Sail Home, Be There, Happy

Here is Home

The canal in San   Rafael, California terminates near downtown just east of Highway 101. A bit further eastward sits the San Rafael Yacht Harbor. I worked on my wooden sloop- Maestro, a Golden Gate hull #18 in this boatyard. I worked on the boat for a few years and then by way of a thousand impossible to predict fateful occurrences ended up living there too. It could be windy, foggy, cold and wet. Winter could be dreary. Weeks of rain made getting from the parking lot to your boat a soggy task. A twenty-five foot flushed decked 70 year old sailboat designed for racing isn’t the most elegant boat a person might choose for living aboard, but where necessity is concerned this boat was more than adequate. I put an awning over the cockpit. Below I had a long bunk with sleeping bag and pillow to sleep on. I kept my shaving kit, bath towel, suitcase, laptop computer, dog bed, dog bowls, and my performing dog on the other bunk. My galley consisted of a single burner stove powered by white gas. I had a sink and water. I had a pot for making oatmeal, bowl and spoon, a kettle for coffee, and two coffee mugs. I maintained two long stem wine glasses for the other end of the day. A few books rested atop my bed next to my reading light.  Winter I ran a small electric heater to stay warm. A small battery powered cool chest was lashed securely in the well of the cockpit. I installed a good bilge pump and unless it was raining it remained off. I kept my act for my show in my Dodge Cummins out in the parking lot. I kept a second suitcase of clothes in my truck. It was where all the extras were stowed. I had a lantern for nights when romance whispered in my ear, and a demure boom box to fill the hull with song. I had a mouse for a guest until he was found. I made new friends and learned new skills. On certain days I actually felt as if I had everything I could ever imagine wanting. There was peace and serenity here. The cost of the thing was well within my means. It was a simple affair. It was compact. I was happy and still am….

Bankrupt Heart                             The Second Novel 

The rigging on the boats in the marina whistled when
the wind blew. The tall wood mast caught the gusts and the sailboat rocked in
her berth. Then, a light rain began to patter atop the roof of the cabin.

“I like it when it rains. With the heater, a fire,
get bundled up, lie down on the bunk, sip something warm, have something good
to read. I find it peaceful.”

Sophia didn’t feel the same.  “I don’t know, I’m not used to it, I miss our
house, I miss San Francisco.”

Bankrupt Heart Copyright © 2011 by Dana Smith



Going Up the Mast

The Imaginary Mast


I have tried a few times now to go to the top of my mast. It is 45 feet off the deck of the boat. I needed to go up and have a closer look around. It wasn’t like I made this up. It is what a prudent sailor needs to do. The locking hex headed nuts needed to be inspected. As they say, ‘been there
done that.’ My good friend Rich Santos worked the winch from the cockpit. Getting up to the first set of spreaders was comfortable. I wasn’t frightened of the height. From there to the second set of spreaders was another fifteen feet. More or less I was now somewhere in the range of 34 feet at the spreaders with another 11 feet to get to the top. I had a piece of mystery plastic sticking out of the top side of the furler. It has to be removed. Easiest way was to use my hand. This is what I had to do up there. Now there were things I had to do, and things I wanted to do up here, but I wasn’t comfortable and so I did what I had to do and got out of there. Part of my problem was I was using a lot of unnecessary muscle power because I was concerned about taking a fall, and since it was certainly likely to end in a fatality I was literally hanging on for dear life. I was getting very tired up there. My muscles were aching and I was getting more and more fatigued by the minute. My bosun’s chair didn’t fit well and that played a role. A more robust halyard would have made my nerves a little more settled, or better yet a second halyard as a safety back up. You
read these line test strengths and they all seem incredibly reasonable until the line is being tested with your own weight. It might be that a second
halyard from the tip of the mast as a safety line in concert with a better bosun’s chair might make all this high adventure more workable. Might be I’m working at my limit and might be time to look for other work. On the other hand might be that sailing is doing what I wanted it to do all along; forcing me to work at my limit.

