Where Was I Last Year?


Where was I last year? Yeah. I know. The XO and I were doing The Great Loop. But here’s the thing: there were so many ports, and so much stuff going on, that I can’t help thinking of it as a single entity, as just “The Great Loop.” It’s like my brain hasn’t yet processed and organized all the little bits of information. I want to remember everything. To assist my brain in that formidable task, I started consulting our ships log on a daily basis. Between the log and our old calendar–which the XO faithfully marked every day–I know exactly where I was one year ago.
As the memories came flooding back, I quickly realized that in each and every port there was a memorable event. All I need to do is tie that memory with the place.
For instance: one year ago, in the second week of September 2017, we docked in Lexington, Michigan. At the marina restaurant the XO found twenty dollars on the floor. Free Lunch!
XO: “Remember Lexington?”
Rick: “No. Not really.”
XO: “The place where I found Twenty bucks.”
Rick: “Oh yeah. Paid for lunch. You had a reuben, I had a cheeseburger. We docked near the breakwater. There was awesome people watching.”

Free lunch.

Lexington Harbor breakwater.

From the port of Lexington we limped into Port Sanilac with a broken belt. Also memorable because they actually had a replacement belt.
From there we cruised to Harbor Beach, Mi. The log book says simply: “Futile attempt to anchor in weeds.” I remember a four-foot ball of weeds clinging to our Mantus anchor. It was the first and only time it failed to set.

Harbor Beach lighthouse.

After four tries we gave up and pulled into the Harbor Beach Marina. Turns out it was a good move because the weather really kicked up and we had to stay three days. It’s so much better to be tied up in a protected marina.

Twilight in Harbor Beach.

Next was Port Austin. Our assigned slip was next to a floating duck blind. Duck hunting is very popular here. Hunters will camouflage a skiff and float it to the area they wish to get the ducks. This particular skiff was huge. It was like a clubhouse with a kitchen,TV, running water, barbecue, and a full bar. It was fairly obvious this craft didn’t leave the dock. Several guys were drinking beer and cooking brats on a smokey charcoal grill. The XO and I were starved half to death after our 6 hour trip and it smelled so wonderful. Jeez! My stomach was rumbling. Suddenly there was a knock on our hull. It was one of the “hunters”. A big burly man with a round face and ruddy cheeks. Like Alan Hale dressed in camo.
“Thought you guys might be hungry,” he said with a smile bigger than lake Huron. In his large hands he held two of the biggest, most beautiful bratwurst sandwiches I have ever seen. Cooked perfectly and slathered in mustard. We were speechless. It was my first taste of bratwurst. From then on brats were a staple on Ginger Lee.

Port Austin morning.

And that’s only some of what happened in the second week of September 2017. It was one hell of a week I tell ya. It seemed as if fate had intervened for our safety, happiness, or simply for our amusement.
But wait! There’s more! There are 52 weeks in a year. It will be difficult to absorb and organize so much, but I will enjoy doing it.

Murder On The Great Loop Part Four


Detective Pete Jansen shouldered the handset to his ear and scribbled into his notebook.
“Okay. Got it. Thanks,” he said. The unmistakable sound of an old phone being hung up reached the ears of his partner, Gerry Sharpe. She knew right away it was not a regular hang-up, but a more urgent one.
“What’s up?” she asked, peering over her laptop.
“They found a body.” Pete already had one arm into a sport jacket big enough to cover his desk. “C’mon, were going to Stonington.”
“That’s near Fishers Island. ‘Bout time that dude turned up,” she said as she got up and pulled her jacket off the back of her chair.
“Dudette,” Pete said flatly. “Floater’s a woman. They’re saying it’s June Caruso.”

