Monday, March 1, 2021

Masks: Life Imitates Art


 I'm (weirdly) finding that other than the issue of my glasses fogging, I like masks. 

Sailboats, anchors, shooting stars, birds ... our masks express our personalities as much as they express our commitment to staying safe.


I have face-blindness. Not horribly bad, but enough so that it's difficult for me to immediately recognize people especially when they're out of their proper context – running into my doctor in the grocery store,  for example. I loved working for DoD – everyone had their name right on their uniform! And, typically, found it challenging when people were allowed to wear business casual to work on Fridays and the last two weeks of December.


So with everyone wearing masks and a little harder to recognize, my difficulty with faces is not so obvious. It's a great equalizer. And more; the masks themselves became a clue. My friend B. always wears a bright red mask and that makes it very easy for me to know it's her even when I can't see her face. I'm reminded of a science fiction story I read as a kid where everyone personalized their standard issue black and white space suit helmet so they could be recognized at a distance. Cheeky pink polka dots, or tiger stripes, or neon green, whatever, both practical and an expression of their personality. 


Life imitates art? Here we are in 2020 living that children's story. Very early in the lockdown we made ourselves a pair of masks by cutting up a pair of old tight-weave cotton pants. Then my wonderfully talented equaintance-turned-IRL-friend T. made us a set that are unique and reflect our interests. Now if I could just find that spaceship, I figure that living on Cinderella for 18+ years has given us lots of practice. 


More of T.'s 2020 mask art: these were made for a (tiny, socially distant) outdoor wedding.

When she's not busy making face masks, T. does some incredible fabric art. 


Thursday, December 17, 2020

Trrrrrruck! x2!

 

“Dispirited” was far too mild a word to describe our state of mind as we tried to figure out what our next year was going to be like without tall ship sailing, living history, or any of our favourite boating-related social gatherings. Nor were we sure about boating itself, between the possibility of marinas/fuel services being closed or restricted due to virus, and the fact that we couldn't comfortably tour and visit cities and towns along the way, if we decided to take the ICW north.  But there was an alternative way to get to the Chesapeake for the summer – a truck! (Two trucks, actually; more on that later.) And since the boat was already out of the water, with the mast removed and all the lockers empty due to the chain plates project, we realized a lot of the work and cost was already covered.


Those empty lockers were going to be an issue. Generally when trucking, the boat has to be empty, lockers, water tanks, fuel tanks, everything – both to keep overall weight down, and to prevent weird stresses during moving, on lockers and hull sections that are usually supported by water.  So the things that normally lived in those lockers would be moved in our car, which (we checked!) could hold exactly 14 Home Depot “small” moving boxes 12x12x16. We own a lot more than 14 small moving boxes worth of stuff, so everything else would remain behind in the storage unit we already maintained in St Augustine until we could go back with a moving truck to retrieve it, probably in the spring. Our minimalist lifestyle was about to temporarily get even more minimal. 


We found a fabulous trucking option in US Boat Haulers. Excellent communicator, on time (actually a bit early), and although not the cheapest option, we were more than willing to pay for peace of mind. And we had a nice little bonus. I asked Chris, the owner-operator what I needed to empty, and he chuckled. “Nothing! My truck could hold two Cinderellas,” he explained. “Fifty-five feet or 55,000 pounds. You can pack that boat completely full of anything you want and you still won't exceed my weight limit.”   

Why, hello there, Annapolis!

From the back, you can get a better view of just how oversize Chris' truck was for little Cinderella!


Sails and sailcovers and shade awning and other boat canvas filled the v-berth; and boxes of books and clothing and kitchen utensils and tools were stacked two-deep across the main cabin floor. Our car held our electronics, valuables, papers, and clothing for about a week of varied weather. The marina picked up Cinderella and put it on Chris' trailer with the mast beside it, and off we all went.


We drove through northern Florida and Georgia and passed the exits for now-familiar cities, Jacksonville and Brunswick and Savannah. I said a mental goodbye to graceful Spanish moss on trees. South Carolina had billboards for fast food, personal-injury lawyers, and Jesus, and seemingly little else. Someone had gleefully spray-painted “LOST!!” on all the Trump posters. 

Spanish moss image from here 

The view from our hotel room; Spanish moss gilded by the early morning sunlight


We continued through North Carolina and into Virginia and passed the sign that said, “Entering Chesapeake Bay Watershed” and grinned at each other. We drove past an intricate-shaped tiled roof on a cool historical building and made a note of places to explore in Richmond. We were really looking forward to having four distinct seasons again, and delighted in the colors of the trees – bronze and gold and weathered bricky red and russet and deep green. The colors were soft and autumnal, fitting with the gently rolling hills. They weren't the brilliant yellow of the aspens against dark pines we remembered fondly from our time in Colorado; nor the blazing orange of the maples in Michigan. They were slow and subtle. And the light! Long and soft, but clear, like golden hour in the middle of the afternoon.  



