Thursday, July 24, 2014

All Smiles at the Happy Reunion

"Don't you miss it?"


Our good friends and fellow sailboat cruisers -- more serious than us; they live on their boat! -- arrived in Chesapeake Bay. They are the couple who we met when we first arrived on Bimini, in the Bahamas, on December 23 after a rough ocean crossing. I was traumatized and wanted to fly home. Bruce and Gayleen of the vessel Pearl welcomed us at Brown's Marina, helped organize a Christmas dinner with other boaters, and convinced me to continue the cruise because "the worst was over."

We spent many hours with Bruce and Gayleen in Bimini, partying at Junkanoo in Nassau (all-night parade; see photo), and up and down the Exumas island chain, imbibing Dark 'n' Stormies at happy hour, snorkeling at Thunderball Grotto, and tracking down boat parts. 

On our return to the US, we met again at a marina in Fort Pierce, Florida. 

It's our turn to show them around our home port! Naturally, we started with our traditional happy-hour special, the Dark 'n' Stormy, a rum-based cocktail that hails from Bermuda, today served on the curb in a tiny "street-end park" on the Annapolis waterfront. 

Then on to a local seafarers' hangout (exact location a secret; we don't want to encourage the hordes of Annapolis tourists). Followed by a lift to the local Safeway-slash-liquor-store to stock up on lettuce and gin--yum, great combination--then shooed them aboard the water taxi to teturn "home" to Pearl (their boat) and their two cats.
One more night of fun and games: highly entertaining outdoor concert with the Eastport Oyster Boys singing sailing ballads of Chesapeake Bay -- "Hard Aground," "Get a Little Dinghy," "Tiki Bar." If they come to your neck of the woods, don't miss the show!
Photo by Bruce Donadt

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Cumberland Island in Pictures

We finally got there, after years of talking about it and two false starts--the last one on our way down the Intracoastal Waterway last fall. It  stormed just as we reached Cumberland Island-- formerly a playground of the wealthy, now a national park accessible only by boat.

After retrieving our boat in Florida this summer, we sailed up to Georgia and tied up at the park's dock an hour before sunset. Quick tour:

Tree-lined drive propels you forward

Former Vanderbilt mansion: what happens when the money runs out

Spanish moss takes over the playground

Deer to human: where did you hide all the treasure?

Why did the turkeys cross the road?

Lots of marsh, oysters, birds, boardwalks

Wind-swept sand dunes

Bountiful beach for bathing in modest swim costumes

Time to leave: Echo II at the park dock as the sun drops to the horizon

Chanter un Chant de Joie, en Juillet!

(Translation of title: Singing a Song of Joy, in July)

What an exciting week!

Earlier in July, I attended a week of music camp at Augusta Heritage Center, Elkins, West Virginia.

My fellow students and I have been busy practicing. This Wednesday, I made my public debut singing a cajun French song at the monthly cajun jam at New Deal Cafe, Greenbelt, Maryland. Here is a portion on video, below; the whole video is on YouTube at Check it out!

Five of us DC-based jammers were in the week-long cajun vocals class at Augusta (which was very hard!!): Sheridan, Jim, Tom, Ann and me. I was the only rank novice. (You can hear my fellow jammers cheering at the end of my song in the video!)

In the class, we learned, practiced, and drilled for five grueling days with an accomplished professional, David Greely, formerly of the band Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys. We studied timing, rhythm, melody, cajun pronunciation and phrasing, and history of the music. It was difficult to learn, but so much fun to play and sing! I am grateful to David for his hard work and patience. And now, I am putting the lessons into practice.

Joel Bailes, another New Deal jammer who studied accordion for a week at Augusta while the rest of us sang, learned the accordion part for Chopique Two-Step, just for my singing debut Wednesday night. Thanks, Joel!


If you are ever in the Washington, DC area, come on out and enjoy the music -- fourth Wednesday of every month at New Deal Cafe.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Sailing in the Storm...or Singing in French?

Is there a clear choice here? I think so. Since we abandoned our boat, Echo II, in Florida in April, the weather in the southeastern US has only gotten hotter, muggier, and, now, stormier. 

The no-see-ums that plagued me both in the Bahamas and in the Southeast have undoubtedly multiplied.

