Sailing Across the Atlantic

August 28, 2014

We just got back from our trip across the Atlantic! We left New York harbor on the evening of July 9 as a crew of three on our friend’s boat, headed for Falmouth, England. We expected the trip to take about four weeks.

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Rich caught a fish our second day out, a huge bluefish. The next day we were just starting to eat our lunch of bluefish ceviche, when he caught another one. We took pity on the poor guy (a big cod) and threw him back. But then a few minutes later, there was another bluefish on the line. Guess what we had for lunch the next day?

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It was around this time that we started seeing dolphins pretty much every day. They’d be off a ways riding the waves in a pod of 20 or more and then they’d see us and all come flying over to say hi. We were amazed by how playful and curious they were. The cutest things ever were the baby dolphins. Chubby little Mini-Me’s of the adults with tiny little dorsal fins! As entertaining as they were to watch, they were incredibly difficult to photograph, so you’ll have to settle for this image and trust us when we say they were beautiful.

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On July 20 we broke a running backstay. We made the decision to divert to the Azores to make some repairs to be on the safe side. We hadn’t been able to get the wind vane to work so the guys were driving 24/7 with some very brief spells from me. That night the wind picked up and before we knew it we were in the middle of some pretty big seas. The awesome force of the ocean and its power over us is incredibly apparent when you see waves that big. They don’t seem like much until you ride down to the bottom of one and look back up to the top. Those waves (some of them 30-feet high) look like two- and three-story buildings about to collapse on top of you.

The wind picked up some more in the next 24 hours and the guys had to go from shifts of two or three hours to one hour on, one hour off. I was basically useless for driving under these conditions. Even making us all something to eat was a challenge bouncing around down below in the enormous seas we were experiencing. I was starting to accrue a pretty good collection of bruises at this point. Early the next morning, a gale rolled in and we hove to (basically used the sails like brakes to hold us in place) and rode it out that way for a few hours. It was the first break the guys had had in days, and the first time we’d stopped moving in almost two weeks.

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Thursday, July 24. “Another rough night. We got hammered all night long by a storm…we were a bit screwed since the second main tore again yesterday and we only had the small jib up. Everything and I mean EVERYTHING is soaked.”

We sighted the first two islands of the Azores, Corvo and Flores. At first I was excited to see land, but then the reality of our glacial pace set in and I had to come to terms with the fact that we were still a few days’ sail from Horta.

Friday, July 25. “One hundred and fifty miles to Horta. It’s been well over a week since we last bathed. It will be so nice to sleep more than a few hours.” Even though it’s been way too rough for me to do watches, the conditions haven’t exactly been conducive to sleep. I was averaging about three to four hours a night at this point, but the guys were probably getting half that so I certainly couldn’t complain.

Winds calmed down to nearly nothing late Friday night so we started motoring early Saturday. Finally, our destination island Faial came into sight. A few hours later and we landed in Horta. For the first time in 17 days our feet were on terra firma. Yesssssss! What a feeling of accomplishment. Not that anyone came out to congratulate us on our incredible feat. Pretty much everyone else there had just sailed in from someplace far away too. We were in good company!

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Horta was a truly magical place. And I’m not just saying that because I was glad to be back on land again. While we explored the incredibly green (and rainy!) town and stuffed ourselves on great seafood and fresh produce and lots of delicious beer and wine we were really struck by the beauty and just plain vibrance of the place. Peter Cafe Sport was a great spot to hang out pretty much any hour of the day. When we wandered in that first night, freshly showered and wide-eyed at seeing other people for the first time in a long time, we were welcomed with open arms, and frosty beers!

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We had been toying with the idea of leaving the boat in Spain since stopping in Horta meant we didn’t have enough time to make it to England. In the end we decided to leave the boat in the Azores, but we still needed to take it two islands away to Terceira where the boat would remain for the season. We stopped for one night in Velas (which means “sails” in Portuguese…doesn’t get much more sailboaty than that) on São Jorge. It was pretty and green like Faial, but maybe even a little more nature-y. Wandering the deserted streets that afternoon we stumbled on the one cafe that was open and found Rich’s new favorite potato chips. (We didn’t know this until we tried them, but presunto means ham in Portuguese.)

 

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Angro do Heroísmo on Terceira was our last stop in the Azores and my second favorite town after Horta. It had a very Mediterranean vibe and was terribly cute. We found a great little restaurant for dinner and feasted on a tasty beef stew and a delicious local wine.

And then it was time to fly to Lisbon for phase two of the trip: visiting my Spanish host family from college and spending a few days with my Spanish language exchange friends in Valencia and Asturias.

Meanwhile, Rich is already planning a trip to the Med on our boat. As for me, I might be okay with waiting a year or two before we attempt another big crossing…

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¡Viva Mexico!

