Shaking Off the Radio Blues in the Mer Bleue Bog

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In these times of poor conditions for HF propagation, I had entered a radio amateur hiatus period which could be best described as having the “radio blues”.

In an effort to shake these “blues” and recharge radio amateur batteries (meant only soul-wise), last Saturday I visited the OVQRP “Chillicon” campsite in the Rideau Provincial Park, where I was hoping to breathe or receive by radio-osmosis the enthusiasm still noticeable in many of my fellow radio amateurs. There, I met with old friends and colleagues and had the opportunity of witnessing the logging of some amazing DX contacts (there was talk of even a VK station having been logged…).

Infused with this new dose of radio-enthusiasm, on Sunday morning I decided I would return to the air, if not as a portable DX-seeker, at least as a portable net-caller. Hence, around 9:00AM local time (13:00z) I drove to parking-lot P21 in the Mer Bleue bog area with the Elecraft KX3 and the PAR EndFedZ 80m dipole monobander (see figure above). On the West side of parking-lot 21, there is an array of trees permitting the horizontal deployment of the 40-meter-long wire. To try to gain some height, I used the S9 telescopic pole to hold the middle of the wire above tree-level. The KX3 was set at 10W, with its meter showing that some 7W were reaching the antenna.

On first try, I was able to hear the NCS for the ONTARS net, calling CQ on 3.755 MHz: Grace VE3HZB’s signal was coming in from Elliot Lake as a 51/52. She could not hear my transmission, but I was QSP’ed into the net by John VE3OMA from Picton, who was reaching my KX3 with an RST of 59 (much appreciated, John!). Then, at 10:00AM (14:00z) I heard Ken VE3EKN calling CQ for the Pot Hole Net. From my QTH I usually have difficulty hearing Ken’s signal but not so from the Mer Bleue Area. Here are my reports for all the participants:

Ken VE3EKN (NCS) 57
Jose VA3PCJ/QRP/P
Jeremy VE3ZTF 58
Barrie VE3NA 57
Norm VE3LC 58
Brian VE3BGO 55
Hugo VE3KTM 56
Stuart VE3SMF 53

At 11:00AM (15:00z) I heard Mike VE3FFK calling CQ at 3.620 MHz for the Pot Lid Net (a slow CW net). On this occasion the key I was using was the little but very able Palm-Radio  PPK straight key. Here are the stations I heard being logged:

Mike VE3FFK (NCS)
Norm VE3LC
Guy VE3QC
Jose VE3DTI
Jeremy VE3ZTF
Ric VE3XL
Stuart VE3SMF

Towards the end of the net I had the pleasure of being able to QSP for Stuart VE3SMF calling again from the OVQRP “Chillicon” in the Rideau River Provincial Park.

I was also rewarded with the sight of a red dragonfly, likely a male Ruby Meadowhawk (Sympetrum rubicundulum) and some interesting tree-growing mushrooms that I have yet to identify. Possibly parasitic tuberous polypore mushrooms (Polyporus tuberaster) growing on a live maple tree:

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Sometimes, it just happens…

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Anybody following this blog would know that, lately, radio reports have been conspicuously absent from it. Old age, lack of perceived progress in CW skills, disenchantment with FT8 and, mostly, dismal propagation conditions have been the main reasons for this sorry state of affairs. However, last Saturday, early in the afternoon, an effort was made to listen for any 20M CW reaching the 50+ foot-long end-fed wire hanging from the maple in the backyard behind the shack. Several signals were heard from Europe and the US, but the only station that answered the reply from my Kleine Morsetasten was a station in Petal, MS (at abt. 2,000 Km almost due South): Ralph K0RO was calling CW WES, participating in the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES). He was using over 100W power and his crisp signal was reaching my station as a true 599.  As if this was not enough as a surprise, I was almost shocked when he acknowledged my reply and awarded a 599 report to the 5W signal from the ICOM 703, which I had little room to doubt as too generous, since he then QSL’ed my full SKCC exchange (RST, QTH, Name SKCC Number) at first try and with no repeats. We later exchanged QSL in eQSL and LoTW. Much appreciated Ralph 73 K0RO de VE3DTI AR.

