Racing in Slow Motion

Wednesday May 23, 2012

Since you’ve probably gathered from previous posts that I have a lot to learn in the way of sailing still before we leave on our trip I though racing would be a great way to take in some of that knowledge.  It would help me to learn all of the lines, what they’re for and how to use them without having Matt be the one to teach me and without having to worry about what’s happening at the helm where I’m normally cemented.  After working in the boatyard weekend after weekend and talking to some of the other boat owners I mentioned to one that I wanted to get into the races at Muskegon Yacht Club but didn’t know how to go about it.  Do I have to call the yacht club?, get in touch with one of the helmsmen?, put a want ad online?  (I actually did in Sailnet forums but had no response).  This guy’s answer was ‘Just show up, they’ll find a boat to put you on’.  Seemed logical enough and I waited for the next available Wednesday to come up so I could make my way out to the water after work.

After making a mad dash out to the lake from work which was over an hour drive away I was panicking thinking that by the time I pulled in all the boats would already be on the water and I’d be out of luck.  The races start at 6:15 and I had images in my head of them getting on the water an hour before the start as also in my head I thought the races were on Lake Michigan and that can take a little travel time.  After parking my car on the street I walked around back by the docks where dozens of people were standing around.  I didn’t know who to approach as everyone looked very busy getting set up but there was one guy off to the side so I walked up to him with a smile and said it was my first time there but I’d really like to get on a boat and does he know who I could talk to.  He admitted he was a first timer as well but pointed me to a woman he thought could help me out.  After hearing that I was a newbie but wanted to crew she started scrambling around to different helmsmen asking of they could take me on.  After a few responses of ‘we’re all full’ she set off down the docks as I sat at a picnic table feeling like a kid in their first day at a new school.  Having made this joke with a friend at work she suggested I walk up to someone and say, “I’m new, will you be my friend?” which we got a very good laugh out of but I was starting to feel like it may be my only way onto a boat.

Walking back toward me the woman said she found a boat that was looking for crew and pointed me in the direction she had just come from at the very end of the docks and gave me the helmsman’s name.  Getting to the boat I introduced myself to the helmsman, Tom, and another woman with him, Shannon, who was coming out for her first time sailing ever.  Right away I was able to get to work helping Tom fold a sail which felt like a piece of cake having two people work on it instead of it being like when I fight the tarps on my own.  After getting that sail rolled up and taking the cover off the mainsail there wasn’t much for me to do and I stood there as Tom ran the lines for the headsail and him and Shannon hanked it on.  As we continued to get the boat ready more and more people started walking up the dock to the boat.  There was a guy around my age, Mark, and his dad Bill.  There was also another guy Matt that joined us who was new to sailing sailing as well, and then a couple Rob and Julie and their niece Jess.  We were becoming quite a full crew!

Just 15 minutes before the race was to start (what was I worried about?, I had plenty of time!) we threw off the lines and made for the starting area on Muskegon Lake.  There were four different divisions to race that night and we would be in the last group to start along with 7 other boats.  Winds were very light around 5 knots so it didn’t look like it was going to be a thrilling ‘hold on for your life’ kind of race but I was still expecting a good laid back time.  While still making sure to pay attention to how all the lines are handled of course. After the first three divisions started and we were making our way to the start all the other boats in the division were on their way as well, tacking and jibing so they could be in the best position possible when the horn blew.  It’s amazing how close some of these boats will get to each other and it doesn’t even phase anyone.  There were a few times I could have hopped from our boat onto another one.  Once the horn blew though we all began to spread out and make our way for the first marker near shore.  Which is actually kind of funny because I had passed this buoy a million times on our way out to the channel and wondered why it was sitting in the middle of nowhere but was actually used for races.  On the way to the first marker the wind wasn’t strong but we were pushing our way forward enough that the progress over water was easy to see.  Trying to get the most out of that little bit of wind and to put ourselves on the best course for the first marker there were many tacks and jibes.  I still didn’t have a job handling any of the lines so I was positioned to sit on the low side and give us a little heel.  Then when we’d swing the other direction I’d slide under the boom while trying not to let myself get hit by it and then I could go back to hugging the low side.  That’s not an area I’d normally let myself switch from Port to Starboard because the boom could do some real damage if it were swinging fast or hard, but on this night winds were so low that it wasn’t even an issue.

Coming up to the marker we were going to need to change direction as soon as we passed it and raise the spinnaker.  I was still line-less but I made sure to keep a close eye on all the people that were pulling and moving and attaching so I would know exactly what to do when it was me on my boat.  The lines to the foot of the sail had already been attached so when the halyard was clipped on the head and we rounded the marker Shannon pulled on the halyard to raise the giant sail.  The wind caught it for just a moment but then any wind we did have almost completely died.  The spinnaker stayed up for a few minutes but began luffing so much we decided we were better off without it and lowered it.  Although we did have one boat behind us already there were two boats not too far ahead that we were working hard to catch but moves had to be planned well in advance since once you picked an option in such light conditions you were kind of stuck with it.  While coming up on the second marker we easily passed one of the boats and just squeezed past the other and instead of turning sharply back to the original marker we stayed our course for a minute trying to head for a few small ripples in the water ahead of us which meant we might be able to find some wind in that spot.

There was  just enough blowing behind us to carry us to that spot where we would have an advantage over everyone else.  Looking at all the other boats on the water it was amazing how still everything was.  It looked like a real life photo where someone had snapped an action picture where for that moment everything appeared frozen, except it was that way in real life too.  Off to our side there were 4-5 boats that had their sails raised and spinnakers up and were dead still in the water.  When our boat had gotten far enough out to feel a little breeze on our bare skin and we had turned enough to be heading back to the next marker we raised the spinnaker once again.  Elated as it filled right away we thought we had the race in the bag and we’d start flying along the water while everyone else remained still, but again the giant sail began to luff in certain areas and would have to be pulled at the ends to catch the wind yet again.  I tried acting as a spinnaker pole by grabbing one end and holding it out as far from the boat as possible to allow any possible air to flow into it.  This helped only a little bit but in this race every second, every bit of forward motion counted.  Due to that little bit of luck we were now far ahead of the two boats from the second marker and becoming even with two more boats that had been ahead of us although they were far off to our Port side as they had decided to made a sharp turn earlier like everyone else.  From what I heard before this boat tended to finish near the end of the pack but things were looking up tonight and we might actually place if we could keep our position.  It would also help if none of the other boats were able to find the spot of wind we had, just to let us cross the finish waaaay before them.

