Thursday, December 15, 2016

Suddenly Sailing - Suddenly Docking

The Wonder of Deadlines

Once we had the boat fully reassembled, we did a lot of dawdling. There were some minor engine issues, and the wind instrument needed replacing. We waited for parts and put off getting the wind instrument up, worried about sending The Sir up the mast in less than ideal conditions... which seems pretty silly in retrospect, now that we've done it a few times. Regardless, anxiety and fear of actually practicing maneuvering were the unvoiced motivators behind our slow start to sailing. 

It was deadlines, more than anything, that kicked us into gear. Our sublease was up at the end of September, and the boat was going to need to move to another slip, one way or another. We called over The Sir's brother, Zeke, to be an extra set of eyes and hands for our maneuvering practice. 

It's a little like Parallel Parking... on an icy hill, with no brakes

Our first attempt at maneuvering practice ended in us sitting around in the marina, wishing that the wind hadn't picked up. There wasn't much wind, but we didn't want our first practice round to end with us bumping into a quarter million dollar yacht and losing our insurance. So, Zeke spent two hours commuting, and then we had sandwiches and called it a day. I consider myself courageous, but a couple knots (a knot is about 1.15 mph) of wind, expensive boats all around, and a lack of experience with the physics involved were enough to discourage both of us.

The next time we made a go at it, it was dead calm. We each took turns at the helm and puttered around the marina at a snail's pace. Moving a boat is actually incredibly simple. Blackthorn has a tiller, rather than a wheel, so you push it away from the direction you want to go, but aside from this, you simply point the boat and engage the engine. Current and wind definitely have an impact, but if you have some speed and the forces aren't too great, it's very easy to get where you want to go. It's getting in and out of the slip that are the tricky parts. 

At a marina, you'll usually have a boat worth an ungodly sum of money sitting within smacking distance. On floating docks, there are large pilings that stick up well out of the water at the end of your finger pier. The boat needs to be backed out of its parking spot. However, the bow of the boat is lighter and will begin to swing in one direction or another once it is untied. This can be amplified a great deal by wind. To counter this, we leave some ropes running from the bow looped around cleats on the finger pier that can be kept taut and then pulled through and back onto the boat when the time is right. Once the boat is backed out far enough that the bowsprit (a seven foot pole sticking out Blackthorn's front) won't punch holes in anything or snap and bring down our forestay, then we put the boat in forward gear and turn it out into the center of the fairway. To date, we've had little trouble departing the dock. On one attempt, a stern line wasn't released at the proper time and created a minor crisis, but we were able to quickly resolve the problem. 

Bringing the boat back in is much more challenging. There are books and lessons and seminars about this topic. Ideally, you can bring the boat to near a standstill and then slowly cruise in within a few feet of the finger pier. Someone can then step off and begin securing your lines. Throw in some wind or current and you have a very complicated operation on your hands. Wind will swing the bow faster than the rest of the boat, causing it to turn, and current will make sure that you're always moving in some direction. The boat needs speed in order for the tiller to steer it, but you can't go into the slip at high speed. The boat also doesn't really turn while in reverse. All of these maneuvers must be performed while in close quarters and surrounded by other boats. Thankfully, we practiced on calm days and could get a feel for how she maneuvered without too many external factors.

We did a few runs around the marina on two separate occasions, alternating at the helm. It was tense at times, and I'm far from confident in my abilities, but there were no incidents. At the end of September, we moved to another slip for the next month. The conditions were not ideal, but not too rough, either. Zack took the helm, as he had had the most time on it so far. A friendly neighbor on the pier helped to ease the boat along the finger pier it was being blown onto, and we quickly had Blackthorn moored in her new home. 

A thing worth noting about my experience with Blackthorn and sailing. I'm a moody person. I get grumpy, and I'm stubborn. Combine that with my complete inability to suppress or hide my mood and The Sir's acute ability to notice and compulsion to try to resolve any issues, and it can be pretty disruptive. Sailing together, or even just helming the boat around the marina, enables me to instantly set aside those issues. Teamwork and communication are so critical to our success in operating the boat that there is no room for a foul mood. I can be upset, hungry, and/or in pain, and those all go right out the window while we're dealing with whatever situation is at hand. When I was practicing martial arts, I did not have the same experience with being able to just set aside my problems and mood. It's a bit of a random observation, but it's one more thing that I appreciate about our new lifestyle. 





Thursday, October 27, 2016

A Hop, Skip, and a Jump into the Abyss

Some thoughts on Quitting my Job

I'd been working with the same company since I dropped out of a master's program as the result of a nervous breakdown turned suicide attempt and desperately needed a job. I started in game QA, then popped over to production, thinking it was one step closer to working on actual game design. The production work was fun but extremely taxing. After a few years and some disenchanting experiences that were consequential to creeping up the corporate ladder while working for a publisher rather than a studio, I wanted out. When I started at the company, I was still very active creatively - I would routinely draw, write, read, and play video games. That declined over time until I mostly just had the energy to play competitive arena combat games in my downtime. That said, a solid desk-job was good money, and I had a mortgage to pay. I wanted to pursue my interests further, but was too afraid to strike out on my own. 

Eventually, I became frustrated enough with my desk-job in production that I decided to find a less demanding testing job to pay the bills and free up my time. When I explained my plan to my manager, my company was kind enough to let me transfer to a testing job internally. It was good but not particularly filling work. Despite the change, I still found myself neglecting creative pursuits. During this time, my house situation took a turn for the unexpected. My choices came down to engaging in a very nasty legal battle with members of the HOA or selling my condo( and seeing out a slightly less nasty legal battle). I agreed to sell, and the end result was not knowing when I would need a new home, or when I would be paid for the home that I was selling.  People brought out the lawyers and the whole situation became very disheartening and emotionally draining. Near the end of this two year period, Zack and I decided that we would go live aboard a boat. I decided around this time that my next job would be working for myself. I'm nearly 30 - I didn't want to look back on my life in ten years and have nothing to show for it but an uneventful career and a passable sum in my 401k. 


