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Posts from the ‘Short Stories’ Category


SHORT STORY: Ems’ Excellent Day – The Transformation of a Mountain Girl

I grew up in West Virginia. Not a lot of sailing there. But we did live a block from the Kanawha River and I learned early on that I felt more settled sitting by the flowing water watching the barges go by. I rode my bike along the banks of the river for countless hours growing up. I suppose I was more drawn to the water than I recognized.

By 2006, my sailing experience was limited to a couple of day sails. In a “previous life,” my in-laws had a sailboat that they kept not far from where we lived in Ocean City, NJ. On those rare occasions that we would go out, it consisted of my father-in-law yelling orders at my husband in an exasperated tone. And every time a nice puff of wind would fill the sails and the boat would start to really sail and, therefore, heel just a bit, my mother-in-law would panic and scream “Make it stop!! Make it stop!” And before the day was done my husband would toss his cookies. So my sailing experience was pretty limited and unenjoyable.

When Frank and I began seeing each other, he suggested our first major vacation should be chartering a sailboat in the British Virgin Islands – just the two of us. Talk about taking some seriously inexperienced crew!! It was a running joke that he was a water boy and I was mountain girl. And yet, that first vacation together was the clincher for me – in spite of the rough conditions we hit on that trip, I was hooked on sailing.

The first time I laid eyes on Annapolis was when I went there for my first sailing class – without Frank. As we started talking about making sailing a more serious part of our life, he needed me to know for sure that I loved it because I loved it, not because HE loved it. He needed to feel confident that I would consider moving onto a sailboat with him because I wanted to as much as he did. He was quite wise in asserting that, if I went cruising with him for an extended period of time without being there for myself, I would end up hating it and resenting him. That was some pretty smart thinking. What we didn’t know was that he was creating a monster. I think a good monster, but I just haven’t been able to get enough of this learning to be a good sailor stuff.

Fast forward to this spring. We have 4000+ miles under our belts. I’ve taken my fair share of shifts at the helm every day that we’re out. I’ve done hours overnight while he’s slept. I’ve been at this for a while now. I’ve finally gotten to the point where I don’t feel that I’m about to lose my lunch when I know I’m going to be docking the boat. I even started having the occasional dream where I’m taking the boat out by myself. I’m not looking to push him overboard or anything so don’t read too much into that statement. I’m just enjoying feeling more capable all the time. So last month when we planned to take the boat in for a bottom paint job, we had to plan the logistics of taking the boat to the marina. The place was about a 30 minute car ride from our slip in Annapolis but about a 2.5 hour boat trip down the bay to the West River. Just like when you take your car in for service, you have to figure out the logistics of dropping it off, right? So when I asked Frank how we were going to manage this, he said, “Well, you push me off of the dock (in the boat) and I’ll drive the boat over alone and you drive the car over and meet me.” So just to be funny (sort of) I said, “How about if you push ME off of the dock and I’ll take the boat over.” And to my surprise he said, “Okay.” I wasn’t quite expecting that! Later that night I brought it up again. He said he was in full support if I wanted to take the boat, but we talked through whether I was really ready for a solo trip. The plan we ended up with was a better one – still a big step for me, but a smarter one. Frank would take the boat over, but I would bring it back. For me to try to dock by myself at a marina I knew nothing about and had never seen didn’t seem to make the most sense for my maiden solo trip; HOWEVER, pulling the boat OUT of that marina, going the 2.5 hours back up the bay and into Back Creek and into the slip I’m familiar with by myself . . . now that seemed more plausible.

STILL . . . it was a plan for me to drive the boat alone!! Gulp! I was pretty excited over the prospect and Frank was excited for me and very encouraging of it. (I think some of our friends were shocked that he’d let me out of his sight in our precious Eleanor Q!) He had complete confidence. We planned this for weeks! As the day approached, I’d wake up thinking about it, sometimes in a bit of a cold sweat. But there was no turning back now. Come on – what’s the big deal. I was going to motor, not sail. I’ve been behind the wheel for that trip before when we had visited the West River. I’ve navigated up the bay from various points many times. I had docked the boat the last three times that we came in without incident and without coaching. There wasn’t ANYTHING in that day that I hadn’t done before . . . I just hadn’t done it without Frank standing there.

