Winter 2000 - 2001 Email 

[this is an excerpt from a longer email]

I had been thinking about sailing to the Caribbean for the winter, but that is a major trip, much bigger than the Florida trip, and the route is far from shore. To get the boat ready for such a trip, I needed to do a lot more work, and I didn't really have enough time to do everything before leaving. I would have had to rush like crazy, and I didn't feel like doing so much work in such a hurry. Basically, I'm tired of that mode of operation. So instead, I'll work on the boat over a longer period of time to get it ready, and postpone the Caribbean trip.

[... ...]
I worked for three months at the marina where I am keeping my boat. The job started after their summer help went back to school and ran until the end of fishing season at the end of November. It only paid $7.00 an hour (plus a $50 monthly slip discount), but it was easy to do and had convenient hours for me. I worked on the fuel dock and helped boats that arrived to take on gas or diesel fuel. I helped tie up the boats, then passed them the fuel nozzle and operated the gas or diesel pump. When they were done, I put the nozzle back in the pump and rang up their sale on the cash register. If they paid cash, I put the money in the register and gave them change. If they paid with a credit card, I ran their credit card through the credit card machine and had them sign the credit card receipt.

Every now and then, a boat spilled a little fuel when they topped-off their tank - sometimes a little fuel spurted out of the fuel fill fitting on the boat. When this happened, I had to help clean up the spilled fuel using some special rags that soak up fuel but not water. The spilled fuel usually went into the water, so I had to swish the rag around in the water using a boat pole while standing on the dock.

I also operated the pumpout machine. Most of the larger boats have a toilet on board, and the sewage is stored in a holding tank on board the boat. Once the tank fills up, they have to stop at a marina that has a pumpout to empty the tank. I would attach a hose to a fitting on the boat's deck, then start the pumpout machine. The machine is like a vacuum cleaner and sucks all the sewage out of the tank through the on-deck fitting. The machine then pumps the sewage into the regular marina sewer line. This is a dirty and smelly job, but somebody has to do it. The marina charged boats $5.00 for the pumpout, which is a typical price.

I also monitored the VHF radio in the store. If boats wanted to spend the night in the marina, they usually called up on the radio when they got near the marina. I then had to give them directions to the marina and to their slip. Then I went out on the dock and waved at them so they could see where they had to go. I helped them tie up their boat, then waited back in the store until they came in to register.

The store is where the cash register and credit card machine are located. We also sold beer and soda, chips and other snacks, ice cream, bait, and a few boat-related things, like oil for outboard motors. For bait, we sold packages of frozen squid and bags of worms. One of the tasks I had to do every day was to turn over each bag of worms that we had - this is supposed to keep them mixed up in the grass inside the bag so the worms don't bump into each other and bite each other. We kept the worms in the refrigerator to make them last longer. Can you believe a little baggie with a dozen worms cost $6.50? That's what we charged and people bought them. We got them from a bait dealer, and supposedly they are special worms that the fish really like (bloodworms).

I also cleaned up the marina, including emptying the trash bins and sweeping out the store and the bathrooms. This is not as bad as it seems since it is not a very big marina and lots of slips are empty, too. It took me about 15 to 20 minutes to clean up.

At the end of the day, I went through the closing ritual: hang up the "closed" sign in the window, coil up the fuel hoses, read a dial on each of the fuel pumps indicating how much fuel was pumped, count how much money was in the register and hit a special key to make the register print out a summary of the day's purchases, hit some buttons on the credit card machine to make it print out a summary of the credit card activity, then put the day's proceeds and receipts in an envelope. I dropped that into a slot on the safe upstairs in the office, then turned out the lights and locked up the building.

I worked five days a week and had Monday and Tuesday off. I had to work the weekends, since those were the busy days on the fuel dock. I started work at noon on the weekends, and worked until 7:00 PM when I closed things up for the night. Weekdays I started at 2:00 PM and worked until closing. Those hours were fine with me since I'm not a "morning person".

I'm flirting with the job market again, but not very seriously. I don't really want to get back into computer work again. Although it pays well, for me it was getting more and more stressful and less and less enjoyable. The longer I stay away from it the less I want to go back to it.

In late fall, my mother came over for a visit and we went on a two-day cruise. We were just going up the Patuxent River a ways, to a really nice side creek that is a popular place to visit by boat. Unfortunately, part of the boat's exhast system broke, and I had to pull over and anchor before we reached our destination. I managed to patch up the broken part so things would work OK, but I still need to make permanent repairs. Although the cruise didn't turn out as expected, it was very nice anyway. It's pretty hard to have a genuinely bad time while cruising on a sailboat . Whatever problems you run into are usually manageable and temporary.

