I used to live in a small but well built craftsman home on 6 acres. Other folks in the neighborhood had similar sized property, so there was a rural country feel to the place. Old logging roads have since turned into walking trails, and it was common to come across a neighbor while out for an evening walk. One of these neighbors was “Bike Man John”, who at 85 years old still rode a bike, and had a memory (still has a memory) better than mine at 47. I got a call from him the other day, and he wanted to talk about boats.
Bike Man John has built more than 20 wooden vessels, but was stuck on his current project. It took a while to get around to why exactly he was calling, and what the issue was with his latest endeavor. But I knew he still hadn’t finished the little stitch and glue project he had told me about years ago, and was really beating around the bush in telling me why. I had to figure it out which was tough because I can be dense that way. The reason he was calling was to tell me he couldn’t finish building his little boat, because he is going blind and can’t see well enough to fit joints, read plans, measure dimensions. He was calling to ask if I would take over the project, finish it out, and in return keep the boat.
I don’t know about women but I know for sure it can be really difficult for a man to admit that something is beyond his physical ability, especially when that diminished ability is due to age. Not only did Bike Man John have a hard time letting me know he couldn’t finish his project because he was losing his eyesight (and has had 3 heart attacks in the last year and a half), he proceeded to tell me about his “next 2 projects” – 2 more wooden boats he had been thinking about. I did my part as the receiver of this gift, which was letting him know in no uncertain terms what an honor it was, that I was thankful and would take good care of his dream, and encouraged his future boat building endeavors.
I look at his half-built project, which fits snuggly in the back of my truck. It’s an 8′ Glen L Sabotina, a beautiful little pram designed to sail or row. Somehow Bike Man John was able to true up the hull, it is even steven. He says he would have painted it white.
The last thing I really need is another boat, but maybe it’s just what I need. It makes me happy to think about, and I guess that’s as good a reason as any.
North winds lately, the sign of good weather. After work, Day and I slip down to the local marina to try our luck fishing. We get snagged right and left, and catch no fish this time, although my boy almost hooks a pigeon and a seal that swam a little too close.
I’ve felt a lot better the last few days, and have noticed a pattern. When my son is with me, I’m busy but happy and content. When he’s with his mom, life is easy but it feels like part of me is missing. I get low and it takes time for me to switch gears from being a Dad to just being… me. It’s such a big change.
It’s a summer afternoon, and life is a bit calmer than usual. The sand is warm and feels good on our feet. We play with old crab claws, look for sea glass, and watch the different boats go by. I have a fleeting thought. For a moment I want to think of myself as a marina – smelling a bit fishy, getting older and beginning to look a bit run down, growing a few barnacles, but still full of life, beautiful in its own way, and in general a fun place to be. I come back to the present and smile. We didn’t catch any fish today, but still got what we came for..
I’m lying in a hammock, swaying with the breeze. Easy sounds drift across the water – laughter, seagulls, boat fenders rubbing against the dock. I smell the suntan lotion blend with salt and sweat on my shoulders. My eyes narrow, squinting toward the sun. It’s quiet inside, I feel my heartbeat.
I’m on Rainier. It’s April but might as well be February. Still dark, and we’re moving fast through the ledges by headlamp. My crampon dislodges a rock and instantly both feet hang in the air, but the handholds don’t budge. Lucky I guess. It’s quiet in the early morning mountain air, save for the rocks tumbling below. Inside, my head is pounding, and a minute later my body trembles uncontrollably.
We’re in the bedroom, I’m at the doorway. She’s yelling at me, her eyes like icy blue lightning. Somehow my ears close, her voice muffles, and I realize the cat is hiding under the bed. I feel the texture of the carpet with my feet and understand. I’m sure my eyes are open but inside I’m somewhere else, going from room to room looking for a bed to hide under.
I’m in the hammock, swaying with the breeze. But I’m a thousand other places, living a thousand memories, and dreaming up a thousand new ones. They come to visit, and I let them in to stay a while, then let them go. Now it’s the present, piercingly beautiful. I see schools of little silver fish, white terns flying high above, and a big fat seal swimming upside down rubbing his belly against the underside of the docks. In the distance there is laughter again. Inside it’s quiet and that’s ok for now. I feel my heartbeat.
I had a dream the other night. I was slowly driving onto an old wooden bridge, spanning a large ravine. The bridge used to be stable, but was old now and beginning to rot away. As it took the weight of my vehicle, the wood slowly began to buckle. I backed up, got out of the truck, and waited for the inevitable. Suddenly Sara appeared out of nowhere and jumped onto the bridge. She knelt down and held firm to a plank as the bridge began to crumble. She looked into my eyes and I could see the intention. As the bridge began to fall, she let go with one hand and reached out to me. I couldn’t help it, I jumped to take her outstretched hand.