“Stonington is a small harbor. We don’t get a heck of a lotta bodies floating around here,” the Harbormaster said from behind an old steel desk. He pulled off his sun faded cap and ran a knobby hand through his white hair. Leaning back, he gestured toward two ladder-back chairs against the wall. The Detectives sat.
“One of our locals pulled her up in a net. Couldn’t have been dead all that long. Most of her face was still intact. Not so much the back of her head. I’m no expert, but I’d say she’d been shot. Family’s already ID’d her,” he said sadly, as if he’d been through that gruesome process. “Anyway, I heard about that fella went missing up in Chocomont Cove. Same name, Caruso. Thought I’d better call you guys.”
“‘Preciate it,” Pete said and pulled out his notebook. “They were married.”
“Interesting,” the Harbormaster said looking over his glasses.
“Very interesting. Not sure what to make of it. What time was she found?”
“‘Bout four in the afternoon.”
“We were supposed to meet her at four,” Gerry chimed in.
“It appears you’re late.” The old Harbormaster cracked.
“Was the body tied up, weighted?” Pete asked.
“Oh yeah. Standard 5/8 line. Big ass Danforth anchor and–this is weird–a thirty pound kettle bell.”
“Kettle bell?”
“Exercise equipment,” Gerry said. “It’s a round metal thing with a big loop handle so you can swing it. The weight is usually marked right on ’em. Maybe June Caruso was an exercise nut.”
Pete nodded and noted.
“I’d like to talk to the fisherman. If it’s okay,” he said.
“Sure. Last slip down the end of this dock. Should be there right now. Name’s Ferguson, John Ferguson. Captain of the Cara-Lyn. ” The Harbormaster pointed out the window.
“Where’s the body now? I need to talk to forensics.”
“In Hartford. We got nothing like that here.”
“Right. Seems fairly straightforward. Your guy pulls up June Caruso in his net, she’s obviously been shot in the head, body’s been identified by family, and we have no idea who did it,” Pete said and tucked his notebook into his jacket. “That’s all I got. Gerry?”
“What kind of knots were used,” she asked. “Might tell us something about the murderer.”
“Don’t know. Bet John would.”
“We’ll go see him now,” Pete said. “Anything else Gerry?”
“I’m good,” she said.
“Thank you for your time Harbormaster.”
“Anytime guys. Good luck with the investigation.” They all stood and shook hands. Pete held the door for Gerry.
“Detectives,” the Harbormaster called out as they were leaving.
“Ya?” Pete answered.
“I’ve been haunting the waterfront a wicked long time. There’s something I’ve heard more than once.”
“What’s that?” Pete asked, turning toward the older man.
“If you want to kill somebody, do it at sea.”

Pete and Gerry headed off toward the fishing boat Cara-Lyn. Lobster traps, buoys, and various pieces of marine equipment lined the edges of the aging dock. Sea gulls roamed at will, many preferring to perch on the rigging of the untidy working vessels that were docked sometimes four abreast in the crowded harbor. The whole place smelled of fish, diesel, and old wood.
“What did the Harbormaster mean by that “killing at sea” remark?” Gerry asked. “It sounded so sinister.”
“I totally get what he was saying. I mean, take a look around. There’s like a thousand boats. And that’s just the ones we can see. You got one guy policing this whole area. He can’t be everywhere. Once you cruise your boat out of the harbor you’re completely on your own, and usually alone to do whatever the heck you want.”
“What about the Coast Guard?”
“Wicked underfunded. And besides, there are hundreds of thousands of square miles of open water. There’s just no possible way to watch all of it.”
“Doesn’t seem right, or safe,” Gerry offered.
“Boating isn’t safe. Not totally. Heard tell it’s part of the attraction, that element of danger, being left to your own devices and such. Man versus the sea. It’s kinda exciting. Don’t you think?”
“Holy crap Pete. You sound like a boater.”
“Ha! I wish.”
“Well why not?”
“Ya know. Bills.The job. No money, no time.”
The pair stuck out like a sore thumb. Pete, a large man in his brown suit and Oxford’s, and Gerry, a trim woman neatly dressed all in black. They would have seemed unusual anywhere, but here on the working dock, they couldn’t have been more at odds with their surroundings if they were wearing fancy evening clothes.

“Told me you’d be coming by,” Captain John Fergusson said without looking up. He sat on the gunwale amidst a pile of fishing nets and engine parts.
“Sorry to keep you from your work,” Pete said and thrust out his hand. “Pete Jansen. And this is Detective Sharpe.”
“Just as well. Got plenty to do,” he answered and swept a ropy arm proudly towards his salty fishing boat. “This old girl is way past her prime. Held together with bubble gum and duct tape,” he said as he wiped his hands on a rag. “Gotta get another season out of ‘er,” he smiled. “That’s exactly what I said last year.”
Pete ignored the grimy hand and shook it firmly.
“Heard you had quite a day, Captain.”
“Call me John.” The smile left his face. “Yup. Quite a shocker.”
“I know sweetheart. It wasn’t one of my better days, but I’m so happy they’re together. Such a nice couple. Remember how nice they were to you?  What’s that? Yes, yes of course we can dock soon. Huh? I know dear. We all have needs.”

 

Landlubber


We’ve been home on dry land for only two months now, but apparently it’s long enough to grow roots. It’s a little strange to think that there was a time when we called Ginger Lee our home. We’d be out on a dinghy adventure, hanging with new acquaintances on the dock, or maybe checking out the town in one of over 200 ports we found ourselves in. When we said “Let’s head home,” we meant our floating one.

We try to get something from every port. It started with magnets.

We ran out of magnet space so we switched to hanging stuff.

We ran out of space on our bulletin board too.

I can’t speak for the XO, but my brain is not quite recalibrated to full landlubber status. It’s going to take a while longer after cruising full-time for a year. It required constant awareness and every little thing had to be considered. There were no days off from that. I lived nearer to the edge of my comfort zone than I ever thought possible.
The other day I was driving down the road in my old Jeep. “How easy is this?” I thought. It’s like one-dimensional, just keep it between the lines. Not so boats. They move in all directions at the same time. They pitch, roll, yaw, and are easily influenced by wind and current. You’ve got to keep an eye on your depth as well as your air height. And don’t ever count on getting the right-of-way from fellow mariners because most of them, I’m sorry to say, are obviously ignorant of the rules. Boats could pass you on either side coming or going. It’s a lot to think about.
So now here we are at home. The house and the ground doesn’t move so there is no need to figure out where we go next and how will we get there. We have real flush toilets! There is no need to find a pump-out facility. Water and gas are piped into the house so there are no tanks to fill. We no longer need to check the lines, fenders, anchor, batteries, or bilges. The grocery, liquor store, pizza shop, and gas station are all right down the street. Our laundry can be washed right in the basement without quarters! Suddenly, everything is a no-brainer. What the heck am I going to think about now?

The XO sailing Windsey in Swifts Neck, our home port.

Well there’s plenty of stuff to think about. It’s just different stuff. Stuff I forgot about. Like that fence that needs replacing, and the garage that needs cleaning out. The lawn, the old carpet in the sun room, the bad dog down the street, the annoying leaf blowers. The list goes on and on.

Messy garage.

Travel is good and important, but it’s also good to have a place to come home to. It’s not as exciting as passing a tugboat pushing 40 barges on the Mississippi. Or as frightening as a boat full of drunk teenagers zooming right at you in the dark, but I’ve come to see it as another chapter in the book of life. We add pages every day we are alive. Hopefully, there will be many more to come. SOCOBO 8/13/18

Murder On The Great Loop. Part Three


“Sharpe! Jansen! Get your butts in here!”
The detectives looked at each other. Gerry cringed.
“Crap!” she said. “I was hoping we’d have more time.”
“Well, we’ve just got to convince her,” Pete said.
“What’s this we shit? This is your deal.”
“Oh. So now you’re runnin’ out on me?” Pete’s tired old chair nearly expired as he suddenly leaned his big body forward. “Whataya ‘fraid of? Her?” he swept a huge hand toward the Chiefs office.
“Goddamn right I am! And so should you.” Gerry’s emphatic tone literally shook her long dark hair from her bun. She wrestled it back together along with her composure. “We got nothing,” she said softly, settling back into her chair. “Nothing. Not one friggin’ thing.” She looked up at the dirty ceiling tiles. Pete sighed loudly and leaned back as well.
“I know,” he said. “I know.” Her use of the word “we” did not go unnoticed.
“NOW!” Chief Meriwether bellowed. Three patrolmen hustled out of the room, knocking over a chair and leaving full cups of coffee behind.
“But she doesn’t know that,” Pete said.
“No Peter. Oh HELL no,” Gerry shook her finger. “I am not lying for you again.”
“Just follow my lead,” Pete said as calmly as he could. Gerry stared at him shaking her head
“You goddamn sonofabitch,” she said finally, spitting the words out. “C’mon. Let’s go before she has an aneurism.”

June Caruso waded out to the 12 foot aluminum dinghy floating 20 feet off Waretucket beach. It was a beautiful Summer morning. Hot, humid, and hazy, just like July should be. Even on a weekday, the residents-only parking lot was already filled to capacity. The sounds of shrieking children and tinny radios mingled with the aromas of salt water and sun screen. Waves of heat radiated off of anything that wasn’t wet. June stopped briefly to wave to a neighbor then continued on.  The tide was just right, about knee-deep.
“Perfect…I hate getting my clothes all wet,” she thought as she climbed into the silvery dinghy and tilted the 9.9 Mercury outboard into the water. She pressed the starter button. The little engine fired right up and settled into a nice even burble. She patted it on its shiny black cowling and twisted the tiller into the “forward” position. The little boat started moving slowly through the mooring field.

