Category Archives: 2008 Adventures

Blow adieu to 2008

When the local weather forecast began predicting 60 mph winds for the last day of 2008, I was somewhat skeptical. The weather weasels were mostly wrong about their forecasts. Whenever the forecasts were for severe winds, we might get 15 knot wind gusts at best. Alternately, when the forecasts call for calm skies — it is THESE forecasts, that produces the weather drama – tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, high-octane winds, you name it. I’m thinking my next career will be predicting weather by suggesting the opposite of the mainstream meterologist…

It was only a few days prior, that we decided to abandon ship for the holidays – and spend some time camped out with our daughter in Silver Spring. It didn’t take long to appreciate the surplus of land luxuries…such as TV, running water, hot water, microwave ovens, HOT food and flush toilets to name a few. After nearly 2 years living aboard Cat Maudy — some might say an extended camping trip — this was quite a treat. We were living large on land, it was 18 degrees outside – and we hoped Cat Maudy wouldn’t mind if we took a brief leave of absence.

So, when the winds TRULY blew in the 50+mph range – we needed to check on the lines and be sure that Cat Maudy wasn’t too upset that we left her alone to weather the storm. I volunteered to make the trip to Baltimore. Of course, I had to grab a quick swim-workout FIRST at the nearby gym a few blocks from the marina. The swimming pool is enclosed in a “bubble” structure, a series of metal frames, topped off with a skin of dacron. Lap after lap, I couldn’t help but to focus on the metal frame – as it shook so violently that I thought the frame would eventually be lifted from the ground. The wind gods were not holding back, and I was seriously questioning my “need” to exercise via this bubble encased swimming pool. An hour and a half later, the swim structure managed to hold and I was buzzing with endorphins. It’s time to tackle a “line check” of Cat Maudy.
I parked my volkswagon beetle nearest to the A dock at Anchorage Marina, and sat in the car for a few moments watching the surface of the water rip over the docks. The wind gusts shook my little beetle, and I was doubting if it was a good idea for me to attempt to run along the dock – and risk being blown into the frigid Patapsco River waters. At 112 lbs, 40mph gusts generally knock me around pretty good. Anything more that that, I am no longer in control. But the winds were gusty, so my strategy was to make all forward motion during the lulls. I opened the door of the car, and immediately any paper lying inside the car that wasn’t “locked down” went flying out the door. Within seconds, the papers (I’m guessing business papers that I needed!) ,were over a 1/4 mile away – and still traveling with the wind. I sure hope these papers weren’t too important. Oh well….nothing I could do now.
I briskly walked toward the gated entrance to the A-dock, and stood on the LAND side for a moment. The metal platform and gate was shaking. The winds had kicked up, and I wanted to “time” the opening of the gate for when the winds dropped to under 40mph. It seemed like the winds weren’t subsiding much, so I decided to open the security gate and step toward the dock. The moment I opened the gate, the wind gods let loose. I had all I could do to avoid being swept into the Patapsco, and wrapped both my arms around the handrails, hoping that the bolts holding the ramp to the dock would hold. This is crazy. Cat Maudy is so close, maybe 75 yards, but the stretch along the dock would have nothing for me to hold onto. I waited for a few minutes – and FINALLY a brief lull. I ran, past the first three oversized powerboats, ducking behind each for a bit of reprieve against the wind. At the last large boat, I paused…waited….listened to the roar of the winds…..re-calculated…and decided that I was in a wind “lull”. I would have to run the entire stretch of dock to get to Cat Maudy and hope that the wind doesn’t kick up over 40mph until I can board our boat.
Couldn’t help but to notice wind damage to other boats on our pier – during my olympic sprint to our side-on slip. Fenders were busted and deflated, and boats were banging up against the docks without the protection of a soft landing. Any item not lashed down on the dock, had been blown into the water, sails were unfurling, and the marina crews were busy tying down boats for owners who rarely check in on their yacht investments. Yes, I observed ALL of this during my sprint! There was a lot of action at the marina.
Luckily, the lull lasted long enough for me to board Cat Maudy. The lines seemed to be holding, everything inside seemed good, no extra water in the bilges or engine locker….yep, everything seems good…except it’s a bit cold inside. Oh yeah, that’s because the heat isn’t on. The heat SHOULD be on. And that would be because we have no power. The power SHOULD be on. Aiii. After a quick call to Pat, we decide I need to see the crew at the marina – and try to get the power restored. This means I need to run back on the dock to shore….grab a marina guy….run back out on the dock to Cat Maudy….wait for power to be restored….and run back on the dock to return to shore. Joy. How many times will the wind gods be kind to me before they blow me overboard?

Feeling lucky, and sprinting all out – I make it to land in one full swoop. I run into Lee at the marina and ask if the power is off on the A-dock. He says no – but he’ll walk back with me to check it out. We head back to the dock. Lee has some weight on him. I’m not sure if he noticed that during our walk along the dock…I hovered behind him….ready to grab on in case the winds pushed too hard. I kept up a vibrant conversation with him to keep him distracted from my “hovering”.

Turned out that the wires to our dock post were fried. They needed to be replaced. A second marina guy (Nate) appeared shortly on the job – fixing the electrical problem. I sat inside the salon of Cat Maudy – shivvering, and bundled in a wool blanket…contemplating one last sprint to shore along the dock once the power got restored, listening to the halyard bang relentlessly on the mast, feel the boat vibrate when a particularly strong gust took hold….while the two marina guys were outside, braving the winds, on the edge of the dock, bare hands exposed to a wind chill factor in the teens, rewiring the electrical post. OK, I’m feeling a little guilty here.

Securite Securite Securite…

…all stations….this is Cat Maudy with a mariner alert on Channel 16 for the Chesapeake Bay….there’s a new captain in town….OVER

Since we wouldn’t be traveling south on Cat Maudy this winter, it was time to fill up my “free” time with Plan B activities. Captain Pat thought it might be a good idea if there were TWO captains on Cat Maudy. hmmm…maybe I could learn how to tie a knot correctly? maybe I could learn how to plot a route (without using the GPS!)? maybe I could learn how to answer my own navigation questions? maybe I could be a USCG Captain? maybe I could get a pay raise?

