Wednesday, March 8, 2017

John Denver shrine on Aspen Mountain

Me at the John Denver shrine on Aspen Mountain
Nan and I made a quick trip back to our old stomping grounds in Aspen this past weekend. It was a chance to catch up with friends and ski some familiar terrain. We have skied two days here in New Mexico this season, at Sandia Peak and Taos, but we really wanted to ski in Aspen again after not having skied there in almost four years.

Early on Saturday morning, our friend Mike, who has been our first mate on every major sailing adventure with Whispering Jesse, including our trip to Bimini last April, and who works for the Aspen-Snowmass Skiing Company, met us at the base of Aspen Highlands to get us set up with rental skis and lift tickets. Then we took a couple of lift rides up to the summit for unmatched views and easy skiing on blue groomers. The weather was beautiful and the snow softened up nicely. Mike headed off to work at mid-day, and we picked up Lori, our friend and generous hostess, and her friend Judy for some afternoon runs.

The original plan was to ski Snowmass on Sunday, but Nan wanted to meet up with friends instead, so Mike and I opted to ski closer to home at Aspen Mountain. The weather was deteriorating in the morning; a front was blowing in from the west with dark clouds and high winds. The lighting was flat and the snow stayed firm, so we stuck to the blue terrain and skied runs off the top of the mountain.

Mike at the John Denver shrine on Aspen Mountain
On a whim during one of our chairlift rides, I asked Mike if he knew where the John Denver shrine was located. Aspen Mountain features many shrines--memorials to beloved locals and famous celebrities who have passed away. The first ones I knew about, back in the '90s, were dedicated to Jerry Garcia, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. One was erected in John Denver's memory shortly after his death in October 1997, but I had never known where it was located, only that is was off the Belissimo ski run somewhere. Mike didn't know where it was either, so we stopped at the Skier Services hut at the top of the lift to request directions. "Can you tell us where the John Denver shrine is located?" I asked. The employee there, a guy wearing a goofy cowboy hat, responded, "No. I grew up here, so I can't tell you. Otherwise, I could. I can tell you that it's that way," he said, pointing down the hill. "Not that way," he said, pointing up the hill. We skied away without thanking him for his arrogant lack of assistance.

A little later, we ran into Steve, a ski patrolman Mike knew, and he explained to us exactly where to go. Following his directions, we skied down the steep part of Belissimo, bore to the right in the flats, and then looked for tracks going into the woods on the left side of the run. Mike led the way as we traversed several yards into the spruce trees, and there it was.

I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was mostly faded photos and publicity shots of John from different phases of his music career, plus some wind chimes and a makeshift candle lantern. The item that struck me was a photo of John in his later years, looking a little scruffy, with the announcement of his memorial service printed below. I told Mike that Nan and I had attended the service as guests of John's family. I was John's computer consultant back then and had been up at his house helping him get his technology in order for his trip to California just a few days before he crashed his plane into Monterey Bay.

It's difficult to believe that John has been gone for almost twenty years now. Like his many fans and friends, I still miss him.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Who's lucky now?

It has been six months since we adopted Lucky from the local animal shelter here in Artesia, New Mexico. He adjusted quickly to his new life with us and has settled into a reassuring routine. We now believe that he was at most a year old when we adopted him on July 20, as his energy level is closer to that of an adolescent dog than to a mature, adult dog. This has been Nan's and my greatest adjustment, getting used to dealing with a dog who has so much energy that he occasionally goes into what we have come to call the "zoomies," tearing around our one-bedroom apartment like the Tasmanian Devil, sliding blankets off the bed and skating rugs across the floor. He can be calm one minute but then in the next he gets a crazed look in his eyes and takes off spinning his wheels full speed on the tile floors. The only cure is a trip outside, though he already gets miles of frequent walks every day, or a time-out in his wire-mesh kennel, which doubles as his bed to keep him off ours at night.

In the photo taken this morning, Lucky is just back from a weekend at the boarding kennel, which he seems to enjoy, but you can see that he is also very happy to be home. He's clipped into his leash, anticipating the walk he always gets after a trip to the kennel, and he's still wearing the harness we put him in for car rides, with a seat belt that keeps him securely fastened in the back seat. Without it, he would try to get into the front seat to be with us, and that could result in disaster.

His latest stunt is to climb into my lap while I'm sitting in the recliner watching TV. We figure this must be a holdover from when he was a puppy, but it's a little inconvenient to have a sixty-pound dog blocking your view of the TV and making your legs go numb. I don't mind, though, if he lies down, curls up and dozes off while I scratch behind his ears. It's a bonding experience.

