Learning Curves

“OK, I admit it,” said Barry, one morning. “I’m loving the hell out of this.”

Barry with the dodger under construction

Barry peeks out around the dodger in a moment of whimsy.

I was so shocked by his statement, I would have fallen out of bed had that been possible. Fortunately, it’s not possible to fall out of the v-berth aboard Flutterby.

We were discussing his progress on our winter project, building a hard dodger and arch on which to mount our solar panels. Unlike most boat projects, it was not taking twice as long as he expected. It was taking Barry ten times as long as he expected, and when he made the statement in the v-berth, in early March, I saw no end in sight.

I was not enjoying the hell out of it. Five months of freezing my butt off, in a boat on land, with no car, six miles from the dying town of St. Marys, Georgia, had a completely different effect on me. I had slowly sunk into the depths of despair.

I asked Barry to explain to me what it was that he was loving so much, when all I saw was head-scratching, frustration, and outright failure. “Learning curves,” he said.

I laughed at his unintentional double entendre. The reason the dodger has taken ten times longer than expected is because instead of building a simple, squared-off shape out of marine plywood, we decided we wanted it curved, to match the shape of Flutterby. Most builders would have used fiberglass, which is what the boat is made of. Barry prefers working with wood, though. He opted to build it out of what he calls “tortured plywood.”

The bending jig for the dodger roof

The bending jig for the dodger roof

Becoming increasingly more animated, he explained how the process of learning how to bend and laminate plywood into complex three-dimensional shapes, how to fit them onto the deck of a boat, how to get maximum strength with the lightest materials, was forcing him to use his brain to learn amazing new things.

While I thought he was sitting at his computer, reading LOLCats and surfing Facebook, he was actually using his time to do high-level research and calculations.

“I was spending way too long doing trigonometry and numerical solutions to figure out bending curves and camber and calculating how much the plywood’s going to spring back after you torture it,” he explained. He went on to tell me what he really meant when he said “learning curves.”

“There’s this initial part of a learning curve where you really suck at it. It’s not very fun,” he told me. “It’s slow as hell, because I’m still learning this shit and I’m cracking plywood when I try to bend it…”

Sides of the dodger

What’s wrong with this picture? (hint: when you cut it in half, you don’t get two symmetrical pieces)

I remember the saddest day, in December. He’d spent weeks designing the sides and figuring out how to build them, and together, we spent a day laminating them together. When the epoxy kicked and he took his jig apart, he was almost in tears. We’d made two port sides and zero starboard sides. When he realized that neither of the port sides fit, I think he really was in tears.

Weeks later, we tried again. That time, the plywood cracked and the two sides ended up asymmetrical. He decided to use them anyway.
It was after he attached the asymmetrical sides to the front that he went bananas with trigonometry, trying to figure out how to build a curved top that looked symmetrical. Perfection was impossible, and he studied it for weeks, trying to figure out a compromise solution. He turned to websites about how to bend wood for ukeleles and guitars for answers.

“I have new respect for people who build musical instruments. If I played them, I could digress and waste years on this.” He admitted that his screen time had not all been productive; he’d spend some of it reading and dreaming about the wonderful woodworking tools he would like to have. He shook his head, saying, “I don’t need to have all those toys now. I just need to get this dodger done.”

“I’ve spent more time on this learning curve than I’ve spent fretting on the fact that the dodger is not quite perfect. I don’t know any way I could have gone about this without learning this stuff … but when I started it, I didn’t realize how much I had to learn.”

Measuring steam-bent plywood

Meps helps bend plywood using boiling water (boots and gloves left over from our 2005 trip to Alaska protected us from the boiling water)

Sun boots

“Do I have to?” I whine and I cry,
As I stand under blue, cloudless sky,
But we’ve boiled every pot,
And the water’s so hot,
That my rain boots must keep my feet dry.

