So how’s that music thing working out?

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You might remember that we had devised a plan to play music as a means to make money while cruising. The idea of sailing town to town and rocking the tiki bars to pay our way around the Caribbean was romantic and enticing.

So will it work?!!!

We’d been taking part in marina jams and playing songs with our friends at open mics on a weekly basis for a while, but the question remained, could we actually book a “gig.”

We got started in March with a St. Patrick’s Day show playing as a 4-piece band.

Then a small wedding followed soon after, which was an eye opener to how rough it is to play in 90+ degree heat and extremely high humidity. We played that one as a three-piece.

I managed to book a few solo acoustic shows, which isn’t really what I was looking for since Mary and I wanted to play together, but it was a good test to see how things went over when we stripped out the guitar solos and vocal harmonies provided by our friends.

Then we got invited to play a police fund raiser as a four-piece band, which was a fun experience.

Then we actually grew to a five-piece band for another show at our favorite bar before finishing off the year as a four-piece at a corporate Christmas party.

The gross income from our seven paying shows  in 2016 was $2050 (not counting about $200 in tips and $200 in bar tabs.) However, we had to pay out $750 to our other players. That puts us at about $1300 for the year.

So what did we learn?

Four hours is a long time: If you want to get paid in the Houston market, you have to play four-hour cover shows. When you’re playing by yourself with no instrumental solos or jamming, that is a lot of songs. I ran through more than 60 songs per night, and by the end of several shows I was really scraping the bottom of the barrel for any song left to play. As we add more and more songs to the repertoire that won’t be as much of a problem, but working full time there is only so much time in the day to rehearse old songs and memorize new ones.

Equipment does make a difference: We started the year trying to mic the cajon with a Shure SM57. While it worked ok at the house when rehearsing, we could never get it loud enough at the bar without feedback. After a long debate, we finally spent the $239 to get a Shure Beta 91A that fits inside the cajon, and it solved all of our drum volume issues. This was a tough decision because the drum itself was only $175. It seemed absurb to invest more than the drum on a microphone for the drum, but in the end, it made a huge difference. I also retired my 20-year-old Shure SM58 vocal mic and replaced it with a $200 Sennheiser e945.

Good performances require rest: I currently have a wrist brace on my left arm. Practice makes perfect, but it turns out that too much practice makes for a pretty intense case of tendonitis. 12 hours a week seems to be my limit on guitar. Mary’s hands get quite swollen by the end of a show after slapping the cajon for hours. My voice also needs rest. Back in September I played four-hour shows two nights in a row, and my voice was already rough at the beginning of night two. By the end, it was really rough, which brings up the next thing I learned.

Not every performance is going to be good: Some nights nothing goes right. We’ve only had one show where things got really bad. It started ok. We had a nice group of friends come out to support us. The crowd was singing along. Unfortunately, I started losing my voice, and I ran out of songs. I thought I had a thick skin from my years in news and public relations, but getting a bad review and not being asked back to play a venue again really crushes the ego. There’s nothing to do except treat it as a learning experience and double down on the rehearsals, so that it doesn’t happen again.

We’re not going to make a living doing this: Yes, the dream is still to play live music as we cruise the Caribbean, but I have a hunch those bars pay even less than Houston bars. I think we were counting on competing against a smaller available talent pool in the islands, but that assumption may be wrong.

I’m not sure what our focus for 2017 will be. When we purchased our PA system we wanted something portable enough to fit in a dinghy to accomodate vocals, guitar and drums playing a restaurant or small bar. We’ve now got it maxed out with multiple vocalists, guitars, violin, bass, etc. While it’s a great portable rig, it’s not the right set up for a full band in large sports bars.

Hopefully we’ll get our foot in the door at some bars in Kemah closer to all of our marina friends.

Last but not least, we’ll be working on some new original music. Songwriting got put on the back burner while we crammed to learn enough cover songs to be able to fulfill our 2016 bookings. With that backlog of music under our belts, we’re ready to move forward with new songs in 2017.

If you have any song requests, please post them in the comments!

The Houston 48-Hour Film Project

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I was out sailing one Sunday afternoon when I got a call from my friend Will LeBlanc at Casablanca Productions. He had decided to sponsor a team for the Houston 48 Hour Film Festival and wanted to know if I’d be interested in writing/directing the project.

Mary was already occupied skippering Antares in the GBCA Women’s Regatta that weekend, and it sounded like a fun challenge. I recruited our marina neighbor TJ, the captain of Folie a Deux, and we both signed on for the project.

The way the 48 Hour Film Festival works is that on a given Friday at 7 p.m. your team captain draws two film genres out of a hat. Whether it be western, musical, mystery or comedy, your film must be one of the two genres drawn. We ended up with the choices “superhero movie” or “coming of age story.”

After the genre drawing, all of the teams are then given three mandatory elements to be included in the film. Houston’s 2016 mandatory elements were a character named either Elena or Ethan Shell employed as a landscape designer, a flashlight, and the line of dialogue, “What time is it?”

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To be eligible for an award in the competition, you have to write, cast, shoot, edit and score your 4-7 minute film and have it turned in with all signed releases for actors, locations and music by 7 p.m. Sunday night — exactly 48 hours later.

As soon as we had the requirements, we set to work imagining our characters, outlining a plot, and then filling in actions and dialogue. With printed scripts in hand, we called it quits around midnight Friday.

Saturday started early as we met all of our actors and began rehearsal readings. We started filming around 10 a.m.

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There were a few stressful moments throughout the day. We couldn’t find a child actor for a scene that we absolutely couldn’t write out. Then TJ set his entire head on fire the first time he shot a fireball out of his hand. However, it all worked out. By 9 p.m. we were wrapped.

Special thanks to Jive Bar & Lounge who let us film both inside and outside the bar on extremely short notice.

Once we were wrapped, I grabbed the video files and headed back to my house to start editing. I worked from about 10 p.m. – 2 a.m., slept for a while, then continued editing from 6 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. I made it back to the Casablanca studio by 10 a.m. with a complete rough cut for Will to review. The rest of the day was spent adding music, sound effects, tweaking edits, and trying to fix our audio.

Around 6 p.m. Will took the final video and all the paperwork into town to submit our entry before the 7 p.m. deadline.

I’m very proud to present you with “Supers Anon,” co-written and directed by yours truly.

Supers Anon from Wilfred LeBlanc on Vimeo.

We made it to the August 16 “Best of Houston” showing where we were presented with an honorable mention for Best Newcomer to the festival.

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Although Will and I both make corporate videos and conduct video interviews on a regular basis, there were many lessons learned in making a “movie” with so many actors in such a constrained time. If you ever get the chance to participate in a local 48 Hour Film Festival, I highly recommend it. The weekend was exhausting, but I learned so much, met a bunch of great people, and I had a blast.

A big thank you to Will for inviting me to be a part of the project, and thank you to everyone who participated in our film.

 

 

Concert review: Chris Isaak at House of Blues Houston

We don’t go to many concerts these days.

Actually, that’s not completely true. We see many, many live bands. In fact, as a live band, we even played our first wedding concert last month.

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However, we don’t go to many big concerts with famous artists.  A combo of the loud music, late nights, expensive drinks, and crowded venues keeps us away.

There are very few that I would pay to see. Then there’s Chris Isaak.

I saw him a decade ago at The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, and it was an absolutely amazing show. When I heard he was coming to House of Blues, and I might get to see him in a much smaller, more personal venue, I was quite excited and pitched the idea to Mary.

Her response was, “I don’t think I know who that is.”

She was not excited. Her only reference to Chris Isaak and the Silvertones was the fact that I cover Wicked Game … but only when we’re jamming with the “Dock Boys.” I’ve heard it murdered way too many times by way too many cover bands to ever perform it at an actual show. (#nevertrustthefalsetto)   Pleeeeease don’t let the band name “Dock Boys” catch on. 

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I put the show out of my mind and went on with my life. That is, until Ticketmaster announced a huge settlement, and I discovered I had many, many discount coupon codes in my Ticketmaster account since they essentially scammed concert-goers with exorbitant “handing fees” and “UPS fees” all through the 90s and 00s.

