Monday, July 15, 2013

Continuing to Experiencing Bristol and its surrounds

[Kyle]The week after the July fourth holiday, I only had a couple of days at home. Since we were in Bristol mostly at the urging of Andy and Robin aboard Sotito, it only seemed natural for us to spend most of our time with them. We started with quiz night in the local British Pub and were also joined by Lynn (another friend of Sotito). I was expecting to have a fairly respectable showing of it since Maryanne and I had been quiz night champions five weeks in a row back at the Ribble Pilot in Preston (along with our partners Rae and Sue). Here, somehow, we managed to come in dead last (perhaps our previous status was mostly due to Sue and Rae, although we’ll never admit it). Andy and Robin were running late and arrived after the first question, which had to do with television. I’m sure that if they had been there, we would have been second from last. Oh, well. It was fun anyway.

We spent a lot of time aboard Sotito making sure their food didn’t have a chance to go bad, nor need storing as leftovers. One evening, we dined out and have a delicious meal at DeWolf’s Tavern, a beautifully restored colonial warehouse on the waterfront (the building's dark past includes it as a key stop in the slave triangle). We love the company of Robin and Andy, and the meal was first rate.

On our return to the dinghy for the ride home, we noticed that the same seagull was still sitting on the dock from when we landed hours before. When we arrived, he didn’t seem too afraid of us and we tried to give him his space so he wouldn’t be spooked from his spot. Now he seemed noticeably more lethargic. I know that most birds will use every ounce of strength they have to appear healthy in order to avoid rejection by the flock the loss of their protection. Once a bird no longer has the energy to keep from looking weak, they are usually in very poor shape.

I gingerly approached him and he watched me intently, but only made the most half-hearted effort to appear to stand up. I was able to crouch down right next to him and put my hands over his wings to keep him from flying away. Maryanne noticed a smudge on his neck that looked like a wound that had recently stopped bleeding. I picked him up and carried him into some better light to try to see what had happened. It looked like he had been snagged by a fishhook. It was too hard to see in the dark and I didn’t want to traumatize the poor thing any further by poking around, so we decided to leave him alone and hope the healing process worked out naturally.

We got about a hundred feet before I couldn’t take it any more and turned back. I just couldn’t let him suffer if there was something we could do about it. When we got back, I picked him up and climbed into the dinghy with him. Maryanne steered us back to Begonia while I sat with the seagull on my lap. He occasionally tried a couple of feeble pecks at me, but mostly he just sat quietly while I stroked the feathers on his head.

Back at Begonia, we set up the cockpit with better lighting and Maryanne equipped me with surgical tools. Actually, they were the engine tools, the same ones she has been dying to practice her first aid with on me. I figured I’d use the wire cutters to cut off the barb and maybe some needle-nosed pliers as forceps to remove the rest of the hook. Then we would give the wound a good cleaning and disinfecting, top him up with food and water and send him on his way to let nature take its course.

When I got a closer look at things, I was horrified at what I saw. Instead of being punctured by a single hook from the outside, he had swallowed a three-pronged hook. Two of the barbs had come through his neck to the outside. The third unseen one would have been facing backwards toward his spinal column. There was no way we could get the hook out. I couldn’t imagine a way even a vet could cut the hook out without completely destroying his neck. I had to come to the sickening conclusion that this poor bird, otherwise big and beautifully healthy, had a terrible piece of luck and was now mortally wounded. My heart just sank.

We talked about taking him back to the spot where we found him, but eventually decided it would be best to leave him aboard. I was worried someone would try to shoo him off or kick him into the water, not realizing he didn’t have the strength left to fly away.

Maryanne provided it with a bowl of water and opened a can of tuna which he greedily lapped up the juice of (like he hadn’t eaten in days). He clearly wanted the bigger chunks, but couldn’t handle getting them past the hook. We left it for him to pick at along with a nest we made out of clean shop rags, which we placed on a high stern step. I put him in it and said goodbye, trying my best to convey that I was sorry I couldn’t do more.

In the morning, Maryanne and I discussed what to do with the remains. We decided a “burial at sea” was probably the most seagull appropriate. The problem was that the hook was going to be an issue for the next creature in the food chain. We would have to do a nasty piece of butchery to remove it before sending him on his way.

When I went outside, I was surprised to find him looking at me. He was still alive and conscious, but getting weaker. We decided to just let him be, since there wasn’t anything we could do and we didn’t want to stress him out.

