REPELLING THE BRIDGE – Marilyn Armstrong

SURVIVING JONES INLET IN A VERY SMALL SAILBOAT

Gwaihir, my 16-foot Soling was a doughty sloop. Built of fiberglass, aluminum and a bit of teak for deck, rails, and hatch, she lived in my basement through the off-season. I lovingly painted her hull and lavished layers of varnish on her brightwork.

I co-owned the little boat with a moody guy who lived on a shallow canal on the south shore. A Soling is easily launched from a trailer, but it was convenient to keep her in the water. If the tide was with us we could sail. Sometimes, even with the centerboard up, with a draft of just 16 inches, there wasn’t enough water at low tide to go anywhere without getting stuck. So we waited for the tide to turn.

My husband had grown up on the water, had his own sailboat from childhood. He was completely unafraid of the ocean. Bad weather, good weather, it didn’t matter. He loved sailing.

A drawbridge spanned Sloop Channel under which you had to sail to get to the Atlantic Ocean. Our little boat was just a bit too tall to go under the bridge if it were closed, but to get the bridge opened, you had to make an appointment and you had better be on time. If you were in a sailboat and hadn’t lowered your mast, you could not sail under the bridge. You had to lower your mainsail and use your outboard motor. Our little boat’s mast was just 27 feet, but it was a foot and a half too high.

There are strong tides in Sloop Channel. It can be hard to navigate, especially under sail. Moreover, a 16-foot centerboard sailboat is not ocean-worthy. Maybe if the ocean is flat, it might be “doable,” but it would never be a good idea. Each time my husband insisted we sail out to the ocean, I spent the voyage with my heart pounding hoping we didn’t become a statistic, a cautionary tale of poor judgment on the sea.

Did I mention that my son,  a toddler, was with us? Did that deter my husband, his father? It did not. His father had sailed the family boat through the eye of Hurricane Carol with him and his sister aboard. He was not about to be deterred. By anything.

This day, we planned to drop the main and use the outboard to power us under the drawbridge. We hadn’t made an appointment, so the bridge wasn’t going up. Too bad. That was my favorite moment when they stopped traffic in two directions so our little sailboat could pass beneath.

This day was beautiful with a brisk following breeze. The tide with us. We skimmed smartly over the water towards the bridge.

“Uh, Jeff? Shouldn’t we drop the mainsail? The bridge is coming up awfully fast … really … look … it’s right there.”

By the time the words were out of my mouth, Jeffrey bellowed the immortal words every sailor wants to hear: “PREPARE TO REPEL BRIDGE!”

The bridge was on us. I was at the front fending off the bridge with a fiberglass boat hook, while our captain tried to start the outboard and simultaneously drop the mast before it snapped.

Sunrise Rockport

Fortunately, he dropped the main first and started the engine next. We got a little banged up, hitting the cement pylons as we bounced under the bridge. No problem. We still had a mast.

Eventually, the engine came to life and we had power, sort of.

I had successfully repelled the bridge. On this day, the ocean held no terror. I had fended off a bridge. I had no more adrenaline with which to be afraid. It was just another sunny day on the Atlantic Ocean.

MAY WATER EVER FLOW – Marilyn Armstrong

WATER EVERYWHERE


There’s a lot of wetness when you live in a water shed. It flows over rocks and down the dams. It runs into little rivulets and bigger streams and sometimes, into the old canal. We have some lakes, too, including a very large one that has a Native American name that no one who didn’t grow up in this area can ever pronounce. Webster Lake, for Anglophones.

For valley natives,  it is Lake “Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg” (/ˌleɪk tʃɚˈɡɒɡəɡɒɡ ˌmænˈtʃɔːɡəɡɒɡ tʃəˌbʌnəˈɡʌŋɡəmɔːɡ/). This is a 45-letter alternative title is frequently called the longest place-name in the United States. If there’s a longer one, no one has yet told me what it might be.

It is also one of the longest place-names in any language.

Tall Ships, Boston 2017

I grew up in New York. The city part of the state and the nearest “water” were the docks along the horribly polluted rivers. Thank Pete Seeger for helping fix that so that the Hudson River is no longer so polluted you could actually develop film in the water.

I lived in Queens and if we wanted to see water without someone driving us, we got on our bicycles and rode for a couple of hours to whatever were the nearest docks. There was a tiny little lake right by my high school, though. Beaver Dam. I’m assuming that once upon a time, there were beaver there. I suspect it is gone. It didn’t seem to have any inlets or outlets and that’s usually the end of a body of water.

