Thursday, July 23, 2009

Probably the best thing about cruising is not about what you do on the boat, but rather what you do off of it. Being able to visit small waterfront towns, making new friends and getting off the beaten track is what this experience is really all about. I have had the good fortune of being able to travel my whole career and during that time, I have discovered a cornucopia of of local flavors and hidden treasures that you don't read about in guidebooks. For the most part, the really neat places were found, not by Googling a destination and planning a visit in advance, but rather by an accidental detour or last minute diversion. The scintillating aromas from a restaurant kitchen or perhaps the music and laughter from a county fair drift on soft breezes until they entice your senses enough that you just have to find out where they are coming from. When you discover these gems, you have to wonder whether it was fate or luck that brought you there. In "The King and I", Yul Brynner would have called it kismet!

Now, about the only thing ole' Yul and I have in common is our hairstyles, but I would have to agree with him that resigning yourself to destiny can often bring great fortune. The trick is to be open to all possibilities.

This cruise was highlighted by several enroute stops. While we enjoy anchoring out, it is also a lot of fun to get off the boat once in awhile and explore.
The first place we stopped was a little community called Surf City. We chose it mostly because we had heard that there was a Dairy Queen right across the street from our marina and I was craving some ice cream. (I guess that is as good a reason as any to stop!)

The marina was sorta small...a real mom and pop operation. There were only about a dozen slips but they were very nice. We arrived a little late in the afternoon and got one of the few remaining spots. Unfortunately they parked us right next to one of those obnoxious 'booze cruise' boats. You know, the kind that take tourists and their money on a two hour swing around the beach. If you like Jimmy Buffet and watered down pina coladas, you would love this thing. For most of the afternoon and early evening, there was a steady stream of party-goers lined up to get onboard. They all had to pass Maya in order to get on their ship and as a consequence, we drew the attention of many gawkers. It didn't take us long to get cleaned up and headed into town. There is nothing like having people looking in your windows as you are trying to relax.

Surf City is probably a lot like most of the smaller beachfront towns along the Atlantic Ocean. It was not overrun with fast food places (but thank goodness for the DQ) and there weren't many hotels there. It was mostly condos, local restaurants and cars with out of state license plates. We found this little bar that offered a fresh fish sandwich and ice cold beer so in we went. I like these kind of places. Nothing fancy. It was right on the beach and most of the diners there were barefoot and in their swimsuits. The food was served in a basket with plastic untensils and the napkins were from a roll of paper towels kept on your table. It was all good. The highlight of the evening though was our trip over to Dairy Queen. I think Kim was glad that we finally got there as I had been blabbering about that ice cream cone all day long. Now, at least I could shut up about it.
The next day found us in Southport, North Carolina, Maya's previous home port. Roger and Cathy Tatum, the couple from whom we purchased Maya, still live there and we took the opportunity to meet them for dinner. They are a delightful pair who still have a soft spot in their hearts for Maya. We spent the evening listening to stories of their cruising adventures. It was really a treat. Of course, I had to have some ice cream afterwards. When it is hot out, it just tastes so good.
Southport reminded me a lot of Mayberry. I half expected to see Aunt Bee out on her front porch and Goober down at the fillin' station pumping gas. It was Fourth of July weekend and the town was completely decked out in patriotic garb. There were flags and bunting everywhere. The big parade was the talk of the town and people were coming in from everywhere to see it. We would have liked to stay and seen it but the marina was booked up and they needed us out the next day. We put Southport on our list of places to visit again someday.
We wandered about the town for awhile after dinner just taking in the Americana and watching the sun go down. You could see the kids finally running out of energy after a long summer's day of play and weary parents getting ready for them to do it all over again tomorrow. I could see why the Tatum's enjoyed living here so much.
It was a short walk back to the marina where Maya bobbed patiently in her slip. Tomorrow we would leave the tranquility of small town America and head for the mayhem of Myrtle Beach. What a difference a day would make.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Sound and vibrations.  That's what I am in tune with.  After being around engines and mechanical equipment for so many years,  you develop an awareness to changes in pitch and sound long before they might show up on the instruments you use to monitor the motors.  You just seem get a feel for when things aren't running right.

I know that some mothers can tell when their child is sick by the way they look, often before a fever sets in.  Its almost like they have a sixth sense.

Well we haven't been on Maya that long but the other day I knew something wasn't right with one of the engines.  The instrument panel didn't show anything abnormal, but something wasn't right.  There was this subtle vibration that I could feel.  It wasn't there all the time but there was definitely something going on.  At first I wanted to ignore it because after all, any problems we uncover eventually translates into boat units.  In some irrational part of my brain, I must have thought that by not investigating the problem, I could save some dough.  You know, out of sight out of mind.  Well its been said that most men lead lives of quiet desperation and I was quietly desperate that the slight vibration would resolve on its own and I could keep my wallet closed.

But it didn't.  As a matter of fact, after playing around with different power settings, I could pretty much make the vibration better or worse. The more power I added, the greater the shudder.  This was not good.  My experience over the years is that when an engine vibrates as thrust is added, it usually means that internally something is going bad.  It is the precursor to the mother of all boat unit expenditures.  The engine overhaul.  I couldn't even think about it.

Well, we motored down the intercoastal waterway for the rest of the day with the engines happy as clams at low power settings.  In the back of my mind though, I knew something was wrong.  Higher power settings produced that ominous vibration and eventually we were going to have to address the situation.

Later that afternoon when we had set the 'hook' (that's a synonym for the anchor... I hope you are making wallet cards) and were done for the day, I went down into the engine room to have a look around.  I couldn't find any leaks, the engine mounts were all tight and there were no broken lines or hoses lying around.  Of course, finding a bad bearing inside one of the engines would take the expertise of a diesel mechanic and we weren't near anyone like that.  But that would explain the vibrations.  It wasn't looking good.

Well, by now I had recovered from my jellyfish experience and I thought I would jump in the water and cool off for a bit. I could finish scrubbing the boat's water line from the last time when I was so rudely interrupted.  The waters where we were anchored were crystal clear as you could see the bottom 25 feet below the surface.  It was plain to see that there were no 'critters' floating around that might cause a swimmer pain, so in I went.  I was about a quarter of the way around the port side when I noticed a piece of rope (or "line") hanging down from one of the propellers.  That was odd.  I wondered where it had come from.

I dove down under the boat to get a closer look.  Sure enough, there was some nylon line wrapped around the starboard prop and shaft... about 15 feet worth.  Well, that would have to come off.  As luck would have it, I had just bought this groovy knife that was made especially for cutting lines.  Why it was special, I'm not sure.  All I know was that it cost a lot more than the steak knife I probably would have used and it looked cool.  Besides that, I am not sure future guests would enjoy hearing how their eating utensils were being used to perform minor mechanical chores.  

You might remember this show that was on TV back in the sixties called Flipper.  I don't remember much about the plots but it seems that the characters on the show were always going underwater to help Flipper save the day.  Every week in the climatic scene, they would dive from their boat with a knife in their mouth and swim great distances (behind Flipper) to cut free the endangered fish/child/boat... whatever.  The mental image of me swimming with a knife in my mouth was something that I considered to be totally insane.  If I didn't drop it or cut myself, I am quite sure that I would look like a total moron coming up for air with this knife between my teeth.  You know, that David Hasselhoff  Baywatch look?  So I decided to do the smart thing with the knife (or so it seemed at the time) and put it in my front pant's pocket.  

Now listen carefully here.  If you don't learn anything from my blog musings, know that it is not a good idea to dive off the boat and into the water with a sharp knife in your front pant's pocket.  Nuff' said.

I am happy to report that I was able to free the entangled line from our prop and shaft and that the heretofore vibrations were most certainly caused by its presence.  This was confirmed the next day when at high RPM's, the engines ran like butter.  The vibrations were gone.  I am also happy to report that the only thing that was cut that afternoon was the fouled line and that all body parts were later accounted for.

*Note to self:  Buy sheaf for knife.     

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

When I was a kid, I had this little tree house down in the woods behind our house.  Like most treehouses, it was small and compact but I didn't care.  It was a place that I could go whenever I wanted and just hang out.  It didn't matter if it was messy or dirty inside.  I didn't care if it got wet when it rained and I was always glad to have guests over whenever possible.  In some ways, it was a place that you could put all the normal ways of living aside and just 'be'.  Even on those days when you didn't have a care in the world, the tree house was an oasis.  Just knowing it was down in the woods made you feel good.  It was your place to escape when you wanted to get lost.  

