Saturday, July 11, 2009

On Learning to Sail - the racing shortcut - June 06

The general consensus among the sailors I’ve met is that racing is a great way to quickly build your sailing skills. Considering the stories I’ve heard about screaming skippers (you know who you are) I wondered if one simply had no choice but to figure it out fast. I wasn’t sure I liked the idea but Mike insisted that it was time; which is how I came to be crewing for Jim Chambers on Snowfox in the Wednesday night series. I warned Jim up front, “I don’t know what I’m doing half the time and if you scream at me I might just scream back. Or I might cry. I am a girl after all.” Jim assured me that he isn’t a screamer, that I would do fine and that I’d even learn something in the process.

We’ve now completed the first half of the series. Jim isn’t a screamer, I have done fine, and I have learned a lot. Such as:

1.) Racing involves drinking beer and race boats don’t have heads. This doesn’t appear to be a problem for the men aboard, but I’m not a man. Therefore I’ve learned to make sure I’ve taken care of business at the last possible minute prior to leaving the dock, pace my beer consumption, and pack the boat up quickly when we get back in. Yes, there is a bucket aboard, and I’m sure it would suffice in an emergency. But I’d rather not, thank you very much.

2.) Race boats have dozens of sails and dozens of lines attached to them. My boat has a jib, jib sheets, and a jib halyard, a main sail, main sheet, and a main halyard. That’s it. Jim’s boat has a main sail, a jib, a reaching sail, and a spinnaker, that I’m aware of, possibly more. Each of those sails has four dozen lines extending from it, each with a different name, and each a different color. And this doesn’t count the dozen or so lines that are just coiled and lying about waiting to be used for some task or other. It’s important to learn which lines are where and what color they are so that when you go to a different boat you’re confused and have to start over with a whole new set of different colored lines in different places.

3.) Translation takes a minute. If you’ve been sailing for 30 years, or 20, or five, or even just a year or two, you don’t have to stop and think about the terminology anymore. I’ve only been sailing for a matter of months and I have to stop and do a quick translation in my head when someone tells me to do something. “Furl the jib and cleat it off!” First, I have to determine if I’m being given this order or if it’s being given to one of the people on either side of me. Next I have to go over the terms. I know what the jib is. Furl it means to wrap it back up. I do that by pulling on a line. Which line? The jib furler. And that’s the blue and white one? NO! The tan one with blue flecks? NO! The white one with red flecks? Bingo! So I pull until the jib is all rolled up then cleat it off. That means hold the line in place, so it goes in this little thing here and I pull down to make it secure. Got it! What do you mean bring the jib out? I just got it furled!

I’ve been having fun though. A few weeks ago I got to fly the chute for the first time. (Wow, did that sound like a real sailor or what?) The first few times I went out on my boat I didn’t want to cleat the jib sheets down because I liked feeling the wind in the sails and holding onto the sheets seemed the only way to get that feeling. The first time a puff whipped the line out of my hand (good thing I was wearing gloves!) I gave up that notion. But controlling the spinnaker feels the same way and I loved every minute of it. I warned Jim that he’d have a hard time getting me to do anything else, and I meant it. Right up until the following week when there was actually a little bit of wind and I discovered that a little bit of wind means a little more work. Which also means stiff hands and a stiff neck. I still loved every minute of it, but I also didn’t complain when it was time to jibe.

The best part of it all is that I’m really learning. Last weekend I took my boat out with only the kids for crew – which meant I was the only person aboard who had the slightest idea (literally) what was going on. Of course Mike was sailing his own boat nearby and my cell phone was in my pocket just in case. But I did fine. And I continued to do fine, even when Mike sailed his boat off in another direction after assuring me that I could handle it. And I did. I sailed my own boat across the lake and even managed to put it back in the slip without injuries to crew, boats, or myself. I DID IT!

Not-Quite-Captain of her own ship,
Amy Thurman
s/v Write of Passage

Winter in South Florida - December 07

Back in North Georgia, I knew when winter was coming. The leaves turned from green to vivid yellows, oranges and reds. Temperatures dropped steadily from hot, to warm, to cool, to frigid. Geese flying south in their V-formations were frequent sights. The scent of the air changed to the musky scent of fallen leaves, dry wood and pine needles. And each year, I would cringe at the notion of impending cold weather and mourn the loss of summer.

This year, I live in “Sunny South Florida” and the biggest indication that winter is approaching are not geese flying south but snowbirds returning from their northern summer homes. No geese, no change in the foliage, only an increase in traffic with the return of half the city’s population and shorter days.

And it’s been a strange experience. All of my life, the change back to standard time has been almost synonymous with the advent of fall and cold weather. Shorter days and earlier sunsets meant sweaters and pants initially, followed by jackets, boots and gloves. It meant Halloween, pumpkins, Thanksgiving, raking leaves and frost on the windshield in the mornings. It meant a drop in humidity, the scent of holiday foods baking and more time indoors curled up with a good book.

But that isn’t the case here. The days are still shorter, the sun sets earlier, but that’s the end of it. I’m still wearing shorts, sleeveless shirts and flip flops. While the weather is cooler than it was a couple months ago, it’s still quite comfortable. In Georgia, I would have already unpacked winter clothes and put away the shorts and t-shirts until next year. This year, I pulled a light sweater out of a box to have around in case it gets chilly of an evening. I’ve only worn it once and was teased mercilessly about it.

The arrival of fall holidays was a little bizarre this year. I’m floating happily along in this endless summer when driving through the neighborhood on my way home from work one evening, I see little kids in costumes going door to door asking for candy. Halloween? How could this be? It’s not fall yet! But sure enough, there’s a jack o’ lantern sitting on someone’s front porch, next to a bronze pelican statue. Halloween is supposed to be dark and spooky with dried leaves crunching underfoot and naked tree limbs casting eerie shadows. There just isn’t anything spooky about a palm tree lined street with blazing sunshine overhead. Which I suppose is why The Headless Horseman lives in Sleepy Hollow instead of South Beach. Even more out of sync was the sudden appearance of Christmas lights the week before Thanksgiving. Even aside from the fact that Christmas d├ęcor before Thanksgiving is absurd, it was just downright weird to be driving home from the beach with all the windows rolled down and sand still clinging to my toes and pass houses with colored lights strung up under the eaves and wrapped up the trunk of palm trees.

Thanksgiving was a new experience as well. In years past, the extra heat generated by a roasting turkey was welcome warmth. This year I had to turn up the AC to compensate for the added heat of having the oven on all day. Maybe next year we’ll take our neighbor’s advice and do it on the grill. It’s also still a little too warm for the usual fall comfort foods to be appealing. Sausage balls and pumpkin pie seem a little heavy when sitting on the patio sipping a frozen drink.

The foliage is different here. Somehow you just don’t expect the “leaves” of palm trees to turn orange and fall, drifting in piles in the corners of the yard, so no real surprise there. But it isn’t just the palm trees. None of the trees have turned colors or lost their leaves. Instead of raking leaves this year, I’m planting a garden. Tomatoes, peppers, onions, lettuce, cucumbers and herbs to start. Outside. And I’ll have to wear sunscreen so I don’t burn. Our mango tree is still deep green and full, the banana trees are still thriving, the roses, hibiscus, mandavilla, desert rose and that other yellow flower I’ve yet to identify are all still blooming profusely.

And yet for all of that, I’m planning my Christmas shopping list, responding to Christmas party invitations, browsing for cards and gearing up for the holidays, in between work, boat work and yard work. It doesn’t feel right to be doing this in shorts and flip flops, and it certainly doesn’t feel like December, but it sure feels good to be warm!

Recent Adventures - September 06

This has been a busy month with several firsts and interesting experiences for me.

One evening after work I drove through the marina and saw the most amazing spectacle: Wind! I ran down the dock, started the motor, pulled off the main sail cover, cast off and left the dock. One problem I still seem to have every time is not remembering which way to steer going in reverse, but it only took one near miss to figure it out! Note to self, with a wheel it's like a car, with a tiller it's the opposite.

After getting out of the marina I opened a beer, took a sip, then raised the main. As I was adjusting the sail I heard a motor over my shoulder. I’d noticed the sound earlier and thought it was a small power boat that had come out behind me but as I looked over my shoulder I saw the familiar black stripe down the side of the boat. DNR.

Cushion? Check. Fire Extinguisher? Check. Life jackets? Check. Horn? Crap. Beer? Check. Uh oh. And of course they did a wide U-turn and pulled alongside. I kept doing what needed to be done with the sail, hoping I could use the, “I’m new at this, I didn’t know I couldn’t drink a beer while I sailed and I’ve only had one sip out of it and I didn’t know I had to have a horn.” Turns out I didn’t need any excuses. They were just checking to make sure I was safe and not being attacked by pirates or knocked down by fierce winds.

“Are you out here by yourself?” asked one of the uniformed men.
I couldn’t help it, I looked around the empty cockpit and down below before answering. “Yep.”
“Wow! That’s pretty unusual. Don’t see many women out here by themselves,” one says.
“That’s pretty cool,” adds the other.

At that point, I needed to lean down and adjust the traveler, but that would require me to turn my backside directly to them and bend over. Not going to happen so I stood there looking at them with my main sail flapping noisily.

“There’s a Jeff Foxworthy concert tonight at the Amphitheater if you want to go.”
Pardon? Hello, do you see me trying to go for a sail? But that would be rude.
“I don’t even know where the Amphitheater is,” I said, realizing my mistake instantly. Because they proceeded to give me directions. After a few more minutes of chat, they finally lost interest and sped away. I picked up my beer and took a sip before adjusting the traveler. Hmmpphh.

After getting the main up and set, I settled back to enjoy the sail but quickly realized that I was going nowhere fast. I needed the jib. But I’ve never been out by myself with both sails up. Should I try anyway? I spent a moment considering it and another moment figuring out how to tie off the tiller – main halyard pulled diagonally across the cockpit, wrapped around the tiller and tied off on the stern cleat). I hauled the jib out from below, hanked it on, raised it and sheeted it in. Wow. It’s a thrill to read back over that last sentence. It sounds like I know what I’m doing. Even more thrilling is realizing that I did know what I was doing! As evidenced by the substantial increase in speed! I spent a little time playing with the points of sail to see what worked best and grew a little more comfortable and familiar with my boat. It was a great sunset sail and I STILL didn’t hurt my boat, hurt anyone elses boat or hurt myself!

