Not So Green(port) Anymore

Enjoying my 100th time at the helm

I’m unlike many of the boaters I’ve met on the water. I was not born or bred into the boating lifestyle. Instead, I spent my childhood surrounded by concrete, taxis, and graffiti-festooned subway cars, which rumbled below our apartment building and lulled me to sleep as a child (the city girl’s version of crickets). In New York City, nature is carefully contained within discrete, well-manicured spaces: the public parks and few scraggly trees that occupy tiny patches of soil dotting the sidewalks. An iconic river ran less than a mile from my home, but it was more concept than reality. I usually saw it from afar, my vantage point being a crowded highway or bridge. 

Don’t get me wrong— there was plenty to love about growing up in NYC— but my exposure to nature was limited, to put it mildly (at age six, I visited a relative in the suburbs, saw her backyard vegetable garden, and promptly concluded she lived on a farm).

One of my first times at the helm

After discovering hiking in high school and camping in college, ventured out on the water much later in life, but it was love at first sight— a nearly instant addiction to all things boat. 

The skills required to be a good boater? Those did not come so easily. During my first season at the helm, let’s be honest, I was not a natural. Things that I take for granted now stymied me: keeping the boat on a straight path down the channel, handling rough waters, accounting for the effect of the wind and currents, and let’s not even talk about my docking skills (or lack thereof) . . . Some days, I wondered if it would ever click.

But I had patient and supportive teachers – the folks at Carefree Boat Club and Captain Rich Hannon, in particular, and I’m not one to give up on a challenge. So I just kept practicing, despite some rattling near misses at the dock, and feeling at times like an outlier in a guys’ world (although now I see more and more ladies at the helm).

Plum Gut on Labor Day

Fast forward to 2021, and during a busy holiday weekend, I navigated crowded waters, kept us from getting swamped by an obnoxious 50 foot yacht that cut right in front of our bow at full speed, and delivered us safely across the Long Island Sound from Greenport to the Connecticut River in choppy waters with 2 foot waves at times. Now I can dock without someone to catch me from shore and have even docked solo a couple of times- all things I could not have imagined during my first season. I still have many things to learn, but I’m well underway. 

So thank you to all the experienced boaters who have given me helpful advice and guidance. To those of you who are new to boating (especially the recent wave of newly minted female captains), just keep practicing, take lessons, ignore the snide “COVID Captain” digs, and don’t give up if you really want it. I’m certainly glad to have stayed the course.

I would walk 500 miles . . .

and I would walk 500 more . . .” I tried. Honestly, I tried to go for 6 months without getting on a boat. Then the kids’ school announced remote learning for the first week in January and (for me at least) it was a no brainer. We loaded the car within an inch of its life and chased sunshine and salt air down the longest stretch of I-95 I’ve ever traveled (1,250 miles, to be exact).

We played it safe- eating meals outdoors (or in the car when it was too cold), stopping only at rest stops and gas stations with very few cars in their lots, following CDC guidelines the entire time. Fellow travelers wore masks and kept their distance, as did we. It was not your typical road trip, but it was certainly better than nothing.

Cruising along in Fort Pierce Inlet

Was the slog across ten states worth it? Hell, yes. Two days later, I was at Carefree Boat Club’s Treasure Coast location in sunny, 80 degree weather (instead of the freezing rain back home). We took a pontoon boat around Fort Pierce inlet, a pristine, undeveloped patch of wilderness between the intercostal waterway and the Atlantic. Right out of the marina, we spotted a pod of dolphins. Wild dolphins can be curious about boats, and we were lucky enough to encounter adventurous ones, who splashed and played in our wake. At club owner Lanie’s suggestion, we anchored in Tucker Cove and swam in clear, blue waters among the mangroves, spotting a lone dolphin as she surfaced about 200 yards away from where we swam.

Curious dolphins playing alongside the boat

Several days later, I satisfied my need for speed on a Crownline bow rider with a 200 hp outboard, which was more than enough for zipping along the St. Lucie River and the intercostal waterway. For once, I spent my birthday warm, happy, and doing something I love. (Historically, my birthday has been spent catching up with work during the first week back from the holidays- ugh).

Many thanks to Dan, John, and the Treasure Coast team for the birthday balloon tied up at my slip when I returned. We can’t wait to visit you guys again!

The (Lightly) Seasoned Boater

Just about three years ago, I got behind the helm of a sleek Chaparral Suncoast for the first time.  I zig-zagged down the channel at Black Rock Harbor out onto the Long Island Sound, oversteering whenever I started to drift off course.  And my early days of docking?  Let’s not even talk about them.  Let’s just say I (barely) managed not to damage anything (or anyone).  

