A Best Day Ever, in 43,500 Words

Quick navigational note: This post makes extensive use of “galleries” (groups of pictures). These galleries seem to display differently depending on the viewing device and browser. If you see one large picture, there’s actually a group of pictures with it (a gallery). Midway down the picture look to the left and right for clickable arrows to scroll through the other pictures in the gallery. If you see a collage of small pictures, click/tap on any one of them and you should see that picture enlarged along with left and right arrows for scrolling through the other pictures in the gallery.

Heeling is Healing weighs in at about 87,000 words and I figure it would take about half of a Heeling is Healing to adequately explain everything about Rhett’s and my wedding day: from the misspelling of “Coate” on the dinner menu (discovered by me 30 minutes before guests started arriving and fixed 15 minutes later by the venue at the exaggerated indignant insistence of our day-of wedding coordinator), to the evoked memories of Colleen’s and my 1990 wedding and the paths that Rhett and I have travelled to get us to this point, to feeling her gentle touch on my shoulder at our “first look, turning and beholding her as if for the first time.

Writing those 43,500 words would achieve two things—neither of them good. First, it would put this post solidly in the TLDR category (too long didn’t read). Second, it would would take me forever to write. Regarding the second consequence, we’ve only got 5 weeks left in the US before we head back to Hazel James in Italy and I’ve still got a bunch of good stories to share from Northern Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales—my goal is to get them “on paper” before we head to Italy (around May 1) so we can start our 2023 voyaging caught up and with a clean slate.

With all that said, let’s do the shortcut to get to our requisite 43,500 words. (In this case, the shortcut is also the “funcut.”) After going through all our professionally-taken wedding photos, we have 43 of them to share. At the universally accepted conversion rate of 1 picture = 1,000 words, magically we have 43,000 words, add another 500 words of commentary and everything works out nicely!

Wintertime weather in South Florida is almost always idyllic, and the week preceding our wedding was no exception. As a seasoned sailor I scoff at 14-day weather forecasts as being total crapshoots and only pay attention to 7-day and fewer forecasts. However, a fortnight before the wedding I noticed Rhett increasingly mesmerized by her phone. Was is Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok? No, whenever I’d surreptitiously steal a glance over her shoulder, she was on an app that we affectionally dubbed “The Bug” (that is, “Weather Bug,” we started using it while sailing in Maine in 2021 as we found it the best for predicting coastal fog). 14 days before the wedding The Bug was predicting doom and gloom (Rhett might as well have been on Twitter at that point). I reassured her she had nothing to worry about as the odds were in our favor.

As the wedding loomed I was not vindicated. Early the week of the wedding the forecasts for Saturday, February 4 degraded. Day by day it became clearer and clearer that statistics and odds were going to mean nothing in this instance. Oh well, it was kind of like our sail from Sardinia to Mainland Italy when the gale warnings were posted shortly after we embarked. In that case and in this case, we were committed and had no choice but to batten down the hatches and sail through it.

That week I lost count of the number of times I heard the phrase, “Actually, bad weather on your wedding day is good luck for the marriage.” Riiiiiiiiiiight…while I’m a big fan of an authentic reframe (when a professional or armchair therapist helps you to see something from a totally different perspective) I can also spot a pandering reframe a nautical mile away. (If the weather would have been perfect on our wedding day, I doubt those same Monday-morning therapists would have said, “Oh no…good weather? That’s bad luck for your marriage!”) But I digress.

A detail I omitted in our Mainland Europe blog post is that while we were in France, Rhett shopped for wedding gowns and found the perfect Parisian wedding dress. (When I say “perfect,” I was taking her word for it because I was absolutely, positively prohibited from seeing it.) If you’ve picked up from previously posts and this post that Rhett was a bit obsessed by a vision of the picture perfect, storybook, “…happily ever after” wedding, then you—my friend—have a keen sense for the obvious…and her finding a gown in Paris fit perfectly with that vision. (I have to admit that even the most logical of us, and I count myself in that group, can’t help being moved just a little bit by the romance of shopping in Paris for a wedding dress.) I’ve got to hand it to Rhett—through the process of acquiring the dress, getting it altered (which as I understand took a whole lot of hand waving and Google Translate between the thoroughly monolingual French tailor and the thoroughly monolingual Rhett), and getting it shipped to the US—I never saw a thread of it until our “first look.”

At the risk of mansplaining and for readers who are not conversant in modern wedding-speak, allow me to define the “first look.” In the good old days of the church wedding followed a couple hours later by the reception at a nearby venue, the groom first sees the bride as she’s being walked down the aisle. The formal wedding photos are taken during the interstitial time between ceremony and reception. With modern weddings the ceremony is often at the venue and the reception immediately follows the ceremony leaving no time for posed photographs. Thus, introduce the “first look” where the groom sees the bride for the first time in her wedding dress shortly before the ceremony. The main point is that the photographer has a chance to capture the excitement of the groom’s initial reaction to the bride’s visage.

Our first look was outside, in front of the venue near the sea grass dunes at the edge of the beach. The weather made it a challenge with solid 20 knot winds buffeting us from the east (from the sea). Still, we and our photographer pulled it off. I was instructed to face northward and soon could hear Rhett over my shoulder and walking towards me. My mind flipping through images of our journey was soon interrupted by her hand gently squeezing my shoulder. Without turning I reached back and caught the smallest fold of her bustle between my thumb and forefinger. As my digits slid back and forth I felt the fabric of our lives together, our future, and our memories. Finally—following the strict instructions given to me—I turned and there she was. A resplendent Rhett, a beaming beacon of beauty amidst the chaos of the weather. How could I ever be so lucky to have found her?

As the first look concluded, the skies darkened and we decided to not tempt Poseidon further and moved inside the venue for wedding party and family pictures…

Next came the ceremony. The professionals at the venue clearly had dealt with other weather situations before and had backup plans in place. While the ceremony had been planned to be outside on a semi-exposed deck, they moved us to a totally covered area, further protected by wind screens that allowed good ventilation and a view of the ocean but mitigated the sea breeze.

With the churning ocean as our backdrop (and my stomach churning inside my rented tuxedo), Lisa McWhorter, CEO of Wayside House and a longtime colleague of Rhett’s and friend to us both, began the ceremony. Throughout, she brought her charm and spirituality to the ceremony with personalized touches. (Yes, this is also a shameless plug for Wayside. If you would like to present Rhett and me with a wedding gift, please consider a donation to this nonprofit women’s addiction treatment center.)

If you missed the livestream on our wedding day you can see the recording here. Although we had asked the professional streamers to start the video 10-15 minutes early to capture the scene with live steel drum music and in-person guests milling about (and make our virtual guests feel like they were there), somehow our request was lost in translation and the stream begins with 12 minutes of a static screen and looped electronic music. Oh well…use the video’s slider bar to fast forward through the initial 12 minutes and 30 seconds. At that point you’ll hear the audio start (the video begins about 20 seconds later). Also, the chat stream is a fun scroll, with guests chiming in from Europe, to Dubai, to sailing vessel Slowpoke anchored in Ft. Pierce, Florida. While it seemed that most virtual guests joined from “home,” my cousin actually joined from Home (Home, Pennsylvania that is). Scanning through the chats, there’s a good chance you’ll see a note from someone you know.

My favorite comment about the ceremony was from a dear friend and colleague who joined via the livestream. I talked to him a week or so after the wedding and he said, “You clean up pretty good, but man…Rhett was so excited when her nephew walked her down the aisle I thought she was going to jump out of her shoes!”

The wedding venue and staff was fantastic. Between them, our wedding planner, and Rhett’s sense of style and attention to detail, the place looked like it was lifted out of the pages of a wedding magazine. (And trust me, I know, as I spend a lot of time pouring over wedding magazines.)

To my earlier comment about my stomach churning, you may wonder what the heck a transatlantic solo sailor could be so worried about on his wedding day as to make his stomach churn? No, I wasn’t nervous about a lifetime of commitment, or about remembering my vows (we kept them to simple “repeat after mes”)…I was nervous about our first dance.

Until early-January I had never given our first dance a second thought. It’s easy right? A sappy song is cued, the guests hush, we take the floor, I drape myself on Rhett in the classic “prom hang,” we shuffle in circles for an uncomfortably long period of time and the (bored) guests clap politely—done and done. However, if you were to pit “simple and easy” against “Rhett’s vision of the perfect wedding” in a fight to the death, cage match—which one would you bet on?

The next thing I know, it’s early-January and Rhett shanghais me into the car and we’re on our way to the local Fred Astaire dance studio for a 20-minute “consultation.” On the drive, I was pissed off. (I know…that’s not polite language, but in this instance I’m striving for accuracy.) Dance lessons, even just a consultation, was the last thing I wanted to do. However, after just a couple minutes with a vivacious Cuban dance instructor my feelings softened. She dissected rhythm for Rhett and me, gave us a few tips on the box-step, and—overall—made it fun. As Rhett and I concluded the consultation by tentatively prancing around the studio with marginal grace but showing some promise, my therapist’s words echoed in my head. A few days earlier, I had been to see her and when I finished talking about my feelings that the wedding was becoming a production and growing out of control, my therapist had suggested reframing the experience as an opportunity to be flexible and to meet Rhett where she wants to be met. Ah, life is so full of lessons and my teachers come to me in all different forms and at unexpected times. After the consultation, we signed up for a series of three, 90-minute lessons plus. Our instructor Mar assured us that with that investment she could get us to a stunning first dance.

Our raven-haired instructor and her Tennessean husband Clifton run the dance studio and the pair is straight out of central casting. Picture a petite, energetic Cuban dancer and a former collegiate cheerleader turned dancer in love and running a studio you’ll have a good image of the two of them.

If I learned anything in my years as a consultant it was first, that clients don’t really care how much you know until they know how much you care, and—second—that our birth-ratio of two ears to one mouth is intentional: you gotta listen before you talk, and listen at least twice as much as you talk.

While I don’t know exactly how our instructor Mar made her way from Havana to Delray Beach, I do know that she had learned those lessons along the way. She could have given us some canned dance routine and eventually it probably would have looked OK to our wedding guests, but she didn’t. Mar started by asking us questions…about our story…about how we met and how we’re living our life now. Whenever Rhett and I are asked about “our story” I have a hard time with the question—just thinking about the answer inevitably brings tears to my eyes so I generally defer to Rhett to do the talking and I add some commentary.

As Rhett told our story, her eyes—the brown eyes that can smile on their own (without a mouth) and that I’m in love with—sparkled. Soon Mar’s eyes were sparkling too, proving that the word “infectious” can be used in a positive light. As Rhett wound the story to its conclusion of my proposal to her in Lisbon, Mar’s excitement blossomed…it was clear that we, the three of us, had a lot of choreographic content to work with. One might call it a field day for dancing. We chose Stevie Wonder’s “Ribbon in the Sky” as the song and Mar focused on three aspects of our story. First, that our meeting was a result of a tragedy. Second, we met when both of us weren’t looking for anybody. And third, that my proposal of marriage to Rhett was a surprise. Mar also took into account the groom’s lack of formal dance experience and physical condition. (As she choreographed my marriage proposal to Rhett, Mar asked, “Is either knee especially good or bad?”)

Fast forward through several lessons and lots of practice at home, and the time of the dance had arrived. Time for the stomach to stop churning and just get it done…and also try to focus on having fun along the way. Not too dissimilar from being in the middle of the Atlantic, downloading weather and seeing the storm system approaching. At some point the preparations are over and you just need to sail through it and remember how lucky and blessed you are to have the opportunity to do things that very few people can do (or ever want to do!). Cocktail hour was over and prior to being seated for dinner the guests were asked to arrange themselves along the perimeter walls of the venue. Complicating the situation was that we had practiced in the dance studio and at home expecting the dance to be on the venue’s outdoor patio overlooking the beach. I was to enter from the north walking south (keeping the ocean on my left). Rhett would mirror image me, entering from the south walking north (with the ocean on her right). With the reconfiguration of the venue due to the weather, our space was tighter and I was now entering from the west (and walking toward the ocean) and Rhett from the east (and walking away from the ocean)…surprisingly disorienting when you’re contemplating spins and turns.

Another exacerbating factor was Rhett’s wedding gown. Although the French bustle was beautiful, it hid her feet from me. She’s a lot better dancer than I am (and has had gymnastics and formal dance training) and in our practice sessions I’d unconsciously relied on seeing her feet when I got lost (which was frequently). Now, in front of all those people, I was like a mariner without a compass. The best I could do was feel her feet (when I stepped on them) and gauge my distance from her based on how much she winced.

The music was cued and we began. (Mar had edited “Ribbon in the Sky” down to 2 minutes for us. In her Cuban accent, “Nobody wants to see the bride and groom—even Clifton and me at our wedding—dance for longer than 2 minutes!” (Again, sage advice that took me years as a consultant to learn.) After some opening jitters and a few rough patches we pulled it off and finished with a tornado and a dip. Not our best dance, but not bad considering our first time doing it in front of an audience and all the other complications.

If after all that explanation and background, you want to check out a video of our dance, it’s here. In the beginning you’ll see Lori our aforementioned wedding coordinator keeping everyone organized. Next you’ll see the choreography of the two of us living our separate lives and unexpectedly falling for each other. The surprise proposal is obvious.

As a final exclamation point to the fairy tale, the food and drink, and cake were amazing…

As I look back on our wedding day, the intense month before it, and the six months between engagement and wedding, I’m stunned by how much I’ve learned about myself and how the two of us have grown as a couple forging a life together. Shortly after our engagement when we were in Spain, we had thought about just eloping in Europe and the wedding being the two of us and a Justicia de la Paz (Spanish Justice of the Peace), but something just didn’t feel right about that approach. I pictured us walking in a courthouse somewhere as single individuals and 30 minutes later we’d walk out as a married couple—but we wouldn’t have been transformed by the experience (and would have understood much of what was said in Spanish either!).

