April 12, 2024  

Adventures of the Damn Yankee
Ahoy shipmates! Here's your chance to experience sailing the Caribbean! Our guest writer aboard the Damn Yankee provides a weekly narrative relating the adventures of life at sea. Join the crew aboard the 36' Catalina as her First Mate recounts the exploits of a couple who have moved into the lifestyle many dream of living. Insightful and compelling, Gwen Schuler will keep us posted in a series of articles and photographs as she and her husband Jim set sail for adventure. Dock here regularly!

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Lord of the Reefs
Installment No. 14
One Particular Harbor
Installment No. 13
Lucayan Marina Village, Bahamas
It’s Better in the Bahamas
Installment No. 12
The Bahamas
The Crossing
Installment No. 11
The Florida Keys
Changing Channels
Installment No. 10
Wrightsville Beach, SC
Follow in our Wake
Installment No. 9
Beaufort, N.C
Into the Ditch
Installment No. 8
ICW, The Ditch, Virginia

Down by the Waterside
Installment No. 7
Norfolk Harbor, VA

Mileage, Majors and Norfolk
Installment No. 6
Norfolk Harbor, VA
Installment No. 5
Zahniser's Marina, Solomons Island, MD
Portlights and pianos, Boat Show Week
Installment No. 4
Annapolis, Maryland
It's not the leaving of Liverpool that grieves me, but my darling when I think of thee.
Installment No. 3
Great Oak Marina, MD
There's a glitch
Installment No. 2
Upper Chesapeake Bay
Let the Adventure Begin
Installment No. 1
Fairlee Creek, Maryland

Down by the Waterside
We walked the bridge of a battleship whispering over the mind-numbing myriad of gages and instruments used to navigate through oceans to wage war. We pressed black buttons and switched toggles once used to activate immense firepower...

