Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Night To Remember

Whitehall, NY

Tonight we got to go to the Bridge Theater after all. It turns out that the theater on the bridge really was closed (because the bridge itself was declared unsafe), but the theater moved to another location nearby.

The new location is bizarre. It is a porch added to an old warehouse, and covered with a tin roof. It is so small that there are only seats for 30 in the audience. Libby and I sat only 18 inches from the state. That made it wonderful for amateur theater. In amateur theater, the audience develops great rapport and empathy with the actors and actresses. That was intensified by the intimate setting.

We walked down to the theater with some new boat friends that we met here yesterday. The play was entitled "Champlain Onward." It was historical fiction about Whitehall. It started with Samuel de Champlain himself, and leading up to the present. The most interesting part was about the revolution and the many exploits of our local hero Benedict Arnold. Most Americans know only enough history to remember Arnold as a traitor, but before his betrayal he was an enormously successful general.

As the play started, I was shocked to see smoke rising. "Surely," I thought, "nobody would smoke in here." It was steam from the breath of the actors. That shows how chilly and exposed this theater was. Near the end of the play it began to rain really hard, so the cast of the show had to raise their voices even louder than normal to compete with the din of the rain on the tin roof right above our heads.

The show was delightful and we are really glad that we went. I also learned how badly I butchered the history of Ticonderoga in a blog post last week. I just went back and repaired it; something I don't normally do.

All together, Whitehall is one of the most culturally rich places we've found on the East Coast. It has Skene Mansion (which was part of the subject of today's play) and the Skenesboro museum which is a real jewel, and it has the Bridge Theater. I suppose Charleston SC has a lot more but Whitehall is a tiny town of 2,600 people.


Whitehall, NY

Well, today the weather is really miserable. Very cold and rainy. It's a good day to stay inside and that's what we're doing. Whitehall is a good place to do it.

One thing we always wanted to do is to go to the Bridge Theater here. It is a unique theater, literally built on a bridge and suspended over the top of a dam. When we got here yesterday, I mentioned it to some other boaters. They told me the theater wasn't operarting any more. Too bad.

It turns out, that was misinformation. This morning I saw a poster with the Bridge Theater's schedule. There is a performance of the history of Champlain and Hudson expoloration tonight. We'll try to do. Worse,
last night there was a cabaret featuring Sue Kapusto.

Oh no, Sue Capusto is a former co-worker of mine and her husband Paul is a good friend. We would have loved to see them again. I really regret not going to the theater last night. Darn misinformation.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ready, Set, Down

Whitehall, New York

Well: we're a motorboat for the next two weeks. The series of pictures below show us taking the mast down at Chipman Point Marina. By the way, I just learned that Chipman Point Marina was established in 1810. Wow, it's 199 years old.

Ready, mainsail bagged.
Set: boom and some sidestays and sheets and poles all removed and stowed.

Down: there she is under the crane just after we lowered the mast.

The whole process takes about 3 hours and it costs $125. We can testify that it is much gladder to put the mast up than down.

As a motor boat, we motored down the southern end of the lake. It narrows even further down there, and at times we are boxed between sheer limestone cliffs. Other times we're flanked with marshes. The marshes are fresh water of course but they greatly resemble the salt marshes of southern states.

Above is the view of the south face of Fort Ticonderoga that the British wanted to see so badly. Built in 1755, the fort is in remarkably good shape.

We were also flanked by two mountain ridges. The ridge to the west is the barrier between Lake George and Lake Champlain.

Above is a panorama I made of the Green mountains. That is the view we love so much. Mount Mansfield, Camels Hump and Mount Abrams are the three tallest peaks. The ridge extends about 60 miles. I hiked the length of it once with my dog. I've also flown sailplanes along the ridge. It is a great place for soaring. Click it to see full size.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Going Away Present

Ticonderoga, New York
43 49.04 N 073 23.65 W

The lake treated us to a splendid sailing day as a going away present. You see, this is our last day on the lake this season. Tomorrow is a working day, we have to take the mast down. By Saturday we'll be on the Champlain Canal.

The day started off very cool. We put on long pants and sweat shirts for the first time in memory. However within a few hours we were back to shorts and tee shirts.

It was sad leaving Vergennes for the last time this year. It was wonderful cruising down Otter Creek. The great blue herons seem to be used to Tarwathie now. Instead of flying away in panic as the boat approached, they just stood there and watched.

When we got out to the lake, surprise, there was a nice northerly breeze. It was just perfect to proceed southward under sail. No noisy motor to bother us.

I notices how splendid the Green Mountains looked from this southern angle. I started to prepare my camera to make a panoramic picture. But when I looked up from the camera, Mount Abrams had disappeared behind a hill. Oh no. A few minutes later, Camel's Hump also disappeared and after that Mount Mansfield too disappeared from our view. I looked back toward Ferdinand (see a future blog) and couldn't see him either. How melancholy.