Today, docking no longer sends my pulse (or the dock staff’s pulse) skyrocketing.  I can steer straight down a channel, even on a windy day. And I’ve learned a few lessons, some only after trials by fire, some by anecdote- see if you can guess which is which:

Do buy plenty of floats, take the kids tubing, and entertain them onboard with playdough or similarly solid and fungible toys.

Don’t give the kids crayons and coloring pages, unless you enjoy fishing soggy images of Elsa and Anna out of the water with a docking pole while scrambling over tiny rolling, half-melted cylinders.  If that’s your thing, then go for it. 

Do serve your guests dinner in a quiet cove as the sun paints the sky orange and purple.

Don’t serve your guests a cheese board and sushi while anchored in 2 foot waves, unless they are unwanted guests whom you never want to take boating again. (Don’t worry, friends, you were very much wanted guests.)

Do crank the volume and rock out to your favorite tunes when you pass the no wake marker and gun it.

Don’t don your favorite hat or leave your favorite magazine (book / chart / winning lottery ticket) loose on deck when you pass the no wake marker and gun it.

Don’t dawdle in front of the Bridgeport-Port Jefferson ferry when it’s trying to leave the dock.  The captain will honk at you . . . multiple times . . . even if you smile and shrug your shoulders innocently as if to say “Sorry, new boater.”  

Do zip through the ferry’s wake if it’s a calm day and there are no other waves to play in.

And steer clear of the rocky bottoms, unless you’re in a kayak.  Anchoring in them is an exercise in futility, and you definitely don’t want to hit them.  As Lady Gaga might sing, “I’m in the deep end, watch as I drive in, I’ll never touch the ground . . . Splash ‘cross the surface, where rocks can’t hurt us, stay far from the shallows now . . .”  

Kayak, don’t powerboat, near these

Although, in nearly every other facet of life, 2020 can’t draw to a close soon enough, I will miss this season on the water as I prepare to kiss my boats goodbye and hunker down for the long, dreary winter ahead.

Here Fishy, Fishy

One charter eleven months ago does not a fisherwoman make.  

My first solo attempt at fishing was quite underwhelming. Fish caught =0.  Minutes spent trying to untangle this: more than I’d like to admit.

What was I doing wrong? Just about everything. I was feeding the fish from the human equivalent of a food truck that I was operating from a helicopter . . . hovering 20 feet above I-95. No wonder there weren’t any customers!

It was time to call in an expert. I called Captain Rich Hannon of Premier Yacht Services, my trusted Boaters Ed teacher from Carefree, and he was kind enough not to laugh when I told him about my tangled-mess-of-a-line/zero fish excursion.

We left Carefree Boat Club’s Milford dock and headed to Stratford Shoal Lighthouse, which (according to the internet) is the most haunted lighthouse in Connecticut: https://www.nelights.com/blog/the-most-haunted-lighthouse-in-connecticut-stratford-shoal/.

The lighthouse was eeire, for sure– perched high on treacherous rocks and a crumbling stone foundation, with weathered boards covering its windows and a tolling bell– but for fish, the surrounding waters are home.

This time, under Captain Rich’s guidance, my girls and I fished the right way. In the right place (the nice fishy suburbs instead of the interstate), with lines at the bottom of the ocean, not hovering above, and drifting (not anchored).

And we caught three (THREE!) black sea bass.

So maybe they weren’t keepers. Perhaps all three were teeny, tiny . . . but success nonetheless!

My teeny tiny catch

As we headed back to shore, images of braised black sea bass with ginger and scallion danced through my head and whetted my appetite. Undeterred, I waived my magic wand (or, perhaps I waived my credit card at the local fish market), and volia- our tiny fishies were transformed into a feast!

Apparently fishing takes years to master, as well as a healthy dose of good luck. So I’ll keep trying- worst case scenario, I’ll get to spend more time on the water while keeping the kids occupied as summer lasts longer than usual . . . and maybe by the end of the season, I’ll prevail and bring home a catch.

Black sea bass for dinner- thanks, not to my fishing acumen, but to Number One Fish Market in Hamden

Eat Local, Shop Local, and – New for 2020 – Vacation Local

Beaches and boats- that’s what we’d planned for this summer.  Granted the beach was Martha’s Vineyard and the boat was a cruise to the Greek Islands.  As COVID-19 ravaged the world, summer arrived, and then case rates skyrocketed in much of the U.S. (but, thankfully, not in our sensible, science-guided, home state of Connecticut). All our carefully made plans went back to the drawing board.