Ok. maybe not the pay raise, but the COOL factor was pretty high about getting my USCG Captain’s license, so it’s time for total immersion. For the first 20 days of December, I was living and breathing Sea School study materials, including navigation aids, rules of the “waters”, emergency situations, knots, weather patterns, practice tests and plotting courses, set & drifts around Block Island Sound. It was not easy, ranks right up there with learning how to swim in 3 weeks for a triathlon. But, the material was interesting, I was learning tons, and completely captivated with new knowledge.

So, for two FAT weekends (each weekend Fri-thru-Sun – 30 hours) I attended classroom instruction by our FAB teacher Steve – a retired ex Commander with the US Coast Guard. Sea School’s Instructor Steve interjected all sorts of interesting sea experiences, stories about his days with the Coast Guard, and he even managed to control the crazy macho fisherman in our small class of 6 students.

12.20.08 It was finally TEST day. The day of reckoning. After 3 hours, I walked out…having PASSED my OUPV (Operator of Un-inspected Passenger Vessel 6-Pack) exam. whew! Within a few weeks, once all forms have been completed…I’ll be submitting paperwork to the USCG for my official Captain’s License. And, maybe get that pay raise too?

Soooo, ROGER THAT Baby….OVER?

Life under the Big Blue Tarp

Bracing for high winds, cold temperatures and rain, topped off with a cracked salon window, meant we needed to protect the salon from the weather. We purchased the largest blue tarp sold by Home Depot, “Big Blu”, and spent the afternoon trying to tie it down. Big challenge. Our first big test was just hours away. A cold front was moving in bringing 50 knot gusts.
Notice our attractive view of the world…thru a blu home depot lens (sigh).

Cat Maudy preps for a cold winter in Maryland

The weather has begun to change. We’re seeing more and more days of 40 knot winds out of the north. Temperatures are getting down into the 30’s at night, and 50s and 60s during the day. Daylight hours are less. The jellyfish are disappearing, and those few that remain seem to float without purpose. Hot, homemade soups become standard fare in the galley. Kitties, Earl and Soxy, insist on sharing a warm body. Our 20 watt salon heater is running 24/7…and I find myself spending more time in the salon wrapped in blankets, and less time down in the unheated hulls.

Reality sets in. Cat Maudy will be NORTH instead of SOUTH for the winter – due to the cracked port side panoramic window. While we are hoping for a mild winter in the Port of Baltimore, winterizing projects begin just “in case”. The cockpit is filled with gallon jugs of pink antifreeze….waiting to be poured into every orafice to prevent Cat Maudy from icing.
Irregardless of the cooler days and chilly nights, we wake up every morning, rocked by the gentle waves of the Patapsco River. Being “on” the water, a sense of calmness prevails over the daily work schedules and routine tasks. We are ‘one’ with the weather, tapping into solar and wind power, adding new lines or adjusting fenders when gale force winds try to push Cat Maudy around. The images thru the hatches constantly change. We can watch barges and commercial ships, the Amistad Freedom Schooner, coast guard and tug boats, and connect with other sailors who dock or anchor near our cat. As the weather gets colder, and Cat Maudy remains at dockside for the winter – it’s all good

Snap….Crackle…Pop….the salon windows are busted!

…Cat Maudy’s panoramic port side salon window develops a seismic crack. We love to meet people, work with them, solve their business and technology problems and walk away at the end of the day knowing that my clients are satisfied. Designing software business solutions is what we do for a living, and there is nothing quite like the satisfaction of keeping clients year after year, and making their business lives a little bit easier. Unfortunately, not all companies tackle customer service with the same zest. Meet Chesapeake Rigging.

Cat Maudy was busy prepping to travel south for the winter. We had a crew lined up, and the plan was to travel offshore to Charleston SC – as the first stop. We hired Chesapeake Rigging out of Annapolis to make a few last minute adjustments. Two workers arrived on 10/23 and tweaked the rigging, tightened here and there….and within a few hours after they left…our huge panoramic window splits in 2. It was after hours, and we contacted Chesapeake Rigging immediately. Mike Meers, with CR responded “the guys must have over tuned the rigging”. The next day, the owner of the company (Tom) appears to have had second thoughts. Here is a sampling of his comments:

“we may have caused the problem, but it’s just a coincidence, and therefore not our fault”.

“your yacht must be structurally unsound”
“in 30 years of rigging we’ve never broken a window”
“we have never worked on a boat with a curved window so your boat must be structurally unsound”
“our guys are the best in the business, and couldn’t possibly have made a mistake”
“the previous owner of your boat must have replaced the windows just to sell it and hide the structural defects”
“the windows must have been installed improperly”
“I can’t come to Baltimore to inspect our men’s work because it is too far to travel”

———————————————————-

Huh??? Wowie-zow. Soxy, our cat sees thru all of this nonsense. Here are some Cat Maudy factoids:

1) Cat Maudy, built by Bader Catamarane in Germany, crossed the Atlantic, was a charter vessel in the Caribbean and Florida, and under our watch has sailed 2500 miles without the window cracking.

2) the prior owner of Cat Maudy is a world-renowned Swiss designer/engineer, and had the windows replaced (in 2006 by the professionals at Georgetown Yacht Basin) due to 5 years in the harsh Caribbean environment.
3) the original owner of Cat Maudy came from many generations of ship builders

4) the current owner (Capt Pat) of Cat Maudy built a Wharram Catamaran in the 1970’s, successfully sailed it on Lake Michigan….and knows a thing or 2 about yacht design

5) John Shuttleworth, the designer Cat Maudy is a world renowned catamaran designer

6) curved windows can be found on many catamaran designs – try Fountaine for example!

7) the total drive time from Annapolis to Baltimore is 37 minutes

8) without Grissom on CSI, the grim reality, is that we (or a marine survey) cannot prove the absolute cause and affect, so sadly, we are left with “it sure is an amazing ‘coincidence'”!

The next stop is a visit to Precision Plastics (located in Beltsville, MD) , the manufacturer of our panoramic windows. The team at Precision Plastics are real PRO’s….they design acrylics for submarines, aquariums, navy boats – big deal stuff that needs to sustain a lot of water pressure. The principal of the company, Greg spent over an hour with Capt Pat, showing him their manufacturing floor, discussing the properties of thermo-molded annealed acrylics versus Lexan, why thermo-molded annealed acrylics are far better for a marine environment over Lexan, and what would be required to resolve Cat Maudy’s fissure. There is no “temporary” solution. Once a crack occurs, the entire window will need to be replaced and re-installed, before Cat Maudy could safely travel offshore. The trip south this winter is officially cancelled, and we will spend the next few months becoming “experts” on creating a mold for Cat Maudy’s huge panoramic windows, and learning from the experts how to install.

