Blue water, green land

It’s been a while now since last time we went cruising. I am lucky enough to go out for quick daysails with James Baldwin on his F27 trimaran in St.Simons Sound. Tranquility is chained to the dock, her interiors are torn apart once again, tools and building materials scattered all over and a rich ecosystem of sea creatures is growing on her hull.

Trimaran

Tranquility tied at the dock
Tranquility tied at the dock

The long-term landlubber world is back with sweet and sour feelings. The awe for huge size fridge and freezer, water and ice dispenser, laundry anytime, full size shower and wide spaces is slowly disappearing and fading behind the curtains of normality and habit.

From this safe and comfortable territory the visions of the open ocean are haunting me. As frequently happens for the process of remembering, which is bounded to the sense of smell, what keeps stalking me is the smell of blue waters. Out there, starting dozen of miles from the coast and extending to thousands, there is a peculiar smell, a smell of fresh air and spindrift, a smell of gliding birds and jumping fishes, a smell of biomass drifting just below the surface busy in their photosynthesis and cellular respiration cycles, a smell of clouds and winds and evaporation and condensation. This is blue water smell.

This is where you find blue water smell
This is where you find blue water smell

When you miss something you start to recognize its value. That’s how I feel now that we have to stay on land for some more time, looking for a future departure that has not a date yet. The comforts of life in the society are not enough to nourish a soul who experienced the blue water. I feel that too much comfort is killing me.

But life on land is not without pleasures. I am enjoying having breakfast in the backyard, in company of a wide range of color and sounds. The squirrels are busy running up the pecan trees, birds are quietly scooting around, flying bugs patrol the weeds. Behind the fence I face while sipping my coffee lays a whole universe of intricate vegetation. This adjacent lot is part of the priopriety but has gone fallow, and when that happen in South Georgia you have to expect a massive uncontrolled growth. And so, among the duties of a busy land life and the never ending boat works, we are fashioning to embark in a new adventure: recapture the jungle and make it livable, ensuring a good level of biodiversity and creating a little and safe niche for human activities.

Safe Backyard facind the jungle © Kate Zidar
Safe backyard facing the jungle © Kate Zidar

The first step of this adventure started cutting the combination lock of the gate with the grinder. Once the access was granted we started the exploration of the jungle and made our own way to the creepy shed buried into the vegetation. Inside the shed we found any kind of treasures, including a couple of chairs to add to the collection of the backyard, more tools for the garden, building materials, a lots of other items all piled in a chaotic way.  After this first incursion, we withdrew behind the safe line of the fence to elaborate a future attack strategy.

Conquering the shed © Kate Zidar
Conquering the shed © Kate Zidar

This gardening adventure is keeping my mood up from the blues of blue water nostalgia as I am elaborating a personal project: I would love to make a place for Zen meditation practice inside the garden. I think it’s a good way to immerse myself in the nature and temporarily substitute the smell of blue water with the smell of a garden. The presence of nature is very important to me, there I find real comfort in this increasingly industrialized and technological society.

The dream boat

I am expert in sanding. I can’t say I have a formal training but I achieved many hours of hands-on the job. Wood, metal, fiberglass, epoxy, I dragged sanding paper of different grits on many surfaces wrapping it around fingertips, hands, blocks or machines. Some times it’s a precision job that requires eye-hand coordination and caution. Some times it requires brute force and endurance. But the main skill to achieve a quality finish is to be focused and present while doing the job. Of course this is valid for every human activity but it’s particularly difficult when sanding.

Sanding teak trim

Sanding is mainly a slow and repetitive task, even when using power tools. It is also a labored task, that requires more mental and physical toughness than one could suspect. When you sand for hours it’s not a big deal. You gather your patience and you actively watch the progress of your work, adjusting your action to achieve the perfect finish.

If you are busy with extensive surface restoration or large paintjobs you may need to sand for days. In this stage it’s important also to divide the work in little areas and make sure you complete one job before moving to the next one. Concentration is very important.

When you are restoring every surface on several different projects that’s weeks and weeks of endless sanding with several passages over certain areas to blend everything together in a smooth composition. At this stage you establish a deeper connection with the surface you are working on. You start to notice that objects have singular details and characteristics and you may think you are bonding with them.

When you are counting your sanding time in the order of months it’s a survival situation. Just stay alive and don’t lose your mind!

