Friday, August 28, 2015

One is never enough

Summer is short.   Eat lobster rolls.

Young's Lobster Pound, Belfast
I love this red and white sign, looking out over Belfast Bay.

That's a lot of lobsters!

I mean, a LOT of lobsters.  These were mostly full!

Fresh, cold, not too much mayo.  Perfect, even without the hot dog bun.

Nice Bucket List!

Awesome place.

Pemaquid Fisherman's Coop, Pemaquid
Take me to your lobster.

Lobster and American flag.  Yes.

It all looks good.

And it was!
Wait just a darn tootin' minute! Wanchese, NC
Them aren't lobsters!  Them are blue crabs.  From our trip to the Outer Banks last month.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Tails it is . . . .

Here's how to name a boat:

Step 1:  Sell your house.  Everyone (and by everyone I mean Damon and I) knows it's a PITA to take care of both a house and a boat.

Step 2:  Buy a tiny, cute condo.

Step 3:  Ignore the fact that you still have to move all your stuff out of storage and into the condo. Instead, go boat shopping.  Pick about a dozen boats that look likely and start calling brokers and private sellers.

Step 4:  Find a boat.  Make sure it's not too big, or too small, or too expensive, or in too bad a condition.  Find one that's just right, like this one:

Step 5:  Call a marine documentation company who will change the Coast Guard documentation from the old owner to the new (that's you).  Have a small epileptic fit when they ask what the new name of the boat will be.  Tell them you haven't yet made that decision, cripes, deciding to buy the boat was hard enough.

Step 6:  Get out a sheet of paper, a pen, and a few bottles of wine.  Start generating ideas for a name. Do not drink the wine too fast or you will end up with a bad name, such as "Seas the Day" or "Black Pearl".  Apparently this happens because there are 177 "Seas the Day"s and 175 "Black Pearl"s in the Coast Guard Registry, and that's only for big boats.  Imagine all the little flats boats and day sailors out there sporting such names.  I kid you not.  And NO use of the term "knot" in the name.  Waaaay too corny.  If there must be a pun, please, make it clever.  (Apologies if your boat has one of these names, but you really should have read this before diving in!)

Step 7:  Do not try to google "good boat names".  Here are the top 10 boat names from 2014, which will tell you most boat names are not good:

1. Serenity
2. Second Wind
3. Island Girl
4. Freedom
5. Pura Vida
6. Andiamo
7. Island Time
8. Irish Wake
9. Happy Hours
10. Seas the Day (there it is again)

Clearly the internet is no help whatsoever.

Step 8:  Once you have about 20 names, start to look at each carefully.  Make sure they don't sound like something they're not.  Like "petrel", which was a candidate on our list.  A petrel is an elegant little seabird (probably the most common in the world) that happens to nest on Kent Island, so we have a soft spot for them.  But "petrel" sounds an awful lot like "petrol", which is what many people in the nether regions of the world call gasoline.  Cross that one off the list.  Then make sure they pass the radio test.  When hailing a boat over the radio, the convention is to say their name three times, then say yours.  As in "Seas the Day, Seas the Day, Seas the Day, this is Black Pearl on channel 16". Whatever name you choose should be easy to say and easy to understand.  No tongue twisters are allowed.  Like Toy Boat.  Try saying that three times.

Step 9:  Cross off any names either of you hates.  Be nice though.

Step 10:  Each of you choose your top five.  Don't show each other what you chose until you are both done.  Eliminate any not on both your lists.

Step 11:  At this point, person one (Janet) should say "I like any of those, you choose." Person two, Damon, should respond "No, I like all of them.  You choose." Refuse to take responsibility.

Step 12:  Refill wine glasses, it's gonna be a long night.

At this point in the game, Damon and I had the list down to two candidates; Phalarope and Mercator. A Phalarope is a dainty little shore bird with a wicked cool name, and Mercator was a mathematician from the 16th century who invented a way to draw charts that allowed sailors to steer a compass course (as in, for centuries he's been safely guiding sailors between safe harbors, pretty cool).  There was much hemming and hawing.

Step 13:  At the last moment, have a flash of inspiration and add a write-in candidate.  This is what Damon did -- he threw in a zinger at the end;  Fulmar.  A fulmar is closely related to petrels (and shearwaters, another possible name we crossed off the list).  As one of Damon's friends says, "they are the sexy birds" (ignoring the vomit part of their biology).

We decided we liked Fulmar better than Phalarope.  But Fulmar and Mercator were still in a dead heat.  It was time to bring out the big guns:

Step 14:  Flip a coin.

"Your call," Damon said, his eyes blazing at me over the quarter in his outstretched hand.

"Okay.  Heads, Mercator, since he had a head.  Tails, Fulmar, they have tails."  

"Here goes . . . tails it is.  Fulmar."

