keel. These usually extend far below the water and are located near the center of the ship - it looks like a fin sticking out the bottom of the boat. Meanwhile, a full keel does not extend as deep into the water, but runs nearly the full length of the boat. It's more like a long, narrow strip of of the hull without any sort of point.

Now, back to the boat hunt!

At some point, I stumbled across the Bruce Roberts Spray design while looking for something that appealed to me. The Sprays are typically built of steel and have a fairly traditional look to them, despite the Bermuda rig. They also have a full keel and were about the right size for us. I started learning more about Bruce Roberts designs. It turned out, most people weren't very happy with them. The overall impression was that the designs were outdated, and typically, people building steel ships (not just Bruce Roberts designs) would not build to specification. The resulting boat would be too heavy and perform poorly. We weren't looking for a boat to race, but we didn't want a floating tub, either. While I liked the look quite a bit, The Sir was very "meh" about it. 

For a while, we got to looking into junk rigs. If an image isn't coming to mind, think of the traditional Chinese vessels with the butterfly-wing sails. But, really, we weren't looking for quirky just for the sake of itself. And while there are some very beautiful junk rigs, none that we've run across met our needs. 

Most times I'd show a boat to The Sir, he'd either be non-plused or allude to the fact that it was neither a schooner nor gaff rigged. And, most of the schooners I found were either constructed of wood ( a huge maintenance time sink), located in obscure locations, or insanely expensive. Or, they were gargantuan, wood, and expensive. Turns out, there's actually a decent number of 70+ foot wooden schooners in the area at any given time.

I joined a sailing forum and started a thread asking about small, steel gaff rigged boats. I nearly started a few debates, and got a number of incredibly helpful responses. And I googled, and googled, and googled. I looked through hundreds of designs on http://sailboatdata.com/, trying to find a designer who had made a boat that matched what we were looking for. 

Then, one day, I googled something stupidly simple and actually found a boat that was exactly what we were looking for. It seemed too good to be true, and in fact, it was. The boat existed, but only a handful had been made and most were located far, far from us. So now, the trick is figuring out how to get one. If it all pans out, or eventually doesn't, I'll write all about that. But, for the time being, our hopes are hinging on a lot of maybes coming to fruition. For that reason, I'm leaving the details out - but, we have a very exciting prospect that I hope I'll be able to share in the not too distant future. 


Aside from the ASA course material, I've been through a few books, have added titles to my to-read list, and am currently working my way through some as well. Shortly after our decision, I also bought a kindle, which has been a surprisingly good investment - I was expecting to hate it, as I really enjoy paper books, but it's been a pretty easy transition. For most of these books, both The Sir and I have read them.

This is what I've been reading the last few months:

The Essentials of Living Aboard a Boat by Mark Nicholas - This was the first book we dug into, and opened our eyes to a lot of the logistical issues of living aboard. It was incredibly helpful and easy to get through, even with our limited knowledge when we first read through it.

Don Casey's Complete Illustrated Sailboat Maintenance Manual - This is actually 6 books! So far, I've only read through the book about evaluating the condition of a boat, which has been very insightful. It identifies many of the common problem areas of boats and how to pre-inspect a boat before paying to have it surveyed professionally. While it focuses on fiberglass boats, it still has a wealth of information just in the first book. The guides for electrical systems and diesel engines are next on my reading list.

Leap of Faith: Quit your Job and Live on a Boat by Ed Robinson - While not entirely educational, I had a lot of fun reading this tale of a man and his wife leaving it all behind to go pursue living aboard a powerboat in Florida. 

Buy, Outfit, and Sail by Cap'n Fatty Goodlander - This was also an incredibly entertaining read, which also squeezes in countless valuable tips, tricks and just generally good information and food for thought. Not all of it applies to our situation, but regardless, we learned a lot.


To-date, this is what we've invested in our transition to living aboard:

$2,390 - Sailing Lessons/ ASA 101,103, and 104 Sailing Certification for 2 - Aside from all the rigmarole of actually buying the boat, this will probably be our single largest cost until we get into the nitty gritty of boat maintenance. I've no doubt that there are cheaper ways to learn to sail, but for our purposes, this has actually been an incredibly good investment. 

$240 - Kindle Paperwhite with 3G and case - I splurged a bit on this, but since I'm only going to have a handful of physical books and could end up sailing anywhere, I wanted a quality reader that I could download to anywhere with reception.

$52 - Sailing Books 

$36 - Boat Show Tickets - While not life-changing, this was actually a very useful experience for us. More than anything, it gave us a quality dose of what to expect from boat shows. There will be a much larger boat show in Seattle at the end of this month, which we'll be checking out. This time, though, the focus will be on hitting up all of the seminars that we can. 

$20 - Boater Education Cards - Washington State requires boater education cards for operating most vessels. We were able to take a free online course through http://www.boatus.org/ and mail in our fees ($10 each) to acquire our cards.

That's all I've got for now, but I'm sure there will be more to share once we go to the boat show at the end of the month.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Internet Culture Crackdown: The Voices We Aren't Hearing

So, let's step away from sailing a moment. I've got an entry I plan to write soon about the progress of our boat hunt, but this is something that's been back-burnered for far too long.

To provide a brief introduction, I'm a 28 year old who has worked in the game industry for the past 6 years, and this is an opinion piece on some of the things about "gamer culture" and social media that have been bothering me lately.

Far from being a social media fiend, I rarely use twitter or tumblr, and while games are a huge passion of mine, I never seem to have as much time as I'd like to play them. I use my Facebook to occasionally share things that amuse or interest me, and more often than that, to see what my friends and colleagues have been up to. I have a number of friends that also work in the industry, and on any given day, there are usually a few stories (buried between Facebook's shameless spamming of ad posts) about what's happening in game industry news.

For the last year or so, my feed has been bustling with stories about the harassment of women in game development. 