The southern end of the lake has a very different character. It is narrow, not unlike the Indian River in Florida. However, the mountain foothils come much closer to the lake shore so we can see their details clearly. ALl in all, it is very beautiful.

We're anchored a mile south of Fort Ticonderoga and Mount Independence. Achieving the view from this spot was absolutely central to British strategies in the Revolutionary War and in the War of 1812. In the revolution, the British got here but a year too late for their strategy to work. The colonists had cannons on both sides of the lake at Ticonderoga on the New York side and Mount Independence on the Vermont side. They also had build a barrier across the lake made of stones and logs.

"Oh, the wind she blows on Lake Champlain,

And then she blows some more

They say that you will never drown

If you always stay on shore."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Deltaville, VA

The two pictures below show and island that Libby and I like to call Ferdinand. Of course, we're thinking of Ferdinand the Bull. From a distance, it looks like a bull. Click on the lower image to see it yourself.

In reality, the Island is just a little rock called Sloop Island on Lake Champlain. To us it is more significant as a harbinger of good times to come. You see, Ferdinand sits isolated on the lake so that its profile can be on the horizon from far away. Further, because of mirage effects, it often appears to float in the air and it becomes visible from even further away.

Ferdinand, sits close the boundary between the main part of Lake Champlain where all the mountains are visible, and the lower part where we see Split Rock Point, and Porter Bay, and Otter Creek. Since both parts of the Lake are among our favorites, Ferdinand symbolizes a visible reminder that good times lie ahead, whether sailing north or south.

Click to see full size

Self Portrait

Vergennes, VT

I went beserk yesterday and took 135 photos of the trip up Otter Creek. I thought I could make them into a movie presentation complete with background music ("Up A Lazy River" by the Mills brothers) and a narrative. The google/picassa tools to do that proved to be impractical.

As a consolation, have a look at this slide show. I translated the narrative to captions. You'll have to hum Up A Lazy River to yourself as you watch it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Rome, New York

Before leaving Vermont we took the opportunity to catch up with Matt. Matt is my son David's best friend from high school. David lives up in Fairbanks, Alaska now. Matt went off to France and then returned to Burlington.

Matt tried to persuade his girlfriend to come have a dinner cruise on Tarwathie with us, but she declined. Sailboats have a reputation for being tippy and scary, which means that they're not everyone's cup of tea.

In the evening in question though it turned out to be almost still, with very little wind. No tipping at all.


Porter in the Morning

Porter Bay, Vermont

We love this spot as a weekday anchorage. In the first place, we have the whole bay to ourselves. No other occupied boats are around. Second, the bay is so well sheltered that the water and the air are normally very still. Third, there is abundant wildlife in the water and on the shore. At dusk we see deer come down to drink from the lake. A doe and her fawn came within 100 feet of us.

The mornings in the bay are also very pleasant. Today, for the first time this summer, I came up on deck to find ourselves wrapped in dense fog. It was damp and chilly, so I went back below to get a sweat shirt.

At first, the horizontal visibility was only 50 feet. However, looking straight up I could clearly see blue sky. That means that the fog is a thin blanket overlying the surface. It won't take long for the sun to burn it off.

The sun appears as a fuzzy bright spot in the gray. One can look right at it without squinting. (Probably foolish.)

True enough, in less than 10 minutes visibility increased to a half mile. Then it closed in again. Now, 20 minutes later I can see the mountains on the far shore, perhaps 3 miles away. I can also start to feel the warmth of the sun's rays; a sign that the infrared frequencies are penetrating. Off comes the sweat shirt already. Obviously, the fog on Lake Champlain has nowhere near the body and substance of fog such as that encountered in Maine.

A special thrill from the mornings in Porter Bay are the really loud splashes one hears every 5 minutes or so. Ever time I hear one nearby, I whip my head around trying to see that did it. I've never yet heard it. The splashes are really loud as if a big salmon jumped or that Champ himself was frolicking in the bay. My conclusion though it that it is a bird. Besides the gulls and the cormorants, and ducks and numerous geese, we have osprey and eagles that hunt for prey here in the bay. We also have a half dozen great blue herons in the bay, but they don't splash much. I suspect though that the splashes are really caused by a kingfisher. There are numerous kingfishers around here, but I have never personally seen one hover and dive. I'd love to experience that some day. (p.s. Flash update. As I wrote this post, a big fish about 18 inches long just jumped near the shore and made that same splashing sound -- so much for my theories.)

As I enjoyed this nature I also enjoyed reading a copy of last week's Wall Street Journal. I read of a stunning milestone in the advancement of technology. CBS just places an ad in Entertainment Weekly that put a screen and electronics on the printed page that is able to place 40 minutes of video clips. WOW! The article said that the cost per copy of the ad were in the "high teens", so this ad must be an experiment, and not something that will be commonplace overnight; but still WOW!. As a final note, the article mentioned that other experiments included a lick able ad (yuck) to promote a flavor. In 2005 another experimental print ad could produce audio. That resulted in an incident in a Manhattan court room when a juror's copy of the magazine suddenly started playing Elvis' rendition of Blue Suede Shoes during a trial. Hee hee.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Stupid Times Four

Burlington, Vermont

Yesterday was chore day. I changed the engine oil. I repacked the stuffing box (for landlubbers, that is the part that prevents water from leaking in where the propeller shaft penetrates the hull). Then I started working on interior painting. That's where the stupid part comes in.