Imagine this was a 30 second video.  The image would not have changed at all.

I was thinking once we passed the marker where we had started the race would be over but the finish line was actually the first maker we passed after the start.  Many boats were getting bored from the lack of wind and thrill and a few actually dropped out before the finish, motoring back to the yacht club to have a little more time for a few extra cocktails.  I don’t blame them as when Matt and I are cruising around at this pace I would beg and plead to put the motor on because we weren’t actually going anywhere.  Somehow my view changed tonight and this was actually exciting!  I had a mission to complete and I wanted to do it weather it was at 6 knots of speed or 1.  The thrill was in trying to keep ahead of the boats behind you while catching up to the ones in front, wondering if any of those boats you passed will come up on you from behind and watching their every move.

After making the last turn and  heading for the finish we had long passed the other boats and now had 5 people behind us.  The spinnaker was dropped and once more we had only the headsail and mainsail while all the boats behind us still had their spinnakers raised hoping one last gust of wind would push through before the end of the race.  The wind did begin to pick up just ever so slightly and these followers began to gain on us just a little.  To give Island Dream everything she had I took my position again as a human spinnaker pole at the clew while Shannon and Mark worked the middle and front.  This was just enough to keep us in place and although I could not see past the sail to tell how close we were to the finish I did hear that sweet little horn blow while all five boats were still behind us.  Which meant that in our division we placed third!  Everyone on board cheered as the motor was turned on to head back to the yacht club and celebrate the victory.

The view from our stern when we crossed the finish

Before the main sail could even be lowered the cooler was opened and I was intoduced to one of the best things in the world as far as canned drinks go.  It’s made by Bud Light and is called Lime-A-Rita, which taste a lot like a margarita packaged inside a cute little 8 oz beer can.  That is awesome.  Realizing before a full blown celebration could break out there was still a little work to be done before we got to the docks I tried to help fold the mainsail as it came down which is a very hard task to do with only one hand so I had to put my adorable blue beer can down to get the job done.  Reaching the dock and cleating ourselves off we all sat around the cockpit with our cold drinks and then the food became to come out.  Crackers, cheese with cranberries, strawberries, red peppers and sausage drenched in a sweet tangy bbq sauce.  See, this is always what I imagined the posh world of sailing is.  Or at least how most other people perceive us.  Sitting on a boat at the yacht club after a regatta while eating fancy cheese and meats.  Why did I wait so long to take up racing?

After finishing all the food on board we though they may be holding ceremonies soon and began to make our way to the picnic tables and awnings of the yacht club.  Racers and watchers were all mingling while talking about the night or the prep they had just finished to get their boats ready for the season.  This was something I could relate to.  Finally I was able to explain my sanding woes to people that could sympathise with my pain instead of all my coworkers that would just look at me and think, ‘Oh poor you….you own a boat.  I feel so sorry for you’.  After meeting many other fellow sailors and discussing all things boating I was ushered inside for a fresh beer and to wait for the ceremonies to begin.  Team Island Dream took a large round table by the door and all got to know each other a little better as there were so many new faces that night.  I discussed our trip which everyone was very interested in hearing about….how long we’ll be gone for….what exactly we’ll be doing.  I had to keep assuring Jules that those plans did not include making a baby.

As darkness grew on the water more and more people were making their way inside the club and it was becoming crowded and noisy but in a good way.  We could hear someone starting to make announcements and strained to make out our boat name when they got to our division.  As soon as we heard Island Dream our table cheered and applauded as Tom got up to collect his prize.  Disappearing through the crowd and coming back he had a frosted glass in his hand, something to display for our victory.  The entire night was a success even if the winds had decided not to tag along. For my first time out in a non-cruising fashion I had a great time.  Everyone was incredibly friendly and helpful and there is a bonding that takes place over people even if you’ve just met.  We were all a team now, including me.  I was extended an invitation to come back every week which I am definitley planning on doing.  Maybe next week I’ll introduce everyone to the Lienenkugel summer pack to celebrate what I’m sure will be another victory.  Or to console us for not placing.  Either way I’m sure we’ll have a great time.

Team Island Dream

Our 3rd place prize (my phone does not take good low-light photos)

* Team racing results for 5/23/12:

Average wind speed –   4 knots                   Time Elapsed –  1:49:39                     Average speed – 0.996 knots

Finding Jupiter

Saturday October 8, 2011

I’m starting to think that West Michigan is beginning to have a trend in the second weekend of October of gorgeous summer like weather.  Make no mistake though, while I’m thrilled to have it right now I hope to high hell that I’m not around next year for the trilogy.  Relishing the chance to throw on shorts again they were actually a necessity from spending all afternoon in the bedroom completely overheating from the sun blazing through my window.  Also following the warm weather trend this year was not much wind on the water once we got out to the mooring.  Wanting to take advantage of the opportunity of being able to anchor without high winds we brought Serendipity out to the breakers by the pier to spend the night.  After motoring around the shallow waters for 10 minutes and debating between ourselves we finally dropped anchor in a spot we were sure would not drag us into jagged rocks or the pier should the wind pick up and shift.

Matt surprised me by telling later that night we could take the dinghy to shore and hit up Captain Jacks, a bar on the beach, for a few drinks.  Did you hear that?  We are going out for drinks!  We never get to go out for drinks.  That’s an occasion normally reserved for once a month when we’re out with friends, and more and more that’s even being converted to pizza and a 12 pack at a friend’s house to save the money of actually going out.  But tonight I had the option to go wild and possibly even order an imported beer.  Only 1 of course, we’re still on a budget.  Enjoying the balmy evening we grilled cheeseburgers and watched the locals walk the pier.  I asked Matt if he wouldn’t mind taking a detour there after dinner so I could get some good sunset photos.  After cleaning up the plates, changing into long pants just lounging on the boat a little longer we eventually got in the dink to go ashore.  Motoring ourselves in as far as possible and then gunning it before it became too shallow for the engine we glided up to a point where I was able to jump out on dry sand and pull us the rest of the way in.

