Sunday, October 25, 2009

Baltimore Bon Voyage - October 2009

 This is a nostalgic time for both of us, as "Baltimore," a huge chapter or era in our lives morphs into something greater and unknown. It is hard to stomach waves of mixed emotion that grow with the awareness that we're all on the verge of major changes: our parents are approaching retirement, relationships are deepening and changing, some of us are advancing in and embarking on new careers while others are traveling, pursuing more education or thinking about relocating altogether.

Nothing stays the same and we can either fight it or change with it, often finding sheer amazement and even greater happiness that comes when we let go. Baltimore has been beyond good to us, but the time has finally come for us to venture on. Lord knows we've tried to leave before, but I wouldn't have named our boat Synchronicity if I didn't believe everything happens for a reason.

We feel so blessed and fortunate to have such a wonderful support group, our network of family and friends that have backed us all the way, have taught us so many important lessons in patience, hope and faith. You are the pillars of our life and bring us so much joy. Thank you for always being there and for being so damn cool!

The cruise on the Fearless may have been rained out, but no one could keep this rowdy bunch of pirates down, as we took over the Cat's Eye Pub by storm. We partied on throughout the night and Sunday, with brunch at Little Havana. I never laughed so hard, our cried so hard as I proceeded to bawl my eyes out throughout the week of goodbyes, which are really just "so long for nows.."

We didn't actually shove off until a few days after planned departure. I am thankful I got to spend one more time with... my only and favorite sis, Tristan; Raj; Claire Bear, my first and best friend in Baltimore for over 10 years, Angela, and John. John saw us off in true mariner style - sounding the air horn as he cast us off the dock right off Thames Street. Stephen responded with a few blasts of our own horn and of course I bawled my eyes out again as I watched a post card perfect Thames Street and then Baltimore City fade from view.

Martha's Vineyard

Every part of Martha’s Vineyard was quaint and had a great local pub scene. Everyone was super friendly and helpful. In Oak Bluffs, we saw hundreds of pastel-colored gingerbread houses that were built and occupied by the working class and probably go for a pretty penny today. People in this town seemed very hard-working, generous and helpful. It was easy to make friends here, especially over beers at happy hour.

Even the guy who owned this truck with threatening bumper stickers was friendly. He insisted we take a picture since he was proud to be a "Masshole," (see bumper sticker) and proud to show it off. It really screamed for attention in this really quiet gingerbread house neighborhood. It made me want to be a masshole too.

We rented a smart car since it was too cold to do the scooter. Apparently, a safer choice as well, since we saw some article posted by an activist just next to the rental about the significant loss of life due to scooter accidents on Martha’s Vineyard. The smart car was fun, and everywhere we went people were pointing, smiling and sometimes laughing. The thing could get around, but everytime it shifted into gear, I practically slammed into the dashboard. Stephen swore that there monkeys under the hood doing the shifting.

At the local brewery, we met a great couple, Bill and Lisa over a couple of beers and pizza. They were amazed that we were living on the boat and had so many questions. They introduced us to “Backdoor Donuts,” which sounded kind of kinky. There is a local donut shop that sells donuts out of the back door at night time when they come in to make the donuts and they are fresh out of the oven. It feels very underground operation, since people sneak up to the backdoor and whisper their orders through the screen. Apparently the neighbor complained about the noise and there are signs posted asking patrons to be quiet. We bought some apple fritters at Bill and Lisa’s suggestion, which were drenched in sugar and goodness.

We rode through little fishing villages and stopped anytime we felt like it, walking along empty beaches, checking out more bluffs on the West Coast of the island and basically going on an eating frenzy. Of course, we needed a layer of blubber for the cold nights ahead of us.

We ate more clam chowder at their snack huts and finally tried a crab roll, which is nothing more than crab salad on a hot dog bun. We stopped at a real farmer’s market along the side of the road that was a farmhouse selling produce inside and pumpkins and flowers outside. They had really yummy apple cider, and monkey bars made with “organic” chocolate, bananas and coconut.
The wind was really blowing when we got into Martha’s Vineyard, about 25 – 30 knots steady and we were worried about holding with just one anchor down. When the Harbor Master suggested that we throw out another, Stephen told him with confidence that our boat would hold. I was worried, but Synchronicity didn’t budge the whole time we were there.
Surfing the waves and chop in the dinghy was wild, like a water ride at Six Flags, we were practically laying on the floor of the dinghy to keep from flipping over. The water was so frigid up here, we would have had hypothermia no doubt. With the temperatures dropping, it felt good to have a hot shower on land for once where I wasn’t shampooing my hair vigorously to get the suds out before my body turned blue. I think this is the last time I showered until we made it back to Annapolis (baby wipes excluded).

