As the family was sitting on the hook at Tolmie state park last Sunday we reflected on just how fortunate we are and how far we have come. Coming in out of the rain to a cozy warm cabin and being able to open up a truly cold beverage while Gretchen made herself some coffee, I became aware that True Love is increasingly feeling like home. This is fortunate as we are moving aboard her this fall, but this wasn’t always the case. Please enjoy our thoughts turning the corner including Gretchen’s perspective noted in “italics.”
Motoring home from Olympia after almost selling Trudy took longer than normal. There was a vibration at the time caused by some hidden motor mount damage and subsequent shaft misalignment (I would find this out later) and I was keeping the speed down to minimize the rattling of both the stove and my teeth. I was also bucking a mild flood tide. I was fine with it though, as I had a lot of thinking to do. The past week had been a roller coaster ride of highs and and lows. I had talked with Gretchen and she seemed both relieved and nervous that we were not selling. I could not reconcile in my own mind why Gretchen and I were at this particular crossroads. It was obvious that we would have to complete some major work in the very near future, something that just days before we were only too happy to walk away from; it was not clear in my mind what had changed, if anything, that would bring about success.
Looking back on it now, it is so incredibly easy to see, but at the time, I had no clue that Gretchen and I had fallen into one of the most common traps that ensnare an otherwise happy cruising couple…we were following MY dream on MY boat at MY direction and on MY terms. Yikes! In my quest for a happy sailing life, I had become oblivious to my partner’s feelings and concerns. I didn’t properly verbalize it at the time, but I did begin to make some serious changes on how we conducted ourselves. Ending would be the days of charging blindly ahead at full speed and trusting that my crew would follow. I began to engage Gretchen and the girls and to include them in the decision making process when it came to how we rebuilt and used Trudy. For the next two years, I also spent the “boatfund” money on things Gretchen and the girls wanted/needed/deserved.
It is incredibly important to feel that your needs are important to those around you. To this end, we began having family talks about what was important regarding Trudy and our time on the water. Some things that changed immediately were turning over the v-berth to the kids and spending time improving the galley. We also improved our onboard communication regarding weather and sailing plan. While I generally make time-sensitive decisions as captain, I began to explain the “why’s” much better. In return I began to see that my crew was much more comfortable and they began to understand and anticipate our needs much better as well…ain’t communication great?!?
While the new-found spirit of communication and collaboration were much appreciated, the fact remains that I needed to “own” some of the problem as well. I wasn’t engaging in our adventures; I was largely just “passengering.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was putting so much into my job that I had little emotional and physical energy left on the weekends. My participation in our time on Trudy suffered as a result, and was a contributing cause of our low point. Something had to give; Trudy and the family needed me present. I needed me present. The way I had prioritized responsibilities (job) and gifts (family and Trudy) was preventing me from truly being a part of our sailing experiences and the failed sale of Trudy was a much-needed wake up call. We had to make some changes, and that started with learning to enjoy our time on the boat again.
I can safely say that “we” decided to take some much needed time to rest and relax on Trudy over the course of the summer. We went sailing often and when it was time to go on vacation, we chose to visit Stuart Island instead of making a whirlwind trip all over the San Juans. During this time we were able to put many things into a good perspective. So many people sacrifice the good parts of life because of a false sense of duty. We define ourselves not by who we are, but by what is printed on our business cards. With two children, community obligations, two jobs, and a big project boat we just simply didn’t have enough time for any of it! Our kids were being raised by day care, our dogs were overweight, and our boat was falling behind on maintenance. We had almost given up the boat but had never considered making any other sacrifices. We began to put other things on the table and weigh them each in turn. In the end, we decided that our little community could get along quite well (and has) without both of us being active in every little meeting. We also made a decision to raise our own children which meant that Gretchen would stay at home, leaving an exciting job of inventory supervisor (can you hear the irony) at a small company.
For us, losing an entire income was actually not as bad as one might think. As Gretchen embraced the opportunity to become more sustainable, we noticed that our household finances actually improved! Now it may seem odd to talk so much about non-sailing things in a sailing blog, but nothing could be further from the truth. The process of reprioritizing all of our obligations had everything to do with sailing! It was during this time that Gretchen and I were really making the commitment to go cruising. This is not the type of thing we would decide in the space of an evening. It did not transpire over a beer with, “Well dear, do you want to give up everything you’ve been taught to value and head off on a tiny boat across a big ocean and see what happens?” The conversation took us a little over 3 years which has been a defining time in our lives.
Down to the nitty gritty. While we were happily enjoying our increasingly confident selves, we still had a couple major projects to undertake. While poking around my main bulkhead (literally) I found a spot where first my screwdriver, and then my finger went right through…so we had a bit of an interior refit to complete as you have alot of demo involved in replacing a main bulkhead. We had a deck that needed completion. We decided to make the deck out of fiberglass. There would be no fast and easy solution, just a great deal of difficult itchy fiberglass work. We also had that vibration thing to address. Each of these would be completed in order of necessity.
