Sunday, February 12, 2012

Flight to Freedom

Posted: February 12, 1:04 pm | (permalink) | (0 comments)
 [photo: Members of Who’s Knockin’ Entertainment portray runaway slaves in “Flight to Freedom” event held yesterday at the site in honor of Black History Month.]

Some people I know travel with the apparent objective of collecting photographs of themselves with various iconic landmarks in the background. A tour through their photo album might be like – “Here’s me in front of the Eiffel Tower; and here’s me at the Grand Canyon; and here’s me at the Washington Monument” – more like a giant timed scavenger hunt through life than a viewpoint-widening adventure.

Here’s a hint: if the above describes your style, think about doing most of your traveling by car or airplane. Don’t travel by sailboat. It’d be waaaaay too slow.

On the other hand, if you’re all about digging deep and discovering unexpected tidbits about the places you pass through, then traveling and living on a boat may give you the time at each spot along the way to do that. That explains why, after we’d seen the major tourist highlights of the town (lighthouse, check; old fort, check; St George Street, check; Fountain of Youth, check), we found ourselves at an unprepossessing state park that just happened to be the site of the first free black settlement in the U.S.

The site itself is peaceful and parklike now; nothing remained of the wooden fort, Fort Mose, that once stood here. We strolled the boardwalk and watched the herons and egrets and wood storks that congregated there, and tried to imagine the scene here 250 years ago.

The famous “Underground Railroad” for runaway slaves ran to the SOUTH here, not north. You see, Florida was Spanish, not British. So runaways who were brave and resourceful enough to survive the flight through nearly 400 miles of swampy terrain between South Carolina and Florida could essentially cross the border into another jurisdiction. The Spanish welcomed the runaways and promised them freedom on 3 conditions: they had to swear an oath of loyalty to Spain, convert to Catholicism, and serve in the militia. Spain and Britain were (*ahem*) not on the best of terms during this period, so this was quite a win for Spain. They could chip away at the enemy’s economic resource, increase their own population, and fill their militia with intensely loyal motivated soldiers. What an amazing story! Remember I made a commitment to myself to read one non-fiction book per month? I just figured out what I want to read more about for February.
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More photos from this event are at Life Afloat on Facebook.

It’s Not the Gathering That’s the Problem…

Originally posted in the Annapolis Capital: February 7, 10:43 am | (permalink) | (2 comments)

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[photo: Boats anchored in Annapolis harbor to watch the Blue Angels air show in 2009.]

…it’s what they do when gathered. SB 127, regulating raftups – or actually any gathering of 50 or more boats, whether tied together in a raft or not – has run into problems as it should have. The article in the Capital after the hearing last week highlighted two valid objections legislators had. The first is the obvious: it’s not about the gathering per se, it’s about the inappropriate behavior when gathered. Yes, excess drinking in a large crowd begets stupidity and bad behavior (noise, littering, fighting, trespass, who knows what else) that reflects badly on all boaters. DNR has a crappy job to do here when this happens, and deserves our support. But. We have tools/laws to address these things already, as has been pointed out in the article and my previous blog post on this topic. Too many boats in too small an area, congestion and safety issues, ditto – rules about blocking navigation channels already exist. “Common sense” here seems anything but common.

The other problem with the bill as currently written was also described in the article and blog post. Well, if the “official” organizer of an event is on the hook for permits and insurance, then just get together “unofficially” via social media and word of mouth. But something that came out in the hearing went beyond that and really scared me. Annapolis sailor Dave Skolnick testified against the bill at the hearing. He reported that “When asked about spontaneous gatherings of boats (they don't have to be rafted up, just ‘gathered’) the response of DNRP was ‘we would respectfully break them up.’" Really? Break them up and make them move? Just for being there? Not being rowdy, noisy, trespassing, drunk, lewd, or littering, not obstructing navigation, not doing anything except being anchored there? I really doubt that that was the original intent, but am I the only one who’s finding this scaaaar-y? Yikes!