Chief Julia Meriwether stood behind her oversized desk, arms akimbo, and stared out the window. Her back was to the door when Sharpe and Jansen walked in.
“Please have a seat Detectives,” she said calmly, still facing the window. The pair exchanged a nervous glance: Chief was even scarier when she was acting nice.
“Do you know why the good people of this fair community put me in charge?” she began. Pete and Gerry looked at each other, not sure how to react. Pete was about to offer his thoughts when the Chief cut him off.
“I know what you’re thinking Detective Jansen, but you’re wrong. It’s not my sparkling personality, or my good looks, contrary to popular beliefs,” she clasped her hands behind her back. Pete wisely kept his mouth shut.
“It’s because get things done. I offer the gift of closure. The ability to tie things up in a neat little box, and tuck that box away in an orderly and timely fashion. The people expect that of me. And well they should, because I never disappoint.” She paused, still staring out the window.
“Do we understand each other?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “Good. Now get your sorry asses out of my office and don’t come back until you give me something on this Caruso case.”
Pete started to speak, but Gerry put her hand on his arm and shook her head.
“Please close the door on your way out, Detectives.”

“That went well,” Gerry said in the hallway as they walked back to their desks.
“Actually, it went very well. Chief didn’t give us a time limit. Not really. And she didn’t ask for any specifics. I’d say we were getting the benefit of a doubt.”
“Yeah well…” What’s the plan man.”
“For starters, I’d like to have a look at that boat, and we’re going to talk with June Caruso at four o’clock. But to be honest, I’m not convinced we’ll get anything out of it. Hey, you never know. Right?” Pete said, trying to sound upbeat.
“Right. What about Chocomont cove? A person falling off a boat has to make some kind of noise. Somebody may have seen or heard something. We’re gonna need a trip to Fishers Island.”
“On my list, Gerry,” he said as he sat down and opened his laptop. “There must be a Harbormaster somewhere willing to give us a ride across the sound.”

June pulled the dinghy alongside the swim platform of her big cabin cruiser. Using a boat hook, she caught a cleat, hauled herself up, and quickly tied the little boat fore and aft. She thought it odd that the key to the cabin was not hidden in the usual place, hanging from the ship’s bell clapper. She tried the door and it opened.
“I must have forgotten to lock up the last time I was here,” she thought. “Well at least I’m not locked out.” She stepped through, walked up to the counter and poured a glass of white wine. The door suddenly slammed shut behind her. Startled, she quickly turned, then froze with fear. Her wine glass shattered on the parquet floor.
“Wha… What are you doing here?” she stammered. It would be the last words June Caruso would ever speak. The .380 caliber bullet smashed through her left orbit and blew out a large chunk of the back of her skull. Bits of blood, bone, and brain splattered all over the tidy little galley.

Murder On The Great Loop Part II


Detective Gerry Sharpe fired 13 shots, all center mass. She calmly and methodically pushed the clip release button on her Glock 21. The empty clip fell and she slammed in another. The next 13 rounds were all head shots perfectly centered as well. She removed her safety gasses and ear protectors, then wrangled her dark hair into the grip of a red hair band.
“Beat that,” she said. Her dark eyes sparkled.
“You know I can’t,” her partner Pete Jansen said.
“Not with that antique,” she said, referring to his Smith and Wesson snub nose 38 revolver.
“I’ll have you know this was the standard of the industry for decades. My dad never left home without his snubbie,” he fired back. “And it fits so nicely in my pocket.”
“Anyway,” he continued. “I did some reading up on this Great Loop thing. You know it takes at least a year,” he said as he took aim. “You have to follow the seasons around the eastern half of the country, including the Great Lakes. Don’t want to be in northern Michigan in November.” He fired six shots, re-armed with his speed loader, fired six more, then pushed the target return switch. The cardboard target with an outline of a person on it had only four holes in it, none of which would be considered a kill shot.
“Hey. I’m from northern Michigan. What’s wrong with northern Michigan?” Gerry shouted from down the hallway. “Jeez! This coffee machine sucks. I can’t pour a cup without making a freakin’ mess!”
“There is nothing wrong with northern Michigan Gerry, unless you’re travelling by boat. Boats don’t move so well through all the ice,” he said somewhat sarcastically. “All I’m saying is you have to get your boat through the Mackinaw straits and start heading south before it gets too cold. Then you have to get around Florida and start heading north before it gets too hot.”
She handed him a steaming mug and eyed his target.
“Nice grouping. I think you pissed him off.” She patted him on his massive back. “You’ve got to get a modern weapon. Here, take mine, I’ve got a few.” She flipped the well-oiled piece around so that the grips faced out.
“A few? Thought you’d have dozens,” he said, refusing the offer with a wave of his hand.
“Yeah but who’s counting.” She holstered the gun and took a sip of coffee. “I wish I could take a year off.”
“That’s my point, Gerry. A whole year together on a little boat. Could you do that with your husband?”
“Ex-husband. And no friggin’ way. We were at each others throat in a 2500 square foot house!” She pecked at her cell phone.
“Pardon my French, but the dude’s a prick, Gerry. No offence.”
“None taken. He’s a wicked prick. Anyway, boat’s not so little. Look.” She turned her screen around to face him. She had the specs of a Great Harbor GH 37, the same model used by Dave and June Caruso on The Great Loop.
“Three floors, full size appliances, washer, dryer, queen sized beds. More than what I got on land.”
“It outta be. Keep reading.”
Pete grabbed the phone and scrolled down. His eyes opened wide.
“Wha! Half a mill? Are you kiddin’ me?”
“I kid you not, and that’s for a fixer upper.”
“Well, if this boat is worth, say, something north of half a mill, and you count in the victim’s life insurance, which is also north of half a million, that would be a darn good motive for murder. Wouldn’t you say?”
“I would say. But that’s just me. It’s my job to say that, but with no body, no witnesses, and basically no evidence whatsoever, it’s gonna be a tough nut to crack. All you got is your damn gut instinct. Not really enough to go to the chief with. She’s already bitchin’ about all the time we’re spending on what’s supposed to be an accident. Are you sure about this?”
“People kill for less, Gerry, a lot less.”

