Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Luna Rossa (Ranger Tug)

One if by land, two if by sea. Our latest travels have taken advantage of both. The loss of our sailboat, Orinoco, allowed us to rethink what we wanted from a boat. With so many opportunities to satisfy my lust for ocean sailing and Sarah's aversion to that endeavor, we bought Luna Rossa, a 27' Ranger Tug. With a beam of 8'6" the boat is the largest that can be legally towed over the roads without a special permit. The decision to switch from sail to power was a logical one for us. After a review of  Orinoco's log we found that fully 30% of the time we operated the sailboat under power alone and another 15 - 20% of the time we were assisting the sails with the motor. Additionally, being able to drive the boat to our desired cruising destination means that we no longer need to spend nearly a week getting there along a course we had traveled many times before. Other considerations that tipped the scales for the tug were a very shallow draft that lets us explore places unavailable to a sailboat, Luna Rosa could be parked under the lean to of the barn saving us the cost of a mooring or slip. Finally, being out of the water and under protection when not in use reduces wear and tear and the increased effort to maintain the boat that stays in the water all season.

Sarah and I provisioned Luna Rossa for a few days cruising the midcoast of Maine. After a relaxed five hour drive we arrived at the boat launch on Westport Island just a few miles south of Dave Lieser's house on the Sheepscot river. Dave and I were crewmates a few years ago on a trip from Mexico to French Polynesia. The few weeks we spent together provided many stories we enjoy retelling. This has led to more trips together which of course created more adventure stories and so it goes on.

As soon as we arrived at the boat ramp, we experienced typical Maine hospitality in the persona of Bob Mungeon. He jumped in to help us launch the boat and gave us pointers about the local current and tides that proved invaluable. He then offered us the use of his mooring that is conveniently located in the charming waterfront town of Wiscasset. While I was prepared to anchor, the ability to hang on a mooring is always appreciated since it relieves that bit of anxiety attendant to questions about the security of the holding ground when lying to an anchor.
Wiscasset Waterfront

We visited with Dave and his beautiful companion, Suzie, at Dave's house then moved the boat to Bob's mooring that was just a fishing line cast from Le Garage restaurant on the Wiscasset waterfront. The menu was quite diverse, but the inclusion of Finan Haddie on the entre list made my choice easy. The cold smoked haddock was served in a beure-blanc sauce with potato and hard boiled egg then served over toast, comfort food at its best. After dinner we said goodnight to Dave and Suzie, walked to the yacht club dock where we left our dinghy and climbed in for what should have been a 60 second ride back to Luna Rosa. Immediatly on leaving the dock I realized we had made a classic mistake when we left the boat. We had failed to put on our anchor light.  With no moon to help us locate our boat in the crowded mooring field we were forced to drive the dinghy in a crisscross search pattern until, nearly an hour later, we finally located our boat.

The next day we explored the town of Wiscasset. Formely a major shipping port used to export logs and seafood, the Wiscasset town center is now an attractive tourist destination. It was easy to loose track of time visiting the many art galleries and antique stores that line the streets leading from the harbor. Later, we took Luna Rossa down the Back River below the boat launch on Westport Island before returning to meet Dave and Suzie at their house where we were joined at dinner by Bud and his wife Susan. Bud and I helped Dave sail his boat to the Bahamas two years ago and I looked forward to renewing our acquaintance and meeting his wife. We enjoyed great food and conversation, a lot of which involved stories about sailing. Dave arranged for us to tie Luna Rossa to his neighbor's dock for the night, eliminating the chance for a repeat performance of the previous evening's blunder.
Antique shops abound

Charming 18th century houses 

In the morning we delighted in a leisurely cruise down the Sheepscot on the east side of Westport Island and headed for Boothbay Harbor. Nearly every Aid to Navigation had a nest inhabited by a pair of Osprey and their fledglings. Sarah and I decided to pamper ourselves by taking a slip at the Tugboat Inn and Marina. Being in a slip allowed us to come and go from the boat at our whim and browse the many attractions in this picturesque harbor. We were saddened to see that a venerable waterfront attraction, the candle pin bowling alley had closed.