            Many people scrapped their summer vacations altogether.  Doing that would make me (and most others) cranky and bitter—and there is more than our fair share of crankiness out there this year.  Undeterred, I set out to plan a COVID-safe, family getaway with no quarantine restrictions at either end of the trip.  

Sunset from the private beach at the Madison Beach Hotel

The result?  A beach and boating vacation within a 25-mile radius of our house. We saved big on travel expenses—they were the cost of a daily commute to the office, back when people did that sort of thing.  We used those savings to splurge on a luxurious ocean-front room with a balcony at the Madison Beach Hotel.  With its private beach (no crowds getting in your face), and Connecticut’s quarantine restrictions for travelers from hot-spot states, we felt safe there, and indulged freely in some much-needed pampering.  

Beachside lunches delivered to our loungers, cocktails and dinner overlooking the water at The Wharf, and jaw-dropping sunsets bathed in an oceanfront breeze. Just what I needed . . .

Another bonus? Torturing the kids with stupid parent jokes the whole ride there:

 “Madison- such a quaint little seaside town- I wonder who lives here?” (A decent number of friends and work colleagues)  

“The Connecticut shoreline’s so pretty- enjoy it, girls, we may not come back here again.” (for two to three days)

Lucky for the kids, the car ride was short. Lucky for mom, replacing the boating was easy.

We bookended the trip with two boat rides—the first out of Carefree Boat Club’s Steelepointe Harbor dock to our new favorite, socially-distanced swim area at Pirate’s Cove in Port Jefferson.  On the last morning of our trip, we headed out of the Clinton location for the first time, checking out new waters and anchoring off Duck Island for a swim. 

It wasn’t crystal clear, turquoise waters off the coast of Greece (downside), but I got to steer the boat (definite upside).  I don’t think the captain of our cruise ship would have allowed me to take the wheel, no matter how much cajoling I tried (… and I would have tried, for sure).

Exploring Duck Island off the coast of Westbrook

Our summer plans—like most things—were radically altered this year, but we returned refreshed and relaxed, nonetheless.  Vacationing within 30 miles from home may sound silly, but I think that everyone should to do what they can to safely seize moments of joy during the cluster f–k 2020 has become.  We all can get through this, but only if we are kind enough to ourselves to allow us to be kind to others, and to halt the ongoing descent into bitterness, division, and rage.         

A Pirate’s Life for Me

Port Jefferson isn’t just a small seaside town with quaint little shops and seafood restaurants. Just inside Port Jefferson Harbor, you can find a wild, socially-distanced beach party at Pirate’s Cove (a/k/a Mount Misery Cove).  

My pirate crew was raring to go, so on a hot sunny day over the 4th of July weekend, we set out for an afternoon of pillaging and plundering.

My first mate is fiercer than she looks

Luckily, we arrived early enough to snag a prime anchorage spot with a ringside view of the scene unfolding around us. The place was chock full of paddle boarders, kayaks, and people floating in inner tubes with cup holders (I’m definitely getting one of those next summer). The water was calm enough to swim in with young kids, and it is only a short distance to shore if you want to hike on the bluff or wade in the shallows. You can either paddle to shore in a kayak or inner tube, or even swim there, depending where you’re anchored.

On the other side of the cove, there’s a pristine, quiet beach that had one person on it– only one person–on a holiday weekend with perfect beach weather.

If you hike up the steep bluff, you’re rewarded with this quiet beach on the other side

 The people watching was one of the best parts, from ogling fancy yachts, to buying ice cream from enterprising college kids selling it boat-to-boat from a dinghy, to these crazy daredevils:

(This makes me glad to have daughters. I understand that Stony Brook Medical Center is a good hospital, but even so . . .)

So perhaps I did a little less pillaging and plundering, and a little more floating and relaxing, but after all the craziness 2020 has wrought, I deserve a little R&R. I’ll save the pillaging and plundering for next time!

Okay Working Parents, Let’s Triage This

Our society tells us that we must be perfect parents.  Both spouses are expected to work full time, shuttle the kids between after-school enrichment activities, help with homework, read bedtime stories, smile through it all, and then fall exhausted into an overwhelmed stupor called sleep each night.  Then we must rise at the crack of dawn to do it all over again.  Sound familiar?  Wait, that was life before COVID-19.    

One month into our state’s stay-at-home order, which happens to coincide with a cold and dreary Connecticut spring, I was ready to pull my hair out.  I still had to do all the above, much of it as a “Zoom cameraman,” AND teach elementary school, AND tend to the emotional needs of children who desperately miss their friends . . .  F**k that.  

