5 Tips for Better Writing

Check your facts

You know exactly what you think you know until you look it up.

Hmm, that mango looks like it would make some great guacamole.

Even if you’re positive everything is correct, take the time to utilize spellcheck, check your AP Style Guide, and run any bold claims through sites like Snopes.com or FactCheck.org.

Remember to check your graphics and photos for accuracy as well.

Keep your message focused

Cramming too many messages together causes clutter and confusion.

Those poor children.

Lead with what is important and keep your messages brief and to the point. Rambling is an easy way to lose readers. Make a new post for each topic.

Update your messaging

What was once inspirational can end up being offensive.

First step to helping, stop calling them retarded!

Revisit your strategy. Do the slogans and calls to action used in the past still make sense?

Be aware of cultural connotations

Stay sensitive to the culture and history of your target audience.

Was this craigslist user named Jim Crow?

I doubt this poster was even aware of the cultural history of his or her title, but if a business was to make the same sort of mistake, it could cause major backlash.

Focus your message to each channel

Hot links and video are great, unless you’re working in print.

What is this new paper technology? No batteries required!

Blogs are not the same as Facebook, which is not the same as Instagram, which is not the same as LinkedIn, and you get what I’m saying. Craft your message to best fit each channel, but to complement across all channels. Nothing is more irritating than messages that are cut off, links that don’t work, or the promise of photos or video when there are none.

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London Calling: The long tow home

Well, the Cougar and I managed to fulfill our acting obligations. She did a great job looking like a running car that was getting gas, even though she wasn’t running and the gas pumps didn’t actually work. I just did my best to follow directions and look distraught everyone time the gas station attendant died in my arms. However, once we finished, the big question was, how do we get home?

My wonderful parents, still bailing me out of trouble at age 41.

Well, big thanks to my parents who made the four hour drive from Montgomery Saturday morning to drag me home. They even picked up a trailer in Conroe, so that it would only be a 24-hour rental rate instead of the steeper U-Haul one-way fees.

I went to Home Depot and bought a 1-ton come-along to make loading the car easier, and it was … for a minute. We got it about halfway onto the trailer when the come-along jammed up. That’s when we started attracting bystanders. Unfortunately we didn’t attract enough to just muscle to car up onto the trailer, but we did attract enough to have lots of extra opinions on how to make it all work.

Once the Cougar was finally loaded, we took a ride into downtown Corpus for lunch at the dog-friendly Executive Surf Club. It was the only relaxing, vacationy part of the trip, which I had promised Mary would be so incredibly relaxing and vacationy, except for the evening I’d be working on the movie. (Sorry, honey.)

My mother’s attempt at a group selfie.

We cruised a few miles down the coast to get a look at the ocean before going back to pick up the rig for the drive back to Houston. Of course, there was a mandatory stop at DQ, so my mother could get a Blizzard.

Just looking natural at the trailer club out behind the Dairy Queen.

We made it back to Spring around 8 p.m., and I made enough commotion trying to back the trailer into my driveway that it attracted all the neighbors. Big shout out the everyone who helped pushed the Cougar off the trailer and into the garage.

Back in the garage, ready for a rear-end tear down.

Well, some lessons learned.

First off, Hollywood is rough. Even if you’re the main character in a crime documentary re-enactment scene, your pay slip still says “extra.”

Movies do not pay well enough to cover classic car maintenance and repairs.

Maybe I should invest in a vehicle with some towing capacity and a trailer hitch.

And most importantly of all, I have an amazing family. Thank you again to Mary for picking me up off the side of the road and sitting around in a hotel all weekend while I dealt with the car issues. Also, huge thanks to my parents for spending an entire Saturday driving to help me get the Cougar hauled home.

I’m a lucky guy.

London Calling: The show must go on

After some discussion with the local producer about replacing my car with a Camaro, it was decided that “The Phantom” needed the authenticity of a white 1967 Mercury Cougar to match the crime scene photos. A guy named Joe had trailered in a 1980s Ford Crown Victoria from Austin for the scene.

Joe, being an absolutely amazing guy, agreed to use his trailer to pick the Cougar up from the transmission shop where they had FINALLY looked at the problem around 3 p.m., but then said they wouldn’t get to it until Monday.