At present, although I still like living on the boat, I'm using it more as a "floating condo" instead of a traveling boat. It's a very compact and portable home with everything I really need close at hand. It still requires a lot of work and expense to maintain the boat, but I'm deferring most of the outside work until spring, when it's warmer. But the work never stops, so I'm doing inside work over the winter.

I have an electric heater that I keep running all the time. It's the kind that looks like an old-fashioned radiator, but on wheels and with a thermostat. Most of the time, the interior is quite comfortable if you wear a sweater, and sometimes a hat. I also have a built-in propane heater that can make the boat quite warm, if needed. But the electricity is free, since it's included in the slip rent (which runs $254 a month). So I'd rather use their electricity than my propane.

I have winterized most of the boat's systems, to protect them from freezing and to prepare them for several months of inactivity. However, I'm still using the freshwater system, so I still have hot and cold running water on the boat. The waste system is winterized, so I have to use the marina bathroom. This isn't a big deal, since when I'm in a marina, I always use the marina bathroom anyway (it's more comfortable and spacious than the boat's bathroom).

I finally bought a car, actually a minivan (1993 Mazda MPV). I got it the middle of November, and so far it has been working out very well. It's one more thing to take care of and pay for, but now I have unlimited mobility and don't have to rely on my bicycle for everything. One downside is that I don't get very much exercise now, since I drive everywhere and don't use my bicycle anymore. I really need a car if I find another job somewhere. The marina job was great because I lived there, but there's very little else in Solomons, job-wise or shopping.

I had rented a car for a week and was driving around looking at various "for sale" cars. I was looking for a Taurus station wagon similar to my old one (which I sold before leaving for Florida), but a more recent model (say, early 90's). I saw several, but they were either too expensive or too beat up. I wound up driving over to Waldorf, which has a big strip of car dealers along Route 301. On the way there, I stopped at a small used-car lot in La Plata, MD (which is the county seat of Charles County). They had the Mazda van, and it was in very good shape. They did a very good job of prepping it for sale, including cleaning everything in the engine compartment so that it looked brand new! It cost $4750 plus tax, which I thought was a pretty good deal considering the good shape it was in.

I enjoy driving around and exploring, and have visited several parks in the area to go hiking and take pictures. We had a very colorful fall and I got some good pictures of the leaves changing. Also, the marshes and wetlands around the bay and the Patuxent River are very beautiful in the winter - very austere and muted but beautiful nevertheless.

In mid-December, they had two big seasonal events here in Solomons. The first was the "Solomons Walk", where everybody walks around the downtown area at night, visiting shops and restaurants, etc. Usually, the town is completely lifeless on a winter night, so they have this event to bring everyone to town and liven things up. This is also when Santa Claus officially comes to town, and he sits in the waterfront gazebo holding court. They also have the ceremony to light the town's Christmas tree. As part of the special decorations, they lined both sides of all the streets with candle lanterns. There must have been hundreds and hundreds of them, flickering away in the dark. Each lantern had a translucent white body like a cylindrical lampshade, and inside was a candle; they were placed on the ground about 10 feet apart. It was rather attractive.

The second big seasonal event was the Solomons Boat Parade. A little more than a dozen boats participated. They decorate the boats with zillions of Christmas lights, then take the boats out at night and motor around the harbor (where my marina is), then up the Patuxent River past the downtown waterfront. Most of the boats have some kind of visual theme. For example, the lights on one sailboat were arranged to form a gigantic 2-D snowman hanging between the masts. Another boat had wire forms constructed to look like animal shapes; when lit up, the boat was supposed to look like Noah's Ark. Another boat was made-up to look like a paddlewheel riverboat. While all this was going on, we were having a pot-luck dinner and party at the marina, since we overlook the harbor and had a front-row seat. In the marina store, we shoved all the furniture aside and set up tables for the food and drink. Then people would move out to the fuel dock to watch the boats go by. One of the guys in the marina had his boat in the parade, and whenever he went by, everyone would cheer. It was a lot of fun.

I visited my mother in Virginia over Christmas and had a nice visit. It was sort of a White Christmas since there was a little spotty snow on the ground from an earlier storm (we got very little in Solomons). We actually were supposed to get a big snowstorm a few days ago, but the storm track was farther out to sea than expected so we didn't get a single flake. I had even gone out and bought a snow shovel to clear the dock where my boat is located. Oh, well...

[... ...]

Regards,
John
On board "Sunspot" in Solomons, MD

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