Category Archives: Landlubbers

A break from sailing… Road trip!

We hung around La Coruna for a few days, finding it a really fantastic small city. It’s got a nice waterfront, a great mix of old and new, good walking, friendly people, and a cool, agreeable climate. The only downside is that the marina there is subject to a lot of swell, so we had to put lots of dock lines on, and several got pretty well eaten up by all the surge. No matter.

We also both felt like we were re-entering the cruising community for the first time since leaving the Caribbean. There were lots of boats from all over Europe there, some going north, some south, some west. We had more interaction with our fellow boaters in La Coruna over a couple of weeks than we had in the previous year put together.

Anyway, we’d planned an inland excursion to Avignon in southern France. Friends from the Florida marina we’d stayed in a couple of years ago were on an extended holiday around France, so we used their visit as an excuse to get off the boat and see something new.

We fetched our rental car and went off with only a loose plan. We wound up spending a couple of nights in Bilbao for our first stop. It’s the Basque capital, and a very attractive place to boot. We stayed at a hotel way up at the top of a long, steep hill, so all got plenty of exercise tramping back and forth. Even Baxter was pretty worn out, which is quite rare, even at his advanced aged of 11.8.

I have to say that the north coast of Spain in general was really an unexpected surprise for both of us. What an absolutely gorgeous part of the world that is. It’s made the short list of places to live should we decide to retire outside the US.

Next stop was the principality of Andorra. Neither of us had ever been there, so it seemed like we should drop in while we were in the neighborhood. I found a hotel that was part of a ski resort, and it was simply spectacular. I suspect that the place probably fetches $500 a night during the ski season, but it was cheap and glorious during the summer season. A spa and the best hotel breakfast we’ve ever had were also included. Nice! Great walks were close at hand, and while we suffered a bit with the thin air at first, we had a fine time of it there. Jenny also took advantage of the lack of VAT to get some hiking boots.

Finally, we arrived in Avingon with a brief overnight in Narbonne. Avignon is a very old city, with the medieval ramparts still intact. It was home to several popes several hundred years ago, and the architecture was, of course, magnificent.

Danny and Allison, along with Remy and Jensen, their young twins, arrived the same day. It was nice to catch up with them. For some reason, Remy is madly in love with Jenny, so those two in particular had some serious bonding time. They had a funny episode at a restaurant. The lock wouldn’t work on the door of the women’s room, so they agreed to watch the door for each other. While it was Jenny’s turn, Remy was on guard duty when someone approached. She looked them right in the eye, and said ‘Jenny’s in there. If you go in, there’s going to be BIG trouble!’. This was almost certainly the surprised Frenchwoman’s first time being stared down by a 6 year old…

Anyway, all things come to an end, and Avignon was it for us. We trucked it back to Coruna in a long day, and started some proper cruising. Actual leisurely cruising! This has been a bit of a rarity for us of late, and it was just great to enjoy some civilized boating. We’ll update shortly on that portion of the travelogue.

Surgery, fun for all

I arrived in Orlando on a Thursday, and had managed to schedule the removal of the offending organ for the very next day. This was actually quite an achievement. I cold-called probably a dozen places, and just couldn’t get any traction with most of them. My side of the conversation generally went like this:

‘Hi, I’m in WA, but need to have my gallbladder removed in FL, and soon.’
‘I don’t want to do it in WA, I want to do it in FL.’
‘I don’t have a primary care doctor.’
‘I know that I need to have it removed because the ER doctor in Anacortes says that it has to be done. I have the paperwork.’
‘No, I’m not willing to schedule an appointment with your preferred primary doctor in March. This has already been diagnosed, and needs to come out’
‘No, I’m not a FL resident.’
‘I don’t have a home address other than a mailbox, I live on a boat.’
‘No, it’s not because I’m homeless and can only afford to live on a boat.’
‘Who said anything about being indigent? I don’t need to go to the damn county public health service.’
‘Good god, thanks for your time, I’ll keep calling around.’

Finally, after endless variations of this, I found someone who would actually schedule the procedure in a timely manner.

The OR was booked, and we arrived at the FL hospital on Friday AM. I got prepped for the surgery, and after a couple of hours of waiting got to meet the surgeon, Dr. Childers. I don’t think that he was really briefed ahead of time about my case. He seemed a little bit confused about how I came to be in his care. I explained that I had been at sea on the W. coast when it happened, but lived on a boat in FL currently, but didn’t really live here either. We talked a bit more about our lifestyle, he looked at my info from the ER in WA, and decided he was fine to proceed, and we’d go into the OR shortly.

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He turned to leave, then stopped and turned back, and looked at us with the most queer wistful look on his face.

‘So, you’re 43 and spend half the year sailing all over the place on your yacht?’
‘Well, yes, but it’s really not all that spectacular most of the time’

Another pause.

