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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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Posted on August 13, 2017 | 7 comments

Meet the Parents

Meet the Parents

Every parent wants to know how their children are doing. So, before we set off to some remote international destination, I thought a quick visit on the Chesapeake Bay would give my parents a sneak peak. My parents both enjoy boating and the water. In fact, in my dad’s final job with the National Park Service, they owned a 28-foot diesel jet Almar boat—perfect for seeing the sites of Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park. However, like my daughter, my parents would say, “We love sailing! The only thing we don’t like about sailing is the sailing!” Translation: please make the journey as smooth as possible. Our goal: short and easy day sails with lots of anchor time to bird watch and play cards.

Some background on my parents—after growing up in southern California, they spent 35+ years in the National Park Service, raising three daughters in some amazing places like Yellowstone (my birthplace), Yosemite, and Grand Canyon. For the children of Park Service employees, it was like being a military brat—moving every four years to another park when my dad got a promotion. We were park service brats and taught to value conservation and preservation and to know how to tranquilize a bear. Making new friends and being outdoors were a way of life. Is it any wonder why I love to wander?

My parents retired to Durango, Colorado in 1998, the perfect place to continue their outdoor hobbies and the perfect vacation destination for kids and grandkids to visit. In 2013, their lives were flipped upside down when my 74-year old dad flipped upside down on an ATV while hunting. My mom moved to Denver and spent the next six months at Craig Hospital while my dad rehabilitated from a traumatic brain injury. They eventually returned to Durango to learn a new normal way of life. Hunting, skiing, and mountain biking were replaced by a more sedentary lifestyle and a full-time author was born. You can learn more about my dad’s book and some great park service stories at yosemitemafia.com.

So, fast forward to taking my parents sailing. Our initial concern was just getting my parents physically onto the boat. We were side-tied to the dock in Hampton, Virginia and it required great strength and agility to navigate the four-foot step up to the deck without plummeting into the drink. Fortunately, we spied a large platform for boarding super yachts and hoisted up luggage and bodies without incident. We were off to a good start! Touted as an easy sail with permission to bring his girlfriend, we were able to convince my son, Nick, to come along as well. Nick’s goal: Watch the entire Netflix series of Breaking Bad. Nevertheless, precious family was aboard and off we went to explore the western side of the Chesapeake.

Having successfully boarded my parents, our next mission was to keep them onboard. Once an accomplished rock climber and athlete, my dad now struggles to walk a straight line on solid ground. Add in a little ocean wake and my dad’s insatiable urge to relieve himself outdoors and we knew it was just a matter of time before we would need to activate the man overboard. We had two strict rules—absolutely no urinating from the back of the boat and no swimming at anchor without supervision. Within 24 hours I spied my father breaking rule number one and I was so flabbergasted at the complete disregard for our rules that I just about cast him overboard myself. He giggled like a kid caught stealing from the cookie jar, as he so often does with his new frontal lobe, and promised to follow all rules from this point forward.

On day two, my dad announced he wanted to go for a swim. On the one hand, I wanted to encourage any semblance of bathing since showering was no longer a priority for my father. On the other hand, he hadn’t swum since his injury and I was worried he would simply sink to the bottom. I enlisted 6’4” Allen to stand by in case we needed to do a retrieval and then watched my dad gingerly, but eagerly step down the swim ladder. Without any magic words to announce he was ready to take the plunge, my dad released himself from the ladder and disappeared into oblivion. Immediately I wondered if we should have waited for a Caribbean visit where clear turquoise water would have allowed us to easily spot sinking bodies. I held my breath, certain my dad would never reappear. In seconds, however, his little head surfaced with a big toothy grin confirming that not even a traumatic brain injury could reduce this man’s ability to float.

What about my mother you might ask? My mom is happiest sitting in the sun watching the world go by. As we, er Allen kept my father entertained at the helm, my mom thoroughly enjoyed her respite on the sofa we now call Mom’s Bench. She no longer had to answer What’s the name of the bay we’re in? Or, How many more hours until we arrive? Instead, my mom sat quietly with her binoculars and dutifully carried out the role of official bird spotter.

By official, I mean there is no other like my mother who can spot wildlife. Growing up, I can remember driving through various national parks and my mom would announce there was a grizzly bear. “Where?!” we would all perk up, eyes eagerly scanning the roadside. If we squinted hard enough, we could just make out a minuscule brown spot on the horizon. Sure enough, when we pulled over for a better look through binoculars, there he was—not just a bear, but indeed a grizzly showing off his impressive hump. So when my mother announces two bald eagles feeding their young in a nest or a female osprey snatching an Atlantic menhaden in its talons, we all come running to bear witness.

Over the next four days, we motor sailed about 25 miles each day, finding calm anchorages with plenty of birds to keep us entertained. Nick and his girlfriend would break from Breaking Bad to join us for cards at night, our favorite time when everyone gathered around the cockpit table outside to show off their card-playing skills. We discovered some great places to anchor like Fishing Bay, Solomon’s Island, and Hartge, as well as some not-so-great places like Reedville. It seemed such a quaint and quiet little harbor with nary another cruising vessel in sight. Note to self: the lack of others often is a red flag. As the sun set and the wind shifted, an overwhelming stench of fish filled the air. At first light the next morning, we were awakened by a steady stream of planes taking off just overhead, followed next by two giant fishing boats leaving the harbor. Turns out that Reedville is home to Virginia’s largest fishery, Omega Protein—a 24-hour operation where first, small prop planes spot large schools of Atlantic menhaden, then trawlers motor out to net them, and finally the little fish are processed into omega-3 farm feed and fish oil capsules our doctors tell us we all should be taking. What?! The Atlantic menhaden is what the osprey eat! Once Google confirmed the little menhaden are overfished and impacting the Chesapeake’s marine ecosystem, this animal-loving group vowed never to purchase fish oil capsules. I’m sure Omega Protein will be receiving a letter from my mother.

Certainly a favorite stop was Solomon’s Island, Maryland (not to be confused with the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific).

Once docked, Nick and his girlfriend wasted no time returning to land and exploring the gems of urban America—ice-cream, souvenirs, and a chance to escape the parents and grandparents. My parents enjoyed the marina swimming pool and Allen and I enjoyed margaritas! We discovered the Calvert Marine Museum, which beautifully exhibits local history and the various fish of the Chesapeake Bay. The best exhibit, however, was the Drum Point Lighthouse, only one of three remaining screw pile, cottage-type light houses serving the Bay. A definite stop for anyone visiting the area.

Alas, our journey came to an end as we docked at our final destination at Port Annapolis Marina. Nick’s comments in our sailing log confirmed our priorities over the next few weeks would be boat maintenance and upgrades to the heads… “This sailing trip allowed Alex and I to enjoy Breaking Bad alongside amazing views and terrible smelling bathrooms.”

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