It’s leftover night for dinner. Sauteed onions and garlic in olive oil, mixed with the hamburger meat and mac & cheese that Day and I couldn’t finish last night, plus a drizzle from a glass of red wine. I just handed him back to his mom for the week, so I bury myself in food and thought.
I’ve been thinking about selling the sailboat, a 1978 Pacific Seacraft Flicka 20, hull #34 – the boat that has protected me while I learn to sail, taught me patience, and provided a place to live when my son and I needed it most. I have given her my time, my money, all my energy. Written off by others, I could see her potential. Pouring forth the effort, I gave all I had to give which was everything. What now floats before me is a structurally sound, stout but beautiful, tiny ship full of charm and possibility.
When I think of her, I dream of adventure – of exploring the Sea of Cortez, trucking her to Tennessee to sail with my dad, navigating shanty style down to the Mississippi River and on to the Gulf of Mexico, and sailing across the Pacific to Hawaii and on to Japan. I feel at home within her spacious cabin, and am comfortable with a life on and around the water.
The flip side is how demanding she can be. She craves attention, loves shiny gifts, new hardware, standing rigging, lines of all sorts, and an endless supply of maintenance products. Most of all, she just wants my time. People tend to think of the sailing life as the simple life, but in my view that is only if you live on your boat full time. Otherwise owning a sailboat is the opposite of minimalism.
I desire to shed my attachment to the boat, to set both of us free. It makes so much sense in so many ways. But much like decisions with actual women in my past life, I have a hard time saying no, and derive all satisfaction from giving. I need to finish writing now so I can sand and varnish the companionway drop boards that I brought home. I’ll bring them out to her tomorrow, probably with some flowers to apologize for my terrible thoughts.
All week long I’d been looking forward to sailing today, but the closer today came the less I was feeling it. The winds were picking up and the clouds were forecast to move in. So instead, I packed up for an overnight stay and came out to the boat anyway just to hang out at the marina. Day is with his mom this week so it’s just me. I miss him but feel content, it’s peaceful here. Schools of anchovies swim in circles around the boat, gills flared out. The noisy gulls and terns have left for the evening and blue herons are coming in to roost.
Without sailing or projects I have a chance to just take it easy. I talk with buddies on the dock and soak up some sun, flaking and folding up my sails that I put away too impatiently last time. Down below I lay out my stuff for the evening, marveling how much gear can fit in such a small space if that space is well designed. It’s all fun and nostalgic, and I’m happy to be here. I take frequent breaks to just sit and appreciate the moment.
As the day drifts away, the sky begins its dreamy performance that will last well into the evening. Blueish white, then pinkish gray. The air is cool and moist and wisps around the cabin like dancing ghosts. I feel the temperature change on my skin, and wonder for a moment if it’s possible to taste color. At this time of year at 48 degrees north latitude the sunset will last for 3 or 4 hours. Misty pink flares out into orange and red, then honey brown, and an eventual purplish black.
As the wind chills I’m excited to come in and start the little stove and light a candle, it’s time to fix dinner. A hot castiron pan, olive oil, sizzling onions and orange bell peppers. Chicken, black beans, rice, salt, pepper, and a diced jalapeno. I taste it already with my eyes, wrapped up in a warm tortilla. I wish I had wine but the spring water I fortunately had in the truck will do.
These are the meals I like to fix when Day is away. These are the quiet moments I’m growing to appreciate. Confident with just myself, comfortable in my own skin. Not searching anymore for who I am, but gravitating toward my true self, without ego, without effort. Truth, goodness, beauty – core values that rise naturally from within, that perhaps were always there, waiting for an unexpected life change to strip away years of being someone else, someone who someone else wanted me to be. Tonight I eat dinner alone but I’m not lonely. It’s chilly outside but I’m comfy and content, and soon I’ll drift off, rocking gently to sleep in my 6500 pound waterbed, sturdy and loving like a country grandma.
She waits patiently for me. Moving to the only song she understands, she follows the lead of the wind, swaying back and forth in her little slip. As I approach along the floating dock, her head bobs up and down, and it reminds me of coming home to a faithful dog wagging its tail.
I had planned to go sailing today, had it all worked out with the tides, wind, and forecast, time off from work. But as I stepped aboard and went below, I knew it just wasn’t the right time. It was overcast, I forgot half the things I wanted to bring from home, and the boat was just a mess. I made a decision, changed gears and got to work. I removed everything that wasn’t screwed or epoxied down from the cabin and dumped it hobo style into the cockpit. The pile grew rapidly until there was no more room. I knew there was no more room because when I took my shoes off and put them on top of the pile, one of them rolled off into the water.
