24 July, 2008

Fossils and Missiles

Location: West Hartford, CT

We’re still in West Hartford ‘dad-sitting’ and getting Mark’s parents out to visit with family. Mark’s dad, Ken, is from a very close family and grew up in a big house along with his 5 brothers, one sister and 2 cousins, his mother, her two sisters, and an aunt and uncle. Needless to say there was always lots of kid fun going on. The family loves to sing and Ken has always been an avid barber shop singer.

Now you have a little background let’s move to present day. The remaining brothers and cousins, along with any spouses and family friends of the same generation are all affectionately known as ‘The Fossils’ within the family. The Fossils range in age from 81 to 93. They, along with “adult supervision” provided by some cousins of Mark’s generation, meet every Friday to play 10 pin bowling. We have been lucky enough to accompany Ken & Mark’s mom Debbie for the last 2 weeks for this amazing gathering.

What an event! We all arrive at 11am at the bowling alley; some of the fossils are no longer able to drive and need to be driven by family and friends.

Some of the old guys can barely walk from the ball carousel and most have trouble bending to bowl. They totter up to the line at the top of the alley and to an idle spectator it looks like they just fling the bowling ball. Bounces, bounce, bounce, the ball veers over towards the gutter, and then suddenly you see a slight spin and the ball turns and heads for the centre of the pins. Strike!! At first we thought it was just a lucky throw but these fossils play 3 games every week and fairly consistently get great scores.

Unfortunately Mark’s dad is no longer able to play, he’s on oxygen full time and stays in a wheelchair, but he and Debbie still go to bowling whenever they can. Along with the bowling come coaching tips, jokes, wise cracks, encouragement, general camaraderie and lots of laughter. It’s like listening to a bunch of teenagers but the bodies have overtaken the brains.

One of the uncles is legally blind and he along with all the others beat Julie in every game. How humiliating is THAT!!? After the first game he told Mark that when he bowls he loses sight of the ball about half way down the alley and can’t see which pins are still left and which he hit. From that point on Mark told him after each bowl which pins were left standing. What an inspiring group! They have various health problems related to their ages but there is no complaining except in jest. Everyone is there to have fun and they certainly do!!

You would think after 3 games these old fossils would be ready to go home for a nap. No way – not this crowd – now it’s time to go out for lunch. We all show up at a local restaurant and while we are waiting for our food to arrive the fossils burst into song. There’s lots of kibitzing about what key to sing in, who’s bass or tenor or baritone etc. Patrons at other tables invariably turn to listen and applaud after each song.

After a few songs in almost perfect harmony and pitch, the waitress brings water and straws for everyone. They all tear the ends off the straw wrappers and are blowing the paper wrapper missiles at each other! Now it’s like being out with a crowd of 5 years olds. Mark is sitting next to his Aunt Cid, a sweet quiet lady in her 80s. She quietly passes a straw to Mark and says “This is for your dad”, Mark starts to pass it over to his dad. “No”, she says “It’s to shoot at him!!” What fun.

The fossils are an inspiration to us all on many levels. The three remaining brothers, their two cousins, and close friends are so close and obviously really enjoy each others company. There is no complaining, whining or blaming, just good clean fun. We can only hope that we will be as good natured, fun loving, and grateful to be alive as them as we “fossilize”.

Still young at heart,

14 July, 2008

A Dinghy Story

Location: West Hartford, CT

We’re in West Hartford, Connecticut helping out and visiting with Mark’s parents and family for the next week or so. The Khronicles have had several “slow news” weeks in a row, so we thought we’d entertain you with something “dinghy”.

Some friends we met heading south told us the following story last January when we were anchored off the Venetian Islands in Miami. They’ve been cruising for 30 or so years and swear it’s true. The four of us were on another couple’s boat for happy hour when he began to tell us a story. According to our somewhat questionable memories, it went something like this:

“Shortly after we first started cruising we anchored and went ashore with some friends. The local beach bar had a special on margaritas, and, if I remember correctly, we drank somewhere around 16 of them between the 4 of us. Eventually, full of margaritas, we decided to call it a night and headed back to our respective boats.”