Osprey in their nest on an ATON

Sailors of the future learning to sail in Boothbay harbor

We took advantage of calm winds and settled seas to travel to Eastern Egg rock, a trip of about 20 miles from Boothbay. The attraction at Eastern Egg rock is the colony of Puffins that breed on the island. Eastern Egg Rock is only one of two islands of the Maine coast where these oddly colorful and mysterious birds can still be found. Nearly forced into extinction due to pilfering of their eggs, increased gull populations and hunting in the 19th century, the birds were reintroduced in the early 1970's and now are proliferating. These birds only breed where they were hatched. They spend the summer breeding and raising their young. In late summer they depart for the open North Atlantic. True palegic birds, the young do not return to land for several years, when they are mature enough to breed. The puffins were still on the island and in the surrounding water in great numbers. There were also thousands of Arctic Terns flying about. We circled the island for about an hour enjoying the spectacle of these intriquing birds.
We passed south of the light house on Pemaquid Point on our way to Eastern Egg Rock

It was challenging capturing pictures of the puffins,  they are shy birds and they
don't stay still for long. This required using a telephoto lens which is quite difficult
to control on a boat  being tossed by the waves. 

We left the puffins and returned to Boothbay. That evening we dined at Ports of Italy, a fine establishment we visit whenever we are in Boothbay.
Ports of Italy
Boothbay Harbor, one of many colorful Inns

While at Dave's, Bud and Susan invited us to dinner at their home on Wesport Island where Bud had arranged for us to tie up to a friend's mooring. Bud and Susan proudly gave us a tour of the attractive home they designed and recently built. I was especially intrigued about the hydronic radiant heating system they had installed since I was strongly considering such a system for the remodeling of our house.
Preparing appetizer on Luna Rossa to share with Bud and Susan

In the morning, Sarah attended a yoga class that Susan leads on the island. I enjoyed an extra cup of coffee and the solitude of the morning while watching the osprey and eagles that thrive here. A light fog crept in adding just the right ambiance of subdued light that is so alluring to artists all along the Maine coast.
Westport Island Morning Fog

When Sarah returned from yoga and the fog lifted, we crossed the broad expanse of the Sheepscot to Isle of Springs. We anchored in Clam Cove at Sawyer Island and rowed across the narrow channel to the dock on Isle of Springs. Just a mile or so in diameter and lacking automobiles, the island is crisscrossed with footpaths and trails for hand carts. Just a few paces up a gentle slope from the town dock we visited the post office/library. On this Saturday afternoon, the door was open wide and no one was to be seen.  A sign on the door requests the last person out to please turn of the lights.
Isle of Springs Post Office / Library
"Last one out, please turn off the light"
We walked the island's trails and gleaned the few remaining red raspberries we found along the way. Near the end of a trail that turned us back toward the dock we came upon the single room museum/gallery. Like the post office, their was no one inside, but the door was open and a sign invited us to browse and enjoy the arts and crafts created by some of the island's residents. In one corner of the room we found a small history book of the island. It lists the date each cottage was built along with the names of each of the owners since. It was no surprise to see that the majority of the properties are still owned by descendants of the original builders.

Isle of Springs Museum

Following our visit to Isle of Springs we returned to Boothbay. During the cruise both Sarah and I smelled an odor coming into the boat for which we could find no explanation. It wasn't until we were on a mooring that I remembered we had smelled that odor on a boat we had helped deliver a year earlier. The smell was boiling sulfuric acid from an overheated battery. I opened the hatch to the battery comopartment in the cockpit and discovered one of the four marine batteries hissing and spewing hot acid. While it's difficult to know for certain the cause, I believe one of the plates inside the battery had shorted out causing it to overheat. The four batteries are divided into three 'banks', each dedicated for a certain purpose. One battery is for the engine starter, another for the bow and stern thrusters, the remaining two batteries are 'house' batteries that provided power for the lights, electronics and all other electrical needs of the boat. It was one of the house batteries that overheated. Since these two batteries are wired in parallel it is possible to disconnect one leaving the other to supply those components dependent upon the house bank, albeit with only half the reserve power. However, after taking the malfunctioning and offensive battery out of the circuit, the starter battery could not start the engine. Despite running the generator, confirming that the remaining batteries were fully charged and checking for loose connections the engine would not start. Fortunately we have towing insurance and arranged for the towing service to bring us back to the boat launch on Westport Island the next morning.

The tow service arrived as schedule early the next morning. We set tow lines and headed back across the Sheepscot then turned north up the Back River. I noted the strong current of the ebb tide that was against us as we crossed the river. I could see the navigation buoys being tugged by the current creating a wake in the stream. However, I wasn't prepared for the raging torrent that was lower Hell Gate. The current was doing at least 6 - 8 knots in some places and it was only by virtue of our skilled pilot that we could have safely navigated this treacherous part of the river.

The news of our disabled boat being towed on the river must have spread quickly among the inhabitants of Westport because when we arrived at the boat ramp Bud was waiting to lend a hand getting our powerless motor vessel onto her trailer. We had hoped to escape that unwanted attention, prefering to tell the story in our own time. We should have known Bud would hear about our plight since he is the Harbor Master for Westport Island. We remain ever grateful for his help and genuine concern.

