The Narrow Boats of England and the power of hope.

The Narrow Boats of England’s inland canal waterways have always captured my imagination.  To me these distinctive boats are a pinnacle of “form follows function” as they all look very similar being designed within a strict standard that will fit with the locks on the canal system throughout the UK.

A Narrow Boat must be under 7′ wide and most are kept to a maximum of 6′ 10″ and to a maximum length of 72′ and sometimes a bit smaller as there are some locks on the system that can not accommodate anything longer than 57′. Originally these boats were more like simple barges with horses pulling them along with a rope on a tow path.   With the development of compact steam engines,  many became self powered and ultimately converted to diesel engines. The canal system of the UK and the iconic narrow boats played a key role in the industrial revolution in England making it possible to cheaply move material throughout  the country before the development of the railway system.  As canal traffic became the standard way to transport heavy cargo, shipping prices dropped precipitously with the cost to move coal dropping by 75%.   However, by the mid 20th century the canal system was all but abandoned in favor of train transport.

While the decline was years in the making, the winter of 1962/63 sounded the final death knell of commercial canal traffic when the canals completely froze the system, locking traffic in place for three months.  Shippers made the final shift to the railroads and never turned back.  Even the trains struggled with the unusually cold and snowy winter but they got through. As you can imagine, it wasn’t long until much of the canal system fell into total disrepair.
As is so often a basic truth, if you don’t use it, you loose it.
Today the system is thriving, thanks to a small group of enthusiasts that campaigned to repair the waterway.  A particularly seminal moment in this reversal of fortune was the publication of the book Narrow Boat by L.T.C. Rolt, originally published in 1944.  The author, Tom Rolt, brought attention to the decaying system.  Many give credit to this book as being the catalyst that lead to the renewal of the canal system as it exists today.   This book is still in print, after all these years, providing evidence of the enduring importance of his words.

Here’s Tom on his beloved narrow boat, Cressy.  He toured what remained of the the then decrepit canal system and founded the Inland Waterway Association in 1946 with a friend, Robert Aickman.   This group remains a major force to this day in restoring and maintaining the canal system.   Robert Aickman aboard a narrow boat.  He was a successful author of what is described as “supernatural fiction” whatever that is.  Remarkably, today there is in the neighborhood of 4,700 miles of navigable waterways in the UK with some 2,500 miles of those waterways primarily accessible by narrow boat.   If you ever wonder about what can be accomplished by a single individual, consider the impact that both Rolt and Aickman had on what is now a thriving canal system with over 30,000 registered vessels in the UK alone.

I am focused on all of this, beyond the obvious is this is all about boats, because, as I announced in a recent post, Brenda and I are planning a holiday to the UK in April, beginning with the annual meeting of the Ocean Cruising Club in Wales (I wrote about our plans and a few other random thoughts in this post).  After that we plan to tour other areas and are considering renting a canal boat or should I say Narrow Boat.

The particular segment of the canal system that we are interested in is often described as the most popular one, crossing from England to Wales, the Llangollen Canal.   This area of the canal system, under 50 miles, offers spectacular scenery along with a number of remarkable aqueducts and tunnels and is quite manageable for a week long holiday.   When you think of the fact that this canal was built in the early 1800s, it’s an all the more impressive feat.

Perhaps the most amazing part of the journey on the Llangollen is the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, a specatular bit of Victorian engineering.   Named a world heritage site, it is lovingly maintained to this day.  Check out this short tour.  We’ve been watching a number of shows recently about the canal system and have particularly enjoyed a series highlighting various areas of the system, hosted by two British actors, Timothy West and his wife of 50 years Prunella Scales.  Sadly, Prunella has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and her condition plays into the touching narrative.  I urge you to view this 45 minute piece.Timothy West is a well know stage and film actor and, in addition to the above episode, made many others with his wife, covering other areas of the canals of Europe.   It’s an impressive list and the number of episodes alone highlights the historic importance of canals in the history of Europe.

Prunella Scales, is someone who you will probably remember as playing opposite John Cleese, in the television series, Faulty Towers or perhaps in Monty Python skits over the years.  Anyway, West and Scales, who clearly have a love of canals and Narrow Boats,  bring this wonderful lifestyle to life and I am hopeful that Brenda and I can find a way to fit a canal boat holiday into our trip in April.

Perhaps the most impressive part of all of this is how the rebirth of the now thriving canal system in the UK was catalyzed by one man and the publication of a book shortly after the end of WWII and how that has grown into a thriving economy that attracts boaters from around the world.  If the sheer number of videos on YouTube is any measure, the canals indeed mean a great deal to many people.

For me, the chance to visit the UK and spend time aboard a boat, now that would be very special indeed.  Oh yeah, there’s one rub, we have to find someone to come along with us as Brenda’s freaking out about those pesky locks and don’t get her started about those scary aqueducts……and long dark tunnels. So, will we go?  As Brenda once said, “Bob and the dog, ever hopeful.” 

Way back in the 40s, Rolt and Aickman had hope when they had the bold idea of reviving the entire canal system.  Me, my hope is a lot less ambitious.  All I want to do is to go for a boat ride.

That’s me!  Fingers crossed and, oh yes, the power of hope.

To the ones that didn’t get away.

My memories of my Grandfather Wallace, on my father’s side, are faint as he died when I was very young.  I do have one memory of him with my grandmother and parents in their kitchen but that’s about it.  

He became a successful business man, publisher of a trade magazine in the building trade, American Artisan, which is long gone.   I expect this photo predates that part of his life. My father did not speak much of his childhood but I do recall hearing that his parents, Wallace (Wally) and my Grandmother, Wilhelmina (Willy) Wilhelm, a good German Girl, ran a pretty tight ship and were stern with their boys, my father and his two brothers.

My memories of my Grandfather, such as they are, were mostly formed by what I heard after he was gone.  I guess that most of my memories were formed by the “things” that he surrounded himself with.  The stuff that he left behind.  When I was a bit older, I would sneak up to the attic, to gaze longingly at his enormous stash of fishing gear that was stored in a special climate controlled room.   Part of the allure for me was that I wasn’t really supposed to be up there in the first place but I did it anyway, and it was, surely, the most amazing place that I had ever been.

The room, tucked away in the corner of the walk-up attic, was lined with all sorts of outdoor gear, everything from winter jackets, snow shoes and all manner of fishing gear.  My Grandfather was a fisherman and a hunter but a fisherman first, and not one who’d “beat the water” with casting gear but a firm believer that the only proper way to catch a fish was with a rod and fly. 

And, for proper fishing gear, THE place he shopped was Orvis and Family legend had it that my Grandfather had one of nearly everything that Orvis sold, and I believed it.   I was entranced by what I saw in that secret room and imagined what it must have been like for my grandparents to trek deep into the wilderness, wading out in a cold running stream,  looking for the big one that I imagined never got away.  

Recently, I have been sorting through boxes of old family photos that Brenda and I have taken over the last forty years, and have come upon some real gems, some of which have appeared in recent posts.   I am nearing the end of the boxes of photos and today I came upon a small envelope with some remarkable pictures. Tiny black and white photos of my Grandparents taken while they were on several of their legendary wilderness fishing trips in the 1920s and later in the 40s, in Maine and Canada including Newfoundland.

Prior to today’s remarkable find, the only photo that I had of my grandfather, was this one, that I keep on my desk of him dressed as I always imagined he must have been when he was out exploring the wilderness.  There he is wearing his waders for trout fishing in a river and I can still remember how they smelled when I handled the old rubber in that forbidden place. 

I also have this photo of me and my late dad fishing on what I believe is a reservoir near our home, at the time, in Fairfield CT.   I’m not sure if Dad really enjoyed fishing so perhaps he was just doing his “good daddy” thing.  I wish I remembered that day.  I am sure it was awesome. So, back to the travels of  my grandparents, Wally and Willy.   Over the years I heard bits and pieces of the many trips that they took to Maine and Canada to fish and hunt but  mostly to fish. 

I can only imagine what it must have been like to head out into the wild back in the early part of the 20th century and it was surely very primitive by today’s standards.  Legend has it that on one of their visits to Newfoundland, my grandmother was confronted by a bull moose that towered over her head.  I remember her as being pretty tough so I expect that she stood her ground, no doubt, having been told that to run away was a decidedly bad idea. 

They were really on their own, guide or not.  No cell phones or GPS transponders with little red “help” buttons to push if you got into trouble back then.  Cars were even a fairly new thing and most transportation in the back country, at that time, was certainly by horse.  This photo was captioned on the back in neat printing as “Lori Pond Maine”.   I couldn’t find it on a map.Here they are, fording a stream, clearly in the same area, labeled  “Katahadin Maine” which I learned is the highest mountain in the state.  Located in the remote center of the state and I can only imagine how tough it was to get there in 1922 when this photo was taken as it was years prior to the interstate highway system. 

