Saturday, January 25, 2014

Chickenless chicken soup

Learning to accept what the day brings forth is an almost unfathomable concept for most. My approach to what we will be eating today has morphed from "what am I feeling like eating today", into "what can I possibly make with these beaks and feathers". Although I imposed the current situation on myself, the very challenge of coping gives one a heightened sense of reality. The only difference between a horrible experience and a great experience is what you make of it. I'd like to think that I am a "glass is half full" kinda guy. In fact, I used to have a professor that would tell me, "You have a good disposition, and a good disposition is the greatest gift of God". Then, after a short pause he would add, "or it could just be lack of intelligence".
Ocean bight beach. Nothing to do with this article, but I just had to put it in.

So here we are, our supplies are low...really our meats and vegetables are low. We have plenty of carbs. I can only be the captain if the crew is happy, and nothing can make the crew unhappy like a bowl of plain white rice. However, I have a trick up my sleeve. Has anyone ever heard of "TVP", or "textured vegetable protein"? It is soy bean protein type product that comes in a dry form, like a grain. It had no real flavor of its own, like Styrofoam. It has about 90% as much protein as beef, but less fat.
These two companies should sponsor me, wouldn't you agree?

Here's how it works, before you use it you need to re-hydrate it at a ratio of 1 to 1, 1 cup of boiling water to 1 cup of TVP. What ever that water taste like is what your TVP will taste like, so add a bullion cube of chicken, or beef flavor and you have chicken or beef flavored something. It is actually very much like a ground meat product, like ground beef. In fact I once served it at a party in the form of burgers. and well, either I have very polite guests. or nobody noticed. I would guess the latter. If you buy bad bullion cubes you will have bad TVP (do I need to say this?). As long as you keep TVP dry it seems to last forever.
I have made a variety of dishes with TVP, beef and chicken tacos, chicken soup, spaghetti and meatballs, and yes burgers, all were a hit. If you want to make meatballs, or hamburgers you will need a binder, something to hold the granules together. While some recipes call for "vital wheat gluten" I just use eggs because they're readily available and inexpensive. The crew doesn't suspect a thing.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

SV Mirador

The year was 1997, I was looking for more than just a boat, I needed a home. Real estate had lost its illusion of permanence for me, a boats mobility suited me just fine. I traveled the state looking at boats, I just couldn't close the deal. Many were the times when I would find myself in front of a derelict vessel who's shamelessly embellished advertised description reminded me of the pictures of the hamburgers at a fast food restaurant. Have you ever sat there looking at the burger they gave you, and then up at the picture of the burger you wanted, and thought, "if this burger were in a police lineup you could never point it out as a match for the one in the picture"? True story, I once drove from Miami all the way to St. Augustine to look at a boat. When I got there the boat was so devoid of any equipment that it didn't even have a compass. I was quite candid about my concern so the guy opens a drawer and hands me a puck compass, like the Boy Scouts use, enough said.
One fine day I went to see a boat in Coconut Grove. The boat was definitely not what I was looking for. However, as we were walking back to the brokers office a boat caught my eye. I asked the broker about it, and she mentioned it would be going up for auction soon. In their defense, they tried to talk me out of pursuing this boat, but it's lines were so unique that I was hooked, the rest is history.
Mirador was designed  by naval architect Alan P. Gurney for Islander Yachts out of Costa Mesa, California. She was called the Scorcher 41. Built in 1973, she is one of only 6 ever produced. I am lucky enough to have the original sales brochure and price list.
Just be be clear, she was a mess. My thoughts were, "if I have a solid hull and a sound engine, I'm good". I will tell you now that I would not let a friend of mine buy a boat in the hopes of "fixing it up". If I have to run him down with the car, and rush him to hospital, he'd still be better off.
Getting back to Mirador, once I had sealed my fate by purchasing the boat I began the biggest endeavor of my life. I started cleaning, the bilge had a full barrel of crude oil sloshing around inside. In an act of desperation, I took a hole saw, and opened a hole in the hull so the gunk would drain out. Next came a mad dash to cleanup ensuing oil spill before the "Department of Environmental Resources" came to arrest me. Slowly I began to disassemble the damaged insides. For years she had been leaking like a colander. I removed all of the interior, all of the plumbing, and all of the electrical wiring, everything in sight. When I was done it was nothing but one big empty capsule. I went to the hardware store and purchased 15 sheets of teak plywood. This act alone cost more than my initial investment. Then, as if the odds were just not stacked high enough against me, I hired a pirate disguised as a carpenter to help me with the project. After surviving a financial raping that would have made JP Morgan salivate. I limped away with a yet unfinished boat, and a prostate that looked like a bagel.
I bought and devoured all manner of technical boat manuals, everything available on the market. Every book gave the authors opinion of how a boat should be put together. Some books were better than others, but in the end I learned not to be consumed by a boats presumed short comings. The moral of the story is "Learn to love what you have". A $20,000 sailboat can cross a ocean as safely as a $500,000 sailboat. I didn't learn this lesson the cheap way, oh no, I have installed just about every possible system into Mirador, over a 15 year period. I almost lost sight of the objective which was to enjoy the boat in the first place. 
Allow me to give you an overview of Mirador's systems:
I know that some of this will be gibberish to non-boaters.
This a view of the main salon. Eva felt she needed to be in the picture.
I had to make all new drawers, this the flatware drawer with individual compartments.
I also made a drawer for the spices.
The entire interior was Awlgripped in "Cloud White" before the commencement of the interior work. Her interior is "appointed" in satin finished teak with maple trim and head liner. The flooring is 2 tone Nora rubber tiles embedded with the yacht's logo.
The rubber flooring with Mirador's logo.
The electrical system is split into 110v and 12v. All of the wiring is color coded to industry standards and labeled at both ends. All of the connections are crimped and soldered. There is a 3500 watt diesel generator, 250 watt solar panels with MPPT charge controller, a 90 amp alternator, and a 2500 watt inverter that seamlessly supplies 110v power from the six 200 amp deep cycle AGM batteries. All lights are LED.
This is the main electrical panel and switches. Marie's espresso machine is in the foreground. 