‘I’m just standing here wondering what I’ve done with my life, I haven’t done anything really special’

Wow. Jenny and I exchanged a look. I told him that he was a SURGEON for god’s sake, and his accomplishments and contributions to humanity were in an entirely different league than our little self-indulgent wanderings. I was pretty gobsmacked by the exchange. I would not expect to be envied by such a man. I guess he’s probably dedicated his whole life to education and work, and he probably needs a year off. I hope he takes it sometime.

Anyway, the surgery was uneventful. They told Jenny that my gallbladder was actually really bad, and the procedure was a little more traumatic than usual. Something about it being stuck to the liver. Yuck.
Jenny got to experience hospital staff that really cared and made an effort to ensure that the patient’s loved ones were well taken care of. They had a special surgical waiting area where she had to sign in, got assigned a number under which she could be reached by the doctors if necessary, and got TJ’s assigned patient number. Up on a board that reminded her of the arrival/departure monitors at the airport she could follow the stations TJ went through: prep, surgery, wake up room.

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A great service for a concerned wife, not to mention the comfy chairs, blankets, tea, juice and good coffee. Yes, good coffee, not the shitty stuff!

I got to spend the night in the hospital, really just a blur of morphine and popsicles for me. It hurt like hell even with the drugs. At least Jenny got to enjoy the nice view.

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The following week was a pretty druggy haze for me too, but once I got the drain tube out (which I was to learn was stuck nearly a foot into my torso-it felt really weird on the way out), I started to recover quickly. It’s now been 2 weeks since the operation, and I’m about at 100%, just with a couple of new scars. I’ll fly to Alaska on Tuesday.

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I’m very happy to have this all over with. In retrospect, it was really the best possible outcome. Of all the things that can go wrong in one’s torso, I’m quite happy that the one thing that went wrong was a non-essential component. Everything else is good. Many many thanks to Dr. Childers, who did an excellent job and actually took time to make sure I was okay and to hear my life story. Nowadays doctors always seem to be in a hurry, and it was nice to meet one that made us feel well taken care of. Big thanks to the fabulous nurses Katie, Joy and Angie and the Florida Hopsital.

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Life continues on as normal.

The Gallbladder Blues

After the usual delays and chaos of trying to get our beloved Constellation out of Seattle and on it’s way to Dutch on time, we managed to leave just a day late. That’s pretty much par for the course.

We elected to transit the inside passage as far north as Queen Charlotte Sound or Dixon Entrance. There was a bit of a blow happening offshore, and running up inside for a day or two would give the guys some time to get everything secured for the crossing of the gulf anyway. This choice of route would influence our thinking in what was to follow.

I managed to get a short nap and then turned up for my watch at 2300 or so. All was well, the boat was running fine. Our engineering team seemed to have everything in good order. Time to settle in for the first night watch of many.

At about 0100, I started to feel the most peculiar pain in my back. Like nothing I’ve ever felt before. I wrote it off as just some soreness, though. I hadn’t been doing much in the way of physical work lately, so perhaps that was the culprit. By 0300, the pain had migrated around to the front of my torso, and by 0600, it had moved up right into the middle of my chest. It was really pretty excruciating, and while I felt like I was able to tough out a belly ache, pain in the chest is a different matter.

Remember that we’re navigating a boat with 32 people up through narrow passages. There’s really no room for error. While I didn’t really think that I was having a heart problem, there weren’t any other symptoms indicating that was happening, it was a possibility. It would have been irresponsible to just ignore it and carry on without consulting our shoreside medical provider. Besides, by this point, it hurt like hell all through my torso. Something was definitely up.

So, reluctantly, I picked up the phone. I got the answer that I expected from the doctor. There’s really no way to diagnose this sort of thing from afar. Pancreas, spleen, ulcer, and kidneys were all thrown out as possible culprits, but he was pretty confident that there wasn’t a heart problem happening.

Well, that was good enough for me. One of the things we big tough fishermen pride ourselves on is our indestructibility, after all. I wasn’t going to let a little bellyache stop me from going north.

Until I laid down…. Holy shit. Agony. I gave it about an hour and then asked Robbie to see if Tate could drive up to Anacortes and hop on the boat while I got checked out. There was just no way I was going to be able to perform my duties with this going on. I needed to find out what was happening.

We were about 70 miles past Anacortes, so we told the Canadian traffic service what we were up to, and that we didn’t want to put into a local port just to get avoid the hassles of customs. That was fine with them. When we got back into US waters, however, the traffic folks there were already well armed with questions and a few numbers to call. I called the USCG myself to explain what was happening, and that there hadn’t really been a casualty, but that I suspected that I’d passed a kidney stone or a gallstone and we decided to swap crew out while we were able to do so easily. VTS was ready to send 3 fire trucks and an ambulance to meet us at the dock. (I think that they have really boring jobs, so they get all excited when they get to do something unusual.) I got them calmed down and got ready to hop off the boat.

Just on a personal note, I was feeling pretty down about the whole episode. I’ve been fishing for 25 years, and have never had so much as a hangnail (not officially, anyway). Now I was responsible for the boat having to turn around and head back to port, losing time and money.

