Friday, November 6, 2009

Last trip of 2009

We got up Tuesday morning to find fog so thick we couldn't see past the end of the dock. Fortunately, it burned off quickly and by 7:30 AM we were able to leave Solomons, Maryland headed for Deltaville, Virginia. Deltaville will be Down Time's winter home.

The trip down was as good as it gets. We had light winds from behind us and 1 foot seas on a beautiful, sunny, Fall day. Down Time's cockpit is fully enclosed. Even though the sailors who left when we did were bundled up in their foul weather gear for warmth, we were quite comfortable in our traveling greenhouse. The weather forecast for later in the week predicted colder temperatures and higher seas, so many boats departed from Solomons the same time we did. This is prime snowbird time, with lots of boats leaving the north headed to Florida for the winter. Many boating insurance policies restrict boaters from going south of Norfolk, VA, before November 1 (hurricane season). Lots of folks sit in southern Maryland and northern Virginia waiting out the end of October.

Deltaville is in the so-called "Middle Neck" of Virginia, on the southern shore of the Rappahannock River. We chose this place because we found in-water, covered storage for the boat. We will have to winterize the boat (blow all of the water out of the fresh water system, treat the diesel fuel, etc.) which means we won't be able to stay aboard once we have done that. The covered storage will keep snow off the deck; it doesn't get cold enough here for the water the boat is sitting in to freeze.

Next March we'll come back, get her ready to travel again, and head up the Potomac River to spend a month in Washington, D.C. enjoying the cherry blossoms. Then back to our trip north. Until then, we will be the only people you know who actually go to Cleveland, Ohio for the winter. Have good holidays and look for our next post in March 2010.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Maryland observations

It is near the end of crab season in Maryland. We've seen everything from commercial crabbing to personal crabbing. The commercial guys go out early to check their pots, often before they have to go to their second jobs because crabbing doesn't support a family any more. The personal crabbers, with just a few pots or a net, work their favorite locations when they have the time. When we were in the Wye River the guy in this picture came in around sun-up and dragged his net across the grassy bottoms at the side of the creek, scooping up hard crabs and molting "peeler" crabs, the catch that becomes soft shell crabs on the dinner plate. After he would scrap the bottom for a distance, he would raise the net, sort through what he had caught and toss back the crabs that were too small to keep.

We've had wonderful anchorages in Maryland, especially this weekend. Our friends, Rob and Carol Harris, were with us. We went up the Patuxent River to St. Leonard's Creek. The cruising guide described it as "the most beautiful" anchorage on the Patuxent and it didn't disappoint us. The trees on the creek are starting to turn fall colors. Yesterday afternoon as we were enjoying the quiet, sunny, crisp afternoon from the back deck, we saw a bald eagle swoop down to catch a fish, then land in a nearby tree to enjoy his catch. This morning we saw three deer near the dock in the picture.

Fall has definitely come to Maryland. The highs for the next four days won't be out of the 50s. Jim is still wearing shorts, but I admit to being a Florida wimp. It's pants and sweatshirts for me. Next time we go home, I'm taking all of the shorts back to Cleveland and replacing them with jeans and more sweats on the boat. Thank goodness my mother gave us zip-up sweatshirt jackets with Down Time's name on them as Christmas gifts the year the year we got the boat. Otherwise, I'd have frozen to death already.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Solomon's Island

We decided not to stay in Annapolis for the boat show. We got a good weather window, so we moved south from Annapolis to Solomon's Island, a boating community on the north shore of the Patuxent River, just up from where the river meets the Chesapeake Bay.

The island only has about 1,500 people; the surrounding area is larger but still fairly rural. Across the river, in St. Mary's County, is the Patuxent Naval Air Station. Judging from the traffic trying to get over the river in the mornings, I'm guessing a lot of the locals work there or for one of the defense contractors who have offices near the base.

Solomon's is a walkable town with a number of restaurants because it is a tourism center in the summer. It also has an amazingly good gourmet grocery store because it provides provisions for the hundreds of weekend boaters from DC, Maryland, Virginia and other places who keep their boats here in the summer. No public transit, but we went and got our car when we arrived here, so we're not dependent on buses.

It turns out that friends of ours, Don and Ruth Kalen, who own the same boat we do, are here in Solomon's as well. Unfortunately, they are here because they are having major problems with their boat. But we spent the day yesterday catching up with them and really enjoyed it. They spend most of their summers in upstate New York and have been through the areas we will travel next summer, so it was good to get their input on where to go and what to see. Later this week our friends, Rob and Carol Harris, arrive to spend Columbus Day weekend with us on the boat, so we're having a very social week.

Annapolis is as far north as we are going this year. The next challenge is to determine what we will do with the boat this winter. Jim has several possibilities under consideration, ranging from leaving the boat in northern Virginia to taking it back to New Bern, North Carolina. We're waiting to hear about availability in several marinas before we make a decision. In the meantime, I'm off to a cross stitch show with my mother next week and then we have to travel back to Cleveland where workmen are coming to work on the windows in the condo.

What do you do all day?

One of the questions we are asked occasionally is "What do you do all day?" This comes from folks who envision us sitting around reading books and eating bonbons. I'll admit, there is a fair amount of reading books, but the daily details of life ashore are magnified greatly when you live on a boat. For example, just planning and executing the grocery shopping can be quite an adventure on a boat.

The first thing you take into consideration in menu planning is that there are only two burners on the stove and they are pretty close together. You can get a small sauce pan and a saute pan on the stove at the same time, but two saute pans or a dutch oven and a saute pan aren't going to fit. So one factor in meal planning is how many and what size pans are needed. We use the grill on the stern of the boat whenever possible.

Then there is the "carry everything" factor. When we don't have our car, as we haven't had for the last three weeks, everything we buy at the grocery store has to be carried to the boat. We can each handle two boat bags, but I have to be judicious in what I plan to buy, considering both the bulk and the weight.

Finally there is the issue of how long it takes to get to and from a grocery store. In Annapolis going to the grocery store involved getting the water taxi from the boat to the shore, walking a half a mile to the bus stop, taking a 30 minute bus ride to the grocery store, and then reversing the process to get home. Buying a week's worth of groceries consumed nearly five hours by the time you added the wait time for the buses.

Friday, September 25, 2009


Annapolis during Navy's homecoming weekend! Our timing is impeccable. The town is filling up rapidly.

Annapolis has a small city marina and three mooring fields. A mooring field, for our non-boater friends, is a place where someone, in this case the city of Annapolis, has put permanently placed anchor substitutes in the water. Instead of dropping your anchor, you pick up a floating line, called a pennant, and attach it to the front of your boat. The pennant is attached to a line which goes down to the bottom of the harbor where it, in turn, is attached to something that usually looks like a big screw, screwed into the ground. Annapolis is notorious for bad holding (anchors don't really work well), so the moorings keep boats from dragging all over the place and banging into each other. They also provide the city with a revenue stream. In addition to providing the moorings, the city also provides a water taxi and a pump-out boat service, so it is a convenient place to be "on the hook", as opposed to being at a dock in the marina.

Every Fall, Annapolis hosts one of the largest in-water boat shows in the nation. They actually build temporary floating docks around the boats as they arrive for the show. First they do a weekend of sailboats, then they move all of the sailboats out, replace them with powerboats, and do a weekend of powerboats. Then they tear the whole thing down and go back to their usual operations. About half of the mooring field is taken over by the boat show and boats on those moorings have to leave for the duration of the show. Jim has always wanted to watch the "load in" when the show boats arrive and the docks are built, so we deliberately chose a mooring that we could stay on during the boat show.

But the boat show stuff won't start for another 10 days and I'm going away for five days with my mother in the middle of it, so if we stay for the first load in we'll be here until October 20. Neither of us is sure we need to be in Annapolis for a month. It is an interesting place, but not that interesting. So we are debating staying for the boat show, or moving on south and just driving back up to spend one day at the boat show. Such are the problems of retired folks.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

St Michaels, Maryland

We've had two great days in St. Michaels. St. Michaels is the most popular destination on the Eastern Shore. It has a well preserved historic district, lots of cutesy little boutiques, a wide range of restaurants, from very high end to reasonably priced, and a good maritime museum.

Last night we had dinner with our friend Scotti Oliver, at a local bistro. Good food, great company. The only off-putting moment was when she told us that both Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Chaney have move here since they found themselves out of work. Having one of those two walk into the restaurant would put me right off my meal. But the best part of the Rummy story was the name of his house - Mount Misery. Not named in his honor, the name pre-dates the owner, but how appropriate!

Today we wandered around the museum. They have done a nice job of preserving the history of the Chesapeake. They have examples of all of the unique Chesapeake boats used by the watermen. One exhibit is an actual lighthouse that was slated to be taken apart in the 1960s. Instead, it was moved to the museum. They also had exhibits on the Bay throughout history and on the transition from a working waterway to a recreational destination.

Tomorrow we head to Annapolis, weather permitting.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Eastern Shore of Maryland

We've been working our way up the Eastern Shore of Maryland the last several days. We left Tangier on a snarfy day with the wind and seas right on the nose of the boat. But we only had six miles to go before we got into the lea of the Eastern Shore, so it wasn't too bad.

Our first stop was Crisfield, the self-proclaimed "Crab Capital" of Maryland. Crisfield still has crab processing plants where the watermen bring their catches to be steamed. Then rooms full of women pick the crab meat out of the shell. Tedious, meticulous work for which they are paid by the pound; in other words, piece work. I'm told that a good picker can pick up to five pounds of crab meat in fifteen minutes. I can't even imagine how they do that.

One afternoon in Crisfield would have been enough, but the next day's forecast was blowy and overcast. The following day had south winds (we were going north) at 5 knots. A forecast like that was enough to make us wait another day in Crisfield. We were rewarded with a wonderful trip up the Chesapeake. We went all the way up to the Choptank River (about 60 miles) and tucked into a quiet little cove inside Tilghman Island. There was no moon and no ambient light, the stars were amazing!

The next day, we moved about fifteen miles to Oxford, MD. Oxford was at its peak before the Revolutionary War. But many of the houses still date from that era and what new construction there is has been kept architecturally consistent for the most part, so it is a pretty little town. A bit lacking in services, however. There was only one restaurant within walking distance of the marinas and one dismal market. They did have a nice bookstore, Mystery Loves Company. I contributed to the local economy, buying a mystery we have been looking for.

Today, Sunday, we traveled from Oxford to Dividing Creek, an anchorage off the Wye River, near St. Michaels, MD. It was a beautiful day with light southeast winds and blue skies. The whole weekend has been lovely and local boaters obviously realized there are a limited number of gorgeous days left in the sailing season. I can't remember ever seeing as many boats as we saw today. The Wye River is a very popular anchorage, so we timed our arrival to be after the weekenders would be headed home. But, of course, that means we met them leaving as we were arriving. There were so many sailboats headed out of the Wye River it looked like a busy highway. I felt like I was driving the wrong way on an interstate.

Even on a September Sunday night, there are three other boats in the anchorage with us, but it is long enough to accommodate that without crowding. We can't see any human habitation, just trees to the water line. We're looking forward to another spectacular night of stars and quiet.

Tomorrow we heading to a dock in St. Michaels that our Eastern Shore client, the folks at the Talbot County Free Library, arranged for us. Had we arrived last week, we would have been sharing the marina with Johnny Depp.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tangier Island

After a perfectly delightful trip down the Potomac from the St. Mary's River we arrived in Tangier Island about mid-day on Tuesday. Tangier is a small island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. It was first discovered by Europeans in 1608 when John Smith landed there. The British used it as a mustering point during the Revolutionary War. Permanent residents moved there for the first time in 1814 and it has been continuously inhabited since then.

The primary business of Tangier Islanders is fishing, crabbing to be precise. Although with the fishing restrictions in the Chesapeake these days, the islanders believe the current generation of watermen is the last generation there will be on the island. As recently as 1980 nearly half of of the high school graduating class stayed on the island to fish. Since 2000, none of the graduates have stayed. It is no longer possible to buy a commercial fishing license at a price that makes it economically feasible to operate a crab boat. Parents can hand down their licenses to their children, but one license isn't enough to support two or more families.

Another challenge in Tangier is that fact that the island is eroding. Nearly a third of the island has disappeared in the last 150 years. There used to be three separate communities, totaling more than 1,800 people on the island, but two of them have disappeared. Locals have moved their houses and graveyards to the one remaining town. Today only 600 people live on the island. The picture is of Main Street in downtown Tangier.

We were given a tour by the owner of the marina we stayed in. He has lived there his whole life, except for a stint in the Navy. Three of his four children have moved away and the fourth has a job on a tug boat, spending two weeks away from the island and two weeks at home every month. When Mr. Parks, the marina owner, graduated from high school (62 years ago) there were more than 1,200 people living on the island.

Growing up here really would be the classic small town experience, at least until you got to high school Kids are free to go everywhere. There are only three trucks and no cars on the island. Every family has at least one golf cart and one boat. (The picture is the parking lot at the crab processing plant.) The island is actually small enough to walk anywhere, although most of the kids seem to ride bikes to school. There are 77 students in grades K-12 (single building) with 15 teachers. Wouldn't most school districts love to have that student/teacher ratio?

There are three restaurants, two sandwich shops, and an ice cream shop on the island. All except the ice cream store close at 5:00 PM when the last tour boat leaves for the mainland. Tourism supplements the fishing income, but it isn't enough to replace it.

I never realized until this trip that the Chesapeake Bay sometimes freezes. In 1977, the island was frozen in for over two months. Food and medical supplies had to be airlifted the the residents to keep them going until the ice melted.

It was a fascinating place to visit. Jim was actually here thirty-nine years ago on a sailing trip. He noticed a lot of difference in just that time. The unique island accent has all but disappeared with the availability of television and daily contact with the mainland through the ferries. In the early 70s the older women still wore sunbonnets from the nineteenth century. That is all gone now. But they have built a nice local history museum where they are preserving what they can. I'm glad we had a chance to visit. I suspect by the time our grandchildren are old enough to go there, the lifestyle will be gone. You've got to love a place where two nine volt batteries bungee'd to the front of a golf cart function as headlights.

Monday, September 14, 2009

On the road again

We're finally back on the boat and underway again. Our visit to Cleveland was a week longer than we expected it to be because I had to have a little dental surgery while we were home.

