Thursday, April 26, 2007

2C Update 070427

Read about our activities aboard Tackless II in Fiji from April 27-October 25, 2007 in our Fiji Blog at:

Gwen & Don, aka The Two Captains

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

2C Update - 070424 - Oakland

The Oakland Boat Show

The Strictly Sail Pacific Boat Show in Oakland wrapped up Sunday, April 22, and with it Don's and my last boat show of the season. As usual I was working in the SeaTech booth with Steve and Capt. Marti, but for the first time Don was working for Spectra. Don worked for Spectra dealer Murray Marine at two shows this year in Florida (Stuart and Miami), but out here he was working with the company itself in their section of the huge Svendsen's booth. The good news is they sold 24 watermakers in five days; the bad news is he wasn't on commission! Nope, he was on an hourly rate here, but at least it made a big dent in the cost of our travel back to Fiji. Still, it was great experience for him and he earned a lot of brownie points, I think, with Spectra's sales manager.

The weather here is pretty chilly for these two captains: a temperature range of about 49-60. It's hard for us to imagine anyone wanting to go sailing, even though the bay sure is gorgeous. Yet, sail they do. Generally speaking, we had pretty decent weather most of the week (the weather forecasts seemed almost never in sync with reality) until Saturday night, which was, of course, the traditional Lats & Atts Party with the Eric Stone Band and free pizza and beer. Despite the cold rain (you could see your breath!), the crowd pressed into the lone tent and danced to the wailing guitar of Eric's new young lead guitarist! Wow. (Sorry, don't have his name or picture...he's cute, too!) Now that I have my regular Admirals' Angle column in the magazine, I kind of feel like one of the family. Plus, not only is SeaTech a long time sponsor of these parties (Steve usually gives away a satellite phone), but this year Spectra joined the ranks!

Saturday night's rain made for Sunday's flooded tent. We arrived to find a fleet of guys with large Wet-Dry vacs trying to suck up the water that pooled in the center of Tent B, with our booth pretty much at ground zero of the mess! Fortunately, none of our product was in harm's way, but we did lose some of our brochure packets.

Ironically, Sunday itself was gorgeous, and Jack London Square where the Show was held opened up into a festive plaza with organic vegetable vendors in tents next to exotic food vendors selling tempting items from gourmet sausages to crepes, all overlooking the marina full of new production boats with their banners snapping in the breeze. I'm not sure from a vendor's point of view that gorgeous weather is a good thing, since everybody would rather be outside. Jack London Square is immortalized as the "stomping grounds" of the young author who wrote such classics as “White Fang,” “The Sea Wolf,” and “The Call of the Wild”. There are bronze wolf prints scattered throughout the plaza "left by" a striking bronze wolf statue, that catches me off guard every time I pass it. Near the wolf is a reconstruction of a cabin London is said to have holed up in (it's very small) to write many of his books, and a few more yards away is Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon a tavern dating from the late 1800s that is set deep into the plaza at the plaza's original level. With its floor at a steep tilt, the tavern is still operating, and the 2Cs, of course, enjoyed a draft in honor of the origins of good literature.

The best part of the show for the Two Captains was the chance to visit with far-flung friends. John and Janice of Splashes, a boat that crossed from Mexico with us and which is currently in the care of our friends Larry and Sheri in Tonga, came up from their home in San Miguel for a few days, and took us to a delightful restaurant called Quinn's Lighthouse in Alameda. Over some fine beer (this part of the world really appreciates their beer!) and a nice meal, we enjoyed an evening of sea shanties, a regular Thursday night thing there.

Another night we were treated to a fine "California gourmet" meal as the guest of Don's Spectra boss Ray Carter at a favorite restaurant of his a few blocks away. I'll have to see if I can get the name of it later, but it was a lovely evening enhanced by the chance to get to know Dean Carmine and his wife Kopie (sp?) of sv Martha Rose. Long time cruisers, Dean was a roving rep in Mexico just as Don got started, but they were pulled back to the Bay area for an ongoing family medical situation, and so Dean now heads the Spectra Tech desk.

Sunday night, after the booth was broken down and packed away, we split off again to rendezvous with Diane Keaton (not THAT Diane Keaton), a high-school classmate of Don's from Indiana. Diane guided us to an amazing sushi restaurant/jazz club called Yoshi's, where we had quite the feast while the two Hoosiers caught up.

I can't say we were broken-hearted to close out our boat show season. It is hell on your feet and joints! But you do get to see different parts of the country.

Free Day - Road Trip Up the Coast

The highlight of both my trips to the Oakland Boat Show -- last year and this -- is Steve's annual excursion out of the city and up into the beautiful coastal country of Marin and Sonoma counties. Last year, guided by a customer who was a retired Sonomoa county sheriff, Steve and I had visited the Armstrong Redwoods preserve and Fort Ross, an historic Russian fort built in the early 19th century, along with more nooks and crannies of the county than typical tourists ever see (along with a lot of policeman stories to go with them!) This year Steve and I hoped to share what we'd so enjoyed last year with Don and Marti, as well as boatshow friends John and Libby of Hotwire Enterprises of Tarpon Springs.

We ended up spending most of the morning, however, visiting Point Reyes National Seashore. Cruisers in the Pacific know Point Reyes as the strong radio station from which come all important NOAA weather faxes. Historically it was also the location of the huge antenna arrays that made up AT&T's KPH marine radio station. Since Marti, with her two Idiyacht books, is the today's guru of marine radio, Steve felt it was an appropriate pilgrimage. Afterwards, we continued out the twenty some miles to the Point Reyes Lighthouse (here is a link to a camera at Point Reyes! Today -- April 24 -- fogged in!).

The drive reminded us of the terrain of Easter Island, rolling hills with few trees fringed by surf crashing on rugged rocks, only instead of the field being populated by horses, these were grazed by huge cattle herd with the occasional black tailed mule deer! (Steve was very keen to see the park's herd of elk, but we discovered that most of the elk are up in the park's northern reaches.) Our exquisite weather afforded us incredible vistas, and from the lighthouse itself (what remote duty for the park rangers!) we sighted a mother and calf gray whale poking along well inshore on their migration north.

