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A true chronicle about a middle-aged couple pursuing their dream of living aboard an ocean-sailing yacht while savoring blue skies and crystal waters, sparkling beaches, romantic settings and glowing camaraderie afloat. Why worry about running out of money, three fiendish sailing companions, everything going wrong, impossibilities and nearly dying?

 

 

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Sailing Uphill

Memoir

Gerald W. Mills

 

BOOK ONE — THE TERRIBLE TRIO

Introduction

Could this be one of those books about a happily married couple with limited finances, romantically cruising aboard a beautiful ocean-sailing yacht after years of nose-to-the-grindstone work, sacrifice, irony and setbacks? Sorry, no dice, wrong story. The "adventures" unfolding in the following pages are not only at odds with armchair-reader myths about cruising under sail in general, but examine the subject of odds—that ratio of numbers expressing the probability of an event happening to the probability of its not happening.

Irony has its own, significant place in this story.

But first, think of "sailing", and all the idyllic images the word evokes about visiting new and exciting places while enjoying sunny skies, refreshing free winds, crystal waters, aquatic life and gentle moonlight peeking between scudding clouds on balmy evenings. Imagine relaxing with a refreshing drink after each satisfying few hours of delight on the water, perhaps sharing experiences with other boaters and planning your next day’s sun-blessed journey. Do these images tell a true story? Are they not similar to those seen on TV advertising far-away locations and water parks and perfect people, perfectly dressed for their perfect fun and the enjoyment promised? Do these images represent reality part of the time? Practically none of the time?

Choose the last answer, and you’ll be knocking on Truth’s door.

Is it also possible, given the natural fraternity of boaters all seeking the same romantically refreshing and relaxing suntanned experiences, that new friendships and bonds will endure long after adventures are over? Possible part of the time? Practically none of the time? Choose the final answer once again.

And then there is the topic of odds, or probabilities. Most of us have owned cars. The more cars we own over time, the higher the probability that one or more will have mechanical problems. If any specific car has a never-ending stream of problems, it’s called a lemon. If the next car we own is also a lemon, and the ones to follow are all lemons, it’s natural to wonder, "Why me? What are the odds of all my cars being lemons?" Taking this a bit further, suppose a possible sixteen cars out of sixteen that we may have personally owned during our life have been plagued with major mechanical problems traceable to shoddy manufacturing, faulty components, paint that disintegrates in the first year, windshields cracking for no reason, and so on. We fail to discover any other car owners suffering in this way. Again, why us? What are the odds of such a thing happening to one individual? Why aren’t these things random happenings? Why not more evenly apportioned?

To understand odds in a typical lottery, imagine a pail filled with sparkling white beach sand. Now, after adding a single grain of black sand, shake and tumble the pail’s contents for several hours. Your goal is to reach deeply into the pail, blindfolded, and withdraw that single black grain on your first and only try. In a typical lottery with six numbers ranging from one to fifty-two, the odds of success are arguably thirteen billion to one.

Perhaps you’re not a boater or beachgoer, so let’s pick something more typical than a pail of sand. You’re sitting behind the wheel, in your own car, on a perfectly flat and level stretch of the Great Salt Flats in Utah (no tilts, bumps or holes ahead for dozens of miles.) A large, stone monument occupies the otherwise-flat terrain approximately twenty miles ahead. Once you choose your direction, your steering wheel is locked and all windows are totally covered with a white sheet so that you can’t see a thing. Further, you are prevented from hearing anything recognizable outside the car: can’t see, can’t hear, can’t steer once your steering wheel is locked. Your challenge is to drive that approximate twenty-mile distance at precisely six miles per hour, stopping when you think you may have reached the twenty-mile mark, and see how close you are to that monument.

You can estimate the monument’s apparent location from your handy road map, on which one inch equals ten miles. You have your car’s far-from-accurate speedometer, odometer and a dash-mounted magnetic compass as tools. Prior to having the steering wheel locked, you first align your car as best you can with what you believe is the proper compass heading, the sheet is wrapped around the car, and you begin driving with no sounds other than your car’s engine reaching inside the car. When you are allowed to pull the sheet away at the very last second of the allotted time, you’ll see just how close you’ve come to that monument. Perhaps you’ll even be able to see it left or right of you, or ahead, or even behind.

