Tuesday, August 31, 2010


I am not afraid to admit it.  They're out to get me.  It would seem that every piece of technology I've touched lately has in one way or another stopped me from getting to point B.

First it was while we were on the 2 week leg of the trip this summer.  I filled my camera's memory card.  "No problem," I thought.  "I'll just dump these onto Todd's laptop."  I pulled the card out, slid it into the laptop, copied and pasted.

"What are you doing?" he asked.  I told him that I was loading my pictures on to the computer to get them out of my camera.

"Hey, what's with this funny icon?" I asked.  He took the computer from me. 

"Beej, this is my work laptop.  It's encrypted.  Now all those pictures you put on there are encrypted.  You'll probably never get them off of here now."  And then the tantrum ensued.  Luckily, Todd managed to unencrypt them, but I still haven't had a moment to get them off of his laptop and onto mine.

You see, my own laptop has been slower than weight loss.  I've complained about it, ad nauseum.  I've started negotiations for a new one "If you get me a new laptop, I will never ever ever pester you about leaving your dirty clothes in the living room ever again.  For the rest of our marriage."  The offer piqued his interest, but we've been too busy to pick a new one out.

"Ah, you don't need a new laptop.  Yours is riddled with viruses.  Let me take this into the office and get it cleaned up for you," he offered.

"What do you mean 'riddled with viruses'?  My manuscript is on there.  Man. U. Script."  Then hyperventilation ensued.  A lot of it.  A paper bag over my mouth may or may not have been involved.  I will neither confirm nor deny.

So, the laptop's in surgery.  I was supposed to go get it yesterday after work.  During lunch I ran some errands at the bank, got an oil change and the swung by the dive shop to pick up a tank that had been serviced.  I said goodbye to Red, the owner of the shop, and inserted the key into the ignition.  When I turned it nothing happened.  The engine didn't roar to life, I didn't pull out of the shop and drive back to the office.  Nothing. 

I got my jumpers out and went back into the shop and held them up as Red was on the phone.  He winced then followed me out.  We clamped the cables on.  I turned the key.  Nada.  I glanced at my watch.  I should have been sitting at my desk for a good 10 minutes by that point.

Phoned AAA.  Roadside assistance dude came out but was able to provide no such assistance despite the fact that I was near the road.  I turned the key while he hit various parts of my engine with a stick.  I didn't think that method would have worked anyway, but kept my mouth shut.

Three hours later the tow truck arrived.  The driver hit the engine with a stick as well.  He turned the key and the engine roared to life in perhaps what would be the last time the starter on my car would ever work.  I drove home, pulled the car into the garage and now I wonder if I'll ever get it out again when Todd and I take it to the mechanic next week. 

I arrived home after 6 by that point, frustrated that I'd missed an entire afternoon of work.  I turned on the desktop computer that I rarely use and attempted to log in to work.  Access denied.  Tried again.  Access denied.  I swore.  I threatened.  I negotiated.  I used various phrases starting with the word "mother" until finally something went right and I got in.

I worked for a few hours and stumbled upon an email from the surgeon currently operating on my laptop.

"Hi Beej, hoped it would have been ready but there are about 6500 pieces of spyware on it.  It keeps blue screening, but I am still working on it."

"That's OK," I wrote back.  "It's not like I was going to get there anyway.  It would seem that my jeep has about 6500 pieces of spyware on it and the starter blue screened today."

But today is another day, and I am determined for it to go better.  It'll start with taking Todd's car to work instead. 

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ausable Chasm

I never knew this place existed. I never would have even thought about it. But just west of Plattsburgh is a mini Grand Canyon called Ausable Chasm.

The Ausable River carved its way through the sandstone over the years until it created a chasm filled with fascinating rock formations at every turn. We hiked along the rim of the canyon with some leather clad biker dudes who had ridden in from Mississippi, Cincinnati and further west in New York state. We asked them about riding all that way, and they asked us about sailing all that way. Such different modes of transport, yet there we were all in the same place.

Then we had the choice of following the trail to the bottom of the chasm, or staying along the top. We debated the pros and cons of each way.

“Well, when we go tubing in the river we’ll see it from the bottom anyway,” I reasoned.

“Yeah, but from the top it’s just the same damn thing,” Todd countered. “At least with the trail on the bottom we’ll get close to the rocks and really experience the chasm.” The biker dudes agreed and we all descended the staircase, marveling at the towering walls of sandstone over us at every angle.

We followed the trail until we arrived at the line for the tube or raft rides. We had bought passes to tube the river and joined the end of the line. Luckily there were more tubes than rafts, and more people waiting to ride a raft than a tube, so we were able to bypass most of the line. We stood at the bottom of the chasm and waited for our turn. We watched the chasm staff lower rafts with a crane from the rim to the very bottom just in front of where we stood.

I tucked my camera back into the dry bag I’d purchased in the gift shop. The guide dropped the tube into the water and instructed me to walk down the steps and flop my ass into the center of the donut. The cold water splashed me and goosebumps instantly formed on my arms and legs. Todd flopped into his tube and the gentle current took us downstream.

