Wednesday, November 11, 2020

A Much Needed Nautical Break

 

Since Traveler was raring to get out on the water, we decided to pack her with 21 days of food and beverage and bug out of Olympia. The day before we left, Connie gathered up twenty pounds of greens and beans, tomatoes and carrots to carry along with us on our journey.  We loaded up the refrigerator on the boat as well as two big coolers, thinking that it would be best to provision for the full three weeks so that we could avoid stores in Seattle, Sequim, and the San Juan Islands.

Rumor was that boating destinations were getting swamped with vacationers desperate to get out of the house and on the water.  Our thoughts were to avoid towns, avoid people, and avoid crowded anchorages.  We armed ourselves with a state park mooring pass, our South Sound Sailing Society reciprocal membership, and three cases of wine.  By the way, we stored the wine on the port side of the boat and that helped keep her on her lines.  Otherwise she has a slight list to the starboard.
 

August 4th we cruised out to Penrose Point and found a mooring buoy for the night.  The next day we caught a bid ebb tide that swept us through the Tacoma Narrows, and into Colvos Passage.  There, in 300 feet of water I spotted a crab buoy swimming its way north up the channel.  It was clear to me that someone’s trap had fallen into deep water and was lost.  I know that you are not supposed to pull up a crab trap that you don’t own, but when a trap with 100 feet of line is in 300 feet of water it’s in no one’s interest to have it bounce along until it hits bottom again.  And then, the lost trap could continue to catch crab for months, crab who would not survive that small prison. We spun around, scooped it up and got the name and address of the owner written on the float.  I phoned the owner in Tacoma and told her that her crab trap will be spending its vacation with us in the San Juans until we returned back south in a couple of weeks.  She was delighted.


  
The big ebb pushed us all the way north past Blake Island (crowded), through Rich Passage to the park dock at Illahee, a nice long run for one day. We watched the kids jumping into the water over and over all afternoon. I had a bee fly into my shirt and got stung twice for a nice surprise “hello” from nature. The next day we shot through Agate Pass in a driving rain, to arrive later in the day at Port Ludlow and a quiet anchorage. 

 
Island Spirit and Traveler at Sequim Bay Park

 

Day four we rode the next strong ebb through Admiralty Inlet and around the corner to the entrance to Sequim Bay where we soaked a crab trap and caught our dinner.  We reset the traps and continued on into the bay to find dock space at the state park float.   Our friends Rick and Ada were there on their new boat Island Spirit.

    

Day five was my birthday; sixty seven is the magic number now.  Rick and I took his dinghy out through  the bay entrance spit and found my two crab traps chock full.  We sorted out the little ones and the females and still came back with a big haul.  As the wind was building and the chop getting high, we brought the traps back into the bay where it is calmer.  Don’t want those traps taking a hike on us!  At the dock I had the pleasure of showing Rick how to murder crabs and rip their bodies apart.  I don’t think he enjoyed it ever so much.  Ada, on the other hand, couldn’t keep her fingers out of the steamed crab picking dish that evening.


We had crab out our ears on my birthday and for subsequent days after that.  Three days at Sequim Bay and it was time to push north.  Our crossing of the Strait of Juan de Fuca was a little bouncy and the wind was not quite strong enough to keep the sails full so we ended up running the motor the second half of the crossing then found pretty Aleck Bay on the south side of Lopez Island for a calm night at anchor.  From Aleck, we sailed around the corner to Spencer Spit.  I spied fourteen boats on buoys and anchors on the south side of the spit, quite a crowd.  Just as we were headed toward the north side to count all those boats, a mooring buoy opened up and we had the good luck to snag it.  If you see it, take it.

  


 
We rowed ashore and met Jane and Richard, our friends who live on Lopez, and had a nice social distanced chat amid swarming bees.  One of the bees got into my beer and I got bit on the lip when I spit it out.  Connie sucked the venom out and I was fine, but shaken.  That’s when Connie told us the story about when her daughter Tesla got stung on the buttocks as a small child.  Connie’s friend told her to suck that venom out.  She did and soon Tesla was back at play.  Connie has lots of interesting talents, I have found.

  



 
From Spencer Spit we sailed through Peavine Pass out into Rosario Strait and made our way to Clark Island for a hike and a paddle and a bumpy night on a mooring ball.  We re-learned the rule that you do not leave kayaks or a dinghy in the water where a confused tidal situation exists.  Traveler was swept down current but was pointing the wrong way, trying to chase her tail.  The dinghy was trying to move to the front of the boat and the two plastic kayaks played an endless drum solo going all night.  The mooring buoy tried to keep the beat on the nose of the boat.  I awoke sleepy eyed and tired.  Always bring the kayaks on deck.  Always secure the dinghy so it can’t dance against the hull.  Always bridle the mooring buoy so it cannot bump the bow. How many times have I got to tell you?

  
Clark Island

From Clark we motored over to Matia and found a quiet spot on the southeast corner in a small cove full of puffins.  We hiked the beautiful island amazed at the old growth trees preserved there.  The shoreline rises steep on both sides with wonderful scooped out ovals and caves in what appears to be sandstone.

  
Across the water at Sucia Island we saw dozens of boats anchored in Echo and Fossil Bays so we decided to stay a second night at Matia.  Connie had a chance to put the fourth coat of varnish on the top deck and I was able to drop a couple of crab traps at the cove entrance in about 70 feet of water.  
Check traps, no crab, means chicken sausages for dinner.  I placed two traps, two sets in different places, and still no crab.  That evening at twilight we watched three sleek otters snacking their way down the cove.  I bet they know where the crab are.