When I said my vows to Rhett and hers to me, surrounded by those we love the most, I finally began to understand the power of witness—of your family and closest friends, regardless of in-person or hundreds or thousands of miles away, being there to witness our words of commitment, and those loved ones also committing to support us through the oceans of our lives. Before the wedding I had railed at the cost, the overhead, the hassles and how it was getting in the way of my “real life.” Now, as I finish this post in tears (happy tears), thinking back to the gathering of souls who are closest to us, and savor the memories and wonder if such a nexus could ever happen again, I don’t think about the money, or the time, or the headaches…I’m just glad and grateful.

Here’s to fair winds, following seas, and sailing happily ever after.

Hazel James over and out.

Now THAT’s Interesting,
British Isles Part I: Republic of Ireland

Our previous travelogue—Now THAT’s Interesting (mainland Europe edition)—spanned Northern Italy and Paris. Here, we pick up from where that post left off.

I stand at a crossroads. Down one path a cacophonous scrum of blogosphere professionals, wrestle for likes, followers, and retweets. Down the other, a slight solitary silhouette is bathed in a heavenly glow.

As they grapple, the influencers occasionally bark over their shoulders inviting me to join the scuffle and imploring me to open this post with a gripping scene, an irresistible picture, or even a thought provoking quote—all in the unending quest for eyeballs, clicks, and attention. Down the road less travelled, the ghost of my mother quietly reminds me that before dessert, we must eat our vegetables. Hmmmm, who do I trust? While I’m absolutely positive that everyone on the internet has my best interests at heart, I think you already know my decision.

Therefore, the first course on today’s menu is a geography lesson. “What?” You say, “Geography!” “Geography is to education what Brussels sprouts are to vegetables…the worst of the worst!” However, stick with me on this one. I’ll try to make them crispy and hip, and the dessert worth the preceding produce. Maybe well even rebrand them as “B-sprouts.” As my mom would say—“It’s good for you!” (All the while, the ignored bloggers down the other path take a break and dejectedly munch kale salads.)

This musing reminds me of an old joke:

Q: What do you call someone who knows three languages?
A: Trilingual.
Q: What do you call someone who knows two languages?
A: Bilingual.
Q: What do you call someone who knows one language?

A: American.

Language…geography…it’s all the same. If you find the beginning of this post boring and remedial, you’re probably an international reader. If you find it helpful and answers some embarrassing questions that you’ve always been afraid to ask, then salute the Stars and Stripes, and (like me) wish you would have paid more attention in junior high.

Growing up, I loved all things that come from…how does one say?…that group of large islands to the northwest of France and Mainland Europe: Monty Python, Shakespeare, A Child’s Christmas in Wales, bagpipes, Guinness Stout, etc. However before our land-voyaging late last year, I’d never set foot on the islands. (Yes, I’d made flight transfers in London airports, but that doesn’t count.) More to the point of today’s lesson, while the descriptive words of land masses, countries, and political alliances were all familiar, I didn’t know what the nomenclature actually meant.

After a lot of reading, research, and talking to locals, allow me to briefly disambiguate the geographical, political, and cultural as best I can—and please, proceed without fear or embarrassment. I’ve learned I’m not the only one sketchy on definitions and details, none of us are alone in our ignorance…

The British Isles is a collective geographical term (not a political term) for all of the islands in the area. By far, the two largest islands in the British Isles are Britain to the east and Ireland to the west. It’s good to remember that Britain plus Ireland do not equal the British Isles, there are 187 additional inhabited islands in the archipelago.

On the island of Britain, England is the country occupying the center and southeast of the island of Britain. The other two countries on the island are Wales (roughly to the west and south) and Scotland (to the north).

The island of Ireland, like Britain, is carved into multiple countries: Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. If you’re not confused yet, keep in mind that the northernmost point on the island of Ireland is within the Republic of Ireland, not Northern Ireland (go figure).

Great Britain is the political union of the three countries on the island of Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales), and today’s United Kingdom (UK) adds the fourth country of Northern Ireland into the mix.

From a long-view perspective, it’s important to note that until “recent times” the entire island of Ireland was a member of the UK (some would say an unwilling member, but a member nonetheless). While the national identities on the archipelago and the the union of the UK have been forming, storming, and norming since the Roman withdrawal from Britain in in the 5th century, the Republic of Ireland is a much more recent phenomenon with the Republic gaining its independence in 1921 (a mere 100 years ago).

Further afield, the British Commonwealth (a.k.a., The Commonwealth) is an alliance between England and most of the countries it once ruled, including Canada, Australia, India, and—Hazel’s favorite—The Bahamas. At the risk splitting hairs, Hazel’s other favorites (or should we say “favourites”), the British Virgin Islands and Bermuda, are British Overseas Territories and have a closer relationship with England than The Commonwealth nations.

In retrospect, I think a couple factors made these words a mishmash in my head. First, they are a jumble of geographic and political terms—some singular and some collective. Second and thirdly, there is a lot of similarity between many of the words, and the words themselves are used loosely both inside and outside the British Isles.

If you’re a map person or love anything that smacks of a Venn diagram, these illustrations from Wikipedia may help to clarify…

Speaking of loose usage, the term “Brexit,” an obvious portmanteau of “British” and “exit,” is technically not the British exit from the European Union (EU), but the UK’s exit (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland). In 2016 a majority of UK citizens voted to withdraw from the EU and although a drawn out process, the withdrawal was formally enacted in 2020 (since the Republic of Ireland is not in the UK, it remains in the EU). My engineer’s brain tells me that a more accurate term would have been “UKexit” but who knows how it would have been pronounced and I get that it doesn’t have the same soundbite ring as “Brexit.”

In our travels through the British Isles the cultural vibe we noticed related to Brexit stems back to the 2016 Leave/Remain vote. Although the UK-wide tally was 52% Leave (i.e., leave the EU) vs. 48% Remain, the resounding vote in Scotland and Northern Ireland was was to Remain in the EU. (38% Leave vs. 62% Remain in Scotland. 44% Leave vs. 56% Remain in Northern Ireland. The Welsh vote mirrored the UK-wide vote to Leave.) However, with England registering 29 million of the total 34 million votes (85%), the other countries became rounding errors in the popular vote. My stateside parallel after traveling in Scotland and Northern Ireland is that their sentiments are similar to less populous US states feeling bossed around by the more larger-by-population states of California, Texas, Florida, and New York.

Although the focus of this post is the Republic of Ireland (with Northern Ireland and Great Britain to follow), as we near the end of our Brussels sprouts and are on the topic of Brexit, I just have to share a funny-but-sad-but-true analogy between the Anglican church founding Henry VIII and the Brexit die-hard Boris Johnson—it plays to our recent theme of history repeating itself or at least rhyming, and also keeping the Catholic-Anglican schism in mind is important in understanding the relationship between Ireland and Great Britain.

It’s interesting to think of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1534 as “the first Brexit.” It was spearheaded by a much-married, arrogant, overweigh, egomaniacal Henry VIII—matched today by the Conservative Party’s Boris Johnson. Henry (like Boris) wanted “to be free” from European meddling (the Pope then, the EU today). The local sentiment (then as now) was no more money to Europe (tithes to the pope then, taxes to Brussels today) and no more intrusions into English life from the Continent.

Rick Steves, Rick Steves’ Best of England
(Published when Boris Johnson was Prime Minister)

When I first read this analogy, I knew more about Boris Johnson than Henry VIII. I had to wonder if Rick Steves’ judgement of Henry VIII was too harsh. Then, later in our December travels and while touring the Tower of London, we saw an actual suit of Henry VIII’s armor from his later years (~1540)—my concern was dispelled and Rick Steves was vindicated.

Get a load of the codpiece on that guy! (Rhett’s best friend Maria blushes to the far-right.)

In retrospect our late November and December zigzagging path across the the British Isles appears as sensical as my last couple days of sailing to the Portuguese Azores back in June. (Several hundred miles from the Azores the wind shifted to the northeast—straight from the Azores to me. The best I could do was sail north-northwest and hope for a favorable wind shift. A few well-meaning “friends” satellite-texted me and asked if I’d just decided to divert to Iceland for kicks.)

However, this time our apparent drunken sailor path was not dictated by contrary North Atlantic winds but by equally unfathomable international borders and regulations. First, we had to leave the EU “gingerly” since we were in an immigration gray zone (it wasn’t entirely clear if Rhett and I had overstayed our welcome in the EU) and visions of Midnight Express danced in our heads as we apprehensively approached outbound mainland EU immigration. It’s funny, while the human component of our traveling trio sweated, Sunny was in the clear. As a canine with a Portuguese Passaporte de Animal de Companhia (pet passport), she’s can stay in the EU indefinitely.

Given our human trepidation and wanting to appear as legit as possible, we decided to begin our air travels to the British Isles from Rome (near to where Hazel James is berthed for the winter), make a connection and pass through mainland EU immigration in Amsterdam, and (hopefully) continue on to Dublin. In a Rome airport hotel and early on the morning of our long travel day, Hazel James’ commanding officer ordered the ship’s crew to don no fancy clothing, but dress like a sailor (the crew almost mutinied but eventually obeyed). First impressions are important and we wanted to project the image we were fresh off the boat. To further that illusion, I tried to get Rhett to swear like a sailor (“cuss” like a sailor in her southern parlance), but she wasn’t having it. As I nervously approached the Dutch outbound immigration checkpoint in my sailor’s foul weather gear I felt like a Thanksgiving turkey in an oven-bag—basting in my own juices. The primary officer was friendly and spoke the “perfect” amount of English (enough but not too much…if you know what I mean). While we were telling the truth about our recent travels, we weren’t accentuating our earlier travels in the year. Sometimes, losing a little in translation isn’t a bad thing! The officer was confused that we were missing some stamps into the EU but admitted that seaport officials are not nearly as diligent as airport officials with stamps (we kept our mouths shut and nodded both hopefully and in agreement). When we produced our marina paperwork of Hazel’s entrance into mainland Italy as documentation, he seemed satisfied and we thought we were in the clear. However, when he said, “Let me take you over to our corrections officer to fix the stamps on your passports.” all we heard was the word corrections, and as Rhett and I exchanged near-panicked sidelong glances, Sunny Googled “Netherlands Pet Adoption” on her iPaw (she’d heard good things about the Dutch Masters). After a few tense moments with the “corrections officer” we realized that our fears were unfounded (we did out best to keep our sighs of relief inaudible). He was just updating our passports with some back-stamps that we had missed in our nautical ports-of-entry. While Rhett’s and my instinct when exiting the checkpoint was to trade a victorious high-five (maybe even catching some air), we opted for a discreet low-five.

From a destination perspective, we had decided to make Dublin our first port of call in the British Isles since we had discovered, rather late in the game, that the UK (or at least England) has some strange regulations prohibiting pets from flying into or out of the country (pets can arrive on trains or ferries no problem…go figure). Therefore, to enter the British Isles we flew into Dublin (Republic of Ireland and not the UK).

Our meandering travel in late November and December…

The British Isles with our crisscrossing travels.

Key to the letters above (in chronological order starting in late-November through the month of December):
A – Flight from Rome to Amsterdam to Dublin, Republic of Ireland
B – Drive from Dublin to Kinsale, County Cork
C – Drive from Kinsale back to Dublin then train to Belfast, Northern Ireland
D – Ferry from Belfast to Cairnryan, Scotland then coach (long-haul bus) to Edinburgh via Glasgow
E – Train from Edinburgh to York, England
F – Train from York to London*
G – Train from London to Bristol, then drive to Bath and the Cotswolds and continuing on to Betws-y-Coed, Wales
H – Drive from Wales back to London* via Oxford (day trip from London to Stonehenge and Bath)
I – Train and Chunnel from London to Paris (we flew home to Florida from Paris)

* We visited London twice (which added to our circuity) as we had first friends and then family visiting.

As we settled in Dublin, and admired our outbound passport stamps from Amsterdam, the weather turned on us and we truly understood what makes the Emerald Isle the emerald isle—it rained and rained during our time in Ireland. Although mostly wet with a few blue skies, our couple days in Dublin whetted our appetite for returning someday. Our first dinner in Dublin happened on the fourth Thursday of November and while it was unsurprising that American Thanksgiving wasn’t celebrated in Ireland, we scratched our heads to find that Dublin retailers have Black Friday sales (particularly funny since in our last couple days in Paris we observed Black Friday advertisements being posted in the Metro). Oh well, I suppose anything for a Euro (and yes, since Dublin is in the Republic of Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland is in the EU, Euros are the currency there).

Also in Dublin we started digging in to the history of Ireland and the island’s continuing struggle for independence. Rhett and I only knew a very little of this “history” before I setting foot on the island, but would find ourselves immersed in it, culminating with our time in Belfast. The reason I place history in quotes above is that I’m sure it’s not the exact right word. The struggle—although managed at the moment—is an unfinished work, being written to this day.

Although the Romans likely never made it to Ireland, Dublin and Ireland have a long history with Viking invasions and settlements as commemorated by this modern, floating sculpture. This is the old port on the River Liffey, when ships were much smaller and depended on the tides. The modern port is closer to the Irish Sea where the Liffey dumps into Dublin Bay.

To begin to understand the complex history between the two largest islands in the British Isles (Britain and Ireland) we found it useful to think of Ireland as a nearshore colony of an emerging British Empire (some would stay Northern Ireland still is an unwilling colony). We also found the aphorism, “England’s crisis is Ireland’s opportunity” is helpful to understand the timing of Irish rebellions.

