Buddy Blog Highlights
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Day 1228 ~ Treadmills
Normal day at the office. Phones ringing under flourescent glare. I am realizing more and more that I am just not used to building air. All rooms seem stuffy, suffocating. I smell things I didn't used to notice.
Back at the pad I treat myself to a small portion of smoked salmon and blueberries, Alaskan treats that taste amazingly wonderful after years without. Then I just feel the need to get out and take a walk. It's a warm evening, perhaps 42 degrees F. I instinctively walk towards the water and then turn left on a sidewalk that parallels the shoreline. The tide is out, way out. Even with a moonless night, the water ripples are defined by the reflections of lights from Douglas Island, a mile away. It's beautiful. It's home.
The walk is invigorating. I look to the right and squint to make out what my eyes seem to be showing me. There, across a wide thoroughfare, is the Alaska Club gym. At 10pm, like me, another guy is walking, but he is striding on a treadmill, clearly perspiring, with a towel around his neck. He's pacing out steps surrounded by other sweaty people in a world that never changes, guided, as it were, by a light as artificial as those above him. He's walking, I'm walking. The motions are the same. The effort is the same, but he's going nowhere, staring ahead in a daze at the back of the guy in front of him while, just 30 yards away, the air is crisp and clear, the smell of the sea is alive and the scenery changes with each step. In addition, this poor guy is paying for the priviledge of using the treadmill.
I stop and study the scene for a long moment. A subaru zips past. It occurs to me that the only thing keeping this guy in his plastic cage is fear. The small risk it might take to expose himself to the cold, the dark and the unknown freedom.
Back in Lisa's world, it was more of the same. Lessons and the girls helped her empty Nika's room so she could wash walls and deep clean. Got rid of a bag full of stuff.
Day 1063 ~ A Blip on the Radar
A new low pressure system has formed south of the Cape Verde islands off the west coast of Africa. It's barely 12 hours old and already has a 30% chance of full cyclone development. Because of its location far to the south, this one actually has the chance of staying south and T-boning us here in Grenada/SVG. Needless to say, we'll be watching it closely.
A couple boats pulled out so we and What If moved closer to shore to gain more protection from the swell coming around the headland to the north.
Waited for the dive boats to vacate the buoy at the Purini gunboat wreck site. We dropped quickly to 37 feet and flippered around for about 15 minutes just as the current was kicking in. While it was hard to distinguish many parts of the ship, the stern section, boiler and windlass were still visible. There were several large schools of fish hanging around and numerous smaller groupings tucked into every corner. As we made our initial approach, the largest mutton snapper I have ever seen, about 3 feet long, ghosted around corner and out of sight into the haze.
As we came up, a local dive shop boat stopped by to inform us that the dive site is in the park so we must have permission to dive there (we think permission means to just hire a local guide to take you). Ok, whatever.
We got our gear off and up into the dinghy as they were throbbing away in a cloud of smoke. I grabbed the motor's pull cord and just about ripped my wrist off. It had completely seized. Having replaced the line a couple of years ago, I know how the mechanism works. Taking off the cover, I worked the wheel by hand attempting to unspool or respool. Nada. It was incredibly stiff.
Here's where the self criticism comes in. The cord jammed about 10 days ago; the line's casing had chafed through and created a wad jamming the works. Of course, proper cruising practice would have been to replace the line right then and there. I was at the boat, I had all my tools, we were in a flat calm anchorage.
But no, it was warm, it was later afternoon, it was time for a swim. I picked the wad of jammed line free, trimmed the cover back a few feet and went for a swim, promptly forgetting about the problem.
Each morning, I would see a flash of reminder as the pull cord, now just really the core of original line, streaked out and then back in as the engine fired on the first pull over and over. Then, it was again forgotten.
Now, in the fashion of the sea since time immemorial, having failed to heed the first fair warning, we were in trouble. Actually, we came within 10 seconds of serious trouble. As the cord felt like it was jerking my fingers out of their socket, Lisa was untying the painter from dive mooring.
After the initial shock of my hand going numb by some undeserved grace, I had the presence of mind to immediately yell, "Don't let go of that mooring!"
Lisa's hands froze. Another 8 seconds and we would have been drifting free in rapidly building current sweeping us west. Next stop, Bonaire, 389 nautical miles out.
We had no radio, no sunshade, no GPS, no food, not even a dry thread of clothing. And we had just used 80% of our 2 liters of water rinsing the salt off our hair and faces. Of course, we used to keep a radio in the dinghy and we usually have some water. Over time, day after day of reliable operation just numbs one to reality. The dinghy really is the single most dangerous part of cruising, following apathy.
But today wasn't going to be the start of some dramatic chapter. I re-tied us onto the mooring and we hunkered in for a sit-in. One of the benefits of buddy boating is that eventually Dean or Kris, safely anchored on their floating home a half mile away would set down their book and remark, "hmm, shouldn't Peter and Lisa be back by now?"
Of course, that might be an hour or two, or three. The sun beat down. This was the first day in a month I hadn't put sunscreen on as aftershave. No clue why. I arranged flippers over body parts, and sat with the least skin exposed. Lisa, who had sunscreen, remained standing in the dinghy in hopes of attracting attention our way since you rarely see anyone standing in a small boat.
After 20 minutes or so, we saw a catamaran sailing in our general direction. After a while we could see it was a French charter boat from Le Marin, Martinique. It was loaded with the usual complement of white tourists all standing on deck watching Mayreau slide by. Surely they would see us.
As they came into the range where one could distinguish men from women, I used my yellow flippers to make a beckoning gesture. I pantomimed the broken engine. Its cover was off, surely that would be obvious.
They altered course about 15 degrees, away from us. We were incredulous. It's difficult to imagine a fellow cruiser, well aware of the dinghy risks, not immediately grasping the situation. But these poor souls were 48 hours out of the cubicle and probably saw us as a strange aberation to be avoided.
Even on their new course, they were going to pass by fairly close. When they were about 200 yards away, I started fresh with my best game of charades. Pulling at the cord in exaggerated, mock futility. Putting the motor cover on, off and over my head.
Finally, excruciatingly slowly, the light bulb must have dawned. No, these aren't male and female pirates in some elaborate trick complete with lime green dive tanks. These are humans.
They turned upwind and doused their main sail, then manuvered to within easy shouting distance. Lisa's mastery of French came in pretty handy as she explained the situation. Eventually, not able to hail What If on the VHF themselves, they pulled along side so Lisa could scramble aboard and try.
Dean buzzed over a minute later and towed us back to the boat. The rest of the afternoon saw me ripping the top off the dinghy motor. There's a coil spring inside; it's about 12 feet long, and serves to retract the pull cord after each stroke. It is delicately placed and, at one point, expoded out of the spindle flipping greasy sharp edged metal all over my person and the cockpit. "Girls, it's time to leave, this is going to get messy."
With Lisa's help, I was able to get the snake back in the bag, and, eventually, all the little pieces and parts cleaned, lubricated and reassembled. There was even some sand in there. Now I wonder where that came from?
Tried to Skype some friends and FaceTime gramma, but the connection, which seemed strong, just wasn't enough.
Day 996 ~ Dodging the Bureaucratic Bullet
There was a hazy cover this morning, so I took the rare opportunity of cooler temperatures, unaccompanied by rain, to tackle some long deferred exterior caulking.
We had larger plans for the day, larger as in leaving St. Lucia. Poor Lisa has had about all she can take of the place, rude people and thumping beach music included. So, I grabbed a few mouthfuls of Weetabix, buzzed to the dinghy dock and hopped a bus a minute later, exiting at Do-It Hardware. The goal was to acquire some raw material (3/16" plywood) for another hatch rain deflection concept. This will be Round Two as the first design was only partially effective. (Hint: 'partially' effective means you and your bed will be drenched when the tropics get serious about rain).
The lumber yard went smoothly, although I raised a few eyebrows while slicing up a brand new sheet of plywood with a razor knife. The bus ride back with four various shaped splintery sheets went reasonably smooth, but I didn't exactly blend in with the local crowd.
I swung into Island Water World for a few last items, then dashed over to Customs to checkout before they closed at noon for lunch. I walked through the door at 11:54am only to be met with a scowl, "We're closed, can't you read the sign on the door?"
Now this was a critical moment. The novice cruiser, say one who grew up in a responsibility minded society would have mentioned that, yes, I saw the sign that said you closed at noon for lunch, and that it's not currently noon, as shown on your own large clock hanging right behind your head.
That would be a terrible mistake. A comment like that breaks several unwritten laws of the Caribbean, the first being never, ever, under any circumstances, do you contradict a representative of the Government. The second being that any kind of American-driven, get-'er-done now attitude immediately results in passive-resistant behavior on the part of the pressuree. Pressure backfires and you don't pick fights with people who wear uniforms or those who determine your departure success. Both were hammered into my head, so I did the "natural" thing and replied calmly, "No problem, I'll come back after lunch."
"That's at 1:30.", he stated with emphasis.
I recognized the dulled gaze and pale complexion. This guy was obviously on the falling side of a nasty sugar low. I mean he had been working so hard all morning in the air conditioned office pushing forms around. Imagine the stress.
So much for our 2pm departure plan. We need boat papers to leave and they will also get us duty-free fuel. Returned to our boat at 1pm to drop off my goods, grab a quick bite and kill the rest of the half hour.
Meanwhile, back at the boat, Lisa reported increased jet ski activity around the bay, and our boat (two young boys in particular kept circling). Colored umbrellas and lawn chairs appeared up and down the beach. The Port Authority brought the answer. They came by in their pilot boat to invite us to the regatta this weekend and mention that the small kid-size boats would be racing right where we're anchored. Regattas mean activity and a reason to crank up the volume everywhere and all through the night. All the more reason to get outta Dodge.
Back in the dinghy again and to Customs, again. It is nice to have the outboard running like a champ again.
I now see why he didn't want me to eat into his lunch break. St. Lucia requires boaters to fill out the exact same paperwork in triplicate as they did for checking in. That's right, every boat detail again, every registration address, every passport number, every passport issue date, etc. EXACTLY as you did on check-in, except this time you check the little box at the top next to the words, "Clearing Out". Is it possible to conceive of a more mind numbing process?
I knew better than to say a word. Twenty minutes later, I was back at the boat again. Lisa and the girls had the boat ready to roll, bumpers out and awnings in. After fighting some kind of underwater obstruction for a few minutes, the chain ran free and we soon welcomed Bruce back into the family.
St. Lucia does have at least one redeeming value, the IGY fuel dock. It's huge, properly done and, at this time of year, virtually empty the entire day. It has a straight upwind approach, and a huge turning area to the south. Tough to beat. Our last fuel was taken on in St. Maarten in February, so after three and a half months, we are about due for a top-up.
In typical island fashion, Lisa held station by the dock for a few minutes but no help appeared. A passing cruiser caught our lines and tied us off. Nina had done a great job with the bumpers.
The port tank took 66 litres of fuel but when I went to remove the starboard cap, I was mystified to find it just wouldn't turn. I applied more and more elbow grease to zero effect. Baffled. The fuel caps had never been a problem before, usually turning in and out smoothly (lubed no doubt by some stray diesel droplets).
Not this time. After 10 minutes of straining, and trying desperately *not* to strip out the edges of the screw head, it was clear she wasn't going to budge. Now what?
Normally, fuel docks don't like you hanging around. The idea is to get in, fill up, pay and move on so they can serve the next customer. Two months ago, and we would have been told to suck it up, leave and fix our own problems on our own time. However, in June it's another matter. The fuel attendant came aboard and helped by standing on the winch handle while I cranked, but to no avail.
We scratched our heads for awhile, then I remembered I had a tap set aboard. In 15 minutes I had drilled and tapped two 8mm bolt holds into the aluminum cap. Thank goodness it was aluminum and not steel. With two studs in place, we had some serious leverage, but she still wouldn't budge. I switched from the monster Craftsman screwdriver to the biggest baddest winch handle we have, a massive double handled Barlow.
With the fuel guy standing on it and cranking my hardest while the 8mm bolts started to fold into the aluminum material which inprisioned them, we finally heard the first pop. Incredibly, beyond all comprehension, the resistance continued for a full 270 degrees. It took all my effort on a lever nearly 18" long to get the cap to turn again. The bolts eventually started to twist out, so I had to reinforce them with nuts to broaden their base against the cap.
At last, probably 40 minutes into the contest, the mutilated cap spun free. Jeepers, can't a guy just get some gas? It's a boat man, and things just don't work that way.
Is this another sign that we're not supposed to leave?
Finally checked out, filled up and paid out, we departed from the marina at 4:23p and then left Rodney Bay. We were free, at last.
Calculations with both engines running full bore would put us into Saint Anne at 7:30p, 8:30p if we sailed. In addition to the wind being a bit too far forward, we were bucking a 2 knot current. This just didn't feel right. The Customs delay, the anchor chain being tangled, the fuel cap that wouldn't come off and now we are headed for a anchoring experiment in the dark. At the start of the trip I would have dismissed all these setbacks and muscled forward. Call it experience, superstition or good judgment. Whatever the reason, real men admit their defeats and do the smart thing. We tacked 180 degrees and headed back to the Noisy Jetski-Blaring Music Land that is Rodney Bay.
Being cruisers, time is on our side. There's always tomorrow.
Day 981 ~ Deluge
Awakened to rain pelting my brain. The time was 2:20am. I have these re-occurring dreams about life on land. I don't miss land, mostly, but this vision of hearing rain pounding on the roof, of yawning, rolling over and going back to sleep just keeps popping up. Maybe someday it will come true.
But not today. Today, er, this morning, Lisa and I shot out of bed like sardines from a tin. We placed buckets, set the rain deflectors to direct the flow to our tanks, took in the laundry, shut and locked 9 hatches, set out the plants and, in general, tightened our floating home into a rain resistant plastic tent.
Our tanks were quickly topped off, so we had to watch in sadness as gallons of liquid diamonds, fresh and clean, silently rippled off the back into the big salt.
Time has flown by and it's already the end of the month. Our friend and her two kids from Alaska fly in Tuesday morning so we must think about actually getting to St Lucia to pick her up. We upped the anchor and motor-sailed the three miles due north to Fort de France, the largest city on Martinique complete with 1830s fortifications.
As soon as we pulled our hook, we sailed head-on into a squall with 30 knots and driving rain. It didn't last long, but kept things interesting for a few minutes.
After backing down hard on the anchor again, Lisa and I dinghied to town to stock up on the few items which are cheaper in French territory than in the ex-British holdings. Namely, butter, milk, canned tomatoes and canned beans. Imagine that, canned red beans (ideal for chili) that contain beans, water and salt. No chemicals, no preservatives, no gums, no sorbates. How do they do it?
As we stepped into the immaculate, manicured waterfront complete with stainless metal rings for locking your dinghy we noticed a distinct lack of people. Most stores appeared to be closed. No wait, they all were. This was not your standard three hour lunch break either, every single one, including bars, restaurants, bakeries and coffee shops, was locked down tight; these poor people must be suffering severe baguette withdrawal. We finally did find someone to ask, a tourist from St Martin waiting for her reduced schedule bus. Turns out to be the holiday to celebrate the emancipation of the slaves.
So, we moved for nothing. No check out possible, no provisions and no internet. Sometimes there's no point in fighting the Euro + Carib work ethic. May as well relax and enjoy the scenery.
Rained most of the day, on and off. About 7pm the humidity dropped and it just felt like the rain was past. We'll see. All told I believe we had 4+ inches of rain in the last 16 hours. Would have filled the dinghy to overflowing more than once.
After a year of procrastination, we have finally collated, combined and crunched out Actual Cruising Costs. We were a bit surprised, actually.
Day 950 ~ Happy Ears
The day broke sunny and noticeably dryer. Did the traditional Swedish pancakes for a start and then Lisa and I headed out for a dive. The sunlight promised better colors and delivered. My ears cooperated nearly perfectly this time. The drop to 30 feet went fast with only a couple of painful points but which were quickly cleared.
In the end it was the chill that finally drove us back to the surface. The top 5 feet of water is fairly warm, but below that it's 78 degrees which eventually takes a toll.
After we were back and the gear was washed down I took the girls over to the beach for a little off-boat time. If they don't get some exercise, particularly Nika, things get a little crazy in the confined boat space. Energy begins to radiate out of every pore. Energy I so desperately need.
We were just puttering around the starboard stern when I noticed Lisa gesturing rapidly towards the water, our yellow life ring in her hand ready to throw.
She had been working inside and heard a cry that sounded like, "Papa!" pause, "Papa!!" over and over, each time sounding more panicky. She had headed out and spotted swimmer bobbing around. When she saw Lisa she cried out, Fatigué! Fatigué!" (Tired! Tired!). A snorkeler who was nearby swam over and took her arm, saving Lisa the clothed plunge into the velvet blue.
It was at this point when I puttered, clueless, around the corner. Piecing it altogether, I zipped over and pulled up alongside the poor lady. She was perhaps 40 and sheet white with a scared puppy dog look in her eye. She let go of the other guy and did her best wet-kitten on a log scramble to get in the dinghy, nails and all. Even with practice, that's not a graceful undertaking, so she quickly stalled one-third of the way up, but a lift to her arms was all it took and she was aboard and shaking. "Merci, merci," was about all she could say. Cold, tired and cramping a good 50 yards from shore is not a nice place to be.
We went back to the boat and got her a towel which was received gratefully, then we dropped her off at the beach. Her husband hadn't heard anything and received her with a curious look which soon turned sober as she poured out her story.
Just about finished reading the girls the Lord of the Rings. I thought of stopping for the day right as Frodo decided that wanting to keep the ring was a good idea. You'd have thought there was a labor strike.
Day 949 ~ Continental Careers
Rain, rain, rain. Wind. More rain. Sad to see all that water go straight into the sea, but we topped off our water tanks in the first 20 minute downpour which hit just after midnight. With no more storage capacity, all we could do is watch it run overboard and imagine the possibilities. Cruisers harbor many an irrational fantasy about endless fresh water.
We spent our last Euros yesterday. Today is Saturday and most of the stores close at noon. The nearest bank is likely 50 km away in Basseterre and the only ATM is inside the nearest La Poste lobby which may or may not be close and may or may not be open on a weekend, French unionized workers being what they are.
At 11am, Lisa and I decided to go for it because Sunday even less is open and for sure not the post office. We dinghied to the grocery store complex where Lisa asked directions and we started off. Periodically, we'd ask a local to be sure we were on the right track to which they'd respond, "under the mango tree", "center of town", "straight ahead" or "a little farther".
We have learned that a "little farther" can mean many miles to those that own and use cars routinely. Things like, "the grocery is just over the hill" translated means, "the grocery is up this huge hill, up and down some smaller ones, 3 miles ahead." This might be 4 minutes in a car, but is an hour plus walking. Oh, and then you have to carry the groceries back.
The locals were unanimous though, La Poste was open on Saturday, at least until 'midi' (noon). We have learned by now that all French careers are actually part-time. What matters is wine, food and Facebook, in that order.
Eventually, we spotted the tell-tale yellow oval La Poste sign poking out of a building. To our relief it was, in fact, open until 12pm, as it is every day except Sunday. That's right, the Post Office in this town is open until noon six days a week. That 6th day must have been a hard won concession by management. I mean, c'mon, they open at 7:30 every morning and by noon the toiling air conditioned workers have been at it for, well, 4 and a half hours. No wine or Facebook for 270 consecutive minutes!
A strike is probably pending.
Stepping outside, a rain cloud let loose so we dodged under the awning until it passed. Looking up we noticed the world's largest mango tree. Just like the lady had said. Unfortunately they are still far to green to pick. We stopped at a local market selling produce, hit both grocery stores and the bakery between rain bursts and amazingly managed to get back to our boat relatively dry.
I wanted to polish off the last half of our dive tank today in order to take advantage of the 4 Euro refills here at Pigeon Island (they charge 8 and 15 Euros in the Saintes), but it rained all the rest of the afternoon and into the evening. Tough to get motivated. Yes, I know that rain doesn't affect someone at the bottom of the sea but, let's face it, the flat light makes for blah diving and lower than usual Caribbean motivation.
Did dinner and before dessert Lisa got the urge to clean out the under-cockpit-floor nastiness and fruit fly birthing center. Rain tends to feed the feminine spring-cleaning instinct which Lisa happens to hold in spades. She wouldn't last long in a La Poste career. I mean, think how bad all the rest of the workers would look?
Day 872 ~ Business Deals
Once a month the Time Out Boatyard hosts a Saturday morning flea market. It sounded interesting, so we made plans to meet Samantha there. At the last minute, the girls decided to make some sea glass jewelry to sell. I was a bit skeptical, but kept my cynical thoughts to myself while they bustled around making display panels and twisting wire. I even helped set the prices, which is always a tricky point.
It's a bit of a dingy slog from the Simpson Bay through the bridge, through the lagoon and all the way to the French side but our outboard ran like a top and we skimmed our way there like a purple streak of wet lightening, throwing up occasional blasts of spray. Nika, ever the power toy fiend, sat at the very front, her nose in the wind like a hound with flowing long blond hair, smiling from ear to ear.