While I work for an excellent organization, human nature (particularly in today’s very litigious world) does sort of cause people to change one’s view of an employee when they have a medical issue. A guy can go from being an asset to a liability in a heartbeat. I had just signed a 75 day contract 12 hours before this happened, meaning that my employer was on the hook for this despite me being insured personally. The timing might be seen as suspicious. Now, I’ve never had anything like this happen before, and I would have investigated it prior to going to sea if it had, but not everybody has the same scruples.

Anyway, suffice it to say that over the years I’ve seen some good guys get hurt or sick and they never show up on the boat again. I’ll see them in Dutch working for somebody else. This hasn’t really been the case with my current outfit, but it does happen pretty often.

Of course, I don’t honestly have these concerns, this is obviously legit and not a chronic problem that would cause concern to my bosses about long-term liabilities. But, in the lead-up to this all happening, the potential career consequences were something that I couldn’t help but consider. And at this point, I really didn’t know what I was dealing with. A heart problem would basically mean that my USCG license goes into the shredder… Scary stuff all around.

So, after muddling through all the self-imposed psychodrama, we arrived in Anacortes last night, and I made my way up to the emergency room. After a few hours, an ultrasound and way too many tubes of blood, it was determined that my gallbladder was loaded with stones and pretty badly inflamed. It needs to get cut out ASAP. They will let me fly to FL and do it there, so that’s good. Jenny can tend to me while I convalesce. My understanding is that it’s really a pretty basic thing, and I should be back up and in Alaska within a couple of weeks.

For my part, I’m probably the first guy to ever be ecstatic about getting the news that I need to have a part removed. The problem has been identified, the fix is not terribly hard, and everything else checks out just fine.

And it turned out that turning around and getting off the boat potentially saved us from a much bigger problem later, when the logistics of dealing with this would have been much harder. It was the right call in the end despite my reservations.

Time to book a flight and get home. I should be fishing by the first of February.

Constellation

Texas – Land of the Killer Attack Skunks

We arrived in Florida at the end of November, and cruising is on hold until March. We can’t really ‘cruise’ FL anyway, thanks to our mast height and draft, so we’re just sticking around one place doing some boat chores and enjoying the warm temperatures. We’re pretty happy to just stay put for the season anyway. Our only complaint is all the no-see-ums. Everything from the knee down is awfully itchy most of the time around these parts.

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With all our free time, we’ve taken the opportunity to go to Seattle to update some of the training that I need to stay current on for my USCG license.

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We also drove our little cheap beach car (his name is Hans-Dieter) all the way to Texas and back for a visit with some old friends.

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Dennis and Linda are long-time boaters who we first got to know in Puerto Vallarta. We occupied the same dock for a couple of years. At about the time we purchased Rocket Science, they sold their very nice Hunter 460 and moved onto a large plot of land outside Austin. Dennis is a chiropractor, and he’s opened up a practice there.

We hadn’t seen them in a couple of years, so we were looking forward to doing so. After getting off I-10, our navigator had us traveling down smaller and smaller roads out in the middle of nowhere until we got the announcement that ‘our destination is on the left’. A gate stood there with a one lane dirt track leading off over a hill. Dennis buzzed up on his 4 wheeler and let us in, leading us down the 1/2 mile long driveway to their house. This struck us as a rather unusual departure for them, having always been on or near boats, but it was a fine piece of land with lots of open space for their 2 new dogs, with plenty of hunting opportunities. More on that later.

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We were pleased to pick up right where we left off with those two, everybody babbling all at once catching up on what had happened in the past couple of years. Old friends are really the best kind. It turned out that they saw a good opportunity in their field in TX and decided to give it a go, rather than return to their original home turf in Oregon. It seemed like they were doing just fine there, enjoying a lot of the more rural aspects of living there. Dennis in particular is a keen sportsman, so he was really enjoying all the time he got to spend outside.

Baxter loved the place, of course. He tried for all he was worth to keep up with the 11 month old Labs, but our old guy just doesn’t have that kind of zing in him these days. Several times a day, one of us would hop on a 4 wheeler and run the dogs at about 30 mph. Baxter, never wanting to be left behind, would run along behind for a half mile or so. One of the first times I took them all for a run, I stopped to let little Bax catch up, and he sat down right next to me with the saddest look on his face, so I asked him if he wanted to ride along with me. He started wagging straight away, and our new system was for him to run along until he got tired, and then I’d pick him up and ride around with him happily perched on the gas tank while the other dogs ran along.

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Even so, the poor mutt was totally wiped out at the end of each day. We took the whole pack to Cabelas (an outdoor store) one day, and Baxter just couldn’t bring himself to walk along with us at the store. He spent our time there riding around in the shopping cart. Our little prince.