In our first morning’s walk in Dublin, strolling through the idyllic St. Stephen’s Green park, were were confronted with the stark history of the 1916 Easter Rising. At the time, there was no Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland. Ireland was just…well…Ireland (one country and all under Anglican English control, to the chagrin of the Irish Catholic majority on the island). While the British were consumed by World War I in mainland Europe, a romantic but largely untrained band of poets, teachers, aristocrats, and slum dwellers took up arms against English rule. Some of the Irish rebels decided it a good idea to dig a warren of protective trenches in the park. With their lack of martial experience, what they didn’t anticipate was that highly trained British snipers could easily take the “high ground” (the rooftops of the relatively tall buildings surrounding the park). The snipers did just that and had a clear line of sight and line of fire down into the trenches. They deftly picked off the rebels one by one. The insurrection was crushed within a week and, in retrospect, the rebels never really stood a chance given they were significantly outnumbered and outgunned (the British had heavy machine guns and artillery). An important period to this sad sentence in Irish history is that after surrender, the rebel leaders were not treated with respect by the English military, they were summarily shot and their bodies paraded through the Dublin streets as a “warning” to others. This warning and punishment backfired as the Easter Rising is now seen as a key precursor to the 1920-21 Anglo-Irish war and the subsequent 1921 formation of the Republic of Ireland.

As we strolled the meandering pathways of St. Stephen’s Green park and traversed ancient arched stone bridges over dabbling ducks suspended on mirrored water, bullet holes in the park’s monuments from the Easter Rising made a stark contrast. The seeming ambivalence was striking. One one hand, no attempt had been made to repair or cover the stone scars. On the other there was no signage or placard indicating the source of the pockmarks—they were just there.

Rhett at the entrance monument to St. Stephen’s Green on a chilly late-November morning. Note highlighted box (and Rhett still wearing everything she had).
Close-up of the highlighted box with Easter Rising bullet holes clearly visible.

Next, we were off to Kinsale, County Cork on the south end of the island of Ireland, a 3 hour 175 mile drive…on the “wrong” side of the road. (Although I didn’t want to make that joke, being throughly monolingual I felt obligated to.) A year ago I’d driven on the left side for a day in the British Commonwealth nation of The Bahamas, but that was “island time” driving: a beat up old car on two-lane dirt roads (No problem man). In Ireland however we were playing for-keeps, given that much of our driving was on four lane high-speed highways. Interestingly enough, in preparation for our car rental I researched Irish driving regulations and got sidetracked on the internet and learned that the custom of driving on the left likely began from jousting competitions. Since most people are right handed, jousters cradled their lances in their right arms and passed to the left of their opponents. I guess if we continue to use the QWERTY keyboards 150 years after they were purpose-built to be cumbersome and slow, jousting is as good a reason as any to drive on the left.

To make driving even more interesting, and for national pride, Irish road signs were in Gaelic first and English second.

Over Irish hill and dale, we eventually made it to Kinsale…unscathed. It turned out the highway driving wasn’t too bad, helped by the fact that the Irish (like the Germans) absolutely do not pass on the outside (i.e., the slower) lanes. By comparison, American highway driving is a free for all. What was more challenging were the narrow back roads, four-way intersections, and traffic circles in our last 20 miles before Kinsale. With me as pilot and Rhett as navigator, our teamwork was this: As we approached an intersection, if we were turning left, Rhett would remind me “Tight left, tight left!” and if approaching a right hand turn, she’d say “Wide right, wide right!” in a generally successful bid to overcome my 40+ years of vehicular muscle memory. The traffic circles were a bizarre reframe. As we neared one, Rhett would brace herself with a hand on the dashboard and tensely utter, “Clockwise, clockwise…keep moving!”

We inhaled deeply and shared a big, collective sigh of relief when I parked the car in Kinsale and switched off the ignition. Instinctively, I reached down to my right hip to unbuckle my seatbelt, then remembered the buckle was on the other side.

The highlight of our time in Kinsale was a private walking tour with local guide Barry Maloney. As an aside, we hired private guides in several destinations, always with enlightening, entertaining, and—sometimes—unexpected results (an obvious foreshadow to Belfast). If you’re contemplating a similar trip, do look into booking local guides. Many are quite reasonably priced and they bring the history and culture to life making the travel vivid and memorable.

Barry arrived at our meeting-point complete with a laminated, “olde tyme” map of the town, harbor, and surrounding topography (integral to Kinsale’s history). As we got to know each other and Barry asked about our story, I said my late-wife Colleen was a McMahon and Barry replied in an enthusiastic brogue, “Ahhh, a MacMahon from Monaghan—she’s rebel royalty!”

A rose between thorns. Barry with his trusty map and excellent taste in hats.

As we started our walk Barry showed us the Catholic school where he received his early education from “the nuns.” When I asked him what that was like, he said (in his delightful Irish accent), “Well, let’s just say that—back then—Catholic education was a contact sport.” I further asked him about today’s attendance at the town’s churches (especially by the younger crowd), and he replied (a bit hyperbolically), “Nowadays, most go to church three times: when they’re hatched, matched, and dispatched.”

As we surveyed the land and sea, Barry painted a lucid panorama of the eponymous Christmas Eve, 1601 Battle of Kinsale that helped determine the course of history in Europe. At the time Catholic Spain ruled a vast global empire while England’s Queen Elizabeth I (the daughter of the Anglican-Church-founding Henry VIII) had only one “overseas” possession: Ireland. With that being said, “possession” is a generous term, as the rebellious and Catholic Ireland was in constant turmoil. While England had a firm grip on walled port cities such as Dublin and Kinsale, the remainder of the island was a jigsaw puzzle of lands ruled by 60 or so chieftains. Some were loyal only to their clan, others had mixed loyalties with neighboring clans, and some were loyal to England. Rewinding back to Dublin for a moment, the term” beyond the pale” (describing behavior that is outside the bounds of good judgement) was coined during this period. The walls surrounding Dublin bristled with sharpened spikes, the Latin word being palum (from which we get the word impale). If you were Anglican and English in Dublin at that time and stayed within “The Pale,” you were generally safe; but if you ventured “Beyond the Pale” you were literally taking your life into your own hands.

During the late 1500s Irish chieftains were communicating in Latin with Spain via the Catholic Church’s. The chieftains promised their support of a Spanish invasion of Ireland in hopes of driving the Anglican English off the island.

At the time, Kinsale was a compact loyalist harbor town surrounded by higher open planes. About 200 households lived within “The Pale” of its walls and turrets (“loyalist” being that the town was loyal to the crown of England and Queen Elizabeth). On a September day in 1601 and seemingly from nowhere, the town’s sentries watched with dismay as the harbor began to fill with 26 Spanish Armada warships carrying 3,500 red-sashed fighters. The Spanish easily overcame the small force of English soldiers protecting the town who quickly retreated inland to Cork City. About 10 days later Queen Elizabeth received the news of the siege. She knew that defeat by the Spanish in Kinsale could be fatal to England. Not only was Kinsale an ideal harbor, with the prevailing southwesterly winds it was an easy two-day downwind sail to England. If the Spanish established a foothold in Ireland with the help of their Irish allies, England would be the next target. As our guide Barry Maloney writes in his book Kinsale, “This, for England was a Cuban missile crisis of 1601!”

Shortly after the Spanish took control of Kinsale, their ships returned to Spain promising to bring reinforcements in the spring. The majority of the English army in Ireland was in Dublin and it took them over a month to mobilize to the threat and march from Dublin to Kinsale. This larger force of English solders arrived in October and dug in on the surrounding high ground and laid siege to the town. Although outnumbered, the Spanish were well protected by the town’s Medieval walls. In the meantime, with the Spanish Armada gone, English warships blockaded the harbor in hopes of starving out the Spanish. Adding to this singular siege, in early December, Irish armies arrived (including the “rebel royalty” MacMahons from Monaghan). The world was in the midst of a Little Ice Age (particularly pronounced in the North Atlantic) and this winter was unusually cold. The situation became a bitter wintertime siege within a siege—the English Army and Royal Navy starving the Spanish solders who had taken the town, and the surrounding Irish fighters on even higher open ground, cutting off the English supply routes.

In an effort to break the siege, the Spanish and Irish planned a surprise Christmas Eve attack. The Irish armies (not a singular, traditionally trained force, but fierce fighters skilled in guerrilla-style tactics and loyal to their respective chieftains) planned to begin their attacks at dawn. When the Spanish heard musket fire they planned to leave the protection of the walled town and attach the English from below. A mystery to this day is that—somehow—the English were ready for the Irish. While the Irish planned to pounce on sleeping English soldiers in crepuscular light, they were met instead by English cavalry mounted and in full battle readiness. It could have been spies that tipped-off the English, or it could have been exemplary nighttime fieldwork by English scouts spotting the Irish armies’ movements. The multiple Irish commanders (O’Neill and O’Donnell) didn’t help their cause when they couldn’t agree who would lead the attack. In addition, the open, deforested ground on which the battle was fought heavily favored traditional (English) tactics and weaponry compared with the Irish who were more adept at fighting in bogs, thickets, and woodlands.

The nail in the coffin for the Spanish and Irish alliance was that the Spanish were tentative and late in venturing beyond the pale. By the time they reached the battlefield, the English rout of the Irish was complete, and the Spanish had no choice but to retreat back into the town.

In three hours the Battle of Kinsale was over. The Irish armies were decimated and the Spanish soon surrendered. It was Spain’s last attempt in their long sea war with England and their surrender would lead to the 1604 Treaty of London and 20 years of peace between Spain and London. This hiatus of hostilities allowed England to develop its long overseas colonization, beginning with Jamestown, Virginia in 1607…and so this crazy, connected world turns.

Seen on one of our Kinsale walks. (Although I searched in both English and Gaelic, I never found The High Road.)

After the Battle of Kinsale, the harbor town made its fortune “victualing” outbound English ships headed for the New World and serving as a convoy point for returning ships. As ships departed London and other English ports for the New World, Kinsale was their last chance to stock up on food and water (i.e., to victual, pronounced “vittle”) before embarking on the transatlantic sail. From the other direction, while an eastbound sail from the New World to England was arduous enough, often the most dangerous part of the journey was the final leg of sailing through the English Channel which, at that time, was infested with French (and later, Spanish) privateers. For safety, English ships would congregate in Kinsale and sail as a convoy with escort from British warships. For a Pennsylvanian like me, it was interesting to learn that in 1666, a twenty-something William Penn (1644-1718) was appointed “Victualer of the Fleet in Kinsale” (his father was an Admiral and Governor of James Fort that protected the town). William Penn would later go on to found “Penn’s Woods,” my native Pennsylvania.

As we continued our walk, we passed an intricate stairs-mural that Rhett and I “stared” at for a long time before we could make sense of it. Barry allowed us several minutes to try to make sense of it before he interjected with the story of Anne Bonny. She was the illegitimate daughter of a Kinsale attorney and his maid, and also one of the most notorious pirates of all time—male or female—and the inspiration for the archetype of the strong, sensual, dangerous figure so popular in modern culture (think Keira Knightly’s character in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and Assassin’s Creed books and games).

Upon Anne’s birth in the early 1700s, the disgraced attorney and maid, decided to leave Ireland with Anne and begin a new life in South Carolina. As a child in Charleston Anne displayed a fierce temper. As a teen, a man tried to assault her and she, “…beat him so that he lay ill of it a considerable time.” After eloping to Nassau on New Providence Island in The Bahamas with a criminal described as “not worth a groat” (apparently what we would call a starter-marriage), she met and fell in love with the flamboyant English pirate Jack Rackham (inspiration for Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow). After years of piracy and carousing (including giving birth in Cuba), Jack and Anne were captured in Jamaica in 1720. While he was sentenced to be hanged, she escaped his fate by claiming to be “quick with child.” Jack’s last request was to see Anne just one more time and on the morning of his execution in Saint Jago de la Vega, Jamaica, he was led to her prison cell where she declared unapologetically…

I am sorry to see you here Jack, but if you had fought like a man you would not now be hanged like a dog!

Our tour with Barry concluded in the St. Multose Church, the oldest building in Kinsale. The earliest record of a church on this site dates to 545 AD and the present bell tower was built in the 12th century with five-foot thick walls.

Barry, trusty map, and I at the entrance to St. Multose churchyard.

On the church’s western door Barry pointed out curious scrapings on the sandstone that are thought to be from soldiers ritualistically sharpening their swords and arrowheads as they entered the church. Similar to jouster’s lances being carried in the right arm dictating today’s driving on the left, more right than left-handed warriors results in more wear on the right side of the arched door than on the left side.

Barry then led us through the door and into the unheated church. We huddled together for warmth with the afternoon light streaming through the stained glass behind the altar. At the bottom of the glass panels were curious inscriptions—more intriguing in that they were in English and not Gaelic. The words at the bottom of the second panel from the left caught my eye. I scanned it several times and racked my brain before realizing that it was the final stanza from Tennyson’s iconic sailing poem “Crossing the Bar,” which was also one of my father’s favorite poems.

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Crossing the Bar” (1889) (I added the italics)

A fitting stanza for this harbor town. At the risk of sounding boastful, when I realized what the text was—instinctually and from distant memory—I blurted out the first stanza of the poem, “Sunset and evening star….” Barry scrunched his brow, cocked his head and looked at me until he made the connection. Upon that realization, his countenance transformed from quizzical to a broad Irish smile. It was a moment of full-circle: from a history of conflict to a peaceful sanctuary, from a season of sailing to dry land, from a new friend to tender but bittersweet remembrances of Colleen, and my mother and father—all no longer on this earth.

