MyBlog

Zen and the Art of Sailboat Maintenance

For those of us of a certain age and inclination the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance provided meaningful life lessons. I took away two that have stuck with me for going on forty years. One I've learned. The other I'm still trying to learn.

- Lesson #1: When your motorcycle isn't running you should check the obvious things first. Does it have gas?

- Lesson #2: Perfection is unattainable (but worth pursuing).

The concept of unattainable perfection has long been a core value. Woe unto the friend or acquaintance who tells me that something is perfect. "Would you like me to point out the flaws?" As a still-life photographer in NYC shooting product photos with an 8X10 camera in the era before Photoshop, a single spec of dust meant I'd failed. If anyone looked closely enough they could see that I always failed. But somehow the failures were minor enough that my results were considered successful. It may look fantastic, but don't tell me it's perfect (QED Mary Lou Retton's "perfect 10").

Which brings me to my boat, the now 3-decade old, 25' centerboard O'Day sloop, the Flying Fish. This is the 8th year I've owned her and this year, like year's past, has seen some significant maintenance. This year's highlights have been replacing the standing rigging, putting on a new roller furler, fiber glassing the rudder to stop a near-fatal fracture, replacing the zincs on the prop shaft and in the engine, replacing the window on the dodger, bottom paint, oil change, wax, fixing the water pump and varnishing the brightwork.

Imperfections everywhere! Finding flaws in the brightwork is easy. I didn't bother sanding down to bare wood or sanding between coats and feel lucky to have had the time and inclination to have put on varnish at all. So let's consider the oil change. How can an oil change be imperfect? Well, the engine was stone cold when I changed the oil so some of the dirty oil was left inside after I changed it and this was evident as soon as I ran it and looked at the dip stick (even if I'd run the engine and drained the oil while warm, bits of dirt would have been left behind). It's good enough, but see what I mean?

In any case, I didn't need to relearn lessons about unattainable perfection. No. The lesson I need to learn and relearn and relearn is the one about checking obvious things first (and listening). Take yesterday for example.

Yesterday, for the first time in many days, the wind wasn't blowing like stink and I took the opportunity to put the jib on the new roller furler. Captain Timothy Dow of Nor'easter Marine had done a fabulous job replacing the shrouds and stays and installing the roller furler (knows his stuff cold - if you ever want a charter captain, he's the man). The mast was up, everything was tight and ready to go. So I put on the jib and rolled it up. As the jib was rolled the forestay and backstay went slack. !*$#@!!%$!???

I called Tim and explained the situation. He couldn't figure it out and said he'd come by on Monday. He also suggested I take a look at the turnbuckle inside the roller-furler. I didn't even know that was accessible. So I looked and voila! The turnbuckle had spun loose when I'd rolled up the jib. So loose in fact that it was holding on by just a few threads and had almost spun off. If it had spun off the mast would have fallen over causing serious damage to the Flying Fish, possibly even killing someone. Why had it spun off? Because I'd forgotten to put in a cotter pin once the mast was up. I'd completely forgotten Tim telling me that needed to be done and wasn't reminded because, unlike the other turnbuckles, this one was hidden in the furler and I'd assumed it was good to go. A cotter pin is a little sliver of stainless steel that costs $0.50. Flash on the scene in Das Boot where the sinking German submarine is being bombarded with depth charges and everyone is about to die because they can't find a $0.50 part.

Das Boot I tightened the turnbuckle, put in TWO (2 as in 1+1) cotter pins, put back on the jib and everything is fine. Here's a lesson from Mike's blog post on sailboat maintenance:

Any day you don't kill yourself or someone else because of your own stupidity is a good day!

North Star Confession

Last night I knowingly saw the North Star for the first time. Over forty years of camping and sailing, years of admiring the night sky from my sleeping bag in cold clear places above the timber line and dark anchorages away from light and air pollution, I always knew the star was out there somewhere. Finally looked it up on Google. Once you know where to look it isn't hard to find. So, last night when Jane and I took a walk to the beach under star light, I used my new-found knowledge to line up the two stars on the outer edge of the Big Dipper. Voila! There it was. Very dad-like to show your kid the North Star. Kinda like teaching her how to ride a bike, but much faster, easier and less painful.

Nantucket's "Slurpee Waves"

Snow's been on National Seashore beaches for over a month and may still be on the dunes at the start of spring. Meanwhile, Nantucket has been in the news with photos of "Slurpee Waves" by photographer Jonathan Nimerfroh. You can his stunning images HERE.

The video below gives another perspective:

Octopus vs Crab

Thanks to Brad Golstein for sharing this:

Walk to the Beach February 16, 2015

Sunday afternoon as the blizzard blew by, my daughters and I stood at the edge of the newly created 6' cliff at Pochet, trying to keep from being blown off of it in the 50mph+ gusts. The sea was heaving like a herd of running buffalo and waves were breaking 1 mile offshore. It was awesome in the full 19th century sense of the word.

President's day was calmer and warmer. We walked down the road to the Pochet washover. The destruction of the dunes had left blocks of peat and ice scattered across the beach: