Thursday, August 29, 2013

Tourists in Baltimore - Part 1

[Kyle]On my first “weekend”, which was painfully short, we managed to get a lot in.

We started with a long, meandering walk to the inner harbor, taking pictures and stopping at various points of interest along the way. Our first real attraction was the restored Seven-foot Knoll lighthouse. It has been removed from its spot in the bay, replaced by a boring pole, and now resides on a pier in the main tourist area.

The Relocated Seven-Foot Knoll Lighthouse

Although it seemed very spacious, living conditions were reputedly fairly difficult. Summers must have been pretty pleasant, but the winters sounded cold and horrible. Lighthouse keepers were often the only ones available to rescue foundering ships in miserable, dangerous conditions. Another serious problem they had was ice in the winter when the bay froze over. It took several instances of trial and error for the engineers to figure out how to keep ice from sweeping away the lighthouse’s legs and carrying them off.

A music Garden and a homophone sidewalk amuse us for a while

We couldn’t take the heat any more, so we dove into a movie theater and paid $24 for a couple hours’ air conditioning. The movie – The World’s End – was a bit strange, but entertaining enough. As I said, the main point was the air conditioning.

We followed that up with an intimate dinner in Little Italy. The place had really good ratings on Urban Spoon, but we found it pretty average. The great thing was that it was a bit early for dinner, so we had the whole six-table dining room to ourselves. It was nice to have time to talk over a couple of glasses of Chianti.

The Italian clearly didn't do it for Kyle - we needed both a pub and a slice of pizza before finally retiring back to Begonia

We managed to get out a little earlier the next day for more aggressive tourist-ing. We bought two tickets, each good for four different historic boats, and tried our best to get them all in in one day. We made it through three.

Lighthship Chesapeake

The first was the Chesapeake Lightship. They had a smaller one of these – the Portsmouth – in Portsmouth, VA, where we lived for several years, but the interior has always been closed for restoration. I’ve always been curious why so much ship was necessary for a light and a foghorn. I’m still not sure I know. Since lightships are ships, they still have all of the normal ship’s machinery to maintain in addition to the light. They need Engineers for the engines and generators, a Captain, a Navigator, a Radio Operator, etc. Most of the time, they are anchored, so it seems like there is a lot of time with nothing to do but wait out the watches. I realize we have done this a lot aboard Begonia at times, but was always in the context of a voyage. To me, that makes all of the difference. Being anchored out of sight of land for weeks while going absolutely nowhere would have me climbing the walls. It’s actually even worse than that. While other boats generally were expected to flee from bad weather, lightships were expected to stay on station because that’s when they were needed the most. The only possible saving grace that I could see to being assigned to duty aboard one is that you’re only 20 miles or so from port, so when your stint aboard is over, you’re home in three hours or so, instead of being potentially stuck somewhere more remote. {Maryanne: Life aboard must have been pretty scary actually. As substantial as these boats are, one (the Lightship Nantucket) was ripped in two as the British 'Olympic' (yes, sister ship to the Titanic) didn't notice it and rammed right through the thing, killing several of the lightship crew - Newsreel}

From the Chesapeake, we went next door to the Torsk, a WWII submarine that has seen quite a bit of action in its over 10,000 dives. It was immediately apparent that I was too tall for this boat. There were a million things for me to bang my head on and the hatches were a little small to climb through. Submarines are completely utilitarian on the inside and every bit of machinery is exposed. Space is also at a premium, so everything is put where it will fit. I’m not sure how comfortable I would feel sleeping in the bunk between torpedoes in the room where they are being repaired on the central table by the other watch.

The Torsk and the Constellation

From there, we went a little further back in time to tour the Constellation, a mid 19th Century tall ship. The Constellation was last commissioned tall ship when steam was the big thing. It was mainly used for training but saw active service off the coast of Africa with a commission to intercept illegal slave ships. As with the Constitution in Boston, we were really impressed with the spaciousness and luxury of the Captain’s quarters, particularly in contrast to living conditions of the ordinary sailors and soldiers aboard. The highlight of the tour was a hands-on demonstration of the process of readying a cannon for firing, which included hauling the thing around with block and tackle. I got to play a loader – the guy who puts the shell in the cannon as well as well as helping the primer clean and prime the barrel. Maryanne and I also got a turn as the only two people turning the big capstan. We were like a couple of mules walking around the drum in a circle. Even though Maryanne had plenty of experience cranking up Footprint’s anchor on our manual windlass, I couldn’t convince them to give her a chance at pulling up one of Constellation’s anchors off of the pier.

Fun aboard the Constellation

It was getting late in the day, so the fourth ship, the Coast Guard Cutter Taney, would have to wait for another day. We had a quick check of a couple of critical points on my commute and then went for dinner at one of my favorite places at the Inner Harbor: California Burrito. I enjoy food in burrito form as a rule, but his place distinguishes itself with the "Wall of Fire" – a rack with 75 very hot sauces. Since becoming a Phaal Curry Monster at the Brick Lane Curry House, I of course have nothing to prove, but it is good to keep my hand in, so to speak.

Memories of the Brick Lane Curry House 'Phaal curry challenge' and more recently, the much appreciated 'Wall of Fire' options at California Burrito. Free extra - sometimes words alone are not (entertaining) enough!

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