Makes You Think

In the Cambridge Municipal Yacht Basin, there is this boat. Its hailing port is displayed on its stern, alone.

DSC_0413 (2)

The view from “F” dock.

For more information, you must refer to its two sides; and you would assume from the commonality you will find there that the boat’s official name is A2H.

DSC_0402 (2a)

Self-explanatory? By no means.

In the radio alphabet you hear used in all the war movies, this would be rendered orally as “Alpha Two Hotel.” (More properly known as the “phonetic alphabet,” the radio alphabet is the key to the title of the 2016 Tina Fey movie, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, which deflates to WTF, which reinflates in social media parlance to something else entirely. Also, it is pretty useful on the radio. The alphabet, that is. Not the movie.)

But the owners who presumably christened A2H have come up with at least two other ways to convey that name to concerned bridgetenders as their boat comes zipping along toward those yet unopened spans in the ICW. Each alternative is displayed on one side of the boat, directly under the presumed name, for the contemplative pleasure of boaters and others who similarly have nothing better to do.

DSC_0402 (2)

To starboard.

DSC_0409 (2)

To port.

Anyone who has spent time in a boat racing, cruising, living aboard, or just whiling away the weekends might take it for granted that these are two ideas in opposition, two mutually exclusive sides of a coin. And the side that comforts or confronts us on any given day, we are wont to believe, will reflect whichever set of extremes we are destined to encounter in that day’s winds and waters.

But there is a second narrative into which these twin appellations also fit, one that draws them into a unity that complements the duality they more obviously suggest. It is a narrative that sailors strive always to remember and always to thrust away. And I wonder if it isn’t somewhere in the back of the owners’ minds as well.

Very simply put, the boat trip that goes All to Hell may well send the boat’s crew All to Heaven.

Past Tense. Future Perfect?

WARNING:  This is not a happy post. If you are inclined by nature, as I am, to be pulled down by other people’s snarky self-indulgence, please find yourself more pleasant company. I won’t be offended.

Indifferent

Do you remember that moment in the 1960 televised special with Mary Martin when, after drinking the poison to save Peter Pan, Tinkerbell’s life glow began to fade? And Peter pleaded with the thousands of kids ostensibly watching in TV Land to convey to Tink their healing belief in the reality of fairies by clapping their hands? Well, I recently watched that scene, alone, in my cabin, on YouTube. And when Peter pleaded with me, I didn’t clap once.

My indifference made no difference to Tink, however. Twenty seconds later, she was flitting around again, and Peter was moving on to other business of presumed interest to lost boys.

You know what? I don’t believe Tinkerbell was really dying after all. I think that little bitch was faking it the whole time.

Indecisive

In related news, August 25, the first anniversary of our move onto Meander, is drawing near. And I see that it’s been more than three months since I last posted on Bimini Dream.

Let me catch you up. It’s been three months of keeping everyone I love tiptoeing around me and my chronic mood swings, punctuated here and there by one lost and subsequently recovered dinghy and a few other mishaps.

And at this point in the blog’s life, I’m frankly not sure whether I should be catching it up or cashing it in.

They say travel teaches you more about who you are than about where you’ve been. Indeed. What it has taught me is that I don’t like travel.

When we started this adventure nearly a year ago, I was rather hoping it would be different. On my About page, I wrote, “This boat’s gonna give me something worth writing about, and the time and energy to do it.” Now, as I look back on what has emerged since that optimistic first assessment, I’m not so sure.

You see, the guy inside me who is tasked with this blog has been privileged this past year to travel up and down the east coast of the United States, from a rural river edge in New Jersey to the bucolic town of Beaufort, South Carolina. He should surely have had something constructive to say, you would think, about the places he’s seen and about the journeys that connected them.

But the thin and snarky written record he’s produced does not belong to an intrepid adventurer. Rather, it belongs to a chronic complainer, one whose self-absorption and scant consideration of anything outside his head implies a subtle contempt for this whole endeavor.

I don’t like that guy, and I don’t like his writing. And lately, I haven’t wanted to be in his company.

So if Bimini Dream has been too quiet, I’m pretty sure it’s that guy’s fault.

And if Bimini Dream is to continue, I’m going to have to kill him. And I’m going to have to assign the job to some other guy inside me whose every utterance won’t be a waste of my time and a drain on my energy.

The problem is, I’m not sure I believe that other guy exists.

In for the long haul, probably

And because I’m not sure he exists, I am not in a position, as Pete was with Tink, to ask for applause from the gallery to light a fire under him.

That is to say, please do not consider this a Cry For Help. Rather, please consider it an accounting I owe to many readers who, concerned about the blog’s recent silence, have been moved to inquire how we have been doing lately on Meander.

In fact, what I am sure of, in spite of my many character failings, is the gratefulness I feel for how this blog has introduced me to other readers and writers in the cruising life–people whose comments and insights often convey more grace in a single sentence than I am routinely able to capture in an entire post.

