Feb 052013
 

Well wow, it’s been so long! Sorry I haven’t been writing, folks. As you will momentarily be reading, I have been at my grandmother’s since late December caring for her while she recovers from colon cancer. It has been a real roller-coaster ride, and seems finally to be at an end. With some great timing, I learned that my application for a Work and Holiday visa was approved yesterday, so I will in fact be heading back to Oz sometime soon! Anyway, this is something I’ve been working on for a while as a reflection on my time as a care giver. Finished it last night. Enjoy and share, please.

 

While I was on the phone with my mom the other day, I came up with a perfect analogy for time spent with my Grandma. It’s like a game of mine-sweeper. You never know when you’re going to hit a bomb, but then again, sometimes you get lucky.

The last week with Grandma has been mostly uneventful, but I am acutely aware that it has been exactly a week since her last major outburst, making us due for one at any moment. It’s difficult living this way, not knowing when her gentle sweetness will suddenly turn to irrational wrath. It grows anxiety inside of me as a knot in my stomach or a fluttering heart, and I know it isn’t healthy.

In my best moments I find ways around this anxiety by turning my attention elsewhere, exercising, or using conscious breathing to calm my nerves. But unfortunately these are false cures because, as we all know, it’s only a matter of time before she erupts again. And when she does, my cycle of shock, anger, resentment, resigned duty, and suspicious optimism will begin anew.

Caring for an aging grandparent with a history of erratically abusive behavior presents so many challenges and paradoxes. The first is the question why? Why give my love, time, and patience to someone who has acted so cruelly through the years?

I was fortunate with this one. I had the opportunity recently to spend quite a bit of time with my grandmother, during which I was able to see her in a new light. The tough, caustic exterior that I’d known all my life made fewer appearances than usual, and several times during brief, middle-of-the-night conversations, I saw a vulnerable, forlorn, and troubled self-awareness that I’d never known to exist in her. My compassion and empathy for what I see as a life-long inner struggle was awakened, and I felt bonded with her enough to want to reach out and care for her when she needed someone.

The second paradox is how to give care to someone even as they are pummeling you with verbal abuse, and even as you are aware of their level of dependence on you. Clearly infirmity or age is no justification for cruelty, and the only real response is to remove yourself from the line of fire as quickly and un-dramatically as possible. But when the petulance descends at 5:00, and it’s your responsibility to provide dinner at 6:00, what do you do? The little angel and devil sit on my shoulders. One urges me to show equal compassion to myself by leaving. The other injects me with guilt and fear over neglecting my duties.

And although the culture around care-giving is now sophisticated enough to recognize the potential for damaging ferocity in the frailest of little old ladies, even so, one asks oneself: “Shouldn’t I be able to rise above this?” Paradox three, similar to number two but distinct: How is it that someone with so few faculties at her disposal can so efficiently inflict emotional harm?

Again, I was lucky on this count. I did not grow up with this woman harping and haranguing me, pulling my hair, screaming, blaming, shaming me. When she screams at me that I am a terrible care-giver, that I’m lazy and irresponsible, I know it’s not true and it does not strike a painful chord within me.

What gets to me is knowing how SELF-destructive her behavior is, that by pushing me away, she is quashing her own blessings and opportunities. This time, an angel sits on each shoulder. One sadly points out that appeasing her will only encourage her virulence, tells me to give tough love, to leave if I need to. The other one takes pity on her, tells me to walk away if I have to, but to come back when I can and try to forgive. I try to keep a balance of both, and I cautiously report that so far her mood swings seem to be lessening.

The last, and in some ways the most challenging contradiction is the depth of love and admiration I have developed for someone who can so easily turn from a determined and adoring elder into a temperamental and vicious tyrant. On a daily basis, I am awed at the iron grip she keeps on a lifetime of duties and standards, be it spending a full 30 seconds to bend over to pick up the tiny scrap of paper marring an otherwise clean floor, or the holiday letter she sends out annually to over 100 people that she’s befriended over the years.

