Sunday, July 21, 2013

Going Home Again -- The Rest of the Story (It Ain't About the Sunsets)

After Northport, the weather forecasts became iffy for boating, so we headed back to Melissa's marina in Charlevoix to do some land-cruising.  Shopping netted us a new glossy black pearl teakettle, a stack of books from what she described as her favorite indy bookstore, a pair of earrings and some art cards. Dinners consisted of local fish and chips, in a different restaurant every night.

And after dinner, cocktails and conversation and sunsets.  Those higher latitudes meant long lingering twilight and on several nights, incredible colors.

While we were in Charlevoix, we looked at the stone houses by Earl Young. He wasn't trained as an architect, but had an artistic eye and a love of local stone as a building material.  These houses are a local historical landmark (set of landmarks?); here are a few of my favorites.
So romantic!

Love the way the stone is set to frame that arched window and doorway.
Here's a closer view of the window.

Maybe this house would be perfect for a hobbit?
Even the low fences have incredible detail.
A day outing with the boat on Lake Charlevoix yielded even more houses:

Huge.  Just ... huge! 
One way in which living on a boat has definitely changed my viewpoint forever, is the size of house that seems "reasonable" to me -- and it's more like cottage or cabin than palace.
Yeah, more my style.  Waaaay more my style.  And it's in Northport!  And it's even for sale! (Good thing Dan and Melissa convinced me that I wasn't really cut out for living in that small town permanently, as I explained in my previous post.)  
Of course, settling into even the cutest house would mean giving up our life on the boat, and I can't call that a good trade.

But you know, "the rest of the story" wasn't about visiting our favorite nostalgic places.  It wasn't about shopping, or boating, or sunsets, or houses at all.  It was about connecting up with the people that made our time so special...and so memorable.

Good friend, and our skipper Melissa at the helm of her boat.
 On the way home we met up with friend Cindy, a former colleague of Dan's.  We'd stayed very loosely in touch via Facebook, but although she knew what I'd had for breakfast that morning, we hadn't had in depth conversations about the big changes in each others' lives, like retirement.

Catching up on 11 years apart -- it was gonna take a very big beer to cover all that time!

Cindy literally knew what I had had for breakfast that morning, as I had posted something about "farm-fresh omelette where the locals eat, along with a side of sassy waitress" as our final breakfast before leaving northern Michigan.
The folks at Judy's can cook, but setting up their restaurant's Facebook page, not so much.  I helped out, while my coffee got cold.  Check out their page now!   
It wasn't just catching up with old friends, it was our first chance for a physical meeting with online friend, fellow sailor and writer Brian.  For an extra couple of hours driving time -- plus however long it took us to cross the border -- we could detour into Canada where I could put a face to the name behind the funny comments.  We followed his directions to his marina, but then the confusion began.  His blog is named "Dock 6 Chronicles" but did the marina even have a "Dock 6?"
Harry Potter had "Platform 9-3/4;" Brian said he was on Dock 6.  But the sign near the marina entrance only gives directions for Docks 1 - 5.  Okaaaay... If you'll forgive the pun, this is not a good sign!
But then, waaaay out at the edge of nowhere, peaceful and quiet...

Found it!  Brian and his wife Louise are delightful people. He had promised an evening where we would get our fill of rum and history, and he delivered.  
My guess is that you glazed over and scrolled quickly past the sunsets and houses, and slowed down a bit as you got down to this last half-dozen photos.  See?  It really is all about the people!

Saturday, July 20, 2013


Thank you all for reading, and thanx for your concern!  
I have absolutely the best set of friends, Facebook friends, readers and blog followers anyone could wish for - ever!  I got so many expressions of concern after I posted "How Does This Story End?" that I'm completely overwhelmed and humbled.  Thank you all, so very sincerely, and I'm sorry to have alarmed you.  Please rest assured, it was just a moment of frustrated funk - we're not moving off the boat.  (And I did get those shoes!)  If anything, all your concern has reassured me that we are on the right path, and that one of the wonderful benefits of this life is the incredible supportive community of friends that seems to come along with it.  We're planning on heading south again this autumn, mentoring several ICW first-timers, so there will be more stories ahead!

At the same time, we're refinancing our rental property, and in the midst of requests for documents of our income and taxes came this request for the underwriters who were trying to understand our big picture, why we own several properties but don't live in any of them.  They asked me to provide a "brief explanation on the living situation on a boat."  Yikes!  Where to begin?

I vaguely, and probably inaccurately, remember a Sunday School story of a patient sage.  A cynic came to him, thinking to embarrass and mock him and said, "I will convert to your religion if you can teach it to me in the time that I can stand on one foot."  But instead of being angry, the wise man took the challenge seriously and replied to the mocker, "My religion?  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. All the rest is commentary.  Go now, and study."  (If anyone's got a better grip on this story than me, I'd appreciate more detail.  Jesus?  Hillel?)