June Caruso toiled away in the backyard of her modest Waretucket home. The small seacoast town on the south coast of Massachusetts boasts a summer residency of nearly fifty thousand people, yet after Labor Day, that number dwindles to a less than ten thousand.
She labored for hours. Trying to get her garden just right. Just the way she wanted. It was hard work, but well worth it. Her irises were beautiful, as were her stella d’oros. They shone bright yellow beneath the tall cypress which she loving grew from small saplings. She wiped the sweat from her face with a red and white kitchen towel and settled into a tall drink laced with dark Black Seal rum. Her favorite. She swirled it around in the glass, enjoying the clink of the ice, then tucked her legs under her and leaned back into the cream-colored Adirondack chair. She was pleased. Not so much with the lawn mowing part, a job her husband usually did regularly, depending on the weather of course, specifically, the rainfall. No rain, no lush, green lawn. Fortunately, there was not a lot of either going on this hot, humid summer. Still, the yard always looked so much better after a trim. “Time to drag out the old lawnmower,” she thought. Oh well. One must do what one must do. Life goes on. She was about to get up when her cell phone nearly vibrated off the glass-topped table.
“Mrs. Caruso?”
“Yes. This is she.”
“Good morning Mrs. Caruso. This is Detective Jansen down at the precinct. I wonder if I may have a word with you sometime today. In person, I mean. Are you busy?”
“Uh. alright. I guess so. What’s this about detective?”
“I just need to clear up a few details. It won’t take long. I promise.”
“Could you make it later on this afternoon? I have someone coming by to look at my boat.”
“Sure. How’s four o’clock work?”
“That’ll be fine Detective Jansen.”
“Good. We’ll see you then. Goodbye.” Pete hung up the phone and looked at his partner.
“What?” Gerry asked.
“She’s selling the boat.”
“So soon?” Gerry raised two well-trimmed eyebrows.
“I think it’s time to see the chief,” Pete said. “If I’m right, that boat is a crime scene, and it’s about to sail away!”

