Squalls

KeyWestOne magnificent sunny morning anchored off Key Lois (home of a hoard of free running research monkeys) while on a sailing vacation in the Florida Keys I suddenly realized that everything sounded funny. This had nothing to do with the granny monkey with two baby monkeys  on her back waving from the beach after George and Amberley had toted fruit over to them – against my best advice. Voices, the aquamarine water massaging the hull, the breeze through the halyards did not sound right. “We need to get out of here – now,” I stated, “We’re in for bad weather.” The robotic voice (Egor) of the NOAA weather radio did not predict a storm anywhere between the Keys and the Dry Tortugas, but it was hurricane season and weather changes are abrupt. Because I am the captain, and the word of a captain is law, George begrudgingly weighed anchor and we headed toward a safe harbor in Marathon.

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G Calm B4 the Storm

Half way to port the sky behind us turned black. The winds picked up and a water spout (tornado at sea) appeared. Amberley dozed off – a combination of mild sea sickness, anxiety (her mom had tied herself to the helm) and Dramamine while George just kept muttering, “This was not predicted.”

Sailors don’t trust weather predictions. Memorial Day’s forecast called for a 30% chance of scattered storms after 4 p.m. We left the harbor around one o’clock with friends. The wind died, the sails fell limp, and the boat listlessly flowed with the current. Ex Libris drifted so slowly (she’d caught on to the notion of acedia) that a water snake decided to approach the boat right up to the port hull and then aimed for the stern, followed the boat and tried to come aboard (“Sssssss-render the booty”).  I fired up the engine until we caught an easy southwest wind on our beam and headed up the channel. I couldn’t shake the sense the Slitherin was still following us or that it was graduation weekend at Hog Warts and other snakes would be joining us for cocktails.

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A captain is responsible for all life and limbs aboard – even the ones 50′ up his mast. Ralph felt safe and secure high and dry.

We picked up friends in the harbor. Ralph had obligingly been hoisted 52′ up a newcomer’s mast to help fix a broken halyard. We waited until he was safe on deck and then headed back out around two o’clock. We were sailing up the channel dodging barge traffic and scouting for snakes when Ralph asked about the time and the weather. I’d been watching the western sky and agreed that the emerging storm line was early, but the dark clouds were building to the northwest and would probably miss us. When we sighted rain upstream I made the decision to tack and head down river to dodge the storm. George asked if he should take the sails down. I declined and reiterated that we were putting the bad weather a’stern. He shrugged, obeyed the captain and grumbled, “The issue is putting all of this down – it’s a lot of work.”

Moments later the wind shifted and the sky darkened. I ordered the crew to furl the jib and then commanded that the mainsail be dropped – fast. We’d completely missed the thunderhead hidden by an island in the channel. The boat was suddenly broadsided with 28 mph gusts. The sails thundered as we pointed into the wind. George and Ralph climbed up to the mast, pulled down the sail and secured it – all the while the wind was howling and spray was hosing down the deck. The boat bucked through confused waves as the wind fought the current. It took all of my strength to hold a course into the wind and keep the guys steady as they wrangled the sail onto the boom. Going down with the ship was not mentioned in my daily horoscope, we stayed calm, followed our training, and were glad we’d ignored the friendly jesting of another sailor that all can’t be well if the captain leaves the harbor wearing a life jacket. We all had ours on when the weather went to hades in a nano-second. Between subsequent squalls we motored into the harbor, docked safely and sat in the rain under the bimini toasting our confidence and competence during the storm. SailSquall

The captain of a boat is responsible for the safety of everyone aboard and all damages incurred by the boat. Passengers and crew are expected to obey faithfully the captain’s instructions. There is a pact between the captain and crew that safety is the absolute priority for any actions on a boat. That’s one reason skippers don’t sail naked.

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Maybe I exaggerate – but it felt like this looks.

We’d learned the previous day that a seemingly healthy guest can suddenly pass out, fall into the life lines and get hurt. During that emergency, as captain of Ex Libris my job was to appraise the situation, determine whether the guest was okay or not. What triggered the realization that our friend was not okay was his stubborn refusal to follow the commands of the captain, which at the time seemed rather simple, “Sit and don’t move.” Here was a seasoned sailor defying the captain and putting two other crew members at risk because of his limited mobility, lack of a life vest, and seriously compromised cognition. Like the air off Key Lois, he did not sound right. Something was very wrong. I turned the boat back to the harbor, gave George the helm put Ralph in charge of keeping our friend sitting in the cockpit and went below to call 911 and have an ambulance meet us at the dock. A trip to the ER determined that our friend had passed out due to a low sugar level and was fortunate not to break any bones or have a more serious medical condition.

