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.


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.




Snow Reason to Worry

Before I begin this blog post, I’d like to sincerely apologize. We recently received a Christmas card from a long-time friend lamenting there hadn’t been any new posts. The cheeky note said that they were tired of the pee post and were looking for something fresh.

I, foolishly, felt the pee post (“I’m Going Down, Save the Pee!”) was exceptional, hysterical, and would stand the test of time. (It could, however, be that I was just traumatized by it all and my mind can only think of it as exceptional and hysterical. Much like our illustrious President thinking he has stopped any and all tragedy in the skies in 2017, the year of the no commercial aircraft fatality, simply by being him. Which, come to think of it, IS quite exceptional and hysterical.) At any rate, I was in error. On the blog post’s longevity. Not the President…know what? Just forget it.

At any rate, we’ve just returned from visiting family in Illinois over the Christmas holiday. Watching the dog leap through the snow, though deliciously humorous, was tempered by the cold there. Having spent the last ten years in the warmth of the Phoenix desert, our blood has thinned. The true saving grace was that the rental car had heated seats. So, although my hands were about to crack off when we’d go out to the car, my ass was quite toasty. Such is life.

Amid all this cold and snow, we were peppered with questions of whether our boat could handle the cold of winter in Virginia. We laughed and patiently explained that our heat was fantastic and that oftentimes we needed to shut it off in the master cabin in order to sleep because we got too hot. We headed home a few days after Christmas, content in the knowledge we would be snug as a bug once we reached home.

Then the “bomb cyclone” storm began ramping up. Incidentally, while walking the dog this afternoon, we spoke with a native who told us the last time they had snow here she spent her time making snow angels down the middle of the main road. She also assured us this weather was unusual. Lucky us! Our weather started with dropping temps. Each morning the dog allows me to wait to walk him so I don’t have that hit of cold right when I wake. I generally get up around 5:00. He gets up with me and we read the news and social media while I have a few cups of hot tea. (I say “we” read the news because, yes, I have lively conversations with my dog. That’s normal, right?) Rick gets up around 7:00 and reports on the temperature and wind. (He learned this obsession at his mother’s knee.) By 8:00 I bundle up to take Banjo for his morning jaunt. Anyone in the marina, wondering about the weather, has only to view my get-up each morning to determine how they should dress themselves.

I started the week by wearing my only warm coat. It has a zip out liner that I have had zipped in pretty much since we landed in Portsmouth. If I’m wearing the wool hat, its cold. If I add the hood on the coat, it must be colder and if I’ve added the scarf, best be dressing in layers. I have boots and gloves, of course, but I also have pre-opened a doggie poop bag so I have no need to take off the gloves. Planning is everything.

Knowing my routine, let me explain my dress the last few days. I went from jeans (Monday) to jeans with leggings (Tuesday) to long johns under my jeans now. I’ve stolen a pair of the wool socks I gave Rick for Christmas and put them over my regular socks, then the boots. I have a thermal underwear top under the hoodie sweatshirt. I put the hoodie on, then the wool cap, then the coat hood.

Starting the process of removing our outerwear.
Starting the process of removing our outerwear.

It looks ridiculous, but survival is unsightly. I wear my gloves with Rick’s ski gloves over them; they are way too big on me and I feel like Mickey Mouse while I try to pick up poop. The scarf is around my face, which is good, but if I breathe it fogs my glasses and I can’t see, which is bad.

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Banjo has an adorable Scottish tartan coat.

Doesn't he look handsome?
Doesn’t he look handsome?

We have booties for him as well. Although he will allow us to put them on, he cannot for the life of him figure out how to lift his leg to piddle with the dang things on. So, they remain in the bag they came in. Doesn’t matter. He is oblivious to the cold when in sweet pursuit of the scent of some other dog’s crap.

We (read: Rick, because honestly he does the lion’s share of the work) had to open the hatches to the engine room overnight to keep some heat down there and open cabinet doors under sinks. We also have blocked the companionway to the aft deck with blankets to keep that cool air out of the main cabin for my early morning wake up call.

We blocked the cold from the aft deck with our Christmas presents. Very warm and cozy lap blankets.
We blocked the cold from the aft deck with our Christmas presents. Very warm and cozy lap blankets.

Because Portsmouth is expecting high winds, we had to remove the fly bridge top today. Our boat wasn’t built for this, so drastic measures were required. In addition, we have separate heating units in each main area and they can each be used independently. Unfortunately, when our boat was built, the standard electrical system was 50 amps of power at 125 volts. The marina’s power is 250 volts, so we cannot simply plug into the marina electricity to run everything at once; we must split the current. This means that, while we have the equipment to heat the entire boat to the point of stripping, we cannot run all the units at once. (Upgrades are on the horizon.) This has never been an issue, but we’ve not been in this cold.

