Ride, Sally, Ride


Who’s That Sailing On a Tin Can? Photo by NASA

There are still 26 days until the Solstice but yesterday we jumped the season, cast off the dock lines, and sailed Ex Libris into summer.   We would never have left the dock without the help of our dock mates who have far more mechanical skills, tools, and how to fix anything experience, than we’ll ever know. It’s not that we’re dumb, as one pal explained to our daughter, it’s just that we know that by admitting what we don’t know (about fixing boats) – friends who know what to do are happy to help – and ready to set sail as soon as it’s fixed.

I like to think of myself as a confident, competent captain. I can navigate, steer, trim sails, scrub decks, sand and stain teak, and cook. Big whoop. Can I rewire the radio and troubleshoot a dead battery? Nope. Fix the hot water heater? Nada. Change the oil – yeah, maybe – if someone would show me how – but there’s no rush here. Does that keep me dock bound? No. I’ve got friends with skills, I’ve got boats, and I can sail.


I don’t look like Anne Bonny in my dreams. Not much. Photo via Wikipedia

I fantasize being a brave, challenging woman of the sea like the pirate, Anne Bonney – a fierce hell-cat of a sailor. Legend has it she drank like a man and pissed like a woman – perhaps a tribute to her tumultuous romance with Captain Jack. BTW –her last words to him when he went to the gallows, were “if you’d fought like a man you’d need not be hanged like a dog.” Johnny Depp wept.

When I wanted to become a sailor – I began with a little boats on small ponds and learned by doing. My learning curve included regular and unexpected capsizing. Two-foot-itis keep me trading up until now – with a big boat on a big river. We have friends who have sailed out of the river and into the bigger waters beyond. Other women more honorable than pirates dream of sailing to the stars. One of them, Sally Ride, was born the same year as me. Dr. Ride worked her butt off and despite the “no balls no sit in the rocket” attitude of the time, she became the first woman NASA allowed to sail off-planet. She retired her astronaut status the 80’s and rode out her time as a physicist inspiring girls to dream like Einstein and create the future through science.

Einstein said we are all related to and by time. Anne’s been gone for over 200 years – Sally just three. Whether dreaming of being free at sea or sailing on a comet’s tail – young girls and their grannies are bound through time with child bearing pirates and lady astronauts. Time on boats is well spent and often best savored in the company of good friends – especially the ones with skills.


Being a STEM Geek is something young girls can do. Dream big. RIP Sally Ride – that lady had skills. Photo by NASA.

Shallow Up


Our Lady of the River @ Portage Des Sioux from Palisades Yacht Club – erected as a “Thank You for Not Flooding the Whole Town in 1950”

Rivers, lakes, and oceans have some places where the water is deep and others that aren’t. Boaters put a premium on knowing the difference. When the bottom unexpectedly meets a hull the results can be catastrophic, so boaters seek water that’s relatively deep. Novice swimmers (regardless of their height) tend to do the opposite and feel more secure when they can touch bottom.


My (in the) River Home during 2013 spring flood – parking and grassy area to Palisades’ harbor

We can get into real trouble in water whether it’s over our heads or beneath the keel and propeller. Depths vary between the spots where water kisses dry land and the deep abyss where living things take it upon themselves to light their way.

People are not just made mostly of water – they tend to act like deep or shallow ends. We all know at least one philosopher savant who makes simple things complex and often drowns us with details ad nauseam. We grow exhausted fighting the current of drawn out discussions that appear to have little meaning to anyone past the first drink and no end in sight. Then there are our easy breezy pals who never dive deep into any conversation. These easy chatters bring a light chop to dialogue that carries us through the next round. Somewhere in between are the acquaintances that are much like uncharted waters. We’re not sure whether their cups are half full or empty – and don’t really care. Not knowing the details makes navigating some relationships really interesting.

