Category Archives: Flicka 20

Outboard update, staying in the old slip, rowing my dinghy

Greg and I went down to the marina last weekend, to see what we could see. Our plan was to spin Elska around in her slip, bring her engine close to the dock, and remove the carburetor for a good cleaning. Seemed easy enough.

Years ago, probably 1996 or so, I bought my second dilapidated VW bus – my 4th Volkswagon in total (and my last). Sitting one afternoon in a Volkswagon IRC chatroom (ANYONE REMEMBER IRC?), a few of the guys inspired me to try doing a tune-up by myself. I was in the same position I am with my boat, unable to get the damn thing out of the driveway. I went to a local auto parts store and bought oil and spark plugs and a bunch of tools and other random stuff I don’t remember, and a few days later I got back in that chatroom, announced my intentions, and went to work. I alternated going out to the bus, and back in the house to my adorable orange iMac to tell them what I was doing and how it was going. They led me through an oil change and a tune-up, it was brilliant. And it worked. I drove her out of the driveway that afternoon, triumphant. I figured if I could pull that off, this little outboard wasn’t going to stymy me.

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My dream to sail the canals of Europe


Looking out past the breakwater at my marina. Shilshole Bay Marina, Seattle WA.

I have this little very big and wonderful sailing dream. It’s ten years off, so there’s a lot of time to plan and figure out if I can how to do it, and what’s a sailor without cruising plans, right? But it’s hard to talk about. I have fibromyalgia, I’m not in any kind of decent physical shape. I don’t know how to solo sail yet. I get exhausted after a day sail, when the winds are fair and the weather is fine. Dreaming of anything further than a trip across the Sound, would seem very unrealistic at this time. But screw it, dreams are allowed to be unrealistic. Today I was talking to someone about this, and I said, “I feel like I need permission to dream,” and without missing a beat he whipped out a little notepad and wrote, “Dear Hollie, You have permission to dream.” Then he signed it, and handed it to me. I laughed, stared at it for awhile, then put it into my book for safekeeping.

Without further ado: I want to someday sail the canals of Europe with my friend C.

The “canals of Europe” are just what they sound like: a network of rivers and canals that meander through the cities and countrysides of most European countries. Here’s a map of Germany’s canals, for example. Apparently, so I have learned, people in Europe know all about these canals and treat them like interesting vacation ideas, much like we do the Grand Canyon or any other beautiful outdoor feature. Most Americans may not even realize these canals exist, or that one can travel upon them when in Europe. I first found out about them on some sailing blogs a few years ago, but didn’t realize how common it was to wander on them, until C and I started talking about it.

To me it sounds like the best kind of adventure. I’ve seen some of Paris and much of Ireland, but that was just a taste. Europe is filled with history, languages, cultures, and a thousand places I’ve read about in books but never seen. Despite how impressive (and it’s very impressive) the internet is these days in terms of letting us armchair travel, I want to visit again in person, and see a lot more this time. And I’d love to do it from my own boat. Her mast would have to come down, but her mast is stepped in a tabernacle designed for easy removal. Most sailboats that do the canals lay their mast down, on supports. Works fine.

And Elska would be up for the challenge. She was built with offshore cruising in mind, though she has an outboard, not a diesel, which I know goes against common wisdom for long offshore voyages. You’d think that the hardest part of a dream like this would be getting the vessel, so it’d seem like having the boat already would be a huge step forward. Well, it turns out, with this dream, the biggest obstacles are inexperience and poor health. I’m 41 years old, and I want to do this when I’m 52 or so, about ten years from now (I turn 42 in a couple months). A decade is a fair amount of time to acquire experience. It’s the health that’s really the issue. If I continue on my current trajectory of gaining around a pound a month and becoming incrementally more sedentary with each passing year, then I’m on track to sail to Europe (a word I’ve mistakenly written as “Alaska” three times – is my subconscious trying to tell me something?) with basically zero muscle tone, over a hundred extra pounds, and fibromyalgia. It’d be like sending a large, weak, very bruised rock to sea in a small boat. I wouldn’t last long.

