Sunday, June 17, 2018

Visiting Brule, WI: river, trout, pines...

Written June 17

Friday morning we left my cousin Heather's family camp (their side of the family, not mine, alas!) on the Brule River. I've heard about this place for years and seen pics, but only my father and youngest brother have actually visited. This year she invited Cynthia and me and a bunch of her other friends to spend a week there and I leaped at the chance.

 There were, of course, some issues. 
1) The place is about ten hours drive from home, just at the point where the drive is really tiring, but close enough that flying would not save us much time. Still, driving allowed us to bring LOTS of good food and gear.
2) the beautiful pines were in bloom, emitting golden clouds of pollen that shone in the sun and coated everything from cars to hardwood floors with a heavy layer of dust. Allergies anyone?
3) The river by the cabin is a primo trout stream, with no stocked trout and only artificial lures allowed.... and Cynthia is a bait fisherman from childhood. Solution: she bought a flyfishing starter kit on Amazon, watched loads of videos, and hired a guide for a day of fishing/learning.

By the end of the week she cast pretty darned well and was bringing in a few fish... as well as spending lots of time wading in the river and finding that fly fishing does not hurt her shoulders!
Only one fish swallowed the dry fly rather than being lightly hooked on the lip, but it was a legal brook trout and tasted delicious fried with butter/salt/pepper this morning. All the rest of the fish she brought in still swim free, gobbling up shrimp and bugs.... although she would have kept more if only they had been large enough (minimum legal rainbow trout is 26"!)
4) a large black bear ripped down the bird feeder and enjoyed all the seed... and we missed it!

On the other hand we had sweet, delicious well water and a cold, clear river pool at the dock to leap into (ok, only a meter deep: we had to leap carefully.. or just wade),

loads of canoes in the boathouse to paddle or pole, lovely trout, nice category 1 rapids, towering pines, deer eating water weed on early morning paddles, quiet twilight mornings with good fresh coffee and steam rising off the river,

noisy and boisterous dinners,
extremely silly ping-pong (I saw at least one series of four shots that stayed entirely under the table), and fun and interesting company.

The camp lodge is an enormous log structure, generations old, scented by smoke and pine and time.
When we arrived, Heather showed us our beautiful clean bedrooms (with good mattresses, something we appreciate more and more and the years pass).
Folks would gather for coffee in the morning in the big kitchen or would enjoy wine in the evening on the wide screened porches around three sides of the building. On chilly evenings (and one cloudy morning) we would build a fire in the huge fireplace in the high-ceilinged central room. A large wood closet held the long, dry birch logs and, delightfully, one fills this closet through an outside door rather than carrying firewood through the house. The outdoor storage held loads and loads of the logs...

Cynthia and I drove out to a trout hatchery and saw a snowshoe hare, paws still white from winter. We stopped to look at it better... and it headed for the car and hid beneath it! Very funny.

A bunch of folks decided to take a day trip to the city and, no surprise, Cynthia and I stayed behind. Among the things they brought back was a package of granola they had to purchase for the laughs. And no, it tasted good.

Heather did whole lot of great cooking: I think others cooked two dinners. Thanks for dinners and all your other efforts, Heather!

Cynthia and I headed for home Friday morning, aching and tired and relaxed and happy.... and looking forward to doing it again if opportunity presents itself.

"So," you ask, "what next?"
Cynthia needs to move to a different house as the hospital needs this one for another new doctor, so I'm doing what I can to help move. This will keep me here longer than planned, perhaps until the end of June. Then off to NC to sweat and get my boat ready: I figure I can sail out after a week of work... but we shall see. 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Stalking the wild asparagus in Michigan

9am, May 27
I'm sitting in the Muskegon, MI airport, waiting for security to open for my flight to CA for ten days: good opportunity to write up a blog post!

As a child, Stalking The Wild Asparagus stood high in my list of favorite books, not that we had a whole lot of actual asparagus in Cincinnati: we would be lucky to find a handful of stalks each year. North of Grand Haven, however, many fields grew the stuff as a commercial crop for years and, although the fields are now orchards or corn, the seeds the birds spread far and wide mean that the feathery stalks are a common roadside plant and, in the spring, we look for the old weathered remains as markers for the new shoots that rise in May.