Another exciting adventure this past month took place on the water but didn’t involve sailing. Mike took the kids and I offshore fishing out of Charleston. My daughter and I were a little disappointed that this apparently isn’t done on a sailboat. It’s done on a fishing boat with big loud motors. Yuck. I was sure us girls would be bored to tears by lunchtime and spend most of our time lying on deck soaking up sun.

How wrong I was. Bridget and I both caught our first fish ever and both were sharks. And we were both hooked ourselves with this whole fishing thing! I was a little disappointed that we had to throw our sharks back but we didn’t have shark permits and even if we had, they apparently weren’t big enough to eat. But I got to hold mine for a minute and there’s something a little thrilling about holding a creature in your hands that would rather be chewing your hands off.

Never having been fishing before, I listened and mimicked everyone else. Bait the hooks with squid – and yes, I did it myself! – drop the line and wait for a nudge. Yank the pole back to set the hook and start reeling. It was always a surprise to see what you brought up. We caught a lot of black sea bass, snapper, white grunt and a few trigger fish and grouper. Karen, one of the owners of the boat, even snagged an octopus, which we spent several minutes inspecting before releasing.

We were out for about nine hours and spent every bit of it fishing. On the ride back in, we were all so tired it took serious effort to move. The next day my arms throbbed and I really wasn’t sure if I’d been catching fish or arm wrestling them, but it was worth it. We all had a great time and can’t wait to do it again.

A week ago, if you’d told me I would ever give more than a passing glance at a boat without sails, I would have said you were nuts. But when Mike mentioned how nice it would be to own a fishing boat, I was in complete agreement. “But I want more rod holders on the foredeck and a place to filet the catch.” He just grinned. I wonder if they make sailboats with rod holders and bait tanks?

Lake Sailing & a New Boat - September 07

I got an email from the Commodore of Southern Sailing Club about the Special Olympics Regatta on Lake Lanier and felt a flutter of excitement. But it was only three weeks away, I’d just started a new job and Mike probably couldn’t take the time off anyway, so I sucked up my disappointment and let it go. Later that day at work I got a text message from Mike. “Let’s go sailing. Special Olympics.” I just love it when he reads my mind like that!

So I emailed Captain Jim to see if my old spot on Snowfox was available (Mike planned to sail on Stickman with Joey) and was thrilled to be told I’ll always have a spot. Luckily I work for a sailing organization and they understand about things like this so work was no problem. All that was left to do was find my sailing gloves, which I finally located in the pocket of my foulies that I’d last worn on New Years Day for the poker run. I really need to get out more.

And so we drove for 12 hours, away from saltwater to a freshwater lake in Georgia, to go sailing. There’s something a little backwards there.

The first day of the race was more about socializing with old friends, catching up on gossip and drinking beer, than racing. No wind. At one point I suspect we were going backwards. Holly, Marla and I considered the option of jumping in under the guise of going for a swim and pushing the boat, but Jim said Race Committee frowns on things like that so we drifted some more.

Day two, however, we actually got some racing in and it was great! Marla and I easily settled into a smooth routine with tacks and jibes, I got to do my impression of Holly leaning on the hatch, I got to fly the chute, we had great snacks and cold Bloody Mary’s to drink, and at one point we got up to 9.5 knots! Considering the wind we had to work with, that was something! It was a great day on the water and we were able to get two races in. I can’t tell you how truly good it felt to be back on a boat I’m so familiar with, with people I adore, working the sails and having fun. And the opportunity to spend time with friends we’ve missed so much these past months, while participating in an event that benefits the Special Olympics, there couldn’t have been a better way to spend a weekend.

Ironically it was while we were driving to North Georgia that we got the call about a sailboat. We’d been haggling over the price of a Cruising Cal 36 for some time and the seller finally came into our price range, so if we’re able to juggle funds a bit, it looks like we’re buying a boat. Finally! And we couldn’t be happier because this is just the right boat for us. Not the perfect boat, but the right boat for us. What’s right about it? Primarily the price, that it’s solid, big enough to meet our needs and (drum roll here please) it has potential!
Yes, that’s right, it has potential. Which simply means it floats and we can fix what’s wrong with it. We’ve looked at it several times, taken photos and studied them, discussed the amount of time and money we’ll have to dump into it, questioned each other about whether we’re really up for the task, questioned the depth of our commitment to the boat and to each other, examined our bank account closely, considered therapy to cure this sickness and finally agreed that this is the boat. Therapy might still be required because as you may recall, this isn’t the first project boat we’ve undertaken. Remember The Beast? Shudder. Sigh.
After the paperwork is done comes the task of getting it from the dock where it currently lies to our dock. Mike is hopeful that he can get the engine running in short order, but we’ve still checked with a towing company. They want $400 for this very short trip so placing my faith in Mike’s mechanical skills is highly preferable.
It seems the boat has been sitting in the same place for somewhere between a year and a half to four years, depending on who you talk to. Which means the bottom is most likely non-existent and it could be afloat simply by the air pockets caught in the blisters on the bottom, but we’re hopeful. And it’s a given all the through-hulls will have to be replaced as soon as possible. Once the engine has been repaired/rebuilt/replaced and the bottom restored and repainted, the only things stopping us from going out for a sail will be replacing the deck hardware, rebuilding the wenchs and…well, and sails. After that, we can head out anytime we want to and go for a day sail or a weekend cruise! I’m not worried. We can make all of this happen!
After that the projects take on less urgency. Due to the fact that it’s had standing water in the cabin for who knows how long, a great deal of the interior wood and possibly the bulkheads will need to be replaced. All new cushions are in order since the current ones are saturated with mold and mildew, but the current green and brown cushions are ugly and I would have replaced them anyway.
The good news is the compressor for the icebox seems to be in good shape, all the wood above the (interior) waterline is pretty, there’s plenty of space and acceptable storage.
So we’ve found the right boat for us, which, simply put, is a boat we can enjoy working on together, dreaming on together and when it’s in shape, it will be more “ours” than any boat we went out and bought ready to go. And I have no doubt that we’ll both come to think of it in affectionate terms because when it comes right down to it, any boat is nothing more than what you put into it and what it gives you in return. I for one am willing to work for a good day on the water in my boat.

Change in Lattitude - Jan 07 (And update June 07)

You might remember my Christmas list from December. One item I dearly desired was, “Warm weather: not having to suffocate myself in layer after freaking layer of clothing, not having to wear shoes, not having to freeze my tail off to go for a sail, being able to relax in the cockpit with a cold drink without my lips turning blue, sleeping in my boat with the hatches open without waking to an icicle dripping on my forehead...”

It seems my own personal Santa has found a way to grant that particular wish. He’s taken a job in South Florida. By the time you read this, we’ll be sipping cold beers on the private dock behind our new house in Ft. Lauderdale. We’re outta here baby!!

As we’ve shared our news with friends, I’ve noticed two recurring responses. The most common and easily understood is, “Do you have a guest room?” “Why yes we do! Come visit!” The other question generally just leaves me dumbfounded. “Why would you want to move there?” Why would I want to move to South Florida? As tempting as it is to knock on their heads and ask if anyone’s home, that would be rude.

My best friend, Bex, who lives in Huntington, WV, which is even more frozen tundra-ish than Georgia, has very strong feelings about my move. The strongest of which is jealousy. So to rub it in a little, and to answer the question so many people seem intent on asking, “Why would you want to move there?” I decided to make this column a list of reasons to move to Florida. As always, I sent it to Bex to proof before submitting it, and she had a few comments to add. I thought I’d leave them in for your amusement.

Top 20 Reasons to Move to South Florida

1. Warm weather year round. No more scraping ice off my windshield. Ever. Which is exactly why I had a Remote Car Starter installed this winter. No more ice on my windshield either! So there!

2. Wind. Within motoring distance. All the time. And hurricanes six months out of the year!?!

3. Saltwater. Lots of it. Everywhere you look. Enough to float a boat. Saltwater, shmaltwater! You know all that salty air is only going to rust out your truck in no time flat!

4. No worries about low lake levels. We don’t ever have to worry about the water levels on the Ohio River where we keep our boat either, but you’d know that if you visited more often.

5. A tan that doesn’t fade in the winter. Okay, a somewhat valid reason. Although I must point out that when you’re 50 and I’m 55, I’ll be the one looking 45 and a lot less like a Gucci handbag!

6. No more coats, boots, gloves, scarves, turtleneck sweaters, wool anything, or bundling up just to walk to the mailbox. At least in the winter I can hide my aging neck and double chin with a turtleneck. How will you accomplish that? A feather boa?

7. Palm trees. Everywhere. Which means that in addition to worrying about flowerpots falling on your head you must now also beware of coconuts falling on your head, rendering you unconscious and perhaps leaving you in a semi-vegetative state. And I suppose you’ll expect me to fly down and tend to you?

8. An end to the bane of my winter existence: static electricity. God bless humidity. You got me there.

9. Ducks and geese vs. sea gulls, sand pipers, herons, pelicans, terns, albatross, and flamingos. No contest. What’s wrong with ducks and geese? You’ll have five times the amount of bird food and bread to buy!

10. Carp and bass visiting your boat vs. dolphins and manatees visiting your boat. And barracuda, crabs, eels, alligators, jelly fish, 75 species of shark…

11. Mahi Mahi, Sailfish, Tuna, Marlin, and access to a boat to go offshore, hunt them down and eat them! Amy, those fish weigh more than you do! They’ll drag you overboard and eat YOU!

12. The sushi doesn’t get any fresher. If you LIKE eating raw fish. Ugh!

13. You can easily get a gun permit in Florida. Since when did YOU ever need a permit for ANYTHING?

14. A much more casual open container law. Again, since when did YOU…

15. No helmet law. Not that I own a motorcycle, but I might want to some day and helmets mean helmet hair. But not in Florida! So your brains can spill all over the road after you’ve been whacked by someone who took advantage of that “more casual open container law!”

16. You can count on Florida for a good controversy from time to time. Any state you’ve ever lived in has had its share of controversy simply by you being there!?!

