Thursday, September 21, 2017

Interrupting the Summer Retrospective to Bring You Up to Date on "Irma"


One big nasty mess!

First off, we are okay. Cinderella is okay. That's the perspective. The details and the scramble in between were incredibly stressful ... and we didn't lose anything! The only real damages were to our wallets and sleep cycles, yet the stress was intense.  I Just. Cannot. Imagine. what it must be like for friends who lost homes, boats, and businesses to this hurricane storm, or to hurricane Maria that followed.

The initial storm track and size looked serious enough for us to want Cinderella on the hard. Such peace of mind to have paid to reserve our spot at the beginning of the season. One boatyard here in town when we arrived 4 years ago has a "hurricane club." For $250, you are guaranteed space to haul out if there is a named storm. If there are no storms, you wasted some money. This had been the case for us the last 3 years, but this year, we were getting mega value for that guarantee.  Our insurance company was very, very happy.

Except when we called to arrange the haul, the less-than-helpful owner told us that he couldn't haul any boats because his travel lift was broken.  What dreadful timing! And of course because we had the guarantee, we hadn't made any backup arrangements and now everyone in town was full. Plan B was a protected marina 2 days travel away, that had one remaining slip. We'd have to get moving.

After a sleepless night filled with visions of charts and tides, the co-owner called and said that the problems with the lift were fixed and we scheduled our haul after all. Giant sigh of relief! Turned out that when they had done previously-scheduled maintenance on the travel lift, the mechanic had put back the controls in a new and unfamiliar pattern. The operator, the grumpy guy I had first talked to, was absolutely unwilling to learn a new system when he had many many boats to move quickly in the days before the storm, and rightly so. He had scheduled his work assuming he would be able to handle the lift nearly on autopilot as he had done with that particular system for many years. But now the mechanic came back and reorganized it the way it had been and the boatyard, and we, were back in business.


On a beautiful day it was hard to believe that there was a monster storm coming. Here we are getting into the new old travelift.


A friend with photoshop stopped by to really help us secure the boat. (Laughter helps stress.)

When they ran out of jackstands, they got creative! We were absolutely delighted with this, made us feel very secure.

After Cindy was secured, we evacuated with a few things to a motel about 5 miles inland. It was at the same location as the county's emergency services operation was set up, so we figured it was a safe spot.  After all, if it was good enough for them...  There was a mini-fridge and microwave in the room, and we brought our electric induction single burner cooktop and some pans and food, and we were ready for whatever the weather would bring (we thought). We were even happily planning some internet time. Our air conditioning on the boat had no been working so we were looking forward to sleeping cool and dry.  I brought a bottle of maple syrup also because there was an ihop restaurant attached to the motel.  There were also two raunchy "sex toy shops" directly across the street, but we didn't know that at the time we made the reservations!

Things went comfortably until 5 AM during the height of the storm, when there was a pounding on our motel door.  Earlier I had dimly heard thumps and running feet, heard someone yell to shut off the power, "Yes, the entire building." Turned out we were being evacuated from our evacuation because the roof had blown off the motel! If we hadn't had a rental car we would have been totally SOL, but since we did, we loaded our possessions into it and after the wind quieted later in the day, we drove to another motel. Of course since everyone everywhere had evacuated, the only motel we could find was one that had no power itself -- but that was better than one with no roof.  We settled in with our lanterns and paper books and had a dinner of leftover cold foods. 


Friend Scott sent us this photo of the marina as the winds began. "Well played with the haulout decision, guys," he wrote. 

What you do not want to see at your motel! After we all left our rooms we hung out at the ihop attached to the motel. Funny moment, as I posted on Facebook that the roof was gone, our marina manager was posting the same thing on his page.  We have to be at the same motel, I thought. And sure enough, he was sitting just two tables away.

Being interviewed by the TV news about the motel experience.