Being neither patient nor particularly wise, I can't imagine how to explain life afloat succinctly.  I mean, I've written thousands and thousands of words about living on a boat, but brief?  Winston Churchill famously said, "Forgive me for writing such a long letter, I didn't have time to write a short one."  How do I "briefly" describe living on a boat? "Three parts magic, ten parts boredom, one part sunsets, one-one-hundredth of a percent panic?"  Certainly I'd best steer away from the cliches that only other boaters understand, "A hole in the water into which you throw money;" "A way of going somewhere very slowly at great expense and considerable discomfort;" "Imagine taking a cold shower while wearing your clothes and tearing up hundred-dollar bills;" "Keep the stick up, the water outside, and yourself inside."  Maybe I should just forward to the underwriters the wonderful turtle cartoon I got from my friend Steve. (You all saw this one earlier, "Why Liveaboards Don't Get Invited To Do Sailboat Races.")

If nothing else, trying to distill it into a one-liner has helped sharpen my appreciation this life. So, "Imagine exploring the country in a luxury RV ... living on a boat is kinda like that, only a boat has a much greater coolness factor.  It is more romantic, uses wind instead of fossil fuel ... and it floats."

Sunday, July 14, 2013

You Can't Go Home Again ... Can You? ... Well, Maybe ... But Then Again ...

In 2002, we lived in a pretty-but-ordinary house in a suburb of Lansing, Michigan and had medium-stress careers -- Dan as a professor at a community college, me as a supervisor of 25 research scientists.  Every Friday afternoon at 3:00, Dan would show up at my office in an already-packed car and we’d make a quick getaway.  It was a 4-hour drive north to where our sailboat waited patiently on its mooring in front of a boatyard in a small town on Grand Traverse Bay.  Every summer weekend we made the trek, and recharged our mental batteries in this slow-paced, natural haven.  When we weren’t sailing or just relaxing aboard as we bobbed on the gentle waves or swimming in the clear cool water, we were touring the surrounding cherry orchards or vineyards or the historic lighthouse.

Our haven was the little town of Northport, Michigan, latitude 45 degrees, 21 minutes north – closer to the North Pole than the equator.  It’s a quiet town of only 600 permanent residents, with a small-town- America vibe, a grocery store, a liquor store, a hardware store, a couple of shops and restaurants, a marina and a boatyard.  It’s still the hailing port painted on our stern, and we remember it fondly.  We had heard vague news of it over the years; that its business had declined, it shrunk even more and almost vanished, then slowly began to recover as artists “discovered” it, but circumstances hadn't lined up for us to visit again after we left 11 years ago.

Until last month.  Our good friend and fellow boater Melissa has a pretty nice life - a house in Florida where she spends the winter, and a boat in the Great Lakes where she lives aboard in the summer.  This summer she was going to be exploring our old stomping grounds in northern Lake Michigan and invited us to join her on her boat for a week.  Brand new places to explore for her; a bit of a nostaligia tour for me.

Some things were as we remembered them; others were changed, evolved in unexpected directions.

I started getting excited on the drive up; cue the old James Taylor song, "...deep greens and blues are the colors I choose..." just as I remembered. 
Coming over the hill, my first glimpse of the Great Lakes, a.k.a. the "Sweetwater Sea" in 11 years.

We met Melissa in the charming town of Charlevoix
The marina was familiar, as was the street behind it.  
A fair amount of wine and lots of catching up filled the evening, then next morning we were underway.  Melissa's a former sailor who traded for a powerboat; I couldn't get used to the idea that a "good boating day" was flat calm, without the wind that we need to keep our sailboat moving.  Nor could I get used to the speeds she took for granted.  (On the other hand, with those white canvas triangles (sails) we have, the cost of fuel is not nearly as much of an issue for us as it is for her.  Tradeoffs, tradeoffs.)

A good day to be a powerboat.  Note the sparkling blue water, and the flat seas.

Our first stop was the vibrant “big city” of Traverse City, 45 minutes by car or 3 hours by boat. We remembered it as a tourist town; it has lots of recreation and cultural opportunities and is influenced by 2 colleges.  The main street had some shops and pubs that we remembered and some intriguing new additions.  We checked them all out and definitely made our contributions to the local economy.

The main shopping street is a mix of old buildings and new ones.  Some places, like our favorite brewpub from our time here 1998-2002, were familiar, as was the kitchen store and a bookstore.  Several other art shops and clothing stores and restaurants were new.  We did our best to visit them all!

This wonderful pocket park or plaza was in an alley on our way back to the marina.

Lighthearted - I guess that's the college influence.  Random public contributed art: yarnbombing a tree.


Even the water fountain got into the yarnbomb act!
After eating, drinking, and shopping our fill, we headed for Northport.  I wasn't sure what to expect. Along the way, we passed forlorn "Gull Island."

Sorry, this isn't much of a picture ... but then again, this isn't much of an island.  Some time in the middle of last century, if I recall the story correctly, a guy decided to try to build a house on this tiny private island that previously had been home only to nesting birds.  But the birds proved so aggressive in defense of their territory that he deemed the island uninhabitable, and the project was abandoned.  Only the chimneys and ruins remain.
Finally we came to the town of Northport, nestled in a curve of the hills.

Approaching Northport by water.  The collection of sailboat masts marks the municipal marina.

