Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Giant Horseshoe Crabs, or Visitors from the Paleozoic

today's trawl hauled in an insanely diverse catch--in addition to numerous white perch and striped bass, which have been our staple catch, we dragged in a heap of sea nettles (jellyfish with pink tentacles), ctenophores (comb jellies), some huge oysters, flatworms, barnacles, mussels, and what appear to be a mating pair of horseshoe crabs. The male was about a foot long from the end of his spiked tail to the apex of his face; the female was easily double that. They were wiggly and annoyed with us for obvious reasons, but we kept them in a tub separate from the other critters and they chilled out.

Crustaceans in general have always been the oddest curiosities to me, with their funny mouths and all the flaps to their bodies. Crabs are like matryoshka dolls--there's always another layer to them. Horseshoe crabs are some sort of aliens, i'm convinced. Either that or they descended from soup bowls. They're perfectly round and even have a lip around the base. Segmented, heavily armored, pointy, barnacle-covered soup bowls with at least ten pinchy, wiggly legs all up inside like the lunch special at the Beetlejuice Cafe.

We bothered them for a while and then sent them along with the Snow Goose, a crab boat from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, to take them home (and out of the inner harbor where we had tied up. no sense letting these neat creatures be needlessly crushed by a dinner cruiser or a Duck.) CBF are friends of LCF who run similar trips. They motored up and borrowed a cup of salt from us this morning. We're good neighbors.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Analytics, or Why I'm Too Paranoid to be Published

After reading of a certain friend's delight with the Google Analytics tracker she added to her blog, I opted to try this chunk of code out for myself. Who could resist pure curiosity as to who is reading up on you? It's like being back in seventh grade and hoping that that cute guy from pre-algebra is looking at you when you're looking away, except now you can find out for certain if he was.

Alternatively, it could be like being back in seventh grade and hoping that that cute guy from pre-algebra is looking at you when you're looking away, except now you can find out for certain that he was staring out the window, but that scary kid who sharpened his teeth down to points sure was lookin.

I can't deny the fact that I'm somewhat paranoid, but how can it not weird one out that there's...strangers...out there, reading what you write? Admittedly, most of the location hits I saw were from areas where I have known friends or acquaintances, and I can only assume that my readership consists largely of these people, but seriously, I thought I had four readers. Maybe five. And maybe that is what I have, but they all travel extensively. To places like Dublin. and Kansas.

For the overwhelming majority, the hits appear to be accidental--readers spend 10 seconds or less on my main page, which sounds like "oops, I clicked on the wrong Google entry" or some sort of internet-flitting robot trying to glean information off of it at random. Those have a name, I'm sure. But several possible readers have spent more than a nanosecond, and have even read more than one page. That's just...weird to me. Who would want to read what I write? Why? I actually manage to bore myself with my speech and writing, so I can't imagine anyone but an insomniac would seek my idle musings out intentionally.

(complete side-note, but speaking of "boring," in an oyster station on Saturday I explained to my girl scouts how I could tell the Chesapeake Bay oysters apart from the Gulf Coast oysters in our tub (we dredged up the Bay oysters from a sanctuary at Fort Carroll and as such could not harm them--we'll return them to their home tomorrow. we buy the gulf oysters from the market for dissection.) the Gulf oysters are covered in little circular drill-holes from boring snails, which we don't typically find in this area. I asked the girls if they knew what a boring snail might be, and one said "well, they don't do much." I got a charge out of that.)

Anyway, now that I'm officially a little freaked out by the idea of readers of my drivel, I may drop this thing entirely. I'm terrified that people may come across this and judge me according to its contents--while those judgments are likely accurate, I can't imagine any of them are desirable. The best way to avoid making an ass of yourself is to avoid speaking.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


so. the past few weeks have seen me with few pursuits aside from sailing, teaching, and drinking. could be a worse life. here's a run-down of my average day:

0645: wake up
0730: breakfast on Lady Maryland
0800: head to Sigsbee, coffee, flags
0810: engine check, engine log, warm up
0815: begin routine set-up for day. teaching stations: water quality, plankton, navigation, buoyancy, brackish water demo, marine life, oysters. plus raising sails, trawl/dredge, local attraction "tweeners". muster. coil down dock lines, halyards, downhauls, sheets.
0850: polish brass, take sail gaskets, toss lifejacket duffels to pier.
0930: kids expected. wait or hurry. education staff meet kids for bathrooms, teacher intros. i drink coffee and shoot breeze with captain, polish brass, splice or whip lines, finish setting up microscopes, other misc.
0945: circle up kids on pier, discuss goals, safety, divide kids into day groups, lifejackets
1000: board, begin second safety talk
1010: give sail talk, divide kids into main/jib hauling teams. James and Anthony take dock lines, coil down, take fenders, stow. kids raise sails, heave ho
1020: james teaches salt wedge, brackish water, tween about domino sugar. anthony and I coil down hauling lines
1030: divide into groups. kids rotate 20 minute stations: h20 quality (test pH, salinity, temp, dissolved o2, phosphates/nitrates), plankton (tow for plankton, study under microscope), navigation (this is a chart, this is a buoy, this is a bridge, shallow/deep, big boat/small boat, this is a compass, here's a cookie), and buoyancy (build the boat you think will hold the most weight, we'll sink them off this afternoon).
1200: lunch, set up trawl
1230: Sail of Silence (hush a minute, listen, see what you see, appreciate the bay)
1233: trawl talk, set trawl, don't tell the cops skit (its illegal in the bay, why do you think it is, habitat damage/bycatch/if you kill the baby fish they won't grow up to be big fish or make more, okay we have a permit for educational purposes, we're not breaking the law)
1245: haul in trawl, herd kids away from net, sort out catch. James and Anthony begin runoff model, stress importance of wetlands
1300: divide into oyster, marine life, and chesapeake history stations. let kids hold fish, touch oysters, handle crabs, Ctenophores (if caught)
1400: buoyancy sink-off/strike sails/set dock lines/set fenders, return to dock
1415: tie off, kids off, lifejacket hubbub, group thank-you
1430: remove work shirts, shoes, roll up trousers, coil down and hang halyards, downhauls, dock lines, sheets. furl sails. stow ed materials. plug in shore power, sort out catch--keepers, tossers, eel trap bait. keepers to aquarium, toss yesterday's catch.
1530: end of day muster
1540: deck wash with fire hose, handled scrub brushes. some soaking ensues.
1600: day projects: engine maintenance, painting, line maintenance, wiring, etc.
1700: dinner on Lady Maryland
1745: to the bar for a Natty Boh
2000: to Taney, check email
2200: shower, bed.
0315: garbage trucks begin wailing and making huge banging noises behind Hard Rock Cafe
0400: delivery trucks begin beeping and backing into things behind Barnes and Noble Booksellers
0600: *weekends only* Reveille over PA to wake boy scout overnighters

so there you have it. a minute-by-minute overview of my life. i'm on the water about 80% of the time. i get uncomfortable and wobbly on land. you should see my watch tan.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Field Hockey in Flippers or Why Fourth Grade Should Be Banned

I don't despise kids. Really. I recognize that I was one once and chances are I was just as bizarre, creepy, and attention-deprived as today's variety. And honestly, one at a time they'd probably be tolerable, if not even fun. But 29? on a 50-foot boat? I'm amazed I haven't given over to alien invasion theories and aluminium foil hats.

Consider this group discussion, which occupied most of a water quality lesson--a typically interesting, fun chance for the kids to do some real science experiments and test qualities such as salinity, pH, dissolved oxygen content, and temperature.

"Why do we care about the quality of the water?"

"Because we go swimming in it."

"We do. What else swims in water?"

"My mom, and my dad swim."

"I mean aside from humans."

"My dog goes swimming sometimes, its pretty funny--one time my dog fell in the pool and he just stayed there so we played with him but then my mom yelled at us because she didn't want dog hair in the filter so we had to get him out and he didn't want to get out."

"Okay, well, what's something that Lives in the water?"

"My hamster sat in his water dish the other day."

"But does your hamster live in the water?"

"No, but he sat in it!"

"Well who can think of something that lives in the water?"


"Do Fish live in the water?"

"Well some"

"Yes! Fish do live in the water. Do we want the fish to be healthy while they live in the water?"

"Yeah, probably."

And so forth. By the end I was happy to just get them to accomplish a salinity test, which involves putting a drop of water on a refractometer and looking through it. somehow they botched the pH test so thoroughly that it was coming up at about a 6, or the same acidity as coffee, and I didn't even bother trying to explain dissolved oxygen beyond "What do humans breathe in?" "Air." "What's the big important element of air that we breathe?" "Um, nitrogen?" "well, we do breathe a lot of nitrogen, but what do we need to survive?" "Food?" "oh good god."

The odd thing is, many of my girl scouts the other weekend were fourth graders, and they picked up on prompts like i was handing them cookies. I don't know what the deal was with these kids, but if it was able to be screwed up, they managed to find it.

Then a crewmember on another boat fell overboard.