We couldn’t leave here without having lobster, and picked out (2) 2lb lobsters at a fish market near our anchorage in Vineyard Haven. They steamed them for us and wrapped them in foil so they stayed hot until we made it back to the boat. We took the picture above as proof to our parents that we are not going hungry on this trip.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Block Island, RI Fall 2008

We sailed out of Port Jeff early in the morning, while it was still dark. I remember this as being a kind of eerie sail, again with complicated channels and gusty winds. Things calmed throughout the morning and it was a cool but pretty sail through the Plum Gut to Block Island. By the time we were approaching, we were starting the engine. The channel into the harbor was narrow and a boat ahead of us had run aground on its way through.

Several boats were at anchor in this very pretty harbor. I remember wondering if we were sailing in the same conditions, when a lady on the Jeanneu next to us came out on deck in the perfect J. Crew boating outfit - oxford, navy blue sweater and khaki shorts, to watch the sunset. I looked down at myself, in full foulie gear - bibs, boots and jacket with a chill that had set into my bones. Maybe everything on her boat was automatic and she could just stay down below until their boat arrived at its next destination.

The harbor we anchored in was so clear you could almost see straight through to the bottom. The phosphorescence from plankton sparkled like diamonds in the water at night, like millions of little glow worms beneath the surface. The light was responsive to the slightest ripple or object entering the water. Stephen was peeing off the back of the boat and said that he could practically write his name in the water, like waving sparklers through the air on the Fourth of July.

On a bike ride across the island, we found this entrance to a "private" drive spanning acres of farmland. Anyone with the last name "Bull" should know that any signage would be too tempting to tamper with, hence the addition of the "S." We were very satisfied to know this universal sense of humor exists in even the most proper of towns.

Block Island was one of my favorite places, as I never knew this kind of beauty existed on the East Coast. We were there shortly after tourist season, so it was pretty empty with approximately 1,000 residents and a handful of boaters and leftover tourists. We rented bikes and went all over the island, past farms, cape cods, lighthouses and huge bluffs jutting out over the ocean.

We climbed to lookout points, and followed paths down to the pristine beaches that had millions of smooth round stones all the colors of the rainbow with the most unique patterns. The water was frigid but clear everywhere so you could see starfish, seaweed, tiny crabs and other fish everywhere you walked along the beach. The waves were so loud and powerful as they crashed against huge boulders that were slick to walk on.
In town, we stopped at these snack shacks with outdoor seating along the waterfront. They were all over the place, each boasting that they had the best clam chowder or shrimp rolls in town. They weren’t kidding about the chowder; it was yummy and full of potatoes, cheese and bacon. You know the t-shirts with the abbreviations: OBX for Outer Banks, KW for Key West, etc. that could make you feel cool and maybe even part of an exclusive club if you can name it right away, or you almost crash into the guard rail trying to figure out where the hell they’ve been? Well, a group of people dressed in navy blue t-shirts with huge white letters, “BI” walked by us. “Were they proud to be on Block Island like us, or just proud of their sexuality?” we wondered.

Exploring the landscape of this town was the best part of the trip. The cafes were overpriced – one morning Stephen protested having to pay $6 for the tiniest sliver of quiche, to which the owner replied, “but it’s homemade.” When we arrived one morning at the farmer’s market everyone raved about to discover it didn’t sell a single fruit or vegetable, we both looked at each and said, “Loved it, time to go.”

Port Jefferson, Fall 2008

We sailed all day from Cold Spring Harbor to Port Jefferson and when we were getting in to port it was after dark. Very sketchy and scary trying to navigate into the harbor with the only lights being those from the street lamps on shore. This entry set the tone for the rest of our stay here, as this port was the least accomdating to sailors. We anchored just outside a mooring field in a little more than 10 feet of water.

The first photo features a sculpture in a park along the water that captures the town's shipbuilding history. Just beyond it, was the site where ships were hauled in on the old rails for repair. This and our search for a non-existent iceskating rink was pretty much the extent of our sightseeing, aside from observing the scenery at the local cafes and bars.

Expecting another tropical storm to blow up the coast, we talked about whether to inquire about the cost of a mooring ball amongst the countless empties we saw, and considered just picking one up and casually waiting to see if anyone noticed we didn't belong there. We decided to anchor instead and proceeded to get bullied by the dockmaster and other business owners for the next few days. I was easily threatened but my hubby can really hold his own, insisting that these waterways were not privately owned and we weren't budging until the coast guard confirmed otherwise. Funny thing, the coast guard was never called and the "harbor police" the dockmaster insisted would come out to fine us seemed to be figments of his imagination as there was never a police boat in sight.