With Luna Rossa safely secured to the trailer we pointed the truck back to I-95 and had her safely tucked under the lean to by early evening.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Region One Rally - Burlington, VT

We only experienced a few sprinkles all weekend, but this rainbow found our pot of gold (silver?)

How do you spell relief? WBCCI!! The Region One rally provided a reason to break away from the ordeal of managing our water damaged home. The rally was held in Essex Junction, Vermont which is just outside of Burlington on the shore of beautiful Lake Champlain. 

As usual, we decided to avoid highways even though doing so would add an hour to the trip. Most of the route is very familiar because it was the course we traveled when my father and I drove to Chelsea, Vermont to hunt deer. It has been many years since I traveled this route and I was happy to see all the familiar towns. Mostly, there is evidence of increased prosperity. It seems there are fewer dilapidated buildings and many more show evidence or gentrification. Sadly, the absence of cows on the hillsides was disappointing. Forty years ago it was true that there were more cows than people in the Green Mountain State. We saw a few farms that still had cattle, but they were not dairy cattle. We didn't see a single dairy cow while we were driving in Vermont.

Despite the lack of cows in the pastures, we enjoyed the vernal foliage. It glistened as the fog in the Connecticut River valley lifted and allowed the light to reflect and refract from each sliver of fresh greenery. 

We arrived at the Champlain Valley Exposition Center early in the afternoon. Tye and Mary greeted us at the gate and ushered us on to the field where we joined dozens of other Airstreams already established on their campsites. At 4PM we gathered for happy hour where we renewed friendships with fellow Cape Cod Unit members and made new acquaintances with other Region One members.

Everyone enjoyed a communal breakfast on Friday morning followed by a short meeting to conduct the business of the WBCCI Cape Cod Unit. After the breakfast meeting everyone dispersed to explore the attractions of this scenic area. Sarah and I chose to visit the Shelburne Museum.
Shaker barn at the Shelburne Museum, Burlington, VT

Like so many who live in a place to which tourists flock, we had never visited the Shelburne Museum. We were put off by the price of admission, but we realized we might not be here again so we bit the bullet. We were rewarded when we paid our admission when we learned that the price included readmission the next day. That was a good thing since after five hours on the first day we had not even seen half of the museum. Returning the next day, we spent another six hours taking in the remaining parts of the museum.
The beautifully landscaped grounds hint at what one can expect inside the buildings that house the many collections of art and memorabilia
The museum has something for everyone. There are exhibits of fine art by Monet, Degas and Wyeth. Then there are the eclectic collections; quilts, hooked rugs, tin toys, pewter, horse drawn carriages and buggies to name a few. The collections are housed in 18th and 19th century buildings that were brought to the grounds and restored to near original condition. 
"The Last Drop" by Charles Marion Russell. One of the many exquisite bronze "Western" sculptures on display.
Hooked rug by Patty Yoder

One of the most pleasant things about touring the museum in early June was that the lilacs were in bloom. There are over 700 lilac bushes on the grounds. It seemed that each of the more than 80 varieties had its own particularly fragrant perfume. 
Sarah and I both enjoyed the lilac scented air that permeated the grounds of the museum
The city of Burlington was hosting a jazz festival and we eagerly made the short trip from the exposition grounds to enjoy the music. The pedestrian streets were alive with thousands of people, food vendors and multiple stages whereupon many musicians provided nonstop entertainment. In addition, many cafes presented music on their stages. 
Fine music on the streets of Burlington, Vermont

As usual, the camaraderie of fellow Airstreamers made for a memorable weekend. We look forward to our next WBCCI rally.

Stay tuned.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Safford Arizona, Southern Utah and Homeward Bound

Sedona Red Rocks

The blog has been sadly neglected due to the nearly overwhelming destruction to our house that we faced on our return. We are now back in Massachusetts. We decided to accelerate our return yet still try to enjoy the trip back to our home base. This entry covers the remaining time on our 2014 southwest adventure.

While the northeast experienced a severe winter, the southwest was enjoying an early spring. This allowed us to travel a more northerly route than would normally be possible. With the experience and knowledge that our Airstream could cope with sub-freezing temperatures, we confidently visited places we would previously have avoided due to the risk of subfreezing temperatures. The days were unfailingly warm but the nights, especially at higher altitudes, were often in the upper teens or lower twenties. Fifteen degrees was the lowest overnight temperature we experienced and our Airstream handled it well. Not once did we experience a frozen water pipe. Wish I could say the same about our house.

