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Settling In

My early 20s (and mid-20s) was filled with lots of moving.  I moved from home to Arizona for college at 18, back home, then into a farm house where I worked, into a single-wide mobile home next to my parents, off to my sister's in Truth or Consequences, NM, then to Leadivlle, Colorado at 24, Avon, Colorado at 25, Gypsum, Colorado at 26, Glenwood Springs at 27, then Moab, Utah at 28.  It has been very pleasant to stay in Moab for seven years now.  Kelli and I have no real intention in moving again anytime soon but this job I have right now is a kind of move.  The hardest part of moving is figuring out all the life things in a new place.  Where is the post office?  Where's the best place to shop?  How do I get around town?  Where do I do laundry and how long will it take?  Also, when you move to a place like Juneau, finding transportation can be difficult.  Juneau is the capitol of Alaska but it is essentially an island.  The only ways in are on a boat or a plane.  Juneau is on the mainland of North America but the mountains to the east block any road traffic into the area.  That being the case, getting a car to Juneau is kind of expensive and it turns out shipping an e-bike is near impossible if you aren't made of money. 

So my first week was filled with ground school at my new job and shopping for a car, bicycle, scooter, or skateboard just so I could get to work and back.  It was hard to even find a bicycle.  Craigslist was a lost cause and Facebook Marketplace was even worse.  I don't do Facebook so I borrowed Kelli's and I was quickly reminded why I gave that thing up years ago.  Juneau has a decent bus system but it doesn't run very early in the morning or very late at night.  The times I was scheduled to be at work would soon be outside the bus schedule window.  I needed my own transportation.  I parked my boat at Statter Harbor in Auke Bay which is only 3.5 miles from the airport with the intention of riding a bicycle to work and back.

I also was in a new-to-me floating home and was seriously lacking in "things" that would make it a practical home.  So, my first week I hopped on the bus for $2 and went to Home Depot.  I needed a space heater.  The boat has a Sig-Marine diesel heater but I don't leave it running when I'm away from the boat.  I bought an electric heater that was almost the cheapest available.  I walked back to the bus stop and hopped back on and got off at Fred Meyer, the local get-everything store.  While hauling the heater around with me I quickly filled up my shopping cart with little storage containers, food, and other things for the boat.  Leaving the store I certainly had my hands full!  I must have looked a mess.  I said a little prayer asking for someone to pity me and give me a ride back to the harbor.  While walking in front of the store a guy yelled at me, "Where are you going?"  "Auke Bay," I replied.  He said, "Get in."  Slightly astonished but completely grateful, I turned around, dropping three things from my arms, and got loaded in his car.  He kicked out his wife but he insisted she was getting a ride with someone else.  He headed toward home boat and we got to chatting.  Turns out worked at Home Depot but he had come to Juneau from Guatemala to plant a hispanic church!  What a cool meeting.  We drove right by the church building where they meet and he pointed it out to me; the name is "Rescate."  We chatted a little about Guatemala coffee because I love coffee, and soon he was dropping me off back in Auke Bay.  I thanked God for the answer to prayer and bid the pastor goodbye.  Getting my things to the boat was easy as most harbors have carts you can use to take things to and from shore. 

Back at the boat I started organizing. Living on a boat takes a lot of organization if you don't want to live in a floating mess. Most of you know I'm a pretty tidy person so I take my organization seriously. All the containers I bought with snap-on lids were used to store knickknacks, boat spare parts, tools, some food, and cleaning supplies. There are shelves and storage areas all over the boat but when you are underway things start sliding around in those places and not only is it noisy, it turns your storage into somewhat of a tumble dryer for all your items. With the storage containers I also bought non-skid drawer liner. You know that stuff, it's thin perforated foam you lay down so your dishes mostly stay put. So after getting everything put away and organized, I felt a bit more like I was in my own boat.

