Crackheads Like Flickas Too!

1/26/20 Sunday

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.

after-the-rain.org / Flicka 20 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.

after-the-rain.org / Flicka 20 overhead

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.

after-the-rain.org / Sailboat masts at sunset

The One That Got Away

11/29/19 Friday

It’s quiet and peaceful, candle lit, music playing, tummy full. The perfect time for writing. My boy was with me over Thanksgiving, and although we weren’t able to make it back to Tennessee for the big family gathering, we were able to visit Gramma here on the island. She cooked a good turkey dinner for us. I prepped some mashed potatoes, and Day whipped them up good with the mixer. No tension, no drama, just good conversation and good food. Day and I rode scooters down the hill out front like we’ve done so many times before, risking our necks with no helmets on those rickety old death traps.

Today was awesome as well – good coffee, OJ, cinnamon rolls and bacon for breakfast. We watched Battlebots, talked about dinosaurs, and had tickle wars. It was cold outside but sunny, so we grabbed the rods and went down to the marina to fish. We both landed a couple of nice rockfish, but then Day hooked into a monster. I looked over and saw his rod bent over double as the fish dove for the bottom. Unfortunately the drag was set too tight and the 6 lb test broke like a spider web.

after-the-rain.org / Boy fishing at marina

He was kind of upset, but I could tell he didn’t quite know what to think – I knew it was one of those “teachable moments”. All I could really do was put my arm around him, smile, and let him know that for better or for worse, from now on he would be hooked on fishin’ forever. Plus since his favorite lure was now gone, this would be a good excuse to go stock up on some new lures. Then we headed back home to warm up and eat peanut butter sandwiches.

I love my son and had a good visit with him, even if it was just for 50 hours. A few minutes ago Sara came over to pick him up, and now he is gone again. It was not a good transition, she was very upset from the git go, accusing me of taking things again; the word that comes to mind is “seething”. I won’t lie my heart rate did leap up, it was upsetting even if only for a few minutes. But I just handed her the child support check, told Day how much fun I had with him over the last two days, and walked him out to her car. I know I can’t control her emotions or how she reacts to anything, all I can do is keep moving forward and do the best I can for myself and my son. Her actions are bothering me less and less these days. This moving on thing is starting to build momentum. I guess sometimes it’s not so bad when the big one gets away.

By the way, today there was a Bristol Channel Cutter 28 tied up at the dock – jeez loueeze…

Of Boats and Men

11/17/19 Sunday

A couple of years ago I built a rowboat from a kit. The instructions said it should take about 80 hours. I figured it would take me 3 or 4 weeks if I put time into the project each day after work. I was wrong about that, I guess I was wrong about a lot of things. It took me 9 months from the time I opened the boxes in the garage, to the day I was able to load it into the back of the truck and drive down to the beach on a cold sunny Pacific Northwest winter’s day.

This had not been an easy project for me and my boy was there to see it all, from the epoxy disasters to the gleam of the rubrails after 7 coats of varnish. There were times when working on that boat was almost transcendental, a higher plane without thought or words, like creating a poem with your hands. There were other times when nothing went right, like measuring twice and still cutting pieces of wood too short, nearly cutting my fingertips off by trying to scarf joints with a chop saw, running out of chip brushes, sandpaper, clamps, on and on. But there finally came the day when it was ready, when I was ready. Day rode with me down to the beach where we could back down to the water’s edge. I invited Sara and she drove down to meet us for the launch. The 3 of us took the little blue boat out for a spin, and it was the happiest moment I can think of when we were all together.

after-the-rain.org / Toy boat

Why do men love boats? Why do we like to build things? Why do some of us take to the sea? These are questions that others have asked me, not that I have asked myself. I just know what I know, which is I love to create, to work with the elements of nature instead of against them, to feel my muscles burn while working halyards and sheets, to feel the sun on my skin out on the water.

