25 Apr

Whose Boat Is It?

A Summary — after revisiting our boat for the first time

We landed in YVR and took a cab to the South Terminal and Seair’s docks. The only real excitement was that I had stowed my reader laxly in the front pouch of my backpack and after it toppled off the pile of luggage, I no longer had a functional ereader. Luckily I have all the books stored on both my phone and laptop, so recovery would be easy.

A 15-minute flight across a glassy calm Strait of Georgia and we had landed in Nanaimo where it was raining intermittently. We humped our luggage the two hundred yards to Stones Marina and went searching for our keys. The folks at Nanaimo Yacht Charters have opened up a chandlery on site in addition to their boat yard, and the keys were waiting at the front counter. Then, after a little less than a year, we were back aboard Never for Ever.

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First Impressions

It was weird. Lovely, but weird. The boat seemed barren: missing all the small comforts with the enclosure packed away and small reminders of her long winter sleep everywhere. She was “ready” to go but not for us.

As we hauled our bags in and started poking around, one thing became pretty obvious. She wasn’t same boat we had left behind. It was the small things like a different winch handle, a new fender, new cutlery and even new garbage cans that soon started to irritate us. After living aboard for a year we had grown accustomed to a certain routine and the small things were going to dictate that these routines would have to change or adapt. There was no logical reason to change out our small, squat bathroom garbage container that wouldn’t tip for a tall, unwieldy one that didn’t fit anywhere in the head. Was there?

It didn’t last long—the irritation, that is. We just need to make the mental shift from boat owners to charter boat owners. While Never for Ever is still ultimately “our” boat, she is no longer our boat. She belongs to a wider community now and has more than one set of caretakers making decisions based on a broader set of criteria. I’ve run into this at jobs a lot; as long as I’m the sole decision maker, things get done my way. As soon as there is a team, I have to make allowances for how things get done and base my definition of success on whether the team accomplishes the goal, not how. I can do that. Eventually.

Adding Stuff

The boat was prepped for charter so there was a full set of sheets and towels aboard. We decided to forgo immediately hitting our storage locker and instead go buy some provisions.

Two things. We didn’t check what was already supplied and we didn’t check our (deliberately extensive) lists of what was in storage. My excuse is we were tired and just wanted to get it done. So we hopped in the courtesy car and headed out. Unbeknownst to me L’s intention was to hit a Chapters first so I could replace my ereader. We ended up driving a few miles further down the Island Highway than I had intended, passing a SaveOn, a Thrifty Foods and yet another SaveOn before we reached our destination. A hundred dollars or so later we were finally wandering up and down the aisles looking for the perfect size package of rice— not so small that we would run out early, not so big that we would have too much left over after two months.

As I mentioned our failure to follow the “prior planning prevents…” maxim I so enjoy spouting meant that I didn’t realize we had tons of foil and ziplock bags aboard and things like salt and pepper and cling wrap — and more foil — in storage. We didn’t waste that much money, but it is a bit irritating to make mistakes you had gone out of your way to try to prevent. C’est la vie, I guess.

Back on board we stowed our purchases, desperately trying to remember where things went and failing. We knew the brown sugar was in the wrong place but neither of us could remember where the right place actually was. This happened again and again until we gave up and just started stuffing things in lockers. Which, now that I look back, is pretty close to what we did the first time we provisioned the boat.

Then we stowed most of our gear, stuck the rest in the garage (v-berth), made the bed and crashed for the night.

Retrieving Stuff

The next morning started with a lot of running around and by the time we knew it we were needed at the head of the dock to go have lunch with L’s parents.

Eventually we made it back the dock and grabbed a cart. Time to start hauling. We had both silently decided not to bring most of the stuff back on to the boat and then be both not so silently reneged on those intentions. Every bin contained something that would make the boat a little bit more homey — a little bit more ours — and so it all made its way down. The only things we left behind were spare pillows, the blue-and-gold duvet, the set of fleece sheets and the other sets of extra sheets.

