This is a blog featuring my personal stories of food, gardening, yachting, photography, travel and life.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Our Big Boat Adventure!

I'm taking a break from the blogs about our southern road trip to talk about our recent cruise through the San Juan Islands in our boat.

For three days we lived on our boat,
The Key of Sea, cruising the San Juan Islands, crabbing, living the boating life and surviving a few challenges along the way. The Key of Sea, our 32 foot Bayliner Motor Yacht has been ours for almost a year now, but for most of that time either we or it were unable to take advantage of the abundant cruising opportunities here in the northwest. The boat needed certain things done to it--a new dinghy, new electronics, we needed to take classes in order to better handle the boat and, of course, our jobs got in the way of being able to get out there or the weather made it impossible or uncomfortable. This week we finally took her out for an extended cruise--our first!

We left Bellingham's Squalicum Harbor early on a Wednesday morning headed for Orcas Island and a couple of special crab spots suggested by our boating guru, Rick.
The water was flat calm and the currents drove us much of the way to our first destination. Our normal top speed at about 1700 RPM's is about 7 knots, but with the added help from the currents we were topping 9 knots. At one point I was able to lower the engine speed to 1500 RPM's and still get 9 knots, saving fuel.

We arrived at our first spot in East Sound, dropped in our two crab pots and found a
nearby empty private buoy that we tied up to figuring no one would probably want it on a week day. We sat eating our lunch and taking in the gorgeous scenery around us while waiting for the crab pots to fill up. I had placed a pheasant breast, given to us by our friend Rick, in each pot. An hour and a half later we pulled up each of the pots. This turned out to be the hard part. We tried grabbing the pot as we drove past it but missed it several times until we got the hang of it. Then we stopped the boat and I pulled the pots up hand over hand until the cage began to appear from out of the depths. There in the cage were the tell-tale red shells of crabs crawling around inside. We were thrilled that we had actually caught some. Now what do we do?

There are very specific rules for what kind of crabs you can catch, the gender, the size and these rules must be followed pretty closely or the fines can be pricey. So I had to reach my hand into the pots and carefully grab each crab from the back of their shell, avoiding their snapping claws and those of their neighbors. Tricky! Then you have to attempt to get them out of the pot while they try to grab anything and hold on for dear life. This is tricky, too. Then you flip it over to check whether it is male or female, soft shell stage or hard shell (can't keep the soft shelled ones). Watch out for the claws! Then get out your measuring gauge and see if the crab is big enough to keep. Watch out for the claws!
Of the pot of crabs I was able to keep only two. These are placed in an ice chest with fresh sea water which needs to be changed frequently in order to keep the crabs alive until you have enough to clean and cook.

After dropping our pots in two different locations I pulled up my last pot of the day and hit the jack pot. The pot seemed heavy on the way up and sure enough it was swarming with crabs--15 when I finally counted them. Of these I was able to keep nearly half. The female Dungeness had to go back. Any Dungeness males less than 6 1/4 inches across had to go back, but you can keep any Rock Crab that is greater than 5 inches across, male or female. Confused? It was difficult to keep it straight and I did wind up tossing back a couple that I later realized I could have kept. Still it was a nice haul for our first crab outing.

We headed for the Rosario Resort marina for the night. I called the resort on our VHF radio requesting information on moorage. My first use of the VHF radio went very smoothly. We picked out a mooring buoy and tied up to it easily. I dropped the dinghy and attached our 4 hp outboard to it for the short trip to the dock to pay our moorage fee. I had a dickens of a
time getting the motor to start but it finally turned over and we motored in. The hard part is docking and getting out of these little dinghies without falling overboard. We managed but not before getting a bruise or cut trying to do so. After motoring back we tied up and settled aboard for the night.

We had planned to cook our crab and have some for dinner. I had brought along a portable propane burner to do the job since we had been told it was not a good idea to cook crab inside the boat in our galley. The smell is apparently terrible. But this is only a problem should your pot boil over.
We couldn't get the base of the portable burner to fit on to the propane bottle. The bottle design had changed since the last time I bought one and so we had no way of cooking the crab. So we made the decision to cook them inside anyway. We watched the pot carefully to make sure it didn't boil over. After the water came to a boil we tossed in the crab (legs and claws only) and waited for the water to return to a boil. Interestingly, we had been told to cook the crab in seawater. So we had pulled a bucket of water right out of the sound and poured it into our boiling pot. 10 minutes after the water returned to a boil we turned off the heat and poured the water and crab through a strainer in one sink. After the all the water had drained through we dumped the crab in to the other sink which I had filled with ice water to stop any further cooking. In minutes we had crab ready to eat.

