June 2011 ~ Mid-Atlantic States
Day 289 ~ Bean Counters UniteJune 30th, 2011
The last day of the fiscal year has arrived and all over the country bureaucrats of every flavor are spending money like it's water. I guess it is, in a way. Well, it used to be someone else's means of life support anyway. I too, a little geek in a little RV stashed under some ash trees on a flat, hot lot in North Carolina am swept unwittingly into this artifical vortex of insanity.
"University politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small." ~ Henry Kissinger
And so it is with bean counters the world over. June 30 is beanfest day, the final march to the alter of another fiscal year in a never-ending dance whose primary objective is to make the spenders feel worthwhile. Of course, the root insecurity is based on the simple fact that, looking around, they are spooked by the reality that none of their decisions actually matter.
If your average institutional purchasing agent or grant writer disappeared tomorrow, nothing meaningful would change. That's a frightening realization for any person, and not one you would wish on your worst enemy. The norm, it seems, is for people to exchange meaningless duty for a risk-free life and then live in desperation and fear. Getting and spending money, it doesn't matter whose, serves as the only effective pain killer. Like all compensation behavior, the only escape to is never stop.
It's as if having concrete things to fear – coral heads in shallow water, unexpected weather, gear failure – demystifies fear itself. Risk becomes something to manage, if possible, and to ulimately accept. Ethereal no longer, your fate is in your face, and the choices you make today affect outcomes that matter.
The irony, so unexpected, is that taking reasonable risks while doing something bold not only brings meaning and fulfillment, but you sleep like a baby.
Day 288 ~ MonodaysJune 29th, 2011
So this week really doesn't feature much. Pretty much the same as life at home, only more confused. Lisa is deep cleaning and organizing the boat, mysteriously making mounds of essential stuff disappear, the unspoken agreement being that if it can't find a place, it won't come along.
I spent the day grinding out deadline projects for clients whose fiscal year ends tomorrow. When what you have been caring about is weather windows, tides, and swell patterns, navigation among coral heads, shallow banks in the outer Exumas and clean water, all the excitability about web stuff is almost comical. I guess I should take it as a nice break from things that actually matter.
Lisa and the girls surprised me by walking all the way to the RV in the middle of the day. I felt so proud of them that I broke out the super secret stash of Klondike Ice Cream bars, which were met with pirana-like enthusiasm. In the heat, they wouldn't have lasted long anyway.
I was at a good stopping point, so we made din din in the RV, then meandered back to the boat with yet one more load of stuff. I just can't imagine what is in all these containers, or where they fit in the RV in the first place.
Day 287 ~ The Wheels of JusticeJune 28th, 2011
I left a voicemail for Harold, the RV park guy, to the effect of, "hey, we are back. Need another week or so of storage space while we do some projects. Call me." Based on my last conversation with Harold, something will work out. His favorite line last time was, "I don't want complicated things. I'm retired!"
To give Lisa a little more space, I brought Emma, her math book, some reading material, art supplies and the iPad along. She did really well, actually. To a kid, an 8 hour work day feels like an eternity. I have vague memories of waiting for Dad to come home so "x" fun thing could happen, and wondering if the mountains had grown in the process.
Her patience finally wore thin about 3pm, so I shuffled around in iTunes and found the audio book for Kidnapped! by Stevenson. Not quite as rich as Treasure Island, but by no means a yawn either. I managed to work while we both listened to the first 5 chapters.
Lisa reported that she took Anna and Sara to The Bean for ice cream when the heat proved just too much. Lisa is working like only a mess-manic mom can work to get things in order. In that way she's like the wheels of justice themselves.
Day 286 ~ Tackling LifeJune 27th, 2011
We were up and moving in good time. The Inn at Oriental is, or is supposed to be, a functioning business, not a kid hang out, movie dive, pancake house or pet-a-pet experience. So, reality came knocking; it was time to vacuum out the vacated rooms, strip beds, scrub showers and do all the other things that make the hospitality business so, er, engaging.
We felt that the girls should participate and learn a little of what running a mini-hotel really involves. They rose to the occasion nicely, much to our surprise, and worked well, helping Courtney vacuum and scrub.
I headed out to the RV/office, cranked up the A/C and hit the computer. The day wore on. Thunder cells developed and torrential rains came and went. By about 6pm the time had come, back to the boat, for better or worse. We drove the RV to the harbor parking lot and began the painful process of off-loading the last of our personal gear we had trucked from Alaska so many months ago. Two dinghies full, probably another 1,000lbs of stuff. Just what we need.
It was pretty stuffy aboard but, as usual, there was a nice breeze, so the "real feel" wasn't all that bad. The boat is a wreck, and Lisa feels it pretty close to home. When mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.
Day 285 ~ Sharing TraditionsJune 26th, 2011
It's Sunday and that means pancakes. Since we are camped out in the Inn's parking lot, it seemed only fair to share the bounty with our hosts. It was fun to cook in a real kitchen and the girls and company somehow found space for pounds of the product. Maybe our next business should be in the pancake line.
By the time all were eaten and the last dish dried and put away it was nearly noon. I caught up on some blogging stuff while the girls and friends headed over to the swimming pool, again. When the Accuweather.com "real feel" temperature is 102+, water, even of the chlorinated variety, sounds good.
We cranked up the A/C in the RV and crashed for another night of reality avoidance. At some point we are going to have to move off the grid and get back to boat life, "real feel" temperatures be what they may.
Day 284 ~ Local CatchJune 25th, 2011
The girls tackled their math again this morning. The moaning factor was considerably less than yesterday. Amazing how quickly "normal" changes. I dove back into the programming world, deploying an XML credit card transaction processor for a non-profit. It was sooo fun.
After a quick lunch, Courtney and Lisa took all the girls to the pool at Sailcraft Marina. I biked over when the electrons were happy at last. Chris, the cabinent door guy was there, so caught up with him and invited him over to check out or boat tomorrow.
Courtney had purchased some local shrimp, right off the boat earlier in the day. She invited us to share them, which was tough to turn down. I whipped up some tacos for the young'uns and enjoyed the considerably better fair myself.
Day 283 ~ Grinder DayJune 24th, 2011
This day has been coming for a while, what with all the friends and fun. Time to buckle down, back to lessons and back to coding. It's been several weeks since I gave any clients more than passing attention.
The first day of lessons after more than a day or two break is like pulling teeth. The girls are just sure that we made up all this math stuff for their own torture. I think we need to send them to a nice inner city school for a few days just to cement the alternatives in their little impressionable minds.
While I herded electrons around, not unlike cats, Lisa deep cleaned and organzied the RV. At one point Emma came running in, "Customers are here!" Oh yeah, we are at a functioning business (a large bed and breakfast) and the owners are away and the owner's daughter on some errands. Lisa dashed off to show the guests to their rooms and to acquaint them with the place. It's our second day here and only our third week in town and we have the run of the place.
After a quick ravioli dinner, which Anna celebrated with great fanfare, we took two huge loads of provisions and RV stuff to the boat. The water was so low that we had to use paddles just to get the dinghy away from the dock.
Day 282 ~ Planting LoveJune 23rd, 2011
So marriage involves some compromises, on paper we all know that. But when Lisa get's that look in her eye, and says, "Honey, can we stop and buy some plants", there's really not much you can say. And, when she brings a bag of dirt aboard, you just smile and say "yes dear, my what fine looking dirt you have there".
I made some breakfast while Anna and Lisa worked their way through the Lowe's Garden department. After planting the starts in new pots, we got moving and drove the remaining two hours to Oriental. It really is out there in the sticks. We pass through ghost town after ghost town, perhaps two-thirds of the old farmhouses are deserted, slowly sinking, twisting and rotting their way back to the earth from which they were hewn.
