Red Dragon

If I put my ear next to the deck I can hear the spray from the hose gushing down the pipe to our water tanks in the cabin below. I bend at the waist to look through the nearest open porthole and see the back of Alex’s head.

“What’s the verdict?” I ask.

“It’s getting pretty close, ” he says, leaning over the 10″ circular viewing pane on top of the tank.

“Should I stop?”

“Uh…let’s see what happens.”

The dock is barely lit by moonlight. I put my head close to the hole again. The pitch rises slowly like a water glass filling.

“All right, that’s probably good,” Alex says. I leave the hose in for a moment, figuring I’ll max out the tank, just let the water run up the pipe all the way up to the deck.

“Oh God, it’s overflowing!” he says, excited.

I put my hand on the hose and get ready to pull it out, but then I realize. He’s probably joking. That Alex, always with the jokes. You know, he really shouldn’t joke about something like this. It’s kinda serious. Water in the cabin and all that. Unless…wait! I rip the hose out.

“Are you being serious?!” I shout.

“Yeah,” he laughs, darting to the other side of the cabin, “I’m gonna go pump some water out!”

I drop the hose on the dock and hop down in the cabin to see what the damage is. Alex is laughing, taking another look at the top of the tank.

Once he reassures me the leaking’s stopped I smile at him and confess, “I thought you were joking, dude!”

“Really?” he asks, breaking into laughter.

“Yeah, in fact, I was sure you were joking. The only reason I pulled the hose out was because I thought on the infinitesimal chance that you weren’t, I’d regret it.”

“That was probably smart,” Alex grins. He astutely reasons that it’s pretty unlikely that we’re going to stop being ridiculously sarcastic just because we’re on a boat. I agree.

“You know what we need? A code word. Like ‘seriously’. Something that when one of us says it, we know they’re not joking” he suggests.

“You mean like, ‘No, seriously, Alex, Nick fell overboard like ten minutes ago’?”

“Exactly,” he responds, thinking it over.

“Wouldn’t work. We probably already use ‘seriously’ all the time in our jokes,” I say.

“Maybe a weirder word then?”

“Like…’Red Dragon, I think that’s actually a real gun, guys!'” I say.

“Hahah, just like that.”

“Or, ‘Red Dragon, I totally put anthrax in our water tanks,'” I offer.

“Perfect. Then we’d know you were serious. And crazy. Maybe, ‘Red Dragon, you’re on FIRE!'”

“OK, I guess that’s it then. Red Dragon. Except you know when it’s actually crazy there won’t be a full sentence attached. Like when you’re in the passenger seat and a car starts merging into your friend’s car, you’re never like, ‘That car is going to hit us.’ It’s always just baby-talk, like, ‘Uooooohhhh!'”

“You’re right. You’ll be down in your bunk and you’ll just hear, ‘REDDRAGON OHMYGOD!'” Alex responds.

“Oh man, scariest way to wake up ever!”

A moment later Nick comes back into the cabin from a shopping trip. We catch him up on the idea and some of our examples.

He stares me right in the eyes, stern-faced and shaking his head. “Red Dragon, I hate you Dave Green.”

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Dirty Jobs

A few days ago I decided to deal with our dirty bilges. I followed some tubing from the cockpit to find a pump we never knew existed in the bilge furthest aft. Turns out the float switch was set way too high, so there was a decent amount of water built up. Being nearly under the engine, it was filled with years worth of oil drippings, so I got really gunked up reaching up to my elbow in the opaque black water to reposition the pump so I could short out the float to empty the bilge.  Not pleasant. 

The next bilge forward is where our holding tank is kept.  Now, this tank is pretty small, and the last time we thought it was topped off, the “full of $#!+” light didn’t go on.  We had since attempted to pump out some of the tank, so I thought I’d put on the respirator and check to see if the sensor was actually working.  It definitely wasn’t.

I was about to learn that a valve was shut in our plumbing, making any previous pumping completely ineffective.  The tank was still very… very full. While unscrewing the top, I heard a hissing sound as the compressed gases inside flowed out, and soon after, the 1/8” screw hole was spurting poo/pee 2 feet into the air. Anybody watching would have laughed for days as I did a backflip and cowered in the corner, but I was not laughing. Instead, I blurted out every profane word and phrase I had ever heard as I watched the mini-geyser in horror. But I didn’t want to watch.  Motivated by a desire to look elsewhere, I ran to the head and pumped a bit of the tank out manually to relieve the pressure till Old Faithful had gone dormant. When it had quieted down, I opened up all the windows and hatches and went outside to the cockpit where I could take off the respirator and have a breather.