Down at the boat we unpacked each bin — we’d been diligent and efficient last spring and they were all labeled. I think maybe four or five items went back into the bins to head back up. As we unpacked we stowed the gear, trying to remember where everything went. Over the next few days a lot of stuff shuffled as we slowly remembered where we had stowed things…usually when we unconsciously went to grab something and it wasn’t where it seemed it should be.

And we did go back and grab the fleece and cotton sheets a bit later, leaving the locker essentially empty.

And after all that the boat slowly transformed from a strange and slightly alien environment to once again take on the warmth and familiarity of home. It’s weird how a glass jar of pens or a shelf of books can redefine your space. By the end of the day we were home…mostly.

Whose Stuff Is It?

As soon as we arrived I started going through lockers to see what was what. I found a couple of new buckets, then found the old ones crammed way back in the transom locker. The bits and pieces of random line I had left behind were gone and replaced with new and different bits and pieces of random line. Half our kitchenware had been replaced with new substitutes (like our lovely red kettle), and the safety gear that had been stuffed in one locker was scattered among many. The silverware was new as were the trays it was stowed in, our cheap 4-slice Coleman toaster was gone, replaced by one of those lovely compact single-slice toasters (while we appreciated the “upgrade,” who wants to make one slice of toast at a time?), and our two glass and four plastic wine goblets had been replaced by a matching set of — smaller— plastic wine glasses. All in all it was an improvement over what we had left behind but, in another way, it was just not what we had left behind. And that was something akin to irritating.

As time wears on you notice more and more. Our low profile Camfano heater was replaced by a smaller yet taller model. I liked the Camfano :-(

And the small things get under your skin more. The properly sized frypan had been replaced by a larger and more cumbersome (albeit more practical for larger groups) frying pan that negated the ability to use all three burners. And our dish rack was missing, which changed the ritual of doing dishes. And the rituals are important and change is bad and well…

All this pettiness really did have the potential to start to sour. I was actually surprised how much I cared. But in the end, a deep breath or two, and actual conversation reminding ourselves of the difference between expectations and perceived reality, we started to settle. The boat was ours. But it was obvious the the stuff was not, and could not be, ours any longer. Not if the charter company was going to be able to provide consistent and quality service to their (and I suppose our) customers.

Some of this extended to larger boat systems as well. A winch handle had been changed out, one of our propane tanks was different, the tie down for the outboard was missing and we’d acquired an extra fender. They had even repainted the measurements on the anchor rode, but used a different system.

Over the few days at the base we kept bumping into things that weren’t quite right and kept reminding ourselves that the wrongness resided in our viewpoint and not the reality we were struggling against. It mostly worked and we mostly got used to it. And of course the people at NYCSS are great and never once looked askance at our constant notes and emails enquiring into this, that and the other thing.

Fixing Stuff

Like all boats, some things needed to be fixed. It’s interesting to note that while all the big systems had been well maintained, a lot of smaller items had escaped notice. For example, the corroded seal in the windlass had been dealt with (saving me a few boat bucks since the parts for the old Simpson Lawrence were hard to get and I’d been afraid we would have to replace the whole thing), a few leaks (which had apparently been a bigger problem than usual with the unusually wet winter) had been fixed, the cushions were cleaned and all the mechanicals serviced and maintained. But we noted right away that the dinghy painter was worn in the centre, two of the bungie cords for holding locker lines were frayed and worn, the tether for the water filler cap was broken off and the knob on the BBQ regulator was stuffed in a cockpit locker and cracked in half.

It makes sense. All of those little items were either too small to attract attention or not likely to be noticed unless you were using the associated system. We’ve spent four days settling in so far and I am still coming across small things like this. The only real issue was a white-and-black wire that had snapped off the ring connector on the buss bar in the aft cockpit locker. I have no idea what it did as everything seemed to be working, but I had them recrimp a new connector anyway. And now the shower drips annoyingly when there is pressure in the line—I guess I will have to fix that. Not having my tools (see previous post) is totally annoying.