It is really hard painting the interior of a boat while you're living in the boat. It's harder still with multiple people on board. Therefore, I (politely) asked Libby to get lost for a day. She didn't mind, she went off with Jenny to do gardening. They both love gardening so I'm sure they had a good time.

Meanwhile, back in the boat I was painting away. After a while I noticed spots of paint all over the floor leading up to the v-berth. What the heck? I wasn't painting anywhere near there.

I investigated where the spots might be coming from. When I turned around, there were more fresh spots. Aha! I had paint on the bottom of my shoes. Grumbling, I cleaned my shoes, then cleaned the floor.

10 minutes later, the same thing happened again. I had gotten paint on the bottom of my shoes. I cleaned my shoes and the floor.

15 minutes later, the same thing happened a third time. I had gotten paint on the bottom of my shoes. I cleaned my shoes and the floor.

30 minutes later, I was done with painting. I cleaned up, put the paint away, and disposed of the brush. Now I was ready for a cup of coffee and some time to relax in the cockpit with my book. I put the coffee and book in the cockpit, then turned around. A fourth time, there were paint tracks all over the floor and now up the stairs to the cockpit. Oh no, how stupid can I be!!!

Actually, I plead innocent to utter stupidity. Living in such a small space as the cabin of a boat makes one very much a creature of habit. One of the most fundamental and completely unconscious habits is where one puts one's feet when standing in a particular spot. That habit was just too powerful to break. I had painted one of those habitual spots.

Perhaps a better title for this post would be live and not learn.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Croissantarie

South Burlington, Vermont

Our day expedition to Canada was a big success. (See our photo album here.) Jenny, Libby and I drove about 1 hour from Burlington up to Saint Jean Sur Richelieu Quebec. We had two bicycles in the back of Jen's truck.

Our goal was the Chambly Canal bike path. It runs 20 km from Saint Jean Sur Richelieu to Chambly, right along the canal the whole way. Obviously, the canal was original the mule path for towing the barges. We were sandwiched in, with a road to the west, then the canal, the bike path, and then the Richelieu River to the east. The canal was built in the 1800s to bypass white water sections of the River. It seems to have been built on the side of a hill above the River.

Along the canal we saw many beautiful and interesting unique houses for wealthy people. Apparently, as each new house is built, the builders appeared challenged to create something more beautiful and uniquely different from all the other houses. That brings out the very best creative juices in the designers. We greatly enjoyed the results visually.

I also learned a new word in French; a word I'll treasure forever. It is Le Croissanterie. You can translate it yourself. Let it be said though that whenever I come to see a Le Croissanterie. sign, I'll stop. During the day we also went to the Chocolaterie shown below.

We stopped in Chambly and ate lunch at a sidewalk cafe. The town of Chambly is absolutely charming.

I don't understand why that region of Quebec is not promoted more for it's tourism. It is like going on a bargain tour of Europe and France. The rural region of Quebec is very unlike the hustle bustle environment of Montreal or Quebec City. It is laid back, charming, naturally beautiful, and the people are friendly.

However, friendly, many of them don't speak English, not even a little. It was a bit of a shock to go in to a donut shop only a few miles from the border to find a young girl unable to wait on us in English. Today, one has to look pretty hard in Europe to find people that unfamiliar with English. It would be sad indeed if language hostility was the reason that Quebecers don't promote themselves as a tourist destination for Americans.

Language aside, we had a wonderful day up there. I would recommend it to all our friends as a great place for a day trip or a weekend trip.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Shelburne, Vermont
44 25.64 N 073 14.92 W

Two of the most hypnotic things we know of are watching waves crash on the short, and watching a camp fire. Last night we did both at once. We rowed ashore on Valcour Island, and built a camp fire on the rocks just 10 feet away from the shore. It was wonderfully soothing to watch the fire while listening to the surf as the sun set. The smoke of the fire also served to keep mosquitoes at bay.

This morning, we returned to the rocks to just sit and watch. It is amazing and fun. With only a 12 knot breeze and a 30 mile fetch, the waves built up to 2 feet in height with a 1.5 second period. That seems very little, but it is enough so that the waved crash against the vertical limestone rocks and throw spray 15-20 feet into the air. We sat on a ledge 25 feet above the lake so that the spray almost wet our feet.