I know people who think, “I’m really not all that deep – what you see is what you get.” That’s a misleading statement. You can’t always tell what lies beneath by what the surface looks like. This season the river has gone from flood (more than12’ feet below our boat in the harbor slip) to the lowest levels (3’9” beneath us on Saturday) many of us have ever seen. Take for example the Mississippi River last weekend. We set sail on our friend’s sailboat, Mariah. As we prepared to leave the dock, numerous sailors warned that there was less than a yard of water at the mouth of the harbor. Our skipper affirmed that he had a retractable centerboard and we’d only draw about two feet of water beneath the hull. Sure enough – out we went into the river channel.


“Frankly, Scarlett – it is a dam.” @ The Lady of the River’s feet – fall 2014

It was a beautiful day for sailing – steady 10 knot winds from the north. We headed back with big grins and wary eyes ahead looking out for the rock dam that extends from the Lady of the River across the slough (a skinny channel set apart from the main river by a series of islands). We knew almost exactly what lied beneath – but not how far the lie went. The golden autumn sun was setting low in perfect alignment with the slough and the wind was at our bow. We had to squint to read the current as it swirled the energized, dancing waves in a chaotic rhythm. We saw the line of whirlpools and white caps that signaled shallow depths – but the river unexpectedly went shallow under quieter water. With a sickening series of thuds the centerboard rammed the dam and had a rocky ride over its crest.

Bent centerboards don’t retract back into their kangaroo pockets beneath the hull. A harbor mouth that was “deep enough” a couple hours earlier – was a greedy sucker that swallowed the centerboard and held the boat solid in it’s jaws. We were stuck. Drama ensued with a tow by the harbor master, sheepish nods to the naysayers who warned us to stay tucked in our slips, and a certain sense of satisfaction that we really did have a great sail while everyone else busied themselves ashore. Rather than wreck the day with deep analysis of what went wrong – we all sort of shallowed up. Our small community offered to help fix the boat and get the skipper back on the water ASAP.

Of course – the river’s going to have to rise up and lift Mariah off the bottom. Then our conversation will be deep enough to be interesting and shallow to the extent we keep our mood afloat.


Sky above goes up forever, river below keeps on burnin’. Alton bluffs seen from Portage des Sioux. 10/19/14



Ragtime is on the left. Don in black T shirt assisting John Heald who is changing a light bulb.

Huckleberry Finn said, “The June rise used to be always luck for me; because as soon as that rise begins, here comes cord wood and pieces of log rafts-sometimes a dozen logs together so all you have to do is catch them.” As luck would have it one June day, Huck fetched himself a right fine canoe. Later on he got himself a raft and a travel buddy – the river was a swollen freedom trail and a boy’s ultimate summer camp experience. Merrily, merrily, merrily, life was a dream in the stream.


Don enjoying an afternoon at La Rosa Cantina & Bar Mile Marker 212.4

Having buddies with boats is pretty much a survival skill for anyone who has a boat. Most sailors consider themselves pretty darn independent and self sufficient, but few have the hankering for solitude like Henry David Thoreau. He wanted to be all by his big boy self and live alone on Walden Pond to learn from nature. Huck and Henry had at least one thing in common – they learned that if you move confidently in the direction of your dreams, and work to live the life you’ve imagined – you will live those dreams. Huck felt the bonds of friendship afforded rich stories that were swapped among crew mates and enhanced life afloat.


Mary Ellen waving farewell. Bon Voyage

Our friends Don and Mary Ellen Morrison have been best buds for over 50 years. They took God’s advice to Noah, and climbed aboard as two people who make one couple. They love messing about in boats so much that they sold their home, cancelled the land lines and woke up to the dream of living aboard their 37’ Endeavor sailboat, Ragtime. Next weekend they will toss the dock lines of their slip in Sioux Harbor and sail away – for good. They are embarking on a grand adventure up to the Northern Channel of Lake Michigan and then, kind of like Forrest Gump running all the way from one ocean to another only to turn around and go back – they are going to sail south. They have no estimated time of arrival, deadlines, or commitments – they are just going to sail away together.