Caught in a Schooner sailing race

Departed the Baltimore Harbor at 9AM along with a fleet of Schooner Sailors – who were en route to the start of the annual Schooner Race, just south of the Bay Bridge on the Chesapeake Bay. We were accompanied by our friends salty sailor Dan, and professional photographer Randy Santos. The winds were light and out of the south, so it would be a 3 hour motor-sail to the Bay Bridge. Three hours at 6 knots of speed, gave us plenty of time to trade stories about eating healthy, getting fit, losing weight, eating 5-6 times a day and with all this talk of FOOD….it was time to FEAST! While Randy captured hundreds of photos, the remaining time was spent eating multiple helpings of fruit-veggie salad, BBQ chicken, fresh apples, pasta, tabbouleh – and a special “sail-mix” consisting of cashew nuts & dried cherries.

OK, back to the Schooner Race. It was a rather confusing start. Schooners appeared to be moving in all different directions…. Every time we heard the RACE HORNS go off – it didn’t appear that the sailors were moving toward any goal. What are they waiting for? A few minutes later, another RACE HORN blast…and still no synchronized movement other than mass confusion from these multi-masted yachts. Maybe we could get closers to the yacht-ies, so that Randy could snag some good pictures? We maneuvered to a very nice spot of open water – with no other boats within yards of us – and close proximity to the schooners. Did I say this was a VERY nice spot? Maybe a little TOO nice? The Coast Guard was now heading our way. You guessed it – we had to move. We were positioned directly on the starting line.

As we made our way toward the Schooner yacht “The Pride of Baltimore” for a photo op – one of those RACE HORNS went off again – and now, all of the sailors decided to head south on the Bay. The race had started. And there we were, in the middle of it all. See Randy’s schooner pics!

Why TRI? Iron Girl 2008

It is a tad embarassing (let alone dangerous) to live on a boat…and not know how to swim. But that is my reality. And the remedy? Go sign up for a Triathlon!

February, 2008: Who’s idea was this? My stepdaughter, Emma calls me while I am in Charleston SC. “Wouldn’t it be cool to do the Iron Girl triathlon as mother-daughter? Let’s get Jill to do it with us too — as a family!” “NO.” I replied. “I don’t know how to swim.” End of story.
A few days later, Emma persisted.

I had a weak moment that day. The word “Yes” came out of my mouth. Then, I proceeded to talk more family, Jill into signing up too. What was I thinking?? I never swam as a kid (too busy chasing tennis balls!)….and have always avoided any “triathlon” that included a swim leg. Now, I was committed.

May / June 2008: TRI training season starts in earnest…Pat was keeping my upper bod fit with endless boat painting projects, and Emma and Jill got me into running races and “bricks”. Emma taught us new lingo. A “brick” is a back 2 back workout of 2 different activities….such as a bike ride, immediately followed by a run. We did lots of bricks. Bricks became the norm.. Luv the land sports. We even signed up for the “Run for the Roses” 5K run. (Mainly because the t-shirt bonus was pretty cool.) All is good. Let’s see how long I can procrastinate adding the swim component. Endless boat Painting – upper bod workout A zillion runner types at the starting line… Rosy runners at the finish! styling our new T-Shirts ??

July, 2008: Learning to Swim for a Triathlon: What NOT to do! Still scratching my head on this. Why did I sign up to do a triathlon if I don’t know how to swim? What’s a girl to do? I tapped everyone’s knowledge. Even strangers. “Hey – do you know how to do the backstroke? Freestyle? Can you give me some tips”. It was sad. Jill signed us both up for swim lessons at a local pool. The lessons were a disaster. I discovered that Jill swims like a fish (she doesn’t need swim lessons!)….and I was freaked out just putting my head under water. The instructors were not very patient with me. It was pitiful. The Iron Girl was now less than two months away. Open water swim. And I still hadn’t put my head under water. Oh boy. I needed a plan. So, I signed up for a month-2-month membership at my local gym – which included a salt-water swim pool. I could kindof swim the sidestroke….as long as no one else in the pool created a wake. Otherwise, I would end up sucking in the water.

At my local gym…I took advantage of the saltwater pool. Didn’t even know what other workout opportunities were available – I made a beeline everyday for the pool. They offered a “Century Club” program — where you win little jock trinkets if you show up 100 times at the gym in 1 year. Little did they know! Within a mere 3 weeks…I was 20% of the way to becoming the fastest Century Club winner they’d ever had!

So, I swam lap after lap of the sidestroke…at NON-PEAK times at the pool. If someone wanted to share a lane with me…I was in trouble (choking on water from their wake or splash)…so I swam LARGE…and PATHETIC (which was easy to do) making my swim lane unattractive to other swimmers. Geeezzz.

Aug 1, 2008: Open Water Swim at the Iron Girl Dress Rehearsal

It was “rehearsal day’ for the Iron Girl Triathlon, and at 6AM, I felt calm mentally, and prepared physically. We’ll call this a “swim state of denial”. The dress rehearsal was open to any Iron Girl entrant who wanted to practice swimming in open water — followed by the run. 600 of us took up the opportunity. Wasn’t sure what to expect in the open water but was hopeful that there would be MANY MANY kayaks of support crews, lifeguards, expert swimmers, emergency boats — YOU NAME IT — just in case I needed someone or something to hang onto.

Groups of women would be called “on deck” in waves based on their age groups — paced 3 minutes from the next group of swimmers. We would walk into the water, start swimming around an island, and then look for 3 buoys — the third being the last buoy to swim around. Outgoing, we would pass the buoy on our port side…and returning back, the buoys would be to starboard. Yes, I would rather be passing buoys in my boat.

Where are all of the buoys? From land, I couldn’t see any buoys. Jill assured me that they were very close together once we were out in the water. The distance JUST to the island (which blocked the view of the first buoy) seemed pretty long to me. A LOT bigger than my local lap pool. We met a lovely lady (Betsy) – who had done the Iron Girl last year. She explained how the open water swim would work. She suggested that I start at the END of my wave, to avoid swimming into anyone. Betsy mentioned there were lake grasses that wrap around you before you reached the island.