We get to the anchorage about noon and there's Day Dreamer, right where we left her. We had left the dinghy aboard as well, employing a friend's kayak to get ashore at the end. Well, they are nowhere to be found, the anchorage has even fewer boats than when we left and the dinghy dock is deserted. So we swing by the Inn at Oriental, a 12-room bed and breakfast, where our friend Courtney is covering for her parents, the owners, who have taken a week's vacation during.
A nice squall rolls in about 7pm with torrential downpours and plenty of lightning. I can't stand the separation, grab an umbrella and walk down to the waterfront to check on the boat. All's well, of course, but the scene that develops as the squall passes is one to remember. The back of the dark gray squall wall is light with surreal red sunlight, tinted with the smoke of forest fires raging to the west. The crowning touch was an electric explosion of numerous lightening bolts curving under from the base of the storm to higher elevations. Particulate matter in the smoking was ignited and the crooked bolts left trails of glowing embers which hung in the air for a few seconds then twinkled out, like the lights of a distant highrise twinkling off for a long weekend.
I return to the RV and begin the nightly bedtime routine.
Day 281 ~ The Ivory TowersJune 22nd, 2011
Lodging on the street with little breeze wasn't the best sleeping plan. About midnight, the temperature mercifully dropped and I managed to doze off. We need to move North, and fast.
In the morning, Aaron and Laura made a fabulous sourdough pancake breakfast, topped with some genuine Alaska blueberry jam we had found stashed in the RV which made for stellar start to the day.
Aaron and Laura took us on a walking tour of the University of Virginia. I didn't fully appreciate how old world this part of the new world feels. Lots of white columns and British influence. The girls loved the Rotunda building with its dome and curved walls. We then returned to make some sandwiches back at the house and then said goodbye and hit the road.
We stopped at Walmart in Petersburg for a few more items and continued on, finding a mega mall parking lot with a few cursory trees. We pulled up and parked, opening all the windows to a nice breeze. Parking lot life is a little rough around the edges with its occasional thumping soundtracks drifting by, compressors of nearby refer trucks turning on and off. Two brothers have a long and loud tailgate debate about the merits of women in general, and a few in particular. A car door slams and a auto alarm chirps for a few seconds. It's a long way from the deserted anchorages of the Exumas only a few weeks ago.
Day 280 ~ Back in the Land of PlentyJune 21st, 2011
The Lazy Dayz on the farm are just about over. The girls and Grandma Pope go for a hike in the morning while Steve, Grandpa and I work really hard sighting in a new BB gun. When we set up a pyramid of tin cans, the remnants of the World's Largest Batch of Spaghetti Sauce, the girls get interested in trying their hand at the Ruger 10/22 again.
Tearful goodbyes for the girls, and then we are finally underway, picking our way slowly through the twists and turns back, slowly, to civilization. It's amazing how far back in time you go, or forward as it is today. As we descended the Shenandoah ridgeline, the RV in low gear, ears popping, our cell phone started to chime with incoming text messages, one right after another.
We navigate our way to Costco and get a new membership. Stepping inside was like being back in Alaska, before another night of swimming lessons. One of the hallmarks of consumerism is building specific brands into your own identity. Does it really matter what kind of refried beans you prefer? But, I have to admit, it was fun seeing all the old things we enjoy and especially the heaping piles of fresh produce, strawberries and apples and grapes galore, so many of the things we lived without this winter. America really is the land of plenty.
We gassed up as well, and then continued on, just another half hour, to Aaron and Laura's house. Aaron worked for me in the programming world back in 2004 and has just graduated from Med school, moved to a new apartment, landed an internship and got married, all in the last few weeks. We were bummed about missing the wedding, but this worked out far better as we actually got to hang out and catch up with old friends and interests.
Laura pulled together a fabulous grilled chicken salad dinner while the girls listened with rapt attention to the wedding narrative and their honeymoon trip. Girls are programmed for weddings. Sometimes there's just a touch too much feminitiy around the house. What we really need is some sword play.
We topped off the evening with some fresh strawberries, circa Costco, topping off leftover wedding cake, of which Aaron and Laura still have huge quantities. The frosting is 50% butter; one can't go wrong with that.
Anna Finds Her Favorite
Anna has been pining for spinach ravioli for months and finally finds some.
Day 279 ~ Old HauntsJune 20th, 2011
Being from Alaska we forget that western civilization has existed for more than a few decades in North America. Today we hiked down to a hand-hewn log cabin which was originally built in the 1840s.
It's amazing to see the craftsmenship still ringing through, to see that quality materials invested with quality workmanship stands the test of time. The handrailing is original, solid hardwood, from trees cut on the property.
In the 1860s the family had added on and was working the valley as a farm. They had 22 horses. The Sweedlin Valley was right on the ever-moving lines between Union and Confederate forces. Cavalry from each side would routinely move through and, each time, take a few more horses. The family took to stashing their steeds in little hollows and hummocks around the property. But, to no avail. Inevitably, one horse would sense another and whinny. Two more fine working horses, the backbone of the farm, would ride off to face battle with McClellan or Lee.
We hike around a bit from the cabin, visiting the family cemetery, complete with mossy tombstones leaning this way and that. The river was too high and murky for swimming or wading. At least it wasn't raining. We did a picnic lunch on the porch of the old place and then headed back to the house for some running around in the sprinkler.
Under the expansive shade of an oak tree, with the victorian outline of a century old farm house on one side and rolling pasture studded with Angus steer on the other, we seemed a million miles away from Soufrière, St. Lucia. Soufrière, the moral low point of the Caribbean, where improvishment, corruption and resentment transcended the stunning landscape, the souls of the people and the hope of their children.
The DNA that starts a culture is amazingly sticky. The freed slaves of the islands refused to be associated with farming, no matter the pay. So, 150 years later, their children's children are living hand to mouth.
It might be fashionable to bash the Puritians for their faults and celebrate minorities for their strengths. Fashion is so easily at odds with a reality best left unsaid: attitude is everything. When you approach life with a can-do spirit your great-grandchildren rule the world, for better or worse. When you are convinced that others owe you, you endow your posterity with poverty only a few will rise to escape.
Day 278 ~ Pond fishingJune 19th, 2011
We awoke to a pastoral scene. Rippling pastures fold themselves to the valley floor. Steep ledges reach for the skyline. We do a leisurely breakfast and then head out for some fishing at the cattle pond. Not quite the transluscent waters of the tropics teaming with fish. The murky water was, maybe, a few feet deep. Bug dope kept the gnats at bay.
The girls were too excited about being with friends to focus much on fishing. In what would become a recurring pattern, Steve and I spent a hour getting everything ready for fishing, helped the girls fish for 10 minutes, sat around for an hour waiting for them to come back, and then finally gave up and spend a half hour packing all the gear back to the house and put it away. Flighty children.
The one exception, though, was Sara. She stuck to her fishing like a champ. After requesting a change from baited hooks with chedder cheese, she selected a small worm-like lure and proceeded to cast and retrieve it carefully. She was doing great, so Steve and I struck up a conversation. A few minutes passed lazily by. Then Sara lets out a yelp, and her line starts moving on its own. The rascal has hooked one. She reels it in and swings it up, glowing with pride, her second fish caught all on her own.
We mosey back to the house. After lunch we set up an array of paper targets and try and entice the girls to give shooting a fighting chance. Sorry, no contest with the dolls and dresses. Lisa gives Steve's 12 gauge a try. You go girl. We plink away for a while, then spend a half hour packing everything up.
Steve, Grandpa and I sat around under the trees cleaning guns and talking about all things manly. Funny thing, cleaning a gun by yourself is a chore, but somehow cleaning them in concert with others takes on the aura of masculine tradition. All we needed was a hound dog and a fire. "Hoppe's #9 please", "Do you have a few more wads?", "I can use the 357 wire brush when you are done" are all music to the masculine soul.
