Tuesday, July 28, 2009

'Cause ya gotta have faith, PART DEUX

I can’t believe you didn’t mention the Borax” says Scott upon reading my last post.

The “Borax” he is referring to is, specifically, 20 mule team Borax that a recipe for “head cleaner and disinfectant” calls for. It is one of those items that seem to have managed to stay on the shelves since 1891 – a hidden secret that the living members of the "Silent Generation" still demand and therefore keep on the market. It’s a powdered cleaner/detergent and is one of the few products that still comes in a cardboard box (without plastic interior) and it’s design seems to date back to the days of Courier and Ives. It's vintage.

What’s the big deal about the Borax you ask? Well, I’ll tell you.

As I mentioned in my last post – I am stubborn, headstrong and (news flash!) really, really impatient. When Scott and I were shopping for this particular ingredient, this Borax, it wasn’t at the store we were in (Target). So me, ever ready to improvise was all, “Well, lets just grab this Ajax – it’s a powder and the same exact thing.” Scott, every the pragmatist (thank god) begins to read the instructions and takes note of a warning on the label “TO AVOID HARMFUL FUMES DO NOT MIX WITH OTHER HOUSEHOLD CLEANERS LIKE AMMONIA”. Guess what another ingredient in our recipe was? Yep. Ammonia. So Scott is now adamant that we do NOT buy Ajax, and search for Borax elsewhere. “Scott, Borax and Ajax are practically the same thing – I mean, they SOUND the same – Borax probably has the same warning – it’s probably the fumes that clean the head!!” (Yes, I realize how stupid and ridiculous I sound, but hey – this is how it went down). Scott just looks at me in disbelief and shakes his head. We decide to improvise with another, NATURAL powdered cleaner and check out.

We get home and Scott hops online, much to my chagrin (I wanna clean the head dammit!) still searching for Borax when he sees online that it is located in Jewel Stores. So he calls and asks one clerk after another (they kept putting him on hold and another clerk would pick up with the same “How can I help you?”) and asks if they carry Borax, “it’s a detergent...” he says…”It’s NOT a detergent – it’s a cleaner, you’ll confuse them!” I hiss into the ear not on the phone. You see, I had it in my head that Ajax and Borax really were the same type of stuff. Powdered cleaning products. Why? I don’t know – it’s just what I decided, and when I make up my mind about something – I stick to my guns. For better or worse. Whether or not I know what the hell I am talking about.

So we go to the Jewel (they said they had it) and we’re looking down the aisle and Scott starts looking at the detergent and again I say “Its not a detergent, it’s a cleaning product – it’s going to be down here…” and I march farther down the aisle to the bright blues and greens of the cleaning products. “See…I told you they wouldn’t have….” And I am stopped by Scott, who is still in the reds and yellows of the DETERGENT section holding a box of, wouldn’t ya know it, 20 Mule team Borax. Turns out it is a detergent after all. Oops. (Incidentally, Borax seems like a hidden gem among the plastic bulbous jugs it humbly sits next too, there's some interesting history on the stuff here.)

If only you’d have a little faith in me!” Scott says as I give him a big hug and kiss and puppy dog eyes (this is how I admit my guilt and ask for forgiveness). He laughs a little, but he’s right. I should have listened to him all along – he was just trying to do something the right way, not the comeonletsjustgetmovingigottagowhocaresifitisn’texactlyrightway, which is my way. But where he’s wrong is that I DO have faith in him. A LOT of faith in him. I trust him and his abilities implicitly – if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be living out the beginning chapters of our huge dream with him! I can’t think of anyone I’d rather be by my side - but I suppose I need to focus on these little acts of faith as well. I am a work in progress.

He also would like me to mention, as a post-script to my last post regarding my lack of faith in our steering, that a) our steering is FINE (right now) b) we have yet to bleed the air out of our hydraulic system and c) we haven’t checked all the hoses so… “It’s a little premature to loose faith in the steering Brittany”. Sigh. And he’s right. Again.

Lots of love!

Brittany and Scott

Monday, July 27, 2009

'Cause ya gotta have faith!

Trust, in any relationship, is critical for its success. This is no big secret, I know. Without trust a relationship will not survive - let alone thrive.

It has come to my attention that I do not trust my boat. There, I said it. God I hate that I said it.

Let me clarify - I DO believe Rasmus to be a FANTASTIC boat. I DO believe it will carry Scott and me across the world's oceans safely.
I DO NOT wish I had any other boat. I DO have faith that this boat is strong, sturdy and can withstand the lashings it will inevitably endure. I DO believe that this boat was meant for us. I DO NOT have ANY regrets on buying this boat. I still love her very, very much and I DO trust that I will grow to trust her more and more as time goes on ('cause trust happens over time, right?).

