New Year, New Post

Welcome to 2015, internet citizens! Let me give you a quick rundown of The Intern’s status. She was hauled out at Seabrook Marina for a little while, during which time the transmission was repaired, the prop shaft was rebuilt, propeller was cleaned and replated into a thing of beauty, water hoses replaced, bilge cleaned (as much as possible, the thing is deep), bilge pumps rebuilt and remounted, toe rail repaired, a concerted effort made to repair any blisters on the hull, and a brand new paint job done, including the official renaming. Sam dedicated some crazy hours to the effort, spending evenings after work and long hot weekends laboring away.  It all paid off on the day that he was able to relauch the boat and bring it all the way home to its slip in South Shore Harbor Marina.

Once she was in the slip, and much closer to our house, Sam continued the work, and has been refinishing the teak accents in the cabin, painting, and sealing leaks. Liners are being pulled out, and stanchions rebedded. No leak is safe! I received a fancy new sewing machine for Christmas, so once I figure out how to work the thing, textile upgrades are on the list. We’ve taken her out with friends onto the lake, enjoying some excellent sailing weather. Maybe it was because of all these positives and successes that we came up with the greatest New Year’s Eve plan ever, alternatively titled “Hubris: an Introduction to Seasickness.”

Since the beginning of this adventure, I have somehow avoided becoming even a touch queasy while out. Badass sailing girlfriend, invincible to mere mortal concerns like seasickness! Dramamine is for the weak! Of course, in retrospect, none of the adventures I’d been on had involved any sort of weather or conditions. Silly me. The grand idea was to venture out onto the nice dark lake for panoramic views of the city, cook dinner, anchor, and watch the sky light up all around with fireworks to ring in the New Year. Sounds awesome, right? I thought so too, so yesterday we loaded some food and blankets, and my poor dog, onto the boat and set out. We had great weather in the afternoon; sunny, a little brisk, and a decent wind with very small seas. We picked out a spot with a perfect view, dropped anchor, and had a hearty dinner of beef stew with bread and butter. Then, we snuggled up under some blankets to relax until the countdown. Relaxing did not last very long.

I don’t remember if I noticed the wind picking up or the waves first. I do recall that the dog, who up until last night had been very calm and happy on the boat, was displeased. Her preferred method of coping? Laying as close to on top of my head as physically possible. Around 8 pm, the boat was pitching pretty well, with a rough toss coming along every so often. Not totally comfortable, but not unbearable. We weren’t keen on scrapping the whole plan, so we tried to ride it out. By 10, it was clear the waves were only getting bigger, it was too cold to sleep above deck, and staying below was going to force me to revisit the stew in a most unpleasant way. If I’m proud of anything, it’s that we know our own limits. On went the jackets, and we raised the anchor, started up the motor, and pointed back toward the marina. Sam has run the boat in weather before, if you recall, but I have not. In the land of Meghan, all sailing had been sunshine and rainbows. But last night, I’d say we operated pretty well as a duo; Sam called out commands to me, I managed to not vomit while keeping watch on the horizon for marker lights and crab traps. Real team effort.

The worst part: all the while the poor, poor dog was below deck, seriously and understandably freaking out. I knew that she’d feel better up top with us, but with the way were pitching around, I didn’t trust her to stay on the boat. Between the possibility of a seasick dog whining below, and an attempted night rescue of a catahoula in a life jacket, I thought she’d be better off queasy and scared, but safe. After we docked, she happily ran around the dock, and we resolved that to be extra nice to her for the next few days.

Although not necessarily the night we imagined, it wasn’t a total wash. We did get to see the shores all around us light up with fireworks at about 11 pm (why this early, I couldn’t tell you). Plus, I feel like I’ve earned some sort of merit badge for seasickness and not panicking. Much.

