Tuesday, August 31, 2010

On Rowing

Burlington, Vermont
42 28.12 N 073 13.35 W

We're spending a few days here anchored in Burlington Harbor. We're in the middle of a 4-day high pressure with no wind. Good time for shore side activities.

Libby and I registered to vote today. Tomorrow, I'm going on a father-daughter kayak trip somewhere in Vermont.

Tonight, I was eating supper when I heard a voice outside. I looked, and saw a man in a dinghy. He said that he just rowed over to admire Tarwathie because her lines were so beautiful. Of course, I don't mind hearing that. Especially on Champlain, one meets many lifelong sailors who have never been near blue water. They tend to admire true cruising boats.

Speaking of rowing. On numerous occasions, I've hosted guests and given them an opportunity to row the dinghy themselves. Surprisingly, to both them and to me, many of them can't accomplish the task very well. It seems only common sense that rowing a boat is something so basic and so simple that nobody should need training or experience to do it. Wrong. I must confess that it is sometimes comical to watch someone to try to do it the first time.

The sign of an expert rower is that he/she maintains a nearly constant speed and a constant course toward the mark. World class rowers can can row a boat against a gale. That's really really hard and very strenuous. I've done it more than once but I'd rather not ever need to do it again.

Why not, you may ask, don't I write a blog about how to row a boat? That would be ridiculous. It would be boring to read, and anything learned would be forgotten before being applied. Reading an instruction book is not the way to learn to row; you learn by just doing it.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Lake Champlain
44 34.43 N 073 73 24.58 W

The weather yesterday (and today) is wonderful.  Warm, sunny, breezes about 17 knots.  Perfect weather for sailing.  The trouble is that everyone seems to have heard the spendid weather report.   I don't think we've ever seen so many sail boats out on the lake before.   There were far too many to count.  So, what did we decide to do?  Sail of course.

The down side was that we seemed to live under a black cloud of bad luck yesterday.  Everything seemed to go wrong.  One thing after another.   I know that readers like to read about our mistakes and disasters, but this time I'm not inclined to chronicle them.  Grrrrrrrr.  Suffice it to say that at the end of the day, we were glad it was over.

We anchored off the north end of Valcour Island; a place where we never anchored before because it is sheltered in one direction only.   The reason was that every other anchorage at Valcour was packed full with other boats.  Wow were there a lot of boats.  After dark, the numerous masthead anchor lights looked like a swarm of stars.  It appeared that 95% of the boats were Canadian and 95% were sail; a very skewed statistic.  Perhaps this weekend is the end of summer for Canadians; just as Labor Day next week marks the end of summer for many Americans.

The reward for anchoring out so exposed is that we had a front row seat to watch one of those spectacular sunsets as the sun sank behind the Adirondack Mountains.   Oh what glorious colors.  The far clouds glowed in bright gold.  

Friday, August 27, 2010

Burton Walkabout

Burton Island, Vermont
44 46.60 N 073 11.76 W

Libby and I had a nice walkabout of the Burton Island perimeter trail. It is a lovely day. When we camped here with the family, such a walkabout was the high point of every day.

Skipping stones! Endless supply of good skipping stones!

How many freeze-thaw cycles does it take to produce this?

Alien life form? No; look closely.

Surprisingly, most of the camp sites and boat slips are vacant. We're used to this island having 100% occupancy most of the time. Is it the recession? Is is too close to Labor Day? No explanation.

By the way, except for one week in June, our strategy of coming north to avoid the summer heat has worked well. The day and night time temperatures up here are very comfortable without AC or heat. Even the hot week during June wasn't bad at night. We had no trouble sleeping.

This is probably our northernmost extent for the year. I'm fond of saying that our sandbox extends from 25N to 45N. We're almost there at 44 46.60 N, only 13 miles away from the 45th parallel.

See all of our pictures from today here.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Fly Fishing

Burton Island, VT
44 46.60 N 73 11.76 W

We spent last night in Porter Bay. It was another one of those tranquil nights when we could clearly sed and hear everything around us. In the late evening and early morning we were greatly entertained by the leaping fish all around us.

We don't know what species of fish they were but they were big and hungary for insects on the surface. Both Libby and I thought about fly fishing.

I've written before about what terrible fishermen we are. We don't attempt it very often. When we do, we never Icatch anything. We don't carry much equipment either. Certainly not fly rods.