The Road to Unemployment

How do you quit your job? According to the internet, it involves a lot of covering bases and two-weeks timing and writing nice letters to avoid bridge-burning. I'd never quit a job before and have the corporate grace of a half-plucked pigeon with a club foot. Granted, I didn't have a whole heck of a lot to lose, but about half a year in advance of when I figured I'd have my money from the house and we'd have a boat to go live on, I sent a pretty awkward e-mail to my managers. I just explained that I needed to go be a starving artist for a while to fulfill my destiny, and that I wanted to do whatever I could to not leave behind a mess when I left. Fortunately, they were absolutely accommodating. So, I asked questions about benefits and stock options and all of the obnoxious logistics that come into play to figure out the ideal "last day."

Lessons Learned: 

  • Setting an end date: When I committed to leaving my job, I was mentally ready to leave much sooner that I thought I would be. This may just be my personality, but I believe I projected 6-9 months out as my end date and barely made it to the lower end of that. It was difficult to remain engaged with my work during the last few months especially, as I was mentally ready to be working on other things. If I were to do it again, I would have set my goal end date for about half as long as I thought I needed, unless I had substantial projects to keep me engaged.
  • Timing is critical: A three day difference in end dates made a notable difference in compensation, the payout of left-over vacation days, and benefits. If you're considering going a similar route, make sure you understand how your benefits and/or stock options will be impacted before you settle on a date.
  • Plan ahead - way ahead: At my company, left over time off pays at half of the hourly rate. I was able to get the most out of my time by scheduling out all of my vacation well before submitting notice. Once I submitted notice, the company had the option to decline attempts to schedule more time off.
  • What's waiting outside: People like to wish you luck, but don't expect them to actually support you on your creative endeavors. It's not because they dislike you or want you to fail - they're just busy. When I mentioned I was going to go live on a boat and pursue my artistic goals, there was a surprising response. People I had barely spoken to over my tenure popped up to wish me luck and say how excited they were about my new venture and how they looked forward to seeing what I was up to. At most, 5% of these people actually engaged with me in any capacity after I left. This is probably especially true if you work at a large company and have worked there a long time. A lot of people "know of" you, but don't know you. That said, this also applied to many of my "workplace friends". Maintaining friendships once people are not forced to run into you occasionally in the break room requires a conscious effort.

What I'm Doing Now

After leaving my job on August 1st, I started my own little company, through which I'm pursuing a number of interests and establishing (currently tiny) income streams.  The company, Creaturista, currently has a presence almost exclusively on Patreon and Facebook

Granted, this is a very a-typical business model, where the services I offer are riddle challenges and creature design work. Beyond this, my self-imposed responsibilities are writing these blog entries, writing a high fantasy novel that probably won't see the light of day for at least 2 more years, and improving my art skills. I also do some contract work on the side for design and editing. 

When I'm not working on "work" things, I've been pouring most of my free time into learning more about the boat life, learning Japanese in earnest, planning my impending wedding, and reading.

Taking the Starving out of "Starving Artist"

In my case, I didn't go into business for myself to make money. My intention is to make enough to live on and pursue my interests. Tossing out the promise of a paycheck, a substantial healthcare package, 401K matching, and all of the other niceties that come with office-life for the promise of... well, nothing but freedom, really - it was not a decision that came easily.

Thanks in large part to my upbringing, I am very financially conscious. When I received a raise, I might get a few things to treat myself, start a new hobby, or maybe eat out a little more often, but the bulk of the money would go to savings of some form and bypass my wallet. When I was in school, I made most of my own meals, bought most of my clothes secondhand or from discount stores( or just wore old ones until they wore out), and had few expenses aside from utilities. These habits mostly followed me into adulthood.

The condo I bought was bank owned and sold as-is before the market had fully recovered from the 07-09 recession. It was a good deal, despite the years of stress it brought me. I poured pay raises and bonuses into building equity, expecting that I'd need it for future repairs. By the time that I was forced to sell, the real estate market had shifted dramatically in Seattle, and I made back my equity and then some. We had enough to buy the boat outright and a stash to live on, cheaply, while I found my footing as a new business owner. Living off of savings is something I've never done before, and it is strange to be making this sort of investment in myself.

The "As many hours as I feel like" Work-Week

Most days, I wake up with nothing that needs to be done. I don't need to catch the 7:15 bus, or pack a lunch, or even put on pants, for that matter. Nearly all of the deadlines in my life are now self-imposed: I need to finish a blog entry by the end of the month because I want to. Certainly, this is a double-edged sword. 

On the one hand, it's incredible to have the freedom to drop whatever I'm doing at the moment and learn that there is, in fact, a freshwater seal species. Who knew?! Probably a good chunk of Russia, it turns out. I may spend entirely too much time thinking about seals (Don't judge me!). On the other hand, it can be appalling to realize that I just wasted 3 hours dinking around with facebook and Reuters on my phone because I was having a crappy morning and couldn't find the motivation to be productive.

Setting goals and a rough schedule allow me to keep things more or less on-track. Even though I rarely follow the schedule to a tee, having spent time thinking about the goals that I want to accomplish helps me to refocus when I am unmotivated. 

I tend to find the months of October and November particularly challenging from a mental health standpoint. It might be the changing of seasons, the stress of impending holidays, the lack of sunlight, or all or none of these factors, but during this time of year, I tend to be at my most sulky and depressed. Has it gotten better now that I don't have to go into an office and be surrounded by people all day while I'm at my worst? Yes and no. 

I still feel horrible for stretches, and it can be difficult to get out of bed. Not because I'm tired, but because the thought of attempting to do anything feels pointless. It's also easy to feel isolated when you don't necessarily interact socially with others every weekday. That said, I can afford to have unproductive days. When I spend a sulky day wasting time or doing nothing at all, it does not cause the same stress that sitting at my desk and barely scraping by during a funk would. In fact, this lack of stress enables me to be more productive when the fog does lift. Removing myself from the workplace and breaking my routine has not changed much about how I feel, but these moods are easier to manage with my current situation.

