Saturday, July 15, 2023

There and Back Again (and Again, and Again)

I feel like I have whiplash from so many turn-arounds. We’re going. We’re not going. We’re selling the boat. We’re not selling. We hate sailing; the heat, the flies, the rocking, the puking. We love sailing; the breezes, the sunsets, the swimming, the relaxing. When it’s good, it’s very very good. When it’s bad it’s horrid.

Mind you, Rick and I have rarely been in the same place at the same time about all of this. When he’s ready to cash in his chips and sell the whole bloody lot, I am nostalgically mourning the loss of our vacation home. When Rick comes around to remembering all the wonderful times we’ve had on the boat, I am remembering how God-awful sick I was on that last passage. I tell Rick that I can never, ever go through that again, but then I weep all the way back to Baltimore. 

Rick is in a transition period, facing retirement and trying to figure out what he wants to do with his remaining time on earth. He realizes that he hasn’t felt the old spark of excitement and joy about sailing for quite awhile, and the immense amount of work and expense involved in owning a boat is no longer offset by the small amount of pleasure he gains from actually spending time on the boat. Waning interest and an aging body are certainly arguments for giving up this punishing hobby, and perhaps adopting or developing some new ones. 

But ending his thirty year relationship with sailing means giving up a huge part of himself that he may not be quite ready for. Paradoxically, freeing oneself from the responsibility of boat ownership will mean the end of the freedom he feels being out on the open water, in a self contained vessel, far from the responsibilities at home.

By the time we’ve made our retreat back to Baltimore, Rick has had some second thoughts. He loves this boat, and the idea that we are at the end of our time on it is just inconceivable. Everywhere he looks he sees the beauty of the design, the gorgeous teak, the uniqueness of this particular craft. Of course, he also sees alterations he has made, parts of himself now part of the boat. The time to give it all up may be nearing, but perhaps it could wait another year or two? We had both worked hard getting the boat ready, loading on clothes and provisioning for a four month trip. There must be a way to salvage our dream.

First, we needed to attend to some practical matters. Back on anchor in Cape May after that aborted Block Island attempt, Rick did dive overboard to check the drive shaft, and see if he could find the origin of that unwelcome clicking sound. To his great relief, he determined that the clicking is coming from the new line cutter he had installed this spring, and although annoying, the noise is perfectly innocent. He also checked the drive shaft, and although not perfect, he thinks it will be okay for this season. Once back at home, Rick was able to fix the head, along with a few other pesky issues, and we  got a professional to add some coolant to our fridge system.

But wait, what about my seasickness? Well… 

I discovered that the Zofran I was relying on to stave off nausea had expired. As in, WAY expired, FIVE years ago. D’oh! I have new stuff onboard, I was just too cheap to move on to the fresh pills when I still had old ones to use up. A legacy of my mother, I’m afraid. Anyway, I also recognized that, much as I dislike the effects of the scopolamine patches, I like seasickness even less, and I cannot allow myself to be in that vulnerable of a position again. I convinced Rick that if we took a more gentle passage to Block, I would wear a patch and use up-to-date Zofran and be fine.

Rick does some careful study of the forecasts, and it looks like we have a decent chance of a good weather window for an offshore trip to Block Island in a couple of days. We would need to leave now to get to Cape May, refuel, and then take off in the early morning. 

We should have known this was a bad idea; it would mean four straight days of sailing with very little sleep for Rick. This is a plan we wouldn’t have attempted when we were much younger, let alone now with Rick pushing seventy. Dreams are powerful things.

We say goodbye to our son Dewey (again), and head out. Our indecisiveness is clearly in evidence though, because over the next three days, we change our minds several times, keeping Dewey abreast of all the latest developments. The crazy off-shore-to-Block plan gets nixed and we head for home, only to decide on a slower, safer plan half way there and we turn around once more. 

The irony of all of this, is that the last two days were glorious, wonderful, perfectly sweet sails. With no medication at all, I had not a touch of seasickness, finally having acclimated to life on a moving vessel. Rick found his love of sailing ignited once more, and we both enjoyed a naked swim once on anchor. The birds, the breeze, the light, all reminders of what we love about cruising. 

(Don't worry, that's his THUMB)

At long last, the decision gets made for us by outside forces. Anchored again in the Bohemia River, Rick investigates the drive shaft more thoroughly, and this time he is not so optimistic about its condition. A set screw is missing, a sign that Rick’s earlier fix of the cutlas bearing has failed. Everything still works, for the moment, but a thousand mile trip to Maine and back would put the engine at grave risk. The boat needs to be hauled, and then professionally worked on. Our mission is officially aborted.