From Pt. Reyes we stopped for a delightful lunch in the town of Inverness. Inverness is sited on Tomales Bay, a long skinny gulf along the San Andreas fault zone. Then we drove around the southern end of Tomales Bay and then north along the coast on Rt. 1, through the lovely rolling farmlands and dramatic coastline of northern coastal Marin county. At the Russian River -- Rt. 116 -- where we came out to the coast last year, we turned inland in order to take everybody to the Amstrong Redwoods. WE reached the preserve after five, and down in the gorge where the redwoods grow for water they need all was quiet and dim. These giants are simply amazing, growing to heights of 300 feet. Their bark is roped, like giant corrugated cardboard. We followed a twisty road that brought us up through the higher oak forests to the top of the ridge where the sun was still bright and we had a superb vista of the hills of this part of Sonoma.

Our very full day was winding up quickly so we turned our car's nose south and headed back to Oakland for the last motel night before heading back to Fiji. One last note: about the only NEGATIVE thing I can say about our time in Oakland was the dreadful rental vehicle steve was given at the airport. Having reserved a minivan (for the four of us and ALL our luggage: Steve's five and hour four), he was given a Jeep Commander. Maybe if you were a couple and wanted to look tough, this would be a good vehicle, but for such a huge presence (we called it the pseudo Hummer), there was very little space. My knees were jammed behind Steve in the driver seat the whole week, and while the Commander offers a third row of seating in the back, John and Libby had to climb in over the seat and perched with their knees to their chin the whole day. Also, the windows all around were small (the better to repel attackers, I guess) so ill suited for sightseeing! I don't complain much, but there...I feel better now. I just hope it will get us to the airport this morning!

Which we've got to go do NOW! Bye.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

2C Update 070417

The 2Cs are well and truly on our way. Everything has been squeezed into our four bags, the Harley is stored, the coach cleaned and put away, the deck furniture and bikes packed into the shed, and we have had our farewells with the kids. Tiffer and Kai drove up to Crystal River yesterday after school and we had a great afternoon riding bikes. Yes, Kai is actually riding his new two-wheeler (with training wheels). If you need a demonstration of how fast kids learn, less than two weeks ago, on Easter morn when the bunny brought the yellow Elmo bike, the young man hadn't a clue about pedaling. Now, he can ride it like he's been doing it for years. His only catch was when he got so the training wheels straddled the V-dip in the road, and the real wheel had no purchase! They spent the night, and after a BIG breakfast at Grannie's this morning, we zipped down the Suncoast parkway straight to the Tampa Airport.

Which has free wireless!! We have a couple of hours before our flight to Oakland, CA and Don is getting an airport haircut. I THINK we are looking forward to our week in Oakland: a little income ( we are both working), several get togethers with West Coast friends, the Latitude & Attitudes Saturday night party, and a chance to catch up three time zones. The only hitch to the plan is that we will be girls in one hotel room and boys in another! steve, my boss, provides two hotel rooms, and he has kindly offered Don the bed in his room so nobody has to pay for a third.

Final departure to Fiji is Tuesday, April 24.


Monday, April 9, 2007

March On! -- March 2007

Family Stuff – Fitting It In

The phenomenon of our jam-packed calendar has amazed us. On the boat we avoid having a schedule like the plague. Yet in the States, if we didn’t have our little book, we’d be lost! And whenever a few boxes gape open, it seems we can’t resist filling them up.

Given that the reason we come back to the States at all is to be in the lives of our family, it may seem that we have not spent as much time with them this year, at least with the kids. Well, it’s been all part of a new strategy, which is to give the kids space to live their own lives and nip in every few weeks or so for quick and intense visits. Of course not only does this enable them to live their own lives, but it has left us time to build a Florida life of our own.

February ended as it began with a long weekend parked in the kids’ side yard. The highlight of this visit was our annual trip to the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa. This year we were much shrewder and purchased the annual family pass so the kids can take Kai back over and over during the year. The zoo is always a big hit with Kai, and this year at two he was definitely more engaged. He likes the monkeys, and the mama and baby elephant, and he rode the camel with Mommy and Gz. But his favorites, I think, are the giraffes, who at Lowry Park will come right up to you and take crackers from you hand. There’s a picture somewhere of me about Kai’s age pressed up to an iron fence with a tall giraffe up against his side. Zoos have come a long way.

We were back at NCL just a few days when Don’s folks pulled in to park right across the lane from us for three weeks. They had spent a couple of days on their way north in Clearwater visiting with the kids before coming on up to Crystal River. Our part of Florida is too cold for their idea of a snowbird winter, but it makes a perfect staging location in March when things have warmed up but they’re not yet ready for Indiana.

I think Don and I had imagined that our pace would slow down in March, that we would hang about the whole month, lolling in our deck chairs (catching up on our tans), swapping dinners and catching the ice cream socials with Gma and Gpa, and riding the Harley. In fact, our schedule remained about as hectic as before. Suddenly the weeks were counting down to our return to Tackless II, and we still had parts to order for the boat, annual checkups to the doctors and dentists to get through, and, with the tentative approach of spring, some homeowner obligations in the maintenance of our plot of dirt.

In the midst of it all a spontaneous family gathering on my side of the family came together when my Vermont sister Jo flew down to visit my North Carolina sister Cecily for a week. Jo’s daughter Katie and husband Jason, who live just a few hours away in Columbia, SC, were coming up for the weekend, so we decided to make it a full house. Leaving the coach behind this time, we made fast tracks up in the more fuel-efficient Saturn and stayed for about five days.

Is the weather always perfect in these mountains? It sure seems that way to us. After our visit in October, we’d pursued by email a few leads on real estate in the area, thinking someday we might want a mountain getaway. We spent our first day in Hendersonville with a realtor checking out the best leads, and when the last one caught our fancy, it made for a nice family activity to take everyone out there for their opinion. A retreat with a nice mountain vista in an area with hiking, golf, and –oh, my – some rather tempting motorcycle roads, could make a nice complement to our Crystal River pied-à-terre. And in case I’d forgotten the appeal of having some cultural activities to ice the cake, my brother-in law Bob, who is on the board of the Hendersonville Symphony, took us all to hear their performance of the Brahms Requiem on Saturday night.

Sadly, it’s worked out that our great find wasn’t meant to be. While we tried to clear up some confusion on just where the property boundaries were, a better informed buyer got a bid in on it before us. It’s probably just as well. We are already living life with a foot in two spheres (quite literally in two hemispheres!), and adding a third, even one conceived as an investment for the future, might have been more than our circuits could take.

