October in Pensacola can be glorious. Summer’s warmth has not yet completely faded, and water temperatures are still hovering in the low 80’s. But the passage of early fall cold fronts can bring mild sunny days and cool refreshing nights, with delightfully low humidity. The long-sleeved T-shirts get pulled from the bottom of the dresser drawer to ward off the early morning chill, and the comforter stays on the bed at night rather than being kicked to a pile on the floor. Your car feels years newer as you get reacquainted with how much pep it has without the horsepower-sapping drag of the air conditioner. The cool evenings slows the growth of the coarse vegetation that passes for grass in these parts, freeing you from what since April has been weekly mowing duty. There’s a reason the Pensacola Fair is held at this time of year. It’s probably the best weather we can have for being outdoors. And it can make for great boating. Still warm enough during the day to allow you to enjoy catching the wind while wearing only swimwear, but sufficiently cool overnight to make for a very dry (sweat free) and comfortable night’s sleep.
The prediction for the weekend called for highs in the 70’s, lows in the 50’s, and a mild northeast wind. We wanted to spend it on the boat, at anchor, doing a great deal of nothing. We made our plans. Rhonda shopped for provisions. I checked the boat and filled the water tank. We cancelled a Saturday family get-together to free up the day. We waited for the weekend with anticipation.
And then on Thursday, our broker called. We sat around our dining room table while he presented an offer on our house. It was a pretty good offer. The numbers worked. There were no conditions. We thought, “Wow, this could actually be it.” Pens in hand, we turned to the final page. The one that listed the closing date. The date on which we would have to lock the door, turn over the keys, and walk away for the final time. It was November 28th. The day after Thanksgiving. We just looked at each other, stunned. This s#@% just got real. Very very real. As we looked around our home, we saw weeks of work ahead of us. Treasures that needed to be packed and sent to storage. Equipment we’ve continued to use that now needs to go on Craigslist. Appliances and possessions that have to be divvied up among the kids. Time. We need more time. Which leaves no time for sailing.
And so our plans went right out the window. Rather than being set in stone, they’re all now carved in warm Jello. One showing, one phone call, and they melt away in an instant. And so we’re resigned to not making any more. They just never have a chance to truly firm up.
A sailboat floating in Jello. Seriously, how could I not use this picture?
Have we been remiss in not accomplishing more already? I don’t really think so. We’ve done a great deal already to prepare to transition to a Life On The Hook™. But we didn’t want our home to look vacant and sterile. We’ve heard that the right balance to strike is to remove most of your furniture and personalizing touches so that potential buyers can imagine their stuff in the space, but to leave enough so that it still feels like a home. But that leaves quite a bit for the last minute. TVs on the walls. A washer and dryer (we’re not about to start frequenting laundromats until absolutely necessary!) Kitchenware. Cloths. Tools. And then everything from the diesel tractor to the hedge trimmer that are required to maintain four acres of land. We knew we’d have a lot to do in a short time. We just didn’t realize we might have to do it all during the holidays. That’s where the gut check really came from. Seeing that November 28th date on the last page, and recognizing that there would be no family feast this Thanksgiving.
We stayed home. We gutted the garage. We sorted through the tractor shed. I pulled the carburetor from a generator that I know I need to rebuild in order to sell. We completely filled our Green Monster (our name for our enormous green trash can) with things we once thought we couldn’t part with.
We made good progress. But as it turned out, we probably could have gone sailing. Because our plans aren’t the only thing that melt away like warm Jello. Apparently so do purchase offers.
But on a positive note, Thanksgiving is looking better. If we get bold enough, we might even start to make plans…
If you’ve spent any time in marinas, I’m sure you’re familiar with that ubiquitous local waterfront creature known as the dusky bike-wheeled dock cart.
A Prime Example Of Dockus Painintheassicus
They’re social animals and usually congregate in small flocks around the head of the pier, but they’re easily spooked. If they sense that you urgently need to move a lot of gear, they will scatter and hide in remote locations and will have to be chased down and coaxed into service.
