Saturday, December 29, 2012

Holiday Activities

Orca whales made a second swing past our house on Christmas Eve, the first time that’s happened in one week!


Daughter Adrienne and her finacee Justin flew in from Denver on Christmas Eve to spend a week with us, and son Ryan arrived Christmas morning. Late morning on Christmas Bob’s sister Lynn, her husband David, their daughter Leslie (from NYC) and grandchildren Sophie (7) and Harrison (5) came for a brief visit. Gifts, eggnog and a big meal followed. Mackenzie and Matt are in Oregon with his parents this year, so we missed them.

We introduced Justin to crabbing his first visit here a couple years ago, and he’s been a fan since, so Dungeness Crab was on the menu for dinner one night, though we didn’t catch them ourselves as the season is closed by our house. Yum!

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Friday, accompanied by Adrienne and Justin, we got up way before daylight and drove to Crystal Mountain Ski Resort on the shoulders of Mount Rainier, the tallest mountain in Washington state at 14,411. The weather couldn’t have been nicer, with blue skies and sunshine all day long.

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While we kept up well in the morning, Adrienne and Justin whipped our tails on the slopes in the afternoon and skiied longer than we did. Ah, youth!


It’s been two years since we donned skis as we’re not home much in the winter, so it took a few runs to loosen up the joints.

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Now we’re on a 5-day count-down until our return to Mobile, Alabama, life on the Loop and “Next To Me”, so we’re taking down the outdoor Christmas lights, and the tree will come down tomorrow.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Tornado, Whales and Tows


Last Thursday Mobile, Alabama where Next To Me awaits our return soon, experienced a winter storm that included being hit by a tornado.  When we read about it in the news we called Dog River Marina to inquire how they fared there.  “No worries, Honey! We’re just fine here. It hit a couple miles north of us. You just go on and don’t worry about a thing, hear?”  Sweet Southern reassurance!


Something we particularly enjoy about the Loop is the many animals, but especially those not native to our home cruising grounds including pelicans, alligators, bottlenose dolphins and manatees, all of which we’ve seen on the Loop in 2012.


Here at home where we’re spending the holidays on Puget Sound (near Seattle) we have Dall’s porpoises which look like small Orcas but are generally only seen in summer months.

Orcas Bella Bella BC

Thursday we were thrilled to see our favorite mammal, the Orca Whale! These waters are home to 3 pods of resident Orca whales, called the J, K and L pods who live mostly a bit north in the San Juan islands and Canadian waters. But there are also “Transient Orcas” who migrate through here during winter months, and we’ve seen them once or twice most winters as they come into Puget Sound looking for salmon to eat. They’re usually hard to spy because in the winter the sky and water are dark, there are often waves from stormy weather, and they move fast!


One of the Loop challenges we learned about this Fall was traveling the Midwest rivers with the busy tow and barge traffic on the Illinois, Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. We didn’t fully appreciate this issue until we experienced it. As you see above and below, we also have tow and barge traffic on Puget Sound where we live.


But here, the channel is never less than a mile wide (usually wider), the water is deep (100-500 feet), and there are no red and green markers designating a narrow, dredged channel. Further, the tows are almost always pushing (or pulling) a single barge, not the loads that are 3 barges wide and 4-5 barges long as in the Midwest. So passing a tow with barges in Puget Sound is no big deal. In those Midwest Rivers we gained a great deal of respect for our AIS equipment which alerted us to the presence of big loads (before we could see them coming around a bend in the river), and the protocols for properly and safely passing them in the narrow, shallow, dredged channels of the rivers. Nothin’ scary about our Puget Sound tows with barges!


Remember that seal pup from last week’s post? He’s taken up residence in our neighborhood. Friend Jim R reports this seal pup has been seen every day for several weeks, and each day for the past week we’ve seen him on shore, resting for most of the daylight hours, but he leaves late each afternoon. Bets are on that he’ll become a full-grown seal and spend the summer sleeping on the swim step of our boat (as above, last summer) on the buoy in front of our house! Cute now, but messy and smelly on a swim step as they often leave fish guts and poop behind.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Storm and High Tide

Our most recent post shows the high tide and storm surge that occurred at our home last Monday, and we’re grateful we had no damage to our house or property. Some Seattle residents weren’t so lucky, as seen in this photo from the front page of the Seattle Times newspaper, showing homes in West Seattle on Puget Sound. These so-called King Tides are forecast to increase in frequency. This one was a 14.51 foot tide! We’re glad we haven’t had to contend with such huge tidal swings while doing the Loop!  (click on photo to enlarge)


Monday, December 17, 2012

Eyes Everywhere + Storm Surge


It’s been a month since we left “Next To Me” at Dog River Marina in Mobile, Alabama to fly home for the holidays. We don’t like it that she’s 3,000 miles away, without us. And we miss her.


