We are the people who work on old things

Yes it’s true, we are now the people who work on our old boat and we used to be the people who worked on our old house.  Plaster, woodworking, repairing marble surrounds, copper flashing and mission tile roofing, replacing galvanized pipes for newly soldered copper ones, refinishing floors, repointing bricks, reglazing windows, and restoring intricate plaster crown moulding.  That was then: the house.  This is now: the boat.   Someone really introduced us to another couple that way “those people who work on their old wood boat.”  At the time it made some sense because when we were in a slip it was because we needed shore power to work on the boat more conveniently and when we were sailing we were “out there” and absent from the view of the particular fellow.   It’s an interesting life–being the people who work on their old wood boat.

But right now all I can think is “Buttercup, oh Buttercup. How many ways can you make my life interesting?”  David and I recently took Buttercup for a “spirited ride,” let’s call it. A Sunday, a glorious day of driving our 1976 Saab 99 on winding roads, dirt and paved, up hills and over mountains, and along the seashore just as Buttercup loves to be driven. The drive was a ‘post tuneup check’ to see how she was doing.  She was to have her state safety inspection the next day and I needed to make sure she was in good form.  With little bits of rust here and there, the old girl is not looking her best and it was all the more important that she pass the inspection with flying colors.

On the drive we found all was good with Buttercup except we noted the rear shocks had seen better times and further since the ball joints I’d ordered from Rock Auto had arrived, it looked like we’d be spending a day working underneath Buttercup sometime very, very soon. We’d just need to find someone to do the alignment.  As an aside — Rock Auto has amazing deals on car parts for, shall we say “elderly” cars.  A further aside, Buttercup did pass her safety inspection just fine — more or less an emissions check, the inspector must still make sure brakes, lights, and all the rest work.  Lucky for Buttercup they are not as picky as we are and they didn’t do the big sideways jiggle/push/pull thing we do on the front wheels or they’d have noted the tiny bit of a giveaway that her right front ball joint wants to be replaced and they didn’t take her on a spirited drive or they’d have known her shocks weren’t up to snuff.  Fine for normal driving but not so great for rutted country roads.  

Gone are the days where one can get a selection of good shocks for any USA-based pre-1978 Saab model 99.  Having owned our 1974 Saab 99 Pepe for his last 34 years and 400K of his half a million miles (1982-2006) and Buttercup since 1998, I know a little thing or two about shocks for the model.  Before we owned Pepe, David’s father owned the car since it was new.  David had cajoled Dad into many things that were lifetime warranted to the purchaser — and since David did all maintenance for Dad on Pepe, that meant David owned the lifetime replacement guarantee on let’s see…a JC Penny (later Firestone) battery, lifetime alignments, and even lifetime warranted Koni shocks.  We used those on Pepe for about a decade during which we re-valved a few times and then gave up. The lifetime warranted Bilstein shocks? I blew through those on our Saab 900 in less than a month. Replaced and ruined again within weeks.  Let’s not talk about the 900 for now.

Back to shocks for the 70’s era 99 models. For our Mexico jaunts in Pepe, we used different springs, lifting kit/spacers and I obtained Bilsteins meant for a particular import truck with the same vertical pin shock mounting system and a little different range of motion. Alas while that was good for our ’74 99 for many back road excursions in the 80’s and 90’s it likely contributed to every shock mount point being ripped apart (on the road) and rebuilt (in a local welding shop nearby) a few times…even those trusty (lifetime warranted) shocks were rebuilt a few times and swapped out with the Konis on Pepe until finally I gave up on them when we said our farewells to Pepe in 2006 (RIP.)  Buttercup, with her original 1976 axle is stuck with those same old-style shock mounts.  When we got the car, we put the Koni shocks on her, or maybe it was the Bilsteins — whichever ones that were not on Pepe.  A few years later we threw some KYB shocks on the car thinking “we’ll find something different, later” and so now is “later” and we see that shocks for this car are available from only a few makers.

Though David reminded me that KYB really just means “keep your Bilsteins” I had decided I’d just get some decent KYB shocks for Buttercup and probably just needed to find a local sale.  It’s so hard to justify more than the basics for Buttercup when we drive so few miles and well, we try to keep the maintenance funds together for Mahdee’s much larger appetite.  These old ladies vie for attention, that is for sure.

