Category Archives: Gary Articles

Bob’s Motor Clinic

Bob BrattonMy dad was a mechanic. He always smelled like grease. His fingernails were black, and the creases in his hands where either black from the grease, or white because they never saw sunlight. And he could fix everything… from his front engine, front drive German Goliath, to a rear engine rear drive VW, and all the Fords, Chevy’s and Studebakers you could put in between. He even went to trade school to learn refrigeration, and he could fix anything, and I mean anything. From a Japanese transistor radio to Aunt Mary’s Sewing machine.

His was a different age, and he lived his life to a different set of rules. Bob’s Motor Clinic was a small garage in a whisper of a town called Moses Lake. It always was full of stuff waiting for parts, or waiting for Dad to get around to them. More magic happened in that shop than the back lot of Disney. Dad couldn’t just fix it, he had to improve it in the process.  He did have a lot of money, but he had a ton of ingenuity, and creativity, and the skill to use both.

The day I turned 16, I got my drivers license with a motorcycle endorsement, got a job working for the local crop duster, got my student pilots license, and destroyed my dad’s almost new Volkswagon by rolling it down a sand dune, folding his pride and joy into a sheetmetal scrap ball.

He sat in a rocking chair for 24 hours not saying a word, and then… just went back to work. A month later a package arrived with some blue prints, and dad started to work on the “EMPI”. This was when the idea of a “dune buggy” had just started, and dad had bought plans to turn the mashed VW bug into one. It took months of late nights, but he built an “EMPI Sportster” out of the wreck… and THEN told me to pick the color to paint it. For a 16 year old, that was quite an honor, and I even got to watch as he sprayed the bright blue enamel.

Since I was in high school and only had a small motorcycle to get around on, dad offered to trade me vehicles so I could “ask girls out on a date.” I drove the EMPI all the way though high school… and most of those stories will be in another post. This one is about Bob’s Motor Clinic.

Dad was not a normal dad. He wasn’t much with a ball, and didn’t really get into the sports scene… he fixed stuff. He didn’t make very much money, because for him that wasn’t the real goal. For him all the really mattered was that he FIXED IT, and that it was better than original. If parts were no longer made for a something, Dad would make new parts out of stuff laying around. If there was no manual, he would sit up at night reading other manuals until he figured out a way to make it work. Seldom could people actually pay him for all the time he spent to do this, so he just accepted what they could afford. It was only important that he had found a way to make it better than original.

He took us fishing, but first we had to build a boat… and a pole. He taught us how to pitch a ball… sort of… but first we had to weld up a backstop. He taught me how to sail, in a kayak with a bed sheet sail on an electrical conduit mast and scrap aircraft aluminum lee boards.

My Dad died on my birthday at the age of 67. When you approached the casket at the funeral, you could still smell the transmission fluid and grease that no amount of embalming could remove from Dad’s pores. I flew from Florida to Seattle to speak a few words at the service, but almost couldn’t get them out. The little church in a whisper of a town, was packed with over 300 people who had come to pay their respects to the little mechanic from Bob’s Motor Clinic. To this day, I have no idea how one simple man could have made such an impact on the world around him.

DAD left a legacy that only in my own retirement do I finally begin to understand. He wasn’t trying to leave a legacy, he was just trying to do the best job he could at every task that came in front of him…. including raising two sons. His life “values” were helping people that needed help by fixing what they couldn’t. Doing only that, my DAD became the greatest man I have ever known. I strive every day to be as good as he was. Thanks Dad.

The most danger we have seen in the Caribbean

Yes, there are pirates here, and sharks, and even hurricanes… but those are NOT the most dangerous things a cruiser faces down here. The most dangerous is a “bus” ride into the “city”.

van tripTake today for an example. Who would have guessed that it would only take 5:45 hours to ride on 3 busses, visit a new town, buy groceries, eat lunch and travel 76.63 miles! Now thats makin’ time. We learned a few other little details too.

1: A small Toyota van can be fitted with enough seats to seat 16 passengers.van
2: There are not enough small Dominicans to fill a Toyota van without massive overlap.
3: Dominica is only 4000 ft high, but you must climb that height at least 6 times to cross the island once.
4: White people will turn much whiter when sitting in the front seat at 100kph facing a 400′ drop-off into the sea.
5: There are many, many 400′ drop-offs into the sea available in Dominica.
6: Massive passenger overlap is not better than a seatbelt, but seems to work when seatbelts are not available.
7: A Toyota van can actually get 100kph at 9000rpm, uphill, in second gear and NOT throw a valve for an amazing distance.
8: 14 bus passengers will only snicker when the two white ones are moaning, whining and grabbing the ceiling every time the anti-lock brakes chatter, or a rear wheel lifts off the pavement.hand van
9:You have no business driving around blind corners at these speeds here unless you are truly expert at using your horn.
10: All bus drivers are not equal. The really fast and crazy ones have names that start with the letters A-Z.


I Love The Smell Of Napalm In The Morning

Smell that? You smell that? Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill …
Unlike Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore in “Apocalypse Now,” we love the smell of burning Styrene and the chatter of air powered grinders in the morning, but the effect is much the same.

