Sailing Cadenza II
31 January 2023 | Tenacatita, Mexico
Ipala - Bahia Chamela
Another 7:35 departure Friday as the sun crested the eastern edge of the bay, setting the wispy mares tail clouds aglow in pink light. Ashore, 2 happy dogs frolicked on the beach in front of the colorful retracted restaurant umbrellas, but otherwise, all was calm, including the flat, smooth ocean.
At first, the wind was dead, but just a little ways out it showed promise of a good beam reach, so Allan and Jay got the mainsail up, just in time for the wind to clock around to the bow and die off. But thankfully the smooth sea, with graceful waves moving under the boat in a gentle, undulating way made for some good turtle-spotting.
We had tuna fish sandwiches for lunch with carrots and teeny-tiny tomatoes on the side, and then the wind picked up enough to put all three sails up - the big genoa on the bow, the new crispy-white mainsail, and the old but trusty mizzen sail at the stern. The motor got a rest for about an hour and we got a break from the grinding constancy of the noise it makes, and before we knew it, Bahia Chamela was in sight, with the seaside town of Pérula tucked into it's eastern shore. Pérula attracts a lot of Mexican tourists to its white sandy beach, with its small waves and rocky vistas. 3 islands lay off its southern end and pangas zip through the anchorage all day taking snorkelers out for an afternoon.
We dropped anchor near the narrow entrance to the town, and after tidying things up, settled into happy hour and then a great Cuban black beans and rice dinner. A red onion that needed to be used up was transformed earlier in the day to sliced pickled onions that mixed fabulously in the cucumber and tomato salad. Managing food on a boat is a constant dance - trying to save things before they go bad in all the nooks and crannies of the galley, fridge boxes, salon cupboards, floor storage, and the hanging fruit basket means sometimes the menu gets changed and new dishes invented.
The next morning, after coffee, we dropped the dinghy into the water and loaded up with grocery bags for a trip into town that started with breakfast at a great place called Jazz, frequented the snow-bird Canadians who live part-time in Pérula. Next, to the market for fruits and vegetables, the hardware store for a bucket and a few tiny Tupperware containers, a clothing store for more floaty, airy dresses, and a final stop for a 6-pack of Modelo Negro. Back at the boat we donned bathing sits and jumped off Cadenza's high deck into the water, squealing on the way down, then relishing the cool ocean, circling the boat floating on pool noodles.
The rest of the afternoon was for running the motor to charge the boat batteries and concurrently, all the electronics, doubled with the addition of 2 guests: 4 laptops, 4 phones, 2 iPads, 2 rechargeable fans, the headsets, hearings aids, and a watch. Allan manages the charging, so he's earned the title "Minister of Electron Management." We did some reading, made a few phone calls, texted home, played with the Spanish app, wrote, and relaxed under the cloudy sky with a perfect breeze while the pangas flew by on their way to the islands. We're anchored in a direct line between the islands and the entrance to the town, so the pangas just barely veer left or right to miss us, leaving a splashy wake behind - it's sort of fun. Ashore, the band is thumping with it's tuba and trumpets, accordion and drums, and myriad other instruments, and the occasional squeal of a happy child playing in the waves wafts across the water.
And then another marvelous meal in the cockpit, this time: fresh corn tortillas with grilled arracherra, leftover beans & rice, and more of last nights' salad. We can feel the air warming as we move south, a bit balmy at times.
Morning dawned bright and orange, I caught a smidge of the sunrise through the rectangular porthole in the aft cabin. I popped my head out the hatch to say good morning to Jay and Terri, which I've done for the last few mornings, so I've earned the title "Alison in a Box" and Jay wants to get a big rubber mallet to play Whack a Mole.
After coffee - this time, we tried the fresh organic we bought at the outdoor market in Paradise Village and it was spectacular - I paddled west to investigate the nearby rocks and see if a snorkel later might be a worthwhile endeavor. Maybe - the water isn't too murky but not too clear, either. Terri conjured up a wonderful grilled potato and veggies breakfast to save the last few potatoes before they went bad, and if you've ever smelled a mushy, rotting potato, trust me, you DON'T want to.
We played the charging game again, first with the motor running and then with the Honda 2000 generator on the bow, much quieter, and it powers the AC outlets, making the Minister of Electrons' job a bit easier than switching things constantly in the 12-volt inverter. I posted the first of these blurbs, Allan did dishes, Terri went paddle boarding, then Allan went paddle boarding. Allan and Jay have been trying to figure out what happened to Cadenza's solar panel controller, which seems to have bit the dust yesterday, which explains why the batteries are getting drained so fast, and also why we need to run the motor and/or Honda generator more often. As I've mentioned before - there's a lot to juggle on these little floating islands!
We decided to have lunch on the beach and get a few more things - we always need things, it seems - if nothing else, the ripe avocados here are fabulous, always a need for one or two more. We picked the lowest time for the tide, which makes for a tricky trip up the narrow channel to the docks, with Terri on the bow of the dinghy looking for rocks and shallow places and pointing to the direction Jay needs to steer to avoid impact. It all went well and we tied up and walked into town, past the falling-apart early 60's runabout boat that we all agree would be really cool if someone would restore it, but for now, it sits in the dirt next to a few old washing machines.