I decided to check back into the Chris Isaak concert and found there were a few front row tickets still available. I once again pitched the show to Mary and this time she reluctantly agreed. I can’t believe I almost didn’t!  I normally hate concerts.  

We were standing in line along the third floor balcony outside the House of Blues waiting for the doors to open when a guy in sunglasses and a polo shirt holding a white dog came walking down the line kind of whispering to everyone. He was saying things like, “I heard this guy puts on a great show.” and “Oh, I heard it’s going to be a really good show tonight.”

He was already halfway down the line before I realized it was Chris Isaak. He turned around, waved at everybody and went inside. He looks so different off stage, like a normal person.  Not all dreamy like he looks while he’s playing.

I really wasn’t sure if we had front row seating as claimed on the Ticketmaster seating chart or if the entire downstairs of the venue would be standing. Once inside, I was excited to see that we did indeed have front row seats. There would be no tall people standing in front of Mary blocking her view all night. Whenever people start to stand up at a concert I might as well be at home listening to the radio. I can’t see anything. 

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The band came out strong and played a few songs before Chris stopped to introduce everyone in the band and thank the fans for supporting live music. He jokingly promised a “semi-professional state fair quality show.” Then he grabbed a wireless mic and left the stage to sing the next two songs as he strolled through the audience, pausing to sit down with people, so they could take selfies with him as he sang.

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After making his way up through the balcony and back down through the audience, he climbed on the stage, made a few more jokes, and went back to playing guitar.

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I know most of his songs, but Mary only knew one or two. However, I think we both enjoyed the music. The sound was clear and balanced, and his voice was phenomenal. Not only does he hit all the high notes live, he actually went even higher in some songs than he does on the records, and his sustain is unbelievable. The man can hold a note for 12 measures with not so much as a waver in the tone.

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We had made the mistake of ordering a couple of Bud Lights before the show started thinking that they’d be cheaper than the really overpriced craft beer. What we actually got served were $11 Bud Light 40 oz. cans, so Mary had to make a run to the bathroom mid concert. Unfortunately she decided to go right before they played Wicked Game, the one song she new, so about the second verse she came running back.

For what I guess you’d call the second set of the night, the stagehands quickly moved a drum and stool to the front of the stage as one song was ending, and as the next song began, the band transitioned seamlessly to sitting along the front edge as they played some softer, bluesier numbers. Then, when Scotty, the keyboardist pulled out an accordion, they even did a Tejano number in Spanish.

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Fun fact, Kenny Dale Johnson, the drummer, grew up in Borger, Texas and went to high school with my mom and two of my aunts. I think he’s probably the most famous person to come out of Borger.

Chris made a point to recognize this week’s passing of Scotty Moore, Elvis’s original guitarist and a great rock pioneer. The band then covered a couple Elvis songs and Jerry Lee Lewis’s Great Balls of Fire before returning to their own material.

They left the stage to the sound of a standing ovation and when Chris returned to start the encore, he was wearing his one-of-a-kind mirrored tuxedo.

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You know, to make this a “legit” review, I should have kept a list of the songs they played, but I didn’t. I was way too into the show. In fact, I wasn’t even going to snap any photos except that a House of Blues employee came by passing out flyers encouraging us to snap photos and post them to Instagram with #HOBIsaak.

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The energy stayed high and everyone was out of their seats the entire encore.

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To end the show, Kenny once again came up to the front of the stage to sing some fantastic harmonies on one of the new songs from the First Comes the Night album.

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As the lights came back on, Mary, who really had no idea who Chris Isaak was at the beginning of the night, said, “I think this is the best concert I’ve ever seen.”

I really loved the show.  The jokes were really funny, the outfits were great.  The guitar and bass player kept doing hilarious little dances, and you could just tell everyone was having fun on stage. It really felt like a show, not just a concert. There were a lot of quiet romantic moments as well that really made this a nice night out just the two of us.  

That’s a pretty good review.

Rain Rain Go Away

Rain has been ruining all of our weekend plans for the past couple weeks. I’ll admit, there is nothing as enjoyable as laying around doing nothing while the rain pitter-patters on the top of the boat, but after a few weeks one does start to go crazy.

