R&R WITH OLD FRIENDS – Garry Armstrong

It was our time for a bit of R & R in the lush Connecticut woods, far from the madding crowd. It’s another world where we can recharge our life force and mental batteries.

Home

Our hosts are the kindly friends for whom we are grateful. We’ve known Tom for more than 50 years dating back to our days in college when we and our world was young. We’ve known Ellin – it seems forever – or since she married Tommy and immediately improved the quality of life for all of us.

Our mini-vacation included time at the marina where everyone seems utterly relaxed — except when they are rehabbing their boats for another summer on the water. The much-maligned weather put on a good face for us.

Ellin
Tom

Sunshine and summer-like temperatures were abundant. It was warm but not uncomfortable. The breeze from the water made it almost perfect as we relaxed for an afternoon of doing absolutely nothing.

Marilyn and the camera
Garry at pier’s end

Tom apologized for not taking the boat out because the water was a bit too choppy for his taste. No worries, we repeatedly told him as we soaked up the afternoon sun, chatting about stuff that brought giggles and contentment. Really. NO worries!

I enjoyed looking at the names of the boats in the marina and wondering about the folks who owned them. I’ve never wanted to own a boat but have fantasies, thanks to Bogie in “Key Largo” and other movies which romanticize the boating life.

Ellin socializing on the pier

I’ve always thought I’d name my boat “The Busted Flush” after fictional detective Travis McGee who chased bad guys in his trusty little houseboat which also provided room for romantic interludes with his miscellaneous yet somehow dubious love interests. Hey, just a passing fancy.

Tom has schooled me in the difficulties of keeping “Serenity” in running condition. I’m good being a guest.

There’s so much to see just relaxing with Tommy and Ellin in the Marina. The setting is soothing. You can drift off mentally without a worry. No obsessing about what’s happening in our politically-challenged world. That stuff is blocked out for a few precious hours. I could actually feel my heartbeat slowing. Just what the doctor ordered.

Tom and Ellin on the boat

Back at “La Casa Bonita” of Tom and Ellin, it’s more of the easy life — at least for us, the guests. The conversation ramps up during the evening “News Hour.” Imagine sitting between two guys who’ve logged 80 years in network and top market TV News.  The old, war stories fill the air spiced with profanities that befit we who ducked idiot management suits from the “Tricky Dick Era” to today’s “Follies of Donzo.”

We can name drop with the best of them. Hell,  Tom and I have probably sent myriad suits seeking psychiatric care because we refused to tolerate their idiocy.

Tom is the master of his impressive entertainment room. He’s introduced Marilyn and me to shows and movies we never knew existed.

Tom, the telly, and Remy
One thing that impressed me — I looked and looked around the walls and notices no awards reflecting Tommy’s long and accomplished career at the highest level of TV News. I know he’s been in the cross-hairs of some of the biggest news stories over half a century. No collection of hardware — unlike me.  Tom doesn’t need any stinkin’ bodges.
Lexi

Marilyn and I were very reluctant to leave Tommy and Ellin and the comfy good feeling they bestowed on us, but our dogs were calling us homeward.

We have an invite to return with Tommy taking us for a trip aboard “Serenity” when the seas are smoother. I’m already dreaming about it.

THE START OF BOATING SEASON – BY ELLIN CURLEY

From New Years on, Tom counts down the days until he can start working on the boat to get it ready to go back in the water. It spends its winters shrink wrapped and up on pilings in the parking lot of the marina, squashed together with all the other beached boats.

The first thing we have to do each spring is getting off the shrink-wrap. This involves lots of cutting and rolling of the large sheets of plastic protecting the boat from the winter elements. This usually takes one day, which is not too bad. But it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Then comes the cleaning, which is a big production. The bottom has to be painted and the hull has to be waxed and buffed. On a 40-foot boat, that’s a lot of waxing and buffing!

It also has to be over 55 degrees and dry for Tom to be able to do this kind of work and this year the weather has not been cooperating.

We had a few warmer days and he got a lot done, but then it either rained or was too cold for over a week. Tom’s brother came down to help him work on the boat, but they only got one good day out of four. This time of year the weather is always erratic, but it seems to be getting more schizophrenic each year.

Big pile of cut plastic rolled up next to the boat

The fiberglass and the metal railings on the inside of the boat also have to be cleaned and Tom likes to get this done while the boat is out of the water. That’s because once the boat is in the water, Tom gets lazy and just wants to relax and enjoy it.

My job is the interior cabins on the boat. While it’s still out of the water, I do the annual thorough cleaning. Everything is covered in black soot and dirt and is disgusting. I throw away a garbage bag full of black paper towels. But I persevere and clean every inch of the boat, including the two toilets, the bathroom floors (by hand) and the shower. This is my least favorite day of the year.

The deck inside the shrink wrapping

Once I’ve cleaned the inside, I take home all the sheets and towels, wash them, bring them back to the boat and make the bed and put the clean towels out.

My pile of laundry for the boat.

Then I have to stock the kitchen. I have to wait until the boat is in the water because the only way onto the boat in the parking lot is by ladder and I don’t want to carry heavy grocery bags up a shaky ladder. Stocking the kitchen is like stocking a house – I have to buy every necessary item in my kitchen, starting from scratch.

I need basics like coffee and tea, salt, pepper and sugar, herbs and spices, condiments like ketchup, mustard, mayo, barbecue sauce, and salad dressings, and items to cook with like butter, oil, vinegar, chicken stock, onions, tomato sauce, etc. Then there’s snack food and company food because people are always stopping by for a drink on the dock. So I need cheese and crackers, chips and dips as well as cookies and other sweets.

The other trick in shopping for a boat, is I have to try and find the smallest versions of everything so I can fit it all in my small kitchen.

When the kitchen is stocked, my last job is to clean the deck and the flybridge. That has to be done last because Tom keeps all of his cleaning items strewn all over these areas. It looks like a bomb went off at West Marine. Once he finishes his cleaning and puts everything away, I get to do the final job.

That’s when the boating season officially begins for us.

Anchors Away!

FLOWERS AT THE MARINA – BY ELLIN CURLEY

When people think of marinas, they think of boats, docks and, of course, water. But our marina makes an effort to create beauty on the land part of the marina as well as the water part.

So I took some pictures of the beautiful plantings and flower beds at our marina. They make walking the dogs a peaceful and happy experience.

Cee’s Flower of the Day

THE LOVE OF THE WATER – BY ELLIN CURLEY

What is it about water that so many people find endlessly fascinating and soul soothing? People pay top dollar to live in homes that have a view of water – any water – ocean, lake, pond, marsh, stream. Prime vacation spots are often on, in or near the water.

I love the sound of our backyard mini waterfall. I can also sit and look at it for hours. The sound of waves lapping onto the shore have been recorded innumerable times for relaxation tapes, sleep aids and comfort for newborns.

 

People also love the feel of water; pushing through the fingers, falling onto the hand, resisting a closed palm, like in swimming. People walk with their feet in the water at beaches and swim anywhere they can, both under the water and on top. There are a plethora of gadgets to help you play in the water, from inner tubes to noodles, paddle-boards, beach balls, etc. There are also too many water sports to even try to list.

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There is a theory that our obsession with water is rooted in our time in our mother’s womb. As fetuses, we float in the uterus in a protective amniotic fluid, gently rocked as our mothers move. We may even hear the sounds of swooshing water. Which could explain the universality of humans’ love affair with water.

But it doesn’t explain why only some people seek the water in many different aspects of their lives.

Personally, we choose to live in the woods — but we own a boat. Listening to water slapping against our hull is our version of Nirvana. Our boat is big enough so we’re not close to the waterline when on-board.

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So we have an inflatable dinghy that we drive around. In that, we are as close to the water level as you can get, like in a canoe or a rowboat. I can’t resist putting my hands in the water and opening my fingers as we ride through the water. I love the sound of the little boat pushing through the water, punctuated by the percussion bursts of waves breaking against its sides.

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I don’t have any earth-shattering conclusions to make. I’m sure there are research studies out there on the subject. It’s just that I’m on my boat enjoying being on the water and wondering why it is so satisfying for me. I had a swimming pool and a pond during summers growing up but no one in my family went to beaches or liked boats. We were city folks who ‘roughed it’ in the countryside of Fairfield County, CT during our summer vacations.

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So I have no family history or childhood memories to fall back on, except the pool and the pond. Maybe that, combined with my primal connection with amniotic fluid, is enough.

2018 BOATING SEASON BEGINS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

2018 BOATING SEASON BEGINS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

We got our boat in the water right on time this year, in early May. But the weather wasn’t acting like spring. It was rainy and cold a lot. Tom didn’t care. He’d go sit on the boat in the rain. He says, “It’s a boat. It’s waterproof!” That’s not for me. I stayed home while Tom went and sat on the boat in the lousy weather.

Now it’s feeling like summer and I’m getting into the rhythm of boating. Some days we just go to the marina for a few hours, often without the dogs. But when there are several nice days back to back, we pack up the dogs and move to the boat. It’s like going to a floating beach house.

