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Launching Day, 2014

Launch day was set for Thursday the 26th, right at the same time USA was taking on Germany for the World Cup. It was bad luck, set a while back before we were thinking about the World Cup at all, and so when we went down to the boat yard on the 24th to see about having the mast moved from storage, Brooklin Boat Yard’s great people were already moving it, and boy howdy surprise, were going to come get the boat within a couple of hours.

Cue Eye of the Tiger. Cue fast montage of driving across the peninsula, hurriedly putting tools away, tying things down, all that jive… and she was getting hauled down to the yard to be splashed the next day. Everything happened so fast this time around, no sitting in the sling overnight, no great anticipation for a whole day knowing the truck might come but not at what time… my feelings were of general relief rather than excitement. It’s got me thinking maybe this is becoming commonplace.

Launching day went smoothly. #sailboat #sailing #brooklin #maine #brooklinboatyard #woodenboat #weloveuneventful

It was still a bit magical to feel the boat go from swinging to floating, if not because it was thrilling and new, but rather that the boat belongs in the water and not on jack stands, and everyone likes to see a thing in its proper environment.

Here are some other exciting things going on at Brooklin Boat Yard.

The fun shapes possible with cold molded wood. #woodenboat #sailboat #brooklinboatyard #brooklin #maine

Those are some scrap pieces from the production of the Frers 74 project, check their facebook page for more information, because their updates are top notch.

Strip-planked construction in progress at #brooklinboatyard #brooklin #maine #sailboat #boats

They’re also building this strip-planked double ender, which is looking mighty pretty.

And then there was the dinghy launch.

Dinghy movin' time. #woodenboat #sailing #sailboat #tender #ORANGE!

It's a good color.

Colin and Pepper, launching the dinghy. #brooklinboatyard #brooklin #maine #rowboat #sailboat #marshallcovepaint

It’s a good color. I’ve been pleased with the Marshall’s Cove Paints.

Buddhist Teachings, Joyful Effort, and Boat Work

When we came back from the ICW last year and the boat was finally pulled, it was easy for me to walk away from the boat shed and leave that to-do list firmly on the back burner. In fact, it felt good to spend a winter- a long, brutal, dark, land-based, car-trouble-infested winter- in a state of hibernation.

Ferns. #bluehill #maine

But here we are, back in the boat shed grinding things, running wires, and putting a shine on things that were very well used during our year away. I can hear the voice of our friend we met in Brunswick, Georgia, a woman who has many more nautical miles under her belt than I have. “It’s a part of it,” she said one afternoon, “You have to learn to like it.”

It’s not separate from the rest of the sailing and adventuring. The work you do maintaining a boat, for most cruisers and people with budgets, is a pie slice of the time you spend. Luckily, I DO happen to like it. I’m proud of the boat and of the work I do on her. They’re long days though, the ones where I’m working on “work work” and then going directly to the boat shed to keep charging forward toward launch date.

I started thinking about this a little while back, and it came together a little better when I learned earlier this spring about the six perfections of Buddhism. One rings in my head like a tuning fork: Joyful Effort. The application of your efforts, especially ones done to benefit other people, done with joy, zeal, and energy, is behavior befitting an enlightened being.

I’ve been meditating on that as I’m bent over for an hour painting the dinghy, or as my face gets hot under a respirator as I sand. My joy comes from the gratitude I feel that I have the equipment I need and that when I’m finished I’ll get to use the boat. It also comes from new skills and pride when a project is completed. And of course, it comes when she’s finally launched and we get to know what it’s like to float again. Joyful effort can only go in one direction, and that’s toward success.

At first I just amended the way I was moving while I was working. Mindfulness and meditation crept into the way I hold my tools, the way I breathe, the way I move as I work. Straight back, fluid motions, a bit of artful dancing, an occasional stop to admire what’s been done, smile, repeat. If someone were to look at me, I’d want to appear joyful, and to me in my motions, truly BE joyful. And then, eventually, the joy was louder than the grind.

I figure it also helps to enjoy more than just the work itself, but to really revel in making fun decisions. That means the colors are getting crazy:

My dad seemed really disappointed that I was painting the dinghy the same color again. "You could paint it any color! The SAME?" Ok, Dad. I'll go orange.

