Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Letter 2012

Christmas Card 2012 from John, Nan and Scout

Christmas 2012

Dear Family and Friends,

Last year at this time, we were facing the prospect of a non-white Christmas, and winter continued mostly snowless, for one of the worst ski seasons in memory. This year looks to be more promising: we have had two pretty good snowfalls already. As a neighbor said to Nan and me as we walked Scout past his house this morning following last night’s accumulation, “It’s good to see the wet.”

Scout with antlers in front of our Christmas treeAfter the season’s first snowfall last weekend, Nan and I ventured up icy roads to the Colorado National Monument for this year’s card photo. Scout couldn’t join us because dogs are not allowed, so we dressed him up in antlers for the letter photo instead. Yes, that is a cane in Nan’s right hand. She underwent bilateral hip replacement surgery on October 26 and has been making a remarkable recovery. Osteoarthritis and thirty-five years of running had used up all her cartilage, leaving her in constant pain. She should not run anymore, but she may now look forward to a future of other activities, like swimming and cycling, free of hip pain. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Nan’s sister Monica for her tireless, hands-on assistance in the weeks following Nan’s surgery.

The year started for us in Isla Mujeres, Mexico, where we celebrated New Year’s Eve with local friends at the island’s all-night fiesta. We have vacationed there almost a dozen times now, but this was our first winter trip. It was chilly and windy, definitely not beach weather, and we were happy to have brought our fleece jackets. We went back again in September for a week of perfect weather, lazing on the beach, finding new things to see and do, and checking out the island’s many marinas for a future sailing trip from Savannah. Our friends Mike and Erika from Aspen joined us for a day from their vacation in Playa del Carmen, and we saw all the sights from a rented golf cart.

In April, my family held a reunion of sorts in Savannah. Mom and Dad hosted sister Jane, her husband Josh, their twins Max and Ben, sister Susan, Nan and me for golf, downtown tours, Tybee Island beach time and long, memorable dinners. Missing were Susan’s husband John, their kids Kirsten and Peter, and brother Stuart and his girlfriend Mayumi. Stuart has not visited the mainland from Hawaii for at least five years, but we’re all hoping to visit him there sometime, maybe for Dad’s eightieth birthday in June.

Nan enjoyed a few quick trips home to Manitowoc this year for family time with her mother, her sister Amy, and other members of the Mullins clan. In May, she helped celebrate her mother’s eighty-ninth birthday and sister Monica’s fiftieth.

Summer in Grand Junction was the hottest on record, with many days above a hundred degrees. Even with his cool “puppy cut,” Scout refused his afternoon walks after scorching his paws on the hot asphalt. Nan and I braved the heat most weekends for bad golf at our local public courses, and I finally hit a hole in one after fifty years of trying, witnessed officially by Nan and our friends Kevin and Lesley.

After many years of writing these Christmas letters, I regret to tell you that this is the last one we will be printing and mailing. Like Newsweek magazine, we are going completely digital in the New Year. If we have your email address, we will send you an electronic version at this time next year. If not, please look for the letter on my blog at whisperingjesse.blogspot.com. In case you don’t already have them, our email addresses are johnallenlichty@gmail.com and nanlichty@hotmail.com.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful, wet holiday season and a peaceful, prosperous New Year!


Monday, December 24, 2012

The Shins at Belly Up in Aspen

Poster outside Belly Up in Aspen for the Shins show on December 14, 2012
Nan and I were up in Aspen last weekend to see the Shins play at the Belly Up nightclub. I have been a fan of their distinctive music since I first heard "New Slang" on the soundtrack of the 2004 movie, "Garden State", starring Zach Braff and Natalie Portman. Over the next several months, I listened to the band's first two albums, "Oh, Inverted World" and "Chutes Too Narrow" almost non-stop.

Two years later, in 2006, my sister Jane and I traveled to Chicago from an August family reunion in Milwaukee to see the Shins play at Lollapalooza in Grant Park. It was heartwarming to see tens of thousands of other fans as crazy about the band as I was, and we were all treated to new songs off their then-upcoming album, "Wincing the Night Away".

The Shins didn't put out another album for several years after that. Band leader James Mercer, partnering with Danger Mouse as Broken Bells, released an excellent self-titled album in 2010, and I assumed that the Shins were no more. But then earlier this year, I saw that the Shins would be the musical guests on the March 11 broadcast of Saturday Night Live. I tuned in and was surprised to see James Mercer surrounded by an all-new band. The distinctive sound was still there, though, and I was impressed enough by the songs they performed to get their new album, "Port of Morrow".

The Shins in concert at Belly Up in Aspen on December 14, 2012
The band line-up in the poster outside Belly Up looked the same as the one from SNL, but when the band took the stage, guitarist/vocalist Jessica Dobson was not with the band. There was very little patter between songs, and no explanations were offered. My impression was that James Mercer is the Shins regardless of who is playing with him, and this was made evident by the line-up that night playing a wide variety of Shins songs from the entire repertoire rather than simply focusing on songs off the new album. It was a show to promote the Shins, not just "Port of Morrow".

The music that night is a blur for me now, just a continuous stream of songs I know by heart, punctuated by favorites "New Slang", "Sleeping Lessons", and the final encore song, "One by One All Day", which I found myself singing for days afterward.

Go see the Shins if you ever get a chance. As Zach Braff's character Andrew says to Natalie Portman's Sam as he slips the headphones over her head, "You gotta hear this one song. It'll change your life, I swear."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Failure is not an option

"Failure is not an option" Apollo 13 postcard
Where I work, we have a postcard on the wall of the conference room that was sent to us from the Kennedy Space Center by an employee's husband a few years ago. It shows the Apollo 13 mission patch next to the mission motto, "Failure is not an option." The postcard hangs as a reminder that our work is important, that we must not fail. But more often, when I look at it, as I do frequently during long meetings, I think of the Apollo 13 astronauts, James Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise, and how close we came to losing them back in April 1970 after an explosion aboard their spacecraft.

When the motto was decided on, the people at NASA must have been thinking specifically of the importance of the mission's success as only the third manned trip to the moon. They could not have foreseen that the motto would take on an entirely different meaning: Failure to bring the astronauts home alive is not an option.

The tremendous effort and ingenuity that went into saving the astronauts' lives are an inspiration to me every day that virtually anything is possible if we set our minds to it.

Now it's back to work...

Thursday, December 6, 2012

John's Chili Recipe

Back in the early 1980s, I found a chili recipe in the "Good Morning!" section of the Milwaukee Sentinel newspaper that was so easy to follow that even I, a cooking-challenged bachelor at the time, could not screw it up. Over the years, I have modified it, adding some ingredients, like jalapeno peppers, and leaving out others, like the twelve-ounce can of American beer called for in the original recipe, until I think my chili is pretty darn good and plenty hot:


1 standard size package of lean ground beef (or a finely cubed sirloin steak if you like Texas style)
1 large white or yellow onion
1 large green pepper
12 fresh jalapeno peppers (or fewer if you don't like your chili too hot)
4 plum tomatoes
1 15-oz. can of Hunt’s Tomato Sauce
2 8-oz. cans of Mexican pre-cooked pinto beans (or equivalent reconstituted dry pinto beans)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic flakes (or chopped fresh garlic)
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon paprika
½ 4.5-oz. container of chili powder (McCormick or other)


1.  Finely dice the onion, green pepper and jalapeno peppers. Be sure to remove the seeds and insides of the peppers. Use a spoon with the jalapeno peppers to avoid acid burns!
2.   In a large stew pot on medium heat, pour in the olive oil and sprinkle in the garlic. Sautee for a few minutes.
3.   Turn heat up to medium high. Add in the ground beef and then use a wooden spoon to chop it up finely and mix it in with the olive oil and garlic. Add salt and pepper if desired.
4.   When the ground beef begins to brown, add in the onions. Sautee until the onions start to become clear and the ground beef is completely browned.
5.   Turn the heat back down to medium. Add in the green pepper and jalapeno peppers. Mix thoroughly. Cover pot and let simmer while next contents are prepared.
6.   Dice the tomatoes. Drain and rinse the canned pinto beans.
7.   Stir the pot thoroughly and add in the tomatoes.
8.   Stir thoroughly and add in the tomato sauce.
9.   Stir thoroughly and add in the pinto beans.
10. Stir thoroughly and then cover for 10-15 minutes.
11. Slowly blend in cumin, paprika and chili powder.
12. Turn heat to simmer and let chili simmer for at least one hour, stirring occasionally.
13. Turn off heat and serve, or let chili cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for later.

The beans absorb the flavors and the peppers mellow a little over time, so the chili is best served a day or so after preparation. It microwaves well and is really good served with flour tortillas, shredded cheese and sour cream. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Savannah: long list, little accomplished

Aries windvane on the stern of Whispering JesseSaturday, November 24: It's the fourth day of my trip out to Savannah and I'm not overly happy with what I've been able to get accomplished on my long list of boat projects. Of course, the list is overly ambitious and would realistically take a few weeks to complete, not the five days I have had available. And I don't want to leave any projects half-done. So when I stare at the Aries windvane bolted to the stern of the boat and try to figure out what it will take to remove it, the clock inside my head goes tick-tick-tick and I realize it will take more time than I have on this trip, especially if I try to remove the lag bolts secured through the hull. That would involve emptying out both lazarettes and squeezing down in there with a headlamp and some beefy wrenches. Instead, I work backward toward the windvane, removing the steering drum that was attached to the wheel and the numerous blocks that guided the lines between the windvane and the wheel. It's not much, but it's something.

Gluing the mitered teak molding pieces together
Before I undertook anything related to the windvane removal, I tried to repair a disconnected cockpit scupper using the part I had ordered from Defender Marine Outfitters. I lucked out with guessing the correctly sized plastic elbow fitting for the 1.5-inch scupper drain, but I still couldn't get it to fit. Either the thread spacing is wrong or the drain threads are stripped, which would explain why the previous fitting was only glued in place. I expect that I will end up gluing the new one in place, but I'll wait on that until I'm ready to use up an entire tube of 3M 5200 marine adhesive on this and other applications, since the whole tube will start to set up as soon as it is exposed to air.

My greatest success has been with constructing teak frames for the cockpit cut-outs. I spent a good part of yesterday afternoon using a mitre saw to cut L-shaped molding pieces to fit, and then some time this morning gluing the pieces together. I will need to fasten some small screws as well, but the glue should hold for that process.

Cockpit cut-outs where the new teak frames will goThe molding was part of an order I placed through the West Marine website a couple of weeks ago. West Marine offers free shipping to their stores for in-person pickup, which worked even better for me than drop shipping to my folks' house. While I was at the store on Abercorn Street, I noticed that the Garmin GPSMAP 740s Chartplotter/Sounder was on sale for $400 below list price. I had to think about it for two days, but I couldn't pass up a deal like that on a necessary piece of equipment and went back to buy the last one in stock, along with an external antenna. The installation looks tricky, so I'll wait and have Thunderbolt Marine do it when I return in the spring.

Tomorrow, I'll see if the teak frames fit, take some measurements for some other projects, see if the engine will start and stay cool, and then prepare the boat to be left alone for another winter.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Redundant Sailboat Systems

Aries windvane mounted on the stern of Whispering Jesse
Sailors know the importance of having spare parts on board in the event of equipment failures that can be readily fixed. With more complex equipment, such as GPS units, sailors will typically have two or more units on board. This redundancy is largely driven by the need for safety. If you are far out to sea, depending for your navigation needs on your one-and-only handheld Garmin GPS, and it fails, then you are lost--or at least considerably less certain of exactly where you are.

It is with a sense for the importance of redundancy that I approach my sailboat's many systems. I have two VHF radios, three GPS units, two emergency beacons, and multiples of other equipment, including auto-pilots. My boat, a 1980 Valiant 40 that I purchased in May 2010, came with an Aries windvane and a Raymarine electronic auto-pilot. The windvane was bolted to the stern, but the Raymarine unit was still in its box--it had never been installed. As part of an extensive refit, the Raymarine unit was installed, and the Aries windvane was removed for hull work and then reinstalled. During the delivery trips (it took two) to get the boat to its current location in Savannah, Georgia, back in September and October 2011, the Raymarine auto-pilot proved itself to be invaluable, almost like having an extra crew member. The Aries windvane proved itself to be stuck. It is supposed to be hinged so that its trim rudder can be kicked up out of the water when not in use, but we could not get the locking mechanism to release. So we never even bothered to try out the system as a fallback for the Raymarine auto-pilot.

In the many months since those delivery trips, I have thought often about the Aries windvane and what to do about it. Instead of trying to fix it, I have decided to remove it. If it was working, it would be good to have as a redundant auto-pilot system, but I am willing to forego that option and steer manually when I need to. While I am out in Savannah this coming week, removing the Aries windvane will be near the top of my lengthy list of boat projects. I am thinking it may be easier to work on the hinge and get it to release with the mechanism resting on dry ground rather than hanging off the back of the boat. If I can get it to release, I will try to sell the whole Aries windvane system, including the original documentation, and put the proceeds toward a new Garmin chartplotter. If you know anyone who would be interested in a complete, working Aries windvane, please send me an email message. There's a link in my Blogger profile, which you can get to by clicking my photo under About Me.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Upcoming Trip to Savannah

Nan securing a dock line on Whispering Jesse back in April
I will be headed out to Savannah for a long Thanksgiving weekend in a little over a week. It will be a chance to check on Whispering Jesse for the first time since April and to spend some time with my parents. Nan will not be going with me. She is recovering from her hip replacement surgery and should not travel for a few more months. She is making excellent progress and is now fully mobile around the house with a walker and cane. We're looking forward to clearance from her doctor that she can drive again so she's not so housebound.

