Thursday, June 16, 2011

Wild Haggis Journal  061011
Oriental Harbor Marina

I realize that some of you would like to know what we are doing currently, not just my old stories, so I will intersperse Journal entries along with Jamaica. They will be clearly marked. I hope you enjoy.

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As some of you may recall, Cameron and I left Greensboro a month ago to get the boat ready to live on again. Naturally, the first item was cleaning the decks, vacuuming the cabins and wiping down the teak interior. Then came stowing all the stuff we are bringing back onboard. [There was supposed to be less coming back than left, but that does not seem to be working out.] Although we have missed Beth and Taylor, it has been refreshing to be living on the water again after almost a year inland.
            As we were last year when we were preparing the boat for cruising, we are docked at Oriental Harbor Marina beside the bridge over Greens Creek. The bridge, rising to a 45 foot clearance for sailboats, is the only hill for tens of miles in any direction. Oriental is a small fishing and boating village – population about 897 – with almost 3000 boats. It sits at the confluence of several creeks -- Raccoon, Camp, Morris, Smith, Kershaw, Greens – on the lower Neuse River where it yawns to four miles wide just before becoming part of Pamlico Sound.
            Oriental has six restaurants, a couple of galleries, a world class small local hardware store, a Tiki Bar and The Bean, the local coffee shop that is everything Starbucks wants to be. Just down from where The Bean overlooks the harbor, on Saturdays year round there is a Farmers’ Market. Across the street from The Bean is the free Town Dock, landfall for boaters near and far. We have seen boats at anchor or dock  from Alaska, Canada, England, Scotland, France and all points north and south on the eastern seaboard.  Catamarans, sloops, schooners, cutters and ketches as well as big, slick, sleek motor yachts. Talk at The Bean is a conglomeration of local news, boat systems, weather windows, passages and routes. Ports visited and capes avoided. Some of this makes it into TownDock.net, a fine online magazine of all things local. [The web cams are nice too; see http://www.towndock.net/ ]
            The village residents are water people, independent, self-sufficient, friendly and helpful. It is common for a local to see a cruiser schlepping groceries from the Town and Country back to the harbor and offer a ride. It is a town busy with dogs and bicycles. Even people who do not own dogs carry biscuits for the inevitable friendly pooch. And Fulcher’s Seafood Market keeps treats on the counter, down low where Scout and the other dogs can see them. As for bicycles, it is mostly locals that ride full-sized bikes. The cruisers tend to ride small diameter wheel, collapsible bikes, usually with a large basket or panniers or something with which to haul groceries or marine gear. The prevailing fashion is shorts, t-shirts and Crocs or flip-flops.
            The harbor is a working harbor with stout pilings, rusty winches and weathered lines dangling in the water. It is also the outlet for Raccoon Creek, which is not much of a creek any longer as it leaves the mainland from the Duck Pond (visible from the Harbor web cam) by way of a drain pipe under Hodges Street into the harbor. It can still look like a proper creek when it floods over the street. There are two main commercial docks and two fish houses for processing the catch. The trawlers thread their way in and out through a narrow fairway between the sailboats at anchor and the stone breakwater that protects the harbor from the almost continuous and often strong southern winds.
            Other than cleaning the boat, what have Cameron and I been doing? Our first major task was removing our old refrigeration systems from the engine room and reefer box (refrigerator as opposed to freezer, not a humidor for the stuff you are thinking about). This was also part of us getting back into “boat shape”. Working in and around the engine room is an exercise in extreme yoga. Firstly, the engine room is a “room”only to the engine, although the hot water heater resides there also. I not only cannot walk into it, I cannot even crawl into it. It takes a significant twist and bend of the spine for me to even sit on the engine, the most comfortable place from which to work (despite the fuel pipes, hoses and various caps sticking into by butt). I cannot sit all the way up, so any time I need to see what I am doing, I have to hunch my shoulders and drop my head, looking up through my glasses (sliding to the tip of my nose due to sweat pouring from every pore in my body and especially my forehead where the salty sweat can sting my eyes until it dries on my eyelids from which the sweat can sting a second time when I wipe my eyes later). Mostly we lean into the engine room, stretching an arm with a wrench or ratchet or such as far across as we can in an attempt to unscrew or unbolt one thing or another. With some bolts, Cameron would hold one wrench while I used another in an effort to release the corroded grip of metal on metal. Our refrigeration expert loaned us an industrial strength “pruner” with which to cut the copper piping. Unfortunately, it often required two hands to squeeze the pruner, but there would be room for only one.
            The physical strain of stretching and bending and squeezing and leaning is all very healthful once it is over. In the meantime, both Cameron and I slept well, me with a lot of Aleve.   Like walking a hundred yards to the mainland rest room, it is all part of getting back into boat shape.