Jay, Terri and Allan went straight to lunch but I stopped to buy something at a little stand, and then decided to take the beach route to the restaurant instead of the street. I took my shoes off which was a really big mistake as the sand was boiling hot. Yes, I could have put them back on again but I didn't, and I ended up running towards the restaurant patio at a fast lope, seeking cool sand, but in my haste I tripped over a big, hidden rock and got a nasty, sand-embedded scrape on my left shin, damn. Allan ordered a cold beer and we snuck off away from the people eating food and did a good cleansing. Turns out beer is a great impromptu cleaning and disinfecting agent, and sort of numbed the area so I could do a better job of scraping the sand out, ugh. A temporary bandage of beer-soaked napkins, a generous wrap of toilet paper, all held on by the tie from my hat. Worked fine for the walk back to the dinghy, we got back to the boat and swam in the very-clean ocean (my other always believed in the healing power of the sea, and since we were in such clean water, I was in agreement.) I dosed the wound with honey Allan bought in town and bandaged it up. Yes, honey. Google it. I must say, the next morning I was awed by how good the tangled wound looked after soaking in it all night, so I'm sticking with the honey, pardon the pun.
Back to lunch on the beach: fabulous grilled shrimp and fish for Jay & Terri, rice and beans and corn tortillas for Allan and I, and then all of a sudden it was three o'clock. Dinner was leftovers so I won't delve into that, but it was another 9pm bedtime for everyone after a lot of sun and sand and sea.
The next morning, which it turns out was Monday, we did all the pre-departure things: secured both paddle boards in the rack, lifted the dinghy into its davits, stowed the snorkel gear, tucked all the loose objects into safe places, did the dishes, slathered on the sunscreen. Allan and Jay lubed the sail slides so the mainsail goes up more easily, and by 10am we were off for Tenacatita (which my English spell check wants to change to "Incapacitate") where we look forward to seeing friends Maciek and Olena, who we met last year in Ensenada and weren't sure we'd ever see again - that's the big joke in life - you think you'll "never" something and guess what? Life surprises you!
29 January 2023 | Ipala, Mexico
OPB: Other People's Boats. That's what this year is shaping up to look like - first, a short jaunt on s/v Sea Larks from Ensenada to Ventura, and now, 10 days on the gracious s/v Cadenza, from Puerto Vallarta to Barra de Navidad, Mexico.
Since our floating home, Fly Aweigh is in her stall for the year (other than some short local jaunts to our offshore Channel Islands) it's a perfect time to take advantage of opportunities to visit and crew on friends' boats and get a taste of the cruising life we love without committing to too much time away.
We've known Jay and Terri and their boat Cadenza for about 10 years, and my parents knew Jay a few decades before that. We've joined them several times as they've cruised beautiful Mexico - we accompanied them on the 3-day crossing from La Paz to Mazatlan in 2014, visited Cadenza for a few days in Barra in 2020, and now have perfect weather for the 130-mile passage down the Costa Allegre, the Happy Coast, to Barra. We're taking our time - a night here, a few nights there, to arrive in Barra on February 1st.
Our trip started with 3 days in Paradise Village Marina in Banderas Bay, where Cadenza lives in the off-season. She was up and running, clean and scrubbed, and ready to make the journey. Terri and I shopped for a few more provisions and bought some airy dresses to wear in sweltering Barra, while Jay and Allan tackled a few boat repairs. It was nice to be back in the marina where we spent a few weeks last year, and we caught up with friends we met in the Sea of Cortez, now readying themselves for a Pacific crossing in March.
I had dragged, literally, my paddle board down with me in it's cool rolling case, just because I could. Terri has a paddle board and I want to play, too. My pump was huge and didn't make the cut when I was packing, and we all figured Jay and Terri's dinghy pump should do the job, but the fitting was a bit too small and despite a lot of huffing and puffing we just couldn't get it all the way to the minimum 14psi. It was a bit squishy, and squishy = less stable. So I paddled away in search of another cruiser who had an inflatable, hoping to find the proper pump. Sure enough, I saw a nice catamaran with a nice-looking man in the cockpit and an inflatable board in the rack. I introduced myself and described my mission. In a few minutes we had my board out of the water and were getting it up to pressure, with a proper gauge to guide us. Allan wandered over and joined in the effort, and in another 100 pumps we got up to 11psi, good enough - and intentionally on the low side so when it gets to the hot sun in Barra it won't explode from hot air expanding inside (which happened to some people last year and was a good lesson for all - that loud, sharp BOOM was a sad and dramatic end to an almost-new paddle board.)
As this small world so often allows - we discovered my new Inflation Savior was a friend-of-friends, as well as a retired air traffic controller in airspace Allan and I flew in for 30 years, so we'd no doubt spoken over the airwaves many times, shrinking the 7 Degrees of Separation thing down to 2.
We untied the dock lines in Paradise Village mid-day Wednesday and headed west out of gorgeous Banderas Bay to Punta de Mita on the NW corner, a good position from which to start our southbound passage the next morning. The 3-hour sail to the punta was fabulous, on a perfect day, and loaded with whales. It was not a straight line between Point A and Punta de Mita as we meandered off to get a bit closer to these showoffs who were breaching and tail-slapping, thrilling us and all the tourist boats that circled around. It's impolite, ill-advised and in some countries illegal to rush up on a whale, to chase them and cause them distress, so we were thoughtful and respectful, but I had the impression these whales were having fun. The tail-slapping was especially for us, I'm just sure. I got a good video - and will post it when I have a better Internet connection.
We anchored in 25 feet of water off fancy Punta de Mita, had a lovely dinner aboard of grilled Greek chicken and salad with tahini dressing, lingered in the quiet cockpit for a bit, and then off to our separate quarters for an early bed. Our "separate quarters" actually means Allan and I retire to the luxurious aft stateroom, which Jay and Terri vacate for our stays, and they settle into the wide and comfy cockpit, sleeping in the fresh air and listening to the water and waves.