For some reason as we get older and grow up, we give up our treehouses.  I don't know why. For heaven's sake, we need them now more than we did then.  Oh, some people might have a modern day treehouse that goes by another name.  Sometimes people will finish off their basements so that when they want some quiet they can head down there.  Others might find their treehouse on the golf course or in some other hobby they enjoy.  Still others might build their treehouses in a bottle of bourbon or a pint of ice cream.

It is not the same though.  Those 'psudo treehouses' are too complex.  Too complicated. Too expensive.  I want my treehouse to be as easy and stress free as possible.

So, we bought a boat.  A complex boat.  A complex boat that operates in an environment that sometimes is perilous, often expensive and always challenging.  Not exactly the  kind of oasis I had years before. Nonetheless, it does provide a certain amount of solice.  When we are not down on our hands and knees scrubbing floors or when we are not sweating buckets down in the engine room, Maya can actually be a peaceful respite from the outside world.  

One of the things I like best about this boat is the amount of space it has.  Surprisingly, there a lot of places you can go and hide.  I think Kim likes the flybridge the best.  Up there, you are 25 feet above the water and the views are often spectacular.  There are a couple of couches and chairs you can spread out on if you want and there is music piped in from down below.  Take a good book and a cold drink and you are set.  I like it because it is covered and the sun can't get you.  I am not a 'fan of the tan' as my fair skin just tends to burn and peel.

Most people who have the same model boat as we do enjoy the aft deck the most.  It is set up primarily for entertaining guests.  Ours has ample room for tables and chairs, a wet bar, gas grill, access to the water via the swim platform and a direct line to the all important bar.  It too is covered so the sun and (God forbid) rain can't spoil your fun.  Many boats don't have this much outdoor space available, so when other boaters are looking for a place to hang out, Maya is the place to go.

The inside cabins also have a lot of space.  The master stateroom has a big bed, large head (that's a bathroom... I looked at my card), lots of storage and 8 big windows.  Windows you say?  Well, Maya has the Master Stateroom low in the stern.  The water line is only a few short feet from the windows.  When you are at anchor and retiring for the night, you can hear the sound of the waves lapping up against the hull.  Add in the nice breezes that perpetually flow in and out and you have a recipe for a great night's sleep.

Finally there is the Main Salon, Galley and forward staterooms.  We don't seem to spend much time in these areas although they have a lot to offer.  The Salon has an entertainment system that includes satellite TV and surround sound.  It came with 5 different remote controls and I have yet figured out how to turn anything on.  Usually I am pretty good at getting electronics gear to work however this setup has gotten the best of me.  But hey, we didn't buy the boat to watch TV.  

So that is our basic layout.  Small and compact but in a big way.  We can't wait for all of you to come on down and join us for a cruise!  Just bring your favorite book and prepare for some R & R.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Most boats that have a draft (that is the part of the boat that extends below the water line) over 4 feet carry another smaller boat onboard called a dinghy.  The dinghy is used to get to and from the shore in places that are too shallow for you to anchor.  Usually these dinghies are not much more than an inflatable raft with an engine attached, but they don't need to be fancy.  They are only used to go 100 yards or so....about the distance most boats with a large draft have to park out away from the beach.

The dinghy that came with MAYA is a 10.5 foot hard bottom inflatable with a 15 horsepower engine.  It normally rests on the flybridge deck in a specially designed cradle made to hold the boat while underway.  In order to get it off the boat and into the water, you have to lift it up in the air, position it over the side and gently lower it into the drink.  This is accomplished by use of the davit.  (I know, its another nautical term that has no meaning to us landlubbers.  Personally, I keep a card in my wallet that has the layman's definition of all those words and refer to it often.  Whenever I am talking to an old tar and he starts using a nautical term that I can't remember, I reach in my wallet like I am looking for something and sneak a peak at my cheat sheet.  But I digress.)

The davit is a machine that works like a motorized pulley.  It has a long cable that connects to the dinghy.  You simply attach the cable to the boat, press the button and the motor lifts the dinghy up off the cradle and into the air. Once it is off its cradle, you rotate the dinghy so it is over the side of the boat.  From there you just push another button that lowers it down. How easy is that?

