Nothing to See Here

I got nothing. No interesting tidbits to share. No pretty sunset snaps. No acrobatic falls. Nothing.

Other than we officially gave up on getting Banjo to piddle and poop on his grass plot. A few days ago Rick dismantled it and hauled it to the dumpster while Banjo watched in all his smugness.

The newest battle of the wills is getting him to walk long enough so he doesn’t poop on the dock heading back to the boat. I’m just resigned to it, but Rick has to rant for five minutes or so afterwards. 

Oh, also, when I went into the office to pull out my sewing machine, I found it sitting in a puddle. Half the floor was wet and the laptop was wet. Laptop and sewing machine are fine. The floor, not so much. Little water bubbles have popped up like floor blisters and the floorboards are are darkened. An A/C water hose that had been angled to a drain had gone caddywampus (technical term) so the hose was draining down to the ground and seeping into the floor. To fix it, Rick had to remove the vent, cut a larger panel to be able to maneuver in there, dry it out, replace the wood “shelf” the hose sat on, and rebuild the panel so the vent fit properly in the new space.  He will also need to replace a large portion of the floor he laid a few months earlier. But that’s for another day.

While he was dealing with that, I was sewing new seating for the foredeck bench, all 13 feet of it (photos to come). Its nearly completed. I’m down to the hand-sewn part, which will be done while we head to Paris Landing State Park in Buchanan, TN, tomorrow.

Which brings me to the travel schedule for the next two weeks. For those following along:

Monday, September 23: Paris Landing State Park, Buchanan, TN

Tuesday, September 24: Pebble Island Marina, Johnsonville, TN

Wednesday, September 25: Clifton Marina, Clifton, TN

Thursday, September 26-Sunday, September 29: Grand Harbor Marina, Counce, TN

Monday, September 30: Bay Springs Marina, New Site, MS

Tuesday, October 1: Midway Marina, Fulton, MS

Wednesday, October 2: Columbus Marina, Columbus, MS

Thursday, October 3: anchor out along the MS and/or AL shoreline

Friday, October 4: King Fisher Bay Marina, Demopolis, AL

We’re still waiting out hurricane season, so we plan to stay in Demopolis for a while.

Ooh! Ooh! I almost forgot! Just prior to Clifton we will float under Interstate 40. At that point, we will be “crossing our wake,” having completed America’s Great Loop! Whoop! Whoop! Now, THAT will be worth writing about.

Proud Moments

When you think of being proud, most people think in terms of being proud of their children or grandchildren. If you are a teacher, there are many proud moments with “your kids”. I don’t tend to be proud of myself. I can see good work in others but that doesn’t really translate internally. Others will say they are proud of me, but I tend to fluff that off. That changed today.

We left Nashville yesterday heading back to Green Turtle Bay. Our first stop was Clarksville where we were staying for two nights so we could explore the town. I was in a terrific mood. Good night sleep. Woke up pain free. It was a bright glorious day with blue skies and fluffy clouds. We had about a five hour cruise ahead of us and the water was smooth as glass. We had one lock but we’d been through on our way to Nashville so we knew what to expect. There was virtually no commercial traffic on this route and it was Monday, meaning no pleasure crafts to speak of.

I was deep in the last third of a very good novel when Rick shattered the pleasurable day. He started, “I don’t want you to freak out.” I stopped reading and looked up. He continued, “I had to shut off the starboard engine; it was running hot. So until I can get down there to check it out, we have to run on one engine. “

He further relayed that he thought he needed to add fluids. They were fine when he checked this morning, so we either had a leak or needed a new impeller. Then the other shoe dropped. “So I need you to take the wheel while I check it out.”

Negotiations began immediately. He offered up a stretch of river that was fairly straight. There was a bridge, so I countered we make the switch after the bridge and we slow way down. I cleared the hatch space to the engine room and opened it to save precious time at the wheel alone. A speedboat went flying by requiring us to turn into the wake right before the swap. I looked at him. “They’re already long gone,” he assured me. Then he promised it would be only a minute and I started counting the seconds.

It took him only 38 seconds. But that was because he needed a stick from our home improvement pile. Back down, he checked the fluid using the stick. It was down since morning. He set out all the “tools” I’d need to add the fluid and took the wheel back.

Access to the starboard engine was somehow easier than when I performed the same task on the port months ago. I don’t know if it was because I was a lefty or because I was familiar with the process. Or maybe because I was in better shape to crawl around. At any rate, I got the job done quickly with no spillage.

I came face-to-face with the pup as I crawled out the hole. Banjo doesn’t go below the aft deck while underway. The noise is scary to him. He frets, too, whenever Rick goes into the engine compartment, his little tongue flying through the air. (His self-calming involves licking. He used to lick his paws raw. We broke him of that but now he licks air. Occasionally I can divert his attention with a chew stick.)

Banjo hates when Rick goes "down under".
Banjo hates when Rick goes “down under”.

When I go downstairs to make lunch, he’ll peer down the stairs to keep an eye on me, but never ventures. Today was a first. Worry overtook fear and he stood vigil until he saw me emerge, then raced up top.

We spent the rest of the trip on one engine, using the hot one only for maneuvering in the lock and to dock. Once in for the night, Rick confirmed it was the impeller that needed replacement.

The port impeller kept us moving even though it was falling apart. On the right is what's left of the starboard one.
The port impeller kept us moving even though it was falling apart. On the right is what’s left of the starboard one.