Barry buttonholed me today and asked me to to help him pour many gallons of boiling water over plywood (to bend it). This limerick is a fib — you can see from the photo that I love my rain boots. They’re cute and blue, like something Paddington Bear would wear.

The other photo is for my Washington and Colorado friends. It proves we have potheads here in Georgia, too.

Meps in her blue boots and gloves

Paddington Bear helps bend plywood

Meps with a cooking pot on her head

Meps, a two-quart pothead

Going overboard with stuff

Last month, I tried to donate a bag of stuff to the Salvation Army. When I pulled into the parking lot, one Monday morning, I found the office staff filling a dumpster. Over the weekend, someone had left an entire household’s worth of stuff on their doorstep. Rather than sort it, they just threw it all away. They looked at my tiny bag and said, “Sorry, we’d just put that in the dumpster, too.”

Frog trivet

Froggie trivet aboard Flutterby

I took it back to the boat, which is full of overflowing piles on the settee, pilot berth, centerboard trunk, and chart table. I’m not sure where it is now, maybe on the dinette table, which is buried under a pile of pure, unorganized crap that threatens to fossilize.

It’s not my fault that I have all this stuff. When we bought Flutterby, in 2006, she was completely empty. There wasn’t a single dish, piece of silverware, or tool on board; we carefully selected the trivets and toys and t-shirts and canvas bags and navigation tools we wanted and brought them to the boat.

Over the next seven years, something unexpected happened in our lives. People we knew and loved died.

Our older friends nod their heads knowingly and say, “Get used to it.” But I stomp my foot and say, “No! We are too young for this!”

Meps with one of Stevie's froggie toys

One of Stevie’s froggie toys

The problem is, every person who was close to us leaves behind items we love and have to find room for. Flutterby now has a Froggie trivet and a lot of Froggie toys — those were Stevie’s. Bill Brown left behind canvas bags from the Seattle Women’s Sailing Association that bring back happy memories. My clothing locker is overflowing with giant tie-dyed shirts from Philip’s collection. The chart table has navigation tools from Barry’s uncle Roger.

Don’t even ask about the ashes. They take up room, too.

Yesterday, I said to Barry, “This boat is full of ghosts.” He shook his head, saying, “No. Just memories.” That same day, I found out it could be worse.

Lance, who has been working on a very large Gulfstar sailboat, was gone from the yard when we returned from our Christmas trip. We heard that he’d gone north to attend a friend’s funeral.

Yesterday, Lance stopped by to talk to me and Barry. He’s a fairly quiet, thoughtful man, not someone who talks a lot.

“See that boat, there?” he pointed to a modest-sized sailboat across from his own. “I just inherited it,” he said, with a sigh.

Lance's sailboat

A boat is a lot bigger than a trivet

Lance has owned a lot of boats in his life — this one is his 17th. She’s half the size and complexity of his own boat, and she’s practically ready to go. We talked about how easy it would be to finish a couple of projects, jump on board, and go cruising.

But Lance isn’t ready to give up his boat for his friend’s. That brings me back to my original dilemma. I’m not ready to give up my clothes for Philip’s, or my canvas bags for Bill’s, or my toys for Stevie’s. I just keep cramming more and more stuff into the lockers.

Lance did give me a great idea for storing the ashes, though. He was checking out a boat for sale once, and he noticed that it had a false bulkhead. Lance started poking at it, trying to figure out what was behind it, when the woman who owned it stopped him. “Don’t mess with that! That’s Harry!”

It turned out that her deceased husband came with the boat.

“That was too much for me,” said Lance. “I didn’t buy that boat.”

Dancing in the forklift ballet

The place where we’re hauled out right now, St. Mary’s Boat Services, has a unique way of turning a little boatyard into a big one — they put many of the boats on cradles, so they can be moved easily and packed more densely. They use a forklift and a specialized hydraulic trailer to move the cradles around.