When we had it towed all the way up on the sand we began to walk the few hundred feet to the beginning of the boardwalk where there were also a lot of other people out that had the same idea we did.  Once on the boardwalk we could also get  good perspective on Serendip and see exactly where she was positioned in the breakers which happened to be smack dab in the middle which was funny because both of us felt that we were way too close to either the rocks of the breakers on one end or the smaller [of the two] lighthouse on the other end.  We had fun taking a leisurely walk and even stopped at some of the giant rocks on the Lake Michigan side so Matt could jump around on them while telling me I couldn’t join because I’d kill myself.  I’m sure that’s not true and I would have only ended up with a broken leg, but I stayed put all the same.  Once we finally reached the lighthouse at the end the sun was dangerously low in the sky and crowds were forming to watch it drown.  Just like everyone else around me I became snap happy with my camera even laying on the cement for some good angles while Matt looked at me like I was crazy.  I have to say though, I think they’re some of the best photos I’ve gotten all year.

Once the sun was down we made our way back down to the dinghy where we’d relax on the boat a little more before going out for drinks.  It wasn’t even 8:00 yet and we didn’t want our night to be over by 9:30.  Being the gentleman that I am I told Matt to hop in the dinghy and get the engine ready while I pushed us off.  Figuring that if I had my jeans rolled up to my knees I could keep them from getting wet but of course the only pair of long pants I had with me for the weekend besides my sweatpants ended up soaked from the knee down.  Getting back on the boat I quickly took them off in hopes that an hour of laying out would get them dry before we left again.  I was not going to make my debeut at Captain Jack’s in sweatpants.  Once I did have my sweats on for lounging on the boat we took our sport-a-seats up to the coachroof (raised part of the deck) to watch the sky turn all shades of orange and yellow and pink before becoming dark.  Just as it was hitting twilight there was a large tanker that began to enter the channel, probably over 400 ft long.  All of the lights on deck were ablaze and we took advantage of our close proximity to it.  Mos of the time we only see them from our mooring and don’t get a close look.  This time we could fully make out the deck and bridge and people onboard.  It was great to see it that close from anchor because I don’t want the next time something that size comes that close to me be in the middle of the night in the open ocean while it’s charging at me at full speed.  When that excitement was done we had new entertainment of a powerboat of what appeared to be drink twenty-somethings  speeding around in the breakers and by the pier.  Their stereo was blasting and they were doing donuts while hooting and hollering at the people on the boardwalk.  Since we were the only other boat out there at that point and they weren’t coming near us and were only in danger of harming themselves I decided not to blow the whistle and call the Coast Guard which was right next to us.

After the drunkies made their way into Lake Michigan and things became quiet again we turned our attention to the stars that were starting to come out.  Even with some of the lights from shore and the boardwalk lighting up the night sky there were a few bright stars standing out.  I picked out a few of the major constellations I knew like Orion and the Big Dipper but there was one very bright star standing alone that neither of us could place.  I remembered Matt’s phone had the app to show constellations of the night sky so I ran below deck to grab it.  Turning it on I brought it up to the sky where it was able to bring up constellations there were hidden to my eye.  The Swan, The Dolphin, and some other creatures that were a real stretch to what they claimed to be.  When I brought the phone up to the bright ball of light in the sky I could see it was not a star at all, but it was a planet.  I had just found Jupiter.  Not that it was being elusive to anyone else in the area but it was interesting to happen upon something that can only be seen every 13 months.

When our star gazing was done I changed back into my still slightly damp jeans, threw on a jacket and flip flops and we headed back to shore for our night of live entertainment (meaning being around people other than ourselves) and drinks.  After beaching the dinghy again and bringing it far up on shore we walked out to the one way street on our way to Captain Jacks.  It looked a little dark and not too busy from the road but since it was October we figured it wouldn’t be as busy as it usually is in the summer.  Getting closer to the door we realized we hadn’t seen a single other person and the building looked dark inside.  Sure enough it was closed for the season.  I was pretty bummed figuring our one chance to go out was not wrecked.  I turned to Matt to see if he was ready to go back to the boat but he asked if I would mind walking to the bar in Harbour Towne.  Excited at the opportunity to still go out that night I said it wouldn’t be a problem at all.  Neither of us knew the right roads to get there since we had only gotten in by water before so we crossed the street and started heading that general direction.

On the other side of the road was a playground with slides and monkey bars that looked like it would be fun to play on but at the moment I was only interesting in getting to the bar.  After making one wrong turn onto a side street we finally found our way and began to walk past the condos that led to Dockers.  When we turned into the parking lot we could see it was packed with people and were happy to know that this place was also not closed up.  The first few people to walk past us were nicely dressed and that didn’t surprise me too much since I had always thought this to be a nicer restaurant even though we had never actually been inside.  Still passing through the parking lot there was another young couple that passed us even more dressed up than the ones before.  I began to wonder if Homecoming dances were this weekend.  Almost when we reached the door there was a family walking out in their finest attire including their two young children.  It was starting to look like there was a wedding reception being held here.  I was hopeful in thinking that there were multiple rooms and the wedding would only be using one of them and not taking up the whole building.  Walking in dressed in jeans, t-shirts and flip flops the hostess stopped us as it was obvious we were not there with the other wedding guests.  She let us know that the restaurant was in fact closed for the season but will open for nights when it’s fully booked like a wedding.  Cheated again!  I was very tempted to jump someone in the parking lot and switch clothes with but there didn’t appear to be anyone in the immediate vicinity the same size as us.