 

Only Buoy in the Ottawa River that Sends Morse Code in its Night Shifts

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Many sleepovers at the anchor have been spent on the lee of Aylmer Island (seen on the top-left corner of the picture), while keeping an eye on the silent Morse code of this buoy for any indication of anchor dragging…

The buoy is located at the entrance of the channel of access to the Aylmer marina.  The “List of Lights, Buoys and Fog Signals” (Inland Waters – Ottawa river) publication of the Canadian Coast Guard identifies it as the “Aylmer Island light buoy”, Nº 1299.2, painted red and white with vertical stripes, with a white light flashing Mo(A) (Morse code “A”: dit-dah) every 6 seconds. It is privately maintained (by the Club de Voile Grande Rivière). It is seasonal (meaning that it is removed from the water during the Winter months). Its present version (fiberglass?) is fairly new, as for many years it was an interesting hull-shaped metal structure that can be seen on land, on display in front of the club house.

Fairway buoys are “usually found at the entrances to channels or used to mark the center of a channel, and it may be passed on either side but should be kept on the port (left) side of your vessel when proceeding in either direction.”

Two days ago, with the wind blowing again from the NE at less than 5 Kts., conditions were excellent for a leisure sail upriver in a single tack (in a starboard tack broad reach point of sail). The wind kept nudging clockwise and I decided to tack around the Aylmer Island fairway light buoy on sail. The wind was calm and the only problem was to be able to gain enough power to not to miss the tack and end in irons with shallow waters all around. I headed up towards the buoy in a close-hauled/close-reach point of sail with the boom at the port railing (cat-boats are better not sailed with the boom midship). I tacked close-each to broad-reach which explains to narrow angle. Depth around the buoy was never below 6 Ft. Interestingly, the position as indicated on the chart seems to significantly differ from that on the the water.

Track 2018-09-03

Nepean to Horaceville in a Couple of Gybes…

Sunday August 19 and Monday 20 seemed perfect for an overnight in Pinhey Point cove, afloat, swinging at the anchor. Well, almost perfect, because the wind, albeit moderate, was forecasted to be steady all day (and night) at about five knots from the NE, for which the point at Pinhey cove offers no shelter. Hence, Sassy knew it was going to be a “berceuse”, and a “berceuse” it was…

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At 9:04 she was already on sail. Close to junction marker KN8, she set to a starboard tack with an open sail for a broad-reach/run. When abeam of Aylmer Island the wind veered a few degrees forcing a course adjustment to starboard, and half a mile further, she had to gybe to a port tack. This she held for two more miles until she gybed a second time, this time back to a starboard tack, and headed to mid-stream. She continued on this course until abeam of Pinhey Point. Then she headed upwind on the auxiliary, doused sail and headed to the anchorage.

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At Pinhey Point Sassy usually claims a spot midway between the tip of the peninsula and the docks, which, at her arrival, was taken by a larger sailboat. However, the skipper announced that they were just leaving and Sassy meneuvered a few minutes inside the cove until, while facing the wind, she was able to drop her Bruce in six feet of water, where 50 feet of rode (including 40 feet of chain) awarded her a comfortable 6 to 1 scope. The Belgian 5 Kg. Bruce then soon set and showed to be able to keep the boat in place even with the Tohatsu cavitating in full reverse.

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A few moments later Woodpecker, Kirill and Natalia’s PaceShip 25 (she had left Nepean over an hour later than Sassy), showed up to anchor windward of Sassy. QRP, the dinghy, was called to duty and a superb afternoon was spent visiting the estate, walking into the past while visiting the Victorian mansion turned into a museum, and then, chatting on a bench in the park and fixing all the problems of the World while watching the gentle swinging of the boats in the cove and along the shorline.

After sunset the sky remained clear, with a bright waxing gibbous moon shining from the South. At dusk, in a large arch towards the South, Mars, Saturn, the Moon, Jupiter and Venus lined as a tiara hovering above Sagittarius and Scorpio, with Saturn right above the center of the galaxy (the star completing the line-up between Jupiter and Venus is Spika, and the one below and to the left of the Moon is Antares, the red star at the heart of the Scorpion.