And let’s be honest. Someone who needs grace as much as I do can hardly afford to walk away from it wherever it is offered, andf I am no more likely to fold up this blog than Tinkerbell is to die away into fairy dust.

A new year on Meander starts on August 25, and every new year comes with a resolution. Mine is to ponder a new voice for Bimini Dream, and to be back in this space soon to see what it has to say.

I Need to Vent

Our time here in Beaufort, SC is coming to an end.

And it’s time, therefore, to run down the list of things we need to do to get ready to move the boat back to the north to the town of Cambridge, MD that we call “home port.”

The priority items on the list are those that will enable us to anchor out and avoid marinas wherever we can. At this time of year, we will be competing with hundreds of other boaters for space on the water and at the docks; and the relatively modest out-of-season fees we paid these fine establishments on our maiden voyage down here will no longer be so modest on our way back.

Ready, set. . .

So let’s see. Ah, two items in particular stand out.

One: finish the installation of a composting head so we don’t have to pump out the holding tank twice a week.

DSC_0843 reduced

Out with the old.

Two: get our outboard motor fueled, oiled and running so we can give Honey the Golden Retriever a dinghy ride to a land-based potty break twice a day.

Yep. Everything about living on a boat, it seems, comes down in the end to managing biological waste.

The composting head is a project I got built and installed last week after more than a month here in Beaufort procrastinating on decisions regarding design and materials. (I’ve never been a quality maker of decisions.) So, while I’m on a roll, why not just finish that up by getting the head vented and supplied?

DSC_0840 reduced

In with the new.

. . . stop.

Half an hour into reviewing my options, I remember why not. I can’t figure out how to vent this thing in a clean and elegant manner.

This was a question I knew I would have to address when I first started the project, the question I chose to ignore two weeks ago in order to release myself from “analysis paralysis” and start building the head cabinet, the question whose answer I thought would reveal itself in time after I had spent two weeks kicking it around in the back of my mind.

The question is this: How do I run a hose to act as an exhaust duct from the back of the head cabinet to a Solar-Powered Vent Fan (Yet To Be Acquired) that must be installed somewhere in the cabin top?

And now that this question’s time has arrived, I remember why I had put it off in the first place: There’s no concealed route by which to run the duct through the hidden parts of the boat; there’s no exposed route through the head compartment that won’t look permanently painful and clunky; and, once the run is done, there’s no obvious way to connect the duct to the Solar-Powered Vent Fan (Yet To Be Acquired).

But wait, there’s more

Then there’s the question of where the Solar-Powered Vent Fan (Yet To Be Acquired) should itself be located. That it must go somewhere through the cabin top is without question, since any other location dramatically increases the chance of water intrusion.

This would, in turn, require cutting a new hole through the cabin top. In this operation, I can expect to encounter the one-inch-thick sandwich of fiberglass and balsa wood that composes the cabin top’s exterior shell, and an interior ceiling comprising a half-inch-thick soft foam insulation (interrupted here and there by mounting battens) under a finish surface of precious vintage naugahyde.

Oh, goody, more new skills to pick up.

An easy way out?

On the other hand, Pam and I had considered avoiding that new hole in our boat by incorporating the Solar-Powered Vent Fan (Y.T.B.A.) into the head compartment’s dorade vent.

Our boat has two dorade vents, assemblies which are designed to introduce fresh air through a cabin top into the interior of a boat while discouraging the entry of water from seas or storms, and which are supposed to be completely closable when the seas or storms become too much for them to handle. I say “supposed to” because one of the vents is stuck closed, admitting no air, and the other is stuck open, blocking no excess water.

The one in the head compartment, the one I would have to modify to vent our composting head, is, of course, the one currently in the stuck-closed position.

DSC_0841 reduced

Trouble on the inside.

So before I can figure out how to incorporate the S.P.V.F. (Y.T.B.A), I would have to figure out how to fix the concealed working portions of this vent, which means getting to them, which means removing the dorade’s top-mounted wood box, which means removing ten wood plugs covering up ten screws that hold it on to concealed battens that attach it to the cabin top, which means removing the metal-rail pulpit assembly whose legs are blocking the approach of a drill to two of those ten plugs, which means removing the through-bolts securing the pulpit to the cabin top, which means removing the naugahyde ceiling liner and foam insulation layer covering up the bolt ends, which means getting the ceiling liner’s zipper unstuck.

DSC_0847 reduced

Trouble on the outside.

Yeaaahhhh, that’s not going to happen.

That first option, cutting a new hole through the cabin top, would be, by contrast, “considerably better,” in the sense, at least, of “considerably more direct.”

But I don’t know a thing about cutting through fiberglass-and-balsa sandwiches. And I don’t feel up to taking a crash course on the subject.

And, when it comes right down to it, either option would merely represent the opening round of a carpentry project that could keep us here another fourteen days. A project I am loathe even to start until we’ve acquired the — you know.

And we told the dockmaster we would be leaving in five.

No time like tomorrow

So I guess there’s only one thing left for now. I’ll kick the can (euphemism intended) down the road again, probably until we land in Cambridge a month or so for now. And we’ll see what living with an unvented composting head will be like. And by “be like,” I mean “smell like.”