Delivery–The Perspective from Shore

Sam has detailed what the trip from Galveston to Morgan City was like for the crew, but for me, it was a little different. Having just started a new job, I could not take the time off to go on the trip, so I stayed in New Orleans as the Coast Guard point of contact. I got a sheet with all of the crew information, the sail plan, and instructions to contact the Coast Guard if I didn’t hear from Sam by a specified time. Nope, I wasn’t anxious at all. 

My default reaction to stress, anxiety, and a need to help is to cook. Baked goods, snacks, casseroles, whatever. I work things out in the kitchen. So, before Sam and crew set off, I spent a full day at the stove. I made four meals, portioned out for each person, and froze them for the trip so they could be easily reheated whenever a person came of his shift. I sent arroz con pollo, shrimp scampi, teriyaki pulled pork, beef stew, chocolate zucchini muffins, and well wishes with Sam, and waited anxiously for news. At least I could reassure myself that no one would starve to death on the arduous three day journey. 

Turns out, there is a very delicate balance in how many updates are helpful, and how many will make one go insane. Sam and crew had a Spot tracking device, which sent out a signal every 10 minutes and let anyone with the link track their progress in real time. Great in theory, except the cell phone service was less than desirable, so any questionable info from the Spot tracker could not be explained away with a quick text or call. For instance, the first night, Sam mentioned in his post that the seas were rough, everyone got sick, and they dropped anchor and threw out the drogue. I knew none of that. All I could see was stalled progress and odd zig-zagging on the tracker. I pretty much panicked until around 6 am when I finally got a text letting me know they were fine, and headed in at Sabine Pass. A penchant for hyperbole and overreaction may not be the best traits for a sailor, as it turns out. 

Anywho, I woke up to one of the sporadic updates at 4 am on Saturday morning, letting me know that the journey was over, stopped about 80 miles short of New Orleans in Morgan City. The sea weary crew, looking more than a little sunburned and tired, tied the boat up to a public dock, loaded into my car, and headed home, where we promptly got drunk on daiquiris and toasted the effort. 

On a happier note, the boat is now officially home in New Orleans! It is hauled out, awaiting some repairs, and we get to visit it and work on it at will. In fact, we were there yesterday, doing a bit of cleaning up. Secret? I totally buy into superstitions. “The Intern” was formerly named “La Concorde.” We did not hold a formal renaming ceremony before the move, a ceremony which apparently entails dancing, booze, and a complete purging of anything with the old boat name in order to appease the sea gods. Well now, I am insisting upon all possible good juju. “La Concorde” is officially no more!



The Delivery Saga Part 2 – ICW

Having heard that the ICW can sometimes be a bit barren when it comes to supplies, I procured a copy of Waterway Guide Southern 2014 (Waterway Guide Southern Edition) to help find fuel, anchorages, etc.  I can’t tell you how valuable this guide turned out to be.  When we made it to Sabine, we found a fuel dock where we could replenish our tanks.  Their pumps were broken, but the nice people at the marina gave me a lift so I could fill our empty gerry cans.  Fearing a possible mutiny, due to the prior nights discomfort, I also bought the crew a few pints of ice cream.  Which was very happily consumed.

Full of fuel and Ice Cream, we set off up the Sabine Canal to find the ICW.  We were a bit worried about barge traffic in the ICW and weren’t sure whether or not we would be able to happily navigate among the barges and tug boats.  We were very pleasantly surprised.  As the sun went down we flicked on our navigation lights, brought out the handheld VHF, got plenty of flashlights on deck and proceeded on.

I had heard that Barge traffic in the ICW can be intolerable for pleasure craft.  But I’m happy to report this couldn’t be farther from the truth.  As long as you keep a sharp eye out for signals from the barges, and an ear on the VHF, they, for the most part, left large swathes of water for us to navigate around them, and coached us through locks and bridges when they could tell we were confused.  We did come across one barge that created some risk due to lack of proper lighting.. you can’t tell how far those things go if there aren’t any lights on the bow, and lack of signaling.  But we manged to get around him no problem.

ICW Lock

We also had one soft grounding that took us about 20 minutes to get free.