The Time Out Boat yard is everything that Bobby's Megayard is not. Expensive, no. Organized, no. Tidy, no. Clean by boat yard standards, hardly. They don't even make a pretense of keeping the weeds at bay. You can tell how much attention a boat has received based on the flora exploding out from around each hull. There are literally mastless, rusted out hulls lying askew that one must walk around to get places. Some real jewels. Each someone's dream turned inside out, gone sour and probably willfully forgotten.
The Time Out Boat yard is very, very French and very, very busy. As we approached there was already a huge flotilla of dingies crammed on to every available inch of dock space. I had to tie like three layers out. This was a good sign.
And deals were going down. I met the guy who wanted my marine speakers right away and soon had $50 in hand. Lisa setup her displays with Samantha on a large sheet and enjoyed some mom-to-mom visiting. The girls arranged their jewelry in earnest debating where to put what. I zipped off and pocketed some amazing minor deals, solid bronze check valve, $2 instead of $22. LED lights, 3 for $20 bucks instead fo $24.95 each. Lots of little minor parts of various flavors. If one was outfitting a boat, you could find just about everything you needed, perhaps not in perfect condition, but here. A boat junkies dream.
As I was moving back down the main strip towards our crew, I noticed a lady coming towards me that was sporting a sea glass necklace which looked strikingly familiar. My heart lept for those girls who had worked so hard all evening and morning. As I approached they went ecstatic -- "Papa, papa we have sold $18 dollars worth of jewelry!" It's like free money. Before the day was out they had pulled in $27. Nina immediately translates that into "loaves of bread I didn't have to bake", which came out to something like 12.
Back aboard, Lisa tackled still more cleaning in afternoon. I took the girls to the beach to play with Samantha and Evenstar so Lisa could work in peace.
Day 803 ~ Night of the Howling Banshees
James proves right, hand steering is the only way. The focus and energy required quickly tire the driver into a fatigue that leads to reduced response times and a potentially disastrous error. So, we keep the watch change going. By 5am, every stitch of cotton pants I own is saturated with sea water and I am on my second pair of underwear and third shirt. My foulies are completely sopped inside and out. When the call comes at 4:45am for a changeover, I am snuggled down under double comforters, my toes just starting to regain feeling. But I am up and out in a moment and sliding into soggy, freezing garments, again.
This proved to be the pattern of what we now call the "Night of the Howling Banshee". It was a week-long night, 7 Monday mornings in a row, 2 hours apart, each one greeted with a transition from blessed warmth to freezing clammy. And then suddenly you are ON, desperately keeping the boat in balance, surfing the crests, dancing around their tops and running down waves the size of parking garages, one after another.
But you notice some changes now in yourself. By the 5th cycle, your hands are benefiting from muscle memory and move quickly and confidently of their own accord. Your mind, cleared of the basics, starts to recognize patterns in the waves and anticipates the next needed move before there are any outward clues of what it should be.
You feel yourself being promoted from desperate defender to able competitor to master of the high seas. I see a triangle top coming and instinctively know it will decay before striking, but its follower is a factor. My hands wheel the helm to port in anticipation of this coming crest. It develops right off the starboard stern, lifting the boat effortlessly. But this time I am ready. With a flick of the wrist I wheel the boat around its top and then back over while squaring off the stern for an arrow straight surf ride out the back side. There have been some misses, but I nail this one and enjoy a long, long ride down the giant's watery back.
Boat speed leaps forward, matching the speed of the decaying water wall beneath. But this one keeps going and going. I feel a slight sag and heave as this wave hands us forward to the preceding one as a runner passes a baton. This double whammy gives our speed a new kick as this wave rises under the boat. My fingers are doing the thinking as they make numerous 1/2" helm corrections port and starboard to keep our craft dead centered on the tracks of the outward run. A rush floods my brain as the boat speed goes off the charts. I see foam flashing past in the moonlight at a car-like blur.
A few moments later, James pokes his head out the door, "That was INSANE! I just saw 20.9 knots on the GPS!" (about 24mph). If we had water skis and a death wish, it could have worked.
I am sure the night has lasted forever and a day. Each watch hand-off tentatively reports improved conditions but then is beset with higher winds and growing seas.
About 4am, I awake to a new shriek in the rigging and a headlong rush of acceleration. In the darkness of the room, I am convinced that I am trapped in a barrel that is sliding down an icy mountain. I stumble upstairs in a daze and find James and Steven on edge as the wind meter tops out in the mid-40s. That's "apparent" wind, meaning wind the boat can measure. True wind is the apparent wind + boat speed, which is somewhere between 12-14 knots. The gust passes and settles in at 38 knots for the time being.
Finally, I am called up at 5am and there is a lightness in the sky to the southeast. Heavy cloud cover obscures most of the sunrise, but eventually it's clear that the light is winning. In the dim haze I pick out two huge triangle waves coming our way. I execute the standard crest-dodge-move-turn away, and then arc back under its breaker only to run nearly headlong into this guy's twin. I completely bury the front half of the starboard hull into the breaking melée. The noise is tremendous and several hundred gallons come aboard sloshing over our waists and disappearing through the cockpit floor.
The next moment I look forward and see something amiss. Sea Pearl, our sailing dingy is askew. That last impact ripped her forward ratchet strap off and now she is wobbling around, secured mostly by her painter that is lashed to the shroud fitting. There's nothing to do, but go forward and deal with it.
Being careful to tether in the whole way, I get up on the tramp and see more damage. The portlight cover on the starboard bow is torn to shreds. I quickly run a new ratchet strap over Sea Pearls back and crank it down tightly. It's a surreal place here, forward. There's a trememdous amount of salt in the air and the ions are tickling your brain while the sun sparkles off the wet deck and fittings. Everywhere you look large indigo swells crown with white triangle tops which break with a growling roar. The boat's acceleration down the wave faces give you that carnival ride sensation. It's glorious really, beautiful beyond words. So this is how it feels to space walk, tethered to your ship by a single white line. You feel your full vulnerability as a little speck in a huge, gorgeous and hostile universe. A world that would swallow you without a trace just as soon as look at you. You feel the rise and flow this ocean machine under your knees and know to the core of your sould that she is your only connection to the world of men.
Jeff takes over and steers for nearly and hour and a half while I make some oatmeal and eggs for the starving. At the next watch change, about 8:30a, we sense conditions moderating and believe the autopilot might be able to handle things. We try it, but Steven decides to hand steer for a couple of hours to be on the safe side.
The air is warming, and the wind and seas moderating by the hour. Steven finally punches the Auto button at about 11am and we all get a much needed breather. We sit around shell-shocked and senseless. James finally decrees that he is hungry and happy to cook, but when we look in the galley there's not a square foot of bare floor. It's a spaghetti tangle of kitchen implements, broken dishes, smashed sand dollars and pumpkin goo. James generously offers to clean up but it's not a buck that's easily passed. For a dazed minute I stand there just trying to figure out where to start. "Would you bring me a large garbage bag?" turns out to be the best beginning.
A half hour later and things are mostly put back in order. James whips up some "Sailor's Delight", his dad's passage making concoction of potatoes, mayo, tuna and onions. It's fast, it requires one dish and quickly disappears down the hatches of a hungry crew.
Naps are taken in turns, but sleep proves elusive for me – adrenalin still running hot.
By mid-evening the winds are picture perfect, made to order. We are flying along at 8-11 knots, the boat motion is smooth and gentle. Motivation finally kicks in. Jeff and I clean the starboard pantry area and salon. Jeff vacuums for nearly 30 minutes sucking up handfuls of Bob's Gluten Free Brownie Mix and most of the contents of a crushed box of Baking Soda that had blown its contents over much of the floor.
I found globs of craft paint, now dried to a powdery consistency, saturated books and more. The "highlight" was finding my iPhone at the bottom of a kitchen sink piled high with dishes and leftover drippings. The phone charged for a bit, looked like it was working but now doesn't respond to any kind of coaxing. Ouch.
James announces that he is now "really, really hungry" and heads down to make a large batch of spaghetti with red sauce. After two pounds of beef, two of pasta and the leftovers would fit in large cereal bowl. It's the first actual meal we have had in three days of oatmeal, leftover pumpkin pie and an occasional snack.
We iron out the watch plan for the evening and then head our respective ways. James takes the 9am - 12 midnight watch for starters. He and I debrief on the lessons learned. We boil it down to two keys:
1) Keep boat speed up. Traditional thinking was to slow the boat down and put her in a defensive posture by heaving-to or running out a parachute style sea anchor. But, in the last 10 years there has been a wave of thinking that says it's best to keep moving. We agree. It was our fast forward momentum that gave us the sure-footedness to weave our way among the worst swells and accelerate away from many breakers that would have pooped (broken up and over the back) many slower or stationary boats. Time and again a huge wave would rise, the crest would start to break and we would accelerate down the face leaving the mayhem behind.
2) Prevent fatigue which leads to mistakes. When we were fresh, the intense concentration that steering required was doable, but after hours we both noticed ourselves loosing edge, quickness and clarity. Thankfully we had enough bodies to fully staff two separate watches with one person to steer and one to stand by in case of problems; that at least allowed the driver to rest for an hour or two at a time.
Since I am not coming on until 3am I finish cleaning up the salon and then finally retire.
11/25/2012 10:44:19 AKST
From Saturday 10:16 AKST to Sunday 10:44 AKST, they made about 140 miles.
11/25/2012 23:19:11 AKST
Steven Takes a Turn
The sun is up now but conditions are still too lively for the autopilot.
Jeff takes a light dusting.
All in Your Head
Jeff confronts the difference between perception and reality. What reality?
Jeff at the Helm
The waves are starting to soften a bit now, about 7am.
We are all enjoying the speed, but also can see we really don't want to do it all night. Right James?
More James Action
The lime green hood is James' New York fashion sense kicking in. But wait, the shoes man, the shoes!
James at the Wheel
James takes back over at 5pm. Notice what the wind is doing to our wake.
Here is the 3pm steering hand-off, the first of many. My gear is already sopped from the foredeck dousing.
Ronan the Trooper
Ronan is a true sea kid. He was sick multiple times, rarely ate, but never once complained.
Day 802 ~ Cold Affront
Flying along in 20 knots of wind on the beam.
James called Commander's weather service and they took our position and informed us that the cold front would overtake us in the next hour or two and that it would pack more punch. We could see a line of dark clouds coming but hated to lose the speed the genny was giving us. After some debate, we decided to take her in. We turned downwind and the genny came down smoothly and was soon stuffed back into her "grouper" (the bag).
Not 10 minutes later, about 10am and well ahead of the dark line, the winds kicked up from 10-12 to 20-25 knots and the temperature dropped to Long Island minus. Brrrr. The main was already reefed and so we unfurled the small head sail and started making tracks. Squalls began to develop and at times the wind would peak out in the 28-30 range, but overall the ride was fast and smooth with modest swell.
After several hours, about 1pm, the sea state was still modest and the winds even. Commander's caution of 50+ winds with the cold front seemed completely out of touch, so we decided to keep the main up with a single reef in to keep the boat moving. What do those desk jockeys know anyway? After a slow start, it felt great to be leaving occasional rooster tails. We saw 13.4 knots at one point and were thrilled with the speed.
After tweaking the sails for an hour, the cold was getting to all of us. Without really talking about it, we all migrated into the salon and found comfortable places to nestle in for the ride as the auto pilot wove us, dancing, among the waves.
Twenty minutes later, it struck.
I was typing the blog, at the nav station when some inarticulate change in the environment caught my attention. I looked around and nothing seemed wrong. I looked back at the page, and then heard a rising moan in the rigging. The headsail tried to tack, but its self tacking car went amidships then slammed back into place with a resounding boom. That's not good.
I donned foul weather gear and a harness and headed out to tie on a preventer (line to hold the sail in place). As I clipped in and rounded the corner heading for the foredeck, I sensed a new energy in the wind and waves. Spray was flying off the bows and occasional cross waves were slamming into the bows and throwing spray into swirling vortex.
My fingers fumbled with the knots, the boat pitched down and then a confused cross-swell exploded up and through the tramp. In a white flash I was completely buried in an avalanche of water clawing at my clothing and pushing me down and back. I grabbed the sail car and hung on. It washed over and off in rush and was bathwater warm. I sputtered and realized that finding a solid footing was probably a smart first move.
Two minutes later, with the preventer secured, I made my way back to the cockpit. Now the winds were piping hot, the wind vane reading 36-38 from our starboard aft. Adding the 10 knots of boat speed put the wind in the mid-40s.
The seas quickly began to pile up. We were clearly in the Gulf Stream's raging hot torrent. The current and the cold wind were clearly not on speaking terms and had resorted to physical violence to work out their differences. The river-like currents were piling up the dual wave trains into odd triangles with breaking foamy crests. We launched off one and came down with a tremendous crash, a cabinet door burst open on the port side sending a stack of plates tumbling to the floor. Glass shards crackled into the corners.
And so it began. Two large wave trains were converging under us, one from the southeast that we had seen all day, and a new one from the northwest locked and loaded with steep fresh crests. The helm wheels whipped first left, then right then back again as the autopilot fluxgate compass and linear electric drive worked overtime to keep our heading on track. Like a freight train hitting a car on the tracks, a massive wave broke against our port aft corner with a gut sickening thud knocking our stern sideways like a child's bath toy. The autopilot took a moment to respond. I felt a sickening feeling as we wallowed just before the jib.
With 29 knots of wind on our tail, the mainsail, roughly the size of a generous living room, caught the wind from the opposite direction. After a half second pause, it flipped the 22 foot, 100 lb boom in a whipping arc too fast for the eye to see and slammed against the traveler. The entire boat shook with a tectonic shudder we felt resonate through our heels and into our spines.
James has seen this before on his Atlantic crossing. "We have to hand steer in these conditions," he asserted with authority. "The seas are too confused, the wind is too close to our stern." I punched the autopilot off and rammed the wheel hard over to starboard, trying to turn the stern back against the building pressure of the main. It was a tenacious battle. Slowly, glacially, with the wheel hard over, the stern came around and we jibed again with a thousand pound punch that rattles the boat to its core.
"I'll take the first watch." James offered as he suited up in full foul weather gear. It was 2pm.
Driving a sailboat with the mainsail up going downwind in confused seas with 50 knots of wind is a tricky undertaking. There are contrary and complimenting forces that are working against each other in a complex balancing act. To translate this roughly into everyday life, take a broom handle and two small watermelons. Skewer one watermelon on each side of the broom stick. Strap on a pair of roller skates and head for your neighbor's backyard trampoline. While bouncing on the trampoline in your skates, keep the broom stick balanced in your hands as you are tossed up and down and while your feet try to roll out from under you. The moment either watermelon falls off the stick you put your life, your boat, and your rig at risk.
If you imagine yourself jumping and balancing in the wilderness in a driving rainstorm 350 miles from the nearest hospital, you have a general idea of the equilibrium, the stakes, the focus, the arm strain and the exhaustion incurred during this endless, howling night.
James was able to go for an hour and then suggested we implement a rigid watch schedule of two men on two men off until the winds abate. Jeff and I felt pretty good, so we took the next two hours until about 5pm. The light was beginning to fade as Steve and James suited up and came on deck. The winds and seas were still building. Jeff and I unpacked our bodies from all the gear when a rogue wavelet from the side ran up our starboard and blasted James with a wall of salt spray, the first, of many, firehouse dousings. Despite being dressed in full foul weather gear, he was drenched to the bone when he came off watch at 7pm.
I started steering at 7pm. It was dark now, but a partial moon was peeking around low level clouds as they scuttled overhead in the darkness, like huge silver rimmed marshmallows caught up in a slow motion hurricane. The moon frosted the waves with a buttery icing lending precious shadow and highlight to the roiling swells as they stampeded under our stern.
The waves were more even, organized and building with occasional random cross combinations that would throw the stern over with a weight of conviction to which we could only do our best to correct by gripping the wheel with the tenacity of a farmer grabbing a chicken by the neck. A frozen chicken in this case. The temperature had evened out in the low 50s, but the wind, occasional rain and frequent spray made it feel like we were in a dripping freezer.
We would hear a rush behind us, like a subway train approaching over a track of broken glass. I would look over my shoulder to see a hill of moon glazed water rising behind, stories high. The boat would effortlessly rise and then slide down the studded spines of these giant, waking dinosaurs, their necks twisting away into into the blackness beyond.
Wave after wave, 6 per minute, hour after hour. Slap, correction, over-correction, re-correction; a hearty gust slams the mainsail, twisting the boat away from the authority of the rudders. As I wheel the helm I am intently focused only on the compass heading. My forearms are strained and screaming though a din of rushing water drowns out their plea for mercy. My hands are warmed by spray, then harden and freeze in the winds that follow. In a brief lull I kick off my saturated socks in the hope of a wind dried, warmer future for my toes.
Then there's a funny twist, a sinking and then a surge. I feel a thud and hear the tremendous crash of a fallen chandelier. An explosion of white fills my vision, a glow in the ghostly light. Then it hits. Instinctively I turned my shoulder and ducked just in time for the deluge, but this one is different. While previous waves blasted me with spray, this is a literal wall of water. There's a roar, flash and blur and I am underwater with a ripping current pulling me into the cockpit drains. I hear a muted yell as Jeff, who was sitting beside me, disappears under a white blanket. Instinctively my hands curl around the steel of the helm wheel clawing at something solid to resist these thousand talons of water.
Gravity takes hold drawing the water off and away. Opening my eyes I see that I am waist deep in green water that is rushing downhill towards the port side of the cockpit. We are both tethered in, but Jeff has been washed sideways and into the port helm station, saving himself a nasty knock on the head with a lucky snag of the wheel.
The cockpit drains evacuate the water quickly and in 4 more seconds we are back to "normal" and focused on the maintaining our compass heading.
Then we feel it; not a drip, not even a trickle, but a steady stream of cooling sea water filtering through your multiple collars, forming rivulets down your chest and back and accumulating into a pool of liquid in your pants, where the lowest part of our seated sides are depressing the cushion. Now, in addition to your inner ear telling you of every movement, the little lake in the pants rises, falls and sloshes with each wave. Our own, personal ocean heated by your core's last vestiges of energy. As the wind builds again and the helm is wrenched hard over by yet another tireless wave an uncontrollable shiver takes over the body from stem to stern.
11/24/2012 10:16:14 AKST
11/24/2012 18:21:55 AKST
11/24/2012 21:36:29 AKST
The Front Porch
We had multiple waves wash completely over the salon, but, of course, that never happens when the camera is on. Notice the breakers to the far left.
Red sky at morning, sailor take warning. The genny out and we are skating along nicely.
Day 718 ~ Identity Threat
Nika is a saver. As far as I can recall she hasn't spent a dime of her own money stash in a year or more. In fact, her last expenditure was a donation to the Camden-Rockport Animal shelter last year.
So, last night while dodging the rain, we ducked into a place that sells hats, sweatshirts and embroidery services. Nika spotted a captain's hat, complete with black bill and golden embroidered anchor. Her eyes lit up with a desirous gleam. She snatched it and tried it on; it fit perfectly. She looked it over for a price: $8.
"I want to come back tomorrow and buy this hat with my own money!" she exclaimed. I was taken aback. Nika, spend her birthday savings after all this time?
This morning broke sunny and warm, with a nice festive air. The lobster crate races were on today's agenda, along with the pirate attack and cannon firing lessons. Of course, there would also be plenty of time to run around and play with boat friends. We ate a quick brekkie, then Nika dug up her cash stash and carefully counted out $9 with nervous excitement (we told her that Maine will charge tax). She dressed in pure white, just like the USS Normandy's Navy sailors did when they came ashore.
We puttered into the harbor and tied up the dink. Nika was hot to trot, so she and I marched straight up the hill and into the hat shop. To Nika's great relief, the hat was still there, right where she had left it on that cold and rainy night so long ago, like 14 hours. She latched onto the beret and we wove our way through the packed racks to the cashier, an older lady with a friendly knowing expression. Nika was beaming as she handed her nine wadded bills, each severely wrinkled from numerous folding and packing. The hat was hers and she got some change back!
She proudly put it on and adjusted it, glancing quickly at a mirror nearby to make sure it was just right, then we marched out onto the bustling sidewalk and headed to our kid rendezvous on the library lawn. Nika held my hand proudly and wore her hat with a confident smile. She was aglow with Navy pride and I couldn't help feeling a flush of fatherly joy at seeing her so sure of herself, and so happy.
The sun was angling into the artfully decorated shops, the Windjammer Festival crowd was jamming the streets with bustle and hum. We were soon out of town and angling towards the grassy slopes of the library park. Pigeons angled and darted under a bluebird canopy of sky.
Then, suddenly, the full risk that Nika was blindly charging towards fell across my vision like the heaviest curtain in a tragic play. The first 3 seconds of our impending kid reunion could solidify Nika's self confidence or smash her to fragmented emotional shards. If Wilf or Sid laughed at her "silly" hat the entire experience would turn cynically sour. The anticipation, the precious money spent, the fun with Papa buying the hat, the matching white navy style dress would all turn to bitter ashes on her tongue.
But then I reflected on the audience she would soon command. The Yindee boys were full-on boat kids, spending long hours playing "Princess of Arabia", sword dueling, tree climbing and exploring beaches for useful flotsam. They are actual children living real lives, as opposed to hardened consumerists cynically analyzing the world for an angle. Nika was in good hands.
I watched their faces closely as we approached. Wilf and Sid caught sight of Nika at the same moment. Wilf broke into a curious smile, Sid's eyes lit up. "My, Nika, that's a Brilliant hat!" said Sid, with obvious envy. "Where did you get that hat?" Wilf inquired. Even Nina, who would love to embarrass Nika given the chance, couldn't stomach going against the will of the crowd. "You look great Nika!" she cooed. Nika couldn't help a bashful, proud smile. She was captain of the moment.
Fully Monty invited us over for a potluck dinner aboard and we had fun sharing boat stories, boat yard sagas and a few songs.
Day 708 ~ Country Fun
Hung out in the morning. Kristin made a load of waffles, then kids played inside and outside. I tackled some more work while the day developed into yet another bluebird beautiful one. Time to get outside.
Kristin volunteered to take the kids to her parent's "camp" on Goose Pond while Lisa and I checked out the farmer's market in Hanover on the Dartmouth green. Mainers and New Hampshirites call lakes "ponds". And a camp, of course, is actually a house, with a dock and boats, etc.
The market was pretty modest as farmer's markets go. More than Oriental, but considerable less than Charleston's. We found some interesting stuff though, and it's clear that the organic thing is really big in this neck of the woods. And what's not to like about that? Food without chemicals, imagine that? The religious fervor that surrounds it though is a bit myopic.
Organic is a luxury that rich people in a rich country can feel good about "doing their part". But, which is really most earth friendly? Driving a luxury car, living in a McMansion and enjoying chilled organic cucumber slices, or living in a shanty and subsisting on wild bananas and whatever fish you can catch off the beach?
There's a stage in everyone's life when bandaids feel like a cure.
Day 636 ~ The Land of Plenty
As if in a twisted nightmare, I was jerked awake to the howl and shudder of a tremendous wind blast. It was 1:00am, again. There were curious crashing thuds in the cockpit as the gale struck us from the side. I stumbled up the companionway steps.
With our last dragging experience painfully raw, I had the iPad in my hand in a moment. It clearly showed the track we had left setting our anchor, and the extent of the current-induced swing thereafter. Of course, the wind wasn't driving us the way the anchor had been set, but instead straight towards a sheetpile wrapped commerical dock at right angles to our previous swing. With 50 meters of scope down, that's nearly 70+ meters of distance for the boat to build momentum before coming down hard on the anchor which would be forced to roll over and reset.
I watched as if in slow motion as our little dot drifted step by step towards the steel edge. The city lights of Charleston were obscured by torrents of wind driven rain and spindrift. Before the dot on the iPad stopped moving, I felt the unmistable jerk of arrested momentum, and our bows turning smartly into the vortex. Bruce had found his grip.
I sank into the couch. It didn't look like I'd even have to get wet. The wind wall passed over in another 3 minutes and left behind it a pathetic 20 knots breeze that slowly clocked through 90 degrees.
But how hard was that first blast? Here's how you can tell. Take three average sized potatoes and a large white onion. Place them in that little notch where the hood of your car meets your windshield. Nestle them in reasonably well, but don't force or cram anything. Now get in your car and head for the freeway. When all three potatoes and the onion lift off your hood and fly off the car, look down at your speedometer and tell me what you see.
That's right. I don't have a clue how much wind there was, but what I do know is that the first blast of air hit us from the side. We have a veggie net strung up in the cockpit which had in it three average to large size potatoes and a large white onion. The wind hit so hard that it lifted all three veggies up and out, and shot them 8 to 10 feet across the cockpit. It didn't just knock them out as they would have landed on the table or the bench. No, it ejected them from the veggie net and launched them to the opposite side of the cockpit.
This is preciely why I hate the East Coast in the summer. It's one squall line after another, night after night. They never blow in the same direction and we can't set our anchor in anticipation of them; we just have to take them as they come and hope for the best.
Wider awake now, I strip off my clothes and set up our rain catchment system. Five minutes later the tanks are full. Since we hadn't moved with that first torrent of air, we were counting sheep 20 minutes later.
Morning came late after an exciting night. We ate breakfast to use up ham and eggs in case the Customs guys take all our pork products, which has happened. We then called Border Patrol and arranged to get fuel at the City Marina in order to waive their $5/hr docking fee. Two agents came in short order but, unlike last year, didn't come aboard. They just asked to see passports, chatted with us a little about Charleston and that was that.
I just can't reconcile this experience with the hyper-security it takes to drive to Vancouver from Seattle. I mean, this boat is big. I could have had 14 Cubans hidden inside and they would have never known. Insane, but nice not to have to surrender what modest food we had left.
We then motored across the Ashley River channel and find a spot with plenty of swing room. We had heard some anchoring horror stories so attached our old 42lb CQR to our 30 kilo Bruce for a two in a row set up and dropped in 7 meters of water. There is a ripping tidal current here and we have some 20+ knots of wind coming so wanted to be prepared for more flying potatoes if need be. We have an interesting mix of neighbors. Some are just masts sticking out of the water, some probably should be sunk, some are in good shape but seemingly unoccupied and a couple are nomadic live-aboards like us.
We leave the dink at the dinghy dock and hoof it 1.4 miles to the Visitors Center. Charleston is a really cool old town so it was a fun walk, in addition to a chance to stretch our legs after being boat-bound far too long. We get there, figure out a few things we'd l like to do then walk to Piggly Wiggly (grocery).
I really like that first culture shock of walking into a superstore right after a decent spell at sea. The girls were bedazzled and Nika just blurted out "the land of plenty!" It's so true. I felt like saying, no, the land of excess, but then it's really nice to see strawberries again.
We buy more groceries than we should have and hop one, and then a second, free downtown trolley back toward the marina. The driver noted the closest stop for us but it turned out to be nearly a half mile away. Everybody was loaded to the gills with veggies and not exactly light things like real milk (not in a box!). We were also keeping an eye on the really dark thunderstorm line coming, so I get into hyper mode and start growling at the girls to walk faster, etc. Not my finest hour.
After a quarter mile at a snail's pace it's clear the rain is going to beat us. I deposit the fam and all the bags under a entrance of some waterfront business building at the closest marina we come to and jog, as well as one can in crocs, to the marina where we left the dinghy. It's there but sitting on a tidal mud flat high and a gooey 40 meters from the nearest water. I gingerly put my toe in; the mud is super sticky and instantly covers my croc with the promise of making it to my knee.
By now it's almost 7pm and the place looks deserted. A few mega yachts with lights on but otherwise no live-aboards I can see. The gray wall is approaching fast and the air has that pregnant, still, electric feeling that comes just before the punch. I hightail it back to the family. Anticipating my imminent dinghy arrival they have moved out to a floating dock whose keypad lock gate was left open.
Then, the rain hits hard and heavy. We grab our bags and dash back under cover. A quick tide check on the phone shows the next high at 1:00am, six incredibly long hours away. We're wet. The flour bag is wet. Broken eggs are oozing out of a carton. The rain is falling in sheets. We have another hour of light and then the mozzies will be out in force.
Normally, we are around other boats we know at least in passing and could call for a dinghy lift. However, we have been here for a whopping 18 hours and don't know a soul. We don't even know any boat names to call.
"What about that boat we anchored by, the one with the funny name?" Nina asks. "Was it Body-something?"
"Bodyguard!" Nika shouts. Now if we just had a radio.
"I have one," Lisa smiles with that Girl-Scouts-are-always-prepared glitter in her eye. She had brought a handheld marine VHF radio to Piggly Wiggly. Why? To talk to the tomatoes? She didn't know, she just likes to be prepared.
It's now 7:30pm and the rain is still pouring down. Why should a small teal monohull flying a Dutch flag even have their radio on at this time of night? Taking a deep breath and firing a prayer skyward I keyed the mike and called, "Bodyguard, Bodyguard, this is the sailing vessel Day Dreamer on 1-6," bracing myself for the cold, anonymous silence that alien life hunters know only too well.
Incredibly, beyond all rational hope, a thickly accented male voice responded in seconds. We had a few missed channels but eventually I explained that we were the family on the cat anchored behind them and then about the tide, the dinghy, the kids and the groceries. I left out the mozzies; he already knew about the rain.
"No problem," he said, "we are just sitting down to dinner. I'll come get you, rain or shine, as soon a we are done."
A lot has been written about comradarie among sailors. About how, like the sea which gives birth to it, this invisible bond spans continents and cultures uniting people with little else in common. Normally I don't really go in for that kind of kum-ba-yah mush. At least the idea of a connection in the abstract doesn't hold much allure.
But, when some guy who strains to understand you says he will putter a half mile into the rain and tidal current to pick up a bunch dripping kids and grocery bags it's no longer an idea. The sailing brotherhood becomes tangible and turns out to be pure gold of a color most Wall Street bankers just can't compute.
Sure enough, the light faded, the mosquitoes started to appear and before half an hour was up our handheld crackled to life. "Day Dweamer, Day Dweamer, Bodyguard." It's the wife, "Mie huzban ees come now to git yoo."
I dashed out into the rain to see figure hunched against the driving rain in a bright red slicker winding his way between the bridge pilings towards the pier. Let's go girls!
Bags in hand we slither and dribble our way aboard. An 8 foot inflatable is a bit crowded with 6 bodies and 10 bags of vittles but our host is all smiles and friendly chatter. Five minutes later we are aboard and scrambling to get the groceries out of the rain. We made it before 1:00am and with only a bite or two from the bugs.
Good thing I yelled at the girls to get them moving. Blockhead.
- Charleston City Marina (customs formalities), Charleston, South Carolina, USA
- Ashley River, Charleston, South Carolina, USA
Day 633 ~ Goodbye Bad Holding
I was jerked awake by a wall of squall-driven air that slammed the boat from the North-Northwest, an exact contradiction to predictions and complete opposite orientation in which we set our hooks. The first blast was incredible, 50 knots if it was 5, that only lasted a minute but it was enough. Since we had been strung to the length of our rode scope 180 degrees contrary, the boat had plenty of time to build momentum before hitting both anchors.
A thick 100% humidity haze obscured visibilty. The laptop, which supports our anchor alarm, is completely dead as of two days ago. The iPad popped right on and pegged our location as less than 100 feet off the beach. Impossible!
I braced myself against the wind and stepped outside. Grand Cay's telephone/radio tower was nowhere near where it should have been and looming far too large. My flashlight illuminated a hazy strip of sand behind us, but it was hard to judge distances. Then a bold of lightning etched reality into drowsy gray matter. We were dragging both hand-set anchors, and fast.
For an eternal moment I had that fear as my hand darted to the engine ignition. The one where the copier dies when it senses you really need it most. The starboard Yanmar fired immediately. Relief. I punched it into gear as Lisa prairie dogged up with the grind of the engine. "We're dragging!" I hollared above the combined dim of the turbo-charger and the howling winds.
It could have been much worse. It could have been raining buckets and I could have started tucked into the beach like I used to do. As it turned out, our 300 yard buffer was just what the doctor ordered, giving me a few precious minutes of drag time before hitting something solid.
Another flash of lightning revealed the beach way too close. We had to move, but threading our way through a rocky channel when it's blowing 35 knot gusts is not prudent. If our computer was still alive, we could conceivably follow our track in to get back out. But, no computer.
Nothing like one last hurrah in the islands, Mon.
Lisa drove in a wide circle venturing only as far as we deemed safe, based on the areas I had snorkeled, while I cranked in our two anchors and replaced them with "the Monster," our 78lb Brittney, last wetted during Hurricane Irene in Maine. On a pitch black night pinned against a lee shore nothing feels so good in your arms as a hunk of steel with two huge teeth that you can barely lift.
While Lisa kept us from the beach, I rigged it to the back of our Bruce, dropped the combo overboard and reeled out tons of scope, 45 meters in 4 meters of water. Then Lisa backed down hard. We could feel the 30 kilo Bruce just bouncing along the grass, it's huge jaws jammed with ripped grass strands rendering it nothing more than a blunt object. Like dragging a bowling ball along the bottom.
Then the scope between the two anchors became taut and our bows snapped around; the Monster had spoken. Knowing it could well blow hard all night, I insisted on seeing the anchors so we puttered around in the dink. Try to find a chain and hook in an inky black universe using a pencil sized underwater flashlight beam. We finally gave it up and I slipped into the black brine. Sharks, what sharks? I wasn't thinking about them, at all. Promise.
It took 2 minutes in the water to find and follow the chain first to Bruce, lying hopelessly on his side in a tangle of grass, and then another 30 feet to the Brittney whose huge jaws were set deeply in the bottom. He hadn't moved more than the 8" it took for his incisors to bite.
Back aboard, I did a quick lightning-illuminated shower on the back step in a near gale, whipped my goose bumped skin dry and crashed. I slept like a baby, one who likes monsters.
Dawn broke with a heavy overcast and humid flavor. Between squalls, I finished some engine work while the rest of the crew tackled other pre-departure tasks. With so much uncharted territory between us and the open sea, I was in no hurry and happy to wait for high tide.
We finally got underway about 11am; muscling our 65 kilos of steel off the bottom took a bit of time. Lisa expertly threaded our way through the many islands and reefs that edge the North end of the Little Bahama Bank. The wind was light across our beam and we were finally headed north.
We read, played games, the girls listened to stories, caught up in Narnia and otherwise passed a pleasant rest of the day as we slipped along at 5-6 knots in a light westerly breeze.
We ate the last of our vegetables, carrots, for the mid-day meal and substituted canned strawberries acquired in Nassau for the oranges called for in the Orange Cake recipe as our evening snack. The berries tasted bit metallic, but weren't horrible. Plus, real strawberries are waiting for us in America only a couple days away.
06/08/2012 08:28:40 AKDT
06/08/2012 19:17:06 AKDT
Day 619 ~ Sticking to your Strength
So Lisa does the laundry and the dishes. There's a lot of glamour there as you can guess. Since I produce most of the dirty dishes while cooking and the vast majority of the really spicy laundry there's a little inequity in the mix. I guess there always is.
During one of the recent rain deluges, our buckets were overflowing. In a fit of do-it-myselfness, I grabbed some of my worst laundry in a wad, tossed it into a bucket 3/4 full of fresh rain water. I was tempted to dump in some Lysol just to kill everything, but opted for the safe route and put a couple of glugs of laundry detergent in instead. I did the usual hand agitation followed by a good multi-hour soak. Everything seemed to work fine, and smelled fresh!
A couple of days later I grabbed a pair of undies and, funny thing, the elastic crackled open and didn't seem to have much stretch left. Weird. When I went to take them off that evening, gooey globs of something was stuck all over my skin. Never had that happen before. After trying several solutions unsuccessfully, Lisa suggested I use peanut butter. Really?! Well yes, actually it did work, but by that point I felt like I needed another shower.
Next day, new pair, same thing. Not good. I am usually a slow learner, but these went straight into the trash. "How much soap did you put in the bucket?" Lisa asked.
"I don't know, a few chugs worth 'til it seemed about right." I explained.
"Right" she said, "that's what I was afraid of."
So today, I walked down the stairs and smelled the unmistakable fragrance of WD-40. I looked left and was stunned to see Lisa holding our bathroom door. Not holding it open, or holding it closed but cradling the entire door and trying, futilely, to get it back on its hinges while the boat rocked in a passing powerboat wake.
It seems in a fit of do-it-herselfness, she had decided to take the squeaking hinge problem into her own capable hands and had learned that the doors, when open, just lift off their hinges. Getting them back on is like trying to thread three needles at the same time with three different strands of thread in a perpetual earthquake.
To top it off, WD-40 was running down the hinges. Now I know that some people really like WD-40, and maybe you do. But if you think of it as a solvent more than a lubricant you'll be on right track. It will stop a squeak for, say, a week. Then it will be back with a vengeance and guess what? You'll have to buy more WD-40 since it stopped the squeak so well in the first place. It's just one more conspiracy by corporate America.
Now I should have taken a picture of Lisa standing there, dancing with this door, but of course my first thought was "What in the world?!"
I wiped down the hinges, now that all previous lubricants where well dissolved and then applied just a drop or two of the right stuff, SuperLube, in this case. Teflon versus scented diesel fuel. I'd like to say I just slid the door right back on, but no, it took a couple minutes of body contorting gymnastics to balance everything and hold it just right to slip the door down on all three hinge pegs simultaneously (of course I didn't ask for help).
It doesn't squeak any more.
Other things happened today. We moved with Dedication over to Pond Bay, just outside Marsh Harbor. The kids have been stuck aboard long enough now that both sets of parents decided we all needed to head to shore and stretch legs a little, not to mention help carry groceries.
Day 609 ~ The Monthlong Day
Today was one of those days where every possible sailing emotion is wrung out of you like an old towel that's done double duty on the kitchen floor cleaning up a spilled tub of baked beans.
Everything that can happen on a boat, seemed to happen. Well, most of it anyway. Fish hooked and lost, crazy squall walls, desparate downwind runs, clever sailing tricks (thanks to Lisa!), hairy sailing moments, complete saturation of the body by water etc. The entire day became a Vignette, here:
Despite fickle winds we made it into Great Abaco's Little Harbour with 40 minutes of daylight left. Our dear friends Remi De were there, waiting for us. The girls went spastic as we circled them and exchanged news and greetings. It's been a couple of weeks since we have seen them.
We got the anchor set and enjoyed a late dinner of Mahi tacos and salad. As we drifted off a huge line of squalls decorated the western and northern horizons with intermittent lightening flashes and Hollywood-like peels of rolling thunder. After twelve and a half hours of sailing, and too many emotions to count, sleep came quickly.
Day 586 ~ It All Falls Apart
It's been nearly two weeks since we saw a grocery store so today is the day. Somehow Cedar and I were elected from our respective boats to do the duty. We zipped down to the Texaco dinghy dock at full speed, a nice downwind run.
I had this weird sensation as we turned the corner to City Market, the one where I have shopped from time to time over several years. The parking lot was just a little too empty. Sure enough, with our noses plastered to their doors we could see nothing but empty shelves and abandoned carts covered with a thin film of dust.
They were out of business.
This is the second supermarket in less than a month that I have used before and anticipated only to find they have gone by the way of Tab soda or Crystal (clear) Pepsi. Remember those? Kind of spooky. I half expected to turn the corner and catch sight of my reflection riding in a wheelchair. However, Cedar knew of another grocery store so we hoofed it 8-10 blocks and turned the corner. This looked much better. A parking lot teaming with cars and bustle.
It takes ages to shop properly knowing this is our one shot for the next 10 days, our cold storage is limited and we have no way to keep veggies fresh other than by eating them quickly, which doesn't seem to count. It was a solid two hours before I was out with my two fully loaded carts. Cedar had found a reasonable taxi and before long we were weaving our way through Nassau's grimy streets in a car with a Krylon paint job and some serious body damage.
It took another 15 minutes to get our 30 bags stashed in the dinghy. We turned the corner out into the ripping current and howling wind. Did I mention we came downwind on the way here? I hammered the outboard in to "rabbit" gear and we slowly clawed our way up on step, busting through nice 3 foot chop, exploded forward only to be caught in the rising wind slapping spray back into our faces, drenching our clothes and soaking our bags. I used to subscribe to those slick sailing magazines for years and never once saw a photo of drenched people and groceries in a dinghy.
Well, I guess it could have been raining on top of everything else.
The first thing we noticed as we bounced our way through the anchorage was that boats were moving. In particular, a smaller cat was working its way toward Jaru. Cedar put out bumpers but it was still moving closer. In a fit of civic duty I finally clambered aboard the vacant vessel intending to let out more scope. I fumbled around with the owner's strange windlass locker knob finally getting it cracked open amid a swirling 25 knot gust of wind.
I was dumbfounded. There before me lay a pile of chain, ready to go and windlass that was literally in pieces, the motor completely stripped off. If the guy's bridal had slipped or failed, the chain would have run free all the way to the end, which may or may not even be properly attached.
I didn't know what to do. If I released his bridal, his chain would scream overboard in a dangerous rush of heavy metal, easily capable of taking off a hand or ripping up a windlass base. I was scratching my head in confusion and disbelief as I watched the boat and myself now getting dragged out into the middle of the channel with its ripping tidal currents and heavy commercial traffic.
I was just about to conclude that there was nothing I could do for the poor guy when I looked up to see my boat being swept sideways towards a huge container ship and the concrete bridges beyond. After withstanding a near 50 knots blast of squall last night, my anchor somehow decided to drag now in the comparatively tame 25-30 knot blasts. Dragging it was, however, and fast.
I hopped back in the dink and zipped over. It took seemingly an eternity to get my bridal off, and then only seconds to stream out another 20 meters of chain. By all rights that ought to do it. The 30 kilo Bruce anchor, way oversized for our boat, was down and a span of 50 meters of chain out. That combination had held us through some pretty crazy nights in the past. It seemed to hold for a bit, but in another few minutes it was clear we were underway again. There was nothing to do but up anchor and move.