Chris texted us regular updates of his position and conditions. The most remarkable text was that he had arrived in Annapolis a full day early after a trip that had been completely without incident. A few hours later, Cinderella was back in the water, and we motored her to her new slip in the same marina we had left from, 11 years and over 25,000 sea miles ago.


We spent the next few weeks settling in, and revisiting once-familiar places. I was simultaneously amazed at how much things had changed, and how much they hadn't. 


Rather suddenly, Dan had a really strong premonition that we needed to go back to Florida to bring our stuff from storage, sooner rather than later.  We couldn't explain it, but agreed to respect it. A few hours of intensive logistics and scheduling work later, we had a plan, and I had pages of confirmation numbers, phone numbers, times and dates and addresses in a worn notebook I had been using to keep track of details since we first decided to move back in September, that I nicknamed my “external brain” and took everywhere with me. We'd be leaving Monday morning right after Thanksgiving. At this time of year, rental car companies are often looking to move cars one way from the Northeast to Florida; we've paid as little as $10/day in past years. Although we didn't do quite as well as that this time, we still caught a nice deal, and found a surprisingly good rate on a motel in St Augustine that had been newly renovated. 


We rented a moving truck from Penske for the return trip. They were excellent about confirming (and re-confirming and re-re-confirming) that it would be ready on the agreed date. Then, the day before we were to pick it up, they called and said, “Hey, we'll have a truck for you at the promised time, but we don't have the agreed size. Are you okay with a bigger one at no extra charge?”  My reply: “Ma'am, as long as it goes when I put my foot on the gas, I'm fine with whatever you've got.” And that's how we ended up with BYT (Big Yellow Truck).


I figured bigger would just mean easier to load, but BYT was huge! Per their website, it was sized to move a small house, 25,000 pounds and a 22-foot box, all for our little 10x10 storage unit. We could have saved money on hotels on the way back if we'd just unrolled our sleeping bags on a stack of unused furniture pads in the unneeded space at the back of the cargo bay. A nice extra was that BYT was brand new, a 2021 model. It had a wide range of safety features that were startling at first, but quickly became reassuring. It beeped when it sensed we were closing the distance to the vehicle in front of us, ponged when we strayed out of our lane without using the turn signal (I guess that's how it decided we were purposely changing lanes instead of drifting inattentively or accidentally), and chirped when it caught you speeding (presumably that meant it had GPS tracking somewhere to know where we were and what the speed limit was at that location?).   BYT also had air brakes, so it made “big truck” noises. I once heard their hiss and looked around to see where was the 18 wheeler that was overtaking us. Like a character in a bad cartoon I looked in every direction, saw nothing, and then sheepishly realized that the sound was … coming from me. In fact, another trucker we met at a filling station was somewhat surprised that we were given a truck as large as BYT when neither of us had a CDL license. I later learned that we were a mere 1,000 lbs below the limit. 

Big Yellow Truck!


The good ol' boys at the rental counter cautiously asked if we'd ever driven anything like this before, and visibly relaxed when Dan said he'd grown up on a farm, so yes he had. We had also driven a similar truck when we moved my kid brother's household goods from Arizona back to Colorado, and even towed a car behind said truck, and done it over mountain passes, but that had been almost 30 years ago.


We parked BYT at the storage facility and spent two days repacking our boxes of stored possessions. We have off-season cruising stuff, tools, and long-term items like family heirlooms, memorabilia from 4 summers on the tall ships, lots and lots of books, things we wanted to keep but didn't necessarily fit on a 33-foot boat.  Packing for the jostling of moving is different than packing for stationary storage, and we wrapped breakables and bulked out boxes with crumpled paper so they wouldn't crush if we bounced if we hit a bump or pothole. I fondly remembered my BFF Karen's father's wise moving advice - “There should never be empty space in any box.” We loaded the finished boxes onto the big professional-grade moving dolly provided by the rental company and wheeled them up the sturdy loading ramp, carefully stowing the heaviest boxes on the bottom and lighter or more fragile ones above. We had literally two boxes left to load, on the last afternoon, when Dan reported a “situation” with the truck. Seems a guy had tried to drive behind the base of the ramp and pull into a parking spot on the far side of the truck, misjudged the turn and was now suspended sideways on the ramp! He couldn't go forward or back because his wheels weren't touching the ground; we couldn't lower the ramp because you had to raise it first to get the hooks out of the back bumper (which we of course couldn't do with a car resting on it); we couldn't drive forward because we were already nose-to the side of the building; and there wasn't room to hook up a tow truck. We were both very, very stuck.

Kinda like those memes of a turtle on a fence post - you're left wondering how it got there


Fortunately, the car was quite small. He called his wife and asked her to buy “the biggest jack they sell at Auto Zone” and bring it. With a little creativity, he was able to jack the car up just barely high enough to take the weight off the loading ramp, and we were able to partly lower the ramp so that after a few iterations of back-and-forth he could drive off. No damage at all to the ramp, and only minor damage to the car frame. We learned later that the car was brand new; he'd only had it for 3 days, which unfamiliarity no doubt contributed to the “situation.” 


After that drama was sorted, we headed to our motel for our last night in St Augustine, prepared for an early start next morning after dropping off our rental car. Once we got into the rhythm of driving BYT it was kind of fun to be so big. Regular cars either went around us or stayed out of our way, and we were eye-to-eye with other truckers. We pulled up at the agricultural inspection station at the Florida-Georgia state line and the inspector just asked, “Whatcha haulin?” like we were any other regular transport professionals – I somehow thought that the bright yellow rental was the equivalent to having a giant sign that said “we're clueless amateurs!” but apparently not. “Household goods,” I replied, then, excitedly, “We're moving to Maryland!” He smiled, gave us a thumbs-up, and waved us forward on our way. 

Inside BYT -- all that extra space! We had more stuff than this, including our inflatable kayak, but never needed to stack the boxes more than 3 high, as shown.


Driving something that big was unexpectedly tiring, though, in addition to the fact that we really only wanted to travel during daylight hours and good weather, so it took us three days to complete what was normally a 13-hour drive from St Aug to Annapolis. The first day, we only drove about 4 hours, and stopped short due to wind and rain further north. We were tired from all the boxes the previous day, so relaxing in a hotel was really appreciated. Weird during the Time of Covid, though. Normally we'd have been all over exploring a new restaurant; instead we had ramen noodles in the hotel room, using water heated up in our little electric teakettle. We called Penske in Annapolis to say we were delayed by weather and were going to need an extra day on the rental. It felt weird saying that, because it was mild and sunny where we were in South Carolina. It probably helped our credibility, though, that there was a nor'easter howling through Annapolis that day – the weather we were avoiding by stopping short. They were great about it, saying that they wanted people to respect the weather and not take risks, thanked us for our caution, and gave us the extra day for free. Nice; I hadn't had any reason to expect that. 


The second driving day was a Saturday, and we stopped near the southern edge of the Washington DC metro area that evening, leaving about 90 minutes drive remaining on what we hoped would be light traffic on the normally busy beltway for early Sunday morning. I joked about being a blue haired lady from Florida with a death grip on the steering wheel, driving slowly in the big city traffic.  Never mind that the "blue" was a streaky turquoise and navy mix on my bangs, or the "driving slowly" part was being what seemed to be the only vehicle on the Beltway that was sticking strictly to the speed limit because (a) BYT chirped at me otherwise, and (b) 13 tons of truck is rather intimidating to maneuver. The good news was that we had completely missed any bad weather, and instead we had a brisk, sunny day to unload. It was a ridiculous number of boxes all told, though – by the time the truck was empty my fitness app recorded that I had walked 5.5 km, just back and forth from the truck to the storage shed. (Actually, I walked even more than that, since I hadn't had my phone in my pocket the entire time.) Later, Dan pointed out that for the first time since we left Colorado in 1998, everything we owned – liveaboard boat, rental houses, and now, stored possessions – was within a 5-mile radius of each other. It might take a while to get used to. 


Thursday, December 10, 2020

Leaving Florida

 



I've written many press releases as part of my job, but as we prepared to leave Florida I searched for ways to say farewell to our friends (and put a more positive spin on it than, "We hate the way the state is handling the virus; we've gotta run, 'bye."), it felt like I was crafting a press release for my own life. It went something like this: 

 We'd been planning to cruise Cinderella north next spring, since coronavirus has pretty much destroyed  our El Galeon trips. But now we've had an unanticipated opportunity to get Cinderella to the Chesapeake for about 2 years beginning this fall instead. (Going north in November? Yikes!)


Sadly, we're going to have to relinquish our slip at the Municipal Marina downtown. It just doesn't make financial sense to hold on for 2 years.  We'll come by later in the week to say goodbye and tell everyone the details. It has been absolutely delightful living here for the last 7 years . St Aug will always have a special pull for us; I'm certain we will be back for many visits. 


Beginning Nov 2  we will be trucking Cinderella to her next home port in Annapolis, MD. ETA November 5. I'm very, very, conflicted – we love St Augustine for the town's Spanish history, its physical beauty, and the committed cruising community … but the sailing is underwhelming. We're happy to explore new cruising grounds for a while. 


We've done the entire ICW or US East Coast outside 8 times south and 7 times north on Cinderella and the Spanish tall ships we work on during the summers, plus several sections more times on paid deliveries of other private boats, so we don't feel like we're “missing” anything doing this one by truck. And we got a great rate since most trucks are carrying boasts south this time of year and we're going the “wrong” direction on what would otherwise be an empty deadhead load.


Sometimes I think I know what people must feel like as they go into exile; I look longingly at the pretty little Spanish town we can't safely live in any more. I remember walking those cobbled streets, eating in those restaurants, watching the sunrises from those beaches. “You'll be back,” quipped my friend Michelle. She, like me, is from Colorado, traveled by boat, docked in St Augustine, fell in love and didn't leave. “This town has a bungee cord. The farther you go away, the stronger the pull to return.” “It's dug its hooks into my heart,” I agreed. “And it's ripping me up to leave it.”


 Other times, my emotions are flat. As though I'm reading a badly written book about things that happened to someone else, I can't remember ever feeling those feelings of love and familiarity for this place. 


As we drove north in our giant bright yellow rental van with all our possessions except the boat in it, and passed the Florida state line for the last (?) time it was more a sort of sadness without passion or anger; just, "bye, Florida, sorry it didn't work out."



Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Chain Plates!


Replacing the chain plates is a project that I'd wanted to do for a long time. The chain plates are the bases that the standing rigging (the cables that hold up the mast) attach to, so their integrity is pretty important! Ours were as old as the boat, 40 years. Because they pass through the deck and are buried in fiberglass, it was impossible to inspect them completely, so we just made the assumption, erring on the side of caution, and bit the pricey bullet to replace them while the boat was out of the water for the summer. It also helped that we had removed all our possessions and taken them with us to the townhouse, as the work would involve getting into many of the storage lockers. 


Access to remove and replace them was going to be problematic. It looked like there was no way to do the job without destroying some cabinetry. We proposed instead to install the new ones on the outside of the boat, leaving the old ones in place to use as backing plates. This would give it a strappy, classic look that we were grudgingly coming to accept, though not as sleek as the original, it would do the job safely and well. It was also the approach that many people on the CSY owners forums had taken. 


So we were surprised and delighted when the staff at Oasis said they thought they could give us internal replacement chain plates that exactly matched the originals and that approach would be cheaper than the external installation we anticipated. Yes! Let's do this!

What we thought the job was going to look like - external straps. This is on a big sister sistership to Cinderella, a CSY 37 named "Independence."

Another set of external straps; this is "Glory," the boat of our sailing mentor David in the Virgin Islands.

And now for the work on Cinderella: 


First they removed the bronze rub rail so they could drill out the bolts holding the old chain plates in place.

Ryan showed me several places where there was rust or hairline cracks. If these things had broken under load (like during a strong wind when we were sailing), the mast could have come down!

The old chain plates weren't as damaged as he'd first feared, but it was "definitely time" to replace them, he confirmed.


Marina employee Cody drilling out the bolt holes in the new chain plate, using the old one as an exact pattern.

And the installation! With all that careful prep work, the new pieces slipped right in.


Instead of my nightmare of ripping out cabinetry, the only sign they had disturbed anything was this cut in a pantry shelf. They had removed the shelf to access the old chain plates. After drilling out the bolts from the outside, the chain plates could be lifted up, then down and out, and the new ones put in the same way. The cut shelf is generally hidden behind a door, and in any case, it is usually covered with cans or jars of food. 

Here's the cut at the other end of the same shelf, and the new chain plate bolted to the side of the hull.


The view from top side, with the standing rigging attached to the new tab. The part of the chain plates above deck was polished for weather resistance, the part hidden below was coated with a rust-protective coating.

Another shiny new attachment above deck - boat jewelry!

And the below deck part, this one inside a locker -- strong and solid.

The sleek look was not compromised at all. (The mast was reinstalled the day after this photo was taken.) 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Time's Not For Saving, No Time's Not For That


 

I'm not exactly sure what to do with all this newfound time that modern conveniences have given us that I wrote about in "Easy Is Not Simple." In normal times (remember those?) we spent whatever time wasn't consumed by either our jobs/volunteer job or the activities of daily living, in either learning, exploring, or socializing. The pandemic lockdowns that have canceled most of our favourite things to do. Work and volunteering are out. I can't volunteer at the Castillo - it's closed; or guide tours on El Galeon - tall ship festivals with their crowds and lines are cancelled. Sure, we can, and do, spend our time in lockdown doing self-improvement activities, so we are still learning and exploring a little. No museums, but there's lots of time for reading, and hiking or walks along the beach. At the beginning of the lockdowns I pledged myself to spend an hour on each of 4 categories per day: something educational, something physical, something practical, and something creative. 

That leaves us terribly lacking in the social dimension, both what I call "intentional socializing" - planned outings or hangouts with friends, and "spontaneous socializing" - those things that grow organically from low stakes conversations with random people who cross your path. With everyone social-distancing now, I'm not going to pose for photos in garb or get into a long conversation with a stranger; walk crowded St George Street; or attend a happy hour full of other cruisers in a crowded, cozy pub or live music venue or festival. 


It may be too great an endeavor, trying to unpack what is isolation that is due to the virus and what is integral to suburbia (or a by product of it), since both of those hit for us at the same time. 


Even without virus considerations, though, I think the nature of suburbia itself leads to a certain basic isolation. In the city, or the cruising community, you had frequent random meetings with your neighbours, waiting for the bus, in the laundromat, at the dinghy dock. Houses are just too comfortable and have too many conveniences! Why go to a live music concert, when there's an impressive sound system here in the house, and I can listen to whatever I want, whenever I want it? Why go to a restaurant, when there's a spacious kitchen full of great appliances?  We have our own car just steps from the door, and our own washer and dryer in the just off the kitchen. In suburbia all those creature comforts that make your life at home so easy, also make you never have to leave your private space. That's handy in virus times, but in the larger picture, if you never go out and interact by chance with your neighbours, what happens to community? 


My neighbours are pleasant, I smile at them and say hi when I see them walking on the beach at sunrise or walking their dogs at sunset, but then we turn away and go back into our private worlds. It's a separate issue that there's less certainty that your neighbors would share any interests in common with you, when all you share is a zip code. Of course, that's not to say that people in suburbia don't make friends! They grow from common interests, from sports, hobbies, classes, churches, kids' friends. It's just that those interest-based friends could be across town, not necessarily next door. I've never made friends so easily as while living on a boat - by its nature, everyone you meet you have at least one common interest, life on the water, and that's the start for a conversation turning strangers into friends.  



Monday, October 26, 2020

Easy Is Not Simple; Simple Is Not Easy

 




 

It's taken quite a bit to adjust to, this living in suburbia thing. It's a very easy life, though easy is not the same as simple



I remember a cocktail party icebreaker game where you went through the keys on your keyring and described them -- "This is the key to my house, I live in a cabin in the mountains; this is the key to my office, I work as a financial planner; this is the key to my car, I drive a Subaru ..." I don't remember exactly how it worked but somehow you also got points for having a kind of key that no one else did, say, to an airplane hangar or the backstage at the local theater; I'd often earn a point for having a copy of the master key to USGS stream gaging stations nationwide. 



When we started cruising I'd been unable to play the key game at all -- I had no keys. No office, no car, no house. We rarely needed to lock the boat, and when we did, it was with a straightforward combination padlock. Simple life. But not easy. Grocery shopping on Caribbean islands might mean a long dusty walk or ride in an open bus crowded with locals (and sometimes chickens as well!) and an equally long walk back with a backpack full of sometimes unfamiliar products, hoping we correctly understood the explanations of how to cook them we received from a friendly stranger. Laundry also took half a day -- and that was if you were lucky enough to arrive at the laundry room when machines were available -- and you were trapped there for the 2 hours or so that a load took to wash and dry and fold; couldn't do anything else while doing the laundry, except maybe chat with others who were also doing their wash. Even morning coffee was a slow-but-relaxing ritual of heating water in the teakettle then pouring it over the grounds to drip. 



Here in suburbia, in an air-conditioned house and with a car parked just steps from our front door, life is much, much easier than cruising by boat. Groceries are selected online from a website, then we drive to the parking lot where a store employee delivers them to our car. Total interactive time: 10 minutes. Laundry, when the washer and dryer is right here in the townhouse? Throw in a load while doing something else. Again, total interactive time: 10 minutes. Coffee? Push a button on the electric machine; interactive time 5 seconds. Hungry? Grab a prepared meal or snack from the wide selection stored in our huge freezer and pop it in the microwave; push another button; interactive time 5 seconds (not counting the amount of time it took to decide!). And on and on ... 



It's easy, but complex with so many specialized appliances. Every time we're back on the boat I find myself longing for the simplicity and clarity and focus I find in that tiny space, so for all the comfort of the rental, I'm looking forward to going back home.



(Oh, and by the way, as for the keychain game, our present life exemplifies the "easy, but not simple." Landlords gave us a keyring with 5 keys just for the property - one for the front doorknob, one for the deadbolt, one for the mailbox, one for the storage shed, one for the pool.) 






Friday, October 16, 2020

C.L.O.D.s (Cruisers, Living on Dirt)

 

White picket fence dreams, anyone? (It wasn't our plan, but, covid changed that!)


Cruisers jokingly refer to other cruisers who have moved back to land as "CLODs." There's a little bit of good-natured ribbing there (we all think we're going to do this forever and never get old!) and also a tacit acknowledgement that living on a boat and traveling forever changes you. In that way even after you retire back to land you'll always be a cruiser.


After the horrible heat from 2 years ago where we stayed in Jacksonville for the summer while Dan healed from hip surgery, we promised ourselves that never again would we voluntarily stay on the boat in Florida over the summer. Well, the key word was "voluntarily" and covid threw us a curve ball. Our planned time on El Galeon evaporated when all the tall ship festivals we were scheduled to visit were canceled due to covid. Covid also thwarted our plans to sail Cinderella north to the Chesapeake Bay. Not all marinas were open, the situation changed daily. We didn't want to risk any exposure for Dan, which meant that even if we could travel, we wouldn't be able to explore any cities along the route. And staying where we had an established support network also seemed wise. So suddenly, we were facing another summer in Florida.


Well, since it was going to be summer and we were going to be in Florida, the only remaining part of our pledge that we could modify was "on the boat." So we asked our network and extended network of friends if anyone knew of a furnished place for rent for the season. The cruisers network is absolutely amazing, and within a couple of days our friend Nichole introduced us to her friends Jenia and Michael. They had a townhouse in the nearby town of Crescent Beach and would be delighted to have trusted renters while they spent the summer exploring the western US in their RV. A perfect win-win! We quickly arranged some details, and Cinderella went to spend the summer at the incomparable Oasis Boatyard getting new chainplates, (more on that later) while we became land-dwellers temporarily.


It's been a lovely change from the confines of being on the boat during covid lockdown, very safe and private and with a lot more room than we have aboard. Very different from our home slip in vibrant downtown, the townhouse is very quiet, offering us a chance to reconnect with each other and nature. Mornings start with chirping birds instead of the clangs and whistles of the opening Bridge of Lions drawbridge.The location, on a barrier island only 250 meters wide, means an easy 5-minute walk to watch both sunrises and sunsets over the water.  It's newly renovated and nicely furnished, with a kitchen big enough to play lots of cooking experiments in. 


But it's also been ... weird. The townhouse is packed full of many fascinating and deeply personal items, musical instruments and souvenirs of the homeowners' world travels and candles and cutesy knick-knacks. When we added our possessions as well, and contrasted it with the necessarily streamlined style we have on the boat, the net effect was to feel a bit jumbled (our styles are very different!) and cluttered. I long for the calm and focus of life on the boat, and realize that the townhouse is not in fact cluttered when judged by ordinary land-based standards, just by boat-standards. Indeed, even though we are temporarily "living on dirt" we still have the minds of cruisers! 



Peaceful sunrises over the Atlantic, and sunsets over the Matanzas, bookend our days



Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Saudade

 

Saudade (Portuguese). Google Translate simply describes it as “missing” but a book I read recently gave a more poetic definition: “A vague longing for something that cannot exist again, or perhaps never existed...”



St George Street during Nights of Lights. The magic already getting dimmer in my memory.


We have loved living here, the last 7 years. But now, the very vibrancy of the town we enjoy so much, the tourism and the visitors from everywhere, is exactly what makes it dangerous for us. Festivals on El Galeon, where we welcome two or three thousand people per day aboard, when the poetic Captain Pablo commented that the ship couldn't breathe when it was that crowded? Yeah, not so likely now. Strolling crowded St George Street in pirate garb and posing with strangers? Um, thanx but no thanx. Volunteering at the Castillo, explaining the everyday life of a soldado on patrol, letting the kids touch the tools and implements, hold the dummy musket and try on a great coat and tricorn hat? A recent email from the ranger coordinating the program explained that when they do reopen, there will be no cannon firings, and no one will be allowed to dress in period clothing, for fear visitors would be too tempted to ignore social distancing to get close. 


After a day dressed as soldados at the Castillo, we'd walk across the street and have pizza at Al's. No Castillo anymore, or eating pizza on Al's balcony either.

So from the safety, comfort -- and isolation -- of the townhouse we rented for the summer, we ponder all we've lost, and what to do next. 


We've learned so much, the Spanish history and culture here from the early days, as well as the civil rights history, the Underground Railroad that ran south from South Carolina and Georgia to Spanish territory where runaways were given their freedom if they pledged allegiance to Spain. That knowledge, of course, will be with us forever.


But the tourism that is the engine that drives this wonderful town and all the opportunities here, are continuing to keep us isolated. And I can't even begin to talk about the wonderful and varied restaurant scene that has been decimated since March. Although restaurants are open again, we don't feel safe eating in, and takeout food has never been my thing. The other tourist things, the historic lighthouse and climb to the top; the alligator farm and native bird rookery where we visited every week last spring to watch the baby birds grow; the weird Victorian and Gilded Era collections at the Lightner Museum; or just walking the wonderful old streets and the architecture, all are either still closed, or closed-to-us now as we continue to keep isolation in the wake of Dan's scuba accident and general cautiousness. All are dimming in my memory. We did know how good we had it. We'd often turn to each other and say, "I love where we live!" Now, though, saudade. The memories are still there of things we did and people we met, but they are flat. It's like reading about something that happened to someone else. The affection remains, but the passion has evaporated, silently and without fanfare, like a mist blown by the night wind. Saudade.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Hey There Colorado! (You Both Can, and Can't, Go Home Again)



Most definitely not in Florida anymore! Visiting Red Rocks amphitheater, in Colorado, July 2019

Exactly one year ago we went back to Colorado for a short visit, the first time we've been "home" this century. For so long after college, my best friends worked in New York and Philly and longed to live in Colorado as we did. They held that dream, it would be so cool to live near each other again, and finally after retirement they were able to move west ... though we had so sadly moved away, back to the East Coast and the boat. So it was phenomenal to go back for a visit to see them in their new digs. They indulged us with a tour down memory lane.

