The difference a dink makes

The wind was a steady 25 knots, gusting over 30, blowing straight off the shore of the small island behind which we were anchored. Both of our dogs, whom refuse to to soil our boat (at least while we’re there) hadn’t relieved themselves in more than 24 hours and looked absolutely miserable.

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I held tight to the standing rigging as I stood on the cabin top and looked over my small kayak trying to decide if I could even make any headway towards the island or if I’d be blown back past the boat and out into the middle of the bay if I attempted the trip to shore.

It wasn’t so much that I was worried about what would happen to me and two dogs in life jackets on a kayak — we’d just be carried ashore somewhere in San Leon. The problem was that if I couldn’t get back to the sailboat, Mary would be stranded there, unable to lift the anchor and leave.

That was the weekend we really began dinghy shopping.

But what type and size of a dinghy did we need and how would we power it?

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Luckily we had many boating friends also looking for dinghies, so we waited and learned from their experiences.

Our friends on the Tina Marie Too had a big double floor West Marine inflatable with a 20hp 4-stroke engine. It was comfortable. It planed up. It held a lot of people. It was way too big for our boat. We ruled out a fiberglass floor inflatable.

Our friends on Escondida had an 8′ slat floor inflatable with a 5 hp. It was small, light and could easily be lifted on and off the foredeck. It could also be rolled up and stowed in the cabin. It didn’t hold much, and it was very slow.

Our friends on Folie a Deux bought a Port-a-bote. It wasn’t too heavy, and it folded flat to tie against the lifelines. However, it was only rated for a 2.5 hp motor, and they got caught with a strong headwind in Matagorda Bay and couldn’t make any forward progress.

What we really thought we wanted was a Takacat. However, actual Takacat inflatables are quite expensive, so we started looking at the generic Saturn inflatable catamarans available. Our friends on Hippokampos got curious about them as well and bought one.

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Not tapering together at the bow makes for a very wide dinghy. In fact, we referred to it as the barge. It was sort of a strange ride because you could feel the flex in the middle when a wave raised one pontoon and then the other. They’ve been cruising with it for over a year now, and you can actually read their entire review of it here. While they had no major complaints, we realized there was no way we could put a boat that wide on our foredeck, and we weren’t sure we’d even have the space to inflate and deflate it anywhere on Gimme Shelter.

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We went back to thinking we would go with an 8′ slat floor roll-up with a 5hp Lehr propane engine. While small and slow, that seemed to be the best option for our 34′ sailboat. We also wouldn’t have to carry gasoline along with the diesel and propane we were already carrying. We started saving and kept waiting for the big sale at West Marine.

However, sometimes the right dinghy finds you.

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Our friends over at SVMimzy.com asked if we were interested in a 10′ AB rigid floor inflatable with a Mercury 9.9 hp 2-stroke. While it was about ten years old, it was in really nice shape. I just didn’t think we could lift it or that we’d have space for it on the boat. I was incredibly surprised when the boat only weighed around 100 pounds, and I could pick it up and move it around myself — and it just barely fit on our foredeck. I have to lift it up and bit to open and close the anchor locker, but it works.

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We’ve anchored out more times this year than in almost all of our past years of sailing combined thanks to being able to easily get the dogs back and forth to shore.

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Of course, it’s been useful for more than just carting dogs around. Mary and I have made runs up and down the ICW from Bolivar to Stingarees.

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We can finally explore islands and anchorages together instead of taking turns on the kayak.

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It’s also been great for carrying my photography equipment to shore. I’d never risk it on the kayak, but now I can get the camera, lenses and tripod all safely to shore to set up for great shots like this.

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While we’re getting by with raising and lowering the dinghy and motor using our halyards, the next question is to davit or not to davit.

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Tom Sawyer Days in Hannibal, Missouri

Small towns take their 4th of July celebrations very seriously. Keokuk, Iowa actually upgraded the electrical system in their park to be able to run the rides in the traveling carnival that was in town. And while the deathtrap rides and the 2 p.m. Zumba demonstration at the pavilion sounded intriguing, we decided to make the drive to Hannibal, Missouri, birthplace of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, for the annual Tom Sawyer Days celebration.

We arrived just in time for the fence-painting contest. Boys dressed in their best Tom Sawyer costumes whitewashed small sections of picket fences as fast as they could while girls in bonnets judged the results. Anyone can participate — there’s even an over 30 class later in the day. Just watch out for the fire hose they use to wash down the whole area between rounds.

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After that we wandered over to the Mississippi Mud Volleyball Tournament where very dedicated athletes sloshed around in knee-deep mud pits competing for the title.

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Of course, as we strolled Main Street Hannibal a handwritten sign that read “Craft  beer tasting, 12 samples for $10,” caught my eye. We each plucked down a Hamilton and got our official tasting cup and tickets.

Two larger breweries, Abita and Sierra Nevada were there, but there were also a dozen other local breweries featuring a menagerie of different types of beers.