17. Three hour drive to Key West. Didn’t you get the memo? They blew that bridge up in the movie True Lies.

18. A fifteen minute drive to the beach. Unless there’s a storm surge or tidal wave or hurricane. Then the beach will come to you!

19. Grand Bahama is only a day’s sail away. I can be there sipping on frozen rum drinks in a few hours by hoping on a plane and I won’t be seasick! You call this a reason?

20. Did I mention warm weather? All the time. That would be year round. [Expletives deleted]

Aside from the thought of coconuts falling on my head, my only concern with the move is missing all of my friends here. I won’t miss Bex any more or less because she never flies down to see me anyway, but I’ll certainly miss all of you. But remember, we do have a guest room! Until then, check back next month and see how this Wannabe Sailor is faring in sunny (and warm!) South Florida and feel free to email me anytime!

[Six months later I ran an update to the list above and compared my expectations to reality! Keep reading!]

Welcome back to sunny South Florida! Summer has officially arrived and we know this because it’s HOT here and storms every day. I mentioned this to a local recently and her comment was, “Well what exactly did you expect?” I thought about the list I composed (before we moved), “Top Twenty Reasons to Move to South Florida,” and wondered how my expectations measured up to reality. So here’s the list again along with my perceptions after living here nearly six months.

1. Warm weather year round. No scraping ice off my windshield. Ever. That one was pretty realistic. I’ll never have to scrap ice again.

2. Wind. Within motoring distance. All the time. True, we have wind. Almost all the time. Sometimes too much wind for using a small boat, but it is nice to always have a breeze. It would also be nice to have a sailboat to take advantage of said wind...

3. Saltwater. Lots of it. Everywhere you look. Enough to float a boat. Partially true. Although the canals are brackish, it’s still water and can float a boat. I never get tired of being on the water and I truly love living and working on it.

4. No worries about low lake levels. Here I couldn’t have been more wrong. Our fresh water supply comes mostly from Lake Okeechobee (pronounced Oh-kah’-choh-bee) which is more than four feet below average. We’re in the worst drought since the 1930’s and are on Phase III water restrictions, which means reducing water usage by 45%; we water once a week from 4:00 AM to 8:00 AM, boats can only rinse saltwater off for 15 minutes per trip and restaurants are encouraged not to serve water with meals unless it’s asked for. You MUST use a hose with a flow-control head attached at all times. Violations can mean up to $10k (yes that’s a K) in fines. Our fresh water supply is in danger of saltwater intrusion. Pretty scary and much worse than anywhere I’ve ever lived. We’re surrounded by water and can’t drink any of it.

5. A tan that doesn’t fade in the winter. As I’ve yet to really experience winter here, this remains unknown. But I am tan now!

6. No more coats, boots, gloves, scarves, etc…Again, haven’t yet gotten that far, but locals have laughed at my notion of wearing shorts all winter. We’ll just see.

7. Palm trees everywhere. Right on the money! And I’ve even learned how to grow my own palm tree from scratch!

8. An end to the bane of my existence: static electricity. Can’t say I’ve had a problem with it here. It’s like the memory of a bad dream…

9. In a word, sea birds. We have so many species of sea birds that I still see new ones on occasion. My favorites are the Pelicans and the Herons. I was a little surprised to find a regular old white duck floating around in the canal a while back. I felt a little sorry for her plainness.

10. Dolphin and manatees instead of carp and bass. Although there are supposedly multitudes of manatees here, I’ve yet to see one myself and I’ve begun to doubt their thriving population. Dolphin is what we call Mahi Mahi and we eat it. Porpoises are what we call the cute little guys the rest of the world calls dolphin. Haven’t seen any of them either.

11. Mahi Mahi, Sailfish, Tuna, Marlin and access to a boat to go offshore and hunt them down and eat them! Ok, that’s dolphin, not Mahi Mahi. If you walk into a restaurant and order Mahi Mahi they’ll correct you. It’s dolphin. As to the rest, I still haven’t personally caught anything, even though we go out fishing at every opportunity and even though I actually attended a saltwater fishing seminar. But I know they’re out there and I will catch something. Someday.

12. The sushi doesn’t get any fresher. True.

13. You can easily get a gun permit in Florida. True. But as Bex said last time, I don’t bother with permits anyway.

14. A much more casual open container law. True again.

15. No helmet law. And again. But I still don’t own a motorcycle and the way people drive down here, I might never own one.

16. You can count on Florida for a good controversy. Or at least making the national news. The Anna Nicole debacle drove us all nuts. And there was the judge who got busted at noon in a public park for smoking something other than a Marlboro.

17. Three hour drive to Key West. Actually more like four. Unless you stop along the way to explore or get stuck behind Grandma Moses, then it can take most of the day.

18. A fifteen minute drive to the beach. True again. And a fact I’ve put to good use many times.

19. Grand Bahama is only a day’s sail away. Wouldn’t know, haven’t been able to test that one. I’ll keep you posted.

20. Warm weather. All the time. True so far, but weather is more than just heat. I failed to consider the average daily humidity of 64 – 75%, the afternoon storms that begin like clockwork at 2:30 PM and consist of violent wind, lightening, power outages and flash flooding. We organize our days to ensure all outdoor work (and play) is completed by then. But we need rain so we don’t complain too much. Still, I have to wonder if it ever just rains here without the dramatics that seem to always go with it. Did you know this is the lightening capital of the country?

So it’s both more and less than I expected and of course we take the bad with the good. It still seems strange at times to live in a place that the rest of the world sees as a vacation spot. When we do go away for a few days, it’s a little odd to come home and still be in the tropics, still be surrounded by palm trees, still be surrounded by water, still go to the beach after work for a swim. In some ways, it’s like a vacation that never ends. And I wouldn’t change a thing.

Log: Tropical Storm Fay - August 08

Log: Tropical Storm Fay

Friday, 15 August – Work as usual. Sometime in the middle of the exceedingly dull afternoon, a co-worker calls me into her office to look at the National Hurricane Center’s website. It seems an unnamed tropical wave is feeling a bit ambitious and has skipped right over the Tropical Depression category, which should have come first, to become Tropical Storm Fay. Maybe not what I would have chosen to liven up the day, but watching radar and discussing the path predictions entertains us till quittin’ time.

Saturday, 16 August – Ah, the weekend. While running errands, nearly everyone we encounter jokes about a possible hurricane. We don’t pay too much attention but while grocery shopping we try to plan meals that can be cooked on the grill in case we lose power. And we stock up on plenty of water and beer. But if we lose power how will we keep the beer cold? Might as well drink it now. Besides, they never get the path predictions right. We’ll be fine.

Sunday, 17 August – We wake up to a gorgeous sunny day. Mike turns on the news while I work on my novel but I’m distracted by the fact that every channel is talking about Fay. The path prediction cone puts her crossing Cuba and heading due north. Although they think she’ll ride up the west coast of Florida, any deviation to the east could put her right on top of us. And with that little expanse of warm saltwater between us and Cuba, she could make landfall as a Category 1 storm. Hmmm. With the plot of my novel fading slightly into the background of my imagination, I go online to pull up NOAA. Can’t trust the TV, I want to see what’s really happening. As soon as I log on, I notice four new messages in my email inbox from A Tropical Storm watch has been issued and is in effect until Tuesday evening. I scan the alerts and one message states very clearly, “No storm tide impact is expected.” This is good. The message was issued at 6:55 AM. The next message, issued an hour later says, “No storm tide impact is likely…though despite the current unlikely impact, a storm tide of between two and four feet is still possible.” Call me a writer, but the jump from not ‘expected’ to ‘not likely but possibly two to four feet’ is a matter of concern. So I open another tab and pull up our property plat on the City’s emergency planning page. Ain’t it great what you can find online these days? But what I find isn’t great. According to the City of Fort Lauderdale, in conjunction with FEMA, the property our apartment building sits on is only six inches above flood stage in a mandatory evacuation zone. I recall standing on the dock out back during the last spring tide. The water was about two inches below the dock and about six inches below the seawall, our building sits on a slab foundation about 18 inches off the ground, yesterday was a full moon and the effects tend to stick around for a few days. I do the math, realize we have no leeway and point this little tidbit of info out to Mike, who doesn’t seem concerned. That’s ok, I’m concerned enough for both of us. But what do you do? Well, if you’re me, you go to the pool to float and ponder the situation and come up with an on the spot “What We’ll Do if it Floods” plan. Everything important to the storage unit, park one of our trucks at a friends house on higher ground and find a hotel room somewhere outside the flood zone. The wind doesn’t worry me, but I grew up on the Mississippi River and evacuated seven times as a kid. And returned home to a disgusting disaster seven times – I know what a flood can do and I’ll take wind any day.
With my plan in place, we go about our day; a healthy mix of laundry, Mike playing guitar while I read a novel, chores, cocktails and watching radar on the weather channel. Well, and me worrying. Around four the announcement comes that the first day of school, which is supposed to start tomorrow, has been canceled. Jay comes out from under his teenage rock to say, “cool” and retreats again. Mike brings in everything from outside and plugs in the battery chargers for the flashlights and weather radio. We cook dinner on the grill and drink cold beer while we can.

Monday, 18, August – A host of new weather alerts when I check email first thing make concentrating on my novel impossible. The alerts contain messages like, “All preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.” This does little for my piece of mind. Mike’s off work today but I’m not and I watch the news until the last minute, dig out my foul weather jacket and head out the door five minutes behind schedule. On the way I start to call Bex to share the excitement but a gust of wind nearly pushes my truck into oncoming traffic. It literally feels like a giant hand is pushing me to the side so I hang up the phone and keep both hands on the wheel. My drive to work takes me along the beach but not close enough to see the waves breaking – most days. When I see spray from the low side of the road, I decide to take a detour and drive along the beach side for a minute. It’s worth being late. I’ve never seen a beach during a storm and if I didn’t need a paycheck, I’d park and watch for hours. The normally turquoise water is now gray-green and waves usually less than a foot are now three to five feet high and crashing violently. Blowing sand, whipping palms and a nearly black sky complete a picture I won’t soon forget. Amazing.
At work, all talk is of Fay and we watch radar and satellite images all day. At three o’clock Fay makes landfall in Key West, still a Tropical Storm, and path predictions still put her across the state from us. I mention my fear of flooding but my co-workers blow it off as a non-issue, which almost makes me feel confident that we’re going to pull through with no damage. Driving home (I’ve mastered driving in high winds) I call Bex. As I ease along the beach I describe the scene for her and mention the handful of surfers and a lone wind-surfer out on the water. “A wind-surfer’s out there? He’s nuts! He’s going to end up in the hospital!” she tells me.
At home, we watch the news and I check email again: 23 alerts. Tornado watches, tornado warnings, flood watches, Tropical Storm Warning updates and Emergency Management Alerts with information on shelters, City services and so on. After a couple hours of Fay updates, Mike and I have had enough. The storm’s way west of us. If the worst happens during the night, we’ll deal with it when it does.