We never had flowing water locally. No streams, no rivers. We did have some large puddles and named them as if they were lakes, though we knew they were not. Still, they were the only thing we had, so we had to make do.

If we wanted an ocean, someone’s mother or father had to drive us to the beach. Mine was not a beach-going family. My mother had cancer in her 40s. Too much radiation, so she could not go into the sun. When she had no choice, she wore caftans and huge hats. They hadn’t invented sun-screen yet, but later, she would wear that, too.

Sunset at the marina

I liked the beach because my friends liked the beach. I loved the ocean itself and that crazy feeling of standing in the oceans, feeling the sand moving under your feet as the wave pulled out before the next rolled in. Otherwise, I never liked sand. It always got into places I thought sand didn’t belong.

Woodcleft Canal, Freeport

I remember burning my feet trying to walk barefoot to the car through the parking lots of Jones Beach. We didn’t have flip-flops then. I don’t think anyone had invented them. I don’t remember owning sandals until I was an adult.

I liked the ocean off-season better. I liked the mist on the ocean and an empty beach. No umbrellas, no couples rubbing each other with oil. No endless smell of hot dogs.

Those were the days when everyone wanted a tan. I never tanned. I got more and more freckled though and you’d think eventually they would meld into a tan, but nope. Once, I get a slightly orange hue to my skin I thought was my best tan ever. Garry — to whom I was then married — laughed hysterically.

He used to have a contest with another Black friend about who could get the blackest over the course of the summer. Garry never won because there’s a lot of red in his skin. Probably those Irish grandparents, but Michael got really dark. I was this ghostly little thing and any attempt I made to get a golden tan resulted in days of pain and peeling.

Eventually, I gave up. I did get a sort of tan the year we went for our first cruise. Garry talked me into spending a couple of hours a week at a tanning salon so at least I would look tanned. It turns out those fake tans don’t keep you from burning, by the way. I got a terrible burn on a beach in Haiti even though I was wearing a t-shirt AND a hat — and had that fake tan. Water reflects sun upwards. Live and learn.

Local tame goose looking for something to eat

Those tans weren’t “real” anyway. They faded fast, but at least they weren’t as ugly as the spray. I did try one of those and it looked like I’d been heavily involved with orange paint I could not wash off.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Living here, in the valley with the rivers, dams , waterfalls plus all the woodland … this suits me well. The rivers are shady and cool. Not for swimming, mostly.

There is either a minor pollution problem dating back to when the Blackstone was one of the most polluted rivers in the world … or there are so many snapping turtles if you treasure your toes, don’t dangle your bits in the water.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

That’s okay. It’s great watching the herons, eagles, egrets, geese, ducks, swans and other waders pluck fish from the water. It’s sad when we have a drought and all you can see is mud and you wonder what has become of all those turtles and fish … and where have the eagles and the herons flown.

Yet the fish and the turtles and the water fowl come back, despite the bitter cold and the endless winter storms. They make new life and so far, the world spins on in the valley.

PREPARE TO REPEL BRIDGE

SURVIVAL IN A VERY SMALL SAILBOAT

Gwaihir, my 16-foot Soling was a doughty sloop. Built of fiberglass, aluminum and a bit of teak for deck, rails  and hatch, she lived in my basement through the off-season. I lovingly painted her hull and lavished layers of varnish on her bright work.

96-ocean-Sunrise

I co-owned the little boat with a moody guy who lived on a shallow canal on the south shore. A Soling is easily launched from a trailer, but it was convenient to keep her in the water. If the tide was with us we could sail. Sometimes, even with the centerboard up, with a draft of just 16 inches, there wasn’t enough water at low tide to go anywhere without getting stuck. So we waited for the tide to turn.

My husband had grown up on the water, had his own sailboat from childhood. He was completely unafraid of the ocean. Bad weather, good weather, it didn’t matter. He loved sailing.

A drawbridge spanned Sloop Channel under which you had to sail to get to the Atlantic Ocean. Our little boat was just a bit too tall to go under the bridge if it were closed, but to get the bridge opened, you had to make an appointment and you had better be on time. If you were in a sailboat and hadn’t lowered your mast, you could not sail under the bridge. You had to lower your main sail and use your outboard motor. Our little boat’s mast was just 27 feet, but it was a foot and a half too high.

There are strong tides in Sloop Channel. It can be hard to navigate, especially under sail. Moreover, a 16-foot centerboard sailboat is not ocean-worthy. Maybe if the ocean is flat, it might be “doable,” but it would never be a good idea. Each time my husband insisted we sail out to the ocean, I spent the voyage with my heart pounding hoping we didn’t become a statistic, a cautionary tale of poor judgment on the sea.