When we finally got back to the boat we decided to do a little car cruising before we left the northern neck of Virginia. I had never been to Williamsburg and Jim's only trip there was nearly 30 years ago. So we visited Yorktown, Williamsburg, Jamestown and the Civil War sites of Petersburg and Cold Harbor.

On Saturday we went to an antique and wooden boat show in Reedville. While there we went to the Fisherman's Museum and learned quite a bit about the history of fishing in the Chesapeake. We also learned about a type of fishing neither of us had heard of before - pound net fishing. Fishermen set up a series of stakes in the water and attach nets to them. The nets are configured to create a set of two "rooms", the last of which has a funnel shaped entrance which makes it easy for fish to get it but not to get out. A third set of nets creates a directional flow of water leading into the net rooms. Apparently schools of fish change their direction to travel with a flow of water, so they turn and enter the rooms. Then the fishermen pull up the net of the third room and scoop the fish out of it and into their boats. All very complicated and quite difficult in bad weather.

This afternoon we left northern Virginia and crossed the Potomac to the southern shore of western Maryland. The Potomac was a lovely, well behaved river and the trip over was a pleasant two hour cruise. Quite a change from our last experience with the Potomac. Tomorrow we go down the Potomac to Tangier Island. We're hoping that timing our departure to coincide with the tide flowing out of the river, and the predicted west winds, will give us another day like today. Wish us luck!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Little Movies

We have lots of time to watch movies on the boat. Over the years we have collected a number of little movies that we watch over and over. I am sure you have some of your own, so feel free to contribute them in a comment to this entry. Here are ours:

The Dish

In the days before the July 19, 1969 space mission that marked humankind's first steps on the moon, NASA was working with a group of Australian technicians who had agreed to rig up a satellite interface. That the Aussies placed the satellite dish smack dab in the middle of an Australian sheep farm in the boondocks town of Parkes was just one of the reasons that NASA was concerned. Based on a true story, The Dish takes a smart, witty, comical look at the differing cultural attitudes between Australia and the U.S. while revisiting one of the greatest events in history.

Brassed Off

In existence for a hundred years, Grimley Colliery Brass band is as old as the mine. But the miners are now deciding whether to fight to keep the pit open, and the future for town and band looks bleak. Although the arrival of flugelhorn player Gloria injects some life into the players, and bandleader Danny continues to exhort them to continue in the national competition, frictions and pressures are all too evident. And who's side is Gloria actually on?

The Last of the Blonde Bombshells

After her husband's death, a widow (Judy Dench) decides she wants to re-kindle her musical roots. Encouraged by her grand-daughter, she seeks out the almost all-female band she played with during World War II. The one non-female in the troop was a cross-dressing drummer (Ian Holm) with whom she still is friends. With his help, they start tracking down their old cronies - and find some dead and some mentally incompetent. Slowly the band grows, but their sound is lacking. When the singer (Cleo Laine) is added to the mix, everything comes together.

84 Charing Cross Road

When a humorous script-reader in her New York apartment sees an ad in the Saturday Review of Literature for a bookstore in London that does mail order, she begins a very special correspondence and friendship with Frank Doel, the bookseller who works at Marks & Co., 84 Charing Cross Road.

Waking Ned Devine

When word reaches two elderly best friends that someone in their tiny Irish village has won the national lottery, they go to great lengths to find the winner so they can share the wealth. When they discover the "lucky" winner, Ned Devine, they find he has died of shock upon discovering his win. Not wanting the money to go to waste, the village enters a pact to pretend Ned is still alive by having another man pose as him, and then to divide the money between them.

The Shop Around the Corner

"Matuschek's" is the gift shop around the corner. Among the staff is Alfred Kralik, a likeable young man who's in love with a woman he has never met and whose name he doesn't even know (their "romance" has been conducted through a post office box). When Klara Novak comes to work as a clerk in the shop, the sparks begin to fly: she and Alfred can't stand each other. Of course, what neither knows is that Klara is the woman Alfred has been romancing through the mail!

Calendar Girls

In the small town of Knapely, Yorkshire, England, Annie Clarke (Julie Walters) has just lost her husband, who was ill with leukemia. Inspired in his speech to the local Women's Institute, where he said that "the flowers of Yorkshire are like the women of Yorkshire", and "the last phase of the women of Yorkshire is always the most glorious", her best friend Chris Harper (Helen Mirren) decides to make a calendar with twelve local middle-age women nude to raise funds for the wing of leukemia treatment in the local hospital. The calendar becomes well succeeded, making them famous and affecting their lives.

The Castle

A Melbourne family is very happy living where they do, near the Melbourne airport (according to Jane Kennedy, it's "practically their back yard"). However, they are forced to leave their beloved home, by the Government and airport authorities. 'The Castle' is the story of how they fight to remain in their house, taking their case as far as the High Court.

Try to get the Australian version. It was re-cut or at least re-dubed for an American version that we hear looses a lot in the translation.

October Sky

Homer Hickam is a high school student growing up in a company mining town. There are few prospects for young men like Homer and most follow their father's footsteps and work in the coal mines. He's bright however and with the encouragement of his teacher Miss Riley, hopes to have a better life. This brings him into conflict with his father who feels that working for the mining company is an honorable profession. When the Soviets launch the Sputnik however, Home dreams of launching a rocket into space so he and his friends set about building a small rocket from whatever materials they can scrounge. Homer's father thinks it's all a waste of time but he perseveres and eventually wins the State Science Fair and manages to go on to college. He and his father reconcile their differences. Based on a true story.

Homer Hickam has also written several books that you might want to check out. Try The Keeper’s Son.


A fish-out-of-water comedy about a talented street drummer from Harlem who enrolls in a Southern university, expecting to lead its marching band's drumline to victory. He initially flounders in his new world, before realizing that it takes more than talent to reach the top.

Descriptions are from

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Chesapeake Bay - Part 1

We have completed our first week in the Chesapeake Bay. We anchored in a quiet cove, Fishing Bay, up the Piankatank River on the west side of the Bay. The next day we went up the Rappahannock River to the town of Urbanna. To get into the Rappahannock from the south you pass Stingray Point. Stingray is so named because Captain James Smith was stung by a stingray there and saved from death only because the local folks knew how to counter stingray poison.

Urbanna is a small town of 400. But it is a good boater stop. Earlier in the week we stopped in Hampton, VA, a much larger town, but not a good boater stop. That got me to thinking about what makes a good place for transient boaters. There needs to be retail businesses and restaurants within walking distance of the marina. People in town need to be able to explain how to get somewhere on foot. An added bonus is a farmer's market or grocery store within walking distance, or a public transit system that is easy to use and operates, frequently, on the weekends as well as during the week.

After Urbanna, we went to another anchorage, Sandy Point, near Reedville, the home of the menhaden fleet. Menhaden is an oily fish used for fish oil, fertilizer, and animal feed. Our friends Andy and Dinata had warned us that Reedville is a place you want to visit by car, not boat, because the odor (what the locals call "the smell of money") can be overwhelming. We got a whiff as we went past headed for our anchorage, that was enough.

The mouth of the Rappahannock River was a bit rough; the locals told us that is it's usual state. But the mouth of the Potomac, our next destination, was much worse. It was so bumpy and lumpy, I had to sit on the settee and stare at the cushions. I couldn't look at the water without getting sick. Thank heavens that Jim has no sense of balance and is completely unaffected by lumpy seas.