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In other dog news, one of the neighbors there has a huge Armenian hunting dog. Linda and Dennis were concerned that Baxter might get himself hurt by this beast, as their dogs had had a few dust-ups with her. Well, as soon as this monster saw Baxter, she flipped over onto her back and became the most docile, submissive animal one could ever imagine. She was totally in love with her new pint-sized buddy. Nobody could believe it. I guess our little stud’s still got it after all these years.

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Some background on Texas is in order for those who don’t know. First, they REALLY like their guns in that state. Dennis had us do some target practice. Jenny took to that pretty well.

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Second, they have real problems with wild hogs. And skunks, we were to learn later. Dennis is happy to do his part to help control the critters. This is best done at night.

So, our first night there, I saw Dennnis outside. He was holding a rifle up to his shoulder, his eye bathed in an eerie green light. Night vision! How cool is that? I went out with him and took a look around, and he told me about all the problems with hogs, and how the skunks were always burrowing under the house and spraying both the house and whatever livestock or dogs came too close. It was his mission to eliminate both. Well, ok, I’m not all that keen to shoot animals, but we were in Texas after all, and if that’s what they see as necessary there, it’s not my place to disagree. When in Rome and all that.

He also told me that the local skunks had the very unsettling trait of running toward whoever was shooting at them. So, if you miss the first time, odds were good that one of them would charge you with the intent of really ruining your day.

Now, I haven’t shot a gun in years, and really was never very good at it in the first place. But, testosterone being what it is, I was honor bound to immediately profess my desire to engage in this seemingly foolhardy activity. Jenny also agreed to come along. I don’t remember if we told her about the attack skunks beforehand.

Night 2 found the 3 of us walking around out in the pasture. Jenny and I were completely in the dark except for a bit of moon, and Dennis was scoping around for hogs with the night vision. I was secretly hoping for hogs at a distance. The damn skunks could stay in their burrows. I wanted no part of them.

Suddenly, Jenny tapped me on the shoulder and said that there was something small moving about 10 feet in front of us. I put the flashlight on it, and was horrified to find a mutant skunk staring back at me. I really didn’t want to blast the poor critter, but that was the stated goal for the night, so I did. Fortunately, he was pretty close so I didn’t miss him and get to test out whether or not he was going to charge.

I still don’t really know what to think about the whole episode. I understand the need to take care of vermin around a country house, but I did feel a little guilty for blowing this little guy away while he was really just minding his own business. A bit of a moral dilemma for me.

Anyway, that shot ended any chance of hogs coming around, so we concluded the night’s activities.

We spent 4 very enjoyable days there, and then made our way home. I’m happy to report that our little beater beach car performed flawlessly. All in all, we felt like we did all the appropriate Texan things: shoot, eat red meat and buy some Cowboy boots!

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We returned home to take on our major chore for this stop, changing the bearings on one of our steering pedestals. This will probably warrant it’s own entry by the time it’s done.

Happy holidays to all.

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Fall and Winter 2014

The last 3 months of 2014 were slightly turbulent – high time for a blog update!

TJ left for Alaska in early October, expecting to fish for a trip or 2, then come home and sail Rocket Science to the Caribbean. Instead he ended up returning to Seattle on the ‘Constellation’ on November 30 and all Caribbean dreams flowed down Narragansett Bay. We just didn’t have enough time to get down there and settled in before TJ had to leave again for work. Also, leaving New England in December’s pushing it a bit on the weather front, not to mention damned cold. I’ll spare you the evolving of plans A – F and continue with what actually happened.

Baxter got to spend a few days in a doggy hotel and I flew to Seattle to welcome TJ home and (gasp) go condo shopping. When it got colder in Rhode Island it became clear that Rocket Science wasn’t meant to be a winter liveaboard. Dripping hatches were the least of my problems. The heater kept up until the temperatures got down to the 20s, but the Nomex core in the boat turned out to be a less efficient insulator than we had hoped. Every bulkhead you touched had the same temperature as the outside. After spending almost 5 years in the tropics I was slightly miserable.

When the weather was nice it didn’t bother me as much, and luckily that was the case most of the time. Fall was glorious.

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When it got rainy or snowed it got uncomfortable. I had to empty my clothes locker approximately once every 10 days because everything in there that touched the hull was soaking wet. All in all, not an ideal situation.

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It was nice to return to Seattle. It’s been a few years. It felt like home, sort of. The weather was perfect, just cold. The night of November 30 I waited at the Ballard Locks to see TJ and crew go through. I had to wait for an hour (and so did they) because the large lock was putting through another big boat. Brr. I saw them briefly and then headed down to Fishermen’s Terminal.

It was good to have him back, though the next few days were rather busy. I camped out at Starbucks a lot while TJ had meetings and various work issues to attend to. On the 3rd we went to look at condos and actually found one we liked. Long story short, American banks apparently think they are the Holy Roman Inquisition, which put us off a lot, and then they rejected the building because of a projected 9.5% surplus in the condo budget, they wanted to see 10%, so they rejected the original loan but did offer us another loan at a full percent higher on the interest rate, translating to about 1100 bucks per year of pure profit for them. We said no thanks. It would have been nice to have sort of a home base, but apparently it’s not meant to happen at this moment.

We returned to Rhode Island late on the night of the 6th of November, got up before dawn on the 7th to leave Cove Haven Marina at high tide. It was cold but calm.

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We spend a few days winterizing the boat, then left her at New England Boatworks in Portsmouth, RI and headed out on the 10th to start our trip to Europe.

Getting there was not easy since we were taking little Mr. Baxter. I didn’t want him to have to go on more than one flight, so we drove to New York and flew from JFK to Milan, Italy. There I had rented a car.

Now the car rental story will give you a pretty good idea about Italian attitudes! If you have a US license you are allowed to drive in a bunch of European countries, but Italy isn’t one of them. Since I wasn’t too happy about driving everywhere we asked the car rental lady if we could put TJ on the contract as an additional driver and he would only drive in France. She told us not to worry, he could drive in Italy. Her words were something like ‘The cops don’t like it too much, but you can always pay a little fine and get away with it.’ All hail to the Italians! We also had to purchase supplemental insurance, since there are 6 countries on earth where AMEX won’t insure a rental car. North Korea, Lebanon, Israel, Jamaica, Syria, and ITALY! Go figure. They didn’t seem to drive any more or less maniacally to me than the French did.

The drive to Nice, France was exhausting. Neither one of us slept on the plane, and driving in the European cities is no visit to the pony farm. We finally arrived at our apartment at 5 pm. This was the first time we had rented a place on airbnb.com. We figured it would be nicer (and cheaper!) than a hotel. Hotels and dogs don’t go together very well, anyways. We found the place pretty basic, but it fit our needs. It was close to a grocery store and a park, very convenient.

In France we went all over hell. We visited St. Tropez, which the travel guide described as ‘sleepy’ in the off season. We found that ‘comatose’ was more fitting. Somehow we had envisioned it to be grand, but it wasn’t. Since we weren’t just playing tourists but also scouting out possible places to visit on Rocket Science we decided that was one we could skip, no problem.

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Monaco was a whole different story. We liked it a lot! The scenery is, as most places on the Cote d’Azur, stunning. If you think the Formula 1 race there looks insane on TV, you should go check out the place. I don’t know how they do it without killing the whole lot of them every race. If I win the lottery I’ll definitely go and watch one.

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Aix-en-Provence was sort of blah, definitely not worth the long drive out there.

Antibes was nice, a pretty little tourist trap.

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We liked Nice itself a lot. We went to the Christmas market there, which I enjoyed tremendously. They even set up ice skating rinks! Very fun. We ate a lot of pastries and French stuff. I don’t think I can look at an American chocolate croissant the same way ever again. It’s not the same (or even close!).

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After 10 days we headed back to Milan from where we flew to Brussels, Belgium to spend Christmas with my family. We were in Germany/Belgium for only 4 days. We then ditched Baxter with his grandparents and headed to Rome.

Rome was fantastic. We stayed at a very nice hotel. It used to be a monastery, but has been converted. Mostly, anyways. There are still some nuns who live there, and they also have a chapel. The first day (afternoon, really) we spend wandering around Trastevere and exploring our neighborhood.

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On day 2 we went to Ancient Rome. We visited the Capitoline Museums with artwork thousands of years old (and bathrooms… those are hard to find in Rome). Wesaw the Collosseum and the Forum Romanum. We didn’t go inside because the crowds were unreal.

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Day 3 we visited the Centro Storico with an abundance of old churches and of course the Pantheon.

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On December 29, day 4, we took a day trip to Naples and Pompei. That was TJ’s favorite day. Naples seemed crowded but like a fun place. Definitely worth a stop on Rocket Science! Pompei was very impressive, especially because it was a gorgeous yet cold day, and Mount Vesuvius’ presence in the background reminded us of how this city was buried by its ashes almost 2000 years ago. It was incredibly well preserved and is now a UNESCO world heritage site. Our guide explained that there is some damage every year caused by tourists, but that the Italian government still chooses to give people access to this incredible place rather than lock it away because things like this just need to be seen. It was a long drive, 3 hours each way, but definitely worth it.

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The next day we were tired from all the running around and sightseeing and getting up early. We went to see the Spanish Steps, which were, well, steps. Not very exciting. At the various monuments one can find people dressed up as Centurios, trying to make a buck by having the tourists take pictures with them. Of course I couldn’t resist that!

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December 31 we went to the Vatican. When we saw the line in front of the Vatican Museums we decided it would be a good idea to take a tour, especially because everything was going to be shut down at 1 pm. With a tour one gets to skip the line, and there must have been hundreds of people waiting. I had been looking forward to the tour of the Vatican the most. It was stunning, but the crowds took away so much that the experience was mostly stressful. Our guide let us know that on an average day 25 000 people visit the Vatican. A busy day can see up to 50 000. We were there on an average day, and I had to fight back panic attacks several times.

The museums were interesting. I thought they’d be full of Christian art, but it was quite the opposite. I asked the guide about it and he explained that the catholic church learned early that art is a good investment. Makes sense. When the Vatican was established they decided that all this beautiful art should be shared with the world, and now one can see it at the Vatican museums.

The Sistine Chapel was the highlight of the tour. The artwork was stunning, and somehow there was a very special vibe in there. Despite the masses. We did not get to see St. Peter’s Basilica. It was closed because the Pope was preparing a special mass for New Year’s.

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We returned to the Vatican the next day to visit St. Peter’s. We quickly abandoned the plan when we realized about 1500 people had the same idea and were waiting in line. I was bummed out, but so done with crowds I was willing to skip this experience.

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All in all we had a very good yet exhausting December. TJ returned to work on January 2 and I went back to Germany to stay with my family.

Unexpected Blessings, Part I & II

Did your mum ever tell you not go get in a car with strangers? Well, I politely disagree. Not that I do this on a regular basis, but boy, this year seems to be one to meet new people, meet amazing people and get a new sense of myself.

I’ll skip the first getting in a car with strangers experience, on my way back to Bocas del Toro, Panama, because the car was a taxi, and even though the strangers were buddies with the driver it hardly counts against what mum said.

Part I

By now you have probably read TJ’s story about how the lovely US immigration and customs people made me feel like an outcast yet again, and the means necessary for me to make it to the US. So! Here I am, stranded on Bimini all by my lonely self. TJ had left immediately after checking in, and I had to find a way to get to Fort Lauderdale. The flights are ridiculously expensive – about 400 $ for a 25 minute flight. I decided to take the ferry instead. If you ever want to see what a ferry SHOULD look like, google Bimini Superfast. I’d call that a luxury cruise ship, but that’s just me. I got to the ferry terminal around 10 am. Boarding was at 1 pm, but the ferry didn’t leave until 5 pm. And, of course, it didn’t go to Lauderdale but Miami instead. What would life be without a little adventure…

I killed a few hours, then went and waited in line to get on the ship. Next to me sat a girl wearing a West Marine hat. We started a conversation. She and her husband (Agatha and Miguel) have a charter business in Miami. They were delightful, and we decided to hang out. They bought me lunch and we spent all day together. As we were approaching Miami they told me they’d wait for me after going through customs and immigration, then take me to a rental car place so I could get to Fort Lauderdale. Now it was my turn yet again to deal with the lovely immigration officers. The guy in front of me got the hard eye, and I saw trouble looming on the horizon.

Usually I have a pretty good tactic: I look at the officers available, and try to pick the most average looking middle-aged one. Then I go up, smile very nicely and am extremely polite. That’s a winner. Not that day. The guy started asking me all kinds of questions, and I saw the whole thing going downhill, and fast. He asked me where I had been since I left the US in October and didn’t like my answer: Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama. Apparently that was somehow suspicious. (People who travel – bah!) I was on the verge of desperation when he asked me why I traveled so much. I answered: because I live on a sailboat! Immediately his behavior did a 180. He smiled at me and said: And you are married to a fisherman!

In my head I’m going: what the HELL is going on here???? I answered yes, and wanted to know how he knew that. Well, I appeared that TJ, in his desperate attempt to get someone on the phone who could tell him exactly what would happen if I entered the country without a proper visa, talked to precisely THIS officer. What are the odds?

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I was informed that I was very lucky, since he had planned to take me to the other room and give me a hard time. Oh no. Not the other room again…

I got out and met Agatha and Miguel, who drove me to the rental car place without delay. It was closed. They started calling up rental car places. All of them were closed, except the one at the airport. Miguel said he was uncomfortable dropping me off at the airport (it was 10.30 pm by then) and, believe it or not, they drove me all the way to Fort Lauderdale. I couldn’t believe it. Just when I was about to lose my faith in humanity, someone like this shows up in my life and does something so selfless. I was very touched. These two were real angels, saviors when I needed them.

Part II

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The avid reader knows that my father-in-law, Tom Durnan, passed away on February 20. A Celebration of Life was planned for April 27. TJ had to leave for Alaska just a few days before that and was unable to attend, which really bummed me out. I was very apprehensive for more than the obvious reasons.

I’m a very emotional person. Those of you who know me can probably think of one too emotional moment or another. I can’t say I’m a fan of crying in front of 50 people, but sometimes it’s unavoidable (love you Nick & Carol!).

That is to say, I hardly knew anyone at the Celebration, and I did not want to embarrass myself or anyone else. We all grieve –it sucks bad enough as it is, without any overly emotional displays.

First of all I had to get to West Union, Iowa somehow. I inherited a 1982 Buick Riviera which I planned to drive back to South Carolina, so I couldn’t rent a car in Chicago and drive down and back to O’Hare, like we usually do.

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Don’t listen to this now, mum! Karen had hooked me up with George, a dear friend of Tom and Karen, who lives in Chicago and was also attending the Celebration. Here I was, yet again getting in a car with a stranger! What a blessing that turned out to be. The start of many blessing that I got this weekend.

I find it hard to describe all the events that occurred. It was very overwhelming. All I want to say here is thank you to the people who gave me love and support and saved my sanity. Karen, of course, you are so strong, and I’m glad to have you and I love you.

And the new people I met who made me feel like family, who gave me support I never expected but appreciated more than you guys will probably ever know: George, Freddy, Jimmy, Al & Judy. You were so great, I almost want to move on land to find myself friends like you. I hope to hear from you every once in a while.

I’ll miss Tom. He was the best father-in-law I could have ever wished for. I was hoping that this weekend would make his death a bit more real for me. It didn’t though. It felt like he was just on vacation and would walk in at any minute. Now his ashes have been sprinkled in the Little Turkey River, and he’s on his way around the world. A good man, gone too soon indeed.

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The In-Between

The In-Between

Most people go cruising for longer times, are always together and take things slow. We aren’t most people. We are part-time cruisers. For about 5 – 6 months per year we enjoy the cruising life, yet we usually move faster than others, because of the other 6 – 7 months.

‘Winter on the Bering Sea’

This year so far hasn’t been too bad, as far as winters go. The jet stream has been holding unusually far to the north, at the same time it dives unusually far south over the eastern US. So, frigid for New York, pretty temperate in Alaska. We’ll take it. They don’t have to beat ice off the deck and superstructure in Manhattan!

Our season got off to a bit of a rocky start. A refrigeration problem had us running at less than capacity for the first couple of trips while folks in the lower 48 mobilized to get the parts and technicians all gathered up to fly to Dutch and get it straightened out. We spent almost 4 days in town while this was going on. That’s a lifetime in this business. The good news is that we did end up sitting out a pretty nasty blow. The 300 foot ‘Katie Ann’ took 2 windows out of their wheelhouse and also stove in 2 steel hatches on their bow. 5 staterooms were completely demolished by the force of the water. It looked like a tsunami hit in there. The skipper gashed his head pretty bad as the wave was coming into the pilothouse. We assume he hit his head while ducking. Rogue waves are out there, and they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nobody was seriously injured, though. Good news.

Otherwise, it’s been pretty uneventful up here this year. Decent weather and not too cold. The ice pack is much farther north than it has been in the last several years, which is actually a negative development for us. We like the ice to be near our fishing grounds (but not covering them, of course). The colder water temperatures found near the ice pack tend to concentrate our target species.

I’ve just got a few more days up here, and then it’s back to Panama, Rocket Science, and Jenny. Our next leg up to the east coast of the US will begin shortly after I get there. We’ll probably sail straight to Bimini. Jenny can’t enter the US via private yacht, so we have to go to the Bahamas so that she can take a 30 minute flight to Ft. Lauderdale. Looks like I’ll be single handing (assisted by 4 paws) across the Florida straits. Thank you, US immigration!

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While TJ is up there, dealing with the “real world”, I’m stuck on a jungle island. Everything we heard about Bocas del Toro sounded just wonderful. And it is, in fact, absolutely gorgeous. The fact that most people forget is that a jungle island with not even a store to go shopping is charming for a little while, when you are with your spouse. When you are by yourself, it is much different (which is, in fact, true for most places).

The first couple of weeks I loved the place. I enjoyed the quiet time a lot after our race from San Diego to here. Then it started to get a bit lonely. Funny enough I met a ton of Germans here. There were enough of us to start a revolution and take over the island! That helped, and so did a trip to good old Germany at the end of January.

I loved the break from the constant 90 plus degree days. As always it was good to see friends and family. Leaving was hard this time.

Back in Bocas I have now decided: screw the heat! It’s too hot for the dog to join me, so I have been spending many long, hot afternoons exploring the island, hiking through the jungle, getting muddy, beat up, sweaty, and being happy.

Soon enough we’ll be out of here and heading to the Bahamas!

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A good man, lost too soon

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A sailing blog is an odd place for a eulogy, but a tribute is in order.

My dad died yesterday. He was only 70. He was diagnosed with lung cancer last year. He had a large tumor removed from his lung and was given the ‘all clear’ by his medical team, but it had unfortunately spread undetected to other parts of his body. He succumbed after a brief illness and was fortunately comfortable at the end.

He was born in Ossian, Iowa in 1943. This was a small farming community where folks could be seen making their way to town by horse and buggy into the ’50’s The depression didn’t hit there as hard as it did in many parts of the country. The crops grew and while folks had their struggles, most managed to hang onto their land and put food on the table. Tom’s dad was the postmaster in town. His mother stayed home and raised several children.

He was blessed with a formidable intellect. The boredom with the lack of challenge his schooling and making a priority of chasing the local farmer’s daughters rather than his studies found him graduating third from the bottom of his class.