Cedar, dinghy-less on her boat called on the radio, "come over and get me so I can help you re-anchor." I hated leaving the boat alone for a minute, but realized that doing it all myself in a ripping current and howling winds would be nearly impossible.
We were back in a minute and then the fun began. The port engine wouldn't start. Click, click went the ignition. I tried the starboard with my heart in my throat and that numb dream-like feeling of seeing myself doing things but not really feeling or knowing why. It fired. But doing this maneuver in this wind on one engine is sort of like climbing a mountain with one leg. No matter which way you go, gravity always seems to have the best angle.
No sooner had we started when Cedar came running back, "your windlass won't work!"
I couldn't believe it. Day after day of fail proof function and the moment it chose to give up the ghost was when we are drifting down into a forest of concrete and steel swept by torrents of ripping tide and wind. It was blowing so hard that Cedar could yell at the top of her lungs from the windlass only 25 feet ahead and I couldn't hear a word, barely a sound. I just had the vague impression someone was yelling and the news wasn't good.
I dashed downstairs and found the windlass breaker tripped. I flicked it back on and was back on top in an moment. Now the windlass operated, but something was terribly wrong. The chain just wrapped itself around the gypsy-like fishing line on a reel, creating instant twisted snarls of jammed metal impossible to undo by hand.
Time and again we had to let more chain back out all the while striking the chain with the winch handle as hard as our tired forearms could manage just to break the jams free.
It was brutal, rusty, skin ripping work in the midst of a screaming gale that felt like it was ripping right through your spine. This must be the way a mouse feels as it enters the mouth of the vacuum hose. For us, looming very large downwind, were the bridges, mute and uncaring.
Finally we had the anchor up and were able to motor back to the anchorage and drop Bruce again. He seemed to stick and as I was just starting to relax, our bow fell off and the entire nightmare returned in full living color. We were dragging again.
More could be said but you get the point. Little did we know that, as Cedar and I faced another round of windlass, chain and maneuvering terror, Bruce and Rod were in the park, had felt the wind pick up sharply and hiked up to the top of the Leap of Faith water slide to have a look at the anchorage, "just to check on things."
What they saw lit a fire under their heels. Jaru was just about to be hit and our boat was headed into a tangle of big nasty chunks of concrete and steel. They dashed through the teeming crowds of oblivious sunburned Atlantis vacationers with a book in one hand and a drink in the other. Just as Cedar and I were dragging back to the bridges at a newer, faster pace and preparing for another round of chain battles, Bruce and Rod appeared and hopped aboard to help. I now know what Custer would have felt if reinforcements had arrived at the critical moment.
I wasn't about to give our original spot another chance to disappoint me. I motored away from the bridge, through the field of boats to an area where our friends on Imagine had reported good holding. We dropped Bruce again, and this time he stuck hard. I backed down on him to make the bridal scream and pop and he didn't budge. Finally sure we were set, Cedar and Rod grabbed our dinghy and zipped back to Jaru, who was now making her way downstream, although slowly.
An eternal hour later, we were all reset and happy. The wind died down, the sun warmed up, the tide ebbed and, if a photographer from one of those slick sailing magazines had shown up, he'd have said, "Smile!" After all, it was just another day in a tropical paradise.
Day 554 ~ Rain, at last
It's true. At home, we were sick of rain. The summer we left it rained weeks on end.
But this morning, at 3:32am, I was awakened in an instant from a cozy, dreamy state and electrified into action by the unmistable tendrils of a torrential downpour.
Just once in your life, leap out of bed, trip up the stairs, strip off your pajamas and run out into a blinding slash of rain so thick you could cut it with a knife. Your flashlight pokes a pathetic glow into the driving shards of glass, your skin tightens in an instant. Gasping from the temperature shock, you fumble around with the water tank caps, they slip and slide through your wooden fingers as if they were coated in Crisco. Finally you get one off. You twist and fold the towel, place it and see that wonderful life-giving river start to divert into your tanks. You dash across the boat, stubbing a toe for good measure, then do the same on the port side.
Seeking refuge in the cockpit you are wide awake, and happy. It's raining hard, your tanks are drinking in the wonderous waves of free water. No diesel driven water maker, no noise, no smell, no hauling, no begging, no stealing about in the night. Free water. Isn't it glorious?
For a full minute you stand there just soaking in the musical drumming sound, oblivious to the fact that you are buck naked, shivering and dripping like a garden flower.
On second thought, don't try this at home. If you do, they'll send the men in white coats after you with a straight-jacket.
We did other things after daylight hit. The girls worked through their lessons, we fished intensely for two massive grouper that we can clearly see but which refuse to bite anything offered, even dangled in front of their noses. The kids lit a beach fire on their own 2 mile beach, concocted 'herbal' tea and otherwise did what kids and fire and sand always do.
Sleep well my busy daughters.
Day 528 ~ The Rescue
So there is this cultural thing with sailors that makes them reticent to give advice and quick to help those that should have listened to others.
I read a quote once, but can't remember the place or the person. It goes something like this,
A landlubber was walking the docks when he sees a small boat heading out into a savage gale. He stops an old grisly mariner who was watching as well, "Hey, isn't it dangerous to go out there today?"
"Yup." says the old salt.
"Well, shouldn't we warn him or try and stop him?" the landlubber asks urgently.
"Nope," says the old fisherman.
"That seems cruel, inhuman!" countered the first.
The old sailor takes a long pull on his pipe and looks mistily towards the turbulent horizon. After a pause he says, "Look, we're all gonna drown eventually. Who are we to say this isn't his day?"
The first time I read that I thought, "gee, that does sound harsh." But, like sailing's closest cousin, mountaineering, what can, should or shouldn't be done boils down to the subjective judgment of the person putting his own skin at risk. A go or no-go decision involves values and drives that go deep and long through the human soul. Giving another sailor advice about what to do and how to do it effectively negates much of the mystery and attraction that drove us out here in the first place. Asking is one thing, telling is another.
Personally, I would never take a small dinghy around St. John, but we see people all the time buzzing around out there in tiny craft.
The Narrows, nemesis of the swimming slave
After a couple of hours of client love, we dropped our mooring and motored out into "The Narrows", a stretch of deep water dividing the USVIs from the BVIs. The chart shows it enjoying a 3 knot tidal current running back and forth. This, no doubt, cut down on the number of swimming slaves who found freedom in British territory that lies just a mile away from Danish St. John. To top it off, wind funnels between the mountains of Tortola and St. John in torrents.
With both Yanmars burning hydrocarbons, we were pounding our way through this slice of nature when Nina hollered, "Hey, I think that dinghy is in trouble!" I had just seen them motoring our way a minute earlier until our vectors were clearly going to pass at a good distance. Looking off the starboard side now, we could no longer see white foam rolling off their bow. Instead, they were drifting downwind sideways bobbing around in a nice 2-3 foot chop. Hmmm.
We cut power and did a slow arc back towards them. "Are you in trouble?" I hollered.
"Yes, the motor won't start!" the mom yelled back.
Lisa artfully manuvered us alongside and they scrambled aboard. A mom with two teenage sons. Smiles all around and a touch of relief.
Nina, Justin and I tied their painter to a longer line and cleated off, then Lisa spun us around and back into the teeth of the wind. We ground onward to Waterlemon Bay. We tagged a mooring, towed their dinghy to shore and mobilized for a hike to the Nanaberg ruins where 600 slaves toiled under the hot sun day after day, year after year, while, just across the channel, former slaves of Great Britain walked free.
Day 505 ~ The Water Wins
The Hassel Island anchorage isn't really that great if the wind isn't substantially from the north. The swell from the East hooks up into the harbor making for rocky days and nights. So, once everyone was dressed and fed, we upped anchor and motored into Crown Bay Marina for fuel and water.
Once again Lisa deftly manuvered our home through a forest of million dollar plastic castles to kiss the dock with a gentle touch. You go girl! By the time the tanks were filled, the mail dropped off, etc, it was nearly 11am. We cast off, raised the sails and headed for, well, somewhere.
It was still blowing 20-25 knots from the East and guess which way we wanted to go? Well, east. The wind and sea will yield, but only with intensive spray and impressive airborne moments where our 12 tons of books, beans and bodies are launched off large waves only to be reclaimed by gravity a moment later with a bone-jarring crash. Time and again we crested, surfed and slammed.
On one such occasion, Grandma's coffee pot flew off a shelf and exploded over the floor, accompanied by nice sliding pools of syrupy smell. Then it was the corn flake container, popping its Tupperware wanna-be Walmart quality lid and spraying flakes about the starboard passageway like confetti on V-E day.
But the crowning touch was the side hatch, a full 1/3 square foot of hinged glass which the girls were responsible for closing and clamping before we left. From the cockpit angle I could see multiple instances where the starboard bow was completely submersed for a moment or hit by huge swells slapping the gunwale and the following wall of water exploding up the side.
Little did we know that a part, a slice, a percentage of that crystalline salty sea was bursting into Nana's room with every slam, raining down on Nana's blankets, soaking through sheets, sopping the mattress, dissolving rare books, blurring childhood chalk drawings and saturating clothes, toys, doll hair, towels and cushions. The water erupted with such compuction that the opposite wall was dripping.
Lisa's a trooper in most situations. She takes the realities of boat life, the spills, messy kitchens, cold showers, nasty laundry, moldy walls and funky smells with nary a complaint. Her sole nemesis, the real biter, is saltwater in the boat soaking things. Salt water never really dries, the resulting residues are damp and slimy for weeks, months on end. Lisa loathes salt slime.
When a wet floor mat came flying out of the door and landed with a splash on the cockpit teak, I knew things were not going well. A half an hour later, the cockpit was jammed with salt-soaked accessories, just the beginning of the cleaning ordeal.
Searching for respite, we poked our bow into Fish Bay but found it just big enough for our boat to squeeze through. Unfortunately, there were already 4 boats anchored in the center deep enough for boats to spin safely. We weaved our way through the field, the grassy bottom clear and close, just two feet to spare. Too tight. A minute later we were motoring back out into the tameless chop. For half an hour we bounced along until we could finally turn into Little Lameshur Bay. There was one mooring ball left. Relief, finally.
Lisa burned off precious gallons of fresh water rinsing mattress, cushion, books, linens, toys and clothes. They were just beginning to dry in the sun when a rain squall hit and dousing the boat and all items we couldn't gather in time. Adding insult to injury, more short rainbursts passed over until there was no sun left.
Sometimes, the water wins.
Day 495 ~ Birthday Yumminess
Today is the queen's birthday. It also happens to be Sunday, which means her favorite brekkie of Swedish Pancakes is already on the menu.
After the table was cleared and dishes washed (yes, the birthday queen gets the day off from dish duty too), Nana and I mixed and crushed and toasted and melted all the good stuff that goes into Lisa's all-time favorite dessert, Peanut Butter Chocolate pie. This creamy delight comes straight from the Fiddlehead Cookbook, once Juneau's finest restaurante and where Lisa and I enjoyed more than one dinner date in an era now that seems to fading into the hazy past, like Egyptian poetry.
While Lisa enjoyed uninterrupted time just reading, I read to the kids and contemplated several outdoor activity options. Then the iPhone pinged an incoming text alarm; the girls pounced like Barracuda on a striken sergeant major. The Pekalas were at the beach just north of us. In two shakes, we had an engine going and the sails flying. We reached smoothly and with all appropriate speed (10.8 was seen) to Carlos Rosario beach where the Pekala children were anxiously waiting.
Joe, Lisa and I snorkeled "the wall" to the north. Underwater photography has been a steep learning curve. Between lighting difficulties, diving issues, cagey fish and white balance problems (because the manual is only in Spanish), getting a decent underwater portrait, of say a turtle, has proved very difficult.
But today the stars aligned. Check this out (click to enlarge):
A birthday present no gift card can buy, Lisa captures the perfect image of a Hawksbill Sea Turtle.
When a large rain cloud loomed overhead, we took everyone to the boat while Joe hiked back to Flamenco beach to fetch their car and meet us in town. We waited for the rain to pass before moving, but no rain came until we were about halfway there...of course. And, along with the clouds, the winds were fluky so we had to motor into a headwind the entire way. But hey, the kids are happy.
Oh, and the peanut butter pie was smooth as silk and nicely chilled.
Day 460 ~ Change of Scenery at Last
Not sure how we get hooked into some places. I guess inertia, and good 3G internet, just makes anyplace feel like home, despite the daily ferry wakes that rock the boat regularly. But today it was time to move. We motored into Crown Bay Marina for a water top up, then sailed to Little Lameshur Bay on the south coast of St. John island. We tacked numerous times, the fickle wind always seeming to shift against us within a few minutes.
On a whim I trailed a fishing lure. The pool danced a little and some line ticked off the reel, but when I worked the pole it felt empty. As I was watching our wake for a bit, I saw a small fish skating along the water's surface. We had a fish, a small one but still edible. A blue mackerel, as it turned out.
Got the hook back in the water and, in another 20 minutes, it was hit again. This time, really hard. Fresh from passage fishing practice, I tabbed the auto pilot upwind to slow us down and worked the fish in slowly and carefully. I couldn't make out the specie until he was landed on the back step. Wahoo! Something other than a barracuda.
He turned out to be a king mackerel, and a pretty nicely sized one to boot. A good 15 pounds of teeth and muscle. I gave him plenty of time to expire before working the hook out. It took 20 minutes to get him all cleaned up, but our freezer now is packed with a couple of weeks worth of protein and something to share with friends.
Day 447 ~ Arrival! (day 12)
The morning broke with a new feeling to it. There was light, but no sun. Out my Wonder Bread sized hatch I saw a high, dark bank of foreboding clouds. I rush through my morning manicure routines, very elaborate I assure you. The more time we spend out here the less basic habits like brushing our hair or -- heaven forbid -- shaving, seem to matter. Like the fish are impressed with a clean cut.
I relieved Dan about 6:45 and we discussed the squall line ahead of us. One large one ahead and to port, and several smaller ones marching off to the west off the starboard side. Most were small and we could see right through the rainfall to the blue skies beyond. We decided to keep all the sails flying and to wake him if I needed help.
About a half an hour later, the clouds parted on the horizon and a black ridge of land was clearly visible. LAND HO! I wanted to shout, but Ken and Dan were fast asleep and it seemed the height of cruelty to wake them. Well, the first hour ran by nicely. The large squall morphed and appeared to be sliding away from us. I was scanning the horizon when the hootchie rigged pole took off with the sound of a miniature buzz saw.
I keyed the auto-pilot 20 degrees downwind and grabbed the pole. It was bent hard over and the fish was running like mad, leveraging the boat speed to its advantage. It turned sideways cutting large arcs behind the boat, the 100 lb line cutting slicing arcs through the water. It was all I could do to hold him and time and again he would run off more line than I had just retrieved.
Dan and Ken came up and rolled up the genny; the reduced boat speed gave me the upper hand. Slowly I gained inch by inch, then foot by foot, then yard by yard. After a 15 minute fight, he was alongside, a large dorado, twice the weight of my first, but a bit smaller than Ken's. He was as tall as a first grade teacher's yard stick. Dan grabbed the gaff and, after a couple of attempts to penetrate his armored gills, got him stuck and lifted into the bin. A huge forked tail was sticking out of the bin, but I sat on the lid anyway as he thrashed around.
Fish 4, Crew 5
Eventually, all was stillness. We're pretty well practiced now; the knife and fillet glove appeared, water was retrieved by the bucket full, Ziploc bags were maneuvered artfully under fillets as long as a baguette. The freezer is now officially full so we decided we had better stop before things got out of hand.
I was just finishing the last fillet when we hit the edge of the squall. First light rain, then hard rain and blasts of wind. In 10 minutes we were through it, and sailed out into sunshine on the back side. We unrolled the genny, and patiently worked our way through puffs of wind, and calms. Eventually, the winds filled back in and we skated into the gap between St. Thomas and Tortola. As we cleared the second line of islands, the fluky wind completely died. We motored for a half an hour and, finally, after 12 and a half days of flying, gave the mainsail a rest, packing it neatly into its bag again.
We motored along the bottom edge of St. Thomas and in a couple of hours were winding our way through the anchorage. Our preferred spot was full, so we found a nice little niche a half mile further along.
I offered to the run the guys to shore to stretch our legs and see some civilization, but there were no takers. We all just sat there a bit dazed, not sure what to think. We made it; we should be glad. Celebrations seemed in order, but all we could do was sit and stare off into the distance. "Civilization," or what passes for it, seems so overrated.
We enjoyed a peaceful light dinner, some light conversation, a long overdue shower, and then turned in. We're here but, reading between the lines, we all would really rather be back out there, at sea.
GPS location Date/Time:12/05/2011 06:44:11 EST
GPS location Date/Time:12/05/2011 11:15:39 EST
GPS location Date/Time:12/05/2011 14:28:29 EST
Day 446 ~ Enroute (day 11)
GPS location Date/Time:12/04/2011 0700:30 EST
I awoke with the rising sun. We were moving along nicely in a quartering sea with steady and persistent breeze. The boat was really moving. I cleaned up, or what passes for it on a passage, and relieved Dan. He had only been down for a few minutes when the line started screaming off the hoochie-rigged fishing reel. I thought about trying to fight it alone for a bit, but the boat was moving so fast, it was all I could do to keep the fish from running all the line off the spool.
A quick knock on the hull brought a hazy Dan and Ken up from the depths of sleep. They got the genny rolled up and, as we turned off the wind, the speed finally tapered off. There was nearly 100 yards of line in the water, much of it picking up weed and piling it against the fish. Slowly, inch by inch it seemed, we started to make headway.
Finally, we could see the dorado and soon had him beside the boat. At the last minute, seeing how small he was, I decided to just lift him in. Dan caught a sharp fish part on the hand cutting him in the process, but a moment later he was in the bin and flopping his last.
Fish 4, Crew 3, with injuries.
Then the long dressing and clean up process began. We powered the sails back up, brought in buckets of sea water for rinsing and got him filleted and in the fridge.
Everyone was just starting to relax again when Ken dropped the pink hootchie back in the water. It was wet for 10 seconds, before it was screaming off the reel again, with a buzzing hiss. Ken hadn't even had time to flip the reel back into drag mode. The fight was on. We turned down wind again, and Ken slowly worked his fish up to the boat, a hot sweating process now in the full glare of the morning sun.
As his fish neared the boat, it was clearly much larger than Dan's or mine. Dan grabbed the gaff and with one practiced sweep lifted the mahi mahi straight into the bin. He didn't really fit, but we pinned the cover down despite the large forked tail protruding from one corner. Another round of water, knives and cleanup. The fridge is now packed with fish, we had to triage some old lettuce and leftover burger to make room for the new
Fish 4, Crew 4
With a fridge jammed full of dolphin fish, we were reluctant to fish too aggressively, trailing a single hoochie for the rest of the day. Dan had two strikes, and a fish could be seen trailing the lure, but it never hit again. The breeze held steady throughout the day as the miles ticked past. Swell was confused for a while, making walking around difficult, but by evening it had evened out into small waves that are barely perceived much of the time.
I whipped up a large offering of mahi mahi fillet sandwiches which were promptly devoured.
With the setting sun, the wind tapered off a little and our speeds are now down to 5-6 instead of 8-9. If the predicted winds hold, we should see land fairly early tomorrow morning, and make landfall by early afternoon. Excited to see Lisa and the girls, but not all that excited about land. The last week's sailing, or sitting bobbing around, has been so peaceful, so beautiful and so relaxing that the return of land and its demands carries with it the edge of a dental visit. All for the best, right?
Of course, if the weather were sour, I am sure it would feel completely different. Overall, we have had a fantastically mild and fair weather window. Only a little rain on two days, no heavy wind or seas; just day after day of sterling sunny weather and fair breezes. The becalmed days were slow but, other than the mental tedium, were hardly suffering.
It's funny looking back; I had contigencies schemes for South Carolina, Bermuda, Florida, the Bahamas, the Turks, Puerto Rico, for low water, low fuel, bad weather and boat trouble. But never had it occurred to me that we would be becalmed for three days in the middle of the Atlantic, in winter. It's usually the one thing you haven't thought of that upsets your plans. As we were bobbing around, going nowhere, Dan's plane reservations came and went. Sorry man, there's just not much a sailor can do.
The moon is up now directly overhead and, though only 60% full, is casting a twilight glow to the shimmering world. A huge cargo ship ghosts 4 miles back across our wake, its bow and stern lights twinkling in the radiant heat of a tropical sea, one we know now to actually contain a few fish.
Day 432 ~ Crushed
Well, the day finally came. The sun broke clear and crisp, a light breeze was fluttering the flags nearby and we were ready. The boat was spotless and tightly packed, the crew was buzzing with excitement. We cast off promptly at 8am and proceeded to wind our way out of Jackson Creek's narrow entrance. I cut a corner I had remembered cutting on the way in only to promptly slide to a stop in the sand.
We were aground, the first time in a year. Thankfully, there was no swell so 30 seconds of mid-range reverse slid us back off again. We were out. We raised the main sail, forlorn having rested so long in its bag, and fell off the wind and shut off the engines. Ahhh, at long, long last. What a great feeling.