To be specific, what I DO NOT trust is our hydraulic steering.

Steering is REALLY important. Especially when you are dealing with something that weighs over 12,000 pounds, is floating, and, because of the latter, is impossible to stop with any sort of immediacy or urgency (like, say – another boat in the way).

Let me also mention that I have lost steering before – not in a boat, but in a car. In Africa. Near the very, very remote and coastal border between Tanzania and Mozambique. I was driving along in my pieced together beauty of a land cruiser when I noticed something felt odd. My boyfriend at the time took the wheel and we were bounding along nicely along a dirt road on a sunny day when all of a sudden “pop” – the wheel just started turning, turning, and turning like a pinwheel and we just kept going straight, eventually crashing into a pile of rocks and bush in front of a mud hut with an old man squatting, unfazed, on a stoop in front of it. This is funny now, but had we been any where else – say, on a bridge, on a busier road, near a market full of people – this could have been a travesty of epic proportions. So yeah, now I’m a little gun shy when it comes to loosing complete and utter control of a moving vehicle. Boat or car.

Our hydraulic steering is fluky at best. It feels lumpy, bumpy and you never quite know where the rudder is. That, and I *know* we have a leak somewhere that is slowing draining the fluid that keeps our system running into our bilge. I should also mention that I have read two (count them TWO) accounts of people with the same boat as ours ALSO having hydraullic steering problems. My lack of trust is not unfounded. In exploring “trust” I found a site that offers "10 Crucial and Surprising steps in Building Trust”. I will explore them, keeping the boat in mind. Let’s see where this takes us, shall we?

1) Be Predictable – well, life on a boat is about as predictable as the weather. You can gauge what is coming and be as prepared as possible. But come ON, I am from Chicago – we’re famous for our weather and its ability to constantly slap us in the face with a hearty laugh (summer 2009 is proof positive).
2) Inform your significant other when you become “unpredictable” – okay, fair enough. I suppose the signs that we see (lumpy steering, hydraulic oil in the bilge) are all ways our boat is saying “I might need some mechanical attention”.
3) Make sure your words match your message – well, boats can’t really talk so we’ll chuck this one out.
4) Believe the other person is competent – so what if the other “person” (or boat in this case) has failed us before? I mean, I believe that hydraulic systems on boats can work…just not ours. It’s "competent" today – but will it be tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after? Something in my gut tells me no.(Okay, so you now you know – I’m a *teeeeeny tiny* bit of a control freak).
5) Be very, very careful about keeping secrets – um. Okay. Maybe this list doesn’t really apply to trusting a boat at all?…There are no real "secrets" on a boat. When the shitter's full, everytime you pump a smell so foul you nearly gag enters the air, when the battery dies, it dies, when the steering goes, it goes. No secrets. Just surprises of varying magnitudes.
6) Let your needs be known – “I NEED STEERING I CAN TRUST”. My worst nightmare is coming into a harbor and realizing our steering has gone kerplunk. Imagine how awesome we’d look just floating gently into a harbor, both of us frantically waving and screaming on deck to get out of the way, fuddling desperately with our emergency tiller on the back of the boat (yes, there is a back-up), only to crash into another boat, a dock, or a break wall. In front of dozens of onlookers (because everyone watches everyone else dock). I shudder to think. That said, I suppose our boat needs something perhaps we can’t give it. Like professional attention from a mechanic who really knows hydraulics.
7) State who YOU are – loudly. They say you build trust by entrusting your SELF to the other (in this case, our boat's steering system). "I am Brittany Stephen and I will sail around the world with my love, Scott". Are my standards of wanting a strong and sturdy steering system too high? I think not. But, then again, Scott says I am quite a pistol when it comes to getting my way and changing my mind. But honestly, I am going to stick by my guns here. No. matter. What.
8) Learn to say NO – I am actually laughing out loud as I’m sure Scott would *love* to chime in here. He fancies me something of a 2 year old who’s only vocabulary word is “No”. I, personally, think he just focuses on more on my “no’s” than my “yes’s”. But honestly, saying "no" is a protective mechanism to ensure you don’t have fear. And we all know how debilitating fear can be. So I am going to go ahead and say “NO” to a poor hydraulic steering system. Anyone have a spare $2500 and want to buy us a new one?
9) Charge neutral – this one is basically saying “control your voice” and don’t let your emotions get the better of you: communicate calmness. I really need to work on this one and I’m sure Scott would attest. I call it “passionate” some might call it “emotional” or (worse) “melodramatic”. Okay. I won’t scream at the hydraulic cylinder anymore. Fine.
10) Dig into the dirt – oh yeah, we’ve done this alright. Scott tinkered away at that hydraulic unit for over an hour while I added cup after cup of oil to our thirsty system. We are happy to deal with the trials and tribulations our boat hands us – we are learning from our mistakes and coming out the other side stronger. So maybe we just need to dig a little further. Like take apart the helm pedestal and check the hoses that lead aft to the steering unit…sigh.

