Monday, February 28, 2011

"This is a Weapon"

Charleston is lovely this time of year--
unless you're spending your days
 in the engine room

We're back in Charleston, and our airport trip brought up this memory.

When our son Ben was two, we wanted to place him in a local daycare center.  As part of the admissions process, the director came to our home, to observe us interacting with him.

It was a warm day and we were in the back yard.  With his blond curls and blue eyes, Ben looked angelic, the model child.  We figured we had a place in the school all wrapped up.

Ben dug round in the sandbox and pulled out a twig. Then he toddled over to our lawn chairs, twisted his sweet little face into an approximation of a grimace, and  pointed the stick straight at the director. "THIS is a weapon!" he exclaimed. (This from a child who had never seen a TV show or a toy gun.)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Whatever Possessed You?

Who could resist the cuteness?
When we meet people along the way, they generally ask a set of predictable questions. "How much electricity do those solar panels make?" "How fast can you go?" And "Whatever possessed you to make this trip?"

It all started quite innocently. Here's the story:

Bill (he wasn't the Cap yet) wanted to give his parents a little treat--a fun vacation. Mom and Dad lived not too far from the Erie Canal. And they liked to bird watch. So in the summer of 2009, Bill said: "What if we rent a houseboat and take Mom and Dad for a cruise on the Erie Canal? They could go birding right from the boat!"

Berge said: "That would be OK. But I don't want to rent a houseboat. I want to rent a boat that's CUTE!"

Bill turned to his computer and started tapping. Twenty minutes later, he spun the monitor around. "Is THAT cute enough?"

On screen: An old-fashioned barge with curvy lines and a scalloped canvas canopy, like a circus wagon. She was gaily painted in shiny maroon, green, and gold. Click, click. Inside, she was fitted out with knotty pine panelling, like an Adirondack cottage. She had a small but complete little kitchen. Cozy-looking bunks. Even her name was sweet: the Honeyoe ("Honey" for short.)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Crossing the Ocean . . . in Slow Motion

SlowBoat Flashback: Jan Berger's
in the kitchen in Florence, Alabama
Jan sez: Plenty of room to scrub pots!
We're visiting Cap's parents. A friend asked, "Does it feel strange to be in a house?" He spread his arms wide. "Do you feel like you you finally have room to move?"

Well, yes and no.  It's nice for the crew to get out of bed without scrambling over the Cap's recumbent form.  It's nice to hang coats in more than four inches of closet space. It's nice to take a shower in a space larger than a phone booth.

Other than that, well, humans are remarkably adaptable. When we're on the boat, mostly everything just seems  . . . normal.

Checking the news this week I learned about a solar boat that's been setting records. While we've been traveling around the Great Loop, the S.S. Turanor Planet Solar been traveling around the WORLD, the first solar boat to attempt this circumnavigation.

We left in June, they left in September, and this week, as we reached Charleston (4,300 miles into our trip) they crossed into the Humboldt Current and set a record: "Greatest Distance Ever Traveled by a Solar-Powered Vehicle" (9,904 miles).  The previous vehicle to hold this record was a solar-powered car.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Solar Boats on the Erie Canal!

We're in NY. Boat is back in Charleston, makin' watts.
The Dragonfly is docked in Charleston this week; the crew is in Upstate NY visiting Cap's folks. We lugged our broken flex coupler with us on the plane, and Monday we drove up to Macedon, NY and our home port on the Erie Canal, Mid-Lakes Navigation, where joy of joys, we picked up a replacement.

It was surreal to be transported so quickly to the place our adventure started last June--the place we're  spent 8 months sloowwwwly traveling AWAY from.

We said hello to the other canal boats, hauled out on shore and propped on stilts and wrapped in plastic against the winter ice, and laughed about Cap's weekend adventures this time last winter, climbing up a ladder through the snow and ice to work on the boat. His first trip to Macedon, the local police pulled up just as he was crawling headfirst through the plastic cocoon. Good thing he had ID and the bill of sale.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Something Is Not Right

The crew of the Dragonfly are off the boat this week, but we're bringing you some SlowBoat Flashbacks.
Preparing the helipad? No, just boat chores

First, a status report on the War of Boat-Crew Oppression against Spiders. Early in the trip, our decks were thickly occupied with web spinners, and I don't mean Toby McGuire in a stretchy suit.

At the Looper Rendezvous in Alabama, experts assured us that once we made it to salt water, the landlubbing spideys would vanish.

SO not true!  Those suckers parachute in!  On little strands of spider silk! Which one reason is why we need . . . .

