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On Living Aboard

As someone who lives full time aboard a boat I have, out of necessity become a student of weather. For most people, weather information (I won’t call it forecasting) is gleaned from a segment of local news. A good looking person stands in front of a large monitor and displays various scenarios of what’s going on and what is going to go on over the next few hours or days. The science of meteorology is quite diverse. The ones most obvious are TV people, who do their best to acquaint us with atmospheric variables. Then there are those who spend hours perusing tons of information that changes by the hour and sometimes sooner. To earn the title meteorologist, one must attend college for at least five years and sometimes more. The TV weather people usually begin by obtaining an undergraduate degree in journalism. This is followed by a Master’s degree in meteorology, and it’s not unusual to progress to a PhD in the same discipline. Those who choose to work out of the TV limelight usually begin with a four year course in either math or physics. This is followed by the usual MS in meteorology. If this sounds complicated it is because it’s true. Weather science is not exact. Predicting weather depends on things of which we have absolutely no control. In days gone by, there were thousands of weather stations all over the world which captured weather data and sent it to central locations for evaluation. Using this information, maps were then created showing weather fronts, giving weathermen something to base their predictions on. In the 21 century, things are a bit different. With the advent of weather satellite science, it’s become much easier to predict what’s going to happen outside. There are, of course, many different sources for weather than TV news. The internet has sites that proclaim complete and accurate weather information throughout the world. However, the old adage that, “If you don’t like the weather in (enter location here) wait a minute.” This is somewhat true. I tend to take weather predictions with the proverbial grain of salt. There are web applications that show weather RADAR in somewhat real time, along with observations at stations which submit information over the net. I do not depend on any particular one of these. Instead, I gather information and make my own decision. All this being said, you can obtain very accurate weather predictions, although at a price. Once, years ago I was part of the crew on a sailboat participating in the Newport, RI to Bermuda race. This boat was owned by a very wealthy man who spared no expense on anything he did. He subscribed to a very expensive weather service in Boston, who provided us with weather information every hour as long as we could make contact via HF radio. This was in the days before satellite telephones. We set sail and joined the bevy of boats on the same mission as us. Entering the Gulf Stream south of New England, the wind dropped off and we wallowed in the Gulf Stream swell. Our radio weather service assured us that a north east wind would begin to blow, “At 1700 (five O’clock) tomorrow afternoon.” “Yeah, right.” we all said to ourselves. We made a game of it. “Five hours ‘till wind.” And so on. The sea remained bouncy in the current. “One hour to wind…” At a quarter to five, a gentle breeze came out of the north. Shortly after five, it had veered to the north east, increased to twenty knots and remained there the whole trip. Later I asked the captain what that service cost. “You don’t want to know.” was his answer. The weather around here lately has been nasty. The one big storm with dangerous winds did what a couple years of storms couldn’t do, which was to fly off with our winter cover. The big fix we discovered is to use aircraft duct tape, rated for winds over a hundred miles an hour. Since using that stuff, we’ve not had any problems with the cover, ‘till now. I’m sure it wasn’t failure of the tape. I suspect there was a slight tear somewhere and mother wind took advantage of that. Of course, it happened in the middle of the night scaring the life out of us. I was not really asleep; when there is severe weather outside, it’s impossible for me to sleep. I just lay there and think about what could happen. This time the act exceed my ‘what ifs’ by a large factor. While the wind was indeed making a lot of noise, when the cover took off it sounded like a rocket launch for the space station. Going on deck, the cover was completely gone as was a good part of the PVC pipe that makes up the frame. Being on the lee side of the dock, there was no danger of damage being caused by Patty O’ banging against it. Checking lines, I saw that they were handling everything well. No chafe and no danger of any sort. Going back to bed, I lay there tossing and turning ‘till morning. Soon after daylight I found the remnants of the cover plastered against a building across the street from the yard. Thankfully, there was no damage. Enlisting the help of my friend Ritchie, as well as the owner of the building, the mess was soon stuffed into the back of Ritchie’s box truck. It cost me twenty dollars to pass it off to the local landfill. Two days later a spanking new cover kept Patty O’ snug from the weather. Our cover is designed to come off and go on easily. I am fond of saying that we can get under way in less than fifteen minutes in summer, and a half hour in winter. The winter underway time is a bit optimistic; I know it’d take a bit more than that, winter bomb cyclones notwithstanding. We’ve remained very comfortable, temperature wise, due to the hydronic heating system. I really don’t miss hauling bags of coal down the dock to feed the coal stove we used to heat with. It was very nautical, but it was quite labor intensive. Not only that, but in times of temperature extremes, it was quite lacking. There were times when the Blonde, my wife had to escape to the relative warmth of a motel room. Her job as an architect requires her to look the part and it’s not easy to accomplish that when you can see your breath. One of our long term plans for this winter was to spend a week or so at some warm spot in a southern latitude. However, the weather so far plus the possibility of more nastier then usual weather has caused us to put that project on hold. I certainly would not enjoy myself sitting in the sun if at the same time reading about some atmospheric disaster back home. I know my friend Ritchie, who watches over Patty O’ when we’re away is well capable of handlining any emergency that may occur. He has our permission to act on our behalf on any and all problems that could come up. It’s a good feeling knowing that our home is looked after by someone so adept. Still all and all, I wouldn’t feel comfortable in the present situation. It’s our hope that one day we’ll be able to be doing the southern thing with Patty O’ and to be just shaking our heads reading about what’s going on back ‘there’. Another unpleasant chore one doesn’t usually think of when reading about year-round life aboard a boat in the north, is shoveling snow. Yup, shoveling snow. When one thinks about that it’s usually in the connotation of driveway and sidewalk maintenance. In our case, it’s shoveling snow off the dock. Although the same tools are used, shovel, sand and or salt to melt ice, there is one more important item. That’s being careful not to slip and fall overboard. On a driveway or walk if you fall mostly it’s your ego that is injured, although the possibility of physical injury is present. On a dock, one more hazard comes to mind, and that’s slipping and falling into the water. When I’m shoveling snow off the dock, I try very hard to have the Blonde or someone else watching. If that’s not an option, I have a life alert device that dials the yard office, the yard forman as well as the Blonde with the push of a button. My cell phone is encased in a waterproof case, and I wear an automatic inflatable vest. This may seem like overkill, but not to me. Our winter location in the yard is behind the gas dock, and this is not a floating dock. There are bubbler systems running to keep ice from forming around the pilings. We employ the same, around Patty O’. Falling off the dock at low water would present a nasty problem trying to get back onto terra firma. I also walk around the yard at various times day and night in the form of an unpaid watchman. I know the owners appreciate this although nothing has ever been said. The Blonde has made it known she feels much better knowing that I am wearing all this emergency stuff. Of course, none of this is any good if it is not tested once in a while. So at least once a week I annoy everyone by pushing the button. Of course, I call and announce that I’m going to do this. The life preserver is tested at the same time. This is activated automatically if you fall into the water. You can also inflate it manually. Once operated, you must replace the CO2 cartridge. Not cheap, but worth it to me. It was snowing when she got home, so I was out to meet her and insure that she got aboard Patty O’ safely. I’d cooked up a shrimp pasta scampi and the wine was breathing. “Look at what a lot of people don’t know they’re missing.” She said. “I know.” I said. “They sure don’t.”

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