Barn Raising

As I mentioned a few days ago I’ve been helping get my father in law’s house wheelchair ready so he can can come home from the rehab facility. When she who must be obeyed asked if I’d like to up to Northern Michigan, the upper peninsula to be exact (Yes, that makes my wife a yooper) to help on this project I assumed it would be a two or three day trip. Four at the outside. One week later I’m still here. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, much.  Building things with your hands can be fun and rewarding. It’s pretty satisfying finishing a job, stepping back and saying “I did that” It’s also been fun working with my wife’s family (also a bunch of Finnish Yoopers). It’s been sort of like a Amish barn raising where the men do all the work and the women make the food and clean up the construction mess after. Except that instead of cooking and cleaning they went shopping for cute things to put in the new bathroom and found lots of other projects for us men to do that had nothing to do with the original mission.

The other big difference between the Yoopers and the Amish is that at he end of the day instead of having dinner  and bible study by candlelight, us men, us manly men, head to the sauna for beers and smart talk. The Yoopers are serious about their saunas. I learned that when Cathy invited me up to the Great White North to meet her parents for the first time. It was a normal kind of “meet the parents” weekend. It started out with a pre-dawn country breakfast followed by a long walk deep into the woods with Cathy’s father, brother, and uncle, all of them carrying guns. Hmmm. OK, to be fair, I was armed too because we were deer hunting but it’s still unnerving to have the father of the girl you’re sleeping with walking behind you with a loaded rifle. Accidents happen, you know? But no one died that day, including deer, and afterwards I was invited to join the guys for an evening sauna. I grabbed my swim suit and walked into the dressing room where the guys were undressing. It was then that I noticed that I was the only one who’d brought anything to wear in the sauna. Great. But immediately felt better when one of the naked men handed me two beers for to help with the bonding. Yep, guns, beer, and sweaty naked guys, a perfect way to get to know your future father in law.

You Are Here

Ok then, so poor Chuck is still lost at sea after, what is it? 6 weeks? I really should finish this up and rescue the guy. Maybe next month. Anyway, so Charlie figured out some way to mount the PLB on the outside of the raft giving it a clear view of the sky but until the Love Boat shows up to give him a ride he has no way of knowing if it’s working. What’s next? Why, grab your hand held aviation radio and call someone who cares of course. I won’t go into the whole operating a small electronic device encased in two or three Ziploc bags while wearing oven mitts, (survival suit) thing again. So let’s assume that he got it turned on and had the foresight to have it pre-tuned to 121.5, the emergency channel that every pilot is supposed to monitor while flying over the ocean known as guard.

“MAYDAY MAYDAY! Anyone on guard, this is November 6384 Alpha MAYDAY MAYDAY!”

“84 Alpha this is United 123 on guard, can I be of assistance?”

It worked! Your heart leaps with joy at the sound of another human voice. It’s been a lonely and scary ten minutes in the raft but now that you’ve made contact with someone from the outside world you know your chances of getting out of this mess have increased dramatically.

“Thank God, United! This is November 6384 Alpha, I lost my engine and was forced to ditch.” (At this point is it really appropriate to identify yourself by your plane’s N number? I mean the plane itself is sitting at the bottom of the Atlantic. You’re really the captain of a boat at this point.

“Roger 84 Alpha. What’s your position?”

“I’m reclining in the center of the raft.”


Sorry. Even in a life or death situation Chuck’s a smart ass.

But he’s not a complete idiot. He knows that Captain wonderful of United 123 can’t help him much unless he can tell him where he is.

Here’s where we get to the meat of the issue because you don’t want to give your position as “about 200 miles west of Greenland, give or take” The ocean is a big place and if I’m sitting in a raft freezing my ass off I want SAR (Search And Rescue) to know PRECISELY where I am. I know, I know, what about the PLB (Personal Locator Beacon)? Isn’t that supposed to give SAR a continuous GPS location? Yes it should but I’m a belt and suspenders kind of guy (not literally, that would be weird) and the whole point of bringing a hand help radio is so you can tell people where you are. And you can’t tell people where you are, UNLESS YOU KNOW WHERE YOU ARE!

The first you should do when you know for sure that you’re going swimming is to get out an accurate position report and then make that your ditching point. Because it’s more important to let everyone know EXACTLY where you are going down then to glide as far as you can, unless you’re almost within range of land based helicopter rescue or trying to reach a ship you passed happen to be close to. Next, you need to write that position down so you can have it with you in the raft. I’d probably write it down on a piece of paper, put it in the same Ziploc bag that’s protecting the radio, and stick it in my DO NOT LOSE! bag. You could also use a pen and write it down on the palm of your hand but I don’t think it would last very long in a wet survival suit.

So there you go, problem solved. Ditch your plane, get into the raft, pull out your radio and tell everyone you can get reach where you are. Easy peasy. But what if you can’t get anyone to answer your Mayday call until hours, or days later? How far have you drifted? Did you ditch precisely at the point you wrote down or were you miles off? Remember it gets busy in the cockpit when you’re getting ready to ditch and you might have your hand full just controlling the aircraft while getting into the survival suit. That’s why I always have a small hand held GPS with me. That way I can not only tell SAR exactly where I am but how fast and in what direction I’m drifting. It would also come in handy if I go down on land and I need to know where the nearest liquor store is.

So Charles is sitting pretty. He’s safe in the raft  Warm in his survival suit. His Personal Locator Beacon is broadcasting his position, and he’s given his position to a passing airliner. Nothing left to do but wait for the calvary. Of course it helps if he’s still alive when they get there.


Career Change?

Sorry for not giving you all new riveting survival post but I’ve been helping two of my brother in laws and a nephew remodel my father in laws house in order to make it wheel chair accessible. Cathy’s father has had some health issues and is currently in a rehab facility (NOT A NURSING HOME!) and in order to bring him home we need to completely remodel a bedroom, bathroom and install an electric chair for getting him up a small set of stairs. The bathroom has been the biggest challenge. we had to tear down and move a wall, move both the sink and toilet, re-wire the entire room and install new flooring. New flooring through out the entire house actually. I’ve always been kind of handy (kind of) but this is the biggest project I’ve ever taken on. It’s involved plumbing (moving the toilet wasn’t fun) electrical work, drywalling, and all kinds of stuff. It’s a good thing that my three “helpers” are actually good at this sort of thing, I mostly just stand around waiting for someone to tell me what to do. But it’s still satisfying working with your hands and creating something real. It’s also made me realize something about careers and life choices. I was born to be a pilot.