The walls created an optical illusion. The layers of rock traveled slightly upward, giving the impression that the water would flow downhill, however the water was largely stagnant. We went through a small rapid, the left channel was decidedly narrower than the right. Of course, I was pulled into the narrower side, and eventually got stuck where the channel was smaller than my tube. I edged my way through the pass while Todd sailed by me on the wider stream, laughing all the way.

Once we turned the corner we waited for the guided rafts to pass out of sight. We jumped off our tubes and dunked into the water, thus breaking the rules we’d read when we signed up for this little adventure.  The cold water swirled around me and I dunked my head after Todd had said "Come on, you have to dunk your head.  When are you going to get the chance to do this again?" We climbed back in just before another guided tour came through. “Breakin’ the law! Breakin’ the law!” I sang to Todd as he giggled. 

We went through the larger rapid, and I squealed like a little girl the whole way through. Then we gently flowed on near still water to the end. We climbed out, boarded the bus, and caught glimpses of the chasm through the trees.

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

From the Back Seat

The thing about traveling by sailboat is that once you get somewhere, like a town, you don’t have a way to explore easily. There’s always going by foot, which is great because we don’t get too much exercise sitting on our butts on a sailboat anyway. At one point we bought some foldable motor scooters, but we never really managed to get them to work right. (Secretly, I knew they’d be more of a pain in the ass than they were worth. Now they are sitting against the wall on my side of the garage at home.) We’ve rented a moped in the past, just so we could cover more miles when we got to port, but no matter where we go there’s usually a taxi.

There was the time in Newport when we felt like dorks taking a taxi to the Walmart. But overall we find them handy. For a few bucks we can go to the supermarket and stock up on provisions. For a few bucks we can go just about anywhere and learn something about the local area from a local character. (There was the time we got a ride with a cabbie who was also a rabbi AND a minister. Figure that one out. If you can, let me know because I still haven’t. I think his business card said something to the effect of “Rabbi John Smith, Baptist Minister. “ What?)

On Tuesday night we took a cab around Plattsburgh just to check things out. Our cabbie was a bit of a dud. We like to get restaurant recommendations from cabbies, because they are always in the know about those sorts of things. We’ve eaten in really terrific restaurants that we never would have found otherwise. The Tuesday night dude said that he typically eats fast food because it’s cheaper. Then he pointed out the McDonald’s with the lake view from the back parking lot. We ended up eating dinner at Irises, which was wonderful.

The driver that took us to Ausable Chasm on Wednesday was a bit better, because he knew the local area. He told us about the history, and the fear the locals felt at the start of the Gulf War in 1991 when, seemingly, hundreds of jets deployed from the now defunct Plattsburgh Air Force Base. I could imagine it as we drove by the base.

The one we had on the way back from the chasm was fabulous. He was originally from Burlington, and he talked about local restaurants as if he were a human Zagat guide. We ended up at the local Mexican joint anyway, but knew it would be good because he’d said so.

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Damaged Goods

It was going well. We left Burlington and were headed west to cross the lake and end up in Plattsburgh. I took the wheel, the wind was coming from behind. To stay on course I needed to keep the boat dead north, and Todd had warned me not to stray further than 10 degrees.

I meticulously watched the compass in the GPS, our bearing hovered at 2 degrees, right on target. And then I, stupidly, blinked my eyes. And then the compass read 30 degrees. And then Todd said “Holy shit! Thirty degrees?” And then he said, "Look out!" The mainsail jibed—rapidly changing from the right side of the boat to the left. It’s the kind of thing you see in movies, when the sail goes flying across the deck and the character gets smacked with the boom and goes flying overboard. It happens that quickly

I didn’t get hit with the boom. I got hit with the main sheet, the rope that attaches the boom to the boat at the very tail end of the boom. It’s this rope that controls how far out the main sail will be. The rope, coiled around pulleys on the boom and where it attaches to the boat, was pulled taut. The coiled rope struck me on the right side of my back as I tried to dive out of the way. The force of the boom sweeping across the boat caused the rope to shove me hard onto my left side where I smacked my hip on the edge of the wall in the cockpit. I crawled out of the way, but it didn’t really matter. I’d already been hit, the wind knocked out of me I struggled for a breath while tears flowed down my cheeks. The pain stretched across my back and centered on my left hip.

I remained at the wheel for the remainder of the ride to Plattsburgh. I pressed my body against the steering wheel to give the main sheet ample room to move around behind me. I flinched at every noise. The bruise forming on my hip could not sustain the weight of my loose cotton shorts; I unbuttoned and unzipped to alleviate the pressure.

We arrived in Plattsburgh and created our own mooring. There was the weight below the water and a buoy on the surface, but nothing to tie our boat to. I leapt into the dinghy with ropes and shackles in hand while Todd circled Sabine in a holding pattern in the mooring field until I was ready to tie on. I clipped on the shackles, I waved him over, I grabbed her bow and expertly slipped the mooring lines to the post, momentarily forgetting about the pain in my back.

