Monday, September 27, 2010

Last post of the season

Down Time's winter home
We have arrived at Ess-Kay Marina in Brewerton, NY.  This is where Down Time will be spending the winter.  You may remember that last winter we put the boat in a "boat garage" where she stayed in the water but was inside a building, protected on three sides with a roof.  This year she will be hauled completely out of the water and put inside a shed.

Lift slip

Getting her into the shed involves driving her into a special slip and then having her lifted from the water using a marine lift.  The lift is positioned on both sides of the slip and it lowers large straps into the water across the slip.  You then drive the boat into the slip, positioning the boat above the straps.  The lift operator then tightens up the straps and as they tighten up they lift the boat out of the water.  With the boat held by the straps, the lift operator then drives the lift away from the slip to wherever the boat is going.  A lift is like a special purpose truck, it has an engine and can be steered by turning any of the four wheels.  Maybe you can get a better sense of it from this picture of a boat in the lift.
Boat in the lift

Next spring we reverse the process and put her back in the water.  Our crusing plans for next year are to cruise Canada.  We'll leave here in late May or early June (the Erie Canal doesn't open until the middle of May).  We'll head up the Oswego Canal to Lake Ontario, travel east across NY, then visit the Thousand Island area of the St. Lawrence River.  From there, around the end of June, we'll travel west to Kingston, Ontario, Canada and enter the Rideau Canal.  We'll wander up the canal to Ottawa, drop back into the St. Lawrence River to visit Quebec, then come down the Richlieu Canal to Lake Champlain.  From there we'll come back into the Erie Canal and back to Ess-Kay to sotre the boat again for the winter of 2011/12.  If any of that sounds like something you'd like to do with us, get in touch.  Company is alway welcome.

Tomorrow we're hading back to Cleveland, so this is it fot this year.  Everyone have a wonderful holiday season and a safe winter.  We'll be positng again in June.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Erie Canal

We've been busy since my last post. From Kingston we went up to Catskill, NY for two nights, then on to the Albany Yacht Club for the weekend. We had to stop in Albany because Waterford, NY, the gateway to the Erie Canal, was closed for the weekend. They were hosting an antique tug festival. We actually saw the best part of the festival from our dock in Albany. The tugs met up Friday afternoon in the Albany harbor and then paraded up the Hudson to Waterford, right past our marina.

We hit the farmer's market in Troy, NY during our Albany weekend. I never realized how much farming is done in the Hudson Valley. The farmer's market was wonderful, we were able to load up on heirloom tomatoes and I treated myself to some of the first apples of the season, along with fabulous raspberries and blackberries. Too bad we can't store much fresh stuff aboard.
After the tug festival ended we moved to Waterford. Waterford is the eastern entrance to the Erie Canal. The first five locks in the canal follow one after the other, you have to do them all in a single day, you are not allowed to stop between them. It actually only takes about two hours to do them all, the lock tenders have this process down. This set of locks, called the Waterford Flight, lift your boat 150 feet. To get some perspective on that, the Panama Canal only lifts boats a total of 85 feet. The picture is of another boat coming out of lock 2. This boat is bigger than Down Time so you can judge the size of the lock. Lock 2 raises your boat about 35 feet. In the 17 locks we have been through so far, the lift has varied from 8 to 40 feet. In total, we are now 363 feet above the Hudson River. At our highest point we will be 420 feet above the Hudson.

To "lock through" you pull up to the outside of a lock and call the lock tender. If the lock is open in your direction, he gives you permission to enter. If not, he tells you about how long you will have to wait for the lock to open. If the lock is not open it is usually because there is a boat coming the other way. Once you enter the lock you look for cables, pipes or ropes down the side of the lock. With the cables and pipes, you wrap a line around the cable/pipe and tie it to your boat. With the ropes you pick one up and tie it to the boat. I do this part while Jim steers the boat close enough to me to lean over and do it, but not so close that the boat hits the concrete side of the lock. Then Jim puts the boat in neutral and goes to the back of the boat to grab one of the lines hanging down. Once the boat is secure, the lock tender closes the gates and begins to fill (or empty) the lock. We hold on to the lines to keep the boat from moving around in the turbulence caused by the incoming (or outgoing) water. Once the lock is filled or emptied completely, then the lock tender opens the other end and you motor out.

Most of the locks have places on either side where you can tie up and spend the night for free. Many of the little towns along the canal have free or low cost docks you can stay at over night. Most nights we hang out by a lock. Last night we stayed in the town marina in Little Falls and had dinner at a restaurant recommended by our friends Don and Ruth.

In addition to the locks, there are also gates on the canal. The gates are big guillotine structures used to regulate the flow of flood waters in the spring and to drain the canal in the winter. I'll bet you didn't know that the Erie Canal is drained every year, even the part that is actually the Mohawk River.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Great grocery store technology

Maybe you all will say "We've been doing that for years, why is she so excited?" but I have to gush about a new grocery store technology we have found here in the northeast.

In Stop and Shop stores up here, when you enter the store you can pick up a hand-held scanner to carry with you as you shop. They even have specially designed holders in the shopping cart to carry the scanners. Whenever you put an item in your cart you scan it first using the scanner. At the end of your shopping, you simply scan an End of Order tab at the cash register and pay. That is it -- you are done.

This means you can bag your groceries in the shopping cart as you go. You only have to touch them once, not three times (shelf to cart, cart to checkout scanner, then bagging). It saves an amazing amount of time, keeps a running total of how much you've spent, and even displays specials in the store on items you've purchased before, or items that go with other things you've already purchased. They also have an automated deli order machine near the scanners, so you can place your deli order online when you enter the store; they call your number after the order has been assembled and is ready for pick-up.

I want this in every grocery store I use!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Hurricane Earl and the middle Hudson River

We continue our trip up the Hudson River. This is a beautiful River Valley with high cliffs and trees lining both sides. You can see river side houses occasionally, but many of them are obscured by trees.