Dewey picks up the phone and says, “Let me guess. You’ve changed your minds again and you’re coming home!”

So that’s the end of this summer’s adventure. We’ll be driving to Maine to see our family. We might still do an extended trip around the Chesapeake in the fall. And we’re not selling the boat, at least for now. 

But if you’d like to make an offer…

Saturday, July 8, 2023


Plan all you want, but you never really know what the future has in store. 

We made it to Cape May, pretty well intact. We aren’t very happy with the performance of the head; it’s leaking small droplets of outside water every time you pump it. And we’ve discovered that the propane grill is not lighting properly so steaks need to be cooked inside. Minor issues. But we noticed that the ice box isn’t quite as cold as it had been when we first started out a few days ago. This is more serious. Maybe the refrigerant is low? That had happened nine or ten years ago, in fact getting so low that we burned out the compressor, starting a small fire in the galley area. Not good! We had to have extensive and costly repairs done, and we were told how to monitor the coolant to make sure that never happened again. Now, what was it that guy told us? The repair was done so long ago that neither of us remembers much of anything. Clearly we haven’t been doing any monitoring. 

Phone calls ensue. The outfit that makes our refrigeration system, Seafrost, is located in New Hampshire, and Cheri, the woman who runs the business, spends quite a bit of time trying to help us. No one in the area of Cape May repairs Seafrost systems, and even if they did, getting someone to make a house call on short notice in peak season is simply out of the question. After sending videos and photos back and forth, Cheri thinks we are indeed low on coolant, but that we can fix the problem ourselves. All we need are some inexpensive supplies from an auto parts store. So instead of relaxing at the beach and resting up for our passage to Block Island, we spend the day biking to hardware stores and Ubering to Auto Zone. 

Wait - we have to put what onto where?

The parts aren’t exactly right though, so that means more work the next day, and more phone exchanges with the ever-patient Cheri. Our system is so old and out of date, we apparently need an adapter to make the new parts work. We’re planning on leaving for Block the day after tomorrow, not enough time to have the adapter sent to us here, so we have Cheri send it to a marina at our destination, and we’ll just get some extra ice to put in the fridge until we get there.

So with only one day left to enjoy Cape May, we bike to the beach, have Mexican for dinner, and then return to the boat, ready for our epic passage. 

We’ve chosen our departure day carefully, checking the weather updates, looking at the intensity and direction of the winds. The last few times we have made this passage, the wind petered out, and much to Rick’s disappointment, we ended up motoring most of the way. This time the winds look to be steady and strong, and he hopes to save the motor and do some real sailing.

    My method of dealing with possible seasickness during a long passage has always been to slap on a scopolamine patch, and then use Zofran - the nuclear-option anti-nausea med - if necessary. I have learned to really hate those patches. Dry mouth, metallic taste, dulling of personality, all seemingly worse as I get older. Often the seas were so calm in the past that it seemed I had gone through those side effects for nothing. I decide to go with just the Zofran this time, and leave the patch in its package. What could possibly go wrong?

As soon as we are through the short canal and into the open ocean, I am immediately aware that the motion is different here. How could I have forgotten? It’s too late now for a patch because it would take four hours to take affect. I settle into the cockpit for a rocky ride, assuming I will adjust. Keep looking at the horizon, breathe, keep your eyes away from anything close, breathe some more. Odors are always magnified when feeling nauseated, and the smell of sunscreen, normally kind of pleasant, is now disgustingly cloying. It doesn’t help that the head is more seriously afflicted than we realized, backwashing contents from the holding tank into the toilet bowl, creating a smelly mess.

Rick and I had both noticed an unwelcome clicking sound while underway, new this year. It doesn’t happen when the engine is running, only when we are under sail, so when we first heard it in the Chesapeake, it seemed innocuous. But about three hours into this voyage, Rick is curious, and goes down below to investigate. The sound is ominously loud down there, and he thinks it is coming from the drive shaft, which turns the propeller. This is significant, because Rick had done some work on that drive shaft just in the last year. The cutlass bearing was machined by someone who knew what they were doing, but Rick had snugged up the aperture with a little extra epoxy, and now he's worried his fix has failed, and could be doing damage to the bearing or even to the engine. We are under sail at the moment, but it is dangerous to be out in the middle of the ocean without an engine. You need it in case a bad storm develops, or your sails or rigging fail, or God forbid, someone falls overboard. 