We wrapped up the evening with Lasagna and s'mores by the fire. A rain sprinkle rolled in and sent us packing. It rained most of the night, the large drops from the trees drumming on the roof of the RV as we drift off to sleep.
Day 277 ~ Seeing the PopesJune 18th, 2011
To say the night in a Pilot gas station parking lot was dismal would be generous. It was loud and lighted with the sweeping beams of 18-wheel tractors dancing about the asphalt carpet in slow motion. But, it was sleep and the dawn came hot and noisier. We were up and going fairly early, gulped down a quick bowl of cereal and got moving about 8am. The girls had breakfast on the road. The route from here should be pretty fast, giving us plenty of time to make it the Pope family farm by noon as planned.
Ah, simpletons that we are.
We didn't factor in a Budweiser truck that had forked itself into a bridge and burned into a nasty little cinder. A cinder which had to be cut into three pieces to be removed. Interstate 81 was backed up for miles and miles, a ribbon of idling trucks and cars. Having your home with you has advantages, so we stretched our legs and made lunch while creeping along at an average speed of 5 miles and hour.
Noon came and noon went. We called the Pope grandparents to let them know the situation. But otherwise, just listened to audio books and tried to enjoy the scenery which usually flies by too fast.
Eventually we were free and enjoyed a scenic drive up the Blue Ridge mountains and into the heart of West Virginia's "mountains". The roads were wonderfully tree lined in places, with rolling fields and old farm houses wrapped and sprinkled in all the right places. A magical carpet land from a time gone by. And, if you look close, you can see that time clearly has gone by. Most, or many, houses are deserted and slowly falling in on themselves. Grass is growing on the porches.
We arrived about 2:30p and met Larry and Sandra Pope, who manage the family farm which has been in the family for five generations. It's beautiful country, right from the images of a John Denver song. The Popes we know and love from Alaska, Dad, Mom and 3 girls, arrived about an hour later and all mayhem broke loose. Which was the plan, I guess. Larry generously allowed us to park the RV on their huge lawn out front so we had our home, as it were, just next door.
It rained much of the evening, but that didn't damper much of the fun. The girls played together until we pulled them apart for showers and sleep.
Dashing through dense forests of West Virgina was a nice contrast to the wavy miles of the Atlantic.
Day 276 ~ The SquallJune 17th, 2011
We should leave by noon today but, of course, that proves elusive. We do a quick breakfast, and I meet the refridge guy to get the bad news. Well, news anyway. No surprise, but it's about $2,500 to add a 12volt side to our 120 mega fridge. We'll probably wait on that one for a while.
I walk to the RV to get it road ready, tanking up on water and kicking the tires. Everything looks good, so I head over to the dinghy dock and we start moving stuff back on board our land boat. Hundreds of pounds of stuff. It's amazing, incredible, actually, how much paraphernalia is required. Ahem. I do my best to keep my mouth shut and just haul. Comments don't change anything but attitudes, and rarely for the better.
We are finally geared up. I borrow a neighbor boat's kayak to make the final trip. This allows me to leave our dinghy up and secure, instead of bouncing around on the dinghy dock for 5 days. I am just a few strokes from being home free when a nasty squall line hits. I dash the rig and get inside just as the deluge strikes with full fury.
In 2 minutes, the rain is coming down in buckets and the visibility drops to a hundred yards or so. Then the wind hits, and hard. Trash bins, bicycles, even small rocks go rolling by. I watch the boats in the harbor, ours included, hunker down and get slammed. It's surreal; I am now a spectator, aloof and distant as our home gets hammered with gusts in the 40-45 knot range in a tight anchorage. I can just make out her form in the misty, wind driven pellets as the full weight of the squall slams her back against her chain. From our vantage point she looks pinned against the rocky sea wall, but if I squint and look close, I see she is still swinging, so not aground.
The same can't be said for our neighbors. I watch with chagrin as two of our neighbors are blown aground and a third boat, running from the squall line, runs aground, then gets pummeled by a wall of wind, heeled over sideways and slid off the sand bank amid feathery wisps of wind driven spray. The two crew are hunkered down crawling about the deck trying to do something meaningful while hanging on at the same time.
In 15 minutes, it's all over. The sun comes out, the wind drops to zero. The new guy ties up to the dock, Ken from Michigan arrives to find his boat blown aground. Other boat owners arrive to check on their charges. Conversations sparkle with different perspectives on the details. I take the kayak out again and just look everything over. It appears there was nothing lost, no damage or even leaks through the hatches. And Mr. Bruce, having been set in the mud now for nearly 10 days, didn't even budge. That's a nice feeling.
We finally load up and hit the road. It feels really strange to be driving again after so long. The trees and oncoming cars move so fast!
We drive on through the afternoon and into the evening, eventually stopping for provisions in Petersburg, Virginia. With Wal-mart no longer welcoming overnighting RVs, we end up spending a restless, noisy night in the parking lot of a Pilot gas station.
Dinghy Driving Practice
Emma puts her hand to the tiller and practices her dinghy handling.
Day 275 ~ An hour in a coffee barJune 16th, 2011
We headed ashore first thing to fit the dinghy cover while the the tubes are soft from the cool morning temperatures. It only took a few minutes to get the dacron cord tightly fitted and the cover secured. It looks fantastic.
We celebrate the conclusion of project week with Swedish Pancakes, made with real socially-enabled chickens. They were fantastic. Then we take another stab at cleaning up the madness and tackle lessons. I need to do some computer stuff, so gather up the computer gear that's getting a little dusty.
Sitting in The Bean, the local version of Eagle River's Jitters, I catch up on some much needed computer work. From time to time I notice there are some flies in the room. Then, it eventually dawns on me that all the flies are near me, swirling around my arms and hair. Do I really smell that bad? I guess all the other clientele have real showers, and use them. Do I really smell like dead meat? I don't notice, but then, I guess, I wouldn't. That's not a comforting thought.
Two old guys enter; they are walking, slowly, but unassisted. I guess that means they aren't so old. A bouncy barrista about to come on duty knows one and stops to exchange pleasantries. The other guy has a dark complexion and strong accent. He is talking about a guy he knew in Boliva who worked to break the miner's union. The guy was eventually tipped off to flee in the middle of the night, narrowly escaping an assasination attempt.
"Wow", bouncy barrista spurts, "why would they want to hurt him?"
The Bolivian looks at her for a silent second, then keeps talking addressing his elderly companion, "you see, he had this network of spies working the mines..." Barrista waits just long enough to be polite, then bounces up, exclaiming to the employee for whom she is taking over, "did you see Jason's posting on Facebook?! I was so mad!"
The Bolivian continues his story to his companion, unfazed. "... the spies, see, learned they were going to wait until he was down in the mine, then the Union goons were going to shut off the air vents..."
When Bouncy pops a few cells of bubble wrap that come around the sugar cones for fun, the old guy jumps, nearly knocking over his Americano. His expression says he didn't get the joke.
The poor guy. The oblivious Bolivian. He hadn't even seen Jason's comment on Facebook.
Day 274 ~ Project Wrap-upsJune 15th, 2011
G&G were on site early and working to finish things up. Dad did a few more minor electrical tasks and then declared the job done. Well done, I a might add.
We turned all attention to the dinghy cover and, after a discouraging misplaced seam that had to be ripped out, all 22 feet of it, and redone, the fit was made. It looks great. I still have to attach a few pad-eyes and tie it all down, but the end is in sight, and it's beautiful.
G&G said their goodbyes about 1pm; we hope to catch up with them again in Florida early next year. We did a quick lunch and Lisa, Anna and Sara headed over to the James's for some sorely needed kid time. Emma and I biked around town getting parts to attach the dinghy cover and a few more items for the toilet installation. For the second time in two days, we closed down the hardware store.
