Hoarfrost on the rigging of S/v Carina. Photo by Leslie Linkila

Winter in the Midwest is a little long. Our fleet is tucked away for the season of Hunkering Down. Our bodies like our boats become vessels for ultra cold matter. Everything within and around us takes a time-out and seems to pause. As the Mercury dips we have less energy to move about. It’s a quiet season.  We gather around hot soup and blazing hearths. Winter is the time of books with many pages, layers of clothing, brisk walks, chills, shivers, and a sense of loss because warm sunshine has forgotten us. Looking at deep and silent snow after a blizzard it seems that everything is at rest.

Seemingly still on the surface yet always in motion below.
Ex Libris @ Sioux Harbor, Mississippi River. JAL

Nothing could be further from the truth. Nature never rests.

Nordic Explorer who adventured in the North and South Poles. Photo by AMLD

There are scientists whose life work involves trapping and cooling atoms to absolute zero. Much like the Norwegian Helmer (“Helly”) Hanssen, they are explorers of the deep cold ranges in our world. Ultra cold atoms are gateways to new fields of exploration involving infinitesimally small particles found in color, light, stuff, and all living things.  These particles are a primary source of motion in the universe yet they are minuscule and can never be observed directly. Scientists use complex mathematics about the ultra cold to learn how it works. They’ve discovered that everything, down to the sub atomic level, is eternally in motion thus anything that matters is perpetually changing.

All of the atoms, cells, bones, and organs that compose human bodies move constantly in the form of waves. A wave is a type of motion that’s described as a phase that takes place over space and time. Essentially, we’re in a continuous state of disequilibrium, always moving, always seeking stability that doesn’t really exist. We’re surfing the universe on the waves of time and light.

Narragansett Beach, RI. Photo by JAL

Just ask a teacher to describe a classroom of pubescent middle schoolers and you’ll learn more than enough about waves and human development. Teachers know that the wave effects on human development are chaotic, seemingly random, and transformative.

Surfers intuitively sense that they at one with waves – and waves are part of their core being. Surfers use their understanding about the speed and length of waves so that they ride the lip or fly off a crest. The wave energy within us creates a flow of changes that affect how we move and where we go, physical and emotional growth, and transformative life phases we surf from birth through death. Ripples to tsunamis – sooner or later the waves crest, grow quiet, evaporate or reach a shore – the ones in kids crest, barrel and crash as they breakdown the shores of childhood and build up the coastlines of adulthood.

During winters when warm air drapes itself over cold water the conjoining forces bring forth fog. As the air temp plummets, tiny water droplets huddle together according to the rules of ultra cold and form hoarfrost. Standing aboard our boat we can’t see where we’ve been or what lies ahead. If we look closely at where we stand at this moment in time, we will learn new things that will allow us to discover the kind of person we can be this new year. We are energy, connected to light, and always in motion. The days will get longer so don’t be afraid to chill out and keep moving.

Ultra Cold Gnome Norway bound this January. JAL

Constant Vigilance


Bald Eagles’ Aerie. Symbols of constant and eternal vigilance. They are there. Memorial Day, 2018, Photo JAL

Memorial Day weekend is here in the climate-confused Midwest where we are setting records for the hottest May Days outside of Hades. Choosing something to wear should be easy as nothing, fits. Nature crash and burned spring straight into the dog days of August. Nary a breeze can lift herself from the oppressive sun. The wind has sucummed to an overdose of humidity. Undaunted and perhaps unwisely, we spent the weekend aboard our sailboat, Ex Libris on the Mississippi River.


Cap’n Barrett sporting his Brown Crew cap navigating his way around Catalina Island, CA.

Meanwhile,  our son Barrett, hopped a ferry from LA to Catalina where the winds were fresh, the seas were calm, and small boat rentals were affordable. Randall opted for the grand opening of his community pool much to the delight of my grand daughters who initiated the first swim of summer vacation.

Amberley explored fiords in southwestern Norway. It’s a country where where summer lasts for 23 minutes and SPF 200 is not adequate sun protection for the locals. As you can see by her photo of Bergan, the Norwegian harbors are just like the Alton Pool’s  except ours’ are the color and consistency of coffee dregs.