There are many boat projects awaiting me in Savannah. I have already placed orders with Defender Marine Outfitter for the replacement port navigation light and plastic scupper fitting that I wrote about earlier, along with some teak items: an outboard motor mount for the stern rail, a drinks and binoculars organizer for the binnacle, and some plugs to fill miscellaneous interior holes. And West Marine called yesterday to let me know that the order I placed with them is waiting at their store in Savannah: two lengths of L-shaped teak molding for making frames around the raw cut-outs in the cockpit, a quart of Cetol to varnish all the new teak with, some 3M 5200 sealant to fill some leaky deck holes, and a 12-volt receptacle like a car's cigarette lighter that I'm hoping to wire in for connection to an inverter for charging battery-powered electronics.

All that should keep me busy for a few days, but I'm also hoping to find a good length of pressure-treated 2x12 lumber to make a gangplank out of. I'm thinking it could serve double-duty as a ramp over the steep companionway steps to make it easier for Scout to get in and out of the cabin and possibly also as a ramp between the swim ladder and the water, with some fenders attached for flotation, to give Scout a way to get out of the water on his own.

More later from Savannah...

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Nan's surgery

Nan's hip replacement surgery on Friday afternoon went well. The surgical team successfully replaced both of her hip joints in about three hours, with a minimum of blood loss. Now the long, slow recovery begins.

I'm sitting in Nan's room at St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction. She is drifting in and out of sleep, trying to find a balance between the pain and the nausea caused by the pain medication. The nurses have been trying different combinations to find what works best and encouraging her to eat more to buffer the oral medications, which are longer lasting than the ones administered through her I.V.

Nan's sister Monica is staying with us for a few weeks to help with Nan's care. She has been wonderful. She just massaged Nan's legs and now she is helping her brush her teeth. She keeps Scout and me fed with her cooking, and she keeps family and friends up to date with texts and phone calls.

The hospital will not discharge Nan until she can walk out of here under her own power. She is making big strides already. The physical therapy people have had her up and walking with a walker twice a day. Today she walked to a chair and sat up for an hour. She should be able to go home on Wednesday or Thursday if all goes well.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The End of an Era

Nan sprinting for the finish line
Nan has been running for 35 years. From March through November, you'll find her entering a race almost every weekend. And she does well, placing in the top three in her age division more often than not. She has boxes full of ribbons and trophies, and she can recite her best times at distances ranging from 5K to full marathons. In 2003, she ran in the New York City Marathon. She considers it the crowning achievement of her long running career.

Now it's all coming to an end. Osteoarthritis and endless miles have taken their toll. Nan has used up all the cartilage in her hip joints, leaving her in a bone-on-bone condition of constant pain. On Friday, she will undergo bilateral hip replacement surgery to replace her damaged hip joints with new bionic ones. The procedure is invasive and involves the removal of the tops of her femurs and the sockets of her hip joints. The prosthetic replacements are designed so that the remaining bone grows solidly and securely around them. Full recuperation normally takes up to twelve weeks, though she should be able to walk out of the hospital under her own power after a four-day recovery period.

Nan's new hips will relieve her pain, but they will not withstand the impact of running. She will need to give up running in favor of low-impact activities such as bicycling and swimming. She says it will be worth it, but you can sense her regret.

The photo above shows Nan in a final sprint to the finish line of the Boogie's Buddy 5, an annual Fourth of July race in Aspen, Colorado. She's not sure of the year, but it was probably taken at least ten years ago.

Please keep Nan in your thoughts this week as she prepares for her life-changing experience.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Republicans in Aspen

The Maroon Bells, located near Aspen. Photo taken by Nan early on Saturday, September 29, 2012After living there for twenty years, Nan and I moved away from Aspen a little over seven years ago. We still get back there a few times a year to ski and visit friends, and we notice changes that we might not if we still lived there. This was especially true this past weekend when we made a quick overnight trip to visit a good friend.

On our way into Aspen, we passed the old Poppies restaurant building. The business closed a few years ago and the Victorian-era building has been sitting empty, but it is now serving as the local Republican Party headquarters. There was a sign to that effect above the door and signs promoting Republican candidates plastered all over the wrought iron fence out front. Nan and I both expressed surprise, and I reminded her of an Independence Day several years ago, when some local Republicans marched in the annual parade carrying a banner announcing themselves. I had made the comment: "There they go, all four of them."

Bumper sticker: "Drill here. Drill now. Pay less." Note the Texas license plate.Times seem to have changed. We saw Romney bumper stickers and yard signs all over town. Aspen used to pride itself on being a tiny island of Democrats in the sea of Colorado Republicans. It also prided itself on what was called "messy vitality," a kind of small-town funkiness arising from the co-existence of folks spanning the entire economic spectrum. Those points of pride are less in evidence these days, and the reasons are obvious. 

In Aspen, the Great Recession hit late, but it hit hard. During the depths, the all-important tourist dollars dwindled to the point where many businesses, especially the mom-and-pop ones, closed permanently. The businesses that survived were the ones that catered to the uber-wealthy, the people least affected by the economic downturn. Surrounded by empty retail spaces, businesses selling thousand-dollar cashmere scarves and five-figure handbags continued to flourish. During this period, downtown felt like it used to feel during off-season, when all the locals cleared out of town, except that it was now year round. 

Republican booth at Saturday morning farmers market. Note the lack of foot traffic.What we noticed as we walked around town yesterday is that those empty retail spaces, in the wake of modest economic recovery, are filling in with even more stores peddling super-expensive wares. Rather than becoming more affordable as a result of the recession, Aspen appears to have become less so. It has always had the reputation of being the playground of the rich and famous, but now it seems to be the exclusive domain of the "one percenters." And with that cachet comes the Republican mindset that was so much in evidence all around town.

The good news is that President Obama is ahead in the polls in Colorado and will probably take both the state and the election again on November 6. If he does, I hope that the signs and stickers will come down and that people will leave their divisions behind for another four years to let Aspen return to its funky self.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

More from Isla Mujeres, Mexico

As I said in my previous post, our last two full days in Isla Mujeres were action packed. Here are some photo highlights (click for full-size views):

On Friday afternoon, we took a boat trip with our friend Ariel and his wife Rosi aboard their boat Sol Zorro. They picked us up at the Ballyhoo pier and motored us around the bay and lagoon for an hour to check out possible anchorages for next spring when we sail Whispering Jesse down from Savannah. Here we are approaching the new house at Sac Bajo, where there is a cut between the bay islands and the sea. The old house was destroyed by Hurricane Wilma in 2005.

