A (not so new) Summer Pastime

Coming back to Washington with no boat left me wondering what I would do with myself this summer. As mentioned previously, I was fortunate to land a job as a Training Captain with Freedom Boat Club, which has seen a tremendous jump in membership during this “stay local” summer.

Being landlocked, I’ve rekindled my on and off love of cars and fast driving. It all started with my buddy John buying a Mercedes AMG sport utility (yes, there is such a thing) and signing up for the AMG driving school, which wound up being cancelled due to the pandemic. Talking with him reminded me of doing track days in Wisconsin with my 2005 BMW M3 with the local chapter of the BMW Car Club of America. They offered High Performance Driving Experience (HPDE) days during which you would receive driving instruction and drive your own car on a race track with an instructor (until you were “qualified” to drive solo). It was not racing, in that passing was strictly by consent, but it was a whole lot of fun! I did several events with them, eventually graduating to “solo intermediate” and drove at Blackhawk Farms in Illinois, and Road America in Wisconsin, reputedly one of the fastest tracks in the world.

Not my M3… I couldn’t find a single photo of mine, so borrowed an image of the identical car from the “Mad Russian”, a well-known M3 enthusiast. In retrospect, I REALLY wish I had kept the car.

I figured that we could find a local, non-brand specific driving school, and sure enough, we discovered Proformance Racing School at Pacific Raceways, a bit south of Seattle. They offer a range of programs from one day high performance driving school to lapping programs to a full two day racing school.

Next, I needed to find a car to use. We have a 2014 BMW 328i wagon, and believe it or not, these turn out to be pretty good on a track. Gwen was having NONE of it, however, as it is our only car. So the search for a cheap, trackable car was on. John realized that it might not be a great idea to turn his fancy, very pricey AMG into a track car, so agreed to partner with me on one. I remembered that my other buddy Ryan was a car guy with a shop and a bunch of cars. We pulled him into the search as an advisor and eventually wound up buying a 1998 Nissan 200SX SE-R from him for dirt cheap. The SE-R is no M3, but it is a lightweight, manual transmission coupe with a reliable, but low-powered engine. In other words, a car that is not likely to get you into trouble on the track.

The track car, a 1998 Nissan 200SX SE-R. Pretty much guaranteed to the slowest car on the track on any given day.

Having secured the car and drawing up partnership papers, we went to work on preparing it for track days. This included the following parts and service:

  • New/upgraded tires
  • New/upgraded brake pads, rotors, lines
  • New windshield, as the old one was cracked, new wipers
  • New rear hubs (bearings were shot)
  • New CV axles
  • New coolant system hoses
  • New fluids – oil, transmission, coolant and brakes
  • New sparkplugs and wires
  • New headlights and turn signals
  • New air intake

As you can see, money can be spent on a car nearly as quickly as it can on a boat. Fortunately, it seems to flow in slightly smaller increments, and we were able to use Ryan’s very well-equipped shop to do the work. It was actually fun to work on the car in a shop with a lift and all the right tools. Like working on a boat, except that everything is easy to get to. Soon, we had the car ready for our driving school day.

John, Ryan and I all did the Proformance Driving school together. John opted to drive his AMG, and Ryan drove his C5 corvette, leaving the SE-R in my capable(?) hands. The morning included a bit of classroom talk and a number of exercises such as braking, a slalom course, lane changes and deliberate skids to learn how the car reacts. I did quite well with the skid exercise… the car’s antilock brakes are not functional, so I had to brake the old-fashioned way.

The afternoon consisted of lapping the track with a coach in the passenger seat showing us the track and providing real-time instruction and feedback. We all had a great time, and agreed that we would come back for a lapping day, during which we would receive another hour of in-car instruction, and then be issued a “sport” license and a logbook to record our progress. This would allow us to drive solo on subsequent track days.

I realized during the driving school that the old suspension was shot, so we ordered a set of coilovers (which are an adjustable set of shocks and springs). While we were waiting for the coilovers to ship, John and Ryan both got out and earned their sport licenses, and I was signed up to earn mine the week after the parts were to be delivered. Ryan and I installed the coilovers, lowering the car 1.5″ in the front and 1″ in the back, and I then took the car in for a full alignment, which is necessary after replacing suspension components.

