Friday, December 13, 2013

The Best and The Worst

After a Thanksgiving shore leave we are back in Charleston -- happily well south south of the early winter snows in PA.  As usual, our days are filled with the Cap'ns chore list, dog walks, and Loop planning.  Walking about the city is a special treat now as Charleston is dressed for Christmas -- offering a bit of southern charm we don't see up north magnolia leaf wreaths adorn doors and fences.

Here at the MegaDock the parade of southbound boats continues.  The most recent wave are either 1) owner operated vessels who waited until after Thanksgiving to leave the Chesapeake Bay or 2) professional crews moving new boats south for the Ft. Lauderdale boat show. This group of boats are smaller than what we saw earlier in the season -- the mega yachts safely in their Florida slips awaiting winter charters and/or owner visits.

There is not much more to report, so I though I would share the results of an informal poll I took of the Freedom crew:

Question:  What are the Best and Worst parts of living on a boat in Charleston?

The Cap'n: Best: "It's a Boat, and the weather is pretty good"
                    Worst: "Dog needs" (this response came soon after an unfortunate                                           2AM incident involving vomit)

The Admiral: Best: "The fulfillment of a long time dream to live in Charleston;                                              Wearing flip flops in December; Fabulous                                                                        Food;Sunrises and Sunsets; Carolina blue skies;                                             other than washing dishes by hand, less housework"
                      Worst: "No walks or lunches out with my friends.                                                                 Walking Ham up the dock in high winds or when                                                     he sees another dog".

Miles: Best: "Mom can never get more than 10 ft away from me."
            Worst: "The long walk to shore -- it hurts my hips".

Hamilton: Best: "Mom can never get more than 10 ft away from me. All the                                             attention I get from boaters who miss their dogs".
                   Worst: "Not being able to run around on my own".

We're here for another week before heading north for a month or so on shore....

Friday, November 15, 2013

Dogs On Deck

The new crew….

This year the Freedom crew has expanded by 8, legs that is. After two winters of being cared for by a rotating schedule of our k'dults, Portuguese Water Dogs Miles (14 1/2) and Hamilton (5)   put their paws down and insisted on joining us for this year's adventure.

I spent the summer getting ready.  First stop was a post I had bookmarked from the blog Taking Paws -- written by Karen and Jeff   of Active --  focusing on the live aboard life with their yellow labs.   Every one of their entries is a treat, but this particular post shares a list of tried and true essentials for sharing your boat with a canine crew. Once armed with my list and my Amazon password, I started stocking up.

One of the first things I purchased was a Pet Step ramp to make the passage from boat to dock a bit easier,  especially for Miles whose aching hips don't allow him to jump very far these days.  Once it arrived, we set it up in our mudroom and I demonstrated, runway model style, how to use it. Ham and Miles humored me by walking across it. Then we moved outside where we encouraged them(aka bribed with treats) to walk up the ramp from garage floor to the house. That went well, so, on to the car… Ham sniffed the ramp, jumped over it and lept into the car. Miles turned around and went to sniff something in the garden.  Finally, leash attached and firmly held Miles reluctantly walked up the ramp. Success?

Next purchase was harnesses made by Kong (typically known for their treat hiding chew toys) outfitted with handles. What a difference a handle makes!  We only set up the ramp when we are too far from dock for the dogs ( and me) to jump, or when the tides change the angle from boat to dock. The handle allows me to give Miles an assist to shore, to easily grab Ham when it is not his turn to leave the boat, and to move both of them out of the way of humans or harm when needed.

The handles have been life savers on more than one occasion:

  Within about 2 hours of our arrival in Charleston Hamilton fell in the small crack between the boat and the dock. I calmly shrieked, yelled "Help", dropped to the dock and tried to grab Ham's handle. He was frantic, thrashing about in the small space, uncertain what to do.
Meanwhile, across the dock sat the sailing vessel Geronimo: an at sea classroom from St. George's School in Newport, Rhode Island. The teachers and students enjoying their dinner heard my distress call and within seconds were at my side, belly down on the dock and reaching for Ham. With my hand on his harness, another set of hands on his hind quarter, another pulling his leash, and with cheers and encouragement from behind, we somehow lifted him up. He thanked us with a a good shake!
By the time I composed myself the school group was back to their dinner. I soon came to realize this was their last meal tied to shore before heading out on a multi day offshore trip to the Bahamas. Within 30 minutes, with the sun setting, they were off.