I guess this was good information. Didn’t like the sound of it tho. Tears welled up in my eyes….I was suddenly terrified of swimming in open water. What am I doing here with all these ladies who KNOW how to swim???

Our wave was called to the waterfront. We were the VERY LAST group of swimmers to be called to the water. This was good — no swimmers behind us to catch up and swim into or splash around me. Jill and Emma walked into the water with me, like true “sistas”…. I think they were thinking I wouldn’t get into the water if they didn’t stay close. They were probably right!

A “swim” gone bad…real bad! I took a few steps into the water, and attempted to swim. I needed to just relax. This proved harder said than done. Within 5 strokes, I was breathing heavy, tense about the grasses grabbing at my legs and arms, and panic was setting in. I couldn’t stand up. The water was deep. I was fighting with the water, choking, inhaling the most awful smelling water, and had already raised my hand for kayak assistance. I had barely left shore.

With kayak assistance, a kayak comes near you, and you reach over the bow to hold on — to regain your composure. I tried to slow my breathing, but was not having success. I needed to let go of the kayak and keep going…Jill and Emma were treading water and waiting for me. So I pushed off from the kayak, and attempted side stroking again. It was incredibly laborious…whatever I was doing was completely a struggle….and I continued to flail about.

The buoys seemed to be MILES apart….and somehow, using a combination of floating on my back to slow my breathing, sidestoking and holding onto a kayak a countless number of times….I managed to keep going. I had plugs in my ears (to keep out the water) — so I didn’t hear what was going on around me, but I was doing a lot of zig zag swimming…never a straight line. Jill and Emma were still with me….treading water….smiling, laughing….and trying to encourage me to keep going.

They were having a happy-time swim party, while I continued to choke and suck down water. I was NOT having fun. I had reached the halfway point in what seemed to be eternity, and a woman on a kayak allowed me to grab on. There was another lady who had grabbed on the other end of her kayak…At least I wasn’t the ONLY person out there struggling.

I continued to sidestroke and backstroke, but at this point the fatigue factor was setting in. Panic makes you very tired. I did more backstroke heading toward shore, and the lady on the kayak was yelling something at me — but I couldn’t hear with my earplugs in place. We rounded the island, and the pond grasses reappeared. It was pretty awful and stressful. More panic set in. I was very close to shore now, and called out for the kayak one last time. Emma and Jill were out of the water now and encouraging me to finish. I was gasping so heavily for air, there was very little left in my fuel tank. I think the kayak lady was growing weary of me… so I let go of her kayak and muscled my way thru the last 20 feet of thick grasses and duck pond water. Ugh. I stood up, and there I was, heart racing. I looked like a Green Monster covered with long slimy pond grass…gasping for air. I am so grateful for Emma and Jill staying next to me during that open water swim – but the trauma left me shaking and my legs wobbly.

We transitioned to the run. I took 10 steps, and gasped for air again. My heart rate was racing out of control. The best I could do, was to walk…slowly. I was not feeling right. It would take me the whole day, for my body to find equilibrium.

Reality sets in:
1. Time’s up. I need to learn to swim…and somehow swim so that my heart rate does not go thru the roof …I’ve got 3 weeks to figure this out

2. I need to deal with some deep-rooted fears. Deep water? Drowning? Holy crap!

3. When you flail, panic, and thrash about in the water for nearly an hour – you burn A LOT of calories. Brings new meaning to the phrase “running on empty”.

Having a bad day?….EAT! After this wonderful start to my day (aka swim traumatized!) Emma and I needed food – and the Double TT diner had the fastest service in town. While waiting to be served, Emma opened the little jelly packets and devoured them. It appears that treading water burns a lot of calories too! Devoured a huge omelet, potatoes and two slices of bread. Could have eaten more. I have never eaten so many calories at one sitting.

Retail therapy: Emma and I spent the rest of the day together. My ego was smashed at this point….so Emma suggested “retail therapy” to prop-up my mood. Since my Trek bike had been stolen a week ago at the marina….maybe this was a good time to buy a bike?

We trudged over to the local bicycle shop “Race Pace Bikes” — so I could check out the road bicycles. I was fitted for a Trek 1.2 WSD road bike, and went out on a test drive. The bike felt great — this model would do!

Somewhat hesitant on spending money on a bike — as it was entirely “possible” that I may not be able to complete the Iron Girl open water swim. Hmmm…what’s a girl to do? Bought the bike anyway (hello retail therapy!)…and would return back to the bike shop later that day to pick it up.

Ya never know who you’re gonna run into. Upon returning to the bicycle shop, we met a salesperson named Patty …and the conversation turned to Iron Girl. Emma thought that Patty looked familiar….Yep — turns out, Patty — was the kayak lady – who saved my pitiful swim ass on countless occasions during the IG dress rehearsal earlier today. Patty laid it on me pretty hard. She told me I needed to learn to swim. She told me I would be yanked outta the water on race day, if I attempted to float on my back, or cling to a kayak like I did today. She said I had no forward propulsion… Yikes – I’m already in a Debbie-Downer sort of mood, and I had to meet Ms. Meany Pants (aka Patty) in the bike store. Thanks Patty…lets smash my ego more. I’m in tears now. I walked away from the mean lady. Patty wasn’t done. She chased me down and proceeded to hug me. Then Emma started tearing up…then Emma hugged me. It was the most bizarre experience in the Race Pace Bicycle Shop. There we were, three women doing a lot of eye drainage and hugging. Very odd approach to bike sales. Turns out that Patty is a swim coach and triathlon coach for Leukemia Team-n-Training. She told me I needed to find a Total Immersion swim instructor….and work my butt off for the next 3 weeks if I hoped to be an Iron Girl.

I had nothing to lose at this point…so I google searched “Total Immersion” – as recommended by the my new friend Patty in the bike shop. It’s an approach to swimming based on balance and core technique – enabling effortless swim. The emphasis is not on kicking so hard that you tire out…or how your rotate your hands and all sorts of subtle details…but more on being fishlike and aerodynamic….You gain all of your power from your “core”…and not your extremities. Maybe there is hope? I ordered every book and DVD (total of 5)…at expedited delivery. I have less than 3 weeks to digest, learn, and apply…and ultimately swim. I can’t repeat the trauma of swimming in open water.