Traveling west on SR260 from Show Low, Arizona kept us in the national forest all the way to Sedona, where we arrived with only a vague idea of where we might stay. Due to the unusually warm weather, the Forest Service opened one of its campgrounds early. The Pine Flat campground had opened just a couple days before. We arrived and took our pick of one of about a dozen vacant campsites. The Pine Flats campground was pleasant enough, but it is tucked tightly into the narrow Oak Creek Canyon about 20 minutes north of town. The campsites are very close to the road resulting in a lot of road noise during the day. Thankfully, there is very little traffic at night. A small stream runs along the west side of the campground and many sites back up to it. There is also a fine spring at the northern end where there is a constant coming and going of people filling water containers.

Hiking opportunities abound in the Sedona area. For our first hike we chose the Thomas Point trail that is just a couple miles south of the campground. We had the trail to ourselves and enjoyed the warm spring morning. The trail ascends steeply up the east side of Oak Creek Canyon and rewarded us fine views to the south and to the north with a beautiful siting of snow capped Humphrey's Peak, the highest mountain in Arizona. After reaching the top of the canyon we hiked along the canyon rim for about a mile for even more expansive views. There was no trail, but the forest was not too dense allowing us to explore without getting lost. On the way down we remarked at how many spring wildflowers had opened to full bloom in just the few hours it had been since we passed them on the way up.
View of Humphrey's Peak from Thomas Point above Oak Creek Canyon
Sedona Arizona
Sarah on Thomas Point
Overlooking Oak Creek Canyon
Sarah on Cathedral Rock

After two nights at Pine Flat, we moved to a fine boondocking site just ten minutes south of Sedona. In addition to being free, it was conveniently located for exploring Sedona and the historic towns of Cottonwood and Jerome, only short drive south and west of Sedona. The site we found was at the parking lot of the trail head that is a couple hundred yards east of Rt89A on Angel Valley Road. We were one of six RVs at this spot. There were other campers scattered further along the road among the trees. 
Boondocking just off 89A
On the way to Sedona Sarah and I decided we would take a flight in a hot air balloon. We made reservations with Northern Light Balloon Expeditions. However, we experienced only one of a handful of days  each year that they could not fly due to uncooperative winds so that we had to postpone our flight until the next day. I was happy with that because it was a cloudy day when we cancelled but we had a glorious sunrise the next day for our flight.
Getting ready
Heating the air inside the balloon

Up and Away
(sister ship still loading passengers)
Sunrise at Sedona
(Humphrey's Peak on horizon)
We flew very close to the Mary Joan at our boondocking site

While visiting Sedona, a trip to Jerome should be part of anyone's itinerary. It is a pleasant 45 minute drive through the charming town of Cottonwood to Jerome, a formerly abandoned mining town with a very colorful history. Today there are art galleries and vintners offering tastings from local vineyards. A highlight of our day was discovering that one of our favorite singer/songwriter, David Bromberg, was performing that evening at Old Town Center For The Arts in Cottonwood and we were able to secure a couple of tickets for his show in this very intimate venue. Such community arts centers are a rarity now a day.
Jerome Arizona

The next day, with new David Bromberg music playing in the TV, we headed north on US89A with our sites set on Page, Arizona where we hoped to explore Antelope Canyon Slot. However, we missed whatever road sign should have alerted us to the fact that US 89 to Page, was closed 50 miles ahead. At that fifty mile point we saw a small sign simply announcing that the road was closed. We had no option but to travel northwest on US 89A where we rejoined US 89 at Kanab, Utah. Our maps indicated that there were NFS campgrounds ahead, but they were all closed. At this altitude in the Kaibab National Forest spring had not yet arrived so we found a well maintained forest road and a comfortable spot to boondock for the night. While setting up camp, I discovered that one of the tires on the trailer was flat. Despite being tired from more time behind the wheel than usual, I changed the tire that evening rather than waiting until morning. That was a wise decision because that night was the coldest we have recorded with the Mary Joan. At 14 degrees the next morning, changing a tire would not have been pleasant.
Why didn't I think of this?

The campground at Bryce Canyon National Park is open year round and it was on our way so a stop here was mandatory. We visited Bryce with the kids many years ago, but couldn't explore it as we would have liked because the kids were too small to enjoy long miles of hiking. But, Sarah and I both needed a place to get out and do some hiking and Bryce was a perfect place at a perfect time. Snow was still on the ground but the days were warmer, although a bit windy.  
Our campsite at Bryce with remnants of the hard winter.

