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!

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!

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!   

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?

Putting the “Port” Back in Bridgeport

Osprey nesting on a marker in Bridgeport Harbor

In recent years, I’ve travelled to Bridgeport quite often for work and for play. The city has come a long way lately, primarily due to redevelopment on the shoreline, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by what I’ve found. 

A favorite spot in Black Rock is Captain’s Cove Seaport, which serves up fish and chips that are up to par with the famous London pub fare.  With a deck on the water overlooking the docks and affordable prices, it’s a great place to grab a cocktail and snacks with friends, and to catch a beautiful sunset, especially after an evening boat ride.  There’s also an ice cream shop and play area to keep the kids busy while the adults kick back and relax.  Of course, another fave at Captain’s Cove is Carefree Boat Club’s Black Rock dock, which has a boat for every mood and occasion—whether it’s a relaxed sunset cruise or my personal preference, an adrenaline-pumping thrill ride on something with lots of horsepower.    

At the mouth of Black Rock Harbor, one can see the newly renovated Fayerweather Island Lighthouse.   Farther out sits Penfield Reef Light, built in 1874. It’s been restored beautifully and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Penfield Reef Lighthouse

Recently, we cruised into neighboring Bridgeport Harbor to check out the brand-new docks at Steelpointe Harbor Marina, where we treated ourselves to brunch at Boca, a sleek, modern waterfront restaurant.  

Approaching the new Steelpointe Harbor development from the docks

Upscale dock-and-dines are hard to come by, at least in my rather limited experience, and Boca is promising.  The lobster eggs Benedict and avocado toast were delicious, although the chef could have gone easier on the salt in the hash browns.

All-in-all, Boca shows promise, and I look forward to trying it again when it’s in its groove.

Pana-Sea

On the water in San Francisco and on a Carefree boat in Long Island Sound

“[A]ll of us have, in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean.  And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch it we are going back from whence we came.” President John F. Kennedy (1962)

Last spring, I discovered boating.  Before long, the ocean became my favorite place, as well as my panacea.  Perhaps it’s in my DNA—apparently, my French-Canadian great-great grandfather captained a ferryboat between Weehawken and Manhattan.  Although genetics may play a role, I think that the explanation is simpler and more universal.  In a 21st Century data-driven world, it is easy to spend nearly all our waking hours indoors staring at screens.  Then our free time gets carved up shuttling the kids from place-to-place, managing the household, and that pesky phone is always dinging and buzzing, vying for our already-fractured attention.  

I didn’t even know it last spring, but I desperately craved nature, fresh air, and space—things that are probably hard-wired in us as fundamental human needs.   

As our society’s collective pace increases, those basic human needs are easily shoved to the wayside.  We drink more and more coffee, drive, talk, and eat faster, and get crankier and less patient with each other.  We’ve all seen the Starbucks patron yelling at the barista (“I ordered a SOY latte, not a SKIM latte!”), or the driver who swerves into traffic and flips the bird out the window when the person behind honks an angry response. 

On the water, my world is reduced to the simple elements of speed, sun, and fresh salty air—for a few hours, at least, I can go back to whence I came.  The ocean is peaceful, yet exhilarating.  You’re flying fast, yet the breakneck pace of 21st Century life slows down. You have time and space to think, to feel, to be alive.  That’s why I’m drawn to the sea.  

Work hard, but relax sometimes too . . . like this guy.

So work hard, but don’t burn yourself out. Find your passion.  Find your fresh air and your space.  Then make room for it by saying “no,” here and there, to the endless stream of chores and obligations, which will pile on relentlessly until you set limits.  

And be kind to the poor, hapless Starbucks barista—whatever is going on in your life, it’s not her fault.              

Girls (Boat) Trip

Exploring the Florida Keys with boater girls Denise, Lisa, and Heather

Two Floridians invited two sun-starved Connecticut girls to a weekend in the Florida Keys, and they were kind enough to humor us when we wanted to spend every single secondoutdoors in weather that the locals viewed as subarctic.  What ensued? Girls (Boat) Trip, of course.  

First, we found rental boat.  The conditions weren’t ideal, and the boat’s owner was incredulous, “Are you sure you want to go boating today?”  

I didn’t hesitate.  “Temps in the 50s?  Two foot waves?  Yes!! I’ll be captain.”  After boating in the late fall in Connecticut, I felt right at home. 

I promised to bring the boat back in one piece . . . more on that later.  

Before long, we found ourselves surrounded by beauty: bright blue water, seabirds wading along the shores, mangroves, and . . . toilet seats.  That’s not a typo.  We had found toilet seat cut, a dredged channel near Islamorada, marked by imaginatively decorated toilet seats hanging from poles.  Apparently, locals with a sense of humor have been decorating the channel for over fifty years, and now it’s quite the tourist attraction (See http://www.allatsea.net/how-toilet-seat-cut-in-islamorada-came-to-be/). After clearing the cut, we cruised through mangrove-lined Tavernier Creek to the Atlantic side of the Keys before heading south toward Snake Creek, which would take us back to the Gulf side. 

Just a few of the many toilet seats marking toilet seat cut

I must say that learning to boat on Carefree’s late-model Chaparral Suncoast 250s has spoiled me.  After spending last summer on big boats with ample horsepower and stainless steel props, driving a 19’ boat with a 115-horsepower engine felt like trading in the Corvette for a golf cart.  Then, a gauge started beeping and flashing “low battery,” the Bluetooth cut out, and the GPS started turning off and on, off and on.  As we headed into Snake Creek, the engine sputtered and stopped. We were dead in the water.  

