My Hill Country happy places.

We took a drive out through the Hill Country this week; out Highway 290 towards Fredericksburg.   It was a beautiful day.  We left early to beat the morning rush hour and stopped at Pedernales Falls State Park to visit their bird blinds.  We stayed for less than an hour, but saw canyon wrens, ladderback woodpeckers, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, lincoln and field sparrows, ruby-crowned kinglets, black-crested titmice, cardinals, spotted towhees, and more.

Field sparrow…

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Lincoln sparrow…

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Along the way we stopped at the Pedernales River several times and saw wild turkeys, buffalo and longhorn cattle.

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Then we stopped at Wildseed Farms to buy fresh flower seed to plant after the last freeze.

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After lunch in Fredericksburg, we headed back east, making stops at the tasting rooms of Grape Creek Winery, and Becker Vineyards.

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Our last stop, Hye Rum, was a new one for us, having opened only a few years ago.  Monte especially enjoyed their barrel-aged dark rum.  Check them out.

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We made it back home before the afternoon rush hour.

All good!

 

Nature’s stained glass.

I’ve been home for two weeks, catching up on the homefront.   Noreen and David visited for a week, and we got out for a sail on Lake Travis with them.  I’m enjoying watching the last few weeks of Winter happen in the Hill Country.  This is the tail end of last night’s sunset, through the trees in my back yard.

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Next chapter.

I’m headed home today. This closes the “Help Lori get to the Islands” chapter for Monte and me. One year ago today we were in Bradenton, Florida readying the new-to-her boat to cross the Gulf of Mexico to bring Trident née Ariadne to Kemah for fixes and updates in preparation for cruising by the end of 2018.

It’s been a lot of work – a labor of love; but also a real treat to have been aboard for shakedown cruises and the trip through the Florida Keys and across to the Bahamas. I’m thankful to Lori and Mike for sharing their adventure. Bon voyage Trident!

I’m looking forward to the next adventure/project/travels/chapter – whatever 2019 brings.

Here are a few highlights from the last few days in the Abacos…

Dolphins swam along in the bow wave on our sail from Great Sale Cay to Allans-Pensacola Cay!

The Bahamian sunsets never get old…

I landed this Spanish Mackerel!

New Plymouth waterfront, on Green Turtle Cay…

The Atlantic Ocean…

I even found a few bits of sea glass on the beach!

We go to come back…

Super Bowl Sunday.

We’ll, the Seahawks didn’t make it this year. Instead of cheering them on in the big game, I continued to crew for Lori as she takes Trident across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas.

After spending over two weeks in Biscayne Bay waiting to go, Sunday was the first ideal weather opportunity, and it was a short window.

We moved anchorage Saturday night to just inside the ocean between Fisher Key and Virginia Key. It provided a great view of the Miami skyline.

We left Miami Sunday morning at 3AM, on a course Lori set for West End on Grand Bahama Island, where we clear customs and spend one night before making our way farther east to the Ábacos.

I never crossed the Gulf Stream before, and I’ve learned how it should be navigated as a part of this whole adventure. Our destination, West End, lay about 82nm NE of Miami (a bearing of 53 degrees on the compass). But we can’t simply head directly for West End on a course of 53 degrees, because the Gulf Stream will push us north 2 to 2.5 nm every hour we stay in it, which is 10-12 hours. Not good. So, instead, we aim south of our desired destination by about 25 nm (a course heading of 71 degrees instead of 53) and if our math is right, we should pop out at West End at about 3PM.

It was a very calm day so we motored the whole way. Sunrise…

We arrived on time, at the right place, and pulled into our slip at the Old Bahama Bay Marina. We hoisted the yellow quarantine flag until Capt. Lori went ashore to clear in the crew. We skipped the big game but enjoyed our fill of conch and island drinks, which was my real superbowl. Sunset at the marina…

Two weeks before the mast.

With less than 18 hours preparation, Monte and I packed a bag and grabbed a flight to Naples, Florida, to meet up with Lori and Mike to crew for Trident’s crossing to Key West, and their trek up the Hawk Channel to the southeast coast of Florida.

Sunrise at Naples City Dock as I left for an early morning provisioning run with Uber…

Our spreaders were full of rose-ringed parakeets…

The overnight crossing was uneventful, except for an endless procession of crab pot floats to be avoided on a moonless light. The Southern Cross is visible from down here, and I’ve seen it low on the horizon nearly every night. What a treat.

We spent 4 nights on a mooring ball in Garrison Bight on the northwest side of Key West. It was a 15-20 minute dinghy ride to shore. So we got pretty wet most rides, but the showers and laundry ashore were well kept. There is a free shuttle about a mile from the dinghy dock that loops through the historic and tourist attractions, which we took every day we were there. Lori and I got tattoos! Well, temporary tatts – they’ll last two weeks or so.

