Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Giving Thanks

Cielo and her crew have been in Beaufort NC since Sunday night. We arrived exhausted, but thrilled to be 300 miles further south than we had been just 72 hours earlier. Though the mornings and evenings here have been chilly (and getting out of bed has never been less tempting), the days have been sunny and relatively mild, with temperatures ranging from 50-60 degrees. Given that the high temperatures in Havre de Grace the days before we left never got out of the 30s, we are thankful to be warmer. Given the mishaps we encountered before we left, we’re also feeling incredibly thankful that we have finally been able to start our move south.

!$%#@*! Murphy!!!!!!

Now I understand that things sometimes go wrong, but the string of mishaps the befell us in the days prior to Cielo's departure seemed a little extreme. At first, we thought we'd be able to depart on Friday, November 14th, then it was Tuesday November 18th, then the 19th and finally, it was the 20th or bust…and it was almost bust.

The weather in Havre de Grace was the first factor that caused delay. The unseasonably cold temperatures the week before we departed made it impossible to work outside at a quick pace and required lots of trips below decks to warm up. No chance of leaving the 14th. Then on Sunday the 16th, there was the need to drive 130 miles round-trip to Annapolis to purchase a new zipper for our canvas that we'd ordered, but hadn’t arrived. Next, on Monday, Kevin was working to re-install the hot water heater when a piece of it snapped off in his hands. So Tuesday was out.

On Tuesday, my mom and I were replacing the zippers on Cielo’s cockpit canvas using our ancient sewing machine that kept working more and more slowly until it finally announced its death with an outpouring of smoke. We spent the rest of the day cranking the machine by hand. Hmmm, guess we won't be ready Wednesday. Though Murphy continued his stay on the boat (lost or broken tools, predictions of snow, etc), we finally managed to cast off our dock lines and head out of Tidewater marina at 11:24 a.m. on Thursday morning. Our goal was to get 180 miles, down the entire Chesapeake Bay, to Hampton, Virginia by the following afternoon.

Freezing down the Bay

There is little positive to write about an overnight trip down the Chesapeake Bay in late November. For a similar experience, try driving a convertible through an obstacle course… in the dark… in Vermont… in January. That's what it felt like anyway. It is an understatement to say that we were thankful to arrive safely and un-frost bitten in Hampton on Friday morning.

We're Getting Warmer

We departed for Beaufort on Saturday morning after spending less than 24 hours in Hampton. We were anxious to reach warmer temperatures, but also to take advantage of the 2 day weather window that would permit us to get out and around Cape Hatteras and into Beaufort. The trip was cold, but largely uneventful until we arrived at the channel leading to Beaufort's Town Creek at about 7:30 on Sunday evening. We've been in and out of Beaufort twice within the last year and Kevin spent his high school years in Eastern North Carolina, so we weren't worried about navigating into Beaufort after dark. In addition, we recently purchased a new GPS that interfaces with our electronic charts and allowes us to view our position at all times on our laptop.

Kevin was at the helm as we entered the channel.

"Check the GPS and tell me if we're heading the right way" he said.

I happily ducked below, escaping the cold air and stiff breeze to take a look at the computer.

"Ummm, it shows we're headed right for land"

"That's impossible"

"OK, but that's what it says"

Turns out our GPS is about a tenth of a mile off--not a big deal when you're using it in your car, but sort of a problem in a narrow channel that quickly shoals on either side. Did I also mention that the majority of the channel markers aren't lit and our newly purchased spotlight wasn't holding a charge?

After a stressful hour of very slow going, we eased Cielo into a slip at the town docks. We then proceeded to blast the heater below, pour several stiff drinks and sleep soundly until 8 the next morning, all the while, feeling, you guessed it, very, very thankful.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Photo essay - Russia

Cielo is finally back in the water and with a little help from the weather and a lot of hard work, we should be able to leave Havre de Grace in just a few days. Currently, the weather is cold and getting colder, so the race is on for us to get down the Chesapeake Bay and through the first part of the inter-coastal waterway to Beaufort, NC, where according to, it's about 10 degrees warmer (or more) than where we are now. At the moment, that would mean it's 48 degrees instead of just barely above freezing...but anything has got to be better than here.

So, while we continue to shiver and attend to the mundane (wiring solar panels, splicing line, sewing canvas), I thought I'd share a few memories from our Moscow trip that were captured on film. And when next we write (hopefully) it will be to re-count the start of our trip south.

Memories of Moscow

The following pictures are in no particular order and represent just a fraction of our wonderful experiences in Russia.

Lenin's tomb...and Lenin!
Unfortunately, we were only able to take a picture of the outside of Lenin's tomb and not the man himself....but if you find yourself in Moscow, you can wait in line on certain days of the week to enter his tomb and see his body, which is preserved, encased in glass and protected by many gruff looking soldiers. It's hard to capture in words just how weird it was to descend three flights of dark stairs amidst gun-toting guards in order to glimpse the body of a Soviet leader who's been dead for decades. One the one hand, you know you're seeing something truly historic...and on the other hand, what you're also seeing is a short, waxy corpse in an old suit, something that seems straight out to Madame Toussard's. This tomb and its contents are truly a relic of the Communist era. During those days, people used to make pilgrimages from all over the country and stand in line for hours to get a glimpse of their revered (and reviled) leader.