One can see similar things in Maine, even more spectacular than this when the waves are big. However, with no storms at sea and with only a 12 knot breeze, the waves on the rocks in Maine don't do much at all. We enjoyed our private show. Private? Yes, this morning we were the only boat in Sloop Cove, the most popular of all Champlain Anchorages. It is remarkable how abruptly the throngs of Canadians disappeared in the past few days.

We also tool a farewell hike on Valcour's interior trails. I hoped to saturate our souls with the sights, sounds and smells of that environment, enough to last another couple of years.

Tomorrow, Thursday, we are off on another type of adventure. Jenny, Libby and I are going for a bicycle excursion along the Richelieu River in Quebec, no computers allowed on that trip so no blog tomorrow.

Above, Libby and Jenny Relax at The Inn at Shelburne

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

North and South

Valcour Island, New York
44 37.40 N 073 24.41 W

Yesterday, Jennifer had the day off work so she decided to go sailing with her mom and dad. There wasn't a lot of wind, so I decided to motor south about 5 miles from Burlington to Shelburne Farms. Once there, we walked the grounds and the gardens of the Shelburne Farms Inn. What a delight.

The Inn is actually the former home of Lila Vanderbilt. It was, I'm sure, one of several Vanderbilt homes. I don't know about the others but this one is magnificent. It is a huge brick and stone structure with perhaps 40 bedrooms, and numerous parlors, libraries, game rooms and sitting rooms appropriate to 19th century life. The wooden beams, wood panels, the floors, are still beautiful, as are the floors and walls of superbly crafted ornamental marble. In its, day, I'm sure that nearly every important person in business and politics must have been guests at that place.

I recommend a visit to Shelburne Farms to anyone who visits the area. It doesn't appear that the guided tours spend much time at the Inn so do your own self-guided tour of the mansion and the grounds.

After walking the grounds, we jumped into the lake to cool off and to take a nice swim. Now that summer has finally arrived, the days are hot and humid. However, the lake water temperature is just perfect for swimming. I use what I call "instant attitude adjustment" several times per day. That means, whenever I feel hot and sticky and that depresses my mood, I jump off the boat in to. That makes me sink about 6 feet below the surface. By the time I work my way back to the surface, my attitude and body temperature have been fully adjusted.

After dropping Jennifer off in Burlington, Libby and I continued north to Valcour Island. We'll spend 1.5 days here just enjoying Valcour's nature.

It seems that Canadian vacation periods must be over. The number of boats at Valcour is down 90% compared to recent weeks.

A sad aspect of this visit is that it will mark the northern apex of our water journey for this summer. When we leave Valcour, Tarwathie will head South for the season. That always makes me sad. I also get sad when we reach the southernmost limit of our winter wanderings and start to head North once again. I suppose the reason for the sadness is that we bid goodbye to regions we like so much, knowing that we won't see them again for a year or more. Even though, the north/south journey provides some of the best enjoyment, it doesn't fully offset the sadness of saying goodbye.

I also regret not being able to stay in Champlain through the first half of October. That time of year is really the best. The fall colors bloom. The weather is delightful. Formerly crowded places are deserted and we almost have the whole lake to ourselves. Alas, our aversion to cold weather is stronger, and both Libby and I believe that we should reach southern Florida no later than November 1. Otherwise, the cold nips at our heels for the whole journey south. We must leave Champlain (or Maine) by the first week in September.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Waved Out

Burlington, Vermont

I just finished watching a stunning demo of Google's new Wave product. Haven't heard of it? Trust me, you will. What is it? A way to merge email, instant messaging, blogging, and collaborative document production in to the same tool. It also provides a profoundly new and different way to write computer applications that will be appealing to developers.

The practical implication is that it will make people like me (and probably you) even more obsolete and unable to play with the under 25 age group. I do almost all my writing and reading off-line, then I go on-line for short bursts of time. The new tools assume that everyone is wired always. I also like to think about what I write, perhaps revising it several times before sharing it with others. Blogging is instant enough for me. New tools, like Google Wave, depend on everyone sharing their thoughts instantly.

Wave even allows multiple users to edit the same sentence at the same time -- something that I (and probably you) would find infuriating.

Young people who haven't developed such habits, can embrace the new wired means of communication much easier than older people can. They will find new ways to do things, to communicate and to cooperate. Their ways may not be better, or not even as good as our old ways, but they'll do it anyhow. That is the way of the world.

I foresee a lot of frustration and anger directed at older folks like me who may be in a position of authority but who don't voice our views in real time. I've been frustrated myself by authoritative people who didn't give their comments in a timely way. With new tools like Wave, timely will be redefined to be even speedier than before. Sigh.

Libby and I are fascinated by Google. We keep a fair fraction of our savings invested in Google and we eagerly follow the news about Google all the time.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Burlington, Vermont

Urger. Think about it. Could there be a more apropos name for a tug boat. If you can think of a better tug boat name, please send it to me.