However, we’ve been pleased and amused that EVERY week since then, we’ve received unsolicited emails or text messages from Looper friends passing through, telling us all is well with “Next To Me”, and she’s “sitting pretty” (Laura’s words, from “The Zone”) at the dock. Most of these messages contained a current photo documenting her well-being.

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Friday we got another one, this time from our terrific Boat Broker, Curtis Stokes, who helped us buy our Loop boat last January. His email said only “Sure is cold in Alabama! I’m glad I’m not washing down your boat today!” and included a photo of “Next To Me” with the back of a person shrouded in coat, hood and gloves, washing down our boat! Turns out Curtis was at Dog River Marina with clients (who we know) selling “Oceanus”, a 54-foot Ocean Alexander, with a sea trial and survey underway for the new owner.

We had a hard time figuring out why someone would be washing our boat (not squatters, right?), so called Glen, the project manager for a list of repairs/projects we wanted Dog River Marina and Middleton Boat Works to handle while we’re away. Glen ALWAYS answers his cell phone when we call. We were thrilled to hear the entire list of repairs has already been completed, three weeks before our expected return, and “Yes, we washed your boat this morning because it had a lot a seagull poop on it, the electrical cord was dirty, and there were lots of footprints on deck from staff who’ve been working on it”, Glen reported. Imagine that!

So “Next To Me” has a new air conditioning unit to replace one that quit working in October (one of two units on board), new caulk on an aft stateroom window that leaked recently, a new window in the salon where we’d inadvertently cracked the pane, a new wire installed to make the bedside reading lights in the master stateroom work again, new transmission fluid, a new oil dipstick for one engine, and new RACOR fuel filters.

So here’s a shout out to Dog River Marina/Middleton Boat Works for getting through our list despite the fact there have been dozens and dozens of Loopers through there in the past month, all with lists of work to be done, as there wasn’t anywhere between Chicago and Mobile with the repair capabilities of this place. And they washed our boat when they finished! And they’ll pick us up at the Mobile airport when we fly back. What a place!

Yesterday the local Pacific Northwest weather forecast called for another storm to begin to blow through, bringing heavy rain and high winds. We went to Seattle last night for dinner with two of our kids and their spouse/fiancée, and driving back home on the freeway rarely allowed more than 45mph speed as the rain and wind was so heavy. As expected, our power was knocked out last night, but came back on at 6:30 this morning just as we arose.


This morning’s high tide brought the highest water levels on our bulkhead we’ve ever seen, as high tide usually leaves the waves 2-4 feet below the top of the wall. We gather this was a combination of a very high tide and wind-blown water from the south.


Our neighborhood is made up of 40 properties at the bottom of a 200-foot bluff, strung out along Colvos Passage and on the hill just above. Homeowners share a 1/4 acre waterfront park, fixed dock and boat ramp. Four years ago the community dock was destroyed when a tree got caught underneath during a storm, and banged around in the pounding waves until the dock finally broke away, leaving behind the pilings.


Two years later a group of residents rebuilt the dock. At the time, our permit required that the horizontal stringers be attached to the vertical pilings using steel brackets. Residents felt this was an expensive and unnecessary requirement. Check out the situation today and see if you think that was unnecessary?


This morning the community waterfront was visited by a seal pup, something we’ve not seen here previously. We’ve heard admonitions to leave seal pups alone, but when he was still there 4 hours later, decided to call the Fish and Wildlife Department to inquire. They assured us seal pups are born in August or September, and their mothers abandon them after 4-6 weeks of nursing, so it’s not a concern that this little guy is alone. They did, however, note that the natural haul-outs for seals in Puget Sound are many miles away, so if the pup is still there tomorrow we could call, and a local volunteer could come to take a look and possibly relocate him away from this more populous area where neighborhood dogs might destroy him. Apparently only 50% of seal pups born each year survive. Sweet little guy!

The weather continues cold here, and still looks better in Mobile, Alabama!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

“Boating” in the Pacific Northwest

The boating season near Seattle where we live is short: pretty much June through September. We put our boat on the buoy in front of our house in May, but rarely does the weather cooperate in letting us get out much that early. But we enjoy watching boats go by all year.