My initial reaction was, "Oh, this is good, people are raising awareness on a legitimate issue." When I was attending university and when I went to industry events (both professionally (GDC) and casually (PAX), I had been subjected to a variety of things that would qualify in some regard as harassment on the basis of my gender. In the workplace, I rarely felt that I was being subjected to harassment, sexual or otherwise, due to my gender and choice of profession. 

I read a number of articles, and most of them painted a very bleak image of a world where women in games weren't taken seriously, or taking a job in the industry would be a hard path of being treated unfairly and harassed. Also, numerous articles about women in the industry receiving death threats or having their personal data hacked and made public for speaking out. I also noticed that whenever someone commented contrary to one of these linked articles (often with valid criticisms of the facts and arguments in the article), it would start a heated debate with enormous wall-of-text responses. Some people would even respond in ways that made it clear that they hadn't actually read the criticism and were just stating their opinion on how justified and correct the original post was.

To establish something fairly straightforward, women and men are treated differently in probably every culture on this planet. Media especially promotes certain traits as being positive or negative in each gender. Personally, I don't agree with this, and I think that each person should be evaluated on their own merit as a human being, rather than how they fit into our cultural gender-framings, but that's my personal opinion and an entirely different article. Also, both men and women are sexist and many people of each gender actively reinforce the gender norms prescribed to them by the media. Many men will criticize men who are not 'masculine' enough, women will criticize women who aren't 'feminine' enough, and each group will harass the other: Sexism is a real thing and it goes in all directions.

So, how does this all fit together? What does my facebook feed bloated with articles about women in games and volatile comment threads and the existence of sexism have to do with anything?

First of all, much of the media is still painting the community of "gamers" as a crowd of misogynistic men trying to keep women down. There are a lot of really awful people on the Internet, and they can be very loud, but on the whole, the gaming community is just like any other group. There is a huge diversity in gender, age, and the types of games that people play. While some people are more into it than others, games are a hobby, just like music, reading, or sports: some people like jazz, while others like metal. Some people read every day, while others only do so on weekends. I have no doubt that there are sexist gamers of both genders, and I can also say from personal experience that the average person who plays games is a pretty decent human being.

Now, let's take a look at game developers - the people who build games. It is certainly a male dominated industry. I work for a fairly large and corporate company. And still, if you look at the roster of game developers, I would hazard a guess that you'd run across an abundance of male names. Is that a problem? Yes, but maybe not the one that you'd think. Are there people at the company that are actively "keeping women down"? No, I don't think so. I would hazard that there are as many people biased towards one gender as the other, and that the bulk of the applicants are male. (Why the bulk of applicants are male is yet again, an enormous topic that warrants numerous studies, books, and so on.) Is there subconscious sexism at play? Absolutely. It cannot be helped until our culture changes. Until the average person looks at another person as just that - a person - without immediately jumping to their gender as a means of analyzing and attempting to evaluate them, sexism will be at play. 

So, I'm supposing that the people who play games are a diverse group, and that the majority of game developers are male. Does that sound fair?

So, back to the "Women in Games" crisis.

Let's say we have an article detailing the experiences of a woman at a company who was harassed or felt uncomfortable while working in games. Or, on Youtube, we have a video discussing gender stereotypes in games. And then we go to the comments. Almost invariably, someone will feel compelled to dispute the points that the article makes - whether they do this tactfully or not is up for grabs, as is whether or not their criticism is actually related to gender equality. But, I can nearly guarantee that this person, however valid or invalid their criticisms are, will be shut down, hard, on any number of grounds, valid or not. Basically, in the eyes of many people, anything related to this hot topic becomes a critical juncture in the "battle for equality," and it absolutely must be defended for the sake of furthering a larger cause. 

So, there's an argument on the internet. Big deal, so what? Well, it is a big deal. 

What precedent does that set for all of the mild-mannered, reasonable people out there? It sets one that they need to choose a side and stick to its tenets, or remain silent. And this is an absolutely horrible thing. It is alienating and discourages conversations that need to happen. The average person is non-confrontational and willing to listen, though they'll also want to share their opinion on a topic if they have one. But, when you magnify everything related to a topic into a volatile battlefield, the very people we need to reach the most - the reasonable majority - withdraw. Of special note are the men involved. Male gamers and developers especially are often unfairly painted as "the enemy" by many articles. Are the 'perpetrators' most often men? Yes, but they also make up the bulk of the population for this group. And, for the depiction and inclusion of female characters in games, it is often publicity and marketing that drives regressive decisions, not some lone misogynist.

There's no easy way to de-escalate. Horrible things have been done to people on both sides of the conversation and others have been caught in the crossfire. People's lives have been forever changed, and their personal peace of mind shattered. Bearing witness to all of these proceedings has changed the way the industry is viewed. The absolute vitriol surrounding the subject is stunting progress. The silver lining is that there is now more attention on this topic than ever before. The discussion about gender and minorities in games and the industry isn't going anywhere. It's no longer on the fringes of conversation. 

But, what can each of us do to improve things and keep them moving forward? I've no doubt there are countless things, but the reason I wrote this is for the sake of re-engagement. If you've been a silent onlooker, I encourage you to keep on watching, and to not be afraid to speak your mind and discuss the topic at hand. This isn't a "women's issue," this is a people issue for an industry full of passionate people who believe in what they do. There are so many people quietly watching from the sidelines. And, for those of you who are still talking and tackling the topics at hand - do you have friends who have fallen silent? Is your spouse, child, or significant other hesitant to talk about these issues? There are countless voices that are waiting to be heard.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Suddenly Sailing - The Blog Just Got a Bit Meta

And then it struck me

It's always after I say something that all of the stupid or inaccurate bits about what I've said sink in. And I guess it's no different with this blog. Within about an hour of my last post, two things sank in:

- How silly everything I wrote about downsizing sounds when put in perspective. 
- How relating my experience with downsizing fails to capture the reality of getting rid of things.