The wind was fluky, shifting and falling then rising. We were reaching, then pointing. I sheeted in the main sail a touch and was just starting to put some shape into it when I saw the boom rise unexpectedly.
Then came a buzzing sound, like the world's largest zipper being undone. The mainsail slowly, but surely, split in two right across the middle, it's stitching parting ways right at the seam.
I was aghast. Dumbfounded. Numb. Bewildered. The beautiful mainsail that had been like a rock, mile after mile, day after day, month after month was now effectively in two pieces. Oh, it was still attached, but you could throw a buffalo through the split. There was a sickening groan from the crew. We weren't going anywhere, at least anytime soon.
We dropped the our wounded wing and strapped her down, like a patient on a gurney. On came the engines and we slowly but surely ground our way southward. A few hours later we set the hook just outside the mouth of the Hampton River in Hampton, Virginia. It was Sunday afternoon so no sail shops were open.
Dejected, we got the sail off her tracks and folded into a canvas bag, ready for a trip to the hospital.
An atmosphere of let down permeated the boat. No one cried, but I sure wanted to. Our weather window, already stretched to the breaking point faded away like the setting sun.
Day 381 ~ Taking a Bath
I awoke to a calm morning after a drizzly, blustery night on the boat. With a car available, there were so many things that could and should be done. As a rule, we use a 10lb can of propane per month, and our last top up was in Boston. We have one empty and one partial. They are nasty things to lug around, so into the dink they went. When I got to Chris's car, I was surprised at the huge pile of Costco stuff crammed in the back. Oh yeah, I should probably take care of that too.
The iPhone guided me through the winding streets of New Rochelle, to a little hole-in-the-wall tree service with a propane filling place. After waiting around for a while, an older Columbian appeared and promptly filled both bottles.
Back at the yacht club, I lugged my cans down the dink. Club membership prices are so high they refuse to quote them over the phone or put them in print. The only way to find out is to be invited by an existing member, and then meet with the Membership director in private together. Scary.
I had combed my hair, shaved, and put on my nicest shorts, the only ones not streaked with dirty oil, rust and mud stains. Even so, it was clear I didn't really belong. Older ladies sipping tea on the covered veranda gave me cold, questioning glances, the uniformed yuppie staff decked out in Sperry shoes and Gucci glasses were professionally polite but cool. I didn't want to get Chris and Danielle in trouble, so decided I should make things as quick and low profile as possible.
I slide the cans in to the dink, asked politely if I may borrow one of the dock carts and loaded it as full as possible with Costco stores: flats of canned black beans, rafts of peanut butter and the like. The weight was amazing. Even though the cart was large enough for all three girls to ride in, it was clear two "low profile" loads would be needed. Yikes.
I wheeled briskly and quietly down the dock and then realized that the cart wouldn't fit across the gangway to the dinghy dock. I puttered around and tied it up really short so that it wouldn't drift into the launch area. Ours was the only real dinghy there. Its Chesapeake scum line, de-fancified outboard with chipped spray paint and lifesaver-as-a-fender attached looked sadly out of place among the fleet of sparkling mini race boats neatly lined on the dry dock.
Back for trip two, this time it all fit, and I made my way respectfully but quickly past the tea sippers and uniformed staff hut, hoping to attract zero attention.
I have everything in the dink now except the last flat, the heavy one that went into the cart first. We've been advised repeatedly not to step aboard while carrying anything, but day to day we just do it anyway; it feels natural. As I stepped on the bow with 40lbs of cans and cartons in a huge cardboard flat the shortness of the painter cut my momentum short with a jerk and sent me headfirst, black beans and all.
For one fraction of a desperate second I clawed at the dinghy cover with every available finger and toe, but then was over and under. One of my flip-flops tangled on a dinghy handle making sure it was a completely head-first entry.
I distinctly remember seeing bubbles and blue sky disappearing under a closing cone of green-gray water. It was cold and colder. There must have been quite a splash, and no small amount of thrashing, as I righted myself and came up for air. I grabbed the dink, got my bearings and looked right where the barge load of stores had gone under.
Saltwater is pretty heavy. Heavier, it proves, than peanut butter and even a Costco sized roll of garbage bags. Everywhere I looked there were floating selections, a six pack of dental floss, 4 jars of peanut butter, 4lbs of grapes and more, much more. In a combination of wind and current they were dispersing quickly at various stages of water line, some just below the surface, others riding high.
The only feasible thing to do was get them back in the dinghy as quickly as possible. I started heaving things aboard, leaving salty trajectory trails of water as they arced and crashed onto the floor already loaded with stuff. Always pads took to wing, skippy peanut butter cannonaded. From the tea sippers perspective, I was invisible, obscured by the dinghy itself. All they could see from their veranda angle were things being ejected out of the water and landing every which way in a soggy pile aboard this ragamuffin tub. Some landed gracefully, others with a crash or thud. From down below, the black bean six pack sounded like thunder.
After collecting all the wayward merchandise, I hiked myself up in the dink, thankful for all the practice in the tropics which told me exactly where and how to do it most gracefully, all the time remembering the "low profile" watchword. Even so, it's amazing how heavy I was with a full set of wet clothes, not to mention their contents: leatherman, knife and oh, yeah....
As I slid around onto the fiberglas seat, now soaked with salt water, and felt the first blast of the brisk fall wind I felt a familiar bulge in my pocket that had, until that moment, been forgotten.
Day 366 ~ A Dark and Stormy Night
Rained during the night and was cloudy in the morning. Spent the morning calling and internetting, trying to find a boat yard with a lift wide enough to pull our 24' 7" bulk out of the water. Turns out that catamarans are pretty rare this far north and many yards seemed in a stupor as to who in the world would ever need a lift that wide. "Try calling this or that boat yard..." was their only advice until finally all references were circular; I had already called them and they said to call you kind of thing. It was nearly 1pm before we were in Bill's truck and ready to go.
We stopped in Freeport for a summer shoe and rain jacket search at LL Bean and North Face. Found the shoes picked over but scored on three sale raincoats. We lost a dinghy paddle during one of the recent night's wind blasts and replaced it with a $9 find at Hamilton's, a real boat store that unfortunately keeps itself confined to Maine. They put West Marine to shame.
The Skelton's invited us to dinner and then to stay the night. Their home is a refurbished 1880's farm house with adjoining large room and extra house attached. It was a boarding school in the 1930s. The stairs are steep, the floors sunken, but it's quaint and cozy and the home-cooking was tough to beat.
The long awaited weather front blew in as we finished dessert. The trees were waving around, rain pelted the old rooflines and darkness set in with a vengeance. We hadn't planned for staying off the boat, so I wasn't confident that things were tightened down for the night's predicted 30+ knot winds. So, after the kids were tucked in warm snuggly beds, I crawled reluctantly into Bill's truck and wound my way through dark and rainy Maine back roads to Harpswell Point, an hour's drive.
At nearly 11pm, with rain slanting sideways through muted headline beams and swishing windshield wipers, I pulled into the deserted boat landing. The wind was stiff and blustery, the temperature dropping towards the 40s. Getting out of the warm truck I made my way down the gangway to the dock, out into the cold, into the rain, into the teeth of the wind and towards an impenetrable darkness that lay over the seething bay, flecked with whitecaps that could only be heard.
Years ago, thinking about the reality of boat life, I had theorized a night like this much in the same way that young people think about death. It's an abstract concept that will, vaguely, someday apply to you. Well, the reality of motoring out in the middle of a dark and stormy night towards a boat with a broken anchor light that should be about here, if it's anchor held, was a surreal, sobering experience, with a side of wet chill. I hadn't even had the presence of mind to bring a rain coat. The dinghy had a small headlamp which illuminated a tiny disk just a few feet ahead, burning its few precious photons on whizzing rain drops.
Harpswell Bay is a remote, rocky peninsula with a few summer homes. While a half dozen hazy yard lights served as my navigation aides, I puttered around the anchorage, finding first one lobster boat and then another before finally getting my bearings on where we must be anchored. With the water finally soaking through my last layer of clothing I heard, rather than saw, a boat ahead. Turning the light, a faint glow returned. There she slept, waiting for some attention.
Sea Pearl lay there, unlashed. A couple of hatches were cracked open. Coming was the right move, but in the course of a cold night accompanied by the howls of wind in the rigging gave me plenty of time to compare theory with reality and conclude that death wasn't worth theorizing about, because when it came it would bite a little harder than the idea.
Day 346 ~ Free at last
I didn't elaborate on the engine repair yesterday because today is when it really gets rich. So, Nick says he's got it all fixed yesterday. But when Lisa goes to start the engine it's completely dead, not even a click. Nick looks around and says he doesn't see any loose wires or anything. But everyone remembers it working fine before the transmission repair.
I get back from working and it's pouring rain. I find out later that the drops were just starting to fall when Nick was "checking for loose wires". By the time the rain stopped it was nearly dark, so I checked the battery and the cut-off switch and everything looked fine.
This morning broke sunny and warm. A good day for leaving. I opened the engine compartment hatch and in 15 seconds found the problem. Two problems, actually. Both the positive and negative leads from the ignition switch, which was freshly re-run in December, had come off the starter and hanging loose, the other had ripped out of a relay where it provided the ground.
Hmmm. I pulled both wires out, laid them right on top of the engine where it would be impossible to miss them. Nick said he would "send someone over first thing" to look things over. Apparantly wiring isn't his strong suit. Well, 10am came, and I realized that if we were going to hole up somewhere for days to ride out Irene we would need some more victuals. Nana and I took off for the Hanneford market by bike, about a mile away.
We were just making it out of the produce and into the bread section when Lisa texted me that an engine guy, not Nick, finally shown up. Nana and I tried to stick to the essentials, but getting everything on the bikes and in the backpacks was a bit of a trick.
When we got back the engine guy was just finishing up. He had the two wires that I found fixed pretty quickly. Lisa stopped him before he left for a test start which happened just as it should (but she didn't put it into gear as she thought the boat in front of us was a bit close). However, when he gave the signal to push stop, nothing happened. The engine just kept on a chugging away.
Back in the engine hole the mechanic went...again. This one took him a little longer. Long enough that when I wheeled up with 40lbs of groceries, he was just wrapping up. The engine now started and stopped. Hurray, I thought, finally we are free of this marina blackhole thing. We stashed the bikes and I was about to cast off the bow line when a thought occurred to me. Perhaps the engines should be running.
Started the port engine. Perfect. Hey, let's see how this new transmission thing is working. Nothing. That's right, shift reverse, nothing. Try to shift forward and the handle won't even budge.
I am losing enough hair already due to biological changes, life with old engines isn't helping any. I was a little hot walking up the dock, but had cooled down some by the time I found Nick sucking on a cigarette while leaning on a hazmat drum of waste oil. Something told him I wasn't bearing good news. But he kept his chin up and, bringing along the electrical savvy guy, they followed me right back down to the boat. It was a relief to not have to wait another few hours as has been the custom up to this point. And it was sunny, so at least we weren't getting wet in the process.
I started the engine again and demonstrated the problem. Nick looked on skeptically, then went down and then got lower and lower and started murmuring things only his assistant was meant to hear. The next thing I know wrenches are being passed down clean and back up greasy. Two minutes later and Nick emerges with a oily part in his hand the size of small chocolate muffin, say with a chicken bone protruding from one side.
"Er, got this part in backwards; just need to run up to the shop and turn it around. Be back in two minutes...." he mutters with a smile of chagrin.
The part got put back and even worked properly; this time they tested it several times prior to walking away. Our dock neighbor came down to cast us off. We were outta there and into a blue bird day of dodging lobstah traps while Irene churns through North Carolina like a lawn mower that swallowed the blue pill.
Day 338 ~ Macaroon Magic
There was talk of making the trip to Rockland a guys' sailing adventure, but in the end the families decided to do some other, shall we say, more corporate things. We dinghied over to say goodbye. The girls were crying as we walked back down the dock. Six days of beach fun, fireworks fun, eating fun, kayaking, swimming and more fun. I felt like a clod all over again.
The morning fog began to burn off, so we fired up our one working engine. However, the water infiltration alarm wouldn't go off. This is not good. I had the hatch up in a minute but all was good. Hmmm, probably a bad sensor, but the constant squeal would drive a deaf man nuts. Blue tape and paper towels over the alarm got the sound down to a managable decibel. Nothing like going to the root of the problem.
I guess blocking out the warning signs is one of the first signs of real trouble, on boats and in life. Nothing like starting my birthday out right. We released the mooring and picked our way out of the lobster mine field. The wind seemed decent as we turned the corner to head east toward Penobscot Bay. We sailed for a while and, as the wind slackened, put up the gennie to give us a little boost. Abused as she is, though, she still pulls well and we are getting better at managing her finicky moods.
Mile by mile the wind softened to a feather's touch. The engine came on and the alarm went off on its own after a few minutes, a welcome relief to the relative silence of three cylinders pounding their brains out against a hydrocarbon injected rush.
We opted to turn into Tenant's Harbor for the night. We anchored in Long Cove, an ideal anchorage if there ever was one; nearly 360 degree protection and good holding in a relatively shallow 6 meters. Being my birthday, we made coconut macaroons, which no one likes but me and, as we found out later, Nika. Nika and I were just enjoying our seconds when an Outward Bound gaff rigged boat came sliding past, the crew dropping a lead line every 30 seconds and calling out the depth. They anchored nearby and proceeded to set up tarps to sleep out the night.
There were 5 leftover cookies and, based on the slowly moving silhouettes, 8 freezing souls aboard. Nana was the first to suggest that we make them a batch of cookies. It only took a few minutes the second time around to have them mixed up and on the cookie sheet. The watched macaroon never cooks is as true as ever today, but eventually they were done and out. We dropped them in a bag and wrapped them up in a towel to keep warm. The girls, excited by this adventurous good deed, already had the dinghy down and ready. We puttered over to them in the last hints of twilight. Our offering was received with grateful, gloved hands.
"Warm macaroons for cold sailors."
We puttered back to our floating home with the certain knowledge that it really is better to give than receive, a lesson I hope the girls absorbed somewhere in their often silly brains.
We got the dinghy back up, now in total darkness. We were just coiling the lines a faint, "1, 2, 3" was heard. The tranquil air was ripped with a reverberating "Thank You!" yelled in unison at full college football volume. The sound rippled over the water and echoed off the granite walls that stood guard around us, silent witnesses to the power of a warm cookie on a cold night.
Day 312 ~ Kingdom of the Flies, Bug War III
As before, it's on the third day of a passage that things begin to feel right, if living on 4 hours of sleep for every 24 past is ever right. Perhaps, "normal" is the correct word. The girls are in the groove now and the morning goes smoothly. Last night I noticed condensation on the escape hatch windows. The water is so cool that it's chilling the hulls; since the humidity is through the roof, the lower walls of the showers are dripping.
After lessons we do some story time, and a late breakfast. Hours meld into a beautiful blur of tranquil waters and a nice working breeze. We have had the genny (big head sail) up now for a couple of days with great results. She scoops huge fistfuls of light air and we have many hours of 6+ knots of ground speed in very little wind.
Sometime in the morning the flies appear. We are 30 miles from the nearest land and this completely confounds us. Where are these things coming from? The water surface is really the only explanation, but it makes no sense. Swimming flies?
The fact is one of the plagues of Egypt is upon us, and these little suckers bite, favoring that tender, tight skin around our ankles. It's as if each carries a leatherman, lands, takes a nice little pinch of flesh and flies off cackling with laughter. Die suckers, die!
We quickly seal all open hatches with Lisa's homemade screens. The indoor battle ensues. One hour of whacking later and the interior is mercifully fly free, or nearly so. Lisa, ever a bugs best friend, heads out to the cockpit to do battle Average whack per minute rate is 10-12. Gear starts to fail. After an hour of continuous thumping, her fly swatter breaks clean off at the handle. You get what you pay for, but they have been working since Grenada. We have three more, but at this rate we'll be plumb out of artillery by dusk.
I naively put bug dope on my legs, then watch as a particularly large specimen lands right next to a swirl of DEET and chomps down. Guess that's not going to work.
The girls hunker down inside. As the hours pass Lisa and I become deft at swatting on the the move, perfecting the backhand sliding twist whack, and honing our follow through, gaining some control of where the carcasses land based on slide, attack angle and being swat selective – intentional on which region of the swatter you center on the target. There's the central power zone, if a smash is desired, and then the outer finesse areas that allow you to direct the victim towards the cockpit drains, for example, on the bounce-back.
We even get good and doing blind kills. I knock two dead on one ankle without even looking. I feel their landing gear and strike, then look down and see two twirling around on the floor in their death throes. I let them suffer a bit, just for revenge, then polish them off with an angle measured to land them both in the drain. A swirl of breeze catches one, so I have to follow up with a scoop. Valuable hunting time lost.
With the wind situation stable, I finally give up and head inside; Lisa charges on. I can't say that girl lacks tenacity when it comes to vermin. Her unverified record rose to 4 kills with a single swat. She reported that the wind protecting the underside of the dinghy held a thick carpet of flies. I didn't even want to look.
Despite hours of battle the tide of flies doesn't turn until evening, when cooler temperatures seems to do them in. One minute, it's as bad as ever and the next I go out to tweak some mainsail trim and realize that I haven't felt any ankle pinching. What a pleasant surprise.
One of the liabilities of passages is that the younger kidlets begin to suffer from EED. Excessive Energy Disorder. Relief for parents and kids alike, we have found through trial and error, is some planned rough-housing time. The girls life jacket up and meet me on the tramp for some Bears v. Salmon time. The life jackets add a nice padding to the experience and give the bear (guess who?) convenient handles for seizing otherwise slippery salmon and pinning them the tramp. Nika and Nana quickly go spastic, leaping on my back with, say, both knees and throttling me by the Adam's apple. Not sure that I have many more years of this kind of thing in me.
We settle them down with some Hans Christian Andersen. Turns out the guy wasn't a universal genius, as the first two stories we attempt turn dark, twisted and confused, not exactly kid literature by today's standards. I glean that violence, death, duty and punishment for sin were popular kid book topics in the day. But we find a few gems eventually. I guess you only have to get a few hits to make a name for yourself.
As the sun sets, the wind begins to taper off; by 11pm we are making 1.5 knots. At this rate it will take 3 more days to make Block Island. The GRIB files show about 24 hours of no real wind, so we finally fire up the starboard engine and motor into the moonrise.
07/23/2011 05:45:37 AKDT
07/23/2011 11:08:28 AKDT
07/23/2011 15:31:09 AKDT
07/23/2011 23:51:27 AKDT
Day 289 ~ Bean Counters Unite
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 279 ~ Old Haunts
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 275 ~ An hour in a coffee bar
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 265 ~ Backtracking
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 248 ~ A drinking problem
Life on land is a deceptive existence. Accomplished sailor Webb Chiles asserts that "the purpose of cities is to insulate you from the reality that nature doesn't care."
There's something to that. On land, every move is pre-arranged for safety and comfort. The corners of the roads are graded precisely and never too tight. The sidewalks are engineered for slip prevention. The temperature of your home, car and shopping experience is carefully monitored and controlled by machines that you never see. The water comes out of the tap filtered, sanitized and routinely tested by professionals you have never met.
You'd think that after a year floating around, a guy would be just about done making really stupid mistakes. Sure, unknown cruising grounds, bad charts, weird currents and unpredictable weather will always shade the sailor with humilating encounters that don't happen often enough in normal life on land.
But what bad can come from cleaning the boat? It sounded like such a great idea.
The entire deck drains right past the water tank fill ports so if it would just rain a little we'd have all the water we needed. But no, the sunshine just never stops. Yesterday we hauled H2O, painstakingly filling both tanks by hand from jerry cans and our 40 gallon bladder, one bucketful at a time. It felt great to have enough water aboard for another 10+ days.
Lisa had deep cleaned the inside yesterday and today it made sense to tackle the deck, which had been encrusted with the tiny footprints of a thousand kid-mania footfalls.
I whipped out the Boat Soap, pine scented and concentrated to make 96 gallons of effective cleaner. Keep out of reach of children, the bottle states. I slung droplets of it at random and then the girls hauled up buckets of salt water while I scrubbed the deck from bow to stern, while they splashed things clean, chasing down entire armies of sudsy bubbles.
We had finished the starboard side and were just about done with the port side when a cry was heard. "The water tank is open!"
I rushed back thinking blood must be spilling, only to see half of the long trail of bubbles, forking inboard and down into the water abyss of our port water tank. The one we use for cooking and kitchen clean up. It took a few seconds for the reality to soak in. We had been washing out boat, while mindlessly adding Pine Scented Boat Soap to our domestic water supply. This just never happened at home.
I rushed downstairs, pulled up the floor boards and opened the tank inspection port. Nice little clumps of bubbles were floating around, like white puffy clouds on a clear dewey morning, their edges shifting and shrinking as members popped slowly, like tiny champagne corks celebrating their promotion to drinking water.
I just sat there and stared at them for a while, drifting this way and that slowly with the gentle rocking of the boat at anchor.
At times like that, a gutteral moan is about the most expressive thing to say, at least from a man's point of view. Lisa never quite knows what the grunts mean, but this one was surely unmistakable for anything other than sad disgust.
Chalk another one up to stupidity.