The storm had taken its toll. We were glad we had hauled out, although the motel stay and car rental ruined the progress we had been making on paying off old debt. Could have been so, so much worse. While the boat was out of the water anyway we serviced the seacocks, painted the prop and replaced the zincs, all necessary maintenance.  And discovered a few things we hadn't been aware of that needed attention. The boatyard was a depressing place that Dan nicknamed "Boatyard of Lost Dreams." There were many forlorn boats that would clearly never see saltwater again. One had been converted into some sort of standing shack, the props and drives removed and the holes fiberglassed in.  The people living on these "shack hulls" were not malicious, just directionless, jobless, and frequently drunk.  Some were theoretically working on their boats, the others didn't even pretend. And there were cockroaches everywhere.  With our through hulls taken out and soaking in buckets of vinegar there was nothing stopping them from coming aboard.  Still, we were safe and undamaged! We could deal with the insects, and the colorful characters who were our temporary neighbors.  Still we were delighted when the jobs were done and, with the weather benign again we "splashed" the boat back into the water. Nowhere to go, though, with the marina destroyed.  Fortunately it is a pleasant weather season in this part of Florida, because we'll be living at anchor for a while.


Friend Scott posted this photo of our marina afterward. There were several sunken boats and more boats gone from their moorings.  The marina has great protection to the north and east, but this storm came from the south.
Very happy to be moving our stuff back aboard!



Toasting our mutual storm survival with friends Mike and Lori. Their blog post on the storm is here


Sunday, September 3, 2017

One Crazy Day in Boston


Boston was the first stop on the boat show festival circuit for the summer.  I counted 51 participating ships on the official website (which also has some lovely photos of the event in their banner); even if not all of the ships made it there were still plenty of ships and crowded docks.  Our ship was so popular that our jobs were more traffic control than tourguide; we never really had opportunities to chat with the visitors so no good stories there. 

The crowds were intense and we were busy on our working days, so when we had our day off we made the most of it.  FOMO (jokingly referred to as "fear of missing out" inspired by social media pressure) is real, and I'm quite susceptible to it. We ended up having a day off so active, we couldn't wait to get back to work to "rest!" 


The old, lovely tradition of ships displaying their crews on the yardarms coming in to port is one that we almost never do on the Galeon -- we simply don't have enough crew to pull it off well. Some of the military sail training craft, however, have crews as many as 200-300 people, so they put on the show.

Our unique profile on the dock. Most other tall ships represent a period in history that came much later than ours, by a couple hundred years. 

Watching from the foredeck as the dusk settles and the city lights come on is a wonderful way to wind down at the end of a long day.

One of the best crew perks is the ability for more in-depth conversations and visits with other crews. (Not having to stand in lines helps as well.) Here, getting a sense of scale from the Chilean training ship Esmeralda. 

The daughter of an old colleague, now friend, came to volunteer while we were in Boston, and posed with the captain and two of the crew members. 

We heard the sounds of the parade coincidentally just after our visit, so we stopped to watch.


Zany crew from one of the ships.

When the El Galeon delegation passed us ...

... Alvaro our watch leader encouraged us to join in ...

... so we did! Here's V. holding one side of the flag. 

We walked a long circuitous route through the streets of Boston...

... but by the time we got to the end, we were thoroughly lost and wouldn't have made it back to the ship without the help of our phones' GPSs.

On the other hand, there was a lovely lunch celebration at the end.  My first sample of Boston Creme Pie.

Yeison hamming it up playing air guitar with our sign.

That evening there was a crew party aboard one of the other ships.  The theme was "anything but clothes." Apparently this is a thing in England. Old sails, trash bags, bedsheets all qualified. People also wore cardboard boxes, duct tape -- literally anything except clothing!

Saturday, September 2, 2017

El Galeon in Baltimore -- Not the Summer I Expected



El Galeon docked right in the Inner Harbor next to Baltimore's World Trade Center. I love the contrast of old vs new. Dan's cousin Bonnie and our sailing friend Chris both used to work here. Later in the weekend we had the chance to go up to the observation deck and look down at our ship.  

After our long winterlude in the Keys, we anticipated a quiet, lazy summer back in St Augustine. A trip to Annapolis to see friends, family, and do what we call our "medical monitoring marathon;" possibly the annual Aruba trip that we usually take in February but had delayed this year because we were already in a warm interesting place; and in general just enjoying the simple pleasures of home and friends and a slower pace. But that wasn't the way it turned out.

Instead, we had another chance to crew on the Galeon for the summer as they toured eastern Canada. Dan was all for it from the start, I was a bit more reluctant. I remembered the crew and the ship fondly, and was curious about the ports on the schedule, and any opportunity to get out of Florida's summertime heat and humidity was welcome, but most of all I remembered that those tall ship adventures weren't free. I loved both the sailing and the opportunity to use the ship in port as a platform for fascinating conversations with visitors, but the hours were often long and we gave up control of our own schedules. I often described crewing on the Galeon as a lot of work and a lot of fun all in the same package, and to be honest, this retired girl wasn't looking forward to the work part!

Still, it wasn't all that hard for Dan to convince me (and truth be told, for me to convince myself) that the opportunities far outweighed the effort. We spent the month of April promptly sailing Cinderella back to our home marina in St Augustine, then about 3 weeks dealing with logistics, packing, and readying the boat to be left alone for 3 months, and before the end of May found ourselves in a rental car headed north to meet up with the ship in Baltimore. (Pro tip: we got lucky with the car rental. Hertz needed cars moved north for the summer. They charged us a fantastic $10/day, unlimited mileage, and no one-way drop off fee -- as long as we promised to drop the car outside of the state of Florida. Yeah, we can do that!)

We arrived in Baltimore shortly before the ship was due to dock at 10 pm. This was the first time ever we participated in docking the ship from the shore -- usually we were aboard when docking -- and were interested to add this view to our repertoire. We were with ship's agent Bosco, who was much better than us at spotting the dark silhouette against the confusing lights of the Inner Harbor, but once it was pointed out to us we happily anticipated our reunions with the crew we'd met before, and the chance to meet the new members, and to enjoy the beauty of the ship itself.

Once aboard, we quickly fell into the familiar rhythms: up at 08:00 or earlier for breakfast, dressed and ready to work by 08:30, ship maintenace or cleaning chores until we opened for the public at 10:00, chatting with visitors all day, with breaks around 1:30 pm for lunch and a hour or so mid to late afternoon for siesta (which we often spent exploring the ship's immediate surroundings) , then working again until close. After we closed to visitors around 7:00 pm, there were more light tasks like topping up the water tank and shutting down the video projectors, and we basically chilled out until dinner around 8 or 8:30. After dinner we'd share a quiet beer or rum and conversation on the foredeck and watch the city lights, till finally tired but happy we'd head to our bunks for the night. And next day, do it again.

A few pictures, with stories, of our time in Baltimore:


Another ridiculous juxtaposition - the plastic dragon paddle boats allowed people to view us from the water.  And it was fun to watch the kids at play.

Baltimore Harbor used to be really dirty. This trash-eating vessel, looking a bit like a dragon's maw itself, motors around the harbor every day to control litter.  We also saw litter booms, and solar-powered trash compactors.

One of my very favorite things is having friends come to visit! Here friends Bryan and Sharon brought their girls and posed for pirate photos at the wheel. I'd never met the baby, and the older daughter had certainly grown since we'd seen her last. It was delightful showing them around our ship, and seeing their gentle parenting style when we went out for lunch after their tour. And they weren't the only toddlers and parents whose visits remain in my mind. There was one 3-year-old who slipped away from his mom and promptly ran under the ropes and climbed to the poop deck. I was quite concerned as I chased after him, thinking he could climb and fall overboard, but happily I reached him before that and escorted him back to his frantic mother. Later that afternoon we were strolling on shore in search of ice cream when we again saw her and again she was chasing her runaway toddler. I totally understand why some parents would find the idea of leashes appealing.  Another mom was desperately afraid of heights but equally eager to have her young son experience the ship. He ended up trustingly holding my hand as I took him for a personal mini-tour, to see the steering wheel, to peek out one of the cannon ports to wave to his mom on shore. 

