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Sunday, July 21, 2019

Why I have that sinking feeling - going down with the ship

It was a landmark day last week – with the emphasis on “land.”  I sold the family boat.  It had been in the family 40 years – almost as long as my children.  It had seen two children, three grandchildren,  in-laws, friend and five cats in its lifetime. It had seen us through good times and bad and for the most part always proved dependable.  Not that it didn’t come with a price.  For what we invested in, moorage, maintenance, and fuel I could have put three kids through university.  But in the last year it was beginning to show its age.

my first boat - with my sister in back
I’ve pretty well always been around boats all my life; which is a bit strange because I don’t come from a nautical family.  My dad couldn’t swim and  was terrified of boats.  But once a year he would take me out for a one hour fishing trip at the boat rental next to the ferry terminal in Horseshoe Bay.  My old man was more afraid of the ferry than any other thing – if he was confronted by a hungry lion and a ferry,  the lion would win out easily. 

The yearly fishing trip lasted well into my teens – by that time I was very experienced with boats – having been the waterfront director at a summer camp for several years.  I should point out in all the years we went through this father-son ritual we’d never caught a fish – not even a bite.   My father referred to it as “dragging a herring around the ocean.” He once commented that if he were a herring, the safest place to be would be at the end of my line.  After the one hour fishing trip we’d retire to the local eatery for a bowl of clam chowder and fish and chips.

On our last trip my dad insisted on “driving” even though  he had virtually no experience with a boat.  We were fishing at a leisurely pace when my father spotted a speck on the horizon.
“They ferry’s coming,” he shouted.
“It’s at least twenty minutes away,” I replied letting a little more line out.  

My dad hanging on
A few minutes later the ferry was a slightly larger speck.
“We should head back into the bay,” my father pronounced.
“Dad, we have the entire Pacific Ocean.  The ferry will miss us.  Don’t worry.”
During this conversation the ferry had made its way closer to us on its way to the slip in the bay.  It was still about a mile and a half away when my dad shouted, “We gotta get outta here,”  and twisted the throttle on the outboard motor handle all the way over to full speed.
My father was a gentle guy, not really that strong, but his fear was so great that when he twisted the handle to full, he did it with such force that he snapped the cotter pin inside the handle.  The throttle was now useless, and we were stuck on full - racing into the bay.
“Do something,” he shouted at me.

the BC Ferry Queen of Slugs
My father was now terrified and swinging the boat back and forth in panic.  As I mentioned, I had a fair amount of experience with boats. 
“Just calm down and aim at the boat rental place,” I said to him in as calming voice as I could muster.  When we get close I’ll disconnect the gas line and we’ll drift in.  It will be fine.”
“Do, it now,” he demanded. 
“No, we’re too far out.  At this speed we’ll run out fuel in 2 seconds.”
“No, we should do it now.  I don’t want to ram the dock.”
And with that he reached down and yanked the fuel line from the engine.  Sure enough, 2 seconds later the engine died leaving us stranded right in front of the ferry slip with the ferry bearing down on us.
“Turn it back on!  Turn it back on!”  he shouted. “The ferry…   the ferry… “  He was so terrified that he couldn’t even finish he sentence. 

“I can’t.  The engine won’t start with the throttle jammed in the full position.”
At this point the ferry has noticed we’re right in its path and begins to blow its horn five times – telling us to get out of the way.
I’m seriously worried my old man is going to have a heart attack, when I notice a boat load of sea cadets heading towards us.  I wave them down and they pull us to the dock. 
End of another father-son yearly adventure.

Admiral Groberman
My experience with boat building began when I was 15 at summer camp.  There was a derelict old rowboat that had washed up on the shore.   I convinced some of my fellow campers we could fix it up and sail it to the other side of the lake in search of junk food and pop.  We’d return with our booty and be the kings of the camp.  Sort of like King Rat – but with cheezies and coke instead of rat. 

We knew nothing about boat maintenance - but decided on the brute force method of construction.  We managed to cut a new bottom out of a piece of old plywood, then lacking any sort of glue, decide to hammer as many nails as we could find to secure the bottom to the boat.  After a quick coat of paint, among much fanfare from our fellow campers, we head out to  sea – or in this case, the far side of the lake – about a mile or so.

We aren’t more than a hundred yards off shore when the boat begins to leak like a sieve.  (foreshadowing many boats I would own in the future).  We didn’t have any life jackets or other safety equipment.   We did have our hats and two of us pulled on the oars while the third guy bailed with all his might.  We had picked him, because he couldn’t swim a and he put his heart and soul into bailing.

