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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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Posted on July 12, 2017 | 0 comments

The Perfect Boat Person is…

The Perfect Boat Person is…

…An organized workaholic. That makes us a good team–I’m organized and Allen is a workaholic. Or rather, Allen’s a project-aholic. He takes on project after project, challenge after challenge, and problem after problem until they are resolved. And unlike me, in my compartmentalized Bento Box fashion, Allen takes on multiple projects at a single time. This is perfectly illustrated on our salon table.

While I would like this to be a nice tidy place for people to gather and visit, Allen has deemed this the perfect place for all projects to gather and visit. There are old shackles and new shackles, opened packages and unopened packaged, tools, and bits and pieces of various electronic parts scattered hither and yon. It all looks the same to me, i.e., a big mess. I offer my organizational expertise by placing all the bits and pieces in nice little boxes stowed neatly out of sight. Or, I could put the entire lot in a big bin so at least it is contained. I suggest a safety perspective in hopes of getting my way, since afterall, the sharp bits and pieces could become an actual hazard in heavy seas. I even donate one of only three drawers in our galley to house tools. Blah blah blah. More tools land on the table and new projects outpace any organization efforts. I do wish our salon table was available to host the many friends I plan to make, but I guess I can’t make any new friends if the boat can’t sail. I retreat to a tool-free corner and observe.

I notice the endless amount of energy Allen has–fixing this, fixing that. I notice he rarely gets frustrated. I notice these are not problems, they are projects and challenges and they are fun! And, the more the merrier! Allen will be working intently on the wiring of the chart plotter and I’ll say, “The ac doesn’t seem to be working on the port side.” Without any acknowledgement, he’ll leave the chart plotter dangling from the wall, set some little bits and pieces on the salon table(!), wander down inside the hull to inspect the ac, and before I know it another project has taken flight. Oftentimes, if the issue remains unresolved, he’ll announce excitedly first thing the following morning, that he thought about it some more around 2am and figured it out. Other times, he’ll stumble out of his working stupor with a great big grin and say, “Well, that was a little more than I expected.” And still other times, the new project just finds another corner on the salon table. Some might say that this constant problem-solving is just the nature of owning a boat. But, for me it’s more. It’s made me realize that I have a partner who never gives up, never loses his patience, never complains of being tired, and has an amazing capacity to solve problems…with a smile. So friends, come on over–we’ll sit on the floor:) 

P.S. Update from the proud Organizer!

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Posted on July 11, 2017 | 0 comments

Night Watch is Like Childbirth

Night Watch is Like Childbirth

I’m so tired I cannot keep my eyes open. My head hurts and I can tell my brain is not functioning at full power as I try to process the steps I must take to avert a potential collision with something out there in the dark. When my shift is over I roll into bed, my aching body is awakened way too soon for another shift. Another round of pushing through the hard work. Stay strong, stay awake, the baby, er, the morning is almost here. I can’t do it. I’m never having another baby EVER. 

I value sleep. I need 8 hours to feel completely rested and I’m crabby if I’m woken before my 8 hours have been fulfilled. So the idea of a night watch in order to sail through the night does not appeal to me. I tried to convince my crew that I would be a devoted galley slave and handle all things related to the kitchen in exchange for a normal night’s sleep. Okay I’ll clean the toilets too. And I promise to make a complete breakfast for the crew first thing in the morning. But no, we are only a crew of 3 or 4 people and everyone needs to take a watch to maximize sleep…that is, periods of about 3 hours at a time. That is not sleep…that’s a nap.

On this night, I’m on the second night shift. I go to bed after the galley is cleaned up from dinner. I lay out my life jacket and headlamp for the imminent watch and then brush my teeth and hit the sack. Normally, I read in bed before my 8 hours of bliss begins, but tonight I know the alarm will ring shortly so I maximize every second by forcing sleep. It’s hot and I’m still adjusting to the creaks and moans of the boat so sleep doesn’t come easily. I eventually must have dozed off because I’m awakened suddenly by a loud broadcast over the radio. Crabbiness initiates as my brief sleep is interrupted before the alarm rings. I’m awakened for my shift at 1:30am. I brush my teeth pretending that is the beginning of my day, put on my life jacket, and stumble begrudgingly to the helm.

I take in the night. A half moon lights the sky and the stars are bright. The engines provide a constant purr while waves slosh and bang against the boat. It is still warm and humid so the night breeze feels good on my face. The glow of the radar and instrument  panel reminds me why I’m here–to avoid danger, particularly a collision course with a freighter. And, while I’m tired and wishing for more sleep, I’m enjoying the calm of the night and being outdoors–my favorite place to be. Crabbiness subsides. And then just before 5am, the day begins to break and the sun crowns and the birth of another glorious sunrise is handed to me. Okay, I’ll do it one more time.

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Posted on July 4, 2017 | 0 comments

The Land of Ma’am

The Land of Ma’am

After 48 hours of sailing, we entered Georgia’s Wassaw Sound that boasts sprawling 3-story antebellum mansions, complete with their own dock and a perfect line of Adirondak chairs. The 90+ degree weather and dripping humidity, however, kept any signs of humanity indoors so our arrival on this July 4th was quiet.

“Good morning ma’am,” was our first encounter with this southern civilization as we tossed our dock lines to the three young men at the Isle of Hope marina outside Savannah. Memories of being Miss Shiera from my Atlanta days came flooding back. “May I take your trash ma’am? Yes ma’am, it’s very hot today. Thank you ma’am, y’all have a nice day.” Ahh, that southern charm.

