Saturday, October 24, 2015

Sailing with the Westie Crew

A while back I asked Paula if she and Rich would like to go sailing with us sometime. She said they would love to….but then I thought I’d see if anyone else on the Executive Committee would like to go sailing as well. I really didn’t expect to get many takers but to my surprise eight people ended up getting on board with the idea.

We’ve had six people on the boat, but two of them were children, and at the time we only had two dogs. Eight people seemed like a lot. Our boat is 38’, but the cockpit is somewhat small. I hoped I hadn’t made a mistake.

Any sailboat invitation is contingent on the weather. We picked a date that everyone that wanted to could come and then waited to see what mother nature would serve up on that date. Well the weather was perfect. 5-10 knots, sunny skies, 1 foot seas or less. The trip was on!

We keep our boat in Salem, Massachusetts at Hawthorne Cove Marina. Since it was a Saturday, everyone needed to park next door in the Salem Ferry parking lot. We got there early so we could meet everyone. Lee went ahead and went to the boat to make sure everything was ready for our guests. I took the dogs for a short walk and then waited in the ferry parking lot for people to arrive.

Diane and Dennis were the first ones there. The dogs were so surprised! “Wow! You’re at the boat! This is great!” I walked them over to the marina and they helpfully kept the dogs while I went back over to the parking lot to wait for everyone else.

Amy and Bill arrived next. There were a LOT of people out and both the marina and the ferry parking lot were really crowded. I started to worry that there wasn’t going to be enough parking spaces for everyone, but it was fine. Paula and Rich arrived and then it was time to go.

No one had ever been on a sailboat before. Motorboats and cruise ships yes, but no sailboats. Everyone was game, but Amy insisted on NO SWIM LADDERS! But with all the people and our gear the dinghy would have been too small anyway. We all took the launch to the boat.

The launch was full; I’ve never seen so many people on it. It actually seemed lower in the water. But before too long there we were at Prevailing Wins. Now it was time to see if we all would actually fit.

Well we fit just fine. The food and people’s bags and sweaters went below and the people all spread out above. The dogs had plenty of attention; the people had beer and other drinks. We gave anyone that wanted it a short tour of the cabin and then it was time to go.

For the most part Lee and I did our usual roles. He’s the captain. He determines the course, sets the autopilot, trims the sails. I get us off and on the mooring, fetch stuff and do other miscellaneous chores as needed. But Dennis wanted to help so Lee showed him how to come about and handle the jib. He did just fine!

There were many, many other boats out. I guess people knew this might be one of the last weekend days for sailing and nobody wanted to miss it. The kids were all out in their little boats outside Marblehead racing, motorboats and sailboats zigged and zagged here and there in Salem Sound.

We had enough wind to make things fun but not too scary. After my usual initial bout of nervousness I kind of forgot about things, unless Lee went below. I was having too much fun visiting with my friends and pointing out various sights to worry too much about what the boat was doing.

All of a sudden, it seemed, a patch of fog came rolling across the sound. Suddenly we could only see about 100 yards in front of us, and there were lots and lots of other boats out there who couldn’t see anything either. We decided that the smart thing to do was take down the sails and motor back in.

About the time we got to the mooring field the fog blew past and we could see again. Good timing! Our plan was to go to the marina deck and have a picnic. We figured that it would be a little tight trying to feed 8 people on the boat. But on this crowded festive Saturday we learned that the deck had been reserved by another group. No problem, I said, let’s go to The Willows, a nice park just down the road from the marina.

But when we got to the Willows it was packed. There were cars and people everywhere, and not a table or a grill to be had. I guess all the landlubbers were enjoying the end of summer too! The picnic had to migrate back to the Nill’s abode on Arlington Pond. That turned out to be a fine solution, and a pleasant end to a very nice day!

We learned a few things from this adventure. First of all, 8 people on the boat for a day sail is no problem at all. We could probably do 9 and maybe even 10 people, but that would be the absolute limit. Secondly, nice boating days in September are going to be crowded in Salem Harbor. If you want to use the deck at the marina you’d better reserve it well in advance! And thirdly, if there are enough things to distract me I’m not that nervous of a sailor at all. Maybe.

