The Trouble with Houseboats

If I am not working, you will often find me on my boat, a Catalina I call Nordic Breeze. Sailing is the love of my life, next to my wife of course. It brings me great joy while I have simultaneously made so many new friends. We share the wonders of the pastime and fantasize about where we would like to go alone or together. We can wile away hours on our respective boats. We are true sailing buddies and when there is a need, we pitch in to help. Boats always need painting, staining or some kind of upgrade. Recently, I visited a friend on his houseboat with the goal of installing the best kitchen faucet available that day. He couldn’t find a plumber willing to come to the dock for a reasonable price. No problem. I have done it before—actually more than a few times over the years.

In a little under an hour, the new faucet was in place, ensuring that a drip-free and hands-free experience was in the making. My job was done so I could now relax and enjoy the view. Houseboats are almost all windows. I was sitting there thinking: you can’t imagine the pleasure people get out of modern fixtures and appliances. The houseboat is rather old, and I am surprised that he spent the money. Small things mean a lot, he said. Okay, I get it. Meanwhile I took a gander around the houseboat and noticed so many things that needed repair or replacement. While I like the idea of this vessel, I would not want to live on it full time. For one thing, you are moored most of the time except for the rare move to a new location. There is no question of sailing. Thus, to me it isn’t a true boat. More of a cool place to live near other boats like mine.

If I had to make a list of what this houseboat needed, it would be more than a faucet. In fact, all the kitchen cabinets were worn and crooked. How about a new tile or granite countertop? There was some old butcherblock with many a knife scar in it. The window trim was peeling, and the floor could use a good wax. It looked lived in for sure. I liked the built-in furniture because it saved space, but I would choose another upholstery fabric. I wasn’t being judgmental but more practical. I would be happy to help convert the space into a modern environment. Everything is so spic and span on my boat so why not give my friend a taste of luxury. I had to find out if it was his style in case I would offend him with my suggestions. I could gather some other friends and a few tools and go to town on the renovation. Of course, it would be no surprise as he would have to move out for a few days at least.

Catch and Eat

Time on my boat alone or with friends is my idea of heaven. Having my own boat, Nordic Mast, allows me the privilege of sailing and fishing whenever I want. I consider myself a very lucky outdoor soul. There is nothing like the peace and quiet or the times when things get exciting when you are reeling that big one in. If I am alone, I am content to contemplate the vast breadth of the sea and enter a private meditative realm. It is my time off work and I am in the zone in minutes. I know why boating is so popular around the world. A yacht is one kind of experience for the super rich, but my take on the sport is quite different when on my Catalina. She’s a beauty, small and elegant, and serves me well with her graceful unfurled sails.

When friends are on board and it is play time, I go into full gear with drinks, equipment, and snacks. We fish all day from dawn until dusk at which time we can enjoy our catch grilled to perfection on deck. Definitely worthy of posting on Facebook. When I say fresh, I mean something you will never eat from the fish counter at the supermarket. No wonder local restaurant chefs go down to the docks to get fish right off the boat so customers can enjoy what I know to be true.

Although I don’t drink beer often, I buy the guys’ favorite beverage because I he know my friends like it. I select two or three of their regular brands. On a sunny, warm day, I agree that a cold brew hits the spot. Their yakking about it isn’t what convinced me however. I found the best-tasting beer for a novice non-drinker like myself, as recommended by the knowledgeable store manager. I anticipated a good taste but was surprised at how much I really liked it. Beer may be found in my below deck fridge from now on. I hope you like my new brand.

The glorious day was capped off by the most sublime fresh-caught meal. The fish weren’t large but incredibly good. I am not even sure what we ate. With a little lemon and butter, it was divine. It could have been tuna, mackerel, flounder or turbot. I am usually good at identifying our catch, but I was distracted by my beer-slugging friends. Our outing was the best ever and no one wanted to end the trip and go ashore. Since we had a lavish supply of ice-cold beer, we had no desire to continue drinking in a local beach bar. That would be suitable for another time.