Once we got past the entrance (a two hour experience) the river calmed down a bit. We are now in a funky marina, Olverson's Marina on the Virginia side of the river. This place would be right at home in the Keys. Lots of locals who know each other, come down to the marina every weekend, cruise together, have regularly scheduled marina dinner parties, etc. We're getting ready to head back to Cleveland again. This is a safe place to leave the boat, even with Tropical Storms Ana and Bill kicking around in the Atlantic.

We'll be back in 10-14 days. Until then, no more updates from the great adventure.

Warships and radio checks

Taking your boat through Norfolk harbor and Hampton Roads is an interesting experience. Up to this point we have been transiting through the Intercoastal Waterway. Fishing boats and the occasional tug/barge combination use the same waterway, but mostly what you see are other pleasure boats. In Norfolk you are in the middle of the largest naval base in the world and in a very busy commercial port. You share the water with some very large vessels. This container ship we met as we were leaving Norfolk.

You also pass a bunch of naval vessels of every type at the docks. I counted seven aircraft carriers of various vintages. Some were clearly being worked on, others were just sitting there. With all of them lined up together you could see that some were older and smaller than the others, but even the smallest of them are very large.

Warship 84 (a destroyer?) spent the night anchored in Hampton Roads and left at the same time we were leaving Hampton, VA. The Hampton Roads channel is so big warship 84 leaving passed a container ship coming in and they weren't even close to each other. We felt very small indeed.

But we did have the opportunity to do the U.S. Navy a service. Boaters, when they first leave the dock, often use their VHF radios to broadcast a call for a "radio check." Basically what they are asking is "Can anyone hear me using my radio?" Usually another boater will respond with "Loud and clear in [whatever the receiver's location is]." Twenty years ago when we started boating in Biscayne Bay, the radio checks would drive us crazy, it was the only reason anyone ever used the radio. These days there are far fewer radio checks because most folks use their cell phones on their boats. Even the Coast Guard sometimes will ask you if you can call them on your cell when you use your radio to contact them. When you do ask for a radio check, it is very bad form to call more than once.

As we were leaving Norfolk, US Warship 103 was broadcasting a radio check request about once every 5 minutes. The guy must have been working on his radio. Now you would think if a naval communications officer was working on his radio, he would make arrangements with someone else to help him check his work, but no, he was just broadcasting on the common boater band. Sometimes he would get a response from the port pilot, but apparently even they got tired of him and stopped responding. So Jim gave a radio check response to a US warship. I feel the country is safer for our contribution to naval operations.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Norfolk, VA

We're docked in a downtown marina in Norfolk, conveniently located close to tourist attractions, movie theaters, a shopping mall, walking paths, and even a grocery store that drives boaters and their purchases back to the marina. I have to say it is nice to be in an urban environment after two months of rural, coastal America. Just having the option to buy a Starbucks latte is a pleasure.

Unfortunately, we arrived at the same time as the hottest weather of the season. The heat index yesterday was 105. We did our tourist thing in the morning and then went to the movies in the afternoon.

Our tourist adventure was a visit to the USS Wisconsin, an inactive but still commissioned battleship docked in downtown Norfolk. The picture is Jim standing next to the anchor chain. Each link in the chain weighs 120 lbs. Our entire anchor chain on Down Time weighs less than two links of the Wisconsin's chain. Her anchor weighs 35,000 lbs; ours weighs 35 lbs.

Then we treated ourselves to a cool afternoon seeing Julie and Julia, which we really enjoyed. Since Jim is devoted to cooking from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, it was fun to see the story of how it got written. One of the pivotal recipes in the movie, Boeuf Bourguignon, is also one of Jim's specialities, so as people in the movie were waxing eloquent about the flavor I could identify completely.

Today we will go across Hampton Roads to the Hampton Yacht Club, finally, officially entering the Chesapeake Bay. It has only taken us three months to get this far. I know we said we were going to take this trip slow, but somehow we didn't expect it to take us until the middle of August to get this far. Oh well, we're retired; we don't have to hurry.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Great Dismal Swamp

We woke up this morning docked in the Great Dismal Swamp, one of the earliest canals developed to support inter-coastal trade. George Washington was one of the folks who invested in draining and logging the swamp beginning in 1763. He engineered the canal we took the boat through. It is a narrow canal with a fair number of logs and tree limbs floating in it.

The North Carolina tourist bureau offers free dockage at their visitor center on the Swamp. They claim it is the only visitor center in the US where you can arrive by car or boat. We were the only boat on the dock that night but we've heard that there can be as many as four or five boats rafted up (tied to each other with the innermost boat tied to the dock) at the height of the season. The "season" would be in the fall when boaters take their boats south or the spring when they head north again.

To get into and out of the Great Dismal Swamp you have to take your boat through a lock at either end. A lock is a device for raising and lowering boats between stretches of water of different levels on river and canal waterways. In the Swamp you are raised 8 feet when you enter and lowered the same amount when you leave.

You motor up to the lock entrance, wait for the lock tender to open the lock and signal you that it is OK to enter. Then while Jim drives the boat, I pass the lines up to the lock tender who loops them over a piling above my head and hands the ends back to me. With one of us on the bow and
one of us on the stern, we take up the slack in the lines gradually as the lock tender opens the gates at the front of the lock slowly letting the water in to raise up the boat. At the end, we even with the top of the lock. The whole process took about 30 minutes on each end.

The lock tender who let us out of the canal regaled us with a conch blowing demonstration while we were lowering. He claims to be the world's best conch blower. For those of you who have never heard a conch being blown, it is shell that makes a loud noise. Someone who knows what he is doing can actually play a bit of a tune.

He also had to play "log wrangler" when we were locking through. A large log entered the lock at the same time we did. He had to hook it and pull it out of the lock before he could lower us. If he hadn't done so, the log could have damaged the boat in the turbulence created by letting the water out of the lock.

All in all, we had a nice trip through the Great Dismal Swamp and saw only one other boat through the entire 30+ mile trip.

On to Norfolk, VA!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Finally got out of Oriental

We finally got out of Oriental, NC, earlier this week. We were ready to go for a week before we could actually leave. Once again, trapped by weather, but this time was a bit unusual. We were docked at a friend's dock, up a creek in the southern end of Pamlico Sound. Pamilco Sound's tides are not affect by the moon, as most tides are. In the Sound the tides are driven by the wind. When the wind blows from the north it pushes the water in the Sound south and vice versa. We were having strong winds from the south and they pushed the water out of the creek. We couldn't leave because we didn't have enough water in the creek to get out.

We used the time to do some tourist things in New Bern. New Bern was the first capital of North Carolina, before the Revolutionary War. The governor, named Tryon, had a big house built there to govern from before he managed to get himself transferred to governor of New York. The capital was transferred to Raleigh after the war and the house burned down in 1798. But the locals never forgot and in the 1950s a very rich lady died and left the money to re-build Tryon Palace, as it is called. They found the original plans in a museum in London and re-built the place to show off the glorious past. No one talks about how much money the lady left but it must have been a bundle.

The most interesting thing was the man who was actually cooking in the kitchen in the same manner as meals would have been cooked in the 1760s. He would scrap coals out of the fire and put them on top of or underneath the cast iron pots, whichever was the appropriate technique for whatever he was cooking. We had quite and interesting time watching and talking with him.