We are still living on Country Dancer, in the Pensacola Shipyard, while she gets her hull re-skinned. So far, there has been over 7 days of labor with a “peeler” cutting a very precise layer of gelcoat and CSM fiberglass off the bottom. The rest of this 5 month “Tour” has been just sitting around waiting. The ripping chatter of the yard machines makes it feel exactly like we are living in a war zone. Every time the “peeler” touches the bottom it sends out an intense blast of vibration and racket into the hull, and we flinch like soldiers hiding in a fox hole. IMG_3572Today, we have two of the yard guys dressed is combat Tyvek and face-shields smoothing out the ridges with 8” air powered grinders. As the fiberglass gets sheared away it heats up releasing the embedded Styrene… which is a solvent used during the hull layup. This Styrene is the very distinctive “smell of fiberglass” that begins our every morning.
There are other parts of our current situation that are also reminiscent of Francis Coppola’s famous film. Our “hill” is at the top of a 12’ ladder lashed to Dancer’s stern. Our normally plush accommodations are cluttered with tools and covered in blue dust and everything we touch – including the dog – has to be carried up and down that ladder. Since we are in the middle of a parking lot we are not allowed to “discharge” anything and Jodi does the dishes in a 5 gallon bucket. The nearest rest room is 1/4 miles away behind a locked gate, and we use our holding tank for “emergency #1”. But there no pump-out up here so the first job every Saturday is to pump the tank into jerry jugs and cart them to the pump-out station. Maybe we should just burn it in a 55 gallon drum like they did in the “Nam.”
IMG_4518In the movie it seemed like the air was always thick and misty. Here the air so thick with ground bottom paint and fiberglass that everyone working here wears a full respirator. Even inside, any air movement causes swirling and sparkling clouds of dust and glass fibers that have drifted into every nook and cranny.
Across the river the Blue Angels have started their daily practice sessions and they add the screaming shriek of jet fighters twisting and churning just above our heads. All we need now is a couple of “lifts” of Huey helicopters churning up surf in the river and it would make you think a weekend pass into Saigon was due.
“The horror! The horror!”…. fade to black.

(this is a “dramatization” which is “basically” true… we have really enjoyed out time in Pensacola, and the Shipyard has been very good to us.)

S/V Country Dancer introduces “The Phlog”

Since the beginning of time, sailors have needed a way to record where they had been, so they could calculate how to get to where they wanted to go. They created the “log book” as a place to record all the “stuff” that was important to a ships voyage…the weather, the heading, the sea state and then other important events and encounters like “maintenance.” This “Ships log” was so critical to sailing that it soon took on the power of law, and things written in “the log” were accepted as legal fact, even in Court.

Suffice it to say a ships “log” is a most important document.

As we progressed into the electronic age, it was recognized that the same kind of log in a computer could track important events in the operating system. These “Binary Logs” have always been created automatically by the operating system so we can go back and see what was happening in the machine when a error occurred.

Someone, somewhere, realized that these “Binary Logs” could also be used to record purely human events on the computer as well. These early logs even pre-dated the Internet and Social Media, and became known as B-Logs… then shortened to just “Blog”.

Blogs have became so popular for recording human stories and events, that some of the most important software of our age started out as a simple “Blog”. “WordPress” software today supports well over 10 million web sites, and every one of them is based on the basic “Blog” format.

So as Blogs matured, they became ever more powerful. ASCII text gave way to “rich text” with fancy fonts, and word processor formatting. Then sound and even photographs could be added to the “Blog post.” Today nearly all Blogs can support full “multi-media” as a standard feature.

The SVCountryDancer website began as a Blog too. At first it was a lot of fun to write long articles that flowed from my innate story telling nature. Then it started to become a lot more work, and then it evolved into a tiresome obligation. Our neat new Blog stalled out when telling the story writing became more important and time consuming than actually living the story. Still, we enjoyed shooting the pictures and videos that were using in the Blog, I just ran out of energy for having to write a story before I could share them.

This winter we started counting our photos…. lots and lots of photos… in the last 4 years, we have taken over 20,000 photos and videos. These the the treasures of our adventure – but how do you MANAGE and then SHARE that?

This inspired me to create the “Interactive Map” on the SVCountryDancer website. For the first time, I could use automation to show our GPS track on a map, and link all those photos to spots on the map as well. Still telling the story wasn’t happening, but at least cataloging the photos and recording the track were automated to the point where they were no longer a burden.

Then I realized something important. All this time I had been writing stories and supporting them with photos. What would happen if I let the photos tell the story and used the written words only to support the photos, instead of the other way around? Instead of a written log, I would create a visual map and “photo log” accented and supported by written commentary. In other worlds it would be a photographic log, instead of a binary log. The “Phlog” was born.

Now maybe it should be a Vlog for Video log (like Active Captain suggests), but I use more than just videos. Maybe it should be a MLog for Multi-Media log, but neither of those have that nautical “ring” that I wanted for a name.

“Phlog” does.
Pronounce it like the captain did when applying discipline to a wayward sailor as he was tied to the mast and then “flogged.” (Sometimes I thought having to keep up with the Blog was worse than a good flogging). So “Phlog” it is. The worlds first “Phlogging site” is now

On our Map Page, click on the button on the right titled “Phlog View” and the screen re-configures to show a photographic and video record of all the important events of our adventure. As you scroll though the images, you will see the map move to show the location, and any gaps in the story are filled in by the onscreen commentary. Want to jump to a date, just click the calendar bars. Want to see photos or hear the story from a certain location? Just click that yellow spot on the map.