The camp counsellors who thought we were nuts, and only going to go  paddle a few feet off shore before turning back set out in the other camp rowboat to rescue us.  Unfortunately the camp only had one set of oars  - which we were using.

We managed to get to the far shore only to find the store was closed.  It took another four hours to get back where were threatened with being sent home in disgrace if we ever tried a stunt like that again.

It only whetted my desire to own more boats. 

The first sailboat
In my early twenties I took a sailing course and that started a life long  infatuation with sail boats.   In my  I talked my best friend  in to going partners in a small sailboat.  We bought a 14 foot wooden Blue Jay dinghy.  It had sat idle in some guys backyard for more than a decade and he was anxious to get rid of it – we’d soon find out why.

After cleaning it up and giving it a fresh coat of paint we took it to the local marina for a maiden voyage.  The marina had a lift where you put two straps around the boat, lifted it up, swung it out over the water, and lowered it into the water. Then you’d  climb in, disconnect the straps and sail off.  Our problem was that when we lowered the boat into the water it kept going lower and lower, the more we lowered it the deeper it went – and the more water accumulated inside the boat.  It leaked like a sieve. 

Gizzy - the rowboat
We eventually rescued it, and after about ten tubes of cocking got it more or less watertight. That was the first of many boats.  

the African Queen Kayak
There was the small skiff I bought for the children that got crushed between a neighbour’s cabin cruiser and the dock.  Then there was the kayak that my niece forgot to tie up that ended up floating away and getting directly in the path of an oncoming BC Ferry  sitting there half sunk like the “African Queen,”  waiting for the Rosa.  The outcome was different  as the ferry sliced through the wooden kayak like a knife through butter.

Elan, My mother and Mother-in-Law 
A few years later, with my son in his early teens, I bought “a carpenter’s delight.”  I bought a12 foot fiber glass speed boat - sight unseen - with the proviso the seller deliver it to my house.   Later that day I got a call from a neighbour.
“Hey, Jeff, was there a tsunami that I didn’t hear about?”
“What are you talking about, Lorne?”
“It looks like something washed up on your driveway>”

When I got home there were bits and pieces of what might have been a boat strewn across the driveway and lawn.

With my son’s help and copious amounts of fiberglass we managed to slowly piece the boat together again.  With a fresh coat of red paint, with white trim, it did look pretty good.  A day before I was to take it to the cabin there was knock on my front door. I was confronted by a stranger.
“Is that your boat out there?” he asked pointing at the boat on the trailer on the street.
“Yes, why?”
“I was driving by and saw it.  It brought tears to my eyes.  I had the exact same boat when I was a kid.  It was best time of my life.  Do you want to sell it?”
I declined, which in hindsight might have been a mistake.

The boat didn’t come with an engine, so I bought a used one – a very used one.  It was over forty years old and had a horrible habit of occasionally catching fire – the less said about that the better.

The ski boat
That was replaced with a slightly larger 16 foot boat with a slightly newer 35hp engine.  That was plenty of power to take the kids water skiing.  The problem was the adults also wanted to go skiing and the little boat didn’t have enough oomph to drag them out of the water.  If they could do a dock start it would manage to pull them.  If they tried to cross the wake to either side it would swing the transom and skew the boat wildly from side to side.  Sometime it looked like the skiers were pulling the boat.

The man eating O'day
Then there was the 40 year old Oday sailboat that kept losing its mast at the worst possible moment.  I spent nearly four winters working on it, and four summers watching it bob at the mooring while I waited for parts.  That  boat absolutely hated me.  I had scrapes, cuts and bruises where the boat would go out of its way to bite me.

But through it all the cottage’s main boat, the Gambier  Eagle,” watched quietly and was always there when we needed her.  She carried not only people, but groceries, building supplies, whatever was required of her for nearly 40 years, until last year.


We’d pretty well decided last year that we were going to sell the boat.  The time had come – the sinkage incident just confirmed it.   The boat was old – and becoming undependable.  Something you didn’t want in a boat when your transporting kids and grandkids.   If you have an old car and it breaks down, you just pull over to the side of the road and call for a tow truck – it’s not life and death.   In the case of a boat if it breaks down – it will probably be at the worst possible moment and there’s nowhere to pull over.   By the time help arrives the boat will be on the rocks or worse.  

The Gambier Eagle above the sea
I also began to worry about the boat when it was on the mooring at the cottage.  With climate change we’ve been noticing bigger and bigger storms and I was worried about the boat being washed off the mooring in the middle of a storm – and what could I do?