When we did finally leave Oriental, we had a very nice day up to Belhaven, NC. Then another nice day up to the Alligator River marina, near Roanoke Island in the outer banks of North Carolina. If you remember your elementary school history, Roanoke is where the British deposited a settlement of folks who subsequently disappeared without a trace, the so-called Lost Colony. We rented a car and toured the towns of Manteo and Wanchese, including visiting a built-to-scale replica of a ship that brought colonists to the New World.

It is a bit quiet in this part of the waterway this time of year. This is a picture of Down Time in her slip at the Alligator River marina. We are the only boat here and when we leave tomorrow the marina will be empty. The owner says things don't really pick up again until the snowbirds start bringing their boats south in September and October. We'll be in Maryland by then.

Here is one other great picture we took, outside of Appomattox Courthouse. You would think that someone with this name could have made a better career choice.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

What the boat looks like

We realized that most of the folks reading this blog have never seen the boat, so we thought we'd post a few pictures. Down Time is a 36 foot power catamaran. That means she has two hulls with a bridge deck connecting them.

The cockpit has a complete view of all four corners of the boat and two comfortable seats for the crew. It also has a table and seating for four for meals, or two settees to stretch out on, depending on what you need.

Stepping down from the cockpit, you enter the main salon. To the left is the galley.

To the right is the head (boater-speak for bathroom).

The guest cabin is in the back of the boat on the same side as the head.

There is a second "guest" cabin on the other side of the boat, behind the galley, but we use it as the junk room to hold luggage, my craft projects, the computers, etc. We turned the closet in that room into a pantry.

Our cabin in in front of the main salon.

She is a very comfortable boat for two and reasonably comfortable for four. We've had as many as five adults and a dog on board at one time.

Back on the boat - almost ready to go

We're back on the boat after a 2 1/2 week visit to Cleveland and Chicago. The drive back to the boat from Cleveland started out as one plan and ended up differently. One of the joys of being retired is that you don’t have to stick to a schedule. We planned to drive the Skyline highway in Shenandoah National Park then spend the first night in a B&B in Staunton, Virginia. But we got to Shenandoah in the late afternoon in spitting rain and decided to do the drive the next morning. So we stopped in Front Royal, the town at the entrance to the park. Good thing we did, we didn’t realize that a drive of 105 miles with a 35 mile per hour speed limit could take 6 hours.

If you have never done this drive, it is one of the scenic wonders of the U.S. The park service sells a guided tour on CD that you can play in your car as you drive through. It gives you some history and describes some, but certainly not all, of the stops and overlooks on the road. We saw deer, both does and a buck, and a mother bear and her cub crossed the road right in front of our car. There are only about 200 bears living in the park and seeing one is apparently a rare event. We were lucky.

There are hundreds of miles of hiking trails in the park, ranging from easy ½ mile walks to back country overnight destinations; 95 miles of the Appalachian Trail run through Shenandoah. I walked about a ¼ mile of the Appalachian Trail, only 1,249 to go.

Having visited Fort Sumter in Charleston, where the first shot of the Civil War was fired, we decided to complete our war tour by visiting Appomattox Courthouse, where Lee surrendered to Grant. The house where the surrender was signed is a recreation. The original house was dismantled in the 1880s. Some entrepreneurs planned to ship it to Washington, re-assemble it, and charge admission to see where the war ended. But after they got it torn down, they never moved it to Washington. By the time the Park Service took over the sight, most of the house had been scavenged, so they had to build a recreation of it.

Back on the boat, we have a couple of boat repairs to make and then we’ll be ready to leave on the next leg of our trip. We may not post again for a couple of days. Oriental, NC, where we are now is a bit of a cell phone void, so we have to go to The Bean, the local coffee house, to get on the Internet. It has been a long time since I've been this removed from the online world, can't say that I like it much.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The world's smallest martini

We discovered on our drive back from Miami that you don't have to be on the water to have adventures.  When Rob and Carol joined us last weekend they raved about a restaurant they found in Florence, South Carolina, called Roger's.  So on Wednesday we drove the 650 miles from Miami to Florence in anticipation of a great, local dive, Carolina barbecue dinner.  Only to find out that Roger's is only open Thursday - Saturday.

So we asked the desk clerk at our hotel for another suggestion.  She gave us several, we visited two and chose the second.  They took our name, said it would be 20 minutes, so we went to the bar.  Now he should have known better (the most prominent feature of the bar was 100 beers nestled in ice, just waiting to be served), but Jim ordered a martini.  The bar tender poured one shot of gin in a shaker, then poured the gin into the glass, no shaking, just pouring.  The martini glass was 1/3 full.  I wish I'd had the presence of mind to whip out my cell phone and take a picture.  You wouldn't believe how puny that drink looked!  

But the gin had barely touched the ice during the pouring process so the drink was room temperature.  As Jim said, it was a good thing that it was the world's smallest martini, because it was also the world's worst martini.

Then on the drive to Oriental we discovered a barbecue place for lunch.  Good barbecue but what really set this place apart was the James Beard medal hanging on the wall by the door, complete with the invitation to attend the awards dinner in 2003, the year they won.  I've never actually seen a James Beard medal before and certainly never expected to find one on a North Carolina back road in a dumpy barbecue shack with a tin replica of the top of the Capitol building on the roof.  I love the back roads of America!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Charleston to Oriental, NC

We left Charleston the week before Charleston's annual Tall Ships week. As we were crossing Charleston Harbor, the Pride of Baltimore was sailing in under full sail.  Before the week was over they were supposed to be joined a dozen more of these beauties.

When we left Charleston, our friends Dave and Judi Nofs were aboard.  We had a cloudy morning when we left Charleston but the rest of the week was gorgeous. We stopped in Georgetown, SC, a charming old town that was an important port in the 19th century.  We walked around and enjoyed looking at the well preserved Victorian homes.

From there we went through the nastiest part of the Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway, a section called the Rock Pile.  This is a three mile stretch in Myrtle Beach that was blasted out of rock.  If you drift out of the channel, you hit solid granite.  We timed our trip to be there at low tide, but I was still a wreck when we finally cleared that area.  Just my luck, we came to it while I was driving.  But Jim and Dave and Judi all stayed on deck with me and helped me watch for the markers and rocks.  In that stretch, four sets of eyes are not too many.

After a night in Myrtle Beach, we crossed into North Carolina and went up the Cape Fear River to Wrightsville Beach, a very busy piece of the waterway.  We stayed in a marina on the river and there were boats going up and down the river well into the night and beginning at daybreak the next day.  Dave and Judi treated us to dinner ashore and when we got back to the boat we found two couples standing on the dock discussing our boat.  So we invited them aboard to see her from the inside.  They'd never been on a private boat before and were impressed with all the space and amenities.

Then on to Swansboro, another quaint little coastal fishing village, with military aircraft from the Cherry Point Marine Air Station flying over until sunset.

On Friday, we arrived in Oriental, NC.  Oriental is called the sailing capitol of the Carolinas. There are 900 residents and 3,000 boats in Oriental.  You'd never know there are that many boats here because they are tucked into marinas in all of the creeks and rivers around the town. Dave and Judi left us Saturday morning.  Rob and Carol and their dog Franklin arrived Saturday afternoon and stayed with us until Monday morning.