Well, it looks like I have a lot to work on. Scott, inherently more trusting than I am, doesn’t seem to be nearly as fazed by all of this as me – which I suppose is a good thing. I overreact, and he under reacts. Yin and yang. I trust(wink) that somewhere in the middle is probably where we need to be. It works for us.

That said, does anyone have the name and number of a good hydraulic mechanic!?!


Brittany and Scott

Thursday, July 16, 2009

We're getting there! Lessons on boat maintenence...

I read something a while back that really put in perspective what owning a boat and keeping that boat afloat entails. I cannot remember where I read it or who said it, but the gist of it was that if, at any given time, 80% of your boats operating systems are working -you are in REALLY good shape. That means, on average, at least 20% of a boats operating systems are in some form of disrepair. And guess what? I believe this to be true. And I'm glad I read it and went into buying a boat expecting that. I have found in my life that having the right expectations are key. In fact, my theories on that require another blog post all together so I'll skip it...

Moving along.

As you (presumably) read in our last blog - we had three major issues on our boat that required immediate attention. Here they are in order of importance: 1) Our boat was leaking. 2) Our automatic bilge pump wasn't working and 3) Our hydraulic steering was so out-of-whack that it was pretty much impossible to steer with. Those are three pretty integral pieces of the boating puzzle. We had to fix them. But how?

It's no secret that Scott and I have been at our boat every single night since we brought her here so we found the best way to fix these issues was to 1) thoroughly examine them 2) enlist the help of friends and family with boating know-how and 3) Comb the Internet sailing forums for advice from people who know what they heck they are doing and have dealt with similar problems. Again, unsolicited plug for sailnet.com. Love that site.

First issue: non-functioning automatic bilge. The manual switch on the bilge was working - but the automatic was not. After some research and talking to some people at West Marine - we decided that our bilge pump probably didn't need to be replaced entirely, but that the float switch was somehow not functioning. So Scott took out the old pump and I cleaned out the bilge (ick - not pretty - word to the wise, if doing this - wear rubber gloves!!) we followed the wires, opened them all up - removing the shrink wrap and butt connectors (yep, I now can use the term "butt connector" and know what I am talking about!!) and Scott discovered that the wire for the float switch was completely corroded and needed to be cut and re-butt-connected. I ran to West Marine, got the tools and appropriate pieces and VOILA!! We had a working automatic bilge pump. This was *very* exciting for us and there was no shortage of high fives in the cockpit when we filled it with water from a bucket and heard it start (automatically) pumping away. Music to our ears. Good times.

Then there was the leaking engine. We had no idea where the water was coming from. The rudder post was producing a few drips of water, nothing that would justify the 10-15 gallons we were taking on. Every place on a boat where water usually comes from the rudder post, the stuffing box...was more or less bone dry. Multiple friends and family members came aboard to take a peek as well - and everyone left scratching their heads followed by a "Sorry, I can't figure it out". Harrumph. Talk about frustrating. So I took to Sailnet.com and put up a post soliciting the help of the salty dogs that frequent that site. Later that night, Scott and I went back to the boat and, while looking at the engine again, he noticed a drip coming from waaaayyy aft...from the engine. A ha! So we were getting somewhere! The next night we went back to the boat and Scott pulled a maneuver that rivaled those of the performers in Cirque du Soliel to get his head back in the engine compartment. And there it was. A leaking intake hose leading to the transmission. We shut off the gate valve sealing it completely (where the hose was connected to - that went through the hull and into the water - sort of like turning off a hose at the water source to paint a picture in your mind). Scott removed the hose, and sure enough -it was old and cracked. Never have we looked at an old crumbling hose with such reverence and glee. It was a work of art I tell you. Mystery solved.

