Tuesday, January 29, 2013


A $100 worth of varnish peeling off.
Today was the dreaded V-Day, the day we've long put off to start varnishing the teak on Flying Cloud. When we bought the boat it had sat unattended for some period of time and the varnish was beginning to fail on the exterior cap rails (the top trim piece that goes around the top of the deck all around the boat) and companionway hatch boards. Ironically, Taswell sailboats are renowned for their incredible teak, especially their all-teak interiors. Taswell's have gorgeous light colored teak interiors that are the equal to those on luxury yachts. It seemed like we owed the boat some work to keep up its pedigree. 

Now that we were ready, the weather wasn't. For the last several days it's been blowing about 25 knots out of the east, which means that our companionway is essentially the opening to a wind tunnel. I like a little ventilation as well as the next guy, but this has been ridiculous. Boeing could test airplane models inside our boat. So V-Day had to be put off for several days.

Today's gentle breeze, however, meant we could wait no longer. We dug out all the varnishing paraphernalia from its storage location deep in the bowels of the boat: heat gun, scrapers, scraper sharpeners, sandpapers of various grits, sandpaper holders, varnish, turpentine, brushes, stir sticks, tack racks, foam brushes, and so on. Two plastic boxes full of just varnish stuff.

 We began by first taking photos of all the locks, hinges, latches, etc. that would have to be removed from the companionway doors. It seems we can never remember what goes where when the varnishing is completed. We then labeled everything so we'd have at least a sporting chance of getting it back together.

The next step is removing the 8 to 10 coats of varnish on the cap rails. To do this we use a Milwaukee heat gun, one of those tools craftsmen speak of with quiet reverence. It essentially puts out enough heat (1200 degrees) to melt some metals. You carefully aim the nozzle towards the varnish you want to remove and try (try is the key word here) to avoid the varnish you don't want to remove, or plastics or other flammables. If you are smart, you will have taped off all the important areas to be protected, but hey, we're professionals here and don't need no stinking masking tape. Then you slowly apply nuclear heat to the varnish until it begins to bubble (but not enough to burn the wood .... the time difference between these two states is measured in microseconds).

What are the odds that either the heat gun or scrapper will fall in the water?
Slowly you move your scraper along the softened varnish (Did I mention I'm leaning over the side of the boat which is rocking back and forth from the wakes of passing boats?) which hopefully peels up Goldilocks-type curls of old varnish. Of course if it doesn't you apply more brute force to the scraper, which then either slips and slices your wrist open, 2) gouges the fiberglass next to the wood, or 3) slices across the grain of the wood like some slasher from a horror movie. Normally these long curls of former varnish fall to the floor, unless of course the wind picks up in which case they all blow into the cabin where the wife is sitting and beginning to get pissed-off.

We also had to take of 88 ft. of stainless steel rub rail with 176 screws.
Once all the varnish is removed, you get to crank up your second favorite tool, the fabled Porter-Cable SpeedBloc sander, with enough RPMs to have a gyroscopic effect when it starts. This power sander is the sander all other sanders want to be when they grow up -- a beautifully engineered piece of machinery. With those 15,000 RPMs comes one downside, lots and lots of dust. Normally I like teak dust but the wife doesn't share my eclectic tastes. Now imagine a 10-knot breeze kicking up and blowing all this teak dust into the saloon where she's sitting working on her computer (and still pissed off from all the Goldilocks curls that blew in earlier). Well, we don't have to go there, but you get the idea (this eventually resolves into lots of dirty looks and a three-hour extended shopping trip for therapeutic purposes). With the boat now totally covered in dust it's now time to bring out Mr. Vacuum and try to suck up all the strata layers everywhere before wife gets back from shopping trip. Stay tuned tomorrow for tips on how to spill varnish all over the boat.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The 6 of Diamonds

It all started quite innocently, a great day at the beach, a fabulous lunch at Sea Spray, and Meryl's delicious tacos on the boat. Then, sitting around the saloon table nursing a drink, someone mentions a game of cards. But we need to regress a little before going forward. Over a period of about 20 years we have enjoyed an annual camping trip in the Washington Cascade Mountains with our friends Patsy and Steve Larson and Scott and Georgia McRae. Patsy was the one who introduced us to an innocent card game called "Screw Your Buddy" (there are other derivations of the name). If you knew Patsy, you would be shocked she would even say the word "screw" in mixed company. The game starts innocently enough with four cards being dealt to each player, with a card turned over from the deck to start play. The goal is to rid yourself of all cards by laying down a card matching the suit or number of the exposed card during your turn.