Yesterday when suddenly Buttercup’s passenger rear side started making a clunk-clunk-clunk over rough road spots, I thought “hum, I’ve heard that noise–the shock bushing just popped off top or bottom of that shock.” David and I both have a lot going on right now and I hate getting dirty anyway so I also thought “I have an excuse to get someone else to replace these shocks! I’ll take the car by the local auto parts place” where I’d recently seen they have a model of decent KYB shocks “and I’ll have them put a set on the rear of Buttercup.”  I texted the same to David.  He came back with “sure, ha!” implying the shop couldn’t do the work.  I won’t say he jinxed it but I will say he was right.

I looked at the estimated cost and almost just bought the shocks and took them to the workshop to install myself.  But I hate getting dirty.  I have mentioned that? It’s always dirty, gunky, yucky work to get the nuts loosened up and off of the top and bottom pins of the shocks.  It’s sometimes really difficult to do, as well.  Wesley is playing “garage king” in the workshop while we wait on an electrical part so the logistics of getting Buttercup into our workshop would involve me PUSHING Wesley out of the way…no, no, not going to happen because then I’d have to push Wesley back inside the workshop, too.  The car is heavy and there’s a lip on the concrete sill that I would find difficult to deal with.  Therefore installing shocks on Buttercup would mean doing the work outside the workshop door rather than inside. Outside on the pebble-strewn, dirty, gritty asphalt.  Nope.  Not going to do it. Nope.  And David was tied up all afternoon with other things–so much the more perfect excuse to just pay someone to do the work.  The only things Buttercup has ever had anyone besides David and I do? a couple wheel alignments when we’ve replaced tie rods or ball joints– and we had a gas tank lining installed once.  Lifetime warranted lining, I might add.  Old habits die hard.

As I was filling out the paperwork for the shop to replace the rear shocks, I wrote details of the noise and then wrote “please report whether the top and bottom bushings were in place on old shock rear passenger side and if both are in place, please do careful inspect the rear suspension, panhard arm bushings, shock mounting points, and related that might produce a clunking noise from that area.”  No work on the front suspension requested.  I  knew they’d be likely to note the right front ball joint and was in enough of a hurry that I didn’t want to deal with a full suspension inspection by them.  Because Buttercup still has her reverse lock intact, I also gave them the standard Saab bit about “key between the seats, car must be in reverse to remove key, reverse lock is annular ring around shifter knob, pull up on ring while clutch is depressed to put shifter into reverse.  Only try to remove key once the car is in reverse. Do not remove key if you cannot get car into reverse.  Just leave key in ignition if you experience any problems.”

I sat in the waiting room an hour, anxious and unexpectedly worried about that reverse lock–playing the game of odds: will they break it or not? Thinking how ridiculous it would be for this car to have survived 41 years of driving without the reverse lock being broken and having it get broken now.  The service manager came out to the waiting lounge, handed me the paperwork and said “we can’t fix your car.”  I said “fix? what fix? do you mean install? Do you not have the shocks? You cannot install the shocks?”  and he said “No, we can’t fix you car.  There’s too much wrong with it.”  I asked “what’s wrong? Is a shock mount to the body ripped out?”  thinking that even though the shock itself seemed fine, my worst fear was true and I’d have to find a local welder for the work.  “No mam, there’s just too much wrong. ”  Now I was perplexed. I asked to speak to the mechanic to find out what “everything” was.  After all, I already knew about the ball joint… maybe he was looking at the front end, not the rear suspension. I actually knew that we should replace the brake pads sometime in the next few months.  We do that as a preventative though.  Brakes are not suspension…he couldn’t be thinking about brakes?  The hard to find MetalMasters are on back order and will be here in a few weeks.  My mind went automatically spinning through the logistics of going ahead and bleeding the brakes at the same time as doing the pads. Solid rotors made for different pads.  I really like the vented ones.  No reason to change them though. But I really like the vented ones.  Finding a place to take the old brake fluid.  Does O’Reilly’s do that? How about the US Coast Guard Auto Hobby Shop? But bringing myself back to reality, today! The brakes would be no reason to say “too much wrong” and not install new rear shocks.

The mechanic, a small Hispanic fellow, came out and said “the car, it pulls a little to the left when I push hard on the brakes but other than that I could find nothing.  I don’t work on old cars.  You should take the car to the people who work on old cars.”  I ask him “what about the bushings on the top and bottom of the rear passenger shock?” and he says “the bushing is there.” And I say “did you see any other missing bushings? Panhard arm or nearby anything?”  to which he says “no.”  And I ask why he didn’t go ahead and replace the shocks.  I learn that again “I don’t work on old cars, you should take the car where they work on old cars.”