So, first things first - the problem being - I have too many things. When I look at this in the grand scheme of things, the fact that I'm writing a blog about the trials and tribulations of downsizing sounds borderline offensively ignorant and pampered. There are so many people, everywhere, who do not have enough. They don't have the luxury of getting rid of anything and many are struggling to get by. And when I take a moment to step back and look at it like that, I feel very silly and small. That, if nothing else, helps me to accept that what at times feels like a huge ordeal is actually a minor inconvenience. Heck, I feel guilty about it. 

So, there's that. But at the same time, for me, it is a legitimate issue. Looking through the lens of the average lower to middle class American, it's probably not an uncommon problem to have. And, if what I write here is honest and relatable, makes someone laugh, helps someone deal with a similar situation, or even just provides an amusing window into a life that can't be experienced firsthand, then I'm doing good.

And then, there's the second bit. I feel that what I wrote made it sound like I was just serenely dealing with my situation. It sounds pretentious and like I'm sagely relaying some deep-found wisdom. It wasn't my intent when I wrote that all out, but then, I'm socially awkward for a reason. What I wrote was the clean, distilled, useful information I came away with.

The reality, is that on one long day of going through books, belongings, memoirs, furniture, boxes of art supplies and committing them all to the "go" pile, I was so emotionally wrung out and pissed off that I broke down crying and couldn't even form a coherent sentence for about a minute (much to The Sir's befuddlement). It was literally laying a hand on a book that I knew needed to go that flipped my composure from calm to emotional turmoil. 

One thing I've identified for myself as a fast track to becoming really upset, really quickly with getting rid of things is this: the entire concept of 'everything must go' is equal parts liberating and infuriating. On the one hand you no longer have all of these things to deal with, and on the other, it feels infinitely wasteful- you are tearing apart everything you've worked to assemble. And it isn't hard, when I look around at all of these things to just jump the logical gun to the land of, "Why don't I just throw everything away?! What is even the point of all these things?! You don't need any of this- just chuck it all and be done with it." Needless to say, those are a lot of strong emotional responses to have bouncing around in your brain as you try to make logical decisions.

And that's where we get into the paradox of how a situation that I logically know is a luxury to experience causes me a decent amount of stress. First world problems at their finest...

On an almost entirely unrelated side note, thank you to the people who read this. I'd be writing it even if no one read it, to be honest, but it is encouraging to know that it has an audience. Also, should you ever feel compelled- don't let it die as a thought in your mind! - Add a comment. As much as I love monologuing endlessly( I don't), I'd love to hear the insight of others and am happy to answer any questions.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Suddenly Sailing - Everything Must Go

The All-Consuming Hobbit Hole

One reality that became immediately apparent after our decision to live aboard is that we (especially I) have way too much stuff. I won't deny I'm a packrat. I clearly remember picking up a broken electrical component for I-have-no-idea-what out from the lee of the curb, thinking I'll find a use for this. That was a few years ago, but my habits remained more or less unchanged until very recently. When I found my one thousand square foot condo in Seattle, there was no need to get rid of anything. After all, I had room.

In an odd and unintentional way, I  set out to turn my new space into a cluttered, cozy little hobbit hole. And I had a good head start on that. I brought in the piles of books I'd amassed, the art, the reams of old sketches, the knickknacks galore, the art projects to-be: you name it, I probably had at least one of it lurking somewhere within the house. When I was growing up, it was no different. I enjoyed having things, even worthless and broken things. It wasn't about having more or having better, it was simply about having a curious and interesting collection to ponder over. What if I got bored someday? Well, then I'd certainly have something to amuse myself with! Quite possibly, it was all about potential: art waiting to happen, knowledge waiting to be revealed, and skills waiting to be developed.

Really, a lot of waiting. And I rarely acted upon it after moving into the condo. Instead, it sat.

There was always something better to invest my time in: one-off projects, work, mostly work, games, work, whiling away time on facebook. In fact, I accomplished extremely little during my time here, as embarrassing as it is to admit. I almost feel that the impending house situation and my job became excuses for putting a halt on my productivity. 

The last few months have brought drastic change. My roommate exclaimed aloud when she saw our room a week ago. "Where's all your stuff?!"

Enter the Craigslist

It isn't easy to sell everything you own on Craigslist without giving it away for free. People flake, other people flag your posts, and an abundance of people are more determined to "make a deal" than take a good one that's already been offered. But slowly, I've sold things I never thought I'd find a home for: custom cosplay armor, candle-making supplies, half a bisected sheep's skull (I'm not even kidding). It seems that if you wait long enough, someone who wants it will stumble across your post. And fortunately, for the time being, I have time. I'm not looking forward to the fire sale that comes at the end. 

Sometimes, you can entice people with a ridiculously stupid photo:

I can't wait to photoshop my fabulous derby hat onto Putin and see who bites.

Other times, you can entice people with eccentric flavor text that accurately describes the product:

Do you like bread? 

Do you want to learn the skills necessary to summon bread to your kitchen like some sort of bread wizard?!

Then gather close and listen, while I let you glimpse into the magic circle. 

Once upon a time, I tried to bake bread in my oven at home, following a recipe I found on the internet, in my peasant oven. And I got beautifully flat loaves that tasted like bread but had the density of little bricks. Members of the household affectionately referred to them as Jesus loaves. That's when I started searching for a better way, and after some research, I came across a wonderful book that sounds like an absolute scam: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day?! Surely not! Turns out, it's totally doable and gives you bread on par with a bakery's. My fiance no longer wanted pizza from pizza parlors because he preferred home-made.

So, becoming a breadlord might even give you sway over mere mortals - just sayin'.

Needless to say, I decided to embrace this bread wizardry, and accumulated all of the necessary equipment to turn my humble home oven into a portal to the bread dimension. If you want to skip the research and just jump into the world of making amazing bread, I humbly offer up this starter kit. It gives you everything you need to make amazing bread (and pizzas) at home.