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Dinner was a full can of “chunky prime-rib with vegetables” with a couple of slices of German 7-grain bread, and a glass of Almond milk (all items that can endure a couple of days with no refrigeration). And at 2:00 am, when the skipper went for his regular middle-of-the-night tour on deck and looked up at the zenith, he was greeted by Cassiopeia, Andromeda, Perseus, Pegassus…

The awakening was at 6:30am. After a frugal breakfast (French-press coffee, cereal with Amond milk and a slice of toasted german bread), Sassy weighed anchor at 7:30am. In the still sleepy rays of the raising Sun, she tiptoed past Woodpecker so not to awaken her. With light headwinds, the return journey was courtesy of the Tohatsu, and at 10:00am she was already moored at her slip in the Nepean Sailing Club marina. Her stowaway for this trip was a blue fairy desguised as damselfly, likely of the Enallagma genus (Bluets) (E. exulans, the “Stream Bluet”?).

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A short lived but very rewarding overnight at the anchor, the only one this Summer so far…

PS.- Over a dozen other fairies, these ones all in the shape of adult Monarch butterflies, were also encountered in this trip…

A “Tacky” Sail to La Belle Province…

Thursday announced itself as one of those summer-privileged days perfect for a leisurely sail in Lac Deschènes: sunny, with day temperatures from 20º C to 26º C, with light albeit fairly sustained NW winds at around five Kts.

The crossing started at 10:15am EDT.  At the KN8 junction marker the sail was hoisted and sheeted with the end of the boom levelled with the toe-rail (close-reaching with the mainsail at midship is not recommended for cat-rigged boats). Then the chase (for the wind) started… The first two tacks, were done in good wind for the first 1.5 NM where speed was sustained above 2.5 Kts. From there on, frequent lulls significantly reduced the average speed. Also, at the end of the fourth tack the wind veered more to the NNE forcing the close-hauled course to be adjusted accordingly. After a couple of more short tacks, the fairway buoy at the entrance of the channel was already abeam. The sail was dropped and the Tohatsu took over.

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The chart piece on the left shows the entire track recorded by the Garmin GPSMAP 78 in a MacENC display of CHS raster chart 1550, and the one on the right is courtesy of program GPXSee (https://www.gpxsee.org), showing the speed over distance graph for the upriver journey. The colour arrows indicate the “helm’s a lee” moments. The brief drops in boat speed were due to sudden wind lulls.  On sail, the distance covered was of 4.3 NM, in 2:50 Hrs, at the “zooming” average speed of 1.5 Kts.

In the Aylmer marina the floating docks for visitors are superb and docking on idle was even easier than it usually is when approaching Sassy’s dock at Nepean.

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After performing the required salute to the captain overseeing the river from the upper floor of the club house of le Club de Voile Grande Rivière

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… two hours were spend visiting, first the Resto Bar for a long glass of Cheval Blanc (a white brew from Montreal, QC), and then a nice stroll along the beach and woods of “Les Cèdres”.

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Sassy reluctantly bid “au revoir” undocking exactly at 16:00 hrs. In almost no wind, she surrendered herself to the muscle of the Tohatsu and the gently steering of Steve-Theodore, her ST-1000 first mate, supported by the flexible UniSolar 11W solar pannel charging her dual 48 AHr batteries. Sassy was also more than happy to share the ride with the lonely bumblebee that insisted in trying to extract nectar from the colour threads in the rope of the mainsheet.

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The entrance to the marina was perfectly timed just before the able racers of the club lined up in the channel to exit for their regatta of the day.  After a perfect single-handed docking  at Sassy’s narrow slip in the Nepean Sailing Club marina (something that Sassy’s skipper is not always able to achieve), he had the rare opportunity of sharing a table and an inspiring chat about sailing and literature with Dr. Nigel G., a formidable sailor and colleague sailing-instructor at the CYA (now Sailing Canada), with whom he once had the pleasure of sharing the decks of “Constance”, a Bavarian 37 that once set sail off Granville Island in the Port of Vancouver.

