Sunday, December 22, 2013

Engulfed by the Gulf

There are palm trees growing in Glasgow, Scotland.  Theories around this phenomenon support the Gulf Stream as the mode of passage for the tropical seeds.  This ocean current begins in west Africa, crosses the Atlantic, runs north along the US east coast up into Canada and then back east into the north Atlantic over to Europe.  With speeds of up to 6 knots, the stream carries its own weather system as tropical waters cool in the journey north.  Water temperatures in the Stream are up to five degrees warmer than the surrounding waters.  We watch our water temperature gauge to know when we are in the Stream.  It rises within seconds of crossing into the current.

We really care about this fascinating formation, perhaps not as much as trading and war ships of the past who used it to propel them back to Europe, but enough to know that it can make a voyage lovely and fun, or absolutely miserable.  Our 7-day offshore passage from Southport, North Carolina to Exumas, Bahamas was of the misery type.  If you look at the above chart, which I downloaded and we used throughout our trip, Southport is at 34 degrees N latitude and 78 degrees W longitude, the middle of the two crescents.  We headed southeast to 76 degrees W Longitude and then turned south.  We thought we would have a couple of days in the Stream, crossing at an angle to it to reduce head-on waves, wind, and the current.  We were mistakenly optimistic, and spent six days of the seven bashing into lumpy seas, Martin's term for the irregular wave directions and heights that toss us around.    Friends Maite and Ed were along for the experience as they are picking up their new Antares in the new year, and Martin made us a group of five.  On longer and rough passages, we usually get a break of a day or two where things smooth out and we can move comfortably around the boat but the Stream just wouldn't let us go.   I couldn't shake my incessant nausea, and was exhausted by day two from the rocking and rolling.  Walking around is an exercise in trying to estimate where the floors are as they drop out from under one's feet.  Walls smashed into my elbows as I tried to grab hand holds.  Forget about cooking, although food is the last thing on anyone's mind.  I had faithfully prepared stew, chili, and soup in advance and they all sat in the fridge as we tried to keep crackers and fruit cups down.

Photos from Maite and Ed
There were, however, moments of awe.  We were hardly out of Southport harbour before we spotted several dolphins hunting on our starboard side, and were greeted by several more upon our arrival in the Bahamas.  The winds backed to the east so we were able to sail most of the way, peaking at 11 knots every so often.  My favourite indicator of Stream proximity was the trail of bioluminescent light sparkling in the wake of our transoms.  These creatures live in warm water so while I lamented at how long they were hanging around and therefore that we were still in the Stream, I loved watching the green glowing lights dancing in the foamy waves.

Most importantly, we arrived safely and soundly, and are now anchored at Stocking Island.  We have been here before and love the white sandy beaches, along with access to provisions and fresh water.  It has absolutely been worth the trip.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Swear or rejoice, I don't know which...

View from the boat 

We are freezing cold in North Carolina.  Craig's mom, Anne, let us know yesterday that it was +10 Celsius in Calgary this week.  Here, it is hovering below freezing.  The wind is howling, and humidity is running icy cold through our bones.  This is the best incentive to get back into the water and head south.  Chris Parker is telling us that Tuesday the 3rd is a possibility.

Thanks to the watchful eye and elbow grease of our good friend Martin, the boat was in excellent shape when we returned.  We had vacuum packed our clothes and bedding against mould and we will do that again.  Our air conditioner kept the boat dry and cool but bedding picks up any bit of mould quickly.  It seems to be clear this time.

One of our (meaning Craig's) tasks was to repair the water maker.  To his surprise, it only needed new o-rings and not a complete overhaul as expected.  Since repairs usually entail much more work than planned rather than less, he muttered, "Swear or rejoice…I don't know which."  Checking systems out is a precarious job.  We hold our breath.  The boat gremlins were on our side for a change.

This is the to-do list we are working from now.  It seems onerous but is actually much shorter this year than in years past.  In her fourth season, I think Alberta Crewed is just feeling more at home with us.   TLC goes a long way and Craig is a master at preventative maintenance.