Did I mention that my son,  a toddler, was with us? Did that deter my husband, his father? It did not. His father had sailed the family boat through the eye of Hurricane Carol with he and his sister aboard. He was not about to be deterred. By anything.

This day, we planned to drop the main and use the outboard to power us under the drawbridge. We hadn’t made an appointment, so the bridge wasn’t going up. Too bad. That was my favorite moment, when they stopped traffic in two directions so our little sailboat could pass beneath.

This day was beautiful with a brisk following breeze. The tide with us. We skimmed smartly over the water towards the bridge.

“Uh, Jeff? Shouldn’t we drop the main sail? The bridge is coming up awfully fast … really … look … it’s right there.”

By the time the words were out of my mouth, Jeffrey bellowed the immortal words every sailor wants to hear: “PREPARE TO REPEL BRIDGE!”

The bridge was on us. I was at the front fending off the bridge with a fiberglass boat hook, while our captain tried to start the outboard and simultaneously drop the mast before it snapped.

Sunrise Rockport

Fortunately, he dropped the main first and started the engine next. We got a little banged up, hitting the cement pylons as we bounced under the bridge. No problem. We still had a mast.

Eventually, the engine came to life and we had power, sort of.

I had successfully repelled the bridge. On this day, the ocean held no terror. I had fended off a bridge. I had no more adrenaline with which to be afraid. It was just another sunny day on the Atlantic Ocean.

A LITTTLE SAILBOAT IN THE BIG OCEAN

Gwaihir, my 16-foot Soling was a doughty sloop. Built of fiberglass, aluminum and a bit of teak for deck, rails  and hatch, she lived in my basement through the off-season. I lovingly painted her hull and lavished layers of varnish on her bright work.

Soling

I co-owned the little boat with a moody guy who lived on a shallow canal on the south shore. A Soling is easily launched from a trailer, but it was convenient to keep her in the water. If the tide was with us we could sail. Sometimes, even with the board up and the draft a mere 16-inches, there wasn’t enough water at low tide. We waited.

My husband had grown up on the water, had his own sailboat from childhood. He lacked fear where the ocean was concerned. Bad weather, good weather, it didn’t matter. He loved sailing and whenever he wasn’t working, ahoy, make way for Gwaihir!

A drawbridge spanned Sloop Channel. To get the bridge opened, you had to make an appointment with the bridge opening guy … and you had better be on time. If you had a sailboat and hadn’t lowered your mast, you could not sail under the bridge. Although our little boat’s mast was just 27 feet, it was nonetheless a foot and a half too high for the bridge.

There are strong tides in Sloop Channel. It can be hard to navigate, especially under sail. Moreover, a 16-foot centerboarder is not ocean-worthy. Maybe if the ocean is flat, it’s “doable,” but never a good idea. Every time my husband insisted we sail out into the Atlantic, I spent the voyage with my heart pounding hoping we didn’t become a statistic, a cautionary tale of poor judgment on the sea.

Did I mention that my son,  a toddler, was with us? Did that deter my husband, his father? It did not. His father had sailed the family boat through the eye of Hurricane Carol with he and his sister aboard. He was not about to be deterred. By anything.

This day, we planned to drop the main and use the outboard to power us under the drawbridge. We hadn’t made an appointment, so the bridge wasn’t going up. Too bad. That was my favorite moment, when they stopped all the traffic in two directions so our little sailboat could pass underneath.

This day was beautiful with a brisk following breeze, the tide with us. We skimmed smartly wing-a-wing over the water towards the bridge.

“Uh, Jeff? Shouldn’t we drop the main? The bridge is coming up awfully fast … really … look … it’s right there.”

By the time the words were out of my mouth, Jeffrey bellowed the immortal words every sailor wants to hear:

“PREPARE TO REPEL BRIDGE!”

Suddenly, the bridge was on us. I was on the foredeck fending it off with a fiberglass boat hook, while Captain Bligh tried to start the outboard and simultaneously drop the main before it snapped. Fortunately, he dropped the main first and started the engine next. We got a little banged up, hitting the cement pylons as we bounced under the bridge. No problem. We still had a mast. Eventually, the engine came to life and we had power, sort of.

I had successfully repelled the bridge. On this day, the ocean rollers held no terror for me. I had fended off a bridge. I had no more adrenaline with which to be afraid. It was just another sunny day on the Atlantic Ocean.