All this prep and dressing for the great outdoors is par for the course in the winter but the marina decided to turn off the water leading to the boats without any warning. They did run a single line for use to fill up water tanks. Unfortunately, it’s been a while since we’ve anchored and had to conserve water. This morning we found we were out of water. No way to wash dishes or shower. Oh joy. Rick waited until the warmth of the afternoon to fill the tanks and still no water. The lines were apparently frozen. There was a little sun peeking out, though, so he kept trying and even checked with the office to be sure the water was on.

We had pretty much resigned ourselves to using drinking water to wash dishes and having to shower at the marina bathroom tonight, when Rick checked one last time. Sweet! The water was flowing! (The lying liars in the office said the water was on but it wasn’t.) As of this writing, the tank is full. They are predicting 8-10 inches of snow overnight, the governor has placed us under a state of emergency, schools are closed tomorrow, and the ferry service to Norfolk is closing down. If you don’t hear from us by Monday, we may need thawing out. Or we may be on the main road making snow angels. Join us?

We did have snow overnight. Rick “shoveled” with our deck mop and we carried the mutt to a fairly clear area under a large tree. Here are some photos from this morning.

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I’m Going Down; Save the Pee!

The orange light was lit. Crap. I wasn’t sure what a lit orange light meant, really, but I knew it wasn’t good. Crap, crap, crap! Rick abruptly stood up. Shit! “What’s wrong?” I asked a little too loudly.

“One of the engine’s is overheating.” Holy, mother of… He throttled back; then shut it off.

I stood up dumping the dog onto the floor. His look went from curiosity to alarm as I shrilly asked, “Why did it overheat?” The dog started hopping from one foot to the other, mimicking my anxiety.

“I don’t know until I can go down and look. We can run on one engine.”

“That’s not good.” I continued.

“Must need fluids.”

I persisted. “But you checked all the fluids before we left.”

“I know.”

And so began the four-day trial of our latest journey.

Once the engine had time to cool, Rick broached the subject of my taking the wheel while he checked out the engine. Now, I’ve made it perfectly clear I was not at all comfortable with driving the beast. Heck, just starting the engines leads to a nervous bathroom bout, so I sure and shit didn’t want to take the wheel. I, however, knew nothing about engines except how to check the oil, which I was pretty sure was useless knowledge here.

We reached a straightaway with no boats in sight. Before I could protest, Rick reminded me I just needed to keep it between the channel markers. We were merely creeping along, but I felt like we were flying. I barely touched the wheel. I guess I was subconsciously thinking if I don’t touch it I’m not culpable when a tragedy occurs. Through my sniffles and prayers, I diligently watched behind me for crazed sports fishermen that might try to swamp us as they streamed by. I checked ahead of us for fishing skiffs I might run over. If anything moved but us, I would scream holy-hell until Rick ran up to see what was going on.

Luckily, he quickly added fluid and came back to the helm. He pulled me into a bear hug and told me I did great. I cried giant tears of relief. (I’m such a baby.) He could find no leak, but we had lost all the fluid. We discussed turning back but decided to forge ahead. We traveled the rest of the day on one engine, starting the other only to dock.

That night, we landed at a marina we had used the last time we took a boat (sailboat) that direction. It hadn’t fared well in the 10+ years since we’d been there, but we at least had electricity and water and Banjo could go potty on grass. He had yet to allow himself the luxury of going on the “poop deck” we’d created for him at the bow of the boat. Instead he stubbornly waited hours until we could walk him. This meant we couldn’t yet anchor out.

Our last piddle walk was around 10:00. As we sauntered down the dock, cockroaches scuttled around us and I scooped Banjo up to keep him safe. Upon returning to the boat, Rick had to kill one that had reached the deck. As he kicked it to its watery grave, he wondered how it got up there since we had to climb four steps to reach the deck. I was sure it just scurried up the lines leading to the dock. Rick used bug spray on each of the lines and I added peppermint oil to cotton and placed it around the doors as a deterrent. Okay, I had no cotton balls. In reality, I used cotton swabs. It looked silly, but I hoped it was just as effective.

I was exhausted that night, but slept little. Each time I closed my eyes I pictured the scene in “Pirates of the Caribbean” when the dead pirates climb up ropes to the ship to rein their holy terror. Only, instead of the pirates, it was cockroaches. As of this writing, I have not seen any more, so I think we lucked out.

We left at first light and had a pretty non-descript day. That night’s marina was pleasant and even had a loaner car so we could get more antifreeze and a few fresh veggies. There were no bugs.

The next night, we landed at a marina that was basically one long pier behind a gas station. They had beautiful grass all around the place, but it was all marked “No Dogs.” I had to walk Banjo through the gas station to a tiny plot that bumped up to the road and coax him to “go” while semis roared by.

At first light, we headed out again. Right before pushing off, I took our garbage to the dumpster at the end of the dock. It was quite dark and I, of course, fell as I slipped down an incline I couldn’t see. I banged up my knee. The good news is that it was the opposite knee from my other falls, so now I have a matched set.

Again, we used the ailing engine when necessary and hoped for the best. Unfortunately, it did overheat and we needed to add fluid again. This time, Rick gave me the choice of adding fluid or steering. I chose to add the fluid. How difficult could that be? I’d never done it; not even on a car, but come on. Rick explained it was the port engine. He told me where to find the antifreeze and the water jug. He suggested I use a funnel and where to find that. He also said the space was too tight to pour directly from the jugs. I would need to use a jar he had down there. He said the radiator was right by the jar and the cap was on top. I need to push down, unscrew, and unscrew again to get the cap off. I was ready.

I went down, hoisted open the hatch and locked it in place. It took me two tries to determine the best way to get down into the area where the engines were located. I couldn’t crawl on my knees with the injury from earlier in the day, so I sort of scooted on my butt in a modified crab walk. I saw the jar and headed to it. There was a cap of sorts, but it looked more like a dipstick than an actual cap. I tried turning it but didn’t get very far. I crawled out and returned to the aft deck to describe what I was seeing. I’d rather be cautious than accidentally add antifreeze to the oil. Rick confirmed I was in the wrong spot. He was getting a little agitated as he again described what it looked like, what the surroundings looked like, and asked if I had seen the jar. I confirmed the jar was where I had been. He suggested it must have slid and told me that, yes, I had been looking at the dipstick.

I tried again, but this time, I took a photo of what I thought was now the correct spot. Rick confirmed my photo and I got to work. Man! It was a sauna down there. I sat between the two engines and had to twist my body in a weird way to complete the task. In the end, I felt triumphant; I only dribbled a little water outside the hole where I was aiming and I only burned myself on the working engine once. I told Rick I much preferred doing that to driving. Not sure how he felt about that.

The ride was rugged all day. Partway through, Rick pointed out three large boats headed towards us. We had several Navy vessels going full boar earlier in the day streak by. We guessed these might be the same. I grabbed the binoculars. They were just jerky rich dudes who didn’t think they needed to slow down when passing another boat. “Hang on! Grab the dog!” Rick shouted as he grabbed the radio mic shouting, “Slow down!” as the first raced by kicking up a 4 or 5-foot wake. We recovered just as the second repeated its predecessor’s actions. The third quickly followed. Banjo stuck like glue to me for the rest of the day. I didn’t really blame him.

I was glad when we stopped for the night. It had been overcast and cold and I was looking forward to a warm shower because my body ached from the engine work (yes, I am out of shape; what’s it to you?) My night routine now includes emptying the “pee” container on the composting toilet prior to showering for the night. It can hold a couple days’ worth but I empty it every night so I don’t forget. (I forgot once and lord help me, it was awful. You don’t wanna know.) There is some question about the legality of dumping pee overboard, so our compromise is to empty it into the other toilet, which goes into a holding tank for pump out. We found no odor if we use the holding tank for fluid only, so this allows us to be sure we aren’t violating any environmental laws while still being able to use the composting toilet for the solids.

I bring all this up, because that night I was exhausted when I started my nightly routine. I removed the liquids container from the toilet, carrying it in one hand while holding a paper towel in the other to be mindful of drips as I drained the container. I stepped up three steps into the main cabin, walked through it and down the two steps into the galley. I cross to the doorway leading to the forward head and stepped down. How did I lose my footing? Got me, but I did. Missed a step or tripped over my own two feet. In my head, I remember thinking, “I’m going down again. Save the pee! For the love of God, save the pee!”

I fell. HARD! I remember stretching my arms out to place the container onto the bathroom floor so it would be easier to clean if it spilled. Kinda of like how a football player stretches to get the ball over the line.  Thinking of it in this way makes me feel sort of like a hero, in a way.

In focusing on the bottle, I paid little attention to my body. My toes bent awkwardly and I smashed my knee (above that morning’s injury) and wrists.  Rick came running to see what happened. I was so done with the day that I burst into tears and couldn’t stop. He tried to help me up and I told him I couldn’t get up. He asked if I was okay and when I didn’t answer, he said he needed to know if he should call an ambulance. That snapped me out of it enough to get to my feet and hobble to a chair. Amazingly, there was zero drippage from the pee bottle. I HAD saved the pee! So, in the end, I suppose I triumphed on the day. An early night and ibuprofen led to a good night sleep.

Our final day, we had to navigate an abundance of bridges, but only three of which needed to be raised for us, with a few more that were only closed when trains came through. Two of the three opened on the hour and half hour and one only opened on the hour. We set out timing the first on the hour, second on the half hour to wind up at the third when it opened only on the hour.

We arrived at the first bridge late and had to wait for the next opening. That was throwing off our chances to make the others as quickly as we’d hoped. Then a stroke of luck as the second one opened on demand, so we breezed through it. We thought our luck was changing. Alas, luck is cruel. When we arrived at the third one we found a few obstacles. We were too early by a long shot. I called to see if perchance they might open on demand. They didn’t so we had to “hold” in place until opening. With only one engine, that was tough. Rick wrestled with it continuously for at least 40 minutes. While we waited, I reflected on the call. He referred to it as a lock, rather than a bridge. Huh. I mentioned it to Rick. He looked at the charts again. No lock shown. Huh.

A crackle came on the radio, followed by an announcement that southbound traffic would be sent through the lock at ten to the hour. Once all southbound traffic had cleared the bridge, northbound traffic could enter. Tie up may be on either side and extra-long rope was required. We hadn’t set up for a lock, so I raced out to get lines on both sides of the boat and tie on additional fenders. Rick called the lock to ask a few questions and we waited.

A bridge further north had mechanical trouble earlier in the day, so the southbound traffic was tremendous. A dozen or so boats of all sizes swarmed around us on both sides as they exited. We finally had the ability to move into the lock along with one other small boat. The lock tender was a nice old southern dude who gave Banjo a treat when he saw he had his life jacket on. We literally lowered only a foot in the lock and were on our way.

However, the wait for entrance, the wait for the southbound boats to move, and the wait for the lock led us to be about an hour later than planned. That only got worse as the day went on. Our next obstacle was a railroad bridge that remained open unless there was a train. Well, they were waiting on a train when we arrived. Again, Rick did the waiting game on one engine. The binoculars got us close enough to the signs to read that they closed the bridge up to 10 minutes before and 10 minutes after the train comes through. We were hoping this was the 10 minutes after. It was almost 5:00. We were worried no one would be at the marina to catch our lines. I pondered how I would get out and down to the low dock with the boat in motion, given my inability to walk or take stairs without tripping. Rick suggested calling the marina to let them know we were running late and try to convince them to stay for us. I was told that while they closed at 5:00, the folks in the repair shop were there until 6:00 and they would catch our lines. Whew!

Chatter on the radio confirmed our worst fears. We were waiting in the 10 minutes prior to the train coming through. It was already closed when we approached, so it shouldn’t be long, we thought as the 20-minute mark slowly crossed us. After 30 minutes, Rick called the bridge. “Just waiting on a train and then it will open,” came the reply. After 45 minutes, one of the other boats hanging out with us asked the bridge height and asked approval to drop their overhead gear and scuttle under the bridge. We tried to raise the marina on the radio to tell them we’d be after six, but received no answer. After an hour, we finally saw the train. It was going at a fair clip. Then it slowed down. We couldn’t see the end and worried it would stop on the bridge.

“There’s the end!” Rick exclaimed as the caboose tugged across the bridge. Yay! Then we waited some more. We heard a boater call for a time of opening. The bridge tender explained he was not on site; opening the bridge remotely. He had to wait for the all clear from the railroad prior to the bridge opening. It was after six when we finally puttered under the bridge. The sun was starting to set and I worried about the predicted weather change that had high winds and waves in the forecast.

Our final bridge was high enough we did not need it raised. We thought we were home free. However, it turned out we did need an “opening” of sorts. As we approached, we saw the nose of a huge tanker peeking under the bridge. It was guided by three tugs and moving very slowly. We could not fit past him even if it had been safe to do so. So, we waited some more while he lumbered through like a black bear wandering through the woods in search of berries.

Eventually we skirted past the ship and headed toward our destination for the next six months: Portsmouth, VA. Being so late, we had no assistance. But as we inched closer, we noticed a foursome on a sailboat next to our slip having wine on their deck. I hollered for assistance and the two fellows came ‘round to grab our lines. They were lifesavers!

That was five days ago. Five days to reflect and rest. Five days to call a repair service. Five days to give my injuries a rest. Whew!

Poop Deck Peril

Recently I checked my Facebook feed and noticed this memory.

This popped up on my Facebook feed recently.
This popped up on my Facebook feed recently.

The past 12 months have been phenomenal and so jam packed, it’s difficult to remember it all. When we tied up in Wilmington, NC, it was like coming home again. We chose this as our hailing port when we renamed the boat, as we have many happy memories from here.

Of course, after each extended stay in a port, we get antsy. We harbored here for little over four months, out of necessity. With the blessing of Rick’s physical therapist, we are moving on tomorrow (Monday).  As happens anytime we settle in for a time, we got virtually nothing completed on our to-do list. In our defense, this time around the cause was Rick’s shoulder. It permeated every aspect of our life. We needed to be sure it was in as tip-top shape as it could prior to heading out. The therapist strongly suggested we wait longer than planned before losing a few therapy days to travel. Now, with her blessing, a new therapist in Portsmouth, VA, has been contacted and appointments made for next week.

There are certain things we always complete before traveling: checking fluids in the engine room, stocking up, securing TVs and the like for any bumpy weather, food prep for ease while traveling. This time around, Rick also washed all the windows so that we can cover them in salt spray tomorrow. Go figure.

We have a recent addition to the family with Banjo, our neurotic, exceptionally sweet, Yorkie mix rescue dog.

Our sweet pup, Banjo.
Our sweet pup, Banjo.

With that addition came a few new preps. We went through a fitting for a PFD at West Marine. (Incidentally, he adores wearing his PFD. He knows that means he can run loose on the decks.)

Banjo sporting his PFD. Isn't he adorable?
Banjo sporting his PFD. Isn’t he adorable?

We also installed netting around the rails in case he lost footing while en route and he loves the freedom that allows him.

Our new netting is attractive and practical.
Our new netting is attractive and practical.

Lastly, we installed a puppy park on the bow of the boat for him to do his business.

OK, this hasn’t gone as well as we’d been led to believe. Prior to Banjo gracing us with his presence, I had to convince Rick a dog on a boat was a good idea. Since we were planning to anchor out for a large amount of time, the dog wouldn’t necessarily have access to land to complete his “duties,” if you know what I mean. During our travels, we met many, many liveaboards with dogs. They all said getting the dog to use the “poop deck” was a non-issue. Well, they were wrong. Or perhaps pulling a cruel joke on us. (I can hear the laughter echoing through the bowels of the boat as I write this.) I ordered very life like grass which Rick framed out in wood (more to be sure it didn’t blow away that for aesthetics). We hooked him to his leash and took him up there. Rick sprayed some crap designed to attract a puppy to pee on the spot. We gave the magic word (pee) we’d been working on since day one. Not only was he disinterested; he was repulsed. Honestly. A quick sniff, an incredulous look thrown in my direction, and he bolted back toward the front door. We didn’t walk him that day. He held everything. Eventually, after 15 hours, we blinked first and took him for a walk.

We threw out the bottle of pee incentive, washed the grass and tried again. People say you will do anything for your children. That is true. I think it’s also true for your pets. Look at the amount of money we spend on our pets. I’m not proud; but I was desperate. I did what had to be done (and what I’d read as a solution). The dixie cup of “fluid,” shall we say, was easy to procure, and we headed to the boat’s bow with the pup in tow (he follows us where ever we go). He eyed me from a distance as Rick poured the contents onto the grass. I snatched him up and set him firmly on the grass. Then we noticed it. The grass was peeing (at least something was). With the slight curve of the boat (for water run-off), the fluid went through the grass and was draining away and over the side. Banjo decided he’d had enough and jumped off the grass into the river of pee. Sigh. In essence I had peed on my dog’s feet. Rick hosed down again and I cleaned off the dog.

We noodled the issue for a few days and decided a pee pad under the grass would help with run off. We also felt the grass needed to smell either like another dog or himself. We mounted a two-pronged front. Our neighbor promised to get some of her dog’s pee on a pad for us and I started following Banjo around with a pad on our walks.

Think about that a moment. It’s the crack of dawn.  I’m essentially still in my pajamas (albeit a pair of sweats and a t-shirt). Hair in a weirdly freakish ponytail and sleep in my eyes. I take the dog for a walk. We are currently on the very accessible Riverwalk. There are joggers, bikers, and folks heading to work on foot. There are also other dog walkers and I flash on the idea of asking if I can stick the pee pad under their dog, but immediately decide that just might land me in jail because it’s just too weird. No one asked but the sideways glances said it all. I was given a wide berth as I attempted time and again to capture some genuine Banjo urine. He did not make it easy. I started by staying away until he was in progress and then raced at him. He considered that frightening and would initiate the flight option in a fight or flight situation. Next, I tried standing closer than normal so I’d have better access. He eyed me suspiciously and had, I believe, performance anxiety.

After several days, I was successful, however, and we placed the pad on top of the grass. He was quite interested but did not contribute anything. The morning dew watered down the pad and we started all over again. Each time, he was intrigued, but non-committal in its use. We became convinced we needed a post or fire hydrant in the center as a lure. We scoured the pet shops and briefly considered a cat scratching post. Eventually, we wound up at Lowe’s Home Improvement and found some lawn art (an anchor welcome sign) that seemed heavy enough to stay put and tall enough for a dog with good leg extension.

It seems like a nice little plot to me.
It seems like a nice little plot to me.

As of this writing, he is still interested in the smells there, but has yet to use it to his advantage. Our neighbor has been unable to capture any dog piddle and we have decided for our journey to Virginia we will have to stop each night in a marina or city dock so our dog doesn’t explode. Our lives haven’t changed at all because of this dog. Really.

At any rate, those interested in the travel logistics probably would like to know this:

  • Monday, October 9, 2017: depart at 7 a.m. reaching Swan Point Marina just past Jacksonville, NC. This sets us up to get through Camp Lejune the next day (you are required to call and get permission to pass through).
  • Tuesday, October 10, 2017: depart at 6:30 a.m. to Whittaker Point Marina in Oriental, NC.
  • Wednesday, October 11, 2017: leave at dawn to travel through Alligator River, stopping in Columbia, NC.
  • Thursday, October 12, 2017: leaving at dawn and completing this leg at Ocean Yacht Marina in Portsmouth, VA, which will be our home for several months while we visit grandkids and steal labor from son, Christopher, to rewire some electrical issues.



Updates Galore

So, it’s been “awhile,” eh? We’ve been holed up in Wilmington, NC, for MONTHS and will remain for a few more. I had multiple maintenance doctor appointments and Rick needed rotator cuff surgery. So, we were prepared to hang out, but we both have the itch already, with two months to go while he completes physical therapy. Even though we aren’t on the move, we have been busy.

Prior to the surgery, we wanted to get as much work done on the boat as we could. The aft deck ceiling was nearing completion, but we had to get the light-embedded cross beams installed, which meant electrical. I grew up with a healthy fear of electrical work. My dad would tackle just about anything around the house. He built and installed a gas fireplace, created a built-in fish tank/TV/stereo/storage unit, and even sided the house on his own.

WARNING: Approaching Side Track. In fact, one of my most traumatic life events happened after the house was re-sided. While driving home with Mom’s car, and upset about some boy (eye roll), I missed the garage opening (yes, the big ass two car opening) and hit the side instead, totally mangling the new aluminum siding. In my defense, the driveway was curved into the garage, I was still a new driver, and downshifting was not my forte. I was terrified to tell my parents and was sure I would never be allowed to drive again. As I inconsolably cried to my grandma, she offered to take the fall for me. Tempting, but I copped to it anyway. As it turned out, they were just concerned I was okay; still, it was traumatic.

Now, where was I? Ah, so my dad did good work and was pretty fearless. Except when it came to electrical. He would not attempt ANY electrical. Jump to present day and Rick’s attitude is “no problem.” He’d say things like, “as long as the electric is shut off” or “as long as I don’t cross these two wires…” everything will be fine. So it was, as I held up the cross beam so he could connect the wires that would allow the electricity to flow to the lights. The moment of truth never arrived. Let’s just say if he hadn’t been so angry about it, it might have been funny. The aft deck originally had three lines of lights that were controlled by four switch boxes, one of which was a dimmer. He had tested prior to taking out the old overheads and knew which switches controlled which lights. Should have been an easy swap. Well, they didn’t work. We tried every combination of wires and switches to no avail. He had tested the lights prior to installing them in the cross beams. He had tested the old lights. We now tested each line to be sure there was electricity there; there was.  Phone calls went out. Heads were scratched. Things were discussed. It was decided among all that Rick was correct in action, but it wasn’t producing any results. Sigh.

As often happens on this boat, it was time to set that aside and work on another project. The hope was to finish the aft deck and install the tile and composting toilet in the aft head prior to leaving for our anniversary trip (which was prior to the surgery). The aft deck lighting took longer than expected, so the tile needed to wait. We did want the new toilet in so we could stop using the tank for waste, and alleviate the stench.

Rick ripped out the old toilet and hoses leading to it. Nasty business. Or so I’m told. As is typical of this type of thing, I stayed as far away as possible from the worst of it. I think at one point I may have had to hold a garbage bag open, but I’ve blocked it from my memory. As he read the instructions, he found this excerpt on how to properly use our new AirHead. Apparently, you have to be a certain kind of wacky to work in toilets.

Instruction for the AirHead.
Instruction for the AirHead.

The new toilet was quite lightweight and from my perspective went in easily. Using it is a little…different. (It occurs to me that, once again, I am talking about toilets. How does this keep happening to me? I’m a nice girl. I was brought up proper. Well okay, Dad was obsessed with fart jokes, so who am I kidding?) Let’s see, where to start? The paper doily? The crank? The no-flush system? The brick of coconut bark?

So, you have two types of uses for the toilet, as everyone is aware. As you saw in the photo, you use the toilet like any other for your fluids, but then you walk away. No flushing. The silence was deafening for the first few days. Then, I kind of learned to appreciate it. No more “announcing” what I’d been doing with a flush.

The “solid” use is a little more complex. A stash of doilies was included.  Actually, they are commercial sized coffee filters, but that image is too much for me to bear, so I deemed them doilies. You place a doily at the drop point and proceed. Once you have provided the “donation,” (their word not mine), you press a handle down and the whole shebang drops into the composting chamber. Next, you turn the crank on the opposite side of the toilet once. Its best, I’ve found, to close the lid prior to leaning over to crank. In fact, this is one of the upsides to this toilet, as women have no fear the men have left the seat up.

I was a definite skeptic when it came to the “no smell” claim. But it’s true. At least so far. It’s been a few weeks already. The compost tank holds about a month’s worth of deposits along with the accompanying compost block. Once it’s full the idea is that it may be used as fertilizer for gardens. As we have no yard, I’ve offered it up to friends and family. Their blank stares tell me all I need to know. Contact me if you have an interest.

Sure, it sounds bizarre to live with a composting toilet, but I actually appreciate having it. No smell is a beautiful thing.

Our sweet smelling new toilet
Our sweet smelling new toilet

After the toilet installation, it was time for our anniversary trip. 25 years, people; 25 years. Since we live on a boat, it makes sense that we would take a cruise, right? We got a screaming deal on a Royal Caribbean trip out of NY to Bermuda, Puerto Rico, St. Martin, and their private island in Haiti. We’d traveled on many cruise lines but never Royal Caribbean. I’m here to say, we will never travel on them again.

Our first mistake was going on the second largest cruise ship in the world. 4,800 passengers. Ugh. Sure, it was cool they had bumper cars, rock climbing, roller skating, blah, blah, blah. But try getting a chance to do those things. They also had fees to try the surfing pool (several hundred dollars), several of the additional restaurants, and even certain foods on the main dining room’s menu. It stunk. Even though there was an “adults only” pool area, there were 4,800 passengers. We had to claim a lounge chair at 5 a.m.

Although they had two beautiful, state-of-the-art theaters with truly fantastic casts, the shows were horrendous. I spent my time looking around for an escape. My “favorite” was a time-travel piece (took half the show to realize this, however), where an old man learns from some time-travel dude, his son has resented him ever since he didn’t fix his bike when he was ten. So, he gives him a new bike and we get to see the son do tricks on it. Yay woo. Best I could gather, the guy who was the musical director on that beauty did double duty in one of the bars playing piano. He did all the songs in double time. If you’ve never heard “Tears in Heaven” at a tempo you could fast dance to, perhaps you’d like to book a cabin. I yearned to request Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle”, the Righteous Brothers “Unchained Melody” or even Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” just to see how he’d handle it. Unfortunately, we didn’t stay long as there were no seats, because…4,800 passengers. Did I mention that already? This was all amplified by the fact that half of the nine days were at sea, so we were surrounded by it most every day.

I don’t want to forget to give a shout out to the hand washing Nazis. Any area with food was guarded by staff that would force you to either wash your hands at the hand-washing station or use sanitizer. I understand why, but when I’ve just come out of the bathroom (where I washed my hands) and am just getting water, do I really need to soap up again? I witnessed one guy finally lose it, ranting at the Nazi that he refused to wash his hands and she couldn’t make him. Oh, and one last negative. All other ships we’d been on had stations for getting water, lemonade, and perhaps iced tea. The second largest ship in the world had none. To get water at any time, you had to either sit down to eat in a restaurant or walk all the way to the one location where they had a water spigot. Oh, or purchase the “water package.”

The ports were terrific, however with just a few hours in each, we barely scratched the surface. The shore excursions we chose were loads of fun, though. Normally we don’t do excursions, but these were out of the norm. Since we’d been to St. Martin a few times, we signed up to do a version of the Amazing Race through Tri-Sport Eco Tours. We had to partner with another couple to form our team. She was an assistant superintendent at a small school district so we bonded over bottled water. She became our leader. We elected her even though she said she was “bossy.” Yeah, boy, she was.

Our first challenge was to fill the cup with ocean water. I took the easy route, rather than running to get water.
Our first challenge was to fill the cup with ocean water. I took the easy route, rather than running to get water.

But it worked for us. We won the race and had a blast.

The winning team!
The winning team!

The other standout was the world’s longest over water zip line in Haiti. Although Rick had a jolt to his still injured shoulder on the trial run, the actual zip line was exhilarating!

Back in NC, we used Uber to get to the surgery center. I wanted to rent a car, but Rick thought I was being silly. We were able to get the prescription ahead of time, so I went along with the Uber idea. Rick debated over shorts or pants but ultimately decided they’d make him remove them anyway, so it wouldn’t matter. Or so he thought. When I finally was allowed back to see him pre-op, he was a sight. The gown. The shower cap. But mostly the support hose. Now, he had had support socks with his other shoulder surgery. They went to his knees. These went all the way up to his crotch. Bright white support hose. He had to wear them non-stop for 48-hours. Everywhere. Doing everything. On top of them were those sucky surgery socks with the “no slip” tread on the bottom and no heel so they spin around your feet placing the tread on the top of your feet. They were a grey-blue.

Needless to say, we were a sight for the Uber driver that brought us home. I had my beach bag filled with books, computer, and various snack items to keep me entertained while waiting. Plus, I had my purse, Rick’s shoes (he wasn’t allowed to wear them), the case for the tins device that hooked him up to electrodes to help with pain, and a big honking foot by foot cube with attachments for cold therapy. Rick just had himself, but he was still on pain meds and had his support hose and socks still on. Walking from the car to the boat, we ran into a few people, to which Rick announced “I look ridiculous in these socks.” I’d explain he just came from surgery. They’d smile and say something to him that sounded like they were talking to a kid. Then we’d move on. I was quite worried about getting him up the stairs and aboard, but he handled it like a trooper. The only issue he had was the following day when he took a header down the stairs. Apparently, the support hose slipped inside the tread socks and he flew down the stairs. Luckily only three. Luckily landing on his back rather than his arm. Pretty purple and yellow bruise there now. Sigh.

For now, he is convalescing in between PT appointments and I’m trying to keep up with aiding his washing and dressing while making sure I feed us both and clean up afterward. Now I know why I never had a baby. Too exhausting! Or maybe I’m just ancient—I sure feel like it. How pathetic is that? I’ll end on that note—I need a nap.


Blow the Man Down

  • Come all ye young fellows that follows the sea
    • To me, way hey, blow the man down
  • Now please pay attention and listen to me
    • Give me some time to blow the man down

This is the start of a song that I learned, I guess, in elementary school. Why we would learn a Sea Shanty, I don’t know. It’s possible I learned it somewhere else, but I also remember singing a song about Noah’s Ark at a “choral concert” in elementary school, so I’m thinking that’s where you learn weird songs. It’s not lost on me that I can remember all the words to “Blow the Man Down” but still am unable to determine miles per gallon on a car. Thank goodness, I don’t own one anymore. Sure, it’s embarrassing to admit, but as I often told my students’ parents, everyone has their strengths. Mine is NOT math.

But I digress. This sea shanty has been flowing freely through my head for a few days now, oddly corresponding to our arrival on Jekyll Island, GA. We were to stay for two days because of a pending storm, but had to extend two additional days due to high winds (sustained at 30 mph) and waves (average 3-4 feet). I enjoy the gentle rocking of living on a boat, but it has become an act of survival to get to the bathroom lately. Have you ever attempted to shower in those conditions?

That reminds me, when I was a kid and still took baths, my mom used to wash my hair in the utility sink in our basement. I never thought about it much back then, but really, what was that all about?

But I digress. Nautical Dreamer has two showers. One is small, the other is only useful if you are a body builder with baby feet. The base of the shower is so small you would not be able to turn around and the top is quite wide. It’s so wide, in fact, that you wouldn’t be able to reach the shower head to wash and would need to hold it in your hand the whole time. Forget trying to wash your feet, you can’t bend over. Forget about changing your mind. You’d have to step outside the shower to do that. (I got a million of ‘em, folks.) I tell you this, because although by “normal” standards our master shower is tiny, compared to the other shower, its luxurious. You can bend over and wash between your toes. You can also get your hair washed and shave your legs. There is a nice new shower head that allows for adjusting of the water pressure and our soap dispenser hangs on the wall to allow for more room. Sounds like a five-star hotel, right? I admit that you do have a noise, though. For the water to go down the drain, the drain  pump must be on. It’s quite noisy, but it’s a necessity.

Being that it was difficult to walk on the boat with the wind, waves, and what not, you would think we might skip a day in the shower. Especially since we weren’t sweating or anything. Heck, it was cold enough to have the heat on this morning. The boat’s almost airtight, but this morning when I opened the cabinet where the coffee mugs were, the wind just blew right through. The other cabinets were okay. I don’t know what it is about that coffee mug cabinet. Maybe it’s a poltergeist.

But I digress. I felt the need to shower today because we were heading out for several days of anchoring. As I’ve mentioned before in a previous post (I don’t remember which one and am too lazy to check, so you’ll have to scroll through them if you missed that one), we have had problems with our water tank before. Mostly through our own stupidity, but well, that doesn’t mean it can’t happen again. So, I wanted to shower just in case it was my last for a few days. Also, when in a marina, I tend to take longer showers because I know I have unlimited water, and who wouldn’t like that?

We are on a long dock that is exposed to the wakes of any boat flying by. We aren’t sheltered at all here.

The pier in a quieter time.
The pier in a quieter time.

Add to that the wind pushing us against the dock so forcefully that it deflated one of our fenders

Those fenders are normally 10 inches in diameter.
Those fenders are normally 10 inches in diameter.

and the waves so strong that foam was flying up onto the dock and you can see what a challenge it was going to be just to get in a good shower. The compactness of the shower did come in handy, allowing me to brace one foot on the outside wall and the other at the base of the built-in seat. (Yes! We have a built-in teak seat!) You would think I would use the seat for easy access to shaving my legs. And I did. But did I think to sit down and shave? Why, no. No I didn’t. I put my foot on the seat and proceeded. Luckily, I did not cut myself as the boat, and me and my razor, shifted backward. Most of the time, though, I did alright in there. I did have some trouble with drainage, however. The boat was more apt to lean toward the port side as it slammed into the dock. This meant that the water was not getting to the drain as readily as it should. I didn’t realize it until halfway in. By then water had escaped onto the bath mat outside the shower. Once I realized it, I took to pushing the water toward the drain with my foot while I was soaping, scrubbing, and rinsing. As klutzy as I am, I’m shocked I didn’t lose my balance and flip right out the shower door.  Things turned out okay. I’m clean head to toe and since I showered before Rick did I didn’t have to wring out the bath mat. I’m a lucky gal.

All this leads me to our revised itinerary.

  • Sunday, May 7, 2017: Leave Jekyll Harbor Marina for an anchorage at Tom Creek, GA.
  • Monday, May 8, 2017: Anchor out at Beaufort, SC.
  • Tuesday, May 9, 2017: We will stay at the St. Johns Yacht Harbor in Charleston, SC.
  • Wednesday, May 10, 2017: Anchor at Sugar Mill near Georgetown, SC.
  • Thursday, May 11, 2017: Stay at the Myrtle Beach Yacht Club in Myrtle Beach, SC.
  • Friday, May 12, 2017: Arrive at Port City Marina in Wilmington, NC.
  • Now, come on! Join in!

Come all ye young fellows that follows the sea…no? Oh, alright.