Monday, May 23, 2016

Anchors Aweigh

Last post I alluded to some pretty major developments in my and Dawn's lives, and I won't keep you in suspense. Last August we decided we want to do something completely different. Dawn was starting to get burned out on teaching and I'm not growing any fonder of Minnesota winters; there's really nothing keeping us here. My airline has seven different 7ER bases and MSP is one of the most senior and is slowly shrinking. We talked about various places we could move, and then I broached an idea I'd been mulling over for some time: what if we moved onto a 40' sailboat and cruised the Bahamas and Caribbean for a few years? Surprisingly, Dawn loved the idea. Once upon a time she would have rejected it outright but we've since done a number of bareboat charters in California, the Bahamas and the BVI. She's been getting a lot more confident (not to mention competent) with the sailing part, and in fact has really enjoyed the weeklong stints of living on a boat. When I brought up the idea, we had just returned from another BVI charter on a 50-foot Beneteau with six friends, none of whom had sailed much before, and Dawn was a fantastic first mate. I guess that experience was a turning point, because her reaction to my cautious suggestion was to immediately start brainstorming ways to make it happen.

And so over the course of the next few days we crafted an ambitious plan to sell everything, buy a boat, Dawn quit her job, go cruising for 7-8 months of the year for the next three years, drop my schedule to a minimum and commute from the Caribbean during the cruising season, and come back north (and earn most of the year's income) while the boat is stored on land during hurricane season. This "part time pilot" plan is possibly largely because my airline  (my airplane especially) is so seasonal, with summer block hours much higher than winter. In high season it's all hands on deck, but the rest of the year it's pretty easy to take time off. Pretty slick that our high season correlates with the Caribbean hurricane season.

Our original plan was for Dawn to teach the 2016-2017 school year, buy the boat this fall and sell our house next year, moving aboard in June 2017. We started in on the plan with research, budgeting, and prepping our Washington townhouse for sale (it's been rented out since we moved back to MN in 2008). The real estate market out west has really recovered strongly within the last year, including for townhouses which were even more severely depressed than the rest of the market for several years. To our surprise and delight, the townhouse sold on the very first day of listing, for our full (and ambitious, I thought) listing price.

We have since moved our plan up by nearly a year for two reasons. First, Dawn is just completely 100% burned out on teaching. This has been the worst year since she started, it's really taken a toll on her, and she's just flat-out done, for now anyways. At the least she needs to take a break, and perhaps in a few years she'll be ready to go back to it. Secondly, considering how hot the real estate market has been lately and the potential for market volatility and interest rate hikes after the election, we decided to sell our home in Minnesota a year early. This has happened really quickly: we made the decision to sell at the end of March, put in new carpet and paint in early April, and had an (even more ambitious) full-priced offer on April 21st - a full nine days before we were planning to officially list the house! We close on June 7th and have been very busy packing and downsizing and preparing to move to our interim housing, a one-bedroom apartment in a historic building in downtown St. Paul. This has involved selling, donating, giving away, or borrowing out the majority of our possessions, with a few pieces of furniture retained for the five months we'll be in the apartment. We're keeping a few personal items with sentimental value, like gifts from good friends or the artwork in our house (all our own photography from our various travels); these will be stored for the duration. Otherwise, the only stuff we're keeping is that which will be helpful enough on the boat to merit valuable stowage space.

You're probably wondering about the Pacer. I initially concocted a Parrothead fantasy of bringing it to the Caribbean with us and island-hopping around whilst keeping it abreast of the boat, but soon concluded that a tropical marine environment would be murderous on a fabric-covered airplane left outside and also that our new boat would need the full attention of her two crew and our pocketbook. I then considered storing it for the 8 months we're on the boat and using it during the 4 offseason months (when we're supposed to be devoting our attention to earning income), but eventually decided this was a waste of resources and in direct contravention to my resolution to fly any airplane I own at least 10 hours a month. And so we decided to sell the Pacer this summer - but in the meantime, to embark on a grand adventure flying clockwise around the country visiting friends and venturing down Baja and getting in some backcountry flying in Idaho and Montana before making the bucket-list pilgrimage to Alaska, where we would sell her. It was a grand idea and we had a wonderful time for the 75 hours and 3/4 of the way around the country that it lasted. That all came to a screeching halt in Portland, Oregon when I received the news that every plane owner dreads during the annual inspection. This led to me selling the plane earlier this month at a significant loss, but that's a tale of woe best left for another post.