Another day I walked Ham to a local dark park for some intra-canine fun. This was just our second visit to the park and we found ourselves alone. I did what I could to get Ham to run about on his own, but his interest was low.  All of a sudden though, he darted for the road. I chased after him, causing him to pick up speed. I could see a truck coming from each direction and I shouted "Stop!"  - mostly to Ham, but hoping the drivers would hear me. Amazingly, both trucks had already slowed down, turned their trucks on a diagonal to block other traffic,  and stopped a good distance from Ham. One driver even jumped from his cab and tried to corral Ham as I rushed up and grabbed his handle. Once again, the handle and the kindness of strangers saved the day.

Just the other night Miles had his own brush with a bad situation. As the Cap'n was getting ready to assist Miles from boat to dock for his after dinner walk, Miles suddenly jumped. His front legs landed on the dock, but his hind legs fell in the gap. The Cap'n quickly grabbed the harness and kept Miles from slipping backwards. The day Ham fell in the temperature was about 70, the winds were calm, and the sun was shining. Last evening it was about 45 degrees with gusts up to 20 mph, and it was dark. Not a great time to fall overboard.
At the same time, our neighbors across the dock were heading out for the evening. They saw Miles slip, dashed across the dock, and gave the Cap'n an assist. It turn out they are Veterinarians  and  gave Miles a quick assessment.  Once again, the handle and the kindness of strangers…..

One of our greatest challenges living with dogs on the MegaDock is the mega walk to shore -- 4/10ths of a mile each way.  Needless to say, we get lots of exercise taking Ham to shore for potty breaks.  For Miles though, this is just  too far to walk. Enter the Porch Potty: a beautiful wicker rimmed draining astroturf lawn designed for apartment dwelling dog owners, but also used by boat owners. This, I decided, would allow us anchor overnight without needing to take the canine crew to shore, and/or provide the perfect spot for late night and early morning relief.  A total win-win: No need to launch the dinghy and find a beach after a long day of travel on the ICW. Along certain stretches of the ICW the marshes and/or alligator infested waters offer pristine anchorages, but preclude any trips to shore. And no need to head to shore in the wee hours -- just open the doors and let the dogs do their thing.

Or not….
You see, the good news is the dogs are so well trained they wouldn't think of pottying onboard.  The bad news is, the dogs are so well trained they would't think of pottying on board. The Porch Potty was a hard sell, and despite our best efforts before we headed south, Miles nor Ham never really cottoned to the whole idea. In addition, it was hard for Miles to climb up on the potty. I even tried "scenting" the turf with urine samples I harvested before we left PA, and used real sod for a while.
Before long I dropped the sod overboard, dismantled the potty structure, and simply placed the turf on the cockpit floor. In a pinch, Miles obliged.
Now that we are settled, the turf sits on the dock and Miles at least aims for it. Ham prefers the walk up the dock, no matter what the time or weather…..
Suffice it to say, I should have gone with the suggestion made on TakingPaws: buy a piece of astro turf, put it on the bow and all will be good…….

Once on shore, Hamilton has had a lot more to learn. A suburban dog all his life he had never walked down a narrow, crowded street, stopped at a cross walk ( where there was actually traffic), or heard the siren of an ambulance or police car.  Out first few ventures into the Charleston Historic District were nerve wracking for him.  But now he is a pro --  to even the horse drawn carriages can distract him.

Even better than a walk through town is a walk up and down the dock when is it crowded with mariners. I used to think men who sent to see missed their women. Now I know the truth: they miss their dogs. Miles and Ham are rubbed and hugged and showered with affection by rugged boat captains at all hours of the day and night.

All in all, Freedom's canine crew is doing just fine.  Here are some pictures of their life at sea. (Check back soon, I'll be adding more)

Ham napping -- it's a tough life!

Miles in his favorite spot -- from this vantage point he can see me at all times.
Miles catching a breeze as we motor along the ICW

Ham strikes a pose aboard The Nellie Crockett

The Cap'n giving Miles a lift to shore. Check out the boat behind them!

Miles chilling in the shade

Friday, November 1, 2013

Settled in South Carolina

Evening on the Wadmalaw River. Our last anchorage before arriving in Charleston. It even smelled like South Carolina.