Nan, Ariel and Rosi cruising through the bay toward Sac Bajo. The bay anchorage is in the background. The sailboat visible in the distance is in a perfect location, anchored between the shallow central area of the bay and one of the mangrove-flanked bay islands. The snorkeling there would be very good.
Our friend Wbeymar, the owner of Brisas Grill, motored past aboard his new boat Lizardo while we were in Laguna Macax. He was on his way to the Villa Vera fuel dock after chartering a morning whale shark trip.
A water-side view of El Milagro marina, showing the pier, the beach and the palapa-covered office/bar. There are no finger piers, so most of the boats are slipped stern-to. This would be a minor disadvantage for us since we have a solid stern pulpit with gates on either beam at the forward edge of the cockpit. I might be able to figure out a long gangplank that we could mount at an angle so we wouldn't need to climb over the pulpit--easier for us and easier for Scout.
A water-side view of Brisas Grill, where our friend Juan Gomez works as a waiter. The restaurant is wide open in front and back, allowing cool breezes, as the name "Brisas" implies, to blow through. The outdoor seating is a great place to sip a drink and watch the sun go down.
A street-side view of El Milagro marina, taken from the island's main drag, Rueda Medina. It doesn't look like much from this angle but there are all kinds of nice amenities between the large, hangar-like building and the pier. Nan and I appreciate that there is a security gate, and also a small tienda, located on the other side of the Coke truck, for quick food and beverage purchases if we don't want to take the easy walk or bike ride to downtown.
Erika and Mike took a day from their vacation in Playa del Carmen to visit us on Saturday, before we left the following day. We rented a golf cart and showed them Isla Mujeres's many sights. Here they are at Punta Sur, the island's southernmost point, looking east across the turquoise Caribbean Sea. Mike will be my first mate when we sail down from Savannah next spring.

Our final sunset of the trip, taken from the balcony of our Color de Verano penthouse apartment. The turnaround at the end of Rueda Medina and the fishermen's memorial statue are visible below. Our favorite beach is located right across the street. Nan and I enjoyed our trip so much that we're already thinking of trying to squeeze in another quick week before the sailing trip next spring. Dream on!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Back in Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Bahía Tortuga in Isla Mujeres - photo by owner Rhonda
Nan and I are back in Isla Mujeres, our tenth trip here in fourteen years. We arrived last Saturday and return home this coming Sunday. It is off-season here and there are few tourists. Many of the shops and restaurants are closed, but we appreciate the mostly empty beaches and the quiet streets. We have reconnected with our many friends here, both local people and expatriates, and have engaged them all in talk, sometimes in halting Spanish with much gesticulating, about what it is like to live here. Because we are planning to join them.

Starting next spring, Nan and I, along with some friends, plan to sail Whispering Jesse down here from Savannah and live on the boat for an indefinite period at one of the local marinas. We have spent time this week checking out all of the island's marinas and believe we have found the best one for our needs, El Milagro (elmilagromarina.com). It is pet friendly, so Scout will be welcomed, and there are many nice amenities: a community kitchen, a movie theater, a small beach and a dipping pool. And it is easy walking distance to downtown. It is located on the bay instead of in the lagoon, so it is cooler and less buggy. But it is also more exposed, which means it would be necessary to move the boat to the safety of the lagoon in the event of a hurricane.

With Juan and Paula at their home in Miraflores, Isla MujeresIn addition to finding answers to our long list of questions, we have spent time exploring new places. On Sunday, we went to the newly opened Bahía Tortuga bar and restaurant, where our favorite Isla band, La Banda sin Nombre, was playing. Many of the patrons were expatriates we knew from past visits, including Doug Dorn, whom we met when we sailed to Isla from Panama with John Kretschmer in 2010 and stayed at Marina Paraiso in an adjacent slip. It was good to catch up with him as he was full of useful information about boating and bureaucracy.

We spent Tuesday afternoon with our friend Juan Gomez and his family at their home in the Miraflores colonia. We brought along dinner from the local pollo asado place and walked over to the local tienda with Juan to pick up some bottles of Sol beer. We ate and talked into the evening, and I was thankful I had my pocket English-Spanish dictionary to aid the communication. Juan's English is fairly good from his many years working with tourists, but his wife's is not so good and the kids are too shy to use the English they learn in school. By the time we left, I had agreed to tutor the kids in English and Nan had agreed to form an exercise group when we return next spring.

Baby sea turtles released in Isla Mujeres on September 5, 2012
On Wednesday evening, we joined over a thousand local people on Playa la Media Luna for the release of over six thousand baby sea turtles. It was an amazing sight to see them all instinctively flap across the sand toward the water to begin their new lives. We helped flip over some upside down turtles and turned around a few who were going the wrong way. Eventually, they were all in the water, their little heads popping up and looking around as if to ask, Now what? It was a heartwarming experience.

Last night, we invited Roger and Garnette over for dinner. They are American expatriates, whom we met about five years ago after they moved here from the Denver area. Nan made a delicious chicken salad and served it with cantaloupe, croissants and salad. We ate dinner and talked for hours out on the patio of our Color de Verano penthouse apartment, watching the sun set and listening to a band playing across the street. Roger and Garnette have already been through all the experiences that we would anticipate in getting settled here, everything from upgraded visas and health insurance to medical treatment and theft prevention. They are a valuable resource and we expect they will become close friends.

Baby sea turtles released on Playa la Media Luna
Our last two full days here will be action-packed. Nan and I are going on a boat trip with our friend Ariel this afternoon to investigate possible anchorages out in the bay, with the idea of saving money by anchoring out during high seasons when the marina rates go way up. Tomorrow, our friends Mike and Erika from back home are scheduled to make a side trip here from their vacation in Playa del Carmen. Mike will be joining us on the sailing trip next spring and I want to see what he thinks of the place where we'll be making our final landfall. More later...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Defender - Marine Outfitter

Aqua Signal Series 40 port navigation light from defender.com
While I was in Savannah last April working on Whispering Jesse, I made several trips to the local West Marine store. The people there were very helpful with helping me find what I needed and ordering what they didn't have in stock. But on my last trip to the store, they were unable to help me. I had thought of West Marine as having absolutely everything I could ever need for our boat, but it turns out that they don't. I had walked in with a damaged port navigation light and a somewhat melted--it's a long story--plastic scupper fitting to see about replacements. The young lady at the check-out counter pulled out her catalogs and searched in vain. She took my contact information and said she would do some further research and call me with the results. I never heard from her.