The “Phlog” may not work well for recording things like oil changes or how many gallons of fuel we took on, so the Ships Log isn’t going away soon. But for the rest of the story, please check out “The Country Dancer Phlog.”

Following the Magenta Line.


“Styling” with the Old and New in Savannah


The charms of ICW cruising


It can get crowded in these little channels.


Mega Yachts weren’t the only things that glowed!


That’s an 8lb cannon, so that must be an 8lb head Joel!


St. Augustine Cruisers Thanksgiving


Joels “special” dinghy ride


Are we going to make it ?????????


Marsh exploring with “Saltine”


Fernandina Florida rainbow


St. Augustine storm sunk 2 boats, and shredded our neighbors sails


New cruising friends in town. Hope to see you all again!


Jodi getting into “The Spirit”


Spreading “The Spirit” around through the grand kids.


It was Spanish week at the Fort


And it was yet ANOTHER superb sunset.


Still eating like Kings.


Still eating Tuna like Kings !

After a really neat summer of cruising up the east coast, we have been headed south for a while. Like Jimmy Buffet, we need to be where the weather suites our clothes, so South past New York, South past the Chesapeake, and onward South around cape Hatteras.

Cape Hatteras is really the demarcation line between North and South for boaters. First, it is a monstrous obstacle sticking way out into the Atlantic. Known as “the graveyard of the Atlantic” you just don’t go there lightly. Second, it is where the Florida Current turns East and becomes the Gulf Stream. That means totally different weather in the colder waters above the Cape than the weather over the warmer waters below.

For our southern rounding this year we left Cape May on the northern lip of the Chesapeake and went all the way to Charleston, 3 days and 2 nights at sea. The weather agreed with our plans, and it was a long but completely uneventful passage. Once again in Southern waters, we spent a week in Charleston visiting old places, and making new friends.

We have done this whole trip “Outside”, in the open ocean, rather than using the Intercoastal Waterway. Country Dancer is a “marginal” boat for the ICW, being too high to fit under most bridges at any but low tide, and too deep to float through many channels at less than high tide. Although the ICW can be FAR more comfortable, we have chosen to avoid it for the higher speed and less nerve wracking open ocean….until now. Here we are in Charleston, basically anchored in the ICW, perhaps we should “run the ditch” for a while, just to see what it’s like. From here to the Florida border should be some of the really pretty stuff, and the bridges are much easier than they are further south.

So we left our anchorage and headed under the first bridge south. From here we begin to feel like Dorthy and Toto, following the yellow brick road to Oz, except we follow a magenta dotted line on our navigation charts that marks the course of the ICW. The further we go, the more the analogy takes hold….and the sillier we get. The bridges become flying monkeys trying to steal stuff off of our mast top, and every powerboat throwing a huge wake became the Wicked Witch of the West, trying to ruin our adventure. The first day we run in the company of “Saltine” a 38′ double ender sailboat also headed south. That night we anchored up a channel out in the middle of the salt marsh, and dropped our dinghies to go exploring. What a charming place. We went for over a mile and looked back across a wide open marsh of sea oats with only our two masts sticking into the skyline. We shared dinner and drinks with Scott and Donna and called it a night under a massive star scape.

In the morning, we pulled anchor before “Saltine” and, as we have dozens of times this year, left our new friends to travel our own way, hoping to meet them again somewhere. ( We did meet again in St Augustine). The ICW is an absolutely charming place here. You travel back and forth from open inlets on the ocean, back upstream miles and miles inland again, always following the Magenta Line. Some nights we anchor alone in areas that feel like they could be a thousand years ago, and others in harbors surrounded by multi-million dollar Mega Yachts glowing blue like some spaceship a thousand years from the future.

But by St Simmons inlet, a days sail north of the Florida border, I have had enough of Oz. Weaving back and forth, worrying about depth, and height, and lions and tigers and bears….oh my! We have to get back to the sea, where we can make some miles. From here, it’s a day sail to Fernandina Beach and Florida. We heard there is a big Cruisers Thanks Giving dinner in St Mary’s, across the river, so maybe we will stay for that?

With “stay”Ing someplace in mind, Jodi set out on a quest to find new bicycles. We had given away our two little ( too little) folding bikes in Portland Maine. On Craig’s list she found two nearly new mountain bikes that the owner would deliver to the marina. They are absolutely wonderful! For the whole trip,our range has been limited to a couple of miles from where ever we can dinghy too. Now we can travel around 8 miles and haul huge loads back from the grocery store. Our week in Fernandina was great, but old itchy feet just couldn’t sit in one spot until thanksgiving, so with the bikes tucked below, we head back to sea….and get turned back by seas and wind so heavy we are unable to get out the inlet! Back to follow, follow, follow the yel…magenta road.