They had been replaced not long ago, but speculation was the winter storage dried it out. Luckily, the last time this happened, we stocked up on spare parts. Whiz, bang, boom (okay, it was more like clunk, sweat trickle, exasperated sigh), Rick replaced them on both engines. Apparently the port engine was just as bad, so we could have been stranded. On the river. With nothing in sight but trees and water.

Its hot work down there!
Its hot work down there!
Definitely not a walk in engine room.
Definitely not a walk in engine room.

This morning as I reflected on the previous day’s events, I realized not only did I steer the beast and add the fluid (I had, after all, done that before), but I hadn’t thrown my body into panic mode. There were no tears afterward. I didn’t break out in a heavy sweat, palms sticking to the wheel, mopping my brow with the back of my hand. No, I wasn’t pleased but I wasn’t freaked out. The actual acts weren’t proud moments; but my reaction to them? Yeah.

So, I’m proud of Rick for handling the engine trouble with so much riding on those engine and I’m proud of Banjo for facing his belowdeck fears. Silly as it is, I’m also proud of myself. In the past I would have deemed yesterday a catastrophe but this time around I took it in stride.

Good Times *Sigh*

I can’t remember the particulars of the last time a bird shat on me. Actually, I take that back. I think it was graduation day for my Masters degree. In retrospect, I believe the bird was preparing me for the daily struggle of teaching. I haven’t determined the reasons behind today’s attack.

The day started in a mass of confusion. We were leaving Paducah for a resort marina near Land Between the Lakes. I was excited because all the amenities the condo people had, we also could use. Two pools. Massive lush grounds. Best of all, a spa for massages.

Unfortunately, we had to make it through a lock first. We’d heard rumors about work being done; times the lock was open to use were batted about. No one knew for sure and calling the lock led to endless ringing or static on the radio. We thought we’d leave at 8:30. Rick got a text from a boat that left the day before. They reported the lock closed six am to six pm. Plans changed accordingly. We were traveling with two other boats. One eventually got through to the lock master. We were instructed to come right away and anchor. If the crew knocked off early (Sunday), they would get us through early. We spent about five hours enjoying the scenery. The other two boats had beaten us. One had their anchor down; one was struggling. We held in place waiting to see where they landed.

We finally decided to just drop anchor where we were. It was my job to go to the bow pulpit. I controlled the anchor with up/down buttons I stood on. They are difficult to keep down unless I hang on to the rail for leverage. However, I needed to count the feet of chain we were putting out and relayed that back to Rick via hand signals. I also needed to use my arm to show the direction of the chain so he could adjust speed. So, I mashed the button with the ball of my foot placing all my weight on it. 

The windless with anchor at top.
The windless with anchor at top.

We were at 100 feet when Rick yelled out the door, “Hold it! We’re going to raft up to Jim. Bring the anchor up.” So, I reversed order. By now, I was sweating buckets. My hair was soaked on the back of my neck and my brow; drips fell off my nose. All but 20 feet was up and the chain slipped off the windless and fell back down into the water. It clanged down; I flailed my arms and screamed. It was a whole thing. There’s no way to stop it without injury, so we waited for it to stop.

This tends to happen when we let a lot of chain out. Rather than filling the chain locker evenly, it piles onto itself. When the pile reaches the entrance hole the chain becomes looser and slides off the windless. Poor locker design. We tried once more and were successful.

We easily shimmied up to the other boat and quickly tie off. So two boats were now holding on one anchor. Well, that was the theory anyway. Both Rick and I were dubious about the anchor holding since our boat was the larger and we were soon proved right. The current was pulling us back and we were pulling the other boat back, dragging their anchor. We untied, moved away and dropped our anchor again.

Anchored, waiting for the lock.
Anchored, waiting for the lock.

Except for the heat, it was quite pleasant. We finally bowed to the heat and turned on the generator to run the air. Around 4:00 the room crackled with a radio call to “the three pleasure crafts outside the lock.” The crew was knocking off. The lock master was willing to take us in the chamber with the work barge.

We all started to pull anchor. Ours again slipped down. Rick sent me to the locker with “my pole”. Built to snag lines or push off walls, the pole can extend and has a hook on the end. Although not ideal, Rick pulled the anchor from the cockpit and I managed the chain. As the chain entered the box I used the hook to snag it and pulled towards me. Then I reached in to unhook the chain and repeated. I got behind a few times but managed to topple the pile before it loosened the chain on the windlass.

The anchor chain is held in a locker in the forward bath’s shower.
The anchor chain is held in a locker in the forward bath’s shower.

We were ready to go, but the boat in front of us (we were last in line) was struggling to get their anchor up. The lock master called again. “The three pleasure crafts. We are doing you a favor. You need to get up here NOW.” Rick responded that one boat was struggling with his anchor, but we were all good now and heading in. That bought us time but they still weren’t actually anchors up. I told Rick to go around them. We’d buy time with the lock master and we wouldn’t miss getting in the lock. He wouldn’t do it in case they needed assistance. I then suggested we call the lock to say we will need to wait until later. I was worried about angering the lock master as they can make our lives miserable. It’s kind of like Seinfeld’s soup Nazi. You follow directions and say thank you or “No lock for you!”

The anchor finally came up and we double timed to the entrance. The lock master announced we should stay to our port to steer clear of the work barge at the entrance. We all complied. Boat one was instructed to move all the way forward. Boat two was instructed to move to the opposite side, once past the barge, all the way forward. He didn’t. He went behind boat one. Disaster! “What are you doing, man? Don’t piss off the lock master!” I whispered under my breath.

