Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ad Hoc Night Sailing Venture to Tilghman Creek

Randomly invited my old sailing buddy Greg for a trip across the Bay at night. This was the only time I could get away to go sailing -- departing the marina at 8:00pm, crossing the Bay, then arriving at our anchorage at Tilghman Creek at 1:30am. It was so fucking fun. This is the kind of shit I live for.

This is a picture of me looking at the chart with a red headlight -- what most of the sail across looked like (I haven't used my GPS in years). In fact, we had only time for two pictures during our Bay crossing because it was 12-13 knots, gusting to 16 with weird waves pushing us around and making my tiller feel like an oar. And as usual, I had up slightly too much sail so the boat was hard to manage at times.

Here's the only picture of Greg from the trip across:

Damn, we roared across that Bay and of course it always feels faster when you're sailing at night for some reason. I suppose it's because the waves seem to be going by faster when it's dark.

Sailing at night hones your skills and attention like no other -- especially sans GPS like I do. You're constantly making sure you're heading for the correct red or green blinking light, and not actually heading toward some land-based beacon, running aground, hitting some object, or falling overboard (that reminds me: I need to get life jacket strobes).

Getting across the Bay was relatively easy on a beam reach -- except for managing the waves -- but when we headed up Eastern Bay we were close-hauled and pounding into the spray for hours. It was also one of those sails where you're constantly straddling running into too shallow water, or heading up too far that your sails start to luff and you lose momentum -- yet you want to avoid tacking because it'll put you into the anchorage too late.

After anchoring, we enjoyed a metal cup each of Green Label. Man, whiskey never tasted so good at 1:30am under the glow of oil lamps:

Neither of us could finish it, because we were so dog-tired from the athletic sail across so we just passed out (of course, after I caught up on on my internet -- love that Verizon Wireless card):

I had caught some crabs at the dock before leaving and they kept jumping out and grabbing shit onboard, like Greg's shoe (I cooked 'em up next day for lunch on the way back -- the crabs, not the shoes):

Next day, I made coffee and bacon and enjoyed a Marlboro, too. I love that my boat has a pop-top (yes, you can see I don't care about my tan):

The view from our anchorage (the crabbers were up at dawn):

Sadly, we had to motor most of the way back because the wind had died -- classic Chesapeake. Here's a nice view from my new Fujinon binoculars with built-in compass (and red light). These were great on setting the course to the entrance to Tilghman Creek at night:

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Gravelly Point Probably Not the Best Baby Destination

Yesterday I decided to teach my 9-month-old boy about airplanes -- close up. There's a small park in northern Virginia called Gravelly Point right next to National Airport where you can lie on the grass and watch the jet airplanes fly right overhead before they land. They seem so close that you could throw a rock at them.

We spread out our blanket on the grass to wait and he seemed happy. We played with his toys for a minute before the first plane came toward us, its massive jet engines revving.

I forgot how loud it is and the first one came over and Elliot just watched it, following the plane with his eyes and looking confused. Then he went back to playing and looked like this:

The second one came, and again, the confused look.

But when the third one came, the little guy got scared! It's so sad and pitiful to see your baby get scared and I felt like a bad father.

As soon as the engines roared that third time and he spotted the jet coming our way, he crawled real fast across the blanket toward me and just lunged into my lap, hugging me and looking frightened.

I packed up our things and left immediately.

Monday, September 06, 2010

A Ramen Noodle, Jim Beam, and Beagle Dog Sailing Trip to Rock Hall -- ALONE

The wife and baby took a weekend trip to see my in-laws in Detroit -- and also so Katie could see the Jay-Z/Eminem concert with her sister (god, I have the coolest wife).

So what's a man left alone to do? Go sailing with his hound dog for three days, that's what.

Whenever a sailing trip is planned, and I have it in my head that I HAVE TO be on the water, I hate the whole process of stopping at a dozen different places to pick up crap; I just want to get on the water NOW, and the 2 to 3 hours of provisioning drives me nuts. But since I was sailing with just me and my dog, none of that bullshit applied; I stopped at one place: a convenience store that also sold liquor and three types of ice.