There were a LOT of places in the boat that I hadn't gone through and the next couple weeks would give me the time to see what the previous owner left in the boat. After ground school got out I'd go back to the boat, make some food, and clean out a new pocket of the boat and take inventory. I found new mica covers for the diesel stove, spare toilet parts, wires and cable, hardware, fishing lures, and more. Each time I would clean out a new area, I would get a damp rag and wipe the area down. Like I said before, this boat was very wet when I looked at it the first time. It grew mildew a lot of places and only a tiny bit of mold. I didn't want that to continue so I cleaned everywhere I could get to when taking inventory. There is still a condensation issue onboard since the hull is not insulated but I'm working through it slowly and it is so much better than when I moved aboard.

I had also been keeping a log of my sailing and maintenance on the boat. There was no log before this so it was a fresh start for the boat. I think it is worth while to record what kind of weather you were in, what speeds you got, how long you ran the engine, and so-on. It isn't a log of how I felt that day or a personal journal, it's a boat journal. So with all this maintenance and fiddling, I had been recording the important things in a log. That reminds me, I am a few entries behind.

When I got the boat there were four antennas on the dingy davits and the previous owner didn't really know what they all were. I think it was my second weekend, I started chasing wires to see what was what. I had already run around the innards of this boat quite a bit chasing wires trying to figure out the autopilot issues and I had spotted some wiring anomalies I wanted to address at the same time. Two of the antennas turned out to be cellular data antennas that were completely unused so those got ditched. One antenna was the Raymarine GPS antenna that my chart plotter uses for GPS position. The last antenna... well, that one was the devil. I had an old Apelleco GPS/LORAN receiver that didn't really work. What is a GPS/LORAN receiver? It's something old-ish that doesn't do much anymore, that's all that really matters; most LORAN radio stations are gone so the receiver is a relic. The antenna for that receiver was the fourth antenna on the davits. It was wired in to my autopilot/chart plotter data bus but... it was damaged. The wires had been pinched somewhere along the davits and they were shorting out between each other. I felt good about this. I removed the antenna, receiver, and the rest of the wiring associated with it and threw it in the dumpster. Then on the afternoon of April 6th I took the boat out, enabled the compass calibration again (you know that 10 circles I did without successful calibration?) and it took after one circle! I enabled the autopilot and it worked! I tried all the features of the autopilot, tacking, tracking a GPS route, following a compass heading, it all worked! I broke champagne over the bow, invited all my friends over for a steak dinner on the grill, and got totally sloshed, I was so happy. Actually I don't have friends up here, champagne, or a grill so none of that happened but I was pretty excited. I went back to the harbor, tied up, and called it a day.

The next day I went to church in the morning then at 13:00 I set out in gusty conditions from Statter Harbor for some sailing. I raised the main almost immediately after passing the breakwater. This was so much easier with an autopilot to keep course since my pretty first mate was still in Utah. I had learned from my day at Five Fingers Light that maybe I don't need a full mainsail and headsail in gusty, windy conditions so I quickly reefed the headsail and I don't think I unfurled the headsail at all to start. My goal was to sail around Portland Island but as soon as I was headed out that direction, the wind died. So I turned the boat back between Coghlan and Portland and got wind again. I played around between those two islands for a while trying to stay in the stronger wind, practicing tacking. Eventually I decided to head further north and try to go around Coghlan Island. The northern part of Coghlan has a narrow channel you can safely sail through in all tides but outside that gap, there is frequent shoaling (rocks exposed during low tides). I didn't want to run my boat into the rocks so I was pretty focused on my course around there. I was still under sail but realized I may need to fire up the engine if my course and the wind didn't agree. I was still sailing up-wind through here so I couldn't keep a straight course, I would have to zig-zag. The winds were still really gusty; they would blow 15+ knots then almost completely die on me. I think I started the engine twice for short intervals just to make sure I didn't drift toward rocks. I still had sails up.