And now we're on to the hydraulic steering. The filling oil and bleeding of air in a hydraulic steering system is a delicate job that requires two people (to keep it simple). One must fill the system with oil, while the other bleeds the air. I was at the helm pouring the oil in (it guzzled about three cups of the stuff!!), while Scott was in the aft cabin bleeding the air out. We think we've got it. At least now actually can feel "hard over" whereas before the wheel would just turn and turn and turn and turn and turn and....you get it. I must admit though, I am a *bit* skeptical however, as I have read quite a bit about our Vetus system and I'm pretty sure that we're leaking oil because steering was fine on the sea trial and got progressively worse on the delivery. Additionally, I now know what hydraulic oil looks like and remember seeing it (a lot of it) in our bilge (which you remember, I cleaned)...anyway...we shall see. For now, it's fixed!! HOORAY for small victories!!

This is all very, very exciting for us. Now the only question is, what else will we discover that needs fixing....hmmm.....

We're off this weekend on the Mac Race on my dad's boat Lancashire Lass - so all you friends that are staying in town - keep an eye on her for us and make sure she's sitting pretty in the water :). And, if your the religious kind - pray for wind.

Fast sailing,

Brittany and Scott

Friday, July 10, 2009

Home sweet Home!

So our boat is home and is floating ever so proudly on can 38 at Belmont Harbor. I am not going to lie; I actually drive by just to see her. It’s amazing. She is beautiful. She is our “baby”. In fact, she even keeps us up at night...just like a baby. Two nights ago I wake up and Scott isn’t in bed, so I get up and find him on the couch. “Honey, what are you doing out here?” I ask. Scott stirs just little and mumbles sleepily, “There was no one at the helm and I wanted to be on watch.” WOW. I guess that’s what 4 straight days of delivering a new boat will do to you. I too was awakened in the night with a startled jerk when, in my dream, our boat had come loose from our mooring. Sigh. When I told this to my dad he laughed and said “welcome to owning a boat”. Indeed.

The delivery was fantastic and it reawakened and reinforced our love of cruising. We flew up to Traverse City on Thursday, July 2nd with the plan to gather what was left in the boat barn and bring it to the boat. We were met by our broker – loaded up the cars and headed to the harbor. That’s when it hit me. Holy crap! We’re taking this thing tomorrow morning!! I am actually buying a BOAT!! Step one in turning our dream into a reality is ACTUALLY going to happen. Folks – let me tell you, the realization of dreams is surreal. I nearly had to pinch myself.

The next morning we headed to the brokerage where I signed a litany of papers that all lead to my officially being the owner of a Hallberg-Rassy Rasmus 35. No fireworks went off; no streamers fell from the ceiling - just a handshake…and a hug (I had to hug our broker after all I put him through). I owned a boat (excuse me while I scream again). Once at the harbor and with all the provisions on (thanks to Scott’s mom, Sue!) and fully loaded – we hopped on board to get going. Scott, ever the practical thinker, said “I think I’d like to have Captain Dave come aboard to help us get started” (Captain Dave, if you recall, was our fabulous sea trial captain) and so we called him. In typical Captain Dave fashion he was over in 5 minutes with a smile on his face and a spring in his step and in 10 minutes he was in our engine compartment working away. Honestly, if it weren’t’ for Captain Dave I have no idea what we would have done. He helped us without any hesitation for FOUR hours (our engine wasn’t starting) – teaching us how to bleed air out of the system, how to drain our fuel filters, how to siphon diesel out of our tank and check for water… he checked our rig and showed us how to sanitize our water and he even had his lovely wife, Bette, drive me to the hardware store to pick up engine oil! His willingness to help us and complete selfless generosity reminded me of why I love traveling so much – people like Captain Dave who the universe puts in your way to hold your hand and take you along for just a little bit. Brilliant. I cannot wait to pay it forward one day.

So we were off! We motored out of Elk Rapids Chicago bound with the wonderful company of Scott’s mom, Sue. Our excitement was so palpable I swear it was bubbling out of the (enclosed) cockpit! The delivery was fantastic. If you have ever cruised along the western coast of Michigan you know what I am talking about: daylight until 9pm, deep, rich sunsets over an unobstructed horizon, azure water and beautiful dunes along the shoreline…it’s magnificent. We motored, on average, about 13 hours each day averaging about 7.2 knots. Our time was spent reading, tweaking things, talking, cooking (I got *very* creative in our little kitchen - we have no refrigerator and plan on leaving it that way). We cleaned the deck, organized lockers, tidied up, read all our manuals, played with the radar…Scott even designed an aft push-pit chair out of two deck cushions and a spare line!

