Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Manatees, Space, and Weather 11/28

First the good news - there are manatees in Florida. A few minutes after I posted the last blog, Mary Ann spotted a small group off our dock. Sam rowed the dingy out and sat for a few minutes before an adult manatee raised his head and gave Sam a long look.
The bad news is the sailing weather. We need winds from the south or west to sail, or just calm variable breezes (to motor across to Grand Bahama). However, the wind has been blowing from the north for more than a week (which builds big waves when the wind opposes the northerly Gulf Stream current). The wind seems to be shifting to the east now, but we can’t sail against the wind and are reluctant to motor against it in the open ocean. So we wait.
We have not, however, been just sitting around the boat moping. Last Wednesday and Thursday (Thanksgiving), we visited the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Kennedy. We all enjoyed it and learned quite a lot; I think Sam was the most interested. The size of the rockets was most amazing, especially the Saturn V (I think 360 feet long!)
We enjoyed a delicious Thanksgiving dinner before returning to Kennedy; Annie and Mary Ann prepared baked ham, yam and date casserole, salmon cakes (with dill dip) (for the half-hearted vegetarian on board), green bean casserole and pecan pie for desert.
On Friday we sailed down to Vero Beach, which boasts a large mooring field; there may be 60-80 boats moored here; I met a couple yesterday who have been waiting for 16 days for good weather!
Vero Beach is a beautiful little community; the ocean-front architecture leans toward pastel-colored, imitation-Italian villas, and the buses (which are free) are loaded with boaters carrying laptop computers and wearing Sperry Topsiders (just like Toledo buses).
You’ll all be happy to hear that Vero Beach also has a beautiful beach which we’ve been able to visit almost every day. The afternoon highs have been in the upper 70’s in spite of the north wind, and Annie and Sam have been enjoying the surf. Annie admitted yesterday that she’s “starting to get excited about this trip.” Sam’s response, “You’re weird.”
So for now we wait for weather, but the marina has hot showers, a TV lounge, and and a nice picnic area where we grilled some brats last night ( and one turkey imitation brat for half-hearted vegetarian on board).

Please pray for the repose of the soul of Rolland Ladd who passed away last Tuesday in Tucson, AZ. He was a good and generous man and a great uncle.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Pushing on to Melbourne and a Special Light Show 11/21

The weather finally settled down in Fernandina Beach and we pushed on to a very quiet, dark, creek anchorage in north Florida.
I should, of course, explain how our plumbing works at this time. When one wishes to flush the toilet, one rapidly raises and lowers the handle just to the right of the bowl. This draws water from beneath of the boat into the toilet bowl and then expels all the contents of the bowl into a holding tank where it remains until it is removed by a sanitary pumpout machine (one hopes that will be reasonably soon).
In this case the water came from a tidal marsh near the Atlantic. At any rate, on this night I visited the head at 10:30 and since everyone else was asleep I didn’t turn on the light. My eyes were well adjusted to the dark so that when I flushed the head I could easily see the scores of tiny phosphorescent creatures which rushed in with the sea water. This was an unexpected treat, so I pumped for quite awhile. Then knowing Mary Ann as well as I do, I woke her up and encouraged her to flush the toilet for awhile. She enjoyed this thoroughly, as I knew she would, and flushed 15-20 times. We considered waking Sam too, but suspected he would prefer continuing a deep sleep to gazing into the toilet. We have observed the phosphorescence when rowing at night in he dingy, but this was a special moment for us seeing the little creatures for the first time in our toilet.
Regarding other matters, dolphins are more numerous the further south we travel, and we have seen: White Pelicans (enormous birds with up a 8 1/2 wing span, Black Skimmers, and Coots. People tell us there are manatees all around, but we haven’t seen any so we’re skeptical.
St. Augustine was another beautiful town. We took a day off travel to go sightseeing there. The fort on the waterfront Castillo de San Marcos is one of the oldest structures in the Americas, built in 1672. We also attended mass at Cathedral of St. Augustine, the oldest Catholic parish in the United States, established 1565.
When we arrived Saturday morning, an anti-Bush rally was in progress attended by at least 15 demonstrators. One protester carried two signs: “Mission Accomplished! Gas $3 a gallon” and a smaller one “Will Work for Food”. Another first, my first political panhandler!
We’re spending tonight in Melbourne; the people are extremely helpful and friendly. A fellow at the marina let us use his truck all afternoon and now we’re all stocked up for the Bahamas.
We wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving. We will miss home more than usual during the holiday but will try to console ourselves with the palm trees, warm weather, and watchng the manatees, if there really are any.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Carolina Coast, Georgia and Fernandina Beach, Florida 11/16

During the past week we have been motoring (occasionally sailing) through remote areas of South Carolina and Georgia. We have passed very few towns and when we do anchor near a community the nearest grocery store is usually three miles away (not walking distance for me at the end of a long day).
We continue to see many eagles, pelicans and countless cormorants, but we’ve added o our list: Wood Stork, Louisiana Heron, Anhinga, and White Ibis. Along one creek bank at low tide we watched a flock of 12-15 White Ibis feeding furiously in the mud.