Monday afternoon our friend Pat Dallas (see the Vero Beach post for info on the Dallases) came to the marina we were in and played pilot to help us move our boat to the dock behind his house.  Pat and Almira have graciously invited us to leave our boat at their dock while we go back to Cleveland and Chicago for a couple of weeks.  After we got the boat settled in, Almira drove us to New Bern to catch a flight to Miami.  We flew down to get our car.  All in all, a very busy couple of days.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


We're winding up a week in Charleston, South Carolina.  If you have never been here, it is worth a long weekend.  It is a beautiful city, with houses from the 1730s through the 1850s beautifully preserved throughout downtown.  It is a very walkable city, but don't come in the summer.  The highs have been in the 90s all week and the humidity is so high the weather service issued health alerts yesterday and today because the heat index (temperature plus humidity) is 105 - 110 degrees.

Charleston maintained its lovely housing stock because it was so poor after the war (that would be the War of Northern Aggression, aka the Civil War for those of you not from the South) that folks couldn't afford to tear down and replace their aging homes.  By the time the economy began to recover (WWII), the historical society was fully established and fought hard to require folks to repair, not replace, the historic homes.  Even when it wasn't possible to save a house, the building regulations required replacement with architecturally consistent buildings.  There are a few unfortunate 1960s high rises, but not many.  The Charleston water front is particularly attractive because it is almost completely antebellum homes.  We'll try to get a photo when we leave tomorrow morning.

The homes evolved over time to what is now considered a "typical" Charleston architectural style.  In this picture you see the three story original home built in the 1760s on the left.  The porches and the front door were added by a later owner in the 1840s.  The picture below shows what the porches typically look like behind the door.  Ironically, by insisting on re-furbishing these houses, the historical society also preserved the re-sale values of these houses. One of these charming antiques will run you more than $1 million in the center of the city and over $2 million on the southern tip of the peninsula.  I can't even imagine the annual maintenance costs.

Charleston also has a nice downtown shopping district and great, albeit expensive, restaurants.We treated ourselves to two dinners out, at Magnolias and the Charleston Grill.  There must be another 20-25 equally good places to eat that we didn't have time to try. We're considering coming back here for the winter, but I worry that we would be both broke and fat before we headed north again in the Spring.  

The local craft is baskets made from sea grass, a traditional craft of the Gullah,  African Americans who live in the Low Country region of South Carolina.  The Gullah are known for preserving more of their African linguistic and cultural heritage than any other African American community in the United States.  This was possible because the rice plantations of South Carolina were out in the country, but the planters and their families usually lived in town, specifically in Charleston.  So the African slaves were more able to maintain their own culture.  The baskets are beautiful, but too expensive for me.  A simple 8 inch basket is $80. We looked but did not buy.  My $10 palm frond baskets from Key West continue to function just fine.

When we leave tomorrow we will have guests on board.  Dave and Judi Nofs, friends we met when we went sailing in the early '90s, are driving up from Sarasota to join us for a week.  They will be with us until we get to Oriental, North Carolina.  In Oriental we'll be staying with Pat and Almira Dallas on the dock at their house.  Pat and Almira, Dave and Judi, and Jim and I all sailed together for several months in the Bahamas in 1991.  We're looking forward to the opportunity to catch up with Dave and Judi.  Then at the end of this week, Rob and Carol Harris and their dog Franklin are joining us in Oriental for a couple of days.  Busy times on Down Time. But note that guests are welcome and encouraged.  If you'd like a little boating adventure, please let us know.  We love company.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Creatures on the waterway

One of the fun things about this trip is the creatures you see.  Everyday, many times a day, we see dolphins playing in the water.  

When we are near the ocean, pelicans, primarily brown but sometime white, are usually fishing around the waterway.  They are fun to watch.  Usually pelicans fly close to the water, but when they fish they rise up to 30' to 50' above the water, tuck their wings in and plunge, head first, straight into the water.  If they are successful in catching a fish, they bob back up to the surface, stick their beaks straight up and swallow.  If they didn't get their fish, they just bob back up and shake their heads.

Ospreys like to build their nests on posts.  This means that most waterway markers in osprey country have nests on top.  Sometimes the nests are so large they obscure the markers.  It is osprey family season right now, so we can often see one parent in the nest with the babies while the other is out catching food for the family. I realize this picture is small, but that is an osprey parent standing behind the green light and there is a chick in the nest.

Watching ospreys fish is interesting, too.  They fly 30' to 100' above the water.  How they see a fish from up there, I'll never know.  When they do see a fish, they tuck their wings and dive head first, but at the last minute they flip around and hit the water feet first.  Unlike the pelicans who catch the prey in their mouths, ospreys grab the fish with their talons then fly it back to the nest or a perch before they eat it.  Ospreys actually look a bit like bald eagles, who also live along the waterway.  The only way we can tell the difference sometimes is that the eagles have completely white heads while the osprey heads are brown and white.

Alligators are around but we rarely see them.  One morning, anchored in the marshes of Georgia, Jim saw two gators swimming across our anchorage.  Again, I know the picture is small, but trust me, that thing that looks like a log in the water is actually a 5' gator.

Herons, egrets and ibises are common waders in the marshes.  One morning we saw an entire flock of pink birds on the shore.  They all were all sitting on the ground with their heads under their wings, so we couldn't easily identify them.  We were in southern Georgia so they could have been flamingos or roseate spoonbills, but we'll never know because all we saw was the brilliant pink color.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Brunswick, Georgia

We survived two busy days in Brunswick that included eating in three of our favorite restaurants, re-provisioning for the next leg of the trip, indulging in two dinners of fresh, local shrimp, having the boat's waste system repaired and getting the running gear cleaned.

Brunswick is an interesting place.  In the nineteenth century it was an important port and, therefore, a prosperous place.  Many lovely Victorian homes were built in town, around city park blocks, the same model used to develop what is now downtown Savannah.  During World War II Liberty ships were built in the shipyards in Brunswick.  But the post-war period wasn't kind to Brunswick and its surrounding county, Glynn County.  The port mainly off-loads imported cars these days and the two mainland businesses are paper plants and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

The main source of income in Glynn County is tourism.  Glynn County has three developed barrier islands: Jekyll Island, St. Simon's Island and Sea Island.  Jekyll Island used to be a part of the Georgia State park system.  It became too expensive to maintain and the state formed the Jekyll Island Authority to oversee ways it could become self-sustaining.  Among other things, this means many of the houses on the island are built on leased, not owned, land, which does weird things to housing prices.

Until the 1960s there were no bridges to the islands.  Locals tell me that the islands were mostly inhabited by African-Americans who came over in boats to work on the mainland each day.  After the bridges were built, the African-Americans moved to the mainland, selling their island properties to white folks who then turned the islands into resort destinations.  Rich people moved to the islands, poor folks moved to the mainland.

The third island, Sea Island, is where George W. Bush held a G8 conference in 2004.  It was developed as a private retreat for a rich automobile manufacturer in the 1920s and is still privately controlled today by the Sea Island Company.  The only public accommodations on Sea Island are at The Cloisters hotel complex, a very expensive waterfront hotel and spa.