Throughout the day, he hung on and would occasionally muster the strength to stand up and move a foot or two to get out of the sun before plopping down with an unrestrained thud. Every now and then, I would walk over and give his head a little scratch, which he didn’t seem to mind at all.

As the day wore on, he continued to weaken, but he kept holding on. We were starting to worry that his death was unnecessarily slow and painful. After much hand wringing, we decided to put the poor thing out of his misery. Neither one of us wanted to do it, but we both knew it was the humane thing to do. We stalled for a while debating one method over another until we decided that beheading him chicken-style would be quickest and easiest not to botch (while being careful not to impale ourselves on the hook in the process).

I sharpened our big chopping knife until it was razor sharp, and then I psyched myself up for it. Maryanne and I went over it one more time: She would hold down his head with a towel over his eyes, I would cut fast and hard so it would count, being sure to get below the hook.

Kyle spends little time at home, and seems to be always coming to, going to, or at work. Of course he can't refuse an animal in need either, no matter what the obvious heartbreak ending to the story

When all was ready, I went to go get the poor bird. Instead of letting me walk right up to him and touch him as he had the twenty times before, this time he got to his feet when I was still three feet away (I had left the knife behind). I took another step and he opened his wings. There was enough of a breeze that with the slightest hop, he was airborne. He cleared the lifelines, landed in the water next to the boat and folded his wings. He didn’t even have to flap. Over the next ten minutes, the wind and current blew him ashore near one of the private beach houses.

I was relieved I didn’t have to kill him, although I knew his situation was no different. He would still die soon and in pain. I briefly debated chasing him down in the dinghy, but Maryanne convinced me to consider it his choice to die his way, and maybe to save me the angst of having to be part of it. Besides, he was on private property now. I had no right to be there.

Watching through the binoculars, I saw him wade ashore. He would walk a few steps and sit down to rest for a few minutes, walk and sit. When I last saw him, he was disappearing into the woods. Poor guy.

[Maryanne]On a much lighter note, I have been experiencing Bristol and the surrounds as Kyle is off at work. I'm so lucky to have Robin and Andy around, not only are they great company, but they are very generous with their time and assist with grocery store runs, and so much more - they make my life so much easier and WAY more fun.

They have been taking me for day outings about in their boat, and sharing their friends with me, I've been to the local Sakonnet Vinyard for tastings (surprisingly great), and the farmers markets for some fantastic produce. Life is good (depressing sea gull stories aside).

As for Bristol itself, it is a small town, the big grocery store is a little too far to walk (and has hills involved), but the main down-town area is beautiful, full of interesting stores and plenty of bars, but not at all rowdy nor crowded. There is also the Colt State Park, comprising of stunning grounds and beaches once belonging to the Colt family (of Colt gun fame) My favorite place so far in Bristol (simply because I find it always makes me smile) is a corner of town where there is ALWAYS a large group of retired guys hanging out (complete with public benches and plastic chairs for the regular overflow). For I while I happily just chuckled and admired their friendly gatherings (so very Mediterranean), but I was made completely happy when I came across the plaque fixed at the corner - a corner officially known to the National Historic land registry as "Loafers' corner" - now what better place to loaf I ask?

One of the Colt Park entrance adornments (a pair of life size bulls flank the main gate), and of course the smile inspiring (official) Loafers' corner

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Fourth of July Celebrations

[Kyle]We’ve noticed that everybody has some superlative claim for their particular Fourth of July celebration. Boston has the largest one for a city of more than 500,000 people that is east of 70 degrees West longitude. New York has the tallest buildings for a background as well as the highest rate of patriotic muggings. Norfolk’s exceeds New York’s in gross tonnage. Baltimore’s is pretty cool. The Star Spangled Banner was written there by Francis Scott Key as he watched the original, which was much more shrapnel-ey than their current re-enactment.

Bristol, Rhode Island’s claim to fame is that theirs is the longest running celebration, with 2013 being the 228th consecutive year in a row. The Fourth of July celebrations here are a week long event with special events all day and a different band playing in the park every night, which can be heard all across the harbor.