Presumably your car will maintain its precisely set heading without a single pebble interfering. Presumably you know exactly where you are at the start, despite uncertainties. The road map has presumably shown the location of the monument, despite the map’s limitations, and the North arrow on the map is printed exactly right. Presumably your compass is correctly compensated for whatever magnetic deviation exists in Utah, and the map was very recently printed. Presumably your car’s speedometer is correct in showing your precise speed. Presumably it also shows distance traveled down to the nearest tenth mile.

You drive totally blind and deaf to anything outside the car, and finally whip away the sheet. There, precisely fifty feet directly ahead, is the monument! You’re heading directly for its exact center, with all of two seconds to react before you collide!

Unbelievable? You bet! It happened that way—to me, a disbelieving engineer, alone at the helm of a twenty-ton boat after more than twenty-four hours of "driving" through dense fog without seeing a thing or hearing anything other than the boat’s engine—just one in a long string of equally improbable happenings.

Most folks have heard of Murphy’s Law. Simply stated, if a thing can go wrong, it will. A great example was the way Mr. Murphy died (anecdotal license here.)

One dark evening, somewhere in the United States, Mr. Murphy’s car ran out of gas. As he hitchhiked to a gas station, while facing traffic and wearing white, he was struck from behind by a nearsighted British tourist who was driving on the wrong side of the road.

Finagle was another unpopular character, perhaps a relative of Murphy. Finagle is presented along with Murphy in following chapters, but then there is Sod and his laws (not to be confused with the present-day cursory "sod" in places such as the British Isles.) Sod is famously associated with sailors and the conditions they endure. All three of these wicked imps were our unwanted companions throughout our (mis)adventures. I dubbed them the Terrible Trio.

Portions of the following story are presented to illustrate some of the agonizing setbacks and improbable events that we encountered along the way.

The derogatory terms used in these pages almost always refer to me, the overly confident, wisecracking, humor-driven, smarty-pants engineer who thought he could achieve anything he set his mind to doing. Even if no one else agreed, he was fairly successful at living up to his own, private standards while on land.

Not so when it came to sailing. It was easy to laugh and joke when things were going reasonably well, when the Terrible Trio was occupied tormenting other boaters, but Murphy, Finagle and Sod apparently liked me. They set about to show me what sailing was all about.

The sailing part was easy enough—for an engineer. The real problem was getting the damned boat to go uphill!

 

Chapter 1

Landlubber’s Dilemma

There I was, trying hard to swallow as I gazed upon my soon-to-be new toy, a forty-five foot ocean-sailing yacht berthed among hundreds of similarly valuable boats. The broker suddenly thrust the ignition key into my hand. "Why don’t you and your wife take her out on the bay? Have lunch out there, and we’ll see you back here around three."

He’d never guessed that the biggest boat I’d ever managed on my own was a rowboat—actually a small rowboat—or that I’d planned a little of my own, private "on the job training" once out on Chesapeake Bay where nobody would notice. If that proved too difficult, dangerous or embarrassing, I’d eventually motor my sixteen-ton acquisition several hundred miles to its equally new mooring in a Staten Island harbor, after which I’d hire other large sailboat owners to tutor me in quiet water for a few weekends before I tried sailing all by myself. It was truly a brilliant plan, however sneaky.

After all, the same agent had just finished showing how easy the boat was to maneuver. When returning to the slip, he’d simply made an abrupt turn to the left—I mean to port—while reversing the engine "hard" so the boat would skid sideways, stopping just a few feet from equally expensive boats moored in the next pier over. Heck, I could do that—nothing to it! Then he’d deftly nudged my cherished prize backward into its own private slip on his very first try without even coming close to the neighboring boat on one side or the piling and finger pier extension on the other. He’d appeared nonchalant about the mere three feet of water separating us from the neighboring, far more expensive craft. Air-filled fenders on that side of my new toy never touched a thing. And was that a yawn I’d seen as he shut down the engine with the boat precisely centered in its berth?

I could yawn, too. It’s an engineer thing, almost inborn.

Earlier that same morning he’d also shown us how absurdly easy my new boat was to sail, out there on the quiet Chesapeake just east of Annapolis. It looked so simple, so . . . cushy, the way he did it. Of course, he thought I was a veteran sailor, else why would I be buying this sized boat? He’d never asked, and I’d never volunteered that information.