The solar panels are mounted over the bimini top.
The diesel generator is inside a sound proof capsule.
This is the current inverter.
Mirador carries 120 gallons of fresh water in 3 tanks. The system provides pressurized cold and hot water just like at home. There is one full bathroom and one half bath. The main toilet is a Blake Victory head, and retails for $15,370.50, no kidding. The A 20 gallon per hour watermaker keeps even the thirstiest of ladies (oh, don't deny it!) happy.
The Blake Victory Head is the best toilet in the world. It is capable of passing a small child.
The water heater works with both electricity and the engines heat.
This is the watermaker. It produces 20 gallons an hour.
A central 16,000 BTU reverse cycle air conditioner keeps us comfortable in extreme weather, or when it rains.
While not Julia Child's kitchen, the stove has 3 burners and a good size oven. It also has a microwave / toaster combination oven. To supply all of the BTUs needed she carries 50 lbs. of propane, about a 6 months supply. There are 2 separate refrigerator/freezers that operate on 12v.
Mirador has a stainless steel stove, and a toaster/microwave.
To get her moving there is a Perkins 4-108 diesel. She has a new suit of sails from Mack Sails. To control all of this sail area there is a Harken roller furler up front and a Mack Pac on the main with a Strong Track and lazy jacks. All of the rigging is new. To keep her on course there is a Cape Horn wind vane that steers better than I do.
This is the engine. It can push us along at about 6 knots.
This one of my favorite pieces of equipment, the wind pilot.
When you do not want to move, there are three 45 pound anchors on the bow (the pointy end) with 80 feet of chain and 300' of rope each. To retrieve all of this pig iron there is a Simpson Lawrence Tigress windlass.
Here are the anchors in their rollers.
As for electronics, there are 2 fixed GPS units. One with a 7 inch screen and the other is a 15 inch screen. We also carry 2 portable GPS's. For communications we have a fixed VHF radio, and 3 handhelds. There is also a B&G depth sounder at the helm. For access to the internet we have a satellite phone with WiFi, a high gain antenna on top of the mast, and a Delorme (a little unit that sends and receives text messages). We also have a Pioneer SuperTuner that feeds speakers inside and outside of the boat.
This is main GPS/Chartploter with VHF radio.
Now do you understand why it has taken me 15 years to complete this project? I have fabricated or installed everything myself so that I could fix everything myself. I am so much a part of this boat that I may as well be on the "Flying Dutchman". 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Life is easier, Life is harder

