Ship's Log               s/v Uliad 

August 8:  


   While I have been slaving away in New Mexico, Kathleen and Emmett have been visiting friends & family.  More than anything (sorry friends & family) Kath has been looking forward to getting some quality time with her loyal dog Lucy.  My brother has been taking care of her while we've been out sailing, so Kath & Em made a beeline for Colorado as soon as they got home.  But what should have been a joyful reunion turned into some anxious days.  She found that Lucy had a small tumor growing on her leg and seemed to be limping.  A visit to the vet led to surgery.  The growth turned out to be benign, but she does have some bad degenerative changes in her hips and spine.  The vet is recommending physical therapy and acupuncture. (!!)

    So I guess that's all good, but part of me can't help but wonder about physical therapy and acupuncture treatments for dogs when there are people who can't afford their heart medicine and little towns in the desert with no doctors.  There are countries without adequate public health infrastructure and children who go hungry...

    Back in the thick of it, I'm once again reminded of all the problems with our (human) healthcare system in this country.  There is almost no limit to the things we can do, but painfully real limits on what we can afford.  I stand in the middle of the maelstrom of the uninsured and the denied coverage and the pre-authorizations and the co-pays and wonder how will we ever find a sensible way out of this mess?  Will we ever come to make these painful value judgments in a more thoughtful, rational way?

    And in our own family micro-economy, how does one value the relative merits of dog acupuncture vs. a few more spare parts for Uliad vs. that rainy day fund?  I ponder these things quietly out here in the desert, knowing full well that I'd never stand in the way of Kathleen doing whatever she can for the loyal dog I dragged her away from... 



 August 14:

    While I work this summer, there is another group of guys working on Uliad back in Trinidad.  After living on Uliad for 9 months, we needed to make a few adjustments:   

    First on the agenda was to raise the davits on the stern of the boat that we use to lift our dinghy up out of the water.  The old davits were rather cumbersome to use and if the waves are rough, the dinghy will get banged around by the water.  So a welder came and built a new set of davits that should work great to keep the dinghy up and out of the way while we're underway.  And as long as we had the welder on board, he also repaired a few areas of corrosion on the hull with fresh new aluminum.

    The next item is painting.  Uliad's paint is 15 years old now and starting to peel in a number of places.  So we're repainting the hull and deck.  And as long as we're doing that, we decided to change the topsides to Dark Blue with a silver trim stripe.  There's just something stately and gorgeous about a navy blue sailboat that always catches our we'll become one of 'em.  We knew since we bought Uliad that this needed to be done, but the "cosmetic" repairs have taken a back seat to other more important things until now.

    And finally, with the rising price of diesel, we decided to make a few changes in our wind and solar charging system to take better advantage of FREE electricity whenever possible.  Of course none of these changes come free.  But at $5 per gallon, it is an investment that should pay for itself!

    Along with those projects, we're having a new downwind sail cut and some new canvas to match the new paint. 

    It always causes me anxiety to know that someone is working on my boat when I'm not there to see what they're doing.  So I was glad to get some photos from our project manager the other day confirming that progress is being made on all these things.  By the time we get back in 7 weeks or so, our sailboat should look pretty shiny and new compared to what we're used to.   

New dinghy davits welded in placeUliad getting ready to be painted



 August 18:


    Being a doctor out here is different than it was in Wisconsin.  For one thing, I have more free time.  I don't know anybody in this town...I don't have any committees to serve on...and with Kathleen and Emmett not being here I don't have any kid activities to attend to or house projects assigned to me.  I had to figure out something to do with my idle time in the evenings and came up with...HAM radio!

    Yes, yes, I know I must seem like a complete geek.  Yes, we now have these things called cell phones, and this gadget called the internet.  Yes, I know your first image must be of pathetic, nerdy, Steve hunched over some sparking, home made radio trying to make contact with some new buddy in Bolivia.  Let me explain.