Now my mouth was dry and my knees were shaking. This was not the easily approached boatyard dock from our previous visits, but something as tricky as a box of monkeys! Before we reached any kind of open water, I’d have to thread a fairly tortuous and precise path past a few tens of millions of dollars in boats, passing long rows of piers while on the alert for any kind of surprise, like maybe a whale surfacing. Then I’d have to negotiate busy channel traffic just east of the United States Naval Academy, all the busier due to the beautiful weather and time of day. I asked myself what I’d do if someone else did something really dumb and unexpected.

I didn’t appreciate the whispered answer from my higher self that I was probably the only really dumb one there.

Even if I didn’t pretend to try sailing once out on the bay, I’d have to anchor somewhere and let a couple of hours slide by before returning with whatever lies I’d thought up to cover my ineptitude. Was this when I was to blurt out the awful truth, clearly traceable to genetic deficiencies in brain function? Was now the time to admit that I’d been no more than a passenger on a tall ship a few years back? Or that I’d be totally lost if faced with a breaching whale—a baby one?

The answer was indisputably no! I was an engineer, and engineers aren’t allowed to own up to such things. Typically, they yawn. It’s an engineer thing.

Rat Wisdom — The Beginning

"Believe me, my young friend, there’s NOTHING - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as messing around in boats." Ratty.

From The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame.

I was eight years old when I read The Wind in the Willows, and easily impressed by witty sayings, especially from a rat. Even so, I never played with boats in the bathtub (still don’t), nor did I own a toy boat of any kind, not even a piece of wood that I pushed around in water. I don’t believe I ever had a yellow rubber ducky, either. Oh, I did eventually spend time in a rowboat while my father taught me how to fish without jabbing myself with the hook, and I even managed to row one a few times, but water and I were mere acquaintances. Ratty’s words shared a dark corner with other gems of wisdom in the dusty corners of my mind, never to hold any meaning for the first three decades of my life.

I’d made it most of the way through my "formative years" (the jury is still out on that, as I’m not finished forming yet), chose electrical engineering for a profession, and immediately began making errors in judgment all on my own, the kind not easily corrected—like marriage. I struck out first time at bat on that one, even though she and I instantly liked each other.

Not easily dissuaded, I next decided to combine engineering with sales, a brilliant move since my value as an ordinary engineer had already fallen into question. Who cared that my high school aptitude tests proved beyond all doubts that social pursuits of any kind were not for me, especially sales? I’d deliberately slanted those answers because I knew that social pursuits of any kind were not for me. Especially sales. I didn’t need some school test to prove that.

At about the same time I was shifting into sales, and now armed with all there was to know about women from my first experience, I thought I’d try my hand at marriage again. It was destined to turn out just fine, because Lori and I started out by disliking each other . . . intensely. That was fifty years ago, and she’s still with me as I write this.

But back to rats and water. There’d been a few occasions when Lori and I visited New Jersey’s south seashore, and they’d been pleasant times. I remember standing atop a dune one day, watching a graceful sailboat on the horizon and wondering what it might be like to be enjoying life "out there." It looked idyllic, so romantic, so . . . relaxing! Set the sails, pour a drink, put the feet up and simply bask in pleasure-filled sights and sounds.

Ratty would undoubtedly include sailing in his "messing around in boats" pronouncement, but Lori and I had launched DBS Systems, Inc. five years earlier and our fledgling manufacturing company hadn’t grown as swiftly as hoped. Expensive toys like boats and sports cars and mansions were for rich folk, not us. Big sailboats were way beyond our means. Actually, any kind of boat was beyond our means, even the bathtub variety.

Nevertheless, Fate knocked at our front door three times in a row.

The first instance arrived on a beautiful Saturday morning in September when my thoughts inexplicably returned to sailboats—no doubt prompted by the previous evening’s TV coverage of a boat show in Stamford, Connecticut. I’d never been to a boat show, but Stamford was just an hour from our home. What better way to spend a superb fall day than by wandering among hundreds of colorful banners and boats of all sizes, mostly sailboats? Seeing the larger ones in full sail from shore was one thing, but what might it be really be like when cooped up in one for hours or even days? We’d already sampled the "sardine can" atmosphere of a tent camper during three days of rain, but at least I was able to stand fully upright in that. How big did a sailboat have to be before crouching wasn’t a requirement? Finding out might be fun.