Does this come from our parents? People we meet? What we learn on our own? As a father I look at my son and wonder what his passions will be. He plays near me while I work on the boat. We build toys together then they break then we fix them. He’s not a natural swimmer but he takes to the water. What will he learn from me? What will his children learn from him? I just know that I’m proud of him and will support him and his own interests as he grows older.

after-the-rain.org / Boy with toy boat

Surfing is like dancing on the waves, sailing is being in harmony with the wind, kayaking is being a part of the water as you move through it. Creating is an expression of the mind. It’s all about connection, about seeing yourself in the universe around you. When this is realized, the result is compassion for others. It’s cold and rainy outside today, and I’m curled up on a comfy couch with a hot cup of coffee. I won’t be building anything today, or working on any boats. Instead I’m going to call my Mom and Dad just to say hi – it’s the same exact thing.

“The river laughed, it laughed brightly and clearly at the old ferryman. Siddhartha stopped, he bent over the water, in order to hear even better, and he saw his face reflected in the quietly moving waters, and in this reflected face there was something, which reminded him, something he had forgotten, and as he thought about it, he found it: this face resembled another face, which he used to know and love and also fear. It resembled his father’s face, the Brahman.” – Hermann Hesse

after-the-rain.org / Rowboat on Puget Sound

2/25 – Talked to Sara once more today by phone, she sounds better than ever. I’m happy for her, to know she is now back in this world and will be ok. I feel utterly spent, crushed. In two days she’ll be home. (final log entry)

Winds of Change

11/10/19 Sunday

Not long before I put the boat up for winter, I took her for a final sail of the season. I felt clumsy on board, and it took way longer than it should have to get everything ready. As is my custom I pushed the boat out by hand to help get the bow pointed where it should go, then jumped on and scrambled to the cockpit, shifted the mighty Tohatsu into forward and putted out of the marina. It was sunny with light winds from the south, that were expected to pick up later in the afternoon as it turned around to the north. As we passed the final buoy I raised and set both sails, cut the motor and pulled it up, set off on a starboard tack, took my shoes off and settled in at the tiller, and pointed toward Mount Baker.

The 90% working jib was up because it’s the only foresail I have, and it was having a hard time grabbing a hold of the light wind. I managed two tacks before the wind gave out completely. For some time I sat there cooking in the sun as the sails gave up, and I looked up to see the wind vane slowly spinning. I’ve read about sailors who’ve been becalmed for days on long ocean crossing voyages, but here we were 2 miles from Oak Harbor, and it just seemed ridiculous. To make matters worse we were drifting toward shore in the current, about one and a half knots. It was amazing how fast land was getting so close. Just before making the decision to drop and start the motor, I looked around for other boats, and instead saw the wind. It had finally switched around to the north and was steadily making it’s way down the harbor. When it hit the sails filled, the boat came to life and we were running out at 7 knots. It’s moments like these when the boat seems to be saying, “all right, we’re here , I’m ready – where do you want to go?” This is the moment that confirms my suspicion that I really just don’t like to go sailing for sailing’s sake. I want to get in this boat and go somewhere.

after-the-rain.org / sailing in Oak Harbor, Whidbey Island

The pieces of my family are in the middle of the guardian ad litem process. The GAL has interviewed me, interviewed Sara, visited her and Day at her place and visited Day and I at mine. I’m trying to get a feel for where this is going, what her recommendation will be for our final parenting plan. It’s too early to tell for sure though, there are still background checks and references to interview before she puts together a report. My instinct has me worried, I just don’t have a great feeling about it. Emotionally I’m scraping across the bottom these days. When I’m with my son it’s busy time and easy for me to be distracted by the joy and responsibilities with being a single dad, when he’s not with me I just withdraw into my heart, my vision blurs and sounds become muted, my sense of touch is dulled and food tastes different. To keep from going crazy I work out and stretch in the small space of my living room multiple times a day. I try to eat as well as I can and limit my drinking. If I let myself go physically I know I’m toast.