I watch her slowly go through the process of bathing, dressing, and drying her hair without a thought to asking for help so long as she is physically capable of doing it herself. Daily tasks that for most of us takes less than five minutes is a project for her. She may yell at you for helping her with her jacket incorrectly, or grouse about her extremely poor memory, but she never, ever whines.

How easy it is to grow frustrated at the pace of the elders in our care, to chastise them for the vices that hamper their health or recovery. The truth is, they’re as human as we are, and have faults just like we do. I try to admire my grandmother’s strengths, and understand her weaknesses, knowing that when I’m her age, it’ll be just as hard for me to tear myself away from my computer.

There is a bitter-sweetness to these feelings because my grandmother also happens to be a punishingly demanding and critical person. It’s hard to feel compassion and respect for someone who is so selfish and cruel. In the end, I guess it’s my own selfish desire for a good feeling inside that allows me to overlook her unforgivably harsh behavior. This has been a life-changing experience for me, one that has taught me so much, and one that I will always value and remember. I want to hold on to that.

Dec 192012
 
This is an old photo of me on my very first schooner! These cabin tops were finished with Deks Olje, a two-part finishing product that doesn't fall into any of the categories mentioned here.

This is an old photo of me on my very first schooner! These cabin-tops were finished with Deks Olje, a two-part oil product that doesn’t fall into any of the categories mentioned here.

Recently I finished editing Clearwater’s maintenance manual. The original is an amazing document that was created in the late 70′s, and has provided invaluable information to bosuns over the years. I highly recommend maintenance manuals and logs to everyone out there maintaining any kind of boat. Even if it’s just you and your own little dinghy, you’d be amazed at the little things you forget, and how helpful a full and detailed record can be for proper, long-term maintenance.

What follows is an excerpt from one of my additions to the manual. I have cared for brightwork here and there over the years, but by no means am I an expert. As I’ve gone from ship to ship, I’ve often been curious and confused about the very specific wood-finishing choices that are vehemently touted by each one. Everyone has their favorite, and their reasons why.

With a manual containing 30 years worth of mixtures and instructions, I was frustrated by the lack of explanations for LTV here, varnish there, and simply Penetrol in other places. I did a little research, and found that there are few places that give fact-based, comprehensive explanations on the differences and advantages of each one. I did my best to compile that research here.

Note, there are many types of finishes not mentioned here. I am only writing about the types used on Clearwater. Also, I have no references! At some point I may write a more in-depth article on this topic that will include other finishes, and…references.

Varnish (in all its lustre and glory) requires mindful preperation, a skilled hand, many thin coats, and ample time to dry and cure.

Varnish (in all its luster and glory) requires mindful preparation, a skilled hand, many thin coats, and ample time to dry and cure.

Varnish:

Varnish is made from a combination of resin (either plant-derived or synthetic), drying oils (most often tung or linseed), solvents (turpentine, etc.), UV protectors, and sometimes driers. Traditional knowledge says that varnishes give superior UV protection to wood that gets sun exposure, and a relatively long-lasting, flexible finish. Varnish’s flexibility makes it ideal for moving parts which might cause other harder finishes to crack, allowing moisture to damage the wood.

A proper varnish job requires a somewhat experienced hand, not only for a nice-looking finish, but also to ensure that the finish takes. If done improperly, varnish can crack, peel, delaminate, bubble, or never fully harden. Varnishing also requires a somewhat dust-free environment, nice weather, and lots of time to apply many coats. For our purposes on Clearwater, we tend only to use varnish on exterior wood that has a low likelihood of getting banged or chafed, such as hatch covers, since touch-ups are somewhat challenging and time consuming. Someone who knows what they are doing should scuff and apply a top coat of varnish once per season.

Greying in wood can be caused by sun damage when no UV-protective coating is used, or by a fungus. Some varnishes contain fungicide to prevent this.

Greying in wood can be caused by sun damage when no UV-protective coating is used, or by a fungus. Some varnishes contain fungicide to prevent this.