We sat down to a dinner of salmon chowder and fresh crab while watching eagles soar outside our windows, sea lions frolic and the clouds roll by. We watched the sun go down and by 9:30 we were exhausted and ready for bed. But the open water mooring allowed water to noisily lap at the sides of the boat all night giving us a bit of a fitful sleep.

Next morning we decided to head for Friday Harbor, to the quieter moorage of the inner harbor. We called the harbor master on the VHF as we arrived and were given a slip assignment. The harbor was crazy with boat traffic. We had to get in line to move toward our slip assignment. I was a nervous wreck until our boat was finally, safely tied up.
The harbor was beautiful. We headed up the dock to check in, pay our fees, head off to lunch and check out the town. We ate at a spot that overlooked the harbor. The ferries and colorful boats of all sizes came and went right in front of us. We walked on into town and stopped in at interesting shops along the way, bought a new pitcher that attracted Leslie's attention and I found a new base for our portable propane stove for cooking crabs. Only two bucks!

Back at the boat we spent the evening quietly reading, watching the sun set and playing games at the salon table before finally heading off to bed and a much quieter night's sleep.
Friday morning dawned bright and beautiful across the marina. Boats quietly slipped out and headed for the four winds. We joined them about 9 am and headed towards home. The currents were favorable and we were able to dodge the couple of ferries that were coming and going around us.

About three hours later we arrived in Chuckanut Bay where we intended to drop our crab pots one more time before heading home. We dropped the first pot over the side in Pleasant Cove, a small little bay at the south end of Chuckanut bay in about 45 feet of water. However, when the second pot went over we immediately had trouble. The leaded line that is supposed to drop to the bottom along with the crab pot, got sucked into the starboard prop and wound itself up.

We quickly shut down
the engines and began looking at solutions to our problem. The port engine seemed to still be operational so we decided to limp back to port on that one. As we began to go Leslie hollered from the stern that she could see the rope. I stopped forward movement. Obviously we were dragging the crab pot behind us. We grabbed the boat hook and extended it out as far as possible. A couple of tries and I had the line. Carefully pulling it up we grabbed the line and pulled up the crab pot we thought we had lost. We tied of the remaining line to a cleat on the stern.

Again we headed towards home. But kept our heads together thinking and it came to us th
at we could give our diesel mechanic to ask if there was anything we should or shouldn't be doing. A quick call into Travis and he suggested we try putting the starboard engine in reverse. Sometimes it reverses the tangled line and it drops away. We tried it to no avail. On we went limping home on the one engine.

Another thought came to us. Call our diver who had recently changed out our zincs. He answered the phone and also happened to be out on the bay working on a buoy. He'd meet us in about an hour. We limped on in to Fairhaven Harbor and tied up to a public dock after a struggle to do so on a single engine. Top to Bottom divers came riding up like the cavalry, a very welcome site. In five minutes I was holding the remnants of the line and the red and white buoy that had fouled our engine. The engine fired up beautifully. The diver, also a diesel mechanic, thought that everything looked fine and that no damage was done. Whew!

We went on our merry way home stopping only to empty our holding tank and then with a bit of a struggle managed to dock in our home slip. It was an exhausting final day. We were tired, nervous wrecks and wanted nothing more than to call it a day.

While the trip was generally a success and we had lots of fun, we also learned a lot from the mistakes we made. Make sure the boat is stopped before lowering crab pots. Lower them only a bit into the water to make sure all forward or reverse momentum has ceased, then lower the pot straight down without letting any of the line linger at the surface. Carefully move away from the buoy being sure it stays away from the prop area!

Day 7--Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry

We arrived for a two day visit to Nashville in time to wander down Broadway where the street is mostly made up of honky tonks. Music blared out of every other door in a part of town where for some talented and lucky country music artists dream's can come true. Here is where, at least historically, many country music and blue grass groups were discovered and or paid their dues. Walk into any of these honky tonks and for the price of a beer you can sit and listen to music from 10 in the morning until the wee hours. Toss in a few bucks in the tip jar and you might help a starving artist pay his or her rent and get a free CD of their music to boot.