Around Lake Charles, I noted a slight vibration in my propeller shaft at the stuffing box.  It appeared to be a very minor vibration, and wasn’t affecting us too much, so we continued on.  By the time we hit Morgan City, the vibration had gotten much worse, we had also discovered that my newly rebuilt transmission was leaking a large amount of fluid, affecting the way it shifted in and out of neutral.  We decided to stop at a public dock in Morgan City (on Berwick Bay, on the Atchafalaya River).

The Girlfriend, AKA rescue support team came and picked us up the next morning, sad to see The Boat layed up against a cheapo transient dock, and we went home to figure out, fix or tow.

The Delivery Saga Part 1

After purchase was complete, we spent more than 9 months of hard work in Clear Lake, the transmission was rebuilt, a leaky valve cover was replaced, batteries were upgraded, the toilet was rebuilt (twice), electrical issues were solved, a battery monitor was installed, the propane system was replaced, capstan anchor retriever rebuilt… to list a few.  Before I dive into our delivery, let me say that these accomplishments wouldn’t have been possible without the help of friends, family, and the help of local boat experts in Clear Lake and Kemah.

We left Watergate Yachting Center at 1:00 pm on Wednesday (May 18), the plan was to sail to Galveston, then push out into the gulf for Morgan City (following the coast line) then put in and use the Intracoastal Waterway to maneuver to South Shore Harbor in New Orleans.  Things started off great.  We had good wind getting to Galveston, and no issues navigating through the heavy commercial traffic coming into and leaving Galveston Bay.  We pushed into the gulf and hoisted Sails around 7:00 pm.  Forecasts were consistent with predictions all week:  10-15 knot winds, 3-4 ft. seas.  As we were leaving Galveston bay, we navigated around the breakwater, which was producing waves higher than we expected, but not to worry, it should settle down soon right?

Wrong..  as the sun went down, the seas and winds both grew increasingly violent.  We pulled in the Jib and put 2 reefs in the main (the maximum amount for my sail) and pressed on.  We battled the heavy seas for hours making very little progress.  With a seasick, and exhausted crew of 5, we decided to drop anchor and ride it out until the waves and wind subsided.  The cabins were rolling so violently, that any who tried to go below soon found themselves back on deck.  We slept either in the cockpit, or on deck harnessed and strapped in all night.  Watching the top of the mast throw itself back and forth against the starry backdrop was so surreal.  With an ear to the deck you could hear the entire boat vibrating with the energy of the waves and wind.  Rigging hummed and the the hull flexed as it carried us through the night.  I’m not very poetic by any means, but be so in tune with the movement of the boat, to trust in it to do it’s job (people in, water out, mast up) was an amazing experience.

As the sun rose, I want to say we woke up, but I think it’s fair to say that none of us slept very much that night.  Anyway, we found that our anchor rode had snapped in the middle of the night, leaving us to drift freely except for the storm drogue which we had also dropped with the anchor.  The drogue performed very well, not allowing us to drift more than a quarter mile.

We hoisted sail, pulled the drogue and set off along the coast toward Sabine, TX.  Conditions at this point were sublime.  If it had not been for the sad state of our hungry, dehydrated, and exhausted crew, I think we would have continued our sail to Morgan City.  But as it were, we were in a sad state of affairs, so we decided to put in at Sabine, take on fuel, and finish the trip on the ICW.

Before the storm.. so happy to be sailing in the Gulf. Bringing her home.

Taking Delivery

Before you buy your new boat, any seafaring person would advise you to get a good pre-purchase survey.  A surveyor will be able to measure if your deck is victim to moisture intrusion, if your bottom paint is in need of refresh, and many other things that might not be otherwise apparent.  A good surveyor will have insight into potential engine problems, electrical inconsistencies, and future maintenance expenses.

I got a good recommendation, and hired Lou Stahlberg for my survey.  His report was very thorough and noted several issues that prepared me for upcoming projects, cost, and recommended mechanics who would be up to repairs that I might not be prepared to handle.