Three of us could not push this car up the ramp. She’s a heavy girl.

We deposited the Cougar in front of the gas pumps at the Sunny’s Convenience Store, carefully making sure the axle didn’t slide out when we were rolling it around.

These gas pumps don’t actually work. #acting

Mary’s one question was whether or not there would be a food buffet where all the actors could just graze in between shoots. There was — sort of.

As the production assistants finished setting up lights and removing all the blatantly modern signage from the gas station, I was issued my authentic 1983 street wear — a grey polo with a grey sweater. Apparently in the crime scene photos, Kevan Baker was also wearing a hat, so they stole a sweaty baseball cap off one the PAs and stuck it on my head.

I’m going to look goofy as heck in this movie. Also, watch for continuity because the bloody, dying gas station attendant falls into my arms. However, that meant my sweater got bloody on take one, and we did it about 25 times. Then we switched back to some pre-death scenes after I was bloody. Should be interesting to see if it shows.

Hurry up, and wait. That’s what making movies is all about.

So after all the intense gas pumping, stabbing, and first aid scenes, they wrapped it up with a Police ID of … you guessed it, the wrong Carlos. To add a bit of irony, the actor who played the actual killer was used as a stand-in with the Police for the ID scene.

They shot this scene from behind the car to catch the bright mag lights shining in onto the perp. They had instructions to let the light wander off the guys face onto the camera lens and then back. I’m really curious to see what it actually looked like in the camera.

The Cougar rolled out of scene, taking 5.

Once we finally wrapped, Joe trailered the Cougar back to our hotel and unloaded her in the parking lot for me before going back to the set for his police cruiser. Thanks, Joe!

Now we just have to get the Cougar back to Houston …

London Calling: Waiting is the hardest part

Upon investigation of the breakdown, it seems I had a wheel bearing disintegrate, which then let the rear axle slide out.

Those tires really fill the wheel wells when the axle is extended.

Since I don’t have a traction lock rear differential, all the power is being sent to the road through that driver side rear tire. Once the axle slide out of the differential, there was no more power.

That’s not where everything is supposed to be located.

I need a shop to replace the axle and press in a new wheel bearing and seal. Since there’s oil all over the brake shoes, those need to be replaced as well.

It’s 2 p.m. and the place I dropped it last night just now got it on the lift. They close at 6 p.m. Call time is at 7 p.m.

We discussed towing the car over if it’s not fixed in time, but towing costs bust the production cost of the movie. They’re searching for another car.

I’m starting to get worried my Cougar is going to be stuck in Corpus Christi.

London Calling: The wrong Carlos

On the evening of February 4, 1983, Wanda Lopez, a gas station attendant in Corpus Christi was stabbed to death. A man named Carlos DeLuna was arrested and convicted of the murder, then executed by lethal injection in 1989. DeLuna always maintained his innocence and claimed the murder was committed by a man named Carlos Hernandez. However, DeLuna was never able to identify Hernandez and prosecutors referred to him as “a phantom” in court.

Carlos DeLuna at left and Carlos Hernandez at right

Years later, an investigative team determined Hernandez was a real person, lived near the site of the murder, and he had a tendency to stab people.

The case of mistaken identity and probable execution of an innocent man has been researched in detail, and a Columbia Law School professor wrote a book on the case.

So how do the Cougar and I fit into all of this?

Well, apparently the first witness on the scene was a man named Kevan Baker, who had stopped to gas up his white 1967 Mercury Cougar.

The white Cougar was a key part of authentically recreating the crime scene.

I made sure the producers were aware that my car was a work in progress and not what could be considered anywhere close to restored, but after sending plenty of pictures, they assured me it would work great for the movie and said the re-enactment scenes would have a soft focus anyway. Plus, the scene is set in 1983, so it’s not like the car would have looked showroom new.

My next challenge was making sure the old girl could take on 250 miles of highway to get to the shoot.

We’ve had to work through a few mechanical issues.

While drivability has gotten better and better over the past year and a half of work, I had kind of taken everything apart to install the air-conditioning and never put it all back together.