Now in the past I’ve sung the praises of the marina where we keep our boat, but there is one thing about it that really chaps my hide. For some inane reason, when they laid out the dock services on the pier and installed the power pedestals, fire hydrants and mooring cleats, they didn’t bother to first measure how wide their native local dock carts were. If they had, they might have thought to space things out sufficiently to allow for the passage of a loaded cart. Instead, there are too many places where they did things like mount two power pedestals directly across from each other, Once there are a few shore power cables and water hoses hooked up to them, getting a cart past that point starts to look a little like that scene in The Ten Commandments where the Egyptian slaves are trying to move the huge stone for the pyramid they’re building.
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures. Oh Who Am I Kidding, They Have No Idea I’m Using This Picture.
It took someone pulling, someone pushing, and whoever’s left lifting to get past the obstructions. As a result, we resorted to just carrying everything, as making multiple trips was much less aggravating than muscling the carts over the hurdles.
There had to be a better way. And Rhonda found one. One day while cruising the aisles at Sams Club, she came across this:
“What do you think?” she asked me in a text with attached picture. “Hmmm, dunno, why don’t you pick one up and we’ll try it,” I replied. So she did. And we did. And what do you know, it worked!
It was large enough to carry three or four armloads of gear, yet its slender form allowed it to roll right on through the choke points. And the cool thing about it is that it also does this:
Which makes it extremely convenient to store in the truck or in a hanging locker onboard.
Will it merit a portion of our scarce and valuable onboard stowage space once we depart on our Life On The Hook™? Possibly. Does it make our lives easier while we’re waiting for that day to arrive? Definitely! Especially since it means no longer having to scour the waterfront hunting the wild and wily dusky bike-wheeled dock cart.
We hope that someday in the not-long-from-now we’ll be headed down the Thorny Path. (If you’re not sure what that means you can find a pretty good description here). I understand It can be quite an ordeal. From the research I’ve been doing, one of the best ways to take some of the thorns out of the trip is to ride the wild north winds that follow a cold front. They’re going south in a hurry seeking a warm place in the sun, and since we’re of like mind, it makes sense to hitch a ride when headed down island. This past weekend just such a front blew through our area, and while we aren’t yet able to head to points south, it seemed like a good opportunity to continue our Getting To Know You process and see how we’d set the sails on Eagle Too to handle a strong north wind.
Now our biggest problem with cold fronts is that they’re, well, COLD. While this might not matter to some people (like those who live in places where the water gets hard in the winter), our thin Florida blood leaves us ill-suited for such travails. Let’s be perfectly clear here—this is not our idea of a good time:
Happy Happy Joy Joy
I think it was about 55° the day we took that picture (with a wind chill in the upper 40’s). Now that’s just a typical day on the water to someone in the Down East, but to us it felt like we needed to keep watch for icebergs. It’s been almost three months since we’ve had an entire weekend free though, and I didn’t want to let a little chilly weather ruin a chance to spend a few days out on the water. Now Rhonda was, shall we say, a bit concerned about the predicted overnight low of 48°. But hey, being the ever resourceful kind of guy I am, I had a plan for that. I popped into Home Depot, and $80 later I left with one of these:
His name is Mr. Heater. It says so on his nametag. Look at him. Can’t you just feel the cozy warmth radiating from him? It had about a thousand five-star reviews on Amazon. The box says it’s safe for tents, campers, and RVs, and a boat is just an RV that floats, right? With a sensor to turn it off if it tips over, and a sensor to turn it off if the oxygen level gets low, I thought it was custom made to keep us warm and dry on a chilly October evening.
That dry part is particularly important—the last time we rode out a cold front at anchor, we woke up in the morning to a cabin covered in condensation. Every surface on the boat was literally dripping water. Not that we were planning to sleep with the heater running. I’m sure we’d be fine if we did, as we have a talking CO detector onboard that actually shouts warnings at us if carbon monoxide levels get elevated, and we’d of course crack a port (window) to ensure a steady flow of fresh air. But we’ve already learned that when the two of us are snuggled into our memory foam mattress with an arctic sleeping bag as a comforter, pretty much the only thing that gets cold are our noses. No, I just wanted something to be able to light in the morning to warm up and dry out the boat while the coffee was brewing. And it runs on those one pound propane bottles that we already have lots of onboard for our Magma BBQ grill.