One unusual thing is that Bristol has their big fireworks display on July third instead of the fourth. I don’t know how long it has been that way, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. My suspicion is that since Bristol is a giant harbor, it may be to save the whole place from having to get underway at night after a few too many drinks in time to return to work on the 5th. Instead, we all got to sleep in a little on the 4th before heading over to the big parade. {Maryanne: Also the neighbouring towns all seem to coordinate fireworks on different nights to enable us to visit more than one display!}

A small sampling of the celebration food fest, and the Bristol Harbor fireworks later

Since Sotito had the best facilities, the best vantage point and the highest decks in the whole harbor from which to watch the fireworks, and had kindly invited us, we headed there for the evening along with many more of their friends and a good contingent of Robin’s family. By the time the fireworks started, there were sixteen of us aboard. Sotito has plenty of space, so even with all of those people, the boat didn’t feel the least bit crowded.

Once all of the conversation started winding down, we managed to find our way back to Begonia around midnight. Before we knew it, it was already time to head back to Sotito to meet up with the crowd for the ride to the parade in the marina launch.

The parade marches by as Kyle and Andy seek a vantage point in the shade

The parade was a pretty standard parade in terms of content. There was a lot of it, though. The parade from front to back must have been ten miles long. Most of it seemed to be marching bands and antique fire trucks with the occasional float celebrating some random theme. Themes seemed less related to the 4th of July than the sponsor’s desire for cheap advertising. My own personal award for laziest goes to a local car dealer who just drove by in a bunch of cars they had for sale. They didn’t even bother putting on red, white and blue banners. Classy.

The Shriners, where grown men squeeze into miniature cars for any parade they can find - American Classic!

The cool part was the big finale: the Portuguese marching bands in full Carnival regalia. {Maryanne: This area has a historic and long term population of Portuguese immigrants, we are enjoying the food while we are here!} By then, the sun had been beating down on us for hours. I thought I was gong to melt carrying my big, heavy t-shirt on my back, and then I saw these guys. The head guy took up the whole road with his outfit that featured an eight-foot diameter feather ring. Okay, maybe my t-shirt wasn’t so bad after all.

The Mummers, marching, and then taking a well deserved shade break allowed us to get a few close-ups of the costumes!

{Maryanne: Although Kyle might call the parade "pretty standard", and true there were plenty of marching bands, it was my first view of the amazing Philadelphia Mummers with their elaborate costumes that take all year to plan and make, and also the Shriners with their signature little cars. There were whirlizers, Miss 4th July contestants, Orange Crate Derby contestants, and well loved officials in the parade, additionally there was a great spectrum of the military represented (both past and present), many firing guns and cannons for the entertainment of the crowds. There was over 4 hours of constant parade entrants passing by us - it was AMAZING, and I'm so glad that we were persuaded to visit Bristol for the celebrations.}

There was plenty of shooting during the parade too!

Back at Sotito, Andy decided he had not had enough of the Fourth, so, with six of us still remaining, we headed to Newport to see their big fireworks display. Two July 4ths in a row! It was the first time I had ever been on Sotito while underway. She was so fast and smooth and the sea was so far down from the bridgedeck that it didn’t seem like we were in it. It was more like flying above it. We headed directly upwind and were there in a couple of hours – no tacking necessary, although that trip alone probably would have blown Begonia’s fuel allowance for the year.

Leaving Bristol aboard Sotito allowed us to check on Begonia as we sailed by and headed off towards Newport

We took a tour of the packed harbor, which was mostly full of giant boats with constantly polishing professional crews. We couldn’t find an available mooring, so we anchored in what turned out to be a perfect spot outside of the harbor where the fireworks wouldn’t be obstructed by other boats. We also ended up with a view of a wedding taking place at a hotel on the point. How many years in advance did they have to reserve that? As soon as we spotted the bride and groom kissing at the end of the ceremony, Andy laid on his big train horn. The whole party turned to see who it was. We think even the photographer might have missed the big shot.

A busy Newport harbor as people enjoy the holiday and flock for prime firework-viewing location

Swimming and relaxing aboard Sotito during a great sunny afternoon

Some more Sotito friends and family showed up in a launch until there were thirteen of us on deck by the time the fireworks started. At the end, there was an impromptu mega yacht horn contest. We lost, but not for lack of trying.


I had to go to work the next morning, so Andy and Robin were kind enough to get Sotito underway at first light to get me back to Bristol in time for my commute. That was a little rough on everyone but I was very grateful they were prepared to do this and allow Maryanne and me to have had these fantastic few days to share with Sotito and friends.

Sunset in Newport, but an early start the next day to get Kyle off on his journey to work