The day progressed. We opted to leverage the 65 gallons of tainted water on a full fresh water scrub down of the deck, the cockpit and transom teak, several loads of hand laundry and a dozen other miscellaneous things we never do with our precious fresh water.
By the time we were done, my trips to the usual sources of water were pointless; it was Friday evening and everyone had gone home. Have to wait 'til mañana. Just another lesson in the slow down and relax curriculum. One Type A guy from Alaska isn't going to change the island culture in a day, or a lifetime for that matter.
Day 228 ~ Tranquility Base
I awoke just a few minutes before Steve poked his head in at 0300. For the first time in 4 mornings, felt well rested and ready to go. Guess at some point the body cycle gets in sync with the passage demands and life gets easier. Enjoyed several hours of transluscent peace and serenity alone on watch under a canopy of stars. The wave trains are small now and regular.
It's difficult to describe the sense of completeness and balance that runs over your soul on a peaceful night while underway. The boat rocks gently, like a cradle. The waves gurgle past slowly, the sails whisper from time to time as they slack between powder puffs of wind. There's nothing to do but think, pray and wonder how, if this world is indeed fallen, heaven could be any better. It's like being baptised with stardust in an crystal cathedral while millions of waves cheer softly from every quarter.
There's no feeling like being where you are supposed to be and doing what you were meant to do. Being surrounded by family and friends on a beautiful craft surfing the sparkling seas before a following breeze doesn't hurt much either. The fact that the water under our keels is 4,550 meters deep adds something to the sense of austerity that the sea impresses us with through every pour, increasing a feeling of uniqueness and value in being here, and being alive.
The sun rose slowly, like a watched pot that never boils. It was a typical tropical burst, stunning, accented with multi-layers of golden clouds.
I was in the mood for a simple cereal breakfast so opened our large fridge, which we use for dry storage since de-commissioning it as a working fridge. I grabbed a bag of flakes and poured a bowl, of which I was halfway through, when Steven piped in quoting Master and Commander:
"Don't you know you should always choose the lesser of two weavels?!" Looking down, there was a nice healthy insect larvae crawling off the bag and venturing out for a journey across the cockpit table.
Steve was apparently not impressed with my ho-hum reaction. I wasn't surprised, actually. We've had some moths living in a cabinent for a while and never really took the gloves off to go hand-to-hand with them. Just removed the birthing bag of repackaged peanuts, jettisoned them to sea and squished the adults we saw from time to time.
Just 'getting by' on a boat is a really bad action plan that will eventually bite you. Watching a larvae crawl across my table was sufficient motivation to get moving. A half an hour later, we had a pile of 'save' and a pile of 'fish food'. Several bags of cereal were compromised, a bag of brown rice housed full-grown inhabitants. Jeff suggested we just boil the rice, pick them out and go for it. "What do you think they used to do in the good old days?"
Lisa wasn't impressed.
With lessons done and the moth population hammered, we relaxed on the tramp reading and enjoying the feeling of being underway without the diesel grind.
Hour followed hour in a easy, timeless way that never seems to happen on land. The sun accelerated toward the horizon. It was clear that we were going to make the north end of Long Island just at or after dark. I dug up some old track files from a few years ago that gave me the confidence to enter the harbor after dark, which is exactly what happened.
We followed our old GPS track to the foot and set the anchor in 3 meters on a sandy bottom to the pin prick illuminations of headlamps and then collapsed into a deep, long and grateful slumber. No motion, no creaking lines, no 0300 watch wakeup call. Bliss.
04/30/2011 03:31:40 AKDT
04/30/2011 11:53:39 AKDT
04/30/2011 16:02:21 AKDT
Day 193 ~ Full Court Press
A flea market of boat parts was announced on the net, so Dan, Nina and I headed out before breakfast. These late nights with kid boats need to chill out a little. We can't keep going to bed at 11:00pm and stay in step with the early-bird cruising culture.
Turned out that there wasn't much there. Just a few old guys with a few dusty items. We bought a courtesy flag, then hoofed it over to the chandlery to try to get our tank level sensors programmed.
Marvin, the boss, was still out sick. The first few people said he had been out for a week and that they dare not call him. It was clear from their body language that fear was a major component of their relationship. Hmmm.
Finally, it was suggested that we talk to his wife who was working upstairs. A more beaten down and fearful person is hard to imagine. She was almost shaking at the thought of calling him, but agreed to do it all the same. A consent, I realized after the fact, which took more courage than I have probably mustered in the last several years in total.
At first Marvin said, no, no, too complicated, only he could do it. However, when I explained that I was a programmer and could figure out the software if we could just use the black box that the company supplies, he grudgingly agreed to do it over the internet by logging into his machine remotely. He wouldn't let me talk to him on the phone directly; I had to convey everything through his wife, who had the receiver close enough for my own voice but ended up repeating my directives verbatim anyway. After I connected all the wires, it was a trivial 3-minute process.
When I returned to the sales floor to thank the sales guy for his help I concluded by saying, "It was really simple."
"Of course it's simple," he replied, "it's about Marvin's self esteem. That's not so easy to handle."
Unlike their competitors, the store was spotless, well-organized and well-staffed. The parking lot was clean, the building freshly painted. I suddenly realized that this was all about Marvin.
We found a prop for the outboard, installed it and went over to recover the wind generator, which the guy at Eclectic explained how to re-assemble. They are really helpful and an hour of electronic's expertise only costs $45USD. Wow.
Lisa and Nina-Kate from Ondine ran to the post office in hopes of finding it open. Having arrived only 5 minutes after closing, they sweet-talked the guy into selling them some stamps anyway.
All the stuff we heard about the French being rude is complete poppy cock. Overall, they are considerably friendlier than Americans, and often go out of their way to be helpful if given the chance.
The afternoon was hot, so I went for a dip and, when I was returning from the anchor, I sensed more than saw two huge shadows under the boat. Shark was the first thing on my mind, but the shape was wrong. They were a pair of massive Tarpon, the size of a decent King Salmon. They were watching me with beady eyes. I wasn't exactly their prey, but neither were they moving away from me. This was a peer to peer relationship. I decided that they could have their medium and I would have mine and climbed out with more than usual vigor.
We debated trying to catch one, but it turns out that they aren't particularly edible, so we left them unmolested (save for a few documentary photos) to continue patroling the anchorage.
Ondine was doing another movie night, so Dan whipped up some omlettes and I dropped them off next door.
It's late now, after 10:00pm, the bean soup in the pressure cooker is whistling, some acoustic tunes are on the stereo and a crazy tropical bird is whooper whilling as it whirls invisibly through the moonless sky overhead. The boat rocks gently, the light chop is slapping the dinghy, a soft humid breeze is skating in through the hatches and the day's heat is slowly dissipating.
I am now convinced that it takes more faith to believe this immersive experience is an accident than to believe it was designed. I am just too cynical to accept that the odds add up. They don't, and pretending they do doesn't hurt the designer, it hurts us.
Day 181 ~ Whirlwind Tour
We rented a little micro-French car for the day and explored Guadeloupe, the largest of the Caribbean islands. It's an odd combination of steep and windy mountain roads connected to flat-out four lane freeways zooming over low undulated farm lands.
There were many times when it felt like we were driving through any small farming town in Arkansas or Georgia. The French government roads, signage and infrastructure have permeated to the very roots of the island. We had nearly reached the extreme eastern tip of the island and needed a lunch stop. We turned the corner and found a beautiful little park, complete with quaint gazebo over a picnic table, artistically done garbage bins and concrete boat launch. After several months in the third world, it was like a page from a fairy tale, freshly painted in pastel colors, over looking a vanilla cream beach with turquoise water. It was surreal.
We had only ham sandwiches, but they just tasted better. Guess the "authentic" caribbean wears thin after a bit.
We stopped at a few shops here and there, a bricolage (hardware store) and Uship (boat parts place) with little success. We did hit a few large grocery stores and stocked up on things that seem to be really cheap in France, like boxed milk and locally grown pure cane sugar. If it's not cheap here, we're not sure where it could be.
We returned via the southern route around Basse-Terre thereby covering a good portion of the island. We wound up back near the anchorage at the local laundromat after dark. There was a hole-in-the-wall Pizzeria that offered grilled half chickens for 4 euros and handmade pizza just around the corner in a nearly deserted strip mall. Tough to resist. The girls watched enthralled while the proprieter whipped out our pie and expertly slid it in the oven.
It disappeared in a flash after which we went to find and load the dinghy, which was just across the street, with our day's loot.
When I had tied the dinghy up hours before under a progenous tree, I had wondered at the incredible amount of guano on the boat tied next to my spot. "Wow", I thought, "they must not have washed that dink in years!"
As I climbed in the darkness down to the dinghy, which had faithfully waited patiently all day, I noticed some new spots in the hazy glow of the laundromat's parking light. First one here, and one there. Then, it dawned on me. I glanced up. Dozens of snoozing snowy egrets were nested above for the evening, resting from a hard day's fishing.
I froze. Suddenly acutely aware, I could clearly hear impacts all around. Plop, splat, splash. The intonations were only affected by the surface that received the hit. Our previously clean dink was now covered in white and gooey brown leopard spots and more was falling fast. Knots and locks, which normally come off quickly in my hands, now took forever, getting snagged and hooking on every possible ledge or crannie.
Whiz, plop, splash, splat.
The dink was free now but the outboard, which doesn't like to be left alone for more than an hour, was requiring its usual dance of priming and pulling. Plop, splot, ploosh. I bent over to prime it again when I felt the air pressure changing on my back just before the strike, which landed with a dull thud. A warm, gooey package burst over my back, adhering to my sweat-infused shirt and penetrating to my skin in a patch the size of a muffin. But of course, I wasn't laying flat, so it started to ooze down towards the beltline, finding its way into every available pore.
About that time Nina broke in from the boat launch where I was headed, "Wow Papa, look and see all those bird above you; that's amazing!"
Now, months on a boat with temperamental toilets will harden a guy a bit to the vagueries of nature and biological imperatives. But, surrounded by guano encrusted boats on a hazy night with more rounds whizzing by made for a repulsive sensation. I let out a have groan, half yell.
"Ahhhhhhhrrrrg!" I yelled, "I've been hit!"
"By what?" Nina replied
"Think about it!" was my not-too-patient reply.
As I stood up the adhesion broke free and it felt great to have the shirt and it's contents off my skin and in the breeze. The engine finally fired, and I backed out and away from the drop zone with all due speed, then promptly made the mistake of bending over again. Stick, slide, slime. Another gutteral scream.
Of course, as I motored towards the light and my innocent family, you can imagine the disgust and "oooh, gross!" that resonated through the small harbor when they saw our new leopard look. Lisa and I spent some quality time with a flashlight and used up half a box of Kleenex, trying to make the dink ready to receive our food stashes, not to mention 2 large bags of clean laundry, but we tried not to think about it too much.
At some point, you realize that nature really does have the upper hand, gravity is king and some of the tastiest things in life are savory not because of what you know, but because of what you don't.
Ignorance really is bliss.
Day 165 ~ Northward at last
Sitting at a desk in a controlled environment surrounded by bustling productive people with coffee in one hand and yesterday's sales report in the other, it's impossible to fully comprehend the gravity of inertia that permeates the tropical atmosphere. The heat, the soft breezes, the fluttering palms, the gentle rocking of the boat. It's a conspiracy of forces that communicate to the fibers of your body one cohesive message.
Do nothing. Relax. Tomorrow will take care of itself.
So, day after day dawns with its usual softened emergence of warmth and light, like slowly opening a grapefruit in a dim room only to find a lightbulb in the center. I get up in the cool and think, "Today, we are going to go somewhere".
Then I mess with a minor plumbing problem, fill the solar showers, waver for a while on how much effort I really want to invest in breakfast, eat something anyway, then respond to an email or two, then remember a few things needed in town and then, before I know it, the day is half done and I may as well go swimming to cool off a bit.
So it is that is how we have spent 9 days in St. Anne, a beautiful little village nestled in the rocky folds of Martinique, itself a jewel woven into the rippling fabric of the sea. But at some point we really should leave.
Thankfully, we are not alone. Löma came by yesterday and mentioned that they were sailing around to Grand Anse d'Arlet tomorrow morning. "Let's sail together", I suggested, which they thought sounded like a great idea. We agreed to up anchor at 9:00a.
With a date, a deadline and friends as a carrot, the boat whipped itself into shape in double time. Little eyes were constantly watching Löma and reporting, "They are moving around on deck!" "I think their engine is running!" "I think they are moving" and numerous similar hypotheses filled the air as we ran back and forth with final tightening of this line and closing of that hatch.
When a red and white boat was coming full steam straight for us, with a nice frosty mustache of bow spray cutting thorough the wind drive chop, there was no mistaking it. They beat us off the hook.
I've never seen the girls so motivated to get the show on the road, which we promptly did.
Had a little snafu when the chain jammed in the chute and the windlass breaker popped, but eventually we welcomed Mr. Bruce back into the family and thanked him again for a nice solid set. Poor guy. He's been down there so long that his rode is starting to sport a nice array of tropical growth.
We turned up wind and raised the main in 25 knot gusts, set to the first reefing point of course, then fell away (from the wind) and were sailing at last.
Löma is a Etap 38, which should have a top speed of about 8 knots under sail alone. We matched her pace for pace with only our main while the kids had fun sailing near their friends and watching each other with binoculars. After an hour or so though, we unfurled the headsail and started to make tracks.
It was a bracing run around the Southwest corner of Martinque inside of Diamond Rock and up the mountainous western coastline. The wind was squirrely with occassional 35+ gusts that claimed a hat, one down cushion and nearly claimed several more. We peaked out at 12.4 knots SOG (speed over ground) on the GPS but soon furled the head sail to keep everything in its place.
Date/Time:02/26/2011 05:19:58 AKST
We motored then into Grande Anse d'Arlet bay, which is wide and beautiful; crystal clear water over a sandy bottom. We anchored behind Tépacap and spotted a sea turtle just a few yards off just minutes later. After putting the boat back into condo mode, we did a quick lunch and then met the Löma gang (which now includes two cousins from France) at the beach for some kid fun.
On the way back, Löma invited us over for some refreshments and we ended up staying way past dinner time. Nothing like some leftovers to save the day. Two of the girls tipped over at the table, but we prodded them with hot sticks until they got their PJs on and teeth brushed. Lights out!
Day 124 ~ The real St. Lucia
After an exhausting sail, I expected we'd sleep in, but the early bug had bitten and we were up and going with the sun. It feels good to have the upwind work out of the way for the foreseeable future.
We had to re-anchor, twice, due to fluky winds and incoming micro cells which whipped winds and boats every which way. The anchorage is fairly deep, so we had a lot of scope out and found ourselves uncomfortably close to a channel marker and then another boat. Since the anchorage is noted as having mixed holding and rocks, opted once again for Mr. Bruce. Wasn't a big fan of them based on the empirical tests I have read, but day to day experience with it is bringing me around; although, having one that is 50% over spec, might have something to do with it.
Did pancakes to start the day right, then alternated between prepping for rain and opening up the boat again to cool off. Wave after wave of rain and winds came through, inevitably complimented by blue sky and sunshine for another half hour.
The cooler weather brought motivation, so I tackled some long overdue cleaning and inspection of the forward crash compartments which were, thankfully, dry.
Did a light lunch, then Lisa dropped me off at the fishing port and I headed into Vieux Fort.
Wow, the similarities with rural Chinese towns were acute; the open drainage accumulating loose trash in the corners, the stray dogs, the barred windows, the heavy locks and even the smell were so similar that, if you had changed the signage and the color of the idle men hanging out in doorways, you'd have been there. When I passed a Chinese bar and "supermarket" with chinese characters on the windows done in cheap red tape, the transport was complete.
Having loosely memorized the simple map in the guidebook, I hoofed it hard for 10 minutes and came out where the bus station should have been. No dice. Asked a guy on the corner and was pointed one street over. The first bus I found was missing only one person so, for $2EC, I got the last seat and we were off.
It's only a couple of miles around and then a 5 minute walk to the terminal. A real airport. Compared to Grenada and Clifton on Union Island, this looks and feels like a real airport. Bustling and busy with lots of people of many colors, vendors and baggage men. Was pointed to Customs by each policeman I passed and felt I must finally be getting warmer.
The last lady I asked said, "Through those doors" and pointed vaguely while turning her attention to her phone. Large red "No Entry" signs, "Port Police permission required" and other similar dire warnings were plastered on and beside each large steel door.
"You're telling me to go through the 'No Entry' door?", I asked with raised eyebrows, wanting to be sure the dialectical differences between Hairoun culture speak and mid-west flavored American hadn't led to a misunderstanding that would land me in jail.
"Yes, yes, just knock and go in", she replied, while texting.
As I trepidaciously approached the doors, an overweight American tourist sporting several large bags fumbled through one door. I held it open, cautiously peeked inside and took a half step over the threshold.
It was the back end of the customs tables through which all incoming flight passengers must go. A smartly dressed lady who seemed to function as an arm of the airport public relations team immediately caught the site of me running upstream of traffic and made a beeline for interception.
I made eye contact, using every posture I knew how to convey confusion and uncertainty.
I explained my purpose and she smiled, "No problem, you're in the right place, you want to talk to that tall guy over there", pointing a daintily decorated finger towards a uniformed custom officer who stood a full head higher than everyone else.
I worked my way toward him, dodging snow-white British touristas with lapdogs, the odd newlywed American couple, and numerous Canadian escapees. I waited until he was free, than explained my purpose: came in on a boat, need to check in, etc.
"I am sorry, sir." he responded with a nod in the direction of a huge line of people, "We're a little busy at the moment; you'll have to wait until we are done here, at least until 4 o'clock." It was 3:15pm, so no big deal.
He politely asked me to wait outside the customs area which, sadly, was not so nicely air conditioned.
I struck up a conversation with the St. Lucia helicopter vendor and learned about her messy divorce and subsequent immigration to St. Lucia. "It was the only flight out of Newark that night to someplace warm, so I got on." And stayed for a long time, like 21 years. Married a local, bought land, and is now selling helicopter tours from a small flourescent lighted booth in a dim corner of the St. Lucia airport. And happily too. I guess living in paradise has its upsides.
"Don't you miss the seasons?", I asked. "Are you kidding!?", she said with a smile. "I don't miss snow one bit."
After these, and many similar exchanges, it was after 4:00pm. Dan, my best friend from grade school should be somewhere in the customs line by now so I headed back through the forbidden gates.
Sure enough, I caught sight of him pretty quickly. He was through customs in a minute and I was able to help with his gear, most of which was stuff we requested ranging from a bamboo floor mat to full size Alaska and American flags to mosquito netting, thankfully which we haven't needed so far.
Back in the inner sanctum, I was handed off from the big guy to a younger lady. I get along pretty well with most people, but things went downhill fast.
"When did you get in?"
"Why are you here so late, it's the end of the day? You are supposed to check in immediately."
"It's Sunday, everything is closed, I had to walk and get a bus."
She was unimpressed. In the past, my forms were given a prefunctory glance and stamped for approval with a smile. Now, smelling a nonconformist, she dove into every detail. The form was quite tedious, requiring all passport numbers, issuance dates, birthdays, place of birth, relationship, measurements and specifications for the boat, hull number, documentation numbers ad naseum.
After 12 years of typing every day with a few moments of writing by hand scattered about when a signature is necessary or shopping list is made, it's safe to say that my lettering is less than precise. Lisa claims it's unreadable. So, you can imagine this official's disposition as she flogged through my scrawl, one digit at a time, comparing every bit of information.
"Do you need glasses?", she asked.
I was taken aback. What with the creole accent, I wasn't sure I heard her right.
"Glasses? Er, no."
"You have errors in your form, what is this, a 5? You have the birthdays switched on two of these rows" and similar critiques continued sporadically with every minor oversight.
What could I do? Nothing but take it. Her neighboring customs officier ,who could clearly overhear the conversation, tried to hide a smile. I guess it's the game they play. Here you are, living a dream, but now, for this moment, you are completely at their mercy. A mouse in the cat cage and there's no doubt whose expense at which the fun will be.
Finally released, I was sent to immigration where, to my chagrin, I was presented with 5 entry forms which had to be filled out in complete detail, one for each person, with the exact same information I just put on the customs entry form. To his credit, the immigration guy took pity and used a few passports to fill out the forms as I completed out the others. Then it was stamp, stamp, stamp and off I went. He never asked any questions or double checked details. Guess he had grown up already.
Finally, back in the open air again, Dan was waiting patiently sitting on his totes. "Hey, this guy wants to talk to you", he said motioning towards what appeared to me to be a taxi driver.
"Great", I thought, another hard sell. But I had underestimated him. Nevil, not only drove us to the fishing pier for a pickup, but turned out to be a boating fan who was actively searching for a day charter sailboat. Before I knew it we were talking of the merits of this or that craft and how it would work for a tourista business model. It was great to see a resourceful local thinking entrepreneurially. Looking around the island in general I can tell he's not the only one.