Perhaps they took a train from New York or took the long drive up route 1.  It’s hard to imagine them making the trip on their own as cars of that era were pretty primitive with running boards and brass headlamps.  One way or the other, it must have been a days long journey from their home in Fairfield CT.In his later years, I heard that my grandfather flew to fish in the Pacific Northwest to fish for salmon but back in the 1920s this was the sort of plane that was used commercially and I doubt that there were many airports, if any at all, in that part of Maine.   Well, this photo isn’t actually a commercial airplane and has nothing to do with my grandparents but I love the image and all that it conjures up.  You’ll get the point that air travel wasn’t quite the same then as today.  Not sure what this photo is all about but it’s labeled as “Maine Woods 1922”.  Yep, looks like the woods.  I wonder if they ever visited when there was snow on the ground.  Perhaps the trails were to rough for wheels so this was the only way to carry their camping gear. 
Roughing it or not, this photo, taken that same year, shows grandfather looking right at home in the backwoods, especially for a city guy.   Adventuring of the sort that they did was probably not all that common at that time. 
My grandmother was no shrinking violet.  And here she is “packing”.  Notice the sidearm.  I wonder if that was before or after her encounter with that moose?  Of course, as you’d expect for a proper rusticator, a skirt, appropriately below the knee, of course. Wally packed too.   It’s photo was taken some years later, in 1937, again in Newfoundland.  And, of course, complete with his ever present cigarette. And out by the cookhouse in Newfoundland in 1940.  I would imagine that they flew there as I can’t imagine having the time to get there by train, car or ship. 
My grandmother did plenty of fishing in those years too.   I remember her as pretty stern but with a great smile.   When she was much older and saw me she’d say in a high pitched voice with a jaunty lilt, “little lamb, little lamb, little lamb chop, chop” and poke me in the ribs.   I loved that. And, our Willy could handle a gun as well as a rod and reel.   Love the feather in her hat. Looks like lunchtime with their guide.  In those areas I doubt it was a good idea to go it alone.   And, I expect that there was plenty of critters, large and small, that “went bump in the night” to keep an eye out for. I’d love to know the story behind this moment.  Willy could fish with the best of them it seems although she never spoke of it with me. 
This photo, labeled only as “Maine” appears to be some sort of ferry.  Imagine being out in a remote area and wearing a tie and hat these days?   Heck, I even get comments at our yacht club when I show up in a bow tie. 
This photo carried an interesting caption on the back, “Dashing Youth, Wrecked City, Canada”.  I tried but couldn’t find any reference to such an event in the 20s when I guess the photo was taken. 
Along the way they did the tourist thing.  This was taken along the Mohawk Trail in western MA.   The name comes from it’s origins as a trade route for native Americans.   Some of the photos show my grandfather in what looks like really remote areas, like this one on a rocky riverbank, also from the early 20s.   I guess that is an Atlantic Salmon.   Come to think of it, all the photos look pretty remote. Legend has it that in his later years he had a standing order from a guide in the Pacific Northwest to contact him when the salmon were running and he’d hop on a plane and fly out.  In those days that was a very long way as planes didn’t have nearly the range of today’s jets and had to stop every few hundred miles for fuel as they made their way from coast to coast, across the continent.   

I never knew much about my grandfather and although my grandmother was with us until after Brenda and I were married, I still don’t know much about their earlier years.  However, their memory lives on, if perhaps more in my imagination, as I conjure up the adventures that they must have had as they fished and hunted in the wilderness, areas that seem impossibly remote even by by today’s adventure travel standards. 

I expect that it was the allure of fishing pristine streams and rivers and the promise of catching that big one, that drew my grandfather to the remote north country.   

And he, I expect, like me so many years later, was surely drawn to all the wonderful fishing gear, as he dreamed of the promise of what he’d catch and the big ones that, it seems, didn’t get a way.   Particularly the lures that he said, I am told, were designed to “catch more fisherman than fish”.   In his case, I expect that it was the other way around. 

I wish I’d been there with him.   Now, that would have been awesome.   And even though I wasn’t, discovering these photos has brought us just a bit closer after all these years.  

 

Our favorite harbors: Bequia, in the Grenadines

When we were planning our first trip south of the BVIs a few years ago, we found it very difficult to get good information about the more southern areas of the Caribbean.  Most of what I could find in the sailing magazines and online, was focused on the American and British Virgin Islands, so popular with the charter set on holiday.   Chartering in those areas is fun but cruisers generally head further south.  This lack of good information was a real problem for us, and finding information about the islands of Antigua and south, the area that had been described to me as “where the real Caribbean begins” was tough to find.

As I consider plans for spending next winter in the Caribbean, the 2019/20 season, I have been thinking about some of the favorite places that we have visited, those harbors and Islands that stood out in our travels, and thought it would be fun to share some thoughts about the spots we particularly enjoyed.

We visited many terrific islands and harbors in the last two years, so from time to time, I’ll be writing about the ones that we particularly enjoyed and share what makes them special to us.

When I make the run from the US, I generally plan on making landfall in Antigua and it is from there that we make our way south before heading north and back to the US.

As I asked around for advice on “favorite places” Bequia, in the Grenadines came up, over an over, as a must visit spot.  And while going there is always fun, it was recommended that we head there for the Easter Regatta, three days or racing an special events.   FYI, in 2019, the Bequia Regatta will take place from April 18th to the 22nd.

It’s a very popular event with locals and cruisers a like with visitors coming from all over to enjoy all that’s going on and for many, to participate in the races.  Boats of all shapes and sizes join in the three days of racing and parties.  Some came under their own power and some on the decks of inter-island freighters. This regatta draws from nearby islands, including a number of Carriacou sloops, those beautiful traditional, beach built sloops like Exodus, the last boat of it’s type launched in 2013.  It’s quite a sight to see her racing around the course with her cousins. Exodus was the subject of a full length movie about her building and the history of the design.  Here’s a short trailer for the movie.  Check it out.  If that inspires you to watch the full movie, here you go. Get a glass of rum, sit down and enjoy the show. Others came from the US like this lovely schooner Heron.  She summers in Maine, chartering out of Rockport.   Brenda and I will be in Maine this summer and plan on spending time in Rockport ourselves.  Perhaps we’ll see her.  Her captain and owner also built her and he did a great job.   Want to learn more about her?  Follow this link to her home page.  She’s really beautiful. While Heron is a classic design, she’s only a few years old.  Other classics participate in the regatta as well as other events in the Caribbean, such as the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, held in late April in Antigua.  One particular beauty that was there last winter was Ma Jong, built in the 1950s.  I found this particular shot of her on the Easter Regatta home page.  She’s a beautiful and very powerful boat.  Her home port is Vineyard Haven on Martha’s Vineyard where she was restored to her present glory.  I wrote about her last winter.  There are some good sized one design fleets in the regatta, like these vintage J24 sloops.  This colorful shot is also from the regatta site. And, of course, there are the local Bequia sloops, built and raced on the island.  You don’t have to be there during the regatta to enjoy the fun as they tack around the harbor.  The local youth are out sailing these boats nearly every day, regatta or not.   The youth clubhouse, oddly in a bar, is jammed with burgees brought by visitors over the years including this well used one from the Essex Yacht Club, my home club.  Along with boat building on the islands the history of fine craftsman goes way back including a tradition of model boats.  These are fun to see and watch being built.   I wrote about these models in this post last winter. If you followed the link above, you’ll find this photo a bit repetitive as that post also included discussion about the new dink chaps we had built.  Anyway, we had some great work done on the dink. Pandora’s varnish below was freshened too. There’s plenty to do ashore during the regatta including all manner of competitions.  Everything from musical chairs on stage to threading the needle, yes threading sewing needles.  Brenda competed and won, with a little help from a local and no doubt mortified, young man.   They were both good sports.

Brenda’s favorite event was “crying for nothing” where contestants are judged on their ability to conjure tears and a sobbing cry on command.  I believe that our two year old granddaughter Tori would do quite well in that event. Checking into Bequia is easy if more expensive than the French islands.  Just about all of the islands from St Vincent, south through the Grenadines, to just north of Grenada, are all part of the same jurisdiction.

There’s a very good public landing at the head of the harbor and it can be busy during the regatta.  The harbor is large with many moorings but, even during the regatta, there’s plenty of space to anchor.   Nobody seems concerned about dinks speeding around the harbor so even getting back to your boat if it’s far out in the harbor is a fast trip.  The harbor is well protected from any surge except in the outermost area. Everything about the harbor is colorful including the ferry boats from St Vincent. With all manner of local boats pulled up on the beach. We enjoy checking out local eateries and there are plenty to choose from, convenient from the walkway ringing the southern side of the harbor.  I have used this shot before.  To me, it perfectly evokes the image from the much loved classic book, The Wind in the Willows, when Ratty famously says, “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” Well, there you have it, Bequia, one of our favorite harbors and the Easter Regatta, one of our favorite events.  This a place that you should include on your itinerary if you’re headed to the Caribbean.  You won’t be disappointed.  

For more information on customs and immigration check out this official government link.  Another good source of up to date information on clearing into the island and other useful information about visiting, check out Noonsite.com.

It’s worth nothing that while there is a problem with crime in nearby St Vincent, we found Bequia to be friendly and safe and didn’t hear of any particular problems from other cruisers.  With regards to your dink, it’s recommended that you keep it locked up when ashore and out of the water and locked up at night.  Good advice for just about any area in the Caribbean.

Now you can see why Bequia is one of Brenda’s and my favorite places.  I’ll be writing about other favorites in the coming weeks and months, so stay tuned.

Oh yeah, if you’ve signed up to get notifications when I post and aren’t getting them, you’re not alone.  I have had difficulty with that function, I think it was the Russians, but Chris’s girlfriend Melody fixed it over the holidays so if you’d like to get a “ping” when I post, and I hope you do, sign up on the home page and then you’ll know.

Like minded, blue water sailors together!

Ok, perhaps the title of this post doesn’t exactly flow off the tongue.  Let me explain.

