Summer Garden Update: Our first squash!

Our summer garden is starting to produce now. By the time we get back from Puerto Rico everything should be in full swing.

Our first (and biggest) harvest was this Tatume Squash and one sweet pepper.

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However, I don’t remember planting any Tatume Squash. The seed packet was marked “Yellow Summer Squash,” with a picture of the small yellow squash that you normally see in the grocery store.

You can imagine my surprise when the vines grew to the size of pumpkin vines and took over the entire yard.

I spent many evenings cutting squash bores out of them, and I was worried we might lose them altogether, but they have survived.

Then this giant watermelon looking monstrosity of a squash showed up on the vine. Anyway it tastes very good, like zucchini, and just one makes several meals.

My tomato plants were slow starters but are now doing well. The peppers are at about at the same stage — lots of green, no red yet.

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The grapes are continuing to hang on the vine, taunting us as we wait on them to ripen. Thankfully we have this little lizard working to keep the bugs off of them.

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I’m growing more greens, fruits and vegetables than I thought possible in just two small raised beds in the backyard of my suburban home. If you’ve got soil and sunlight, you can do it too.

Through which lens do you see the world?

Tonight we’re packing for a week-long charter in the Spanish Virgin Islands. Unlike weekend trips aboard Gimme Shelter where I can bring along most anything I want, space is limited.

Packing clothes is the easy part. I’m throwing in four shirts, two pairs of shorts and two swim suits. Done. However, I’ve been perplexing for more than a week as to which lenses are going into my camera bag.

Once upon a time I used to travel with just a small point and shoot camera in a dive case. Life was simple, and the photos weren’t that bad.

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But through the years I suffered from gear acquisition syndrome, or GAS, as it’s known by most photographers. I kept changing camera bodies and accumulated more and more lenses until traveling with a camera ended up extremely complicated. When you have limited space, how do you decide what to bring along?

The 50mm f1.4 is my favorite lens. It’s razor sharp, it creates a nice shallow depth of field, and it’s my number one choice for video and portraits. It’s also said that a 50mm best replicates a normal human field of view.

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While not my favorite, the 28mm f2 is my most used lens. Sharp as a tack and great in low light, I usually find myself needing the 28mm for landscapes, sunsets, architecture, group photos, photos of people around tables in classrooms or restaurants, and any wide angle video shot.

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However, when you’re on a sail boat, you can’t back up from your subject or you’re in the water. The 28mm is just wide enough to grab the cockpit, but if I want to capture a shot with the entire mast and sails, I’ve got to swap to the ultra-wide 15mm f4.5. The 15mm is also a must for interior shots on the sailboat.

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But lately all my best shots seem to be with an old 90mm f2.8. The 90mm has been giving me some really nice portraits as well as some nice landscape shots when I need to cut out the foreground.

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But the 90mm just doesn’t quite get me close enough for birding or wildlife. While it tends to suffer from a bit of chromatic aberration and weighs more than all the previous lenses combined, my 135mm f2.8 can catch a nice bird shot if the bird is within throwing distance.

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Of course, my new favorite lens has been the 280mm f2.8, which came with its own suitcase and weighs about ten pounds. If I’m in the very back of the boat, I can capture just a person’s face up on the bow. That might make it too long for shooting on the boat, but it’s great for shooting wildlife or people on other boats. The downside is that if I were to take it along, it would count as my carry-on luggage, and I’d have to check my real bag.

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But sometimes the 280mm isn’t long enough, so I’ve got the 400mm f6.8. I carried this lens in Belize to capture exotic birds, monkeys and kinkajous. I caught a few birds, but it turns out the monkeys and kinkajous only came out in the dark, so it was a bit useless in the middle of the night.

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So that’s seven prime lenses that I REALLY need to bring along.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re saying, hey dummy, just get a zoom lens and be done with it.

Well, I have nothing against zoom lenses. In fact, I’m definitely bringing a 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 zoom with the Sony NEX-6 since that’s the lens that fits in the dive case. It’s not as sharp as the primes, and it has some barrel distortion at the wide end of things, but if I want underwater shots, it has to be in the bag.

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I’ve also tried a 70-200 f4.5 to replace my 90mm and 135mm primes. Yes, it was more versatile when it came to framing shots, but again, it just doesn’t seem as sharp as my primes. I also lose a stop of light, so I can’t shoot with it as early in the morning or as late into the evening as I can with the f2.8 lenses.