Plastic elbow fitting from defender.com for scupper drain repair
Back home, I received an unsolicited marine catalog in the mail from an outfit called Defender. The slim catalog's newsprint pages were densely packed with listings of every imaginable boat part. I didn't find my parts in the catalog, but fortunately, Defender also has a densely packed website (defender.com), so I went there on the off chance that they would have what I needed. And they did. I had nothing to compare their prices against, but they seemed reasonable. The last time Nan and I were in Denver, we checked out a Honda Marine 5 HP outboard motor for our inflatable dinghy and were quoted a price of $2000. Defender carries Honda outboards, so I did a quick comparison check: $1556! That savings offsets the freight with a few hundred dollars leftover. If the savings on the parts are anything like the savings on the outboard, then there's no need to search any further. This November, a few weeks before I head out to Savannah again, I'll be placing an order for both the parts and the outboard with Defender.

CORRECTION 9/24/12: I went back and read the fine print in Defender's listing for their Honda outboards. It turns out that they can only sell them either as a "boat package" that includes a small fishing boat or inflatable dinghy and requires delivery to a commercial loading dock, or by themselves if you go to Waterford, Connecticut to pick them up. Those are not good options. We already have a Zodiac dinghy, and Waterford is a little out of the way. It looks like we'll be looking for an authorized dealer a little closer to home. But I'll still order the other parts, and anything else the boat needs, from Defender. You can't beat their prices.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Life in Grand Junction: A Close Encounter

On Saturday night, Nan and I went to our local Red Robin for an inexpensive dinner out. It was a nice evening, cooler than it has been, so we opted for a table outside on the patio. We chatted about our upcoming vacation, sipped our wine, ate our burgers, and watched the sun slowly sink behind the Chick-fil-A across the street. Just a typical dining experience. But then it got weird.

The eleven- or twelve-year-old girl sitting with her mother at a table near ours stood up suddenly, went to the table across from us, where a family of five were seated, and yelled at the mother, "Stop staring at me!" Everyone on the patio stopped eating. It got very quiet. The girl returned to her table and sat looking at her mother. Neither said anything.

People looked around at one another with expressions of "What was that all about?!" on their faces. We made eye contact with the man of the family, who said, "She wasn't staring. She was just talking to her son and that girl was behind him." The mother looked shaken and close to tears.

The girl and her mother paid their bill quickly and stood up to leave. The man stood up and intercepted them. He asked why the mother would let her daughter speak to an adult with such disrespect. The mother said, "I don't f--king care." The man stared in disbelief as the girl and her mother walked quickly away.

As he returned to his table, the man announced to everyone within earshot that if he had ever spoken to someone in that way, his father would have whipped his ass right there in the restaurant. There were murmurs of agreement all around. Seated again, the man said, "Did you smell that woman's perfume? It was enough to make me gag! I had to go out and smoke a cigarette just to get away from it. If they thought we were staring at them, then that's why!" He took off his camouflage baseball cap, brushed his hair back with his hand, replaced the cap, and sat back in his chair with a deep sigh.

The man and his family paid their bill and stood to leave. At the exit, he turned and said loudly enough for all to hear, "Y'know, I don't vote Republican!" He paused. "I may be a redneck, but I'm not stupid!" He paused again. "I'm a union member!" He threw up his hands for dramatic effect and then turned to go. Nan and I cheered and clapped, joined by several others.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Storm King Mountain Memorial Trail

Scout, me and Nan with Jenny and John Shepherd on Storm King Mountain Memorial Trail
Our friends, the Shepherds, were in Colorado last weekend for their annual summer visit. They have a timeshare in Avon that they use twice a year, a week in the winter for skiing and another in the summer for hiking and biking. On Sunday morning, Nan, Scout and I met them at the Dairy Queen in West Glenwood, which is a fair distance compromise between Avon and Grand Junction. From there, we proceeded west on I-70 to Canyon Creek exit 109 and then doubled back on the north-side frontage road to where it dead-ends at the parking lot for the Storm King Mountain Memorial Trail's trailhead.

Adam and Allie at the observation point below Storm King Mountain
On July 6, 1994, fourteen firefighters died while battling the South Canyon Fire when high winds caused the flames to blow up suddenly, trapping them on an isolated slope. The memorial trail was created by friends and family wishing to visit the place where their loved ones lost their lives. It has since been improved by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, but it retains its original characteristics as a steep, rugged climb of a thousand vertical feet in a mile and a half. Hikers can't help but think of the brave young men and women who labored up this same slope, carrying heavy firefighting equipment, for the purpose of controlling a fire which threatened the nearby community of Canyon Creek.

Scout seeking shade at the observation point across from the deadly slope
The temperature was at least 93 degrees when we arrived at the trailhead in the early afternoon. We each carried CamelBaks full of ice and water, which we generously shared with Scout, who hurried quickly between shady spots while dancing over the hot dust of the well-worn trail. We stopped frequently to rest in the shade and to read the many informational signs along the way, which pointed out the sights and explained how forest fires are fought. The trail eventually leveled out and followed a hot, treeless ridge line to an observation point across from the deadly slope.

Nan and John returning to the trailhead of the Storm King Mountain Memorial Trail
In my mind, I had imagined this place many times in the eighteen years since the fire, but it was nothing like I thought it would be. Instead of a canopy of evergreen trees, the steep slopes were covered in chest-high brush and junipers, and I pictured it engulfed in wind-driven flames, racing directly at the firefighters. There would have been nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. Twelve of the firefighters died just below the opposite ridge and two others in a wash a few hundred yards away, directly below the peak of Storm King Mountain. If it had not been so hot, we would have continued our hike to those locations, where memorials have been erected, to pay our respects. We will need to return sometime soon to do so. You should too.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

JK University

Back in April, when I was out in Savannah getting work done on Whispering Jesse and spending time with family, I took a few days to drive down to Fort Lauderdale for a blue water sailing seminar led by John Kretschmer. I planned to write an article about it for Cruising World magazine, and I obtained John's permission ahead of time, along with his assurance that he would contact the magazine for their approval. The idea was that John would benefit from the free publicity and I would earn another publishing credit. So I was surprised and disappointed when I received a polite rejection indicating that the magazine was aware of John's seminars and planned to write its own article about an upcoming one. I had been scooped!

Since it's not going to be published, I might as well post it here:

Caribe, a Beneteau First 456, is pulled over to the pier by John Kretschmer
JK University’s Blue Water Passage Making Workshops

Suppose you’re an experienced coastal cruiser looking to take your sailing to the next level, to blue water passage making. Where do you turn for instruction and guidance? If you’re like most sailors, you get started by reading books by such noted sailing authors as Jimmy Cornell and John Vigor. But books will only provide you with theory. What about practical, hands-on experience? It used to come only from taking the risk on your own by making an actual passage, or by signing on as crew for an experienced captain. More recently, there have been instructional passage-making trips offered by outfits such as Mahina Expeditions.