Now we’re missing being on Next To Me, so we keep an eye out for boating or boating-related activities, even though it’s winter, and here’s what we’ve found so far:


Since 1949 the Argosy Christmas Ship has been a feature of holiday fun on the water in the Seattle area. Argosy is a commercial enterprise, and they run a dinner/music/Santa lighted boat parade almost every night for three to four weeks leading up to Christmas.


They travel to a different waterfront town every night, and the choir on board sings Christmas carols over a loudspeaker for the crowds on the community beach or dock to enjoy.


We’ve attended one of these beach or dock events for the last 4-5 years, and last week after first having dinner at Tides Tavern downtown, we went again, with Bob’s sister Lynn, her husband David (who spent a week with us on the Loop in October in Chattanooga and points south) as well as long-time friends Jim and Phebe (who will join us for a week in the Florida Keys in early March). The six of us sang along with the crowd on the dock in downtown Gig Harbor and enjoyed the lighted boat parade.


While we’ve lived in or near Seattle practically forever, and have plenty of long-time friends with whom we enjoy many common interests, none of them are boating cruisers. We’ve come to enjoy cruising with friends on the Loop, and it occurs to us we’d like to have friends with whom we could enjoy cruising in Desolation Sound or a trip up the Inside Passage to Alaska in the future.


With that in mind, we went as guests to a meeting of the Gig Harbor Yacht Club last night to see if it might provide a suitable venue for meeting like-minded boaters. Sandy and Tom, already members of the GHYC, sponsored our attendance, introduced us to some folks, and invited us to sit with them for dinner.


They made us feel really comfortable. There were 150 people in attendance, and the crowd was lively, friendly and humorous. We enjoyed learning about the kinds of activities offered by the Club and meeting so many members. It struck us as a great group!  Of course we’re about to leave to finish our Loop for three more months, so joining would be something we attend to after we return home in April.


Last week we put up outdoor holiday lights around the house, and yesterday we put up our Christmas tree. The stockings are hung by the chimney with care, and all that stuff.  Short of a few more stocking stuffers to buy for the kids, we think we’re ready.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Living on Land + Loop Stats

We recently  talked about our perceptions of how often we moved the boat versus staying  in place, so Cathryn sat down and calculated the stats. We were both surprised at the outcome.  Here they are:

Statute Miles Traveled                                     5,177

Days On Cruise                                               237

Days We Moved the Boat                               139  or  59%

Distance Moved, Range                                  1-137 miles

Distance Moved On Typical Day, Range:     20-60 miles

Average Miles On Moved Days                         35

Days We Did Not Move                                   98  or   41%


Our time at home is flying by, but it’s not keeping us from missing Next To Me, the warm climate of Mobile and Florida, and our Looper friends. Even so, we’re happy to be seeing our adult kids and their spouse/fiancée, our siblings and in-laws, friends and neighbors, and get a few projects done around the house. We’ve also resumed regular exercise  (something we’ve found hard to do on the boat), mostly running and yoga.

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As expected, we’ve been to WAY too many routine medical appointments: dentist, eye doctor, dermatologist and such. But it’s been a year, so we were due.


A nearby yacht club sponsors a Round-Vashon-Island sailing race in late November each year, and we enjoyed watching the fast-moving boats with their huge spinnakers as they passed our house. It looked cold out there, with crew fully swaddled in their foulies to protect from the cold wind.


We had dinner with almost-Loopers Bob and Debi S who live nearby and are shipping their new Loop boat south in a couple of weeks. We’re so excited for them as they finish this wildly crazy preparation phase and move on to the fun part, and we hope to see them in Florida.


We were asked to speak at the last Bremerton Power Squadron meeting and enjoyed describing The Great Loop and an overview of our journey. We’ve been invited to return in the Fall with a full presentation with photos and more stories. As this was where our formal boat training began, we were happy to share our experience and see our Power Squadron friends again.


Just after the photo above was taken, the Genoa sail on this boat blew out, causing quite the scramble onto the foredeck.

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The island in the center of this chart is Vashon Island, around which the sailing race circumnavigated.  The boat symbol at the center-left is the approximate location of our house on Colvos Passage on Puget Sound. This screenshot was taken off our Ipad using the new Garmin Blue Charts/Active Captain Navigation App.  If you’re interested in such things, this App is brand new, and Bob thinks it will establish the new standard for computer navigation; check it out.

We’ve gotten more emails, phone calls and text messages from Looper friends telling us of their successful Gulf Crossings, and we know we’ve missed some particularly wonderful and lengthy Crossing weather windows, but there will be more, and we’re still happy to be home for now.