PS. Most of the photos in the post are by Diane Levesque, our wonderful Westie breeder and a great photographer. I was too busy having fun!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Lee, I Think We Hit Something....

My brother and sister in laws, Mark and Mary, came to visit us at the beginning of September. We hadn't seen them since last Thanksgiving. We used to be neighbors and I miss them a lot. It was fun to hang out together.

We wanted to take them sailing. At first we thought we'd take them to Scituate or Boston, but the Marine forecast on Friday called for gusty winds and 3-5 foot seas on Massachusetts Bay, so we decided that wasn't such a good idea. Instead we would spend the night on the boat on Wednesday in Salem Harbor, go to Marblehead on Thursday and then hightail it home on Friday. They had never been to Salem MA or Marblehead so this sounded fine to them.

On Wednesday it was hot for New England, high 80's, maybe even low nineties. It wasn't very pleasant bobbing around on a mooring in the heat so we went for a short sail instead. It was nice being out on the water. We put up the sails, went out to the islands and picked up a breeze here and there. It's been awhile since we just went sailing, instead of cruising with a destination. It was fun.

That evening we went to 62 Wine Bar in Salem for dinner and then slept comfortably on the boat. The next morning I went for a run in Salem and then we took off. Marblehead is close and we couldn't pick up our mooring there until 3, so we weren't in any hurry. We decided we would go out to Great Misery Island, pick up a mooring and have lunch, then sail around the islands out into the Bay a little and then head to Marblehead. It sounded like a good plan!

There wasn't much wind so we kept the motor on; the sea looked like glass and it was very calm. We were almost to Great Misery when we heard a loud CLUNK and a scrappy sound. The engine stopped, and so did we. "Lee I think we hit something" Mark said. We looked over the back of the boat. About 10 feet down we could see some rather large long yellow thing drifting behind the boat. "It's wrapped around the prop," Lee said grimly. This could be very bad.

Lee looked at me sternly. "Panicking is not going to help." Okay I thought, no panicking, I can do that. I wasn't sure what else I could do though. Fortunately Lee quickly took charge. 

"First we need to drop an anchor" he said and proceeded to do just that, not bothering to mention that we had never had the anchor out on this boat. Fortunately it came out of its container on the prow of the boat without incident and held without any trouble.

"Now I need to go look and see how bad it is" he said. He doesn't like getting in the ocean up here. The water is cold. Fortunately it was very calm, it was pretty hot out, and the water was as warm as it ever gets here, almost 70F.

We used the dinghy as a diving platform. Mark got in the dinghy to keep it steady and over the side went Lee. Shortly afterwards up he came. "It's really wrapped around tight, " he said. "Get me a knife". Gingerly Mary and I handed Lee a knife and under the surface he went again.

The next time he came up he said he was starting to free the prop, but there was a lot more work to do. He could only stay under for 10-15 seconds before he had to stop and come up for air. Mark wanted to spell him, but Lee was determined.

Finally the prop was free. Lee was tired and there were large black splotches on top of his head, from bumping it against the bottom of the boat. After he had rinsed away the salt water and dried off it was time to see if the engine would start. It's not good to stall an engine by the transmission being yanked out of gear by a rope!

But the engine started right back up. We couldn't be sure that there wasn't ANY damage to the boat but we seemed to be functional. We pulled up the anchor and headed the rest of the way to the day moorings at Great Misery.

Here we were in for another surprise. These moorings don't have any lines attached! But there were a couple of other boats moored there; how did they do it? They must have used their own lines. But how did they get their lines attached to the moorings? On a motor boat they could just reach over the side and grab the mooring, but we are much higher above the water than a motor boat.

I tried hooking the mooring with the boat hook. It was a good idea, but it took more coordination than I possess. Finally Mark was able to hook it and then Lee looped the line though the ring on the mooring ball and we were set.

