The Last of the Firsts

I’ve been feeling a bit down and out-of-sorts lately. While Hazel’s refit is proceeding well, emotionally I’m in a staring contest with the month of August and at the moment it’s unclear who’s going to win.

Regarding the refit, we’re in that classic middle-stage with a million things started but very few totally completed. In addition, given I’m having some of the work done professionally and many of the parts needed are special order, it’s important to get things moving in parallel to allow for ordering lead time and to get on professionals’ calendars. With all this being said, I’m sure I’m being overly hard on myself. If I step back, we’ve gotten a lot done and the progress is stunning. However, human nature—at least my human nature—defaults to what’s not done. I also find myself working on her obsessively and in really thinking about it (the way Winnie the Pooh would scrunch his eyes, scratch his forehead and say, “Think, Think, Think…”), I’ve been using the work on her as an escape mechanism to focus on something and thus not get too caught up in the enormity of the times.

It does feel good to “break the seal” and get into August and start the staring contest. Bottom-line, I have been dreading August. August 11th would have been Colleen’s and my 30th wedding anniversary. Ten days later, August 21st, is the first anniversary of her death. September 1st will be my 56th birthday. On top of all that, my son and his girlfriend moved out of our house in late-July and I’m readying the house for sale later this year.

I was talking to a good friend about how I’ve been feeling and she said, “What you’re going through is totally understandable. You’re going through the last of the firsts.” Hearing my condition, phrased poetically, was so helpful to me.

Over the past month I’ve gotten serious about writing my first book. I’ve got a working title and chapter outline. As a way to reorient myself to details I might have otherwise forgotten, I have been reading all my journals chronologically since I started journaling in-earnest mid-2016. A couple days ago I got to a year ago and read my accounts of the events surrounding Colleen’s death on Wednesday, August 21st, 2019. Speaking of firsts—and dreading the last of the firsts—it’s comforting to read my entries on the first Wednesday after Colleen died and on September 21st, one-month after she died. If I somehow figured out how to get through those days, I surely can get through August and September 2020.

Speaking of friends and the wisdom of friends, my July 1st post was titled “Summer 2020 Refit – Part 1 of ???”. My brother-in-law (my late-sister Amy’s husband) replied, “Dan, this (blog post) makes me contemplate how at times we have to refit our lives so we can continue to sail.” He went through so much with my sister Amy’s death from cancer. His observation was brilliant and, I dare say in retrospect, obvious; however, I never saw the connection until he said it. Maybe this summer is as much of a refit for me as it is for Hazel.

Speaking of the refit. Some items of note are:

Her water-maker has been installed! The water-maker works via reverse osmosis. Sounds complicated but not really when you break it down. Imagine two fluids separated by a semi-permeable membrane that allows the fluid to pass but not the dissolved solids in the fluids. Left to their own devices, the two fluids will attempt to reach a state of equilibrium (i.e., fluid will pass through the membrane from the lower concentrated solution to the higher concentrated solution in an attempt to bring the two solutions to the same level of concentration of dissolved solids). This is osmosis. As an example, think about the water and dissolved solids in your cells and your bloodstream. Imagine working in the hot sun all day, not drinking much and eating salty popcorn before bed. You wake up the next morning dehydrated and feeling like crap. It’s because you didn’t have a lot of water in your blood but you had a lot of salt floating around. Your cell walls are semi-permeable membranes and, via osmosis, water migrated from your cells in attempt to find an equilibrium…bottom-line, you woke up dehydrated.

The operative phrase above is left to their own devices osmosis will happen. However, if we take two solutions and a semi-permeable membrane and apply enough pressure to the higher concentrated side, we can drive the fluid through the membrane and end up with pure fluid on the lower concentration side. So—back to the water-maker—if we think about seawater at 35,000 parts per million of salt (3.5% salinity) and and our goal of producing drinkable water at less than 1,000 parts per million of salt, if we have the pressure and the membrane, we can do it. This is the essence of the reverse osmosis water-maker.

The water-maker unit is installed below HJ’s galley (kitchen)—see photos below. While it’s installed, I haven’t commissioned it yet (started using it). I still need to install a sea cock (a valve through the hull to take-in seawater). I’ll do that work when I haul her out this fall. When running, the water-maker will produce about 5 gallons per hour of very pure water from seawater and solar energy. When running, it will draw about 10 amps of electricity from Hazel’s battery banks. The good news is that I can run it during the day when the sun is shining and Hazel’s solar panels are pumping.