Nice sailing today. We sailed 25 miles north from Porter Bay to Button Island.

Burton Island is the suite of several family camping adventures. It is a state park and a marvelously fun and safe place for kids. We have camped here with all our children and grandchildren (except Bobby), and with my sister Nancy and her family.

The picture shows Tarwathie on a mooring and the Burton Island Ferry to the left. The ferry is the only way for campers to get here. It adds to the charm.
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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

To Boldly Go ...

Vergennes, Vermont

Galaxy Cluster Abell 1689 Magnifies the Dark Universe
Credit: NASA, ESA, E. Jullo (JPL), P. Natarajan (Yale), & J.-P. Kneib (LAM, CNRS)
Acknowledgment: H. Ford and N. Benetiz (JHU), & T. Broadhurst (Tel Aviv)

Ah what a great picture. Each of the fuzzy yellow blobs above is a whole galaxy. The picture reminds me of the desire to explore. To explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no man has gone before. (Wait. Back up. Not that far.)

Have Libby and I lost that desire? In the past two years, the only place we've gone that we haven't seen before is the trip across Florida across Lake Okeechobee. Even here on Champlain, there are places that we haven't been to and we have no plans to go there.

Have we lost the wanderlust? I sure hope not. I also hope we can make up for it in the coming winter season. We still haven't seen the Exumas, central and southern Bahamas where there are thousands of wonderful islands. I hope to get there next season. However, we won't cross over until April. That way, we get to see the best of it without the nasty winter storms.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Vergennes, Vermont

A while back we woke to the news that the whole region was covered with morning fog. Really? I looked out the port hole. Sure enough, it was very foggy. We had planned on crossing the lake that day. Should we wait until the fog burned off?

After finishing my coffee, I looked out again. Sure it was foggy but I could still see a mile or more through the fog. We went anyhow. Out on the open lake I was able to determine that the visibility was actually 2.5 miles. Piece of cake.

When they have dense fog in New England, especially Maine, it is a very different thing. There, the visibility can be so low that you can't even see the bow of the boat. Libby and I have sailed in those conditions, and we can tell you, it's scary. We aren't afraid of running aground -- we navigate via GPS in those conditions. We're afraid of collision with other boats.

When in fog, we toot on our fog horn as required, and we listen for other horns. That works very well. Sound seems to travel extra well in fog. We also use our radar to spot other boats, but frankly, I have no trust in our radar system. It fails to show a visible echo for nearby boats too often.

In the 1970s I was cruising once in October on Lake Champlain. My father, my friend Walt, and my son John were with me. We woke one morning at Valcour Island to find that it was raining and snowing and foggy outside. It was througly nasty. My dad and Walt had to leave that day by bus from Burlington. Therefore I had to get them there. Off we sailed. Just me on deck; none of the others wanted to stick their heads out. I had no GPS in those days, just a compass.

I sailed in the general direction of Burlington for several hours. Eventually, I could begin to hear the city noises. As I said, sound propagates well in fog. I followed the sounds. They became more distinct. Soon I could make out the locomotives in Burlington's railroad switch yard. I knew exactly where that was. I called below to the others, "I think we're getting near." They came up on deck, within seconds the fog lifted enough to reveal the Burlington breakwater 10 feet away. Those guys were floored at how accurately I could navigate with just a compass. I never told them the real secret of navigating by sound.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Lack of a Copilot

Burlington, VT
44 28.11 N 073 13.31 W

Yesterday, Libby worked on Jenny's garden and decided to stay overnight. When I talked to her on the phone, I said, don't worry about me, I'll be alright. Famous last words.

The forecast called for gentle SW winds to shift to 5-10 from NW after passage of a front. No problem I thought. I had a good anchorage next to an open WIFI spot. NW winds would put me on a lee shore but I had the 70 pound Luke anchor out. My plan was to watch a movie on the computer.

Well, the wind shifted to NW, but it was a stronger than forecast; perhaps 20 knots. The boat started bouncing as the waves built up. No problem. After a while, I began to sense that I was slowly dragging closer to shore. My solution was to let out some more chain, increasing the scope. I did that, and I was about to go below, when I heard a loud bang!

The rudder was hitting on a rock as the waves rocked the boat. Bang, bang. I sprang into action. I reached to start the engine to get out of that spot. I turned the key; nothing. No cranking, not even the instrument lights. What the heck? That never happened before. It didn't take long though to understand what happened. I had been working on the wiring in the engine compartment and I must have failed to reconnect the master harness plug and socket securely.