Tuesday, 19 August – I wake periodically during the night to the sounds of rain whistling against the windows and thunder booming with an odd hollow sound, but no water under the bed when I inch my toes down to check. We turn on the TV at six and find that Fay made landfall an hour earlier near Naples, still a Tropical Storm. All hurricane warnings canceled Tropical Storm and flood warnings still in effect. Nothing much has changed except the rain is heavier. A bit anti-climactic. Also on the news is an item about a wind surfer on the beach getting whipped out of the water and slammed against a building by the wind and being taken to the hospital. I get ready for work because nautical charts must still be sold and as I dress, a tornado warning is issued for our area. As in, less than two miles from where we stand. Great. And I thought all I had to worry about was flooding. I know I said I can deal with wind, but I’d prefer not to deal with wind shaped like a funnel that can toss cows in the air. Luckily there isn’t a single cow in the city of Fort Lauderdale. After the warning lapses, I go out to look at the dock. Water laps at the bottom of the wood and we’re still an hour and a half before high tide. Mike has to go in early for a meeting but Jay’s home, no school again today, so I leave for work after telling him to go out every half hour and check the water level. At work we continue to monitor Fay’s progress through the morning and my co-workers tease me and ask if we’re flooded out. I sneak back to my office to call Jay and make sure. All’s dry on the home front, even as high tide comes and goes without much fluctuation in the water levels. I don’t understand how we escaped flooding, nor do I care. We did and that’s all that matters.
When Fay finally crosses Lake Okeechobee, our primary source of fresh water and a good bit northwest of us, talk turns to afternoon snacks and work, in that order. The wind and rain continue all day and on occasion a tornado siren goes off somewhere nearby, but things are getting back to normal. Driving home I call Bex and tell her she’s a horrible person for putting that wind-surfer in the hospital and she tells me I should stop and walk the beach to look for shells because after a storm is when the best shells wash up. I get home and find that even the media has mostly moved on to other topics. And so my first Tropical Storm churned through my life and moved on.

Wednesday, 20 August – Fay? Who’s Fay?

Recalling Hurricane Wilma - Summer 08

We’re two months into our second hurricane season in South Florida. Last year I was nearly frantic with worry that we didn’t have storm shutters, that no one had trimmed the coconuts out of the palm trees across the street and did we have enough bottled water if a storm hit. And of course, my worries were unfounded. Nothing happened. Nothing even threatened to happen. So this year to date, our hurricane preparedness plan can be summed up by saying we have a few gallons of water, some canned goods and we watch the weather every day.

But hurricanes are a regular topic of conversation down here. Everyone remembers the last one, Wilma, in 2005 and a few long-timers even remember Andrew in ’92. Never having been through a hurricane, I’m curious what it’s like. All I really know is what I’ve heard on the news – the same news channels that broadcast “Winter Storm Watch 200-” causing runs on the grocery stores at the first sign of the shadow of a snowflake. So I asked around.

Preparing for the storm is the first step, of course. Stocking up on food and water is a given but also on alcohol, ice for drinks and gas. I asked Mary the Martini Queen what she did to prepare and if she was worried before the storm. “Had plenty of vodka and ice. No worries.”

Dorie commented on having to bring in everything from outside such as yard tools and lawn decorations…and the bugs and spiders that live on them and the oil that leaks from them. Nice.

Lisa adds, “Don’t wait for the last minute to get supplies.” The lines get longer the closer the storm gets and the supplies run out quickly.

Other tips included figuring out a way to keep your cell phone charged, learning how to cook everything from frozen pizza to coffee on the grill outside because Sterno is gross, and having cash on hand because the power is out and most places can’t run your credit or debit card. I found that last bit helpful because I seldom carry cash and it probably wouldn’t have occurred to me.

And then the storm hits. Wilma reached Fort Lauderdale as a Category 2 hurricane in the middle of the night and the power went out around five in the morning. The first part of the storm was loud and fierce but the second part, when the eye had passed and the back wall hit around 9:30 in the morning, was vicious. Lisa saw a privacy fence lift off the ground in a single piece and shatter outward. She thought she was imagining things until it was confirmed by her brother. Darleen, from her 15th floor perspective saw a stretch limo picked up and flipped over. Lauren passed the time drinking with neighbors. Danny slept through it all. But aside from Danny, everyone else seemed to pass the time watching the storm and waiting it out.

The aftermath. People were outside investigating damage by two in the afternoon and the weather was nice. Cool, clear, comfortable. But by sundown a cold front had moved through behind the storm and the temps dropped low enough to require jackets. Debris, in the form of tree limbs and anything else the storm could pick up, was scattered everywhere, making travel by vehicle nearly impossible. A1A was buried under a mound of sand from the beach. Power was out, water was off, and it was darker than South Florida had experienced in ages. Standing outside that night you could look in any direction and not see the faintest glow of city lights. But the stars were out in force and everyone recalls how magnificent the night sky looked and how silent the city was. No traffic, no hum of air conditioners or roar of planes overhead. Just silence.

The days that followed were tougher for some than others. Power and water outages ranged from three days to three weeks. Showers were taken in cold water or not at all, toilets flushed infrequently with water saved in bathtubs before the storm, people stood in lines for ice and water, and communication with the rest of the world was infrequent.

But the human spirit comes shining through in moments like this and people drew together. Sean commented that it was the first time he’d met many of his neighbors and everyone kept an eye out for each other; shared food and shared power by way of extension cords run across yards and streets. Ric said he gathered with friends every day to throw whatever food they had on the grill (things you wouldn’t normally eat together) and drink warm beer or rum and cokes with no ice. Lauren mentioned the neighbor aspect too. She said the kids played outside together while the adults mingled and talked and got to know each other. Not a bad way to pass the time while waiting for life to return to normal. Actually, not counting the damage and the costs, both large and small, not a bad way to pass the time in any circumstances.

So maybe a few gallons of water and some canned food isn’t the best preparation. Maybe we need to think a little further ahead. But as with anything in life, you take the bad with the good. And the good that came from the last storm was acknowledged by everyone I spoke with. And not a single one of them would consider moving elsewhere for even a moment. I’m not suggesting that a hurricane is fun or exciting, not by any means, but it sure does make you think about things in a slightly different way. And maybe that isn’t all bad.

A Crisis of Faith - June 08

“What are you thinking about?” Mike asked me one morning recently as we sat on the patio with our first cup of morning caffeine.
I nodded toward the canal and said, “Our boat and my column.”
Mike grimaced. “Are you going to write ‘boat for sale’? Or how about ‘dream for sale’, or even better, ‘dream boat for sale’?” he asked, shaking his head.
“Actually, I was thinking about calling it A Crisis of Faith.”
He stood up to go watch the news. “Tell me how it ends.”

At the time of my last refit column we’d begun rebuilding from a gutted hull and were making slow but steady progress from the V-berth back. What we accomplished was not only strong and solid but looked good too. After months of tearing out, we’d finally started putting it all back together and were feeling good.

Then we reached one of the three bulkheads we thought were strong enough they didn’t need to be replaced, specifically the main bulkhead. While the bulkhead itself is solid, the steel beam that supports the mast is rusted through. Which puts the entire rig at risk. So rather than continuing to make steady progress with rebuilding cabinets and putting in floors, progress came to a halt while Mike works out the best way to fix this critical issue. I asked him why we couldn’t just work on another section in the meantime and he handed me a book on boat construction. “Read this.” Um, I’ll pass thank you. I’ve made it this far in life without reading boring technical books. I’ll just wait and he can teach me as we go along.

To make himself feel better, he took a break from that and worked on something which should have been cut and dried. He hooked up the fuel tank. He’d gotten the engine running smoothly a few months earlier, but it was still drawing fuel from a five-gallon gas can. The main fuel tank appeared to be only a couple years old; bright, shiny stainless steel with good fittings. Mike cleaned it out, polished the fuel, connected the hoses and added new diesel. Over a couple cold beers, we sat on the stringers and listened to the engine hum, knowing at least one part of the boat was in good working order.

The next day Mike went below and noticed a little puddle of diesel. It was small enough he thought he might have spilled it filling the tank. So he wiped it up. The following day the puddle was back. Yep, the second thing in the boat we’d thought was solid – wasn’t. So he siphoned the diesel back into the gas can and disconnected the tank from the engine. The tank would have to come out of the boat to be pressure tested and welded. More time, energy and expense. But the worst part – this was something we were sure was in good shape!

Disheartening? Oh yeah. Then our neighbor brought over a book she thought would “inspire” us. The World’s Best Sailboats by Ferenc Mate. We sat on the patio in full sight of our little wreck and looked at photos of Shannons, Hinckleys and a Cherubini pretty enough to make you cry. While I still believe our project boat has the potential to be nearly as pretty as many we saw in the book, I’m not so certain we have the stamina, the money, or even worse, the motivation to make it happen. For both of us, the boat is only half of it. The other half is sailing and we’ve never even sailed this boat. We’ve been told by many who’ve sailed Cal’s that we’ll love how she handles, but is it enough? How long until we get a chance to find out?

But as with most things in life, it comes down to the bottom line. And the bottom line here is that we can’t sell the boat, for a multitude of reasons, so we’re stuck with it and we’ll have to make the best of it. We’ll have to focus on the positive, work our way through the negative and stick it out until it’s done.

So what are the positives? For starters, the hull is solid and the boat has potential, which, if I recall, were the main reasons we bought it in the first place. We can do the work in small, affordable chunks as time and money allow. We can do most of the work ourselves and even though I don’t have the experience or skills Mike does, I’m learning and that’s never a bad thing. When we’re done with the project, we’ll have a good boat we can trust. I watched Mike turn the broken hull of a Rhodes 18 into a beautiful cross between a fine sailing boat and a work of art. If anyone can make this happen, Mike can, and I’ll be working right along side him. This is something I can have faith in.