No sooner had we docked and were settling into our home for the next three nights, I heard the familiar voice of my dear friend, “Hey y’all, welcome to Savannah!” Complete with flowers and birthday balloons from my kids, Kathryn launched the beginning of a fabulous birthday. First stop–boiled peanuts from a roadside stand to accompany a lovely brunch of mimosas, Georgia shrimp, berries, and gluten-free cupcakes. The Stout hospitality even included a doggy fix from their two Golden Retrievers.

Now with full bellies, sleep deprivation really kicked in and we couldn’t get back fast enough to Gémeaux for a nap. Following yet another shower (we took many to combat the high humidity and temps), we drove the dock’s loaner car downtown to join the millions of other tourists visiting the historic squares of Savannah. We spent the rest of the evening with Rachel Henry, who’s all growed up and taking Gulf Stream by storm. She entertained us with stories of how to build and test aircraft and Allen and I had great fun watching Rachel and Jim Moore talk airplane shop. Fantastic views of the Savannah River from the Topdeck Bar on the top of the Cotton Sail Hotel, followed by dinner at nearby Vic’s with a fireworks display just outside the restaurant window completed the perfect birthday.

Later in our sailing adventures we would discover three things–we always visit the local West Marine store, we always hire the local marine expert to fix something on the boat, and we often end up hiring the local expert at the next stop to fix what the first guy repaired. I like to think of it as doing our share to ensure the various local economies are thriving. And thrive they did as we pulled into the Thunderbolt Marina to repair the steering and autopilot issues that the first guy in Ft. Lauderdale repaired. These were issues that we discovered during our night shifts (of course) were not properly working.  No time like an offshore night passage to pretend you’re Christopher Columbus and practice hand steering. But all was not lost–Thunderbolt was an impressive facility in the Port of Savannah and it was our first chance to watch giant 150-foot vessels be lifted out of the water and dry docked, like Larry Ellison’s former super yacht that we just happened to have seen on an earlier sailing charter to Catalina in CA. Nice to know we travel in the same circles:)

While Allen and Jim supervised work on Gemeaux, I had a delightful afternoon being a southern belle with my girlfriend. Kathryn took me to the famous Pink House for a lovely champagne lunch, followed, of course, by ice cream at the famous Leopold’s. One must hit all the famous spots, right?

Not to be left behind, Allen and Jim got a chance to be tourists too after they finished their chores and safely returned Gemeaux to Isle of Hope. Having hiked the 200-mile John Muir Trail through the Sierras, this trio is quite accustomed to walking and it’s generally our preferred method of sightseeing. Given the sweltering heat, however, we chose to do a trolley tour of the city. It turned out to be fabulous and I highly recommend it if you’re headed to Savannah.

We were on our way the following day. So happy to have had the chance to finally visit my dear friend and see her southern home.

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Posted on July 3, 2017 | 0 comments

Sea Artist

Sea Artist

In an instant, the clutter of civilization is behind us and we are surrounded by a canvas of blue as far as the eye can see. The endless view of only blue water and blue sky is both boring and awesome.

The simplicity of it is comforting and gives me a sense of peace. It forces me to notice things I haven’t seen before. Like, how many different shades of blue there are. Or, the yellow butterfly who appeared at the stern of our boat midday when we were 20 miles offshore. Where did he come from? How far can a butterfly fly without landing? I know millions of sea critters live just below but only the occasional flying fish entertains us. Certainly, the sunsets are not just more noticeable, but more spectacular as they break up the blue monotony with oranges and reds.

Tonight, the setting sun ducked behind a puffy cumulus cloud revealing its stunning silver lining. So that’s where that term comes from! Day turns to night and the canvas becomes even more monochromatic as the dividing horizon fades. The stars are bright and the Milky Way runs the entire length of the sky overhead. I notice phosphorous streaks alongside the boat as our motion stirs the water. They’re everywhere–most are small bursts of light, others spread their glow across a couple feet and finally dissipate several feet behind in our wake.

It’s a quiet night with only a few freighters appearing on the horizon and even fewer crossing our path. Soon, the last bit of light from the moon sinks below the horizon and the canvas is now completely black. There is no distinction between sea and sky and we are engulfed in stars with Venus taking center stage. It’s 4:30am and soon the sea artist will open the palette of oranges and reds and draw another day.

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Posted on July 1, 2017 | 0 comments

Wandering Underway

Wandering Underway

When I grow up I want to wander the planet and photograph and write about women. That’s been my dream and today it began. Well at least the wandering began…there are no women yet. Just two men, two of my favorite men. After two days of scrubbing, repairing, and organizing, Allen, Jim Moore, and I set sail in the wee hours of the morning. So different from our arrival two months ago to this busy metropolis, today was eerily quiet, the water calm and flat, even the no see ums were still asleep. It was as though we were sneaking off trying our best not to wake the sleeping giant of Ft. Lauderdale. Within minutes, we merged onto the gulf stream freeway just a few miles offshore and began our northbound journey up the Eastern seaboard.

The crowded South Florida coastline faded and before long we were surrounded by the deep blue sea. Where the sea ends, the blue sky begins on every horizon. In many ways, it’s a very monotonous view that forces contemplation. Or in my case, sleep. So far, my dream of wandering is filled with just that…dreams. The steady motion of the boat rocks me instantly to sleep. And, until my tummy adjusts to the rocking and I gain my sea legs, sleep indeed seems the best solution. Jim Moore is on the same program so we keep the couches warm while Allen, who requires no adjustment time, keeps us sailing north.

Destination: Savannah, Georgia where I’m hoping to spend my 4th of July birthday with my dear friend, Kathryn, in a city I’ve never visited. In order to reach our destination on said date, however, we must sail through the night. To understand how I feel about sailing through the night, read Blog Post, Night Watch is Like Childbirth.  You get the idea. 

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