So the day came. We got up and left New Jersey, drove the three hours to Annapolis area and went to the marina where the boat was waiting in a slip for us. It was a large slip with lots of space behind it. I could quickly see that backing out of it would be no problem. So we readied the boat, took most of the lines off, talked about a couple of logistics, and Frank threw off the last line and waved goodbye to me! And started taking pictures of my big day.

Pulling out of the marina

Pulling out of the marina

And she's off!

And she’s off!

Heading out of the river.

Heading out of the river.

And so, Ems’ excellent day began. There were just enough challenges to make it interesting, but nothing to make it too unnerving . . . the weather was calm and beautiful, I had a route on the chart plotter to follow, I was aware of the tanker coming up the bay and kept an eye on his progress on the AIS to know how to stay out of his way. There were enough other boats out that day to navigate around. It was Friday afternoon in the summer in Annapolis – there are going to be boats – but it was still early enough in the day that traffic was not too bad. I texted Frank quickly (and safely) to let him know when I was getting close. It was so strange not to have someone there to ask, “Hey, what do you think that boat over there is doing? Or, “Do I need to change course for that fishing boat?” No one there to bounce that stuff off of . . . just me to figure it out and deal with it.

Quick selfie with me and Thomas Point Light.

Quick selfie with me and Thomas Point Light.

I've got this . . .

I’ve got this . . . Shot this picture to Frank underway to let him know things were A-OK.

I had put music on from the iPod during the trip, but I found myself replaying the same track over and over for the last ten minutes as I was about to pull into the dock . . . Three Little Birds . . . the soothing Reggae song that says, “Don’t worry .. “bout a thing . . . ’cause every little thing’s … gonna be alright.” I seriously just kept singing that over and over. I had docked before, but I had to get the boat very close to the port side finger pier and bring her pretty much to a dead stop so Frank could throw a line on. And that’s just what I did. Slipped her right in there pretty! (And for those who know our boat, I DID NOT use the bow thruster!)

Coming in for a landing!

Coming in for a landing!

To some life long nautical people, that trip probably sounds like a no-brainer day. To this mountain girl who remembers the moment we were shopping for the boat and I stepped behind the wheel and thought, “That looks like a really long way to the tip of the bow . . . how do you ever get comfortable handling this thing,” I know how far I’ve come. I remember that feeling like it was yesterday. If I were a girl scout, I would have earned some kind of badge for the day.

How cool is it when we can still find moments in life that push us outside of our comfort zone and we can feel like we really did master something we never thought we could? This was a big step for me, and it wasn’t just in my dreams. A most excellent day, indeed.


Anxiously Awaiting . . . A Thanksgiving Short Story

This is a short story about waiting for loved ones at Thanksgiving. I am again behind in getting a post out about our recent travels and will remedy that soon. We are spending  Thanksgiving in chilly Hilton Head, South Carolina and have had a good trip through South Carolina so far, but you’ll get that information later. First, a story:

Anxiously awaiting…

Thanksgiving has many memories for me, but I think one of the enduring feelings of Thanksgiving is anxiously waiting for loved ones. Being the youngest of six, I spent many of my growing up years waiting for siblings to return home for the holiday, be it from college or from new homes in other states. We lived in West Virginia, so there was always the concern of the weather turning bad for the trip over the mountains in the northeastern part of the state. As the expected arrival time grew closer, my trips to the front window in our living room would grow more frequent. My sister, Frances, and I both went through a phase in our childhood when we would gallop through the house like a horse on four legs. On one of my four-legged jaunts to the window to see if anyone had arrived yet, I tripped on my hooves and fell straight down on my mouth. This resulted in knocking one of my front teeth loose enough that it eventually “died” and turned brown. Fortunately, its adult replacement was not far behind, so the brown tooth condition didn’t last for too many weeks. My mother will still occasionally refer to the time when I had my “dead tooth.” Everyone arrived safely that year, but I don’t much of what happened right after the accident! It all turned out well.

