Friday, November 3, 2017

Just Call Me Ms. Fix-it

When I was a young lass, my DIY father (in Detroit, blue-collar folks fixed, installed, maintained, and repaired everything themselves) relied on me to hand him the screwdriver, fetch rags, or jack up the car. He taught me house and car maintenance and repair. I grew up knowing the difference between standard and metric sockets and changing my own oil and brake pads.
Fast-forward 20... 30... 40... years. I no longer work on cars, but I help Pope with repairs to the house and boat. He relies on my superior powers of observation to see what he missed, find things that roll out of his reach, and strategize how to clean mold out of a hose or run an electrical line.

Last month, I branched out and helped my professional carpenter friend, Dana S., build an outdoor gate. I still had the knack for handyman's assistant--holding a board to be sawed, drilling holes, screwing on panels.
This week, I tucked into the boat for a leisurely sail with Pope, carrying out routine First Mate duties: taking the helm, dropping anchor, scrubbing and provisioning. Suddenly, an urgent call proffered a detour--and a chance to add a project to my fix-it portfolio.

When the SOS came over the airwaves from our new sailor friend Roland F., Pope and I looked at each other and nodded. Within minutes, we raised the spinnaker and high-tailed it under the Bay Bridge for Rock Hall, on the far side of the Chesapeake.

Roland lives aboard a 34-feet cutter, Kodachrome. After a year restoring the boat, his toolkit has grown to include heavy-duty drills, grinders, trowels, varnish, electrical supplies, and a sewing machine. Clearly, he knows boat systems and repairs.
But he forgot one small detail. He didn't tie a stopper knot at the end of his main halyard. 
A halyard attaches to the top of a sail to pull it to the top of the mast. The line travels down inside the mast to the deck, then back to the cockpit, where a crew member can pull it to raise the sail. 
The cockpit end normally passes through some type of jammer, which stops the line from being accidentally pulled up through the mast (and accidentally dropping the sail). The knot on the end is a backup.

A few days ago, Tropical Storm Philippe sent shock waves up the east coast, boasting winds of 40-50 mph. At Rock Hall, the winds clocked in at 55 mph. Scrambling to secure a hundred items on his deck, Roland--alas--overlooked the absentee knot. The violent wind lifted his main halyard, jerking it out of the jammer and clean out of the mast. More than 45 feet of line, whipping and cracking out over the water! (Secured only at one end. Ahem.) 

It took two days for us to get Kodachrome's mainsail back into action. Roland ascended twice to drop a leader line, then the wayward halyard, 45 feet down through the inside of the mast, and to complete ancillary repairs at the top. 
Pope handled the raising and lowering of tools, drilling new parts, untangling lines, and tying knots. (I'm no good at knots.)
The fellas relied on me to finesse the fine details--probing the inside of the mast through a 1/2-inch hole at the bottom, clearing obstacles and searching for the leader line and later the halyard.
Success! Out came the safely restored line from the bottom of the mast.
A valiant effort by three fixer-uppers prevented this skipper from having to spend hundreds of dollars at a boatyard to dismantle the mast. 
Nothing left to do but return to Echo II to fix one more thing--a dark 'n' stormy, my favorite drink--on the deck at sunset. And to tie stopper knots at the ends of all our lines. Isn't that, ultimately, what handyman's assistants are for?

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Rewards For My Labor: Leaks, Laundry, but also Music and Dance

Readers, I have always been faithful in reporting both the good and bad aspects of cruising, right? See, for example, posts from November 2013 on what it's REALLY like to live on a boat. However, Pope claims my blog is too negative, so when I told him this morning that I was feeling fine, not unhappy to be on board, he urged me to emphasize that in my blog. So I'll give it my best shot.