Penetrol:

Penetrol is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Varnish. It has no UV protective qualities, and is even rumored to cause greying or darkening of the wood when not removed and reapplied regularly, due to the linseed oil content. Although it keeps wood from drying out by helping to restore its natural oils, it doesn’t last long and needs frequent (almost weekly) applications. It’s nice because it is very quick and easy for anyone to apply, very easy to touch up chafed spots, kicks quickly, and doesn’t leave a tacky residue.

Polyurethane:

Polyurethane is a finish/sealant that has a very similar application and appearance to varnish, and therefore the two are often used interchangeably. Polyurethane differs from varnish in many ways that don’t matter to us very much, namely the way it is made, and the chemical process it goes through to “kick”. What IS relevant to us is that a polyurethane finish tends to be MUCH harder than varnish, meaning it holds up much better under certain circumstances. The down side is that it also tends to be less flexible, which means that it will crack much more easily on pieces that flex.

A point about UV protection: I’ve always been told that the difference between varnish and poly is that varnish protects against UV damage and poly doesn’t. From what I gather, this isn’t fully true, at least anymore. Both varnish and poly CAN contain UV protective additives, but from what I’ve read, over the long haul, the UV filters in polyurethane break down faster than those in varnish. I have not myself worked on the same piece of half-varnished and half-polyurethaned wood for 10 years, so I can’t speak from personal experience.

Wood Oil:

Everyone disagrees about protective coatings for blocks. Some say paint offers superior UV protection, others say it hides damage that should be addressed. Some oil, some poly. What do you do with your blocks?

Everyone disagrees about protective coatings for blocks. Some say paint offers superior UV protection, others say it hides damage that should be addressed. Some oil regularly, some poly. What do you do with your blocks?

There are a few different wood oil recipes (also known to boaters as “boat soup”) that have been used over the years. It is generally a mixture of two to four of the following in varying quantities: varnish, boiled linseed oil, turpentine, Penetrol, and Japan Drier. Boiled linseed oil is a plant-based oil that can help restore wood’s natural oils and keep it from drying out, but blackens wood quickly without frequent applications (more expensive tung oil can be used instead to eliminate this problem). Varnish gives some UV protection and a harder finish, but slows kicking time. Turpentine thins the mixture, allowing it to be absorbed better and dry more quickly. Penetrol is a brushing agent that both thins and contains oils that can be protective. Japan Drier speeds up the drying process, but too much causes discoloration.

Boat soup” is relatively easy to apply and can give great results, but depending on ratios, you can end up with a tacky finish that never hardens, or a weird color. It also takes some time to dry, and requires regular reapplication. The recipe we’re currently using is listed below, but if it’s giving you trouble, ask some old salt and you’ll get some good advice. Or do some experiments of your own and you can name the new mixture after your favorite Aunt.

Nov 282012
 

The term “bosun”, a sailorly contraction of the Old English “boatswain”, implies widely different roles from one vessel to another. On some ships the bosun is an officer; on others a rig specialist. Even the translation is debated: some sources say a “swain” was an attendant, while others give a more romantic definition of “lover”. (I like to say I’m the ship’s husband…) Regardless, on Clearwater, the bosun cares for the traditional aspects of the rig, which includes regular inspections for safety concerns.

I thought some people out there might be interested in what my monthly rig checks involve. When I was mate on the Bill of Rights and had never before done a rig check, it felt like a vast and unconquerable task. There is so much to a boat! Brion Toss gives an elegantly succinct description in “The Rigger’s Apprentice” of what a rig-check on a boat involves, boiled down to four main points:

1. If it fastens two things together, it will try its damndest to wiggle itself loose.

2. If it touches something else, it will chafe the hell out of either itself or the thing it touches.

3. If it’s metal, it will either crumble in the face of whatever other metal is around it, or else it will mercilessly corrode everything it touches.