So, my next solution was to bring back in chain that I had let out to increase the scope. That stopped the banging. Thank God. But I was still dragging towards a grounding. Time to get out of there. I climbed into the engine compartment and pushed the master harness plug home. The engine started right up.

That left a delicate problem since I was single handed. The instant I raised the anchor, the boat would drift downwind toward the rocks. That's why you're not supposed to anchor on a lee shore in the first place. I needed one hand on the anchor up in the bow, and another in the cockpit on the helm and the throttle. My solution was to run back and forth, and back and forth and back and forth. I'd run up on the chain a bit with the motor, then dash up to the bow and take in the slack chain. Doing that, I eventually got the anchor off the bottom just enough to move away from shore. Whew!

Now what? It would be very difficult to go to the mooring field and take a mooring single handed against that stiff wind. I elected to move away from shore only 100 yards and re-drop the anchor.

That should have solved the problem. I shut the engine off, and went below for a sponge bath because I was all sweaty. Eventually I resumed my movie. But my comfort didn't last long. I was dragging again. I don't know why. The 70 pound Luke should have held. Nevertheless, I dragged 100 feet through the rest of the night. However, this time I had more room for margin so I just sat it out and watched. Eventually, around 0200 the dragging stopped and I got some sleep. I was reawakened by stiffer winds at 0400. All in all it was a pretty restless night.

When Libby returned this morning, the two of us moved to a safer spot.

So what's the moral of this sad story? Even a well experienced old salt like me can still commit a chain of stupid errors and get himself into trouble. True, my experience allowed me to recover and get myself out of trouble, but it didn't prevent me from making mistakes. That, my friends, is why passenger airplanes require a copilot.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Nice Shot

Burlington, VT

Here's a nice aerial picture of Burlington. It shows the waterfront (where I am right now), the city, and a frost capped Mount Mansfield in the background.

I photographed a post card with my Droid to make this puncture.

By the way, I like the Droid more and more as I use it. Today it upgraded to Android 2.2. Now everything runs much faster. I also downloaded a Navionics chart plotter program, a compass, and a level/incleometer. That's remarkable. This device now backs up or extends several of our on board instruments.

I think that the Droid should be called a pocket computer that can do phone calls. The phone app is still clunky.
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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Valcour Picures

Burlington Vermont
44 28.20 N 073 13.31 W

I walked through the UVM (University Of Vermont) campus today. That was my first time on the campus, despite having lived here for many years. The campus and the university are much larger than I imagined. I'm used to colleges with 2-3 thousand students. UVM has about 11,000 students. It was great.

Below are some recent pictures from Valcour Island.

Anchored in Sloop Cove

Micro flowers of fungi

Even the fungi are beautiful.

The junipers last long because they find cracks in the rock to anchor their roots.

By the way, I have a much bigger collection of Valcour Island pictures here. Try the slide show.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Too Much Of A Good Thing?

Valcour Island, NY

After blogging so enthusiastically about Valcour Island, can we complain about having too much of it?  Well, we planned on leaving here Sunday.   We had a date to meet with our friends Emily and Baden in Burlington on Monday.   It was much too rough to leave on Sunday.

The weakest aspect of Westsails is beating dead into a stiff wind in choppy seas.  That's exactly what we would have had on Sunday.   Instead I sat on the rocks here and watched the boats out in the lake that did venture out.  There weren't many.  Most of the sailboats were sailing downwind.   A few sailboats and a few powerboats were seen trying to motor against the wind and waves and they were having  a terrible time.  They bounced so hard that I could see air underneath their keels.

Isn't it much rougher out at sea?  Yes and no.   At sea, the waves can be much bigger and the wind stronger.   However, the waves are much farther apart and the boat simply rises and falls with each wave.  Big waves come 8-12 seconds apart.  Today, I timed the waves here at 1.5 seconds apart.  That makes the boat rock forward and back dizzily, and tends to stop forward progress dead.

Anyhow, this morning it appeared to be blowing less hard.  We hauled up the anchor and left this protected cove.  Not for long though.  It was much rougher than I expected.  Also, we started hearing thunder from a storm behind the nearby mountains.  We changed our minds and headed back in; thus missing our date with Emily.

