Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Readiness--a State of Being, a State of Mind, or Just a Confused State?

What does it take to get a boat ready for a winter cruise? Or should I ask, how much fortitude does one need to successfully complete the process without interim trips to the emergency room or the loony bin? 

As most of you know, Pope and I hope to take our sailboat, Echo II, south along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), and possibly all the way to the Bahamas, this fall and winter.
Preparing Echo II to leave home port in Edgewater, Maryland--someday soon...?

For hundreds of US and Canadian sailors, this is no big deal; many have gone south every winter for 10, 20, or even 30 years. For others, it is a lifetime dream. And, for most, a logistical migraine.

Our friends Bruce and Gayleen, who live on Pearl (, are old hands. They rescued me from ocean-crossing panic disorder and prevented an emergency flight home on Christmas Eve 2013.
Bruce and Gayleen salvaged my trip with a warm smile, a box of kleenex and the calm voice of experience

Maybe we'll meet them somewhere along the ICW--the series of coastal rivers and canals that allow you to travel from New England to Florida without venturing into the ocean. Or we'll see them in a Bahamas harbor or on a crowded beach. (Sorry to disabuse you of your notions of paradise, but most of the deserted beaches that look so appealing at first glance are actually frequented by biting sand fleas.)

Ed and Joan, normally casual Chesapeake Bay cruisers like us, are planning for their first trip south on Dolce Vita ( Having endured the same preparations in 2013, I am totally in sympathy with what they said in their recent email: "Joan and I have been going crazy getting the boat and the house ready for the trip!" Note the "going crazy." How does one cope with paying bills and taxes from a boat; keeping up with births, deaths, and family news; monitoring furnace reliability back home; clearing cabinets of anything that could spoil or attract pests; getting prescriptions filled en route? How does one pack a boat for an excursion to an island nation with virtually no agriculture, mechanics, or medical care? More important, how can one prepare for the frustration of days or weeks without hot showers, electric appliances, and internet??!!
I can write, I can read, but when, oh when, can I upload???

Ed and Joan one-upped us in preparing for their maiden voyage: they sailed the Atlantic on the far side of the DelMarva Peninsula a couple of years ago, to test their boat and better prepare for the upcoming ocean crossings. We, on the other hand, were rank novices. In other words, we learned along the way. (Our exploits and mis-adventures were well-documented in this blog, much to Pope's chagrin. And loyal long-time readers will recognize many of the photos below.)

We tried to replace a broken water pump in North Myrtle Beach on a holiday weekend. Ha ha! We replaced our dinghy and outboard in Miami, after more than one experienced ICW traveler laughed themselves silly when they saw the ones we dragged down to Florida from DC. The old dinghy tried to sink somewhere around Melbourne Beach; to quote from my journal: "seam split; took on gallons of water immediately."
Shiny new dinghy and outboard--wow, what a big step up in reliability from our former leaky raft and classic British Seagull engine, which looked nice but rarely started!

We sewed no-see-um nets for our hatches by hand when the necessity became appallingly clear, and repaired ripped sails by hand with dental floss.
"Amber, do you have any more of that Johnson & Johnson white dental floss? The mint green doesn't go well with our genoa."

Before leaving the US, I embarked on an emergency trip to a shopping mall to buy shoes. Who knew that grappling with sea legs for eight weeks could wear out your soles?
Proper fit, ankle stability, and good arch supports: essential for hours and hours and hours (and hours) at the helm

My first ocean crossing was a bit bumpy--an understatement. Upon arrival in Bimini, despite the fact that it was Christmas Eve and the sun was shining, I cried for hours and refused to take off my life jacket and harness. (Just ask Bruce and Gayleen--the welcoming committee.)
Is it safe to come out now? Oh, you say the sun is shining? But surely you can see the tracks of my tears?

After that came the REALLY hard lessons! We found out on our crossing to Bimini, one of the closest islands in the Bahamas to Florida, that our hull-deck seam leaks dramatically in ocean waves. Following closely on that semi-disaster, we spent a month in Nassau getting our diesel engine rebuilt when a bad bearing destroyed the crankshaft. (I may have the mechanics slightly wrong; however, there's no doubt when it all started: my hyper-over-sensitive paranoid self knew immediately that something was wrong. To quote from my journal: "I noticed a clatter in the engine.")
After they took away our engine, we spent most of January stuck at this Nassau gas station, eating french fries and begging to use the toilet

We occasionally hear stories about brave young couples who quit their jobs, buy a boat, and sail off to the South Pacific, with no spare parts, no live-aboard experience, and no concept of sailing by the stars when the electronics break down. By and large, these modern adventurers survive. What I want to know is: did their boat leak? how much blood was lost? did their relationship survive? were they treated later for PTSD?