For now my boat is stripped and clean and ready for winter, the divorce process drags on and on, and I just try to be the best dad I can be here during the hardest time of my life. I hold on to the memories of my last visit with Day, of my last sail, of the last time I went to my favorite place on the island and gave myself to the sea, where in return the sea gave back tiny treasures to remind me that beauty never dies, that true compassion is the art of listening with your heart.

after-the-rain.org / agates and sea glass

2/24 – I don’t sleep much, just feel destroyed. Just to keep going requires conscious effort. I fix breakfast for me and Day, sausage patties, toast, milk and OJ. Afterward we go to he store to eat maple bars and look at magazines. All day I ache for Sara to call. She does but I don’t want to talk to her and try to end the conversation quickly. As soon as we hang up I wish she would call back.

Throughout the evening I keep coming back to the same thought – as the years have gone by, despite all the arguments, the leaving, the accusations, I realize that I have always loved her so much. The reason it hurts now is that I know she does not feel the same. We talk to each other by phone once more this evening. She sounds totally normal again, ready to come home. I hang up, tuck my son into bed, and try to crawl into a corner of my mind where no one can find me.

I Write and Write and Write

9/10/19 Tuesday

I’m back at work, Day is back at school. The divorce is mired in financial paperwork, and we can’t agree on a final parenting plan, which will mean more court dates and interviews with court-appointed social workers. This drags on and on. But the sun came out today, I had a good cup of coffee this morning, and I got to take Day to the Wooden Boat Festival at Port Townsend last Saturday. I have to hold on to these types of moments to get through.

The boat show is insane, with some of the most beautiful wooden vessels you’ve ever seen all dolled up and on display. I can actually feel my mouth water and my knees go weak to see, board, and poke around some of these showpieces. It’s inspiring to see such craftsmanship, dedication, and creativity. This one is one of many that caught my eye.

The Ziska, a 38 foot (plus an additional 14 feet of bowsprit) 12 ton 116 year old gaff rigged cutter was seeing laying ashore “in a sorry way” before a prodigal 19 year old shipwright fixed her up and sailed across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. Round, simple, unique, clean.

So many boats, so many types. Sailboats, tugboats, trawlers, power boats, house boats, dinghies, kayaks, paddle boards. Day jumps from boat to boat exploring galleys, engine rooms, state rooms, fish holds, captains’ bridges, poop decks, wheelhouses and cockpits. I hear the term “little monkey” more than once. He pets all the dogs and asks tons of questions to the owners.

after-the-rain.org / Water Woody House Boat

Hours go by but we’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s here to see and do. Day is starting to get hungry and tired so we take a break, find a quiet place to sit and eat hot dogs with corn on the cob. Afterward he’s full and tired. We don’t say much, he crawls over to my lap and I just hold him close as we watch the world go by. I finish the food that he can’t eat because I’m a pig like that, then we casually get up to go. I break away to check out an incredible cedar strip canoe, gleaming with who know how many layers of varnish. My hands slide over the smooth finish, appreciating the subtle variety of colors in the wood grain, until my eyes refocus and I startle myself by my own reflection – I need to shave.

after-the-rain.org / Native American salmon art

It’s time to go. We walk slowly down six crowded blocks toward the ferry, laughing and joking, punching each other’s arms and yelling out the names of out of state license plates. We hold hands crossing each street. He’s almost ten and I wonder how much longer that will last. He seems to like it and I enjoy it each time. We pause to duck into a tiny market so I can buy a Reese’s peanut butter cup for us to share. They’re horrible for you but we both like them. I find myself spoiling him a little more than usual as our time becomes more and more limited. Sometimes when he is telling me about a cartoon or a game at school or whatever his voice fades out in my head, and I just sit there with my eyes open but not exactly seeing, just absorbing the moment. We look out at the window on the ferry and see porpoises and cormorants.