A boat-top helipad and a remote-controlled helicopter to sit on it.  As you know if you've been reading the blog for a while, Cap's been Jonesing for one for months.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Fun With Homeland Security

The gracious mansions in the Charleston neighborhood south of Broad Street. (People who live here are called SOB's)
Dragonfly docked Friday in Charleston, on the "MegaDock" at the city marina.  Spotting that name in our guidebook, we said, blah, blah, advertising hype, everything is "Mega" these days, Mega Millions lottery, Megabus to New York . . .  It's a DOCK! How big could it be?

Well. You could dock an aircraft carrier here. Land a small plane and barely hit the brakes.  I think you can see the curvature of the Earth.  In other words, BIG.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Burning Love

Ruddy ternstones wear red EVERY day!
From Dafuskie Island, it was a short cruise to Hilton Head, identifiable from the water by its famous peppermint candy-striped lighthouse. On the way we passed one marina with its very own lock, to protect boats from tide surge."Someday," mused the Cap'n, "I'll have MY own lock, too."  Once you have a canal boat, you start wanting the gear to go with it.

"Our restaurant is open," the dockmaster told us, "but you'll need reservations--it's Valentine's Day." We walked to the restaurant--just to check it out, mind you.  Cap had been working on the engine all day; I'd biked around in the Dufskie pineywoods all day. We were sweaty, greasy, uncombed, with diesel-mechanic fingernails and bike helmet-hair.

But before we could say, "Could we just peek at a menu?," we were hustled into seats.  White linens . . .  fine wines  . . . sweeping sunset view over the marshes . . . local society matrons in silk and jewels.  Luckily the crew was wearing a Valentine-red durafleece sweatshirt.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"Conrack" Taught Here

If you're a baby-boomer of a certain age, maybe you remember the movie "Conrack." It stars Jon Voigt--impossibly young and shaggy-haired--as a good 'ol Southern boy who grows a conscience after college and takes a job teaching impoverished black children on tiny, coastal Yamacraw Island. Conrack breaks a lot of rules in his earnest struggle to make a difference for kids that "the system" has failed in a big way.

The two-room school where Conroy taught is now
a church community center.  Lots more pictures HERE
The movie was based on a memoir by Pat Conroy, titled The Water is Wide.  Conroy, the author of such famous works as The Prince of Tides, The Lords of Discipline, and The Great Santini, got his start as a  passionate and unconventional first-year teacher who Questioned Authority and lived to write about it.

In the mid 1970s, when the book (and movie) came out, the Cap'n was a young, passionate, unconventional teacher-to-be. He remembers reading the book to be a revolutionary experience.

Turns out, "Yamacraw" is a pseudonym for real-life Dafuskie Island . . . and we docked there Monday.  (Photos HERE!) Dafuskie (Gullah for Da fus' key,  "The First Key,") is a bit north of Savannah--just past Hilton Head.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What I'm Reading

 I like to read books that are set in the places I'm visiting. At the end of this post, you'll find my reading list for the Low Country.  But first, the boat news . . . .

Isle of Hope looks like the movie set for
"small, charming Southern town"
When the Dragonfly stopped at Isle of Hope, the first mate cruised to Savannah to tour the "Ships of the Seas" museum.  The main attraction: A scale model of a very innovative boat--a hybrid vehicle.  The S.S. Savannah was built in the town it was named for in 1818.

Notice that date.  Years before barges started plying the Erie Canal, dragged by mules, Captain Moses Rogers of Connecticut conceived of a powerful hybrid boat, a sailing vessel and steamship combined. The Savannah's claim to fameshe ultimately made the world's first steam-powered transatlantic crossing.

Full disclosure: She covered only part of the distance under steam.  It would be 30 years before another American steamship made the crossing.  But innovation has to start somewhere, and in the case of hybrid boats it started in Savannah.

The next day, at the Isle of Hope Marina, we spotted pictures documenting the work of another local inventor with an unusual vision for boat design.  Captain Matthew Batson built the world's first flying yacht.  (Photo HEREhttps://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/the-flying-house-an-aeroplane-invented-by-capt-arlington-news-photo/3280068#/5th-december-1913-the-flying-house-an-aeroplane-invented-by-capt-picture-id3280068)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Not Your Average Suburban Sprawl

Check out this water feature at Abercorn Common!
Don't you think a solar boat would look good there?
Our route doesn't take us near many shopping centers.  But when we docked this past Friday afternoon at Isle of Hope (about 10 miles from downtown Savannah), we made special plans to visit a strip mall.  

