Catching up with life

2017 arrived with a whirlwind of activity. We were traveling and visiting family through New Years Day. Then we both jumped right back into some intense work situations, the GBCA Icicle Series, and a Gimme Shelter concert. It seems like every minute of every day for the past three weeks has been planned, and we just go from meeting to meeting and event to event. This weekend we finally got a few unscheduled hours, so we tossed the lines and went sailing.

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We brought our friends TJ and Kayla from Folie a Deaux along for the ride.

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We had about 7 knots of wind giving us a relaxing ride out towards Redfish Island, although we didn’t quite make it there before sunset.

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As the sun went down, the wind disappeared, so we dropped sail and motored back into the marina, recharged for another week of hectic schedules.

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Hopefully things will settle down a bit, and we’ll have more time to blog soon. We’re also planning some exciting trips in 2017, so stay tuned.

Our Best Photos of 2016

Happy new year and welcome to 2017. I hope all of our readers made it, unlike all those celebrities that didn’t.

I haven’t had time to write anything new for the new year, so I thought I’d kick things off with a photographic retrospective of 2016. Deciding on our “best” photos is very subjective, and I didn’t actually ask Mary’s opinion on these. I just scrolled through all the folders of photos from the past year and picked my favorites. So, in no particular order, here are my favorite photos that we took during our adventures in 2016.

So how’s that music thing working out?

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You might remember that we had devised a plan to play music as a means to make money while cruising. The idea of sailing town to town and rocking the tiki bars to pay our way around the Caribbean was romantic and enticing.

So will it work?!!!

We’d been taking part in marina jams and playing songs with our friends at open mics on a weekly basis for a while, but the question remained, could we actually book a “gig.”

We got started in March with a St. Patrick’s Day show playing as a 4-piece band.

Then a small wedding followed soon after, which was an eye opener to how rough it is to play in 90+ degree heat and extremely high humidity. We played that one as a three-piece.

I managed to book a few solo acoustic shows, which isn’t really what I was looking for since Mary and I wanted to play together, but it was a good test to see how things went over when we stripped out the guitar solos and vocal harmonies provided by our friends.

Then we got invited to play a police fund raiser as a four-piece band, which was a fun experience.

Then we actually grew to a five-piece band for another show at our favorite bar before finishing off the year as a four-piece at a corporate Christmas party.

The gross income from our seven paying shows  in 2016 was $2050 (not counting about $200 in tips and $200 in bar tabs.) However, we had to pay out $750 to our other players. That puts us at about $1300 for the year.

So what did we learn?

Four hours is a long time: If you want to get paid in the Houston market, you have to play four-hour cover shows. When you’re playing by yourself with no instrumental solos or jamming, that is a lot of songs. I ran through more than 60 songs per night, and by the end of several shows I was really scraping the bottom of the barrel for any song left to play. As we add more and more songs to the repertoire that won’t be as much of a problem, but working full time there is only so much time in the day to rehearse old songs and memorize new ones.

Equipment does make a difference: We started the year trying to mic the cajon with a Shure SM57. While it worked ok at the house when rehearsing, we could never get it loud enough at the bar without feedback. After a long debate, we finally spent the $239 to get a Shure Beta 91A that fits inside the cajon, and it solved all of our drum volume issues. This was a tough decision because the drum itself was only $175. It seemed absurb to invest more than the drum on a microphone for the drum, but in the end, it made a huge difference. I also retired my 20-year-old Shure SM58 vocal mic and replaced it with a $200 Sennheiser e945.

Good performances require rest: I currently have a wrist brace on my left arm. Practice makes perfect, but it turns out that too much practice makes for a pretty intense case of tendonitis. 12 hours a week seems to be my limit on guitar. Mary’s hands get quite swollen by the end of a show after slapping the cajon for hours. My voice also needs rest. Back in September I played four-hour shows two nights in a row, and my voice was already rough at the beginning of night two. By the end, it was really rough, which brings up the next thing I learned.

Not every performance is going to be good: Some nights nothing goes right. We’ve only had one show where things got really bad. It started ok. We had a nice group of friends come out to support us. The crowd was singing along. Unfortunately, I started losing my voice, and I ran out of songs. I thought I had a thick skin from my years in news and public relations, but getting a bad review and not being asked back to play a venue again really crushes the ego. There’s nothing to do except treat it as a learning experience and double down on the rehearsals, so that it doesn’t happen again.

