Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Finally, a Nice Day for Messing About in the Water

[Kyle]I was so pleased when I stirred the next morning just before the 4:52 sunrise to find only a single tiny cloud far in the distance. I didn’t really need to be up for a while, but once I realized the sunrise was imminent, I just had to see it. It was cold inside the boat (about 40F, 5C), but since Maryanne was still tucked into the warm bed I decided to skip firing up the heater and wait for all of that glorious, unimpeded sunshine to warm the boat.

The warmth eventually brought Maryanne out into the salon, where I handed her a hot cup of coffee to help. We planned our day and readied Begonia for departure.

The wind forecast was for a whole morning of nuttin’. The sea was a mirror speckled with lobster pot buoys and slowly undulating with the remnants of the wakes of long-gone lobster boats.

We motored into relatively buoy-free water and optimistically set our spinnaker, hoping to catch what little there was of the wind. It turned out to be a refresher on making sure everything was rigged correctly. There wasn’t even enough wind to hold up the fabric against its own weight, much less pull a 12,000lb boat.

Calm morning has us motoring from start to end, passing Moose Peak Light towards the end before any hint of wind

So, we stowed the spinnaker back in its deck bag and fired up the starboard engine for the rest of our journey to Cows Yard, a tiny basin in the Wass Archipelago. Along the way, Maryanne continued with her pressure cooker experiemnts and prepared cornbread to go with the Chilli we were also preparing. It came out well – nice and moist and consistent all the way through. The only thing missing was a slightly drier crust. Cornbread is now added to our options for the meal planning aboard.

The Cows Yard is a pretty little basin between Harbor Island and Steele Harbor Island that is dotted with rocks and an assortment of pine-topped islets. It reminded me of an alpine lake. Later, as the tide receded, clusters of rock were slowly revealed all around us until we were eventually the sole boat in a small cove surrounded by trees whose tops had grown higher by 20 feet. I speculated that the name could have come from the resemblance of the brown rocks to a field of sleeping cows. Maryanne checked up on this, as she does, and learned a semi-related fact that a Cows Yard Tar is a Maine-ism for a fisherman that likes to farm or vice versa. Fine, but I like mine better.

The Cows Yard supposedly has room for several boats, but it took very careful placement of our anchor and rode to keep from fouling a lobster pot float. By the time we were secure, a breeze had started to fill the anchorage. Since we hadn’t had a chance to do any sailing that day, we lowered the Portland Pudgy and rigged its sailing kit for a tour of the anchorage. It was the perfect situation for use of the sailing kit; there was a nice breeze, there was more distance to go to see it than was reasonable by rowing, and it was just a beautiful, sunny afternoon.

Believe it or not, this was the first time we had ever sailed the Pudgy since we bought it to replace our old one. When it arrived, it was during the frenzy of the refit in Virginia. Since then, I was on a hectic delivery schedule, and then we were in New York, where I wasn’t in the mood to dodge heavy shipping with it. Anyway, fast forward a few months and we finally got a chance to break out the sailing kit. We loved spending the day pottering around the anchorages in our last Pudgy. It was nice to be cruising again and nice to be back in our little sailing dinghy.

Since our last version, the sailing kit of the Pudgy had been repowered. It now had a much bigger rig with both a telescoping mast and boom, which pulled us along nicely in the light, shifty winds. We spent a pleasant couple of hours playing the breeze as we weaved our way through the islands near the anchorage. We disturbed a couple of adorable seals sunning themselves on a rock as we approached a little too close in the strange, orange boat. Later on, we caught several curious ones watching us from the water as we passed by.

Compare the size of the boom and sail on our earlier (left) and current (right) model of Portland Pudgy sail kit

Since I knew there were rocks down there under the high tide line, I was conservatively keeping near the middle in order to avoid grounding the Pudgy’s daggerboards. Then Maryanne realized we have electronic charts on our Pudgy. Actually, we have a handheld basic GPS and spare batteries in the emergency kit we carry aboard. It gives position, speed, distance, etc., but no charts. Boy, times have changed since last time we sailed our Pudgy. This time, we had chartplotter, wind meter, camera and uh, phone, I guess, on our iPhones. I steered while Maryanne snapped photos and kept us in the deepest water. We even had a track display, so I could see how we were doing against the wind and current.