It's a grey day, drizzling, with a few drips from our cabin ceiling. We are closed up tight to keep the rain out, more or less. Damp clothes hanging everywhere.
But it's relatively calm in our secluded harbor on the west coast of Conanicut Island, in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. I snapped this photo of our boat, Echo II, on its mooring ball, on my way to shore to do laundry and grocery shopping. We turned around at Martha's Vineyard last week and stopped here for a music festival (see below)--my reward for coming on this cruise with Pope, serving as first mate and generally cooperative crew, and handling on-board domestic chores. We will continue south when and if the weather clears. (I include "if" because Hurricane Irma may head this way.)
Pope picked an excellent spot to moor for four days during the festival. On the opposite side of the island, in the main harbor of Jamestown, it's colder, windier, wavier, wetter. The ferry to the famous sailing port of Newport, Rhode Island--visible just across the bay--is shut down for the day due to rough conditions. Yet an around-the-island race is taking place outside the harbor.
I'm grateful for our protected location, the mild rain (better than thunderstorms), and relatively snug boat (better than camping!). Many of our friends drove or flew to this area just south of Providence, Rhode Island, and are camping out for the annual Rhythm & Roots music and dance festival over Labor Day weekend. I've done it. Sailing is a step up. We have a roof over our heads, running water (from a small tank), can cook indoors, and use an indoor head. No portajohns! Not a bad accommodation, despite the time required to get here and the hiccups along the way, mentioned in my two previous posts. Even returning to the boat by dinghy at midnight in the rain didn't throw me off kilter more than a few degrees.

The festival was loaded with wonderful performers and an eclectic mix of musicians that made all the effort worthwhile. I sampled a dozen performances and discovered some new musical tastes. The musicians swap bands and mix it up, moving around the festival grounds to play together, which makes it more exciting.

Below is a video of an Acadian fiddler from Prince Edward Island playing with my favorite Cajun fiddler, David Geeley.
Texas blues was new to me. Below is a video of Johnny Nicholas, one of my new favorite singer/songwriters, accompanied by fiddler Greeley and members of Los Texmaniacs.
Another discovery was the band Shinyribs, which puts on a superb performance that must be seen in person to do it justice. Video or YouTube won't convey the full measure of their entertainment value. They play in DC on Labor Day--check out their schedule!

And, naturally, there was a lot of my all-time favorite music, Cajun and zydeco, with various band members sitting in with each other. We paced ourselves but still did a lot of dancing over two days. Saw a lot of friends from DC as well as dancers from around the country that we only see at festivals.

The festival continues today but we are back aboard, laboring to prepare the boat for the trip home which begins tomorrow--God willing and the creek don't rise. And if the hurricane veers offshore to a different venue.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Landlubber, Stay Home!

To all of you landlubbers, homebodies, worker bees who may be harboring a wistful desire to embark on an ocean adventure, sailing on a sea breeze: Forget it. Disabuse that notion. Don't listen to those glorified boating stories. Stay home.
Under sail, under grey skies

It's more trouble to take care of a boat than a house. And it can be damn uncomfortable when it's damp, cold, windy, wavy. This can seriously handicap your vision of paradise. Or, at least, hijack your adventure.
Calm one day, wild the next! As many grey skies as blue ones.

The forecast for Martha's Vineyard (see yesterday's blog) grew and grew until it was out of proportion to anything we had ever experienced: 40-50 mph winds, 17-foot waves!! The harbormaster at Vineyard Haven ordered all boats in the outer harbor to move inside the town breakwater. A few hours later, he ordered all boats to move again, through a drawbridge into a protected lagoon.

Yikes! A mini-hurricane! And no letup in sight for 3 or 4 days, at least not for wind and seas calm enough for us to get to the music festival in Rhode Island over Labor Day weekend. Me? Miss my fourth play date? No way.

So … instead of moving to the lagoon, we fled before the storm, all the way to Rhode Island—a harrowing 7-hour ocean crossing under gray skies. Strong wind at our back generating 3-6 foot waves. The autopilot couldn't handle the following waves, so Pope and I took turns at the helm. With this experienced first mate on the wheel, our boat surfed nimbly up and down the giant rollers. After all, this was my third extended cruise on Echo II. Ocean crossing? No problem.