Underway in a Junk-Rigged Woodpecker…

On Monday morning, more precisely at 7:00 am EDT, the skipper of Sassy Gaffer met with Kirill Liskovskyi and Natalia Belaya at the Nepean Marina for a matinal day-sail in “Woodpecker”, their exceptionally well maintained Paceship 23, and the one and only sporting a custom-made junk rig and sail.

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Since the launching of Woodpecker in the marina many sailors have been puzzled by the unique features in her rigging and the chinese-junk, ancient and yet extremely modern design of the mainsail. The spars were designed by Kirill and the sail design was executed by Natalia. It is an amazing piece of work: the battens are aluminium pipes and the sail is composed of separate cloth panels, each attached to the contiguous ones only via the corresponding battens. It is literally a “modular” sail.

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The sailing was short but long enough to see Woopecker’s unique sail in action: although the sail area looks small for such a boat, this morning, in light winds averaging 3 to 5 knots, Woodpecker moved smartly, pointing well into the wind at an average speed of 2.4 knots (maximum speed registered at 3.6 Kts.).  This design was never intended for speed and, given the relatively rigid battens, the overall shape of the sail cannot rival in camber and surface smoothness those in more commonly used sails. However, this may be partially circumvented by the shape adopted in the wind by each individual pannel and still provide, while reaching, for faster air flows to leeward than to windward. Also, the sail was hoisted and doused without the need to point into the wind and it was easy to appreciate the advantages that this would have in adjusting the sail area (i.e., “reefing”) such a sail while singlehanded.

Here is the track of the short outing:

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And this is what the wind indicator at the Nepean Sailing Club had to say about the wind during the hour-and-a-half sail in the Lac Deschênes.

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Of course, these are not the only special features in this boat, one other being its electric batteries and motor, only used to swiftly and quietly maneuver inside the marina, but able to operate several hours if the need were to arise.

My appreciation goes to Kirill and Natalia together with my admiration for their naval engineering skills! It was a uniquely different and very enjoyable experience…

 

…except for Sassy who was less than amused by the ungallant behaviour of her skipper…

Maybe Next Time…

On Saturday I had planned a return to Chenail Island at Hawksbury, ON. The idea was to operate QRP/P from there for two hours (2:00-4:00pm EDT) in the NAQP CW, which I was almost sure to let me log the 25 QSO’s in at least two DXCC’s required for a successful qualification of the island for the Canadian Island Activators Program.

I did arrive on the island as planned, around 10:00am EDT (14:00z). Here is proof courtesy of the Kenwood TH-D72A:

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However, here is a picture taken mid-morning from the underpath under the Pearly Bridge in Chenail Island:

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The column of water on the right is from a drainage pipe of the bridge, and the different aspect of the surface of the water under and away from the bridge is caused by the drenching rain. The rain was massive and electric discharges were flashing everywhere with weather cells blowing East one after the other. I even had the impression that they were forming right above us.  Here is a radar picture (Hawksbury is close to the tip of the “t” in “Lachute”):

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By the time of the onset of the NAQP CW, the forecast in the Radar app in my iPhone was not getting any better, and I decided against raising any antenna in those conditions. Hence, I crossed to La Belle Province and drove into Montréal.

Maybe next time…

 

 

 

 

 

 

A “QRP” Rowing Tour of the Marina

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Early this morning I went to meet Sassy. There was no wind, so I cleaned the cockpit and chased some big spiders… (it wasn’t too bad: just found a big funnel down the anchor chain locker and another below the anchor. Two large long-jaws that inhabited the ladder at the stern took off on the water and headed to shore —a smart move!). I removed “QRP” (aka, the Sportyak II dinghy) from the cockpit, checked the fuel level at the tank, lowered the engine into the water and started it for a few minutes to refresh the fuel in the carburator.