I expected the visit to be weird and disorienting ... and it was. After all, we're different people than the people we were when we lived there - older, weaker, slower, and we hope wiser. And the place itself is different too - more developed, more crowded, maybe less wild.  So in that sense we couldn't go home again because "home" didn't exist. But the mountains - the thing that drew us to Colorado from the beginning - the mountains were wild and steady and reliable and unchanging. Draped over them was this grid of human development trying to tame and flatten them.

The days before we left were a mad scramble, as we prepared Cinderella for storage and ourselves for a summer of adventures. All of our possessions, save for one backpack and one duffel bag each, were removed from the boat and boxed in storage. Somehow in the chaos I'd managed to pack the camera to bring along on the trip, but lost the charge cable. Typical -- I've never yet had "enough" time to organize things properly for a move, so books, spices, and tools all shared a packing box, one of 46 (!!) filling every last available cubic inch of our storage unit. A pair of earrings and a flashlight were misplaced, and a laundry bag we hadn't seen for years came to light.

We needed to turn in our rental car by midnight (like Cinderella!) and be at the airport by 4 AM. We really couldn't talk ourselves into paying $100 for a motel room we could only use for half the night, so we planned to just cat nap in the airport lounge until check-in. Which meant that we were technically homeless for one night. We spent the afternoon hanging out in the public library, one of very few places in the city other than work or home where people are free to hang out without the expectation of buying something. We were not hungry and didn't want to get drunk, so that ruled out restaurants and brew pubs, we aren't movie people, and didn't want to go shopping.  When you think of it, there just aren't that many options. We did in fact cat nap at the airport, along with a surprising number of other people, until time for our flight.

Our friends met us at the airport and all tiredness was forgotten as we caught each other up on our news, and we eagerly looked out the car windows at all the changes Denver had shown after 20 years away.

First stop - hippie college town of Boulder

The Boulder Flatirons, from the redundantly-named Table Mesa, a.k.a., the hill behind our townhouse. 


View from the top, looking back down over the city.

The downtown pedestrian mall. A lot more polished suburban touristy spot than the hippie hangout it was back in the 1970s and 1980s!


We visited our old home town of Boulder. It both was, and wasn't, the place we remembered. Could we visualize living here again someday? The rocks haven't changed, lots of new development so the human landscape has changed quite a bit. Most of all, we've changed. Some of the nostalgia I feel isn't really about the place, as much as its about who we were when we lived in this place -- younger, stronger, broke-er, dumber. And our futures stretched before us, wide and green and forever. All in all though, if losing that optimism is the price to be paid for gaining amazing experiences, long durable friendships, and some wisdom, patience, and empathy... I'll take aging, creaky body and all. I still have love, health, money, and time enough to enjoy them, yay retirement!

A very very special curry dinner

Then and now: the crew posing for this group photo behind the bar of the original India's Restaurant, ca 1985. (We all had so much hair back then!)



Still the best curry in Denver. 


Thirty-odd years ago, we helped some friends build an Indian restaurant. We have so many stories from that time. No money, but Dan came home from work every night with fabulous curry; we didn't cook at home for months. Every time one of the staff went home to India on vacation they came home with artwork to decorate the new restaurant, or specialized cookware, or whatever. They weren't allowed to store any food on premises until the health department okayed the site, so we kept the spices in our guest room, including a 50-pound (!!) bag of cinnamon. (Can you even imagine how delicious our house smelled?) I remember the executive chef sitting on the floor during construction, shaping an asphalt floor tile holding it and the knife in exactly the same pose as he would peel a potato (and looking just as comfortable). We went to the restaurant's new location; they have moved twice since then but still have behind the bar, the framed dollar bill we gave them for luck when they first opened. We still have aboard Cinderella (part of) the thali set they gave us - we use the small dishes for snacks and nuts when we host happy hour or for mise-en-place, though the engraving on them has been worn smooth. (The rest of the set is not gone, just too big for the sailboat, is in storage with our other treasures, for "someday" when we move back to land.) Still the BEST Indian food in Denver! The owner's son, now a charming 30-something and working at the restaurant also, mentioned a funny memory he had as a 7-year-old, pulling out one of our measuring tapes to see how far it could go, and then not being able to get it back into its case. How remarkable that that stuck in his head, so many years later.