There’s a fellow here named Jeff who happens to be the most amazing forklift operator I’ve ever seen. He can do ballet-like things with the forklift that other boatyards need cranes and other complicated equipment to do. Yesterday, I heard him telling someone that in addition to training and certifying forklift operators for all of southern Michigan, he used to be able to pick up a quarter from the ground and hand it to you — using a forklift. “Not this one, though. The controls are too slow.”

Yesterday, Jeff and his boss, Rocky, needed to move four boats in order to make room for one who was ready to splash today. The first two moves were easy, just towing a couple of folks on cradles to new spots. Flutterby was the third boat in, on jackstands, and right after they picked her up with the Travelift, a van pulled in, delivering two shiny new cradles. There was quite a bit of excitement, because this was the first time Rocky and Jeff hadn’t welded up their own cradles.

As you can see, the first new one works perfectly. Now Flutterby can be scooted around in the forklift ballet, too. At dusk last night, they moved us to our new place, right across from a huge live-oak tree that is full of the cutest little birds on the planet: Bluebirds! It looks like somebody painted their topsides with the same paint Barry used on our bottom.

Flutterby hanging in the travelift

Flutterby in the slings with her new blue bottom paint

Van with trailer and cradles

Two cradles arrived just at the moment when we needed one

Flutterby on a cradle with forklift

Flutterby on the new cradle with the forklift in the foreground. Now she’s easy to move and fits into a smaller space.

Bluebird on a tin roof

These charming little birds are the opposite of Flutterby, with blue topsides and rufous bottoms

Preaching to the Choir

Even though I am thousands of miles away from my boat this summer, she is always on my mind. This week, I’ve been all smiles, because Issue 63 of the Junk Rig Association Magazine just came out, with another article (by yours truly) about Flutterby.

Junk Rig Association logo

See the second panel in the JRA logo? Guess who unwittingly inspired them to do that!

For over 15 years, Barry and I have been members of the Junk Rig Association, an international group of people who are interested in junk rigs. They’ve been following our progress with Flutterby‘s unique rig, and when I wrote about our first test sail, the editor of the newsletter asked to reprint my article.

“Urk!” I choked to Barry. I was a little embarrassed. I’d written that piece in a very exuberant but tongue-in-cheek style, and putting it into an international publication required some major rewriting. I carefully rewrote it, splitting the article into two parts, and submitted it with photos:

Flutterby Gets an ‘A’ on Her Test Sail (PDF)
Look! They’re Taking Our Picture! (PDF)

I am so proud to share these with you! Not because of my writing, but because I was able to share Barry’s accomplishment with the world. He has designed and built his own rig, the only one like it in the world, and it works!

Many members of the JRA are expert sailors who know that the Bermudan rig is not the only option. We’re not nuts or crackpots, just evangelists for something that’s worked for thousands of years. Of course, writing for the JRA Magazine is like preaching to the choir.

Even if you never plan to own a junk-rigged boat, the JRA is a wonderful, encouraging organization that produces a beautiful, inspiring magazine. Check out the JRA website: http://junkrigassociation.org/.

At the end of next week, I’ll be living aboard
Flutterby, currently in Georgia, for the first time in seven months. Ohio, Washington, and California were great, but I’m looking forward to unpacking my suitcase again.

Flutterby's bound for to go

You’re going to love this! Mepsnbarry.com now has a short video of Flutterby sailing, with a musical soundtrack featuring my friends Michael Greiner and Doeri Welch. I filmed it during our shakedown cruise with the new junk rig in December, 2012, in the Intracoastal Waterway, near Wabasso, Florida. The “Easter Egg” portion came from a 2009 Christmas celebration on the hard, in North Carolina.

Flutterby gets an 'A' on her test sail

On Thursday, the 13th of December, the sky in Brunswick, Georgia was gray and cloudy, threatening rain. The temperature had plummeted, and boaters in the marina hunkered down in their cabins by their heaters. A steady stream of cruisers had left the Brunswick Landing Marina in the prior two weeks, heading south in search of sunshine.