A survey is in many ways, a start to a project list.  It also eases the process of boat ownership.  Most marinas will require you have insurance before leasing space, and you won’t have much luck getting insurance without a good survey to prove the seaworthiness of your new vessel.

Surveys are well and good, probably necessary unless you’re buying a new boat from a dealer.  But there’s a lot a survey won’t tell you.  One of the simplest dollar for dollar best ways to save money after buying a boat is to do a full and thorough inventory of everything you have on board.  I learned this lesson after several weeks working on The Intern.  After countless trips to the hardware store, I started to find I was doubling up on tools and supplies that I didn’t really need.

I went through every locker, writing down everything that might be useful.  I found toolboxes, supply boxes filled with hardware that I thought I needed, lines, materials.  Lots of the gaskets, tubes of silicone, lines, and other materials were no longer useful.  I noted a lot of the materials I threw away in case I came across a need for them again.  I also found a ton of would be project supplies that never got put into use.  Not only did this provide a good insight to thoughts about the previous owner’s plans for future improvement, but also let me know where there were issues that he was battling before or during the time of purchase.

I came away from the inventory with a plethora of new supplies, two toolboxes of tools, plenty of hardware to get me through a few weeks of work, and a huge library of books to work through before I started buying educational materials.  Fabulous.

Why buy a boat? The misconceptions

Misconception #1: boats (boats I can afford) are uncomfortable, cramped, short on space.

I like to think of The Intern as a small apartment. I have a v-berth forward that serves as a bedroom/closet, and galley big enough to cook in, and a living/dining room that’s large enough to host a modest sized dinner party. If I stretch my imagination, I can even consider my navigation desk a small in-home office.

Let’s be clear, boats are not houses, especially sailboats of modest size, where the real estate is not what you would find in a motor-yacht of similar length, or a houseboat built for dock-side living and not much else. People who choose to live on boats aren’t looking for a house.

Today in New Orleans, if you want to live alone for under $1500, your options are pretty limited to begin with. As location improves, space is going to decrease unless you make your budget flexible.

For less than $1100/ month, I have a comfortable place to sleep, central air conditioning, heat, a refrigerator (admittedly not functional at this writing), 3 burner stove and oven (propane) a comfortable bathroom and shower (with plenty of hot water). Not to mention a topside cockpit, and deck that I can stretch a hammock over.

Did I mention I get to pick my neighbors?

Misconception #2: boats are expensive.

B.O.A.T. Break Out Another Thousand
BOAT: a large hole in the water, into which, one throws all their money

When you start to tell people that you bought a boat, or are thinking of buying a boat, you can expect to hear a lot of horror stories about the colossal costs that are associated with boat ownership.

You won’t hear me disagree, but there are different levels of boat projects, liveaboards, cost is determined entirely based on what you want to do, where you want to go, and how much you feel comfortable taking on yourself.

There are hundreds of solidly build boats from the 1970s in marinas today for sale. Manyof these, depending on the condition, and how well they’re equipped, are listed for less than what you’ll pay for a modest new car. What’s more, it’s not impossible to finance your used boat the same way you would a new/ used car. To put this in perspective, I put $0 down on the intern, financed $27,000 for 4 years.

So in 4 years, I’ll have more than 20K in equity and a place to live? Not a bad deal.

For me, sailability, mobility, and reliability are as important to me as a comfortable place to live. I went after this project wanting to come out with a sailboat and an apartment. Given the state at purchase, I have, and intend to continue to spend money on repairs, upgrades, and improvements. But if I wanted to stay at the dock from the purchase on, no reason I couldn’t have done that straight away after the initial purchase.

If I sound like I’m on a soapbox, let me sprinkle in some reality. I don’t think everyone should go buy a boat, and move to the marina. This is not a lifestyle for everyone. Things break, as I will detail, in several posts to follow. There are concessions to be made (your lazyboy recliner is probably on the cut list). But as I embrace the lifestyle, I am more rewarded with every completed project, and every minute on the water.

