Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Day 19: Pennsylvania to Massachusetts

I awoke at 4:45am and did my usual morning routine with a few added bonuses of the Jimmy Stewart Airport which include a morning shower and a television. Flipped it on and what did I get: Rocky I. All Rocky wanted to do was "go the distance." And go the distance he did against Apollo. And my morning plan was the same. Go the distance...to home.

But before I could go I ran out to the plane to check the surfaces. I set my handheld radio to wake me up on the frequency which gives the airport weather information. The temperature and dew point being -3 and -5 respectively in Celsius, I was afraid there may be some frost on the wings and sure enough there was. So I started scraping it off with a little plastic tool and made slow progress with the growing light to the east. Shortly thereafter, Boyd and Joanne arrived with big waves and smiles and Boyd soon came out in the golf cart with a ladder, deicing spray and a huge role of paper towels. Freddy was soon clear and ready to go.

First though, I had to see Boyd's plane. A Noker tail dragger with fabric covering for the wings. It was a very cool plane that Boyd had done much rebuilding to. There were few gauges and what ones there were, were very cool: needles that went counter clockwise, and an altimeter that only goes to four thousand feet with the needle in a fixed position - the back circle moves instead of the needle. A very cool plane.

Then I was off with many thanks to Boyd into the early morning sun. Departed from Jimmy Stewart airport and over the radio Boyd passed on some good advice: Remember, if you get to the big blue ocean, you've gone too far. It turned out to be the most peaceful flight of the whole journey. I had worked hard the night before so that I'd have next to nothing to do while flying except to keep my eyes outside. The Pennsylvania hills and ridges and valleys were extraordinary and there was a bit of haze in the air with the early morning sun made it a majestic morning of flying. Soon I will have the pictures to show it.


I continued on over New York, its Hudson River and into Plainville Connecticut where I landed, called home to say I was near and to report my ETA.

Soon I was off again flying the 45 minute leg back to Norwood Memorial Airport. I did not really want to be ending the trip, but time and high expense of aviation gas were saying it was time. On the way to Norwood I saw and avoided the restricted airspace around Gillette stadium, where endless cars were on their way to a Patriots football game. Soon I was in contact with Norwood Tower and they told me to fly in on a left downwind for runway 28. This would put me very close to tower which is exactly where the welcoming committee would be. Mom had a handheld radio with her so they could all hear me call in to the tower. And sure enough, as I came over the tower I looked down to see many wavers. I gave my best rock of the wings, continued the downwind leg which is parallel the runway, got to the numbers and started the descent from 1000 feet up: pulled out the throttle a bit, pulled out the lever for the carburetor heat, slowed the plane until we were under 100 mph, then added some flaps to increase the descent rate and slow the plane down further. Turned to the base leg and added the second 10 degree increment of flaps, and then turning final, I lined up with the runway added the last notch of flaps and landed Freddy nice and smoothly onto the runway. We were back safe and sound.

I made my way to the parking spot, and as I shut down the engine, the committee arrived. Mom, Dad, Lol, Tots (the owner of Freddy), Jock, Court, Collette and Perri! Fantastic. Before I could get out, there were many pictures taken and then a rug with airplanes sewed into it was laid down for me to step on to in lieu of a red carpet, they said. Hugs all around and a picture of everyone with the plane. So wonderful to have them all there.


Everyone took a look inside the plane, and then it was quickly unpacked and tied down in its familiar spot. Everyone soon had places to go, so I went over to the plane one last time (at least on this trip) and gave Sir Fred a well deserved thank you for taking me so far in such safety and in such style. It was hard to leave my partner tied down. It was like trying to tell a dog that you're going for a run without him. They don't really understand, but that makes them always ready. And so Fred will wait for a bit, with full tanks, for our next adventure. And with that Mom and I drove back to Sherborn.

The trip was 19 days total, 13 days of flying, 26 legs, close to 60 hours in the air, and over 5,000 miles flown. From the air I saw rivers, valleys, mountains, monuments, towers, lakes, reservoirs, windmills, farms, fires, cities, towns and dwellings among other things. I saw the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, New Jersey and Rhode Island. On the ground I met many fabulous people - friendly and welcoming - and realized there is a great community of pilots and airport folks around the country who take great pride in their planes and their airports, no matter how small, and most importantly, they do a wonderful job of looking out for each other. It was one of the most unexpected aspects of the trip and it started the very first night in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. And so many of the people away from airports were so great too. With many wonderful people did I share my meals with along the way. I think it was only that one night in southern Colorado, did I eat my dinner alone without any one to talk to. Hoping for years to fly like I did, and finally fly it I did.

Thanks to all of you for reading and for all of your interest. It really means a lot and it is wonderful to feel supported by so many friends and family. I can never feel lonely knowing how many of you there are out there. Potential lonely times cease to be lonely because I know people will read about them and be right there with me. I get much enjoyment from sharing my experiences with you. So thanks again, and enjoy the pictures that will soon be out there.
Sincerely,
Ben and Fred (N7202G)


Saturday, November 19, 2005

Day 18: Mississippi to Pennsylvania

And awake early I did. Spencer the security guard had to lock up at 5am so he got me up at 4:30. I had wanted an early morning so it worked out well. He had been in and out all through the night and I felt like I was on a ship running at night and it was time for my watch. So stuffed my sleeping bag, collected my flight back and backpack and headed out to the plane. I was very pleasantly surprised to find a high overcast cloud ceiling. It was clear and cold when I had gone to sleep before doing so I had noticed that there was a bit of frost building up on the Freddy's surfaces. Frost being very detrimental to smooth airflow, thus to lift, thus to my safety, I was happy to see the clouds had covered over - warming the air below them by not letting the earth's infrared radiation pass through. There were wet spots on the pavement where the water from the melted frost had dripped off Fred's wings. I was in luck.

I had my normal breakfast of a banana followed by grape-nuts, rehydrated dried milk and raisons in the usual position of standing under the starboard (right) wing, holding the door open. Breakfast completed, I got the cockpit in order, put the video camera back on it's tripod next to the my seat, put the still camera within easy reach, put my flight bag where the co-pilot seat was, and opened the side pocket to expose the items that I will have on my lap and others I need within easy reach: on my lap: the kneeboard which was switched to the right thigh, the cross-country navigation log, and the area's chart. Then within reach, the circular flight computer, the airport directory and pens and pencils. I preflighted the plane by headlight while just a touch of light was coming over the horizon. Ten minutes later, all the surfaces and connections checked, a bit of fuel drained from four spots was checked and put back into the tanks, and I was ready to go. I hopped up into my seat strapped in and started the engine. There was enough light to find a field to land in should I have to make a forced landing so I deemed ourselves ready to hit the skies. The runway was a little dark still so I turned on the taxi and runway lights by clicking the microphone switch 7 times. The white, blue, green and red lights come on like magic. Turned on all the lights in the cockpit, including the red one that lights up all the instruments and we taxied to the runway, ran-up the engine and took off into the morning twilight. Fantastic it was, my favorite lift off. There was still a bit of cloud cover, but there was a great red band stretching horizontally across the horizon.

Headed west first to see Alabama for the first time and then turned north to land in Sparta, Tennessee. Gas and go is the phrase, so I gassed and went. Over Kentucky and then was heading into West Virginia when I found myself over endless tall hills that had no flat areas around them. I could see the Appalachian mountains far to the east and I was over the foothills of those mountains. But a quick look around revealed no spots to land, should an engine decide to stop working and it would be as unforgiving a landing as one in the mountains. So I altered course to the north to get me back to the farm lands and into Ohio. I landed in Gallipolis, Ohio and then took off for the third leg of the day and eventually landed in Indiana, Pennsylvania at the Jimmy Stewart Airport. The Stewarts lived there and Jimmy evidently was quite a pilot as well as an actor.


I was extremely well taken care off by the airport folks there, Boyd and his wife Joanne. (They are now reading these emails - Hi Boyd) They gave me food, the pilot's lounge to sleep in, even a hat that had the airport's name on it. We chatted for a while, they left and I planned the last day of flying home.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Day 17: Texas to Mississippi

Hello folks,

The skies were clear, the wind was calm and it was time to head out of Houston. And so I did. But in doing so had the most memorable pre-take off experience of my flying career. There was much jet activity that morning, and once I had gotten a clearance to taxi to the runway and pulled out onto the taxiway, i was told to give way to - and follow - the NASA T-38 that was also going to runway. i was quite excited, yes, and quickly turned the video camera on. we were a team, me and Freddy and that T-38. I was going where it was going, at least while we were on the ground. When we got to the end of the taxiway, it was time to do our engine run-up checks. So check the engine I did, with an F-16 Falcon to my right, and the T-38 just past the F-16. Yeah, it was no big deal, Freddy, the Cessna 172 hanging out with an F-16 and a T-38...everybody just checkin' the engines...just us pilots and our planes...no big deal...a 172, a 16 and a 38...a skyhawk, a falcon and a talon. The T-38 departed and I followed though quite a bit slower, and as I taxied to the runway, I got a wave from the F-16 pilot. Though it may not have been his, I think it was perhaps one of my most memorable wave receivences. Just a wave it was, but it was like a non-verbal salute between pilots about to take their ships into the sky, pilot to pilot, the ship not mattering at that point.

So off I went to the south east first. Flew to the coastline over Galveston to touch the Gulf of Mexico and thereby complete a cross section of the US: from Canadian border in Montana to the Gulf of Mexico in Texas. Turning north, I flew into Ruston, Louisiana where I refueled and then took off again and landed a few hours later in Cleveland, Mississippi. On the approach to landing, there were these little white things that would go flying by the plane. Didn't know what they were until I landed and saw all the cotton fields. Took a run in the twilight and soon had wisps of cotton streaming behind me 10 feet long. Cotton, cotton everywhere. In the fields, on the road, caught on the street signs, on the runners, and on the ground. Later biked into town on the tube i had just patched (also had to patch a hole on the way back from the NASA space center) and when I asked a guy about finding the town and a place to eat, he gave me the info and after chatting for a few more minutes, he said not to worry about asking other folks, as he said, "You in the hospitality state!" I did not find the Mexican spot he recommended and instead found another Chinese buffet, where I controlled myself a little better and ate with two brothers - one a high school sophomore football player and the other a lawyer. They said everything is agriculture around there. If you weren't doing something in agriculture you were doing something that relates to it.