The New York State Canal Corporation, sent Urger and some other boats on a state visit to Vermont. I looked her over today. What a magnificently preserved and maintained boat! Her steel is painted brightly. Her brass is polished daily. Everything about her is in Bristol Fashion. I love it.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Cousin Jane

Treadwell Bay
44 44.49 N 073 24.13 W

Yesterday and today it was Libby's turn to have a visit with relatives. In our travels, we sometimes meet with my siblings, cousins and so on, but until yesterday, we never managed to meet any of Libby's relatives until yesterday.

Libby's cousin Jane lives on a beautiful location right on Lake Champlain in Chazy Landing. We have great memories of visiting that place when Jane's parents (Libby's aunt and uncle) were alive and lived in that house. Libby and I and all our children have warm memories of Chazy. It was fitting therefore and very nostalgic to go back there. I know Libby enjoyed it greatly and I think Jane did also.

The rest of us (meaning me, Jane's son Rob, and Rob's family of 5 people) all had fun too. This morning Rob made us a pancake breakfast. Then we all went for a short sail on Tarwathie. The weather cooperated just fine with a sunny and warm day with a 12 knot breeze -- just perfect. After a while, we anchored, ate lunch then jumped in to the lake for a swim. The water temperature is just perfect for swimming right now and it felt great.

It appears, that there is nothing but unbroken days of fine weather coming up for the rest of August. Hooray! We are all so sick of cold and rain.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Red Sky At Night To This Sailor's Delight

44 31.98 N 073 18.24 W

It was late in the day. We were motoring quietly from Burlington to Valcour. The air was very still. To the West, we could see the Adirondacks emerging from haze for the first time today. To the East, we could see a ridge of soaring thunderclouds positioned directly over the ridge of the Green Mountains. The central valley in Vermont was experiencing intense rain, lightning and thunder.

We did something we rarely do. We decided to anchor for the night in the middle of the lake, with no shelter whatsoever. The risk of doing so is considerable because Champlain's weather is notoriously fickle. There was a substantial risk that a wind would come up during the night forcing us to get of of bed on an emergency basis to raise the anchor and move elsewhere.

We were near the mouth of the Winnooski River. The lake is more than 100 feet deep around here but we found a finger of silt only 15 feet deep extending out into the lake from the river delta. We dropped the hook there. We were about 1 mile from the Vermont shore and 6 miles from the New York shore. Happily, we were too far from land for the mosquitoes to find us.

As sunset approached the western sky reddened. Burlington, Vermont is famous for world class sunsets as the sun seeming plunges down into downtown Toronto beyond the lake, and behind the Adirondack Mountains of New York. This was one of those days. This time however, there was such thick haze in the air, that the red sunlight reflected down from on high. Instead of just reddening the sky near the horizon, the entire westward sky turned reddish orange.

The lake was so still that it became a huge reflecting pool. Soon, the red light, reflected down by the haze, was reflected up again by the lake. There seemed to be no difference in color, texture or intensity between sky and sea. We saw a huge circle of orange, bisected by a black band that was the land on the western horizon. It was as if a red giant star was approaching and threatening to engulf the Earth. The beauty was overwhelming.

That's not all. Libby and I watched this view astern as we sat in the cockpit. In the foreground, among the forest of stainless steel pipes that form our stern pulpit all the spiders came out.

If you sail in the Northeast, you know that little spiders just love boats as a friendly habitat. They are not the mean spiders that bite people. They spin webs and eat insects. I have no idea where they hide during the day. Each day their webs are destroyed new ones must be spun starting at twilight. The parallelograms formed by all those pipes make life much easier so the spiders love them. Bigger spiders (about the size of a quarter) get the choicest rectangles. The littlest spiders (about the size of a match head) get the smaller irregular spaces.

Tonight we could see the spiders merrily spinning along. We saw them silhouetted in black against the red orange back light. Can spiders be merry? They looked to me like they were having fun. Their trajectories differ sharply from those of flying insects. That made it obvious that they grasp invisible silken threads as they slide along.

The objects of their art, the webs, were completely invisible to us. I tried to discern the shape of the webs (fans, spirals, or whatever) from the sequential trajectories of the spider's motions. It was like watching an artist painting a picture in a dark room with an illuminated tip on his brush; and attempting from that to guess what he was trying to portray.

Finally the sky darkened, but we had one more visual treat before going below. Turning to the East, we could see a brilliant cloud-to-ground lightening show over New Hampshire. The flashes were too far away for us to hear the thunder so we didn't feel threatened, just enchanted once again by the beauty. Boy oh boy am I glad that we did not seek out a sheltered anchorage surrounded by trees. The sights we saw last night I'll remember always.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

There Must Be A Name For It

Under Sail
44 24.58 N 073 16.44 W

There must be a name for it. A name for the view of a mountain ridge seen from the downwind side. Water vapor (cloud) spills over the top of the ridge and begins to descend the downwind slope. However, as it drops, it warms and evaporates the vapor. The visual effect is like seeing a waterfall that ends in mid-air. Behind the ridge, one imagines a valley completely filled with a lake of fog. Could one call it a fogfall?