Old friends

In addition to the fellow college alumni, we had two other sets of longtime friends in the area. We would much have preferred to get with them one-on-one but there just weren't enough hours in the day, so we all got together in a trendy microbrewery in south Denver. The shortest of these friendships, is still over 25 years.




Our old workplace

Before and After - image from an EPA summary of the site history


On our way to drop us at the airport, our friends took us to visit our old workplace, Rocky Mountain Arsenal.  Chemical weapons were built there during WWII, Dan worked there in the 1970s after returning from Korea, while it was an active installation; Jaye worked there in the 1990s as part of the environmental cleanup after the place was decommissioned. (Probably my favourite job of my entire career.) All the buildings are gone now, their frantic and desperate history preserved only in a few educational plaques scattered around the site, and the buffalo literally roam. Of course, turning a Superfund site into a park is the definition of success; and it's the nature of environmental cleanup that it's a good thing if you make your job unnecessary. But still, when I worked there I would sometimes drive through the old plant area, the pipes and tubing and enigmatic buildings, and feel like I could almost, almost sense the camaraderie and shared sacrifice and archetypical American pluckiness of the workers there then, and leaving every evening, driving past the billboards that said "Thanks for the help!" on my way out the gate and I'd always smile a little internal, "No problem! You are welcome any time!" and wonder how modern visitors such as our hosts could ever understand the scope of what had happened here. 

All in all, an awesome visit, over way too fast. We promised to return for a longer time next year (this year, hah!) which of course can't happen now. So instead, it's just a lovely thing to look forward to, some future year.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Hard Aground



I always thought that the sailors' slang "on the hard" to describe a boat stored on land was a bit poetic -- boats would rather be floating and rocking gently. But in this case, it's safe and secure (and bonus! we get to attend to some maintenance.) 

We've packed up to leave the boat before, numerous times. Last summer we packed Every. Single. Thing. off the boat and deep cleaned the empty lockers before storing it on the hard through the hot Florida summer while we went working and traveling on the Santa Maria. A few years before that, we packed our valuables, left a friend in charge, and flew off to Aruba for 3 months. So we're no strangers to leaving for a while. But this time felt different. It felt desolate, and it felt … permanent. The end of an era, or at least of a phase of our lives. We expected the virus to have changed our cruising, we planned less ambitious seasonal treks, even welcomed the idea of staying in one area for a year or two and feeling the rhythm of the seasons again. But I didn't expect to feel like this was the end of our full-time living aboard.

Maybe, it was because all those other times, we were packing off to go to an adventure – sailing on El Galeon or visiting friends and family in Colorado and Alaska or scuba diving the Caribbean or hiking the Rockies. This time we were going from something – hiding from the awful summer heat and humidity since both our first choice way to spend the summaer (sailing El Galeon in Europe) and our second choice (bringing Cinderella to explore the Chesapeake Bay) and our third choice (road trip to the American West) all were quashed by the combination of virus and Dan's diving accident. And the very thing we loved about living in the marina in the middle of downtown St Augustine, the visitors, the vibrancy, the crowded narrow historic streets, was the thing that made the city so dangerous for us now with the risk of infection while we were trying so hard to stay isolated.

The boat had always felt like freedom, and our route to possibility. Now it felt like a constraint, a tether. I felt trapped, chained to a place I didn't want to be. Florida wasn't taking the virus seriously, I didn't feel safe, and I couldn't figure out how to leave. And hurricane season was coming. Next best option: store Cinderella on land, safe (or, statistically safe-er than any other option – nothing is guaranteed when it comes to hurricane season) and we rent a place with a little more space, isolation, and air conditioning until we can move back aboard.

In one of the magical ways networks of cruising friends lead to win-win situations, we rented a lovely townhouse from some friends-of-friends who were planning to spend the summer traveling in their rv. Close enough to come back easily to check up on, or work on, Cinderella where she would be safely hauled out on land for the season; yet calm and quiet and away from the city hustle.

As we wheeled the final load of packages away in a dock cart, I heard behind me the chimes of the ship's clock striking 6 bells, 3 pm. Tugged at my heart, as though Cinderella was saying, “I'll be faithfully waiting for you to return.” I miss you already.

Last week my word of the week was “squander,” – as in, let's not squander all the financial sacrifices our local businesses made during the shutdown, by opening back up too quickly (which Florida likely did anyway). This week it's “wistful” – I miss walking the cobbled streets, the historic Spanish architecture, the gentle rocking of the boat and the view from the cockpit, and I wonder when/if I can go back.




A
Wistful: almost everything I like, and am missing, in one photo -- portraying living history with friends, sailing, Spanish culture. The photo is of the Santa Maria docked in downtown St Augustine. If you zoom in you can just make out the stern of Cinderella off the upper left corner of the foredeck.