Laying down on the cockpit seats, I let out the remainder of the curse words I know. Trying to look on the bright side, I thanked the black clouds above for not dumping their load.  I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but storm clouds have some wild desire to be unpredictable; praise them for one thing and they go ahead and do the exact opposite.  10 seconds later it was pouring, and I’m not talking about the standard SF drizzle, but a god damn squall. At some point, I decided sitting in the freezing rain was actually worse than putting the respirator back on, so I got back below and sealed myself up in the putrid cabin.  Using some spare tubing, I rigged up a siphon from our saltwater intake, and dumped it into the offending bilge. For almost two hours I sat there flooding the bilge with saltwater and pumping it overboard… over and over again. It still reeked. Finally, even the storm clouds realized they were being mean and replaced the rain with a strong, steady wind, designed to whisk away the godawful smell. I opened every possible hatch and passed responsibility off to the breeze. An hour later I took my respirator off.  A day of wide open portholes later and half of a container of air freshener and you’d never know anything happened.

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I Know A Guy

Actually, my girlfriend Lauren’s parents’ high school friend knows a guy, who knows a guy who sailed around the world (Kevin Bacon may actually be closer).  The important part however is that a few weeks ago we were fortunate enough to be introduced to Larry Jacobson, who recently returned from a successful circumnavigation and who graciously volunteered his (and his partner Ken’s) time to sit down and talk with us about their trip and make sure we weren’t forgetting something in our planning.

Armed with two pizzas and two thousand questions we showed up at his apartment where we instantly began absorbing everything they had to say.  Nearly five hours later we left inspired, motivated and perhaps (just a little) terrified.  You can see some of the key points from the notes we put on our wiki.

Equipment-wise we felt like we were fairly on top of what we needed, our boat came well equipped which means we’ll have the benefit of things we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford (radar, redundant self-steering …).  Thats not to say we won’t be making some painfully expensive trips to the chandlery but given our other choices of boats we’re feeling we made the right choice.  Talking with Larry helped us prioritize some of the major purchases we’ll need to make.

The real value of talking with Larry and Ken, was the reassurance that we actually are on the right track.  We’ve been planning non-stop, and you begin to wonder if your research is founded too much on books and internet and not enough on experience.  Before our meeting with Larry I was scared about lack of off-shore experience, storms, groundings, etc.  Afterwards I’ve found the only thing that actually scares me is the idea of leaving a city and lifestyle I love.  But also more than ever, I can’t wait to leave.

Go Man Go!

Larry just released a book about his trip, “The Boy Behind the Gate”.  If you’re interested, you can buy it off his site (in which case he gets more money) or off Amazon (in which case he gets more acknowledgement).

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Planning

About 6 months ago, we realized there was simply too much material to learn for each of us to study everything we’ll need to know to make this thing happen, so we split the work up 3 ways.  As it stands, Alex is tasked with studying weather patterns, our boat’s electronics, and linguistics. I’m in charge of marine life, navigation, and diesel engines, and Dave Green is learning about provisioning and medical considerations.

This list doesn’t actually look that bad until you really look at the details.  My three categories mean I need to determine which fishing gear we need, learn about dangerous and edible marine animals, learn celestial navigation, study best practices for coastal navigation, know our autopilot and wind vane inside out, and become intimately close with our inboard diesel engine.

Some of these things can be learned by reading books, but others require hands on experience.  This weekend I got my Ham radio technicians license, and next month I’ll be taking a course on marine diesel engine repair.  If all this doesn’t seem daunting enough, keep in mind that categories like navigation, medical, and weather need to be learned and taught to the others.  Tack on to that the list of boat projects we need to complete before departure, and we’ve got enough work to make sure we’re not bored until the trip is finished.

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Floating

After nearly a solid week of delays, we’re finally back in the water; removing the head intake thru-hull proved to be harder than we had expected, painting the boot stripe turned out to be a two day affair, and cleaning up and inspecting the shaft log was dirtier and more difficult that we had imagined.  Working on the boat 8 hours a day for 2 weeks  paid off though, and last Thursday she was lowered into the water with only a slight leak in the packing gland, which was quickly and easily fixed.

By the time Alex showed up after work to move her out of the boat yard, the tide was lower than optimal.  After strapping our bikes to the deck we motored off, our sense of pride growing stronger the further we moved from the pier. That is, until we realized the dock was still 30 feet away and we weren’t making any progress. We weren’t even a full boat length into our first trip and we had run aground.

The boat yard manager, Rick, has an accent which sounds to my ears like it could equally well be total sarcasm or brutal honesty. Amongst other things, when I asked what type of paint he thought our bottom was coated with previously, he took his time, picked at the side a bit, said “It appears to be some sort of blue paint” and walked away. When he found me painting the bottom of the boat black, he shook his head. “Dude… aren’t you going into the Pacific? Oh man… black.  Whales love black, man. Whales sink black boats all the time.” Don’t worry folks (read: Mom) upon further research, it seems that whales don’t discriminate, we’re no more likely to be attacked by a whale than the next guy in a red boat.