Having only bumped bottom a couple of times, we were able to get to Jacksonville by early afternoon. Once across the St. John’s river, we are headed for St. Augustine. Of course, the height board on first bridge south of the river show 63′ so we are stopped again. Anchor down and wait for the tide. 2 1/2 hrs later, we have been joined by an English couple in a Hunter 46 named “Plan B” and the two of us pass under the bridge just as the boards show 65′. Three miles later we arrive at the “Atlantic Blvd” double bridge. There is a tremendous current running under the bridge, but “Plan B” shoots under without skipping a beat. We get straightened into the current and I reach to power up when Jodi yells “it’s only 64 feet”

Crap, I have our nose almost under the bridge, the current ahead looks like a minor rapids, and now we may not have clearance….crap again. There are two fishermen standing beside the bridge, so while I hold our position 1/2 under the bridge Jodi talks them into checking our clearance. They are sure we will be okay, so we ever so slowly ease under the span. We are going so slow, I can’t even hear the VHF antenna “ting, ting” along under the girders, but we made it. I add some power to climb the rapids under the second span and “clang” . Everything on the top of the mast is sheared off. Our fishermen look completely stunned, Jodi looks completely stunned, I look……like crap.

Once through the opening, Jodi looks back to see the height boards on this side of the bridge say 63 1/2′, almost a full foot

different than the boards on the north side. It take $700 to fix the damage from this “flying monkey”

We spent almost a full month in St. Augustine. Moorings were $20 per night, but your 7th night was free, and stay a month, your last week was free. I think we enjoyed every single day there.

We put our new bikes ashore, chained up to the bike rack in the excellent municipal marinas , and set up the boat for a visit from the grandkids for Thanksgiving. Even with 4 adults, 4 kids, and 2 1/2 dogs (Ragan is a BIG dog) we found places to sleep and eat and play. We walked old town and the fort, and the lighthouse, and had a grand time. The local cruisers net put on a pot luck turkey dinner, and probably 80-90 cruising sailors sat on the lawn swapping stories, plans and lies. Unquestionable one of the greatest times so far,  and we plan to do this again!

The day after was naturally a little sad, as we said goodbyes, and got all those great big hugs from little tiny kids.  Happy Holidays guys, we miss you already.  Drive safe!

The the sadness doubled… someone cut our brand new cable, and  stole our brand new bikes.  We only hope it is some poor kids that get those nice bikes for Christmas, and not some druggy putting them up his nose.


We even met a 470 on the Highway!

In St. Augustine, we saw Joe on “Onward” again, and then “Beckoning”.  In Ft Peirce, we met “Escapade” again, and meet a new 470 “Samvaro III”.  Thats 4 470’s for a total of 17 we have seen this summer.  We joined Escapade for the run down to West Palm Beach.

So here we are, 4 days before Christmas, in the warm again. I have work to finish before we leave the states, so we will probably be in our snug little anchorage for atleast another week, and then Country Dancer will add a new Country to her dance card.  The Bahamas.

Happy Holidays.

Ft Pierce 12-08-2013

Ft Pierce 12-08-2013

Getting in a little late, we dropped the hook in front of the Coast Guard station, right on the side of the inlet. Nice place, but the current was fierce and swung us violently back and forth 4 times a day. Sitting in the cockpit on our second day, I looked up to see us traveling backwards, and headed for a very expensive looking powerboat. I was able to jam the key in the starter and get us stopped before contact, but what a shock to be sitting there one minute and be dragging backwards towards the shore the next. I ran to the bow to get the anchor up and with only about 30 of our 100 feet of chain pulled in, the anchor came up sideways with 2 wraps of chain wrapped around the shank.

What had happened was the current was turning us so violently that the chain had actually wrapped back under its self, and simply un-anchored us all by its self. Nothing but major good luck had it happen both during the day, and with us on deck. Any other time, and this story would be about insurance and repairs to million dollar yachts instead.

Didn't expect to see this in the channel.

Didn’t expect to see this in the channel.

We immediately found an anchorage “behind” the inlet. About 5PM we were fairly settled in, when a voice yelled “Country Dancer, your anchored in my spot.” Come on. There are no “My spots” when you are anchoring… somebody is just being a jerk. Rio was yapping away so we popped up stairs to see a 40’ish Bertram slowly circling us. Just before I matched the jerk’s comment with some JERKness of my own, Jodi said “hey that’s Frank.” As I swallowed the rather harsh comment that was in my mouth I tried to figure out who Frank in a Bertram could be and get the expression on my face back to something less obnoxious?

It didn’t take me too long, and I recognized the voice. Frank is the Frank of “Frank and Carol” who own “Southern Cross”, the Gulfstar 47 3 slips over from us in our Madeira Beach Marina. Obviously once they had an anchor down we went over and had a great evening sharing stories of our trip and the journey Frank and his friend were having taking the Bertram from SC to its new home in Florida. Quite a neat surprise.

The next few days were a series of dinghy rides into town to try and get Rio’s papers and a new pair of bikes taken care of. We decided to explore a nice looking marina and bingo, yet another C470. We met Paulo and Sylvia of “Samvaro III.” As they have a condo in Miami and were headed for the Bahamas too, we agreed to link up in Miami and see about making the crossing together.

A day in “The Life”

A day in “The Life”

DSCF0001I suspect that “Cruising” has as many different characteristics as there are characters living “The Life”, and nothing is actually typical. But now that we have been at sea for a few months certain patterns are evolving.  As there seems to be a lot of difference in what we were expecting, and what really is happening, I thought it might be good to lay down what a “typical” week looks like “out here.”