We found and alternative though.  There were only two other boats here in Sloop Cove.  So we introduced ourselves to those new people and invited them over for a Balderdash game this afternoon.  That worked out fine,  the game is over and everyone had fun.   It is nice that the Quebec vacation period is over, once again we have fellow boaters nearby who speak our native language.  That greatly greases the social rails.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Why Valcour?

Valcour Island,

Why do we like Valcor Island so much?  Fair question.   I'll post some pictures when I have a good WIFI link again.

Valcour Island is on the NY side of Lake Champlain, close to Plattsburg, NY.   It is roughly 2 miles wide by 3 miles long.  Except for a small lot on the western side, it is uninhabited and owned by the state.  I heard once that it was deeded to the state as a place to use as a boat anchorage.  The state manages it with a light hand.   It keeps the trails open and that's about it.  I met a chain gang working on the trails once, but other than that you won't see a state employee out here.

Most of the perimeter of the island is limestone palisades.  The cliffs range from zero to about 100 feet above the water line.  The interior is all covered with forests.  It is clear that the island was scraped bare during the last ice age.  There are only a few inches of soil on top of bedrock.

There once were farms on Valcour Island, but I think they covered only a small fraction of the island.   Farming couldn't have been very good because of the lack of soil.    Anyhow, most of the island is covered with what appears to be virgin forest.  If it isn't virgin, then it is mature forest.    Here in the Northeast USA virgin forest is almost nonexistent.  In 1776 80% of the land in the Northeast was farm fields, and only 20% forest and those forests were exploited for logging.    Today, 80% of the land is forest, but younger than 200 years.  

Most of the trees are slow growing junipers, ceaders, and pines.   The forest floor is almost devoid of undergrowth because little sunlight penetrates to the ground.   Navigation outside of the trails is difficult because of the excessive number of fallen trees.   For some reason, fallen trees decay and disappear very slowly here.  

Walking along Valcour's trails is a marvelously serene experience.  It makes one wonder at the beauty of nature.   I've done it many times and each time my imagination awakes with fantasies of living on Valcour full time.  I dream of making an energy independent haven here, using only what nature provides.

You can navigate much of the perimeter by scrambling over the limestone rocks.   That's great fun.  At numerous points, you can jump off the cliffs into the deep, clean water.   What fun.   Thanks to zebra mussels, the waters around Valcour are very clear.   In the bays, the water in summer is warmer than that in the surrounding lake so swimming is a pleasure.   

A few places the palisades give way to beaches.  Most of the beaches are covered with glacial moraine.  Small, rounded, polished stones abound with an amazing variety of colors and types.   One wonders from how far away these stones were carried here by the glaciers.

Valcour offers numerous bays, coves, and bights with good holding for boat anchorages.   On calm nights you can find boats anchored all the way around.  On windy nights, the boats crowd into those spots offering shelter from the wind and waves.   Our favorite is were we are today -- Sloop Cove.  In past Octobers, we have sat securely at anchor here several times when the wind blew more than 70 knots.   We listened to the sound of the wind howling in the tree tops.

My first trip to Valcour was in October, 1970-something.  I don't remember the exact year.   I had my son John with me.  We came in to Sloop Cove, backed the boat up to a ledge, and built a camp fire on the ledge.   (I had no dinghy on that boat).   We fell in love with it right away.    

For many years, while living in Schenectady, NY.  I saved a week of vacation each year to sail on Champlain and to visit Valcour Island. I did it in the first week of October.  That week the fall colors would be at their peak, the geese migration would be at its peak, and we would have almost the whole lake to ourselves.

In later years, when we lived in Vermont, we didn't own a boat.  Still we managed to hitch a ride out to Valcour Island in the first week of October and camp for a month.   We pretty much had the whole island to ourselves.  Sometimes it was Libby and me and our dog Pup.  Other times it was just me and Pup.   Pup absolutely hated water and boats and he greatly feared the trip out here, but once on the island he found paradise.  His greatest joy was acting as a scout dog when I hiked on the trails.

There's even a great mystery here on Valcour Island.  There is a memorial to the captain and the crew of the Canadian WWI warship Nomad.  Why would it be here on American soil?   I probably wrote about it in some past blog post.  For now, I'll leave it as a challenge to you.  Google Valcour and Nomad and see if you can discover the story.

Too Good To Pass Up

Valcour Island

My friend Gerry sends lots of jokes to his email lists. They give me a chuckle when they come. As I rule, I don't put such things on this blog. Today however, I have to make an exception. These puns are just too too good.