Blowing bubbles. Three “Total Immersion” DVD’s and two books arrived the following Monday, and I was prepared to do whatever it took to learn how to swim. I watched the first DVD “How to breathe” about a dozen times. Step one – is to get comfortable with the water. The instructions were, to fill a really large bowl with water….then, stick your head in it ….blowing bubbles out your nose….and turn your head to breathe thru your mouth. Wow. This was all new to me. Having never learned to swim as a kid…I had no idea how you were supposto breathe in the water. I practiced breathing in a bowl for nearly an hour. Here I am….48 years old…and I had mastered breathing in a bowl full of water. Woo hoo!

The next step, is to practice the bowl breathing concepts…in a pool. I held onto the side of the pool, and plunked my head underwater for another hour. Lots of adults and their kids looked on as blew bubbles out my nose….and turned my head to inhale thru my mouth. It was quite the spectacle. Motionless and bubbly in the pool. I had less than 3 weeks to learn to swim, and armed with my DVD’s and books – we were making progress.

Getting buoyant. The next day, I learned to be buoyant – and float on my back. Keeping my hips up high, helped me stay higher on the water. Wow…this is exciting…each day I was learning something new. Maybe I could do this??? Didn’t take much to pick my roadkill battered ego off the ground.

Learning to swim obsession. I was going to the pool twice a day now…intent on learning something new that would help me swim each day. I learned how to kick…without making myself completely winded. The Total Immersion Swim instruction DVD’s were perfect. They gave me drills to work on to become more aerodynamic, buoyant and more efficient in the water. I was now trying desperately to learn how to swim the freestyle. I could get the core “roll”….but still struggled with breathing rhythm. I spent so much time at my local pool, that one day, the lifeguard asked me “…will I see you a 3rd time today?”.

Everything else in my life went on “hold”. This went on for two weeks….and I got FAR more comfortable in the water than I thought I would ever be….but I still hadn’t mastered the freestyle. My naysayer inner voice had returned. Maybe I just won’t be able to do the Iron Girl? Who is this negative person with the big voice in my head? I would never forgive myself if I quit now…so I had to keep going – and let the final day make the decision.

Nine days before the Iron Girl, a new reality sunk in. I did not have enough time to learn the freestyle. Time to work with what I’ve got – which isn’t much – but it’s my old standby – the sidestroke. I would remake it into a custom stroke. I could tweak my old stroke to keep my hips higher in the water for buoyancy, rotate halfway to sweetspot for breathing IN….and roll to an aerodynamic position for stroking and breathing OUT. By golly Miss Molly….this seemed to be working. I did 20 laps in the pool….effortless….not winded…and had lopped off 10 minutes from my previous 20 lap best time. I’m feeling much more confident now….at least in the pool where I could see bottom.

Open water swim attempt #2 – Gunpowder Lake. The weekend before the Iron Girl — Jill, Emma and I trudged up to Gunpowder Falls State Park….to test drive our swim skills in open water. Now, trust me — Emma and Jill did not need to test their skills — they are both superb swimmers. This was a test for me. This is the picture from the website for Gunpower Falls State Park. Looks like nice clear water right? NOT!

First let me explain a bit about Gunpowder Falls State Park. It is touted as one of the best places for swimming in Maryland. If this is TRUE – then I can assure you that you never want to swim in any open water in the state of Maryland. The water was nasty, brown, silty – you couldn’t see 1 inch below the surface. Lake grasses growing strong enjoying the likely fertilizer runoff that torments the Chesapeake Bay region. I digress.

Clearly – I did NOT want to get into the brown murky open water. Deep seated fears took over. I stayed in the shallow areas, and just practiced my new “methods” for swimming the sidestroke. The swimming techniques worked great – I did not inhale the nasty water like I did on the IG dress rehearsal. But, I like to know I can stand up in the water – and this won’t be an option during the triathlon. I was not ready for open water swimming.

All consuming anxiety. By swimming 2-3 times per day, I had greatly improved my aerobic capacity, and physically I was feeling GREAT. The mental side, was taking a toll. I wasn’t sleeping well, huge bags were growing under my eyes….and found myself reduced to tears when I thought about doing the DEEP and DARK open water swim.

Then one day, my dad said to me…”Jane – if you can swim in 3 feet of water…you can swim in 6 feet of water”. He was right – I needed to stop thinking about the “depth”. After all, I never stand up while doing laps at the pool….so what was my problem?

It was now Friday, two days before the Iron Girl event. My confidence was a 3 on a scale of 1 to 10 – and I my eyes welled up whenever I thought about doing the open water swim. I needed to take a sharpie and tattoo on my brain — I CAN DO THIS.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

It’s the DAY BEFORE…the big event. Our pink Iron Girl wrist bracelet (that was affixed during “packet pickup”) gave us access to the bike/transition area. We would bring our bicycles to the transition area….find our race number…and RACK the bikes. The bikes stay racked thru the nite in an area secured by the event organizers. Only those individuals with a PINK ID bracelet – were allowed into the bicycle transition area. It is becoming very “real” now. No turning back. This email just in from the Iron Girl Event Director….it says it all.

Sunday, August 24, 2008 — Iron Girl Race Day

Up at 5AM on Sunday, Iron Girl Event day, I drank my protein shake while sharing breakfast with Emma and Jill. Pat entertained us with his Joe Pesci impersonations. I needed humor to break the tension! We packed our transition bike shoes, running shoes, towels, water, food etc in the car, and headed over to Centennial Park. .

We quickly setup our transition area, and proceeded to get “body marked”. Body marking is for the swim leg — where your arms and hands display your race number….I guess this is to identify you, while in the water – or stuck in the pond grasses!

Our swim wave was scheduled for 8:25AM. We would be the very LAST wave to go into the water that morning. Perfect! I wanted to be the last wave — no swimmers coming up from behind me. I had worked out a swim strategy with Jill and Emma. They would remain on my left side (I can only sidestroke looking to my left)….and I would use their position as a visual to guide me along the swim route. Sortof a water version of a seeing eye dog.

By now, I was both nervous, and methodical. I scoped out the swim course….looking at all of the bouys and their distances. It appeared to be 2-3 “pool laps” between buoys. OK…this is do-able. I can do 2-3 pool lengths at a time. I was breaking down the swim into manageable portions – in my mind. I looked at all of the kayaks and support boats. There were many. Good.