Emma and I biked around for half an hour, but eventually found the little waterfront chalet that is the James residence for the summer. It's a quaint little place, tucked into a nice corner of a creek, with a large dock and huge yard. A kid's summer dream come true.
I zipped back to the boat to finish the golden flush installation and had it just about wrapped up by 8:30 when Lisa called for a pick up. It was pretty dim as we blasted back through the chop to our floating home, aglow in a full orange moon.
A Royal Flush
The addition of power toilet transforms flushing from a chore to a cool-gadget experience.
Day 273 ~ Walmart after 7 monthsJune 14th, 2011
We have a mechanic booked to work on our engines, mostly just maintenance stuff that I never seem to have time for. So, Lisa and I, enjoying our last morning alone, did a quick breakfast. My cell phone rings at 8:27, the mechanic is on the dock, ready for a pickup. We ain't in the Caribbean no more.
For three hours of he slithers around tight places, replacing a belt, fixing multiple cracked hoses, tightening other belts, changing the rescue taped hose and changing oil and filters. I keep him stocked up on tools, and do all the filling and checking of levels. Then it's an hour of scrubbing to clean all the fiberglass that has an amazing ability to attract oil and grease smudges.
G&G and crew arrive about 10:30 after a breakfast out. Then dad and I work on wrapping up the electrical system while mom cranks away on the dinghy cover.
When we first arrived, I asked someone where the nearest "real town" was. "Well, New Bern, about 45 minutes away, has a Walmart." was the reply. I understood that this was a good answer to the question, and how sad it was that the presence of big box chain store defined a community as "real". I guess that just confirms we really are a consumerist society rather than a civilization.
The day wore on, hours flying past with a million little decisions. Should we stitch the cover this way or that? Should we tie the 120volt ground into the neutral bus? Etc. It was well after 3pm when Lisa and I, wanting to take advantage of a car and kidsitters, finally got going to New Bern. In Books-A-Million, a Barnes and Noble knock-off, the help desk lady confided that there was, in fact, a used book store just a mile away.
We wound our way through some back streets and ended up at "Somewhere in Time", a small, dusty, low ceiling affair where the founder and owner, now 71, sat hunched behind his desk with a large sign that read, "cash only" The place screamed chaos and cheap thrillers, but in fact was well organized. Before long we had a stack of gems nearly three feet high piling up on the desk.
I asked about a title by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a Columbian author whose biggest hit was published in 1967. The aging owner rose slowly from his chair and shuffled over to a huge stack of books, the size of an average grade school chalkboard. He stuck out a bony finger and pointed, then dropped it a few inches. To my shock and awe, there, beneath his fingertip, was a single copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude.
We hadn't read the Cash Only sign, so ended up emptying out pockets to scrape together the necessary 88 bucks. That buys a lot of used books and is a cheap and brain-friendly alternative to a DS.
Once on to our next stop, it's difficult to describe the impact Wal-Mart has on the brain when you've been out of the country for 7 months. The shallow shine, the glare, the nuclear powered air conditioning, the fluorescent haze. For the first few seconds we have the, "ah, I am home" feeling, then we sense a sick reaction in our gut that reminds you why we left in the first place.
An hour later, emotionally exhausted, we were back in the free air of the parking lot. After a quick iPhone search, we were off to Thai Thai Seafood for a little culinary variety. The Massaman Curry with peanuts and shrimp was outstanding and the Pad Thai, was light and tasty. We headed home, expecting to find a sleepy G&G trying to stay awake while the kids ran circles around the RV. It was a pleasant surprise to find the James girls' bicycles out front and find a lively conversation and kid fun happening inside.
Lots of fun and chatter until we ride back to the dink and home under a full moon, obscured by passing puffs of clouds. We shower and put the girls down, then Lisa tries valiantly, again, to stem the flood of chaos that stems from boat projects and unparented children.
Day 272 ~ Boat ChaosJune 13th, 2011
Lisa has considerable experience living among construction. She didn't like it. Living on a boat that is torn apart, complete with saw dust and piles, is even worse. Much worse.
We managed to get lessons done, eventually, amongst the noise and distractions. We really need some boat kids, but Fidelis is locked up tight, waiting for its next owner. Max, Noah and family are zipping their way to their new home, nearer the grandparents, in Shelby, Ohio.
The girls were downcast, Lisa was touchy amid the chaos and Grandma was scrambling to complete a job that turned out to be much more difficult than she had envisioned at the start. She snipped and sewed for hours and a dinghy cover slowly took shape. Dad got the new panel on and wired; it's a beauty, all back lit with red LEDs. I tried to show Lisa, but she got distracted and never did get a look. I guess amp hours don't really get her juices flowing. Go figure.
I finally got dinner of pasta and chicken pulled together, which was happily received and devoured.
Day 271 ~ Getting a Handle on thingsJune 12th, 2011
Lisa and I should have spent the morning gazing into each other's eyes, but instead, I jumped out of bed and ripped out a toilet. Such is the way of boats.
I wanted to have the new electric head (toilet) all installed and ready to surprise the girls, but it wasn't to be. As expected, complications arose, that lead to other complications which inevitably means a trip to West Marine and more money out of the pocket. We did splurge though, and make ourselves our own tidy little Swedish pancake breakfast, complete with fresh peaches and strawberries, a real treat. We even ate them slowly.
Lisa is working overtime trying to stuff our remaining "essentials" into every nook and cranny of the boat. Seems the RV had more than we remembered, and load after load comes aboard. I don't have a clue where she is finding the room.
It got hotter and hotter. By afternoon, we headed ashore to find the kids and get a few parts and pieces. I gave our outboard, nicknamed "Nightmare", one pull and, on the second one, the pull start cord came off in my hand. Nice. Of all the times for it to happen, this had to be the best possible. We are upwind, about 50 yards from the dock. We "paddled", er drifted, down to the dock, got tied up and headed out by bike. If this breeze continues, not sure we'll be able to paddle back up wind, at least not with only two paddles.
By the time I was done finding all the right plumbing parts, it was nearly closing time. We biked back to the dinghy dock and found the girls playing with their new friends from the potluck last night, two girls aged 8 and 10. Lisa and their mom got to talking and then went on a short bike tour of the town.
Dad had some tools in the trunk of his car, so we had the top off the outboard and the coil gizmo in our hands in a few minutes. Of course, we didn't put it back together correctly the first time so had to do it all over again, this time remembering to pre-wind the cord reel several times so that the starter handle would actually retract all the way. Imagine that.
So, an hour later, we had a working dinghy again. G&G took the girls back to the RV for some microwavable pizzas. Lisa and I got home and cleaned some more! Such special times.
Day 270 ~ Spreading the NewsJune 11th, 2011
The girls insisted on cooking breakfast for grandma and grandpa. I guess we should be happy for the fact that they are growing up and becoming responsible, but the funny thing is, they still count on the cleaning fairy (Mom) to magically make everything right after a circus in the kitchen that involves remnants of cheese, copious quantities of English muffin crumbs, stray egg shells and the like.
This too shall pass.
It's time to get cracking on the dinghy cover so mom and I went ashore with a pile of the Wright Times and a roll of duct tape. With kid power, we were able to get the dinghy up on shore and painstakingly, despite breeze, bugs and cross wind, make a complete dinghy cover pattern out of newspaper. The final products was cut and taped in every sort of kindergarden fashion in hopes of attaining the tightest fit possible. It took nearly three hours of crouching and cutting, but at last was complete.
Lisa arrived in time to help us get it all unstuck and get the dink back in the water. Meanwhile, Dad was back at the boat hacking into the electrical system. When I arrived, it looked like complete mayhem, but it was all a guise for progress, as he had overcome several thorny wiring issues to make a space for the new panel.