Very discouraged this time we began walking back to the shore as we couldn’t think of any more bars in walking distance.  On the way back past the park we saw it was now empty from some creepy kids that were hanging out in it earlier and I thought a little play time might lift my spirits.  We spent about 30 minutes taking turns on the slide which was actually big and fun enough even for adults.  We raced around the sand and pulled ourselves over bars just like we were 10 years old again.  It was the perfect weather for this kind of activity, in the high 60’s with just a little bit of wind.  We jumped and played and slid until we tired ourselves out.  Wondering what to do with the rest of the night we knew there was one bar that was still open for the season, Bar Johnson, and thought we’d enjoy a drink there before bedtime.  I tell you though, if I get there and find out it’s closed there are going to be words to be had.

It’s Raining, It’s Pouring, and Matt’s Kinda Snoring

Sunday September 25, 2011

The weather predicted this weekend wasn’t supposed to be great.  In fact it was supposed to be pretty crappy with rain threatening both days.  But with both of us being so stubborn that we would spend every weekend at the boat no matter what (with the exception of my longest friend’s wedding reception that was totally worth it) we packed our bags and my macaroni casserole with thunderstorms looming in the distance.  About 10 miles outside of Muskegon the sky just opened up on us and you could barely see 100 ft in front of the car.  Taking a quick look on the radar on Matt’s phone it appeared to be a short storm with the worst already on top of us.  When we pulled in the marina the rain had let up a bit but we pondered if it was worth going out or if we should turn around and go home.  We figured we were already out there and if worse came to worse we could watch movies and read all weekend, the same thing we’d do at home anyway.  Quickly trying to unload the car we rolled the dinghy down the boat launch and get everything in.  At this point the rain was beginning to come down a little harder again so I pushed us off while Matt worked on getting the engine started.  First pull, nothing.  Second pull, nothing.  I actually had to laugh a little the situation, us stuck out in the pouring rain with all of our belongings in a dinghy that we could not get to start.  It became less funny after five or six more attempts with no results.  Finally it started and we were able to zip soaking wet to the boat.  Stepping into the cabin once on board was difficult because Matt had emptied the aft cabin while replacing fuel lines and put all of the contents into the main cabin.  Stepping over boxes and bags I stripped off my wet clothes and went to grab something dry out of the backpack.  I knew it was going to be cooler that weekend and I had packed a lot of warm clothes that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on.  My sweatpants were ready and waiting to be thrown on, but all my other clothes were at least damp because of the rain getting into the bag.  Tank top it is!  Both of us were so tired when we got there that even though our stomachs were growling and we were starving, we had to climb into bed for a little nap.  We were passed out right away and the rain continued to tap on the hatches.  A few hours later we woke up now absolutely ravenous.

While Matt went back to work on the fuel lines I started to clear of one of the settees for sitting room and threw the casserole in the oven to bake.  There wasn’t much for me to do at this point.  I had planned on keeping my nook and working on blog posts, but I didn’t want to ruin my book by starting it too early in the weekend and then being bored with it by the next day and unfortunately my blog notebook got wet on the dingy ride over and needed to be dried out.  Pulling Chapman’s into my lap I thought I’d read about electronics and see if it made sense after the fifth time reading it.  After a few pages of reading and actually retaining the information the casserole was done I was happy to put the book down.  Dinner was delicious and just what I needed on a cold dreary day like this.  Even though it wasn’t too cold in the cabin we lit the oil lamps to keep things nice and toasty into the night.  We settled into the v-berth with mounds of pillows and blankets to watch a movie for the evening.  Everything was going along fine, it was a perfect Saturday night, and then we both saw a bright flash of light from the saloon.  At first it looked like car headlights passing by, and in the half second it took us to realize there are no cars out here we both realized what it was, flames!  I bounced out of the v-berth as fast as a person possibly could, trying not to get tangled in or rip out the DVD cords from the wall.  Racing into the saloon I imagined our beautiful boat going up in flames and all my dreams being slashed.  My heart was beating out of my chest and this three seconds felt like forever until I found out the big flash of light was the lamp extinguishing itself as the wick ran out.  Phew, crisis adverted.

The next morning we woke up to rain and then some more rain.  We had known going into the weekend that this would be a no-sail day and we would spend all our time in the cabin lounging around.  This time I had remembered to bring everything I needed for pancakes and went to work cooking.  I only had one skillet to cook on, so the sausage links went on first so a little bit of the grease left behind would keep the pancakes from sticking as I did forget to bring the butter.  Ooops.  While cooking I quickly realized how heat does not spread well on this skillet as the center links were getting burned while the ones on the outside were raw.  Some rotating worked on the sausage links but the pancakes were a lot harder.  I ended up keeping all the blackened ones that the work could barely get through so Matt could have the ok ones and continue to think that his wife isn’t terrible at cooking.  Looks like we’ll have to add a new skillet to the ongoing list of things that need to be purchased before we leave.  The food turned out surprisingly better than it looked though.  After we finished and the dishwasher (me) was run, there was still the question of what to do.  I took a seat at the nav station an started working on blog posts but that lasted for a little under an hour before writers block and a little bit of boredom set in.

Grabbing my Nook I made my way to the v-berth where I burrowed under the covers to do some reading.  Matt thought this was a good idea too and joined me.  He made it less than 30 minutes before his eyes started drooping and he decided to nap.  Less than two hours after we had woken up from getting twelve hours of sleep.  I tried to fight it as long as I could, but less than twenty minutes later I was ready to close my eyes too.  At least I can blame my thyroid for being tired all the time.  Besides, Matt’s snoring was making it hard to read.

When we woke up again I checked the radars and saw nothing but red coming our way.  Maybe if the boat had not been in such a state of disarray or it was a little bit warmer I wouldn’t have minded wasting away the afternoon reading and watching movies and generally lounging around below deck, it’s been done before, but I wanted to go home where I could crawl into bed and put on Netflix.  Maybe take a hot shower and raid the fridge.  Since there was a small window in the weather before the really bad stuff came our way we decided to make a break for it and hopefully not go through another dinghy ride in a torrential downpour.  Deciphering what parts of the mess in the cabin had to come home with us we started packing our bags and loading everything onto the dink while there was a clearing in the showers.  Heading back we had a dry ride to shore and soon everything was packed in the car and we were on our way home.  And just as planned we took hot showers and then crawled under the covers of our bed to waste away the evening in front of a glowing TV screen.