FOR THE PROMPTLESS – LAPSUS LINGUAE AND BIG MISTER MALAPROP

Once upon a time when me and the whole world were a good deal younger, my father had a business partner. I don’t remember his name, but he was a big, bluff Russian who used to come over the house, visit, and make gallons of cabbage soup. He must have thought there were a lot more of us than there were because my mother couldn’t figure out how to store so much soup, even though we had a full size standing deep freezer in the basement and a huge fridge in the kitchen. He and my father would go into the kitchen and produce these gallons of soup. We all had to eat it for weeks until we were sure we were turning into little cabbages.

75-BroadBoardwalkHP-1

Bob (or whatever his name was) was accident prone and an enthusiastic teller of stories, most of them about his own misadventures.

“So I was at the beach, at Coney Island” he says, almost shouting because he never said anything except very loud. “Very sunny. Blue sky. A nice day to take my mother to the beach, let her relax in the sun by the water. She is just settling down with her chair. And she asks me if I’ll set up the umbrella for her. I mean, she didn’t have to ask. I always do it, but she always asks anyway, like if she doesn’t ask I won’t do it. I took her to Coney Island, what did she think, I’m going to leave her to cook in the sun?”

75-BeachAtConeyIsland-707

We all nodded dutifully. Because he was my father’s partner and we were kids, so what else was there to do?

“It’s a big umbrella. With stripes. Red and yellow. I got it myself, on sale. Umbrellas are expensive and this was a good sturdy one and I paid bupkas for it. If you ever need an umbrella …” and he paused to remember what he was going to say. “Anyway, this was one of the good ones, with a heavy pole so it would stay put.”

We nodded some more. Our job. To nod. Look very interested.

“I opened the umbrella and had to find the right place to put it because, you know, if it’s in the wrong place, the shade isn’t going to be where you want it. So I walked around a bit until I found just the right place. Then I took the pole and a jammed it into the sand as hard as I could and it went pretty deep. Seemed good and solid.”

We were still nodding. I must have been — maybe 10? — and had been taught to be polite, no matter what, to grown-ups. We did not call adults by their first name. I think my teeth would have cracked if I had tried or my tongue would have stuck to the roof of my mouth.

DemocracySM

“What with everything looking okay and my mother settling down in her chair with a book, she looked happy. So I figured it would be a good time to get something to eat and I told her I would go get us some hot dogs — and something to drink. She said that was good, tell them to leave the mustard off because — she’s always reminding me but I know, I know — she doesn’t like mustard.

I walked all the way over to Nathan’s — that’s a pretty long walk, all the way to the end of the boardwalk — because they have the best hot dogs” at which I was nodding with real enthusiasm because Nathan’s really does have the best hot dogs, “And I love those beef fries. I got five, two for her — with no mustard — and the other three for me because I was hungry,” and he paused to pat his large belly, “And I started walking back. I could see where to go because of the umbrella’s stripes. I could see it all the way from the boardwalk.”

Nod, nod, nod.Nathans at Coney Island

“The weather suddenly was changing … some clouds were coming in from the ocean. It was getting a windy — a bit — and this was happening all of a sudden while I had gone to get the dogs. Funny how the weather changes so fast along the water, you know? So now, I’m almost there. Up comes  a big puff of wind and that umbrella pulls right up out of the sand and flies at me and whacks me over the head. Boom. I thought my whole head was going to come off.

I dropped all the food and fell right over. Like a rock I fell and just lay there. My whole brain was like scrambled eggs. They had to come and take me to the hospital. I was completely compost for TWO DAYS! Two days! Completely compost!”

Be careful of flying umbrellas at the beach. They will turn you into compost. That’s not good, especially when your hands are full of hotdogs.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Gloucester on Cape Ann

96-Gloucestermen-NK-1

The legendary whaling port that produced the toughest sailors on earth … not the huge fleet it once was, but still alive in the 21st century.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: The Cold, Grey North Atlantic

The sky is rosy with the coming sunrise. The air is full of the smell of salt. Sand crunches under your sandals. Listen to the call of seagulls and the whoosh of the waves breaking against the shore. Flights of plovers and terns flutter by.

You’ll never mistake this for the Pacific. It’s colder. Darker. Don’t be deceived by the apparently calm water. The undertow is powerful and can easily sweep you far out to sea before you can call for help.

96-BeachAtDawn-NK

The cold grey North Atlantic is simultaneously alluring and ominous, the ocean of my childhood. Whenever I dream of the sea, it’s the Atlantic that calls to me.