And that's how you name a boat.

(It's a well-known fact that it's bad luck to rename a boat, unless there is a boat renaming ceremony. This involves making offerings of rum to Neptune, and some level of imbibing said rum.  Count me in.)

In case you're wondering:

Fulmar, as she will be known, is a 1982 Pacific Seacraft Crealock 37.  We have a survey scheduled for next Tuesday, and if all goes well, will take possession of her in the near future.  Fair winds!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Stalking the Blue-Eyed Oyster . . . and Other Wildlife

Ken and Kathy.  My favorite people in Rhode Island.  And beyond!
What's better than a summer day with friends, exploring a new part of the ocean?  Not much. Especially when the sun is strong, the friends are Ken and Kathy, and kayaks are involved!

I've just returned from a long vacation driving down the East Coast, catching up with old friends, spending time in and on the water, eating amazing food -- and looking at a couple of boats, too!  It's always strange coming off the island and landing in the middle of everyone else's summer.  The night before we left the island, the fog rolled in, the wind picked up, and I ended up wearing my winter hat. That was July 25.  It was time for some summer, that's for sure!

One of our amazing stops on this trip was in Rhode Island, to visit our good buddies Ken and Kathy. We met them several years ago on vacation in Florida, and some how they haven't been able to get rid of us since.  Ken and Kathy have dragged us out on many an adventure, and have a passion for life like very few people we know.  And they know Rhode Island like the back of their hands, including the best places to throw a kayak in the water and mess around on the water for a few hours. Plus, they are very tolerant of my excitement about finding amazing ocean plants and animals.  They even act like they are listening to my lectures.  They nod and smile, and rarely even walk away while I'm talking.

I want to be like these people!  The raft barely floated, but they had a great time.
Damon looks like a real water badass here.  Nice hat!
Kayaking was great.   The sun was warm, the wind wasn't too strong, and the waters were quiet. Although I was concerned about getting sucked out the inlet at the Charlestown Breachway, my kayaking skills (and everyone else telling me I was being silly) got me through and we headed west along the barrier island until lunch started to call to us.  It's a good thing everyone around me was so capable, because I found nothing cool and they found everything cool:  swimming scallops, giant lady horseshoe crabs, hermit crabs, and spider crabs.  I just raced around grabbing up the treasures everyone else found.

Cool thing #1 about scallops:  They have blue eyes.  Lots of them.  Or at least eye-spots.  See them?  Cool thing #2:  They can swim.  Check out the videos below!


Ken found this big lady -- and then Kathy found another.  We know it's a lady because it's so big!
She doesn't pinch or sting, but she is strong and can scratch.
I wasn't put off by that!  Here she is in her glory -- book gills!
And her mouth -- in the middle of her legs!

Ooooo! What's this?   Spider crab!
What better way to end a day on the water than with some beer and "buck-a-shuck".  This buck-a-shuck is perhaps my new favorite thing -- $1 oysters, with several varieties to choose from.  We ordered three dozen and pretty soon were slurping them down and comparing their qualities.

The source of said oysters.  Ninigret Pond is chock-full of oyster farms!  That's my kind of aquaculture.

When in Rome . . . 
. . . do as the Romans do.  And love it.

Now this isn't from Rhode Island!  Not anymore.  That's from Maine, I'll bet my last oyster!
It's hard to believe summer is almost over.  I'm here in my office, cleaning and thinking about the prep I need to do before the semester starts.  Soon, the students will return with their wonderful energy.  The days will grow hectic, and we'll start to feel autumn approaching.  And in only a couple of months, we'll be back to short days and snow.  On those days, I like to pull up posts like this one and remember it'll all come back around eventually.  Hopefully it'll include a warm day with Ken and Kathy -- with some seafood thrown in for good measure.
Isn't this how it's supposed to work?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Being and Doing, rather than Having

The American Dream isn't always straightforward.  The idea of owning a big house with a picket fence, a huge green lawn, and two cars in the garage has never been particularly attractive to Damon and I.  And since Damon's little incident, we've become even less enamored with owning the American Dream and all the stuff that comes along with it.  

It was a nice house, wasn't it?
Our disinterest in home ownership turned into action last year, as we sat in an Italian restaurant staring at each other over our pasta.  I'd just run a marathon (literally; the sweat wasn't even dry).  We'd also just found the perfect boat, at a very reasonable price.  But we couldn't pull the trigger on buying it, try as we might to convince ourselves as we slurped up our noodles (well, Damon was done eating well before I was, so I slurped and he watched).  That was both a terrible day, and a terrific day.  A turning point.

I keep a folder on my browser at work with boats we might want to look at.  Sailboats; all between 35 and 40 feet, in our price range, capable of blue water cruising.  Some are pipe dreams, but most are boats we can afford when we feel like it's time.  I click on this folder once a day and choose "open all tabs"; checking to see if any have dropped in price to the point where they should be moved up the list to the top.