The next day we pulled anchor at 7:35 and motored our way south for 7 hours and 35 minutes in light winds and somewhat annoying seas. The sail was up for some stability but the direction and size of the swells just caused the booms (yes, multiple booms on this ketch - three in all, counting the staysail boom) to bash from port to starboard all day, the sail flapping and fluttering, and the four of us trying not to trip or smash our heads into things as we moved about the lurching boat. We read, and ate, and napped, and read. We saw some whales, and a beautiful school of spotted dolphin, and toward late afternoon a small flock of brown boobies joined us, circling the bow at about 30 feet, again and again, then peeling off in a dive to the port side after fish. Not sure why they were using the boat as a fishing tool, but it seemed we somehow stirred up dinner for them.
We arrived at our next overnight stop, Ipala, around 3:00 with ample time for some fun in the water, but the wind was windy and the waves were wavy, so the whole endeavor was scuttled in favor of a bit of quiet time, a nice solar shower on the foredeck and a glass of wine. Or beer. Which brings me to the Spilled Drink Count, which I will update as we go. So far, Drinks Spilled in Jay & Terri's Cockpit are:
1 full cup of coffee - Alison
1 full can of Mountain Dew - Allan
1 full beer - Allan
1 full glass of wine - Alison
½ cup of coffee, ironically, on the list I was making of Drinks Spilled in Jay and Terri's Cockpit.
In every instance, the sacrificed fluids were lost by the two crew who now live on a (more inherently stable) catamaran - we've grown lazy in our ways, so Allan says we should have our monohull card taken away.
A perfect bowl of pasta for dinner, and we called it a good day. It's wonderful to be back out here, there's always something, something, that I can't quite put my finger on, that just takes us back to a more primal way of being - more connected, more uncomfortable, more alive.
14 January 2023
In 2018, on the front end of our urge to buy a catamaran, Allan and I attended the Miami Boat Show. As all shoppers do at such shows, we climbed on and off a bunch of the catamarans we thought we could actually afford, and just for fun, another 5 in the dream-on category. We oohed and aahed and offered our own whispered critiques based on what little we knew about cats at the time, and although we weren't really actually shopping to buy, we narrowed it down to the Fountaine Pajot 44. It was perfect. We virtually moved aboard in our minds right there at the boat show. I even took a languid nap in the cockpit while Allan fell into a lengthy conversation with the salesman. And then, we took one last lap around the show docks ... and there it was ... the Xquisite X5 - a 50-foot South African-built beauty. With only 4 completed boats at the time, it was new on the market, and proved to be a gorgeous compilation of everything wonderful in a boat/home. It was solid, gracious, creative, sensible, and smart. And we were in love. From the giant galley drawer, to the beautiful wood interior, to the spacious and sensible layout, to the sweeping, curvaceous lines of the boat, topped off with the teak wood cockpit table with an inlaid map of the world, it was just gob-smacking. But, it was dear - and I mean, pricey. Quite out of our range. We allowed ourselves to dream for awhile, even being invited back later in the early evening for an invitation-only wine and cheese gathering aboard the show boat, where we learned so much more about the X5. But we knew it wasn't to be - not then, so we thanked them all for their hospitality, and with a sigh of wistful regret, we moved on. We let the Xquisite rest in that place in your mind where you hold dreams alive, but not necessarily active. A few months later, we almost bought a used Fountaine Pajot from a charter fleet in the Caribbean, but luckily the deal fell through, and that made space, a few years later, for us to find our wonderful Seawind 1160.
We love the Seawind, she's an amazing boat and wears her 38 feet extremely well. But we still found ourselves guiltily ogling the Xquisite whenever she crossed our path. And then, last Wednesday, she crossed it and stopped long enough to let us on. We got a call from our friend Jeff who, with his wife Paula, owns Sea Larks, the third X5 built in about 2017, with a request for crew to help relocate Sea Larks from Ensenada to her home port in Ventura, California. There was a short weather window between storms, and the crew he'd lined up had to back out. We checked the calendar and happily, it was blank, so we packed our bags and headed for the border near San Diego in a rental car.
That wasn't the original plan. The original plan was for Jeff's friend to fly us in his airplane to Brown Field in San Diego. We'd Uber to the border, walk across, catch a bus or hire a car to Ensenada, and be aboard Sea Larks by dinnertime. As the weather forecast in the Los Angeles area deteriorated a bit, the pilot backed out, so Jeff rented a car and we changed the plan to driving to the border and staying in a hotel, which, once we were underway, changed again to the final plan of pushing through to Ensenada that night. We had a 5-hour drive with evening traffic in LA to deal with, plus a quick stop at Whole Foods for dinner and a leg stretch. We got to the border by 9pm, returned the car, Uber'ed with a very nice Ethiopian driver who dropped us at the "back entrance" of the foot path to the Border Crossing. We walked into Mexico with a little help from some savvy travelers who knew the way from this seemingly secret back entrance, met the driver Jeff had arranged at the last minute, had an uneventful drive down the Mexican coast past Rosarito Beach, and were sitting on Sea Larks by 11pm. It was a long, high-energy day, but we were all glad to be aboard rather than in a hotel at the border.
We had a surgy night in the marina, with the boat lurching around in the slip, stretching and yanking the lines, but with all the weather we've had in So Cal lately, Fly Aweigh has been pretty animated as waves and wind slap us from the south and strain our squeaking dock lines, so we were used to the activity.