Back on the boat, Todd inspected my bruise which had formed into an ugly purple splotch just below where my bathing suit bottom would sit. I felt it throb as the blood rushed into that spot and wondered how I’d sleep that night. He walked, I hobbled, in to explore Plattsburgh for dinner.

Plattsburgh is the former site of a large and active air force base. The city itself is small, and I am sure it struggled with the closing of the base. We roamed the streets and I tried to picture how it would have looked with uniformed airmen ducking in and out of storefronts. And I wonder where all those airmen went after the base closed. My fifth grade best friend had moved to Plattsburgh at the end of the school year because her father, also in the Air Force, had been assigned there. I tried to imagine her walking around Plattsburgh as well, and wonder whatever happened to her. (I see a Google stalking session in my future.)

We made plans to explore the local area more the next day, with a trip to Ausable Chasm as we ate dinner at a sidewalk café. I slouched in my seat to keep the pressure off the bruise.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

It's Going By Too Damn Fast

It's already Wednesday night, and this week in the northern part of Lake Champlain is going by way too fast. Right now we're in Plattsburgh, NY, some 20-30 miles from the Canadian border. So far I've managed to jibe the boat and end up up with a bruise the size of my fist right where my ass meets my left hip. But I've also explored some places I've never been before, and thoroughly enjoyed those places so long as nobody touches my left butt cheek. But let's go back to Friday night so I can get you guys all caught up.

First there were 150 pears. On Tuesday night we checked on the pear trees and decided we needed to harvest before leaving on the trip. And we couldn't just pick all those pears and not do something with them because then we'd come home to 150 rotten pears that we may as well have just left on the tree. We put the coffee table up on the dining room table and placed the pears up there to ripen out of the reach of prying snouts. Nemo especially loves the fruit trees on our property, it's a smorgasbord of apples, pears, blueberries and peaches that occasionally fall to the ground. A trip out to do his business ends up in an unexpected snack. What's better than that? Let me tell you, there's nothing better than an unexpected snack. I should know. It's the promise of an unexpected snack that keeps me returning home when Todd's there. And he uses this to his advantage all the time.

We brewed up two batches of pear ginger jam on Friday night. Todd's a jam-master. Not the rapper DJ kind, but he rocks the Ball jars. I ground up the pears using the fruit-basherator attachment for our Bitchen-aid mixer. Todd boiled the jars, peeled some fresh ginger... then about 2 hours later we had 24 jars of jam.

Saturday morning we made two more batches, cleaned out and packed the truck and drove a leisurely ride to Rutland, VT. We spent the night at Todd's parents house while they were attending a high school reunion in Albany and we had the joint to ourselves. Let me tell you, it's pretty weird to be walking around naked in my in-laws house, but whatev.

Sunday morning we headed to the Rutland Airport, which is basically a shoebox with planes parked behind it, and picked up a rental car. The plan was to leave our truck at Chipman Point, then drive the rental to Burlington. So far we've spent God knows how much money on one way car rentals, and snuck the dogs into 3 out of the 4 rentals. (Just so you know, an old fitted bedsheet works wonders at keeping the dog hair off the upholstery.)

We arrived in Burlington and met up with Todd's old friend Brian for the sail from Shelburne (where we'd left the boat) to Burlington. Brian good naturedly helped Todd fix our carelessness with the dinghy. We'd forgotten to close the air vent on the dinghy's gas tank. The bottom of the dinghy filled with rain water, which then caused the tank to float and flip over to fill the tank with water and the bottom of the boat with gasoline. But when 2 badass Eagle Scouts put their heads together....

Blur... sail to Burlington, grab a mooring, head in to shore, drink lots of margs, eat enchiladas, then meet up with my old friend Laura. I haven't seen Laura since the night before she left our dorm in Australia. She was another American student living at Dunmore Lang College. She only did 1 semester in Oz, while I did the full year.

Laura came walking up to meet us at the Echo Center in Burlington. She looks exactly the same... her beautiful blonde curly hair, her cheerful voice, her boisterous laugh. It brought me back to when we were 20 and exploring our lives on campus just outside of Sydney. It's amazing how much can change in 16 years. We're both married. She has 5 year old twins. And the time I spent with her was way too short.

Monday morning we bombed around in Burlington, and then Tuesday was the trip across the lake and north to Plattsburgh. I learned a very important lesson about sailing with the wind from behind en route to Plattsburgh and how precarious that can be. Until I tell you about that, I'll be sitting on my right butt cheek.

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Solo Dive

I've never been diving alone. The thought of it scares the crap out of me. There are way too many things that can go wrong. What if I get stuck in some abandoned fishing line and can't untangle myself? This is a common concern among New England divers. It's for this reason I impersonate a Bond girl and keep a knife strapped to my leg. (I also use the knife as a way to get Todd's attention. No, not that way. I unsheathe it and clang it against my tank until he gets the message. He loves that I do that, by the way. (not))

Laat Sunday morning we took the Under Achiever to the northern side of Prudence Island. Our friends Sean and Heidi were with us, and the mission was to collect as many quahogs as possible for the party with the Ya Yas that night. We armed ourselves with catch bags, Sean and Heidi rolled off the boat first. I rolled off next and waited for Todd to gear up.