We ate a good portion of our fish and placed the rest, gutted and clean, in the ice cooler. Perhaps a few of us would grill them the next evening in one of our backyards. The question on the table, of course, is who would bring the beer. I had my turn!

Nice, Relaxing Day

Sailing with my wife is my favorite pastime. We choose a different route every time, weather permitting. It is an entire day that alternates between operating the sails, making lunch, taking photos, and relaxing on deck. We love to stare at the scenery that passes by. Once, we spotted an island in the near distance and had to find out what was there. I knew it was small and probably didn’t have any inhabitants. It would be an exploring adventure. I found a good safe place to dock the boat and hoped after a long walk we could find it. I have a pretty good sense of direction, and so does my wife. She is usually a better compass than the real ones.

It was a sunny warm day, perfect for a metal detector hunt. I had brought it on the boat just in case. I carried it along with some beverages and snacks to the local beach. I have used the device before a few times and had some limited knowledge of how it works after reading some metal detector reviews online. You have to be careful to adjust the settings so you find the right things. You can get inundated with junk if the setting is too low. High sensitivity will limit the finds to metals—hopefully gold or silver. We didn’t expect much but thought it would be a fun experience. At the very least, it would be a nice, relaxing day together. Life is built of such wonderful moments. It is the way we amass memories for posterity. We never sit idle on lazy days.

Metal detectors can be tricky so we gave it some time. Most of the early “finds” were pieces of junk—worn out machine parts, a cigarette lighter, bottle caps, and nails. Clearly someone had been here before. It wasn’t as remote an island as we had originally thought. This, however, made it more likely that we would find something of value. We ignored the assorted trash and continued to the end of the sandy beach, our toes immersed in warm, soft sand. We turned to go back to the boat. Not two or three minutes later, my wife yelled at me to stop. She was holding the metal detector tightly in front of her. We both looked down in joy. “We have struck oil,” she laughed, meaning we found gold.

We dug up a gold coin that I joked must be a Spanish doubloon. “Or it could be pirate booty,” I added, pretending it was very old. In point of fact, I wasn’t sure at all about it. It wasn’t a new coin to be sure lacking shine and polish. We would take it to a special old coin dealer when we got home. There was no way I would locate an exact replica on line. We scampered to the boat and made the long voyage back. We couldn’t wait for Monday so we could have our find evaluated. To end the story before I go on too long, the dealer examined it carefully and pronounced it to be gold. We were more than ecstatic.

Vacuum for the Boats

Poets write about sailing with lyrical rhyming words that describe the most incredible experiences.

Drifting silently beneath whipping sails
We cruise toward the horizon that beckons
Caught in nature’s vortex we spot immense whales
There for our pleasure I reckon.


After a big bash on the boat, I have to tell you that it gets pretty dirty. Beer cans and water bottles are strewn about. Fortunately, there are no ants to eat the leftovers. While I might hire someone to do the cleanup job – it takes hours of sloshing soapy suds on the sleek wooden deck – I don’t mind vacuuming down below with my trusty canister machine. I tried an upright long ago and it was unwieldy. I hated crashing it about the small lower space. It often hit the beautiful wood cabinets that I had built in. I have souvenir dents that tell the tale. I am more careful now and the canister is much lighter and smaller. I could do it by hand bending down on my knees, but I am getting a little creaky for that.

Most of my friends and fellow sailors are willing to help out and I reciprocate the favor. We believe in getting right to it with no procrastination. Then there is time to relax with a beer. (Why is boating associated with beer all the time?) After a good vacuuming, soaping, and counter top polishing, the vessel is like new. I love it this way and hesitate to destroy the harmony with a large gathering of people. No matter. It is part of the enjoyment of owning a boat. There is nothing like a sailboat by Catalina. Owning one in any size is a great reward. It will be your prized possession. If $100,000 is beyond your means, you can buy used boats in great condition. Be sure to inspect it carefully first. If you spot a canister vacuum, you know it has been well taken care of.