Home


We were anchored in Point Judith, Rhode Island when I realized we could make it home in one jump. Only 39 nautical miles. If we leave early in the morning and catch the fair current, we could be home by early afternoon.
“What! You mean that’s it? One more jump and it’s all over? I screamed to myself. Silently of course; it was an inner scream.
“Oh.” the XO said when I told her about the do-able distance to home. “I didn’t realize…,” she trailed off.
We both fell silent in reverence for what we have accomplished.
This is the last night. The last night we light the gimballed night-light in the head. The last night we check the anchor position on the AIS, check the condition of the batteries, check the bilge, the windows, the screens, the lines, the anchor lights, Salty’s bridle. The last night we plot the next days course and enter it in the GPS. The last weather check, ocean conditions check, fuel check, holding tank check, fresh water level check, and all the other things that must be done to keep us comfortable, safe and afloat. Things that we’ve done every single day, hundreds of times in the past year. Things we’ve done so many times they became second nature. After tomorrow afternoon we will no longer have to do any of them.
“I guess I didn’t really think about this part, the end I mean. I was so busy with planning and the day-to-day,” the XO said.
Well I have thought about it. I totally envisioned Ginger Lee bringing us and everything on her back to Swifts Neck safe and sound. And she did just that. At about a quarter to two on the afternoon of Thursday, June seventh, 2018, after nearly a year of non-stop cruising, and 6,020 miles, she arrived at our home mooring in Wareham, Massachusetts. Her twin Lehman diesels, Castor and Pollux, logged over 900 hours of faithful operation. To put this into perspective, on a normal boating season, they would run less than one hundred hours.
The XO secured the pennants to the bow bitt and I turned off the engines, then the electronics, and then it was strangely quiet.
It’s difficult to put into words the feelings that ran through my head at that moment. All the years of planning and saving. All the preparations and dealings with our jobs and the post office and the bills and the cars and the house. We jumped through hoops, forded rivers, climbed mountains. The triumphs and setbacks. Oh. The setbacks. At times it seemed The Great Loop was impossible. But here we are. Done. Finito. Check that one off the list. It’s gonna take a while for that to sink in.
My wife found her way back to the salon and we embraced for a good long time. Her arms, strong from handling lines, wrapped tightly around my waist. I pressed my cheek against her fragrant hair. Is there more gray than before? I know I brought her way out of her element with this crazy dream of mine. I also know I would not be here without her resolve in making it come true. I held her tighter. An osprey chirped his welcome, gulls called out hello, I could see our neighbor Bernadette excitedly waving her arms on the beach, but this special moment was ours and ours alone. I kissed my wife lightly on her forehead, ending our hug.
“And that’s how you do the Great Loop”, I said.

Murder on The Great Loop. Part One

 

“Mayday Mayday Mayday!, Mayday Mayday Mayday!” A womans voice crackled over the radio on VHF channel 16, the international marine hailing and distress channel.
“Vessel in distress. This is Coast Guard Northeast Sector, over.
“Coast Guard. Thank God! Please help me!”
“Vessel in distress. What is the nature of your emergency, over.
“My husband fell off the boat! I can’t find him!”
“Vessel in distress. What is your present location, over.”
“Four one degrees, decimal one three, decimal four three, zero seven two degrees, decimal three nine, decimal two eight. How copy?”
“Good copy. What is the name and description of your vessel, over.”
“The name is Andiamo. Thirty seven-foot Great Harbor, White with green trim.”
“How many people on board? over.”
“Just me,” the woman answered. “Just. Me.”

Nearby boaters came by after hearing the emergency call on their radios, but no one could find the man. The Coast Guard sent out a R.I.B. but no luck either. There was a search, an investigation, and all the usual things that happen when somebody goes missing on the waterways. It was soon determined that the man was lost at sea and presumed dead. It happens more than you think, and since the parties involved have no prior problems with the police, or anybody for that matter, it was labeled an unfortunate accident.

Detective Pete Jansen closed the new manila folder and let it flop onto his desk. He looked up and rubbed the area between his bushy eyebrows.
“So that’s it huh? Just another poor bastard who fell off a boat and that’s that.” His eyes bore a hole into the back of his partners head, right through the thick black bun that was loosely tied with a red hair band. Finally, after a long drawn out sigh, detective Gerry Sharpe turned her squeaky old chair around to face him. She had that “now what” look in her dark brown eyes. He, as usual, ignored the look, and pressed on.
“What if–and that’s a big if– a woman wanted to get rid of her husband. Let’s say she was dissatisfied for some reason. The guy had bad breath, or he had a temper, or maybe he was cheating. I don’t know. Could be anything. They’re on the boat, she conks him on the head, he falls in, no more hubby,” he sat back, crossed his big arms, and stared with arched eyebrows, waiting.
“You’ve been watching too much NCIS. This is the real world. Normal people don’t do that sort of thing, and by all appearances this woman is totally normal. She looks like a god-damned librarian for crissakes,” she countered. “Anyway, there’s no proof of any wrongdoing,” she sat back as well, cocked her head, and raised one well-trimmed eyebrow.
“Exactamundo!” Pete exclaimed, putting both of his large fists on his desk while rising up out of his chair. “So you agree. It could be murder.”
“No I do not agree. And sit down, you’re getting crazy.”
“Gerry. It’s not so crazy. It’s almost too perfect,” he softened his tone and sank back down in his chair. It groaned in protest.
Gerry stared at nothing for a long moment, thinking. She put elbows on her desk, steepled her fingers, and said:
“Okay. Why this one. What is it about this one that’s different from all the other deaths we’ve investigated?”
“I don’t know really. I can’t explain it. Just a hunch I guess.”