Mom cranked away on the cover, cutting out all the pattern pieces while dad I figured out how to cut the appropriate holes out of the new door.
After nearly 5 years aboard, the Fidelis crew is moving ashore. They spent 4 years in Sailcraft Marina, just up the road, so the crew there threw a going-away potluck, complete with Bon Voyage cake, homemade desserts and, of course, some live music from the resident sailor dropout types who happen to have made it this far. Turns out two of them were professionals from a past life and the tunes sounded pretty good. Emma was keen to hear a real harmonica at work.
Sailcraft let the kids use the pool, which wrung every last ounce of energy from their poor little bodies. They may as well have been swimming in rum they were so punchy by the time we got them showered off and in the car. We dropped them off at the RV park to spend the night with G&G. It's going to be pretty lonely back at the boat this evening.
Day 269 ~ Gaining GroundJune 10th, 2011
Waking up with an engine out of commission is kind of like waking up with a toothache. About the time you are cognizant you start to feel the pain. You want to go back to sleep, to the blissful place where everything was right with the world, but you can't now. It hurts.
Best to tackle it straight away. With the Schrader valve and hose parts assembled, it should just be a matter of putting some pressure on the line and blowing the blockage back into the tank. I was kicking around how much pressure the rubber fuel line could take as I gave the first few strokes on the bicycle pump when a large bubble resonated through the tank. I pumped vigorously for another few strokes just to be sure. As soon as I removed the air line, the fuel appeared. There are advantages to having a gravity fed fuel system.
It took another half hour to get the Racor filter back in place and all the air purged, but before breakie (Aussie for breakfast) the port engine was purring like a happy kitten again. A great feeling.
After lessons, the girls headed ashore for more play with the Fidelous boys. I did some long overdue computer work until the thermometer topped out at 95 degrees. Not much you can do at that point but take a nap, if possible. It was so hot then, the only thing that made sense was ice cream. We rounded up the crew and took them to the Beans for some thing cool and tasty. The lemon ciffon ice cream was a hit.
My folks showed up about 5pm much to the girls delight. We headed back to the boat after a bit and I threw some pork chops in the pressure cooker. We gave our microwave away last month, having only used it once.
By the time the taters and chops were gone, Sara's eyes were drooping.
Day 268 ~ Baking OutJune 9th, 2011
We can last about 8 days on a water fill up, so today is the time to make another water run. We have been a little more generous on water usage this week knowing we can get decent water, cheap, or free with little hassle. Another reminder that we ain't in Kansas anymore.
One lesson we pick up on quickly is to do any heavy work in the morning, when it's cooler. So, the first run was done and in the tanks by 9am and the second wasn't too far behind. By then, the kids had just about wrapped up with lessons and chores. They headed ashore to play with Noah and Max from Fidelis. I tore out the stove to get to the port water pump, old reliable, that had finally started giving some trouble just before we left the Bahamas. It's amazing how easy it is to access the darn thing when I'm not laying on my stomach with outstretched arms up and around the fridge compressor.
A half an hour later it was done and running nicely. Not sure why I put off the $250 and 1 hour of headache living with so-so water pumps for the last 6 months. When I don't tackle problems the moment they arise, it's amazing how fast they become unnoticeable and just part of the normal landscape.
By 1pm it's 95 degrees in the shade and all motivation has drained into a corner pool of wishful thinking. There's nothing to do now but try and find some place to park with minimal skin contact, taking into consideration sweat runoff. It's ugly when Alaskans hit this kind of weather. Ugh.
Nap time calleth.
About 5pm the temperature had dropped enough to that the brain cells started working again. Got some dinner together, rice and beans again. I think the charm of white trash cooking is wearing thin. Some was eaten, but with not quite as much gusto as there was during the early, lean months. Go figure.
Day 267 ~ Selling OutJune 8th, 2011
America really is the land of plenty. We can just feel it when we step ashore and see it in the pile of stores accumulating rapidly in the kitchen and pantry. When you live here, it's just normal. But, it most certainly isn't.
We celebrated the first english muffin and, best of all, strawberries! with a breakfast of egg sandwiches and fruit salad, which included such rare sights as blueberries, and grapes that have actual bounce. The girls hoovered down pounds of this rare fair.
The boys from Fidelis, Noah and Max, invited the girls to come cast net fishing with them at 10:30am. You wouldn't believe how fast they get their morning chores, math and French done when there is a little motivation at play.
After dropping the girls off, I biked around chasing down more boat details and ordering a few key things at West Marine before their Wednesday noon deadline to make Friday's truck. Sucked it up and ordered an electric toilet for the girls. Not to mention the considerable expense, this was an unsavory sell-out.
The goal here is a simplier life; no generator, no air conditioning, live with solar and wind as much as possible. Less stuff, less complication. But the girls never really operate their manual head properly (i.e. completely) and it is pretty taxing when your arms are the diameter of a golf ball. So, I finally realized that a part of my legacy was at stake. I can be the dad who constantly harasses them about flushing issues, or I can just let it go and clean up the incumbent clogs and messes which will inevitably follow.
For reasons which are still obscure to me, I have the chance to live my dream. But with 4 other people in the mix, does that mean living the dream on my terms alone? That seemed a little bull-headed. So, as I plunked down the plastic for a push-o-matic whiz-bang gadget that I must install and maintain, I have finally come to the place where I am willing to compromise on my ideal dream and settle for the one that keeps peace in the family.
Returning home, I find out that a boat left from the inner harbor, an area protected by the town's seawall, and Lisa was anxious to move out of the chop.
As we prepped to raise the anchor, the thought ran through my head that going into a tight area with decent cross-wind and only one working engine was not necessarily the smartest move.
I lashed the dink to the port engineless side just in case we needed it. But, no worries. Lisa is the master of boat maneuvering, one engine or two, and we dropped the Bruce in just the right spot and settled down to a calmer anchorage. We're now just in front of Fidelis; the kids will be able to hollar at each other.
Spent the afternoon taking another crack at the port engine, with no success. Need a way to put more air pressure in the line to blow back the blockage, but the little air mattress foot pump just doesn't cut it.
Oriental has it all, from a boat point of view. A retired guy who made his fortune in the marine refrigeration business lives just up the street, so we had him out to give us a price to convert our high power 120v system, to a more modest, low power 12v system. Turns out the guy had done the whole cruising thing himself as well, and had many stories to tell.
The kids had spent most of the day playing ashore, so were pretty punchy by the time dinner was over. It's good to seem them go mellow after a meal, instead of spastic, as happens when they are stuck aboard for days at a time.
Day 266 ~ ReunionJune 7th, 2011
Looks like we'll be camped here for a while. Not a bad place to be stuck really, but the stuck feeling is a bit of a pill to swallow when boats are meant to move, and we've been freely nomadic for quite some time.
So, priority number one is to get our engines back in operation. Neither should be terribly difficult. Did a quick breakfast, then biked to the local Yanmar dealer who had the critical $14 hose in stock. Took the opportunity to cache a bunch of spare filters as well. Then, I visited the local bantering hardware store and West Marine for miscellaneous parts while Lisa tackled the Great Laundry Marathon. The last laundry round was May 7, save for a bucket of small stuff by hand a couple of weeks ago. The key to cutting down laundry is to not wear many clothes, that's tough to implement in civilization.
We managed to saltwater-soak just about everything at one point or another on the passage so her day was pretty ugly. With only one washer and one dryer at the local marina with Tiki Bar, she babysat them all day in a room the size of a closet, with an ice maker and vending machine pumping out warm air.
I was hanging out with the kids at the green space bordering the harbor, when Grandma and Grandpa Torkelson rolled up with their car and our RV. You can imagine the craziness. Of course Grandpa had brought treats so they had a "juice" party right then and there.