Was that snickering I heard as I suggested the idea to Lori? It hadn’t come from her, yet it was definitely snickering and we were alone. We had an Irish setter, but dogs don’t snicker, although they do yawn. Thinking back, it was definitely a rat snicker. It was probably then when I began my notebook. First note: When alone, beware of unidentified snickers.

Lori took two whole seconds before she answered. She’d love to go! Well, what sensible man would ever argue with his wife? At that moment in time, DBS was suddenly on a minor rebound and showing some promise, thanks to a patent I’d been granted a year earlier (U.S. Patent 4029176.) I was a workaholic, and a boat show seemed like a reasonable break, therapeutic in Lori’s view. (My own view was that I could be back working by suppertime.)

We decided to ignore anything shorter than thirty feet and just take a quick look down into the larger ones. There were at least fifty of those, but one quick peek was all I needed before moving on whereas she was being the "polite shopper" and asking questions only a wife could think up . . . like color schemes and curtains and where things went in the galley. She was somewhere eight or ten boats back when I stuck my head into a "built-in-Taiwan" ketch with the name Wings of the Morning, a Hardin 45. The numerals were stem-to-stern length in feet. It would eventually become the most expensive "quick peek" I’d make in my life.

A wonderland of teak comfort greeted me below, one where I could stand up straight nearly everywhere. It was fourteen feet wide where it counted, with a queen-sized berth in the stern and two berths in the midsection, marble countertops and huge, slanted front windows. Other boats boasted more sleeping space, but the claims were hilarious. Okay, so maybe there were eight berths, but how about eight adults using eight berths? If they weren’t intimately acquainted before nightfall, they’d surely be so by morning—or else at each other’s throats.

This boat was immediately friendly, and not at all claustrophobic. I popped back up on deck and waved to Lori to skip the others and join me. Well, what sensible woman would ever argue with her husband? We spent half an hour below and even longer in the open cockpit, talking with the broker and his wife. Lori loved the bedspread on the queen bed, plus those stern windows that would let her look out. That floral display on the dinette table caught her eye as well. And all that storage space!

I wasn’t so sure about those things, but the rest was extremely comfortable and home-like. While she delved into those weighty areas, my thoughts went to things any engineer worth his salt would find interesting. I was being the "polite shopper" and asking questions such as fuel and water tankage, hull speeds and engine topics. I stayed away from sailing questions. Heck, who needed to talk sailing?

The broker was obviously impressed—or was he simply exercising his smiling and nodding muscles? I wasn’t quite sure, but the smiling-nodding broker never asked about my boating experience. No matter—I wasn’t buying the thing.

A few other "quick peek" shopper types glanced at the boat’s specifications posted on the stern, then moved on, probably searching for eight-berth boats. All told, we’d satisfied our curiosity and had come away with some nice full-color brochures plus an idea of the price some stupid idiot would pay for a few hours of imagined joy every year. I could now return to my 80-hour workweeks and forget a fantasy world created for others, never dreaming that I’d soon become that stupid idiot. I certainly had sufficient idiot qualifications.

***

Fate’s second visit came less than a week later. Lori’s mom announced that two thousand dollars from some family insurance money was to be Lori’s, provided it was used for a vacation for us both. Mama was concerned about her workaholic son-in-law. The gift included Mama house-sitting our dog while we spent an exotic week away somewhere, perhaps on a cruise. I did some quick research on the word "vacation" to see what normal husbands were supposed to do on one. Leisure time away from home or work, devoted to rest or pleasure? Impossible! I checked another source, but no—a vacation involved sightseeing or travel, or simply lying around and loafing, or taking pictures, gaining weight (if on a cruise), or whatever. Work wasn’t mentioned. Not once. I was stunned, deciding to add a second note to the notebook: Memorize definitions for leisure and rest.

My very first vacation with "wife one" had been two solid weeks of driving four to six hours each day, coping with rainy weather, counting pennies at mealtime and looking for cheap motels at night while my mind kept churning away on the work I supposedly left behind. While she perused maps and made last minute changes both of mind and direction, I chewed my nails down until my wrist bones began to show. She gained ten pounds. I lost eight, mostly fingernails.

