Monday, December 19, 2011

A Room with a View

The first time I set eyes on the patio of Unit 105 in 2009, the seed was planted. It was right after we arrived at Matanzas Inn at Fort Myers Beach to pay for our mooring ball. An older couple sat there enjoying sunset cocktails, and my heart decided that some day, some way, Mom would take their place on that same patio.
This year with a great deal of planning and family coordination, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, she arrived. Dreams do come true!

Brother David and wife Sandy kicked off what we referred to as the “Dot Delivery” by flying the friendly skies down to Fort Myers Beach with her. Our concerns about air travel were totally unfounded. She loved it!

It didn’t take long for all three of them to acclimate to the sunny climes. Sandy went straight from the airport to the pool at Harbor House Inn, leaving it only long enough to hydrate and renourish. Dot was content to sit by the pool and read. All she wanted to do was “soak it all in.” We did manage to divert Sandy’s attention once the sun went down to play several rousing card games.

We spent a joyful untraditional Thanksgiving day just soaking up rays while the turkey stuffed with Gary’s freshly shucked oyster dressing baked in the community room oven. Gary headed off to bartend at the Nauti Turtle while I grabbed a chaise lounge next to Mom and read a book feeling guilty...a little. Honestly. Upon his return we kicked the party off with an untraditional appetizer of fried gator tail. Followed by our first ever candlelight Thanksgiving feast enjoyed……outside! We dined on the veranda, toasted to the successful Dot delivery, and felt oh so thankful.

Friday Gary wheeled Dot down Estero Boulevard to our favorite Beach Pub. We buried our feet in the powdery warm sand and people watched on the beach all afternoon. After dreaming of being with Mom on the beach, I sighed with contentment and happily checked that one off the list!

Sunday arrived and it was time to introduce David, Sandy, and Dot to The DEK. It’s a friendly biker bar that offers $1.00 drinks and $10.00 pizza and pitcher combo, perfect for a cruiser’s budget. Dream of Dot partying at the DEK….check!

We drove David and Sandy to the airport with heavy hearts Monday night. After packing so much fun into the six days we were all together it was hard to say goodbye. Although Gary and I were anxious for Mom to begin chapter two of the visit at her very own room with a view at Matanzas Inn, Unit 105.

The first day I became very anxious and overwhelmed at the prospect of taking care of Mom for the next ten days. It would be fair to say that I was a basket case! I wanted everything to be perfect for her and was so afraid that something would go wrong. Would she be ok alone through the night?? What if she falls?? Is she coughing too much?? Why hasn’t she needed oxygen?? Will she be able to get in and out of the shower?? What if the wheelchair breaks??

It took Gary’s loving concern and several stern “get a hold of yourself and calm down you’re being overprotective and smothering her and she is doing great and she’s having a wonderful time and she can do much more for herself than you think and everything is going to be fine” lectures to talk me back into a reasonable frame of mind. We eased into a comfortable routine and just as Gary predicted, all began to feel right in our world.

Mom loves her sleep and needs a lot of encouragement to rise and shine. Each morning after sunrise we would check on her and gently suggest that she start waking up to enjoy the Florida sunshine. Ever so slowly we moved through the morning rituals. Shower, wardrobe choice, pills, breathing treatments, and her favorite Florida oranges with blueberries and yogurt for breakfast on her patio. Then we livened things up by doing hair and makeup like a couple of teenagers preparing for a hot date. We shared many quiet hours just sitting quietly on the patio reading. We spent some days wheeling around Times Square, window shopping, or just gazing at the sparkling Gulf of Mexico. Lunch one day was sushi and mango margaritas, another day her and Gary’s favorite bologna and onions. Every time she exclaimed “I’m just soaking this all in” I silently rejoiced in her happiness. Mom marveled at the beauty of the hibiscus in bloom, and we marveled at how she was blooming herself right before our eyes.

Gary suggested Dot get off her butt and cook for us. “I can do that!” she claimed. She chopped and diced and served up some mouthwatering swiss steak. We needed an hors doerves for the annual Christmas boat parade. “How about your shrimp mousse?” I suggested. “Sounds great!” she agreed. I laid out the ingredients and told her to get on it! It was as delicious as ever. We invited our friends Dick and Ann for lunch. How about a shrimp salad? “Sure” she replied. I laid out the ingredients, told her to go for it, and we never tasted a shrimp salad that good. Sunday came, “Mom, what’s for breakfast?”. “Pancakes” she replied, and made us the most perfect silver dollar cakes you could envision.

Our wonderful friends Trace and Diane surprised us by arriving from the east coast while Dot was here. They got such a love fest going that Gary and I were almost jealous. She giggled like a school girl at all of Trace’s antics, and Diane doted on her like a long lost daughter. We decorated for Christmas with lights and a poinsetta, and played Christmas music while cooking and drinking and dining. I had dreamed of her making new friends but she adopted Trace and Diane as family.

Each day, as she was a bit more active, she grew stronger and stronger. We would notice her carefully moving around the room without her walker, and soon agreed to walk to the pool without it, as long as she had an arm to hold on to. When we suggested water aerobics, she smiled that Dot smile and said “I can do that!” And that she did! These were dreams I had not dared to dream, yet they came true!

Mom, you are a lovely, wonderful, funny, amazing woman. You made us and yourself so proud during this visit. I told you that I wanted to be just like you when I reach 84. Will it be possible to get that good in just thirty more years?

Your memory is not what it used to be, and neither is mine. But I know in my heart that neither one of us will ever forget our special times together, as you made all my dreams come true.

Whenever you are ready to make some more memories, just say the word. I know the perfect room with the perfect view.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Drama King & Queen

"MORE DRAMA! I WANT MORE DRAMA!" my director producer demanded as we departed Steinhatchie last Tuesday. The tempermental Gulf of Mexico finally decided to cut us a break and welcomed us back with sparkling, moderately choppy seas. As the day progressed calmly without any unexpected issues, I commented to Gary that I wasn't going to have any drama to report for Nick James. I spoke too soon.