So an hour wasted and I still don’t know what is causing the clunk, clunk, clunk.  As I got in the car I noted the key was in the ignition, turned to the position to keep the radio on, the car was in 2nd gear.  Guess the guy didn’t read the instructions but thankfully he didn’t break the reverse lock. I look at the time and realize David is likely on his way to the boat very soon, riding right past our workshop, so I text David to meet me at the workshop and I drive the few blocks there.  Took a look under the car.  Missing shock bushing as suspected.  Drove the two blocks to the O’Reilly Autoparts store to purchase something to use for shock bushings thinking “we have these things somewhere… but it would take more time to find them than to buy them.”  A four-pack of generic bushings is $4.49 plus tax.  One bushing needed.  Three spares for the glove compartment.  I wonder if I’ll remember they’re there in a few years when they may be needed? Jackstands and chocks in place, David laid in the gravel and grit on the asphalt and got gunky greasy fingernails while installing the cheap bits of rubber. He has a big loopy grin on his face.  He’s happy–but won’t admit it–that the mechanic didn’t work on Buttercup.  I wonder if he even notices the dirt?

We put David’s bike in Buttercup’s trunk and drove together to Mahdee.  The clunking is completely gone.  I mused on the way home thinking of what the mechanic said “you should take your car to the people who work on old cars.”

We are the people who work on old cars.

Masts and Chocolate for the DIY-er

Trader Joe's Chocolate Cube Varnish Container
What do these two have in common?  Very little except those masts need “refreshing” aka repainting or at a minimum a good buff and wax and the chocolates are essential to successful application of paint and varnish.  See the connection? I’ll admit it’s pretty slim.  The masts get touched up with paint, buffed, and waxed next weekend since I completed the varnishing last week.

Now about the chocolate, you see, we tend to buy our chocolate in various forms from Trader Joe’s.  In these seemingly identical clear plastic cubes throughout the year.  If you don’t buy the chocolate, you don’t get the cubes. I keep the cubes because they make a great varnish container.  This one, from last year, reminds me that Trader Joe’s no longer sells the lovely Orange Sticks.  It was our favorite: orange jelly center covered with dark chocolate.  They tell us they’ll have it again someday.  We don’t believe them since it’s been a year now.

Actually, those cubes will give you pretty much a perfect varnish container if you take a couple Popsicle sticks…ummm…let’s digress a little bit more about where the sticks come from:  you get the Popsicle sticks in the summertime when it’s hot and you’ve just got to have a lime-bar.  You save the summertime Popsicle sticks for the fall varnish-fest.  You also save the plastic cubes that your Trader Joe’s chocolate came in for the same varnish-fest.  This really doesn’t take much space–even aboard a boat–just a tiny little spot in my project bin where the cubes can stack and the sticks can stand next to them.

Then, in the fall, you pull these things out because you’re ready for your paint and varnish-fest to protect all the exterior woodwork through a winter of rain or worse inclement weather.  You grab a cube and take a thin plastic baggie–of the sort that nobody buys because it doesn’t ziplock but somehow you’ve got a hundred of them and you’re not throwing them away–and line your cube with it.  After lining, you push the Popsicle sticks into the groove that once held the lid of the cube keeping the chocolate fresh.  The sticks make a press fit–and that’s the ticket to creating a wonderful self-locking-in-place drip edge that you can wipe a paint or varnish brush against as you work.  You’ll feel really clever that you found a purpose for your Trader Joe’s cubes, Popsicle sticks, and those non-zipping plastic bags that you really have no other use for but can’t seem to throw away.

At the end of the day, you let your cube sit so the varnish hardens in the plastic baggie.  In the morning, your Popsicle sticks will have a dry layer of varnish on them so you’ll remove them, replace the baggie with a clean one, push the sticks back in place on top and put your new varnish in your cube for the next day’s work.  Believe it or not, you can do this for days–or weeks in my case–as you work your way around the boat putting on your layers and layers of varnish.  No real cleaning required, either. If you’re really good, you only use one or two of your cubes and 4 to 8 Popsicle sticks.  If you’re a little messy, you might go through twice or thrice the quantity.  If you’re careless and you’ve been eating a lot of chocolate and lime-bars, well, it’s not that big of a deal to go through many, many more.  The baggie is the key to it all though.  A daily baggie keeps everything clean.  During my varnish-fest, I usually don’t clean my brushes but instead I store daily in a container of turpentine.  At the end of the -fest, I can do a cleanup of it or if I’ve been using an inexpensive chip-brush, I can throw it out. For painting, I tend to clean it or throw it out daily.