After a tear and a hug we made our way back outside to the relative warmth and Barry respectfully concluded the tour by walking us through the St. Multose churchyard (graveyard). In addition to the Kinsale’s other history, in 1915 the Lusitania was torpedoed by a German submarine just 10 miles offshore. Three of the victims of the Lusitania are buried in the churchyard. The bodies were brought ashore by a naval patrol boat (along with 11 survivors) shortly after the sinking. Of the 1,200 victims, 128 were neutral American citizens (including Alfred Vanderbilt, one of the richest people in the world) and the event began the erosion of the United State’s neutrality in World War I.

A final note (and—again—in the spirit of coming full circle) is that although there was military conscription in Great Britain during World War I, there was no compulsory draft in Ireland as it was deemed too politically sensitive to force Irish people to join the British army. Even so, the Lusitania’s sinking became the centerpiece of an Irish call to arms and over 200,000 Irish volunteers fought in the war. In the same months that Irish volunteers were fighting and dying for the crown of England in Europe, Irish rebels were fighting and dying in Dublin in the aforementioned Easter Uprising…and the world turns.

A World War I poster.

As we close this post, I can only hope the chef made the dessert worth the vegetables—the brûlée worth the Brussels.

As a “preview of coming attractions” please keep the Lusitania tragedy pitching and rolling in your mind. It’s a good link to our next travelogue post that will highlight the Belfast-built Titanic. Although the Lusitania went down three years after the Titanic, it was commissioned four years before the Titanic (1906 and 1911). When launched, both had been the largest ships in the world and Lusitania’s design served as a template for Titanic.

Fair winds and follow seas.

Thanks again to to Barry Maloney and his excellent book Kinsale (available here).


OK, so I’m promising myself upfront that I will make this a simple post with just a couple reminders—and not some sappy spill-my-guts soliloquy. Here goes…

Rhett and I are lining up for the final approach to our wedding (5 Days 17 Hrs 50 Mins. But hey, whose counting?). Here is the link to the livestream https://youtu.be/4aV70RubRJ0. When you click on it, you should see something like this…

…where in the world Rhett found those good-looking professional models to dress up like us and pose in front of a backdrop of a romantic Roman street, I’ll never know.

Please note the “Notify Me” button on the livestream. I haven’t played with it but seems handy. I’m pretty sure the event will be recorded as well if you have other commitments at that time.

The stream should be live ~4:15 p.m. US EST with the ceremony starting at 4:30. The ceremony will last about 30 minutes and then we’ll cut the stream for the reception. While Rhett is a great dancer, trust me, you don’t want to see Dan doing his best to the Chicken Dance or Macarena—and definitely not to the Electric Slide (these being the undisputed holy trinity of reception songs for those of us who came of age in the late-80s and early-90s).

If you’re obsessed with our wedding and can’t get enough (kind of like J-Lo and Ben’s—but I think ours will last), feel free to check out our wedding website here. The funny story about the leading picture on the website (the one with me looking at Rhett’s left hand in front of the Roman triumphal arch) is that there’s no ring on her finger…yet. That’s a long story that I’ll tell on a future blog post.

On the site you can disregard the “RSVP” button, that’s just for in-person guests. Also, this site has been a bit flukey as of late. If it seems to be acting up when you visit it, or part of the site seems to be missing, “don’t do what Danny don’t does” and get upset—just come back to it later and with any luck it will be working. If you are asked for a password (unlikely but it’s happened), use “c3wxpg” and you should be fine.

I’ll close with a nice gallery of photos from our Rome-antic photo shoot in the eponymous city…

How did I do? Short? Simple? No soul wrenching?

Fair winds, following seas, and seashells, eggshells and wedding bells! Hazel James standing by on 16.


“I feel like I’m walking on eggshells,” she muttered dejectedly. Followed by, “You take everything so seriously and so literally. I was just talking and your reaction is so much more dramatic than what I said.”

I’m beginning to think that Mark Twain lied when he said that history only rhymes but doesn’t repeat itself.

While I’m happy to say—or, better said, satisfied to say—that I anticipated January would be bumpy, I underestimated how bad it would be. Like a seasoned sailor, I read the sky, barometer, and shifting wind patterns. All the signs of an extended gale were there. It would blow long enough that we’d have seas to content with. Wind is thunder, waves are lightning—while the former gets your attention it’s usually harmless, the latter?…an entirely different matter.

I had the hatches battened down as we sailed into January.

The month began with our New Year’s Eve homecoming from Europe. While Rhett flew, I cheated. Yes, we were sitting next to each other on the Airbus A330, but as I stared out the cabin window I was miles away and my soul as empty as the expanse of ocean below us. This was the easy way. Our westward speed was in excess of 500 miles per hour, roughly 100 times faster than my eastward speed aboard Hazel James earlier in the year. I also knew that when we started our descent in a couple hours, the planeload of other travelers would be looking forward to the flight being over while I would be falling back to earth. I had achieved escape velocity and been in orbit for almost seven months. I had been on the earth but I was not of the earth, I was of the ocean and of voyaging and of exploring. Soon I’d just have the memories.

Funny, our great circle route from Paris to New York took us over Gander, Newfoundland. When Rhett and I sailed to New York City in autumn, 2021, we saw the musical Come From Away which is set in Gander.

The end of our 2022 travels was just one threatening sign on the horizon. Others included the inevitable post-holiday blues and Rhett’s and my upcoming wedding.

For me, the weeks after Christmas and New Year’s are like a hurricane season. The sultry atmosphere is replete with latent energy that—with a little luck—might just dissipate peacefully. However, throw in a precipitating factor of some sort (a tropical wave off the Sahara, a major life-event like a wedding, or the random flap of a butterfly’s wing)—and the latent is transformed into a maelstrom.

I associate Christmas and New Year’s with three things: joy, and my sister Amy and Colleen. There’s the magic of the season and Rhett’s unbridled revelry in it. There’s the call from my sister a couple days after Christmas 2013 when she told me of her cancer diagnosis. There’s the sting of tears when I hear the lyrics from Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, “Someday soon we all will be together, If the fates allow,” and knowing that whoever or whatever the “fates” are, they’re not allowing Colleen to bask in her favorite holiday.

What can I say about Rhett’s and my wedding? Simultaneous with writing this post, I’m making some updates to our wedding website. Rhett kicked off the site, but now I’ve taken on the communications. I think I’m qualified and—trust me—you don’t want Dan dealing with the florist or the day-of wedding coordinator. The point is that when I’m on the site I’m confronted by the countdown timer’s 11 Days 10 Hrs 9 Mins.

It’s hard; so much happening together. It strikes the palate like a smoothie made with half sweet and half savory ingredients. Just because they’re each tasty and healthy doesn’t mean they should be mixed.

To batten down the hatches, I doubled-down on my yoga, meditation, and journaling. I reconnected with my therapist who I haven’t seen in a couple years and set up regular appointments. Yes, I saw it coming. I anticipated it. Could I have done more? Sure—one can always do more, but a sailor, like any other person, has to balance things. If you absolutely, positively don’t want to sink and drown, that’s easy—never leave sight of shore—or surer still, never embark.

I started my previous post like all other posts: with a naive beginner’s optimism. I think, This one’s going to be easy, a breezy surface-level travelogue. I already have all the material and pictures. I just need to write some stuff. However, as soon as I start weaving the warp of the words and weft of the images into a simple cloth, I’m dream not of rough burlap but of a tapestry, rich with thoughts, emotions, and connections. Days later when I finally hit the “Post” button on Now THAT’s Interesting I was emotionally spent and, unbeknownst to me, at the gaping maw of a dark tunnel that I often visit.

It’s like I’m a tiny engineer driving my childhood toy train set. The track is circular and has a scale-model tunnel to make the circuit more interesting. (It happens to be under the tree at Christmas). The thing is that there’s no switching track on the circuit by which to exit (at least not that I’ve found) so I’m doomed to plunge into the dark tunnel with every go-round the track. While it’s bad enough for me, it’s sad to think of Rhett as a passenger aboard.

As I approached the tunnel, the precipitating events were innocuous and trivial but they started the crystallization and soon the latent atmospheric energy was actualized. Things were said, misconstrued by me as literal, and I was in darkness. I went so far as to take exception to Rhett’s “mispronunciation” of the word Potato.

This all transpired before Rhett had read what I just posted. As the whistle screamed and the locomotive’s headlight illuminated the dank and mossy arch of tunnel, things were bad enough that Rhett wisely decided I needed some time and space by myself to think about what I really wanted out of this life.

At the time I thought I was numb, maybe even immune to love, but as she prepared her things to leave, I was startled to feel my heart cleaved in two. While it’s one thing to have that sensation, it’s another to know that you’re the one who plunged the dagger. As I sat deflated on the couch and in my pain, I mused about my tendency toward the primacy of science and logic, and how it doesn’t square with a quote from a recently-read science fiction novel.

Never doubt our emotions rule us; and no matter what we do, or say, or resolve, a single feeling can knock us down like a sword to the heart.

Kim Stanley Robinson, Green Earth (Science in the Capital Trilogy)

While my childhood tunnel was short and straight (with the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel”), the tunnel of my adult-self is arduous and anything but linear. It’s curvature—evidently matching the circuit of track to which I am bound—is such that when entering there is no light, no beacon, at the other end. I’m deep in the tunnel before I can perceive any hope in front of me.

It’s similar to sailing. When the weather is fine and the sun drenched azure sky is punctuated with fluffy clouds, and a fair breeze and following sea are pushing you forward—it’s so good that you can’t believe it will ever be bad. Conversely when it’s pitch black at 3:00 a.m., and you’re desperately trying to get some sleep below decks on the bucking bronco of your boat and you’re woken to the thump of something above decks and you know you’ve got to get your foulies on, get up there and check it out—it’s so bad that you never can believe it will ever be good again. On deck in the inky darkness, you’re not sure if you should wish for dawn and some light to make your job easier or if that light would only illume those menacing monsters rolling underneath you. You know they’re real but you’d rather not see them.

After some time—time where each second felt like an eternity—and I had thought things through, Rhett and I reconnected and agreed that there was no one single “correct” pronunciation for Potato. As we tentatively shared our thoughts about the triggers that had launched me into this most recent tunnel, Rhett shared that she had read my post. I winced. Did I make a gaffe? I thought, Did I say something that’s going to aggravate the raw but healing wound between us? Instead, she commented that as she processed what I had written, and talked about it with her best friend, she was reminded that my sometimes seemingly still waters run deep with whirlpools of grief and loss.

It’s funny, I thought that previous post was a predominantly a travelogue, focused on our journey through mainland Europe, with just a dash of personal commentary sprinkled on top for seasoning. However, she had seen something far different. While it’s warm and comforting to be understood at such a deep level by another human being (and it’s a newfound thrill for me to consciously write a veiled reference and have a reader understand it) it’s disorienting to have someone else see something in your work that you never knew was there—like scrolling on your phone and stumbling upon a text message or email that you clearly wrote but you have no memory of writing it.

Hemingway hatched the “Iceberg Principle”, where (according to Wikipedia), “Hemingway believed the deeper meaning of a story should not be evident on the surface, but should shine through implicitly.” To elaborate…

Hemingway said that only the tip of the iceberg showed in fiction—your reader will see only what is above the water—but the knowledge that you have about your character that never makes it into the story acts as the bulk of the iceberg. And that is what gives your story weight and gravitas.

Jenna Blum, The Author at Work

So far I’ve been drawn to pecking out non-fiction. (Of course, just what is non-fiction in a post-truth world?) In reconciling with Rhett, I feel like a mirror image of Hemingway’s iceberg—on first glance the reflection looks accurate, but upon closer examination you find it flipped left-for-right. Yes, we both have bulk below the surface but Hemingway has the knowledge of his fictional character, whereas I don’t have the knowledge of my own non-fictional self. It’s scary to think that Rhett and others who know me see more of me than I think there is of me.

Back to the title of this post, I like the aphorism, “You can’t bake a cake (especially a wedding cake!) without breaking a few eggs.” However, while the focus is on the food (the yolks and whites being folded into the flour and sugar) perhaps a more important corollary should address what’s done with the spent eggshells. Do I simply “let them go” and drop them in the garbage, or do I nonchalantly toss them over my shoulder and onto the floor for a soulmate to tread upon? I ask this because—at the beginning of this post—the “she” who said “I feel like I have to walk on eggshells around you.” is plural. I’ve now heard the exact same line from both Colleen and Rhett.

Sure, when Colleen said it to me, I could tell myself it wasn’t me, it was just her being her. I know enough about statistics to know that you can’t reliably establish pattern with a sample size of one (in this case, Colleen). However, when Rhett dropped that same line in my lap with no knowledge whatsoever of what Colleen had said, it was either via a séance between the two of them, pure coincidence, or the one constant shared by the two equations—yours truly. I guess I could squint at the situation and half-convincingly tell myself it’s coincidence. However, when Rhett added, “You take everything so seriously and so literally.” I stopped squinting and felt compelled to look in the mirror. Yes, I’ve had my share of loss that might explain-away a few things—and Rhett is so gracious about keeping that grief in the fore—but the sample size I’m dealing with is clearly past the coincidental threshold.

Twain told us that history rhymes but doesn’t repeat itself. OK—if that’s true—my situation feels like Colleen concluded her stanza of my poem with “Someday,” and—a few lines into the next stanza—Rhett finished a line with a day of the week (pick any day). The rhyme is so close that it’s almost not a rhyme.

In the same Green Earth trilogy, Kim Stanley Robinson posits, “If you don’t act on it, it wasn’t a true feeling.” The dagger that I plunged into my heart (and twisted) when Rhett decided to give me some space was the the most real thing—the most true thing—I’ve felt in a long time. I guess that begs the question: What am I going to do about it?