4. If it’s loose, it will inevitably catch, snag and tear.

With this as a guide, I examine the rig from stem to stern, topmast to hull. Before leaving Clearwater for the season, I was able to snap some shots of some of the things I look for in rig checks. Aside from these things, I am always and especially looking for loose nuts, rusty or non-existent mousings (wire lashings to secure pins in shackles), pins backing out of shackles, loose lashings in the bow net or shrouds, and squeaky blocks. All of these could result in injury if not attended to before they become a problem.

A type of line degradation called "long jawing", in which, due to deformation, only one or two strands of the line take the full load.

A type of line degradation called “long jawing”, in which, due to deformation, only one or two strands of the line take the full load.

A "whipping" sews up the end of a line to neatly keep it from unraveling. When you make a sailor's whipping, which involves a palm and needle, you never imagine it could someday become worn to uselessness.

A “whipping” sews up the end of a line to neatly keep it from unraveling. When you make a sailor’s whipping, which involves a palm and needle, you never imagine it could someday become worn to uselessness!

Early signs of wear in a long splice.

Early signs of wear in a long splice.

Small holes in the head of the mainsail can easily turn into big holes if not attended to.

Small holes in the head of the mainsail can easily turn into big holes if not attended to.

 

Nov 192012
 

Recently in preparation for the winter, and as part of a regular maintenance schedule, we pulled Clearwater’s centerboard. For those of you who aren’t tall-ship experienced, I’ll try my best to explain what a centerboard is, how it works, and how we pulled it. I’ll let the photos explain the rest.

The centerboard is a 15 or so foot long retractable keel whose forward end pivots on a point inside the hull about a third of the way from the bow. The pivot point is inside the centerboard “trunk”, which is basically a big, framed out hollow in the middle of the boat, a bit like a wheel well. It is raised and lowered by a winch on a cable attached to the after end, at about the middle of the boat.

To pull the centerboard, lines are attached to the tops of the forward and after ends, and then run through blocks on deck. The board is hoisted a little to take the weight off the pin, and then on either side of the centerboard trunk, large metal caps are unscrewed to reveal the pivot point, out of which a large pin must be driven. As you may have guessed, removing these caps allows large amounts of water to pour into the boat, so time is of the essence. Plexiglass and a flashlight are used on either side to line up the openings in the trunk with the one in the centerboard. When you are thoroughly soaked and grateful that you vacuumed out the bilges so the bilge pumps wouldn’t get clogged, you drive out the pin and pop those caps back on. Then you take a breath.

The rest is gravy…lower the board, then run a “lazy line” under the hull to catch the lines the centerboard is hanging on, pull them to the other side, and haul up the board!

Lines are attached to both ends of the centerboard.

Lines are attached to both ends of the centerboard, forward…

The anchor bend.

…and aft. We chose to use the anchor bend.

Hoisting the centerboard to prepare for pulling the pin.

Hoisting the centerboard to prepare for pulling the pin.

Positioning the pipe wrench.

Positioning the pipe wrench.

When WD40, a four foot lever, and three grown sailors don't do trick, try heat.

When WD40, a four foot lever, and three grown sailors don’t do trick, try heat.

Next time, never seize.

Next time, never seize.

The cap is off! Using plexi-glass and a flashlight to align the hole in the centerboard with the hole in the trunk.

The cap is off! Using plexi-glass and a flashlight to align the hole in the centerboard with the hole in the trunk.

Flashlight.

Flashlight.

Driving out the pin.

Driving out the pin.

Waiting for the centerboard.

Waiting for the centerboard.

First sighting...

First sighting…

The centerboard is up!

The centerboard is up!

Clearwater with centerboard alongside.

Oct 302012
 

A lot of you probably know already that the HMS Bounty sank off the coast of North Carolina early Monday morning. The entire tall-ship community and beyond is in mourning.  I send my prayers and condolences to the family, friends and ship-mates of Claudene Christian, who was recently found unresponsive and later pronounced dead, and Captain Robin Walbridge, who has still not been found.  Deepest gratitude to the brave Coasties who went out into that storm to rescue the crew.