Color Collage, Ep. 182

The fun and games were over. It was time we leave the sailor’s sandbox surrounding the Isle of Wight and start making miles to the east. Try as we might, we couldn’t find anything sexy written about this stretch of  England’s coast as it narrows on its way to the Straits of Dover. In sailor lingo, we were faced with a coast of passage. Not much to see, and you hope for good wind to get it over with sooner. 

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Following Orders, Ep. 181

Two summers ago, we met a nice British couple in Greece who were exploring the Mediterranean onboard their powerboat. We had a great evening, with much needed laughter and story swapping. But like many fellow boaters one runs into, you never know if you’ll see them again, and that becomes part of the accepted protocol. I would say it is akin to meeting the folks pitching a tent next to you at a campground, or fellow divers on a scuba expedition, or foodies at a cooking class. You share a common passion, but the reality of crossing paths again is pretty rare. This was the case with David and Allison. We kept in touch and at the start of the next summer, we re-united a couple of times as we collectively explored the Ionian Sea of western Greece. We then bid adieu as Karen and I started our accelerated pace west out of the Med. But they threw out a little carrot over dinner once that they were thinking of switching to be sailors. This was before today’s sky high fuel prices, so they were wise on multiple levels! After our warmup on being hosts to our friends Steve and Julie, we were ready to entertain more friends onboard Sea Rose.

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Money Laundering, Ep. 180

When I think of the English Channel, my mind goes immediately to the amazing athletes that have swum across this iconic waterway. It is a 21 mile endeavor at its the narrowest point from Dover. I remember as a kid seeing live TV broadcasts of these swimmers, out in the turbulent waters swimming all through the night. Enduring for so long was impressive given that I get winded swimming from one end of the pool to the other. For our crossing of the Channel on Sea Rose, we would be in the safety of our cockpit and exerting ourselves far less, but yet some of the same challenges were present. The English Channel is considered the most heavily traveled shipping route in the world, with so many containerized goods heading to Northern European seaports, as well as supertankers coming out of North Sea oil fields, and busy passenger ferries zipping around in between them all. There are designated shipping lanes – called Traffic Separation Schemes on the nautical charts – where the majority of the ships transit in and out of the Channel, but at times it can seem like bumper-to-bumper traffic on an expressway. 

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Fraternal Kinship, Ep. 179

We raised our anchor at first light from the bird sanctuary at Ile de Bono and headed northeast to the Channel Islands. Au revoir, France! We hope our paths cross again some day! Before this summer, I had only a vague understanding of the Channel Islands – their geography and their history. I knew they were somehow connected to the UK, and that their residents endured much hardship during WWII, but only because I had seen the now famous movie “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”. Sure, you can learn little tidbits of history from Hollywood, but we were very excited to see the Channel Islands with our own eyes and learn firsthand about their people and their culture.

Winds were forecasted to come out of the northwest for our 60 mile run, a distance that would make for a full day, but even more so, we were especially eager to get going at first light to time our arrival in Jersey before the marina at St Helier closed. The marina was the type that had a sill that held water inside the marina, but required you to arrive at high enough tide to cross over the sill with sufficient depth for your keel. St Helier has about an 8 meter tide range, which allowed the marina to keep the sill open from about 2 hours either side of high tide. If we missed our window, we might have to wait for up to 8 hours before we could try again, putting our entry in the middle of the night, an unpleasant prospect any way you look at it. 

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The Big Book of Brittany, Ep. 178

We were both a bit nervous about this next stretch of the Brittany coastline. The tides were big, there seemed to be very few places we could get into easily with our boat depth at low tide, and the cruising guide repeated cautionary statements about making passage along the coast with a favorable current and wind. We had a hard date in Weymouth, England to meet up with friends in two weeks, and we had set aside a few days in the schedule to wait out bad weather, but regardless, this coastline did not induce feelings of calm and tranquility. Our original plan at the beginning of the season was to sail along the entire French Atlantic coast, as we made our way up to Scandinavia, and visit the south coast of England on our return trip the following year. But that quickly changed as we learned how inhospitable to boaters the French coast can be beyond the Channel Islands and Cherbourg. The men on D-Day had a challenge landing on the beaches of Normandy for a reason. The tides are huge and sand shoals extend far out off the coast. There are very few suitable harbors for pleasure boats and it seemed like most boaters like us would push through a few overnights to get up to Belgium. Hopping across to the south coast of England and its more amenable shores seemed much less stressful. 