Monday: Up at dawn. We carry an alarm clock, but my system (and Rio’s bladder) are happy at being up and moving by 6:00-ish right now.  Then we switch the boat out of night mode – turn off the anchor light and alarm, turn on the solar cells, water pressure etc. Pour a couple of cups of “Secret Stash” coffee that Jodi put in a good thermos yesterday morning. and get the computer network up and running. While everything boots, brush the fangs and wash the face.  Settle into the Navigation station/chart table/office and check the weather, and email.  Usually this whole process has me logged in and working by 6:15-6:30.

My work can be done either locally or using the internet so as long as I can get connected every few days or so.  We have a long range wifi setup that can find us a free wifi connection in about 1 in 3 ports. When we find a free one, I do all the heavy work I can.  When we can’t find good wifi, we rely on a AT&T cellular hotspot. This works great but isn’t really cheap, so when we are using the hotspot, I cache most of my work and test on my local machine only.

Jodi can write about her mornings, but I sit here and grind out concept and code until about noon.  Then the cruising actually starts.  While anchoring out this summer, we have had about 1 day in 5 that is too rough, too wet, or to something, to actually take the dinghy into shore, so we spend that day nestled up in the enclosure reading.  Most days we load up the dink at noon and head in.  The first day in a new place is always an exploring day, but first we have to find someplace to land the dinghy. private_landphotoThis would seem simple enough, but most of the places we have been to are surrounded by private property, and landing a dink is trespassing. In major ports there may be dinghy docks, but often these are available only for a fee.  Key West is $5/day for use of the dinghy dock, New Bedford is $7, and we have heard that docks in New York are $20 just to tie up a dinghy. We have also had many very nice locals offer us the use of their docks, a few restaurants or hotels have made docks available, and once in a while there will be a marina that has a corner someplace that they will let you use.  Newport RI, where we are today, obviously wants boaters and their cash in town and have 2 free public dinghy docks. Some cities spend $$ on TV ads to attract tourists, and some spend $$ on floating docks.  When you are out here, TV ads don’t mean much, but a dock that makes it easy to load a weeks groceries and 4 cases of soda means a whole lot.  Guess which towns we spend the most time and money in ?

photo-9OK, so once we get tied up its time to check out the sites/sights. Rio can do his duty onboard, but hit the dock and it seems like he becomes this poop and pee machine!  We have to carry at least 3 plastic poop bags for even a short trip to town. Before hitting the dock, we burn some hotspot time using Google maps to try and find the important stuff ashore.  Is there a BIG store – Walmart or such?  Is there a chandlery – West Marine or such?  How about a hardware store, and then of course a grocery store.  How far are they away, do they have what we need, how expensive are they, are they on a bus route… Lets go find out.

Kittery ME, was really a neat little place, but after the dock and restaurant there was really nothing for shopping for several miles, so we used the dinghy to motor up the river to get into “down town.”  A couple miles in a dinghy may not seem like such a big deal, but imagine if you will being in a river full of boat traffic from idiots in inflatable dinghies to oil tankers, lobster-men, nuclear submarines, and every “go fast” with an outboard.  IMG_0834There are wakes out there that can easily swamp our little dink, not to mention what happens if the afternoon breeze is opposite the flow of the river and it builds a 2 foot chop.  We have actually motored for miles at 2mph taking cold splashing wave after cold wave over the bow.  Stop and pump out the bottom of the dink and go again.  We like short dinghy rides where possible!

Yesterday was our third day in Newport, RI.  We had toured the waterfront, found some neat landmarks (where JFK got married), and now was time to get some real groceries and some laundry done.  Laundry day is always a big day.  The dink is 10′ long.  Put in 2 people and a dog, then 2 bags of laundry,2 back packs, and a shopping cart worth of food… you get the idea.  We do this in CALM weather only.

On our way to the dock, we had a guy on a Beneteau 461 moored next to us, flag us over.  We chatted for a while and later he and his partner brought their wives over for a bottle of wine.  Good fun.dingydockphoto

photo When we hit the dock we helped another couple get a hole in the solid raft of dinghies so they could tie up to the dock.  Turns out they were on a CT 54′ in from Key West and there to do laundry too.  With 2 machines and 3 bags of laundry between us, there wasn’t much else to do but swap stories and become friends!

Walking through town, we poked our heads into a little artists shop, and the man inside said “Oh look at the cute Schipperke, I have one just like him.”  Turns out that Johnny and his partner Scotty had already seen us in the anchorage, and we ended up making a play date for their Schipperke and Rio.  Met them on the dock, the dogs played and we walked to a local pub for lunch.

Our first trip into town netted us a grocery store, but it was anything but cheap!  Further talking to people and locals turned up a “Stop and Shop” only about 300 yards further than we had gone, so today we walk 1.5 miles instead of 1.4  Sure enough, groceries.  Rio can’t go in the grocery stores, so I usually hang with him while Jodi enjoys the A.C.  Today there is another dog waiting outside, and his collar says he is from “Duluth”.  Interesting.  When his pack returns, we find out that they are from Connecticut and traveling on a Albin 32′ sailboat. They shared some ice cream with us while we walked back towards the dock, and we chatted about places we have been – and places that we should go.  Tonight we will have them over for Jodi’s “Chicken Bomb” dinner.

