Thursday, June 21, 2018

On Trying a New Genre

Reading is a huge part of the cruising life, at least for most cruisers I know. Tim and I each have hundreds of books in our Kindle Readers, many of which we read more than once. We're voracious readers, bad enough that my Amazon storage is nearing full. I don't often leave book reviews here, but when my friend Ellen Jacobson (of The Cynical Sailor & His Salty Sidekick blog) approached me to see if I might be interested in receiving an ARC (advanced reader copy) of her first novel, Murder at the Marina, I was happy to agree to help. I had the time, as we were just departing the boat yard where we'd been stationary for too many months to count. The next few weeks would have evenings in anchorages with a drink in the cockpit. A good book would be a bonus.

I have to admit that this is the very first “Cozy Mystery” I've ever read. I'm a pretty diehard sci-fi, techno-thriller, and spy, political, legal thriller reader. The more intense, complicated, and fast-paced, the more I enjoy it. But, like with food, I'm pretty much always willing to try something new. Having a long history with murder mysteries and zero history with cozy mysteries, I was first caught off guard by the light-hearted tone of the book. I was having trouble lining up murder with light-hearted. I stopped, went out on the internet and researched the cozy mystery genre, and began to understand the background for the story. For those of you with the same problem, here's a short excerpt from Wikepedia:

“Cozy mysteries, also referred to as “cozies”, are a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community...the detectives in such stories are nearly always amateurs, and are frequently women...dismissed by the authorities in general as nosy busybodies...the detectives in cozy mysteries are thus left free to eavesdrop, gather clues and use their native intelligence and intuitive “feel” for the social dynamics of the community to solve the crime.”

Ahhhh. Now I got it. Back to the book.

The intimate community in question is a marina. If you've never lived in a marina, you may not get this, but there is no more intimate community than a marina. When you're living in a 16-foot-wide slip and you can hear everything on the boat next to you, (not to mention seeing in the portholes that are right outside your portholes,) everyone knows everyone else's business. News travels faster than the speed of light, and rumors abound. Everyone  has an opionion about simply everything. The perfect background for a cozy mystery.

The protagonist, Mollie McGhie, has never been around boats or owned one, but her husband, dreaming of the two of them sailing away to paradise, buys her a sailboat for their anniversary. All she wanted was diamonds. All she got was a dead body on her new-to-her boat. Sensing the authorities are not as invested in resolving the murder as much as she is, she dives right in to solving the crime herself.

A parade of eccentric characters follows, from the owners of the marina who define the “opposites attract” expression, to pink-obsessed Penny Chadwick, to Ben, the pirate wanabe with the dream to sail around the world, (an example of whom can be found in every single marina,) to Mrs. Moto, the cat with much more going on behind the fur than is suspected. Mollie's inquisitiveness and persistance are a magnet for trouble, though, and soon she finds herself more invested than she wants to be.

As the story progresses, Ellen develops the characters well, combining them into a believable marina community. Mollie is intelligent, determined, not shy in the least, and more than a little quirky in her choice of professions. And did I say she loves chocolate? A lot? Her predilection for treating emergencies with healthy doses of chocolate immediately endeared her to me. Mollie's husband, Scooter, who at first glance seems kind of self-absorbed, becomes to the reader a loving husband with a dream to share something special with his “best girl.” Ben, dismissed by everyone around as a nobody, shows integrity and caring. Penny, who at first glance seems shallowly absorbed with girly pink, shows a remarkable devotion to her students. All through the book, the reader is led from false first impressions to a deeper knowing of some interesting characters. I look forward to seeing how Ellen continues to develop the characters in the next book of the series.

While the book is the first of a series featuring Mollie McGhie, the book is a complete, stand-alone story. It does not suffer from one of my pet peeves of self-published books, where each book is in reality just a chapter of a longer story forcing you to purchase many volumes to complete the read. I have also frequently put a self-published book down in the first chapter just because of the volume of typos, but Murder at the Marina had first-rate editing with flawless type setting and grammar.

Murder at the Marina is a fun read, a light-hearted look at the goings on of the typical, small marina, with characters that are fun to know. The story is full of surprises, and leaves you with a good sense of the kind of characters who choose this crazy way of life.