   Despite the tremendous reach of modern telecommunications, it turns out that amateur radio is still one of the best, most reliable ways for a ship to send email from remote places like, say, the South Pacific.  About the only other option in the middle of the ocean is commercial, worldwide satellite telephones.  And while sat phones are great, you do pay for the convenience to the tune of 3-5 dollars per minute (long distance on your home telephone probably costs you 3-5 cents in comparison!).  We've used a Marine Single Sideband Radio email service with great results for the past year which cost us $250 per year.  Unfortunately, the service we've used doesn't cover the south Pacific.  Well it turns out one can get the same radio-email service for FREE if one is a licensed Amateur Radio Operator.  And I do love free.

    So it occurred to me one day that with all the radio-telescopes and UFO hunters and rocket scientists out here in the desert, there must be a good supply of Ham Radio aficionados in the area, too.  Sure enough, there was a "HAM Fest" in Albuquerque yesterday.  Where I come from a Ham Fest sounds like a small town's excuse for a parade, dunk tank, and lunch at the VFW hall...but here it turns out to be a sort of convention where Amateur Radio lovers can gather and...well I don't WITHOUT using their radios I guess.  And at this Ham Fest they would be giving licensing exams to any willing soul with $14 and a number 2 pencil.

    I ordered the study guide and spent my evenings all last week learning about things like capacitors and standing wave ratios and ionospheric propagation...oh who am I kidding--I basically tried to memorize the answer to all of the 392 test questions in the back of the book from which my 35 point exam would be drawn from.

    The web site advertising the Ham Fest advertised fun and fellowship and even gave a radio frequency folks could call to be guided in to the right place.  (Who needs a map?  I have a HAM RADIO!!) 

    I arrived at the parking lot of a church in Albuquerque to find it full of trucks, trailers, and motor homes.  Each vehicle was adorned with a dazzling array of antennas and some with logos that would suggest that HAM radio is a vital part of our nation's emergency response network.  These folks with their generators and well-endowed transmitters were quick to remind me that if the power goes out, or the bomb drops, or the Martians attack, that they will be at the ready to provide the only remaining communications network.  Whatever.  I just want to send email at sea.  For free.

   Inside the building folks were milling around with name badges saying "Hi, my name is WD5KLG  (Bob)"  My instinct was to flee.  There were informational tables explaining how I could earn a special award by making radio contact with a Ham in all 50 states.  Or how I could join the local Amateur Radio Club.  In the next room was the "vendor area" where presumably I could pimp out my ride with several giant antennas, too.  I resisted the temptation and made my way to the testing area. 


   Now one unique thing about the hobby of Ham radio is that it required neither beauty, nor charm, nor physical prowess to participate.  One look around the testing room seemed to confirm that many folks take advantage of that fact.   I'll end my description there.  I made it through the first test and sat around nervously for 45 minutes waiting for my score to be tabulated.  Finally, I was given a hearty handshake by a bearded, potbellied coot as he pointed at the place for me to sign on as a new member of the HAM brotherhood.  I realized that I was not nervous because I thought I might fail the test...I was nervous that if I didn't pass, I'd have to keep coming back to more HAM Fests.

   I passed. I was now a "Technician" class Ham radio operator and the FCC would soon be issuing me my license and "call sign".  I had no time for disappointment that I couldn't yet put the call sign on MY name badge, however.  To legally use the long-range high frequency channels I'd need out in the Pacific, I also had to pass my "General" class license exam.  Upon request I was issued the next exam booklet.  "Aren't you confident!" he commented while handing me my test.


   What is the turns ratio of a transformer used to match an audio amplifier having a 600 ohm output impedance to a speaker having a 4 ohm impedance?

    The answer to which I had memorized as: A. 12.2 to 1

Lets just say its a good thing this wasn't an essay test.

