Reflections on the winter – and looking ahead.

We’re back in Groton and getting ready to splash Pegu Club. Are we excited? Hell, yes! Are we glad we took the winter off? Yes – with some caveats. Did we learn anything from this experiment? Definitely.

Last spring we decided to take a boat break for the 2021/2022 winter cruising season. We were feeling burned out, and we wanted to step away from cruising for a bit so we wouldn’t get to the point where we never wanted to cruise (or even sail) again. Over the summer we thought that perhaps we would spend the next few years traveling on land in the winter and cruising in the summer.

By the time we left in September, however, I was ready to cruise south again. I even brought it up as a possibility to Jeff. But he wasn’t quite there yet, and we did have a fun winter planned, so we decided to stay the course and go to California.

A few months into our stay in San Diego, Jeff was also ready to go cruising again, so we enjoyed the rest of our winter knowing that we would move back onto Pegu Club in the spring and cruise south to the Bahamas again this fall. We spent a lot of time excitedly planning our boat projects for the summer, talking about destinations (both in the near future and the not-so-near future), and figuring out what works and doesn’t work for us when we cruise full-time.

So what did we learn from our winter away?  Boat vacations are VERY important.  It simply can’t be all boat, all the time. That just leads us hurtling full-speed down the road to burn out. We actually figured this out after our first year, but when Covid arrived, traveling away from the boat wasn’t really an option for us – a factor that contributed heavily to our desire for a break.

Now that we’ve entered a new normal (fingers crossed), we’re going to take at least two boat vacations each year, perhaps even three.  It doesn’t have to be for months.  It just needs to be a vacation. Towards that end, we’ve booked flights to Puerto Rico for a week in January, and we’re kicking around a road trip to Montreal and Quebec City next summer (ideally during Montreal’s International Fireworks Competition).

What else did we learn? We aren’t ready to give up living and cruising on Pegu Club yet – not by a long shot. But Jeff prefers occasionally staying in one place for a while at a marina so we can just step off the boat onto land and settle in a bit.  I like to move along a bit more frequently and generally favor anchoring.  So, with the experience that comes from being happily married for 22 years and counting, we’re going to compromise.

To start with, we’re spending this summer at Shenny.  We have several big boat canvas projects for Pegu that will be more easily completed at a slip.  Of course we’ll do some day sails and short getaways this summer, and we are taking two weeks in July to sail to Martha’s Vineyard with our friends from S/V Infinity.  But a big focus will be getting the sewing projects completed (and blogged about).  Jeff is working part-time again at Defender, and I’m going to be one of the launch operators and fuel dock attendants at Shenny.  So all of that will certainly keep us busy.  

Right after Labor Day we’ll start heading south, and we’re planning on several one or two week marina stays at some of our favorite places. We also want to keep it fresh, so we have a few brand new stops in mind in the U.S. and the Bahamas.  

Anything else? We don’t want to necessarily spend the next decade cruising back and forth between Connecticut and the Bahamas. We’d like to spread our wings a bit more, so we’re kicking around some ideas that I’ll share in the future. In the meantime, we’re having fun talking about it.

We feel refreshed, energized, and as enthusiastic as newbie cruisers. By that measurement, our winter away from Pegu Club – while way too long – was absolutely worth it. Now let’s see what comes next!

Palm Springs – among a select few spots at the top of our list – and back to Connecticut.

Our next stay after San Diego was four weeks in Palm Springs.  We’ve been to Palm Springs twice before and have always loved it, but this would be our longest stay by far.  Before we arrived we were thinking it could be a top contender for the “Can we live here someday?” sweepstakes.  By the time we reluctantly left, it was running neck and neck with Beaufort, SC.  We even briefly debated staying for an additional month, but logistically we couldn’t make it work.

With a great vibe and even greater weather, we made the most out of our stay.  Since we had a late check-in, we took the long way around the barn to get there from San Diego.  We went via Brawley so we could buy carne asada at Ramey’s and Jeff could see the Imperial Sand Dunes near Glamis for the first time.  The dunes are massive – often reaching over 300 feet high – and several movies have been filmed there, including Return of the Jedi.  

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Since Palm Springs was only an hour away from Joshua Tree National park, we took a day trip there and were both very pleasantly surprised with how much we enjoyed it.  The landscape was much more interesting than we anticipated, and we’d definitely go back again.

