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Archive for July, 2012

Amsterdam Photos a Work in Progess, and Sailing Woes

Posted by Tom Benedict on 26/07/2012

The SPIE conference in Amsterdam was fantastic. I came away with a ton of new ideas for stuff to try at work, had a great talk with an old friend I hadn’t seen in ages, and basically got jazzed up again to be working at a telescope. Everything a conference should be. Even better, my father was there. My days were spent at the conference while he took in the sights of Amsterdam and the surrounding country, and our mornings and evenings were spent catching up. It couldn’t have been better.

Though actually, it was! In addition to the SPIE conference and spending a week with my father in The Netherlands, we also went out to do KAP with Ramon Pallarés at the windmills near Zaandijk. Ramon and I had traded emails and forum posts for years, but this was the first time we’d actually met each other face-to-face. Strange as this may sound, it’s pretty typical for people doing something as uncommon as KAP. There are far too few of us, scattered over far too much of the earth’s surface, with far too little money to travel. Meeting another KAPer face-to-face is rare. So we made the time count.

Unfortunately I don’t have any photos from Amsterdam ready to share. As soon as I got back, work sucked me right back in. I’m back in manufacturing mode on the cameras for our new instrument, we’re back in R&D mode on the continuing vacuum woes on our existing instruments, and we’re getting ready to coat another telescope’s mirror. Basically, life went back to normal before I had a chance to work on all the photos to my satisfaction.

So what did I do the first chance I got? Go sailing, of course!

Setup is getting faster. It’s almost like we finally have a clue what we’re doing. We took off from Kawaihae again, but only as far as the reef outside the harbor. As soon as we were at the outer edge of the reef we furled the jib, pointed nose to wind, and jumped in. The reef out there is fantastic. The water isn’t cloudy the way it is near the sandy beaches, and the coral is outstanding. I had to stay with the boat most of the time, so I didn’t see as much as I would’ve liked. But it worked out really really well. I can’t wait to go back.

Unfortunately I’ll have to wait. Seeing the reef was the last good thing that happened that day. After that, it just went downhill.

Rydra and the kids had a hard time getting back on the boat. This had been an issue with our earlier MOB drills, but we managed it. This time everyone was tired from swimming around the reef, so it was much worse. Eventually everyone was back on, but Rydra was bruised and battered by the time she was out of the water. This is an issue we have to solve before we go boat diving again.

To make matters worse, the chop had picked up and Rydra became motion sick. So far her track record for motion sickness is 100%: three trips out of three. I told her I’d work on the problem of how to get people on and off the boat if she looked into solutions for motion sickness. And before anyone gets the idea this is something you just press on through, get an iron gut, man up, whatever else, forget it. This is a pleasure boat. If someone is writhing around on deck in abject misery, they’re not experiencing much in the way of pleasure. The whole point of restoring the sailboat was to have fun. I won’t go out again if she’s not able to enjoy it, too. Rydra loves sailing, so there’s plenty of motivation on her part.

Tacking into the harbor was incredibly smooth. (Ok, I lied. One more thing went well that day.) This is a far cry from our first time out, when we nearly hit the harbor wall. This time my son was on jib and I was on tiller. We came into the harbor, turned into the wind, and I jumped in to stop the boat. My son popped the jib sheet, and hauled on the furling line like a real deck ape. Seconds after making our turn, the jib was secured and we were ready to drop the main.

When I tried to lower the main, it jammed. The main halyard on the P-Cat is a steel cable that runs up and over a masthead sheave, down the sail track on the mast, and into this cute little winch that’s built into the mast. Except it’s not all that cute when the cable hops off the winch drum and wedges itself between the drum and the side of the mast. No amount of wiggling, winding on, winding off, yanking, or anything else cleared it. It was stuck fast.

Finally, with that sick feeling of dread in my gut, I sent my son to get the Leatherman out of my car so I could cut the cable. This wasn’t a small decision. Replacing the main halyard would be expensive. Because of how the P-Cat is set up, it’s not a straightforward procedure, either. Deciding to cut that halyard was going to keep us land bound for some time. All these thoughts went through my head when I told him to go get my Leatherman.