Hazel carries about 70 gallons of water in her tanks and when cruising by myself, I could just get by on 2 gallons a day all-in. However, that was very minimalist living (some would say crazy). It will be nice to not be constrained by water and get a quick daily shower.

Entire water-maker, the canisters to the left are pre-filters to filter out seaweed, etc. from the sea water
This is a close-up of the right side of the previous picture, this is the Clark Pump that does the reverse-osmosis work

While the water-maker might not look like much in photos. It’s an amazingly compact and energy efficient piece of kit. As of several years ago, water-makers were never found on boats Hazel’s size, they were only on large yachts.

I’ve also been doing a bit of epoxy work. Epoxy in South Florida in the summer is a bit of a challenge. Two-part epoxy consists of resin and hardener and the rate of cure (i.e., how long you can work with it after its mixed and before it hardens) is heavily dependent on temperature. The hotter the mix is, the faster it cures. This is exacerbated by the exothermic (heat producing) nature of the chemical reaction of epoxies. An epoxy resin and hardener that’s rated for 4 hours of working time at 70 degrees fahrenheit, could easily cure in under an hour at 95 degrees. Adding to that, the exothermic nature of the reaction could easily take the mix well above 100 degrees, making it unusable in a matter of minutes (and melting your epoxy cup and producing smoke to boot). To keep going in the summer I’m using ice baths to keep my epoxy cool so I can work with it on the boat before it sets-up and cures.

In the middle foreground is unthickened epoxy in an ice bath, thickened epoxy ready to fill some holes to the left. In the back-right are the epoxy resin and hardener, the back-left are various thickening agents
On Hazel’s deck using a syringe to fill some holes with the thickened epoxy (after curing, I’ll sand and paint these)

I’ve also pulled off Hazel’s bow rail and pulpit to replace the bolts that hold it on (some of which were dangerously degraded—they probably had never been touched in her 30 years). This was an important step given that, when sailing, all the forces of her head stay (the cable leading from the very top of the mast to the very front of the boat) are concentrated on her pulpit. In addition, when at anchor, much of the forces from the anchor chain are also absorbed by her pulpit.

HJ’s bow and pulpit before removal. When in sailing trim, she’d have one or two anchors on her pulpit; they’ve already been removed for the refit. If you look carefully you can see her head-stay going up from her pulpit to the top of the mast.
Hazel’s bow with rail and pulpit removed (note spinnaker halyard [ropes] tied off securely to help support the mast with the head stay off).
Pulpit and bow rail set to the side during the work.

As you can see, lots going on outside my head and inside my head. Let’s cross our fingers that the second-half of the North Atlantic hurricane season is not as active as the meteorologists are predicting. Looking to what would have been Colleen’s and my 30th wedding anniversary next week and ten days later the first anniversary of her death, I feel like we’re mariners on the open ocean with tropical storm “The Last of the Firsts” bearing down on us. While we’ve done all we can to prepare and we don’t think it will be too bad—not some cat-5 hurricane—it will be a bit rough and bumpy. As I look to the horizon and our approaching storm, I so appreciate everyone’s support, love, texts and calls, and good thoughts.

Fair winds and following seas.

4 thoughts on “The Last of the Firsts

  1. Good to hear about your feelings and about how the boat is progressing!
    Glad you are doing your writing. Keep up the good work. We enjoy hearing about you. We love you.

  2. Thanks for the last of the firsts. We McMahons talked about how to honor her life one year later but didn’t reach a consensus.I just put on my new Tevas after family members mocked my continual gluing of the old ones.It was one of her last gifts to me!! I was hoping not to have to move on. Dianne and I pray to Colleen every night at dinner and ask her to watch over us and pray for us. Even though I’ve moved forward a bit some things in the summer time here at the lake remind me of the good times that I wished I savored more and told her how special she was! Kristine Miller’s comment is still ringing in my head. It was spot on about Col’s relation to the summer. I can’t write more now because it’s too painful. Love to you Dan. Emma, Jack and Jessica

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