We are sitting here at Emerald Bay Marina on our boat. We have a small mental list of chores that we need to complete before we head off to George Town, only 8 miles away. So, what's the problem? Well to tell you the truth, this place is just too comfortable! I can see that we will have to pry ourselves away from here, against our wills, schizophrenic like, and get back on course. The little voices are just driving me crazy.
Let me try to draw you a picture; I wake up at about 8:30 because although the clubhouse opens at 8:00, it takes them a half hour to brew coffee (I'm going to talk to the manager about the work ethic in this place). They use Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. My sleep attire is gym shorts and a t-shirt, so the only thing I need to put on is a pair of sandals, and sunglasses, and I'm off to the clubhouse for my mourning coffee. I'm in the door at 8:32, and I hang around for at least 2 cups, check my emails, usually there are none (come guys throw me a bone here). I then meander back to the boat. Marie will be making herself a cafe latte, the kids are still asleep.

This is the clubhouse at Emerald Bay Marina (Sandals)
The library is on the ground floor.

This is the front desk.

This is the bar. On Mondays they have "Happier hour" with hors d'oeuvers and rum punch.

The billiard room.

This is the upstairs lounge.
Another hour goes by depending on whether or not it is a school day. The kids actually fake sleeping to avoid school, as Marie doesn't force them to get up at any certain time to start. Even when she does try to wake them they snap back at her disrespectfully, I guess figuring they can always blame their behavior on their semiconscious state should repercussions ensue. Now, since they cannot start school on empty stomachs, they request the most elaborate breakfasts they can think of in other to further delay their already less than classical education.
I bake a fresh loaf of bread every couple of days.

Almost everything is made from scratch.

Chocolate chip pancakes.
At about 11:30, with crumbs still hanging off of everyone's lips, Marie starts school, and I get to work on the boat. It is always a challenge to gather everything it takes to accomplish even the simplest of tasks, all the pieces, tools, and materials, sometimes it this step alone takes an hour.
Eva and Hadrian about to start a school day.
I have learned through the years not to bite off more than I can chew, but lately this "life lesson" has taken on new meaning. For example, yesterday the task I set before myself was to tie a new line to the anchor. I was able accomplish this in a timely manner, and I was quite happy with myself as I had done all that I had set out to do.
Here's an example of my projects, this is a theft deterrent devise for the outboards.

I had to move the BBQ back a bit so that the bimini top would not catch fire.

Even Mirador looks happy at the marina.
At about 2:00 everyone starts talking about lunch. I try to keep lunch simple, if left-overs are available then that's the fare. If not, then P & J sandwiches or mac-n-cheese. After lunch, Marie can only squeeze a bit more schooling in before the resistance is just overbearing, and she lets the kids go to the clubhouse to watch TV and play on the internet, or we go to the beach.
As usual Eva and Hadrian prevail and head for the beach.
The sun begins to set at about 5:30. At about this time you will notice that everyone's right hand is occupied holding a drink. I will usually make "Pina Coladas", Eva's favorite. We enjoy socializing with all the other cruisers before heading in for dinner. If we were back in Miami I would be sponsoring parties dockside like nobodies business, but out here I just don't have the resources.

But wait there are two parts to the title of this article. Okay, lets touch on the "harder". The little comforts that we never give a second thought to back home become matters of strife. Last week we found ourselves a the end of some of our supplies. We had no fresh meats or produce, and some other staples were dwindling. We are 8 miles from the market at George Town, where you get to pay about twice as much for half as much, but it's a $100 cab ride. How can you justify a $100 cab ride? How can you afford a $100 cab ride? That would be one hell of chicken! You better lick your fingers after that chicken! So, for over a week we lived off of only canned goods, ramen noodles, and other dry goods. I am pretty creative in the kitchen, but oh Lord does it ever take a toll on the crews morale. As Napoleon once said "an army marches on its stomach". 
Being out here is a revelation of life itself, of how real it can get. If you over look something out here there will be consequences. Most of our societies thin sheltering layer is peeled back. It's like living life in stereo, the lows are lower, but the highs are higher (I didn't write that). It's like the difference between riding through the Smokey Mountains in a car or riding down that same road road in a motorcycle. It's the difference between throwing a bullet, and shooting a bullet. Alright, alright I'm running away with this, but you get what I'm saying, right?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Back in the groove