Echo II's departure this fall, originally planned for October 1 in order to travel with Dolce Vita, will be delayed until later in October--just like the first time in 2013, when, because of our late departure, we suffered fewer hours of daylight and sub-freezing temperatures all the way from Edgewater, Maryland, to Fernandino Beach, Florida.
Shivering in the winter sunshine somewhere in Georgia, in ski cap, wool gloves, and down jacket

I'm wondering if our boat doesn't want to go on another long trip; it chose this week to dramatically spring some substantial leaks, top and bottom. Top leaks are a matter for grit-your-teeth-and-get-out-the-mold-killer endurance; bottom leaks are a matter of life and death. Just about the same time, the bilge pump malfunctioned. Echo II, what are you trying to tell us????!!!
A watery grave awaits those who attempt an ocean crossing without securing the through-hulls and fixing below-deck leaks

While Pope patches together the boat with flour-and-water paste and a screwdriver, I am busy sewing multiple and redundant mosquito nets, having read the bad news about zika in the Bahamas.
This year, unlike 2013, we will not be rushing headlong toward the islands at a breakneck pace. In fact, if it weren't for the cold and the shorter days, we would prefer to drift leisurely down the ICW at a very relaxed pace. Personally--regardless of the onset of chilly temperatures--I intend to grant myself long respites along the way: in Charleston, to visit friends Cindy and Dave; in St. Augustine, to play music with Lynn Healey, my guitar instructor at music camp this summer; and in Daytona Beach, where a member of our local sailing group, Annapolis Sailors Club, moved recently.

Something to look forward to--getting off the boat in a real vacation spot rather than a shallow, mosquito-infested canal!

Not sure what Pope plans to do during those times while I am resting on my laurels enjoying my vacation instead of charging non-stop toward no-see-um-ville (the Bahamas). He tends to like books and naps, especially naps after long days at the helm. Most days, though, will probably find him addressing the never-ending need for boat maintenance and repair. Learning more lessons, naturally.

As of this writing, Ed and Joan are still planning to leave October 1, three days from now. Hmm. I wonder if they've heard the news: due to excessive rain and high water, parts of the ICW in southern Virginia are closed! (Lesson #1: keep your schedule flexible; no deadlines.)

Once Echo II gets underway (or should I say, if...?), you can follow our adventures here on my blog, and occasionally on Facebook. In the absence of any postings over a longer-than-normal period, be sure to check the hospitals and loony bins.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Pine Tree State--Yep, There's Plenty of Them--and Other Observations on Maine

Maine: it must be a fad. No fewer than nine of my friends vacationed in the Pine Tree state this summer or fall. 

But how many of them sailed?

Having finally emerged from the slump I descended into when I dropped my camera into the drink from a dock on Swan's Island, while--or maybe because--my friends were negotiating to buy lobsters at the other end of the dock, intending to boil them alive (it's enough to upset any self-respecting vegetarian), I would like to share with those of you who are NOT vacationing in Maine a few additional observations from my sailing trip in September.  
Here is Larry choosing his 1-pound dinner while I troll through the bottom mud with a 20-foot boathook, fishing for a 1/2-pound Olympus.
Lobster boats (photos are at the bottom of the ocean) and sleek sailing sloops (photos below) dot every harbor. The surprisingly clean, well-kept, and freshly painted lobster boats (alas, no photos) surprised me--quite a change from the usual dirty working boats in most fishing harbors of the world. The lobster industry is flourishing because the lobster population is exploding, apparently because the lobsters' predators (big fish) have been fished out. The prosperity is reflected in the quality and high level of maintenance of the homes in the fishing villages--again, quite unusual.

Eleven-foot tides require docks that float up and down with the water level.  Boaters tie up to these, and long ramps that connect the floating docks with the upper shore creak and groan as they adjust, their slope ranging from almost level at high tide to steep angles at low tide.
Every few mornings in September, dense fog rolls in (apparently more frequently in August), reducing boaters' visibility to a few hundreds yards or less. Many of the navigation buoys rely on bells clanking in the fog. Lighthouses employ fog horns. For us, iPad-based marine navigation and a robust radar helped reduce the anxiety of sailing in the fog.
On the rocky coasts (when visible), rows of stately pines reach for the clouds. Despite the thriving tourist trade and the usual profusion of expensive new mansions along many sections of the waterfront, there is still plenty of heavily wooded coastline in Maine.
Lighthouse photo by Larry Catlett
Farther inland, rock and pine dominate the windswept landscapes.  

In contrast to the natural beauty, Mainers love profusions of flowers, in parks, gardens, and window boxes. May they enjoy these bursts of beauty before the winter snows set in.
In even greater contrast to natural beauty--everywhere in the world--are the scourges of Tourist Central, such as the ones in the town of Bar Harbor, gateway to Acadia National Park.
Hanging out in a tourist town has one big advantage, however--restaurants. A break from primitive cooking on a crowded boat. And in Maine, a chance to lose one's self in the culinary ecstasy of wild blueberry ice cream and blueberry pie. Here we are rushing intently off to town to take advantage of those delectable delights, probably for the fourth or fifth time.