"Beej, just go down. It's not like we'll stay together anyway. When we're digging for clams we'll kick up too much silt anyway. Just go down."

After asking him "Are you sure?" about 15 times he said "Yes. We're only in 10 feet of water anyway. It's not that big of a deal."

And it wasn't. But it was at first. I descended alone, and the viz sucked. I couldn't see a damn thing and smacked into the ocean floor.  You know, that big thing on the bottom of the ocean?  I didn't see it until I was in it. I swam into the current, so that on my way back to the boat I could ride the current and not be too tired to get back, with a catch bag full of clams.

I plunged my fingers into the mud in search of clams, then looked over my shoulder. Todd wasn't at arm's length away, and the butterflies awoke in my stomach. I sucked on my regulator a bit harder and tried to calm myself down. The depth gauge read 11 feet. I took a fix on my compass, and told myself "Just get some clams and get it over with."

I reached down and felt my first clam.  I pulled on it, and it wouldn't come free.  Then I pulled on it again.  I swam closer to it to get better leverage on it.  I yanked and it still wouldn't budge.  Then I noticed a dark blotch in front of me.  Holding the clam, I swam toward the blotch.  The blotch actually was Heidi.  The clam was in her catch bag.  I dropped the clam, hoping she wouldn't notice that I tried to steal it, and waved. 

After about 10 minutes I thought to myself, "Now where the hell am I?"  I'd been following a compass bearing to the southeast, but I couldn't tell where I was.  I popped up from 9 feet to see.  I saw the boat anchored not too far away, but didn't see Todd anymore.  I scanned the surface for bubbles, but couldn't see any through the waves.  I shrugged and descended again.  Hadn't found any clams yet that weren't already spoken for.  I plunged my hands into the mud again and felt something hard.

The clam was so big that I could barely Fit my hand around it.  It was firmly wedged into the mud, I pulled harder.  My legs flew up behind me, too buoyant.  I had set up my tank too high, so my head kept bonking on the tank valve and my legs flew up behind me.  This would prove to be a nuisance every time I tried to pull a clam out of the mud.  With every clam I found I would hold onto it with my fingertips as my legs flung themselves upward until I was completely inverted with every clam I caught.

I also learned on this solo dive that when you're digging around in the mud you can't see a damn thing.  I had to hold every hard object found in the mud up to my face to inspect it.  At one point I even learned that crabs don't like it when you yank them off the ground to look at them.  I felt the claw pinch my thumb.  I frantically shook my right hand to free it and watched it fly off ass over teakettle back into the cloud of silt around me.

I looked down at my air gauge and saw I was down to 800.  Time to surface.  I popped up, took a compass bearing and went back down, figuring I could catch more clams on the swim back.  A few minutes later I popped up again and heard Todd say "There she is!"  He jumped in a nd swam back to the boat with me.

He pulled my catch bag onto the boat and inspected it, "This is only half full.  You were down there for an hour and this is all you got?"

Sean looked in as well, "But they're fricken huge!"  Then I looked down and saw the mountains of clams that everyone else caught.  We robbed the ocean of 400 some-odd clams.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Squirrel du Soleil

Where there's a will... there's a way.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Last Full Day

“And what are we going to do today?” was the question that hung in the cockpit on Thursday morning. Burlington had been “done” the day before. We got into town just in time for lunch, and then what?

The only logical answer to that question was to rent electric bikes. We arrived at the bike rental place while the bike rental guy showed us the bikes. They looked like ordinary bikes, but they had a battery pack under the seat and an electric motor on the sprocket of the back wheel. When you pedal a sensor picks up that your feet are cycling around and sends juice to the motor on the back wheel. You get something like three times the energy from one cycle around on the pedals. And then there’s the throttle handle in case you don’t feel like pedaling.

OK, electric bikes? Wicked cool.

Once back at the boat we untied from the mooring and threw up the sails. Because we could, as the masts and sails were back on. As the sun threatened to set, we sailed west right into it toward New York. The wind was perfect across the beam (perpendicular to the boat) right where Sabine likes it. If she was an actual woman, she’d turn toward it, a contented smile would cross her face and she’d arch her back and sweep her hair off her neck to feel the breeze cool her skin. She kinda did that. She tipped slightly in the opposite direction and silently flowed through the lake.

It was with that sail that we’d traveled more than 500 miles since leaving East Greenwich on July 3.

The next morning we sailed to Shelburne Shipyard, where we’d leave Sabine until getting back the week of August 16th. She’d been taking on more water than we’d like since the great rope mishap at Chipman Point a few days before. Apparently my carelessness with that rope, and it’s wrapping in the prop, caused the prop shaft to fall out of alignment.