I stopped in the office that morning to give Sherry a heads-up. “If you notice our slip is empty today, we’re not leaving without paying our bill. We’re going out for our first test sail.” She gave me a big encouraging smile and a thumbs-up.

We rooted through our lockers and dressed as if we were going for a winter sail in the Pacific Northwest, putting on layers of thermal underwear, wool socks, fleece jackets, gloves, and those ubiquitous waterproof red jackets and black bibs we call “foulies.”

A warning here for our landlubber friends: If that technical term left you shaking your head in dismay, beware of what’s coming. Even our sloop-rig friends may complain that I’m using too much junk-rig jargon. Since it’s hard to scroll back and forth to footnotes in a web document, I’ll explain the jargon as best I can at the bottom of each paragraph.

We departed the marina on 12-13-12 at 13:01. It took us about a half hour to motor up the East river to the Brunswick river, which is wide and deep. Looking up the river, we could see a couple of huge container ships docked and unloading a half mile away. To the left, under the soaring Sidney Lanier Bridge, the casino boat was docked, but they weren’t moving either. We had the river to ourselves, so we set about hoisting our sails for the very first time.

The wind was gusty, ranging from 10 to 15 knots, and we could see by the water rushing past the navigation buoys that a wicked current was ripping through. I had hoped for a mellow, easy first sail, but that was not to be.

I left the motor running as Barry began to hoist the 500-square-foot split-rigged mainsail (the mainsail is the one in front…split-rigged means our sail extends four feet in front of the mast, but the part around the mast is cut away). Keeping in mind that the main on Flutterby’s original rig was only 350 square feet, I gave him a conservative order to keep two panels reefed (A reef is a way to make the sail smaller when the wind is blowing harder).

Our mainsail has seven panels that work kind of like a window shade. The rig was designed to easily put up to five reefs* in, and with some extra work, can even rig it in a storm with just one-seventh of the sail. However, that afternoon, the word “easily” did not apply, and the process of simply raising sails took over 45 minutes.

Flutterby's mainsail and the Sidney Lanier bridge in the distance

View of the Sidney Lanier Bridge

I was focused on the helm, making sure that we weren’t swept sideways into the massive bridge footing, as Barry started hoisting the main using the 3-part halyard. With our multi-part halyards and sheets, we end up with a lot of extra line piled in the cockpit, but we hardly ever have to use a winch.

That first hoist, though, things went wrong. As the third sail panel started to go up, Barry realized that the yard-hauling parrel* was fouled** by the topping lift***, so the yard couldn’t go up all the way. The lazy jack sail gatherer**** for the jiblets***** didn’t work.
*The rope that positions the yard, which is the pole at the top of our sail.
**Fouled=messed up
***Ropes from the top of the mast that hold up the sail bundle so it doesn’t fall on our heads when we are reefed or not sailing. The sail bundle includes the sail fabric and the battens, which are poles that go between each of the panels.
****Contraption of rope and webbing that hangs from the topping lift to keep things tidy.
*****On a split rig, the bits of the sail that are in front of the mast.

N.B. I can see that writing this to Barry’s requested technical specifications is going to be a bit of a challenge!

Our rig was designed to be sailed from the cockpit, with all the various control lines running back there. But when things go awry, somebody has to clamber up on deck and straighten it out. Barry spent a lot of time that day clambering up on deck to straighten things out. Still, we did eventually get the mainsail hoisted, and then we turned our attention to the mizzen (the smaller sail that is at the rear of the boat).

We didn’t have any problems hoisting the mizzen, and finally, it was time to turn off the engine and trust that we could maneuver this 33-foot vessel under sail alone.

Blessed quiet.

That special moment, one that all sailors know and appreciate, was followed by high-fives, cheering, and victory-dances (but not on top of the cockpit grate!) by the crew of the s/v Flutterby. For the next 60 minutes, the sound of water rushing past our hull was accented with peals of joyful laughter from yours truly. After five years of waiting for this moment, I was giddy and giggling.