Now there is a new offering, mixing classroom instruction with practical experience to fill in the knowledge gaps of potential ocean-going sailors: JK University, named in tongue-in-cheek fashion after its founder, Capt. John Kretschmer. John is best known for the book he wrote about his delivery captain days, Flirting with Mermaids, and for the passage-making trips he offers through his outfit, John Kretschmer Sailing. He has partnered with Bob Pingel, a contributing editor to Sailing magazine, and Rick Thompson, a marine electronics expert, to provide four-day workshops designed to answer all the big passage-making questions, with an emphasis on safety and self-sufficiency: What are the best methods for avoiding hurricanes? How do I splice a rope for an anchor snubber?

John Kretschmer supervises a life raft launch in a swimming pool
JK University’s Blue Water Passage Making Workshops are conducted three times a year in John’s hometown of Fort Lauderdale, Florida or in Solomons, Maryland. Both locations are close to water for easy access to ocean-going sailboats. Firsthand inspection of a well set-up vessel or two is one of the key components of “field trip Saturday,” along with the actual deployment of a Switlik life raft. Here is a typical workshop syllabus:

  • Introduction: Myths and realities about passage making
  • What makes a boat a blue water capable boat? Slideshow of 25 great boats
  • Outfitting: Necessary, nice, extravagant – 10 important items for a serious boat
  • Hands on – Rope
  • Inspecting boats: Caribe, a Beneteau First 456 performance cruiser and retrofit project, and Tioga, a brand-new Hylas 56
  • Hands on – The bullet-proof electrical system
  • Hands on – Standing rigging, discussion of rigging emergencies at sea
  • Passage planning, pilot charts, safety, weather, watch schedules, crew management, food preparation
  • Communications at sea: Satellite phones, wifi, SSB, VHF, AIS
  • Life raft launch
  • What’s new in cruising sails? A plan for optimizing “manageable” downwind performance; sail plans for storm sailing; how to spend money on cruising sails
  • Heavy weather: Dealing with storms, gales and squalls
  • Chart work and celestial navigation in the digital age: Thinking like a navigator

John Kretschmer discusses the merits of Tioga, a brand-new Hylas 56
Workshops run from early Thursday afternoon through late Sunday afternoon to help make scheduling as easy as booking a long weekend trip. The late start on Thursday and early finish on Sunday allow out-of-town attendees to arrive and depart without the expense of additional overnights.

To reserve your spot at the next JK University workshop, scheduled for February 7 to 10, 2013, please visit the John Krestschmer Sailing website at yayablues.com and click the Schedule link. In addition to a calendar of workshops, you’ll find all kinds of passage-making opportunities designed to help you build your confidence and broaden your experience.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Ute Petroglyphs

Pedestrian bridge over Gunnison River at Bridgeport
Scout and I, and sometimes Nan, have continued to hike the Grand Junction area's desert trails this summer despite the record-setting heat. My interest in petroglyphs has had us hiking new trails almost every weekend in search of ever more impressive examples of the primitive rock art.

Over Memorial Day weekend, Scout and I hiked in the Dominguez Canyon, starting from the Bridgeport end that is accessible from Highway 50, south of town about 20 miles. After crossing the Gunnison River on a beautifully designed steel pedestrian bridge, we passed through the river rafters' campsites and worked our way up into the canyon on a well-used trail. In addition to the petroglyphs I hoped to see, some people we met on the trail told me about an impressive waterfall we should be sure to see that was off the trail about five minutes before the petroglyph area.

Dominguez Canyon petroglyph mural
The petroglyphs were pecked into rock surfaces immediately adjacent to the trail, so there was no difficulty finding them. I noticed right away that the petroglyphs in these murals seemed much more recent than the ones I have seen around Moab and other places. The contrast between the art and the background was much more pronounced, and the images were more distinctly recognizable as humans, animals and symbolic designs. The biggest clue, though, was that several of the images depicted humans on horseback. Horses were introduced into the New World by Spanish explorers only 500 years ago, so these petroglyphs would have been created by the Native Americans who populated western Colorado in the years since then: the Utes.

Dominguez Canyon petroglyph mural of Ute hunters
The most dramatic of the murals showed several humans on horseback hunting an abstract-looking creature that I interpreted to be a bear based on the paw print associated with it. The lead hunter appears to be wearing an elaborate headdress and riding a larger horse. As is unfortunately the case with most petroglyphs, idiots have added graffiti to the mural in the form of initials and a crude, scratched-in version of a horse. True petroglyphs are pecked into the stone, not scratched.

On our way back down from the petroglyph area, Scout and I kept an eye on the stream that runs through the canyon to see if we could figure out where the waterfall would be. There was a point where the stream appeared to run into a wall of rock, so we left the trail to investigate. We found a spectacular waterfall where the stream took a sharp right turn at the rock wall and the water fell more than 50 feet to the gravel below. The stone surface beneath the stream, leading up to the falls, was well-worn, leaving shallow pools that Scout felt obliged to swim in and cool off.

Scout at the Dominguez Canyon waterfall
The following weekend was Nan's and my wedding anniversary, and we celebrated by hiking the Palisade Rim Trail, at the far eastern end of Palisade, east of Grand Junction off Interstate 70 and above the Colorado River. Even with an early morning start, it was a hot and buggy hike. There was a large crew of volunteers working to get the trail into shape for mountain biking, which is the trend in this area: Trails that have been used by hikers and horseback riders for years are discovered by mountain bikers, modified to accommodate their needs, and then overrun by them. I'm not anti-mountain biking, but there are riders out there who could stand to learn some trail etiquette. The main reason I don't ride myself is because I don't think it would be fair to Scout to have him try to keep up with me. So I hike with him instead, and he is happy.

Palisade Rim Trail petroglyphs (Note figure with bow!)
The petroglyphs we found on this hike were not so impressive. The murals were smaller, and there were fewer of them. The petroglyphs appeared to be of the same vintage as the Dominguez Canyon ones and depicted similar scenes, so we guessed that they were also created by the Utes who inhabited the area and perhaps used this remote mesa above the Colorado River as a hunting camp. The primary difference I noticed was that these petroglyphs were mostly of deer and elk, while the Dominguez Canyon ones were mostly of bears and bighorn sheep, leading me to think that the fauna in the two areas were at least somewhat different even though the areas were only 30 miles apart.

Palisade Rim Trail petroglyphs of deer or elk
On Independence Day, Scout and I returned to Dominguez Canyon, this time with Nan. I wanted to share the petroglyphs and the waterfall with her. It had been very hot since Scout and I had done the hike a few weeks earlier, and the stream in the canyon had dried up. The waterfall was not flowing, and there was only a single pool of water left. It was filled with tadpoles striving to become desert frogs if the pool did not evaporate first.