Kyle has fun, as he sails me around the island, I sit back and enjoy the views

When we got back to Begonia, I was still in the mood for more, so Maryanne started dinner while I went almost all of the way back out to the open ocean before making my way back.

Since Cows Yard has a relatively small space that’s safe for anchoring, I was eager to get a good look at the anchorage the next morning at the lowest tide of our stay, when we would only have a few inches under the keels. I came into the cabin and everything was gone! The fog was so thick, that all I could see was Begonia and about three of the local lobster pot buoys. The double tone of nearby Moose Peak Light could be heard. Maryanne joked it says, “Moose! Moose!”

The fog comprised the nice weather before the approach of a warm front that was forecast to bring wind and increasingly heavy rain as the day progressed. I used the nice window to re-stow the Pudgy and its sailing rig and prepared for another dreary indoor day. The next few days are forecast to be glorious and have us breaking out the sun cream.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Into the Wilds

[Kyle]I awoke at 3:00am completely rested and refreshed after nine glorious hours of sleep. Outside, it was dark, but I could see the moon! This meant that for the fist time in days and days, it was clear out. Finally!

Clear at night also means cold. I made coffee while Maryanne slept a little more. Begonia’s interior filled with steam from my breath and the kettle, neither of which would dissipate. The record rains of the previous week had made it really humid inside and out. I toughed out the cold as long as I could bear, then fired up the heater, lifting our indoor fog. {Maryanne: I've no idea why Kyle chooses to suffer so much, I'd have turned on the heating immediately!}

Maryanne got up and the two of us finished the last of our preparations for our early departure. Apart from having to bundle up against the freezing cold, it was a beautiful morning. The sunrise was the first non-gray one we’d had in a while. Once it cleared the hills, it burned off the dew coating the boat, and then the greenhouse effect from the enclosure warmed the cockpit.

A beautiful clear, calm morning

Once clear of the Somes Harbor mooring field we raised the sails in the light winds of the Sound. As we headed out of its protection, the winds gradually built until we were streaking along at full speed across Frenchman Bay in winds of the perfect direction and strength for fast sunny-day sailing.

With such great conditions, I was even able to sit in the sun on the forward deck and use our autopilot remote to dodge pot buoys and lobster boats.

Once across Frenchman Bay, we passed Schoodic Island. I was looking forward to this. Even though Mainers generally refer to the entire Maine coast east of Penobscot Bay as “Down East”, most of the cruising sources I have checked with seem to agree that Schoodic Island marks the limit of the Down East cruising grounds, beyond which lies a wild frontier. As you go east, we are warned, the tides get bigger, the currents stronger and more unpredictable, and marine facilities are all but non-existent, particularly for non-lobster “yachts”. It sounds to me a lot like Scotland. I’m sure Nova Scotians call it something like, “The Bunny Slope”. Since self-sufficiency and remoteness are our kind of thing, I couldn’t wait to see some of the less visited gems off of the beaten path.

We proceeded one point beyond Schoodic and rounded stark and lonely Green Island, just off of the end of the Petit Manan peninsula, before rounding up into the wind and beating towards a deserted spot on the beach along its eastern shore, where we dropped anchor for the night. Thanks to our early start and fast sailing, it was still well before noon.

Kyle steers the boat with the remote from the foredeck (dodging the minefield of lobster pot floats), and finds a patch in the sun to sit. Eventually we round at Petit Manan Island light (on green island) before anchoring in the lee of the wildlife refuge

From our anchorage, there are no signs of human habitation except for the giant lighthouse on Green Island; it’s associated buildings and the lobster boats tracing erratic paths around their traps in the distance. Our spot along the beach looks unprotected, but it’s an illusion. As the tide recedes, the slight swell turns into nearby surf, robbing the waves of their energy and flattening the water at the anchorage. Eventually, the surf itself stops, and a semicircle of rock is revealed, putting us in the middle of a horseshoe shaped bay.