On that second night in the southeast cove of Matia, we welcomed in a small boat with two women aboard and an Irish setter. The setting sun at the head of the cove blinded them as they cautiously made their entrance. “Come on in, there is plenty of room.” I said. They glided on into the cove and dropped the hook in twelve feet of water.  The moon rose but we couldn’t see it, it was a new moon.  The next morning we had a ten foot drop to a minus one foot tide and they were aground. Oops.  We considered ourselves lucky to have three feet under the keel.  We all know that new moon and full moon means big tides.


 

 

That morning we watched that little sailboat go from full tilt to floating then we headed out into deeper water, motoring and sailing around the north end of Sucia Island.  Echo Bay is the largest anchorage.  I counted ninety boats there, an amazing amount.  All around us were recreational fishing boats, crab floats, shrimp floats, paddle boarders, and kayakers.  It was a piloting nightmare. Evidently Sucia is very popular, especially in a Covid summer.

 

 
We decided to give Sucia a pass and headed around the north end of Patos, running through tide rips at the tip of the island with its scenic lighthouse.  We found Active Cove with its two buoys taken plus a few more boats anchored leaving a small space for us to squeeze in and drop our hook.  Going ashore in the dinghy, we avoided the people camping (no masks) and took a nice walk out to the lighthouse and back.  Normally Patos is a quiet place. Not that day.  Anticipating another minus tide, and having an uncertain amount of swing room, we pulled up our anchor (in twelve feet of depth) and ventured out into deeper water, sailing then motoring over to Waldron Island.  Waldron is not a destination Island. There are no facilities, no parks to speak of, no mooring balls and no protected anchorages.  On the positive side, there were no visiting boaters.  With light winds from the north, we were clearly in a period of hot, calm days so we felt comfortable anchoring on the unprotected south side in Cowlitz Bay.  We had the place to ourselves and a wonderful evening with a bright sunset and dinner in the cockpit.  How well it pays to get off the beaten track.

  

With spotty cell service, we finally confirmed with Connie’s son Ezrah that he would be flying into Friday Harbor at 3:25 so we sailed south past Flattop, Jones, and Yellow islands.  As we approached Friday Harbor the boat traffic got heavier and we had some close calls with power boats as we entered the harbor.  Everyone seemed to be in a big hurry.   Sea planes were landing.  Ferry boats were embarking and debarking.  Dogs were barking.  Music was blaring.  The guest dock was full and the area near the docks was crowded with boats at anchor.  Dropping the anchor in 50 feet, we mounted the outboard on the dinghy and headed to town.

 The Friday Harbor market has a huge wine and beer section – clerks were stocking nonstop and customers were loading libations into shopping carts.  We grabbed two dozen eggs, fruit, and some double AA batteries and checked out of there.  The cashier said the real estate market on San Juan Island was booming as city dwellers were suddenly seeing the upside to living on a quiet island.


Ezrah joined us fresh off a 30 minute seaplane flight from Kenmore (his first!) and we headed off around the east side of Shaw Island, crossing through Peavine Pass to Pelican Beach recreation area on the NE side of Cypress Island.  The mooring balls were all occupied and another half dozen boats were anchored.  We tried three times to get an anchor to set in the rocky bottom before giving up and motoring over to Guemes Island where I found a shallow flat area between Guemes and Jack Island that gave us a nice safe anchoring spot in 25 feet of water, 300 yards from shore.  Again, we found a place with no facilities but wonderful anchoring and we had the place to ourselves.
 
 


The morning of Day 15 Connie saw some boats headed east and surmised that some of those boats on Cypress were heading out.  We brought up the anchor and motored back over to Pelican Beach on Cypress where we found an open mooring ball to hook onto.  Taking a kayak and the dinghy ashore, we skirted the group of old guys who were camped on the beach with their fleet of little Pelican sailboats.  A Pelican rendezvous!   The trail from the beach climbs to Eagle Cliff above Foss Cove where we had wonderful views of the Islands all around.  Back aboard, we set out crab traps and caught two rock crabs.  This was Ezrah’s first time crabbing and first time murdering a crab.  Yum.

  

 
Day 16 Ezrah realized that he had to be home early so we made a group decision to make a run for Puget Sound, leaving at 06:30 and motoring south with the stiff current and straight into a strong south wind.  A small craft warning was in effect in the eastern entrance to the Strait, set to expire at 08:00 so we figured we’d catch the tail end of that event.  Sure enough, down near Deception Pass the going got pretty rough as the current against wind brought up rollers and chop. Luckily, we were able to get some breakfast down before we hit the bumpy seas.  Going into the galley to cook would be a bad idea at that point.  We’ve learned that lesson.

  

 


We had water over the bow and water running down the decks and all manner of things crashing down below. But still we were keeping up a good five knots of headway.  Having had enough of the rough treatment, we turned to port to get closer to land where the going was somewhat smoother as the wind didn’t have as much fetch, being blocked by the land and the Whidbey Island Air Station.   I realized that we were in a cautionary zone for the Air Station but…. Oh well, what could we do now? We kept a watch out for marines coming to run us out of their restricted waters.  It took us six hours that morning to get into Port Townsend and a couple more to wind our way into Mystery Bay between Marrowstone and Indian Islands. Our lowest depth in that winding channel was 9.5 feet.  We draw 6.5.   By that time the sun was shining, the seas were calm, and the beleaguered crew was able to spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing.  That meant that the captain got to take a nap.  I love napping.


