Sunday, July 17, 2016

Swallowed Off More Than We Could Chew

Still Pond, Maryland

Dear Ms. And Mr. Barn Swallow,

I am humbly writing to you about your children, whom you must be frantic about.  They are safe, but not anywhere near you, I’m afraid. 

When Craig and I arrived back to our boat in Pasadena, Maryland from Canada last Thursday after midnight, we had a lot on our minds trying to get the boat ready to leave the next day.  We were on a fast track to get up to Ontario from just outside of Baltimore where we would leave Alberta Crewed for the rest of the summer.  As we scrambled around provisioning and cleaning on Friday, we saw one of you perched on our lifelines but didn’t think much about it.  All kinds of birds like you perch there off and on.  We managed to leave the marina at 5:00 pm to get a few miles behind us and were at a quiet anchorage by 7:30 PM in Still Pond, Maryland.  We had crossed the Chesapeake Bay in light winds although a few boat wakes rocked us around. 

We were hot and tired so decided to go for a swim in our still bay, even though the water was only waist deep.  We measured 6 inches between our keel and the sandy bottom.  As Craig checked the anchor, he yelled up at me, “Hey, I see a nest under our foredeck.  And I can hear chirping.  I see a head!”  Ms. And Mr. Barn Swallow, I know what you were thinking when you built that nest.  Quiet boat, end of the dock, hidden from other birds of prey.  Perfect.  

It didn’t work out how you wanted it to, but many things worked in your children’s favours.  The strength of your construction meant that the nest and babies survived that rocky Chesapeake Bay crossing.  The anchorage water was shallow so I sat on Craig’s shoulders and chiseled the nest off of its perch.  I could see how the nest would have held through all kinds of rocking around with its hard mud mixed with dense grasses and twigs, and long tentacles of mud attaching it to the hull shelf.  When we set it into our basket, we saw your four chicks with mouths open.  We were awestruck and somewhat bewildered as to what to do and hoped there had only been four to start with.

Feeding seemed to be urgent but we had no idea how to care for them.  Luckily for your little ones, my sister Colleen is good friends with Erin whose mom runs the Medicine River Wildlife Centre in Caroline, Alberta so I put in an emergency call.  I knew about this Centre through Colleen’s stories of rescuing owlets, moose calves, and baby beavers.  I went with her once to release an owlet who had recovered in Erin’s Calgary basement.  They are a fiercely dedicated group and have saved thousands of animals. 

While Colleen tracked down information, I did some google searching on rescuing wild chicks, with some websites telling me to forget it, since most birds don’t make it to their first year under normal circumstances.  What could we do while floating in a boat without access to any supplies?  We were determined not to give up.  Ms. and Mr. Swallow, your babies were loud and strong. 

Colleen called back within a few minutes with the following information:
-       The priority is to keep them warm. 
-       Using an eyedropper, get water mixed with honey into them to rehydrate.
-       Feed cat food to them with tweezers every half hour, putting it into their throats.
-       Keep their beaks clean, as they are prone to infection from food left on their beaks.
-       Their chances of survival are greater with four of them.
-       They poop in a sac and the adult birds take these away so we would have to do the same.

With those directions from Erin, we layered our propped-open cooler with towels, and put warm water into our water bottles and Ziploc bags under the towels.  I didn’t have an eyedropper but just a spoon worked and they sucked on it to grab the water. 

I softened dry cat food in warm water and began the feedings (we will replace it Rusty, I promise).  I couldn’t find our tweezers so just pushed the food in with my baby finger.  Truthfully, we weren’t sure they were going to make it.  They had some downy feathers but were very tiny. 

As feedings went on, we learned the following:
-       there is a short window with mouths open, usually as soon as the cooler lid opened or I moved my hand in.  They then dozed off immediately so sometimes I opened the lid a few times to get them to feed.
-       the nest and birds were covered with mites.  I knew this from nests we’ve had around our house but they crawled up my arms every time I fed the birds.  The babies crawled out of the nest and I threw it out but kept everything outside.
-       We had to work to keep them cool as much as to keep them warm.  Our daytime temperatures were over 90 degrees and they were in our cooler so we kept it propped it open with a light breeze getting in as the day heated up.  The hot water bags cooled it down.