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Big sky, big water, lots of wind and a tiny boat = great responsibility

Having someone injured on a boat more upsetting than a water snake attempting to come board without first asking the captain for permission. An accident on the water is more nerve wracking than being caught in a squall under full sails. A captain’s responsibility for everyone and everything aboard is more surreal than a family of rhesus monkeys sitting on a beach eating fruit and waving at passing sailors. A few hours later our friend was relaxing by a bonfire cheerfully crooning sea shanties and limericks. My post adrenaline rush lulled me to an early bedtime. I knew he was okay even though he sounded funny.

It's 5 o'clock

It’s always 5 o’clock somewhere – sometimes time flies.

Ski the Mississippi: Citius, Altius, Fortius!

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Faster, Higher, Stronger

This weekend a band of merry members of Anchor Yankers from the Mississippi Alton Pool swapped their boats for ski equipment. We drove to Dubuque, Iowa, a vibrant community that boasts river boating, skiing, five car garage homes and the new distribution center for Bacon Bits and Spam (the Godonlyknowswhat food stuff invented during WWII). Saturday’s daytime temperatures hovered around 12º (-10ºF wind-chill). Thick snow obscured the river valley and cemented dripping noses with upper lips. Sunday’s mercury climbed to a balmy 21º with pristine skies and 4” of fresh powder. Humans aren’t meant to hibernate – we played games in the snow.

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a) Summertime Bonnevile Salt Flats or b) Snow Field in Iowa?
Ans: b

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Big G does a Black Diamond run above the River Valley

Summer visitors from northern US states to Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats, west of Great Salt Lake often feel chilled rather than fried, as they should. Their brains are trained to recognize wide expanses of pure white terrain as snow and ice, not blistering desert sand that’s white as angel wings.

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Doesn’t get much faster or higher than here. Be strong and Ski!
Photo by JAL @ Sundown.

Our family’s first ski trip to Dubuque set off a similar disorientation. Our skiing experiences were in New England where skiers ride lifts up mountains in plain sight. George and I were confused to arrive at a farming region with rolling hills, no apparent snow and no elevations that could even mildly be described as ski territory. We were more befuddled when we arrived at Ski Sundown and looked down the river bluffs at the maze of well-groomed ski trails.

The Olympics’ motto, Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger) represents athletes’ aspirations to demonstrate personal bests – the ultimate upper limit of their speed, grace, and strength on ice and snow. This year Bode Miller earned the honor of being the oldest alpine skiing medalist in Olympic history.  He’s only 36 and is considered an elder athlete. Society is weird. It expects skiers to stay fit until age 70 so they can pay reduced Senior Ski Rates but entices 60+ year old people with Senior Reduced ticket prices to sit in movie theaters snacking on buttered popcorn.

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Spider Men & Sharon Apres Ski @ Sundown. Thanks for organizing the annual trips for Don’s Gang, Sharon. Photo by JAL

This year George and I, Sharon and Don (Woelbling), elder but not yet senior clan members since the beginning reminisced about our decades of trips to Sundown. Faster, higher, and stronger effects of the sport include a blown knee (darn moguls), a broken nose (darn edge boundaries that separate the slopes from the wild), elegant style (we girls don’t wear darn hats because it musses our hair), updated and stylish ski gear (darn ski shops’ end of season sales), stolen skies (darn bar tender gave me a free beer and didn’t even offer to store my skies in the free, locked corral). We watched the third generation stretch their limits on the Bunny Slope. We spat out mouthfuls of snow while trying to keep pace with last year’s novices. We’ve celebrated kids’ graduations, weddings, and careers.

As life would have it, we’ve also mourned the loss of a spouse, two sons, and a granddaughter who had boated and skied the river.

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Advice to 3rd Gen: Don’t eat or make yellow snow!” Yes, those are Gina’s triplets and Zoe! Ski Wee Champs! Photo by Shana

The Winter Olympics gather athletes from around the world to take part in games where winning really matters. When my daughter at four years young first tried Ski Wee she melted down and didn’t want to go back for lessons the second day. Sharon took her aside, ever the schoolteacher, and firmly explained, “Here’s the deal -our families boat in the summer and ski in the winter. Unless you want to be home with a babysitter while we ski, you’d better get back into Ski Wee so you can always be with us.” Great advice. Families who have things to do outside and play with friends are truly blessed. They grow together faster, reach higher aspirations, and savor stronger bonds across generations. Our Dubuque ski trips aren’t about winning. The informal motto of the Olympics is, “The most important thing is not to win but to take part!” Skiing down river bluffs beats sitting home, eating spam on any winter weekend.

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Ski Sundown 2014
Photo by Carrie Smith

Royal Rains: Maine Squeeze 42 Redux

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Forty two summers ago we planned a honeymoon to Little Dick's Bay in the 
coral blue, balmy waters of the Caribbean. We cancelled two weeks before 
the wedding when it became obvious that the $11.98 balance in George's 
check book would not cover travel and lodging.  

Plan B was enacted. We did a road trip to Bar Harbor, Maine and took a 
ferry to Nova Scotia. The first realism of our wedded bliss was, when it 
pours every day for seven straight days, even the raging hormones of two 
twenty something kids in love succumb to Maine's Rains. 
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I  recall looking out the car window back then and seeing a 
dreary vista of endless green trees and gunmetal gray that reached 
from sky to sea. It was exactly the same as it looks today. I doubt 
anyone could return the same compliment to us as we roll up Coastal 
Route 1, the slowest road in the USA that connects sassy travelers 
from Miami with Moose in Caribou.

Today the western world rejoices with the birth of Britain's royal heir. 
He immediately contributed continuity to the human experience by making 
it possible to know the name of the future king of The United Kingdom 
that will probably rule into the next century (the Windsor's are born 
with nearly eternal batteries).

Two items of mine make it possible to intimately connect to a time 
before the birthing of my brood during the last quarter moon of the 
past century. The first is a picture taken of me at a cheap hotel in 
Bar Harbor on my honeymoon. The later is the contents of my suitcase 
opened this morning in a somewhat less modest motel. The first had bugs 
in the shower stall. The present had a free breakfast Buffet.

In the fading photo a skinny 20 year old college kid (between junior 
and senior year) with long dark hair and freckles is wearing a tight 
pair of salmon colored jeans, a multi-striped tee shirt, flip flops, 
and a broad brimmed floppy hat. In my parrot decorated canvass bag 
you'll find a pair of salmon capris, a navy/white striped long sleeve 
jersey, flip flops, and my 5 o'clock wide brimmed sailing hat.  
Fortunately, the same loving man is willing to snap a picture. 

Some say there are two types of people. Those who are always evolving 
with the times. They tend to be open to change and flexible. The rest 
are stuck in some moment of their past that defined their sense of self. 
That pretty much sums up the stereotype of a New Englander. That moment 
is some time between whenever a dominant ancestor walked off a boat 
into a new life and the last time the Red Sox won the World Series. 

PrepAs for me, it must be that the times they were 
changing as I came of age and my life long preference for stripes and 
preppy clothes reflects that era. Stripes contrast what is and what's 
not, and prep is a preference for an enduring clean cut, hopefully 
not snobbish perspective.  It is a costume for someone who rides 
with the changes but keeps some things in life on an even keel. 

Its nice to celebrate the Prince's birth in a place populated by 
descendants of people who long ago revolted against the crown who 
profess deep affection for the Royals. May his grandpa and daddy 
preserve and protect this baby's future as a gilded age of Pax.  
Long  live the King.
royal coat of arms

 

Wormholes

When I was a little kid, like everybody else growing up in the 50’s, I knew a short cut to just about everywhere. Taking the short cut might mean sneaking over a neighbor’s fence, hiking through a patch of swamp, or swimming across the cove. The point of a short cut is to save time and be there.

Yesterday my brother and I pondered the difference between

Wormholewhat we feel is a short cut to Connecticut versus a much prettier route. It’s a classic debate between the highway or the scenic way to travel. The crux of the argument is whether the travel is worth the time on either road. On one hand, the faster one travels, until reaching the limit, which is just a tad less than light speed, time, slows down. That would put a check in the plus column for taking the highway.

Maturity in part involves skipping shortcuts. These appear to be rational decisions. After all, you could get cut on the fence (and by the way, trespassing is rarely socially acceptable), wreck your shoes in the swamp, or be caught in the current. There’s another reason for skipping short cuts. We reach a certain age when its understood that we can plan all we want for tomorrow but the future can change on a dime. Most of us hang on to memories of our past, especially the good times. Few among us want to know the excruciating details of our future.

According to physics, there are short cuts between space and time. These wormholes come in very handy when theoretically traveling between universes.  The neat thing about wormholes is that they make time travel possible. Whether the traveler gets one way or round trip tickets is still a thorny problem.

Time Travel via Wormhole

Time Travel via Wormhole

When we don’t see family and friends often, the rare get-togethers are just like wormholes. We can slip effortlessly into recollections of past times shared and transcend today with plans for tomorrow. The wormholes also seem to speed up time so that the visits go by in a blink and are quickly stashed as Facebook posts and fresh memories.

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Wormhole

Sailors know that the quickest way to anywhere is rarely straight ahead. Being on the water is about being here as opposed to just getting there. Long summer days can be measured by time spent better than by time saved. These are days for taking a time out to slow down and be present with now. Which is why, we should all be choosey about who and when we spend our time. Wormholes are hard to find and there is just so much time allotted to our journey.

The lesson learned from wormholes is, wear wings. Tempus fugit.

Hour 19: Rainlentless

Hour 19- Rainlentless

Got Wet

Got Wet

I’ve transversed New York State horizontally for over half a century. I can’t remember making it all the way across without at least one fierce squall regardless of the season or time of day. This trip is exceptional only because the rain is relentless. The Erie Canal breeched her banks and sports white caps beneath the churning mist. We are towing Finn, our Boston Whaler. Like me, she detests semitrailers and would prefer salt water beneath her hull rather than a cockpit drenched by sooty highway rain.

Jay Gatsby took his fortune east to claim fame and accidentally pursue love.  I go East with my love secure, his hands comfortable on the wheel, nary a white knuckle to be seen. I am drawn to the New England Coast with out hope of fame or quest for fortune.  I am driven to satisfy a relentless need to measure summer days by tidal time.

We are listening to a Cards vs Mets game that seems appropriate. The Cards are winning and the announcers are flummoxed that the fierce Durocher has not yet made its way to NYC but is raising havoc in the Poconos. We don’t have great winds or hail here in the Catskills. The clouds have dipped beneath the mountains to blanket Rip Van Winkle’s resting place. Conversely, ground fog is rising to mask road hazards and exhaust weary drivers.

We might tuck in somewhere in Massachusetts between Stockton and Boston because the deluge has made driving is treacherous at best. I am not oblivious to risk as I was 50 years ago while making the trip with my parents and brother Scot. I was busy, splayed across the back seat reading Trixie Belden, begging Pop to turn the radio to the NYC station that played I Wanna Hold Your Hand and smacking Scot because he was bugging me. Seat belts didn’t exist, both folks smoked with the windows open “just a crack” and I still hadn’t figured out Mom that was pregnant with my brother Tom. It was a time of innocence protected by Pop’s confidence that he knew what he was doing. By my estimation, he was on that first trip the same age as my sons are now.

Pop moved our family east because of his growing fame as a businessman. Success secured his ethic that hard work – over time, would make his fortune. The trip was a pilgrimage to unite our family with our grandparents and extended family who lived in western, “Upstate” New York.  Rather than be torn by adolescent sturm and drang that made many of my peers yearn for places they’d left behind, if only in their imaginations, I was content in either venue. The New YorkThruway was a simple path that connected the worlds I knew and the people I loved.

Tides kept their cadence; the planet circled the sun round and round, until eventually  George and I were making a longer journey that included this Thruway to and fro with our young sons and daughter.

This annual sojourn is a constant in my life. It will be interesting to see over time how our kids and grand kids establish their own constant pathways that will bring them close to far away and back again.  I hope love travels with them, that they know what they are doing, and they can well afford all of their travel expenses.

Jiggity Jog

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Jiggity Jog

George says home is where ever we are together. It’s more than an address with a mortgage or lease in your name. My Road Trip consumed the month of April. The Nest is a part of our home where the beach is the front yard. I flew from Indian Rocks Beach to San Diego, met my son Barrett and Violet. We drove to Solana Beach. Barrett and Marlene’s home is a stones throw from the Pacific and felt just as comfortable, perhaps more so given the contentious nature of the Nest’s anti-neighborhood. I left Missouri on a dreary cold rainy day when only a few hearty leaves on the willow were sprouting and came home to lush green grass and lilacs blooming with warm summer winds and a glaring sunshine. Each venue in it’s own way is part of what I know as home. Home is where I am mindful of my center and secure with whoever enters invited though the door – or hatch – Ex Libris is my home on the water that sails with the wind. When any of these structural domains are blessed with the love of family and friends my soul isImage filled with gratitude because I have a home from which to go and to return.

I feel a bit like the Hobbit. My journey ended where it began. I wandered a bit but was never lost. It reminded me of a passage in the book, “Where did you go to, if I may ask?’ said Thorin to Gandalf as they rode along. “To look ahead,’ said he. And what brought you back in the nick of time?’ “Looking behind,’ said he.”

I wish everyone the freedom to go on walkabouts whether near or far from your home and the courage to go off on adventures. “May the wind under your wings bear you where the sun sails and the moon walks.” JRR Tolkien

IRB RT: Week Whatever

Typical of vaykays in general, I can tell you with confidence that we leave in 5 days but I’m not sure how many days it’s been since leaving home. It’s more important to be with the moment right now. It is a splendid morning on Indian Rocks Beach.

We’ve been busy whispering around the Masters Tournament, playing 18 holes, watching the Gulf turn from an angry gray tousled sea to a brilliant aquamarine infinity pool. We’ve gawked at two beach weddings, swayed to the rhythm of steel drums, and cheered an aging Amazon rocker belting out “I love Big Beer Bellied Boys” at Crabby Bills.

Mama's Got A Squeeze Box Mama’s Got A Squeeze Box

She, the rocker not the bride, was at least 6 feet tall in flip-flops and played the guitar like Carlos Santana. She is one of the last of the true rockers that knows all of the riffs by heart. The Sunday crowd of ex-pats, rednecks, and last of the Canadian snowbirds blasted back the band’s energy with whistles, whoops, and cheers. I met Crabby Bill who despite his moniker was gracious enough to be photographed with me. He’s not at the celebrity status level of Colonel Harlan Sanders or Ray Kroc but they’re dead and Bill’s not quite.
Crabby Bill

Saturday I endured another annual meeting of the Nest. The four owners are all suffering with a degree of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.  Half way through the mayhem I experienced early onset Tourette or Parkinson’s – I was trying so avidly to moderate the screaming and restore order that my amygdala sprang a leak. My neck and shoulders were stiff and sore yesterday. Keeping calm and carrying on was on par with Atlas deciding whether to shrug or bear the weight of the world. We played golf Sunday morning and the worst after effect was that my hands still shook when setting the ball on the tee. It took eight holes to end the perseveration with bad ju ju from our meeting. I know exactly when the PTS ended – the ninth hole when Bonnie and I scored a 2 for another Birdie. I became mindful of the moment and the stress of the past instantly dissipated.

It would be much nicer if all of the Nest owners could all get along as well as our dogs. Newport, Copper and Marina play tag, slobber and tussle, hunt geckos, and sniff each other’s butts with great zeal. They know when to call it quits and nap in the shade. They play nice. They don’t expect the same level of commitment as the brides who walk confidently towards their grooms waiting by the water line.  They don’t pledge each other a lifetime of loving care. Dogs just want to play with each other and then take their masters home for the night. If only owning the Nest was a dog’s life.  A Dog's Life is Good
A Dog’s Life is Good

IRB: Day 3

With Louisville’s hold on the Championship as solid as Kevin Ware’s cast, we can
be thankful that March Madness is yielding to April Spring Sanity. We did not
watch the final game as we spent the evening with a Box o Wine on the deck with
Barry and Bonnie. I practiced moderation and therefore am fully prepared to sit
on the balcony and tackle lesson one of my Statistics course this morning. I’vebeen roped into writing a pre application grant for NCFL which I hope is as
successful as the Cardinals of Louisville not our beloved St Louis Cards who
dropped opening day like an AT&T wireless call on Riva Ave.

Photo on 4-9-13 at 10.10 AM

There is lots of activity on IRB. They are making the 6th Ave access ramp more
handicapped accessible. I’ve yet to see a wheelchair on the beach but since
Florida is Heaven’s Waiting Room it makes sense. A crew of 6 town employees are
watching one guy push sand with a big bucket loader. I wish they would trim the
dunes which are huge! Mostly the 6 guys shout gleefully creative F$&@ bombs and
while away their hourly wages.

The hotel Saturday night had a nice free breakfast as well as free bed bugs or
other biting vermin that attacked Poppy. Photo documentation provided.

Recent guests felt the need to rearrange all of the furniture which is a sureMen Working Beth Supervising sign of a chilly winter when the TV is the center of entertainment. Nothing is
in disrepair for the moment. We are all so very fortunate to have Shawn as our
property manager!

Marina loves the balcony and for some reason has decided beach comers and idle
construction workers are not worth barking at. She is still limping on her
front leg, injured when I pushed her to the back seat and she resisted then fell
in the crack thus jamming her leg. I’m on the ASPCA Watch List.

Poppy took his one free pass yesterday to expand in detail on his cancer. He
misses his Mom and is adjusting to his lot in life. As Don Coplen says, he’s
going to have to put his big boy pants on and move on. Now we need to curb his
appetite, which is ravenous, a sign of his stress that he attributes to
anesthesia. Oh puleeze, Lord, grant me the serenity…

This is a beautiful slice of Paradise. The weather is here wish you were
beautiful.

Ah, but you are, and all are very much loved. The sun is up, the sky is blue,
but you are my sunshines. Make it a memorable day.