Luckily there is a Yanmar mechanic at Shelburne, so he can suss out what is wrong with Sabine’s diesel and fix it before we’re due back. A phone call after we’d left her there revealed that the water leaks in the engine room caused the pulleys on the belt system on the diesel also engine mounts to rust to the point where they are no longer even a little bit viable. Long story short, wrapping the line around that prop could have knocked the diesel off its mounts and render it entirely useless. So, in a way it was a good (but very costly) thing that I’d wrapped that line and misaligned the prop shaft—else we’d never known about the rusted out engine mounts.

Friday we rented a car, piled the dogs, bags, kids and us into it and drove to Massachusetts to meet my brother and sister-in-law to give them back their children. Then the long and tired ride back to Rhode Island.

But the adventure resumes in a few short days.

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Monday, August 09, 2010

An Evening with the Ya-Yas

Years ago I read “Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood” and thoroughly loved it. I even envied the connection the characters had, the lifelong friendship, the brutal honesty and the got-your-back-ness that these characters have for each other.

And then I met these women in real life on the back porch of my friend Sean’s parents’ house on Sunday night. I hadn’t met Sean’s parents, or these women, before. But I heard the stories. Sean’s mom and these women get together every year—the get together usually involves consuming every drop of alcohol within a five mile radius and holding their sides from laughing constantly. They took me into their fold on the back deck and kept my margarita glass filled.

It was the margarita pitcher that first got my attention. It couldn’t have been more than 2 quarts, yet Kathy had upended the bottle of tequila into it. A salted glass was placed near my elbow as I helped Todd in the kitchen, I sipped it and felt my nose hairs burn from the overpowering tequila and who knows what else was poured into that pitcher. I swirled the glass to get the ice cubes to even out the drink. I told myself that after finishing this one, the next one would taste better—only because my tastebuds would be drowned.

When I brought snacks out to the deck, the women convinced me to join them. I had imagined I’d help Todd, Sean and Heidi in the kitchen, but felt superfluous in there as they buzzed around like bees in a hive. I pulled up a chair and listened to their stories, and their gossip.

They roped me in immediately. Cookie was talking about the group’s arch-nemesis, Nancy. I gathered that this Nancy character had a nasty habit of talking trash about the children of these women. I held up my margarita glass and declared, “Nancy Schmancy!” The rest of the women cheered. I was in. The subject of Nancy came up a few more times. I tipped my marg back, felt the tequila sting and then soothe my throat, and said “This Nancy chick is a downer! Let’s talk about something else.” They cheered again and my glass was refilled. Kathy agreed, “Let’s talk about the subject!” I set my marg glass aside, my hand covering it as if I was attending a frat party. I wondered which of the Real Life Ya Yas would slip me a roofie.

I didn’t end up getting roofied, but the chowder did. A few of the women occasionally left the patio and then came back minutes later saying “I’ve just been kicked out of the kitchen.” It happened to Donna. To Karen. To Cookie. I was talking to Cherry and didn’t pay much attention to the comings and goings from the kitchen. I assumed Todd and Sean were being polite “Go on the deck, have fun, we’ll take care of the cooking…” Because that’s exactly what they would say when cooking at a party.

Later on, as I helped with grilling the corn on the cob, I learned the real story. Todd and Sean fiercely guarded the pot of chowder. They’d left it unattended a few times and had drunken women spiking it with various spices. Out of the corner of his eye Todd saw Donna think aloud, without tasting the chowder, “This needs salt.” Before he could act she picked up the container of sea salt and, because she was drunk and lacked coordination, dumped a cup of salt into the pot. Karen desperately searched for dried parsley and peppercorns to lob in there. Earlier in the night Sean had tasted the chowder and said “Man, this is so salty…” he tossed some corn starch into the pot and I guarded it until Todd turned it off. Apparently the spiking had been going on longer than we thought. Sean’s sister ran out to the store to retrieve more milk and cream, Todd resuscitated the chowder as Sean's niece served as a rodeo clown to keep the women out of the kitchen and then dinner was served.

The lobsters glowed red from the platter. The stuffed quahogs (also very salty as Donna had mysteriously struck again) and stuffed lobster tails were lined in neat rows and ready to eat. I was pulling charred corn off the grill, and we feasted into the night.

We said our goodnights, and I received hugs from all the Ya Yas. On the way home I vowed not to get so caught up in my own life and be better at maintaining my own friendships. I also vowed to let Todd do the cooking and to keep my own hands off the salt.

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The Land of Phish, Ben and Jerry

Burlington, VT is a little city on the shore of Lake Champlain. It’s filled with funky little shops, and is in close proximity to the University of Vermont. It’s where Phish got their start, as did Ben and Jerry’s ice cream for that matter.

It’s a clean city, its shops and restaurants thriving with tourists in the summer. I’ve never been to Burlington in the winter, but I remember the first time I’d ever been there. It was a few months after Todd and I started going out in 1997. He’d just finished his stint as the waterfront director at a boy scout camp in Benson, Vermont—about an hour’s drive south of Burlington. He’d moved back home to Rutland after camp closed, and I met him there on a Friday night after work. On Saturday we drove to Burlington and shacked up in a room in the Holiday Inn just outside the city limits and explored the city the next day.