Last May, the Friday before I was to run my third marathon, I was getting antsy as I waited for Damon to finish his work so we could load up the car and get down to Providence for the pre-race activities.  I waited and waited.  I cleaned my lab.  I graded a few papers.  And I opened that folder one more time.

A boat we'd been considering, a Pacific Seacraft 37, had dropped drastically in price just that afternoon, and suddenly it wasn't just a good deal -- it seemed to be a great deal.  I was out of my office and at Damon's desk in a minute.  He tore himself away from the all-important email he was composing, checked out the listing, we looked at each other with stupid grins on our faces, and he called the broker right away.  Was there something wrong with the boat making the price drop so much?  No, it was an estate sale and the family just needed to get rid of the boat.  Was he available to show it this weekend?  Sure, Sunday would be great.  In the afternoon.  Right after I ran 26.2 miles.

I crossed the finish line at around noon; tired and cramped after a particularly difficult morning (I had to walk about 2 miles of the race; disappointing but not devastating).  I found Damon, cried on his shoulder for a minute, and told him to stop me if I ever suggested I wanted to run another marathon.  He laughed; I say this every time.  He pushed a turkey sandwich into my right hand and a candy bar into the other, and we set off towards Boston and this interesting boat.  Along the way I stripped out of my sopping clothes and into something more acceptable (not so easy in the front seat of the mighty Kia as we sped along I-95).

The boat was indeed a good boat.  It was in relatively good condition; it needed one major repair, but otherwise seemed a perfect fit for our needs.  It was a great size; it had a nice layout; it was well outfitted.  We poked around all the lockers and made small talk with the broker.  Another couple stormed around the boat finding (unfounded) fault with everything in an attempt to make the broker think a lowball offer was reasonable.  One of our rules is to NEVER say bad things about a boat in front of its owner or broker.  Ever.  Your job is to make them like you; to sell yourself; especially if multiple bids will be coming on the boat.  This is the guy (or gal) who has the power to make your dreams come true; don't piss him off.  The broker rolled his eyes at these jerks, and basically told us if we made an offer anywhere near asking price, the boat was ours.

Whoa.  We'd talked about buying our "forever boat" for, well, ever.  We'd saved our pennies.  We'd sold our little boat.  We'd looked into where we were going to put it and where we were going to go in it.  And here it was, knocking on our door.

But there was a catch.  We weren't as ready as we thought we were, now that the moment had arrived.  As we sat eating pasta, we realized what a stretch it would be to own both a big house and a big boat.  We were already struggling to take care of the house, given our summer schedule.  Each year, we get back from Kent Island in late July and realize we have to replace that trim, paint that siding, rebuild that deck rail; you name it, it has to be done in August, because as they say in Westeros, Winter is Coming.  And if we bought a boat, that simply wouldn't get done.  Either the boat would go unused, or the house would fall into disrepair.  And so we stared at each other, struggling with the idea of letting this perfect boat pass us by.

That was a painful moment, but also a wonderful moment.  That was the very moment we decided to get off our cans and sell the house.  That house was nice, but it was keeping us from doing what we love, and besides, it was clownishly large.  Four bedrooms?  For two people?  What?  It was intimidating thinking about all the work that had to be done.  The fixing, the painting, the decluttering.  But we did it.  We fixed the banister that'd been loose for over a year.  We painted the dining room. We installed a new counter, sink, and fancypants faucet in the kitchen (and painted the walls and cabinets for good measure).  We spent spring break cleaning out the basement.  Had yard sales and went to Goodwill and made not a few trips to the dump.  We shampooed the rug and cleaned the windows and bought new bedding.  We trimmed the bushes and raked and generally made the place look awesome.

And then we called a realtor.

And a week later, sold the house.

Of course, we need a place to live.  But we wanted to make sure our next place wasn't going own us -- we wanted something small and easy to maintain.  For us, the solution was a tiny, funky condo, just over a mile from work.  It's in an old farmhouse; it's just two bedrooms, and it's small.  Really small.  This has several benefits.  Not only do we not need to take care of the outside of it, the inside is so small it will be easy to maintain.  And of course, it's a lot cheaper than a big house to have.

The old farmhouse our condo is in.  We're the bottom floor, right side of the blue door.
 There are downsides, but all of this is helping us to BE and DO, not HAVE.  Like so many Americans right now, we're realizing that you don't own a house -- a house owns you.  This is our attempt to free ourselves from being owned by our stuff.  This place is so small, there's not a lot of stuff around to own us anyways.  And for an Ocean Lover, this is a good thing.  We'll have more time to explore the ocean and more time to write about it.  Maybe even more time (and money!) to buy that perfect boat next time it falls into our lap.