Soggy Paws Wedding via a Cross Florida Ride

On March 24, after the Saturday morning pancake breakfast here in NCL with Gma and Gpa Wilson, we loaded up the motorcycle with our new biker suitcase and set off for our first overnight trip. Our destination was again Melbourne, and the trip combined the pleasure of our first long ride to actually go somewhere with the honor of being on hand for the wedding between our two friends Sherry Beckett and Dave McCampbell.

It is a mighty fine feeling to witness two people you like, whom you actually introduced, who have the special dream of cruising, commit themselves to one another. It was lovely informal occasion bringing together a gathering of friends and family for a sunset ceremony on the shore of the Intracoastal. A nice reception follow in a friend’s back yard, put together largely by the all-woman racing team Sherry is leaving behind. Appropriately, the newlyweds spent their wedding night aboard Soggy Paws in the canal out back, while we, Sherry’s daughter, and another guest divided up the accommodations of the condo.

Our ride across the state on shady rural routes crossing above Orlando had been great. Getting back by way of Lakeland where we’d planned a lunchtime rendezvous with former cruising friends Mac and Sam proved to be a bit more problematic. Wishing at almost any cost to avoid Rte 4 and its sweep by Disney World on a Spring Break Sunday, we laid out a route staying south that we hoped would keep us clear of the stop-and-go traffic of Kissemee and Lakeland. Much of the ride was idyllic, with the air laced with the heavy perfume of flowering citrus groves. But the sun was hot and a wrong turn somewhere drew us way out of our way before we caught it, making us quite late for our get together. (A GPS is on our list for next year.) Good friends, however, are patient and we had a nice lunch in Lakeland, before heading north two more hours to get home.

Goings on at NCL

Our March wound up with several local events of note. The first was a Wednesday night concert in the clubhouse by a duo called the River Rats. Don and I aren’t much into country, but we thought it’d be something Gma and Gpa would like. Well it just goes to show you that a good performance is a good performance in any category. The two guys, seniors themselves hailing from a place identified as Mountain Air, Arkansas, gave a most entertaining show blending comedy and music. All four of us had a real good time.

Next was a mid-week visit TO US by Tiffany and Kai. Gma, Gpa, Don and I drove down to meet them first at the Homosassa State Wildlife Park I'd visited with my cousin in February. Kai really enjoys animals, and he has a special fondness for birds, of which this park has loads. The weather this time was much nicer, and the otters which had hidden on my first visit were very actively swimming laps in their pool. However the manatees were more shy and the bird life more limited.

After our afternoon at the park, Tiffer and Kai came on up for a BBQ dinner and overnight affording us the chance for some multi-generational family pix.

At the end of the month was NCL’s final park-wide party of the season. This last blast is a potluck with a Luau, complete with roast pig. We’d missed it last year, which pained me because, if there’s a theme we should be able to get into, you’d think it would be this one. Although it seems like we have spent a lot of time here this year, we have repeatedly been away for most of the big events. So I planned a couple of dishes to take that would be quasi-authentic Polynesian dishes (along with a backup in case it didn’t come out right!), and shopped hard to find approximate ingredients. Of course our little motorcycle group couldn’t resist a ride in the fine weather that morning, which of course got us back late, so it was all a rush in the end! I pressured Don into wearing proper Pacific pareos to the event, but I don’t think a single person commented on his wearing a skirt!

Our First Poker Run

Finally on the last weekend of the month came the event Don had been waiting weeks for: our first poker run. Poker runs are pretty common fund-raising events in the motorcycle world. This one was organized by the local American Legion to benefit families of reservists posted in Iraq. About a hundred motorcycles gathered for the ride that would string together seven stops at biker friendly bars, restaurants and Legion Posts where the riders would collect cards in sealed envelopes, paying $10 per hand. At the end the envelopes would be opened, hands registered, and prizes awarded to the best four.

It was a beautiful day and the route covered ground familiar from our own wanderings. The pack was pretty well divided between what we still think of as “real” bikers (guys and gals with lots of tattoos and leather) and what I think of as middle-aged boomer-zoomers (in other words, us!). There were about a dozen bikes from NCL (accounting for a tenth of the turnout), and we are all in the latter category. Surprisingly, the brotherhood of the road seemed to have room for us all! It was a very friendly day, with plenty of mutual admiration of bikes and leathers. I did chuckle a bit at the overweight middle-aged rockers who wailed away on the bandstand at the final party as our prim activities director Pat (whose recent courtship with one of our Park bikers has her riding behind him in borrowed leathers and her red cowboy dance boots) covered her ears.

And speaking of ears, mine could hardly believe it when my name was called as third place winner! My prize was an impressive leather jacket already bedecked with an array of biker patches! I was the envy of all! Unfortunately, the jacket is a little big on me, but of course fits Don just fine. He suggests I will be able to better admire it on him! Maybe, but I for sure wore it home from the Legion Hall (despite the heat) which earned me lots of whistles and thumbs up as we roared away.

You know, I’m actually kinda getting addicted to the Harley rumble! Who’da thunk it?

Speaking of the Harley rumble, if your guts stir at all to the thought of riding free, be sure not to miss the current flick Wild Hogs. Even if they don’t stir that way, it’s a fun movie. Don and I caught the premier showing, and it is the first time in ages we’ve been in a packed theater where the audience laughed from beginning to end.

Labels: ,

Saturday, April 7, 2007

February Frenzy

Cousin Patty’s visit the first weekend in February, however crappy the weather, was an island of calm in the storm of our busy calendar. Almost the moment she was on the plane, we were back on the road again.

First stop was the FMCA’s (Family Motorcoach Association) southeast regional convention in Brooksville, Florida. Brooksville is just a hop, skip and a jump away from Crystal River, and, since we’d never attended one of these things, we’d signed up. The convention took over a good part of the Hernando County Airport, and motorhomes were parked one after the other in three rows down the length of not one but two runways! What a sight it is to see a couple thousand motorhomes in one place!

I cannot tell you how impressive the organization of this event was to us. There were four full days of seminars going on in a half-dozen tents, with coffee and donuts for all in the morning and entertainment at night. Volunteers drove trams – either school buses or trolleys towed by trucks – from first light to the end of day. And of course there was the field of new models on display.