That had been fifteen years earlier, long before DBS, and I’d had my nose to the grindstone ever since. This vacation (there was that word again) would be different, Lori assured me, but what cruise wouldn’t cost several times the two thousand dollars? The answer arrived in our weekly quota of junk mail, as a Windjammer Cruise brochure.

I threw it in the trash, unopened. Lori rescued it, opened it and handed it back to me. Was that another snicker I heard? Note: Thoroughly destroy junk mail prior to discarding in trash.

"Barefoot cruises" in the Caribbean were priced within our limits. We wouldn’t need to buy a ton of new clothes, getting to the departure point was easy and the time of year was right. A tiny, rat-like voice kept whispering, "Messing around in boats, messing around in boats." I ignored it. When that didn’t work, I turned on some music. Ha! Ratty was no match for Respighi at top volume, but he simply waited until the music stopped, the rat.

One of the brochure’s choices was a tour of the West Indies on the tallest of the "tall ships", a huge four-masted schooner named Flying Cloud (originally Fantome)*. Lori liked that one, figuring something 282 feet long would be comfortable and roomy compared to smaller ships.

*In 1998, Hurricane Mitch sent the Fantome, a.k.a. Flying Cloud, to the bottom with thirty-one crewmembers on board. She was never found.

Guilt-ridden, I dialed the toll-free number, but common sense said there was little chance of any tours being available for months anyway, and then it would be winter, and maybe by the following year we could swing an even less expensive . . ..

Wrong! A tour was available a mere two weeks from then. No way out! I re-read the definitions of that strange-sounding word—vacation.

***

No sooner had we committed to the tour than DBS was magically flooded with new orders for the patented product Sonarray. I was putting in nearly a hundred hours a week, so I naturally came down with a brutal cold to accompany the stress of getting everything done and was a sorry wreck by the time we were actually on our way. The final straw was a case of herpes simplex, or lip sores. Ha! They’d go away as soon as we were romantically relaxing and taking in the sun. (It wasn’t until we returned that I discovered three caveats for avoiding lip sores: do not get colds, minimize stress and stay out of the sun. Yeah, right! Those belonged in my notebook.)

In spite of that minor misery, the whole adventure was wonderful. On the down side, there wasn’t enough wind to sail during the week we were aboard, so the skipper motored Flying Cloud from island to island. According to him, wind always blew in that area of the Caribbean, just not during our week there. That should have been a proper precursor of things to come in our waterborne adventures, but I missed all the signs. However, the wind did arrive one night and we sailed until dawn. I stayed awake, enjoying the sounds and sensations. So this was what sailing was all about! It started to look a little less idiotic.

During the "vacation" we met a delightful couple from Canada. Bernie was an airline pilot and Suzanne a stewardess, so both could fly pretty much anywhere they chose, for cheap. Lori and I told them about the boat show and how we’d snookered the agent into thinking we were shoppers. (Ha, ha, ha!) Even though our little business was mushrooming with new sales, it would be years before we could afford anything beyond a canoe or kayak. (I didn’t mention the requisite "idiot factor" at the time.) Thereafter, conversations on board were peppered with frivolous and sometimes hilarious ideas about sailing in general. In Bernie’s fantasy, a boat like the one we’d described could be owned by a group and kept in the Caribbean region by one couple. The others could "drop in" for fun times wherever the boat happened to be, each exotic destination different from the last one. He ticked off all the Caribbean islands, plus The Bahamas. Not a word about who’d own the boat or move it around, or costs, but that was okay. It was just a fantasy. Bernie was one of Ratty’s direct descendents, but I didn’t tumble to it until much later.

The cruise changed me. At St. Barts, one of our last island stops, I was waist deep in crystal-clear water so warm it felt like a bath, with the sky cloudless and deep blue and the sun happily cooking my lip sores. New Jersey was off thataway somewhere, with all that traffic and stress. I remember yawning. Who-o-o-o cared? This lifestyle could last forever as far as I was concerned. Maybe Lori and I could make beads, start a tee-shirt business or make a fortune in straw handbags with macaws or parrots on them. Note: Take a course on basket weaving and bead craft.