My first sight of a fogfall was way back in 1967. On my first trip ever to San Francisco, I stepped out of the front door of the SF Airport, looked west at the ridge of mountains that separates the coast from SF bay, and there it was. The fogfall was unbelievable. The winds must have been blowing down that ridge at 30-40 miles per hour making the motion even more apparent. I stood and stared in awe at that sight for perhaps 30 minutes. On Champlain, we are regularly treated to fogfall views from two vantage points. One is Willsboro Bay, and the other is Porter Bay where we stayed last night.

I just reviewed my pictures from this summer and I have none of fogfalls. I'll try harder to capture one this month.

Today we return to Burlington. We'll reprovision, and try to return the kayaks to Jenny. Tomorrow we head for Chazy Landing to visit Libby's cousin Jane.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Kayak Adventure

Porter Bay, Vermont

Libby returned yesterday afternoon. Thank goodness. In the evening we went to the weekly free band concert in the city green. This morning we left Vergennes first thing.

We didn't go far. About halfway down the creek, we anchored at the confluence of Dead Creek and Otter Creek. Then we launched the two kayaks we borrowed from Jenny. We took a bag lunch and off we went.

To get in to Deep Creek we had to pass under a bridge less than 3 feet above the water. It would be difficult to get any vessel bigger than a canoe or a kayak in there. The reward, when we emerged on the other side, was to be transported to a wilderness paradise that we had all to ourselves. We didn't see any other people in there.

Dead Creek is very beautiful. It is perhaps 1/4 mile wide and 3 feet deep. The shores are mostly lined with cat-o-nine-tail reeds but some places have trees. Behind the veneer of trees are corn fields and hay fields belonging to the farms, but they are barely visible from the creek.

We saw abundant birds of several kinds. Prominent were the great blue herons. There are lots of those majestic birds, but none allowed us to get more than a few hundred meters away before giving an angry graaak and flying away. We also saw osprey, and more often than not, they were flying by carrying a cargo of a fish freshly caught. There are eagles nests all around the area but it appears that they are occupied by osprey. Like eagles, osprey are large birds of prey and I imagine they fill the same ecological niche.

We also saw lots of fish. Not directly, the water was too turbid. But we saw them jumping. and several times the kayak would almost run over a fish basking on the surface. The startled fish would disappear with a swirl and a splash.

It was a great trip. We're really glad we did it, and now we're wondering if we can't manage to carry a kayak all the time. We definitely can't manage two, but maybe one.

Just after returning to Tarwathie and raising anchor we were hit by a sudden and brief thundershower. It gusted and it rained intensely for about 10 minutes, but all the time I could see blue sky behind the rain up above. If the sun hadn't been at the zenith, we would have seen a nice rainbow. Anyhow, I am nearly out of clean and dry clothes so I stripped naked except for a foul weather jacket and manned the helm that way. Tsk tsk, what a fashion statement.

Our strenuous chore for the rest of the day: hang out all our wet clothes and watch them dry.

Monday, August 10, 2009


Above: a magnificent home near the entrance to Porter Bay and to Otter Creek.

Above: the cruise ship Moonlighter that pulled in to Vergennes. She cruises between Whitehall, NY and Montreal, Quebec. Nice.


Vergennes, Vermont

Yesterday, my friend Dave relayed an interesting observation. He has a power boat and normally power boaters and sailing boaters don't mix all that much. Dave said, "However, as soon as we mount the sailing rig on our dinghy, we are instantly accepted as part of the sailing group." I'm sure he's right. How interesting.

Human beings of all cultures continuously form cliques or circles of affinity. Psychologists can study how they go about that. Dave's comment though reminds me that some of the external signs and influences of this psychology are somewhat more visible because of our non-conventional life styles.

It's quite true that power boaters and sail boaters don't mix that much. I think the main reason is that many power boaters like to party loud and long and with lots of alcohol. Sail boaters are more demure and they start getting sleepy at sunset. That said, Libby and I have found that those power boaters who we have made friends with are lovely people, and much more like us that party group. I suspect that the sail/power social split is mostly unnecessary.

Also visible is the hierarchy of boaters according to the use of their boats. At the bottom of the heap are holiday boaters who only go on boats 2-3 times per year. They annoy the other boaters because of their lack of experience and because they haven't learned the etiquette of boating. Next up are day sailors (power or sail), then weekend cruisers, long distance cruisers, full time cruisers, and at the very top circumnavigators; disregarding power or sail in all classes. I'll admit to being pleased to the ego stroking that comes from being on the second to top rung of that ladder. We constantly meet people who admire us because we live the life they dream of living.

Note that rich people's boats, including mega yachts, occupy the lowest run on this social ladder. At least according to me. Despite their thick wallets, they tend to spend very little time on their boats and thus don't earn much respect. Their professional captains and crews are a different matter. Those people usually really know what they're doing.

