Tuesday, May 31, 2011

CHIP :: A SELF PORTRAIT


Chip calls this photo he took in St. Augustine a self-portrait: sailboat, wine, children, harmonica playing, perplexed younger woman. (Okay, I made up that last one.)

SAILBOAT
We have Chip's parents to thank for his passion for sailing. No, they're not sailors but made him take sailing lessons as a kid on the Jersey shore. Sailing took deep root, over the years sprouting a dream that forms the foundation for our new life. In the 90s, he bought his first boat, a Balboa 26', and applied those sailing lessons in the Albemarle Sound. We later sold that Balboa and sailed the same sound in a Downeast 32' cutter we bought in 2003. Cara Mia, our Island Packet 380, is teaching us both about bluewater sailing.

WINE
A butcher's strike in New Jersey in the 80s launched an entire career for Chip. It's true. During the butcher's strike, Chip took a part time job at a grocery store, not butchering but selling wine while the wine guys chopped the meat. Thus began a 25+ year career in the wine and liquor business in New Jersey, New York and North Carolina, culminating with a wine shop we opened in 2005 as part of our 5-year plan to build, sell and sail. That 5-year plan took 5 years and 18 days from start to finish, and that wine shop, Chip's Wine & Beer Market in Kill Devil Hills, still thrives using Chip's name and face.

CHILDREN
When I met Chip in 1997, his twins, Casey and Dylan, were 8 years old. We laughed and fumbled our way through band, soccer, track, birthdays and road trips. They are now so grown up and mature, it's hard to remember those giggly 8-year-olds, but we do. Chip passed on to them his thoughtful approach to life, his love of music and his adoration of water if not for sailing, but it's never too late.

HARMONICA PLAYING
In high school, he learned to play the harmonica and, unlike most of the things learned in high school, he took it on the road. That's right. For four years he traveled throughout the eastern U.S. playing harmonica, opening for familiar names such as Bob Dylan, Buddy Guy and the Allman Brothers. Slacker.

Chip still plays but now does so on the water instead of on the road. He goes in our aft cabin, dubbed "The Studio," to play, write and record music. Stay tuned. Good things to come.



Those twins @ 22.
To find out more, read 25 Random Things About Chip on our old blog.

Monday, May 30, 2011

TAMMY: THE HIGHLIGHTS

How does a skinny kid born and raised in Roswell, New Mexico, (yes, THAT Roswell) end up on a sailboat in the wide open ocean?


LIVING :: Plodding across land
My 50+ year route from desert to ocean led from New Mexico through Texas, Iowa, Virginia, D.C., Maryland, New York and finally, the Outer Banks of North Carolina. 

WORKING :: Plodding through employment
An overview: blah, blah, blah, BEER.
The details: My equally circuitous career path (if you could call it that) included, among other things, technical secretary to physicists at Texas Tech and University of Texas, conference coordinator for lawyers at University of Texas Law School, public information officer for a nuclear physics lab called Jefferson Lab, production designer for Thompson Publishing Group and editor at washingtonpost.com. In the end, I created a job for myself that, rather than driving me to drink, instead encouraged me to do so. We opened Chip's Wine & Beer Market in Kill Devil Hills where I became a beer specialist.

SAILING :: Riding the wind
As as kid, I played Swiss Family Robinson in the willow tree out back -- yes, in the middle of New Mexico. Talk about shipwrecked! My play was more about the ship and less about the wreck, and I sailed through gales in my willowy cockpit, and conquered tropical islands that to the unimaginative probably looked like a bumpy stretch of Bermuda grass with a clothesline strung across it.

I started dabbling in actual sailing that involved more water than a garden hose could provide when I lived in Austin in the 80s. But I didn't really start learning until Chip and I got together in 1997, first on a Balboa 26' named Bella Luna and then a Downeast 32' named Isabella.

In 2010, 13 years of daysailing after we sailed our first boat, we set out for good on Cara Mia, our Island Packet 380.

WRITING & PHOTOGRAPHY :: My creative outlet
I'm formally trained to be a writer, not a sailor. At some point that might seem like a bad idea (like now), but there it is. Every job I've had since I turned 30 has had something to do with writing or publishing -- except the beer specialist. My plan is to turn my blogs into books when I'm not snorkeling or fishing or sailing.

The photography came much later when Chip bought me a Canon40D for my birthday two years ago. I was a little annoyed at first that he didn't get me a point and shoot, but over time, I've grown to love the power it gives me to capture my own visual perspective on the amazing sights we pass at 6mph.


Fishing en route to Eleuthera.
Georgetown, May 2011.
Hanging out in Warderick Wells, Exumas.
If you want to know more (really?), here's 25 Random Things About Me from our old blog.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

MEMORY'S STRAIGHT LINE


As we turn our bow back toward the Outer Banks, I am reminded that this will not be the first time we have sailed this boat home.

The first week of May, just one year ago, we brought our new boat home to the Outer Banks from Rock Hall, Maryland.

Land still had a stronghold on us. Although we had sold our house and old boat, we still lived ashore in a tiny rental house. We owned a wine shop, two cars and an enormous pile of land belongings.

Last year, on May 27th, we celebrated the fifth anniversary of our wine shop, the last major piece of our complicated puzzle that had to be dispatched before setting off on our cruising life. The store was under contract waiting on loan approval. Five years of 'ifs' were suddenly stacked in one big, emotional heap threatening, just maybe, to turn into 'whens.'

At the same time, we were in the final throes of disposing of the remainder of our belongings. When we moved from the rental house to the boat, we were officially live aboards, but, in fact, we were much more "move aboards." We were still pushing around piles of stuff dumped in huge plastic bins, bins that we hauled around in our cars until we found the time and emotional fortitude to take each item in hand, live through its remembrances and make the final decision whether or not it would travel with us.

But you know what? If I did not keep a log, I could not have told you these details. One of the great failings of my memory is that it irons out the past into a straight, thin line, losing the pulsating highs and lows that turn life into living.

FLASHBACK: Saturday, May 29, 2010

BUDDHA, AN ASHTRAY AND A MOUSE IN A RED GINGHAM DRESS

home |hōm| noun -- a place where something flourishes
All those big plastic bins holding the last of our belongings are starting to feel like so many Pandora's boxes. Every few days we pull another one out of the car and release its content, every time left to deal with the consequences.
The truth is, we don't want any more stuff on the boat, but once it comes out of the proverbial box, we have to remember its history, judge its value, weigh its role in our future, and if we keep it, deal with the increasingly onerous task of finding a place for it on the boat.
Tonight instead of the painstaking process of pulling out each item and debating its fate, we played a game of Top Ten, taking turns picking something out of the bin until we each had 10 items. The rest would go back in the car and eventually be dispatched to Goodwill.
The bin held tools, cookbooks, folders, printer paper, books, charts and fabric, but except for a putty knife, neither of us chose those things with practical value.
Instead, Chip picked a small stuffed rabbit I gave him one long ago Christmas, a dog-eared notebook of song lyrics in progress and a Queen Elizabeth II ashtray given to us by a friend. I kept a decorative wooden mermaid, a tiny Buddha that Chip gave me and a little stuffed mouse in a red gingham dress made for me by my great aunt Flora when I was nine.
We've spent months stockpiling the practical yet impersonal necessities of life on a sailboat, the things that will help us survive. But today, we both felt the need to bring aboard the sentimental and fanciful essentials of living, the things that will help us thrive.
I
If you'd like to read more about our eventful May last year, you can do so here.