Then I launched QRP (I had left it lying on the dock beside Sassy), rigged its seat (a Försiktig children stool from IKEA) and its oars, brought onboard the required safety equipment and went for a leisure row around the marina. Like green sequins, the round leaves of the water lilies (and few flowers) coloured the edge of the bay, while several purple-martin families used the branches of a tall dead tree as a launching pads to teach their fledglings the art of flight (a much needed skill for their upcoming migration all the way to South America). A big turtle dove from a rock close to shore in front of QRP (I was rowing forward) and a flock of Canadian geese and a family of mallards kept preening their feathers, even as QRP approached them quite close.

Before leaving, I brought the mast down and threaded one long and thin line through one of the  blocks at the top: hopefully, in coming weeks, this will help to deploy either the PAR EndFedZ tribander or the mini-W3EDP from tje rigging for some portable-afloat radio activity.

 

The Island the “CIA” Missed… and What Really Was At “Stake”…

NAQP RTTY July 2018

This weekend, I had long planned to qualify a new Ontario island for the Canadian Island Activators (CIA) program: http://veislandactivators.blogspot.com.

The new island I had in mind was l’Île du Chenaîl (FN25QO77) located under the South end of the Perley Bridge that joins Hawksbury, ON to Grenville, QC, across the Ottawa River.

The novelty for this qualifying was to be the mode, as I planned to log the required QSOs, while participating in the NAQP RTTY, scheduled to be on the air from Saturday July 21 18:00z to Sunday July 22 06:00z. The idea was to operate from the island on Saturday afternoon using the same RTTY portable setup I had successfully used in 2016, while operating as CX7RT from CX-land in the CQ WW RTTY contest: Elecraft KX3 @ 5W interfaced with the MacBook Pro via the USB Sygnalink, while running Fldigi both as the interpreting and logging software.

However, the family had alternative ideas… and on Saturday I was summoned to the yard of the QTH to operate the Napoleon BBQ…

While this cancelled any hope of reaching l’Île du Chenaîl, it still allowed for the KX3, the MacBook Pro and the Signalink to set camp under the maple tree in the yard (the same one that holds up the long-wire antenna). In the end, 28 QSOs were logged: 27 in W-land and one in OZ-land. Twenty-five QSO in two DXCC’s is what the CIA minimally requires for qualifying a new island. Had I been operating from one, it would have been mission accomplished…

…which in a way it was: the STAKES were superb…

 

A Quick Sail Up-River

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For several reasons, for as many weeks, Sassy had not left port. I had been to the boat a couple of times, but she had not undocked: too hot, too wet, too windy, the Soccer World Cup, family businesses, or just lazy enough to yield to the hazy days of Summer…  But yesterday, I decided that enough was enough. Besides I wanted to check the mooring lines and also, to get rid of spiders…

Spiders love boats and marinas! Their diversity is astounding: wolf spiders, orb weavers, funnel weavers, cobweb weavers, long-jawed spiders able to spread two pairs of legs forward and two backwards to fit in any edge or linear crevasse found in the boat. All of them getting larger as the season progresses: cross orb-weavers with the abdomen the size of a quarter, long-jawed orb-weavers stretched several inches long… When their hiding place is threatened they don’t hesitate to jump to the water… on which surface they can walk, usually, back to the boat… Luckily, as long as the cabin remains bug-free, they prefer the outside of the boat. If I had been anchoring overnight (i.e., with the anchor-light lit all night through) it is not uncommon to find in the morning a web at the top of the mast, which on occasions fixes the wind-vane, rendering it useless for its designed purpose. This is when the hinged mast of Sassy comes very handy… just to free the wind-wave from its arachnid hindrance… They seem to particularly like the stern, and more particularly the outboard engine (a “motor” can only be electric, according to my mechanic son…), where their webs have been known to occasionally clog the air intake of the carburetor. But what I hate most is that twice a year the Tohatsu has to ride in the back of the Jeep, and it would not be the first time I see spider webs inside, or even an odd creepy crawler descending on my lap, in front of my eyes, from behind the sun visor… in mid traffic…