On this trip, one of the things we wanted to accomplish was to try out the dinghy.  We had never used it before and were anxious to give it a go.  The only problem was that we couldn't remember all the tips the previous owners had given us as to the operation of the thing.  Little things like, how to inflate it and where the davit connects were items that weren't coming back to us.  On top of that, the engine hadn't been started in over a year and I had serious doubts about it turning over.  Engines that aren't run often usually don't cooperate without at least a 'one boat unit' investment.   

Anyway, we got to our anchorage early one afternoon and decided to give it a whirl (whirl is a non nautical term).  The dinghy is about ten years old and hadn't been cleaned in a long time.  It was filled up with nasty water and dead bugs but it was no problem for us though.  We have gotten pretty good at cleaning since we bought Maya.  

It only took an hour or so and we had her up to speed and ready for launch.  I had previously bought new spark plugs and fresh gas for the engine in hopes that it might turn over without a lot of fuss, so all we had left to do was drop her in the water and start 'er up.  We were able, through some miracle of fate, to get the dinghy over the side and into the water.  That in itself was a success for us.  If nothing else, we now knew how to get it off the boat and into the water.  The next milestone was to get it around to the swim platform, get in (without killing ourselves) and try out the motor.  I thoughtfully tied her up to the back of the swim platform and after checking for jellyfish, stepped into the dinghy.  I felt a little like Neil Armstrong must of felt when he first stepped on the moon.  So much so that I actually wanted to say a few words.  But it was hot and Kim had that Buzz Aldrin look.... you know, lets keep it moving... so I did it silently.

I am not usually surprised but I was this time.  The engine roared to life on the first pull.  Heck my lawn mower never does that.  It was running!  I was so sure that it wouldn't fire up, I didn't have a plan for what to do next.  Meanwhile, Kim was uniting the lines so I guess that meant I was going boating!

I put her in gear and took it around the patch.  Kim ran in to put on her swimsuit  and do that sunscreen bit, so I knew I had a few minutes to try her out.  What fun!  Even with a little 15 hp motor, the dinghy has a lot of pep.  I zoomed around the anchorage for awhile getting a feel for it.  The beach was only about 200 yards away but I thought I should wait for Kim before heading over that way.

Before long, she was aboard and off we went.  The beach was fantastic and having this little mini boat made us feel like George and Judy Jetson (they always had neat stuff).  We pulled right up onto the sand and got out like we knew what we were doing.  I was a little hesitant turning off the engine as I thought that it might not start again.  Neil and Buzz must have held their breath too when they pushed the button that started the LEM that got them off the moon.  They were 240 million miles from earth.  We were 200 yards from our mother ship but it was a long way to paddle and we had put on enough shows for other boaters in the last few months.  The sight of the two of us operating the oars would have been on YouTube within an hour.

But, it sprang right to life and before we knew it, we were back along side Maya.  30 minutes later, the dinghy was back on the flybridge deck, safely tied down on her cradle.  We can't wait to do it again.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

I think that Forrest Gump had it right when he said that "life was like a box of chocolates; you never know what you are going to get..."  In many ways our second trip was like a box of chocolates.  As much planning and preparation as we did prior to our departure, we just didn't know what "we were going to get. "

The first day started off with a little 'dual' from a retired Coast Guard captain.  We had gotten his name from a mutual friend and we hired him to come out to the boat for a few hours to help us refine our docking techinques.  He was a wonderful instructor.  We were pretty good at getting the boat in and out of a slip.  What we wanted to learn was better coordination skills.  Many times our docking procedure looked a bit like a Keystone Kops movie where there was lots of running around and general chaos.  There is a lot going on when you come into a slip.  From the flybridge it is hard to see how close you are to the dock.  You need someone looking over the side for you to tell you how close you are.  Then there is coordination between the ship and those working the dock.  Lines must be handed over and secured and the communication between those above and those below has to be clear.  It sounds so simple and I guess after we do it a few more times it will become second nature.   We just wanted to get with someone who could offer us pointers and tips on how to best accomplish this task.  We couldn't have gotten a better person to work with us through the morning.  

