Category Archives: Nautical

Maritime Museum of San Diego

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Several times each year, I attend work conferences that take me to cities all across America. Between educational programming, receptions, and catching up with old friends and colleagues, it can be quite exhausting. Still, I try to make the most of the small bits of personal time allotted by exploring points beyond the antiseptic confines of a conference hotel.

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Given my limited free time, I assigned utmost priority to visiting the Maritime Museum of San Diego during a recent trip to that city – particularly the Museum’s centerpiece, the tall ship Star of India. The Museum bills the 212-foot “Iron Lady” – launched as the Euterpe from the Isle of Man in 1863 – as “the world’s oldest active sailing ship.” (NOTE: Following a recent overhaul, the wooden whaling ship Charles W. Morgan, built in 1841, left her home port of Mystic, Connecticut, for an extensive tour of the New England coastline. However, even if this fact muddies the superlative waters, that both ships are so well-maintained, never mind operational, is nothing short of commendable.) The Star of India hauled everything from salmon to timber to New Zealand-bound immigrants until her retirement in the 1920s. Following a half-century of idle decay, she put to sea again in 1976. Today, the Star tells her illustrious story (which includes collision and mutiny) through a host of exhibits both below deck and topside. Visitors may take note of the ship’s ubiquitous knot-work, whose decorative aesthetic was in fact secondary, in nearly all cases, to serving practical purposes.

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But for me, the most pleasantly unexpected moment of my visit came aboard the in-this-case-aptly-named H.M.S. Surprise. You see, the ship, launched in 1970, is a replica of an 18th century Royal Navy frigate, the H.M.S. Rose, a name she bore for the next three decades. A substantial portion of that time was spent berthed in Bridgeport, Connecticut. It was during this time that an uncle of mine volunteered on the ship, and in fact was aboard when she sailed for New York in 1986 in commemoration of the Statue of Liberty’s centennial.

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At the dawn of the 21st century, 20th Century Fox purchased the ship for use in the 2003 film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, renaming her H.M.S. Surprise. The Maritime Museum acquired the Surprise/Rose in 2006. But to this day the ship’s engraved bell belies her original namesake.

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Other Maritime Museum highlights include the 1898 steam ferry Berkeley, which evacuated survivors of the great 1906 San Francisco earthquake to Oakland; the Californian, a replica of the 1847 Revenue Cutter C.W. Lawrence and the official tall ship of the state of California; the B-39, a Cold War-era “Foxtrot” class Soviet submarine; and the U.S.S. Dolphin, a deep-diving diesel-electric U.S. Navy research submarine decommissioned in 2007. Fans of all things nautical will revel in the Museum’s collection, unparalleled, in my experience, this side of Mystic Seaport.

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The Road to Ocracoke Island

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With Sunday’s wind and lashing rain behind us, we decided to venture down Route 12 to Ocracoke Island. Saturday’s balmy weather was replaced by Sunday’s almost tantrum-like storm only to be followed by a clear, cold day. It was like having three different seasons on as many consecutive days.

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Route 12

We piled into the car, snacks at the ready, and headed south. Ocracoke Island is a little over 85 miles from Nags Head, but Route 12 isn’t exactly contiguous. Our first stop was Bodie Island Lighthouse, at the start of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Bodie Island Lighthouse
Bodie Island Lighthouse

After crossing the Oregon Inlet Bridge the land becomes more sparsely populated, especially in winter. Inspired by the visit to the Outer Banks Beachcomber Museum, we stopped just after the bridge to attempt a bit of beachcombing. There were indeed a great many shells washed ashore, but unfortunately the winds were still blowing and the 20-ish degree temps drove us back to the warmth of the car. Continuing south we passed through Rodanthe, Waves, and Avon, eventually reaching Hatteras and the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.

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Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Patrick, a lover of all things nautical, has told me about the lighthouse for years, perpetually impressed that the lighthouse was physically moved. All 12-stories were shifted 2,900 feet inland in 1999 due to increasing erosion. The Outer Banks are barrier islands and as such, they are subject to the whims of the sea. If the sea decides she wants to reclaim the land as hers she will and as such, the lighthouse was in jeopardy. The lighthouse is open in summer and visitors are invited to climb the 257 steps.

