Marina mascot

“Is there a place to do laundry here?” I asked, as Barry presented his credit card to pay for our night’s stay at Osprey Marina.

“Yes — there’s a laundry room, right over there,” said the woman behind the cash register, Lynn. She pointed out the door of a clean but nondescript room with a row of washers and dryers and a small table. At least, it was nondescript at the time. Later that night, you might say it was pretty “descript.”

We’d stopped at Osprey marina because after four days on the water, anchoring out, it was time for hot showers, diesel, and laundry. A couple of years earlier, in one of the email dispatches known as “Malla and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” our friend Ted had gone into uncharacteristic rapture over the place, once named the best marina in the country by Marina Dock Age Magazine.

As Ted led us to expect, the place was small, reasonably priced, and very friendly, with excellent facilities for doing a memorable load of laundry.

Lucky the Goat

4 days old and cute as a kitten

What made it memorable was that at 5 o’clock, when the office closed, Lynn moved a baby goat into the laundry room.

The morning we arrived, the goat was the only topic of conversation. There was a small herd of them on the 180-acre property, and this one had been born four days earlier, on February 23. At first, everything looked fine, but after three days, his mother died.

Just a few hours before Barry and I arrived, the little orphan was tucked among warm towels in a small cooler and moved into the marina office with the heat cranked up. Everyone who came into the store stopped into the office to coo over the tiny brown-and-white floppy-eared creature who spent his time sleeping, eating, and occasionally bleating in a way that sounded like a human baby.

At the end of the day, there were plenty of volunteers from the various boats to help care for him overnight, which is why he ended up in the laundry room with all his paraphernalia — milk, bottle, printouts from the internet on how to care for an orphaned goat, a feeding schedule, and notes about his care and condition. Plus a sign with his name: Lucky.

While I was cooking dinner, Barry offered to carry our load of laundry ashore and put it into the washer. He didn’t come back, and dinner and I were waiting for him when he finally returned. He admitted that he had gotten into a conversation in the laundry room with a boater named Sharon, who was goat-watching. I couldn’t blame him, because I was dying to go up and play with the goat myself.

Sharon and Barry in Lucky's nursery

Sharon and Barry in Lucky’s nursery

Later that evening, as Barry was getting ready for bed, I announced that I needed to use the shoreside facilities. It was a ruse — we have a perfectly good head. I went straight to the laundry room, where a couple was just leaving after feeding the goat. We had a nice chat about — what else? — boats and goats, and then they left me alone to enjoy Lucky’s company. I got him out of the cooler and set him on the floor, where he wobbled on his toothpick legs and promptly piddled on the floor. Lucky was innately “cooler-trained” and would not mess up his bed.

For a four-day old creature, he was very rambunctious and curious. He wanted to explore the laundry room and when I turned him away from hidey-holes where he might get into trouble, he complained. He was an adorable playmate, about the size of a small cat.

We were enjoying each other’s company when Sharon returned and caught me trying to capture the fast-moving little guy with my camera. “Oh, good! I was afraid he’d be alone,” she said. “Here, let me take a picture of both of you.”

I was supposed to be in bed a half hour earlier, but I couldn’t help hanging out and talking with Sharon. It had been over 20 years since I played with a baby goat, and who knew when I’d get my next chance? I happen to really like goats.

The next morning, our alarm went off at 5:20 in order to catch some early favorable current in the Waccamah River. I’d promised Sharon that I would check on Lucky, because that would be between his 3 am and 6 am feedings. But when I entered the laundry room, there was Sharon, sitting in a plastic chair.

Sharon snoozing with Lucky

Sharon snoozing with Lucky

“Don’t tell me you stayed here all night,” I said.

“OK, I won’t tell you,” she replied.

“But you did.”

“Yeah, I did. I got some sleep when other people came in to feed him. His bottle’s over there in the sink — go ahead.”

I picked up the bottle and crouched down to the cooler, where Lucky was nosing his head around the towels as if looking for something. I gave him what he was looking for, and he sucked contentedly for a while. I hadn’t fed a goat since we lived on Hill Farm in Portland, Oregon, and it brought back fond memories.