Bankrupt Heart                         The Second Novel 

          “Loneliness fell upon Ry like lousy weather. Finn’s dropping by helped. He’d call Sophia once a week. That helped while he talked to her and didn’t help after he hung up. Jackie kept an eye on him. He appreciated that. Mort was rock bottom. After he’d hang up that’s when the demons really ate at his solitude. Still while his fear of being alone for the rest of his life occupied his worries at least there was the boatyard, the work on the mast to keep him focused.”

Copyright Dana Smith 2011. All Rights Reserved.


Beaufort Scale from Las Trampas Peak

Las Trampas Weather Station East Bay Regional Park

Early this morning atop Las Trampas Peak in the EastBay hills here in San Francisco Bay Area a storm approached off the Pacific. The storm produced wind gusts to Force 10 on the Beaufort scale. Quoting from the scale, “Very high waves (20-30 ft) with overhanging crests, sea white with densely blown foam, heavy rolling, lowered visibility.” And what does it say about land? “Seldom experienced on land, trees broken or uprooted, considerable structural damage.” The wind ranged from Force 7 with gusts to Force 10. Sailing in the bay or just offshore it is important to remind ourselves that when a weather system moves toward the coast that it is wise to head into the safety of port while the system passes through. Some sailors prefer to remain well offshore and ride out the system as it passes. Last night it was a rather brief 3 hours that the most intense winds blew. Here is the link for the East Bay Regional Parks remote weather stations. You can click on the various stations and get up to the minute, real time information about wind speeds, gusts, temperature, rainfall and a few other details. Our home sits at 900 feet above sea level while Las Trampas sits at 1760 feet. We factor in our lower elevation while reading the data from the peak. I cross reference this data with the National Weather Service’s buoy data. The San Francisco buoy #26 (SF entrance buoy about 12 miles offshore…)showed that at midnight there was a high wind speed of 27 knots from the south. An hour later atop Las Trampas Peak it was steady at 38 knots and gusting to 51 knots and a wind direction out of the south. Approximate elevation differences account for the higher winds. Our home is set atop a ridge and when a southerly howls in from off the Pacific there is nothing to blunt the full force of a storms impact. Looking at the buoy report the waves as the highest winds passed were described as very steep. These very steep waves for small craft out on the coastal waters last night aren’t just a data point, they were an experience, a story to tell, a story some sailor is likely to be grateful this morning to have the good fortune to have found at sunrise his boat is whole and he has lived to tell.

Trail to Las Trampas

Bankrupt Heart                               The Second Novel 

He walked up the gangway and into the parking lot.
The rain was a drizzle, the breeze sent the drops falling diagonally in a
blizzard of mist. As Ry exhaled steam from his breath filled the air. The
swirling flurry of droplets hung weightless in the night air refracting specks
of light from a solitary lamp that hung all but forgotten on a pole. The boats
up in the yard seemed abandoned, alone as if they were waiting for something
better. He gripped his cell phone in his hand. Dew formed in his hair. The rain
so light it ignored the pull of gravity. He walked along the bank of the canal.
He looked back toward the dock where his boat was tied up. The smoke from the
wood stove drifted up above the tips of the masts in the harbor where a fair
breeze seized the cloud and swept it away on a slipstream into the night. The
holiday was all but over. The insistent visitor was upon him. The unavoidable
had found its way back into the center of his mind.