We've done quite a bit of site-seeing. We visited West Point and Washington Irving's house while we were in Croton-on-Hudson. Washington Irving was the first American to be able to live of the earnings of his writing. He built a charming house on the banks of the Hudson in 1835 and in 1850 a railroad track was built between his house and the water. A train runs by there at least 4 times an hour now, from 5:00 AM to 1:00 AM. I don't know how often they ran in the 19th century, but I'm betting nearly as frequently. How mad would you be!?!

West Point was interesting, but not as informative as our trip to Annapolis. The campus is much bigger and the tour shows you much less. We discovered that you really get the best view of West Point from the water. From there you can see the old fort as well as the newer buildings. On the tour you really never get much of a sense of the military installation, it mostly seems like a college with a strict dress code.

From Croton-on-Hudson we moved north and stopped in Hyde Park, in a marina that was within walking distance of the Culinary Institute of America. Taking advantage of the location, we ate all three meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) at the CIA. As you would expect, the meals were fantastic. We also took a tour of the campus and the classrooms. Imagine 4,440 students paying $35,000+ a year to learn to cook. The associates program is two years long and the bachelor program is four years. Granted that when you leave there you do know how to cook (they teach how to make chocolate starting with roasting cocoa beans), but food service doesn't pay very well. For every Thomas Keller the CIA creates there must be several hundred graduates working for Hilton hotels. Our guide told us that 90% of the students get financial aid; I hope it is scholarships and not loans.
We also visited another set of gilded age houses, more Roosevelts and Vanderbilts. In this case, it was FDR and Frederick Vanderbilt. [The top picture is FDR's place, the bottom is the Vanderbilt house.]

Turns out that Frederick was the only Vanderbilt who grew rather than spent his inheritance from old Cornelius. His home wasn't as ostentatious as the family places in Newport, RI, but it gaudy enough. It is unfortunate that they won't let you take pictures inside these places, the size of the rooms and the furnishings are quite something.

With both Hurrican Earl and the weekend approaching, we ducked into Kingston, NY for the weekend. Kingston was settled by the Dutch in the 1650s. The first plan for the town was laid out by Peter Stuyvesant. the British burned it in 1777, but it was rebuilt after the Revolutionary War and became the first capitol of New York. Nowdays, it has a mostly abandoned downtown because Wal-mart and the nearby mall have driven all of the local businesses out of business in the last 20 years. Across the river is Rhinebeck, lately of Chelsea Clinton wedding fame.

In Kingston we are only 15 miles from Woodstock, so we made the pilgramage up to see it. As I'm sure you all know, the Woodstock music festival didn't take place in Woodstock. It was on a farm about 43 miles from the town. But that hasn't kept the town from cashing in on the association. Jim described Woodstock as a "Groundhog Day" town, where every year they wake up and it is 1969 again. Every store reeks of patchouli and sells tie-dyed T-shirts. The locals dress like escapees from Haight-Ashbury in the '60s. It is all too deja vu for me. Maybe if you weren't around for the original experience it is kitschy; for me it is just creepy and weird.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Heading north

Good-bye Long Island Sound, hello Hudson River.

Our last week in Long Island Sound was a taste of Fall. We left the Thimble Islands on a Sunday in the rain and the sun didn't shine again until Friday. The winds were so high and the seas so choppy we decided to sit it out in Milford, CT for two days. We weren't the only boaters unexpectedly enjoying the hospitality at the Milford Landing Marina. One boat tried to leave and came back, another ducked in after trying to head west from an anchorage just east of Milford.

When the winds dropped and the seas calmed, we left and went to the Larchmont Yacht Club. Everyone had said it was nice but a bit stuffy. We enjoyed it and didn't find it at all stuffy. Of course, it is summer, so they don't require jackets for men at dinner, as they apparently do in the winter. This was the first full service yacht club (lunch and dinner every day of the week) we've been in in a long time. Most of the clubs in Long Island Sound are small and very casual, many have no food service at all, just bars.

The sun finally came out when we left Larchmont. We went back down the East River and rounded the Battery in New York City, then went to a marina in Jersey City, NJ, right across the Hudson from southern tip of Manhattan. We had a great city view from the boat.

This morning we went up the Hudson, past the western shore of NYC, just us and all the ferry boats. Jim was amazed out how many ferries run between NY and NJ. Once we got under the George Washington Bridge, the boat traffic dropped considerably and we had a nice ride up the Hudson pushed along by the incoming tide.

We stopped in Westchester County, in a town called Croton-on-the-Hudson. We're here because we were recruited by the dock master. Jim posted a question on a boating listserv asking for recommendations on where to stay. Steve, the dock master here, called him to offer him a deal if we came here. There is an Enterprise rent-a-car agency less than 1/2 mile from the marina, so we will hole up here over the weekend, rent a car and see the local sites. The area is beautiful, the weather is perfect, and the local pizza parlor is well-reviewed on Yelp. What more could we ask for?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Old Saybrook and beyond

We had a nice ride from Watch Hill, RI to Old Saybrook, CT. On the way we were contacted on the VFH radio by a boater sailing next to us who wanted to know if we were the people who wrote the Mid-Life Cruising Sabbatical web site ( When we said yes, the guy said he had read every word and loved it. He invited us to be his guests at his yacht club. Unfortunately, his yacht club is on the south side of Long Island and we've done that already. I guess he saw a Down Time from Cleveland and figured there just couldn't be that many, so he took a chance and called us. We know the web site gets read because we get emails every now and then from folks, but this is the first time we've been contacted by a reader.

Old Saybrook was a charming little town of approximately 10,000 people. Everything was on one of two main streets, easily walkable. The old houses ranged from 1670s through the 1920s. On my morning walk I passed a church that was founded in 1646 and now worships in a building built in 1820.

Since we were in Old Saybrook for the weekend we decided to rent a car and do a little road touring. Jim wanted to see the Submarine museum in Groton, CT. We also drove through the Coast Guard Academy, not quite as nice a campus as the Naval Academy. But the Coast Guard has one thing the Navy doesn't -- a tall ship. The Coast Guard has a training vessel, the barque Eagle, which was seized from the Germans as a war reparation in 1946. We heard her on the radio as we were going from Watch Hill to Old Saybrook. She returned that morning from a 3 1/2 month cruise through the Caribbean and north coast of South America. We asked at the Academy if she was open for tours, they said yes and directed us to where she was docked.