The two of us took turns taking pictures and fighting for the right to steer. It was like we had a beautiful horse, and we both wanted to ride. We were both very curious to know how high she could point, or go upwind, but three knots of current kept sweeping us down the river, so our GPS track didn’t show a lot of progress. Still, we fairly flew when we went downwind, especially when we put the two sails out on opposite sides of the boat. Some junk-rig sailors call that “wing and wong” instead of “wing and wing.”

We didn’t go very fast that day, occasionally seeing boat speeds of five or six knots. We were a little unsure of ourselves, the weather, and the new rig, so we kept it slow with our double-reefs, but the potential was there to go much faster.

The whole time we were sailing, we were near the awe-inspiring bridge. The bridge towers are 485 feet, the clearance is 185 feet, and it’s the longest bridge in Georgia. Hundreds of cars passed by, along with the hardiest joggers and walkers. Did they see us? Did they notice our beautiful red-and-white butterfly sails?

Finally, we decided to call it a day and head back to the marina. Barry started the noisy engine, and I lowered the sails, a process that entails releasing the halyard* while pulling in the sheet**, the adjustable downhauls***, and the yard-hauling parrel. One thing I love is the windvane effect of the junk rig — we don’t have to turn the bow**** of the boat into the wind to raise and lower our sails. Like a weathervane, we can just let them swing freely in the wind as we raise and lower them.
*The line that pulls the sail up.
**The line that controls the position of the sail relative to the wind.
***Little fussy bits of rope.
****The pointy end.

And then we returned to our slip, triumphant. Flutterby was now a proper junk-rigged sailboat, and we were ready to head south with the other cruisers for the winter.

Pictures of the big event:

Main mast and horizon, showing how much Flutterby is heeled

Is this the way a sailboat is supposed to be?

Deck of Flutterby under sail, with Meps at the helm

Happy Meps at the helm

Barry wearing a Santa Claus hat and steering Flutterby

Rig designer Barry at the helm, with a perfect hat to match his sailing jacket. What a satisfied smile!

27 inches, why do you ask?

Mast inside the boat with quilt on it

Karen’s mast quilt

The compass roses on our charts are very practical, necessary, and boring. They include true and magnetic north and a circle of numbers and tick marks to help us plot courses.

Flutterby recently acquired a much more beautiful compass rose, with blue cardinal points, green ordinal points, and gorgeous purple for the secondary intercardinal points. It is reminiscent of the ones used on historical seafaring charts going back to the 16th century, and it is a stunning piece of art.

It started with a picture that we posted on Facebook of Barry standing in Flutterby’s galley, next to the mizzen mast. In the comments about the photo, our friend Karen wrote, “Crazy question, but what’s the circumference of that mast?” Barry promptly replied (he has some interesting specifications stored on his computer), “The circumference is 27 inches where it goes through the galley.”

It was an odd exchange, since although Karen is a curious soul and a voracious reader, she isn’t a friend I think of as interested in the minutiae of sailboat refits. We met over 15 years ago on a computer BBS and shared a love of cats, dancing, and hilarious late-night conversations. Karen once distinguished herself as the best house-sitter on the planet when we returned from a trip to find a fresh-baked, homemade apple pie in our oven.

So after the initial question about the mast circumference, Karen dropped the subject. At least, that’s what I thought. And since she lives in Port Orchard, Washington, and she wasn’t likely to visit us on the boat very soon, we dropped it, too.

Nine months later, the next time we were in Seattle, Karen said she had a special something to give us. We had no idea how special!

Karen with the compass rose side of the quilt

Nautical side of the quilt

The surprise was a double-sided quilt, 27 inches square, with the dramatic compass rose and a blue-and-white fabric with boat plans on one side. Such a perfect thing to wrap around the mast in the center of our main cabin! It makes the boat look like an art gallery — the quilting itself was taken from a stained-glass window with butterflies in it.