Joshua Trees:

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The Cholla Cactus garden was amazing.  I loved the way the light shining through them made them look as if they were glowing (it was better than the picture).  If we move to Palm Springs, I would absolutely plant some.  The cactus is also called “teddy bear cactus” and there are large signs warning people not to touch them.  I could definitely understand the temptation because they looked soft and fuzzy.  Note: they’re not.

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An oasis in Joshua Tree National Park:

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We also just enjoyed daily life, taking full advantage of the walking paths, parks for metal detecting (for Jeff), and local events.  I even spent one memorable Saturday learning how to flag at a Flagging in the Desert event.  Of course it’s obvious that I was a newbie compared to the second video with the people who know what they’re doing!

So what puts Palm Springs in the very top tier for places we’d be happy to live some day when we aren’t cruising?  It has great weather (obviously).  The city has a laid-back vibe with an all-inclusive population and fantastic mid-century modern architecture (which we love).  

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It’s large enough to have many things to do but not so big that it’s impersonal, and there’s no need to take the freeway to get everywhere.  There are tons of hiking and walking paths, plenty of parks, and it’s close enough to L.A. and San Diego for getaways without being too close.  Basically it checked almost every box we have, so we’ll see.  Who knows what the future will hold?

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But meanwhile, it was time to pack up the car and point the bow east (assuming a car had a bow, of course).  After one last visit with Lyn and Ken in San Diego and family in L.A., we were off to Phoenix where we had a great visit with my high-school friend, Wes and his wife.  

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Wes and I have been friends for 39 years!

The next day was the start of two 700 mile days so we could spend more time doing a “greatest hits” tour up the east coast.  60 hours after leaving Phoenix we were pulling into my uncle and aunt’s driveway in metro Atlanta for two nights. We hadn’t been to their new house yet, and it was great to see them!

After that it was off for a two night stay in Beaufort, SC (we can’t miss having our tomato pie):

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We took advantage of having a car this time to drive to Hunting Island State Park, less than 1/2 hour from Beaufort. It has a gorgeous beach – yet another reason why Beaufort remains neck and neck with Palm Springs

We also visited Wilmington, NC for the first time. It’s a detour up the Cape Fear River that we weren’t sure would be worth taking. After visiting, we decided that it most definitely is. What a fantastic downtown. It reminded us of a northeast city with the weather of the southeast (photos courtesy of Google):

A stop in Belhaven was mandatory (of course) and, once again, we took advantage of having a car by driving to Washington, NC to see if we might want to go there on Pegu Club (it would be a 30 nautical mile detour off of the ICW, up the Pamlico River). We loved the downtown area and will absolutely stop there again.

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Last but not least, we enjoyed a great stay in Delaware with our good friends Vanessa and Kurt. We also had the added bonus while we were there of getting together with more good friends – and fellow cruisers – Jay and Tanya from S/V Minx.

And now we have landed back in Groton, CT where we are busily preparing Pegu Club to go back in the water. Shore leave is days away from being over. What’s next? Stay tuned!

I’m the Captain now.

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One of the things I’ve really wanted to do for awhile is to get my Coast Guard Captain’s license.  I’ve been kicking around the idea of an occasional part-time or seasonal job to add a bit of structure to my day (fluffing up the cruising kitty is an added bonus), and I knew that I didn’t want to work in an office or do anything related to law.  If I was going to work, it needed to be connected with the marine industry, preferably outside.  With a Captain’s license I could drive a launch, a water taxi, a tour boat, do deliveries, etc., and I could do it in any state.  THAT’S my idea of the perfect part-time or seasonal job!  So once we arrived in San Diego, and we were finally going to be in the same place for awhile with solid internet, it was time to hit the books. Continue reading “I’m the Captain now.”

Top three bucket list item checked off the list!

One of the things I was REALLY looking forward to on our road trip across the U.S. was going to the Grand Canyon.  Jeff and I have never been, and it was absolutely a bucket-list item for me.  Well, Jeff’s (fortunately) brief bout of atrial fibrillation while we were in the Colorado National Monument temporarily derailed our plans.  We discussed going to the Grand Canyon as we drove back east, but hotels at the park filled up literally a year in advance, so a March visit wasn’t going to be an option.  However, we were able to snag a reservation for two nights at the end of February at one of the cabins at the Bright Angel Lodge.  In the end, I think it worked out better than if we had gone in October as originally planned, or even March.