And that there is some quality decision making.

But I do wonder what Pam will think of the decision.

Meanwhile, where did I put the manual for that outboard motor?

DSC_0842 reduced

Figuring It Out

My brother Andy called the other night, and we talked for a couple of hours as we are wont to do once in a while.

And before we settled into the heavy and intense family-centered topics typical of our conversations, he caught me by surprise with a comment:

“I haven’t seen anything new for a while on Bimini Dream.

How about that. I thought no one had noticed.

As time goes by

I last wrote for Bimini Dream during Meander’s month-long stay in Charleston, SC; and shortly after that post, we left Charleston and headed south. We are now in Factory Creek on the north side of Lady’s Island, SC, across the Beaufort River from the charming riverfront town of the same name. On our maiden voyage down the ICW, this will be our southernmost stop.

Factory Creek.

Factory Creek.

DSC_0379 reduced

Pam and Honey in Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park, Beaufort, SC.

The marina at which we are staying has a DIY boaters’ workshop equipped with many shop-quality tools which are the personal property of the facility’s many long-term liveaboards (bring your own tools if you can; ask permission before using anyone else’s), and we landed here intending that I should spend maybe four weeks knocking out a few boat projects: designing and building a custom composting head to replace our conventional wet head, getting the outboard for our dinghy up and running, preparing to extend our capacity to anchor out and save on marina fees.

And since we landed, many wonderful things have happened. Our stay in this small place eight miles from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island just happened to coincide with my niece Tina’s elevation into the ranks of the few and the proud; and we got to join her proud papa Andy, mama Brenda, and brother Anthony as they watched her graduate. Emerging from my blogging world, Marci and Steve of the sailing blog Zen on a Boat interrupted their travels north from Florida to Oriental, NC, to stop in for a visit, and we got to spend a wonderful evening together. (Ironically, they found me in the marina parking lot not because of my legendary good looks, but because they recognized Honey the Golden Retriever walking me.) Emerging from the blogging world Pam inhabits at Something Wagging This Way Comes, Amy and Rod of the pet travel site Go Pet Friendly paid us similar visits as they passed through Beaufort.

And, reaching out finally to my last employer in the architecture world in a bid to check the bleeding in our cruising kitty, I discovered I hadn’t burned my bridges with her so thoroughly as to forfeit the chance to make some hourly income in a distance working arrangement. (She, like so many others in my life, is obviously a glutton for punishment.)

I’ll say it again: Many wonderful things have happened.

But what hasn’t happened is the completion of more than one tenth the number of things on my project list. And since we landed, more than seven weeks have gone by.

Well, at least the head got itself built.

Well, at least the head got built.

A day in the life

The rhythms of an extended stay on a modestly sized liveaboard-capable sailboat are different from the rhythms of daily travel. In fact, they bear some resemblance to those on land. They’re just less convenient.

One gets up, showers in the marina building, eats breakfast, feeds the dog, and walks the dog; if one has paying work to do, one does it; one eats lunch and does the dishes (including the ones one swore to one’s wife one would get to right after breakfast); if one doesn’t have paying work to do, one might turn to tasks and errands, such as grocery shopping, laundry. . .

DSC_0537 reduced

. . .flying the international signal for “Our sheets need airing. . .”

. . . planning boat projects, and doing boat projects—or not; one eats dinner and does more dishes; one streams free TV shows and movies whenever the marina WiFi will support it; one kills more time on social media than one would ever want to confess to one’s priest; one goes to sleep.

The next morning, one gets up again.

All the while, one is surrounded by life and beauty. The water, the marsh grasses and the mud flats over which the main docks are built are full of it: songbirds, snowy egrets, fiddler crabs peeking out of their holes and waving their oversized claws in deliberate little circles as if trying to hail a taxi. A dolphin in Factory Creek. A mink—a mink!–emerging from the grasses, slinking over the mud, and sliding into the water. A small stingray skimming its way across the flats just inside the water’s edge.

DSC_0278 cropped and reduced

The creatures are not even hard to spot.

One would think that, surrounded by this kind of magic, one would have no end either of things to say or of the desire to say them. But routine has a way of asserting itself against magic, and can leave one, if one is not careful, with the illusion that one has nothing to write home about.

In the 2011 movie, The Descendants, protagonist Matt King makes this comment: “My friends on the mainland think just because I live in Hawaii, I live in paradise. Like a permanent vacation. We’re all just out here sipping Mai Tais, shaking our hips, and catching waves. Are they insane?”

Still figuring it out

By temperament, I am a moody bastard with tendencies toward sociopathy and existential despair. (I blame my manic-depressive mom, may she rest in peace.)

By upbringing and by choice, I am a Roman Catholic ray of sunshine with tendencies toward evangelical Christian fervor. (I blame my Roman Catholic mom, may she rest in peace.)