The ability to make and understand puns is considered to be the highest level of language development.

Here are the 10 first place winners in the International Pun Contest:

1.A vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looks at him and says, "I'm sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger."

2.Two fish swim into a concrete wall. One turns to the other and says, "Dam!"

3.Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Unsurprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can't have your kayak and heat it too.

4.Two hydrogen atoms meet. One says, "I've lost my electron." The other says, "Are you sure?" The first replies "Yes, I'm positive."

5.Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocain during a root canal? His goal: transcend dental medication.

6.A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. "But why?", they asked, as they moved off. "Because," he said, "I can't stand chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer."

7.A woman delivers a set of identical twins and decides to give them up for adoption. One of them goes to a family in Egypt and is named "Ahmal." The other goes to a family in Spain ; they name him "Juan." Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his birth mother. Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wishes she also had a picture of Ahmal. Her husband responds, "They're twins! If you've seen Juan, you've seen Ahmal."

8.A group of friars were behind on their belfry payments, so they opened up a small florist shop to raise funds. Since everyone liked to buy flowers from the men of God, a rival florist across town thought the competition was unfair. He asked the good fathers to close down, but they would not. He went back and begged the friars to close. They ignored him. So, the rival florist hired Hugh MacTaggart, the roughest and most vicious thug in town to "persuade" the friars to close. Hugh beat up the friars and trashed their store, saying he'd be back if they didn't close up shop. Terrified, they did so, thereby proving that only Hugh can prevent florist friars.

9.Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and, with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him (Oh, dude, this is so bad, it's good…..) a super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.

10. And finally, there was the person who sent ten different puns to friends, with the hope that at least one of the puns would make them laugh. No pun in ten did.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Famous Last Words

Dick Mills

 to blog
show details 9:27 PM (20 hours ago)
Valcour Island, NY
44 37.36 N 073 24.50 W

I'm delighted to be wrong.  Last night I posted a blog saying that it would be too cloudy to see the meteor shower.  Guess what?  As soon as I posted the article, it cleared up.   Libby and I took cushions and a blanket up to the foredeck to see what we could see.    We not only saw meteors, we also saw (I think) a bit of aurora.

Aurora?  What we actually saw looked like very faint waves of light moving very quickly across the sky.   It didn't look like any aurora we've seen before.  Nevertheless, what caused that light.  I wonder if it could have been reflections of light from the Vermont and/or New York shores.  We are about 3 miles from Grand Isle Vermont and 3 from the mainland in New York. Very distant car headlights might have been reflected from something in the sky.   

Today we hiked the trails, ate a picnic lunch on the rim of a cliff, and gathered pine needles.   Tonight I hope to build a fire on our favorite point of land.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Return To Valcour

Valcour Island, NY
44 37.36 N 073 24.50 W

Well we're back.  This is a big milestone in our year.   Both Libby and I think that Valcour Island is the nicest place on this whole planet.  A place where we would happily stay for all of eternity.    We return with great pleasure.

Because of our new gigantic anchor, we can fit in here at Sloop Cove on Valcour well sheltered from the weather.   We can dingy ashore.  We can walk the trails.  We can clamber around the limestone palisades and revisit the ancient juniper trees that have been here much longer than we.

To tell the truth, we have never seen Valcour in the winter.   Since there is no shelter, no buildings here for us it would be brisk to say the least.  However, I'm encouraged by my friends Bob and Carol who said just this week that he loves nearby Willsboro Bay in the winter because it is so beautiful.  

Carol sits on her porch in winter and watches the water freeze.  Evidently, she has learned how to truly relax and watch nature with patience.  Imagine that, and she's not even a sailor ;)

We have been advised to look out for the Perseid meteor shower for the next several nights.   Alas, it is cloudy and it will likely stay cloudy for the next few days. We have tried to watch Perseid flybys many times before in years past.  9 years out of 10 its too cloudy.  Oh well, such is life.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Narrows

South Burlington, VT

Approaching the Verrazano Narrows last May.

The Narrows, marked as it is by the giant bridge, is one of the more recognizable shoreline landmarks in the world. As we pass through it, I can't help being impressed by its size and significance. Each flood tide, it passes 270 billion cubic feet (7.7 billion cubic meters) of water. I also think of the cataclysmic event that formed it.

New York Harbor, as seen in a TERRA satellite image. The Narrows is shown in red, connecting Upper New York Bay to Lower New York Bay. At the end of the last ice age, the strait had not yet been formed.