We watched the other 12 swim waves enter the water in 8 minute intervals. Those who went in first, would be treading water for up to 8 minutes. Those who lingered behind in the wave, could stand in the waist deep water…. I would be lingering.

It is 8:17 now. Wave #13….our wave, was called up. It was show time – and strangely, I was very calm. Patty, the lady whom I had clung to her kayak 3 weeks ago — was supervising the entry of each swim wave. She spotted me – and gave me a hug. She told me I would do great. I looked her in the eye and said “I CAN DO THIS”. I proceeded toward the water. I had only ONE thing to think about — and that was to regulate my breathing. Nothing else. No other details were allowed into my head. As our wave started swimming….I looked at Jill and Emma. We were still standing. We waited 10 seconds to let the group depart. It was time….I nodded to them….and as planned…we began swimming, and they remained to my left. I thought SOLELY about breathing. Breathe IN when I’m in sweetspot….breath OUT close to the water. I had a rhythm. Yessirree…I was the QUEEN of the sidestroke, baby!

Occasionally, I would come close to other swimmers – but Emma and Jill looked out for me – and coaxed me toward them if I was about to collide. They called out each buoy for me…and gave encouraging words. We rounded the first ORANGE buoy….and made our first turn. Soon….we rounded the next ORANGE buoy….and now we were heading in the direction of the island. We passed 2 yellow buoys and we were closing in on the finish. I started to get tired and suddenly my breathing rhythm was “off”. Yup…that’s me – sidestroking like there is no tomorrow…with Jill and Emma to my left.

Oh no. I was breathing hard….so I turned to float on my back to relax. I knew we were within 200 yards of the finish. I tried to regain my breathing momentum….but I had lost my concentration. I would have to muscle it in thru the final stretch. It wasn’t far. Was fully expecting to have a rough stretch of the “pond grasses” – but I think someone took an underwater mower to this area — as the grasses that clung to me during the dress rehearsal — were gone.

I sidestroked….and sidestroked….and sidestroked….push push push….until FINALLY….I could stand up OH JOY!! Emma, Jill and I hugged. I had done it….I somehow beat my open water demons ….and I was so grateful to Jill and Emma for seeing me thru this as my personal lifeguards. They were my swim angels…they never let me out of their sight. It was very emotional… NO kayak support, no gasping for air, no “near drowning experience” -I had done it…I swam 1100 meters in open water.

We half-walked / half-jogged up to the transition area — while I caught my breath. I looked at my watch – 8:58. Wow…we had done the swim in 33 minutes. Considering that I had swum ¾ of the distance 3 weeks ago in over an hour….this was huge. I was so happy to be getting onto my bike in the transition area! I would be an Iron Girl today.

O Happy Day — on my bike!! Jill set the bike pace, I was in the middle, and Emma brought up the rear. We pedaled out route 108 – and watched a zillion IG cyclists coming at us in the opposite direction. We were the last wave of swimmers to go out, so naturally – we were at the back of the pack. We turned into the hilly sections, and enjoyed the wind flying by on the downhills. My large detailer decided to have ‘issues’. I could downshift…but upshifting felt like the chain was gonna fall off. I decided to stay in 3rd gear – avoiding any possible bike malfunction. For 17.5 miles, 3rd gear was my friend.

Jill and I had gotten a bit ahead of Emma (Emma was on a 50lb mountain bike, and Jill and I were on fast, lightweight roadbikes) -so we waited for her at one of the intersections to catch up. Got to the “turnaround” point at the school parking lot…and now we had only 7 miles to go. We stayed together – true sista-hoods, enjoying the bike ride, the hills, the great vibe out on the roadways — including spectators, police, and fellow IG’s cheering you on. We were on autopilot now. The bike ride was “cake”. We just needed to make sure that we avoided any potential snaffu’s – such as hitting a pothole, blowing out a tire, avoiding traffic and in my case – shifting gears.

We rounded the bends into Centennial Park….and were greeted by an escort of race officials guiding us to the transition area. Walking our bikes to the designated bike rack location – we proceeded to de-bike and prep for the run. The IG was 2/3 complete now….The run was the only remaining segment.

After a quick change into running shoes, the three of us started into a slow jog along the run course. My breathing was a bit heavier than I would like….that last 200 yards of the swim had gotten my heart rate up.

We passed many IG’s on the run…many had been reduced to walking. As we reached mile 2…Emma announced that we would be done in 10 minutes. Wow, 10 minutes and this insanity would be over! Nearing the mile 3 marker….my right calf suddenly cramped up. Lovely. I had to slow down the pace…. We had less than ½ mile to go….it was time to ignore that muscle pull…we were gonna run it in. Jill and I were pretty focused on breathing and keeping up a running rhythm….while Emma was chatting the whole time about “how fun this is!” and her thoughts had already turned to her “next” longer distance triathlon. Geeez….

The end was now in sight…and the cheers from the crowd gave us added incentive to finish strong. Within 20 yards of the race finish…we grabbed each others hand….and held them high. We completed our journey. We had done it. Together. As family. We were Iron Girls….

Can anyone guess why the fish are dying?

On a bright sunny day, the Patapsco river (a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay) glistens and begs you for a swim. But don’t be tempted, as the polluted waters in and around the Baltimore Harbor are filled with poisons and other dangers. Oh my!

Every 6 months, we hire divers to dip below Cat Maudy’s surface – and inspect the hull for excessive algae growth or barnacles. Aside from the fact that there is very little growth on the hulls, marine antifouling bottom paint for boats in the Baltimore Harbor can last 5-6 years (it should only last 2 years) before this special paint needs to be re-applied. “Don’t even think of getting into this water” one diver recently told Captain Pat “we have to get shots for hepatitis and a host of other ills. Do you see that jellyfish with the red markings”, the diver continued pointing at an unusual jellyfish just beneath the surface…”these are not native to the eastern seaboard. That deadly jellyfish is native to the Pacific Ocean – and was probably released from the ballast of a commercial ship in the Baltimore Harbor.”

Despite what your local politician or news media may tell you, a “fishkill” is not a natural phenom. There is a reason why the fish die “all at once”. Lack of oxygen in the water. So here you have it, one fine day in the Baltimore Harbor, when the smell becomes wretched, and suddenly fish appear on the surface (including eels – which are supposed be the most resilient!). Algae fed by excessive nitrogen (from fertilizer to get that dark green lawn, and fertilizer run-off from farms) – ends up in the water, and sucks out all of the oxygen…leaving the fish to die by the thousands.