I started my bread-venture in January, so all of these items are lightly used and in good shape, with the exception of the food storage container: it has a crack punched in the top so that it can vent in the refrigerator, which is not aesthetically pleasing, but functional. It also suffered a small burn to the lid, which looks bad, but does not prevent it from closing. Otherwise, everything is in great shape. I am literally moving onto a boat (which will probably have a tiny oven), or I'd be hoarding all of these things to myself and continuing to bust out loaves like a boss.

But most often, I've simply decided that some money is better than none, assigning a value that's less than the market, waiting for someone who wants it to come along. But how did I even get to the Craigslist postings? How did I decide what would stay and what would go?

Letting Go

I'd actually been downsizing before the boat came about. Expecting an eventual move to a Seattle shoebox-sized condo devoid of space and personality, I decided I'd be proactive and get rid of a few things. Moving into my house with my accumulated hoard had not been a fun experience (many thanks to those who helped me move), and I wasn't looking to repeat it. I'd purged some books and clothes from my collection, but nothing on the scale of our current goal.

This is our bedroom as of a week or so ago:

Let's see... what's missing from this picture? The entire closet to the right now contains a handful of shoes, some hanging garments, and a small stack of towels. Before, it was full. Also missing:
- A drawing desk
- A mass of art supplies
- A bookshelf
- A dresser (full of clothes)
- LOTS of books
- Another small shelf turned nightstand
- 4 tatami mats (these still haven't sold, along with a handful of the books)
- Tons of knickknacks and other assorted items

How did I get to this point? One of my closest friends from work recommended Marie Kondo - a Japanese master of decluttering - I did watch a brief seminar from her, which was helpful, but was far from a one-stop shop for clearing my house.

To extremely over-simplify, she identified a method of picking up each item and asking, "Does this bring me joy?" If the answer is no, it's out. If I had done that with my room, I would still be shuffling through the piles of books right now. In my case, it's been a matter of boiling down to, "What do I actually need on a boat?" But, her method has actually been extremely useful to me, though I've tweaked it a bit. 

Clothing was the easiest and first on the list. I had a decent array of clothing, much of which was for costumes or special occasions: 90% of the time I'm clothed in jeans and t-shirts. Clothes wear out and are easily replaceable: even without the upcoming transition, they already have a natural impermanence. I picked out eight days worth of my favorite non-disintegrating shirts, a few pairs of pants, and then picked about 5 articles of "special" clothing to augment this with - dresses, blouses, and so on. A heavyweight, lightweight, and medium-weight jacket also made the cut. For now, I'm holding onto my sock collection. Hopefully I'll wear out my least favorite socks before the move and then transition on to the good stuff.

The clothes that didn't make the cut were divied up into two piles: awesome outfits and donation fodder. I shopped the awesome outfits around to our local secondhand stores, collecting a few dollars where I could, and everything that wasn't bought became a tax receipt via Goodwill. 

My modified Kondo method is this - I pick up items that I feel a reluctance to part with and spend a moment reminiscing over them. How had they brought me joy in the past? What had I loved about them? I'd take a moment to acknowledge that before letting go. I didn't want to be angry or upset because I was forced to get rid of something I didn't want to. Everything has to go, and I need to accept and embrace that. 

The irony is that many times, I pick up items and realize that it's all just potential: This item has yet to bring me anything, because I've never invested time in it. And it never will because I have so many other things to do. 

For things that are truly sentimental, things that I can't stand to just donate, or know won't sell, I find them a home: someone who will appreciate them and who just might love them as much as I have. 

That's been the last month or two of free time - creating and maintaining 50+ Craigslist  posts has been quite a task, which The Sir has helped me hugely with. As of today, it looks like we have a few months left to sell everything and, hopefully, find our boat. And our boat hunt has taken a bit of a turn. I hope to follow up soon with what's on the radar.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Suddenly Sailing - An Interlude

Suddenly Sailing

The last few weeks have been slow. There haven't been exciting sailing lessons or too many developments on the boat shopping front. That said, this is probably a good time to touch on the reasons we're suddenly looking to live on a boat.

A bit about who I am and how we got here

I moved to Seattle in 2009 to pursue a job as a game tester, which is a very long and complicated story that I'll skip for now. I've been working at the same company in various roles ever since. In 2012, I bought a condo as-is from a bank, my first home. The building was not kept up, and I was expecting to invest some money in repairs, though no major issues were apparent at the time. As things progressed, I made a number of unpleasant discoveries - there was extensive damage to the building's structure and a group of fellow owners who were so divided and dysfunctional that proceeding with any repairs would be completely impossible. Last year, it was made very clear that I would have no choice but to sell. Fortunately, it wasn't all bad news.

In spring of 2013, I met The Sir. Last November, I proposed to him, and he said yes. As generic as it sounds, my chance encounter with him and the relationship that has developed between us as a result has changed my entire life for the better. He doesn't complete me, as I'm complete on my own. It is simply that with him as my companion, I have stepped into a new and different chapter in my life, which is incredibly exciting for me. 

At the end of 2014, I also changed my job: I moved from a job that I was ill-suited to, into one that I enjoy infinitely more (though I miss many of the people I used to work with hugely). As a result, I have more energy and time to devote to self-development, creative pursuits, and more or less, to enjoying life. 

Which leaves us at a few months ago. The Sir and I went on a weekend boat trip with my soon to be aunt in law, her husband, and The Sir's brother. The housing market in Seattle was (and still is) very grim. We'd been doing some house shopping, but due to the nature of the sale of my condo, things were extremely uncertain. It had become evident that the proceeds I'd receive from the sale, if any, might be significantly delayed. We might be making multiple moves and renting for a time, hoping that something we could afford would become available. We'd found a house we loved, but it disappeared off the market before we could make a move. Needless to say, a long weekend boat trip was a welcome escape from the impending reality of losing my home. 