Sailing is Fungible

Old Warrior

Sailing a boat is just the start of the thing. Some people see a sailboat and see a race and some people see as a way to travel. Sailing is fungible. You can race, cruise, live-aboard and never even pretend that you are ever going to use the sailing portion of what the boat you are living on was intended. Sailing can be a dead end or it can be an open end…you choose! What sailing allows is for you to imagine doing something else, something you’ve never done before. The AC 45’s that are being used as tune ups for the America’s Cup in San Francisco imagine a kind of Formula 1 approach to the endeavor. Let’s build sailboats that go to the extreme edge of speed. Let’s make them light, put 70 foot masts on 45 foot long hulls. Let’s build the boats with space age materials making them wicked light and super powerful. Let’s get rid of the sails and put wings on the boats. Imagine that a wing! Think one half of an airplane placed upright on two hulls. What’s that get you? They don’t sail these creations they fly them. So for our elite racing teams the journey is the ever greater increase in their team’s ability to operate one of these gizmos. It is impossible to imagine that it would require 110 shipping containers to support the racing of a pair of boats that weight something less than 6000 lbs all in. Cruising sailboats can weigh lots of things, but doing skinny isn’t native to their species. My Jeanneau is a rather lean machine at 36 feet, but still it weights something north of 12,000 lbs. But, with careful provisioning I wouldn’t need 110 shipping containers to support my sailings purpose. Likely I could load everything I might need aboard for an extended non-stop cruise. That could be but one edge to sail to, one of many choices a sailor can make. But, perhaps we measure the wrong thing. Perhaps 110 shipping containers stacked on a cargo vessel represents the collective efforts, the combined wisdom, the latest breakthroughs, and the tools necessary to mount an endeavor seeking to discover how to make the AC 45’s go consistently faster than anyone else trying to do the same thing. All this prototyping, all this engineering, all the testing, the
development of 5 men trained and synchronized in putting this creation to the purpose it was intended requires an out of this world effort. It is out of this world and with imagination, time and materials this assembled group of mad sailing creationists hope to make this dream come true. Then, Saturday morning I woke aboard my vessel and while walking my dog a mother, father and their two boys were pushing off from their slip aboard their Islander 38, destination Mexico, itinerary open-ended, final destination undecided. I helped push them off and shouted, “How is it a stranger is the only witness to your departing on one of your life’s biggest adventures?” He waved his hand and smiled, “You’re not a stranger; you’re a sailor, the gods picked you…”

Bankrupt Heart The Second Novel

“I love the harbor. It is a place of a thousand surprises.”

“It’s its own little world, this odd
little backwater and it’s right here in the heart of town.”

“What kind of boat?” She asked.

“What do you know, what do you

She closed her eyes again,
“Sailboat,” Her eyes sprung open wide waiting for the answer.

“It’s a forty-three foot sailboat,
wood.” Jackie’s eyes widened further when Ry said ‘wood’. “I’m sure you like
wood boats?”

“Everyone loves to look at a wood
boat,” Jackie reached out and turned Ry’s hands over and looked at his palms.

“What do you see?” Ry asked.

“I see you haven’t even started working on her.”

“True enough. I don’t know how to work on her.”


Removing Change

Going Back 40 Years

Finishing Bankrupt Heart meant I could focus on finishing the refinishing of the exterior of our redwood home. The east side of the building hasn’t been touched since it was first stained in 1974. Orbital sander in hand and with about 40 hours of spare time and just like that the side of the house is now ready for new stain. Sanding wood plays a role in the book and so it is appropriate I was allowed by the gods of fate to immitate the art I have just been saturated in for the last 21 months. Sanding like long fiction requires an extended time horizon. We have to look into the impulses for instant gratification and put those yearnings on hold while exercising patience. With time and effort great things can emerge so long as we are headed in the right direction. Having refinished my old wooden sloop so many times I’ve learned to follow the steps, and while it is hard to see, it is with the use of these many steps that a great accomplishment is completed. Working on the novel there lurks in the mind of an author a fear that what is being expressed on any one page won’t add up to a hill of beans, that all these incidents, these scenes to the story, hang together and mean little to nothing. Whether it is a novel, the side of a redwood building, or the fate of a nations future… what seems to emerge in my mind as one of the great lessons in life is that the great accomplishments come by having the courage to work toward something over a long time horizon. Working toward goals that will literally transform the workers, the world, and the soul of the men or women who have the courage to wait for the reward of a job well done. I’m waiting and listening for leaders who can inspire people to such ends, instead of spreading fear that such endeavors are not the source code to our future. These midgets of imagination need to be sent packing back to the timid and selfish world that they have crawled out of.

Bankrupt Heart                               The Novel

“I’m going to give Jasmine everything I got.” Ry said. “Whatever the hell I’ve been
doing the last three months, isn’t working.”

Finn was looking out the windows he was becoming
drowsy, drifting thought to thought. He wasn’t much listening anymore.

