Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Rube Goldberg was right

As I lay in bed this morning I’m amazed that I’m waking up inside a big piece of complex machinery that will not only take Connie and I from one place to another, but is also our home, complete with bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, guest room and salon.  Traveler is an amazing conglomeration of fiberglass, wires, wood, plastic, piping, stainless steel and paint that is designed to be multiple-purpose.  It is able to be a house where you can cook and sleep, even doing so when tilted over 30 degrees.  But while a home, it is a complicated bit of engineering that is capable of traveling completely around the planet… by water, exploiting clever loopholes in the fabric of space and time.

Starting at the bottom of this magic yellow submarine like structure, the thick fiberglass hull does not have one straight flat area in its composition.  It’s shaped fore and aft like a teardrop with a pointy nose and a perfectly rounded butt.  At the bottom of the teardrop is a deep long keel that weighs 10,000 pounds, a third of the overall weight of the ship.  The keel extends 6.5 feet into the water.  With this much weight so low when the boat gets tipped over by strong winds she will come back up to a vertical position.  She will; she must.  It is science. 
Inside the bottom portion of the boat are 14 holes that connect the sea to the inside of the boat.  This is done via various pipes that either bring in cool salt water or push out waste water, warm water, or exhaust.  Each of these through-hull fittings are double clamped with stainless steel to insure they never fail.  Inside the boat in the lower bowels there is two to three feet of machinery, wiring, and piping necessary to keep the whole shebang running.  It’s a complicated bunch of stuff down there below the floorboards.  Remember the movie “Brazil” when   Robert De Niro, the renegade air conditioning specialist, opens up the wall and exposes the mass of breathing pipes and wires?  That’s what it’s like when we pick up one of the floorboards to look down into the bilge.  It is my job to make some sense of this mess and I’ve been spending my afternoons diving down into the bilge with a flashlight and a pair of needle nose pliers to defend myself.  Occasionally when it gets too overwhelming, I holler for Connie to come grab me by the feet and pull me out of there.

With all this chaos down below it is surprising just how civilized and clean it is above the floor.  To start with, everything inside the boat is made of teak.  In 1981 when this boat was made in Taipei, Taiwan those craftsmen had plenty of quality wood and great expertise creating what is essentially one big piece of furniture 42 feet long that is the interior of Traveler.

Imagine your grandma’s fancy hutch with all its clean curves and curlycues.  Now imagine that hutch growing out of control, stretching 13 feet wide and 42 feet long.  That’s Traveler.  Every surface is precisely jointed.  What is amazing is that not one part of the interior, like the exterior, is in a straight line.  Everything is curved and every piece of wood is custom fitted.  It’s like the fun house at a carnival where up is down and something that looks tall is actually uphill and short.  

Starting Aft, on one side is a quarter berth where one person can comfortably sleep.  Across from that is the master cabin, with a door that has a bronze plaque saying specifically, “Captain’s Quarters”.  This cabin contains a double berth and a couple of closets and drawers, with lights overhead and reading lamps for reading in bed. This is where we have our morning tea and contemplate the pleasant day ahead.  Forward of this is a navigation station to one side and a galley (kitchen) on the other.  The galley has a freezer, refrigerator, sinks, hot and cold water, and lots of drawers and cabinets again with plenty of lighting and an endless supply of bottle openers.  The nav station has lots of gadgets and switches and little red lights.  I think much of that stuff is connected to the morass below the floor boards.  

 Forward of the galley is a dinette with a table and a settee (couch).  Again, lots of lighting and cabinets and bookshelves on all the walls up to window height.  Forward of the dining area is a bathroom (the head) with a toilet, sink, and shower. And forward of that is the guest cabin with a door and plenty of closet space. 
Above and throughout the cabin are lights in the ceiling and opening ports to scoop in cool breezes.  All in all there are eleven ports that can be closed tightly for when it rains or when the boat is plunging into steep waves that sweep the deck. Handholds abound throughout the cabin for holding on when pitching in rough seas.   Every door, drawer, shelf, and cupboard has safety latches that keep everything in its place, even if the boat pitches over on her side.  There are so many drawers, and cabinets, and shelves, and cubby holes that we keep a database active so we can find things.  “Honey, were did we put the whatchamacallit?”  Don’t know? Gotta boot up the laptop.

Keep in mind that while at anchor or at the dock, the boat is calm and you can set down a glass of juice and it stays put. However, later, once underway, everything must be in its place, secured.  Otherwise that juice glass goes flying across the room. Gravity ceases to exist at sea.  We have a stuffed animal named Monkey who just hangs out in various places.  After a brisk sail it is fun trying to find where he ended up.  Needless to say, everything has its place.

 A companionway ladder leads from the back of the cabin up to the back deck and cockpit.  There the helmsman and guests sit or stand drinking foo foo drinks and having amazingly witty conversations while driving the boat.  This area is covered from the sun and protected with canvas covers.  Stepping up to the side decks there are walkways leading forward on either side that take you to the front of the boat and the front deck where the anchor is located and there is room for sunbathing. 
In the middle of the boat is a huge 40 foot tall mast held in place by 13 large cables.  On top of the mast is a teeny tinny arrow that points towards the wind. There is some magic involved there that I don’t quite understand.  Sails fore and aft drive the boat when there is wind.  A diesel engine (sometimes) pushes her along when there is no wind.  In this manner this cross between a tree house and a space ship is capable of galloping large distances across vast expanses of ocean blue delivering us to strange and foreign lands.

I’ve tried to explain the marvelous bit of machinery that is our boat in a manner that landsmen and sailors alike can understand.   It is a crazy life we’re leading where we’ve given up our land based and sane activities and moved aboard this strange craft that is two, three, or four things at once.  I remember as a child reading Jules Verne and I imagined what it would be like to go off adventuring in an odd foreign contraption.  I’m finding out.    

We head south for Los Cabos on November 15th.

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