Now we have so much more drama to report that I am afraid to jinx us any more by writing about it until we are finally at our dock at Fort Myers Beach. We have only 90 miles to go and SHOULD be there tomorrow.

But a lot can happen in 90 miles.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

"Weather Window" half-opened or half-closed?

Tessa, Nomad, and Vela Narcosis waited patiently in Carrabelle for a weather window to cross the Gulf to Tarpon Springs, while the crews did boat chores during the day and partyed with the locals at happy hour. Yesterday, day six of waiting, the crews began to get restless and impatient. Captain Bill from Nomad needed to find a port with more action. Gary and I were anxious to get to Tarpon Springs where our rendezvous with Bryan and Danielle would take place. Dennis and Wanda just go with the flow, which appeared to be flowing toward the Gulf.

All three Captains checked their favorite weather sources and came up with a consensus. They saw a weather window opening yesterday afternoon as soon as the winds subsided, as they were predicted to do. We could depart in 10-15 knots and 2-3 foot seas, which were SUPPOSED to subside to 5-10 knots, 1-2 foot seas late last night, and today was supposed to be totally calm all the way to Tarpon Springs. Let's go!

So using the "weather window" analogy, picture the five of us boosting each other up to the sill, squeezing through a half open window, and jumping through giddily just like a bunch of teenagers sneaking out for a night of underage drinking. In our excitement, not a one of us noticed the window SLAMMING and LOCKING behind us as we departed Carrabelle.

The first few hours were comfortable, and the sunset introduced beautiful stars and calm rolling seas. For a few hours. Then all hell broke loose. Suddenly, the wind began howling and the waves were crashing toward us in sets of three 6-8 footers. This WASN'T SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN! Gary checked the updated XM weather and we reported to the other two boats that it was still supposed to subside to 5 knots late last night. Everyone keep the faith and stay calm!

Bill (our Alpha Male Water Cowboy) did his best, single handing without an auto pilot, until his refrigerator broke loose and smashed his dining table to pieces, scattering table and refrig contents throughout his salon. We heard the frustration in his voice as he announced that "I'm gettin my a** kicked out here guys!"

We tried to make jokes and stay positive, expecting any moment for things to calm down, but it never happened. For hours and hours we charged through the mean nasty seas and finally decided to abort the plan to Tarpon Springs and head toward the eastern shore and the Steinhatchie River for protection and relief.

Gary and I were sure that we were the most comfortable with our autopilot performing beautifully and our new enclosure keeping us warm and dry. But we worried so much about our buddy boats, who have become such close friends and almost family during our time together, that we certainly could not relax for a moment. Bill kept his sense of humor intact, even though his boat contents were not, all the way to the river entrance this morning. Dennis announced that he felt like he fell off and was dragged by a horse. Wanda remained steady and least we never heard her announce on the radio that the weather forecasters were a**hole d***heads like I did. I read an entire book and avoided looking at the roiling seas rushing past us, sometimes even covering my head with a blanket to stay calm. Gary, as always, remained steady at the helm, reassuring everyone throughout the night that it was going to get better.

And it eventually did, after dawn as we approached the Steinhatchie River entrance, where we are safe and sound at a nice dock waiting for the next window to open.

The next time it better be ALL THE WAY OPEN, and STAY THAT WAY after we crawl through! Unfortunately, there are no guarantees like that when making Gulf of Mexico crossings. Last night Dennis thought a nice RV might be in their future. Wonder how Tessa would look on wheels???????

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Each day on the Tenn-Tom Waterway has been so peaceful and uneventful that there has not been much blog material. We have spent wonderful days and shared beautiful anchorages with new friends that we have been buddy-boating with since Demopolis. And then there comes a day like last Saturday.

We departed Dog River Marina to cross Mobile Bay to the Panhandle Intracoastal in bright sunshine and a forecast of "Winds less than 10 knots. Bay waters smooth". Not even "Moderate Chop" like it was on our way down the bay to Dog River. Smooth was even better! We are very cautious as the masts must stay on deck until Carrabelle due to low bridges.

The channel from the marina to the main channel runs west to east and we had a north wind on our beam, which caused Tessa to roll in the waves. But as soon as we entered the main channel, the wind was on our stern and the ride seemed comfortable. About an hour into the four hour trip across the bay, I asked Gary "Are we going as fast as we can? I don't like the wind picking up." He gave her more throttle and we continued on. Except before entering protected land, we had to turn north east back into a stiff 15 knot wind and rollers that were now two to three feet.

Tessa began heaving and rolling as Gary struggled at the helm to maintain the best course with the least force of the waves. I couldn't stand to be in the cockpit watching the masts and stands....waiting for something to break! Gary kept assuring me that everything was holding securely and everything was fine, but I freaked out when he said we had FOURTEEN MILES to go.

My Captain expertly steered us to the safety of the protected Intracoastal while I hid down below and clutched good luck charms left on board by Don Dunn and Jim Jordan. We made it unscathed.

We joined Nomad and Vela Narcosis at Homeport Marina, home of LuLu's (Jimmy Buffett's sister’s restaurant). Bill from Nomad was standing at the end of the dock waving us in to our assigned slip when Gary calmly announced that we had lost our transmission! No worries, he simply shut down the engine and guided Tessa along the marina wall next to a 125 foot luxury yacht, and instructed me to get a line around a cleat FAST! Unscathed again! The dock master exclaimed that we must have a lot of good karma around Tessa because he had seen that happen to another boat that crashed into their wall and did a lot of damage. Good karma and a great Captain!!

Now, if Nirvana had lost their transmission, they probably would have totaled their boat and any boat within striking distance. Talk about BAD karma!