On Monday October 14th we said good bye to our traveling companions and forged on ahead to Charleston. Since we arrived on the 16th we have enjoyed two days of fun, food and music at the Southern Ground Music and Food Festival, organized Freedom for the live aboard life, rode our bikes around town, eaten some fabulous food at local restaurants,  celebrated Halloween, and gotten lots of exercise!  Our slip at the Charleston City Marina is .4 mile from shore. That's a long way at 5:45 AM when you are rushing to get a dog to shore, not to mention the 4 other walks each day, and trips the laundry or heads ( half way to shore).  But, it does give us the opportunity to meet other slip holders, admire their boats, and keep fit.

It only took a few days for us to decide to stay put for the winter. There is lots for us to do and explore here in the low country and we are just a days drive from our onshore home. Charleston also serves as the perfect starting point for our 2014 Great Loop Adventure.

There is always something going on here on the MegaDock.  As the snow birds and charter boats head south to Florida or the islands, the dock space near us fills up every night and clears out every morning, affording us an ever changing array of boats to look at and a beautiful view of the harbor all day long.  The first engines fire up as early as 5:30 AM, serving as an alarm clock for the me and the dogs.

Morning in the Marina-hood

There are many boats here for the long term too, and most of them have crews who are constantly busy cleaning something -- the hull, the water line, fenders, stainless steel fittings. Once they finish all that, they start again. It's exhausting to watch -- but their boats do look fabulous.  We're among the only "do it yourselfers" on our stretch of dock and the Cap'n has a long list of projects for us too. Unlike the paid crews, though, we take a lot of breaks.

So, here we are: settled in South Carolina for the winter.

Friday, October 11, 2013

On the Move Again

We FINALLY left Coinjock yesterday morning (Thursday October 10). The weather is still not great, but the winds have died down making our passages more comfortable.  We were able to spend last night at anchor in the Belhaven, NC harbor. Ted, Mimi and Lindsey ( aka the Sister Wives) dinghied over with dinner, and even did the dishes.

Most importantly, Ham and Miles ( and our carpet) survived their first night away from the dock.  Ham could not understand why we couldn't go out for a walk this morning, but Miles was happy to use "the back lawn" and not have to get wet in the early morning rain.

Along with the winds, the rain has also subsided. Today we even saw glimpses of the sun, but I fear we are in for a few more days of drizzle. Happily we are tied up at the Beaufort Docks, one of our favorite stops along the ICW.  We arrived just in time to see local high school homecoming parade ( Go Marlins! Downgrade the Hurricanes!!) Friends and families lined Front Street as the high school band marched by, the middle school cheerleaders showed their spirit, candy was thrown, the class and home coming representatives waved from the sunroofs of sports and family cars -- with Dad driving -- , and small wooden boats magically drove down the street. I loved it! ( sadly, tho, I did not have my camera with me)

We have been here under three hours and the Cap'ns have already been to West Marine in Moorehead City, I have taken a good walk with the dogs, checked out onshore dinner options and watched the parade, Mimi has had a long run, and our flotilla has drawn a great deal of attention. To be honest, we are usually a source of interest, but this time around, the Buy Boats are taking center stage.

Once again, pictures to follow......

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

In the Ditch

After 5 months of shore leave, we are back aboard Freedom and heading south.  As often happens, we delayed our departure a few days while we waited for some work to be done.  That gave me a few more days to get our supplies stowed and the dogs settled. Our house and dog sitters have grown up and moved out, so Ham and Miles officially joined the Freedom crew.  It's a little more work to have them aboard, and a lot noisier at times, but all in all everyone is enjoying the adventure. (More details in a future post)

After leaving the Delaware Canal on Thursday October 3rd, we headed south to Solomon's Island where we met our friends ( and cruising companions for the next few weeks) Ted and Mimi. They are traveling aboard their lovingly restored Chesapeake Bay Buy Boat, the Nellie Crockett. Also docked in Solomon's, and joining our flotilla south,  were Tom and Kathy aboard the  Buy Boat Thomas J.

The following morning we got in line behind Nellie, the Thomas J, the Muriel Eileen and the Samuel Bailey as we cruised down the bay towards St. Clements Island and the annual Blessing of the Fleet Festival.  There we enjoyed two days of warm early Fall weather and the companionship of the fun loving Buy Boat crews.