Cynthia and I, unused to such bounty, have been picking the stuff by the quart, eating loads, and giving some away. Lucy enjoys nibbling the stalks and sometimes we need to repeatedly force her back so she does not eat our harvest, although she has not yet shown interest in the unpicked stuff.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Exhausted and delighted in NC: my masts are vertical once again!

Written May 15

Progress continues, here in hot and steamy NC. On the day I arrived in town, I lit a fire under the folks selling me the black locust and they shuffled some pallets of lumber, picked out the two best pieces, and planed it down while I waited.
Their bigger stack of it lay behind fifty or so loaded pallets, so we made do with the approximately fifteen board feet we could get. Then my friend Paul offered to lend me his truck to pick up douglas fir for the mast.

So.... the fir went into the side of the mast, the black locust went into the masthead (a spot that often seems to decay),
and, after a week of gluing and shaping and sanding.... and a few more days of applying finish....
we were ready to screw on the sail track,
install the spreaders and stays,  and get the masts installed just ahead before the days of thunderstorms predicted to remain through my departure Friday.

Is all perfect? Not really: life continues in a two-steps-forward, one-step-back fashion.

Example 1: in preparing for stepping the masts, I tied the roller furler to the spreaders to hold it in place until I wrapped it and the stays with a halyard line.... but forgot to untie it. So, I taped the kitchen knife to a couple long scraps of wood and solved the problem.

Example 2: The new mast step works well... and I secured the steering cables pro tem to steer the boat to the launch area for the mast stepping, but I found the support for the stuffing box is shot and I'll need to fix that.
Disassembled steering block, mast step, engine exhaust, and stuffing box....
So the yard guys towed Transience over and back and I have a plan for the repair, one that I can do while the rain pours down outside.

Good things abound. I head my first whippoorwill a few nights back: very cool. My neighbor Lee invited me to go sailing with him and we have taken his 34' Tartan out a couple time for an hour or two each time... and I am learning how to navigate this ridiculously shallow harbor entrance. My neighbor Clark, two boats off, sniffs the air, asks what I am cooking, and I invite him over; yesterday he helped with the mast stepping; and we frequently share ice or eggs or advice (he may have located a leak in the deck that had me stymied). And there are lots of folks walking dogs so I can chat with one and pet the other.

Now, Friday, the warm rain pours down as I sit on the clubhouse porch and write. Last night Lee caught me on a sunset walk and invited me in for the evening clubhouse drink and Zack and Bob and Amy joined in for talk of gardening, sailing, dogs, and rain. At 2pm today I'll head for New Bern to return the car, at 5:50 my flight departs, at 10:30 I'll hug Cynthia.... once Lucy calms down enough. And, in ten days or so, off to CA. Life is busy and complicated and contains some serious problems.... and is good.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Part 5: More sailing, I MUST have JUST.. ONE... MORE..

This is the final post about the Caribbean adventure. And Monday, April 30, I will drive down to NC to get the masts repaired and installed on my boat, Transience... and perhaps go sailing. Well, back to the story:

Sunday April 8
Somewhat tired of sailing in general, high on success, and tired from the night on the water, I slept while the other three did who knows what ashore. Some time later they all returned, Tom having lost track and run over the departure time to catch the sole St Croix ferry.

We chatted: he wanted to take his boat out, but really wanted a competent person aboard for confidence and to show him some of the local knowledge... and one can always learn more. I kind of liked the idea of sailing a Tayana 37, one of the boat models I had contemplated. We considered the possibility that I could come over to St Croix on Tuesday afternoon, the day after him, sail to St John Wednesday, and then split up with me staying to fly out Thursday and him sailing back alone to fly out Friday. Further consideration, a little wine, and perusal of the ferry schedule led me to suggest the possibility of sailing back with him Wednesday night, sailing into Green Cay Marina at about 6am, catching the 8am ferry to St Thomas, and catching my 2:30 flight to Michigan.... leaving him to settle his boat down for his departure the following day. He liked that idea.... and it would give me another night sail.