We’re always moving by dawn and so are most of the south-bound boaters. We see many of the same boats each place we anchor; sometimes we travel near them for hours. The sailboats tend to proceed at about the same speed (5 1/2- 7 knots), so we often seem to be part of a flotilla winding south through the rivers, creeks, and sounds of the South. The early start means we’re also ready for bed early. After dinner and some family games (including a two-day game of golf), I usually read aloud; Louis L’Amour and C. S. Forester are favorites. Sam and Annie seem to enjoy this, but Mary Ann usually falls asleep before I’ve finished the first page. That may be around 8:00 PM.

Just before arriving at the anchorage near Georgetown, SC, we were boarded by a Coast Guard patrol. They were nice young men carrying large semi-automatic pistols. One of them, Eugene was from Toledo! They found no drugs, explosive devices, or illegal weapons on board, and we passed the safety inspection.
The next evening, while anchored in a marshy estuary named Outlet Creek,we discovered our first alligator of the trip. Annie identified it first (although she may have called it a crocodile), and Sam and I got so close that it leapt off the mud bank in our direction splashing Sam and his camera. In fairness to the alligator, we were so close that he had to move toward us to get off the bank.
We had been looking forward to visiting Charleston, SC, and the city did not disappoint us. We took a walking tour of the city on a clear, warm day. Highlights included St. Mary’s Church (the mother church of the Carolinas), the Exchange/Dungeon (where famous pirates and three signers of the Declaration of Independence were, at various times, kept prisoner), and a delectable (and 100% kosher) lunch at the Pita King (be sure to order the chummous).
Then on to another great town, Beaufort (Be-you-fert), South Carolina. These Carolinians have the best possible taste in housing and extremely high home prices. Even ugly houses are pricey. We saw an add for a double-wide trailer far from the water for just under $200,000. We attended last Sunday mass just outside Beaufort at St. Peters which even though a new church was beautiful and was home for a large and apparently vibrant spiritual community.

Last night (11/15), we tied up in the marina in Fernandina Beach, Florida (yes, Florida) after a tough day of motoring into a stiff breeze across the St. Simon’s Sound, the Jekyll Sound, and the Cumberland River. Toward the end of the day the engine was overheating and our charts were at odds with reality. Charts are very comforting when they correspond with the land and water around the boat, but discomforting when they influence the boater to direct the boat toward shallow water and run aground in a 20-knot breeze and choppy seas. (As Eric is reading this, he is thinking, “You should know by now that “the map is not the territory.”) At any rate, Sam helped me sort it out, and we docked in Florida before 5:00 PM. Fernandina Beach has tasteful architecture, a charming business district, a foul-smelling paper mill, and the nearest grocery store is three miles away.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Budgie's Grudge

My flighty little life has changed a lot recently, and I can’t say it helps to hear all about the fun my human, Annie Durbin is having without me. As I understand it (I know my brain is only the size of a grain of rice), I am taking up temporary residence with my human’s sister’s family. I am more than a little concerned about this because there are little humans who are only gently scolded when they bang on my cage.
My new roost is actually not so bad, after all I am being fed more regularly, my water is changed before it is stale, and I needn’t compete with loud voices nearly so often as before. Actually, I am more in need of a little romantic advice. There is this bird, she’s pretty good looking, nice breast, and not to puff my plume, looks an awful like yours truly. The problem? Well, I’m banging my head against the cage to get near her, cooing and chirping and purring, but she stays so close but so far away. I guess I should just forget her (to tell the truth, I don’t think there’s much personality there…she just mirrors my every move).
Ah, me. How I long to be following in the talon prints of my forefathers and ride on the shoulder of a worthy captain. Imagine my squawk when I overheard that Annie and her family are at sea, and without a domestic bird, no less. If they are content with just spotting ospreys and eagles, that’s fine… but who could have been there to cheer them up with his happy cheeping when the squall rocks their vessel, who could have been there to carefully pick clean the captain’s beard, who could have been there to realize the name “poop deck” ? Me, that’s who.
Well, I guess all I can do is attempt to feather my nest playing the “boarded pet” card and hope Annie brings me back some nice Cuban cigar-tree seeds or some Mexican “magic beans”.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Tiny Dancer on the ICW