The minor adjustments we have made to Lucky's being an "excitable boy" are a small price for the love and affection he gives us every day, but we do look forward to him mellowing out a little someday. Maybe.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Riding the storm out

Storm-ready Whispering Jesse
Approaching stripped-down Whispering Jesse from
the CGSC launch this morning, with storm clouds
building in the background. That's Cosmo on the bow.
I am writing this from inside the snug cabin of Whispering Jesse, moored at the Coconut Grove Sailing Club. Outside, it is gusty and rainy, as the eye of Hurricane Matthew passes Miami, about 150 miles off the coast. By late tonight or early tomorrow morning, the Category 4 storm will have made landfall to the north, somewhere between West Palm Beach and Melbourne, where there is likely to be widespread devastation and loss of life.

Nan and I monitored the storm closely starting last week when it made its turn to the north. By Tuesday, it was apparent that Miami would be affected and that I would need to go prepare our boat for the worst. I was on the first flight out yesterday and arrived with enough daylight to take down the jib, staysail, dodger and bimini, with the generous help of my friend Brian, who was with us on the Bimini trip back in April. We also rigged a backup mooring line, in the event that the primary line were to chafe through, and used bungee cords to secure all the running rigging at the mast. We left the mainsail in place, zipped inside its heavy-duty Cradle Cover. No amount of wind would affect it.

At the Club's bar last night, there were offers of a place to stay for tonight, but I am going to ride out the storm here on the boat. It will be a little warm with all the hatches closed against the rain, but I'm not expecting much in the way of high winds or wave action at this point, so I should be fine. I wish I could say the same for the people up the coast.

Thursday, August 25, 2016


Lucky in his new home
After Scout died at the end of last year, Nan started volunteering at the Savannah animal shelter. She said it was a tribute to Scout, but we both knew that she also missed the close contact. There were dogs she interacted with at the shelter and became fond of but none that she felt compelled to rescue. The Savannah shelter has many volunteers and is actively focused on getting animals adopted as quickly as possible. Most of the dogs Nan walked were adopted in just a few weeks.

When we moved to Artesia, New Mexico in May for a contract IT position I accepted with the local hospital, Nan started volunteering at the animal shelter here. Things were a little different. For one, she was the only volunteer, and if she did not show up to walk the dogs, then they often would not get to go outside at all that day. Dogs were occasionally adopted, but the marketing effort that went into it was minimal. Many dogs were deemed unadoptable and summarily euthanized.

There was one dog, named Lucky by the shelter staff, who had been picked up as a stray in April. He had no tags, no chip, and no one coming to claim him. He had been in the shelter for over a month before Nan arrived. More than any of the other dogs, Lucky wanted to go outside. He would rush his kennel gate as soon as Nan unlatched it, then dash to the back door, opening it by hitting the panic bar at full speed. Outside in the yard, he would mark every available surface and poop up against the fence before finding a toy for Nan to throw in a frantic game of fetch. He seemed to know that he had only a few minutes, and he tried to make the most of it. If Nan had run water into the kiddie pool, Lucky would jump in to cool off and pretend to swim while lying on his side in the shallow water. Getting him on a leash to take him back inside was a frustrating game of keep-away.

Lucky enjoying a nice day outside
About a month ago, after he had been at the shelter for almost three months, Nan told me that Lucky had been put on the list to be euthanized. She was beginning to develop a bond with him and was saddened at the idea that he would be put down in less than a week. She asked me if I would go to the shelter to meet Lucky, with the idea that if the two of us hit it off, we could consider an adoption. Nan had showed me a photo of Lucky on the shelter's Facebook page and he looked like a nice enough dog: a mutt, of course, maybe two years old, with symmetrical brown patches over each eye and ear, a white body except for a large brown spot on his left side, and the look of a very large Jack Russell terrier, though at sixty pounds, he may have been a Labrador retriever and boxer mix.

Being more used to mellow golden retrievers like our beloved Scout, I was a little put off by Lucky's frenetic energy at our first meeting. He seemed completely uncontrollable out in the yard, but he mellowed when back in his kennel, eyeing me watchfully as I read the information page clipped to the wire mesh gate. There was a large "E" written on the page in black Sharpie, and I knew what it meant. Nan had gone off to speak with the shelter people, so I stood and looked at Lucky through the gate. He sat on his haunches and looked steadily back at me. Both of us seemed to be thinking the same thing: Are you the one?