It’s personally a bit discouraging to work on myself with yoga, meditation, journaling, and therapy and still be on the train, constantly wondering how long the journey ’round will take this time—two days?, a week?, two weeks?—until I’m back at the mocking, gaping maw of the tunnel. Of course that’s the glass-half-empty side of me talking. The glass-half-full-side optimistically retorts, Dan, if you’re not where you want to be now in your evolution, just imagine where you’d be if you didn’t do any of that work? It’s a good question and some of the potential answers are chilling enough that I don’t explore them. I’ll never know. Life isin’t a double-blind controlled scientific experiment conducted by Mr. Spock.

Channeling my inner Kim Stanley Robinson again…

An excess of reason is itself a form of madness.

The countdown timer on our wedding site, now says 9 Days 8 Hrs 3 Mins. I’m scared. Not of the day itself, but of the day after, and the day after that, and the vulnerability of letting myself go and potentially being hurt (imagine that dagger lodged in my heart forever—never to be exorcised). I’m also scared about not being my best self to someone I love and who clearly deserves the best of life.

As I look out the train window and ponder the time remaining (now at 9 Days 7 Hrs 55 Mins), I’m thinking I may need a new—or at least refined—mental model. I’ve been around the circuit enough to know that I am me, there’s no changing that and if there were a simple switching track that would magically unshackle me from this cycle, I would have seen a hint of it by now. I’ll have to explore this concept with my therapist on my visit with her tomorrow. I’ll keep you posted with any epiphanies.

In the meantime, Rhett and I have agreed that it really doesn’t matter how each of us might articulate Potato, and our differences and peculiarities make us special (the genuine “special,” and not the cynical “special”). I have this sneaking suspicion that Rhett knew this all along and she’s just pretending she coming to the realization along with me in an attempt to soften my landing.

In related and exciting news, we have the link for the livestream of our wedding livestream: https://youtu.be/4aV70RubRJ0. (If you’re on-the-go as you read this, no worries, I’ll publish it again on a dedicated post prior to the wedding.) Plan to logon the stream about 4:00 p.m. US Eastern Time on Saturday, February 4. We’ll probably start streaming about 4:15 with the ceremony starting at 4:30. Also along that note, if you’re interested in seeing our wedding website (along with more professional photographer pictures), you can find it here.

Wish Rhett and me fair winds, and following seas over the next week and a half! I’m confident that the gales that have recently tested us have honed our skills making us better, more resilient, and more aware sailors and a better sailing team.

Now THAT’s Interesting (mainland Europe edition)

So just what can a person learn from sailing across an ocean solo, reuniting with a soulmate, spending a summer cruising the Mediterranean, wintering his boat in Italy, and then traveling across Europe for three months? Surprisingly, quite a lot.

Rhett, Sunny and I got back to the US on New Year’s Eve and since then have been heads down on wedding planning (coming up on February 4), and catching up on routine medical appointments and the million little things we’ve let slip over the past 6 months. Simultaneously we’ve both been trying to process everything we’ve seen and learned in our travels. As I try to make some sense of it, and search for connections, trends and patterns, I’m reminded of Mark Twain.

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Mark Twain

Speaking of Twain’s time, one interesting connection is that since we’ve been back in Florida (and to keep some kind of intellectual pursuit in our lives) we’ve started rewatching Ken Burns’s The Civil War. When I had originally seen it in the early-90s, Colleen and I were newly married and our kids were nothing but glimmers in our eyes. At the time (at least to me) the idea of a physically divided United States seemed like a quaint historical snapshot never to be repeated. Now, with better perspective and as I rewatch this magnificent documentary in 2023, I hear the rhyme between a physically divided America and virtually divided one.

Any self-respecting European cathedral took longer to build than our country has been in existence. Seeing the artifactual evidence of the Roman Republic devolving into the Roman Empire and then falling into disarray, and the machinations of French and English governments, brings our US political turmoil into better focus. (For anyone counting, in the 19th century France had seven regimes: First French Republic, First French Empire, Bourbon Restoration, July Monarchy, Second Republic, Second Empire, and Third Republic.)

History and travel books are full of dry facts, figures, and dates. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great reference—I just don’t need to regurgitate them here. In that spirit, I thought I’d focus my attempt at sense-making on a handful of particularly tasty tidbits that stood out to me. Warning: It’s the offbeat, head scratchers that tend to capture my attention and imagination, and make me want to learn more—I hope they do the same for you.

It appears to me that the Roman emperors kept three things paramount: bread, circuses, and logistics. The satirical poet Juvenal coined the term “bread and circuses” (“circus” from circuit, the closed track of a chariot race or—more broadly—any good public spectacle). One emperor’s tutor wrote of the previous Emperor Trajan, “He understood that the Roman people are kept in line by two things beyond all else: the corn dole and entertainments.” Since Roman politicians didn’t have the virtual circuses of today’s social media platforms, they had to rely on the real thing. To that end, what could be better than building a 50,000-seat stadium in which to throw the Christians to the lions? Of course an event at the Colosseum was only possible with a vast range of logistics.

There’s the boring and banal: How do you keep a good-sized college football stadium full of partying Romans cool under the summer in 70 AD? Easy, you build a retractable cloth umbrella that can shade the entire Colosseum. To this day, nobody is quite sure what it looked like or how it worked. We just know it existed.

Now that we’ve covered the crowd logistics, we can get to the fun stuff: the stagecraft of the Colosseum. Favorite shows were gladiators fighting each other and exotic animals, and reenactments of successful military quests (including flooding the Colosseum for mock sea battles). The question is: How do you get large and dangerous animals, and staged armies to suddenly “appear” in what is essentially a theater-in-the-round? Simple, underneath the “stage” you build a maze of corridors and holding cells for animals, actors, prized gladiators, and doomed prisoners. (What happens to that warren of tunnels during a sea battle reenactment? I have no idea.)

The Colosseum’s “stage” is intact in the foreground and has been removed in the background to show the logistical workings underneath. (Also, consider the sun-shade required to cover this entire expanse!)
Close-up from the other side of the Colosseum (intact stage in background, removed in foreground).
Rhett and I hamming it up in front of the Colosseum. Courtesy of a professional photographer (Please promise to never tell my past-self that I’d ever hire a professional photographer.)

As a quick side note related to today’s situation of the rich getting richer, while the Colosseum is truly “colossal,” it’s capacity of about 50,000 would only hold about 5% of Rome’s then-likely population of 1 million. The logical assumption is that the “entertainments” were a rather upmarket pastime for those with the time and money to attend.

Speaking of logistics, while most large Roman and Greek columns are comprised of multiple, shorter, stacked cylinders—the 16 massive columns in the portico of Rome’s Pantheon are each a single piece of granite. Egyptian granite to boot! Imagine the enslaved labor, and organizational, engineering and maritime expertise required to quarry a single 40-foot, 55-ton column in Egypt, get it to the Nile and float it to the mouth of the Nile on the Mediterranean, sail and row it 1,200 miles to the mouth of the Tiber river, use the tides to float it another 15 miles upriver to Rome, roll it on logs to the under-construction Pantheon, and erect it using nothing but manual labor, ropes and pulleys. Now that you’re “finished” with that task, repeat the process another 15 times. Amazing.

Rhett in front of the Pantheon. Note the two rows of eight-across monolithic columns supporting the portico.

While those columns are impressive, the real “eighth wonder of the world” in this picture above is Rhett is wearing sensible shoes…and allowing herself to be photographed in them.

Inside of the Pantheon. Amazing that this structure was completed around 126-128 A.D. during the reign of Emperor Hadrian.
Rafael’s tomb inside the Pantheon.

Another side note on the Pantheon is that the only reason it’s in such good condition is that in the early days of Christianity it was converted from a temple of all the gods (pan=all, theos=gods) to a temple to one god and became the Basilica of St. Mary and the Martyrs. If you look carefully in the previous picture of Rhett with the sensible footwear, you’ll see a Christian cross after-the-fact mounted on the co-opted Roman obelisk. (Lest you think I’m talking down on Christianity, don’t despair. The Romans got the idea of obelisks from the Egyptians. Do you sense Twain-ish rhyme here?)

Sadly, most other Roman temples fell into disrepair with the fall of the Empire (when the whole polytheistic thing was no longer in style) and were looted and used for building materials.

The history and riches of Vatican City in Rome were amazing. The Vatican Museum reportedly owns 70,000 works of art but only has the space to display about 20,000 of them (compare that with the roughly 35,000 works of art in the Louvre’s collection). How a religion founded by a barefoot carpenter on the premise of the meek inheriting the earth has that much wealth is both beyond me and beyond the scope of this post. With that said, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was truly amazing (no photos allowed though so I downloaded some from the internet). The chapel’s ceiling is a “fresco” (painted on fresh plaster) and I found it fascinating that Michelangelo never considered himself a painter (he was a sculptor), and before he painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel he had, at best, limited experience with frescos and fresco techniques—talk about on the job training! Urban legend has it that Michelangelo was so emotionally and physically beaten down by the four-year process that he painted his self-portrait in the Last Judgement scene on the ceiling—as a person skinned alive.

Rhett in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. The stage in front is where you see the Pope giving major addresses.
The altar inside St. Peter’s.
St. Peter’s from the back of the nave looking toward the altar.
The ceiling of the smaller Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo’s skinned-alive self-portrait is near the bottom just to the right of center.
A close-up of the “self-portrait” with Michelangelo’s face on the flayed skin.
Here’s another self-portrait. If I squint I can see some resemblance.

After Rome, we made stops in Siena, San Gimignano, Livorno, Pisa, Lucca, and Milan before we were off to Paris…

Packed and ready to go. Not exactly traveling light…but not heavy either. Note Sunny poking her head out of her travel bag to the right.
On our travels north: Siena Cathedral in Italy.
And the Piazza del Campo in Siena. Twice a year the Palio di Siena is run on the perimeter of the square. Imagine a temporary dirt track installed where the gray stones are in this picture and thousands of reveling spectators packed into the piazza in the middle to experience a 90-second no holds barred, chaotic race between 10 horses and riders.
Had to get this selfie.
From the roof of the Milan Cathedral, Italy.

Once we settled in Paris and oriented ourselves one of our first day-trips was a rainy journey to Versailles, about 10 miles outside of Paris. To paraphrase our favorite travel writer Rick Steves, to visit Versailles is to understand the inevitability of the French Revolution. While the Louvre (the previous palace of the French monarchs) in downtown Paris is huge, it wasn’t grand enough for Louis XIV who converted Versailles from his boyhood hunting lodge in the country to the seat of government of the first modern, centralized state. While the excesses of Versailles are clear today (and it’s easy to see how a home remodel that cost half of France’s gross national product for a year would have infuriated those subsisting on stale bread and foul water), there was some method to the Sun King’s madness. He used Versailles to consolidate France’s previously scattered ministries and compelled French royals to live “on campus” where he could keep a close eye on them.

The Palace of Versailles from the front looking at the golden gates.
The “backyard” looking toward the palace in the far distance.
The above location turned 180 degrees (we’re facing the palace) with the Apollo Basin fountain behind us.
A close up of the Apollo Basin from the previous picture. The water level has been lowered for the winter exposing the plumbing (when built in the late-1600s a river was diverted to gravity-feed the fountains).

About a hundred years and two Louis’es later, under the reign of Louis XVI, the monarchy was crumbling and (as a Tangled Up in Blue Bob Dylan might say) “revolution was in the air”. Rather than address the situation head on, the bookish Louis XVI and his Austrian queen retreated from public life into the idyllic gardens of Versailles. Marie-Antoinette so missed her bucolic childhood in Austria she had constructed a full-sized theater and an agrarian hamlet where she and her friends could act-out plays and “work the land.” (I’m sure their theater guests politely clapped for every performance regardless of the thespians’ quality, and the peasants who kept the make-believe farm running also took care of the dirty work.) The whole scene and retreat from reality reminded me of Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch.

Full honesty (and proving how little I paid attention in my high school history class), on our travels I learned that there were two Napoleons who were emperors of France—who knew? Napoleon I (Napoleon Bonaparte) ruled in the early 1800s, and his lesser-known nephew Napoleon III was both the first President of France (1848-1852) and, as Emperor, the last Monarch (1852-1870). Back to better known Bonaparte, his tomb directly under the gold dome of the Les Invalides Church in Paris is immense. Having recently been immersed in Rome, the parallels between Bonaparte’s tomb, crypt, and surrounding statuary and proclamations of his accomplishments with those of the Roman emperors were unmistakeable (even for me).

Napoleon Bonaparte’s tomb.

While the above picture gives a hint at the scale of his tomb. The video at this link does a much better job. (While you are watching the video, note how few people are visiting the tomb—we’ll circle back to that thought later.)

While the red porphyry-stone tomb is impressive, consider that within it is an oak coffin, an ebony coffin, two lead coffins, a mahogany coffin, a tinplate coffin, and then…drumroll please…The Emperor Bonaparte. Also interestingly, Bonaparte died in exile on the South Atlantic island of St. Helena in 1821. Not until 1840 was his body exhumed and moved here.

Napoleon headed out to a toga party.

Speaking of Rome, when Napoleon Bonaparte was to be crowned Emperor of France, he invited Pope Pius VII to Paris to do the honors in Notre-Dame (clearly, no conflict of interest there). However, at the last minute, the temperamental Bonaparte decided that only he was worthy of crowning himself so he took the crown and performed a self-coronation (on the painting that commentates the event, the look on Pope Pius’s face is priceless: “I wonder if I can still get on the next flight back to Rome?”). In addition, the Gothic interior of Notre-Dame wasn’t good enough for Napoleon so he had a stage-set erected in the church complete with Greek columns and Roman arches to solidify is position as emperor of a new Rome.