Only the permanent crew was aboard (about 50 people), the cadets (about 150 at any one time) all left the day before when she docked. We were the only folks touring. We had been told we could go anywhere topside, but we couldn't go below. We started talking with a crew member and he took us below to the officers' ward room and the Admiral's quarters. He showed us the pictures of the German crew bringing the boat to the U.S. in 1946 (there were no Americans who knew how to sail her), the place where Alex Haley wrote some of Roots during the summer he spent cruising with them after he retired from the Coast Guard, and the bed where Hitler slept when she was commissioned in the 1930s. Since we weren't even supposed to be below I didn't think it would be cool to whip out my camera, but she is a beautiful ship, and much more commodious than a submarine.
From Old Saybrook we went up the Connecticut River about five miles to Essex, CT. Essex is a town designed for tourists, all the shopping is tourist stuff. Its claim to fame is the Griswold Inn which has been providing food and shelter to travelers continuously since 1776.

This part of the trip is very short days, the distances between things we want to see are 10-15 miles. Anchored off the coast of Connecticut one night then went into Clinton, CT for a stay at a dock. We need a dock stay very couple of weeks to wash the boat. This marina had a shuttle that would take you anywhere in Clinton that you wanted to go. We went to Lenny and Joe's Fish Tale for lunch and had the best seafood meal we've had on Long Island Sound. It is blue fish season and blue fish is my all time favorite fish. I had a perfectly sauteed slab of blue fish and Jim had his favorite, clam strips. Heaven. I can't imagine why any of you would be in Clinton, CT looking for a meal, but if you are Lenny and Joe's is it. Short on ambiance, long on good food.

Another short day (2 hours) brought us to the Thimble Islands, rocky outcroppings off the Connecticut shore. The islands have houses on them and a water taxi that brings people out from Stoney Creek, CT to them. But the houses have no electricity or running water. Now you'd think under those conditions these would be pretty basic houses, but no. As you can see from the pictures, these are substantial homes. Some have solar panels. The tour boats that drive by (every 90 minutes all day long) say that most houses have generators that they don't use often because they are noisy and the gas has to be carried in by hand. Fresh water is either trapped from rain run-off or carried in. All in all it doesn't sound like an ideal vacation, but you certainly are away from it all, if you don't count the dozens of boats, jet-skis, tour boats, etc. in the anchorages surrounding your island.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Martha's Vineyard

We've just spent a week in Martha's Vineyard, our easternmost destination for this summer. Now we turn back, heading for New York to go up the Hudson River.

Martha's Vineyard was fun. We took a tour of the island, a land of famous driveways. Many well-known folks have places there, but they are all on big multi-acre estates tucked back behind the trees, so the tour bus driver points out "that is Ted Danson's driveway" or "over those trees is where Jackie O lived." But the views make the trip worth it. There are still members of the Wampanog tribe living on the far western end of the island, which is the high point. This picture was taken there.

The day after we took the tour, we used the island's bus system to go back to two of the towns, Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. Oak Bluffs claims to be where vacations were invented. The first houses were built there in the 1850s and 1860s. Methodists started holding a religious camp meeting there in the 1870s. Folks wanted to come early or stay longer to enjoy the beach, so some enterprising entrepreneurs built a beach front hotel and more houses. Voila! A vacation destination for the newly developing middle class. Also a vacation destination for wealthy African-Americans, many of whom are now the fourth generation to own their family's "gingerbread" cottage. As you can see from the pictures, these places are quite pretty and very well preserved.

This big green Victorian is the answer to the question "what does Peter Norton do with all the money he makes from anit-virus software?" Apparently this place was in need of serious re-habbing when he bought it. He spent four years fixing it up, then the next year, it burned down. So he had it re-built.

Our final day in Vineyard Haven we took the ferry over to Woods Hole to visit the Oceanographic Institute. They have a life-size mock-up of the Allvyn deep-water research submarine. You'd have to be really excited by your science to tolerate 6-8 hours diving in that thing. It is smaller than the early space capsules. But the discoveries they've made and the films they have taken are breath-taking.
So now we are headed west. Last night we went to Cuttyhunk Island. Everyone we talked to said to be sure to visit Cuttyhunk. I must admit the attraction escaped me. It is a quiet little island (year-round population of 40) where golf carts are the preferred mode of transportation. The most interesting thing was the local raw bar. On the dock you order clams, oysters, or lobsters during the day, and the raw bar folks deliver your order to your boat around 5:30 PM, just in time to cook dinner. It doesn't get any fresher than that. They harvest the clams and oysters, to order, from their own shellfish farm.

Tonight we are anchored in Watch Hill, RI and tomorrow we are on to Old Saybrook, CT, lifelong home of Katherine Hepburn.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Mystic Seaport, Connecticut

Hello from Noank, CT at the mouth of the Mystic River. We've spent the last week in Connecticut, including visiting Mystic Seaport. I guess, technically, that isn't true since we spent one night in an anchorage off Fishers Island. Fishers Island in less than a mile off the Connecticut coast, near the Connecticut-Rhode Island border, but somehow it still belongs to New York. Go figure.

Our boating friends all told us to ignore the hideous cost and take a dock at the Mystic Seaport Museum. They said being there at night after the day trippers leave, or in the morning before they come, made the $4.50/foot/night docking fees (remember, Down Time is 36 feet long) worth it. I agree. We had a delightful time.

For those of you who don't know, Mystic Seaport is a living museum (like Williamsburg, VA) dedicated to preserving the nautical history of the U.S. They have many old wooden ships, pleasure craft as well as fishing boats and whalers. They have moved in a number of 19th century buildings and stocked them with appropriate furniture and other period pieces. The "town" includes a bank, grocery, and drug store. They also have a working blacksmith, a barrel-maker, a rope maker, and sail and rigging lofts. Many of the shops have craftsmen/women who actually demonstrate the skills that were needed in a boat building center in the 19th century. All in all, a very enjoyable and interesting place to spend a couple of days.