When I was living in New England I was a dedicated participant of Zen meditation groups. The technique can simplistically be described as mind training in self-awareness: observing thoughts as they wander in different directions without fighting them but trying instead to bring the focus back to the present situation, here and now, that usually is you sitting on a cushion inside a room with other people staring at a wooden floor.

The natural tendency of the mind is to keep weaving an internal conversation, putting in line positive or negative judgments about ourselves or other people, entertain with stories about the past or dreams about the future. The meditation setting and the constant practice have the purpose to give you some rest from the unstoppable noisy chatter of your mind, and to let it dissipate allowing yourself to reach a primitive state of no-mind, the “don’t know mind”.

After too much sanding in boat restoration projects my mind broke loose of all the Zen techniques and started to escape rushing in a daydream modality. I failed in redirecting my concentration, and instead of engaging in a useless fight I encouraged this spontaneous roaming, as a prototypical member of Homo Ludens (alternatively, “Playing Man”) species would do.

 There is no life I know

To compare with pure imagination

Living there, you’ll be free

If you truly wish to be

Willy Wonka

After some time I noticed that this ludic vagabonding has its center in a main topic: building the perfect cruising yacht having an unlimited budget. I am not proud my thoughts gravitate spontaneously to a complete pointless activity: I don’t have an infinite budget and it seems nobody is willing to grant me such a sum. As if that was not enough I should aim my thoughts and energy towards a more realistic target: improve Tranquility and make her a good boat to sail ocean passages.

So even if the power of imagination provides me with an unlimited budget, a team of expert designers and boat-builders working for me I am not envisioning a 100ft luxury yacht with all the luxuries and toys on the market. I am a modest dreamer and I can see in this world of imagination is a 38ft cutter rigged mono hull named Arctic Tern.

She would be a fast cruiser, with the minimum internal living space to comfort for a 2 adults who may get 4 more people as guests. Artic Tern has a narrow beam and her lines are very close to the waterline. She would be as light as possible and built using composite materials, with Kevlar for the underbody and areas of great stress, and carbon fiber for the rest. All the systems would be simple, although built to the highest standard and quality. A simple and solid and safe sailing machine comfortable for ocean passages and that can sail fast enough to make the experience enjoyable. Even if this project is “modest” compare to what’s actually sailing the ocean nowadays, it will be several hundreds of thousands dollars or even a million. But this is not a problem as in the world of imagination I can spend all the money I want to get the perfect boat.

There is no perfect boat, no matter how much money and good ideas you have. I feel this wandering through imaginary worlds is giving me relief from the hard truth I am facing. My boat is kind of slow and pretty cramped for two people, and I can’t afford to hire specialists to upgrade her to the maximum extent. I have to be the specialist so it’s better to study (and dream) as a specialist. The more I dream about non-existent boats the more I get ready and learn about real boats and different designs.

Tranquility is giving me the hardest task: the budget is very tight as well as the space on the boat. On Tranquility there is no room for surplus or amenities, everything must be essential and some times having fewer choices is harder.

The dreams are on everyday, I can’t have control over them. Sometimes is Artic Tern knocking at the door, or Tranquility rebuilt anew or fast trimarans, dinghies and other imaginary crafts. I am starting to accept the visions as they uncoil behind my eyes, they snatch me and then leave me behind with wide open eyes, making me wonder if I already sanded that surface of the boat or not.

Not all those who wander are lost – J.R.R. Tolkien

 

The Grand Plan

© Kate Zidar
© Kate Zidar

Slowly, thoughts about the future arise from the fog of the present. It is a real fog, like the one that surrounds the Golden Isles during winter. From our boat we observe the foggy mornings and evenings, these interstitial moments that keep on hold the passage between nights and days.

We are recovering from our trip. It’s not a physical recovery I think that has already happened. I am talking about the recovery from escaping winter and from our first cruising together, me, Kate and Tranquility.

This trip was very demanding. We sailed in cold weather, on a boat we have never sailed before and that we fixed all by ourselves. We also encountered challenging moments onboard as running a boat depends on a good interpersonal coordination and this is also something we are finding along the way. Everything went extremely good but the trip took its toll.

The fog is where we are hiding now, resting and meditating. Gathering all the resources to open a new chapter. Tranquility is patiently waiting for more upgrades to come. She is also probably tired of us too and we avoid touching her. There are budget restrictions of course, as we are still doing it on a shoestring and that’s also why the work has not happened yet. But it’s true that after the hurry to launch and get away from the cold weather we have the chance to think more deeply on what we need to happen to improve Tranquility. When the wind blows away the fog we start to see a Grand Plan and we are struggling to catch it before it vanishes again.