I biked back to the airport and there found a security guard about to close the small terminal that was open. When I asked him about it, he said there was no problem with me sleeping inside on the couch. As he was going to be there all night as security, he would just leave the door open for me. We got to chatting and later on his sister even brought me a container of tasty vegetable-beef soup. The hospitality state, indeed. Got things ready for the morning, as I was trying for an early departure, and to the sack I went...

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Day 16: Johnson Space Center

On the 17th of November, I made my pilgrimage to the Johnson Space Center. I pulled out a flat tire out of Freddy and in my frustration put it back and decided to see if there was a courtesy car available. I came in to the FBO and asked if I could use the car. The receptionist looked at me and said, "I'm sorry, who are you with?" To that I replied, "I flew in yesterday and I'm sleeping in Sleeping Room #3." To that she replied, "Oh YOU'RE the one who asked if you could sleep in your plane." I said yes, and the ice was broken. Try as she might though, she could not arrange a car for me. So she decided to take me herself.

I was dropped off with my bike at the visitor center having put a new tube in the tire and headed in for two IMAX space movies, many displays, the actual Apollo 17 command module, and a tram tour of the rocket garden, a vehicle mock-up facility and historic mission control where many of the Gemini and all of the Apollo mission controls took place. a splendid spot full of history. I did get to meet astronaut Ellen Baker who took me to the mock-up facility - not to the observation deck where the tram tour goes, but to the inside of the shuttle, space station and Soyuz spacecrafts. Splendid were the spacecrafts and it was great to talk to Ellen.


The highlight of the day was a total by chance meeting of flight director Gene Kranz. (Ed Harris was the actor who portrayed him in the movie Apollo 13.) Gene is one of my great role models and I was so honored to meet him. It was after the space center closed and he was giving a talk to the employees - Gene said I could stay for it, but the security guards would not let me. Oh well, it was great to meet him.

Back to Ellington, which seems like a space center in its own right, and had a light dinner of plane food. (The night before, I had given a nod to the Crazy Horse boys and eaten at a All You Can Eat Chinese Buffet and over did it a bit. Sat down with a college student from India who walked into the restaurant at the same time I did.) I checked weather for the next day and to bed I went in my cozy little sleeping room number three.

And I did not see Dex nor Karen that day as the visitor center is very separate from the actual goings on of real astronauts. Oh well. More to come later.
Ben

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Day 15: Fort Stockton to Houston, Texas

The boring part: woke up, weather brief, took off and 2.5 hours later landed at Austin Texas International Airport. Gas was a killer at over $5 per gallon. Got a lesser quote earlier but went to the wrong fuel place. (Thought there was only one) Refueled, lunch, took off after being cut in line by airliners, kind of exciting it was to take off in between them, then was told to fly at 2,000 feet for what seemed like a long time to keep me clear of other aircraft traffic. Then on to Ellington field, the old air force base. I was cleared through class B airspace and landed at Ellington, and taxied to a parking spot.

The exciting part: ELLINGTON. On the ramp, the first planes I saw upon landing were about 20 T-38s, all lined up in their sleek rows looking like the incredible flying machines they are. It wasn't long before a few of them were in the pattern doing touch and goes, without even letting the nose wheel touch the ground. Amazing. I got lots of video shot, and I quite enjoyed having a T-38 in the same video frame as Mr. Fred. Then an F-16 falcon took off, did the normal climb out and then like a rocket shot straight up until it was out of sight. Fricken amazing. For security reasons I can't go any closer to the planes but I’m happy to have seen one up close at Roswell. For tonight, they have given me a sleep room, as for security reasons, they cannot allow me to sleep in the plane. So I get a room all to myself, with sheets and a comforter. There is also internet, conference rooms over looking the airport, a huge lounge with a big TV and they've given me the keys to the blue van - courtesy car.

Tomorrow I head to the space center and might even meet up with a astronaut that is the sister in law of a client of my aunt who is a horse veterinarian. Her bio I’ll put below. BIG THANKS TO LOL! I might just decide to take up residence in sleeping room #3. Zion. That’s it for now. So glad I have made it. Ellen, the astronaut, who I talked to on the telephone today said the visitor center is not much, but I’m very excited to check it out. Shortly to head back to the plane, to clean it up and then out into town in the blue van! Space pictures and jet pictures everywhere. I love it. Adios for now!
Ben

http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/baker-e.html

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Day 14: Fort Stockton, Texas

Hello my friends,
A rest day in Fort Stockton as there were instruments conditions along my proposed route and I wanted no part of them combined with gusty winds up to 30 knots. So I stayed put and occupied myself by catching up on some sleep, another run around the golf course, watching some business jets fly in, and looked at a bunch of displays at the local airplane mechanic school which is in the next hanger over. So all in all a successful day, though I hope to make it to Houston tomorrow. I had initially hoped to make it to the southern Texas border but a quick look at the chart shows numerous restricted areas, military operating areas military air bases and defense zones. Not wanted to get shot down by doing something wrong, I’m electing to head direct for astronaut land.

Dinner in town tonight was at IHOP as today was their grand opening. Went with four of the airport guys. I’m not really sure who works here, who volunteers here or who just hangs out here, but they're a very friendly group and my dinner was paid for. Texas hospitality! Dinner last night was at a Mexican spot, Bienvenidos, and I had a wonderful dinner with a man from some part of eastern Texas that I sat down with. He was an engineer and we had a very nice conversation throughout our meal. I said good bye to the engineer, named Michael, and then was driven back to the airport by one of the airport guys, who dropped me off at the restaurant while he did some errands (Texas hospitality!) and then slept a much needed deep sleep on the pull-out couch!

Back to the couch I go now for hopefully another deep sleep. Hope everyone back home is braving the weather. They say it might drop below freezing down here for the first time this season. "To infinity ... and beyond! (the beyond)" - Buzz Lightyear / Pete Townsend
Ben

Monday, November 14, 2005

Day 13: Colorado to Texas

Awoke early to get an early start and finally got off the ground at 8:15. It was perhaps the chilliest morning at 25 degrees F. The flying was uneventful, though I did see Oklahoma for the first time and saw Texas for the first time.

But before I could land in Texas, there was New Mexico to see. Over the wind turbines that I like to take pictures of, towards the land of UFOs. Roswell, New Mexico, I was cleared to land straight in on runway 21. Land I did and realized that I was in somewhat of an airplane storage airport. Airplanes everywhere, just sitting there, some stripped of parts, some lying in wait of being sold and some just there to pass the time, and no longer will fly. As I taxied to my parking spot I noticed a sleek air force jet parked a few spots away. Yes, indeed, it was a T-38, the air force's trainer, but also NASA's plane they use for pilot proficiency. This one had the camo color scheme and was very cool up close. I cursed a good amount as I normally do when I am stimulated by the aviation and space worlds. Seeing my favorite plane was no exception.


But, alas, I had places to go and could not stare any longer. In to get plan the next leg and then call the 800 number for a weather briefing. However, before I could make much progress, I noticed too royal blue flight suits walking out the door. They were probably helicopter pilots or something. But a minute later, I took a look at the flight line. And there...parked near the air force t-38 was a gleaming white NASA T-38. My favorite airplane in my favorite service. I checked with the front desk. "Where those astronauts in the blue suits?" "Yes, they just took the courtesy car into town for lunch." You can imagine my excitement. But also my remorse. Had I been a bit quicker, I could have said, "excuse me, I just flew in myself and need to get some lunch in town. May I come with you?" I wanted to do bad things on account of my frustration of a missed opportunity. Lunch with the astronauts. Sharing flying stories. Them coming from Houston (where I’m headed) but me coming from BOSTON! Beat that.


So I would wait for their return and try to plan the next leg, though I couldn't really concentrate. In the mean time, a T-37 jet trainer of less sleekness was departing and I chatted with them. They asked the price of fuel saying, "What’s the price of fuel now? I don't really have an idea because we always just pay with the government card." My eyes narrowed in thoughts of that government card. Those lucky #@!$s. And while the astros were lunching without me, I did have a close look and took some pictures of their plane. And I ran off at the mouth.

Eventually they came out towards their plane and I jumped out of mine, making sure that I approached them not in the flight building but from my own aircraft as they were heading out to theirs, and introduced myself. Their first names: Karen and Dax. Dax's real name is Allen but his last name, which I couldn't quite get off his name tag, must have had dacks in it. I plan to look them up on NASA's website which has pictures and bios of all the astronauts. While Dax preflighted the plane, we talked and then when he was busy I talked with Karen who was already up in the back seat. She's been an astronaut since 2000, is a civilian, and has her own private pilot's license like me, and is very pretty. I told them I am hoping to be an astronaut, but I bet everyone tells them that. I eventually had to walk back to Fred as they started the two engines. Lots of swears as I watched them taxi away. and then more swears as I listened to them prepare to take off, talking to the tower as NASA 515, the number I don't know, but I’d love to have NASA as a part of my call sign. Well, "Cessna 7202Golf" will do for now.

They took off like they were on fire, and were a speck in the clouds before I knew it. Heading back to Houston. They have to keep up their flight time so they came over to Roswell, New Mexico, to have lunch. Race you back to Houston, I thought. They go at probably 700 miles per hour. I go about 110.

Before I could go, I did have to make a visit to the UFO museum. So I took the courtesy car, which happened to just have been driven by the astronauts. Yes, I operated the same vehicle as the astronauts. I be not too many people can say that. I took a quick tour, and then headed back to the airport, the aliens spacemen not being able to compare the live ones I had just met.

So into the air I went and back into Texas. I am now in Fort "John" Stockton. (I added the john) Very nice Texans came out to help fuel and tell me about the place. Good facilities, nice area, and lots of Mexican food. Went for a quick run on the golf course to get the kinks out, though I never really feel stiff when I get out of the plane. The mental stimulation must move blood to my muscles.