For the last six years my cruiser friend George and I have been putting on an event in Essex CT at the Essex Yacht Club, with the goal of offering what George would refer to as an opportunity to bring together a group of “like minded people”, folks that enjoy being on the water.  Every June we have put on a two to three day event that includes a series of talks about cruising on small boats in partnership with The Seven Seas Cruising Association, SSCA.

This year, with all of that free time I have on my hands, I thought that I’d try something new and likely more complex.  Silly me.   Free time you ask?  Did I mention that Pandora is on the hard and I am stuck in this Arctic place for the ENTIRE winter?

Well, here I am and as I write this it’s -1 degree F outside so at least I can think about sailing to warmer waters.   However, if doing an event with one group wasn’t complicated enough, how about organizing an event with three?    Along with my membership in SSCA, I am also a member of the Salty Dawg Sailing Association, SDSA and am a fairly new member of the Ocean Cruising Club, OCC.  That’s three groups with complimentary missions so three it is.

At the risk of someone taking issue with my description of what these groups are all about, here’s how I see their missions.

SSCA is the group that years ago brought me and Brenda into the fold of cruising and living aboard for extended periods.  Simply stated the group celebrates the cruising lifestyle.  A simple mission and a group loaded with many folks like our friends Bill and Maureen on Kalunamoo and the Melinda and her late husband Harry of Sea Schell, that nurtured me and Brenda along the way on our first winter heading south on the Intra Coastal Waterway, ICW.

Of course, there were many more SSCA members, as we made our way south, that held out hands as we adjusted to life afloat during that first eight month run south in 2012.  Maureen and Melinda, were so great and went out of their way to make Brenda feel special for her birthday that first year.   That’s Bill in the background waiting for his piece of chocolate cake. The Salty Dawg Sailing Association, a group that in only a few short years became the organizers of what is now the largest rally to the Caribbean from the US East Coast.   SDSA, is dedicated to educating sailors and their crew to prepare for the rigors of offshore sailing and they do a wonderful job at it.   It’s very exciting to be part of the nearly week long events in Hampton VA as skippers and crew from nearly 100 boats attend seminars, have parties and get ready to head south.

For the last two years, I have held the position of Port Captain for the rally in  Antigua and let me tell you, it’s been a wonderful experience.  Along with the fun I’ve had with the folks headed to Antigua, I have also made some great friends on that island.  Antigua isn’t the only landfall for the group and some boats opt to go to the BVIs or the Bahamas, but I’m biased and feel that Antigua is THE PLACE to make landfall in the Caribbean.  I wrote quite a few posts about Antigua but perhaps this recent post best sums up the fun we had when the fleet arrived in November.   I can not stress enough how supportive everyone in Antigua has been to our rally.

The third group that is involved in this year’s event is the Ocean Cruising Club, a group that I joined just over a year ago when I was in Antigua.  They celebrate blue water sailing and to join you must complete at least one ocean passage of a minimum of 1,000 miles, and you have to do it in a boat that’s less than 70 long.  No 3,000 passenger cruise ship rides for their members!

Just for fun, I wrote about my joining the group last winter in this post along with a bit about the wonder of sitting on Pandora’s bow and ringing in the New Year, complete with fireworks, in historic Nelson’s Dockyard.  OCC is out of the UK and has around 2,500 members worldwide, making them one of the largest groups of it’s kind.

As a side note, Brenda and I were trying to decide where in Europe to go in the spring and hearing about the annual meeting of OCC, to be held in Wales, clinched the deal.   So, we’re headed to the UK for a few weeks in early April.  We plan on covering a lot of ground in England, Wales and Scotland while are there so it will be great to get some local knowledge from the folks at the Wales event.  So far, they have been amazingly supportive and we are getting very excited about the trip.

Part of the three day event will be held in clubhouse of the Royal Welsh Yacht Club.  Among their claims to fame is that their clubhouse, located in a castle no less, is the oldest clubhouse of any yacht club in the world, originally built in 1283.  However, the club isn’t nearly that old.  Heck, it’s practically brand new as it was only founded in 1847.   Ok, perhaps the place doesn’t look quite the same these days as in this etching below, but it’s still in a castle, which is awesome, for sure.  I couldn’t come up with any decent photos so you’ll have to wait till April.  I wonder if they serve mead in the bar?  Hmm…There wasn’t much yachting going on in the 13th century, more like sailing around and pillaging, I expect.  One way or the other, it will be fun to visit a club that can say, with a straight face, “our home is a castle.”  

These three groups share a common bond as cruisers who love to spend time on the water but their missions are unique and very complimentary.  Happily, all three, along with the Essex Yacht Club have agreed to be involved.

George and I are pretty excited about this event, scheduled to run for three days, beginning with a rendezvous of members of the clubs in nearby Hamburg Cove, about a mile north of Essex.  This is a beautiful perfectly protected harbor and as if that’s not enough, it’s fresh water, something that we cruisers don’t see much of.

Hamburg cove is filled with moorings.  Most of the moorings are only used on weekends, when the hordes show up, but if you visit during the week you will be virtually alone in a beautiful spot.

I don’t seem to have any shots of the harbor, that I can find at least, but this shot taken by my friend Liz shows the Onrust, a reproduction of Adrian Block’s boat, the one that he cruised the area with back in the “olden days”.  I expect that the members of the RWYC would remind you that Block was late in the game, nearly 400 years after the first buildings of the castle where there clubhouse is located was first built,  Anyway, here’s the Onrust on the river just outside of Hamburg cove.  The river is very scenic.  Just a bit farther up the river is Selden Creek, a really narrow and beautiful, cut off of the river.  It can be tough to get over the bar at the entrance but once but once you are inside, it’s plenty deep and stunning.  You can anchor fore and aft if you tie up to a spot on the bank.  There’s an iron ring cemented into a cliff on the bank.  This was our first Pandora, a SAGA 43 tied up there, way back in 2007.As tempting as it may be to climb up the rock and jump into the water, don’t do it as it’s private property.  Years ago, our son Rob broke the rules.  Don’t tell anyone. He and a friend jumped off of the “private” rock. What goes up, must come down.
So, first we will have a rendezvous in Hamburg Cove with those who are attending the event at the Essex Yacht Club.

Then off for the one mile run to the Essex Yacht Club and the village of Essex, the home to the CT River Museum ,where the Onrust is berthed these days.  She’s available for cruises on the river through the CT River Museum, also a great place to visit.   I wrote about her in this post when she first arrived in the area.  She’s beautifully built and worth seeing. Essex Harbor is quite large and while there are lots of moorings for rent, there is also plenty of room to anchor on the far side of the river.   This shot, from the air, is compliments of the CT River Museum. It’s a beautiful harbor, especially in the early morning.  Fresh water here too.
There’s plenty to do in Essex, after hours.  A particularly popular spot is the bar in the Griswold Inn, known locally as simply, The Gris.  It’s one of the oldest,  or perhaps the oldest, pubs in the country, operating continuously since 1776.My favorite event, held every Monday night at the Gris, is sea chanteys performed by the group the Jovial Crew.  They always pack the house with a very colorful mix of locals and visitors.  If you join in the rowdy fun, you’ll see  folks wearing everything from foul weather gear, to suits and even an occasional kilt, complete with waxed mustache.   Trust me, it’s way more crowded and interesting than this shot suggests, and totally worth it. And, let’s not forget the Essex Yacht Club, where the event will be held, with Pandora conveniently out in front in this shot.  The agenda is coming along nicely and will include a program on weather routing by Chris Parker of Marine Weather Center, who’s flying up from FL to speak to us.  He will talk about changes in weather forecasting and weather routing as well as some information about passages to the Caribbean.   Here’s Chris at a past event when he spoke at the museum.   Yes, that’s a reproduction of a really early submarine, the Turtle.  It lives at the CT River Museum. We’ll also have talks about cruising in Maine, the Bahamas and the Caribbean.  All with a bent toward blue water sailing.

My friend, editor and publisher of Blue Water Sailing Magazine, George Day will also lead a number of round tables with experts on preparing for blue water sailing and passage making.

The plan is also to have a number of boats on display for boarding on the club bulkhead so that attendees can see, first hand, boats that are well fitted out for ocean voyaging.  It will be fun to compare notes with the folks that are out there doing it.

I also expect that we’ll be visited by the United States Coast Guard, that’s if the government shutdown ever ends and they start getting paid again.   The plan is to stage a live search and rescue demonstration with a J-Hawk chopper along with a visit by one of their cutters.  This is a shot of one of their choppers that I took up at the USCG station on Cape Cod.  Brenda and I were given a tour a few years ago.   What an awesome machine, and one that I never hope to get plucked out of the water by.  I wrote about our visit in this post. Well, there’s still more in the planning stages but George and I are really excited about how things shaping up so stay tuned to learn more.

Oh yeah, we’ll have some great meals at EYC and Chef Michael is known as one of the best chefs at any club on Long Island Sound.

One way or the other, if you enjoy blue water passage making or dream about doing it yourself one day, you should mark your calendar for June 21st to 23rd at the Essex Yacht Club.  It’s going to be great.

As George has often said, what’s better than being in the midst of a group of “like minded” people who love cruising and that’s exactly what we plan.

Like minded people who enjoy sailing on the ocean blue.

 

 

Those sweet waters of the Adirondacks.

When I was young, my parents took us to upstate NY in the Adirondacks each summer for a two week vacation.  In all the years we visited, and it was for as many summers as I can remember, it was always to the same spot, Lake Clear, just north of Saranac Lake.

