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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Last dance with Trainwreck

It has been a surprisingly busy visit back to Baltimore/DC this past week--hanging with the family, dinner with friends, obtaining visas, getting vaccinated, meeting with lawyers, paying bills, etc. I really wish we had more time to visit with people, but as Catherine and I have discussed on many occasions, we have to get going and get this adventure underway. Our plan is to spend more time with family and friends when we get back and when we have a back-pack full of great stories and pictures to share.

Amidst the hustle and bustle, I was able to squeeze out a few hours to spend with my second most favorite lady--Trainwreck. We had a window of good weather (and relatively few plans) on Saturday and so I headed out to take the Newberry clan for a quick midday sail. Thanks to Guy for allowing us to interrupt his previous sailing plans.

We arrived in Annapolis grabbed our cameras, beer, and water then made our way down the marina steps to the slip that holds Guy and my special girl. I spent a few minutes unclogging cockpit drains which held the contents of many trees exfoliating various types of seed, stem, and pollen in celebration of spring. I prepped our vessel and admired all of the recent improvements Guy had made to Trainwreck's interior. Whomever ends up gunk-holing with him this summer will be awash in amenities such as newly covered cushions and pillows.

The wind was out of the SE around 10-15 knots and the sky was speckled with clouds and blue sky. As we made our way out of the slip I reveled in fantastic views of the marinas lining Back Creek in Annapolis. I have so many good memories associated with this area and I never seem to tire of taking our little sloop out to the Chesapeake Bay.

Once we made it out of the channel Fred took the helm and pulled us straight into the wind as I worked with Charlie to free our mainsail and hoist her towards the heavens! We fell off wind and drew smiles as Trainwreck fell to the power of the wind and began gliding across the bay. For those of you who have not been on a sailboat, it is an amazing sensation when you kill the boat engine and everything goes quiet except for the sound of the wind and the waves splashing against the boat. You are left soaring across the water awash in the serenity of the water and the simplicity of the physics fueling your movement. Many have described the beauty of sailing so I will quit trying and move onto pictures and other interesting notes from the day.

A naval destroyer sat on the far side of the bay across from Annapolis, along with 5 freighters, and more than 100 sailboats out enjoying the early season. Fred and Charlie took turns at the helm and when they weren't playing captain they pulled out their cameras to photograph our trip.

Of particular interest was the naval destroyer and a small "stealth" boat that was running back and forth between the big military ship and Annapolis. We heard the destroyer hail a sailboat who was overly curious in their vessel and sailed too close for comfort--they were instructed to "Back Off!"

We held a beautiful beam reach across the bay for just over an hour before tacking back and beginning our trip back home. Average speed was just over 5 knots and we made it fairly close to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The new genoa foresail performed really well and I personally loved being able to see underneath it (our former genoa held its tack at the ships bow). I sat at the helm relaxing to some Rolling Stones and being very happy that I had gotten in one last sail before taking off on the big trip.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Back home!

Yann will probably put something up about the end of our time in Nassau (swimming with dolphins, boating to Rose Island, and the freshest tuna we've ever eaten), but I just wanted to write something really quickly about being home.

We arrived back in Baltimore on Tuesday with minimal drama. We got up at 5:00 AM to pack a cooler of frozen seafood. Ross had given us some fresh fish his boat had caught during the weekend's sportfishing tournament, Sam had arranged to have 10 pounds of stone crabs ferried in from Spanish Wells, and we'd visited the dock in Nassau to get 10 fresh conchs. We bought two of those cheap grocery store styrofoam coolers to double up, fill with the frozen goods, and duct-tape the heck out of.

Ross (a saint), met us at 5:30 to drive us to the airport.

When we checked in, the agent told Yann that we'd need to open the cooler. Um, yes, we are idiots to have thought that we'd get through customs without having to open our completely sealed package. But whatever, no big deal, the agent assured us that customs would have plenty of tape so we could reseal it. And no, of course, we didn't bring the leftover duct tape.

US Customs did peek in the cooler, but didn't have much in the way of tape--just the stuff they slap on inspected packages that says "inspected by US Customs" or something like that. Yann taped the cooler up as well as he could and we crossed our fingers, figuring there was about a 50/50 chance of it getting to Baltimore unharmed.

Charlie met us at baggage claim in Baltimore and the cooler (and the rest of our bags) had made it! Dad met us at the curb and we headed home. Once we got settled, we checked the cooler and everything was intact--sweet!

Charlie and Dad left us in the kitchen to get started on dinner.