So that's the story, tomorrow I’m trying for an even earlier start, and make it to Texas' most southern tip and then to Houston to see the space center. Things still going very well. Nice to be in a new state. My best to all of you. Thanks for reading.
Ben and Fred

http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/nyberg-kl.html

wow

http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/poindexter.html

wow
I guess it was "Dex" not "Dax"

I’m be looking for them in Houston, so I can say, "Dex, what's happenin' my man!" and then, "well, hello doctor"

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Day 12: Colorado to Colorado

Greetings!
A windy night in Boulder was had. Though we were tied down, Freddy moved quite a bit and my quality of sleep was not stellar. But the following day, I met up with the band, and witnessed quite a show. the boulder crowd seemed to dig it as I did. I spent the night in a hotel room with Chad, Syb and mom and departed their company the next morning after a nice sleep in. I finally got into the air in the early afternoon and landed in Lamar, Colorado. It was agriculture flat lands, very different from boulder, and I had a nice twilight run down a dirt road towards a farm house. Jumped some barbed wire to get into the cow fields to really get a feel for the place. ran down the endless dirt road - they all seem to be endless around there and all seem to be going in the cardinal directions. The houses are in the middle of nowhere and it seems it would be challenging to have a community other than the people you live with. They probably manage it somehow.

Town and temperatures being a little outside my biking radius of comfort, I took the courtesy car, (this one also had the "check engine" light on, like the last one) and headed the five miles into town, stopping at BJ's Burgers and Beverages. a somewhat fast food place I sat down and picked up the phone that was in my booth, pressed the button under the phone which rang a buzzer in the kitchen, the placed my order. Quite cool, I thought. What was not so cool, apparently, was myself, when I tried to start some conversation with the two college aged couples at the next booth over. So uncool was I that the ones with their backs to me never even turned around to see who was talking to their table. Well, I had my mini map to keep me occupied through the two $1 bean burritos and tossed salad.

Back to the Haus, I almost wrote, and now I have, back to the Freddster, to bundle up as the temp was already near freezing. But before zipping up my bag I had a little project. Most airports have a rotating green and white light, like a light house for aviators, and seeing I, alone, was at the airport, and that there was no gate to the tower, I headed up for a nice view of the airport, lit wind sock and then the rotating light itself. Memories came back of being in the top of the light house on one of the Panamanian islands. Down the ladder I climbed, feet on the rungs, hands on the sides, just like climbing the rigging on a tall ship. To bed I went to sleep very well in the cold Colorado air.
adios
Ben

Friday, November 11, 2005

Day 10: Wyoming to Colorado


Finally up to today! I slept very well, and got up with the morning twilight. The weather in Colorado was forecasted to deteriorate with thunderstorms and showers so off I went, driving the ex-cop car courtesy car back to the airport and away we went. A sight seeing flight I had planned. First south into Nebraska and over some higher terrain which did make me keep an eye on the oil pressure and emergency landing spots among other things. But shortly out of my window, what did I see: THE CRAZY HORSE MONUMENT. It was very neat more so to finally see it after nine months on our own crazy horse. it is a work in progress - carving a huge crazy horse into the side of a mountain. many thoughts to the crew of crazy horse! Wish you were up there with me! onward I flew and towards my GPS waypoint labeled RUSH. Finally I could see Mt. Rushmore, though much smaller than crazy horse, very interesting and majestic to see huge faces cut into the rock. then farther east to South Dakota's badlands - a fascinating 100 mile stretch of, not knowing how to describe them, badlands. erosion leaving pillars and plateaus - very cool.

And then south into Nebraska, where I did my fastest lunch turn around of fueling, briefing, and fuel checking (postponing lunch for later) and I was ready to go again. Before I went, though, I had a nice chat with a old man who has been flying for 40 years, has some four thousand hours under his belt (compared to my 150 or so) and tries to do four touch and goes each day. Says it's like getting into a car. I beat him into the sky but I enjoyed hearing him call out his positions around the traffic pattern as I headed off to Colorado, boulder, Colorado - my old stopping grounds. Land I did without seeing any thunderstorms or rain. There was a bit of haze so I could not see too clearly, but the Front Range snow capped mountains were fantastic.

I must say it is a bit strange to be here after 2.5 years away from my three years spent in school here. I am now in the remodeled student center on new apple computers. I eagerly await the state radio show tomorrow night at the fox theater. it will be fun to see the band again and I hope to see some folks I have not seen in a few years.

So that is the story, I wish I had a satellite uplink so I could write each day, but that wasn’t quite in the budget. I’m still having a blast and plan on heading to the Texan-Mexican border and then to the Houston space center in a few days. That is all for now. Adios muchachos y muchachas.
Ben

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Day 9: Montana to Wyoming

I had planned to go as far west as I could get in Montana, but the briefer said gusty winds into the 40s all along the Front Range. So abort the west plan. To the south I go. but first to the north. to the US-Canadian border in hopes of getting all the way to the Texas coast and thus seeing a complete cross-section of the us from the air. Forty minutes north touched Canada airspace and then south I went and into Wyoming after a lunch in miles city, Montana.


I planned to go to Rapid City, South Dakota, via Wyoming’s devil's tower, but after seeing the devil's tower from the air, a magnificent piece of rock sticking straight up, I decided to land for further exploration.

Landed in the tiny town of Hulett, Wyoming, to increase the town population of only 400, self served myself and then got out the bike - the tower being only 7 miles to the south-west. An hour before darkness, I should have no problem. But it turned out to be a bit more considering it was a long dirt road into the town and then more than 10 miles on roads to get to the national monument, and then a few miles once inside the park boundaries. I did eventually made it, and also made up for missing some exercise. It was a beautiful sight up close lit by the half moon. It was a bit disconcerting to be more than 10 miles from the plane in the dark, in sometimes quite cold air, but it was fun. I ran around the tower trail and then biked back to the plane. I had not eaten much of a lunch and did not bring any snacks in my pack to the tower, so I was exhausted when I got back to the plane. It was a matter of not stopping pedaling. The Wyoming landscape was fascinating on the outbound bike, but on the way back, it was dark and all I could think about was bananas. It felt like I was doing the last sprints of a hockey practice only it went on for more than an hour.

Then it was time to hop in the courtesy car and drive to my new friend Dave’s house. He is a local bachelor, age 65, who invited me to stay at his house. I met him at the airport before I left on my tower bike ride as he was flying a remote control airplane. He was a very nice fellow with a beautiful house. He is a retired electrician and served five years in the navy as a submariner. You can imagine my fascination. I got to hear all about it. It was very nice to have a real house and bed to lie down in after my night time bike ride epic, and he seemed very happy to have some company.

Day 8: Dakota to Montana

Since I wasn't able to get my town experience of the night before on account of the wind and rain, I went the next morning to get some fruit. It was still a bit breezy but it had calmed down a good bit. The town itself was very old school western - very square buildings, wide streets, I expected to see cowboys come out of saloons. I got my fruit and then headed back. By this time the sky had become a bit more overcast, and I took off into still gusty winds with a ceiling not much more than 4,000 feet. The weather briefer had told me that the skies were clearer to the west, so I had hope that I wasn't going to have to fly low to the ground for the whole flight. And sure enough near the horizon, I could see patches of sunlit land. I flew on, towards them and gradually the cloud cover went from overcast to broken to scattered to few. Before I was under totally clear skies I found a large pocket between the clouds and headed up. It was fabulous, clouds all around in their brilliant white splendor, while we flew up through a gap camera in hand and smile on face. the land was getting a bit more hilly and I eventually landed in Montana just over the border.

Another quick lunch and I was off again landing the second uneventful leg just before sundown in Malta, Montana. I took a quick run in the dark and then biked into town. The only places to eat were a few steakhouses and one family restaurant bar. So I went into the restaurant was seated at table and then walked up to a man seated by himself and asked if I could join him. He hesitated for a second then said sure and after I was seated we proceeded to have a great conversation over our dinners. So good, I guess that he took my bill! It was not much at $4.95 for a salad and sandwich but it was very nice. he is an engineer from North Dakota, an avid fisherman, with two boys who love hockey and music. Needless to say his boys will soon have a state radio CD coming their way.

Back to the plane I went. Arranged my sleeping area, exercised to warm up, bundled myself up, then hit the sack.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Day 7: Wisconsin to North Dakota

8 November 2005

Back to Freddy, after a few days with the band. It was good to be back with the fellow. Took off around 8:30am and flew fast up north into Minnesota to see the land of 1000 lakes. And more than a thousand lakes I saw. Very cool it was. A quick lunch in Alexandria, Minnesota and then I continued on to try to make North Dakota! And make it I did, landing in Jamestown, which is just over the border. I had initially planned to go further but there was a bit of haze in the air, and I did not want to fly in haze after sunset. So land I did in Jamestown. I could reach no one on the radio when I inquired about fuel and a tie down for the evening. I could also see no planes nor people on the airport. I wondered if the airport was closed but seeing the runway lights on, I knew it had to be open.

I fueled up with the self service, the standard routine now, and then took a look around. There was one spot with ropes for a tie down which someone said I could use, when I finally knocked on a hangar door. But since landing, the wind had gone from three or four knots to twenty four or so. In my exploration I had found what looks like an abandoned hangar, that is except for the many pigeons who had taken up residence there, so I pulled Freddy around and slipped him in with barely a foot of clearance on either wing tip. But we were a bunch of cozy cookies in there. The front door stayed open but it was facing away from the wind. The wind eventually made it to gusts of 39 knots and hard rain poured down. Canceling my usual evening in town because of the wind and rain, I hung out with my man, Fred. We still rocked about due to the wind even inside the hangar, and it continued all through the night.

I had a slight crisis earlier when I thought I broke the video camera. I was taping the putting of Freddy into the hangar when a gust blew the tripod over, yes, I have a tripod. My main form of entertainment would not focus - the blow had crippled its internal electronics. Or so I thought. I gave thanks to those who take thanks when I put in the other battery and my problems were solved. The sacrifices we make for a good shot.