Fiord Festivities @ Norway

Being a Mom, I worry about my family when they are far away frolicking with water sports. Accidents happen. Water always wins. There’s always a bigger fish. Your playground is homeport to mllions of non-human residents. We must all take the wizard of Hogwarts’ advice; “Constant vigilance!”

Paying attention is a survival skill for there are plenty of hellish things in the details that lie quietly and patiently seeking prey. Yesterday, we anchored off a mid-river island and were fascinated to observe a Bald Eagle family nesting. My attention was shifted by a subtle change in Marina’s panting. Although she was shaded, a 16 year-old dog is no match for the incinerating torch of a mid-day sun.

You Never Know

You never know what lies beneath or behind. 

We quickly motored back to the harbor to head home and escape the dangerous heat. Dockside was equally perilous. I was startled by ravenous Water Moccasin that swam a few feet from the dock and slithered along the shore. I knew the snake was hunting for if not for the hunger instinct it would’ve avoided the filthy water and been content to digest privately in an undisclosed location. I told Marina, who is mostly blind and deaf that if she fell overboard, she was lunch.

Freshly regenerated via the AC, we returned to Ex Libris. After a relaxing dinner aboard, George went to snag a cookie off the galley counter. He abruptly roared, “D¶•§ Son #$ %^$# BIT ME right on my head!” He swatted, swore, and swelled. I’d missed a wasp nest during my ritual debugging of the cabin upon arrival. Bees and wasps are avid boat lovers when people are absentia. The previous day I’d destroyed three wasps nests and too many mud daubers’ messy abodes to count.

George is allergic to bees. Over the years he’s had increasingly bad reactions to their stings. Still yelling, digging for ice in the cooler, he ripped off his shirt afraid that more bees were attacking. We boot-scooted home for emergency First Aid. George’s glaucoma eye was already swollen shut.  His armpits  and hands itched madly and swelled exponentially. Still, his testosterone-histimine-saturated-resistance to the logic of an ER visit prevailed as he ranted, “It’s a holiday, only drunks, car wrecks, addicts, and city shooting victims go to ERs on holidays.”


Not Big G’s Best Look. Abundant hives too. Even his armpits swelled. 

Fortunately, Barrett was home from his island adventure and he took my call. He’s a physician and advised an immediate trip to the ER. He also inherited a tad of stubborn-ness from his father and understood negotiations were off the table. Dr. Bear recommended a double dose of Benadryl, a blast of Prednisone, ice packs, and spousal patience. His Dad survived.


A family’s physician is never really and truly off-duty when Mom calls.

Constant vigilance is a mantra for those with the wisdom to know that the world sits at the cross roads of good times and dark times. My grandmother, herself a Gold Star mother, referred to this day as Decoration Day. She didn’t view it as a holiday but as a private holy day of remembrance and gratitude. I see the wisdom of both approaches. It’s a day to celebrate the eternal vigilance of our military. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. It’s also a day to be aware of the vipers and wasps that live as they as they are even though their ways are often not compatible with ours’. We live in a brave new world where “eternal vigilance is the price of human decency.[1]” Hoist a flag. Remember. Be vigilant.


Wrong, Captain Ron. It didn’t happen “out there” – it happened right here! Sioux Harbor, MO

[1] Aldous Huxley, Brave New World. 1932




Extreme Breathability @ The Helm

My husband retired three weeks, two days, and one hour ago. He prides himself on keeping a busy schedule, like walking a couple of miles on the Katy Trail along the Missouri River before his wife wakes up in the morning. He claims to be a “simple man” who keeps a daily “Do List” and maintains a sense of order. He is also a voracious reader and picks up on tiny nuances of change. Yet, I was still surprised when he actually went clothes shopping in preparation for our upcoming trip to Florida and bought one item.

A Bamboo Boxer Brief… Bamboo F


… as in Waltzing Matilda underwear.

He’d found a small advertisement in today’s paper hailing a new product for manly men that promises, “Performance is Natural”. The underwear’s MOSO features include moisture wicking and extreme reliability. George’s fresh passion for Organic Performance Wear is puzzling. Noting the slogan, “It’s a Pleasure for Your Business” I wondered, what sort of business opportunities does this bundle of soft bamboo promise consumers?