We made conch salad, grilled dolphin, roasted potatoes, a green salad, and--the piece de resistance--stone crabs with a trio of aioli.

Kerry and Debbie made it in time for dinner, as well. I have to say, we had a fantastic time living it up in the Caribbean, but there's a lot to be said for a nice dinner at home with the fam.

So the last couple of days have been productive. Yann and I met with an attorney to do wills and living wills, had our final visit at Johns Hopkins Travel Medicine for our yellow fever vaccinations and malaria drugs, met with our accountant, went to the bank, and went to DC to get visas for India and China. We thought we could knock it out all in one day, but it turned out that the Indian Embassy had to hang out to our passports overnight. Oh well, back to DC on Monday.

After we were done with that, we stopped by Kevin Richardson's place to visit our abandoned kitties. They are doing well (thank you Kevin!), but I think they've already forgotten about us. I guess they'll have to get used to us again in a year or so.

Then we headed over to Guy's to drink some beer in his backyard and wait for Kevin Hill and Daria to meet us for dinner. It was a gorgeous afternoon and, even though I'd sworn off beer for a bit, the beers were cold and awesome. We went to Granville Moore's for dinner. For anyone who has never been there (and if you're in DC, I doubt that is even possible), it is full of mussel-y, beer-y, frite-y, and aioli deliciousness. Yum!

Tonight we're off for dinner with Lindsay at Porter's in Federal Hill. I know we've only gotten a tiny taste of travel compared to what lies ahead, but I suspect this will become more and more true. Traveling is a blast, but it's really nice to be home for a little while.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Scuba Diving

Yann and I got dive certifications on Wednesday. I am now a certified open water diver and Yann is an advanced open water diver.

Yann loved the "class". He had to do five specialty dives over a day and a half including one deep dive and one underwater compass navigation. He said the first day was pretty silly in terms of the certification part of it. He did a wreck dive, an underwater naturalist dive (he identified some fish), and a boat dive (he identified some parts of the boat). A nice day of diving, but nothing new for him.

However, the next day was the deep dive and underwater compass navigation. He was supposed to dive to 120 feet. Once he and the instructor got down there, a black tip reef shark decided to check them out. The shark headed straight towards them and came within about five feet. Yann said he started to get pretty nervous and accidentally made it down to 130 feet, surpassing his previous record depth by 45 feet. He also said the underwater compass navigation was pretty easy; he just had to swim in an equilateral triangle and square to show that he could figure out the compass headings.

I, on the other hand, am not sure how I feel about diving. I'd like to think that maybe I'd learn to like it since I was even convinced that I hated snorkeling the first time I tried it.

I spent the first day in the classroom watching videos and reading the PADI book. Like a good little nerd, I got 100% on my quizzes and 98% on my exam--thank you Rice University.

The second day was a morning in the pool and an afternoon on the open water. The pool stuff was okay, I guess, but it's hard to get a feel for anything in five feet of water. My instructor also seemed more interested in getting the lifeguard's digits than in making sure I knew what I was supposed to be doing. The afternoon's boat trip was miserable. It was choppy and windy and I was really anxious by the time we got to the site. Once I got in, my brain definitely had issues reconciling being underwater and breathing. I AM NOT A FISH! Anyway, somehow, I got through it. It was only 20 feet, so that probably helped. I told Yann that I'd go ahead and finish my certification, but I didn't ever want to dive again.

The next morning was an even more miserable boat ride. We were going directly into the wind and just got beaten to death. I was even more of a wreck by the time we got there. Add that to the idea of going down to 60 feet....I started panicking when I got in the water. My instructor was trying to calm me down, but I definitely did not trust that 25-year-old twerp. I also had a hard time clearing my ears. Finally, after about three tries only getting down to 15 or 20 feet, I was done. My instructor was pissed and I got back on the boat with no intention of getting back in the water ever again. However, the second site was calmer (and only about 25 feet) and somehow Yann's instructor talked me back into the water. He was very trust-instilling and fatherly and, while I was still anxious, I managed to make it through the last few skills I had to do.

