There oughta be a rule

Vero Beach is a very clean, pristine little town. Careful zoning prevents high-rises as well as any other ugliness. There are large, beautifully-landscaped homes owned by wealthy retirees as well as tidy smaller ones, where the hard-working younger set lives.

In addition to these neighborhoods, there are gated communities, protected from unwelcome riff-raff by fences and walls. These condo communities have additional rules to prevent unsightliness and untoward behavior by their own residents: No rollerblading. No pickup trucks. No open garage doors. Speed limit 10 mph. No soliciting. No one under 55. Pool chairs must be completely covered by a towel. No pets.

So how did these two grubby sailors from Flutterby, who are used to living in a boatyard, fare in pristine Vero Beach for five months?

We stayed in compliance easily, because nobody had thought to write rules about the things Meps and Barry will do.

One day, the neighbors found the front yard of Dad’s house completely full of soggy camping and kayaking gear. It was spread across the bushes, and Barry had tied clotheslines between the palm trees and the garage for our dripping jackets and pants. These remnants of a messy and disastrous Everglades camping trip were just a harbinger of the chaos to come.

Meps and Barry with all their kayak gear in Dad's front yard

Looks like a garage sale!

Luckily, nobody had written a rule against our soggy gear display. There is probably a rule agasint drying laundry, but it was not enforced.

Next, we tested the waters with a small project, refinishing the oars for the dinghy. I took them over to Dad’s backyard one afternoon. He wandered out of the house to see what I was doing, and he pulled up a chair to watch as I set up my sanding station. There were no sawhorses, so I compromised by propping the oars across a couple of folding chairs. Then I got out my random orbital sander and my red earmuff-style hearing protection. The sander is LOUD, especially since its bearings are in bad shape after all the fiberglass we’ve used it on.

Before I put the earmuffs on, I said to Dad, “I’m going to make a lot of noise now. You might want to go back inside.” “That’s OK,” he responded, “I’m way over here.” He was all of six feet away.

I just shook my head and started up the sander. The noise and sawdust didn’t phase him at all, and he kept me company until I finished the first oar.

Evidently, the project didn’t phase the neighbors, either. I’d just proven that his gated complex could handle a little bit of sanding, Meps-style.

After the oars were sanded, we suspended them in the garage and painted them with multiple coats of epoxy and paint. I worried that the fumes might get into the house, but it was well-sealed. None of the neighbors complained about that, either.

Then we went shopping with our friend Ann, and on top of her big Mothball van, we piled enough plywood and dimensional lumber to build a freestanding wooden lofting floor in the garage. All the sawing, screwing, and hammering still didn’t raise the ire of any neighbors, although Dad started grumbling about the loss of his garage for the car.

Plywood lofting floor leaning against the wall of the garage

The lofting floor, ready to lay down

Over the next weeks, Barry set up first one, then two sewing machines in the garage. He made paper patterns and transferred them to fabric. Then he stitched them into sails, working late into the night. He closed the garage door at night to keep mosquitoes at bay, which helped keep us in compliance with the no-open-garage-door ruling. We were pushing that one.

We admired Mothball so much, Ann left the van in our care while she sailed her boat north to Maine. That was wonderful serendipity, allowing us to move vanloads of battens and yards across town without renting a truck. The longest battens are 18 feet, and they only stuck out of the van eight feet!

But surely, in the next phase, the neighbors would complain. They hadn’t written any rules against sanding aluminum or doing epoxy jobs in the driveway, but they probably should have. Any time you see your neighbor wearing a full-face respirator, he’s probably doing something he shouldn’t.

White van with 8 feet of aoluminum pipe sticking out the back

Mothball, ready to roll

By now, the neighbors were blase about the stuff happening at Dad’s normally quiet, tidy house. They didn’t peer curiously into the garage any more when they walked their completely controlled pets on leashes. I’m sure there’s a rule about that. I wonder if that’s why one woman walks her cat on a leash.

Finally, all the irritating, rule-breaking projects were done. I posted a couple of ads on Craigslist and Freecycle, and obliging people came and took away all the lumber. One man was building chicken coops, and the other was building rabbit hutches. I doubt Vero Beach allows such critters; they probably came from outside the city limits.

We returned the borrowed sewing machine to our friend Linda. We loaded the tools, paint, and epoxy into plastic bins that would fit aboard the boat, along with the carefully-folded sails. The sewing table we carried back inside.

Then we stood back and looked at the garage, ready for Dad’s car.

There was no sign of the mess or noise that had completely taken over for almost three months. In fact, the garage looked better than before we’d arrived! Barry had installed a couple of ladder hangers for working on the battens. Now Dad’s ladder was neatly stored on them, instead of leaning precariously against the wall.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

We had made a BIG mess, and we had cleaned up all of it. This was in keeping with the biggest rule of all. Not a Vero Beach rule, or a condo complex rule, but a family rule: Do not mess up Dad’s house.

Someday, Dad will see our picture on the front of a sailing magazine. He can show his friends, saying “Look! These sails were made in my garage.” I have my fingers crossed that he’ll conveniently forget the sawdust and noise and chaos, and just remember my favorite part: How much we enjoyed his company for five months, the messiest Snowbirds in Vero Beach.

Barry sitting on the floor surrounded by white fabric

Barry sewing the mizzen sail

Barry sitting in the garage, bike and car in background

The car is outside, bikes and sewing machines are in

Margaret attaching tape to batten pockets

Meps at work in the garage

Barry carrying a piece of plywood out of the garage

Taking the floor apart to give the lumber away

Barry holding a stack of folded sails

The end result of all that mess

A little dinghy

What's that white thing on the dock? A shoebox, a bookshelf, or a boat?

On the big day, when we launched Flutterby, I didn’t pour all the champagne over the bow. There was some left in the bottle, so a bunch of us went down the dock to where a little wooden shoebox, about six feet long, sat waiting. Kris and Barry picked it up and dangled it down to the water by its painter, letting it down with a  splash. Way, way down there in the water below the high dock, it looked for all the world like an abandoned piece of furniture. Somebody tossed a couple of wooden oars into the shoebox-bookshelf, and then they all turned to me, expectantly.