It's not that we were dying to shop at Books- a-Million or grab a burger at Mickey D's. We just had to check out "the first retail center in the United States to become LEED-certified."

Part of the reason for our curiosity: About two weeks ago, President Obama visited Penn State University (our home base). His visit focused media attention on a PSU-led project involving energy-efficient buildings--a $122 million DOE grant to turn a portion of Philadelphia's Navy Yard into an "Energy Innovation Hub.

With the PSU project in mind, we wondered whether Savannah, a sizable city, is doing much sustainable building.  And hey!  Just a few miles from the dock, we learned, was LEED-certified Abercorn Common. Road trip!  

(And before you turn the page, lots more photos HERE.  If you like 'em, remember to tell Facebook by clicking the button)

Where Do Sea Turtles Go in Winter?

Earlier this week, we stopped at Jekyll Island, famous for the mansions of millionaires and for bike trails that wend atmospherically beneath stately live oaks dripping enough Spanish moss to stuff a million mattresses. Besides checking out eco-attractions like the Shell Recycling Station and the Zero-Emissions Electric Cars, we also enjoyed a visit to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center.

A patient in the rehab center has a bizarre illness that
makes him float TOO MUCH. Treatment includes
attaching diver's weights to the shell so he can submerge
The place has a competent little exhibit hall where you can learn about the five different species of sea turtles you might see in this region by pressing buttons, watching films, lifting flaps, touching specimens.  In one tank, a young loggerhead turtle the size of the proverbial dinner plate zoomed about, giving the lie to the stereotype that turtles are slow-moving. With his giraffe-print, bright brown-and-white head and gleaming white belly, he looked as fresh and pretty as a child's plush toy.

The main work of the center is as a kind of turtle hospital, to care for sea turtles that are sick or injured. Most sea turtle populations can't really afford to lose a lot of individuals; six species are protected by the Endangered Species Act, three species are listed as critically endangered in the IUCN Red List, and all sea turtles are included in Appendix I of CITES.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Thin Magenta Line

I'm writing this from Cane Break Creek, a tributary of the Bear River, near Ossabaw Island. No sign of human settlement--no power lines, no navigation buoys, no houses in the distance. Half a bar on the cell.  

We spent a cold and windy day winding from creek to creek and across wide-open sounds, taking 20-minute turns at the helm and stamping our feet to keep from freezing. A pod of dolphins gave us the hairy eyeball, a U.S. Geographic Survey boat passed us, sounding the depths, and a couple of gannets buzzed us, followed by a massive Sikorksy Sky Crane (pilot and the birds doubtless trying to get close enough to snap photos of that crazy-looking boat with their cell phones).

Now the excitement is over, the anchor is down, and so is the sun. The boat is nestled close to the riverbank, which is a rippling golden wall of sea oats.  We've finished dinner (spicy chili, homemade cornbread, fresh coleslaw) and we're sitting in our cozy salon, the Turkish rug warming the floor, brass spot lamps casting a glow on the Stickley settee upholstered in deep red plush.  Splendid comfort in the middle of splendid isolation--as former backpackers we feel almost guilty.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Drive Like a Millionaire

Croquet, the sport of kings--and
captains of industry
Yesterday, we were docked at Jekyll Island, Georgia. A mandatory place to see is the Jekyll Island Club Hotel. This grand hotel opened in 1888 as a private playhouse for famous millionaire captains-of-industry, including William Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Joseph Pulitzer, Everett Macy, and J.P. Morgan.  

Sir?  Your car is ready . . . .
The hotel is an elaborate Victorian confection, with a turret, and gingerbread trim, and--yesterday--a croquet game in progress on the lawn, with the players properly attired in white flannel. The place looked like a movie stage set (which, indeed, it has been). 

In our grubby boater duds, we've been mistaken for homeless people. In this more egalitarian age we ate lunch at the grand hotel . . .  in the sandwich shop, at the back. 

Afterward we biked around on the island's plentiful bike paths, under the arches of the grand old live oaks weeping with Spanish moss, and one of the most interesting places we stopped was . . .  the airport.  

It's quite a small airport, so there are no shops or concourses or baggage claim or rental car counters.  What you DO find is something a bit unexpected: An alternative energy rental car agency called Red Bug Motors.

The owner, Rich Van Iderstyne, says his business was inspired by the original millionaire inhabitants of the island.  During Jekyll's heyday as a winter retreat for the wealthy, the transportation of choice was tiny electric cars called Red Bugs. "Gasoline engines of the day were noisy, and those millionaires liked their peace and quiet," Rich explained.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Recycled Oysters

Back in Kentucky we met a fellow Looper, Susan, who was doing a survey: "Where can you find recycling facilities along the Great Loop?"