After another glorious day on the Bay, we docked at dark in Portsmouth, VA just beyond Mile 0 of the IntraCoastal Waterway --only 466 miles to go until Charleston!  A short walk with the dogs, dinner on the deck of Nellie, and before long, bed were all accomplished amid the noisy activity of the Norfolk/Portsmouth Harbor and a very large Naval ship under repairs across the river.

Monday morning we did the tightly timed lock and bridge dance as we continued along the ICW. With bad weather looming, we set our sights on the safe dockage at Coinjock Marina just over the border in North Carolina -- and 2 days later we are still there.  High winds, rough waters and the closure of the Alligator River Bridge have stopped most traffic along this stretch of the ICW.  The winds are even higher today and the rain has fallen persistently since last night.  So, we've been catching up on chores, reading, naps & blogs (!) The marina restaurant is just steps from our boats, and there is plenty of room for the dogs to run.

The weather is expected to calm down a bit tomorrow and we will continue on our way. Until then, I think it is time for another nap......

(the bad weather and our remote location are making connectivity difficult -- photos to follow)

Friday, July 26, 2013

Shore Leave

Although we continue to enjoy our extended shore leave, we have not completely abandoned Freedom for the summer. One of our favorite summer events on the the Sassafras is the Georgetown Harbor Boat Parade and Fireworks. So, on July 3rd we cruised Freedom from her summer slip at Summit North Marina, in Bear, DE, back to Sailing Associates in Georgetown. There we spent two fun nights  -- entertaining a boat load (literally) of friends on the Fourth.

We were only back in Delaware for a few days before we returned  Freedom to the Sassafras for the installation of new starter batteries and some maintenance work on the heating and cooling system. We are using this time to make sure all of our systems are in good shape before we head south in early October.

We are also keeping busy with some long range planning.  Our first stop this fall will be Charleston, SC, where we will stay for at least 2 months, and possibly all winter. Last year's passage south was a marathon  -- long days of early mornings and sunset anchorages.  In contrast, this year we are building in an extra week of travel time -- affording us more leisurely days and time to actually enjoy the sunsets. In addition, we will be cruising alongside our friends Ted & Mimi who will be taking their Chesapeake Bay Buy Boat Nelly to a boat show in Georgetown, SC. It will be a great adventure!

At winter's end, sometime in April, we will begin our journey along America's Great Loop: 

America's Great Loop is a continuous 
waterway that encompasses the eastern portion of North 
America - including the Atlantic and Gulf Intracoastal 
Waterways, the Great Lakes, the Canadian Heritage 
Canals, and the Inland Rivers of America's heartland.
For the pleasure boater,
 It offers over 5,400 
miles of safe, scenic and friendly cruising.

Sounds exciting doesn't it?  Right now we are reading everything we can about the loop -- from books to magazine articles to "Looper Blogs" to determine the best route for us (there are several options) and what preparations need to be made before we begin our adventure.  We anticipate traversing the loop from South Carolina to the Gulf Coast of  Florida in about 8 months (April-December). The main goal is terms of timing is to follow the warm weather, or keep ahead of the cooler weather.  Most importantly though, our goal is to see and enjoy everything we can -- from secluded anchorages, to historic sites, to towns and townspeople. We can do that!

Here is a map of the Loop, including the different route options:

Stay tuned as we continue to plan -- but in the meantime there are places to go and things to do on the Bay and beyond.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Cruising on the Bay

Despite the name of this blog, Freedom seems to spend more time off the Chesapeake Bay than she does on it. My wish for this summer was for an extended shore leave and some weekend cruising close to home.  Memorial Day weekend got us off to a good start.  We were asked to serve as the Committee Boat for the Corinthian Yacht Club of Philadelphia's Spring Cruise and we readily agreed. It a great opportunity for us to reconnect with fellow club members, spend some time on the Bay before it got too hot, and for the Cap'n to race his S2, Crazy Horse. 

But wait a minute: if Freedom was to be the Race Committee boat, responsible for acting as starting line and finish line -- typically in two different places -- and the Capn' was going to be racing, who was going to seer Freedom?  Yes, it was time for me to take off my Admiral's cap and step up to the role of Captain!