Uh-oh.

There it floated, nine years in the making, waiting for the builder to test it. I felt like the ancient Roman bridge designer who had to stand under his bridge when the first load went across. What if I was too heavy? What if it flipped, or worse yet, slowly sank? I could hear the blub-blub-blub in my imagination. But it’s amazing what adrenaline and an audience can do. White-knuckled, I climbed down the ladder into the tiny vessel that I had given birth to from a pile of plywood.

I was still hanging onto the ladder with a death grip when Barry handed me the bottle of champagne.

It felt like a toy boat, something that should be christened with Kool-Aid. But I wanted the gods of the sea to take this thing seriously, so I poured champagne over the “bow.” (Since the boat doesn’t have a pointy end, it’s a little hard to tell which is the front and which is the back. It would probably row just fine sideways, if I mounted the oars that way.)

“I christen thee Flutterwent!” The name was Kris’ idea. It rolls off the tongue better than Flagondry or Rockcoach, two bug-based Spoonerisms that sound a lot worse than Flutterby.

Before I knew it, Barry was climbing off the dock to join me in the boat, I think because I had the bottle of champagne. Or maybe because he wanted to swamp it and go swimming. Surely this thing was not rated for two adults, was it? Thank goodness the Coast Guard wasn’t around to see the open container in an overloaded vessel with no lifejackets.

But she didn’t ship any water when he climbed in. We sat there, facing each other, grinning, and passing the champagne bottle back and forth. Meanwhile, the current was carrying us away from the dock. Whoops! Time to do something about that!

Using ridiculous 7-foot oars as giant paddles, we paddled through the marina and over to the ways, where Flutterby awaited us. The scariest part was getting back out again! I didn’t know how stable it was, but I knew how stable I was — not very. I guess the adrenaline got me out of the boat as well as into it, although by now most of our audience had lost interest and wandered off for happy hour. I was already plenty happy.

You might be wondering, why would anyone use such a strange-looking, tiny dinghy? Normal cruisers go back and forth from their boats in stock gray inflatables with stock outboard motors. Why not the Flutterbies?

For years, Barry wanted to build a 34-foot sailboat with me. This terrified me, because I was afraid of power tools. I’d had an accident in college with a bandsaw and nearly ended up eight-fingered Meps.

In 2001, our housemate, Sharonne, signed up for a beginning woodworking class. For the first four weeks, the students built toolboxes using a table saw, joiner, planer, biscuit-cutter, and sander. For the remainder of the class, they worked on their own projects. At the end of ten weeks, Sharonne proudly brought home the toolbox and a tall bookshelf that she had built with her own hands.

I signed up for the next session and built the same toolbox. Then the teacher sat down with the class and told us we were free to start on our own projects. He went around the room and asked each person to say what they wanted to build. “A CD rack,” said one. “Toys for my grandchildren,” said another.

I never checked to see if the toolbox would float. It would make a great dinghy for the dinghy.

When he reached me, I said, “A boat.”

“A toy boat?” asked the teacher.

“No, a real one.”

The rest of the class stared at me.

“This is Woodworking One. You can’t build a boat on Woodworking One,” said the teacher, with a smirk.

“Don’t you remember Sharonne, from last term? She built a bookshelf. I promise my boat will be just like a bookshelf.” He rolled his eyes and made me stay after class to convince me that I couldn’t build a boat.

The following week, I showed him the plans. Phil Bolger’s Tortoise dinghy looks a lot like a floating bookshelf, so he reluctantly permitted me to start. A couple of months later, Barry and I loaded my plywood dinghy on top of Peepcar and brought it home. I’d done the final assembly in Woodworking Two, with a more encouraging instructor.

The good news was, I still had all my fingers. (So did the instructor from Woodworking One, who’d nearly run his hand through the table saw helping me cut the framing.) The bad news was, it wasn’t a boat yet.

It was a thing of beauty, constructed of luan plywood with pine framing and copper ring nails. For the first year, it sat on our back porch. For the next five, it hung in my in-laws’ garage.

I was proud of my accomplishment, so I told people that I’d built a boat. But whenever Barry heard me say that, he’d correct me. “No, you didn’t. It’s not finished.”

In 2008, I painted it with epoxy resin to protect the wood, and we tied it on top of the Squid Wagon. We drove from Seattle to Flutterby in Beaufort, North Carolina, via San Diego, with that tiny, funny-looking boat on top of the van.

The ant and the elephant along the California coast (April 2008)

It looked like an ant on top of an elephant. All the way across the USA, we got reactions like the guy with the toothpick in his mouth who sauntered over to Barry, not noticing me nearby. “What is that?” he asked. “Some kind of storage pod?” “No,” said Barry, “It’s a boat.” The guy looked more closely and said, “Oh.”

Then Barry added, “My wife built it.” The guy cracked up laughing. He thought it was the punchline to a really funny joke.

The epoxy wasn’t UV-resistant, and by the time we crossed the country, it already needed sanding and painting. We didn’t have anywhere to store it out of the weather, so we rented a 5×7 storage unit and stuffed it inside, using it to store other items — just like a bookshelf!

For another two and a half years, when I said, “I built a boat,” Barry said, “No, you haven’t.” I’d glare at him. Couldn’t he just shut up?

That was getting really irritating, so last summer, I took the poor neglected dinghy out and put it under Flutterby. It was time to finish it, a job only I could do. If I let Barry help me, then, when I said “I built a boat,” he’d still have an excuse to correct me. “No, you didn’t. We built a boat.”

My sawhorses sat on some turf with boatbuilding history. Between 1983 and 1995, Bock Marine built and launched over 30 boats in that spot, including the 122-foot White Dove Too. Like the WDT, my dinghy was brought from another location and completed on that hallowed ground. But there are some differences. Their ships were steel, launched using a dramatic side-launching technique (this is a hilarious photo of people running from the splash) instead of our painter-dangling end-launching technique. I calculated the ratio of length-to-time-under-construction: At 6.5 feet and 9 years, Flutterwent’s ratio was 505. Knocking out a couple of 85-footers a year, Bock’s was 2.1.

