Monthly Archives: March 2013

And back to work

What a stressful, hectic couple of weeks it’s been! After our good news we’d love to pull up the anchor and get going again, but we need to spot Jack some recovery time before we get into high gear. After his prior surgery he had some complications and we want to be sure he’s ok before we leave. He’s doing really well so far and we both thank you for all the encouraging comments, emails, texts, calls and Facebook posts. Knowing there were so many people pulling for a good outcome helped more than you can know.

Nancy and Dave left us on Wednesday and we miss them. They originally meant to be here six days but changed their plans to stay through the follow up doctor’s appointment, thank goodness. We’d’ve been crazy people without them.



Now that we’re coming out of our medical fog we’re compiling the to-do list. There’s the usual provisioning, maintenance, and cleaning; there’s one last installation, the new AIS unit; but top on the list is to get Isabella Katzenbaum to Pittsburgh. Yes, sadly — and I mean very sadly — our Adventure Kitty will be leaving us.


We thought long and hard about this and explored all the options. We eventually made the decision based on three things. First, too many countries have draconian rules about arriving with pets, some even requiring long quarantines that we don’t want to put Izzy through. Second, we want to be able to travel off the boat now and again, and we can’t assume there will always be a nearby cruiser or local who could check in on her while we’re away. Finally, and most important, after nearly eleven months aboard we have to accept that Izzy is not a boat cat. Oh, she’s perfectly happy when we’re at anchor, but underway this is an unhappy animal. She cries and cries and it breaks our hearts to see her so miserable.

Izzy is endlessly entertaining. She’s the most sociable, snugly, playful cat we’ve ever had. In her previous life on land she loved being outside all day watching birds and skulking from shrub to shrub. She loves to run, especially chasing the laser pointer dot. We just don’t have the space for her to really stretch her legs and we know that after a period of adjustment she’ll be much happier being land-based and having more room to move. She’s being welcomed into the cat-friendly home of our son and daughter-in-law, with a spacious house and a big yard to play in. We hope the existing cats will also welcome her, but we know she’ll be loved and well cared for, at least by the humans. Now we just have to figure out how to get her there.


Hug your loved ones, folks. Life is short.


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Back to the future

On the morning of Jack’s surgery while we were getting ready to leave for the hospital I stood out on deck and looked up at the stars and the rigging of Escape Velocity, the anchor lights of the boats around us. I listened to the stillness of the lake, and I thought how much I love this life and I wondered if we would have to give it up. The past two weeks have been filled with worry, fear and agonizing reappraisal. The worst case scenario would have meant the end of our dream of world cruising because we probably couldn’t be far from land for very long. The best case scenario would leave us scott free to go wherever we want. In between those two poles were other possibilities, but almost every outcome except the best would mean some sort of change in plans.

Our news from the doctor was one small notch off the very best outcome. There’s no cancer, but because this alien was in the same place as the previous cancerous alien, we have to be more vigilant, and in near terms Jack will need a follow-up look in six months, preferably by either the original surgeon or this one because they know their handiwork. He asked where we’ll be in six months. Obviously he knows nothing about the cruising life because he seemed puzzled by our blank looks. We have no idea where we’ll be. As the time gets closer we’ll figure out how to do this. Surgeon #2 is conveniently 30 miles from a major airport. Surgeon #1 is a diver and could probably be lured into a house call (boat call?) if we can get ourselves to a good dive spot.

In the waiting room we hugged Nancy and Dave and we cried with relief and happiness. I realized that every cell in my body had been clenched and I could feel the tension drain away. We all talked at once standing in the lobby until one of us said let’s get out of here! I know I was in a daze for hours, as we went out for ice cream, visited Nancy Sternberger in Surfside, then met Marty and Lisa at the Raw Bar for dinner. I had a hard time carrying on a conversation and just kept reaching over to hug Jack or squeeze his hand.