So when Rick told me to floor the engine if we hit a mud patch coming out of the yard, I was conflicted. After backing up to gain some momentum, we pushed our way out into open water. What a hilarious first minute.

The milestone of having our long sought after boat in our possession back in the water warrented the opening of a box of 2003 merlot we found stashed in storage by the previous owner… or maybe the owner before that. Sharing a plastic cup and pretending to like it, we raised some sail and fought the current past the ball park and downtown San Francisco in the dark.

The next hurdle in owning a boat is finding a place to keep it, so under cover of darkness we tied up at a marina (which will remain nameless) and squated overnight in an empty slip.  Very early the next morning, we snuck out before anyone could notice and tied up at a legitimate guest berth at the San Francisco Marina.

Friday night Alex and I couldn’t resist the temptation to sleep on the boat for the first time, and Saturday morning we brewed some coffee and climbed out the hatch to a perfect view of the Golden Gate Bridge.  A gathering of friends arrived around noon, and we packed 8 people onto the boat for her official maiden voyage (no mud banks this time).  The winds were fantastic, and we cruised around the bay, hiding in the wind shadow near Sausalito to cut up some cheese and bread before witnessing a mock naval battle between two tallships, fake cannon fire and all.

I suppose it’s possible that we’ll become disenchanted with the novelty, but as it stands I’ve spent the past 3 nights on the boat, going on a midnight stroll to the nearby Palace of Fine Arts, falling asleep to foghorns, and waking up to 70 degree weather in San Francisco.

If there’s a better way to do San Francisco, I’d like to see it.

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On The Hard

After last Tuesday’s haul out, we pulled tons and tons of money out of the bank to hand over to the the previous owner of the boat soon to be known Saltbreaker. Having this much money gave me all sorts of opportunities I knew I’d never have again.  Throwing it all up in the air or using a bill to light a cigar were both good options, but in the end I settled with fanning myself, throwing it out the window to Alex, and burying my roommate’s cat in Benjamins.

To celebrate buying a new boat, we went sailing in a different one.  Alex and a few friends own a cool old wooden boat, so we took that out on the bay and under the golden gate.

The whole week since then has been spent getting the new boat ready to go back in the water.  We reasoned that instead of paying the boatyard to do the bottom paint for us, we could actually save money by buying the necessary tools and doing it ourselves.  Monday and Tuesday were spent preparing for and sanding the bottom.  While sanding, I found that some previous owner had run the boat along something, gouged up the keel, and repaired it a long time ago.  Part of the repair was done with wood and this had warped over the years, leaving a gap which I had to fill with epoxy. Also, a bolt on the grounding plate had become corroded and had weakened the fiberglass around it, so I had to cut out some glass and make a backing plate to seal it back up again.

Before we go back in the water, we need to replace the zinc anodes, replace some other backing plates, replace a thru-hull, and paint the bottom and the boot stripe, so the next few days will be pretty busy.

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Haul Out

In the past several months we’ve seen dozens of boats; most of them here in the bay area, and several in La Paz. Of all the boats we’ve seen, some were out of our price range while others would potentially need years of work before they would be ready. One in particular, a Valiant 32′ stood out and we began to pursue it.

A couple of weeks ago we took it out for sea trials in the bay, and after a bit of consideration took the next step and had it hauled out of the water for a survey. Right now the ship is on blocks at a boatyard awaiting the finalization of the deal. Neither Alex nor myself are very good at negotiating, so the past few days we’ve been stressing out while trying to talk a bit off the asking price from an owner that we both like. We agreed on a number today and both sides seem happy with the outcome, so after a brief engine survey tomorrow we’ll pass the point of no return and throw untold months of hard earned money into a 32 foot ship which will be our home for the next few years.

It would be terrifying if it weren’t so exciting.

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A formal request

Laura,

My brother and I along with a dear friend will be leaving this May in a 32 foot sailboat in an attempt to complete a 2 year circumnavigation.  We’ve just finalized the purchase of our boat, and the time has come to think of a new name for her.  Among other things, the three of us are united by a love of your music and have seen you every time you make it through San Francisco.  On our way to your last SF show, we stumbled upon what we think is the perfect name: Saltbreaker.  Your music (especially the nautically themed) has been instrumental these past few years in keeping us motivated as we skimped and saved in preparation for the trip.

The reason for this email is first and foremost to keep you in the loop, and also to ask for your approval.  We’ll be sure to blast your tunes as we make our way around, so be prepared for packed houses next time you play in the Solomon Islands.  There will be a send-off party before we leave, which you are of course invited to.  More details to come if you’re interested.

Hope all is well,
Nick Kleeman
Alex Kleeman
Dave Green

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