Finally, I was ready for my track day and the chance to earn my sport license. I had a good day, and the instructor was impressed with how our little car handled. His main suggestion was to replace the stock seat with a proper sport or racing seat and harnesses. Thus, another item was added to the upgrade list (that is turning into a bit of a long story best saved for another day). All was going well during my first solo session when I noticed that the car suddenly got a little noisier. I came back into the pits and had a look, but didn’t see anything amiss. I went back out onto the track for a few more laps, and it got louder again. Clearly there was a problem. It turns out that I had cracked the exhaust manifold (in several places, actually). We had been thinking about adding headers and a sport exhaust system anyway, so this was a handy excuse to pull the trigger on yet another upgrade. The problem is that all of us had signed up for another track day just a week later. A few frantic calls, a whopping shipping bill, and a hard-core overnighter by Ryan got the new headers in place in time for our track day this week.

John wasn’t able to make it, so it was me in the Nissan and Ryan in his Corvette for a sunny afternoon down at Pacific Raceways. The start of the session was delayed a bit due to the crash of a Mercedes AMG GTR coupe on the front straight in the morning session. We heard that it was caused by a rear tire blowout, which caused the car to go off the track and into the retaining wall. Fortunately, the driver was not injured, and equally fortunately, had track-day insurance to cover the damage sustained by the nearly $200,000 car.

We finally got out on the track and were having a great time. The car was handling well, and I was running a bit faster than my last time out as I started to get a feel for the track. I got a very cool timing device called Harry’s Lap Timer that uses the iPhone to capture data and video. Here is a clip showing my best lap in the Nissan:

SE-R lap, August 12

If you look closely at the video, you will see that there are cones along both sides of the track. The orange cones indicate braking zones, the yellow cones indicate turn-in points, the green cones indicate the apex of the turn and the white cones indicate the track out points. Basically, you should come as close as possible to the green cones and the white cones coming through and out of the turn and you’d better be off the brakes by the time you are at the yellow cone.

After about 15 laps or so I heard the exhaust get louder… again! I pulled into the pits, opened the hood, and could see the gasket sticking out of the joint between the header and the exhaust pipe! Looking closer I could see that two out of the three bolts holding the pipes together were gone. Very disappointing! I was done for the day after less than an hour.

Or was I? Proformance has a fleet of Toyota FRS sport coupes that they use for the driving school. They will also rent them out during track days, I discovered, for the princely sum of $200 per half hour of track time.

The trusty car #11 that I beat on (oops, I mean drove) for a half hour.

I decided that I had spent too much time, money and effort getting here to sit around for the rest of the afternoon watching other people have fun, so I ponied up the $200 for a session. The FRS is a very nice car, featuring a 200 HP engine (compared to the 140 HP in the Nissan), a six speed manual transmission, rear wheel drive, a comfortable seating position, and all the expected modern goodies like anti-lock brakes (yay) and traction control (boo). It was definitely faster than the Nissan, and I liked the steering feel of the rear wheel drive. I managed to turn in a lap time 4 seconds faster than my best in the Nissan.

Proformance FRS lap, August 12

While I really enjoyed driving the FRS, it really made me appreciate how good the Nissan is. The FRS definitely had a softer suspension with more body roll, and I don’t think the tires were as good as the ones on the Nissan. The braking was similar, and I realized only after the session that the traction control on FRS was kicking in around some of the tighter corners (the funny chirping sound you might hear in the video as I go around Turn 3b). The power and top speed was certainly nice, and it is definitely a more refined car. However, at a purchase price (used) at about 10x what we paid for the Nissan, I think we have put together a little car with pretty good bang for the buck. I did love driving for several laps in front of a hot Mustang that blew past me when I was driving the Nissan, and could not get around me in the FRS… even with me giving “point bys” in the passing zones. Ryan said the Mustang driver was commenting in the pits that he couldn’t get around me because I was too good a driver.

To top the day off, I think Ryan felt a bit sorry for me, so he let me take a couple of laps in his Corvette. That is a much more serious car, powered by a 350 HP v8 with a 6 speed manual transmission that will get you going to “oh sh!%” speeds in a hurry. It was a blast to drive, definitely way faster and stronger than the other two cars, and noticeably heavier. But it was really very easy to drive smoothly around the track. Thinking about the difference between the cars, I was driving both the Nissan and the FRS pretty hard, but going easier yet faster in the Corvette. I felt like I could push both the Nissan and the FRS hard without getting into trouble, but not so with the Corvette – much like my old M3, it was a much better car than I was a driver.

Wringing out the SE-R down the front straight. Image from local track photographer Karl Noakes

All in all, a great day, and I realized that I really do like doing this. Next step is to get the Nissan repaired – in this regard it seems much like a boat – and get back out on the track for more fun.

San Juan Islands Exploration – Vendovi Island

While I see patients during the week and Larry teaches people how to drive boats and navigate for Freedom Boat Club, we are focused on getting stuff done.  On the weekends, we have time to explore our region around Anacortes and the San Juan Islands, especially when we have the good fortune to use one of the Freedom Boat Club boats, an employee benefit for Larry – and for me, since it saves me from fighting off “we need to buy another boat!”. 

Over Father’s Day weekend we were able to take a boat out and cruise, or zoom, over to Vendovi Island.  On the little Jenneau NC 895, [Editor’s note: The boat pictured below is actually a Defiance San Juan 220, also from Freedom Boat Club, but from a later weekend when we went back with Miranda]. we flew there at 25 knots and zipped into the little dock as the only other boat when we arrived. On our Nordhavn this would have taken a couple of hours at 8 knots, and we would not have been able to tie up or anchor in the tiny little harbor because of our size.   

The boat we were on for the day is the smaller one at the foot of the ramp.

Vendovi Island is part of the San Juan Preservation Trust, an organization focused on preserving land as nature preserves in the San Juan Islands.  This island was originally used by the Coast Salish peoples for many many years as a summer home.  They harvested camas bulbs from the hillside, which they maintained as fields through strategic use of controlled burns. 

In 1841, Charles Wilkes’ Navy exploring ship passed by and named the island after a captive on their ship whom they apparently had decided they liked – Fijian chief Ro Veidovi Logavatu. In a classic white man error, his name is misspelled in the island name.  You can read a bit more about the original exploration and the chief here.  Over the years in the 1800s and early 1900s the island was used for a fur farm, for sheep farming, as a homestead and even a religious compound for followers of Father Divine.  In the 1960s the Fluke family, of  Fluke Electronics, bought the island for a private retreat and held it until 2010 when they put it up for auction and the Trust bought it.

The path leading up into the woods.

Now the island has several miles of trails crossing the island from the harbor through deep woods to a high bluff overlooking the water and a panoramic view of some of the islands. There is a picnic table near the dock where you can picnic and look out over the water. There is a public restroom, but it is closed now during the pandemic for sanitation reasons.

One of the two types of slugs we saw LOTS of on the walk.
A very cool fungi.

Lots of scenic nature to explore close to home! If you are boating in the San Juans and anchored nearby, this is a great dingy spot for exercise, perhaps a bit of solitude and communing with nature.

The little houses on the pilings are for purple martins, trying to repopulate the region. The dark purple bird on the left is the male and the lighter colored on is the female.
I continue to be amazed by the ferns – huge, deep green and lush.

Staying Safe… Staying at Home

It has been just over a month since we left Miss Miranda at Marina CostaBaja in La Paz and returned home to our condo in Anacortes, WA… and the “Stay at home” order. The photo above shows the view of the Skyline area from our condo, pleasant save for the empty slip in front of us!

Catching up

To rewind a bit, we returned to La Paz from San Diego at the end of March, having decided to leave the boat and return to Anacortes. That left us with less than a week to find a slip for the season and prepare the boat for our extended absence.

On the nearly empty Alaska airlines flight from San Diego to La Paz in late March. There was one other passenger on the flight. Yes, it is jarring to Gwen to see that we weren’t wearing masks!

Fortunately we were able to secure a slip at Marina CostaBaja, which we have paid for through the end of December. At first we were worried that the slip might be too tight to get into, but it turns out to be a great fit, with fingers (and cleats) on both sides.

Miss Miranda tied up at Marina CostaBaja, courtesy of our friend Chris from SV Reality Check

Next, we starting going through preparations for long term storage, helped tremendously by a checklist from friends Laurence and Penny on MV Northern Ranger II, another N50 that lives at CostaBaja year round. This included things like emptying the refrigerator and freezer, closing through hulls, filling the water tanks, shutting down non-essential systems, etc. Fortunately(?), our SubZero freezer failed in Mazatlan (no, we are NOT kidding) so we had less stuff to give away.

We arranged to have a boat watch service along with regular diving and boat wash with La Paz Cruisers Supply. They check the boat at least once a week and wash and dive on the boat monthly. We are fairly confident that the boat will be in good shape when we return, though we have been warned to expect that something (things) will fail over this long layover.

As an aside/update on the fuel delivery system, we did get a warranty replacement fuel manifold delivered to us in San Diego, thanks to outstanding effort from our guy Ian at Philbrooks and terrific product support from Racor. Unfortunately, we wound up having to pay import duty when we brought it in as checked baggage at Cabo, in spite of showing the Temporary Import Permit. We were under the impression that the TIP is supposed to exempt us from duty on replacement/repair parts. Apparently not. Anyway, the manifold is on the boat, but not yet installed. That will be job one when we return.