Is George’s attention to fine undergarments a natural part of the early days of retirement? Is this an organic phase of leaving the business world to focus one’s time on personal business? Do men really seek personal clothing that “feels better than silk and performs better than (wait for it) petroleum-based polyester synthetics”? This is all new to me. The fine print on the package also promises “your man parts will stay cool, dry, and stink- free, even during peak intensity!”

Bamboo 1 

I guess Victoria’s Secret is out. Good-bye silk worms. Hello bamboo stalks. I must admit saying bamboo aloud has a subtle, sultry, sound (bam b-oooohhhh). All that I picked up in today’s news is that Tide Podding is out and the condom-snorting challenge is in. I suppose my Helly Hansen performance sailing gear is on it’s way out too – though it is a product of Norway and we know how everyone there wants to get in here.

I want to issue a warning to our boating friends. Should you see Big George hoisting the main sail chanting, “Weigh hey, and up she rises!” Turn away. It’s just the koala beneath his belt nibbling on the bamboo.

Meanwhile, I’m going to stock up on organic bamboo toilet paper for the head. If you come aboard to sail on Ex Libris, feel free to use the head to do your business. But for Pete’s sake, please don’t start singing, “Tie me kangaroo down sport!” (clean living is all about punctuation).


Lordy, thankfully only boaters know where he is standing. The sailor’s version of the VS Catwalk.


Hail the Spring Equinox! Ostara!

Ballymena, North ireland

Quaint working harbor in Ballymena Northern Ireland. December, 2017. Photo JAL

This, the first day of spring, is when the hours of daylight and nighttime are perfectly balanced. The sun is a great big sugar cookie perfectly divided between the two. Perfect symmetry is not meant to endure. It’s now the third day of spring at my harbor where  day has purloined two extra minutes of sunlight. Way to go!

The vernal equinox signifies it’s time to shed the final threads of winter dormancy and flourish. Our woodpile has shrunk in equal proportion to the last heap of ashes in the hearth. Sitting next to a warm fire with a good book is eclipsed by an intrinsic desire to get outside and do something.


Hammerfest, Norway. February, 2018. Photo courtesy of Amberley Doskey.

There are many rituals associated with the vernal equinox such as the pagan celebrations of Ostara at Stonehenge. Lots of spring rituals deal with mating calls, bunnies, eggs, and rebirth. Spring bills itself as a very sexy season. My favorite spring ritual takes place fully clothed, if not layered in fleece and goose down. It’s time to commission our boat for spring sailing! Sailors have great affection for “spring cleaning”. Here are the rites of Ostara for my 34 Catalina, the Ex Libris.

Ritual #1. Inspect my personal collection of Topsiders. Banish winter pairs to the back of the closet. Bring forth the spring collection. Retire socks to the bottom drawer.


Remember the Endeavor, memorial. Hammerfest, Norway. The photos have no connection with the content. I just like them. Photo courtesy AMLD

Ritual #2. Check the Sperry.com web page to view the spring collection. If necessary, select size and hit, Buy Now.

Ritual #3. Round up my boat cleaning supplies. Browse the West Marine catalog. Decide there’s nothing really needed so, go back to the Sperry page and reconsider options.

Ritual #4. Finally, wearing chic maritime footwear,

we drive to the harbor where the boat wintered over. George pulls out the bubbler (an electric fan the keeps ice from forming around the hull) and estimates that the water tempis a half dozen degrees above freezing. I offer up a quick prayer that neither of us  trip on a line and fall off the dock. We climb aboard. I savor the exhilaration of a new season and that I’m still physically fit to sail. I remind myself that it’s time to watch Captain Ron – again. Clean and turn on fridge to ensure beverages are chilled.


Meanwhile, in Stavanger, Norway with just a trickle of the Gulf Stream, sailing regattas take place year round. Photo AMLD.

Ritual 5. Realize it’s too darn cold to sail. I don’t need a cooler or to waste electricity on the fridge because after 30 minutes the beer became room temperature and turned to slush. The cabin is colder than Ahab’s wife when he returned home with a wink after three hygiene-free years at sea mucking about in whale guts.

Ritual 6. Go home. Ask George to make a fire. Hunker down with a hot toddy and a good book about sailing in the tropics. Double-check the Sperry web site. Watch Captain Ron – again.


Patience. Waiting for longer, warmer days of spring. Photo JAL





Repeat the ritual in another month when the weather is conducive to water sports and add;

Ritual 7. Hank on the mainsail, kick the tires and light the fires. Get out of the harbor and into the season of the wind.



Winter Kill


Winter kill at Sioux Harbor. Carp. Nasty alive. Wretched dead.

Whether you believe in climate change or not – I find it odd that I’m spending President’s Weekend (3rd weekend of February) boating on the Mississippi. It’s peculiar because for the past quarter century our merry band of friends, offspring, and their springs have spent this particular weekend skiing down the bluffs of the upper Mississippi. That’s downhill, snow skiing where we reveled in temperatures just shy of 30° F. We played outside all day and it felt good to be cold.

Generally, people don’t succumb to winter kill. Bad ankles and metallic knees force a lot of Boomers to set their ski gear out in spring garage sales. Aging and the ravaging effects of disease take folks off the river. Some of those diseases are brought on by the sloth-like


Wouldn’t it be nice if all social media were this peaceful?

tendency of people living North of 35° latitude to hibernate during the winter months. The most exercise they get is getting up for snacks during Netflix binges. Post holiday sales blitzes mark down Eddie Bauer and North Face outerwear to at least 60% off MRSP. There aren’t a whole lot of reasons to stay inside. Our closets are stuffed with jackets from the clearance sales of winters past. Pick one and get outside.

The high here today in St. Louis is expected to top 70°. We’re headed back to the river to tend to our sailboat, Ex Libris. There’s nothing we have to do – she’s been decommissioned for the winter and is tethered safely to the dock. We’re restless because Mother Nature is teasing us. Or perhaps, she’s sending forth a not so subtle warning. If it’s this warm mid-winter – imagine the blazing inferno of July.

There are a lot of dead carp decomposing on the river this weekend. Typical for this time of year – much like the winter kill of too much inside screen time. Get on out – it’ll do you good.


Captain Joe Fisher aboard his 34′ trawler Feb. 18, 2017, with George at the helm.

Let’s Welcome a Little Acedia Aboard


Taking It Easy

The buoyant version of spring cleaning is known as commissioning the boat. When the temperatures creep above 65º F boaters in the northern lats get the itch to spit and polish their topsides. It seems counterintuitive to begin a recreation season by working one’s butt off but scaly winter white thighs and a tad-tight drawstring on one’s shorts motivate a lot of elbow grease.

We began the process of hanking on the mainsail (it entails hooking the skinny pointy top end of the sail onto a long line that goes 50’ up the mast and shoving the bottom of it along the boom (the long metal beam that runs parallel to the boat and will knock you senseless or dead if you get in its way – hence the term, boom!) last Sunday. This just happened to be Mother’s Day, about an hour or so after I was released from a hospital for a nasty upper respiratory infection. George was humoring me by letting me recover on the boat because part of the treatment includes a drug that makes rabid pit bulls in Mexican cantinas after midnight appear insipid.


Birds decided to build their nest again in the anchor locker –

Over the course of the next few hours I scrubbed stainless steel fixtures, oiled the teak, cleaned the fresh water tank, vacuumed cushions, and profusely sweated. Missing the second through fourth steps of the ladder down the companionway and bruising my inner arm from elbow to pit, I finally took a break.

That’s when it dawned on me, we boaters need to remember to invite a bit of Acedia aboard. Acedia is the polar opposite of engagement and activity. It’s topor, a state of “I really don’t get a darn”, or as Generation Xers say, “Whatever.” Acedia is something rare to most Baby Boomers hell-bent on doing things and keeping the fires of interest in the world flaming. There is a risk for boaters who imbibe too much rum in large Tervis tumblers over not enough ice, that an extra dollop of acedia can lead to apathy and a refusal to keep up the pace. But mostly, that’s just a hangover from the too much rum and too little ice that split the main brace the prior evening. Seeing a messy sailboat is more painful than a glimpse of unwashed undies hanging from a clothesline. Keeping a ship shape vessel is a matter of character – and pride. But still, there has to be a limit to all the spitting and polishing that goes along with keeping up good appearances.