I finished the dinghy in the heat of the summer, using all the woodworking, epoxy, fiberglass, and painting skills I learned on Flutterby. While I was working, I wore headphones and hearing protection. Not because of the power tools, but because I was tired of all the men in the boatyard wandering over to stare. I was tired of explaining that I was not building a hard dodger to cover the companionway.

When I was done, I said to Barry, “I built a boat.” Then he hugged me instead of correcting me.

It still wasn’t completely done, having no means of propulsion. But it’s past midnight, and I am done for tonight! Tiny boat, big story. I’ll put the photo essay below and save the rest for another time.

Barry and Kris drop the dinghy into the water, stern-first. "Yikes! Who's got the painter?"

With nerves of steel, I step into the floating box. Ted, who has launched many dinghies, was there to help, and Barry had the painter and the champagne.

You can tell from my hand that I am afraid to move, for fear it will sink or tip over.

Margaret Meps Schulte christens her Tortoise dinghy

I haven't sunk yet. And I have the champagne. So I'm smiling.

Oh no! Here comes Barry to see if he can swamp my dinghy.

As the current carries us away from safety, I say, "You want some of this?"

Giggling, we pick up the oars and paddle into the sunset. She tracks like a shoebox instead of a soapdish.

Getting out is trickier than getting in. Barry made sure the champagne bottle was safe, but I think it was empty by now.

Barry and Meps with Meps' Tortoise dinghy

Whee! Barry has fun scooting under Flutterby's bow line. At 6-1/2 feet long, the Tortoise dinghy is just long enough for a nice nap.

Photographic memory

Paparazzi: It’s not something I ever expected to experience. I’m no celebrity, let alone a beautiful one.

Flutterby, though, is a beautiful lady. So on the afternoon of Tuesday, November 30th, when we finally launched her, there was a veritable army of friends and photographers on the dock.

We woke up before first light that morning, knowing it was going to be a Big Day. First, there was a lot of work to do, like sorting docklines and fenders (and dealing with the icky nest of giant cockroaches in the box with them), completing the steering installation, and emptying and cleaning the fuel tank (also icky, but the ick didn’t move as fast as the giant cockroaches).

Suddenly, it was time to launch — and to be celebrities. For from 2:04 pm, when the Travelift roared to life and headed in our direction, to 3:05 pm, Flutterby was the subject of more photos on more cameras than I’ve ever faced at once. There were over 100 photos taken of and by us in 61 minutes.

Unfortunately, I had not dressed for a Big Day. I was wearing my usual unflattering boatyard clothes, which I hated with a passion. I planned to throw them in the dumpster before leaving the boatyard. Now I wish I’d done so before launching, as they are immortalized in all the photos. (A few days later, I gleefully tossed the pants, shirt, and shoes into the dumpster, keeping only the socks and underwear. Kris’ pants were disposed of in a more interesting fashion. More on that later.)

The entire experience was a blur. Was it hot, cold, or windy? Did it rain? Dale and Richard are wearing foulies in the photos, but I don’t remember weather hampering our efforts. Who was behind all those cameras on the dock? Did I eat anything that day? From the photographic evidence, I suspect we ate tortillas, carrots, pork rinds, and chocolate. (Not at the same time — I’d remember THAT.) I do remember the champagne. It was definitely not consumed at the same time as the pork rinds.

When the excitement was over, we floated serenely in the ways, leaving an empty space where our boat — and our hearts — had been for years.

Photos are below (on the web)…but not all of them.

Thankfully, nobody but the crew could see inside the boat -- what a disaster!

In the morning, Kris polished steering hardware while I got fenders ready (the cockroaches moved too fast for pictures).

One last picture of our home on the hard. Alex Baker had put the Flutterby logo on in the dark the night before.

Eek! The Travelift is coming and we're not ready!

Dale maneuvers the Travelift into position. This is a man you can trust to be careful with any boat.

Kenny guides the Travelift into place between Bulldog and our Gulfstar neighbor. The whole time we were here, work on the Gulfstar had ceased because the owner is fighting cancer.

Kris, in the infamous Tweetie sweatshirt, stands ready with bottom paint, brush, and gloves to paint the last bits.

Kenny Bock and Rich crouch under Flutterby to put the straps on. I spent a lot of time crouching under the boat, so I know this area well.

Flutterby flies! She's lifted off the blocks for the first time in 2-1/2 years.

An army at work on last jobs -- Ted watches, Barry lowers the centerboard, and the other 4 fuss with our zinc.

'A bigger brush would have been nice,' said Kris, as he repainted the centerboard at the last minute. I thought he was just going to touch up the keel where the blocks were.

Dale said our zinc didn't have enough clearance, so he took it off and filed it down to fit. Next time, we'll use a donut zinc.

Where did Flutterby go?

A little 2-person parade, dancing along behind the Travelift. I wish we'd had music for this part!

An exuberant girl with her boat

Celebration!

Dale backs into the ways, the Flutterby logo behind him.

Lowering Flutterby down into the water.

Flutterby's centerboard touches the water. We literally had grown roots on the hard -- there were weeds growing in the centerboard trunk.

Flutterby, floating in her native element at last.

Meps celebrates with Randy, whose smiling face had greeted us in this same spot when we hauled out in 2007.

There were many photos of the christening. Ted's version, with captions, is the BEST. He printed this out and posted it in the lounge. (click to enlarge)

The man in the magic pants

Lottery prizes come in many sizes. There are little wins, just enough to buy another scratch ticket. A medium-sized win of a couple hundred bucks feels pretty good and might pay for a weekend getaway. Then there are the big ones, the Mega-Super-Millions kind, that turn your life upside down forever, but in a good way.

If you’ve ever had a friend bring you chicken soup when you were sick, you’ve won the Scratch-Ticket Friendship Lottery. About a week before Thanksgiving, Barry and I hit the Mega-Super-Millions Friendship jackpot.

At the New Bern Airport with the sign reading "Welcome, Kris! We love you!"