But not all was “smooth sailing” so to speak. We did loose our engine twice (we still are not sure why), while tied up in Muskegon the post-fireworks boat wakes tossed us around so viciously I honestly thought our boat would end up on the dock (there is no seawall)…while turning into our slip in St. Joe (down the river) we got so swept up in a 3 knot current we hit the dock and the next morning, leaving that same ill-fated dock we ran aground (we only draw 4.5 feet). Our hydraulic steering got worse and worse as each day wore on – 15 turns of a wheel just to veer starboard? I think not. Oh – and our automatic bilge pump doesn’t work. We figured that out when I, as if tapped on the shoulder by a guardian angel, suddenly decided to check our bilge and it was COMPLETELY full of water. Which leads to another issue we have; our boat is leaking somewhere but we cannot figure out from where. Sigh. The list, my friends, goes on. There are currently 20 items to do/check with the systems on our boat. And it grows. Every. Single. Day.

But you know what? We have a boat. And it is going to take us around the world. And we couldn’t be happier. It’s kind of like changing a baby’s diaper; it just goes with the territory.


Thursday, July 02, 2009

Serendipity, with a side of "Oh My God!!"

So, I am so excited I am about to burst. About to BURST I tell you. In less than 24 hours Scott and I will (god willing) be the owners of a beautiful Hallberg-Rassy Rasmus 35. Do you want to know the coolest feeling in the world?! Buy a boat. It is, so far, unrivaled in it's "cool" factor. Just knowing that we are *this* close to being boat owners and *this* much closer to shoving off for our around the world adventure is...well...it's insane. Speaking of insane...

The boat buying process has been...interesting. There have been a lot of "glitches" along the way, too many too really go into in this post - but suffice it to say, I have had to bring my claws out and bare my teeth on a couple of occasions. And this little blondie doesn't like to get nasty, but when it comes to business - I can be tough, some might say a word that ryhmes with "itchy".  Part of the problem has been that Scott and I have never, ever known who the "seller" is. This is strange and unusual when buying a boat. Some people talk about him in the past tense, some talk about him in present tense, there is a "seller's rep" and a "friend" doing business on his behalf and this constant cloud of secrecy surrounding "Wayne". After about a month, Scott and I concluded that "Wayne" is dead and his wife is selling the boat - and they just didn't want to disclose that to us for obvious reasons (we could play hard ball). Well, he is not dead. And guess what? Assuming makes an ASS out of U and ME (get it?).

The president of the brokerage called me yesterday to "put out a fire" as I was very angry upon receiving some news earlier that morning. After explanations and going back and forth and yadda yadda I finally had to ask; "Carl, one more thing - this "seller", this "Wayne"...can you shed any light on this for us? I mean, it's just so odd that we have no idea who he is and why there is this constant ambiguity about him. Could you please tell me, just for my own personal sake what the deal is there?"


President of brokerage: "Wayne is incapacitated. He is severely, severely ill. (At this point, I feel like a TOTAL jerk because this poor man is dying). He...(pause - and here's the kicker)...has SEVERE mental problems (what!?!) and....well....he will not be needing his boat anymore. Carolyn (the seller's rep) is just a friend of his tying up all his loose ends and his estates".

WHAT!?!?! Mentally ill?? So...super sleuth that I am - I hopped on the Internet and did a little research. Turns out Wayne is in jail. Wayne is a convicted felon and will not be needing his boat anymore. Wayne is less "incapacitated" and a little more "incarcerated". Talk about nuts. So, there you have it. Never a dull moment.

So today I trot over to the bank to make a wire transfer to purchase Rasmus and the really nice woman, Jazmina - who helped me organize my deposit a few days prior was there. We had gotten to chatting last time I and discovered we both had a mutual passion for sailing and she too had a boat she kept at Monroe harbor. Sweet! Sailing sisters! Well, today - she assisted me again and had another banker help me organize the wire to the brokerage (gulp - bye bye money!) and he and I were making small talk. He asked what I was buying, I said a boat and immediately he replied: "You should talk to Jazmina - she loves sailing" and I said that I had a little and he continued, "Yeah, she's sailed around the world and been in the junior olympics and everything".

What!?! I immediately had to talk to this modest sailing superstar again...we chatted for a while about her experience and our plans and have agreed to keep in touch. Super cool. How crazy is it that the very banker who helped me transfer the funds to buy our boat - not only actually sails - but sailed around the world herself!?!? Signs, signs, signs. I just love the way the Universe works. Absolutely *love* it.

Hooray for serendipity!

Next time you hear from us - we should be boat owners!! We're flying to Traverse City tonight and will be taking the helm tomorrow around noon to bring our baby home to Chicago... (excuse me while I scream)!!

Your soon-to-be boat owner pals,

Brittany and Scott
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