We were on a large powerboat for the weekend, and made a few stops at nearby harbors. The weather was hit and miss, things went off schedule, there was a late night bar adventure, board games, and on the whole, the trip was an absolute blast. It reminded me just how much I loved being around water and just soaking in the sights and sounds: otters on the docks at night, jellyfish drifting mindlessly below the surface, and the endless, slow lapping of the tides rolling in and out. Fairly early in the trip, The Sir got to thinking about the possibility of living on a boat. The entire thing felt too extreme, but he admitted that since childhood he'd had an interest in sailboats specifically. 

During my house-hunting, which had become nearly constant by that time, I'd run across houseboats, and even shown a few to The Sir. The idea of a sailboat seemed incredibly foreign to me, though. Could we even learn to drive a boat?! Didn't you need to be a sailor for that? Wouldn't it be incredibly dangerous? Could we afford it? I'd never been on a sailboat. Even as my mind was inventing a million obstacles, I was intrigued. This could be a great adventure. We'd have to do some research. 

So, more or less, the seeds were planted on a dock in Poulsbo. We spent the free moments of the trip scrambling for information, trying to determine if we were being completely insane. And when we weren't researching, we were discussing, brainstorming, but more than anything - enjoying ourselves. A personal highlight of the trip was the view and atmosphere of Pouslbohemian Coffeehouse, which we visited twice. The staff is incredibly friendly, the coffee is excellent, and each side of the tip jar is embellished with an employee's name and personal ambition, such as building a fantastic yurt. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Suddenly Sailing - ASA 103

Suddenly Sailing

ASA 103

I'm going to stop numbering these entries, since it hardly seems necessary. 

Last Saturday, we hopped out of bed before the sun came up, showered, and headed north for our next sailing lesson. It was pretty glum weather and didn't get any better as we neared our destination. I had come down sick on Thursday and was still feeling stuffy headed with a sore throat and congestion to spare.

We arrived 20 minutes early and spent it enjoying the best breakfast sandwich I've ever gotten from an espresso stand, assuming my tastebuds were still functional, and a peach scone. At the school's office, we met our instructor, an older gentleman that I'll call Jerry. After a brief introduction, we headed down with a dock-cart load of food and met our boat. 

Again, we had a newer and bigger member of the fleet - A 2013 Jeanneau 44 Deck Salon. I was a bit disappointed by the presence of a furling main, as one of the more interesting 103 topics from our reading was reefing. Reefing, at least on a main sail, is the process of reducing a sail's exposed area by lowering the sail and attaching the new "foot" to the boom. This is used when you want less power from the sail due to overly strong winds. I'm sure there are other applications as well. With the furling main on our boat, the sail size can be reduced by just rolling it up into the mast- convenient, but we definitely wouldn't be getting to practice reefing on this boat. 

After a few minutes, all of us were assembled and we made some introductions after loading our gear. All of us were up from Seattle- Tom was an older family man who had crewed a few charter sails with his friends, and Sam had last sailed during his ASA 101 course a year ago. 

For this course, we spent a lot more time prepping to get underway. We did a check of the diesel engine and reviewed the boat's systems. Some technical difficulties required a quick visit by the school's maintenance, but before too long we were ready to set out. The 44 foot yacht was nestled in a narrow slip, with another row of boats directly across. 

From my discussions with others and reading so far, getting in and out of the marina seems to be one of the most stressful parts of boat ownership. In a marina, you're operating a very expensive vehicle with a huge amount of weight and therefore inertia, in close proximity to piers, pilings, and other very expensive vehicles. It was one of the skills we wanted to spend as much time as possible practicing for this class, so when Jerry asked for a volunteer, I stepped up. 

All of my time behind the wheel for the ASA 101 course was spent while the boat was already underway. Getting a 44 foot boat clear of its little slip and home free definitely got my adrenaline going. That said, I had an excellent instructor to guide me through it, and the boat was also equipped with a bow thruster, a device that allows you to press a button and nudge the front of the boat left or right. Basically, it's cheating, but I was happy for whatever help I could get. 

The boat eased back well enough, but managing to swing the turn in close quarters without our momentum carrying us into the boats behind us was more complicated. Without Jerry's guidance, I have no doubt that I would have had thousands of dollars in property damage on my hands. However, within a few minutes that felt like many more, we were motoring our way out into the main fairway of the marina.

We spent a while in the marina going down narrow fairways and swinging the boat in a standing turn. It's quite remarkable how little space a boat that size actually needs to pull a 180 degree turn. You can almost pivot it entirely around in place, as long as you are patient, leave enough room for the stern to swing, and are carefully applying bursts to the throttle. We also pulled up alongside a slip and docked briefly before heading out. The wind was mild at best. 

We put the sails out and practiced points of sail very briefly. Tom spent most of the time on the wheel for this exercise, and seemed to struggle with orienting himself. I certainly remembered the feeling from my ASA 101 course just a few weeks earlier. We also found that all of the working lines used to manipulate the sails during normal sailing ran to the set of winches in front of the dual wheels. Unlike our previous boat, which had the head sail lines on the rear/primary winches and the main sail lines on the secondary winches over the companionway roof, this boat had a layout more geared toward single-handing. With a class of four, it made for an inconvenient arrangement. The wind eventually gave up entirely, and we settled for motoring to our mooring for the evening.  

Our motoring excursion to Eagle Harbor.

As we headed out across the stretch of water, still but for the currents running through the channel, we took turns at the helm and enjoyed the company of the occasional porpoise. Jerry thought they were Dahl's porpoises, and honestly, all we saw of them were the little finned mounds of their backs breaking the surface: there one moment and gone the next. At one point, a pod of twenty or so crossed paths with us, headed for some unknown destination. The cloudy morning had developed into a gorgeous bluesky day.

Some of our neighbors at the Eager Harbor mooring.