We recently got a status report from Laura and Ross, Looper friends on The Zone, along with a photo of “Next To Me” at the dock at Dog River Marina. So we decided to call Glen, our project manager there,  to inquire as to the status of the list we left for work to be done on our boat. The new air conditioning unit has been ordered, the cracked window has been replaced, and the other window with a small leak has been re-caulked. They assure us the rest will be done before we return. We know many other  Loopers have passed through Dog River in the past 3 weeks, and many of them had work done too, so we know why ours isn’t finished yet: those folks are moving on, while we’re still home, so they are reasonably given higher priority.

Finally, we have time here at home to discuss “What Next After the Loop”?  We haven’t made any decisions, and in fact aren’t even close to a decision, but we’re having fun bouncing ideas around. Any suggestions from our readers?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving Weekend


We had a great weekend, with four family members joining us for Thanksgiving, and the remainder spread across the country from Hawaii to Denver to Houston. We over-ate, and had beautiful weather for the day, allowing son-in-law Matt to deep-fry our turkey outside. We have plenty to be thankful for, including good health, lots of people we love in our lives, and the opportunity to have fun and interesting adventures.


Saturday dawned rainy and cold. At 6:15 Bob drove to Fox Island to Bob S and Debi’s home, whose boat christening party we attended a week ago. Shortly after, Bob S, his son-in-law Ted, and Bob cast off the lines of In My Element, Bob S and Debi’s new Great Loop boat, and headed north. An hour later, traveling at 15 knots, they passed Bob and Cathryn’s home on Colvos Passage, but it was raining so hard the photos aren’t good. Fortunately In My Element has both a pilothouse and glass windshields with wipers, so all on board were comfortable.


The 80-mile trip from Fox Island, through the Puget Sound shipping lanes, and up the Swinomish Channel to the town of LaConner was happily uneventful. Bob S was competent and confident at the helm (lots of prior chartering of large boats), and Bob offered an overview of use of the Garmin Chartplotter and radar, because it’s identical to ours on Next To Me.


Debi had packed lunches for the crew, and shortly after 1 PM  they pulled up to the dock in LaConner. November boating in Seattle is sure different from boating anytime in Florida!

Bob S and Debi are adding a few final amenities to In My Element, then having it shipped to Mobile, Alabama (where Next To Me awaits our return) where they’ll begin their Loop.


The rest of the weekend was spent celebrating our 27th wedding anniversary, Bob’s 65th birthday, and various chores and errands around the house, including some minor house repairs. It’s good to be home for a time.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Weather and Boating


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After living on Next To Me full-time for 10 months, and following “summer weather” around  North America for the first 9 of those months, we began to complain a bit when the weather turned cold and rainy, then cold and sunny, from Chattanooga to Mobile on our Loop journey. No more complaints!

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Here at home the conditions make Looping weather look like a warm beach in Hawaii! It hasn’t broken 50 degrees since our arrival; it’s rained 4.3 inches this week; our one-lane roadway suffered a mudslide that made it briefly impassable til a neighbor drove through the muck in his full-size pickup truck, clearing the way for regular cars;


and Bob had to stand in the surf on the stairs to our beach wrestling a giant tree trunk out of the stairs before the waves bashing it around could break off the entire stairway. Oh, and we had a brief power outage. We’re mindful this is nothing compared to what the folks in New York and New Jersey experienced recently, but Mobile’s weather is looking pretty good right about now!


During a typical year in Seattle, folks launch their boats in May or June, and pull them back out by October 1. It’s a short season due to cold water (48 – 52 degrees year-round) and cold weather. We expected to suffer withdrawal from boating after leaving Next To Me in Mobile. But Bob  volunteered for an all day boat ride Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, to accompany friend Bob S (whose Loop boat christening party we attended last weekend) and his son-in-law on the delivery of their boat In My Element from their home in Gig Harbor to LaConner for shipping, up north on the Swinomish Channel.


It’s about a 75-mile journey, and the weather this time of year is usually windy and rainy, or foggy and cold. Bob’s contribution on the trip is to run through Garmin 5212 Chartplotter/Radar use with Bob S, as it’s the same electronics package we installed in Next To Me last February. Photos to follow after the journey takes place.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Boat Nerds

Doing the Loop is slowly but surely turning us into boat nerds.  We find ourselves fascinated by things we had no knowledge of or interest in only a year ago.