I gave it a test run at home, and I have to say that that baby really pumps out some heat. Nine thousand BTUs according to the box, and I believe it. So with our warm gear packed and our trusty Mr. Heater, we ventured boldly forth.
It was while stowing our gear onboard that I learned a lesson about showing Mr. Heater some respect. While twisting and turning it to determine which little puka or cubby on the boat would be its new home, I grabbed it from underneath. See those holes on the bottom?
They may look like innocent ventilation holes, but don’t be fooled. They are actually cleverly concealed finger amputators. All I did was try to shove the little beast in a cabinet, and in less time than it takes to tell the tale I was bleeding from multiple finger lacerations. Those edges are sharp! So if you’re reading this and you’re thinking “hey, that Mr. Heater thing looks pretty cool, maybe we should get one of those too,” well, you’ve been warned. I got the message—Mr. Heater did not want to be shoved in a locker. Mr. Heater wanted to sit in the cabin with the people. And so he took up residence under the chart table while I went to look for bandaids.
Once we were underway, we had a great downwind sail to Little Sabine Bay, where I knew we ‘d have good protection from the biting north winds and be able to spend a comfortable night at anchor. We even learned another trick about operating the mainsail furler in strong winds (ask if you’re interested). Getting the dinghy off the bow once we were at anchor was a challenge in the 20 knot gusts, but Rhonda has become a pretty good raft wrangler, so we launched Eaglet, got the outboard mounted and motored over to Margaritaville for dinner. Lava Lava Shrimp and Margaritas. Life is good.
Our bellies now full and the sun starting to set, we returned to Eagle Too, wishing all the way that we had invited Mr. Heater to dinner. The north wind was still blowing, and the ride back felt more like an Eskimo seal hunt than a trip across a Florida inlet. Did I mention we really aren’t fans of being cold? But it was still warm and cozy down below once we were back onboard, and I found myself thinking, “Self, the perfect way to end a day of brisk sailing and good food would be two fingers of whiskey neat and a cigar.” Not just any cigar mind you, but my favorite, a Royal Barbados, a couple of which I had brought along to enjoy.
You see, Rhonda and I like to take cruises. We’ve been on a dozen or so, and they’ve been our favorite vacation since the time when our boys finally outgrew Disney World. When we visit various islands on a cruise, we try to see if we can be travelers, and not just tourists. If everybody is getting off the ship and turning left, we’ll usually go right and try to find something a bit more authentic, something not on the “ship approved” list of recommended activities but rather where we might actually get to interact with some locals who aren’t working for tips. So one day we’re getting off the ship in Barbados, where a long line of taxis are waiting to haul the throng of well-fed (i.e. overweight) Americans the less-than-a-mile to Bridgetown.
“Taxi, sir?” I’m asked insistently, as experience has taught the asker that “Yes please” is the only possible answer.
“How long to walk it?” Rhonda and I ask.
“20 minutes, much too far,” we’re told.
“No thanks, we’ll just walk,” we said. The reaction we received indicated that this was somewhat unprecedented and not an approved answer, but we eventually got our message across and began strolling toward town. It was a delightful walk down a garden path that followed the water, along which we passed beautiful flowering tropical foliage, trees filled with colorful exotic birds, and dreadlocked Rastafarians fishing the rocks and pilings who would nod a polite “Good Morning” as we passed—experiences all missed by the tourists being rapidly whisked by taxi from the air-conditioned ship’s bar to the air-conditioned ship-approved beach bar in the town ahead.
About halfway to Bridgetown, we stumbled across a little shopping village selling local crafts, and we stopped to explore. A sign that pointed up a set of stairs caught my eye. It said “Caribbean Cigar Company.” Intrigued, I turned to Rhonda and said “Let’s take a look.”
We climbed the stairs and walked in the door and were immersed in the aroma of Spanish cedar and cured tobacco. Several black women from young to old were sitting in booths along one wall hand rolling cigars. The oldest among them shouted out a cheerful “Good morning,” and motioned for us to join her Uncertain whether we belonged in the business end of a cigar factory, we hesitantly heeded her call. As we reached her booth, she opened a drawer, pulled out a handful of tobacco leaves, and demonstrated each step in the process of handrolling a cigar. Curious, I asked her about the tobacco, and she explained that they used Cuban fill with an Ecuadorian wrapper.
“That sounds wonderful,” I said, or words to that effect. “I wish we could get them back in the US.”
“Oh, we ship worldwide,” she replied.
“Wait, what? How can you ship these to the US if they’re Cuban?”
And then I learned something about the Cuban embargo that I didn’t know. Everyone knows that It’s illegal to bring Cuban cigars into the US. But it’s apparently perfectly legal for Cuba to ship tobacco someplace else, like Barbados for example, where it can then be made into cigars which can be sold in the US with no restrictions. Booya!
The cigar rolling demonstration finished, another woman then showed us how they hand-assemble the Spanish cedar cigar boxes, apply the bands, and pack them 25 to a box. Delighted by our serendipitous cigar factory tour, I purchased two samples to try on the ship, and then we finished heading to town.
I’m just going to cut to the chase here and tell you that those were two of the best cigars I’ve ever had. True to their word, they ship to the US with no issues, and I now have my second case aging in my humidor at home. I parcel them out, smoking maybe one or two a month, not because they’re particularly expensive (they’re actually quite a bargain, even with shipping) but because I’m really not a smoker. I just enjoy a good cigar and a glass of Scotch occasionally when the mood is right. And each one provides me with a one-hour tropical vacation due to all the associated memories.
So it’s been a great day with some challenging sailing and a nice dinner with my lovely wife, and now I’m craving some whiskey and a cigar. But there’s a cold north wind still blowing, and the temperature is way too low for an early October Florida evening. Bundled up in a hoodie and hat, I climb up into the cockpit to judge whether the conditions are bearable. And it’s at this point that I realize…
We really need a dodger.
Because there’s absolutely no place to sit in the cockpit where I can escape the penetrating tendrils of the cold north wind.
Great For Cool Breezes On Hot Summer Days. Not So Great For Cold North Winds.
Eagle Too came with a huge bimini, a large sunshade to shield the cockpit from the hot Florida sun. Something that will be worth its weight in gold once we’re in the tropics. But she has nothing to block the wind. What we really need is one of these:
A nice sturdy dodger to provide shelter when it’s blowing coldly from the north. A place to comfortably sit and helm the boat by remote autopilot while someday surfing those winds down the Thorny Path. A place to take shelter on a cold and breezy night and smoke a good cigar while warmth from Mr. Heater wafts up from the cabin below and my mind fills with recollections of Barbados. Yes, I have a bad case of dodger lust.
We’re making a list of the things we’d like to add to Eagle Too to make Life On The Hook™ safer and more comfortable. Experience suggests that this one should be pretty close to the top.
See, it was long and rambling, but I told you it would all tie together if you’d just be patient. 🙂
P.S. We never did need Mr. Heater’s help that night. Even with a low of 50°, Eagle Too kept us snug and warm. But when we do have a chance (need?) to try him out, I’ll let you know what we think.
I’ve been lost in a good book for the past week, and haven’t thought much about a blog post. Something I intend to remedy soon. ( It’s Ken Follett’s Fall Of Giantsin case you’re interested. He finally released the third and final book in his Century Trilogy last month, and it had been so long since I’d read the first two books that I wanted to re-read them before embarking on the final one.)
So I log into my WordPress control panel, and the first thing I see is that we have about three dozen spam comments, which Akismet has flagged and isolated for me. Now I’m not sure whether you’d be interested in Mexican Rolexes, Cheap Ugg Boots! or gay porn sites, but since they have absolutely nothing to do with the joys of sailing, I’m just going to delete them all, especially since most of them read something like “Very much welcome your excellent perspective on this most memorable issue.” You know, that odd sort of tortured syntax that says it’s been translated from Chinese or Russian or something.
Anyway, I just thought I’d pass along the fact that if your blog is being carpet bombed with spam and you don’t have the time, patience or interest to go best-two-out-of-three with Croatian hackers (yes, that was a gratuitous Lunar Dancereference!) , Akismet does a pretty good job of running interference. I give it a big thumbs up.