To buy or for more information:

Murder at the Marina on Amazon
Copyright© 2018 by Ellen Jacobson
Print ISBN 978-1-7321602-1-7
Digital ISBN 978-1-7321602-0-0
www.ellenjacobsonauthor.com

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Better than they deserve

Those who know me, or have followed this blog for a while, know I am not shy of  poking the hornet’s nest of politics on occasion. Of late though, I have gone about my business without paying much attention to political antics. For months, going about my own business has included helping Daughter Eldest and Family on their cruising way, getting Kintala back to cruising after a year on the dock, and working out a way to visit Daughters Middle and Youngest and their families sooner rather than later. Add pushing the weather as hard as one dares, getting needed repairs done, and just the daily effort required to keep a small sailboat moving across the miles, and one comes up with plenty of business to mind.

Of course there are other reasons to pay less attention to "the news".

Two of the walkways on the Buddhist's 8 fold path are "Right mindfulness" and "Right Concentration."

Philippians 4:8 King James Version (KJV) says, (Yes, I am quoting the Bible. No, the world isn’t about to end.) “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

The Stoics taught that one needed to understand the difference between those things that are under one's control, and those things that are not.

In my opinion Donald Trump simply doesn't qualify as anything worth wasting much thought on, so I simply refuse to (as I heard it put once upon a time) give him rent free living space in my head. And he is most certainly outside of my control.

As a result, most of news I hear is that shared by the very few people with Facebook accounts that I follow, a large percentage of that group being friends who live on boats outside of the country. I suspect they are not paying much attention to what goes on inside the borders of the US, so if something is happening here that does get their attention, it is likely something to note. From one of them I heard that it is now Official US Policy to break up families and put the kids in detention centers. That seemed extreme even for Trump and the Republicans. Surely even He/They couldn’t possibly believe such a visual would play well on the public stage. I do understand that Trumpism is a cult, that he could very well,  “…stand in the middle of 5th Avenue, shoot somebody, and (not) lose voters.” But shooting someone is one thing, manhandling crying and terrified toddlers out of the arms of parents who are of no threat to anyone, is another thing entirely. Surely a thing beyond the pale even in Trump’s America. I doubted that any Border Official would do such a thing, even if so commanded.

Clearly I badly underestimated Trump's depravity, and just as badly overestimated the quality of America’s Border Officials. That I underestimated Trump’s willingness to embrace evil was kind of silly. This is the President who made room for Nazis at the table of public opinion, a man apparently devoid of any kind of introspective voice, any hint of conscience, or the smallest bit of care for anyone but himself or anything other than his own grasp of power.

That I just as badly overestimated America’s Border Officials' courage and their willingness to refuse to participate is disturbing. They are, perhaps, even more reprehensible than the current POTUS and his entourage. It is at times like these that I sometimes wish there really was a god about, one who insures that those who pull crying children away from their parents will, eventually, understand the depth of evil into which they have fallen. For I am of the opinion that claiming to be “following orders” or “enforcing the law” is no excuse for cruelty.

And though there is virtually nothing I can do to stay the evil that now prowls our land, on my own little blog and in my own tiny voice, I want to make it clear that these are not my values, this is not my choice, and these are not leaders that I, in any way, shape, or form; follow, endorse, or support. It is my hope that their downfall is imminent, that when it comes it will be totally devastating for them, their political ideology, and their supporters. I hope that they will counted among the despised in human history, that their sons and daughters, grandchildren, and great grandchildren for many generations to come, will be ashamed to carry their name.

 And that will still be better than they deserve.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Georgia on my mind...

This evening Kintala is anchored just off the ICW, north of a place called Isle of Hope Marina. We are a day from finishing our first transit of Georgia, and it was a good idea to come this way. There are many cruiser / ICW tales of woe - stories about how hard it can be to navigate these waters. The trick, or so it seems to me after this one try, is to remember that Georgia has plenty of water that is deep enough to get through, it just isn’t available all day every day in every place. Jekyll Creek and Hell Gate are two places famous for being thin, with a few others where shoaling seems to come and go, sometimes ruining someone’s day. By pure happenstance, the days we came through were ones with the tides working completely in our favor. Low tides were in the morning hours, high in the early afternoons. Excellent planning, all Deb’s doing, had us hitting the skinniest spots at or near maximum water, and we spent most of each day riding a rising tide. With a tidal range up to three feet higher than Kintala’s keel is deep, only once did we see less than 3 feet under said keel; that being the first couple of hundred feet after entering Hell Gate northbound.