Just out of Vineyard Haven, a good omen: a GIANT sea turtle surfaced behind our boat! Head a couple of feet in diameter, massive shoulders bouncing above the waves. Wow!
Entering Newport harbor, under grey skies

The talisman served us well, at least safety-wise. We anchored in Newport, Rhode Island, at dusk and hunkered down beneath growing storm clouds. Minor hiccups (tongue-in-cheek): Anchor dragged twice; finally set. Too close for comfort to other boats, but too dark to re-anchor.
Snug, cozy, and dry, under grey skies? Ha ha.

Relentless rain; damp clothes and towels hanging everywhere. Slow drips from starboard porthole and front hatch. Howling wind, but wind forecast here is for only 20-30 mph! Ha ha. No problem. No ice in the cooler, only warm beer and melted butter.

Take my advice: if you want comfort, convenience, a warm bed, sweet dreams, Jameson on the rocks in the afternoon, and hot toddies at midnight, stay home. On dry immovable land. Shut your windows and curl up in an easy chair with a suspenseful novel about a boat in a storm.

- Written Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Out to Sea--Figuratively and Literally

He: I think it's time for US to take our sailboat on another cruise.
She: Oh, really? Where are YOU going?

Giving up and turning around halfway to the Bahamas due to multiple obstacles (see last year's blog) apparently wasn't enough to discourage a serious sailboat skipper. And, once again, he bribed his former first mate with portraits of romance and adventure. (Why does she always fall for that line? She must be "out to sea"...) This time, the carrot was Martha's Vineyard.

She: "This will be the last trip, right?"
He: "Duh."

Embarkation followed weeks of toil by Captain Pope on the Edgewater dock--not to mention thousands of greenbacks sunk into that pesky hole in the water. Ocean-worthy rigging $1400. New genoa $1800. Lifelines $250. Bottom paint. Varnish. Remember my sailing motto: work work work play work.
Work work work work work play work

We departed Edgewater, Maryland, August 10, sweltering in our tight quarters in the blistering heat of a southern summer. In New Jersey the biting flies added to our discomfort, and the holding tank leaked into the bilge. (I'll spare the non-boaters the grim description; suffice it to say we spent three days cleaning, disinfecting, and waiting for the arrival of repair parts.)
Leaving home marina in Edgewater
In between work, I squeezed in play: a swim and tour of Victorian gingerbread houses in Cape May—partial redemption.
Cape May gingerbread

By the time we got to New York, however, play time was over. We sailed all day and all night. The waves ballooned into white caps, and giant commercial vessels—freighters, container ships--shared our space.
 Entering New York Harbor at sunrise, alongside commercial vessels

I have to admit it was thrilling (i.e., just short of terrifying) to sail all night and enter New York harbor at first light, dwarfed by skyscrapers and ducking under the Verrazzano, Manhattan, and Brooklyn Bridges. Passing Madame Liberty.
Manhattan skyline up close, from East River

We anchored and explored some lesser-known areas—City Island, an enclave in the Bronx with a small-town feel, and Port Washington, a dining and shopping haven on Long Island. So what if it rained cats and dogs and the boat leaked like a cracked cup? We were seeing the coastal US from a new perspective! Ha ha.

Having signed on to this working tour--oops, I mean cruise--somewhat reluctantly, I insisted on scheduling four play dates: Two visits on the coast of Connecticut to visit yoga sisters (Anita and Betsy) who used to live in northern Virginia and teach at Yoga in Daily Life. The third was a real play: Pope paused for a couple of days while I returned to New York via Amtrak to see Bette Midler on Broadway in “Hello, Dolly.”
 Preparing for storms on coast of Connecticut

Crowded marina in Mystic, Connecticut, where Pope waited for my return from NYC

The fourth play date is yet to come: two days at Rhythm and Roots music and dance festival, near the coast of Rhode Island, on our return trip.