Nowadays, my productive hours start at 10 or 11 and end by about 6 or 7, with lunch somewhere during that time. Some days, I'll end up working later, and other days not at all. Often, work gets done on weekends. Running errands and fetching groceries take up time, as do sailing and finding firewood. 

Writing this, and really thinking about it, it's hard to believe that only three months have passed. It feels like it must have been at least six months. This has been a very busy year, and all that said, it's been very fulfilling.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Suddenly Sailing - Some Assembly Required

On July 1st, Blackthorn arrived at Seaview Boatyard, set to be relaunched on July 5th. On July 13th, we moved aboard with all of our belongings. Shortly after, Robin and Jackie headed back to Europe to look for Blackthorn's replacement.

A Boat out of Water...

still looks ridiculous to me. But, the boat arrived right before the 4th of July Weekend and the boatyard was closed for the holiday. This meant several days of Blackthorn sitting up on blocks without any rigging. The Sir was out of town for work until Sunday the 3rd, the same day that Robin and Jackie would be arriving to help us get Blackthorn back in working order. On Saturday, I bused over to the boatyard, climbed up the ladder strapped to Blackthorn's side, and had a heck of a time remembering how to open the companionway. A boat's companionway is designed to be secured from the inside or out with a variety of latches on either side and a sliding top that can also be latched into position. Thankfully, no one was around to watch me try to break into my  own home.

Inside Blackthorn, I eventually found a very confused and sleepy bumblebee tangled up in the companionway's mosquito-netting cover. However, the immediate impression was that I had just teleported myself across an entire continent and stepped down into a place that existed in Portsmouth, Virginia. It felt very unreal to be standing several feet off the ground in a deserted boatyard, removing dust-covers and tidying up our new home. There were bags with sails in them on the settees, the gaff and several other long poles occupied the floor on the starboard (right) side, and the walls and bookshelves were practically empty. In similar fashion, the deck was covered in rolled up and secured sections of galvanized wire rigging. 

On Monday, all four of us met at the boatyard and went over Blackthorn, figuring out which tasks needed to be taken care of before she went back in the water. Some bits of anti-fouling were coming off and needed to be reapplied, the mast and boom needed a thorough scrubbing to remove road-grime, seacocks needed greasing (What the heck is a seacock, you ask? Keep on reading!), the prop needed some protective grease, and for the most part, the rest needed to be done once she was back in the water. 
Seacocks and Cooking with Jet Fuel 
Unfortunately, seacocks are neither aquatic fowl nor an awesome euphemism. Instead, they're valves that are put on thru-hull fittings (a fancy word for holes in your boat). As an example, Blackthorn's diesel engine uses raw-water cooling. Similar to how a car's engine has cooling water that runs to a radiator to dissipate heat, the diesel engine has a seawater thru-hull which brings water in so that it can go through a heat exchanger, cooling the engine, then out the back of the boat. Seacocks are a common point of failure and are notorious for seizing up, so they need to be greased and exercised regularly. 
As for the jet fuel, our boat has a Taylor cooker with 2 burners and an oven. It's designed to run on kerosene, but our boat god-parents let us know that it runs cleanest on jet fuel, which is what we currently have in stock. Before Blackthorn even went back in the water, Jackie gave me a lesson on refilling the cooker's tank. The cooker itself is quite unique in its operation if you're used to propane and/or electric, and I plan on writing about it specifically at a later time. Thankfully, refilling it is as simple as hand-pumping fuel from the storage tank in the bilge into a little jerry can. It can then be poured into the cooker's pressurized tank, which must be pressurized by hand-pumping. The only downside to this is that the pump can only be easily reached with my left arm. I have weak nerd-arms and am right-handed, so it takes a while. 
In transit, four patches on the hull had been polished smooth where they sat on the supports. These would need to be roughed and re-painted before launching again, but due to environmental restrictions in the boatyard, we could not do the work ourselves. The antifouling paint contains a large amount of copper, a natural biocide. This works great for keeping barnacles off of your hull, but too much copper finding its way back into Puget Sound gives the local wildlife a rough time. We took care of the tasks that could be performed while she was on land and then turned in for the night. 

We showed up to the boatyard early the next morning. After a long weekend of being nearly deserted, the yard was lively with workers taking care of various tasks. The mast and boom were lifted aboard using a crane, a painter came by to take care of the patches on the hull, and before we knew it, the boat was being loaded up onto the travel lift. It was about this time that they said they needed me in the office to take care of paperwork (and paying bills). In the general confusion surrounding the holiday, things hadn’t been entirely squared away, so I spent the next 10-15 minutes sorting out the invoice. The entire boatyard visit came to somewhere in the neighborhood of $800, which wasn’t unexpected but was still a large sum to swallow. 

Blackthorn, about to take her first Pacific plunge.

Blackthorn was lowered into the Pacific and Robin, Jackie, The Sir, and his brother climbed aboard while I finished getting my card run. However, when they tried to turn the engine over, nothing happened. We’d checked the voltage on the battery the day before and hooked up the solar panels, and everything had seemed to be in order. So, ropes were tossed and pulled and Blackthorn was pulled up to a dock where we weren't exactly supposed to be. We plugged in and hoped for the best. Fortunately, the diesel glugged and grumbled to life after a short refresher, and we were on our way. Robin helmed Blackthorn to her new slip just a few minutes away in the marina and the real work of recommissioning the boat began.  

Fiddling for Days

Thankfully, our slip neighbor was gone, and we’d ended up with a 50 foot slip due to an overwhelming lack of availability. This allowed us to angle the boat diagonally and leave the masthead dangling above the finger pier where it could be easily worked on. Everything needed to be put together in a very specific order. Electrical systems had to be disconnected so that rigging lines could be looped over the top of the mast and slid down, the crosstrees (the two little boards sticking out to the sides well up the mast) needed to be reattached, but not before they were re-coated with cetol and some of the rigging was slid down past their fittings. I may have mentioned this previously, but Blackthorn has A LOT of lines. And backstays and shrouds, and so on, and so on. We would put things together, then realize that a vital piece had been missed, and so take them back apart and reassemble them. At one point, I'm fairly sure I had reassembled the masthead light three times in the course of a day. 

Sliding the stay hoops down the mast.
Our very mess deck.
Up close and personal with the masthead, minus several lines.
Some of the many wires and lines running to the top of the mast.

After 3 or 4 days we were ready to raise the mast. We’d attached all the lines and taken care of filling some no-longer-used holes with epoxy, and touched up spots that needed a coat of protective cetol and some rust spots that needed painting. We brought The Sir’s brother along to help, and the lot of us were able to walk the mast back far enough that the base would rest over the tabernacle - the big metal fitting that holds the mast to the deck. We then set about raising up the a-frame. This large tube of metal is incorporated into the Wylo II for the purpose of allowing for the easy raising and lowering of the mast. On a boat without it, you normally step the mast using a crane. Using a block and tackle, we brought the a-frame perpendicular and then attached the forestay, a piece of rigging which normally runs from the crosstrees on the mast to the a-frame. The ship’s windlass, normally used for raising and lowering the anchor, then attaches to a block and tackle on the a-frame, and as the a-frame is pulled back to its original position, the mast is raised. 

The a-frame all set up and ready to go. 
I operated the windlass while The Sir kept tension on the line running to the windlass. So, mostly I was pressing a button and watching to make sure the plethora of cables, wires, and ropes didn’t become terribly tangled as they went up. Once the mast was vertical, we ran a large bolt through to secure it and went about securing the stays, large galvanized wires which help to stabilize the mast. This was about the time we collectively realized that we had screwed things up majorly. 

The ascent begins!
The mast-raising in progress.
Watching the lines and rigging for tangles.
Securing the tabernacle. 
On each side of the boat, two stays run from the cross trees to the deck. Each set of fore and aft stays are connected to each other by the pinrails, literal rails with metal "pins" that lines are secured to. Each stay has a large hoop at the end that loops over the top of the mast, and all four stay hoops stack onto each other. When we tried to secure the other ends of the stays to the deck on the port side, it quickly became apparent that one stay wouldn't reach. We had somehow managed to stack the stays in the wrong order. And that's how we ended up taking the mast back down, and disassembling and reassembling a fair number of parts before putting it all back up again. Needless to say, it was a disheartening realization, after finally getting the mast up.

Robin holding up the stays with pinrails.

We did eventually get the mast up, in any case, and then were able to begin working on a multitude of other tasks: securing and tightening rigging, putting on the sails, and much more. Robin and Jackie had some boats to check out and another Wylo II owner in the area to meet, so they headed out for a few days. In the meanwhile, The Sir and I wrapped up what tasks we could and enlisted The Sir's family to help us get moved aboard.

Stowage

The initial moving day left us without any open horizontal surfaces on the boat. All of the settees and births were populated with bags and tubs and boxes of stuff. It took about two days to figure out what to stow where for the majority of our belongings. The Sir dealt with the items that would reside below the forward berth, while I sorted through how to organize the contents of the lockers under the settees and in the galley. Let's just say that I like to be dynamic, and my storage selections are an ever-evolving work in progress. 

Aside from a few items temporarily stowed in a garage, everything fit well enough. In the months since, we've slowly migrated or gotten rid of many of the items that were not moved aboard initially. 

The Little Pipe That Failed

When Robin and Jackie returned, we set to getting Blackthorn ready to sail in earnest. I had to return to my job at the office for a portion of the time. The Sir and Robin spent one of these days installing a new exhaust manifold on the diesel engine. So, I came home from work to learn from them that our engine had developed a pinhole leak in a proprietary part... which we filled with epoxy and taped over as an interim solution. Robin said he would get in touch with the manufacturer in the UK about replacing the faulty part. Thus began our first lesson about engines and home builds. 

Wrapping Up

As is often the case, we managed to have things in good enough order just before Robin and Jackie were set to head out. Parkinson's Law, or something like that. By some act of God, the weather cooperated, and we were able to go out on a sail before seeing them off. Granted, I also came within 3 inches of knocking our bowsprit into the piling at the end of our pier on the way back in, but the image of Blackthorn sailing majestically across Puget Sound is much more romantic. We spent about two hours out on the water with the sun shining and a light wind carrying us along. 

We saw them off and took over Blackthorn's care in earnest. 

Robin, hanging out in the shade.
Jackie, over in the sun. 

And The Sir, split down the middle.
Blackthorn's first outing in the Pacific Northwest.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

August Riddle of the Month and Prize Sketch

Greetings, from Patreon!

For those unawares, I've started running a Riddle of the Month challenge over on Patreon. Basically, each month, anyone who pledges $1 or more has the opportunity to win a prize sketch by solving that month's riddle first. 

August was the first time I've run this challenge officially, so now that it's over, I'm sharing the riddle (for those of you who just enjoy riddles), solution, and the prize sketch.

August's Riddle:
A touchy temperament with a long, forked tail,
I take what I’m given and toss it back.
If you’re not careful, I’ll turn it black!

(Scroll to the end for the answer)


My mother, Caprice Gifford, solved the riddle first. She also does some amazing jewelry work. Check out her group on FB if you're into that sort of stuff.

She requested a color sketch of The Sir and me manning the boat with creatures on-deck and in the water as her prize sketch (click to enlarge, hi-res is over on Patreon):


September's Riddle of the Month Challenge will be kicking off in just a few days!

Riddle Solution:
A Toaster


Monday, August 15, 2016

A Candid Review of Thinx Period Panties for Pad Users

If you happened to have a vagina and were on the internet several months ago, it's likely you were spammed with social media posts and targeted ads about a product claiming to revolutionize how periods are dealt with. That, or all of their targeted marketing just hit me. Regardless, it was money well spent on their part, because after some preliminary research and encouragement from The Sir, I decided to buy 3 pairs of Thinx period panties and give it a whirl.

For Any Guys Reading This: Thank you for reading! The fact that you're taking the time and interest to learn about something that doesn't directly impact you is awesome. So, please stay tuned, keep an open mind, and get ready to learn!

The Incredibly Quick Review

Thinx are a well constructed product that do exactly what they claim to do on their site. These are not a replacement for pads or tampons, and while their advertised application is as a product to be used in conjunction with tampons, they are perfectly suitable for use on light days. I purchased Thinx out of personal interest in the product and was not supplied with review materials by the company. I tried the Hiphugger, Sport, and Cheeky styles in a size small. For reference, I wear a size 5 in Hanes cotton bikini underwear. The hiphuggers had the most comfortable fit and felt the most useful for overall wear. 


Now, for you Discerning Readers

A Little Bit About Me

Prior to seeing all of these ads for Thinx, I was unaware that period panties existed. I was only aware of tampons and pads and forms of birth control that reduced the frequency of periods. I shared some of my initial experience with Thinx on my facebook page and friends brought up several other products that also help with managing periods. These included the Diva Cup (a Menstrual Cup ) and Cloth Menstrual Pads. Despite what mainstream media and advertising would have you think, there are several options out there. This entry is mostly a product review for Thinx, which may not suit your needs.

As for my personal situation,  I normally use pads. I only use tampons when absolutely necessary, as I find shoving high-tech cotton balls up there to be extremely uncomfortable and inconvenient. I also tend to have a light day, maybe one or two really heavy days and then several light days afterwards. I'm not currently on any sort of birth control, thanks to a tubal ligation. For me it was a godsend, as I don't cope well with the side effects of hormonal birth control and have no interest in having children. That said, I believe my body may be less predictable than one on standard birth control might be. 

Sometimes, my body will decide to kick things into gear up to a week earlier than scheduled, or to wait a few extra days. I like to imagine that some women have well-behaved vaginas that politely sleep through the night and do their business on a routine schedule between the hours of 9-5 during a 3-5 day window with the predictability of automated bill-pay. The reality that I've dealt with is that on particularly crappy days I end up sleeping horribly and waking myself up in the middle of the night to make sure that nothing has shifted out of place. 

For the guys reading through this out of curiosity, if you've never had the pleasure of hosting female reproductive organs of your own, here's a little blurb about how periods and PMS in general work. Every time I talk about this stuff to a guy, they usually end up learning something new. First off, every woman has different experiences. So, what I say here is not a blanket set of rules that applies to everyone - it is one example. The terms PMS and period are often used interchangeably and incorrectly, even by women (please don't take this as license to correct them with your newfound knowledge). These are actually two different but related things. PMS, or Pre-Menstrual Syndrome, takes place before the period, or menstruation. Some of the symptoms overlap. PMS is an official medical disorder that people are actually diagnosed with. I've never been diagnosed (I don't think it's common to actually get a diagnosis on this), but I predictably have moodswings and am more emotional during the "PMS" timeframe of 1-2 weeks prior to my period, even when my period shows up a week early. Nothing quite like having an amazingly shitty day and then realizing why two days later. During the period itself, I experience the obvious bleeding, accompanied by at least one day of pretty severe cramps. There are some other fun symptoms that can hit - bloating, constipation, diarrhea, basically anything that makes you feel like crawling under a rock and calling it a day. Aside from the pain being somewhat mentally and physically exhausting on that day, though, I'm usually much more emotionally upbeat than normal during my period.

Fun Fact: Commenting that a woman "must be on the rag" when she's having a bad day not only sounds awful, there's a good chance that it's totally incorrect. If her attitude is even related to mood swings caused by PMS, she wouldn't even be on her period yet. Granted, many women also have general mood swings or may be in substantial pain while menstruating, which may impact demeanor. All that said, I would put down money that most "bad moods" occur for reasons completely unrelated to periods, just like most bad moods experienced by the opposite gender.


Some Numbers for Thought 

On a whim several years ago, I decided to try using Always' Infinity pads after having generally brand-hopped based on price. They're on the pricey side for pads (you get a box of 36 for somewhere in the order of $8 in the Seattle area). That's about $.22/pad. You can find pads much cheaper (down to something like $.07/pad). However, the Infinity pads are light, they hold A LOT, and they mostly stay put. Even on my worst days, which are probably not as bad as some, a regular pad will hold its own for a few hours. I occasionally use the overnight ones, but if I happen to be laying at the wrong angle, they don't always get everything. To be perfectly honest, I've pretty much have zero patience for my vagina trying to wreck my day, and in the fight against the red tide, I'm willing to pay the price for quality equipment.

Let's say I burn through 6 pads a day on my 2 worst days, and 3 pads a day average on my light days, which stretch out for 5 days. That's 27 pads, or about $5.94 a month, or $71.28 annually. Then, let's throw in a cotton pair of underwear that gets stupidly stained during the course of a year and a few panty liners and we'll call it $75 + 10% sales tax for a total of $82.50 as an annual maintenance fee for parts of my reproductive system that will never be used.

Looking at Thinx, prices range from $29-$34 a pair. I'm not counting thongs, because for the way I'm using them, that's just silly. If you buy 3 or more pairs, you start getting discounts from 10% on up. On your first order, you get free shipping. 

My First Order: 
Black Hiphugger
Beige Hiphugger (because why the hell not?)
Black Sport

Total: $90  - shipped free as a first order

My Second Order:  (Ordered one month later, and with a $10 off discount for a friend using my referral code, but had to pay $5 shipping).
Black Hiphugger x2
Black Cheeky

Total: $82.30

Total Thinx Investment, To Date: $172.30  
That's a bit painful to look at, honestly, but bear with me.

Since fully incorporating Thinx into my toolbox (see below), I use about a fifth as many pads as I did previously. So, my annual investment in pads has dropped to roughly $17.50 a year. Assuming that my six pairs of panties can hold up for three years (that's 36 wearings per pair), I'll have already saved $25 by the end of year three. So, that's a pretty long game, but also completely ignores the non-monetary values of the product.


The Products

For all of the styles I've tried, the construction is similar. All have a 95% cotton black liner sewn in, and the exterior is a satiny, primarily nylon blend. To that note, I would keep them miles away from velcro. I'm pretty sure it would turn the exterior of these into a frizzy mess in about 3 seconds. Likewise with the lace - it's well made, but requires some minimal caution. They are all slightly thicker and heavier than normal cotton underwear, especially in the areas where they have absorbent material. However, they are by no means bulky. 

Hiphugger

The Hiphugger appears to be Thinx's flagship product. These are touted as holding two tampons worth of blood and are positioned immediately next to the dropdown when shopping. All of the Thinx products that I have ordered were well-made with good stitching and are generally stylish, but for me, these take the cake. They are more comfortable than my normal underwear, and they probably look better, too. This, coming from someone who avoids lace at all costs. But, more importantly than that, they have absorbent material all the way up the back (it gets thinner towards the top). The seams show the different areas of coverage. So, if you're looking for something you can wear and sleep in relatively worry free, these are wonderful.

To check out the different styles on an actual model, head on over to the Thinx website. 




Sport

The Sport design looks cute and I'm a huge fan of the less lacy design. They're designed to hold 1.5 tampons worth of blood, according to the site, so I planned to use these for light days at the very beginning or end of my period. The leg holes go quite far up, and definitely allow for mobility, as described (though I didn't ever feel restricted in the Hiphuggers). My only complaint with these is that they seemed prone to wedgies. I'm not sure if this is just my body type or something else. To me, they're just slightly less comfy than the Hiphuggers, and also don't have absorbent coverage all the way up the back, though they go decently far forward and back.




Cheeky

These are very similar to the Hiphuggers, but don't cover as much on the backside. They have lace on all openings, rather than just on the top. Like the Sport, these are unfortunately prone to wedgies for me as well. And, like the sport, they don't have absorbent coverage all the way up the back - these really only cover your crotch.




To Beige or Not to Beige?

Panties I'm meant to bleed on? Yeah, let's get those in a light skin tone, what could possibly go wrong?

Call it morbid curiosity, but I decided to get a pair of beige colored underwear in my first batch. I don't even like beige, but I figured that if they were going to offer it, I should give it a shot. They're actually very nice, and slightly more embellished than the black ones, with a little scalloped edge running around the edges and nice zig-zagged stitches. When I got my first batch, I was putting them to the test. Anyways, needless to say, I got blood on them.  And not just a little bit. I got enough blood on them that it seeped into the nice little scalloped edges and down onto the underside (but only left a tiny splotch on the inside of my jeans).

So, I rinsed them, a lot. And the blood came out, almost entirely. Except in the nice little scalloped edges, where I could see a tiny discoloration because I knew exactly where to look. I was slightly disheartened, but not surprised. It didn't come out after the first wash. I wore them again next month, and washed them again, and they actually cleaned up flawlessly. I got blood on them on a later occasion, and again, they cleaned up entirely. No special cleaners, just water and some tide in the laundry.

The Verdict: If you want a lighter color, get the beige! They are definitely stain resistant, and that's only if you expect to be testing them to their limits.

Putting the Panties through their Paces

Armed with three pairs of Thinx and abundant overconfidence, I decided to give things a whirl. Having heard horror stories of blood torrents, I figured my period qualified as moderate at its worst. And, not having used tampons with any regularity, I had no context for the Hiphugger's two tampon capacity. So, I tucked a spare pair of underwear in pouch with some pads, threw on my Thinx, and went to the office. And then, all hell broke loose in my pants. 

For some reason, my vagina thought the best way to welcome these new underwear to my wardrobe was by way of unrelenting aggression. Within an hour, I realized I had horribly underestimated the sort of day it was going to be. I occasionally ducked over to the bathroom to discreetly check how things were going, and by midday, I had to swap over to the backup panties. Some blood had wicked up into the hemming and seeped underneath. My pants had a slight patch of red on the inside that thankfully didn't bleed through. 

Foolishly assuming that my body would calm down for day two, I basically had a repeat of day one, but this time in beige. 

On the third day, my vagina played dead, as it likes to do to lull me into a false sense of security. I threw on the Sport design and had no issues. Some light spotting was wicked away effortlessly, and it felt like a perfectly normal day, aside from the occasional wedgie. 

What I loved from my first, albeit limited, experience with Thinx (especially on the third day) was the ability to feel like it was just another day. There wasn't a moisture sucking strip stuck to my underwear reminding me that it was that time of the month. I didn't need to make sure I tucked a spare pad into my pocket before heading to the bathroom at work or make sure the stash in my backpack hadn't run out. On the first two days, when I was bleeding heavily in them, yeah, I could feel that there was blood in there, but overall it was more comfortable than wearing a pad, minus the slight anxiety, not knowing the full limitations of the product. On the light day, it was effortless.

The next month, I gave it another run. I tried swapping out Thinx during the day to see if I could just rely on period panties, rinse, and rotate. It wasn't particularly effective. Going through 3 pairs of underwear in a day is probably not that practical for the average person, though it was a fun experiment. I tried out the Cheeky pair on my light days, and while they were effective, wedgies struck again. 

The optimal strategy that I've come to on my third month using the product is to wear the Cheeky or Sport (or Hiphuggers) on light days. For heavy days, I'll put on a pair of Hiphuggers with a pad, and swap out pads until late afternoon. So now, I'm only using pads for about 3 days out of my cycle. 

So far, the Hiphuggers have worked splendidly for overnight wear. I've been able to wear them overnight without pads after a day of heavy flow and not had to worry at all. If my body were being particularly ornery late into the night, I might put a pad on, but so far I haven't needed to.

Caring for your Thinx

There's information about this on Thinx's website and packing materials, but I figured I'd include it here for full disclosure. As part of the care, you're supposed to rinse them after use. This is fairly straightforward and only takes a few minutes, but I have noticed that they need to be rinsed very thoroughly. When you first start rinsing them, they'll run clear as they just soak everything up. You have to fully saturate them before they actually rinse out. Make sure you've rinsed them thoroughly and squeeze them out several times to test, or they can leave discolored drips as they dry. 

The End Result

I've been very happy with Thinx so far, and so far as I'm concerned, these are a great opportunity for pad users, even if it isn't their intended function. I imagine they'd also be a nice addition for the routine tampon user. 

They're liberating, they look good, and while they're not an end all, be all, one-stop shop to make your period perfect, they're definitely a step in the right direction. Now we just need tampons that magically stop cramps. Please get on this, you entrepreneury types.

Heck, if you needed one more reason to consider this product, the people who run it are also sending part of the proceeds to help Ugandan women via AfriPads. And, if you don't have a vagina yourself, but are in a communicative relationship with someone who does, I highly recommend talking to your partner about this sort of stuff. Basically, anything that can be done to remove the stigma and make it not weird to talk about something that impacts half of the population would be awesome. 

Thanks for reading! If you have questions that I might be able to answer, comments, or requests for new blog entries that you'd like to see, please don't be a stranger.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Suddenly Sailing - From Sea to Sea

We're now moved aboard Blackthorn, a 32 foot (39 with bowsprit) gaff-rigged steel cutter. We share the pleasure with her dinghy, May. The whole process has been at times enthralling, terrifying, and involved a whole lot of waiting, paperwork, and money changing hands. Last I wrote, I was afraid to write anything too specific about the boat that had caught our eyes because there were so many maybes up in the air and I was worried that someone else would catch wind and buy it out from under us. 

We are now living on one of two (to my knowledge) Wylo II's currently located on the Pacific Coast of the Americas, more specifically in the Pacific Northwest.


Finding Blackthorn

After fruitlessly sifting through countless boat designs and surfacing nothing Sir-Approved, I took to googling. After a number of searches involving the words "steel", "gaff" and "sloop", I came across the Wylo II, designed by Nick Skeates (The boat is actually a cutter and not a sloop because it has a bowsprit and an extra sail up front, but I had no idea of that until fairly recently). I showed it to The Sir, and it piqued his interest. Given how things had been progressing, this was a major breakthrough. He dived in and researched, and researched, and researched some more, while I kept up my day job.

The boat was designed to be simple, sturdy, and capable of going just about anywhere. The designer had built the first Wylo II as a replacement after his first boat was run aground on a reef. He sold the design as a boat that could be built and maintained reasonably - a modern vessel with a classic appearance. All of this resonated with the Sir, and the more he read about Nick Skeates' design and the voyages of Wylo II's that had been built since, the more enthused he was about it. 

The first roadblock we hit was that very few Wylo II's had been built, and none of them were anywhere near Washington state. The only one we could find for sale was in the UK. That didn't stop me from scouring every yacht listing site I could find. Somewhere along the line, I stumbled across a yahoo group for Wylo II owners (and enthusiasts, it turns out). I asked to join the group and was added on shortly after. In the recently posted messages, I discovered that a couple from the UK had posted a few weeks earlier about their plan to sail their Wylo II back to the UK from Virginia early next year and sell it. 

So, we jumped on the opportunity and got in touch. Emails got eaten by spam filters and anxiety abounded, but we got in touch with Robin and Jackie and learned that they were not only incredibly kind and reasonable people, but that they were open to us learning more about their boat, Blackthorn, and making an educated decision on whether or not it would be a good fit for us. 

We sent every question that came to mind their way, always after doing some preliminary research to try and avoid sounding overly stupid. Initially, I was the primary composer of said emails, The Sir being a bit timid in dealing with strangers and I recently having come from a production job where an unfortunate amount of my time was tied up with writing concise and polite correspondence.

Logistically, things got very complicated. We needed to get over to see the boat before they planned on sailing it back to the UK. They wanted to continue their preparations for an Atlantic crossing so that they could proceed if we didn't decide to buy it. We needed to figure out how we'd get the boat home if we did buy it and coordinate around each other's obligations and the fact that they would not be back in Virginia with the boat until late March. We also needed to time our visit so that we could be present when it was surveyed - More on that in a bit. We spent a lot of time emailing back and forth, and eventually "met" them via a Skype call that happened to fall during the Seattle Boat Show. 

A quick aside about the Seattle Boat Show. 
We bought tickets to the boat show expecting that a lot of what we'd find wouldn't apply to us - we weren't rich yachties interested in the latest gadgets and technologies. No boat that they'd have at the show would be within our budget or likely even appeal to us. We did want to check out the seminars, though. There were quite a few interesting talks listed, including one about living without refrigeration, which turned out to be very applicable to our current day-to-day.

Robin and Jackie could do a skype call with us at a time that fell right in the middle of the boat show. They were traveling a lot, and due to the time zone difference, opetions were limited. Going home during the show to take the call would block out three seminars that we were interested in. So I wrote an email to the staff of the Seattle Boat Show, asking them if they could give me access to an ethernet cable and a quiet room for an hour. This is an enormous trade show with thousands of attendees. And really, they had no reason to accommodate us or give us any special treatment. But, they did. They gave us access to a little media cart on a balcony with an ethernet cable, and were just generally helpful and friendly. So, my deepest gratitude goes out to Katie Groseclose and her team at the Seattle Boat Show, who made a hugely positive impression on the two of us.