“I’m 56 years old and I still haven’t grown up, I’m
still scared of being alone.” He looked across the pilothouse toward his
friend. Could tell he was just about to fall asleep. “Finny, how come you like
being alone and I hate it?” Finn didn’t react, not a word, nothing. “Maybe
that’s how it works.” Ry concluded.

“How’s what work?” Finn said. He was absent, his
interest vanishing from the conversation.

“How do we make our dreams all come true?” Ry asked.
“Before it’s all over while there is still time.”



The Plot Changes

Out with the Old

This is what it looks like when an author finishes his latest project. You take the plot off the wall to make room for the next one… I’m tinkering with a comedy. The working title is Hot Spring Honeymoon. I’ll spend the next months drafting character profiles, creating plot lines, subplots, beginnings and ending’s, until I’ve got an outline I have enough confidence in to devote a year or more drafting.

Bankrupt Heart     A Second Novel

“Don’t tell me what I want isn’t possible, that
I can’t have that… Don’t you ever open your eyes and see something besides your
own world? I wanted it to be you, I wanted you, I wanted it to work, I wanted
it more than anything else I could possibly imagine wanting, but it didn’t work
out that way. I’ve had to try and float my own soul’s hopes, and dream dreams
that no longer drown me…”


Change of Address of Changes

One of my homes....

I’m in my home up in the hills. I can just see the chimney of Eugene O’Neil’s Tao House from the living room. I’ve been here since January 2010. We came from Telegraph Hill in San Francisco where my wife and I lived together since March of 2007. We had an apartment at the edge of a cliff and we faced east. The view of sunrise was sublime. We often got up just for that show. When we met I was living aboard Maestro, my 25 foot wooden sloop. I’d found my way to this home by 2004. I lived in the San Rafael Yacht Harbor. I loved it. I did a piece of life in Berkeley near the Rose Garden not far from the Gourmet Ghetto. That began in 2001. In the first six months of 2001 I lived in my travel trailer in Castro
Valley. My trailer prior to that resided on the bumper of my truck. More or less I bounced between the American Southwest for half the year and the Northwest and into Canada for the other half. That segment began in 1999. I owned my trailer until 2007 and used it for work where in autumn for this last decade I worked in Queen Creek, Arizona at Schnepf Farm where my performing dog Lacey and I spent October’s entertaining visitors. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the back of my truck where I have often slept while out doing dates on the road. For example in 2004 I did the Ohio State Fair and didn’t want to pull the trailer and in that case I slept on my bunk in the back of my pickup truck…very nice. If it was all added up I’ve lived on things that move almost as much as I’ve lived on things that don’t in the last twelve years. The biggest change of all isn’t where I sleep, but with whom and of all the changes that has been the most amazing change of all.

Highway Home    The Novel

” The first decision he made was to keep on sleeping in the back of his van. He might get a place later. He found several
places to park where he wouldn’t be rousted out or hassled by anyone. He rotated from one spot to another and was careful about attracting attention. It
was a good time to hold his cards close. In the morning he’d get up and have coffee at The Irishman’s Café, an offbeat joint near Portland State
University where customers poured their own coffee, borrowed the newspaper from the person next to them, and spoke in neighborly tones to the workers.”


Building Change that Supports Change

Old Way Making Way for the New Way

The engineers have had to build a bridge so that they could build a bridge. A lower structure made of cantilevered trellis has been set up so that above that structure could be set a skyway that will then be supported by a suspension system. We do one thing first, then a second that finally allows for a third. In my first novel Highway Home the episodic nature of the plot didn’t require the same structural (plotting) preparation as the second novel Bankrupt Heart has required. In Bankrupt Heart the central character is but one of several plots. Engineering a multiple plot and designing the sequence of actions has required that I piece the jigsaw puzzle of various actions into harmony, irony, peculiar similar patterns. We see how one unrelated action in fiction can illuminate a second, and it is interesting because until you write it the idea is just an idea and we don’t know if it works until we try it, feel it, think it through, and finally react to the thing…did that work?

