The Motor Vessel "Once Around"

The Motor Vessel "Once Around"
The Motor Vessel "Once Around" in the Florida Keys

Monday, June 27, 2011

Time Out for Women's World Cup

We arrived back in Brewerton, NY this evening after a week on the west coast.  Although we are anxious to get back on the loop, we have to take a time out tomorrow.  For you see, the US Women's National Soccer Team begins competition in Germany Tuesday.  Those of you who have known us know that in a previous life we donated an awful lot of time to women's soccer with our daughter Carla and her team.  Well, after a great college soccer experience, CJ is now teaching school and most of her other teammates have moved into career mode after playing for universities around the country.  But two of "our girls" made it to the big show.  Stephanie Cox (formerly Lopez) and Megan Rapinoe, two of Carla's teammates for some five years, are in Germany representing the United States in soccer's biggest showcase, the Women's World Cup.

Now when I say, "our girls", I really mean it.  This team became very close and Carrie became "Mamma Carrie" and I "Papa Frank" to them through those wonderful late teen years all parents are glad to be over.  Carrie and I travelled with them around the country, often with only one or two other parents, our coach, and 15-18 (usually) awesome girls.  They were all excellent players.  But Stephanie and Megan were something magic to watch, even then.  Stephanie anchored the defense and Megan scored goals.  That simple.  They still do that today, although on the world stage.  They are amazing athletes and are also two of the nicest young ladies, from the most down to earth families you will ever meet. 

So, tomorrow, Tuesday, 11:45 AM Eastern Time, Mamma Carrie and Papa Frank will be in a sports bar in upstate New York cheering on our girls.  If we were not on the loop, we would be with them and their families in Germany, and it is killing us to be so far from the action. 

Give 'em hell ladies...

Megan Rapinoe-outside midfielder

Stephanie Cox-defender

left to right:  Rachael Rapinoe (Megan's twin), our daughter Carla, Megan Rapinoe and Stephanie Lopez (now Cox) on my son Leo's quad.  Soccer coaches all over the country would have been shaking if they had seen the way these four (all together of course) were riding this on our property in the mud.   

Rachael, Carla, Megan and Stephanie.  Sisters for life.

We love you guys!

We're Back in NY...with a New Gadget!

My able First Mate, Vanna, here displays the very latest in Looper gadgetry.  I learned about it a short time ago from Danny on Potest Fieri.  It is a little gizmo called "SPOT", which for a minor subscription charge allows me to report our position whenever I feel like turning it on and pressing the "OK" button.  There is a new link on the Once Around blog labelled "Find Us".  If you click on Find Us, you will go to a Google map showing our precise location.  You can toggle between Map and Satellite and actually get a photo of the dock or anchorage we were at when we pressed SPOT.  Pretty darn neat, huh?  Hope you like it.  More to follow.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Road Trip!-Niagara Falls

My family knows that I am not much one for "road trips".  But, my first mate grew up in a family that thought a 300 mile journey was just a little jaunt.  After seven weeks on the boat my defenses were down and I agreed to take a rental car to Niagara Falls, some 150 miles away.  Actually, I could sense the Admiral persona lurking just below the surface of my first mate, so I doubt I really had much choice in the matter.

Anyway, I am glad we did it.  The falls were awesome and well worth the drive.


The Canada side.

Proof kids, I really was there!

We took back roads home (wow, Once Around has really become home), first along the south shore of Lake Ontario and then down into the middle of the "Finger Lakes" region of NY, which is one of the state's premier wine growing areas.  Both were beautiful.  In fact, it was hard to believe we were in the same state as New York City!  It was really green countryside and farms.  We even passed a couple of Amish communities, which gives you an idea of the remoteness of the area.  We ate at a nice little stop on Lake Cayuga, and toyed with the idea of staying there and doing some wine tasting on Sunday.  However, we finally decided we wanted to return to the boat and just vege on Father's Day.  Sorry, we didn't get any photos of upstate NY, you'll have to take my word for it's beauty.  However, the camera got a mind of its own and took the following shot, which I am sure I will catch hell for sharing.

Maybe explains why I didn't get any photos of anything outside the vehicle!  My bad!