So I hung out with Fred and did some housekeeping: reviewed my notes, added some things to my checklists, watched a few planes go in and out and listened to North Dakota public radio. my in house dinner: hummus, black beans, wheat bread, raisons and some Triscuit crums. Deliciousa. 48 degrees inside the plane at bedtime. Many thanks to the pigeons who let me and Freddy be by ourselves. It would have been a nasty night out in the open.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Day 3: Ohio to Wisconsin

Hello gang. On day three, I awoke at 6am from a nice sleep on the couch. My goal for the day was to try to make it to Madison, Wisconsin to see my favorite band, state radio, which happened to also be heading there for a show that night. so got out of my sleeping bag, packed up my gear, went for a quick bike ride as the sun rose, then had a shower in the hangar, had my breakfast of a banana, grape nuts with raisons and dry milk left over from an outward bound course I taught, loaded and organized Freddy, preflighted the plane, got my weather briefing on the telephone, found the courses to steer against the winds aloft, and I was at last ready to go.

The older white haired men that surprisingly accumulate at almost every airport to talk about flying peered out the window as I taxied to the end of the runway, no doubt, to discuss my plane, perhaps me, and most definitely the quality of my take-off. The take-off came off smoothly at 8:59am. The morning flight was a good one and the GPS actually showed us making in the 90 mph range! Close to double what our slowest speed was the days before. So on we flew over the farmland that is very comforting to fly over. Always on the lookout for a field to land on in an emergency, there's suitable fields everywhere. The roads were also helpful in that they were not the windy roads of back east. They were the midwest roads pointing exactly north-south and east-west. And since I was headed almost exactly west, I just followed the road from 4,500 feet above it.


I was making such better time and managing my fuel better with the fuel tank switch that lets me draw fuel from either the left or right wing tank. I had always previously left it on both so I never had to think about it, but since the left tank draws a little more than the right, using the fuel switch is imperative to increasing range. The only drawback is that I have to remember that I have switched it to one tank (must be on "both" for all maneuvers, take offs and landings). So I must be aware of the fuel levels and the switch position. To remind myself that I’m not on both tanks, I put a glove on the dashboard. I have to say that I was a little concerned about having never used the switch before, though everything told me it should work fine, so I got to high altitude above the first airport I came across and then switched over to left tank from both. Everything worked as expected but I had been prepared for any unusual happenings. I also felt like I had crossed another line of becoming a real pilot not afraid or intimidated by any little switches.

So I flew on, making good time and worked out that I’d have enough fuel to go about 60 miles farther than initially planned. So I got out the green airport book and found the info for Greater Kankakee airport. Pronounced with a long a on the first syllable which is the stressed one. It took one of the air traffic controller (ATC) guys three times to figure out that that was the place I was talking about as I adjusted my destination. (I was saying a stressed second syllable - they need a pronunciation guide in the directory). I had to tell the controller because I was getting a service called "flight following." That means that the big control centers have me and my altitude on their radar screens and they alert me if any other planes come in my direction near my altitude. It’s like having a huge pair of eyes looking down me, giving me a hand in spotting other aircraft. so those worrying about us can be comforted by knowing I always have someone on the radio, who knows where we am, what altitude we're at, and where we're heading.

I followed the roads right to Kankakee airport, in Illinois - I flew right over Indiana - and made a straight in soft landing on runway 22 (facing 220 on the compass). This airport has no tower (class E) so as I came in I self announced my positions and intentions on the CTAF, (common traffic advisory frequency). I talked to the field guy on the radio and as I taxied to parking, he came out in the fuel truck to top Freddy off. He was a very nice fellow and called me "boss" which I liked.

Inside to pay for the fuel and plan the next leg in the board room. Got the distances, courses, and checkpoints off the chart and then was ready to call the weather briefers when the real boss told me that there was a flight service station (FSS) right across the way. So instead of calling I walked right in. Had to get buzzed through two doors for security reasons and then got a briefing from a briefer right in front of me. Rows of computers everywhere, it was like being in mission control. Very cool it was to finally see the places I call to get weather briefs. I asked if I could get my video camera but Lockheed Martin has recently taken over from the government in the operation of the FSS's so I was told that no cameras are allowed and that all the info is proprietary to Lockheed. Oh well. Back to the skies!

Had a lunch of bread, an apple, Triscuits and a tomato and we were off, self announcing that we were taking off on runway 22. When I was up about a few hundred feet, I noticed in the distance that it looked like a plane was preparing to land on the same runway but coming the other way. I turned off to the side just in case and it looked like he went around, either way he did not seem to be announcing his intentions. Safely up and away, I headed north-west towards Madison. it was an uneventful flight and I even filed a flight plan with the Kankakee FSS for practice. (With a flight plan, if the plan is not closed within half an hour of the proposed landing time, a search and rescue operation will begin. I put my other glove on the dashboard to remind me to close the plan. Usually I don't get the flight plans when I get flight following, but if I come across spots of the country where flight following is not available, flight plans will be a good option.)

Into Madison, Wisconsin I went, landing at a bigger class C airport with long runways and airliner capabilities, though it's not as busy as a class B airport like Boston’s. An hour later I see the new state radio sprinter van - huge and blue, right now affectionately known as "red" coming to pick me up. Chad, Chuck, Brian and Sybil came out on the ramp to check out Fred, Syb and Chad even sitting in the pilot seat with the headphones on practicing their pilot-speak. Into town we went and got ready for the show. It was a good one and I did some singing on the diner song and also did some good jumping with Chad and chuck on stage. also did a little Roger Daulty swinging of the arm as if I was swinging a microphone - a credit goes out to my cousins Maude and eve for their film on the who's Tommy broadway musical - a film I’ve watched a hundred times. Much fun it was.

The weather was foggy the following day both in Wisconsin and in Minneapolis, my destination, and the location of state radio's next gig, so into red I went leaving Freddy tied down in Madison. Into Minnesota for the first time I went for another SR show and to see our cousin Matty Cochran, who lives in Minneapolis. another good show, and another round of the diner song, as the encore, with even bigger jumps (including the scissor leg jump as well as the spread eagle leg jump - like the who's Pete Townsend) and double arm swings - I bet Roger Daultry never did that!

Today we're heading back to Madison, where they'll drop me off and continue to St. Louis. I’m anxious to get back into the skies and continue my expedition. it was great seeing Matty and it's been fun spending time with the band. I’ve been doing some good aviation reading during the down time and now have a pencil holder sewn into my dickies. One more brunch with Matty and we'll be off. Have to leave here before the cold winter sets in. (All the buildings are connected with above ground enclosed walkways over the streets so that folks don't have to venture into the freezing temps in the winter time.)

From here I’m not sure where I’m headed, but still heading west to the Dakotas or Montana, states I have never been too. We shall see what the weather brings. I’ll try to head out tomorrow morning and might meet the band in boulder, co on the 12th or so. That’s the scoop. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Day 2: Pennsylvania to Ohio

A cold night it was in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Got down to freezing and when I woke up at 6:30 to the line guy saying, “what time you wanna get up?” all I could see was fog – pea soup. I went for a run in the spare time waiting for it to burn off and finally leapt into the air past 10:00am – not quite the early start I was hoping for.


The flight was smooth up at 6,500 feet…but it was not fast. Fifty-five miles and hour at times. Slower going than a highway car! Descended to 4,500 feet. (When going west the flying altitudes are always even thousands plus 500 feet for traffic separation purposes.) At 4,500 the plane quickened a bit, sometimes going as fast as 80 mph but the ride was a bit bumpy – sometimes in the fun way.

The strong head winds would have made me run out of fuel before my planned destination so I had to land short at another airport. Got out my airport directory and found a suitable alternate and all of its pertinent info: runway lengths and directions, communications frequencies and field elevations and I was set to go for a straight in approach to landing.

The landing though was not so straight forward. The strong turbulence would carry down to the ground and manifested itself as a nasty crosswind and to make matters worse, the runway was sloped downhill for the first half! Not an ideal situation. So land I did, twice. The first time just a bounce, but for the second, a few seconds later, the wheels held their grip on the pavement. Not my best landing by a long shot but as they say, a good landing is one you can walk away from and a great landing is one in which you can use the aircraft again. Which I did!

The excellent part about the landing was that the slight jar encountered during touch number one somehow fixed the issue with the automatic direction finder (ADF) which points towards strategically placed ground beacons to aid in navigation. I’d been listening for the Morse identifier to sound in my earphones for the last hour to show we were getting the signal. No signal. I left it on so that I’d gear the code once we were in range. But once in range…no code. It was not until we touched down that, what’s that noise? Morse code! Happily the ADF was in back in business. Seems Freddy just had a successful visit with a chiropractor of sorts.

Onwards: fueled up Freddy with 100 low lead octane aviation gas and fueled myself with two pieces of wheat bread, raisons, Triscuts, an apple, a can of pineapple chunks and a few pieces of dried fruit for good measure.

Then the next leg to plan. Found a good one after a few no go’s because of landing fees or distances too long for the amount of sunlight left. 2:30pm it was. Found my spot. Class E airport ( no control tower and usually lower key.) Very close to its home town, shown in yellow on the flying charts.. Bucyrus, Ohio here I come. One hundred and twenty miles.

The highlights of the leg: leaving Youngstown (no offense to the Young’s), seeing a field that had GET LOST written into it and landing at Bucyrus just before the sun went down. Farms surrounding most of the airport. Landed, taxied to the pump, fueled and spayed (3.95/gal). Upon a discussion with Kevin the instructor/airport worker, I asked him if I could sleep in the plane. He said sure and then having already offered me the “courtesy car” (I declined in favor of my bike) I took me to hanger three where his buddy has a live in hangar and a couch for me to sleep on to say nothing of the bathroom and shower. Living it real tonight.

