Yesterday, wiring up for our new SSB/HF radio, I was frustrated. I’m tired of working on Kandu. Sick of it. Mixing metaphors, it’s like sand collapsing around the tunnel I’m trying to dig, covering the light at the tunnel’s end. More money, more mess, more solving a couple potential problems en route to knocking out the current one, and more delays on our departure date. While Leslie and the boys are enjoying a little extra leisure time with the grandparents in Palm Springs, I’m all “asses and elbows” trying to get the wires in for the new radio. Nothing goes as quickly as I think because, like a pregnant lady forgetting how painful the previous delivery was, I forget how long other tasks took. I only recall the high-level overview of the tasks and the feelings of accomplishment that follow it. The forgotten nitty-gritty takes time, more than my memory seems capable of retaining. Instead of three or four days, it takes seven or eight; a very deflating feeling. I sometimes wonder if I’ve enough air left in my ‘optimist’ balloon. Unlike some sailors, I can’t just drill holes and pull the wires through the ceiling, or through two hanging lockers (closets) and several compartments to get them to their intended destination and call it a day. Noooo, . . . instead I have to complicate things and label all the wires in case I have to solve a problem in the future, so as not to forget where each wire goes. I have to make sure the cables are all dressed neatly, even though only I or the next technician or person who owns this boat will ever see it. When selecting and installing a solution, I’m compelled to consider ergonomics, about future expansion, about servicing the units. This all takes time, adding to the installation time and delaying our departure, and yet I won’t do it differently. I believe that the extra effort I’m making now will help me in the future, adding evermore to the “delayed gratification” side of the fun scale equation. I should win a prize for delayed-gratification. But even if I did, it wouldn’t make me happy or less frustrated. I want to play. I want to have untempered fun. But it’s not like I can quit. After all this, could you imagine? I can’t. Not possible. So I keep going. Keep making progress, one small step at a time. Annoyed. Looking for a better day.
And then it happens . . . .
This cold Sunday morning, while finishing up my eggs Benedict and orange juice at the Ventura Yacht Club (my favorite breakfast), a club member introduces himself, says he can’t make my talk on Friday (I offered to give a presentation, describing some of Kandu’s systems. Yacht clubs appreciate this kind of thing, listening to how someone preparing for a circumnavigation solved some of the problems associated with such an undertaking. It’s a way to give back to the sailing community that is so helpful towards its vagabond ilk), but wanted to know about our planned route. Turns out, Dave and his wife, Desiree, are physicians who’d sailed Gone Native with their two young sons around the Med for several years before sailing across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, and eventually transiting the Panama Canal before returning back to Ventura: four and half years. They had a wealth of information about cruising and getting visas, and, as practicing physicians, offered to help us set up our medical kit tomorrow evening, review our medical books, and recommend some apps for our smart phones and tablets. As he spoke, I could actually feel a weight lift from my shoulders, my upper-body tingled with the release of long-held pressure. He said that they would now be our first call (or satellite text) should we ever have a medical issue, and to know that they will pick up. I couldn’t stop smiling. As much as yesterday was a turd of a day, today was turning into a gem. While David spoke to me, Desiree spoke to Leslie and their two sons, Ryan and Wesley, now 18+, spoke to Trent and Bryce. The boys heard first-hand of the young men’s adventures, how they attended a French school, caught lobsters and all kinds of fish, and learned to surf. Trent said, after hearing them speak with such enthusiasm, he thought that this trip might actually be a lot of fun. What a great way to start the day!
Then when I got back to Kandu, I met up with Joe, who was patching up the gelcoat (a thick, paint-like material for fiberglass) on Kandu’s dodger (the windshield enclosure that surrounds the front half of the cockpit). Asking how he patches and paints gelcoat, he kindly gave me a lesson and showed me how, listing all the supplies I’d need and where to buy them. I learned so much, and he was such a great teacher that I feel confident that I will be able to patch up Kandu’s gelcoat when the time arrives, provided of course I buy and stow the supplies before we leave.
Both of these experiences happened before noon today. I am rejuvenated and happy again, so much so that I took the rest of the day off, not wanting to return to the challenge of the wiring job just yet, but choosing instead to savor the feeling of satisfaction and gratitude that filled me. Later this evening, my aunt, Annie, threw us a “Non-Voyage” party, celebrating our eventual departure–just not yet. What a difference a day made, from a ‘two’ to a ‘ten’ in the matter of a few hours. As the early 1970’s kitten poster proclaimed, when at the end of your rope, just “Hang In There, Baby!”
Educational Alert; some background about the radio: Among the cruising community, the high-frequency (HF)/single-side band (SSB) radios are often called “HAM” radios after the land-based amateur radio community that supports their use. To use the radio in the HF radio frequency bands, an operator must pass an FCC test to get a license. To use the SSB frequencies, a ship must purchase a license that then resides with the ship–no test. Internationally, this license is required for the commonly used very high frequency (VHF) radios that sailors employ to communicate with port authorities, safety personnel, and other boats within the line of sight. It’s signals don’t travel as far as the HF and SSB frequencies can. I passed the test and also purchased a license for Kandu.
The radio that came with Kandu was a great radio in 1987, the best model available. I thought that it would be fine, until I tried hooking it up to our other modern equipment and learned that this radio would not be supported by the email provider if there was a communication failure. Today’s radios marry with computers; the two talk to each other. For email, the computer can automatically drive the radio to search the various frequencies provided by the software and find the station with the clearest and strongest signal for our given location at that time, and then automatically send and receive the ship’s email. There’s even an “Email” button on the face of the radio. For weather, various weather services broadcast a variety of free weather faxes, each providing a specific type of view, forecast, or analysis for a given region. With newer radios, crew can schedule their laptop to automatically drive the radio, capturing the preferred faxes onto the laptop. With the older radio, the operator must manually tune the radio and antenna to the scheduled frequency. One miss-pushed button or forgotten step, and there are many on the older radio, the signal is rendered inaudible or unusable and the window for capturing that day’s information is lost. The new ones automatically tune the radio and tuner, with better filters and noise reduction, thus increasing the likelihood of receiving the day’s information. And it’s easy to set up the night watch to capture it, just turn on the radio and the computer. The rest is automated. Email and weather data were not available to cruising boats when I last sailed across the Pacific 25 years ago. Today’s blue-water sailors have grown accustomed to these services, which during a long passage are the highlight of the day. I want our adventure to be as pleasant and enjoyable as possible so that the crew (especially mama) will enjoy the experience. Email and weather reports will help this cause. And so, I go through the trouble of upgrading our SSB/HF radio.