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Reflections of an apprentice first mate

by Lynn Redmond, 15th December 2006

‘Almost’ boat sitter, Lynn Redmond, is excited about getting ‘up close and personal’ with someone else’s boat as she starts her enthusiastic journey to owning a boat of her own one day. While she’s avidly studying the boat’s navigation systems and the like a little detail of the design lets her down big time…

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Lynn, a Take Her Sailing Virtual Anchorage regular, is a rookie first mate. She ‘married into’ the role when she hooked up with a guy with salt water in his veins and the cruising light in his eyes. An eager student, Lynn has been reading up on the lifestyle and diligently figuring out ways to adapt to it.

Last fall, an acquaintance offered Lynn the opportunity to boat sit while he and his wife were away. They live aboard with their two cats and wanted Lynn to take care of the cats and the boat systems for them. She jumped at the chance, and shared her excitement with us all on the bulletin board. This Cruising Musing is an excerpt from her ‘journal,’ including a retrospective look a month down the line. While for some of us the issues Lynn dealt with are old hat, there are likely to be others that find her words illuminating.

September 10
I just heard from the boat owners and we have agreed on a time to meet to go over the boat systems.

There are two cats on board, and I’m curious to learn how they cope in their water-surrounded world.

I’ve asked the owners to make arrangements for parking permits. We prefer to park our cars in the marina parking lot rather than on the street.

I’m already making plans to have someone record ‘The Apprentice.’ Yes, I know it’s a silly TV show, but we all have our weaknesses. If I can’t get the show recorded, I’m prepared to go ‘cold turkey.’ Sigh.

Even though we are coping with a long running draught here, I confess to being selfish enough to hope we don’t get rain for the next two weeks. If I didn’t have to hike ashore to bathroom, I would be much more excited about wet weather…humm the weather man just predicted the possibility of a half inch of rain. He’s usually wrong…my fingers are crossed.

I was thinking I would take my rolling suitcase to the shower facilities…the more I think about that, the more I realize the idea is flawed. I don’t think it’s reasonable to lug that thing up and down the hatch.

September 11
Just got an email from the owner, they have moved the boat and said it’s an even longer long trek to their slip. I’m thrilled!

September 15
We just came back from visiting the owners. They asked us to allow two hours to go over the systems. I couldn’t figure out what would take that long, but now I understand.

Bilge pump, refrigeration system, how many appliances can run at one time (two), how the port-a-potty works (and requested to only use it for #1), the computer, sound system, cat box, feeding cats, magnetic cards for the gates, space heater, hot water system, where that bath/toilet are located, combination lock, hatch, panels with switches–which ones do what, fire extinguishers.

The owners warned us about the steep companion way steps and the corner of the triangle-shaped island counter at the foot of the steps. The steps can be slippery and hitting the corner can be painful if a person isn’t careful.

I may be missing something here, but it seems like having a corner at the bottom of steep steps is unsafe. If the boat is rocking and the steps are wet from rain or sea spray there could be a big problem. It seems like turning the counter or changing shape would have been the logical design.

The port-a-potty is a square box. The whole thing needs to be carried out to the dock and pulled apart there. Otherwise, if the holding tank is separated while below, liquid can leak when it carried to top side. How in heaven’s name I’ll get that port-a-potty up those steps is beyond me!

Originally, the stove was a gimbaled propane stove and oven. The owner used to be a volunteer fireman and saw lot of problems with propane, so he took that stove/oven out and switched over to alcohol/paraffin. I guess the alcohol/paraffin stove has a leather something or other that needs to be replaced, so it’s not working. In the meantime they have a single-burner propane stove. No oven. They do have a cute slow cooker affair that can actually bake brownies.

All in all I think this opportunity will be a great experience for me. A lot of things still need to be demystified for me. The owners are kind, generous, and easy going. My sailor husband has been a huge help. I’m depending on his knowledge already. I’m not used to depending on someone like this.

They have a very quiet slip and it is near the end so the foot traffic is very limited. I have a stack of books and plan to have several nights of guilt-free reading.

