Tuesday, February 13, 2018

No problem so bad that you can't make it worse

First off, no, we aren’t in the midst of a major Problem.  But I have been thinking about what we have “trova’d”, and this issue of dealing with problems is one of them.

So, while we aren’t in the middle of dealing with a major Problem, they are pretty much incessant in this way of life.  While back in Florida and on our way off the boat to a meeting, I went to shut down the generator and it wouldn’t turn off.  Most folks expect machinery to not start, but here we were in a time crunch and the motor wouldn’t shut down. 

Problems (with a capital ‘P’) are like that – they are always new-to-you and occur when you need the system that is misbehaving.  Which is only natural since, a) if you have already been through it, it isn’t such a big deal, and b) if you didn’t need whatever it was that just failed, you wouldn’t have found it to be broken! 

But what did I do about the generator?  I thought about whether we could just leave it running until we came back: not an option since we were to be away much of the day and there was no load on the generator, a bad thing for it.  Hmmm… how to shut down a diesel motor when the push-button switch doesn’t do it?  I pulled out the manual and reviewed the circuit diagram, found the actual switch on the electrical panel, and checked it’s function: nope, it was working correctly so no easy way to command a shut-down by by-passing the switch. I thought through what motors need, fuel and air and combustion…

Next idea - kill the fuel supply: tried that two different ways, and it didn’t work, seemed that the motor was able to suck fuel backwards in the fuel-return line.  Tried choking off the air inlet with a rag, added more rags, a plastic bag: nope, the motor was running badly now, but still running and sucking in air from somewhere. No easy way to kill the combustion in a running diesel …

Jennifer in the mean time had reached out to a knowledgeable cruising friend: he explained how to find the shut-down throttle solenoid and told us to manually trip it.  While the motor was running.  Of course!  Easy!  Reach in past the whirring parts and push on a gizmo I didn’t know.  But it made total sense, that’s how diesels are shut down.  In the end it was tricky but it worked.  Elapsed time: 20 minutes and we made it to our meeting.  The root problem is also still not resolved and we will have to address it when we get back to the boat from our holiday travels. 

What I didn’t do was let myself get worked up about it.  When we started out cruising, everything felt like an emergency and we semi-panicked whenever things failed.  Now we know a lot more, but even with things where we have no clue, we actually do have clues.  We have learned to stop, think it through, fight down the panic, and get on with it.

I learned the expression that is the title of this post from an Apollo astronaut in his TED talk about dealing with life in space.  It was his theme – that there are no problems so bad that you can’t make them worse.  In the case of spacecraft, nearly everything is life-threatening so you have to learn how to deal rationally with threatening situations.  It only feels that threatening on a sailboat, it is really nothing like as dangerous.  But you can still make things worse.  Like possibly sucking fuel backwards risking contaminating the injectors, maybe.  But I had anticipated that possibility and consciously took the risk, I was not just grabbing at the first possible fix.

Bottom line is that panic never got you anywhere except into more trouble.  Indulging in panic is really expensive.  And worse, like sea-sickness, it is infectious. 

What do I do about it?  That really is the right question. To paraphrase an old quip “never look at the panic, it only encourages it.”  The next time you are faced with a serious problem and you feel panic pushing in from the edges, just push it back, then face the problem you have to face, and get on with it.

Easier said than done, of course.  To get more practice, all you have to do is buy a boat.


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Islands, weddings, gardens, and Irma

I have been slothful in my blog-posting.  Compared to a quick up-link to Facebook or a mass text messaging from our SailMail, the blogging engine is work.  Sorry about that.  But most of all, you don't really get to see what we have been up to, what it looks like, where we have been.  So today I am doing this entry to get about 6 months of photos up for your entertainment.

It was a summer of weddings, gardens and one very severe storm:

After Thanksgiving with Cedric and Gisela at Georgetown, Exumas and a lovely holiday trip home to Utah and Texas for the holidays, we hoofed it down to the Jumentos, the most southerly chain of the Bahamas archipelago.  Very remote, a tinny village of about 50 people, and about a dozen cruising boats.  No fuel, food is a store the size of your bathroom, no parts, no airport, just lovely reefs and locals. 

Then a quick trip even further south:


And back up to the Jumentos until we had to bug out for Miami for Bailey and Nevin's wedding:

Once we were hooked up to a mooring at Coconut Grove, we squeezed in a day trip to Viscaya, the grand house built by the International Harvester heir:

And then off to Austin for the big event:

And back to Cerca Trova for a planned hiatus in the Abacos.  The night before crossing the Gulf Stream, however, while doing our final systems checks, I discovered water in our saildrive oil on the port engine.  That's like water in your transmission, badness.  We found a nearby boat yard with a lift wide enough to pull out our 22ft-wide catamaran, and scooted down there for repairs.  We had also scheduled a bottom paint re-do for a commercial yard over in the Bahamas but that was now not going to happen.  So we spent 10 days in Fort Lauderdale Marine Center, home to the superyacht repair services of south Florida, and multiple miles up the New River from the ICW, in the  company of multiple power yachts twice our size and more.  We went up following behind a 110ft yacht maneuvering up the New River (about 100ft wide and twisting and turning and 8 tricky lift bridges with a rip roaring reversing tidal current ) right through old downtown Lauderdale to the Marine Center.  The yacht captain called ahead to the bridges to and got them open for both of us.  But while there, with CT out on the hard, we walked a lot and discovered the feral peacocks of Lauderdale.  This guy was busy courting a hen in someone's front yard:

We did finally get all the work done and zipped over to the Abacos for a 6-week mini-cruise:

Monument to the Loyalists who fled the oppression of the early United States and formed new communities in the Bahamas

But we had to be back in the States for Haylley and RB's wedding, so once again we crossed west over the Gulf Stream, this time heading for Fort Pierce and the dock that would be our home for the rest of the summer.  A month there including the 4th of July was lots of fun, very restful, and we laid the groundwork for the big projects we would have to complete in the fall when we returned.

From Florida, we popped to Royalston for only a few days ..

and then up to Burlington and Shelburn Farms for the big event:

And the day after it was sunny and fun and games in the garden of the grand house:

And back to Royalston for a rest, and then back to Vermont to spend a lovely weekend with Laura Donaldson's family at Basin Harbor.  It was two days of gardens, water-front fun, and gracious meals:


The awesome big-as-your-thumb Butterfly-Hawk Moth

And back again to (rainy) Royalston.  This time for The Eclipse (which was clear), Labor Day (which saw most Nashes in the North East come up), and finally some peace from the travelling:

But, peace not being what you might think it is, we set off for a long weekend of country house tours in the Berkshires.  We visited Naumkaeg .. 

and Edith Wharton's The Mount, on a three-day tour:

Then home to Royalston for some peace and quiet ..

.. except for .. IRMA!!  We had barely gotten through Labor Day when Irma loomed, we bought tickets to Florida just in case, and we needed them.  We arrived three days ahead of what looked like it was going to be a direct hit of a Cat 5 storm, i.e total and catastrophic loss of everything.  So we raced to strip the boat of any and all loose items on the outside, closed all sea cocks, added every fender and dock line we had including some spare rope we carry for just-in-case scenarios, packed our clothes and papers, then retreated to the home of friends from our Abaco jaunt (remember our 6 weeks in the Abacos a few pages back?).  They took us in for three days, and fortunately the storm veered away from us (which means it hit someone else), and we suffered almost no damage.  One lone sailboat, left on an anchor and unprepared, got ripped loose and landed in the pilings of a bridge over the ICW, the rigging landed on the roadway above:

CT stripped of all exterior loose stuff including the mast-head wind sensor

A manatee in our sheltering friends' house's canal

With all well and CT still storm-prepared, we set off again for Royalston where we visited the North Shore and just hung out:

But the days were getting long and the nights getting cold, it was time to leave for the season.  We fit in a quick visit to Salt Lake City and helped my mom with work on the Orchard, then one last plane trip to Florida and Cerca Trova to prepare to cruise through the winter:

Now that preparation is done, including a whole new solar panel array and corresponding charger equipment, clean up and restoration of all the work we went through to storm-prep her, and a few little surprises thrown in too, like an engine badly leaking oil and the fridge/freezer wouldn't start up.  We had wonderful times with our shelter friends at their little yacht club and out for the evening, we met new cruising friends prepping like we were, and we got to know Fort Pierce pretty well.  But we are gone from there, on a mooring while we try to get the oil leak finally resolved (first pass didn't work).