I did manage to get the correct console shifter installed and swapped in the refurbished console and radio, but I just didn’t have the time to replace the heater core and tackle the interior portion of the AC install yet. I’ll have to pull everything apart again when I get back to get it finished before the real summer heat starts.

I also finally put the rear emblems on the car. They’re kind of expensive, so I had planned to paint the car first, then put them on, but these people need a Cougar, so it better say Cougar.

The reproduction 1967 quarter panel trim has allegedly been discontinued by Scott Drake.

Then, just to keep me on my toes, the starter decided to go out last week. I replaced that as well. We’re ready to roll — but I brought plenty of tools, just in case.

There were several times in the past few months when I was tempted to just start banging out dents and spraying spots with primer to get the body work started. I had also been talking to a guy in Austin about stripping her down to bare metal and painting her black.

I guess sometimes it does pay off to take things slow.

London Calling: We need your car

Not too long ago, Mary and I were sitting on the couch watching “I am the Night,” that miniseries with Chris Pine about the Black Dahlia Murders set in late 1940s Hollywood. Along with all of the period correct cars in the show, there were several buses and trucks, and I turned to Mary and said, “Who the heck restores old buses? Who even has space for that?”

We pondered over whether it could even be profitable to maintain old buses and work trucks and other specialty vehicles just for use in movies. I also wondered if directors made an effort to work around scenes just so they wouldn’t have to try to find specific vehicles.

A few weeks later one of the officers from the Mercury Cougar Club of America posted in our Facebook group that a woman from London was searching for someone near Corpus Christi that owned a Polar White 1967 Mercury Cougar. I responded that my Cougar matched that description, so he passed on her contact info, and I shot her a message.

Within an hour I was on the phone with a lady named Jenny in London who was booking my car for use in a feature length crime documentary being filmed in Corpus Christi.

And since they needed someone to drive the car in the crime re-enactment scenes, I’m booked as an actor.

My suitcase is in the trunk, and today after work I’m heading south down Highway 59 in this beat-up old car to see what happens next.

Putting Gimme Shelter up for sale

It didn’t really hit me until I locked her up for the last time and walked back to my car.  Sitting in my car crying all I could think about was all of the great memories we made in this boat since 2013 when I bought her.  I had bought her myself in an effort to move both my relationship with Fred and our sailing life in a forward direction.

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Our first boat, a 27ft Starwind, was an amazing boat and we stayed on her every weekend for years.  But Gimme, a 34ft Oday offered us a fridge, and a double sink, and so many more comfort items that made our weekends so much easier.

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Over the years we have had a steady stream of projects.  Installing central AC, upgrading all the canvas, upgrading the engine, replacing the fridge compressor, redoing windows and hand rails so that she has no leaks, etc.  All the time we talked about what our next boat might look like but not really getting any closer to making the move.

For the last year or so there have not really been any projects.  The boat is pretty solid and relatively low maintenance by design.  We’ve reached a point where we couldn’t really do any upgrades either, as it makes no sense to put $20,000 worth of equipment on a $20,000 dollar boat.

Fred picked up a 67 Cougar car project, but now even that is nearing is completion and the time had really come.  It was time to get a new bigger project boat.

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The first step to that is clean our boat out completely and to get her on the market.  I went to Lowes and got us some giant plastic tubs and we started taking everything that wasn’t specific to our boat out of it.  I then untuffted all of the cushions and took them home to wash and retuft.  It took about four days of two people working with magic erasers to get every bit of the inside and outside spotless.

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Sunday night I was sweaty and dirty from a day of hard scrubbing.  I backed my way out of the boat cleaning all of the floors one last time.  As I locked the door and walked back to the car it felt like we were losing a member of the family.  I gave Fred a call and we reminded each other that no change is ever easy, and that this is the first step to our next great adventure.

Easter weekend at Harborwalk Marina

For the first time in a long time, we left Galveston Bay for a trip west on the ICW to Harborwalk Marina in Hitchcock, Texas.