Back at the boat, the setting was ideal. A soft warm breeze was ruffling our flags, puffy clouds brought brillant color to a perfect sunset. The boat moved gently at her anchor. Dan probably wanted to sit for a bit and soak it all in, but we were pumping him for information, bringing him up to speed on this and that and, before long ,the girls couldn't help but get antsy to see the gifts that the Grandmas had sent with him.
It was like a second Christmas. We spent so much time talking and discovering this or that item which we had forgotten having asked for, that dinner slipped my mind for too long.
Hotdogs, rice and beans filled the gap rather nicely, and sent the girls to bed with full tummies, the monsters.
Day 115 ~ Contact from another planet
As we speak, numerous deep space antennas are trained at distant galaxies in vain hope of finding the slightest sign of alien life. Untold dollars are spent trying to answer the perennial question, "Are we alone in the universe?" But they are looking too far. We are, in fact, not alone. Aliens landed on our trampoline just last night in the form of a 40' ketch flying a big Texas flag; guess they were jealous of our Alaska flag. But we defended our 7 stars on a field of blue with honor and sent those Texans packing, as it were, or at least back to bed where they were when all the action happened...
The night was peaceful when we retired and, being exhausted from a full day of sun and excercise, we were out in a minute.
About 2:00am rain coming in the open hatches pricked me back to a hazy life. We need water pretty badly so Lisa and I were both up and moving quickly. We wait a few minutes for the boat to get cleaned off, then redirected the torrents into the tanks. If it's really coming down, we can fill in 10-15 minutes and last another week so, crazy as running around naked at night in the rain sounds, it really does have a purpose.
After getting things set up we got back under cover and had a look around. To my surprise, there was a boat just in front of us that, I was 90% sure, wasn't there went we went to bed. The Texas boat off our stern appeared to no longer be there either. Hmmm. The wind was squirreling around 360 degrees; one minute from the North, the next from the West. I watched the "new" boat for quite a while and he didn't seem to be moving. Figuring they had dragged their anchor, but were now hooked up, I laid down on the couch in the main salon with a flashlight nearby to wait for the next big wind shift.
It didn't take long in coming. Perhaps ten minutes later there was bracing blast from the direction of the alien boat. I popped up and hit them with the light. To my shock and chagrin, they were sideways to the wind and closing fast. My little light couldn't even cover the hulk, I had to pan right and left just to size it up, as a mouse would have had to swivel his head left to right to take in the entire scope of the elephant that was about to step on him.
An approaching boat, dark and unmanned, filling your windows in the dead of night illuminated by a hand-held flashlight is not a sight one soon forgets.
They were probably 20 feet out and closing fast. I fired an engine and shoved it in reverse which, in hindsight, was a pointless excercise since we were already pulling hard on our anchor chain in the brace of the blast. Lisa popped out of our room like a praire dog on high alert. I was yelling something incomprensible like, "they are going to hit us; I can't believe this!" which probably sounded like "ho go fundle monkey jesh don tick ez".
"What do you want me to do?!?" she yelled back. "Bumpers! Now!" I think I screamed. Somehow that message got through; it was all a mad blur. Stepping out of the cockpit we were met with a blast of wind and the subtle glow of the oncoming hulk gently illuminated by the shore lights nearby.
In a hazy blur we were forward in an instant and the had the bumper containing forward compartment hatch open the next second. The bumpers are supposed to be attached with simple, quick-to-untie slip knots. I gave a quick jerk and the darn thing had an extra loop on it which, in the panic, had to be undone with incredible slowness. Years passed and a quick glance up showed the oncoming alien hulk was about to cast a shadow on us.
To our amazement, however, there wasn't a soul stirring aboard her. Not even an anchor or night light was on. Lisa started yelling with all her soccer mom power at them one minute and at me the next, "get me that bumper!", "You're dragging into us! Get up! Get your engine started. HELLO, HELLO" then back to, "put the bumper in!"
On the next wave they were on us. Their solar panel was the closest appendage and it received a good shove and folded inward. Their railing stantions (vertical posts holding up the lifelines which are wire ropes that serve as a railing) were the next layer. Lisa grabbed the corner of the metal stern rails and gave a mighty shove just as the bumper came free in my frantic hands.
Amazingly, Lisa's push coincided with a slacking of the wind. The alien craft moved outward just a few precious inches while I slid the bumper in between their stern quarter and the very tip of our starboard (right) bow.
CONTACT! We are not alone; the aliens from Texas are real.
Lisa's full-throated reveille was not entirely in vain. After the initial contact, alien lifeforms were seen scattering about the deck, children, adults in vague shapes with no lights and few clothes were puttering aimlessly and sleepily about; lo, not an English word spoken either.
As the waves gave our two boats a tango feeling, one up the other down, all mayhem broke loose. We were yelling at them and they were mostly looking back dumbfounded. "Where did you come from?" written all over their faces. These people didn't have a clue. "Start your engine; get moving!" and similar other directives where met with deer-in-the-headlight expressions and then bursts of what sounded like Italian.
Italians flying a big Texas flag; bonafide lifeforms from another world. Their swim platform came up, a gust shoved their stern towards our cross beam, and down she came, entangling a swim step over our anchor bridal. The extra 10 tons of boat on our anchor chain had it stretched like a piano string, effectively snagging them and holding the aliens in place against our bow.
"Push the line down! Step on it!" I hollered, only to be met with more dumb stares. I put my flashlight on the entanglement and what appeared to be the mom finally got it. She went over the back transom and got her foot on the bridal and stepped down hard.
One wave, almost off, second wave...
BAM! the tension on the bridal made its sudden release feel and sound like a cannon shot. We shuddered and started to twist away, the weight of their boat shouldering us, as it were, off to the side, like a linebacker headed for the end zone. Another gust and they began to rotate around our bow with the apparent intention of sharing more love and gelcoat with our starboard gunwale (side).
"More bumpers!" I screamed in the din, and Lisa dove into the hatch and soon came up with another.
Out of the alien abyss I heard a burst of Texas accented Italian slathered with a sleepy slur, and then their engine finally fired but remained in neutral. We gave a mighty shove and the wind shifted several degrees. They began to drift free of us, still sideways to the wind and headed for the next boat down the line. Air horns went off, loud indistinguishable voices were heard from a nearby boat as they passed her. After what seemed like an eternity, they put things in gear, raised their anchor and got their spacecraft oriented into the wind and underway.
Never did see the Texan, or hear him say much for that matter. With our one last hollared suggestion about the mooring field ahead, they motored off several football fields away and anchored again before returning the boat to its original darkness. A repeat performance would have pushed them down on a 100' rusting hulk of a huge fishing boat with truck tires skirting her full length. Justice, in that case, would be well served but, no, their anchor held just fine all night.
By now, it was 3:30am. However, somehow we couldn't go back to sleep. Wired isn't quite the right word, but talking it all over for a half an hour and figuring out what we'll do differently next time was probably the best way to decompress and learn from the experience.
When we were cruising the Bahamas we met a couple who had been out for half a decade. They said, "Don't worry about dragging your anchor; if you are careful it will probably never happen. What you should worry about, however, is other clueless boaters hitting you as they drag by. We have been hit five times in five years."
With those statistics, I had figured it was 6 months before we had a 50% chance of being hit. Well, 5 weeks in and we're already set for a whole year. It's that kind of math that politicians just love.
We finally calmed down enough to where sleep made sense again. The next morning, as you can imagine, there was considerable discussion among the other boats who were in the line of fire. We were also amazed that their anchor had missed catching on two other boats and several mooring balls in their circuitous route around the bay. We picked up a few more tips on how to handle the next alien encounter, which is probably a mathematical certainty.
The rest of the day was pretty mundane by comparison. Worked for several hours at the hotel's "Internet Office", a mosquito-infested concrete block cell about 10' x 8' with no ventilation and a self-closing door. But hey, it's painted happy yellow. It was an oven and I was the turkey but, having forgotten the basting brush, it wasn't quite the same.
We all went snorkeling on a nearby reef after lunch and saw some amazing new fish species, long tubular things, horned things, and other nearly indescribable life forms. It was all very beautiful and interesting.
But somehow, it was the Aliens who were on my mind.
Ted and Gina on Cool Change had invited us over for dinner. We enjoyed a full evening of good food and lots of discussion on just about every topic of boating and computers and advantages of electric toilets that cruisers have in common. We finally got back well after everyone's bedtime and, in hopes of a peaceful night, crashed hard.
Aliens be gone.
Day 102 ~ Christmas thoughts in Carriacou
Well the big day finally came. The Christmas craziness is one of the things from which Lisa and I are glad to take a break. Materialism gone awry. However, in the vein of taking baby steps, and not shocking the girls too severely, we brought one present each over from the states and then picked up a few stocking stuffers in Grenada like notepads, pens, painting supplies for art projects etc.
Present-wise, our emphasis is on creative hands-on tools, at the expense of electronic narcotics.
So, Nina got a digital camera, replacing the one she had bought with her own money and then broken a few weeks later this fall. Nana received a ukelele, which she has expressed and interest in numerous times and Nika unwrapped the American Girl doll she's been talking about for over a year.
Now, I know what you are thinking. "How is an American Girl doll named Molly something creative and hands-on?" Lisa is with you. She thinks I am just a softie for the whole daughter with pleading eyes thing, but I take a different view.
In a culture that is working overtime to either de-feminize my daughters (make them aspire to be a man) or tell her she's an object for men to drool over, I maintain that encouraging a girl to play with a classy, modest doll is actually a counter cultural statement of the first order. Derailing, as it were, the entire motherhood-is-worthless train of thought.
So Nika braids Molly's hair, puts her to bed, dresses and undresses her as girls have done for thousands of years to corn cobs, potatos and turnips. She does it not because I tell her to, or even model it, but because she deeply yearns to mother something, preferrably small and cute.
In today's world, that's weird: a lost art of mother training that would be the butt of Letterman's Top Ten if the New York writers were naïve enough to believe such values still existed in the world. Well, they don't, I guess, in their world. Who really is the butt of so much cynical humor if not the teller themselves?
Cynicism is modern mans' crown of thorns ~ T.S. Elliott
I am probably more cynical than most. In fact, perhaps, a recovering cynic, having plumbed the virtual depths of that abyssmal approach to life. A common elixir is to mix cyncism and consumerism. Now you buy and buy but are never happy, so you buy some more. In the end, the only person sold short is yourself. But the greatest loss of the cynic is the belief that anything meaningful or beautiful is true. Or, eventually, that anything is true at all. I am convinced now that this posture, so smug, so sauve, so fashionable, really is the greatest blindness possible. One that only a carefully programmed sucker could really swallow.
More aptly, perhaps everything is true. While that's certainly not possible, it might be safer and a more accurate starting point; it certainly leads to a life of wonder and discovery at a level that Letterman himself could no longer appreciate. He's been robbed, as it were, and proud of it.
In a world of kangaroos, the double helix, black holes and relative masses the disbeliever is at a severe disadvantage. If a quark really can tunnel and if the bullet really could go through the window without leaving a hole, then maybe we should approach what we define as "possible" with a few more gradiations of humility and openness.
A sense of wonder is something I am learning to treasure as never before. The idea that perhaps anything or, even scarier, everything really is possible.
Perhaps it is the greatest gift a person can receive at Christmas.
Day 65 ~ Grenada Marine & La Sagesse
We all agreed the girls needed a break today, so I headed over the yard as usual about 8:00am.
In the dream section, I reference Lisa's and my different approaches to praying for things. I can't stand the image of God as a cosmic vending machine who dispenses what I want when I want it. I am not easily offended, but that view of the Big Guy really grates on me.
So, we have a lost nut. I have gone begging at the electrical shop, the engine department and every store I can get to. No dice. It's a funky metric bronze nut with a fine thread. I considered having one FedEx'ed from the states. Of course, the astute will note that things have been working fine for years without the nut and wonder why this is a problem.
Because, if something can go wrong it will go wrong at the worst possible time. The night will be dark and blustery, the rain will be coming down sideways, we really need set or retrieve the anchor and it will quit working. That's the way things go on boats, and in life. Cut corners and you pay. The problem on boats is that you usually pay double, as everyone knows.
At the end of my rope yesterday, I finally uttered a half hearted plea for help. That darn nut has got to be around here somewhere, please!
This morning, as I opened the windlass compartment, I sat down to face to the reality of my dilemma. I had a sudden, powerful sense that the sought-after object was in that compartment. It was as strong as the feeling you get when you know someone is looking at you from across the room. You can't articulate it, but you know it and you know it is real.
I froze. Not wanting to move a muscle, I slowly scanned every nook and cranny of the compartment with eye movement alone. There it was! Tucked neatly and safely under the windlass itself. What a good place!
I didn't waste any time getting it affixed to its proper post. To top it off, I found the problem with the second backup windlass, ran a new wire, tied it all together, shrink-tubed the connections, mounted the receptacle for the windlass remote and confirmed that it all worked.
Down one day, up the next, I guess.
I got home and told Lisa the whole story. "I'm not surprised", she replied, "I prayed about it last night."
Hmmm, I wonder whose prayer was heard? I really don't like where this is all leading, but the facts are getting hard to deny. Guess we'll change the subject.
The mast is supposed to go up tomorrow. Well, it was supposed to go up on Monday, but 'dis is da islands, Mon; we take it slowly". We'll see if it gets up tomorrow, but the base had to be set first anyway which happened today, at last.
We wrapped up the day with a pasta dinner at the restaurant and a little guitar practice.
Day 43 ~ Indian Hill, Ohio to Clinton, Tennessee
We awoke to brilliant sunshine chasing the leaves around the yard. Birds were singing, wild deer were grazing on the verdant hills. It really was that perfect.
But wait. What was that in the distance. A rumbling of heavy equipment?
Bob filled us in the on the details. A local rock quarry wanted to blast from time to time. They got their zoning permit; the locals panicked. They went to the county commissioners. The only way the commissioners could find to block the blasting was to deny access to build a tunnel for the conveyor belt. They denied access, the quarry built the conveyor belt over the hill and it's grinding noise now permeates the neighborhood day in and day out because the belt is above ground instead of in the tunnel. And yes they blast from time to time.
Not sure how many times I have heard stories like this. A law for good creates more bad. The war on poverty drove up the poverty rate, and on and on. But governments keep doing really dumb things over and over. Will they never learn?
When we were boating in the Bahamas the Bahamian government passed a 40% tax on incoming boat parts. Nine months later, with the local boat yard businesses laying people off and local marinas empty, they finally repealed it. What a brilliant stroke of policy.
What with the turret tours, breakfast and some **** on my part, we finally hit the road about noon. We have two days to make the 460 miles to Atlanta, so we needed to tick off several solid driving hours. We crossed into Kentucky in a few minutes, passed the Big Bone Lick State Park (!), blew by Lexington and made the Tennessee crossing about 5pm. Interstate 75 is in pristine shape in this section and, other than some fairly steep hills, was a smooth and fast run.
Crossing the border, we stopped at the Tennessee Welcome Center rest stop. It was very nicely done and, surrounded with steep rolling hills, was a beautiful site. The "Great Smoky Mountains" are beautiful, and great, but not quite mountains. They just don't satisfy that mountain craving, but I can see if that if you grew up around them, or around flat country, they could be endearing.
We continued on for a another half hour and called it a day in a small city park near the Clinch River. The catfish looked mighty tasty, but we resisted the urge to drop in a line...
We wrapped up the evening with leftovers and some story time. Not a bad day.
Clinton, Tennessee (28,745) 261 miles
Day 39 ~ Dayton, Ohio
The girls had a big sleepover at the Pope's last night so Lisa and I shared a lonely night in the RV. We took the morning slow, with Lisa catching up on bills. I slipped in another hour or two of **** and then we rendezvous'd with everyone before heading out to the National Museum of the Airforce. It's huge and, after an hour and half, we had only seen a fraction of the first of six display buildings and, I have to admit, it's hard to soak up the details of the World War I air war with one kid pulling one hand and another the other.
With kid attention spans run dry, we ducked into the iMax showing of Hubble, which was very well done. Millions of galaxies, billions of years and all that. In the end they back out and illustrate how the galaxies are arranged in strands with clumps at each intersection.
The neurons of God?
The question of scaling (our size compared to the size of the environment we inhabit) have haunted philosophers for centuries and the more we find, the more questions present themselves. It's entirely possible that we are living in someone else's Iowa where every "galaxy" is a molecule and the universe a cow paddy. You can't prove we aren't and, on top of that, the universe is pancake shaped, so maybe there's evidence we really are.
It's only funny until you comprehend the magnitude of the mystery. As a humble religious zealot such as Mother Teresa earns grudging respect from the most ardent materialist, I'd have a lot more respect for the scientific community if they expressed a little less certainty and a touch more wonder.
Observing the beauty of the universe and responding with, "Bah humbug, show me the equation to prove it", is a posture many scientists wear as a badge, oblivious to the credibility it costs them.
Don't get me wrong, I love and admire the pursuit of science; it's the religion of science, the blind faith in materialism alone that I find trivializing, itself unreasonable, even irrational.
Prove that your father loved you.
It turns out that the things which matter most, the very things that make life worth living, are the least empirical.
We rounded out the evening by joining the Pope's at Mass (resisting the urge to pun here requires real effort). The girls had never seen anything like it and paid rapt attention to all the ornamentation and ceremony. One of our goals is to stretch their experience envelope and this was a good step in that direction.
Back at Pope's house, Steve whipped up some burgers and an interesting discussion followed debating the impacts various technologies have made on culture. We all know what the television has done, but Steve has been considering the impacts of air conditioning on the vitality of community. He contends that artificial cooling drove everyone living south of Chicago indoors for half or more of the year, undermining informal networks, separating friends, and resulting in less healthy indoor lifestyles and aggravating social isolation.
That got more wheels turning, as you can well imagine.
Day 36 ~ Morris, Illinois to Berne, Indiana
Well, Walmart may have it's charms, but quiet parking lots aren't one of them. Now that I think about it, I can't name any others either, but there must be something about them that people find attractive. Must be their logo.
What with the trucks and fire engines (twice) we were up and moving earlier than usual. At stop here (Walmart) and there (Radio Shack) and over there (Costco), coupled with lunch and two wrong freeway turns, it was nigh onto 8 hours of road time trying to make what the iPhone said was a 3 hour and 22 minute trip. We were all ready for it to be done and over with.
No sooner had we rolled in then the relatives and friends started coming over to see these crazy people from Alaska. Lisa kept them all entertained while I whipped up a quick dinner, for which the girls were circling like sharks.
After traveling for a month I can say with confidence that the super iPhone mapping app has lead us astray roughly as many times as it has given directions correctly. When the locals heard we had gone through Fort Wayne, instead of around, they rolled their eyes and groaned. "What were you thinking?!"
Turns out we weren't. Just as the Luddites predict, we had turned over the thinking to the machines and then followed them blindly to our own demise.
Then it was picture show and telling, answering questions about boats and boat life, and catching up with my Uncle Matt, Aunt Joye and Grandma.
By the time all the talking was winding down, it was well after 11:00pm and the girls were long past ready for sleepy time.
It is fun to be around people who share so many mannerisms, expressions and outlooks on life. Kind of scary actually, how similar one can be to relatives that you see every decade or so. Must be a common genetic mutation.
Berne, Indiana (28,278) 258 miles
Day 35 ~ Pleasant Creek, Iowa to Morris, Illinois
Sorry, more sun. I know you don't want to hear that, but today was mostly sunny again, although cool in the morning. With two days to make the remaining 450 miles, we were able to relax over breakfast, although a little w*** pinched me for a few minutes. Hate that stuff.
The girls found Wooly Bear caterpillars crossing the road (no, we don't know why) which lead to a quick Wikipedia-based lesson in zoology. Turns out they become Isabella Tiger Moths, not butterflies. Oh well, the caterpillars were fun and fuzzy and prickly all the same.
The girls expended energy at the playground while I did the ritual dump and fill. Funny, I don't give it a second thought now; just part of life and I'm getting better at keeping things flowing the right direction.
We finally hit the road about noon and served lunch on the road. Tackled lessons for a few hours with Nina's third business model being the most complex so far. Time to take it into an Excel sheet. I told myself I wouldn't let the girls on the computer until age 12, but not sure I can hold out that long. It's enough of a leech as it is, and now it wants my children.
We ended up in Gebhard Woods State Park in Morris, Illinois, where I whipped up some chili while the girls explored. They returned with fistfuls of acorns which, after a quick supper, were promptly scraped clean, decorated with faces and turned into a village of people. Then the paper and scissors came out and houses and a fountain began to take shape. Two hours and a mile of scotch tape later, a village was born.
Since creative initiative is our number one educational priority, we heaped on the praise and gave lots of attention to the design details of each girls creations, which were surprisingly elaborate and well thought out, if a bit roughly implemented.
If you bring acorns into the classroom and start constructing a paper house with dual purpose fold down shelving, custom throw rugs and a writing desk, you'll get sent to the principal's office. The goal being, of course, that you can grow up and get a good job.
If you can see a market opportunity and quickly move in with creative solutions that meet real world needs you'll enjoy the freedom of never ask anyone for a job. It's that distinction that makes all the difference. But I guess you saw it coming.