Then we discovered that that boat had some pretty hefty damage to its hull and has to be hauled out, throwing everything off for quite some time.

I'm going to bed before today becomes tomorrow and it carries over somehow.

Monday, April 14, 2008

girl scouts, land legs, and the homeless

This past weekend found me sailing with twenty girl scouts and a smattering of moms on a two-day aqueous adventure. It also found the boat turning around and heading back to Baltimore when a massive thunderstorm imposed itself upon our route, but the trip was still fun for all and ended in campfires and s'mores. The event reminded me of why i enjoyed girl scouts so much as a kid--these kids were basically my friends and I when we were their age, and they were smart, sassy, silly, and complete pyromaniacs. They were also a bit nerdy and liked learning some history of the chesapeake, knot tying, pig latin, parts of the fish, and how everything works. It rocked.

We all loaded up in vans and drove over to their campsite after we tied up back at pier 5. It was the first time i'd slept on land in over a month, and it was rather odd. I didn't sleep well, and there was this sapling blowing gently in the wind outside my window, which gave me the impression that the building was rocking. Yeah, a tree, outside my window. There was, like, nature around us. Everyone who lives shipboard had an allergic reaction.

The other day a homeless guy gave me a book. His name is Lonny and he typically hangs out between the Taney and the work boats, and he's very nice and chatty and a big fan of mystery novels. He frequently gets trays of books from the baltimore book thing, which is a local free book program, and keeps a few to read and hands the rest out to his friends. ("Hey, I'm homeless. You think I want to be hauling a huge heap of books around with me wherever I go? Take one, you're doing me a favor.") I took Stephen King's 4 Past Midnight, which includes the Langoliers. It's been interesting getting to know Lonny, as he's clean (he's sober and recommended a laundromat to me) and friendly, and while I think he does panhandle, its not the most important part of his day. He's been friends with many of the Living Classrooms crowd for a number of years and likes to be on top of the latest shipboard gossip. If he wanted to get a job and a house I think he could, but he doesn't want to, and of all people I seriously think he's happy the way he is. Go figure.

It's been getting hot in Baltimore, and yesterday's deck wash was cool and refreshing. We've been painting a bit on Sigsbee when we're not out with kids. Every time I do maintenance someone reminds me that it's not fine furniture, and while it needn't suck, it doesn't have to be pretty. I guess old habits die hard. But the sailing is going pretty well, i think, and so far there really hasn't been any drama that i've been privy to. We work hard, we drink hard, we sleep hard.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Department of Redundancy Department

I like words. I like phrases. I even like colloquialisms, to an extent. What makes this noteworthy is that in my youth I was a mediocre English student at best. I didn't have the attention span to focus on past participles, and I couldn't distract my eyes from all the nice looking boys in my class to learn about verb tenses. By the time high school rolled around I was too busy giving myself carpal tunnel syndrome on ICQ to care about the etymologies of the words I was carelessly bastardizing in my online chatter. Then I went to college and majored in carpentry. Somehow, though, against all odds (and I hasten to add, against my will) I've become a grammar fanatic. I've always enjoyed reading, but I've actually reached a point at which I judge people according to their writing styles and abilities. There are a number of news columns that I read on a regular basis simply because I like the way they sound. There are a number of people I avoid simply because their personal dictionaries are about two pages long. I refuse to look at the lower two thirds of YouTube pages because the comments section literally makes me queasy.

Imagine my delight, then, when my new housemate used the phrases "hot water heater," "ATM machine," and "pharmacy store" all in one tirade. To be fair, she's an elderly shut-in who takes pride in her lack of education, but I can't help but find her mode of speech irksome. It is her diction, not her personality, that encourages me to avoid her.

The fun thing is, when nouns get the redundancy treatment, they become something new. An Automatic Teller Machine Machine may actually be some little contraption for servicing ATMs--perhaps a combination money-slot cleaner/depository hinge greaser. A better name for a hot water heater is "vaporizer"--that is, a unit that super-heats preheated water into a searing gas. If you're headed to the pharmacy store to buy a pharmacy, I believe you'll find that listed as a "franchise licensor."

I admit, I've been guilty of a little redundancy this past week. I couldn't help but say "jib sail" even though the word is just "jib." We already know it's a sail. I'm trying to break the inclination before it becomes a habit, though. Some people strive to be more fit, more outgoing, more green...I'm making it my goal to reduce my redundancy factor.

In other news, I've completely forgotten how to use a tape deck. Does the "Side A" label face me or the back of the machine? Why are some upside-down? How can it really be that readily recordable? Why can't I plug it into my iPod?!