Biked into the farm land in the early twilight throwing my arms in the air and saying, "mon dieau", speaking French like my favorite cyclist character in the movie Breaking Away. A happy bike rider, exploring what I’d seen from the air – though the ride was almost abruptly ended when an un-athletic looking dog tore off his farm land onto the road to chase me. I gave a burst of the pedals as if to say "yeah nice try buddy" and figured he was toast. However, i looked back a few seconds later and not only I had not lost him but he was gaining on me at an alarming rate. A sustained firing was needed this time and thankfully Buddy reached his aerobic threshold before I did and quit the chance. Sadly, Buddy did not respond to my taunting whistles on the return trip.

Then into town I went to find a place to teat and to get the feel for the town. Went opposite the fast food joints and found a Greek family place on the edge of the main road through town. I sat at the front table and had a chicken Gyro - a wonderful chicken sandwich on a fat pita with lettuce and some special sauce. The owner and his worker came out the chatty, just as I had hoped and soon got the question, "you from around here?" The woman - born, raised and lived most of her life in Bucyrus. Now lives in the next town over. The man started the place eleven years ago after he left the local garden/automotive/etc hose plant as a senior manager who had no experience. They said the town used to be an industrial town but most of the industries have gone away now leaving a quiet place. In good sprits though they were and their food delicious.

Biked back to the hangar, stopping once to get some fabric to sew a pencil holder onto my pants. Planned the next leg of the flight and went to bed.

More to come,
Ben

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Day 1: Massachusetts to Pennsylvania


And so the flying adventure has begun. Initially conceived years ago, the expedition has finally taken off. Postponed for years because of this annoying thing called “college,” I finally thought I would get my chance. But then a chance came up to sail in the Mediterranean with outward bound. Flying mission scrubbed. Another chance the following year. Enter the crazy horse voyage…flying trip scrubbed again. Was I forever going to be stuck doing circles around the traffic pattern of my local airport?

But alas, a word I love using, on this day, after much planning, packing and dreaming, we have left. Yes, I use the possessive we to describe us: myself and my plane, just as Charles Lindbergh did when he crossed the Atlantic. Does this other have a name? Well, yes, officially his name is N7202G – G phonetically is GOLF, which naturally led itself to the name Freddy in honor of my favorite golfer, Fred Couples – also the favorite golfer of my friend Geoff Young and my brother in law Dan Cignarella, two fine golfers in their own right. Coincidence, I think not. I digress.
Mom and dad drove me to the airport this morning after loading the car and doing my customary trampoline front flip and swish on the basketball net (if the ball hits you after the swish you have to do it over.) A wonderful tour of Norwood’s airport’s control tower followed the drive and I was then ready to load the plane now that I’d seen the face of the voice I’ve heard for many years over the radio.

The plane was loaded, I said goodbye to ma and pa, the flight was planned with the latest weather info, specifically the winds aloft, and then the cockpit was organized: GPS plugging in and programmed, checklist under right thigh, kneeboard strapped onto the left thigh, chart, aircraft manual, airport directory and circular slide rule in pocket by left leg, voice recorder wires plugged in and navigation planning sheet within easy reach. It was time to “light this candle” as Alan Shepard said before he became the first American in space. And so I went through the steps:


Breaks: hold
Fuel: on both tanks
Fuel/air mixture: full rich
Carburetor heat: off
Circuit breakers: in
Primer: primed and locked
Throttle: set
Master and alternator switches: on
Flashing beacon: on


I then called “CLEAR” out the window, turned the key and lit the candle. Got my taxi clearance from the controller then proceeded to go all of two feet forward to the edge of the taxiway which the main wheels would not roll over from their parking location on grass abutment. Canceled my taxi clearance and shut down the engine.

Switches: off
Mixture: lean
Ignition: off
Master and alternator switches: off

Got out, waved down the fuel guy and together I pulled and he pushed Freddy’s main wheels onto the taxiway. Take 2. Light candle, candle lit. Taxi clearance obtained, taxied to runway 35 (which points to 350 on the compass) did my run-up engine check, then saying goodbye to my nervous-antsy feeling as we gathered speed down the runway, the nose wheel lifted off and Freddy decided it was at last time to get the show on the road.

Climbed at full power circling to the right to fly over the airport, heading at last: WEST! The clouds looked near scattered as they were, to my cruising altitude of 4,500 feet but as I nudged upwards finally out of Boston’s airspace, I stayed just below them.

And so it went. Beneath the scattered clouds, above the trees, the lakes, the houses, the people oblivious to our passage thousands of feet above them. From one checkpoint to another I went until landing at Sullivan county airport, New York. Fantastic runway – long, wide and no other airplane traffic.


Took a much needed bathroom break, called home as I do after each leg, fueled up ($80 worth of fuel at 4.25 a gallon. ) then planned the next leg, and away we went! Over hills, over a row of large wind mills churning away on a ridge line. Absolutely beautiful. Video taped the sun setting in the direction I was flying then my approach and landing between the hills into a Pennsylvanian valley. Beautiful.

Got fuel, got dinner in town at a Chinese restaurant and am now here in the back of Freddy ready to bed down for the evening. I told the fuel guys that I was supposed to meet a friend. Eventually I asked if I could sleep in the plane saying I wasn’t able to contact my friend and that I didn’t want to pay for a hotel. They laughed, bewildered. No one had ever asked them that before, he said. He called his manager. There were no policies against it because no one does it. I got the go ahead from the friendly guys.

I have taken out the three other seats to the plane, making it now a single-seater. In the back I now have my sleeping bag, a bivi sack, my sister's bike, a back pack of clothes, another pack of miscellaneous things - tools and such, a bag of operational flying equipment, manuals, charts, airport directories and navigation planning sheets, a few quarts of oil, and a bag of food. Bike is now outside, and all my other gear is organized on the starboard side, while I sleep on the port side, feet under the copilot controls and head in the back looking up through the rear window. Just like winter camping tonight.

So wonderful to be exploring again. Biking through town made me feel like I was back on the crazy horse adventure. New ports are so interesting, so fascinating. A new part of the world. My days are once again invigorating, pages in the journal written now instead of only a sentence or two for a day. It is wonderful and now I must do my exercises and stretches and call it a day, a wonderful day.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

HOME AGAIN, SAFE AND SOUND

ladies and gentlemen, the concluding voyages:

Before we left charleston, there was the maritime/naval museum to check out. the others went off to walk around town but i sought out the WWII era submarine, aircraft carrier, destroyer, and coast guard cutter. walked around for hours of intense enjoyment. the submarine was my favorite part. felt like i was walking through a space ship. i don't want to be in the military but i'm fascinated by the technology, the similarities to space, and the organization and efficiency of the military structure. mainly, though, i like seeing the different environments that people live in.

The other highlight of charleston was playing baseball. we bought a bat and some balls and had some mitts on board, so we went to a park and for hours we hit fly ball after fly ball, "way back...way back". it was great exercise and we were all sore the next day from long throws and many hits.

Then we departed Charleston at 6pm, sailed into the night towards beaufort, north carolina, where we arrived two nights and many threatening thunderstorms later. From beaufort, we made our way into the intracoastal waterway, motoring for two days and one night to norfolk, virginia. the motoring got tiring on the ears, but we made progress, and went through the night, to make one less day of it.

In norfolk, we stayed just long enough to get some groceries, some fuel and a good night's sleep, then off again, this time for our home port! The highlight of this passage was at 2am, rob woke us up to say that there were dolphins on the bow lit up by phospherecense. i was tired and having once before seen this sight a few years before, i hesitated but then realized i had to pee, so i ventured up on deck to kill two birds with one stone. what i found were missle like contrails streaking through the water as if we were being attacked by some unseen force. we could see the entire outlines of the dolphins as they rode our bow wave in such sparkling clarity. and when they would dive, the light would become a dull glow that would increase in brilliance as the dolphin came back to the surface. we were giddy with delight and could not bare to leave the scene. more than five of them, there were, sometimes in formation like a pack of jet aircraft, then breaking formation, they would go every which way only to regroup by the bow. fascinating. another highlight for the others was shooting ted's new $35 bb gun rifle at full coors light cans that we have had stowed onboard for nine months - they were given to us and none of us really drink beer that much. they were much more valued for their spray after being poled out away from the boat and used as targets. great satisfaction for hitting your target.

we had a good bit of fug once we got into massachusetts waters, and thanks to the radar, and our trumpet which doubles as a fog horn, we stayed clear of buoys and other boats. finally made it through the cape cod canal, below hords of cars gonig to and from the cape. into cape cod bay we went, and were finally able to hoist the sails one more time. a few hours and we were into duxbury bay where a boat with all of our families waving and smiling. a few moments later and we were on the dock having gone nearly 7,000 nautical miles enroute to panama and back. many hugs, hand shakes and congratulations from the fams. throughout the last days on the haus, we've all had a bit of time to think about the fact that this whole thing is really coming to a close. it's been over a year long project with so many unknowns, and now our voyage has come a complete circle. it all seems like it went by so quickly. nine months was a great length for the voyage and while it seems very strange to be home, we are all looking forward to new adventures. these new adventures span a wide spectrum for each of us, but between us they include perhaps a dog, a girlfriend, moving in with a girlfriend, moving back to montana, moving back to oregon, moving to portland, maine, high school teaching, weed mapping, contruction, more sailing... many unknowns, but i know i'm excited about mine. for the upcoming winter i've applied for a job in antarctica as a field instructor. it's a long shot, but i've wanted to go there for many years and this would be my dream job that i've been waiting to apply to for years.

so now i'm home, returning to the haus for the next week or so to clear it out, clean it out and get it ready for winter, and for sale. if any of you or folks you know are interested in a crazy horse adventure of your own, let me know.