Living on the boat feels like a vacation. We’re only a half hour away from home. So in some ways, it makes no sense that we feel like it’s such a big and positive change from our everyday life.

But there’s something cozy and fun about living in a mini house. The small kitchen and bathroom are challenges – but fun challenges. Cooking on the small three burner stove often has to be done in installments because I can’t fit three pots on the stove at once. I can’t boil pasta, make sauce and cook meatballs at the same time as I do at home.

Creative juggling gets the job done – eventually.

We grill a lot at home. But we aren’t allowed to use a grill on our boats at the marina. Instead, there’s a communal grill for each dock. You often have to wait your turn to get to it, so we don’t rely on grilling too much on the boat. We tend to order out or go out to eat more. It’s part of the sense of being on vacation when you don’t have to cook as much as you do at home.

Since we are all living in a smaller space on the boat, we end up spending more time together with the dogs than at home. At home, the dogs spend a lot of time outside in good weather. And they love to go from room to room, sofa to sofa. On the boat, there’s only one sofa for them to crash on. And that’s where I spend most of my time.

While we do similar things on the water that we do at home, such as reading and writing, it feels different on the water. Among other things, the dock is a more social environment than in our rather isolated house in the woods. When boats go out or come in, everyone rushes to help. It’s dock etiquette. There is a very strong current in the river at the marina, so getting in and out of our slips can be a tricky affair.

After helping a boat in or out, the people on the dock hang out and chat. The same thing happens when we walk the dogs. We end up chatting with people on their boats as we traverse the dock to get the dogs to the parking lot and the dog walking area.

Then there are the invitations for drinks and the time spent relaxing on each others’ boats. Most things are impromptu, spur of the moment affairs. You never know who will be on their boats when you’re there.

We recently had a wake-up call, reminding us that boat travel can be dangerous. Our good friend took her boat out in bad seas. She got banged around so much, her swim platform literally broke in half and her radar unit broke away from its hinges. If the swim platform had come off ITS hinges, the boat would have started to take on water and sink in the middle of Long Island Sound!

She was lucky and dodged a major bullet!

imagine a swim platform, like this one, split in half, lengthwise

My friend was very shaken, as were we. When you are alone out on the water, you are dependent on weather and water conditions. And there can be lots of unpleasant surprises. The key to boating safety is knowing when to leave the dock and when to stay put. The go or no-go decision is the most important thing a Captain does.

But no matter how careful and conservative you are, you can get caught in unexpected and dicey conditions. It’s happened to us but we never suffered as much damage to our boat as our friend did. We have had some very rough and scary trips. We’ve reached our destination with things flung all over the boat – furniture, contents of drawers, anything not tied down! I’ve had to crawl along the floor to keep a chair from heading off the boat when our gate broke loose!

Fortunately, I’m very happy on the dock! I don’t need to go somewhere in my beach house in order to enjoy it. I like hanging out at the marina and taking short day trips. Our friends and family are happy with this routine as well. So this is what we do most of the time. It’s not what all boaters do, but it’s fine for us.

JUNE IS SQUARE – ROOF 27 – Garry Armstrong

It’s that time of year again and squares are back! 

How many roofs do you see? I haven’t counted them all yet.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Well, the theme is ROOFS (or rooves if you prefer). Your roof can be;

A – Any type, any condition, any size, and in any location.
B – It could be a shot across rooftops, of one roof like today or even a macro
C – You might prefer to spend some time under the eaves and in the attic, or enjoy the view from above as Brian has already done today.


See you tomorrow!

THE CURSED BOAT – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Our first boat was a disaster. One bad experience after another. One large repair bill after another. It’s amazing we continued boating. But we got another boat and we’ve been enthusiastic boaters ever since.

In 2001, Tom and I bought the ten-year old boat we affectionately nicknamed “The Titanic”. It was a 27 foot Carver Santiago power boat. The boat was named “Patron,” after its previous owners, Pat and Ron. We never changed the name and according to boating superstition, that could have been the reason for our bad luck with the boat. (Boaters are very superstitious).

The one good trip we had with the boat, fortunately, was the first. We had to pick the boat up in Massachusetts and drive it back to our home marina in Stratford, Connecticut. We had taken a required boater safety course but had never actually driven a boat. For some reason, we thought it would be a good idea to make our maiden voyage a 122-mile trip. In March! We were wearing ski gear to stay warm. It should have been an eight-hour drive. It turned out to be more than eleven.

Tom’s brother came down to help us on our maiden nautical voyage. All the boaters we talked to on the trip asked us if we had insurance and if we had Sea Tow, the boater’s equivalent of AAA. We couldn’t understand why everyone kept asking us those questions. Now we do. Experienced boaters knew that doing that trip in one day was totally crazy! Especially with novice boaters.

We set off from Massachusetts in sunny but cold weather, and calm seas. The first few hours were fine. We were pleased with how well we were doing. Then we hit Long Island Sound and the seas got rough. Very rough. The boat was rocking,d rolling, and banging down hard after each wave. We were being bounced and flung around like rag dolls. It was scary and unpleasant, to say the least.

Kitchen and living area

The second half of the trip took twice as long as the first. It got dark. Now we were navigating into our home marina at night. We had no idea where we were.

At one point, we ended up in just a few feet of water, which is not good. Tom decided it was time to call it quits. He announced that we were pulling into the first marina we saw. Our car was at the Brewer Marina, but he didn’t care. We were docking NOW! Believe it or not, we landed at the right marina, on our assigned dock. Victory! We did it! What great luck!

And then our luck changed. On Tom’s next rip, he ran aground and broke a battery post, which killed the battery. Two fishermen in a small boat towed Tom to a public dock. He called me, I picked him up, we bought a new battery and the boat made it home.

Next time out, Tom thought the auxiliary gas tank was full and opened it up. It was empty and this caused the boat to go dead in the water. Tom got acquainted with Sea Tow’s services. They were wonderful and helped Tom figure out what was wrong over the phone. He filled the auxiliary tank and all was well again.

Kitchen and living area with dining table

Then came the coup de grâce. We took a trip to Essex, Connecticut on the Connecticut River. Tom was pulling on a line at the marina and it broke, flinging Tom into the water. He lost his sunglasses and his lucky boating hat. More bad juju. I told you boaters are superstitious.

On the way home, a stick got caught in the propeller and the boat started acting wonky. Tom was anxious to get back home quickly to fix the problem, so he took a shortcut – and ran aground. At full speed.

Here’s where the expensive damage came in. Both propellers were damaged. Tom replaced one and took the boat out to test it. Unbeknownst to him, the oil pan under the engine was rusted out. Running aground caused the oil to drain out of it. The oil gauge should have told Tom that there was a problem. But it had never worked right, either. When it registered ‘no oil pressure’, Tom assumed it was wrong — and ignored it. When he ran the engine, the engine seized. And died. The entire engine had to be replaced. which cost as much as the original price of the boat.

This repair was so major and took so long, our boat was out of the water for most of the boating season. Friends teased us that we didn’t really have a boat. So when we had guests, we started entertaining them on the boat – which was sitting in the parking lot at the marina. At least we still had a water view.

Sofa (and bed) in stern of boat plus view of small deck

Tom loved to say that the only difference between our boat and the Titanic (other than the fact that we never actually sank) was that the Titanic had a live band and we had a cassette player. Most of our problems were not actually the boat’s fault. They were stupid Captain’s tricks made by an inexperienced boater.

But the boat felt cursed to us. So that fall, while we were waiting for the second engine to be installed, we sold the boat, now in pristine condition.

In 2003 we bought another ten-year old boat, this time a 32-foot Carver Aft-Cabin Motor Yacht. We named the boat ‘Second Chance’ since we were giving boating a second chance. Also, we had just gotten married and we felt we were each other’s second chance as well.

Second Chance

We loved this boat and took wonderful trips with it, usually with our two dogs and often with other boating friends. We spent time in a beautiful cove in Port Jefferson, Long Island, NY. We traveled to Montauk, NY, Block Island, RI and Martha’s Vineyard, MA. We went back to the Connecticut River many times.

We had no problems with this boat except that our gas tanks were small and our range was very limited. So in 2008, we upgraded again to our current boat. This is our dream boat. It’s a 40 foot Carver Aft-Cabin. It was ten years old when we got it but it was in great shape and was immaculate. We named this one ‘Serenity’, after the spaceship in Tom’s favorite TV show and movie, ‘Firefly’.

This is our last boat. It’s incredibly comfortable to live on for a week or so at a time. It’s great to entertain on for as many as twelve people. It’s been a wonderful ‘vacation home’ for us, as well as a way to travel around and ‘sight-see’. We often spend time on the boat at the marina, which can be a very friendly and social place.

This is our current boat, Serenity

Tom spends almost every day on the boat for six months of the year. He just loves it. It’s his happy place. He goes into withdrawal when we have to take the boat out of the water in November. He counts the days until it goes back in the water in May.

Tom on the dock in the winter, waiting for boating season to start again

So despite our inauspicious beginning as boaters, we have made boating an important and cherished part of our lives.