Thursday, May 29, 2008

What a long, strange trip it's been

…or Crazy Cat Lady gets outdone by Crazy Cat Guy

I met my best friend in college. We were on the gymnastics team together. I recognized him as a kindred spirit in the greater context of the universe and my perception was correct. We've been friends for a lotta decades now, given that we both hit sixty in the last half-year, and we've shared a number of adventures together over the years. I commented in another post that Bob is the one guy who'd always go along when I said, "Hey! Ya know what would be fun…?" Even when other people thought we were nuts. Even when they knew we were nuts. Even when we knew we were nuts.

I do have a point I wanna get to; but it's me, so it's gonna take a while to get there. Grab a beverage and follow along. Maybe a light snack, too.

One of our early commonalities was sailing. At one point in college, we decided to try to cross Lake Pontchartrain in a SeaSnark. For those of you unfamiliar with either or both of these, Lake Pontchartrain is not really a lake; it's an inlet/bay of the Gulf of Mexico, it's salt water, and it's about 25 miles across. A SeaSnark is a small sailboat made (IIRC) of styrofoam and suitable only for pleasant daysailing.

No, we didn't make it across on that particular adventure. Hey! It's the journey that's important, not the destination. Right?

Right after college we came very close to buying a slightly larger sailboat together, a 42-footer which had been designed and built by John Alden as his personal ocean racer. Unfortunately, that particular deal fell through and we didn't sail together again for almost thirty years, partly because in the mid-70s I moved from New Orleans to Seattle. This meant that Bob and I had a long-distance friendship but it remained strong. We had other adventures while mostly trying to make our way through what society foolishly calls "real life."

I remember one lovely camping trip when we were at the Dinosaur National Monument campground on the Green River. Now the Green River is one which is great for whitewater rafting trips, rating a Class III~IV on the scale of Total Bad-Assness. (I think that's the official term.) There were lots of sandstone towers across the river from the campground, so naturally we took an inflatable pool-type air mattress and hand-paddled across the river to explore and scale these formations. That expedition was successful. And we even made it back to the campground without drowning. Very successful!

Many years passed before Bob came to the Northwest for an actual whitewater raft trip. Rather than going with a boring, ordinary (expensive) guided trip, we went with a friend of a friend. Naturally this friend's friend was the kind of guy who made me look like a safety-weenie granny. His first suggestion was that we should use ducks. I dunno why the call 'em that; but a duck is a one person inflatable (raft-ish) whitewater paddle-craft.

Problem is, the composition of our group was: Our guide (Mister Macho No-Fear Professional), our mutual friend (Todd) who had a decent amount of whitewater experience, me who had a decent amount of whitewater experience, Bob who'd never done whitewater before, and another guy who'd never done whitewater before and had a baaaaaad hangover. Lemme tell ya about doing whitewater in a duck. It's hard fucking work.

A kayak moves easily through the water and your power-to-weight ratio as a solo paddler is pretty good. You are fast and maneuverable. A duck on the other hand has lots of wetted surface and it's an open boat. It's pretty much constantly full of water. That means it's heavy. And slow. It's approximately a googol more difficult to paddle a duck than a 'yak. Of course, if you have no experience in either, the duck is safer in the sense that you're sitting on/in it, not inside it like a 'yak. If you flip, you're swimming. If you flip in a 'yak, without knowing how to roll, you drown. And we're talking about water which was a glacier about five minutes ago. It's approximately 32.000001 degrees F.

I did not wanna do this trip in a duck and, being the almost, kinda, somewhat semi-responsible thoughtful fellow that I am, I definitely did not want Bob or the hungover newbie to do it in a duck. Todd obviously agreed because as soon as Mister Professional made the suggestion, we both all-but-screamed, "No! Let's just use the raft."

Did I mention that our intended river was typically a Class III, usually running at about 7000~8000 cfs (cubic feet per second) during times of good rafting, maybe threatening 10000 on an "exciting" day? Did I also mention that on this particular day it was running near 15000? Class III, my hairy, white ass.

Mister Professional grudgingly gave in and we put down the duckies (Hmmmnnnn, does this mean we can now play the saxophone?) and loaded the raft, the 8-person raft!, with 4 of us as paddlers, 2 of whom were newbies. You know that's gonna make for an exciting day at 15000 cfs.

And it was. We hit every bump and hole in the river and it was a hoot, even if we did have only 4 manpower in a boat which usually requires 8. Two incidents stand out from that trip. One, there's a spot where there's an eddy which you can catch and ride back upstream to take as many trips as you want over a particular set of rapids. The 'yaks do it all the time; rafters not so much, due to their lesser maneuverability. We, of course, went for it and made it! The first time.