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We continued on to the ferry dock and got in line for the 11am ferry to Ocracoke. The ferry is free to the public, transporting locals and tourists daily. In winter the ferries run hourly, weather permitting. During the high season they run more frequently, with locals taking priority. The crossing takes about an hour and even in winter there were a fair number of water birds to watch – including gannets, cormorants, and several kinds of terns and gulls.

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Ocracoke was frequented by Native American tribes, explorers, and pirates before being permanently settled in 1750. It was a favorite spot of Blackbeard and it is where he met his end at the hands of Royal Navy Lieutenant Robert Maynard. After 250 years, locals are now quite fond of Blackbeard’s tourism dollars.

Once off the ferry there is a long stretch of road with dunes threatening to overtake the blacktop. Our first stop was the pony pens, where the remaining descendants of horses brought to America by Spanish sailors still roam semi-free. The horses have been in the care of the National Parks Service since 1960.

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We drove around the small town of Ocracoke. There are homes, vacation spots, hotels, restaurants, and more surrounding the natural harbor of Silver Lake. We found the squat Ocracoke Lighthouse and visited the grounds. Then we found some majestic looking roosters. We stopped at Books to Be Red, a local bookstore with an impressive array of sidelines and local goods. I added to my bird reference guides, Garnet found a Boxcar Children book, and Patrick found two local histories. The store and grounds were welcoming and Garnet played on the tire swing cut into the shape of a shark.

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Ocracoke Lighthouse
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Majestic Rooster

It was warmer than it had been when we attempted to go beachcombing, but was nevertheless January and we walked across the street to The Magic Bean for coffee and hot drinks. Fortified, and with fresh reading material in hand, we headed north again.

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Books to Be Red
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Books to Be Red

It is easy to imagine how much fun it would be to visit the island in summer, but visiting in winter meant no crowds, no waiting to get on a ferry, no sunburn, and no traffic. Then again, the annual Ocracoke Fig Festival is in August and that sounds just weird enough to warrant another visit.

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Outer Banks Beachcomber Museum

Outer Banks Beachcomber Museum

Having grown up near the shore, I’ve a great affinity for the small unsung museums that serve as the repositories for coastal lore and culture. Much like the beach in January, such places – like the Barnegat Light Historical Society and Museum, at the north end of Long Beach Island, New Jersey, which in a former one-room schoolhouse contains, among other artifacts, the original first-order Fresnel lens from nearby Barnegat Lighthouse – tend to draw those who most appreciate a place for what it is in and of itself.

While other attractions superbly highlight the area’s past within a greater historical context (e.g., the Wright Brothers National Memorial or the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island), the Outer Banks Beachcomber Museum in Nags Head provides a glimpse into the daily lives of the hardy souls who inhabited these parts long before mini-golf and timeshares.

Outer Banks Beachcomber Museum

When a Google search prior to our trip turned up the Beachcomber Museum, I was thrilled to have found such a hitherto unexplored nook. My jubilation, however, was quickly tempered by the chilly realization that, like many beachfront concerns, the Museum would most likely be closed in mid-January. Nevertheless, Davida, taking a shot in the dark, sent an email to the address on their website – and soon received a reply from the Museum’s proprietors, Chaz and Dorothy. They arranged a time for us to visit the museum during our trip. We were especially lucky because the museum does close for the winter, but they kept it open and heated the space just for our visit.

A cold rain fell as we drove down the beach road (NC Route 12), past shuttered summer homes left alone to face the wintry seas, to Mattie Midgette’s 1914 general store, which now holds the late Nellie Myrtle Pridgen’s collection of washed-up ephemera collected from the surrounding coastline over the course of the Outer Banks native’s 74-year lifetime.