We reached Eagle Harbor with plenty of time til dusk and roped up to a mooring buoy. The Sir was at the helm as we nosed up to the buoy, and I can only hope things will go so smoothly when we're sailing on our own. The ship was secure within a few minutes, and we moved onto our next little lesson - operating the dinghy.

The process of getting the outboard onto the dinghy was a little precarious, but we took every precaution and had it bolted on in short order. Once that was sorted, Jerry took the four of us on a demo run, packed in tight on the little inflatable boat. Sam and Tom were quite familiar with motoring around in little boats, While neither of us had ever used one. That said, aside from actually getting the motor going, it was a very simple and fun exercise. We motored around Eagle Harbor for 20 minutes or so while a curious harbor seal periodically checked in on our progress. On the shore we could see a trail head with some kayaks pulled up on some nearby logs. Someday, I hope we'll be able to make it back out there and have an offshore excursion.

Dinghy experience completed, we set to making dinner - another round of barbecued chicken with some simple sides. Overall, it was very uneventful, though it may be worth noting that barbecuing the chicken took an inordinate amount of time. I'm not sure if it was just inexperience with the grill, or if the grills on these boats are particularly inefficient. I was down below prepping broccoli and some sort of quinoa-a-roni the school had provisioned us with.

After dinner, Jerry conducted a review session, going over the high level topics of the course and offering anecdotes from his own experience. Eventually, the evening wound down, I took some night formula cold medication, and we tucked into our over-sized bed at the back of the boat.

We woke up to gentle waves and soft dawn light diffusing through the rear dead light. A simple breakfast of yogurt, granola, and fresh fruit was enhanced by fresh coffee, and after clearing out my sinuses, I was feeling pretty darn alive. We all took the test, another 100 question multiple choice affair. All in all, there were about a dozen questions that left me unsure. Fortunately, for most of those, my intuition was correct. Tom, Sam, and The Sir all passed as well, and after a few minutes spent preparing, we were underway. The curious harbor seal saw us off as we motored away from Eagle Harbor.

The Sir, looking extra handsome prior to our departure.

We headed up to Pelican Beach, just south of us, and each took turns practicing our mooring buoy approach. Then we headed back out, happy to see the wind was with us today. We unfurled the sails and spent some time practicing points of sail. Unfortunately, it was not exactly a smooth process.

It turns out, Tom was not just struggling a little with orienting himself in the water. He was borderline comically fixated on watching the wind vane. Jerry was incredibly patient with the entire situation, being helpful but eventually becoming exasperated as he continued to provide sound guidance. The Sir and I did fine, our previous lesson still quite fresh in our minds. We were able to focus more on orienting ourselves according to the feeling of the wind on our faces. Sam quickly got back up to speed as well.

Eventually, we moved on to the man overboard drills. For our purposes, two fenders tied together were "Oscar," our ill-fated travel companion. Jerry took us through a quick demo - a person at the helm, a person spotting, and a person on each winch. The boat would swing onto a beam reach once Oscar plopped in, proceed until we were about 5 boat lengths away, then swing a 180 degree tack through the wind and  as we approached, and slack the jib then the main sail to slow us down so that the spotter could pull Oscar up.

It's a somewhat complicated process, and definitely requires clear communication and teamwork. If one person fails to execute their role, things will probably go off the rails, especially with a bunch of inexperienced students. 

As I worked the winch, we struggled through Tom and Sam's attempts at the helm. When Jerry said to tack through the wind, they both swung the opposite direction, onto a broad reach. If I remember correctly, Tom managed to carry this on into the boat spinning through two accidental, but thankfully gentle, jibes. Meanwhile, on the winches, things weren't going terribly smoothly either. There was only enough line on the main sheet to use one winch, which due to our inexperience, was usually the winch that needed to hold the jib sheet. To try and work around this, we sometimes closed the jib sheet cleat, which would cause complications down the line and earn us a sharp correction from Jerry. 

By the time I took to the helm, I'd seared into my mind that I would be turning through the wind, and was pretty aggressive in loudly communicating my intentions. And we still had a mess on our hands. This was a situation that happened numerous times - the acting helmsman would say, "Ready about!" And the crew would bark out, "Ready!" and then Jerry would point out that actually, we weren't ready because we needed to switch the lines on the winches. Bless Jerry for not making one of us play Oscar's role after we screwed this up for the umpteenth time. 

In any case, I eventually got through my practice runs for the man overboard drill. We managed to recover Oscar. Everyone was a bit frazzled by this point, so we stopped for lunch with The Sir at the helm, slowly working our way back to the school.

I was spotter for The Sir's man overboard runs. As we approached Oscar, I would walk up the side deck with the extended boat hook and snag the knotted lines between the fenders to "save" Oscar. On our second run, things went awry. I was out front as we approached, pointing, but the bow came over too far and ran Oscar right over. As soon as I shouted this back, things got quite serious and Jerry took over, slacking the lines. 

Oscar had simply disappeared. It's very easy to forget exactly what's below the waterline. This ship had a fin keel, a relatively narrow but long extension below the water to counterbalance the boat and sails. And depending on where Oscar was down there, he was either wrapped around the keel or tangled up in the prop. In either case, the ship could only move by sail or risk fouling the motor. It was a tense few minutes, but eventually the boat slowed and Oscar resurfaced. Man overboard drills are at the top of my list of things to practice once we get a boat of our own.

We sailed back on perfectly suited winds, the boat heeled well over as we approached harbor. It was exhilarating, and less unnerving than my first experience on the Bavaria. Before we entered the marina, we got in some anchoring practice. Then, we set to refueling the ship, visiting the pump out station, and finally putting her back in her slip. All easier said than done.

The Sir snuck in a few shots while I was at the helm for our return journey.