The kitchen.

The living room.

The view from my walk to work.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


At some point every summer, there is a "lowest tide".  Low tides (and high tides) aren't created equal; some are lower than others.  This occurs when the earth, moon, and sun are all in alignment -- in syzygy.  Ain't that a grand word?  Three y's, no need for ordinary vowels, rhymes with "misery".  I encourage it's use at your next dinner party.

Every month, there are particularly low tides during new and full moons (spring tides).  And sometimes, these spring tides are really, really low (due to all the astronomical stuff going on around us -- how close our neighbors are; where the planets are, etc).

This week we had a particularly low tide, and at Kent Island that means an expedition to the intertidal.  You never know what you're going to find out there, and that's part of the fun -- it's like an Easter egg hunt -- one that's a bit cold and slimy.  But we all bundled right up and got out there, thankful for good weather on this special day.

First we had to hike down to the south end of the island, wading through the tall grass.  That pole is a sensor that picks up signals from tagged herring gulls.

Headed past the driftwood down to the rocks! 
Our first find -- hermit crabs!
And gigantic Littorina snails -- we have the biggest periwinkles anywhere!

Claire seems unimpressed by this urchin.  But who can resist it?

I'm a huge fan of kelp holdfasts.

And sponges!  This species turns green due to a symbiotic algae living in it.

A giant waved whelk.  Predatory bad ass.
Snail fish.  A favorite!

Aho!  What's this?  The first baby lobster we've found.  You know it's a low tide to find these guys.

Scale worm.  These bioluminesce when preyed on.

Two seastars -- an Asterias and a brittle star -- probably Ophiopholis aculeata.

Lots of Cancer crabs down low.

We took turns flipping over cobbles and catching rock gunnels.

Like this one!

Who knew there could be a waterfall in the ocean?
Interested in tidepools?  Check out these guides:  How to tidepool and Where to tidepool in Maine.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Canada Day, Grand Manan, and the Greasy Pole

Some traditions should never be broken.  That's how we feel about spending Canada Day over on Grand Manan.  For Kent Islanders, the holiday falls squarely in the middle of our season, when island fever is setting in and we all just need a break from our work.  Plus heading over to Grand Manan allows us to take part in all the celebrations you find in a small town (one surrounded by the Bay of Fundy at that!).

Anticipation built all week here on the island, with students anxiously watching the weather and asking about departure times, schedules, and where to get the best ice cream.  So it was a relief when the day finally arrived, and at the crack of dawn, our caretaker, Russ Ingalls, came to get us aboard Island Bound.  Not surprisingly, it was a gray, foggy day, and the boat dripped with condensation as we headed over to the big island.

Heading over to Grand Manan in the foggy light of dawn.

Can you tell who the real Canadian is?
Once we arrived on Grand Manan, we had to get ready for the festivities.  Red face paint from the dollar store is always a good choice!

We tried to disguise ourselves (pictured here is a Frenchwoman and an American)!

But there wasn't much time to dawdle; the main event was before lunch:  the greasy pole competition.  The greasy pole is just about the funniest sport I can imagine.  It's held in the village of Seal Cove, and can only happen at high tide, as the creek is dry at low tide.  A long, tapered pole is suspended out over the water, and a barrel is pushed over it.  The pole is "greased" with dish detergent.  Competitors launch themselves off the wharf on the barrel, trying to ride it all the way to the end and grab the tiny Canadian flag at the end.  If you don't get the flag, you fall into the (bracingly cold) water; if you do get the flag, you also fall into the (bracingly cold) water -- but you win $5. 

Three generations of the Ingalls family set up the pole.
Soaping up the pole.
And adding the tiny flag to the end.
The greasy pole always draws a crowd.  Young and old try to get their hands on that flag; and young and old also like to watch as the competitors are dumped into the frigid water. 

The crowd starting to arrive.

A brave competitor!

He looks determined!

Our student Katie; a fierce young lady.

She came close to getting it!

There was a lot of this going on!
Some people needed a little help.
That flag looks pretty far away from this perspective!
Of course, it wasn't all fun and games.  After the Greasy Pole, our students got down to the real business of the day.  They ate ice cream (twice), hiked, had lunch at a greasy spoon (not the same as the Greasy Pole), took in a baseball game, and had a grand time all around. 

Eating breakfast; a bagel and ice cream.
Dulsing dories on the beach at the Whistle lighthouse.

It was a long day.  Luckily, one of our students had baked a cake the night before, and when we got back, everyone tucked right into it.  We were tired, but well fed.  And we'd had a great break from the every day grind here on the island.  With only three weeks until the end of the season, we're refreshed and ready for whatever the Bay of Fundy throws at us (good thing, because the fog has come back with a vengeance here on our island!)