- Repair water maker.  We haven't used it in a couple of years and is one of those use-or-lose systems.
- Check battery water levels
- Change fuel filters and raw water impellers (two engines, generator).  Craig changed the oil last spring
- Install all sails.
- Install bowsprit.
- Sail Koat mainsail track.  This helps raise and lower the sail, important in an unexpected wind where we would want to drop it quickly.
- Install trampolines.  We removed them for the first time to protect them.  They have lasted remarkably well.
- Put the outboard on the dinghy.  Ugh.  Involves hoisting the engine up and out of the rear locker using the mainsail halyard.
- Clean and put the dinghy back into the davits on the back of the boat.
- Clean the boat, inside and out.  Then wax.  This is the only time we envy monohull owners.
- Charge generator and outboard batteries.
- Check safety gear according to Canadian standards, because we are a Canadian registered boat.  The Industry Canada website lists 12 required pieces of equipment including flares, an axe, navigation lights, fire extinguishers.  These need to be checked regularly for expiry dates and working order.
- Activate Satellite Phone, check EPIRB (Electronic Position Indicating Radio Beacon).  It activates when submerged and sends a distress signal to the Canadian Coastguard.
- Clean and grease propeller shafts and props.  Replace zincs, the sacrificial anodes that oxidize instead of our prop shafts and props, particularly in marinas.
- Install Hypervent under all mattresses.  We discovered this to keep moisture down in humid climates.
- Restock first aid kit.  On the advice of our world-travelling doctor, update emergency medications including an epi-pen, antibiotics, eye injury kit, ear infection kit, pain killers, cough and cold medicine, and sea sickness medication.  
- Provision and stock food for 5 months.  The Bahamas are light on grocery stores.

Those are the big items.  Provisioning will also take time as we think about 5-7 days at sea with 5 people (friends Martin, Maite, and Ed will be with us), and 4 months in the Bahamas where grocery stores are not in abundance.  The trade-off is that there are hundreds of people-free islands to explore.  In the meantime, I don my down filled jacket, wool sweaters, and fleece slippers trying to stave off the chill.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

More about cats

The reason we own a sailboat is to have an excuse to go to Sailboat trade shows.  One can attend without owning a boat, which would be easier on the wallet, but not nearly as fun.   All of the experts on every aspect of equipment, destinations, safety, clothing, and electronics are there, and will spend as much time as you wish without selling you a thing.  As a matter of fact, most don’t have inventory to sell.  They are simply there to educate…so that you can buy later.  Every time we think about going we wonder what more we could possibly need and inevitably, something great and glorious is invented that we cannot do without.  We love it.

The Annapolis Sailboat show in October did not disappoint us.  Craig is not typically a social guy but claims he likes the boat shows so that he can see all of his friends.  This is one of the biggest surprises that sailing has brought for me.  Craig is now Mister Chatty Cathy and is a premier sailing socialite.  Along with our Antares friends, his social circle encompasses vendors we have come to know well through provisioning Alberta Crewed.  Craig and Randy from Ultra Anchor are like this (crossed fingers) although I think Randy sees us as stalkers.  He sometimes hides when he sees us coming.

Another highlight was meeting The Man, Chris Parker.  He is our infamous and genius weather service  provider who would cringe at the accolades.  He spent over an hour with us at his booth, showing us new software, describing how he interprets data, and wiping my drool off of his shirt.  He is one of those people whose brain is not of this earth, or in his profession, is all of this earth.  He described how he visualizes weather in multiple dimensions, and can verbalize what he sees as models of the systems move around in his head.  Wow.  Lucky for us, he spends his life sending that information out over the airwaves.  I will try not to giggle during our next radio conversation as I reminisce about our hour together.
My shirt would say "I'm shaking-standing-next-to Chris Parker".
Our favourite booths were Goal Zero for all things solar, including solar powered generators and spotlights (the technology is really coming along) and Smart Cat, a portable catamaran along the lines of a little hobie-cat.  I have often joked that I would like to tow a little mono-hull behind Alberta Crewed for some fun day sailing.  This seemed to be the perfect solution and it folds into a bag.  The booth also had a mini-tent trailer, which I think would be perfect for towing behind our motorbike.  Craig is less enthused.  He is a bit sensitive about his new, old 1971 BMW R6 and turning his baby into a camper. 

