Thursday, October 30, 2014

Bouncing like a pinball, ending up back in St John

A defective light flickers (note to self: replace with LED) on my keyboard at 1AM as the song of the frogs sounds across the still and silent harbor. The weather map shows clouds moving north to the west and to the south to the east, but here we are in the eye of the slowly rotating storm.... and stillness rules. Yesterday morning, too often, was still & hot... even sultry, although the wind picked up enough to have a great sail with Rob (fairly new friend) in the afternoon and I managed to take my first sail (sails often hanging limp) in the morning to and from Johnson Bay where I cleaned bottom and admired a tarpon a few meters away as it yawned once, then swam languidly into the dim distance. I have been spending about an hour or so each day cleaning the boat bottom, getting out when I get tired even though the water is warm enough that I could probably swim comfortably for hours (but beware the sunburn!).

This is very different from Cape Cod, where the temperatures are dropping, leaves changing color, and everyone and everything is preparing for the approaching winter. A fiberglass patch on the red kayak may keep the water out.... if it remains attached: cross fingers!

Or Ipswitch, where a walk with a good friend and her dogs on the beach involved some decent bundling up against the strong chilling wind. The region seems very nice and, although I never got out on the water, I loved trying new (to me) varieties of apples: the suncrisp (or, if one wants to be formal, NJ55) seemed especially spicy and delicious.

Or DC, where the leaves have barely started to turn and I took long walks with Peter and his family in the beech, oak, maple, and tulip poplar forest in Rock Creek Park. Rory is now reading the Calvin and Hobbes books her older bother has been devouring for years. One morning she plopped down on my bed and began to read, so I carried her (still completely focused on sharing the story) downstairs to breakfast, where Peter shot a few pictures.

And we found this weird, soft-bodied bug at the birthday party at Rock Creek Park, an hour before I departed. Anyone want to identify it?

Or Boston.... although I must confess that I only saw it in the dusk, arriving from DC, making my way to the farewell party friends were throwing for Jen and Mick, then to their apartment where I snagged a couple packages and several hours of sleep, then back to the airport (had to catch a taxi since the T does not start until 6am Sunday!) before first light. I am sorry to see them leaving Boston as I have always enjoyed seeing them and will miss their hugs. And I owe them several nights accommodations, should they decide t drop in on me down here!
The boat is in chaos as I slowly assemble drawers, deal with the few remaining leaks, unpack, replace the pump on the head (yay!), and tackle a multitude of other tasks, all at once. I am pleased at progress and think the time has come to do some actual cleaning and completing so that things look and feel better.

And I hope the forecast rain comes soon so I can relax outside in the cockpit under the tent made of an old sail.... but I think it is going to skip us just as Gonzalo did.

Hmm.... what to do next...

Monday, October 13, 2014


Argh! And ARGH!!!! This is not good, so not good: first hurricane is going to hit my boat tonight. Outwardly calm, inside I feel full fight/flight.... and I can not even call my neighbor Peter until first light.

OK, here's the story: a few days back, the forecast showed a hurricane well to the north and a couple systems of interest drifting toward the islands. The next day, the winds forecast showed a sharp peak and a sharp change in direction, as if there were a pretty good certainty about the storm track....but a half day later the peak had softened and become more chaotic: As of 2pm Sunday the max wind forecast was 20mph. What a relief!

Apparently, I relaxed too soon.
Last night I went off with a friend to jump my parent's car, then continued on for an evening of adventure: hiked in the dunes, picked wild cranberries, and enjoyed a Provincetown walk and dinner.... and got home close to ten pm. Fighting against sleep, I carelessly turned on the weather page.... to see Tropical Storm Gonzalo coming in tonight....and winds of 50mph. And when I woke, 4:30 AM today, the winds are now predicted to be about 60mph when the storm reaches max.

So, I am going to ask Peter to drop another anchor if he can, ask him to pull the kayak off the deck and stick it in the mangroves, and I am going to cross fingers. By 2pm tomorrow the worst will have passed and we shall see if I still have a home in the islands.

As Donkey said "I need a hug!"

Notes: the web sites I use are

UPDATE: noon Monday: the forecast now calls for sustained winds of 75mph tomorrow morning. OMG. (note: too serious for an exclamation point.)

UPDATE: 5am Tuesday
Peter called me after sunset last night, telling me he had engine trouble and so would be spending the night on his mooring... with a couple extra anchors in for insurance. He also put in one of his anchors for me and I thanked him and wished him a safe night. He was not looking forward to it, especially with the hurricane due to hit in the middle of the night.
This hurricane acts oddly. Last night it went from a tight ball of nasty to a broken dissipated thing....and this morning shows a serious kink in the track. The wind forecast graph also shows actual wind for the last few hours.....and keeps showing nearly nothing. And all weather stations that I can find in the USVIs show winds under 20. I even looked up how to decode the METAR reports and checked those and they say the same thing: normal winds. Most peculiar. Could it be that the system broke up for the night, sparing St John, and will re-form and strengthen as it goes on? Wouldn't THAT be amusing! I do not trust the reports, however, and look forward to getting a report from Peter in the morning.

UPDATE: 1pm Tuesday
That was the most bizarre thing EVER: the storm essentially broke up, changed direction, and reformed.....skipping St John entirely. Apparently all the information I had about actual, unbelievably normal winds was accurate. Peter told me that there was a couple inches of rain in the dinghy and average winds. Everyone had been scurrying around yesterday, preparing. Hurricane Hole was full of boats....and the thing just skipped the island like a tornado skipping one house and hitting the ones on each side.
Thanks for all your good wishes.


