Monthly Archives: August 2013

You have a… WHAT?

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Over the years my husband and I have spent countless hours on the phone, trying to track down various components for Annabel Lee, our 32’ 1977 Cheoy Lee trawler. And the responses we hear are consistently the same.

“What kind of a boat is that?”

“Never heard of them.”

“I thought they built only sailboats/megayachts/ships.”

Actually, Cheoy Lee did, for brief span of years, build various small trawlers. But it isn’t just the boat itself. The parts she was built with lead to an equal amount of dead ends.

“What kind of helm pump? Oh. Can’t be rebuilt. You got to replace it.”

No. The Wagner 701 can be rebuilt.

“An inner cutlass bearing? No such thing.”

That’s odd, because I’m looking at one right now. Only it isn’t in a standard size. The inner diameter is for a 1.75” shaft, but no standard outer diameters available match the dimensions of my apparently very unique stuffing box/inner cutlass bearing housing, which a friend with a machine shop will be boring out this weekend so we can use a standard size cutlass. The same goes for the rudder bearing.

I suppose this should be expected when one buys an old boat of unusual pedigree, and I did anticipate it to some extent, though as with all things on a boat, the reality of the situation often far surpasses what you first imagine. This has become amusingly apparent whenever I’m on the phone with some supplier or another, who, in an attempt to find answers Googles “Cheoy Lee” + whatever part we’re discussing.

“Oh, hey,” I’m told, “there’s a web site here with someone doing just what you’re talking about, with lots of pictures and information.” Every time, without fail, it’s my site and my boat they’re looking at.

If there is a positive to this all, and I always try to see the positive side, as a result, we’ve become highly skilled at rebuilding what can’t be rebuilt, repairing what can’t be repaired, and coming up with creative and innovative solutions to the unsolvable. We’ve had to design our own tools and friends have welded up massive wrenches to our specs. We’ve devised ways to remove long-frozen parts, to adapt things in the oddest ways, to fix what can’t be fix, and ultimately, to gain a sense of humor about it all in the process.

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Thanks for the inspiration, but…

I’ve been described as a lot of things. Dark, twisted, warped, skewed…and I’d suspect there are plenty of other terms not said directly to my face. I’ve been told there is something inherently distorted in my outlook on life. And while many might not see these attributes in a positive way, I take them as compliments, which I do realize says something in itself about my personality. I’ll be the first to admit it: behind the curls and cheerful smile lurks an evil mind. Happily, these days my writing lets me embrace these particular qualities – more than that – to focus them productively onto the pages of my stories. And as readers discover the unusual ways my characters meet with harm, there’s one question I hear more and more often.

“How do you come up with this stuff?”

(I also get a surprising number of inquiries about my husband’s well-being, which always gives me a laugh. Yes, he’s alive and well. But back to the first question.)

I suppose, if you boil it down, I’d have to say I’ve spent too much time around boats. You see, I have a knack for visualizing worst-case scenarios. I can look at a situation and envision endless variations of possible catastrophe. And boats, by their nature, are the ideal setting for Murphy’s law to prevail. Even with the best preparation, things can and do go wrong. And once you let diligence slide, Murphy is there, just waiting for the opportunity to demonstrate how very, very wrong things can and will go.

I see a carelessly placed shore power cord running from a non-GFI outlet and chafing raw at the dock’s edge, and my writer’s brain contemplates how I could conveniently bump off a character in an effectively electrifying way. That whiff of propane drifting down the dock…hmmm. Are fumes settling in that boat’s bilge? On the fictional front it could be useful, and I’d already filed that one for a future book, even as I try to locate the owner of the prospective mushroom cloud docked upwind of mine. The fellow down the dock who simply climbs aboard and fires up the engine, never even pausing to run the blower or glance into the engine room to sniff around or inspect fluids. The oil pressure alarm clamors away and he casually informs me, “Oh, that always stays on. I can’t figure out how to disable it,” while the bilge pump spews out a soup of water and oil that puts the Exxon Valdez to shame. Or the runabout up on a trailer, hull plug out and the bilge steadily draining a glistening puddle with a stench of raw gasoline from what is likely a leaking fuel tank or line. It doesn’t take much to imagine how that boat, and anyone aboard, could end up consumed in an inferno of melting fiberglass and barbequed crew. Yet, most horrifying of all is how the boat’s owner appears completely oblivious to the situation, and equally unconcerned when I bring it to his attention.

As the author of novels filled with nautical mayhem, these potentially disastrous recipes for electrocutions, fires and explosions provide a multitude of wonderfully creative and entirely plausible options for disposing of characters in gruesome yet proven ways. But the same elements that make for wonderful fiction, are in reality the stuff of nightmares. And while, from a writer’s perspective, I do appreciate the never-ending abundance of ideas these owners and their poorly maintained and operated boats provide, as a boat owner, I’d really prefer they be docked somewhere else.

The WHOLE thing?

The whole hole. Think it’ll leak?

I’m often amused by the reactions our work aboard Annabel Lee draws from onlookers and passers-by. Last weekend a fellow stuck his head into the shed, hoping to locate one of the mechanics and a set of jumper cables to fire up his Jet-Ski. He looked up at my husband and I, decked out in tyvek pjs, filtration masks and full-face eye protection, then he looked to the powertools in our hands and the massive opening where the salon ceiling once was and said, “You’re fixing this boat? That WHOLE thing?”  Another fellow once told me how he’d love a boat like ours, with all her character, though he didn’t feel he was “brave enough for a project like that.” But the comment I most frequently, and the one that amuses me the more than any, is how lucky my husband is.

Me, looking my most glamorous!

If I had a nickel for each time I’ve heard that one… well, nickels don’t go that far these days, but you get the idea. I’d look from our boat, which appears to have come through a missile-testing site, to my stylish apparel, and in truth, at first that statement used to baffle me. Apparently, it turns out people are under the impression that my husband has the most understanding and helpful spouse; after all, I’m always down there at the boat, working away. In fact, I’m down there more often than him. And around our yard, around the scary-project boat area at least, it’s a man’s world, one where women are few and far between. I never thought much of it, after all, compared to Christine and several other friends, I’m merely a weekend boater; an amateur by comparison. It still comes as a surprise to me that others find my presence odd.

Myra Lee – MUCH less work!

Years ago, when I had my lovely little catboat, I heard some strange remarks as well. When I first bought her she was a bit rough around the edges, but each season I tackled more projects, and as time went on she really began to shine. My husband didn’t sail and I think in all the years I owned her, I had him aboard twice. But I recall walking down the dock one summer day to find an admirer gazing at her.  He pointed to the boat and smiled, saying how much he would love to have a boat like that… but all that brightwork! He told me, “I heard some girl owns that boat.”  I nodded as I climbed aboard. “Some girl,” I agreed. “Oh, it’s yours? Who does all that work for you?” he asked.  “Some girl,” I replied. It’s my boat. Who else would I have work on her? And when we first went to look at Annabel Lee, the broker immediately angled his conversation to my husband, who informed him, “Talk to her. She’s the one buying this boat. She’s the one who knows boats, not me.”

Perhaps if it was just me alone, it might not seem so strange. But as a couple, the assumption is that it’s the husband’s insanity, and he has such a supportive, understanding wife. But in our case, it’s the other way around. Yes, we work as a team and we’re in it together. Truth is I’m the insane one, (which is the reason we named her Annabel Lee, as you Last Exit readers might have caught) and I have a wonderfully supportive, understanding husband, though people seem to think he’s joking when he tells them, “This thing? It’s her boat. The whole thing.”

Annabel Lee – A whole lot of work!