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On Halloween a combination of high tides and large amounts of rainfall led to the waters of Clear Lake climbing up over the bulkheads and clawing their way towards the pools and parking lots.

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The fixed piers were totally underwater, and the floating piers were above the bulkheads.

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We took a walk all the way around the marina during a lull, more to satisfy my curiosity than for the dogs.

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Most of the streets were full of water.

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But the boats in the shipyard still need a few more feet of water to float again.

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Overall we did get a few things done on the boat, but it was a damp lazy weekend.  Our boat is facing some serious leak issues that will need to be addressed immediately. Our mast is still leaking a little bit, although much improved. Multiple windows are leaking now, and our overhead hatch has started dripping, not from the lens Fred replaced last year, but from the actual bedding around the hatch itself. Unfortunately we can’t rip things out to start re-bedding them until we get some sun, and the forecast is predicting even more rain.

Sailing with Dolphins

Labor day weekend was a long awaited chance for us to take Gimme Shelter to new destinations and have a bit of real adventure. Dixie had been having stomach issues all week, so Friday morning we had her checked by the veterinarian to make sure she was ok to travel. She got some antibiotics and some anti-nausea medicine then we were on our way to Kemah.

I got to work unloading all of our food and supplies onto the boat and carefully stowing them away while Fred made runs back and forth to the gas station for diesel. Our fuel gauge was only showing slightly above 3/4 when our filter funnel backed up and stopped filling the boat. That spot just above 3/4 was where the gauge was stuck when we bought Gimme Shelter. Apparently 3/4 was as high as the gauge was going to show.

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Around 1:15 we cast off from our marina and started our slow motor into the wind towards our first stop for the weekend, Laguna Harbor on the Bolivar Peninsula.

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We watched patched of rain pass beside and behind us, but thankfully they all missed us.

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Our slow motoring turned into quite the adventure after passing Redfish Island. The dolphins were out in full swing surfing the bow wakes of big cargo ships.

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We were making better time than expected, and despite our late start we were nearing Bolivar around sunset. Something about sunsets really makes dolphins jump out of the water, and as we crossed the ship channel we saw several small families of dolphins doing all sorts of weird things in the water. I’ve seen them swimming around pretending to do what I can only imagine is “playing shark”.  I’ve also seen them sort of “wrestling” around in the water.  Every once in awhile we get a chance to see them doing some jumps just for fun.

We entered Laguna Harbor and rendezvoused with our friends Andy and Jayne aboard their Pearson 422, Hippokampos, who were also making the Labor Day trip but had managed to leave Kemah a little earlier.

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The dogs are always glad when it’s time to start grilling.

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As we sipped a few beers we saw dozens of jellyfish swimming around the marina. They seemed to be popping up everywhere. We decided we wouldn’t be swimming anywhere in the bay that weekend.

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We shared a nice meal of chicken fajitas with Hippokampos before taking the dogs for one last walk before bed. That’s when Dixie walked up in the grass to drop a load — except as she was squatting I noticed she was pooping on a huge black snake. The snake had its head up looking at us inquisitively. Dixie finished her business and trotted on ahead. She never even knew it was there.

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Running from the storm aboard a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 41 DS

Last weekend it was supposed to be another scorcher and Mary was suffering from a fever and sore throat. We were planning to skip the marina altogether and spend Saturday on the couch watching Netflix — but then the phone rang.

Texas Coast Yachts was having a demo event and wanted to know if we’d like to go sailing on a brand new Jeanneau 41. Suddenly Mary perked up, downed some ibuprofen, and we were headed for Kemah.

Texas Coast Yachts is the Jeanneau, NEEL Trimarans, and most importantly to Mary, the Fountaine Pajot Catamaran dealership in our area.

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While they didn’t have any new FPs to demo, Captain Michael Clark was kind enough to invite us to try out this gorgeous 2015 Jeanneau Sun Odyssey DS 41.

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The DS stands for Deck Salon, and the big difference between the DS models and the regular Jeanneau Sun Odysseys is this fantastic aft cabin.

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In the 41 you have a nice big bed that you can get in and out of without climbing over your spouse, as well as a sitting area and plenty of storage. There’s a pass-through on each side of the companionway with a master bathroom to port.