So, yesterday was the day. I awoke around 6:30am. Left home at 7:10am. Got a coffee at the local Tim Horton (medium, two milks). Drove twenty kilometers to the marina (morning rush hour, construction, accidents). Arrived at the marina around 8:00am. Cleaned all webs, several critters jumped overboard. Good NW wind, steady at 5-10 knots, sunny with some clouds, good forecast for the next few hours. Let’s get the boat ready! Unlock and open the hatch door to get sailing gear (gloves, hat, sunshades). Remove the six-foot dinghy from the cockpit. Launch it astern of Sassy and fasten its painter to Sassy’s stern-cleat. A couple of orb-weavers jumped overboard ­—never mind, we’ll see them again—. Remove the sail cover and the cover of the Bimini. Lower the motor in the water. Lower the Idasailor rudder and lock it under the boat —more spiders leaving the boat—. Clean and dry the gelcoat of the cockpit from biological evidence of duck visits at night. Free the lines going up the mast (in Sassy they remain fasten to the mast via a large pin). Start the engine. Get the inflatable life jacket and the GPS. Free the two mainsheets, never mind the topping lift (we will not use it today as I do not plan to deploy the Bimini: a bit of sun on the skin is good for some vitamin D). Unfasten the lines going to the base of the mast (mainsail halyard, gaff halyard, boom-vang) and those coming from the base of the mast (boom gooseneck-downhaul and gaff gooseneck-downhaul). Never mind also the cockpit cushions: too much work for just a short day-sail, leave them inside the cabin. Undo the mooring lines. Jump on board and put the engine in reverse. We are underway! It is around 8:30am. Maneuver around the docks with “no wake”, motor for 5-10 minutes in the subsidiary channel. Get the fenders onboard, check that there are no lines trailing in the water. Past the KN8 junction marker, head into the wind at lower speed. Set the ST-1000 autopilot (I call it Steve-Theodore, ST for short…) and hoist the sail. Big long-legged long-jaw orb-weaver walks down the gooseneck. The gaff is hoisting nicely but the halyard gets stuck… why? both the downhaul and the boom-vang are released. Have to walk to the mast. The wind seems steady enough and Steve-Theodore is firmly at the helm. I step forward. Found it! (a snag between the two downhauls). Saw the long-jawed orb-weaver. It was out of reach. Back to the cockpit, up goes the sail all the way. Set ST to idle, bring the sail in and bear away. Everything ok? engine on idle. Set ST to auto to keep course. Switch off the engine and lift it off the water. ST to idle again. We are sailing! Drop the centerboard. Adjust the gaff halyard and the gooseneck downhaul. Sail on port-tack, close-hauled, towards the K4 red marker, the Blueberry reef and the Québec shore. Ready about! Helm’s a-lee! Sail on starboard-tack to the Nortel Tower in the Ontario shore. New tack and again sail on port-tack towards the Aylmer Marina and back to the Québec shore. The wind has picked up to about 15 knots. Almost 10:30am, already… Gybe back to the marina. Ready to gybe! Gybe Ho! Sail on a starboard-tack broad-reach for 15 minutes. Set ST to auto, lower the engine. Start the engine. Head into the wind.Bring the sail down. Roll and fasten it over the boom and gaff. Set ST to idle. Head to the KN8 marker and enter the subsidiary channel. Drop fenders on the sides. Get the bow, stern and mid-ship lines ready. The entire Laser fleet is leaving port… dodge each and every one. Done, turning into port. Quick the iPod for a picture: a Great Egret is waiting to e-greet (ha-ha) Sassy from shore. Watch the fishermen in the dinghy, and the motorboat leaving the ramp. Turn into the slip. Cut off the engine. Steer the boat. Get the dock-wand (a long loop inside a PVC rigid pipe that acts as an aft-spring-line). Get the boat hook ready. Steer, always steer. Catch the last cleat of the dock with the dock-wand. Catch cleat mid-dock with the boat hook. Step onto the dock. Level the boat. Fasten the dock-lines. Shut off the engine. Snug the boat: everything done to prepare her has now to be reversed…

Eventually, the hatch door got locked again and I was able to exit the marina at 11:30am. I drove the Jeep again through heavy traffic, accidents and construction, and was able to arrive at home way past noon… Got to love it…!!

A large long-jawed orb-weaver is leisurely climbing up one of the columns at the entrance of the house… Nah… it couldn’t be, could it…?