People are generally skeptical about dreamers, critical of vagabonds, and hesitant to be known as river rats. The world is so much more interesting because of people who can imagine things that aren’t yet. Not all of us have a strong desire to travel or the resources to fuel wanderlust.  We don’t really know why some of us have a passion for experiencing the unknown, confronting fresh challenges head on, and getting to know other ways of life.  Some folks are arm chair adventurers who extract thrills by reading about other people’s travels. That’s pretty much how I’ll experience Ragtime’s voyages –  by reading posts on their new blog. It won’t be the same as greeting every day afloat and bidding the sun adieu from a cockpit, and feeling totally satisfied with the knowledge that to wander is not to be lost.

Fair thee well Don and Mary Ellen. Enjoy the ebbing June rise – it will bring you luck.


Carpe Diem

The Imelda Marcos of Boat Shoes


Call Me


Imelda’s Tootsie Keepers

           Last year the world shuddered at the news of Dictator First Lady in Exile Imelda Marcos’ tragic loss of her entire collection of 3,000 shoes. Among the lost soles are a pair of white Pierre Cardin heels. Termites ate them and mold rotted their perky little heels. Her fame was due less than her role as Dictator First Lady than her reputation as the epitome of excess in the Philippines. In her words, “I really had no great love for shoes. I was a working First Lady; I was always in canvas shoes. I did nurture the shoes industry of the Philippines, and so every time there was a shoe fair, I would receive a pair of shoes as a token of gratitude.”


A Shoe for All Seasons

I understand. Every time I go to a boat show, a ship’s chandlery, or pass a Sperry Topsiders’ store, I seem to acquire a new pair of boat shoes. My collection is up to 46 shoes. Less than Imelda’s but 44 more than Mary Ellen’s and she’s a live aboard sailor. I have seasonal favorites, beginning with my spring bamboo woven pink flowers on tan, pink & pale pink two-eyes, darker pink three-eyes, and preppy one-eyed pink, white, and emerald green. When hot weather comes and I’m not wearing flip flops (two pair are Topsiders) the seasonal fare includes yellow, light blue, tan, and light blue, Nantucket red, and madras canvass. Fall brings on the hounds tooth and corduroy, camouflage green, Black Watch canvass and cordovan (cute little anchors tooled in the leather). By winter I’m ready to slip into sturdy Blue Fish standards, a snugly pair with furry lining, or my new Navy blue boots with the really cool medallions.

I went to a Women on Water seminar (St. Louis Sail & Paddle) last Saturday (they don’t stock boat shoes). The theme was that women are from Venus, Men are from Mars, and most sail boats are Captained by human beings that pee standing up. Women were encouraged that it was not necessary to “grow a pair” to command a vessel. However, they should learn all aspects of sailing so that if Captain Bligh is knocked over board by a rogue boom that the woman may or may not have been responsible for securing, said woman will have options. Well, the presenter might not have said or implied this but my take away is:  confident sailing women who know the ropes (and sails, and navigation, etc) can and should take charge when they want to because they can. For example, if a woman practices how to do a Man Overboard maneuver; she knows how to conduct a rescue. She’s also got the chutzpah to toss a life ring and circle around the sodden, misogynic, control freak a couple of times reminding the soaking Captain Testosterone that a woman’s independence is a strength and if he doesn’t get it he can swim to shore.

The Ex Libris is docked in a gender-balanced harbor, probably more Uranus than Mars or Venus. All of my female dock friends are on their first marriages and can sail. Most are proficient at the helm or as crew. Crew is anyone saddled with the job of hoisting and tuning the sails, taming the wind, yanking the lines every time the wind changes or you want to change course. Frankly, lugging a huge sail up a 50’ mast is not my idea of recreation – hence, George serves as the crew or, Deck Monkey. We women eschew being, smelling like or working as hard as a Deck Monkey. We like taking the helm and we don’t bark orders. That’s what’s different about River Rat Winch Wenches – we don’t ask any man for power– we take it.