In addition to the museum, Mystic also operates a working marine preservation operation with 20 full time staff and 8 apprentices maintaining the boats. They are currently working on restoring the hull of a whaling ship that chased whales throughout most of the 19th and into the 20th century. When these boats were built, they were only expected to last about 20 years. This one, the Charles J. Morgan, made 37 trips over the course of 80 years, most of which were more that a year in length, a few of which lasted more than 3 years. I had no idea whalers were as big as they are. If you look at the picture you can see Jim next to the left end of the boat. That gives you some perspective on how big this thing is. The man we talked to aboard compared it to a floating three story building.

After we left the Seaport, we moved down the Mystic River to Noank. Shamus the dog and his people were motoring down the river in their little tug boat. I couldn't decide which was cuter, Shamus or the boat. We also saw a family of wild swans (top picture). I had no idea wild swans lived in New England. I hadn't seen any since we were in England on our honeymoon.

We're waiting for the wind to lay down a little and switch directions, then we're off to Newport, Rhode Island.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

North Shore of Long Island

I didn't realize it had been so long since I posted. We've been wandering around the north shore of Long Island for the last several weeks in the hottest New York July on record. Even being on the water doesn't mitigate the heat. I suppose it is better than being in the concrete jungle of Manhattan, but not by much. That said we're having a great time.

We went home to Cleveland for a couple of days because Jim had a post-op appointment with his cataract surgeon. After we got back to New York we kept the rental car and did a day of sightseeing on Long Island. We went to Sagamore Hill, Teddy Roosevelt's home and to see the home of William Vanderbilt. The two homes were built about 25 years apart and the contrast in architectural style was interesting. Roosevelt's home was generally quite dark with dark walls and small windows in all the rooms except for the parlor. Vanderbilt's home was much more open with lots of windows that took in the view of the bay and the Sound.

Teddy's place had lots of gifts he had been given while President, he was before the time when presidential gifts were considered to be given to the country not the person. But the construction of the house and the furnishings were all local products. Vanderbilt's home was much more like Hearst Castle in California, put together with walls, ceilings and furniture imported from Italy, France and Germany. My favorite relocated items in the Vanderbilt estate were the two cast iron eagles at the entrance. They were from a set of 12 that had been atop Grand Central Station when the trains came into the city on the surface street level. When the city required the Vanderbilts (the owners) to re-design the station to support underground trains, William took two of the eagle to his house.

After re-provisioning and doing the laundry, we headed east along the north shore of Long Island. Our first stop was Port Jefferson, a cutesy little town near the Stoney Brook campus of SUNY. One night there and then on to the eastern end of Long Island, the so-called fish tale. If you look at a map of Long Island you'll see that the eastern end has two points with a big bay between them. We rounded the northern point, called the North Fork by the locals, and went first to an anchorage in Shelter Island, an island in the middle of the bay.
Shelter Island is a well known summer/vacation home destination for many folks in the northeast. We arrived about 3:30 PM, put the anchor down in a large anchorage with about a dozen boats, and settled into for a quiet night on the hook. Three hours later all hell broke loose. A severe thunderstorm with 70 mile/hour winds and impenetrable rain hit the anchorage. Our anchor held, but the anchor of the sailboat in front of us didn't. All we could see was a sailboat coming right at us through the rain. Fortunately, they didn't snag our anchor when they crossed over it, nor did they hit our boat. But the wind was just tossing them everywhere. I was scared, they must have been terrified! It didn't last long, less that 15 minutes but it seemed like a lifetime.

The next day we went into the town of Greenport on the North Fork, a typical summer destination town in the wine country of Long Island. From there we went across to a different harbor on Shelter Island to spend two days at the Shelter Island Yacht Club. I was able to get off the boat and walk around. Given the reputation/prices on Shelter Island I was expecting nothing but mansions. While there were plenty of those, there were also a surprising number of simple summer cottage types of places. But you really need to be able to amuse yourself if you come here. The big Sunday entertainment is going to the pastry store to get coffee and the Sunday NY Times. Nothing much happening here.

Tomorrow we're off to Sag Harbor, another ritzy destination on the eastern end of Long Island. Then we'll head across the Sound to Connecticut, Newport, Rhode Island and Buzzard's Bay, Massachusetts. I'm beginning to realize there is more to see out here than we can hope to do in a single summer.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

New York Harbor to Long Island Sound

I've marked off one thing on my bucket list. I've always wanted to drive my boat past the Statue of Liberty and on Monday we did just that. We had beautiful weather (the last nice day before it became blazingly hot!) and calm seas in New York Harbor. There were two container ships, one tug pushing a barge and the Staten Island Ferry to dodge. Not bad for a harbor as busy as New York.

We also went past Ellis Island before turning up the East River.

Taking your boat up the East River is just plain cool! You go under the Brooklyn Bridge,

under the Manhattan Bridge,

past the Empire State Building,

past the United Nations

and under the Queensboro Bridge.

You have Manhattan to the west and Brooklyn to the East. We timed it right, running with the rising tide, so we made great time and had a wonderful trip.

We didn't actually see many other boats until we got to Long Island Sound. Then we remembered that it was a holiday. The winds were light but they were enough to move the sailboats which were out in force in the Sound. We tucked into the first major bay on the north shore of Long Island, Manhasset Bay, picked up a mooring and decided to wait until everyone else went back to work before we explored further. It worked. On Tuesday, when we headed east to Oyster Bay, there were only 2-3 other boats out there with us.

Oyster Bay is where Sagamore Hill, Teddy Roosevelt's summer White House, is located. It seems that Teddy was the first president to decamp with all of his aides to summer quarters. He kept his boat here and liked to sail in the summer. Under normal weather circumstances we probably would have walked over to see Sagamore Hill, but it is 2.5 miles away and this is the week that New York is experiencing 100+ temperatures. So we'll visit Sagamore Hill when we have a car weekend after next.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Independence Day

There is a reason why tourists do tourist things -- they are fun! For all the times Jim and I have been in New York, we had never done the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island tour. We did both this week and they were very interesting. I never knew that Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame) designed the interior structure that holds up the State of Liberty. Nor did I realize that it was the tallest structure in New York City when it was erected.