From either perspective, I have yet to figure out what to make of a particular claim often made about the cruising life, one I’ve heard over and over from enthusiastic cruisers we’ve met in the past eight months.

Namely, that the cruising life is the Best Life Ever.

Frankly, nothing in me is content to let that statement stand unchallenged.

If, for instance, the best life ever means the life of highest calling, then my Catholicism suggests a life of unceasing service to others.

But if we accept a lesser standard for “best”—one that aligns itself more completely with self-fulfillment, self-absorption, or just plain selfishness—then this moody bastard can think of plenty of other compelling, obsessive alternatives to the cruising lifestyle, most of which would not receive high marks from middle-of-the-road American society.

Leaving the exaggerations aside, however, I am glad to report today that the cruising life is, so far, a good life.

And it can perhaps be a great one. It’s just still too early for me to know what, exactly, it ought to look like.

But let’s be honest. The question of what life should look like wasn’t exactly one I had ever figured out on land, either.

DSC_0744 reduced______________

PHOTO CREDITS
Factory Creek,  snowy egret, orange sky: Pamela Douglas Webster.
Pam and Honey, composting head, three sheets to the wind: Mike Webster.

Debut

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” So proposed Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmish in 1997.

Check. Learned to sail, quit the jobs, sold the house, bought the boat, living on the boat, blowing through our cash on the boat, no reliable new sources of income yet on the boat. Thanks a lot, Mary.

OK, next proposition:

“Do one thing every day that humiliates you.” So proposed, uh, I, I think, just now.

On one hand, I suspect it’s derivative, although I can’t trace the original.
On the other hand, it does gain some leverage from more well-established propositions such as “Pride goeth before destruction” (Proverbs 16:18a, KJV) and “Humility is good for the soul” (commonly accepted wisdom offered in various shades and formats by at least 1,200 or so people as quoted on Goodreads.)

This admonition to garner one humiliating moment per day is, in my humble opinion, great advice for someone who thinks as often and as highly of himself as I do.

I wonder what great mind first proposed it.

Anyway, that’s why I spent a large part of last week writing and rehearsing four minutes of material for my first-ever open mike standup comedy set.

And this past Tuesday night at the Compass Bar here in Charleston, SC, I performed it.

It went just as I expected: I bombed.

And it was everything I was hoping it would be: I had a great time.

Below, I’ve posted the most successful portion of the set, about 84 seconds on the subject of my athletic ineptitude. So if you love great standup comedy, do not click the link.

But if you just want to witness a daily dose of my self-inflicted humiliation, please enjoy.

End of the Line (Almost)

Good morning, everyone. I do apologize for the absence.

At last writing, my wife Pam and I were on the dock in Southport, North Carolina, waiting for ideal conditions under which to depart for our next major destination in Charleston, South Carolina.

We found them. And we had three days of travel in which we overlooked only a few channel buoys; fought only a few crosscurrents; ran aground only twice and only (presumably) in the most luxuriously soft, comfortable sand; caught every bridge opening we were aiming for; and stayed off every rock ledge we wanted to avoid. (Needless to say, that would be “all of them.”) The only experiences we had were pleasant ones, and I hope to write about one of them in particular soon.

DSC_0792

Interested party.

Meanwhile, Meander landed here in Charleston on February 13. And it is here that Pam and I finally committed to a decision that, notwithstanding my stubborn desire to march through this lifestyle just as I had imagined it, had already been half-decided between us for the previous two weeks.

We decided that this is not the season for us to push on to Florida and the end of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (ICW).

Anchor aweigh

It comes down, mostly, to this. After six months, we are still not fully ready and able to anchor Meander on a regular basis. And our trip south is effectively being shortened by the costs and delays associated with this situation.

Regular anchoring is an important capability for us to pick up for two reasons.

The first reason is simple. Anchoring often costs nothing or next to it, while overnight rates for transient boaters at marinas are expensive drains on our shrinking cruising kitty.

The second is also simple, but introduces a frustrating sidebar into our current situation. Honey the Golden Retriever has a solid five-year record of thorough housetraining, and the chances are therefore slim that she can be retrained to relieve herself on the boat’s foredeck. So it is important that we be able to throw down Meander’s anchor somewhere and use our dinghy to get Honey to a suitable landing on shore.

DSC_0114 (2)

That’s right, Mike. As with your flatulence, so with your anchoring: Try to blame the dog.

But the edges of the ICW generally alternate between private property and marshland no one is interested in owning. Landings suitable for canine relief and exercise are therefore rare, often beyond our capacity for rowing and best reached by a motorized boat.

We have a brand-new outboard motor for our dinghy. But it has been sitting on its stern pulpit mount for nearly three months now, devoid of gasoline or motor oil, because dinghies with motors generally must be registered in their home states.

And although we sent in our application to Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) about two months ago, this hasn’t happened for us yet.

It must be Obama’s fault

The first delay, caused by our misunderstanding of what the DNR considers original boat documentation, was our fault. But the second is on their end, the result of a new computer system that somehow is not programmed to accept the dinghy’s Hull Identification Number.