Final observations: in Maine or elsewhere, sailing wouldn't be the same without settling back on our cockpit settees at sunset, to enjoy the subtle layers of color in the sky above, on the water's surface, and in the rum cocktail balanced on my lap.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Sailors Spinning Yarns on the Coast of Maine

Thursday, Sept. 8 -- Having survived a few setbacks (final tally: five mechanics in five days), we were finally back to cruising the coast of Maine by Day 8 of our 10 days on board. Just enough time to enjoy a few cruising adventures!

Fittingly, we hosted the author of the book "Penelope: Down East" on board our charter boat, Kachina.
Bill Cheney is an "old salt" with many years of exciting adventures sailing his single-masted, 22-foot sailboat--without an engine.

On Day 2 of our charter, Pope had been reading to us, from Penelope, a description of where to find oysters near Pulpit Harbor, where we were stuck with a defunct GPS, waiting for mechanic #1. Fortunately the dinghy was afloat and the outboard running well (never a sure thing; the dinghy attached to our initial charter boat, Edna, was a sorry substitute for a seaworthy vessel). So a shore party consisting of Pope and Larry was dispatched with godspeed to the town dock, which was actually out in the middle of nowhere--no town to be seen--to walk a mile along a deserted country road to the home of Adam and Mickey Campbell and their self-service oyster stand. Our first encounter with Cheney's haunts.
Our second encounter had occurred a few days later, while we were fixing the boat, waiting for the boat to be fixed, negotiating how to get the boat fixed, encountering more problems to fix, and so on. How fitting that all of our problems involved mechanical and electrical devices that Cheney eschews. When we mentioned to him our boat breakdowns and the long waits for mechanics, he chuckled and said something like: "I usually don't have any business with mechanics and boatyards; don't need them." He sails without the diesels and outboards that keep marine mechanics' kids in college.

He knows our mechanic #2, however, quite well. In the book, he explains: "Should you be having problems with your boat, a call to the delightfully old-fashioned Brown's Boatyard in the nearby town of North Haven will bring help.... If you are lucky, help will come in the form of Foy Brown himself. Master boatbuilder, master mechanic, raconteur, and one of the great characters on the Maine coast...If you appreciate sly, understated Maine humor of the kind that was more prevalent a few decades ago, you are likely to be royally entertained. Meanwhile, whatever your problem, Foy will fix it, and the price will be right."

The only lightheartedness aboard our boat during our long waits for repairs were references to the goofy redneck humor in the Men from Maine videos from Boston radio. Though we weren't feeling particularly lucky while stranded in Pulpit Harbor a second day with a second problem--a dead battery--we were nonetheless pleased that help came in the form of Foy Brown himself. He not only diagnosed our alternator failure and loaned us a spare starter battery and jumper cables, starting the process of getting our boat problems solved; he also entertained us with wisdom and humor, slyly razzing passing lobstermen in his strong mid-Maine dialect.
Our third encounter with Penelope's world was meeting Cheney himself. Our first stop after mechanics #1, 2, and 3 fixed the GPS, alternator, and bilge pump and refilled the natural gas for the galley stove (#4 and #5 were only supervising...) was Swan's Island, where crew members Larry and Joanne promptly bought a bucket of  live lobsters to grill on board.
Swan's Island, a quiet, sparsely populated home to a few lobstermen and summer residents, has few activities to keep visitors occupied. We checked them out.
Pope remembered reading about the location of the author's home at the tip of City Point in Burnt Coat Harbor, Swan's Island. Sighting the low catboat Penelope with binoculars, Pope motored our dinghy to shore to knock on his door. Cheney promised to visit our vessel.
The next day, an apparition appeared in the dense fog--a grizzled seaman rowing a small dinghy. (Note: no engine.) Climbing aboard, he regaled us with stories--yarns?--about boating here and there and encountering people, places, storms, and rocks. Such as the story about the time Cheney and a sailor named George--who happens to be Pope's distant cousin--sailed a section of the May River, in the Low Country of South Carolina, that showed up as high and dry on marine charts. They had relied on local knowledge; always valuable on a boat. Of course, Pope responded with a few yarns of his own.

Later, we encountered in person one of the local landmarks on Swan's Island pictured in Cheney's book: an artsy mailbox reflecting the ubiquitous Maine crustacean.
As for the many harbors and gunkholes Cheney recommends exploring in mid-coast Maine--Sawyer's Cove, Spectacle Island, WoodenBoat--they will have to wait for another year, another trip to Maine, and a more seaworthy boat than Edna or Kachina.
I know what boat Pope will suggest: our own boat, Echo II.