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Defenseless Pursuits, Ep. 177

The tides along the Brittany coast, especially as you get closer to Normandy, are some of the largest in the world. During a full moon at St Malo, for instance, the tide range can reach 15 meters, nearly 40 feet, or higher than a 3 story building. Not only does it require very careful planning when you are entering or leaving a harbor, or anchoring for the night, but that volume of water is flowing in and out twice a day, producing ocean currents that at their peak we could not motor or sail against. Anchoring is a real challenge. We normally set out a ‘scope’, or length of chain relative to the depth, of 4:1. In 10 meters of water, we would set out 40 meters of chain. But if the tide range adds another 10 meters of depth, we would have to put out a total of 80 meters of chain (which by the way we don’t have!), increasing our swing radius and risk of collision with other boats or the shoreline. It leads to all sorts of strange adaptations, including marinas with a lock, similar to a lock on a canal, that closes its gate to hold the high water in, and only opens for brief periods each side of high tide. Other marinas will have a large wall with a cutout to pass through, a ‘sill’, that holds back the water at low tide. You can only cross the sill at higher tides, and only after examining the height gauge on the wall or on a digital display. The inside of the marina is usually dredged to a depth to accommodate most boats, but you only leave when the tide comes in enough for you to pass safely back over the sill. If you push it and hit the sill with your keel, causing cracks in the wall leading to drainage of the pool, the damage from all the grounded boats inside would require a fast call to your lawyer to claim personal bankruptcy!

On the ocean current front, we had already started to notice larger tidal currents along the Brittany coastline since we left Belle Isle. With the jagged geography of Brittany’s peninsulas, one finds accelerated currents as the water gets squeezes as it rushes around these points into and out of the narrower English Channel. As we pulled away from the Odet River, we pointed Sea Rose’s bow towards the first of these ‘acceleration zones’, the Raz de Sein, or ‘The Race at Sein’ (a point of land in the area). The pilot book was rife with warnings to transit the Raz at slack water – the time of greatest calm while the current is changing direction – and to make sure that slack was followed by favorable current in your planned direction. We chose to aim for the small seaside town of Audierne first, just before the Raz, for our overnight in order to get the timing right the next day. 

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Blooming Brittany, Ep. 176

There are many notable coastlines that France shares with the sea. There’s the glitzy French Riviera which conjure up images of Jackie 0 and other celebrities cavorting on their beautiful Mediterranean yachts. There are the beaches of Normandy, forever etched in our minds with the difficult memories of D – Day. Here too, the northern coast with the port of Dunkirk, and the weighty toll of evacuating Allied troops. For sailors, the area around La Rochelle is infamous for its mecca of sailors, and the start of globe-trotting races such as the Vendee Globe, and the upcoming The Race Around. But the Brittany coast where we will sail through next, is lesser known and a step further away from the itineraries of most tourists. Brittany, as you undoubtedly guessed from the name, has its roots in Britain. The people of Brittany, or Bretons, are considered part of the Celtic ethnic group, along with the Cornish and Welsh, and their native Breton language is still spoken by several thousand people in the area. Today, it is easy to miss these unique ethnic roots among the tourist shops selling the perennial clothing and accessories of Brittany easily identified with their vertical blue and white stripes. But Karen and I endeavored to drill deeper and understand this large peninsula of France far removed geographically from the cultural epicenter that is Paris.

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Good Vibes, Ep. 173

Ever get that feeling that you are spinning your wheels? Like, as much as you try, you can’t move forward? We had just finished our Covid bubble embraces with Dan, Don and Shelly at Portosin. It was time for our last big push before our haulout in a week. The sky was dark and threatening to rain, but we needed to make progress. We shoved off the dock at the Real Club Nautico. As lines and fenders were getting stowed in lockers, we quickly got stopped in our tracks. A row of floats had been placed across the harbor entrance. At the far end, a skiff with several people plus a diver were busy handling lines and moving equipment. At the same time, I noticed a distant voice on the breakwater yelling and waving their hands. Were they trying to get our attention? As we approached closer, it was clear there was a line on the surface strung between the floats, blocking any vessel movement. At the skiff end, a narrow gap remained with barely a single boat’s width between them and craggy concrete forms angling down into the depths from the breakwater. Karen got on the VHF radio and tried to call them. I did my best to send a confused hand signal to them. Instead, they started motioning us to run the gap. There was no way we’d have any part of that. First, the diver was randomly disappearing from the surface, presumably to the sea floor. Where he would surface next was anyone’s guess. Second, we didn’t know the depth so close against the breakwater. The whole situation was appalling. Here was a harbor with at least 50 pleasure boats, and possibly as many commercial fishing boats, including several deep sea craft, and these guys were blocking essentially any movement in and out. The yeller onshore kept up his antics, and the skiff boys continued to insist there was enough width and depth. Regardless, we knew one thing for sure. If we ran aground or, worse, struck a diver, it wouldn’t matter what some bystanders said was safe. It would be our neck on the line. Another local fishermen was speeding back into the harbor, up on a plane, and nearly struck the float line before being waved off. Finally, we were able to reach the marina on the radio. They sent one of their launches out to meet us, talk to the skiff people, and get them to move their gear over so we could safely exit the harbor. We never found out what they were fishing for. I’m all for supporting a person busily putting fish on the table at home, but I draw the line when they put others at risk and cause a navigational hazard. 

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Bank Deposits, Ep. 172

I will be the first person to admit that we are extremely fortunate to partake in a lifestyle of our own choosing. While Karen and I worked very hard throughout our careers, watched our spending carefully and put a lot of our own sweat equity into projects instead of paying someone else, we owe our good fortune in this last quartile of our life to many people and events outside of our control. And to simple bum luck. I remember a late night drive home many years ago, nodding off long enough to cross the median and waking up just in time to pull out of the way of oncoming traffic. All those diapers my Mom changed, the shuttling to soccer and baseball practices, the fresh baked cakes for my birthdays – all of that could have been for not if I had awoken a split second later. We all have these inflection points in our timeline of life – tectonic, primal, retrospective. Karen and I had a very good friend develop cancer 15 years ago. She was fantastically athletic, her (and our) kids were still quite young, she looked like the picture of health – it did not make any sense. These landmark events can drive focus and block out the noise. Left with a clear signal, this is when I believe we can gain back control in our lives. For me, the signal was crystal clear. Our kids were getting older, my aptitude at navigating corporate politics was waning, my Dad had just passed, our nest egg was secure, and my health, while not as stellar as Emmy’s, was the best it had ever been. So I quit. And eventually so did Karen. We purposely didn’t call it retirement. I have always resisted labels as they quickly lead to stereotypes and, with them, dwindling opportunities to be the unique person that is you. Instead, we called it a sabbatical. But people still inquire, directly or subtly, what we do for work. You don’t fully comprehend what an identity center “work” is until you stop working. To be fair, for some, their work is their identity and for good reason. They are masters of their craft and their identity is rightfully intertwined with their work achievements. There are the Nobel Laureates, but also a good many grade school teachers, fire fighters, car mechanics, family counselors, doctors, etc. 

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Friendship and Foot Travel, Ep. 171

How does a highly social species such as ours social distance from each other? As it turns out, not very well. You don’t need to be a sociologist to realize that with few exceptions, we thrive on the company of other human beings. Over 80% of the U.S. population lives in an urban area, and the trend is steadily increasing. On the prairies of early American settlement, we would flock to the saloon, the church, the school to share stories and re-invigorate our spirit. It’s why today we collect in corner cafes, on park benches, at the water cooler. It’s no wonder that solitary confinement is a form of human punishment. Would a rock concert be as fun if you were standing alone in the audience? It’s no surprise that we don’t take well to distancing ourselves. Karen and I often chide each other that while it’s been great to be with the one you love through the last two pandemic summers, we greatly miss the company of friends and family. 

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