Friday, March 29, 2013

NW March Sailing is Cold

After a night in Gig Harbor, we took a short sail over to Tacoma where we met up with my brother and his family. We stayed at Point Defiance marina because we wanted to explore the giant wooded park it is named after. Our slip was the narrowest slip we have squeezed into so far and also, for lack of a better word, the crappiest. We were sandwiched between rickety docks lined with aluminum shacks that looked as if they may come down in a good blow, with a view of a black slag-heap that is used as a breakwater. We met my brother and family at the park and went for a sweet little almost-two-year-old-paced walk. I had forgotten that when you walk with little ones how everything must be explored and how no puddle is left un-splashed. We then piled into their cars and they took us into town where we ate dinner at one of their favorite Asian restaurants. It was so fun to catch up and see how Nate's little ones have grown. We spent the next day hiking, under mostly sunny skies, through the park. Aaron was on high alert for bird sightings and listenings, and Isaac marveled at how much he loves hiking through Pacific Northwest forests. The Seattle heritage runs strong in his veins. Late in the afternoon we caught a bus into Tacoma where we checked out a bookstore for Isaac, a toy store for Aaron, and a grocery store for me. Unfortunately, our plans with my brother didn't work as they had a sick kid at home. After dinner we stepped off the bus near our marina all in unison said, "whoa!" and stopped dead in our tracks when we looked up and saw Mount Rainier hulking over our crappy marina. Back on the boat, the view we had from our cockpit through the floating shacks surrounding us, was by far the best we've had of that monstrous mountain.

The next morning we set out through the Tacoma Narrows and under its two suspension bridges bound for Penrose State Park. In the afternoon we hiked in the rain through the park and the boys logged some beach time. We then settled in for the night and all of the next day as a gale set in, the temperature dropped to 35 degrees, with snow and 30 knot winds. Luckily our anchorage was well protected and not too rolly. The next day we hunkered down to the serious business of playing board games. I made cookies and soup and continued reading the Hobbit to the boys. Jason worked on our heater that, of course, decided to act up during the coldest days of sailing we have yet experienced. Happily, he was successful and we slept in warm, cozy beds without shivering through the night. The next day the south winds had calmed to 15-20 knots so we headed north, back to Blake Island in crisp, sunny weather with the occasional hail storm. We enjoyed a nice sail running downwind thirty miles with just our jib. For the majority of the time we managed to stay in a patch of blue sky between two lines of dark, forbidding clouds. When we finally collide with the storm ahead of us, the sky blackened and wind suddenly changed from south to north, forcing us to beat into the wind for the last couple of miles. Strangely the air temperature warmed considerably after one storm and then became very cold after the next one blew through.

Once we reached Blake Island, we decided to stay at the dock just in case our heater decided not to work again.  At least we would have electricity so we could run our small plug-in heater. Near the dock is a big park with campfire shelters strewn throughout. After dinner, Jason had a difficult time coaxing the boys (and me) out of the warm boat into the frigid air where we huddled by an itty-bitty fire and looked across the sound at the brilliantly lit Seattle skyline with mugs of hot cocoa steaming in our hands. The next morning Pika and I stepped out onto icy docks as we headed to land for her morning duties. Brrrr. We spent the morning on an unexpectedly lovely hike around the perimeter of the island where we saw a Golden Eagle and experienced both sunshine  and a frozen, icy rain. Sailing in March is definitely not the warmest thing we have done and my fingers and toes have the chilblains to prove it, but the afternoon brought sunny skies and a nice passage to our next destination.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