Did I break it? No- I think it was the battery

Luckily, we ended up with a tow-boat, not a rowboat—they promptly came out to get us and, after an unsuccessful attempted jump-start, we were towed back to the dock.  We had a cooler, snacks, and more time on the water, so all was well as we kicked back with a few drinks during the ride home.  

Great seafood was another highlight of our trip.  We ate at Marker 88, which is right on the water and features live music and seafood.  Back in Ft. Lauderdale, I gorged on delicious stone crab claws, a Floridian wintertime delicacy, at Catfish Deweys.  It wasn’t quite Girls Trip—there certainly weren’t any escapades involving zip lines or citrus fruit—but we had a blast.  Boating & seafood & island hopping in a shiny white Mustang convertible was a welcome respite from the cold.      

Puerto Rican Paraíso

Enjoying “Hot Tamale” in Puerto Rico

When a friend suggested Puerto Rico as a vacation destination, I balked at first. After hearing about the island’s financial woes and the devastation wrought by hurricane Maria in 2017, I worried about what we’d find. But after reading multiple recent good reviews of hotels on Trip Advisor and hearing Lin Manuel Miranda’s entreaties to support the island’s economy, I was intrigued. The quick 3.5 hour flight from New York or Connecticut (and that we could avoid the headaches of passing through immigration and changing currency) cinched the deal.

Puerto Rico did not disappoint. There still is hurricane damage, for sure- on the way home from a rainforest tour, we passed row after row of dilapidated structures, mostly consisting of modest no-longer-habitable homes.  In contrast, the touristy Condado beach neighborhood and Old San Juan have been fully restored, and they offer plenty of activities and food options for visitors.  I hope that our tourist dollars contributed to the gargantuan task of getting at least some local families back on their feet. 

While the touristy sections of Old San Juan have been restored, numerous modest homes remain devastated

Activities:

Boating was at the top of my list of must-do activities—even if I visit the landlocked desert, I’d bet that I could work a boat into the trip somehow.  Luckily, San Juan had plenty of boat-centered recreational options.  We rented a snappy red Yamaha jet boat- aptly named “Hot Tamale”- from San Juan Boat Rentals.  After visiting Castillo San Felipe del Morro on land, we got to see it as the 17th century Spanish sea captains did.  Instead of scanning the horizon for pirates, however, we worried only about avoiding novice jet-skiers and towering mega cruise ships.  We anchored in a calm inlet near the city walls of Old San Juan and swam in the warm turquoise-blue waters, followed by my daughter’s first time on a wakeboard (she’s now hooked). The highlight, of course, was when I got to take the wheel and zoom across the bay—a welcome dose of medication for my boat fever.

Another highlight was a tour of the El Yunque Rain Forest, which we arranged through the tour desk at our hotel.  El Yunque is a world away from Puerto Rico’s sandy Caribbean beaches.  It is lush and green, and filled with dazzling waterfalls and mountain views. Our guide, Janilla, was comedian, historian, naturalist, photographer, and mother-hen all rolled into one, informing us about the local flora and fauna and island culture and history, all the while keeping us on schedule.  She also guided us to a roadside stand for lunch, where we enjoyed conch fritters, roast chicken, and pasteles, which is a Puerto Rican Christmastime treat of root vegetables, meat, and plantain, all wrapped in banana leaves.  

Wining and Dining:

Excellent food options abounded.  Highlights included a chocolate brunch at Chocobar Cortés, which features Caribbean-farmed chocolate in every dish.  We devoured the chocolate French toast, churros with chocolate sauce, and I treated myself to chocolate milk spiked with Puerto Rican rum (yum!). For dinner, most of our best meals were a quick Uber-ride outside of the touristy Condado beach neighborhood.  Musa Gastro Pub features a wide selection of delicious cocktails and gourmet riffs on traditional Puerto Rican fare. It was also kid-friendly with excellent service.  Asere Cubano was in a vibrant neighborhood filled with bars and live music. The chef served up a whole fried red snapper, killer empanadas, and coconut flan for dessert.  Oceano was memorable for its food, service, and atmosphere.  We sat on a terrace overlooking the ocean, watching the glittering lights of cruise ships travel east along the Puerto Rican coast.  Enjoying Atlantic shrimp while listening to waves crash on the shore and breathing in the salty ocean air was my version of perfecto.                         

Travel Tips:

If you’re staying in the Condado beach neighborhood or Old San Juan, there’s no need to rent a car at the airport.  Everything we wanted to see and do was a quick, reasonably-priced cab or Uber ride away, and parking on the beach strip was expensive- $25/day at our hotel.    

Eating out three meals a day will kill your vacation budget.  We stayed at La Concha in one of the tower suites.  Although the room was slightly more expensive, the kitchenette allowed us to buy groceries locally and eat breakfast in the room.  I also packed our suitcase with breakfast and snack staples from home, including chocolate-chip banana bread, homemade focaccia, and Clif Bars. Some days, we also reheated our dinner leftovers for lunch, and we bought a tub of ice cream at the grocery store, instead of buying ice cream for the kids at restaurants.

La Concha was a great place to stay, with two infinity pools (one was adults-only) overlooking the ocean, and a wide expanse of beach just steps from the pools.  In the evening, there was live music at the hotel bar and a DJ.  La Concha was also a short walk away from groceries, coffee houses, pharmacies, and multiple eateries.

All-in-all Puerto Rico offered an excellent balance of beach-time, hiking, food, culture, and history (as well as a welcome respite from the cold, dark environs back home).  Adiós San Juan . . . at least until next time.