The plane trips from Tampa to Miami, and Miami to George Town have been as suspenseful as any Brad Pitt movie that I have ever seen. We made each flight without a minute to spare. From the ticketing agents came "Why are you so late?". It still rings in my head. "Its' my luggage!" I would answer while pointing to my wife and kids. They didn't get it. One particular check-in clerk in Miami was our champion. He was on curb side check in, and when he assessed our situation and all the bags that I had laid at his feet he said "Alabado" (That's like, Oh my God). We each had 2 carry-ons, and 2 check-ins. The profile that the baggage made when they all laid in a pile was impressive. Well my guess was that his girlfriend must have been really nice to him the night before because this guy would be daunted by nothing. He said "My computer won't accept all this out here so lets go inside". And he ran in with all our passports and papers flapping in his hands. I told Marie to stay with the luggage as I sprinted off behind him. He went up to one of the inside ticketing agents, a girl, and hugged her and kissed her. Who am I to question his methods? In any case her computer could do anything short of waxing the plane. He got her working on our tickets, and told me to wait there while he went for the luggage. So, he left me there with this cute little agent who the minute earlier was just an endless source sunshine, but now had morphosed into a pit bull upon his departure. She snapped and growled at me, but I just stood there like when a dogs owner tells you to "just be still and it will all be alright". I had faith in this guy, maybe for lack of choice. My new best friend got back with all the bags and my luggage. He loaded them one at a time on the scale, they were all close to maximum, but I had weighed each bag over and again as I packed so they were all on the money. Still they charged us for the second bags, $40 each, ouch! Boarding passes in hand we ran to catch our "now boarding" plane with ridiculous over-sized carry-on bags, 2 each. Thank God for the wheel and axle, this was a prime example of how we bend the laws of nature. At the security check point we just bogged down a lane. Thankfully I had not forgotten any of my knives as I have countless times before (another story), we were clean. We arrived at our plane to find that the crew was late. They were arriving on another flight that was running late.  The flight to George Town itself was great. Eva swears she saw dolphins swimming...and you though her daddy told stories? As we approached George Town, the plane started to circle the island, over and over, through heavy cloud cover. About a half hour transpired, and the passengers were starting to feel queasy when the pilot finally decided that it was safe to land. We where not told anything that was going on, I thought that the airport was just busy. I later heard from the cab driver that the pilot was about to return to Miami due to weather.
Getting through Bahamian customs was still ahead of us. We gathered all of our bags and got in line, it was only us. He called us forward, they take this very seriously. We stepped up to the counter, and began our Porky Pig impersonation. Do you have any of this or that? Duh-duh-duh, I have boat parts. What kind of boat parts? Duh-duh-duh, an anchor line, and some other parts...impellers. We were told to show receipts , so we pull out some receipts, enough to be somewhat believable, but still it was a thousand dollars. This guy tells us that we will need to pay 45% duty fees and get an agent to import the stuff. I think my blood pressure went to 300 over 200...or something like that. I began to present an argument, "I was under the understanding that boat parts did not pay duty?". I think this guy saw the whining session that was coming his way, and realized I was the only thing between him and going home, and he just changed his tune. "I don't want you to go through that, no. I'll just let you go by saying it's under $100." What the hell just happened? Oh well, out the door we go. Our prearranged cab was there waiting, the only thing that went as planned. I felt embarrassed as I began to load this ladies car with luggage. The Bahamas doesn't really have taxi cabs per se, it's just a car, in this case a Cadillac SUV, that the owner just decides to drive you around in for a fee.
It felt great to be back home...home is where our boat is.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Home for the Holidays