March Sailing

After four weeks at home where we skied, hiked muddy trails with friends, and attended classes and field trips, we headed back out to Seattle and Marinero. We were happy to find her in a not-to-soggy state under her boat cover. While Jason spent the week working in the office, the boys and I hit our favorite parks, the aquarium, the new Ferris wheel, Pike Street with all of its treats, and got to spend time hanging out in Ballard. We met a family across the dock who invited us to sail to Blake Island with them, we accepted, and on a not-rainy Friday afternoon we set out together. I'm not sure if I have mentioned this, but Marinero is a fairly fast boat and, with feelings of much guilt, we left them far behind. We enjoy anchoring or mooring so we attempted to grab a mooring ball on the west side of the island. It didn't work out so well for us and, long story short, after stretching as far as I could and holding on as long as I could, I lost the boat hook along with the mooring ball. Oh well. After scratching our heads, I realized that we could just back up to the mooring ball and I could snag it off of the swim step. Success. Who needs a boat hook anyway? After a quick round of crackers and cheese we kayaked into shore on Blackberry and, our new kayak, Banana. We hiked the mile across the island to meet up with our new friends tied to the docks.

The following morning brought waves and wind making my morning kayak ride to shore with Pika much more exciting than either of us would have liked. I found enjoyment surfing the waves into shore but took a quick disliking to them when they beat against me as I tried to shove off from shore with a chihuahua tucked under my arm. After much struggle I managed to escape the shoreline as the waves and current pushed me further and further from the boat. Paddling from the back seat of Blackberry made it impossible for me to bring the weightless bow around to paddle into the waves and toward the sailboat so I paddled backwards for awhile as we got pounded and splashed. I was eventually able to swing the bow around and paddle towards Marinero. I was fairly tired and extremely wet (ditto for chihuahua) but finally arrived at our swim step which I couldn't grab due to the large waves and swift current that pulled me back when I took a hand off the paddle. After much yelling for an assist, Jason emerged from the belly of Marinero and grabbed my bow. Phew! Talk about a great, full-body workout! Isaac poked his head out to catch a glimpse of his dripping mom and soaked Pika standing on the bobbing swim step. Anyone up for a sail?

Our destination for the day was Gig Harbor which required us to head down the fairly narrow Colvos Passage. It is wide enough to comfortably sail down but requires a lot of tacking especially since we were heading south down it against a south wind and an always-north flowing current. As we entered the passage, we found ourselves in the middle of a sailboat race. We waited awhile before raising sail in hopes that maybe the race would pass us by or turn around. No such luck. When we did raise sail in the steady 20 knots of wind, we found that we kept up pretty well with the race boats. The conditions at the beginning of the day were pretty predictable and I was able to contain any moments of panic I had as we heeled this way and that, tacking back and forth to avoid other boats and the shore. But as the day wore on we passed through squall after squall with 30 knot winds hitting us from unexpected directions and throwing us on our side. We would brace ourselves as we watched the boats ahead of us get flattened and then watch the wind tear across the water to hit us next as the currents swirled unpredictably below. Now I can only handle watching the kayaks try to float off of our boat so many times before panic sets in and I succumb to a freak-out session. We heaved to (mostly on purpose) so I could regain my composure the best I could before turning back into the wind, this time with a much looser main sail to reduce our heeling. I lasted a bit longer and at long last, we finally dropped sail as our destination came into view. Under motor, we squeezed through a 200-yard-wide passage with just two feet of water under our keel into Gig Harbor. Once we were safely tied up to the dock, a crew member from one of the fastest race boats (a J160) came over and joked that he wanted to add kayaks to his race boat and complimented us on our speed. He was thoroughly impressed with Marinero and wanted one of his own. Too bad she is one-of-a-kind. After a more-exciting-than-I-had-hoped-for day, starved, jittery, and extremely-full-body tired, we beelined to a restaurant for dinner.