I got up a few times in the night, expecting the worst but all four mouths gaped open.  We laughed when the first pooped out a white sac of feces.  With the nest gone, we lined the basket with paper towels and added layers every hour.  I picked up the birds in a heap, added the towels, and set them back in.  It didn’t have the drainage capacity of that terrific nest you had built but Erin had said to keep their heads elevated and the paper towel could be shaped properly.  There was a smaller baby on the bottom of the heap that needed prodding to eat and drink but we kept on this one and it stayed with us.  We wondered if it was getting weaker but every once in awhile, its mouth would burst open and we were ready with food and water. 

We pulled anchor on Saturday morning to head to Cape May, expecting to take our new guests all the way to Canada.  We moved the cooler to our upper fly bridge as feedings continued while underway.  Your babies seemed to keep up their energy, sleeping in between feedings.  They opened their eyes when we looked in.  I wondered what they saw.  Mid day, I got a call from Kathy from the Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge in Medford, New Jersey.  Erin’s mom had connected with her, and she happened to have a home in Cape May.  Kathy called a friend to pick up the birds for transport to the Wildlife Refuge.

Mom and Dad Swallow, we were ecstatic and only had the Delaware River to motor to get your babies to the ambulance.  We ended up with a quiet day, feeding and watering, changing paper, and watching temperature.  Smugly, we entered the Cape May canal with four thriving birds.  If you don’t know anything about boats, they hate smugness and slap their crews hard when they smell it.  The narrow canal was filled with weekend pleasure boats who refused to slow down and several times, rocked our boat to the point where things flew, including us and the birds.  One huge wave knocked us so hard that I slid to the other side of the fly bridge on my face, the cooler knocked over, and the babies tumbled out.  Craig and I wept as we gathered them up, cursing the rotten eggs on the other boats. The birds sat still in the basket for a few minutes but eventually popped open their mouths for food and water.

At the marina, Warren and Claudia, avid bird watchers and experts, collected our charges and whisked them away.  The fed them mealworms, and reports from the Center tell of lively and healthy birds.

The bonus for us was an evening with Warren, Claudia, and their friends at a fundraiser for the New Jersey Audubon Nature Centre of Cape May.  Ms. and Mr. Swallow, your babies are now infamous, and we wish you and them good health and long lives.  Thank you for your lessons.

Love Laurie and Craig

PS: We are awed by and tremendously grateful for the work of the Medicine River Wildlife Centre, the Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge, and the New Jersey Audubon Nature Center of Cape May.  Ethics of care for and reverence of the natural world drive their work, and they are relentless.  Warren and Claudia, as you said Claudia, we now have two new friends we have known all of our lives.  See you in the fall on our trip back.  


Fundraiser for the Nature Center

New Old Friends

Sunday, May 29, 2016

New Territory

This is the third time we have floated past Moon River just south of Savannah.  THE Moon River.  Each time, I play the famous song as we mosey past the small inlet Johnny Mercer wrote about just off of the Vernon River.  It is not wider than a mile but has the switchback bends, tall grasses, and great white herons fishing on the banks that are characteristic of Georgia rivers.  Craig was at the helm up on the fly bridge as the new version of Moon River that I discovered sounded out over the calm waters:

            Craig: Is that a guitar?
            Me: Yup
            Craig: Who’s playing?
            Me: Eric Clapton.
            Craig: That guy’s not bad.

No kidding.  No point in telling Craig that Beck is also playing along.  Not much to the lyrics but both songs, Moon River and Georgia (which I also play every time we cross the Florida/Georgia border), have the sway and gentle, lazy swing reflecting life in Georgia.   

Georgia has become my favourite state, and the competition is tough.  I love everywhere we have been in the US by boat and land, but Georgia has my heart.  It is no different from any other state with its complex history, stunning scenery, and welcoming people.   It just seems less likely to boast and I wonder if it’s because it wants its wonder to remain a secret from the rest of the world.  I love rocking chairs on porches, quiet winding creeks and rivers, delicate magnolia blossoms, oak tree canopies dripping with Spanish mosses, and buzzing cicadas.  It has always been melting hot when we’ve visited and the food is up my alley; biscuits, shrimp, mac and cheese, and lots of butter.

It is the second state we have motored through on our long journey up to Georgian Bay, Ontario.  We flew down to our new boat a couple of weeks ago, spent a few days provisioning and tweaking a few things before heading out of Palm City, Florida and turning north.  We equipped this new boat almost from scratch, but with a few miles at sea under our belts, we were somewhat more savvy in what we needed and as much fun as it was, spent less time guessing than we did in Argentina.

These past two weeks have been over familiar territory through Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and into North Carolina.  

Pulling up the anchor at Beaufort, South Carolina
There is a big stress reduction in retracing one’s routes.  Familiarity with the conditions, potential hazards, and where best to overnight helps create a more relaxing journey.  We continued the shake down rodeo trend when late on our first day out, we hit a nasty thunderstorm and pulled quickly into Cocoa Beach where we dropped the anchor in horizontal rain and 35-knot wind gusts.  Knowing the area enabled us to make the quick decision and we were tucked inside within a few minutes.  Anyone watching would have been impressed.  I know well enough not to get too smug.  There will be plenty more of these to come: 

All the waters past Georgetown, North Carolina are now new to us and we are alternating between anchorages and marinas.  We discovered the funky Swan Point marina run by Evelyn Hobbs who delivered hot cinnamon bread to us just as we left the dock.  The evening before, we had walked about an hour to a local and infamous seafood restaurant where the fourth generation owner insisted on driving us back after the best shrimp dinner we've ever had.   

Dock at Swan Point filled with sculptures, plants, and an outdoor kitchen
Henry Boyd at Belhaven Marina gave us a golf cart to putter around his quiet and eclectic town where it seems every house has a generous porch.  Henry is restoring the manor next to the marina which will showcase the history and architecture of the area.  
Belhaven Marina
We started at mile 987 on the Intra Coastal Waterway and are already at mile 50, doing between 80 and 140 miles a day.  The mileage chart turns over tomorrow as we arrive at Norfolk, Virgina and we start counting up again through the Chesapeake Bay and into New York.  Our little boat is taking great care of us and seems to have read the same adventure book that our former Alberta Crewed subscribed to.
South Carolina sunset

A North Carolina sized glass of wine

Thursday, May 19, 2016


This photo is of our last time on a mooring ball with our sailboat this past January.  After three trips home since September and the past two seasons getting only as far as the Bahamas, we realized our sailing area had diminished substantially.  It was time for the gorgeous Antares 44i we’ve called home for 6 years to carry new owners to far away seas.  We sold Alberta Crewed quickly in February, and while the time was right for us to begin new adventures, selling the boat proved to be as daunting a decision as buying one.  A boat is more than just a home.  It is a cocoon of safety against the elements, a means to go to places rarely seen by humans, a magnet for meeting kind and generous people, and a relentless test of one’s mental and physical dexterity.  Over time, one learns to recognize minute sounds and movements indicating all is well, or conversely that something is amiss. 

We bought Alberta Crewed to stay on our toes and to travel.  What could give us the same gift of adventure we received from her?  Another boat.  While preparing Alberta Crewed for listing, we stayed at our broker’s dock, next to a 34 foot PDQ power catamaran. 

This boat has the same DNA as our sailboat from world-class designer Ted Clements, and was built in Canada.  I had stepped on one while at the Miami sailboat show in 2007 and was impressed by its use of space and quality of construction.  It is not a sailboat but will take us to quiet and shallow anchorages comfortably and in a fuel-efficient manner.  Because she is 10 feet shorter and 5 feet narrower, everything becomes hopefully simpler; maintenance, maneuvering, and hauling out. The process to leave her for long or short periods of time is less complicated.  We won't be going offshore but will instead explore shallower North American inland waters and more remote areas in the Bahamas.

Two kind and savvy sailors from Texas now own our sailboat and to our delight, changed the name to “Texas Crewed”.  We transferred the name “Alberta Crewed” to our new boat and moved just down the dock. 
The new Alberta Crewed, photo taken from the former Alberta Crewed
I looked back on my first posting of this blog exactly 6 years ago entitled, “Displacement”.  I used a quote from Robert Pirsig about a couple who had spent four years preparing to move on to their sailboat, and subsequently moved off within 6 weeks.  They could not cope with the challenges and unpredictability of living aboard and I completely understand their decision.  I think we did all right.  We sailed close to 10,000 nautical miles and visited over 15 countries.  We had neither illness nor injury and managed to keep everyone who came aboard safe and entertained.  We always felt safe.  I have a new found reverence for the kindness of the human spirit.  Those with much less than we have helped us, gave us provisions, and made sure we were taken care of.  Given our pathetic state of uni-linguality our only communication was often through smiles and gestures.  I remember while we were in central Brazil and how Craig let me know that his friend, Eduardo, was coming over for a visit.  How could they visit when neither spoke the other’s language?  Smiles and gestures, for three hours.  And they were just fine.   

I’ll finish my brief sailing reflections by returning to Robert Persig’s article, written in 1977.  It is difficult to summarize how much we have learned.  I’ll be pondering that for the rest of my life.  Persig gives a glimpse into how sailing “displaces” us:

“…those who see sailing as an escape from reality have got their understanding of both sailing and reality completely backwards. Sailing is not an escape but a return to and a confrontation of a reality from which modern civilization is itself an escape. For centuries, man suffered from the reality of an earth that was too dark or too hot or too cold for his comfort, and to escape this he invented complex systems of lighting, heating and air conditioning. Sailing rejects these and returns to the old realities of dark and heat and cold. Modern civilization has found radio, TV, movies, nightclubs and a huge variety of mechanized entertainment to titillate our senses and help us escape from the apparent boredom of the earth and the sun and wind and stars. Sailing returns to these ancient realities. “

We endeavor to stay displaced on our new boat as we head up the US coast this spring and finally into Canadian waters where we will explore the canal systems and waterways.  We may not have sails but the winds, clouds, seas, stars, and dolphins still matter.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

From Sailing to Space

Getting pointers from astronaut,  Jon McBride

I want to be an astronaut.  NASA is planning to send a mission to Mars by 2034 and that gives me just enough time to get ready for it.  I’m sure they’ll take me.  I’ll be 75 years old so I won’t care about not coming home.  I’ll be in excellent health and know how to pack lightly from all of my summer hiking trips.  I can pay my way if I sell everything and since I’m not coming home, I won’t need anything anyways.  Craig, you’ll be fine.  Just get used to eating a lot of oatmeal.  I don’t get motion sickness very easily, I can sleep for long periods, and I’m Canadian.  Extreme, cold temperatures are no problem.

Packing practice - all of my bedding in one bag
Training with an 18 kg pack
I am an annual pass holder to Kennedy Space Center and I know every inch of that magical kingdom.  We are booked to have lunch with astronaut, Jon McBride, next week and I am signing up for the Astronaut Training Experience, which involves the Multi-Axis Trainer spin test.  Finally, I live on a boat.  That fact alone should put my resume on the top of the pile. 

Craig has gone home to Canada for a few days so Rusty the cat and I are on the boat on our own.  This is an excellent training mission so I am going to practice with Andy Weir’s form from The Martian as a way to document my preparation for my own Mars mission:

Log Entry SOL 0  - 21:00
Craig is safely on the plane and I am back on the boat.  Adopting space date units is my first big step in becoming an astronaut.  Here on in, SOL will indicate the date, and refers to the length of a solar day, with 0 being touch down.   I have much to prepare in the next few days.  Along with reviewing all systems since we are back in the water, I will be preparing for our passage to the Bahamas and continuing with stainless cleaning and inspections.   We have replaced our dinghy engine starter battery and house batteries, and are waiting for generator and main engine starter batteries, which I will pick up and install.  Until then, it’s all solar.  We are used to that, being fully off-grid at home.  Monitoring the MasterLink battery indicator panel (ML) is critical.  It currently indicates 12.5 volts and needs to stay above 12.0.  I am the commander of the electronics panels like the pilot of a 747.  Click, click, click; helm sub panel off, tank monitor on and off, inverter output 1 off, inverter output 2 on, cabin fans on.  A pod of dolphins swim by and the water fireworks of bioluminescence sparkle in fluorescent green at the transom.  All is well and in control.