I had to take him back to Sara that Saturday, I didn’t see him Sunday. Monday I couldn’t take it and went to see him at lunch at his school. Today is worse, I just stay at the house and work, taking breaks to clean up the house, dropping to do push ups and sit ups randomly. I think I’m starting to pace, finding the tiny excuses to walk from one room to another, I just have to keep busy. I’m having trouble concentrating on work, and sometimes I wake up at night and can’t fall back asleep. Our parenting plan has switched from one week on one week off to to the plan that Sara had proposed, which is me getting to see my son every other weekend and a few hours each Wednesday. It was never meant to get to this point, our divorce was supposed to be finalized by the time Day went back to school. But we can’t agree on anything, and the end is nowhere in sight. I feel like compromising less and less these days, especially now. I am more resolved than ever to fight for equal time with my son. It may take a while but I must try. Until then I try not to feel like a prisoner in my new house, like a stranger in my new town. But I’m trapped, emotionally captive. I long to be free, to raise my son and live and grow and meet new people and get back to going on adventures, get back to being me. Until then I lock myself away, my only outlet is this blog. It is private, no one else can see it, no one else knows about it, it is my escape, I go at it the same way I go about pretty much everything else, I pour my soul into it, everything I have. Some day I will be free again. Until then, I just write and write and write.

2/19 – She signed the release of information form. Now the doctors are legally able to tell me about her, but I can’t get a hold of a doctor on the phone. I leave multiple messages with nurses and social workers and receptionists, tell the doctor to call me. I need to see her. Later that day I find out she is still on unit restriction – no visitors allowed. I try to speak with her but am told she is in the shower. Later we get to speak. She sounds pretty calm, says the doctor didn’t have my phone number to call me (?). She says all the food tastes funny. She wants me to follow up at Day’s school to find out about a possible massacre. She zeroes in on everyone’s name tags – they are suspicious. I tell her I am hopeful she will come soon, but she is skeptical, not skeptical that she will be home soon, but skeptical that I’m hopeful she will be home soon.

She is in a room full of other patients. One person looks like me, one looks like her Dad, one looks like her sister. She is stressing but able to control it better. She is on the verge of crying but doesn’t. She keeps asking if Day is ok, if anything happened at his school, if anything happened on Valentine’s Day. I try to calm and reassure her the best I can. Later that night we talk again, and she sounds almost normal. We both become hopeful that we might be able to see each other tomorrow. We leave it at that and say goodnight.

Fear

6/3/19 Tuesday

The gulls distant cry, the afternoon sun beams through the companionway. I dice up leftover steak to be cooked in the skillet, meat that will be added to soup. My work for the day is done, the laptop closed, music on, beer opened. Windy out, forecasted to blow a gale this evening, but the hatch is open and it’s so nice right now, so peaceful. The sun swings through the cabin in slow motion, cooking what lies in its path. I soak in the warmth and let go.

after-the-rain.org / Flicka 20 liveaboard

My son’s little league season ended last week. I’m so proud of him. The beginning of the season was cold and wet, with the practices ending in darkness. Day would get hit by the baseball at least once a practice, and usually on game days during warm up. On Thursday he was hit on the inner thigh by the fastest pitcher in the league. He had been afraid of this particular pitcher, and his fear came true. Day dropped to the ground in pain, I sprinted to home plate from my spot as first base coach. I held him there at the plate, we worked it out in front of everyone. I helped him to his feet before he limped off to first base. Two pitches later he stole second. So proud!

Saturday was the championship game of the tournament that capped off the season, and Day had to face the same pitcher. I told him it’s ok to be afraid, that without fear there is no courage. He struck out, but stood firm in the batter’s box and took all those fast pitches. How many times can I say I’m proud of him? His team lost 3-1. To celebrate the second place finish we took a trip as a team to a Mariners home game. It was all day, a wonderful spectacle. All the families came, Sara came.