Amazingly, in spite of our obvious remoteness, we have a WAY better cell-phone signal here than we did in the middle of Somes Harbor, surrounded by houses and within line-of-sight distance of the little village of Somesville. We even have 4G! How does that happen? It is a surreal experience to be able to surf the Internet where a search with our best binoculars doesn’t even turn up a lamppost. I still remember thinking a twenty-foot phone cord was a luxury.

So it looks like our blog backlog (backblog?) will get out a little sooner than we thought. {Maryanne: We spent the afternoon with the luxury of internet and great views, and watched the local bird populations swoop and squawk until finally settling for the evening}

Mt. Desert Island, part 2

[Kyle]After my next trip to work, the vicissitudes of airline scheduling meant that, in this particular instance, I could get home to Begonia a day and a half earlier if we rented a car and Maryanne made the three-hour drive to get me in Portland. We finally crawled into bed after a freezing row in sideways drizzle from shore at about 2:00am.

At 6:00, we got back up. It was my third day in a row of similar amounts of sleep, so I was really struggling with it. A rental car for us is a rare and useful treat. We only had it until noon, so we wanted to make the most of it before we had to take it back. Maryanne had it all figured out already. All I had to do was stay awake and drive.

{Maryanne: OK, right now I feel any reader may be distressed at my disregard for Kyle's health and his need for sleep. The reality is that Kyle has had little time to enjoy ANY of the places we've visited since Boston. We are supposed to be cruising, but really Kyle has just been sailing between commutes to work. We were in sight of Arcadia National Park, we were about to leave, and we had a few hours use of a car. I really didn't want Kyle (or myself) to miss out yet again. He can sleep later. As we set out it was drizzly, and with low cloud on the hill tops, but the forecast was for it to clear, at least slightly; it was all we had, and I'd make the most of it, Kyle would appreciate me after the fact!}

We headed for Acadia National Park and its 27-mile park loop road. The most efficient thing, time-wise, for us to have done, would have been to have driven the loop the night before in the rain. Then, it would have been a simple time/distance calculation. By morning, however, it had stopped raining and all of the daylight made it possible to actually see all of the trailheads and scenic overlooks. There was NO way we would be able to do all of those great 4½ mile hikes in a week, much less a few hours. It was painful to have to skip so much. It was great that we had at least some time to see it.

We made a list of must-see stops, and then and then raced from place to place in a mad dash. We’d park the car, run up the trails to the viewpoints, run back, hop in and take off. We must have looked to everybody else like we were on some sort of competitive timed treasure hunt.

Island first spring water source(now covered), and some pleasant spring hiking

Ocean Surf and Mountain Tarns

Kyle LOVES it

The surf explodes at Thunder Hole

We made it back to the rental car place right at the last minute of our rental period. They were kind enough to drive us back to the boat, saving us the 6½ mile walk. Even though we were exhausted, we decided not to waste a minute of our remaining time here, and refused to return directly to the boat (the rain had practically stopped!). There was a small museum that Maryanne had spied just five minutes from our boat and wanted us to explore. The museum was closed (too early in the season!) so we wondered about and along the way we found a trail that ran along the shores of one of the lakes. We took it. At the other end, the trail seemed to go right into somebody’s back yard and up the side steps attached to the house. Not knowing what else to do, we tiptoed past, only to find at the front of the house that it was actually the headquarters for a private conservation organization that manages the trails, among other things.

The town museum was closed, but we followed water up-stream from the mill and found fish ladders and eventually found woodland trails leading us to Somes Pond and Somes-Meynell Wildlife Sanctuary

We met a woman in the parking lot, who suggested we go in through the house to the back deck for some nice views of the lake. We initially surprised the Director inside with our intrusion, but he quickly warmed to us, and we soon found ourselves in a long conversation about the lake, the trails and the various conservation efforts underway, particularly the loons and the alewife, a herring-like fish.