And the results are pretty rad:

Dinghy painting

What are your projects this spring? How are they coming?

In the Sail Loft

I’m at Woodenboat this week, learning about Canvaswork. I hope these musings about taking classes to learn skills so I can do DIY projects around the boat are helpful, or at least fun.

These beautiful machines are a means to an end, but are beautiful in and of themselves. The heavy industrial sewing machines at Center Harbor Sails are imposing, heavy things that at first pulled the sunbrella material from my hands with such force and speed that it was as though it knew better than I did what to do with the stuff and that it was yanking it from my control.

A sewing machine in the sail loft.

The attitude was from my imagination, but the force and speed is no joke. As I was working with some scrap pieces of fabric, I was mostly concentrating on very basic things like finding a good way of holding my hands or where the pressure of my foot on the pedal was just the right amount of speed for me to keep control. Meanwhile, I really feel like pretty much all of my classmates already have a grasp on all this jive turkey. For the first time in any classroom experience I’ve ever had, I’m feeling a little behind. Sweet. I suppose that makes the tuition feel well-spent.

Singer Sewing Machine logo

Logo from a Singer sewing machine in my class at Woodenboat School/Center Harbor Sails. #design #font #vintage

It’s the access to both my instructor and to the entirety of the sail loft that makes taking this class special for me, but also, any week-long intensive class is an opportunity to focus on something as though it were your job. Focus is the operative word there, because otherwise, I’d be dabbling around, screwing up my sewing machine trying to figure a lot of this stuff out were I left to my own devices.

Spike walking around on SHENANIGANZ, a pretty catboat at Woodenboat. No pun intended, seriously. #cat #woodenboat #sailing

As a local, I’m lucky. I can only imagine what these classes mean to people who are from away- the jaw-dropping beauty of the place, the amazing hospitality and food of the school, and the access to tools and people like I mentioned above are the trifecta that draws people back multiple times to take more classes.

They Don’t Make Post Cards for This

You can hear Norfolk, Virginia on the VHF long before you get there. Even a day out, you hear plenty of regular announcements by warships saying how far to stay away from them. It’s enough to envision something in your head like a small smattering of a couple of slate gray, imposing military boats with security details. Maybe a couple of helicopters.

Flash forward a couple days, to when we entered Norfolk. Now well within the range of other less-powerful VHFs, I heard a working fisherman politely ask a submarine to please slow down because otherwise their lines would part. I heard a Coast Guard cutter declare that should someone come within a certain distance of them as they move through the main channel, they were authorized to use deadly force. Oh, and then there’s the hovercraft. All I saw was spray and then as it came closer, some super fast vessel at the center of the maelstrom whaling toward us. I really, really want a ride on one of those now.

I talked to this guy on the radio!

Couple of minutes later, I heard “Sailing vessel passing west of Norfolk Navy Base, this is warship delta 5-5 on your port quarter,” while getting something below. I dropped whatever it was I was doing and went to the companionway to stick my head out. Holy crippity. They were talking to me.

Now, we kind of joke that I’m the “communications officer” because Colin never really hears what’s on the radio. To him, because of how his hearing works, I think the radio quite literally sounds like Charlie Brown’s womp-bwamp-womp teacher voice with a bit of static thrown in for interest. I can’t ask him if he heard what I heard. He didn’t hear it.

Meanwhile, to fully set the scene, there’s a very fast helicopter with a really big gun passing overhead. Metal islands tied into gargantuan refit slips revealed themselves to be aircraft carriers as we rounded the corner.

I’m armed with a boat made of wood that’s kind of pointy in the front, a bunch of grains and dried beans, and a couple of punk rock records on my iPod. At this point, I feel invaded.

“Where are we in relation to land and buoys?” I quickly said to Colin. “Give me some reference points.”

This happens a lot to me. If I’m not at the helm, I have no idea in a moment’s time what I’m north of, east of, or whatnot- that goes for buoys, points of land, or whatever. I waited and listened for them to hail me again to be sure I didn’t answer when I shouldn’t have, but the huge “55” on the front of the gigantic metal thing behind us was pretty unmistakable. I hailed back, we switched to 22A.

“We’re going to pass to your port, please stay clear of my vessel,” was what they wanted to convey.

Sure, I can give you all the room you need, bub.

You know what? There’s far too much radio communication in that place, which is what makes it more stressful than it needs to be. An overtaking vessel radioed me to say I should stay clear of HIM? We were hugging the nuns for Pete’s sake. It happened two more times with a couple of other boats, one recreational and with a tug moving something big. Let’s just all follow the rules and keep our eyes out, eh?

Mimi Rose at the free dock, Portsmouth, VA

We stayed one night in Portsmouth, VA, just across the river from Norfolk. It was my birthday, and the dockage was free in the little downtown area there where I found a beer bar with enough good Belgian stuff to impress a geek like me. “Stay as long as you like on that dock,” said a guy at Mile Marker 0 Marine Supplies earlier that night about the “No Docking Overnight” signs. “They don’t mean anything.”

Mimi Rose at the free town dock

On the way further up the river, the densely packed working waterfront continued for another few miles. Buildings covered in Dr. Seuss-like pipelines with spouts, ramps, and domes sat adjacent to piles of scrap metal and artificial islands made of dredged material. Every so often a herring gull or cormorant, impossibly thriving, seemed like a distinct punctuation in the landscape to me. “We live here anyway,” they seemed to say.

Contraption

The bridges coming up for us.

Hoppers, swooping ramps, tubes

Seuss bridge, seems an unnecessary and beautiful curve.

Peace

We passed a big cargo boat named Peace and got to hear him finish his transmission on the radio. “Peace out,” he said.

Indeed.

Leaving the busy port behind

Just a few miles away from the hovercrafts, submarines, warships, helicopters, and barges loaded with coal, we banged a right and hit the Intracoastal Waterway for the first time, happily motoring among trees again.

Anchored at the Deep Creek Lock, ready for the swamp.

For a good article about safety day and night around working boats, please read this Cruising Compass piece.

See all the photos from Norfolk by clicking here.

For Guests on Boats

So, you’ve been invited to a friend’s boat and you’re going to stay there for a few days. Sweet! Congratulations. You’re going to have a blast.

Mimi Rose in Rockland at Sunrise, 2011

If you’ve been camping, have gone hiking, or have a general interest in outdoors fun then you’ve most likely got the things you need for being on a boat, which really isn’t much. Your best pieces of “equipment” are really your attitude, sense of adventure, and openness to the fact that plans may, and most likely will, change.

Speaking of changing plans, I talked with a very seasoned liveaboard sailor the other day who said the mostly simply stated truth of a short stay on a sailboat: A guest can pick places they’d like to go or how much time they’d like to spend on the sailboat, but not both. Makes sense, right? You can pick one of the two, because the wind is our propulsion and is not under our control. If you have definite arrival and departure dates, then that’s fine, you do what you can in that time. If you’d like to go from one part of Maine, let’s say, to another, then there’s no way to tell if you you could do that in a certain timeframe, because you can’t predict that timeframe. Get it?

This blog post is all about what you’ll need for your visit, what you can expect when aboard, and other practical boat etiquette that will make your stay a breeze.

Things to Bring and How to Pack

Boats have limited space in them. Avoid packing your gear in hard containers like suitcases or big backpacking rigs. The best thing to pack in is a duffel bag or somesuch totally structureless bag that can be stuffed away while you’re aboard.

Don’t overpack. Believe me, when you’re cruising around in a boat, you think very little about fashion. You’ll wear things two days in a row and layer up when it’s cold. It will be sunny, potentially very windy or even rainy/foggy. Here’s a list of things you’ll definitely be wanting:

  • sunglasses
  • hat with a decent brim that isn’t too floppy or big, or at least has a chinstrap (it’s windy, yo)
  • variety among your clothing, things you can layer, hopefully some things that are synthetic or wool (easy to dry) materials: long sleeve shirt, shorts, pants, short sleeved shirts, etc. Don’t pack outfits, rather, pack things that could keep you comfortable in lots of situations if combined in various ways.
  • sweater and/or fleece and a windbreaker that can fit over that (this is for summer, for fall/winter, bring a warm jacket, too)
  • bathing suit
  • towel, small pillow and sleeping bag (blanket would be fine, you’ll sleep in a bed that doesn’t already have those amenities on it)
  • shoes with non-marking soles (on board, you’ll spend a lot of time barefoot, but sometimes it’s safer to have sneakers)
  • flip flops, Keens, or other adventure shoes good for getting wet and drying eventually (great for hiking around islands where no dinghy dock is)
  • limit the amount of electronics you bring. mp3 players, cameras and phones are great, but be sure to store them in watertight bags for going between the boat and land. Zip sandwich bags can suffice, or if you happen to have a dry bag that’s the perfect thing. Unless you need it, avoid bringing a computer.
  • feel free to bring a book if you like.
  • motion sickness medication, if you think you might need it
  • water container like Nalgene, though we have some on board too and can spot you one.

Things that are already on Mimi Rose and we’d love to share:

  • sunscreen
  • aloe vera
  • water
  • toothpaste
  • campsuds and dr bronner’s soap (biodegradable)
  • ibuprofin and aleve
  • various books, magazines, games, etc.
  • pantry items like rice, spices, oil, etc.
  • Coast Guard-approved flotation devices
  • computer

Boat Life vs. Land Life: Fun Facts and What You Can Expect

Most boat folk don’t have the dough to pay for time at slips or docks. They moor or anchor, which means to get to the boat from land, you’ll go by a smaller boat called a dinghy. We here on Mimi Rose are definitely the anchoring types. This is why it’s great to travel light, beside the fact there isn’t much room to stow your personal effects on the boat. Carrying a lot of gear via dinghy is tough.

We generate our own electricity and everything on board is 12V. We sparingly use it and can teach you how to use this and that around the boat. Maybe we can charge your electronics, but it really depends. Best to come aboard with a freshly charged battery on that camera or MP3 player.

Aboard the boat we enjoy simple living. We eat in a lot (and we eat VERY well). We carry our trash/compost/recycling ashore. There is no private bathroom or shower on board. We tend to get up early and go to bed early. It’s just like camping, where all that fresh air and sun just wears you out like Gaia intended.

Fun fact: Salt water, when it soaks something, can make that thing very hard to dry. Salt attracts moisture. This means your towel might, over a few days of swimming, get to the point where it stubbornly won’t dry. Just a fun fact for you. Don’t bring two towels or anything.

The boat, when sailing or even when at anchor, moves. When underway, depending on the wind, the boat heels– that’s a boat term that means the boat leans sideways at about a 45 degree angle to the water. Wow, right? It’s fun and awesome. It’s also disconcerting for some people. You’re safe. There’s more lead in this keel than you can shake a stick at. It acts as a counterweight.

The motion of the boat also means that before we get underway we stow everything in preparation for however which way the boat might move. Mindfulness of this fact by all on board make for uneventful, and ultimately fun, days of sailing.

Want to learn what we’re doing and pull on some lines yourself? YES YOU CAN. The terms are easy to learn, the helm is easy to handle, and you’re more than welcome to get involved with the workings of the boat. Some boat people imply that sailing has its own “language.” Well then so do science and baseball and automobiles and art… these, too, all have words you didn’t know before, and as you’re around those things, the words come.

The boat is a big piece of beautiful sports equipment that brings you in harmony with nature, that takes you to islands you can’t drive to, and has the magical ability to slow time down. It’s our home and we’re so glad you’re coming.

The Transit of Venus

Transit of Venus

I’m envisioning some lonely boats on the sea, crossing the Pacific today. They’re going to be privy to the best sight of the transit of Venus across the sun, an event the whole world is buzzing about. NASA has a lot of information and super neat ways to see what’s going on, so check it out.

Global Visibility of the June 2012 Transit of Venus

Something I love about being on the water is being more connected to natural phenomena like this celestial event. Other things I notice more are shifts in wind direction, wave direction, changing clouds and weather, and other things that are perhaps too subtle for land dwellers to notice. I hear big fish chasing little fish, porpoises breaking the surface of the water to breathe, and the first bird songs of the day.