The negatives are all a matter of perspective. The biggest is that we’ll never get out of it the money we put into it. But then again, some of the most rewarding things in life are not based on investment return. Raising children is hard work and expensive but you don’t expect a return on the dollar; the reward is in the act itself and usually comes many years later!

And sometimes you just have to be grateful for the little things. At some point in the boat’s past, someone stuck an ugly air conditioning unit in the main cabin hatch. On a whim the other day, Mike ran power to it and turned it on. It actually works! It’s hideous and has no place on a sailboat, but it sure will make it easier to work below over the hot Fort Lauderdale summer.

Crisis averted? We’ll see, but in the meantime, we have plenty to distract us from worrying about it!

Resolution Resolve - January 08

New Year’s Resolutions. Do you make them? I’ve made resolutions in the past, plenty of them. I’m guilty of the usual big ones like quit smoking, get in shape, be more health conscious. Some years I tried to keep it simple, like resolving to do better with remembering to send birthday cards and thank you notes. Some years I went a little manic and my list of resolutions was more like a “to do list.” Keep the house clean, balance the checkbook every week, join the PTA, have dinner on the table every evening by 7:00, make sure I returned the library books on time, and be a better mom/spouse/friend/employee/neighbor. In short, to become perfect between the time I went to sleep on December 31st and the time I woke up on January 1st. Needless to say, I stood a better chance of sprouting feathers and flying.
Why do we do it to ourselves? Is it a real desire to be better? Is it wishful thinking? Or do we take some twisted pleasure in torturing ourselves with guilt when we don’t succeed?

So this year, I’m going to try something a little different. Resolving to “do” something requires action. Resolving “not” to do something requires no action. Surely much easier! So here is my list of non-action resolutions for this year.

I will NOT buy anything that won’t fit on the boat. As much as I hate our dog-chewed and kid-damaged living room furniture, I won’t buy new. There’s no room on a boat (our boat anyway) for a new sofa unless I can find a way to stow a water tank under the cushions. Probably not.

I will NOT go to yard sales and buy someone else’s junk, only to try to sell it in my own yard sale six months later. I finally got rid of my bowling ball, the sewing machine I never used, the fondue pot, and a host of other items I’ve carried around for years and didn’t use. No more.

I will NOT spend a lot of money period. Easy enough if there isn’t any to spend, but what there is will go to the boat fund. New cookware doesn’t fall under the boat fund category. But a pressure cooker does!

I will NOT spend all day Saturday inside cleaning or working when I could be outside in the fresh air working on the boat. Gee, not doing housework? That’s going to be SO hard. Not.

I will NOT argue Mike into making any more structural changes to the boat. He’s agreed to my larger galley and the addition of a designated nav station. Butterfly hatches leak anyway. And who needs yet another hanging locker.

I will NOT force Mike to do all the hard or dirty work himself. Well, ok, so I probably will. But I won’t complain when he gets filthy and sits on the living room sofa. Unless I’ve figured out the water tank issue.

I will NOT subscribe to every boating magazine on the planet just so I can clip out pictures of boat interiors. And speaking of that, why hasn’t anyone come up with a boat interiors magazine? There are thousands of home interior magazines. Why not boats?

I will NOT go to West Marine unless I am accompanied by someone with more willpower than I possess. Mike does not fall into that category, so this non-action resolution is for him too.

I will NOT force the kids to spend time with us on the boat. They might get too comfortable with the idea and decide to live with us forever.

So there you have it. My list of non-resolutions for 2008. I’d report back periodically on my lack of progress, but I’m counting on the fact that you’ll all forget my list as quickly as you forget your own. But regardless of how well you stick to your list or I stick to mine, I do hope that you each have a wonderfully happy New Year and that good things continue for you all year long!

Amy's Sailboat Campaign - July 07

I haven’t been out sailing since New Year’s Day. It was a day of firsts and lasts for me. My first “race” as skipper of my own boat with it’s newly acquired PHRF rating of 225. My first poker run. The first day of a new year. It was also the last time I would sail my boat before I sold it, my last sail on the lake before we moved, and sadly, my last sail since.

I didn’t win my hand of poker, even with three jacks, but it was an exhilarating day, none-the-less and my little sailboat handled beautifully. She’s since gone on to another lake, to teach other beginners the art of sailing, and strange as it sounds, this makes me proud. But I miss my boat and I miss going out for a late afternoon sail anytime I want.

Our first few months of living here, sailing was pushed to the back of my mind by such things as settling into a new house, finding a job, trying to help the kids adjust to a new location, and everything else that comes with a big move to a new place. But we’re all settled in now and I’m getting a little antsy to go sailing. Actually, obsessive might be a better word. Take pity on Mike because he bears the brunt of my obsession.

He had to deliver a sailboat to Bonaire recently. The trip was to take about ten days, which meant that I couldn’t go due to my work schedule. Miffed is a word one might use to describe my reaction to this. Jealous is another. They’re both milder than I would use if this wasn’t a family newspaper. I want to go SAILING!

And so began my campaign. I like to call it, “We’re buying a sailboat and that’s all there is to it!”
As we all know, any good campaign must begin with a substantial cash flow. Which I don’t have. So where to find it? Anywhere and everywhere. Every penny I make in tips at work goes into the boat fund. I do all the laundry now and the $27.00 I’ve found so far in the washer is now in the boat fund, including the five I found after doing a load of the kids clothes. Do I feel guilty? Nope. They probably stole it from my purse anyway. When Mike does remember to empty his pockets at the end of the day, any money mysteriously disappears by morning. I blame it on the kids, but we all know it’s in the boat fund.

I asked Mike to help someone who needed to move his boat to a transport ship. When the owner tipped him for helping, I snatched the cash out of Mike’s hand immediately. Boat fund. I went grocery shopping recently, a task I usually leave to Mike since he does most of the cooking, but I try to help out when I can. On this particular occasion, I saw some rather nice steaks that would have been great cooked on the grill. But the difference in price between five steaks and two packages of hotdogs looked much better in my boat fund.

It isn’t just money though. Another aspect of a good campaign is the skillful utilization of propaganda. For instance, I changed the screensavers on both our computers to text that floats and bounces across the screen with messages reading “Take Amy Sailing!” and “Buy a Sailboat!” Rather than writing “dust me” on the TV screen or the door of Mike’s truck, I write, “You should be out sailing with Amy!” I’ve also found I can get his attention by cutting out ads for sailboats and taping them in places he’s unlikely to miss. Like the lid of the toilet, the first fold of his wallet, his steering wheel, on his pillow, in his underwear drawer, the sole of his flip flops, on the grill cover, on the cover of the key lime pie I so thoughtfully picked up for him, and over the label on a bottle of rum.

I like to think of this as therapy for me, too. Coming up with creative ways to remind him that we need a sailboat keeps me from going out and stealing one.

But the bottom line is, of course, the bottom line. Meaning, we can’t just afford to go buy the sort of boat we want. So what I would ask of all of you is, if you have or know of a sailboat that might be had for about what one might expect to pay for a month’s rent in a nice neighborhood, or even better, a month’s rent in a really bad neighborhood, please email me the info. Consider it an act of kindness toward Mike because until we find a sailboat, my campaign continues.

The Story of Blow & Stink - May & June 07

[This was originally published as a two part column in May & June 07]

Stinkpots and Blowboats - A Little Perspective Part I

I think the rivalry between those who prefer power to those who prefer sail probably dates back to the very first time someone stuck a motor on the back of a boat with the hope of making it go faster. Imagine a traditional sailor, aptly named Blow, sitting in his cockpit watching a his dock neighbor, aptly named Stink, drill holes in the transom, attach a motor mount, then hoist a Honda onto it and lock it in. Blow, the sailor, asks, “Now why would you want to go and do something like that?” Stink, the proud owner of the newly designed motor boat says, “To make the boat go faster, of course!”

Blow smirks and offers Stink a beer because he’s pretty sure that with the rising cost of fuel, the poor soul won’t be able to afford his own beverages much longer. Stink accepts glady, for what boater turns down the offer of a free beer, then starts his motor and readies his boat to make way. Blow covers his ears and coughs as a cloud of exhaust drifts over him, then raises his beer and calls, “fair winds!” Stink smirks because he knows he doesn’t have to rely on the fickleness of mother nature to reach his destination.

And so Stink ventures out in his custom motor boat and true to his imaginings, he zips right past his old friends in their sail powered boats and soon has left them in the distance, mere dots on the horizon. He relishes the (apparent) wind blowing his hair back from his eyes, he loves the speed with which his little boat skims over the surface of the waves, and he loves the thrill of competition that comes from leaving everyone in his wake. And so he goes, merrily on his way. Until he notices the sun is sinking and glances at his watch. Uh oh, he’s been out for hours. He quickly checks his fuel tanks and realizes that if he turns around now, he might be able to make it back to the dock before he runs out of fuel. Whipping the boat in a quick U, he heads back to his slip and coasts in on fumes.

Blow is flaking his mainsail, sipping on a rum drink and listening to Jimmy Buffet when Stink pulls into the slip. Stepping onto the dock, Blow takes the dockline Stink tosses to him and casually whips it around the cleat in a perfect knot, then asks, “So how was your sail?” Stink quickly corrects him. “I had a great boat ride. Left everyone wallowing in my wake, not a single boat could catch me! It was amazing, Blow! Amazing! You should get a motor too! I know a guy!”

Blow ponders this for a moment, then shakes his head. “No, Stink, as much as I appreciate the offer, I’ll stick to my sails. I had a fine ‘boat ride’ myself this evening.”

“You went for a boat ride this evening too?” Blow asks, looking at the slow little boat sitting peacefully in its berth next to his.

“Well of course. Why else does one own a boat but to take her out and enjoy a peaceful sunset sail? I happened upon a flock of albatross heading for shore and one landed on my bow pulpet for a rest I presume. He was silhouetted perfectly against the setting sun. I tell you it was an amazing image,” Blow says, a far away look in his eyes. “Did you enjoy the sunset? It was the most beautiful I’ve seen in years.”