masts in the sky

Master Mariners Wooden Boat Show

We love boat shows and especially wooden boat shows but lately we have had busy times and I have been very…immobile due to ankle surgery, casts and whatnot since mid-April. Boring times it’s been. I am still on the mend but able to get out and around using something called a knee scooter. Yes, it’s pretty much what it sounds like–a scooter for your knee to rest on while you go about your activities. It’s too big for the boat–so are crutches for that matter–but works well for everything once I’m off the boat. Exactly the sort of strange looking contraption that you think you’d never be seen dead near much less using. Ah, until you’re in a situation of being a bump on a log or regaining your mobility using it! I now think it’s downright beautiful. David and I had a great weekend–last weekend–that included attending the Master Mariners Benevolent Association Wooden Boat Show.

Here are a few photos of the day.

One of the best things about visiting a boat show is seeing details of construction or the ways various boaters have dealt with similar equipment and issues to those you have.  Here is a Fortress style anchor on nice wood chocks atop the cabin of Encore, a Concordia yawl owned by Bert Damner. It was great to learn that Bert, like me, loves varnishing and, like me, hates sanding prep to varnish. anchor chocks on a Concordia Yawl

When we visit a boat show, we also often see boats that remind us of one we considered buying or almost bought.  At this show, we saw the Rhodes Design No. 398, SV Nike, a 37′ cutter rigged boat built in Maine in 1937.  She was very similar to a Rhodes cutter we once considered purchasing in Maryland.

Rhodes cutter SV Nike

A really nice thing about going to the wooden boat show at the Corinthian Yacht Club is the view of the San Francisco Bay is spectacular. Across the water in the distance is the San Francisco skyline. From the yacht club we can see boats sailing the bay, the ferry and Angel Island. It was a warm and windy day — perfect for Bay sailing, too. Spaulding Marine Center’s Freda in the foreground of this photo. There is a lovely video and photos about her restoration on the Center’s website.

Freda and the view of San Francisco Bay

I suppose the boring isolation aboard Mahdee for a couple months really has made me much more appreciative of any of the sights and sounds away from the boat. No matter the reason, I really enjoyed the boat show. The day was festive, a New Orleans-style ragtime jazz band playing on the club deck with tunes familiar to David and I. Our listening began with a series of Rags skillfully performed and as we were leaving, the clarinet led the Whining Boy and I couldn’t help myself from singing along quietly and hearing the voice of David’s godfather, Frank Gillis, singing it as he often did. The music wafted over the air mixing with the other sounds of the day perfectly. The boats were fully adorned with private signals, flags, festive ship’s dress, and burgees representing participation in various classic boat regattas. The wind cheerfully whipped the colors in a really delightful way.

Flags and Burgees

Besides burgees and signals and flags, sometimes there are a few people that you meet at a wooden boat festival who mange to epitomize the event. During the Master Mariners Wooden Boat Show this year at the Corinthian Yacht Club, that person would have to be Shelly Willard. I didn’t know Shelly before the event, but I happened to see her standing alongside one of the boats in a navy blue lace sundress complete with the perfect straw hat and nautically-themed ribbon on the hat with a big bow and long ribbons streaming down her back. Perfect. I snapped the picture below of Shelly while she was visiting one of the boats. I then learned that she is an active member of the Corinthian Yacht Club, involved with their Education and Speaker Series, and is a total wooden boat devotee who is spending a good bit of time later this summer visiting Maine, a Mecca of wooden boats.

Shelly Willard Corinthian Yacht Club

We saw boats big and small throughout the show. Most were in the 30-some-foot range but we even saw a cute little 10′ tender originally built by the Stone Boat Yard. It is the sort of tender that would have been provided to an owner of one of the big yachts built by the famous Alameda-based boat yard. The tender at the show was restored by Bill and Grace Bodle, former owners of the Stone Boat Yard and who now own and operate the Sugar Dock in Richmond.

Tender built at Stone Boatyard and restored by Bill and Grace Bodle

Another small boat that was on display, Roy Fox, a cat-rigged ketch, had the cutest little interior. A footwell of a seating space with wood stove, a v-berth, and a single burner galley co-existed happily inside. This was a boat with a place for everything and everything in its place.