The main activity Don and I participated in was an RV Safe Driving Course. Graduation earned us certificates that save us $ on our insurance. Although the two session course was mainly a review of principles we should already know, I think we both found it a worthwhile refresher. The other meaty seminar we sat in on was the one on tire safety. We went right over to the vendors tent and purchased a tire monitor with senders for the six tires of the coach and the four on the car. With this in place we can keep a close eye on the pressures as we go down the road, and an alarm will sound if any tire’s pressure drops by 12%. After our flat on the tow car last year, this seemed a no-brainer.

From Brooksville, we drove south to Ft. Meyers for a few days visit with Don’s folks. Let me emphasize the “WE.” Flush with my RV safety course, I was determined to drive. Up to now I have avoided it, with just a short stint on a light-trafficked road and around the parks. This time I got behind the wheel just south of Tampa and drove most of the way to Ft. Meyers on I75. It was terrifying for all concerned. Don makes it looks so easy, but the damn thing does not track straight. I’d be going along just fine when before I knew it the starboard tires were going whumpa, whumpa, whumpa on the safety grooves along the shoulder, conceived to awaken a dozing driver. I wasn’t dozing! To get it back in the lane required a correction that threatened to put me into the next lane! As snake a wake as I was making, I must point out I never did cross into the other lane, but when I suggested to Don that a sign identifying me as a novice driver might be wise in the back window, he said, “I think they know.”

Still and all I did it, which is comforting to know in case of an emergency. With all the writing I do to motivate women cruisers to be proactive, the least I can do on the RV is manage to drive it.

However I don’t think it will become a habit.

We had a nice if short visit with Don’s folks who’d got themselves a primo parking spot right at the head of Upriver Park in North Fort Meyers. From here they could sit on their patio and watch all the comings and goings, it was an easy stroll to the post office or the ice cream socials, and their daily loops for exercise offered several routes, including, our favorite, a stroll out to the waters of the Caloosahatchee River.

From Ft. Meyers we drove east to Miami for a week working the Miami Boatshow. Like last year we had a pass to bring the coach downtown to park in the exhibitors’ lot right at Bayside. So like last year, we drove our rig into downtown Miami at 5:30 am to avoid entangling ourselves in urban traffic.

I was again working for Sea Tech Systems in the Strictly Sail Tents at Bayside. Don was working for Spectra Watermakers down in the main convention center (where the power boaters hang out!) This pretty well meant our day split after morning coffee, and rejoined about dinner time. Dinner was usually with the Sea Tech group at our restaurant find of the year – an Argentinean place called The Knife, but a couple of evenings we got off on our own with friends. With both of us working, especially since we are both getting better at it, the week-long investment of time is really starting to pay off. Plus, we have been enough that we are starting to feel like regulars. People know us; friends come by. It’s turning into a good way to keep the sailor side of us alive while back living on dirt!

From Miami we drove North to Melbourne for couple of days visit with friends Dave McCampbell and Sherry Becketts. I have little experience playing matchmaker, but we introduced Dave and Sherry last year when both were looking for a cruising partner. Now, Dave’s boat Soggy Paws (a sistership to Tackless II) is docked behind Sherry’s condo, and the two are on a determined campaign to consolidate their lives and take off cruising by the end of April! If anyone can do it they can! I have had a few second thoughts about making this introduction, however, since Sherry has been my webmaster these past couple of years and now she’ll be gone!

In fact, the official reason for our visit was to refresh my memory on how to makes posts to my own website. I am embarrassed to admit that I have no gift for this and have relied heavily on others to make happen all that you (dear reader) have seen on! But it looks like I am going to be saved by and are the Internet’s gift to the mobile sailor. Although I have squirmed at the concepts of the “blog” phenomenon, I am a complete convert. Not only is it practically idiot-proof (as you can see by these past postings), but once you have it set up you can simply post your updates right to your Blog by email. In Melbourne Sherry gave lessons to me and another cruiser, Jean Service of the CSY Jean Marie, and Jean and I spent a great day together practicing. By the way, Jean and her husband Tom are soon to take off on their second circumnavigation, this time via the Horn. Check their new blog out at:

With our departure from Melbourne, our calendar promised to return to a more homely bent. We had a visit with the kids in Clearwater ahead, Don’s folks were scheduled to bring their RV to NCL, and the new Harley called.

What's Up with the Ground Hog????

Cousin Patty Visits

Sometime in the fall, my cousin Patty made plans to visit us during February. I was pretty excited because she hadn’t yet had even a glimpse of our new life as RVers and grandparents, let alone bikers. Plus I was eager to show her the natural Florida we had discovered around Crystal River. All Patty asked for was a guarantee that it would be warm and sunny. I told her that while the odds weren't bad and while it was a good bet that it would be warmer here than Middletown Springs, Vermont, even in Florida, guarantees were not wise.

No truer words were spoken. We collected Patty from the Tampa airport and took her directly to lunch at a favorite restaurant, Frenchy’s Saltwater on Clearwater Beach. The sun was out that afternoon, but it was not warm. After our grouper sandwiches, we went out to walk a bit on the beach. Clearwater Beach is the quintessential beach, the largest expanse of sugar white sand I have ever seen. That afternoon there was hardly a soul out because the chill wind was driving the sand in a stinging blizzard that even the most determined souls (us) couldn’t face for longer than twenty minutes!

That night, after a fine family dinner where Patty got her dose of our grandson Kai, we went "home" to the coach which was shoe-horned into the kids’ yard. In bed we turned on the TV to see if the weather report had magically brightened! Hardly. Thunderstorms were forecast for the middle of the night for the whole area, and there were actual tornado watches out for the north part of Citrus County, right where we were headed the next day!

Sure enough we had lightning and heavy rain in the night! I kind of like rain on the coach -- the pitter patter on the roof and all, I swear the ONLY rain we get in this part of Florida occurs when we are parked in the kids’ side yard, where our heavy RV is steadily gouging out huge ruts in their lawn. We woke to a chill overcast outside and the nagging ache of swollen glands on my inside! ANY OTHER WEKEND and I would have rolled up in my comforter with a good book and wallowed in being sick, but Patty was here and I had a full agenda for us. I was NOT going to be put off!

It was on our way north that Patty got the phone call from her husband urging us to call her mother and reassure her that we weren’t casualties of the tornadoes! A call to our neighbor at NCL reported many inches of rain and several trees down, but two strong twisters had touched down in north Lake County, less than an hour’s drive east, damaging more than 1500 buildings and taking nineteen lives! Holy cow, the warnings had come about!

The dank gray weather did not get any better the whole weekend, and neither did whatever bug was trying to pull me down, but we ignored both, and everything on my agenda got done. On her first afternoon, Patty and I visited the Homosassa State Wildlife Park, which has a collection of Floridian wildlife, from wild cats to shorebirds, deer to snakes, otters to owls, and of course manatees to alligators. Oh, yes, and a for-real two-headed turtle! The only non-native animal in the park is a hippopotamus named Lucifer. Lu, a retired movie star, came to the park when it was a more generic zoo. A very popular fellow, he survived the conversion by being made an honorary citizen of the state. I don’t know, there’s something wonderful about a hippopotamus. I’m glad he’s there.

Patty was keen to try some kayaking, so Saturday, we reprised the three-hour kayak trip down the Rainbow River. This time, thanks to the gray and chilly weather, we had this beautiful river largely to ourselves. As before, we saw lots of turtles poking their heads from the surface, anhingas and cormorants drying their feathers on shore-side branches, and white ibis digging in the weeds. This time we also saw a huge flock of wild turkeys!

The other major activity I wanted to fit in was a walk in the trails behind NCL. Our home RV park, Nature Coast Landings, backs up to the Felburn Park Trailhead and Withlacoochee Bay Trail. This little park includes the five-mile bike trail to the Gulf which Don and I discovered on our first visit to NCL and which at the time had a great deal to do with winning us over to the area. The Trailhead Park itself, a collection of picnic tables with a playground, didn’t reveal its hidden treasure to us until this past fall. Lurking behind the playground, down an unmarked and unmapped dirt path, is a whole network of walking trails! The glimpse of the Florida Barge Canal we might have anticipated, but who would have guessed that there was a whole lake back there surrounded by whispering reeds! I want to call it untouched by man, only its shape, a network of rectangles, suggests it may have once been a quarry. Still, now it is wrapped by scrub and forest and is a great refuge for birds and wildlife. Every time we go we see strands of animal tracks threading the trail before us. Don and I have taken to a mixed program of morning exercise, alternating between the bike trail and long walks in this park. Patty, being a Vermonter, might legitimately feel her state has a corner on natural beauty. I am quite sure that she, just like I, never imagined Florida could have such secret niches.

The only activity Patty missed out on was a ride on the Harley. It was offered, but it just didn’t seem to be high on her priority list. I’m sure it was the cold weather. The other activity that probably wasn’t high on her activity list was the Superbowl, but even she realized there was no getting out of watching the Indianapolis Colts in their moment of glory. We made up a huge batch of chili and Patty cheered for the Bears just to add more spice!

It was inevitable, of course that the Monday morning drive to Tampa airport took place in beautiful sunny, if still brisk, weather. When she got home, she said the temps in Vermont were about the same as she'd had in Florida.

What can I say?... I told her there were no guarantees!

Thursday, April 5, 2007

And A Harley New Year

The bike was sitting in our driveway with a cover over it when Don’s folks pulled into Nature Coast Landings on New Year’s Day. They managed to ignore it for a couple of hours, but just before coming inside for the welcome dinner I’d fixed, Don’s Dad finally asked, “is that a motorcycle?"

They took it well. Well, they took it quietly. I see now where Don gets his poker face. Don rode it around the loop a couple of times, showing off its cool green ‘neon” lights that light up the chrome in the dark. How could they not be impressed?

Other than the demo turns, however, the bike stayed in the driveway during their short visit. There were no takers for test drives, and we sedately went to dinner at Peck’s – a quintessential Florida seafood joint at the end of a great motorcycle road (74 curves) out into the marshes of Ozello– in the back seat of Dad’s sedan.

But the folks moved on south to their winter RV grounds in a couple of days, so we were back in the saddle before the dust settled. We rode everywhere we could at the drop of a hat. The motorcycle contagion was spreading with two other neighbors buying bikes (both Hondas!) and a third buying the old Interstate! So in addition to our solo explorations, we had group rides, usually to places to have lunch. We even took a long ride to Webster, FL where there’s a huge motorcycle swap meet once a month. Harley Davidson is the master of merchandizing, and motorcycle riders in general enjoy a unique wardrobe. Week by week it seemed, our closets bulged with new and unusual items: leather jackets, chaps, gloves, black jeans, and of course a whole array of Harley T-shirts.

To show you just how addicted we’d become, we actually turned down the chance to deliver a sailboat! Our friends Diane and Alex, both formerly sailors in the Virgins like us, finally found the boat they’d been hunting for: a 42-foot Endeavor fixer-upper for the right price that could become Alex’s next project while they sit our the two-year homesteading requirement on the house they just finished building. Over their Christmas vacation time they had done their best to bring the boat from North Carolina back to Hernando Beach, but the weather was not cooperating, and as the lasts days ticked down, they’d only made it to Cape Canaveral. It troubled us a little that we were proving to be such fair-weather friends, but hells bells, we are definitely fair weather sailors, and the 40 degree temps January had ushered in were just too brisk for us!

The real reason we couldn’t help (well, the real reason after the Harley), was that the boat show schedule was about to kick in again for both of us. I was due to fly up to Philadelphia mid-month and Don had been recruited to work with Dick Murray of Murray Marine, the East Coast Spectra Watermaker dealer whom he’d met during the SSCA Gam. It’s hard to argue with positive cash flow!

The Philadelphia Boat Show

Although I was none too sure how this fair weather sailor found herself working a boat show in Philly in January! No worries! The Philadelphia Boat show takes place in the fabulous Pennsylvania Convention Center. Part of this huge center occupies the renovated Reading Terminal Trainshed, the oldest surviving single-span arched trainshed roof structure in the world, and the only one of its kind remaining in the United States. The show was in one large hall on the second floor, while the largest program of sailing related seminars I’d ever seen went on simultaneously in one of a dozen conference rooms on either side of the corridor. To make things really sweet, the center is connected to the Marriot Hotel where we were staying. There was no need to go outside at all. Fine with me since the mercury was low and it even snowed a couple of times!