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I definitely cannot pack NINE lenses, one of which has its own suitcase, for this trip. Even if I could pack all nine, there’s no way I would use all of them in a week. Yes, each lens has a purpose and is a tool for a certain type of shot, but unless I’m hired for that specific job, those lenses are nothing but a security blanket.

As photographers, our choice of lens is our choice of how we see the world.

Do you want the big picture? Shoot your trip with a wide.

Want to live in the moment with a first person view? Slap on a 50mm.

Want to focus on the details of a place or event? Pack nothing but a telephoto.

Discover what you want to say through your photographs and choose the focal length that best conveys that message.

So here’s my challenge. Next time you go out shooting, simplify everything. Decide how you want to see the world, take just one lens, and discover what kind of story you can tell.

Of course, I’ll still be taking at least three lenses to the SVIs. I mean, come on, I’ve got to get some dolphin pictures!

A night on the hook at Redfish Island

It was one of those weeks when everyone needed something. Long hours at the office were followed by evenings of errands and projects. Then there was a dentist appointment and an auto inspection. Even when we reached the marina Friday night, the work didn’t end.

I had pulled up the cabin sole the previous weekend, so I was immediately tasked with the job of running a NMEA cable through the bilge, so that we could have a floor again. Saturday morning I spent an hour up the mast cleaning contact points on a steaming light that, despite having voltage and a good bulb, just wouldn’t turn on.

I was tired of working. It was time to escape.

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We left in the heat of the day and motored through the burgeoning traffic of summer boaters, their vessels just freed from winter storage. We passed the boardwalk as the smell of fried food wafted across the channel and tourists waved to us, hoping we’d wave back. To them we weren’t just another person gawking at the bay, we were a part of it.

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We fought our way through the wakes at the mouth of the channel where every passing motorboat captain immediately throttled up to display his power to anyone he hoped might be watching. And then, we finally raised sails and cut the motor.

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A six knot breeze out of the south was carrying us along, close hauled, at almost four knots.

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We slowly wandered back and forth across the bay, making a bit more forward progress with each tack, heading for Redfish Island.

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We crossed the course of a late afternoon rum race with dozens of sailboats of all shapes and sizes pushing for every ounce of speed in the light wind, beating a path in front of us. Then as they rounded a marker and headed north, we watched them deploy spinnakers, creating rainbows of billowing fabric as they pressed on downwind until they disappeared along the horizon.

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After three hours of sailing, we furled the jib and dropped the main, motoring into the crowded harbor. Weaving our way in between fishing boats, ski boats, trawlers, and every other sort of craft you can imagine, we inched our way towards the south end of the island and dropped anchor.

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Families swam, jumping off the gunwales of their vessels and bouncing around in inflatable tubes beside swim platforms. People cast fishing lines from the stern of their small boats, hoping to catch … something. Classic rock competed with rap music at deafening volumes from boats full of women in bikinis, dancing and posing for pictures on the bows.

We paddled the dogs ashore for a walk on the rocky island as we bided our time. Like clockwork, as the sun set, the anchors were raised and one by one the families, the fishermen, and the partiers all fired up their motors and headed for home.

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We weren’t left completely alone in the anchorage, but our few remaining neighbors were cut from a different cloth. The sounds of nature replaced the thumping radios as darkness shrouded the island. We ate dinner in the cockpit and sipped on rum and coke as we watched the waning strawberry moon rise in the east and climb across the sky.

Only the occasional whir of a wind generator or speckle of laughter from another sailboat would rise to compliment the sound of waves lapping against our hull and washing up on the island.

When you unplug yourself from the grid, and you remove the artificial lights that fill our cities and line our streets, it’s hard to ignore your natural circadian rhythm. It had been a long day, and an even longer week. The darkness of the night told my body it was time for sleep.

The wind had picked up to ten knots, and the open hatch of the V-berth was funneling a cool breeze into the boat as I stared up at the stars. It was a moment impossible to photograph. Even barring the technical difficulty of capturing stars from a floating platform, a perfect photo of the view couldn’t have preserved the feeling of independence created by swinging on the hook or the warmth of my wife lying next to me.

Just as I began to drift to sleep, the wake of a passing container shipped rolled me awake. I got up one last time to make sure we weren’t dragging, and more importantly, that none of our neighbors were dragging into us. As I stood on the cabin top a shooting star crossed the sky, and as I returned to bed I knew, this was the life man was meant to live. For centuries, this was the feeling that had drawn so many men to sea.

The charts claimed sunrise would take place at 6:20 a.m., but light filled the cabin long before the sun made an actual appearance. Neither of the dogs could be convinced that it wasn’t really morning yet, and they wanted to walk.

I put a life vest on one dog and promised the other I’d be back for him soon. Then I pulled on my own PFD before descending the swim ladder into our old kayak and for a paddle to shore. The heat of the day hadn’t yet set in, and the air was so clear that you could distinctly see the Kemah Causeway seven miles to the west as well as the entire Galveston skyline ten miles to the south.

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We walked slowly down the island as unburdened tugboats headed north in the Houston Ship Channel to pick up new barges and shrimp boats crisscrossed the bay. There was a dead calm.

Gimme Shelter’s anchor rode hung limp in the water as she bobbed in place.

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With Redfish Island being a barren pile of rock and oyster shells, both the dog and I were taken by surprise when we suddenly came upon a life and death struggle. A Graham’s crayfish snake was stretched out across our path, unsuccessfully attempting to swallow a very large mullet.

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With the fish still twitching, desperately trying to escape, the snake slithered down behind a pile of rocks to continue his breakfast with a little more privacy.

I took one last moment to marvel at the beauty of the morning before I paddled back to our sturdy little boat. Upon my return I found Mary had brewed a pot of coffee, so she made the second trip to the island on the kayak with Big Tex while I lit the stove and began flipping pancakes.

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After my warning of snakes eating fish the size of her dog, her walk was rather brief. When she paddled back, we sat down to not just a breakfast on the hook, but what happened to be our one-year anniversary breakfast.

As the sun continued to climb in the sky, we took refuge in the V-berth for a short nap before the heat of the day became oppressive and the motor boaters returned to the anchorage.

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The refrigerator had run our house batteries flat over night, but it didn’t matter. Replacing them would just be another project added to the list when we returned to the real world. The starter battery was still fully charged, and the motor cranked right up for a windless journey home.

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As we approached the boardwalk, we took a selfie and toasted our anniversary with sodas to commemorate the occasion – holding on to that moment of freedom before we began fighting traffic in the channel, before we began washing and repairing the boat, before we returned to work.

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Provisioning for a 7 day charter

Ok, so my method of provisioning has three steps.

1. Create a menu and get it approved by everyone onboard

2. Create a spreadsheet with every ingredient and everything you will need to make each dish, and then sort by ingredient

3. Add up how much you will need of each item, and make a shopping list

Step One.  On my menu I included our activities for that day so that everyone could see and relate it to the meals.  For instance if we were going to be sailing all day I would include a cold lunch like Turkey sandwiches.  Here is an example:

Tuesday – Make our way around the southern end of Vieques and pick-up a
mooring at Esperanza.  For those wanting to do Biobay, this is the night
as it is the new moon.  We should be able to get dinner on shore this
night.

B- Bagel halves with butter and jam, Hard boiled eggs, Bananas

L- Turkey Sandwhiches, Pasta Salad

D- Restaurant

I also added a group snack for each day as I assumed with all the physical activity we would be needing it.  We also hae 4 teenagers aboard who require extra food. At the end I also included a very open list of possible drinks.  Without knowing exactly what everyone likes to drink though, its a hard thing to add.  I will be leaving that largely up to them at the store, with only the beer counted out at 5 beers per person per day.

Step two.  After everyone had made their changes to the menu I went through and put them on my spreadsheet.  My sheet has three columns, Dish, ingredient, and quantity.  I went through and looked up recipes for all of the meals.  On Allrecipes.com you can change the quantity of servings to avoid a lot of in your head math.  I did 2 servings per person, and for lighter dishes I did 2.5 servings. If seeing helps here it is  Provisioning List  After that I just sort by ingredient and add up all of the amounts.  I wouldn’t stress to much on what unit you’re using ie pound vs package vs can.  You are the one adding it up anyway.

