Monday, October 29, 2012

The Winds They Do Blow... First From The South, And Then From The North

" One ship sails east and another sails west
With the self-same winds that blow.
Tis the set of the sail and not the gale
Which determines the way they go.
As the winds of the sea are the ways of fate
As we voyage along through life,
Tis the act of the soul that determines the goal, 
And not the calm or the strife.
 -Ella Wheeler Wilcox

The Journey Continues...
Day 3 - Rise early and make way for the starting line. 

     Finally, race day is here. It seems we've already had an adventure of sorts with our train trip and tour of Baltimore, but today begins the true purpose of our journey.

    There is an excitement in the air as we Boomer passengers stumble our way on deck, 
                                         stretching out the kinks and creeks. Our crew 
scurries about with focused intensity making ready to set sail. The wonderful scent of brewing coffee and frying bacon wafts up from the galley. The sky is cloudless, the winds from the south and gentle.  Conversation is soft, if there is any at all, as we each commune with our thoughts and the one hundred thirty miles of water that await. I am surprised to see such quick-footed movement from these young sailors who yesterday moved as if under water, the same crew who shuffled aboard in the wee-hours muffling their giggles and chatter. They are here to work now and they are serious, despite throbbing heads and thick tongues from their night of revelry and merriment. Youth is their best defense against the weariness, the crisp morning air and glistening sunlight just the jolt to brighten spirits and charge the body. For the next forty-eight hours their skills and training, endurance and expertise, even their patience, will be tested. This is why they are here, and why I am here to be part of it.                       

     Other tall ships are beginning to stir, other crews bustling about making ready, as thirty seven other boats begin moving slowly out of the marina. The muffled sounds of engines purring, diesel fumes on the breeze. We will motor out of Baltimore Harbor and into the open channels of the Chesapeake Bay before hoisting sails. With winds from the south as they are, I doubt we will cut the engine until we cross the official start line - when it is mandatory. We will race under sails only. Until then, we're going to need whatever boost we can manage to reach the start in reasonable time.

It's a pretty good sign that when the paddle boarders are keeping pace with the sailing vessels that you will be going no where fast on this day. Four hours into ours trip and we have only just reached the starting line. Time for lunch and a nap in the sun. I'll admit to feeling a bit of disappointed with the wind, but any good sailor knows it's best to enjoy
the calm while it lasts, because it will change, and the change will no doubt be extreme.

      The afternoon rolls by as slowly as the waves against the hull and the gentle flapping of the sails. I can't say I have any complaints. The sun was warm, the conversation relaxed, and my guilt for not having touched my writing project or the book I brought along seems meaningless. We all feel very spoiled and very rich on this glorious day. Around four o'clock there is a brief flurry of activity as we approached the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, and open water beyond. Cook brings out a tray of dips and crackers, and the bar  officially opens. What a delightfully lazy day. While I know the crew is working hard, tacking often, and trimming sails to catch whatever breeze they can, I for one simply enjoy the salt air and sunshine, and sharing memories with my brother about the times our father took us out fishing in our little sixteen foot Grady White in these same waters. Then we were tossed about like a bath toy, but today the sea was easy.

"At sea, I have learned how little a person needs, not how much."  Robin Lee Graham

Day 4 - Another glorious day, and the winds they are a changin'...                  To Be Continued...

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Family History, Scrapple And A Look At The Competition... Hoist the Main and Parade The Sail


 The Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race Diary Continues...

Day 2 - October 9, 2012

      After a snug night on board the Liberty Clipper, the stomach rumbles for a hearty breakfast. Since the galley will not serve until tomorrow, we five early arrivals head into Canton to find breakfast. A short walk from that marina Jim points out the old American Can Company. Family history has it that our great grandfather was one of the founders of the once thriving Baltimore landmark, now restored into loft apartments, offices and shops. It was a delight to see a bit of our history still standing. We have no concrete records of our great grandfather Stansbury's role in American Can in the late 1800's, but we do know that our grandfather started his career there, and moved on to open a cannery in Richmond, and from there he traveled throughout the Southeast building canneries, with the last one established in Havana, Cuba around 1918.
 History or hearsay, the Stansbury men were speculators, innovators and risk-takers from the get go.
      After walking several more block and with directions for several locals, we finally arrive at the Sip & Bite Restaurant, a twenty-four hours diner opening in 1947 and a local favorite ever since. Once inside we find ourselves transported back in time, and our appetites heightened by the aroma of bacon cooking. This place has enough character that Guy Fieri of the Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives paid a visit just this past April. Most ordered their famous meat omelet or pancakes, I went for Eggs Chesapeake (eggs Benedict with a mound of fresh Blue Crab meat instead of Canadian bacon). Absolutely divine. And because it is a local traditional food, we each took a taste of fried scrapple,
    "Every part of the pig, except the oink..."informed our waitress.
The description was the warning. I'll leave the scrapple to the die-hard Baltimorians.