The winds were high throughout most of the weekend, forcing the Friday Fun race to be completed below decks using charts and conversation.  Saturday dawned calm and sunny and the early birds began race preparation. Mother Nature had other plans and by 8AM the winds picked up and the waves were white capped. Much to the dismay of some crew members, the days race was on. Some boats opted not to risk injury to crew or rigging and opted out (including Crazy Horse).  Those that pressed on faced an athletic day as they raced from Baltimore Light to the Magothy River. As you can see from the anemometer, it was not a day for the faint of heart:

That is 39kts of wind!

The Race Committee stared down the breezy conditions to  keep everyone informed and at the starting line on time raising and lowering flags, sounding the air horn,

firing the gun,

all the while maintaining color coordination...

We were all rewarded with a peaceful anchorage and evening, where we visited among the fleet and shared stories and laughs over dinner.

Sunday was breezy but better, bringing the full fleet to the race course. The Cap'n steered the boat to the starting line, then jumped on the Horse.  Once again anchored off of Baltimore Light we had some picture perfect starts:

Not sure if I would enjoy living in a Lighthouse ......

That's Reef Points -- formerly known as Pyewacket. A beauty!
Perfect Start for Class B

The strength of the winds told us the boats would be nearing the finish line sooner than usual, -- it was time for me to take the helm and head north to the Patapsco. Somehow I managed to avoid barges, car carriers 7 stories high:

holiday weekend boat traffic and buoys to make it safely to the finish line. Phew!!

The racers finished in rapid succession against the backdrop of the Baltimore industrial waterfront and the Key Bridge. 
The Commodore's yacht -- formerly known as Freedom -- nearing the finish line

Bluejacket - The overall winner!

Everyone was anxious to get to shore for a long hot shower and a chance to talk over the day's activities and before long we were all docked at the Maryland Yacht Club for a lobster dinner and awards ceremony.  Crazy Horse earned First Place for Sunday's Class B race! Go Horse Go!!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Where Does the Time Go!?! April-May

I now, I have been neglecting the blog of late. Ever since my Shore Leave began in mid April I have been caught up in my suburban life and lost focus on the boat life. Not Freedom has been sitting idle either.

So, let's back track a bit as I get you up to date on our travels .... (you might want to grab a beverage, this is a long post, with only one photo at the end --  when the Admiral goes on Shore Leave so does the Staff Photographer)

After I hopped off in Ft. Myers  the Capn's sister and brother in law joined him for a few days on Florida's west coast before heading back across Lake Okeechobee.  Avid bird watcher's, Robin and Alan recorded many notable sightings, but they all agreed that the warblings heard at the Roland Martin Marina Karaoke Night were not Mother Nature made!

Once back in Suart, another crew change was made. Coming aboard were daughter Adrienne (did you know her name means "Woman of the Sea"?), her friend Peter, Cap'n Pete, and Al&Donna. A great crew for the trip up the coast. After a few days on the Intracoastal (ICW) Freedom headed outside for a 36 run from Fernandina to , taking advantage of the good weather  and (mostly) experienced crew.

By the time Freedom was back on the Chesapeake Bay she was down to the Cap'n, with Adrienne and (now experienced) Peter as crew.  Another winter south safely completed.   A good cleaning and  several loads of laundry later we ready to make plans for Spring and Summer on the Bay.

Just a few days after arriving, Georgetown, Maryland marked the 200th anniversary of the Burning of Georgetown. We took that opportunity to invite the "River People" to join us on the bow for the spectacular Fireworks display followed by dessert. It was a great way to reconnect with friends and properly kick off the season.  Even the Schooner Sultana showed up for the celebration:

Also joining us that night were our dogs Hamilton and Miles. I am fully engaged in training them to be comfortable and well mannered boat dogs. When we head south in the fall they will be along as crew, as our "in house dog watchers" (aka, the k'dults) will no longer be in house. Fortunately the fireworks did not disturb them, but woe to the guest who wanted to sit on "their spot" on the settee. Something to work on...

For now, I will work on my next post about Memorial Day weekend... Stay tuned

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Random Photos from Freedom

We hadn't fueled up since last summer -- so the tanks were getting empty. When I snapped this shot the port side tank was just about full -- good thing because Freedom was heeling over a bit too much for my taste.

We watched this helicopter fly film a speed boat in the waters surrounding Cabbage Key for several hours. Police Action? Major Motion Picture? Commercial? Actually, a TV Show for the Discovery Channel, set to be aired May 4th.