Life at home – Larry

I hit my “official” retirement date the week after we returned home. I have to admit that I was not at all pleased that we came back from Mexico and not happy that my entry into retirement coincided with the quarantine order. With (plenty of) time for reflection, I have realized that I have much to be grateful for. We are safe and healthy. We are fortunate not to have to expose ourselves to the virus, unlike all of the people out there that are doing the critical jobs – obviously the healthcare workers, but the folks that work in the grocery stores, restaurants and all the other folks doing things that we need but take for granted. I am grateful for the beautiful weather we have had and the ability to out for walks, bike rides, and even play the occasional game of pickleball (exercise is NOT forbidden by the stay at home order). I am grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with friends, even if it is virtually. I am very grateful for the opportunity to see Miranda.

In terms of keeping busy, I have started roasting coffee again and have even done some batches of homemade half sour pickles, reminiscent of Gus’ Pickles in New York.

Homemade half sour pickles…. Yum!

I am not sure what I am going to do over the summer. Gwen will tell you about her job prospects, but I need to find some way of keeping busy in retirement. I was hoping to find something in the boating industry, but obviously, the pandemic has shut that down. I have signed up for a combined ABYC/NMEA certification course (on Marine Electrical Systems and Electronics) that I hope will still happen – it is scheduled for November. In a bit of good news, Fishing (and therefore, I assume, recreational boating) is reopening on May 4th. My hope is that if/when the boating season opens, I can put my Captain’s license to use, perhaps helping people move their boats, doing deliveries, etc. I am also hoping that some of our boating friends will take pity on us and invite us out on their boats!

And in a bit of a midlife crisis moment, there are conversations ongoing with unnamed friends about buying an inexpensive sports car to use for “High Performance Driving Experiences”, which is fancy for hauling ass at a racetrack.

Of course, there is always the thought of filling the empty slip with a little boat for fishing/playing.

Life at home – Gwen

I am relieved to be at home, although sometimes get wistful at the thought of what we have missed the last month in Mexico. But I know I would not have enjoyed the uncertainty of being there during this time, even if in a beautiful place. Fortunately, I seem to be able to fill my time easily with cooking, reading, working on Spanish, wasting time on a game my brother introduced/addicted me to, naps, and finally taking up yoga.

The job I thought I was coming back to suddenly dried up right before we came home, so my plan to work for most of the time we are home was suddenly upended. The healthcare industry in the US has taken a big financial hit due to shutting down revenue generating procedures like surgeries, etc. My field, primary care internal medicine, is generally a money loser in healthcare, so believe it or not, many places are laying off primary care doctors. (I know this will sound extremely strange to any reader from outside the US. I am more than happy to talk about this off the blog to anyone who wants to know more!)

Luckily, I am part of the Public Health Medical Reserve Corps for King County, and this has provided me with an outlet for my desire to help. I’ve been doing one or two shifts a week providing telephone medical coverage for the isolation and quarantine centers in King County. Some of those shifts have been quite busy with numerous calls, others very quiet, but I feel a little bit useful. It’s actually fairly competitive to get shifts, since so many physicians want to find a way to help, so I it hasn’t kept me as busy as I thought it would!

Fortunately, I was recently contacted about a new need for an internist on the Olympic Peninsula, so I will be working there 4 days a week for about 6 months. This is a real positive for me since I want to stay clinically active, and if Larry is going to buy both a car and a boat, I guess I need to keep my nose to the grindstone.

Concluding thoughts

We hope that everyone stays safe and survives this pandemic. Under ideal circumstances, we hope to return to Mexico in December to spend a season exploring the Sea of Cortez before bringing Miss Miranda back up to Washington in May of 2021. Of course, all of this depends on how the virus impacts Mexico. We just learned that the Port Captain of La Paz has prohibited all boating, save for commercial fishing in the region. It is also pretty clear that Mexico has limited capability to manage the crisis, both from a healthcare and general economic perspective.

We have friends that are still on their boats down in Mexico. We hope that they stay safe and healthy.

Rainbow over our neighborhood last night after a very stormy rainy day. Hopefully an omen of better days to come.
Another shot of the rainbow by the other blog contributor.

OK, as is often the case, each of the blog contributors took a rainbow photo. We need your help deciding which is best. Feel free to leave a comment voting for the first or second. We may reveal who took the “winner”.

Calling it done!

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Looking into the living room from the deck.

We moved from Seattle to Anacortes on January 27th of this year.  The plan was to live on Miss Miranda for a few weeks while we did some minor renovations on the condo that we own along with the boat slip.  We bought the condo a few years ago, but always had it rented.  We used the slip occasionally in the summer, but mostly rented it out as well.  Our tenant’s lease ended on December 31st, so we were ready to begin work in the new year.  Our initial plan… foolish in hindsight… was to limit the work to replacing the kitchen appliances and painting.  Everything changed the moment Gwen walked into the place and really saw the tired, mid-70s decor.