Dave, who is also on the Board of Directors for the Seven Seas Cruising Association, went on to say, “There is no question that the drunkfests are a problem. As currently worded, the SSCA Annapolis GAM, the Island Packet Rendezvous, the trawler rendezvous, the Annapolis 4th of July fireworks, pretty much every weekend in summer at Solomons, Worton Creek, Dobbins, St Michaels, and a myriad of other places around Chesapeake Bay [would also be affected by this bill].” By the way, if you haven’t heard of them, SSCA is not exactly the kind of organization that you would associate with over-the-top raftup revelry. They are an organization supporting the liveaboard cruising lifestyle. One of their strongest traditions, that all members pledge to uphold, is to leave a “clean wake;” that is, “to show respect for others and for our environment so that those who follow in our wake will be warmly welcomed.” (I’m quoting from their website here. They’re a good group that we’re also members of.)

Dave volunteered to help with rewording the bill so that SSCA can stand in support, and has been working with Boat/US on this issue. If you would like to stay informed, you can write to Dave at

“You Can’t Miss It”

Posted: February 6, 1:25 pm | (permalink) | (2 comments)
Now, I don’t know about you, but anytime anyone says “you can’t miss it,” when giving me directions, is when I start to get nervous … because it’s those directions that invariably get me lost. It’s like some kind of a jinx. The landmarks that one person notices just may not be important enough to another person to even make it onto their radar. We used to joke about it when we lived in Wyoming; people would always give us directions like “It’s easy – just turn at the second street after the big steakhouse.” Well, we are both vegetarians, so we’d just never have made note of the location of the steakhouse, it would not be relevant to us … and we’d get lost.

Sometimes, though, even when the landmark is relevant, it can be trouble. We had been invited to a Superbowl party last night, and the host’s directions included this statement that sent my antennae up: “Just after you make the turn onto my street, you’ll see our house on the left,” he said. “You can’t miss it, there’s a boat I’m working on in the driveway.” Well, I thought to myself, based on my track record, I probably can miss it. But it’s a boat, so I thought that maybe my chances of spotting it and making everything come out okay are better-than-average – at least compared to the likelihood of me registering a steakhouse. So we’re following the fairly straightforward map he sketched for us, and we turn onto his street in a residential area just a couple of miles from the marina. I’m looking for a little dinghy-size or Boston Whaler-size fishing skiff on a trailer in a driveway. Instead, just past the corner … There was a boat in the driveway and it was HUGE! The simple 1-story house was dwarfed by a beautiful classic 38-foot full-size, ocean-capable sailboat up on jackstands dominating the driveway, and half a pallet of exotic hardwood. I’m so used to the sight of boats on jackstands in the industrial scale of a marina that I forget how large it really is – our size cruising sailboat can be 10 or 12 feet high on stands, and 35-45 feet long. Our host was right! I literally couldn’t miss it!

(Oh, and for the record, we weren't particularly invested in the outcome rooting for either team, although I love hard-fought close games, which this one definitely was. More than anything, we found the party a fun excuse to hang out with other boaters. And hang out we did, chatting about boats and cruising dreams and plans and adventures until we totally lost track of the time and finally got to bed at 1:30 this morning!)

Yup. It’s still there.

Posted: January 30, 8:46 pm | (permalink) | (0 comments)

“It” is that provision in the First Amendment that insures “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” The First Amendment doesn’t limit the number of people who wish to assemble, their purpose for assembling, or limit their assembling to on land versus on water. And the First Amendment says nothing about getting permission to assemble.

But a story in today’s Capital, “Police Want to Control Size of Raft-Ups,” seems to me to risk unintentionally tangling with that First Amendment right. “Senate Bill 127 would prohibit anyone from holding a marine gathering of 50 or more boats without first obtaining a permit…”

Of course, there are safety limits to the right of assembly – just as movie theaters have occupancy limits, 800 boats gathering on a small river create a situation that goes beyond congestion and into the realm of blocking the waterway and compromising safety. Even the organizer of the Magothy River “Bumper Bash” has acknowledged that it has gotten out of hand. Seems that the bad actions of a few have again spoiled it for us all. Acknowledged, there are costs to the taxpayers when an event is large enough to need some presence by local law enforcement. Those costs shouldn’t be passed on the general public, but isn’t that what our boating fees are for? (Or, part of what they should be for?). We already have mechanisms for dealing with improper behavior, such as drunkenness and littering and excessive noise, and don’t need new laws for that. Then it gets complicated.

Here’s the complicated part. The text says, “marine gathering.” Is that a raft-up? Must all the boats be tied together? As written now, maybe not. What if there are 51 boats anchored individually or rafted in twos and threes over several acres in a creek or harbor, socializing together? If they don’t block navigation, or create unusual potential for safety concerns, should that also be regulated? I’m thinking that the proposal addresses something that needs to be addressed, but needs more consideration because as written, the vague and general wording can lead to unintended consequences and over-regulation.


Originally posted in the Annapolis Capital: January 15, 11:05 am | (permalink) | (0 comments)
 [photo by Tiger Lee; used with permission]

Real pirates are bad guys. We all know that, right? So why are we so fascinated with pirates in popular culture? Modern Hollywood pirates are swashbuckling rogues... (What does that phrase mean exactly? And why do we always use it to describe these guys?) They are made out to be more rebels and adventurers than historically-accurate cruel pariahs, kind of a nice image of freedom and independence if you spend your days in a windowless cubicle, or are under about 10 years old.

Anyway, we’ve also fallen prey to pirate-mania while we’ve been here, and options seem to be everywhere. We went for a New Year’s Eve party sail with the singing, storytelling, Disney-style pirates on the Black Raven on our dock. And for contrast, we visited a fantasticmuseum here totally devoted to real pirate history. I was particularly fascinated to learn about several women who dressed as men and ran away to sea...and had pirate careers. We picked up a few books from our local used book store and did some reading on the internet. Our curiosity grew until several weeks later we signed up for – get this – swordfightinglessons with local pirate photographer Tiger Lee.

Special note to our families who read this blog: We’ve learned about Sir Frances Drake’sand Francisco Menendez' privateering activities here in St Augustine; and learned that the infamous Blackbeard hung out in the North Carolina waters that we’ll pass through on our way back to Annapolis this spring. But don’t worry about us running into modern pirates on the waters of the ICW along the way, okay? (Except maybe at the gas pump!) The swordfighting lessons are just about getting into the spirit and being a bit goofy and a unique form of exercise.
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More photos on Life Afloat’s Facebook page!

Not Quite Your Ordinary Fitness Routine

Originally posted in the Annapolis Capital: January 11, 12:36 pm | (permalink) | (2 comments)
A dock fender does double-duty as an accessory for core-strengthening exercises. Other parts of this workout use the mast and winches for arm muscles, and include balance exercises made more challenging by the boat's motion.

An article in yesterday’s Capital states that becoming more physically fit was the number one New Year’s resolution this year. That made me smile because, yep, I’m another one who has “working out more regularly” on my list. I’m a true believer in physical therapy. It has resolved a combination of back issues that left me with a limp; thank you Jen and Kari atFitness Forum! But – and this is a pretty big “but” – it only takes a few weeks of slacking off before the back spasms recur. Normally, when you’re discharged from physical therapy, they provide you with a set of exercises you can do at home to maintain your muscles, or come into the gym and work out on your own. Well, I don’t have a home with a floor I can work out on. My floor moves constantly, bobbing with the waves; and instead of being wide enough to stretch out on, it’s designed to be close and snug for efficiency. Nor can I go into the gym; here I am a thousand miles from the specialized equipment they have for me to work with. Now what to do?
Fortunately, Kari’s father was a liveaboard for a while, so she totally understood the constraints of our life on the boat. She designed a custom routine for me, using things we have at hand, that Jen modified as I became stronger. Each exercise can be done in a very small space, although in the course of a workout I use almost every inch of the boat for one thing or another. I’m pretty confident you won’t find these in any workout book (maybe we should write our own?) The rewards of diligence are dramatic – 2 hours a week of working out in exchange for being comfortable for the other 166 hours? Now that’s what I consider a great return on investment. The other benefit? It’s quite a conversation-starter with my dock neighbors!