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We visited Harborwalk four years ago, and the entire trip left a terrible taste in our mouths. Our engine overheated, the head backed up, the air-conditioning quit, the mosquitoes were unbearable, and drunk fishermen kept pulling up to the restaurant dock and revving their engines and blaring music all night. Then to top that all off, when we went to the pool in the morning a security guard escorted us out because we weren’t wearing Harborwalk wristbands despite having prepaid for our slip but arriving after the office had closed the night before.

Thankfully, this trip was better.

We cast off Friday morning with favorable winds. It’s not often you get both a north wind for the trip to Galveston and a south wind for the trip home, but it was one of those rare weekends.

It was an easy six-hour cruise from Kemah to Harborwalk with only a short delay at the Galveston Causeway Railroad Bridge. Entering the marina we were careful to stay in the center of the channel, but there was a still a section that read 5′ on depth finder. Definitely don’t cut the corners in and out of the channel because on Sunday a sailboat got stuck exiting too close to the bulkhead.

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We had reserved eight slips for the weekend at a flat rate of $50 per night. They were not charging by the size of boat or the size of the slip.

Apparently Harborwalk turned on power to the first eight transient slips. Unfortunately, one of the power poles was shorting out and fried the surge protectors in our friends’ boat. That scooted everyone down a slip. That meant the boat on the end had no power and despite getting called by 6 p.m. Friday night about the issue, the marina didn’t bother to respond and come flip the breaker on for that slip until Saturday morning.

While it was still a little too cold to swim, we took advantage of Harborwalk’s beautiful pool area to hang out and play a few rounds of cornhole. There was no longer a security guard throwing people out, but there’s also no longer a pool bar or restaurant. We heard rumors the marina was signing a lease deal with a new restaurant this week. (Take that rumor with a grain of salt because we kept hearing Watergate would have a new restuarant open in three months every three months for three years before Opus Ocean Grille finally moved in.)

The lack of restuarant and bar definitely cut down on the loud small boat traffic, which made for beautiful, peaceful evenings, and although we didn’t try any, our friends said the food at the ship store was great.

We got to witness a gorgeous blue moon Saturday night.

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Unfortunately the mosquitoes were just as bad as they had been on our previous visit. The marina is surrounded by swampland, so make sure and bring plenty of spray.

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However, the clear view out over the swap made for some great sunsets. It looked like a giant Easter egg on the horizon.

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There was one other strange incident worth mentioning in regard to our visit. There was a crab trap in the water near the transient docks with a dead, bloated otter inside it. It was unclear as to whether the otter somehow crawled inside, got trapped and drowned or if it was stuffed inside and left there. Either way, it was pretty gross.

While the facilities are gorgeous, Harborwalk still has some work to do to become a great marina.

Etsy as a second income: Cruising and beyond

I’m coming up on two years now of having my etsy store up and running and I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the numbers.  The idea was to have a small business that I could do while cruising to help slow the burn of savings.  I’ve been selling recycled sailcloth goods and small canvas pieces online and shipping them out all over the world.  I’m going to try to evaluate whether this could work while cruising based on a few basic criteria.

The Work:  When deciding whether the work could be done on a sailboat or not I need to divide the recycled sail work from the canvas work.  I think that if I had a choice I would not want to make recycled sailcloth bags on a boat.  The biggest obstacle with it is space.  The sail takes a lot of room to store before it is made into bags, and afterwards even more space.  The bags don’t sell quickly and the amount of inventory you would end up storing would make your life miserable.  The sail also takes a lot of space to clean and spread out for cutting up.  Sailbags also need hardware to make which takes additional storage.  The canvas work however would be very feasible on a boat.  If you chose a few limited colors and bought large rolls of sunbrella storage would be relatively easy.  Products would be made to order and would not need to be stored afterward.

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The Platform:  My experience with Etsy has been great and it’s only getting better.  They do a lot to advertise your products at no additional cost.  You can of course pay for more advertising, but I never have.  They make it extremely easy to manage your listings and to put your shop on vacation if you need more time.  They also have a built in shipping forms that make it extremely easy to print and ship things.  All of their stats are downloadable in excel and they really try to make them useful and easy to read.  Minimal fees.

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The $$:  So here is the real question.  In almost two years I have made a grand total of $4,486.01 profit on 98 orders.  That’s not counting the cash sales I have made locally. I haven’t spent any money on advertising either locally or online.  I also shut the site down for a bit this spring because of my regular job picking up.  Of all of my products listed most of the revenue came from my small canvas items.