The lock master barked out the order again and boat two started to comply. Rick politely asked where we should go and we were told to move on up. Then, we were asked if we’d be okay rafting off boat one. They aren’t allowed to make us raft, but he wanted the pleasure boats as far away from the barge as possible. Both boats agreed and we made our way up.

Their boat, was about our size. As we got astride, I saw that Sue was holding their boat to the wall. Both boats would be attached to the wall by only that line. I handed off a forward line, it was looped around a cleat and handed back to tie on our cleat. I handed off an aft line. Gregg struggled to pull us in because our aft was drifting away as we secured forward.  He finally got enough line to tie to his cleat, but his aft was now drifting with us. He used his thrusters to pull us both to the wall. But now his boat was hitting the wall. Rick grabbed one of our giant fender balls to pass over. That helped.

We continued the dance. The aft would drift, thrusters were used, etc. At one point there was a shout from the wall. Sue called out she was losing grip. Boy, I’ve been there. If that happened our two boats would be tied together floating in the middle of the lock. Rick jumped across boats and took the line. At some point Gregg joked (I hoped) we’d settle up any damages later. 😮

Then we waited. And waited. The barge showed no signs of entering the lock. There was no biting remark from the lock master. Double standard. Grr. Eventually the barge lumbered in and the gates closed. By now an hour had passed.

We started rising and to my relief, it wasn’t quick. Generally you get tossed around tremendously if you are the forward boat. But this wasn’t bad. I took a sigh of relief and hung my head. That’s when it happened. At first I thought it was drops of water off the walls or the other boat. I felt it hit my hair and then my arm. When I glanced at my arm I saw it was white. *Sigh.* “Rick!” I shouted. “Here’s the topper. A bird just shit on me!” We laughed and laughed. Ahh…good times. *Sigh.*

Paducah on the Horizon

We leave tomorrow for Paducah, KY. It’s a three day trip; the first two on the Upper Mississippi and the last heading upriver on the Ohio. Unfortunately, there is no way to get Banjo to shore for potty stops. Let me rephrase. With the flooding, there is no way to be sure we can get Banjo to shore while anchoring and there are no marinas until Paducah. He has his grass on the foredeck, but as we all know, that’s reserved for playing and lounging. *Sigh.*

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Because of this, a dog-loving friend we met when we first put the boat in is driving seven hours from Oklahoma to us in Alton, IL. He and his friend will travel with Rick on the boat. Banjo and I will take our friend’s truck and drive to Paducah. We will hang out in a hotel and meet the boat on Friday. Banjo is oblivious to the lengths we go for his comfort. In fact, I expect he will be quite annoyed Rick isn’t there.

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My nights will be filled with a ten pound pup clucking out stranger danger messages at every sound.

The boys will leave in the early morning as soon as the lock master permits their entry. We will start our 3-hour drive when they leave. That’s right. Three days by boat or three hours by car.

We can’t check in to the hotel until 3:00. I’m not sure what we’ll do until then. Likewise, on Friday we will have to check out by 11:00, but won’t see the boys until late afternoon. Luckily, the high temps have dropped. I also think Banjo is the perfect size to sneak into a movie or something, but he doesn’t have the temperament. It’s difficult to explain why your purse is flapping around on your arm without assistance. So we will search for a dog-friendly lunch spot and then find shade at the marina.

It’s an odd feeling, this idea of leaving without Rick. We’ve been connected at the hip pretty much since we met. In the three years since we’ve started this journey, we’ve been together 24-7. Still, there is an upside. He gets to eat whatever he wants rather than sticking to my dietary needs and I admit to the thought of luxuriating in a king size bed all on my own. Nonetheless, Friday will be a welcome sight. In the interim, stay safe, my dear, and don’t get used to life without me! Continue reading “Paducah on the Horizon”

Zombie Wasps and Dog Poop Island

Some things defy comprehension. Like old men in shorts with black knee high socks and sandals, fragrance ads, and the popularity of the Macarena in its heyday. But those are all things that don’t affect you personally. You just observe from the sidelines, throw up your hands, and exchange perplexed expressions with your partner. Some things, though, you can’t ignore.

Last week, we were working on a cover for the bench seat on the foredeck. A wasp kept hanging around. We realized it was making its nest in one of the vent covers near our work area. Wasps are erratic little buggers; difficult to swat and kinda pissy about your attempt if you miss. We had no spray. At one point, it flew off to gather things to accessorize it’s nest. Seizing the opportunity, Rick sealed the vent with painter’s blue tape. I got a momentary sense of satisfaction when the wasp came back three or four times, obviously confused. Periodically throughout the week the wasp appeared, saw his home was barricaded, and flew away.

The wasp was back yesterday as we prepped for departure. He one upped us though; he had gotten inside the boat. I called to Rick. While he grabbed the spray we had purchased, I kept an eagle eye on  the wasp. He gleefully buzzed my head multiple times and I swear one of his little legs was flipping me off while he whizzed by. Rick appeared with the spray can. Shot after shot hit the wasp full on. He’d go down but mightily sputter back up. Eventually he laid down on a hatch cover and stayed there. Rick carried out the cover and shook it off. Mr. Wasp flopped to the ground, dead as can be.