Looks like the big storm may have missed our sailboat, currently docked in Beaufort, SC, and moved further north.
Echo II at Lady's Island Marina

That's a relief. Pope was scheduled to fly to Charleston yesterday to retrieve the boat--just in time to tackle 85-mph winds and rain. His flight was cancelled; so we asked the marina to add dock lines and keep an eye on things.

Pope will be on his way again soon, along with Dennis, a fellow sailboat racer. Not me! I am headed to cajun music camp in West Virginia.
Last year's cajun music camp at Augusta Heritage Center

Intracoastal Waterway, lifting anchor at sunrise? Or jam sessions at midnight and two-stepping in the afternoon? While Pope and Dennis brave the heat and bugs and struggle to find deep water, I'll be dancing to "Je Passe" and singing waltzes in French.

Taking my guitar and harmonicas--though I'm a mere amateur. Most of the cajun musicians will be honing their already considerable expertise on fiddle and accordion. (I participate in monthly jam sessions with several of them.)
Local cajun jam at New Deal Cafe in Greenbelt, Maryland

Stay tuned! Sailing off into the mountains soon! 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

From Sailing to Singing: My Public Debut

Thought I would try something different this week. Being retired and all, I'm not on a strict schedule. And being middle-aged-going-on-senior, I've lost at least a few of the inhibitions that crippled me in my youth. Did you know that public speaking was so terrifying that I fainted during my first speech attempt, at age 17?

Who knew I would go on to become a speechwriter and speaking coach who would lead training seminars and speak at national conferences?!

To start at the beginning: If you haven't checked the blog lately, we moved the sailboat from Florida to a protected marina in South Carolina. Pope headed home. I hopped in a rental car to visit my always-exciting-and-full-of-crazy-ideas friends Cindy and Dave in Charleston.

This month, they are pursuing two new hobbies: shag dancing and karaoke. Both require a large degree of exhibitionism. No room for introverts or wimps with no backbone. Good thing I'm not one of those anymore!

Well, I couldn't very well shag without a partner, and Dave can't handle two women at once (or so he claims). So we set up an amp and mike in the living room and practiced for my public debut as Karaoke Exhibitionist No. 17,546, Public Nuisance, and Violator of City Noise Ordinance 32-573(c).

We headed out to a cozy joint called Finz with friendly and encouraging bartender  Joe. Joe had the good sense to bring earplugs.

I scoped out the venue and analyzed the audience, just like any self-respecting public speaker, performer, or Public Exhibitionist would naturally do.

Dave jumped in feet-first, with a smooth, silky rendition of Blue Suede Shoes. (That's karaoke DJ Steve in the background.)

It took an hour or so to build up courage,  but eventually I scratched my name on the list of would-be American Idol stars, willing to sing their hearts out for a sympathetic audience of 25 or so, at the extreme risk of severe and lasting brain-damaging humiliation. I was committed! This was harder than agreeing to give up my house and bed and refrigerator and car to live on a boat for six months!

As you can see from the photo, I didn't faint. I didn't even squirm after the first song. I sang "City of New Orleans" (Arlo Guthrie) with trepidation and great trembling but things went better with "Someday Soon" (Judy Collins). I was somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of quality. At least I could carry a tune. And I learned a thjng or two about timing and handling a mike, thanks to helpful DJ Steve. 

My fellow crooners (one of whom had performed on the Lawrence Welk show) were supportive with mild cheers, somewhat enthusiastic applause, and high fives. In the end, I jumped in and "performed" four songs, the last a Barbra Streisand/Neil Diamond duet with DJ Steve: "You Don't Bring Me Fliowers Anymore." Also another personal Streisand favorite, "Evergreen."

I got huge kudos from the pros for tackling Streisand!

Being suddenly in great demand for my entertainment value, I immediately hopped on a train and headed for my next gig, in Washington, DC. You can book me on my website; I still have a few spots left!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Lord I'm One, Lord, I'm Two, Lord, I'm Three...

Lord I'm one, Lord, I'm two, 
Lird, I'm three, Lord, I'm four,
Lord i'm five hundred miles from my home.

Not a shirt on my back
Not a penny to my name
Lord I cannot go back home this-a-way.

--folk song popularized by Peter, Paul, and Mary

We're still 500 miles from home in the seaport of Beaufort, SC, tired, and ready to head home for another break from southern heat, humidity, and flying, biting scourges of the earth.