Yesterday in real life I jumped off the dock onto my boat, and headed out to get a taste of single-handing in 20+ knot winds. From the spray on my face I can say it tastes salty, and from my motor quitting as I headed out of the channel I can say that at least for me it was frightening. I learned that when the boat heels over past 15 degrees, everything not secured in the cabin will crash to the floor, and that it would be better to get my reefing lines ready before I hoist the mainsail. I learned that in those conditions I should probably clip in to something secure in the cockpit, but the fact is I just can’t stand being tethered to anything, a fact which would probably be interesting to my therapist.
Eventually it was time to go in, so I pointed to the wind and raced forward to drop the sails before the bow could blow back around which could cause the sails to fill again which would buck me off like Fu Man Chu the rodeo bull. Then it was troubleshooting the motor while drifting toward a lee shore for extra excitement. Fortunately it was an easy fix, because the problem was with the boat heeled over, the gas in the gas can sloshed away from the fuel intake, which is something I had never thought of. With my tail between my legs I headed back to the marina and surprised myself by easing into my tiny slip without hitting the dock (this time) or the new $100k power boat parked next to me.
Jumping off, letting go, expanding my comfort zone, and change in general is difficult for me. But I know the best way to address fear is to look it in the eye and confront it, embrace it, and watch it disappear. Looking forward through life with optimism and confidence is the only way to keep growing, but I know it takes practice. So I fully expect to get my ass handed to me as my own fears are confronted, be it sailing or surfing large waves or relationships or removing the occasional spider from the bathtub. Holding tight to what matters, jumping off from the illusion of security, letting go of expectation.
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.
When the sun is out these days, I’ve never seen the sky so blue. Usually at this time of year when we get high pressure, there is a haze in the air from the traffic in Seattle. With the lockdown still in effect there are now less cars on the road and less pollution in the air. Looking up at the sky is like looking up into space. The blue is rich and deep. The clouds are so white it makes me notice how old my sails look. I know this because I went sailing again on Friday.
The wind was light and the air warm. I was excited to be out, to be free, if only for an afternoon. Seals, cormorants, and eagles kept me company. I was able to practice tacking and jibing, and got to wear my badass new life jacket, which I figure increases my survival chance from 0% to about 5% if I fall overboard. I love being on the water, and handling a boat by myself forces me to forget about problems like work and divorce. The boat demands my full attention and I’m happy to give.
Once safely back at the marina, it’s time to relax in the cockpit and crack a moderately cold IPA, to celebrate sailing and docking the boat by myself without crashing. I spend an hour watching terns dive over and over, picking off anchovies. The afternoon sun beats down, the sails spill onto the deck, and loose lines are everywhere. It makes me think of a bed on a lazy Sunday morning.
Usually I write on Sunday night as I eat a ghetto dinner of leftovers, but tomorrow my boy will be back at 4pm, so tonight is the night I pause to put my life into perspective for the week. And instead of mixing whatever my son didn’t eat into some sort of pasta surprise, tonight I make myself a caesar salad with fresh king salmon, flash fried in olive oil and garlic, drizzled with a dab of Tillamook butter, wine, and roasted peppers. Chocolate for dessert.
In a way sitting at home alone except for two goldfish on a Saturday night really shows what a loser I’ve become. But simple pleasures mean a lot these days, and I am grateful. It’s nice to feel full, and to have something to look forward to. It feels good to be happy again.
We take advantage of the empty places around us. Skateboarding on the sidewalks, scootering on freshly paved parking lots, paddling around the empty marina. Staying active, breathing cool clean salty air.
Being outside, on the water, the mundane becomes an adventure as we load our lunch into the kayak, paddle across the bay, and sit in the cockpit eating turkey sandwiches, pretzels, fruit snacks and oreos. The wind howls through the rigging but for the moment the sun is out and it’s smiles all around.
We try fishing but don’t have any luck. Everyone seems to be hunkered down, even the little perch that we usually catch. Day’s focus changes to defending the boat against pirates. He swings gallantly from the jib halyard as I point out the imaginary attackers. An American flag marks our base and we make our stand with an empty flare gun and a paddle.
As the clouds move in, the wind picks up and the temperature drops. Our adventure for the day is at an end. We claw our way back to the ramp where it all began and start the process of heading back. Soon we will be at home. Soon he will look away and tell me he is tired. Soon he will turn around and I will see a tear slide down his cheek.
His mother’s restriction on visitation is ending. She has met the criteria for spending time with him on an unsupervised basis. We are rolling into a 50/50 parenting plan. It’s what we have been striving for, but when I see my son’s reaction to going back, I realize the struggle is not over. I guess we all have our demons, our own pirates. Today I watch my son fight his at the end of the dock. I’m with him all the way.
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.