Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Not Meant to Be

How can something as useful as a radar system on a boat be such a damn pain in the ass? I shake my fist at the sky.

It all started when we bought the system. We put off installing it because we had more pressing issues—like the boat’s annoying habit of randomly filling with water and threatening to sink. She had other annoying habits, like leaking water into the boat from the decks. We've since gotten those issues resolved, and now we’re on to other “nice-to-haves” like a radar system and an anchor windlass.

A few summers ago we decided “this will be the summer of functional radar!” We installed the radar antenna (the dome) on the mizzen mast. We ran the wire down the mast and cut it. We plugged the other end into the back of the display and wired it to the electrical panel.

We spliced the cut wire back together, just like we’d done on every other electrical system on the boat. When you’re running cables on a boat, it’s rare that you’ll run one long-ass cable from point A to point B.   So you cut and splice to make working with the wires easier.  The radar cable has gigantic plugs on either end. To run that cable in its entirety, we’d have to drill gigantic holes into every wall to make the ends fit. To avoid that colossal pain in the neck we decided to slice and splice.

Todd finished the splice then turned on the radar display. It counted down the 60 seconds it takes to warm up, while Todd rubbed his palms in anticipation. The screen, however, remained blank. A call to Raymarine tech support informed us that cutting the wire wouldn’t allow the signal to carry over it anymore. Basically we severed the connection, never to be sliceable again.

We back burnered the radar until this summer. In the mean time, our radar unit had gone straight from discontinued to extinct. Ordering new cables to run down the mast and through the boat proved to be a month long ordeal. We installed the new wires, plugged them into the dome and into the display. We tested the unit while we were still in dry dock and were able to see the other boats around us. We cheered and jumped up and down.

On Friday night we ventured out into the bay for a few moments. We’d been working so hard to get ready for the big trip, we needed a break. The radar happily showed us the boats sharing the bay with us that night. It even showed us the navigational buoys. Then it, inexplicably, stopped working.

And then it wouldn’t, inexplicably, start working again. Todd ran a few diagnostic tests, which revealed nothing. He took time out of work today to go out to the boat and go over the system with Raymarine tech support on the phone. Turns out a circuit board in the dome is no longer functioning, and therefore no longer collecting information about the boats around us.

As I mentioned earlier, the system we purchased brand new just a few years ago has gone into extinction. No replacement domes for this system are to be found. Sending the dome back to Raymarine for repair will take $500 and 15 days.

We don’t have 15 days. We leave for New York City on Friday.  I spent a few hours today trolling the Internet and calling every possible source I could think of.  No dice.

I console myself by saying that Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic without a radar system. Surely we’ll be fine going the length of Long Island Sound without one. But Chris didn’t have to deal with drunken jackholes cruising around in their boats on the 4th of July weekend.

Looks like I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled even wider on my shifts on watch on Friday night.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

11 Days Left

The claw marks on my cubicle walls at work are becoming more prominent. Only 11 more days until vacation. And only 4 more days until we do the New York City part of the trip.

Over the weekend we took the boat to Jamestown on an overnight so we could test out the new gear we installed—kind of like a dress rehearsal for the New York City leg. The radar failed, and Todd needs to call Raymarine to speak to tech support and find out why.

But everything else about the trip was astoundingly perfect. We set out on Saturday with our friends Sean and Heidi at nearly noon. The annual Air Show was going on at the former Quonset Point AFB, just to the south of us. We avoided the swath of boats anchored along the base by sailing on the eastern side of Hope Island. Then we cut between Hope and the northern tip of Jamestown, under the Jamestown Bridge and into Dutch Harbor on the western side of the island. (At one point the iPod played “Dead of Alive” by Bon Jovi, and I got this overwhelming urge to go crab fishing.) As we sailed we watched The Thunderbirds do their aerobatic show. They buzzed over our boat in formation as we waved and jumped up and down.

We puttered around on the boat (Todd and I did the somewhat-but-not-really annual maintenance on the toilet, so it would once again be functional. Sean and Heidi took a nap.) and then we all went ashore for dinner at our favorite island haunt, Tricia’s Tropigrill.