We got a good nights' sleep, ate breakfast aboard, washed the boat, went to the Port Captain's office (officially, the "Administración del Sistema Portuario Nacional") to check out of the country, did some route and weather planning, got Jeff's thorough briefing on the boat, her safety equipment and procedures, had a late lunch, repositioned the boat in the slip and cleaned up the dock lines, and as the sun neared it's last hour, we pulled out of the slip, down the narrow channel where we squeezed between two mega yachts, and out to sea.
The sunset was lovely and it felt so great to be back on the water, but I was feeling deep fatigue. It had been a pretty high-adrenaline start and a short nap was all I could ponder. I left the boys in the cockpit discussing the route and fell into the luxurious bed for a dead nap. I'm always amazed at what a 20 or 40-minute nap can do for me! Fully restored, I joined Allan and Jeff in the main salon where we put a watch schedule together and posted it on the wall, then tackled the pizza's we ordered at lunch.
Friday was our one full day at sea. I made bacon and scrambled eggs, not something I usually conjure up in a galley and I'm not sure how my eggs measured up, but it helped to have pre-cooked Costco bacon and some amazing bread for toast with Paula's homemade strawberry jam. We took turns at watch throughout the day, napping, writing, Allan catching up on his movies (what am I saying? Nobody ever "catches up" on a perpetually produced product like the movies!) When dinner rolled around I'd planned a combo soup from things we had aboard - we didn't provision for fresh food in Ensenada since it was such a short trip, so I pawed through Paula's freezer and found some leftover chicken and rice soup, and enhanced it with a myriad of canned things - beans, corn, mushroom soup, a sausage of some sort, and served it with some fabulous olive bread. After dinner we nibbled on chocolate, then slid into our longer watch schedules. Things in the salon grew quiet in the darkness, with just the glow of the red solar light on the dining table to save our night vision. Most of the time, we were inside, since Sea Larks has an excellent view on three sides from inside the main salon, and is fully controllable from Jeff's desk - the only reason we need to go out to the helm station is to adjust the throttles or get a second-story view ahead.
As I now write, it's almost 6am on Saturday. After 36 hours, we're hovering just outside Ventura Harbor awaiting the sunrise. The boys are sleeping, I'm sipping coffee and tinkering with the boat's heading and power to minimize forward progress for another half hour. The rain has just started - we're in for a wet day. I can hear it tapping on the rooftop. My instructions from Captain Jeff before he went down for a short nap was to keep offshore in the deeper water until the sun came up and we had all hands on deck. We'd pulled the power way back and were creeping along on one engine in near silence at a mere 3 knots for the previous few hours, but I slowed us even a teeny bit more, as we were still getting there too soon. Can't go too slow, or you lose steerage, so I just took off a smidge. Still, I had to go into a modified holding pattern about an hour out, over the deeper contour lines on the map. The reason for this had to do with the weather - I'm sure a lot of people around the country have watched the news about California's recent deluges, and with this weather came some horrendous waves and surf. With a storm coming in behind us and seas already around 3 meters (9 feet) it seemed wise to stay farther out in deeper water until we could see what things looked like closer to shore.
At 6:30 the guys got up, I made more coffee, the inflatable fenders were inflated, the dock lines distributed, final approach plans were made, headset batteries installed, rain jackets donned, and after a call to the Ventura Harbor Patrol to check the safety of the harbor entrance, in we went. This was the funnest part of the whole trip - surfing down the steep side of the 9 foot waves going straight in toward shore. They were "long period swells" which means they were the fun kind, not the uncomfortable kind, at least while you're out a ways. But we could see they were wreaking havoc on the beach and the rocky breakwater - some serious white foam was splashing high in the air. As it turned out, other than a lot of foam from a recent set of waves near the breakwater, our timing was excellent and we slid right through the entrance in flat water, no drama, easy-peasy. Inside the harbor it was eerily calm. No boats were moving, the sky was gray, the air crisp and wet. I felt like we'd just been I Dream of Jeannie'd to somewhere on the English coast. I'm sort of craving fish and chips ...
We tied her all up with lines and fenders everywhere and then cleaned up aboard, changed sheets, vacuumed, packed up our belongings, took a few pictures, and - it was a wrap! 72 total hours - about 600 miles start to finish. It was a wonderful trip. The 80hp Yanmar engines on the boat are very well insulated, so even though the seas and winds were calm and we had to motor most of the way, it was very comfortable and quiet. The boat rides like a weighty, wide vessel and is comfortable inside. In fact, it's almost too nice - I had to remind myself we were on a boat! A classy, well-made and well-loved boat. I'm happy we had this chance on our dream boat - and Jeff is a great Captain - experienced at the details of passage making, boat handling and excellent in crew communication. I felt like I was back at work on the 747 as First Officer - night passages, crew coordination, on-watch vigilance, short naps - all on a solid, capable craft. And a great landing at the end!
Thanks, Jeff, Paula, and Sea Larks!
(Check out photos in the new photo album in our Gallery.)
Summer Blurb #5 - Tennessee, New Mexico, and the West
26 August 2022 | Petaluma, CA
As August wanes, so too does Woodstock's American Summer, now on the edge of the final leg home.
We left Martha's Vineyard under a cloudy sky and had a great trip over a whole lot of states, because for some reason the states in that part of our country are very tiny, mashed together, and oddly-shaped. It's confusing at any given time to know which state you're over. I can only recreate the route thanks to a Rand McNally road map book I bought in Beverly, MA, which became my best friend in the plane as we flew over historic and beautiful places. We crossed a smidge of Rhode Island, the bottom of Connecticut, the SE corner of New York, diagonally across New Jersey, into Pennsylvania which took us south of my dad's birthplace in Wilkes-Barra, Pa, over our airbnb in Lancaster, over Gettysburg, then back and forth between Virginia and West Virginia (which has a very jagged border) and finally into Tennessee. In the Rand McNally book we started on p. 11, then 10, 35, 32, 45, 44, 48, and ended on 21. We flew over a whole lot of 'bergs, 'villes, 'towns, and a few 'tons.