The grand prize in the Mega-Super-Millions Friendship Lottery is this: One of your favorite friends gets on a plane in Capetown, South Africa, and flies halfway around the world. He shows up at your boat, which is propped on jackstands and surrounded by a mess of tools and toxic chemicals, and asks, while unloading a suitcase full of gifts, “Have you left me something in the job-jar?”

Barry and I had known for months that Kris was coming to the US for a vacation, but his plans weren’t fixed. He had about a month to visit his boating friends on the east coast before rendezvousing with his family for a skiing vacation.

Kris is currently between boats, but says that his wife gives him “time off for good behavior” to mess about on friends’ boats. Since everybody who meets Kris likes Kris, he has lots of friends with lots of different boats. On this trip, he started up in Connecticut in early November and boat-hopped his way down to Annapolis. Then he caught a plane to the tiny New Bern airport, where we picked him up. We were standing outside the door of the airport (I told you it was tiny — it only HAS one door) with a giant sign that said, “Welcome, Kris! We love you!”

That first evening, the three of us visited friends in two different New Bern marinas, then trooped over to Cap’n Ratty’s, a New Bern icon, for a celebratory dinner. Much later, we drove back to the boatyard, about an hour’s drive, and gave Kris a tour of Flutterby. He made a nest for himself on the port settee, which affords the most privacy but is a bit narrow for comfortable sleeping. At the time, the headliners weren’t installed, so his bed companion was a roll of insulation, at least three feet tall and four feet in diameter.

At this point, some of you are probably wondering how three people can live on a 33-foot boat that that doesn’t have separate cabins and is crammed with boat parts, Barry’s tools, and Margaret’s accordion. The trick is something we call “implied privacy.” Your crewmate is changing clothes? Turn your back! He or she just farted in the head? Turn off your ears!

Those of us who have crewed on many boats have figured this out. Kris is an expert in all kinds of unusual living situations, both on land and at sea. He’s been crew and captain of plenty of boats, and has done several trans-Atlantic crossings.

Kris wearing his magic pants with the air-conditioned crotch and the infamous Tweetie sweatshirt.

So, on our first morning together, we figured out each others’ routines, made a few minor adjustments, and everything went smoothly. The three of us sat down in the cockpit for a crew meeting, to see what exactly was in that job-jar. Then Kris selected a Flutterby uniform, so he would fit in with the crew.

Flutterby’s boatyard uniforms were, for the most part, completely unflattering, hideous, and mismatched. Each component was marred by paint, expoxy, or unfortunate holes. The trousers selected by Kris sported all three, along with a button fly that frustrated him so much, he simply left it half-buttoned. I would have thought doing up all the buttons would help keep him warm, since he was already complaining about the unique patented air-conditioned crotch.

Something about those pants must have been magic, though. With Kris helping, we started getting 200% more work done.

Perhaps the magic was really in the trailer. Kris had been working with us for a day or so when he needed a tool that Barry didn’t have. “Take him over to the trailer,” Barry instructed me.

You might recall my earlier comment that Barry and I had become “Keepers of the Keys.” The most important keys that we watched over were the keys to Charlie’s trailer, which he’d brought down from Ohio to work on his boat. He had left it stored in the boatyard when family duties called him back to Ohio, almost a year ago. This was the same trailer in which Buttercup had given birth to kittens the prior year.

I didn’t give Kris much background on the trailer, just walked him over there and unlocked the door. He took in the table saw, the drill-press, the circular saw, and the vise. I pointed out some of the other tools — routers, sanders, drill bits, and hand tools. Then I left him to do the job.

He came back, a half hour later, his eyes wide and his voice hushed. “Ooooh — it’s like Aladdin’s Cave!” What Kris had discovered was actually Aladdin’s Man-Cave. Any tool that Barry lacked (not that there were many), Charlie had in that trailer. Between Kris’ efficiency and Charlie’s tools, each job was executed quickly and checked off the list (or pitched out of the job-jar).

Working together, Kris and Barry rebed stern cleats (Barry is folded like a contortionist inside the lazarette)

Kris repairs a crack in our rudder

Kris paints Flutterby's bottom

In just over a week, we were ready to launch Flutterby.

The three of us had: Replaced one hatch, reinforced and rebedded stern cleats and pushpit, reinstalled the binnacle and steering system, installed engine controls, sanded the bottom, painted it with epoxy barrier coat and bottom paint, discovered and repaired a problem with the rudder, and cleaned the fuel tank.

Regarding that last job, I should not say “we.” Some of you might recall that I am an experienced fuel-tank cleaner, having practically crawled into the diesel tank on Kris’ boat to clean it before we went to the Bahamas in 2007. I do not shy from what might be considered the nastiest, most uncomfortable, smelliest, job in the jar. But Kris seemed to think that one good turn deserves another, so this time, he cleaned MY fuel tank. Bless his heart. That’s like another million in the Mega-Super-Millions Friend Lottery.

Along with all this work, we’d also enjoyed a bit of local color and celebrated Thanksgiving. On the holiday, we worked all day and went to the Backstreet Pub at dusk for their annual potluck. Although I was sore in new and unexpected places from crawling around under the boat with a paint roller, I was soaring. I wanted to shout, “WOO HOO! EVERYBODY! I PUT BOTTOM PAINT ON MY BOAT TODAY!!!!!” But I stayed quiet, knowing that nobody at the pub would understand my elation. “Yeah, sure, pass the cranberry sauce, will ya?”

Kris stirs the bottom paint on Thanksgiving Day

Barry and I painted the hard-to-reach parts. I only got a little epoxy paint in my hair.

Barry and I painted the hard-to-reach parts. I only got a little epoxy paint in my hair.

Despite all this talk of a job-jar, the real Flutterby list was on the computer, in Excel. Every to-do item that Barry and I could think of was in that file. A big red line separated the must-do-before-splash items from the rest of them.

The wonderful thing about Kris wasn’t just the third set of hands, it was the third, more experienced, brain. We’d been immersed in our giant set of projects so long, we sometimes lost sight of the goal. It was great to have him point out the jobs that didn’t need to be done right now. Those jobs were “below the line,” and some of them got deleted forever.