We’re not going to make a living doing this: Yes, the dream is still to play live music as we cruise the Caribbean, but I have a hunch those bars pay even less than Houston bars. I think we were counting on competing against a smaller available talent pool in the islands, but that assumption may be wrong.

I’m not sure what our focus for 2017 will be. When we purchased our PA system we wanted something portable enough to fit in a dinghy to accomodate vocals, guitar and drums playing a restaurant or small bar. We’ve now got it maxed out with multiple vocalists, guitars, violin, bass, etc. While it’s a great portable rig, it’s not the right set up for a full band in large sports bars.

Hopefully we’ll get our foot in the door at some bars in Kemah closer to all of our marina friends.

Last but not least, we’ll be working on some new original music. Songwriting got put on the back burner while we crammed to learn enough cover songs to be able to fulfill our 2016 bookings. With that backlog of music under our belts, we’re ready to move forward with new songs in 2017.

If you have any song requests, please post them in the comments!

Finally a restaurant in our marina! Opus Ocean Grille

For about three years now we’ve been promised a “coming soon” restaurant in our marina.  Last week the restaurant was finally open.  A sort of party on the bottom, business on top place that’s made to cater to both us boating riff raff, and people who come in dressed to the nines in formal clothing.

After a long day of sailing Saturday, us women folk decided that we had no interest in cooking or cleaning and demanded to try out the new restaurant. After tying up the boats and one slight accident that involved someone getting very wet and changing into jammies, we were off.

Half of us went over by dink and the first thing that we noticed is that there is no place at all for visiting boats — not even a little dinghy dock. There are no cleats on the main bulkhead. We ended up tying off to a ladder at the end of the fairway and climbing up.

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The restaurant has a very high class vibe right when you first walk in.  The lower level has a nice looking bar on one side and white linen tables on the other.  The upstairs has more tables.  Both levels have great patio seating.  The upstairs patio has couches and coffee tables for a more lounge feel.

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Even though the restaurant was fully booked they made room for our party of eight scraggly sailors. From the beginning the service was excellent. Our waiter informed us that in order to give the chefs and staff some practice all of the food for the night would be on the house. He gave us all a menu of 4 courses, with two choices for each course.

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Some of the menu options were: Filet Minon, Lobster tail, Ahi Tuni, Oysters, Lobster Bisque, Lemon Triffle, Key Lime Pie.  Absolutely everything was amazing.  The side salads were big enough to be a meal.

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We decided to pay back the generosity of the restaurant by ordering extra drinks.  The wine selection was great, and it came with a reall cool back-lit wine menu.

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All in all the evening was amazing.  The atmosphere of the place is just what you look for, and the food and service was great. It was a night we will definitely remember for a long long time.

https://www.facebook.com/OpusOceanGrille/

Thank you to Maverick Remodeling and Construction for some of the photos.

10 Thoughtful Christmas Gift Ideas for Boaters 2016

Hey guys, its that time of year again!   We’ve found a few products this year that we’ve really enjoyed, and we’d like to share them with you.  Great post to link on your facebook for a little hint hint to your friends.  🙂

  1. A Cold Can – Ok so full disclamer, we may or may not be friends with the man who invented this thing but it is pretty sweet.  It keeps your drink really cold, seals completely with a locking cap, and floats!  Plus you will be supporting a small business. http://www.thecoldcan.com/

2. This spotlight from West Marine – A lot of people don’t think about needing a spotlight until they get caught out at night.  Think of it for them!  This one is rechargable and happens to go on sale at 50% off on black friday.  Making it only $50

3. Personalized Flag – There’s nothing like hoisting a custom flag with your name on it to make people say “wow these people are serious about pirating”.  We got one a few years ago and its one of our most cherished possessions.

4.A French Press and/or Airtight Coffee Container – This is the combo we’ve had on the boat for a couple years now and we really really love them.  Both are absolutely good as new after living exclusively on the boat.

5. Nesting Pots – If you really really love the person you’re buying for you’ll get them this Magma cooking set.  I swear it is better quality than the ones I have at my house.

6. I’d be remiss if I didn’t include my bags in this list!  Please feel free to visit my shop and buy a recycled sailbag for someone you love.  Use coupon code Christmas2016 for 15% off through Jan 1st.

7. Black and Decker Air System – There are a lot of floating toys on a boat, and most of them can’t be inflated simply using your lungs.  This little air station has attachments for everything you might need and its battery operated.  We have one and we’ve found we can blow up about 4 air mattresses per charge.