This was the first indoor boat show I’d ever attended, and I really didn’t know what to expect. Steve had advised me that this wasn’t traditionally a big-selling show for him, so I pictured something small. I was pretty amazed to find the second-floor hall filled with sailboats! And not just little boats! Full-sized coastal sailers (with their masts unstepped, of course)! And the coolest thing to me was the large foot-deep pool created in the center of the room where attendees could sign up to race one of a fleet of radio-controlled model boats! And what’s to criticize about a show with real restrooms instead of port-o-potties!

My cohort in Sea-Tech sales (actually Steve’s first line saleswoman at these events) is Captain Marti Brown, author of SSB for Idiyachts, a comprehensive overview of all the things SSB radio can do for the cruising sailor. However, for the first time in memory, Marti was unable to come, thanks to some major surgery she’d recently undergone. This meant Steve had to cover the half-dozen seminars she was scheduled to give and I had to stand on my own two feet as a salesperson. On the other hand, I got to have my fancy Marriott hotel room all on my own! Now there’s luxury! A queen-sized bed with down topper, shower and bathtub with infinite water. Only flaw in the package deal was that they wanted to charge $10 a day for Internet! Instead I watched the Indianapolis Colts secure their slot in the Super Bowl. Egad, who woulda thought the day would come when I would watch football by myself!?!

The Stuart Trawlerfest

No sooner than I was off the plane in Tampa than Don and I were in the coach and on our way to the East Coast of Florida for the Stuart Trawlerfest. Dick Murray, the east Florida dealer for
Spectra Watermakers was enough impressed with Don’s watermaker know-how at the SSCA Gam to invite him to work this show with him. He even had a place for us to park for free, in the large side yard of a charming old Florida beach house he had up for sale!

A completely different kind of show from the Strictly Sail shows, the Trawlerfest featured large power boats, both new and brokerage, with a far smaller emphasis on equipment. At Stuart there were no more than thirty vendors in a tent set up in the Marriott parking lot, and I don’t know if it was a case of the chicken or the egg, but there didn’t turn out to be much traffic through the tent. It could also have been the weather, which was cold, wet and blustery the first two days. Or it could have been because it was the first time the Stuart show had been at that venue.

On the other hand, the catering at the show was very upscale: cocktail parties each evening and nice prepared lunches everyday for which Dick had provided us both with tickets. Ironically, it was schmoozing with the folks at our lunch table that brought in the only watermaker sale, to a couple that bought it for a sailing friend prepping to leave for the Bahamas!

So it didn’t turn out to be the financial bonanza we’d hoped it might, but the fact that I’d done unexpectedly well at Philly softened the blow. Plus Don had the chance to get to know Dick better and cement the opportunity to work for him in the Spectra booth in Miami, a far better prospect.

Visitors & Kayaking

January was not all motorcycles and boat shows. Early in the month we enjoyed a nice visit with Don’s classmate from high school, Roger Batton. Rog is a farmer in Morristown, Indiana. He is also an avid golfer. Put the two together in the middle of the cold wet winter, and you have a good excuse for a visit to Florida. Rog’s cousin Greg winters in Sebring, in a house on a golf course, so Rog spent a week on the greens, before getting together with us. We rode the motorcycle to Lakeland to rendezvous for lunch with Rog and two other of their classmates, and then Rog followed us back to Crystal River for a few nights.

Now before the motorcycle took over our lives, I was keen to get into kayaking. The area boasts seven spring-fed rivers and infinite winding salt water estuaries for paddlers. Canoe and kayak rental businesses abound, and several of our neighbors at NCL have their own. Back in December friends Dan and Jan christened us on a afternoon paddle in Crystal River’s King’s Bay where we paddled out to see the manatees. The manatees are big business for the Nature Coast and tourists were thick, most getting there by tour boat. Still the mantatees came out from their sanctuary to nudge at and sometimes scratch their backs on our kayaks' bottoms. Since then I’d been chafing at the bit to paddle nearby Rainbow River, a waterway renowned for its clarity.

So off we go on a sunny Sunday to Dragonfly Watersports with our Indiana farmer in tow. Although I wouldn’t say were pros, over the years we have at least had kayaks on Tackless and Whisper. This was Rog’s debut. Delivered to the launch ramp, we paddled first upriver about an hour to the headsprings in the State Park, before turning around and traveling downcurrent about five miles. The river was as advertised, gin clear and liberally populated with turtles and bass and with anhingas, cormorants, and ibis decorating the bank-side trees. Sadly, no manatees, as they ar preventing from coming upriver by dams. Don did thinkhe saw an otter. Much of the river course is built up, but so far the houses have avoided the pompous architecture so prevalent in Florida. Pontoon boats, runabouts, and canoes were tied up at backyard docks, and families cannonballed into the water said to be a constant 76 degrees year round. In the summertime this is a big tubing destination for sweltering Floridians seeking to cool off. Since it was a Sunday and pretty day there were plenty of fisherman out drifting in the current and an amazing number of dive boats putting an even more amazing number of scuba divers into the water for shallow drift dives! Arm weary, we pulled the kayaks out at the SR484 bridge about three and a half hours after we started. Rog was a tad concerned he might not be able to raise his arms to the wheel to drive home the next day, but we all woke the day following with no lasting effects. (Sorry, no photos; didn't trust ourselves with the camera!)

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

A Very Merry December

It was inevitable wasn’t it? Give a guy an inch and he’ll definitely take it where he can. We didn’t have the RV back in Crystal River more than a day or two before the rumors of Don’s new motorcycle endorsement made the rounds of the park. And we’d already noticed the old silver Honda Interstate sitting unused on the pad over in the oldest section of the park …right next to a bright shiny new one. By the morning of December 7th – our anniversary – Doug, the old cycle’s owner and Don had initiated negotiations through Ellis, a Harley owner, and by the end of the day, the Interstate was sitting in our driveway.

Now we didn’t exactly buy it. At 22 years old, the venerable old bike had an awful lot of years on it, even if it was fairly low mileage. Up close it turned out to have a lot more rust on it, and it was a discontinued model for which parts could be hard to find. But since it was just sitting there, Don was willing to go so far as to rent it on a month-by-month basis, just to see how I might take to being a biker babe.

That very first evening we rode it out the winding roads of Yankeetown to the Gulf. And it was grand! The sky and tree-tops whizzing by, birds flying overhead, the marshes rustling in the sea breeze…It was not unlike scuba diving where you are totally immersed in the natural world.

We rode it every day that week, on group rides with our neighbors and on solo runs along winding roads through the pine forests to the north. We were well and truly hooked.

Not that we publicized our new activity over our Christmas visit to Indiana!

Family Christmas

The Wilson clan celebrated Christmas the 15th & 16th this year, a little extra early thanks to Christmas being on a Monday. Don’s Dad drove the car to pick us up at the airport, and he walked about the house without so much as a cane. Obviously he has been working hard on his recovery from his September surgery.

The annual Wilson Saturday dinner took place at nephew Dane and family’s brand new house in Greenfield. Tiffer, Derek and Kai were also on hand, as well as cousins Tisha and her family, and of course Don’s brother Greg, his wife Karen, and son Adam drove down from Valpo. Only Brooke, now living in Las Vegas was missing. I think this is the fourth “new” house I’ve had the Wilson Christmas in since joining the clan, but I think this is the one they’ll be in for a long time to come! And on Sunday we all ferried down to Aunt Margaret’s house in Shelbyville for celebration with Gma’s side of the family. Since several of Aunt Margaret’s children ride Harleys, there were some quiet conversations in out-of-the-way corner about our newfound enthusiasm!

Thanks to the early timing, we had a whole five days back in Crystal River to ride the Honda before repositioning ourselves to Clearwater for Christmas with the kids. Now two and talking up a storm, Kai was much more into the gift receiving side of things than last year. (And of course the indulgent grandparents complied.) Kai is one of the happiest and energetic children I have had the pleasure to play with. He has a definite preference for “outside” as does old Gz. One can spend hours in the front yard or back messing about with balls from golf ball size to giant soccer, and Christmas added “tennis”, lacrosse and hockey to the activity list. He’s not the greatest catcher in the world, but he throws and aims better than I do!

Santa finds the 2Cs

It was the day after Christmas that Santa found the two Captains. We were whiling away some time before a dinner get together with friends, and Don was complaining about how, on the old Honda, there really wasn’t enough room for his big feet to manipulate the shifter. We’d stopped in a Honda dealer to see it the new models were any better than our antique, but nothing on display in the Honda, Suzuki, or Kawasaki line fit the bill.

So as we are driving down the road, I said, “So how’s the room on a Harley?” And he said, “I don’t know.” Poof, on the right appears as if by magic Fletcher’s, Clearwater’s Harley dealer! We, of course, turn in.

The showroom must have had sixty bikes of various sizes, models and colors. The only thing really suitable for us two grande-sized captains (since I am not willing to hang on from the back fender) is the top-of-the line Ultra Classic touring bike. The salesman scooped us up right quick and let us sit aboard a shiny 2007. Sure enough, there was lot more room for Don’s big toes. And with both of us aboard, the bike would balance with just one of the salesman fingers for support! It was a catchy sales technique, and Don was smiling (hell, he was sold on a Harley before we came in the door), but I was still leaning toward the quieter, smoother Honda Goldwing, of which (I rationalized) we could surely find one used (just not quite as used as our rental Interstate). Fortunately, the 2007 price tag wiped the smile right off of Don’s face, and we were on our way out the door when the salesman said, ‘Before you go, you ought to take a look at the one we just took in on trade.”

It was love at first sight. I tell you, I actually felt my stomach and heart go splat on the floor. It was a teal green (our mutual favorite color…even if we perpetually disagree whether it is a blue or a green) 2003 Ultra Classic, all duded up with most of the chrome accessories the Harley catalog has to offer! Dig this, it even had woven leather handlebar grips with trailing tassels. “It used to belong to the President of our local Harley Owners Group,” the salesman explained. “He just traded up to a 2007.”

I won’t document the steps by which this vision of motorcycle loveliness became ours, but I will confess that we weren’t ten minutes away after getting out the door when I heard the words – “That bike’ll be gone in no time” – come out of my mouth! In two more blocks we’d called on the cell and put a hold on it, and the next morning we were in borrowed helmets taking a 70mph test drive (behind Scott our salesman) on the Bayside Bridge!

There was just one hitch. We couldn’t take it home to Tiffer’s. It was not so much that Tiffany didn’t want us riding a motorcycle (after all, it is just one more wrinkle we put in her brow), she just didn’t want Kai (or was it Derek?) to see it. On top of which, that afternoon was Kai’s birthday celebration, and even we couldn’t argue with the fact that it would not be cool to usurp center stage. And then there was the small dilemma of how to drive it and the RV back to Crystal River, since I don’t drive either one.

So we left it at Fletcher’s for a couple of days while we drove the RV home, returned the Interstate to Doug (after a farewell ride of appreciation), and made a return trip to Clearwater by car! Even then, we were not exactly home free, since Gma and Gpa Wilson were due at Crystal River with their RV New Year’s day! There’s nothing to make you feel like a kid again more than when you’ve got a secret you haven’t told your folks!

Monday, April 2, 2007

A Busy November

The St. Pete Boat Show -- Nov. 2-5, 2006

Such a deal we had at the St. Pete Boat Show! Unlike other shows where one has to fly in and stay in hotels, we were able to drive our coach in and park right on the show grounds! There were about ten exhibitor RVs in two rows right along the edge of the marina basin. There were even power hookups and water available. Many thanks to the Sail America guys for making it happen, and making it happen so nicely.

As in Annapolis in October, I was working the show for Sea Tech Systems. SeaTech sells The Cap'n electronic charting programs, Icom HF radios, Pactor modems, satellite telephones, weather fax software, etc all designed to work with PC computers on the nav stations of cruising boats. Although I am neither a computer genius or a particularly natural saleswoman, I do use all this stuff on board Tackless II (after Don has gotten power to it, of course!) , so I am in a good position to help customers consider what is important and what is not. This made my fifth boat show for Sea Tech, and I would finally say I'm beginning to get the hang of it!

In addition to working the booth, my friends Kathy Parsons and Pam Wall were both on hand, so we three reprised our Women & Cruising Seminars which were again a popular success. You may remember that it was the first Women & Cruising seminar we did in Miami last February that led to the Admiral's Angle column in Latitudes and Attitudes Magazine.