The next time I was there was on the great 1999 sailing trip aboard Sugar Mag. We picked up a slip at the Community Boat House, and I reveled in the hot shower on land. We walked up the hill to explore the city.

This time around we picked up a Community Boat House mooring, which are first come first serve each day. We easily grabbed one, and then set about preparing for the trip ashore. The dogs were fed, but couldn’t wait until they got to shore to take care of business. We casually pooper-scooped the decks into the lake while other boaters moored nearby weren’t looking.

The skies threatened rain. The day before a storm raged through while we were in Westport. The rain fell perfectly perpendicular to the ground for a good 15 minutes. Luckily Todd was going out to the boat to take a nap anyway, so he managed to close up the cockpit curtains and windows. I sat in the restaurant with Maggie, Krys and Hali and watched the rain slam the windows. “I am sure Uncle Todd would like the help out there,” I nodded to where I remembered we’d docked the boat. The rain was so thick we couldn’t see it anymore, “But we’d just get drenched. Who wants ice cream?”

We closed the cockpit and windows and piled into the dinghy. We piled into a taxi to take us up the hill to Church Street. Normally it’s a 10 minute walk, but the air was heavy with the heat and humidity that Todd said “I don’t want to walk in this, it’s gross. Taxi!”

First stop, Ben and Jerry’s!

We browsed the shops. Todd bought me my “vacation bling” which is a beautiful handmade silver necklace. I instantly put it on and it glowed against my tan skin. The rain fell intermittently, and it didn’t stop us. We walked in the rain. We ate Mexican food for dinner. Eventually I got cold, so Maggie and I stopped in a shop called Common Threads to look for a sweater for me to throw on. Nothing fancy. Just something to keep me warm for the rest of the day.

I spotted a lime green cardigan on the rack and glanced at the price tag. It read some obnoxious amount of money, I think it was $95 for a thin little cotton cardigan. Sure it was cute. But not $95 cute. Maggie glanced at the tag and raised her eyebrows. Her mom raised her right, and she knew $95 was too much to spend.

We left the store straight away, and she gestured to the sign outside, “Common Threads? Yeah, Common Bullshit.” And we laughed conspiratorially. We were two women exploring a city together, not just aunt and niece. And I know that in a few quick years we’ll both be two women navigating our lives, careers, marriages, and whatever else we both end up doing. But it still doesn’t feel like that long ago that I first saw her on the day I’d returned home from Sydney. She was 10 months old by then, born two months after I’d left the US. Someday she’ll just call me “Beej” instead of “Aunt Beej” and that will likely mark the moment when we are both on the same life level.

Todd and Krys went back to the boat while Maggie, Hali and I continued to walk around Burlington. Eventually Krys expertly steered the dinghy ashore to pick us up. I smiled at my 14 year old nephew. He’s my Godson, and he was cruising along with his hand on the outboard tiller like he’d done it all his life. I oozed with pride.

“Wanna drive?” he asked after I sat down.

“Nah, you’re doing a good job,” I replied. And I knew he was glad I said no.

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Sunday, August 08, 2010

Revisiting Conception

It was 11 years ago when we’d sailed to and from Burlington over a span of 10 days. It was our first real sailing vacation and it was the one that had gotten us hooked on sailing trips. We were aboard Sugar Magnolia, a 26’ Pearson Commander. Sugar Mag wasn’t nearly as luxurious as Sabine. It had 4 bunks inside, the mattress on them was maybe 2 inches thick. The toilet was located under the bunks in the forward portion of the boat. To use it we had to pull up the cushions, lift up the wooden panel and then secure a sarong I’d fashioned into a curtain with a clothes pin for a little privacy. The shower was a foil-lined pouch. Once filled with water the pouch was left on deck and heated by the sun, usually to just barely lukewarm.

It was at Conception Bay in 1999 that I’d taken a solar shower in Sugar Mag’s cockpit. The sun had just set and we had the bay, located just south of Burlington, to ourselves. I stripped down and Todd held the solar shower pouch over my head and sprayed me down. I shivered while I shampooed and soaped. Once I warmed from near hypothermic levels it was nice to feel clean. But I’ll never forget cowering naked in the cockpit with my teeth chattering while the soap ran down my skin.

This time around we left Chipman Point on Tuesday morning and headed north to Burlington. We passed all of the familiar landmarks on the way—Fort Ticonderoga, the slight stench of the International Paper Company’s mill on the New York side of the lake. We passed Larabees Point and saw the cable ferry pass in front of us, and then pass behind us again as it headed back to the Vermont side. The ferry travels back and forth on a cable, and boaters like us need to be very careful not to get to close to the ferry as the cable is only a few feet below the water line.