The First Curse

Our new Canadian friends invited us for a visit at their mountainside lodge north of Montreal during the Christmas holidays. We were to bring along our boat show brochures. By then our business was growing in leaps and bounds and we were both back to working ten- or twelve-hour days, seven days a week. A team from nearby Fairleigh Dickinson University had chosen DBS for a local business study project, delivering a flattering final report applauding our operation. We’d done all the right things up to then, even in the face of economic downturns beyond our control. That was all fine, but we still hadn’t drawn our own paychecks from the company. Apparently, doing all the right things had no connection with actually succeeding in business. We existed on Lori’s salary as an administrative assistant for a major communication company.

However, the General Services Administration, or GSA, had begun specifying Sonarray for elevator upgrades in government buildings they supervised. Our Installation and Site Survey Guide was included in their specifications and requests for bids! It was a major breakthrough. Our excitement heightened when my GSA contact suggested I seek an audience with a legal firm he knew in NYC, one possibly interested in buying DBS based on the patent and our successes to date. This was beyond all belief. My error was in believing it, nevertheless.

Did I mention stupid? If something is beyond belief, simply do not believe it. Add dumb to stupid, and you get imbecile. Note: Do not believe something that is beyond belief—imbecile!

The New York legal group quickly offered us a sizeable lump sum for the business, payable once an agreement and sales contract was prepared and negotiated, a matter of "just a few weeks." Meanwhile they’d factor our accounts receivable and pour their own resources into the business, creating corporate debt that stayed with the business when the sale became official. I’d manage the business for five years, with options. I had my lawyer check it out, and all seemed fine even though the situation was loaded with contingencies. We’d know more once we saw the final agreement and contract. It had all happened so fast my head was spinning, which is probably how Ratty snuck back into my life.

At any rate, I was on Cloud Nine by the time we rejoined Bernie and Suzanne at their chalet. Our Windjammer friends must have connected my new exuberance with things we’d so frivolously joked about. After some mutual drooling over the Hardin brochure pictures, conversations gradually evolved into what Lori and I were planning to do about pursuing our sailing dream once we’d sold our business. Sailing dream? I was quite sure I’d stated the opposite, that we’d never be able to do that kind of thing. Lori agreed. First things first, like curtains on the windows of our house.

First of all, the base boat was priced at $108,000, a mere pittance, but a $6000 deposit was required before one could be ordered from Taiwan, followed by payments for many years thereafter, plus lots of added equipment needed once the boat arrived. It was way-y-y too soon. Bernie’s answer was to hand me a check for the deposit amount! He and Suzanne had somehow come to believe in us and what was happening in our business. I was stunned at their vote of confidence. It was a handshake loan for just a short time, yes, but these two scarcely knew us. Bernie’s scheme was to place the order, wait the four months or so for delivery plus the time needed for commissioning, then move the boat to someplace convenient on land while various upgrades and finishing touches were added over a period of, say, a year or more. The loan would be paid back before the boat arrived, and our whole financial picture would have changed by the coming summer. We could dispense with the idiotic 80-hour workweeks and enjoy ourselves like ordinary people.

Well, who’d ever insist on continuing life as an idiot? Oops, too late! We’d already accepted the check.

***

Our boat arrived from Taiwan by the end of April, but some glitches had crept into the plan. First was a series of apologies from the New York buyers for their delay in preparation of the sales agreement. Even though they were all lawyers, they used a Boston legal group for their contract work, and that group was taking its sweet time, or so we were told. However, since twenty thousand dollars had already been injected into DBS, that part of the deal was working fine. Things just wouldn’t close as quickly as promised. Perhaps by mid-May?

Lori and I still were going without salary, and the coffers were nearly empty. Were we suspicious? No. They all seemed like such nice people. It never occurred to me to read my notebook. Right there, in black and white, were the words: Do not believe something that is beyond belief—imbecile. I already qualified for idiot, so why not go the rest of the way?