Just Over This Hill

Sunday September 19, 2011

I really should bring some kind of clock or alarm to keep in the v-berth because every Sunday morning Matt and I sleep in past ten o’clock since we have no idea what time it is.  And unless someone is coming out to visit us it feels like there is no reason to get out of bed and we stay there even longer.  We finally rolled out at 10:45 without aspiration to do much of anything.  A big pancake breakfast sounded good but we didn’t have any of the fixings (mental note, pick up for next week).  Enjoying the next best thing, cold poptarts, we still didn’t have the urge to get the sails up.  I sat and worked on blogs again for awhile but it wasn’t long before my mind needed a break.  Pulling out my nook I made my way to the v-berth and got comfortable under the sheets while I caught up on my Harry Potter.  Soon Matt was next to me with his Opus, probably reading something that was actually useful.  This also only lasted an hour before we were both ready for naps, a mere three hours after we had woken up.  Something about this boat just instills a bug in you that makes you want to sleep all-day-long.

Once we had slept for another hour and ensured that there was no way we’d be able to then fall asleep at a decent hour that night, we rolled out of bed for the second time that day.  Contemplating what we wanted to do over grilled cheese sandwiches we didn’t know if we should call it a day and head home or sieze this decent fall day  and force ourselves to do something.  I suggested we take the dinghy over to the sand dunes we were on last weekend to do a little more exploring.  Packing up a small backpack with our jackets, a few bottles of water and our camera, we loaded ourselves into the dink and began to slowly motor to the other side of the lake.  We passes all the racers making their way back to the yacht club for celebratory drinks and comrodery.  Feeling like the small fish in a big pond we motored past other sailboats and powerboats passing through the channel and finally ending at the foot of the dunes.  Dragging the dink on shore we started the initial climb which embarrassingly left me a little breathless.  Once we were at the top of that hill I spotted the area I wanted us to hike to, the highest point I could see at the moment, hoping it would give us views of Lake Michigan.

From where we were standing I could see a direct path up and over three more dunes (going up and down each one), or an off the beaten trail path with a flat route over and only up the last hill.  The second route looked to take us back behind a few trees where I was sure a nice sandy path would be running along the whole thing before depositing us at the bottom of the one large dune.  Following the path less taken it brought us out to a paved road, part of the campground attached to the State Park.  I was sure the path I’d seen from the top of the hill had to be around somewhere so as soon as I saw a path of sand inbetween the brush and trees I forced us on it.  Within 20 feet it dead-ended into a forest full of pine needles and sticks.  In our bare feet we tried to avoid this by tip-toeing through parts of open sand to what looked like another trail.  That was also a dead end.  Concluding that we would eventually have to walk through the pine needles and branches I hurried my way though without a problem, but Matt ended up with a small cut between his toes.  Finally back on sand we realized the easiest way to the top of the highest dune would be to go up and over the initial three dunes that the path less taken put us right next to.  All that work to end up right where we started.  One step forward, two steps back I guess.

After a lot of huffing and puffing on my part to get to the top (Matt basically ran up it), the view was well worth the work.  From this point we could see both Muskegon Lake and Lake Michigan, as well as the tops of masts making their way through the channel.  Sprawling on the sand to catch my breath we watched boats sail on both lakes as the sun tried to peak through the clouds.  Making our descent we followed a trail along the trees the overlooked a steep ridge into a valley filled with leafy green trees.  It was breathtaking.  We were both surprised at how much the landscape looked like Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a place we’ve been visiting every summer (except this one) for views just like this.  It was nice to have this as a back-up sinc I was actually getting a little depressed that I hadn’t had my dune/lakeshore/scenic trail fix this year.  No doubt I still prefer Sleeping Dunes for the vastness of it along with the crystal clear water in Carribean blue shades, but this was definitely not a bad substitute.

Walking back to the dinghy we probably found the easiest way possible where we didn’t have to climb up any more dunes and only went down one, although it did drop us out on shore about 100 yards from the dinghy.  Climbing back in it we checked the fuel and figured as long as we were out we might as well make one more stop.  Matt had told me about another lake adjacent to ours that even had a bar with a dinghy dock.  This was something I had to see.  On the way over the wind began to pick up and waves hitting the front of the dinghy caused a cold spray to keep splashing me.  Ducking down to put our butts on the bottom we continued to motor at a slower pace until we reached the small channel that connected the two lakes.  Once inside it was dead calm, the wind had all but completely died out.  We admired the other boats in the slips, realizing this must be where all the large power yachts were kept because this place was full of them.  There also seemed to be a lot of Michigan/State rivalry here with some docks decked out in blue and maze with others in green and white.

Motoring under a small bridge we came up to the Bear Lake Tavern, and sure enough there was a nice sandy spot for us to put our dinghy on should we want to go in for a pint.  Then the channel opened up to a nice quiet lake with beautiful houses dotting the shores.  Right away we spotted a gorgeous blue house with white trim on the other side of the lake.  We’ve always wanted a blue house and this one was fit with waterfront property and a gazebo.  Had it not been for Matt keeping me out of the water I would have swam over there and asked if they would mind an extra houseguest for the next ten months.

Checking the fuel in the engine we saw it was running low and topped it off with what little we had left on us.  Deciding it would be best to head back now and hopefully not have to break out the paddles we turned around.  On the way out a gentleman and his wife passed us in their dinghy, him propped up on a lawn chair drinking a beer.  Now that was the right idea.  If only we had lawn chairs with us on the 4th of July we would have been all set!  Exiting the channel into Muskegon Lake the wind and waves picked up once more and we were back to sitting with our butts on the floor.  Luckily the paddles did not have to come out and we even had enough fuel to get us to the marina once we were packed and ready to head back home.  Not too bad for a day we were about to spend in bed.