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Thanks to the big windows the boat is very bright inside. It’s very nicely laid out.

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All those windows might keep the air-conditioner running full-time in the Houston summer, but if you can afford a brand new Jeanneau, you probably don’t fuss over the electric bill.

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The V-berth has a nice bed and head as well, so the layout is great for two couples — or maybe just one couple that can’t stand being around each other.

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The breakers are located in a panel above the nav station. There’s no key required to start up the Yanmar, you just switch on the circuit, and the diesel starts with a push of a button at the helm.

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The 360 Docking bow thruster made getting in and out of the slip a piece of cake, and the 40hp Yanmar sail drive pushed her up to hull speed with no problem.

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Captain Mike brought us out of the marina and then handed me the wheel while he showed us how to unfurl the main and the jib.

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The main sheet system has no traveler. Instead it’s set up, so that the main can be adjusted from either side of the cockpit to enable you to control it from both helms.

A line of dark clouds was visible on the horizon just as we set the sail, and it was only minutes before Captain Mike was explaining that the blue dots on the sails were suggested reefing points as we furled some sail back in.

Mary, although excited to be sailing on a new boat, still wasn’t feeling well. Add to that the fact that our GPS was reading 7.5 knots SOG as the boat was heeling more and more with every gust, and she was not happy. Yes, we had reefed, but it wasn’t doing much to slow us down when the wind was gusting past 30 knots.

As the lightning flashes started getting closer and water starting spraying over the cockpit, Mary snapped one photo of me (and her finger) before a gust heeled us over far enough to knock everyone’s phones and sunglasses off the cockpit table.

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We’d been out for less than 20 minutes, but it was time to get the sails down and get back to the marina before things got really bad. I kicked the engine back on, we furled the sails and headed in. Motoring downwind we were surfing waves in the channel and still had an apparent wind of 21 knots behind us.

I was sure that sailing a nice big monohull would convince Mary we didn’t need a catamaran, but I think the weather sabotaged me. I never even got her to take the wheel.

Personally, I was impressed with the way the boat handled. The dual rudders made it very responsive and easier to control than our smaller O’day 34. It also did a much better job of pushing through the waves. I’m still not completely sold on the idea of a roller-furling main, but it was easy to use, and we still had plenty of power and control with it reefed.

We made it back to marina and backed into the slip just as the dark clouds swallowed the sky over us.

Special thanks to Texas Coast Yachts and Captain Michael Clark for the chance to sail on such a nice boat.

Critique, evaluation, curation and rejection

The original focus of this blog was supposed to be sailing and sailboat repair projects, but not yet being full-time cruisers (and due to the fact that it hasn’t stopped raining in Houston for almost two months), Mary and I often end up distracted with our other hobbies, so I hope you don’t mind the tangential topics.

I have a tendency to push Mary out of her comfort zone with ideas like “sailing close hauled” or “creating boat cooking videos,” and she does the same to me — this time with photography.

I’ve always enjoyed taking pictures. I bought my first camera, a rectangular 110 point and shoot, with S&H Green Stamps when I was in elementary school. In middle school my parents sent me to photography day camp, and by high school I had my own Canon AE-1 Program, which I carried through college and into my first years as a newspaper reporter — right up until I finally joined the digital revolution. Then, about three years ago I got interested in historical cameras and started shooting with an assortment of TLRs and vintage rangefinders.

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Long story short, I’ve invested lots of time and money in cameras, lenses, film, tripods, bags, memory cards, batteries, etc. through the years, so Mary decided it was finally time for me to have a show.

I’ve never done the gallery thing. I have no idea how this really works, but Mary had already started contacting various galleries and cafes in the Kemah area to see if they would hang and sell my prints.

One small catch. I had no prints.

With an impending meeting last Sunday I had to really sit down, go back through all the terabytes of photos I’ve shot over the past few years, really critique myself, decide which photos were worth printing, and create a portfolio to show the galleries. That meant taking what I considered to be my very best work and opening myself up to having it rejected.

It was a very stressful exercise. The old saying goes, “You are your own worst critic,” but criticism from other people can sting much more.