Helping me on the subject, a major elevator upgrade in the O’Hare Airport parking garage had gone sour, and the Chicago city engineer refused to consider one simple modification needed to make everything work correctly. In his view, the elevators had all worked just fine up to then, so it was a Sonarray problem, not his. There were twelve elevators, six facing six, each with doors that parted in the middle. Twenty-four doors, all remaining open at his directive, all interiors dark with only the "next car" lit up. The simple solution would have been to keep all doors closed except for the "next car", as done in every other such installation everywhere. Move a wire from one terminal to the adjacent terminal, and do it for each elevator. A few minutes per elevator. Logical? Absolutely not, said the city engineer. Nobody was going to tell him how to run his elevators! (Actually, his approach was crazy. People kept walking into the dark elevators and growling when none of the buttons worked.) The job used twenty-four Sonarrays! That tied up a whopping pile in receivables while things were ironed out.

Meanwhile, always the optimist, I’d already bought a marine three-burner propane stove with oven, so that Lori and I could at least have scrumptious hot food when we motored our prize to somewhere nearer home in New Jersey. The broker allowed me to install the stove there in Annapolis while we waited for our funds. This would be a real challenge, as the stove weighed nearly one hundred pounds. I’d need to take it up a ladder and carefully lower it down a steep, four-step companionway without mishap or scratches on the immaculate teak woodwork. It was just too heavy and bulky for all that, so I rigged up a block and tackle and swung the main boom out over the boat’s rail. Now I could hoist the stove straight up, several feet away from the hull, without using the ladder. Much easier! Once that was done, the boom was swung back to the centerline and I could coax the stove bit by bit down into the cabin. Perfect! A few hours later, and the installation was finished. The rest of the propane system was already in place.

Bernie and Suzanne joined us in Annapolis in mid-May for a demonstration sail on Wings of the Morning, the very boat that had hooked us at the boat show. Although that experience was exciting, Lori and I were still being delayed by the buyers’ Boston group. Now they were promising a contract draft by the end of May. Money continued to pour into our manufacturing operation and orders steadily increased, but the "buyers" were forcing me against my better judgment to put on extra help and order larger quantities of everything. I was directed to begin designing new Sonarray versions before actually perfecting the versions we already had. Something wasn’t right. I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Later, I would put another note in the notebook: Do not sit on fingers. You need them to put on things.

***

The bottom fell out when the Annapolis broker suddenly reneged and sold our boat to someone else. No advance warning, not even an apology, simply a phone call telling us to remove anything personal we had aboard. Well, we had a very expensive stove aboard, one that I’d been permitted to install not three weeks earlier by the same unapologetic individual, who must have known at the time that he had another customer right there with cash in hand. Furious, I drove to Annapolis that night and was parked next to our boat at daybreak the following morning. Forget that block and tackle—I had adrenaline! Into the boat I charged, and within five minutes was holding the hundred-pound stove in my right hand as if it were no more than a gallon jug of milk. Up the companionway I’d so carefully negotiated earlier, never touching a thing, then down the ladder one-handed. I was "outta there" in less than ten minutes. (Later I needed two hands and lots of leverage just to lift the thing back out of the car.)

The bottom collapsed further when our disillusioned Canadian friends wanted their money back upon hearing the news. Who could blame them? We sent them the total amount that very day. So much for that sailing dream! At least we got our deposit back from the broker after he groused a lot about my stove "theft." What else could go wrong? I shouldn’t have asked. However, I did add a note to the growing notebook: Buy boat before installing stove.

 

 

 

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About the author

Gerry pursued electrical engineering (electricity had just been invented) and set out to improve the world. When nothing of the sort happened, he turned to writing novels, reinventing all the mistakes anyone can make in that field before discovering and correcting his errors. The shocking results are in: engineers can write if properly fed and burped.

TTB titles:

Non-Fiction
Magic for Your Writing
Sailing Uphill

Fiction

James Foster Adventures series
No Place for Gods  book 1.
The Mudslinger Sanction  book 2.
Fire Owl  book 3.
The Eden Prophecy  book 4.

The Focus Factor with Darell Bain

Visit Gerry's web page.

 

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Sailing Uphill Copyright © 2013. Gerald W. Mills. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.

 

To order this book:
Format: ePub, PDF, HTML, Kindle/Mobi, PDF ARC
    Payment Method
PayPal -or- credit card -or- Apple iBookstore; BN.com Nook; Kindle; Kobo Books; OmniLit; Sony eBookstore
List Price: $6.50 USD

Format: Trade Paperback
    Available April 25, 2013!
List Price: $18.95 USD

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