This little beauty cruised by Brewerton while I was posting this.  Thought you would like it.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day

Even after 20 years, I really miss my dad.  This Father's Day, being 3,000 miles from my kids and grandkids as well, I decided to focus my thoughts not on those two things, but on two dads I admire very much.

The first is Carrie's dad, Dick.  I am so thankful to him for what he gave his three girls.  They are independent yet family is important to them.  They love the outdoors and adventure.  And they have his great sense of humor. 

Here he is showing off his giant catch off on our boat at Catalina Island, CA last September
Since I have known him, Dick has been dean or president of several colleges, has moved around the country just because he wanted to have the experience, and has spent a couple of different years in Africa working at or with universities there.  We always referred to them as, "Carrie's gypsy parents".  He and Myrna did their first Africa stint when they were about my age, and being in my late 30's at the time, I could not understand their wanderlust.  Boy, do I get it now.  Dad has been a huge advocate of Carrie's and my dream to do the loop since he first learned of it.  He would have joined us for a segment by now, except his home sold and he is moving at the moment.  But, he will be joining us somewhere soon, I hope.  Happy Father's Day, Dad.

Another father I admire a lot is my son-in-law, Darrin.  I have watched him with my two grandkids now for almost seven years and couldn't hope for a better dad for them.  He is a hard worker and always working around their acreage with the kids in tow, "helping" in some small way.  They are not only getting to know their dad, but learning to work as well.   He also spends a lot of time with them playing, too.  They do a lot of motor-homing to both seashore and mountains.  Darrin loves the outdoors and at first chance has a fishing rod in his hands.  My grandson caught about 53 mackerel off our swim step last year and announced he no longer wanted to be a fireman, now he is going to be a fisherman.  My granddaughter is learning to love the outdoors also.  She loves to dress in pink dresses, but is a tomboy at heart so usually covered with dirt just as much as her brother!  Here are two of my favorite photos of my grandkids and their great dad.  Happy Father's Day, Son.

Do you think it is a coincidence that my favorite pictures of them involve boats?  Remember, Boating is Fun!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Starting the Erie Canal

*Blogger’s note:  What some of the marinas bill as “Wifi” must be connected by two cans and a string to reach the internet.  Without good internet speed, downloading pictures is painfully slow, often impossible.  That is the reason I have not been able to fill you in on our progress these last several days.  Only pictures can tell the story of the Erie Canal. 
We left Rondout Creek (Kingston) on the 12th of June and headed up the Hudson past several small towns and then through Albany, the NY State capital.  As the Hudson narrowed we were excited to know that Troy and Waterford, NY were getting closer.
A typical small town along the Hudson

We passed our friends in Tropical Breeze somewhere around Catskill
We also passed Albany, New York's Capital
We cruised on past Troy through the first lock of the Erie Canal and into Waterford.  This is where the eastern part of the Erie Canal really begins.  There are not too many “road signs” on the waterway, but this intersection is one to remember. 

Some loopers are headed up to Montreal via the Lake Champlain route, however we have chosen the Erie and the Oswego canal route up to Lake Ontario where we will make some decisions about what is next for us.  The Lake Champlain route has been closed due to high water causing a backup of boaters in Waterford, but it recently re-opened, so we found a spot on the Waterford City Dock wall with no problem. That is me waving from the cockpit and if you look forward you will see the lock entrance gate beyond the bridge.

We were up early the next morning and began through what would be the first of nine locks for us that day.  It was a fairly nice day, and our early start gave us little traffic.  We were the sole boat in all but two locks.  We shared one with a sailboat and one with Veronica, whose crew we met at our next stop in Amsterdam.  They are a couple from Berkeley, CA ,and we enjoyed our visit with some fellow Californians.


The locks differ quite a bit from one to the next.  Some, like the one above, have an easy entrance, others have current swirling around and combined with the wind can move your boat places you don't want to go.  They also differ in the height they raise or lower you, from as little as eight feet to I think forty feet in one or two cases.  Here are some photos of what it looks like inside and once you get to the top:
Looking backward towards the now closed lock doors behind us.  Kind of eerie (no pun intended).

Looking forward towards the doors that will eventually open and let us out!