Why buy a boat?

So why buy a boat?

New overall life advice… Graduate college, go buy a boat, and live on it.

People generally laugh, or write that advice off as a jape, but I’m more and more starting to see the benefits unravel. As has already been written, a year ago I was at the end of a long apartment lease, fed up with the prospect of finding a new place to live, tracking down roommates to make the whole thing affordable, then picking up and moving, all the while getting very little out of my $900-$1200 a month. From a straight dollars and cents standpoint, renting is a huge waste.

So, in describing this quandary to a co-worker, he suggested that I just buy a boat and live on it. Though I think he would deny it today, this suggestion was made in complete and utter humor. But the idea was there, and so off I went.

Today, when people find out that I’m about to make The Intern my full time home, the shock starts at the imagined extreme shortage of space and comfort, and ends with the statement “well I could never afford that anyway.” More to come on this.

Before you start walking the docks looking for your new house, I recommend The Essentials of Living Aboard a Boat

Intro to Sailing

Inaugural post…no pressure. This may be the first official post about The Intern, but it is most certainly not the beginning of the story. We first met the boat back in August of 2013. Sam was on a mission to find the perfect live aboard and impress all of his friends. I was probably amused with the novelty of the idea, more than anything. One day, Sam told me he’d made an offer on a boat in Texas so that it didn’t get sold out from under him, and a he needed to make a trip out to see it. So, away we went. Highlights of the trip involved sleeping sans AC in the back of the truck in a McDonald’s parking lot, being sweaty and gross for the survey and sea trial, delicious beer and pizza, and again sleeping in the back of the truck sans AC in a parking lot. We’re classy, folks.

As with any thorough inspection, the survey turned up a few issues, none of them deal breakers. The boat had been pretty well maintained, but there were a few mechanical issues and comfort problems to address. The head didn’t work. The fridge still doesn’t. The first time we tried to go out and sail on our own, the transmission pulled a nutty and left us dead in the water and at the mercy of the tow company. For a girl whose prior boating experience was limited to fishing out of canoes and sunbathing on a catamaran while obliging men brought her drinks, this was disconcerting.

Luckily, Sam is both optimistic and industrious. He hired a mechanic service to work on the engine issues while we were five hours away at home in New Orleans. Weekends when we could make the trip, we drove back to Texas to do repairs with our own two (four?) hands. Sam noted the jib needed cleaning, so he washed it in a pool, and we spread it out at a park to dry while we drank beers. Through the process, we met some great people who have boat loads (horrible, I apologize) more experience than either of us, and they helped, too. There was the weekend when four men re ran all the wiring, replaced the batteries and battery charger, and installed a new battery monitor. I, on the other hand, stayed out of the way and looked up how to treat electrocution burns, just in case. We also, yes, I helped on this one, completely removed the toilet from the head, cleaned the whole thing, and replaced the macerator pump before reinstalling. This was a glorious moment for me, as I had grown very tired of trekking to the marina bathroom in the middle of the night.

There have been tons of projects over the past ten or so months, or at least it seems that way. I have learned that boats require you to be a jack of all trades; one day you’re a mechanic, the next you’re an electrician, and that night you’re a drunk pirate wannabe with celestial navigation super powers. When you find that you lack the requisite skills, a good support system is clutch, be it friends or an Internet message board. Someone, somewhere has dealt with the same problem, and the best thing I’ve learned about boat people; they are by and large friendly and eager to help.

So, we’re getting close. The engine problems are sorted. We can cook, clean, and sleep comfortably. There is a solar panel, though truth be told, I don’t know how much power it contributes. Sam is sponging up all sorts of knowledge and experience, and I find that I am less awkward and neurotic while out on the water now. Soon, The Intern will leave the marina in Texas and make its way back to New Orleans, where it will be a floating home on Lake Pontchartrain. On the one hand, it will be the end of journey, but on the other, it will hopefully be the beginning of an even bigger adventure.