Speaking of Lats & Atts, Bob Bitchin, Jody, Woody, Dave and all the gang were on hand as they are at most of the Strictly Sail shows. Although St. Pete is not the biggest of the boat shows, it is traditionally one of the biggest of the Lats & Atts Saturday night parties where the Eric Stone Band rocks and Bob gives away free pizza and beer. Sea Tech always hands out lots of free goodies to the party crowd, so we were upfront and in the middle for most of the good times.

All in all the St. Pete show added up to a pretty good time for a week of work! Of course it didn't hurt that being practically in our back yard we had lots of friends come by: Dave, of our sistership Soggy Paws with our webmaster Sherry; Dr. John of the trawler Knot So Fast; Ron & Dorothy of the CSY Memory Rose; Diane and Alex from Hernando Beach who are hunting for a boat; Carey, formerly of Cajun Waltz, and his sister Ann; and Nurse Dee from St. Pete. This kept Don pretty busy escorting them to and from the coach for bathroom, air conditioning and cold beer breaks!

Reunion Time -- Judy and Bryan do the SSCA Gam with the 2Cs -- November 7-14

From the Boat show, we drove up to Clearwater and parked in our kids' side yard with just a day to prepare for a week-long visit by Judy and Bryan of Ursa Minor. Many of you know that Judy worked with me in the charter business for several years and skippered Tackless one season while Don worked with me on Whisper. We'd last seen each other in Margarita, Venezuela in 2000 and our kids' wedding in the Virgin Islands in May 2003.

Judy and Bryan recently retired from the charter business and have been in Trinidad several months, deep in preparation for taking off in our wake to cruise the South Pacific. We planned this visit so that they could travel with us in the RV to the SSCA Gam the week after St. Pete. Of course, they had to fly into Tampa in order to meet our grandson Kai. And we weren't the only ones who wanted "Aunt Judy" to meet new family. Old friends from St. Thomas Terry and Karen Galvin, now living in Sarasota, orchestrated a wonderful dinner at their home so we could meet their new son, nine-year-old Daniel. It's amazing what happens when you do see folks for a decade!

Early the next morning we were on the road to Melbourne so that Judy and Bryan, new to the joys of HF radio email, could attend the special Sailmail Seminar offered the day before the Gam. Don and I dropped them off and parked the RV in a park right off Eau Gallie Blvd. Positioned for snow bunnies wanting easy access to the beach, it was a little pricey, but it put us less than a mile from the Gam. Several of our friends park their C-class RVs right on the streets around the Gam, but ours it a little to big to get away with that!

The annual three-day Gam (def: "a social visit between sailor at sea") is the SSCA 's main event of the year, and all four of us had our schedules full with seminars we wanted to attend and all the various social events. Don and I also were scheduled to give presentations: me on writing articles while cruising and Don on the care of cruising watermaker. A highlight for me was meeting Gregory Newell Smith, author of a wonderful new collection of essays called The Solitude of the Open Sea. Plus there were so many people we knew and wanted to visit with, like many of the women who correspond with me for my Admiral's Angle column (including a few new recruits!) as well as not one but two get-togethers over dinner and breakfast with fellow CSY owners!

We'd wondered how well it would work out having four people on our 34' coach for that long, but I guess because we were all boaters and accustomed to small spaces, it worked out great. It probably didn't hurt that each couple could go to bed with their own TV, especially since I noticed we didn't choose to watch remotely the same programs! After the Gam, we managed to get Judy and Bryan back to Tampa in time to catch their 8:30 am flight to Michigan by staying overnight in a park just a few miles from the airport.

Thanksgiving Gatherings

We had less than a week to recoup from all these goings on before it was Thanksgiving weekend. Our family (by which I mean the kids!) had been invited to a friend's brother's home, and the invitation kindly included the senior generation. At first I was a bit disappointed because, well, there's nothing like the tradition of cooking your own turkey, picking at it in your own kitchen, and stewing soup up from the carcass afterwards.

But, what an experience! It was kind of like going to a movie star's home! The house was full of well-thought out indulgences like the delightful room for the one year old, with hand-painted murals capturing a child's dreamscape from morning to night and a Polar Express train circling the room on a track suspended from a starry ceiling or the playroom for the grown-ups, with movie theater seats before a huge screen with trompe d'oeil murals and original classic movie posters on the walls. The piece de resistance, however, was the elaborate screened-in grotto in the back yard with waterfalls, jacuzzis, pools and koi pond all knit together with luxuriant tropical plantings. I haven't seen the likes of it even at some of the most upscale Caribbean resorts! As you might guess the catered dinner was elegant and plentiful. We all left as stuffed as one should be on Thanksgiving and each toting a bag each of tasty leftovers to stock the fridge!

On the weekend we drove the RV north up to the St. Josephs State Park in Florida's Panhandle in order to rendezvous with Dennis and Lisa of Lady Galadriel, who drove down from their own family Thanksgiving gathering in Alabama. After two years cruising and traveling with them in Mexico, our paths had parted, with Dennis and Lisa finding their way through the Canal and the Caribbean to Annapolis where the boat has undergone a major refit and the crew has improved the cash flow by working there for West Marine!

How great to see them and what a great place to do it! Mother Nature conspired by sending us perfect fall weather just as all the other folks' holiday weekend ended! For two days, we had the park virtually to ourselves to enjoy beach walking and cycling, sundowners and blazing campfires, not to mention the great chemistry of good companionship!

Motorcycle School!

That's not a typo, nor an insert from somebody else's blog. When we left the serene beach of St. Joseph's, we had to hurry along the road to downtown Ocala, where we parked the coach in a lot at Central Florida Community College so Don could roll out of bed in the morning and onto a Suzuki 250 as part of a three-day class to get a motorcycle endorsement on his Florida driver's license. Although we didn't have a motorcycle, a little research had revealed that one can RENT a HARLEY by the day from Harley Davidson dealers worldwide. That one might want to has been prompted by our neighbors at NCL who have a Harley trike. Don, who once owned and rode a 750 Triumph Bonneville in his younger, wilder days, has been reminiscing since we closed on the lot. I, who have had all but no experience (two rides in my own younger (not-so-wilder) days), remained skeptical, but open-minded.

Need I say he passed!