Dinner before Karaoke night at Burnt Store Marina, FL with friends A2 and Amy.
No, we did not sing

River otters checking out a kayaker/Kayakist? at Cabbage Key dock.
They were swimming about and climbing aboard any boat with easy access.

The Cap'n, Christine and Andy under the banyans on Boca Grande, FL

Sinking Boat at the St. Petersburg Pier. It attracted quite a crowd, before the owners returned, including the police who hooked up this bilge pump. Later we watched as it was towed to the ramp and sat draining for about two hours!

The Dancing Ladies of the St. Petersburg Saturday Market. The one in the patchwork dress is there every week, swaying to the tunes, whether she has a partner or not.

View from inside a lock along the Okeechobee Waterway

Bananas by the pool at the Edison-Ford Estates, Ft. Myers, FL
Check out the beautiful flower hanging from the fruit.

Jim handling the lock lines.

Psychedelic sunset over St. Pete Beach, FL

Monday, April 29, 2013

Unexpected Guests

Our schedule continued to change after my last post -- never did make it to Sarasota, opting instead to press  on to St. Pete Beach where we rode out the bad weather for 3 nights. Then it was on to St. Petersburg, sans friend Jim, but in anticipation of spending a week with Andy and Christine.

It was great to be back in St. Pete. The weather was ideal for walking along the pier, riding bikes, taking a dinghy ride through the harbor and having dinner at the end of Albert Whitted Airport runway. From there we headed south again, and back to Cabbage Key where we took the dink  ashore to check out the Cabbage Key Inn and their famed cheeseburgers. The story goes that their take on the all American classic sandwich inspired Jimmy Buffet to write "Cheeseburger in Paradise." We intended to try it last year, but we arrived for dinner, and burgers are only served at lunch!   It was worth the wait. More on that soon over at the food blog,

A day or to later, enroute to Sanibel Island on a gorgeous day with a classic 'blue sky breeze'  we had some surprise visitors. Christine and I were chatting in the salon, when I overheard the Cap'n responding to a call on the radio

Radio Voice: "How many passengers do you have on your vessel Cap'n?" (that's a weird question, I thought)
Cap'n: "Three, plus myself."
R.V." Please ask your crew to gather in the cockpit, then slow your boat and maintain that speed. We are going to board you" 
Me: "Huh? Who? What's going on?" I called out as I jumped up to look out the window

There on our port side was a large black inflatable boat, with three Lee County Sheriff's Dept. agents dressed in full camo gear complete with  flak jackets. Guns at their hips.
By now, Andy was in the cockpit, readying a line, but the officers simply jumped aboard once our speeds were in sync -- I think they had done it before.

While one officer engaged Christine and I in conversation in the cockpit, the second joined the Cap'n and Andy in the pilot house. First order of business, I suppose, was to hear us speak, and then to assess our demeanor. Before long, the Cap'n asked me to locate our boat documentation. The officer's eyes followed me as I descended the steps to retrieve the paperwork.

Next we were asked to show our safety equipment: radio, flares, ditch bags (supplies in case we have to abandon ship). When, at the Cap'ns direction Andy pulled out the Gumby Suits ( to be worn in case we have to abandon ship in cold waters) the officer realized we were set for most anything and stopped asking questions. After reviewing our ID's, they motioned to their mothership and in a flash, they were gone.

"What was that all about?" I wondered out loud. The officer in the cockpit had revealed he is typically on Gangs and Drugs duty. Our dinghy can outrun Freedom, so I hardly think they thought we were running something. But you never know, I suppose.
"Pretty Girl stop," was the Cap'ns theory -- the officers just wanted to see if Freedom is as good lookin' on the inside as she is on the outside. Who could blame them?

No matter what the reason, it added more than just a bit of excitement to our week.

Lee County Sheriff's Dept. motoring away from Freedom after a boarding

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Unpredictability of Cruising

Remember my last post?  Plans for Sanibel?  Scratch that. Boca Grande? Nah. Useppa/ Cabbage Key? Anchored there now -- but just a port in the oncoming storm. A front is heading in, precipitating a change in plans.

Holding tank issues kept us in Ft. Myers for two nights -- allowing for some long walks and a visit to the Edison-Ford Estates -- and a better smell down below!!