A few days before leaving Toledo we had a nice dinner with George and Kathy Schoonmaker and George’s big question about the planned trip was, “But what are you going to DO?”
I think George wondered how we will fill up the hours of the days for the next several months. Will there be days when we are so bored that we just stay in bed, read romance novels, and eat Fig Newtons?
In fact, there is much to do and the days pass very quickly. For instance, we must always know where we are and which way to point the boat. One of us must then steer the boat in that direction; the boat must be kept in good working order; meals must be prepared; dishes washed; laundry done; Annie must be reminded to finish her book report or algebra assignment. Some of those tasks take much longer on a boat than they do at home (laundry alone takes a few of our hours).
On the other hand, more time is freed up. We watch no television, so we have much more time to read, play games and bond.
While steering, I enjoy listening to the radio. If a traveler in North Carolina presses the auto-tune button, there is a fifty percent chance of connecting to country music, about a 25% chance of hitting a rock/pop oldies station, about a 10% chance of hearing a very earnest Baptist pastor, and we’ve always been able to find National Public Radio. Most of the NPR feature stories during the past two weeks have insisted that in today’s election the Republicans are bound to lose control of the House, Senate, Supreme Court, and the Universe because President Bush is so stupid (not smart like so many liberal New Yorkers).
If I got tired of hearing that story over and over, I could turn to one of the oldies stations and discover that CCR’s “ Bad Moon Risin’” is just as popular in North Carolina as it is in Toledo (even though John Fogerty is now receiving Social Security benefits). But the favorite tune on the Carolina Coast (based on a very unscientific survey) is Elton John’s version of “Tiny Dancer” and I enjoyed the first 5-6 times I heard it in the past three days, but I woke at 5:00 this morning with the words “hold me closer tiny dancer; count the headlights on the highway...” running through my head (it’s a weird song). I quickly reached over and turned on the radio (to get “Tiny Dancer” out of my head) and it began to quietly play, “I see a bad moon a’ risin’”.
There are also continual new sights on the near horizon, which moving at six knots we have plenty of time to enjoy. We see a wealth of animal life along the ICW. Dolphins have become common, but still a pleasure (they seem ignorant of the Flipper dialect and never respond when we squeak and click at them). We’ve seen deer and goats grazing along the banks and many birds: abundant Great Egrets, a Cattle Egret, Louisiana Herons, a Royal Tern, a Little Blue Heron, many Osprey fishing, increasing numbers of Brown Pelicans and quite a few birds we couldn’t identify.
Aside from other duties, Sam studies calculus in preparation for his next semester of engineering classes.
Annie wishes me to include that she spends much time cooking and washing dishes for the family, and Sam adds that she should spend more time and effort on these tasks.
So the days pass quickly; we’re in South Carolina now and should make Charleston in a couple of days.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Lovely Days in the Dismal Swamp 11/2

The trip has changed once again now that we’ve entered the Intracoastal (not Intercoastal as I previously wrote) Waterway (ICW). Instead of sailing, we must motor now (bad), but the waterway is very protected, so the weather can scarcely slow us down (very good). As luck would have it we’ve enjoyed stunning weather the past three days -- clear skies, warm temperatures, low humidity.
The Dismal Swamp canal is enclosed by two locks and borders a wildlife refuge. This is one of the lovliest areas so far. As the accompanying photos suggest, we seem to have caught up with with some of the southern boating migration. Every boat we encounter is destined for Florida, the Bahamas, or farther down in the Carribean, and our Cal 33 is typically the smallest (and least expensive) boat about.
The folks are all very friendly and helpful. Mary Ann met a lady in a marina laundry room who, almost immediately, offered us the use of her car to run for groceries and propane.
The ICW seems largely bounded by undeveloped land, much of it saltwater marsh. We frequently see pelicans, osprey, eagles, and Wednesday morning on the Neuse River we encounered a pod (12, maybe more) of dolphins, the first dolphins of the trip.
Later that day the engine overheated due to a defective thermostat. Luckily, a marina in Oriental, NC, had the right thermostat in stock, so we limped into Oriental and replaced the coolant and thermostat Wednesday afternoon. I can’t tell you how quickly Sam seems to undersand and resolve these minor mechanical problems. Frankly, Annie has been no help as a diesel mechanic, but she did prepare a a fried rice dish (including rice, chicked, cashews, and peas) that evening which we all enjoyed and appreciated.
Oriental is a favorite ICW stop which has just about everything sailors need: marine gear, repair facilities, food, used books, overpriced coffee, restauants, and several bars. Mary Ann and I have decided to celebrate our thirtieth anniversary a couple of days early, have a nice dinner and spent the night ashore after spending five weeks straight sleeping aboard the boat.
So far harmony reigns, and Annie is still learning algebra.