Finally, on November 30, there was nothing left “above the line.”

It was time to splash.

One good turn deserves another - Kris cleans my fuel tank, 2010

One good turn deserves another - I clean Kris' fuel tank, 2007

The other half of gettin' there is goin'

Mercy, mercy, I do declare,
If half the fun of goin’ is-a gettin’ there,
Mercy, Percy, you better start rowin’,
‘Cause the other half of gettin’ there is goin’.

— From “Old Fat Boat” by Gordon Bok

It’s amazing how swiftly life turns upside-down, and suddenly, you’re zooming down a new path (OK, maybe “zooming” is not quite the word at 5 knots). While it feels great to be on a boat that is floating, and in Florida no less, I can’t believe it’s not a dream. I keep thinking I’ll wake to the morning roar of the Travelift any minute now.

As our friends on Panta Rhei recently pointed out, “your website doesn’t tell the final chapters of the haul out story.” Perhaps if I put some of those events down on paper, it will seem less surreal.

When Barry and I returned to the boat in October for what turned out to be the final assault on the mountainous to-do list, our lives changed substantially. The reason was this: We had left the Squid Wagon on the west coast and were now living ten miles from town without our own car. This was not as onerous as it sounds, because there were lots of interesting vehicles available for us to borrow.

Beginning in 2008, Barry and I somehow had become the “keepers of the keys.” A number of cruising friends had asked us to watch over their stored vehicles, and at one point in 2009, we had 9 sets of keys on the boat! We even got to deliver some vehicles to and from exotic locales with unusual side benefits (the trip to St. Augustine in Wind Lore’s Camry netted us the only Britney Spears song in our collection).

As a result, we’d learned from our friends’ experiences that for cruisers, owning a car can be a bother. At one point, our friends on Ocean Gypsy were on the boat in Connecticut and had one car at Bock’s and another at the train station in Rocky Mount. They’d spent four days and many dollars moving a car to follow the boat — two days of driving one way, two days of riding the train the other way, plus hotel stays along the way. At that point, Ted called us out of the blue, and the conversation began with the usual, “Where are you?” “We’re in Raleigh, looking for a way back to Beaufort. Where are you?” “We’re in Essex, but we left a car near Raleigh!” It was a little miracle that got us back to the boat, with wheels, and saved them yet another day of car-ferrying.

So we started working on the “list” again. I was depressed, because we still didn’t know how long the work would take. Then my Dad called at the end of October with even more depressing news. His eye doctor had found something suspicious during a checkup. A second opinion with a super-specialist was scheduled for December, but the doctor wanted him to prepare for eye surgery — and total blindness during recuperation — in January.

Barry splices the anchor rode

I put the question to Barry. Could we launch the boat and motor to Florida by January, in order to serve as floating caregivers? While Dad was recuperating, we could even use his garage to make our sails.

Barry choked a bit, then agreed. Suddenly, we had a deadline — one month to get the boat moving! Yikes!

The news spread through the boatyard like wildfire. People started coming up to us, saying, “Is it really true? That you’re going to launch your boat after all these years?” Emotions ranged from congratulatory to incredulous to accusatory. “Traitors! You’re not really going to leave us, are you?”

The truth was, the engine work was done. The major fiberglass work was done. Nine portlights and two hatches were replaced. The masts were up, their lightning protection systems installed. Rewiring, replumbing, new bilge pumps — done. The ground tackle was ready to go.

What was keeping us here, besides inertia, was a bunch of projects, but nothing we didn’t know how to do. Paint the bottom, replace another hatch, rebed the stern rail. Reassembling the steering and engine controls would be tricky, but Barry wasn’t intimidated. What did intimidate him was dealing with the material “stuff” we had amassed during three years in Beaufort.

There was a section of our friend Kevin’s garage devoted to our “stuff.” More “stuff” was arranged in piles and bins around our keel. Until Ocean Gypsy arrived, we even had some “stuff” (an enormous but lightweight roll of insulation) stored in the back of Ted’s car!

The stuff in Kevin's garage seemed like it would never fit on the boat

We began tackling the projects and the “stuff” with an unbelievable amount of loving patience towards each other. The pressure was immense, but now that the path was clear, we were able to get up at dawn and stay focused all day long. This was partly due to the fact that a connector on our wi-fi antenna had chafed through, so we no longer had internet on the boat! In order to check e-mail or order parts, we had to walk about a block to the lounge with a laptop. I stopped logging into Facebook every day. Barry stopped reading Sluggy Freelance.

Our boatyard friends were encouraging. “Keep your chin up!” said Audrey. “You’ll be launching your ship soon, and it will be EPIC!” said Logan. Friends from afar sent their encouragement in emails. “…congrats on moving forward with the boat… I look forward to hearing about the journey down the ICW,” wrote Nancy, from Seattle. “You aren’t burnt out, are you?” wrote Kris, from Capetown.

With the loss of our sailing mentor, Bill Brown, in October (who once told us, “Living aboard in a boatyard has gotta be the postgrad course in tolerance.”), Kris was the single most encouraging friend we had. Since we met in a Lunenburg laundromat in 2004, the three of us have had a number of fun times together, either messing about on boats or talking about messing about on boats. In October, Kris sent us this encouraging message: “Check the job-jar, keep looking till it’s empty, shake the jar to make sure it’s empty, and start singing ‘it’s 5 o’clock somewhere’ ….. Something will happen soon, I promise!”

He was right — something happened soon. I’ll tell you what in Part Two, tomorrow.

The Fellowship of Pirates

Now that we’re out cruising, I have a little time to review old writing notes and find stories to share with you. Here’s one from October in the boatyard, with a special treat — a video!

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I was walking across the boatyard one morning when I saw a pirate.

I rubbed my eyes, but the image persisted. He was standing on the catamaran named Fellowship, which for years had sat forlornly out in the boneyard. Now Fellowship was parked smack dab in the middle of the yard, in the spot normally reserved for the crane.

At this distance, he was the spitting image of Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean — shoulder-length black curly hair, black goatee, red bandana, black leather boots, black eye makeup, torn jeans, and something that I would call a “blouse.”

