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Wyoming Wonderland to Water Wonderland

Travelogue - December 14, 2008

Every year we declare: "This was the most beautiful autumn ever!!" And it was. The hillsides were adrift in golden Aspen leaves; a simple stroll became a journey through Rivendell.

Our Summer Vacation

Landscape project We didn't so much have a vacation as work on different things.

I didn't anticipate a lot of Work, so I overextended myself mightily with the volunteer responsibilities: chairing a Relay For Life team for the American Cancer Society, co-teaching a two-part Xeriscape workshop, assisting at the Jackson Hole Writers Conference, and ushering at the Grand Teton Music Festival. Plus spending as much time as possible with friends and planning a trip with family.

October snow And then - lo and behold - Work did come and I spent a fair amount of time consulting with a firm in Jackson and continuing existing projects - several in association with an architecture firm over in Driggs, Idaho. It's an honor to work with talented people and I am very fortunate.

Rick's summer consisted of performing many on-line software demos and working with many clients. He released his software version 3.2. Interspersed among those necessary tasks he has finessed Sea Gator's anchor alarm and he manufactured six more alarms for beta-testing. He has also done many hikes and mountain bike rides through the scenic and challenging foothills in our valley.

If that weren't enough, he agreed to be my landscape laborer one day per weekend. See "Before", above right. The photo, left, would have been an "After" photo, but our lovely new stone terrace was buried under puffy white drifts by October 11! We'll have to wait until spring.

Winter Comes Early to These Parts

Not to waste an opportunity, we went cross-country skiing among the grassy hills on October 12. Ski-worthy snow this early is certainly a record!

Cows comin' home Even the cows came home. The blizzard whirled them like tumbleweeds, downwind into the corners of their allotments and so it may have been easier than usual for the riders to fetch them.

And so, we skied among cows for the first time. They didn't know whether to follow us or to run away from us. But their black bodies against the white snow in the white fog was hauntingly lovely. Poor cold things.

The next day the last cows were rounded up and marched down the highway to their home pastures. It is always quite the traffic-stopper. Here's a glimpse...

Back to the Water World

We finally got smart. This year we closed up the house during DAYLIGHT then drove the two hours to Idaho Falls to sleep before our very early-morning departure. It was much easier this way, thank goodness, and Goldie was a trooper (I mean, she trooped and trampled over our bodies all night long in the unfamiliar hotel room).

Surprise frog Thus we returned to Florida just after Thanksgiving, and we set out immediately to prep Sea Gator for the sea. The boat had weathered the summer just fine at All American Boat Storage in Placida, where security is paramount and there were no major storms. She was eye-scalding green on her shady side, and we washed and waxed.

Excavating for chain I was startled when an icky green patch near the upper helm opened its eyes and became a frog! I confess I uttered a ladylike shriek ("Wah-eeep!") then executed a swift Frog Rescue. This guy, left, allowed me to transport him to the nearest bushes. The next frog we uncovered was not so cooperative, ricocheting boing boing boing around the aft deck and eventually we had to sluice him overboard and into the foliage with the deck-washing water.

Back at la Marina des Collards (the home of Rick's mom, Lu) a few months of unfettered growth had completely buried our bow chain! Installing the sucker in the first place had been no easy matter - see Travelogue Return to the Sea. Now, Rick had to use a pruning saw to cut through the malicious Bermuda grass, trying to discern by feel the difference between chain and steely rhizomes. Not an easy task! He did find the chain eventually, right. Now we have a new landscape project on our hands: isolating the chain so that we may find it in the grass next year.

Rick and Sea Gator at the long dock There was no other excitement. Nope, none. We spent the week washing and waxing. Rick put a new rub rail and a final coat of Cetol on the swim platform and reinstalled it, and I oiled interior teak and began polishing exterior stainless. Rick woke up Sea Gator's engine and electronics.

We also contrived and installed mud flaps. They hang off the back of Sea Gator's swim platform and their purpose is to protect Bump Head from banging on the platform. More importantly, they should provide an opportunity for feline claws to grasp and regain the boat if - God forbid - Goldie should slide off the deck during one of her unsupervised forays. No, we have not yet dumped her overboard for a practice swim.

Pause for an observation: It seems that everything about getting the boat ready for cruising is easier now. The first years required resuscitating neglected fiberglass, gelcoat, teak, stainless, and valves, hoses and clamps - thank goodness Don's energy helped make it possible. Now we'll do our best to maintain it all and it should just get easier.

Also, no problems as All-American's crew launched Sea Gator. See the process from previous years if you're interested, at Return to the Sea and Decking the Boat, Decking the Halls.