During the trip I had taken out the headsail and had it partially furled so it wasn't a full sail. I was double reefed on my mainsail (the sail was lowered two spots so it was the smallest it could be.) I made it through the gap, got close to Statter Harbor, and had to quickly put away the sails, deploy the fenders and dock lines, and get ready to tie up. Again, this was all so much easier with an autopilot. When you take down sails the forces on the boat change dramatically. Without an autopilot or pretty first mate steering, you will get a sail partially put away and the boat will change directions (usually toward a rock or shore) so you have to run back to the helm, steer where you want to go, and finish putting things away. Now I could start the engine, let it run slow, set the autopilot to a heading, and just take care of chores while keeping an eye out for other boats. I motored into the harbor, tied up, and was done at 18:00.

The tedium of ground school was almost complete. I had done five days of sitting in a conference room looking at slides about rules, regulations, common routes, local ATC procedures, weather, and on and on. During this time the weather was pretty bad. I would take time to see what other pilots were doing for planning. Were they canceling their flights? What did the weather cameras look like and how were they interpreting them? What was acceptable and what was total garbage? It was a lot of good learning but I was ready to get in an airplane and figure it out. Week two of work was one day of aircraft specific ground training then flight training started. Monday we got the last ground finished then... I waited. Flight training wasn't the top priority at the company. There are limited aircraft and limited time during the day to get things done. When there was a block of time between revenue flights, a training flight would get scheduled. Then if the instructor was busy doing something else, the training flight wouldn't happen. It was a little frustrating, more frustrating for some. I wanted to get training done but having been in a similar company for quite a while, I understood the difficulty of scheduling this stuff. Week two went by and I only got a few flight hours in. They were good and I was feeling pretty comfortable with how to manage the airplane but I still needed more. They expectation during the interview was that after 1.5 or 2 weeks, I would be flying revenue flights. This clearly wasn't a reasonable expectation and it wasn't due to my skills (or that of most of the new pilot hires.) Scheduling was the bottleneck. The last flight of my second week sucked. The weather was crap, we tried to head to a common destination close by and the visibility just went to trash. I could see a shoreline and was going to get to it then turn around but I don't think I actually saw the shoreline. The instructor with me turned us around and in the turn, I finally saw the shoreline. It was the exact kind of situation we talk about in training and the exact situation I want to avoid here. I was glad to see it with an experienced local pilot to help and it made me reflect all weekend. Was this a place I wanted to work? Did I have the skills and sound decision making to keep me and my passengers safe? I got kind of mopey for a few days thinking about it.

That weekend I sailed out to Colt Island and anchored for a couple hours. I went ashore, hiked around a point, journaled, and cooked aboard. I went back to the harbor that night but the time out to think put me in a good place. My decisions and choices in flying were entirely in my control. I could set personal minimums that I wouldn't break and now that I saw what junk weather looked like, I could better assess what was too much. The #1 concern for me up here was flying in crummy weather and I had a plan to address it and manage the risk.

Week 3 arrived and we got some more training flights in. Near the end of the week I was told we would do a simulated check ride then the next day would be the real checkride. As it goes, my flight got cut short and the simulated checkride wasn't even close to that but I got a few tasks in I wanted to practice and we both felt good about it. They next day I hopped in the plane and we went through the plan. I flew the plane. The instructor failed everything he could, we talked about emergencies then because he knew I was familiar with these systems and this type of company, he threw more obscure problems at me. It was fun. We had a good flight, I passed, and had some questions about certain systems we looked up later. When you get two smart people trying to foul each other up in an airplane, you end up with some interesting questions and some good learning opportunities. Monday I would start IOE, initial operational experience, where I fly revenue flights with customers and freight onboard but with a company instructor along so he can evaluate my processes and we can discuss the minutia of getting the job done. That week I had purchased an older mountain bike from a co-worker so I had transportation. That gave me another weekend to get out an sail. Are you catching a trend here? Work five days, sail two days, work five days, sail two days. This was my intention in coming to Alaska and all the stress and work to get here was paying off, I was doing it!


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