I did not see one other female on the river Sunday. Given that most of the women in the harbor are mothers, daughters, and grandmothers – or at least know such a woman, I could understand the lure of having someone else break out the barbeque and dust the brownies. Not me, I was content with my scrubbing. Acedia is often associated with solitude, in the prison cell sense but more like a monk who took a vow of silence because he wasn’t much good company anyway. I’d intended to relax and do nothing – which on a boat generally means doing something.

Mothers by and large aren’t familiar with Acedia whether they are pregnant with neonates or the reigning matriarch of a clan boasting four generations. Motherhood can be lonely (midnight watch during croup season through 30 minutes past curfew) but it’s rarely a solitary experience. Whether your child is nearby, abroad, or resting in heavenly peace there’s always a sense of being entangled together. This is because our children are made of ourselves and when we are separated this weird spooky phenomenon takes place where we stay eternally entangled. We can sense each other’s existence no matter how far separated by distance and time. This entanglement is as real as a mother’s love that knows no boundaries or the way the moon reflects on water.

Once in a while, it’s good to just set a spell, take in the now of simply being on a boat with nothing more to do than realize that as a Mother you’re never alone – but a little quiet acedia makes it easier to hear the joy in your soul.

Of Marshmallows and Whalers



Whalers @ Middlebridge, Narrow River Photo by JAL

Humans have an innate thinking strategy designed to deliver us from temptation. People are wired with that knowledge that, ‘You can’t always get what you want” – at least not right now. Discerning between wants and needs is tricky. Not getting something on demand is probably being erased from our neural circuits by repeated encounters with the TV remote and Siri.


Eggs (circa 1968) waiting to grow up to be Ghostbusters’ Stay Puff Marshmallows Man

During the turbulent Age of Aquarius, a Stanford researcher with the ethics of Willy Wonka lured unsuspecting but ever so bright preschoolers (kids of faculty and smart students) to his study. They were tempted not by a proverbial apple – but by puffy globs of corn syrup, sugar and gelatin, affectionately known as marshmallows. The experiment was a simple test of kids’ ability to accept a small reward now for a big payoff later. It played out as a game; present the kids with one marshmallow. Tell them they have two options; 1) ring a bell and the marshmallow is yours, free and clear, 2) chill, wait for the researcher to come back in about 15 minutes and get two marshmallows. Hardly the stuff of rocket science but it changed how we envision self control.



I learned about delayed gratification when growing up on Long Island Sound. First, kids had to earn Red Cross Beginners Certificates to be allowed to swim past the safety section roped off for free whizzing toddlers and leaky old ladies in baggy black swim suits. Second, swim lessons always begin the week of high tide and wrap up the second week during low tide. The difference between tides is that at first the swimmers practice blowing bubbles into frigid somewhat clean water and wind up sucking tepid mucky sulfuric smelling sludge into their mouths week two. Most kids endured paddling about in murky stench by focusing on the big kids jumping off the swim dock anchored out past the baby old lady cage. Nobody ever signed up for two sessions of swimming lessons. Freedom was already just another word for nothing left to lose. Hang in through the second week and the entire harbor is your playpen.

Third lesson of growing up in salt water – by their teenage years, everyone has a boat. Everyone that is, except my rag tag friends and me. Parents do not count in this scenario. My parents had a boat but I did not. More than anything in the world, I wanted my own 13’ Boston Whaler. These sturdy skiffs boast the ability to stay afloat even when cut in half. I pleaded my case, “Pop, all the kids have their own boats. All I want is a little Boston Whaler. I’ll even take you fishing sometimes if you buy the gas.”


Prop Walk in a Shallow Story

Pop was all for it – as soon as I got a job and paid for it. Pay for it? I babysat every weekend for a whopping 50¢ an hour. The usual gig was from six ‘til midnight on weekends. If I saved $3 a week ($156 a year) it would take a hundred years to pay for a boat! This was not a funny situation – relying on OPBs (Other People’s Boats) simply would not do.

I needed to be like the Stanford kids who patiently endured 15 minutes distracting their attention from the spongy confection by humming Mozart’s hits, rhythmically kicking their heels on the chair rungs as they visualized twinkling stars and the alphabet letters in sequential order (AB, CD, LMNOP). These were the kids who successfully delayed their gratification, earned two marshmallows, eventually earned top grades on the SAT, and adhered to Nancy Regan’s advice to just “Say No”. Not only did these kids grow up and snag the best jobs in Silicone Valley but for every minute they endured past the urge to snatch and scarf the first marshmallow, 30 years later they had a .2% reduction in body fat over the grab and go kids! Marshmallow therapy made them rich and skinny!

