Sea Captain


Curse of the Smelly Otter

smelly_otterMiss the first post about how the heck I got a boat? Read it here.

Note: What follows was written 11/12/15.

Another weekend with Foam. This time, I brought along Kiddo and Kiddo Number Two (K2). We arrived after dark Saturday night. The kids oohed and ahhed at our pretty pirate ship.

“What’s that smell?” said K2.

Damn. “Watch your step. The otters were here.”

We filled the cabin with our bags and supplies, Kiddo and K2 both claiming and vying for top bunk in the salon. Kiddo won out, despite K2 rolling his sleeping bag out first. She simply laid on top of him, giggling, making no adjustment for skinny bones poking into flesh, until he had to acquiesce and slide down a level. The sweet tolerance born by this stepbrother knows no limits when it comes to her. I can’t imagine his response would be so kind had they grown up together from birth as full brother and sister.

The discovery that we can’t open the port holes even during light rain without getting water in the cabin puzzled me. Why would they tilt the windows so that water flows inside? The boards removed from the front of the companionway would have to do for ventilation for the night. The air hung heavy with mildew and chemicals. I added fan to my mental list of what to bring along next time. Hopefully the stale air wouldn’t do too much damage to our lungs in one night.

Still afraid to work the electrical panel until I understand exactly how the critical, keeping-boat-above-water, bilge pump connects to power, I simply strung patio light cords around the cabin. The kids used camping headlamps to illuminate the pages of their books, but mostly to shine in each other’s eyes at brightest setting.  After pinching my fingertips in the adjustable table and spinning in curse-suppressing circles for a full minute, I made my bed on the converted settee. In the warm glow of the string lights, the boat interior took on a cabin in the woods feeling. We made one group trip up the long gangplank to use the marina restrooms before retiring, delighting in the sea creatures brought to the surface by our lights. An army of shrimp wiggled glowing eyes at us when we leaned over to peer into the black water.

“Yum,” said Kiddo. “Ebi!”

The kids could not calm down enough to sleep until just past midnight. I slept, but woke each time the bilge pump kicked on. Even though I spent a week away in Seattle without worrying about systems, now that I was on the boat I wanted to witness and supervise each pump and dump. Like checking on a newborn, I woke every hour through the night, just to make sure the boat was still afloat.

At eight, Kiddo popped up in her bunk. “Mom. Mom. Mom.”


“It’s morning. Let’s get up and start work.”

“No. I’m still sleeping.”

“Mom. Mom. Mom.”


“No you’re not. I see your eyeballs.”

Sigh. Once again, I began the day by washing otter excrement off the deck.

Below are snaps of the actual offending otters spotted on later trip. They huffed at me aggressively. I used to think otters were so cuuuuute. Now guess what I think of them.

2015-11-22 16.46.11 2015-11-22 16.51.54-2


The Foamy Sea Captain

foamyseacaptainThis fall, I adopted a wooden boat named Foam. I know nothing about boats. A dream to own a sailboat stubbornly lodged in my brain from the time I lived on one when I was 14. This experience created enough naive optimism and panting desire to take on the ambitious project. My beautiful new boat was built in 1963. A 41′ ketch designed by William Garden, a famed Pacific Northwest boat builder.

Foam is in rough shape.

Most people refer to boats as she. Taking on this particular boat was an entirely emotional decision. Foam is likely to take my time, urge me to spend my money and cause jealousy in close personal relationships. Foam is clearly a guy. I refer to him in the masculine pronoun.

Want to hear how it goes?

Note: What follows was written 11/5/15.

I launched my press on the historic Virginia V steamship two nights ago. A great success, as far as parties go. 152 happy, talking, drinking, snacking, catalog-browsing people. Now the day has passed and my mind turns to Foam. I won’t be able to get back to my boat until Sunday, Saturday if I don’t mind arriving in the dark.

The morning after the party, I allowed myself a slow start. I lazed in bed and read my boat maintenance book. So much to learn.

I need electrical tools, and a multimeter to test voltage. I need a scraper and a hot air gun to remove the chipped varnish from my beautiful teak banister. I need a long-handled, soft-bristled scrub brush to clean my decks without removing any of the “soft material” in the wood. I need a dehumidifier to pull moisture out of my cabin during the long, sedentary winter months.

Many of these things I did not know even existed prior to acquiring my boat, or more accurately, my boat maintenance book. My knowledge on how to effectively and appropriately use these things is markedly infantile. At least the book I selected to guide me has numerous illustrations, tools strewn across the page with small type labels just like characters in a Richard Scarry Busy Town page.

The people that name boat things seem to go out of their way to make sure these nautical artifacts come with a vocabulary completely different from what landlubbers might use, or even guess. They aren’t ropes, they are lines. That’s not a canopy, it’s a dodger or a bimini depending on coverage. I am amused to find that this “hot air gun” I’ve heard reverently referenced in varnishing tutorials appears in my book as a heavy-duty hair dryer, of course sporting more masculine colors than the one shoved in the back of my bathroom shelf.

In the single day of cleaning my sister and I were able to put in last Sunday, we did not make as much progress as I had expected. We rid the decks of otter poop first, unable to work in air hanging heavy with a scent not unlike month-old seafood gumbo. Otters shed worse than German Shepherds, apparently, and hosing the short, prickly hairs off the bow and top deck took some time. My sister labored bravely in the galley, reaching into dark spaces to inspect and judge the mysterious items recovered. She filled three garbage bags, much of it rusted pans and cracked plastic plates, plus about 15 bottles of liquor, wine and beer all at varying levels of supply.

Inch-by-inch we baptized the cabin with Simple Green, until our arms ached and the smell of cleaner drove us topside.

We discovered water seeping in through the forward mast and devised a complex covering using elegant white tarp, Gorilla brand duct tape and about 13 bungee cords. Once finished, we stood back to proudly survey our fix and found that the tarp ended about half a foot above the place we actually need to cover. With a sigh, I wrapped cheap garbage bags around the area, belting it duct tape.

My sister’s collie stuck her long beak in my face as I worked, curious to find me laboring at her level.

“This, dear Molly,” I said, “is called restoring a wooden boat.”

That was it. The front stateroom remains a mystery to me. I still haven’t tried the electrical system. I have no idea where the water the auto bilge pump dumps into the galley sink actually disappears to. Plus, I have a sneaking suspicion that when I arrive next Sunday, I will find that the otters have chosen my boat as their favorite in the marina.

Read what happens next, or take a gander…

Favorite Foam Photo 11012015 (1)