Needless to say, we got to meet Robin and Jackie via Skype for the first time, and it was an encouraging experience. The Sir and I were incredibly nervous and it was a huge relief to see that they were just another couple (actually, an extraordinary and inspirational couple) at a different stage in their lives. Throughout this whole process, all of the asking questions, doing research, and relying on the goodwill of others, it had continuously put us in a very vulnerable position. We were doing something big and risky, and while we were doing our best to make responsible decisions, there are countless ways that things could have gone wrong.

In April, we took an 11 day trip to Virginia. This was as much time as I could reasonably take off of work and still accommodate my other obligations. We spent our first few days getting to know Robin and Jackie better as we learned about the boat's different systems and some of the maintenance. During our time in Virginia, we slept aboard their incredibly cozy 60's tour bus at the yacht club, where the small membership was exclusively older men who'd occasionally wander over to chat with us young'uns. There was also a stalwart, lone Canadian goose whom Jackie had aptly christened Goosie No-Friends.

Blackthorn, sitting at her slip in Virginia.

Robin showing Zack the ropes... You see what I did there?

A proper rebel.

While in Virginia, we sailed up to Hampton and spent the night before returning. Shortly after, Blackthorn was hauled up out of the water at the boatyard next door and surveyed. Much like a house gets an inspection as part of the sales process, a boat is typically gone over by a surveyor. This identifies potential problems and is generally used to establish a value. Robin and Jackie had planned to have a survey prior to their Atlantic crossing, regardless, and so had sought out a very reputable steel boat surveyor. We watched as he went over Blackthorn, inside and out, inspecting every inch of the hull that he could gain access to - and the engine, the electrical systems, and so on. His examination revealed a number of minor issues, but fortunately, nothing critical. 


Blackthorn on a Travel Lift.


During the visit, we also began creating a "manual" for Blackthorn, photographing and documenting the boat systems in a google doc for our future reference. This is a living document that we're still updating. It's already proved its worth a few times, especially since there was a long period of downtime between us seeing Blackthorn over in Virginia and Blackthorn's eventual arrival in Seattle.

Needless to say, we were very happy with what we saw during our time in Virginia. The boat has character, and a soul. It isn't flawless, and it's not effortless to maintain, but it's a vessel that can cross an ocean (and has). And, of course, we'll be learning about it for years to come. Despite our inexperience, we earned Robin and Jackie's blessing - which we were quite concerned about. The couple had purchased the hull and transformed it from a steel form into a sailing vessel over the course of several years. It isn't an understatement to say that Blackthorn was, and in a sense, always will be, their baby.  Now, The Sir and I have assumed responsibility for her care and putting her to use doing what she was made to do. 

We decided to go ahead with buying Blackthorn, and had tentatively lined up Safe Harbor Haulers to transport her. There are, in fact, companies that specialize exclusively in trucking boats cross-country. They have busy schedules and aren't cheap, but they earn every penny they're paid. I can at least vouch that Eric did, as I watched him pull into the marina while completely insane Seattle drivers swerved around a fully loaded tractor trailer because they weren't willing to slow down for 30 seconds and allow him to finish his turn. 

Because of scheduling complications, Blackthorn's hauling was set for the end of June. Jackie and Robin offered to come to Seattle and help us get Blackthorn set back up and ready to sail again. We could not have found better unofficial sailing godparents. We had just under two months in Seattle to sort out insurance, and look into registration, and find a liveaboard slip, and iron out countless other things that required attention. 

Our unofficial sailing godparents.


We found a liveaboard slip by continually checking Shilshole Bay Marina's sublease listings. We ended up with a 50 foot slip through the end of September, even though we only needed 40 feet. Beggars can't be choosers, and it turned out to be a blessing when it came to putting Blackthorn back together. In fact, we are currently subletting the slip of the very first person to have a lease with the marina. He says he's been here over 40 years, and I have no reason to doubt him. 

Getting registration required jumping through a few hoops and was complicated by the fact that the boat had to be imported. The people at Ballard Licensing ( a private company that is licensed to perform DMV operations) were helpful, friendly, available at times outside the normal work day, and their office was actually staffed to handle their customers in a reasonable time-frame. Just sayin' - they handle car stuff, too.

Insurance was not simple. Being new to boat ownership, with limited experience and an a-typical boat, we contacted numerous companies and got declined by most. Many refused to offer us the type of insurance we requested. Our policy actually came together in the 11th hour, as the boat was making its way through downtown Seattle. Fortunately, the hauler had abundant coverage in place for the actual transporting of the boat.

The boat actually made its way from Virginia to Seattle very quickly. Five days: coast to coast, sea to sea. It turns out that due to Blackthorn's beam (width) being just under 11 feet, it could be hauled day and night with no restrictions. This was both impressive and slightly panic-inducing. Originally, we expected it to arrive on July 4th and be unloaded on July 5th. Instead, it showed up on Friday, July 1st, while Zack was out of town for work. So, I took a half day on Friday and headed up on to the marina. 

Approaching the boatyard...

And making the turn!

There was a fair amount of adrenaline in my system as I waited for the truck to come into view of the marina. It was hard to believe that this was really happening - our home had just crossed an entire continent and was rolling right past were I stood.

The process of unloading a boat from a truck was impressive to watch and thankfully, very uneventful. Blackthorn's mast had been lowered, taken off, and set alongside the hull on the trailer. An enormous, specialized device called a Travel Lift, which is basically a large square frame on wheels with two slings, was driven over the trailer. The slings were carefully positioned, then pulled up, lifting the boat up off the trailer. The operator then carefully drives the entire thing around (in this case, using a little RC control panel) and lowers the boat onto some wooden blocks. Some stabilizing stands are set up next to the hull, the slings are released, and voila, you have a boat on the hard. 

So, just under a year after our epiphany in Poulsbo, we now had a boat of our own. Granted, it was sitting in a boatyard, effectively naked, with its mast and boom on a saw-horse, but it was ours, and our adventure was about to get underway in earnest.