Some days at anchor are not nearly as social or fun.  There is an endless list of projects and  things to do on the boat.  WAXING is the biggest and most constant.  We do oil changes, and battery checks, and drain cleanings, but the waxing just never seems to be enough.  The stainless isn’t stainFree, so it has to be polished, and the sun eats the wax almost as fast as you put it on.  Without wax, every little thing leaves a stain and the hull develops a “beard” where the bow wave rolls down the sides.  And in a place where the seagulls are bigger than the turkeys we have at home, protecting the topsides is a BIG deal.  We won’t even talk about what happens under the holding tank vents – yuck!  So the top item on every days todo list is “clean and wax”… not that we always do it, but it is always there.IMG_1087

Sailing Days: Currently, we are trying to sail on the weekends, and work during the week.  Saturday morning, up just before sun-rise.  We need a route to follow and since we had company for dinner again last night, its now last minute Routing Time.  Because we are almost completely electronic for our charting , I can use the iPad to build and closely examine our route. This one has a few reefs to worry about, and a nasty “race” if we are going against the tide, so we calculate that into the mix.  Looks like 40 nautical miles to Mystic SeaPort, so lets get some sails up and get moving.  Power up the windlass, hoist the engine off the dinghy, put the dingy on the davits, secure the loose stuff, raise the main, haul up the anchor and we are Out of Here!

This is always a mixed bag.  If we have been in a place (Newport,RI) more than a couple of days (5), we have probably made some new friends (3 couples), found most of the stores (liquor,grocery,hdwr,marine), and feel good about how our anchor is holding (it did).  In short, we have become “comfortable” with this place.

Now we toss all of that over, and strike out again for a place where we know no-one, have no clue if there even are any stores, let alone ones that have what we need, or are within hiking range.  We don’t know if there will be fuel, or water, or a pump out station, or even room for us in the anchorage.  We may get there and find that we have to pay $40+ a night for a mooring ball because the anchorage is full, or too small. We normally plan to travel from about 6AM  and drop the anchor before dark which means somewhere under 70 miles per day.  What happens if the wind is too light, or fog rolls in and we can’t get anchored up before it gets dark?  Nothing is more frightening than entering an unknown channel in the dark and/or fog!  Makes the hair on my neck stand on end just describing it.

But today works well, as most days have.  We get a nice sail south out of Newport, and since the wind doesn’t want us to turn west to go into Mystic, we just continue south and drop the hook in Block Island instead. 25 miles will do for today. There is plenty of room and in a few minutes we will have the dink in the water and see what town looks like.  Just another week in “The Life”.

Living inside the Postcard

There is no question, that since our leaving Florida in April, we have seen and been seen in hundreds of places and hundreds of situations that are the essence of a good Postcard.  But living INSIDE the Postcard has some other unique characteristics.


A Postcard Sunset – Sarah’s Creek Virginia.

you are here

You are HERE

We passed this sign walking today.  “You are here.” This is usually a very big help in figuring your way around a place, but THIS sign really didn’t help very much. Sure we now know that we are “HERE”, but where in the Heck is “HERE”? And where is here in relationship to anyplace else, specifically someplace that I know?

Its all a matter of context. When you have limited input even “Here” can be a strange and alien place.  And so it is with postcards.  Even very familiar places can be totally new when viewed in the 2 dimensional world of a camera lens .

With the exception of a couple of bus rides, this whole adventure has never taken us further than 2-3 miles inland from the coast.  Places that we have visited by car are completely alien and new when approached from the sea. I am not saying that our sailing adventure is 2 dimensional, but the very fact that we only travel by foot or sail, means that we see a very “thin” layer of the places we visit.  This layer is completely different from the layers we have visited before.  The layer we are traveling in now is also a beautiful one.  Rather than feeling like we have to capture the moment or the view, WE are CAPTURED in the continuous unveiling of new postcard quality beauty, mile after mile.

Although nights can be (can be–they ARE) the longest 1/2 of the day, they also carry a subtle beauty that the camera just can’t capture. Seeing the shape and hearing the splash of something big breaking the water a few dozen feet away is impossible to capture on film, but a thrill that begs to be shared… if only there was a way.  Stars that I haven’t seen since I was a child are again becoming friends.


Southwest Harbor, ME

Sunrises and Sunsets are so glorious and so regular, they have almost become mundane.  Even so, we stop what ever we are doing every morning and every night, to watch that glory one more time.


Somes Fjord

And how do you share a Fjord?  This is a narrow gut cut into solid granite by a glacier 10,000 years ago. It looks like any other mountain lake, until you UNDERSTAND how it got there… the forces that were involved in its creation.. and the sheer Majesty of it.. its just a postcard.

The ocean too is something like a postcard.  We only see the surface, but nearly all the life happens unseen in the  layers below the surface.  Here in Maine, the tide is 12-18 feet, so we have had the privilege of seeing some of what lies below as the tide recedes and leaves the bottom open for our view. We have also had the opportunity to see whales, and seals, and life that until now we only knew from TV or a book.


Living In the Postcard

Our voyage IS very thin, like the layer of ink on the postcard, but the details that we enjoy are incredible.. partially because they are SO VERY different from what our life was before.  Today we walked into town again.  This is our third trip in as many days, and everything is pretty much the same, but the things you notice walking this way!  Rio and I sat on a bench outside the pharmacy while Jodi shopped inside.  The first day there was a rather large cigar butt off to the left of the bench.  Yesterday it had moved more to the edge of the pavement, and today I had to look in the grass to see if it was still there.  You may say “so what” but believe me, there is immense pleasure in seeing even these details that live in the layers of our cruising life…. our life INSIDE the postcard.