Tennessee seems to be the home of a lot of springs, both warm and hot, some have gorgeous resorts built around them and one even had its own airport. The landscape on this whole leg was truly stunning - the green was relentless, the forests dense, the rivers full. The farmhouses from a few thousand feet look idyllic, nestled in rolling hills.
Our first destination in Tennessee was Knoxville, home of a friend of Allan's from grad school in Tucson some 30+ years ago. Allan found an adorable airpark on a spit of land in a river, a short, grassy strip with water at both ends. He aced the challenging landing, which really means we didn't end up in the river. Eugene and Donna met us, noting that they never knew this little airport existed, which is why the folks at Sky Ranch Airpark call it "the best-kept secret in town."
Our hosts had what they called a "funtinerary" prepared for our short visit, and as a result I now have a better appreciation of Knoxville, TN. We started with dinner overlooking a nearby river, where a high school prom group posed for photos, the girls yanking and smoothing their minuscule dresses incessantly, pushing hair strands into place and nervously assuming perfect selfie smiles. Meanwhile the boys, looking generally uncomfortable and out-of-place, stood around with blank looks and waited for the moment when the moms, proudly holding multiple phone cameras, hollered "smile!" The boys apparently don't spend a lot of time in front of a mirror perfecting their selfie smiles, and mostly just stood hunched over with arms flapping at their sides. The next day, after a wonderful breakfast on Eugene and Donna's huge screened porch (you MUST have a screened porch in hot, humid places, I've learned) we headed for a 9-hole par 3 golf course and whacked small white balls all over the grass. I had a few good strokes that made the exact right "crack" sound and once I even landed on the green, which is apparently a good thing. It was a lot of fun, I enjoyed watching my husband demonstrate his excellent skills at this odd game, while Eugene kept us laughing with his sharp wit and delightful laugh. Donna, who has only been playing for a year, was very encouraging, and made my first attempt at golf not seem so dismal. I'm pretty sure we didn't keep score.
The funtinerary continued with a late lunch followed by a gorgeous walk through the woods at the Ijams Nature Center, which is a "312-acre urban green space" and is beautifully run with lots of hiking trails, activities and a gift shop. We then took a drive through historic Knoxville, which is very cool, and ended our outing with a beer sampling at a local brewery, where you get electronic wristbands that you hold up to a reader under each of the 5,000 beer, wine, cocktail and mocktail taps. You can dispense as little as a half-ounce - just a taste - or as much as you want, while the wristband tallies the take and runs a tab. And finally, home for a great salmon dinner.
A short one-hour flight south the next morning took us to Fayetteville, TN to finally meet a branch of the family we hadn't yet had a chance to meet - Allan's nephew Cody's brood of kids (4) and wife Delanie (1). Allan's sister Virginia and her husband Andy were also in town, so it was a great family gathering. We hung out at Cody and Delanie's while the kids showed off their skills at various things from video games to axe-throwing. Yes, actual axes, and a lot of other things that you can whirl at a big wooden wall Cody built in the grassy backyard. I tried my hand at axe-throwing, a sport I'd had a hankering to try since I found a brochure in Dayton, OH a few weeks earlier. I'm pretty crummy at axe throwing, it turns out, but so was everyone else since the axe was fairly dull. It just made a thud and fell to the grass, with the exception of one hard toss by Cody that actually stuck. But the other objects, which all have fancy names, were pretty satisfying. I stuck three in a row on my first try, but managed to miss the target entirely on the next round, sending one of the objects over the fence and into the chigger-and-tick-infested field next door. It joined another object that Tommy had accidentally tossed over, so in days to come the boys will go out and hack through the grasses until they find said lost objects. Apparently picking ticks and chiggers off children is a normal thing in these parts, and I applaud their spirit of adventure. I have personally never had a tick, nor have I met a chigger, and would very much like to keep it that way. Now, for those of you concerned: Cody teaches great caution and responsibility in these tossing sports, supervises all activities, locks all objects safely away when not in use, and is 100% a good dad.
Delanie made a great dinner for all ten of us, and we retired to the hotel in nearby Fayetteville. The next day after the kids got home from school Allan took them all flying, one by one. Young Sophie took a pass, deciding first that maybe just taxiing around would be fun, and then deciding to sit it out entirely, but Isaac, Tommy and Ellie all went up, and even Cody took a turn. It's beautiful country to fly over! The kids loved it and no doubt have lots of bragging to do at school in the coming days. We ended our visit with a nice dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. (Yes, Mexican food in Tennessee, and it was very good.) Now, we are happily acquainted with our Tennessee family.
The next morning we continued westbound, over western Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, and New Mexico. (pp. 21, 20, 7, 42, and 33.) The terrain and vistas were incredibly varied on this six-and-a-half hour flight, from mountainous to flat, from lush green to soft pinks and tans. The monsoon season is in full swing in the southwest, and the mesas and deserts are alive with green grass and fields of yellow flowers, I've never seen the desert so pretty. Our destination was a quick overnight stop in Los Lunas, NM (Spanish speakers: this is not a typo - for reasons unknown, that's the correct spelling of this town) where former Air National Guard friend Mark and his wife Daryl live on an airpark. For years, they have graciously hosted any passing airborne Gabel that needs a place to land and rest up for the night, and it's so convenient to just taxi right up to their house and park on the lawn. This time, since Mark's airplane was gone for maintenance, Woodstock had the luxury of staying overnight in the hangar, which was good, since the monsoons can douse the field with little notice.
