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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Backpacking Guadalupe Peak

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Our backpacks were too heavy. Nobody had trained. Nobody had even worn their packs before except me, and mine hadn’t left the garage in at least ten years.

On paper, the hike seemed easy. It was four miles up the trail with a 3,000 foot elevation gain, reaching a final height of 8,600 feet above sea level. The logistics of getting to Guadalupe Mountains National Park and back to Houston in one weekend were what had me the most worried … at least until we stepped on the trail.

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We formulated a plan to leave Thursday after work and drive to Kerrville, then get up Friday morning and drive the rest of the way to to the park. Once there we would obtain the limited backwoods camping passes for the Guadalupe Peak Trail from the rangers, then hike up the mountain. After we set up camp, we’d hike the rest of the way up the peak to watch the sunset. Then I’d take some amazing milky way photos, maybe even do some starry sky timelapse videos before heading to bed. Then we’d wake up before dawn to hike back up to the peak to watch the sunrise before walking down the mountain to go explore other things like Carlsbad Caverns or the strange Prada store in Marfa.

Things did not go exactly as planned.

We did leave Thursday night, and we did make it to Kerrville.

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The Holiday Inn Express had a fancy Texas-shaped pool. Unfortunately it was far too cold and late in the evening to try it out. The next morning we were back on the road.

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We made it to Guadalupe Mountains National Park around 1 p.m. and were very lucky to snag one of the few remaining backwoods camping permits. We unloaded our gear and headed up the mountain.

I’d done a fair amount of backpacking when I was in the Boy Scouts, and I was lucky that I still had my gear. However, nobody else had really tried out their packs, some of which had been procured through eBay, so everyone was starting the hike with discomfort.

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I also didn’t have time to open each person’s pack and ruthlessly throw all their belongings back in the car saying, “Nope, can’t take this,” like the guides and counselors did to me back in the old days. No deodorant. No extra batteries. Not even a toothbrush unless you break off the handle. What’s worse is I didn’t even follow my own rules and packed in two camera bodies, three lenses and a tripod in anticipation of all the amazing photography I was going to do. (So glad I brought a tripod for this …)

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Let’s just say it was a very long hike up the mountain.

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We stopped to rest often.

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We really should have paid attention to the fact that the trail was marked strenuous.

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Although we made sure to find plenty of photo ops.

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Five and a half hours later, we finally reached the sign for the camping area.

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Unfortunately that arrow on the sign doesn’t actually point in the right direction. The trail is off to the right of the sign, so the girls took a break while TJ and I wandered the mountain looking for any sign of a camp.

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It turned out to be just over the ridge of lower peak, so we made the last march of day into the camping area and set up our tents.

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We started cooking dinner just as the sun was setting. No, we weren’t going to be able to watch sunset from the peak, but there were times throughout the day when we weren’t sure we were even going to make it as far as we had.

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As I set up my cameras to capture some stars, the brightest full moon I’ve ever seen rose into the sky. I thought it made the night look a bit unique, so I set up a timelapse anyway. Then, since the moon hadn’t been able to dissuade me, the clouds moved in as mother nature had a good laugh about the fact that I’d carried all that camera equipment for nothing.

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The weather in the desert makes massive shifts between day and night, so we all layered up to fight the cold. The dehydrated food never tasted so good. Our friends passed around a flask, and we all took a nip of Scotch before climbing into sleeping bags and quickly falling into a deep, black sleep.

Around 2 a.m. the wind had picked up to better than 25 miles per hour. It had been impossible to drive stakes into the hard ground where we were camping, so Mary sent me out with rope to tie the tent down to whatever rocks and trees were within reach. The moon loomed over me, lighting the work. I never even had to turn on the flashlight.

We slept through sunrise.

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The dehydrated egg scramble had never tasted so good, and spirits were high as we knew we didn’t have to carry our backpacks up to the peak.

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Yes, we’d missed the sunrise, but it would still be a nice hike.

 

I packed some water and my camera into a sleeping bag stuff sack, slung it over my shoulder, and we headed for the top.

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The last mile was full of beautiful scenes. We couldn’t get enough photos, but even without packs, everyone was still having a bit of a struggle.

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Once we passed El Capitan, we knew we were almost there.

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A few portions of the trail crossed steep rock face, which had Mary crabwalking, but she overcame her fear of heights to cross them.

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Despite various threats of quitting, we all made it to the tallest point in Texas together.