We made our way back to the dinghy in meandering fashion, stopping every now and then to see something interesting. Once we were there, I just knew that if we stopped moving, we would fall asleep here we sat. Since it was close to high tide, the harbor had ten more feet of water in it than it had when we left for the drive. Many of the impassable muddy areas were now deep water. This allowed me to kidnap Maryanne for a pretty row around Sheep Island before we actually got back to Begonia for an early night.

We end the last of the daylight hours with a row around the island in the harbor

My Adorable Dynamo

[Kyle]When it came time for me to leave for work, just before three the next morning, it was foggy and had been raining between a light drizzle and a downpour all night. In order for Maryanne to get the dinghy back after my row to shore, she had to climb out of our nice warm bed and accompany me so that she could row it back home. Actually, she did me even one better and graciously bailed the previous night’s rain out of the dinghy while I dressed for work.

When we got to shore, the rain was down to a light mist, so she decided she could use some exercise and joined me for the 6½ mile walk to the airport. Our walk started on an empty road through dark forest and finished just after sunrise as we arrived with the staff opening the terminal. She waited until the other passengers and I were called through security, we said our goodbyes, and then she walked back home!

I got a text from her saying that she was back at the boat around the time my second flight landed in Newark.

I was pretty impressed. Then, about an hour later, I got another message that she had left the boat again, walked about a mile to the nearest gas station, and then filled up a six-gallon jerry can of diesel and returned home. The main road has a good paved sidewalk she could roll our cart over, but the last longish bit she would have had to pick up the can and carry it to the last ¼ mile or so to the dinghy dock. {Maryanne: Actually the cart rolled a LOT further than Kyle imagines, but I'm enjoying having Kyle think I struggle more than I do, so let's keep that quiet for now}

A while later, I got another message. She was looking for lost a stash of flour (she was going to do some baking) and wondered if I had tidied up and put it somewhere unusual. After a little back and forth, the flour wasn’t found, but in the process, Maryanne had turned the boat upside down, so she decided to just give our food and galley stores a clean and reorganization.

I was working a 10-hour day and I was feeling lazy!

[Maryanne]Once Kyle heads off to work, I try and share my days alone with both chores and fun. The forecast for the next few days was pretty miserable, and I determined it best to stay aboard. The location surprised us with having no wifi, and (more importantly) barely even a phone signal for much of the time. Occasionally I'd be able to get a text off to Kyle, but had no reliable signal, and surfing the internet was frustrating enough to be avoided completely. I was longing to explore some of what Mount Desert Island had to offer, and had hoped to spend some time in Bar Harbor itself; the weather made this totally unappealing, and I declined the opportunity, sulking somewhat!

Eventually it was time for Kyle to return. He was not able to fly back to Bar Harbor (poor timing of flights and his work schedule), so we'd organized for me to pick up a rental car and drive to Portland to meet with him there. Renting a car also means I can do more extensive grocery shopping, etc. Always a bonus. However it continued to rain, and I continued to have poor if any internet. What I determined (rightly or wrongly) was that it was too early in the season for a bus service, and I was going to have to walk to collect the car. I set out in a light drizzle and to aid the speed, took our little kick-scooter (a skateboard with handlebars) - what could go wrong?

First bail the dingy of two days of heavy rain. Load up bags for shopping, GPS for car, etc. Row ashore and secure dinghy. Hike to rental car location, making use of scooter when not too much uphill nor too steep down-hill. Tumble into a face plant only twice (being careful not to fall into oncoming traffic). Rain gets heavier, my coat is wet enough that it seems to have come right out of the washing machine. Eventually arrive (early), nobody there! Find note to call a phone number, call, and await arrival of manager. Manager arrives, and do paperwork. Here is where I discover I can't find my purse, and therefore don't have my drivers licence nor my credit card. For some reason few rental companies will loan out a car in such circumstances. I can't believe it, I've just walked for 2 hours in heavy rain, and I've got go go back to the boat and look for my purse. How COULD I have been so stupid? Maria, the manager takes pity on me, and to avoid a scene of tears and total breakdown, drives me back to the boat and watches on while I row back to Begonia. Here I tear the boat upside down and still don't find my purse. Could it have fallen out when I fell? Or maybe be in the bathroom at the airport where I changed out of my wet over-clothes? Either way I have to return to Maria so I row back, still not sure if I can even rent a car, nor how Kyle can possibly find his way back home. Luckily I do have emergency credit cards stashed on the boat, and my UK driving license, so I take these and hope they will work. On the drive back to the rental office, we keep eyes peeled on the road for a lost purse (a very small black purse, and yes, it's still raining, no luck). Maria sympathises and accepts what I can offer her, and hands me the keys for a lovely car. I load it up with my grocery bags, set-up my GPS, and as as I'm hooking up my phone to the car power discover my missing purse. Doh! it was in the bag all along, now I really feel stupid.

I make a dash for the grocery store, return to the dingy to stow our new supplies, and then return to the car for the three hour drive to collect Kyle. I take the scenic route, and stop for a lobster sandwich; I tell myself I deserve it.

I treat myself to a lobster sandwich from one of the many lobster pounds on route. Yes, they cook outside, in the rain, and isn't that lobster claw cocktail stick cute!

Mt Desert Island

[Kyle]At our unexpected overnight anchorage, the fog had lifted a few feet by the next morning to about twice the treetop height, revealing a wild rocky cove without a stick of human presence. Four big seagulls combed the gravel beach on the outgoing tide. The only other thing in the glassy cove besides Begonia was a lone lobster bot buoy some distance off. The air was cold and moist and smelled like wet earth and pine. It was very peaceful.

Our every noise was magnified as it echoed off the low hills. When we weighed anchor, the chain coming in over the roller sounded like a dump truck unloading a load of stone. Sorry birds.

With only a few more miles to go and all day to do it, we had a really nice day of sailing for the pleasure of it. The wind was still slightly unfavorable for our course, so we enjoyed making long tacks from one island to another, disappearing into the fog in between. Along the way, we called out pots to one another as we weaved through the fields.

As we sailed through the Western Way toward Southwest Harbor, the fog lifted to a higher layer of stratus drizzling ever so slightly and the wind slowed and fell astern. The tide was just beginning to flood and we soon found ourselves gliding silently up Somes Sound past beautiful, stately homes, most of which still looked closed awaiting summer.

Sailing up Somes Sound, and reaching Somes Harbor - our home for a few days

At the northern end of the sound, in Somes Harbor, we found ourselves in the company of hundreds of moorings, but so far only two other boats. We were able to find good holding for our anchor ahead of the field not too far from the public dinghy dock. Our timing was good, however, and the weather held off pouring rain again and blowing hard until we were safely at anchor and inside. Even through the next wave of miserable weather, it was hard not to feel lucky. This place is so beautiful, even in the rain, perhaps (a little) because of it. We fired up the heat, Maryanne made a big batch of potato soup, and we spent the evening sharing a bottle of wine and reading to each other.

Heading "Down East" from Portland

[Kyle]For once, the story of our next big sail didn’t start out with, “I came home, got two hours of sleep, then got up in the dark to leave.” This time, the tides and forecast were such that I could sleep as much as I needed to, then get ready to leave.

We had originally intended to sail directly from Portland to Bar Harbor, where the next available airport was for my commute to work. After a little more research of my ground options for getting to the airport, we switched our destination to Somes Harbor, at the top of the Somes Sound, the fjord bisecting Mt. Desert Island. This would make the trip to the airport within (long) walking distance, simplifying matters considerably.

The distance, tides and conditions were such that it made the most sense to do the passage as an overnight sail. During the dark part of the night, we would be in the open sea, where the density of lobster pot buoys was much lower; the inland waters of Maine are far too crowded with lobster pots to make navigating at night safe.

