Thursday, April 3, 2014

A trip back in history

A Trip Back In History

Chase and Glen standing in front of a B-17

It has to be one of the most memorable trips ashore we have had in a very long time.

I heard on the cruiser's net that several vintage WWII planes would be coming to Marathon.  I decided to take the kids out of (home)school for the day and make it a cool field trip.  They were excited about it - though more excited I think about getting out of school that going to see a few old planes.  So we started the day at the tennis court while we waited for them to arrive.  As we were vollying back and forth, a loud rumble roared over head as a huge plane, dropped its gear over us and blackened out the sky for a brief moment.  My kids stared up as they went over, their mouths gaping open.  From that point on, they had absolutely no interest in tennis or anything else.  They wanted to get to the airport!

We rode our bikes there (about four miles against the wind) and they were so excited when we got there they stopped at the fence and stared.  I will say that the planes look especially huge when you are up close to them... even larger than when they roar overhead.  So we paid our dues and in we went...

Chase climbing up into the B-17

I have to say, this was one of the most spectacular plane-visits I have had the pleasure of seeing.  Most of these visits are nothing more than an outside examination of a cool plane (no touching).  THis place was just the opposite and you could not only touch the planes, but you could climb through almost every aspect of them.  They foundation that runs these planes has spent an enormous amount of money to restore them as close to their original condition as they could.

The B-17 really was a fabulous plane.  The planes were highly overbuilt and could sustain an incredible amount of damage before they were brought down.  However, they had less of a range and though they were smaller, actually carried less ammunition than the B-24.  A positive of the B-17 is that it could handle multiple roles and after the war, it was used for a multitude of things from fighting fires to deliver goods.  Because of this versatility, there are still many examples of B-17's today and many still fly.

Chase and Glen standing outside the B-24 

The B-24's are a completely different animal.  It was purposely built for one purpose:  to carry bombs.  It had a larger range and could carry more payload and larger bombs.  It was one of the most effective bombers during the war.  However, it was much more susceptible to damage and a water landing was especially dangerous because of how the bomb doors were made.  Given its narrow body and specific design, the B-24 had no real civil use after the war and most were scrapped.  The B-24 pictured here is the last, flying B-24 on the planet.  All the rest are either non-operational museum pieces or completely gone.

The P-51 Mustang... a gorgeous aircraft.

The P-51 Mustang (this fighter was the C if I recall correctly), is an incredible beauty to behold.  Fast and could fly at high altitudes.  For those that have never heard one of these (this is the second time in my life), they have a very distinctive sound and a kind of whistle as they go by.  Incredible planes.  I believe that many P-51's survive still today, though I think this is the only C version still flying.  This version was also a two seater (front and back) which was especially unusual.

These particular planes fly around the country and do open tours from coast to coast.  If you get an opportunity to see them, do it.  Fabulous step back in time.  My kids loved it and it was a great history lesson.  Especially when they held the machine guns, I asked them how they would feel with a swarm of german fighters shooting holes around them... when they either had to shot them down or be shot.  There was no where else to go.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Name that class...

It's inevitable. Leave something in thd drink long enough and things will begin to grow on it. A little longer and LOTS of things will grow on it. How long this time... Er, hmm, how about 6 months??

So we were tired from school and the weather was beautiful. "How about we take a break from math and head to the beach?  A little PE?"  They were all for that until they saw what I hooked up to the tender:  their kayaks. 

So we took off for Sombrero and a side where you can beach small boats. We carried with us several putty knives, a 5g bucket filled with fresh water, a brush and muriatic acid. We knew it would be bad.... Has no clue it would be that bad!!!

So what initially was going to be a PE class suddenly turned into a full-fledged marina biology class. The growth was at least two inches thick and larger in some places. We found lots of sea pork, snall shrimp, and even lobster!  Yes, lobster!!  Look closely and you will see one in the pic below...

Just so you know, he was not quite big enough for the grill, so we begrudgingly let him go with a daring remnider that we would, "catch ya later!!"

Then the fun began. Poor Glen had his mouth open when he hit one of the porks and it splattered in.  He threw his putty knife down and began a convulsion of spitting. I did not laugh (out loud) but did get quite a snicker. 

So in the end we got them cleaned up and made our way back to the boat. We asked ourselves whether we should count it as PE or Biology class. What do you think???

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A stark reality of this life...

Exotic islands. Goregous water. Beautiful sunsets and the love of being a part of nature versus seeing it from abroad. These are all true and they are all part of the life we see and how we envision life aboard a boat. But there is another stark reality that I should share. It is rarely discussed or considered before we take off, but for most of us, it eventually tracks us down. What is it?  Losing touch with family amd friends. 

Do we still call?  Absolutely.  Do they follow us on Facebook or our blog?  Of course. But the reality is that you are likely hundreds to thousands of miles from those you love. Nothing can replace being with them and sooner or later, something happens.  The call comes in. It did for us a couple of nights ago. 

Christie's grandmother, who raised her until she was about 9 and took the place of her mother after her mom died (when Christie was 8), is becoming very ill. We were told to get to North Carolina as quickly as possible. 

Many thoughts go through your head. There is a level of regret and certainly a lot of questioning. "Did we do the right thing going boating?"  "Should we have stayed close instead?"  "Is it worth it?"  

There is no right or wrong answer here. It is one of the tradeoffs for doing this life. And while no one wants to talk about it and fewer truly realize its ramifications until their 'call comes in', it is something we all must balance as we set sail for the beautiful places that beckon us away. My only suggestion is to remember why you do this. Remember why you left. For me, as I put in another round of homeschooling, I balance it with my kids who wake up with me every day. I am showing them a life few can do, and fewer still will ever do. Others dream of it. We live it. Yet, it doesn't come without its stark realities and it does not make them any easier to swallow. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The beginning of a new day

Beautiful sunset. Life starts over today. I have been so blessed. I will not let this blog set idle anymore. 

My post to start it off...

Friday, December 27, 2013

Blog coming back up

Sorry everyone. My phone died and lots of technical issues. Back up and going. To those following us, many aplologies. Apple hates me. Anyways, back up and going with many new stories and updates coming soon. Hang tight. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Ode to a Sailor...

Ode to a sailor…

Over the many years in our travels, we have had the pleasure of meeting many different men and women; only occasionally do we meet other families.  You see, families aboard a boat are a rarity and always have been.  I wonder now, looking back, if that was why I was picked out from the many other boaters?  I wonder now, looking back, if that was why he liked me?

It is not to say this old sailor wasn’t a friendly man.  He was.  I saw him sit on other boats and enjoy a beverage.  He would say ‘hello’ to any that passed him by.  If you needed an extra pair of hands on a project, he would be there in an instant.  But for some reason, this old sailor seemed to take a special interest in me.  One day he told me, in his typically quiet voice and cocked smile, “I would like to show you some pictures… when you have time."

‘Time?’  I had a lot of things, but time was not one of them.  We were trying to get out of Saint Petersburg.  Our window was closing for our run to the Bahamas or places further south.  We were pinched between life, reality, and dreams – with each taking a higher priority depending on the moment and the project.  Days passed, then weeks.  I dare say a month or two went by when one afternoon, while I was hanging upside down from my solar panels, I looked out and saw him standing beside the boat - a picture album in hand.

“Are you busy?” he asked.

“No,” I lied.  “Come on aboard.”

This old sailor opened his well-worn album and began showing me a series of grainy photos.  He showed me a boat he had made with his own hands.  He showed me his wife and his children steering a course in tall seas.  He showed me remote islands across the pacific, bananas given to him by a distant tribe, and his kids running along some exotic shore or swimming an uncharted reef… few of which I had ever heard the names of.  Yet the old sailor knew them all, especially the tribes and locals that took his family in as one of their own.  These cracked pictures were the exploits of a cruiser over half a century earlier.

He did this without a color chartplotter.  He did not have a GPS.  There was no radar, no watermaker, no IPOD or Satellite phone.  He didn’t even have a life raft.  There were no such things back then.  He sailed across the ocean using the stars and sun to guide him.  He read old maps by lamplight, if he had the map at all.  He got his drinking water from the clouds and prepared for the storms by studying the barometer.  And while this achievement alone was remarkable, that he took his young family with him was extremely exceptional.  Why?  Because when you go to sea with your family around you, the tiller in your hand holds everything precious in life.  There is no, ‘I am sorry’.  They pay for your mistakes with you.  So a father who takes his children beyond the safety of land must know his boat, he must know his capabilities, and he must know himself.  It is a thing hard to explain to those who have not done it, yet he had.  Not only had he done it, he had done it in a time and in a way few others dared to try.  It is a mark of seamanship beyond the stretch of most of us today.  Certainly my pitiful little accomplishments and life raising children afloat did not scratch the surface of what he had achieved.  It never would.