So now we're pretty seriously into the search for our floating home for the next three years. Our perfect sailboat is a medium-displacement cutter or ketch between 40 and 45 feet long, preferably a center-cockpit design with two good-sized staterooms and private heads fore and aft. It will be set up to be easily single-or-double-handed while offering comfortable living quarters for four; we plan to bring friends and family down to sail with us regularly. The onboard equipment will allow for sustainable living "on the hook" in serene anchorages away from marinas for weeks on end. Our midrange budget means that most potential candidates will be 30+ years old, but we can still afford to look at only those that have been well-maintained with most major systems replaced and/or upgraded. We're unlikely to find a boat that's exactly what we want and in bristol condition, and so our budget includes money to upgrade and refit the boat both at the start of our cruise and each off-season.

We've whittled the field to six models that particularly suit our needs: the Tayana 42CC, the Bristol 41.1/43.3/45.5, the Brewer 12.8/44, the Gulfstar 44, the Kelly Peterson 44/46, and the Whitby 42. Of these there are about ten specific boats currently on the market that we're interested in, and we're making our way down that list as time allows given everything else going on. One Tayana that I've already seen, Windbird, is a strong candidate and we may end up making an offer on her, but I'm trying to be logical and not get my heart set on a specific boat yet; being inexperienced boat shoppers, we really do need to see quite a few more in person before deciding. To that end, Dawn and I will be taking a boat-searching roadtrip down North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida this coming Memorial Day Weekend. Windbird is one of the boats on the list as Dawn hasn't seen her yet, but there are a few others that could well end up being stronger candidates. And really, nothing says we have to buy right now, or even this summer, or even this year. I don't want to be rushed into buying a boat simply because we sold the house earlier than planned; it wouldn't hurt us to go back to the original timeline and build our cruising kitty in the meantime.

This is all rather outside the scope of an aviation blog, and Dawn and I have decided that our new adventure merits its own blog, one to which we'll contribute collaboratively. Many cruising blog titles incorporate the boat name, but we don't have one yet so we've decided upon "Weigels on the Water," mostly thanks to the catchy URL You can follow our maritime adventures there, although my posts here will likely include some of the highlights.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Six Months In (Sorta)

Considering my lack of posting you might think that my airline is working me to death, but no, that's not the case. Recently I passed 120 hours on the B757/767...just over six months since I went to class! Keep in mind that I was originally awarded the slot way back in Feb 2015, meaning I'm only nine months away from my seat lock expiring. I'm not planning on going anywhere but it keeps options open.

Basically what happened is that my airline was originally planning on retiring a significant portion of the 7ER fleet, didn't train many new pilots on it for a while, then decided to keep many of the airplanes after all at the same time that a bunch of senior 7ER FOs took captain slots on other fleets. Whoops, big training logjam! It's just now finally clearing.

So here's basically how my training went:

Oct-6Nov15: Home study for 7ER course (we basically teach ourselves the systems on our own time via computer based training, honestly not my favorite way to train).

6Nov15-6Dec15: 7ER Initial training. You may recall from Mad Dog school that we break our initial training into four blocks, numbered 100 to 400, that roughly correspond with systems training, procedures training, maneuvers training, and line-oriented training. These all end in checkrides but the two most important are 34X (Maneuvers Validation) and 44X (Line-Oriented Evaluation). Unlike Mad Dog school, I was paired with an FO rather than a CA, which complicated things a bit in that we each had to learn left-seat duties and got only half the time we otherwise would in the right seat. However, my sim partner (who is only a few numbers senior to me) is an extremely sharp guy, we worked very well together, and we made it through the course without problems. One happy footnote: we weren't stuck in "the schoolhouse" the entire time, our 300-series sims were all down at the Boeing training facility in Miami. We passed our 44X checkrides easily on December 6th and were sent home indefinitely waiting on IOE.