These delays, in turn, forced us to spend many more nights at marinas than we had expected. And now the cruising kitty is really beginning to show it. And one way we can control the financial bleeding until we can anchor regularly is to commit to marinas, such as the Charleston Maritime Center, for longer stays that allow us to forego the pricey overnight rates in favor of considerably less expensive weekly or monthly rates.

DSC_0881 (2)

Neighbors on the Cooper River outside the Charleston Maritime Center.

So we have developed both an administrative need and a financial need to slow down a while.

And our boat insurance policy requires us to be north of Norfolk, Virginia between June 1 and November 1 to keep us, in actuarial theory, somewhat less exposed to the risks of the hurricane season.

So at the rate we can now afford to travel, we would probably finish the long journey to the end of the ICW just in time to have to turn right around and come back.

To heck with that. Decision made.

Change of plan

And, in a way, it’s a relief. I am averse to rapid change, largely because I cannot maintain my natural rhythm in it.

Not that the boat is to blame, incidentally. In truth, I never had any natural rhythm to maintain. If I had, it would have revealed itself quite nicely in the pleasant, routine-inviting workaday life I led before Pam and I bought and boarded Meander. But I believe my wife and the three bosses I’ve had in the past twenty years could testify that it never turned up.

In any case, the chance to stay put in Charleston awhile has been a blessing. We’ve found warmth here both in the climate and in the people, and I’m getting a chance to catch my breath.

DSC_0909 (2)

East Battery, Charleston, SC.

We’ll stay until mid-March, taking care of small boat projects, seeing the city, and turning our attention to ways to bring in some income. Pam will be contemplating new directions for her blog, Something Wagging This Way Comes, and I am thinking of trying to become a freelance proofreader. (I think I would make an ekscellent proofreader.)

After that, we may decide to travel to Beaufort, South Carolina, and spend a month at a marina that advertises free shop support for do-it-yourselfers working on bigger things.

And after that, I guess we’ll see; but I expect our bow to be pointing north once again soon. Florida has done without us until now, and I imagine it can afford to wait for us one more year.

Meanwhile, wherever we go, there we are.

________________

PHOTO CREDITS

Pelican: Pamela Douglas Webster.

Honey the Golden Retriever: Pamela Douglas Webster.

Pam and Honey on East Battery: Mike Webster.

Dock Another Day

We’d been in Southport, NC, for the past seven days.

Local color.

Local color.

We’d been cleaning up the boat, working on stuff, waiting for mail to catch up with us, resting, and preparing for our bid to be in Charleston, SC in a few days’ time.

And today was the day we had planned to leave Southport and head west to our next stop, forty-two miles away in South Carolina’s North Myrtle Beach.

But to live the cruising life means to have destinations without schedules. And when NOAA weather radio told us this morning that our trip would feature west winds of twenty-six knots, gusting to thirty-four, we once again rehearsed the reasons for holding our plans lightly. And we decided to stay on the dock one more day.

Also, saying hello to night visitors to the fuel dock.

Fortunately, our neighbors are quiet.

Go slowly. . .

Dangers do not await us in the next forty-two miles of the ICW. Rather, hassles do.

The most notable one will be a length of water that experienced users of the ICW have dubbed the Rock Pile. Comparing one cruising guide to another, it is not clear to me whether the name refers to an eighteen-mile-long stretch noted to have “numerous rock ledges” in it, or to one particularly nasty three-mile channel along that stretch blasted out of fossiliferous limestone during the 1930s by private contractors working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. At that time, the engineers progressively reduced the target width of the channel as the work on it got tougher. Today, pleasure boaters approaching the channel are advised to radio ahead to ask if any large commercial vessels might be coming through from the other end. We are to be prepared to wait our turn if necessary.

But this much is quite clear. Once in the Rock Pile, you have little room to maneuver. And if you miss to one side or the other, the stone that lines it will remove fiberglass from your hull in a way that the mud and sand otherwise prevalent in the ICW simply do not do.

Elsewhere along our next run are a few examples of the ICW’s more typical obstacles. There are two inlets from the Atlantic, the first at Lockwoods Folly and the second at the less threatening Shallotte River, each of which will provide an opportunity to run aground on constantly changing shoals. And we must negotiate the openings of two low bridges, one at Little River and one at Barefoot Landing, with their respective tenders.

All in all, this stretch would have been challenging enough to get through on a quiet day.

DSC_0461

Honey was careful to point out that staying might have its own hassles as well.

. . . or don’t go at all.

Now add the wind.

The section of the ICW we are docked in today runs out to the west. Our next forty-two miles lie to the west.

Today’s wind was from the west. At twenty-six knots, gusting to thirty-four. All day long.

If we were on the Chesapeake Bay, the Albemarle Sound or a similar body of open, shallow water, this wind would have kicked up steep waves six to eight feet high. As it is, however, we are in a narrow stretch, protected from the Atlantic Ocean by marshes and barrier islands.