Turns out that Dad's best friend from childhood days passed away suddenly yesterday, so they are flying back for the funeral in a few hours. I guess there's never a good time to make the final exit; everyone involved seems to have other plans.
We found one last slot in the local RV park. A guy renting business space in the back said the owner, Harold, comes by once a week or so, and that we should just leave a note to have him call us. "He's really laid back, so there won't be any problem." Afterward, the guy have us 11 eggs from his own chickens that he had stashed in the fridge. "I broke one so can't sell them as a dozen; just take 'em." I offered to pay, but was turned down. I am either missing something here, sending all the wrong signals or this is the most generous micro-culture known to man.
G&G took the girls to ice cream before heading off for the airport. We do a quick leftover pretend dinner topped off with fresh strawberries and whipped cream, something we haven't seen since November. After all is said and done, we crash into bed exhausted. Lisa's tally at the end of the day was 9 loads of wash and 5 for the dryer in 10 hours.
Day 265 ~ BacktrackingJune 6th, 2011
After confirming the mozzies were home sleeping, I spent the morning hours trying to figure out what, exactly, was wrong with both engines. Port side was pretty easy to diagnose. No fuel was getting to the fuel filter. Hmmm. Been working fine for months, now what? The starboard engine was completely out of coolant. While this is an easy problem to remedy by adding coolant/water, the real issue is where is the coolant going? A visual inspection didn't find any obvious problems, so I tore up the girls bed to check the water header and its connections. All dry.
So, I added water, a full gallon and then some. As I was tapping out the funnel I heard something dribbling. Suspicious. Followed the drips up and there, hidden behind a belt, was a nice pea size hole in a coolant line. Well, that would be a problem. Spent an hour using "rescue tape", a self sealing, stretchy silicone stuff that gloms onto itself. It would probably still leak, but at least not quite so fast.
With no properly working engines, and 100 miles of motoring up narrow canals with heavy barge traffic ahead of us, it seemed that a retreat was the better part of valor, disheartening as back-tracking is. We upped anchor and motored the first hour; the starboard engine fix seemed to hold. Then, we managed to sail the rest of the way in light air.
Since we are in a shallow mud bottom, I opted for the CQR which we set with 50 feet of scope in 9 feet of water. It did feel good to come back to somewhere known. We decided to go ashore and stretch our legs so we out the bikes and loaded up. The kids were having fun riding around when it occurred to me that i we could lock the bikes up, we could leave them ashore and save the hassle of folding and loading. A call to the local store was in vain. Then Lisa thought we may have a lock already aboard. I dinghied back to retrieve it.
I had been aboard maybe 3 minutes, enough to check a few things, when I had that funny sensation of moving. I looked up, and the huge concrete bridge downwind of us was marching closer, but without a sound. The boat was turning off the wind and gaining speed toward a million ton structure that wouldn't even feel our impact. Mrs. CQR was out to lunch.
I was dumbfounded; second time in two days. I have one barely working engine, alone and drifting quickly toward the most sickening crunch a guy could imagine. Think fast.
The starboard engine fired, thankfully, and I was able to power forward enough to gain some time, and begin pulling in the worthless CQR. A couple more rounds of applying power, dashing forward to operate the windlass and dashing back to correct our course, had the CQR back aboard. If both engines were working, the operation is a piece of cake, but with one, any application of power spins the boat as much as pushes it to where you want to go. By the time the CQR was up, we were pointed the wrong way. There were a few hairy moments until I gained enough way that the steering would work and I could turn away from the bridge.
Then it was another round of dashing back and forth to drop the Bruce, which, of course, set immediately. As I watched trees and buildings ashore to make sure we truly were stationary, at last, I felt eyes on me and looked up at the bridge. A man and woman were stopped with their car flashers going, standing at the rail, watching. He gave me a look like, "dude, that was close"; what can I do but shake your head and sigh. Anchoring is what matters.
So I ask the materialist cynic: what is the statistical probability of an anchor letting go within minutes of stepping aboard after having been ashore for a couple of hours, and having just come back "for a minute" to grab something aboard.
If your mind turns to the numbers, stop reading now and walk over to the door. Pound your head against the jam while repeating, "this pain I feel is just an illusion." Since you can't prove your mother loved you, I guess she didn't.
Day 264 ~ The Great Mozzy BattleJune 5th, 2011
"Mozzy" is Aussie for mosquito. But that comes later.
I was up this morning with an itch for a boat project. We bought a remote controller for the autopilot back in Seattle, but when I went to install it some months ago, I found the plug connectors were different styles. A Raymarine guy told me, "Yeah, they do that some time to time, to force upgrades."
Thank you very much. I kept asking around and finally a really busy tech in St. Maarten spilled the beans, "Just cut the ends off and connect the wires color to color. It will work fine."
With big passages ahead at the time, I didn't want to disturb a working system, but now, threading our way along the Intra-Coastal Waterway, a remote pilot would be really handy. So today, I whipped out my nips and chopped the end of the cord off a brand new piece of electronic equipment. And did the same to the interface that talks to the big brain. Sure enough, the colors were the same. Of course, I had to strip and connect them three times before getting everything feeding through the right direction so that, in the end, the receiver would end up in the right place. Seems to always happen that way, first time, dumb mistake. Second time, fixed that one but did a more subtle one; third time's the charm.
Fired it up and, after some false starts and a quick consult with the manual (directions? who needs them!?), we were up and running.
We picked up a couple of really nice folding bikes off of craigslist, full-size ones that look and ride like real bikes, not those little kid-sized ones. We'll see how they work out. We found a spot for them aboard, so if more ICW towns are like Oriental, they are going to see plenty of use.
Anna and Sara fell in love with a little sailing dinghy we saw at a marine consignment shop yesterday. We talked it over and decided to go make an offer. When we go there, Anna was crushed to find it already sold. She cried half the way home. Tough lesson in life, but better now than later.
We finally upped anchor about 2pm. As we were manuvering the port engine died. I figured it had just stalled in low idle, so we lifted Bruce out of the thick mire, and took off on one engine. We only gain a knot of speed by running both at the same time anyway, so we just kept with one, being in no rush. After some morning showers, it turned into a nice day. The water was flat, a very light breeze was blowing (mostly headwind of our own making) and the sun popped out from time to time.
Lisa and I took the iPad up on the tramp and, with the remote in hand, navigated and steered while enjoying the scenery and solitude. The girls were listening to audio books so we had a couple hours of peace. I made some sandwiches and we were just munching through our cookies, soaking in the moment, when the starboard engine shutdown alarm went off.
Now, that gets my attention; it was an overheating alarm. I quickly shut the engine down before it did it on it's own and we were now drifting with no engines, and no wind. It's amazing how quickly the outlook turns.
I am afraid there was some yelling, but we eventually had the anchor in the shute and all the engine compartments up and secured for access. I though perhaps the throttle cable had come loose on the port side, which would be an easy fix to get us running again. However, 2 minutes later it was clear that something more nefarious was involved. Ditch that.
Starboard side coolant resevoir was empty. Hmmm. Water pump belt looks fine. Exhaust shows good water flow. Must be low coolant. I filled the resevoir and funneled some water down the fill line (opening the cap would have been a big mistake). Just as I was doing so, a breeze sprang up. We fired the engine again, turned into the wind and made all available sail. After a 2nd alarm, I put a little more water in to get the engine running again. I searched the chart for a protected anchorage and found one just a few miles ahead. We sailed for a while, then motored a bit to get in position. The engine didn't throw another alarm, so guessing that the coolant is the issue.
The spot we anchored is pretty cool, a little hole off the side of the channel, with surreal African looking trees and swamp grass in patches all around.
We did a quick dinner on the veranda while Lisa prepped the bug netting. Little did we know what lay in store. She was just securing the first of many covers when the mozzies hit. Fast and furious. We literally ran for the door and slammed it behind us, then scrambled to shut all hatches.