Every morning I’d get up and the first order of business was to go look out the window and see if the boat was still there.  I was also getting more and more timid about taking the boat out in rough weather.  At my age I didn’t have the strength I had when I was 40. 

 The alternatives were to buy a newer  more dependable boat or just rely on water-taxis.  If the children and grandchildren might be using the boat I might have been tempted to buy a newer boat – but they weren’t.  My daughter lives in Alberta and my son, who’s wife’s family already has two cabins, was planning on moving to Australia, so that just left us.

That left the water taxi alternative.  During the summer there were many scheduled water taxi runs or we could charter it if there were no convenient runs.  It would still be cheaper than owning and maintaining the boat.  With the decision made the only problem was getting rid of  the old boat.

There are very few options for getting rid of a used boat:
1.       Leave it in somebody’s driveway and run away – I didn’t have a trailer so that wasn’t possible
2.       Accidental burn it to the ground – The insurance company would frown on that.
3.       Give the boat away to a charity – The charity offered me their boats!
4.      Try and see if a boat broker would take it – the boat was valued to low for them to be interested
5.       Craig’s List.

So given the alternatives, I was left with sticking a few posters up at the marina and Craig’s List.  Craig’s list was at the bottom of my list. If you’ve dealt with Craig’s list you’ll understand my dread of having to use it.  It’s the home of the brain dead and time wasters.

I prepared the ad below:

It didn’t take long.  The following are transcripts of actual phone calls.  They are not the exception – they are the rule:

Hello, I’m calling about your boat.  Is it still for sale?”
“Yes, what can I tell about it?”
“What does it look like?”
“Well, sir, if you’re looking at the ad you can see it.  There are three pictures on there.”
“Yeah, but what does it REALLY look like?”
“It looks like the Queen Mary,  Good-bye”
“Hello, Does it have a trailer?
“Sir, it says in the ad in capital letters “THERE IS NO TRAILER!!”
“Okay, if it does have a trailer would my car pull it?”
“Good bye”
(Vietnamese guy)
“Hello?  If I buy boat will you teach me to drive it?”
“Good bye”
"Hello, Does it have a trailer?”
“Hello?  I have a boat will you trade yours for mine?”
“I’m going away for a month, will you hold the boat until I can see it?”
“Can I have a sea trial?
“Sir, I’m selling a used boat, not an aircraft carrier.”
“What kind of trailer does it have?”

Occasionally I got an email with questions.  One in particular was scary.  The  guy didn’t realize there was actually a place in the email to put the message.  He tried to put all his questions into the SUBJECT: category, so I go something like:

SUBJECT:   Boat for Sale  Hi I’m intersested in yur bot, can you call me at 555-555-5555. I’d like to no if it

…and that was it.  I called him:

“Hello?”“Hi, you sent me an email about my boat.”“Yeah?”“Well you tried to put your message in the subject line.”“So?”“Well you’re supposed to put it in the body.  The subject line only holds a few words.”“I’m not good at the email thing.”“How old are you?”“29.”“Okay, so what do you want to know?”“Does it come with a trailer?”“No, it says that in the ad.”“Do you know where I could get a trailer?”“Try Craig’s list.”“How fast does it go?”“That depends on how many people and stuff you have on board.”“Can it go fast?”   I’d like to see it but I can’t go today ‘cause I have to take my mom for a brain scan”“See If they’ll give you one as well.   Goodbye.”

It got to the point where I dreaded answering the phone.   But the calls weren’t the worst part.  Occasionally I’d get  a call from someone who claimed they were legitimately  interested and wanted to actually see the boat run before  finalizing the deal.

The marina is  an hour and a half from our house – through some of Vancouver’s worst traffic.  Having assurances the caller is definitely going to buy the boat subject to seeing it run.   Half the time they don’t show up at all, or after hearing it run (and it run’s well), would inform me he doesn’t have the money to buy it,  or needs to get his wife/girl friends  permission. 

Finally after lowering the price  I get a party who seems reasonably sane.  He agrees to put down a deposit subject to hearing the boat run.   I send my son out again, with a bill of sale and a receipt book.  Upon his return I ask my son if he gave him the deposit.  My son said  the guy told him he’s buying it for someone else and has to talk to them - which he didn't mention on the phone.

That’s the last straw.  I email the guy and tell him that wasn’t the deal.  If he doesn’t transfer the full amount by five o’clock I’m selling it to someone else. 