Eventually, Barry came looking for me, intent on getting Flutterby underway, but he, too was captivated by early morning goat-feeding. We finally said our goodbyes and slipped our lines at 7 o’clock, 45 minutes later than planned.

Lucky seems strong and healthy enough to survive, but his future is unknown. Will he be adopted out to a family or local farmer, or just nursed long enough to return to the Osprey herd? Is Lucky even a he, or a little she?

Meps holding the goat

Meps and Lucky the Goat

There are a lot of boaters with dogs and cats aboard, and even a few birds. One thing is certain, though, which is that none of the boaters so eager to take their turns with Lucky in the laundry room want to adopt him. He may look adorable and be fun to play with, but already the laundry room is taking on a certain “goaty” odor. He is not a close-quarters pet, and I doubt that Osprey Marina, with its reputation for being one of the top marinas in the USA, wants to jeopardize their highly-prized standings with such an odiferous, albeit adorable, mascot.

Our experience definitely confirms one thing about Osprey: Their reputation for being the friendliest marina around is well-earned. They’ll be good to you, providing excellent facilities and plenty of free snacks. Even if — especially if — you are an orphaned goat.

27 inches, why do you ask?

Mast inside the boat with quilt on it

Karen’s mast quilt

The compass roses on our charts are very practical, necessary, and boring. They include true and magnetic north and a circle of numbers and tick marks to help us plot courses.

Flutterby recently acquired a much more beautiful compass rose, with blue cardinal points, green ordinal points, and gorgeous purple for the secondary intercardinal points. It is reminiscent of the ones used on historical seafaring charts going back to the 16th century, and it is a stunning piece of art.

It started with a picture that we posted on Facebook of Barry standing in Flutterby’s galley, next to the mizzen mast. In the comments about the photo, our friend Karen wrote, “Crazy question, but what’s the circumference of that mast?” Barry promptly replied (he has some interesting specifications stored on his computer), “The circumference is 27 inches where it goes through the galley.”

It was an odd exchange, since although Karen is a curious soul and a voracious reader, she isn’t a friend I think of as interested in the minutiae of sailboat refits. We met over 15 years ago on a computer BBS and shared a love of cats, dancing, and hilarious late-night conversations. Karen once distinguished herself as the best house-sitter on the planet when we returned from a trip to find a fresh-baked, homemade apple pie in our oven.

So after the initial question about the mast circumference, Karen dropped the subject. At least, that’s what I thought. And since she lives in Port Orchard, Washington, and she wasn’t likely to visit us on the boat very soon, we dropped it, too.

Nine months later, the next time we were in Seattle, Karen said she had a special something to give us. We had no idea how special!

Karen with the compass rose side of the quilt

Nautical side of the quilt

The surprise was a double-sided quilt, 27 inches square, with the dramatic compass rose and a blue-and-white fabric with boat plans on one side. Such a perfect thing to wrap around the mast in the center of our main cabin! It makes the boat look like an art gallery — the quilting itself was taken from a stained-glass window with butterflies in it.

But it is the other side that truly takes my breath away, because it illustrates how perceptive Karen is about the Adventures of Meps ‘n’ Barry. It’s a convergence quilt, with successively smaller pieces starting in the four corners and working together in the middle. It’s very colorful, but the predominant colors are restful browns and beiges. What the colors and the fabric represent are the four corners of the USA — the corners that we have explored and blogged about from the Squid Wagon.

As we set out on our latest voyage, heading south down the ICW, I am delighted to be boating again and to share my stories of life on the water. Our beautiful quilt is hanging on the mast with the compass rose facing out. But that is only a portion of my life. I’ve just gotten back from a trip overseas, to Brazil, that was taken on an airplane. And as Karen has beautifully illustrated, I am very proud of the voyages and the writing inspired by our travels on land, here in the USA. And I am very, very proud to call Karen Jake — fabric artist, crazy cat lady, librarian, and dedicated caregiver for her Mom — my friend.