            As for the mechanical work, you get the idea. In a desire to be as self-sufficient as possible and to save some money to boot, we did some of the work ourselves. Several boat owners told me how easy it is to install the new refrigeration systems yourself, saving a couple thousand or more in the process. But I know there is too much about all things mechanical that I do not know, so I did not fall for the “this is easy” story. We hired someone who actually has done it before and knows what he is doing. It took him a short day to completely install the reefer; it would have taken me a couple of weeks, a few squashed pipes and then it would not have worked.
            The freezer is next week.
            Cameron is the Crab King. He keeps a pot at the front of our slip and checks it for crabs and bait daily. Our first crab meal was a simple boil. We replenished the pot with some flounder carcasses and two days later caught seven good crabs, one of which was soft-shelled, so we fried it up mid-morning as second breakfast. As a safety precaution, I used a thick cotton glove with rubber grips to retrieve the crabs from the pot. Crabs had pinched me through the cotton before, but it was not painful. In this big haul, we had some ornery large crabs (I think their shells were still hardening), two of which pinched me pretty hard before the largest grabbed the tip of my middle finger with a death grip. I had barely shaken him off when blood seeped through the end of the glove. It was a great rip along my fingernail with another hole in the very tip. I dripped blood from the dock across the deck and down into our aft head. As sweet revenge, Cameron let me eat the claw that bit me. The enchiladas were delicious too.
            Cameron has also been trying to gaff a stingray. In one slip at our marina, I watched more than eight of them swimming lazy circles within the perimeter of the slip. All were close to three feet in wingspan. I am just as happy that we have not killed one as I am pretty sure they were mating.
            We have seen several large pods of dolphins this year. Again, I think the younger ones were mating. Others were just feeding and playing.
            Last week we met some East Carolina University students researching jellyfish. There are plenty here this year, a virtual bloom surrounding us with the delicate and elegant undulations of rather small organisms that can deliver a mean sting. In addition to learning about the life cycle of jellyfish, we learned that they can be eaten. The lead grad student began describing how to prepare them (you can use the bell and the tentacles after removing the stomachs which are also the gonads). She lost me when she said that one method was to dry the jellyfish in coca-cola, then rehydrate it for cooking. Yechhh! And the Japanese pay about $18/lb for them. She also asked if we had seen dolphins playing with cannonball jellyfish, tossing them up in the air.
            I begin every day with a look at the National Hurricane Center web site to check on tropical depressions etc. When your home can sink in a hurricane, you pay attention. After that, we work around the boat, fish from the dinghy, read some and generally take life as it comes. Taking it as it comes includes finding one afternoon that the dinghy outboard will not start and has to be hauled to New Bern and next day retrieved (35 minutes or so each way in the hot and un-air-conditioned, but loveable Land Cruiser), a task that was nowhere in our plans. Once a week I vacuum Scout’s fur which finds its way into every nook, cranny, corner and scupper. I should probably do it once per day.
            On Tuesday nights, we go to M&M’s, a local seafood restaurant just a few hundred yards from our boat. In the back room on bar stools under dim lights, slow-turning ceiling fans and through a haze of smoke…not really. It is in a back room, but it is cool and well-lit for Music Night. Music Night is a twenty year old tradition in Oriental. It is essentially Name That Tune, but with some creative variations. Each week a volunteer Host selects a theme and the songs that the rest of us try to guess. With a room full of mostly middle-aged folks, many songs that all of us “know” cannot be readily identified by the correct title and artist. Such is the deterioration of our brain cells. But it is great fun. Cameron enjoys the music though much of it predates him. He especially enjoys being in air-conditioning for a couple of hours. He also loves M&M’s Key Lime Pie.
            A few weeks ago, Music Night was on Cameron’s birthday. Beth’s sister, Sharon, had called ahead and bought Key Lime Pie for all the Music Night participants in honor of Cam’s birthday. He was sufficiently embarrassed by the attention even before a good friend of ours, Jackie, started the crowd singing “Happy Birthday” and then encouraged all of the women to give Cam a hug. His oldest hug came from an 84 year old grandmother. He smiled.
            It is hard to complain about life on the water even though it can be brutally hot if the wind drops below five knots. We miss our girls and look forward to them joining us. And we look forward to setting Wild Haggis free on the winds and waters of coastal North Carolina soon.
            Stay in touch. Better yet, come visit.

Post Script 061611:
            Beth and Taylor drove down for a twenty-four hour visit. It had been more than a month since we had seen them. The weather cooled a bit and Beth relaxed in the breeze blowing through the cockpit. The best news is that they will return next week with one of Taylor’s friends, and we will leave the dock for a weekend trip to either Ocracoke or Cape Lookout Bight, somewhere we can swim in jellyfish-free waters.

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