And yet this strong west wind was aligned with this east-west channel all day, creating a fetch effectively a mile long on a mere ribbon of water. And that was enough to get the wave height into the one-to-two foot range–not dangerous, just uncomfortable, pitching Meander forward and aft as she sat on the dock and generating a current that moved us to double our stern and aft spring lines, just in case.

DSC_0572

But not enough to keep the tugboats pushing and pulling these two incredibly long lines of barges from trying to navigate the narrow fendered opening between the columns of the highway bridge beyond. Good luck, captains.

We watched and felt this all day. It was not surprising, much less threatening. But it was sobering.

We imagined being taken by surprise by how the wind and current rearranged the shoals around the markers at Lockwoods Folly. Or being driven off course by a sudden wind shift as we navigated the Rock Pile. Or being caught, after traveling forty miles in a ten-hour day, by a bridge tender’s rightful decision in thirty-four-knot gusts to keep her bridge closed for the day.

All these considerations made it surprisingly easy to postpone our plans and stay right here. And, for once, I’m not whining about it.

Maybe I’m growing up.

Another day

And so we stayed here on the dock in Southport, NC one more day. We kept the boat clean, and we found new stuff to work on.

Tonight, we’ll wait some more, rest some more, and prepare once again to hear tomorrow morning what NOAA weather radio has in store for us.

Meanwhile, we’ll meditate on the lessons that come from a day watching the water.  And we’ll reflect that from now on, our rhythm is the rhythm of the wind.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

CREDITS

Photo of Southport docks by Pamela Webster.

Video and all other photos by Mike Webster.

 

Bad Boat Names II: Negative Connotations Edition

What’s in a name?

When choosing for their kids, pets, or boats, some people try to embody the character they perceive within them. Others attempt to reflect their hopes and dreams for them. A third set will seek to honor someone in the past by bringing a name back into the present. And a fourth set, perhaps out of step with the first three, will just grab for some character from whatever TV or movie franchise happens to be hot at the time.

I belong to this last set.  I’m pretty sure that, over my wife’s objections, our next dog will be called Voldemort.

And finally, there are those who, in naming their boats, just like to display a fondness for wordplay.

Wordplay’s greatest practitioners, of course, imbue their linguistic fireworks with meanings that transcend mere cleverness. But most of us do not attain to that ideal. Furthermore, the bottom of our barrel of lingustic talent holds many who appear insensible to the unhappy connotations their boat names carry.

Let’s consider one such person’s literary output.

DSC_0123

To people of certain minimum ages or levels of cultural awareness, the reference to the popular Depression Era song, or, perhaps, to TV comedy’s 1970s-era look back at the 1950s, is clear enough. What is less clear is the reason for the pun. In certain contexts, the word “daze” might loosely be associated with giddiness, which in turn might loosely be associated with with joy, which would be all very nice. But on the back of this motorized vessel, it rather seems to suggest drunken driving.

Let’s consider another somewhat more complex example.

DSC_0498

Here, we have a pun on a word in the well known name of a widely revered social ritual. The vessel’s name simultaneously hints at the owner’s cultural identification and invokes the physical phemonenon associated with the movement of a boat through water. This boat name would have been a dead ringer, had it not been for the fact that the ritual invoked actually does happen in the context of death.

I suspect insensibility here. But I allow that this boat’s owner might indeed have been fully aware of the name’s associations, and might just have chosen to indulge the morbid side of his sense of humor.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. After all, when dealing with something as personal as a boat name, we owe it to others to exercise good will and make all allowances.

Still, after all allowances are made and all good will expended, it seems to me in the end that some boat names are just. . . Not Right.

DSC_0324

_______________________________________________________________________

PHOTO CREDITS:

“Irish Wake” by Pamela Webster.

All others by Mike Webster.

 

 

 

Virginia in the Rear View Mirror

My wife Pamela and I were talking yesterday about the old proposition, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Attributed by various Internet sources of variable reliability to Buddha, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and theologian Lynn H. Hough, the proposition suggests that how you travel–the quality of the spirit you bring into each day’s movements–is more important than any point toward which you happen to be moving.

DSC_0060

“Unless you’re moving toward a chocolate chip muffin,” Honey thought.

By that criterion, I am a lousy traveler. Because I’ve had a destination in the state of Florida in mind for three months now.

And the two months we just spent in the state of Virginia, waiting for our misaligned stars to set themselves straight and point the way south, now have my teeth set firmly on edge.

Messrs. Buddha, Emerson, and Hough would no doubt think I had a spiritual problem. And I do believe they’d be right.

Entering Virginia

On November 30, 2015, Pamela, Honey the Golden Retriever and I were motoring down the Chesapeake Bay, crossing the mouth of the Potomac River into Virginia from the neighboring state of Maryland, when we heard the first sound from Meander that would interrupt the progress we were making toward the Florida Keys.

That sound caused us to alter our short-term plans. Instead of proceeding directly toward Norfolk and Mile Marker Zero at the beginning of that fabled part of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) known as the Ditch, we made what we hoped would be a short detour to the small but important boating community of Deltaville to fix whatever trouble we had picked up in the Potomac.