Sometimes, I feel that boating, whether the ocean or a lake, is beyond description. Nevertheless, while not a poet, I try to convey some of the magic in this blog. When I am at a loss for words, I like to give practical advice about selecting the right boat, maintaining it properly, buying the best marine insurance, and where to go for day or overnight trips. I have had parties on the Nordic Breeze and served amazing food for a gourmet treat while we sip wine and watch the sunset.

Boating is for people who love adventure and excitement. It is strictly for those willing to work and who also love relaxing on a calm, inky sea (is that poetic enough, my friends?). If you are near islands, they provides distant vistas that accompany you in your voyage to open water. Any land or coast line will do. You are tempted to stop and sit on the sand, but fear that the landing will be cruel.

Mechanic I am Not

Here I am, standing on the deck of my Catalina, named Nordic Breeze, relaxing after having adjusted the sails. The craft is no longer drifting idly, but is floating forward where I have aimed it. It makes a nice beeline in just the right direction. It is a nice, breezy day—not too calm, but not windy and overbearing. This is a perfect scenario for a salesmen who needs to get away and conquer built-up stress. There is no better remedy. If anything ails your soul, one trip alone can cure you fast. No wonder I keep the boat about twenty minutes from home. The water always beckons come Saturday. While the wife and kids also love sailing, they reserve their participation mostly for Sundays. The rest of the time I go solo and I adore the solitude. What other sport is so quiet yet so much fun? Take your favorite snacks and some music, and you will need nothing further.

While I imagine myself to be a self-styled handyman, I have limited skills. Because a fellow sailing friend often helps me take down and store my sails, I want to return the favor. I will ask if he needs his deck washed down or the small refrigerator cleaned out. I can polish the interior wood and vacuum the cloth seats. After going through a laundry list of possibilities, he finally mentioned the need to replace his old water heater. He has had it for quite some time. It is of course not a tank model given the limited space on his boat. It was a smart move to get an electric tankless style ideal for his needs, so we went online and found He likes to go out on the water for days at a time, and enjoys the convenience of hot water to bathe or do dishes.

I studied the manual for the water heater installation and reached out to a few people on Twitter who sent me videos and it seemed simple enough, even for me. We planned to enjoy a lazy afternoon so I brought along a couple of six packs of beer. We worked diligently and efficiently and got the job done early in the day so we could enjoy a few hours of sunbathing in the warmth of the summer day. I have to admit to my readers that my friend did most of the work. A mechanic I am not. He knew it and really just wanted some company. It was guys’ day off. I felt a little guilty for my lack of savvy and was ready to volunteer for any other project that called for immediate attention. “Let’s paint the mast,” I offered, but he laughed. “You don’t have to prove anything to me, my friend,” was his retort.

Thus ended one of the most blissful days of my life. A cold brew, a good friend, a scenic vista, and gentle waves: it was a sailing paradise. We both vowed to invite our families along, but agreed to wait for some time.

Another Relaxing Day on the Water

The best way to tackle stress in life is by sailing as often as possible. Getting outside and inhaling fresh air is as therapeutic as it can get. I know from experience how beneficial a day relaxing on the water can be. While I love a sunny, breezy day, I will take a cloudy one as well. Too much wind is a deterrent. The sea can be smooth and crystal blue or agitated as seen in the white caps on the rolling waves. It is such fun that I can go solo or take a friend or two to help out as temporary crew. The camaraderie can’t be beat. The guys love to learn the ropes, pun intended, and to participate in an exciting outdoor sport that few of them have experienced before. They come attired in a tank top and shorts in order to get some welcome rays of sun and hopefully a tan. I ask them to wear boat shoes to ensure their safety, but often someone comes aboard sporting a pair of indoor soccer shoes. These are not the kind with cleats, of course, which are strictly for grass. Indoor shoes are rubber-soled, like boat shoes, and make a great practical substitution except that they look a bit more athletic. Authentic deck footwear has a look all its own. But no one is going to buy special boat shoes for a sailing day with me.

