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. 

Heading Toward New York

We were supposed to leave today for Delaware City, DE, but the wind had other ideas. Several “loopers”, as we call ourselves, were determined to see Baltimore in their rear view windows this morning. None of them have the wind catching profile of Nautical Dreamer. So, we just waved them farewell until some future Port and took a relaxing day off. Okay, I took a relaxing day off. Rick did some caulking and a few other puttering things. 

Tomorrow, we will be on the water by 6 a.m.  We have close to an 8-hour travel day that should be uneventful (fingers crossed). 

Watching the weather channel, tide charts, and NOAA’s website to see each square mile of water, has become our gospel for the next few legs. From Baltimore through New York City may be quite rugged, based on all those factors. A wariness has settled into my body and I’m worried how the pup will handle tomorrow, but “always an adventure “ sounds more positive so I’ll stick with that. 

Our plans may change daily, but as of now:

Wednesday, June 6: Baltimore to Delaware City, DE

Thursday, June 7: Cape May, NJ

At this point, we will have to go “outside”, meaning open ocean. Sometime you wait quite a while in Cape May waiting on favorable conditions and a buddy to travel with for safety. If all goes well, we will continue:

Friday, June 8: Atlantic City, NJ

Saturday, June 9: New York City, NY (anchoring near Liberty Island). The statue at night should be beautiful!

The Government Can’t Even Get a Food Court Right

Yesterday, we drove to DC specifically to see the Smithsonian Museum of American History. Just the two of us and eight billion school children. Shouldn’t school be out by now? Shouldn’t all these kids be at Disney with their families? For the most part, they were well behaved, but you get that many in one space and the noise is unbelievable.

The most memorable time I had happened as we headed out of the museum to eat lunch. We were trying to get past a gaggle of graduating 8th graders that were blocking the entire sidewalk. The teachers were shouting for them to move against the building so passersby could avoid having to walk in the very busy street. No sooner would they get one section to move then the other section would wander back into the fray. There was no way to keep them all together against the wall without a sheep dog. The teachers gallantly tried, but it was a useless effort. I smiled internally knowing I never had to take on the role of sheep dog again.

I’d like to discuss the government today, though. Specifically, their ineptness in the realm of the “food court.” Since my diet is restrictive, eating out can be a challenge. We tend to lean toward actual sit-down restaurants. If we need something quick, we are most apt to go to Panera or something similar. The process for finding a restaurant is a time-consuming process. We check the area first, in maps. From there, I cross reference choices on my Gluten Free app. Lord help us if we take the dog with us, because that requires a separate app. Once I think I’ve found a place, I go to their website to see the menu. This is where I look for the vegetarian options and any nutritional information to check on soy inserted in some bizarre place. (You would be shocked to know where soy ends up. Things you would think would be easier to create without it, have soy in it.)

Any hoo, we found an Au Bon Pain and they had a salad with a balsamic vinaigrette. We just had to get to it. The Google (OMG! I just did that old lady thing where I put the “the” in front of something that doesn’t need it. I have lost my mind.) said we should immediately cross the busy four lane road and enter the Environmental Protection Agency building. Cars were whipping in front of us and we decided to divert a half block to a light that would give us approval to cross. If we got hit there, at least our heirs could righteously sue and wind up on Easy Street.

We made our way past the EPA building with only a smattering of cruel words on my lips for those in charge there. We found a walkway basically split the building with this nice path in between that had signs for the food court which presumably housed the Au Bon Pain, but no directions to it. The buildings apparently housed more than the EPA, but all we wanted was the food court. We wandered for a while and came across a seating area. Google said we had arrived. We presumed the food court was just inside the doors. Doors that were currently surrounded by a hoard of teenagers and their harried teacher. They seemed to be hanging out, so we passed them and headed inside. What we came upon was a checkpoint. They were not pleased we were there. We were told we had to come in with the kids. We knew we were in the wrong spot, so we headed out the door we came in, which was now filled with kids coming in. If you’ve ever tried to walk against the flow in a city, you know what we were up against. I put my head down and my shoulder out, just skating into the fresh air before I would have been swept back in. This is when we noticed all the people at the outdoor tables seemed to be eating sack lunches. We decided “the Google” was incorrect.

We wandered further down the walkway. Food court signs spotted the area, but we saw no such animal. Why would a restaurant be in an invisible food court? Not much money in that. We started to double back, deciding we should just find a suitable restaurant on line, grab a cab if needed, and get to it ASAP. As a last-ditch effort, we headed into another part of the building right by a sign in the hopes we would find nicer guards that might tell us where this elusive food court was hiding. We were told to “go under the arch, then to the left, through security, past the checkpoint entrance to the EPA’s innerworkings, and down the escalators.” We walked out of the building, couldn’t see an arch and had to go back and ask. The guard was kind enough to take us around the corner to point out the arch. We were on our way to salad goodness!

Our luck was changing. We headed into the building just prior to another school group. My purse got felt up again by security and we asked which way to go. We were pointed down a hall to a set of escalators. Low and behold! Au Bon Pain. That’s it. Au Bon Pain. No other choices. Nice food court, huh? We walked into an area that had pre-packaged sandwiches and salads and a long line to checkout. It was so tight in there it made my skin crawl. Rick ventured a little further and called me to the counter where we could get a freshly made salad. We got in line there, got in line to fill our cups, got in line to check-out. All in all, a very disorganized set up. We retraced our steps to get out, as there was no seating inside. Up the escalator, down the hall to security, out the exit, back down the walkway to the outdoor table and chairs to eat. While we ate, we marveled at how our government could screw up something as simple as a food court. Good Lord! It’s an easy concept. Easy access to a wide array of fast food. Let me say that again. Easy. Access. To. A. Wide. Array. Of. Fast. Food. Period. That’s it.

I wonder what we taxpayers paid to the contractor to build the food court area of the building? Ugh! I’m not going to think about it. It will inevitably give me indigestion.

The Potomac Opens Its Mouth

We have this bell on the starboard (right) side in the lower helm station that came with the boat. It looks nice and all, but it seems not to serve a real purpose. It’s nowhere near the galley so can’t be a legitimate dinner bell. (As a side note, in my childhood I always thought I’d have a bell to call my family to dinner. It never happened and I’m kinda bummed about it.) This boat bell would be worthless to warn other boats we’re in the area as it’s on the inside. Besides, I always doubted it made any noise. Through thousands of miles, evasive action towards sport fisher boats, and running aground, it has never made a sound.

I learned its use on Monday when I heard it ring for the very first time. It’s a wave warner. As in “CLANG! Holy moly these waves are close together! CLANG!! Yeah, that’s gonna hurt!” In fact, for what seemed like a lifetime, but was actually slightly shorter, we had a whole symphony of warnings. The banging of the medicine cabinet, like the constant tap of a snare drum, as the clasped door flew open and smacked against the head door. It in turn, would have slammed closed if the edge of the cabinet hadn’t gotten in the way. The thump of the books, one by one falling onto the breakfast bar. (Okay, I exaggerate here. There was one. One book fell. But it SEEMED like many more and mane toppled on their sides creating their own thump.) And all the other sounds as things tumbled around the various parts of the boat. I heard tinkling as glasses fell in cabinets designed to make sure they don’t fall. Vitamin bottles flipping from one shelf to another, their contents making a rattling noise like that wooden fish in grade school music class I always got stuck playing when I really just wanted the tambourine. Most nerve-wracking was the free-standing air conditioner that kept sliding between the wall and the couch. Each time it smack the wall with a loud BAM, the dog would squat lower on the floor.

I stood to get to him, but was knocked back off my feet. Rick’s captain chair rocked forward forcing him to his feet, then flipped backwards hitting the floor with a loud SMACK. He grabbed his travel bottle just before it went flying.

I slid to the floor then crawled to the pup. He climbed into my lap. We sat that way, listening to the cacophony, wishing we were somewhere else.

After hours, okay maybe ten minutes, I realized I needed to stop the noise in order to calm the pup. Using the ladder up to the fly bridge to steady myself, I made my way to the air conditioner. I grabbed virtually everything we were hiding behind the couch to lodge against it. (I just realized I told our dirty little secret—we stash a lot behind and under everything. Dang it!)

I lurched my way to the aft head, slammed the cabinet doors shut then did the same to the head doors. I secured a few things that were rolling around and double checked the things we usually secure.

Once I was back on the couch, Banjo refused to leave my lap. That is until he suddenly jumped down and literally crawled away from me. Once he was removed from both of us, he tossed his cookies. Twice. That lurch lurch puke that pets seem to all do when they get sick. I crawled over to comfort him while grabbing for Kleenex to clean up. I thought he had already lost his entire breakfast, but we repeated this three more times. My poor sweetie. We sat on the floor FOREVER, waiting for it to stop. Being down low actually made things worse. Seeing the horizon helps with sea sickness, so Rick scooped up the mutt and held him to give him a view. It seemed he was doing better. I, on the other hand, was sick to my stomach, not out of sea sickness, but from nerves. I stayed where I was on the floor, breathing deeply, since looking out at the water heightened my worry.

Getting closer to land, things calmed down. The balance was a fairly pleasant trip with sunshine leading the way. As we passed marker 24, Rick called the marina for instructions. Just as we got our dock in site, the marina called to say we were on our own with docking. They were floating docks and I saw pilings. That meant I could snag a piling from the dock and we could adjust once we landed. Then we got closer and I realized the pilings were on the opposite side. There was no way to cleat the boat without jumping off. Rick said he’d get close, then jump to tie. He’d done this a few times before and I always envisioned him missing the line and me floating away. But every time I do the jumping I injure myself. (I’m truly a liability in this life we’ve chosen.)

I looked stern where he would need to jump, to give him an indication of the point where he could safely do it. I glanced forward and realized the bow was headed straight for the electrical box. We were at an angle to the dock. The box was too low for Rick to see.

“You’re gonna hit in front!”

“That’s why I asked you how far away I was,” he replied.

Almost at the dock, I looked up to see two boaters heading to us to help. If they got there fast enough, they could stop the forward motion to keep us from the electrical box. Rick adjusted to try to miss it. I handed the forward line to the first guy to arrive and we simultaneously clip the top of the box.

At this point, multiple things happened. Rick was out the door but the stern was too far for him to jump off. The second guy arrived and Rick grabbed a line to hand him. The midship fender got wedged between the side of the boat and the electrical box. As the boat continued its forward motion, the fender had nowhere to go but into the box. As if in slow motion, I watched the fender slowly push the box further and further to its side until it was completely on the ground exposing its innerds, a large jumble of wire, nuts, and bolts.

The beast finally came to a halt and was easily tied off. The fenders should have been pulled in when we headed out. Dangling over the rail to untie them with the rough ride would have been a disaster waiting to happen, however. So we left them and had to pay the price. (Actually, when we checked in and fessed up, they didn’t charge us anything.)

One of the guys that grabbed our lines was a native Chesapeake Bay cruiser. We told our tale and were wondering about those waves we encountered. We check multiple marine forecasts prior to setting out each day, so it was a bit perplexing. It happened at the mouth of the Potomac. He explained that the receding waters coming down the Potomac meet the rising tide in the Bay, causing those violent waves. We’d heard nothing of this phenomenon. Add to it higher water levels due to rain. He said it’s the worst area on the Bay and it was exceptionally bad this year. I believe that was for my benefit since I was none too happy about our day.

We were invited for “dock-tails,” as boaters call them, to smooth over our day. Rick went, but I slept.  I’m not a napper, but I napped until it was time for bed. I needed my rest. This lifestyle was supposed to keep us young, but my gray hair has something to say about that.

Well, We’ve Improved the Boat But Not Our Luck

I got up the other morning and was immediately in my own head, as is often the case. I’m not sure what I was thinking about, now that it is post-incident. I’m sure it was trivial; it usually is. Nonetheless, it’s important enough at the time that I block out my surroundings. This gives me hyper focus on my internal conversation, but it leads others to think I’m aloof or rude when I pass by and don’t say “hello.”

This particular morning, I sauntered into the galley on autopilot to get water going for my tea. I have an old camping coffee pot that I fill halfway with water to get exactly three cups of tea. Because the marina water can be sketchy and I’m particular about my drinking water, we have two and a half-gallon jugs with spigots sitting above the refrigerator. I reached up to fill the pot. I can’t see how much is in without shutting the water off and lowering the pot. I can tell about how full it is by listening, though, assuming I remember to listen. This particular morning, I did not. It took a second for the feeling of cold water to clear the fogginess in my head. It rushed down my sleeve and continued flowing down my leg to begin pooling at my foot. I love my onesey PJs on cold mornings, but it held no stop gap for the water flow. As I hopped around, unzipping to dry myself off, I noticed the floor was covered as well. I had filled the pot to the overflow point and what couldn’t make it down my PJs just spouted around me.  To dry my legs I had to pull the onesy down. So I was standing there wearing only a pair of socks and underpants with the only light on being the one directly over my head. It was five o’clock which meant time for the local rowing club to pass by doing their early morning run. I heard them before I saw them luckily, so I was able to cover up. It never occurred to me to shut the curtains. Sigh. Not an easy start to the day.

Since then, the weather has warmed and we’ve been quite productive. Our aft deck is pretty much complete. By complete, I mean the aesthetic changes we wanted to make have been completed. There’s still the problem of living with piles of supplies for other projects. We’ve become adept at hiding things in plain sight. If you look closely you might see some of the wood pile behind the sectional, or forward of the lower helm (around the garden). Still, I’m quite excited at what HAS been accomplished. There would be more photos, but the internet is sketchy here and I’m trying to complete this quickly. Since we’ve purchased the boat, in the aft deck, we have:

—added a new header (wood with cross beams that holds recessed lighting)

—replaced the ugly, ill-fitting mini-blinds with curtains and a valence

—installed new wood floors (added when we purchased the boat)

—installed new lighting, including some cool blue lights for nighttime.

A panoramic view of the aft deck.
A panoramic view of the aft deck.
A partial view of the ceiling, valance, and curtains in the aft deck.
A partial view of the ceiling, valance, and curtains in the aft deck.
A closer look at the aft deck curtains.
A closer look at the aft deck curtains.

This was all done with a minimum of cost and a minimum of legitimate tools, since we did the work ourselves and can only store so much. Some consulting work funding led to adding new electronics including an autopilot. Rick is very excited!

Look, Ma! No hands! The beauty of traveling with a new autopilot.
Look, Ma! No hands! The beauty of traveling with a new autopilot.

We also had an invertor put in to allow us to run electrical appliances when en route without having to run the very noisy and very expensive generator. I’m very excited!

The main salon was given new floors when we did the aft deck. Along with that, a breakfast bar, shelving, and storage replaced a hideous built in dining area (I’ve shown that before). The live-edge counter top is my favorite part of that build.

A panoramic view of the main salon prior to the change in window treatments.
A panoramic view of the main salon prior to the change in window treatments.

We also added new curtains there, as well, and they are even lined.

With the mini-blinds removed, I added these curtains. Each can be all the way down for privacy or rolled up out of sight behind the valance. I prefer them like this.
With the mini-blinds removed, I added these curtains. Each can be all the way down for privacy or rolled up out of sight behind the valance. I prefer them like this.

Finally, the stairs leading into the main salon were refinished.

We moved the boat name up since the original spot was now covered by the dinghy.

Seriously? You take my picture while I'm dirty and scrubbing the old name off the boat?
Seriously? You take my picture while I’m dirty and scrubbing the old name off the boat?

Rails got added varnish for good measure while we stripped and varnished one door frame, swim platform stairs, and both thresholds. The other door frame is next in line, but the weather hasn’t been cooperating. We’ve also almost finished the fender covers. I whacked most of them out in one day.

Fender covers.
Fender covers.

I used leftover material to cover the line holders so they wouldn’t scratch our wood rails.

The covers on our line holders keeps them from rubbing the wood rail.
The covers on our line holders keeps them from rubbing the wood rail.

We made a cover for the upper helm area to keep the rain out.

A panoramic view of the fly bridge including the cover for the helm station.
A panoramic view of the fly bridge including the cover for the helm station (on the right).

Finally, the aft head has been totally refurbished with tile floors, paint, new lighting, new countertop and sink with a backsplash, new curtains, and a curtain to replace the leaking shower door.

A disgusting "before" of the head floor and the rotting wood surrounding the shower.
A disgusting “before” of the head floor and the rotting wood surrounding the shower.
Taking out the head's old sink.
Taking out the head’s old sink.
Hello, 1980s? Come get your light fixture and take those ugly curtains with you, while you're at it.
Hello, 1980s? Come get your light fixture and take those ugly curtains with you, while you’re at it.
A panorama photo of the "after" head. Because of the size, it is difficult to get all the work in the shot. The photo does not do it justice.
A panorama photo of the “after” head. Because of the size, it is difficult to get all the work in the shot. The photo does not do it justice.
Rick even added a little shelf for the baby wipes. Yay!
Rick even added a little shelf for the baby wipes. Yay!

The best part about this room are two hand built cabinets, one on each door, to give some much needed storage.

You cannot imagine how exciting it is to have more storage in the head!
You cannot imagine how exciting it is to have more storage in the head!

We still have a few finishes to complete, but I think it’s really unique and quite beautiful!

Having completed so much, we are excited to get moving again. For those of you that follow along, here’s our itinerary (subject to change, of course).

  • 5/10: Left Norfolk,VA
  • 5/11-?: Deltaville, VA
  • At some point in time: Kilmarnock, VA
  • Onancock/Tangier, VA
  • Solomons Island, MD
  • Cambridge, MD
  • Oxford, MD
  • St. Michaels, MD
  • Galesville, MD
  • Annapolis, MD
  • Rock Hall, MD
  • Baltimore/Fells Point, MD
  • Georgetown, MD
  • Harve De Grace, MD
  • Chesapeake City, MD
  • Delaware City, DE
  • Cape May, NJ
  • Atlantic City, NJ
  • Brielle, NJ
  • Jersey City, NJ/Liberty Landing
  • Croton-on-Hudson, NY
  • Kingston, NY
  • Haughtaling Island, NY
  • Waterford, NY
  • Amsterdam, NY
  • Canajoharie, NY
  • Little Falls, NY
  • Marcy, NY
  • Sylvan Beach, NY
  • Syracuse, NY
  • Oswego, NY

That’s as far as we’ve planned. You’ll notice there are no dates. We’ve run into a snag with our A/C. It stopped. Had the A/C dude out Monday for a few minutes to troubleshoot. His guess is a loose wire in the control panel, which means pulling the panel and systematically checking it all, I guess. Our luck, it will be the last wire. The best guess is the electrician who installed the invertor probably jarred it while doing his work.

Anyway, the current electric dude was to come back Tuesday, but he was nowhere to be found. This is typical of boatyard workers and it frustrates me to no end. What frustrates me more is how Rick, who will get so mad at things that I find trivial, takes these guys in stride. It’s not even that every one of them is late, every time. Okay, if I’m being honest, it IS partially that they are always late, every time. But, I get that unexpected things come up. More than that, it really bothers me that our time is so unimportant to them that they can’t take a minute to call and update us. We’re sitting around the boat like stooges, waiting for nothing. If they don’t have time to help us until next week, they should be honest so we can decide if we should move on and try to get the work done elsewhere. Otherwise, we are merely captives. Paying slip fees captives.

And Deltaville, VA is not exactly a happenin’ locale. Sure, it’s nice once in a while to have zero TV channels. It’s quaint that we were told to go see all the awesome stuff the hardware store has in stock. And it’s very cute that the marina has a domesticated duck that comes ashore in the early morning to eat dog food with the marina dog (they are best buds, apparently). However, the only actual activity available for visitors is the Maritime Museum. Honestly, every little town on water has a Maritime Museum. Every. Single. One. How many paddleboat replicas can a person see in their lifetime without turning into Jack Nickelson in “The Shining”? This is a one night stop that’s gone horribley wrong.

This morning, Rick called to remind them of yesterday’s plan. The call was a partial success. It got the manager, Keith, to come down to us to rudely tell us that unless a guy agrees to work overtime, he has no one to help us. Rick made it clear we were not amused this wasn’t relayed to us on Saturday when we originally contacted them. Keith was quite snippy and suggested we contact our original electrician to see if he would come here to fix what he broke.

That was actually a good idea. Rick got on the phone to “Sparky” who said he was sure it wasn’t the panel and had Rick switch the splitter around and test it again. Sure enough the air came on and the rest of the boat didn’t work. So, Rick disconnected us to the shore power pedestal next to us and ran the line to the next pedestal. Voila! Power all around. We sweated for four days waiting on these guys because the electrician dude didn’t think to test the shore power coming onto the boat (of course, neither did we, but it isn’t our job). NOW, Rick was spitting mad. But I’m over it. We have air. We’re leaving tomorrow, assuming the weather holds out. And the manager comped us our slip fees for the days we were waiting on them (that’s $1/foot times four nights).

Our timing is off, so when we get a clue about our schedule I will pass it on. In the meantime, I’m going to the hardware store.