Barry holding the quilt, showing the landlubber side

Barry and Karen with the landlubber side of the quilt


You can see samples of Karen’s work on her Flickr page.

Catching a wave

I learned the art of subtle wave when I lived in rural South Carolina, the summer of 1984. On my one day off a week, my boss at the Beach and Tennis Club would loan me her car so I could buy groceries. Since the closest store was 15 miles away, I’d negotiated the loan of the car in my employment terms.

At first, I couldn’t believe my city-bred eyes. Every time I passed a car or truck on the 2-lane road, the driver waved at me. “Is something wrong? Why are they waving at me?” I wondered. By then, it was too late to wave back. I felt guilty. I was sure I owed them a wave.

When I started to wave back, I was doing it wrong. I was too energetic, waving with my whole hand. Eventually, I learned the technique. You hold the steering wheel at the top, and you don’t actually take your hand off the wheel to perform the wave. You just casually lift your fingers, keeping your thumb around the wheel. A little nod completes the split-second greeting.

All this comes back to me as I travel the Intracoastal Waterway, because this is a waving trip. All day long, I wave at people on passing boats, folks on shore, bridge tenders. When the days are long and our speed is slow, waving is an interesting distraction, a complex and subtle way to communicate without words.

Back in Georgia, traveling on a weekday in May, we might see one or two other boats, no houses on shore, and no bridges. Here in North Carolina, on a weekend in June, we have hundreds of boats, three or four bridges, and countless houses with docks. My arm could get tired with all this waving.

A primer on where to wave, using the Ladies Island Bridge for an example

In each encounter, there’s the question of who waves first, and who waves back. When I am about to be rolled by a big powerboat’s wake, I ignore any friendly waves by the boat’s occupants. I have an excuse — both my hands are occupied trying to steer Flutterby into their wake. I admit, that’s no excuse for my scowl.

When we’re passing a boat full of people, it’s interesting to see how many of them wave. Sometimes, the passengers look at us suspiciously when we wave. Then they notice their own captain waving, and they think, “Oh, it’s OK to wave.” So they wave, too, belatedly. Other times, the kids wave, but not the grown-ups. Or the grown-ups wave, and the kids look away, embarrassed.

I hesitate to wave at people whose have both hands occupied. Kayakers and fishermen, for example. I don’t want them to feel guilty for not waving back. The more inexperienced kayakers miss a stroke just to wave back at me. The savvy ones wave their paddles, mid-stroke.

Bridge tenders are another difficult one. Where the heck are they? I peer up as we go through the bridge, trying to figure out which reflective window might have a person behind it. Then I wonder if both their hands are occupied with bridge controls. Still, I wave gratefully and enthusiastically.

Swing bridges open very slowly, pivoting in the middle. When they’re open,  the bridge tender is on a little island, isolated from either side of the road. Sometimes, they come out and watch us, waving or calling down a hello. They’re not in a hurry like the bascule bridge tenders, whose bridges open like big jaws trying to take a bite out of the sky. (And close like big jaws trying to take a bite out of my mast.)

I could write a whole book about waving technique. I love the super-enthusiastic waves that we get from tiny kids and pre-teen girls. Sometimes they even use both arms. One of them, today, shouted “You’re from Seattle? I LOOOOVE Seattle!”

When I see people on the dock looking particularly relaxed and sipping drinks with little umbrellas, I give them a wiggly-finger wave, as if we know each other. That leaves them puzzled. Sometimes I use my Princess Parade wave — elbow, wrist, hand, elbow, wrist, hand. That leaves ’em laughing. But most waves are just a simple lift of the hand, palm facing out. It reminds me of kids playing Indians: “How!”

I’ve tried some other, non-verbal, non-waving communications with mixed results. My attempts to communicate “slow down” always fall on deaf eyes. But a few times, we’ve been treated exceptionally well by boats passing, and a bow of gratitude is universally understood. Thumbs-up is another universal gesture, meaning, “I like your boat!”