Without these three islands and their tourism dollars, Brunswick and Glynn County would be a very depressed place.  But it is very boater friendly with three good marinas and easy access to most of the services boaters need.  So we had a good stop and got a lot done.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Titusville and shrimp

We went to Titusville because we had never been there.  Many boaters speak highly of it so we thought we'd go see what was there.  The short answer is -- not much.  Of course, we could only see what we could get to on foot.  That included four blocks of downtown store fronts, about 1/3 of which were empty.  

We did find an historical monument that told us Titusville was founded by James Titus in the late nineteenth century.  He built a bank that went out of business in 1928 due to excessive defaults on questionable loans the bank made during the real estate run of the 1920s. Everything old is new again.

What we did discover in Titusville was rock shrimp.  Rock shrimp actually look like little lobster tails.  Until the 1970s, when a Titusville man invented a way to crack open the shrimp, no one ate rock shrimp because you couldn't get to meat without crushing the tails.  And that left the meat with pieces of shell in it.  We also found Royal Red shrimp in Titusville, another type of shrimp we had never had.  The Royal Reds were very small (it was the end of the season) but tasty.  Jim liked the rock shrimp better than I did.  Seemed like a lot of work for not much return.

We've spent several summers in Georgia since we bought the boat (our insurance company 
 that we not be in Florida during hurricane season).  Georgia is a big shrimping state and Brunswick, where we have been staying, has a sizable shrimping fleet.  We got very spoiled, eating shrimp directly off the boat.  Georgia fishes both white and brown shrimp, both of which we like.  When we got the the Keys, the local shrimp there is Key West Pink.  We tried it but weren't impressed, watery and rubbery.  In talking with a local fish store owner in Marathon we discovered that the Key West Pinks are fished so far off shore that they are frozen when they are caught.  So if you buy them in a fish market, they have been frozen and defrosted.  

So now we're shrimp bigots -- has to be locally caught, unfrozen.  We're looking forward to be back in Brunswick to indulge in more shrimp.  Then we plan to continue taste testing as far north as local shrimping is done.  We'll let you know what we find.

As they say in Georgia "Friends don't let friends eat imported shrimp."

Sunday, June 7, 2009

On the road again

We finally got away from Velcro Beach last Tuesday.  I got back from California Sunday night, we provisioned for the next leg of the trip on Monday, and left on Tuesday.  We had two good days, first to Eau Gallie, then to Titusville.  Then the weather started to get funky again.  (Who knew this trip was going to be all about the weather?!)

On Thursday we went from Titusville to Daytona.  It was overcast and drippy most of the day, but a half an hour before we reached the Halifax River Yacht  Club we  enjoyed the strongest rain storm we have ever been in on the boat.  It was raining so hard we couldn't see either shore of the river.  We slowed down because we didn't want to try to dock in that kind of rain. Fortunately, we got a short break when we reached the club and were able to get docked without getting drenched.  Friday the forecast was for more of the same, so we sat an extra day in Daytona.

Saturday we went from Daytona to St. Augustine.  We had actually been planning to go further, but the afternoon rainstorm came just as we were passing through St. Augustine.  With the skies all black to the west, we decided that anchoring made more sense than trying to make our original destination. Jim got the anchor down just before the rain started.

Today (Sunday) we went 66 miles from St. Augustine to Cumberland Island, Georgia. Cumberland Island is a national park, only accessible by water.  If you don't have your own boat, you take a ferry over from St. Marys, Georgia.  There are a few private houses on the island, grandfathered in when the Dept. of the Interior took over.  There is also one VERY expensive hotel.  This is where John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Caroline Bissette were married.

The island has hiking trails, wild horses, and some of the prettiest beaches in Georgia, with miles of empty, soft, white sand.  Sometimes at sundown, when we are anchored here, we see the wild horses come down to the shore.  There are also has campgrounds for tent campers who backpack in with everything they need to spend the night.  The campgrounds include hanging food storage boxes to keep the local wildlife from enjoying imported human food.  Lots of wildlife lives here, including armadillos who are not native to the island.  The park rangers actually think that the armadillos swam over from the mainland, well over a mile from here.

Tomorrow we're headed to Brunswick, Georgia, looking forward to Georgia shrimp for dinner. More on shrimp later.

Isn't wireless telecommunication wonderful?  I'm posting this from a boat at anchor at an island of the coast.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

So Many Books So Little Time

One of the things you have lots of time for when cruising is reading. Here is an annotatde list of some of Jims favorite series authors:

Randy Wayne White

Doc Ford is a marine biologist who used to be some sort of operative in a super secret government organization. Now he lives at a marina in SW Florida where he runs a biological supply company, but keeps getting dragged back into his old government doings. Read Sanibel Flats first.

James Grippando

Grippando writes outdoors at his south Florida home, and most of his novels are set in Florida, chiefly in Miami. He writes novels of suspense in the genre of crime fiction, including psychological thrillers and legal thrillers, many of which draw upon his experiences as a trial lawyer. (From Wikipedia)

Stephen Hunter

The main character is Bob Lee Swagger who was a Marine sniper in Vietnam. He keeps getting involved in situations that call upon his old sniper skills. Lots of details about long distance shooting. Read Point of Impact first. This book was made into the 2007 movie Shooter staring Mark Wahlberg.

Tom Corcoran

Alex Rutledge is a freelance photographer living in Key West who is always getting involved with cases of the Key West police and Monroe County sheriff.

P T Deutermann

Many feature Cam Richter who is a deputy sheriff and the cases are set in North Carolina. Read Cat Dancers first. Also try Darkside which is not a Cam Richer.

Robert Crais

Crais's usual protagonist and first-person narrator is private detective Elvis Cole, a wisecracking ex-Ranger tough guy with a heart of gold and all the charm of his namesake, Elvis Presley. Almost as well known is Cole's partner Joe Pike, an intimidating ex-Marine who never smiles. The author tackles a variety of subjects in his novels. The most frequently recurring theme in Crais's books is the value of honesty; in his works, the long-term value of coming clean always outweighs the short-term benefits of covering up the problem. Crais also delves into issues of family and loyalty. (From Wikipedia)

Harlan Coben

Myron Bolitar is a sports agent and former professional basketball player who gets involved investigating murders that sometimes involve his clients and sometimes not. His best friend is Win Lockwood who defines “walk softly and carry a big stick”. Mostly set in northern New Jersey and New York. Read in order.

Lee Child

Jack Reacher is a retired army military policeman. His only possession is a folding toothbrush. He travels the country and is always helping the underdog. Read in order starting with Killing Floor.

Les Roberts

Milan Jacovich is a Cleveland PI and most of the cases take place in Cleveland. The address Roberts uses for his character’s apartment is about three blocks from our condo. Read in order starting with Pepper Pike.

Steve Hamilton

Alex McNight is a disability retired Detroit policeman who moves up to the Upper Peninsula to manage a set of vacation cabins he inherited. Trouble finds him there. Great descriptions of weather in the UP.

Alan Furst

Often compared to the works of such writers as Graham Greene and Eric Ambler, Furst's novels — which he calls "historical espionage" — have a literary quality that sets them apart from most thrillers. In addition to Greene and Ambler, Furst cites Joseph Roth, Joseph Conrad, and John le CarrĂ© as important influences. Furst has been particularly successful in evoking the cities and characters of Eastern Europe during the period from 1933 to 1944. While all his historical espionage novels are loosely connected (protagonists in one book might appear as minor characters in another), only The World at Night and Red Gold are linked together as prequel and sequel. (From Wikipedia)

Olen Steinhauer

Police procedurals set in a fictitious eastern European country. They start right after WW 2 and continue to the present.