I am not surprised that people have soccer shoes these days given the popularity of the sport. Their kids play it and they are called upon to be a coach from time to time, inside and out. I took a closer look at these colorful lace up babies and ended up on @Top_Corner_Mag‘s Twitter account. They said that the shoes are fabricated from some kind of rubbery-looking artificial material that has a mesh texture, especially on the high-use area of the ball of the foot. I am told this makes for better ball control. Wow! Now this wearer wants boat control. I suppose it works. I see that they are cushioned and that the outsole is designed for traction on court and indoor surfaces. We will now add boat decks to the list.

The soccer shoes are quiet as mice and the soft sole doesn’t damage the polished wood deck. I value the pristine appearance of my Nordic Mast. But my preference is the traditional loafer with top stitching and highly visible lacing that ties in a bow. I love the luggage leather brown color as opposed to the soccer neon brights. You can wear these shoes out socially with khakis and a polo shirt. The soccer version is a bit too much for non-athletic occasions. It looks like you want to show off that you play or how cool you are. With the boat shoe, there is that neat kicker at the back of the heel that keeps the shoe in proper shape. This is important in a leather shoe and not something that is of concern with the soccer model.

Boat Show!

Mention the word “sailing” and I immediately have relaxing images of picturesque white boats, scuttering white clouds across an azure sky, and pristine water as clear as glass. I have a few water craft of my own so I know of what I speak (or, I should say write). I can go on for pages about the joys of sailing. I could do it every day. I work hard, and calm water breeds a calm inner soul. There is also nothing as invigorating as a gentle breeze as you sip your beverage of choice and eat a gourmet lunch. I am lucky my wife likes to pack the best food when I am on the water. The entire experience becomes perfection.

I can be found at many a boat show so I don’t miss out on the latest news in the marine world. They exhibit all kinds of boats in various sizes and prices. You can picture yourself in them, which helps you to make the right choice. I am good for now but I love discussing sailing with all the fellow travelers that populate these expos. I was fascinated at one show to find a booth where a man who builds his own boats was demonstrating using a sawhorse for woodworking, and he called the booth Woodwork Nation. He had photos of the tool in action but also had some sample scraps of wood strewn about. The band saw is not new to me, but I enjoyed his description of unique boat-making techniques. He talked about using the rip fence or miter guide to align a work piece for cutting and how easy it was to accomplish good results. His saw had an adjustable LED work light so it could shine right where the light is needed to keep the cut line clearly visible. It featured easy view blade tracking so you always know when the blade is properly aligned for smooth cuts. The blade of course can be changed according to your project. I liked the dust port that helps keep the work area clean. I was also impressed by the bump off switch as I value every safety measure taken. I would want a similar two-speed motor that enables the user to cut wood and metal materials alike.

I gained some valuable knowledge that day at the boat show. I love being in my favorite realm. Each show has unique exhibits and information. I know local places near my home to sail, but there are so many more opportunities within a day’s drive. The photos beckon from afar. Yes, I would like to be more adventurous and will try to do so as time permits. Meanwhile, I post my own photos on Instagram and Facebook in the hope of encouraging friends and family to join me. I could write an ode to the sea life. I found my heart’s desire when I was young and was introduced to sailing by a friend in school. It is now a lifelong endeavor.

Keep Your Sails Shipshape

It takes a lot of diligence to keep any boat in good shape. But sailboats require attentional attention. The last thing you wait is damage to the sails because you could not be bothered doing some simple maintenance tasks. It would be a very expensive lesson to learn, so here are some basic tips to avoid ruined sails.Also, remember that it is much easier to keep a problem from starting than it is to deal with something after it develops.

Salty air and sea spray can damage sails. You need to hose down your sails with freshwater after every use, and allow them to dry. This will keep your sails clean, free of damaging salt crystals, and prevent mildew from forming. Once your sailsare dry, roll them. Don’t fold them like an article of clothing. The creases you make when folding will damage to the material. Protect your sails from the elements. They make bags and covers for this express purpose. Buy one that is good quality and consider the money well spent. When choosing a location to store your sails, choose somewhere out of direct sunlight. Other things to avoid: locations where animals or bugs might nest and places that get excessively hot.