While Rick is stewing over these possibilities, I am already succumbing to gut-wrenching seasickness, retching into the bucket we always keep handy. I have taken as much Zofran as I’m allowed for the next eight hours and it is clearly not having the desired effect. I only have one job while we are underway; don’t get seasick, and I have failed miserably. I am getting terribly dehydrated because I can’t keep water down, and now I’m developing painful muscle cramps in both legs. I can’t stand up to stretch them because the boat is bouncing around with terrible force, and I’m still nauseous and afraid I will throw up all over everything if I can’t keep my head close to the bucket. I am truly in agony. 

This job of mine, to take care of myself, is not a small or unimportant duty. Rick, as the captain of our tiny craft, is responsible for everything and everyone aboard, and since he is single-handing, he needs to be able to concentrate on the task at hand, not to be worrying about me. Now, seeing his wife so afflicted, Rick can’t help but be distracted, and miserable himself.

The winds are doing exactly as predicted, we should not have been surprised. But we are so out of practice, we both have forgotten what it’s like to be out here under these conditions. We should have chosen a less ambitious plan, a day with less wind, but it didn’t look like there would be a day like that for at least another week, and we were seduced by the idea of getting to our Block Island paradise as quickly as possible. We both underestimated my seaworthiness, but also the deepness of Rick’s exhaustion, still not having recovered from the effort of getting the boat ready in the first place. Tending the sails and keeping us on course require great strength, and Rick is feeling his age.

This is the moment. Rick has what seems to be a complete epiphany about his time with sailing, and suddenly he is done. 

“We need to turn around,” he says. “We’re going back, and I’m selling the boat.”

Monday, July 3, 2023

La Bohème

We’ve made it to Cape May. Before the fourth of July, by the way, something that has never happened before in all of our previous journeys. Getting here was idyllic in many ways, at least for me. Rick is tired out from all of the preparations, and not as into the trip as he usually is. For the first time since I have been joining Rick on these odysseys, I am the driving force, pushing us forward and on to the next spot to anchor. I’m not sure what is really going on there, and I’m somewhat concerned.

Rick has shown me the tidal charts along with the weather predictions, and he tells me that Wednesday is the day to shoot through the C&D canal and down the Delaware Bay. That gives us just two more days, and we make the most of them. There’s not much wind, so we motor or motor sail most of the way. This is my preferred set of conditions, because light winds mean light waves, and no seasickness. But it does mean putting up with the sound of the engine, and I deal with that by either using ear plugs, or better yet, noise cancelling headphones, listening to audio books. Rick doesn’t like this option because I can more easily ignore him. I also look rather ridiculous with my sun hat on top of the earphones. But since I don’t have to look at myself, I don’t care.

Even though the winds are on the light side for us, other intrepid sailors are using whatever wind they can get. We pass what appears to be a sailing school, having a little race. There are multiple categories of small sailboats, single sailed Sunfish, racing dinghies, and a few colorful Hobie Cats.

We anchor the first night in Still Pond, and the second in the Bohemia River. There are fishing weirs obstructing the entrances at both of the anchorages, new since the last time we were here. At first, we aren’t sure if we can get around them, but enough room was left for deep drafts and we manage just fine. The weirs are a bit of an eyesore, a clumsy human thumbprint in these beautiful natural settings. I have to admit though, the “natural” world seems to have adapted just fine. Fishing weirs are set up as a means to direct fish into a trap, kind of a maze for unsuspecting fish. Herons and cormorants have learned that the weirs offer easy meals for them, and several are camped out looking for dinner. They appear to self-segregate, the herons on what is probably the most advantageous section, and the cormorants, second class citizens, farther down the line.

Bald Eagles abound in the Bohemia

A more natural setting for Herons in Still Pond

The Chesapeake Bay has famously brackish water, half salty from the Atlantic and half fresh from the rivers and streams that feed into it. The Bohemia, being so far north and far from the ocean, has almost no salt and that makes swimming very enjoyable and refreshing. We are anchored in only about six or seven feet of water at low tide, and that makes diving from the height of the boat somewhat dangerous. We both use the ladder, but Rick only goes down a couple of steps before diving in. I opt for the slow torture method, one step at a time until finally submerged in the cool water. It takes me a long time. I always say I’m going to speed things up next time, getting the pain of coldness out of the way as quickly as possible, like ripping off a bandage, but I never do. I’m too chicken.

