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Posted on September 10, 2017 | 1 comment

Cat on Cat-How Did I Get Here?

Cat on Cat-How Did I Get Here?

Just like land people, there are two kinds of boat people—those who wouldn’t dream of having us critters because it would slow them down, interfere with grand travel plans, and ewww, all that hair. The other group, like my parents, loves us more than their human children and wants to take us everywhere. I love my parents and I hate when they go away without me so the idea of going with them anywhere sounds good. However, I’m a cat and I’m born to take the same nap at the same time in the same place every day. Nevertheless, I do “travel” each year to the cat hospital and while I complain a lot, it’s not really that bad. So, how bad can this traveling thing be? Well, let me tell you what I’ve been through…

I sort of suspected something was up when my “annual travel” to the cat hospital changed to a weekly event and was filled with lots of poking and prodding of my private parts. My mom told me that the country of Antigua, where ever that is, thinks that all felines have cooties so they make us get an international health certificate that says no, we don’t have rabies, leukemia, distemper, worms, fleas, or other nasty parasites…eww. So after I had to poop in a bag, get this chip thingie put into my neck, nasty stuff dripped on my neck, two shots with big needles, and a bunch of blood taken out of my body, the USDA deemed me healthy and ready for travel. Will someone please tell me where Antigua is?

Then one really early morning while I was still fast asleep in my favorite napping place, my parents turned on all the lights, snatched me from my bed, shoved this awful-tasting pink pill down my throat, and stuffed me into the bag I sit in when I go to the cat hospital. Whoa, what is THIS all about? And what’s an uber and an airport? My mom makes a joke to some stranger peering at me in my bag that I cost a lot of money to get my own napping spot but I’m worth every bit. Yup, that’s right, now can we get that uber thing and go back home?

My brain is a little foggy now but I think my mom is actually taking me out of my little bag (which seems the only safe spot) while some man is yelling about shoes and laptops and 3oz bottles. I’ve never been so happy to get back into my little bag. Well, that’s what I thought until about 8 hours later when I tried to get out of my bag because, um…I need to go potty. And I’m hungry. Hello? Hello? I’ve obviously been forgotten so I’ll have to open the door on my bag by myself. Aha, I can feel my dad’s feet…now where’s my litter box and…suddenly BAM! my dad grabs me and not so gently by the way, shoves me back into my bag telling my mom that I’m such a smart cat I can open my own bag. Yup, that’s me, smart cat.

Before long, my mom picks up my bag and jostles me around until I’m back in a car again. Hey, I know the uber car—it means I’m going home. Yippee! At last, everything stops moving, a door opens, and I’m so relieved to be home again. But wait, this doesn’t smell like home. That’s not my cat box. Those are not my food dishes. Mom pets me and says this hotel is just like home. I pee on the sofa just to let her know this is not just like home and I spend the next five days hiding in the box spring of the bed.

Just when I decide the hotel home isn’t that bad, Mom stuffs me back in my bag and tells me I’m going to my new home called a boat. I already have a home–it’s called a house and it has a nice backyard with grass and lizards. Can you please ask the uber car to come back and take me there?

You’re not going to believe what my mom calls a new home. It’s like a big white uber in the middle of the biggest swimming pool I’ve ever seen. I remember having a pool when I was a little girl—it was like a big water bowl out in the sun. I loved it! But this swimming pool is scary. I can’t see the bottom and there are big white uber boat things everywhere in the pool, rattling and banging and making all kinds of scary noises. I get into my best stealth mode and slowly creep onto the new white home so nobody can see me. There’s a door open and I can see my dad’s clothes and his shoes in a dark quiet box. I’m going in the box and staying there for the rest of my life.

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Posted on September 9, 2017 | 0 comments

Lightning: Friend or Foe?

Lightning: Friend or Foe?

There’s no better place to understand weather than in Antarctica. In 2009, we had the amazing honor to retrace the steps of famed explorer, Ernest Shacklelton. Adorned with snowshoes, backpacks, and foul-weather gear for all types of foul, we snowshoed 25 miles over three days across South Georgia Island. On our first night, pelting ice blew sideways and 40mph winds threatened to blow us off the mountain. It was one of the best nights of my life. It was the moment I realized how much I love intense weather.

To be clear, I love a good storm when I’m protected. It doesn’t need to be a bomb shelter—a good tent will do. Once nestled in my sleeping bag cocoon in the safety of our tent, that Antarctic storm drowned out all the worries and noises from civilization—all the to-do lists, all the hatred from an ex-husband, all the worry of breast cancer returning. A front row seat at Mother Nature’s magnificent show clears your head and fills your heart with gratitude—mostly for your shelter. Perhaps it’s the gratitude that opens your senses to really hear how the wind whistles and howls and how ice pellets beat on your roof like a machine gun.

Being on a boat during a storm is extraordinary. Let me rephrase that—being on a boat that is anchored is extraordinary. While at sea, far far from land, I prefer to avoid the wrath of Mother Nature.

Yikes! Internet photo-not my personal experience!

From the safety of anchor, however, you are perfectly positioned to see the wicked dark storm clouds roll in from the horizon. Sails and straps begin flapping as the wind picks up. A dark band of ripples in the water serve as a gauge to know exactly when the storm will place you in its epicenter. Often, only a few minutes of sprinkles give any warning of precipitation. In an instant, rain is pounding so hard and so fast that the world around you is just a blur. You are in your own little rainstorm and it is glorious.

And then lightning strikes. While certainly a beautiful addition to this performance, I’m pretty sure it’s better to watch the strikes on the horizon. There’s been a lot of discussion among our crew about how lightening affects a boat. Our captain reports that 90% of lightning strikes are from cloud to cloud; only a small number of strikes actually go from cloud to ground. Hmmm…that might need some fact checking. Let’s just assume we’re at risk; after all, we have a 70-foot lightening rod begging to be the center of attention. The captain further explains that there’s a wire that runs from the base of the mast to a metal block on the bottom of the boat to ground the lightning bolt. Furthermore, while plain water isn’t very conductive, if you add a little salt, conductivity increases dramatically. So, it’s a good thing we’re in the ocean and not in Lake Tahoe.

While I feel better that lightning is not going to kill me, it does kill most everything on a boat. And that’s exactly what happened to poor Gémeaux. We weren’t even on the boat and in fact, the boat wasn’t even in the water. Gémeaux was perched on 6-foot iron jacks in the Port Annapolis boat yard. On the hard, as they say, which I think means hard repairs that are hard on your wallet. For a month, Gémeaux was poked and prodded to fix steering, replace plumbing, etc, etc—the typical endless list of boat repairs. And boy was it endless. We had given that damn mouse a cookie and we were spiraling down its little hole, one step forward and two steps back. We changed the plumbing in the heads and then discovered the through holes leak. We fixed the steering and then the inverter stopped working. We installed a new autopilot and suddenly the AIS was on the blitz. And then, we realized that most of the electronics seemed mostly dead, as Billy Crystal would say to the Princess Bride.

It wasn’t until a worker relayed a story of a boat in their boatyard getting struck by lightning that the puzzle started to come together. Typically when a boat is struck, there’s some visible evidence like a charred mast or a missing antenna. Gémeaux had no visible wounds and all parts were accounted for. However, she did have the misfortune of being parked adjacent to the lightning victim so suffering lightning damage was entirely possible. It seemed the only explanation.

“Replace ALL the electronics,” fellow boat owners recommended, “It might function today but it’s definitely been damaged and you’ll discover it down the road, er out at sea at a most inconvenient time.” And with that advice, we filed an insurance claim and set about replacing all the electronics. The only upside? How often do you get hit by lightning? We’re more likely to be eaten by a shark…maybe not a good analogy.

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Posted on September 6, 2017 | 0 comments

Happenstance

Happenstance

I love how a day unfolds completely unexpectedly. How lemons become lemonade. How your road less travelled turns into one with many travelers. Take today for example. Allen monkeyed his knee yesterday as in twisted it backwards so badly that he couldn’t walk. I was sure our sailing adventures were over. Thank goodness for technology and an orthopedic in the family.

After a painful night’s sleep, Allen hobbled to the helm this morning, and while motoring Gémeaux down the Delaware-Chesapeake canal, Facetimed his brother, Dr. Don (recall fisherman extraordinaire from the earlier sail to Turks and Caicos) for a medical consult. The prescription? Go get an MRI.

Recall we’re on a boat. So, following the doctor’s orders translates first into finding a marina to dock at since anchoring is not allowed on the canal, second finding an MRI center in this rural part of Delaware (hopefully within a reasonable distance from the marina), and third getting an appointment today.

It’s 10am.

As luck would have it, we found an MRI center relatively close to a marina. With charm kicked into high gear, Allen became fast friends with the MRI technician and booked an appointment for 1pm. Getting an uber located in Maryland to pick you up from a marina in Delaware back to an MRI in Maryland turns out to be quite a task but we’ll save that story for another time.

As more luck would have it, Jim is the type of person when faced with the option of catching up on emails from the boat or exploring a new place, he chooses exploration. So, on this dreary early Fall day, we sent Allen off, donned our rain gear, and headed out to explore Chesapeake City. I’m sure this cute little town buzzes with tourists in the peak of summer but today the ice cream parlor is closed and the four blocks of Main Street are empty. A few shop owners pass time in rocking chairs on their big wrap-around porches hoping for a little business. Sadly for them, neither Jim or I are big shoppers. We will, however, always jump at the opportunity for a glass of Malbec. Sadder still, however, it’s only 1pm…seems a bit early to be cocktailing.

This is when we discover the Hole in the Wall–a tee tiny pub in the basement of the more famed Bayard House restaurant with a magnificent view of the canal…magnificent that is, if you’re sitting on the big wrap-around porch of the Bayard House. We chose instead to investigate the 400 square foot basement bar. Steeped in history, this “beer parlour” (as their sign says) has been operating since the 1800s when they sold alcohol through the “hole in the wall” to canal workers digging the Delaware-Chesapeake Canal. There’s actually a hole. Two Irish coffees later we knew all the local lore, including stories of a gentleman who, since the passing of his wife, drives from his home one hour away to visit the town (and the bar) and stay in his favorite inn. Every Wednesday and Saturday. I expect if we were staying through Saturday we’d be invited for dinner when he returns for visit #2.

With warm bellies, we continued our adventures to the C&D Canal museum, housed in the original pump station and situated exactly in the center of the canal–15 miles upstream to the Delaware River and 15 miles downstream to the Bay and the Port of Baltimore, where 40% of the Port’s commercial traffic uses the canal to short-cut their passages by 300 miles. The Museum had just closed but we poked around enough to learn that the canal is the third busiest in the world and one of the few sea-level canals operating today. While all the facts and figures were very interesting, the highlight was when a big burly guy who stepped out in the rain to have a cigarette, yelled out in a thick New York accent, “The museum’s closed, what d’ ya need?” Peering in windows of a locked building draws that kind of attention.

Ready to return to the safety of checking emails on Gémeaux, Sam, as later we would find out, beckons us over to visit “his” building, which later we would conclude is far more intriguing than a museum. Turns out Sam works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) and his job is to monitor a steady-flow of traffic up and down the canal–sort of like an air traffic controller for the water. Earlier, before the fateful knee injury, we witnessed some of this traffic when a 1300-foot car carrier rounded the bend and passed us close enough we could have reached out to borrow a cup of sugar. It’s hard to appreciate how big these vessels are–it feels a little like being in a raft next to a cruise ship. Keep in mind that the canal is about 450 feet wide, these car carriers are about 200 feet, and Gémeaux has a 24-foot beam. That doesn’t leave a lot of room to pass, particularly when two car carriers are passing one another!

Enter why Sam’s job is essential. Sam had been a New York dispatcher for the ACE for many decades and now is enjoying his “retirement” position on the Canal. He was quick to point out that the state of-the-art fiber optic and microwave links and closed-circuit television and radio systems are not so state-of-the-art, but somehow he manages to do an impressive job monitoring weather conditions, arranging for pilots to accompany the vessels, and safely moving commercial traffic through the waterway. Even this non-techie was fascinated. I think Sam was as interested in telling us the details of his solo job as we were in listening. I was sure we would be invited to stay for dinner.

That night I reflected on the day–so bummed initially that Allen got hurt and certain this would be a horrible, rainy day. What I learned is ask lots of questions–everyone has a story and boy do they enrich our lives. Good rain gear helps too.

P.S. Allen Facetimed Dr. Don later that night sharing digital files of his MRI results and concluded that rest and a brace were all that was necessary at the moment..permission to carry on sailing.

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Posted on September 6, 2017 | 0 comments

50 Shades of Gray

50 Shades of Gray

I remember snowshoeing across Antarctica’s South Georgia Island and being amazed at the absolute barren landscape. You take away wildlife, plants, even rocks, and you are left with a monochromatic landscape as far as the eye can see. Miles and miles of white snow and nothing else. Where the snow ends the sky begins, and often during those Antarctic snow storms, you cannot discern the border that separates sky and land. You are engulfed in a blanket of white. And when this landscape is removed of all physical distractions, your empty meditative state now has space to notice and contemplate the subtle variations of a world we simply take for granted. Four years later after that life-changing trip to Antarctica, I feel the same sensation with sailing.

On these open water passages far far away from civilization, there is nothing but water and sky. Miles and miles of blue, except on this stormy day, I see nothing but miles and miles of gray. The water is gray, the sky is gray, the distant shoreline is gray, the far horizon is gray. Gee, if I had known this, I might have chosen a different decorating scheme, but alas, even Gémeaux is gray. So, with nothing other than this monochromatic landscape to ponder, I begin to notice that it’s not just gray. It’s a Crayola Crayon box of silver, dolphin gray, crystal, gray blue, alloy silver, manatee, sonic silver, white shimmer, deep space sparkle, and of course, gray. Wait, I see a red buoy…or rather a maroon with glitzy gold buoy!!

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Posted on September 4, 2017 | 0 comments

Cat On Board!

Cat On Board!

After successfully launching Nick at University of Oregon, we packed up the cat and headed back to Pleasant Cove Marina in Pasadena, Maryland to begin our journey south. Read Cat on Cat for a full understanding of how THAT journey went. After a week in a hotel, we were finally able to get Gémeaux back in the water and formally introduce Dot to boat life.

First order of business was to determine why our newly-upholstered cushions were not holding up. A seamstress I am not, so given $49 Spirit airfares from Ft. Lauderdale to Baltimore, we flew up Garry, who was the actual cushion-maker. He arrived with sewing machine in hand and spent the day with us troubleshooting and fixing canvas zippers, etc. Although it looks like we’ll end up reupholstering all the cushions:( we made lemonade out of lemons, we had a very enjoyable day getting to know Garry and crossing off some repairs on our to do list. What fun it was to have a sewing machine on board and listen to the stories of a New York designer!

At last, we bid farewell to the hospitable crew at Pleasant Cove Marina and the famous Cheshire Crab restaurant, where we enjoyed our share of Maryland soup and soft shell crab, and headed south to Port Annapolis.

 

 

On our to do list in Annapolis is to eliminate the stench in the third head (so Nick will visit us again), replace one of the emergency hatches that is leaking, and the biggest project–remove the mast to inspect all the antennas and wiring. Recall our mast is 70 feet tall so this is not a small undertaking! So back out of the water AGAIN. Five guys and one giant crane lifted the mast off Gémeaux and onto saw horses so we can inspect the insides. I find the entire process very scary–not the risk of it falling on the ground or, worse, on the boat, but the risk of being at sea and discovering that it wasn’t properly put back together. Allen loved every minute of it and of course captured the experience on drone. I hid in the closet with the cat.

 

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Posted on August 28, 2017 | 1 comment

Barefoot With a Wool Hat

Barefoot With a Wool Hat

Until this week I couldn’t take off enough clothes to stay cool. From the Caribbean climate to the intense summer humidity of the South, I was dripping in sweat morning, noon, and night. And nights always seem to be the worse-lying in bed encapsulated in the hull below where the air is like a sauna, desperately waiting for my body temperature to fall so I can sleep. Any contact with another human or even a bed sheet sent my temperature soaring again.

Cara and Matt–all cleaned up:)

If you’ve never experienced this very uncomfortable state and the extreme sensitivity of any bodily contact, consider this story from Matt, Cara’s boyfriend, who expressed the sensation perfectly.

On one of those hot tropical nights in the Caribbean, Cara and Matt crawled into the little sailboat bed in their berth. 6’4″ Matt decried to his lovely partner, “I am SO incredibly hot, don’t even think of touching me.” Such a romantic. Cara dutifully settled in for the night careful to keep all body parts on her side of the bed to avoid creating a conflagration. Just as her head hit the pillow, a strand of her long, beautiful blonde mane gently swept across Matt’s arm. Matt bolted up in astonishment. “Are you freakin’ kidding me?!” he exclaimed in complete disbelief that Cara would so bluntly torment him. So remember, in those unbearably hot conditions, body parts include strands of hair.

Now, on this 2nd day of September in the Chesapeake Bay just following Hurricane Harvey, I cannot steal enough body heat to stay warm at night. The change in weather has caught me by surprise as we still have no blankets on the bed and I’m searching my drawer for warm clothes. I’m wishing we would have purchased and not just admired the array of “foul-weather” gear on one of our many trips to our new favorite store, West Marine. Certainly that purchase will come soon enough as we continue to sail this fall.

But for today, I have dug up my favorite warm leggings (favorite because they have pockets which are essential for my Leatherman or pliers), a base layer and vest, a windbreaker, and a wool hat. I’m ready for this blustery day and feel proud and stylish in my makeshift foul-weather gear. But then there’s the feet. Following good sailboat protocol of going barefoot was no problem on those hot humid days. But now my little feet are cold. What to do? Yup, warm clothes from head to toe, er ankle, and barefooted. That’s the sailing way.

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