 

Consulting the charts and the tide and current tables we planned our next day’s run to Edmonds.  Along with the rules about bringing kayaks and dinghies aboard at night is the rule that says to never enter shallow passages on a falling tide.  If you run aground, you are stuck as the water retreats around you.  We set our departure time to 2:00 PM just an hour after a minus 1.5 foot low tide, still pretty low but if we struck, we’d soon float off.  


Calling ahead that morning I found an open slip at the Kingston Marina.  Now that we had a reservation, we knew there would be a place for us when we arrived after the office closed.  We’d been away from services now for 17 days and were looking forward to washing down the boat and getting ready for the predicted rain showers coming in with a low pressure system from the south.  


On the way out of the bay we spied two sailboats, both stuck in the mud.  They had tried and failed to negotiate the shifting channel earlier that morning.  However, as we made our exit, both boats started floating.  Rounding the north end of Indian Island we watched the submarine pen and found an actual submarine inside with a crane loading something.  The young sailors in the patrol vessel saw us looking through the binoculars and started coming our way.  I checked the chart and it appeared we were in legal waters so….let them come!  I notched up the throttle and got the heck out of there.  Ezrah took the helm and brought us through the narrow Port Townsend canal and out into Admiralty Inlet where we caught the significant current that sweeps down towards Hood Canal.  Being that we were crossing a large flow, our boat was crabbing sideways and forward at seven knots.  Rounding Point No Point we flew south, letting the wind vane self-steering do the work.  Eventually the wind disappeared and we finished the day’s run under engine power.  At Kingston we took our reserved moorage slip but then moved over to a reciprocal slip that happened to be open.  Ezrah left the boat and took the ferry across to Edmonds.  The almost free slip at Kingston was nice to have as we were able to wash the salt off the boat, top off the water tank, grab a head of lettuce and catch up on a bunch of email.  We spent two nights at Kingston.

 The following day we sailed into a southerly predicted to be 10 to 15 knots.  After getting the main hoisted the wind increased so we put out about half the genoa.  The wind built and so did the seas until it felt like 25 knots directly from the south with four foot wind waves.  Now we were stuck with a strong southerly and a full main that we’d have to fight to get furled.  Crossing over to an indentation in the shoreline just north of Shilshole bay, we were able to get in close enough to blanket the wind a little so the main could come down without incident.  Arriving at Shilshole marina around 3 PM, our friends Scott and Karen took our lines and we settled into a nice afternoon catching up with them.  Their Catalina 42 was there right across the dock.  Drinks. Dinner. Dessert.




Trains rumbled through the night, waking us up.  After being in quiet anchorages for three weeks, the city seemed overly loud to us, and felt very busy.  That next day we crept out into the sound and hoisted the geniker in the light winds, ghosting along at 2 knots for a while, then increasing to 3 knots off Blake Island.  At Vashon we were at 4 knots building to a screaming 7 knots by the time we made Three Tree Point.  As we made the turn around the south side of Vashon Island the wind came on the beam and Traveler tilted over sharply.  And now here we were again, over canvassed… but having a great time.  Right at the entrance to Quartermaster Harbor is Piner Point with a good sized vertical wind block.  We took advantage of the lull to pull the geniker into the sock.  Motoring into the harbor we found anchorage at Dockton in 30 feet of water.

 
The following day we caught two crabs then sailed south and west to Gig Harbor where we anchored in 40 feet of water along with a crowd of boats and crab pots.  I got two more big rock crabs that ended up as fried crab cakes for dinner.  In the morning I caught two more in the morning and reloaded the traps with the remaining stinky bait. On the way out of Gig Harbor we pulled up the traps with one good sized rock crab and we headed south, steaming, picking, then freezing the crab harvest. Now that we were in the southern waters all we found were rock crab.  Up north we caught Dungeness Crab which are larger, easier to crack, and have a lot more meat.  

 


 
After passing under the Tacoma Bridge we were in the south Puget Sound fishing area where the crab season is closed so our crab fest was over… at least for this year.  Oro Bay is just north of the Nisqually Delta. We found anchorage there in 20 feet and a quiet night with few sounds and fewer boats around us.  Back in familiar waters, we found our slip at Swantown Marina the next day and made multiple runs with the dock cart, emptying the boat of provisions.  After buttoning up the boat I gave her a last look and noticed a slight list to the starboard.  


Thank you Traveler. Thank you for getting our minds off the issues of the day and setting our minds at ease for a much needed recreation.  And thank you, dear reader, for staying with us through a very long blog post.



Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Staying Sane: Spring

 This last spring, summer, and fall has been a strange one.  Connie and I kept as busy as possible, taking on lots of projects and doing everything we could to escape the viral and political drama unfolding.  In August I found myself aboard Traveler, anchored at Matia Island in the San Juans and decided to pound out some blog entries.  Once home, I let them sit as we were preoccupied with getting the garden straight and watching our democracy fail.  Today I find myself sitting in our little Scamp trailer in the rain at Pacific Beach State Park and decided to pull out that blog work, push a few sentences around and push the PUBLISH button.  Here is the result of that work……..

July 2020:

Cascadia Flag

Everyone on the planet is dealing with this insidious virus in one way or another, some struggle to put food on the table and a roof overhead, others are challenged with being estranged from friends and coworkers or the activities they love.  After returning from our winter travels we, like many others, decided to pull our heads out of the daily bad news cycle and start a garden.  Behind our house is a vacant lot -- been vacant since it was orchard land in the 60s.  Connie bought a Cascadia flag and we stuck it on a pole, marched out back, and planted it in the ground, claiming the spot as our neighborhood guerilla garden.  The whole plot was overgrown with grass and weeds, but underneath that cover we knew there lay rich loamy soil.



Our friend and neighbor Bill to the northwest had gardened there for years, with the permission of the landowner, but he’d given up on that venture, moving his plants to a friend’s house.  The landowner, whose family we bought our house from two years ago, is now deceased. Instead of asking the heirs for permission, we decided to wait and ask for forgiveness instead. Scheming with our neighbors Stella, Zoe, Ray, and Johnny to the east, we cleared the land and put up an enormous deer proof fence. Ray built a beautiful garden gate and some trellises. There is nothing like physical labor and the process of building something to take your mind off the troubles of the world.  We spent a couple of weeks ripping up sod and sifting it through a screen, adding supplements, and creating wandering pathways and beds.

Once full summer was upon us, the tomato crop flourished, the beans were getting canned in their jars, the carrots and beets stuffed the refrigerator, and we found ourselves in a land of unending greens.

With Covid having its way all around the country, we gave up on the chartering idea to take a three week vacation on the boat, heading north.  While away, we had our neighbors collect the tomatoes and watch the greens bolt.


 

As if the garden was not enough, we took on another spring project… a music studio for Connie.  We carved out a space in our small back yard and built a ten by twelve structure with a mono-pitched (or skillion) roof.  The east wall is 14 foot tall, the west wall is 6 foot tall.  Ezrah joined our “herd” for ten days, getting tested for the virus beforehand, and he was a bundle of energy.  By the time he left, we had floor, walls, and roof in place.  Now the shingles, facia, and soffets are done.  The door and five windows arrived from Home Depot so I could place them in the Tyvec holes the first week of September, bringing the studio mostly to weather.  There will be a little loft inside with a napping bed and have wood paneling throughout.  The goal with the music studio is for Connie to have a space for all her instruments to live without her having to stow them after each use.  There should be enough floor space for stretching and body work and a small table for writing and composition. I’ll be posting some pictures of the project here on the blog.

We’ve had very few calls for the sailboat charter business this year and so have had some time to do some deferred maintenance on our dear Traveler.  We finally finished replacing the teak side decks with non-skid and Connie has been going gangbusters on varnishing the remaining teak.  It’s about time our boat got a little attention.  Like with any boat, there is a long list of projects that remain.


  


  


How fortunate it was that we were able to qualify for unemployment these past months, but sadly the $600 extra per week expired.  The SBA grants and loans were helpful as well.   We are fortunate to have savings to live on during this rough time.  I feel for those people who were living paycheck to paycheck. I sure wish we had competent leaders on the federal level with the ability to help everyone out but those we had ( In the summer of 2020) could not seem to do the right thing in this stressful time.  I’ll not get started on that whole mess here as you are probably tired of that drama. One thing I will say is that I’m happy that we live in a progressive state with Governor Jay Inslee steering us a course through the pandemic.

That wraps up our spring/summer projects that kept us sane.  Next up on the blog we pick up the story in early August as we head north by water for a much needed nautical break.


 




Monday, March 30, 2020

Thirty days and counting

Thirty days ago while traveling the southern states, we were in Tumacacori, Arizona and the coronavirus situation finally got fixed on our radar. 
Forgot what I was looking for.


We were staying with our friend Leo and had a strong internet signal for the first time. We spent hours poring over news from around the world.  In Phoenix we shopped for masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and zinc lozenges finding next to nothing.  Such was the same as we made our way west, staying in Joshua Tree then the central valley of California.  It was pretty easy to maintain our distance from people as we were staying in remote campgrounds in our own little space and we limited our visits to the facilities to one per day. 

North over the Oregon state line we landed in Medford, Oregon and bought dry goods, toilet paper, and 16 bottles of wine. Driving through the snow and sleet to Olympia, we checked into our boat at the marina.  Our house had tenants until April 1st so we opted to stay on Traveler for the remainder of March.  14 days later our wine supply was dwindling as was our fresh fruits and vegetables. We still have plenty of TP.  It was time to resupply.

We got ourselves organized and set off for Grocery Outlet and the COOP to replenish our fresh veggie and dry goods supply.  Got the list, got our bags, got a plan. 

At Grocery Outlet there was not much of a crowd and we found what we needed and some things we didn’t.  In the cookie aisle we both fought the urge to rub our eyes or touch our face. I’ve got this one wild eyebrow hair that likes to curve into my vision and that has proved to be my biggest challenge to leave alone.

The author writes in his mobile office / navigation station aboard the escape pod, Traveler.

At the front of the store was a stand with spray bottles of bleach and hydrogen peroxide and some towels to use to wipe off your cart.  At the checkout, there were no lines on the floor to mark where we should stand apart in line and the checker didn’t seem to be taking the distancing thing too seriously… but we did. We got our case of wine and other sundries then drove to the COOP.

I loved how seriously the COOP was taking all this.  One of the board members met us in the parking lot where we waited in a short marked line - six feet apart - for our turn in the store.  He explained how we would shop while he was sanitizing the shopping cart for us.  Be organized, move quickly.  People are waiting. Then we were required to wash our hands in an outdoor sink singing Happy Birthday so as to get the required time with soap to kill bacteria and viruses.  When the next person exited the store, it was our turn.  Only seven customers were allowed in the store at one time.

Blood red storm clouds overhead at the marina
Remember those little clipboards with paper and pencils at the front?  Nada. Grab and Go. Nope. We made our way through the fruit and vegetable line, Connie finding produce and telling me the bin numbers and PLUs.  As we were buying a lot of food, a woman needed to get by us but she asked permission before moving swiftly by, her head ducked to the side.  The produce stocker patiently waited until we were gone before she resumed her work.  Usually we would bring our own plastic bags for produce and bulk.  Not now.  We felt like environmental sinners using fresh plastic bags. 