If this dream is to have a chance of ever shaping up to be a real-life voyage, I need to eat better, and figure out how to get stronger even while having fibro. This is a big challenge, but the reward of a sailing adventure is more than worth the work. I know a lot of people who run 5Ks and marathons to keep themselves motivated to eat well and keep up an exercise routine. I really miss being able to run, and would love to know again that sensation of running fast, arms pounding and breath beating out of me, without feeling like an old jalopy that has parts rattling and falling to the wayside every few seconds. I have rolls of fat that jiggle so hard when I run that after a few seconds I’m actually in pain just from the flesh flying around. But running a 5K, pounding the pavement next to a sea of sweaty and overly-spandexed humanity isn’t the right motivator for my psyche. The biggest motivator isn’t running or even a hike, it’s raising my own sails and knowing that I can lift the outboard and put her down again, that I can handle a day of sailing on my own. That to me is sweeter than any race, and even sweeter than a hike through a forest. It’s the sweetest thing. There is nothing better than sailing.

The wonderful cosmic gift of meeting C. is one I’ve been meaning to write about. A few weeks ago, I got a message from a woman in Norway. She also has a chronic pain condition, and she also loves small boats. In fact, she lives on one! She blogs about her life here. She loves sailing, she loves the simplicity and self-reliance and adventure of a small vessel, and she copes with a lot of the same frustrations around feeling ill that I do. She read a couple of my blog posts and wrote to say she’d enjoyed them.

Thus began what has become a friendship I treasure. In an odd coincidence, over the last year I’d gotten into watching some Norwegian films (The Wave is my favorite), and decided I’d try to learn Norwegian. I use Duolingo and Mondly, both apps for the iPad. So when C. wrote me, it was so fun that she happened to be Norwegian, and we’ve had a great time talking about Norway. I also happen to live in Ballard, a neighborhood of Seattle that filled with Scandinavian settlers in the 1850’s and has continued to be a haven for a large percentage of that population ever since.

It felt like such a magical thing, to have an interest in a country and its language, then to have someone from that place write me out of the blue to strike up a conversation. And then to find out we had so much in common! It felt meant to be, and I’m so grateful she took the time to make the connection.

And now we have this dream, to buddy boat Elska  and Bearish and explore the canals. Greg wants to come too, although he can only make it for the first couple months. Once safely in the canals, he’d probably fly home to work, and then return to help me get home later. In the interim, I’d be sailing solo (with C. on Bearish), and would have room open for family and friends to visit for a couple weeks at a time to share in the canal adventure. It’s a lovely dream. I have to stop myself from writing “crazy dream”. It isn’t crazy. On my end, it’s unlikely. It’s not easy. But it isn’t impossible, and that’s good enough for me.

Ten years is a good long time to prepare. And if I do prepare, and my preparations aren’t good enough, that’s okay; there are other ways to make this dream happen. I might get in shape, but never be able to reach the kind of fitness I would need for a passage. I might not feel experienced enough, even in ten years. A dozen things might happen that lead us to believe that an offshore passage isn’t a smart thing to do. In that case, we can ship Elska to Europe and fly to meet her. Or, alternately, C. could start the journey on her own, and I could meet up with her travel with her on Bearish for a few weeks. There are many versions of this dream, and they all come with differing levels of probability.

For now, I’m orienting myself to the tallest peak, that of sailing Elska there. It may not seem likely, but I don’t care what anybody else thinks about it. Focus on your own dreams. What matters is how happy my dream makes me now. I asked Greg about this, one night. I asked if he thought it was foolish to have a dream that had so little chance of being possible, or that was so likely to change. He said that he believed that any future dream that kept a person focused on the future and missing life now, was a mistake in focus. But, he said, if the dream makes me happy now, and it motivates me to live life now in a way that makes me happy and inspires me to good things in honor of that future goal, than dream away. I married a good guy.

To get to the Atlantic in order to make a passage, Elska would need to be shipped to the east coast, which is fine. She’s very trailerable. Or it means putting my little boat on a very big boat and motoring across the Atlantic as cargo. Or using a UFO tractor beam, but the mothership hasn’t been returning my calls. Or sailing down past California, through the Panama Canal, and blah blah blah no no no. If I were going to do that, I’d want to spend a year or so exploring the islands and countries of that area, and that has no appeal at this time. My feelings might change (talk to me again in December), but for now the idea of sailing near the equator sounds like volunteering to sit on a pan of water in an oven turned up to four hundred degrees. With hungry mosquitoes. The only thing that tempts me about the tropics is the idea of standing on the gunwale and leaping off into warm water, but I will hopefully be able to do that in Desolation Sound someday, so for now, meh. I’d rather see Europe.

Maybe it will happen. Hopefully it will happen. I’m going to plan for it to happen, and see….what happens.