 Highway Home    The Novel

Life seemed so simple up here. Every which-way Noel looked the whole of the mountain was ablaze in life. Lichens covered rocks. Squirrels stuffed their cheeks full of pinecone seed. Hawks fed off squirrel, eagle off trout, mountain goat off grass, and all this was a fattening feast for mountain lions. It felt good to Noel to have escaped the gravitational pull of the wreckage and ruins of summer, at least for today, for now. This was a welcome respite. It seemed right that he was out here on top of this mountain, witnessing the pulse and pattern in the ways of the world. Food chains, seasons, weather systems, dawns, dusks, and the sense of that great turning wheel called time.


Cheating Changes Everything

You Can Run But You Can't Hide

Every so often I survey single men while in conversation about whether they have ever had a sexual affair with someone they knew was married. Some men answer no, some yes, and others anguish over the question and in so doing reveal their experience by way of a non-answer. The married men are all but for a handful mute on the topic. Some of the confessions I have taken are soaked in sympathies for the abandoned wife’s no longer attentive partner who is often likely to be one of these muted married men. Entrance into this secretive world and speaking anonymously to sources inside this frail human yet full sized shadow world is to view things as they actually are, not as how we think they should be. Sad to
say if you’ve ever made this trip to the other side of integrity, this other side of having had your good word gone bad, there is a profound price to be paid for this incredibly human weakness for the forbidden fruit. Usually, in a rational world we’d decide we are not happy in our agreements, change the agreements and get on with finding new partners to pursue the wholesome healthy appetite that comes with our being alive. But, no, that’s not how we prefer to do it, and so instead we are pulled into this vortex of irreversible action suffering all the consequences of this act, pretending that we’ve been able to do what we had to do, and nobody needs to know, everything will work out, everybody will be happy go home and resume what they were doing. Cheating doesn’t change everything, cheating changes a person’s ability to live in the open, where the world may see them, where there is nothing to hide, it isn’t the sex it is the secret that changes everything…

Highway Home the Novel

 “I’ve got one more customer to kick out
over there, count up the money, put it in the safe, and I’m walking home.
Thought you could walk me home.”

Noel wasn’t sure what she meant by that.
“I guess, Kathy, sure. I’ll walk with you.”

Noel thought it was odd she’d asked him
to stay. She had pulled a sweater over her head. It was low cut too. She made
an act out of the thing, and leaned over, almost like on purpose, and wriggled
into it. It fit tight. She glanced at Noel. She noted that he seemed to enjoy
the show.


The Niagara Falls of Never Ending Change

Performing before a Pyramid of Escalating Changes...

All this change is just killing me, but change then births new opportunities. Just when I got my first tour organized an initiative on a ballot shut funding down for just such a tour and with it came to an end a way to book the show. Then, a few years later and another incarnation was again rendered obsolete by a spike in the price of gas. Then, a favorite stage in San Francisco closed. And in this present moment a huge revolution is taking down a substantial portion of the fair industry. It’s like New Vaudeville is just like Old Vaudeville…it came into existence, did a little dance, and then begins to fade and fall apart. All this talent drawn into the scene is once more dispersed far and wide into new as yet to be discovered venues. Still, when we capitalize on some aspect of the marketplace it is hard to let go when those market forces that worked so well for us now have turned against the opportunities. We’ll beat the old dog into the ground swearing it used to work like magic. Change with change…let it be the canary in your coal mind (old polluting inefficient industry) let change sing you a melody that you can invent a new you from, in the long run, life is a short run, and the most fun, is often had not by doing the same things again and again, but by discovering new things again and again…thank you world for keeping my change on her toes…

Highway Home the Novel

From afar it was nondescript, anonymous,
empty, and untamed. Each part of each piece of the trail provided habitat for
all manner of animal. It was time for him to say goodbye to all that, just the
way the world worked. The work of leaving a mountain takes its toll, the work
of leaving behind a part of your life takes a toll. It wasn’t what was down
below or left behind was second rate, but that what was up ahead took so much
determination to get to. A person didn’t just stumble into the Ruby’s, they had
to have a good plan. The story of the high country was as real as rock, and
just as hard.