Next I brought in a 5 gallon bucket of warm sudsy citrus soap and went through the whole cabin, washing, rinsing, and drying. Then it was teak oil for all the woodwork, and the cushions came back in with clean covers. Looking good and smelling great.
Then it was time to give her topsides a nice warm bath. A winter’s worth of moss and grime was promptly scrubbed away, revealing a shining happy boat underneath. The sun was coming out, the breeze picked up, and with all windows and hatches open she was airing out beautifully. I was able to tune the rig, set all cotter pins and tape the turnbuckles. The mainsail is bent on and flaked up cleanly under its new cover. With a little time left I applied a maintenance coat of Cetol to the brightwork, plugged in the little oil heater to keep her warm at night, and packed up my stuff.
People often ask why I don’t sail more often. I see them come out to their boats, sail and come back and quickly leave. I never really had a good answer for them. One thing is I just don’t feel comfortable doing things until I get my shit together and organized. That’s probably not a good thing but I just feel more relaxed if things are well maintained and where they need to be.
But I had a good long conversation with an old timer down at the fuel dock yesterday. He mentioned that he hadn’t seen me with Day recently, so I explained that I’m with him Monday through Friday these days but not the weekends. That got us talking about life, love and divorce. After hearing a bit of my story, he was able to understand why I work on my boat so much. He remarked that fixing up this old boat is my therapy. Working on it is a means to itself, it is its own purpose. He’s right about that. I am looking forward to going sailing, and I think I’m ready. I guess there is a time and a place for everything, if we can just tune in to our own rhythms and let opportunities reveal themselves naturally. Before I get in my truck I take a last look across the water. She waits patiently for me..
The world is gradually locking down. Our country, our state, even our own little island in the Pacific Northwest are all coming to terms with new restrictions, uncertainty and change. Schools, restaurants, and just about anywhere people tend to congregate are closed for the forseeable future. Even the court system has ground to a halt, which will likely put a lid on my divorce drama for a while. I do the best I can for the older and more vulnerable around me, which generally means offering emotional support like being positive, but most of all just staying away. I check in with my mom to make sure she’s ok and just to talk. She worries about getting sick so she stays home and watches the news which makes her more worried. I think we are all starting to feel that withdrawal of physical connection. I do what I usually do to distract and calm myself, which is to work on problems with my hands – I head to the boat.
A small sailboat in a quiet marina is a good place to work out all kinds of things. Yesterday’s issue was rebuilding the motor mount and installing the outboard. It was a beautiful sunny spring day with almost no people, which means I was easily able to find a dock cart which would have been unimaginable on any other Saturday. This was especially helpful for transporting the outboard motor from the truck down to the boat. Somehow I got the mount put together without losing too many parts, and got the motor hung without dropping it or myself over the stern into the water. This should have been a 30 minute task but took me 2 1/2 hours, which is about usual for my boat projects. After this I thought a short break with an icy sparkling lemon water was justified so for the next two hours I faced west to watch the glorious sun slowly say goodbye for the day, then headed home.
It was a nice way to cap off an interesting week. I work from home and now take care of my boy Monday through Friday. I’m thankful for the extra time together, and do my best to put work on the back burner so we can shoot nerf guns at army guys, play board games, draw, walk to the playground, play catch with a baseball. On Friday three lambs were born in the sheep pasture next door. Two survived and one didn’t. We watched the momma ewe clean her babies, watched the two lambs take their first steps, and could sense the mom’s confusion and grief as she tried to nudge the third one to move. A large eagle flew in to take a look and I figured we better go talk to the farmer. Good thing we did, she didn’t know about the lambs but had seen the eagle and was concerned. We all walked down to the sheep, where the eagle had moved in on the little guy that didn’t make it. More were flying in. We brought the two lambs and the ewe back up to the barn where they would be safe. The farmer lady told us the eagles would have taken the healthy lambs also in another ten minutes if we hadn’t been there. My son was proud to be a part of something so significant, so meaningful.
I never did call the server from last week who gave me her number. There are a couple of reasons why but they’re probably more excuses than anything else. It just didn’t feel right, and as a man who is used to living by his instincts that was good enough for me. But as I sit here plowing through a bag of Hershey’s kisses and a glass of red wine, I think I know why. Although I’ll always be a hopeless sucker for beauty, what I’m looking for now more than anything is a connection, a sense of being together, in love with someone’s spirit.