Ellis Island is the only island in the USA owned by two states -- New York and New Jersey. New York owns the part where the Reception Center is and New Jersey owns all of the island created over the years by landfill (the area where the hospital ruins are located, for example) because New Jersey owned the seabed where the landfill was placed. All of which was decided as recently as 1998 by a Supreme Court case. They should have settled the dispute the same way they determined the ownership of Staten Island, with a sailboat race.

Staten Island has been an interesting stop. It is very much a typical suburb with tree lined streets and kids riding their bikes up and down the street, but it has all of the local small shops you find tucked away in the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Two days ago I got a fantastic Italian sandwich at a gas station store.

Last night we went to the official Staten Island fireworks show, brought to you by the Borough President. From the park of the southeastern shore of the island, we could see four other fireworks shows going on at the same time across the Lower Bay in New Jersey.

The best entertainment of the evening, however, was not the fireworks but NYPD's finest trying to direct traffic when the fireworks were over. We had gotten to the event on a city bus, so we were waiting at the bus stop in front of the park as the hundreds and hundreds of people were leaving. Six cops were directing the traffic and not a one of them had any reflective gear on, no lighted batons, and no plan for what they were doing. Each cop seemed to be making his own decisions. We saw cops direct cars into lines of pedestrians who had been told to go, we saw cops try to direct lines of traffic into each other, we saw pedestrians decide to cross in front of an emergency vehicle coming down the main street and the cops do nothing. It was absolute chaos, truly a miracle no one was killed and no accidents happened.

Tonight, like the rest of America, we'll watch the New York fireworks on television. We have tried for three days to figure out if there is a place on Staten Island where you can go to see the fireworks without having to leave the island. The answer appears to be no. While I'd happily go to Manhattan and mingle with the crowds, the last launch from the yacht club dock back to our boat is at 11:45 PM and we couldn't be assured of making it home in time to get back to the boat.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

New York, NY

It is a week later and we're in New York, on Staten Island to be precise. We'll be here through the 4th of July holiday, then we'll move on to Long Island Sound.

When we left Chesapeake City the weather forecast for the Delaware Bay wasn't good -- wind speeds too high and in the wrong direction. But when we actually got to Delaware Bay we found very benign conditions and decided to head on down the Bay to Cape May, New Jersey. We had a wonderful trip with the tide behind us pushing us to 9+ knots of speed. We normally travel at 7 1/2 to 8 knots, but the extra speed was welcome because Chesapeake City to Cape May is a 70 mile day.

Cape May's claim to fame (in addition to its lovely beaches) is its collection of Victorian houses. About half of them seem to have been turned into hotels or B&Bs. The rest remain as private residences, many with georgeous gardens. I got to see them all because downtown Cape May is a 2 mile walk from the marinas and there is no public transportation.

After two days in Cape May, we headed out to the Atlantic to run up the east coast of New Jersey to Atlantic City. It was a short day, but half of it was spent driving through fog. The next day we ran from Atlantic City to Staten Island, a 10 1/2 hour day, the first 5 of which were in fog. Driving your boat through fog is a real act of faith. You set the boat's autopilot on the course (carefully plotted to not get too close to the shore or any in water obstacles) and turn on the radar, which you hope will let you see any other boats around you. It is really a two person process, one to watch the radar and one to continually scan the water to see anything that might not be caught by the radar. Fortunately, the only thing I saw while scanning the water was a pair of dolphins.

We did hear one poor sail boat captain radio to a power boat that was approaching him in the fog at a speed of 19 knots or about 21 miles per hour. The first time he called, he said he wanted the power boater to know that he was approaching a sailboat in the fog. The power boater thanked him for the heads up and kept right on coming. He called twice more, with no apparent affect on the power boater's behavior. the last time he called he said "you are 1/2 mile from me, TURN NOW!" Since we didn't hear any mayday calls, the power boater must have turned finally. Blowing along at 20 miles an hour when you don't have any brakes and can't see even 1/10 of a mile is not cool.

We've never been to Staten Island before. It is a bit unnerving. Everyone looks like they came from central casting, just exactly what non-New Yorkers think New Yorkers look like. I swear within 2 hours of getting off the boat, someone had already said "youse guys" to us and we had heard someone else say "fugedaboutit." I keep expecting to see Tony Soprano come down to his boat.

I didn't do the laundry in Cape May because the prices were so outrageous. I discovered on Staten Island that the Cape May prices were standard, $2.75 - $3.75 for a washer and $2.00 to dry. Boat slips are available at premium prices as well, $4.00 a foot at the Liberty marina in New Jersey. That is why we are in Staten Island, moorings are only $25 a night. To get to Manhattan you take the free Staten Island Railroad to the free Staten Island ferry, or the $2.55 express bus that stops a block from the marina and takes you directly to Mid-town. I'm gathering from people we talk with that the prices will be like this for the rest of this year's trip.

Tomorrow we're visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Bye for now.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Oh say can you see...

We had a wonderful couple of days in Baltimore. On our way up the Patapsco River we passed a red, white and blue buoy the National Park Service puts in the water to mark the spot where they think Francis Scott Key was when he saw "by the dawn's early light...that our flag was still there." The next day we went to Fort McHenry where the Star Spangled Banner flag was flying during the War of 1812. They have a 13 star replica of the flag that they fly today if the weather conditions are right. The flag is so big that it needs at least 5 knots of wind to move, but more that 12 knots of wind puts too much strain on the flag pole so they have to replace it with a smaller flag. We got lucky, the conditions were right and they were flying the replica flag.

We also went to the National Aquarium, which I recommend but not on a hot Saturday afternoon in the summer. It was crowded. They allegedly control the crowds by selling timed entrance tickets, but the Aquarium's thoughts on how many people are appropriate and my thoughts on the same subject vary widely.

On Sunday friends of ours from Marathon, Andy and Dinata Misovec, stopped by for lunch. They were in Baltimore for a wedding, then they are heading off to by campground monitors in the Smokey Mountain National Park for the summer. Much better than sittingg in Marathon wondering which will get you first -- the oil or a hurricane.