though i usually have no trouble adjusting to being home, when i think of being on the haus, it's strange to think that my patern of living has just been wildly broken. no longer will i have to go outside to go to the bathroom, spit my toothpaste out, or wash the dishes. no longer will i have to set my bed up every time i go to sleep, nor roll it all up when i wake up. no longer will i live in a 35 by 9 foot house (including deck) with three other guys for days on end. no longer will i live by the compass, and the winds, no longer will i have to check the weather forecasts each day, no longer will i have to use a hand pump to get my drinking water. it is all very different, but living in different conditions and in a different style is one of my favorite aspects of living on a sailboat, or a spacecraft for that matter. just like a submarine. there are more comforts here, and i'm enjoying them, but i'm planning to get out and about as soon as possible. i cannot stand for long living without the compass, the weather, and the sun, moon and stars. i hope to be indoors just long enough to get cleaned up, debriefed, and prepared for the next chapter. already, i get antsy. thought the time had come to get a cell phone, so i went to the verizon store, waited an hour, had my phone and plan all picked up, waited for an hour while this one guy started raising his voice, workers had to tell him to calm down, and not yell. others were pacing the room, waiting to be helped, but there were not enough workers, patience of the masses were wearing as thin and mine was too for my frustration and disgrace of our unhappy and impatient human race. thankfully i began talking with an italian man, and we shared bits of our stories. so seconds before it was my turn, i decided, i wanted no part of this maddness and bitterness so i walked out. so maybe i'll get one next week, but it was too much to go from the simplicity of the haus to the anger and stress that was the verizon store.

well, it has been very enjoyable for me to write for an audience for the first time and i hope you've enjoyed our stories. thanks very much for reading and for your notes in return. though there are many different directions which we will be going in a few short weeks, we are hoping to have some sort of party for everyone so we can show pictures, a video and maybe a story or two - maybe even some reenactments. would probably be in the first half of august if it happens. no telling though. will email if we are able to pull it together. otherwise, thanks again, crazy horse kept us safe because she knew how many people we thinking of her and her crew.

adios muchachos.

Friday, July 01, 2005

KEY WEST, FLORIDA, USA

hi gang,

we made it into the darkness of key west, florida last night at 11pm. nice to have so many lighted buoys and other navaids to follow and nice to again have good, acurate charts of where we're sailing - especially ones that were taken from data collected in the 1900s. the passage was four days, three nights, about 80 hours. it took lots of motoring as the forecasted SE 10-15 often arrived as E 5. so it goes. our attempt to find the gulfstream was somewhat unsuccessful, but we made it here safe and sound and are now planning on going north as fast as possible, which is as fast as the weather allows. strange to be back in the states, but it's nice to be in our home country. adios and thanks to all who replied to my last emails.

ben

Monday, June 27, 2005

Mexico

hello all,

part two that i wrote yesterday got erased so i´ll try again.

xcalak was nice, very quiet, not many people, fun tag with the local kids, they seemed to be quite delighted to be chased by me, having joined in a game with three brothers aged 7 to 10, while waiting for the others to get off the bus. each morning a tropical wave would come through, which is a little less than a tropical disturbance. it would bring wind up to 35 knots, horizontal rain and nearby thunderstorms. the second morning, the anchor broke loss, which i was expecting due to the poor holding ground, so i enacted my plan and was on deck with the engine going barely able to see due to all the rain. finally managed to get the anchor up while turning back and forth through the wind to allow me to pull in 10 feet of anchor line at a time without the bow of the boat falling off which would head us towards shoals. very exciting, the engine did well, and i was happy to have managed the situation alone. lots of adrenaline going.

otherwise, i did a lot of reading, thinking and writing. contemplated living on a boat a lot, and i love producing my own energy, and being conscious of what energy i´m using, always aware of the weather, always aware of the other cruisers around me (the cruisers at xcalak monitor the vhf radio and have a common channel to chat on), love having a floating home that´s made for travelling and exploring.

the guys finally made it in on the bus, and we left soon after towards the tip of the yucatan. the passage was fine with good winds (15 knots) from the SE, close hauled all the way. happily made it to isla mujeres at 5am after two two overnights. explored town, got some resupplies and then later went to cancoon (10 minutes away by ferry) (SPRING BREAK `05 BABY!) not really but we wanted to go because we´ve heard so many people go there for spring breaks and such. wasn´t too spectacular and i don´t recommend it to anyone unless they really want the mtv grind life. happy to return to the boat, i was. now we´re in the process of checking out of the country and this afternoon we will head for FLORIDA!

yes, we´re coming back to the country, despite the fact that we´d hoped that by the time we got back , G.W. would no longer be in office. we are looking forward to returning, though will still have 1500 nautical miles to make to the north before we´re home. but it´ll be nice to be in phone range with friends and family, it will be nice to not have to bleach the water we get from marinas, and it´ll be nice to be heading home. we have had a wonderful international experience and we have all spent much time thinking about our future years, and now the time is drawing near to put those plans into action. we have 400 miles to go to key west, maybe our longest passage yet. the winds are supposed to be E SE and then S SE all about 10 to 15 knots so we should have pleasant sailing and hopefully little motoring, always my hope. strange to think of being in the states before the weekend is out. hope you are all well.

ben

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Guatemala-Belize

Hello gang,

The outward bound course went very well, though because the forecast for the first week of the course was calling for 45 knots of wind with gusts up to 50, including rain and visibilities less than one nautical mile, we took the cadets backpacking in the rain on the appalachian trail. much fun it was, everyone got through in good spirits, and we eventually did get to go on the pulling boats, where we did some rowing, some sailing, and some sailing in the fog. all the essential parts of an outward bound course. i stressed attitudes from the beginning, as i knew the weather was going to make things challengine, and the cadets did a wonderful job and hopefully learned a lot.

From Maine, it was back home to Sherborn for a few days of rest and volleyball before returning to Guatemala with brother Will. So nice to have company, and on our seven hour bus ride back to Rio Dulce, we made wonderful friends with a 7 year old girl and her mom, both named Lidia. At first will and i just played hide and seek games. bit by bit she grew more comfortable with us and realized we were worthy of talking to. by the end of the trip we were best friends, especially will and her, as i had taken a nap for a few hours. we took lots of pictures kept each other laughing for the entire ride. way better entertainment than any movie would have been. little lidia even asked us for our phone number, which we gave her, and while in belize, we heard that a spanish girl had called our home looking for guellermo (aka willy).

we made our way back to the haus, dissapointed to not have the lidias with us, found rob, and our dingy which then had one side that needed to be reinflated by mouth every two hours or it was unrideable. (our foot pump was recently rendered inoperable, losing the spring first, then operating the bellows by hand, then decreeing it was hopeless.) this necessitated taking off the little 3.5 horse power engine each night for fear that during the night it would end up submerged. the troublesome starboard tube now has two patches on it, one patching the second patch, and has significantly slowed the leak. yet in our last passage, the wooden floor fell out, due to the deflation of the starboard tube, and during the night, slipped quitely into the sea. always an adventure.

rob then relayed a frightening story about the haus while we were all away. apparently rob came back from el salvador late one night and motoring out in the dingy, could not find the haus. all around the harbor to no avail he went, soon growing to tired to deal, got a room and slept till morning. in the morning he could still not find it, and fearing the worst, asked around aroub the "barco gris" or the grey boat until someone said they saw it out in the river. rob later found our floating home in the middle of the river where it was anchored with our back up danforth anchor that we keep on deck. as the story goes, someone cut our anchor line to get our 35 pound cqr anchor (worth about $500) and let our ship go. luckily for all of us, someone saw the haus floating away towards destruction, jumped on her and threw in the back up anchor with what was left of our anchor line. a million thanks to that maksed man, whoever you are!!! certain disaster narrowly averted. much karma there is in that act.

out of the rio dulce and guatemala we went, rob, will and i towards the coast of belize only a day sail away. after clearing into the country we headed north towards the outer reef and islands where we happily made our way north each day. some beautiful clear blue water, some okay snorkling, and some amazing dolphin groups riding our bow wave in water so clear it looked as if they were flying. we also went whale shark hunting as we crossed over the outer reefs. during our diving adventures in utila, honduras we had been able to snorkle with one of these massive fish thanks to our dive boat captain. (whale sharks are the talk of the town in utila - your not worthy unless you´ve snorkled with one.) in belize we wanted to see another, without other dive boats around and without 30 other crazed snorklers all trying to become worthy. so we did what the dive boat captain did and went towards the jumping fish, and jumped in the water with our snorkling gear. the first time we saw nothing, the second time i took the helm, rob and will jumped in to the school with fish everywhere - above, to the side, and below - but saw no whale shark. i had drifted away and was preparing to set sail to pick them up, when i heard, "BENNY, GET OVER HERE, QUICK!" apparently it was not a whale shark that rob had seen eyeing him, but a reef shark. i went as fast as i could to the two nervous snorklers and pulled them in, and we safely continued on our way, deciding it was perhaps better to not jump into the feeding frenzy unless a whale shark was actually sighted from the safety of the boat first.

made it to belize city to pick up yet another brother, brother chad! he was not planning on coming to visit due to a hectic schedule as always, but leaving will and me at the airport to return to guatemala, as he drove away he decided he had to come. so the brothers were together with robby. the temperatures were hot, especially below decks which when we were sailing was the only refuge from the sun. working up to 100 degrees during the day and a cool 86 during the night. needless to say, we were hot, but swimming lots, and had some great water volleyball after we made it to caye caulker north of the city. rob then flew home for a wedding, so it was just us boys on board (needless to say we missed sister far and wished we had coordinated it better so the four of us could have been on the haus together). did some snorkling, tried to pick up some belize ladies for will, sailed in the big ocean blue, and then it was too soon time for them to go home. it was not easy to say goodbye, but it gave me an opportunity that i had thought and read much about: solo sailing.