We first crossed paths with Nirvana way back on the Illinois River and a lock. Tessa and Muddy Waters had already waited patiently for two hours, struggling to maintain steerage and avoid going aground in the constricted waiting area, while a “red flag” barge locked through. Red flag indicates the barge is transporting hazardous chemicals and restricts any pleasure craft from locking at the same time. A boat throwing a big wake approaches rapidly, while we watch and wonder what the heck their hurry was. The lockmaster announced that it would probably be another hour wait. Nirvana rushed to the lock gate announcing to the lockmaster that “we have to get to Starve Rock Yacht Club and were told we could lock through with this barge!” What??? Once they were told they would absolutely not be locking through, Nirvana proceeds to crowd into the area already occupied by our two boats and another big yacht, and demands that the yacht move out of their way because they were aground! In less than ten minutes they managed to violate just about every proper river etiquette known. This is when I announced to Gary “That boat has BAD karma!” Once through that lock, after being waked by their rush to beat everyone else out of the lock, we hoped to never cross paths again.

No such luck. Running at power boat speeds, they stopped at different places, but twice more caught up with us and charged by creating a wake. Sooner or later, we thought, they have to get far enough ahead of us so that we never see them again.

No such luck. Several locks and days later, again we are waiting, about 45 minutes, for a Coast Guard work barge to catch up and lock through with us and our new Swedish friends aboard Horizon. The barge informs the lockmaster that a pleasure boat is a mile behind them. We all groan in frustration, as the lockmasters always want to lock boats within striking distance together. Horizon now realizes that due to the delay, they would not be able to make it to Demopolis before dark and will have to find a safe place to anchor with not many options. Gary thought we could still make Demopolis if we pushed it. No one wants to run the rivers in the dark!

So we wait and wait and the pleasure boat finally makes radio contact with the lock and identifies themselves. NIRVANA! IT’S FREAKING NIRVANA!

The lockmaster tells them that once the barge is secure, the two sailboats can enter the lock, followed by Nirvana. Except that is not good enough for Nirvana. He radios back and suggests that wouldn’t it be better if THEY go first, since they will be passing the sailboats anyway??? Once the lockmaster ok’d it, we watch, stunned, as Nirvana guns it and wakes the holy heck out of us to rush into the lock ahead of us.

The Demopolis Yacht Basin dock master advised us to pull up to the fuel dock for the night, as there are not many slips deep enough for us. As we approached at dusk, I told Gary to fully expect Nirvana to be blocking the fuel dock. Thankfully, they were there, but not at the fuel dock. We decided we did not want to be anywhere near that Captain and crew!

Gary and I were in the ship store settling up with Wayne the dock master when a lady resembling a street person bag lady type barges in and rudely interrupts us demanding the courtesy car keys. We wondered who could be so rude, and saw the answer written on the courtesy car sign up sheet. NIRVANA! Please get us away from these people!!

We joined several other cruisers at Moe’s Restaurant for drinks, food, and camaraderie. This is where we met Bill from Nomad and Dennis and Wanda from Vela Narcosis, who became fast friends and buddy boaters ever since. Small world, Bill’s friend Jerry was Captaining Nirvana since they fired the last Captain at Green Turtle Bay. In defense of Jerry, Bill explained that the owners were fruitcakes and driving Jerry absolutely crazy. Join the club, Jerry. And they weren’t finished driving people crazy. Wayne couldn’t wait for us to return to Tessa so he could tell us the ignorant things bag lady had managed..including keeping the courtesy car for an extra hour while others were waiting, then calling Wayne from her boat to tell him to come pick up the keys. Several blatant violations of proper marina etiquette.

The Demopolis lockmaster insists that all boaters coordinate a dawn departure to lock through together, so the next morning we followed Nomad and Vela Narcosis out at first light. No lights on Nirvana, so we assumed they were staying for another day. Good riddance!!!

We breathed a sigh of relief as we watched the lock gates close and the water began dropping us down. No more Nirvana.

All of a sudden, I see the bollard…and the water…going up instead of down. Something was wrong! Nomad was right in front of us and he screamed back “We’re going back up for f#*!ing Nirvana!” We were speechless. Gary gave his slinkiest stink eye ever. We have gone through over 300 locks and never ever experienced this. We don’t know what those clowns said to pull it off, but it worked.

We had a great time anchoring and partying with our new friends Bill, Dennis, and Wanda for the next three nights. At Mobile Bay, they headed into the Intracoastal toward Lulu’s while we stopped at Dog River Marina so Gary could get a West Marine fix. And you probably already guessed it. Nirvana was there. Ricky, the Dock master, said many other cruisers had their own Nirvana experiences to share. It wasn’t just us!

That same afternoon, I snapped a quick picture of their departing stern, hoping it was our final glimpse of Nirvana. Somehow they managed to leave enough bad karma in their wake to cause our horrible crossing conditions on Saturday. There is no doubt that they are to blame, but Tessa’s good karma overcame their bad and we are now safe and sound and heading for our favorite spot, Apalachicola, to slurp some oysters tonight.

We didn’t see Nirvana in Destin or Panama City last night. They have to be days ahead of us by now.

Don’t they????

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

48 hours of foggyness in Clifton TN...

We spent 48 hours in Clifton Tennessee with Bill Magers. It was way too much fun. The End.

October 9th, 2011

We are crossing Kentucky Lake and the weather has been PERFECTION! Sunshine and warm weather since we left Chicago on Sept. 30th.

That's what I'm talkin about!!

Yesterday we arrived at Moors Marina on KY lake in very skinny water and right smack dab in the middle of the conclusion of a bass fishing tournament. So here's TESSA moving along at a snail's pace, anticipating a possible encounter with an underwater boulder at any moment, with all these impatient bass boats buzzing by like a swarm of mosquitos! We couldn't kick back a cold one fast enough once we tied up to the dock.

It was a well earned cocktail since we had also just gone through the Kentucky Lake Lock, which is a 55 foot lift of a great amount of surge pressing TESSA tight up against the lock wall. I don't like that lock a lot.

Tonight is Pebble Isle Marina. Then tomorrow and Tuesday nights we will spend in Clifton Marina where our good moonshine drinkin buddy Bill Magers lives. We love that guy!

I'm sure there will be some more good stories to tell after the next two days!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

True Confessions

Come close and listen up. I have a confession to make. Not everything about this cruising business is perfect. Matter of fact, some of it REALLY SUCKS!