Women wear blouses. So do movie star pirates.

I went into the office, where Carolyn was staring out the window with a look that could only be called “flabbergasted.” I probably had the same look.

“Er, what’s with the pirate?” I asked.

She shook her head. “He says he’s going to buy that boat.”

Now the pirate was hoisting a large black flag with a skull and crossbones that said “Choose Your Poison.” He had a huge grin on his face.

“Is he legit?” I asked.

“I don’t know — I told him he needed to talk to Kenny. The guy said he’d be over on that boat, and he said, ‘Tell him to look for the pirate!'” Carolyn rolled her eyes, and I couldn’t help but giggle.

Carolyn added, “He FLOUNCED. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man flounce like that.”

Over the next few days, all the boatyard gossip was about the mysterious, dramatic pirate: “Instead of hello, he says ‘Ahoy!'” — “I saw him take down his pirate flag at night, like an ensign.” — “He calls all the boats ‘ships.'” — “He told me he’s more of a Disney pirate.”

The first time the pirate spoke to me, I was sitting in the lounge with my laptop. The door opened, and he walked in carrying a strangely familiar kerosene lantern. This was completely anachronistic, since he went straight to the new high-tech Coke machine, with its illuminated display and fancy purple lights. “Ahoy!” he said by way of greeting. Like several of the older denizens of the yard, I ignored him. We were all afraid of losing our composure and laughing uncontrollably if we spoke to him.

The pirate turned out to be a fairly industrious man by the name of Logan. (“Sheesh, that’s no name for a pirate,” I grumbled.) Even though it was his first boat, he was able to get her launched in about a month. Folks in the boatyard provided him with lots of well-meaning advice. He listened politely, like a traditional Disney pirate, and then did things his own way, like a traditional scurvy knave.

Eventually, Logan-the-pirate started hanging out at Happy Hour. He had a grandiose scheme for Fellowship. He was going to paint her black — black hull AND black deck  — and have black sails made. He planned to mount cannons. Then he was going to offer pirate charters aboard his “ship.” Her new name: The Black Lotus.

When I heard the plan, all I could say was, “Brilliant!” Even if you are not a fan of things piratical (yes, we are talking about scoundrels who murdered, raped, and pillaged), it’s a clever business idea. Charter boats are a dime a dozen. But pirate-themed charter boats, with black sails and foot-scorching black decks? And Jack Sparrow impersonators and cannons? There will be only one of those. I know a couple of people who’d sign up in a heartbeat.

Once I gave up being a curmudgeon and started talking to Logan, I decided that I liked him a lot. He was full of infectious enthusiasm. After many years of sailing and a few years in the boatyard, I was losing sight of the goal — this stuff is supposed to be fun! So why not dress in crazy clothes and call “Ahoy!” to strangers? Why not carry a lantern instead of a flashlight? Why be “normal?”

The first time I actually had a conversation with Logan, a few of us were sitting around in the dark, talking and sharing libations. It was too dim to make out details; each person was just a shadowy figure and a voice. I mentioned something in passing about Burning Man, and Logan suddenly sat up.

Aha — another Burner in the boatyard!

This explains a few things. We Burners wear costumes even when it’s not Halloween. Hence me, in my pink-and-white bunny ears, carrying a hula hoop around the boatyard. And hence Logan, the Disney pirate carrying a kerosene lantern. (Which he says he ordered after seeing the ones used by Lamplighters at Burning Man!)

When Fellowship, soon to be the Black Lotus, left the dock, Barry and I were on hand with cameras. Logan-the-pirate was at the helm, grinning from ear to ear. A few moments later, as they approached the bridge, he turned the wheel over to his friend and made his way forward to the mast. Wearing his black leather pirate coat, he climbed the mast steps, some twenty feet to the spreaders. As promised, he danced an ecstatic little jig on the spreader, looking just like Jack Sparrow in the introductory scene of Pirates of the Caribbean — with one exception. Logan’s boat — er, ship — was not sinking.

Even pirates have to apply bottom paint to their ships

Who has more influence than a pirate? The boatyard owner who decides when to launch your boat. Here's Logan talking to Kenny Bock at the launching of the pirate ship.

Logan shows off his pirate ship on launching day

Alice down the rabbit hole

I feel like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. One minute, I was in my nice, cozy boat, on the hard, with the sturdy ladder leaning against the side. The next minute, I’m FLOATING. In water. My whole view on life has changed. No longer is the water “over there.” Now it’s “right here.”

Flutterby left the water on December 13, 2007, at 1421 hours. She returned to her native element on November 30, 2010, at 1448 hours. Our three-month project took us three years.

Watching our boat finally launched after three years

Flutterby floats gently on the water

After the launching, things got very exciting. Ted handed me a bottle of champagne, courtesy of Malla, who always knows how to do things right. Barry was already on the boat, checking the bilges and hauling up the centerboard. I clambered across the plank that Richard laid down, and we rechristened her by pouring (smashing is only for big ships) champagne over the bow.

“I christen thee Flutterby!”

When I looked up, there were about a dozen people on the dock and six cameras pointed at us. It was a very, very happy and exciting moment to share with the dear friends we’ve found here at Bock Marine. Kenny took some pictures for Nancy. Even Carolyn came out of the office to see us floating in the ways.

Now it’s quiet, except for the sound of water lapping against the hull. (And Kris snoring.)

Very soon now, we’ll be slipping our lines and heading south to Florida. So my trip down the rabbit hole continues. Or maybe I just feel that way because I’m going to be upside down in the lazarette for the next few days, stowing things for the trip.

Crew Wanted

In a recent post, I mentioned a boat hailing from HAMBURG – GER. There’s another boat here, with a similar name — for the purposes of this story, I’ll call it FRANKFURTER. For some reason, the owner doesn’t have a name; he goes by the name of the boat. We’ll call him “Frankfurter,” too.

For the past few years, Frankfurter and FRANKFURTER have gone south for the winter and returned to Bock to store the boat in the summers. The man always sets off with a crew of four: Himself, Jack, and two crew members he rounds up somehow, probably on the internet. Each year, Jack and Frankfurter return, sans crew.