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Inside the ammunition box at the base of the monument was a log book, signed by all who make the hike. Some people put serious thought into what they write. The book is full of poetry and quotes. We added our own signatures to the pages.

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Had we had more time, water and a permit, I think everyone would have been content to stay another night before breaking camp and hiking down the mountain, but we didn’t have that luxury. We made a quick lunch and then reluctantly put on our backpacks.

Mary had a sore knee, so it was slow going. Even so, it only took us about two hours to get down the hill — a marked improvement compared to our ascent.

I left my pack with everyone at the base of the trail and hiked over to the ranger station to get the car. Everyone was very excited to sit down.

We drove to Van Horn and celebrated our achievement with dinner and drinks at the El Capitan Hotel.

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We made the long drive back the Houston Sunday with one question in mind, what mountain do we conquer next?

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!

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.

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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.

Life’s Short, Wear Sunscreen

It all started about a two years ago.  I had a weird bump on my face.  It looked sort of like a pimple, but a very persistent one.  It lasted a couple months, and then went away into what looked like a raised, slightly-discolored scar.  Fred had been nagging me to go get it checked since he first saw it, but I sort of shrugged it off.

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This one just last year

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This one is from our honeymoon in 2014

Well three weeks ago I finally made a visit to the dermatologist.  Despite me not saying anything about that spot, the doctor saw it right away and wanted to do a biopsy.  He took a razor to my face right then and there and shaved a big chunk off.  Then he sent me home with a bandaid on my cheek.

A week later I got a call that the sample had tested positive as a Basal Cell Carcinoma, and they would have to do Mohs surgery on my face.  Basically they remove one layer of skin, about 2mm thick all around the spot, and then put it under a microscope.  They keep doing layer after layer until there is no more sign of cancer cells.

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I was super lucky that they only had to remove one layer.  It is bad enough as is!  I can’t imagine doing more.  After I was all clear they had a plastic surgeon come in and stitch me up.  They had to stitch quite a ways on either side of the circle in order to keep the skin from puckering.

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I’m currently on the mend.  Just like when I had a broken foot, dealing with the repetitive questions is the worst part.  I like that a lot of people have looked worried though, and asked me, “What did it look like?” or, “How do I know?”.  My answer is, if you’re worried, get it checked out.  I had no idea anything looked funny.

Currently in search of the perfect hat if anyone has suggestions.

And most of all, my message to you is ALWAYS WEAR SUNSCREEN!

Looking for those bookings

As has been mentioned in previous blogs, one of our ideas to slow the burn on our savings while cruising is to play music along the way as a source of income. In preparation we’ve started playing shows in the Houston area to hone our skills, make sure we have the right equipment, and add a little bit of cash to the cruising kitty.

Last week I played a solo acoustic show at Little Woodrow’s in Katy, Texas. It was nice that our Gimme Shelter T-shirts had just arrived the night before.

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This was a very last minute booking, so I was lucky that with less than 24 hours notice I still had 10 friends and blog readers come out to see me.

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We’re currently trying to hard to book at least two shows per month for the rest of the year, hopefully some of which are in the Kemah area. As our schedule fills in, we’ll update the events calendar on our Facebook page.

Until then, here’s a new video of Mary and I covering Bubble Toes by Jack Johnson.

2016 GBCA Women’s Regatta

The only requirement for the GBCA Women’s Regatta is that there must be a woman at the helm from the starting line to the finish line. Somehow this year I got volunteered for this honor, and I dared not refuse. On our race boat there is a tradition as well of the woman backing the boat out and returning it to her slip.  “Dockline to dockline”

The Friday before I was greatly discouraged by the men-to-women ratio at the pre-race skippers meeting, and I encouraged all of my sailing girlfriends to come on out and show them how serious we were.

My friend Kayla from SV Folie a Deux joined us as well for her very first race.

We had a great mix of seasoned veterans and newbies out for the ride, and everyone really came together as a team. The veterans became teachers, and the other ladies were really focusing on learning their jobs.

Meanwhile our captain, Doug, was busy teaching me how to trim to the telltales.  A big part of this that I missed was steering from a place where you can actually see them. That helps a lot.

Even harder to do while you’re constantly being distracted by ladies wanting pictures. 😛

Overall we did really well for a heavy boat in light wind, taking 4th.

I can’t wait for next year’s Women’s Regatta!  Which of these lucky ladies will get to helm next?!!!  🙂

Big thank you for all the pictures Mike Cameron!