At the checkout we piled our food onto the conveyor belt then had to stand three feet away so the checker could scan everything.  When I needed to scan my membership card, she stepped back to allow me to come in.  We self-bagged and used a credit card so as to avoid handling cash.  As we left, the store locked its doors to take an hour to restock without having customers in the way.  Our parking lot buddy took our cart and started wiping it down. 

We loaded our groceries into the back of the pickup truck then used a spray hand sanitizer before getting inside for the drive home.  At the marina, we got a dock cart and loaded our groceries to take to the boat. At the boat, I handed each bag to Connie down below who set them on one counter.  Then we took about an hour to wipe every single item down with a bleach solution.  My last job was to stow the case of wine in our deep dark wine storage locker.  Twelve more bottles… twelve more days till our next shopping adventure.  Less days if we “lose track” of our wine bottle count. 

When hearing about the spiraling number of cases in New York, I’m glad Governor Inslee has put in place strict distancing measures.  I’m glad the COOP is going above and beyond to protect us and their employees.  And I’m glad that after fifteen days social distancing in Olympia, we are still symptom free.  It seems that the  world is burning down around us.

Looking up out of the abyss, there appears to be a blue sky.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Homecoming

Lake Shasta
Picking up where we left off in northern California.....

To escape the noise at the Buckhorn Recreation Area, we drove north into Redding and talked to the staff at the ranger station who advised us about camping just north of town at Lake Shasta.  We checked out one of the undeveloped lakeside camping areas then opted for a facility with bathrooms. We pulled into Antlers campground with plenty of time for a relaxing afternoon in the semi-quiet park.  Through the night we could hear the freight trains carrying supplies north to the besieged cities of Portland and Seattle.  I imagined freight cars full of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, rice, and beans.

Beautiful Mt. Shasta in Weed, CA.

Our days of sun and warmth were coming to an end as a storm front was approaching from the south.  We followed the Sacramento River north to Shasta and the lovely town of Weed. Up and over Siskiyou Pass before the expected heavy snowfall later in the day, we dropped into the Rogue River watershed and found a Grocery Outlet store in Medford Oregon where we stocked up on canned goods, dry goods, toilet paper, and wine.  

Siskiyou Pass

With a cold snap expected, we treated ourselves to an Airbnb room which turned out to be just the right place for us at the time.  Normally we don't go for the Airbnb rooms in a house where the owner does not actually live.  Sometimes people buy a house for the sole purpose of Airbnb-ing the individual bedrooms inside.  It's a way to gain equity while maintaining enough income stream to keep everything afloat with some profit on the side.  Anyhow, this house was a new one on the Airbnb site but the host had another property with lots of great reviews.  

Having the house to ourselves, we sanitized the door knobs, bathroom and kitchen surfaces.  Then we unloaded the truck contents into the house and set about sanitizing every item we'd just bought at Grocery Outlet.  Sometime in the night someone (or two) came in and occupied the back room.  We packed up the next morning and left without seeing our fellow tenants.  


Driving north, the storm front brought rain, snow, and hail.  We pushed on through Portland, and made it to Olympia by late afternoon.  We'd been gone about four months total.  The town looked deserted. It seemed as if an epidemic had come to town... and it had!  Being that we were early getting back, our home, the one at 1910 Giles Avenue still had tenants in it for the next two weeks, so we trucked our gear down the ramp of Dock E at the Swantown Marina and thankfully collapsed into our dear boat, Traveler.  Our friends Noreen and Myron had turned on the heaters for us so we had a nice cozy place all ready.  I selected one of the 18 bottles of red wine we'd bought in our provisioning extravaganza and we settled in for a completely different kind of existence, one of social distancing; worried about the future, worried about our friends and family.  


A few days later we couldn't stand the endless hours holed up on the boat, reading the news, and letting the events of the day swallow us whole.  We cast off the lines and motored north out of Budd Bay, rounding the point at Boston Harbor in the bright sunshine.  Off the east shore of Harstine Island we had dolphins playing off our bow wake, a sea lion raised it's huge head up out of the water, (at first we thought it was a whale!) and Bufflehead ducks diving the crisp green waters around us.  Today we are at the Jarrell Cove state park dock.  


It's been fun restarting our blog for this winter trip.  It's given me some focus and provided an outlet for occasional frustrations.  We've come off this adventure knowing better how we'd like our future winters to unfold.  But gosh, now that we have that figured out, here is this whole other thing right smack dab in our face.  If it ain't one thing, it's another.  Thanks for listening.



Saturday, March 21, 2020

Human Interactions On The Road


Note: As we publish this blog we are actually back in Olympia.  Since then, we're dealing with "you know what" just like everyone else.  No matter, let's get back to our journey..........................
Over the last month, I had been boat shopping online and trying to arrange appointments to see boats I had found in Mexico and southern California.  We were excited about making the run down to San Carlos to see a Cooper 41 sloop.  As we approached Arizona we found that someone had just made an offer on it.  That would have been a great boat for us.  At a very reasonable price of ~37k, she has two separate staterooms and all the gear we have on Traveler.  Well, we missed out on that one. The lesson learned is that if you find a boat you are interested in and it is a good price then you’d better get there fast and take a look.