We took a short drive to have dinner at an old New Mexican favorite, Teophilo's, to satisfy our craving for New Mexican Hatch red chile sauce, which is unmatched in the world, and very addictive. After an early breakfast of oatmeal generously sprinkled with Ceylon cinnamon and walnuts (thank you, Mark!) we loaded up Woodstock for a possibly challenging flight to the Bay Area north of San Francisco. Daryl equipped us with homemade chocolate chip cookies, which I think she got up at 4am to make. We are so amazingly lucky to have such great friends in our lives - that's the thing we have most realized on this trip.
The "possibly challenging flight" took us over mountainous terrain in New Mexico, over Las Vegas, Nevada which had a forecast of ugly, wet monsoon weather, over Yosemite, California (more mountainous terrain) and thence across the barren Central Valley to Sonoma, CA, where our car awaited. We had multiple "outs" if the weather or terrain proved uncomfortable, but the entire day went flawlessly. Other than a fairly boring stretch over Arizona and eastern California, and another dull hour over Central California, it was a beautiful, mostly smooth, weather-free flight.
We landed at tiny Sonoma Skypark Airport (p. 8), flying over Dean and Lesle's house on short final. They had to fly to Denver, so we would regrettably miss having a visit with them, but they'd moved Stumpy from their house, where it had been collecting dirt and waiting patiently for our return, to the parking lot at the airport. So, reunited with a car, I unloaded all my stuff and Allan fueled up. We said farewell, as I was headed to Petaluma to reclaim the camping gear I'd left at Joy's, and he was off to San Jose to have lunch with another Ops-Sci grad school buddy and thence home to Oxnard.
But as it turned out, he flew back to Petaluma after lunch because Oxnard apparently thinks it's still June. Even in late August it's plagued with June-gloom fog and overcast skies, and Allan missed his narrow afternoon window of sunshine before it closed back in. So, we spent the night at Joy's delightful house in Petaluma while she was in The City (San Francisco) working. We're grateful, again, for generous friends who sometimes literally give us the keys to their kingdoms.
This morning Allan will re-attempt the final leg home, hoping to snag that open-sky slot in Oxnard this afternoon. I'll stay another night to spend some time with Joy, then drive Stumpy home tomorrow. And that will sum it up! 5 weeks, 5920 nautical miles, 20 airports, 30+ landings, a gob of expensive gas, a million fabulous views, lots of new experiences, a beautiful wedding, a ton of great friends, and way too many calories.
Thanks for following along, and many thanks to our gracious hosts and dear friends that made this trip simply unmatched. And now we'll settle into our tiny boat-home in Oxnard and enjoy the fall. Cheers!
LOTS of great pictures in the latest photo album in the Gallery!
Summer Blurb #4 - Salem and Martha's Vineyard, MA
19 August 2022 | Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard
Alison Gabel | Perfect Weather!
Taking up where we left off, we were successful at retrieving our wedding clothes on Martha's Vineyard. It was our first time landing at Edgartown's Katama Airfield, which has 3 lumpy grass and dirt runways stretching in all directions, and a very popular restaurant. There's a parking area for airplanes on the far end, and people fly over from the mainland to spend a day at the beach. A few biplanes stay very busy giving rides out over the island and the ocean, and we heard one of the biplane pilots spotted 3 sharks in the water, corroborating other reports, so the island on which the infamous "Jaws" movie was filmed had to close a beach for a little while.
The wedding in Salem, MA last Saturday was fabulous. We loved our teeny-tiny Hobbit house in Beverly and enjoyed seeing parts of Salem, although we avoided the witch museum and ghost tours out of a general lack of interest. The wedding took place in an historic church in Manchester-by-the-Sea, with a clarinet and piano duo playing rich, melodic sonatas by Felix Mendelssohn. The weather was perfect. The guests were delightful to look at, and to meet. The flowers, done by the mother-of-the-bride and helpers, were abundant and gorgeous. The reception, held in downtown Salem in the Old Town Hall was also wonderful with a vegetarian taco bar and all those flowers which were painstakingly transported by multiple volunteers to line the tables and the stage in the 2-story Town Hall. And other than the acoustics, which were challenging in the huge space, the reception was a lot of fun. My favorite part was the sweet, thoughtful, and hilarious toasts by the groomsmen and maids of honor, as well as parents and a few others. My other favorite part was spending time with long-lost friends from my childhood, some I hadn't seen for over 40 years.
The weekend capped off with a casual Sunday brunch at Rupert and Allison's home in Swampscott, MA (I love some of these east coast town names!) The newly wedded couple live in an old 3-story home with a rambling grassy yard strewn with big, moss-covered rocks and woods beyond. Chairs and Mexican blankets had been set out in the yard for people to sit and lie down, talk, relax, look up at the sky. A slack rope strewn between two trees drew the attention of a number of the little kids, who balanced admirably on the strap while a parent held their hands for support. A few of the younger adults gave it a try as well, while the rest of us watched, happily not tempted to try it ourselves.
Once we'd said farewell to the new couple and old friends, we headed for the airport and the short :45 flight back to The Vineyard. This was the 4th time we'd made the flight around Boston's busy airspace in the last few days all because of the wedding clothes debacle, which made the rounds at the wedding - "Oh! you're the pilots who had to fly to the Vineyard for your wedding clothes!"