Monday we headed off up a nice flat, calm Chesapeake Bay headed for Chesapeake City on the C&D Canal. The C&D Canal is a 12 mile man-made canal that connects the Delaware and Chesapeake Bays and cuts nearly 300 miles off of the sea route from Philadelphia to Balitmore. It was first proposed in 1661, was started in 1788 and finished in 1829. Today it is used by commercial shipping, military vessels and pleasure craft. The picture is of the ship coming out of the Canal cas we were trying to enter it.

Chesapeake City is a little town on the Chesapeake end of the canal that encourages pleasure craft stopping by offering free dockage at a city dock. Fortunately, for a fee, you can also use the City's power, since it was 90+ degrees and 90%+ humidity. In Chesapeake City we met up with Lee O'Brien, a former client, for drinks and dinner.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I can't get away from the Potomac!

I said I was never going up the Potomac again, but then our boat detailer flaked out on us. Instead of coming back from Cleveland to a clean, waxed boat, she was in the same shape (cleaning-wise) as she was when we left. So Jim talked me into taking the boat back to Theresa at Olverson's Marina, a great boat detailer in a bad location, six miles up the Potomac. But this time, just to mess with my head I'm sure, the Potomac was a well behaved pleasure to boat on, both going in and coming out three days later.

We're headed for Baltimore more now, but we're taking our time getting there. We plan to spend the weekend at a marina in Baltimore Harbor. We learned last year that Marylanders are avid weekend boaters, so our best defense against thundering hordes and lots of boat wake is to hole up somewhere on weekends and let the locals have the water.

The trip from the Potomac to Baltimore has been leisurely and pleasant, except for the 90+ degree weather and equally high humidity. We've had comfortable rides between empty or nearly empty anchorages. No drama this week, it has been wonderful. Just lots of nesting ospreys on the tops of the waterway markers. It is the ospreys that remind me that this is our second summer of the trip. I remember trying to get a decent picture of baby ospreys for last year's postings.

We did see a stingray in Crab Alley Creek this afternoon. It caught us both by surprise. We haven't seen a stingray since Florida. We didn't even know they came into the Chesapeake. Maybe this one heard the waters off Florida are getting oily and he is scouting for a place to spend the summer.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Back into the Chesapeake and beyond

It took us four days to get down the Potomac and the Potomac kicked our fannies two of those four days. It would have kicked us three days, but we were going with the high seas and winds on our final morning, so we just surfed down waves instead of beating into them. From now on, the only way I go up the Potomac is in a plane!

The boat is now out of the water in Zannheiser's Boat Yard in Solomons Island, Maryland. Jim's 45th high school reunion was held in Starkville, MS over Memorial Day weekend, so we took the opportunity to have the boat hauled and some maintenance done. Between leaving the Potomac and having the boat hauled, we had a week to gunk around the Patuxent River, anchoring in quiet spots with no other boats, taking the dinghy into dinner or lunch in out of the way waterfront restaurants. It occurred to me that we don't do much of that type of boating on this trip. Mostly we go to places we want to see, then spend our days doing the tourist thing. Just hanging out on the hook was fun.

After the reunion, we came back to Cleveland because Jim needs to have cataract surgery on one eye. Next week we're headed back to continue this year's travels. The schedule this year includes:
  • heading north through the Chesapeake to the C and D Canal,
  • going down Delaware Bay to Cape May, NJ
  • going up the coast of New Jersey to Sandy Hook ( in a one day or 1 overnight trip weather permitting),
  • crossing New York Harbor to Long Island Sound and spending a month or so gunk-holing around Long Island Sound (July/August), then
  • heading up the Hudson River (September) to the Erie Barge Canal where the boat will spend the winter.

If any of that sounds interesting to you, guests are always welcome. Give us a call.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Wrapping up DC

We finally left DC on Sunday, May 9. On my last walk that morning as I was passing the south lawn of the White House, Marine One, the President's helicopter, cruised right over me (close enough to feel the prop wash) and landed on the south lawn. About 1/2 hour later, two Marine helicopters flew over the boat. We've seen them pass in tandem like that before and had been told that they always travel in pairs when the President is on board. This is the first time I could personally attest to the fact that these Marine helicopters actually came from the White House.

Saturday the EU nations had open houses at their embassies in Washington. We had planned to walk around Embassy Row the previous week, before I got sick, so we figured we'd do it during the open houses. Big mistake! Neither of us is really a crowd sort of person and Massachusetts Avenue was a mad house, with huge lines at every embassy. We walked from Dupont Circle to the British Embassy, admired the architecture, then took a bus out of there.

One of the "who knew?" moments we had in DC was discovering that that State of Florida has an embassy in Washington. That is right -- an embassy. It is the only State embassy. It was founded in the 1970's by Rhea Chiles, wife of then Senator Lawton Chiles. The purpose is to provide Floridians visiting DC with a place to rest, drink some orange juice, soak up some air conditioning, get guidance on tourist things to do and, if you need to, access the Internet. It is a determinedly non-partisan place, staffed with charming Floridian hostesses. A real hoot! I dropped in one hot day for oj and a lunch recommendation, both of which were excellent. Mrs. Chiles hoped to start a trend of states opening embassies, but it never happened. The house, purchased with donated funds for $175,000 is now worth over $3.5 million. It isn't self-supporting, but does make a goodly portion of its income from renting space for private parties. The rest of the funds are donated by wealthy Floridians. It is at 2nd and C SW, behind the Supreme Court, if any of our Florida friends find themselves in DC.

Speaking of the Supreme Court, we were among the last visitors who entered the Supreme Court by walking up the marble stairs and through the front doors. For "security reasons" the Supreme Court has decided that visitors now have to enter through a smaller, easier to control side door. And Congress is considering a proposal to put bullet-proof glass between the galleries and the floor of the House and the Senate. It seems unnecessary with all of the security checks you have to go through before you can get into a gallery.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Love and hate in DC

I'm developing a love/hate relationship with DC. I'm loving all of the tourism things we are doing, but DC has been a health disaster for us, particularly me.