I was also chasing a 1986 C&C Landfall sloop in San Diego for 39K, a Bob Perry designed Polaris 43 in Long Beach for 39K, and a 1980 Cheoy Lee Offshore in San Pedro for 29K.  Over the course of a week, the Polaris got an offer, the Cheoy Lee got an offer, and the agent selling the C&C Landfall could not seem to commit to an appointment with us.  

Colonel Allensworth Park.  Note the leaning shelter supports.
All this was happening as we drove across the country.  The coronavirus outbreak was getting more and more serious and the stock market was starting to tank.  Switching gears again, we decided that it was not in the cards for us to be boat shopping in an uncertain market.  In fact, it was time to go home.  We headed north through the central California valley.

At Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park we found an interesting campground ($18) at the site of one of the first black American settlements.   Surrounded by endless flat farmland, we slept to the sounds of coyotes and freight trains.  Half of the camp/picnic sites were roped off because the prairie dogs were busily digging holes around the shelter posts and paved drives.  The shelters were leaning and the pavement was collapsing.  Those little dogs were taking back the park!
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From Allensworth, we ran north to the town of Colusa a few miles east of I-5 and grabbed a night at the city campground there ($34), taking advantage of their electrical to charge our house battery.   An hour west of Colusa we drove the beautiful highway 20 into the hills, the same highway we used to drive to get over to Potter Valley where we helped out with the seasonal marijuana harvest.   

Off of highway 20 is highway 16 and the free camping area of Cowboy Camp.  As we drove in, we found the south camping area closed until April 1st.  On the north loop we found a pitched tent and two camping vans so we decided that camping here was allowed.  While we pondered where to park the rig we saw a hunter appear from the direction of the river.  He was a youngish man in full camouflage brown and green pants and jacket, knee high waders, and a small backpack.  He was carrying a big rifle. Scraggly bearded and curly haired, he had a fierce look about him and we kept our distance.   He opened his truck and sat on the tailgate eating an apple, staring out into the distance, paying us no mind.

There was a great spot there at the edge of the turnaround that would give us a good view of the valley below.  The trouble was, this fellow’s big truck was blocking our way.  I hitched up my courage and approached the ruffian.  “Find anything?” I asked.  “Saw some sign down below, but no deer.” he said.  “Hmm”  “What a beautiful spot, huh?”  I said.  Then he told me about coming over a ridge and finding 20 or so Tule Elk staring him in the face.  We had a wonderful conversation about his work with the California Fish and Wildlife Services and his job prospects working on his uncle’s tuna boat out of some place on the east coast.  This crazy looking hunter turned out to be a complete sweetheart.  I asked him over for dinner but he had places to go and people to see. Don’t judge a book by its cover…right?

We set up our rig looking out to the west across the river.  At sunset we saw the herd of Tule Elk settling down across the way in the shelter of some oaks.    

The next day we hiked around and tried to cross the little river.  Each time we found a narrow spot that looked like we could jump across we hesitated.  Would we be able to jump back?  Off in the distance the golden hills and oaks beckoned but we were stymied so we settled in at our campsite.  I watched a couple in the tent and wondered if they were homeless.  The man loaded the family (him, her, infant, and three year old) into the car and off they went.  Later he came back with the kids.   After being buoyed by the conversation with the hunter, I ambled over to talk to the man and found him speaking Russian to his small children and his service dog.  We talked about camping on BLM land, which he kept referring to as BML land and he told me about their most recent month long stint on land just outside of Las Vegas.  I asked if they were living in the tent. “Yes.”  I asked if he needed anything and for a moment he looked sad, then he told me they were OK.  Then he asked ME if we needed anything, which I thought was very sweet.

Later that afternoon, he piled the kids back into the car and I presume he was making the drive down to the nearest town of Williams to pick up his spouse.  Soon, a white forest service truck pulled up and yet another scraggly bearded young man got out.  He put on some bright blue surgical gloves and approached the tent, knocking on the frame and announcing himself.  Getting no answer, he unzipped the fly and looked inside.  He then got a camera from the truck and took some pictures before writing some notes.  The ranger drove up to us and I approached the vehicle to talk to him through the passenger window.  “I’m sorry sir, but you cannot camp here.”  he said.  We discussed why and where and had a short pleasant conversation the gist of which was that Connie and I were going to have to pack up the rig and move on.

Then I told him about my conversation with the man with the kids and what I thought might be their situation.  His face brightened up when he heard that the tent was occupied and thanked me for telling me the situation.  He had seen the tent one week ago with no one around and seeing it vacant now, assumed it was abandoned.  He was preparing to take it down and cart it away.  I asked him where the family could legally camp and he figured that they could park the car in the upper lot and walk into the lower campground which was closed to vehicles  but not to camping.  I then asked if he was going to leave them a note.  “I think I’ll do that.”

Later, after we had our rig all packed up and ready to go, I asked Connie if we should leave the homeless couple something.  At first she said no, that we didn’t know what their real situation was and that we would not want to assume anything or potentially enable a bad situation… A few minutes later she came up to me, put her arm around my waist and said, “If you want to leave something then you should go right ahead.”   I dropped a twenty into an envelope with our boat card and a short note and placed it inside their tent next to the note from the forest service guy’s.  His note kindly explained how they should move their tent down to the lower campground.  Good people abound.

As we got into our truck ready to drive away, a car with two women pulled up.  The driver rolled down her window and asked if we could get our rig out if she pulled into the handicap parking space.  “No Problem.”  As we drove out I shouted out, “Look across the valley and see if the Elk are there.”  She replied, “That’s where they usually are, but usually at sunset or sunrise.”  We smiled, they waved.  She pulled herself out of her car, grabbed her walker and proceeded to the overlook.   Evidently she’d been coming here for years.  We’d come back here.  It’s a good place.