For now, we are moored offshore at Martha's Vineyard, our final destination before turning around. I was hoping to enjoy sunshine, a warm swim, and relaxing on the beach. We did have a couple of beautiful days.
Typical summer cottages on the Vineyard

We bopped around town on bikes and visited a fishing village with a friend who has a summer home here. 
Fishing village Menamshen, on Martha's Vineyard

But then the wind blew, the waves grew, and we had a traumatic return from shore one night after dark, complete with blood and multiple injuries, as we attempted to climb aboard our rockin' and rollin' hobby horse from our small inflatable dinghy. Followed by a roly-poly, sleepless night. What's more, it got cold.

Tally: 6 for Amber, 6 for Echo II and weather. (Not counting minor hiccups such as bruises, smashed sunglasses, leaky dinghy.) Why, I'm practically ahead of the game! Or at least not far behind. Tomorrow, though, the wind is expected to gust into the high 30s (miles per hour). In anticipation, already suffering from mild PTSD from our perilous dinghy expedition, we moved from the roly-poly outer harbor of Vineyard Haven (free) to a mooring inside the town's breakwater ($100).

Let the weather come! Our rain gear is ready, and this first mate is an expert mopper-upper and trauma survivor.

- Written Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A New Diva: Amber Takes the Stage

Most of you know I've been rehearsing for my second career, as a popular, guitar-totin', world-travelin' singer-songwriter a la Lightfoot or Dylan.

"On a tour of one-night stands, my suitcase and guitar in hand..."

Actually, my goals are much simpler: working my way up to occasionally belting out a tune with a local Cajun band, and leading songs at the local Cajun jam session. I have tested my ambition at a couple of Cajun house parties and, just once, in a bar. This summer, I stepped up my game. I plunged into the spotlight (for a brief moment) in a new genre, singing the blues.
Whoa! Is that ME on stage? With a mike? Hey, all right! Pat myself on the back. Then push the ego back into its cage, because...there's a lot of learnin' that still has to happen before Memphis comes a-callin'.

For the fourth year in a row I signed up for musical training at summer camp, i.e., Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins, West Virginia.The mountains are green, the setting serene.
The music is nonstop. Jams in the morning, lessons all day, dancing, playing, performing, and jamming all night. This year, I participated in Cajun Week--my usual genre--AND Country Week, AND Blues Week. A music marathon. (Yes, that's me strumming my guitar in the second photo, next to John R., Cajun band member from Michigan.)
The highlights for me were vocals--building a repertoire of songs in Cajun, country, and blues, and vocals performance workshops--learning to use the mike, lead band members as the vocalist, work with a sound crew, and, of course, build up the courage and skill to step up to the mike and sing.

I think every young guitar player dreams of the day when he or she takes the stage at the local pub or dance hall. I certainly did. When I was 10, my uncle gave me a guitar--bright red and black—and a teach-yourself-to-play book. That was the beginning of a decades-long fantasy: being a bohemian songwriter, nursing a whiskey sour while belting out the blues. Doesn't everyone who picks up a 6-string harbor such dreams?

I learned a few hundred folk and popular songs. I played and sang at campgrounds, church, my living room. But life and career intervened. The guitar sat in a corner, and I slowly forgot all those lyrics. When I retired just short of age 60, however, I vowed to return to my musical roots.

Fast forward to 2017, and my fourth summer at Augusta. After several rounds of guitar lessons (making minimal progress), I was ready to tackle the second half of performance requirements--vocals.

In the past couple of years, I've worked my way up to occasionally singing a couple of Cajun songs with a local band, the Capitol Hillbillies. This summer I added another genre: blues.

I took advantage of every opportunity to practice, under the tutelage of professionals such as Emily MillerResa Gibbs, Ian Walters, and Jontavious Willis.

The camp culminated in a performance on stage in front of a friendly audience--fellow students and instructors, Well, ok, I didn't hit all the notes completely accurately, and my voice is still kinda weak, but overall I was pleased to develop a performance style and lose some of my fear. Since Blogger doesn't allow large videos, watch my performance on YouTube, here.

Finally, a dream partially fulfilled.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Warning! This Island Can Be Hazardous To Your Health!

Wait! That title sounds awfully familiar. I'm experiencing that creepy sense of deja vu.  In fact, I remember writing a previous blog post with a similar name. What gives???