My plan was to sail all weekend and live off the bluefish and crabs I caught, but as back up, my 20-minute provisioning was merely block-ice, Honeynut Cheerios, milk, ramen noodles, coffee, bacon, Marlboro Ultralights, packaged ham-n-cheese sandwiches, canned Chef Boyardee ravioli, a 750ml bottle of Jim Beam, and frozen chicken necks.

I slept on the boat Thursday night with oil lamps burning and listened to the VHF weather channels for Hurricane Earl news, and it seemed it would miss us. I spent most of that dark night changing the oil in the outboard engine; I recently was informed you're supposed to change the lower unit oil every year -- that's the gear oil that keeps the propeller gears running smoothly. So I changed that mess in the dark lit only by my headlamp. Half the gear oil ended up on my hands and arms. Anyway, the job got done and the engine ran smooth.

Whenever there's someone else at my marina working late into the night on their boat, I invite them onboard for some cold beer or whiskey. So this dude Pete and I swapped sailing stories and drank Jim Beam while my beagle Oliver snored and the oil lamps burned.

Next day, I headed into an empty Bay. Everyone had been spooked by Hurricane Earl, despite the fact that all weather stations were saying it would miss us by a long shot. The sky was overcast from the edge of the hurricane, and the Chesapeake was nearly empty, save for a few container ships anchored off Baltimore. The dog and I headed out toward the Bay Bridge with 5 to 10 knots of wind. I couldn't believe everyone was so skittish of going out, despite what all available science was saying. The wind was so calm that I even brought the dog bed into the cockpit so Oliver could sail in comfort with a view on the sail north:

After the bridge, the wind died, so I started up the Honda 4-Stroke for the 3-hour trek to my destination -- Rock Hall, Maryland.

This town Rock Hall is directly across the Bay from Baltimore and is one of the last towns within 30 miles of my marina that I haven't visited. I'd heard it's a slightly more rednecky version of Baltimore with better crabs, so I had to check it out.

I called ahead to reserve a slip at Rock Hall Landing Marina to discover it would be $69 for the night -- whatever, the wife just got a new job at 20% pay increase, so no prob.

This is the first marina I've ever stayed that had air-conditioned bathrooms and showers and a swimming pool. Seems this place is a hot destination for old people who like to get drunk and sit on their Rodney-Dangerfield-esque stinkpots (my boat was the most beat-up in the whole marina). Basically, if you have a big-ass stinkpot, there's not much to do other than hang around other people with big-ass stinkpots so you can flaunt your massive gas-powered retirement trophy and get drunk. I mean, the people were nice enough, sure, but I just calls 'em like I sees 'em so you gets 'em like I gives 'em.

Rock Hall is totally worth visiting. Right off my bow was a live band playing late into the night at a big crab house. Off my stern was another live band playing late into the night at a bar with a blow-up Corona-themed biplane hanging over the bar; it's the kind of place where if you ask for a Mai Tai, you get grenadine-flavored rum. Thank god I had quality earplugs for the sleep.

Next day a front came through with gusts to 30 knots, so I bought another night at the marina and hung out with my dog and crabbed from my boat all day. I'd brought three collapsible crab traps and used the frozen chicken necks to catch under-sized blue crabs all day. For some reason, the nice old people in the stinkpot across the way had a nice-sized batch of crabs using the same bait. Oh well, at least I had cold Miller Lites, a hound dog, and Marlboros to keep me company all day.

Side note: Anyone taking a 5 day sailing trip should do well to stock up on block ice. Packaged ice is gone in a day or so -- only worth taking a 16 lb bag and pack it on top. But that block ice will easily last the whole time -- maybe a week.

Luckily, during the strong wind, an awesome classic car show was happening in Rock Hall. I got a picture here of my favorite muscle car -- the GTO. I used to have a 1966 GTO, but this one looks basically the same as mine did (and same color) but this is technically a 1965 GTO:

Great cars overall in the carshow, but "Ratzilla" caught my attention. Hilarious:

Ratzilla is a rusty 1930s modified Ford with a rear-mounted engine whose interior was covered in very opinionated bumper stickers. (I imagine the owner is not a fan of our current president). For example, this plaque was mounted on the engine:

Funny, I often love the humor and spirit of redneck culture -- and the people are always so nice, personally -- but we'd never vote for the same person for political office, ever.