I have wonderful vivid memories of those summer breaks, fishing, sailing on an old Sunfish and time spent watersking for hours each day.  I also remember the daily trips to a local gas station with my dad to fill up the fuel tanks for the boat.  Wow, but that boat, that we dubbed the “super pig” used gas.

When Brenda and I were newly married, we too took our time at Lake Clear and even considered buying a cottage, balking at what seemed like an unfathomably high cost of $50,000 for lakefront property in the late 70s.

While we had not yet begun to focus on sailing, I felt a strong pull to the water.

The cottage that we rented belonged to the Lathrops who were second generation owners of the property.  The cottage was impossibly quaint if a bit rough around the edges.  I seem to recall bringing our own vacuum to tidy up a bit when we arrived.    During those years, Brenda played the guitar.  Sadly, not these days but she has recently taken up the ukulele.   Fingers crossed that she will catch that bug again. I fell in love with the traditional boats of the area.  Perhaps the most iconic boat design of the region is the Guide Boat, so named because it was used for hunting and fishing by “sports” who visited the region by train from NYC to “rusticate”, beginning in the years after the close of the Civil War.  These boats were crewed by the builders themselves, who spent winters building the boats and summers taking visitors on guided hunting and fishing trips.   Guide boats are known for being easy to row and for being able to carry a lot of gear and as they had to as often it was a hunter, guide and any game that they may have bagged.

Windslow Homer spent time in the area too and painted this iconic image of a guide and his “sport”.   However, this may not actually be a guideboat but you get the general idea.I got the bug to have one of these beautiful boats but couldn’t afford to buy a “real” one.  Instead, I found someone who was offering a “bare hull” in Kevlar which I finished with walnut decks and cane seats.  I even carved out oars to pretty exact specs.   This is one sweet boat to row and very light. The hull and fitting design were taken off of the lines of a particular boat “Ghost”, built by H.D Grant.   The original boat is now in the collection of the Adirondack Museum, renamed the Adirondack Experience.

Plans for the boat, which I purchased from the museum, are now available from, oddly, Mystic Seaport.  The 16′ boat has beautiful lines and with her 8′ overlapping oars, is a dream to row.   It is said that a traditional guide boat is the fastest rowing boat you can find without a sliding seat.  The boat Ghost itself and museum are located on Blue Mountain Lake.  It’s a really great place to visit and has examples of many boats that plied the waters of the many lakes that dot the area.

Here’s are some of the sheets of the plans that I purchased. The plans even specify details down to the oarlocks which I was able to purchase from a foundry that had duplicated the design to be true to the original.  This design of boats has been remarkably popular for over 100 years and there are still boats being constructed using the exact same techniques and materials.  These boats are very tough to make as the materials are impossibly thin to keep the weight of the boats to a minimum given the need to portage, or hand carry, from one lake to the next.  There were many hotels dotting the lakes that featured guideboats for hire, complete with guides.We had many wonderful times heading out on picnics on the lake and nearby St Regis Lake.   Wow, what a dish.  Nice boat too. St Regis Lake was and is still today, home to many of the “Great Camps” where wealthy city dwellers would spend time “rusticating” in somewhat less than rustic conditions.

One of the most famous is the camp, Top Ridge, was built by Marjorie Merriweather Post, which she called a “rustic retreat”.  While the lake is home to many “camps”, hers was the most lavish, featuring nearly 70 buildings, including a Russian dacha.  She collected Russian art and her connection to the country was her third husband that served as the ambassador to the Soviet Union for a time.

I can still vividly recall seeing a plane at the nearby Adirondack Airport that my dad, an airplane buff, told me was hers as she still used the camp for vacationing and lavish entertaining when my family visited Lake Clear in the early years.    This is a photo of what was probably the plane I saw so many years ago as it’s the one that she used traveled in when she visited Top Ridge.  I’d guess that my father knew it was her plane because her name was right on the bow, “Merriweather.”While there was eventually there was a service road to the estate, during Post’s ownership all materials and visitors arrived by water, landing at this magnificent boathouse.  The largest building for the estate, above the boathouse, featured what was, at the time, the largest piece of plate glass in the area, offering a beautiful view of the lake. Following her death in 1973, she willed the compound to NY State that used it as a retreat for a number of years.  During that period it was open to the public so Brenda and I visited.  The state eventually sold the property to the flamboyant Roger Jakubowski, who had made millions selling hotdogs in the NY City area.

This article in Adirondack Life gives some interesting information about him, the property and it’s furnishings.  When we visited the estate, prior to his ownership, the main cabin was open for visitors and I recall many of the furnishings mentioned in the article.  This photo of the great room in the main building, is out of a wonderful book, Great Camps of the Adirondacks, that chronicles the history of these remarkable “camps”, er, estates.   It’s no longer in print but used copies are available at a very reasonable price on Amazon. Anyway, the estate is now owned by Hartlan Crow, a developer from Texas, who has substantially restored the camp.

Marjorie wealth was as a result of being the owner of General Foods and she was for a long time,  the wealthiest women in the country.  She became wealthy the old fashioned way, at the tender age of 27 she inherited the Postum Cereal Company, the predecessor to the company we’ve all heard of today.

The lake is also the home of a class of a very unique gaff rigged sloops, the Idem class.  Originally designed for the St Regis Yacht Club in 1899, the fleet consisted of a dozen boats.  How about this for a serious looking group of owners?Here’s a shot of them racing in 1900. Those same boats racing 100 years later. This is one we saw when Brenda and I visited the lake in our guideboat. One of the original dozen that were built is now on display in the Adirondack Museum with all of the others lovingly maintained and still kept on the lake.  In 2004 a new boat was built to the class so that now, once again, there are a dozen boats on the lake that race together.

As you can imagine, a great deal of work and care goes into keeping these boats in top shape more than 100 years after they were launched.  There is one shop in particular, Nik and Sons, that specializes in keeping these beauties on the water.  Here’s a shot of Idem Elfmere getting all new fastenings, 3000 in all.  When Post married for the second time, it was to E.F. Hutton and subsequently she and Hutton were the owners of Sea Cloud, built in Germany and launched in 1931.   When launched she was the largest privately owned yacht in the world.  We spied Sea Cloud in Bequia last winter, now a boutique cruise ship,  having many lives since being sold by Post in 1955,Post was also the builder and first owner of Mar-a-Lago, now owned by our current president, Trump, if somehow you missed his tweet reminding you.

Anyway, back to Lake Clear.  We took our guideboat up to St Regis and passed Topridge but by that time it was in private hands.  We portaged to nearby ponds and often stopped for a break at this spot, a huge rock just breaking the surface of Bear Pond.   This shot must have been from when we only had little Rob.  I recall that the water had a strange blue-green color and was impossibly clear. Anyway, visiting Lake Clear was a big part of my early years as well as when Brenda and I were newly married.   We spent many hours around the proverbial campfire at the Lathrop’s cabin nearby, first with just Rob and then Chris too. The four of us went on outings in the Guideboat.  And sat on the dock.  In our early years together, we rented a cabin with my parents.  This is them on the top of Whiteface mountain.  My mom is now nearly 90 and my dad’s been gone for about 5 years.  He was a great guy and I think about him every day and still miss him terribly.  Personally, I think he should have been given more time for “good behavior”. Not sure what this was all about but there were lots of shenanigans while the Osborn clan was visiting.
These days I am still very much a boat lover and spend as much time afloat as I can but then you already know that.  Today we spend more of our time on salt water with the sweet kind which is limited to our time on the CT River near our home.

However, is was those early days spending time on the sweet waters of the lakes of the Adirondacks and Lake Clear that ingrained, in me, a love of being on the water.

I sometimes wonder what life would have been like if Brenda and I had taken the plunge and purchased a camp.  While it would surely not have been a “great camp” it would have been terrific, never the less, all those years ago.

Who knows.  But, either way, it’s worked out pretty well.  Sweet, I’d say.  Yes, very sweet.

The boys on the boat. Is that safe?

As I have mentioned, Pandora is on the hard and me landlocked in freezing New England for the winter.   As a result of my “incarceration on the hard” I have also found myself thinking about “summers of old” and the sailing that Brenda and I did together and then later, with the boys, Rob and Chris who arrived on the scene, in that order.

From the time that Brenda and I married in 1977, you can do the math, but it’s been a good long while, we have had a boat, beginning two years after we married and with only a single year break when our second, Christopher was born.  Boating has been a big part of our lives together.

Recently I wrote about the purchases of Tao, our first boat, in the late 70s and since that post, I uncovered this lovely shot of her.  Chris and Pat were aboard for that particular run.    Those were the “pre-child” years and we had a lot of fun.

Note the long bowsprit that I added, complete with a laminated in “hog”, or bend.   The point was to set a small jib on it to get a bit more speed.  It really never worked all that well but sure looked snazzy and was a great spot to hang a CQR anchor.   And, with her “sprit”, what a great looking boat.Anyway, I was speaking of fun, but I won’t talk about the fateful evening that Pat, who happens to be of second generation of Japanese heritage, about how she acquainted us with sake.  No, I take that back, I will tell… 

Anyway, we were anchored off of Norwalk CT on Long Island Sound and somehow, after a cup or more, perhaps a lot more, of sake, we somehow managed to drop the sake-heating pan overboard.

“So, Bob, were you able to get the pot back?”   Actually, I did as somehow I had the presence of mind, in the “heat of the moment”, get it, the pot we “heated” the sake in?,  to drop a “lead line” over the stern with a float, to mark the spot.

Lead line you ask?  For those of you that aren’t “of a certain age”, it’s a lead weight of several pounds that is attached to a piece of line with knots every 6′, or fathom, that is tossed overboard to determine the depth.  Of course, you have to hold the bitter end.  However, nobody carries one of those these days with the advent of electronic depth finders.

Anyway, the next morning I went for a swim to retrieve the pot and probably to clear my sake muddled head.    Over the years we spent many days and nights with Chris and Pat and once they purchased their own boat, a lovely little 23′ Seasprite and we rafted up nearly every weekend.   Of course, by that point we had sold Tao and moved up as well, if going from 20′ to 22′ was really “up”, to our Marshall 22 Sappho. We had many fun weekends aboard and some still involved sake.  So, after perhaps one too many nights afloat, perhaps with more sake, somehow Brenda began to change shape, especially in one particular spot.  How’d that happen?Suddenly, we had babies on board.   Both Rob and Chris were aboard by 3 months old, 25 months apart, of course.

And, speaking of having small children aboard, Brenda recalls a particularly upsetting visit with Christopher’s pediatrician when he questioned her about the mosquito bites that he had “acquired” the prior weekend.   When she told him that he had been aboard a small boat. his reaction was a less than supportive when he said “is that safe”.  In her head she wailed “I, I, I don’t knoooow…”

Go ahead Chris, have a sip of beer, it will take the edge off of those skeeter bites.
Boating aside, we still vacationed up in the Adirondacks for a number of years before chucking that for more time aboard.  Yes, I know that this doesn’t really fit in the post but it’s such a great shot, I had to use it. 
Over the years, the boys got bigger. And bigger still.  And then even a bit bigger.  We fed ducks.  Isn’t that what all kids do?  And always with the most nutritious white Wonder Bread, of course.
Along the way we joined in on a big celebration of The Catboat Association at Mystic Seaport.   There were many catboats, a lot of catboats.   These photos were taken from high up in the rigging of the Charles W. Morgan.   Not by me, I am too much of a chicken for heights and it was a clandestine visit to boot. Those were great times.   Then we were “post-catboat” and onto our much larger at 38′ long, a Pearson Invicta yawl Artemis.  The boys were getting bigger too. Along the way, Chris and Pat decided to get in on the action and had one of their own, Travers, the first of two for them. The too got a bigger boat. a Luders 33, which they still own, to this day. Always a bit of a daredevel, Rob always wanted to go aloft.  This time on a friends boat, a lovely, Alajuea 38, Cimba, owned by our friends Linda and Frank.  Years later they cruised all through the Caribbean, both east and west, staying away for 7 years before “retiring” to Maine.

As an interesting side note, their son Peter, after growing up around all sorts of boats, opted to sail around the world when he graduated from college.  His mother wasn’t amused but he made it back safely. Frank spent time with Rob teaching him some knots.   And yes, Rob was bigger then as well. His brother Christopher wasn’t going to be left out from all that fun up the mast.  Both Chris and Rob were relentless in wanting to be aloft, sometimes when we were underway, to the constant torment of their Mother.    I recall a particularly fun time aloft for the boys as I put them each up the mast while we were sailing near Martha’s Vineyard West Chop,  a particularly bumpy piece of water.   As we bucked along each boy was repeatedly yanked up from the water, by the motion of the boat, and dramatically dumped into the next wave.  They just loved it.

As reported, their mother was not amused.  Perhaps the words of that pediatrician were still echoing in her head “are you sure that’s safe?”  Probably not, but they were wearing life preservers and just loved it.  Safe enough… I guess.

Brenda much preferred it when they horsed around closer to the surface of the water.   At that time we had a lovely little Dyer Dow, a great sailing dink.  However, as we all got bigger, there just wan’t enough freeboard to keep us safe so we graduated to an inflatable, the first of many until I finally got the memo to spend the “big bucks” to get a quality brand that would last more than a few years.  There was even some time for homework, or was it just coloring?
Sure enough, summer turned to fall but that didn’t keep us from the water.   And yes, you can see, if you look closely, that Christopher is wearing a safety harness under his winter coat, attached to a lifeline, to keep him safe, of course.As you can tell, I’ve been digging again through old photos and it’s been a lot of fun thinking back on all those years sailing weekends and on summer vacations aboard a series of increasingly bigger and unfortunately, more complicated and way more expensive boats.

And, as the boats got larger and more complicated, so did the boys.   They are both out on their own now, Rob, with a rapidly growing family, “now they are five”, and Chris so far away, out in Oakland CA, which his mother and I just hate, the distance, not CA.  But they are both doing really well and it’s great to watch them find their way in the world.

Anyway, before I get too weepy, I’ll wrap this up.  For sure, remembering is fun and we sure did have some really nice times aboard with the “boys on the boat”.

Who knows, perhaps soon Brenda and I will be able to take the next generation aboard Pandora and begin the whole process all over again.

But first, we’ll have to convince the mother of those adorable grandchildren that the answer to that question posed by that pediatrician so many years ago “is that safe?” is yes.

Who knows, perhaps one day one of them will decide to sail around the world.

You never know…  And, it would be doubly great if I’m still be around to follow along.  When the time comes, if it does, perhaps I’ll find myself wondering and worrying too if it’s safe.

There’s no such thing as a “good tan.”

So often, when we have met folks on a boating holiday, they spend hours up on the bow, “catching the rays” so that when they go back to work they will hear “wow, what a great tan.”

However, talk to a derm and they will tell you, having seen so much sun damage and worse, over the years, that there is simply no such thing as a good tan.    Yes, nearly everyone knows that excessive sun, or at least extra ultraviolet (UV) radiation, sunburn or not, is not good for you.

According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, can develop anywhere on your body, even those areas “where the sun don’t shine”.   Interestingly, the risk of melanoma is increasing in people under 40 and understanding what to look for is important before the cancer spreads, leading to better survival.

Unchecked, melanoma is often fatal, in part because even an advanced case often doesn’t look like much, more like a mole with irregular boarders.    This image shows how innocuous it can appear. I am particularly focused on this because Brenda was diagnosed with melanoma three years ago after we got back from Cuba.  She had noticed a small spot on her arm some months earlier,when we were in the Bahamas, that looked a lot like the spot in the photo above but it wasn’t until we returned home in May that she had a dermatologist at Yale Medicine check it out.   Fortunately for Brenda, hers had only progressed slightly beyond stage one, but that diagnosis was upsetting in itself as she was told that a recurrence was perhaps 1 in four, not great odds.

Even though the lesion didn’t look like much, the surgery to remove it proved to be quite extensive, involving the removal of the equivalent of a modest “ice cream scoop” of tissue, all the way down to the muscle.  Even more fun was that they then made an incision from the borders of the excised section that extended in both directions nearly to her shoulder and elbow.  This had to be done so that they could pull the edges of the “ice cream scoop” together without causing a divot or pucker where the incision was the deepest.

Additionally, they removed some sentinel nodes in her armpit for testing to see if the cancer had migrated beyond the lesion on her arm.  Fortunately, these came up negative.  The point of telling you this is that even the smallest melanoma is a big deal and is generally dealt with aggressively, which speaks volumes of the danger that it represents.

When Brenda was diagnosed, we did wonder if our sailing days were over because of the need to avoid unnecessary exposure to the sun going forward.  For us, it was doubly important that we find out how much protection from UV that Brenda would have aboard during the brightest portions of the day, from around 10:00 to 16:00 hrs, when the sun was most intense.

With this in mind, I purchased a testing instrument from General Instruments that would accurately measure both UVA and UVB light waves, the parts of the light spectrum that have been identified as being the most damaging to skin.

According to the instrument maker’s website, “The #UV512C UVC light meter is ideal for applications such as UV curing and sterilization, semiconductor fabrication, offset printing, environmental monitoring and industrial process control.”   Ok, sounded pretty official and scientific to me.The big question was how much UV would Brenda be exposed to at “high noon” in the Caribbean, aboard Pandora, where we spend a good deal of time each winter.    

We’ve also heard, over the years, that you can get a bad burn from “reflected UV” off of the water and this alarmed us as, even with a bimini overhead, it seemed to be an impossible task to eliminate the UV coming in from the sides of our enclosure, reflected off of the water.

In theory, Pandora has better sun protection than most with her hard dodger and fully enclosed cockpit.  As an aside, you may be wondering if being enclosed all the time is too hot in the tropics, it isn’t.   Actually, the full enclosure has proven to be particularly helpful  at keeping the relentless trade winds to a manageable level.  However, up in the NE, where the winds are often light, we need to open things up much more.

When we were in Antigua, and that’s plenty far south with really intense sun, even in the winter months, I took a number of measurements, with the meter, at noon when the sun is most intense.  Here’s what I found, some of what surprised me.

Control:  As a control I took measurements directly into the noon sun, in a cloudless sky.  The reading, and the highest that will register on the instrument, weas 10,000 units.  Deep shade, away from the water, registered between 500 and 600 units, about 5%.

Sunscreen:  Then I put a small piece of plastic wrap over the sensor and checked full sun again that showed readings in the 8,500 range, suggesting that very thin plastic wrap let through most of the UV light.  Next, I put a very light smear of SPF 15 sunscreen and the reading, again in full sun, was about 2,000.  With a thicker spread of SPF 15, half of that.  SPF 60 yielded a reading of 600, a lot less, about the same as in deep shade.