And surely, all of those Utz potato chip bags, plastic soda bottles, and garbage galore didn’t just accidentally end up in the water. Garbage and waste, thrown into the streets, or overflowing from garbage containers, gets washed away into storm sewers on each and every rainstorm. These storm sewers dump directly into the waterways. help!

Walking along the Anchorage Marina waterfront (home of Cat Maudy)….I spotted a news photographer standing near the waters edge. Being the curious sort, “Hey – are you guys reporting on the Baltimore Harbor water pollution?” Please?? Doesn’t anybody notice this??

But NO. Something FAR more juicy. They were data mining on Clark Rockefeller’s “Yacht” (more like an oversized hobie cat) that was docked at our marina. Clarkie-boy had kidnapped his daughter, and the FBI chased him down to Baltimore MD. There I was….amidst the blathering breaking news.

Cat Maudy gets a makeover…and fixed steering!

Dockside in Baltimore MD. It would be nice to enjoy some downtime after 30 days of cruising. But no.

Since arrival into the port of Baltimore:
Day 1: Skate 25 miles
Day 2: Can’t move. Realize I was too outta shape to skate 25 miles on Day 1
Day 3: Still recovering from Day 1…tho my new PINK custom speed skates arrived Fed Ex from China
Day 4: Now I skate in pink boots – energy has returned!
Day 5: Start training for sprint-triathlon…add running and biking to the exercise mix. Notice that I can no longer afford to gas up the car. Holy crud! Good thing I’ve got a bike! Soon I’ll need solar powered legs.
Day 6: Captain & I decide that Cat Maudy needs to get hauled out in early June – at Georgetown MD- for rudder/steering repairs plus 3 weeks of exterior restoration projects (sanding, grinding, painting). I was really looking forward to this.
Day 7: address the mold problem that began in Charleston SC on the entire interior of Cat Maudy. She will require complete restoration to all painted surfaces to be completed by end of May. More fun!

Yep, I’m really enjoying some downtime.

We decided the best place to begin interior restoration would be the starboard forward berth. What originally appeared to be a 2 day project…. morphed into an 8 day project. All clothing and bedding (which had been stored in airtight bags after a mold infestation in Charleston SC) had to be moved to the salon. After we removed the bed frame and mattress, we discovered about 30 gallons of stagnant water sitting in the hull. The water had gotten into the hull during the ICW portion of our prior cruise — where we overfilled the water tanks in order to get low enuf to pass under 65′ bridges. Some of this water spilled out when powerboat wakes tossed us around in shallow waters. Sooo, we had to pump out the water from the hull, let it dry…and disinfect for odor relief.

After a shopping excursion to Home Depot for all sorts of fun things (ventilators, white paint suits, painting supplies, sanding stuff and more) – we were ready to tackle removing the latex paint. That’s right, latex paint. I had it in my mind last year when I originally painted all of the staterooms — that maybe I should TEST using latex paint on just the starboard forward berth. After all, glossy latex is used in home settings that get wet a lot (bathrooms) — so it seemed logical that it would work well on a boat. Nay nay. One year later, the mold was everywhere, the latex did not adhere well to the prior layers of marine primers…and overall it was a big mess. Best to stick with pricey marine paint. Fortunately, I did not use latex paint in any of the other berths.

While we had sealed off (so we though!) the starboard forward berth from the rest of the hull — we soon realized that sanding would propel all dust particles throughout every surface of the boat. It took 2 days to clean off all of the particulate matter throughout the boat. Unfortunately, the sanding wasn’t too effective, as we discovered that the original layers of paint (pink) was not adhering well to the fiberglass. Off to West Marine to get some fiberglass-friendly stripper chemical. Next, we applied a layer of ooze (stripper) to the entire berth area….and waited for all of the paint to come peeling off. Ok, it didn’t exactly work that way. First you have to scrape off all of the ooze, and only SOME of the paint works its way off too. So, we spent a lot of energy scraping and giving our upper bodies a good workout. Who needs a gym? Then, we decided to apply a second layer of ooze (stripper) to try to get off the remaining paint. That seemed to work better – but it still burned many calories to get little chips of paint to come off the hull. To remove the remaining gummie stuff from the hull – acetone did the trick. One more treatment of sanding…followed by a layer of cleaning chemical – and we are now ready to paint the first layer of primer.

Needless to say, all of the chemicals AND paint smelled really bad – so we had to keep as many hatches open as possible in order to breathe. One night I even slept in the cockpit – the fumes were that bad. Soxy, our cat – discovered that all of these open hatches were a perfect opportunity to escape off of the boat onto the dock (luckily, she returned later that eve!). This project seemed to be going really well.

By the time we applied 2 finish coats of paint to the starboard forward berth – I thought my arms were gonna fall off. They somehow managed to stay on – and we returned all mold-free tie-dyed clothing to closets and compartments – and put the bedding back onto the bed. It looked fantastic – like a hippie boat bedroom out of the 60’s. With this berth complete, we rode the momentum and moved on to the starboard stern berth.

…this sanding technique did NOT work too well, tho we did manage to get white paint dust all over ourselves and the entire boat.

Fortunately, the starboard stern berth did not have a layer of latex paint, and we had learned a few tricks from the 8 day adventure of fixing up the forward berth – that would make the job go faster. One trick – was to attach the vacuum directly to the sander — so that all of the particulates would go into the vacuum and not permeate throughout the boat. The next trick, was to mix 50-50 primer with finish paint – so that we would only need to apply a 50-50 layer, and then a finish coat (as opposed to 1 coat of primer…then 2 coats of finish).

And finally, we avoided leaving certain hatches open that allowed Soxy to jump directly to the dock. Full speed ahead now! The entire starboard hull was now complete — ie. Mold removed, completely sanded, primed and finished with the appropriate marine grade paint. Exercise diversion. Time for a few days off of boat projects…for some skate and triathlon training.

Skated 40 miles one evening on my new pink Bont speed skates. The workout was great – but this was a bit too much time in my new pink boots since they haven’t yet been broken in. My inside right ankle was heavily bruised. After a few more days of painful skating (due to inside ankle bone), it was time to do what I do best. Obsess. It was time to get serious…and drag the Captain to the local Safeway parking lot — to video my skate technique, and help analyze this ankle issue. Sure enuf – that pesky right ankle collapses inward. Bought some arch supports for my skate boots, arch inserts for my running shoes….and it appears that the collapsing ankle problem is now history.