We pulled into the marina and settled in behind a newly-expanded breakwall.  The marina had gotten a major upgrade, new seawall and bathhouse, and was lovely, though almost unrecognizeable.  Directly in front of our bow was a farmer's market that seemed to consist almost exclusively of cherry products.  Our lunch consisted of freshly-baked cherry scones, then we picked up several bags of dried cherries for later.  There was cherry juice, cherry jam, cherry wine, even cherry salsa and a guy selling lovely wooden cutting boards and bowls made from ... you guessed it ... cherry wood.

Newly-improved marina boardwalk was just concrete sidewalk in our day.

Next, we went for a walk around town.  Of course, we needed a photo in front of the first "Northport, Michigan" sign we found, which Melissa graciously snapped.  

We made it!  We're ba-a-a-a-ck!

In fact, I got pictures of myself in front of every sign  reading "Northport" that I could find.  (I  won't bore you with all of them, I promise!)  But I loved the remodel of the post office.

No "Northport" sign, but I just had to sit on this bench in front of one of the artsy shops, since it matched my shirt.
We noticed many art studios and new shops.  We walked the half-mile or so to our old boatyard.  The walk seemed much shorter than it had 11 years ago; maybe its because we're used to walking those kinds of distances now that we're living on the boat and traveling full time.  Or maybe its because there were a bunch of new cottages filling what used to be wooded area along the road.  Hmmm...  Anyway, the good folks at the boatyard remembered us, and we spent an hour or so chatting and exchanging news: they bought out the boatyard next door; this guy retired and that one was still driving his meticulously-restored shiny red 1966 Mustang around town; the guy who kept his century-old wooden boat on the mooring next to ours moved to New England; and many more tidbits.  

When we got back to the boat and settled in for the evening with some cocktails, I was still on my nostalgic high.  "I could come back here..." I mused.  "What?!! Are you crazy?" burst from both Melissa and Dan at the same instant.  "Nice place to visit ... but why would you want to live here?  What would you do?  You'd be bored in a week!  And that's during summer!  There's nothing here!"

And when I stopped seeing what I remembered, and started seeing what was really there, I realized they were right.  There's such a thin line between restful and suffocating.  I didn't need undiluted calm, quiet relaxation, now that I no longer had a stressful job to need a break from.   I didn't need the comfortable everyone-knows-everyone-and-looks-out-for-each-other familiarity of a small town when I had the ongoing community of cruising liveaboard boaters for support, online and in physical "real life." I could go home again  ... that is, I could bring my body back to this place ... but I wasn't the person who fit there anymore.  That sounds sad, but it isn't; the baby bird doesn't fit back into the egg, either. 

Foggy misty morning in Northport

We had more adventures and a few more pictures, but this post is long enough, so I'll save them for Part II.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Good, the Better, and the UGLY

Our diver, Dave from Annapolis Diving Contractors,  showed us a sample of what he scraped off our hull.  
The Good:

We got what first sounded like a junk-mail call yesterday, but it turned out to be a representative from Wells Fargo offering to refinance our existing mortgages with them to a lower rate ... without appraisals. We had tried to sell the townhouse earlier this spring; it had gotten lots of showings but no offers. For the townhouse,  the refi would turn it from a negative to a positive cash flow.  A couple hundred more dollars in our pockets each month?  Yeah, I can do that.  For the Arizona house, the refi means we pay $12 more per month, and pay it off 4 years sooner.  Yeah, I can do that too.

Crazy story about having to get the paperwork printed out, signed, and faxed back in before the rates went up next morning, and having had an eye doctor's appointment so my eyes were dilated and I couldn't read said paperwork.  By the time late that evening that I could read, when we tried to print it out, we discovered that our printer was kaput, and it was too late to go to Best Buy to replace the printer or Kinko's to pay to print the stuff out.  Luckily, with the help of friend Phil, who has an office here in Annapolis, and a race with the evening's scary big thunderstorms, everything finally was printed, signed and faxed in on time.  (And sure enough, rates went up by almost 1/2 a percentage point today!)

The Better:

So, when is it good when someone says he doesn't want to see you any more?

When the someone is your cancer doctor!

That's what Dan's oncologist told him this morning! He's graduated! No need for further cancer monitoring. Of course, he does need to see his regular doc and neurologist every year, but being "medically boring" from a cancer perspective is news worth celebrating! I previously wrote about this two years ago, when we celebrated "Alive for Five!"

We considered going out for a nice dinner to rejoice in the news, but decided instead to donate the money to cancer research.  (Anyway, we had just gone out yesterday and my waistline didn't need another high-calorie meal.)


According to our diver Dave, this has been a record year for fuzz growing on hulls here in Back Creek.  Our wonderful copper bottom paint made this removal easy, but look at this stuff!  He estimated that he removed 600 pounds of it.  That'll slow us down.  (Squeamish alert: there are little maggoty-looking worms that live in this stuff.  When Dave made them homeless by cleaning the hull, some of them swarmed onto him.  Eeeeeuw!) I'm really really glad Dave likes his job and is good at it, because although I love diving, I just don't think you could pay me enough to go into this water.

All in all, a very delightful and productive day!