Polishing bronze gone awry, docking gone awry, and other bits

I’m trying to clean up my office. It’s wrecked (I wrecked it). Our kitchen is still a demolition site, and the stress from the lack of control I have over that situation led me to come upstairs and try to clean up a mess I ostensibly can control. That’ll teach me to follow my instincts! After thirty minutes I realized I have no control over my own messiness, either. I was gripped with a sudden urge to feel productive, and when I write a blog post, I feel productive. So I’m going to patch together some maintenance news. And maybe an embarrassing docking story, just to liven things up.

First up: I thought I’d polish some bronze, but I wish I’d read the internet before I tried. Or thought to ask the folks on the Flicka list. Instead I headed over to West Marine (I can already hear the groans), and asked someone there what to do. He walked me to a small blue tin labeled Never Dull, took it off the shelf and held it out to me, saying, “This is what the Navy uses,” as if that were all I needed to know. I pried off the lid, expecting to see paste, but instead it was filled with what looked like wool roving soaked in syrup.

“What do I do with this stuff?”

“You just pull out a wad of it, and use that to rub the bronze.”

I sniffed the can. That was a mistake. “Do I wear gloves?” I asked him.

“Well I don’t, but then I don’t give a shit.”

I laughed. “Well,” I said, “I do have some gloves on board, in case I decide a shit should be given.”

I took it back to Elska, and found my gloves (shit given!). I pulled out wad of the….stuff….and started rubbing a porthole. The directions are simple. You’re supposed to rub the dirty thing, and then when that’s done, you rub the now-clean thing with a rag. I rubbed the portholes with the stuff. Nothing happened. They looked wet, something was coming off the stuff, but it didn’t seem to be getting rid of the green, or doing anything to help the discoloration.

But the worst part was when my hand swerved (heavy woman on small boat, the thing rocks), and I swiped the boat with the Never Dull. It left a mark! I tried to wipe it off immediately, and it didn’t help. I tried using water to get it off. That didn’t help. The marks are still there, you can see the staining on the right and left sides. ARRGH.


What do I do now? I need to post this to the Flicka list and see if they have any ideas. I should have gone there first.

From what I’ve read, you shouldn’t even bother cleaning the bronze. The patina is protective. I never knew! Also, I’d wanted to shine up the teak, but what I’m reading is that once you go down that road, you can’t go back. Now you’re stuck shining up the teak every few months, which for me would involve many spoons. (Not literal spoons. Referring to your energy level as your number of spoons is an elegant metaphor for exhaustion thought up by a woman with chronic illness.)

And the weathered teak is the preference of many – including my hubby Greg. He said, “Shine up anything else you want, but I’d love it if you could leave the teak the way it is now.” Well, okay then. I’ve got enough on my plate with fibromyalgia and finishing college and raising two kids who for some reason can’t see what’s so great about sailing (clearly I’m doing something wrong). I guess the brightwork will just have to get dull. As long as I get to go sailing, I don’t care.

I moved on to other housework. I had some small pans and a small roasting rack from the old boat, but the new boat doesn’t have an oven (which is fine, I never used the oven on Lehua anyway). I used the pans for organizing, and then I used the rack to stand up the plates so I could fit more in that little cupboard. These might rattle around later, we’ll see. But I thought it was a clever use of the rack. For a few seconds, I felt like Martha Stewart. Except I’ve never been blonde. Or convicted of insider trading.



And then I hung up the pendant that my mom got me, which, now that I take a second look at it, might be tempting fate a little more than I’m comfortable with. Hmmm.



And then I bought a combination lock, one that I can set to whatever combination I want. I chose 7645. KIDDING.




Before they gave us the boat, Dave and Sherrie were kind enough to buy us two key-locking Master locks that are perfect for the lazarette and the companionway hatch boards. But, I’m the kind of person to whom Murphy’s law gets applied to a little too liberally. That’s why I’m superstitious (okay now I really am rethinking hanging that pendant on board). I know that very soon, I’m going to drop my keys into the drink before I have a chance to open the lock on the boat. And I’ll need to be able to get into the boat, because once I’ve dropped my keys, I won’t be able to get into my house or drive my car. So, I put a combination lock on the hatch, kept the keyed lock on the lazarette, and put the little gold key inside with the engine key, which I guard. I put the other keyed lock on the storage bin at our slip.

This is really fascinating, isn’t it? Aren’t you glad I’m writing all this down? Honey, come in here, I want to read you this part about how she changed the type of lock she uses on her companionway hatch boards. Fascinating! I can’t get enough of this! 