Surprises:  Perhaps the most interesting readings came from pointing the unit toward the sun at 45 degrees off of the water, simulating “reflective light” where I only received a reading of 2,000, only 20% of full sun.  That was much less than I had expected.  Further, in the middle of the cockpit, where the light was still very bright, the measurements were equivalent to deep shade.

Vinyl blocks UV:  I also took measurements through the clear plastic of the vinyl dodger, both new and old material, and the measurement was, again, zero.   Even old and weathered vinyl cut out 100% of the UV rays.  I found that astonishing, however I guess it does make sense as the material is treated to resist UV degradation.

Glass does not block UV:  My hard dodger has large pieces of tempered glass and I was surprised to find that it only blocked 10% of the UV rays.   All of this suggested that during the brightest parts of the day Brenda was very well protected under the bimini, even if it seemed so bright that sunglasses were required.

Clothing protects from UV:  So, what about clothing?  I tried an old white T shirt and found that, even when wet, it blocked about 95% of UV with a dry shirt letting through somewhat more.  I was particularly surprised by that given all the hype about UV protective clothing.  My test suggests that just about any clothing that covers you up works well, even if it doesn’t have a “UV rating”.  I guess that putting a UV rating on clothing is about the same as saying that a particular shirt has “100% blockage against vampires”.   Works for me.

All of this is good news but I guess that the most surprising thing to me was how low the UV exposure was under the dodger and bimini.  And that clear vinyl windows were just as effective as being down below when it came to exposure, and that even the lightest white clothing, “UV protected” or not, provided good protection.

The good news for Brenda is that two and a half years out from her surgery she is doing well and her doctor told her recently that her risk of recurrence now is “very, very small”, which is good news.

His advice to her is that it’s OK to continue spending time aboard Pandora but to always use plenty of sunscreen and to do her best to stay out of the sun when it is most intense.

One way or the other, we are taking his advice very seriously but it’s nice to know that being aboard Pandora we can still manage the risk.

So, there you have it.  reflected UV isn’t nearly as much of a problem as everyone thinks, sunscreen really does work and most any clothing does an excellent job of keeping harmful UV out.

We continue to keep our fingers crossed that Brenda won’t have a recurrence and every year that passes makes that less likely, which is good news.

All and all, this experience has certainly made the phrase “there’s no such thing as a good tan”, means more to us than ever.

Ok, so with our UV exposure in the winter up here in New England so low, I wonder if we will develop a vitamin D deficiency.  Great, something new to worry about.

I can’t wait till May.  Are we there yet?

Headed back to Canada, 40 years later. This time, aboard Pandora.

I have recently written about our plans to visit the Bay of Fundy and the St John river next summer.  It will be our first trip there on our own boat but not our first trip there, “aboard” a boat.

As I have mentioned, I have been digging through some old photos lately and have come up with some wonderful images that conjure up many great memories.

And speaking of old photos and visiting Canada, our last trip there was a REALLY long time ago, way back in 1979.  We had only been married for about two years and hadn’t even thought about buying a boat.

While our trip this coming summer won’t take us across the Bay of Fundy to Yarmouth, I expect that many of the spots we’ll visit will have the similar, otherworldly feel that makes the coastline so beautiful.

Our trip, so many years ago, was by car and began in Portland ME where we caught the overnight ferry to Yarmouth.   We splurged on a sleeping cabin.   No, this isn’t a view of our cabin and I’ll admit that I can’t recall much except that Brenda didn’t eat dinner as she felt queasy.   The bow of the ferry. And speaking of queasy, the muscular build of this Canadian cost guard boat gives a pretty good feel for how rough it can get out on the water there.  We brought along our car on the ferry, then a tiny diesel VW Rabbit.  Remember them?  That car got AMAZING mileage, about 50 mpg, on average.   And, I remember that diesel was $.47 a gallon.   And, during the oil embargo I sometimes bought fuel oil from a place in Bridgeport CT.  I’d pull up to the heating oil place and they’d snake a hose out from the shop and fill me up.  Totally illegal.  Ah, those were the days.  I won’t talk about my income in those years.  About as low, or perhaps lower than the price of fuel.  I was selling advertising for a local free newspaper. We have always loved lighthouses and to this day go out of my way to visit them when we travel.   This one, in Yarmouth is on Cape Forchu is well known and often photographed.    We climbed up to the top to take in the view.   The light went round and round and as it passed, you could feel the heat of the bulb as it passed, like a rotisserie.  Brenda thought it was great too until the foghorn went off.  It was so loud that it made us weak in the knees.  To this day it still takes some coaxing to get her up in an active lighthouse.  We have only camped in a tent twice together, the first time was while we were in college, near Niagara Falls. It rained the whole time and we quickly learned that the tent was not waterproof and that didn’t even include the fact that there was no bottom to the tent, waterproof or not.  Water coming in from above and below.

On this trip we split our time camping and visiting Bed and Breakfast inns.   I still vividly recall our camping near Peggy’s Cove on a bluff overlooking the North Atlantic, with the fog rolling in.    Not a luxury tent, to be sure.Not a great shot but I include this as it features our wok, perched over an open fire.  We filled it with seaweed and added two lobsters.  That wok has served us faithfully for all these years.  We still use it nearly every day.  After that trip it was really well seasoned.    One evening, or was it the only evening we camped there?, we heard someone playing bagpipes in the waning twilight.  It was a remarkable moment with the forlorn music and fog wafting over the campsite.

We really enjoyed the time up there.  We were so young.   Mere kids. To this day I still get a thrill when I see a schooner.   On this trip we went out for a day sail on the schooner Bluenose II,  a reproduction of a classic Grand Banks fisherman laucnhed in the 1920s.   The original Bluenose was the fastest fishing schooner in the fleet and is still regarded as perhaps the fastest ever launched.  The “new” Bluenose is a roving ambassador for Nova Scotia and travels widely. Brenda is a prolific fiber artist, graduating from her early focus on knitting.  I  believe that this may have been her first sweater knitted with “real” yarn.   This particular photo is one of my all time favorites.  When she was younger, but not a lot younger than she is in this photo, she didn’t have access to good yarn, or any, for that matter, and had to knit a single ball of red yarn, probably (gasp) acrylic, rip it out and knit it up again.  She still has to rip things out but not because of a lack of good yarn.    Quite the contrary, her “stash” is prodigious.

I have no idea how many sweaters she has knitted over the last 40 years but it’s probably hundreds.   It’s pretty safe to say that she has been knitting nearly every day as long as I have known her.   Right now she is knitting booties for our nearly new twin grand-babies.   As Brenda would say, in a high squeeky baby voice, “they are soooo cuuute!”

Ok, back to boats:

The Pride of Baltimore was visitinng.   She was a reproduction of a Baltimore Clipper launched in 1977, the year Brenda and I were married.  She a sailed over 150,000 miles as an ambassador to Baltimore MD.   However, while her design was fairly faithful to the original type, that proved to be a problem as she lacked some of the modern safety features now common which proved to be her undoing.  Unfortunately, she sank in the Caribbean in 1986 with the loss of captain and three crew.  Her successor the “Pride” II has watertight bulkheads and was built to more modern safety standards.  Pride II has sailed over 300,000 miles, visited over 200 ports in 40 countries over her now 30 year career.Pride was quite authentic down to her beautiful gig. In the “they don’t make them like they used to” category, how about the hull of this fishing boat?  Not a lot made these days of planked wood.    She’s a beauty, or at least once one as she’s certainly long gone. The tides in the Bay of Fundy are known as being among the highest in the world, as high as 40′.  That’s a lot of water moving in and out of the huge Bay of Fundy, twice a day.   As the tide floods the water surges in, moving a small wave ahead of it.  This is referred to as a “bore” and is pretty impressive to see as the ridge of white water rolling inland across any inlet or bay. Perhaps the most photographed harbor in Nova Scotia is Peggy’s Cove.  It’s an impossibly quaint fishing village on the eastern shore.  Charming fishing boats at every turn. Where there is “quaint”, there are artists capturing the view.  Peggy’s Cove is no different. With big tides, all you have to do to haul a boat is to pull it up at high tide and let the receding tide do the rest. Just about all of the boats we saw were still built of wood and the cottages surrounding the harbor, oh so quaint.  I expect that many of these have been sold, over the years, to summer residents, known in Maine as “from away”.  We visited, of course, the local lighthouse.   Looks like Brenda’s waiting for the wind to blow up her skirt.  Me too…And, speaking of breezy, the coastline here is quite rugged and windswept.  I can only imagine what it is like in the dead of winter. With the constant wind not a lot grows higher than knee high.
We went out on a day fishing boat, jigging for squid and even caught some cod.
Ready to head out to sea. We even caught a flounder, sole, fluke, something like that.  It’s flat anyway.   Not sure she’d “soil” her hands on an icky fish these days.  It was on this very trip that we talked about buying a boat for the first time.  There was a small boat show in Yarmouth, If I recall.  I expect that this photo was taken when I said “Hey, let’s buy a boat”.   “Very funny Bob, perhaps not.” The coastline is so spectacular.   Maine is very similar so we’ll see this sort of view next summer which will mark our 15th time to visit Maine aboard our own boat.  I went to Maine briefly a few years ago but Brenda hasn’t been there since I retired over six years ago.  Lovely views.   I wonder if it looks the same nearly 40 years later. Ok, how about a photo of me for balance?  Funny, seems that I had more hair then. Well, it’s getting late and I need to pack for our trip to MD tomorrow to celebrate our grandaughter Tori’s birthday.    She’s a real cutie.