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Saturday September 17, 2011

While running my weekly Saturday errands I had to make a trip back to our old neighborhood to pick up an Rx refill I hadn’t yet transferred to a closer location.  Since all my other errand running spots (bank, grocery store, Taco Bell) were also in that area, I was able to spend a few hours in my old life visiting all the spots I used to visit regularly.  It was kind of a weird feeling where everything is the same, but it’s not.  Because if it were you’d go back to your old house when you were finished and wander around the familiar rooms as you did your daily business.  I chose to take a drive by the old house as long as I was out there to see how much had changed.  Creeping down the culdesac (and feeling a little bit like a stalker)  I could see that besides a few small differences it still looked like my house, with the exception of someone else’s car in my garage.  It felt strange not to be pulling in the driveway and unloading my groceries , on my way up to the bedroom to pack an overnight bag for the boat.

Pulling away I was flooded with memories of Matt and I in that house.  Watching movies on the projector while cuddled up on the couch.  Doing loads of laundry and then running them up to the bedroom where all the walls were flooded in sunlight.  And the part I missed most of all was knowing that Mazzii would always be there when I got home to follow me through the house and take up the bed while I was trying to fold laundry on it, often rolling herself on top of the socks.  And here I am in this moment with no house and no dog.  As I was beginning to become emotional and sentimental (and quite sad) I had to take a deep breath and remind myself that there was a purpouse for this.  I may be sacrificing now, but the end goal will be worth it.  We knew we were going to get rid of the house, we knew Mazzii would have been left behind.  We still sacrificed everything we knew we would, but just with quite a long waiting period for the fun stuff to begin.  I think if we had been able to jump right into the trip these changes would have been easier, but with spending a year inbetween our old life and our new one it’s hard to feel the payoff for any of these changes.

At least the boat is still a constant in my life and I always feel better when I’m there.  Since we had a late start to the afternoon we were both ravenous by the time we got there and I started dinner right away.  Although in my attempt to make spaghetti with meat sauce and garlic bread, I had only brought the meat and garlic bread with me.  After a quick trip to Save-A-Lot on the way (I guess you save a lot by only having one brand choice of each item and not having your items placed in any kind of bag when you leave) we were enjoying a nice meal which left me a ton of dishes to do in the end.  The rest of the evening was pretty uneventful where I worked on blogs for an hour while Matt played around on the internet.  Before popping in a movie to carry us through the rest of the night I pulled out a bottle of Witches Brew I had picked up at the store earlier that day.  It’s a red wine spiced with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, and then heated up to just under a boil and served.  It’s perfect for fall days when the air starts to get a little crisp.  Plus it’s made by one of my favorite wineries, Leelanau Cellars.  If you ever get a chance to visit this winery, please do.  It’s located on beautiful Lake Leeland, has delicious wines, and some of the friendliest staff in the world.  And if you’re up that way, also make a stop at Black Star Farms.

Snuggling up on the settee with my steaming glass of Witches Brew and a new blockbuster in the DVD player I thought ‘As long as I have this in my life, the next nine months might not be so bad’.

Whitecaps and White Knuckles

Monday September 5, 2011

Sunday morning we woke up to a tradition we like to call ‘Let’s make at least one day of the holiday weekend (usually Sunday) totally crappy and un-enjoyable’, weather-wise at least’.  Two years ago this resulted with a nice scar above my knee cap from when the tiller on the Hunter had wildly swung across the stern and over my leg.  Someone (um, me) had forgotten to secure it with a bungee cord. This year with the curse we had gone from sunny and 80 with light breezes the day before to 60’s, still sunny, but very windy.  Not that we did have any grand plans for the day, they all involved working on the new dinghy.  Now that we had brought it up on deck we wanted to make sure that all areas were water tight.  This included the area around the drain, and well as the holes we’d be drilling in to attach the wheels from our previous dinghy.  First and foremost we had to drill those holes so they could be epoxied before we could drill them a second time for wheels and screws.  Out came tape measures, straight edges, pens and sharpies.  Surprisingly the movement on deck from the wind wasn’t terrible and didn’t affect our stability.  Wheels were held, lines were drawn, and holes were made.

Ready to get to work

After everything was drawn and drilled came the fun part.  Matt had not informed me that we’d be working with it over the weekend and I had not brought any ‘dirty’ clothes with me, so I tried to assist him while keeping as much distance as possible.  I learned the hard way a few winters ago while we were making our nesting dinghy what happens when epoxy gets on your clothes and I had to say bye bye to one of my favorite fleeces.  Making sure to keep our deck clean above everything else I had gone below to grab a beach towel to put underneath the work to catch any dripping epoxy.  The rest of my job was just doing things like pouring colloidal silica (a kind of thickening powder/dust) to the mix of liquids, or constantly running below deck to dispose of paper towel before it could blow across the deck and ruin the finish.  It ended up being a much quicker project than I expected, and after a thorough cleaning all we could do was wait for it to harden which would take overnight.

Everything’s drilled and filled

She’s so pretty…..and so big!

There wasn’t much else we could do for the rest of the day.  It wasn’t nice enough to want to spend time on deck or in the cockpit so we kept ourselves below, going back and forth from watching movies, reading books, and napping.  Dinner was warmed up hot dog and hamburger that we had swiped the day before and of course more frozen snickers.  Since we already used up the Netflix movies we’d just gotten in I’d started going through our collection of DVDs at home.  Coming up to the end of the book after going ‘meh’ to half the collection I came across a movie that we’ve had for years, is a classic in a lot of people’s eyes, and have gotten a lot of slack over the years for never having watched before, and that was Tommy Boy.  We popped it into the DVD player that night, all snuggled up in bed for the third day in a row, and Matt prematurely belting out a lot of the well known lines.  Maybe it was because I was expecting a lot after all the years of hype or because humor was different in the 90’s than it is now but I didn’t find it as funny as everyone made it out to be.  Kind of a let down in my book.  Sorry to disappoint all of you that have it in your top 5 of all time.  Who knows though, maybe it just takes a few viewings before it starts to grow on you.  I know the same thing happened with me and Anchorman.  And now that I think about it, is probably the Tommy Boy of the 2000’s.