Step three.  I just type it all up into an easy to read list for whomever will be doing the buying.  Here is mine Shopping List

As  side note I think it would be helpful to use your original spreadsheet (before sorting) and your menu to portion off foods on the boat for each day.  That way for example if you have rationed pasta salad for two meals, it won’t all get served at the first meal.  I would expect that whatever is served will be gone.  Also for each meal you could mark what extra food you had left over.  That way you know the difference between your leftovers and your provisions for future meals.  So if people are hungry you can offer them food without ruining your meal plan.

One year anniversary of becoming a Facker.

So today marks the day of me and Freddies 1 year wedding anniversary.  Yay!  It has been a pretty easy first year.  (haha I’d hope so, right?)  So very proud and happy to be married to my best friend.  I could not ask for a better adventuring partner. This year has been the most fun and exciting time in my life, and things are only looking better and better. Thought I would share just a few pictures of our nautical themed wedding.  The full story can be seen here https://svgimmeshelter.com/2014/07/24/behind-the-scenes-our-sailboat-wedding/.

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me and dad savethedate

The Great Tex Escape

Tex is not a very nice dog when he’s unsupervised. He enjoys pooping on floors, peeing on shoes, pulling over trash cans and eating panties. Not to mention the fact that when on the boat, he likes to spend most of his time on the galley counter pulling things out of the cupboard. Yes, he’s a four-pound toothless whirlwind of destruction.

We decided to start crating him while we were gone. That was going well for a while, but lately he’s been there to great us at the door when we get home. This morning I set up a camera to discover his methods.

Apparently, nobody puts baby in a corner.

Her perspective: Packing for a 7 day charter

So in about 10 days we are leaving for the SVIs, and I am in full on planning mode.  I am the type of person who likes to have everything planned out in advance.  Thank goodness that our crew seems to be the same way.  Today at home I started to lay everything out and decide what I really needed for seven days.  Trick is that I need to fit it all into one bag.  For my bag I chose a waterproof soft duffel bag.  As a side note, I like this bag a lot, but would never get another one with a roll up top like this.  Every time you remember something and need to put it in the bag, you have to unroll and re roll it.  It’s a pain for a weekend bag.

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So here is the list:

  • Sneakers for walking/hiking
  • flip flops for on the boat
  • water shoes for Sea Urchins and other pokey things
  • 5 bathing suits
  • Light sweater for evenings
  • PJ pants for when its cold, or for being comfy
  • 4 Shorts
  • 4 Light tanktops
  • Sunglasses
  • Foul weather gear (at least the jacket)
  • 4 beach coverups
  • Outfit nice enough for a beach restaurant
  • Supercool hat
  • My make up (yeah, I’m not ready to give it up), and a comb

Also not pictured below, Razor, underwear, and ibuprofen

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Oops I think I forgot something!

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If You guys have any packing suggestions I’d love to hear them.

Strawberry Moon

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In the United States, the full moon in June is called the strawberry moon because it was used as the indicator of the start of strawberry harvesting season.

There were rumors and photos circulating Facebook showing the strawberry moon as being pink. My mother even sent me a message to make sure I’d get a photo of the strawberry moon for her.

There it is above — definitely full, definitely not pink.

The Misadventures of Mounting a Masthead Meter

Excited to get our new Garmin GWS 10 wind instrument mounted atop the mast and feeding info back to our chartplotter, I started Sunday afternoon by removing the mainsail and rigging the MastMate. I had four items on my checklist, run a new halyard, mount the new wind instrument, drop the NMEA 2000 cable down the mast, and change the bulb in my steaming light.

It should have been a straight-forward project … emphasis on should have.

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For my first run up the mast, I packed a stubby phillips-head screwdriver, a stubby flathead screwdriver, a tiny phillips-head screwdriver, and a pair of pliers.

The steaming light, which I’d never serviced before, had phillips-head screws. Unfortunately, one of my screwdrivers was too large. The other was too small. No worries, I’d get it on the second trip.

I climbed upwards to the masthead.

I needed to unscrew the anchor light that I’d just installed a few months ago to then remove the top plate of the mast. This time my screwdriver was the correct size, but because I’d brought the stubby one, the handle wouldn’t let me get the tip on the head of the screw.

On my old boat I had many extra halyards, so it was easy to hang a bag on one and run tools up and down. We don’t have that luxury on Gimme Shelter, which is why I was planning to run a new halyard.

