Friday, August 27, 2010

My "aha moment" is live now

I just received an email message letting me know that my Mutual of Omaha "aha moment" is live now at

The final film clip actually turned out better than expected. They managed to distill about ten minutes of my interview down to a single minute and still have it retain the points I was trying to make about how my dream of sailing around the world got started and what I am doing to fulfill it.

Nan liked their photo of me smiling so much that I have made it my blog's new profile image.

If you have a chance to watch the film clip, please leave a comment to let me know what you think. Thank you.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Hard Day on the Planet

Loudon Wainwright III is best known for being the father of singer Rufus Wainwright and for his early '70s hit, "Dead Skunk (in the Middle of the Road)". I was thinking today of another one of his novelty songs, "A Hard Day on the Planet", which has as its refrain:
It’s been a hard day on the planet,
How much is it all worth?
It’s getting harder to understand it,
Things are tough all over on earth.
Today was a bad day--not for me personally, but for the planet as a whole and mankind in particular. Everywhere I turned, there was bad news: jobless claims are at new highs; there's still much more oil in the gulf than BP is telling us; Pakistan is underwater but nobody is contributing any money for assistance; Russia is on fire; China's air is unbreathable; Indonesia's coral is dying from water temperatures seven degrees above normal; the stock market is swinging wildly up and down; the midterm election ads are all negative; people still believe that Obama is a Muslim; and Israel is on the verge of attacking Iran.

I am normally a fairly optimistic person, but it's all enough to make me give up hope. Since I have been old enough to think for myself, I have known that nobody really knows what is happening and that nobody is really in control of anything. The most we could hope for was that our better natures would predominate over our baser instincts to prevent utter chaos. Now it seems that chaos is winning. In my gut, I know that life will never, ever be as good as it was just two years ago, before the housing bubble burst. We have reached the point of diminishing returns. It's all downhill from here.

Do we take deep breaths, steel our resolve, and keep doing the best we can, knowing that it doesn't really make any difference, or do we take stock, re-evaluate our situations, and move in new directions, knowing that it is somewhat selfish but ultimately more rewarding to make the most of the time and opportunities we have left? Nobody ever gets to the end of their life and wishes they had worked harder, but as Loudon sings, "Things are looking kind of gray, like they’re going to black." Life is short. Make the most of it.

Monday, August 9, 2010

My aha moment

Clapboard for 'my aha moment' with Mutual of OmahaLate this afternoon, I drove over to the Mesa Mall parking lot, where Mutual of Omaha's Airstream mobile studio was parked. I had received an email invitation last week, as a result of a marketing person's discovery of my blog, inviting me to be filmed for their "aha moment" campaign. You have probably seen the commercials on TV featuring ordinary people talking about the moments that changed their lives. They couldn't guarantee that my spot would make it into a TV commercial, but it would definitely be posted to their website.

The invitation was specific that my aha moment should be about sailing and that I should plan to bring a prop to the filming. I didn't need to think too hard to come up with an idea: My aha moment happened in 1968, when I was ten years old. I read a National Geographic article about Robin Lee Graham, the first teen-ager to sail alone around the world. I knew right away that I wanted to do the same thing someday.

'My aha moment' prop: October 1968 National Geographic magazine with the article about Robin Lee Graham's solo circumnavigationThe studio people, Jessica and Dave, interviewed me for about ten minutes, starting with my dream and expanding on it to discuss my plans for actually sailing around the world. It was a nervous blur, but when it was over, Jessica said that it went really well, that my face was lit up with excitement. She told me that my aha moment would appear on the Mutual of Omaha website at within three weeks, and she handed me my clapboard as a souvenir. When it goes live, I'll be sure to post a direct link to it here.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Trip to the Boatyard

Little Walk sitting in the Spring Cove Marina's boatyard without her mastA little over two weeks ago, I took a trip out to Solomons, Maryland to check on Little Walk for a couple of days. A few days before I left, Don, the boatyard manager at Spring Cove Marina, called to tell me that the boat's mast had been unstepped. This was good news because it meant that he had found the time, after two months of the boat sitting in the boatyard, to begin the refit. As the marine survey had indicated, the corrosion at the mast's base needed to be addressed, and the standing and running rigging needed to be replaced. Removing the mast was the first step in the repair process.

When I arrived at Spring Cove, the boatyard was very quiet. It was a Sunday and most of the staff were off for the weekend. Little Walk's mast was resting on sawhorses outside the boatyard fence. The horizontal perspective allowed a close-up view of all the mast's workings. Ray, the previous owner, had told me that the boat had been hit by lightning in the last couple of years, but there was no evidence of any damage. The lights, wind instruments and VHF antenna at the top looked almost brand new, though, like they had been recently replaced.

The boat itself looked a little funny without its mast, more like a motorboat than a sailboat. I found a ladder and climbed aboard to see what had been done. On the deck, duct tape covered the hole where the mast had been, and the boom was lying between the hatches. I unlocked the companionway hatch and went below. It was unbearably hot in the cabin, so I opened every hatch and port to cool things down. There is a fan in the salon, but I couldn't figure out how to turn it on. I had originally planned to stay aboard, but the weather reports had been showing temperatures in the high 90s and humidity at 90 percent, so I had booked a cheap hotel instead. Now I was happy I did, because there wasn't enough breeze or cloud cover to help lower the cabin temperature to more tolerable levels. I took a quick look at the place in the bilge where the mast had been stepped against the keel and then fled to the air-conditioned marina office to inquire about some packages I had sent out ahead of my arrival and to use the guest computer to send Ray an email about the fan.

Little Walk's mastless deckThe vacuum cleaner, coffee press and box of dishes, towels and linens I had shipped were waiting for me. I had thought to use my time on the boat to clean, sort through all the stuff left behind by the previous owner, and unpack some of my own stuff. But with the heat, I knew I wouldn't be very productive with work inside the cabin, so I started with the deck, tidying up loose equipment and stowing the fenders and dock lines that were still in place from when the boat was hauled out. Thinking it might get cooler as the sun went lower in the afternoon, I went off to Jerry's Subs for a late lunch. When I returned, the cabin was still "instant sweat" hot. I checked my cell phone's email and saw that Ray had responded to my message. He said that the salon fan did not work, which explained why I couldn't turn it on, but that the ones in the forward and aft berths did. I fooled with the unmarked electrical panel switches until I got both fans working. As long as I was at it, I figured I would try to get the stove working as well, since I hadn't been able to when Kevin and I sailed the boat down from Baltimore. No such luck. I think there might be a blown fuse in the solenoid panel because flipping its switch does not cause the little red light next to it to light up. I spent the rest of the afternoon unpacking and stowing stuff, and cleaning in the area of the companionway since it was the coolest spot in the cabin. By dinnertime, I was dripping sweat and ready to call it a day.

The next day, a Monday, the marina was a noisy hive of activity. I met with Don in the morning and spent some time walking around the boat, inside and out, to confirm the work that needed to be done, and looking at the mast to determine what the rigging needs would be. Don told me that Collin from Chesapeake Rigging would be on-site in the early afternoon to evaluate the rigging, take measurements and talk options. As we parted company, Don said that he would catch up with me in the afternoon with a quote on what he thought it would cost to correct all the issues in the marine survey. I climbed up the ladder and went back to work in the cabin. It was still cool enough inside for me to unpack the vacuum cleaner and spend most of the morning lifting cushions and moving equipment in order to vacuum underneath. At lunchtime, it was back to Jerry's Subs and then over to West Marine. To open the hatches the day before, I had to first remove their screens, and I had managed to break one of the latches in the process, so I wanted to see if they had a spare. They did.

Where Little Walk's mast used to beWhen I got back to the boatyard, Collin was already taking measurements on the mast. "Are you the rigging guy?" I asked. He smiled and replied, "Are you the owner guy?" I laughed. We shook hands and started talking rigging options. The boat's standing rigging was a combination of rod and cable. Collin said that while rod is stronger than cable, it's more prone to catastrophic failure. We agreed to go with cable throughout. The single existing jib furler was an old Hood one. Collin said I should send it to a sailing museum. I had been leaning toward Profurl furlers for both the jib replacement and the staysail, but Collin said that if they failed, I would need to order parts from France. He suggested American-made Harken furlers instead. I wanted a whisker pole added to the rig for poling out the jib in light winds, and Collin suggested a Forespar one on a track attached to the forward surface of the mast. Some of the halyard sheaves showed wear and needed to be replaced. Collin said he would include all that in his quote, which he expected to have ready in a few days. Don stopped by and the three of us went to look at the boat together. Collin looked closely at the chainplates, the mast step, and the sagging life lines, which also needed to be replaced. He offered excellent ideas for improving just about everything he saw, including the addition of an electric "bitch winch." Dollar signs were dancing in my head as we climbed down the ladder and said our good-byes.

Little Walk's cleaned up companionway areaI went back to work in the cabin, cleaning up the V-berth. I felt a little melancholy as I peeled off the hundreds of glow-in-the-dark stars, moons and planets that Ray's daughter had stuck to the ceiling when she was a little girl and they were living aboard Little Walk in Boston. I followed that with scrubbing and vacuuming, both in the V-berth and also in the port-side pilot berth. Late in the afternoon, I took a break and walked over to the marina office for the last of my many trips to the deeply appreciated, refrigerated drinking fountain. It was getting close to the time for me to close up the boat and get ready to go home. On my way back to the boat, I stuck my head into Don's office. He invited me in to discuss his quote. He had written out a detailed list of improvements and assigned a price to each one. It added up to about what he had told me it would when we first talked about it back in May, after the trip down from Baltimore. I stared at the list, trying to figure out how I was ever going to pay for it all. Don sensed my consternation and said that the work could be done in phases, spreading out the expense over a long period of time. "A very, very long period of time," I thought.