Once in though, the water is wonderful. Often by this time, the water is bath-warm, and the nettles, or jellies, will be coming up the bay in midsummer and they prevent swimming unless you really want to get stung. Right now is the perfect cool, nettle-free window. So good in fact, that Rick suggests spending extra days here, noodling around in various anchorages and relaxing. I’m worried that if we take too much time here we will be forced to make up the time later on, skipping some of our favorite destinations, in order to make a family reunion deadline in August. 

We re-examine the charts and wind predictions, and Rick agrees with me that tomorrow is not only the best day to go, but the only time for at least a week. So poor Captain Ricky will need to get up at 1:00am to catch the tide and take us down to Cape May, getting us there around noon tomorrow. Since my main task when we're underway is to take care of myself and try to avoid seasickness, I get to sleep until morning. Don't think that I'm getting the better end of the deal though, because when I do get up in the morning, I am indeed sick and have to take a Zofran (or two).

By noon, we are on anchor.

Friday, June 30, 2023

On The Road Again

The pandemic is officially over. The proof is that Rick and I have taken off on a new sailing adventure, this time for four months over the summer and early fall. We plan to sail to Maine and back like we have done a number of times before, but for this trip take our time doing it, returning to Baltimore sometime in October. 

There were no boating excursions during 2020, at least for us. The marina was closed and we couldn’t get to our boat to do the usual maintenance and repairs, let alone have the boat put into the water. Besides, there was nowhere to go: any extensive sailing trip includes stopping at marinas for fuel and water, and like our own marina, they were all closed. So we spent that first pandemic year in our house, taking walks, streaming movies and being hermits like everyone else. 

Since then, we've taken Valkyrie on a few short trips, but nothing major. Rick added a new under-decks self-steering system to the boat, and struggled with the installation all of last summer. We finally took off in the last week of September for a short jaunt in the lower Chesapeake, but it rained for almost the entire two weeks. It’s been four years since we’ve taken the boat all the way up to Maine, and boats don’t do that well just sitting on the hard, unused. There was a lot of preparation necessary this year before we could take off on a long excursion.

We cleaned and polished the hull, washed the deck, oiled the teak, refinished some of the woodwork, repaired the toe-rail, washed, waterproofed and repaired the boat canvas, and repainted the bottom, all before putting the boat in the water. 

Valkyrie goes in the water!

Just for comparison, Rick's dear friend Tim launched his 28' Triton the day before we went in. Valkyrie is 35'. (Not that size matters of course.  😁)

Then there was the provisioning. Several trips to buy bags and bags of nonperishables, canned goods and the like, loading on clothes, personal items, etc.  I don’t know how we managed to fit it all into the boat. We flushed the water tanks , and filled the water jugs with drinking water.

Something new this year; ants. They have apparently taken advantage of the boat being on the hard for so long, and they have moved in! I had to use Terro ant killer which they love to eat and carry back to their nest to kill everyone else, and I feel badly for them. (But not THAT badly…)

Our dinghy has been hanging out on our back patio for the past year, and we kept forgetting that she wouldn’t just be magically transported down to the boat somehow. Once Valkyrie was basically ready to go, we couldn’t put off dealing with her any longer. So we rented a UHaul truck and our son Dewey helped load her in. The mid-Atlantic had been in a drought for many weeks at this point, and rain was finally on the way, but - welcome though it was - it came one day earlier than expected and doused our moving day. Of course it did. 

10' truck wasn't big enough for the 10' dinghy. Ricky and rope to the rescue.

Aaaaand then the battery in the truck died so we had to jump it.

The target date for our departure was in early June, but as usual, we fell way behind.  The silver lining was that we had lots of extra evenings to spend with Dewey, cooking, playing games, watching movies and having fun together, before he begins his solo stretch of housesitting for us. I think he might prefer that we don’t go at all, but the day does finally arrive and we are ready to go. 

We loaded in an embarrassing amount of perishable groceries, optimistic that our refrigeration system will work, and a multitude of bags of stuff we had previously forgotten. In the midst of our loading frenzy, Rick’s brother Jim arrived for a visit, bringing bon voyage gifts of beer, cheeses, assorted crackers and a beautiful orchid. Not sure what her name will be, but she joins our other plant (Hermie). Believe it or not, Jim gave us that little guy a number of voyages ago, and he's still with us.

By the time we’re done with stowing everything away, putting on the sails, and doing all the last minute preparations, the sun is on its way down. Neither one of us wants to spend the night in the slip - too demoralizing after we were so determined to leave today - so we motored out along the Jone's Creek channel and anchored less than a mile from our marina. It’s official. We are on our way!