A good bit of time in Georgia is spent looking at the shallow mud along the channel

This is also a pretty part of the ICW, particularly the part north of Hell Gate. The southern part of the Georgia ICW is salt marsh, pretty in its own way but with a certain aroma, particularly at low tide, that is - how shall I say - “unique”? North of Hell Gate, where we are now, is pine forest. The water is less brown, more green, and there are plenty of dolphins for company.  An altogether pleasant place to pass through.

Large barges pass this way too. This one had a draft of only 2 feet when we checked its side with binoculars

Another interesting part of the Georgia ICW are the inlets. St. Mary’s, St. Andrews, St. Simons, Altamaha, Doboy, Sapelo, St. Catherine's, and Ossabaw are all pretty big bits of water and open to the Atlantic, each capable of administering a serious thrashing to the unwary. Their particular forte is stacking swift tidal flows against the winds, making for steep, often confused seas. Toss in a passing thunderstorm or two and things can get downright exciting. Crossing a couple of them has the wayfaring boat just a few hundred yards inside the sound, sometimes with the bow pointed off shore. Keep going and make landfall in North Africa somewhere.

These two photos are almost the same, but I liked them both so here they are


These are not protected, thin little channels snaking their way though a swamp. Again, we caught a good ride, though the southern branch of the Ossabaw Sound gave us a hint of what it could do during our approach to Hell Gate. A nearby baby rain shower accelerated the onshore breeze into the low 20s. Flying the jib close hauled on that wind gave us a good push onward, making it possible to pass through Hell Gate today instead of anchoring up and waiting for high tide tomorrow. (Seven knots as opposed to four will do that for you.) But that same wind put a sharp edge on waves being stacked close together. They were way too small to be much of an issue for 25,000 pounds worth of sailboat on a full honk, but were just enough to let one know that things could get much, much more interesting in a very short amount of time.

Muted light at the end of the day in Crescent River, GA

One can hardly talk about passing through these parts without mentioning the abundance of deer flies. They can bite right through a light shirt, not surprising since they bite through deer hide. But they do offer a time-filling distraction to the person not standing at the helm. After a couple of hours' practice one will start scoring a kill on 8 out of ten swatter attacks. A perfect hit leaves the corpse on the swatter, making for an easy toss to feed the fish. They are tough little buggers though, sometimes taking a serious smack and still flying away.

Moving south through these waters in the fall might be a touch easier without the regular assault of convective weather. Then again, the days are shorter making the tide v miles v daylight computations a bit trickier. We might give it a go. Though the outside passage around Georgia can be painless and save time, these are waters too pretty to miss. Cooler weather would make passing this way about perfect, and maybe the deer flies will be out of season as well.

"There are none happy in the world but beings who enjoy a freely vast horizon." 
Henry David Thoreau




Friday, June 15, 2018

New Water

It was with a bit of reluctance that we dropped the mooring ball in St. Augustine and headed north. One of the best stops on that first trip South was spending Christmas at St. Augustine, so we like hanging around the place. But hurricane season is already here and Blowin’ In The Wind is still far ahead.

A couple of days later Sister’s Creek also managed to capture us for a few days. When we arrived a swift current was flowing upriver, carrying us past the dock in the narrow channel. The plan was to turn the boat around in a wide spot we knew about from being there before, then approach the dock into the current. The wide spot was completely potted over, tossing that plan into the dust bin. As the dock swept past, Deb asked what I was going to do. I didn’t have a clue. With no other option I started goosing the Beast without mercy while holding the helm hard over, trying to get the bow to swing up into the current without smashing it into the dock. Maybe Deb would be able to lasso a cleat or a piling from the bow, snub us up, and let the current swing the stern to the dock.



But she didn’t need to. The bow kept coming around without the boat going forward much. The angle of approach got better and better. The hull came to rest parallel to, and about six inches from the dock, bow into the current, the now-just-off-idle Beast holding us stationary against the flowing water. Deb took the small step to the pier, cleated lines fore and aft, and there we were. It was a perfect landing the would look good on my new Captain’s license.

It was also pure luck.

The first night we shared the dock with a really nice looking trawler, but we never saw any hint of the crew. Night two had us sharing space with three other boats, and then sharing drinks, stories, and jokes. It was a good time. Two boats left the next morning, the third the morning after with new friends Kelly and Melissa. But later that afternoon we were joined by another nice looking trawler. This one had a friendly crew and some good stories of their own.