The wind was blowing lightly onto the docks and I was at the helm for pulling up to the fuel docks. Things went quite smoothly, though I don't look forward to learning how to do this someday on a completely different boat, sans bow thruster. I was able to more or less pull up parallel and allow the wind to push us in, correcting for the bow as it tended to swing in first.

The approach at the pump out station did not go as smoothly. The Sir was dead on in bringing the boat around, but through a mess of miscommunication, the lines didn't get secured in a timely manner. Tom had offered to hand the bow line down to me and didn't until we had nearly run out of dock. I don't remember exactly why, as everything happened very quickly, but the end result was Jerry intervening and preventing a minor disaster.

We spent the next several minutes on the pumpout dock. For the uninitiated, this is where you remove everything that you put into the ship's toilet by using a suction hose on the holding tank ports. I had the good fortune of being stuck acting as a patch for a leaky fresh water hose. It didn't improve the smell any, but also didn't involve looking at swirling human excrement through the pumpout hose's little window.

For our departure, I was on roving fender duty, where you use an inflated rubber cylinder as the last line of defense between the boat and thousands of dollars in property damage. The pumpout dock had high, uneven edges, and the wind was blowing onto the dock. As the boat began to move forward, the fenders that normally protect the boat became trapped between the dock and boat and rolled up. With the fenders laying on top of the dock and the boat also trying to roll my fender away, we cleared the dock by inches.

We had a few more close calls, but managed to bring the boat back intact. We wrapped up the lesson, leaving the ship as we'd found it, and received our official certifications before hopping in the car for the drive home. 

All said and done, the lesson was a great experience. We strengthened our core set of skills and learned some new ones. We now have a foundation of knowledge that we can build on with continued practice, until we're able to feel comfortable crewing our own boat. 

For the future, maneuvering around the marina and tying off with only two people are also high on my list of skills to practice. And we still have the ASA 104 course coming this spring. And we need to find and buy a boat, and find a slip at a marina, and insurance, and so on. There's a lot ahead of us at this point, but we're slowly making progress. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Suddenly Sailing Part 4 - Boat Show!

Suddenly Sailing Part 4

Boat Show!

One weekend ago, we headed on down to South Lake Union for Seattle's Boats Afloat show. Neither of us was quite sure what to expect, but we packed my satchel with water, snacks, and the camera, and showed up at about 10:30. The weather was mild, on the verge of rain, and rows and rows of boats lined the docks. 

Unfortunately, most of these were not sailboats. All in all, there were probably less than 30 sailboats, and even fewer in sizes and styles relevant to our needs. We took a quick walk around to scope them out, then headed to a boat-buying seminar.

The seminar was well presented and touched on many topics we had already run across, such as the importance of a good surveyor. It was very broker-centric- a broker was presenting, after all. But still, he pointed out some things to us that were very useful, such as stressing taking the sea trial before the survey. Little things like that may be common sense,  especially to someone who has bought a boat before, but not necessarily obvious to a newcomer. 

After that, we decided we'd get on as many boats as we could during the course of the day to get a feel for the different manufacturers and what we liked or disliked about each. We also spoke with a few of the brokers standing on the docks, all of whom were very friendly and informative. 

Some take-aways from the boats we hopped on-

  • Jeanneau, Hanse, and Beneteau yachts all felt a bit like Ikea had vomited into a boat. Don't get me wrong, it was a beautifully modern sort of vomit, full of slick lines and birch and cherry veneer, but it's not my thing. Ikea itself has its place and they even make some very nice things that have a touch of character, but not these boats. If you want a slick daysailer to show off to your buddies, sure, but not if you want a place to come home to.
  • Catalinas and Hunters were a happy medium of creature comfort. The Hunter-Marlows were incredibly roomy for their length and had a lovely separated shower. However, we learned that Hunters very recently became so roomy after a buyout by Marlow, so the likelihood of a Hunter-Marlow being in our price range is very low. The Catalina felt like a very cozy RV, and while The Sir wasn't as keen on the Catalina as the Hunter, I'd be happy in either.
  • Island Packet and Blue Jacket - Of course, the boats we liked the most would be the most pricey. These ships both had some nautical character to them with nice vented lockers and well finished interiors, and the Island Packet even carries a full keel. We're not sure we'll entirely utilize a full keel, but the idea of a sturdier sea-worthy ship is darn appealing. They also run somewhere around double the price of an equivalent ship from the other manufacturers. 
Some interior shots of the 2014 Island Packet (click for a closer look):
Saloon, with some chairs I didn't care for. Fortunately, 
there's an alternate layout with a settee (couch) in their place.
U-Shaped Galley
Aft Stateroom

V Berth

The infamous head

Truth be told, I'd be happy on any of these ships, but The Sir was not overly impressed with them. If we end up in one of these incredibly popular (for good reason) boats, we'll probably be looking for something that will work for the time being and be easy to resell, so that if something we really love comes onto the market, we can quickly transition to our dream boat.

So, the boat show was not as helpful as we'd hoped, but we did get a good feel for the most common manufacturers and also pick up countless tidbits of useful information while we were there. On the second day, we went through each boat again, taking more detailed notes and video clips. We also got to spend some time hanging out with The Sir's aunt and uncle, checking out absolutely ridiculous triple story trawlers. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Suddenly Sailing Part 3 - Lessons, Continued

Lessons, Continued

After reaching our mooring for the evening, we headed back out to get in a bit more practice. The wind had picked up nicely and carried us out to the surrounding waters. We went through some more tacks, and then began on jibes.

A jibe is the action of turning the stern (rear) of the boat through the direction the wind is coming from, while a tack turns the bow (front) through the wind. (Sailing carries an extensive lexicon of both useful new terms and ridiculous renamings of things that didn't need renaming.) 

In any case, tacks are relatively simple. On our ship, it mostly involved turning the wheel and then moving the jib (the front sail) to the other side. The main sail didn't need much adjustment, and the boat would catch the wind and be on its way in no time. Jibes focus on switching over the main sail, and carefully adjusting it to prevent the boom (the horizontal spar/beam at the bottom of the main sail) from swinging violently around. The boom was well above our heads on this ship and more dangerous to the ship than to us if it were to catch the wind incorrectly. 