     With our day free until 3:00, when we would meet our ship's captain and crew along with the other guest for an orientation meeting, safety briefing and instructions for the Parade of Sail and evening agenda, Jim and I set out to tour the marina and inspect our competition.
                                            By our best count there were somewhere over thirty-five schooners in the race. A schooner is a double-masted sailing vessel, and in this race entries were divided into four classes based on length from 128' down to 46'. There were seven boats in our class of over 100' in length.
     Every boat was a beauty, many vintage vessels included from as early as 1928, each with lots of polished teak, glistening brass and proud crews. It was just as much fun to view the other boats in the marina, giant yachts, flashy speedboats, and leisure cruisers. We wondered why so many of the motor boats stayed moored in the marina When we watched our engineer fill up our boat with diesel fuel at price tag of nearly $3,000 to fill the tank, it was easy to understand.

      I have always loved a marina, with the music of tack clinging against masts in the gentle breezes, the easy relaxed attitude of sailors and their K-9 companions, the lazy casting of a fishermen. Even the smell of fuel and varnish bring back fond memories. It is a peaceful community and one we spent lots of time in growing up. But the day is quickly slipping away, so we grab some lunch at the Bay Cafe where we can sit outside and continue to enjoy the beautiful weather and marina sounds. Then it back to the ship to prepare of the Parade of Sail.

     It's a thrilling sight to see these tall ships under sail, and to be a part of the spectacle. Upon leaving the marina, all thirty-seven ships put up full sails to the gentle wind and make way for Baltimore's downtown harbor. Spirits are high as the festivities get underway, and our fellow sailors are jolly with cocktails in hand. We were called to put down our cups and heave-ho the main sail. I loved putting my back into the effort to raise a canvas weighing nearly a ton. What fun to participate in at least a small way.
     Once underway we heard the boom of cannon fire and the saluting cannon from the Constellation that is moored in this harbor. What a strange feeling to
be sailing so close to the glitzy sky scrappers of downtown, where we could see office workers at windows and on balconies watching the show. Baltimore is the seat of many corporations and factories, including the Domino Sugar plant. Baltimore also has a wonderful sea aquarium and busting nightlife in its hub.

    The cannons continued to boom and echo off the tall buildings. Our own captain uncovered his own weapon and gave us all a start when he yelled out,
     "Fire in the hole!"
    You can bet there were a few sloshed drinks with that surprise.
     After about an hour of hoopla in the harbor we headed back to the marina. Time for dinner and carousing with the crews and guests of all the boats at nearby Bo Brook's Restaurant. It was a festive night and a rousing sendoff for the big day to come.

    After filling our bellies and weaving our way through the bulging crowd that packed this festive domain, Jim and I decided to head back to the boat to grab our ditty bags and towels, and headed for the marina showers. After our first experience with the ship-board showers the previous night,  so tiny one feels a bit like a cork in a bottle, we decided to take advantages of the more luxurious facilities on land while we could and before the evening crowd. The chilly night air, an afternoon of sailing and sun, and a good meal made my eyes heavy and my body ready to rest. I turned in early for a good night's sleep and dreams of the adventures to lay ahead.
To be continued...

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Second Check On My Bucket List, An Experience That Is More Than a Single Story

     What I am learning about pursuing the items on my Bucket List is that each check mark represents much more than a singular experience. Instead, every endeavor is like opening a surprise package filled with a bounty of unexpected and unique gifts. Reaching into my parcel I find a veritable treasure trove of energizing anticipation, aroused emotions, beguiling personalities, important lessons, and experiences far beyond my expectations. Each journey satisfies with fresh, delicious significance that I truly never anticipated.

"It is of great use to the sailor to know the length of his line, though he cannot with it fathom all the depths of the ocean."
- John Locke

#7 On The Bucket List - Take a Windjammer Cruise. 

 Day 1- October 8, 2012

    When opportunity knocks, open the door. Items on the list need not be pursued in order. When I read about the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race, and that the Liberty Clipper welcomed guests aboard for the adventure, I knew it was time to act. This seemed a perfect opportunity to test my sea legs on inland waters, before taking the ultimate windjammer cruise in open ocean. For my sailing companion I convinced my brother (the true family sailor) to join me. What I was soon to discover is that this would not only be an adventure on the water and a wonderful chance for Jim and I to reacquaint ourselves, but also a tour of two cities, an introduction into the hidden community of young sailors, as well as a chance to spend time with people of my generation who are also questioning retirement and a shared resistance to aging gracefully.