i had about a week until the three other guys came back from the wedding, so i wanted to make some progress north, at least getting to mexico. so i said goodbye to the bros, ran around doing all the clear out logistical manuevers, changed the engine oil, and left the city at around 5:30pm sailed until an hour past dark, anchored in the lee of a mangrove island, checked the engine oil, got the boat totally clean and organized for a solo sail, plugged all the gps waypoints in, so i would have a navigator, and tried to sleep for a few hours. i was tired, had been running around all day but was too amped up to sleep so i rubbed my temples and leaned my head over the bed in an effort to get blood back to my brain. at 11pm i got up pulled up the anchor and proceeded to beat my way out of the channel to the open sea. it was only blowing about 10 knots so it was easy to manage the haus as we taked back and forth out of the channel eventually turning to the north and towards mexico. the night passed quickly with thunderstorms far off to the north and south and dawn came after a furious battle with mosquitos and other tiny little devils. worst bugs of the trip, even at five miles off shore. the day proceeded smoothly and i made it into xcalak (pronounced ish-kalak), mexico around 2pm. (the wind vane had steered much of the way) i was tired, had taken little five minute naps along the way, and was very happy to be at the anchorage. it was a great experience to have total control of the haus, making all the decisions, and it was nice to be able to maintain a clean boat. it is not often that one of us can know where everything is, especially when underway, but i had a clean boat when i departed and i had a relatively clean boat upon arrival. a great experience, but i have no desire to be on a long cruise by myself. i kept thinking that the others were down below or just about to relieve me of watch, but then i would realize it was just me. powerful at times but also it could be lonesome. overall a great experience to sail alone and it is one that will surely stand out in the sailings we´ve done.

that´s part one for now, more to follow.

thanks ben

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Guatemala

P.S. i assume it's supposed to be something other than p.s. but i'm writing this part last, and didn't know what else to call it. this is a long one. breaking it up to make it easier to read...maybe. feel free to read at multiple sittings, or do anything you want to - like read a sentence each morning with your coffee or breakfast, or just as you wake up, for those who don't drink coffee or have breakfast immediatly after getting up.

entering guatemala - we now go back in time to half an hour or so when i began typing, and then back in time again to a few weeks ago when we really entered guatemala for real: hello, it's me again, A. (for ease of reading organization) it's time for the guatemala stories for all those readers who actually read. never know if people read or open, see how long it is, then close it. hope the length of some of these emails don't discourage anyone. we'll see how this one goes.

sailed, yes, happily sailed, without the motor we call RonDog, from honduras to the livingston, guatemala, the entry into the rio dulce. the sea breeze happily filled in right after we got underway so we made good time and made it to the livingston sand bar with plenty of light to spare but not much in the way of tide. the charts and books told us the depth was six feet - we draw about six feet. needless to say we were paying attention when we entered the strip, but we were confident we could get through, with the waves that were following us in. and sure enough, we felt the sandy bottom a number of times but never came to a standstill. i was up on the bow, looking uselessly into the muddy water to try to guide rob or ted at the helm. the boat would slow or move in a way it didn't usually move when it had water below its keel, but then we'd be off again as the waves pushed us further from behind. and in this fashion, we made it to the comfortable depths of the livingston anchorage, where we checked in with the authorities and had some dinner. good to have some land food again, as the state of food affairs on the haus have reached an all time low. generally we never cook, maybe have cereal for breakfast, maybe nothing. nothing is really appatising, especially when there is land food nearby. when we do have to do a few days worth of sailing, our food consists of ramen noodles, some candy bars for the boys, some fruit for me, and that's about it. our last effort at shopping for food to stock the boat ended in our exiting the store with the following crew holding the following items: me: nothing; rob: gatorade and brownie mix; chris: gatorade and cake mix; ted: gatorade and cake mix. the cake mix phenomenon was born in april when two of us had birthdays. ted's girlfriend had sent him the mix, and not having an oven to bake the cake in, we just added water, and ate it by the spoon. quite tasty and quite cake like even in liquid form and without what some might call necessary added ingredients. (other birthday adventures were stirred up when the three others, upon meeting some nice colombian ladies, who were very talkative, invited them back to the boat for my birthday party. i was not present for the act of inviting the ladies, and only later, on their walk back to the boat, did they start to correctly realize that these nice ladies were not the kind of ladies we wanted to hang out with, and i certainly did not want them there for my birthday, nor was a party really planned. so one of the guys nicely turned them away when they arrived, amongst some friendly big smiles from marina security guard, who then confirmed the girls were the type of girls we thought they were.)
B. anyways, after waking up in our first morning in guatemala, we headed up the river and through the canyons - cliffs on both side. strange to be on our boat, might have felt more realistic in a kayak or something. arrived in fronterra after about six hours - we were able so sail a good bit of the way through intermediate lakes and wider parts of the river, with the wind always at our backs funneling up the river. fronterra is a small town, not many travellers there but it's a place where many boats are holed up for the summer hurricane season. that first afternoon there i took a bus for a little solo excursion to the ruins of tikal, which were fantastic. spent two days in the park and for less than what it would cost to rent a hammok and get the sunrise tour of the park, i slipped the two night guards a few bills and they let me sleep on top of highest temple in the park, temple VI, an excellent place to view the sunset and the next morning's sunrise. i had thought about trying to sleep on temple IV, but had not expected to, but as i was heading up to see the sunset, i saw two guards with big guns - this prompting me to decide i was definately not going to sleep on temple iv, but then i figured i'd just go right to the source. they were pleasant fellows, happy to talk, and at first they said that sleeping there wasn't possible, but then all of a sudden, they said it'd be okay. so as the park closed right after sunset, i raced back to the park entry to gather all my belongings, cancel my hammok reservation and early morning tour, and raced back up to the temple. i hadn't had that much exercise in months and it felt great. made it up to the temple just before sunset, which was excellent, and as soon as the guard, friendly rafiel, began escorting everyone down to the ladder, he motioned me to go around the other way. they all left, and i was just me on the top, temples one and two poking out of the jungle to the east, among a few others, and venus and a tiny cresent moon to the west. stayed on the west side for a while, shielded from the light wind, writing in my journal, waiting for the moon to set, and contemplating things worthy of contemplation, feeling like i was having my own outward bound solo.

the night was a bit chilly, having no pad for the rock, and no blanket, just a rain jacket, and having not had enough time to have any dinner, but it was mostly clear and the view made it worth the frequent wake ups. wouldn't be right to sleep soundly through the night in such a unique place. sunrise was cloudy but i stayed there for a while after the crowds had come and gone. (i had ducked around back as the guided sunrise groups came up and then reappeared as if i was on some other sunrise tour - as rafiel had instructed.) after a morning in the park, i headed back to fronterra to see the boys, and to meet sister farley who was coming for a visit. hi far. took a long bus to guatemala city to meet her, and then a bus ride back to the boat, to relax and explore the surrounding fronterra area for a few days, while it was just the two of us on the boat. ted and rob had gone to antigua, chris had gone home for a visit. then to antigua for a few more days and nights, where we hung out with ted and his visiting girlfriend, and also climbed volcan pacaya, which is active and spewed molten rock from it's summit cone only 50 meters away from where we stood at the top of our hike. quite spectacular. great to get into the air and see the clouds and sun and earth from somewhere other than sea level. felt i was in the middle of the atmosphere, rather than on its edge. it took only a few hours to get to the top with guided rests "descansados" every 15 minutes. coming down from the summit was like skiing in loose volcanic rock. quite fun, though only travelling in sandles, i endured some uncomfortable sharp things between my sandles and the soles of my feet. (we had planned to have gone to the volcano the day before but a communication mix up had us at the drop off spot at the pick up time. the guide with whom we had the mix up with just said, "Dios sabe" or God knows. and with that, all frustrations aside concerning everything, because, well, Dios sabe.
C. before leaving antigua, far and i walked the 300 or so steps up to the cerro de la cruz to overlook the city. while doing our overlooking a small mayan boy and girl and two mayan teenagers in their lovely colorful traditional clothes, asked us if we wanted to play tag. i was game and was deemed it. the chase was on as were the smiles and laughs, coming from the kids themselves but also from the 15 or so adults who they came with to see la cruz. much fun we had, my cheeks were tired from smiling so much. i played well, but so did they and seemed to play even better when they called, "gringo, gringo." this just got the adults laughing. sadly though, they had to leave, the game ended, but as they walked up to their van, we waved to the kids and later the adults returned our waves and joined in the fun. we could not hear what they were saying as the departed - only the word gringo, which was followed by much laughter, and more waves. quite a fun afternoon. we had experienced this same type of waving game earlier on the way home from a small castle. bunch of boys riding in the back of a truck coming at us, waving. stuck my hand out a little farther as they passed and slapped one of the boys a high five, which caused much excitement and many smiles and enless waves until they sadly went around the corner. then back to the buses, which are always interesting, especially when, as in during one of my voyages, in the normal routine of natives troughing their trash out the window, i was showered with rice, that initially had been on an outward and awayward trajectory, though as it mingled with the air currents around the bus, it changed course, turning inward along the path of least resistance: my open window. surprising, but a new experience. a lot can be tolerated if it's the first time it has happened. the other bus things that far and i had often were men coming onto the bus to sell miracle drugs to many willing passengers. they talked loudly and with much conviction as they should their biology books, thereby illustrating that the pills they offered, probably for a reduced price, would help every subsystem of the human body and then some. we declined, feeling confident in our own subsystems.

took the bus back to guatemala city, and then flew home with far, where i am now, so that i can teach one outward bound sailing course for the coast guard academy. will head back to guatemala city as soon as the course is over, then to belize, if the guys haven't sailed it there already, then up the coast, then to home.

so that is guatemala, sorry it was a long one, but hopefully it was somewhat enjoyable. thanks for reading, especially those of you who have made it all the way down here. i give extra credit, and would stamp your computer with a "super" stamp if i could, for those of you who read the whole thing in one go. i myself would not be able to do it, so don't feel bad, and i know go into the world of the "above" not to proofreed for disjointedness but to add spaces between some paragraphs so it's easier to look at. adios muchachos y muchachas.

ben

Friday, May 06, 2005

San andreas to honduras

hello readers,

we are now in puerto cortez, honduras, poised to make the next move to the rio dulce region of guatemala. from panama, we had an uneventful sail back to the colombian islands of san andreas. here we rested, played lots of basketball and soccer games, had a few fair days of surfing and then headed on to honduras. we were also able to get the satellite radio to receive a signal, which made us all happy, but a few kinks and worn raw places in the wire prevented us from getting a reliable reception. chris has gone home for a visit and will hopefully bring a new one back with him so we can hear all the news and baseball games.