The black Ford Explorer pulled into the newly paved driveway of the modest three bedroom cape. Dormers, cedar shingles, and white trim whispered “Cape Cod.” The front yard was well-kept but not overly so. Flowers and small trees decorated the edges and the grass was mostly green and freshly mowed. A patch of daffodils peeked out from under a pine, and a small stand of black-eyed susans struggled next to the cement walkway. Gerry looked at her partner.
“We’re just here to ask a few routine questions. Okay?” she asked. “OKAY?” she repeated more forcefully.
“Ya fine,” Pete said somewhat begrudgingly as he opened his door. They walked up to the front door. It was wide open, and through the screen they could see into the back yard. A woman in a large straw hat was fussing with some plants on a glass-topped table.
They went around to the side gate and opened it.
“Hello. Mrs. Caruso? Hello.” Pete called out.
“Hello. I’m back here,” the woman answered.
They pushed through the gate and walked past a small shed into the back yard. Flowering plants, pines, apple trees, and hostas lined the tall stockade fence that completely surrounded the premises. Like the front yard, it was also well-kept but not overly so.
“Mrs. Caruso? Hi. I’m Detective Jansen,” he said as he extended his big hand. “And this is Detective Sharpe,” he nodded toward his companion. “Sorry about your loss. We would like to ask you a few routine questions if you don’t mind. For our files. Have you got a moment?”
“Oh. Yes. Certainly. I have time,” the woman pulled off her dirty gloves and perched on the arm of a big, cream-colored Adirondack chair.
“Please. Have a seat. Can I get you anything. Some lemonade perhaps?”
Pete and Gerry each took seats in brown folding chairs under a large umbrella. The shade felt wonderfully cool in the July heat.
“Nothing for me thank you,” Pete said as he opened a small notebook.
“I’m fine,” Gerry said, trying to smile enough to offset her partners gruff manner.
“What’s this all about?” the woman asked. Her eyes searched both detectives.
“Mrs. Caruso…”
“Call me June,” she interjected.
“June,” Pete corrected himself. “Would you call yourself an experienced boater?”
“I guess we both were. I mean, Rob, my husband, more so than me, but we were doing The Great Loop…”
“The Great Loop?” Pete interrupted.
“Yes. It’s a boat trip around the eastern United States. After 6,000 miles and eleven months on the boat, I guess I became quite experienced,” she explained.
“And that’s when the accident happened?” Gerry noticed Pete’s use of the word “accident”.
“Yes. That’s correct.”
“I understand this could be painful, but would you go over exactly what happened?”
“But I’ve already gone over everything with the other officers.”
“I know June, but we need to hear it from you again. I’m sorry.”
“Okay,” she began. “We were anchored right off Fishers Island in a place called Chocomont cove. It was a beautiful evening. We had just finished a dinner. My husband went up front to the foredeck to smoke a cigar. I was in the salon…”
“Salon?”
“Yes. It’s like a living room on a boat. I was talking to my sister on the phone. I heard a noise, and when I looked up my husband was cartwheeling over the bow rail. I called out. He never surfaced. I called the Coast Guard and that’s about it.
“Mrs. Caruso, do you swim?”
“Yes I do.”
“And your husband?”
“Yes. He is, ah, was a swimmer.”
“Did you try to go after him?”
“Yes. Of course. But it was getting dark and obviously I didn’t find him,” she said flatly.
Pete and Gerry sat silently and let the moment hang.
“Thank you for your time June. Again, we’re so sorry for your loss,” he stood up and tucked the notebook into his inside breast pocket. “We’ll find our way our out,” he said and handed her his card. “If you think of any more details, no matter what, please don’t hesitate to call. Again, sorry. Good night.”
The detectives closed the gate behind them and got into their SUV.
“What do ya think? Gerry asked as she buckled herself in.
“She’s lying,” Pete answered and backed out of the driveway.

Gold


We didn’t know what it would be like, this Great Loop thing. How could we? We’ve never done it before. But, I for one, had certain general expectations. I figured the boat would act like it usually does, maintenance would be like the normal routine. We’d have to fuel up, pump out, keep water in the tanks, and oil in the engines. I knew that wouldn’t change. But there’s a heck of a lotta other stuff goin’ on.  Where will we stay? We have to put the boat somewhere, and I mean every single night. You can’t just pull over to the side of the road. On a year-long trip, that’s 365 times you have to figure out where you will put 16 ton, 32 by 13 foot thing. And you can’t just pull into a marina and dock. You’ve got to call ahead and make sure they have room for you. If they don’t, which was sometimes the case, you need to find another place. The XO is really good at this. She would set up three different options, one of which would always work. This is just one of many things we had to deal with, and eventually figured it out. I wont get into food shopping and laundry except to say that it will be nice to go to our familiar ol’ Market Basket where we know where everything is, and to wash clothes at home will be like heaven on Earth. I know that for a long time after this trip is finished, and the XO and I are safe at home tucked into our beds for the night, we will wake up in the morning and wonder how far we need to travel, and what town we need to dock, tie up, or anchor Ginger Lee in. When we rub the sleep out of our eyes, we will be relieved that we don’t have to get out the charts, cruising guides, search the web for an acceptable port, and make sure the weather supports our aspirations.