We've been "on island" now for 4 days, having a great time with friends Jay and Terri, who have an old 1923 shingled home with a wild-ish back yard that fades into a small forest of trees. My favorite place to be is in a chair, gazing out at that backyard with the warm sun glowing through the bright green leaves while birds (and the occasional chipmunk) explore the offerings in the hanging feeder. The other day I sat transfixed as a tiny spider wove a complex web in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. I finally traced the fine support webs to trees on either side, with 20 feet between. A third line dropped to the grass below, and the spider climbed up and down that 15' height to reinforce the line at least 3 times. Finally, as dusk settled it, so did the little spider, right in the center of it's masterpiece, hoping optimistically for a nice meal. Another day I was treated to a playful squirrel who was animating clumps of loamy moss at the side of the yard, grabbing them, tossing them in the air, doing back flips and leaps as though the blob were truly alive. I'd never seen a squirrel play!
As I write there's a flurry of activity in the kitchen - Allan is making oatmeal, Terri is making smoothies, Jay made more coffee and is now reading silly stuff to us from a post online.
So far our time on island has been filled with great, healthy home-cooked meals, a walk into nearby Edgartown for lunch, wandering thorough small museums (the kind I can handle,) lots of sitting around over coffee or sundowners, catching up and wasting time, and for Terri and I, some yoga. She generously bought me 2 private yoga sessions in a local studio for my birthday, and it's been pretty inspiring. Tuesday night we celebrated Jay and Terri's 14th wedding anniversary with a fabulous meal we all pitched in on, and Friday we're going out to their favorite restaurant to celebrate again.
And, we went to the Agricultural Fair! That was truly delightful. As a girl who grew up near Los Angeles, I spent many a year at the LA County Fair, which is huge and sort of citified. Yes, they have pigs and goats and cows, and other fair-ish things, but it's all on a grand scale, with lots of buildings and asphalt. This Ag fair was small, and sweet, and so local. We went on the first day of the four-day event, so the crowds were low, and parking was a cinch. There were no lines. There were places to sit under trees, and long white country benches on the porch to enjoy the breeze while a horn trio serenaded with classic old-time songs. Allan, Terri and I rode the ferris wheel for a view of the whole thing from the air, but of course I was having too much fun and forgot to snap any pictures.
Then, just to make a fun day more fun, we went into Oak Bluffs by the sea and Terri and I rode the oldest operating carousel in the USA, to see if I could catch the brass ring! The carousel was over 100 years old, each horse was unique and carefully made with detailed leather saddles and real horse-hair manes and tails. And, guess what?! I caught the brass ring! Hard to top that one.
Yesterday afternoon we went for a sail in Jay and Terri's 22-foot Catboat, "Whiskers." A catboat is a type of sailing rig with a short mast located all the way on the bow of the boat, a huge boom that's actually longer than the mast is tall. A second short boom angles off near the top of the mast at an angle, making it a "gaff-rigged" boat. They're very popular around here, in all sizes. We'd waited all week for the winds to be just right, and lo, on the last day, they were just right. We sailed up the busy bay, past to the harbor, dodging the ferry that runs between Edgartown and Chappaquiddick. A fleet of tiny catboats was busily tacking back and forth in an afternoon regatta, looking like a row of leaf cutter ants.
The catboat is a handful to sail, literally - a hands-full of wheel and main sheet, both full of wind and water and both requiring constant awareness. It keeps you busy! I have great respect for Jay and Terri when I think of some of the distances they've covered all around this beautiful area since they bought the boat just a few months ago. It's truly a unique experience sailing on their boat in these waters.
And today, we say farewell again and head for Tennessee, where rain, friends and family await.
(FYI there's a new collection of photos in the photo gallery.)
Summer Blurb #3 - Dayton, Lancaster, and Salem
12 August 2022 | Beverly, Massachusetts
Alison Gabel | Weather is cooler here than anywhere we've been so far!
We've made it to the east coast, to the town of Beverly, Massachusetts, just a stitch away from Salem. The Deese wedding, which was the impetus for this entire adventure, is on Saturday.
We didn't think we'd make it, multiple times. The Covid thing in Wisconsin threw a wrench in the works, redefining the shape of our trip and putting doubt, on a daily basis, on the ultimate outcome. But Allan continues to feel better and I continue to test negative, so we press on.
Since our plans to fly to Saranac, NY and thence to Martha's Vineyard before the wedding were thwarted because of Covid, we were faced with a blank week. Where did we want to go? What, in the Midwest and east coast would be fun? I thought of all the years of flying over this beautiful country in airplanes, gazing down at gorgeous lakes, rivers, and mountains and thinking wistfully, "Someday I want to go there." After consulting the giant topographic map of the US on Dave & Mary Ann's basement wall, Allan came up with the idea of Dayton, Ohio, home of the National Air Force Museum and the Birthplace of Aviation. I landed on Amish country in Pennsylvania, and we narrowed that to Lancaster, PA. Some intense computer research later, we'd reserved a hotel across the street from the museum in Dayton and a cute cottage in the woods in Pennsylvania.
We left Madison on Friday with grateful thanks to our hosts an landed Dayton in time for a light dinner. We tackled the museum bright and early the next day. And I mean, tackled. This one required a game plan, as it's a massive collection of historic airplanes from the beginning days of flight through the space program, larger than the Smithsonian collections in Washington. Let me say up front: I don't like museums. My back hurts after an hour, I get bored easily, and I want out long before I've seen everything. Which is why most people take several days to see this place, and which is why we were there for three days. But I must say, it was very well laid out, with a number of improvements that made it good: I was happy to see that they've recently updated their displays to include the contributions made by the many unsung women in aviation throughout history, as well as the African American pilots who fought in WW's I and II and were instrumental in other areas of aviation. There were IMAX movies (we love a good movie nap at a museum!) and the food was decent. All in all it was a very nice museum day.