8. Mono Guitar Case -These guitar cases are extra tough for boat life.  They have impact panels for when you’re getting knocked around underway.  They’re also waterproof for dingy rides to shore.

9. Luci lights – As a boater you can never have too many luci lights.  They’re small, light weight, and last longer than any other solar light I’ve ever tried.  We’ve had ours for a few years now and they’re still going strong.  They come in all sorts of colors and styles these days.

10. If all else fails get them what they really need.  A West Marine gift card.

If none of these ideas catch your eye check out our list from last year.

 

Texas Renfest 2016 Pirate Weekend

If you’re a sailor its pretty hard not to run into someone you know at the Texas Renaissance Festival on pirate weekend.  We like to go one weekend a year and camp both Friday and Saturday nights.  This year it just happened that pirate weekend was one of the times when we were free.  After all you can dress like a pirate on any weekend really.

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We got to camp around 3 and our friends Shari and Daniel had already staked out a healthy size spot with folding chairs.  We created our little pirate nest and then cracked open some beers to wait for the rest of our friends to arrive.

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Much music was played and much fun was had, and before long it was Saturday morning and it was time to put on your best pirate outfit and head into the festival.

Most of the activities inside Renfest involve spending large amounts of money, so we like to take advantage of a good vantage point and just people watch.

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A lot of people are pretty period appropriate, but then there are always a few with no clear idea as to the theme of the park.  Here are a couple ents in their natural habitat.

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There are a lot of shows to see but they are exactly the same every year.  One of the shows we’ve found is just as good every year is the belly dancing show in the Agora.  Plus the bonus of Greek food.

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We met up with even more pirates at the Barbarian Inn and we all headed over to the Sea Devil Tavern.

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There was quite a bit of ruckus shouting and mug banging, and we decided we needed to head out to purchase our own clinky mugs.

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All in all a great weekend with friends.  In the words of a wise wizard I know “Go out and be merry, pretend to be pirates and forget your problems”

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The Winchester Mystery House

I have always wanted to visit this delightful maze of a victorian mansion. While we were visiting San Jose, California for a wedding, I was finally able to convince my family to come along for a tour.

In 1881 Sarah Winchester lost her husband, William Wirt Winchester, to tuberculosis just a month after losing her infant daughter to Marasmus. Deciding she was cursed, she visited a spiritualist who proclaimed that there was only one way to escape the spirits of all the people killed by Winchester rifles. If she began construction on a house, the spirits couldn’t touch her as long as it remained under construction.

winchester01Mrs Winchester inherited several million dollars as well as a 51% share of the Winchester company. This gave her a comfortable daily income of $1000 in a time when a normal daily wage was $1.50.

In the height of its glory the property had 161 acres of farmland including many orchards and beautiful gardens, and the house was seven stories tall. Today the property takes up about one city block.  The house was damaged badly in the earthquake of 1907, and instead of repairing it. Mrs. Winchester blocked off that portion of the house to never be used again, considering it cursed.

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After her death her niece quickly auctioned all of her furniture and sold the house for next to nothing. When she died the estate was huge but sprawling and unfinished. It contained 160 rooms, 2,000 doors, 10,000 windows, 47 stairways, 47 fireplaces, 13 bathrooms, and 6 kitchens. It however had extensive earthquake damage on one side that was never repaired, and upkeep required a large crew of people.

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Today as you visit the Winchester House there is a confusing mix of modern tourism and historical preservation. After walking through the gift shop full of all sorts of junk and knick knacks which have absolutely nothing to do with the house, paying a heavy fee, then being forced to take a photo while holding a Winchester rifle for possible later purchase (by the way, there’s no photography allowed inside the house), you will begin your tour of the house led by a historically costumed guide. While the guides provide historical information for different aspects of the house, they don’t really know a lot about Mrs. Winchester or the house specifically. This is because she never kept any journals or did any interviews. She also didn’t see many guests. Only a few of the rooms in the sprawling mansion are furnished. The rest are just bare walls, with a few scraps of old wallpaper here and there. This gives the house a feel that is more like a bizarre construction site than a haunted mansion.

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The assortment of windows to walls, windows on the floor, doors to nowhere, stairs to nowhere, etc. are pretty cool to see. They don’t really add an air of “mystery” though, as you can see the train of thought that went into them however bizaar. Mrs. Winchester would just build a new room next the house, then build a door to connect them.  She just didn’t deem it necessary to remove the old doors, windows or stairs. While it’s a little odd, I wouldn’t call it creepy.

Overall I enjoyed the trip. It was a bit more touristy than I expected, but there was a lot of interesting things to see, and our tour guides were very knowledgable about the history of  the region and technologies of the time. They explained to us the systems for gas power, and how the estate pumped and stored its own water. The house also had 4 elevators. It’s not very often you get to see the very best that 1900 had to offer, especially on this scale.

http://www.winchestermysteryhouse.com/

Magic amidst the chaos — sometimes you just have to ignore the weather report

Thunderstorms were looming, and the radar looked terrible, but it had been a hell of a week, and I was dying to get Gimme Shelter out on the water. She hadn’t moved from her slip in more than a month, and I’m positive she was feeling as restless as me.

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We had arrived to the marina in the middle of a downpour, so we just grabbed the dogs out of the backseat and made a run for the boat. Once the rain cleared, we cast off and headed for the bay. It wasn’t until we had passed the Kemah Boardwalk that I realized we’d left the bag full of our clothes as well as my camera in the car.

First lesson of the weekend: Always check that you actually put your bags on the boat before leaving the dock.

However, we were in a race against sunset, and our friends TJ and Kayla on Folie a Deux were motoring along right behind us. Well, they were right behind us until one of their jib sheets fell overboard and fouled their prop.

Second lesson of the weekend: Keep all lines secured on deck.

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But that was only a small delay. As you might remember, Folie’s entire rudder fell off during her last voyage, so a fouled prop was just a small speed bump in comparison.

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We were soon underway and dropped the hook at Redfish Island just as the sun was setting. Well, at least we dropped our hook. As TJ debated whether or not to drop his own anchor or tie off to our stern, he realized his anchor was no longer hanging on his bow. Perhaps it was sitting in the bottom of his slip at Watergate. Perhaps it was on the bottom of the bay somewhere between Galveston and Kemah. Perhaps someone walked off with it. There was no way to know.

Third lesson of the weekend: Make sure you have an anchor on the boat and make sure your anchor rode is tied to something on the boat.

The lack of anchor was still not a problem. We just threw TJ and Kayla a line and tied them off to our stern cleat.

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For the first time ever, we had Redfish Island completely to ourselves. Mary prepped a salad while I grilled steaks, and we sat down to a nice dinner.

While we were in the cabin eating, it got dark — and I mean REALLY dark. Thick clouds had blotted out any sign of stars, and the quarter moon was barely a glow in the corner of the sky. I was about to pull the kayak off the deck to take the dogs to shore when we saw it.

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It looked like fireflies moving underwater. Dozens of small bioluminescient jellyfish were glowing all around us. They would glow especially bright if they bumped against the anchor rode or the hull of the boats. I cursed myself for forgetting the camera, and we attempted to at least somewhat capture the moment with our phones. My video ended up being worthless, but TJ did manage to capture the long exposure above.

I dropped the kayak in the water and took the dogs to shore mesmerized at the way the jellies glowed around my paddle each time it touched the water. It was a truly magical moment.

After the dogs finished their business on the island, we paddled back to the boat and watched the glowing for another hour or so before bed. We went to sleep with all the hatches and windows open, just waiting for the rain to finally hit us — but it never did.

I woke up at sunrise to find storm cells passing on either side of us.

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It looked like Kemah was also getting hammered, so we just stayed put and made some breakfast. Slowly things cleared, and a fantastic rainbow appeared overhead.

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I hadn’t been on Redfish Island all sumer, so I took a minute to explore. After a year of heavy rain, it seems there are actually some plants growing. Along with the usual scrub brush there was a yucca plant.

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And even a baby palm tree.

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Despite predictions of terrible thunderstorms all day Sunday, the weather actually cleared and the sun made an appearance just as we headed back towards Kemah. My crew didn’t sleep well at anchor due to the high humidity, so they spent most of the trip home snoozing.

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The bay was empty and smooth as glass. We were already counting the trip a success when this happened.

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Fourth lesson of the weekend: If you have an outboard, keep a very short, heavy duty strap on it, so if your outboard bracket shears into pieces, the motor won’t fall underwater.

This was a disheartening moment. TJ and Kayla had paid a local machine shop to design and build that stainless steel bracket specifically for their O’day 25 and the new Honda they put on it. Then, after spending money for the “professional” work, it literally sheared into pieces in less than a year. Now they’re out the cost of the bracket and the impending cost of repairs to their outboard.

We stopped to help, and as a team we were able to winch the outboard up out of the water and out of the way of the tiller, but Folie a Deux’s trip ended with a tow home from Sea Tow.

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We hung out until the tow boat arrived and then headed for the marina ourselves.

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As a slight consolation for the outboard disaster, TJ and Kayla were visited by a dolphin who swam alongside them all the way to the Kemah Boardwalk.

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Yes, the entire weekend was a comedy of errors, but it was also filled with unforgettable moments experiencing things you don’t usually see in the bay. I’m glad we didn’t just look at the radar and decide to stay home.

Shooting Stars at Lick Observatory

On the last day of my cousin Andrew’s wedding weekend he and his new wife Saara invited all of the friends and family out to Lick Observatory for a Sunday evening of desserts and star gazing.  The drive up to Lick was almost as exciting as the place itself.  We wandered over three windy mountain roads to get to the semi-secluded Mt Hamilton. The Observatories large domes make it a beautiful sight. The view from the top is breathtaking.

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Of course everyone wanted their picture taken in front of the sunset.

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After the wedding party had finished with all of their pictures, docents from the observatory treated us to an entertaining lecture on James Lick, the wealthy entrepreneur who funded the creation of the observatory back in 1888.  Lick was a colorful character who explored the world, buying and selling goods, and made his fortune in California real estate. As Lick aged he had a considerable amount of money to decide what to do with, and having no family, his two main ideas were to build a giant pyramid in downtown San Francisco in his own honor or to have a Statue of Liberty size statue made of himself in the harbor. Luckily the science community was able to convince him to instead fund this lovely observatory.

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One of the greatest treats of the evening was sitting in the room with the Great Lick Refractor.  This telescope is 57 feet long, and 4 feet wide.  When completed it was the largest in the world, and today is still the second. While honestly to me, the images were not that exciting, sitting in a room with that giant machine was.  Operated by a man spinning a ships wheel halfway up the telescope the telescope spins and so does the whole dome to match.  The men shout back and forth coordinates and directions to each other over the mechanical noise of everything moving. Meanwhile you walk your way up a metal ladder in the dark to a thin observation walkway, where you can see the whole thing taking place beneath you.

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Operating in the dark I think ads a bit of magic to all of it. They only use red lights like you’re inside a submarine or something. Also my mom and I decided that the thing sticking out of the side is obviously a laser.

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We were treated to a viewing of the Ring Nebula through the refractor, and then a nice close-up view of Saturn at the other end of the observatory looking through the 40-inch reflector. In addition to the big telescopes the docents also had some smaller but more modern telescopes set up outside. Many people took turns asking for specific constellations. Not knowing a lot about stars I asked some basic questions about our galaxy and really learned a lot from the people there helping.

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Fred was in heaven finally being somewhere without any light pollution, so that he could get photos of the Milky Way. I think he enjoyed taking those wide angle photos than seeing the stars close up through the telescopes.

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We wrapped up the evening with a sing-a-long inside the great dome. The acoustics were amazing. It gave me that perfect mix of warm feelings and an inspiration to continue to learn and better myself that always comes from time with my family. Love you guys!

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A walk through Muir Woods

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On our first and only day in San Francisco we decided to skip China Town, and the Wharf, and Alcatraz, and all the other fun options in favor of seeing some big trees.  While that may sound like a bad choice, I regret nothing. The atmosphere of being in (literally inside) these big trees is pretty moving and amazing.

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We started our hike with an easy walk along the main path, but our curiosity quickly overwhelmed us and we began to wander up a trail labeled “Canopy View” that was snaking up the hillside. We hadn’t really prepared for a long hike, and we hadn’t seen the sign at the beginning to tell us how long the trail was, so there was a series of small meetings to decide whether or not we should continue. Each time we decided we had gone too far to turn back.

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As the climb got steeper, the droves of tourists thinned out and the people we did see looked much more tired. They all had similar questions along the lines of, “Do you know how much further to the top?”

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We did eventually reach the top and despite our tiredness we decided to continue on up a smaller unofficial path to the very top.  The view was worth it.  Although it would have felt much more fulfilling if there had not been a house and road up there.

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The hike down was the real treat. Walking back along the “Creeks and Ferns” path we walked through one beautiful scene after another.

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In total we walked almost 7 miles, but it was well worth it.

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There are a few trees along the path available for careful posing, but for the most part they have you walking away from the trees on a raised walkway to preserve the plant life. What a beautiful place!

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