We had purchased tickets for An Evening with Vince Gill and Friends at the Ryman Auditorium. This was to be the highlight of our entire trip for me. As a kid I remember my Gramma Willie, a true Okie right out of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, tuning into the Grand Ole Opry radio broadcasts. I thought at the time the music was kind of weird, but as I grew up and discovered and better understood the legacy of these my grandmother's people and what they had gone through in their lives, I gained a genuine respect them. Today my Okie heritage is a deep part of who I am and I treasure the gift of that heritage from my grandparents. And so it was for me a very emotional journey to walk through the doors of the old, original home of the Grand Ole Opry--The Ryman Auditorium.

The interior looked appropriately like a church with hard wooden pews and stained glass windows all looking toward the pulpit. Only the pulpit at the Ryman is a stage and for generations of country music fans, this was mecca. My grandparents never had the means or opportunity to travel to the Ryman and so this was in effect a way to further honor my grandparents for the hard lives they suffered through to give me opportunities they never had.

We took our seats, chatted with those around us, some of whom were also there for the first time. We looked around in awe of our surroundings. Then the lights dimmed and out walked Vince Gill and seven other musicians. I didn't recognize any of them except Vince Gill who is a very famous country and blue grass musician and composer (he is also know for being married to Christian pop singer Amy Grant). Then I noticed one of the guitar players and knew immediately who he was. It was Dan Tyminski, the husband of country singer Allison Krauss and part of her band Allison Krauss and Union Station. Dan would be most familiar to most of us for his rendition of Man of Constant Sorrow which George Clooney lip-synced in the film Oh Brother, Where Art Though?

I was in heaven! These world class musicians played blue grass for two solid hours and the audience loved it. Towards the end, the group played a few of Vince Gills newer compositions which were very touching, from the heart songs. The gentleman next to me was wiping away tears. Leslie and I looked at each other and we were both in tears as well. It was just so sincere and so genuine. I felt like Gill was just the kind of guy that would be a terrific friend. One of the last pieces was an old time hymn neither of us recognized. Vince sang it and at the end stopping playing and whispered into the microphone, "Ya'll sing along now." We didn't know the words but apparently most folks did. We listened quietly as the entire auditorium solemnly sang along. As the final notes faded, the auditorium sighed. We just sat there with tears running down our faces. What an incredible moment. I made it to the Opry for my Gramma Willie and I will never forget precious time spent there to honor her legacy.

Sadly, the new site of the Grand Ole Opry is out on the edge of town and has become a resort complete with hotel and shopping mall. Another victim of its own success. The recent floods in the south left the new facility under water and we couldn't even visit since it was being repaired for the next 3 months. Ironically, the old Ryman Auditorium was called back to duty while the new Opry house is being repaired The Grand Ole Opry will again be broadcast from the dear old Ryman.

While in Nashville we also visited The Hermitage, home of President Andrew Jackson. It was set on some lovely acreage just on the edge of town and the walking tour around the grounds included his manse and several out buildings, originally slave quarters. The original fields and gardens are mostly surviving in tact. His grave and that of his wife are also on the grounds.

One of our best meals on the trip was at Arnold's Country Kitchen. This James Beard award winning spot is a perfect example of not judging anything by its cover, because through the rustic building front waits an incredible meal.

Arnold's is cafeteria style so there is a line as you walk in, but it moves right along as the dining room turns over quickly. Along the wall are not one but two framed James Beard award medals suggesting what is to come. Order a meat and three sides! I got smothered country fried steak cooked so that it just fell apart and topped with a beefy onion gravy. My sides included fried green tomatoes, corn bread and collard greens. Arnold's is also known for its pie so we had to try some of that. I selected the richest, chocolatiest chocolate cream pie I have ever eaten.

Leslie decided to just get some sides and no meat. She selected the corn bread, mac and cheese, fried green tomatoes (on the right), creamed corn and green beans. She also grabbed a slice of chess pie (pictured left). All yummy!

Next Stop--Pigeon Forge, Gaitlenburg and The Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee