Saturday, July 22, 2017

Curiosity on the beach

Please be warned that this post involves digestive processes some may find disgusting. Skip it if you do...

Walking on the fine white sand of Caribbean beaches, it amuses me to think that it is almost entirely composed of coral that has been chewed, swallowed, and, um, "processed" through parrot fish.

I had thought nothing like this existed on our Cape Cod beaches, other than some shells smashed by seagulls (often on rocky beaches, but sometimes on a favorite rock like this one)...
but this does not involve passage through a creature.

However, a few weeks ago, on a sailing adventure to Little Sipson Island in Pleasant Bay,

I found small piles of waste filled with the broken shells of blue mussels.
Eyes opened, I looked at the beach again and noticed spots, small blue patches where these piles used to be...
and the sand itself has small bits of blue shell everywhere. I know that the few-percent contribution to these beaches pales beside the nearly 100% Caribbean fraction, but still pretty darned interesting.

One question that springs to mind is what species did this? Gulls? Cormorants? (A bit of quick research brings up eider ducks, corroborated by the fact that we DID find about ten mummified remains on the island that could easily have been eiders.)

One final question that springs to mind is whether these little piles are more like owl pellets, regurgitated stuff too troublesome to run through the normal one-way digestive tract, or whether it did, indeed, make the passage. The web says eiders do not regurgitate, so that leaves only one path, as it were...

So much fun to go the beach with curious eyes!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Surf clams!

Far too long since my last post, but life sometimes gets far too complex. Now I'm back in Michigan. Cynthia picked me up in Grand Rapids yesterday and drove to her sister's place for an errand, where I walked the fields, finding Japanese beetles and monarch butterflies while looking for the last clinging black raspberries. But enough about MI, let's look back at a bit of MA!

Euell Gibbons described surf clams in his book, "Stalking the Blue-eyed Scallop", as large (I've often seen ones measuring 6") and rather useless (yes, I'm paraphrasing), tossing almost all the meat or using it as bait, saying only the adductor (Yes, I spelled that correctly, thank you spellcheck!) muscles are worth eating. He also mentioned that sometimes one will find none, sometimes a few, sometimes buckets... in the same spot..

According to family legend, my uncle once came across a plethora of these clams, filled all pockets etc, and tried to make his way back through the rising tide. Along the way he realized that he had to choose between losing the clams and losing his life and, after some consideration, made the painful decision to drop the clams. *grin*

This brings us to last week, when we managed to pile all immediate available family (plus one cousin and a dog) into the Rhodes 19 sailboat and set out in light breezes,
past lounging and stinking seals, to the outer bar where we dug steamer clams, then stopped at a favorite sand bar for swimming. The kids had soon found a few surf clams.
Alerted, we soon found more with our feet ("treading for clams") and collected them into a tide pool.
Rather interesting critters...
We could easily have collected bushels, but why be greedy? After taking pics, we scattered them and gathered to watch the last ten or so dig their way rather swiftly to safety.

We brought two clams with us and piled back into the sailboat, resting figures covering the bow as we glided home, sliding swiftly along with gentle breeze and strong current.

Another day seized! So many delightful moments....

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Spring in Michigan!

Beautiful weather! Cool strong winds, hazy blue skies, everything turning green! Nice thunderstorm a couple nights ago.

I've always loved spring with all the plants bursting into life, but  never realized that the spring leaves have colors similar to fall.... more green, of course, but lots of reds and yellow-greens, too.
The shiny red leaves of some maples,
the fuzzy red of an oak leaf,
ferns unfurling,
sassafras buds just beginning to loosen up..

Cynthia and I walked through the woods and marshes,
looking for mushrooms (found none), finding lots of places that wild turkeys had dug up the leaves, enjoying the spring scents, and finding this strange semi-arboreal creature.
Lucy loves hunting squirrels!
Once we returned to the car, we found ticks, so spent five minutes then and later picking them off our clothes and dogs... and added DEET to our grocery list.