What was the cataclysmic event 6,000 years ago? Below is a quote from Heartbeats in the muck: the history, sea life, and environment of New York, by John R. Waldman.

All I can say is wow. I sincerely wish that I could have been a fly on the wall to witness such cataclysmic event.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Good Company, Less Good Show

Burlington, VT
42 28.07 N 073 13.34

Yesterday we sailed over to Willsboro Bay on the New York side to visit our friends, Bob and Carol. They have a camp over there (actually two camps.) Bob recently retired and now they're going to live here on Lake Champlain year round. Lucky them.

We visited for a while, then we took a stroll to Willsboro Point. Bob told me that was a good place for catching lake trout in the spring. It must be that the trout winter over in Willsboro Bay, then head out to the main lake in the spring. Their shortest path out of the bay takes them right past the point. Clever.

Then we went out to dinner and a show. We went to an amateur play at Essex Playhouse. In 2005, the four of us went to Essex Playhouse to see Little Shop of Horrors. It was delightful. This time we saw a Brittish comedy called Lettice & Lovage. It was dreary. None of us liked it and we left during the intermission. Oh well, you can't win them all.

Anyhow, we hope to meet up with Bob and Carol again this summer for a day sail.

Monday, August 09, 2010


Shelburne Bay
44 25.62 N 073 14.95 W

The Vermont Mozart Festival is a unique institution. Since 1977, the festival presents outdoor live performances of Mozart's music with symphony, ensemble and soloist support. It was inspired by the similarity of Vermont to Mozart's Austria. It travels around to several locations in Vermont. Once a year, they have a performance at Shelburne Farms in a place where nearby boats can hear.

People arrive, anchorage in the background.

We never connected with the festival before. Their schedule, our schedule, and the weather never managed to mesh. The location is very exposed and suitable to anchor and listen only when the wind is very still. Last Saturday we did mesh.

The day began wonderfully. Cool, dry Canadian air blew gently from the Northwest. Long distance visibility was as good as it ever gets. We sailed from Porter Bay out to the main part of the lake. The reward was spectacular views of the lake and the Adirondack Mountains and The Green Mountains. Craving for that view is a large factor in what draws us to Lake Champlain year after year.

By mid afternoon we sailed to Shelburne Farms and dropped anchor. Surprise, there were only 6 other boats anchored there. I expected more.

The festival started at 1900, about 90 minutes before dark. We moved our cushions to the foredeck, and grabbed a blanket. Up there, Libby and I were able to cuddle comfortably under the blanket while we listened to the wonderful music. From the boat we could see nothing of the festival, but we could hear just fine.

After an hour, the sky to the west turned a lovely red. It was one of those world class sunsets as seen from the Vermont side of Lake Champlain. Libby and I watched the sun set behind the Adirondacks and the sky redden and finally darken. It was very romantic.

On the South Porch of Shelburne Farms

The festival ended soon after darkness. We hauled anchor and had a fine sail to a more secure anchorage for overnight. It was our first night sail since our offshore passage to New York in May. Because of the clear dry air, the sky was brilliant. The Milky Way in particular stood out so plainly that it was beautiful. It is very rare to see the Milky Way so plainly here in the Northeast. We also had a planet show. In the East Jupiter was brilliant in conjunction with Uranus. In the West Saturn and Mars were also in conjunction. What a night.

All and all it was a wonderful day.

The Festival at Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

North Versus South

Porter Bay, Vermont
44 13.71 N 073 18.97 W

When it's calm, Porter Bay is one of out all time favorite anchorages. This morning is such a moment. It it totally calm and still. The surface of the water is like a reflecting pool, and the lack of wind or man-made background noise makes it possible to hear the sound of surrounding nature. We also have the whole place to ourselves. No other boats with people are in this bay today.

I find that I'm drawn to compare the ecology here with that of Little Shark River in the Florida Everglades. Both places offer unspoiled nature, but the two are so very very different. Forgive me for favoring that of Porter Bay. I'm native to the Northeast. I like this best.