When we got back to Escape Velocity I went out on deck and looked up at the night sky, and it was beautiful and filled with possibilities again.


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Touch Wood

Dear Escapees, it looks like you’ll be dealing with me for a little while longer. Thanks for all those good vibes, candles and prayers. On my end, I’m especially thankful for skilled doctors, nurses and science.

Yesterday the pathology report came back clear and it was time for a group hug, right in the doctors office. I had pushed the bad possibilities out of mind for so long that the relief was amazing.


It took a whole community of family, boating friends, incredibly concerned and caring doctors and an angel of a wife to pull this off.


By the time we reached the Southport Raw Bar several friends had gathered for a cancer free celebration. I watched, they drank. Doctors orders. I was allowed a cookie.


When it was time to go the tide and wind were up so with Nancy and Dave piling into the dinghy with us we knew we’d never squeeze under the canal bridges and that meant a nice long, slow, magical ride all the way around to the entrance of the lake just to get back to Escape Velocity.

It’s good to be alive.


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Inside Skinny

I guess my role model for how to act when you’re not well is my Dad. He’d just kind of get quiet and not say anything until we’d notice, but he’d just say that he was OK. That was that. And he’d go to work every day, do the stuff he needed to do, and he eventually was OK again.

I just realized that I am trying to do that stiff upper lip stuff..but I’m not my Dad and there’s no way to pretend that I can do the normal things that I do around the boat. Don’t get me wrong, progress has been faster than predicted and I’m getting around fairly well but tonight my battery operated toothbrush got the best of me!

Replacing the batteries in this thing is difficult in the best of times but tonight it defied me. I couldn’t pry the thing open. I wrestled with the thing for 15 minutes, turning it this way, then holding it down with one hand and pulling with the other, you know the way you do when you’re out of ideas of how to get the thing apart. Finally I noticed a small separation between the end cap and the handle. I dug out a screw driver and prised the cap off, revealing the offending batteries, pulled two fresh ones out of the blister pack under the nav station and began to struggle with the cap to close the thing up. NASA should have used these O-rings on the Shuttle; they’d still be flying that thing today.

Finally, after slamming the end of the handle down on the bathroom floor in frustration, I heard that satisfying click that says you’ll soon be “cookin’ with gas” electrically speaking.

Dead batteries…

I don’t know why batteries on a boat are so much more likely to fail, or leak, or not do what what they’re supposed to do. I will say that the second time was no easier than the first, but the forty five minutes spent replacing two AA batteries in my toothbrush left me exhausted and with a few doubts about my recovery time.

Escape Velocity may not be the be easiest place to recover, but it sure is good to be home and every day we venture ashore collecting things we need is a step foward while we wait for the news from the doctor. The true heroes of this adventure are going home soon. Marce’s sister and brother-in-law are taking us back to the Cleveland Clinic today, hopefully one last time.

Touch wood!


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The view from the front porch

Aqualev demo in the anchorage.




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Running the gauntlet

Tuesday was a very hard day starting with a crack of dawn appointment with the doctor, followed by the surgical nurse, an EKG, blood work and a long appointment with an internist to determine if Jack is in good condition for surgery. He also had to do the same full prep he did last week, so while we navigated the various departments Nancy and Dave picked up the items we’d need for that. When we were all done we had to decide whether to go back to EV or stay at a hotel. We got a call from the OR that Jack’s arrival time was moved from 6:30 to 8:00 am and that clinched it. We headed back to the boat, but then on the way the OR called again and moved it back to 6:30. Ugh! It’s a 15-minute dinghy ride, then at least 35 minutes to the hospital depending on traffic. And if we needed to stay overnight at the hospital we didn’t want to leave our dinghy unattended so far from the boat.

Marty from True Colors to the rescue again. He agreed to ferry duty and we were able to have a relaxing afternoon and evening on EV, much better than a hotel.