“Keep your eye on the prize, work hard, dream big and it’s yours” was my mantra. At 21 my first boat transaction went down. It was a used, aluminum 12’ Sears Roebuck fishing skiff, with two oars, purchased from my employer, Mrs. Main, who paid me $1.25 per hour for doing clerical work at a nonprofit. The boat ate my first paycheck.

Ten years later we bought our first powerboat, a solid old Mark Twain 20’ inboard outboard (IO) for playing on and in the Mississippi. It was not a Boston Whaler because there simply weren’t any to be found in middle-American boating venues. Unfortunately, we sunk it on a rock dike about two years later. You can’t really sink on a dike as rocks the size of beach balls are smashed more in than under the hull. When a sinking boat is towed to a harbor the river doesn’t bother asking permission to come aboard. It fills the craft up to it’s gunnels. George abandoned ship. Even then, it didn’t sink all the way to the bottom because evidently boat builders expect people to do stupid things with small craft and so they build them with stuff that floats even under extreme conditions such as the Mississippi current hissing, “Surrender the Booty.”

At 39, I owned my first sailboat, a 12’ slab of fiberglass that resembled a faded orange surfboard with a sail. It was sitting forlornly on the front yard with a cardboard, “For Sail, Cheap” sign. It would have cost an entire summer of Saturday night babysitting back in my high school days, but now I was a college professor and could afford to splurge fifty bucks. It was a cash on the spot deal.

Many boats transactions followed – some with sails, some with paddles but none with the seductive allure of the bright blue deck paint of Boston Whalers.

Fifteen years ago, I called home from a Rhode Island marina parking lot, my voice flooded with emotion, “Hey, Pop, I did it. I just bought that 1968 Boston Whaler – paid cash.” The hull cost the same as it did in ’68 and the engine was less than 10 years old. It was mint and mine.

I’m at an age where some pessimistic, “got to get it now people” are joking that they don’t buy green bananas. They are probably the same kids who were happy with just one marshmallow. I’m two feet and two Whalers past my first. When I look at it straight on – my grins are reciprocated as I hum, “If you try, you just might find, you get what you need.”


Seeing is Believing – You Just Might Try

Water Always Wins


RIP S/v Starlight
Photo by JAL

Anything Mother Nature makes she can break and eventually wash it out to sea. The Earth’s maximum terminator is (drum roll please) water. Water can break down and dissolve everything given enough time. Water is patient – it’s been around for over four billion years – today and tomorrow – our lifetime aren’t even a tick of a clock. Over the course of a year enough people die from water related diseases to populate Los Angeles. Ten times more people who aren’t on boats die from un-intentional drowning than those who fall overboard or go down with the ship and drown. Ninety nine point nine, nine, nine percent of boaters never have near death experiences aboard boats. That’s why it’s a recreation – we make good times on, in, and with water.


Mast below dock, boat below mast, keel on river bottom.
Photo by JAL

According to lore, “what the sea wants, the sea will have.” Oversized egos make some people think the sea wants them more than life. They are terrified of drowning. There’s not a sailor who hasn’t had a white knuckled, green cheeked passenger who panicked every time the boat heeled or bucked a wave. I’ve never thought of reassuring such friends that they have a better chance of drowning on land than drowning while cruising. Besides, the adrenaline rush is part of the “90% boredom -10% sheer terror” sailing experience. As captain, my job is to project reassuring confidence as they cling to an extra PFD, and whisper the Hail Mary. Sometimes splitting the main brace is all they need to relax.


Bow to Water

Water is patient. One of the informal laws of nature is that anything Mother Nature makes she can darn well break. She often uses water as the Terminator of choice. Floods, dirty water, droughts, mudslides, tsunamis are weapons of mass destruction. Is it any surprise then, when a sailor fails to take care of the boat – water is going to make a stealth attack and claim the booty as Davy Jones’ very own?

Such was the recent fate of a boat in our harbor. It had been an eyesore for years, collecting wasps, rotting ropes and canvas, breeding mosquitoes, pleading for a restoration. The frozen river bludgeoned her brittle hull, icy tendrils of the silent current breached and violated her to the point of surrender – her anguish silenced as she sunk.