Sometimes, when Barry comes up to take his watch, I wave at him, too. It’s just because I’m waving at everyone else, why shouldn’t he get a friendly wave as well?

Today, I noticed a lot of two-finger waves. Is that a modified military salute, or a papal benediction? Luckily, I have never, ever on the water, seen the “one-finger” wave.

I hope that one is reserved for cars.

A punky reggae party

I’m goin’ to a party
And I hope you are hearty
So please don’t be naughty
For it’s a punky reggae party (Bob Marley)

Flutterby's neighbors in Vero Beach

There goes the neighborhood... Flutterby in front of Vero Beach's posh homes

From Flutterby’s mooring to shore is about 150 feet. It’s a lot farther, if you measure it in dollars.

Tonight, there’s a birthday party at one of the houses on shore. The lawn is full of dressed-up people, and they’ve got a live reggae band. What I can’t figure out are the two chickens in the yard. I’ve never noticed those before. Perhaps they were a birthday present. Perhaps they’re serving really, really fresh chicken for dinner. Or maybe that’s the backup singers.

OK, that’s enough about the chickens. I must be hungry. I wonder what kind of people can afford to hire such a professional-sounding band for a birthday party?

No boring ol’ farts, no boring ol’ farts
No boring ol’ farts will be there
Singin’ no boring ol’ farts, no boring ol’ farts
No boring ol’ farts will be there (another verse from the same song)

My curiosity sends me to Zillow.com, where I look for information about our shoreside neighbors. The house with the party is just over a million dollars, but it’s not for sale. The one that is, though, is even closer; it’s the one whose windows we look right into. It’s a 3-bedroom, 2-1/2 bath rambler with a swimming pool. You can buy it for just over a million dollars. Or rent it for $7500 a month.

Or sit out here on a mooring and look into the windows, for $400 a month.

Turn your lights down low
And pull your window curtains…
(from another Bob Marley song)

It’s a good thing I like reggae, and the birthday party band in particular. I’m sure everyone over there is shouting, unsuccessfully, to be heard over the music, like this:

John: “Blah-de-blah-de-blah chicken?”
Mary: “No, I don’t want to dance with your chicken.”
John: “I said, blah-de-blah-de-blah CHICKEN!”
Mary: “You want me to to remodel your kitchen?”

Out here, we can’t turn the music off, but we can easily talk over it. It’s like our own private dinner concert (no boring ol’ farts here!). Because this is Vero Beach — known as Zero Beach to the younger set — the music stops at precisely 9:30 pm. I’m disappointed.

I once had a business trip to Semiahmoo, a stunningly beautiful resort near the Canadian border in Washington, with two coworkers. When the desk clerk handed out room keys, two of them faced the water, and one faced the parking lot. The two other women looked at me in consternation. I had the most seniority, so they were certain I’d claim one of the waterfront rooms, leaving them to fight over the other one. Instead, I picked up the parking lot room key, saying, “Enjoy the view. I’m going sailing tomorrow, and if you count both sides and the transom, I’ll have over 75 feet of waterfront property all weekend.”

That comment comes back to me as I listen to the reggae-chicken birthday party. Tonight, they’re  enjoying their waterfront property and sharing it with their friends. But they are paying an awful lot just to be looking at us! And we are not paying very much to be looking in their windows, enjoying their music, and laughing about their chickens.

Let me tell you, it takes a joyful sound
To make the world go ’round
It takes a joyful sound
So come a come and rock your boat (one last verse from Bob Marley)

Hero merit badges earned

“Your cat is cute.”
“She’s not my cat.”

“What’s wrong with your cat’s leg?”
“She’s not my cat.”

“You’re flying to Seattle? What are you going to do with your cat?”
“SHE’S NOT MY CAT!”

To other people, fostering a cat family looks a lot like having cats. We had a cat door, food and water bowls, and a playful, frisky kitty named Buttercup who followed us around the boatyard and frolicked under our boat. All of which explains the number of times in two weeks that we had to protest, “SHE’S NOT MY CAT!”