What gives is that authoring a blog called Amber Jones Adventures requires a certain amount of, to put it bluntly, adventuresomeness. Excitement. Risk. I can't expect to retain my reputation--and readers--with only a few days of sandy beaches and blissed-out Downward Dogs.

In New Zealand, I solved that problem with paragliding. In Hawaii last week, I noted plenty of opportunities to risk life and limb.
The most challenging activities on the Big Island are probably 1) jumping off the high cliff at South Point into the sea, and 2) hiking at the foot of Kilauea volcano in search of fresh lava that burns your boots and swallows small mammals (and occasionally people). But hey, I did those 18 years ago, on my first trip to the Big Island. I needed a fresh challenge.

Fortunately for me, even beautiful Hawaiian beaches pose a few risks: sharp coral, rip tides, overpowering currents, and stinging jellyfish.
Behind the signs, Hapuna Beach beckons--a luxuriously long expanse of pure white sand on the Big Island. On the beach, I encountered preparations under way for a half Ironman.
Dozens of athletes were in the water, braving the risky conditions to train. Naturally, I dove in and joined the pack, prepared to wrestle with a deadly undertow. While the 20- and 30-year-olds prepared for their 70-mile bike ride, 13-mile run, and one-mile swim, though, I conked out after only a half mile in the water, and the currents failed to sweep me away. The worst thing that happened--I am sorry to report--was bruising my toe on a small piece of coral.

The next beach offered a more inviting scenario for adventure. The black-sand beach at the bottom of Waipi'o Canyon is a long way from civilization and can be accessed only by a hike down a steep cliff. Swim at your own risk; the surf is strong, there are no lifeguards, and an ambulance can't negotiate the four-wheel-drive trail.
Imagine my consternation when I returned from a walk on this lonely, remote beach and couldn't find my friend Sally! (Finally, an adventure...?) I knew she had gone in the water--alone. I searched for clues, and found the wet rock where she had been sitting, just 10 minutes earlier.
I frantically scanned the water, prepared to swim out and perform barely-remembered, convoluted life-saving maneuvers. Suddenly I heard a voice behind me, emerging from the woods. It was Sally; everything was fine. (Shucks.)
Onward, to the next potential adventure: the botanical gardens, At first glance, these lush, overgrown acres appear benign. Aside from allergies, how can a bunch of exotic tropical flowers hurt you?
Ah! But this garden has its share of both pretty flowers and lurking danger. Turn the corner--and watch your head, lest you be crushed by a shower of falling mangoes or coconuts!
Alas, nothing hit me on the head at the gardens, though I did get a few mosquito bites. (Risk of dengue fever...?)

On the plus side, adventure-wise, the resident volcano, Kilauea, continues to spew fresh burning lava, the most recent eruption getting well under way by 2008 and continuing as recently as April 2017. You can view a recent lava flow here.

The Big Island is built of lava. In some places, the lava is old and gray, sprinkled with soil, and plants have taken hold. In other places, the roads cut through massive fields of recent black lava flows.
Hazardous, right? You know the island poses some serious health and safety risks when the airport is located next to the volcano.
Alas, I was unable to stay on the Big Island long enough to search out the latest red-hot lava on which to test my mettle--and burn my fingers and toes. I had a plane to catch.

With the limited time I had left, I had to settle for a lesser challenge--battling the wind. Remember, wind is my nemesis! On the Big Island, there is plenty of it--easily enough to knock me off the edge of the cliff at the edge of Pololu Canyon.
Once again, however, I avoided the worst. Posing for photographs on the upper rim of the canyon, I felt the wind in my hair, right back in the car, without mishap.
As you can see, the potential for exciting adventure abounds on the Big Island. For once, however, I managed to avoid it, enduring an entire week of boring, safe vacationing with little harm to life, limb or spirit.

In fact, the biggest risk, for me, of vacationing on the Big Island might be the risk of falling in love with it and wanting to move. Now that could cause some serious consternation!