Friday, November 28, 2014

Forecast: Calm Sea and Dramatic Voyage

People have begun whispering in my ear that my blog has become boring because I'm not writing about slashed jibs, lost anchors, and captains knocked overboard by rogue tidal waves.
Photo courtesy of NOAA
I've been blithely sitting on my butt, playing guitar, nursing a swollen foot, and watching Mad Men on Netflix. BIG yawn.
To rectify the situation and give you, dear readers, another armchair-traveler adventure worthy of the name of this blog, I turned to Pope. He is the master of creating swash-buckling escapades at sea, and he immediately embraced the challenge.
The primary plotline will have to wait til January. He is planning a rollicking week in a sub-tropical clime that is undoubtedly replete with sea monsters, pirate lairs, and beautiful sirens laying in wait to lure boats unto the rocks.
The best I can do for now, to satisfy your enormous hunger for tales of mischief and mayhem on the water, is a sneak preview.

We will be chartering a sailboat on the French island of Guadeloupe. According to the World Wide Web (that bastion of reliability), there are lots of reasons to look forward to sailing (and blogging) there. These might (or might not) be among them:
1) The volcano La Grande Soufrière (French for "big sulphur outlet") erupted in 1976. You can climb to the top of the crater--to hasten your death, perhaps?

Photo courtesy of F.C. Whitmore.
U.S. Geological Survey

2) The mancenilla tree contains a dangerous toxin in the leaves and fruit. A beauty to look at. But don't sit underneath when it rains!
3) The days are long. But the mosquito that carries the virus chikungunya bites both day and night. The virus has been reported in 27 Caribbean countries (and Africa, Asia, and South America).
Photo courtesy of CDC
4) Die happy. The local rum (spelled rhum) can be a killer, especially the brew from the island of Marie-Gallante--59%.

5) Swimming and snorkeling are rewarding. Watch your feet--you could get impaled on a sea urchin.
Photo courtesy of NOAA
6) Little birds called "sucriers" will sing for their supper, then steal your dessert.

7) It's hot and steamy--sunstroke territory. And those delicious coconuts could fall from the trees on your head.

We aim to please, readers. Captain Pope is dedicated to creating an action-packed adventure, floating in a leaky tub on a deep ocean, in just a few short weeks. And First Mate Amber is committed to bringing you the whole story, in all its glorious and gory detail. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Recipe for Retirement

Missing lately from this website: Amber L. Jones, star blogger, amateur sailor, exemplary editor, and travel enthusiast. Where have I been, you might ask--glibly conversing in French on a tropical Caribbean isle? Traipsing the jungle in search of medicinal herbs? Crafting a tofu cordon bleu in a culinary course?

Getting warm! For those of who cynically think I've just been sitting on my arse, sobbing and moaning and nursing a broken foot, think again. I've been busy in my metaphorical kitchen, whipping up some tantalizing recipes. Why, just a month ago I donned my chef's hat and hobbled into the night to cook up some Halloween magic.
Photo courtesy of Jim Colwell

After that, I limped slowly into our Capitol Hill kitchen and cooked up some fresh organic greens, onions, and tomatoes, lovingly grown by my gardening partner, Pope.
I admit, I have spent a lot of my time lounging on the green sofa. But not all of it.

The metatarsal is mending, according to new x-rays. But continued swelling, soreness, and nerve damage after 7 weeks has kept me resting, elevating, soaking, and limiting my excursions to within 1-1/2 blocks of a bus stop or metro station.
 And then there's the little matter of the black eye. Some people think I went sky-diving and crashed a second time; but no, it is courtesy of a clumsy curtsy on crutches. 
Yet the bum foot is not enough to keep me from getting out and brewing up some fun! Bring on the rum and becherovka--my spirits are high, and I'm cooking up a recipe for a happy retirement--whether on my feet or on the same old sofa.
High up in the ingredients for my recipe are good friends and simple pleasures. Start with Belgian waffles around the corner on Barracks Row, with my old friend Sally, visiting from California.
 Stir in a day on the town in a borrowed wheelchair, with vivacious Leslie from New York City. (If it weren't for this darn foot and her knee, she and I would be at Glen Echo whipping up some zydeco.)
Throw in a cupful of El Grecos and a dash of Van Gogh at the National Gallery.
Top off the recipe with some music--jammin' the blues with my hiking buddy Linda on harp.
If you're planning to retire, take a page out of my cookbook. Plan ahead for activities you enjoy.  Register for Spanish classes, join Toastmasters, make reservations in Mexico. Find a gym with a sauna. Line up some folks (preferably fellow retirees) to take morning strolls. Stir lightly, and season with enthusiasm.
When the stew is ready, sit back, chew slowly, and savor the taste of contentment. Don't let little things like bum knees or fading eyesight ruin your days; get off the sofa and have fun. If you find yourself getting bored, give me a ring, and we'll whip up some good times together!

Friday, October 24, 2014

That Camel Kicked Me! I Swear It!

Where in the world have I been? Why, to the hospital, of course, being naturally prone to adventures and all their implications, including accidental injury to life and limb.