Okay, here’s a story for you, that I will tuck in here at the end where no one will notice. Speaking of being superstitious, I joke that in a past life I was a sailor, or a baseball player. Or both. I’m the worst when it comes to superstition. It might even qualify me for a psychological diagnosis, but let’s not pull at that thread.

For instance, I have an entire language with my family and friends to talk about the thing I’m not talking about. The best example is panic attacks. For over a decade I suffered with massive, crippling panic attacks. My diagnosis of “panic disorder” never seemed like enough. Shouldn’t it be called Ruins Every Aspect Of Your Life With Irrational Fears Disorder? When the attacks would get very bad (and they would get very bad), my friends and family would know of course, because it’s hard to miss the fact that I’m trying to get out my medication with shaking hands, eyes glazed over with terror, dropping out of the conversation, trying not to hyperventilate or throw up, or call 911 because I’m clearly dying.

So, being thoughtful people, when next they saw me, they’d say, “How are you doing?”

Now, if I was doing well, I learned that I never, ever, ever say, “I’m doing great! I haven’t had an attack in 48 hours!”

Because within 6 hours of saying that, I’d have the worst attack in months.

Instead, I’d simply say, “Things are okay.” And then I’d wink. The wink was code for, “Things are going really well, but let’s pretend we don’t notice.”

It turns out this is the same thing with docking a boat.

I learned that a few days ago. I wrote a post in which I talked about how I was good at docking. Allow me to quote myself:

Docking her is so easy. Docking is my special talent, I have an unlikely confidence with it that translates to proficiency (funny how that works), but docking Elska is like parking a VW Bug in a space meant for an RV. It’s really not that hard.

Do you know what happens when you blog? THE GODS READ YOUR BLOG.

Here’s what happened the next time I docked my boat:

I approached slowly, which I thought was prudent since this was only the third time I’d docked her,  and when is it a good idea to approach a dock at high speeds? They have hundreds of YouTube compilations of people who can’t dock or anchor (this is my favorite). As was pointed out to me by a white-haired guy on his boat across the lane from us, “A boat needs forward motion for you to have steerage.” In other words, I wasn’t going fast enough.

The wind was coming from the north, and our slip faces north, so I was docking upwind, in a starboard-tie slip. I turned to port too late, and because I was going too slow, her nose didn’t quite make it into the slip, and in that split second while my Elska thought to herself, “Huh, I don’t think I have enough forward motion to make this turn,” the wind thought, “Muahaha!” and blew her nose to starboard, where we proceeded to miss the turn entirely, and slide into Rich’s powerboat (and liveaboard home).

Greg pushed us off Rich’s boat, and floated forward down the aisle, to the point at which I thought, hey, I should just back in! I’ve done that before! So I put her into reverse, and gave her a little gas. Here’s where I will give you a word of advice: when you buy a new boat, and go from a wheel to a tiller, be very clear before you hit the gas, which way you point the tiller to go where you want to go, in reverse. Within a few seconds, Greg was fending us off another boat.

I don’t know why I wasn’t anxious, I mean this is a perfect opportunity for a panic attack. But I just laughed! It all seemed hilarious! I wasn’t hurting anyone or their property – that wouldn’t have been funny. But the thing with the Flicka is that she has tons of room, and knowing this, I was able to keep a calm head.

I wasn’t in danger of doing damage. I was just in danger of looking like an ass, which is the irony I was laughing at. I normally dock with such finesse, I’m telling you, it’s like I’m the Rain WoMan of boat docking. And no one is ever around to see it. On this day, the one day I biff it up, everyone is at their boats standing around watching. Like I said, the gods read your blog.

A few more turns around the aisle, and many comments shouted out by helpful people (that isn’t sarcasm – they really were helpful), and finally I got her in. The fellow who grabbed our lines said, “New boat?” and I laughed and nodded. Then he said, “Full keel?”

“Yes!” I said. “Do you have any advice?”

“Nope, I’ve never sailed one of those. Mine is a fin keel. But I hear they’re different to dock.”

I guess that’s something else I’ll be looking up. And of course, more practice! Not that I need another excuse to go sailing.

Maybe one day, I’ll dock like this guy:

Boat mysteries solved! We think.

I wrote a blog post a few days ago about a mysterious storage compartment, and a third faucet, on our new (to us) Flicka 20. After I posted it, I put the link on a few Facebook sailing groups, and I got a ton of great responses. Thanks to all the help, we think we finally know what’s what.

The third faucet is an air release for the freshwater tank. The mystery compartment is a combination pantry and ice box.

I made a little video to show everyone the results: