Sunday, July 15, 2018

Revisiting Our Possessions

Despite living on a boat, we're not really without possessions.
Back in 1998 when we met our first sailing mentor in the Virgin Islands, a full time liveaboard who chartered a boat only 4 feet longer than Cinderella, we privately dubbed him, "the man without possessions." I just couldn't figure out how one could live happily having given up tools, and bookcases, and photo albums and Grandma's quilt. (Remember, this was before the era in which you could scan these things. Now, all my library, my record collection, and the family photos fit in my pocket!)

So when we moved aboard, we got rid of a lot, but didn't get rid of everything. We weren't sure how long our life afloat was going to continue to be fun, though if I'd known it was going to be 16 years and counting I definitely would have made some different decisions! We kept some things that will be useful when we move to land again. And other things that remind me of people and places in my past that make me smile. The basic guideline was that we kept enough to furnish a one-bedroom apartment, plus anything that couldn't be replaced simply with cash; i.e., all the sentimental stuff. That softened the pain of giving away all of our history There really weren't many resources for downsizing back in 2002, so we sort of stumbled through by trial and error and wrote our own. And our things lived securely in a good friend's basement ... until this year, when the friends decided to sell their big house and move to Colorado. And that's how we ended up in a basement in Philadelphia, in January, going through boxes and boxes of saved possessions.

There were a few things that had us scratching our heads -- what were we thinking when we decided to store and not jettison this? Some things it had made sense at the time to store, but were overtaken by events, like tax records we needed to keep for 7 years (but that was 15 years ago, so out they go!). But mostly, there were a lot more, "hello, old friend" moments than "huh???" moments when we uncovered some bit of our past. I guess the bottom line is that while I try to be pretty thoughtful about possessions, I'd have to call us "streamlined" but not full-on Spartan minimalists.

 Remember my friend "M"?  She's the one who was giving up her life in sunny "Key West" to move to the frozen north in order to get her son the help he needed. (Not exactly Key West, that's one of the details I changed to protect her privacy; the real move is an overseas one.)  I was texting with her a few weeks ago, the morning before she and her family were ready to go to their new home. She told me they had downsized to the very very max, because shipping was going to be so expensive. They had checked a total of 160 kg (about 350 pounds) of possessions, for a family of 4, plus their carryons -- and that was all they owned anymore. Everything else had been sold, all their furniture, cars. The hardest for her, she said, was her books, but she found someone who had studied a similar subject in college who was delighted to have them, so that finding of a good home helped considerably. The boys also got into the act, selecting which toys to take and which to give away, and sorting through a lot of broken stuff. I joked that she was ready to live on a boat, like us. She said that with the going through everything, she found so many things that looked like they would be handy when first purchased, but in reality she only used them once or twice. Her house felt so much bigger with those gone. The last two weeks, they were living with just the basics, those essential things that were coming north with them. And, she said, "I'm definitely going to try to keep it small," in the next place. "I really enjoyed living with just the basics."

We get it, we really do. In some ways our last 16 years on the boat, has been a long vacation from our own "stuff" that has been in storage.

First time we've seen ice outside of a drink glass in years! Spent the night visiting a good friend in Annapolis, then on our way to Philadelphia in the rental truck to begin moving our stored possessions. The cold was just an extra incentive to hurry! (photo by Dave Skolnick)

Saturday, July 14, 2018

What Is Successful Cruising?

Visions of palm trees dance in my head. Cruising means tropical paradise, right?

How do you define "successful cruising?" For some, it can be pretty objective. If you've set out to sail around the world, then you have achieved "success" when you've circled the globe and come back home. Or on a smaller scale, if you've set out to spend the winter in the Florida Keys, then you're successful if your boat is still floating in the spring. But if your plans are less specific, then your definition of "success" gets fuzzier as well. Or does it?

A few of my friends have had to pause their cruising for a while recently, for extensive boat work, for medical issues, to earn some money. And one of them posted in his blog yesterday, certainly not defeated but almost apologetic, twice over. Seeming apologies once as though he was letting his readers down by not having new stories to tell. Seeming apologies a second time because he had always been a proponent of "go small, go NOW." But after two years he and his wife had since decided that living on that much of a shoestring wasn't fun, so they were going to take a break and come back with a comfier budget.

I posted back to him, "But, you have gone! You've had adventures, and learned, and are refining your original plan based on what you've learned. Think of it as preparing for the next adventure. Some days are wild and some days are ... mild. And sometimes you just lay low while the bank account rebounds." Plans evolve. Or as our cruising mentors have quipped, "Plans are firmly cast in jello." "Plans are written in sand at low tide." I'm pretty sure my friend will be back, just in a different way and timing than he first expected. With the additional self-knowledge gained from his experience, it will probably be better than ever, because he and his wife are smart like that.

Heck, we're in somewhat in that not-quite-the-way-we'd-planned-it situation ourselves; between Dan's hip surgery and recovering the expenses from 2017 from winter in the Keys to summer in Canada on El Galeon to Hurricane Irma to reclaiming the possessions stored in my BFF's basement, Cinderella has been stationary the last year. And taking advantage of unexpected delightful opportunities is easier when plans are viewed as guidelines and not promises.

I thought we'd take Cinderella down to the Caribbean. It didn't quite turn out that way. I had visions of jumping off the stern to go snorkeling every afternoon, like we did when we were on vacation. Our first cruise took us down the ICW to the Bahamas. Two months getting there, then we spent three months there, learning and exploring, and then three months headed back to Annapolis where we started. After we returned we spent some time comparing the reality to the fantasy. What I learned was, you can't be on vacation forever. Well, maybe you can. I can't. I get bored, want to learn new things, make a contribution, be part of a community. We learned that we love living on the boat, and we learned that about three months at a time was about as long as we preferred to live out of the U.S./Canada. Actually we'd known that last before, and had proved it to ourselves multiple times; this was just reconfirming that. So our plans evolved, as plans are wont to do. We still have plenty of time in the Caribbean every year, just, not year round and not on this boat.

With what we've learned about ourselves so far we are designing a cruising life that fits our personalities even better than the one we first visualized, and it continues to evolve. Ours, we have now learned, involves tall ships, and road trips, and this fall, something wildly different. That's also part of the freedom of living a possession-light life, on a boat. You get to change your plans easily. When your only new year's resolution is, "have more adventures," it's pretty easy to declare the resolution honored. I never set out to be a great sailor. I wanted to have a great life, while sailing. I call that, "success."

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Introducing "Mouse" and "Pumpkin II"

What were the biggest adjustments moving aboard after living on land? Well, certainly a major one was the drastic difference in square footage. We could take about 1/20 of our land-based possessions, and none of our furniture. We sought digital books except for reference books, scanned photos, ripped CDs, and converted recipe cards to tidy computer files. We prioritized what would come with us: first safety, then tools, then "everything else." And that "everything" had to fit in the equivalent of your kitchen cabinets -- not just pots and pans and food, but backpacks and winter sweaters and screwdrivers and blankets and hiking boots and beach towels -- so the downsizing was extreme.

Another big adjustment was -- it moves! That implied both that we could never set anything down unattended on a flat surface; an errant wave could dump your coffee cup in your lap. It also meant our freedom, as we could explore the world without ever leaving the comforts of home, because we traveled like a turtle and brought our home with us. (Also like a turtle as, laden with everything we own, we don't exactly sail fast.)

Past those two, the biggest adjustment involved no longer being connected to the limitless conveniences of life on land, like infinite water and power. If we're at sea, or anchored out, the water and fuel we brought with us is all we have until we make our next port. We might get lucky with a rainstorm to top up our fuel tanks, but the gasoline we brought with us for the dinghy is all we have until we're back in civilization.

And limited, not-so-environmentally-friendly fuel wasn't the only problem with the dinghy's propulsion. Add a bigger, heavier outboard than we would have preferred, and we began thinking about options. You've already learned of the crazy string of small world coincidences that led to our new-to-us folding dinghy to replace the inflatable. The existing 9.8 hp motor, weighing about 90 pounds, was massively oversized to be usable on the light and nimble folding boat.

I jokingly told my friends that we had equipped the new folding dinghy (now nicknamed "Pumpkin II") with a "reliable two-stroke engine." And it does row easily. Oars never need fuel and remind us of good times with our old rowing dinghy in Michigan. And for the times that rowing is not quite going to be enough?

Meet "Mouse," named for the mice that became horses and footmen for Cinderella's pumpkin-turned-coach. Like those mice, our "Mouse" is small and gray and slightly magical. Mouse is an electric Torqeedo motor that pairs perfectly with the new dinghy. Electric means that we won't have any further issues with ethanol in gasoline when we travel north or to places with unreliable fuel, or fuel at all, ever, really. We can charge its lithium batteries with our solar panels, doesn't get to be much more of a renewable resource than that!

We can set up or collapse the folding dinghy on the bow of Cinderella; here's a sequence of pictures showing the process, which took one person about 10 minutes. As fast or faster than pumping up an inflatable.

Here's the dinghy on the foredeck. We lift it up using a spinnaker halyard on the anchor windlass, but honestly, it's just not that heavy; we could do it by hand if we needed to.

Taking out the bolts holding the front seat in place. We replaced regular nuts with wing nuts to make the process quicker.

Front seat removed.

The 3 supports under the seat are hinged so it folds flat for storage.

Now the aft seat is coming out.

Unbolting the transom.

Lifting out the transom.

Beginning to fold the side down.

Starboard side folded down.

Fold the port side down, then fold the boat in half!

And there it is. Folded down, we can tie it to the side rail. No davits, nothing hanging outside Cinderella's footprint, and no deck clutter.

And neatly stowed on the side!

Friday, June 29, 2018

Incomprehensible. Wordless. And Bordered in Black.

Some sets of words just don't make any sense when strung together. "Redundant feathered doorknobs." "Democratic airborne hypotheses." But the set of three words that I heard yesterday, which really shouldn't make sense strung together, are despairingly familiar.  "Another mass shooting" has occurred, this one at the Annapolis Capital Gazette, the newspaper where Life Afloat first started 11 years ago.  (The name "Life Afloat" itself was coined by one of the murdered journalists, community news reporter Wendi Winters.)

I'm a writer and I deal in words. I'm supposed to have words, but I have none.

The sordid details involve a guy who sued the paper because he didn't like the story they wrote about him. He lost the suit because the judge decided that what the paper had written was true. It portrayed the guy in a negative light, because he had done negative things. He had been convicted of stalking/harassing a woman he had gone to school with. The day after he lost, he brought a gun and shot up the newsroom.

Newspapers do not have a duty to write only pleasant things about people and events. You don't have to like what they say about you, as long as it is accurate. Newspapers have a duty to inform and educate, to tell the truth to the very best of their ability. To make a democracy work, voters need knowledge, information on which to base their voting decisions. That's also why we have free public libraries -- going all the way back to Thomas Jefferson, who understood that democracies can only function with educated citizens.

Skip the "thoughts and prayers," thanx. Here's what I ask instead. Find a newspaper that you can believe in, one that hires actual journalists to tell you actual facts, truth without spin or agenda.  Buy a subscription, support them and quit looking for ways to circumvent their paywall.  Second, vote. This November, every November. No excuses.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Political Rant: Do We Still Deserve the Statue of Liberty?

Statue of Liberty, my view from the helm of El Galeon last summer

Virtually all of my El Galeon shipmates have photos or selfies with the Statue of Liberty in the background as we came into New York harbor last summer. Not me, I was at the helm at the time, so that's my view above. And I reminisced that exactly 100 years previously my grandmother would have had a similar view as she entered New York harbor by boat as I was -- except she and her family were fleeing World War I Russia when she was a young teenager.

But our current political immigration crisis has me wondering whether we deserve this graceful lady any more. I can't even fathom my former "friends" who aren't horrified.

One of my friends on the political right asked where I thought we go from here. Obviously I'm not setting policy in this administration but here's what I wish would happen:

  1. (1).  Reunite these many families immediately, with journalistic access to provide some transparency. That's been frighteningly lacking, so far. (I'd try to hide it too, if I were doing what this administration is doing.) 
  2. (2).  Increase resources for Immigration so they can quickly vet people and distinguish legitimate asylum seekers from druggies and bad guys. No reason for people to be in bureaucratic limbo for months or years. And we wouldn't have, or need, the DREAM act any more because kids wouldn't grow up here without legal status.
  3. (3).  Make sure that businesses have support for vetting job applicants before they hire knowing their potential employee is legally permitted to be here and work here (and local government agencies have confidence that they are providing assistance to the right people as well). (Maybe more resources for Social Security so they can prove id numbers quickly?) Then stomp hard on any business found to hire people who are not here legally and pay "under the table." Right now there are too many complaints by businesses of how hard it is to get verification, and penalties are so minor that if they do hire (and often take advantage of) illegal workers, those penalties are just a cost of doing business. So many people are here as asylum seekers, like my grandmother was, rather than looking for work though, so this would be as much about quelling the rhetoric as about fixing a real problem.
  4. (4).  We need longer term conversation about the big picture. Like much of the developed world, our population is graying and declining in number as citizens have fewer or no kids. Our present birth rate is not enough to replace the aging population. Only 2 ways out as I see it, maintain our numbers from within or from outside. From within, would be finding out why people are having fewer kids. For some it's a choice but for others, well, I think parenting in the US right now is a giant game of gotcha. Everyone's looking and judging what should be personal choices like breast feeding. It's isolating and exhausting. Spend too much time with your kid and you're a helicopter parent, give them some independence and CPS is called because you dared let your 10 year old walk down the block to a friend's house alone. (Sorry, a personal soap box of mine.) For others it's just too expensive; we could do with better parental leave policies, affordable child care, and other supportive social programs. Or, we maintain our numbers by bringing in immigrants. That's what has happened so far, and why we haven't seen the kind of problems that Japan (for example) has had with population decline. I guess there's a third source, we could just build lots of robots. Somehow though we need to get the next generation of workers from somewhere.  Just my thoughts about what to do from here, to continue to be worthy of this symbol.

Lately I've been fearing we're living through the sunset of our democracy. Posted below is Emma Lazarus' sonnet on the base of the Statue of Liberty. 

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

= = = = = =

The Washington Post has a great fact checker piece on this here.

Here's a few additional facts from Michelle Martin, PhD Cal State Fullerton. She summarizes a lot of misinformation that is floating around about the issue; after each point is a link to the original article.

"There is so much misinformation out there about the Trump administration's new "zero tolerance" policy that requires criminal prosecution, which then warrants the separating of parents and children at the border. Before responding to a post defending this policy, please do your research...As a professor at a local Cal State, I research and write about these issues, so here, I'll make it easier for you:

Myth: This is not a new policy and was practiced under Obama and Clinton - FALSE. The policy to separate parents and children is new and was instituted on 4/6/2018. It was the brainchild of John Kelly and Stephen Miller to serve as a deterrent for undocumented immigration, approved by Trump, and adopted by Sessions. Prior administrations detained migrant families, but didn’t have a practice of forcibly separating parents from their children unless the adults were deemed unfit. link

Myth: This is the only way to deter undocumented immigration - FALSE. Annual trends show that arrests for undocumented entry are at a 46 year low, and undocumented crossings dropped in 2007, with a net loss (more people leaving than arriving). Deportations have increased steadily though (spiking in 1996 and more recently), because several laws that were passed since 1996 have made it legally more difficult to gain legal status for people already here, and thus increased their deportations (I address this later under the myth that it's the Democrats' fault). What we mostly have now are people crossing the border illegally because they've already been hired by a US company, or because they are seeking political asylum. Economic migrants come to this country because our country has kept the demand going. But again, many of these people impacted by Trump's "zero tolerance" policy appear to be political asylum-seekers. link 

Myth: Most of the people coming across the border are just trying to take advantage of our country by taking our jobs - FALSE. Most of the parents who have been impacted by Trump's "zero tolerance" policy have presented themselves as political asylum-seekers at a U.S. port-of-entry, from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Rather than processing their claims, they have been taken into custody on the spot and had their children ripped from their arms. The ACLU alleges that this practice violates the Asylum Act, and the UN asserts that it violates the UN Treaty on the State of Refugees, one of the few treaties the US has ratified. This is an illegal act on the part of the United States government, not to mention morally and ethically reprehensible. link

Myth: We're a country that respects the Rule of Law, and if people break the law, this is what they get - FALSE. We are a country that has an above-ground system of immigration and an underground system. Our government (under both parties) has always been aware that US companies recruit workers in the poorest parts of Mexico for cheap labor, and ICE (and its predecessor INS) has looked the other way because this underground economy benefits our country to the tune of billions of dollars annually. Thus, even though the majority of people crossing the border now are asylum-seekers, those who are economic migrants (migrant workers) likely have been recruited here to do jobs Americans will not do.  link

Myth: The children have to be separated from their parents because there parents must be arrested and it would be cruel to put children in jail with their parents - FALSE. First, in the case of economic migrants crossing the border illegally, criminal prosecution has not been the legal norm, and families have been kept together at all cost. Also, crossing the border without documentation is a typically a misdemeanor not requiring arrest, but rather a civil proceeding. Additionally, parents who have been detained have historically been detained with their children in ICE "family residential centers," again, for civil processing. The Trump administration's shift in policy is for political purposes only, not legal ones. See p. 18:  link

Myth: We have rampant fraud in our asylum process the proof of which is the significant increase we have in the number of people applying for asylum. FALSE. The increase in asylum seekers is a direct result of the increase in civil conflict and violence across the globe. While some people may believe that we shouldn't allow any refugees into our country because "it's not our problem," neither our current asylum law, nor our ideological foundation as a country support such an isolationist approach. There is very little evidence to support Sessions' claim that abuse of our asylum-seeking policies is rampant. Also, what Sessions failed to mention is that the majority of asylum seekers are from China, not South of the border. Here is a very fair and balanced assessment of his statements: link

Myth: The Democrats caused this, "it's their law." FALSE. Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats caused this, the Trump administration did (although the Republicans could fix this today, and have refused). I believe what this myth refers to is the passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which were both passed under Clinton in 1996. These laws essentially made unauthorized entry into the US a crime (typically a misdemeanor for first-time offenders), but under both Republicans and Democrats, these cases were handled through civil deportation proceedings, not a criminal proceeding, which did not require separation. And again, even in cases where detainment was required, families were always kept together in family residential centers, unless the parents were deemed unfit (as mentioned above). Thus, Trump's assertion that he hates this policy but has no choice but to separate the parents from their children, because the Democrats "gave us this law" is false and nothing more than propaganda designed to compel negotiation on bad policy. link…/trump-democrats-us-border-m…

Myth: The parents and children will be reunited shortly, once the parents' court cases are finalized. FALSE. Criminal court is a vastly different beast than civil court proceedings. Also, the children are being processed as unaccompanied minors ("unaccompanied alien children"), which typically means they are sent into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS). Under normal circumstances when a child enters the country without his or her parent, ORR attempts to locate a family member within a few weeks, and the child is then released to a family member, or if a family member cannot be located, the child is placed in a residential center (anywhere in the country), or in some cases, foster care. Prior to Trump's new policy, ORR was operating at 95% capacity, and they simply cannot effectively manage the influx of 2000+ children, some as young as 4 months. Also, keep in mind, these are not unaccompanied minor children, they have parents. There is great legal ambiguity on how and even whether the parents will get their children back because we are in uncharted territory right now. According to the ACLU lawsuit (see below), there is currently no easy vehicle for reuniting parents with their children. Additionally, according to a May 2018 report, numerous cases of verbal, physical and sexual abuse were found to have occurred in these residential centers. link

Myth: This policy is legal. LIKELY FALSE. The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration on 5/6/18, and a recent court ruling denied the government's motion to dismiss the suit. The judge deciding the case stated that the Trump Administration policy is "brutal, offensive, and fails to comport with traditional notions of fair play and decency." The case is moving forward because it was deemed to have legal merit. link

= = = = =

And finally, context matters!! There's this:

The original, upper pic was a facebook meme on the left; the two below are debunking it as "fake news." Well, what, exactly, is fake? I mean, the child really was looking through a wire grate. It's a picture of a real thing. But it's been cropped. The implication, that this child is sad because he's detained away from his parents, apparently that is not his particular context,thus fake. (Besides, the cages, "separations that happen to have been made of chicken wire" as the unfortunate spokesman for the administration put it, weren't this smooth.) The excuse now seems to have been, that since people didn't have access to the child custody facility that this was okay in order to elicit the intended response. It is unfortunate that, as my Marine Corps friend Matt put it, "politicos with agendas are maximizing the opportunity for propaganda with stuff like this. Can't blame them, it is effective, although misleading. Problem being that when one gets caught doing this it damages credibility, takes away from the message and hurts the cause. It shows a level of insincerity that screams politics over compassion." Similarly on the right, my friend Paula said she saw a picture of "child being taken away from his family in Miami at gunpoint to be returned to the country he came from" during the Clinton administration; without the context that the child was Elian Gonzalez and the family was the extended family that had refused to release him so he could be returned to his father. This whole thing stinks. 

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Once Again, It's Always About the People

D-Day, June 6, 1944; on the beaches at Normandy (photo in public domain)
Yesterday was the 74th anniversary of the Normandy landings, the offensive to liberate German-occupied northwestern Europe, and the largest seaborne invasion in history. Born just a decade after the war, I grew up with pictures like this. Gripping and iconic as the photo is, though, my real understanding of what was going on here totally changed last year, when we made one particular stop sailing our way north from the Keys. There's a lot beneath the surface.

 I love museums, and while I enjoy the Smithsonian or the Natural History museum or the Guggenheim, what really intrigues me are specialty museums and local museums. I love the stories that small towns tell about themselves, a way to see others the way they wish to be defined. So when I learned that the Navy Seal museum in Fort Pierce, FL was designed by ... a group of Seals, telling their own story, well, I just had to make sure we planned time for a visit.

I'm not sure what I was expecting; military museums tend to be a bit self-congratulatory, but this place was as extraordinary as the Seals themselves.  It would have been so easy to dazzle visitors with examples of futuristic technology and grand missions, and that stuff was there. But really, it was a sidelight. The story they told wasn't about technology, it was about their people.  The most important tool the Seals had, was their mental resolve, their spectacular physical conditioning, and a surprising humility.

That D-Day photo doesn't show the whole story. As if running ashore under fire, with all the heavy gear wasn't enough, gaining those beaches wasn't just mucking through sand. The beaches were fortified with nasty obstacles beneath the surface at high tide that would prevent ships from coming close, and trip unwary running soldiers. They were duplicated for training purposes here.

No landing craft could approach the shore with these in the shallow tidal zone.
The plaque explaining the obstacles.

The most important tool used to clear these obstacles was ... people. Slipping behind enemy lines to recon, wearing only swim fins and mask to plant plastic explosive on the obstacle structures. There's a statue that greets you at the entrance to the museum called "The Naked Warrior."

The text on the plaque explaining this statue reads: "The Naked Warrior statue depicts the elite men of the U.S. Navy's Underwater Demolition Teams of WWII. Nicknamed the "Naked Warrior" for their lack of clothing and equipment, these men were supplied with only shorts, swim fins, dive mask, a knife, a pencil, and a slate board on which to record their findings. These brave men entered enemy waters to recon enemy-held beaches and destroy any natural or manmade obstacles that could impede allied amphibious landings."

I was just in awe. The tools are enhancements, but only as good as the humans that wield them. We often say that the coolest part of adventuring is the people you meet. In cruising, as in with the Navy Seals, it's all about the people.

Friday, May 25, 2018

"Small World" Coincidences

Our friends are a bit ... different ... and I love that about them all!

In a neighborhood of gray and beige and off-white houses, our friends are the kind of quirky people who will paint their house a brilliant Florida shade of turquoise. I've written about our friends J and J before, and this was our first chance to see them at home. The directions included letting us know that the house is easy to find because we were looking for the only blue house on their street. I just hate when someone says, "you can't miss it" when giving me references, because invariably, I can miss it. But this time, they were right. I didn't miss it. In contrast to the outside, the neutral colored, calm, interior is beautifully on-trend and magazine worthy, but I was in love with the statement the blue exterior made. But seeing the house that J and J are remodeling was only one part of a jam-packed two-day trip to southwest Florida.

I had been grumbling about our leaky inflatable dinghy and commented that I wanted a hard-sided dinghy again, preferably one that folded for storage. (Yes, such things exist and are totally cool. But a tad out of our price range at the moment.) Then my friend Charles pointed us to a used one that was for sale cheap, and only about 1/2 hour's drive from J and J's house. Lots of things aligned and fell into place, like the rental car company asked if we'd "mind" driving a mini van instead of the small economy car we had rented at no extra charge. (How convenient! No, I don't mind at all!) Anyway, I was in the mood for a road trip.

A bit of back-and-forth messaging with the seller and the deal happened. He even had most of the parts of a sail kit for it, not mentioned in his ad, that he threw in for free. So after the money changed hands and we loaded the dinghy into the minivan, we had time to share a glass of rum with the seller, and trade a few sea stories.   That's when we found out that not only was he a fellow pirate, but he was also a tall ship sailor who had been the helmsman on the Pride of Baltimore. I told him the story of having done crew tours aboard Pride 3 years ago, and how we almost lost our cook to them because Pride had a much nicer galley. As we continued to chat we learned that the seller had visited the Galeon while we were in Maine a couple of years ago. Which almost inevitably meant that we had met before, although neither of us remembered the other. So now not only have we got a cool new dinghy, but more excitingly, a new friend as well. Although we cruisers are geographically spread far and wide, we really are a very small group.

The new dinghy with the sail (photo from Porta Bote's website). Now our challenge is to come up with a good name. In keeping with the Cinderella theme, our present plump inflatable dinghy is named "Pumpkin" and our clear-bottomed kayak is "Glass Slipper." We're thinking the new one will be "Magic Wand." It's kind of magical that it folds down to the size of a surfboard, and anyway, any sail on a mast moving a boat by the power of the wind alone is magical. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Bridgetender Tales

Bridge of Lions (public domain photo by Dennis Adams from here)
Fun evening last night with the St Augustine Cruisers' Net folks. Our guest speaker was Steve Deakins, one of the six bridgetenders from our local Bridge of Lions. He gave some great bridge statistics and history, like that the present bridge crossing replaced a wooden bridge that was there from about 1890-1925. Before that the only way to get across the Matanzas River was by ferry.

Its type is defined as a double-leaf bascule bridge, which comes from the French word for seesaw. It is 1545 feet long and has the unfortunate distinction of being the bridge most hit by barges in the State of Florida. The largest barge he remembers was 600 (!) feet long and needed four tugs to maneuver it. For some reason, this bridge cost almost 10 times more, per foot, than a "normal" bridge. In 1999 FDOT decided to recondition the bridge; work started in 2006. Weirdly, while I was working for the Enviromental Affairs Program in Washington DC and before I had ever set foot or keel in St Augustine, I reviewed the planning documents for the bridge reconstruction. On our very first cruise in 2009 we sailed through the temporary bridge structure that was built as part of the reconstruction -- that I recognized from the review documents.

Steve talked a bit about bridge openings, those activities you love to hate whether you are going through with a boat, or walking or driving across. This bridge is staffed 24/7/365; except in hurricane wind speeds above 72 mph. They open every half hour from 7 AM to 6 PM (except rush hours 8, 12, and 5 on work days) and on request outside of those times. He has a couple of minutes discretion in the timing of those openings, but more than that and he has to fill out paperwork! In his five years on this job, the most he has seen was 17 vessels going through a single opening (that lasted 15 minutes!), and 63 vessels during his 8-hour shift.  Those lengthy openings are problematic, he said; every 4 seconds of opening, another car is stopped. One Labor Day weekend, the bridge got stuck in the "open" position for hours.  The engineers couldn't get to the bridge to fix it because ... they were stuck in the traffic.

The real fun, though, came when he shared some behind-the-scenes insights and wild stories. There are 15 steps in the complete sequence to stop traffic and open the bridge and then close it and resume traffic. This short video from our local news station shows a bit of the operations.  (I'm thinking of the scene from Wizard of Oz where the wizard is desperately manipulating the levers and buttons behind the curtain.)

He talked of entitled sportsfishers and clueless pedestrians. He mentioned the 21 cameras along the route that on any Friday or Saturday night, can show people going across the bridge towards town sober; and then coming back again a few hours later, drunk. He told the story of a 40-ish foot sailboat coming from the south while the tide was going out (i.e., the boat was traveling with the current) in 30 or 35 knots of wind. Where/why were they trying to go, in those conditions, I wonder? Anyway, they caught their bow on something, and were swept through the bridge opening ... sideways. He had everyone in hysterics when he talked about the time when 14 Flagler college students jumped off the bridge naked during the normally quiet 4 PM to midnight shift. 

Finally he talked about the best way to hail the bridge. Hail when you are 2-3 channel markers away (he and his colleagues are pretty adept at gauging your speed and timing) give your vessel name and type, direction of travel and/or location on VHF 09. My standard is "Bridge of Lions Bridgetender, this is nouthbound sailing vessel Cinderella, approaching red marker 10, standing by for your 10:30 opening." (or, "requesting an opening" if it's after scheduled hours). Which leads to my favorite story of the evening, when Steve said he records every single vessel for every single opening. One of the audience members asked why, and he told us that once those bridge records helped solve a murder, when a transient had stolen a boat and killed the captain. The bridge records were instrumental in tracking and finding the killer.

The very attentive audience at Chatsworth Pub...

... riveted by excellent speaker Steve.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Hip Replacement Surgery and the Lure of Suburbia

Technology is wonderful! Here's a model of an artificial hip. The piece in his left hand is implanted in the femur, and the piece on the right goes into the pelvic bone.

This is an xray of Dan's actual hip taken immediately after the surgery,with the implant in place.

One week after surgery, Dan playing with the model of the hip implant that's now inside him.

Dan's right hip was getting more and more achy and stiff after long time standing or walking last summer on the Galeon. And in January a set of x-rays and MRIs made it official: he had arthritis in that hip that was considered "severe" and no amount of rest or herbal supplements or cortisone shots was going to fix it. We're blaming too many years of bucking hay bales on the farm as a teenager but it doesn't really matter what started the problem; two different doctors advised that total replacement was the only long term solution.

So on April 24, we checked into St Vincent's. We couldn't have had a better hospital experience. They were super-attentive to infection. His prep instructions included a complete shower with surgical scrub the night before, using a freshly-washed washcloth and drying with freshly-washed towel, sleeping on freshly-washed sheets, then another shower in the morning with another bottle of scrub and washing with another freshly-washed washcloth and drying with another freshly-washed towel. Then of course they'd do the actual surgical prep which would include a third wash. Taking no chances, we like it!

Modern technology is nothing short of amazing. This shiny titanium and ceramic replacement went into his hip in about an hour. There was no cushioning material left between the bones in his hip; they described it as "bone on bone" which was the cause of the pain, and actually had to stretch muscles a little bit to fit the new implant in -- his leg had gotten shorter because that gap was gone. The doctor met me in the waiting area afterwards holding the print of the x-ray at the top of this post, to tell me the surgery had gone well and I could meet Dan in his hospital room in about an hour.

I won't go into the details of how we ended up switching rooms, but a giant shout-out to nurse Adrian T, who got Dan placed in ... well, the "hospital room" we ended up in was nicer than a lot of hotels we've been in. Instead of standard asphalt-tile floors and pinkish-brown walls with a view of a brick wall or parking garage, this was lovely, and huge yet still very functional and able to be sterilized. He had pergo "wood" floors and granite countertops (who has granite countertops in their hospital room?) and a waterfront view of the St John's River. Such a fantastic, calming place to recover and begin healing in! And he needed it; his blood pressure went waaaay low that afternoon and night, most likely in response to the strong pain meds.

Waving "hi" to Facebook friends the afternoon after surgery

Next day they taught him useful things like how to use his new walker, and a series of strengthening exercises that he could do until his incision was healed enough to begin regular physical therapy. His blood pressure (finally) stabilized and they discharged him from the hospital and sent him home. Well, not home exactly; he was a long way from being able to negotiate the stairs and movement of the boat.

We had an invite to stay for a while at the lovely home of a sailing friend (a.k.a., the home of a lovely sailing friend). Enter glorious friend Rachel, who came to our rescue offered the guest room of her house just a few miles south of town, with no stairs, all on one level and with lots of nature, peace, and quiet during the day, and friendship and laughter in the evenings.

Rachel's back deck is much more comfortable than the hospital bed!

Lovely, restful view with lots of chirping birds. There's a family of owls hoot-hoot-hooo-ing that we hear every night also.

So for the last week, we've been living in suburban comfort. And I must say, I'm appreciating the ease and time saving conveniences that suburbia offers. Grocery shopping while cruising takes at least 1/2 day and a combination of bus and walking, returning to the boat with laden backpacks and shopping bags. Given that time commitment we generally shop for a week's worth of groceries at a time. That in turn means lots of planning ahead,  and knowing that fragile vegetables like spinach must be eaten early in the week, while sturdier sorts like peppers and onions can last till later. Beer is too heavy and bulky; rum gives a much more space- and weight-efficient buzz per ounce. And so on. But with that car parked in the driveway (no searching the downtown streets for parking either because -- driveway!), a trip to Publix can happen every day or two, and in only minutes! And laundry; ditto. Instead of hours and fistfuls of quarters in the laundromat or marina laundry room, a nice washer and dryer just off the kitchen means that I can toss in a load any time, while doing something else (like blogging, as I'm doing right now!).  Maybe I'm beginning to appreciate suburban conveniences a bit too much? I could get used to this...

And then, I went back to the boat to pick up a few more items and do some cleaning, and wham! All the serenity, and delight in being in that cozy space on the water slammed me! I did all the work I had intended and then just ... sat, drinking in the sunlight, watching a dolphin make lazy arcs, feeling the gentle rocking. No, we're not moving to suburbia yet despite in the inconveniences of boat life. The very best thing about traveling is that it gives you new eyes with which to appreciate your home when you return.

(And happy to report, after the doctor's one-week post-op assessment, he was cleared to return back to the boat, so we're home again. Hoping you never need joint replacement, but if you do, we have a rockstar surgeon to recommend in Dr Redmond!)

Friday, April 13, 2018

Admirable (Part Three)

(image modified from here)
I love numbers, and have been a math nerd since ... forever, I guess. I remember in first grade, we had an exercise where we had to write the numbers from 1 - 100 in columns on a page of paper. This happened daily over a period of several days. By about the third day, bored with the exercise, instead of writing ... 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 etc down the column in order like I "should," I inverted it and wrote  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 ...., and then went back and filled in 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 2 2 2 ... in front of the digits. I had independently, at age 6, figured out the basic pattern behind how counting with place value works. (The alternative is something like Roman numerals, where 10, 100, 1000 each has a different symbol, X, C, M, etc). I went home that day and excitedly told my engineer father about my discovery. Luckily, he figured out what I was trying to say and what it meant about his (literally!) certified genius child, because I didn't have the vocabulary to really explain my discovery.

And math was always there, no matter what else was happening in my life. Among my favourite toys when I was a kid were math-related games and puzzles. Danish mathematician, writer, and WWII resistance figure Piet Hein was one of my heroes.  Because it was the 1960's, I was one of only 2 girls in my advanced math class of 28 in high school, and made the math honor society in college; then, on to a math-heavy science career where I was seriously the young hot shot in my 20's.

In the 1970's I remember offering to help my then-boyfriend with a math class he was taking. This, apparently, was a dreadful threat to his masculinity. Not only did he not want my help, he actually broke up with me and told me it was because he couldn't handle me being better at math than he was!!! (We'll call him IPB, "Insecure Previous Boyfriend.") was devastated at the time, and confused, but ultimately it was all for the good, because a few years later I was in grad school in Colorado where I met Dan.

And then just a year or so later, Dan and I found ourselves taking an engineering course together. You know where this is going, don't you? Because, yep, I was doing better in the class than he was. Previous experience warned me that if I offered to help him, the relationship would be over. But I did, and it wasn't, and unlike the competitive reaction that IPB had, Dan's response was basically, "Well, it's good that someone on Team Us has a solid grasp of this stuff!" (It's not like he was a slacker, either; he ended the semester with a good solid B.)

I vacillated for a long time about even writing this post, because, well, to find it admirable, to praise someone for simply acting like a decent human when confronted with not being "the best" at something (gender expectations notwithstanding!) seems to be setting the bar distressingly low. But people I admire, ordinary heroes, don't have to be the ones doing monumental things admired the world over. They just have to be doing things that I consider admirable. And gracefully accepting reality while trying to improve, is one of those things I admire.

Just because this seems to be a great place to park it, here's a picture of Dan from about that time in our lives. We're in the Four Corners area of the southwest, and if you look closely, he's pointing at his wedding ring.

= = = =

There are follow-ons to the stories of both Dan and IPB with regards to math. In Dan's case, after the brain surgery and recovery, it turned out that he had pretty much lost the ability to do simple mathematical operations without a calculator. Dan used to be able to balance the checkbook in his head; post-surgery, that was frustratingly out of reach. "But," friend Cathy pointed out, "neither can 95% of the population! You started out with excess capacity." Higher math now would be just physically almost impossible given the location of the scar tissue, according to a neurologist we spoke with a couple of years later. He wasn't unsympathetic, but he pointed out that realistically, Dan was well within the realm of being able to function well in everyday life, which was no small thing considering that death is one of the more common outcomes of this type of cancer.  Still, for an engineer to lose the ability to do math is similar to a surgeon developing a tremor in his hands; the door to that particular career is pretty well shut. Admirable was acknowledging this without bitterness, re-learning as much as he could, and moving on to have a fun life anyway. Just, a different life than the one he'd envisioned before.

Oh, and IPB? He caught up with me about 10 years after we split, and we had a totally non-creepy lunch meeting. He told me that in many ways he realized too late that I was the one that got away.
He had finally married -- someone who looked like me, and was a math whiz and engineer like me. I think that meeting was his way of apology for having been a jerk, back when we were both so young.

(Note: In a weird coincidence, another blog I follow posted encouraging you to think about the heroes in your life, on exactly the same day that I first drafted the  post about Kristine, the first of three planned posts about people I consider admirable.)

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Admirable (Part Two)

What would it take you to go from this ... (photo credit)

... to this? (photo credit)
 Here's another story of a friend who I find admirable. I find her admirable in many ways, but especially this one, the way she's making a sacrifice in service to a greater good. (Lots of details changed here to protect the innocent.)

"M" moved to Key West more than 10 years ago. She likes its quirky laid-back lifestyle, bright colors, and warm sunny climate. She met her husband there, and now they have a house and two kids together. They've got a good circle of friends there, and both have good jobs with fishing charters for tourists. Life was really pretty cool.

Then one of their kids started having problems. Not life-threatening problems, but significant, the kind of problems that might not launch this child to their most successful life. M is a very dedicated parent and pretty smart, so she looked around for solutions. And it turned out that, after research, the only two possible places in the country that could help M's kid were Cheyenne, and Chicago. Both of which are as culturally different from Key West as I could imagine. Cities, with none of that laid-back quirky vibe. And both have snow. M hasn't seen ice outside of a drink glass in many years. Both M and her husband would have to quit their jobs and sell their house, and they'd have to stay in the northland pretty much until the kids were out of high school. It's not like Cheyenne has much of a fishing fleet, either, so it wouldn't just be quitting these particular jobs, they'd be losing any opportunities to continue working in the whole industry.

Tough decision, but M is pragmatic. Last time I talked to her, she was sorting and packing. They'd already given notice at their jobs and were planning to move during the summer; at least they'd have some time to explore their new surroundings before before the school year -- and snow! -- began. Unlike my previous "Admirable" post, this one doesn't end in rainbows and happy hikers and zesty "I love my life" photos. At least not yet, and maybe not until the younger kid turns 18 and graduates. M's payoff is a little farther away. And that's exactly why I find her being willing to make this major uprooting and change so admirable.

(Note: In a weird coincidence, another blog I follow posted encouraging you to think about the heroes in your life, on exactly the same day that I first drafted the previous post about Kristine, the first of three planned posts about people I consider admirable.)

Friday, April 6, 2018

Admirable (Part One)

Embracing the awesome, and well-earned, adventure

Ironic that this post immediately follows the one about the spa-cum-ordinary-land-based-shower, but sometimes thoughts just happen when they happen. I must be subconsciously pondering the topic of physical comfort, because this is the flip side of the coin. Discomfort ... in service to a greater goal.

When we were on the Galeon, I'd sometimes get in conversations with visitors about the details of life aboard. Most people would look at me with a bit of wonder, and say, "Oh, I could never do what you do." The most common reason they'd give was a tendency to seasickness. I've only be seriously seasick once, and it was because I was hung over, so it was my own fault. But the experience gave me a lot of insight, and if I were prone to seasickness, I would never have moved aboard either.  Once past the seasickness conversation, people's reasons varied. Older women in particular (not always, but common enough to be a trend) would often announce that they would be unwilling to handle close quarters, lack of privacy, being away from their grandkids, and the comforts of home.

I explain that it's kind of a package deal. Physical comfort is nice, but ... overrated. Okay, I like being comfortable and wouldn't voluntarily be uncomfortable for the heck of it, but I'm quite willing to be uncomfortable if that's the price I pay for an astounding adventure, like spending a summer on a traveling tall ship. It wasn't the first time we traded comfort for experiences. When we lived in Colorado, we went backpacking one October to listen to the elk bugling. Not because I like being cold and sleeping on the hard ground, but because we wanted to see and hear this phenomenon for ourselves. (Turn your computer sound up when you check out the above YouTube video, it's remarkable. National Geographic also has an interesting video about it.) It was every bit as amazing as we expected, and being stiff and sore the next several days, from the long hike and bad sleeping, was a price we were happy to have paid.

But our willingness to endure discomfort as the price of the admission ticket for adventure pales in comparison to that of my friend Kristine. She's really one of my heroes, and her latest undertaking has inspired me. She was the bartender at our local pub, and she had a dream of backpacking around the world. Of course, money was going to be an issue, but this girl gives new meaning to the word "determination." In service to her dream, she was willing to do anything that was ethical. (Not necessarily legal; sadly, those two words are not synonymous.) She pinched every penny she had. Up to the point of deciding to live in her truck for 14 months, voluntarily homeless, to save rent money. She wrote about the decision in her blog, and one evening she told us stories of couch surfing with friends or sleeping behind the bar after close when it was too cold to stay in the truck. She posted lovely sunrise photos from the parking garage (how does one tend bar until closing time at 2 AM and still wake up in time for sunrise?) She made healthy meals from the sandwiches they served at the bar -- however repetitive and boring after a while, she used her employee discount to save money. A lot of her clothing came from thrift stores. And then she took seven months off, packed a single rucksack and a sturdy pair of boots, and planned an itinerary that included lots of buses and hostels, and would literally take her around the world, from Florida to California to New Zealand and Australia (so far), and fills my Facebook feed with spectacular photos including the ones I've included, in what she now calls her "signature pose," celebrating life to the fullest possible. She's got a YouTube channel ("Rucksack Rambler") and a blog that I'm sincerely anxious to see her update, but right now she's too busy having adventures to write about them. Admirable.

(Note: In a weird coincidence, another blog I follow posted encouraging you to think about the heroes in your life, on exactly the same day that I first drafted this post about Kristine, the first of a few planned posts about people I consider admirable.)

Livin' large!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Rebaselining (or, how to have a low-budget spa day)

We now refer to it as our "summer of if." It was the summer a large cancer tumor was discovered in Dan's brain, and all our sentences began with "if." "If" the MRI shows no issues; "if" the scan is clear; "if" it hasn't spread; "if" there are no surgical complications; "if" the radiation treatment gets it all; "if" it doesn't recur, etc etc. That first day, we literally worried about if he'd live out the next 72 hours until they could perform surgery. Then the worries shifted, to wondering if critical parts of higher brain function and personality would be impacted. The great worry of physical death was past, but we refocused on whether the parts of personality that make Dan, Dan would survive. Then when we learned they pretty much did, the worry was about how far the cancer might have spread and how much time we had left. A month or so later, when he was getting daily radiation treatments, the worries shifted. By this time we knew that the cancer had not spread and the surgery had not damaged critical areas of the brain, and he was upset about his hair falling out (in weird patches that looked like a scary punk fashion statement, no less!) How bizarre and ungrateful that seemed, to be worried about something as trivial as hair when just a few weeks earlier we were worried about survival! My friend Cathy taught me a new word, or rather a new application for an existing word,  rebaselining. In business or project management, when a significant portion of the project has been replanned or a fundamental re-orientation of project scope occurred, a whole new datum must be chosen to be used as the basis for calculation or for comparison. In ordinary life, humans adapt quickly to a "new normal." As soon as we knew the cancer wasn't terminal, we quickly adapted to that new normal, and could proceed, without hypocrisy or ingratitude, to be dismayed over hair loss.

Happily, rebaselining works in the opposite direction as well. After 15 years taking infrequent water-sparing Navy showers (sometimes without hot water!) aboard in the cramped head, that's my baseline. An ordinary land-based shower, with nearly limitless space and hot water, feels a lot like a visit to a spa. My friend Jorge was once excitedly telling me about his planned vacation. "I'm going to live aboard a catamaran in the Caribbean," he said. "And if I want to go snorkeling or diving, I just step off the back of the boat!"  "But Jorge," I explained, "You've just described my everyday life! When I go on vacation, I want the opposite; I want the traditional American everyday life, but with a beach. I want to live in an apartment on land, and have a car. Lots of space, and things stay where you put them and never roll off if hit by a wave." And I want a shower. A big one. With unlimited hot water.

I get that this may not look like a luxury spa to you, if you live on land. But to me, by my rebaselined definition, it's more than all I need! Low-buck, too, for a bonus!