These suckers are fierce, and organized. When one found a way through the slightest crack, be it the track above the sliding glass door, more would immediately follow, crawling on their bellies if necessary. It was a full hour or more running around with flashlights, blue tape and fly swatters, hunting down their cracks and tunnels, stuffing and taping them shut and killing off the ones that made it through. Just when we thought we succeeded, we'd hear a squadron of buzzing from behind. Carcasses covered the floor and swarms could be seen just outside the net barrier. It was ugly; some of the ones we killed popped with a red splat.
Welcome to the swamp. As we lay in bed now, there is a constant drone, like the buzzing of a million tiny chainsaws, each intent on getting in.
Day 263 ~ Exploring the OrientJune 4th, 2011
We had an entire agenda of minor town things to do: get some stamps, a post card and visit the local historical museum. We had a quick breakfast, featuring strawberries, of course, and then headed over to the dinghy dock.
It was a pleasant walk through a town that seems stuck in time, perhaps 1960. The homes are older and most are well kept, although many are for sale. We found the local hardware -- everything -- store. It feels like Beaver Cleaver may walk through the door at any time. Every person who comes in is greeted by name, and there's generally a friendly banter between the owner, his wife and the newly appeared customer. Here's one that made me smile:
Owner: Good Morn' Tom, whatcha look'in for?
Tom: A nut.
Owner, after a millisecond pause: You are a nut.
Tom: When I need a nut, I come to a nut house.
And so on. Spare keys that don't work are returned and remade with a smile and "you can come back here and try this yourself if you want" exchanges.
We mosey over to the local 7-Eleven type place. With 5 spoons in my pocket I am itching for some Häagen-Dazs. No dice; thwarted again. We settle for ice cream sandwiches and a fruit push-up for Emma, and were charged the total without tax. When I commented that food must not be taxed, the cashier simply stated, "yeah, there is, but I decided not to include it."
We then make our way to the local historical museum, a sleepy affair with an array of miscellaneous artifacts of Oriental life, including pieces of the steamship Oriental after which the town is named. The irony of naming a town after a ship that sunk nearby takes on an ironic twist when you realize the unintended message coming through the walls of old high school basketball photo line ups and dusty tax records ledgers is: Oriental's zenith has past. Long past.
We work our way back home with our array of purchases, mess around on the blog for a couple of hours then the girls and I head back to town for some land exercise. After Sara practices her tree climbing, we mosey towards the town park. A stretch golf cart is dropping some people off at the dinghy dock. It looks like some kind of shuttle. The conversation goes like this:
"Is this some kind of community shuttle?"
"Well, no, not really, but sure, hop on, where do you want to go?"
Before we knew it we were whizzing around town on Bill's golf cart. He's also a sailor so we were talking boats after but a moment. When I realized that I had forgotten my wallet, I suggested he could just drop us off at the town park.
"No problem", he replied, "Here's 10 bucks for some ice cream."
I was, again, incredulous at the generosity. The guy picked us up, gave us a ride, and then paid for our ice cream, despite repeated refusals, and then waited for us to come back out. We thought had America has been taken over by self-absorbed materialists, but obviously our sample size was too small.
We found the park, finished munching our ice cream cones and had fun swinging and doing the roller slide. We picked our way back to the dock and returned home to some turkey soup and grilled cheese as the sun slid below the sultry treeline.
Day 262 ~ Digging the DitchJune 3rd, 2011
We had tried to call the customs office last night, but it was a few minutes after 5:00, and they had all gone home to protect their own borders, or extend them as the case may be. So we flew our "Q" flag, an all yellow ensign that signals other boats that we are still, technically, a foreign country and no contact is allowed.
We called at 8:15a and got immdiate assistance from a really nice officer who took down all our details and promised an on-site visit at 9:30 sharp. Now, this is service. No games about travel charges, no hm-hah-ing, no whining. But no dinghies either. We had to tie up to a land-based dock.
No problem, we need water, and probably some fuel as well so, after an accelerated Swedish pancake breakfast to celebrate our arrival, we upped Mr. Bruce and approached the fuel dock at the Marina. Just as we drew in, Lisa finessing our 20 ton home right into position, I saw the typical black commando style Suburban pull into the parking lot. Gotta look tough when you are tasked with busting Mexicans and Alaskan families who bring pork chops into the country with the nefarious intent of eating them, cooked.
But our fears proved unfounded. The agent was an older woman, with a nice hearty Carolina drawl and a penchant for poodles, as we learned. She waxed elequent on the benefits of boats, small dogs and kids even offered a kid-friendly recipe for quesadillas when she saw the tortillas in the fridge. And she found a receptive audience, as you can imagine.
It took another hour to clean the tanks out, take on fresh water and 53.3 gallons of diesel. The last time we filled up was April 16th in the USVIs, exactly 50 days ago. This ups our daily average from 1 liter in the Caribbean, to 1 gallon now that we are on the move. But hey, going 1,500 miles makes a small difference on our usage over, say, making 150 in the same amount of time this winter.
We cast off, finally, and motored up Adams Creek Canal, a 16 mile cut through to the Neuse River. The girls really enjoyed what amounted to motoring up a river with all manner of homes, boats and docks on both sides. Some were painted wild colors, others classic McMansions, while others were just house trailers from the 70s with makeshift roofs and verandas prominently featuring blue tarps.
It was really a lot of fun. The ICW channel is well-marked, traffic is light, and the water flat. We motored because the winds were right on the nose but exiting the north end of Adams Creek, we upped the sails and flew across the Neuse River, really an arm of Pamlico Sound, toward Oriental. Compared to motoring, it felt great to once again mount on Dacron wings and fly, fast and free, over the bay's wind-driven chop.
The chart didn't show much anchorage space, but we had heard what a great town Oriental was, so we pressed on. Sure enough, there was plenty of room right near the town's dinghy dock, complete with trash bins (no charge!) and a recycling can.
We haven't locked up the dink in many months, not since the nation states phase was past. However, now I see two bikes locked to the fence at the top of the gangway, so we unearth the padlock just to be safe. We meander towards the marina office and "General Store", which is mostly a T-shirt souvenir shop. The owner is on duty and friendly. We ask about a grocery store, only to find that it's a mile up the road or more. Walkable one way, but what do you do with 60 lbs of grocery bags on the return trip? Learned that lesson already, the hard way.
The shop owner pauses, and then, well, you'll have to read under the Vingettes section to see what happened next.
We killed the rest of the day letting the girls climb trees and run around. Sara took off and ran all the way from the dock back to the store and back again. It must feel good to be 8 and back on terra firma after a week. We took advantage of the internet service to FaceTime Grandma McCall, and of cell service to call Grandma T.
The biggest hit of the day was strawberries, at long last! We savored a few for dessert. Wow, America has it's upsides.
Day 261 ~ Ending with a GrindJune 2nd, 2011
About 4am, I sensed a change in our motion, a shift in the sound and felt a surge of speed. Wide awake in a moment, ready to roll. Somehow the alarm clock never quite did that for me.
Up on deck Lisa was on watch, snuggled into her spot with jacket wrapped around tight. A genuine Alaskan burrito, in the tropics no less.
The wind shifted to west northwest, which was dead on our beam (side), an ideal shift. It was only blowing 9-11 knots, but that's plenty. After some tuning, we were holding 7+ knots which, at our current distance out, will get us to Beaufort, North Carolina by about 5pm today, plenty of daylight. Perfect. But will they hold?
By the time I am done tweaking, the eastern horizon is brightening and there's not much point in going to bed. Lisa yawns, like a mama bear interrupted during hibernation, and pads off to bed. With this calm wind and sea state, top hatches are open again so it's pleasant below.