we had initially planned to stop in costa rica and nicaragua on the way to honduras from panama, but the east coast of costa rica isn´t well set up for cruisers and the coast of nicaragua is dangerous because of coral shoals and mean people.

the ride to honduras was smooth, nice sunshine, and some good winds. the highlight was the awahoo, we caught, not sure on the spelling, but it was a three feet long, very muscular and excellent tasting fish. arrived at the bay islands of honduras, at the island of guanaja. quickly moved to rotan, and then to utila, where we stayed for about a week.

the activity here was diving and more diving. utila is basically a diving destination. dive shops everywhere, and divers everywhere. hardly any americans but a ton of folks from canada and the u.k. our new british friends were much amused by our attempt at speaking with an english accent, and we were even more amused when they spoke with an american accent. while in utila, ted did his open water and advanced, i did my advanced, rob did some fun dives, and chris stayed topsides. we did deep dives together to 120 feet, night dives, and wreck dives. the highlight for me was the night dive. we took our dingy out to the dive buoy, all dressed in our wet suits, like navy seals. ted and i spent much of the time upside down, trying to get disoriented, trying to feel like we were in space. it was magical when our lights were turned off, we were in a black abyss, a most unreal experience and the coolest thing i´ve done in a while. on the deep dives the instructors made us do little exercises to test our intellectual functioning at the depths where many divers feel the temporary effects of nitrogen narcossis. like a little anesthesia. i felt fine but was a little slower in counting the numbers scrambled on the instructors wet board thing. we also cracked an egg which stayed together, brought a ping pong ball with us, which imploded at 40 feet, and partially inflated a balloon that inflated as the pressure decreased with our ascent.

the stay in utila was nice. good food, good movies for $2 (i love huckabees, butch cassidy and the sundance kid), and good friends we met though our dive center. hard to leave, but guatemala is calling to us. we should be there tomorrow night. now in puerto cortez, we spent the afternoon with the port captain, the immigration officer and the customs people, getting endless stamps. but all is done now, and we are heading to a soccer game tonight at the local stadium, then heading out early tomorrow morning for livingston, guatemala to continue the adventure. that´s the story from down here. the sun is almost directly overhead and should pass us in a few days or so, heading your way.

adios,
ben

Friday, April 08, 2005

Still in panama

to the crazies,

around the middle of march, i flew home for a brief period because my grandmother on my dad´s side passed away. she was 97, had lived a wonderful life and i was able to talk to her on the phone two or three days before she died. it was great to be with my family and extended family for a week and it was great to get a taste of the cold winter air and snow of massachusetts. by the end of march i was back on the haus, with two visitors, my cousin liza and ted´s sister jenny. the boat at that time was in portabello, panama, and we sailed further east to the san blas islands. before we got to the san blas islands, we stopped at isla grande, where we had some great surfing, and resupplied our food, water and fuel. i was the water man, and i asked a woman walking on the road, and she took me to a house further on. apparently it is not the place that normal yachties go, but i was happy to get water from anywhere. it was a family complex with kids, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, dogs, cats, chickens, parakeets, and ground crabs. they took me around to the tap, put our five gallon jugs down and slowly they began to fill. because of the slowness, they invited me to come sit on the porch of their small concrete house that they had built themselves. none of them spoke english and i had a great time speaking spanish with all of them. they were quite a group, and my spanish improved as i sat there for about half an hour as they checked on the water. the kids looked at a spanish-english picture book, the grandmother and i chatted, and the animals wondered around or relaxed in the shade of the porch. it was one of my favorite times in panama, and i was delighted to return the next day with lize, for another 10 gallons of water on the following day. from there we headed to the san blas islands.

the islands are made up of many little islands, some with people on them, some without. it was much like the bahamas in terms of the wilderness feel. lots of snorkling and a bit of surfing and some island explorations. it was nice to have a break from towns, shops and other money spending places. at the first island we were anchored near, we had a three on three game of wiffle ball which was quite fun. we drew a crowd of the natives, some of whom had been out in their dugout canoes to ask if we wanted any molas, the decoratively woven squares of fabric. we asked them if they wanted to play with us but they were content to watch. when the ball was lost high in a palm tree, we were all amazed as one of our fans climbed up to retrive it like it was nothing. we gave him a round of applaus and he was all smiles. after the game, i gave the bat to a little girl and then we had batting practice, which she loved. no one else wanted to bat, but she had quite a good time, as did we, watching her enjoyment.

from there we went to another islands, snorkled, surfed, and read. we had great dinners, partly on account of having guests, and partly because the guests helped out so much. some might even say, they cooked for us a few nights. we were running low on food and water so we went to the island called rio diablo to get resupplied. this was a real village and we were taken around by a great helper to boat folks named fredericko. he was a small but strong fellow who had a great high pitched laugh, and brought us everywhere we needed to go. all the houses are made from bamboo poles and have a thatched type of roof. the roads are all dirt, and everyone knows everyone. i went on a picture taking expedition while the others were trying to make some telephone calls, and a few little girls saw my camera and did some mock poses. i took one picture of about 10 of the girls, probably all under the age of ten, and the next thing i knew, i was cheek to cheek with them all as i held out the camera for a picture of me and 10 smiling girls, one of which was wearing my hat another wearing my sunglasses. we were all laughing and having a grand old time. they loved the pics and loved even more to see themselves on the camera´s digital screen. every time i said, "una mas" meaning one more, there were squeels of delight as they raced around me to take their positions. a few more minutes later and after i had told them my name and tried to pronounce all of theirs, much to their delight, i found myself inside one of their homes, dancing to the song gasolina, which is a huge hit here - we first heard the song in jamaica and imagine it will reach the states soon if it has not already. i took a video with my camera and it is quite amusing to see me dancing with 10 little girls, the coreography, i got by the end.


we moved on from rio diablo to get into the wilderness again, and after some snorkling near an island rob and i did some breath holding trials in about 10 feet of water holding on to the anchor. we took a watch down with us and did our best. 1 minute, then two, and by the end of the time we had both done thee and a half minutes by relaxing completely with our eyes closed. watching each other was great fun, because by about two minutes under, our bodies would want to breath, and our diaphrams would begin going up and down, even though we were not breathing. it began slowly and by the time three minutes and thirty seconds were up, i could not keep my head under water becasue i was laughing so hard at rob´s stomach going in and out faster than i had ever seen a bellie move. it was quite fun and we were proud of our achievement.

we had swam to fifty feet down in the bahamas, rob had said he had gone to sixty feet but was not sure and wanted to confirm his estimate. so, feeling strong, we put a line over the side with a chain on the end to guide our way down and back up and in increments let out all the anchor line until we were about at seventy five feet. we were able to make it down and back up without a problem and i even stayed at the bottom for a few seconds. we took turns and even hauled up the guide line and then rode it´s chain all the way down a bit fast and with less effort than swimming ourselves. we wanted to hit eighty feet but the bottom over which we were floating got no deeper in the range of our anchor. so, mightly satisfied with over 75 feet, we heading for a different island to explore in the light winds. but soon we found ourselves over 80 feet. after a few "should we..."´s we dropped the hook and checked the depth meter. 90 feet, then 100 feet. well, over went the guide line, and on went the mask, snorkle, fins, and my six pounds of lead weight. we did a few exploritory runs down, and could barely see the bottom. i then held on to the line to relax, breathing slowly in an attempt to slow my heart rate, took two deep breaths, then a thrid to go down with. i went down, telling myself to relax over and over, followed the line down, saw the chain, then the bottom, figured i could keep going, all the while with one hand on my nose to clear my ears of the increasing pressure. still felt good, so i kept going, resisting any urge to panic, hesitated twice as it took a more concentrated effort to clear my ears, reached out and grabbed a handfull of the moonscape mud of a hundred feet below the water´s surface. i turn around, and without looking up, i told myself, to just start slowly kicking towards the surface. soon i was half way up, feeling good enough so that i could hold onto the mud in one had, and didn´t need to use the line to haul my way up faster. i saw rob come down, as a safety check, and i gave him the customary thumbs up, and then i was on the surface showing the others the mud in my hand. i was quite excited and even more so when rob followed suit and did the same. it was amazing to be so deep, feel so calm and see the boat from so far down. it was a day i shall never forget. i´m hoping to find gills soon growing on my cheeks. (ang, you´d be proud, i owe my skills to you and farm pond depth dives).

the girls had to leave too soon, so we went back to rio diablo where they caught a flight back to panama city. it was nice to have some feminin types on board and we were all sad to see them go, trying not to feel the loss that i always feel when a visiting family member departs.

we went back to isla grande for two days of surfing, and then headed to bocas. 160 miles it was, we should be able to do it in just of 24 hours in good winds from the north east. but the good northeast winds turned to the 5 to 10, then turned to the west (our direction of travel) and then turned back to 15 to 20, 27 hours turned to 40 and included thunder and lightning striking only a few hundred yards away from our own lightning rod shaped mast. it was pouring rain at times and with the lighting we rigged up a steering system so we could steer using lines and pullies from the inside, away from electrically conducting shourds and masts. we got through the storm and finally made it to bocas this morning at 4:30am. the passage was a long one with a bit of motoring, any bit being too much, and our eating mostly considered of ritz type crackers and a few packets of ramen noodles. upon arriving, we slept, then at the marina, showered, ted and chris shaved their heads, and i my fu man chu, as a sort of cleansing from the passage. the passage consisted of our watch of an hour by day, two by night, and when off watch we would sleep or read, myself finishing The Long Walk aka the long read. it is a strange type of life, during the passage days, with steering sleeping and reading, plus little radio activities to get the weather and to try to contact my dad. we all feel our bodies go down to about 80% but we all stay in good spirits. the days just go by, and time takes a new meaning as i find myself either on watch or on a bunk, it being light or dark outside. don´t really have any meals, just a little snack before each watch.

we´re headed in a few days or so up the coast and onto new countries, eager for a new place, but bocas is nice and has good food, water, showers, and internet with which to gather ourselves. so that is where we are, and what we´ve been up to. hope all is well back home. glad to know spring is coming for you.

ben