I believe it was Franz who was first up at the helm while we worked the lines and Cam guided him through the process. Everything went relatively smoothly, though some amount of sails flapping and less than smooth shift of the main sail took place. I was up next. 

I took the helm and followed Cam's orders through a few points of sail, still having a bit of trouble orienting myself by the windvane at the top of the mast. With everything still being very new, it was (and still is) a challenge to quickly account for the arrow's position in regards to the little guides that fall on either side of the no-sail zone (where the ship is pointed directly into the wind). When the arrow is pointing towards you, it means the wind is coming from behind the ship, and the no-sail zone more or less becomes the wind full in your sails/accidental jibe hazard zone. I managed to get the ship in line with the Cam's orders as the rest of the crew did an excellent job of trimming (adjusting) the sails.

And then he asked me to jibe. 

What ensued was basically a disaster. When Franz had jibed, I was not fully aware of what was happening in regards to the ship, being very focused on the sail line that I was responsible for. Cam instructed me to bring the ship through a jibe to a broad reach (swinging the stern of the boat about 45 degrees through the wind). So, I brought the wheel over slowly, watching the weather vane at the top to judge how far the ship had turned. When the main sail was brought over, which is not a very gentle process, the wind pushed the ship to keep it turning strongly. Things happened very quickly, and I got very disoriented about the wind direction and extremely flustered with my inability to get the ship pointed in the right direction. I froze up at the wheel with the sail flapping about and had to hand it over while I mentally sorted things out and the rest of the crew sorted the ship.

I don't perform well under scrutiny. My general philosophy has been to practice things until I know them so well that I'm very unlikely to fail at them in front of others. When I mess up and get noticed or become embarrassed, it is close to impossible for me to not become even more flustered and incapable of fixing the situation. In the case of helming a 41 foot sailboat, it's impossible to learn that behind closed doors.

I watched everyone else perform the jibes more or less without issue, and was silently kicking myself the entire time, too nervous and embarrassed to give it another go. Cam disappeared below decks, as he tended to do, and eventually I worked up to asking the rest of the crew if I could have another go at it. And just as I was about to make an attempt, back up came Cam and suggested we head back to our mooring for the evening. 

The whole jibing situation put a damper on the evening and set me into a slight panic. I really, really needed to learn this skill and I only had however much time was spent sailing tomorrow to practice. We still had the written exam in the morning as well. My internal drama aside, dinner was wonderful. The ship had a little barbecue on the back. Though it took just about forever to cook the overly thick chicken breasts we had been provisioned with, they were all the more delicious for the wait. Chicken, green beans, and herbed fresh bread made up a simple and delicious dinner while we got to know Cam, Franz and Leah a bit better. The sun slowly set behind the pine covered islands on a perfectly peaceful evening.

It had been a long day, and by 8:30, everyone was dragging. Cam tucked in first, and we followed suit shortly after. Franz sat up studying a bit later. We hadn't been sleeping long when we were roused by the sound of rain. It was raining hard, a chorus of loud thuds all around us. But the constant drumming eventually settled into a soothing drone while the ship steadily rocked. We were in one of two aft cabins tucked below the cockpit on deck, each equipped with a roughly queen sized bed and a low ceiling. When we woke again in the morning, the world was grey and it was still raining, but less intensely. 

After breakfast, we took the written exam. There were no surprises, just a lot of material. When we'd finished, we went up top to scope things out. The rain had cleared and everything was perfectly still. The water in front of us was glass-like with small ripples. Absolutely beautiful, and completely useless for sailing. 

We were prepping to motor out with Cam discussing our course when I noticed something move behind him. Sea birds seemed to be everywhere out here, but whatever I had glimpsed dipping below the water was larger and had a less organic shape. It had almost look like a diver's flipper going down. I pointed out to where I had seen it, and in moments, we were watching a pod of orcas passing by. They were somewhere around 500 feet out from us. I'd never seen an orca in person, and it was absolutely stunning to see them surfacing. One even leapt out of the water in a breach. But we weren't there for the whales. After a few minutes, we refocused on Cam, only to have a harbor seal poke its head curiously out of the water about 20 feet off our port side.  And then, finally, we set to motoring away from that magical little island. 

It took us most of the morning to motor our way back to Bellingham harbor. Cam taught us a little about reading the charts when he was topside, and went over our tests once he'd had a chance to grade them. Everyone had passed the written. We approached the harbor sometime after noon, and thankfully, the wind was up - not so strong as it had been the night before, and I was grateful for that. We spent time doing drills - mostly driving the boat in a large circle, jibing and tacking as necessary and rotating through all of the positions. I finally had the opportunity to practice jibing again. And following Cam and the Sir's advice I consciously oriented myself against the landscape, avoiding focusing on the windvane. It was much more doable. Anticlimactic, even. 

After a few hours practicing, we made our way back into the harbor, refueled the boat, checked out Cam's ship on a slip across the marina, and carefully settled the Wind Song into her slip. Cam gave us some parting words, helpful advice, and each of us received our certificate for the course. Overall, it was a great experience, and I learned an immense amount over the course of the weekend. For every thing I felt I now had a handle on, I also recognized there were two or more new things I needed to learn, or how much more I needed to practice a given skill so that it could become second nature. 

I could recount innumerable other bits and baubles from our first sailing lesson, but I think I've hit on the most substantial, interesting, and exciting bits. In just two more weeks we'll have our 103 course at the same school, with a different instructor and different ship.  Next weekend is the Boat Show. In the meanwhile, I'm still working on whittling down the massive collection of "stuff" I've accumulated around the house over the years- art supplies, clothing, books - you name it, I've got too much of it. But every day, we're getting a little closer.