The wind forecast was for a twelve-hour window of tailwinds that were strong enough for the Weather Service to have issued a small craft advisory. I was actually a little concerned that we would still have too much speed, even over-reefed, and that we would need to heave to on the other end waiting for first light.

It didn’t turn out that way at all (surprise!). We left a little early with the thought that it wasn’t too bad of a day yet, and that the pre-window winds would actually help us head further offshore to the south giving us both a better wind angle during the strong winds, and reducing our chances of snagging a pot buoy. When the wind did finally shift, it was half-heartedly, both in direction and speed. What we ended up with was not strong tailwinds and breakneck speeds, but modest headwinds. We spent the whole night pinching as close as we could to the wind trying not to get set far enough north to need another tack south back away from the coast.

Even though going upwind in Begonia is a much smoother and faster affair than it was in Footprint, the lighter than forecast winds were really messing up our ETA forecast. Soon, our concern changed from getting there before daylight to making it there before dark. My hopes were buoyed by a brief couple of hours of 20kt winds as a cold front passed, but they quickly died back down again after bringing slashing rain and much colder air that I had to go out in to shake out the reefs. We lost more time by snagging three lobster pots in the night (in depths well over 300 feet). The first two floated free after we slowed to a stop, and then backed the sails to get going astern. The third was more obstinate, requiring quite a bit of prodding with a long boathook to free. Then it took us the longest time to get the sails to bite and get headway again. We would just get enough speed to bear off and catch the wind when a wave would slap us back.

Our ETA in Somes Harbor was now after midnight. Knowing lobster pots are even more prolific in shallower waters, we’d have no chance of avoiding them in the dark so we started looking for an overnight anchorage to which we could divert. After looking at a couple of the islands within reach at daylight, we settled on Lunt Harbor at Frenchboro on Long Island. The little harbor was reputedly packed with moorings for hire that were too numerous to allow anchoring. In spite of the fact that the Frenchboro and the island in general seemed to have a lot to offer, we knew we wouldn’t have time to do much other than sleep as we still had to be in Somes Harbor the next day so I could get my flight. Maryanne dug through our guidebook, which is mostly marina ads, and found a footnote about deserted Northeast Harbor on the other side of the island, which had the added benefit of being less out of our way, so we decided to head there.

Sun setting at sea, just before the fog descended

About two miles from the island, we sailed from a thick haze with just a hint of sun shining through into proper Maine pea-soup fog. The sun, which we never really saw, set around then, making the visibility even less. The next half-hour was one of the most anxious I’ve had in a long time as we squinted into the darkening fog trying to pick out pot buoys. Without any visual references, our brains struggled to make sense of tiny changes in contrast. Every little wavelet looked like a float or some other obstruction. Often, we’d end up with the rudders hard over and watch one we’d spotted late just miss a prop. All of this was happening as we were feeling our way into with depth sounder, radar and echoes from our fog signal. There was a big, granite island only a few hundred feet away, but we could see no sign of it.

It was with great relief that we got the anchor holding in 10m of water, surrounded by a completely featureless horizon just as it got too dark to see without headlamps.

{Maryanne: Down-East is the quaint local term for the far north-eastern areas of the state of Maine. As the coastline progresses north, it curves east even more so; I've no idea how the 'down' part of down-east came to be, it just is!}

.. And on to Portland

[Kyle]Portsmouth, NH to Portland, ME

As seems to be usual these days, my commute had me arriving home after the last long walking leg at Midnight. I was tired and could have used a full night’s sleep for a change, but the weather and tides were not cooperating. The best thing for us to do in order to assure that we had both good tailwinds for the offshore leg, and would not have to fight the strong current in the Piscataqua River, was to leave as soon as possible at the first hint of morning twilight. Maryanne kindly did virtually all of the necessary preparations the day before in preparation for our early departure.