That actually does it.  He actually transfers the money and the next morning we go out to  give him the keys. 
As the boat slowly leaves the marina I pray silently:
“Don’t sink.  Don’t sink.  Don’t  sink”
The boat slowly leaves the marina and heads out into the ocean. I watch it until it’s a small dot.”
An hour later I get an email from the guy:
“Made Gibsons in only 40 minutes – nice ride.”
I smile as I change my email address.
So, I’m now boatless for the first time in my life.  You’d think I’d feel a lot of relief.  Last night I dreamt I won a boat…  and it was broken.  So now I can feel the same angst I had when I owned a boat without actually owning one.  Ain’t  life wonderful.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

My Unexpected summer trip

Stairs are not my friend 

I took an unexpected trip this summer.  It’s the longest trip I’ve ever taken -12 weeks!  It wasn’t a trip that was on my bucket list.  Actually, if I had to rate this particular trip, I’d put it somewhere below North Korea, Iran, or Hamilton.

The trip started suddenly – without warning.  I was carrying a bag of seat pillows down a ramp from our summer cottage.   Rather than take two trips to carry all the pillows, I figured I could save 30 seconds by doing it all in one.  So I piled them up over my head and headed out of the cabin.  There are two ways down from the cabin – one is a steep set of stairs -the other is a gentler ramp.  Now, I’m not totally stupid – I stopped and thought a moment.

“Boy, it sure would be dangerous to try and walk down a set of stairs when I can’t see where I’m going,” I thought to myself.  “The safe sane choice would be to take the ramp.” 
Which is what I did.  I marched down the ramp, my head buried in pillows, stepped off the ramp and…
Actually, I hadn’t proceeded all the way down the ramp…  so I stepped off into….    air.

The next thing I know I was lying on my back on top of a stack of pillows – which is a good thing.  Unfortunately, my ankle was the first thing that hit the ground, and all I knew is it hurt like hell.
“Can you move it?” my wife asks.
I can move it a bit.
“Then it’s not broken,” she states. “probably just sprained.”

So for the next week I limp around the cottage, mow the grass, weeder-whack the path to the well, and take copious amounts of pain killers and beer.
A week later we arrive back home, and the ankle doesn’t seem any better, so off I go to see my family doctor.  She takes one quick look at it.
“What are you doing here?” she askes.  “You need to get to the hospital.  I think you’ve ruptured your Achilles tendon.

The next several days are spent in the emergency ward – generally sitting and waiting.  The staff has arranged a game to keep you occupied.  It’s called the triage game – it’s where you have to wait your turn then tell the clerk what happened while he clacks away at the computer – sort of like checking in at the airport.  Lots of waiting in line, much clacking of the computer, and not much happening.

From there it’s sit down and wait and until the next clerk calls you up and repeats the process.  Then you move to the next area and wait some more.  Finally, after four hours you actually get to see the emergency room doctor.
“So what happened, Mr. Groberman?” he asks looking at my ankle that’s the size of a watermelon.
“What?” I ask him.  “You don’t know?  You must be the only guy in the hospital who doesn’t know.”  It’s been written up so many times it’s going to be made into a movie.”
“Would you like to go outside and wait some more?” he asks.  Evidently, he’s not big on sarcasm.

After a five-minute examination he looks up at me and says, “I think you’ve ruptured your Achilles tendon.  We better take some x-rays to see if you’ve broken any bones as well.”

Another two hour wait to get x-rays, have them read and see the doctor again.
“Nope,” he announces.  “No broken bones.  I guess we’d better take an MRI to see how bad a rip it is.  90% of the time they don’t need surgery.”

Unfortunately, the MRI machine is booked up and I’m told it might be a couple of days before they call me.  If I don’t hear from them in two days, I should call.   I’m then told to wait for the cast guy to come and fit me for a boot.
“I have a real wide foot,” I tell him.  “Short and wide.”  They used to call me the duck at school.  He comes back with a spiffy looking grey boot that resembles a ski boot.  I can’t get into it.  It’s too narrow. 
“I’ll have to put you into a bigger size,” he announces. 
And off he goes to rummage around the back.   He arrives with a much larger size.  Although it’s wide enough it’s obvious I won’t be seeing my toes for some time.
I’m fitted out with a pair of aluminum crutches and sent on my way.

Two days later I haven’t heard from the MRI people so I call the hospital.
“We see you had a stent put it in, but we don’t what kind. We’ve been trying to get hold of your doctor to find out.”
I point out to them they had given me an MRI about five years earlier after my fight with a lawnmower – and I didn’t explode.  Don’t they have a record of that?

“Just a minute, sir.  I’ll check with the technician.”  A few minutes later she returns to the phone. “Can you come in an hour?”

Getting the MRI was a piece of cake – particularly since I didn’t have to be rolled inside the big toilet paper roll.

Then I’m told to go back to the emergency ward and wait and wait and wait.

Finally after about four hours, I’m ushered into the see the ER doctor – a different one this time.

 “So, what happened, Mr. Groberman?” he asks.  I resist the urge to hit him with one of my crutches.

“Why don’t we look at the MRI?” I suggest.  I’ve learned through experience doctors like you to be involved in your illnesses.  It’s as if you attended medical school with them.

He retreats for a few minutes and returns with the MRI.  “It appears you’ve ruptured your Achilles tendon, Mr. Groberman.”
“I think that’s the consensus of opinion,” I reply sagely.  I somehow feel undressed not having a stethoscope jauntily hanging off my shoulder.
“You know,” the doctor continues, “in most cases they don’t operate on these things.”
“90% of the time,” I add sagely.
“Exactly,” he agrees, “But in your case it may be the exception.  You’ve got 30mm tear – a bigee.”
“Is that a medical term?” I ask.
“I think I’d like an orthopedic surgeon to look at it.  I have one on call he’ll be by in an hour or so.”

So it’s back in the hall for another hour.  Finally, I see what looks like a first-year medical student approaching me.

“Hello, Mr. Groberman, I’m Dr. Smith, your orthopedic surgeon.
And once again I have to go through the whole rigmarole which I’ve done so many times, that I recite it in a dull monotone voice while he studies the MRI.

Once again I’m asked to consult on the best treatment.  My tear is on the borderline of needing surgery.  He suggests that we see if my heel will heal without surgery, although there is a higher risk or re-injuring it.
“That’s what I’d do,” he tells me.
“I’ll remind you of that when you wreck your ankle,” I tell him.

So the long and short of it is I’m going to be in the soft-cast for 12 weeks, then will need a few more months of rehab to get back to where I was before the accident.

Getting around is a bit of a problem. I can move around flat ground pretty well on the crutches, but your hands are taken up with the crutches so you can’t carry anything.
“Why don’t you get one of those scooter things?” my friend Larry asks when he and Tom came to visit.
The scooter thingee
“When my daughter broke her ankle, she rented one. It’s sort of like a kid’s scooter.  You put your knee on it and scoot around.
“That’s why they call it a scooter,” Tom offers.
“It has a basket on it to put things in it.  You can go anywhere in it.”

I’d never heard of such a thing, but a quick internet search showed me that I could rent one nearby.  Which is what we did.

The device works well.  It’s got really good ball bearing wheels so just a slight touch will get it going.  The problem is the brake.  It doesn’t work very well.  That’s because the tires aren’t rubber.  They’re made out of granite – think of Fred Flintstone’s car.  They brake doesn’t grab them well which is not a problem if you’re on level ground.  The problem is going downhill – as I found out the other day when I took it for a test spin outside.  Going up the gentle slope to the mailbox wasn’t difficult, but coming back was different.
“Gangway!!”  I shout at people on the sidewalk walking their dogs.  “Scooter out of control! No brakes.” 
People flung themselves left and right as I whiz by.  Luckily the ground levels out half way down the block and I am able to bring myself to a stop.  

My wife suggests I might like to go up to the clubhouse and sit on one of the lounges by the pool.  Except the walkway between the pool’s edge and the chairs is very narrow.  I barely avoided having to have my scooter fished out of the pool.

in search of my parrot
Ever in the market for something better I come across a device called the i-walk.  It sort of looks like a peg leg.  Your knee sits on a platform with a crutch underneath.  The whole apparatus straps to your thigh and you can sort of hobble swinging it out in front of you.  The videos make it look simple.  They have folks walking their St. Bernards, going up stairs, playing soccer…  
So, I had to have one.  Of course, being cheap I bought a used one on Craig’s list.  If I had bought it at a dealer they would have properly fitted it. 

There was a lot of trial and error trying to get it on, then walk with it.  It isn’t anywhere as easy as the video.  But after two weeks I sort of have the hang of it. 

Of course if I want to go anywhere I have to take all this crap with me.  It’s like traveling with a toddler.  I need my crutches, my scooter, my i-walk, my eye patch, my parrot.
When I strap it on and head into the Safeway I get a lot stares.
“Wow, that’s quite the device,” an older lady says. “It looks like it’s really fun.”
“Would you like to try it on?” I offer starting to unbuckle it.  She scoots on down the aisle.

So would I recommend this trip? Definitely not.  Here’s my travel tip.  When carrying stuff – take two trips not one – and watch where your going.

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