    After a few more anxious minutes I was welcomed as a General class Ham radio operator and sternly warned to not begin transmitting until I was issued my call sign and license by the FCC.  Oooohh its just so hard to wait!!  And by the time I had finished both tests the "vendor area" was being torn down, so I guess I'm spared the temptation.  So now I sit and wait until my name appears with my call sign on the FCC's online data base.  And once it does, I don't know what I'll do with my spare time then.  Something a bit less nerdy, I hope.


 August 27:  

     After too many weeks apart, I finally had a weekend off for a quick rendezvous with Kathleen and Emmett.  After a long drive through the night, we met up in Colorado and had a great time.  My brother took us on a river rafting trip Sunday afternoon, which might have been really exciting except most of the mountain snow has already melted this time of year and our biggest challenge was not to get the raft hung up on rocks in the shallow water.  But after driving all night, I'm glad this turned out to be a little less strenuous than the hike up the mountainside that Mike usually has in store for us when we visit.

Emmett rafting with Uncle Mike

   My soujurn back in the working world is now half over and I can't wait for us all to be back together on the boat.  One brief weekend was just not enough time.  Working out here has reminded me that I still love being a doctor, but it has also brought back those old restless feelings:  annoyance at being cooped up inside an office all day, frustration at medicine's unsolvable problems, boredom with the unending stream of sports physicals and sore throats.  I left all this to go sailing because I didn't want to be a stranger to my family or feel beholden to money; yet here I am once again.

   Adding to the ennui was the emails from three different friends this week whom we had met sailing last year.  It was great to catch up and hear what everyone else has been doing this summer.  It was reassuring to hear that like us, other boats are taking care of projects and stocking up on supplies for the next leg of their journeys.  And it made me think how much I'm looking forward to finding old friends in new harbors when we get back.

   When we sold our house a year ago, I wondered if we'd get homesick.  Would we miss our comfortable house on the lake and all our toys and conveniences and familiar places?  It perhaps never occurred to me how quickly Uliad would become home and wherever she was moored would become the place I was homesick for.  We have joined a little community of like minded souls following similar paths through life and across the planet.  Home is now nowhere in particular...or anywhere.  And I sure can't wait to get back there. 



 August 31:


    For Labor Day weekend, we all travelled back to Wisconsin for the wedding of some old friends.  I arrived Thursday night to have Kathleen & Emmett meet me at the airport in my beloved old Jaguar.  We then drove off to the little country home of our friends Laurie & Tom who were away but graciously let us stay at their place.  I was soon to discover that there were a few strings attached, however.  We were entrusted with the care of thier flock of chickens for the weekend.  If Paris and Nicole can do it, why not us?

So each morning Emmett and I had to get up and fill a pail with something called (and I swear I'm not joking here) "Meat Maker Crumbles" and spread it out in a trough for the flock to dine on.  Then we'd make a quick pass through the chicken coop to make sure they had water and everything was just so.  Then back to the farmhouse with much appreciative clucking in the background and our chores were complete.  I guess farming's not so tough after all.

    Next we made a stop at my old clinic and I was glad to see that everything seems prosperous and happy there without me.  We made the rounds and caught up with some old friends.  Kathleen and I found the time to hang out on the shores of our old lake (which is beautiful as ever) and catch up after being apart so much this summer. Then off to a whirlwind of social calls to old friends and even a stop at the 50th aniversary celebration of one of my old patients.  (Way to go Bob & Dorothy!)  Emmett was thrilled to find his old playmates again and they actually recognized him even with his new Jesus hair-do. 

    But even more thrilling for  Emmett was his chance to live out his lifelong fantasy of being a ring-bearer.  He was just beside himself, getting to dress up in a real tuxedo and march solemnly down the isle.  What a little man! 

   The wedding ceremony went off without a hitch, and Em performed his duty admirably.  Then in true, unpretentious midwestern style, the celebrants reconvened at the Country Club for a chicken dinner, a few beers, and dancing to the wee hours of, oh, 10:30 or so.  After all, we have to get up to feed those chickens in the morning.

     The Ericksons at the Neimuth WeddingEmmett the Ring Bearer


                                created by Steve Erickson 2007-2012
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