Chickens everywhere in Key West…

Trident on her mooring ball at Key West…

We took a day trip to nearby Sand Key to snorkel which was surprisingly nice. Florida’s marine sanctuary system is great – all well marked reefs with free mooring balls…

After leaving Key West, we enjoyed a lovey long day sail with all sails up and engine off. We were treated to a personal air show from four U.S. Navy pilots off Boca Chica – circling the boat and one even buzzed over us upside down about 200 feet above the boat. Pretty cool. We anchored off Bahia Honda overnight.

The next day we headed to Marathon for our first marina stay in a week. We stopped at Sombrero Reef Light for another nice afternoon snorkel. The Marathon Marina is nice. We stayed for two days and nights, full of boat work and provisioning. We did treat ourselves to a pub crawl the last night by dinghy to a couple places and were treated to yet another beautiful sunset.

After Marathon, we anchored off Long Key. And the next day headed to the south end of Key Largo. We stopped along the way at another snorkel spot, Hen and Chickens Reef. We saw a nurse shark, turtle, many barracuda, and reef fish. We anchored at Rodriguez Key for the night.

My shark buddy… can’t believe I’m saying that…

We had to decide whether to stay a couple more nights anchored off Key Largo, or make a longer-than-usual run up to Biscayne Bay to anchor and find shelter for the big cold front headed our way. We decided to head for Miami. We wanted to anchor in the tiny but well-protected No Name Harbor at Cape Florida, but it was pretty packed. So we anchored outside and weathered the big blow overnight and the following day or two.

Sunrise glow in the horizon leaving Key Largo…

Cape Florida Light on Biscayne Bay…

The view from the Boater’s Grill at No Name Harbor – good eats but no vacancy…

2018 happened.

The year was full of the usual fun times spent with Monte, our friends, as much family visits we could squeeze in, and my girl posse.  I stopped coloring my hair.  I gained too much weight.  I missed my mom often.  I was continually enchanted by Keeto.  People often ask me what I do with my oodles of free time.  On the spot, I usually can’t think of what the heck I’ve done to fill the days and weeks of this year of retirement.  So, I spent some time today scanning the photos I took this year, to jog my memory for some highlights.

January brought many birding day trips and a number of lifers.  More special were visits with 2 of my high school friends.  Pilar was in Austin for business and looked me up.  We hadn’t seen each other for … decades, not counting one brief wedding visit that happened many moons ago.  We’d reconnected on social media several years back, but it was really wonderful to get a face to face visit in.   Another friend from high school, Irene, texted me to see if I could join her in Lubbock, of all places, while she was there for her son’s sports event.  And so I took a road trip and saw some interesting things along the way.

February brought a huge leap of faith, a drive to Florida with Lori, Monte & Joe, and then a journey across the Gulf of Mexico by sailboat to bring Lori’s new-to-her sailboat home to the Texas coast.  It was an awesome and challenging trip.

March brought a really memorable road trip across Arizona and New Mexico.  We celebrated Monte, Gene and Susanne’s birthdays together.  I saw a couple dozen lifer bird species.  Tucson, with its Catalina Mountains and the Sonoran Desert, is a truly amazing birding destination.  And on the way home, we saw some glorious works of nature and man.  We spent 2 days on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, staying overnight in a cabin sitting about 50 feet away from the rim.   We marveled at a ginormous meteor crater off of I-40 on the drive to Santa Fe.   Then we spent 2 days in Santa Fe, staying at the luxurious Spa at Loretto.   We saw more new birds there, but the highlight was a visit to the Loretto Chapel, with its spiral staircase that legend says might have been constructed with divine intervention.

April brought a number of trips to the coast; one special one to visit High Island during a Spring fallout, and another girl’s trip to Kemah to officially rename Lori’s boat, S/V Trident.  But if that wasn’t enough, I joined Irene again, this time for a week in Italy.  I thoroughly enjoyed Florence, Pisa and Cinque Terra and points in between.

May brought more trips to the coast to help Lori with Trident repairs and projects.  It also marked the return of warm weather and lots of fun boat outings on Lake Travis with friends and family on Nirvana.

June and July were full of projects at the house, in the shop, and in the yard.  We popped down to the coast again, a time or two, and really enjoyed our almost full lake during the peak of the heat of summer.  We delivered a beautiful table that Monte made for Doray and Tom in their new home in Wimberly.

August brought another trip to the Texas coast – to crew for Lori and Mike on their first shake-down cruise on Trident since she arrived in Texas.  We sailed out to the Gulf of Mexico and down to Port Aransas.  We stayed for a couple nights in the municipal marina there, and enjoyed one of our favorite towns on the Texas Gulf Coast, before our return sail to Kemah.  Then we popped up to Seattle for a very overdue trip.   We stayed two weeks, encased in smoke from the nearby fires, but did enjoy immensely seeing our family, and a bonus of 2 clear days on the Pacific coast of Washington.

September brought a month of non-stop rain to Austin.  So we busied ourselves with more projects in the house.   I began to dabble with sewing canvas projects for the boat.  Monte made sawdust and honed his web site and various GPS apps.