I’ll admit to having second thoughts the night before we left our AirBnB in Palm Springs.  We were going to get up before sunrise, and we were looking at at 450 mile drive.  But we decided to seize the day and dragged ourselves out of bed when the alarm went off.  We were greeted with a pink mountain view from the sunrise as we left the rental, and after a quick stop at Swiss Donut to fortify ourselves for the trip, we hit the road.

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The road conditions on I-40 as we neared Flagstaff were appalling.  We’ve never experienced roads that bad anywhere – even in New England during the winter.  I’m talking craters the fell like the size of a VW Beetle.  A quick Google search confirmed that we weren’t imagining it.  I found this picture online, and although it’s from 2017, this is how it looked in stretches along the way.  Anyone who claims an infrastructure bill isn’t needed should take a drive along I-40 in Arizona:

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After dodging and swerving our way along the interstate, Jeff and I looked at each other and said, “I sure. hope this is worth it.”  It was.

Our cabin was a stone’s throw from the edge of the Canyon so after getting our key we brought our duffel bags to our room.  We hadn’t yet seen the Canyon yet, and Jeff made me laugh when he said, “Don’t peek!”  We dropped off our bags and made the short walk to the rim so we could see it together at the same time.  Wow!

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Pre-covid, the Grand Canyon was the second most visited National Park with around 6,000,000 visitors annually.  During the prime tourist season, the place is absolutely jammed.  But February is the least popular month to visit with around 1/3 of the number of visitors compared to October (when we originally planned to go).  And we absolutely reaped the benefit.

Although we prefer not to be this close to snow, seeing it in the Canyon was a treat:

 

It was chilly with highs in the upper 40’s, but the sun was strong so we were comfortable with our cold weather clothes.  Hiking was off the table with an elevation of 7,100 feet, but we were able to fully enjoy both of the rim roads (Desert View and Hermit), pulling over at all of the viewpoints.  In fact, unbeknownst to us, Hermit Road is closed to all vehicles except for the visitor buses from March 1 – November 30th.  When was our primary day to sightsee?  February 28th.  Perfect!  The lack of crowds meant that we even had some of the viewpoints to ourselves for a while, which is simply unheard of as the main tourist season kicks in.  Our delayed trip truly worked out for the best.

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I loved the huge mesa in the distance:

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Meet Hank. My best friend, Lyn, is crocheting these bears and I had to have one. He appeals to the kid in me, and I think we all could use that occasionally. You’ll be seeing him from time to time as we travel. Yes, Jeff is very patient:

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Overall, I would say that a two night stay is perfect if you just want to see the views and aren’t planning to  hike.  The first night is your arrival day, the second night gives you the whole day to sightsee, and then you leave.  Jeff said that the Grand Canyon was one of those places where the word “epic”, typically overused, is actually appropriate.  The scale is almost unimaginable.  At one point we thought we saw a bird flying in the canyon, only to discover that it was actually a helicopter!

That being said, I think we both preferred some of the other parks we’ve been to a bit more, like Colorado National Monument or Rocky Mountain National Park.  Their slightly smaller scale made them feel a bit more accessible, if that makes sense.  Regardless, we’re both glad that we made the effort to see it.  At the risk of stating the obvious, the views are amazing.

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Greetings from San Diego.

Our San Diego AirBnB reservation was for 3 1/2 months which gave us plenty of opportunities to explore.  This isn’t vacation for us – it’s life – and our budget doesn’t allow for an “every day is a vacation day” attitude.  We’ve also visited San Diego several times and gone to places like the San Diego Zoo, Sea World, and Balboa Park, so this time our activities were more like what locals would do (taking Covid into account, of course).   Continue reading “Greetings from San Diego.”

Boat “camping” vs. actual camping.

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I can’t count the number of times I’ve read on cruising forums that a given person can’t cruise on a boat less than 40 feet because they don’t want to “camp.”  I always suspected that people who say it have never truly camped.  Now, after five weeks of tent camping, I am certain of it.  Cruising on a smaller boat – even as small as our Bristol 29.9 – is absolutely NOTHING like camping.

Pegu Club has real furniture and a real galley.  When we want to do dishes we use a real sink and take advantage of 68 gallons of water – we don’t have to put the dishes into a bucket and head over to the camping facility’s sink.  Pegu Club has electricity – not merely flashlights.  She has a toilet so we don’t have to get dressed and trek across a campground in the middle of the night.  On Pegu Club we don’t have to put everything with a scent into a bear box.  When we want to go somewhere else, we spend ten minutes putting things away and raise the anchor vs. having to break camp and load up the car.  When we arrive, we drop the anchor and there we are vs. unloading the car and setting everything up.  Pegu Club may only be 30 feet, but she is 30 feet of pure luxury compared to camping.