Perhaps I’ll close for now with a photo of my own cutie.  Well, it’s been a long time since this photo was taken way back when.
A lot of water has gone under our keel since this photo was taken but it’s nice to know that we will soon be making memories again in Canada this coming summer.

Did I mention that we’re heading back?  This time on our own boat.  Who’d have guessed?

It’ll be fun.    Totally, for sure.

Hey honey, let’s buy a boat.

It was the late 70s, and we still practically newly weds, when I said something like “hey honey, let’s buy a boat”.    Brenda and I had been sailing together since our junior year of high school when we sailed aboard a Carl Alberg Typhoon out or Norwalk with our friend Chris.  It was from Chris that I caught the sailing bug.

Well, Brenda must have said yes, or is perhaps guilty of not putting up a better fight, but one way or the other, we settled on our first boat.   Somehow we found a tiny, although it didn’t seem particularly tiny to us at the time, Cape Cod catboat, a Mystic 20 built in Groton CT named Tao.    She was named, as are so many “cat” boats, after a cat.  In this case, the Siamese cat in the Disney story “The Incredible Journey”.

We looked at her in Mystic CT and it was love at first sight.  Our very first boat.   I believe this is a shot of her in the marina, the day we took delivery.
We headed out, aboard Tao, with our friends, Chris and Pat for the run back to Bridgeport where we planned to keep her.    I was a happy guy.   Happy to have a boat that was better looking than my hat.    Well, this shot wasn’t taken on that exact day, but it illustrates my point. Brenda, perhaps happy as well but only until she discovered, to her extreme distress, that she was prone to nausea when things got bumpy.  Which on a small boat, is nearly all of the time.  I wish I could say that she eventually got over it, but not completely, even to this day, 40 years later.

Look at her. Her expression is very nearly “come hither”.  Worked for me…

I guess it was a calm day on the water.  Nice sweater,  she knitted this one and many, many others, over the years.  Hundreds?  Quite possibly.
Well, we finally made it to Bridgeport where I had arranged for a mooring to be installed off of the beach, down the street from the duplex apartment that we were renting at the time.

That arrival day, when we tied up to the mooring off of the beach,  was not a calm day.  Not at all.  Once we were secured to the mooring, Brenda leaped overboard, foul weather gear and all, and waded ashore.   I don’t recall what she said or perhaps thought exactly, about that first cruise but I am pretty sure it isn’t printable.    Not a great way to begin our sailing life together.

Shortly after that horrible beach landing, perhaps the very next day, I moved the boat to a more sheltered mooring in a nearby harbor.

From that day forward there has been an ongoing quest to find calm anchorages.  Sometimes we were actually successful. We hung out with our friends Chris and Pat along with others, nearly every weekend.   No outboard engines on our dinks in those days.  Chris and Garrett with me in the bow.  Good thing it was a calm anchorage.   Rub a dub, dub…

Chris and Pat’s Sea Sprite 23 had an outboard.  Way to small for an inboard.
We joined the Catboat Association and were members for many years.  Eventually, Brenda and I ended up on the board, or “steering committee”.  Get it “steering” the association, like a boat?  Clever?  We thought so.

We also participated in many catboat races in those days.   However, like today, back then, if you ask Brenda what her favorite part of sailing is, she will say, predictably, “being anchored”.
And anchor we did.  I particularly like this shot of Brenda.   What a dish.  I’d totally date that girl.   To starboard, a mop, or some bleach blond chick.  No, a mop, really. However, anchoring alone was rare for us as we nearly always rafted up with other small boats.  Somehow three tiny boats tied up together don’t seem, well, so tiny.   That became even more important when we all started popping out kiddos.    However, we weren’t in a rush, as while we were “yacht owners” we didn’t want to bring kids into the world until we were really settled.

To us, being “settled” meant a microwave and garage door opener which weren’t in place until we’d been married for nearly 8 years.  Actually, there was more to it than that as we were pretty much kids ourselves when we got married, our early 20s.  Kids having kids doesn’t always work out so well.

Here’s Tao rafted with her bigger sister Lady Bug, a Legnos 10-3 and Petrel, a sister ship to Tao owned by Toby and Martha Forbes.   We met them. along with their son and his family that owned Lady Bug in Port Jefferson.   We became long time friends and eventually moved into the guest cottage on their estate Oak Knoll, in Ridgefield not long after this shot was taken. This is where Toby and Martha lived, in the main house.  It was built by Frederick Remington, the artist, as a summer home.   We loved it there and lived on the estate for, I think, three years.   Oak Knoll was designated as a historic site in the 60s. I was a really charming little cottage, once the home of the estate gardener and also built by Remington.  It was a great spot and the deck, nearly as large as our cottage, provided a spectacular view. I loved working out in the yard, or should I say, the South 40, clearing brush and cutting dead wood for the wood stove.   Toby and Martha were very happy to have the help, I think.  I am not absolutely positive about that, but they were always very gracious.   They left us pretty much alone and it wasn’t until years later that we really became good friends.  We all wished we had spent more time together when we lived in the cottage.

Toby and Martha met during WWII in SanDiego.  Toby was a PBY Catalina amphibious airplane Navy pilot.  Martha love to tell the story of how she was smitten by him when she first saw Toby in his uniform and went right up to him and took his arm.  They were a wonderful couple.

Here I am with my college buddy Tom, driving the tractor.  “Bob, let me drive, let me drive!”  Tom now lives in Marblehead MA and is an active sailboat racer with his wife Lisa.  It was a lovely cottage.  I believe this is a shot of the living room.  Want to guess what time of the year it is?  That’s right Christmas.  Gold star for you.

Notice the stuffed decorations on the tree and the skirt.  Brenda sewed them all.  We also sewed those lovely covers for the chair cushions.  Not a bad pattern.  Since then we’ve upgraded.  No more vinyl sling chairs for us.
It was aboard Tao that we learned to enjoy gin and tonics, perhaps from Toby and Martha.  It must have been too early in the day for that when this shot was taken.   We are still in regular touch with Chris and Pat, to this day.  Our youngest is named for Chris, actually.
We fished but once caught, we had no idea what to do with our catch on on such a small boat.  Besides, who actually eats bluefish?
In those days, no protection from the weather so foul weather gear was in use nearly all of the time.  Brenda just loved being coated with salt, even on a sunny day.  Tao was a wet boat and to make matters worse, no shower.   There’s that hat again.  I guess it was on sale.  I can’t think of any other reason I’d buy it.  Heck, perhaps it was free.  Had to be…
Not sure about how this shot fits in.  I just like it. We sailed as late into the season as we could and I can still remember the one Memorial Day Weekend when I couldn’t get the boat ready in time.  I wasn’t happy at all about that.  Mechanical problems, I recall.  Isn’t that always the reason?
I guess Brenda hadn’t yet seen “Jaws”.   Thanks Stephen, I never really got over that, myself.   DUH DUH…DUH DUH…DUH DUH DHU…However, I have always been fairly sure that sharks don’t eat clammers.   Well, mostly sure.  Don’t you just love the speedo?
We sailed Tao, far and wide, farther and wider than was reasonable, in such a tiny boat.  Oh, did I mention that it had an even tinier 5hp one cylinder diesel?  When it was running, it sounded like someone rattling a stone in a coffee can.  Bang, bang, bang… I still have the prop on my desk as a paper weight.

We covered a lot of ground from Bridgeport to Nantucket and down to Barnegat Bay NJ.  Brenda was not amused when we went through NYC, Hell gate sideways and into a snotty SW wind under the Verazanno Bridge with a full ebb against the wind and a huge chop.

After that experience, it wasn’t until we headed south in our SAGA 43 Pandora, that she went through NYC again, more than 20 years, or was it 30 years later, declaring “Well, that wasn’t so bad”.  You go girl!  She is such a sport.

Once, we even sprung for spot on the dock at Bannister’s Wharf in Newport, behind the famous ocean racer Boomerang.  For a 20′ boat the cost of dockage, by the foot was about the same as a fixed rate mooring.   It was a really long way down from the dock to the deck at low tide.
Remember Buzzards bay Light near Martha’s Vineyard?    It’s now a tall flasher but no longer manned or with a chopper deck for switching crew.
We passed the light on our way to the Vineyard and Nantucket.  It was a really long way to go in a 20′ boat.   Perhaps easy to get there, with the SW prevailing winds but tough to get back in time to go to work after our two week holiday.   And, when it got foggy, no radar, GPS, just dead-reckoning in pea soup, not sure what was coming our way.

And, there was always a lot of commercial traffic coming our way.  This freighter pre-dates the current container ships that dominate world trade.  This sort, the type that sports it’s own cranes for loading and unloading, are still used in some really small ports but most have been scrapped. Our one trip to Nantucket aboard Tao was to visit the Opera House Cup, an annual gathering of classic yachts.   This is the original Malabar class schooner, by the same name, designed by John Alden .  I tried my best to get a spot on this boat for one of the races.  No luck. Back in the early 80s, there we still a lot of older fishing boats out on Block Island Sound.  That was before the modern draggers that decimated the fish population.
And, there was no fishing village more charming than Menemsha, Martha’s Vineyard.  This is an old style sword fishing boat.  A spotter would stand on the cross tree on the mast, supported by the hoops.  When they saw a fish swimming along the surface, they’d go up on a long bowsprit and harpoon the fish.    A lot of swordfish were landed at these docks.However, adventures aside, and there were plenty of them aboard Tao, we had some of our best times just lazing along on a calm summer evening, G&T in hand.
And it was on this very evening, when this shot was taken by our artist friend Chris, while aboard his own boat, that he immortalized Tao and her crew in the painting that he did for me as a gift on my 25th birthday.  For me, that painting immortalizes those wonderful times along with those famous words, “hey honey, let’s buy a boat”.   I’m pretty sure that sometimes Brenda still wishes she had said, “let me think about that for a while”.