There, we found that what we had heard was the unfortunate sound of our cutless bearing being drawn up into our stern tube. We also found that our feathering propeller was badly in need of being sent across the country for reconditioning by its manufacturer’s U.S. affiliate; and that our propeller shaft was scorched in two places, requiring a custom replacement to be machined. So as long as we were waiting for all that to happen, we decided to have Meander’s engine’s injectors inspected and reconditioned, and her engine mounts replaced.

DSC_0027

On the hard at the Deltaville Yachting Center.

All of this was a very good, necessary, and productive time. So much so, in fact, that I didn’t really mind the two-and-one-half weeks it took us to get underway again.

We got underway again on December 18, 2015; and one hour after leaving the dock, we hit a line in the water that would turn us back. Faithful readers of this blog will already have read about our December 18 in my post about The Longest Day.

Staying in Virginia

When we reached Deltaville again, we discovered that the line we picked up basically undid the cutless bearing work we just had done. (One brand new cutless bearing; one hour of service life; one premature and painful demise. RIP.)

But a few days before our yard hauled Meander out to discover that small problem, our marine technician had found a much larger one as we sat on the dock: the gears in our gearbox had been ground into a collection of small bronze shards on the longest day, probably toward its end when I ran us up onto a shoal and had to pound Meander’s engine to get off again before a gale predicted for later that day descended upon us.

With the relative inactivity of Christmas and the New Year upon us, this second work period in Deltaville felt like swimming in molasses as we went through ordering a new cutless bearing, locating and ordering a new gearbox, arranging to have the newly reconditioned propeller sent back from across the country for refitting (since we were waiting again, why not?), and clearing up the various misunderstandings it turned out our various vendors had been holding about our various holiday shipping and staffing schedules. And by the time the work period had dripped to its end, another three weeks had slid passed.

DSC_0176

At least the view was pretty.

Getting a little impatient, we decided to leave as soon as the work was done, foregoing the sea trial that would have told our marine technician that the pitch on our newly reinstalled prop needed a final adjustment.

Moving through Virginia

We departed Deltaville again on January 7, 2016. And long before we reached Hampton, VA that evening, we knew from our engine’s inability to get to within seventy percent of its maximum specified engine speed that we were badly “overpropped.” After a confirming phone call back to our marine technician, we decided with great precision of intent that we would do this “not necessarily right away,” but “sooner” rather than “later.”

After the relative remoteness of Deltaville, Hampton was pleasantly urban. We stayed through an extended weekend during which we ate at restaurants, drank beer at bars, and bought Astronaut Ice Cream (freeze-dried!) at the museum store of the Virginia Air and Space Center, a large, contemporary structure on the Hampton waterfront designed to educate and entertain visitors who would otherwise get underfoot at the nearby NASA Langley Research Center.

DSC_0745

The Virginia Air and Space Center.

Five days later, on January 12, we took Meander across Hampton Roads (this is the name of a waterway, dear reader, not a series of highways as seemingly implied by a TV ad we saw for a local car dealership) and finally reached Mile Marker Zero.

Motoring down the Elizabeth River to the ICW’s Virginia Cut, we came to rest that evening in Chesapeake, VA on the dock of a well-respected boatyard in the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal.

Overstaying in Virginia

And we decided there to take the bull by the horns and get our prop’s pitch adjusted, a nice simple task that also ended up taking twice as long as we expected.

What we expected was a short haul and a three-hour job. But our expectations changed when, as Meander was being hauled out, it occurred to me to discuss with the yard’s mechanic a topic of some subtlety that our Deltaville marine technician had advised me to monitor quite closely.

“Before we start,” I suggested, “we should talk about the type of grease we’ll need to relube the prop.”

“The Teflon grease?” replied the mechanic.

Ah, there’s the rub.

Our Deltaville marine tech had warned us that many yards would expect to use Teflon grease in our feathering prop, unaware that the manufacturer’s instructions explicitly warn against it. The working pressures to which the prop’s gears and grooves are subject are high enough to wash Teflon grease out in a few weeks. And white lithium, another type of grease commonly kept in boatyards, was also apparently not up to this particular job. What we wanted, our marine tech and the manufacturer’s instructions noted, was Lubriplate 130-AA, a brand-name calcium grease rated for extreme pressure applications.

DSC_0007

With this many parts, the right grease is important.

So we lost another day, first to educate ourselves and the boatyard staff about the differences between these types of grease, and then to have the staff confirm our findings in a phone call to the manufacturer’s U.S. affiliate, and then to ensure the right stuff was ordered, received and applied.

No sweat, I said. Well worth the investment in preserving the longevity of our $1,000 prop reconditioning job, I said. Pam, by this time noticing a certain stridency starting to creep into my increasingly forced declarations of optimism, sought to fend that tone off by heartily encouraging my brave attempts to sustain that optimism.

And so we were ready. Expecting to leave Chesapeake, VA behind, we cast off from the boatyard dock at 8:05 AM on Saturday, January 16, we once again resumed our trip south.