The forecast grew a bit windier, with waves predicted in the 6' or 7' range... maybe a little much for a new night sailor? Without hesitation he nixed that idea and proclaimed himself entirely ready. SO... we did it; hanging out on his boat
Tuesday night and drinking wine, talking about life, metaphors for volts and amps, and how a boat can sail itself by balancing the sails... then waking at dawn Wednesday to sail across the chasm below (the ocean is two miles deep between the two islands)
and catching an empty mooring near Gigi II. He went ashore while I helped Larry salvage a marine toilet for his boat. At sunset we anchored in Johnson Bay and carefully fixed the two buoys and few boats in our minds for easier location and avoidance in the dark, set our alarms for 10pm, and sacked out. And at 10 we rose and, moving slowly and carefully in the darkness, raised sail, started the engine, pulled anchor, and slowly motored out of the bay... almost hitting a third buoy we had not seen in the light.

And the sailing? For the first half hour we had to keep an eye out for land and shoals, then we set the sails and wheel and let Pretender make a beeline south. The sparks in the water were some of the most brilliant I've seen, perhaps because our eyes were better adjusted, spreading across the surface like a wave of stars in the white foam from the bow. And I saw something I had never seen before: astern of us the turbulence of the rudder and keel glowed like a comet, a tail about three feet wide and ten yards long of misty glow filled with the brighter sparks we more commonly noticed. And we saw a meteor fall and break up into many fragments, shooting across the sky. Just wonderful.

We reached Green Cay Marina exactly as planned, a little before the sky gave enough light to sail in safely, so we furled the jib and dropped speed, dropped mainsail and motored in. I found berthing Pretender tricky: I've only done this sort of slip (a walkway ahead and halfway along one side and two posts at the stern) once before, but we did the job with minimal bumping and, I believe, no swearing, so I count it as a success. Before sunrise we had everything secure.

Then ferry, taxi, airplane, and Cynthia waiting for me at the airport at midnight. Home!

I started this trip as a man starving of hunger for sailing and, after these last two sails, felt as though I had spent an hour or two at the buffet, couldn't eat a bit more, and even might have hurt myself stuffing those last two desserts.

BUT will it last? How soon will it be before I must feed again?!

On the other hand, I love sharing this experience with others as I did with Tom and maybe I can do this often, possibly even making a little business with night sailing/ star-watching/ sunrises/sunsets/ bio-luminescence adventures...

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Part 4: back to our beloved islands!

The satellite phone battery had quit days before. I had told the folks tracking us that this would happen soon and, as a fallback, promised to make contact somehow at intervals of no more than 48hrs. Now that we were back near PR and other US territories this was fairly easy (I took a gps reading after each tack and sent a text, to be actually sent when signal allowed) and, at a minute after midnight, April 6th, I sent out this text:
"Midnight. 17.861096,-65.518710. Rising moon ahead, cup of coffee in one hand, big bowl of oatmeal w honey on my lap, everyone else asleep....very nice."

The GPS coordinates showed us a bit south of Vieques, part of Puerto Rico and a member of the Spanish Virgin Islands. I could see the glow of PR to port, the glow of Vieques ahead, and a tiny glow from St Croix or a cruise ship off to starboard... and started to feel crowded... but also had that friendly feeling of "home", that we were entering my backyard, the places I've had so much fun exploring and living.

Sailing along in the darkness for a few hours before the moon rose, I realized that this might be my final night of sailing... so I didn't wake up anyone to take their shift, just remained awake, soaking in the soft wind, the sparking phosphorescence (ok, ok: "bioluminescence"), and the brilliant stars until "rosy fingered dawn" brought Larry, bearlike, from his hibernation in search of coffee
and we enjoyed the dawn together...
before I went to sleep.

Larry and I were eager to be back in St John.... at least before my flight out on the 12th... but there was really nothing useful to do on the weekend.... and Bill had a marina picked out on St Croix he wanted to visit... and it was only a little out of the way... and the grocery and chandlery and other shopping is far better... so, off to St Croix!

PredictWind had good advice and we had our usual arguments about the best way to make headway, but we were so close to home that very little could go seriously wrong and I chilled, at least a bit. We made the Green Cay Marina by about 4pm Saturday with only a couple minor scrapes, during one of which we met a helpful kayaker, Tom. Once we tied up at the fuel dock,
he came over and chatted further, then offered to drive us all to town and back so we could eat out. I couldn't bear to miss an evening alone on the boat, but Larry and Bill happily took up the offer and, after taking real showers(!), headed out to dinner, returning well after I had gone to sleep.