I bought 40 feet of floating poly line and replaced the dinghy painter, replaced one of the fender lines and screwed back on a panel that had been missed. NYCSS dropped off a new outboard lock, a replacement winch handle and a new knob for the BBQ. We took a look at the filler cap tether and decided it would take too much effort to fix so tabled it for now, and they dug up the missing cushions for the settee after we noticed they weren’t aboard.

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The List Continues

We finally cast off for the short trip down the channel to anchor in Nanaimo Harbour. The sun came out and the winds died and it was a beautiful day. And the list of things that had changed continued to morph. The smoke detector was missing. Granted, it was irritatingly sensitive, but was it missing because it was broken or because they just forgot about it when repairing the leaks? The engine alarm didn’t sound when I shut down the engine, which is a bit worrisome. And my funnel for refilling engine oil was gone. That’s annoying.

But we are off. And it’s aboard our very own boat that is now messily cluttered with our stuff and frankly, who cares what toaster we use. What’s important is what we bring with us in our souls and minds and what we leave behind as we move forward.

The conclusion? I’m satisfied and so’s my perennially sensitive co-skipper. We are declaring our charter partnership a success for now and are just happy to go sailing.

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13 Apr

Liveaboard vs Cruising: The Problem with Stuff

One week and counting.

After originally planning to drive, we’ve decided to fly out to the coast and should once again be on board Never for Ever late in the day next Thursday. I can’t wait. Still no decisions on where we are going cruising, but Yahtzee is heading up the west side of the Island and I am green with envy. Maybe not this year, but dammit it’s on the list.

Moving Stuff

Unfortunately the decision to fly has introduced a few wrinkles. When we left the boat last June we put  bunch of our stuff into storage, but a bunch more stuff came home with us with the intent to take it back this spring. And on top of that I picked up some gear for my Pacific coast trip. We’d planned to haul it all back out with us in the car — I’d actually bought the bloody hatchback specifically for that purpose. But now, given the airlines current baggage policies and the added fact we are taking a float plane from YVR to Nanaimo, my well-planned gear and provision lists are out the window and we are back to square one.

So now I am going through everything and rating each between 1 and 3 to indicate their relative importance. 1’s will definitely be coming, 2’s will be fit in according to space and 3’s will most likely be staying behind.

What’s The Problem

So what’s the big deal?  Never for Ever is now a charter boat and she comes with everything one needs. Right?

And there-in lies the real topic of this post. The boat certainly does come with everything for a successful vacation and, with the added benefit of our personal blankets, linens, and various kitchen doodads we left in storage, it should be comfortable enough. But the crux is the question of how comfortable is comfortable enough? After spending a whole year aboard we grew to have certain minimum standards and expectations. Two frypans for instance. I learned to prepare a lot of things using the two pan method and now there is only one left aboard.  Oh and my Staub casserole dish, clay garlic pot, and good cutting board all make life easier. And my good knives … And that’s just the galley. I have a bunch of new books I wanted to bring out, some comfort items like bath mats, extra sheets and pillowcases, my favourite pillow, and sundries like a better first aid kit and a new sewing kit. Then there is the cordage, clips and other bits of hardware I had intended on bringing out. Add in our personal gear for two months and it’s just not all going to fit in the 35 lbs each we are allowed by Seair.

Some things are just minor (in)conveniences, our favourite blanket and laptop stand that make watching movies in the evenings a bit more comfie or some extra soft bath towels, but then I’ve got my new sailing boots, coastal jacket, and water walkers along with cold weather gear like long johns, scarves, gloves and rain gear which are bit more important. I had also intended to bring our small inverter, a spare set of binoculars, a few new LED emergency lights and a new Canadian flag.

The sailing gear box at home.

Tools. That’s the big one. I don’t have a specific boat set so I brought 90% of them home. And sadly that’s where they are going to stay this year. And that means a whole whack of boat projects just disappeared from list. Sigh.