Saturday, October 11, 2014


Back in the dim past (let's see: Saturday, a week ago) Andrew invited me to go along on his daily 2-hr exercise, this time biking 18 miles on our old beach bikes. Last time we did this I thought I found cranberries, but it turned out not. THIS time I saw a burr in the bike path and screeched to a stop, hardly able to believe my eyes. I circled back and found a chestnut tree dropping burrs and nuts on the path and filled my pocket with as many nuts as I could find, a single handful.

Why so excited? Well..... while this tree grows inside a fence, it seemed to be a tree that has been ignored for years....or forever...on a wild bit of the property. And I have always had a soft spot for chestnuts since trying to grow a Chinese chestnut as a kid (grew beautifully, but did not bear nuts before I left home.) and since my dad pointed out the ten-foot tall sprouts from the roots of blight-ravaged American chestnut forest giants on a hike, the trees still trying to find a way to survive the killer living above ground. AND THIS TREE MIGHT BE AN AMERICAN CHESTNUT!

OK, I'll try to calm down.... but there is at least a ten percent chance, I think. The nuts are the right size, about 3/4" to 1", the leaves are the right shape (I think), and the tree seems to be semi-wild. I think I will send some leaves for identification, assuming I can find a decent sample this late in the year.

And I'll be delighted with even a Chinese chestnut in a place where I can forage. Tasty, crunchy, raw chestnuts!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Dorados are following me, sunrise walk on south (lighthouse) beach

The cottage/house my folks rent in Lubec seems like a mix of new and old, with the nice big beams holding up the highly individual second-floor joists contrasting with the thick modern insulated windows, but the shed I slept in seemed free of such duality. Old, rough, stained planks of the floor fit well with the rough studs and the exposed back of the plank siding... fitting perfectly with the similar roof framing and sheathing and old windows. An easel or two, an old work bench, and various paintings on the wall made it into a rough and rustic artist's studio: no plumbing, no pretensions, no heat.... but lots of peace, simplicity, light, and view. And, looking up in the morning, I saw a 4'-long plank, carved and painted in a familiar pattern: the same as the Dorado pillow that greeted me when I first entered the cabin of my boat, Dorado. Who would have thought to find this subtropical fish imaged on the shore of the Bay of Fundy?

About a week ago I walked down to the beach in dim morning and walked along it to the south cut as the sun rose. Fishing boats headed out on their daily commute as I began.

Windy, some clouds, sub-60 temperatures...warm clothes and good shoes seemed the way to go.... but, by the time I reached the cut, the sun shone over the cloud bank and the beach and a moon snail I found were all beautifully lit.

 Exercise had warmed my core and sought an exit, so I pulled off the warm layers that now felt like excess and walked out and swam (briefly!) through the cold glassy waves over the shoals. Ah! (Or was it more like "AHHHHH!!!"?)

Friday, October 3, 2014

Maine: foraging for cranberries, apples, and steamers at the Bay of Fundy

When I was a child, I read the Island of the Blue Dolphins and the bit where the water receded and people came out to forage excited me. Of course, in that story everyone got swept away in a tsunami, but the huge tide...oh, my! So, when my folks rented a place in Lubec, ME again this year I HAD to visit. Lubec is set at the entrance of the bay of Fundy, a place known for huge tides and, although we were not there for the big ones (about 24'...those take place in ten days), at least I could revel in 18' tides compared to 6' here in Cape Cod or 1' in St John.

On the first morning, sunny and calm, I walked out onto the gravel, mud, and sand. I strode toward the distant water, a mile or so away across the exposed land, and heard a susurrus around me, a whispering, clicking, bubbling sound.....and realized I found my myself surrounded by more clams than I had ever seen. At my feet the sand showed pockmarks of their holes. I stuck my finger down a hole and could feel the shell only three inches down instead of the usual eight inches. Most exciting! And in minutes dug a dozen clams, small and distorted from living in so much gravel and rock, true, but certainly ones I would happily introduce to my parents.

Hiking at West Quoddy Head Park, I saw an interpretive sign pointing out cranberries.....which were nowhere to be seen. Still, I kept my eyes open and found a couple dozen little berries on a cliff side. Increasingly educated eyes soon spotted nice patches among boulders....and in moss...and along a road where I collected a cup of them in five minutes, storing them in my shirt sleeve.

Last fall I drove to Ontario to look at a boat. That turned out poorly, partly due to a giant hornet nest in the cabin, but along the roads grew thick brush and small trees, often with wild apple trees holding their own. The apples didn't taste very good (most wild apples don't), but isn't it good to know that such genetic diversity still exists! Some of the apples taste quite acceptable, although not commercial flavor, and I picked a couple to go with the cranberries.
Back home at the cottage, I cooked the apples, cranberries, and some sugar and the resulting sauce turned out to be quite tasty. That... along with a couple blueberries that hung on for weeks past harvest time, the clams after they spit their sand, and a few mussels... made a great start to some of the delicious possibilities that wait along the bold coast of Maine. I look forward to next year.

Yep, happy puppy!

Lubec has no cell phone service and no bus, so early Tuesday morning my mom drove with me to Bangor where I caught the bus. Fortunately, the bus was quite crowded and I sat and chatted with a clammer and, later, with a Chatham beekeeper (who sails in the BVIs!) coming home from a beekeeping visit to Slovenia. Now I am back in Chatham, listening to rain pour down and considering breakfast. Hmm...