First and foremost are the weather forecasters. We religiously check three different sources before attempting a challenging float plan. It is not uncommon for the conditions to be totally opposite of what they predict. We suspect that most of the meteorologists are listening to Al Gore whine about global warming instead of just STICKING THEIR HEADS OUTSIDE TO SEE WHAT IS REALLY HAPPENING!

Great Lake crossings and ocean voyages are rarely enjoyable. It can be calm and clear one minute and the next minute we are getting out butts kicked. Invariably when the butt kicking starts, it goes on for miles and miles and hours and hours. As fortunate as I feel not having to wear my salesperson hat any more, on these days I would almost prefer giving a Ready Bender seminar to a classroom full of surly UAW tool and die makers!

Mast Stepping and Unstepping is quite a challenging chore. Last year and this year, our good buddy Bill Kane has been at Crowley’s Boat Yard in Chicago to help out. This year it poured down rain for the entire two days. I swear I would have been in the fetal position whimpering in our bunk if it hadn’t been for Bill. I wasn’t about to let a 76 year old man outlast me. We could barely keep up with him, and kept telling him to sit down and take a break. “What for?” he wanted to know. So we can take a break too, that’s what for! Brother Bill is an amazing man and a wonderful friend. How did we ever get along without him?
Traveling down the river system is a great experience but one must have lots of patience. Delays at locks can go on for hours, and become dangerous if you end up so far behind that there is no safe place to anchor or dock before dark.

Each locking experience is different, and the Lockport Lock above Joliet proved to be a new one. We were directed to tie off of a barge instead of the lock wall, which was nothing scary. The guys on the barge were very helpful in grabbing our lines. (Except for the last boat in the lock, who threw a line that was not connected to their boat and ended up sideways in the lock. Oops!) Just as we were all secure, the wind began gusting to about 30 knots and we were literally sand blasted. As luck would have it, the barge was hauling sand! It covered the boat, and blew into our eyes, between our teeth, into our hair. Gary thought it was an adventure. I thought it was a nasty mess. Glass half full, glass half empty!

And then there are the days like we have experienced since Joliet that make all the pain and suffering fade away. My favorite customer in the world, Jim Herrick, and his lovely wife Jan met us at the Joliet Bicentennial Park wall. We had a great time catching up and dining at a local pub.

As we crossed the sparkling waters of Peoria Lake in warm bright sunshine, I told Gary I was the luckiest woman in the world. No doubt he was silently wishing I would have remembered that on Lake Michigan while I repeatedly moaned I HATE THIS and questioned why in the h#*! we were doing it again.

The weather has been absolutely gorgeous as we cruise down the Illinois River. We were disappointed to miss our usual stop at the Ottawa City Dock due to low water, but were rewarded with a stunning anchorage just south of Ottawa.

Peoria was a wonderful stop as usual. We stayed an extra day to get a coat of varnish on the cowling and catch up on boat chores. That afternoon Gary insisted we walk the mile and a half across the bridge to Wal-Mart…with a couple of stops at local watering holes. All cruisers develop a new appreciation for Wal-Mart, as provisioning stops are few and far between. A good port of call is determined by a Wal-Mart, a liquor store, a local pub, and restrooms. Sometimes not in that order.

Last night we tied up to an AEP barge in Beardstown. We followed our normal routine….tie up securely and find a bar. Mile 88 looked about as local as you could get and it did not disappoint. We were greeted by Kathy, a commercial fisherwoman who has been featured on National Geographic. Her and her husband net tons of Asian Carp a day. The dreaded fish threatening to invade our Great Lakes is known as a delicacy to the Japanese.
In the same nets they catch Flat Head Catfish. “You just missed it” Linda said. “I just cooked some up and brought it here to the bar.” Darn, we said, we love fish. “I’ll just run home and get some for you” she insisted. I thought she meant the whole fish, so I said “Oh no, we’re good, don’t go to all that trouble” but she was already out the door and in her car. She returned with a foil covered plate of freshly fried Flat Head Catfish Belly, and by the sound of it, nothing I wanted to try. If Gary hadn’t shoved a piece into my mouth I would have missed out on some of the best fried fish we ever tasted. Delicious!!

After a few more MGD $1.00 drafts, the bar got a little lively. We heard the rumble of a motorcycle, which is not unusual in these little riverside towns. What was unusual was when the rider drove the Harley right through the back door and parked it in the corner. Apparently he was over served and the owner encouraged him to just bring it inside and park it so as to not be tempted to ride home. You can’t make this stuff up!

Since Joliet, we have been buddy boating with a great family on board “Muddy Waters” a 48 foot Kadey Krogen trawler. They have an interesting blogspot at Tonight we will dock together at Grafton Harbor Marina at the mouth of the Mississippi, then we will continue on while they visit St. Louis. It will be sad to separate, as we have really enjoyed our journey together.

The relationships developed along the way are absolutely the best thing about cruising. Maybe we should have Nick James make a video montage of every new friend we have made along the way that I could pop in a portable dvd player. The next time we are in pouring rain, high winds, and big waves and I am tempted to say “I HATE THIS!” the video will remind me of wonderful friends and how truly fortunate we are to be living this dream.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Hell on Wheels!

 Tessa seems awfully quiet and empty without the James' presence. Especially after the Mackinaw City antics and then the funfilled Bon Voyage party last night with Tom and Marlene in Whitehall Michigan. This morning they loaded up the James' and headed for Port Clinton, while we headed for our next port of call, Saugatuck.

Last Wednesday morning we arrived in Mackinaw City after an overnighter from Harbor Beach. Lynne limped back from the showers. Her little injured piggy now referred to as "roast beef" was throbbing and it was going to be very uncomfortable to walk around town all day. Nick James was not about to have his princess in pain, so off he went in search of a wheelchair. Little did we know how that loving gesture was going to impact our day!

The streets, bars, and fudge shops of Mackinaw City became unsafe for normal pedestrian traffic. Although we did not witness it, Lynne claimed that he nearly threw her from the chair several times. We did however witness him racing her up and down the dock with a lapfull of laundry. It was like seeing a car wreck. You just couldn't help but watch even though you were afraid of what you might see. We breathed a sigh of releif when he turned it back in to the marina that night. Just go about your business folks, nuthin to see here. Thankfully!!

Another overnighter to our final destination with the James' on board to White Lake yesterday. Now it is just the two of us for the rest of the journey to Carrabelle Florida, where Bryan Diveto and Danielle will join us for the Gulf crossing to Fort Myers Beach.

It sure is quiet on board.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Tuesday September 20th

When weathered in waiting out 25 knot winds and 8 foot waves, try this recipe to avoid becoming frustrated and depressed. Combine great food with lots of red wine. Add a large serving of Lynne James and a small serving of Nick James. Mix in music. Heat up with SONG and DANCE! It worked for us!

This is how we passed the time Sunday and Monday while tied to an unforgiving cement breakwall with large chunks of iron protruding from it, just itching to scar Tessa in a surge. The wall was definitely not part of the overnight accommodations I had planned. Harbor Beach Marina surprised me by having only five feet of water, just a smidge too shallow for Tessa. I guess I’m out of practice, as my normal m o is to always call ahead and check depths. The dockmaster suggested we tie up just inside the break wall near their lighthouse. We had to find somewhere to wait out the incoming storm fast, with no other harbors within striking distance, so it was our only option.

Our first encounter with bad, unpredicted weather on Saturday reminded us all how unreliable the forecasts are. All the reports were favorable for our Friday afternoon departure. Less than 10 knot winds and calm water was in our future all the way to Port Huron. We entered Lake St. Clair before dawn on Saturday and were immediately slammed with a stiff 20 knot wind right on our nose for the next six hours. Not fun!

Later on Saturday it cleared up and we enjoyed a lovely trip up the St Clair River into Port Huron for an overnight stay. We quickly found the local watering hole and Nick began harassing our server, who gave it right back at him, which made for lots of laughs. We walk into a bar as strangers but always leave friends behind.
We made a meal of escargot and crusty bread, then lights out early for an early departure Sunday morning.

Sunday evening after an hour of securing lines to the Harbor Beach break wall and some pipes on top of the wall, Lynne split the bottom of her foot open on some deck hardware. After we got her bandaged up, we felt secure enough to throw together the recipe for fun and had a great time. The wind continued to build throughout the night, which made for a lot of “what was that???” sounds to which we would jump up and check out. Morning brought a heavy downpour that lasted all through the day. We hoped the winds would subside enough to move on, but NOAA warned of 8 foot waves all afternoon. The crew decided on a predawn departure this morning, so we broke out the adult beverages and had a wonderful Italian Sausage Pasta dish, compliments of Mike and Debbie’s care package sent along for the trip.

Today is absolutely gorgeous out on Lake Huron and we are truly appreciative of the bright blue skies and gentle rolling waves. Our plan is to continue overnight and arrive in Mackinaw City or St. Ignace tomorrow morning. After being confined here on board since Sunday morning, we need to walk on terra firma, diesel up, pump out, and check the weather window for the next leg of the trip. We hope to get the James’ to Chicago by Sunday at the latest. Tom and Marlene Kelleher have kindly offered to transport them back to Port Clinton.

Chicago by Sunday is the best case scenario. Lake Michigan and Mother Nature will decide how that all plays out! In the meantime, the four of us are enjoying that Milson/James combination of ingredients that create a recipe for friendship, fun, laughter, and lots of memories!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Thinking of you Don!

"Since everyone is thinking and worrying about Don, we thought you might enjoy reading a couple of stories about our travels together.  Don has a huge heart filled with love, kindness, and tremendous optimism.  With all of our love and optimism added to his, we will get through this together!  It'll work out!"

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Same Old, Same Old

We have survived a horrifying, life threatening experience and I am only now able to write about it. I can
FRONT OF ME” off of my worst- fear- ever bucket list. Been there, done that.

Everything had been going smoothly after being released from the clutches of the flooded New York Canal
System on June 5th. Less than 45 minutes after I sent the pleading email to the Director of the Canal System
the Friday before that, Andy the lockmaster appeared at Tessa. “This is not up on the notice to mariners
website, but I just got a phone call and was told to tell the boaters they would be able to leave at 7:00 a.m
Sunday morning” he told Gary. As word quickly spread down the lock wall to the other thirteen boats, we
could hear cheers of joy. Gary looked at me and said “This could NOT be a coincidence. You kicked some
a#* babe!”

Minutes later, my cell phone rang. The Deputy Director identified himself and began with a flowery
apology for our terrible inconvenience, assuring us that everything in their power was being done to get us
moving as soon as possible. And by the way, they were on their way to meet with us that afternoon.

Sure enough, the dignitaries arrived later that day to shake hands and apologize to all twenty six of us! Gary
had phoned and invited our hero Joe, the Mayor of Baldwinsville, to join in the festivities. We first met
Mayor Joe a week earlier when we were all stranded on the lower lock wall with a lot of stinking dead fish
(who were apparently also stranded). He began making phone calls immediately and received permission to
open and fill the lock to take us all up to the beautiful upper lock wall where we had only live fish and, oh
glory, power and water.

Saturday night, we had a big bon voyage party to reminisce about shared experiences and celebrate our new
friendships. It is amazing what wonderful bonds we formed while enduring this exasperating situation. Our
family of stranded cruisers was about to disband in a flurry of fired up engines and tossed dock lines on
Sunday morning. No more leisurely coffees at the picnic tables, or cocktails at sundown. It was finally time
to pick em up and put em down and GET HOME!

Gary and I agreed that if we had a good weather window to cross Lake Erie, we could skip the mast
stepping in Buffalo and have Brands’ Marina do it back in Port Clinton. This way we could also make it to
work at Put-in-Bay by the June 10th weekend. The masts could remain down, secured in their wooden
cradle with hefty two inch ratcheting straps, as long as no big winds or waves were forecast.