Tom was staying on his Tayana 37, a beautiful double-ender cutter berthed in the marina. He had not quite gotten comfortable with sailing the area and, when he heard we were sailing the next night to St John, asked if we had room for another. I, not wanting to miss a minute of possible night sailing, had already told the guys they could sleep the night and I'd sail them home (an offer they accepted gladly), so we all welcomed him to the crew and (after we three motored to Gallows Bay in Christiansted and split up for shopping and sightseeing... and photos of a banana blooming in a vacant lot...)

picked him and his bags of goodies up at the nearest dock, raised sails, and set off with the sunset on our port,

the air so clear we could see St John thirty miles ahead.

After dark, Larry and Bill headed their dry and comfortable beds well after dark, leaving Tom and me to our night sail: Tom enjoyed it and Gigi steers herself well even with the wind on her beam, unlike Dorado. Some call these heavy boats "tubs", but they are surely more pleasant to live and relax aboard in rougher conditions... although who can call the three or four foot waves of that night rough? Not any of us!

We arrived at St John well before moonrise, when darkness made obstructions unsafe, even in these familiar waters, so we tacked and headed back toward St Croix for a couple hours, then reversed again in time to slide into Johnson Bay with the help of crescent moon and flashlight, our heads hitting pillows moments after the anchor dropped.

And, in the morning, we motored into Coral Bay, caught my mooring (Dickie the diver had found the severed end of one of my mooring lines and put a dock fender on it as a buoy: thank you, Dickie! We found he also had brought up Larry's mooring.). Home at last.

Boat delivery complete.

DONE with an epic journey and many more firsts and superlatives to add to my list.
>longest water journey
>first time spending a week out of sight of land
>first time in Dominican Republic
>first time in Puerto Rico proper (although I didn't actually step onto land)
>first time using PredictWind
>first time using an auto-helm to steer
>first time using land/sea breeze differential (I love it!)
>Most nights under sail
>first serious cabin fever
>first time I've seen a boat sink
>first time I've been immersed in a foreign culture (other than Canada and Berkely)(Just kidding!!)

Fun, fun, fun!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Part 3: Back to US territories! Do landmasses breath?

Sunday, April 1: April Fools Day.

Although the military in Puerta Plata had told us everyone goes on vacation for the long weekend and we could not leave any harbor until Monday (or was it Tuesday?), Ocean World has clout and the military signed us out on Sunday, after various paperwork and a quick inspection of the boat, probably for drugs. Larry had cleaned the bilges and removed a rag caught on the shaft, so oil and salt was no longer coating the engine: no more fumes! And Bill had downloaded his charts and I had full weather forecasts and routing advice from PredictWind. Not only that, but we had rinsed and dried things in the boat, as well as enjoying showers on land and some big tasty dinners, and were back to feeling human and ready to go.

The wind had switched and now we felt a nice warm wind, coming nearly straight from our destination. We started by taking the advice of PredictWind...and sailed away from land for about ten hours. Once I went to bed, the guys turned on the engine to gain a little advantage and be able to head higher, but I'm not convinced it helped with such a headwind (I did the numbers and found it to be either a wash or a waste, but the guys felt it was helpful. Also, I am religious about only using engines in light winds and this trip has increased my convictions) and the engine noise makes me miserable. However, I had suggested that whoever is on watch gets to decide on use of engines, sails, etc, so fair is fair.... and we no longer had fumes from the engine now that Larry had fixed things.

The wind weakened as the hours passed and, after a day, we were ready to motor most of a day with a unanimous vote rather than barely moving along at 3kts or less, sails flapping, accidentally steering in circles, autopilot unable to cope: low wind sucks without an engine. By the time my night watch came around (usually about 10 or midnight) the wind started picking up again as forecast, so I shut off the engine and unfurled the jib and sailed along under dark skies, the only noises being the waves splashing gently away, the occasional creak of the rigging, and the muttering (many times I thought I heard voices) of the blocks above Larry's cabin as the lines made micro-movements as the boat shifted. By sunrise the wind had died again and we motored the last mile into Puerto Real, a little fishing village on the west coast of Puerto Rico. Bill and I had phone signal again for the first time since Key West! Sweet!