The second time was less successful. We got sideways in the transition, then approached vertical, and everybody exited the boat in an octopus of flailing limbs except Mister Professional and your humble narrator. You know the old expression "eyes as big as saucers"? Well, Bob grew up in New Orleans. He's used to warm water. And he's used to the fact that if you're wearing a full wetsuit PLUS a lifejacket, you should float like a fucking cork. But this is whitewater. It churns. It roils. It gets foamy. And Bob is in this stuff, shocked from the instant FREEZE and unable to believe that he's not able to easily stay above the surface, despite his wetsuit and lifejacket. Like I said, eyes as big as saucers. I was so very happy to still be in the boat!

So Mister Professional controlled the raft while I pulled in our three frozen fish. Very exciting. Poor bastards shivered the entire rest of the trip.

The other memorable incident from that trip was the waterfall. Now, this is not a waterfall like you might typically imagine, with some huge drop. It's actually part of a manmade dam/flood-control system and the drop is typically only a coupla feet. At 15K cfs it was about 5 feet. No matter how large or small the drop is, no matter what the conditions, the professional rafters pull out and portage around it. All of them, all the time.

So, naturally, we went over it. Happily we made it. The alternative would have been bad. Very bad. Whitewater folks call it "getting maytagged." Like the washing machine. Get it?

It was a great day on the water! Any experience you survive is a good one, right?

For Bob's 40th birthday, I gave him a climbing rope and a plane ticket to Seattle. I was pals with some of the folks who were on the 1984 Ultima Thule Everest expedition and we planned to do Mount Rainier with Bob. It would be his first major mountaineering experience. We decided to do the Sunrise side which was less crowded than the Paradise-Muir route.

Alas, we didn't summit. Bob was great; he was ready to and could have. We failed to summit because my friend Tom, who had been on Everest fer gawd's sake, threw out his back and had to be carried back to the car on a litter. So Bob made it to the high camp level of the mountain (about 9500~10000 feet) but not to the summit. (Brief Aside: Tom wound up with some significant back problems and spent a lot of time out of work and in the hospital. Good thing he'd already been to Everest and back. It would NOT have been good to have that happen there.)

On the "success" side of this story, however, our attempt was during the period of the Perseid meteor shower. The night we camped at altitude, away from the loom of civilized light pollution, was a clear night. We were in our sleeping bags inside our bivi sacks, looking up at the night sky. Physical exhaustion and high-altitude low O2 conspired to make us sleepy but the sky was so beautiful we tried desperately to stay awake. The sky itself was fabulous but when it was streaked so frequently with the fire trails of the Perseids… Well, just WOW! I constantly found myself suddenly waking after a period of falling asleep despite trying to stay focused on the light show. The next morning, everybody reported the same experience. We all tried to stay awake to watch but constantly fell asleep for brief periods before waking again in excitement.

The most beautiful night I've ever spent camping. Exquisite.

We also put that rope to some good use rock climbing during that visit. Bob experienced a delightful (that means too-scared-even-to-shit-yourself!) rappel from a cliff of about 150 feet and also got to experience a fall from about halfway up while climbing that same cliff. Happily I was on belay when he peeled off and managed to hold him safely. Phew!

But sailing together… not so much. In fact, not at all. I had tried to be sailor when I moved to Seattle but it's just too damned cold for me to enjoy it most of the time. However, Ronnie and I talked it over and finally we dug into the family budget and gave me a 10-day boys-will-be-boys-only vacation with Bob chartering in the Caribbean.

Thanks, Ronnie! You're the best!

So in the Fall of 2000, Bob and I headed to the Virgin Islands to go sailing together for the first time in 30 years. I'd been a fan of the Freedom line of sailboats for a long time. My former Seattle boat partner had been a salesman for them, as well as other lines, and I knew and liked them very much. As it happened, there was one company in the Caribbean which chartered Freedoms, instead of the usual Beneteau Oceanis line of crap, so we had a fairly new Freedom 35 lined up for us for a 10-day cruise through the Virgins. No snide jokes, please!

Mercifully, I won't go into details about that trip. Suffice it to say that it was a great one, featuring 151-rum pina colada night, crystal-craze gummi candies served in red wine (Delicious, I swear! Try it!), and an appearance by the Infamous Monkey Bastard. Get Bob to tell you about him; I have nothing to say on the topic of the Infamous Monkey Bastard. Oh yeah, and some fabulous sailing, snorkeling, anchorages, chatting, etc.

Our next big sail was gonna be a crossing of the Gulf of Mexico from New Orleans to Florida, after our family had bought the Zombie Princess in preparation for a family cruise. The Gulf is notorious and I wanted to spare the girls that crossing cuz it can be nasty. Our plan was for Ronnie and the girls to drive to someplace like Naples while Bob and I sailed the boat there. Then Bob would drive our car back and park it while we continued on the first leg of our family cruise. Great plan. Unfortunately Katrina decided to put in an appearance. Oops.