On Monday June 6th, we cleared our final lock, the Federal Lock in Buffalo, and tied up on its upper lock
wall for the night. Gary checked the three weather sources we use, both Monday night and Tuesday morning
before departure. All three concurred that we could expect less than 10 knots of breeze, flat seas, and no
fronts or big storms for the 32 hour overnighter to Port Clinton. This horse was heading to the barn!

It was overcast and drizzling rain on Lake Erie as we began the trek westward. XM weather on our Garmin
showed a band of storms crossing from north to south far west of us on Lake Erie, of no real concern for us
departing Buffalo. Other than that, all was calm and peaceful. As Gary came up into the cockpit from
down below, I remember saying “Boy, the wind seems to be picking up all of a sudden.”

And then my worst nightmare began coming to real life. In an instant, we had six to eight foot waves
crashing over the dodger. The winds howled at what we later heard were reported up to sixty miles per
hour. The robust ratcheting straps began stretching each time Tessa’s bow was buried in a shuddering wave,
and I knew we were in trouble when Gary screamed “I HAVE TO GO OUT THERE AND TIGHTEN THE STRAPS!” I cried to him to please not go out there! His Captain instincts took over as he grabbed my
arms and demanded that I stay calm and get a hold of myself . If he didn’t tighten the straps, the masts were
going overboard and we could lose everything.

He already had a life jacket on, and I ran down below and grabbed the huge offshore type 1 pfd. For the
first time in my life, I came to the shocking realization that there was a good possibility that I might actually
end up in the water.

Gary struggled on deck and managed to tighten the straps as best he could, then crawled back into the
cockpit. Only a few more waves and a few seconds later, they had stretched again and we watched in
disbelief as the structure began heaving forward and aft with each wave. He screamed that he had to go
back out.

I unzipped the dodger front window panel so I could see him and hear him better, but the waves kept
slamming me in the face. Then I watched in horror as the wooden structure supporting the mast on the
forward deck collapsed and everything came crashing down upon Gary. He crumpled under the massive
weight, his head slammed down, and blood spurted across he deck. I was certain he was dead, but at the
same time I was frantically thinking of how I could possibly save us if he wasn’t.

To my amazement, he began struggling out from under the masts. I will never forget the look in his eyes as
he attempted to stand and looked back at me through the blood running down the side of his face. It was a
wide eyed combination of shock, but most of all determination. He was not defeated. (We will leave that to
the Coast Guard, but I’m jumping ahead.)

I kept screaming over and over again “CRAWL TO ME BABY! YOU’RE OK! JUST CRAWL TO ME!”
If he tried to stand in his weakened state, he would surely be knocked overboard by the next wave. I was
certain I could never find him or save him in the wind and waves with the mast hanging sideways across the

This is where his hard head came into play. Yes, it was cracked, but it was still hard. He kept attempting to

Stop worrying? Seriously, Gary? Okey dookey! Piece of cake! No problemo! I’ll just go on down below
and start chugging bourbon. You just take your good old time and let me know when you are BACK IN

A lifetime later, he did finally struggle into the cockpit and I determined that he was not in shock or about to
go unconscious. Hopefully. My next thought was that we needed help. If the masts did go overboard, and
damaged the hull, we could sink. We needed to call May Day May Day May Day. Captain Gary disagreed.
“If I’m going to die today, it will not be at the hands of the Coast Guard!” I quickly convinced him that we
needed help standing by if the situation worsened. We placed the call.

After running through all the bureaucratic Coast Guard b.s. several times, they established an ETA of 35
minutes. We were then hailed by Tow Boat U.S., who heard my transmission with the Coast Guard. He
advised he would be there in 5 minutes. How could that be? I asked “Could you repeat your ETA, Tow
Boat U.S.?” “FIVE MINUTES” he replied. We looked behind us, and there was our hero! It was so
comforting to have help within reach!

The mast continued to surge forward and aft with each wave. Luckily, it landed on the forward port lifeline
and wedged itself on our swim ladder on the starboard side, which prevented it from sliding off into the
water. But we had no idea how long it would remain on board.

Gary and the Tow Boat Captain discussed options and decided to head several miles into shore for
protection from the wind. There, Gary was able to secure masts with a line tied around the winch, hoping it
was strong enough to keep them from rolling overboard.

Next he decided we should head back to First Buffalo Marina, the place we were originally going to have
the masts stepped. The gash next to his eye continued to bleed as a huge knot formed. We advised the
marina of our distress situation, and they assured us help would be waiting at the dock.

It wasn’t until after the situation was under control and we were headed to safety that the Coast Guard
arrived, about an hour later than their promised ETA. They came along side and Gary advised that he was

Apparently, this aroused the suspicion of the nearby Border Patrol agents. They came rushing alongside
Tessa, Gary gave them a thumbs up, said he was OK, and advised where we had come from and where we
were now headed. At this response, the Border Patrol agent thought it appropriate to gun it and scream
away, creating a wake that could have easily sent the masts plunging overboard. We both screamed in fear
and frustration.

We continued our slow progress toward safety, and were shocked when the Coast Guard boat reappeared
along side, this time with the Border Patrol agent standing on the bow, screaming that they were boarding
our vessel.

“I am the Captain of this vessel, we are in a dangerous position here, and I DO NOT WANT YOU coming
alongside or boarding us at this time. Follow us to Buffalo!” Gary replied. This really got the power
hungry Border Patrol’s adrenaline flowing. He screamed “YOU MUST COMPLY! WE ARE BOARDING
IMMEDIATELY” as they surged alongside and began boarding.

So, Gary has just narrowly escaped death, we are still in a dangerous, potentially life threatening situation,
he is injured and struggling to get his vessel to safe harbor with masts precariously hanging sideways across
the deck, and they decide this is a good time to conduct a ROUTINE SAFETY CHECK! Could this really
be happening?

Gary blotted a towel against his bleeding face while I scurried around down below complying with their
demands. Once they concluded that Captain Gary had properly posted the ‘Garbage Management
Procedure’ and complied with all other vital safety requirements, the Coast Guard guy thanked Gary and
said to me “I hope this hasn’t soured your opinion of the Coast Guard Ma’am.” At my wits end, I replied
angrily “Just get off our boat!”