Returning to boat projects now…with my arteries full of exercise endorphins. We would now prepare to tackle mold and painting on the port hull. We chose the port stern berth as the next job. The mold was fairly advanced on the port side – so the entire berth area needed to be “bleached” in a toxic Simple Green solution. I wore the respirator for this – and with 30 knots of wind – the hull aired out pretty quickly.

By the time we were ready to begin painting, we had the prep-n-paint routine down to a science. I had even packaged up Tupperware bins with all of the necessary paint items – making it easy to pull out whatever was needed. Before stepping into the staterooms, we suited up with latex gloves, white suits, respirators, plastic bags for our feet, and each had our own set of rollers, paint brushes, stir sticks and pan liners. Pat would paint the “bed” area, and I would work the closets & entryways.

Both ‘heads’ on the port hull were out of service while fiberglass repair and painting renovations were underway

…and a finished look for the staterooms on the Port side. Can I be done with painting now please?

After a year and a half of steering Cat Maudy in circles, she was finally getting a tune-up by the finest boat mechanics at Georgetown Yacht Basin. Bent rudder shafts were getting straightened, bearings re-lubed….we would soon have to learn how to steer the boat without massive over-correction!

Avoiding fishing boats and crabpots: Solomons to Baltimore MD

Solomons to Baltimore MD
Chesapeake Bay

Barring any mishaps, or significant changes to weather (like GALE force northerly winds) – we should be able to make it back to Cat Maudy’s home port of Baltimore today. We motored north up the Chesapeake bay to mostly calm seas – and a light northerly breeze. It must have been an excellent day for fishing – because anyone who owned a fishing pole and had access to a boat – was either anchored or trolling. I thought about making use of our new fishing pole – but somehow we had managed to misplace the only lure that we owned (a Wahoo Wacker) – so there would be no fishing on Cat Maudy today. Probably not any Wahoo ocean fish in this section of the bay anyway! We motored just outside of the shipping channel, in deeper waters — to avoid any altercations with crab pots in more shallow waters. There would be no diving for crabpots on this final leg of our cruise.

This section of the Chesapeake Bay is familiar territory to us – and we took note of the recognizable sights: Little Choptank River…Choptank River…Poplar Island…Rhode River…Eastern Bay… South River…Severn River…Annapolis…and the Bay Bridge. We were not making the best time, but it didn’t really matter. We knew we would be back to Baltimore eventually. As we approached the Bay Bridge — our speed dramatically slowed. A strong ebb tide kept us at about 4.5 knots for the next few miles. Near the mouth of the Magothy River – a delightful breeze showed up from the East-Northeast. We hoisted the main and unfurled the jib to see if we could gain any speed for motor sailing. Not bad. Within a few more minutes the breeze had freshened up sufficiently — allowing us to turn OFF the motors and cruise at about 6.5 knots! Woo hoo — we’re sailing now!
Sailing. Not motor-sailing….just sailing. Finally, it was quiet, without the incessant noise from the diesel engines. Sailing. It was a fitting end to our cruise originating from Charleston SC nearly 4 weeks ago. We sailed up the Patapsco River — into the Port of Baltimore – enjoying a beautiful sunset along the way.

Charleston SC to Baltimore MD Trip Stats:

  • 650 miles (250 miles offshore, 200 miles on ICW, 200 miles on Chesapeake Bay)
  • 9 travel days
  • 25 calendar days
  • 0 days 90% or more of time pure sailing (i.e. no motor)
  • 2 days 50% of time pure sailing
  • 4 days 30% or less of time pure sailing
  • 150 gallons diesel consumed (ouch $$)
  • 0 days the steering worked properly
  • 5 days operating the boat with one rudder
  • 2 days operating the boat with the wrong rudder (i.e. the one that didn’t work!)
  • 1 day of kitty motion sickness (Soxy & Earl felt a bit queasy on the first day offshore)
  • Repairs made: topping lift, stack pack loop, reef line
  • Repairs TO DO list: steering, dinghy motor, autohelm

What I learned on this trip:

1. Offshore GRIB charts are probably the most reliable weather predictions for offshore sailing. Either download GRIB files (Atlantic 5day) or use http://passageweather.com . Offshore forecasts from the National Weather Service are also handy http://www.nws.noaa.gov/. Weather forecasts for port cities might be interesting to review, but rarely reliable. Check radar forecasts to monitor the path of stormy conditions.

2. Leave behind any time schedule you might have. If you think the trip might take 2 weeks — double the time to be realistic.

3. Get comfortable with the concept “Waiting on Weather”. You may have to wait longer that you would like, and often times – the ideal weather just never appears. Make the best judgments you can and be prepared for anything goes.

4. Stockpile staple & favorite foods where possible (rice, soups, pasta) – as you may find yourself at anchor more than you think, and not every harbor town has a grocery store nearby. Use green bags to preserve produce. (http://greenbagsdirect.com) Have easy to prepare foods on hand – as often you are too tired at the end of the day to do any gourmet cooking.

5. Know the systems on your boat — hydraulic, electronics, engines — so that if an emergency arises you can troubleshoot quickly. I have a lot to learn in this department — but that will change!

6. Have wetsuits (that fit) for both the Captain & First Mate handy on the boat — in case you need to dive under the boat in cold waters the fix a problem

7. Safety: I can’t tell you how much more comfortable I felt offshore — knowing that I was tethered to the boat at all times.

8. Have a bailout plan in case the sea state changes sufficiently – preventing you from maintaining your original course. The sea state (waves & swells) can change SURPRISING quickly with increasing winds or storms.

9. If something can break at the most inappropriate time — it will. It’s up to you to deal with it, fix it or come up with an alternate plan to keep going. Cool heads prevail. No one else can help you until you are at a port with lots of marine specialists and money.

10. Use a combination of GPS & backup GPS systems, plus reliable computer navigation software. We use “The Captain” software — and it was incredibly on target for guiding us into unknown ports, as well as through shallow waters in the ICW.

11. Be humble. Talk with other cruisers along the way – and learn from their experiences (and share yours too!). You never know when a cruising tip might just save your butt!