Log Entry SOL 1 – 09:00
Daily routine begins with 06:30 weather report on SSB.  Not looking good for Gulf Stream crossing next week.  Waiting to hear about batteries.  Running diagnostics on solar power with a cloudy day ahead.   ML indicates 12.2.  Delaying stocking freezer until batteries arrive and will charge electronics on shore.   

13:00 – A squall is blowing through our bay and pounding buckets so I rig up a hose system from the bimini gutter to catch the water into our large water jugs.  It’s blowing so hard that I consider tethering in.   I don’t think Rusty could reach the life ring for me.  Tanks show 75%.

Log Entry SOL 2 – 16:00
Clear and quiet.  Still no word on the batteries.  No surprise since it’s New Years’ Eve.  Off to shore to meet friends for dinner. 

23:55 – Lovely evening.  Make it back to the dinghy just before midnight.  Just out of the dock area, the engine quits.  No luck on getting it started.  Check fuel lines and attachments, remove the cover and check the fuel filter.  Everything looks okay.  It starts for a few seconds and stalls so likely a carburetor issue.  I just pull out the oars when Flying Pig crew comes along and tows me out to the boat.  Lucky for me, since it’s so late and there’s no one around.   Brilliant moon, clears skies, and dolphins have returned.  New Years’ Eve fireworks explode over the mainland.

Log Entry SOL 3 – 11:00
Nothing is open today, of course.  ML down to 11.9.  All electronics turned off, except for fridge.  Blowing hard from the north so a row to shore would be great fun but the trip back, not so much.  We are at the far north end of the anchorage so I’ll stay put.  Inventory of food indicates we will be fine, although I am quite sure I too could grow potatoes aboard.  Being a member of the Alberta Mycological Society, I know I can at least grow exotic mushrooms.  Only problem is I had our septic tanks pumped out on SOL 1.  I can always break into Rusty’s cat food.  ML hovering at 11.7.  No movies.  Phone running low.   Still humid and hot but not going to run any fans.  Rusty is flaked out on the floor in the port hull, trying to stay cool.  My neighbours are showing off by running their generator in my ears all night.

Log Entry SOL 4 – 13:00
Dinghy engine may be stalled but battery is brand new.  Detach it and haul it to the forward locker, with Craig’s voice in my head, “Negative ground first off and last on.”  Presto!  Generator fires up immediately and my cheers are reminiscent of those from Mission Control after the Moon modular landing.  Now we have power galore.  Movies, popcorn, nav. instruments, fans, CBC on Sirius.  I’m set for months if need be.  Especially if I can grow potatoes and mushrooms.  I once kept a basil plant alive on board for six months so anything is possible.

Step 1: Remove battery from dinghy

Log Entry SOL 5 – 17:00
Productive day.  Cleaned out cupboards, fired up Furunos and entered route for crossing, checked bilge pumps, and collected more water.   Read latest National Geographic magazine entitled, Are we alone: And other mysteries of Space and watched the movies Apollo 13 and In the Shadow of the Moon.   The Apollo 13 disaster was the result of a surge of electricity to a thermostat that couldn’t accept the voltage level.  With my now vast knowledge of electrical systems, I am sure I could help fix that problem.  Power is powerful. 

Log Entry SOL 6 – 13:00
Preparing for my 30-minute row to shore to pick up Craig by going through my shore supplies list.  Car keys, wallet, shoes, rain jacket.  No coming back if I forget anything.   All in all, a productive 6 days and I am that much closer to being prepared for my Mars mission.


Batteries arrived and dinghy engine purring along.  It was a simple fix.  We are provisioned up and at the starting line, waiting for our Gulf Stream crossing opportunity.  I am good at hurrying up and waiting, another trait I’m sure is needed for that 2034 crew.   

Weir, A. (2011). The Martian. New York: Random House.