In the photo above, my first mate has to wrap a line around the pole and hold it tight as the water swirls in and lifts us up.  My "pole dancer" comment got me "the Mom look"!
Once those gates with the yellow fence on top open, then out we go!
Only to enter another lock somewhere down the road, maybe a mile, maybe ten.
And do the whole thing all over again.  This lock has lines down the side where we both hold the boat in place.  Tricky sometimes, and a great shoulder workout after several locks a day.
These intimidating looking devils are called guard gates.  Carrie kept speculating on what would happen if...
Off early again the following day we managed another six or seven locks (mostly in the rain) before stopping for the night at Little Falls Harbor, NY.  We were happy to see several loopers we knew, including Free to B and Lady Jane.  We had snacks and drinks aboard Free to B and a quiet meal alone on Once Around. 
The following morning we found about a gazillion of what looked at first like giant mosquitos covering our boat.  We spent about an hour spraying them off every inch of our decks, helm and fly bridge.   According to an anonymous expert on the dock, we had had misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Apparently they were May flies, which come only one or two days a year in this part of the country.  Great…

Ugly little buggers these Mayflies
We were then off again continuing through the East Erie.  We were following the advice of Skipper Bob (for you non-loopers, it is a detailed publication about marinas, anchorages, etc., along the loop) and planning on tying up for the night on the lock wall on the east side of lock 21, which was the highest point on the canal.  However, the lockmaster there pointed out that the wall was pretty badly beaten up, and combined with the stiff breeze he suggested we continue on and tie up on the west wall of lock 22.  We took his advice and locked down through the last locks prior to Lake Oneida.  As we were entering lock 22 we noticed someone a mile or so behind us so we told the lockmaster we were in no rush, he could wait and hold the lock open for them.  Glad we did, as it turned out to be Barb and Doug on Tropical Breeze.  We both tied up for the night and they invited us over for drinks and munchies.  Carrie quipped that if having drinks on the docks are "docktails", then here we must be having "locktails".
Turns out Doug is Italian and we enjoyed some of the best sausage, cheese, artichoke hearts and olives we had had in two months…not to mention the red wine.  When Doug gets a little wound up in conversation he jumps up, waves his arms around and talks with his hands in true Italian fashion.  I felt right at home, but explained I was only half-Italian, so I only got up and waved my hands and arms half as often.
That night, inspired, I made my famous bacon pasta for my bride, and after a little more vino, we slept like babies.  I promised the Admiral she could sleep in the next day, so up early, I watched Tropical Breeze depart and Free to B pass by after locking through, before she crawled out of the stateroom with her “thank-you-good-morning-smile”.
Above is Tropical Breeze nose to nose with us on the lock wall.
Carrie had taken about a bazillion photos of the Geese which strolled along the grass behind the lock wall. 

She thought they were beautiful…right up until we found that they had boarded us during the night and left tracks of goose mung everywhere.  Rule #3 of boating:  Never trust a goose, especially on a boat!

The scenery along the canal was spectacular.
Here a group of schoolkids waved to us with enthusiasm.
Leaving the canal for a while, we had a great cruise across Lake Oneida to Brewerton.  The lake is about as long from end to end as Lake Tahoe, but narrower.  The 22 mile trip in the sunshine was enjoyable, and we took this shot of Free to B as we passed them just prior to entering the channel into Brewerton.

Free to B on Lake Oneida
So, we find ourselves at Winter Harbor Marina in Brewerton, NY.  This will be our home for a few days as we wash off goose mung, get the engine oil changed, do a few other honey-do’s and a bit of sightseeing by car.  It is Friday, and we have flights home on Tuesday to see our kids and grandkids for the first time in two months and then all go to Carrie’s niece's (Jackie’s) wedding in Oregon.  We plan to be back here Tuesday the 28th and continue our loop through the Oswego Canal into Lake Ontario and onward...
In case you were wondering, Winter Harbor has great Wifi, so I must apologize for the length of this post.

You Give Good Headphone!

More than a dozen years ago, Vic, a good friend of mine who I knew had only just recently began boating, told me he knew the two most important rules for a boater to remember.  He knew them because he had learned them the hard way.