There’s no doubt that an RV or a trailer would be more comfortable than a tent, and certainly more comparable to living on a boat.  Before we left on this trip, we talked seriously about getting an RV for land travel when we’re finished with boat life some day.  But now?  I have less than zero interest in doing it.  Perhaps I’ll change my mind in the coming years, but currently a life of land travel in campgrounds and boondocking doesn’t appeal in any way, shape, or form.  I miss the boat, and I miss cruising.

Enough!

With cold weather nipping at our heels, we had a beautiful drive down the Pacific Coast Highway to our next stop in Fort Bragg, CA.

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Fort Bragg was a VERY cute town which we enjoyed very much.  There were lots of independent shops and one of the best visitors guides we had ever seen, with a map showing all of the shops and restaurants along with the distances between areas of town.  Whenever we travel we play the “Could we live here?” game, and while a move to Fort Bragg is definitely not in our future, it ticked the boxes for the kind of town we could see ourselves living in some day.

Roundman’s Smokehouse and Butcher Shop had this in the shop which made me laugh:

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While we enjoyed Fort Bragg itself, what wasn’t as enjoyable was our our camping neighbors who kept waking up all night to smoke pot, resulting in coughing which in turn kept waking US up all night.  We were supposed to stay in Fort Bragg for three nights, and after the first night I surreptitiously looked at the tag hanging from their rear-view mirror to see when they were leaving.  Phew.  They were leaving the next day.  We could suck it up for one more night.

After our second sleepless night we woke up relieved, knowing they were leaving that morning.  After they made no signs of breaking camp, I took another look at their tag.  Damn!  They had added another day.  I said to Jeff there was no way I was putting up with another night of this, and with 30 mph winds expected to arrive that afternoon heralding even colder temperatures, it was an easy decision to leave one day early and try to make some tracks south.  With a hastily booked motel room in Santa Cruz, we put our pot-smoking neighbors in our rear-view mirror and enjoyed another scenic drive down PCH.

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The next day we set up the tent at New Brighton State Beach, just south of Santa Cruz.  We were noticing that the farther south we went the dustier the campsites were getting, and the temperatures weren’t getting any warmer.  We couldn’t seem to get ahead of the cold.  It was cold during the day, it was colder at night, and the fun-to-suck ratio was WAY off.

So, consistent with our philosophy of never hesitating to change our plans when needed, after five weeks of tent camping we pulled the plug.  It was time to get warm again.  We still had two weeks to go until our San Diego AirBnB reservation began, so we cobbled together a few different stays with a combination of friends and relatives in Los Angeles and San Diego, and a hotel in Palm Springs.  By the time we checked into our AirBnB we were warm and refreshed, and I had decided that I had zero interest in ever tent camping again!

Arboles gigantes.

After three nights in Brookings it was time to continue slowly making our way south down the Pacific Coast Highway. One of the things Jeff was looking forward to on this trip was the chance to see the Redwoods in person (I had seen them back when I was a child when my dad took me on a week-long camping trip up the California coast), so we booked a few different campgrounds to cover the next week or so.

We settled in to the KOA near Crescent City (much better than the KOA in Montrose, CO) and spent a few days hiking and exploring.  We were both underwhelmed by Crescent City itself (it had a very weird vibe), but the Boy Scout Tree Trail at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park – one of the largest, old-growth redwood trails in the world – certainly didn’t disappoint.  We even met a park ranger on the trail on our way back out who cheerfully answered all of the questions we had been asking ourselves while we hiked. Continue reading “Arboles gigantes.”

Throwing our itinerary out the window.

We spent two great days hanging out with my sister and her husband, and by the time we pulled away we had a batch of fresh reservations waiting for us at campgrounds along the California coast. Jeff was feeling much better now that we were at a lower elevation, so we repacked the car and headed for our first camp site – Harris Beach State Park in Brookings, Oregon.