My view of the ship from above, from the 27th floor of Baltimore's World Trade Center. Gotta love crew perks!

Nightlife was only a few steps away. Here, dueling pianos.

And a disco ball, just because.

We were docked right next to the Constellation; we offered their volunteers free tours of the Galeon and they reciprocated. Crew-to-crew tours tend to be more detailed than what they can offer to the general public. They are a true warship and their cannon deck dwarfs ours!

Hammocks illustrate the tight quarters and lack of privacy for the crew of the Constellation.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Philosophical Question



We pulled up to the fuel dock and handed our lines to the somewhat scruffy guy who had been sitting in a rocking chair sipping on a beer until we came along. The beer at work, in early afternoon, startled me until I remembered where we were -- not on the mainland any more.  Just another colourful character we'd met in the islands, happily unambitious.  While he pumped diesel we chatted, and got a brief overview of his life story.

This particular fuel dock and bait shop is a "mom and pop" store, owned (he told us) by a wonderful Cuban couple who took him under their wing.  They don't pay him to work there, but they allow him to dock the small boat that lives aboard for free.  Whatever they cook for their own family, they bring him a portion of, every day. So he has no income, but also no expenses.  On rainy days when no one comes to the fuel dock, they don't need him to work, so he lays on his bunk and reads or listens to music.  On sunny days he takes his boat out to the reef and fishes, or walks to the beach.  The owners give him various castoffs, from spare clothes to a small flat-screen TV. The staff splits their tips, that's enough to keep him in beer and cigarettes. He doesn't have or want a car, where would he go that is more wonderful than where he already is?  His wants are few, and he has everything he needs, he said, in this one tiny section of island paradise.

Do we pity him because his life is so small, or envy him because his life is so simple?

So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish!


Every time we went for walks in Crane Point, we went to visit the birds.  In fact, we spent so many hours looking, and learning, and watching the birds heal at Marathon Wild Bird Center, we were once lucky enough to be there when they were releasing birds that were fully healed.

"Before." The pelicans and cormorants hanging out in their cage. They're not all that interested in leaving -- Center Director Kelly G. claims that they are really mooches. Why should they leave? Here they get served regular meals and don't have to work!

There are a lot of birds in that cage! ID tags on their legs help keep track of which is which. The tag numbers correlate with records showing when each bird arrived and what it's medical problems were.

It's a pelican conference. They are fairly social in the wild too.

Testing his wings. Feelin' frisky; this guy is ready to be released! Actually the test is whether they can fly up, not merely glide. 
Normally this pool is full of water for them to play in. For now, it has been drained to make it easier to catch the pelicans who are going to be released. But at the moment, they're all just hanging out here in confusion; where'd the water go?
Here we go, pelican rodeo. Each bird is carefully examined before being transported to the carrier and driven to the release site. Catching them takes coordination; they don't realize that something good is about to happen. The volunteers worked in teams to isolate one bird, then quickly secure its beak (for their own safety). It was coordinated chaos as they first walked among the birds with their arms down, to allow them to pass between, then put their arms out to keep the target bird from fleeing.  At one point, Center Director Kelly needed to remind a volunteer to put his arms at his sides and in the excitement and confusion of the moment instructed him to "put your wings down, Kevin!"  

Examining his pouch to make sure he's fully healed. 


Each bird is placed in an individual carrier, and taken to the release site.
That moment of freedom!

So long, and thanks for all the fish!!




Dan got to release a couple of them too. The feeling was exhilarating -- for him as well as for the birds. 


Swimming away, to their new lives.