March 23, 2014

After a long winter that looked a lot like this most of the time:

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…we finally made our escape to sunny Mexico. The explosion of color and the warm, friendly people were just what the doctor ordered to thaw our frozen norteño bones. It was like we were in one of those movies like The Wizard of Oz where back in Kansas everything was in black-and-white, and then, bam, technicolor Mexico. What a sight for sore eyes!

First stop, Mérida. This charming city and its gorgeous colonial architecture and delicious Yucatecan food swept us off our feet. By the time we left a few days later, we were already planning our next trip back and all the eating, drinking, and wandering we’d be doing. When we do return, I’ll be seriously looking into how to get a job doing cool bird graffiti like the stuff we saw all over the place. Kind of amazing how tasteful it is in some cases, almost respectful of the building’s tenants and designed to go with the existing vibe.

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The Sunday market with its graphic displays of meats and other goodies was mesmerizing for gringos like us, raised on prepackaged everything in our grocery stores. We bought some spices for making cochinita pibil (a pork dish rubbed in delicious spices and baked in the ground in banana leaves) and wanted to try some of the tempting delicacies from one of the many food stalls but were too stuffed from the massive breakfast at our hotel. Though I did manage to choke down the tortilla the kind folks at the tortilleria offered me hot off the press. Next time, we’ll know to keep it light so we can indulge in more Yucatecan specialties like panuchos and papadzules!

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We fell in love with the town’s main square, the Plaza Grande, where evertyhing seemed to come alive, especially at night. All the families come out to cool off under the stars with the little ones running around playing together. We shared a delicious elote (or corn) ice cream cone (sort of like buttered popcorn without the salt) in the plaza one night. All around us lovers sat together in cleverly intertwined white chairs that allowed them to sit facing one another and gaze into each other’s eyes all night. ¡Qué romántico!

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And then we were off to Akumal. I sat next to a sweet Mexican grandmother who was on her way to visit her daughter in Valladolid. We passed a few hours chatting in my broken Spanish about her family and her children and life in Mérida, and all the things I have to eat next time I’m in town! Mexican buses are really quite deluxe: We had movies and TV shows dubbed in Spanish (Cake Boss seems virtually the same in Spanish, by the way) and plenty of A/C to freeze us half to death by the time we reached our destination.

Much as we hated to leave Merida, it was pretty great to get to the beach and feel the cool breeze coming off the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, while sipping margaritas of course! Akumal is a little corner of the beach about an hour south of Cancun that many refer to as Gringolandia because it’s jam-packed with gringos like us trying to get away from the frozen tundra we call home. For this reason, there’s not a lot of opportunity to practice your Spanish, but the drinks are cold and the beach is a snorkeler’s paradise, where you can wade right out into an amazing underwater world of wonders. Our condo was right on the beach and a great base for exploring, or just lying under a palapa. What’s not to like about that? (And how do we emigrate to Mexico, again?)

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One rainy day we took a colectivo over to Tulum. On our way out to catch the colectivo, we passed a 6-foot boa constrictor. A few guys were trying to wrangle it away from the sidewalk and Rich assured me there was nothing to worry about because I was about the same size as the boa, but it still made me a tad nervous as I scooted past.

Did I mention how awesome Mexico’s transportation is? For a few dollars we shared a ride in a little colectivo, or minivan to Tulum Pueblo, then a quick taxi ride to the beach. The beaches in Tulum really are way more fun for swimming (especially if you’re an adventurous swimmer like Rich) than Akumal’s. Tulum’s soft sugar-white sand really can’t be beat, but I’ll take the calm bay of Akumal once you get out there and start swimming! We stopped for dinner at our favorite place in Tulum Pueblo, Don Cafeto, and then a quick colectivo ride back to Akumal.

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Compared with Tulum, the dining options were pretty limited in Akumal, but Las Tres Acapulqueñas (run by three sisters from Acapulco) turned out some decent food that was great for taking home to eat on our deck. One evening the grandchildren of the owners were having a birthday party with a piñata strung up in a tree. The kids were having a blast. It’s pretty amazing how if you give a boy a cardboard box it quickly becomes a gun, and before we knew it we were under fire. After we pretended to take a few bullets, the birthday boy accepted our surrender and we got to talk with him about how excited he was to be turning 7. Cute kid!

On our last day at the beach the weather cooperated and we spent most of it in the water in front of our condo snorkeling. It was truly amazing how much coral there was so close to the shore and how many cool fish there were to see, though we didn’t spot any of the sea turtles who nest here every year (Akumal means “place of the turtles” in Mayan). Guess we’ll have to come back another time and look for them again.

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A Perfect End to the Best Summer Ever

September 4, 2013

This has been the best summer ever. And we just got back from the best trip to Seattle ever!