Jeff and I had never been to Oregon, so this was going to be a first for both of us.  But before we could get there, we needed to cover 1,000 miles and get through what turned out to be the most tedious, creepy portion of the entire trip.  We had decided to break the drive into two days and spend the night in Sparks, Nevada.  Driving north from the Vegas area, Route 95 basically consists of hundreds of miles of desolate desert interspersed with teeny-tiny towns every 100 miles or so that time has clearly forgotten.  A good chunk of it was only two lanes, and between the desolation, zero cell service, dearth of other cars, and smoke from the California wildfires hanging in the air, it felt like a weird Mad Max post-apocalyptic world.  I found this picture on Google Images, from an article titled, “U.S. 95 is the worst highway in Nevada.”  We haven’t been on many Nevada highways, but the author is likely correct.  Picture hundreds of miles of this:

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Good times.

We were more than happy to put Route 95 in our rear-view mirror as we approached Sparks.

The drive from Sparks, NV to Brookings, Oregon, however, was filled with beautiful, scenic byways – pine trees, mountains, and lovely views.

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Mount Shasta.

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Great view from the rest stop in Oregon.

It couldn’t have been more different than the previous day.  And after another 500 miles we were gazing upon the Pacific Ocean.  Ahhh.  This had been our longest stretch without seeing an ocean since we began cruising, and it was most definitely a sight for sore eyes.

Harris Beach State Park was a great campground.  The campsite had nice privacy and you could hear the ocean at night.  It was a five minute walk to a bench that looked out onto the ocean, and we took our tea and coffee down there every morning after breakfast.

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Our morning view from our coffee and tea bench.

We enjoyed a scenic drive along the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor and generally reveled in the green foliage and the ocean after spending so many weeks in the desert and mountains.

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This freshwater stream (I tasted it) was running right into the ocean, which I thought was cool to see.

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The rocky coastline was reminiscent of Maine.

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Jeff enjoyed metal detecting on this beach.

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They say you’re either an ocean person or a mountain person.  When we were in Colorado I started wondering if I might be a mountain person.  But when we got to the ocean there was no doubt in my mind: I’m an ocean person through and through.

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Hello, ocean. Oh, how I’ve missed you.

Wow!

“Wow!”  That’s all we could say when we rounded the bend after entering the Colorado National Monument.  We pulled over and I got out of the car to take some pictures, and as I was kneeling down I literally lost my balance because I was so disoriented from the gigantic scale of the walls surrounding us.

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The picture after I regained my balance. You can see the road on the bottom right corner of the photo.  There was a wall equally large on the opposite side.

We hadn’t really known what to expect as we were driving there.  We knew it wasn’t a National Park but had read plenty of good things about it, which is how it made the list.  Well, I’m not sure how the decision is made as to whether something should be a National Park vs. a National Monument, but all I can say is if you’re on a National Parks trip, don’t pass up Colorado National Monument just because it isn’t technically a National Park.

As we arrived at our campsite, the volunteer ranger drove up in his golf cart to say hello.  He asked us how long we were staying and when he heard it would be just under a week, he offered to show us to a different site which was first-come, first-serve.  According to the ranger, it was the best campsite in the park and as soon as we saw it we could see why.  It. Was. Amazing.  Extremely private with incredible views, it felt like you had the whole park to yourself.  As an added bonus, this particular loop in the campground prohibited generators, so it was incredibly peaceful.  It was a no-brainer.  We thanked him profusely for showing us the space, he wrote our name on the reserved card, and it was ours.

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The view just steps from our campsite.

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The campsite itself was huge.

What followed was several days of amazing hiking, a great scenic drive, excellent Mexican food in Fruita (the town closest to the campground), and star-filled nights.

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Unfortunately, however, we weren’t able to stay for the entire six nights.  After two consecutive days of six-mile hikes, Jeff woke up pre-dawn with afib – the first time this had happened since his ablation in March, 2018.  We called his electrocardiologist’s office and the on-call doctor called us back and suggested we head down to a lower elevation (at this point we were about 7,000 feet up).  Fortunately, by the time the doctor called us back the episode had already passed, but it scared the crap out of both of us.  Frankly, I think we both have some PTSD from that awful Christmas Eve in 2017.

We briefly considered driving back to the security blanket of Connecticut where, should it happen again, we would be close to the  doctors that we know and trust.  But after taking a deep breath, we decided against it.  We were already two-thirds of the way across the country, and there are cardiologists everywhere.  It seems like a little thing, but deciding to continue west was actually a pretty big step for me  – truly cutting the cord when we had the option of scurrying back.

Anyway, clearly it was time to throw the itinerary out the window – camping at sea level was now the new plan.  My sister and her husband live in Henderson, NV which was halfway between where we were and the California coast.  We were welcome to stay there while we regrouped, so after breaking down the camp it was time to hit the road.