We had a nice lunch relaxing next to the island. If it had been cooler we might have taken the dinghy and gone ashore. The island is supposed to be nice for hiking but it was too hot and everyone didn't have a bathing suit so swimming was out as well. Eventually we decided to head to Marblehead.

We were motor boat sailing along and all of a sudden Lee noticed that we were only making 2.5 knots with the sails up and the motor going. That's not right! Maybe there WAS something wrong with the boat! Lee had us lower the sails, and he revved the engine up to 2200 rpms. After a minute or two we started going faster again. We decided that the boat was okay after all. We must have gotten caught in a current between the islands. Weird!

Once in Marblehead we went ashore and walked around a bit with the dogs and then went to dinner at Maddie's Sailloft again. Lee and I both wanted one of their strong cocktails again! I was impressed that Mark could drink two of their gin and tonics. Those things are powerful!

Back to the boat, and before too long everyone was asleep. But not for long. Around 2 am, right on time, the front blew in. It rained steadily for about 20 minutes and stopped. And then the wind started. Sailboats in the wind are not a quiet place to try to sleep, and Marblehead is not a well protected harbor. Things banged and clanged. The boat rocked and rolled. The wind whistled and sang. The water slapped against the hull. I don't think anyone slept much that night after 3 am.

Around 6 I gave up. I made myself a cup of coffee and looked at the rolling seas outside the boat. The water was dashing up against the dinghy dock. I needed to run but I sure didn't like the idea of riding ashore in a dinghy! But Lee said it was fine and in fact he said it was "not that bad". I didn't want to find out was bad looked like but if my captain said it was okay I was game.

And it was! I wore my windbreaker so I didn't mind too much getting wet in the dinghy. With Mark's help we lashed the dinghy sideways to the dock and clambered out. Not so bad after all!

Once a I had done my run, taken my shower, and braved the journey back to the boat, it was time to make our way back to Salem. There was a small craft warning out and it was very choppy and windy, but in Salem Sound there were not any significant swells. There were waves breaking over the bow of the boat, but we had all the portholes and hatches shut tight and of course the sails weren't up! There were a few other boats out, mostly fishing boats, but a few sailboats too. One large sailboat headed out into Mass Bay. They were braver than we were! We assumed they were also more experienced than we and knew what they were doing. I hope so anyway. They didn't have their sails up. And there was another sailboat in Salem Sound out by the islands with their sails up! We watched them with a bit of anxiety. At first they had their jib up as well as a reefed main, but after a bit they took their jib in and just sailed with their mainsail. Frankly we thought they were foolish, but maybe they were experts, who knows. Better safe than sorry, especially in a sailboat on a windy day!

We made it back to our mooring in Salem Harbor without further mishap. In spite of the prop incident and the crazy weather we had fun. Mark and Mary are good sailing partners. I hope it's not too long before they come out on a boat with us again!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Hanging Out on Moose Alley

Last year Lee read an article in the NYT about going to Northern NH and looking for moose. Ever since he read that article he's been pining away to do that very thing. The only way things like that happen is if we schedule them, so that's just what we have done, and now, here we are!

The very northern tip of New Hampshire consists of a few small towns, and a lot of empty woods. Empty of people that is, the woods up here seem to be teeming with wildlife. Several of the towns get together every year and have a Moose Festival. It's basically a street fair that moves from one town to the next over the weekend but it's also a good time to try to find a moose.

On Friday we drop the dogs off at Diane's and head north. We stopped for lunch at the Little Red Schoolhouse in Campton, New Hampshire. We enjoy fish sandwiches and french fries and a nice view of mountains and a babbling brook.

By 2 pm we are in Colebrook, the location of the Moose Festivities for this date. We walked up and down the street, looking at various handicrafts, talking to people about seeing moose. We get a map of likely moose-viewing locations, and varying recommendations on moose sign and the best time of day to find them. Early morning and late at night are popular, but how early and how late are debatable.