This folds down to this...

We are going through our now familiar lists of preparations as we anticipate our return to the boat on November 23rd.  FYI, these include insurance (boat and health), shutting down telephone, cable, and car insurance here, forwarding mail, re-stocking our medical kit with updated prescriptions, dental appointments, air travel arrangements, contacting the boatyard with the list of boat maintenance items, and everything related to taking our cat with us.  Travelling with Rusty is a costly and complicated process as far as air travel and taking him to the Bahamas.  I’m not sure how excited he is but he is about to become a tropical cat with his snowbird owners. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Land Adventures

Our summer pond

Around cruiser circles, discussions arise regarding off-boat living circumstances.  Many people we’ve met live aboard their boats for part of the year and then head somewhere on land for anywhere from a few days to several months.  On-land residences can include motorhomes, living with family (usually adult children…tricky), a house, condo, or trailer.  The challenge is leaving an on-land residence for several months, and how to have it taken care of.  Creative solutions have included sharing a residence or moving around to different family members in order not to wear out one’s welcome.  Many we’ve met rent out their homes while they are on the boat but this can be a big headache.  Until this summer, we’ve kept our city house and thankfully rented it out successfully.  It was a constant concern, however, and Craig had to fly back home to do some repairs last spring.  We sold it a month ago so are delighted to be one home lighter for a while.

For some sailors, land living is a break from the demands of life on a boat.   I know we won’t get much sympathy but boat life is hard work.  It is a relief to be able to sleep at night knowing our house won’t float away and hit something else.  Squally storms are beautiful from the comfort of the couch.  There are also issues of health care (we are only able to be away for 6 months in order to maintain our provincial health care), residency requirements, and family needs.  We were away longer during our first season thanks to a two year leave from our health care plan and now seem to be settling into 6 months here and 6 months on the boat.

We do have a cozy little cabin we call home for the summer that is without running water or grid power.  We have owned it for 11 years and living power-frugally has helped raise our consciousness of energy consumption, easing our transition to boat life.  We haven’t used blow dryers, blenders, large refrigerators, or infinite lighting for years so our boat is a giant step up for luxury.  The cabin is also a breeze to lock up and leave for several months.  We have no worries about yard work or pipes breaking.  We wake up to deer in our field along with calls of sand hill cranes, and are enjoying a beautiful Alberta autumn with colourful leaves and fields busy with combines.
Cranes in our field

Our one electronic luxury at the cabin is the television.  Both Craig and I are Tour de France fanatics and missed the month long cycle race televised in July so invested several years ago in solar power and a low-usage TV and satellite dish.  Craig jokes that we don’t have running water, meaning an outhouse is our only toileting option next to the bush, but we have 137 channels.  We are glued to the TV every July, and I have come to adore Australian Cadel Evans, Tour winner in 2011.

We were therefore ecstatic when Alberta hosted an international cycle race, the Tour of Alberta, this past week so attended the Prologue opener in Edmonton.  We were astounded to be able to stand next to cycling icons such as my Cadel, Peter Sagan, Christian Vande Velde, and Canadian Ryder Hesjedal, as they warmed up, walked around chatting to fans, and practiced along the route.  It was a thrill to get close to the equipment, see world-class bike mechanics at their craft, and watch the parade of motorcycles and team vehicles loaded with world-class bikes as they roared in behind each rider.  I stood at the first corner out of the starting chute, squealing as the cyclists whooshed past, inches from my nose.  The Tour has covered central Alberta and shown stunning vistas of our home province.   As Craig has pointed out, what other world-class event can a fan attend for free?

Summer has therefore been another adventure with Alberta Crewed somewhat off of my radar.   The days are getting shorter and cooler now, and I am already beginning to turn my compass back to the boat.  Although we still have a couple of months left before we leave, our sailing season inauguration will be the beloved Annapolis boat show in October.  We love it as much as we love the Tour and it fires up our energy and gets things in gear.   In the meantime, I am in Ottawa and Montreal for a week visiting friends and reveling in more Canadiana by touring Parliament, sampling Quebec cheeses, and sipping lattes at French cafes.   What a glorious life I lead.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Water is Life

Calgary pre-flood

Craig and I have lived in Calgary, Alberta, Canada for the past 17 years.  We have been transitioning to our farm north of the city near the town of Rocky Mountain House when we are not on Alberta Crewed but we still have our home in Calgary.

Calgary is a vibrant and dynamic city, known among many things as the economic and development center of Canada’s oil industry and world famous Stampede Rodeo.  The median age of its citizens is 35 years, 25% are new Canadians, and over 50% have a post-secondary education.  With a growing population of over one million people, it is nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.  With long, cold, and dark winters we tend to obsess about the weather but it doesn’t stop us from spending lots of time outside.  We carry the blemishes of a large city but tend to be a hardy lot that plows through economic and climate challenges with gusto. 

Last Thursday, we were stopped in our tracks by a massive storm that hit the city and surrounding area stretching over 100 km, dumping up to 340 mm (14 inches) of rain in 16 hours over rivers and creeks already high from mountain snow run-off.  The city’s river valley became a lake, interspersed with gushing torrents filled with the debris of whole houses washed off of their foundations, trees, and vehicles.   A flash-flood scenario resulted in the immediate evacuation of 100,000 people from the valleys.  Last night, Craig and I walked along the bluff near our house (thankfully we live up high along that bluff) and watched the power of the river as it carved new channels.  The downtown core, normally the work centre for close to 350,000 people, was pitch black and eerily quiet.  The odd beeping of a truck backing up echoed through the valley as it scraped up the mud of the receding water.

Many residents didn’t have time to get out and were rescued by emergency personnel.   Entire towns along the rivers surrounding the city were submerged.  The internet and social media sites are filled with stories and images but this one is a stunning summary:

Today, the clean up began.  My sister is a detective with the Calgary Police Service and spent her day in the neighbourhood shown in the first part of this video.  Her job was to go door to door to make sure people were safe as they returned to their homes.  She was humbled by the responses she heard as she made her way through mud and debris.  People called out their thanks and shook her hand.  In turn, Colleen watched as thousands of people showed up with shovels, generators, food, and supplies to help their neighbours clean up.  She stopped for a drink at Starbucks where she was told to put her money away.  As a first responder, she wasn’t allowed to pay.

The stories of devastation unfold and envelop our psyches as the dominoes continue to fall.   Little things like the packed street of parked cars in front of our house remind us of how valley residents scrambled to high ground and abandoned their vehicles until they could regroup.  Our local convenience store clerk described the scene last Thursday of hundreds of people converging on his tiny store, buying up all food and water supplies in a frenzy, anticipating a shortage (which didn’t happen).

I am impressed by how quickly people were evacuated and now how thousands converge to support their communities.  We are not smart about where we build and ask, “How did this happen?”  as we stand on crumbling decks built to get that water view. 

In my last teaching position, our grades one and two students took up the human relationship with water in a year-long investigation.  Our statement of intent asked, “Wat-er we doing? Water is life.” and we studied the narratives, science, and history of our relationship with water.  I remember when the children realized how our planet’s water is interconnected, and therefore how we are linked by and through water as one student stood up and declared, “I am the Ganges River!”.  The river does run through us.

As this new yet old narrative of the river unfolds, I wonder again, “Wat-er we doing?”

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Church of Craig

With Alberta Crewed tucked away for her summer rest, we have the chance to see some land-sights on our drive home to Canada.  I'll dip back into this season on the boat in my next blog but here we are already in Nashville.

Hey it looks so uneventful, so quiet and discreet,
But a lot of lives were changed there on that little one-way street,
'Cause they walked away from everything just to see a dream come true,
So God bless the boys who make the noise on 16th Avenue.

On quiet night watches at sea, we each have a playlist of music to help pass the time.  I have an ipod of 18,000 songs thanks to my friend Greg, along with several podcasts from the CBC.  Craig is a simple kind of guy when it comes to music.  His ipad has 19 songs: “The Last Wild Place Anthology” album by Lacy J. Dalton and one song by Johnny Cash,“I Walk the Line”.  He listens to his vast library repeatedly without seeming to tire of it.  His favourite song is 16th Avenue which you may listen to while you’re reading this if you wish.  Craig only knows how to tune the radio to the country stations when not singing along to Lacy J.  Nashville is Craig's mecca.  