Stink stops for a moment and tries to recall if he noticed the sunset, but couldn’t bring an image to mind. On the way out, he was consumed with the thrill of his boat and on the way back, he was worried about making it back with the fuel he had left.

“I can’t say that I noticed, Blow, but there will be other sunsets. Tomorrow, in fact!” Stink said with a grin. “Thanks for the hand tying up. You have a great evening and I’ll see you again soon.”

“Not coming back tomorrow, Stink?”

“No, I’m going to put in some overtime tomorrow so I can buy more fuel for my motor and go out again next weekend. Aren’t you working tomorrow?”

“Oh no. I’m going out for a long sail tomorrow. A bunch of us are going to head for the islands and raft up for the rest of the weekend. Good company, good food, good music. I’ll head back in and go to work on Monday. But I’m sure we’ll see you out next weekend if you aren’t too busy. We’ll raise a glass to you though!”

Stinkpots and Blowboats - A Little Perspective Part II

Last month you were introduced to Stink and Blow. The tale closed with Stink working overtime to afford fuel for his motor and Blow headed off for a weekend on the water. Now we return to find both boaters ready to enjoy a weekend trip to their favorite island.

Blow stows the last of his provisions and checks the weather which looks clear. Glancing at the little power boat sitting idly in the slip beside his, he decides to leave a note for his friend, who won’t be departing until later. “I have the Rum, you bring the ice!” he writes, and leaves the note in Stink’s cockpit. After hoisting his main and slipping the docklines, he makes his way steadily out to sea, relishing the breeze, the sound of waves breaking against his bow, and the feel of his little boat sliding up and down the swells. It doesn’t get much better, Blow thinks to himself as he trims the main and his vessel surges ahead.

Some time later, Stink arrives at the marina and discovers the note left by his friend Blow. Grinning, he thinks to himself, “Of course I’ll bring the ice. If you’d taken it, it surely would have melted before you reach our destination!” He lets his motor warm up while stowing his gear, baits a hook to drag behind him and leaves the dock. He eases through the no-wake zone until reaching open water then pushes back the throttle. He mentally calculates where Blow should be by now and figures that at his present speed he ought to beat his friend to the island with time for a cocktail to spare. Just to be sure, he nudges the throttle a little more, then hears the scream of his reel, announcing a fish on the line. It doesn’t get much better, Stink thinks to himself as he reels his fish across the foam of his wake.

A small cloud formation on the horizon has now become a towering front looming over Blow. He eyes the cloud and the lightening flashing below it with some trepidation, but decides to tack toward the edge of the storm and hopefully bypass it with minimal trouble. All seems to be going according to plan until the wind shifts directions and he finds himself in the middle of the gale. He furls his jib, reefs his main and turns to weather, knowing he has to ride it out. Seeing blue skies ahead, he lets out a sigh of relief that is cut off by a sharp snap, then the horrible sound of tearing sailcloth. A shroud has pulled free of the deck and whipped around flaying his main sail neatly in two before twisting around the furled jib. Her sails useless the little boat continues to rise and plunge through the waves while Blow tries to steer for the edge of the storm.

Stink sees the storm ahead and skirts around it easily before returning to his course. As he leaves the storm behind, he glances at it over his stern and notices a boat drifting with the current. A quick scan with his binoculars and he realizes the disabled vessel is his friend Blow. Whipping his own boat around, he zooms over. Blow stands at the bow with a coiled line in his hand. Without a word, Stink turns into position and catches the line when Blow tosses it. Stink eyes the shredded sail and the slump of his friend’s shoulders, then turns back to the wheel.

The two boats and their owners slowly make their way back home. Just as they enter the harbor, Stink’s engine makes an awful racket and clatters to silence. Quickly untying, the two friends steer and rock their boats into open slips where they’re assisted by friends and strangers alike. When they’ve tied up their boats and stepped onto the dock, Blow extends his hand to Stink.
“Thank you,” he says simply. “I’m sorry about your engine trouble and I’ll do what I can to help you fix it.”
“Thank you, my friend. But the sun is nearly down and I suspect we’ll both be better served by starting fresh in the morning. Now I believe you mentioned something about rum?”
Blow grins and retrieves the bottle from his galley, along with a lounge chair, which he sets up on the dock facing west. Stink returns a moment later with a chair of his own and two cups of ice.

Sipping cold drinks and watching the sun set, the two men are silent for a time. Then Blow speaks. “You know, Stink, maybe all that matters right now is sitting here enjoying the sunset.”
“I think you might be right, Blow. Our boats are floating, the rum is good, and-Last month you were introduced to Stink and Blow. The tale closed with Stink working overtime to afford fuel for his motor and Blow headed off for a weekend on the water. Now we return to find both boaters ready to enjoy a weekend trip to their favorite island.

Blow stows the last of his provisions and checks the weather which looks clear. Glancing at the little power boat sitting idly in the slip beside his, he decides to leave a note for his friend, who won’t be departing until later. “I have the Rum, you bring the ice!” he writes, and leaves the note in Stink’s cockpit. After hoisting his main and slipping the docklines, he makes his way steadily out to sea, relishing the breeze, the sound of waves breaking against his bow, and the feel of his little boat sliding up and down the swells. It doesn’t get much better, Blow thinks to himself as he trims the main and his vessel surges ahead.

Some time later, Stink arrives at the marina and discovers the note left by his friend Blow. Grinning, he thinks to himself, “Of course I’ll bring the ice. If you’d taken it, it surely would have melted before you reach our destination!” He lets his motor warm up while stowing his gear, baits a hook to drag behind him and leaves the dock. He eases through the no-wake zone until reaching open water then pushes back the throttle. He mentally calculates where Blow should be by now and figures that at his present speed he ought to beat his friend to the island with time for a cocktail to spare. Just to be sure, he nudges the throttle a little more, then hears the scream of his reel, announcing a fish on the line. It doesn’t get much better, Stink thinks to himself as he reels his fish across the foam of his wake.

A small cloud formation on the horizon has now become a towering front looming over Blow. He eyes the cloud and the lightening flashing below it with some trepidation, but decides to tack toward the edge of the storm and hopefully bypass it with minimal trouble. All seems to be going according to plan until the wind shifts directions and he finds himself in the middle of the gale. He furls his jib, reefs his main and turns to weather, knowing he has to ride it out. Seeing blue skies ahead, he lets out a sigh of relief that is cut off by a sharp snap, then the horrible sound of tearing sailcloth. A shroud has pulled free of the deck and whipped around flaying his main sail neatly in two before twisting around the furled jib. Her sails useless the little boat continues to rise and plunge through the waves while Blow tries to steer for the edge of the storm.

Stink sees the storm ahead and skirts around it easily before returning to his course. As he leaves the storm behind, he glances at it over his stern and notices a boat drifting with the current. A quick scan with his binoculars and he realizes the disabled vessel is his friend Blow. Whipping his own boat around, he zooms over. Blow stands at the bow with a coiled line in his hand. Without a word, Stink turns into position and catches the line when Blow tosses it. Stink eyes the shredded sail and the slump of his friend’s shoulders, then turns back to the wheel.

The two boats and their owners slowly make their way to the island. Just as they enter the harbor, Stink’s engine makes an awful racket and clatters to silence. Quickly untying, the two friends steer and rock their boats into open slips where they’re assisted by friends and strangers alike. When they’ve tied up their boats and stepped onto the dock, Blow extends his hand to Stink.
“Thank you,” he says simply. “I’m sorry about your engine trouble and I’ll do what I can to help you fix it.”
“Thank you, my friend. But the sun is nearly down and I suspect we’ll both be better served by starting fresh in the morning. Now I believe you mentioned something about rum?”
Blow grins and retrieves the bottle from his galley, along with a lounge chair, which he sets up on the dock facing west. Stink returns a moment later with a chair of his own and two cups of ice.

Sipping cold drinks and watching the sun set, the two men are silent for a time. Then Blow speaks. “You know, Stink, maybe all that matters right now is sitting here enjoying the sunset.”
“I think you might be right, Blow. Our boats are floating, the rum is good, and-“ the rest of his thought is cut off as the sun dips below the horizon and a brilliant green flash lights the sky for a fraction of an instant. Blow and Stink raise their glasses to each other in silence and smile.

Gone Sailing - August 07

I finally, FINALLY, got a chance to go sailing! Mike and I went out for an afternoon with our friends Harry and Frances on their Gulfstar 47 and it was divine. Mike and Harry spent most of the cruise fine tuning the rigging, fiddling with the instruments and otherwise immersing themselves in the technical stuff while Frances and I stood on deck and enjoyed the sail and good conversation. It was a wonderful afternoon.

On our way out, we encountered a storm, of course, but even that was enjoyable. There’s something about watching a storm roll toward you over the water that’s invigorating. And a first for me in that I wasn’t drenched to the skin because when the rain began, we simply went into the partially enclosed pilothouse and stayed dry! Although I’ve never cared much for the way a pilothouse looks on a sailboat, I have to say it was much more comfortable than simply hunkering under the dodger.

We motored a good ways out before hoisting the sails but when we finally did it was heaven. Standing on deck with only the sounds of the wind and water, feeling the boat pull ahead as the sails were trimmed properly, the breeze in my face…it was beyond words for me. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, a school of dolphin (porpoise, not Mahi) joined us, leaping and diving in our bow wake.

After the sail we sat with our friends for a cocktail and discussed their plans to sail offshore up the coast to New England and Frances showed me all she’d done to the cabin to make it their home. Varnish work was everywhere and she did it all. She’d modified many of the lockers, galley cabinets, and even access to the bilge, all to be more efficient and user friendly. So many improvements at the hands of this grandmother; she is truly inspiring!

Eventually the day came to an end and we returned home. It was a difficult evening for me. The chance to go sailing again after so many months was bittersweet. It was less difficult to push sailing out of my mind when I was so occupied with a new job, new house, new life and had little time to miss it. But lately schedules have leveled off, we’ve settled into routines that allow us more free time, and I’ve grown wistful to be out there. Still, after so many months, I’d almost forgotten the feeling of being out on the water under sail and that day was a heart wrenching reminder of what I was missing. Ironically, this was the same week our sailboat, which we affectionately called “The Beast” sold. We agonized over the decision for months and finally decided that bringing it down here from Georgia wouldn’t be practical. Re-experiencing the joy I feel while sailing, coming on the heals of realizing that we’re actually without a sailboat was a horrible feeling. I wasn’t pleasant to be around that night.