The next day was my birthday, my 64th, so of course I woke up with "When I'm Sixty-Four" by the Beatles in my head, and thanks to texts with Spotify links from my sister Jennifer, I had some other cool birthday-related songs bouncing around all day. I decided I'd done my best at the museum and would go exploring while Allan headed back to fill in some gaps. After a nice breakfast in downtown Dayton, which has been sort of spruced-up and sort of ignored, I dropped him off and headed into a day of no plans. Just me and the massive Ford truck we somehow ended up with when we'd ordered a "mid-sized" car. As I left the museum and headed to the hotel room to ponder my next move, I saw a sign that said "First Airport in the US" and spontaneously made a right turn in search of said airport. Signs led me to a wonderful National Parks Discovery Center, where a small but smartly constructed 4-room display of the history of Wilbur and Orville Wright was a delight to explore. I learned a ton of things about them, and of the beginnings of something that has consumed most of the last 45 years of my life. After reading every sign and snapping pictures to share with Allan later, I thanked the rangers in the gift shop and headed off to find that first airport, which turned out to be a giant field that had been loaned to the brothers for testing their Wright Flyers II and III, and for flight training. It's currently not used as an airport, but has a shooting range on the south side and a series of signs all around the field explaining more about what the brothers were encountering in those early days of flight.
Later that day Allan and I toured a bit of the downtown historic district that has more Wright attractions (their homes, the 4 sites of their bicycle shops, and a few other things) and also honored Dayton's other claim to fame, African-American poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar. We capped off the evening with a double-feature at an indie movie theatre and a 10pm stop at McDonald's for a hamburger with extra pickles! Do we know have fun?!
And then we were off to Pennsylvania, a 3-ish hour flight with a fuel stop at an adorable airport somewhere in SE Ohio. Unfortunately, and this is something I've groused about my entire career, aviation charts don't show state lines. I can't tell you how many times a flight attendant called the cockpit relaying a passenger's question about our whereabouts, and all we could come up with was "um, we're over the Joliet VOR" which never impressed anybody. I did carry a small laminated state chart but it didn't co-locate the VOR's (aviation navigation aids) so it wasn't perfect. Anyhow, we made it to Lancaster, PA and were very happy with our cottage in the woods, which was also just around the corner from a Starbucks and a mall, but the trees and cornfields mask urbanity pretty well, and flocks of geese wandered through our big grassy back yard while small herds of cows grazed across the street.
Lancaster, PA is right smack in the middle of Amish country, it would seem, and there are all sorts of Amish-ish things to do. I was a bit perplexed about this thing of making such a big deal out of the Amish - a quiet, simple folk who live life as off-the-grid as they can. Did they feel a bit like zoo animals? "Oh look, honey, there's one! Look at her bonnet!" But somehow a tourist industry has grown around them, and they seem to inhabit all that fairly well, and in fact look to be doing pretty well in the tourist industry, running craft shops, bakeries and farm tours. We did partake in a few Amish and non-Amish tourist-y things: we took a horse and buggy ride around the area with an Amish farmer named David who told really bad jokes. We toured a Toy train museum (I love teeny-tiny things) and ate dinner at Miller's Smorgasbord, recommended by Food and Wine Magazine. We watched a huge thunderstorm pass over as we took tiny bites of rich, creamy Pennsylvania ice cream, full of wonder that the sky could release so much water (we're from drought-tortured California, remember) and then wondering with a start how our little airplane was faring, as the eye of the storm was passing right over its parking spot. (We drove up to the airport - the plane was fine.) We giggled when we stopped at the Oregon Dairy Market to buy non-dairy milk. (Yes, they actually had it.)
Overall, we sort of slowed down and babied ourselves. Oh, we did go to a walk-in orthopedic clinic, that's a fun vacation activity! I pulled something in my left shoulder and Allan's been dealing with something in his right, so Dr. Scott x-rayed us both, gave a cortisone shot and a list of exercises to me, and advice and a scrip for a future MRI to Allan. Well, why not? We were there, we had the time.
Now, lest you think this is all fun and games flying around in our little yellow airplane with not a care in the world, let me say this: just like our life on the boat, it's a constant conversation with the weather. Especially in the summer, when the Midwest and east coast love to make thunderstorms. We're always checking the current weather and forecasts for our intended destinations, making plans, changing plans, changing them back. It's a see-saw roller coaster trying to make it all work, in part because neither of us is "IFR current" - which means we can't fly this plane in crummy weather. The plane can do it, but the pilots are just not up to speed legally because, well, we've been in Mexico. So that means we need to fly in good weather, and that's hard to come by around here.
All that said, we made it to Beverly, MA but we didn't succeed at getting our wedding clothes, which in a moment of inspiration I had shipped to Martha's Vineyard a few weeks back. Since we had planned to be in the Vineyard prior to the wedding, I reasoned that was one less bag of stuff I had to take camping, then on the airline, then on the little airplane, all over the country for no reason. So, shipped. And now, Jay and Terri on Martha's Vineyard have our shoes, belts, ties, dresses. We tried to stop at the Vineyard airport yesterday and pick them up but the clouds were just too low for us to be legal, and we had to peel off and head north to Beverly.
We got settled in our miniature VRBO in time to meet some of the Deese family for a splurgy dinner in downtown Salem last night, and today we're going on a little flight around Boston's crazy airspace, south to Vineyard Haven Airport for another attempt at claiming our wedding clothes. If it doesn't work, we'll be shopping at thrift stores this afternoon!