We left at the peak of the ebb current, which allowed us to slide out sideways from the mooring field while moving forward in the rushing water. Once clear, we hoisted a reefed mainsail, turned down river and were hastily washed out to sea. In the open ocean, we found the wind to be less than forecast. I briefly considered shaking out the reef, but decided to hold out until after the sunrise lull. It worked. The wind filled in and soon after we were charging up the southern Maine coast carrying less sail than we technically could handle. Our speed was comfortably in the 9kts and our rig wasn’t straining for it, so we enjoyed the nice, smooth motion of a downwind sail on a clear, sunny day. Maryanne made a big breakfast and we were each able, in turn, to finish our night’s sleep before we made it to the entrance to Portland Harbor at Cape Elizabeth.

Arriving in Portland, Maine

As we approached land, the wind shifted constantly and became gusty, making me glad our sail plan had been conservative. We entered Casco Bay and sailed very close by Portland Head Light in order to keep clear of the main shipping channel. As we did, we snapped pictures at the waves crashing on the rocks by the lighthouse as visitors there snapped pictures of the sailboat sailing by.

We had made such good time that we were safely secured at a mooring at Portland Yacht Services by noon, instead of around sunset as I had originally estimated when I planned the route before the current forecast. We used the extra time to head ashore for an orientation. We meandered along, exploring new things and pointing out to each other things we remembered from our last visit five years earlier.

Toward day’s end we were getting hungry. We looked at several menus along the way, but Maryanne convinced me that I just had to go to Happy Hour at DiMillo’s, since I had missed it the last time we had gone through Portland. It was wonderful. DiMillo’s, built on a beautifully restored ferry is a real Portland landmark. Ordinarily, their fare is way beyond our budget, but their Happy Hour is an amazing deal. Their drinks are reasonably priced (barely discounted), but the best thing is that it includes a buffet. There are the usual bar snacks like chips and salsa or raw vegetables and dip interspersed with some real gems from their kitchen: chowders, bisques and seasoned potatoes. The barman was warm and friendly. I asked him what he had on tap that was good. He suggested three local beers as well as the best order to enjoy them for optimal flavor. Well now that I had a path, I couldn’t just buy one and stop partway. He just sold me three beers and made me think it was my idea. Smooth.

De Millio's bar for Happy Hour (and restaurant)

In the end, we left full and pleasantly tipsy for what it would have cost us for a couple of appetizers in most places. On our way out, Maryanne stopped at the desk and asked the proprietress if it would be okay for us to look around the non-Happy Hour sections. “Of Course!” came the answer, giving us a chance to peek at the gorgeous dining room and the still empty outside deck upstairs. Well done, Maryanne.

Maryanne had read on some tourist website that the top two rated eating establishments in Portland are both Gelato shops, and they’re right across the street from one another. We decided to work off our buffet and beers with an expedition to one of them. We decided on Gorgeous Gelato with a coin toss over their rival, Gelato Fiasco. I started with a taster spoon of their Limoncello. I like and will eat other types of gelato but, for me, lemon is the benchmark for making comparisons. It was marvelous. They generously offered to let us try as many as we liked. I surprised myself by leaving at the end not with Limoncello, but with a cone full of two flavors, one called simply “Gorgeous” and the other a really dark chocolate. I was a happy man on the walk home.

Portland: Day 2

We had intended to spend more time exploring the Portland the next day, but it didn’t exactly work out that way. The night before, I had slept fitfully because I was worrying about our steering. The steering seemed to work fine, but I remember thinking on a couple of occasions since we had the stop limit brackets fixed in Boston that it seemed a little stiff when hand steering. At the time, I managed to somewhat successfully convince myself that it was my imagination and that nothing was really wrong. I had gone through the whole thing in Deltaville the year before on the refit and it was in good shape then. I wasn’t sure, though, and now it was bugging me.

So I spent most of the day taking our steering system apart and putting it back together again, slowly working my way through the linkage step by step until I was sure there was no jamming or excess friction in any part of the system.

With my mind at ease, we still had time for an early dinner at the Flatbread Company, a free-range, organic pizza place on the waterfront. Our timing was bad. A group of kids were just finishing up a recital on string instruments when we left, so it was standing room only. We waited 30 minutes, enjoying the eclectic locals and then our table was free. By the time our food came, the place was back to being a cozy spot to eat dinner and talk about what it was like to be all the way back here again and about all of the places we’ve seen in between. I still can’t believe it all.