We found loads of wild strawberries and wild blueberries in bloom. In another couple months the fields of commercial blueberries will be ripe. So will the cherries, wild black raspberries, and wild blueberries. Wonderful place for foraging!

And Cynthia (well, Lucy) found a mallard duck sitting on her eggs at the edge of a parking lot close to our house, near no water we know of. We wish her well.

Thursday, May 11, 2017


Here I am, back in Grand Haven, MI. I had forgotten how much I love the northern spring, but more on that in my next post: this one looks back at my last three weeks in St John, three weeks without Cynthia...

I find that a curmudgeonly mood settles over me lately and I don't really greet anything with much gusto, just stay below and read and eat. Perhaps this is due to the minor but constant pain in my elbow and arm (from knocking oysters off the hull back in November), perhaps due to being unable to dive much deeper than 25' before the pressure creates pain in my jaw (sinus? *sigh*), perhaps other reasons. I see so few people who live aboard their boats actually are visible, enjoying the view and air: they seem only to emerge to go ashore.

And so I fight the ennui. Maybe actually tackle some needed improvements on the boat, like rebuilding the hatch dogs.
And popping my head out at the sound of many little voices and flapping sails to see these cute little moth-like sailboats...

Or, rather than remain below when I wake, drinking coffee and reading latest developments (not terribly uplifting), I motivate myself with a virtual kick to the backside, emerge to do yoga as the stars fade, then drink coffee with my back to the mast and my face to the breeze and sunrise. Random thoughts chase their way through my mind like rambunctious puppies. And, once I can see enough to avoid moorings, I set sail for reported lionfish, on a mission of ecosystem purification, and note the unexpected thrills of finding a pile of shells with eyes among them (a hidden octopus in his pile of dishes) or of swimming through a shoal of bait fish while a barracuda and other predators harry the fringes. It really helps... when I do it... but I need to prod myself more often.

My neighbor Larry arrived on the 24th. I had agreed to help with various work and, so, climbed the mast and repaired high rigging, worked on reducing leaking through the deck, mounted the solar panel solidly, helped on troubleshooting and demolition and repairs of wiring and wood, and hashed out plans, ideas, and general life questions over morning coffee and evening rum & coke, or, one night, over an excellent bottle of wine our neighbors gave us in thanks for helping undress their boat for the season.
We took turns providing dinners: I would cook something one night, and he would take me to Skinny Legs for one of their famous burgers another. Sometimes sunset sailing would call too loudly and I would sail away, skipping drinks and catching a mooring in Johnson Bay, then sail back with the sunrise in time for 6am coffee.

And we made excuses to go sailing to St Croix: me to sell excess fenders and watch meteors (well, I saw ONE and a pair of porpoises as we sailed back), him to check their chandlery for second hand winches and stoves. We headed out with our 6am coffee in hand
 took care of business on the island, watched sunset and slept on the cockpit benches, then headed back home in the dark the next morning.
 a storm just made the sunrise more interesting..
And we sailed for home, wind increasing, heeling well over, spray making the deck gritty with salt. I got to sleep a bit while Larry took the helm.
Another good adventure and more memories!

Saturday, April 22, 2017


A year ago, we tried to make our way to Anegada, the northernmost island of the BVIs, but were blocked by a week without wind... and a lack of functioning engine This time, once again,  we waited days for enough wind. While we waited, we motored about and snorkeled new spots: the Seal Dogs (wonderful forests of staghorn coral), the reef at the north end of Eustacia Sound (found piles of conch shells dumped by some fisherman).... and The Invisibles (a beautiful submerged group of enormous boulders with schools of fish a mile east of Richard Branson's place). We also used our engine to pull up to the dock at Leverick Bay to conveniently purchase ice: I admit there are times an engine is nice.

Finally, the wind picked up... and the forecast called for much stronger winds in later days. We caught the first day of wind to sweep across the ocean
and into the shoals around the island. We used the engine for the last mile, making our way through the traffic of yachts and ferries, and snagged a mooring in what seemed like a crowded parking lot.
Barry, a local, motored over and chatted with us a bit and told us his uncle would be out to get the mooring fee: always fun to meet new friendly people!