Friday, May 27, 2011

ANOTHER HOP

Green Turtle Cay, Abacos, Bahamas 26º39.89N | 77º19.9W


We took a baby step to the next waiting room, a 2-hour sail to Green Turtle via the infamous Whale Cut, an open space between the sound and the wide open ocean, known for being unruly. We tiptoed through on a calm day while the whale was sleeping and anchored in the bustling waters in the lee of Green Turtle.
Loyalist kitchen dating to the mid-1800s.
Green Turtle is a charming island with a museum dedicated to local history, a well-documented history that includes the indigenous Lucayan people, the first western explorers, and eventually the loyalists who fled the United States during the Civil War bringing their slaves along with them. It is these last two groups, the British loyalists and the former slaves, that seem to have found a way to live together cheerfully on this seemingly peaceful island. How they worked that out, I'd like to know.

Lucayan artifacts in the Green Turtle museum.
The other two groups did not learn to live together at all. The long extinct Lucayans fell to germs and weapons borne on the hands of Christopher Columbus and other European explorers. Those who survived were spirited away and lived out their days as slaves in Europe. Now, on Green Turtle Cay, it is only the stones and ghosts that remain.

But back to the agenda. Every morning we listen to Chris Parker, hoping for the weather off the U.S. coast to sort itself out. Every morning we find that it hasn't. And so we wait, on islands where we have internet connection to look at the weather with our own eyes.

Next stop: Spanish Cay.

Door handle on the Green Turtle historical museum.
Model ships made by a descendant of the original Loyalist settlers.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

ISLAND HOPPING

Great Guana Cay, Abacos, Bahamas 26º39.89N | 77º06.67W



One might argue that our entire visit to the Bahamas has been island hopping. While that's true, up until now, our focus has been much more on the 'island' and less on the 'hopping.' Now, with our sights set on returning to the U.S. for hurricane season, we're playing a game of strategic hopping hopefully putting us in the right place to forge the Gulf Stream when the next weather window opens.

Fortunately for us, our waiting rooms are lovely.

We made a two-hour skip from Hopetown to Great Guana Cay, home of the famous Nippers bar, which was not looking all that famous when we visited, being two of only nine people sipping rum in the afternoon.

In the meantime we are scouring the charts, doing math on distances, trying to decide where to aim when we set out from Great Sale in the Abacos.

Here is the chart with our options:

From Great Sale
to Fort Pierce   112 miles  16-19 hours = easy peasy
to Cape Canaveral   156 miles   22-26 hours = easy
to St. Mary's, GA   286 miles   41-48 hours = a challenge
to Charleston   379 miles 54-63 hours = amazing

The number of hours will vary depending on how long we hitch our boat to the Gulf Stream adding an extra 1-2 knots to our speed. We have yet to make more than a 24-hour passage, but if the conditions are favorable, we're ready to test our mettle.

Yet, it is not us but the weather that will make our decision. Right now, the windows are closed up tight against an indecisive mess off the coast of North Carolina, ruffling up the Gulf Stream with northern winds.

And so we wait, one island at a time.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

HAPPY IN HOPE TOWN

Hope Town, Abacos, Bahamas 26º32.228N | 76º57.53W

Several of our readers (all to whom we are direct descendants) have complained that we do not put enough photos of ourselves in this blog. Well, here ya go.

Three years ago on the Hopetown dock.

Today on that same dock.

Three years ago, wishing upon a lighthouse...
Today.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

ON TOP OF THE WORLD

Hopetown, Abacos, Bahamas 26º32.228N | 76º57.53W


I've loved the Hopetown lighthouse since the first time I saw it three years ago. It's hard not to love a lighthouse anyway, but climbing this one makes me feel like Dr. Dolittle. Did he live in a nautilus shell, or did I make that up? Either way, check this out:

Inside the Hopetown lighthouse.
I'm pretty sure, had I been asked, I would have totally poo-pooed painting the inside of a lighthouse pink and green, but leave it to the Bahamians to slap together two unlikely colors and make it fabulous.

As we were leaving the lighthouse, we saw this guy sitting on the dock.

Jeffrey, the lighthouse keeper.
The lighthouse is across the water from Hopetown, only reachable by boat. He was looking, I thought, longingly across the water, so we offered him a ride.

"No thanks, that's me," he said, pointing back at the lighthouse over his shoulder.

"Can we watch you light it?" I asked.

"Sure," he said. "Go on up. I'll be there in a few minutes."


So, all alone, we climbed to the top, leaning precariously out the open windows to take sweeping photos of the glory below.



At dusk, overlooking Hopetown harbor and Cara Mia and the ocean beyond.
At the top, I crawled through a Hobbit-sized door (yes, mixed literature) and onto the open observation platform.

Looking north from atop the lighthouse.
Jeffrey joined us and dropped the curtains that cover the Fresnel lens during the day.


Known officially as Elbow Reef Lighthouse, it was built in 1863 to warn ships off of the reef just offshore, much to the consternation of the "wrackers," who made a living harvesting booty from wrecked ships. It is one of the last remaining kerosene lighthouses in the world, an actual flame lit and monitored by humans. A Fresnel lens concentrates the flame making it visible 17 miles offshore. The entire lens apparatus, 8,000 pounds of it, floats in a mercury bath allowing it to spin at the touch of a finger. Every two hours, all night, the lighthouse keeper cranks up 700 pounds of weights that slowly drop, spinning gears that turn the lens.

Sitting in the tiny, round room with Jeffrey as he methodically cranks up the weights, just as his father did for decades before him, you just melt into the powerful calm that surrounds him like that cloud of dust around Pigpen in Charlie Brown. It must take a certain temperament to live the storied and solitary life of a lighthouse keeper. Contemplative Jeffrey obviously has it.

Once the weights were wound up, he told us to climb up a rickety green metal ladder, right up onto the platform with the Fresnel lens.

So here I am, waiting to observe the lighting of the flame, camera in hand, thinking, "Dang, the lighting's really bad here. How am I going to get any good shots?" Sometimes I really frighten myself.



Jeffrey took care of my lighting problem, and our last night in Hopetown turned into pure magic.



"This is the best job in the world," Jeffrey told us, and standing there watching that spectacular lens cast a shaft of deliverance into the gathering darkness, I believed him.




Friday, May 20, 2011

BETTER THAN HOPE

Hope Town, Abacos, Bahamas 26º32.228N | 76º57.53W

Palms in Hopetown.

Before selling the wine shop we spirited away a bottle of Salon Champagne and tucked it into Cara Mia's bilge, a gift to ourselves to be opened in a place we dared to hope.

Three years and five months ago, Chip and I flew to Hopetown to fan the dream of a cruising life. At the time we were still deeply entrenched in land life, neither the house nor the wine shop were even on the market yet, and cruising for us was still years away but hope was not.

Every morning like a couple of pretenders, we tuned the VHF in our cottage to channel 68 to listen to the Abacos cruisers' net. From dry land, we spent hours watching the boats bobbing in the protective embrace of lovely Hopetown Harbor, hoping for the day we would arrive on our own boat.

But those wistful hopes were just a quick pencil sketch on a cocktail napkin compared to the stunning 3D color we rode in on today.

The sunrise over Lynyard Cay was a fitting preamble to a perfect day.


We raced beautiful Jessie Marie toward Hopetown on a come-and-go breeze under brilliant Bahamian skies. A group of dolphins cavorted around our bow, the water so clear I could watch them roll on their backs and dive under our bow.

Jessie Marie, cover girl.
And then we turned toward the Hopetown lighthouse. The water leading into the harbor is painfully shallow, and I inched in with white knuckles but not without feeling the full weight of emotion as we rounded the last turn of the channel and into that mooring field I had so often dreamed of.

Entrance to Hopetown Harbor.
It was smooth sailing that brought us here this morning, but our long plod across years to get here was not. It was strewn with the painstaking work of building and selling a business, building and selling a house, dispensing with a lifetime of belongings, searching for our perfect cruising boat then fitting her out for a new life.

Today, we celebrate the well-tended hope that breathed life into our 10-year plan, the gravity-defying hope that kept us focused while slogging step by step toward a vision that few around us shared or understood.

Cheers and a few tears.