Tomorrow morning we head to Sarasota where we will ride out the front at Marina Jack for 2-3 nights until we head north to St. Petersburg. Crewmate Jim has taken the disappointment of not stopping at Boca Grande well.  Our traveling companions, Jeff, Ellen, and Bunker aboard Trinity are providing companionship, technical assistance and a great view (they are our sister ship -- and we can't get over how good looking they are!)

Don't feel bad for us -- the weather is ideal: bright blue skies, clear sunlight, dolphins jumping alongside.  We just need to be as flexible as the  sea life as we move up the coast to greet Andy and Christine.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Meanwhile, Back on Freedom

While we were traveling, Freedom remained snug in her slip in Stuart, Florida. She used her time alone for a little cosmetic surgery:  new varnish to her handrails, new canvas covers to protect the varnish from the hot sun, new toast colored awnings and dinghy cover, and snappy new red and toast striped cushions.  She was looking fine upon our return!

Now it is time to throw off the lines and do some exploring.  Tomorrow we will head west across the Okeechobee Waterway to Florida's west coast. Cruising in tandem with our sister ship Trinity, we will first head north to St. Pete, with stops planned for Ft.Myers, Sanibel Island, Useppa,  & Boca Grande along the way.

I am anxious to hear the roar of the engine, see some alligators  and get back into the rhythm of the Waterway.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Freedom Way Way Off the Bay: Vietnam

When I think of our trip to Asia I think in terms of colors: the ubiquitous purple of Thailand, the brown milky waters of Cambodia, the grey industrial feel of north Vietnam, the pink peach blossoms decorating our hotel in central Vietnam, and the ubiquitous and exuberant yellow gold of the Kumquat Tree signifying Prosperity for the New Year in Saigon.

New Year's preparations were in full force when we arrived in Hanoi, and we quickly learned to say Chuc Mong Nam Moi (Happy New Year!) Everywhere you looked Pink Peach Blossom branches, sprang from vases and decorated banners. Kumquat trees, in varying sizes, were transported from shop to home on the backs of motorbikes. Tall Yellow Mums were lined up as far as the eye could see at roadside flower stands.

Photo taken in Hue, under the watchful eye of the Citadel. The vendors would sleep overnight in the tents. 

Markets were full of New Year gifts and traditions. It is customary to burn "money" and paper trinkets representing goals or wishes in anticipation of the new year. For example, if you would like to a new car, you might burn a paper Mercedes; if you need or hope for a new phone, the markets were full of paper iPhones; but mostly there were stacks and stacks of paper money, ready to be burned with the hope of later becoming a reality.
Money to burn

Wishing for a new Cell Phone and eyeglasses

With the biggest holiday of the year approaching, Hanoi was a swirl of people, motorbikes, and anticipation. It is a crowded, noisy city of narrow streets, motorbikes,beeping horns, and sidewalk restaurants. Our hotel was adjacent to the Guild District where traditionally each of 37 streets feature one craft or profession and its wares. We took a tuk tuk ride through this district -- a fascinating, colorful, up close and personal, and at time harrowing, experience! While trying to avoid collisions with pedestrians, tour buses, & motorbikes, my driver would tap my shoulder, point his finger and say "Madam", making sure I did not miss any highlights.

Looking a little nervous about a Tuk Tuk ride through the crazy streets of Hanoi

A trip to Hanoi would not be complete without visiting the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum: A grand structure overlooking Ba Dinh Square. Reportedly, Ho Chi Minh preferred a simpler resting place, but that wish was denied. Strict guards kept us moving up the path to the mausoleum  into the building. When I paused to snap a photo it was made quite clear to me, without words,  that this was not to be tolerated. A raised walkway led us around the glass enclosed body of the former leader in a chilly and dimly lit room. Again, no stopping was allowed, and before you knew it we were back outside. The mausoleum is closed for 6 weeks every year for "cleaning." We suspect it is for another layer of wax and restoration.

We also visited the Hanoi Hilton, -- officially named Maison Central and originally used by the the French to incarcerate Vietnamese --  it gained notoriety, and its nickname, during the Vietnam War when US Prisoners of War were held captive there. As an aside, in Vietnam the Vietnam War is known as the American War -- all a matter of perspective.
In an effort to look towards the hopeful future and not to a difficult past, the area of Maison Central where the US soldiers were held has been torn down. Today, a multi-purpose highrise stands in its place. Visitors tour cells from the days of French rule in addition to a museum of pictures and artifacts from the Vietnam/American War. The photographs show the US soldiers playing basketball, cooking Thanksgiving dinner and John McCain receiving medical care: one of the most blatant displays of propaganda we saw throughout the country.