Desert bighorn sheep in Dominguez Canyon (Click for enlargement!)
Nan was having issues with her hips, so the dried-up waterfall was her turnaround point. Scout and I proceeded quickly up the trail from there to snap some photos of the petroglyphs to show Nan what she was missing. When we caught back up with her, she spotted some desert bighorn sheep in the fields on the other side of the canyon. There was a flock of about a dozen, grazing and keeping an eye on us. They were a thrill to see. I found out later that they had been recently reintroduced to the canyon, presumably after being hunted out of existence by the Utes many years before and leaving only their images on the stone walls to show they had once been there.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Tides and Currents

Mom, Dan and Nan with Whispering Jesse at Thunderbolt Marine on April 16, 2012
This blog post is one I have been thinking about since I returned from my trip to Savannah back in mid-April. I almost skipped writing it entirely because it will prove to be a little embarrassing, but this blog is supposed to be about sailing, and sailing necessarily involves a healthy dose of learning from mistakes. So here it is:

Near the end of the Savannah trip, on the Friday before the weekend when family would start returning home, I invited everyone out for a sail on Whispering Jesse. My mother stayed behind, but my father, my sister Jane, her husband Josh, their twin sons Max and Ben, and my sister Susan were all up for it. So Nan and I spent some early morning time at the marina that day getting the boat ready: taking off the sail cover, replacing a missing mainsheet shackle, spraying the luff track with SailKote lubricant, and listening to the weather on the VHF. It was looking dark and blustery out to the east in the open ocean, and I was concerned that there might be too much wind for comfort. I checked the wind instruments and they were showing about 15 knots out of the east, counter to the prevailing westerlies.

When six family members arrived at a little after 9:00, we welcomed them aboard and gave them a quick tour of the boat. I had checked the tide table and the current would be running lightly against us as we backed out of the slip. With the transmission in reverse, we cast off the dock lines, and moved slowly back against the current, assisted by the wind. I put the transmission into forward and made a smooth turn to starboard to put us out into Delegal Creek, heading down the estuary toward Ossabaw Sound. We followed the line of channel markers out toward open water and were surprised when the depth meter continued to register single digits of foot depth under the keel. Slack tide would not occur until 1:00 in the afternoon, so shallow water was to be expected, but we were more than a half-mile from shore. In addition to being shallow, Ossabaw Sound is also prone to shoaling, and we lightly bounced the keel over a few sandy ones as we headed out to sea.

The current was flowing opposite the wind, creating significant chop and whitecaps and making for a bumpy ride. I let my nephews, who are learning to sail dinghies at home in Seattle, take turns at the wheel, but they didn't seem too confident with steering a larger boat in choppy conditions and willingly relinquished control back to me. We continued to motor out through the waves, spraying the people sitting up at the bow who were looking for dolphins. When we reached a depth where it would have been safe to head directly into the wind and raise the mainsail, I decided against it. It was just a little too rough for inexperienced sailors and I didn't want to scare anyone. Instead, we turned around and headed in for calmer waters. We followed the southern shore of Skidaway Island for a ways, spotting several dolphins in the shallow waters, until everyone was ready to return to shore.

I phoned Jimmy, the dockmaster, as we passed the channel's entrance markers, and asked if he could meet us at the pier to receive a dock line. He said he would, and he was standing at the corner of the fuel dock as we approached. It is difficult to judge current from a moving boat, so it did not appear that it was running significantly faster than it had been when we departed almost two hours before, but it most definitely was. To steer the boat back into the slip, I would need to make a tight 180-degree turn to starboard against the current. As I began the turn, putting the boat's beam to the current, the force of the water started pushing the boat sideways, leaving no room to complete the turn. I cranked the transmission into reverse, to back up against the current and get the bow pointed at the slip, but the little folding, two-blade propeller was no match for the strong current. The boat crashed sideways into a barnacle-encrusted piling and my neighbor's bow anchor, and there we were pinned. We quickly moved fenders into position to keep the anchor and piling from grinding against the hull and cap rail and causing further damage. And then we tried to figure out what to do. Jimmy had climbed over the neighbor's boat to see how he could help and said that he didn't think we would be able to move the boat until slack tide, still a couple of hours away. He then assisted everyone but Nan, my father and me in getting off the boat by way of the neighbor's boat. One of my sisters had called my mother and she arrived to take the rest of the group back home.

We were resigned to waiting for slack tide until Joel and his wife Bonnie, who own a Cat Ketch they keep at a slip across from ours, came over to see how they could help. Joel is an old salt and according to Bonnie, he has extensive experience with boat rescues. He suggested floating a long anchor line down from the adjacent pier, tying it off at the bow and using it in conjunction with a stern line, to control the boat's rotation, to pull the boat across to an empty slip at the adjacent pier. It worked like a charm. We didn't even need to use the engine; it just took Joel and a marina employee to pull the boat over while I steered. My father, Nan and I secured the boat in the slip to await slack tide and thanked everyone for their help. Joel said he would be around later if we needed assistance with getting the boat back into her own slip, and we told him that after the morning's experience, we would appreciate all the help we could get.

After lunch, my father, Nan and I returned to the marina to find the water almost motionless. Joel was expecting us, and he suggested using the anchor line again but as a safety measure this time. He tied it to a stern cleat and played it out like a leash as I backed out of the slip, turned the stern to port, put the transmission into forward, and turned to starboard to slowly glide into the opposite slip. Jimmy was waiting to receive a dock line, and we soon had the boat secured in her home slip. We thanked Joel and Jimmy profusely and headed for home.

Nan and I decided we owed Joel a thank-you gift and went to find a liquor store for a good bottle of wine. When we returned to the marina, Joel and Bonnie were working on replacing the portlights on their boat. We gave them the wine and thanked them again for their help. We got to talking boats, and Bonnie said that people walking on the pier frequently stopped to admire Whispering Jesse, that she is such a pretty boat. She asked if she could see what the boat was like on the inside. We said sure and opened her up for a little tour. Bonnie commented about the roomy cabin and its abundant storage space as I showed them around and answered their questions.

Back on the pier, Joel and I assessed the damage to the boat's starboard beam. There were some deep gouges in the teak cap rail and in the fiberglass below from the flukes of my neighbor's anchor, and some significant scratching from the barnacles on the piling, but it was all merely cosmetic and could be made to look as good as new. All in all, we were lucky that it wasn't much worse. Joel said he knew a guy who specialized in boat carpentry who could take care of the cap rail and any other wood-related issues. I told him I would get his phone number when I returned to Savannah, which is now starting to look like next Thanksgiving weekend.

I talked with Jimmy the next day when we sought him out to give him a tip for his services. He said that he would have been fine with me just pulling the boat up to the fuel dock and leaving her there until slack tide before moving her into her slip. How I wish he had suggested that when I called him to take a dock line!