Aboard our boat, her two kittens spent all their time sleeping and nursing. When their mother climbed into the berth with them, they would make tiny, cute squeaking sounds, and she would respond with chirps. Then they’d find a teat, suckling quietly, and she would purr.

Barry with two not-his-kittens

Barry with two not-his-kittens

One night, just after I went to bed, I heard agitated squeaking. Buttercup was responding with more than the usual meeowing, purring, and chirping. When I went to see what was up, there was a soggy kitten on the galley floor. Buttercup’s water bowl was a small Tupperware cup, just big enough for one kitten — and one kitten had fallen in!

That night, she decided the quarterberth was not a safe place. She moved the kittens under the stove, where we had to get on our hands and knees to see them. They hardly noticed us, since their eyes remained closed. We tried not to spill popcorn or sauteed onions behind the stove.

Not-my-cat comes out from a kitten feeding

Buttercup Not-My-Cat comes out from under the stove

Less than a week before our departure, we got a very welcome call. Donna of PAWS had found a foster home for the three with a retired couple who are dedicated to cats. Imagine a large house in the country, surrounded by miniature houses, each with carpet, windows, and air conditioning. Our single mother and her babies were going to live in a real cathouse!

So we dropped them off at a vet for the transfer. Even after just three weeks, it was hard to say goodbye. We drove back from the vet wearing PAWS bracelets that say, “I saved a pet.” And in our email box was a timely message from our cat rescue mentors, Blaine and Suzy: “hero merit badges earned!”

But the boat was quiet and empty. The feral cats we feed sat at the bottom of our ladder, puzzled. “Where’d that girl kitty go? We didn’t mean to chase her away!” they seemed to say. We threw ourselves into finishing the masts and packing for our trip, as if working 19-hour days would distract us from missing the friendly cream-colored cat.

We’re in the Pacific Northwest now, with even more distractions. Still, I find myself looking at the photos of Buttercup Not-My-Cat — of which we have way too many — and thinking, “Yes. For a short time, you were my cat. Thank you.”

Visiting Home

A week or so ago, I sat alone in the hot tub in Barry’s parents’ backyard. A silvery bright half moon shone over the black silhouettes of towering conifers. The only sounds were the soft gurgle of the water and a chorus of distant frogs. I relaxed completely, leaning my head back and wondering about this strange concept of “visiting home.”

To Brian, Cayenne is truly a home where he has invested time, emotion, and blood. Although he didn’t like New Orleans much, he was not terribly interested in returning to Seattle before we began cruising.

But Barry and I were willing to drive for three days straight in exchange for a few days visiting home, family, and friends. Coming over Snoqualmie Pass on I-90 on Wednesday morning, I was exhilarated. The road was lined with pine trees, frosted with snow. The air smelled like wood smoke. In places, there were waterfalls beside the interstate. Even the drivers were better, using turn signals and driving considerately. Their license plates all had Mount Rainier on them.

I am not a native of Seattle. I have only lived there for eight years, far fewer than my twelve years spent in Columbus or nine early years in the New Jersey shadow of the Big Apple. But those places did not fit me, so they’re not my home.

The Northwest is a place apart from the rest of the country. I felt that strongly, viscerally, when we drove the pass. The flat lands of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and eastern Colorado ran together. The mountains of Colorado and Utah and Idaho did, too. But crossing the Cascades was like coming up the front walk of a home that you haven’t been to in a while.

What exactly is “home?” Is it possible to have more than one?

While in New Orleans, we called Seattle “home.” But while visiting Seattle, I said things like, “When we get home, we should…” Which is it? The place where you fit in and your soul feels at rest? Seattle, for me, is this place where I fit in, where the horizon ringed with mountains is like a border around my life. If so, why am I content cruising the rest of the world in a sailboat? There must be another home, one where you spend your days and nights. For me, that’s Cayenne — and like a happy turtle, I love the fact that we take our home from place to place.