In a nut shell (no pun intended), acorn villages are the how and why we are here. At this early stage of their "schooling" nothing done with creativity and initiative goes unrewarded. Too bad the professionals are so set on training today's kids for yesterday's economy. "When the bell rings, begin working".
That's cutting edge management theory, if you want to produce factory workers.
(28,020) 235 miles
Day 31 ~ Ten Sleep, Wyomind, to Rapid City, South Dakota
The morning broke sunny, again. We were working through our morning routine when there was an authoritative knock on the door. A Park Ranger was interested in talking.
Hmmm, this probably isn't going to be good. When you are living outside the box, bureaucrats aren't likely to stop by to congratulate you.
Turns out were were parked 50 yards past a 4" wide 'no motor vehicles' strip he called a 'sign' that, at sunset, just looked like a post. That'll cost you $200, well us anyway. This was our first nonconformist penalty, but I am sure it won't be the last.
If you never do anything unexpected, then you've got nothing to worry about.
With about 300 miles to make it to Mt. Rushmore, we needed to make some tracks. Thank President Eisenhower for the interstates. I know they are boring, but when every seat minute results in kids' meltdowns, making tracks fast is the name of the game.
We stopped for a lunch break near Sundance, Wyoming, and then beat feet to Mount Rushmore, which was appropriately surrounded by Reptile Gardens, Wild West Show Dinner Extravaganzas and other tourist flair. Nice. I know I should be more open minded to the magic of reptilian attractions, but there's something about the entire feel of these places that gives me the creeps.
The Rushmore pavilion was very well done and the mountain was impressive, although somehow about 50% smaller than I had envisioned. I guess it looks smaller in life than in photos. We took plenty anyway.
Along the drive there were huge American flags, billboards about Patriotism this or that. As we walked the "President's Trail", Lisa read the Wikipedia article about the monument. Turns out the original idea was to generate tourism traffic in an area with no other attractions, and it worked.
Having resisted the Reptile Gardens, I had gotten taken in by the rocks. And I was trying hard not to be cynical. Lisa read on and the story only became more sordid.
The monument to our founders -- presumably men of integrity -- was build on land promised to the Lakota Indian tribe in the Treaty of Fort Laramie. When it turned out the stone mountain was suitable for carving a tourist attraction, it was taken back.
C'mon, like there isn't another cliff somewhere in the entire country that would have worked? But then, it wasn't about the founders or the patriotism of the artist, it was about the money.
Turns out the real problem with Hugo Chavez is just that he doesn't employ skilled stone carvers.
We hung around for the lights to come on, though not sure it was worth the 30 minute wait. However, looking back from the parking lot, the faces were impressive against a backdrop of stars.
We did a quick dinner of spaghetti and tacos (notice the trend...) and then returned to I-90 and toward a strategically positioned Cabela's parking lot, which turned out to be right next to railroad tracks. But that was after the kids were tucked in.
(26,993) 330 miles
Day 28 ~ Deer Lodge to Emigrant Gulch, Montana
The morning broke clear and crisp after a chilled evening. At 5,000 feet, things just cool off faster.
Turns out we were camped right next to a former prison dating back to the 1870s and had been converted to a museum. Unfortunately, they were closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
We considered breaking into prison, but quickly thought better of the idea. You certainly don't want to be caught inside with the galloping gallows, a portable contraption which sent numerous offenders for one short drop. Not sure our 7 year old was in a position to process that one anyway. Just the picture on the postcard we bought lead to some difficult questions about the efficacy of territorial justice in the gold rush era. It was a wild time.
We just love small towns. That's what it's coming down to. In no hurry we wandered around and stumbled into a Prisoner's Hobby & Craft shop attended by a guy who knew just a little too much about how things were done in the big house. His blue uniform, coke bottle glasses and boxer physique added to the impression that he was working his way back into society.
Turns out that wards of the State of Montana are the primary global source for fine woven horsehair products, the majority of which are bridles and halters for other horses, presumably. The work was amazingly detailed and artistic.
So much for all those Baby Einstein CDs you've been playing. These guys are immersed in the most stifling environment the courts will allow, and they flower all the same. Maybe personal, disciplined effort matters most.
When you find it available on a CD in Walmart, let me know.
The attendant fingered the fine weaving with a meaty claw and regaled us with the time and intricacies of the process. A typical bridle requires 1,000 to 1,500 hours to complete. They were offered at $2,000, which, minus the store's cut of 25%, and the cost of materials, works out to about $1 an hour. Such is the recipe for global dominance of a niche market.
A wild horse is possibly the most free of all animals. Prisoner hands carefully weaving webs of restraint for icons of strength and freedom. The irony was a little too stark to overlook.
Lisa wanted some postcards, so we stopped in the quaint, and aging downtown of Deer Lodge, one of Montana's oldest incorporated towns (thanks to the gold in them there hills).
While Lisa looked for cards, I stepped on the street and surveyed the scene. Like some cross between a spaghetti western and a hallmark flick. Right in front of me was J & J's Variety store.
The heavy oak door creaked open as I entered. Two men were debating something behind the counter. They stopped. They were acting like father and son, but the son was easily in his late 50's. A fat chocolate lab sprawled on the floor, an array of doggy biscuits, like cards tossed on a table, decorated the glass display case.
"Do you have any fresh eggs?", I inquired, having seen the faded hand written sign in the window.
The young guy, hopped out of his stool with surprising vigor.
"Do I ever!" he replied with enthusiasm.
I didn't think I looked particularly gullible, but it was clear he was proud to show this out of towner just what he could do with a lair of chickens.
"Ah, I'll take a dozen, I guess" I replied.
"They're $2.50", he called over his shoulder, disappearing in the back for a suspiciously long time. He returned holding two cartons, 24 eggs.
Hmmm. I wondered how this was going to work.
"These", he says, opening the top clearly recycled carton, "are yours. And these," he said, opening the second, "are test eggs from my latest brood. Darn things just don't know how to lay yet. There so small I can never sell them, so they're yours too, no charge."
All I had was a five. "I'll pay for both," I countered. But he would hear nothing of it. Apparently the cash register was out of order, because, he fished 2 bucks from an old styrofoam cup on the counter, then started scratching around for change in another cup. "Well, at least take three," I said, certain that the hassle of finding the remaining 50 cents in change would carry the day.
But no, he dug up a couple of quarters and insisted I take them.
So, you see, small towns are growing on us, but I wonder if they aren't like so many lives -- only attractive from the outside looking in. Once every small town shop owner knows your life story, will they still give you rookie eggs, or will you just want to disappear?
The girls wanted to pet the dog, whose name was Eve, and they each were given a doggy treat to help keep her weight up. Grandpa clearly enjoyed the girls' smiles. We frittered away another half hour, but perhaps that was the point.
By 2pm we were making tracks for Yellowstone. The highway corridor offered many sweeping high plateau vistas, costing our hard-drive at least another 100megs of storage.
We stopped for the night just outside the park boundary on a pull-out next to the Yellowstone River. The girls had fun playing in the river, the mud and the pebbles. It's amazing how creative you can be when there's not a Nintendo DS to be found.
Nana sensed fish, so she wet a line for a while, but without success. She's a hardened veteran now and knows why we call it "fishing" and not "catching".
The eggs were deep golden yoked and the omelets very tasty, even the ones from the rookie hens.
Games of Farkle and UNO rounded out the evening. Lisa won farkle and I won UNO, so we stopped while we were ahead, which, watching Nana's gaming strategy, won't be for long.
Emigrant Gulch, Montana (26,345) 177 miles
Day 16 ~ Seattle Shopping Madness
I hate shopping. The corny background music, surly retail employees, the pale fluorescent lighting, polished hospital floors. Cold, miserable, consumerism. Everything we are escaping from.
But alas, some things must be done. Being Alaska residents we have tax-exempt status in Washington state. With a serious boating community here, I guessed that we could find boat supplies, tax free, like nowhere other than, perhaps, Miami which is all the joys of shopping, plus cockroaches.
We had until 5pm to return the rental car within 24 hours which, in hindsight, was a hopeless undertaking. But we rushed around for hours nonetheless.
Walmart (start cheap), Home Depot (just about as cheap), Costco (getting warm) was followed by the Captain's Nautical Supplies, a hole-in-the-wall panopoly of every sailing book every printed, which we went to by mistake. However, the owner was very helpful recommending our next intended stop, Seattle Marine.
Now we're getting much warmer. An old warehouse right across the street from a large marina, fading paint, uneven floor, scattered lighting and gobs of esoteric boat stuff loosely organized and criss-crossed by a bustling, dedicated staff. Our guy, Dan, wore a big shirt that read, "Eat Tuna, wear Grundigs".
Dan went the extra mile, back and forth across the store, only to find, time after time, that the items they had just weren't quite right or out of stock. We did find a few things, including an ACR 406 GPS EPIRB. It was a tough call, not because I don't believe in EPIRBs but because there is already one on the boat, albeit past its service date, and we have a Sat phone, cell coverage, high power VHF and a SPOT messenger. Did we really need a new EPIRB?
The hard-core sailor said, 'no, get over it'. The father of three said, 'absolutely'. And he won.
After a good half hour of digging around, Dan freely admitted what they didn't have and recommended their "friendly competitor", Fisheries Supply, even printing out a map and cautioning us to avoid the "usual speed trap right there", running a finger along one portion of the route.
Now that's the way shopping ought to be.
As he was ringing us up, I noticed photocopy enlargements of bounced checks on the wall behind him. The largest, most prominent, featured a large Christian fish symbol blaring from the top left corner.
The check writer clearly wanted to make statement. He succeeded.
We probably would have saved an hour by just going to Fisheries Supply in the first place. It was incredible. Probably a Costco size store completely dedicated to boat stuff. The sailing section alone was the size of most grocery stores. And the staff? A mix of old and new, one guy had worked there 31 years. They knew their stuff and how it was to be used. Around every corner was another this or that which reminded me of something else that I had intended to put on the list but never had.
It took hours. The rental car deadline came and went. Lisa struck up conversation with friendly cashiers while I marauded the isles, picking brains and making tradeoff decisions. The iPhone is brutal. Time and again I would compare the cost of the item in my hand with that on the worldwide marketplace. In almost every case Fisheries had the item within a few dollars of Amazon or another web store and no shipping or delays.
So, we left with quite a pile, but also with a boat parts list that is now mercifully short. One round of Seattle traffic and one more costco stop for dinner material (last minute planning again) and we were finally home. Lisa put the truck in park and just sat there for a few minutes, recovering.
We whipped up some burgers and the girls headed for the hot tub with Auntie Denice.
Day 14 ~ Sumner Work Session
With bandwidth and the girls distracted with aunts and cousins, it was time to buckle down and crank out some overdue work. I managed to get some things done on the road, but connectivity makes a huge difference. And cranky was the result. Ten hours later it felt like just another day in the grinder.
About halfway through Lisa came up to tell me it was my turn to get a hair cut. I was just in a thorny credit card gateway issue and grunted as usual. As I finally came downstairs I caught an off-comment from the hall about "noticing my hair".
A dull pin-prick of warning penetrated the haze. Like that impending sensation that the stoplight really is going to turn red before you get there, like giving the ketchup bottle a really hard shake just as you notice the lid isn't tightened.
Husbands, since time immemorial, have suffered this fate. You can slay all the dragons in the kingdom, drag their steaming carcasses to the castle gates, arrive with eyes blinking back the sweat and blood but if you don't notice the new look with all due appropriate speed you'll be the one that gets slain.
And women wonder why guys seek solice in work.
Well, I married a noble princess because she held her tongue about it and gave me a second chance. She really did look great, I was proud to say, but I knew that I wasn't gaining any points there, just crawling back to ground zero.
When you're married to a supermodel, you chalk that up as a win.
Cousin Daniel's birthday dinner was at hand and he prefers the fine delicacy of Costco Pizza. Man, do I remember those days. Guts of iron are fun to have, but mine has long past expired. I had saltines and tomato for lunch. I know, granolaville, but it's about all I could take.
Since the pizza's were just above room temperature there was a bit of a scramble on. The nuker is a great invention for such times as these. I've served more meals out of the microwave in the last 2 weeks than the last 10 years. We haven't owned a microwave since ours died in 1999, until now. May as well go all out.
Some Farkle dice rolling commenced while the Nina, Nika and I played UNO, and we rounded out the evening some Little Rascals' flicks. Wow, that was another age, but the girls ate it up, completely take in by the transparent farces.
It's a joy to live with innocence, even it it means putting up with cheesy movies.
I have to admit to fearing the inevitable loss of innocence. We try and be realistic in lessons about the kind of world we live in, the war, the infant mortality and all, but of course it doesn't really soak in.
The girls wake up every morning to a clean, safe environment where they can trust everyone they see. That's just not the reality they must face, and the painful duty before us is to maintain optimism, confidence and outward engagement while educating them on the cold hard reality they are swimming in, so blissfully, so unaware.
Day 6 ~ Coal River, Yukon, to Liard Hotsprings, British Columbia
Fortunately, or otherwise, the internet was "working" (at a snail's pace) first thing this morning. I sat in a back corner of the little cafe, just under the blaring television, using a painfully slow connection to take care of a few details of life in the real world.
At one point the news was over and the next program was a Christian something or other. The cook turned off the TV in disgust. I wasn't paying close attention but the sudden silence shocked me back into awareness of my surroundings, like a jack hammer next to your window suddenly cut off.
"I don't do God", he said, "I tried all that catechism religion stuff a long time ago".
After a pause, the gal behind the register replyed softly to herself, "I am still holding out hope".
There was one elderly man eating at a table who didn't say anything. I had noted that he prayed before his meal, and wondered what he thought. Later, when I visited the washroom I saw a note written in pencil on a napkin. It was placed neatly on the top of the toilet and in clear, old style print said,
"Jesus Loves You."
What I wanted to say, but didn't, was that rejecting a religion and rejecting God were two completely different things. Like voting against an incumbent or working to defeat a new bill doesn't make you un-American. In fact, just the opposite.
Perhaps rejecting a false notion of God is actually a step towards Him.
We finally completed all the morning machinations which, for a Type A personality, require considerable effort to take with a smile. Four girls and two grandparents don't really buy into the concept of "launch". I know from the Bahamas experience that this Alpha Male drive thing will soon fade, but it's going to take another week or two, at least.
While the morning had broken cold and misty, with little frozen droplets falling like snow, the sun soon burned it off and we were driving again among a glistening forest of gold. Bison are common in this area, and are protected, so use the highway shoulders for grazing. The first few were cause for excitement -- "Did you see that!", until this congregation lended the entire buffalo thing a rather ho-hum flavor.
We arrived at the springs and made our way down a beautiful plank walkway. Every park at which we have stayed in Canada has been very nicely done and very affordable. At Liard they even come check you in and offer bins of dry split firewood. "Did you need some kindling with that?", were the park guy's exact words.
When you extract over half of a working family's wealth by force, you can create some really convenient parks. Socialism has its advantages.
The water was very pleasant and the girls spent nearly 4 hours burning off energy, which had accumulated in the lining of every cell in the last five days of driving. They arrived back at the campsite famished. We held them off with trail mix until dinner, which was a hearty affair of genuine flame-grilled chicken, potatoes, canned beans, homemade biscuits and raspberry jam. This is as gourmet as it's going to get and you can bet there were few leftovers.
Enterprising squirrels are obviously used to campers, for several made bold approaches and didn't hestitate to climb right on the table and help themselves.
Lisa wasn't impressed.
(23,865) 37 miles
Day 4 ~ Whitehorse to Teslin Lake, Yukon
Things got a bit chilly without the furnace working, so Jim and I went hunting for parts this morning. One RV place lead to another and the right part was finally found in the bottom of a dusty cardboard pin in the back room of a certain P******* RV, or what appears to be an old garage that's been added onto several times, each with its own artistic inspiration and color scheme.
The owner proved a colorful character regaling us with tales from her "wall of horrors" -- a window sill strewn with a collection of twisted metal fragments, sheered off bolts and charred remnants of RVs who encountered the web of fate.
"This", she says hefting her considerable presence to the lip of the sill, "was from a Cadillac Escalade, the owner was pulling it behind his diesel pusher when a frost heave ripped the tow bar right out of the frame." I wasn't sure who was talking, the Cadillac, the tow bar or the Diesel Pusher, but it was clear none were too impressed with the flashy side of anything.
What was clear in my mind though, was the part we found first came out of a bag marked $24.95. She had then rummaged through the bin to find a loose one at the bottom, with no package. Now, as she as she wrote out the bill I blinked several times to be sure I was reading it upside down correctly: $34.95, no mistake about it.
I glanced around at the 'Hot Flashes = Power Surges' refrigerator magnet, a photocopied version of the Garage Owner's Lien Act. A large spider complex in the a dim corner featured several dangling carcasses.
I promptly paid with a smile -- it's amazing how cheap most people will sell their credibility. I guess when you want obscure parts in obscure places you have to take the characters that come with the territory or start a revolution.
Twenty minutes and several horrors later, we were back on the road. Since Jim still needed a battery, he dropped me off at with the fam and, after a wild goose chase, found a park where the girls and I filmed a renactement of Ooey, Gooey was a Worm and rolled down the grassy hill until our brains spun.
With Jim's new battery installed, and the girls exercised, we hit the road at a bright and early 3:00pm.
We called it a day 100 miles later at the Teslin Lake campground; we've got to claim progress where it can be found. We tagged a lakeside space all to ourselves, gathered firewood from the beach and grilled chicken while Lisa tackled the repacking effort.
We left home in such a tornado, emotional and otherwise, that at the very end we had literally carried multiple bins of last minute stuff and just dumped them on every void, bed and seat that happened to present itself. At the end, few did. It was ugly. This meant that every cooking routine, every school lesson, every transition was a choreographed process of relieving one space of piles to make room, only to reverse the process a few minutes later. Not exactly a recipe for tranquility. Everything was in a perpetual state of either being lost, sought or tripped over. Not unlike the lives of several people I know.
Finally, Lisa laid out the requirements. 1 clear day, 2 picnic tables, 3 hours. Even a blockhead like me could remember that.
The stars finally aligned at the Teslin Lake campground, which featured large picnic tables, no bugs, a light breeze and moonlit lake view, which was entirely lost in the scramble of elbows and bins. Lisa pulled off another coup of organization and the final bins were stuffed back in just as darkness fell. While it was painful, the reality is that life on a boat with a another "unstructured" person such as myself would be miserable.
Looking around tonight, the order is beautiful. Walkways are clear and the shower, which still sported its label from the factory 15 years later, is just about ready to be used for its intended purpose, perhaps for the first time.
With no shore power now for 3 days, the whirr of the generator has pulled the plug on the girls eyelids and it's time for a much needed shower and some shut-eye.
(23,562) 109 miles
Day -31 ~ Purging August 15, 2010
We were asking $30 for the old caribou hide based on the tag that was still affixed to the once proud nostril. Like a lonely Laplander, she locked in on the skin on a misty mid-morning, day two of our moving sale. She stroked it, gazing longingly into it's sanguine beauty. Then she saw the price. Crestfallen eyes, hands jammed into pockets, walking slowly out.
She was followed out. Hushed discussion with the older man she came with.
"Excuse me" he said a moment later. "My granddaughter really likes that caribou skin, would you consider taking less for it."
I glance past him and see her gauging our every expression. I think of myself as a nice person, but I guess to a 10 year old, I would look pretty imposing, especially when I am the guy keeping her from her trophy.
I pause -- for effect. In reality, I just want this fur to fly, a feat I figured not even Santa could pull off.
"Sure, how about $7" I reply.
He brightens and walks back to his buyer for consultation, only to return smiling to himself but also a bit sheepish.
"I am afraid she only has $5."
Her hungry eyes peep out under parted, uncombed hair. They are, as yet, unaware of boys, or life's other temptations. Right here, right now it's all caribou. I can feel the scrutiny, even at 30 feet.
"Sure", I say in a low voice and with a neutral to negative expression. Why not let him deliver the good news?
He smiles, "thanks, it will make her day".
I see her brighten as he turns and the smile registers and beckons her to come over. Out comes the tightened hand, the crumpled bill extended from as far away as possible. No eye contact, she's focused on the prize.
As soon as money leaves her grasp, she scoops up the old skin, brings it to her face and sucks in a full breath through the oily fibers. Ahhh, satisfaction.
Load after load, stranger after stranger, enters our domain and leaves a little heavier, us a little lighter. Freedom by degrees, like a glacier receding leaves rich soul for new growth. I am not going to let this accumulation happen again, I keep telling myself. Like a drunk at another meeting, I know I'll succomb. But is it treasure, or trap?
When the a round of Oakland fires raged through a ritzy neighborhood a decade or more ago, the TV crews were quick to follow. Finding a man standing outside the burned out hull of a mac-mansion, they stuck a mic in his face and fired the proverbial, "how does it feel" question. Funny they never ask what anyone thinks. I guess that tells us something about the producer, or the audience.
But they didn't get what they expected. He replied:
"My dad used to always tell me. 'Son, be careful or your possessions will own you.' I'd just like to tell him that today I am a free man".
Perhaps freedom isn't what people fight for in war after war. Based on the evidence, people really don't want freedom, they want the right to build their own prison, and to die there by degrees.