Henning Mankell

Swedish author who’s main character is Kurt Wallander and the stories are police procedurals set in Sweden.

James Lee Burke

Author of the Dave Robicheaux police procedurals set in Louisiana. He has also started two other series, one set in Texas and the other in Montana. All contain great character development and incredible descriptions of the environment.

S M Stirling

Many sci fi books, but I like his alternative history series about the Change. Start with Islands in the Sea of Time and Dies the Fire.

Reed Arvin

Legal thrillers featuring flawed lawyers. The books remind me of John Grisham. Arvin is actually a record producer and keyboardist.

Nevada Barr

All Barr's novels are about the adventures of US Park Service Ranger Anna Pigeon. Barr herself was a ranger and all the novels are set in US Parks. We have already visited one (Cumberland Island National Seashore) and expect to visit more on the trip.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Still trapped -- but having fun

We're still trapped in Vero Beach. But we've solved the problem of Diane going to California and getting the boat out of Florida by June 1. Diane still goes to California Tuesday and Jim got an extension of a week on the Florida boat insurance. It won't cover us if we're hit by a named storm, but a named storm in Florida the first week of June would be a very unusual event, so we'll take our chances.

After considering all of the options, we decided to stay put in Vero Beach until I get back from California. Boaters call this place "Velcro Beach" because it is so easy to get stuck here. It is almost too convenient to get provisions, meet other boaters, find ways to amuse yourself. Although we will rent a car on Tuesday, because the Jacksonville airport is 223 miles from here, you could easily stay here for ten days, as Jim will do, without needing personal transportation.

While we were organizing the plan to stay put, we noticed a boat next door at the Vero Municipal Marina named Cahoots, with a home port of Oriental, North Carolina. The last time we went sailing (20 years ago) we met a couple from Oriental with a boat named Cahoots, Pat and Almira Dallas. Thinking "No, it couldn't possibly be them", we went over and found out that, indeed, it really was the same couple with a new boat. So we have enjoyed catching up with them and seeing their new boat. We're both going the in same direction, although they probably will leave while I'm in California (assuming the weather eventually gets better) so we won't be traveling together. But they have invited us to stop by and stay at their dock when we go through Oriental. Meeting them again is a great reminder of how small and close knit the boating community really is.
BTW, if you are interested, our first boating trip can be found at Mid Life Cruising Sabbatical.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Here we are -- trapped in Vero Beach, Florida, by the weather, a huge rainstorm that may last until Friday.  Actually, being trapped by weather is a fairly common occurrence for boaters, especially boaters with a schedule.  I'm due to fly out of Jacksonville next Tuesday for a week of work in California.  Our boat insurance requires us to be out of Florida by noon on June 1.  We can't accomplish both if the weather doesn't change.  Florida has been waiting for months for the rainy season; unfortunately, it came four days too early for us.  Oh well, we'll figure it out. That is part of the fun of boating, unpredictability.

Until now we've had a reasonably uneventful trip up the Intercoastal Waterway.  The Intracoastal Waterway is a 3,000-mile waterway along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States.  The waterway runs for most of the length of the Eastern Seaboard, from New Jersey to Brownsville, Texas.

The creation of the Intracoastal Waterway was authorized by the United States Congress in 1919.  It is maintained by the United States Army Corps of Engineers.  The waterway consists of two non-contiguous segments: the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, extending from Brownsville, Texas to Carrabelle, Florida, and the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, extending from Key West, Florida to Norfolk, Virginia.  Additional canals and bays extend the waterway to Boston, Massachusetts.  The Intercoastal is exactly what it sounds like, a waterway created by linking naturally occurring bays and rivers with dredged canals inside the coastline.  It is used both by recreational boaters and commercial, mostly barge, traffic.  During World War II it provided the U.S. with a secure shipping lane that wasn't accessible to the Germans.  From the recreational boater's perspective, it is a calmer travel environment than the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

We are in the Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway.  We've actually been through this part of Florida nine times over the last five years as we have moved the boat between Georgia and Florida each year (Georgia for hurricane season, Florida for the winter).  So we're not spending too much time in any one place.  

We did stop in Miami to shop for fresh food at a favorite grocery store (Fresh Market), to see the new Star Trek movie (liked it), and to notice that the view of Miami from the water has changed a lot since this last time we were through this way. Last time we took the boat through Miami we counted 17 construction cranes in the skyline. In this shot of downtown Miami from the water, there is only one.  One more proof that economy continues to suffer.  Rumor has it that Miami has a five year backlog of condos for sale. Constructing more isn't much of a priority.

Our next stop was one night at the Fort Lauderdale Yacht Club.  One of the reasons we joined the Marathon Yacht Club was it reciprocity with other Florida yacht clubs.  As Marathon members, we can get a free night of dockage at any of the other clubs.  So as we move up the coast, we stay for free about half the time.

We anchored in Lake Worth (North Palm Beach) the next night, then came to Vero Beach. Vero Beach is a favorite stop for boaters because there is a nice city marina and free bus service from the marina to the grocery store, Home Depot, Walmart, and West Marine (for boat parts).  We were only planning to be here two days, but now it looks like it will be at least four.


Monday, May 18, 2009

The Adventure Begins

We finally pulled away from the dock at 9:00 AM on Monday, May 11, 2009.  After five years of planning and working, we're off on the Great Loop, a trip up the east coast, across the Great Lakes, down the Mississippi and other rivers, back to the Gulf of Mexico.  This is the reason we bought the boat five years ago and it is wonderful to finally be underway.  This summer's objective is to get to the Chesapeake Bay.

Down  Time is a 36 foot Endeavour TrawlerCat. She only draws 36 inches and can get under bridges with at least 14 feet of clearance.  Both of those features are particularly important in Florida where the water can be quite skinny and the bridges numerous.

The day of our departure was a glorious Keys day: shining sun, a few fluffy clouds, no wind --  the water was flat and so clear you could see the bottom.  If you have never seen the water in the Keys, understand that this is where the term aqua was born.  You can't imagine the beautiful colors of the water.  We enjoyed every minute of it because we knew we wouldn't be seeing it again for a long time.

The last week before we left was a whirl of projects that needed to be completed.  We added a rear deck cover that has nearly doubled our usable deck space.  We call the new space our back porch.  Two adirondack chairs give us comfortable seating, perfect for morning coffee or cocktail hour.  The rest of the projects were boat maintenance, cleaning, replacing worn stuff. 

We finished the week with a visit from our good friends, Rob and Carol Harris and their dog Franklin.  They joined us in our last meal at our favorite Marathon restaurant (the Chiki Tiki -- best fish sandwich and french fries in the Keys).  Then they took our car home.  They will store it for us until we are ready to move it to our summer docks.

Our first day ended in Thursday Cove, an anchorage about 70 miles from Marathon.  One of the unique features of Thursday Cove is that you can't see anything but water and mangroves.  Off in the distance there is a bridge over the waterway, but other than that, there is no man-made object in view.  No houses, no high rises, just natural Florida.  It is not that common a view, but it was a great way to start our goodbyes to Florida.