Small Things Make a Big Difference

Again, what’s the big deal? It’s subtle but I’ll take a stab at explaining it. Like the heading says, small things make a big difference and when contemplating spending two months on a small boat before summer really takes hold, it’s truly about the seemingly minor things. For example, a good kitchen knife changed my life when I finally got one and 2 months using a bad one is just not worth it. It will be coming. And my good casserole dish? The thick clay heats well and cleans easily; it makes certain dishes easy and fun and without it a whole bunch of menu items get crossed off the list: this one is currently rated a 2 on my  1–3 scale of importance. Hell, I’m old enough that sleeping on an uncomfortable pillow is…well… uncomfortable. I want my good pillow dammit. A good night’s sleep is damn important.

Small things indeed but understand one key point: after living aboard the boat familiar routines are reassuring and their absence can allow small frustrations to build. I am a firm believer in looking after the details and letting the bigger picture take care of itself. But if I can’t take my stuff, then it’s harder to manage the details as well as I want, and then the whole trip risks seeming somehow…less-than.

But Is That Really the Issue?

Well no. The issue really comes down to the difference between living aboard and cruising.

Cruising — to me — is more of a series of small journeys strung together. You are only in each location for a short period of time so you make the most of it and put off “real life” for later. It’s relaxing (in its own way) and you live the adventure in the moment. I enjoy it, I really do. But our year of living aboard showed me that cruising (by my definition) isn’t sustainable; “life” is after all inherent in “living” aboard.

And you know what? Surprisingly I liked that. A lot.

The difference between cruising and living aboard is most easily illustrated by — although not by a long shot limited to — the tools. Things on the boat break. Or need improvement. Or just cry out for a tinkering or two when you are hanging on the hooks and looking for something to do. If it is just a cruise of week or two, or even three, you will likely just wait until you get home to have a go at repairs/upgrades etc. But living aboard means you are away full-time and these things go on the list that you are constantly (and futilely) working to reduce. It’s part of the lifestyle and frankly it’s kind of fulfilling when you McGyver the rigging in the middle of Von Donop Inlet with just what you have to hand. After all, you are just hanging there for 4 days so you might as well get something done. Right? And without the tools I won’t be able to do much without heading back to the base at Nanaimo.

A few of the things that won’t likely make it back to the boat this trip.

So there you are, dealing with life’s little problems, soaking in the lifestyle, watching the rain fall and enjoying your 3-day-old bread —that’s the life. And, just like living ashore, it is the small, personal things that made living aboard more than just workable—they made them comfortable. And comfort is my beginning point for transforming things from enjoyable to joyous. When we are comfy and toasty in our cold-weather gear, then a cold, wet sail in 25+ knots is an adventure and not a trial. When the end of a cold rainy day brings a piping hot cheese-baked pasta dish with fresh bread, it imbues that day with pleasant memories, not ones of scraping baked-on gunk off a pan. And when you finally beat that broken head into submission and emerge to breathe in the glory of an isolated inlet in our beautiful PNW, it makes a sweaty, uncomfortable, mostly gross task seem a monumental accomplishment. That and the beer you’ve been thinking about all afternoon.

But At the End of the Day

This little setback just reminds me of what I really enjoy about the boating lifestyle and the kinds of little things we learned during our liveaboard phase. Doing it again is high on my current list of possible futures so I guess we will start building some new expectations and getting ready to settle in once again.

So ya, I am a bit put out by the fact that I have to leave a bunch of stuff behind, and I have been prioritizing and re-prioritizing all week, and will likely continue to do so until we head to the airport. But I’m not really complaining, because in a week’s time I will be once again aboard our boat with nothing more important to do than just live my life and I’m grateful for that.

…I’m just not going to guarantee I won’t be spending the first few days enjoying Nanaimo’s beautiful harbour and buying everything I just scratched off my list.