The plan for the next morning was to finish work on the dinghy before my family came out to spend the day with us.  This was after being woken up a few times in the very early morning because of the wind trying to get under it and lift it off the deck even though we though we had it secured.  So after a few times of getting up, rearranging, and trying to go back to sleep we finally got up for good just before 10:00.  Matt had gone above deck to check on the epoxy and when he came back down he said that temperatures must have been too cold through the evening and overnight because the holes were still a little tacky to the touch instead of completely hard as they should have been.  I panicked for a slight second thinking that as soon as it was placed in the water it would start pouring through the holes and we had no way of getting off the boat until it did in fact harden.  Matt assured me that it was still solid enough to keep water out, just not hard enough to be able to finish our intended project.

This gave us an extra hour to clean up before my parents and brother came.  It’s surprising how quickly that space can turn into a disaster.  It doesn’t take much, a pair of pants thrown across the settee, and un-made bed, and a few groceries sitting on the counter for the place to look like a total mess.  The good news is it usually cleans up just as easily.  Since we now had a larger dink to cart everyone around in, I jumped in with Matt to go to shore once my parents called to say they were close.  Again my brother was meeting us out separate but wouldn’t be able to use the excuse of getting lost for coming in much later than everyone else.  Knowing that he was about 20 minutes behind my parents the four of us made the run up to Subway to grab lunch for everyone.  The timing worked out perfect and as soon as we were pulling back into the marina with our food, my brother was just behind us.  Loading everyone into the dink  we brought my family out for their third trip aboard Serendipity.

As we were getting everything loaded our friends Tom and Connie from s/v Andiamo noticed we were out and stopped to talk.  When we were on their boat in July they had gone on about their new RIB and now much they loved it and noticed that we had just gotten one of our own.  While Matt was going over details with them I stocked everything below and dug into my sandwich as soon as I had the green light since I hadn’t eaten anything all day and was starving.  It didn’t take us long to clean our wrappers and go through a bag of chips.  We were ready to unhook our lines and do a little sailing.  Although temperatures had gone up a bit from the previous day to high 60’s there was still a good 20-25 knots blowing across the lake and making it cold enough for everyone but Matt to put on some kind of long sleeves.

Since we didn’t have all day to travel around we decided to stay on the small lake and just ride up and down it a few times.  With winds as strong as they were and not wanting to go through the hassle of uncovering the main we just unfurled the genoa which was more than enough to carry us along that day.  For awhile we had just set the autopilot to start carrying us toward the East (far) end of the lake when my dad decided he’d like a shot at steering.  Disengaging auto we showed him what course to keep and to try not to deviate too far from it so the sails wouldn’t have to be trimmed.  He caught on very quickly and was a pro behind the wheel.

Way to go Dad!!

Even with just the genoa up we were getting a steady 6 knots of speed.  Even my brother, who’s dream it is to own a power boat that he can hit 70 mph in, was surprised at how fast that would feel while on a sailboat.  Headed down to the East side it was a comfortable ride although there would be a wave every now and then which would catch the bow and send a little spray into the cockpit.  After coming about to start our way back to the other end, the wind was hitting us on a close reach and giving the boat a constant heel of about 15 degrees.  I  remember when anything over 10 used to make me uneasy but now 15 is nothing to me.  Matt was completely comfortable with it, and my dad a and brother were wedged into the leeward side enjoying the ride.  Then I look over to see my mom with a white knuckle grasp making sure that she was not going to slide out of her spot and over the railing on the other side.  I had forgotten that she wasn’t much for thrill rides and the heavy winds plus the building waves and spray off the water and now a non fully upright vessel, I had a feeling that she’d enjoy the afternoon much better if we were safely attached to the mooring.  Taking the wheel from Matt I suggested we head back in.

Thinking we could spend the next hour or two slightly out of the wind and enjoying a few cocktails.  Somehow it happened that we went through our last beers while cruising up and down the lake and all that was left on board were two coke zeros.  Not very appetizing.  I suggested we hit up one of the bars on the strip for a quick drink before all of us had to start making our separate ways home.  There had been a place a few miles up the road with a cute outdoor sitting area that I’d always drove past and wanted to check out.  Matt and I hopped in a car with my parents while my brother followed behind.  When the five of us walked in we were a little surprised as the inside was dark and dank and completely different from the sunny yellow exterior.  Luckily directly across the street was another pub that we figured would at least have a decent booth to seat us all in.  Same story when we walked in the door.  Very small with a bar and a few tables.  Not wanting to drive miles to find another place we pushed two small tables together and took a seat while we waited for a server to come by and take our order.  We stayed long enough for two rounds and some delicious onion rings while we enjoyed the five of us being together since it only happens once or twice a year.  In late afternoon when my parents needed to get back to their hotel to start packing and my brother needed to make his way back to the Detroit area we said our goodbyes.

Two years of less than perfect sailing weather while out with my family, but if that means saving it up for one perfect weekend in the Bahamas or Panama or New Zealand when we can all meet up again I think it will be worth it.

Some of the Same

Saturday August 27, 2012

Today was a bit of a hectic departure for us getting out to Muskegon.  As usual Matt was working until 4:00, and I was at home with Chris and Jack working on a garage sale trying to get a little cash for our crap as well as our nicer things that we didn’t have room to store and would never need on our trip.  When Matt got home I didn’t have our bag packed, nor did I have the weekend groceries.  Stopping at Meijer (best place ever) on the way out we needed to pick up dinner for that night as well as lunch for our friends we were having out the next day.  Normally it wouldn’t be hard to run into a store, grab a few items and be out…but our minds were completely empty this day.  We also didn’t want to stock up on things that we had at home and would have to bring back from the boat with us.  Hamburgers….too many condiments.  Sandwiches…too many condiments.  Pasta…probably not what our friends would want for lunch.  I think we wandered around for over 30 minutes before concluding that a bunch of brats, buns, and a container of mustard would get us through the weekend.  Pulling back out on the main steet we were treated with the odd sight of a car at a restaurant across the street that had done a parking job worthy of youtube.  There was a 2-3 ft stone wall built up from the sidewalk to the parking lot of this restaurant, and a poor older gentleman did not stop when he was supposed to and took a little dip down towards the sidewalk where his vehicle was now at a 45 degree angle.