Yet, all things come to an end and as the afternoon waned, so did the pages of time.  He stepped off the boat and thanked me for letting him share his past – and I quickly corrected him that it was I who was thankful.  I don’t know why, but he walked down the dock with a curious spring in his step, as if the conversation had somehow given him new energy or lightened an invisible load he carried.  I watched him walk away with a new found respect for the quiet sailor who accomplished so much but spoke of it so little.  That was almost a year ago.

A few days back I heard the news:  the old sailor, whose cocked smile and picture album I will never forget, had died.  He now sails through a sea of stars towards the wife he so badly missed.  It is a destination we all make alone, through an ocean whose only boundaries are those of our memories, to an island whose shore is filled with those that went before us.  Yet back here, where that sea still rages wild, I wonder how many more old sailors sit quietly by the wayside - their exploits in life spectacular but unheralded?  Behind all their eyes is a photo album waiting to be opened.  And while their camera may no longer take the same breathtaking shots, I plan to see more of those pictures before they have completely faded.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Trials of a life afloat...

There are days that living on a boat will absolutely test your ability to stay sane.

I certainly had one of those yesterday.  It started the same as every other day.  We got up and began our commute in the station wagon (ie, tender) stuffed to the gills with computers, trash, toiletries for four, fourteen different text books, etc, etc, etc.  Note, Kris and I aren't even aboard yet!  This is what it looks like on a typical day (not even a 'full' day):

Fine.  Always challenging, but fine.  Visions of soccer moms making their neighborhood stops before dropping off the kids at school came to mind, so do we really have it worse than anyone else?  Nah.  It's all perspectives.  We headed to the 'barn' (what I call the common area at the municipal marina) and began our day.

About an hour later, I headed back to the boat by myself to put our turkey into water (yes, we bought a turkey for the night... Thanksgiving early!).  A brief mention about turkeys for boats:  any interest you have in buying the 747 sized Butterball is a exercise in futility.  It simply won't fit in the oven.  Instead, pretend you are Tiny Tim's father and shop for a turkey about the size of a chicken.... I mean a poor, half starved, scrawny looking foul.  With the help of your foot, that's what will fit in your oven.  But I digress...

I hopped off the tender, filled the sink with water and dropped in the sparrow.  Great.  Exciting.  Is going to be a great dinner that night (with a bit of imagination).  I went back out to the tender and stared down at it with my mouth hanging open:  once again, I lost my bow light.  They are a glue on light that makes us legal and cost about $35.  Well guess what, this is the fourth light this year.  FOURTH!!... and the year ain't over yet.  They make the lights float, but I long ago realized that was just to add salt to the wound.  Under the premise that you will find it, you spend an hour or two travelling the waterways and laying out strategic search patterns that even the United States Coast Guard would be proud of.  The end result is always the same though: $20 of used gasoline and still no light... all the while your face gets redder and your language gets fouler.  I told myself after the last light and a tank of gas, I wouldn't look for a light again.  I lied.  I always do.

Two hours later, and highly perturbed, I get back to the barn (with no light).  I no more sit down than Kris reminds me I need to turn the turkey.  Fine.  Turn the turkey. I get back in the tender and halfway there, run out of gas.  No wonder, I spent it all looking for the stupid light.  By chance, my spare was full.  Not thinking, I jam the connector on and spray myself with gasoline.  Ugh!!  I will clean up at the boat.  I am heading there anyways.

Get to the boat, turn over the turkey, then began to wash up when the water pump runs high.  I am out of water.  Classic (and with soapy hands and arms).  I wipe the soap off on my clothes and head out to fill the aft tanks.  Oops.  No water left in the jugs.  Really?  Throw the jugs into the tender and head back across the harbor.  I fill said jugs and go back to the boat, hauling up 4- 5 gallon jugs (that is 160 pounds at forty a piece) and fill up the tank.  By now, it is time to put the turkey in the oven.  Wash up and place the poor thing into the oven.  Lights up fine.  All is well.

I return to the barn, and still smelling like gasoline, go take a shower up at the facilities.  By the time I return,  it is 'suggested' by my wife (also known as 'instructed' to those who are still married) to take the wet towels and toiletries back to the boat so it will be an easier commute that evening.  I mumbled something slightly audible under my breath which thankfully was ignored, and begin yet another track back to the boat.  Hang up the towels, put up the toiletries, and wait... why don't I smell the bird? Even that miserable little thing should have some kind of smell.  Open the oven and sure enough... out of gas.  Of course, I could have used the gas from the grill, but it ran out of gas the night before too (yes, readers, the night before in the middle of my ribs). Now I begin pulling everything out of my propane locker and busting up my knuckles, finally get the tank out and back into the dink. What the heck, I might as well take the tank for the grill too.

Back across the harbor, load it on the bicycle (we don't own a car), and one tank at a time begin the trek to the gas station to fill the tank.  The typical propane guy is not working.  It is 'Maria' (not her real name) who, as she will tell you, "I notta speak-a good English ."  She is a Cuban gal, who though quite sweet, moves at a snails pace and ain't the sharpest tool in the shed.

"Well, I need propane," I tell her.

"You wanna propane?"

"Yes.  Where's the other fellow?"

"Yes, yes, I getta propane."

Well that was new.  Last time she didn't know how.  I pulled out the tank for the grill and she immediately filled it.  Amazing.  "Hey, uh, I have to brig up my other tank too.  Can you fill a horizontal?"

"You wanna propane?"

"Yeah, but in a different tank.  A horizontal aluminum tank.  Do you know how to fill it?"

"Yes, yes, I getta propane."

Who was I to doubt her now?  $25 dollars later, I am heading back across Marathon to the tender, replace the old tank, and grab my horizontal tank (which my boat uses).  Sweating profusely, but seeing the day drawing to a close with a feast, I get back to the store and after waiting nearly twenty minutes (Maria is the only one working), she comes out to fill my tank... or so I thought.  Hands on hips, she stares down at the tank and mumbles something that sounded a lot like, "Blah blah blah blah blah (in a great cuban accent though)."

"I don't speak Spanish.  What?"

"I notta fill that before."

"I just asked you, before hauling this thing across Marathon, if you knew how to fill it."

"I notta fill that before."

A smart man would have just left.  But I wasn't smart.  I was desperate.  I had a half-cooked turkey in the oven.  I had already bought eggs, potatoes for mashed potatoes, and green beans for green bean casserole plus all the other food for the night.  I wanted my turkey dinner.  I bloody deserved my turkey dinner!!  As such, I watched Maria as she found an adapter for the tank and unscrewed the bleed-off nearly all the way, all the while mumbling under her breath.  She then turns on the gas and we both watch as propane spews out into the atmosphere.

Every time it was the same process:  fill the tank until it spews out, turn around and fumble for the switch that turns off the propane, slowly turn around and stare at the propane still spewing out, all of a sudden remember that you have to flip the lever to turn off the propane too, stare again at the tank still spewing propane (albeit slower now), try and remember where you just put the screw driver, fumble with said screw driver on bleed-off valve while staring at the sky (righty-tighty or lefty-tighty??), then stop and look at the tank with a not so bright expression... trying to figure out why it was almost empty again.

Once the meter read 5 gallons used (and my tank holds two if dead empty) I told her that was good enough.  By this point, there was a hole in the ozone above us and I quite frankly couldn't remember what the limit was on my credit card.  Not to mention, I had visions of someone in Key West lighting a cigarette and half of Marathon blows up.  I know many of you would have argued the charges, and it crossed my mind too, but I only speak Redneck and Pig Latin.  I don't speak Spanish and she doesn't speak Redneck, so it would have been a pointless argument.

I grab the tank (which still has a sheet of ice surrounding it and is hard to hold because it is so cold), throw it in the bike, return it to the dink, haul it back across the freaking harbor, bust my knuckles again putting it in, get the turkey cooking yet again, and look at the time... now I gotta go pick up Kris and the kids.  It is at this point I am in a very bad mood.  I begin to question my sanity.  I think about all the people with their houses and cars and ice cream that isn't melted before they get it home. I think about all the electricity I could want, endless propane or natural gas, a turkey that doesn't look like road-kill, and lights that don't pop off four times a year.   I pick up the kids and wife, bring them back to the boat (not saying a word to anyone as it would be foul anyways), and turn to see this out of my cockpit:

I watch as my wife and kids turn to enjoy it too:

And that night, we cooked that turkey.  That night we had green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, and giblet gravy... and for some reason, it tasted better than I could remember.  The harder things in life probably make you all the more appreciative.  I guess it has me too.  I woke this morning ready to battle another day aboard - greeted by a sunrise most will never see from their houses.  Maybe that is why we do this... I don't know.  But I will take the battles and the band-aids for these few moments in time that can be taken but never bought.