Outer Banks Beachcomber Museum

Chaz and Dorothy warmly welcomed us. Following brief introductions, Dorothy, herself a cache of historical knowledge and local goings-on, took us on a tour of what in my experience is a most singular collection, the only one of its kind that I have ever seen, anywhere. Here, for example, you will find an expansive array of shells, sea glass, photographs, bottles (some dating back to the 1600s), Japanese glass fishing net floats, Trinidadian relics, and notes found in bottles, as well as several examples of fulgurites, the product of a lightning strike upon sand.

Outer Banks Beachcomber Museum

One of my favorite items was an elaborately embossed Guinness bottle from 1959 – part of an ingenious “message in a bottle” advertising campaign celebrating the brand’s bicentenary, wherein 150,000 of the special bottles were dropped into the Atlantic Ocean. Each one contained a memo “From the Office of King Neptune” that invited the finder to inform Guinness as to when and where they made the find.

Outer Banks Beachcomber Museum

Chaz, it turned out, is also a photographer, and though we paid no admission fee, we did purchase two of his prints, which help to support the Museum. I commend Dorothy and Chaz’s efforts to preserve a collection unlike any I have ever seen. This place is a must-see for Banks visitors new and old, and a fascinating glimpse into the lifelong obsession of one of the beach’s more vocal keepers and defenders.

Outer Banks Beachcomber Museum

Under the Sea

I spent as much time as possible snorkeling on the trip to Jamaica. No photo can replicate the peace of the ocean or what it is like to be surrounded by small fish who are as curious about you as you are of them. Nor can a photo capture delight and surprise when you see a new fish species or watch an eagle ray swim. But I still tried.

porcupine fish
porcupine fish
wee starfish
wee starfish
camo starfish
camo starfish
young eagle ray
young eagle ray
young eagle ray
young eagle ray
the beauty of light and water
the beauty of light and water
starfish
starfish
The light and the turtle grass is like a cathedral to me
The light and the turtle grass is like a cathedral to me
porcupine fish peeking at me
shy porcupine fish peeking at me
I love, love, love the ocean
I love, love, love the ocean
sea cucumber
sea cucumber
butterfly fish with coral
butterfly fish with coral
pink tipped anemone
pink tipped anemone
schools everywhere
grunts, goatfish, yellow tailed snapper, a young french angelfish and more
trumpetfish with a sea fan
trumpetfish with a sea fan
out on the deeper reef
out on the deeper reef
Coral (scroll I think)
Coral (scroll I think)
on the reef
on the reef
on the reef
on the reef, there is magic just under the surface
on the reef
on the reef
lesser electric ray
lesser electric ray
schools of young fish (close to shore)
schools of young fish (close to shore)
schools of young fish (close to shore)
schools of young fish (close to shore)
Coral, parrotfish, and a lionfish
Coral, parrotfish, and a lionfish
flounder
flounder
sea urchins
spiny sea urchins and coral
lionfish (I know they are bad and invasive, but they are amazing looking)
lionfish (I know they are bad and invasive, but they look amazing)
porcupine fish
porcupine fish, anemone below
WTF is this? It is driving me crazy that I don't know.
WTF is this? It is driving me crazy that I don’t know.
starfish
starfish
WPT snorkeling
WPT snorkeling
WPT telling me he can hear the coral crackling (notice how the fish come up to swimmers)
WPT telling me he can hear the coral crackling (notice how the fish come up to swimmers)

A Unicorn of a Work Trip

We interrupt our Ireland trip for a quick jaunt to the Caribbean.

Sunrise, Montego Bay
Sunrise, Montego Bay

As we’ve mentioned before, we both travel for work. In fact, a work trip was the impetus for starting this blog. Often times we’re in detail-less conference halls in face-less cities and we make the best of the time by exploring early in the morning and the few hours after we arrive and before we leave. Only once in my career have I been presented with a work trip that elicited the response, “Are you serious?” That was this trip.

Room with a View
Room with a View

And so it was that WPT (thanks to frequent flyer miles) and I found ourselves at an all-inclusive resort in Jamaica. I was initially dubious, but I looked at the costs and compared them to the same meeting, held in San Antonio, the previous year. The all-inclusive rates and direct airfare were actually cheaper than going to Texas. Huh.