I guess I did it. I'm not sure I'll ever dive again, but Yann is convinced that if we go out on a clear day to a fairly shallow site, I'll try it again and learn to love it. We'll see. :)

We had dinner at Bobby Flay's restaurant at the Atlantis, Mesa Grill, with Steve to celebrate. We shared the shrimp and corn tamales and tuna tartare to start. Then Yann had the pork tenderloin, Steve had the filet mignon, and I had the snapper. The guys shared a bottle of Stag's Leap petit syrah and I stuck to a couple glasses of sauvignon blanc. I liked the snapper best, but Yann and Steve preferred the pork tenderloin. Regardless, it was a fantastic dinner--yum!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Abacos

Wow, we have definitely fallen off the blogging wagon this past week and decided to buckle down with our coffee and tea this morning to catch our favorite audience up on our most recent travel events. After returning from Key West we all needed a couple of days to rest and recollect our thoughts back in Nassau. We spent the week in Nassau catching up on sleep, doing laundry, and attending to the seemingly unending list of administrative duties.

While in Key West, Steve discovered that a handful of the Nashville songwriters were heading down to the Abacos the following week/weekend and suggested that we put together a trip and meet them for a few days. With the decision made, it took Steve less than a day to arrange for airfare and find us a cottage to stay in for the weekend in Hope Town. The Abacos are string of islands located in the northeastern corner of the Bahamas teeming with beautiful water, beaches, and wildlife. Hope Town is one of the original settlements in the Abacos which today is a refuge for boaters and those seeking the serenity of the islands.

We took off from a small private airport on Thursday afternoon in seven seat Aero Commander 500 where I had happily jumped in the co-pilot seat to check off another lifetime first.

The flight lasted about 35 minutes and provided for some really great views of the islands from 6000ft up. We landed smoothly at Marsh Harbour and jumped in a taxi to rendezvous with Kylie at one of the local watering holes named Snappas. After rejuvenating ourselves with an ice cold Kalik we jumped back in our cab and made our way to the ferry which would carry us over to Hope Town. We pulled into the harbor at Hopetown to be greeted by this exquisite light house (which by the way is still operated by an onsite "keeper" who burns vaporized kerosene and manually cranks the rotating beacon):

We got off the ferry and were warmly greeted by a young gentleman who walked us about a 100 yards to the "Crows Nest" where he informed us there was no key, because well, it's Hope Town, why would you lock your house? It was late in the day and all of the local stores were closed but lucky for us we were next door to Captain Jacks--a favorite local watering hole. We sat on our patio/dock taking in the view of the harbor peppered with boats from all over the world.

A golf cart and supplies (aka beer) were procured and we made our way to meet up with our other friends staying at the southern end of the island. They had rented a 27' center console motor boat which became our primary mode of transportation for the next two days. We scoured over the islands stopping at whatever beach looked the prettiest. The water was crystal clear so we simply would lay anchor, jump overboard with snorkel gear and swim to the beach or nearby reef--whichever suited your fancy. The scenery was absolutely stunning and I am kicking myself for not bringing a camera with me. (Luckily, our friend Shannan did and I hope to have some pictures to share with you in a week or so.) We swam through a beautiful reef park, visited the prettiest beach I have ever seen, where the water was so clear you thought you were in a swimming pool, and had a great time drinking Blasters at Pete's Pub.

I cannot emphasize enough how much I would recommend a vacation in either the Abacos or the Exumas where you rent a cottage/house and small boat. It is well worth the slight premium you will pay over staying at a resort--I guarantee.

After our long days in the sun and water, bed came early for Catherine and I. We did however enjoy a couple of nights sitting on our dock and admiring the sunset and stars.

It was very hard to leave on Sunday. All we wanted was a few more days on that boat and to spend more time in the water, but alas it was time to move on. We made our way back to the airport and loaded up in Abaco Air's other member of the fleet a Britten-Norman BN-2 Islander. Apparently we had not gotten enough adventure during our Abaco trip because all nine passengers became instantly alert when 15 minutes outside of Nassau our little plane gave a noticeable lurch which clearly indicated something was very wrong. In fact there was something very wrong, our right engine was completely out of fuel and was puttering out rapidly. How about a picture to put this in perspective? This is not the actual engine that died, but it gives you some sense of how close you are and how weird it is to see that propeller stop spinning when you are up in the air.

We were fortunate, the pilot did an excellent job. We made an emergency landing at the Nassau airport and were greeted by four fire trucks which all scrambled down the runway as we touched down. I think most of our nerves were shot when the plane pulled to a stop, but we were safe. I made a mental note to myself to make sure I always fly on planes with two engines and we packed up for home.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tracking Map

This is my first attempt at adding a map to track our progress and share with you another aspect of the places we've been. If you zoom in close enough, you will see exactly where we were located (within a few hundred meters). I hope to improve how this map displays in the blog, but it should give you a good idea about how we have been moving around. Icons represent the mode of transportation by which we arrived.