The kids realized early on that Christmas would be a frugal affair if they couldn't figure out a way to get back home to the land of plenty, and Grandma and Grandpa, Abuela and Abuelo. Now mind you the kids were about as subtle about wanting to go home as a herpes flare up, and as lasting. Grandpa is their prime target, apparently he can move mountains, and buy airline tickets at the flick of a finger. All this and yet he is putty in their hands. It worked, we are all going home for Christmas.
Emerald Bay Marina is a really nice place to leave Mirador for the holidays. It's well protected from weather or strangers, and affordable, but most attractive, we are already here.
We are low on some supplies, and we are at the end of our cruising guides so we could freshen up on both. This would also be a great opportunity to reflect on our methods and madness, and make adjustments. For example, before we had started I decided that we would not stop at any marinas, but simply anchor anywhere. I thought we could save a lot of money this way. Now, after a couple of months, I know that a few marina stops to relax from the constant adventure is a necessity for Marie and myself to retain our sanity. Our little brains can't handle so much adventure, sensory overload if you will.
Trying to figure out the details of importing supplies to the Bahamas seems impossible to pin down. Search efforts on the internet only produced what seems like their entire constitution, I can't decipher that! Asking around got us some ideas, but everyone would give us a puzzled face to go with their answer, even the people at customs. You know the kind of face that would make you run and get a second opinion if it came from your doctor, yeah that one. Oh well, we decided to deal with the details of importing goods when we needed to. Worst case, I could make Eva cry in front of the customs agent, that usually works.
Our friend Israel offered us a bedroom at his house in Miami, this is great because the alternative would have been my parents house. My parents keep their air conditioner at about 78 degrees, and still they shiver. I have figured out that at 75 degrees I can sleep, at 76 degrees I can't.
Eva and Hadrian opening presents at uncle Israels house.

As much as one may try, things will never be entirely perfect. I really miss not being more involved in my grandsons life. Yeah I know what you're thinking. "what's a spring chicken like him doing with a grandson?" Hence my dilemma, I'm still busy discovering the world. I hope I can make it up to the little guy in the future.
 My mom and my sister-in-law both entered a raffle and each won a whole pig. It has become part of our family tradition that I cook the pig for the holidays. This is not to say that if I were not around they would not have the pig, but if I'm around, I'm cooking the pig. Now being as we have 2 pigs I have some culinary freedom. I decided to prepare one in the traditional manner with mojo, and the other Memphis style, with a dry rub. The next step was to build a pit. Every year we concoct a pit by dry-laying masonry blocks in the middle of the lawn. You can still see the thin grass from last years pit. No sense burning a new spot in the lawn, so I place the pit in that area, again. It takes about 4 hours to cook a pig, it is an informal ritual of sorts where I, the cook, and 2 or 3 companions marinate ourselves in libations as we watch over the "barbacoa". Modesty aside, I must say that I have mastered this Cuban ritual. The roasted pig is artisanal, and  at the end of the process I still show no signs of inebriation.
Max, Eva and Hadrian with what I calculate to be a $150 ball that they won (???) at "Game Time".

All was not fine in our home port. On our arrival we have discovered that we are the unbeknownst owners of a five star bed and breakfast. We had rented our house while we traveled to mediate the expenses. Our entrepreneurial tenant has decided to start a business. We were shocked to see the advertisement on the internet. I must admit that she has the place looking so nice that I was a proud. The web site included reviews from previous clients and they were all five stars. Again, I was proud. Unfortunately, we are not comfortable with the liability of this endeavor so we will be looking for a less industrious tenant in the very near future.
For new years eve we wanted to be in St. Petersburg with Marie's parents. we rented a car and drove up. I love the time we spend at my in-laws. Although I don't get to burn a hole in the grass, we always have a great time cooking, and they always have a bottle of The Balvenie, a single malt scotch, just for me.
Eva and Hadrian opening yet more gifts at Grandma and Grandpas.

But life was not always this good. I used to have the worst in-laws in modern history. I think I was being punished for something that I did in a previous life because I just can't think of anything that I could have done in this life that would merit such a sentence. Luckily, my case came up before the "board" for review, and I seem to have been pardoned.
We have been enjoying a great holiday season with our families.