I enjoy a blissful hour of music and sailing, tweaking this or that, but mostly just sitting out on the tramp enjoying the motion a baby must feel if his mom is one of those intensive jogging types. The motion is fluid and smooth, but founded on an urgency that is sensed every time a new puff of wind arrives. Effortless acceleration.
I am staring off into the liquid rush when it erupts with spray, and fins. Dolphins! A pod of the largest I have ever seen, fat and fast, the large males easily topping 6 feet in length, with thick barrel torsos. Soon we are surrounded, with a set of 6, all flipper to flipper in front of and underneath our bows. They twist and turn, swimming upside down, as if the bow wave tickles their tummies. It's quite a show.
Even though Lisa had only been down for an hour, and Jeff and Tim since 3 am, I decided to wake them all. With their top hatches open, it was only a matter of lifting them, peeking in and dropping something on them, like say and empty water bottle used to prop up the top.
A plastic object hitting the arm did the trick and, before long, they were all up on deck. Lisa took a little more coaxing, but soon she was out as well. The dolpins danced along our bows for a good 15 minutes, then, as always, by some unseen signal, they all left in an instant. Gone.
The crew hung out for a while just in case, then turned, yawned and shuffled back to bed. Sara and Anna were up a while later and joined me on the tramp for an hour or so. We talk over the highlights of the passage and enjoyed watching the sun play hide and seek with the puffy runner clouds.
If only the wind would hold. By noon we had made good tracks and just needed a few more hours. By 2pm, we were within striking distance; about 3pm the wind slowly died away. Our speed dropped to 2, perhaps 3 knots, with one knot of current. At this speed, we won't make landfall until well after dark, say 10pm. We waited for a bit, then finally made the consensus decision to fire the engines and just get there. We have 15 miles to go, so about 2 hours of motoring. Not bad for a 600 mile trip.
With the wind gone, the seas flatten out quickly, and it's a nice smooth, if not tranquil, push to the finish line. We clean up the boat some and have a snack for lunch before civilization starts to creep back into every pore. Land smells, planes flying low overhead, a helicopter, boats of all shape and size converging from all sides into the narrow entrance. Wakes. More smells. It's good to be here, but also intimidating. The charts we have are conflicting and unclear. There appear to be few anchorages. Bridge heights are listed differently.
We weave our way through the entrance and approach our first fixed bridge, exactly 96 hours after our Abacos departure. One of the important decisions that went into selecting this particular boat was that its mast height is "ICW compliant", meaning it will fit under the standard bridge height of 62 feet. Or is it 65 feet? No one really seems to know. It appears to have been 65 feet, but since many of the bridges were built over swamps and mires, they are settling at inconsistent rates. So, some 65s are now 62s, or less. One is never quite sure.
I had thought we would approach the first bridge really carefully, but there was an incoming tidal current sweeping under the bridge like a river. Lisa backs off the engines but we are still cooking. This is going to be all or nothing, it appears. From a distance it looks fine, but the closer we get the nearer it looks. Kind of like that little lie in college you thought you could get away with. It seemed like a no brainer.
Confidence is only as valuable as the substance in which it is based and we were about to find out, with finality of faith, that my measurements, tri-angulations and number crunching were, in fact, correct. As we approached at what felt like breakneck speeds, we held a collective breath. The VHF antenna that extends about 24" above the mast itself whips under the first massive concrete beam with inches to spare.
We thread our way through a few more channel markers and turns, finally setting the hook near Town Creak Marina, in Beaufort, North Carolina. Back in the old US of A.
Take our newfound appreciation for law and order, a judicial branch with presumed integrity, clean water everywhere, trash collection systems and dump it into a pot with our disgust for rampant consumerism, brandism, blingism and bullyism. Mix them all together, drink it down and decide, as if for the first time, if this newly blended cocktail is in fact worth swallowing.
5pm yesterday to 5pm today: 115.02nm
Average speed: 4.79 knots
06/02/2011 07:47:03 AKDT
06/02/2011 12:14:40 AKDT
06/02/2011 13:09:03 AKDT
Day 260 ~ Fickle SeasJune 1st, 2011
The early morning hours saw the winds tempering some, down to 14-16 from highs of 23 last night. Distant lightning punctuated the early morning hours, casting electric light over the oily surface of the sea, sinewy and black under the moonless sky.
With real wind in our sails we're now flying. Sleep down below is difficult due to the water rushing past and closed hatches, shut off to keep out the occasional wave or deluge of spray. Even though the the motion is not too bad, we are occasionally hit under the bridge deck with a wave that sounds like a bomb going off. The boys and I stayed up in the cockpit most of the night listening to John Krakauer's Into Thin Air; the austear surroundings added a new layer of intimacy to the tale.
I finally dove below for a couple hours of sleep and returned on deck just before dawn. The winds were still piping, but now the seas were building and, in a matter of the time between 4am and sunrise, the sea state electrified.
Everyone I have talked to about sailling this route has said the same thing, "stay out of the gulf stream if the winds have any northerly component to them". We now had brisk wind from the Northeast, flying directly into the teeth of the Northeast running current. The results were, as forewarned, steep choppy seas.
I came on deck about 6am to find a regular army of metallic swells marching towards us on the starboard quarter. We were regularly flying off of swells and landing with tremendous quantities of spray. I ducked below to use the facilities and heard a thunderous crash accompanied by hollering and the sound of gear and water rushing about the cockpit. I came up to find mayhem, clothespins everywhere, sopping towels and water streaming down through the slated cockpit floor taking all manner of minor minutia with it. Stuff was strewn about, wet throw pillows, towels and a very wet Jeff was standing in awe of what just happened. A wave crossways to the train has just given us a nice slap on the side and graced us with a hundred gallon dousing. The landscape light top was missing and the flying fish we had found on deck and planned to rig for bait was gone, save for a few oily scales. In the ensuing confusion a 5 gallon empty water tote was caught by the wind and taken overboard as well. Ouch.
One of the advantages of paralleling the coast is its multiple bailout points. The Into Thin Air side of me wanted to charge on! to the north. But with the kids on board, there wasn't much choice. A quick click to turn off the autopilot and helm to leeward was the easy solution. In 20 seconds, the noise and motion settled into a quiet roll. Ahhh, much better. We're headed now for Cape Fear, near Southport, North Carolina, nearly 200 miles short of our target.
Another 30 minutes went by and the wind had slackened and the sea settled down considerably, so we turned back towards Cape Hattaras and settled into the new rhythm. The winds slowly faded away. It's amazing how fast the seas flatten out as well; within 10 minutes we could feel the change and a half hour later we were ghosting along in near lake-like conditions. This being the third day, everyone is feeling better and life feels more 'normal' again. The third day really is the charm.
By noon we were glad to make 2 knots under sail. Late in the afternoon Tim spotted a shape on the horizon which appeared to be a large ship bearing directly for us. The AIS confirmed that the Zim San Fransico, at 902 feet, was chugging toward us at 19.2 knots and due to pass us within 300 yards. The wind speed was .4 knots. That's right, point 4. Not enough for manuvering, so we reluctantly fired up the starboard engine, and turned downwind. I hailed the captain on the radio and confirmed he had a visual on us. We agreed to pass starboard to starboard.
Got on the web with the BGAN satellite system and downloaded a fresh weather forecast. We should have wind this evening and tomorrow until mid-day, dissipating by afternoon. Not sure it will be enough to get us there without burning hydrocarbons.
5pm yesterday to 5pm today: 122.51 nm
Average speed: 5.1 knots
06/01/2011 07:52:50 AKDT
06/01/2011 13:40:40 AKDT
06/01/2011 22:07:58 AKDT
The Sun Also Rises
It was a wild night that saw boarding seas strip us of our single catch and some light gear.
The Morning After
Using the wind like satellites use the sun, we escaped the thunder cell's electric fingers.
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