And off on a wildlife safari, cavorting with a galloping white rhino. Where else would you expect me to be on a rainy day in October following a major injury?

But let's back up. It has been a few weeks since I've posted anything in this space; alas, I have been quite preoccupied. If you followed me on Facebook, you undoubtedly picked up some subtle clues about what I am--and am not--doing this fall.

I am not sailing. (Pope is depressed about all our cruising friends leaving for the Bahamas; please take your turn cheering him up.)

I am not hiking. (I am depressed about missing the crisp, clear, invigorating fall days with the prettiest red and yellow maples; please stop sending me photos.)

Most days, I am holed up on my teal-green sofa, nursing a swollen left lower limb with a broken metatarsal #4 and a sprained ankle. 

That's what I get for sky-diving without certification! Or practicing judo on neighborhood toughs. Or neglecting to defend myself when the gremlins of Capitol Hill's historic swamp rose from the steam to take out their aggression on unwary passers-by. Take your choice.

From my comfortable yet prone position, I have managed to gain 4 pounds while catching up on my reading and editing the manuscript for a book. (No, not my own; not yet.) I have made a colossal mess of the living room from a stationery sitting position--no mean accomplishment.

Last weekend, I heaved myself off the couch and accepted a ride to Columbus, Ohio, for the Science Writers 2014 workshop, for which I had registered months earlier. Got myself a luxurious "accessible" hotel room with steel bars over the bathtub, and a loaner wheelchair.

And then had a blast with my highly entertaining former colleagues and tale-telling scientists (glaciers are melting and coyotes are invading downtown Chicago--oh my!). I even survived hobbling around on crutches in a 26-degrees-below-zero freezer for Antarctic ice cores. Now, that's determination!

Which brings me to the safari. Some of us more determined writers, always in search of a better story than the competition's, and despite any minor inconvenient injuries, sallied off to The Wilds, a wildlife research and conservation park. We were hungry for a glimpse of some sprightly Sable antelope, baying Bactrian camels (quiz: do camels bay?), curious cheetahs, and slinky African painted dogs.

Naturally, it rained on our open-air safari bus. That didn't stop us from getting down and dirty with Thunderball, the one-year-old rare white rhino, who stooped low for an affectionate pat on the head, then skipped off light-heartedly around the backyard, mud flying, like any happy, carefree, 6,000-pound toddler.

A little farther, we jerked to a stop in the bison pasture. My crutches went flying and I went sprawling. Out of the road, ye damn giant beasts!

Should you be sufficiently intrigued to hanker after your own safari, you can visit The Wilds for the day or stay overnight in a yurt with a king-size bed. And make up your own story about a serious injury sustained when one of the resident hellbenders (slimy salamanders also known as "mud otters") chomped down on your unprotected instep.

Many thanks to Pope, Sally, Gini, Lisa, Linda, Harvey, Pat, Wendy, Steve, Jim, and the many others who have conspired to turn what could have been a miserable month of missed opportunity into a merry melange of magic, mischief, and mobility.
Photo by Clay F. Naff

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Who's Having Fun? Not.

Pope wants me to be a sailor, like him. He expounds on the beauty of sunrise, gliding across glistening water with engine off, and exotic shores reachable only by boat.
He entices me with gorgeous magazine pictures of lagoons, caves, sea turtles and stingrays, and bright purple coral. Sunny days, blue skies and, crystal clear water.
 Not to mention elegant, teak-trimmed boats with built-in wine racks. 

Enticing, yes? And, indeed, I have seen my share of attractive destinations. But the total experience is often startingly different from the fantasy people envision. You can read about it in this blog; just click on a few of my posts about our winter in the Bahamas.
Even in the local rivers and bays, sailing is not always what it's cracked up to be.

This morning, Pope stayed in bed with chills, fever, and a massive headache--unusual for him, being generally healthy and robust.
Why so run down? Here's his sad story, about a sailing experience yesterday on the Potomac River.

He was very excited to be racing with a military sailing club--a club that made him jump through 20-foot-high hoops to get in, with their incredibly rigorous standards and tests. The club's boats are operated and maintained by members--supposedly to similarly high standards.

First thing that happened: the third crew member didn't show. (In a military club--what's up with that?) Leaving a crew of two for a race to Mt. Vernon in high winds.

Next: the second crew member had the wrong VHF radio channel for the race announcements--leaving him and Pope in the dark when the details of the racecourse were revealed.

Third: when the wind picked up, they tried to reef the sail--but several mechanisms were in poor condition and failed to hold.

Finally: the boat bumped into one of the logs that often float off the banks of Old Town, tearing the rudder loose and leaving the crew without maneuverability, under full sail in 25-knot winds, just off the rocks near Alexandria. 

As I know full well, hauling in sail in strong wind is a challenge for two people, with one of them staying on the wheel. In this case, one person (Pope) also had to hold on to the rudder behind the stern, trying to secure it and at the same time manually manipulate it to steer the boat away from the rocks.

