Sunday, June 19, 2011

Catching Up

Its been a week or two since out last post.  Mathias is five days out to sea.  I am staying with Rachel in her new house in Union Sq. Somerville, MA.  We made it down the rest of the locks.

This is lock 12 I think.

The journey was not without its setbacks.  We had a few days of engine trouble and needed to visit a few auto parts stores in Albany, NY where Mathias installed an electric fuel pump, while I paid all the bill we had been ignoring during the busy weeks leading up to departure.  After the engine troubles we headed out of Albany on a beautiful day and I took the helm while Mathias packed away the pins and bins and screws and tools that has been up to our necks.   All was looking up until I grounded poor Dolphins on a sandbar near Hudson, NY.  To be fair to myself it was a bit confusing with the channel being hidden by high water and me not knowing what to do about the lighthouse in the middle of the river,  going right seemed right, but it was not.  I felt absolutely awful and stupid, but Mathias was a prince, he kept telling me that I was now a real sailor because there are only three kinds of sailors: those who have grounded, those who will ground and those who lie about grounding.   We decided to make some lunch and see if the tide would get us off.  It did, two hours later we were on our way.

Duke and Andy helped us step the mast at the Haverstraw Marina.  It took all day, it was hot, it was clear we were not going to make NYC by evening -- I was very cranky...

Duke & Andy

We finally made it to Pt. Judith R.I. and met up with our fabulous crew.

                                                      Scott, Carol, Mathias & Joseph

Off they went.....

Friday, June 3, 2011

On The Hudson

So here we are, still in Albany, NY.  Engine troubles.  But it gives me time to upload some photos.  For the last few days we have been traveling from Burlington, VT through the Champlain Canal and into the Hudson River, stopping in a few towns along the way.   Somehow the New York side of Lake Champlain is just so depressing.  Even though Vermont is just as rural and the population is also struggling to survive,  it just doesn't have that same feel of desperation.   These are the towns that make you think "I am so damn lucky I wasn't born here."  I admit this sounds like a sweeping generalization, or that I am one of those rabbit, Vermont-loving loyalists (like Mathias), but truly I have given Upstate New York a  lot of chances to show me its charms.  This isn't my first trip on the Hudson and I have make Mathias take us to a few cute sounding town on the other side of the Lake.   I love antiques as much as the next person, I like locals only diners and blue-collar grit.  But as Sarah Palin put is so perfectly, "you can put lipstick on a pig."  Or  "you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, "  or some such swine related proverb.   The most you can hope for as a boat traveller is a close enough market to grab some supplies and if your walk to the market doesn't totally depress you at least it makes you thankful for your lot in life.

Lots of abandoned shops....

and some still struggling to lure in customers.

There are plenty of laundromats.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Yesterday I said that every sailor sets out standing one the shoulders of those who have gone before.

A few of those in my life:

I already mentioned my uncle. Officer in the German army in WWII. Hated the Germans, even before his legs were blown off by a landmine, and moved to Switzerland where he redefined the concept of disabled by eliminating the “dis.” He defied cripples, he denied he was one, and refused to live in a wheel chair, even though walking with a simple, elegant cane meant he couldn’t walk much more than a hundred meters.

Sailing saved him. It gave him a sport he could enjoy and it returned to him the respect he imagined he had lost along with his legs. In return, he decided to save others with sailing. He wanted to start the first-ever sailing school for the disabled. The yacht clubs on Lake Constance all got together and blocked his efforts. They didn’t like the image of wheelchairs and crutches raining on their privileged parade. He took the case to court and eventually won.

The sailor before him was his grandfather, who drowned when his boat got into bad weather while sailing in the Baltic sea. He had his son (my uncle’s uncle) with him at the time and he drowned too. My great-grandfather was 62 and my grand uncle was 26 when they drowned. That numerological fact is inscribed on their gravestone in northern Germany.

Yes, it has occurred to me that when I am 62 my daughter Zoe will be 26. Should we avoid sailing together that year? Or by avoiding fate, do we tempt it to find other creative means to impose its will? (Zoe, you have another decade to think about that one.)

Other influences: In my twenties, my friend Joel, whose super power is to get people to do what they want, finagled me into buying a wooden lightening. A few years later, he lured me into becoming a deckhand on a windjammer in Maine.