After dinner, we decided to rectify our passing on Gelato Fiasco the night before by paying them a visit. This time, I started with lemon, tasted my way through a few flavors, and ended walking out with a big cup of lemon. Wow! The place in Milazzo was better, but only slightly. That’s the end of the list. That was some magnificent gelato!

Well fed on Pizza and ice cream in Portland, Kyle was (physically at least) ready to head back to work - Sunrise on the walk to work

Maryanne in Portland

I walked with Kyle to the airport in Portland early the following day (just under 6 miles), and then ambled back a more scenic route past various public parks and spaces; Portland seems filled with running trials, and cycle paths, all that (wonderful) lefty-liberal stuff we like.

Walking around Portland, sunshine makes everything extra beautiful. A few cities in the USA have fire-alarm-box systems, I quite like Portland's version

Over the days Kyle was away, I explored a few more of the trails, and even caught a little too much sun one day but each day focused on some minor chore (housewife or boatwife variety). The weather was kind, and I found time to volunteer again (as I had way back in 2008) a few hours at the Maine Island Trail Association office. I also wanted checked out at least one of Portlands local breweries, I tried the Shipyard Brewing Company which offer a video and tasting session (for free!); the generous multitude of beers to taste was wasted on me, but I'll definitely try and persuade Kyle to visit if we get a chance travelling south again.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Unexpected Discovery (and other fun in NH)

[Maryanne]Kyle headed off to work quite early, so early that even he was OK (a little squirmy, but OK) with forking out for a cab to get him to the airport in time for his flight.

I was left with rain storms through most of the day so pottered aboard begonia waiting for it all to pass. Just after 3:30pm I called for a Portsmouth Yacht Club lunch vessel to pick me up so I could finally go ashore, explore a little more, and to claim back the dingy that Kyle had taken so early in the morning. There was no answer to my calls via VHF or phone to the yacht club; the little devils had gone home early. I was stranded. Once I eventually resigned myself to that fact, I settled in to a good book and enjoyed the bright post-rain skies.

Scenes from a morning coastal walk

The following day was forecast to have great weather, so as soon as the yacht club staff turned up, I went ashore with my bicycle and headed off. I was primarily headed for the Strawberry Banke Museum: set on ten acres of land, with over 30 restored period homes and gardens from colonial America through to early 1900's America. It’s a living history site with role-players presenting history at various locations on route (gardens, smithy, store-keepers, weavers, bakers, etc). Since my arrival coincided with its start, I began with a guided tour of all a selection of the gardens by one of the full time garden staff. Despite the fact that I know very little about plants and gardening, this was probably the best tour I’ve ever been given; the guide was clearly knowledgeable, and he was enthusiastic, and open to questions at all times. I didn’t leave myself nearly enough time to explore the full site, and although the ticket is valid for two consecutive days the weather forecast was so bad for the following day I was not able to return. It was well worth the entry price.

One of the many gardens at Strawberry Bank

I did manage to meet up with a couple of different couch surfers (who I invited to visit the boat) and shared a nice walk, some great company and some delicious food. Thanks to all the CS universe (specifically in this case: Samantha and Debbie)! And thanks also to Greg G. a local Cruising Club of America ambassador who very kindly insisted on taking me to a local grocery store (heaven for a cruiser!).

The highlight of my time alone however, was quite unexpected, and discovered on a trip to the local New Castle post office. I was not expecting much in the way of excitement, but found an unexpectedly quaint scene.. The building itself is beautifully nestled in the picturesque village of New Castle (smallest town, and richest per capita in New Hampshire), but the inside was a step back in time. Inside the Post Office boxes the locals rent were (presumably) original combination lock boxes – I’d never seen anything like it. Absolutely charming!

I've been in quite a few US Post offices, but never seen anything as charming as these vintage PO Boxes (presumably original)