The other day I met someone at the beach who was there with her own 10-year old son. Our kids played frisbee. Our words flowed back and forth like waves, but there was an invisible boundary to the conversation. I didn’t have to look at her ring finger to tell she was married. There will be many more of those near misses to come for sure, but for now I’m starting to enjoy being a part of the world again, and finding my place in it, embracing the uncertainty of change and new possibilities.
I have to say thank you. There aren’t many people who read my scribble scrabble week after week, but a few who do have reached out with some very kind words. Your comments feel like rays of spring sunshine and are much appreciated. Last week was a doozy, and I’m soaking up positive bits and pieces like a decorator crab gathers up whatever it can find to strengthen its shell. But the weekend was better, so I’m packaging up the drama until next time and focusing on problems I can fix or at least work on with my hands. I pour energy into the boat.
With my boy being at mom’s (with gramma) over Saturday and Sunday, I convert my living room into a makeshift workshop and get busy. I scoot army guys, nerf darts, and legos off to the side, lay down a drop cloth, bring in the wood, bring in the tools. I can work better with heat, light, space, music. Plans and measurements drawn out on the backs of utility bill envelopes come to life before me, cut, sanded, and epoxied.
Some time ago I realized that even having a bachelor’s degree in mathematics couldn’t help me figure out how to install straight wooden planking on a curved sailboat overhead. Curved isn’t really the right word because the “curvature” is three dimensional, not in a plane. Spherical isn’t the right word either because it’s not round. Think of it as a hollowed out orange peel, except it’s not symmetrical. My entire boat is curvy and twisty, like a beautiful mermaid with big hips, slightly turning to the side as she swims through the sea. I abandoned the straight planks, and have instead chosen to use 4 mil okume marine plywood. It’s lightweight, light colored, and contorts as required to fit into unique dimensional spaces. It’s a plantation-grown mahogany, and looks outstanding if you have the buddha-like patience and depression-era work ethic to apply 3 coats of epoxy and 7 coats of varnish (I don’t). I clean up the toys and my mess, load my “handiwork” into the truck and head to the marina.
I’m blinded by the strange yellow light in the sky and struggle to find my sunglasses. The clouds are giving up their grip today but the cold is not. I can’t feel any wind but the water shows otherwise. There is some kind of youth regatta out in the bay, and I wonder what it would be like to have mad sailing skills as a teenager instead of learning to sail in my forties. I watch for a few minutes as the race drama silently unfolds at 3-4 knots.
My own boat patiently waits. It takes forever to find a dock cart, load my tools, lunch, and plywood panels, and bumble across the parking lot, out on the pier, down to the floating docks, through the security gate, all the way down A dock. I get side tracked talking to people. They aren’t my friends, but I see them more than my friends and I like to say hi. It feels good to talk to others without having to explain oneself. We all have the boat sickness and understand that about each other as a given. Soon (hours later) I’ve got my stuff unloaded and the panels up. I sit and look up at the ceiling for even more time, thinking things through, trying to work it out in my head. I try to think of myself as patient, letting the boat tell me what she wants. In reality I know I’m just slow. Maybe if I had skills, maybe if I knew as much about boats as http://artofhookie.org this project would be done already and I would actually be out on the water. I guess it’s ok though, one step at a time still works.
It’s cold but sunny enough so I trick myself into thinking the weather is nice, go sit in the cockpit and eat lunch. The sun reflects off the water, it reflects off the woodwork. It will need a maintenance coat of varnish this summer. I think how boats are in a state of slow but constant deterioration, how they need to be actively maintained and improved otherwise they slip into disrepair, there is no in-between. Briefly I think of people as the same way, then flush out the thought and eat my sandwich, quickly before the gulls see me.
It’s time to go but I don’t want to. There’s a physical perception of time actually passing by, the weekend will be over soon. Thankfully someone comes by to talk more about sailboats. He tells me about the good deal he got on an old Catalina 25′. He tells me how his boat is slowly taking on water, perhaps from a hairline crack in the hull. He tells me Flickas are too expensive. He walks away.
I round up my tools, lock up my beautiful girl, and track down another dock cart. I’m hesitant to leave. Yes she’s too expensive, and too needy. But she’s patient and a good listener, even if I don’t have the right words to say. I never do. I check her dock lines for chafe, readjust and walk away.