But it is the other side that truly takes my breath away, because it illustrates how perceptive Karen is about the Adventures of Meps ‘n’ Barry. It’s a convergence quilt, with successively smaller pieces starting in the four corners and working together in the middle. It’s very colorful, but the predominant colors are restful browns and beiges. What the colors and the fabric represent are the four corners of the USA — the corners that we have explored and blogged about from the Squid Wagon.

As we set out on our latest voyage, heading south down the ICW, I am delighted to be boating again and to share my stories of life on the water. Our beautiful quilt is hanging on the mast with the compass rose facing out. But that is only a portion of my life. I’ve just gotten back from a trip overseas, to Brazil, that was taken on an airplane. And as Karen has beautifully illustrated, I am very proud of the voyages and the writing inspired by our travels on land, here in the USA. And I am very, very proud to call Karen Jake — fabric artist, crazy cat lady, librarian, and dedicated caregiver for her Mom — my friend.

Barry holding the quilt, showing the landlubber side

Barry and Karen with the landlubber side of the quilt

You can see samples of Karen’s work on her Flickr page.

Dream on

Golden light on Fresh Breeze

Golden light on Fresh Breeze

Like a young woman whose husband went away to sea, she waited patiently by the water. She grew old but never lost her beauty, and he never returned.

She was a grand old wooden sailboat, agreed by all to be the Belle of the Boatyard. Everyone who had ever taken a stroll in the boatyard was drawn to her elegant lines and sweeping overhangs. I had photographed her numerous times, capturing images of her accelerating but lovely decay.

There was no name on the boat, and her white paint was peeling to the silvered wood, highlighted with golden-orange rust stains. Rumors abounded about her mysterious past. Had she been owned by someone famous? How did she end up here? How could something so breathtakingly beautiful have been abandoned like this?

And then, around this time last year, I ran into Kenny on a Saturday. He had a big smile on his face.

“Whatcha doin’ out here on a Saturday?” I asked him.

“I think I just sold a boat,” he said. He turned and pointed. “That one.”

“What? How? Who?” I sputtered.

There’s a big movie studio in Wilmington, and a movie crew had driven out to the boatyard that morning. They were looking to buy a lot of old boat parts to use in a set, and Kenny suggested that they would do better to buy a whole boat. Then, in his low-key way, he showed them several choices.

Even her rust was beautiful

Even her rust was beautiful

Kenny owns a handful of the older boats in the yard; people sometimes stop paying their storage charges and eventually he has to take possession. What came as a surprise was that he didn’t own this one; she was not his and she was not for sale. I suspect that people had tried to buy her many times over the years. This time, her owner said yes.

That afternoon, when there was no one around, a truck pulled up next to the boat. A couple got out, and they walked around the boat. Eventually, the man climbed up the ladder and started carrying personal things off the boat. The woman went back and sat in the truck for hours.

I wandered over to say hello and congratulations. But as I got close to the man, I realized that congratulations were not in order.

He looked like he was about to cry.

The boat’s name was Fresh Breeze. She was his dream boat. She’d been in this very spot for 18 years.

The man’s name was Ken, and we sat and talked about how it happened. The dream and the boat came first, and then the marriage to someone who was afraid of sailing.

Over 18 years, the tree grew taller than her mizzen mast

Over 18 years, the tree grew taller than her mizzen mast and was home to many birds

When I asked how long it had been since he’d been out to work on the boat, he couldn’t remember. “A couple of years, I guess.”

From the evidence, it looked more like ten.

He pointed to the tree beside her. “That thing blocked my view of the water, so I cut it down a couple of times.” The tree was now taller than the mizzen mast, over 30 feet tall.