First the good news, the touring continues. Since last I posted we've gone to Mount Vernon where we learned, at his death, George Washington was the largest producer of white lightening in the nation. He owned and operated a 5 pot still, producing nearly 11,000 gallons of rye whiskey in 1799.

The still was found and excavated in the 1980s and rebuilt in '90s. They are now producing whiskey and planning to sell it as soon as they get the legal stuff done. The whiskey producers of America welcomed Mount Vernon into the business by holding a fundraiser, mixing two special bottles of whiskey and auctioning them off. The picture is of the bottle sold for a $100,000 bid. It was then donated back to Mount Vernon for display.

We took a tour of the Pentagon, which really is just a big office building. The most amazing part of the tour was the Air Force Honor Guard guy who walked backward, facing the attendees, for the full 45 minute tour. Jim facetiously asked if he had to take a walking backward test. The answer was yes.

There was a small white building in the middle of the Pentagon yard. After the Cold War ended, we discovered that the Russians had decided, based on the number of people who entered and left this building (per their satellite photos), that this was the entrance to a secret nuclear storage site. It was actually the hot dog stand.

We went to the Bureau of Printing and Engraving the day after they introduced the new $100. We saw them cutting and packaging the last run of the old style bills and printing the first run of the new bills. The multi-colored bills are actually printed in four separate runs: the color-security features, the black front, the green back, and then the serial numbers/signatures/seals run.

We were scheduled to walk along Embassy Row then have brunch with Ginnie this morning, but that didn't happen. Which brings me to the hate part of my relationship with our nation's capitol.

A couple of weeks ago, I caught a really bad cold which, of course, I shared with Jim. He was laid low for so long, we decided to extend our stay in DC by a week because we missed so much touring time during his cold. Just as he got better, I slipped on a step in the boat and banged my back. After the bruises cleared up the pain remained. I seem to have cracked a rib or torn/stretched the ligaments around a rib. It only hurts when I cough, sneeze, or take a deep breath, so I was prepared to soldier on. Then, yesterday, I developed a bad case of conjunctivitis in my right eye. I don't think Washington is good for me. We're leaving at the end of the week and I think that is a good thing.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

More tourist experiences

We started last week by taking a tour of the Capitol. Capitol tours begin in the Capitol Visitor's Center, a lovely, $612 million ($356 million over budget), 3 year late federal construction project built under the Capitol itself. Before we went over for our tour, we stopped by Representative Ileana Ros-Lehitinen's office to get tickets to watch the House of Representatives in action. I am still dumbfounded that anyone can walk through security and then wander, unaccompanied, around the offices of Congress. This truly is amazing country!

The House wasn't in session yet (not back from their Easter break on April 14), but the Senate was, so we snagged some tickets and went up to sit in the Senate Gallery. Did you know that the two community snuff boxes are still available to members, along with the spittoons liberally sprinkled throughout the floor?

We were treated to the sight of the junior Senator from West Virginia speaking on the mining disaster, for the C-SPAN cameras in an otherwise completely empty chamber. That didn't bother me as much as reading the brochure we were given, in which it is explained that even during debates the chamber is usually empty, that you only see the Senators in the Senate when they are voting. OK, they don't want to listen to speechifying on mines, but they don't even bother to listen to each other's position during debates!?! And I wonder why 18% of American support the Tea Party?

On a happier note, we spent Saturday walking to the monuments. We started with the World War II monument which was full of Honor Flight veterans and their "guardians." For those who don't know, Honor Flight is a non-profit group that brings elderly veterans, especially WWII veterans, to Washington to see the monuments to their service. Most of these guys are too old to get around easily themselves, so each veteran has a guardian who stays with them, pushes the wheelchair, helps them on an off the bus, etc. A National Park employee told us there were 15 bus loads in DC on Saturday. The best sight was a three star Air Force general walking around shaking hands, thanking the guys for their service, listening to their stories. No aides, no handlers, no press, just a General saying "glad you could come...Thanks for serving." It was very nice.

We went to Arlington National Cemetery. Saw the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers and a couple of wreath laying ceremonies. Then, as we were walking to Robert E. Lee's family home (on the grounds - Arlington is sited on what was Lee's home before the Civil War), we saw a funeral in process. The funeral included a full military band, a horse-drawn caisson, and the riderless horse with the backward boots. He Who Knows These Things informs me that all of these signs mean the funeral was for an Admiral or General.

We also drove out to near Dulles to see the Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy facility. This is where the Smithsonian displays all of the things too big to show in its Mall facility, things like a space shuttle and a Russian MiG. They also have a wire and canvas plane (or would be plane) that was put together by a Smithsonian guy named Langley in competition to the Wright brothers.

Mr. Langley's contraption was catapulted off of a boat in the Potomac a month before the Wright brothers flew. It went exactly as far as the catapult pushed it then fell into the river, twice. Nonetheless, the Smithsonian guys stood by their comrade, contending that it could have worked. So much so that they refused to display the Wright flyer. Indeed, it was sent to London to be displayed and didn't come back to the US until after WWII when the Smithsonian asked that it be returned and the British, in a fit of gratitude for the US help in the war, agreed.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Darth Vader gets religion and DC libraries

It's been a tourist and tasks week for us. Our tourist experience started Monday morning with the grand opening of the first new library in DC in years.

Ginnie Cooper and her friends, notably June Garcia who consulted with Ginnie and the Library Board, put a plan in place to build 11 new libraries in DC, creating attractive, interesting public spaces, not using the cookie-cutter boxes approach DC was planning before Ginnie and June got here. The Benning Road Library, opened on Monday, is a tribute to every one's vision of what community libraries can be. It is light, open, airy and decorated with a wall of locally created art. It was wonderful to be there to watch folks ohh and ahh as they entered the space.

Tuesday was a tasks and tourist day. I treated myself to a visit to a local needlepoint shop while Jim took the Metro out to Montogomery County Maryland in search of Jack Daniels. The price of liquor in the District is so high it makes sense to leave town to buy booze. That night we celebrated our 8th anniversary with dinner out.