The Crown Point bridge has since been dismantled and is being rebuilt. But the lake opens wider just north of that point and it looks less like a river and more like a lake. On the western shore we stopped in Westport for a late lunch. I have photos of Todd from 11 years ago feeding the ducks off the dock at Westport. I looked for the ducks when we arrived on this Tuesday.

We traveled further north and crossed back over to the eastern side of the lake. We tossed the anchor just south of Garden Island, in roughly the same spot where I’d taken that shower in the cockpit 11 years before. The kids and Todd went swimming. I spotted a hot air balloon on shore. But mostly I marveled at how far we’d come on this trip, and how far we’d come in our sailing life as well.

Back then we were thrilled to have a functioning toilet aboard. The sink didn’t function and we didn’t care. We used a butane stove to cook, and I drained pasta overboard. Dishes were washed in the lake. Teeth were brushed over the side of the boat, toothpaste spat into the lake. Perishables were kept in an ice chest. Bars of soap were brought onto deck for a bath in the lake or the solar shower in the cockpit, filled from the lake. Potable water was in a 2.5 gallon Poland Spring jug. Careful consideration was given to food when provisioning. Non-perishables were kept in a Rubbermaid bin. Macaroni and cheese was a popular staple, but we bought the kind with the gooey cheese instead of the powdered cheese, this way we wouldn’t have to buy milk and butter too. Muffins and pints of OJ were for breakfast, PB&J for lunch.
For entertainment we brought a “boom box,” CDs and batteries. We had no internet access. We had books and a deck of cards. We still have CDs, but Todd’s loaded most of our CD collection on his iPod anyway. We have a sound system aboard Sabine now, with speakers, the wires to them running to and fro behind the walls. The iPod is controlled with BlueTooth. Todd bought a mobile hotspot thingy so we can have internet access. We have a refrigerator that runs on power. We have a shower (with hot water and tiled walls) and toilet in separate rooms. The mattresses on the bunks are several inches thick. We still play cards and read, but we have the option to watch a movie streamed through Netflix on the iPad.

I look back fondly on the time we spent aboard Sugar Mag and all the time we spent on that restoration, and every moment of Sabine’s restoration. I am so grateful for the opportunity to go on these adventures and to be able to explore the world from the relative comfort that Sugar Mag once offered and that I take for granted aboard Sabine.

That night on Conception Bay I realized that we only had two more full days aboard Sabine. On Friday we would get into a rental car and make the ride back to real life. I tried not to let it bum me out.

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Thursday, August 05, 2010

Back Together Again

The high whine buzzed near my ears. Exasperated, I swatted at it, rolled over, and pulled the covers up to my ears. Within minutes my body was dripping in sweat. I kicked the covers off and moments later I was covered in mosquito bitten welts. On and on it went until I fell asleep out of pure exhaustion sometime before sunrise.

The sun streamed through the window, and the heat of the day had already settled in. I threw on some clothes and met up with Todd, Maggie, Krys and Hali to go over the plan for getting the masts put back on.

Before I knew it, we were tying up to the docks just in front of Chipman Point’s crane. Chip stood on the ledge near the crane and helped us position Sabine because the crane is fixed. It goes up and down, but it does not go side to side. Sabine had to be positioned precisely under the crane so that when we picked up the mast it would be balanced so that it wouldn’t crash into the deck, or worse fall into the water.

We moved the mizzen mast out of the way and hoisted the main mast into position. This involved a great deal of wrangling, balancing and negotiating. At one point the cable slipped out of the gear on the top of the crane, and Chip hauled Todd up to fix it. Krys was on the dock handling the lines, Maggie was with Todd and I on deck guiding the mast into position, while Hali was on shore tending to the dogs and taking advantage of the ship store’s honor policy. When I looked at our slip later, I saw that she’d painstakingly written what she’d “bought” from the store in the neatest cursive she could possibly muster.

When the main was in position we stopped to take a break. Todd’s parents had brought some pizza for us. We ate, and then the exhaustion from the lack of sleep had set in. I stared into space until Todd convinced me to take a nap.

But before I went to bed we needed to turn Sabine around so we could get the mizzen mast step into position under the crane. We had to rotate her 180 degrees. This involved tying ropes to various points on her corners and pulling on them to turn her around. The diesel was running, and it was in gear. I held a long rope in my hands, and momentarily stopped paying attention to how much of it draped into the water.

Then the rope, once slack, suddenly grew taut in my hands. The engine stuttered loudly and I realized what had happened.  I was careless with the rope and it had gotten sucked into the propeller. And, dammit, I knew better than that.  Todd jammed the throttle into neutral, I ran to the back of the boat and saw the rope, tied to a cleat on one end and pulled superhumanly tight to the underside of the boat on the other end. I tugged on it, but it wouldn’t give a bit.

Before I knew it Todd had donned a mask and snorkel, and jumped into the water. He swam to the back of the boat. After a few minutes he freed the line and we managed to get Sabine turned around.  I held the rope in my hands, it was melted in the spots that had gotten wrapped.  Looks like we'll need Charlie to splice up a new set of lines for the jib sheet.