That was more than a month ago. It should be no surprise that we adopted Lucky, rescuing him from his certain fate. Despite a frightful first night, he has adapted well and settled into a calm, predictable routine, filled with walks, play and affection. He still has his excitable moments, especially when it comes to going outside, but he has endeared himself to us as only a sweet-natured dog is capable. We love him and look forward to a long life together.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Return from Bimini

Westward track from Bimini to Miami - Thank you, Brian!
As predicted, the northeasterly wind continued to clock around and by Wednesday, April 20, was blowing out of the southeast again. Nan, Brian, and I readied Whispering Jesse for a departure early on the following morning and drafted our marina mates for assistance. With the boat positioned as it was and the wind blowing at least 15 knots, we did not have enough engine power to safely make the hard turn to port against the wind needed to enter the channel, so Brian rigged up a spider web of dock lines and instructed our marina mates in how we would use them to manually pivot the boat around the corner of the pier and point the bow into the wind for a safe departure.

We all met in the pink light of dawn at 6:30 the next morning, coffee cups in hand, to see if Brian's plan would work. After a single false start and a minor correction, we were off, with much waving and yelling of thanks. We hope to meet up with those kind sailors again in future travels.

The route out of the channel was considerably easier in daylight, and we adjusted our course to match the one taken by our snorkel trip captain, which put us on the wrong side of one of the markers but also prevented any unwelcome contact with shoals. We motored southwest into deeper water for several hundred yards before rounding into the wind and putting up the mainsail. When we turned back around and put out the jib, Whispering Jesse took off on a fast broad reach. Within moments, we were doing better than 7 knots and heeling just a little too dramatically. We adjusted the traveler to leeward and eased the main, making for a less death-defying ride. We didn't need to make any further adjustments until we entered the Gulfstream, where the dramatic wave action added to the roller-coaster effect and caused us to ease the main a little more. But we were flying! Occasional gusts pushed us above 8 knots, and it felt that we would be back in Miami in no time.

Click this image for a brief video - Thanks yet again, Brian!
The slight jog to the north in our otherwise due west track was caused by a course correction needed to avoid being T-boned by a large freighter. Boats under sail have the right of way, but don't try to explain that to a freighter captain who believes that might makes right. It's easier to just assume that nobody on the freighter is paying any attention and take whatever evasive action is necessary.

It took only 10 hours to return from Bimini, compared to 18 hours to sail there, and the vastly different tracks tell the story. Speed is the key. Without at least 5 to 6 knots of boat speed, the Gulfstream's 3.5 knots take control and push the boat northward. It may be possible to crab across in a slow easterly direction, but is that any faster than simply using the available wind to get past the Gulfstream and then adjusting southward? Maybe. The best advice is to wait for a southwesterly wind for the passage over to Bimini and a southeasterly wind for the passage back. In other words, trying to sail on a schedule is almost never going to be the safest or most comfortable way to go.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Check-in/OK message from SPOT Whispering Jesse

Whispering Jesse
Latitude: 25.72590
Longitude: -80.23654
GPS location Date/Time: 04/22/2016 17:03:06 EDT

Message: This is the crew of Whispering Jesse checking in. All is well. Click the Google Maps link to see where we are:,-80.23654&ll=25.72590,-80.23654&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

Check-in/OK message from SPOT Whispering Jesse

Whispering Jesse
Latitude: 25.64734
Longitude: -80.05862
GPS location Date/Time: 04/22/2016 14:02:40 EDT

Message: This is the crew of Whispering Jesse checking in. All is well. Click the Google Maps link to see where we are:,-80.05862&ll=25.64734,-80.05862&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

Check-in/OK message from SPOT Whispering Jesse

Whispering Jesse
Latitude: 25.65052
Longitude: -79.83499
GPS location Date/Time: 04/22/2016 12:02:34 EDT

Message: This is the crew of Whispering Jesse checking in. All is well. Click the Google Maps link to see where we are:,-79.83499&ll=25.65052,-79.83499&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

Check-in/OK message from SPOT Whispering Jesse

Whispering Jesse
Latitude: 25.65087
Longitude: -79.62048
GPS location Date/Time: 04/22/2016 10:01:05 EDT

Message: This is the crew of Whispering Jesse checking in. All is well. Click the Google Maps link to see where we are:,-79.62048&ll=25.65087,-79.62048&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

Check-in/OK message from SPOT Whispering Jesse

Whispering Jesse
Latitude: 25.71757
Longitude: -79.30056
GPS location Date/Time: 04/22/2016 06:36:41 EDT

Message: This is the crew of Whispering Jesse checking in. All is well. Click the Google Maps link to see where we are:,-79.30056&ll=25.71757,-79.30056&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1