I don't know where to place big game fishermen in the hierarchy. We have had very little contact with those people.

Anyhow, the type and experience of the boater is only one factor that influences who we choose to make friends with, who to ignore and who to shun. The rest of the chemistry I do not pretend to be able to explain.

In land-based life practicality forces us to choose friends first and foremost from our neighbors and co-workers based on long-standing acquaintance. In the cruising life, neighbors are very transitory so we are forced to choose friends quicker, based on slight acquaintances and impressions. We have learned to be open in breaking ice with strangers. We paddle up their boats cold and introduce ourselves. They do the same to us. More often than not, such overtures are successful and within a few minutes we have new friends. In fact we invite each other on board to inspect the boats. On land, it is very rare to invite a stranger to tour your house just because he/she knocked on your door? Social dynamics on the water are much more open.

Our friends on Twin Spirits, recently changed from a cruising boat to land cruising in RVs. They say that while there is much similarity with boating social norms, there are big differences. Stephan said that he thinks it is because RVers stay such short times in once place. Before making the opening move to meet a fellow RVer, he (or you) have departed for someplace else.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

(Not) Lonely In Vermont

Vergennes, VT

People are SO nice. Yesterday I complained about being lonely while Libby is gone. Guess, what. I'm overwhelmed by company today.

Last year in Portland, we met Jake and Shelia. They are the parents of Christian, Jenny's friend. Well Jake was in Vermont visiting Christian and the two of them decided to drive to Vergennes today to pay me a visit. They knew where to find me because of this blog. I really appreciated that and the three of us had a good time just chatting and swapping stories.

Bigger surprise, as the three of us sat on the wall next to the creek along came Dave and Carol from the yacht New Horizon. We first met them winter at Treasure Cay, Abacos, Bahamas. It turns out that since then they have become regular blog readers. They knew I was here, and complaining of being lonely, and since they happened to be driving through Vermont, they too stopped by to pay a visit. Now there were 5 of us sitting on the wall and swapping stories. It was great.

I never thought before about unintended but welcome side effects of writing this blog and the lack of privacy I have by blogging all my stories. It pays off in unexpected ways such as today. I suppose that is what the younger generations already know in the way they share their lives while eschewing privacy on Facebook and Twitter.

Meanwhile, out in deep space, the Cassini space probe took this remarkable photograph. What do you suppose it was that crashed through one of Saturn's rings?

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Home Alone

Vergennes, Vermont

Libby is away for a few days leaving me home alone. I started missing her as soon as she left. She'll be back on Monday.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Swearing in French

Vergennes, Vermont
44 10.17 N 073 15.50 W

Here below the waterfall, the current is really swift. Yesterday I decided to move Tarwathie forward on the dock about 10 feet. Doing so would make enough room for another boat to fit in behind us. I started the engine and asked Libby to man the lines. Well, I didn't allow properly for the current. Tarwathie's nose swung out away from the dock and the bow line pulled tight. Libby, very intelligently, quickly tied off the bow line rather than trying to pull on it. That left us nearly broadside to the current and the dock lines were stretched very tight. A bunch of neighboring boaters, all Quebecers, rushed to help. One man, having less good sense than Libby untied the bow line and tried to pull. He almost lost the whole thing which would have been a disaster. Finally, with the help of at least 6 strong men, we wrestled Tarwathie in to place. In the meantime, I was immersed in a live language lesson learning how to cuss in French. (Don't ask me to repeat it.)

Anyhow, all that effort left room for a 38 foot boat behind us. Within minutes, another boat came up, but it was (whoops) 39 feet long. The skipper skillfully managed to parallel park the boat, but his bow was banging on Tarwathie's stern while his dinghy astern threatened the boat behind him. Once again, swear a lot in French, get lots of help, and finally, we got that man's dinghy down and out of the way and had him tied with inches to spare. (No mor than inches thought.)

We've been meeting some wonderful people here at the docks. Last night is was Dave and Nadine from Burlington. Dave is an ex Burlington Cop and Nadine is a public housing lawyer in Burlington. Sounds like the making of a TV series; right? Anyhow, they were very nice and very interested in the cruising life. Dave's dream is to cruise. Nadine didn't contradict but I didn't hear her enthuse either.

This morning we met a delightful couple, Pierre and Christina on the yacht L'ecclume Des Mers. They live in the Laurentian Mountains north of Montreal. Their steel boat, they hand built themselves. Pierre's story of building his steel boat was very reminiscent of the stories we heard from Captain Barr from Nova Scotia who we met on Green Turtle Cay last winter. Pierre's profession was to create jewelry. He scaled up his metal working skills from ear rings to yachts. He did it very well. Pierre and Christiana have cruised extensively so they and we had fun swapping stories. I hope very much to meet up with them another time.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Facebook, Twitter, & Blogging

Vergennes, VT

I've been getting more and more emails from Facebook and Twitter users asking me to become friends. However, all my time and energy goes in to writing text and posting pictures for this blog. I average about 300 blog posts per year. That doesn't leave me much time to also comment and keep on on Facebook and Twitter. I've heard that many bloggers have moved over to Facebook instead of blogging, but that's not for me. The logistics of blogging fit our cruising life style much better than does Facebook.