And so our search for our next boat has kicked into full gear. Overdrive mode, really. I’ve had several leads from readers (thank you!) on boats for sail and we’ve gone to look at several that meet our needs. We need something in the mid-thirty to mid-forty foot range, a well laid out cabin, an adequate number of sails, a trustworthy rig, stable hull, the list goes on. The thing is I’m so desperate for a boat I would have just written a check for nearly every single one we’ve looked at, regardless of the state it was in. Mike has been the voice of sanity and reason and in my more rational moods I’m thankful for this. In my less rational moods I blame him for selling The Beast and threaten to buy the next boat we look at, even if we have to have it towed to our dock! But we’ll find the boat for us eventually and we’ll get out there on the water and once again feel the wind in the sails. In the meantime, we’re very grateful for Harry and Frances and other sailors who’ve been so willing to let us get our sailing fix. Thank you.

Boat vs. House - November 07

I work (at the moment) for an organization that provides information and support for people who cruise around the world and live on their boats. When I meet people, I’m often asked about what I do and my explanation is always met with questions.
“What size boats?” Generally 30 – 45 feet.
“Where do they go?” Everywhere.
“Do they go home between trips?” They are home. They live on their boats. And someday Mike and I are going to live on ours, too.
“Why would you want to do that?”

That’s the biggest question. Why would anyone want to live on a boat, especially a small boat? I also suspect that when they think about someone living on their boats, one of two images come to mind. Either Detective Crockett with his reptile watchdog from the old Miami Vice TV show, or some of the derelicts that mar the view in Biscayne Bay. Neither of which is realistic.
So why live aboard? Here are some of my reasons (realistic and otherwise).

Boats don’t require the same kind of maintenance a house does:
- Boats don’t get termites
- There’s no grass to mow
- No roofing shingles to replace after high winds
- Far fewer light bulbs to change
- No septic tank to have serviced
- No driveway to repave
- The likelihood of a tree falling on your boat during a storm is slim
- Far less power required to heat, cool and light your boat

Boats have less space than a house, which certainly has its benefits:
- Far less square footage to cover during your Saturday morning housecleaning
- When the kids come home to visit they don’t feel compelled to move back in
- The family member you get along with so much better from a distance is more likely to stay at a distance
- You can simply refuse that ugly duck lamp your great Aunt gave you for Christmas citing that it won’t fit on the boat

Houses aren’t mobile:
- You can’t sail your house out of the area during hurricane season
- You can’t troll for dolphin or tuna from the front porch of your house
- You can’t invite a few friends over for the weekend and sail down to the keys in your house
- If you don’t like your neighbors, you can’t haul anchor and move your house around the block
- You can’t rendezvous with friends from far away places by gathering your houses together on the leeward side of some exotic island

Far fewer worries when you travel with your home rather than leave it behind:
- You never forget to pack the shoes that go with your favorite dress
- You won’t wake up in some strange hotel room and worry that you left the iron on at home
- You can miss a flight, but your boat isn’t going to leave port without you
- No additional fees or special carrier required to bring your dog (and he doesn’t travel in the cargo hold)

Boats have benefits most houses don’t:
- Your house doesn’t rock you to sleep at night with the movement of the tides
- A waterfront view is far less expensive from a boat and you can change the view at will
- Sea turtles, porpoises and sea rays don’t frolic and beg for food in the front yard of your house
- When you live and work on your boat, you can go snorkeling over your lunch break

For every benefit I could name to living on a boat, there are an equal number of challenges, so it isn’t for everyone. But some of us thrive on those challenges and find them worth the freedom we get in return. There’s a big world out there and when we finally get our boat finished (current estimate is sometime in 2017, ha!) we’re going out there to explore it.

Boat Trouble - March 07

The plan was to get up Saturday morning and take the kids out on the boat. When Saturday finally dawned, I was excited. Ok everybody, let’s hustle! The weather is cooperating and I want to get out there! I’m tired of my pale white “transplanted northerner” skin tone. I want sun and saltwater. Let’s go!

“I don’t want to sit around on a boat all day. This is going to be boring! Can we at least fish?” from Lane. My thinking is that a little boredom will give my son’s 16-year-old hormones a rest, but who am I? So I stand there by the door tapping my foot while Mike gathers up the fishing gear, the kids lollygag, and sunlight is wasting. Wait! Do we have drinks? Yes, they’re in the cooler. But I just saw you put bait in the cooler! Gross! Do we have sunscreen? Sunglasses? Fishing licenses? Check. Check. Check. Finally!

Then I noticed the skeptical look on Mike’s face.
“What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know. Let me check the weather one more time.”
“You don’t NEED to check the weather. We have two foot seas, light wind, and SUNSHINE! Let’s go!”
He looks around once more as if looking for a reason not to go, then shrugs his shoulders and we leave. Finally!

On the boat heading down the river, Bridgette laid on the bow to get some sun while Lane and his buddy T.J. sat in back making lascivious comments about passing bikinis. Mike drove and I positioned myself to maximize my tanning and enjoy the scenery. All was good and right in the world.

Until one of the boys said, “We’re hungry. What did you bring to eat?” Mike and I looked at each other realizing we’d forgotten to pack snacks. A fate worse than hugging them in public when it comes to teenagers.
“There’s squid in the cooler.”
“Ha ha, very funny Mom. Great. She forgot to pack food. We’re going to starve to death.” So once again, I’ve been dramatically presented with the Mother-of-the-Year award. I accept, thank you. “It may seem like it, but it isn’t going to kill you to go a couple hours without food. We’ll stop somewhere on the way back in and get snacks. Now shut up and fish.”

We motored out to open water and I learned pretty quickly that two foot seas in a 24 foot boat still means a lot of jostling and bouncing around. I finally figured out that facing into the swells meant less sliding around on deck, but when I saw my first-ever flying fish and turned to watch it, I earned a couple more bruises. Still, we were having fun, getting sun, and it was good to be on the water as a family. I should have knocked on wood. Or at least my own head.

About an hour later as we’re cruising along enjoying ourselves, the horrible sound of the engine dying filled our ears. I looked at Mike and he looked at the gauges. I looked at the shore and calculated us to be about 20 miles out. Actually it was only about a mile, but still. Then I looked around for the other boats we’d been seeing all afternoon. Gone, of course.

Mike got the engine going again, but only long enough to determine it was the fuel filter. “Don’t worry, I have a spare and it won’t take long to change.”
Whew! He’s prepared. I held the wheel steady as he got the tool kit and filter, opened the engine compartment and got to work. Lane complained once more about being hungry and I shot him the mom look that said “now is not the time.” I also shoved my bladder to the back of my mind and smiled at the kids to let them know I wasn’t worried.

Then came a sound worse than the engine cutting out: Mike saying, “Great!” followed by a short string of unprintable cursing. It seems the tool kit was missing the one wrench he needed to change the filter. Whistling the theme song to Gilligan’s Island didn’t seem appropriate so I asked if I should call someone. By then the sun was sinking and the crew was grumbling mutinously. Mike sucked up his pride and nodded curtly.

Our rescuer arrived just as the sun dipped behind the horizon and we sat in humble silence as we were towed back in. Then Mike looked at me and said, “I wasn’t sure about this. I should have trusted my gut.” And he might have heard it better if I hadn’t been so adamant about going.

Later, after the boat was secured, bladders were emptied, teenagers were fed and the crisis over, the kids rebounded quickly. “Thanks for taking us out! That was SO cool!”
Go figure.
Our heartfelt, stomach-felt, and bladder-felt gratitude to our rescuer, Kenny Schliessman.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Place Called Home - December 07

We had an opportunity recently to go sailing for four days with our friends Bruce and Dawn, and I intended to write this column about my first cruising adventure. But something happened on the trip that had an impact on me and I want to share it with you.

It was our second day out. I didn’t realize how quickly I’d adapted to the silence until radio chatter and the distant whump of a Coast Guard helicopter broke the peace about mid-morning.

It seems a boat of Cuban refugees was spotted in the area and was being evacuated. For someone who grew up in the Midwest it was a pretty amazing spectacle and as I watched the helicopter hover over a spot of land on the horizon I wondered about the people involved. In time the activity died down and we assumed everyone had been rescued.

We meandered around Pumpkin Key then zigged and zagged for a while looking for another anchorage, preferably close enough to land that we could take the dogs ashore. We finally settled on a quiet spot off Card Sound Point. While setting the anchor we saw two men on shore but assumed it was someone exploring from a boat on the other side. When they tried to hail us by waving a t-shirt, we put two and two together. Cuban refugees that, for whatever reason, had been left behind. We called the Coast Guard.

As we sat there eating lunch and waiting to see what happened next, I worried. They must be starving and thirsty. And scared. I couldn’t imagine being desperate enough to flee my birthplace with only what I wore, risking my life to get somewhere better.

An hour later a Coast Guard skiff came around the point and headed slowly for shore. I grabbed the binoculars. Not that I don’t trust U.S. officials, but an American flagged vessel watching keeps everyone honest. The skiff approached and one of the Coasties used a bullhorn to call to the men. As I watched, one of the men bent over, grabbed a handful of sand in each hand and held them up in the air while shouting. I couldn’t hear, but it didn’t take much imagination to know he was saying, “I’m on American Soil!”

The Coasties and the Cubans called to each other for a few minutes, then just before the refugees waded out to the boat, one man put a handful of sand in his pocket.

Those two simple acts spoke volumes to me.

The refugees turned the skiff around then climbed aboard and accepted the life jackets given to them. A Coast Guard pilot boat was waiting in the channel where the men were transferred and taken who knows where. I worried about what would happen to them and hoped they would be safe and treated with dignity.

Since moving to South Florida, I’ve frequently heard natives, and incredibly even some transplants, complain about the Cuban population. The complaints range from how this affects jobs, housing, traffic, crime and complaints about Spanish being used more than English. There’s the “you need a passport to go to Miami” joke. None of this negativity takes into consideration the human aspect. These people are human beings, flesh and blood, with hopes and fears and dreams just like you and I.