That is a sad boat story. There are happy tales that better capture the sense of why we love boating and savor time on the water. Underlying many of these yarns is a description of a “close call” in the balance between fun and fear. Which reminds me…


Dowry goats got us a whole new generation of sailors who love the sea!
San Diego, Photo by Marlene

We first met our son’s in laws for a day cruise aboard a rented sailboat in San Diego Harbor. Midway across the bay smoke started to billow from the engine compartment. I calmly suggested it was a great time to see how the life jackets fit and test the ship to shore radio by asking if anyone knew it was May Day. Peter, (the father in law) an experienced sailor and an engineer caught on immediately. He calmly opened the engine cover and examined the diesel engine while I grabbed a fire extinguisher (and George – oblivious to the situation – or perhaps because of – grabbed a beer). The problem was water – not fire – there was so much water in the bilge the heat of the engine was creating a plume of steam. He flipped on the bilge pump – George grabbed another beer and Linda snapped great pictures of the Coast Guard, Boat US and the harbor crew coming to the rescue. Water had it’s way into our boat – but we had a way off. We limped back to shore (with the automatic bilge pump cranking) – hopped on another bareboat, hoisted sails, cracked open a bottle of wine and negotiated the number of goats for the dowry.

Boats are symbolic – they represent hopes, dreams, power, and purpose. The boat that sunk in our harbor was a forgotten dream by a neglectful owner. Some among us, consider this to be a relief – they won’t lose sleep over it’s demise. The boat, all 40 plus feet of it, will be refloated, towed away and scrapped. Yet, peering at her topsides a yard beneath the murky surface was deeply disturbing. The river must have a millions of deep secrets. This is what happens when boaters forget to respect water and honor a boat. Water wins.

If you ever come aboard one of my boats – relax. Trust my boat – we take good care of each other. I’ll bring along a bit of sanity, a pocket or so of seamanship, and an intense love of playing on water just to convince you that there is simply nothing better than, well you know, just messing about in boats. It’s a win – win – win for boats, boaters, and water.


Deck Monkey Wanna Bees
San Diego, Photo by Marlene



Jeri’s Sunfish, Solstice
Mike’s Unskinable Boat Afloat
Narrow River, RI

New England fishermen are as effusive with conversation as Putin is with accolades for Ellen hosting the Oscars. The watermen have a word for things that are good and wonderful – “finest kind.”  I fished around for some of the finestkind things learned from simply messing with boats.


Sailboats in Bali made to make you Eat, Pray and Love
Photo by JAL

#1.  Water always wins. It doesn’t matter whether your vessel is a little plastic toy floating in the bathtub or the Titanic – water can sink it in a jiffy. The sea can mount a hostile takeover with a single wave that sweeps everything below without a trace.


Fair warning worth heeding. La Jolla
Photo by JAL

Water is sneakier than the brightest of rats. It has the patience of Job to stow away in the lowest, dankest point of the boat until it is joined by billions tiny moist molecules whose sheer volume outweighs the boat and takes her down. Wakes, waves, splashes, rain, snow, ice all leave welcoming instructions for the next form of H2O to come aboard.  The majority (57% – 70% – depending on how many tequila shots you downed last night or the number of hours recently spent skiing sand dunes in Dubai) of the human body is composed of water – but it’s not enough to trump the power of a body of water, whether it’s a puddle, pond, or ocean.


Baby Maggie on Board, ETA 36 hrs. w/Grandma
La Jolla, CA, 2012

Babies are nearly three fourths water which in fact makes them – as far as hydropower rules – even stronger than adults. Everyone of us was gifted a finestkind moment of triumph over liquids when we broke our mom’s water and were born wet into the world. That is why deer, the climate, and fish on the Georges Bank fear mankind – as a species – we’ve got a lot of water power to flaunt and minimal impulse control.