Not wanting to show up in prestigious DC dirty, broke, and scraggly, we are cleaning the boat, ourselves, and our laundry and hitting the ATM before jumping ship and heading for the nearest airport, 70 miles away at Charleston.
Chaos on board while packing for home

Our last days on board brought about as much excitement as middle-aged-going- on-elderly hearts can stand.

Yesterday the threat of a thunderstorm with 35-mph gusts and half-inch hail scared us into dropping sails and dropping anchor near shore. At the marine base next door on Parris Island, loudspeakers blared: "all personnel take shelter IMMEDIATELY!"  The eye of the storm passed us by, however.

Earlier, anchored alone in a remote Georgia marsh, a different storm lived up to expectations. Black clouds and lightning streaking across the sky. Heaven's tears washing our deck.
Storm over Cattle Pen Creek

Then there is the social life. hard to keep up! At Green Turtle Cay in the Bahamas, Pope discovered a distant relative, George, from the same small town in South Carolina. We called him up as we neared Bluffton on Saturday. Not a good day to 'drop in'! Whaddya  know. He and his lovely wife Lillian were home and throwing a barbeque in two hours! We unfurled the jib, raised the main, and cranked up the iron jenny. Got there in time for kebabs, and yakked half the night with cousins, neighbors, and other hangers-on in their rambling old riverside home with a big screened-in porch, southern style. Sailors included. Tales and tall tales on the menu; followed  by breakfast and shower at Carolyn's --another cousin.
Amber, Pope, George, Lillian telling tall tales on the porch

Once again we abandon Echo II with mixed feelings, at a storm-protected marina in Beaufort.
Echo II at Lady's Island Marina

 It's been fun, but hard work, and we need time for the bruises and scars--and insect bites--to heal. Even after traversing three states, Chesapeake Bay still seems like a long haul.

Regrettably, we are indeed 500 miles away from home.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Navigating in a High-Tech World: Where the Heck is the Deep Water?

Southern Georgia: throw some deep water our way, please. Creeping along with one foot of water under our keel is not my idea of fun recreational boating.
Unrelenting shallow marshes and mud flats

At the Annapolis boat show last year, I took a seminar called "iNavigation." Cruisers today enjoy three redundant systems for finding channels, identifying buoys and markers, and calculating a course: 

1) Traditional: paper charts, supplemented by the skippers's grey cells processing visual cues such as channel markers, other navigational aids, stars, and birds standing one-legged on a shoal. Used for thousands of years and probably responsible for thousands of wrecks, not to mention arguments between cruising couples and outright mutinies.
ICW chartbook

2) Modern: GPS, a miraculous invention, using satellites, NOAA charts, and little machines that rely on lots of fresh batteries. 

3) State of the art: electronic charts loaded onto a personal iPad or iPhone, allowing frequent updates.

We use all three. We are primarily using the iPad to find the edges of the shallow channels. The most reliable, or so we thought.

We came through the shallowest section at low tide, next to Jekyll Island, Georgia. Not the best timing. Still, how can most sailboats (usually 5- to 6-foot-deep keels; ours is 4 feet) ever get through? Answer: many go offshore in the ocean! Take your choice: shoals or swells?

ICW depths in Georgia continue to be at least 6 feet less than the paper chart and iPad say. Pope says the southern Tea Party won't allow dredging in the Georgia state budget. Which reinforces the fact that grey cells and visual cues continue to have their uses.
The skipper searching for deep water with ordinary eyesight and extraordinary brain power

This trip is easier than last fall; I have lost most of my extreme fears, including the fear of being stranded on a sandbar in a remote marsh. Mostly. Only cried once, when I was at the helm today and the depth got down to 0.6 feet under the keel. I made a decision to hug the red buoys at one side of the channel, when clearly any EXPERIENCED captain would have known that hugging the green buoys (other side) was the ticket. Hrmph.

Pope saved the day by grabbing the wheel and steering directly over top of a shoal, according to the iPad chart. The grey cells at work. Later, he revealed his secret: pure luck. Clearly the shoal had readjusted itself into a more comfortable position without telling NOAA to update the charts.

We make good time whenever the current is with us, and thank goodness we entered Georgia's Mackay River on an incoming tide; 2-1/2 knots of current in our favor!! We flew along at 7.2 knots--faster than our hull speed (the theoretical maximum speed of an individual boat). With the current against us, we would have been drifting backward, headed back to Florida.

I've had enough of the heat, horseflies, and bridge openings there!