One example of that trajectory is a story Cathryn finds  embarrassing. Two years ago after Bob extracted a promise from Cathryn that she would, over time, become Co-Captain of our Loop boat in order to gain his agreement to take this journey, we signed up together for a Power Squadron course on boat engine maintenance. Our instructor, Tom S, as far as we can tell, knows everything there is to know about the topic. And he showed no dismay the first night of class when Cathryn raised her hand and asked “Can you please explain exactly what a throttle is before you continue this discussion?” The polite group of men didn’t even laugh.


Fast forward 24 months, and guess what our youngest daughter Adrienne gave us for birthday gifts this month? Bob got a laser radiation infrared thermometer, and Cathryn got a digital snap-around multi-meter, both for use on our boat. And we even know how we plan to use them.


We won’t go into details about all the things we’ve learned about on-board maintenance of marine toilets (including the book we own on the topic), but all of our overnight guests have been amused at the detailed instructions that come with being a visitor. And we won’t bore you with details of the book we own and read on anchoring either.


But all overnight visitors have taken our “safety briefing” seriously: showing them where fire extinguishers are located and how to use them, making them pick out and properly size the straps and buckles on their very own life vest for the duration of their visit, and paying close attention to how to open the overhead hatch in the guest stateroom by touch (in the dark) should they need to escape from fire or the boat sinking in the middle of the night.

Bob has been unfailingly compulsive (in a good way) about doing fluid checks in the engine room every morning before we run the boat (something Cathryn forgot to do the day she single-handed the boat across Mobile Bay recently).

When we talk to non-Loopers, we try to take note if (or more often when) their eyes start glazing over while we discuss Looping, a sure sign  we’ve either gotten into Nerd-talk, or just gone on too long. Remember that U-Tube video of an insurance advertisement our daughter sent us a couple months ago? “The boat, the boat, the boat . . . that’s all they ever talk about . . . . ”Link Here

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Looper Boat Christening

Our three days at home have been great, despite the wet, gloomy weather which is normal in Seattle this time of year.

We have a great “support team” at home which contributes to the ease with which we left home for a year to do the  Loop. Our mail has been handled alternately by Bob’s sister Lynn and our good friend Hobie. They recycle the junk, open the rest, and scan the important stuff to send copies to us by email. All our bills go directly to a credit card which Bob pays online, or are deducted directly from our checking account, so only medical bills actually come in the mail, and we haven’t had any of those in the past 11 months (knock on wood!)  Our good friends Jim and Phebe also live in our neighborhood and made arrangements for a crew to do our yard work this summer, including paying them for mowing and weeding. This is just the routine stuff: all these folks have done lots more. We feel so lucky and grateful!

When we flew home Wednesday, Jim and Phebe had already turned up the heat in our house, picked us up at the park and ride lot where the airport shuttle dropped us off, and took us home with a pot of soup for dinner, breakfast food for the next morning, and some wine.

Thursday was Cathryn’s birthday, so Bob’s sister Lynn and her husband David invited us for dinner along with Jim and Phebe. It was great to be reunited!

We’ve re-joined the local gym so we can get exercise while home for a while, something in short supply while Looping.

Last December when we visited our dentist, we had to explain why we wouldn’t return in 6 months for another routine cleaning, because we’d be leaving to do the Loop. He asked if we knew Bob and Debi who live nearby; Bob is a recently retired endodontist, and they also plan to start the Loop soon! There aren’t very many Loopers from the West Coast, so we were excited to hear of these nearby. We sent off an email, then had dinner together in December, only a month before our departure for Florida to begin our Loop.


It turns out Bob and Debi were about a year behind us, but last week they bought their Loop boat, a beautiful 43-foot Fathom Element! They bought it here and will have it shipped to Mobile, Alabama in the next few weeks. Today was the boat christening party, and we were invited to join them at their lovely waterfront home along with 30-40 friends for the big event.


“In My Element” was christened in style with a reading by Bob on the bow, and a Champagne bottle-smashing by Debi using a sledge hammer. Wow!  We’re so excited for Bob and Debi’s journey to begin, and hope their boat arrives while we’re still in Mobile so we might enjoy some travel together along the Florida panhandle or perhaps even do our Gulf of Mexico crossing together, as their boat is also capable of doing a daylight fast crossing.


We had a text message from Looper friend Joy on “Jim’s Joy” saying they arrived at Dog River Marina in Mobile and are parked across the dock from Next To Me.  It’s nice to know friends will be close by and keep an eye on her for the next week.

We’re still re-learning where things are kept in our house, and surprised by how much we’ve forgotten in 9 months. It sure takes a lot longer to squeegee the walls of our big shower at home than the one on the boat! But we’re enjoying having the bigger hot water heater that means long showers won’t turn into cold showers as quickly.