We launched on December 5 and tied up safely to the long dock, above left.

Sunrise cruise Early the following morning Fee, a family friend, came over to fetch us. He was merciful and took us directly to Dunkin' Donuts driveup for coffee, then all the way out to Placida and All-American. We thanked him and waved goodbye, then meandered through the quiet pre-dawn boat yard. It was peaceful.

We boarded Sea Gator and followed our pre-cruise checklist to the letter. Then we fired up the engine.

It was a beautiful morning, cool and lovely. Right, see the view down the first long leg of canal heading away from the yard, with neighboring sailboats calmly at their docks. We watched the sun rise and saw many birds breakfasting in the reeds - one flock of white ibis included some pink members! About 90 minutes later we navigated the South Gulf Cove lock at high tide with extensive though harmless bumbling. We exchanged 'hello's with one friendly fishing boat which was the first traffic we had seen all morning.

We crossed Charlotte Harbor - I spent most of the crossing on the phone with Julie B., Hi Julie! - and moored safely at la Marina just before noon with no problems. Yay!

Decking La Marina

Meanwhile. How fun would it be to decorate La Marina's front yard in advance of Lu's arrival? Very fun, you betcha.

Goldie and Guts We decided an all-white theme would be a great addition to the neighborhood, expanding on the all-white lights and creatures at Bob's and Tony's houses on either side. So Rick and I spent our evenings collecting lights and herding together the menagerie of wire creatures hibernating in the back closets. The reindeer family had lost their luster over time, their lights failing for one reason or another. We eviscerated then re-strung them with enthusiasm if not skill, including hurriedly stuffing leftover lengths of light and cord into miscellaneous wire body cavities.

Left, Goldie observes a glistening mass of reindeer entrails.

The results were worth the effort. We retrieved Lu at the airport Wednesday afternoon, then had to make up excuses to drive around ("I'm hungry, let's stop. Are you hungry? Well, I'm hungry...") until dark. When we finally motored up the street Lu commented on the neighbors' decorations "How nice, ooh look that's pretty". When we slowed at the driveway she gasped "That's MY house!" And then she started to laugh.

It was a fun way to kick off the holiday decorating season. The tree is next: we'll wrestle it into the living room for her before we depart on our shakedown cruise.

Six Mile Cyprus Slough Preserve

Jay and Rick Pat's old college friend Jay K. was in Florida visiting his family. So Rick and Pat ventured south to Ft. Myers to rendezvous with Jay and explore new terrain.

After a lavish breakfast (Pumpkin Pancakes - wow!) we headed for the newest Lee County Park: Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve:

The Six Mile Cypress Slough (pronounced "slew") is a 2,500 acre wetland in Fort Myers, Florida, that measures approximately 9 miles long and 1/3 mile wide. This linear ecosystem is home to a diverse population of plants and animals, including a few considered to be endangered. The Slough also serves as a corridor for wildlife by providing a safe route of travel.

The Slough is a natural drainage-way, collecting runoff water from a 33-square-mile watershed area during periods of heavy or prolonged rainfall. During the wet season (June through October), a depth of 2 to 3 feet of water makes the Slough comparable to a wide, shallow stream. This fresh water flows southwest through the Slough and empties into the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve.

Egrets Interested citizens formed the Friends of the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve in 2001 to increase access to and education about the Preserve. They raised funds and eventually built an effective and beautiful visitor's center, which is the first LEED (Silver) building in Lee County.

Well. We read every interpretive sign and point of interest, and we tried to spot as many animals as possible.

We saw Egrets and Herons and Alligators and Anhingas and Lizards and Squirrels. One squirrel hung from a tree with his hind claws like a bat and used his two front paws to eat lunch - that was something new.

I wanted to see an Otter more than anything, but alas, no otters for me today. Except the plush toy in the visitors center gift shop, and yes I brought him home.

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Shakedown Cruise

Holiday trimmings All righty then. Rick, Pat and Lu attended a lovely Wine & Cheese & Soda open house at la Marina's neighbors'. Our hosts, Tony and Jane, are former trawler travelers themselves, and have kindly loaned us the use of their land-based chain for Sea Gator's stern. It was a very pleasant holiday get-together.

After two weeks gutting reindeer, working on Sea Gator and working on Work, we are ready to roll.

Our goal: Boca Grande Bayou, on the east side of Gasparilla Island, just off the ICW heading north out of Charlotte Harbor. We'll let you know how it goes.

Until then Merry Christmas. Smooth sailing and - as always - thanks for listening.

Pat, Rick and Goldie

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