While I wanted to do interior work, it simply made no sense to replace the bulkhead first since deck leaks lead to rot inside a boat, so we endeavored to complete our deck. Additionally, everyone was looking forward to the prospect of having a dry, leak-free interior. The main difficulty in completing the deck work was that it was a huge amount of fiberglass work that was weather dependent. Our first efforts in rolling on the fiberglass were frustrated by the fact that a sailboat deck in the summer/early fall can get pretty hot as you apply a dark colored translucent mixture of glass and resin. Combining that with the fact that we laid the glass out in long single pieces (port and starboard) and you can imagine the frenzied activity that went into the first few layers. At times I felt like a one-man band as I was wetting out the glass with my left hand and rolling with my right with the resin kicking off just minutes after I got the last few bubbles out! I still have nightmares! And poor Gretchen trying to help…usually receiving sticky arms for her troubles. My involvement in the early stages of the project must have been humorous to watch, since I had no fiberglassing experience. I’d start out by Dylan’s side, eager and “at the ready”; very soon after I’d end up off to the side because I was slowing him down significantly and jeopardizing the work time of the resin. Fortunately, as time went by, I learned about fiberglass work through Dylan’s guidance and was finally able to become a true help rather than a hindrance.
Though Gretchen’s fiberglassing skills were developing, we needed to find a better way to add layers to the side decks. Our solution was to transform the project into a phased-in approach using custom cut fiberglass “tiles” all overlapped and applied in a stairstepped fashion. Gretchen easily would be able to cut enough tiles to keep us busy for a couple hours, and we would be able to knock it out after work in the evenings. In this fashion we were able to complete the “big scary nasty” project in manageable bites. Glassing in the evening also gave us much more working time as far as the resin’s pot life went. While we were incredibly careful doing this outdoors and ensuring not to pollute, I do feel bad that we stunk up the marina…maybe that’s why we were moved out to the best slip at the end! On one particular afternoon while we were glassing in the foredeck, Gretchen and I realized that we were in a unique position to permanently sign our work, so with a big sharpie, we all signed Trudy right before laying on the last layer of mat. So no matter what happens, Trudy will take us with her!
With the last of the tiles in place and cured, we were able to fair out the deck surface and finally, just before the winter rains, apply our non-skid. Shazam! It was AMAZING what a difference the deck project made! We were now making substantial and visible progress. Folks stopped commenting on what an “interesting project” we had. Instead, we began to hear a lot more of “nice boat.” Regular visitors to our marina noticed the improvement immediately and offered some of the kindest, most genuine compliments we have ever received. Our confidence soared! Our old springy colander of a deck was now watertight, AND it looked great!!! Moreover, we had completed the biggest, hardest, scariest project that we had. At this point we were able to replace all of the “ifs” with “whens” as we discussed the remaining projects.
After completing the deck project, we decided to take a look at why we had a nasty shaft vibration. I decided to start at the urethane shaft coupling which never seemed right to me. I discovered that it had been machined off-center when we had it modified to fit our boat after hitting the log. I was able to straighten it on our lathe and we were able to re-use it. While at it, however, I noticed that one of the motor mounts needed replacing…so we replaced them all. It was in replacing the motor mounts that we discovered that one had collapsed internally and had been riding on the engine stringers. The constant vibration had virtually sawed the mount through the glass on which the mount was bolted. Out came the epoxy and fiberglass. It took a week, but we completed the repairs to the stringers, replaced the engine mounts, and were able to properly align the engine to the prop shaft. After all that, the tooth rattling vibrations stopped and have remained at bay. I’m pretty certain the Beach Boys were not talking about the “Sloop John B” when they wrote “Good Vibrations.”
We took our sweet time before tearing out the port side of the interior to replace the main port bulkhead. With our side decks at almost 3/4″ of solid fiberglass, we were not worried about Trudy structurally. However, as you can see, we could not ignore the problem, so with a lot of plans and measurements, we demo’ed the port salon interior. I am by no means a finish carpenter, but we had decided that we would rather do the work ourselves. There was no turning back anyway. Aside from a noteable hiccup (cut the radar cable) the project went smoothly. I have glassed in bulkheads before, so cutting and fitting the bulkhead was no problem. We decided that we needed a hanging locker, so that replaced the sink and the cabinet forward of the main bulkhead (still looking for a pullman sink). The only REAL challenge was making our raised port berth in the main salon. It is not a traditional design for sure, but Gretchen and I decided that it would be a great solution as it provided a permanent place for us to sleep while at the same
time providing for some bulk storage that Trudy was missing. We added a few additional partial bulkheads and after a few deep breaths, framed and screwed, glued, and glassed in the structure. This is where I took over – hours of sanding, priming, and painting followed the installation of the bulkhead and berth, and (though close) it’s still not quite done. All that’s left is fairing out some low spots, another careful coat of paint, and it will be beautiful! As you can see, its a far sight from the earlier photo! Again, not artisan work by any measure, but good, solid and serviceable for our needs. It’s work like this that really solidifies pride in ownership.
The dates kind of blend together but the above projects took place between 2008 and 2010. During these projects, Gretchen and I have been able to continue sailing full time
and continue planning, though not without occasional setback, for cruising and living aboard. A few projects remain, but the whole family agrees that True Love is no longer a “project boat.” She is increasingly becoming our home. Late last year we made plans to move aboard and are currently preparing for the move.
When people learn that we’re moving aboard our boat, many say “I wish I could do that,” or something to that effect. My first reaction is to say “You can!”, and it’s true. But after reflecting upon the past 3 years of our life, it becomes so clear that it’s not just as simple as that; we had a long journey, full of hard choices and personal growth, before we were finally ready to make Trudy our permanent home. As Dylan said, it wasn’t something we decided one night over a beer. It was a process, and we’re by no means finished! The good news is that we’re past the difficult point, and with newfound perspective and clarity, we can enjoy the process for what it is – an adventure.
Most importantly for us, we are moving forward with our plans with our family at our center. While we don’t know what the future will hold, and no one is guaranteed their tomorrows, we are confident that we are on the right track.