Fast forward to afternoon. The first night out on the last leg of our Great Loop experience was an anchorage at Buffalo Rock. Absolutely gorgeous scenery and perfectly quiet.

Nautical Dreamer at our Buffalo Rock anchorage.
Nautical Dreamer at our Buffalo Rock anchorage.

No time to enjoy, though; we needed to get Banjo to shore to do his business. He still treats his grass plot like a party boat. He eats and plays on it. Although I have not caught him smoking or drinking yet, he is in a rebellious phase, refusing to use it as intended to piddle and poop.

Getting Banjo to the dingy is all arms and legs, herky jerky stops and starts. I hand the dog down to Rick on the swim platform and get down myself. Rick steadies the boat while holding the dog while I get in the dingy. He hands off the dog. I hang onto the dog while he attempts to climb out. I also hold the dingy to the boat while Rick climbs in. Everything is made more clumsy because we all have life vests on. Eventually we had success; no one fell in and the engine started. Hurrah!

We headed out in search of a sandy beach in an area mostly comprised of massive craggy rock. We had a lovely breeze while traveling to Buffalo Rock, but our anchorage was surrounded on three sides by sky high rock that allowed little air movement. I was sweating my ass off. Still, I tried to enjoy the vistas while noting a spike in the pup’s antsy-ness.

“Is that sand over there?” Rick questioned.

I squinted in the sun reflecting off the river. Sure enough, there it was. Our beacon of hope. As we turned toward the beach, I could see it was dotted with large pools of water feeding into each other with another “island” nearby holding some tall grass. As the water became shallower Rick pulled up the engine and began paddling. When we hit bottom, he jumped out to pull us closer to shore.

Banjo was flailing around to get out, but I was hoping he’d stay fairly dry. I got out first, then scooped up the mutt. I walked up on the beach and plunked him down, prompting “go pee.” Of course he didn’t. Even in desperation he had to be in charge. He started sniffing while I got my bearings. I snatched him back, commanding “leave it” just before he buried his nose in a pile of fly-infested dog poop. We shimmied past. I looked up to gauge the best route with the least pools of water. Stretched before me was mound after mound after mound of dog poop. Big piles. Little piles. In the water pools and out. Every color of the brown rainbow; every spectrum of consistency. There I am, holding my poop bags wondering why? Why? Why, why, why wouldn’t you pick up after your dog? Especially on a beach. Why? I’m here to tell you, IF Banjo had chosen to grace us with some poop, I would have PICKED IT UP surrounded by all the other crap, and taken it back to the boat. *Quietly steps off the soapbox.*

A little slice of Poop Island.
A little slice of Poop Island.

We wandered around the area threading the needle between shit piles and attempting to go around the water pools. Eventually I realized I had to pick one or the other and we all just walked through the water. This avoided the poop but filled our water shoes with muddy sand. Banjo did not add a poop contribution that day. However, wandering over to the grassy island did give him the inspiration to piddle. Back by the dingy I splashed water on the pup’s legs and belly and climbed in after him. Unfortunately, our shoes spat out more muddy water onto the dingy floor, which Banjo promptly laid in. We brought a towel, but now he and the towel were muddy. He needed a shower.

Back at the boat we reversed our struggle and climbed from the dingy to the boat. The plan was to take the dog directly to the shower. The plan was waylaid by the wasp. Yes. THAT wasp. I swear it was the same one. The zombie wasp was following us!

I screamed, “Wasp! Wasp! The wasp is back!” Rick, still on the swim platform monotoned, “Sigh. Ok. Give me a minute.” By the time he reaches me I have lost sight of the wasp. With Banjo squirming in my arms I head down to the shower.

When I handed Banjo off to get toweled off, Rick said he found and eliminated the wasp. Pfsh. I’ve heard that before. We shall see what we shall see. I only wish I had watched a few episodes of the Walking Dead so I could have prepared myself for battle because some things you can’t ignore.

Chugging Down the Illinois River

No, we have not dropped off the face of the earth. We have, however been in a state of limbo thanks to torrential rains.

My last post, gosh months ago, had us stopping in Illinois to help my mother-in-law after hip surgery. Nautical Dreamer was pulled out and stored for the winter. My mother-in-law  is healthy again and the boat was pulled out of storage in late April. We made it to Ottawa, IL, before the rains. Once they started, they didn’t stop. For weeks. Time was not on our side since the locks on the Illinois River were closing down for repairs.

Unfortunately, the rain raised the river system above flood stage through the Mississippi and kept it there. For weeks river water was above or WAY above flood stage. The boats were safe in the marina, but daily life became interesting. Blocks were placed on walkways so we could get ashore and we were instructed eventually we would need to use our dingy or call for a boat ride to shore. (Fortunately a side trip had us out of town for the worst of it.) Locks on the upper Mississippi were closed due to the flooding. We were going nowhere for a long time.

We learned that the locks on the Illinois River were allowing commercial traffic at night and pleasure craft could go through on the last lock through before shutting down for the day. So, we could travel on the Illinois, but down river still had nowhere safe to go. Several marinas we intended to stay were flooded out including their fuel stations.

Two weeks ago, the tap slowed to a trickle. We’re sitting in sweltering heat and humidity now with only an occasional afternoon pop-up shower, that does not prohibit the water on the rivers to recede. The Mississippi locks are open, the marinas have cleaned up, and the days are filled with sunshine. Much like a barometer tells of impending weather, my bowels are confirming what I knew was coming. We are on the move once more.