Sounds simple enough. You see a 10 of Hearts and you either lay down a Heart or a 10. If you are like me and fancy yourself a good card player, you feel you can easily master this simple little game -- I mean it's not exactly Contract Bridge. There are a few little quirks to the game that make it interesting. If someone before you plays a 2 or a 4, you have to pick up 2 or 4 cards. This usually happens when you are only one card from winning the game. Can be very frustrating.

Since Patsy is the keeper of the rules and we play the game infrequently, she receives occasional emails from me to refresh myself of the protocols. It seems with each email I receive, there is "one more rule I forgot to mention" which completely changes the outcome of the game. Such it was last year when we learned if someone puts down a 4 ahead of you, and you have the 5 in the same suit, then that person has to pick up 5 cards instead of you picking up 4 cards. Could be devastating if you had only a few cards left and thought you were on the way to winning. This year's email added another twist, if the person before you plays the 5 against your 4, and you have the 6 in the same suit, they have to pick up six cards. Super devastating. So back to our game. I generally make it a practice never to play with people who used to have summer cabins where they sat and played card games while on vacation. Now I don't know if that was the case with our friend Irene, but I had my suspicions. She had "the look." We had decided to introduce Paul and Irene to a friendly game of "Screw Your Buddy." It took a few rounds for them to understand the rules and strategy and for us to remember all the permutations of the rules, but they seemed to pick it up quickly. None the less, I was confidently (some might say smugly) leading in points (meaning I had less points ... and you play to 500) during the first several rounds.

Then (as the sailors say), the tide began to turn. Irene, who was seated "upstream" of me, seemed to be getting the concept of giving me 2's and 4's. Again, with a comfortable lead and years of experience playing the game, I preserved and managed to eke out only 10 to 20 points per hand. Then on the next hand, with only a single card separating me from certain victory, Irene lays down the dreaded 4 and I (with that smug look on my face) whipped out the 5 accompanied by some sort of trash-talking comment hoping to put an end to her aggressive play. It had its intended effect.

With the game continuing and my lead holding, I regained my confidence and assured myself that victory was only a few hands away. I was once again on the cusp of victory when Irene again let the 4 of Diamonds slowly drop from her hand. With some sort of derogatory remark, I quickly threw down the 5 of Diamonds to finally put her in her place. Without losing a beat, she slammed down the 6 of Diamonds and watched as I went into apoplectic shock. It is rare for a 5 to be played in response to a 4. I've only seen one during a whole night's play. It's very rare for two 5's to be played during a game. And it's unheard of for a 6 to be played in response to a 5, yet there it was. Rather then trash talk me back, Irene sprang from the table and began a credible version of the "Funky Chicken" to bring her point home. It was all downhill from there. As my scores quickly deteriorated, Paul simply declined to read out the scores in deference to me. Let's just say I got to 500 very quickly that night.

As I said, don't play cards with guys named Lucky or women who may have stayed in a summer cabin with her card-playing family while on vacation.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Exploring Hope Town

Vernon, the king of quotes.
We spent the morning snorkeling in some fairly calm water on the east side of Elbow Cay in the Atlantic Ocean. The beaches sloped steeply uphill, reminders of Hurricane Sandy, but still a beautiful beach with water just the right temperature and some nice coral reefs to view. Following our snorkel we took a little rest and enjoyed the sunshine on the beach. For Paul and Irene, coming from Seattle with typical Jan 30-40 degree rain/snow it was like heaven.

We decided to tour the town and bee-lined it for the best local homemade ice cream shop, "Sugar Shack", of course, just in time for lunch and well worth it! We also visited one of the local grocery stores, Vernon's and picked up some delicious fresh baked bread.

Vernon is a local legend in Hope Town with hundreds of quotes and witticism's posted throughout the store. Many locals are lifetime inhabitants with relatives dating back to 1785, when the Loyalists founded the island. Vernon promises us fresh coconut bread and key lime pie tomorrow.

Those are Vernon's quotes hanging from the top of the rack.
During our visit last year, we had stayed on a mooring ball for a couple nights, which is a nice compromise between anchoring and staying at a dock. You still have your own space with the nice breezes to keep your boat comfortable. This year we decided to stay at the Hope Town Inn and Marina for a number of reasons; convenience for guests, power and water for our upcoming varnishing project, great off-season pricing with our Royal Marsh Harbor Yacht Club membership, and a newly renovated facility with a terrific pool and restaurant-bar. We spent part of the afternoon with our books and drinks by the pool. Having Paul & Irene visit us meant we could take a little mini vacation as we don't always take breaks from the demands of a cruising life-style.