I really enjoyed a stop at the 54 Traditions Gallery where we received a personal tour from owner and US ex-pat Mark S. Rapoport. The gallery exhibits and sells culturall objects of the 53 Vietnamese ethnic groups, collected by Dr. Rapoport, his wife Jane Hughes and co-owner Nguyen Thi Nhung.

When exiting the hotel on our last morning in Hanoi we heard patriotic songs and speeches emanating from loud speakers throughout the city. When questioned our guide said it was songs and speeches about the greatness of Vietnam.  And he said, "Propaganda."  From Hanoi we headed east to Halong Bay and an overnight cruise aboard a 25 passenger ship. The drive was billed to be three hours, but between the bumpy roads, near misses with passing tricks and buses, and stops to view Vietnamese culture (aka, tourist traps) it seemed much longer. The ride did afford us a chance to view the countryside, endless rice paddies and rural villages. We wondered if all that effort was worth an overnight boat trip considering we had just spent 10 sailing in Thailand. Upon reflection, I would say Yes! The dining room was elegant:

Our rooms were spacious and comfortable (complete with spa tubs):

We relaxed on the deck, toured a cave, and took a hands on class in Spring Roll making. It was a great diversion.

Then it was on to Central Vietnam, and the charming town of Hoi An. Our guide delighted in learning that his father had been in the same town as Al during the war. Life was more "open" in Hoi An. Our guide spoke freely about propaganda, the post war re-education programs, his family's need to star from scratch after the war, and his optimistic hope for social and political change in Vietnam. 70% of the Vietnamese population is under the age of 30. Yes, 70%! As in so many developing countries, the internet has brought the world to Vietnam's doorstep, and as young people see the freedoms and opportunities in other countries, our guide is certain they will begin to demand that for themselves in Vietnam.

Set beside the South China Sea, Hoi An was a prosperous seaport from the 16th to 18th centuries. It is now a bustling town filled with tailors ready to make you a new garment of fine silk within 24 hours; beach-going tourists; restaurants,  a 400 year old covered bridge, and a lively market. I loved Hoi An.

While in central Vietnam we also visited the Unesco World Heritage site of My Son, capital of the Champa Kingdom. The area was victim to heavy shelling during the war and remnants of only 10 of the original 27 temples are in view. Deep crevices made the the shells are found alongside the ancient structures (7th-13th centuries).

From Hoi An we traveled by van across the Hai Van "Sea of Clouds " Pass to Hue. Mountain on one side, cliff on the other we marveled at the hairpin turns and blue sky scenery on one side of the summit, low clouds on the other,
Along the way we viewed a former leper colony set in a secluded cove.

The current residents are soon to be relocated by the government to make room for a luxury resort. When I exclaimed, "Don't the residents have a say in where they go?", our guide replied, "Oh, Mrs. Martha, you forget where you are." That day's reality check.

In Hue we visited the Ciadel, part fortress part palace as well as the ostentatious tomb of the Emperor Minh Mang. While his subjects suffered from poverty and starvation, he reveled in all things European and built himself a magnificent resting place on the mountainside.

We arrived in Saigon tired, and with Al a bit under the weather, the Cap'n, Donna and I mustered what energy we had left after 3 1/2 weeks of travel and set out to see the city.  Speaking of energy, Saigon has it: 9 million people, 5 million motorbikes, modern glass buildings, women in trendy clothing, wide boulevards, lively outdoor restaurants. in addition to visiting the very modern and opulent former Presidential Palace, we toured the Vietnam History Museum with its comprehensive exhibits on the development of Vietnamese culture and the struggles its people have faced throughout the centuries, and the War Museum which offered photographs and artifacts from the Vietnam/American War. Particularly difficult were the photos of citizens esp. children) with physical malformities caused by agent orange exposure.  It was an interesting view of the war from the other side.

The following morning our alarm rang at 3AM -- time to gather our things and drive through the dark but not completely quiet streets of Saigon to the catch  our flight home.  As I write this over a month after our return I must admit I am still processing all of the unique sites and experiences of our Asian Adventure, Way. Way Off the Bay.