Crossing epic

Before leaving Yorktown, we had borrowed a car to drive into Hampton and pick up Pete Cateo’s old 135 jib. If it was in good enough shape we thought it could make a good dual jib down wind rig, and if not, some good bag material. While driving back, a fast moving storm hit and traveled up from Hampton and across the little anchorage at Sarah’s Creek. As it moved up highway 17, it brought down trees across the highway, and we sat for 2.5 hrs while they tried to clear traffic, wondering how Dancer was fairing the weather without us. Turns out, not too good. Since we had no idea any weather was coming in, and we were only going to be gone for a couple of hrs, we had left the boat “open” and with fairly short scope. On driving back into the marina, we could see that she had drug across the anchorage and was firmly stuck in the mud back on the opposite side. Nice start for a trip across the Atlantic!


Kedges out, waiting for high tide

I kedged out 2 anchors and we waited for high tide at quarter past midnight.

Once the tide had come back in, it took about a dozen turns on the windlass and Dancer was seriously wet, but floating again. Whew.

Saturday morning the 15th, we did a last few chores, put the dink on deck, and headed out the Chesapeake. Winds were out of the south at 10-12, so we beat our way out over the tunnel and into the open Atlantic by about 9:30PM and settled in for night watches. Was a glorious sail headed ENE. Made 88 miles that first day

Sunday the 16th we spotted our first whale quietly cruising about 150 yards away on our port side. Not sure what “brand” it was, but for the 2 times he broke surface the visible part of his back was bigger than we were. This was a pretty fast day, and we reefed the main at 1:30 in the afternoon. By 4:30 PM the wind had piped enough that we dropped the main and were still making over 7kts on jib alone. By 5:00 AM we had enough light to see a massive storm rolling up on us from the west. Using the radar we were able to pick our way between some of the worst, but still got banged around pretty good.

Jodi came on deck and said.” Two storms already and we are only on day two, are you sure you want to do this?” Absolutely I am!    We Made 150 miles today,.

Monday the 17th as the seas flattened was a fabulous sailing day. Even reefed from late afternoon through the night we made 192 miles in 24hrs. Avg 8.0kts with the knot log showing max boat speed of 11.2kts.



Tuesday the 18. The new weather faxes showed two really fast moving lows had moved across the country and were headed out into the Atlantic.

storm sandwich

storm sandwich! These were not on the chart at all the day before.

You can imagine the look on Jodi’s face when I told her this news! The two storms were almost on top of each other, both projected to turn NE over water and cross our position by early next morning. We were now over 400 miles out and I could see no way to avoid getting hit. If we turned back, we might miss the second storm, but the first would nail us for sure. If we stayed on course, one would pass us to the east and the other to our west. Not good to be a low pressure system sandwich. If I cut SE, there was a chance that we could get across the path of the second storm before it got here, so we put her in high gear to the SE. As the seas had started to build again, we were not quite as fast today, but still were able to roll up hour after hour of 9-10 kt speeds. I thought we had made it.

Wednesday the 19th at 1:00 AM we were fully reefed down and running as fast as we could ESE. With a little help from the Gulf Stream, we were making 10.4 kts away from the storm.  The boat was balanced so that we had almost no weather helm, and could handle the quartering seas without corkscrewing all over the ocean. At 4:00AM Jodi was on the helm and I was napping on the bridge deck. The wind had shifted and was now coming out of the SW so I was pretty sure we had made it out of the center of the storm track, but we were now in confused 9-11 foot seas and 24-26kts of wind again.

Suddenly I woke up to Jodi yelling “whoaaaaa…..GARYyyyyyyyy” and wham, we were knocked down on the port beam with the jib in the water, and the boom bouncing on the waves. Jodi said later that a wave “the size of a mountain with water curling over the top like the surfers like” had hit us directly on the stbd side. The next few minutes were obviously kinda fuzzy in both of our minds, but I remember seeing Jodi hunched down on the side of the cockpit seat with her head in her hands. I yelled “get your head up” and my favorite first mate in the whole world came back to life. She dumped the main sheet and Dancer started to roll back up.

A smaller boat knocked down

A smaller boat knocked down. We were a little too busy to get a picture of our own.

She then dumped the jib sheet and I was wrenching so hard on the wheel that we now need to retention the cables. Dancer popped up, and immediately gybed tearing part of the vang loose, and blowing the preventer up like a bomb. I could NOT turn the wheel, period. Once she came up from the her roll to the other side, Jodi was trying to get the jib sheets under control, and I was trying to figure out which way the wind was coming from, and all this in total darkness except for the glow of the instruments lighting the cockpit. I could not find the center of the wind, the sails seemed to be flogging from both port and stbd, and the rudder would only move if I jerked it using a hand on each wheel together. Something had jammed the rudder.

24760 hours later…well it felt like that… I had found the wind and gotten us pointed directly down wind. Our heading was 180 degrees from when we went down so we must have been hit by the eye of the storm. Jodi was spinning the primary winch with the jib reefing line like a cowboy riding on a spinning bronc, shoulders pumping and hair flying in circles around her head. She was something to see as she managed to get the jib furled and the boom back under control. The rudder had loosened up some and I could steer if I used sort of a back and forth motion. I needed to get off the wheel to help Jodi, so decided to see if the autopilot could hold her down wind, and IT seemed to have no trouble steering at all.