Before the weekend is over I’ll move my rowboat into a new storage unit at the marina, and begin to cut out the panels for the forward sections of the overhead. I’ll meet my mom in Coupeville for Musselfest. I write this post. Anything to keep my mind off of tomorrow. Tomorrow a judge will decide if Sara will get custody of our son, if we’ll share custody 50/50, or if I will get majority custody out of safety concerns. At this point I can’t do anything more about it. It’s not a problem I can fix with my hands. Outside I distract myself, inside I pace back and forth. Goodnight Bubba, I hope to see you tomorrow, daddy loves you.
I had always wanted a specific kind of sailboat, a Pacific Seacraft Flicka 20. They’re short and strong, straight forward no nonsense (maybe just a little), graced with bold curvy lines that embody optimism and adventure. That’s how I like to think of the boat, it’s how I like to think of myself. Apparently others like it too. In summer people walking around the docks sometimes come over to say hi, to ask about the boat, to tell me their own stories about Flickas or similar boats, and some ask if they can come aboard and take a peek below, especially if I’m in the middle of a project.
The project I’m working on now is fixing up the overhead, or ceiling. I thought I was making some progress a few weeks ago, thought I had finally worked out the design in my head, and was bold enough to begin the prep work, including the installation of wooden furring strips which would act as the supporting framework. But at the time I was getting frustrated with not having the right materials, and was short on time, which is a sure sign of trouble. When the strips were done I didn’t feel good about it, left the boat and mulled it over for 3 weeks. The main problem was the strips just didn’t have enough give, and I couldn’t stand the idea of straightening out that beautiful overhead curvature. So Saturday morning I went back to the boat, with a fresh set of materials and a brand new game plan.
A few years ago when I bought the boat, I was bright eyed, bushy tailed, and absolutely clueless about what I had done. There were warning signs that probably should have had me running for the hills, including loose shrouds and water stains on the interior paneling. No problem I thought, I’ll just sand out the stains! The stains went deep into the wood. I’ll just bleach them out! But the wood was soft. I pried off the soft wood and the wood beneath that wood was rotten. The damage was extensive, and beyond my skills to tackle on my own. So along came Steve, the most jubilant, optimistic, can-do liveaboard in the whole marina, eager to offer his advice. Where should I start I asked, what materials should I use, how long will this take me? What should I do? His usual smile evaporated as he popped his head below and quickly scanned the interior. “Give it away to some crackhead” was what he said with no hint of his comment being a joke. Fortunately or maybe unfortunately who knows I didn’t listen to him, and over the last 3 years have systematically removed, repaired or replaced, and resealed just about every part on this sailboat. The restoration is coming along slowly but it’s satisfying in a very deep way. There’s a certain amount of momentum going now, and I’m glad I didn’t take Steve’s advice and get rid of the boat.
Unfortunately the crackheads have apparently taken a liking to it anyway. About a year ago I would come out to work on the boat and would just have the strangest feeling, like someone had been right where I was sitting, there inside the boat. I had never kept the hatch locked because apparently I’m stupid like that, so my concern was a real possibility. I started to go all CSI and was determined to figure out if someone was coming aboard, and the most miniscule clues soon emerged. Sometimes a seat cover would be wrinkled when I knew I hadn’t used it, things like that. One day I was just sitting there, wondering if maybe I was imagining all this. I looked out the companionway and realized that the house battery’s solar charging panel was totally gone along with the cable. Since the cable connects to the battery, that was the proof that someone had been there, inside.
Ever since then she’s kept locked up when I’m gone, but I guess someone is persistent. Saturday morning upon arrival I checked the lock, and knew immediately someone again had been there. I close the hatch a certain way to keep rain out but also let air in, and the hatch was out of position. I think someone is unscrewing the latch that holds the lock. Today I went back and saw the same thing. Nothing is missing this time, there’s nothing on board worth much anyway. I think someone just goes there some nights to get out of the cold, and now they try to put things back very carefully.
I’m back home now, after a long day of fun work, eating a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato-basil soup. I might have a glass of wine later but for now it’s milk. It’s windy and raining outside. Someone might be aboard my little boat right now but it just seems so minor compared with the rest of my life these days. The guardian ad litem report came back last week, which will have a ton of influence over the final parenting plan, which will decide how much I get to see my son as he grows up. The details are sealed by the court, but I can say that the report was exhaustively thorough, that my ex wife does not love me anymore and maybe never really did, but despite all her efforts, the recommendation is for a 50/50 parenting plan, which is what I’ve been asking for since the beginning. It’s like I won something I never thought I would have to fight for, and lost something I never knew I didn’t have. I try to think about it philosophically, like the idea of having anything is an illusion at best, but that doesn’t cut it tonight. I’m so happy.