So we finished our 'mini course' and said goodbye to New Bern.  We decided to head out a half day earlier than planned to check out this anchorage that looked pretty neat.  It was mostly on the way, no more than an hour off our float plan and we figured that we should get used to being spontaneous.  In this world that is so structured, it is hard breaking out of that mindset. So we packed up and went.

The anchorage was in a little inlet off the South River which is off the Neuse River in North Carolina.  The books and websites all gave it high marks for scenery and tranquility.  The weather was perfect, the fuel tanks full and the water was perfect.  What could go wrong?

Well, this spontaneity thing may not be all its cracked up to be.  You see, after we had gotten to the anchorage, which by the way was beautiful, I decided to be spontaneous again and get in the water to check out the boat.  Some crud had accumulated along the water line and I wanted to get in and take a scrub brush to it.  It was also pretty hot out and the water looked very cool and inviting.  So I got in the water from the swim platform which is at the back end of the boat (stern) and had just made it around to the front (bow) when I had the very painful sensation that I was being several places.  At first it felt like electricity but the pain quickly increased.  I looked around to see what it could be causing this but I couldn't see anything.  Suddenly there was another round of shocks and that was all I needed.  Michael Phelps couldn't have beaten me back to the stern of the boat and onto the swim platform.

I literally sprang out of the water and onto the aft deck.  Kim came running out to see what was going on.  All up and down my arm were these little welts (soon to be big welts) that were red and white.  There were also a few on my leg.  And boy did they hurt.  At first I thought that maybe there was some kind of fish out there that liked me more than its usual diet of bugs but it just didn't make any sense.  Kim took a look over the side of the boat and with a tone of shock and horror exclaimed, "Oh my god!"  Swimming all around the boat were hundreds of jellyfish.  These weren't the little guys I was used to seeing at the beach.  These were the big boys.  And they were everywhere.

Okay, so I am the unflappable guy.  You know, the one that won that award in high school.  So there would be no panicking.  Lets assess the situation.  I was in big time pain.  There were welts growing up and down my arm and leg and I was starting to lose sensation there.  We were at least an hour away from any help.  Our cell phone wasn't getting any bars and the perfect weather we had been experiencing was starting to turn ugly.  Dark clouds were forming off to the west.

My first thought was allergic reaction.  That could be bad.  We had very limited medical supplies....mostly neosporin and tequila.  I had developed some minor allergic reactions the past few years to things that would make me swell up and want to vomit.  Things like bee stings, kiwi and Phil Collins songs were on my top ten list of things to avoid.  Jellyfish have a neurotoxin in their stingers that cause the pain.  I was hoping that I wasn't going to have an allergic reaction to it as my options were very limited.

So for the next fifteen minutes or so we stood around waiting to see if my tongue was going to swell up and I was going to expire right there on the South River.  I kept checking my pulse and Kim kept asking me about life insurance.  "Where was that policy again?"  

The pain was inspiring to say the least.  In my fleeting moments of lucidity, I seemed to remember from the boy scouts (or was it Dr. Oz?) that the home remedy for a Jellyfish sting was to apply human urine to the wound site.  Something about the acid in it or whatever, but it was supposed to counteract the toxins in the barbs left by those monsters.

I mentioned this to Kim who didn't take long to see where this was headed.  I needed a human donor and she was the only one onboard.  Now Kim, like most women, is fairly modest and this was an unusual request for anyone to help out with.  I told her that it might work best if she would find a pot or pan and use that to 'secure' a sample.  With that, I could use a paper towel to apply as necessary.  What happened next was a bit of a blur.  I am not sure what was in that bowl.  It may have been warmed over tequila or possibly the urine, but upon application to the burgeoning welts, the relief was almost immediate.  Wow.  I didn't think it would work, but it did.  I was going to live dammit!

The rest of the evening was pretty quiet.  We decided to forgo margaritas that night and had several cold beers instead.  The storm that came quickly departed just as quickly and it turned out to be a nice evening.  It took several more hours but the welts started to subside and the pain gradually tapered off.  The lesson here was to take a minute or two before jumping in the water to make sure you know what is going to be out there swimming around with you.  Had I looked before I leaped, I would have seen the hundreds of jellyfish that were in the water all around the boat and probably not gone in.  Yep, when you don't look before you leap, you never know what you are going to get.