Another time we waited in great anticipation for siblings driving back from New Jersey to arrive, and the weather reports were not great. After a somewhat anxious day at the homestead, we were relieved when the crew pulled in. I can still hear my sister, Christine, telling us that she knew she was back in West Virginia while listening to the road conditions being reported on the radio by a county sheriff. His report ended with the statement, “… so drive careful, the roads is slick.” They don’t test for grammar in the police academy.

There were even episodes of family members sliding off of slippery roads during the trip in. Thankfully, no injuries to humans resulted from the incident, but it was unnerving to hear about, and even more unnerving for those involved!

So it is not surprising that Thanksgiving always holds that element of waiting for safe arrivals. Although we are not home with family this year, I know exactly who in my family is traveling where and when. I am compulsively looking at the radar maps and using the weather apps we use for sailing to check conditions in the appointed travel areas. Instead of running to the front window to confirm a safe arrival, I find myself scanning my email every five minutes around the expected arrival time for the promised confirmation of a journey safely completed.

This year I experienced the sailing equivalent of this anxious anticipation. We’ve been traveling periodically with our friends on sailing vessel Magnolia … not every day and every location, but we make a point of overlapping our stays and likely will continue to do so for a while. Last week we got ahead of them by a couple of days, but we had planned to try to meet up for Thanksgiving. As anybody up and down the eastern seaboard knows, the weather this week has not been pretty thanks to the winter storm and associated fronts. Even more so than driving, that makes travel by boat very challenging. Frank and I got Eleanor Q in to our designated meeting place by Monday and hunkered down in a marina to sit through the winds, storms and then cold. We kept looking at the weather forecasts and fretting, knowing that our friends had about 65 miles between them and us and not the greatest conditions. (Keep in mind, sailboats travel at about the speed of a bicycle.) Safety always being first, we prepared ourselves to spend Thanksgiving alone knowing that they wouldn’t make any unwise decisions to get here (always understood and agreed upon by friends on the water.) On Tuesday, much to our surprise, they altered their itinerary and skipped a planned stop in order to barrel on through, get ahead of the worst weather yet to come, and to make our Thanksgiving rendezvous. But conditions Tuesday were already deteriorating and I returned to my process of checking radar maps and weather apps. Then we would look to see if their radio signal was showing up on our GPS system. Finally, we saw them show up on the map a few miles out and then heard them hail the marina on the radio. The winds were really starting to blow and the rain was coming down harder. Frank put on his rain pants and jacket and went to assist with docking. I stood in the cockpit and peeked out of the enclosure watching for them to round the corner, navigate the fairway and make a safe landing in their slip. I was ten years old and standing at the front window again… waiting and watching with some anxiety. And then they were in and all was right with the world again.

Wednesday I waited for word of another sibling to complete a several hour trek in less than ideal conditions. And when I got the much awaited email that she had arrived safely, I gave thanks and settled into a contented feeling of really being able to enjoy the holiday… and with all my teeth intact.

May the anticipation of the day be rewarded with joy and contentment. Happy Thanksgiving.


Short Story: “Unexpected Days”

This story was originally written in July, 2013.