We started it all off with a party to celebrate my parents’ 45th anniversary. We decorated Mom’s backyard with lights and flowers and it all looked so twinkly and pretty. All four of us kids were home for the occasion, which was a big treat. Even the rain that was threatening never materialized. All in all  it was a great night and a good time was had by all!

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After the party we managed to squeeze in some time with our friends Dierk and Katy at her family’s cabin near Hood Canal. It’s really nature-y out there so we got to see all kinds of cool wildlife, like the geoduck (that’s pronounced “gooey” duck for those of you who aren’t familiar with this clam with a long neck that sticks up above the surface of the sand) farm down the beach, clams Dierk dug right out of the sand, cool purple starfish, tons of sand dollars, and sea puppies (aka, seals) lounging on a swim platform sunning themselves. Dierk got a geoduck from one of the farmers and barbecued it for us one night for dinner. Scary though they may look, they do taste delicious—and apparently can bring as much as $150/pound in Asia. Dierk and Katy are even growing their own oysters (which we got to sample in a pasta that Rich made for me and my mom when we got back to my parents’ house and they were delish). Aside from communing with nature, we spent a fair amount of time drinking beer and shooting the empties with bb guns. Always good times with Dierk and Katy!

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We also took a trip with my family into Seattle to visit Olympic Sculpture Park. We enjoyed the artwork and walking along the waterfront, where we saw this seagull who’d caught a starfish but didn’t know what to do with the thing once it was in his mouth. Seattle is getting cool. There’s a Ferris wheel now that looks a lot like the one in London and the vibe is just a lot hipper and artier than I remember. Yay, Seattle!

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My mom and I took Rich to Salty’s in Redondo to celebrate his birthday. We’ve been dying to eat crab all summer and the crab legs at Salty’s did not disappoint. The birthday boy shared the white chocolate raspberry cake they brought out for his dessert and it was pretty good too. The white chocolate wasn’t too sweet and had a nice shredded texture and the raspberry sauce was delightfully tart and paired surprisingly well with the white chocolate. Next door was a tiny little locally run aquarium where we stopped in to look at jellyfish, an octopus, and all kinds of other cool sea creatures.

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That evening we went to our friends Brian and David’s wedding in Seattle. They’ve been together 21 years so this party has been a long time coming. They came down the aisle to Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” which was completely awesome and really made the crowd go wild. Their dog Poncho was the ring bearer and performed his duties like a champ. It was a great party and so fun to catch up with old friends.

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And now we’re back home on the boat. I’m sad to see summer go, but maybe now that fall is here we can check a few more things off our project list. Next up, new hatches!

A Trip to Long Island

August 9, 2013

Last Friday we cruised out to Long Island on our friend Drew’s boat Montombi. We motored up the East River, timing our departure so we passed under the Hell Gate Bridge at slack water to avoid having to fight the current, which is notoriously strong in this area.

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Once we got out to Long Island Rich pointed to a beautiful home on the waterfront, “That’s Billy Joel’s house.” We were duly impressed. Then we saw another huge mansion. Guess who Rich said lived there too? This quickly became the weekend joke. “Wow, look at that gorgeous place on the hill! Must be Billy Joel’s house…” It never got old. He also claims he saw Martha Stewart’s Hinckley Picnic Boat sail past. After the Billy Joel stunt, Drew and I were a bit dubious, though the boat was Martha Stewart green.

We pulled into Oyster Bay just as the sun was setting and spent the night on a mooring there. It rained a bit, but was otherwise completely gorgeous. In the morning we decided to sail a little further on to Northport and visit the Vanderbilt mansion there. We moored at the Centerport Yacht Club and were treated to a ride into the club (and showers!) before heading up to visit W.K. Vanderbilt II’s “Eagles Nest” mansion. Since we were on foot we were a little daunted by the uphill hike, but our charming companion Drew sweet-talked a passerby into giving us a lift in her shiny new Volvo. Thanks, Theresa!

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Built in Spanish colonial style, the mansion was gorgeous (if a little out of place among the more New England–style residences all around) and had a breathtaking view of the harbor. Apparently W.K. was quite a yachtsman and explorer who sailed all over the world collecting specimens of exotic flora and fauna. Some of it was interesting, but the elephant’s feet and stuffed polar bears, were a bit depressing.

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After touring the mansion, we got a ride back into town on the launch for lunch. Gregarious Drew befriended a nice fellow on the way there. Judging by the picture below you’d think they’d known each other all their lives.

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Later that night we headed back into town to have a drink at Gunther’s, a dive bar that our launch driver Peter told us used to be Jack Kerouac’s favorite spot when he lived in Northport years ago. Gunther’s didn’t disappoint. It was plenty divey and the bartenders and patrons were friendly. Drew was thrilled to be able to order beer by the pitcher, which apparently you can’t do in England. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve had beer in a pitcher since my college days. Good times!