Installment No. 7 -- Norfolk Harbor, VA
Norfolk, Virginia; my parents married here. The city of Norfolk was never an anonymous map dot to me. I recognized the name from the age of three. Never amorphous, Norfolk always held form and place in my mind signified by a silvery likeness framed in gold.
Norfolk is a homeport for our military. Once it represented a homeport for my father. Now, for a short time, it would become homeport to me. Though the skyline I scanned as we motored closer to shore looked far different than what my father saw. There was a logic working here that pleased me.
An hour later, I scanned the harbor through the walled expanse of glass fronting Joe's Crab Shack at the Waterside. Patterned after the Inner Harbor at Baltimore, it's setting felt familiar but Jim and I were in a different place.
Sailboats tugged at their anchors in the light chop; multinational flags signaled an exodus south. Jim and I were now participants in that exodus.
Our run down the Chesapeake lay behind us. The year stretched ahead of us holding four seasons to cruise through. Seasons with place names yet to be written in the Damn Yankee's log. We would call many ports home for a day, perhaps a week or even a few months.
There would be the bridges Jim mentioned and more. My beer sat untouched for the moment when the thought occurred that I would need to become adept as a Navy seaman. I'd need to recognize and gauge current to throw lines and fend off along with snagging cleats, tying knots and setting bumpers all without specific directions from the helm. Suddenly, the reality of gliding in and out of multitudinous slips, from fixed to floating day after day knots my stomach. The challenge is real and it's here. Every time I go forward to the bow at a new location a low-grade panic simmers. Can I do it? I won't think about it now. We've arrived safely in Norfolk. I'll focus on my beer.
'Hon, you're not throwing the lines right.' Jim turns his attention from the bartender to me. 'You've been lucky so far.'
I simply gape at him. He's been reading my mind, again.
'There's an easy technique. We'll take some time when we get back to the boat.'
'Oh joy.' I mumble under my breath.
Jim continues to smile encouragingly, that smile of his that makes me feel I can accomplish anything. I give him a quick nod along with a considerably weaker smile back.
But, I really want to learn. Notwithstanding the safety issue, I definitely do not want to look like a clueless woman standing on the bow of the Damn Yankee while the lines I've tossed drop into the water and the current spins the stern or bow to slam the dock. Or, perish the thought, another boat. I've stood humbled on the receiving end of a dock master's eye roll once or twice. I've no desire to repeat it down the Intracoastal. Though I've been hurling lines for years, I'm ashamed to say I've not given the task the seriousness it deserves. I always managed on the weekend and vacations but cruising ratchets the level.
More important now than touring or dinner, I watch closely as Jim coils the line. He separates the loops then lobes the first four in his right hand forward followed by the remaining three in his left. The line uncoils in a balanced symmetry. I caught it with no trouble. Once again I watch and catch. Now it was my turn. I planted my feet, hefted the lines in both hands and gave it the old underhanded softball toss and let it go.
'All right!' I cheered as Jim caught the line easily. 'Wow, that really works.' I said, picking up the bitter end.
'I told you.' He agreed dumping the remaining line into my hands. 'You did good, just a little more practice and you'll be a pro. Coil your line up and throw again.'
I did. The loops spiraled almost as smoothly as Jim; no more weak smiles for me.
Here was one necessary skill I could master with a little more practice. I found myself looking forward to our next docking experience. I could do this and I could learn to do it well. I was ready for dinner out.
The oil change was running smoothly, albeit messy. Think garage chores performed in the kitchen.
'I'll be finished by noon.' Jim says.
The ship's clock reads ten thirty. With his fingers dripping with oil and his arms smeared black up to his elbows with grease; I'm skeptical.
'We'll head out then.' Jim drops his head to bend over the exposed engine. 'What did you want to see?'
'The Rodin exhibit at the Chrysler Museum would be good.' I reply trying to ignore the casualty residing in my galley. The sink overflows with used filters and a whole roll of paper towels Jim had wadded up and thrown one by one.
Varied size wrenches and an assortment of screwdrivers are strewn over the top of the navigation table. The wooden cover to the toolbox lays canted and ready to drop. The rug is rolled up at one end.
I stopped a moment to consider when Jim snarled and hurled an oil soaked clump of paper towels to land at my feet.
'Hey.' I exclaimed. The mess was slowly leaching into my saloon. And I had no idea why the bilge was open.
'Sorry there. The hose end flipped on me.'
'I see that.' Dirty oil spattered the front of his tee shirt. I stifled a grin.
Such is life in close quarters.
I snatch a trash bag from my stash behind a slatted door in the saloon and kneel on the dinette cushion to begin stuffing the bag with paper towels. If I could clear away, straighten up from where I was, I wouldn't be in Jim's way and he'd finish faster.
We worked to the strain of the hand pump's whoosh as it sucked up the used oil. My hands were sticky from the towels but the sink was empty. But now we'd both need showers.
Through the companionway as I worked I watched people walk by. Some looked down from the walkway above to watch. I'd glance up and wonder what they thought of us. We obviously appeared more interesting than the American Rover; the Waterside's three-masted topsail schooner lay berthed just across from the Damn Yankee. Did they consider us another species? I never asked.
My gaze swept from the American Rover's green painted sheers to the tips of her masts raking the sky. The word anachronism jumps to mind. Out of time, like the schooner we cruisers exist out of time, throwbacks. I followed my thought, let it drift ahead.
Ships like the American Rover influence us still. Her lines hold her fast to the pier as she lays at rest. But when released she'll run on the wind. She'll bear off with the solid grace of centuries gone, once again alive in our time to offer us a glimpse of yesterdays most can only live in the pages of a Patrick O'Brian seafaring tale. And when that influence bears down to penetrate the conventional and summons the imagination to follow the lure of water and wake a cruisers' only choice is to comply and celebrate a fragment of her life in our own.