As Americans, most of us love our country. And most of us are guilty of complaining about our government at some point in time. But none of us has ever felt so desperate that the only option was to climb aboard a boat in the middle of the night and leave behind our possessions, our friends and our families, with only our memories to hold onto. Where the need to flee is only balanced by the fear of the unknown that lies ahead.

I can’t imagine stepping onto foreign soil with nothing to my name, not speaking the language and hoping for the best, where a handful of soil in my pocket represents freedom. Wondering where my next meal will come from and where I will sleep. Weigh that against the anxiety you feel if you leave the house without your wallet or your cell phone. Or if a family member in another state is ill and you can’t fly home to be with them. Or the stress over losing a job.

Magnify that a couple thousand times.

That afternoon when we took the dogs ashore, we didn’t stay long as we were overwhelmed by no-seeums. I was grateful that we’d been able to assist in getting the men off the island. No food, no water and being eaten alive by bugs would have made for a hellish night for them. But I worried too about what they faced next. Would they be treated well where they were taken? Would they be able to make their way in a new world with the hostilities they’re bound to face?
I had an opportunity last spring to spend an hour with Tito Bacardi aboard his boat during the Bacardi Cup race. I asked him about Cuba. He said, “It is my dream to take the Cup home to Cuba, where it belongs.” I saw tears well in his eyes. “We wait. All Cubans, we wait…” He looked down for a moment. “Forgive my language young lady, but we all wait for that bastard to die so we can go home again.”

I hope the two men on Card Sound Point that day get the chance to go home again. But until then, I hope they find peace and freedom in this…better place. I certainly don’t take that for granted anymore.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Iguana Adventure - February 08

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon and I was sitting on the back porch reading a mediocre book when Charlie started barking. He’s nine months old and has recently discovered his voice, so I ignored him for a little while. Probably a fish jumping in the canal or a butterfly. After a minute or two his barking took on a frantic tone and he was jumping around in circles in the corner of the yard like the little psycho puppy he sometimes is. I wondered if he’d caught another bee and gotten stung, so I got up to investigate. As soon as I stood up to look, Chloe decided that if I was getting involved, she better go investigate too. Anytime she discovers that Charlie's barking at something of interest, she wants in on the party. This particular party was hosted by an iguana who seemed to be regretting his decision to invite my dogs.

As I headed in that direction, I noticed the wind had knocked down my tomato plant. Oh no! I’m so proud of my winter tomatoes! So I went to prop it back up but realized it was just going to fall over again and I didn't have anything to hold it with. As I stood there trying to figure this out, our neighbor walked over to see what all the fuss was about and offered to hold the plant up while I found a tie. While I rushed to tie the plant off, the dogs barked and danced around the iguana like crazy and the darn thing didn't seem to want to vacate the premises, so I yelled for my son, Jay, to put the dogs in the house. With the tomato plant secured, I noticed that half a dozen green tomatoes had been knocked loose and were lying on the ground. What a waste! Guess we're having fried green tomatoes tonight.

Keeping one eye on the iguana and dog party, I picked up the tomatoes and tried to hold them all, dropping a couple every time I glanced at the iguana. When I finally had the tomatoes in hand, I notice the iguana, in a last ditch effort to escape my ferocious dogs, had climbed partially through the chain link fence and gotten stuck and the dogs were tormenting it. I yelled again for Jay and ran across the yard to put down my tomatoes, when Jay finally came out and wrestled the dogs into the house. I asked him to find the wire cutters in the toolbox in the hall closet and DON'T let the dogs out. I also searched Mike's newly constructed and well organized tool bench. Which is in fact, so well organized that I couldn't find ANY tools. So I grabbed the only thing I could find, a beat up pair of pliers, and hoped they'd do the trick. As I headed back across the yard to rescue the Iguana, I called for Jay to bring me a glove, too. But he didn't hear me and opened the door, letting Charlie out in the process. Charlie, of course, made a beeline for the iguana but I managed to catch him and get him back in the house, shaking my head at the slapstick feel of this whole thing.

I knelt down beside the fence and tried to talk soothingly to the iguana, who eyed me as if I were wearing plaid flannel pajamas in the middle of the afternoon, which in fact I was, and he didn't seem real interested in being soothed. So he flicked his tail at me, which in addition to his hind legs, were the only parts of him on my side of the fence, thankfully. I suppose I'd rather be on the tail end than the end with the mouth which, as I noticed when he hissed at me, looked rather nasty. As the tail flick seemed rather half-hearted (he probably figured that by that point he was good as iguana stew and had given up), I grabbed his tail and held it still while I tried to pry the chain link wide enough for him to climb the rest of the way through.

Meanwhile, Jay hadn't found the wire cutters, but had instead brought me my gardening shears and was wearing my gloves himself. Ok. I already had hold of the iguana's tail so no point in letting go to wrestle Jay for a glove. As to my shears, my one decent pair, what's $12 to the life of an iguana, so I tried them. And I must say they're highly inefficient at cutting chain link.

About this time, our neighbor (also named Mike, but not to be confused with my Mike who was working and missing out on this great adventure!) noticed what I was doing and came to help. He was no better armed than me as all he had were a pair of needle nose pliers. So while the poor iguana is no doubt frightened senseless, or maybe just extremely angry - it's really hard to tell just by their expressions - the neighbor took over trying to free our friend while I continued to hold his tail so he wouldn’t lunge when we got him unstuck. Mike tried his pliers, then mine, then my shears and had the same luck with them I did. Then he tried his pliers again and managed to pull the fence apart enough that the iguana, with a little help from yours truly, could get his back legs and tail through the fence. Which he did, then skittered sideways away from us, keeping us in sight as though one of us might still pounce on him and throw him in a stew pot. I think not.

And so, the tomato plant, the tomatoes and the iguana were all saved. The only things not saved were my gardening shears and my pride - at being caught out in the yard at 3:30 on a Sunday afternoon in my pj's, but I suppose I'll get beyond it one day.

Now I just don't know what to do with myself for the rest of the day. I've saved a life and provided dinner (the tomatoes, not the iguana!) so surely my work here is done.

A Sailor's Christmas List - December 06

I sat staring at a blank screen for some time before finally admitting to myself that I had no earthly idea how to write a column about sailing and in some way tie it to the holidays. Giving up, I sought out my boyfriend and asked if he had any ideas. He thought about it for less than a minute then said, “Why don’t you write a Christmas List from the point of view of a sailor?”
Hmph. Why didn’t I think of that? I’m the writer! But I didn’t, so I glared at him for a minute before thanking him profusely. “I could list things like, ‘We wish the Corps would raise the lake level to the point where sailboats don’t strike underwater hazards!’” He shook his head.
“That’s a good one, but it probably wouldn’t work and you can’t speak for all sailors. It should be from your point of view as a sailor.”
Ah. I see. Clearly. What he has in mind is a ready-made list of things he can get me for Christmas without having to ask me or put any thought into it. Well I can certainly do that. Here is my list:

1) A Swan 45, in bristol condition with all the amenities needed for a lengthy ocean voyage.

2) Said Swan to be sitting in warm saltwater, fully provisioned, awaiting my arrival.

3) Tickets to that warm saltwater location, first class of course. And a new set of gear bags stuffed with new bathing suits and sundresses wouldn’t hurt either.

So there you have it. Make it happen and I’ll get that little red velvet thing we discussed and call you Santa.

Okay, so that probably isn’t what he had in mind and I should be a little more practical in my list making. Fine. Here is the revised version of my list, in no particular order:

1) Since we’re stuck in the frozen tundra of North Georgia, foul thoughts, I mean foul weather gear comes to mind. In my size and in some color other than yellow. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know it’s that color for a reason! And if they make one with a flap to cover that damn Velcro so it doesn’t stick to everything in sight, I’d be a very happy sailor!

2) In keeping with the warm thoughts of #1, long underwear. I like the thermal silk kind that doesn’t leach every ounce of moisture from my skin and induce static. In pretty colors please. Pretty being defined as some color other than navy, gray, or oatmeal.

3) New gear bags. While my matching black pull-behinds were perfect in my pre-sailing days, they aren’t so perfect when you must hoist them over a pristine white deck to prevent scuffmarks from the wheels. And they don’t give when attempting to shove them into lockers. And remember, pretty colors!

4) More gloves. At least half a dozen pairs. I’ve discovered that wet gloves are worse than wet hands when it’s cold. At least I can dry my hands.

5) Gift certificates. I know women don’t generally ask for gift certificates, but I would graciously accept them from Frugal Fabrics (new cushion covers and curtains), West Marine (boots, cleats, any number of fun items), (no, I DON’T have enough sailing books), Cabella’s (pretty sweater I saw in the new catalog), or Macy’s. Hey, I am a woman and it isn’t ALWAYS about sailing. Ok, yes it is. Scratch Macy’s.

6) New zippers for my sail covers. Black. Installed. And a cover for my grill.

7) New dock lines. Black. Yes, I know my dock lines are new, but they aren’t black and already look disgusting.

8) Sheets that fit the V-berth!!! And yes, you guessed it, Egyptian cotton is required!

9) Since #8 is clearly wishful thinking, I may as well continue in that vein and ask for a marine head. As opposed to a port-a-potty. Far less gross factor. For me anyway.

10) A new traveler. Mine is shoddy and I don’t trust it. The worn lines and the fact that it tends to slip loose when under even the slightest pressure make me feel less than trusting in strong winds. And trust in your vessel is paramount.

11) Warm weather: not having to suffocate myself in layer after freaking layer of clothing, not having to wear shoes, not having to freeze my…tail off to go for a sail, being able to relax in the cockpit with a cold drink without my lips turning blue, sleeping in my boat with the hatches open without waking to an icicle dripping on my forehead. You get the idea. While Santa seems content at the North Pole, I am not. Give me heat! From the sun, please!

12) The new Pirates of the Caribbean II DVD. There. A simple one.

13) Rum. Good Rum. And plenty of it.

14) A parrot. Just kidding. Sort of. Arrggghhh.

15) And last, but certainly not least, fair winds and a beautiful sunny day with no obligations so I might take my boat out for a sail with my favorite sailor.

There you have it. A sailor’s Christmas list. One my boyfriend might be able to work with, and I might even be willing to discuss that red velvet thing. But not here!
There is one more important wish for my list. I wish each of you a wonderful and safe holiday season. Now where is my rum?