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!)