     The first leg of the one-way sailing excursion and race from Baltimore, Maryland to Portsmouth, Virginia included a five-hours train ride. I left my home in North Carolina at 6:00 AM and drove three hours to my brother's home where I left my car. Jim's wife Barbara then drove us forty five minutes from their house in Waverly to Essex, where we boarded the Amtrak Silver Star just before noon for an on-time departure.

     It's been well over 20 years since I've traveled by train. Then it was a few short rides from West Chester to Manhattan, New York and back. Years earlier, I often traveled by train with my young son, staying overnight in the comfort of a Pullman cabin from Winter Park, Florida to visit my parents' home in Virginia. I've always loved the train. The gentle rocking motion, the  whistle blowing at crossings, scenery you never see from the highway flying by the big windows, and the old game of trying to guess where you are along the way. Lunch in the dining car was surprisingly good, as was the service. I quickly learned that sitting backwards is not the best place for me. Was this a warning that I may have an issue with motion sickness?

     There was a short half hour stop in Washington, DC for an engine change. We were told not to leave the platform, and reminded that,
     "The train does not leave you, you leave the train."
     To stretch our legs during the break decided to walk down the platform to the front of the train to watch the engine change. In Washington all trains going north change from diesel engines to electric, and those going south do the opposite. There is something fascinating about watching these giant iron machines, and the man who run them, move about on the tracks. I can understand their passion for their work, and could almost envy their career choice. Who knew all trains in the Northeast run on electric power?Certainly not me. After we boarded and were back underway the short distance to Baltimore, it was easy to feel the difference in speed and quiet of electric power. It wasn't much more than an hour before we glided into Penn Station in Baltimore.

     We grabbed our sea bags from luggage claim, and a taxi to whisk us to the Baltimore Marine Center in Canton. This area of Baltimore is a quaint, historic area filled with classic narrow row houses that open directly onto the sidewalks, some with tiny allies between, barely wide enough for a person to pass through, that lead to hidden courtyards. On every block there are welcoming Irish pubs, charming restaurants, interesting shops. I was tempted to walk to the marina just to have time to peak in windows and smell the aromas. Canton is obviously the up and coming area of Baltimore, with lots of young, chic pedestrians and bicyclists. It made me long to be just starting out in life when everything is new and exciting.
     Now at the marina, we had only to tote our bags down the pier and locate our boat. Seeing the tall ships lined up all around the perimeter of the marina was a beautiful sight, and one to make the heart skip a beat. It was thrilling to think that it wouldn't be long before we'd sail out into the bay for the adventure of a lifetime.

     It was a long walk through the marina to find the Liberty Clipper. A lesson learned is that wheels are a great addition to a heavy sea bag. My brother's bag had wheels, but mine did not. Lucky for me we ran into some of the crew from our boat who were happy to help haul the bags aboard.

    I have to say that the Liberty Clipper was a fine sight indeed, and looked every bit as sea worthy as I had hopped. Once on board we were given a quick tour around, and met the three other guests that arrived early like us. Once we found our cabin, an efficient  incredibly small space perhaps 7' x 5' at most (Jim's arms stretched easily from one wall to the other), it was easy to determine that the best place to spend our waking hours was up on deck. There was no hesitation as we gathered our fellow travelers to seek out a place for libation and dinner in Canton. A short walk lead us to Plug Ugly's, a great little pub with turn of the century bars up stairs and down, that served  bay oysters, overflowing steamer pots of seafood, and roast beef piled high on a fresh roll for my meat-eating brother. We shared lots of laughter about our tiny quarters, along with
our personal histories and our individual reasons choosing to embark on this adventure - a new experience for each of us. First bonds are the lasting ones, and Tom from Floyd, Virginia, Pam and Tom from Michigan, and Jim and I proved to be close companions throughout the rest of our journey.

   The first night aboard in the harbor was peaceful and uneventful. I was exhausted from my journey and turned in early. Jim stay on in the salon to share more stories with our new found friends. All was quiet and calm until sometime after midnight, when a rowdy crew returned with lots of clomping about and laughter. No problem for us old folks though... just a few waining smiles remembering when we too might have been out late, a little tipsy and laughing into the wee hours.

                                                                                                                To Be Continued...