Mill Creek, Arnold, Maryland
39° 03.836 North
076° 30.577 West
Reading The Mail In Mill Creek
By Bernadette Bernon
Ithaka is nestled safely against Lori and Jim’s dock in the hideaway of Mill Creek while Douglas and I catch up on a bunch of business. Our old pal Paul has driven out from Washington to spend a few more days with us, and tutor us how to use PowerPoint. With his help, we’ve created a slide show and talk about our cruise, what’s amused, thrilled and bedeviled us, lessons learned and how it all feels. It’s so bizarre to be packing our experiences into a slide show, but we’ve been fortunate to receive invitations to speak at a few boat shows and yacht clubs since we’ve come back to the United States, and we’re excited about that, and about encouraging other boaters to set off on cruising adventures. Yet at the same time we’re overwhelmed as we condense so many experiences and photos into a 45-minute talk, with cues and hundreds of images.
Tom and Mel Neale drive up from Virginia to say hello, bunk at Jim and Lori’s, and there’s an instant party. Douglas and I haven’t seen the Neales since Ithaka’s path diverged from Chez Nous’ at the foot of Florida four years ago. For a decade Tom thrilled Cruising World readers with his humor and insight in the magazine’s popular “On Watch” column, revealing to the world all his hilarious vicissitudes. Then, a few months ago, he moved his act over to Passagemaker magazine. We talk about old times, and compare where we’ve all been over the past few seasons. He and Mel whet our appetites about the Bahamas, and we regale them with tales of the Western Caribbean.
“How do you guys manage to live with each other, day in and day out, in such a small space, without killing each other?” asks Hillary S. “Don’t you ever crave a little privacy?”
From Bernadette: In our old lives, we each went off to work every day, had our own unique experiences, and returned home to see one another for dinner. Sure, we had weekends together, where we did a few errands and projects – often alone – then went to the movies together, met friends in restaurants or at each others’ homes. And every few months we’d take a vacation. Well, on a cruising boat, all those bets are off. It’s 24-7, and that can be an overwhelming amount of togetherness all at once, especially when combined with the pressures of the first live-aboard year, when you’re learning all about the boat and about cruising. Sometimes the fur flies, and it’s often just over a careless word, or, as one of our cruising friends describes it, too much “face time” with your loved one. Jerry Seinfeld once said, “It’s only since I got married that I learned that I had ‘a tone.’” Well, if you really want to learn about the importance of tone, move aboard a cruising boat!
One evening, while I was in the full bloom of Pico Pico, Paul and Douglas sat in the cockpit chatting after dinner, and I took the opportunity for some rare moments of privacy and a little space and ducked below into the main saloon to strip down to my underpants, itch, wash my skin, and daub the white greasy cortisone ointment on my spots for some temporary relief. Douglas came below to refill his drink and, trying to be helpful, picked up the ointment and began patting it onto my arm, while I worked on my legs.
Too late. Just then, Paul came below. “Take a look at this,” Douglas said to him, switching on the overhead light so that they could better see my back.
“Ouch,” said Paul, examining my rash of welts. “That’s hideous.”
“Hey, guys!” I cried, grabbing my shirt and groping to shut off the flood light. “Do you mind? I’m feeling like a lab chimp here.”
They looked at me quizzically, shrugged at each other, and climbed back into the cockpit, finally leaving me and my spots in peace. Such are the small dramas of privacy on a 39-foot boat, enacted every day, in different iterations, until there are very few secrets left between you and your partner (and your guests). It’s just something you have to get used to.
Weather Is The Question
John R asks: “What do you mean when you say you’ve ‘downloaded a GRIB file’ or that you’ve gotten ‘a buoy report’?”
From Douglas: On Ithaka, every day, we get weather information in three ways: one, by observing our barometer and baroscope to note pressure changes in the atmosphere that signify coming weather changes and their intensity; two, by tuning our single-sideband radio into the morning cruising net, and listening to the weather forecast; and, three, through our single-sideband radio, where we download to our laptop weather faxes and “GRIB” files that present forecasts and predictions of what the weather is going to do two or three days out.
GRIB is the acronym for Gridded Binary Data -- a format used by meteorological services to exchange weather data. Using a powerful compression technique, these files can contain a boatload of data and still be tiny enough to travel easily on cruisers’ ever-persnickety onboard e-mail systems (connected through SSB). These GRIB files draw from NOAA’s GFS/AVN global model, and include: surface winds; barometric pressure; 500-milibar (upper atmosphere) winds; surface water temperature; and predictions over 12, 24, 36, 48, and 72 hours. Layered onto a graphic display they are easy to read and incredibly valuable. Often, they’re right, too.
Plenty of Books To Read
“You guys say that cruising gives you lots of time to read, but where do you get books in English when you’re in foreign countries?” asks Peter S. from Sacramento, California. “Do you have them shipped down or something?”
From Bernadette: The easiest thing in the world is to find good books to read while you’re out cruising. Often there are book-trade shelves in local restaurants where cruisers hang out. You just bring books you’ve read, and take books that interest you. We found great book-trade shelves in Belize, all over Guatemala, in Honduras, in Panama, in Colombia. It’s not a problem.
Any Dangers In The Wind?
“You’ve been to a lot of places that sound dangerous,” says Reggie P. from Victoria, BC. “Have you ever felt threatened in any way? Do you carry a gun on Ithaka?”
From Bernadette: We’ve experienced warm welcomes and helpfulness in every country we’ve visited. That said, however, over the three years we’ve been out, we’ve heard of boardings and gunfire in Venezuela and Brazil; a stabbing in San Andres; and dinghy thefts in Mexico, Honduras and Panama.
On Ithaka, we don’t carry a gun. Neither of us is trained in how to use a gun, so we’d risk that someone quicker, more skillful, and less conscionable than we are could do us in with our gun while we hesitated before firing it. Self-protection experts agree: you should never bring out a gun unless you are going to fire and kill or incapacitate someone. Guns are not for us. So far we’ve been lucky. If intruders get below, we plan to cooperate.
Most importantly, we avoid areas known to be risky, and take precautions. We always lock our boat up when we’re off it, even if it’s just to go snorkeling. We lock our dinghy with a cable to Ithaka at night, or we haul it up out of the water on a three-point bridle.
Shy of never leaving home, no preparations can shield us from some danger. But we believe that hyper-vigilance promises only a living deadness, not safety. We travel carefully, and accept the risks.
To read about safety precautions aboard Ithaka, great safety ideas from other cruisers, as well as a detailed discussion of cruisers’ self-defense techniques, see “Staying Alive,” our Log Of Ithaka number 85.
Remember, we’ve added a new “Question & Answer” feature to our BoatUS “Log of Ithaka” website. To see all the questions and answers included in previous logs, just click Questions & Answers. We welcome your questions and feedback. Thanks for logging on and joining our journey.