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.