1)    Never, Never, NEVER yell at your first mate!
2)    Always maneuver your boat very slowly.  You can afford to repair anything you hit slowly; it is when you start freaking out and hitting throttles in these situations you do real damage.
Regarding rule No. 1, Vic explained that after several outings on his new boat, his first mate kept finding excuses not to go with him.  More than a year later (during which she steadfastly refused to boat with him) she finally confessed it was because he always yelled at her.  Unusually for me, I took Vic’s sage advice.  Like Vic, I usually insist on learning things the hard way.  Anyway, most times I was tempted to yell (or occasionally did), it was because I had screwed up and I was venting on her.
Nevertheless, it is essential to communicate from the bridge to the deckhand and visa versa.  With all the noise of the engines and elements, you simply have to holler to be heard.  And, I don’t care how careful you try to be when you yell, it always, always, sounds like you are yelling at each other in at least a twinge of anger.   Guys, if you don't believe me, you try yelling "nicely" at your wife and see how far you get.
One solution for some boaters is the use of two way radios with headphones (so you are hands free to drive or handle lines).  These have become popular, even essential with some folks.  We learned about this long ago, but it was not until we were planning for this trip  through all these locks that we purchased a set.  Even then, we felt a little goofy the first time we tried them on, so our $300 purchase sat unused in the case under the seat.  A few days ago, after we had gone through 17 locks of the Erie (more about that later), Ginny from Free to B told us we were crazy for not using them.  They use them religiously when locking and even during docking.  She called them “marriage savers”.

My first mate models the latest in fashionable looper gizmos
So, in lock number 18, here we were with our headsets on and radios in use for the first time.  My first mate is on the bow and I am at the helm on the fly bridge.  I say something clever like, “Testing, testing, testing, can you hear me clearly?”  She responds (as I am trying to maneuver through very turbulent waters entering the lock), “Ooooh!  You give good headphone!”  I started to crack up laughing and almost ran into the lock gate!  As we entered the more calm water of the lock, she mutters almost under her breath, “Gee, I just thought of something else.  I talk to myself a lot when I am out here alone, and now you’ll know everything I’m thinking.”  That turned out to be true, and a very scary place for me to be indeed.  The character Dory in Disney's Finding Nemo comes to mind!  But, the girl does make me laugh!

Smiling in the Rain

Funny things trigger our memories.  Anyone who has ever lost a loved one knows that sometimes your brain flashes back without warning.  My dad has been gone for twenty years now, and I am still shocked how often a phrase, a place, or even a smell will make me think of him. 
A few days ago on a quiet stretch of our cruise, as I bit into a red plum and tasted the tartness of the skin and the sweetness of the fruit, I couldn’t help thinking of my Grandfather, Paul.  Grandpa spent the last several years of his life living in Newcastle on his niece’s orchard.   Whenever he visited us in Sacramento, which was often, he always brought big wooden lugs of fruit; sometimes pears, sometimes apricots, but always plums.  We ate plums till they were coming out our ears (and elsewhere!).  Mom, making every cent stretch in those days, also made plum jelly, plum jam and even canned whole plums.  Plums were a staple in our house year round.  So, here, gliding through the Erie Canal all these years later, that simple taste of a ripe plum brought back all these good memories.
The next day we went through a bunch of locks of the Erie in the rain.  Not a driving rain, but a pretty constant one.  I have to admit, my job under the cover of the fly bridge canvas is a lot drier than my first mate’s out on the bow.  Even after I come down to hold the stern I have a little cover from the fly bridge overhang.  Carrie is for the most part out in the rain, with a smile on her face.  I sometimes just watch her and smile myself at her good, sweet spirit.
So, I was really taken back when she rejoined me on the fly bridge after a rainy pass through a lock with a sad face and tears running down her cheeks.  I am no brilliant marriage counselor, but I have learned at times like this to shut up and hug.  Sure enough, a few moments later she was smiling again.  She explained that for some reason, while she was standing out there in her rain gear enjoying herself, she remembered a story that George, a friend of the family's, had told at her mom’s funeral.
It seems they all used to jeep together, and sometimes they would get caught in heavy Sierra thunderstorms.  Whenever the jeeps would reach a closed gate, Myrna was always the first to jump out from under cover open the gates and close them after the last jeep passed.  All the while, she had a big smile on her face, out there standing in the rain. 
So, this day, just for a moment, Carrie’s mom was with her on the bow of our boat, smiling in the rain.  Pretty cool, huh?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Hiding Away on the Hudson

Friday we left Croton-on-Hudson and headed for the town of Kingston, NY further up the Hudson River.  It was a very nice day and we seemed to have the river mostly to ourselves for the 50 mile trip.

Someone built this as an exact replica of some European Castle (how's that for vague?)  The state of New York took it over in the late 60's, it had a fire two years later and has been vacant ever since.  Nice going New York.

The US Army Military Academy at West Point

Apparently an upcoming opponent?

I said "almost to ourselves", you still had to keep an eye out for the big guys.

We always seem to focus on the construction jobs...and, I'm not sure you can see him waving, but the guy on the far left of this painting crew was focusing on (and waving to) the pretty lady in Once Around far below.

Yet another remote lighthouse. 

I had been told that the Hudson was nice, but I did not expect it to be so beautiful.  The granite walls in places surprised us and reminded us of the Sierras, although in smaller doses.  The Hudson River was dotted by beautiful homes and buildings.  Carrie must have taken a hundred pictures, but we narrowed it down to these to share so that you could get a feel for the place.

The Rondout Creek enters the Hudson about a mile from Kingston.  You turn in here just before this lighthouse.

A short cruise through town and we came to the Rondout Yacht Basin where a nice lady named Ruth met us on the dock, helped us fuel and then move the boat to tie up for the night.  She spent a lot of time with us telling us about Kingston and answering questions we had as to some of the homes and buildings we had seen on the way up the Hudson.  We had passed, among other things, Franklin D. Roosevelt's home, the Vanderbuilt mansion and the Culinary Institute of America.  I am sure they are among the pictures above...maybe.  Anyway, the marina has a little restaurant attached (the Oasis Cafe) which advertises, "Cuban and Puerto Rican food, and the best rib-eye steaks around". 

Here is part of the marina.  The red roofed hut is the "Oasis Cafe".

It sounded interesting, but there were several great places to chose from in town which gave us an excuse to launch the dinghy and tie up across the river.  We had a great steak at  Ship to Shore and free desert and coffee compliments of the marina gift card Ruth gave us.

It was nearing dusk when we got back to the dighy, but we rode right past our marina and explored a couple of miles of the creek.  It was winding and deep, and we were surprised to find everything from more small marinas to old vacant factories along the shore.  When we thought we had just about reached the end we saw a trawler anchored in the river in the middle of nowhere.  As we circled it we recognized My Dream, the boat we had followed through the Dismal Swamp five weeks ago!  We had not seen Ted and Sue since, and they were as surprised as we were that we found them in this out of the way spot.  They invited us on board for a glass of wine and we traded stories of our escapades these past several weeks.

It was nearly 10 PM when we headed back in the dinghy and very dark.  The only light came from our running lights, which had the downside of attracting every bug in this part of New York state into our dinghy with us.  We arrived back to Once Around a little eaten up and faded fast for the night.

I awoke to a "brriinnggg" at 5:20 AM.  I recognized it as the sound an iPhone makes when someone makes a play in WORD, the scrabble game.  I later learned it was my sister-in-law, Katie, who I did not know was such a night owl (2:30 AM  her time).  That's OK, what goes around comes around on Once Around, as our Canadian friends put it!

So, this morning came early for me, but Mrs. Howell slept till 7:30, so we didn't get too early of a start, and things went downhill from there.  We were scheduled to go to Waterford today which would have taken us through our first lock on the NY Canal System, and it was raining.  We had several chores to do to prepare for the lock, and before we knew it 11 o'clock had rolled around.  I started calculating when we would get into Waterford and quickly decided we were staying put for another day.

My buddy Tom in Florida told me, "You gotta have really big balls to go through all those locks".  I sure hope this is what he meant...

When the taxi we called was 45 minutes overdue, Mark, the cook at the marina, offered to loan us his car.  We gladly accepted and used the opportunity to hit the auto parts store (wiper blades) hardware store, pharmacy, grocery store, the Hudson River Maritime museum and Rosarita's for a Mexican food lunch, all in about 2 hours.  Mark was reportedly a little worried about us until Ruth reminded him he could always take our boat if we did not return his car.  He thought that was a pretty good trade, but we got back before he took posession.

Since I know you never tire of looking at her either, here is Once Around in Kingston, NY.

So, with all our chores double-done, tonight we are going to relax, try one of those Cuban/Puerto Rican rib-eyes, and hit the sack early.  Katie, go ahead and play WORD as late as you want, Carrie's phone will be off tonight!