And once again, we were turned back—this time, by a clutch cable that decided to snap underway.

OH, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.

Returning to our boatyard, we landed again at 9:30 AM to wait out another long weekend. On Monday, we located our mechanic, had him remove four seized bolts from the top of our steering pedestal so we could get to the broken cable and related parts (six hours of labor, not one of which was wasted), and got the parts identified and ordered.

The parts didn’t ship until Wednesday, and didn’t arrive until mid-afternoon Friday. And I didn’t get done installing them until Sunday afternoon, leaving just enough time in the day for a quick sea trial to make sure this time that everything was, in fact, in order.

Another week gone, along with the last of my patience.

Learning from Virginia

This past Monday, January 25, 2016, we left Chesapeake, VA again, motoring out of the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal into the North Landing River. And at Green Daymark No. 63, we slipped, finally, into North Carolina, leaving Virginia in the rear view mirror.

DSC_0117

The distance we traveled through the state, from the Potomac River to that daymark, is about 150 miles. And it took us eight weeks to cover it.

That’s just too long a time.

I should point out here that I have nothing against the state of Virginia. Indeed, I love Virginia. It is my father’s birthplace and, for that reason among others, the sacred ground of some of the best family vacations I ever experienced as a kid. It has mountains to the west, the Bay to the east, and mighty rivers running down from one to the other. It has natural beauty on every summit and in every valley, along every river bank and around each bend of every waterway. It has history. It has culture. And it has good, kind, caring people who have carved out distinctive and noteworthy lives amongst these treasures, and who have made our time in their lovely state the best that our circumstances would permit.

DSC_0802

Norfolk welcomes you.

No, the state of Virginia is not the enemy.

Rather, the enemy is my state of mind. One that has become consumed in this last week by resenting the delays, worrying about the costs, and despairing of ever getting us to the warmth we sought when we started seeking the ICW back in November.

Tonight, I’m writing from a marina on North Carolina’s Alligator River, about four miles south of the Albemarle Sound. That puts us at Statute Mile 84 on a waterway that stretches more than another 900 miles to the Florida Keys.

And that brings me back to the conversation Pamela and I had yesterday. I am not one who has, in the past, readily embraced the idea that the journey is more important than the destination. Rather, I have more often held that a good destination provides the goal of, and, therefore, the meaning for any journey worth taking.

A journey without a destination is just. . . well, a meandering.

(I never liked that name.)

On the other hand, I have learned more recently to appreciate that it costs too much to sacrifice the quality and the spirit of one’s being today to the anxiety of striving for some far-off destination to be gained, if ever, in some distant and ill-defined tomorrow. Rather, the proper attitude, I suspect, is to value and cherish both—the moment I presently occupy on my journey, and the destination that makes my journey worth taking.

And the point of the original saying is to remember that only the first of these is accessible to me here and now.

DSC_0020

Honey, there and then on the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal.

With that in mind, I simply have to allow the fact that the delays that have befallen us were in the here-and-now, and the places those delays allowed us to explore in greater depth were also in the here-and-now, and the people who inhabited them were, finally, also in the here-and-now. I would not have found any of them anywhere else.

And whatever else should befall us in the days ahead, I had better learn today to cast off resentment, worry, and despair, and to relax more in the here-and-now.

Because our destination is more than 900 miles in front of us. And if I don’t relax, there won’t be anything left of me to inhabit it when we arrive.

The Ditch At Last

When I started cruising with my wife Pamela and Honey the Golden Retriever five months ago, I was kinda hoping it would change my temperament. I tend to run pessimistic at the best of times; and when times are not at their best, as they haven’t been for the past two months, I can get downright unpleasant.

Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me grouchy.

In retrospect, I guess it was unrealistic of me to expect cruising to deliver the kind of overall personality transplant that, say, only a frontal lobotomy could really make happen. But the lifestyle has taught me that I should at least try to make an effort to celebrate the happier moments it throws our way. The unions. The reunions. The gifts. (From a guest appearance by David Cassidy on the sitcom Malcolm in the Middle: “The here-and-now is a special gift. That’s why I call it the present.”) The departures. The arrivals.

Especially the arrivals.

So we passed this at 10:15 AM on Tuesday, January 12, one week ago today.

MILE MARKER ZERO BABY1

Floating in Virginia’s Elizabeth River between Norfolk and Portsmouth, No. 36 is not much to look at. But it marks the charted start of that portion of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (the AISW) known as the Ditch, a thousand-mile-long path of natural waterways, dredged channels and engineered canals that ends, for some skilled, determined, and lucky cruisers, in Key West, Florida.

Reading their own actuarial tables with respect to hurricane season, our boat insurer wants us north of Norfolk each year between May 1 and November 1. So our two months of setbacks and delays may already have put Key West out of our reach this year.

No matter; the other end of the AICW isn’t going anywhere soon. It will be there for us, whenever we arrive.

Meanwhile, after the past two months, it’s good just to have gotten started.