Setting that aside, and I do, it’s been a great ride.

Times change. So far, so good.

Now that I am settled, sort of, into the reality that cold is going to be the word of the day for the next few months, I have been wondering exactly what I will write about.  In years passed before I retired and we headed south for the winter, I somehow found a way to keep posts flowing, but for this winter I fear that I will find myself  at odds as to what I can write about for the next few months.  It’s really easy to write about boats and such when we are aboard one but now, not so easy.

Sure, I can write about the upgrades to Pandora but just how much scintillating prose can one absorb about heat guns and scrapers as I tease out the mess that’s ,no longer, holding up the headliner?

My brother Bill had suggestion that is intriguing.  He had initially shared this idea with me a while back but I never took it to heart and that was to write about the “olden days”, a sort of “what I did on my summer vacation” story.  Ok, described that way perhaps it, does sound like a big yawn but I am going to try a version of that.  With that in mind, I’ll try to go easy on you and bring something to the discussion beyond the “we went from Block Island to Cuttyunk and it rained with wind on the nose and took xxx hours….”

No, instead I’ll, well I’m not sure what I’ll write but I’ll try to make it interesting.

So, yesterday I went up into the attic to pull out a few boxes, and let me tell you these boxes are big, full of years of photos, both prints and 35mm slides.   I’ll admit that I got a bit teary eyed as I sorted through nearly 50 years of photos trying to decide where to begin.

As it’s close to Christmas as I write this, I also found myself thinking about an Osborn Family Tradition of watching National Lampoon’s Family Vacation with Chevy Chase, on Christmas Day, after all the packages are unwrapped.  Griswold had the crying gene too, big time.

My trip to the attic reminded me of the scene in the movie when he becomes trapped up in the attic.  If you recall the scene, skip this 2 minute clip.  If not, view on and you’ll get the idea.  And, speaking of wonderful memories and old photos.   I ordered a photo converter that can handle negatives, slides and prints and scan them to digital.  It’s a pretty neat unit and I should have it in a few days.  No wait, it’s going to arrive on Tuesday.   Amazon promises…and I believe.  I BELIEVE!

We have been planning to get a quality scanner for some time now as Brenda still has hundreds of slides to scan for the book she’s working on about Archie Brennan, the tapestry weaver and her long time teacher so we needed it anyway.

“So, Bob, do tell.  What scanner did you order?”   Well, if you insist, it’s an Epson Perfection Document Scanner, and can handle slides, negatives and photos as well as digitize text from a book or magazine which will make plagiarism ever so much easier.  I chose this particular model as it was recommended by Brenda’s publisher as easy to use and fairly fast, even with high density scans.  It even has a few “magic” features that removes dust spots and scratches as well as re-color faded slides and photos.  How do it do dat?

In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to kick off this “series” and write a bit about Artemis, our third boat that met an unfortunate and untimely death when she tangled with a granite dock years ago.

Artemis was a Pearson, Invitca Yawl, built in 1962, one of about 10 built from Bill Tripp Sr’s design.   I am told that the design was similar in form to a Bermuda 40, which you can see from the lines.  She was a beautiful, if slow boat.  We sailed her quite a bit, although she wasn’t very fast, with her 25′ waterline and small sail plan.

As a particular point of interest, Artemis had a famous sibling, Burgoo that won first place, for the entire 142 boat fleet, on corrected time of course, the Bermuda race in 1964.   Event the NY Times wrote about her feat in this article.   Don’t you just love Google?

So, back to Artemis,  and our time aboard her.   We spent a lot of time cruising in those days although it was always in short stints over weekends and our obligatory summer vacation.

Our boys Rob and Chris were a lot smaller then.  Along the way, we often visited Selden Creek, on the CT River, not far from our home now.  It was, and still is, a beautiful spot.  However, we don’t visit aboard Pandora as she’s as long as the creek is wide and draws to much water to get over the bar where the creek meets the river.

Don’t tell anyone but I was trespassing when I took this photo, probably in 1995.    Like the bimini?  I was a striped bed sheet.  Only the finest. A lazy day ghosting along in light air with her mizzen staysail up and drawing nicely.  Brenda and Chris enjoying the easy sail.
I always thought that she was had beautiful lines, and felt the same way about Artemis.   Here we are at the dock at Norwalk Yacht Club, where we were members for many years. Yes, we had some great times aboard.  However, good times do come to an end, sometimes more dramatically than others and Artemis met her end in the harbor during the October nor’easter of 1996.  Many boats went up on the rocks in Long Island Sound that night, over 200, I heard.    There was considerable damage in Wilson Cove, where Artemis was moored with nearly every boat ripped from their moorings.

I had received a call from the club that Saturday morning reporting that “Artemis isn’t on her mooring”.   Off to Norwalk I headed, not knowing what I’d find.   The beach near the club was littered with boats washed up on shore.  During the few short years I owned her, I took great care of her and did what I could to make her a proper yacht.  The name on the transom was hand painted by a sign painter.  That was in the days before the computer created vinyl lettering of today. So, there I found her, poor Artemis, tucked up against a granite dock.   You can’t see it, but she was sitting on top of a J24 which she had crushed under her heavily built fiberglass bulk.  You know the phrase, “they don’t build them like they used to?”   That’s how Artemis was built, but she was still no match for the granite blocks she was pitted against. They duked it out, Artemis and the dock, for hours and the dock won.  Being the “d0-it-yourselfer” I was and still am, I set about to salvage her myself.    First I stuffed bedding, cushions and towels in the huge crack, over 30′ long that ran down much of the port side where the deck and hull separated.   Notice the oil slick that covered everything down below and around the boat. I was able to get a work boat from Tavern Island nearby to help pump her out with a huge fire pump.   All that “stuffing” of the holes helped and once the bulk of the crack was above water, up she rose like Lazarus, from the depths. When the pumps finally took hold she came up in only a few moments.   Then I towed her to a marina where she was hauled out of the water.  I don’t want to think about what would have happened if she had sunk in the middle of the channel on the 2+ mile run to be hauled.  Oh, the ignorance of youth.

Actually, she was scheduled to be hauled for the winter a few days from then as we had our “final” cruise for the season on Columbus Day, only a few days before the storm hit.
She had a lovely galley with a very nice Force 10 Stove and oven. Not quite as nice after…How about the fridge.  At least, I think that’s what this was. Those cushions, the ones I plugged that 30′ crack with, well, they were never all that nice. But, by comparison, beautiful… Oh yeah, we had recently had her re-powered, about a month earlier actually, with a brand new Westerbeke diesel replacing her worn out Atomic 4 gas engine that finally gave up the ghost on our trip up to Martha’s Vineyard only two months earlier.  I think that the engine only had ten hours on it.   Particularly easy access from the cabin sole and particularly easy access for the engine oil and diesel to rise up and soak everything.  Thank goodness that the EPA wasn’t paying attention as I worked to raise her. Note the mooring pennant in the cockpit.  Oops.  Didn’t hold.  She was a great boat and, boy, was I sad when I lost her.  However, she was the only boat I ever owned that actually paid me back.  Not only was she insured for an agreed value of twice what I paid for her, prior to all the improvements, but I was also paid to salvage her.  When all was said and done, I ended up nearly doubling my money.   Not likely to EVER happen again, that’s for sure.   We are talking about boats, after all.

However, like many smitten by being on the water, I quickly doubled down and brought a boat that was cost even more, Elektra, our Tartan 37.  But, that’s a story for another post. so stay tuned.

Of Artemis, I will always have fond memories of times aboard with Brenda and the boys.   Especially in “The Pit” in Port Jefferson, Long Island.  Those were great times.   Well, great except when the weather was crappy, the wind was unfavorable and everyone was feeling a bit under the weather.  Perfect except for that…These days that harbor is chock full of moorings and it’s party city on the weekends with boats rafted up from one shore to the other.

A lot of water has gone over the dam, we’re retired now and both Rob and Chris are on their own and doing well.

I guess that about covers this for now so I’ll close with a shot I took last week of Rob and his brood.  My, times have changed, haven’t they?  But, in a good way.  Aren’t they cute?  Love Tori’s hair.  She’s going to be two in a few weeks.  Time flies indeed. And, Christopher and his girlfriend Melody, as we dropped them at the airport last week after their visit for Thanksgiving, to head back to CA.   They will be back soon.  So great. Yes, things have changed, but in a really good way.

So, there you have it, a bit of reminiscence of times past.    We’re all grown up now and no Artemis didn’t fare so well, but for us, so far, so good.

Let’s hope that our good luck holds.

As far as this post goes, I hope that it doesn’t read too much like “what I did on my summer vacation”.  Actually, it’s seems more like the Poseidon Adventure with sinking boats along with vacations and such.

Griswold, you aren’t alone in getting a bit teary eyed about days past.   Me, I have the crying gene too.    Just don’t get me started.