After getting skunked out of our site at Cowboy Camp we drove north to provision at Orland then headed west to the Buckhorn / Black Butte recreation area.  Being a national rec area, we qualified for half price camping at $10 per night.  At the end of the loop we found the best campsite ever, overlooking the water to the south.  We set up the rig, paid for three nights, and set out our solar panels to catch the last bit of energy from the sun.  Above us, across the drive, a large couple sat at their picnic table outside their trailer.  As we settled in we could hear the rock music station they were listening to, much too loud.  They were blessing all the other campers with their music selection as the sun was heading toward the horizon.  After a long time of putting up with it, I finally, went around our rig and looked up at them.  I pointed to my ears, made a gesture like I was turning down a very large dial, and then raised my hands asking WHY?  We stared at each other for a few minutes then the lady went to the trailer and turned the music off. 

Connie was playing the ukulele while I started the coals on the grill to make dinner. One of our favorite things to do in camps with built in grills is to start a small wood fire, get the coals going, then lay in some charcoal.  Once the wood burns down, the charcoal is lit and we can grill corn, veggies, and chicken.  After dinner, we toss more sticks onto the glowing charcoal and we've got a nice fire to cozy up to.  

We had the wine in the glass and the flame to the fire when the man in a camper to our east started up his generator; a loud generator.  Connie switched to the accordion so as to drown out the sound as I grumbled, and started to make the lamb patties.  Two hours later, after dinner, as we were trying to watch the remaining sunset, I could not take it any more so I approached the man’s RV and could see him sitting inside watching television.  I knocked on his door. He answered and I asked him if he could turn off his generator. I had to shout over the din of the machine which he had covered with a blanket to muffle the sound.  His immediate reply was that the campground rules said he could run his generator until 10 PM, 30 minutes away.  When I protested, his reluctant reply was just, “OK, I’ll turn it off.”   That’s when I had more words to say about just how long it should take to charge a battery, was he leaving tomorrow, and other such niceties.  He kept repeating, “We’re done talking now, good night.”  As I walked away part of me felt that I should not have said anything at all and should have just waited for him to turn his generator off at 10 PM.
All the lakes, everywhere in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California are low now.

Back at our campsite we watched the moon rise and then cleaned up the dishes.  After stoking the fire we settled into our folding chairs.  Just then a car pulled into the lower lot between us and the water.  The car radio was up full blast and we could hear them scanning through the stations; car idling, lights on, radio blaring.  That’s the final straw.  I’ve had enough.  I start to march down the hillside.  Connie comes with me.  Blocking our way is an older couple out walking their dog and as we start to converse, the little car down below drives away.  The Vancouver couple thanked me for talking to the generator guy.  “I wish I’d had the balls to say something.” he said.  Well now I’m feeling better about my rash actions.  We talked about camping on BLM land (a common subject) and about boats in general.  The full moon rose, the clear sky brought in cold air and we retired for the night.  I lay awake for a long time thinking about all the people we’d recently met and had interactions with.   Off in the distance I could hear the coyotes yipping and yapping.

At 7 AM we heard the first generator start up, coming from somewhere up the hill far away.  At 8 AM the rock music people camped above us started up their generator and we spent our breakfast hours grumbling about things.  But then by ten o’clock the only sound in the campground was from Connie playing away on the accordion. 
Connie playing accordion in our Magical, Mobile, Monkey Palace.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Joshua Tree



Note: As we publish this blog we are actually back in Olympia.  Arrived six days ago to a very strange place and we're dealing with it just like everyone else.  No matter, let's get back to our journey.......................... 

 Our story left off with us headed toward Lake Amistad near Del Rio Texas We chose one of the northern campsites there and spent two nice days dry camping and having fires at night.  I drove to town and found internet at McDonalds so we could make an Airbnb reservation in El Paso, our next destination to the west.  As we head toward higher altitudes and gorgeous mountains we'll find freezing cold temperatures so a warm room was a good plan. We were driving down Highway 90 the next morning when the tire blew.   Boom! Flap, Flap, Flap.  Connie pulled the rig to the side of the road and we had a wonderful hour playing with jacks and tire irons.  

The end of the day found us 400 miles westward in El Paso where Bill, at Marten Tire, fixed us up with a new trailer tire.  Our Airbnb was a private room and bath in a small apartment up in the hills.  The young couple, trying to make ends meet, were actively renting out their master bedroom.  We self-checked in, showered, watched a Netflix movie, slept, and the next morning, cooked ourselves breakfast in their kitchen, which they so graciously offered per a note on the guest info board, never once setting eyes on our super hosts. She works nights at Walmart, he works construction in the day.  Our paths never crossed.  We left a tip to compensate for the unexpected, free breakfast.  Thank you, nice people!
 Chef Leo in Tumacacori

A long day’s drive took us across New Mexico and into Arizona, landing just south of Tubac in the village of Tumacacori where our friend Leo was staying.  We spent three nights there, got in some good hikes, bird watching and enjoyed one evening out listening to live music, and of course, Connie sang a few tunes.  Leo always cooks up a storm in the kitchen so we always eat well when visiting.

Next up was two nights in Phoenix with Connie’s sister, Diane, and her family. Brevin, Connie’s grandnephew, had a swim meet so she spent Sunday pool side.  I caught up on some business at their home with endless internet.

Another long drive took us into California where we were lucky to find the last available campsite (#13!) at the Belle campground in Joshua Tree National Park.  Lucky 13 is right next to luckier 12.  Lucky 13 is always the last to fill because it has a ten degree tilt to the south and its right up next to #12’s parking space.  A strong north wind blew all night and kept us awake as we kept sliding down our tilted bed.