Then it's on the Pittsburg, NH and The Cabins at Lopstick Pines where we will be staying for the next two nights. Our cabin overlooks a lake. It has a porch and a fire pit so we are set.

By now it's close to 6 pm and time to look for Moose on Moose Alley, the moniker given to the portion of Hwy 3 that runs from our cabin north to the Canadian border. We drive slowly for about three miles and BOOM! There he is our first moose. I madly snap pictures and get a few good ones. No other moose tonight but we're happy.

I failed to make dinner reservations for tonight, thinking they would not be necessary in the north country but it turns out I was mistaken. All the good restaurants are fully booked so we end up buying a bagged Caesar salad and Stouffer's lasagna for our dinner. After dinner we try to light a fire in the pit but the wood doesn't want to catch. There is a nice full moon though, glimmering over the lake.

We wake up early to go on another moose hunting expedition Saturday morning. No more moose, but we do see a bear bounding across the road. He's pretty far away though and by the time we drive up to the place where he entered the woods he is long gone. I still think it's pretty cool even if I didn't get a picture to prove it.

Back to the cabin for some breakfast and then off we go for a hike on the Moose Alley trail. 4 miles through woods, moss, ferns and mushrooms. Its very quiet and peaceful with no wildlife to speak of, just birds. We meet a guy that maintains the trail and except for some other people we meet at the very end of the hike that's the only other people we see.

Then we drive to Garfield Falls for a picnic lunch. its a beautiful falls but it seems crowded after the peace and quiet on the trail. Some people have three golden retrievers and one is reactive, barking at other hikers. At one point and exclaim crossly when the dog barks at me (yes I'm hungry I know!) and the woman says "they're dogs they bark!" I'm furious but don't say anything, knowing I won't say anything polite but Lee defends me. "Actually we have three dogs, and they WONT bark on a hiking trail, because they are trained!" I love that man!

We eat our lunch on a rock by the falls and then go back to the cabin for a stretching a shower and some ice cream. We end up being totally lazy the rest of the afternoon. We try dinner at Murphy’s Steakhouse, which is one of the restaurants we were unable to book on Friday. Although the Inn where it is located gets mixed reviews the steakhouse itself is a nice restaurant with a homey flair.

Sunday morning its time to get up early and go for a run. Once again I’m running on the main road, toward the town center of Pittsburgh and back. I’m doing 800 meter repeats and its pretty hilly so my times are all over the place. I feel like I’ve gotten a good workout!

We pack up and get ready to head home. I have to go to the front desk and get us checked out. Since its Sunday there’s a bit of a line in front of me. The people at the desk are telling quite a story. “There was a fly in our cabin, and my husband was trying to kill it, and he did! But he broke this thing….” She proceeds to show the nonplused manager at the desk a picture on her phone. “We want to pay to have it repaired or replaced, of course.” The manager looks at the handyman, who just happens to be in the office. The handyman has an amused expression on his face, but doesn’t say a word. The lady trying to check out keeps babbling on: “I just can’t stand flies and my husband was just trying to help.” The husband doesn’t say anything either. The handyman, looking like he’s trying very hard not to burst into laughter says “don’t have any idea what that costs….”. The lady continues “well you have our name, and phone number, and hey! You have my credit card! You can just charge the repair to me.” Finally the manager says “we’ll let you know” and the lady and her silent husband go on their way. Everyone in line by then is trying not to laugh.

After checking out we have breakfast at The Happy Corner Cafe. I have their famous pancakes and Lee has an omelet. Its all very delicious, and filling. No need to stop for lunch on our way home.

We enjoyed the northern tip of New Hampshire. I’d go back there, but not necessarily for the Moose Festival. I bet the moose are out even when they aren’t being celebrated.

Since I’ve told several people about this adventure they’ve said “oh we used to see moose right in our backyard”! This includes locations in Candia, right outside of Manchester, and even on our very own street, before the nearby subdivisions were built!

I doubt that there are any moose still living around Arlington Pond. If I saw one on one of my early morning runs I think I would give him a wide berth. They are gentle creatures, most of the time, but they sure are big!


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