31Jan15-05Feb15: Initial Operating Experience (IOE). I flew with a super-nice Detroit-based Line Check Airman, he was completely understanding that I hadn't been in training for eight weeks and might take a little more time to get spooled up. My very first leg was in a B757-200 and operated from Detroit to Cancun for a 24 hour overnight, a very nice way to kick things off! Our subsequent layovers were in Orlando, Fort Myers, and Atlanta. I ended up flying the B752 for 5 legs, the B753 for 2 legs, and even our GE-powered domestic B767-300 for 2 legs. I liked the legendary power and performance of the B752, but I loved the fingertip-light control feel of the B763 (due to the additional inboard ailerons). You simply think about turning, and she's turning.

29Feb-04Mar: Transoceanic Operating Experience (TOE), 2 crossings of 4 required. There was less time off before this so I didn't have much catchup on the airplane itself, but there's a lot to cover over the course of the first 8-hour crossing (during which I was in the rest seat for 2 hours) and it's all stuff that I'd last covered in mid-December. I crammed to catch up in the days before the TOE, and the LCA was happy with my preparation. We flew one leg from Atlanta to London-Heathrow in the B767-300ER, and after a 18 hour layover flew an ETOPS B757-200 back across to PHL. We even got tagged for a couple domestic legs the next day, the better to increase my landing count. I gotta say, though, I've found all the variants pretty easy to land. It just takes the first few to adjust to the higher sight picture.

06Mar-10Mar: TOE crossings 3 & 4. Only one day off before straight into my 2nd TOE, which was based out of Seattle and consisted of only two legs, SEA-PVG-SEA. This was my first time to China, and I had a really nice 48 hour layover to explore Shanghai. The takeoff out of Seattle, at 407,000 lbs, is my heaviest to date. Like I said the B767 is really light on the controls, so you don't feel that heavy, but acceleration obviously takes longer and you have to be really sharp with your pitch control to avoid overspeeding the flaps while retracting them at the proper speed and keeping the airplane accelerating. On the way over we were in VHF coverage the whole way, flying north via Alaska, the Bering Sea, Russia, and arriving from over Beijing. The Russian and Chinese controllers weren't too hard to understand, but once in China you switch to flying metric altitudes, which is a little different. The weather really stunk in Shanghai when we landed, with a big gusty crosswind, but the rainy runway made for a nice landing. On the way back we flew via Japan and then over the water. Because this is such a long flight, it was a 4-man crew, meaning I spent nearly half of each crossing in the bunk (and these particular B767s actually have bunks - so nice!). Pretty easy work if you can get it.

And that's it, I was released to the line on 10Mar, didn't work again thanks to creative bidding until early April, and have done a few trips since, all domestic. I'm getting pretty comfortable with the airplane - as expected, it's superior to the MadDog in every way possible, but there are also a surprising number of similarities that make for an easy transition. I've been quite busy taking advantage of all the free time for the last six months, and have done the following trips:

mid-October: Interline Regatta, British Virgin Islands.
Christmas/New Years: Dawn and I flew the Pacer from Minnesota to Connecticut and then down to Key West.
early Jan: flew around Florida visiting friends.
mid-Jan: Dawn and I flew the Pacer from Florida to Phoenix.
mid-Feb: Dawn and I flew the Pacer down Baja with our friends Brad and Amber (they rented a 182 out of San Diego). Awesome, epic trip - story is coming out in July issue of Flying.
late-Mar: Went to Thailand to visit my sister and her kids in Chiang Rai, flew down to Phuket, met my parents, chartered a 39' Leopard catamaran for 5 days of sailing the Andaman Sea.
mid-Apr: Dawn and I flew the Pacer up the west coast to Portland, OR.

Besides all that, there are some pretty major developments in my and Dawn's plans, dating back to last August. As a result, we sold our rented-out townhome in Vancouver WA back in February, and just sold our house in Minnesota a few weeks ago. We close on June 7th, and are renting a small apartment in downtown St. Paul for the summer before taking off for "new horizons." Yes, I have some pretty serious catch-up blogging to do.