Here’s a gallery of the photos I selected if you want to check it out.

I decided to go with a sailing theme, put in my print order, and tried not to grind my teeth while I waited for them to arrive.

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Mpix and Mpix Pro have started offering prints on Kodak Metallic Paper for just a dollar more than the regular prints, and wow, they really pop. I highly recommend it.

Now, a very long time ago I had attempted to do my own matting and framing, so I still had an old box of mats in the garage and a mat cutter in the attic. After picking up some foam core and a test frame at Hobby Lobby, I spent an evening attempting to mount, mat and frame one of the prints.

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My mounting and matting weren’t too bad, but when I actually examined the Hobby Lobby frame, it had two big nicks in the wood and a scratch in the glass — which was definitely not UV or glare resistant. When I factored in the cost of the supplies even with sub-par frames and the fact that it took me almost two hours just to finish one print, I decided it wasn’t worth it to do it myself.  I have too many other projects that need my attention.

Sunday afternoon rolled around and Mary, being the great manager/agent that she is, advised me to “dress artsy and seem interesting.”

We met with Roberto, the owner of Cerise Crepes, a new European-style cafe. Roberto was great, he told us about all his hopes for the restaurant and his vision of an art show with local painters and photographers as well as how he wanted to start a French club in the area. Plus, the crepes and the coffee were delicious.

There were only two problems. The first was that Cerise Crepes is located in Spring on the north side of Houston, not anywhere near the ocean. (My agent said she knew the cafe wasn’t located in our target region, but that she really likes crepes.) The second problem tied into the first, being that with the cafe located in Spring, Roberto wasn’t really interested in sailboat pictures.

I suggested that perhaps his customers would have more interest in some of my travel photos from Paris, Rome, London and Rio, so I packed up my display and made my way home where I spent another two or three hours going back through the terabytes of archived files, trying to find new worthy photographs. If I had thought the first time through this exercise was stressful, it was nothing compared to having to throw out all my favorite photos and then pick again.

Here is the new gallery I put together for Cerise Crepes if you want to check it out.

Mary has another meeting scheduled for me in Kemah next weekend, so hopefully that one will go better. If not, at least I did take a few steps out of my comfort zone, and if nothing else, Mary might end up with a wall of really nice prints at the house.

And here’s an ending note from my agent, who swears to me that a 90% cut is industry standard: If you’d like to book Fred for a shoot or order any of his outstanding fine art prints online, just visit www.fredfacker.com.

Photo Essay: From Kemah to Galveston and Back

We had planned to attend the Keels and Wheels event Sunday — we really did. But when you’re offered a beautiful afternoon on the water, how do you say no?

Sunday afternoon we jumped aboard the Tina Marie Too and took a ride from Kemah to Galveston and back. I brought along my M9 rangefinder with a 1960s vintage 90mm Elmarit lens to document the voyage.

Enjoy a slice of life from Galveston Bay, Texas.

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Saturday Morning Sunrise

For the first time in forever, we finally had a weekend of nothing but sun. Not that I mind the rain, but it was nice to be able to open all the hatches and just enjoy the spring air. I couldn’t resist getting up early Saturday morning to sip some coffee and watch the sunrise.

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Momma duck brought all the babies by to say, hello as they started their morning routine.

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And even this sleepy head got out of bed earlier than usual for a walk around the marina.

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Weekend plans

It looks like we’ll finally have an entire weekend with no rain here in Houston.

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Saturday we’ll be crewing in the Galveston Bay Cruising Association Women’s Regatta. Mary isn’t quite ready to helm Gimme Shelter in a race, so we’ll be on Antares, the Cal 40 we crewed on during the Icicle Series earlier this year.

Sunday we hope to stop by Lakewood Yacht Club for the 2015 Keels & Wheels Show. Who doesn’t want to classic cars and some gorgeous wooden boats while benefiting Boys & Girls Harbor?

Then sometime in-between all that excitement I plan to change the steaming light, mount a wind instrument, run cables down the mast, install a NMEA 2000 backbone, and change the zincs in our heat exchanger … unless, of course, we decide to just go sailing instead.