Unexpected Days

Today was an unexpected kind of day. It wasn’t a day with one of our “dreamed of” locations at the end of it. It was really supposed to be a basic travel day to get us halfway to a more exciting destination the next day.  We anticipated a perfectly fine but not so noteworthy day. You never know when the unexpected days will happen. We laughed; we cried. I’d give it a 9.7.
The day had different chapters to it.  The story line from the first part of the day was the “stages of learning” story. I am trying very hard to become a good and worthy sailor. I think (and Frank confirms this to me often) that I have come a long way. Learning to sail in mid-life is a little intimidating at times! I watch these young kids on sailboats who make it look as easy as walking. That was not the case with me, so I’m keenly aware of my progress and shortcomings, both.
Somewhere around early afternoon, I started feeling like a ten year old who still can’t quite do everything for herself and has to wait for Daddy to come take care of things for her. Those who know me can only imagine how well that plays. Today it was three separate little incidents combined that got to me: 1) Pulling up anchor in Cuttyhunk, 2) Taking my shift on the way to Vineyard Haven, and 3) Anchoring at our destination. I’ll try  to summarize the three “moments” as best I can.
Moment #1 – Pulling up anchor in Cuttyhunk.
 Picture this: Very tight, crowded anchorage/mooring field. Frank is on the bow pulling up anchor meaning I am at the wheel handling the boat. In most circumstances, no problem – I do that all the time. But this was VERY tight quarters with very shallow water behind us and lots of boats in front of us. Are my boat handling skills up to snuff for this? That’s a question in both of our minds and neither of us is sure of the answer. How did it play out? Frank got the anchor up in record time and ran to the wheel before we could find out. He’s the person in charge of our health, well-being and resources: I’d do the same thing in his shoes. But I didn’t get to find out if I could handle the situation.
Moment #2 – I’m “on the wheel” underway when I spot some potential shallow water coming up on the chart and am inclined to want to steer away from, but it is on the route that Frank has plotted for us on the GPS and it doesn’t go beyond a depth the boat can handle. I was basically thinking out loud about it. Frank (again – the person ultimately responsible for all things ending well at the end of the day) walks over, changes our course and problem solved. Problem is, I wanted to solve the problem, not have the problem solved for me. But I was unsure and a call had to be made.
Moment #3 – Anchoring outside of Vineyard Haven.
We set our anchor, then shortly after decided to move a short distance for better comfort. Again, me at the wheel, knew where we were aiming to take the boat . . . not far. Again, Frank pulled the anchor but then forgot to give me the hand signal for “We’re free . . . go ahead”  . . . and then came rushing to the wheel when I (the boat) wasn’t moving. What I didn’t know was all the other things he had going through his mind at the moment:  the anchor swinging off of the front, was the new location a good choice, etc.  He was well intended and just reacting to the situation. No harm. But still, it was the third awkward situation of the day,  and after getting anchored and settled, I snuck down below and had a good cry for a few minutes. I felt like a child who couldn’t do anything on my own yet. I wanted to do it! And I wanted to know exactly HOW to do it. Frank couldn’t be a better teacher and coach if he tried. He has been exceptional at boosting my confidence and at helping me progress. But this day was going to happen at some point. It is the cross roads of me having some skills but both of us trying to determine exactly where I am on that learning curve. I truly do feel like a little girl sometimes who wants to stomp her feet and say, “I WANNA DO IT!” But do I really know how yet? After I collected myself and came back up top, we had a really great discussion about the whole situation – how much I’ve learned, but also that Frank has his hands full with being captain, cheerleader, coach, and also being in some new situations that he isn’t completely certain of himself . . . a tall order to juggle all of that. We learned a lot about how we need to move into the “next stages of learning.”
Next chapter of the day: A very hot afternoon in Vineyard Haven. We went ashore, it was hot, we walked around for an hour, bought a few groceries, had ice cream and came back. End of chapter.