5Logo We also like fashion and accessories (custom embroidered shirts, hatbands, and jackets) to embellish the jargon laden sport of sailing. Some women decorate their cabins with nautical tchotchkes and wear nautical styles of jewelry. I decorate my feet. Deck shoes serve as a function, an amusement, a fashion (lack there of), and a secure platform to walk on slippery decks. My collection is probably 25 years old. By rotating through the seasons and flip flopping most of the summer –  deck shoes really don’t wear out. And, like my jeans, striped shirts, patch madras Bermuda shorts, embroidered caps, emerald green slacks, and pink oxford Polo shirts – they never really go out of style. The thing is my shoes fit me and acknowledge my passion for the sea and all things boats. George just smiles and compliments my shoe-thing and is content to be First Mate.  He’s pretty confident that should he ever fall overboard his Captain wouldn’t circle three times before hauling him back on board.

Pirates of a Certain Age


Rags Raised

Our second son is an attorney who specializes in elder law. He often counsels families on fine details of Granny and Pawpaw’s estate planning. The grandparents are often in their 90s, the kids in their 70s, and grandkids in their 50s. He says the 90s are a hot time in life – most folks got the math down pretty good and know a thing or two about saving for rainy days. They’ve got enough stashed away to give the great grandkids more than just good advice.


Chicken Sheet

I spent the weekend surrounded by other grandparents and two of our own grand kids. We whiled away Saturday aboard the Ex Libris, our sailboat, playing pirates on the Mississippi with a rowdy band of grandparents. There were a dozen other boats flying Jolly Rogers, flinging rubber chickens, and drenching opposing crews with water cannons. All of the scally wags were in proper attire and the letter right between Q and S (if I hear it one more time I’ll scream) was yelled more times than a hip-hop rapper can drop the F bomb.


Big G Won a Cutlass for Best Pirate Costume

When I was a kid during the middle of the last century it was politically correct to play cowboys and Indians. Our six shooters were filled with bright red rolls of caps. The pungent aroma of burnt power was one of the best smells of childhood, followed by a fresh can of Play Doh and the sugary scent of a slender slab of bubble gum that came free with baseball cards. We built forts in the woods and played baseball in back yards with out any adults tending to our super egos. If someone cheated he or she was summarily chased, caught, and pummeled.  Although the rules of any game changed depending on who’s house it was played – it was a given that somebody would break the rules. Wondering who and when was part of the fun. Getting away with breaking the rules and winning was pure ecstasy.

By middle age the smell of a new car pretty much topped burnt caps and our weekends were consumed watching our kids play games. They were very organized games with referees and red cards that could eject a player who broke the rules or a parent who dropped an F bomb (rather than the letter right smack between Q and S) right out of the park.


Cap’n Bloody Bruce’s Boat

But during all that time there was one toy that was ageless. A boat. Whether it has an engine, paddles, oars, or sails, a boat is simply one of the best toys ever invented. Boats enable people to play on or in water, dance with waves, float a dream, and drift way.   Donning a pirate hat, slipping into a worn pair of Top Siders, and raising the main sail piques the same imagination we had as kids. Pirates get to break the rules all the time! It’s their job to play dirty and Cheat! Grandpas leer at nauti-wenches and are rewarded with a sly wink and a soaking shot of river blasted from a PVC water cannon. Flasks of personal choice poison are quaffed and by day’s end the booty is surrendered.


Pirate by Day Grandma by Night

Boats bring forth one of the best scents of the good life – water. Playing pirates allows anybody to break the rules and play make believe on real boats. Eventually, I’ll have to sit down with my heirs and plan for rainy days when we can no longer float our boat. But thinking of Randy at work today – I am pretty confident that being only in his mid 30’s he is not expecting to inherit a boat for another quarter of a century. Who knows whether playing pirates today will be thought of tomorrow as yet another politically incorrect game of a generation who simply never grew up? Who cares? We got to keep the rubber chicken as a souvenir and I passed on my foam cutlass to our oldest granddaughter. Heck, maybe I’ll make her the captain someday and break the rules of inheritance etiquette. Argggghhhhh.


Nice Heir