I climbed back down and reshuffled my selection of tools. Then I made my second climb.

This time I opened the steaming light and pulled the bulb, although it didn’t look burned out.

I got back up to the top, removed the anchor light, and opened the top of the mast.

As I moved the new sheave into place at the front of the mast, I realized that the new halyard would have to be run inside the mast, but I had no holes for it to run back out of the mast. No worries, I’d move that job to the end of the list, and if I had time I’d go grab a padeye and drill a new hole for it.

I came back down the mast and set to work drilling and mounting the Garmin GWS 10 wind instrument.

Within a few minutes I had the wind instrument mounted and found a replacement light bulb for the steaming light.

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The day was getting better.

I made my third climb up the mast with wind instrument in my backpack and the NMEA cable tied to my belt. I started running the cable down the mast and then sent Mary to go pull it out the bottom.

We ran into a small problem — there were no openings in the bottom of the mast.

I just assumed that since there were other cables running out of the foot of the mast that we’d be able to fish the new cable out as well. I assumed wrong. I came down from the mast and drilled a new hole.

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That’s when I ran into an even bigger problem — our mast was full of foam. And it wasn’t just a little bit of foam, it was 6′ of foam all the way from the foot of the mast to the cabin top. There was no way to poke a cable through.

I climbed up the mast for the fourth time and pulled all of the cable back out of the mast, then dropped it back down the side of the mast to Mary. I screwed the mast light back on and secured everything at the masthead and made my way back down to the steaming light.

This trip I’d packed a multimeter, so I checked the fixture only to find I was getting plenty of current. I then jiggled the bulb and found that if it was in the fixture cockeyed, it would come on, but when it was properly seated, it didn’t work at all.

I spent a few minutes cleaning it with a wire brush but got not improvement, so I left the steaming light as an unsolved mystery and climbed back down.

At this point my legs were toast, I had a new hole in the mast, but not in the place where I needed it, and the steaming light still didn’t work. However, the wind instrument is now mounted.

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Next weekend we start again securing the NMEA cable to the outside of the mast and take another shot at getting the steaming light working again.

Lessons learned

I wish I’d connected the anchor light with a waterproof plug instead of splicing the wires together. If I had used a plug I could just leave the light fixture connected when I remove the top of the mast. It would have made this project much easier.

I should have done more research on my mast. I should have checked to see if it was open at the bottom for the wiring, although I don’t know how I could have known it was full of foam. I also assumed I could run the new halyard externally, but that proved impossible without a spinnaker crane.

The easiest way to climb the mast ( … so far)

Last weekend I installed my NMEA 2000 backbone, so this weekend I really wanted to get my new wind instrument mounted at the top of the mast. After trying several methods over the past five years, this is the easiest mast-climbing method I’ve found if your mast didn’t come equipped with steps. (Well, not as easy as just sitting in the bosun chair and getting cranked up by someone else, but when you have to climb alone or don’t have someone strong enough to crank you up, that’s not an option.)

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First off, I have no affiliation with MastMate. I actually bought mine second hand from a guy in the Clear Lake Racing Association. It’s basically just a long piece of heavy duty nylon with triangles of nylon sewed onto each side and cars for the mast track sewn on one edge of it. It’s coils up nice and flat for storage.

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To use it I have to remove the sail cars from the mast track. Then I release the topping lift and lower the end of the boom to the deck.

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We only have two halyards, the main and the jib. The jib halyard is always in service holding up the roller furling, so I use the main halyard to raise the MastMate, and I use the topping lift as a safety line tied to my harness.

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The main halyard attaches to the grommets at the top of the MastMate, and you feed the cars into the track as you raise it. If the wind is blowing hard one way or the other, you might have to tuck the steps on that side under, so they don’t get stuck in the lazy jacks or standing rigging as you pull it up. Once you get it to the top of the track, you just cleat it off.

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With only about 10 minutes of work, you’ve got your own stairway to heaven.

Going up and down is all leg work as you keep your arms around the mast and just move from step to step as if you were climbing a ladder.

It’s still advantageous to tie off at the top, both for safety, and because you can sit down in your harness to work instead of having to stand and balance the entire time.

What’s your preferred way to climb the mast?