Laid-back Jack laughs and shrugs, “He’s impossible. I’m the only one who can put up with him.”

This year, Jack wasn’t available, so Mr. Frankfurter rounded up three crew members on the internet. The first one to arrive was a very experienced sailor who worked diligently alongside the captain to make fiberglass repairs and paint the bottom. A few days later came a wide-eyed, clean-cut young man from Europe who didn’t have offshore experience, but was even harder-working than the first. By now, the first one had been driven to drink — I caught her hiding under FLUTTERBY one day, sneaking a drink from a pocket flask.

We told the first crew member, Ziga, that she need not drink alone. With that, she brought her sense of humor and excellent sea stories to the nightly happy hour gathering. She positioned her chair behind Jack’s keel, directly across from FRANKFURTER, so she could keep an eye on her boat without being seen by her captain.

One evening, she peered around Jack’s keel as her captain’s car returned from town. “Oooh, that’s our new crew member,” she said. “Captain’s really looking forward to this one. She’s a dominatrix.”

This took me by such surprise that I swallowed the wrong way and started coughing. Surely I’d heard that wrong? “What!?” I squeaked. Ziga explained, matter-of-factly, “A dominatrix. You know, whips and chains? The captain calls her ‘the fetish lady.'”

We all peeked around Jack’s keel as the captain — who rarely bathed, according to Jack —  helped a good-looking blonde woman out of the car. The young clean-cut crewman went to the trunk for her luggage. What he pulled out was not the usual sailor’s duffel bag, but a crate you could use for carrying chains and things made out of studded leather. There was something black dangling from her pocket. “Is that a whip?” I asked the group, ducking nervously out of sight.

It was a well-known fact that the captain didn’t dare stop at any port before Key West, for fear that his crew would jump ship. And so the betting began. Would the dominatrix and the clean-cut guy make it to Key West? Would Ziga make it through the winter with a captain who rarely bathed?

When FRANKFURTER was ready to go, several of us pressed our email addresses into Ziga’s hand. “Good luck. Let us know what happens. Please!”

The results were nothing short of spectacular. By that, I mean the three-page email we received from Ziga a few days later.

The email spread around the boatyard like wildfire and was forwarded to friends and cruisers all over the world. Her synopsis went like this: “Landlubber equivalent of this boat trip:  Drive an old car that is loaded with junk like the Beverly Hillbillies, with bald tires, faulty brakes and windshield wipers that only work when the sun is out.  And the driver really does not care which side of the road he drives on…..”

Before the boat had even left Beaufort inlet, it was taking on water uncontrollably, and they’d deployed the anchor and nearly lost it. From the email: “Hey, Captain, the bitter end of the anchor rode is not secure! DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT, says Captain Frankfurter.”

Then the young clean-cut fellow was knocked overboard by the captain (the boat has no lifelines), and the PFDs were all buried under piles of junk. “Hey, Captain, can we clear some of this clutter and clear the decks? DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT, says Captain Frankfurter.”

Out in the ocean, they set a course for Key West. However, at one point, the captain accidentally started sailing north. The dominatrix fixed that, but the email didn’t say how. I suspect a whip was involved.

After the first day, Ziga wrote, “Told Captain that I was leaving the boat as soon as we reached shore.  Told him flat out that he was trying to kill me, and that just won’t do.” This is the woman who was planning to stay aboard all winter.

On page 2, she described how almost every part of the boat, including the charts and food, was soaked from leaks. Only the aft cabin was dry. On page 3, she wrote, “Aft cabin now mostly soggy, because Captain left the toilet on water intake….flooded his own boat. All three of us have now told Captain that we want off of the boat.”

The young clean-cut crew member had been incapacitated by seasickness the entire time, including 20 hours passed out in the aft cabin (before the captain flooded it with water from the toilet). Towards the end of the ordeal, when he perked up, Ziga wrote, “He is a charming fellow, when he does not have his head in the black bucket.  That bucket has been his constant companion for a long time.”

This paragraph just about sums it up:

“Engine died just after the sun set. Under the jib, can only sail 330 degrees, boat won’t turn any farther east. The Auto-pilot won’t completely release the wheel.  Heading way out into the Gulf Stream now, way, way off course. Cabin is trashed. Unsecured stuff crashing around everywhere. DONT WORRY ABOUT IT, says Captain Frankfurter. Tools, knives and boat parts left wherever Captain sets them. This is the first boat I have ever sailed on where I have to wear shoes below decks, or risk serious injury.”

With a tragedy like this, the betting pool didn’t have a chance. We had argued over which crew members would make it to Key West, not whether or not they’d survive the first 84 hours. None of us expected the boat to issue a Mayday call and be rescued by the Coast Guard. No one bet that they’d be towed into Southport, a mere 100 miles from here.

According to Ziga, despite the loss of his crew and near-loss of his boat, the captain is committed to continuing on. What she didn’t say was how he would find more crew.

I know exactly what he’d say if I asked: DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT.

Special thanks to Ziga for sharing the story and allowing me to excerpt it here. If you are ever looking for good crew, I’ll put you in touch with her. I have her email address…it’s at the top of that hilarious 3-page email message.

Messing about with boat … brokers

In the middle of the boatyard, across from the Travelift, is a nightly gathering we call “happy hour.” It’s a misnomer, because it lasts a lot longer than an hour. Sometimes, it goes on all night, in which case it should be called “happy hours.” (That reminds me, there was once a boat here by that name. That story will come later.)

One evening last week, when I was alone on the boat, I poured myself a beverage and decided to take it to Happy Hour. I hate to drink alone, even if it’s just orange juice.

The usual suspects were sitting in a circle under Jack’s boat, four or five guys who take turns filling a communal cooler with exceedingly cheap beer. All of them are either single or abandoned by their wives for the duration of the haulout. The appearance of a human with two X chromosomes changes the dynamic slightly, as they sit up a little straighter and stop making fart jokes.