“I had just purchased a new anchor a few weeks before to use as a stern anchor. The wind was picking up and the tide was due to change soon so I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to set said new stern anchor. I’d never set one before, but after all those margaritas, I was supremely confident in my ability to do so.”

“Oh, by the way - when we first got to the Bahamas, I made two adjustments to my outboard. It really annoyed me that I couldn’t take my hand off the throttle without the speed decreasing and the motor steering to starboard. So I tightened the throttle just enough to hold it where I set it, and tightened the turning adjustment so the motor would stay put. This really made long trips much easier and less tiring for me, as I could simply set direction and speed and let go of the tiller for long periods of time.”

“At any rate, I decide it’s time to go ahead and set the stern anchor. I proceed to load it and about 200 feet of line into the dinghy, attach the bitter end of the line to the stern of the boat, and head out at full throttle. Shortly after leaving the boat I manage to hit a wave, go airborne, and fall out of the dinghy.”
“Of course, the throttle is now set at full, the motor is set to steer nearly straight ahead, and the dinghy is beginning to disappear in the distance. There’s nothing for it but to swim back to the boat, lick my wounds, and regret the loss. I’m about 15’ away from the boat when the dinghy reaches the end of the anchor line. It pulls taught, the anchor digs into the dinghy’s transom, the dinghy flips into the air, does a 180, lands right side up, and heads back to the boat. Right toward me. Shit. I’m still in the water and it’s headed directly for me.”

“I somehow manage to cover those last 15 feet really quickly and levitate onto the stern of the boat a split second before the dinghy blasts through right where I had been. I stand there and watch it plane the length of the boat, past the bow, and begin disappearing in the distance again. Feeling a bit detached and foggy, I stand there and wonder what’s going to happen next.”

“Well, I’ll tell you. The dinghy again reaches the end of the anchor line, but this time, instead of flipping around and heading back to the boat, it begins going in a big circle around the boat at the limit of the line. I watch it go around the stern and head toward the bow, then around the bow, then back to the stern. I’m turning in circles to watch, and, after about the third rotation, realize that I’ve been lashed to the stern by three passes of the line around the boat. As this fact slowly begins to sink in, another lashing is added and I’m tied tightly, unable to get loose. I still find it really interesting, however, and continue to stand there and watch to see how it plays out.”

“My wife shouts ‘Cut the line! Cut the line!’ to which I answer ‘You’re crazy! Then we’ll lose the dinghy, the outboard, AND the new anchor!’ She gives me a piece or two of her mind, then wanders off toward the pointy end of the boat waving her hands, shaking her head, and muttering.”

“So I continue to stand, soaking wet, lashed to the stern of the boat, and I’m beginning to have difficulty breathing as the lashings pull taught. I’m still watching as the dinghy continues circling the boat all the while winding more and more wraps of line around me. It’s fascinating how it’s all working out. It eventually winds itself all the way up and ends up next to the boat facing forward.”

“ ‘This is great!’ I think. ‘It couldn’t be any better! It ended up right back here at the boat – I didn’t lose it and I don’t have to chase it at all! All I have to do now is get loose so I can get back to getting the stern anchor set.’ ”

“So there I am, hogtied to the stern of the boat, unable to move and barely able to breathe. But I’m feeling great! This will be an easy recovery! On the down side, however, the dinghy is now tied to the side of the boat. Pushing it. Like a tug. Oops. We slowly pass over the primary anchor, break it loose from the bottom, and, dragging it behind us, head for shore.”

(Editor’s note: By this time, Julie, Mark, and our hosts, are all doubled over laughing so hard tears are rolling out of our eyes.)

“Our friends, meanwhile, have arrived at their boat about 100 yards away and are watching the proceedings with many extremely vocal suggestions, verbal ‘support’, and way too much laughter. I try to call for help: ‘hhhhh…….’ Is all that comes out. Obviously, they don’t understand what I’m saying. ‘hhhh..s..plltlttl…..’ I try to yell more loudly. Still no response. They helpfully mention that it looks like we’re heading for shore.”

“In the meantime, my wife, bless her soul, returns from the bow and manages to make it clear to them that we’re not doing this for their entertainment. The light slowly dawns through and they decide the best thing to do is head over and see if they can help us. They pour themselves back into their dinghy and, after several abortive attempts, manage to board successfully and join us on our boat.”

“At about the time they get aboard, our dinghy’s outboard runs out of gas. This is apparently a bit of a letdown for them. They discuss whether they actually should have come over to help, since the ‘tug’ is no longer pushing. They seem to be disappointed they can’t be ‘the heros’, but, like true friends, they don’t let this get them down. Between them and my wife, they manage to get enough additional rode out on the primary anchor to stop our dragging before we run aground.”

“They then begin discussing whether they should turn me loose or leave me as I am, lashed to the stern, quiet and unable to cause any more trouble. I try to participate in the conversation, saying ‘I’m glad that’s over with. Now get me loose so I can go set the stern anchor”, but all that comes out is ‘gg…hhh……..splflxfx…..’. They ignore me. My wife offers them a drink and they go below. I can tell it’s going to be a long night.”

(Editor’s note: At this point all four listeners have fallen out of their chairs and are rolling on the floor convulsing in laughter, unable to speak. Our friend allows a brief dramatic pause in the story, then continues …)

“Hey! Anybody up for a margarita?”

Mark & Julie
s/v Rachel

04 July, 2008

Independence Day

Location: Deltaville, VA
Position: N 37 32.902 W 076 19.823

It's July 4th and we’re back in Deltaville again, this time with our 6 yr. old grandson Alex aboard for a week. Alex has become a fish, spending much of every day in the pool. When we’re not at the pool, we’re messing about in the dinghy, looking at crabs and lots of other stuff along the shore, playing on the swings and hammock, and generally having a lot of fun together. We’re looking forward to the Deltaville Independence Day parade, baseball game, and fireworks.

While we were visiting with Alex’s family I went to a local café for a cup of coffee and to use the Internet. As I walked along the sidewalk, I was struck by how different I looked compared to the locals. Braided hair, shorts, a t-shirt and big goofy looking plastic shoes - in this small mountain community I stuck out like a sore thumb.

That got me to thinking (always a risky proposition at best). I realized that I have begun to take being a full-time liveaboard cruiser, and the independence that implies, as a given. In the Bahamas, traveling the ICW, and cruising around the Chesapeake we’re always around other cruisers, local watermen and women, and others who recognize and take it for granted that we are sailors.

In the café I was surrounded by businessmen in their suits hurrying to the office, ladies out for a relaxed ‘cuppa’ and a chat with friends, students from the nearby college cranking up on espresso - all of them with their individual land-bound responsibilities and their local circles of friends.

No one other than me knew I was a cruiser and it felt odd. Not so much because they didn’t know, but because I’ve apparently become so used (at least subliminally) to being recognized as a cruiser by others around me that it felt strange when that recognition was missing. It was especially interesting to me to notice that I recognized the feeling not by its presence, but rather by its absence. It’s hard to describe, but the feeling was a bit like when I remove my wedding ring to snorkel where there are barracuda – I’m so used to it being on my finger that I’m not even conscious of it until it’s gone.

On this Independence Day, we are grateful for the freedom and independence that living on Rachel affords us. One of the nicest things about our lives aboard is that, wherever we are, our home is there, too. We can share a multi-million dollar view with the owners of expensive waterfront homes or we can find a secluded anchorage in which to be alone. We can anchor near a working dock and dinghy in to hang out with the men and women who make their livings from the sea. We can visit the local yacht club and go have a beer with the ‘yachties’. If we find our neighbors are too noisy or obnoxious, we can just move our home to a different neighborhood.

Have a safe and happy 4th of July! Ooh – fireworks!!

Loving our own personal Independence Days,

Mark & Julie
s/v Rachel