I wasn't there. I can only imagine how panicked I would have been. When even Pope--who adores sailing and sings its praises every chance he gets--comes home traumatized, defeated, and sick....well, my reluctance to take up sailing as a hobby is strongly reinforced.

Who's having fun now? No, not even Pope.

So, let's see can I get out of it?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Friends in Important Places

Once in a while it is important to stay home and catch up with family, friends, peers. Not to mention running the vacuum and dusting shelves.

Pope and I aren't ones for following the crowd, though, at least in regard to the staying-in-DC-and-doing-the laundry part. We like taking our social life on the road. (Or the river. Even, sometimes, on the sea.)

He is in western Washington visiting a fellow sailor, former Capitol Hill neighbors, and his daughter in college.

I am on Megabus returning from New York City after whirlwind visits with a fellow yogi, a former roommate, and a zydeco dancer. I like variety! I even mixed up transportation modes--buses, trains, subways, feet.

Anita, formerly of Yoga in Daily Life in Alexandria, now resides on the beautiful New England coast.

Can't seem to stay away from boats, even when touring as a landlubber.

Tea was served on a tranquil patio overlooking the Connecticut River.

Then it was back to the madness and mayhem of the Big Apple, where historic porticos vie with soaring glass and steel.

At midtown Macy's, $125 Michael Kors flats share the limelight with old wooden escalators.

Elegant HanGawi vegetarian restaurant is on Korea Way, aka 32nd Street, in Midtown. Maitake mushrooms and wild mountain roots were on the menu.

My fine-dining companion, Satoko, previously shared my home in Virginia and hosted me in Japan. Now, she runs the Newsweek Japan bureau in New York. My friends get around!

Then, it was off to Brroklyn for the night and a lovely breakfast in the garden with Leslie, a popular zydeco dancer in NYC, DC, and Louisiana.

One last subway ride, and a 30-minute push through crowded sidewalks, to catch the DC bus on the far side of Manhattan.

Ah, but it's nice to have friends in important places. Or should I say, important friends in interesting places.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Beast and Beauty

After this morning's post about things that go wrong on a boat, Pope says that, to be fair, I need to give equal time to the positives. So here they are. Positives, from a pessimist's perspective.

The solar lantern, though bruised and battered and missing its base, still works great as an anchor light.

Pope got the running lights working while sitting at a dock waiting for diesel. No bolts or nuts were lost overboard (like last time). We only lost 45 minutes waiting for the diesel guy to get to us.

The wind picked up about 4 pm and blew away the biting flies and no-see-ums. What a relief. They were so aggressive they swarmed my water glass (driving out the no-see-ums) and chewed up Pope's legs and feet--a rare phenomenon. But now all is well.

After two tries and numerous untanglings of sheets snd halyard, Pope whipped the colorful spinnaker into fine form. It raised our soeed to 5.1 knots!
Pope practices flying his beautiful kite, a joy to behold.

Last night was blessedly cool at our mooring in Whitemarsh Creek. NO mosquitoes!

The overheating engine cooled down quickly this morning with the addition of more water in the new heat exchanger. We only lost 1/2 hour waiting for it to cool down.

Despite the delays--which only means we will miss happy hour with our friends on S/V Pearl and Chinese carryout for dinner--we'll get to Solomon's Island in plenty of time for nightcaps! 


3 in 12: A New Record?

You've heard me say it before: There's always something going wrong on a boat.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

There was the time Pope sprained his foot leaping off the boat onto.a wet, slippery dock. (Oops, I mean stepping carefully off the boat...)

And those little snafus with the crankshaft when we tried to leave Nassau.
Albert the Bahamas diesel wizard, on board

Water pump in North Myrtle Beach.
Shiny new water pump

Sandbars in Georgia and Pipe Creek, Bahamas.
Towboat US to the rescue; the marine equivalent to AAA

Lost cap that holds the oar in the oarlock on the dinghy. Straps and fabrics disintegrated by sun.

I could go on. But you get my drift. (Pun intended.)

This time, I think we should get a prize: 3 times in 12 hours. Auto pilot cranking and groaning from possible stripped gears, running lights shorted out,  overheated engine from lack of water circulating in heat exchanger.

What's next on our marine adventure? What records will be break? We left our mooring at 8 am sharp. It's now 10:15, and we're waiting for diesel at a fuel dock. We have a 10-hour trip to Solomon's Island, and we have 10 hours of daylight.

Stay tuned for thenext 12. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Glory of Sea and Sky

As much as I enjoy activities in DC--this week: yoga class, gym, Shakespeare play--there is no comparison with a day on a boat in the visual sense.

I walk out of the house to fast-food trash on the sidewalk, broken car windows in the street, delivery trucks, street signs, homeless bodies on stoops of retail shops.

In contrast, last night at Galesville, where Pope races sailboats on Chesapeake Bay, I was treated to these glorious spectacles:

Maybe I should take up photography! In addition to guitar, harmonica, French, fitness, housework, theatre, museums, sewing, cooking, writing ..........

Copyright on all photos: Amber Jones, 2014. Cannot be reproduced without permission. To be published in my next coffee-table tome!