A beautiful woman finally gets some time to relax.
Later that afternoon, we walked over to the Hope Town Lighthouse, which is still in used in a traditional way, using a small kerosene-fueled mantle and a huge rotating glass Fresnel lens to send a beam of light as far as 20 miles. The lighthouse requires the hauling of 5-gallon drums of kerosene with a pulley system up the open stairway to keep the light operating.

We climbed to the top and took in the view and marveled at how they still maintained the lighthouse with technology from the 1860's. It is said Hope Town was once very prosperous from shipwrecks off the island salvaging the cargo and usable parts of ships. Some local residents tried to protect their livelihoods by sabotaging the construction of the lighthouse.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Welcome to Paradise

We love having guests join us on Flying Cloud, but getting ready for their arrival is usually a major fire drill. You make many concessions when living on a boat, the biggest of which is living in the space of a large closet. Since the Conner's genetically travel light, we have the entire menagerie of books, tools, snorkeling gear, fishing poles, grill for the BBQ, suitcases, canvas boat bags, bikes and kayaks. Most of this lives in the guest berth, which we fondly refer to as "the garage." It is piled high with junk; so much so that we have to tie everything down when we go offshore least we have a major junk avalanche at sea.

Since many of our guests would take umbrage at sharing their berth with a bicycle or kayak, all of this stuff needs to find a home somewhere else prior to the guests' arrival. So for the last few days we've been frantically searching out new locations for all our stuff. The suitcases go at the foot of our bed, the kayaks go on the foredeck, the bikes behind the granny bars at the base of the mast, and everything else gets stuffed -- and I do mean stuffed -- into the forward storage locker. When we're finally done stowing everything, I marvel at the uncluttered guest berth and smile as Meryl fluffs the pillows and puts a nice note and a piece of chocolate on the bed.

Now soaked in sweat, we take a quick shower and rush to catch the 3:00 pm ferry boat from Hope Town to Marsh Harbor, about six miles across the channel. Luckily there is a taxi waiting so we jump in and urge the driver (Paulette) to make haste to the airport since we're now running late. Paulette shows little concern and coyly points out the airplane circling overhead as we approach the airport. I forgot that small town airports are like that.

We jump out of the cab just as the plane taxis up and prepare for an hour-long wait as our friends clear Bahamian Customs. Trying to compose ourselves we peek into the customs hall (the size of a small living room) only to see our former neighbors, and long time friends Paul and Irene Ballew walk through the door. We quickly assume our "laid back in Paradise pose" and welcome them to the Abacos. For someone from Seattle I'm sure they are just happy it isn't raining.

Paul and Irene land in Paradise.
Paulette is still waiting so we pile into the cab, exchange a years worth of news, and amazingly make it back to catch the 4:00 pm ferry to Hope Town. While they have traveled extensively, Paul and Irene are swivel-necked as the ferry passes by drop-dead waterfront homes and picturesque islands and reefs.

Hope Town Inn and Marina.
The entrance to Hope Town is especially interesting as the channel narrows down to almost nothing and then does a dog leg right and left to enter the hidden harbor, once a favorite haunt for pirates. The ferry drops us off at the Hope Town Inn and Marina and rather than rush down to the boat we stop at the beautiful outdoor bar/pool to have a drink and relax.

Outdoor lunch in Hope Town is radically different than an outdoor lunch in Seattle in January.
Thanks to our orders of a locally invented drink, the Goombay Smash (1 oz. dark rum, 1 oz. coconut rum, 1/4 oz. apricot brandy, 2 oz. pineapple juice, and 2 oz. orange juice . . . and remember, rum is cheaper hear than water), we are feeling no pain, or our tongues for that matter, after a few drinks. To acclimate them we also order an appetizer of conch fritters, a first time food treat for the Ballews (tastes just like chicken).

After a short walk down to the dock we introduced them to their new closet, err guest berth, for the next week. A tradition when guests arrive on a cruising sailboat is the giving of gifts, in this case six fan belts for the engine and genset, one Balmar electronic regulator, six cruising guides to the Windward/Leeward islands, and three large cans of WSU Cougar Gold cheese. Now Paul knows why I urged him to "pack light and leave a little extra room in your bag." It's not true that cruisers refer to arriving guests as "my parts delivery service."

Meryl prepared a great mixed salad and Paul and I experimented with blowing ourselves up as we tried to keep the BBQ lit in the 10-knot wind while cooking steaks. After a great dinner in the cockpit (the temp actually dropped down to 75 degrees) we retired to the saloon to get caught up on our lives, careers, kids, and especially, grand kids.

What a great evening with great friends.