That night, I still wasn't having much luck catching keepers while crabbing, so I decided to go to the crab house one block away -- alone. It's kinda weird going to a crab house alone, but I was hungry at this point, and tired of eating a few small crabs and Chef Boyardee canned food.

I am starting to consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur of crabs and I'm always on the lookout for the best Chesapeake crab spice. I've been now catching my own crabs and have them at home to cook every week. First off, anyone who knows diddly about Chesapeake crabs knows that Old Bay® seasoning -- produced by the New-York-Stock-Exchange-listed company, McCormick -- is SHIT. Not one decent crab house uses it in their kitchen. Hardly one person on online message boards devoted to crabbing likes Old Bay®. Everyone knows that the true Chesageek only uses J.O. #2. That's it, no discussion.

Anyway, this crab house I went to used a modified version of J.O. #2, and I bought two styrofoam cups of it for $7.50. Damn, I couldn't believe it, but it was even better than J.O. #2. I will cherish this stuff til the day it runs out. The taste made eating crabs alone better. I was so happy that I left the waitress a $100 tip on a $60 meal -- just to see the look on her face (don't tell the wife, but I did this partly because she got a raise and partly because I think the Asian economies may be turning upward).

Next day me and Oliver headed home. The Bay was giving me the most annoying wind -- 16 knots in the morning, which made me have to go through the trouble of reefing underway alone, then light-and-variable in the afternoon, which made me have to kick on the Honda again. At one point in the morning, I was scrambling around back-and-forth on deck to put up the sails alone, stumbling over the stupid dinghy lashed on deck and nearly running aground, and when I got back to the cockpit, I couldn't find my fucking dog! I called and called, and looked below, but nothing -- slight panic set in when I thought he'd jumped overboard while I was making that racket putting up sails. Finally, I found him cowering dug back where I stow my bags; he'd gotten scared of the noise and hid in the deepest place he knew. Man, it was good to see him again.

I tried sailing all the way back, but couldn't quite do it without the help of the outboard -- especially under the Bay Bridge. That thing spooks me; I'm always afraid I'm gonna lose wind underneath it, then drift into one of the massive pilings. So I kicked it into gear, then cut it out and tried sailing in the sickly 3-to-5-knots on a beat for the way home -- so annoying!

So here I am, on a starboard tack for basically the whole way home -- like 14 nautical miles or so. If you don't sail, a starboard tack gives me right of way over basically anyone except a freight ship or someone sailing also on a starboard tack who's downwind from me. And all of a sudden, I realize I'm sailing through a regatta.

God damn, those richie rich fuckers think they own the god damn Chesapeake Bay from the South River to north of Annapolis whenever they want it. Now I know why the fishermen hate those god damn jocks. Anytime they want, without warning, they can mark off a random section of the Bay with their clean little bobbing orange blow-up bouys, and if you cross into it, YOU'RE the one who's accused (by them) of being an asshole.

So here I am, cutting through their special little race, when I see that three $1M boats under spinnaker are heading right toward me, despite the fact that I have right way -- they're all glaring at me. I stared at them. Then they started yelling at me about cutting across their massive race course, which, I remind you, they randomly declared with plastic floating bouys without regard to the fact that it's one of the most busy sailing days of the year. I yelled back, "YOU DON'T OWN THE FUCKING WATER." Not sure why I bothered, and I wished I'd had my bullhorn (which had run out of batteries).

I mean shit, imagine if me and my friends decided to mark a one-mile by one-mile section of the Chesapeake with anchored empty kegs and hold a beer fest and yell at anyone who crossed through it and glared at them as if they were assholes. God, sometimes I hate the whole jock attitude of the richie rich racing sailor.

Well, despite all that, they do sail beautiful boats. This is the only shot I could take on the Blackberry while sailing through their precious little race (this is not the boat who yelled at me):

Sometimes I feel like I can't relate to any one of the main subcultures in my region -- not the sailing jocks or the rednecks, not the lawyers or the non-profit do-gooders, not the fishermen or the watermen, not the Rodney Dangerfields or the retirees. You'd think I could relate to the hardcore wooden boat sailing guys, but my engineering skills are lacking and I'm too lazy for them anyway (they'd rather work on their boats than sail on them, I'm convinced). I suppose that's why sometimes I just go sailing with my beagle dog and some ramen noodles in my 39-year-old sailboat with Marlboros and Jim Beam.

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