Despite the belly distress over worry of the unknown, I’m quite excited. Ottawa is a lovely town but we’re antsy. This afternoon we will head to an anchorage about a mile from the next lock at Starved Rock. Tomorrow we plan to lock down at six a.m. and stop in Peoria, IL.

We are moving slowly to give the Mississippi waters a chance to reach a “better” flood stage. It’s currently six feet above flood stage, which is a far cry from its peak of almost 20 feet above flood stage, but still, the lower it gets the safer I feel. Plus, a fellow traveler is passing through next week and we’ve decided to be Mississippi River buddies for safety.

The foreseeable future is:

Tonight: anchor by Starved Rock Lock

Tuesday/Wednesday: Peoria, IL

Thursday-Sunday: Grafton, IL (The Key West of the Midwest!)

Monday: travel to Alton, IL to await our travel partner

Do Boats Get Depressed?

Our hiatus on land has made us a bit stir crazy of late. Although Rick and I grew up in the Chicagoland area, we aren’t thrilled with the cold temps and general dreariness that accompanies it once the thoughts of first snows and cozy fires are a distant memory. Sixty degrees one day and 30 the next is tough on the joints, not to mention the psyche. 

We were here to help my mother-in-law after surgery, but she’s been self-sufficient for a while now. Unfortunately, when we committed to her we also committed to storing the boat until spring. Being “on the hard” allows us to get some work accomplished on Nautical Dreamer, so our weekly routine includes traveling the two hours on Friday to work, arriving back at the house by Sunday night. 

The boat is in a giant warehouse. Our bow hovers over another boat’s stern and our stern is inches from the back of the building. We have to wind our way through all the other boats to get to ours and then climb up a rickety old step ladder to get to the swim platform, where we climb the boat ladder to enter the back door. The warehouse has overhead lighting and is heated. Still, the light is low and it’s cooler than I’d like. We can connect one cord to “shore power” to plug in the refrigerator, a space heater, the few power tools needed, and the only two lamps we have on board. If I was a boat, I’d be a bit depressed spending six or seven months in this dank spot. Just visiting makes me a little down. I imagine Nautical Dreamer wishing for her glory days (a couple months back), gliding on the water, wind whipping through her flags, and sun shining down upon her decks. See? Stir crazy. ‘Nuff said on that issue.

We spent last week working as a final push before the marina puts the boat back in the water. We had them blast off the remnants of the bottom paint and Rick is repainting.

The bottom is ready for paint.
The bottom is ready for paint.
The completed paint job.
The completed paint job.

I am spending my time making a new cover for the flybridge helm station. I’d made the first one a few years ago and it was worn out. I had used duck cloth; I wasn’t sure I could do it properly and I didn’t want to waste the money for better material. Now, I had that old one as a pattern. We ponied up the cash for Sunbrella material and a hot knife. An added bonus of the Sunbrella is that there is no “wrong side”. Both sides are identical. So, say you get confused and cut a piece out wrong, you can just flip it over (and by “you”, of course I mean me.)

As I cut each piece, I used a special marking pencil and labeled it “port 1, port 2, starboard 1, 2, or 3”, etc., so I’d know how to sew them together. I was a little intimidated by the hot knife at first, envisioning losing control and slicing the table, shortening the dog’s hair, or starting a fire somehow because, you know, “hot” is right there in the name. But it was super easy. It cuts, then seals the Sunbrella, so there is no need to double fold to keep it from fraying.

This caused me some concern.
This caused me some concern.

As I cut new pieces I tossed the pattern aside. Very sloppy of me.

The old cover, cut up and in a heap.
The old cover, cut up and in a heap.

When the time came to sew it all together, I searched and searched for my notations on the new material. They’d already rubbed off. Sigh. I stood on the flybridge looking back and forth from the mismatched pile of the old, cut-up cover that served as my pattern, to the new pile of now unmarked material. I decided I’d have to install the pattern onto the helm station, then match the new pieces by laying them on top.

Laying the new cover over the old to determine which piece goes where.
Laying the new cover over the old to determine which piece goes where.

I’d take each piece to the machine as I sewed it together.  Sewing something that massive using a regular, fairly junky home machine and a small folding table was akin to toddler herding at Disneyland. The material splays out in all directions, but is never where you want it to be. So, in addition to feeding it through the machine, I had to keep a steel grip of a chunk of the balance with my other hand lest it pull on the material and skew my seam lines. I’m not gonna lie. There was a lot of swearing. The dog hid under the table and looked as if he thought maybe I wasn’t who he had been led to believe I was. I imagine the dudes hired to work on other boats were blushing. (Normal people hire out this stuff. We talk ourselves into saving money, which is why my vocabulary has become much more colorful and Rick was currently speckled head to toe in blue bottom paint.)

That's a lot of material!
That’s a lot of material!
There are piles of material spilling over the far edge.
There are piles of material spilling over the far edge.

Rick also finished all the floors and steps, built steps into the “Princess and the Pea” bed (see previous blog posts) that included storage, and created quite the sawdust mess on the bow of the boat.

A section of the beautiful floors.
A section of the beautiful floors.
The finished steps into the galley.
The finished steps into the galley.
Completed stairs and walls.
Completed stairs and walls.
Its not painted or stained yet, but this is one of three ways to get into the master bed. Between them, all our shoes fit inside.
Its not painted or stained yet, but this is one of three ways to get into the master bed. Between them, all our shoes fit inside.