We got the cushions back into the cockpit and the 6″ of water finally drained out. Pulled everything out of the port lazarette and leaned in upside down with a flashlight to clear what ever had jammed the steering gear. Nothing! No loose lines banging around, no paint cans in the cables, Nothing. We ripped everything out of the stbd side and I did the same, with the same result. Absolutely nothing. The jam had to be in the rudder bearings or something in the rudder its self, not the steering gear.

Now 500 miles at sea, our whole world dumped out on the cabin sole, everything wet, major gear broken or damaged, in a 35 kt gale with 11 foot seas, and I can’t steer the damn boat. Not my finest moment.

Sanity returned very slowly, but the autopilot seemed to be able to keep us pointed directly down wind, so we just started to take stock, and try to make it livable in the cockpit again. I tried hand steering again, and everything seemed perfectly normal, except that the cables seemed to have stretched some. The sails seemed intact, except for a broken batten in the main and both jib sheets with “blown” breaks in them, so I built a new preventer and tied everything down tight.

Blown up sheets and bent pole

Blown up sheets and bent whisker pole lashed to the deck.

We ran directly down wind with bare poles at 3-7.7 kts for the next 30 odd hours. In the afternoon I got the latest weather faxes, and the two lows had merged into a single long system with a full gale to the SE…right over where we were. The centers were predicted to move several hundred miles north in the next 24 hrs, so if we could just ride it out we would be OK …… NOT!

There was a 5th system that had come across Georgia and would be headed into the Atlantic….and come up the same track, the next morning. The fax also showed a front stretching down the Atlantic from the North Sea to Cuba, like a fence dividing the ocean top to bottom. 5 storms in the first 5 days, and a fence between us and the Azores and Ireland…’s time to turn home and do this trip next year.

After it seemed like thing were settling down, we raised a little jib, and turned slowly back to the west in the remaining heavy seas.

EVERYTHING dumped on the floor

EVERYTHING dumped on the floor

I had just gone below, holding on to anything I could grab and working my way over the mounds of rubble on the floor, when I heard the wind building again. We got the jib down in seconds and turned down wind again before a squall hit us with 10 minutes of sustained 45 kts and one long gust that held the wind speed meter at 62 kts. Enough is enough already, we are leaving, just let us go !

We turned back, the Gods smiled

We turned back, the Gods smiled

The return to Martha’s Vineyard was fabulous. Winds very light for most of it, and no longer concerned about fuel, we motorsailed through glassy flat seas, looking to get pictures of the hundreds of white tip sharks fining the surface. Firmly anchored in Edgertown harbor, we are going to take a couple of days OFF our beloved Dancer before starting to put her back together. The Gods of the the sea said NO Ireland this year, so we will cruise New England for the summer and then to the Caribbean or Mexico for the winter. Next spring, we will join the ARC rally, and the Gods willing, cross the Atlantic and see Ireland in 2014.

Fastest day – 192 nautical miles
Fastest speed – by Jodi 14.2 kts, by the log 13.9 kts
Time spent sailing over 9kts -more than 12 hrs
lbs of stores dumped on the cabin sole – all of it!
Time sitting at anchor in beautiful places – priceless

Charelston, SC

Absolutely the fastest day ever!

The fastest day ever

So, how fast is fast anyway?  Obviously for sailors, fast is somewhat relative. Relative to other sailing vessels and other sailors, not to Suzuki Hyabusa’s or F-18 Hornet jet fighters.  For Dancer, we usually figure on making about 5kts during a passage. That’s about the same as a good brisk walk, but string 24hr of those together and you have moved 120 nautical miles through time and space.
When we spend any time traveling at above 6 kts, it was”a good sail”. Above 7.5 and we were “hooked up” and  “in the groove.”
Since Dancer has a hull speed of 8.5 kts, that is as fast as she is ever supposed to able to go, so when we see 8.4 or above on the knot meter….  well we go home and write about it in our Blog!

If we could actually hold 8 kts for a full 24 hr period, we would travel 192 nautical miles. There are boats that can do this, but they are not 47feet long and carrying the crews entire life along with them. This is beyond any but specialty built race boats and crews.
So what do you say when your third day at sea turns up to be a 229 nautical miles “Boomer?”  That my friends is an average of 9.54 kts every single hour for 24hrs. That is an average that is 13% faster than the boats supposed top speed.  And yet that is EXACTLY what S/V Country Dancer did on April 6, 2013.  From Miami to St. Augustine. 229 nautical miles in 24 hrs.

Absolutely the fastest day ever!    Watch the HD Video

Did I hear someone say “wait a second?”  Yes, yes, you in the back there. What about the Gulf Stream?  Well, yes it does run from Miami to St Augustine.  Well yes It does sometimes move at 4kts.  Well yes, I suppose it does mean we were actually sailing at just over 5 1/2.  Please sit down sir. A record is a record after all. Any other questions?

Please tell us how you like the videos.  The crew is beginning to rebel at my constant ideas for a  “cool” shot.

P.S. After blasting up the coast, the wind died completely some 70 miles from Jacksonville, and we had to humbly motor our “super boat” into the anchorage.  Dooh.