The beach was literally a 90 second walk from the room.
The beach was literally a 90-second walk from the room.
Swim up bar and the horizon pool.
Swim up bar and the horizon pool.

We stayed in Montego Bay, at Iberostar’s Rose Hall Suites, and had a room (with a small porch) that overlooked the pools on the first floor. The ocean was literally right outside our door and I went to every single work obligation with wet hair. In fact, we had a 30 minute break after lunch one day and I managed to go from business suit to swimsuit and back again in that time.

I showed up to meetings with mask marks on my face. Repeatedly.
I showed up to meetings with mask marks on my face. Repeatedly.

We usually prefer travel that is under our control and allows us to see the real place and people and not what the tourism board (if there is one) promotes. We relinquished the reins this time and just let the resort do what it does best – take care of its guests and present an appealing artifice.

That's my boss waving at me in the lazy river. Thanks for letting me go to Jamaica, boss!
That’s my boss waving at me in the lazy river. Thanks for letting me go to Jamaica, boss!
Lazy river. An excellent choice after coffee with coffee liqueur.
Lazy river. An excellent choice after coffee with coffee liqueur.

The buffet restaurant catered to vegetarians fairly well and was accommodating when they heard I was vegan. I pretty much lived on potatoes, plantains, and rice for the days we were there. At night and in the rain the local frogs sang, which delighted me. Also, there’s a lot to be said for someone showing up at your door at 9pm and offering you chocolate before bed.

Captain Tandy
Captain Tandy (that’s the resort behind him)
Sunrise. Sunrise. Sunrise.
Sunrise. Sunrise. Sunrise.

From what I could see, many people come to these resorts to bring home third degree burns and drink the bottom-shelf liquor. To each their own. We learned early on to ask for the top shelf and it would be served in a brimming glass. I highly suggest the coffee with the coffee liqueur. It is especially delicious when sipped during a meeting. Working!

Mobile souvenir shops,  one of the early morning denizens
Mobile souvenir shops, one of the early morning denizens
Ghost crab, another early morning denizen
Wee ghost crab, another early morning denizen

I was surprised by how few people came out to the beach for sunrise. That’s the best part of the day! Plus, by getting up early I was able to get in almost an hour of snorkeling each morning (we brought our own fins and masks). Once I was done with work we took out a small catamaran and then went out on a snorkel charter to the deeper reef. The small artificial reefs in front of the hotel weren’t bad, but the deeper reef had older, bigger corals and older fish. It was the first time we’ve ever had an actual guide snorkeling and free diving with the tour group. I absolutely loved being in the water there and will do a separate post with underwater photos.

WPT being beamed up to his home planet
WPT being beamed up to his home planet
Snorkel guide
Snorkel charter guide

Our final morning we got up early for sunrise and then swam the small artificial reefs looking for the young eagle ray WPT had seen the day before (he was able to swim and sail while I was in meetings, the lucky bastard). After patrolling the three small artificial reefs and swimming with many schools of juvenile fish I feared I wouldn’t get to see the ray. I saw a large stingray and was prepared to be content with that. Then the young eagle ray appeared and swept by us with a grace that is unmatched by any other animal. Those are the travel moments I live for.

Young eagle ray
Young eagle ray
Sunrise again, because waking up never gets old!
Sunrise again, because waking up never gets old!

All-inclusive resorts dissuade you from thinking about much other than where you want to swim and what you want to drink. You find yourself playing water volleyball with your boss or having shirtless conversations with colleagues (him, not me) and that is perfectly normal. And then it is time to return home. We walked into the Montego Bay airport and it was like the interest for not feeling stressed for three days quadrupled. Lines everywhere. Chaos. Sunburned, confused, drunk, and hungover people as far as the eye could see. Confusion in at least four languages. Eventually we checked our bags and entertained ourselves by watching people walk through the doors and seeing expressions we wore not long before playing across their faces. I thought perhaps it was just a new experience for me, but a colleague traveling on the same flight said that he had traveled the globe and had never seen a line like this. We made it through security and to our gate in time and if anything the experience was more amusing than frustrating. Jamaica032015-1588 I have no idea what Jamaica is really like, other than the ocean, but the ocean is what will draw me there again.