Planning on staying four days at J Tree we were up roaming the campground the next morning looking for a more sheltered and level spot.  When the rig pulled out of site # 10 we moved ours over there and tucked the tent trailer into the south face of the three story pile of rocks; a beautiful campsite.  Later that evening, right at dusk, we watched a pickup truck with a small R-Pod trailer circle around.  All the sites were full.  The driver, a single California woman, stopped and I had a talk with her.  She was tired of driving and didn’t really want to drive another hour south to the overflow camping on the southern border of the park.  I had an idea.  We both walked around to lucky 13 and 12 where each site now had one car and one tent.  We approached the two young women in #12. I made the suggestion that since each site could have a maximum of two vehicles, there was room for the California woman to park her rig there just for the night if they didn’t mind.  They immediately agreed and approached the single man at #13 and before we knew it, our California woman was backing her trailer into the sloped Lucky 13 spot.  She then got to spend the night sliding down her tilting bed.  All was quiet that night at Belle campground, except for the yips and yaps from the coyotes as they frolicked in the night.
 

Early the next morning the California woman moved her rig and the two car campers left.  Then she pulled her rig into #12 and went to the pay station.   Later we saw that she’d payed and reserved both spots…. even though she was there by herself.  When we talked with her again later she said her friend was coming out to join her that evening or the next day.  “Oh, that’s why you are taking up two spots.”  She grinned like the cat that got the mouse.

That day we had a nice hike or two and all the time I had a little sadness in the back of my mind about how we helped that woman and now she was taking more than she needed.  I guess my thoughts finally filtered over to her camp because that night at 7:30 she stopped in on her way to drive to 29 Palms in the pickup truck to make a phone call.  “You know, I’ve thought about it and if you see someone who really needs a spot, feel free to let them know they can stay in #13. My friend isn’t going to make it tonight.”  All afternoon people had been driving around trying to find a site.  In the waning light I saw a white SUV circling.  I stepped out of our tent trailer and flagged them down.  At first the driver drove past me but then stopped and backed up. “Are you looking for a place?” I asked.  “Yes! We’ve been through every campground between here and Black Rock and there is nothing open.”

“I’ve got a place for you.” I said.  The young man driving smiled.  His girlfriend actually started to cry with happiness.   We got them settled into Lucky 13.  Later the California woman returned and met them.  I happened by and approached her and told her that I could see her Karma aura spreading up from her head.  She laughed. I laughed.

Let’s talk about Joshua Tree.  I want to write this down because we’ll be back and I’ll want to remember the lay of the land.  There are eight camping areas in the park. Four are reservation sites that can handle small and large vehicles.  The other four are first come, first served spaces and meant for smaller vehicles.  We could not get a reserved site online because they book up early.  Even trying a month ahead of time, we could not find a reservation spot for four days in a row.  On the south side of the park the Cottonwood campsite is reservable but, of couse, was full when we arrived except for single nights.  Just south of the park is a large area of BLM land that is designated as overflow camping.  We saw about thirty rigs parked there as we approached the park.

I used to be a rock climber and always wanted to climb at J-Tree
 
We drove 30 miles north through the center of the park on a smooth winding road to find the White Tank campground, a first come first served place.  The campground loop runs amid large boulders with little sites tucked into the rocks.  It’s a beautiful spot.  Length restrictions were at 25 feet so we were too long to stay there.  We saw lots of tents and four wheel drive vehicles.  Rock climbers like staying at White Tank.

Next up the road is Belle, also first come first served.  And the length limit is 35 feet so mid-sized vehicles fit.  That’s where we found Lucky 13. Like White Tank, Belle is an amazing place with the sites grouped around massive rock structures.  Fifteen miles up the road is the park boundary and the town of 29 Palms.  The park visitor center there has good wifi, cell phone coverage, and drinking water.  I found a young couple there with backpacks and gave them a ride into the park, saving them the entrance fee since they were with me and my senior access pass.  They got out of the truck and started backpacking into the hills for a few days of primitive camping.

Heading west from Bell, the first campground is Jumbo Rocks, a reservation site and it is chock full of RVs big and small, all crammed together in the scenic boulder field.  Clearly, this is the favorite campsite in the park for the big rigs that need to reserve a space ahead of time.  Jumbo Rocks is a busy place.
Key's View of pollution rolling in from L.A.

Further west is the first come first served camping area named Ryan.  It sits just below Ryan peak, a popular hike in the center of the park.  West of that is the last first come first served area of Hidden Valley where 44 sites sit among the rocks.  From there you can take a seven mile drive south to Key’s View at 5,185 feet  elevation where you have an amazing view a hundred miles to the south and west from Salton Sea to Palm desert.  When people arrive at the overlook, their cell phones start chirping as they pick up signals from the valley below.  Sadly, you can see the pollution pouring in from Los Angeles to the west.
 
See the head?
The remaining two campgrounds that take reservations are on the northern border of the park at Black Rock and Indian Grove.   We stayed four days in Joshua Tree and enjoyed the scenery and the hiking.  We had no cell service and had to bring in all our own water.  We liked the smaller campgrounds because they were quieter.  People tenting don’t usually run generators
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Our next time through our plan is to reserve ahead of time one night at one of the big sites.  Then we’ll break camp early and watch for people leaving the first come first served sites. That’s how you get a site there, we’ve learned.   And, who knows, a smile and a conversation can often get you squeezed in even when there is no room left in the house.