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Key West: Post Mortem

We have just wrapped up our week long adventure at the Key West Songwriters Festival. It was a really great trip but boy are we tired--those musicians sure do know how to party!

For those of you who have no idea what this festival is about, allow me to give you the quick breakdown from my perspective. BMI is one of the three performing rights organization in the United States representing a massive number of musical artists. (I have a very limited understanding of how this industry works; however, I would point you to their website if it is a topic that is of interest:

The songwriters festival in Key West is an event sponsored by BMI and others which highlights some of the best-in-class songwriters found mostly in the world of country/pop country/cross-over country. We just so happen to be good friends with a couple of these talented folks and were pleased to join them as guests for four days as they took turns sharing the stage with one another and playing songs from each of their own respective catalogs. The format worked something like this; three songwriters would take the stage together and each take turns performing roughly three songs each. Each set lasted between 45 minutes to an hour and each performance included between 3-5 sets.

Between Wednesday and Sunday, there were multiple performances taking place all across the little town of Key West in varying bar and hotel venues. Although this festival appears to have gained great popularity the shows still seemed to maintain an air of intimacy that you don't get at your garden variety music festival. The environment was more along the lines of walking into a dive bar in New Orleans with a bunch of rowdy friends and neighbors who were all enjoying their own good friends playing some (really well written) tunes. At one point our dear friend Kylie Sackley who also performed at our wedding and multiple family crawfish boils, very kindly dedicated her beautiful song "Still Believe in Love" to Catherine and I--thanks sweet doll! Other notable favorites from the festival included Ashley Ray, Jacklyn North, Damien Horne, as well as our friend Courtney Jaye! Also, although it fell outside of the standard format we thoroughly enjoyed the full band performance by Randy Houser--kick ass!

Aside from spending our time enjoying the festival's music, Catherine and I meandered through the streets of Key West taking in the New Orleans-esque party feel, beautiful foliage, and some really great food. Should anyone ever decide to make a trip down to the southernmost point in the US, I would offer the following bits of advice:

1) Key West is not a beach town. Yes, you can get to a couple of beaches, but it is just a couple and they are mostly located at the bigger resorts. If you want to park your rear on the beach for the week, you may want to look further north in the
Keys and make a day trip down instead.

2) Key West is a fun town in a tropical climate--literally, think Bourbon Street in the middle of the tropics. There is a lot to do in terms of seeing music, checking out some legendary bars, seeing great art, and easy access to water sports.

3) Basically everything is off of Duval Street and walkable. If you are not into walking then the city offers a wide variety of other transportation options including tuk-tuks, scooter, e-car, and bicycle rentals as well as taxis.

4) I was shocked by the quality of the food available in Key West. We had delicious meals almost everywhere we went, but a few highlights included:

Seven Fish: Our absolute favorite! As indicated by their name, this place specializes in local, fresh caught fish, and boy is it delicious. We split a sushi roll for an appetizer and then enjoyed two local catches--Mahi Mahi and Black Fin Tuna. The sushi was so good that we actually skipped dessert and had the second roll offered that evening.

Louie's Backyard: Very yummy. This was definitely the most elegant meal we had and if we had caught it on the right day, then the outdoor patio would have made for a beautiful view of the ocean while you dine.

Nine One Five: We had a fabulous 3+ hour dinner here with friends Robin, Scott, and Mike. The food was delicious and made even better by the fact that everything we ordered we shared. The wine list was solid and we made a point of making it through several lovely varietals.

I cannot leave the topic of food without mentioning that if you find yourself feeling a bit unhealthy after a solid dose of Key West socializing you should definitely try one of the two natural foods/vegetarian delis in town. Sugar Apple and Help Yourself offer fresh and "slow-food" to nourish a healthy body (or body in need of health).

5) The foliage throughout Key West is breath taking. A wide assortment of palm tress in every shape and size accompanied by dozens of tropical flowers are on display throughout the towns boutique hotels and homes. Make time to take a walk and enjoy some of the plant life.

We had an uneventful trip back to Miami yesterday in the Grand National but did enjoy one of the most famous stretches of road in the US! If you do decide on a Key West trip you should really consider the 3.5 hour drive from Miami--I don't think you would be disappointed.

Now we are back in Nassau and after two weeks on the sea/road it is time to do some LAUNDRY!

Sunday, May 2, 2010


Alright, we tried putting ads on the blog, but it seems there's no way we'd ever have enough traffic to make it worthwhile. Plus, it's annoying. However, if we get 500 followers, we're putting them back up to help finance the travels. So spread the word. ;)