We made our way ever so carefully back to First Buffalo River Marina, where Kathy the office manager
advised an EMT would be waiting at the dock. But Dennis Adams is not just an EMT. He was Gary’s
Guardian Angel.

He calmly took charge upon our arrival, which was just what I needed. He evaluated Gary’s condition and
at first wasn’t sure he needed to be rushed to the hospital. Something we were trying to avoid since we have
a mere $5000 deductible on our personal insurance. Ten minutes later, after helping us to secure our
injured Tessa at the dock, he reevaluated and told me “Get him in the truck. We’re going to the Emergency

Several hours, x-rays, and ten stitches later, Gary was patched up. Dennis, this man we had known for five
minutes, waited hours for us while entertaining and cheering up other emergency room patients. His
calming comfort unleashed my pent up fears, and I sobbed in the backseat as he drove us back to Tessa.

Oddly, I wasn’t embarrassed. It already felt as though we were family, and it was OK to just “let it out” like
he suggested. After a quick dinner at his favorite KFC, we got Gary back to Tessa and determined it was
time for him to rest. My instructions were to wake him every two hours to be sure there was no concussion.

This wasn’t the last we were to see Dennis. Bright and early the next morning, he was again there to take
charge and supervise the removal of the masts. He doesn’t work for the marina, but considers himself more
of a friendly consultant. We all inspected the masts and were relieved that there was only cosmetic damage,
nothing structural seemed affected. Gary couldn’t keep himself from participating, but soon began to show
signs of exhaustion. We suggested he stretch out for a little nap, which evolved into a six hour one. While
he slept, Dennis took me to pick up Gary’s prescription and to do some provisioning. Then he and his wife
Debbie took us out for a fun, get-your-mind-off-your troubles dinner.

As we climbed into our bunk that night, Gary commented that he doubted he could sleep after sleeping all
day. I suggested he just close his eyes and see what happens. He was immediately snoring, and slept all the
way through the night.

Dennis knocked on the boat bright and early again the next morning, all smiles and jokes, ready for the next
big endeavor…mast stepping. I honestly don’t know how we could have pulled these arduous tasks off
without his help and support, both mentally and physically.

Once that mission was accomplished, Gary was again down for the count. Dennis and I ran some errands
around town, then later the four of us spent another fun-filled evening including a private tour of the City of
Buffalo fireboat.

During our stay, Kathy, the marina office manager, encouraged me to march right over to the Coast Guard
headquarters just a block away and file a formal complaint for their late response and blatantly
inappropriate actions after they did finally arrive. I did just that, to no one’s surprise they admitted to no
wrong. Everything they did was “standard procedure.” How wrong it is that this is now the focus and
misguided mission of the USCG.

The kindness of Dennis, Debbie, Kathy, and the crew of First Buffalo River Marina were heartwarming and
so comforting during this frightening ordeal. If we call back to the marina looking for Dennis and they claim
that he doesn’t exist, it would not surprise us in the least. That’s what Guardian Angels are all about!

A few days later, once I was finally able to look at my injured Captain without crying, we were relaxing in
the cockpit. “You know, honey” I began “If other couples went through what we did, they would probably
experience some kind of life changing, renewed love and appreciation of each other. But I could not love
you or appreciate you any more now than I did before. You & I, we’re just same old, same old.”
He smiled at me through his swollen, stitched up eye and said “So that’s what we are , huh, just same old,
same old?”

“Yep.” I replied. “That’s what we are.”

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The eMail that Sparked the "Great Erie Canal Summit of 2011"

Big news from our stranded sailors aboard the s/v Tessa.  While being held up in Baldwinsville, NY along with a dozen other boaters for well over a week, Lori Milson sent the following email to the head of the NY Canal System.  This email made an impact that initiated a direct meeting from the BIG KAHUNA himself that will go down in the history books as the "Great Erie Canal Summit of 2011".

Dear Sir,

I am one of a dozen boats stranded at Lock 24 on the Erie Canal. We all planned to enter the canal May 1st, as we do each year,heading westbound to return to our home ports for the summer. News of the delay of opening was accepted, as it was apparent Mother Nature was not cooperating! We needed to be patient.

Several of us waited together in Castleton, then Waterford. As soon as the canal opened in Waterford, we breathed a sigh of relief began our journey. My husband and I had committed to being back to work at our summer jobs back in Port Clinton and Put-in-Bay Ohio by MAY 15. We explained the circustances to our employers, who sympathized with our plight and agreed to hold our jobs for us. Our season officially opens Memorial Day Weekend. Surely we would be back by then?????

We then spent 10 days at Sylvan Beach, on the lock wall with no power or water, waiting for news that Locks 24-26 were opening. We kept the canal website up on our laptop and began the ritual of checking it starting at 7:00 a.m., then a couple more times throughout the day until "business hours" closed at 5:00 p.m. Other stranded boaters called the lockmasters for updates.

"WE HAVE AN UPDATE!" my husband announced on May 19. But excitement faded into disappointment as he read it out loud to me. The update told us nothing more than we should stay tuned for another update early the next week. We each made a call to work. We couldn't promise anything but there was still a chance we could make it home by Memorial Day.

On May 26, the website advised that E-23 was open. We were desperate to make any level of progress, so we departed Sylvan Beach, crossed Oneida Lake, and arrived in Baldwinsville at E-24. We were all trying to stay positive and enjoy the holiday weekend. Gary and I silently worried about our positions slowly slipping away. We all sympathized with our fellow boaters who had booked and paid for a vacation beginning June 3. There was still a slim chance they could make it. We all agreed that SURELY Tuesday morning, you all would come to work, assess the situation, and off we would go.

Tuesday our ritual changed. We now check the website every half hour or so, just in case there is an update. We take turns asking Andy, the sympathetic Lockmaster, if he has any news. I could swear he was almost near tears yesterday as he shrugged his shoulders in defeat. He wants to help but can't make promises he has no power to keep. Some boaters have started calling anyone in a position to tell us anything, throw us a bone, give us some hope.

I am writing to you to ask for reassurance that SOMEONE is feeling the same sense of urgency that we are. It is my hope that you will log on and read the notice to mariners and put yourself in our shoes to understand our frustrations. Trust me, we all understand that you can't fight Mother Nature. We are all experienced cruisers who understand her powers all to well!!

Please help in any way you can. Even if it is not good news, any news is better than being in limbo like this. I can be reached at this email address or by phone at 419-341-****.

Best Regards,

Lori Milson

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Underway......Sort of!

This morning at 6:00 a.m., after ten days, we finally departed Sylvan Beach. Lock 23 on the western side of Oneida Lake has opened, mariners can get as far as Baldwinsville. Locks 24-26 are still closed. Several other boats left yesterday to wait it out in Baldwinsville. We were undecided, as we suspected all the boats ahead of us in Brewerton would high-tail it to Baldwinsville and take up all available wall space. But some fellow stranded boaters, Mitch and Lesley, kindly advised that as of yesterday afternoon, there was still room for us.

We are taking a chance, but are desperate to MOVE! Even though each day at Sylvan Beach was a memorable one, I for one was getting really depressed. Another anxious sailor said she just wanted to click her heels like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz and chant "There's no place like home!" Exactly how we feel!

It helps to stay busy, so we have been doing numerous boat chores. But what helped the most was spending time with Chuck and Donna. We have yet to meet more welcoming, generous friends in all of our travels. Chuck works for the Village of Sylvan Beach, so he swung by Tessa several times a day on his golf cart or his riding lawnmower, just to check on us and see if we needed anything. Several evenings we spent with them, either getting our butts kicked at shuffleboard at the American Legion, or eating at their favorite hang out, Splash's. Chuck knows EVERYONE, therefore we got to know EVERYONE in town. Chuck and Donna's buddies Miles and Bandana Bob joined us for several happy hours. If we weren't so desperate to get home, I'd have to say this would have been one heck of a vacation!

Today, we will miss all the friendly locals saying "You guys are STILL here?" We'll miss Patty, our favorite waitress at the Crazy Clam. We will certainly miss Chuck and Donna. But it feels good to make progress and get even one day closer to home.

Monday, May 23, 2011


It is not bad enough that we are stuck on the Erie Canal indefinitely. We check the NY Canal website every hour or so, begging for an update. We worry about our job slots back in Port Clinton and Put-in-Bay. We miss home and want so bad to get there. We couldn't be more frustrated.
Today was the last straw. To our dismay, we discovered that our favorite Sylvan Beach happy hour bars are CLOSED ON MONDAYS!!!!!!!!! Don't they know we are hanging by a thread here? Since last Wednesday, we have relied steadily on the comfort of warm hospitality and cheap beers to keep a positive outlook. To just pull the happy hour rug out from under us is devastating. We had to eat ice cream today instead of wings and beers. How much worse could it get?

We love the people of Sylvan Beach. Everyone has welcomed the stranded boaters and sympathized with us. We love Chuck and Donna, the great folks we met in 2009 on our way through. People we have met honk horns and wave as they drive past. Our fishing buddy Rodney gave us two precious fresh caught Walleye for dinner Saturday night. He even filleted them for me! If we have to be stuck anywhere, this is about as good as it gets.

But we are so very anxious to move on and complete the western half of the canal, cross Lake Erie, and grab H ball at the bay. Rain is in the forecast for the next ten day period. The water levels need to stabalize so that the locks can operate. And so we wait........

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The best laid plans……

I love it when a plan comes together! 37 days and 1500 nautical miles after we departed Fort Myers Beach, having dodged all the weather bullets Mother Nature shot at us, we arrived at Castleton-on-the-Hudson May 4th, exactly as planned. This would give us enough time to unstep the masts and enter the Erie Canal to rendezvous with Kevin and Carol on Saturday. Eight days after that, we would conclude our journey at Put-in-Bay, in time for Captain Gary to report to West Marine for duty on May 15.
Thanks to the competent help of fellow boaters, the masts came down in record time. In less than a day, everything was secured in place and we were ready to go!

Except Mother Nature saved her biggest insurmountable bullet for us. The Erie Canal did not open May 1st as planned due to flooding and high waters.

OK, let’s stay positive and hope for the best. Perhaps it will only be delayed a few days and we can still continue according to plan.

The long awaited update from the NY Canal System dashed all hopes. The earliest
expected opening is May 23rd. We gathered with other stranded boaters at the Castleton
Boat Club to vent our frustration and drown our sorrows in draft beer. Two wasted
weeks at best!

As Gary reached for his pile of crossword puzzles, I cautioned him. “Don’t get too comfortable there, Captain. I have a plan to get plenty of productive things accomplished.”

A few phone calls later, we were scheduled to have Tessa hauled out Monday morning at nearby Coeyman’s Marina. Here we can complete all of the regular spring maintenance that we usually do after arriving back at Brands’ Marina in Port Clinton.
After my boyfriend Don from Castleton Boat Club ran us all over town provisioning, we were ready to head for Coeymans Marina Sunday night. Gary promised me a Step-
Mothers Day martini at the adjacent restaurant. While enjoying a cold crisp Bombay
martini with blue cheese stuffed olives, we began chatting with the other local bar
patrons. One particularly friendly and charming guy named Eric entertained us while waiting for his friend from Ohio to show up. Maybe we might know him, being from Ohio ourselves, he suggested. Ohio isn’t that big of a state, right?

So here we sit, hundreds of miles away from home in Update New York, and Eric’s
friend turns out to be a fellow West Carrollton High School graduate. Eric’s jaw dropped
to the floor when I said “Hello Tom Barker. I know you!” We took a trip down high
school memory lane until Captain and I decided it was time to get some shut eye.

The haul out went according to plan on Monday morning, then we went to work
preparing the hull for bottom paint. Yesterday, Gary completed that task, and today I
begin cleaning the hull before we begin to wax on wax off. We hope to have everything
done by Saturday so that we can launch Tessa just in case the canal situation improves
and opens earlier than anticipated.

That is the plan for now!