My brother Roland is a master maneuverer. He lives in Germany and keeps his boat in Holland. He sails and motors the Jssel Sea and the canals. The canals force you to turn on dime, hold your exact position in wind while waiting for a lock, and dock with along a sea wall with barely enough room for your boat but not enough for your bowsprit so you gently place it over your neighbor’s transom, nary touching their precious vessel.

Roland taught me the tricks of maneuvering. Though the lesson was too short and once I’m over in the Med, I’ll need him back aboard to show me more.

There is one more significant persona (and he truly deserves that extra “a”) but this is long enough for now. I’ll write about him tomorrow.

Today we awoke in once wonderful, but now woeful Whitehall, NY. Yes, it still proudly pronounces to the birthplace of the US Navy, but these days you can tell that there are just a few nostaglic souls trying to keep the town alive with some planted annuals in the park which is otherwise surrounded by dilapidated and empty brick buildings. There is a laundromat, a few antique stores which sell anything from VCRs to phone chargers, but nothing the only antiques are the rusty hinges on the doors, and plastic blinders which are hanging crooked and battered.

We walked about a mile to a store to buy four gallon-jugs of water.

I lowered our stern-post which holds our radar and wind-generator because the bridges on the canal are so low.

And then I worked on our engine problem again, eliminating a loop in the fuel line which was probably trapping air and stalling our engine. We bled the engine and were ready to cast off.

Jennifer prematurely wrote 13:20 as the time. Even at the time, I told her, “It is never good to tempt the gods.” (See earlier reference.) But indeed we cast off within ten minutes, exactly at 13:20.

Only to have the motor stall out completely just as we entered the canal. A few moments of quick action and some raised heart rates later, we were able to direct our drift back to the dock and got back to work on the engine. A more serious, extended bleeding of the fuel lines was in order.

So the gods smiled when we had to amend our cast-off time to 15:50.

But it was all good. We motored by the next few hours, getting through four locks and sidled up the municipal wall in Fort Edwards.

We came for the showers. But they were shuttered. Blimey!

Maybe we finally get to shower in Albany tomorrow evening.

(Jennifer read this and says it's too much personal stuff and not enough trip. "So add some trip," I say. "Um, yeah, I'm busy right now.")

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Day One and before (Mathias)

For me, this voyage was born of contrived want.

Not a want that is spontaneous and comes as an epiphany or burst of desire. Rather, a difficulty constructed want.

When I dropped out of college, it was because I had a burning want to run a newspaper. That want drove me for 15 years and those years were full of successes and great satisfaction. As that period came to an end, I wanted to become the third generation in a 100-year-old family manufacturing business. I did that and those years were full of successes and great satisfaction. But globalization and America's recession brought an end to that period.

In 2002, with bankruptcy looming, I began to contemplate what I wanted next. To my great shock, fear and depression, I found that I didn't know what I wanted. It is profoundly disturbing to not want something. Anything.

At that time, I picked up a book called "Happy." It was the autobiography a man who whom WWII left a cripple and yet he lived a determined and self-fulling life in which sailing played a major role. This crippled sailor was my uncle. And it was on his boat that I had my first sailing experiences. He was the one who put me in a dinghy and shouted at me, to my burning embarrassment, "Fall off!" "Bear up!" until I kinda got what I was doing.

If sailing could save this man, maybe it could save me. But this wasn't a sudden epiphany, but just a thought I had. I had to "think" about possibly "wanting" this. I had to think about a feeling.

Eventually, the thinking became feeling, and the thought became want. I wanted to take on the challenge and enjoy the rewards of living life on a sailboat. Life that is self-sufficient. Life that is about being frugal with resources. Life that is about exploration. Seeing new places. Having new experiences.

And voila, here I am: In Whitehall, NY. At the base of Lake Champlain, after the first day of Jennifer and my Grand Voyage.

It was good to finally cast off. We had such sweet send-offs including a friend who did a fly-over in his plane. (Pix to come another time.) The flooded, swollen, bloated lake was brown and full of floating logs, islands of grass and weeds and flotsam. We saw a lot of wildlife, including osprey, an eagle, beavers, fish jumping. And we saw some wildlife that was not so wild anymore: a large, bloated, floating dead deer.

We had engine problems. And midway down the lake, we drifted as I struggled with replacing a fuel filter. I couldn't get it off and grabbed a hammer and screw driver and drove the screwdriver right into the filter to get it off. It may have been some of the problem, but not all. I think I know what to tackle next.

We want to thank all of you who have been so supportive in helping us get on this trip. All sailors depart shores on the shoulders of those who have gone before them, and with the support and love of those they leave on shore.