The moral of this story: Tides and currents are serious forces, especially in tight quarters where they make maneuvering extremely difficult. Check the tide tables, and try to time marina arrivals and departures to correspond with the slack tide periods between ebbs and flows. When in doubt, stay put if you're already secure, and look for temporary alternatives, like anchoring or tying up at an easier location, if you're trying to dock. Most importantly, don't be in a hurry. Take the time to evaluate the situation and make a common-sense plan. Someday, I hope to have enough time to take my own advice.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Hole in one!

Hole in one on #7 at Chipeta Golf Course on June 23, 2012
Yesterday was not an ideal day for golf. The afternoon temperature reached a withering 104 degrees. Few golfers were out on Chipeta Golf Course, but Nan and I were out there with our friends Kevin and Lesley, playing a 4-person scramble in the intense heat. The plan had been to play 18 holes and then go out for sushi, so the afternoon tee time had seemed like a good idea at the time. At least the best-ball scramble format and the gas-powered carts kept us moving quickly around the course.

We were playing pretty well up through the sixth hole, with a combined score of 1 under par to that point. I was the first to tee off on the seventh hole, a 174-yard par three with a pond right off the front of the tee. I have lost a few balls in that pond during past rounds, so I was playing a shag ball, a scuffed-up Titleist, but I pretty much play shag balls all the time since I lose so many. I had it teed down low and was playing a 4 iron. I took a well-balanced swing and made good contact. As I watched, the ball took a high trajectory with a slight draw that put it right on line for the hole. It bounced twice on the green and disappeared. I turned to Nan, Kevin and Lesley, sitting in the shade in the carts, and said, "I think it went in!" They had not been paying close attention and thought I was kidding, but they saw I was serious and hurried to take their tee shots so we could go see for sure.

I raced our cart down the path to the green, hopped out and rushed to the hole. Sure enough, there was my ball. A hole in one! I raised my arms in triumph and received high fives all around. We took some photos for posterity with my iPhone and then moved on to the eighth tee, now 3 under par. As Nan and I drove up the eighth fairway, she nudged me and said, "You're still smiling." I said, "I can't help it. I've been playing golf for 50 years and never thought I would get a hole in one. It feels pretty good."

Monday, June 11, 2012

Transit of Venus

Projected image of the transit of Venus on June 5, 2012, at 7:06 PM MDT
Like many like-minded folks, Nan and I figured out a way to view the transit of Venus last Tuesday. We knew from our experience with the annular eclipse last month that binoculars would work to safely project the sun's image. The problem, when we tried them for the eclipse, was to hold them steady enough. The little dot that would be the projected image of Venus would be really hard to see while holding the binoculars with one shaking hand and a sheet of white paper with the other shaking hand. And it would take a third shaking hand to adjust the focus.

I came up with the simplest solution I could think of: I rubber-banded the binoculars to my camera tripod. This left my hands free to adjust position and focus, and to get the best possible projected image. It wasn't much to look at, as you can see in the photo (click for a full-size view), taken at 7:06 PM MDT, about three hours into the seven-hour transit. But it was our last chance to see a transit of Venus in our lifetimes, so it was worth it.

Growing up in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, my friend Gene Hanson and I would spend summer evenings looking at the night sky through his Tasco 4.5-inch reflector telescope. Thanks to Gene, I have seen all of the planets, except for the recently demoted Pluto. If you know about astronomy, you know that this is not an easy achievement. Timing is everything. On the cold, clear morning of November 10, 1973, Gene and I woke up before dawn to lug his telescope down to Hoyt Park, where we would have a good view of the sun rising through a gap in the trees above the east-west oriented parkway. As the sun rose, we projected its image onto a small screen attached to the telescope, and there we saw a tiny spot, the elusive planet Mercury, near the end of its transit. For two geeky fifteen-year-olds, it was quite a thrill.

Gene has maintained his keen interest in astronomy through the years, getting bigger and bigger telescopes, and even arranging his life so he could live where the viewing is excellent north of Phoenix. His work with variable stars was recognized in 2002 when he was awarded the Leslie C. Peltier Award by the Astronomical League. For amateur astronomers, this is equivalent to being inducted into the hall of fame. Way to go, Gene!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Nan's Good Deed: A Happy Ending

There was an article in the Grand Junction Free Press on Friday, May 25, about the local police department's Homeless Outreach Team (HOT). According to the article, team members are building relationships with the homeless population to ensure that they receive the services that are available through local providers such as Catholic Outreach and the Salvation Army. Nan brought the article to my attention because the accompanying photo featured HOT team members sitting in the riverside camp of her adopted homeless person, Jerry. The photo must have been more than a year old because we have not seen Jerry around town in at least that long.

After the three-part series I wrote three years ago about Nan's relationship with Jerry ("Nan's good deed", "Nan's good deed, part 2" and "Nan's good deed, part 3"), I have been hesitant to write more because I didn't want to report that things were not going well in Jerry's life. First, we heard through an attorney who helped with Jerry's legal problems that he had come into a significant inheritance that would have permanently lifted him out of homelessness. All he needed to do to claim it was to show up in Florida, his home state, with proof of his identity, but he could not get it together to secure an ID card and make the trip. It was easier to remain a drunk in Grand Junction. Nan and I were disappointed, but it didn't change our feelings for Jerry.

What did change our feelings was the second thing that happened. Jerry had a terrible history with Animal Control over his dog Bear-Bear. She was a red-furred chow mix and Jerry's closest friend, and she was the reason why Nan approached Jerry in the first place, out of concern that the dog wasn't getting enough to eat. But Jerry was derelict in keeping Bear-Bear on a leash, and she would occasionally take a nip at people in defense of Jerry. These occurrences would land her in the dog pound, sometimes for extended periods while Jerry panhandled to pay the fines. Finally, Bear-Bear reached her last strike with Animal Control, and the court ordered her to be euthanized. It still makes my eyes water to think of this poor little mutt who never really had a chance, who was loved and looked after by a man who could barely look after himself, and who was condemned to die for doing what dogs do, defending her human companion.

When Jerry disappeared from the streets of Grand Junction shortly after, Nan and I had few misgivings. We had done what we could for him, and we wished him well wherever he was. So it was a pleasant surprise to see Jerry's face in the newspaper photo and to learn from the article that the HOT people had enrolled him in a rehab program called TLC in Phoenix, where he became a group leader and now manages a group home there. When the bus dropped him off in Phoenix, he had no other transportation and had to walk everywhere, so he requested that the HOT people ship his bike to him, which they did. It was the same bike that Nan and I had bought for Jerry more than three years ago.

Jerry, we're proud of how you have turned your life around. We hope you are happy and that you will someday find a puppy to love as much as you loved Bear-Bear.