Roy Fox

Roy Fox

Tiny Galley

Roy Fox tiny saloon with wood burning stove

The Liars Table

Some things contribute to the experience of living aboard and sailing Mahdee more so than others.  At the San Diego military marina Fiddler’s Cove, there’s a Liars Table made up of military retirees: veterans who have served their country during war and peace. Many of them have not only decades of service but also service-related injuries or are recipients of a disability retirement.  These vets sit at an outdoor picnic table under the overhang of one of the marina buildings. The digs aren’t comfortable but functional in that familiar way of minimalist military MWR facilities.  The spot garners a view of the entire mooring field, marina, pump out and courtesy dock.  With the view, thoughts quickly turn to the unattended boats moored here waiting for their deployed active duty owners to return from long sea tours in the western Pacific and Indian oceans or land tours in Afghanistan.  The spot catches the smell of the Pacific ocean across the Silver Strand roadway to the west with the occasional sound of surf or sounds of the Navy Seals training on the beaches there.  To the east the hazy view across the south San Diego Bay shows battleships, cargo ships, and the distant National City skyline.

Rain or shine, the veterans gather around the Liars Table in plastic lawn chairs or on wooden benches under the awning and they talk for a few hours every morning.  About their boats, the fishing, weather, the visitors from a high school ROTC sailing program, the boat that broke free of its mooring just the other day, the Navy Seal training that occasionally wakens the marina inhabitants at dawn with the sound of machine guns and grenades, or about the Osprey living atop the mizzen mast of a boat moored at the marina. Stories include which boat is for sale, which boat just sold, or which boat should be given up on.  Stories of fish–big ones, little ones, and all the ones that used to be here to catch.  Tsunamis and tides are afforded many hours of discussion.  Climate change and sea level rise, islands and dreams, everything is fair to discuss at the table.  In among the current affairs comes a story about a famous World War II vet who visited his boat here just last week, or one of the vets now jokes about an old war injury flaring up–for the last 40 years–and the next surgery to deal with it this year.  All ages may gather at the table but the younger ones seem to have places to go and people to see whereas there is a tendency towards Vietnam or earlier era veterans to linger and watch the morning unfold and the marina come to life with children’s classes in the summer or just the downpour of rain and the dockmaster checking lines for those deployed military absentee boat owners in the winter.

When we re-launched Mahdee, we kept her at the courtesy dock for a couple months.  These were months of working on the rigging and deck fittings.  Putting it all back together again.  I spliced lines and wires.  I have no idea what those at the table talked about as I did my work but pretty much every day one or two or three would individually come down to the boat and chat a bit before or after making their way to the table.  One, a veteran who’d graduated from the Naval Academy in 1953 at the end of the Korean War–retired Navy Commander Gerry Laughlin–brought me flowers and lemons from his garden in nearby Coronado and shared sea stories about his coastal exploits aboard his Grand Banks, Marjak.  Others at the table shared bits of advice and many words of encouragement as David and I went about the tasks of getting Mahdee to a seaworthy state again.  One of the fellows, Steve, gave an antique water pump to us that had been originally installed aboard Mahdee but given to Steve by Mahdee’s previous owner.  He brought it back to be used aboard Mahdee once again.  The same fellow lent us guide books for the Pacific Northwest and Alaska when he learned about our planned trip there.

When returning to Fiddler’s Cove Marina after a few days anchored in the San Diego Bay or after a lengthy coastal passage, we tend to come in and approach the mooring or the courtesy dock in the morning hours before the winds come up.  The timing is perfect for the Liars Table to be full of spectators watching the approach.  Early on–silently they watched.  I wondered if they were waiting for the crash of Mahdee into the dock as I, the woman aboard, was typically at the helm because the stronger and more nimble David was playing line duty.  On later approaches, as no spectacular crashes seem to have materialized, they would watch us with smiles and waves and cheerfully called out compliments as I brought Mahdee in between the other boats at the dock or as we’d row in from the mooring field and walk up to the marina.  The Liars Table definitely contributes to our enjoyment of the experience of Sailing Mahdee: life aboard a 1931 schooner.
Fiddler's Cove

A day in the life…time lapse videos

Sometimes we do time lapse videos using the GoPro camera.  We set it up on the boom gallows where it gets to take a shot every few minutes … until the battery dies or we remember to turn it off for the day.  I decided to post these videos from time to time.  Here’s a a look at one.  This is one of our day as we are going from Sandy Beach to Wachusett in Glacier Bay National Park. Six hours in 28 seconds.

 

glacier_bay_north_sandy_beach_to_wachusett

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