We sat together, and got along well enough. It was nice, and hard not to think about how good it was when things were better between us. Where did we go wrong? Can we ever go back? I don’t think so. They say before you die your life flashes before you. I’ve almost died twice that I know of and can say that didn’t happen to me. But as the end of our relationship draws near I find plenty of time to take a look back at the marriage. The memories come in still images, random and trivial moments that apparently were logged somewhere deep in the brain: working together to change a tail light bulb in her car, watching her get ready for work when we used to live in an apartment, making coffee in the morning. So many memories, so much time – 15 years. It’s easy to look back. It can be scary to think about the future. I put down the pen and try not to think too much. A last look out the companionway as the sun dips below the roof of B dock. It shines on my lowered mast, wrapped in halyards and shrouds, waiting patiently for me to return my focus to something simple and beautiful – fixing up this old boat. Today I filed for divorce. Tomorrow I’ll raise the mast.

after-the-rain.org / Sunset at the marina

2/15 She’s awake in bed, sitting upright. It’s dark. She asks me to listen to the radio, says they’re talking about Whidbey Island, talking about us. I listen with her. They do mention Whidbey Island. They’re not talking about us. I sit with her in the dark. It’s ok I say, I tell her she can run things by me if she’s not sure what she’s hearing. She looks distant and scared at the same time. She keeps the radio on.

Highs & Lows

5/15/19 Wednesday

Long day today, 3 hour drive to Seattle for a site walk. In urban environments most cell site antennas are not on towers but instead on rooftops. This usually works great for everyone – the wireless carrier gets the elevation, the property owner gets the lease revenue. Only problem is when the owner wants a new roof, and the entire site needs to be decommed then completely rebuilt. There is an amazing amount of pressure on the crews to get the work done quickly to minimize outage time. I’m here to help put that plan together, but it’s hard to concentrate.

High atop a downtown building, standing on a rotting roof in 2 inches of pigeon shit listening to a dozen guys talking shop, I space out and take in the view of a vibrant city under mass construction. Cranes, excavators, dozers, road crews, people, traffic. I watch a homeless man slowly push a shopping cart down the middle of the street below. A sea plane banks around the space needle, descending to Lake Union into a northerly breeze. It’s mostly sunny but high cirrus clouds to the south promise rain. A crow flies close, hovering over the roof then disappears over the edge like nothing. For a moment I’m light and free, my eyes are open but I’m feeling more than seeing what’s around me. I snap back to reality as the property owner begins to argue with the general contractor about what is and is not included in the scope of work. It will result in an email later that this half million dollar project will go $100k over budget. The conversation continues but the site walk is over.

after-the-rain.org / South Lake Union development

I call my boss on the drive home with the intention of quitting. It’s not a hasty decision but I feel the time has come. He takes my call, but I’m not straight forward enough and begin this long lead in to why I’m going to leave. He sees right through it, cuts me short and tells me he’ll do whatever to make me stay. I don’t ask for anything and end up staying, just because it feels nice to be wanted.

Glad to be back at the boat. I work on emails, I tend to paperwork for the divorce. I do a load of laundry, and think about Day while I fold clothes. I’m sad and hungry and didn’t plan anything for dinner. I slice up a tortilla and cheese, pop a can of St. Croix sparkling water – lime. A candle, the lantern, food, soft music, thinking of my son, the divorce. After a time I start to feel better and notice the boat sway as the wind picks up. I smell the rain before it arrives, and as the drops start to pitter patter up top, I hear an eagle whistle from across the bay. Nothing is easy about this, but moments like these give me hope.

Asleep on the floor of the office, the door bangs open again, the light smacks on. “What did you do with all the pictures of Day?! Did you take them from me?” She’s hyperventilating. “Nothing” I say, “I didn’t do anything with them. Everything will be ok, I’ll help you find them in the morning.” The door slams, into darkness again, shaking. In the morning I find all the pictures, just where they’ve always been. She has nothing to say. Now I realize we have a big problem, we’re both going to need help through this.