It started with a friend who had a sailboat. Ken recounted their adventures in the waters around Pamlico Sound like it was yesterday. Then he decided to buy his own boat and fix her up. He couldn’t wait to take his friend out sailing. At first, he came every weekend, puttering and painting. Then every other weekend. Then every few months. Years passed. Now his friend has died, and Ken can never take him sailing.

As his wife sat in the truck, I helped Ken grieve his dream. That dream was alive as long as he owned the boat and paid the monthly storage bill, even when the portlights fell in and the water poured out through the shrunken timbers. We didn’t speak of that. We talked about the places where he wanted to sail, and how much fun it is to anchor in remote places away from other people.

Eventually, Ken started to ask me about Flutterby, and my sailing dream. At the time, we had been hauled out for nearly three years, overwhelmed by the magnitude of our refit. The difference was, Barry and I were working together. Ken derived some comfort from the fact that some women do have a sailing dream, that we want to fix up boats and go cruising, too. His wife hadn’t been able to do that, but it was apparent that he loved her and was glad for the time they’d spent with their grandchildren.

He told me that the love of his family turned out to be more important than his sailing dream. He said it with awe, as if he was realizing it as he spoke.

A few days later, a boat-transport company came and carefully loaded Fresh Breeze onto a truck to go to the movie studio in Wilmington. I talked with Ken again that day, and he was doing better. He gave me lots of encouragement. As a matter of fact, we splashed Flutterby only about a week later.

Getting the grand old lady ready for her last voyage

Getting the grand old lady ready for her last voyage

I got tears in my eyes as I thought about Fresh Breeze, who will never be launched. People like Ken want us to carry the torch and live the dream for them. They’ve gotten called away by other responsibilities — work, family, other interests. But I can’t live someone else’s dream, only my own. I get called away, too, and I have no regrets about that. My family and friends are more important, too.

Now Ken’s lovely belle is going to be a movie star, and in a strange twist of fate, she just might inspire someone else’s sailing dream. Her parts are being used in a movie called “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.” Film star Michael Caine plays a grandfather stranded on an island.

If even one young movie-goer is inspired by the movie to take up sailing, it will be a fitting end to the life of Fresh Breeze. We’ll never know who they are, but they will be carrying the torch for Ken, and all the others whose sailing dreams never came true.

Classic long, sweeping overhangs

Classic long, sweeping overhangs

The old and the new: Flutterby's masts through Fresh Breeze's portlights

The old and the new: Flutterby's masts through Fresh Breeze's portlights

Preparing to meet Irene

Hurricane Irene is now heading directly for our boat, which is our only home. She’s just north of Morehead City, North Carolina: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/refresh/graphics_at4+shtml/152235.shtml?gm_track#contents

But we are three thousand miles away, on our way to Burning Man tomorrow. For the next 12 days, we’ll be incommunicado with 50,000 of our closest friends.

What should we do?

Not this: “When in trouble or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout.”

Instead, this: Practice non-attachment.

Sure, we’ve done some preparation. We left the boat on the hard in one of the best boatyards in the country. We removed everything from the deck before we left. A good friend has secured the dinghy so it won’t fly or float away. Another has agreed to check on the boat once the storm passes.

There’s nothing more we can do, physically. All the work now is mental and emotional. The worst thing that can happen is not damage to our boat, but pain or injury to dear friends who live in the path of the storm.

It’s just a matter of perspective. I lost my brother this year. Losing a boat would be nothing compared to that. A mere scratch to my psyche.

So I wait to see what happens, and I send calming thoughts to my friends in the path of the storm. I head to Burning Man with the knowledge that an entire city can be built and removed in the space of a week.

Flutterby has been “totaled” in a hurricane before. She was built and rebuilt, and rebuilt, and rebuilt. She can be repaired and rebuilt again, and we have the skills to do so. I’d gladly rebuild her again if I could have my brother back. As I often say, “It’s only stuff.”

Hurricane Irene: Keep it in perspective. Stay safe. And keep breathing.