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When we headed back to the dock to get a ride back to the boat, we overheard a guy we’d seen earlier in the day at the yacht club yelling into his radio that the launch had better be here in 10 minutes “or else!” We exchanged wide-eyed glances and then Drew said he had an idea. He walked off down the dock hailing Centerport Y.C. on his radio to request a later pickup because we were having such a marvelous time. The only trouble with this plan was that he’d forgotten that he was on a public channel so we could all hear his conversation echoing back over Mr. Angry’s radio. “I can hear you guys, you know!” Mr. A said as he came over to tell us his tale of woe. Apparently he’d been calling for a launch for over an hour and was pretty frustrated with the launch driver’s ineptitude. Each time he called for the launch Peter said he’d be there to pick him up in 10 minutes. Of course, once Mr. A heard there was a 10-minute wait, he and his date promptly walked back into town for another drink. Hmmm. Doing the math on that one, we could see where the problem was, and it wasn’t the launch. A few minutes later, the launch picked us all up and Mr. A seemed to simmer down a bit. As soon as we dropped him off, everyone else on the boat burst out laughing at what a knucklehead he’d been. Peter confirmed what we’d been thinking when he said he kept cruising over to pick the guy up, but would find no one there when he arrived. He’d get a call for a pick-up from someone else and have to leave, only to receive an angry call from our friend a few minutes later and the cycle would start all over again. You gotta love boat life!

The next morning we set off at around 11 to head back to the city. We had a lovely sail to City Island where we anchored for a few hours to wait for the current to change so we could pass back under the Hell Gate. Sailing this part of the East River at night was challenging, but we managed pretty well between Drew’s paper chart and the chart app on Rich’s phone. Drew even gave me a gold star for my navigating skills, though his one complaint was that I came back up from turning on the kettle for coffee and looked at the upside-down chart he’d handed me and asked “Where are we?” I guess I wasn’t exactly instilling confidence in my comrades with that comment! But somehow we did manage to find our way home again by around 10 o’clock. All in all a pretty perfect weekend!

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Success!

August 2, 2013

P1000676Rich’s friend Andrew sailed into town a few weeks ago from Detroit on his new boat, Montombi. It took him about two weeks to get here, passing through 36 locks and even having to take down his mast at one point. Quite a journey! His plan is to leave his boat in New Jersey for the winter and then sail it over to England next summer. We’re thinking about joining him for the trip…

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He seems to have brought good weather with him because the heatwave that was keeping temps here in the mid-90s finally broke and we’ve been having deliciously cool nights, perfect for sailing…and sleeping! He also seems to have brought us good luck with crabbing because we finally caught a bunch out at Sandy Hook! We were looking for blue crabs, but these were green or “spider” crabs so we threw them back, but it’s good to know our trap works. Chicken drumsticks seem to do the trick as bait. Thanks to everyone for all the pointers! Alas no fish were biting on Rich’s Cuban yo-yos. We’re heading out to Oyster Bay for the weekend and will try our luck there.

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A Visit to the Moonie Tackle Shop

July 17, 2013

Last weekend we visited a tackle shop a friend recommended in Bayonne, NJ, to stock up on fishing and crabbing supplies for our next trip to Sandy Hook. The word on the streets is that the shop is run by Moonies so we were kind of curious to see what that was all about. Alas, no one tried to get us to sign up for a mass wedding or anything so we couldn’t confirm a Sun Myung Moon connection, but we were happy with their collection of fishing gadgets.

We found a sweet little crab trap and I tried to get Rich to buy this Smelly Jelly stuff, but he wasn’t having it. We haven’t been able to get any crabs to take the bait we’ve been using in our test runs in the marina. So far we’ve tried a Johnsonville brat and a chicken drumstick, but the crabs aren’t biting. I keep joking that we should go back for the Smelly Jelly, though I’m scared to find out what “crab attractant” actually smells like. I’ve been reading up online about what the best crab bait is, but if any crabbers out there want to weigh in, we’re all ears. Petter, are you listening?

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Meanwhile, Rich wants to try out Cuban yo-yos for fishing. For those of you who don’t know them, they’re these cool little handheld fishing contraptions that don’t take up a lot of room so they’re perfect for our boat. They didn’t have any at the shop so he’s ordering them online.

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These pink fishing lures reminded me of earrings I wore in junior high.
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Not only did we find some fun goodies for fishing and crabbing, but we discovered that Bayonne is a cute little slice of small-town Americana. There were tons of businesses with old neon signage and sweet little mom and pop shops all over the place.

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Okay, so maybe the fur refrigeration store isn’t something you’d find in every town in America, but we couldn’t resist snapping a shot of that as we made a beeline for the ice cream shop, thinking a fur coat was the last thing we’d want in this weather. All the more reason to have your furs refrigerated, I suppose.

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Anyway, we enjoyed our visit to Bayonne. Not what you’d expect when you see the place from the water with all those big cranes for loading and unloading ships.

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