 I stripped wallpaper in both “hallways”, spackled, sanded, and painted, creating mounds of dust indoors.

It was a joyous occasion when I stripped off that ugly wallpaper.
It was a joyous occasion when I stripped off that ugly wallpaper.
Smoothing out the walls before painting.
Smoothing out the walls before painting.

We’re excited to get moving again, but first clean-up so we can breathe.

Clean up on aisle one!
Clean up on aisle one!

Oh, and if you are thinking we can relax now, our home improvement list begs to differ. It’s on the fridge, so we can never really feel accomplishment for long. Retirement is relaxing.  (Major eye roll.) I need a vacation.

Sounds Good?

Every day life sounds a certain way. I get up in the morning and know as I head upstairs I will hear the patter of puppy feet behind me and the “whoosh” as he overtakes me on the third step. I know the moment the water is hot for my morning tea and Banjo and I prick our ears as the noises from the bedroom indicate the last of us is awake. 

It’s jolting when a sound changes even if it’s no big deal, because in that moment when it changes, it COULD be a big deal. You just don’t know. 

We had stayed on Drummond Island an extra day due to wind and waves. We always err on the side of caution where weather conditions are concerned, so we stayed put. We spent the day reading rather than cleaning and double checked the forecasts for the next day. Perfect conditions for morning. 

We headed out at seven along with two other boats we’d met in the marina. We were all going the same way and safety in numbers whenever possible is our mantra. 

The water was a very light chop until it wasn’t. I’m told we have a “modified V hull.” My understanding is we benefit by being able to go faster, but we tend to wallow if waves are hitting us towards the stern. The bucking forward and back, hitting waves with the bow is unpleasant, but the side to side wallowing causes puppy to puke, things to fall off shelves, and my heart to race. And so it was as we followed the other boats, the waves sending their covert message. “Keep checking those wind and wave apps,” they seemed to say. “A-HAHAHAHAHA!!”

When it became quite unpleasant, Rick called the others to say we were taking a more southerly route to get those waves hitting more on the bow and ease the rocking. They decided to stay the course and we parted ways. We’re used to traveling alone but in open water, seeing no land and no other boats is disconcerting for me. The pup was looking a little concerned himself, so I moved him to the couch and distracted myself by comforting him and playing solitaire. 

I laugh when people see our boat and say it’s a yacht. Technically, yes, the size makes it such. But, if you travel with us for a day listening to those twin Detroit diesels, a semi is more likely to come to mind. Still, the noise is consistent and means we’re safely getting somewhere. Our somewhere this time was Mackinaw City, MI. 

If you’ve ever read this blog before, you know I could charitably be called a “nervous boater”. Given the waves, I was already on heightened alert. So, when the engine sound changed, I sat up. When Rick stood up, so did I. I saw no land. I saw no boats. Just waves. 

“What was that?” I inquired. 

“I don’t know,” came the reply. I just want to emphasize this: HE’S ALWAYS SUPPOSED TO KNOW.

“Well, do all the dials look okay?” I asked, resentful I had to pull assurances from him. 

“Yeah. Nothing’s off.” 

Rick sat back down. I did the same. The sounds shifted again and once again Rick stood up. He began manipulating the throttles. I got a glancing view of a yellow light. When he turned an engine key I stopped breathing for a second. Panic rising in me, I asked, “Did we just lose an engine?”

“Yes,” came the reply. 

I squeezed my eyes shut and said a prayer. My mouth went dry. I said a second prayer and a third. Who am I kidding? I had a running commentary with God at this point. I asked that He keep us safe. I tried to convince myself I had enough faith that I could calm down now. Then, I suggested that although I thought I had faith, it would be helpful to have a sign. 

“We’ll be okay. That’s why we have two engines,” Rick comforted. 

I asked God if that was my sign. Because, you know, Rick ALWAYS says it’s okay. If he ever didn’t I’d know for sure we were dying. So, I asked for a clearer sign. That’s when I realized I desperately needed to use the bathroom. I’d wet my pants if I didn’t go RIGHT NOW kind of desperate. I lurched down the stairs and wondered if normal urination needs could be a sign. Then I wondered if thinking that was rude to God. (I’ve never been very religious and, in fact, do not believe in organized religion. It’s too hateful. But I’ve always believed in God and feel often I’m being watched over, particularly since my parents both passed. I say prayers of thanks and guidance daily. But, I really don’t know the “rules” of prayer.)

Having returned to the safety of the couch, the pup jumped into my lap demanding reassurances in the form of pets on his head and chest. That’s his comfort. At this point, we were moderately successful at staving off the wallowing. I became acutely aware that my heart was pounding and could feel the blood pulsing through my veins. I briefly worried I’d have a heart attack. My hands were involuntarily trembling and I was gulping air. Re-reading this, I realize what a crappy first responder, doctor, or other “cool under pressure” profession I’d be. Most people can pull the calm out in emergency situations. I’d be the one sobbing violently in the corner, predicting the end of days, clutching a stolen teddy bear while it’s owner ran to mommy to report the mean lady. 

Rick reiterated we’d be fine. He thought it was a faulty fuel pump or bad fuel. I pointed out bad fuel would mean both engines would be going out. He reassured me that would have happened by now, so it must be the fuel pump. 

Ever the pessimist, I asked, “but what if we DO lose the other one?”

“Then we call Boat US for a tow.” He took a beat and looked at me pointedly. “The boat won’t sink.”

The boat won’t sink. I won’t drown. I spent the next couple hours listening for a faltering second engine. 

The boat won’t sink. I won’t drown. I sent a note to a friend who repeated Rick’s assurances. 

The boat won’t sink. I won’t drown. Slowly, Lord VERY slowly, the waves dissipated to the forecasted nonexistent height, which stopped the wallowing. 

A-HA! The boat won’t sink! I’m not gonna drown! The sun peeked out from behind the clouds. I saw land on the horizon. 

I SHALL LIVE TO TELL MY TALE! I say this 16 miles from our destination. I believe that’s called “faith”. 

The Canadians Made My Dog a Mooch

"The Admiral" and his underlings.
“The Admiral” and his underlings.

“The Admiral” has been aboard about a year now. Overall, he’s done well adapting to living on a boat. It’s kind of old hat for him. He still gets excited when I pull out his PFD  because he realizes he’s “going with” even though that just means staying on the boat. However, once we get moving, he nibbles on his chew stick for awhile, then takes a snooze. I call our tiny Yorkie mix “The Admiral” because he runs the place. We’ve adapted to him more than he’s adapted to us. He has the plot of grass for his duties, but we take him ashore in the dingy. He doesn’t like breakfast too early, so I bring it to him while underway. And so on.

Entering the Trent-Severn Waterway.
Entering the Trent-Severn Waterway.

The Admiral has a ruff life. This has never been so obvious as right now traveling the Trent-Severn Waterway in Ontario, Canada. Each day, we’re meandering down about 22 miles of the waterway with six locks as a rule. At each lock, we all have to don our PFDs. Even though Banjo loves getting into it first thing in the morning, by the second or third lock I get this “Again? Are you shittin’ me?” look. Now, I want to point out that he could stay inside and would not need the PFD. But he goes where I go. Which is generally sweet until you have performance anxiety in the bathroom because someone is intently staring at you, willing you to pet him. Then it’s kinda annoying and stalker-ish.

So far, the Canadian locks are a breeze compared to the US locks we traveled. They use a cable system. There are cables secured at top and bottom spaced about 10-12 feet apart. For a boat our size, spacing makes all the difference. We can easily secure at the front and back. As we enter the lock, Rick shimmies the boat closer and closer to the wall. I just have to grab a cable and loop my line through. Then Rick throws the boat in neutral, jumps out to snag a cable aft, then jumps back in to shut off the engine and tend to his line. The Admiral “supervises”.  This could mean sunning himself on the bow or napping in between us, pacing back and forth occasionally.

Taking a little nap.
Taking a little nap.

We’re going up in each of these locks. When we enter we are surrounded by concrete walls. As the water flows in, we start to rise. Eventually, we crest over the top of the wall and we can see our surroundings. That’s when Banjo hits his stride. He used to stay where he was unless a lock worker came over to chat with us and coo at him. Then he’d race over to get petted and return the favor with a lick.

Something happened, though, around lock 7. A lot of the dock workers are college kids. At lock 7, one of them asked if Banjo could have a “cookie” (their term for treat). Generally, he doesn’t get many and when he does he’s particular about them. He likes soft treats. Treats from banks and such are generally too crunchy and way too big. So, we take them home for later where I break them up. More often than not, he turns his nose up at them and I end up throwing them away. So, it didn’t surprise me when he took the treat, walked it to the bow, and left it on his grass plot where he’s supposed to pee but refuses.

Here’s the thing, though. Later that day, I brought it in and broke off a piece. He tried it. So I broke the rest into pieces. He ate it all. Apparently, Canadian Milk Bones just taste better. Maybe it’s the niceness factor.

He started getting them regularly at the locks. When he didn’t, he’d look at me incredulously, like I had any control over it. I told him he must not have looked cute enough. So he started working it. All of a sudden, he’s on his feet looking for the workers. His tail wagging. Big smile on his face. Licking their hands when they pet him. He’s getting cookies left and right! He started getting really brazen. As we head into a lock, I always look up, wave, and yell “hello” to the workers looking down to us. Banjo started barking at them as if to say, “hey, we both know I’m adorable. Meet me at the top with a cookie in hand.”

A couple days ago we came into lock 18. I haven’t mentioned before, but the locks are located in small towns. As boaters, we are allowed to dock on the wall before or after a lock overnight. There is usually a nice park with the lock and docking, so it’s very pleasant. Townspeople visit, picnic, walk their dogs and children, etc., and visit with each other. Sometimes people will ask about the boat or our journey. At lock 18, as we rose above the wall, there was a CROWD to greet us. They all stood up and came toward us, en mass to get a closer look at the DOG. It was almost like Banjo had a bizarre group of paparazzi waiting for him. People pointing at him and talking amongst themselves about how adorable he was. Others throwing question after question at Rick and me. We couldn’t keep up. It was INSANE. One lady begged me to bring him back once we tied up for the night.

Docked on the wall.
Docked on the wall.

Of course, I was asked if he could have a cookie. Banjo started furiously licking the gentleman’s hand when the “c” word was tossed out. “Oh, sure, I don’t know if he’ll eat it right away, but we can save it for later,” I suggested. I got pulled away from watching several times while I managed questions from our audience, but I did see the guy hand a cookie over, not once or twice, but three times. With each one Banjo gobbled it up. Rick estimated FIVE. A-Listers DO live better.

Alas, at our first lock the next morning, he was admired as being “cute”, but was NOT offered a cookie. Now all we have is a sad little fatty dog. Sigh. Celebrity can be a cruel mistress. Don’t he know it.

Locks Are My Life Now

“Hello!” I shouted as I wielded my pole to tap on the sailboat’s porthole in an attempt to wake the inhabitants. The gangway hatch slowly slid back and a bleary eyed bald man looked up at me. 

Between the blare of the boat horn Rick was using to rouse them and the dog barking frantically at the guy, I explained. “We’re trying to use the lock, but they can’t open the gate with you so close. There will be a lot of turbulence so you need to untie and back up.”

“Uh, okay,” he slowly replied. 

We had left this morning around 6:30 to make the first lock opening at 7:00. Weather and wind were forecast to turn the next day as we crossed Oneida Lake, so we decided to skip Sylvan Beach and barrel through to Brewerton. Now this. 

We backed up in the narrow channel as did the sailboat. The lock master radioed it would be a few minutes to top off the lock, then let in an Eastbound sailboat. THEN he could start dumping the water out our way. The sailor replied that THEY were in no hurry but the motor yacht (us) seemed to be. We had a few choice words for a dude that would hold up all barge traffic around a lock because he decided to sleep in. Should I have made him breakfast before asking him to move? We bit our tongues. 

 It’s an agonizingly slow 20 minutes to lower the lock when you are at idle. It requires constant adjustment on the captain’s part to keep the boat from drifting too close to shore. Our sailboat buddy kept backing up as well, but he wasn’t looking behind as he did it. Rick had to keep scooting back to maintain a comfortable distance between the two vessels. 

Anticipation is always high as we wait and the constant jostling added to that. Then, trains began to rumbled on an overhead track. Not one, not two, but three of them, jangling my nerves further. 

Finally, the gates started opening. The port side opened all the way. The starboard side stopped halfway. We all sat. The lock master radioed the sailboat in the lock to say he was free to exit the lock. He then announced that the gate was stuck and we needed to hold tight until he could raise his supervisor on the phone. We sat some more. 

DCB5662D-E6D1-4003-A285-DD568205C23CA crackle came through the radio as the lock master said they were sending crew. We all decided we needed to tie up on the wall leading into the lock. So the sailboat headed back where they had been. Now I felt bad for rousing them. He tied up forward and headed to catch our lines. Now I felt even worse for thinking nastily about him. Rick hopped off and finished with the lines. The lock master came down to say it would probably be around noon before we entered the lock. We settled in for a while.

Such is life traversing the Erie Canal. The reward is the exquisite scenery. But the locks. Sigh. Those locks. On average, they appear on the horizon every 30-60 minutes. We’ve been completing 4-5 a day. Each lock requires a PFD (life jacket) per person, worn at all times. We also need gloves, because we’re basically holding onto shorelines for dear life to keep the 40,000 pound beast in check through swirling waters. The pup refuses to be inside if we are out, so I suit him up in his PFD as well. He gets very excited when I get it out. He loves being on deck. But even he gives me this look of “really, dude? Again?” by the end of the day. 

Once in a lock, I have to use a hook on a long pole to grab a line. Rick throws the boat into idle, jumps on deck, and grabs the nearest line toward stern. We wrestle to gain control and wait for the on rush of water. 

It’s a slow dance while you are taking your ascent; maintaining control while staying enough off the wall to prevent popping your fenders or worse, scraping your rails. Allow the boat to drift too far and you may lose your ability to bring it back in. With boats aside, behind, and in front, you also risk taking out something they prefer to have intact. There is not only the water rushing towards you and under you to consider, but the wind, as the top of the flybridge peeks over the wall while you rise. The longer the ascent, the more room for error. My entire body ached the first two days. Apparently, I have muscles under my arms I’ve never used before. Likewise, in my back and shoulders. And don’t get me started on the hands. For someone with arthritis, hanging on is truly a challenge.

At lock 5 (20 foot), we were all the way forward with a full lock. At one point, I was pulled forward toward the rail by the rope. I must have had a panicky look on my face. Rick yelled, “Ease up on the rope!”

“I can’t! I’ll lose it!” I replanted my feet and threw all my weight back. Slowly it started to come back towards the wall. Then it was Rick’s turn to struggle. We did triumph over lock 5 eventually, but now, terror strikes in my heart when I know we’re lead boat. 

Lock 17 was a whopping 40 foot lift. We’d heard rumors about lock 17. Lock 17 bounced around in my dreams. Maybe I would lose control and the rope would pull me out of the boat. There I’d dangle. My hair flapping in the wind. Or maybe we would crash into another boat. Or maybe Banjo would fall in.

As with other larger locks, only port side was used as the starboard was deemed too turbulent on Lock 17. As we waited for the lock to be reset, recent acquaintances heading out the other side radioed to warn of the rockiness of pulling all the way forward. We were the lead of two boats, so able to only enter halfway up. The water slowly trickles on this mountainous wall, then builds. The first third is the diciest as water is rushing everywhere and small eddying occurs. Eventually, I reach a point where I know we’re close to the top and I’ve maintained control. My sinuses drain (what’s THAT all about?), the birds start chirping again, and the sky gets bluer. Honest.

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All told, we didn’t have to wait until noon to lock through 19. It was about 9:00 when we exited. As it turns out, waiting led to another large boat showing up. Based on where we all had tied up, we were last in which makes for a much smoother ride. So, glass half full, right? Glass half full. Of Canal water. Sigh.