The most wonderful and unexpected part of the day:  4pm – 10:pm. That is probably the most relaxed 6 hours we’ve had on the boat since we started. It was hot everywhere else, but the most comfortable spot was out in the anchorage with a slight breeze blowing in over the water. I think that is the most still and content we’ve been in a long time. The first part of the afternoon was us being absorbed in our own worlds doing research about our upcoming stops or reading. Then it was grilling T-bone steaks and having dinner up top. Understand –  cockpit time (while not underway) is precious. Really good cockpit time requires a certain temperature range, bug infestation range and humidity range to be comfortable, and we haven’t had a lot of really good cockpit days. There was lots to watch up there . . . ferries coming and going about every half hour, schooners, magnificent yachts cruising into the area, small boats zipping all around, sailboats with families . . . you name it. It was so cool just being observers of all the outer harbor activity. There was one very large sailing vessel that ended up anchored not far from us. We had seen it in the harbor earlier and discovered that it hosted youth camps. It was clear that was the case on this day. At anchor in the late afternoon, young knucklehead boys (a term of endearment here) were jumping off and swimming around the boat. They were having the time of their lives. Later it got quieter and you could tell they were into dinner preparations. When I tell you the vessel looked like an old fashioned pirate ship, I’m not kidding. Then at sunset, they set off a very loud canon. Young boys at a camp with explosives involved . . they had to be in heaven! (Note to self: we have GOT to remember that, in these parts, the canon at sunset is a big tradition, so be ready!) And then there was the red sky of sunset . . . and then the bright half moon in the sky and a couple of planets making appearances… and then constellations starting to join the party. Later we heard some unified chanting in the distance. Mind you, we couldn’t catch any of this very clearly – it was just floating in and out with the breeze – but it sounded like the “pirate ship” was having some type of group gathering. If you could have a campfire on a boat, they would have been sitting around it. How cool for those boys? As it got very dark, I was looking for their anchor light to come on. I saw a couple of distant flickering glows. Frank explained that boats from the “olden days” would put lanterns in the rigging – and sure enough, you could tell that’s what they had . . . lanterns serving as their anchor lights. It was an actual flame flickering in the night. The sounds from the boat got quieter and quieter. Frank speculated that, as in older boats of that kind, the “quarters” were made up of hammocks hanging down below which is quite a smart way of not rocking so much while sleeping.  We pictured rows of hammocks with the boys lined up in them drifting off in stages after whispering among themselves, or falling fast asleep from being that really good tired from a full day of sun, swimming and activity. Somehow, that sight of the lanterns in the rigging and the feeling of campers settling in their bunks put us in a “stories around the campfire” kind of mood ourselves. And I have to confess – that isn’t necessarily something that happens with us very often. We’re reading or writing or fixing something or playing cards, but not as often just sitting and talking about . . . whatever. It led to topics like “Did you ever go to camp when you were little?”  . . .  to how much we miss our fathers and the difference in the pain of losing a parent after 19 years vs. after 50 years  . . . to who knows what else. All of this was done without any music playing in the background. For us, that’s unheard of – we ALWAYS have music on in the background. It was a day that just didn’t need it because it had enough of its own soundtrack. It wasn’t until about 9:00 that we turned on a playlist full of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, James Taylor, Neil Young . . . perfect for the mood and the moment. And so it wasn’t until 10:00pm – late for us (well, for sure for Frank) that we went down below. We just watched life go by and stayed cool and reminisced and observed and dreamed for 6 hours straight in the cockpit of our floating home.
And so we finished what we expected to be a “nothing too significant” kind of day. We had worked through a mid-learning (mid-life) mini meltdown early in the day. We had made our way to new and uncharted territories.  And then we sat still and quiet long enough to truly soak up a summer night in all its glory.  The day was a microcosm of “stuff.” And it wasn’t supposed to be any kind of special day when we started it. Sometimes exceptional days are exceptional for the most surprising reasons . . . and when you least expect them.
Pirate Ship