The kitchen cabinets were hideous.  OK, replace them.  The new appliances wouldn’t fit the old cabinetry without surgery anyway.  Disgusting carpet and 70’s tile – gone.  In goes new laminate flooring except the bedroom, which would get new carpet.  The place sure is dark.  Well, lets put in some can lights.  By the way, the downstairs neighbors took down the kitchen cabinets facing the living area, knocked out the wall next to the bar, and made it a peninsula.  Fine idea, we’ll do that too.  Very tacky bi-fold door to the laundry room.  We could replace with a barn door… cool!  What was one of the previous owners thinking installing a line of kitchen-like cabinets from the ceiling down 3-4 feet in the bedroom?  Out they go.  And while we are at it, lets add a built in closet and replace those mirrored doors.  And finally, about half way through the project, we decided that the ancient, ugly insert shower-tub combo had to go.  And the toilet.  And the flooring.  And the counter.  And the lighting.

So here we are on April 28th, and we can finally call it… DONE!

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Dining area and “office” over in the corner.

Actually, all of the work was completed earlier this week, including glass windscreens for the deck (forgot to mention that).  And we actually moved in on March 18th, but with work travel and various other committments, it has taken us until now to get unpacked (but let’s not even look in the garage).

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Looking at the kitchen. Before, there was a line of cabinets where the pendant lights are and a wall at the end of the peninsula.

We are very pleased with how it turned out.  The condo is small, less that 800 square feet, but we find it very comfortable.  Of course, we’re only here for another month before heading off to Alaska and then Mexico.

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The deck and the view.

We really like waking up to this view each morning…

Biking Around Anacortes

A beautiful spring day in Anacortes.  Time to dust off the bike and do some exploring.  We had head about the Tommy Thompson trail (https://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/tommy-thompson-trail), and have seen where it crosses Fidalgo Bay while driving into town.  Today I decided to go find it.

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I rode in from Skline on SR 20… not many options here, and the shouldder is pretty decent.  I went to see if the local bike shop was open (it wasn’t) and then across to “R” Avenue.  The trail is a paved, multi-use path that runs beside it.  It winds through the boat yards on the way out of town and then out and across the bay.

I rode a little way towards March point.  This is a photo looking back across the Bay to Anacortes.  On the right is a trailer park owned by the refinery for recreational use by employees.

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This is looking back at the trestle across the bay.

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Finally, a shot from the trestle looking north up the Bay towards Anacortes and Cap Sante Marina.

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Our Land Base

The dock that Miss Miranda lives at is accompanied by a one bedroom condo. This is our land base for the foreseeable future. Miranda will have a place while we are away, and this will be a touchdown spot for us in between voyages.

For the past 3 years we’ve rented it out and not set foot in it. When we reentered in December, it was obvious it needed a LOT of work. It’s 40 years old and not much had been done in all those years. Remember 1970s avocado green and orange? We first decided to do the kitchen, paint and refloor and replace all the appliances. Along the way we decided might as well do the whole thing – a bathroom refresh is still in the works.

The old condo – you can’t see the 1970s orange flowered floor tiles in the kitchen!

Of course, as all remodels do, it’s taken twice as long as planned. To be fair, that’s partly because all the snow delayed the delivery of the kitchen cabinets by two weeks.

Yesterday, all the protective covering was removed and the new condo revealed!

Now we can clean the dust off and the movers will pull up with our stuff from storage on Monday morning. I am having a bit of a panic that we haven’t downsized our stuff enough! I’ve also realized that after nearly 2 months on the boat, there is not much I have missed from our stuff.

I can’t wait to enjoy the view through our newly revealed windows while sitting on the couch enjoying a cocktail.

Miss Miranda is right outside the window on the left.

Winter in Anacortes

We’ve finally made the move from Seattle up to Anacortes, where we own, but have rented out for the past couple of years, a condo in Skyline.  The condo is having some remodeling done, so we’ve been living on the boat for the past couple of weeks.  We were greeted with plenty of snow and cold weather, as you can see here.

We survived the winter weather surprisingly well. The boat stays plenty warm, though we are giving the diesel heater a big workout.  The biggest issue has been water (getting a bit low) and holding tank (getting a bit high).  The local pumpout guy made it over after the worst of the snow, and as soon as it warmed up, we will fill up the water tanks.

Here’s the view out of the port side of the pilothouse.

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And one looking back up towards the condo.  Our unit is just to the left, out of this photo.

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This was the view looking south from the Skyline Marina entrance the day after the storms.

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