Rather than yanking out large clumps of hair and going bald, I took a deep breath and reminded myself that it is impossible to do everything – those who say that they are on Facebook are LIARS – and I went into working-parent triage mode.     

Take care of the gunshot wounds first

Triage happens when you visit the emergency room—a sadly apt analogy these days.  Those who have gunshot wounds see the doctor right away; those who need a couple of stitches can wait for hours on a busy day.  Take care of life’s gunshot wounds now; the stitches can wait. 

Everyone will have a different calculus, but for most people the “gunshot wounds” are doing a good enough job at work to remain employed (if you’re lucky enough to be working these days). Taking care of your kids’ and—this is important—your own emotional needs is also at the top.  Submitting completed assignments to teachers in Google classroom is secondary, particularly if the process creates extra work for parents without a countervailing educational benefit for the student.  At the very bottom of the list is folding laundry. Your pet doesn’t care if your clothes are wrinkled.  If it makes life easier, eat all your meals off disposable dinnerware to cut down on chores.  In short, cut any and all non-essential corners that you can.  Lastly, I’d put obsessively watching the news at the bottom of the triage list—stay informed, but limit it, or you might curl yourself into a ball and stay in bed until there’s a vaccine.  

Keep happiness in the mix

During this time of sadness, depravation, and isolation, it’s easy to feel guilty about having fun.  Don’t. While we are in a time of mourning for sure, making ourselves and our families as happy as possible keeps us sane and allows us to endure this seemingly endless marathon. Keeping our spirits up will also allow us to be kind and supportive of our families, friends, and communities.  

I love being outdoors, so if it is a beautiful day outside, my kids and I go off the lesson plan and take a field trip to a nature trail, or we collect shells on the beach and I “teach” biology.  When the weather warms up, I look forward to boating and spending even more time outdoors.

The vacation may have been cancelled, but don’t cancel your time off

For spring break, we had planned to go to Disney World and had rented a beach condo and (of course) a boat in Florida. It was a long-awaited splurge after several difficult years.  Obviously, it didn’t happen.  Many families just cancelled their trips and slogged through April break working from home without doing anything fun as a consolation prize.  We still took time off, which has been a game-changer.  We took long drives and spent every possible moment in nature (albeit far from other people). We cooked ourselves decadent meals, watched movies, and tuned out work, school, and the news.  Life felt somewhat . . . normal.  Moments of normalcy are so rare now. Grab them whenever you can.

So, these are my two cents as a veteran far-from-perfect working parent.  Take care of yourselves, stay safe and healthy, and grab moments of joy when you can.  We’ll all get through this together.             

Boating Away Those Business Travel Blues

Photo courtesy of Todd Yocher

Know what floats my boat? . . .

Hurtling across the country at 500 miles per hour in a seat barely wider than my hips.

Sitting on the tarmac only to learn that we need to change planes because the windshield wiper is broken (a word to the wise, it’s never the “windshield wiper,” it’s probably the engine . . . which might fall off midair if we don’t change planes).

Oh, and my favorite! Trying (unsuccessfully) to curl myself into a sensory depravation cocoon in that very same seat on the redeye home while the teenagers behind me go “blah, blah, blah” into the wee hours.  Maybe it’s a sleepover party for you, but some folks gotta work tomorrow.  

… said no-one. 

Know what does float my boat?

Photo courtesy of Todd Yocher

Boating, of course.

So, when the stars align and I find myself on a business trip somewhere warm, by the water, with a Carefree Boat Club location nearby, I make the most of it.  As soon as my flight is booked, I reserve my little bit o’ fun in the sun.

Recently, I had the good fortune of traveling to San Diego, which checked all the boxes—plenty of sun and water, a Carefree location, an afternoon free of work, and an old friend from the theatre days– Todd Yocher, photographer extraordinaire.

By early afternoon, we were aboard The Ray, a sprightly little Sea Ray SPX 21 with plenty of horsepower.  We headed out of Point Loma marina with tunes blasting, surrounded by plentiful sun and salt air. 

San Diego is surrounded by military bases.  As we cruised along below, fighter jets and helicopters flew overhead, tracking a path down the channel; our own personal airshow.  On the ocean side, we spotted the iconic red roofs of the Hotel del Coronado, a Victorian-era wooden beach resort, which is the second largest wooden structure in the United States and a national historic landmark.  Heading back into the bay, we picked up the pace, speeding past San Diego’s glistening skyline and under the Coronado Bridge, dodging navy vessels along the way– thankfully I remembered my training, stayed well clear of them, and brought myself, my passenger, and the boat back in one piece.