With strong winds and a new island to explore, we went ashore
and rented a car. As a gardener, I have bought manure, but have never before rented something that could be called a "piece of manure". A friend finds movies that are so bad that they are actually good and this car was similar. I believe broken engine mounts created the interesting engine clunks and misaligned the transmission selector. One could lower the driver's window, but raising it took two people and five minutes. Only the driver could control the passenger window. Cracking noises from near the front wheels (ball joints?) made one wonder if the wheels would remain attached. And so much more....
And it was purple... and the engine hurt my ears....

Anegada itself is BORING! All scrub, blocking out any view of the shallow salt ponds
and the ocean.

Feral cows, cats, chickens, and goats stand in the road
(and left footprints while concrete pavement was being poured)

And the stores... I thought the stores on St John were limited, but the ones here measure 20' square and have next to nothing in them... but one we entered had cleats (for a boat) and cheap ice cream and diapers. I've never seen an island with less available to do, although the seaside restaurants and bars look like possible way to spend time and money), if one likes that sort of thing, and one could spend days snorkeling (with less wind!) and reading. We look forward to coming next time when the winds are lower (gusting 25 or 30 knots now) and perhaps anchoring in various places along the extensive barrier reef (the third largest in the world, according to one person) and exploring. Perhaps when the winds are in the 5kt to 15kt range, acceptable for both sailing and snorkelling...

We really did love this thatched roof over a bar on the north side of the island. Mostly made of rope and un-milled wood and palm fronds and a very few nails or screws. Beautiful and functional...

Wednesday, March 29, 2017


The last weeks have been far less itchy than the time spent working on my boat, but definitely memorable. Flying back to Cape Cod I saw the tip of the airplane wing orange with alpenglow.
The next day the weather made sure to point out that THIS IS NOT THE TROPICS! 
Cynthia had been working like mad to put in an entire month of full time work by mid month. We then loaded a UHaul trailer and headed to Michigan! We HAD to visit my cousin Jeannie since we never see her elsewhere, stopped to see the icy Niagara Falls
and this spire in the mists,
took a shortcut through Canada to Michigan, spent the next night with Cynthia's sister's family (and took the dogs for a very nice walk over the open fields),
and then, finally, got to "our house" in Grand Haven.

After two days on the road to arrive here, the pups took a few minutes to run through the house, then hopped eagerly back into the car, clearly saying "ok, this has been fun, now let's get back to our beloved home! We've been away too long!" We felt rather sad telling them that this is now their new home, at least for the next couple months. The next day I set them up with their dog beds on an impromptu window-seat and they seemed satisfied to sleep and wait for Cynthia to return from her first day of work.
And they certainly seem to enjoy the abundant sunshine coming in the windows here.
Lucy and I often compete for the beanbag chair.

Here we are in Michigan! How can I tell we are in the midwest? We have Meijer, Walmart, Staples, West Marine, and Home Depot within five minutes drive. We have our own coal power plant for the town. Also, a really nice thunderstorm came through at about 1am on our first morning, dropping hailstones (well, pebbles, really) that drifted up as deep as nearly an inch in spots. Tio hated the noise and sought refuge in the bathtub, so I put his bed in there with him and turned on some music. Lucy, of course, snored right through it, cuddled up to Cynthia.

So far I've fixed one toilet (while keeping Tio company during the thunderstorm) and need to replace the valves on the other. And the shower drips. Wind blows through many cracks in the basement. And, when we got to the "furnished house", we found no sign of silverware, cups/plates/bowls, utensils, garbage cans, shower curtain, etc. So glad we spent the prior night at Cynthia's sister's place rather than arriving here after dark, exhausted, with hours of work before we could rest!

So, I'm busy fixing things and taking care of Cynthia and the beasts. Cynthia has been learning and generally enjoying the new job (and she loves being able to walk there in two minutes and seems to enjoy the people). Life goes on. Life is good. Life is interesting.