As we entered the harbor, a flock of swallows noisily investigated our dinghy/davits/solar panel, perhaps scouting possible nesting spots, then left after ten minutes.
We tied up to the fuel dock, filled the tank, asked the fellow there about where to go for immigration and customs. Turns out Larry needed to take our info over to customs, but we only needed to call immigration on the phone: how nice and friendly! AND they weren't asking for, sorry, "tips": so nice to be back in the USA. I volunteered to let the guys go ashore while I cared for Gigi, so they took the cart and went shopping while I anchored Gigi and had a nice chat with a Russian expat (was doctor, now construction worker in Canada) who was sailing north.

As evening approached the fellows, bitten by midges and mosquitoes, returned and we set off for the south shore of PR and the Virgin Islands. With no wind, we motored across the glassy waters in the sunset, keeping well away from land and shoals.

PredictWind told us the wind would pick up by midnight and it did, so we sailed toward South Africa (just a direction, not a destination!) as it told us to do until 10:00 the next morning... although we got impatient and tacked at about 8am. Beautiful day of sailing... and it felt so odd to be able to see land!

And this brings us to a really interesting fact: land masses breath, inhaling and exhaling on a 24-hr cycle as the land warms and cools under sunshine or darkness. When the land warms, the warm air above them rises and winds sweep in from the sea to replace it: your stereotypical salty sea breeze at the beach. And while we sleep the land cools, the air becomes heavy and flows out into the warmer ocean air: the nightly land breeze. So, this pattern distorts the smoothly flowing trade winds around Puerto Rico,
distorting them inward during the day
and outward during the night.
And, while a randomly timed effort to tack up the coast might make forty
miles in a day, taking advantage of these flows can add twenty miles to that.... and PredictWind told us when to tack to take best advantage! Very cool!

Part 2: Into the Great Wide Open: over a week out of sight of land

March 20. In Key West, I tended the boat at anchor (a very good thing as wild currents and increasing opposing winds started the boat on wild gyrations that probably would have fouled and pulled the anchor or struck another boat) while Lori, Larry, and Bill shopped for essentials. Lori departed for Miami and her flight home and Larry and Bill motored back out to me. I had put in calls for a power supply for the laptop and antibiotics for my ear, but didn't get any response before we departed in late afternoon, heading out the south shipping channel, the current creating a rip tide that tossed the boat about and got Bill started on three days of being unable to hold down food. This probably contributed to his irritable behavior on the trip: I can't imagine being sick for days... frankly, I'm impressed he did as well as he did...

Night fell as we headed east along the southern shore of the Florida Keys, wild lightning flashing to the north, beautiful sunset and nice winds for us. We prepared for the days to follow..

Larry repaired a shoe using a spare shackle
Safety harness!

While my phone showed decent signal, I checked things like weather, wind forecasts, and PredictWind Offshore (a very popular sailing routing planner). During planning, Larry had wanted to stop in several ports, make this a leisurely and memorable trip, but the complexity of sailing the shallows of the Bahamas in a deep draft (6'6") boat worried me and I suggested he get someone who knew the area better, especially since I had also read that the Bahamian anchorages are exposed and one must be prepared and knowledgeable. The prevailing warm winds in the area we planned to sail typically flow from the southeast, so our entire trip would normally be fighting this... but the forecasts I now saw showed a wave of strong chilly northerly winds flooding into the region for days. Hmmm...

OK, on the positive side, given these winds, we could simply shoot toward the Virgin Islands on a single tack rather than fighting headwinds to the NE. In three or four days, rather than two weeks or so, we would ride the wave of wind past Cuba in 15 knot winds. On the negative side, if we continued NE on our planned route through the Bahamas, we would be tacking into winds gusting to 30, going opposite our goal, and dealing with backup anchorages... or no planned anchorages at all... and Larry was leaving it all to us.

First thing the next morning (after fresh-ground coffee, of course) I pointed out the wind forecast and the advantages of changing our route. I mentioned warnings I had heard about anchorages in northerly winds and advised running south to warmth and weaker winds. Bill, based on his experience as navigator on a NY to Bermuda race (I think) insisted that in sailing you stick to the original plan, whatever the conditions, and that the planned anchorages should be fine, even in different winds. He argued that there had to be good reasons that his route was recommended by his sources. I argued that this weather pattern trumped normal conditions and we should seize the opportunity to make fast progress.

Thus began the week from hell. Bill and I argued and our dislike for each other grew far beyond hatred (only Larry appeared calm: after days even I raised my voice and swore like a sailor), courses kept changing depending on who had Larry's ear, the jib managed to wrap around the fore-stay at night, during a rainstorm, while I was trying to sleep...  Toward the end, we spent three days under gray skies (Bill leaving his soaking wet cabin in the V-berth where he rattled around like a pea in a maraca for the cockpit where he rattled less),
wet from the frequent spray and occasional torrents of water, waves growing to 10' to 12' with occasional 15' hills:
With fumes from the engine filling the main cabin whenever the engine ran and with only Larry's bed in the separate aft cabin remaining dry as water leaking around the mast soaked mine, we took shifts sleeping in Larry's bed. I nearly did not make coffee one morning when I could not stand on the floor without sliding, but Larry's look of disappointment sent me back down for another, more successful, try. Following our progress via satellite tracking, Cynthia saw us slow to a crawl for some reason (waves? wind? People trying various tricks to speed us up?).

Finally we reached the Dominican Republic and headed in to the Resort Marina at Puerto Plata.... but reached it at night amid arguments on whether or not to attempt to enter a strange harbor at night with very poor charts (the download back in the states had not worked for this area) and an onshore wind with large waves. Larry compromised by saying we would go “near” the harbor and take a look. I blew up, saying even getting close enough (I pictured 100 to 300 yards..) for a good look was too dangerous and we should heave-to until morning. Once we got to about a mile or two offshore (where even I remained fairly comfortable) Larry took a look and decided to wait for morning, much to my relief.

March 29: We entered the harbor to find a trashy industrial port,
and killed time doing laundry and watching a boat sink while the hours (four!) passed and we waited for Larry to return from Customs and Immigration.

We found that the resort we wanted (Ocean World Marina and Casino) was actually two miles back, in a man-made cove, so we spent more hours checking out of the harbor the next morning (their military wants to check you in and out of each and every one... a favor to the USA drug effort?) and headed there.... and found it FAR nicer

and more friendly, requiring only a half hour or so to check in and another hour to check out when we departed a couple days later, Sunday. And we all got along fine once we could have solid land underfoot, escape each other, and not make joint decisions.

This leg of the trip was well worth it, both for the memories of adventure and for what I learned. So, what HAVE I learned that could possibly make this worthwhile?

>Cynthia found out that I, as the person with the highest official rating on the boat (I have a Coast Guard OUPV (operator of uninspected passenger vessel) license, I am automatically captain, legally responsible for the safety of people and vessel and getting both safely to the planned destination, no matter what the owner says. She says next time I take on such responsibility I should be recognized and paid. Perhaps she is right, although I am delighted with all I've learned.... and Larry has said I could use the boat, so THAT is an additional bonus.

>I've gotten good at cooking in rough conditions!

>Larry's new CSY44 performed like a champ, taking everything easily in stride.

>Backup! I should have had a copy of all the charts! I should have added extra lines to tie off the life raft or should have pushed to bring it below before it washed away. I should have checked the lines to the dinghy before they chafed off..

>Preparation: I should have checked weather before leaving Tampa and again before Key West. I should have insisted on a full discussion & agreement on routes and backup plans and seen the charts (two or three brains often catch what one does not, no matter how good that one).

>Finally, just as in any relationship, things that start as small irritations become huge issues as time passes or as things get tough: Bill said I overthought everything and that I change my plans every time the weather forecast changed &, conversely, I thought his preparations shallow and rigid; he was furious at me for ruining his enjoyable trip and forcing him on this miserable offshore death march and I felt constantly hindered and frequently endangered; he liked land while I thought of it as a dangerous obstruction; he finds the engine preferable in many circumstances where I far prefer sail power; and we have far different sailing styles...but we got along OK once we were in harbor and would have done far better with more advance planning and agreement. And, on land, I get along fine with Bill: we both like dogs, interesting food, people, walking, snorkeling....

Let's raise a glass to learning and to adventure survived unharmed!