When we reached the boat neither of us felt like doing anything productive since we were both exhaused from the morning.  Enjoying the warm weather we sat in the cockpit for awhile and listened to the radio.  When it got to the point of the same songs playing over and over again  (surprisingly not as long as you would think) we turned our attention to cooking a few of the brats for dinner.  We’re still figuring out the grill a little because we can’t seem to get a constant temperature of under 500 degrees even when we use the lowest heat setting.  This usually results in meat that’s charred on the outside and not fully cooked on the inside.  Something I love when eating steaks because I’ll taking mine just above moo’ing, but Matt will freak out if there’s any bit of pink.  Leaving the brats on a little longer than we should have to ensure a ‘well done’ temperature, they came off completely black.  Biting into one there were showers of charred goodness falling onto my plate.  I think I’d rather have it pink next time.

The rest of the night passed pretty slowly.  I hadn’t brought my e-reader so Harry Potter was out.  Chapman’s didn’t seem like much of an entertaining read at the moment and I had a feeling it would put me to sleep at 9:00.  Matt was content with his laptop and wifi so I didn’t want to drag him away from that to watch a movie.  With not many options I settled on pulling out my blog notebook and a glass of wine.  From anyone who’s tried following post around this time (very few people I’m sure) you’ll have noticed that I’m very far behind.  Like over a year behind.  I’ve gotten a lot of my posts jotted down in my notebook but they haven’t gotten up on the website because I was missing a few dates from before the ones I had written down and my little bit of OCD would not let me put them up if they were not in chronological order.  Matt is trying to make me see that I should put up the post I do have now and go back to fill in the gaps later but I know that will still irk me.  Maybe we can find a compromise somewhere.  While working on my writing I had either had too much sun that day, too much wine, or my writing is just more boring than i thought because I was still ready for bed just after 9:30.  I really need to start finding something to keep me awake out here.

The Day the Spiders Have Their Parade

Saturday August 13, 2011

I wasn’t sure if tonight was a night we would be heading to the boat.  Morning thunderstorms gave their way to a few hours of sunshine and then back to dark-as-night skies at 3:00 with more thunderstorms and sheets of rain.  I was surprised when Matt got home from work and gave me the option of staying or going.  It was tempting to have the thought of a Saturday night at home for once with a few Redbox movies and maybe a Jet’s pizza.  But I did miss the boat since we hadn’t seen her for two weeks and we could also do those things on the water since we had movies and frozen pizza.  Since the rain was starting to die out and the chances of me enduring a wet dinghy ride were getting slimmer we packed up and left.

On the car ride over Matt mentioned he had spent the previous day washing the entire boat along with the waterline and sprayed the whole thing down with an Ortho spider spray so we wouldn’t have another episode like we did a few weeks ago.  Once at the marina we quickly loaded the dinghy and unloaded again at the boat.  I was placing the last piece on deck when Matt, still standing n the dinghy, pointed near the toerail and stated, ‘Ugh, there’s a spider sitting right there, get rid it!’.  I squatted down and saw said spider trying to blend in unnoticed.  Without a few beers in me first this time I was a little more hesitant about just picking it up and dropping it over the side.  It was a pretty good size, not as big as the self circumnavigating spider from before, but pretty close.  I inched my fingers toward it and backed them away a few times trying to find the best angle to make this work.  Finally I just took a deep breath, grabbed a leg and tossed.  Unfortunately it only a flew a few inches in the direction of Matt and he let out a little shriek while I laughed.  Filled with a little more confidence I took a solid grab and made sure it went in the water this time.  We watched it sit in the unnaturally calm water for a moment until Matt noted, ‘Oh what the hell?, There’s another one’.  I looked at the lifeline and sure enough there was another much smaller spider perched atop of it.  This one I didn’t even give a second thought to and pitched it overboard.  However as soon as this one hit the water it started paddling its ass back to the boat at motor-speed.  My thoughts immediately turned to it’s larger brother and where it may be.  Sure enough it was traveling at more of a doggy-paddle pace back to the boat.  I watched it disappear under the waterline as Matt worked at disposing of the smaller one with our dinghy paddle.  When it had been successfully flung a far enough distance we started a search party for the escapee that was now at large.  We spotted it near the transom taking breaks between swimming and resting.  Matt swung the dingy around back and while preparing his paddle again spotted two more spiders on the davit lines.

This was an all out war now.  We worked together as I dropped them in the water and Matt made sure they would not make their way back.  After disposing of a few more I saw the King of spiders, sandwiched under the Lifesling and the hawse pipe.  This one was not going to make it easy for me as the Lifesling was blocking the area I’d normally toss it over.  This one was going to have to be moved first.  I poked its leg and it was like watching the wings span on a bird.  Suddenly it became about 3 times larger than it had originally appeared.  Before I could even let myself think about it I slid the spider toward the stern with my finger and then pinched a leg and threw it over.  This one may have actually been affected by the poison because it did not put up any kind of fight and started to sink immediately.  The next 15-20 minutes was spent scouring the cockpit and stern area.  They seemed to be coming out in droves tonight and we was not going to be able to relax if we knew they were creeping around.  Once we were satisfied any ones that could be found have been found we began to ease up a little.  There was only one more time after that I had to get up for spider disposal, and Matt promised he would spray again the next day.

Wanting to get a swim in before dinner I suited up and jumped in the water.  As soon as I submerged I regretted my decision.  Even though I knew the wind had pushed the spider carcasses far away I could just imagine them floating right next to me ready to exact their revenge.  I swam far past the bow trying to distance myself as much as possible.  Every piece of floating debris gave my heart a jump.  After a few minutes I realized I was being a baby and I’d have to swim back to the boat eventually anyway.  It was then I could let myself enjoy the rest of my swim, staying out until the pizza was almost ready to eat.  The rest of the night went exactly as planned, pigging out on pizza and watching movies.  It turned out to be a much better evening than I would have spent at home with one very large exception.  Frozen pizza will never compare to Jets.