It was nothing like I expected, and everything I wanted. I was hot where it was supposed to be cold, and cold in places that should have been warm. I also thought it would be more social, yet we were alone most of the time. The “docktails” we heard about (drinks on the dock with other loopers) were few and far between, but I suppose that made them all the more enjoyable.I joined AGLCA because I heard there is much useful information available to all its members. I didn’t particularly find that to be the case, but I like being a part of something; I am proud to fly their burgee. And now, we have a new one to replace the old white one. It’s only for those who have completed the Great Loop, and it is gold.

Chesapeake

I was talking to a fellow boater the other day. I told him my wife and I took off for a year to do the Great Loop and explore the eastern half of the United States.
“That’s such a short amount of time,” he said. “Heck. I’d like to have a year just to explore the Chesapeake!”

Hampton, VA. Our first port in the Chesapeake.

Yorktown, VA. Free giant mooring balls to tie up to.

In Yorktown, a ship goes through the largest swing bridge. Two sections swing at the same time.

The same bridge at twilight.

Yorktown water scene.

Horne Harbor. Docked in a covered slip.

Painting Salty’s bottom at Horn Harbor VA.

I’m supervising the paint job. It’s going very well.

Docked at Parks Marina in eclectic Tangiers, VA.

 

Tangiers workboat.

The XO pilots Ginger Lee through Virginia into Maryland. And looks good doing it.

Sunset at Sommers Cove Marina, MD.

Sommers Cove Marina, MD. The day before, this dock was full of loopers. We were the last to leave.

Idyllic Flag Harbor Yacht Haven in Maryland. One of the most protected harbors I’ve ever seen.

Under way. Leaving Flag Harbor. I could live there. Hated to go.

Docked in Knapps Narrows, Tilghman’s Island, MD. This beautiful sailboat happens to be Hinkley’s fiberglass hull number one.

Knapps Narrows draw-bridge.

A Chesapeake Deadrise. The most common working boat around here.

Another example of a Chesapeake Deadrise. They’re like the pick-up trucks of the watermen. I’ve never seen them anywhere else but the Chesapeake.

A skipjack working boat and its pusher. These historic sailing vessels are unique to the Chesapeake. This is one of several in Tilghman that is still in use.

Close-up of a skipjack pusher. Basically, it’s a large diesel engine in a tiny dory specifically designed to push the skipjack. I want one to bomb around in.

On a Tilghman’s Island dinghy ride.

Chesapeake Bay scene. This bridge crosses it.

 

Anchored in Still Pond Creek, MD.

Watching a storm approach at the Havre de Grace Yacht Basin in Maryland.

Storm a comin’! About now we are securing the hatches and everything else.

Looks ugly. Rained like hell. Thunder and Lightning too. Glad we were tied to a dock.

A real Italian Restaurant in Havre de Grace, MD.

On the way to Chesapeake City, MD. this huge car transport hailed us on the radio and asked us to give them the whole channel. We gladly complied. This picture made the weather look worse than it was. It was a little rainy but the seas were flat.

He needed the whole channel!

Anchored in Chesapeake City, MD. on a rainy day. It is our last port on the awesome Chesapeake.

Interesting rug at city hall.

Based on our experiences in the short amount of time we’ve spent here, I’m inclined to agree with my fellow boater. I would love to take a whole year just to explore the wonderful Chesapeake Bay. Maybe someday. SOCOBO 5/20/18

Kooky Crabcake Island

It’s so difficult to describe Tangier Island in Virginia. Unique comes to mind. Generations of watermen have eked out a living from the sea. Mostly crabs and oysters.
The island is very small. About a mile long.
There are no cars, only golf buggies, motor scooters, and bikes.
They bury their dead family members in the front yard.
Shacks and docks that the working watermen use are not connected to land.
They park their working boats there and dinghy to shore.

It’s a little bit like Cuttyhunk, MA, only stranger. The natives speak in an accent reminiscent of down east Maine, but with more marbles in their mouth.

They have a small airport, a market, a dump, and a few restaurants. We ate at one and the crab cakes were delicious. Maybe that’s why XO describes it as a kooky crab cake island. SOCOBO 5/12/18