First the sounds. With no wind, and no background highway noise it's very quiet. Occasionally I hear a train whistle from very far away, but that's it. The silence allows me to hear the kersplash sound of fish jumping. There are lots of fish and they too like the still moments to spot insects floating on the surface. Where are the fly fishermen? We also hear the birds, lots of birds. The songbirds in the trees are most persistent, but the gulls are the noisiest. We can also see and hear the Osprey foraging from their nearby nest. I'm listening for the screech and graak sounds from the nearby eagles and great blue herons but I haven't caught them yet this morning. This morning, there are just a handful of ducks and cormorants swimming and fishing in the bay. They're pretty quiet right now. But wait, the world is waking up. First I heard the engine of a small plane, then another plane, then a barking dog, then a jet airliner far above. Time to start blogging and stop listening.

The sights: Around the edge of the bay are dense forests. Here the forests are all leafed trees; a thorough mixture of species. In the fall, the colors are particularly nice here. In the bay there is an encroaching patch of reeds, and some smaller patches of lily pads growing in the shallows. Human habitats aren't far away, but none are directly visible from where we sit. To the East, just peeking above the tree lines is the summit of Camel's Hump. To the West we face the spectacular limestone cliffs on the New York side of the lake. These cliffs soar vertically 300 feet above the water and 200 feet below the water. Behind them are the Adirondack Mountains. Today is a splendid summer day. Calm and warm. The sky is cobalt blue with a few puffy clouds here and there.

In the Everglades, the quantity and diversity of animal life are much larger. Birds, fish, dolphins, turtles, alligators, crocodiles, deer and raccoon are all around. The place we like to anchor sits on the boundary between salt water and fresh water environments so it is inhabited by dual populations. Diversity of the plant life doesn't seem to exist in the Everglades. Everywhere we look we see mangroves, nothing but mangroves. Of course a few other species exist, but they're obscure. In Porter Bay we see fish and birds, and a few deer. There are bears and raccoons and weasels and otters in this area but we haven't spotted them yet.

One of my big ambitions is to see a Kingfisher fishing. They do live around here. Libby saw one but I haven't. That I have to look forward to.

So which is best; Porter Bay or Valcour Island or The Little Shark River? Must I choose? I love them all. Thinking back though, a large share of my favorite stories about the joys of cruising are based on past experiences in Porter Bay. Those stories are my favorites because they burned images and impressions in my brain that last a lifetime. I've already told several of these stories in this blog so I won't repeat them now. Suffice it to say, that I feel very fortunate to be able to be present here this morning. It's hard to get better than this.

Wide View. + marks our spot. Note Otter Creek nearby that leads to Vergennes.

Narrow view. Note the farms behind the veneer of trees and nature that we see. Once again, we benefit from the veneer effect. Sitting here in the bay it's easy to imagine that there's nothing but wilderness out there.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Fire On Board

Porter Bay, VT
44 13.71 N 073 18.97 W

The scariest thing I can think of is fire on board a small airplane.  The second scariest thing is fire aboard a big airplane.  The third scariest is fire on board a boat.

Yesterday, we read a news report about a power boat that burned to the waterline just as it exited the Federal Lock in Troy, NY.  Since we exit the same lock a few weeks back it really hit home.  In this case, luckily, the two people on board escaped without injury.

I'm sure that I'm not the most safety conscious skipper in the world.   However when it comes to fire safety, I think about it long and hard.   

What is our status?  First, we don't carry 360 gallons of gasoline as that boat in Troy did.  Gasoline is the fuel in almost all disastrous boat fires.   However, we do carry 5 gallons of gas and 40 gallons of diesel fuel and 10 gallons of propane.  We carry the propane in a lazarette compartment walled off and with it's own drain.   We carry the gasoline in a jug on deck where leaks would run out the scupper.

We have a Halon automatic fire extinguisher in the engine compartment, plus 2 two pound extinguishers type ABC, one in the cockpit and one in the cabin.  We also have a can of "flame stop" liquid fire stopper.  It is not USCG approved.  However, it doesn't leave behind a messy  layer of corrosive powder everywhere, therefore there is less hesitation to use it on a minor galley fire.

I got dinged by the surveyor for not having annual inspection tags on all extinguishers.   Whoops, I've never done that.  The extinguishers come with a guage and a 7 year warranty.  I thought that if I buy new ones every 5 years, that would be enough.  Nope, the NFPA code says that a certified inspector must do it every year, and mark it on a tag.  (New extinguishers in the stores don't come with tags.  They aren't compliant until inspected and tagged.)  How many readers of this blog actually do that with extinguishers they own on their boat, car or home?   Anyhow, I'm searching for an inspector in Burlington.  Will it cost $20 to inspect an extinguisher that costs $20 new?