When the tide goes out the Bali lagoon is bone dry out to the horizon.
Photo by JAL

#2.  Beauty is a beastly thing to maintain. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a 12’ plastic kayak or a 34’ fiberglass sailboat, taking care of her means providing protection from the sun (much like slathering sunscreen so you’re not bothered by paparazzi mistaking you for Dame Maggie Smith on holiday by the sea), keeping her hull, topsides and cockpit clean and buff (think a mani & pedi in Brazil), and her working parts functional (throw in a full body massage – plus tip). The finestkind moment of spring commissioning is when a skipper finishes fixing, scrubbing, and polishing only to gaze at the boat, grin, gasp and fall in love for another season.

#3. Trust thy boat as thyself. Wise sailors learn to appreciate the rule of water and the physics that separate floating from sinking. If you’re going to own a boat, no matter how many safety rules you follow, you’re gonna make mistakes. Survival also depends on a metaphysical sense of trust between you and the vessel.  Respecting water doesn’t mean being terrified all of the time. Safety rules. You’ve got to know what you can (make a call on the Ship to Shore radio, reef the sails) and can’t (navigate in fog, sleep with rain streaming through the overhead hatch) do – and when the can’ts threaten the safety of the souls aboard – what to do next. If you are comfortable alone with your boat there’s a fair chance you’re also comfortable in your own skin. The finestkind of trust between people and boats floats comfy on competence and confidence – both are born of experience and mature into wisdom.

The finestkind sense of being boaters is buoyed by memories of past days afloat that warm our souls during these frosty months when water play is simply a soggy dream.


Artwork by Elle, Age 2 @
Camp Mimi, Riva Ave

Whistle While You Work


Narrow River, RI
Boats Afloat

My Mom could whistle really loud by putting a piece of grass between her thumbs, cupping her hands, and blowing. My brother Scot caught on pretty quickly but I never mastered the grass thumb whistle. Whistles are a big thing in the lives of boaters. Coast Guard Rule 33 mandates that vessels 12 meters or more in length carry a whistle. Boats of 20 meters or more must have a bell in addition to the whistle. For those of you planning a Caribbean cruise with a bottle of Kaopectate and a few thousand other vacationers, take comfort in knowing your safety is ensured with a whistle, a bell, and a gong on board that makes a loud tone and sound that can’t be confused with a bell. Little boats like our Whaler, Finn and fleet of kayaks can get away with just a whistler aboard.


Grandpas and Trains

My grandpa was a railroad-man who worked the caboose. Like sailors who built their homes with a view of the sea, Grandpa always lived near train tracks. One warm afternoon he took my brother, cousins and me to watch for trains by standing near the tracks that bordered the lawn. He checked his pocket watch and grinned, “I’ve got a surprise for you.” and waved at the approaching freight train. To our amazement it stopped right in front of us. The engineer stuck his head out and in a deep baritone called, “All Aboard!” We clamored aboard the massive locomotive engine, waved at cars stopped at the crossings and rode from Caledonia to Retsof right into the round house. Each of us got to blow the whistle at least once as we powered through cross roads. I probably got to blow it more than once, because I was the oldest and my brother could always just blow his grass whistle.


Newport Homage to the Sea

Two advancements in scientific research were announced last week. First, dolphins whistle at each other by name. They apparently choose their own whistle signal and keep it for their entire lives. Proper dolphin etiquette is to address others by their name before launching into conversation.

Play it Like Jagger

The second announcement involves the connection between music and workouts. Our gym caters to Baby Boomers and the sound system blasts rock and roll oldies and moldies. Classic rock often makes me feel like Keith Richards looks, it does not enhance my endurance or the joy of a good sweat.  According to researchers, making music, by singing, humming – or whistling rather than just listening while exercising makes for easier workouts. It’s daunting to think that fitness centers will morph into karaoke lounges. I know a lot of words to many songs but not all of the words to any songs so I’m going to follow the seven dwarves and whistle while I work out. If we meet during one of my sessions and you hear a whistle – consider it a dolphin sort of greeting.  However, if I blow out five short blasts – back off. I’m trying to tell you the workout is killing me, or my life is off course, and I need some space between you and me.


End of the Line
What a ride we shared.

Railroads decoupled cabooses long ago and liability lawyers assure us that wayward children are not allowed in train engines where they could be tempted to blow the whistle. I’m glad whistling increases one’s emotional motor control while messing with boats because playing in and on the water demands a degree of fitness. With all of the physical energy required to sail or kayak it’s nice to know that by simply whistling we can boost our sense of wellbeing and better enjoy time on the water.