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My only critique of the beer tasting was that the booths were run by local volunteers, not anyone from the actual breweries. Aside from a few laminated cards touting each beers flavor notes, there were no answers to critical questions like, “Why does your brewery make four different IPAs and what’s the big difference between them?”

Even with our questions unanswered we had a very nice time chatting with all of the beer tasting volunteers and due to some very generous pours, we weren’t able to get anywhere close to using all of our tickets.

No holiday is complete without some boating, so at 6 p.m. we wandered down to the Mark Twain Riverboat for the dinner cruise.

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Dinner was a bit pricey at $40 per person, and we paid the additional $25 to stay on the boat for fireworks after dinner, but how often do you get the chance to have dinner on a riverboat while taking in the scenery described in both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn?

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Dinner was a one-trip buffet with a small desert served at the table. Beer, wine and mixed drinks in souvenir cups were available at a cash bar.

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Paying the extra to stay and watch the fireworks was definitely worth the price of admission. Chairs were set out for us on the top deck, and the captain held position right in front of Lover’s Leap, the lookout point where the fireworks were based.

Fireworks are best captured with a long exposure, which is next to impossible on a moving boat, but I snapped one shot just to prove we were there before settling in to enjoy the show.

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Hannibal was really hopping when we got back to shore with bands playing on several patios and on the roof of the Mark Twain Brewing Company. However, we had a two-hour drive back to Illinois, so we called it a night and headed home.

Incidentally, I had to brake for two different raccoons, a deer, and an owl before we made it back to Warsaw — making our small town 4th of July complete.

A glimpse into my garden

So, Fred has convinced me that I need to share a little gardening blog with y’all.  Even though it is not sailing related, I realize the world of self-sustainability can bring the two together.

At our house I try to only plant useful plants. Three years ago I started with a small garden plot and two trellises which we placed on our fences. I’ll start by explaining that we just have a small suburban lot that is mostly covered in house, so we try to use as much of the available space as possible, while still leaving space for the dogs to play.

The first year of gardening we planted a miniature dwarf lime tree and grape vines on either fence. The lime tree survived almost three years but then was finally killed off by a year of several hard frosts. If I had that to do again I would have planted a more hearty Myer Lemon tree. On the fence trellises we planted concord grapes on one side, and niagra grapes on the other. The niagra died after being mowed off by the lawn crew, not once but twice. Our concord grapes have grown in nicely every year, but we’ve only had one bunch of grapes. This year I trimmed them way back and fertilized well. We’ll see how they do. The first leaves appeared this week.

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For our vegetable garden I like to start some seeds inside while some things I plant outdoors when it’s time. Here in Houston the season starts early, and it will be different everywhere so just go by temperatures. About two or three weeks before the last freeze I like to plant my tomato and pepper plants in little seed pods. You can get about 40 pods for $3. I just put them in little food tubs with no drain holes. I water them every other day or so and always drain the excess water into my house plants.

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I like to reuse any of these seed pods that don’t end up growing plants by planting random seeds from my food in them.  The most recent attempt was several mandarin orange seeds. Some are actually growing! When they get too big for their little seed things, if the weather is still not warm enough for them, I will move them to some small pots like you see above.  The black plastic pots you get when you buy plants are the perfect size for this. To move peppers outside it needs to be consistently warmer than 60 degrees, even at night. Tomatoes need temperatures higher than 50 degrees. However, while you are growing your seeds inside it’s a good time to start growing your greens outside.

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You can grow these when temperatures are above 25 degrees, and they grow fast, so don’t be afraid to start early. Some cold weather plants that I currently have growing are spinach, kale, collard greens, cauliflower, carrots, chives and onions.

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With the greens I stagger planting. I like to do about two rows at a time and plant maybe every week or two weeks depending on how much salad we can eat at a time. There are only two of us. This way you can have fresh salad all spring. The larger greens can also just be picked and left in the ground. Pick from the outside in, and for sure pick leaves that are blocking sun for other smaller plants first.

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When you have a lot of small plants in a clump like above, just randomly pick around trying to thin them out. I chop off the roots and throw all of my greens into a big strainer. That way I can rinse them all off at once when I get into the house.

My recycling routine also ties into my gardening routine. I like to keep all of my vegetable scraps and grow them into new plants.  I cut off the base of onions, set them out to dry, and then plant them in the garden wherever I have an empty spot.  Later on you cut the green shoots off that grow up, and divide the base. Each old onion cutting will give you two new onion plants. Also with celery you can take the base, trim off the outside layers, and put it in a bit of water. New celery shoots will begin to grow, and then you can just plant it in the garden with everything else. Sure, it’s a slow process, but who doesn’t want never-ending celery?

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The last section of my garden is where I keep my squash and cucumbers.  I like to grow these on a sort of table shaped trellis.  I pull the vines up through, and let the fruits grow hanging.  This keeps them from growing all over my garden.  It also helps with keeping the fruit from bruising, and keeping the bugs off of them, which is a huge problem for these vines.

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Well there you guys go — a small window into my gardening routine!