We stayed anchored here for about 5 days, waiting out the icky fog and storm which left us with next to no power by the end of the week. There was a chill at night and we had to go without TV before bed for a little while. We made up for this by hanging out in town late night, window shopping on empty streets until we were exhausted or drinking beer until we were warmed and buzzed enough to just make it back to the boat and pass out.

We met some other cruisers who also decided to anchor outside the mooring field like we did to wait out the storm. A very nice couple with two dogs who tried to jump into our dinghy as we passed them on the water. They too, lamented about the unfriendliness towards sailboaters and Stephen and I cracked up like juveniles at the nice man's name, which was Dick Meter.

Cold Spring Harbor was pretty chill, with the minor inconvenience of having to get creative with finding places to tie up the dinghy that wasn't considered the fuel dock or a restricted fishing area. In Port Jeff, we were reminded that we were still in New York where the MO is downright territorial and everyone's an entrepeneur. Hey, fahghetabout it!

Our first trip ashore, we snuck in at night and tied the dinghy up to a commercial dock that was vacant until morning. We started scoping things out in this little town, finding all the good places to eat, shop and even karoake if we needed some cheap entertainment at the expense of the locals. When we came back in the daylight, we were tying up at this finger pier and a guy claiming to own the space said he'd let us park our dinghy all day for $5. How generous. Not too bad, I guess... considering the alternative, beaching it on shore.

We went into town come rain or shine, whether to hoof it a mile to do laundry and shopping or just to bum around, eating breakfast and playing gin. While a very casual place, this was still Long Island and many ladies came out with no jackets, dressed in leggings and heels regardless of the wind and rain. So when Stephen and I entered Billies in full foulie gear, we got a couple of snickers and someone asked us if we had been hunting all day. Billies was the bar where our good friends Brian and Eileen (now married) met for the first time, so it was our mission to make it here at least for a beer in their honor.

This town was actually pretty fun with an interesting mix yet contrast between the upper class with their huge motoryachts and yacht clubs/restaurants/piano bars and the working class that frequented places like "Billies" and "The Village" where I met two Bon Jovi look alikes (see above) who were singing "Living on a Prayer." For a second I thought I was in New Jersey. They were very friendly but made me feel quite old when they asked me what artists I would like them to sing and everything I named they had never heard of. But how could you know of Bon Jovi, who definitely peaked before they were born...and not know about Radiohead or the Red Hot Chili Peppers? "Who else do you know?" they asked. Grasping at straws, I was saying anything that came to mind to not feel ancient when I said the unthinkable..."Stone Temple Pilots?" What the "f!" Where in the hell did STP come from, when that band has never been in my play list? Now I was anything but cool. Stephen laughed at this entire conversation. "STP? Really?" he teased.

During our stay in Port Jefferson, Mom Toman picked us up for a day's visit in back home (Seaford) to visit with everyone and spare us the mile walk to the laundromat. We joined Greg, Michele and friends for dinner in Commack, who brought us back to Port Jeff for a night of pure fun and craziness.

This was to make up for a missed opportunity the night before, when after Greg and Michele had told Stephen over the phone they were going to turn in for the night, got a second wind and drove the whole way out to Port Jeff on a whim to meet us. Only, Stephen had turned off his phone for the night and didn't get their messages that they had changed their mind. Standing at the end of the dock, they could see our boat but couldn't get to us! They finally gave up on calling out to us.

We appreciated such dedication and were determined to show them a good time. After sipping down cosmos at the yacht club's piano bar, it was time to see how the other half lived. I was so excited for this opportunity to turn it up a notch and finally see what "The Village" and its karaoke scene was all about.

At "The Village," home of the Bon Jovi brothers, things quickly got out of hand when Greg accidentally dropped his first beer, and the bartender replaced it no sooner than he dropped it, but didn't seem too concerned about the pile of glass left on the floor. For fun, the boys decided to drop another beer, although this time on purpose to see what would happen and the bartender replaced yet another beer without question!
Now we were standing in an even bigger pile of glass. It didn't even phase us, as we had greater priorities, like singing and even dancing to karaoke....duos, trios, even accepting invitations to join the locals on the dance floor and on stage. Most of us were just shouting into the microphone, but others did a really good job, like Michele and her haunting solo of "Dust in the Wind." Stephen and I performed Bob Marley's "Dont Worry," our wedding song.

At the end of the night, Michele, Greg and Suzanne walked us back to the pier so we could drive our dinghy back home. It seemed like we still had some party left in us and it was sad to say goodbye, not knowing when we would see them again. As we pulled away in the dinghy, we broke the somber mood by singing "If You Like Pina Coladas" tunes at the top of our lungs.