Storage

This is Tranquility’s Achilles heel. We are carrying too much stuff and at this time we don’t have good storage solutions. We hope that soon we can let go of very bulky winter clothes that literally saved our life but that are becoming less and less necessary.

The V-Berth became our throw-in space but now we need some serious carpentry work to lock objects in place and allow easy access. We are envisioning two long shelves that run on both sides on the V-Berth and that can accommodate storage boxes and light objects. We can dig more storage spaces adding a shelf on the quarter bunk and opening areas in the dinette, as well as reconfiguring the navigation desk. But the key would be to get rid of unnecessary weight and redistribute it along the boat. Keep it simple.

Electrical system

I am reconsidering the idea to step down to a single battery bank that operates both the engine and the appliances adding voltage converters. This will reduce the number of batteries from 10 to 8 without losing too much power. Thanks to the donation of a solar tracker mount we will be able to fit a 60W solar panel on the stern rail.

Plumbing

The repair of the leaky water tank under the v-berth is now a priority. 25 more gallons will give us at least one week of basic autonomy during passages, extending considerably our sailing range. The hook up of seawater in the plumbing system it’s another upgrade we are expecting to complete. Even if it’s not a priority right now that we are in a marina, it will be crucial when we sit at anchor for long periods.

Sails & Rig

Our sail set performed very well in the North Atlantic. Our sail wardrobe is suitable for medium to strong winds, but we lacking in the extremes. We need sails for lighter winds (Code 0 and Asymmetrical Spinnaker) as well as storm sails for extreme conditions (you never know). To accept this upgrade we have to rig up a trysail track and a whisker pole on the mast and place a mini-bowsprit on the bow.

Self-steering gear

We can’t do a long passage without a self-steering solution anymore. It’s too tiring and unnecessary.  A good wind autopilot it’s a lot of money but sooner or later has to land on Tranquility’s stern, we hope we won’t leave Brunswick without one. It will couple with an electronic tiller-pilot when we need to motor or when the apparent wind is not enough to operate the wind vane.

Safety

Our stanchions and lifeline need a proper reinforcement at the deck level, as well as most of the deck hardware. We are also designing modifications that will  transform our dinghy in a lifeboat, adding closed cell foam collars to increase buoyancy and prevent capsizing.

Comfort

We ordered new “luxury ultra-firm” foam for our mattresses. We decided to leave Fairhaven with the old set but the foam lost all the firmness and sleeping is not very comfortable. We understand now that small luxuries make a huge difference on a boat, especially when they concern health and comfort.

kunaya
© Fabio Brunazzi

This is the Grand Plan as it’s forming in our minds. The details are not revealed yet as they unveil as we proceed. We hope to conclude these enhancements before the end of the summer, to have some buffer time for tests and further adjustments. The list seems pretty small but as we know it will expand in endless tasks, tedious preparatory work and sure annoyances. At that point, if we survived we should be ready for the wind and the ocean.

Zen and the art of bringing the scale back to zero

I’ve survived a two days zen retreat last weekend. Being a beginner I had no clue how hard and disciplined a retreat in a Zen monastry can be. My longest sitting has always been 1h30minutes once a week and being in a meditative modality for two entire days it was like climbing a mountain without an adequate training. But I did it! Thanks to the perfect leadership of the Zen Providence Center’s staff, to the pure energy of the Teacher Nancy and to the presence of many beginners like me I survived this hard test.

I bring home countless insights and a renewed energy from the retreat and also a very beautiful image that has the power to describe exactly the effect that Zen meditation has on me.


In one of the rare breaks during the retreat I started to read a book of Zen Master Seung Sahn. It was about the letters he exchanged with many students in the years of his teaching. In one of these he uses a wonderful metaphor. Seung Sahn says to a student that we are like a scale that has a natural balance in the zero, the end of the scale. When we weigh an object the needle reaches the position corresponding to the weight of the object. When we remove the object from the scale the needle returns to zero. Zero is the position of peace and perfect balance before thinking, that is, when we are free from delusions, situations and suffering. Whenever we go through a situation, an event, an emotion the pointer moves to indicate the weight. If other thoughts and emotions are added before we unload the scale may break. Practicing meditation helps to go back to this state so we are able to face new challenges and hassles without breaking down.