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Saturday, March 9, 2013

A Terrifying Tale

You really don't want to hear about our trip home, but I'm going to tell you anyway because it is the stuff of legends.  So we were supposed to fly from Brussels to Frankfurt to Denver to home....fairly painless right? When we arrived at the airport at 6:30am the Lufthansa check-in counter  informed us that the flight to Frankfurt had been cancelled due to weather so we had go to the ticketing agent to get rerouted. At the Lufthansa ticketing counter they gave us a flight through Heathrow to Denver where we could catch a final flight home. So we were sent to the Brussels check-in counter (it would be much too simple if they could just issue boarding passes at that same counter). At that counter we mentioned Pika and they informed us that we cannot fly through Heathrow with our 4 1/2 pound-caged-official-USDA-certified-vaccinated-paper-carrying chihuahua, in the cabin so we were sent back to Lufthansa ticketing. Back at Lufthansa, we went 'round and 'round trying to find a sequence of flights that would allow Pika in the cabin and get us to Denver in time to get home as planned. It eventually became clear that this was an impossible task, so we decided to stay in Denver for the night. So off we went to the Brussels check-in counter, again, for our boarding passes and then we split ways. I went to Brussels ticketing to get Pika's international ticket and Jason to United to get Pika's domestic ticket. After we got through with all of that, we stood in the passport control line for a half an hour only to discover we were in the wrong line and we should be standing somewhere else. After four hours of standing in lines and at airline counters, we were stripping everything off at security and pulling our liquids out of bags when Jason turns to me white-faced and asks, "why is our suitcase vibrating?" These are words you never want to hear uttered by your spouse when you are in airport security. I'm thinking, "Great Odin's ghost, either we're going to blow up right here, right now or we're going to have to go tell a security agent that we think that someone put a bomb into our suitcase and spend the rest of our lives in Guantanamo." I wracked my brain trying to solve the mystery of what in God's green earth could have possessed our unholy suitcase to make it shake so. Through the haze of my brain a lightbulb went off! Jason's beard clippers! Jason's clippers had turned themselves on! We were saved! Thank the Gods! After emerging from security unscathed and with our freedom intact, we heard our flight being announced over the loudspeaker. We all took off running through the airport (think Home Alone style), racing past the bemused people with more time on their hands. We could see our gate as the announcement informed us that this was the last call for our flight and they were about to lock the gate. Here, cruelly placed between us and our gate , was another passport control line. We were so close to our gate we could spit on it but we had to get through one more (long) line. Jason heroically ran to the front of line, explained the situation and they let us slide through, but gave us a stern warning that we should get to the airport earlier next time. When we told him we had been here since 6:30am he looked sympathetic as he waved us through. Jason recently told me that every hour spent in an airport is time taken off your sentence in hell. After barely winning this epic battle with Brussels International Airport we took comfort in the fact that if we go to hell we will have many fewer hours to serve.

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Thursday, March 7, 2013


On our final day in Belgium, the boys and I took the train to Ghent, home of Gravensteen Castle.  Ghent is a beautiful little town much like Brugge only bigger. In the fourteenth century it was the second biggest city in Europe right after Paris so it boasts several large cathedrals and, of course, a very cool castle built in 1180 by Count Philip of Alsace. The castle seemed very traditional, like something you would picture in epic fairy tales filled with heroic knights, very different from Castelo dos Mouros and Castelo São Jorge in Portugal. The castle is home to a very impressive collection of medieval weaponry, awe-inspiring and brutal. I was stunned that human beings, especially medieval-sized humans, could wield such massive weapons and the boys were mesmerized. It also houses a very extensive collection of torture tools that we couldn't bring ourselves to look at. There are some things that we are better off not knowing. After exploring every nook and cranny, we headed out in the bitter wind and cold, with the occasional snow/rain pelting in search of more towers. In the first cathedral we visited there was no entrance up the tower. In the second, we listened to an organist practicing for Sunday service. With no luck in the cathedral tower department, we again headed for the bell tower in the town square where we climbed the stairs and were serenaded by bells. The carillon drum in this tower is no longer operational so a keyboardist was playing a song and the music lasted much longer than when we were in Brugge. After a satisfying day of castles, terrifying weaponry, musical bells and organs, big views, and, of course, chocolate, we headed back to the train that would bring us back to Brussels.

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