Short Story: A Relaxing Saturday


Today will be a different kind of post entered under a new category. Some of you may have an interest in reading . . . some of you may choose to skip this category all together, and that’s very understandable.

I have found writing to be very therapeutic at moments in our travels . . . .just to capture a thought or feeling or to comment on some silly something that has happened along the way. So I am starting a new category called “Short Stories.” These are not our typical entries about our stops or activities. These may be commentaries on life on the boat . . . or two people confined in a small space together . . . or special moments . . . oh they could be about all kinds of stuff.

These will not have a bunch of pictures. They will truly just be short stories by me, Ems, Mary Marie, MM.

If you enjoy them, cool. If you’re not interested, also cool. I’m just putting them somewhere other than in the notes section of my iPad.

Here is the first: “A Relaxing Saturday Morning”

So we found ourselves in the middle of this beautiful, semi-remote harbor and decide to hang out for the day instead of moving to a new destination today. Being out on the water underway is beautiful, but not relaxing around here because of the mass quantities of lobster pots. So we’re going to treat ourselves to a day of R&R and exploring by dinghy.
I decide that it’s the perfect day to use the blueberries I’ve purchased to make Blueberry Coffee Cake for breakfast. Frank decides that he’s going to spend half of the day doing boat chores and half the day having fun. Oh no . . . boat chores . . . a phrase that has come to strike fear in my heart. The two tasks he is preparing to undertake are located at the foot of our cabin. So our cabin is like a very large, comfortable pizza oven if you can reconcile those terms together. Our heads are at the open end, our feet at the very back. If I ever have to get an MRI again and they tell me to picture something relaxing, I’ll just visualize being in our bunk since it sort of feels like being in an MRI. At the foot there is a hatch, of sorts,  where the compressor for the refrigerator and freezer live and where the works for our steering are. These are the two areas to get attention today. There is a chance that, by the end of the morning, we either won’t have steering or refrigeration . . . neither would be good.
I proceed to assemble this coffee cake the old fashioned way: with no mixer. Now understand here that I don’t bake. Okay, I RARELY bake. I like to cook usually, but I don’t bake much beyond making our traditional family apple pie, and even with that I use cheater pie crust dough. So when the recipe says “Prep time – 12 minutes,” that means for me it will be about 40. And I’m doing this all with the minimal amount of tools. Also picture that a good deal of my working counter space in the galley is also the access to the refrigerator. The fridge is like a big well that opens from the top and the lid is flush with the rest of the counter and is covered with the same Corian.. So I set out “creaming” the butter and sugar by using forks – a good upper body workout. And of course, I can’t get through the process of mixing the ingredients without realizing (several times) that I have forgotten one more thing from the refrigerator and have to move the whole works aside.  This is why I got a “C” in HomeEc in Junior High . . . too impatient to actually get all the ingredients out before starting anything. Yeah, yeah, yeah. All the while, Frank is starting his chores. And we are both trying to let the other person do their thing. But meanwhile, I know the H2O Nazi is looking out of the corner of his eye to see how much water I’m using to rinse everything and he knows I’m looking out of the corner of my eye to see if he has his feet on my bed pillow (I have at least gotten him to take his shoes off before he crawls in there now – a major feat/feet).  I have gotten in the habit of offering these helpful words at the beginning of such projects: “Don’t hit your head and don’t break anything, dear.” I know, so supportive of me.
So now I’m starting to get the periodic “Ems . . . ?” meaning he needs a tool or a flashlight or an extra set of hands. But mostly he’s working away quietly. I have finally gotten what looks like a coffee cake into the oven. I usually just time things by looking at the clock vs. using an actual timer. I think, “The cake will be done at 25 after . . . ” and then I predict (to myself) that at precisely 23 after the hour I will hear “Ems . . . ” I was wrong – it was 24 after the hour.  “Ems! Can you help me??” I had at least prepared for this moment and came to assist with the clear direction that no way no how was I burning my coffee cake and ruining my Betty Crocker moment for the month. We were both mindful of our time and the coffee cake was unharmed. Frank assured me that this task should just be a 30 second job. That’s just asking for trouble when you make a comment like that. So 30 seconds later I heard “Oh, no,” followed by a “bonk” which are clear indicators to me that he’s hit his head and something is broken.
He assures me it’s nothing that can’t be handled . . .and is about to set into fixing the source of the “Oh, no.” I let him know I’m eating blueberry coffeecake without him. That got him to take a break because who can resist warm coffee cake? As I spent my time enthusiastically cleaning the blueberry laden dishes and utensils, he went about trying to get the wiring to the fridge repaired. My assistance was needed a couple of times in the process. One of my “favorite” phrases is, “Now I promise there is NO electric current running to this, so when I tell you, hold these two wires together.” I swear, that is not an uncommon sentence around here. So far he’s been right . . . and he always assures me that, even if the power WERE on, it’s only 12 volt and wouldn’t hurt much. That always make me feel so much better.  So after holding two wires together, I heard a handful of words that I won’t write here. That’s about the point where I got out of the way and came up top and started writing this tale.
I can assure you, at the end of the day we WILL have refrigeration again . . . and probably a lot less water.
And THAT’S how we spent our Saturday relaxing. Oh crap . . . he just asked me to get the Bosun’s Chair out . . .
THAT'S what a Bosun's Chair is.

THAT’S what a Bosun’s Chair is.

Post Script: All brittle refrigerator/freezer wiring was replaced and preventative maintenance was done on the steering mechanism to prevent BIG problems in the future . . . I am grateful for our boat mechanic!