Clear skies and warm weather at Bryce Canyon National Park

Just a short drive from Bryce is Capital Reef National Park where we spent a couple days experiencing the wonder of multi-colored layers of sedimentary rock that make up the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. We did some short day hikes from the Fruita Campground. The campground is located on the grounds of a well maintained former fruit farm. We arrived while the apricot trees were in full bloom. We drove the Scenic Drive to explore Capital Gorge and South Draw. While in Capital Gorge, we hiked to the top of Cassidy Arch, a strenuous hike that granted us the opportunity to stand on a magnificent natural bridge.
View from Fruita Campground, Capital Reef National Park
Cassidy Arch in Capital Reef National Park
The Mary Joan III at Fruita Campground
Capital Reef National Park
Abandoned Ranch
South Draw, Capital Reef National Park
Petroglyphs in Capital Reef National Park

Another days drive found us at Arches National Park. As usual we arrived expecting to find a campsite available. However, this park is so popular that all campsites are available by reservation only, all year round. The ranger at the gate suggested we try one of the campsites outside the park along the Colorado river on SR 128. We found a campground just a couple miles outside of Moab on the river. We actually found this to be more convenient since the campground inside the park would have meant a forty-five minute drive in or out of the park. This worked out well since we had local knowledge of a fine restaurant, Buck's Grill House on the northern edge of town. We enjoyed our first dinner there so much that we returned the next night to try other dishes on the menu that struck our fancy. 

In the park, we spent the better part of one day slowly driving the main road, stopping frequently to view the many rock formations and arches. The next day we drove west on SR279 that follows the Colorado River to reach the trail that took us to Corona Arch. Along this road are marvelous cliffs popular with rock climbers, well preserved petroglyphs and fossilized dinosaur footprints . Everyone knows how much Sarah loves petroglyphs, now I know how excited she is to see dinosaur fossils. 
Dinosaur Tracks

Petroglyphs near Moab

Corona Arch near Arches National park

After Arches National Park we transitioned from travel and explore mode to time to get home attitude. That's not to say we didn't enjoy the trip, but we knew it would not be possible to linger long at any one place. We were quite far north. While the weather report was good we knew an early spring storm could strand us. 

Friends of ours have built a summer home on the Rio Grande River near the scenic town of Creede, Colorado. Surprisingly, the river seems as large here as it is at Big Bend, Texas. Creede is less than twenty miles from the road on which we came over the continental divide so we decided that we could stop there for one night and park in their driveway. Creede is a small mining town popular with people who have built summer homes there and with visiting tourists. We enjoyed an evening drive into the mountains high above the town that afforded us fine views of the valley below and the mountains beyond.
Rio Grande River
near Creede Colorado

From Creede, we crossed the high plains of Eastern Colorado. But, before leaving the Rockies, we visited Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve to see the largest sand dunes in North America. We continued on and rested for the night at John Martin Reservoir State Park in eastern Colorado. This huge park on a man-made reservoir was nearly empty. But, it was a perfect place to stop for the night.
The magnificent dunes in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Finding public lands for camping in Kansas is difficult. It has the least amount of public lands (as a percentage of acreage) than any other state. We set our sites on the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, hoping to boondock for one night. But, for the first time in our travels, I neglected to pay attention to our fuel level. When we were 15 miles from our destination I noticed we had only about 25 miles of diesel left in our tank. Great Bend, Kansas was 18 miles to the north, the only place within fifty miles to buy fuel. We limped into town, filled our tank and chose to rest our weary bodies by making camp in the Walmart parking lot. We shared our 'campground' with four semi-trailers, a motorhome and a pick-up camper. Despite the all night commerce and blinding parking lot lights, we spent a comfortable night.

The next day brought us to Lawrence, Kansas at Clinton Lake State Park. This convenient to town location allowed us to spend a day visiting a college classmate and his wife before moving just up the road to Paola, Kansas where we stayed the night in the driveway of another college friend. 

Our final night of this travel season was spent at Ramsey Lake State Park, just east of St. Louis, Missouri. Once again, we were stop at Jackson Center, Ohio to leave the Mary Joan for more minor warranty repairs.

The drive to Jackson Center, Ohio could be done in one morning provided we got an early start. We arrived at the Airstream factory shortly after noon. We completed the paperwork necessary to affect the repairs required then spent a few hours preparing the trailer to be left unattended. Draining the water, dumping the holding tanks and securing the water lines with antifreeze took just a little over an hour. By 3 PM we were back on the road in order to be able to reach Massachusetts the next day.

We stopped for the night just east of Akron, Ohio and reached Massachusetts late the next afternoon. We returned to Ohio a few weeks later to retrieve the Mary Joan. We are now living in the Airstream while we supervise the repairs to our house.

Stay tuned