Anyhow, I'm beginning to worry that others consider me impolite if I fail to respond to your comments, pokes, tweets and invitations on Facebook and Twitter. I would delete those accounts, except that they are useful for friends to locate me, allowing me to point them to this blog. Please don't take offense if I just stick with blogging.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Feast to Famine

Porter Bay, Vermont
44 13.83 N 073 19.03 W

Well, the week with the family is over. John and family drove home today and Libby and I sailed down here to the splendid solitude of Porter Bay. In terms of company and being surrounded by others, we went from feast to famine. It was a great week.

Tuesday, the last full day at the camp, the family decided that they wanted to see the fabled Valcour Island. Fine I said. Off we set in the morning to a gentle southerly breeze. The weather forecast called for more of the same.

Valcour worked its magic on the group and charmed everyone, adults and children alike. I hope that in years to come, Valcour may become a vacation destination for members of John's family.

When it was time to head back the trouble started. While we were one the island, the wind changed from mild to fresh to strong to fierce. Naturally, according to Murphy's law the wind was from the South and the camp was due south of us. We put up the jib, but not the main sail and headed out. The winds were too much for even that. We motored and sailed on one tack across the lake struggling to keep control and to prevent excessive heeling. On the return tack I reefed the jib 50%. Now we had only 1/4 of Tarwathie's normal sails flying. It was still too much. She pitched and rocked in the steep waves. The wind increased to a peak of 31 knots, just short of gale force. Most of the family began to feel queasy and they crowded into the cockpit rather than going below. I couldn't prevent excessive heel. and soon water was up over the rail and drenching those sitting on the leward side of the boat. Vicky, the smallest got completely dunked, thoroughly scared and started crying.

This brought out a conflict in instincts. As a cruising sailor, I thought we should return to the shelter of Valcour Island, anchor and sit it out until the weather became better, no matter how long that took. John, as the head of a family worried about kids getting to sleep in beds, and about today's scheduled departure from the camp and about a dinner date we had for the evening. He wanted to continue on no matter what. As captain, I could have ordered that we do it my way, but instead I let John win the argument.

To make a long story short, we did manage to return 10 miles to the camp after 5 hours of sailing and motoring flat out. In the final hour, the wind diminished making it much easier.

I'm sure that it was a day for all to remember for many years to come. The happiest part about it is that the strongest memories are not of the trauma of the storm but rather the charm of Valcour's nature.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Threading The Needle

The deMello Camp
44 25.85 N 073 23.38 W

The camp is working out well. With 4 adults and 4 kids it would be impossible for all of us to stay on the boat. Using the camp, and mooring Tarwathie near by allows the best of both worlds for a week.

Another factor is when and how to sail so that all enjoy. With 8 people, it is not surprising that we have a diversity of views about what is fun and not fun. Actually, things have split into only 3 camps. Not too bad.

Group 1 includes Sara and Victoria. They are fair weather sailors and they get very uneasy if the boat heels more than 5 degrees.

Group 2 includes Libby and I and John and Nick. We like to go fast, and heeling to the point where water spills over the rails.

Group 3 includes Cheryl and Katelyn. They are on the fence. They want to belong to group 2 but they lack total confidence yet. Katelyn also turns out to be a natural helmsman. Without any instructions at all she is able to hold a dead straight course under power or under sail. I think she'll make a fine sailor.

So, how do we satisfy all needs? With a little bit of each. Actually, circumstances and weather helped us along. On Thursday, it was sunny, warm and winds were very light. All 8 of us sailed up to Schuyler Island and went ashore for an exploration. Everybody enjoyed it.

On Saturday, John had to go home to work a day. Cheryl went with him. Libby and I had charge of the 4 kits. It was sunny and warm and winds were moderate. We took the whole group and sailed across the lake to Burlington and back.

On Sunday, it was cool and threatening rain. We left group 1 at home, and took the others out. They were hungry for challenge and technical practice. We sailed to Burlington and back once more. However, this time, as we went along, the wind kept getting stronger and stronger. It started at 8 knots, any by the time we returned,it had increased to 25; quite a difference. That gave opportunity for good practice. We double reefed the mainsail. Then we managed a gybe. Finally, on the way back we also reefed the jib. It was a wild ride indeed. Thanks to our aggressive sail reductions, Tarwathie never got hard to control, and we were able to maintain 7-8 knots anyhow using only 1/4 the sail area that we started with. It was a great technical lesson -- clearly demonstrating that less sail is better than more when the wind blows hard. While we were doing all that, the hundred or so other sailboats in sight disappeared from the lake, or dropped their sails to motor. The entire crew enjoyed the euphoria of having met the elements and emerged as master.