Clockwise, The Ray at Point Loma Marina, the San Diego skyline, Seals (the Navy-type), and a pelican swooping in for a meal (photos by Todd Yocher)

 I am solar powered.  Nothing recharges my batteries like the intoxicating combination of sun, speed, and fresh salty air.  Despite the redeye flight home and all the headaches of modern air travel, I returned to the cold Northeast refreshed and revived, ready to endure the two months or so before Connecticut’s boating season begins.     

Many thanks to Carefree Boat Club San Diego and dockmaster Vincent for the hospitality and the great float plan!   

Spooky Sea Stories

Penfield Reef Light

It’s October.  New England’s hillsides have transformed from green to palettes of orange, red, and gold.  The morning air is crisp and cool (though there’s no frost to scrape from my windshield yet, thank God).  Our menu has shifted from lighter fare to stews and soups.  And, yes, I’m still boating, trying to eke out every last second on the water before I must kiss my boats goodbye for a dreary, cold, dark five-month hiatus.  

Fall on the Connecticut River near Gillette Castle

October also ushers in Halloween- the costumes, candy, and, of course, the spooky stories.  It just so happens that my favorite lighthouse is the subject of one.  During my first ride out of Black Rock Harbor in Bridgeport, we headed east on a cool, crisp day, just like today.  Heading back, I could just make out a ghostly shape in the distance but couldn’t quite see what it was. Shrouded in haze, it looked like a massive ship—a ghost ship, perhaps.

The Ghost Ship

The following spring, I set my course for the mysterious mirage-like shape and found a stately old stone lighthouse, built far from shore with no connection at all to land.  The building looked old—from the eighteenth or nineteenth century, and it had a red roof and white tower, which housed the signal light.

Did a lighthouse-keeper once live there, surrounded by water on all sides.  Did his family live with him?  But then, how did his kids get to school?  I concluded that the keeper must have toughed it out alone.  

A Google search confirmed my suspicions.  Penfield Reef Light was built in 1874, and the light-keeper did, in fact, live there with an assistant, while his family resided onshore.  In December 1916, lighthouse-keeper, Frederick Jordan, drowned during a rowboat trip to the mainland to visit his family for Christmas.  Poor Fredrick’s ghost was rumored to haunt the structure and its environs, and to appear to successor keepers on cold, lonely nights. And, per local legend, his ghost rescued two boys whose boat capsized near Penfield Light in 1942.  At least Penfield Light houses a friendly ghost, not a wrathful, angry ghost, should I ever encounter him.  

Perhaps now that haunting season is upon us, there’ll be more than fishermen frequenting Penfield Reef Light.     

Fisherwomen

What comes first, the boating or the fishing? Is boating the gateway drug to fishing or vice versa? After hearing the guys wax poetic about fishing, I was more than a little curious. Plus, fishing might (a) cut down (slightly) on my boat gas consumption, and (b) compensate (slightly) for said consumption by putting dinner on the table— a win win!

By midsummer 2019, my curiosity was piqued to the point of action. Why knot? So, on the fishing-and-boating paradise of Martha’s Vineyard, my daughter and I embarked on the traditional father-son bonding activity, but as a momma-daughter duo. 

We chartered The Done Deal out of Vineyard Haven and conveyed our utter lack of fishing acumen to multi-generational Vineyard fishermen Captain Jeffrey Canha and his son, Tony. 

The “cat toy” (a.k.a. glow-in-the dark lure)

“What do I do with this spool of thread?” 

“Why is a cat toy hanging from the end of the line?”

Ok, maybe we weren’t that clueless, but we were close . . .

Our captains obligingly designed a fishing sampler sunset cruise for us. The evening included using weighted lines to catch bottom dwellers (we both caught several striped bass, but they were too small to keep). Then we trolled the Vineyard Sound using the “cat-toy” plastic squid as bait. The setting sun painted clouds over the Elizabeth Islands in gorgeous shades of orange, swiftly fading to a blue that matched the sea. I was losing hope of catching dinner, but glad to be in motion, breathing the salty air all the same. 

And then . . . my daughter reeled in a dinner-worthy bluefish all by herself

Reeling in the first meal-worthy catch

Ah, now I understand those goofy, proud pictures guys take with their catches.

My first catch wasn’t a keeper

Driving home, I asked her, “What would you prefer: A mother-daughter trip to the mall or going fishing again back home?”

“Definitely fishing,” she replied. During boating season, at least, I’d have to agree.  

Now, how to prepare our first-ever catch for dinner?