He came back with the spare parts box instead. I couldn’t believe it. I admit, I yelled. Then I sent Rydra to get it. After what felt like an eternity she came back empty handed and asked where it was. (I’d told her it was in the glove compartment!) Finally I sent both of them back with a very clear idea of where to find it. I’m pretty sure they were both ready to kill me at that point because of how explicit I was when I made very clear where they could shove it if they didn’t come back with the damn thing!

In my defense, though, my shirt was up on deck where I couldn’t reach it, I was burning in the sun, my aqua socks were on deck with my shirt, and my feet were bleeding from trying to hold a five hundred pound boat steady while standing on sharp lava rock. I had reason to be bitchy, even if I didn’t have the right. They came back with the Leatherman, though,  (thank goodness!) and held the boat while I chopped our main halyard in half. Crap.

With the mainsail safely down, the only thing left to do was to get the boat on the trailer, take down the mast, and wash the salt water off of everything. But as we drove the boat away from the ramp, we found the entire marina had been turned into a giant parking lot. Cars and trailers had been parked everywhere, blocking all the wash stations and making it impossible to clean the boat. One of the most basic rules of public boat ramp etiquette, utterly ignored. We realized we’d never get the boat clean at the marina, so we finally just pulled over wherever we could, tore everything off the boat, and threw it in my car.

Unfortunately I took the “throwing” part a little too seriously and wound up throwing a plastic coat hanger the length of my car, straight into my windshield. I didn’t find out until later, when I was driving our saltwater covered boat back up Kohala Mountain to our house, that I’d managed to break my windshield. Yeah. With a plastic coat hanger. >sigh<

Yep, I managed to vandalize my own car. Some days you feel more stupid than others.

Ok, I’m completely full of crap. Because the rest of the day went swimmingly well with only one exception. When we got home everyone pitched in to unload. Rydra set up the hose and rinsed off everything that had touched saltwater, the kids hung up all the PFDs and got the car unloaded, and I stuffed all the running rigging into mesh bags so we could wash it. Once the car was empty my older daughter started making lunch while Rydra and I washed off the boat. By the time we came inside, the calm after the storm had settled on the house.

But for that one exception…

As we were setting the table for dinner, I noticed my son’s eyes were puffy. We were all a little sunburned on the cheeks, but this went beyond mere sunburn. So I asked him what was up. He just stared at me. Then his mouth started to quiver. Oh crap. “Let’s take this in your room where we have some privacy.”

Here’s a lesson to all the parents out there. And here’s confirmation for everyone who had rough spots in their childhood because of one of their parents: A parent’s actions have consequences. Sometimes these go well beyond what’s apparent at the time. I remember things from my childhood that didn’t even register on my parents’ radar. Until a parent learns to put themselves in their child’s position, they’ll never see the impact their actions can have on their kids.

My son told me that he felt responsible for everything that had happened at the harbor. All of the yelling, the swearing, the throwing, even the broken windshield. Why? Because when I’d asked him to get me my Leatherman, he’d come back with the spare parts box instead and I’d yelled at him about it. Gone was all the pleasure of taking a crew position on the boat. Gone was the attaboy he got for doing such a good job of manning the jib when we tacked into the harbor. Gone was the satisfaction of doing such a snappy job of furling the jib and securing it. At the end of the day he felt terrible.

And I felt like a monster. I didn’t even try to explain how rough the day had been, and that I’d just snapped. Go down that path, and you can justify anything. The bottom line was I was a jerk, and took it out on the people around me. And I’d robbed him of everything he’d done right that day. So I did the only thing I could do. I got down on my knees and offered him the most sincere apology I could. He accepted it a helluvalot faster than I deserved. Then I went through the day as I saw it, pointing out how well he’d done on the jib, tacking into harbor, furling the sail, and reminded him that in the end he was the one who brought me the tool I needed. He done good. By the end the smile was back. Not strong, but at least it was there.

We can’t sail right now. I still haven’t managed to take apart the winch, and without a main halyard there’s no way to raise the mainsail. But I’m motivated to get Smilodon back out on the water. My son has a date with a jibsheet, and Rydra has a date with the tiller. As for me? I kicked my date overboard. Captain Bligh doesn’t get to sail with us any more, even if it kills me.

Smilodon - July 2012

Here’s to happier voyages to come.

– Tom

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