Another reason for our stay was less obvious: we simply couldn’t figure out what we wanted to do next. The debate was to go outside, catching up to Blowin’ In The Wind in one big jump. That would also allow us to bypass the shallow bits on this part of the ICW. Shallow bits that are not my favorite part of taking the inside path. But we have never been through Georgia before and it has been two years since Kintala put new water under her keel. A schedule change for Blown’ In The Wind means we have an extra week to catch up. Should we make the outside jump, we would have to find a place to just hang on the hook for more than a week. Why not see some new places? A last consideration was the unrelenting thunderstorms that have flowered every afternoon for weeks. It is comforting to be sitting secure when the winds blow, the lightning flashes, and the rains fall.



That was on our mind because, just two miles short of settling onto the dock at Sister’s Creek we had, for the first time in five years, made a quick stop in the face of an oncoming storm. As the lightning fell and the rain shield slashed its way toward us, Deb pulled the boat a few feet off the channel while I moved to the foredeck to toss the hook. It hit the water just as the rain found us, setting hard as the wind gusts pushed us backward. The snubber went on and stretched out without any help from the Beast. About a quarter mile away a Coast Guard Cutter went to station keeping, stopping dead on their approach to the channel and then using their massive engines and bow thrusters to hold position as the storm crashed over us.

A storm too big for a Coast Guard Cutter to dance with is way too much for Kintala. Every afternoon has been the same, the storms then rampaging offshore every night. We are not huge fans of night passages anyway, though we do them when we need to. But night passages and the kinds of storms we have been seeing these last few weeks? No thanks. After a lifetime making a living in the sky I try to avoiding having that kind of excitement in my life.



So we are in new water tonight, anchored between islands just north of the St. Mary’s inlet. The worst of the storms appear to be past. Tomorrow we will start to pick our way through Georgia, figuring it will take five or six days as we balance the tides against the miles and the shallow spots, aiming to be at anchor before the evening light show starts. Sometimes a not-favorite-thing-to-do can still be something worth doing.


Sunday, June 10, 2018

What are the odds?

Daughter Eldest and family have been struggling with getting Blowin’ In The Wind to ride to her anchor without getting the rode wrapped around the keel. A cure would be 60 to 80 feet of chain spliced to 200 feet or so of rope. But that is a bunch of money and ours is a family of budget cruisers, wandering as far and a long as we can, then stopping to work when the cruising kitty gets too anemic to carry us any further. Living this way means just putting up with some annoying realities. I, for example, would love to have an ice maker, a water maker, an anchor wash-down system, and an auto pilot with a certain level of sophistication. But getting them would mean spending a couple of years working for someone else in order to pay for it all, an even more annoying reality.

Blowin’ In The Wind has her own annoying habits, including having the anchor rode prone to getting tangled up in the keel.

Since Kintala is still in St. Augustine we wandered up to Sailor’s Exchange to see what we might find that would be a cost effective cure to their problems. We were going to provision instead, but Sailor’s Exchange closes early on Saturday and is closed on Sunday. We had hoped for some used chain, which they claimed that they had when we called. But all they really had was new chain at new chain prices, and way too large anyway. We did find a 15 pound kellet that might do the trick. Add a carabiner to hang it on the anchor rode and a retrieving line to pull the weight off the bottom, and their problem just might be solved. Not as good an answer as a better rode, but better than nothing, and at a modest price. I lugged the thing back to our boat feeling pretty good about coming up with something to make their cruising life a little easier.

This morning was the provisioning run. It is about an hour’s walk to the store from here so the plan was to hoof it over, fill up the shopping cart with enough stores to get us caught up to Blowin’ In The Wind, and make use of Uber to get it all back to the marina. Then we would load the Ding and get ready to depart in the morning. That meant we needed to start our day a little earlier than is our usual want when resting at anchor or on a mooring.

As we nosed the Ding up to the dock we noticed a young man hauling a nice looking run of chain and rode out of his dingy. Deb asked if he was getting rid of it, and we were informed that he has just bought a new boat and didn’t care for the chain / rope rode that came with it. An all chain rode was purchased, and he was taking the “old one” to storage. Apparently when he said, “New boat,” he meant a really new boat, not an old boat new to him. The stuff he was taking to storage had never even been in the water.

Deb went into deal making overdrive. The next thing I knew we were loading an (est.) 80 feet of brand new chain spliced to an (est.) 150 feet of brand new 3/4” three strand nylon into the Ding. All in exchange for $100 cash. The young man was happy that he didn’t need to lug the mass to storage where it would likely sit for years before someone tossed it out. We were happy that he was happy.