Rhett at the Louvre with Jacques-Louis David’s The Coronation of Emperor Napoleon.
A close-up of Pope Pius VII wondering why he made the trip.

While on the subject of Notre-Dame, unfortunately the cathedral is closed due to the devastating 2019 fire. (Prime Minister Macron’s goal is to have it reopened in time for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.) Even with all the construction barricades surrounding the cathedral, we could see the 28 Kings of Judah a third of the way up the facade and—as you might guess—there’s a funny story about these kings.

The closed Notre-Dame Cathedral. Note the construction barriers in the foreground. Also note the 28 Kings of Judah above the three arched doors and below the rose window.

Although the Kings of Judah ruled in Jerusalem and before Christ, during the French Revolution (1789-1799) this gaggle of biblical kings were mistaken for French kings by the and angry, revolutionary mob (who were also pissed-off about the oppressive Catholic hierarchy). The church was stormed and the stone heads of the kings were lopped off in effigy (perhaps with some kind of masonic guillotine?). The headless kings remained that way for decades until new heads were fabricated. While that’s all kind of interesting, what’s even better is that in the melee of the revolution, a local schoolteacher living near Notre-Dame quietly collected the heads and buried them in his backyard for safekeeping. In 1977, almost 200 years later, the heads were accidentally unearthed and are now displayed in the Paris’s Cluny Museum of the Middle Ages.

Some of the original Kings of Judah heads in the Cluny Museum. Looking good after 200 years in the ground.

Paris’s Palace Garnier opera house was built under the auspices of the aforementioned Napoleon III (nephew of Bonaparte) and our tour of it was lead by a humorous Dutch guide. In her introductory remarks, she talked about the two Napoleons and—for clarity—distinguished between them by either simultaneously saying “Napoleon” (in her Dutch-English accent) and tracing the outline of a giant bicorne hat (the two-cornered military hat favored by Bonaparte), or by saying “Napoleon” and twisting her thumbs and forefingers on either side of her nose as if she were adjusting a waxed Dali-style mustache (one of Napoleon III’s signature traits).

For modern musical audiences, the opera house is famous as the setting for the Phantom of the Opera (although “Phantom” would never be performed in the opera house since it’s a musical and not an opera). Yes, the famous loge cinq (box #5) is kept vacant and reserved for the ghost of the theater. What’s not as well known is that the opera house is actually built over an underground lake that inspired the boat scene from the musical.

The Palace Garnier opera house.
Inside with Rhett taking a picture of me taking a picture of her.
Incredible opulence.

As I was pondering the two Napoleons and if any government can be trusted, I visited the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in the eastern outskirts of Paris. Ironically, the cemetery’s namesake was a priest whose papal assignment was to listen to Louis XIV’s confessions (apparently a full time job). The cemetery—in addition to being the burial place of notables like Oscar Wilde, Frederic Chopin, Gertrude Stein, Edith Piaf, Jacques-Louis David (who painted Napoleon Bonaparte’s aforementioned coronation), and Jim Morrison—was the last stand of the Paris Commune. In 1870 the reign of Napoleon III was ended by Prussia’s invasion of France. With the exception of Paris, the country quickly collapsed and surrendered to the Prussians. The “official” French government evacuated Paris, fled to Versailles, and started collaborating with their invaders. Meanwhile, Parisians formed a revolutionary, oppositional socialist government dubbed the Paris Commune. Through the bitter winter of 1870-71 the Paris Commune held fast while the Prussians and the turncoat French Government laid siege to the then-walled city. As the weather broke in the spring of 1871, the Versailles government sent French troops to Paris. The federal troops breached the west wall of the city and tens of thousands of Parisians and army troops died in a week of street fighting. Reminiscent of our Alamo, the remaining resisters retreated within the walls of the Pere Lachaise Cemetery before surrendering. At dawn on May 28, 1871, those 147 French citizens who were also the last remaining members of the Paris Commune were lined up and summarily shot by French soldiers and buried in a mass grave.

Now that I’m back at home and watching The Civil War documentary and the brutality of Americans killing Americans at scale, I’m instantaneously transported back to the tragedy of the Paris Commune. I hear the Twain-rhyme ringing in my head.

The site of the last stand of the Paris Commune…inside the walls of the cemetery.

Jim Morrison’s grave in Pere Lachaise Cemetery
Close up with the Greek inscription KATA TON DAIMONA EAUTOU roughly, and somewhat cryptically, translated as “True to his own spirit.”

While we’re still strolling through the peaceful paths of Pere Lachase, there’s a great story about one of the first residents of the cemetery, the great comic playwright and actor Molière (1622-1673)…

On February 17, 1673, an aging Molière went on stage in the title role of his latest comedy, The Imaginary Invalid. Though sick, he insisted he had to go on…. His role was of a hypochondriac who coughs to get sympathy. The deathly ill Molière effectively faked coughing fits, which soon turned into real convulsions. The unaware crowd roared with laughter while his fellow players fretted in the wings.

In the next scene, Molière’s character becomes a doctor in a mock swearing-in ceremony. The ultimate trouper, Molière finished his final line—“Juro” (“I accept”)—and collapsed while coughing blood. The audience laughed hysterically. He died shortly thereafter.

Irony upon irony for the master of satire: Molière—a sick man whose doctors thought he was a hypochondriac—dies playing a well man who is a hypochondriac, succumbing onstage while the audience cheers.

From the Rick Steves’ Paris guidebook

We die only once, and for such a long time.


For a quick, lighter diversion, I noticed that—for some reason—NASA shirts in Europe seem to be a “thing.” Go figure. These are just the surreptitious and on-the-fly pictures I was able to get. I saw many many more that escaped my lens.

No trip to Paris would be complete without a climb up the Eiffel Tower. I was astounded to learn that the structure was never meant to be a permanent. Although its 18,000 iron beams held together by 2.5 million rivets took two years and two months to construct—and Gustave Eiffel brought the project in on time and under budget—the original plan was to dismantle the tower soon after the Paris World’s Fair of 1889. While many persnickety Parisians initially thought it a monstrosity, the structure eventually grew on people and the decision was made to keep it. As an engineer I’m amazed that something designed for short-term use looks to be in near-perfect condition 130 years later.

Photogenic day or night (the tower that is).
We climbed the Eiffel Tower in the late-day, enjoyed sunset from the top of the tower…
…and then stayed to see the City of Light live up to romantic reputation.
Inspecting a few of the 2.5 million rivets on the way down.
Rhett getting her steps in for the day—and then some!
Back on solid ground.
A chilling photo of another visitor to the Eiffel Tower (from the Army Museum in Paris).

Although they practiced in different mediums, places, and times, the works of Beethoven (1770-1827) and Claude Monet (1840-1926) share a somewhat similar story arc. As both aged, their primary artistic sense declined—Beethoven’s hearing and Monet’s vision. Perhaps as a reaction to their diminished sensory inputs the scale of each artist’s work expanded to monumental proportions. Beethoven’s culminated in his epic Ninth Symphony and Monet’s in his Water Lilies murals which are housed in the Orangerie Museum in Paris. Although Monet finished nearly 300 works on the subject of water lilies, his final compositions occupy two specially designed rooms.

To picture the rooms, imagine a huge symbol of infinity (a figure-eight rotated 90 degrees) then lay that symbol on its side and expand it so that it can hold 300 linear feet of lilies, water, clouds, and willows—over 6 feet high. In the two side-by-side egg-shaped rooms (the two lobes of the infinity symbol) you’re surrounded by panoramas of the water lilies in Monet’s Giverny garden from first-light through twilight. The connection to the infinite is quite direct, Monet was very specific about the design for the rooms in which this work was to be displayed. He was striving for, “…the illusion of an endless whole, of water without horizon or bank.” Thinking back to Rome and Michelangelo, this installation of Water Lilies is often referred to as the “Sistine Chapel of Impressionism.”

Rhett in Salle Un (Room One) of the two rooms. Note the natural filtered light coming from the glass ceiling (as specified by Monet).
Although distorted, this panoramic shot gives a sense of just one of the canvasses.
Headphones on for the museum’s audio tour and with trusty Rick Steves guidebook in hand.

I also found it interesting also that the advent of the camera and photography was a likely catalyst of the Impressionist movement. With rudimentary cameras in the late-1800s suddenly capturing far more detail than any Realist painter ever could, Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cezanne, and others were free to explore the feelings that impressed them about the sunset, or picnic, or harbor, or…water lilies.

As I type away on this post in Florida and think back to our time in Europe, the daguerreotype images in Ken Burns’ The Civil War documentary provide a jarring juxtaposition to my peaceful memories of Impressionist scenes. Our US Civil War coincided with the rise of the Impressionist Movement and was one of the first wars to be extensively photographed.

Finally—back to Napoleon’s tomb—perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that after the Nazis overran Paris (in addition to visiting the Eiffel Tower), Hitler paid his respects to Napoleon. If Napoleon could whisper to Hitler, he might have said, “Whatever you do, don’t invade Russia. I went in with 600,000 troops and came back with 60,000. It didn’t end well for me and probably won’t for you.”

About the only photo I’ve seen of Hitler not in military uniform.

I’m often pessimistic on my long-term outlook for the world. Much of my outlook boils down to the inevitable collision course between the human drive for growth, and the reality of living inside of a closed system (the earth). With that said, my spirits were lifted when I compared the hordes of people lining up to see Water Lilies while Napoleon’s tomb was nearly empty.

When touring monumental Roman ruins back in Italy, a guide said “Romans didn’t fear death, they feared being forgotten.” While pondering his immense tomb, I could see Napoleon suffering the same phobia. It’s inspiring that we remember the humble artist far more (and far more fondly) than the conqueror.

I started on this post thinking it would be a one-shot deal—one post for all of our European travels. However, as I started pecking away it became clear that I’d need at least three editions to capture it all—likely one for the British Isles not including Belfast, and one dedicated to just Belfast (long story there). However, while my notes and thoughts on the British Isles are percolating, I’m thinking that my next chronological posts will be some inward facing therapy for me. Between returning to the US, leaving Hazel, preparing to get married, and my son Jack’s wedding a month later—I have a “few” changes in my life to work through.

On the subject of weddings, Rhett’s and mine is just two weeks away. We have a live-stream company selected to televise the ceremony. (Is “televise” still a word?) Please keep an eye out for a near-future post with the link and login details. In the meantime, please pencil in Saturday, February 4, between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m. US Eastern Time and we look forward to you joining us!

Fair winds and following seas—even when not on the seas.

Save the Date

Imagine an elaborate black and white movie transition sequence. From a time before computer enhancement, when high-end special effects were multiple films manually superimposed in a cutting room, ankle-deep with scraps of cellulose film.

Our bags are packed and ready to go… The morning of our departure from Paris. (Look closely and you’ll see Sunny ready to go.)

The Paris scene ends with the couple walking hand in hand out of their favorite little cafe on the Seine, a little dog trotting next to them sporting a petite beret, cocked on a jaunty angle. The screen fades to an old-tyme page-a-day calendar with the days ripped away by an off screen fan. The remainder of November vanishes. The screen then fades to a transitional two-layer collage. The translucent overlay is of huffing and puffing steam locomotives, charming propeller aeroplanes, right hand-drive automobiles and coaches (buses), and passenger ships plying cold Irish Sea waters. These images are underlaid by a dashed track on a yellowed map of Europe: from Paris back to Rome, from Rome on to Dublin via Amsterdam, from Dublin to Kinsale on the Irish South Coast and then to Belfast. From Belfast to Edinburgh, Edinburg to York, York to London, and finally London to Bath and The Cotswolds. The travel images then fade back into the calendar that is now ripping through early-December and stops on Tuesday the 13th. The next scene opens with the writer, sick with a nasty respiratory infection (not COVID though), pensively gazing at a Cotswolds snow-scape from the writing desk of his garret hotel room in a converted English manor house.

Our garret room in England’s Cotswolds.
The view out the window.

While our travel over the past several weeks has been magical, it’s also had its share of dicey moments: tense border crossings; expecting a sanitized tutorial on Northern Ireland’s “Troubles,” but instead getting dropped into the fray; “Mexican standoffs” with English trucks on snowy single-track English roads.

Rhett in Scotland!

Suffice to say that we have been busy and have time in Wales and back to London planned before our return to the US later this month. I’m looking forward to some quiet time at “home” in Florida in January where I can organize my thoughts and pictures and write some proper blog posts. (I put home in quotes because we still have to find a home for the month of January! But that’s another story.) Until then, I’ll keep this post short so I can maximize my travel time and absorb all that I can absorb of the British Isles.

London’s Tower Bridge taken from London bridge. (The museum ship HMS Belfast is permanently moored to the right.)
Us enjoying the upper walkway of Tower Bridge with its glass floor.

Until then, I’d ask everyone to save the date of Saturday, February 4, 2023 on their calendars (about 4:00 p.m. US Eastern Standard Time). That’s when Rhett and I will be getting married!

…and dude, you’re invited. (Said in the voice of Sean Penn’s Spicoli from Fast Times.)

While the in-person ceremony will be small with close family, as we’ve been working through the details the one thing we kept coming back to is our many friends, colleagues, and extended family all over the world that we somehow had to include. Alas however, since the whole Star Trek “Beam me up Scottie” thing hasn’t yet been invented, we’ll have to settle for the next best.

The surprise Brady Bunch birthday that Rhett and her friend Maria threw for me last September when Rhett and I were in the Balearic Islands. It worked so well it inspired us to stream our wedding so everyone could join us!
Me in Hazel’s cockpit on the other end of the birthday party. (The sunshade is a necessity in the Mediterranean summer.)