On this particular evening, we saw Peter, of GALAXIE, walking across the boatyard lugging a heavy item. “That looks like an alternator,” I said. The usual suspects looked at me with respect. Two X chromosomes, and she can pick out an alternator a block away. (They don’t know about the time one got dropped on my hand and smashed my wedding ring. I had it cut off, because it was no longer finger-shaped. The ring, not the finger.)

When Peter reached our group, the usual suspects said, “Have a beer with us.” With a sigh of relief, he set the alternator on a sturdy stepstool at the edge of the circle.

Peter, whose homeport is HAMBURG – GER, has a heavy German accent and a twinkle in his eye. Soon, we were all recounting our best alternator horror stories with much hilarity.

Along came a boat broker, intrigued by this jovial — and loud — gathering. “You guys must not get much work done,” said the man, who wore neatly pressed khakis, leather boat shoes, and a shirt with a collar. There was not a single drop of paint or epoxy on him.

Now, I have nothing against boat brokers — some of my favorite people sell boats for a living — but his comment put my hackles up. There we were, tired and messy from a day of physical labor, and he strolls up and impugns our work ethic.

I scowled at him. “You may not realize it, sir, but you’ve interrupted a very important religious ceremony,” I said, sternly. I can be quite a dragon when I choose, although the bright yellow Tweetie Bird sweatshirt diminishes the effect slightly.

The broker’s smile faltered, and he stopped, unsure if he was welcome. The other guys looked at me as if I’d sprouted another head. They’ve all seen me in dragon mode, and they know that I can bite.

I had the broker right where I wanted him. He was standing in front of the stepstool.

“Before you can come any further, you must pay homage to the ALTAR…” I said dramatically, pointing at the stepstool. The guys now looked at me as if I’d sprouted three heads, and I added: “…NATOR.”

My punchline was so unexpected that the usual suspects choked on their beer. Best of all, the boat broker was impressed enough that he actually did bow deeply, both to Peter’s alternator — and to me.

Sir Jon Roop, extraordinary human

“Help others, because magically, when you need help, it will be there for you.”

You may be one of them, those so-called “friends” who tease us about taking 2-1/2 years for a simple boat refit. That’s enough teasing. Because from another perspective, 2-1/2 years is sadly too short.

In 2007, when we bought Flutterby, we needed a marine survey. We lucked upon a wonderful surveyor — a Sir Veyor, to use Steve Roberts’ phrase — who turned into a friend. Jon Roop understood exactly what we were trying to accomplish. He was the reason we ended up in Beaufort, because he told us there was plenty of support available to do-it-yourself boaters there. Best of all, he said we could call him any time we had questions, as long as we owned the boat.

We tried to exercise restraint and only call when the question was really serious. But every time we did, he extended an invitation to dinner or a party at the beautiful house where he lived with his vivacious partner, Carol. This, despite my getting the Squid Wagon stuck in his driveway and having to call a tow truck to get it out (remember? I wrote about that).

As a former sailboat cruiser, Jon loved sharing the house, which he’d built himself. Every social gathering revolved around the giant kitchen island. Guests circulated around it, as if it was an indoor fire pit.

Jon would extend an impromptu dinner invitation to cruisers. “Bring your laundry, and take a shower,” he’d say. I was too shy to try the fancy jacuzzi in the guest bathroom, and I figured a shower was a shower. Then, at a gathering in January, I realized that was simply not true.

They’d thrown some sort of party a day or two before and had so much food left, they decided to invite more folks over to help finish it. There were about a dozen of us that evening, including some local friends and two British couples from the boatyard. There was some joking about The Shower, and one of Jon and Carol’s local friends realized from our dumb looks that Barry and I hadn’t seen it.

“Come on,” said Pam, dragging us back through the master bedroom. Elegantly tiled, it was the most magnificent shower I’ve ever seen in a private residence. It was the size of a small room, with showerheads on each wall and one coming out of the ceiling in the middle. There was room inside for about ten people showering, or two people dancing. I recalled many miserable, cold boatyard showers, and I decided not to be shy — I would bring my shower kit the next time I came over.

It was a pleasant, evening, with lots of stories and laughter. But it was a little low-key; Jon admitted, reluctantly, that he wasn’t feeling well.

News travels fast in a small town. It was only a couple of days after that dinner that I stopped at a local machine shop. “Did you hear about Jon?” He’d ended up in the hospital. “Not feeling well” turned out to be complications related to melanoma.

Everybody wanted to know what was going on. “Any news about Jon?” was the question around the boatyard and around town. Carol sent emails, forwarded by Pam, until finally they set up a Caring Bridge blog. For the next five months, Carol shared the good news and the bad news, and the frustration of dealing with the medical system. Whenever an email came in, “A new journal entry for Jonathan’s CaringBridge website was posted…”, I’d click on it immediately.

I can’t begin to express how much I valued Carol’s updates and the online community sending love, light, and prayers to Jon. When Carol described dealing with Nurse Ratchett and Doctor Numbskull, we all growled in unison. We cheered when Jon got into an experimental treatment program, but worried about him flying to Boston and Nashville for it. We celebrated when Jon proposed to Carol, and congratulations came from around the globe when they were married, right in his hospital room, about a week ago.

And we all cried this morning, when Carol wrote, “Today I deliver the news that everyone knew was coming but no one wanted to hear.” Jon passed away last night.

That’s why I wish this time had been longer than 2-1/2 years. I wanted to know him longer. Decades would have been nice. It would have been lovely to have him at Flutterby’s rechristening and relaunching party. And Barry and I only got to dance under that magical shower once.

Jon teased us a little about how long we were taking, but he also made the most poetic statement about our departure date. “One of these days, you’ll look up and see the geese migrating, and you’ll know then that it’s time to put the boat in the water and follow them.”

He was kind and generous and caring, and most of all, he had his priorities right. Jon’s cousin Steve wrote, “‘Help others because magically when you need help it will be there for you’ is the essential Jon Roop.”

That statement is also the essential sailboat cruiser. It should be the essential human. Jon Roop was a sailor who showed us how to be better humans. Now it’s up to us.
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Jon’s photo is the top right one in Seven Precious Friends.