Wandering Paris

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Léa Seydoux, Midnight in Paris (2011)


I dashed across Avenue de la Grande Armée and ducked under the awning of Café de la Terrasse just as the rain re-commenced Friday evening. If Paris really is most beautiful in the rain, I’d already experienced a full week of beauty.

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The waiter presented me with a menu featuring specials for “happy beers” and “happy wines.” Perhaps it was just a poor translation by the copywriter, but I liked the idea that the drinks were as happy as the hour.

We’d spent the past three days exploring strategies and innovations meant to cut costs and streamline workflow in a declining industry, and we weren’t just happy to be having a drink, we needed one. Despite the intensive brainstorming sessions and extended dialogue, one important question had remained unanswered — was I or was I not supposed to eat the flower?

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Cigarette smoke wafted over the sidewalk tables as my colleagues from France, Scotland, Italy, India and Malaysia took turns asking me questions about Donald Trump and whether or not I owned a gun. Yes, Trump and guns, this is the cultural impact the US has upon the rest of the world.

As we all said goodnight and headed back to our respective hotels, I was left alone in Paris. I had no big plans this time, just a day to kill. I usually travel the city via Metro, but as the rain had finally stopped, I decided to walk. I passed the Peugeot headquarters and this curvy, winged car called out to me, but unfortunately the museum wasn’t open.

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I made my way to Trocadero where a quartet of troubadors were strolling café to café around the circle hoping for tips. They were mostly just having their pictures taken by tourists (myself included).

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For the first time all week the sky cleared, and the Eiffel Tower came into view in sync with the golden hour. I stopped to snap a photo since my previous attempts at a nice tower photo came with brown smoggy skies.

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I made my way down to the bridge watching both the tourists and the dozens of peddlers with their wares spread out on blankets. They still had models of the Eiffel Tower in many different sizes, but this year they were also hawking small robotic dogs that bark and walk, which I haven’t seen in the US since the 1990s, and of course, selfie sticks.

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The smell of crepes fills the air around the tower. I’ve never actually tried one, but I do enjoy the aroma and plenty of people were lining up for both crepes and ice cream.

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Since I had no plans, I decided to stick around and do some people watching. I guess I looked trustworthy enough that I wouldn’t run away with a camera as three different couples asked me to snap their photo in front of the tower.

I’d already done the Seine tour dinner cruise on a previous trip, but I always enjoy checking out the various boats — big, small and stationary.

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At 9:30 p.m. the tower finally lit up, which was the photo I really wanted to capture. I snapped a few shots and then walked through the night back to my hotel.

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Never underestimate how lost you can get even when there should be a large river to block you from going too far in the wrong direction.

Saturday morning was gray and dreary. I set out down the same road towards the Catacombs, but I must have taken the wrong exit at one of the roundabouts.

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However, as I wandered through the streets I got a nice insight into a Parisian Saturday. I passed soccer fields full of kids running and laughing while parents looked miserable on the sidelines. I watched people walking their dogs, trying to keep them from peeing on the motorcycles parked along the street. I saw young people carrying home bags of groceries while older people pushed their groceries home in strollers. I even discovered how new refrigerators are lifted into those tiny apartments.

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When I finally made it to the Seine I was two bridges down from where I was supposed to be, but I did get a nice view of the Statue of Liberty. The French version is a bit smaller than the one they sent to America.

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I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the catacombs — aside from a long line. Only 200 people are allowed in the tunnels at a time, so there gets to be quite a queue. My plan to get there early had been self-sabotaged by wandering the streets for an extra two hours.

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I think I was hoping for a spooky experience, but I didn’t feel that at all. The first section is an exhibit regarding the geological history of Paris and the formation of the limestone with a few fossil casts. Then several boards detailed the excavation and history of the catacombs. Then you finally reach the bones.

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I don’t even know how to explain how many bones are in these tunnels. If every man, woman and child I’ve ever known were entombed together, it wouldn’t come close to matching this number of bones. In some places the stacks are 10′ high and go 20′ back. And those were just in the tunnels open to visitors. There were more tunnels shut off to the public. There’s an estimated six million skeletons in the catacombs.

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In case you’re wondering, Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury, is the man who can be thanked for the creative stacking of femurs and skulls. I thought this skull heart was a nice touch.

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Once I finally returned to the surface, I started the walk back to the hotel and stumbled across this interesting army surplus store.

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But just as I was about to go in, I got distracted by this table of people cycling by while drinking beer. I’m not sure what kind of tour that is, but I think that’s the one I want to take next time I visit.

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