The spark for her study: Recycling programs vary from state to state and from town to town. Susan was tired of having bags of cans and bottles pile up on on her boat as she visited marina after marina that turned out NOT to recycle. She hoped she could create a guide, so Loopers of the future would know where and when they would be able to recycle.

Wow!  Eat oysters AND help the environment!
With that in mind, now we're on Jekyll Island, in Georgia and, checking our little tourist map, we saw an area labelled "Recycling Park."

We figured it was either the world's most unusual amusement park (just picture the rides!) OR a garden with public sculpture made from recycled soda bottles OR a place to turn in your cans and bottles.  We hopped on our bikes to check it out.

It was, indeed, a clean and neat little place for recycling cans and bottles, under a canopy of live oaks picturesquely draped with Spanish moss, all the different bins sporting colorful, freshly painted signs.  And it was something more.  This was an official "osyter shell recycling station."

Rain, Rain, Go Away

On rainy days our aft cabin
converts to a mudroom
We've been passing through another Verizon-Free Zone, hence no blog posts recently. But here we are, emerged from the dark side of the world and docked at Jekyll Island, Georgia.  Goodbye, Florida! It's been swell.

We left St. Augustine Friday under cold and cloudy skies; spent the night in a pretty little anchorage in an oxbow around Pine Island.  At least we think it was pretty--fog rolled in around 4 PM.

Saturday we docked in Jacksonville Beach, a built-up town where houses, condos, hotels, and grubby-looking businesses crowd every which way on the streets that parallel the beach.  It was still cold and rainy. The white sand beach looked gray, and the seashells were the color of soot and tobacco.

Sunday--more cold, clouds, and rain. The terrain was changing as we neared the Florida border; fewer palm trees, and the waterway seemed wider, edged with low marshes of dry grass, a startling burnt-orange in color.

We got to Amelia Island and the town of Fernandina Beach just before sunset, with enough daylight for a fast stroll through the well-preserved historic district, goggling at the towering brick courthouse with its New England-style cupola and the Italianate confection of a post office, built to resemble a Medici palace

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Right Whale in the Wrong Place

About 50 miles back we started noticing signs at marinas:  "This is northern right whale habitat."  The signs included instructions how to avoid collisions with whales. We thought it would be extremely cool to see a whale, but we knew we couldn't expect that in the shallow waters of the Intracoastal Waterway; these signs are meant to educate boaters heading out to sea.

But we DID see a whale in St. Augustine on Thursday, sort of.  Headline news in the local paper:  "There's a whale on our beach."

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Electricity and Water DO Mix!

Signs of spring: Crabapple
tree in full bloom in St. Augustine.
And did you notice Nissan
is leafing out?
First the answer to the "Where ARE you?" question.  We spent two days in St. Augustine . . . and Thursday, we grabbed a rental car and zoomed inland to Gainesville, visiting friends who recently launched an aquarium biz that aims at sustainability. (More on THAT anon).  

We had dinner at a little Thai place by a lake, and walking to our car at dusk we heard a familiar sound: spring peepers.  You won't hear that chorus in Central PA for a while!  It was a sweet sign that, like nature writer Edwin Way Teale (whose book we're currently reading) we're headed north with the spring.

The last time we heard spring peepers, the boat was still up on blocks next to the Erie Canal, and the Cap'n was busy installing solar panels.  

At the time we had no idea whether boats powered by electricity were common, or rare. Costly, or affordable. We were making it up as we went along.  

In the course of this trip, we've learned not only that electric boats have a 100-year history in America, but that they're more common than you might think. And fairly easy to get your hands on.  You don't have to be do-it-yerselfers (like us) to go electric.  And you have quite a few choices!  

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

If You Like SlowBoat, You'll Also Like . . .

Where we stayed: The Guana Tololato Matanzas National
Estuarine Research Reserve
Amazon. Netflix. These vendors now track what you buy . . . and suggest other purchases based on your past history. 

In the positive, "I can give-you-more-of-what-you-like" spirit of these businesses (NOT the dark, "there are no secrets from Big Brother in the wired economy" spirit), let me refer you to a blog that documents a voyage of discovery rather similar to ours: 3rd Coast Connect. Check it out!

John Shepard is (like the Cap) a professor of environmental education, using his sabbatical to explore the coast and bring back new ideas for education curricula. But whereas we're Loopin' (making a big circle around eastern North America) John is focusing on the Gulf Coast.

Wondering what we're up to? Photos HERE