Boston B&B on a Boat

 

Boston Harbor, Liberty Clipper
Boston Harbor, Liberty Clipper

Anyone accustomed to traveling on business is familiar with the cash cow that the work conference circuit is for the hospitality industry, which commands top dollar for everything from wifi to dessert. Bearing that in mind when she was called to Boston for a three-day conference in late June 2013, Davida began researching more economical alternatives rather than spend her annual travel budget all in one place.

Liberty Clipper, Boston Harbor
Liberty Clipper, Boston Harbor

With my own annual conference out of the way, I planned to take a few days off to accompany her. Knowing my love for all things nautical, it was with great enthusiasm that Davida emailed me to ask if I’d be interested in taking a cruise one evening aboard a schooner she discovered during her online digging.

Sailing in Boston Harbor, Liberty Clipper
Sailing in Boston Harbor, Liberty Clipper

“Absolutely,” I replied.

She emailed me again two minutes later: “How would you like to stay aboard the schooner?”

“Hell yes!” I exclaimed, and with that she promptly booked us for two nights aboard the 125-foot Liberty Clipper.

Boston Harbor, Liberty Clipper
Boston Harbor, Liberty Clipper

At $130 a night (with less expensive options available), the deluxe cabin cost roughly one-third the price of a room at the conference hotel. Better still was the fact that, whereas the latter is situated in a stretch of reclaimed industrial waterfront a mile or two south of downtown, the Liberty docks at Long Wharf, well within walking distance of downtown attractions like Faneuil Hall and the Old North Church. Granted, this made getting to and from the conference more of a chore, but the ambiance of staying aboard a working schooner moored inside Boston Harbor more than made up for it.

Sailing in Boston Harbor, Liberty Clipper
Sailing in Boston Harbor, Liberty Clipper

Both of us being on the shorter side in height, the cabin (which included a two-person top bunk) proved an ideal fit for our compact frames. We also took advantage of the 30 percent discount on any cruise offered to anyone staying aboard.

WPT at home on the Liberty Clipper
WPT at home on the Liberty Clipper

Mind you, such accommodations are not without challenges, starting with the fact that your room effectively disappears for several hours each day (the dockside office will gladly hold any belongings you might want to access during that time). Also, with features like a common head (bathroom) and shower, the operation more closely resembles a hostel than a hotel.

Sailing in Boston Harbor, Liberty Clipper
Sailing in Boston Harbor, Liberty Clipper

While such arrangements should be carefully considered when planning a trip, especially if traveling on business, the experience will prove both memorable and affordable for the more adventurous traveler. And be sure to call ahead, as Liberty heads south every winter, to ply her trade in the Caribbean.

Sailing in Boston Harbor, Liberty Clipper
Sailing in Boston Harbor, Liberty Clipper

The Liberty Fleet of Tall Ships
Address: 67 Long Wharf, Boston, MA 02110
Phone: (617) 742-0333
Website: www.libertyfleet.com
Email: liberty@libertyfleet.com
Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/pages/Schooner-Liberty-Clipper/128590424883?fref=ts

Sailing in Boston Harbor, Liberty Clipper
Sailing in Boston Harbor, Liberty Clipper

Lake Union and the Center for Wooden Boats

 

The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA

My hotel was near Lake Union and the path near the lake was perfect for early morning walks. I also explored the Center for Wooden Boats which is located on the lake. I would have gone to the Museum of History and Industry, but ran out of time.

The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA

The Center for Wooden Boats is like a museum for boats, but they also believe in teaching through direct experience which I think is pretty awesome. They offer boat rentals – sailboat, canoe, rowboats, and pedal boats – by the hour. If I lived in the area I would love to take woodworking, sailing, and boat making classes. They also offer free boat rides on Sundays. Viewing the boats along the docks at Lake Union was a perfect rainy morning excursion.

The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
Boathouse, The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
Boathouse, The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA

The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA

The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
Along Lake Union, Seattle, WA
Along Lake Union, Seattle, WA
Along Lake Union, Seattle, WA
Along Lake Union, Seattle, WA