Going to the chapel...and all around town
Getting married in Russia is a big deal and Russians have some interesting ways of marking the occasion. The picture on the left was taken in Red Square on the first day we arrived in Moscow. As our visit continued, the site of wedding parties at the places we visited became common. It seems that on one's wedding day, it is a tradition in Russia to visit local historic sites to get pictures taken. The bride and groom pose for photos while the wedding party gathers around them and chants "bitter, bitter" (in Russian of course) until the couple kisses in order to create "sweet". Then everyone takes a drink and its off to the next photo opportunity.

Another wedding tradition in Russia is that newly married couples write their names on a lock, attach the lock to a bridge that crosses a river and toss the key into the water below. The picture on the right shows pad locks of all shapes and sizes locked on a bridge in the city. The locks in this picture are attached to sculpures that adorn a bridge that crosses the Moscow river.

Get this party started

Michael and Dina threw a party at their apartment a few days after we arrived. It was wonderful to get to meet their friends in Russia, all of whom spoke good, if not fluent English. The group was also fluent in drinking, more so than Kevin and I. The difference between the picture on the left versus the one on the right is that by the time the one on the right was taken, Kevin and I had already hidden in our room in order to get some sleep (and to get a break from the vodka).

MacGyver to the rescue

OK, so this isn't one of Russia's historic sites, but I couldn't resist including a picture of Kevin hard at work trying to fix Michael and Dina's cappuccino machine. With few tools (I think they only had a screwdriver) and a few hours, he had the machine as good as new (for the most part). Interestingly, Kevin's talents may indicate that he's part Russian, as we were told by a guy traveling with us in the elevator one night (right after he suggested a jury-rig for our broken apartment access card) that in Russia, "we are all MacGyvers".

View from the top

Average airfare for two to Moscow, $3,000. Nightly stay at the Ritz, $1,500. Cocktail at the Rtiz roof bar, $40. The panoramic views of Red Square, St. Basil's and the Kremlin...priceless.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Russian to Rushin

Though we've been back for less than a week, our trip to Russia already seems like a distant memory. The inability to sleep past 5:30 a.m. and a constant hankering for borscht are the strongest reminders that we've just returned. Of course we also have a ton of pictures and some great memories of our trip, both of which will remain long after I've fully adjusted back to US east coast time.

And while the memories are still fresh, we thought we'd dedicate the new few entries to sharing our experiences visiting Moscow....starting with my most favorite topic, food. We believe this option will be much preferred by our readers to the alternative--which would be entries that detail the million last minutes projects Kevin and I have been immersed in so that we can get Cielo back in the water and start moving south before we freeze to death...but if anyone would like to read about how I spent the day organizing canned goods, please let me know.

Lost in translation
Anyone who knows Kevin knows that he tends to be hungry most of the time, so finding good snack food is always a priority for us. In Moscow, one of Kevin's favorite snacks was a hotdog-like sandwich that was sold from some of the kiosks lining the city's busy downtown streets. The dog was served either in a bun or a tortilla and came with fillings that could include pickles, bacon bits, vingary mayonaise and mashed potatoes. There was one day when Kevin got them all. Though the dogs themselves were certainly a draw, it was the name on the kiosks selling the dogs that first caught our seems that just as the Chevy "Nova" suffered in Spanish speaking countries, the Cyrillic lettering for "star dogs" would have to change before these tasty treats could have any chance in the US...because mashed potatoes and pickles aside, I'm not sure that "crap dogs" would be a hit.

So as always, Kevin and I thoroughly enjoyed sampling street food, but we also ate in lots of fantastic restaurants during our time in Russia. Dina mentioned to us that restaurant dining was quite rare for people in Russia when she was growing up but it seems that since the fall of communism, Russians have wasted no time in opening a huge variety of restaurants. Though we mostly stuck to dining out at Russian restaurants, we were also able to get our fill of sushi as surprisingly (at least to me) it's all the rage in Moscow. I would estimate that every third restaurant had a sushi bar and just about all of them were packed day and night. There was also lots of traditional Russian food to be eaten. Our favorites included borscht served in a bread bowl, savory dumplings filled with ground meat and broth and perfectly cooked potatoes served with herring. We also sampled both meat and fish "jelly" which is basically either meat or fish encased in gelatin, which looks gross but is actually pretty tasty. Food is without doubt expensive, but just about everything we tried was really, really good.

So I think about my next drink

And then there was the vodka...lots and lots and lots of vodka. Based on my experiences, I can report that the notion that Russians drink a fair amount of straight vodka is understated at best. Though some restaurants now served mixed drinks (nothing like an ice-free vodka tonic), the majority of folks tend to order some quantity of vodka, drink it straight and chase it with beer and "zakuski" which means "little bites". Zakuski can range from salted cucumbers to crepes with caviar and this type of food (along with a decent amount of vodka) generally makes up the first course of any proper Russian meal. In addition to zakuski, Russians also like toasts with their vodka, and it took both me and Kevin a while to realize that while we may look a bit rude to not down a shot with every toast made, we'd certainly die if we did. After about three days of trying to keep up, I switched to "piva", which is beer and fared somewhat better, though I have concluded after this trip that nowhere in my lineage do I have any Russian ancestors...and if I do, they're likely highly disappointed.