The next time the transit will happen will be in 2117 and 2125, so here in the northern hemisphere I’ll most likely be parking up on top of Caterpillar Hill here on the Blue Hill Peninsula in Downeast Maine at sunset in hopes of seeing something. A little black dot on the sun, an entire planet shadowed by the great big ball of energy that makes sailing happen in the first place. Wow, we’re small.

The Anchorage You Might Have Missed: Parham

(This is a series I intend to write from time to time about anchorages and towns that have the smallest write ups in guides but that revealed to me some kind of magical experience.)

Parham is a town on the northern side of Antigua, far from the dramatic landscape of its southern coast and closer to things like the airport, the desalination plant, and marine salvage yards. To me, it was interesting and beautiful. Historically important because of its role as the town where the governor lived and as a trade hub for the island, it’s now a sleepy place where our 10 year old guidebook says you’re to arrive at the town dock and tie your dinghy there. We were going ashore for two things, one of which was important: ice. The other was rum.

But there was no apparent dock. Nothing’s marked as you approach what is now a local fisherman’s yard that appears to be organized by the town. A nice guy smoking a joint pointed us into a concrete wall where we could tie up, directing us around a few stern lines that otherwise would have wrapped around the propeller of the outboard in our dinghy. He didn’t have to help us… this isn’t some sort of a yacht club or something. He just noticed we were confused and did what he could do to help. I had a good feeling about this town.

We walked through the yard, which was as much about small vessel and small engine salvage as it was about fishing- stripped boats lay all around the yard and there was a shed full of outboards, a fortune in parts for use by the locals, I’m guessing. Other buildings around the yard were basically used as storage by the local fishermen and most people milling around were getting into vehicles and leaving. It was right at closing time.

The small store was where the guidebook promised, right outside the gates of that town dockyard and to the right. The turquoise building measured no more than about 15’ x 20’, but was stocked to the gills with canned goods. A household refrigerator was filled with plastic bags full of locally butchered meat. The freezer housed more of it. A chest freezer revealed no ice, but still more local meat. I was out of luck, even for the rum, but the young kid at the counter said I could maybe get ice across the street at the dockyard from the fishermen.

Back across the street.

At this point I felt a little out of place- I had seen all those people leaving the dockyard at the end of the workday. I thought we were well-taken care of by the locals we had run across, but we were definitely striking out. Then, someone called to us from one of the storage buildings.

“Hey hey!” called the stranger as a friendly hello.

“Hey there,” I said, “We were told we could maybe get some ice here.”

“Too late,” said the local gent who continued to use as few words as possible to express himself, not as though I can understand the beautiful song-like language these people speak in on this island, a more beautiful English than I could ever muster. “Here I show you.”

He walked us back toward the store, and I started to get nervous. Shit. And just when I got the feeling like I was walking in circles, he turns left and points down the road.

“See down there, the yellow house? She sell ice, nice lady, a teacher-lady. You go tell her you need ice and she sell it to you.”

I thanked him and started walking toward the residence about 1/10th of a mile down the street. I walked past mango trees with well-worn paths to them, old harbingers of what were nicely kept lawns at one point. I can tell because stone ruins of houses stand behind them, tattling on the money that skipped town for St John’s or some now-more-popular Antiguan town.

I reached the teacher-lady’s gate and didn’t know the custom. Was I to call through her open windows from the road or open the gate and let myself in so I could knock on her door. I opted for knocking over yelling, and she came to the door with a big smile on her face.

“I hope I’m in the right place,” I said. “A gentleman at the fishing yard said I could get ice here…” I let my voice trail off, expecting her to think I was crazy for knocking on her door and asking for something so random. What the hell was I thinking, asking for ice from this nice lady, bothering her at home?

“Oh yes of course. How much do you need?” she said.

“Uh… oh! Great! Well I don’t know,” I said, laughing. “I’m just glad you don’t think I’m some crazy person knocking on your door for something you might not have.”

She smiled and waved me around. I went through another gate to her side door where she handed me a bucket-shaped block of ice and asked for $5 EC. I thanked her, gladly handed over the money, and glowed all the way back to the dinghy with the block of ice in a big padded bag we had brought with us.

No dinghy dock? Big deal. No big signs telling you where to go to do your shopping? No apparent yachty presence or people greeting you with wide open arms (and hands, waiting for your money)? Perfect. Thanks, Parham, for showing me what’s so great about Antigua.

Her people.

There Are Some Things You Can’t Take a Picture Of -or- Facing Fear Among a Billion Fish

Before coming to the Caribbean on this trip, I spoke with a woman at my cell phone provider about the plans I would need to come down here. Of course I told her where I was going, and she asked me a few questions about what it was like down here.

I always default to snorkeling stories, because I couldn’t believe how many fishes there were to see. I was absolutely awestruck, not only because of the seas teeming with life, but also because until I actually put a mask and snorkel on, I couldn’t imagine why you’d want to stuff your face into something uncomfortable and stare down into some water.

I’m from New England, and the water’s rather cold and nearly everything under the surface is brown, or dark brown, or light brown, or puke green. Beautiful in its own way, sure. I love it at home.

Anyhow, the nice gal on the phone says she couldn’t possibly do that, says she’ll only swim in a pool, and says I’m brave to swim with sea creatures. I laugh it off, but she’s actually stumbled upon a truth. I’ll share it with you now.

Every time I get in the water to snorkel, I’m nearly paralyzed with fear. Nothing’s ever happened to me, but there are pointy things, bitey things, and stinging things under the water. I’m no creampuff, but I cringe at the thought of touching something slimy by accident or at the possibility of having to remove an urchin spike from my foot.

Sigh. There it is. I said it.

But OH! THE PAYOFF! I take a few deep breaths, look around and know I’m not being followed by some eerily-sentient, fictional barracuda my brain made up… and there’s the cool blue expanse of the most beautiful salty water waiting for me to see what she’s got. Grasses, corals, starfish as big as your head, iridescent fishes, turtles, spotted rays… all of them couldn’t be bothered about me and I swim with them, pretending I belong there too.

And I do, I suppose.

So the other day, when we pulled up in a sleepy anchorage at St Kitts where it’s rumored to be great snorkeling, I didn’t even have to get into the water to see a potential threat. Colin and John couldn’t see what I saw in the water… clouds of white dots, tiny dots in pairs, were moving through the water. I googled descriptions of them along with “jellyfish” and “fish spawn” and got nothing.

Both lads went into the water and checked it out… just clouds of some very young transparent fish, so many of them it obscured the bottom of the anchorage, only 25 feet down.

I went in the water anyhow, my brain immediately making up fictions about being able to feel them, or being able to get into my ears and buddha-knows-where. I nearly hyperventilated, but then I just swam, focused on them and not trying to stare past them, and it became amazing.

What a cloud of LIFE. Moving, struggling, striving, swimming life. What a joy to be surrounded by it and what a mystery they were to me, not looking a thing like how they’d turn out to be and probably a thousand miles from where they’d end up being.

Have you had to overcome a fear to enjoy a moment in time? I’d be glad if you shared.

Provisioning in Antigua

Sticker shock. That’s pretty much the only way to put it. Seeing the prices at the Epicurean Market in Jolly Harbor, which the guide book said was a fantastic place to provision, was horrifying. To top it off, not really much of the food was particularly appetizing.

This is as true in Maine as it is here in Antigua: provisioning based on what the written guides say will, in a vast majority of cases, lead you to convenience but will not lead you to budget-friendly, fresh, local food.

Things I could probably assume about Antigua based on the the things I’ve seen and that it’s hot here: they most likely grow their own citrus and other tropical fruits. Goats, chicken, and sheep are probably their primary livestock. Seafood is a no-brainer, though judging by what was in the grocery store, they fly a lot of it in to satisfy the tourists. There has to be local food somewhere.

So we took a bus to St. John’s, the capital. They let us out right at the vegetable, fish and meat markets.

Most produce stands offered very similar things, though some of the folks running them were better at hooking you in for a sale. Plantains, tomatoes, imported limes but amazing local lemons, a limited amount of greens, and many more recognizable fruits and vegetables were available at most stalls.

The fish market and meat market were a little less populated, and choices were slim. It made me think that perhaps we’d have better luck on a weekend or that maybe there are particular days that are best for hitting the market. If we were staying here longer, I’d just ask someone what days were best. Everyone in the market was helpful in their own way.

Provisioning in St. John’s, Antigua