I have a pretty uncomplicated view of the universe, not giving much credence to the idea of anything or anyone being loose in the cosmos who even knows we exist, let alone bothers itself with our individual trials and tribulations. But what are the chances that we and this young man would pick the exact same day, and the exact same time, and be in the exact same spot to cross paths while just going about our lives?  What are the chances that he would decide to replace the rode on his new boat and be willing to part with the old one? It is, after all, a nice bit of kit and perfectly adequate for what he says he plans to do with his boat. And what are the chances that we happened to have $100 in our pockets that could be traded, on the spot, before the young man changed his mind?

Pretty slim, I would say. But I am really happy that it worked out the way it did. And I don’t much care as to the reasons why or how.

Tomorrow we head out for the last few of days of travel that should, if the cosmos continues to smile upon us, catch us up to Blowin’ In the Wind. We have a boat load of stuff for them, and they have a boat load of stories for us.

Just because they can

Kintala, now riding to a mooring ball in St. Augustine, is slowly catching up to Blowin' In the Wind. The Florida Peninsula’s fascination with afternoon thunderstorms has kept us on our toes.  With careful planning and a good dose of luck, we have managed to avoid getting blasted while working our way through the narrow, winding, and sometimes shallow channels that make up parts of the ICW around here. Today, and not for the first time this trip, we settled onto the mooring ball with thunder rumbling, rain shafts dropping near by, and lighting flashing. The storms responsible had already sparked a weather warning from the Coast Guard, with tales of heavy rain, hail, water spouts, and damaging winds. They rolled right up to St. Augustine, paused, then went past slightly to the south. We barely got wet.

St. Augustine in the twilight


The folks at the St. Augustine Municipal Marina have been nothing but helpful and friendly. The facility took a pretty good beating from Irma and is still recovering. Docks are trashed and the building that (I think) used to be a restaurant looks damaged beyond repair. The staff is working hard to get back up to speed while providing the best service they can to the cruising clan. The pump out boat is up and running, as is the shuttle. They even have a water boat running. The fuel dock is open with pretty easy access, and there is a small store. Nothing but good for those wandering along the way.

The crew of Blowin' In the Wind, now working their way through Georgia, hasn’t always had the same experience. While looking to find a place to provision Daughter Eldest called the St. Simons Boating and Fishing Club to see if they could rent some dock space for a few hours, or even the night. According to Active Captain the facility, though mostly private, will - and has - (according to the reviews) rented space to transient boats. The customer service person who answered the phone informed Daughter Eldest, in a churlish and hostile voice, that St. Simons Boating and Fishing Club did not care for transients and would not even consider letting them touch down for a while.

The crew of Blowin' in the Wind had had a tough night. The current change at 0300 in the morning had swung them too near another boat. It turned out the other boat was laying to 250 feet of rode. It is Georgia so the tidal range is about 7 feet, and they were in 17 feet of water; 250 feet of rode isn’t outrageous. Still, that is a monster swing circle in a small anchorage, and it is likely that, had Kintala dropped an anchor in that place, we would had banged into him as well. In any case, when they called looking for a spot they were tired, a bit stressed, and the little ones on the boat could have used a break. A touch of aid would have been welcome. At the very least just a polite, “We don’t offer that service any longer” would have been okay. But no, they got handed a raft of lip from someone whom they had never even met, let alone harmed in any way.

The crew of Blowin' In The Wind is a resilient bunch. Since it was getting later in the day and they had their own storms to watch, they dropped the hook back where they started while the St. Simons Boating and Fishing Club will become a minor part of the family lore...

..."Remember that time in Georgia, the nice guy with all the rode out, and the witch on the phone?"

We live in a mean spirited age, one where people often do harm just because they can. There is no rhyme or reason to it, no ultimate purpose, no real goal. Just a mean spirit loose in the world, pretending to be tough. Fortunately, there are still many untouched by this international malady, those who offer a kind word or a lending hand…just because they can.

Though it sometimes seems contrary to the evidence, I think the later are still the majority in our little world. After another restless night on the hook Blowin' In The Wind moved to the Morningstar Marina at St Simons Island. There they were greeted as long lost friends. The facility is first rate, though the pool may make it difficult to get the little ones to leave. There is a loaner car for provisioning. Do yourself a favor should you ever be passing through the St. Simons area and avoid the St. Simons Boating and Fishing Club like the plague that they are. The Morningstar Marina will treat you like family.