16th avenue is also known as Music Row in Nashville and is the heart of the country music industry.  It is a rather non-descript street where country music writers and producers have their offices and recording studios.  As luck would have it, our hotel was half a block away.  Craig is not typically excitable but he was pretty happy to be in Nashville and on this street.  We had one day in Nashville so toured the Ryman Auditorium, which housed the Grand Ole Opry from 1927 to 1974.  Johnny Cash met June Carter backstage at this iconic theatre and Elvis played there in 1954.  Our day continued with visits to the Country Music Hall of Fame and on to the present day Grand Ole Opry theatre.  As luck would have it, a new convention centre was opening across from the Hall of Fame with celebrations including a street concert.  We were not able to see an Opry performance but the street concert was a stunning second fiddle.  Artists included Vince Gill and Sheryl Crow as we munched on delicious food truck cuisine 50 feet from the stage for the 3 hour concert.  Craig’s knowledge beyond country music is rather limited.  “Who is Sheryl Crow?” I quizzed to see if he had any idea who we were about to see.  “I guess she must be a singer but isn’t she the one who dated Lance Armstrong?”  Close, I suppose, but it didn't matter.  Craig's day-long grin continued well into the evening as we walked Broadway Street which is lined with dozens of Honky Tonk bars.  Hopeful musicians play their hearts out hoping to be discovered and a festive atmosphere carries on for several blocks.  I think I even saw Craig tapping his toes.  

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Fernandina Fireworks

Craig, me, Lee, and David trying to stay dry

Weather has a wonderful way of reminding us who is in control when it senses our complacency, but apologetically leaves us with unexpected gifts in return for its necessary wrath.  We had a perfectly timed route 600 miles up the Intra Coastal Waterway to get us from Vero Beach, Florida to Wilmington, North Carolina where we will be leaving our boat for the summer.  My brother and sister in law, David and Lee, are here for this trip and our perfect plan would get them to their flight home in good time.   We envisioned meandering along the picturesque islands of Georgia, sight seeing in Savannah and Charleston, and time for a bit of bird watching and alligator spotting along quiet Florida creeks.

Not.  On day 8 of our 3-week cruise, we have ground to a halt in Fernandina Beach, Florida, immobilized by a long and nasty system bringing wind gusts of 45 knots to the entire south east coast.  We had thought the protection of the Intra Coastal would enable us to venture out in stormier weather but this one is big.  All I remembered of Fernandina from last year was our one night stay because of the looming and smelly pulp mill right next to our mooring.  We are now onto day four here.  Weather’s gift in return is the chance to get to know the quaint and historic town, unbeknownst to us during its annual Shrimp Festival weekend.  Located on the west side of Amelia Island, Fernandina Beach has a resident population of 9000 and attracts 100,000 visitors to the Festival.  This year the weather is a bit of a damper but festivities continue and a little torrential rain with horizontal wind doesn’t slow down coastal folk. 

Festival day one began with the invasion of the pirates.  We are not sure what pirates have to do with shrimp other than being an excuse for women to pull out their favourite (and somewhat inappropriate) corsets and men to wear eyeliner and yell “AARRRGGHHHH” a lot.  Moored in the middle of the harbour, we have the best seats in the house.  Last night, a canon blasting battle from decorated “Pirate” ships ensued right in front of us followed by a spectacular fireworks display that rained down over Alberta Crewed.  The fireworks boat was a bit too close for comfort but the local Sheriffs kept an eye on things as we laughed hysterically at the absurdity of this once-in-a-lifetime and birds’ eye view of the explosions of stars.  I felt like the queen on the royal yacht. 

Fireworks boat on the left

Today we will venture out for the ritual rocky and wet dinghy ride to savour another round of fresh shrimp and good wine.  The local boutique and cafe staffs are beginning to know us by name and we haven’t even noticed the pulp mill.

Lee and I enjoying shrimp boiled up by a high-energy high school group.