I've also been shopping for extinguisher upgrades.  I want to replace one of the 2 pound ABC dry chemical type with a 10 pound ABC with liquid suppressant.  After some research, the answer seems to be type AFFF. This week I ordered a type AFFF 10 pound one online for $139.   Then the vendor warned me that they ship empty and I have to find a professional to fill them with fluid.  I cancelled the order.   

Does anyone know of a good dry chemical alternative?   It needs to be USCG approved.   I remember when I was a firefighter that we tried a chemical called "Cold Fire."  It was amazingly effective at fire suppression.  I hoped that by now there would be consumer products out based on that technology.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Western Trip Pictures 2

Vergennes, VT

For some reason I've been lazy about writing blogs this week. Here's another set of pics from my recent trip in lieu of prose.

From Western

My favorite sight from the trip wasn't scenery. It was weather. As we toured the lava flows of Sunset Crater Volcano, we could see a thunderstorm on the opposite slope of the San Francisco Mountains. We could see it expend its fury on the mountain but it never came to our side. Here, you see the storm approaching from the left.

From Western

I was not inclined to walk to the top of the promontories that extend into free space above the Grand Canyon. Dave had no such inhibition.

From Western

The juniper trees along the rim are wonderful. Here's a particularly nice one. I'm struck by the fact that nearly identical trees live on the rim of the limestone cliffs on Valcour Island in Lake Champlain. I'll be there soon.

From Western

I love this sign. It makes me want to print signs to give to the street gangs in the Bronx. They would say, "Crime reenactment in progress. Do not call the police."

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

A New Station In Life

Vergennes, VT

Regular readers know that I enjoy a perverse sense of humor regarding status symbols.

We like Vergennes. It's a lovely cruising stop. Free dock, scenic waterfall, nearby library and a nice park with free concerts. Not everything is convenient though.

Today we needed groceries and a laundromat. Since I'm enforcing rest on Libby to recover from her tendonitis, I volunteered to carry the laundry and the groceries. The hills in Vergennes are especially steep and long. It took 4.5 hours for me to walk to the laundromat, grocery, back to the laundromat and return to the boat.

On the way back, I was really bushed. I asked Libby if we could stop in the park for a rest. I had a liter of Coke in the groceries, so we sat on a park bench and took a few swigs. That's when Libby remarked, "Do you realize that we're sitting on a park bench drinking out of a brown paper bag?" :)

Last night we were a bit lonely. There were 11 other boats docked here, but none of the people on any of those boats spoke English. Today however, a new boat arrived. It's home port is Mayfield, NY on Sacandaga Reservoir. Before Tarwathie, we had a boat on Sacandaga for many years. We loved it. So today we chatted up the people onboard that boat.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Trip Pictures

Vergennes, VT

From Western

This first picture is Dave's from the days before I joined him. He found a place on the Alaskan/Canadian border where he could drive 17 miles up a logging road to come out on a lookout far above this glacier. He was all alone, nobody else around. Dave was so enchanted that he says that is the place where he would like to spend his whole life.

From Western

Dave and I at the Meteor Crater in Arizona. Noplace else on this planet can you see a real crater in such pristine condition. 4000 feet in diameter, it boggles the mind to imagine the event that created it.

From Western

My favorite framed pose ever. Decades ago, I photographed Libby in this window at the Meteor Crater with the San Francisco Mountains behind her. Here's a shot of Libby's youngest son in the same spot. (Note the thunderstorm on the far side of the mountains.)

From Western
Here was a sign that we had intruded onto Indian land while exploring cross country. Note the elevated grave. It was in very good shape, perhaps fresh. Then we spotted a man high on a butte watching us.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

A Day of Rest

Porter Bay
44 13.75 N 073 18.99 W

After doing so much, we both needed a bit of rest. Poor Libby straineda tendon in her leg while helping Jenny. Today was that day.

We made a serious error in shutting down the refrigerator during the trip. The refrigerant leaked out when it was warm. I put in two cans of R134-A today but it didn't help. We'll have to go without until we find a guy to recharge the system.

Today we also commissioned our new anchor. It is a 70 pound Luke storm anchor. I bought it used. Its role is to across us to anchor in shallow bays on Champlain where the weeds have grown so thick that a conventional anchor can't penetrate to the bottom. When we're not using it, it comes apart in three pieces for stowage.

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