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I think that doing canvas work both online and through etsy would be a viable option while cruising.  It’s definitely working out better than our music career did. While I wouldn’t suggest it as your only source of income I do think that the space and time that it takes in your life would be worth it for the money it brings in.  Having a sewing machine on the boat could also come in handy in a tight spot.

The difference a dink makes

The wind was a steady 25 knots, gusting over 30, blowing straight off the shore of the small island behind which we were anchored. Both of our dogs, whom refuse to to soil our boat (at least while we’re there) hadn’t relieved themselves in more than 24 hours and looked absolutely miserable.

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I held tight to the standing rigging as I stood on the cabin top and looked over my small kayak trying to decide if I could even make any headway towards the island or if I’d be blown back past the boat and out into the middle of the bay if I attempted the trip to shore.

It wasn’t so much that I was worried about what would happen to me and two dogs in life jackets on a kayak — we’d just be carried ashore somewhere in San Leon. The problem was that if I couldn’t get back to the sailboat, Mary would be stranded there, unable to lift the anchor and leave.

That was the weekend we really began dinghy shopping.

But what type and size of a dinghy did we need and how would we power it?

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Luckily we had many boating friends also looking for dinghies, so we waited and learned from their experiences.

Our friends on the Tina Marie Too had a big double floor West Marine inflatable with a 20hp 4-stroke engine. It was comfortable. It planed up. It held a lot of people. It was way too big for our boat. We ruled out a fiberglass floor inflatable.

Our friends on Escondida had an 8′ slat floor inflatable with a 5 hp. It was small, light and could easily be lifted on and off the foredeck. It could also be rolled up and stowed in the cabin. It didn’t hold much, and it was very slow.

Our friends on Folie a Deux bought a Port-a-bote. It wasn’t too heavy, and it folded flat to tie against the lifelines. However, it was only rated for a 2.5 hp motor, and they got caught with a strong headwind in Matagorda Bay and couldn’t make any forward progress.

What we really thought we wanted was a Takacat. However, actual Takacat inflatables are quite expensive, so we started looking at the generic Saturn inflatable catamarans available. Our friends on Hippokampos got curious about them as well and bought one.

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Not tapering together at the bow makes for a very wide dinghy. In fact, we referred to it as the barge. It was sort of a strange ride because you could feel the flex in the middle when a wave raised one pontoon and then the other. They’ve been cruising with it for over a year now, and you can actually read their entire review of it here. While they had no major complaints, we realized there was no way we could put a boat that wide on our foredeck, and we weren’t sure we’d even have the space to inflate and deflate it anywhere on Gimme Shelter.

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We went back to thinking we would go with an 8′ slat floor roll-up with a 5hp Lehr propane engine. While small and slow, that seemed to be the best option for our 34′ sailboat. We also wouldn’t have to carry gasoline along with the diesel and propane we were already carrying. We started saving and kept waiting for the big sale at West Marine.

However, sometimes the right dinghy finds you.

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Our friends over at SVMimzy.com asked if we were interested in a 10′ AB rigid floor inflatable with a Mercury 9.9 hp 2-stroke. While it was about ten years old, it was in really nice shape. I just didn’t think we could lift it or that we’d have space for it on the boat. I was incredibly surprised when the boat only weighed around 100 pounds, and I could pick it up and move it around myself — and it just barely fit on our foredeck. I have to lift it up and bit to open and close the anchor locker, but it works.

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We’ve anchored out more times this year than in almost all of our past years of sailing combined thanks to being able to easily get the dogs back and forth to shore.

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Of course, it’s been useful for more than just carting dogs around. Mary and I have made runs up and down the ICW from Bolivar to Stingarees.

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We can finally explore islands and anchorages together instead of taking turns on the kayak.

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It’s also been great for carrying my photography equipment to shore. I’d never risk it on the kayak, but now I can get the camera, lenses and tripod all safely to shore to set up for great shots like this.

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While we’re getting by with raising and lowering the dinghy and motor using our halyards, the next question is to davit or not to davit.

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