While we haven’t worked through the technical details and are hoping a photographer/videographer can take care of all that, it’s our intention to livestream the wedding service. Don’t worry, we won’t be streaming the reception. (Nobody wants to see Dan “doing” the Chicken Dance into the Electric Slide into the Macarena. What? I’m dating myself?)

Fair winds, following seas, and Merry Christmas!

The Block

Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now.

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
François Auguste René Rodin’s Le Penseur (The Thinker) at the Musée Rodin in Paris.

I sit in a Paris apartment, stymied. While it’s not the dirt-cheap garret apartment that a Lost Generation bohemian would have rented, it’s romantic nonetheless. Hemingway offers me comfort that I can organize my 52-card pickup of thoughts and write a cogent post. Still, I embark on the post without a clear port of call; until now I’d never thought of Papa as an optimist.

As I pense, I’m staring down at 25-30 thought balloons—cryptic words and phrases encapsulated by roughly drawn ovals indiscriminately scrawled on a sheet of plain white paper. A handful of lines—some short and straight, some long and circuitous—connect a subset of the balloons. They are bravely attempting to navigate relationships and sequence. I’m reminded of my track across the ocean earlier this year: at times a dead-on rhumb line towards the destination; at other times, an observer not knowing my goal but watching my wavering daily progress would have had no idea to where I was bound.

If I bear any resemblance to The Thinker, my turbulent thoughts envelope me as Rodin’s The Gates of Hell surround his seminal small-scale Thinker.

Rodin’s The Gates of Hell (La Porte de I’Enfer). The (original) Thinker sits above the doors, pondering it all (center of photo about a quarter of the way down).

Before we visited the Rodin Museum I never realized that the initial incarnation of The Thinker was much smaller and just one element in The Gates of Hell. Rodin decided that the figure itself would be interesting in a monumental size, so he extracted it, enlarged it, and it has become one of the most famous statues in the world.

With my page of scribbles I’m trying to discover an uncharted storyline that simply has to be there. How could it not? I have so much material. While wonderful and unforgettable—Rome, Siena, San Gimignano, Livorno, Pisa, Milan, and finally Paris—I feel we need some punctuation mark in our travels as we catch our breath before invading the British Isles. However, so far my technique isn’t helping. No tale is clawing its way out of the paper and shouting at me. While it’s unfortunate, at least it’s accurate. The plate of bucatini before me is a fair representation my brain’s recesses.

It would be easy to write a breezy travelogue with little text or feeling and lots of pictures, but that feels borderline “Instagram-ish.” Or, I could spin a sailing yarn from the summer, of tragedy narrowly adverted (we have lots of material in that genre). But neither are interesting in the present moment. Perhaps it’s the grandeur of the masterpieces of art and architecture that we’ve experienced that motivates me to contribute to it all in some little way, to convey the emotions of our travels.

Every block of stone has a statue inside of it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.

Michelangelo’s Slaves

Perhaps the difference between Michelangelo and me (besides 490 years and a whole lot of talent) is that he had the genius to see the one sculpture in a block of stone (“I created a vision of David in my mind and simply carved away everything that was not David.”), whereas our extensive travels leave me feeling that I’m blinking my way back into consciousness after a fitful sleep of vivid dreams—my vision a blurry abstract canvas of often competing and contradictory thoughts.

To an imaginary observer, the page of words, ovals, and lines before me would be incomprehensible. Unfortunately, to me, the experience of observation isn’t that different. Yes, I can read my own handwriting and I know the stories that underlay each of my my chicken-scratch bubbles, but I’m still not seeing the one sculpture within marble.

The one thing (maybe the only thing) that I’m sure of is that a writing coach would admonish me for sitting down at the loom before I can visualize the finished tapestry. Old-school management guru Steven Covey would put it succinctly, “Begin with the end in mind.”

I was hoping that when I opened the tabla rasa of this blog post, the warp and weft of my thoughts would magically weave cogency—but here we are, the land astern of us is sinking into the ocean and we’re bobbing around aimlessly in a seaworthy boat fully provisioned with material, but the captain has no idea where the ship is bound.

As I ponder and write, I find this blog post wandering towards a still life, where the “subject” of the painting (the fruit on the table) is no longer the subject. It’s merely the prop to allow the artist to experiment with light, color, texture, and perspective. My problem mirrors the still life painter’s problem, neither of us can hide shoddy work behind a scintillating story or scene, the work has to stand on its own…a scary thought.

As I look back at an aging 2022 and search for one unifying thread from the year, from our travels, and for this post—my thoughts keep returning to the shear magnitude of the universe and all within it. While it’s one thing to hop on a redeye in the US, wake up in Europe and take a whirlwind tour of the Pantheon in Rome or the Louvre in Paris, I find it dizzying and humbling to have sailed an ocean and a sea to get here, and now have the luxury of extended time to dig deep. The Atlantic and the Mediterranean is so vast; all the artists and all their art is so vast.

On one hand, an appreciation of magnitude breeds a feeling of insignificance—like gazing at a crystal clear sky while sailing a phosphorescent ocean on a moonless night. I’m a speck, flickering for the briefest instant. What does it matter?

On the other hand, I’m swaddled in the comfort of connectedness. The dust in me and the dust in the stars whose light I am now seeing was created together—we’re all one.

Thousands of miles later—with the Atlantic and Mediterranean astern of us, and comfortably on the dry land of Paris’ Right Bank—I marvel at the Louvre’s collection of 30,000 works in 9 miles of corridors. I can’t help thinking, Why even bother to try to do something artistic? Whatever I contribute will, at best, just become part of the faintest wash of the Milky Way. Still, like the dust in me and the dust in the stars, I’m part of a community trying to make sense of it all, trying to capture the feeling and emotion that is sparked by existing in this time and place.

Pausing on the phrase, “…existing in this time and place.” compels me to add a corollary of gratitude to the maxim of magnitude. If I consider the odds of me being here in this universe at only this time and place, and of having found romantic love for the second time, What are the odds of that lightening sticking twice? How could I ever take that for granted? (But I often do.)

Our apartment is on the 7th floor (in the 16th arrondissement for any curious Francophiles). It faces west and the low November afternoon sun is starting to stream into the balcony windows reminding me that we should start thinking of dinner.

I’m happy. For everything enumerated above and for having plucked a transient feeling, out of a stew of emotions and experiences. Granted it’s not a realist masterpiece (almost photographic in its conveyance of detail). I like to think of it as more impressionistic. Perhaps immediately after reading it doesn’t make much sense—like standing too close to a canvas. I’m hoping that with a little time, and a couple steps back, we can both say “Oh, I see it! There’s a bridge and a pond and some lilies!”

Monet up close.
…and stepping back.
The same scene in a different light.
…and again stepping back.
Sunset from our balcony.

Fair winds and following seas.

PS: Yesterday, I experienced Monet’s Impression, Sunrise in the Marmottan. A special thrill because this painting is the eponym for the Impressionist movement. However, Monet didn’t coin the term, he just offhandedly named the unnamed painting for an exhibition’s catalogue in 1874. Ironically, credit for naming the movement goes to conservative art critic Louis Leroy, who sarcastically borrowed the word for the title of his scathing review “The Exhibition of the Impressionists” (my favorite quote from the review about Monet’s work, “Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished than that seascape!”). The term stuck.

Monet’s Impression, Sunrise.

Just as fascinating, in researching this blog post, I learned that Impression, Sunrise and eight other works were stolen from the Marmottan in 1985, in broad daylight and at gun point. The paintings were recovered five years later in Corsica. Amazing.

Good-Bye, And Keep Cold

When I was a child, my family had a little cottage on the shores of Chautauqua Lake in Western New York—a three-hour drive from our home outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (It’s of course the same lake and cottage that figures so prominently in Heeling is Healing.) A polite person might have called the cottage “rustic.” (It could sleep 11 but only had one bathroom.) It was a summer only cottage; besides its magnificent stone hearth and collection of old quits, it had no heating. In August, as summer was waning and the Upstate New York evenings were getting chilly, we’d pick a weekend after Labor Day but before hunting season to “close up the cottage.”

The weather on our closing weekend was invariably a lose-lose proposition. If it was sunny and beautiful, we’d ask ourselves why were closing up the cottage when we could enjoy it for a few more weeks. If the weather was miserable, our teeth would be chattering and our lips blue after getting the dock out of the water and crawling through puddles under the house to drain the plumbing so the pipes wouldn’t freeze. However, regardless of the weather, on Sunday afternoon our brown Buick station wagon would be idling in the cottage’s gravel parking area. “The wagon” as we called it, was the reverse of a magic carpet—it would transport us from the mythical lake that I loved, to the banal reality of the city-suburbs and an upcoming school week. After my dad locked the creaky back door off the kitchen, he would start toward the car and then turnaround halfway and face the quiet cottage. Like a pastor blessing his flock, he’d call out, “Good-Bye, And Keep Cold.”

Our cottage shuttered for the winter. Note the dock in pieces and stacked in the front yard, and leaves off the trees.

For many years I accepted this repetitious behavior as just another of my father’s strange idiosyncrasies. (All fathers do things like that—right?) Eventually, on one fall drive home to Pittsburgh, I asked him what he meant by the phrase “Good-Bye, And Keep Cold.” Fortunately I queried him early in the drive, because the next hour or so he occupied the time by describing the eponymous poem by Robert Frost and dissecting its various meanings.

On its surface, “Good-Bye, And Keep Cold” is a poem about a person leaving a young apple orchard on the outskirts of his farm for the winter and wishing the saplings well. The biggest wintertime risk for temperate zone fruit trees is an early warm spell followed by a freeze. The trees are fooled by the warmth and start to blossom, then the subsequent freeze kills the blossoms and the season’s harvest is lost. As Robert Frost says, “Dread fifty above more than fifty below.” Thus, well designed orchards (in the Northern Hemisphere) are on north facing slopes to keep them shaded from the low, early season sun.

As I crawled into bed that evening at home (dreaming of “the lake,” and dreading the school week ahead), instead of reading a bedtime story to me, my dad pulled out his thick hardcover Poetry of Robert Frost and read the poem to me as I drifted off to sleep…

This saying good-bye on the edge of the dark 
And cold to an orchard so young in the bark
Reminds me of all that can happen to harm
An orchard away at the end of the farm
All winter, cut off by a hill from the house.
I don’t want it girdled by rabbit and mouse,
I don’t want it dreamily nibbled for browse
By deer, and I don’t want it budded by grouse.
(If certain it wouldn’t be idle to call
I’d summon grouse, rabbit, and deer to the wall
And warn them away with a stick for a gun.)
I don’t want it stirred by the heat of the sun.
(We made it secure against being, I hope,
By setting it out on a northerly slope.)
No orchard’s the worse for the wintriest storm; 
But one thing about it, it mustn’t get warm.
“How often already you’ve had to be told,
Keep cold, young orchard. Good-bye and keep cold.
Dread fifty above more than fifty below.”
I have to be gone for a season or so.
My business awhile is with different trees,
Less carefully nourished, less fruitful than these,
And such as is done to their wood with an axe—
Maples and birches and tamaracks.
I wish I could promise to lie in the night
And think of an orchard’s arboreal plight
When slowly (and nobody comes with a light)
Its heart sinks lower under the sod.
But something has to be left to God.

Robert Frost, Good-Bye, And Keep Cold, 1923

My father is now gone and I keep that book in Hazel James’ “library.” Every week or so I crack it open and either find one of my father’s dog-eared favorites or discover a new verse. As its spine hits Hazel’s dining table and the pages unfold, revealing a blossom of words and rhymes, my nose is greeted with a swirling essence of old paper, bookbinder’s glue, and my childhood home.

As Rhett and I were preparing to leave Hazel for the winter in Gaeta, Italy, I kept thinking of my father, our final weekends of the season at the cottage, and “Good-Bye, And Keep Cold.” While it was comforting to get to know the marina staff, see their professionalism, and know she would be in good hands, I found the entire process incredibly disconcerting. While we would winterize our lake cottage every year and the process had become rote, in the five years that Hazel and I have been together, I’ve never been away from her for this long and I’ve never “winterized” her. (Fortunately Gaeta doesn’t get hard freezes so while there’s lots of preparation, we don’t need to protect against freezing.)

If I can be a bit obsessive-compulsive with details on a normal day, I’m totally over the top when my and my crew’s lives may someday depend on my preparations…so it was for our winterizing.

An abbreviated list:

  • Sails unbent and to the sailmaker – (In marlinspike [proper] nautical parlance, when a sailor attaches a sail to a spar [mast or boom] he’s “bending it on.” “Unbending” is the reverse.) Even covered, the sails can take a beating in the winter weather so they should be unbent and stowed below decks. Better yet, the marina introduced me to Luigi the sailmaker. He carted off the sails and over the winter will wash them, repair a few tears, reinforce thin spots, and examine all stitching and restitch as necessary.
  • All food off the boat – A weird one for me. Exactly three years ago, I was starting to provision Hazel for our first extended voyage to The Bahamas and Virgin Islands. Before that point, I never kept any food onboard, after that point I’ve always had some food onboard. I was raised by depression-era parents who taught me to finish every morsel of food on my plate, therefore the thought of throwing out food pained me to no end and, for some reason, I lobbied hard to keep staples onboard through the winter. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed (i.e., Rhett’s head) and she took care of donating all unopened packages and cans to the local community food bank and disposing of the rest (I don’t think there was much thrown out, but Rhett was discreet and—besides—I couldn’t bear to look).
  • Decommission the watermaker – The watermaker’s membrane is the thing that does the high-pressure magic of extracting potable water from seawater. In normal use, it needs to be flushed with freshwater at least every five days. When we’re onboard that’s no problem, a freshwater flush is a three-minute procedure. However, when away for an extended period the watermaker needs to be pickled by pumping the membrane full of propolyne glycol (a nontoxic antifreeze). (We’ll flush it thoroughly with freshwater in the spring to recommission it.)
  • Canvas, halyards, and anything else possible off the deck – While the Italian winter is cool, the Mediterranean sun is still beating down and the UV rays will degrade most anything. Therefore, the dodger, cushions, sail covers, lines, etc. all have to come off and get stowed below.
  • Winterize Ox (Hazel’s diesel engine) – Change the oil (old oil has acids that shouldn’t be allowed to work on the metal of the engine through the winter). Replace the antifreeze (the anti-corrosives in antifreeze wear out with time). Run freshwater through Ox’s raw water (saltwater) cooling system; disassemble his raw water pump and store the pump’s impeller out of the pump so it doesn’t deform over the winter. Lots of other little items here.