So, our planned open-water sail did not materialize that year. While Bob tried to put his life back together in New Orleans, our little family escaped post-Katrina New Orleans and headed out into the Gulf on our own. You can read all about that on the ZP blog.

Now it's 2008. We're back in the Northwest, living the land-bound life and Bob has mostly put his New Orleans life back together, to the point where he's ready to sell one of his buildings. For the last coupla decades, although it seems longer, Bob has spent most of his waking time, money, and emotional effort supporting his girlfriend Anita in her pursuit of the crown of Craziest Cat Lady in the Universe. She has approximately 200 cats. We won't talk about the dogs; that's another subject. Yes, they all used to live at her suburban home. Well, Bob turned the garage into a cat condo, so they weren't all in the house all the time. Supposedly. Nonetheless…

Think about it. Ick! Luckily for her, two factors assisted her mania greatly: One, there is no number limitation specified on animal ownership where she lives; and two, garbage pickup is a flat rate, no matter how many cans you put out. And they put out a LOT of cans of litter every week, I can tell you. Due to legal and neighborhood pressure, Bob finally had to create a cat ranch for her on the North side of the lake on some property he has there and they moved most of the cats to the ranch. Most of 'em. Chainlink fencing and blue tarp roofs provided shelter for the cats and her fulltime caretaker started out living there in a tent.

Speaking of Katrina, here's a story for ya. While that 'cane destroyed most of civilized New Orleans, the cats in their chainlink housing with blue tarp roofs and the caretaker in his fucking tent survived unharmed. Go figure. FYI the caretaker now has a more substantial dwelling with airconditioning. Poor bastard. With the sale of his building (remember I mentioned that a coupla paragraphs ago), Bob is ready to build a house for Anita on that property and maybe a coupla rental units, for future income. Thus, she can be with her beloved cats fulltime. Except, of course, for the nights of the week (most of them) when she goes around the city feeding feral cats. And… well, never mind. I don't wanna be too negative. I'll bite my tongue.

However, Bob has dug deep into his almost-desiccated well of personal desire and fulfillment and used some of that money to buy something for himself. Way to go, my dearest friend! It's about fucking time!

Anita may have 200ish cats but Bob is about to have one. A 13-year-old cat. But she's a honey. A Fountaine-Pajot Athena 38. Isn't she a beauty?

Calliphygian, too. Meeeee-ooooowwww!

She has four staterooms and two heads and a huge saloon [N.B. Yes, that is the proper term. Check your Chapman.] which opens to an equally huge cockpit. I tend to describe her as "bigger than your first apartment." Deckspace and the forward trampolines are a crowd-pleaser and the interior has that unmistakable French flair.

Even the galley is stylish. That triangular shape to the left of the sink and stove is the fridge. Here's her layout:

She's had a recent refit, including a repaint. Cool!

She's currently in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, and Bob has signed the paperwork on a completed offer. Survey and sea trials are still pending; but assuming the survey goes well, he'll own her in about a month. Once he finally owns her, he'll hafta get her back to New Orleans. So, finally, we have a lovely twist of fate. Bob couldn't help me sail the Zombie Princess from New Orleans to Florida but it looks like I'll get to help him sail Gort from Florida to New Orleans.

Yeah, Gort. Remember the wonderful movie from the early 50s The Day the Earth Stood Still? Remember the implacable robot, Gort, and the shape of his visor covering his laser-firing lens? The Fountaine-Pajot cabintop and windowspace instantly reminded Bob of that look and I agree. Whatcha think?

Anyway, if all goes well, Gort and his dink, Klaatu, will be heading to New Orleans, probably in early August, and I'll be crewing for my best friend and the kindest, most wonderful guy in the entire fucking universe (including Klaatu!), Captain Bob.

Congratulations, mon vieux! You deserve this a thousand times over and I am EXCITED to crew for ya!


  1. Aye, she's a fine looking craft. Glad to hear that you get to visit the gulf again. I'm one of those that likes boats but not the water. Funny for a guy that spent his life working on Navy ships, huh?

  2. Funnier still, Scott, that you sailed on ships in the USN!!

    Great story, Frank, and congratulations, Bob. She's really a good lookin' cat! Wish we were all in the Carib!

  3. I am so, so happy I clicked over from Craig & Gillian's blog. What a great story -- congrats to Bob!!

    If you do end up 'round Atlanta way, let me know... I'm in Charlotte, about 3 hours away.

    Oh, here's a link to a book you might enjoy - written by another unschooling Dad! about some of his canoeing adventures. He was a stuntman and consultant for Deliverance, and is an all-around really great guy.