Back in 1961, a young man with this kind of an academic record coming from a family of modest means wasn’t really college material. So, he decided that the only course of action for him was to join the military. Each branch of the service had an office in his town, so he chose one at random and wound up joining the navy. His dad handed him two bucks, shook his hand, and sent him off to make his way in the world.

As soon as he got into the navy, he realized that he had absolutely no desire to go to sea. It hadn’t occurred to him that being in the navy would most likely end up involving being cooped up on a ship with a bunch of guys. Obviously, this had not been thought through properly back in Ossian.

Fortunately for him, that big brain found him acing all of his aptitude tests, so it was decided that his talents would be better developed in intelligence. So, he spent his time intercepting Soviet morse code transmissions. He was stationed in Germany and Turkey during this time.

He also met my mother in Germany, and they began a family.

He got out of the Navy in ’65, and moved to the Chicago area, getting a job lugging barrels of gelatin in a very nasty factory. The president of this company saw a young man with tremendous potential, and became a mentor to him. This set his life on an entirely new course. Shortly after starting the job at the factory, he was encouraged to instead go into the real estate business. He worked for a few years as a broker for a firm, and then opened his own office in his late 20’s. He made this office into an almost instant success. I was born during this period.

After several years of selling houses, it occurred to him that building them and selling them would be even better. He hired our next-door neighbor’s wife to pretend to be his personal assistant, bought himself a new suit, and managed to secure financing for a large development project. How the hell he pulled this off is beyond me. This also went well.

In 1980, economic conditions and sky-high interest rates made seeking financing for more projects impractical. Always one for adventure, the opportunity to go in an entirely different direction presented itself. My grandmother in Germany got word of a ‘Gastaette’ for sale (this is a bar and grill, essentially). With nothing else on his plate at the time, we all packed up and headed across the Atlantic. We kids were quickly enrolled in German schools, and mom and dad set to work at the business. It was an uneven time for us all. The cultural experience was enriching for everybody, but my parents drifted apart, and the German experiment ended in divorce, with three of us heading back to IL, and my mom staying in Germany.

Now a single dad, with 2 kids (10 and 16) to provide for, life was suddenly different. Stinging financially from the divorce, these were lean times for us. Dad handled it all with aplomb, of course. He worked nights and weekends as a mortgage banker, putting in 80 hours some weeks. During all this time, he always made time for the kids.

In 1989, after several successful years, he decided that it was time for a break. With Tina in college, he offered me an offshore sailing trip as my college education. I think that he suspected that I probably wouldn’t have been a good student (we are very alike in this way), so some real world education would probably serve me better. We had always had sailboats when I was growing up, and I at this point already had a keen interest in all things nautical. So, I enthusiastically embraced the idea. So, just out of high school, the old man and I set of on what for us was the adventure of a lifetime. It also helped set the course for my life. I was immediately at home at sea, and have made going to sea both my profession and my passion. 25 years at sea, some of it on the Bering, some in the tropics have made for an extraordinary life. Thanks to him for that! The broken down old Taiwanese boat that we did our cruising on was also an invaluable education. My mechanical aptitude increased tremendously over those 14 months! It was very nice to be able to negotiate the inevitable learning curve for offshore sailing with him there doing it with me. We became best of friends during this time.

After our return to IL, I got handed my own two bucks and a bus ticket (well, with inflation, it was more than two bucks, but you get the idea), and was sent to make my own way in the world. While this might seem a bit heartless, it was a real service that he did for me. It was time to become an adult. I had the good fortune to find my way to Alaska, and the rest, as they say, is history.

He finished out his career as a VP for one of the nation’s largest mortgage banks. Quite an achievement for a guy with a high school education who was initially lugging barrels of gelatin around. He retired to Iowa in his early 50’s and had some exceptionally rewarding years there with his wife, Karen. I haven’t seen many people thrive in retirement the way he did. He was active in the community, made lots of friends, and stayed active on his little hobby farm. Watching him ride around on his 1950’s era Ford tractor always brought me a smile.

He also found the time to join me for occasional sailing trips, once from PV to Zihuatenejo aboard Star Path, and another time from the BVI’s to Trinidad on Western Explorer. This is also the trip where I met Jenny. Dad fell utterly in love with her from the moment he saw her, and told me that I would be an utter fool for not hanging on to this one. Good call, dad.

In his last years, he joined us frequently in PV. He loved the culture there, taking frequent walks around the malecon and the churches downtown. He even enrolled in a couple of Spanish schools, just to keep the brain active. We’re really grateful for this time that we had with him. In fact, he was able to join us after his initial surgery, and he was doing really well. That’s how we’ll remember him.

With all this said, I’ll remember him fondly forever. He was a man of unshakable honesty and integrity, and always there to council me in whatever I had on my mind. It’s not my way to heap this kind of praise on anybody lightly. He was one very special man.

Rest in peace, dad.