We will be on board beginning Friday. I’ll write more after my first night.

September 21
I figured by now I’d be writing about my first night on the boat, but no. The owners decided the liability was too great to have folks living on their boat. The stairs and counter top are too much of a hazard. The stairs are steep, without tread, and a corner of a counter is close to the bottom steps.

For me this whole thing has been an interesting journey. I started the whole affair with a sense of humor and curiosity. Then I saw the boat and what was involved. I took four pages of detailed notes along with diagrams. I felt I understood what needed to be done to take good care of the boat and cats.

And then feelings of apprehension flowed in. I was concerned about the companionway stairs and getting the port-a-potty up on deck. The refrigeration system requires attention twice a day, therefore, if I don’t stay on the boat each night I have to make special arrangements ahead of time. It is very important to me that everything goes right and that no one gets hurt.

Then I started to focus on solutions. I found a backpack and gym bag in the garage. I decided to use a backpack for personal stuff that would go with me from the boat to showers and back to the house. The gym bag, if I need something larger to take towels and stuff to the showers. And I figured out I could put the port-a-potty in a basket affair and pull the thing up to the deck. Refrigeration problem would be handled with buying ice.

Once I focused on solutions, familiar feelings of excitement and adventure came back. I realized the key was to empower myself with knowledge and solutions. Depending on anyone else, even a loved one, reduced my self reliance and self confidence. From this familiar place of independence I embraced the whole experience in a new light.

Then the owner called and cancelled everything.

I completely understand their point of view and support their decision 100%. It is their boat and they must do what is right for them.

For me, I learned a lot about boat systems. I know more than ever, to sail and love it, I must be proactive and be capable of handling everything myself if an emergency should show up.

October 19
A month has passed since my almost-boat-sitting experience. What have I learned?

Well, Everything is a trade off. There are few right answers for every situation. All of the preferences I list below are subject to change as my knowledge base increases and experience builds.

We’ve all seen lists of the critical issues. Reading the Take Her Sailing e-books have been part of my apprenticeship, and they cover these topics very well. (A plug for Trish: Her e-books have taught me a lot about navigation systems, keel, fiber glass/teak, communications systems, keels, rigging, sails, and much more.) I will make decisions on those critical issues at some point in the future, after more investigation and experience.

Here’s a retrospective of what I learned:

The Boat

• I require a V-berth, not the Pullman berth that was on this boat. Generally, I leave the warm nest once a night, and crawling over a sleeping body in a tight space gets old after awhile.
• Our budget must include pumping out a sufficiently large holding tank. I’m not excited about hoisting a port-a-potty up a flight of stairs.
• All stairs must have non-skid stuff with no counter top corners pointing to the bottom stairs.

Personal Lessons
• I will survive showering at the marina facilities.
• I’m still not sure about using the Laundromat. Hubby has agreed to take the lead here. (In return, he’s probably going to require that I scrub the head.)
• I realize that I have good instincts and an imagination that offers practical solutions.
• I require self reliance. This was a huge lesson. My attitude changed from uncertainty and doubt to confidence and excitement the moment I realized I found solutions on my own.
• My husband plays a huge role in this game. I know I can depend on his point of view and experience to be sound. I trust his judgment and his conservative approach. These traits are critical to me.
• Communication/connectivity is still a big deal for me. I love my fast unlimited email for a flat fee. I’m not sure that luxury is available offshore.

My husband has often talked about the friendly folks that make up the cruising community. Sharing my almost boat/cat sitting story with the folks on the Take Her Sailing Virtual Anchorage has taught me the truth of his words. Each of the response was helpful and supportive.

I saw a boat up close and very personal. This level of detail will be very helpful when we buy our own boat.

If you want to learn about cruising or share your experience with others, check out Take Her Sailing Virtual Anchorage. The people at this anchorage are the best!

About the author: Lynn Redmond

Lynn Redmond wrote this diary-style record of her almost boat-sitting experience for the sailing afficianado's website www.takehersailing.com.