…and the list goes on—you get the idea. One common theme you probably picked up from the preceding list is “stowed below decks.” Every day we were bringing more and more of what’s normally on deck, below into the saloon. At the same time we were trying to live on her 31 feet, and also packing for our tour of Europe and a trip back to the States. The whole thing reminded me of one of those sliding tile puzzles that would engross me as a kid on long drives. Whatever we needed on Hazel was invariably beneath three or four other things. And—of course—when you needed to move the three or four other things, there was no room to put those things without blocking access to something else!

A sliding tile puzzle.
Hazel’s saloon, looking like a tornado just came through.

It certainly wasn’t all work. Through our couple weeks of preparations, we also took some time for fun around the beautiful little village of Gaeta.

Rhett, Sunny, and me exploring the medieval section of town.
Rhett and Sunny dreaming of our next destination…Rome!
The marina also had a working fishing fleet and it was fun to watch the small Italian commercial boats embarking and returning.

One interesting thing we discovered is that right next to the marina is an Italian-US joint naval and army base. Every day at 0800 sharp from the base’s loudspeakers we’d hear the Italian national anthem, Il Canto degli Italiani (The Song of the Italians) followed by the Stars and Stripes—a beautiful way to start the day. One morning we awoke to find that the USS Carson City had arrived the night before. (For security reasons, military ships arrive and depart without announcement or fanfare.) The locals said the base had been much more active since war in Ukraine had broken out.

The USNS expeditionary fast transport Carson City seemed to appear from nowhere one morning.

On the land-side of the military base there was a display of a WWII era submarine conning tower. It reminded me of the USN nuclear sub that I saw on my first day of sailing of the voyage off the coast of South Florida.

Sunny and me in front of the WWII sub conning tower.
Off Hazel’s stern on our first day of sailing in May.

Hazel (in turquoise on the left) with sails unbent and enjoying the fine weather the DAY BEFORE we departed.

Finally, our last morning on Hazel rolled around. The alarm clock rousted us early from slumber and—after a string of fine weather the days before—we woke to a cold, driving rain. Undaunted, we got to work right away on final preparations, taking a break at 0800 to respect the two national anthems. We had a taxi to the train station scheduled for 10:00 a.m. to catch an 11:00 a.m. train to Rome. To preserve any living space possible in the saloon, I’d put off doing a final clearing of the decks until that last morning. While it seemed like a good plan, I hadn’t considered the possibility of rain. Oh well, we were on “final approach” at this point and there was no turning back.

With the clock ticking closer to 10:00 a.m. faster than our last-minute list was shrinking, we decided to change tactics and divide and conquer. Rhett got the luggage and Sunny off the boat and to the taxi meeting spot while I stayed back on Hazel feverishly but methodically working through the final checklist items.

After completing my last tasks below decks, I popped up into the cockpit for my final stem-to-stern survey. It was raining harder and I turned my foul weather jacket’s collar up to keep my travel clothes as dry as possible. My good girl Hazel looked naked—without sails, canvas, halyards, and all her other on-deck sailing equipment.

Last view from the cockpit.

Her “bare poles” reminded me both of Frost’s apple trees and of the majestic ash and maple trees that surrounded our lake cottage, all denuded of leaves by the shortened days and frosty mornings.

I buttoned up her companionway hatch-boards and sliding hatch and moved toward the bow to make sure all on the foredeck was shipshape. As I did, my phone buzzed—a text from Rhett: “Are you coming? Cab is here!” I responded with a quick “Yup.”

Last view of the foredeck.

As I reached her pulpit (the metal rails at the very front of the boat), I swung myself down and onto the soaked wood of the dock. I gazed back at Hazel and thought of my misty-eyed dad taking his last autumnal look at our cottage.

The last look.

I started down the dock but then pivoted after a few steps and returned to her bow. I leaned out over the water and grabbed a pulpit rail with one hand and patted her turquoise hull with the other. She’d gotten me through 6,500 nautical miles and across an ocean this year. More importantly, she had helped me discover parts of me, and parts of Rhett and me that had never been explored. The pat on he hull was the least she deserved for that.

I whispered to her, “Good-Bye, And Keep Cold my girl. We’ll be back in the spring for more adventures.” I turned again. This time for good. As I ambled down the dock through the pelting rain, I pulled my hood over my head and hunched deeper into my warm jacket. Hazel was on the end of the dock and although I had to walk past fifty or so other boats, only a handful were occupied. Although I’d usually wave and give a hearty “Ahoy!” to the other sailors when I was on a promenade down the dock, this time I was taciturn, staring straight ahead, lost in thought. I’m not sure if anyone noticed me when I passed but, if they did, I’m sure they couldn’t tell if my face was wet from rain or tears.

Fair winds and following seas; good-bye, and keep cold.


In 1698 and while employed by the Medici family in Florence Italy, musical instrument technician and builder Bartolomeo Cristofori created the precursor to today’s piano. What made the instrument revolutionary—compared to the other popular keyboard instruments of the time (the clavichord, harpsichord, and pipe organ)—is that the musician could control the volume of each note played by how hard he or she struck the note’s key on the keyboard. Because of this innovation, Cristofori dubbed his invention the “fortepiano” (also sometimes called the “pianoforte”)—“forte” being Italian for strong or loud, and “piano” for soft. The instrument’s name was later abbreviated “piano.”

I state the above for two reasons. First, the title of our previous post was Piano Piano and I wrote it the morning we embarked from Santa Teresa di Gallura, Sardinia bound for Gaeta, mainland Italy—a 200 nautical mile sail through the Strait of Bonifacio and across the Central Tyrrhenian Sea. Second, because the passage itself was an epic “fortepiano” experience. As I reread the Piano Piano post in preparation to write this post, my pre-passage hubris made me chuckle: “I think we’ve started to learn a thing or two about Mediterranean weather and sailing….” Yes, when we departed I knew it was going to be a bit windy and challenging, but—once again—I underestimated Poseidon’s and the Mediterranean’s ability to surprise me.

Rhett and I had been impressed with the marina at Santa Teresa and had talked to some other sailors who had decided to winter their boats there. After I downloaded and analyzed our final set of weather forecasts, and told Rhett that we were a “go” to depart, she said half-jokingly, “Good, if we had had another gale warning and had to delay yet again, I was going to suggest that we just winter here.” In retrospect, it’s funny how the cascading effects of a particular event can change the course of our lives.

Hazel tucked in the Santa Teresa di Gallura marina (blue circle around Hazel).

The marina at Santa Teresa is in a long and deep cala (cove) with steep hills surrounding it. As such, most of the wind is blocked in the cala and the remaining wind swirls from all directions. Bottom-line, from inside the marina it’s impossible to tell what the wind on “the outside” (the Strait of Bonifacio) is actually doing. As we loosed our mornings and snaked Hazel northward through the narrow cala, and the Strait of Bonifacio came into view in the gray, early morning light, it was clear that we were going to be in for a spirited ride. Even with the sun barely above the horizon, we could see the white-capped waves whipping from west to east—at least, and as predicted, we’d have the wind behind us. With Rhett at the helm and as we cleared the rocks at the mouth of the cala, I hoisted Hazel’s small staysail to get us going. As I did, I told Rhett that once we got out in the strait and had a better feel for the wind, we’d adjust our sail plan accordingly. Little did I know that we’d be sailing under just the staysail for the next 20 hours!

From the town of Santa Teresa di Gallura looking north toward Corsica, France (picture taken the day before as some thunderstorms were rolling through the strait)

Rhett and I have a little tradition at the beginning of a sail; after we’ve motored out of the marina or anchorage and right before we shut down Ox (Hazel’s auxiliary engine) and start sailing, the person who is about to pull Ox’s “stop” knob that chokes his diesel supply, cheerily calls out, “Get ready for the best sound of the day!” As Ox’s iron machinations cease, we’re flooded with the sound of wind and sea and sails and birds—it’s pure magic. This day it was my turn and with Rhett at the wheel, I cried out the salutation. Ox’s diesel rumble and chatter faded away and, with a whoosh, we were off and sailing fast with the morning sun in our eyes.

It was brilliantly clear and we sailed east about a mile north of Sardinia and six miles south of Corsica. We were doing 6+ knots and headed for a cluster of small but spectacular islands off northeastern Sardinia at a range of eight miles. While, we’re thrilled when we make 6 knots with all her sails up and pulling, I was surprised to be going this fast under the tiny staysail alone. I looked at the anemometer readout and saw it ranging in the low 20 knots of apparent wind. Adding our boat speed onto that and we were talking about a true wind in the upper 20s—about 10 knots higher that I had anticipated for this time of the day. Oh well, I thought, We’re in it and we’re committed. I made the easy decision to not change our sail plan and continue under just the staysail. Hoisting more would only stress the old girl and only give us a marginal increase in speed.

As we bubbled along and got fenders stowed and Hazel’s self-steering windvane rigged, it felt good to get our sealegs under us and settle in. I’d heard tales about the Strait of Bonifacio and how the wind can funnel between the French and Italian landmasses, and become a fury in a hurry. While I was hoping to transit the notorious strait in a gentle 10-15 knot breeze, the sea state was manageable and didn’t seem to be building, even with the strong breeze off our stern.

Weaving through islands in the Strait of Bonifacio.

Within the hour we were closing on Isola La Maddalena and the other small islands off northeastern Sardinia. Fortunately the passages between the rugged red granite islands were relatively wide and deep up to the shoreline, and we transited them without incident. As often seems to be the case with us, there were no other boats sailing on that breezy but sunny morning and we wondered aloud if we knew something everybody else didn’t know, or vice-versa (here’s a video of Hazel under staysail as we navigate the islands around Maddalena).

As we continued eastward with Sardinia and its surrounding islands receding in our stern wake, we got a respite from the sea because there was practically zero fetch. In nautical parlance, the “fetch” refers to the distance that wind blows over water before it reaches your position. Wind driven waves are caused by the friction of air moving across the water’s surface and the longer the fetch, the bigger the wind-driven waves will become (up until the friction of the wind on the water generating waves reaches equilibrium with the calming effects of water molecules against each other and gravity). As an aside, it’s also worth noting that newly formed waves (“young locals” you could say) are steep and choppy—they have shorter periods or wavelenghs, while waves generated long ago and far away (“elderly out-of-towners”) tend to be gently sloped with long wavelengths (swells).

Unfortunately, I knew that respite from the seas was going to be temporary and in another 10 miles or so, the wind (which had continued to strengthen) would have plenty of fetch to generate a nasty, short-period and steep, “local” sea. It was about 10:00 a.m. by that point and I told Rhett my hunch about the seas that we’d soon be experiencing and added I was going below deck to download the latest weather forecasts via satellite to see if they would reflect the wind that was now blowing hard in the lower 30 knot range.

It takes longer to download weather via satellite (offshore) than it does over cellular or wi-fi (inshore) so about 15 minutes later I was back on deck with the news. In the time I’d been below deck the wind and seas had built considerably and Hazel had taken some spray and whitewater over the transom from the following sea. Nothing serious (yet) but enough to get our attention. Both Rhett and Sunny were a bit wide eyed when I said, “So, what do you want first? The good news or the not so good news?” Rhett—the eternal optimist—elected to start with the good news (no surprises there). I replied earnestly, “Well, we have our health.” She stared at me deadpan. Humor is all about timing and perhaps my timing was off, or perhaps she was in no mood for humor that was borderline gallows humor. “And?” she asked. I confessed, “The not so good news is that a gale warning has just been released for the Western-Central Tyrrhenian Sea which is exactly where we are.” Rhett pondered this new development for just an instant and asked the good question, “What are our options?” My reply was honest but oxymoronic, “We only have one option, and that is to sail through it. It would be a nightmare to harden-up into the wind and beat back to Sardinia.” I piled on as much “other good news” as I could at that point, “At least we’re headed into the right direction and it’s behind us pushing us along. Every mile of easting we make is a mile closer to getting out of this thing.” As if on cue, an unusually big set of waves rumbled under Hazel’s stern. We both smiled, thinking the same thing, Maybe wintering Hazel in Sardinia wasn’t such a bad idea. Oh well, it was behind us now and we were charging eastward, the die had been cast.

A view of my PredictWind screen on the afternoon of the gale. We are the white dot (yikes!) and sailing eastward (to the right). The island of Sardinia is to the lower left, Corsica to the upper left, and mainland Italy to the right. The gray trapezoid is the gale warning area.

The rest of our daylight hours were spent trading watch while the other tried to get some nervous napping below decks. Although we had a bit of blue sky to cheer our souls, we were also slaloming between thunderstorms that were rolling through and around a couple freighters also plying the gale-swept Tyrrhenian that day. Once or twice, we saw the anemometer reach into the high-30s (knots of apparent wind), adding our boat speed we were now dealing with wind in the low-40s—it was howling. Hazel handled it with aplomb and several times her speed over ground exceeded 10 knots—blazing fast for Hazel, particularly under solo staysail.