Sunday the fog moved in from the mouth of the bay and quickly obscured important obstacles like the Jamestown Bridge, other boats, islands, etc. We puttered around on the boat for the morning. Sean and Heidi took the dinghy and explored Dutch Island. Todd installed the brand new bitchen stereo, I read.

The fog lifted and we sailed off the mooring. We didn’t turn on the engine. We put the sails up, untied the lines and easily sailed out of the mooring field and north back to East Greenwich. I took over the helm just north of the Bridge. With the wind coming directly from behind we extended the main sail all the way to the right and stuck out the jib all the way out to the left and propped it out with the whisker pole. The wind shoved us right along until we approached the swath of anchored boats watching the air show.   The Thunderbirds once again accompanied us as we sailed.  I looked up and wondered if the pilots were looking down at us thinking "Man, I would love to be down there sailing."  Because I looked up at them and said "man, I would love to be up there flying."

I decided that the crowd would be too much for me to sail all the way through, so I tacked to the east just before reaching the anchored boats. The wind was directly perpendicular to the boat, which is Sabine’s preferred point of sail. I watched the speedometer climb to 6.8 knots, as the boat healed over in the wind. We all held on tightly, and squeezed every ounce of speed out of the wind. Once east of Hope Island, I headed the boat to the north east at which point I tacked to the north west and sailed back into Greenwich Bay.

You’ll notice the overuse of “I” in the last paragraph. That’s because I ran the boat most of the way back, which is rare. I was in the zone. The wind and sail position was more intuitive than it ever was before. Normally I have to think very hard about how to position the sails when the wind or our direction changes. Not yesterday. It came naturally, and came to me instinctually.

Todd lounged on the aft deck with Sean, while Heidi hung in the cockpit with me. The sun warmed my shoulders. The boat moved smoothly through the water. The dogs dozed and only moved in and out of the shade to control their environment by warming themselves in the sun and cooling themselves in the shade. It was relaxing for Todd to not have to run the boat all afternoon. He drank a Mike’s in the sun and laughed with Sean.

We started the motor as we approached our home port of Greenwich Cove. Todd, Sean and Heidi lowered the sails, and then I pointed the boat homeward. The laughter died down as we approached; our trip was ending and it felt like it was too soon.

But in 4 days we will all be together on the boat again, and this time heading to a port where we’ve never been to by boat. Look, there’s another claw mark on the wall.

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Friday, June 25, 2010


I drove up to the mailbox, just like I do every night. I stuck my arm out the car window and deep into the recesses of the box. I speculate, as I do every night, as to how long the mail carrier’s arms must be. The letters, magazines and junk mail are always shoved up against the back of the box to the point where I have to open the car door and half step out so I can reach all the way back there.

I take a moment to drop the mail into my lap and glance through it before I step on the gas and drive the car into the garage. I never bothered to bring the recycling bins back to the house, and I leave the car so I can recycle the junk mail rather than bring it into the house.

And then I saw it; an envelope addressed to Todd with the “US District Court” on the return address. I tipped the envelope so I can see into the window, but I already know what it is. It’s the same survey I had to fill in when I was selected for jury duty. Jealousy washed over me—how I would love to serve on jury duty again. After Todd watched me go through it, he is interested in serving as well. However, because he is busy running his business and employing other Rhode Islanders, I suspect he won’t have the time. Which is a shame. He’d make an awesome juror.

My stint as a federal grand juror officially ended in April, but because we still have 3 cases pending my jury has been extended. We haven’t been called back in to hear any more testimony. But the extension is due to end in October, and I wonder what will happen to those three fascinating ongoing cases. Will we finally get to finish them? Will another jury have to re-hear everything from the beginning? Will we get extended again? Will the cases be dropped?

I am pretty sure that one of the three cases will likely be dropped, if it hasn't already. At the very beginning of each case, the Assistant US Attorney prosecuting the case tells us what the charges are and what laws the target of the investigation is suspected of breaking. As we heard testimony we hadn’t heard any of the witnesses say anything that suggested that the target had done what he was accused of doing. Unless the attorney brings in a witness who shows us that this person has committed the crime it’s unlikely that it will result in an indictment.

But there are still two other cases, and they are strong. On one of them we had already returned an indictment, and I’d read in the paper that indictment resulted in a guilty plea. The man we indicted will likely serve 10 years in prison. There are still other parts of the case that the witnesses are still fleshing out for us, and I cannot wait to get back into that deliberation room to hear more.

This morning Todd was reading the letter from the court. I know he wants to serve. I know he wants to give something back to our country. But I know that he’s already over extended as it is.

I am green with envy.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Todd's Inevitable Future

Back in April, I told you about the massive tadpole die-out that happened in our driveway after the flood. About now I bet there would be thousands of frogs hopping around in our lawn. 

Since the flood, we decided to have the driveway dealt with.  The pipe at the end of the driveway that serves as the culvert is falling apart.  The rain washed out the driveway to the point were I feel like I am driving over speedbumps every time I go anywhere, and I am tired of walking in pudding-like mud every time it rains. 

Just today I sent Todd an email:

It's a good thing we're having the driveway paved.  If the frog infestation continued, this is what you'd look like when you're old.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010


There are 17 days left until the big trip up the Hudson. 17. Less than 20. Just more than 2 weeks. We are starting to freak out a bit because there is still so much to be done to make sure Sabine’s ready. We spend entire weekends preparing her, we spend entire evenings as well. The temperature is rising outside and in our heads as well. We’re tired. We’re getting burnt out. The promise of an awesome trip with new and functioning systems is what keeps us going.

When we bought Sabine she had a manual anchor windlass. This is the machine that sits on the bow of the boat that pulls the anchor and the chain out of the water and up into the boat. The manual windlass had long since seized. But hauling up an anchor and chain by cranking the handle on the winch back and forth never appealed to either of us. An electric windlass has long been on our list.

Not only has it long been on our list, it’s long been in our basement. We bought one five years ago or so. We also bought an obnoxious length of chain that I swear weighs a metric ton. The chain has been sitting in a barrel in the backroom at New England Yacht Rigging. Maggie and Charlie were nice enough not to hassle us about keeping it there all these years. If anything it became a running joke. The weekend before last Charlie nearly fell over when we went there and finally took it out of the shop.

Last Sunday we started the great anchor windlass installation project. Since then the project has involved a custom stainless steel plate fabrication by a local machine shop. (I wish I lived closer to home. I grew up in a shop just like that one and Dad would’ve had it done lickety split for me.) We bolted the machine onto the plate and onto the bow. Over last weekend we started running wires, and last night we installed the control box and finished all the wires.

We stood on the deck, with the remote control in hand, and pressed the button. The sun had just set and the summer temps dropped, thankfully. We’d been crawling in and out of the boat, slick with sweat, sticky and crabby. The no see ‘ums were swarming; I swatted frantically at my arms, legs and neck. We looked at each other expectantly and Todd pressed the button, but nothing happened.

The rotors on the machine did not spin. The chain did not retract below deck into the anchor locker. Nothing. Happened. I winced. Todd let out a frustrated sigh. He picked up the manual, originally written in Italian but badly translated, and tried to diagnose the problem. Over the course of the installation he’d already found 2 errors in the wiring diagram.

Out came the jumper cables and the voltage meter. We tested different configurations of the wiring, assuming another translation error caused the problem. We managed to get the machine to pay out the chain, but not return it to the anchor locker. Todd uninstalled the control box and puzzled over it.

“I think we got a faulty control box,” he said as he swabbed the sweat on his forehead with the sleeve of his t-shirt. We were crouched in the forward-most section of the boat. The air was stiflingly hot in there.

“Well, do you think we can order another?”

“Beej, it took weeks to get this from Italy the last time. We don’t have weeks.”

“That was 5 years ago. Surely they’ve managed to establish a distributor in the US in the last 5 years, no?”

“I don’t know. But look, there are screws in the top. They wouldn’t have put screws in this thing if they didn’t want me to open it, right?” he reasoned.

He unscrewed the top and meticulously laid out the parts. He pointed out the two electromagnets in the box, “See, the electricity causes the spring to activate the lever. Then the metal touches the contact which sends power to the motor. When the up button is pressed, the left lever is engaged. When the down button is pressed the right one is engaged.”

He connected the electromagnets to the jumper cables, and tested each electromagnet. They both worked. But the lever on one of them was turned the wrong way, so it never would have established the connection with the contact.

He reassembled the box, and then we pressed the buttons on the remote control. The chain went up, and the chain went down.

And then we cheered, high-fived and hugged.

And it never would have happened if Todd hadn’t had the perseverance to carefully trouble shoot the problem, disassemble the components and never give up.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

When Nerds Get Married and Send Each Other Emails

Recently Todd's jumped onto the iPad wagon.  At first he regarded it as a toy.  But the more he played with it and the more he customized it, the more he molded it into a useful tool.  For example, he's downloaded an app for tides, so now we can check the tide schedule for anywhere in the US.  This is handy for when we travel through the narrower parts of Long Island Sound next month.  Going with the tides will make a world of a difference in terms of defining our ability to get anywhere in a reasonable amount of time.

He's got the iPad dialed in to the point where he can access his work computer through it using some hoodoo voodoo called Virtualization.  Now when he sends me emails, they look like this.

Dear Beej,

Blah blah blah blah... Todd speak, yadda yadda.

Love, Todd

Sent remotely from a VMware virtual desktop

Just this morning he wrote to me, and it was in this format, with this "sent remotely from" thing appended to the end.

So I wrote back:

Dear Todd,

Blah blah blah... yadda yadda, Beej speak.

Love, Beej

Sent from a crappy computer on a desk whose load bearing properties are questionable.

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Friday, June 11, 2010

Only in Todd's World

"I can't believe it's you," the woman approached Todd as he walked into the Supercuts in Warwick, RI.  "Wow, I can't believe you're really here!"

"I'm sorry.  Do I know you?" he asked, trying to be polite.

"No, you don't.  And I am sure you get asked this all the time.  But will you please do the 'Wolfpack' speech?  I love that movie!" she gushed.

Because, apparently, my husband looks like the character Alan from "The Hangover."

Well, maybe just a little.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Knock Knock! Who’s There?

Not me, that’s for sure.

Sabine hit the water last Friday, and we’re still in that early sailing season flurry of activity. The spring cleaning is largely done and the water system has been flushed free of anti-freeze from the winter. While I can now swish some highly chlorinated water in my mouth when brushing my teeth, I still wouldn’t drink an entire glass until the inline filters are installed. And that installation is somewhere on the list next to “install anchor windlass” and “put the sails on.”

We’ve begun our weird summer existence of living part of the time on the boat and part of the time aboard. Now that I am set up for that kind of life, it’s great, but it takes a bit of planning each week. We ask each other what nights we want to stay aboard and what nights we want to stay at home. There are things to do at home like get the mail and do the laundry. Which days will Todd be busy and can’t bring the dogs in to work with him? The dogs go to work with Todd on most days, so they just commute with Todd from the boat instead of from the house. But there are some days that they just cannot go with him. Like today, for example. We have a function to go to after work tonight, so we stayed at the house last night and left them home today. Tonight we’ll stay at the house, but tomorrow night we’ll probably be aboard. I think.

Deciding to stay aboard is often done on a whim usually over a flurry of emails between Todd and me. And for that reason a matching set of toiletries have been bought to keep aboard. Prescriptions now travel in my purse. And a change of clothes that I can wear to work is now kept in the stateroom closet. I wear jeans to work most days, so I don’t care about wrinkles or stuff like that. Todd keeps a set of his work clothes hanging in the truck or at work.

Food remains to be an issue. The only thing I have in the fridge on the boat is beer (and I hope that Todd thought to toss that roast beef sub from Sunday) yet I haven’t bought groceries for home either because we haven’t been there all that much. (Yes, it is possible to eat too much Subway. I wonder how that Jared dude lost all that weight eating Subway all the time. I can’t do it for more than a few days.) But that will be remedied when I can be bothered to buy some staples from the supermarket. I have to buy just enough so that things won’t spoil at home or aboard, yet enough so that we’re eating healthy and not overdosing on burritos and pizza.

But overall living on the boat is a healthier lifestyle. We don’t beach ourselves on the couch in front of the TV, because there is no TV aboard. We might watch a movie from Netflix on Todd’s iPad before bed, but that’s just about it. We do things around the boat and we’re more active. We go to bed with the sun and wake up with it the next morning—and because of that I am more inclined to jog in the mornings I am aboard.

And now to respond to the email from Todd, “So, wanna stay aboard tonight or tomorrow night?”

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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Back to Our Roots

As you know, Todd and I have restored three sailboats in the last 12 years.  We are wrapping up Sabine's restoration this season, and then we'll wonder what the hell to do with ourselves every spring. 

When we restored our first boat, a 26' Pearson Commander we named Sugar Magnolia, we went to Orwell, Vermont just about every weekend and worked dawn to dusk.  We were in our early 20's then, and were ridiculously organized because there are no boating supply stores in that neck of the woods.  The nearest hardware store also rented videos and had a nacho cheese machine that would shoot gooey cheese on chips arranged in a plastic tray.  It forced us to buy our supplies during the week and painstakingly pack them in my Jeep Cherokee on Thursday nights (and pray that they didn't get stolen from the car because we lived in Boston and parked on the street).  On Fridays I woke impossibly early and took the T from our apartment in Brighton into North Station, then took the commuter rail from North Station to Andover.  And then I walked the mile and a half from the station to my workplace.  (I think it took about 3 hours, if I remember correctly.)  Andover was on the way to Vermont, so it made sense for him to not have to wait the 40 minutes for me to drive home, just to turn around and go back by there again. 

Then we bought the first Sabine and had her shipped north from South Carolina.  We lived in Norwood, MA at the time, strategically between Boston and Providence.  We had the boat shipped to Warwick, RI which is just south of Providence.  It was only 45 minutes or so from home, so this opened the possibility of restoration work on weeknights.  I took the red line from the office to South Station to catch the  5:40 train to Norwood.  At 6:15 or so I'd get into my car and make it to Warwick for 7.  Then we'd work until well after dark and up to 11 or so.  Then we'd get home for about midnight and do it all over again the next day.   We were still somewhat organized, but Saturday and Sunday mornings were spent chasing down supplies because Warwick offers a wide range of hardware and marine supply stores.  No need to plan in advance when you can just jump in the car and ride 5 minutes to get something.

By the time we bought the current Sabine, we had moved to Warwick.  Our house was 5 minutes away from the boat.  Not only did we have the variety of stores within a 10 minute drive, but our house was also 5 minutes away.  Sleeping later became an option.  Going home for lunch became another option.  Efficiency flew out the window. 

Now that we live in Podunk, we are still not quite as organized as the early years.  We talk about buying our supplies during the week nights, but it rarely happens.  I work 5-10 minutes away from where the boat is now, but with Todd's busy schedule at work he often doesn't get there until 7 on a weeknight.  Last night I arrived at the boat at 5:30 after picking up dinner and the dry cleaning.  I went inside the boat to do the cleaning until Todd arrived at nearly 6:30. 

We are finishing up the last of the projects that need to happen before the boat hits the water on Friday.  The wiring in the main mast is a mess, however we sorted out all the wiring in the mizzen mast over the long weekend.  The radar is wired up the mizzen, as is a brand new very loud horn.  Last night as we tested the spreader lights on the main mast, using a battery and jumper cables, a thunderstorm blew through.  We quickly became drenched.  The lightening in the distance didn't stop us from attaching jumper cables to the battery and to the wiring inside an aluminum mast between two giant metal buildings.

As we watched the lights glow from the spreaders, and wiped the rain out of our eyes, I remembered all those late nights and weekends spent plotting, painting, sanding, re-wiring, scrubbing, cutting, attaching, and clamping down of various boat parts over 12 years.  I looked at Todd and smiled while the rain soaked through my T-shirt and knew that despite the rain there was nowhere I'd rather be.