I notice a man in a ball cap wave from the American Rover's rail as it crabs away from the dock. Standing in the Damn Yankee's cockpit I sent him a jaunty wave surprised that he would find the Damn Yankee more interesting than the ship beneath him. Somehow I don't think the American Rover minded her visitor's attention focused elsewhere. I knew she understood.
'The museum is closed today.' The unsmiling guard stared down as he towered two steps above Jim and me at the Chrysler Museum.
'Aren't you closed on Mondays?' I ask fumbling in my bag.
I catch Jim's raised eyebrow. He's certain I've misread the brochure.
'We're closed today.' The guard responds with no change of expression or inflection.
'Right.' Jim says turning away and taking my arm to steer me toward the cab we'd just vacated.
I guess we'll miss the Rodin exhibit.
'The museum is closed on Mondays.' I insist settling into the rear seat of the cab, pointing to the fine print on the brochure. 'It is Tuesday, isn't it?'
Jim hesitates, glances at his watch. 'Yes. It's Tuesday.' He hands the brochure back. ' Where to' he asks?
When I don't answer right away, he changes tack.
'We're on schedule. Still, I'd feel better if we were farther down the Intracoastal.'
Because he's staring out the cab window as we drive back through the streets of Norfolk, I'm not sure if he's talking to me or commenting to himself.
'I'd like to get out of here tomorrow or Thursday at the latest. But I'll talk to some of the people on the dock, see what their plans are,' he continues turning to look at me.
'I know. I'll be ready. But we're touring today.' I answer satisfied to have his attention again and the last word.
We spent the next few hours at the Nauticus, The National Maritime Center where Jim and I build a salvage ship from hull to superstructure even choosing the type of propulsion. The computer-generated voice hails our efforts as 'excellent.' We've put the four twelve year olds surrounding us to shame.
We walked the bridge of a battleship whispering over the mind-numbing myriad of gages and instruments used to navigate through oceans to wage war. We pressed black buttons and switched toggles once used to activate the immense firepower contained aboard those mighty ships. We walked away in silence each of us lost in the war stories that resided within our own families.
Minutes later, I found a hidden skill. I discovered I'm quite adept at oil drilling. Would that I had only known?
When Jim rammed a sea buoy navigating a treacherous channel, we decided to quit for lunch. Even in the realm of virtual reality a captain needed to stay attentive. Obviously, I'd need to add navigational skills to my growing list.
One last hour exploring the Hampton Roads Naval Museum, housed in the Nauticus; we wandered from an exhibit of aged Naval uniforms representing decades of vigilance and conflict. A wall away, framed paintings set the uniforms' time and place. Rifles and pistols vied with pieces of cracked pottery and bits of pitted glass behind the clear panes of display cases. Simple everyday items needed for life aboard ship, small remnants uncovered and preserved to make us think. Despite the improvements discoveries bring, the humanism we possess remains the same.
As we stood in the arched doorway to leave, I pondered the century of Naval artifacts from yesterday being watched over by Naval petty officers today, merging centuries of tradition with pride and without apology.
Another tradition embraced by sailors for centuries is provisioning. Since the Damn Yankee's hold is not three decks deep, there is usually always something we need. Norfolk was no exception. The challenge of locating a half-gallon of milk; the proverbial loaf of bread, a piece of fruit…where to go?
The Downtown Provision Company, at 200 College Place, of course. Their card suggests, 'your daily bread and more…' indeed.
'You're offering a case of wine for fifteen dollars, French wine,' Jim asks?
'That's right.' Dickie Spruill answers. 'This doesn't happen too often. I was in the right place. I can't guarantee the vintage. But, it's red.' He pours and passes. 'Here, try it.'
Jim drinks then smiles. 'Not bad. It's not bad at all. Where do I pay?' He asks pulling out his wallet.
Dick laughs and hefts a case from the display and heads for the curved counter at the front of the store. 'Is there anything else I can help you with?'
'Well, my wife's wandering…'
I was thoroughly enjoying myself wandering from aisle to aisle. Would my hand basket hold everything I suddenly needed?
I wished my friend Cindy was with me. Her husband, Lou would love the fresh mozzarella.
It seemed to me all food groups were covered. From steaks to chicken, from eggs to quiches, along with artistically arranged baskets of vegetables and fruit and of course, fresh baked bread and pastries.
We'd be heating up the pressure cooker. I was thinking beef stroganoff and strawberry shortcake as I dropped a container of sour cream and a package of strawberries into my basket.
Breece Spruill told me that she and her husband had opened the store a mere fifteen months before. A bit of neighborhood grocery fused with trendy coffee shop, I would have liked to sit at one of the wrought iron tables outside and enjoy the sunshine but we needed to head back. We'd be leaving tomorrow. So while I was thinking dinner, Jim would head down the dock to locate fellow cruisers headed south that we could travel with.
Minutes later we piled our groceries and case of wine into the Spruills' van. Not only did they drive us back to the Waterside they helped us unload our haul into a dock cart. More convenient and cheerful service Jim and I could not have expected let alone found in Breece and Dickie and their Downtown Provision Company. It's our pleasure to spread the word!
'I can't believe we needed all this stuff.' Jim says as he lifts the dock cart, one side at a time, onto the ramp leading to the pier. 'Where are we going to store it all?'
'You're probably right.' I agree wondering myself as I stare at the stacked boxes. 'But it all looked so good. Don't worry. I'll find enough room.'
'I hope so.' Jim looks unconvinced.
For the second time today, food items instead of tools are spread across the galley and the navigation table. I suppress a sigh and begin stowing.
'Hey,' Jim says. 'I'll give you a hand.'
'You don't have to. This is my job.' I answer lifting my gaze.
'Here's two bottles you don't have to find space for.' Jim sets two wine bottles on the saloon table.
'What do you mean?'
Jim is rummaging in a drawer before pulling out the corkscrew.
'At fifteen dollars a case, if we plan to drink this within the next week, we'll need to open it now.'
'Now? Why?' I ask, not following.
'Gwennnn,' he draws out my name, 'you know red wine needs to breathe.'
I begin to smile.
'I suspect this wine will need to breathe a day or two longer than most.'
We're laughing together now.
'Go find some cruisers to travel with.' I say nudging Jim up the companionway. 'And, ask them if they like red wine…'

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