We sat down to take a break while we waited for Chip to run the crane to get the mizzen put up. Maggie was talking to me. I swear her lips were moving, but I don’t know what she was saying.

“Your eyes are pointing in 2 different directions, Beej. Time for bed,” Todd nodded to the boat. I didn’t argue. Krys dinghied me to the boat, which was still positioned under the crane, I crawled into bed.

When I woke up the mizzen mast was up. Krys was tightening the standing rigging (cables that hold the masts up) with a pair of vise grips and pliers (the same exact way I’d seen Charlie take them off a few days before) while Todd and Maggie were putting the cotter pins on the remainder of the stays.

We had 1 remaining stay to hookup, the one that goes from the top of the main mast to the almost the top of the mizzen.

“I’ll go,” Krys volunteered, while slipping into the climbing harness. Todd tied in “Oh shit” line to it and Chip raised Krys on the crane. He retrieved the stay and clipped it into place, the Chip lowered him down again.

And with that, the masts were in place. Once back on our slip we put the sails back on, Maggie scrubbed the decks, and we fell asleep exhausted.

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Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Half Way Mark

Sunday was our half way mark. And for the first time since we left New York City the week before we didn’t wake up and immediately head out. We woke up at Chipman Point and had a few things to figure out: 1. when would we put the masts back on, and 2. what would we do that day. I suspected that the day’s activities might include swimming and eating ice cream.

The thing about Chipman Point is that the marina has the last crane on the lake north of the locks. This means that it is the last opportunity on Lake Champlain for sailboats to have their masts taken down before heading into the locks. The bridges over the Champlain Canal are way too low for a sailboat with masts to fit under. Heck, there was one bridge where we thought we might not make it under with our masts laid on deck.

Years ago when we kept our boat at Chipman Point we met loads of Canadian sailors who had their masts taken down at Chipman Point. They came down the lake from Canada, presumably on their way to some exotic locale, and Chip and Dick worked to take down their masts. Then they left, headed south, with their Canadian or Quebec flag flowing off the stern.

Todd met with Chip that morning to figure out when we’d get our turn in front of the crane. Chip was already working overtime to repair a Canadian powerboat, and was engaged in an argument with a French-Canadian sailor who was very insistent that Chip take his masts down immediately. Chip shrugged and pointed at Todd and said “Well, he got here first, he’s next.” The French-Canadian swore at Chip in French, Todd said “Look, this guy’s going to give you a hard time, we can wait until tomorrow. It’s all good.” Chip thanked him then finished the motor on the power boat, and dismasted two Canadian boats before he got to us at noon on Monday.

We had all of Sunday ahead of us, and we spent it anchored in front of Fort Ticonderoga. The fort is just north of Chipman Point, and every Sunday they hold a battle reenactment. Todd’s parents keep their boat at Chipman, and we rafted to their boat and spent the afternoon swimming, lounging, eating and playing cards.

Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon in preparation for the grueling mast stepping on Monday.

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Monday, August 02, 2010

When the Boat’s Away

“So, now that the boat’s in Vermont what will you do this weekend?” a co-worker asked me on Friday.

“There are a zillion things to do,” I replied. “We can dive, hike, camp, lounge around, whatever.”

And we did just that. On Saturday we trailered the dive boat to the ramp in East Greenwich and motored over to Prudence Island. We heard about a concert going on over there and though we’d anchor to hear the music. When we arrived, on the eastern side of the island (located in the center of Narragansett Bay) we saw a band playing on a Sea Ray powerboat. The lead singer/guitarist was on the bow of the boat, while the drummer, bassist and keyboard player was inside the boat. We grabbed an empty mooring, unfolded the lawn chairs on the open deck of our dive boat and hung out.

The people watching was incredible. Dozens of boats were rafted together, forming long lines of boats tied side by side. When the wind shifted the whole line of boats turned on an axis, like a line of ice skaters synchronized kicking.  Children jumped off swim platforms.  They splashed and sprayed each other with squirt guns.  The adults danced with drinks in their hands.  Laughter could be heard all over the anchorage, occasionally it was louder than the music. 

Then we untied the mooring and headed to the south side of the island and tied the boat to an old pier. We put on the dive gear and descended to 20-something feet. We followed the pilings, though at first it was hard. Visibility was only 5-10 feet. In instantly lost track of Todd. After we found each other I only kept my eyes on him, and missed all the cool fish he saw under the pier.

Even if I didn’t see as much as I’d hoped, the dive was still great. It was our first dive of the season and I usually don’t care much about what I see and am perfectly content to be underwater. But on this particular dive I saw something I’d never seen before. I saw a starfish walking on the bottom of the ocean. Normally we see stars piled up on the sides of rocks and underwater structures. But on this dive I saw one slowly inch its way across the floor. We hovered near it and watched it for a few minutes.

I wonder how it must have looked from its perspective, two big human heads with big glass eyes and a mass of bubbles coming out of it’s food hole. Maybe that’s why it was going so fast?