It was very warm here this week with the temperatures nearing 90 every day. We decided visiting an air-conditioned location was important. Since our friends the Boswells had recommended we see the National Cathedral, we figured out the public transit and went there. We arrived in time to hear a demonstration of the 10,000+ pipe organ, then took a tour of the cathedral itself. Although it is an Episcopal church, because it was built as the US National Cathedral the art, particularly the stained glass windows, tell the stories of US history. My favorite was the space window. This picture doesn't begin to do it justice. The colors are too washed out in the picture. Look in the middle of the red circle at the top. You'll see a small white circle with a black dot. That black dot is a rock from the moon. Buzz Aldrin, an alumnus of St. Albans School, one of three schools associated with the National Cathedral, gave it to the Cathedral to incorporate into the window celebrating Apollo 11.

But the best part of the National Cathedral is Darth Vader. Yes, Darth Vader's image has been carved into the Northwest Tower of the National Cathedral. You need a set of binoculars to see it which we didn't bring. But I may take our binocs back just to actually see Darth. Darth is a "grotesque" which means he carries rain water away from the building. He is up there as a result of a contest sponsored by National Geographic World magazine. School children were invited to design decorative sculpture for the National Cathedral and a young boy in Nebraska submitted a design of Darth as a futuristic representation of evil.

Being in Washington encourages me to get my exercise. Wednesday morning I circumnavigated the Washington Monument. This morning I walked around the White House and watched the Secret Service bomb-sniffing dogs check out the West Wing employee's cars. Tomorrow I think I'll walk to the Lincoln Memorial, past the WWII memorial. All in all, a lot more interesting than cruising the neighborhoods of Cleveland.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter from Helicopter City

We have arrived in Washington, DC in time to enjoy the peak of cherry blossom season. With the convergence of the cherry blossom blooming, Easter, and Spring school holidays, the locals are saying this is the largest Cherry Blossom Festival in memory.

I can attest to that. I went for my morning walk Saturday at 7:30 AM and there were thousands of people walking around the Tidal Basin at that hour. I suspect the picture is too small for you to really see it, but the dark line under the cherry blossoms and above the water of the Tidal Basin is teeming humanity. Later in the day we walked up to the Mall and it was every bit as crowded. All in all, it has been a good weekend to keep your cool and go with the flow, because wherever you want to go, everyone else is already there.

But we've been lucky to spend time with friends here. Don and Ruth Kalen, who have the same boat we do, are on the dock with us here in Gangplank Marina. They have come to DC for cherry blossoms many times before. In fact it was their stories about how nice it is that convinced us to make the trip. It is good to have friends with local knowledge about restaurants, places to see and things to do around the marina.

Last night Ginnie Cooper, her husband Rick, his daughter Heather and his two granddaughters joined us for fireworks viewing. The Cherry Blossom Festival fireworks show took place in the Washington Channel which is where our marina is located. We are on the end of a pier, so we had an unobstructed view of the 25 minutes of fireworks. Quite cool! Ginnie and family even brought dinner -- cooler still. Thanks, Ginnie, we had a great time! Tomorrow the granddaughters are invited to the White House Easter Egg hunt.

You are probably wondering why I titled this post "Happy Easter from Helicopter City". As near as we can tell, every high muckity-muck in DC commutes to work in a Marine helicopter. And every agency, from the Marines to the local DC Park Police has its own helicopters. With Reagan Airport just across the Potomac from us, those 'copters have to stay out of the flight pattern of the jets, so they fly over the Washington Channel. That is to say, over our boat. Even on the weekend we get 4-5 helicopters an hour overhead. I can't wait to see what a work day will be like.

The last time we had this many helicopters flying over us, it was the Navy coptering in supplies in Miami after Hurricane Andrew. These are just a few of the helicopters that flew over us yesterday.

The most common ones are the Marine Corps helicopters like the one above. We saw these coming and going from Quantico in the morning as we were coming up the river. These are the ones we figure are ferrying in Virginia-resident cabinet secretaries, etc. After all, you wouldn't want the poor dears trapped in DC traffic.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

We're back...

We're back on the boat and ready to begin this year's travels. Actually, to be technically correct, we've already begun this year's travels. As I write this we are in Cobb's Island on the Potomac River, about 65 miles south of Washington DC.

We got back to the boat last week and spent the week "de-winterizing" the boat. To get it ready to spend the winter in cold country, we had to put anti-freeze in the engines and non-potable water lines (shower drains, etc.). For the drinking water lines, we blew out the fresh water with a pump and replaced it with cheap vodka (really cheap, Odesse vodka from Baltimore, that well-known vodka capital of the world). You use vodka in the water lines because it doesn't leave the same soapy aftertaste that anti-freeze can. All the winterizing had to be reversed and all systems checked before we could leave Virginia.

All things considered, the boat had a great winter, very few things needed to be repaired. Jim had the engines checked by a mechanic and we had a boat detailer come down to give the outside a good thorough cleaning. After a trip to Walmart (the best grocery store in the area, a mere 40 minutes away), we were ready to go. Of course, the weather chose not to cooperate.

The forecast for the day we planned to leave was winds 15-20 knots and seas 2-3 feet. (Actually, the forecast included a small craft advisory which Jim chose not to share with me. From now on, I'm checking the forecast nyself.) It wouldn't have been so bad if the seas hadn't been on the beam. Beam seas means the waves were hitting us on the side of the boat, making the boat roll from side to side. I got seasick. Fortunately, Jim has no sense of balance and therefore doesn't get seasick.

The irony of this is I got seasick last year when we hit rough seas entering the Potomac River. This year, entering the Potomac relieved my seasickness, because the river conditions were better than the conditions in the Cheaspeake Bay.

We are headed to DC for cherry blossoms and touring around. Today the wind is blowing 15 knots with 25 knot gusts from the northwest, or straight down the Potomac. Tomorrow it will switch to the southeast (behind you if you are headed up the river) and drop to 5 knots. So we're sitting in this little fishing destination for one more day before continuing up river.

Peak cherry blossoms are predicted for Thursday and Friday this week. We'll be there on Friday. I promise pictures for the next post.