October brought another trip to Kemah.  I became a novice diesel engine mechanic.  We also experienced historic flooding amongst the Highland Lakes.   Monte worked on shop projects for a client or two.  Autumn arrived in Texas, which I love only second to Spring in Texas.

And then it was suddenly November!  Monte made another trip down to Kemah to help with last-minute projects.  Thanksgiving happened.   Then we made one final trip to Kemah together at the end of the month to bid bon voyage to Lori and Mike, and their crew, Janet and Will, taking Trident back east to Florida.

December brought the usual whirlwind of decorating, baking, parties, Christmas shopping, visiting with friends, and eating too much.  And now, POOF, it’s the last day of the year.

Tomorrow, I will gear up to do it all again – starting a new year with an as-yet-unknown set of trips, projects, visits, fun and (hopefully only occasional) troubles that lay ahead.    I am truly blessed.

 

 

 

 

 

Counting birds.

I participated in my 3rd Christmas Bird Count today.  Our small group of four birders hiked for over 6 hours and logged 45 species.  Our counts will be rolled up with the other teams’ results.

A foggy morning over the Pedernales River….

turned into a beautiful day above the Pedernales River.

What a lovely day!

Wrapping it up.

We took the scenic way home from Rachel’s, dropped Rebecca and Aaron off, and then came home and whipped up a delicious risotto for dinner.

The next day we stopped by my nephew Jared’s new house, and then had a fun family get together at Noreen and David’s.

Then, FINALLY, we had one glorious, clear summer day on Hood Canal. Jake went for a hike with us and then we met up with James for dinner.

These are two pictures from the same place, taken at about the same time of day. The first is from one of the smoke-filled days, the second one was taken 5 days later.

I MUCH prefer this one….

Blue sky days.

We headed west with a mission to see where the Pacific Ocean meets the state of Washington.

Along the way, we stopped in Aberdeen, home of Kurt Cobain, former frontman of Nirvana. We stopped at a modest but touching memorial to him.

We thought this sign at the neighbor’s house was especially funny.

And we did finally make it to the coast. It was our first smoke-free day, and it was lovely. We spent a day at Ocean Shores…

And another clear sky day at the coast, this time at Westport…

We spent the night at our niece, Rachel’s, new home, joined by Fran, Aaron, Rebecca, Noreen and David. We had fun exploring the area and enjoying our time together.

Island hop.

The next day, we drove to Colleen’s house. She cooked pulled pork, from scratch, and it made for delicious sandwiches. We visited with her, Lee and Jake all night. The next morning we headed to Whidbey Island for a day trip.

The smoke and haze was very bad. But it’s a beautiful destination.

Whidbey Island Distillery makes a nice whiskey, and delicious berry liqueurs. They use a continuous still, homemade – see the copper pipes and tubes in the second picture below.

I walked down to the beach to get a view of the Deception Pass bridge…We popped into the Admiralty Point lighthouse…Then we hopped the ferry to Port Townsend…VERY smoky. This is a shot from the deck of the ferry of the sun setting over the beautiful Olympic Mountains. 🙂

A dose of salt.

I’ve just returned from a week of sailing down the Texas Gulf coast from Galveston to Port Aransas and back.   Monte and I joined Mike to crew for Lori on a shakedown cruise on Trident as she prepares for her cruising life later this year.  The week flew by, with the drive to the coast, 2 days of boat projects in Kemah, then anchoring overnight off Galveston Island’s Moody Gardens before sailing in the Gulf of Mexico for 450-ish nautical miles roundtrip, including an overnight watch while sailing each way, and a two night stay at Port Aransas Municipal Marina, and back again.  It was a fun trip – lots of laughs, sun and wind.  The weather was very different from February when we sailed across the Gulf – much calmer seas and weather this time, and MUCH hotter.

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S/V Trident – our ride
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Our route from Kemah to Galveston to Port Aransas and back
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Miles and miles of oil rigs
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Shrimpers & fishermen everwhere
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The Colonel paddleboat off Galveston Island
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Sunrise from the marina in Port Aransas
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Sunset out in the Gulf, tankers and fishing boats in the distance

July 4th Eve!

We took a boatload out to watch fireworks on Lake Travis tonight. A good time was had by all.

A pretty sunset:

And one shot of the fireworks:

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What a fun night to enjoy with friends.

Lazy, hazy weekend.

It’s hard to believe that 2018 is half-lived already, this first day of July.

The Saharan dust has arrived, making the Hill Country very hazy, this is one view from FM 620 looking out over Steiner Ranch.

And it is HOT! Lake Travis water temp is 83 degrees F, and the air temp is 20 degrees hotter. The only way to beat the heat is to get out on and in the water.

We enjoyed a fun weekend on the lake. Saturday, we floated and visited with Sue, Marty, Kurt, Gordon, and Margaret, and slept on the boat. This morning we gathered below to watch Spain’s loss to Russia in the knock-out round of the World Cup, and then went for a sail in nice winds.

We’re back home and worn out. I’m looking forward to more Fourth of July lake fun next week.