Inspect your sails frequently. Make sure the stitching is holding up. Look at the material to see if there are any wear and tear damage. Check the hardware for corrosion. This is especially important if you sail often and as the sails get older. At the end of the season, take a really good look at the sails. Inspect everything. The hardware. The battens. Examine the batten pockets, any elastic, seams, leech, luff, and reinforcement patches. Inspect bolt ropes, slides, or luff tapes if you have them. That is always a likely spot for wear damage. If you can, repair it yourself. If you are unsure or it looks like a big job, take it to a sail maker. You want to be sure that when the sailing season rolls around next year, your sails are in good shape and will be ready to perform.

Taking sails back out of storage is always one of my favorite days. It means getting back out on the water! Even your best efforts can sometimes not be enough to prevent mildew; it has happened to me once or twice. If you spot some mildew on your sails, you can either try to get it out yourself using a solution mixed with diluted bleach or hydrogen peroxide. You can find a recipe that will be the most efficient based on what your sail is made out of online. If you don’t want to chance it, you can always bring it to a facility that specializes in cleaning sails. You may also find some corrosion on the hardware that wasn’t visible when you looked last, or elastic might not be as snug as before. It is easy to get these things repaired before the season starts so that you don’t have to worry about them. It helps or minimizes issues with the sails when you are on the boat, where it is harder to fix.

Putting a little extra time and effort into your sail maintenance is good for your wallet and will keep you out on the water longer. Take care of them, and enjoy!

Phrases from the Sea

Once you have spent time on a boat, you realize that many terms and everyday expressions actually originated out on the sea. We all know words like head, galley, port and starboard.However, there are other phrases and terms that have been coopted into everyday language you may be surprised about. Here are some of my favorite examples:

  • Clean bill of health: this phrase actually meant that the ship in question had documentation to prove that there was no epidemics or infections at the ship’s port of departure. This information helped prevent the spread of disease. Now it usually denotes a good visit to the doctor or conquering an illness.
  • Mayday: this distress call is actually a version of the French words m’aidez, which translates to ‘help me.’
  • As the crow flies: Sailors would literally release a caged crow if they were lost or could not locate the shore. The bird would fly toward land, which would help the ship orient itself. Now it usually denotes the fastest, straightest route somewhere.
  • Down the hatch: Although this is usually a drinking term now, it originally was an instruction on sea freighters to lower cargo into the hatch.
  • Showing their true colors: many warships often carried flags from other places in order to misrepresent themselves. They would wait until they got within firing range of another ship and then, in order to comply with civilized warfare rules, show their true flag (also known as colors) before they took their first shot. We tend to say this now when someone has betrayed us in some way.
  • Toe the line: when we say this, we are typically speaking about someone who behaves properly. However, it was more literal when it was strictly a nautical term. Warships had parallel lines on the deck, and the sailors would have to muster with their toes at the lines.
  • Footloose: The bottom part of the sail is called a foot. If it breaks free or isn’t secured, it is deemed footloose. This will cause it to flap and dance randomly in the wind.
  • Three sheets to the wind: A sheet is a rope line that controls tension on a square sail’s downwind side. If the sails were loose, they will flap—known as ‘in the wind’. When that happens, the ship would stagger and drift aimlessly downwind. A drunken person stumbling around moves in a very similar manner, hence the expression.
  • Cut and run: this expression means to take your losses and get yourself out of a situation. Originally it was a self-preservation strategy on the high seas—cutting the anchor rope and running away from a fight you could not win.
  • Aboveboard: typically denotes that everything is on legal and upfront. On a ship, it means everything on or above the open deck.

I found a lot of these to be incredibly interesting. If you feel the same way, let me know and I will write up another one of these sometime.

Nice Day for a Sail

I have been wanting to get out on the water for weeks now but either work or the weather would not allow it. I did get my boat out this past weekend, though. I should have been at work, dealing with yet another account, but I chose not to. The account will be there on Monday. The good weather would not.

The wind was reported to be around 10 knots, the sky was forecasted to be clear and sunny. As soon as I heard the report, I knew that I would not be making an appearance at work. It was a good choice.

I took Nordic Breeze out on the water when there was still relatively nobody out on the water. It was so quiet and peaceful. I turned my phone to silent and just listened to the wind and the water lapping at the hull. I found a nice spot to sit for a bit and had a snack. It was so nice to be out there with no computer and no phone. All I had to do was pay attention to the weather and my boat. I brought a book with me and sat up top to read it and enjoy the day without being disturbed.

After a few hours, I started to get hungry again so I had some lunch. I sailed around a little bit after that to find a less crowded location—I had gained some neighbors as I was reading. I probably would have moved anyway. The wind was good and it gave me something to do. Sometimes I find myself just wanting to go through the mechanics of sailing whether I am settled or not.

I found another great location to settle and so that is what I did. It was closer to the shore so my internet connection was working again. I checked my phone and there were a few emails from work. I decided that I would wait until the next day to answer them since none were really urgent. I had a text from my wife to remind me to reapply my sunscreen, so I did that. She knows me so well and knew I would start to burn right about that time. I had another sandwich and some salad for dinner and got back to the dock just as the sun was setting. I would have liked to stay out on the water to see the sun go down but I had to be back home for a movie date with my wife.

The weather turned overnight. It got very overcast and humid, with almost no breeze. There was some lightning. I know because I saw it from the window at my office. I was so glad that I had gotten out on the boat the day before instead.

Long Day on the Water

I finally convinced my wife to come out on the Nordic Breeze yesterday. The weather was supposed to be nice, I had cleaned the boat from top to bottom, and I even packed us snacks and a nice lunch to eat onboard. She tried to say no but I persuaded her with a bottle of wine and a reminder that she probably wouldn’t find a quieter place to read that great novel she’s been trying to get started. She really could not argue with my logic, and reminded me that I am a pretty good salesman when I am turning on the charm.

My wife is not the best early riser, so I had a cup of coffee waiting for her when her alarm went off. The ride to the boat was nice and quiet—there really was nobody on the roads and she wasn’t much for conversation. The pier was pretty quiet too. My wife knows enough about sailing to help me get the boat away from the dock and it was refreshing to have some help for a change. We got underway and she immediately went below decks for a nap. That was fine by me. I had us set up and moving at a good clip shortly after. It was a great day to be out on the water and we were rolling along at a good clip.

I found a nice quiet spot and settled in with a book for a while and waited for my wife to wake up. She stumbled back above decks about two hours later, mostly because she was hungry. We ate breakfast (her)/lunch (me). We had some nice conversations and enjoyed the scenery. It was nice to be able to talk without the daily distractions that go on at home. The tv, cellphones, that sort of thing. I probably dozed off in the sun after our little chat and she probably cracked open her book, which is how I found her when I woke up.

We mostly just relaxed. It was a really nice change of pace. We decided to go out to eat at a seafood restaurant that wasn’t too far away from our location. We got the boat situated and headed that way. We made it there just before sunset, so we stayed aboard to watch the sun go down. It was a beautiful sight and my wife took quite a few pictures. I chose to tell myself that was a good sign and proof that she was enjoying herself. Maybe she will come out with me more often. The restaurant wasn’t very crowded, so we were able to get a table outside. The breeze was nice and the evening was warm. Our food was delicious, too. It was a perfect evening, really.

After dinner, we headed back to the boat. I wanted to head back but she pointed out that I had made her a promise. I opened the bottle of wine, although if we drank two glasses total, it was a lot. I avoid drinking when I am on a boat, especially when I am the one steering, and she doesn’t often drink when I don’t. We docked and headed home for hot showers and to finally finish that bottle of wine.

I couldn’t have asked for a better day.