Five AM came early and we all piled into Marty’s dinghy for the long, quiet ride to the Raw Bar, then drove to the hospital. Once we were checked in we waited a while before Jack was called into Pre-Op and we could easily have all slept another hour at least. Ah well.

This hospital gives the waiting families updates via a tv monitor with patient number and status, so we knew when he was wheeled into surgery, when the procedure began and when he was taken to recovery.


Dr. Maron came out to tell me everything went well and I was so happy I hugged him! They paged me a few hours later and took me in to see Jack. He was a little loopy and feeling no pain, of course.


We waited about three hours for a room to be ready but finally we got settled in and comfortable. I was able to stay all night on a pullout chair and we both got a little sleep. Bright and early the crew came in for rounds.


Dr. Maron reiterated that the surgery went well, but of course we have to wait for the pathology report.


Our nurse Ashly took good care of Jack and he even had a belated flu shot before being released.



A very young pharmacy resident came in to go over the medications Jack would be taking. He told us a side effect of one of them was hallucinations, then for some reason struggled to explain what that meant.

“We’re from the sixties,” I said, kindly. “We know about hallucinations.”

He looked up at me, then at Jack, then completely lost it, laughing. Kids.

Nancy and Dave took us to the hotel and after we got Jack settled the three of us went to an outlet mall for a little retail therapy.


The next two nights were up and down as Jack’s body reacted to the indignities. I played Nurse Ratched, force feeding Jell-O and broth and the various medications. Nancy and Dave continued their support role, running me to the pharmacy and grocery store and generally keeping us comfortable and entertained. I don’t know what we’d have done without them.

Today we plan to go back to the boat. We think a little cat lap therapy is the ticket.


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The ties that bind

As soon as we got to Fort Lauderdale we were met at the Southport Raw Bar by old friend and former co-worker Chelle Robinson. It’s been years since we’ve seen her and we loved having some time to catch up and share the EV experience.


My sister and brother-in-law planned to come down for a quick visit before we head to the Bahamas but when they learned of our medical setback they asked if they should cancel. Heck no! Vacations are fun, but when we’re facing hardships of any kind, family is the best medicine. We were so happy so see them and they settled in again to life aboard as if they never left.


Left to our own devices Jack and I might have sat in a depressed stupor but with Nancy and Dave around we had a couple of fun days before the Big Event at Cleveland Clinic. We drove to the Riverwalk in downtown Fort Lauderdale and walked through the crowds of people dancing to a pretty good band. They played Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” It’s a song that always touches me deeply.



The courtyard of the science museum features a colorful mechanical clock and we spent some time trying to figure out how it works.




That evening a pair of loons moved in to Lake Sylvia. They add a haunting soundtrack to the anchorage.


Monday was our last free day for a while because Tuesday poor Jack was scheduled for a full day of pre-operative testing, poking, prodding, and sticking, topped off by the same liquid diet prep he did last week. We decided to visit our nearly 91-year-old Uncle Ralph and we’re so glad we did. He’s the youngest of our mother’s siblings. The Original Recipe, Jack calls them. Visiting with Ralph is just like being with any of our aunts and uncles or our mom. They were all of a piece, all fun to be with and we got caught up with the news of his branch of the family.



Before we left Uncle Ralph said, “I’m going to sing for you.” Now, my Uncle Ralph has a beautiful baritone voice and has been singing in various choirs his whole life and produces periodic concerts these days at his residential community. He stood up and with no warmup gave us his rendition of “You light Up My Life,” which he said is new to his repertoire. We were touched by his performance, and let me remind you, he’s nearly 91.


Knowing that Jack might be out of commission for a while we invited True Colors and Macushla of Shannon aboard for a last minute sundowner. We met Mark and Sue of Macushla first in Charleston and later in St. Augustine, so it was nice to catch up with them, and Lisa and Marty of True Colors have taken good care of us this week, from leaving us baked goods to Izzy care to ferry service. Nancy and Dave enjoyed meeting other cruisers and said its easy to see why we love this life.




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Leaving home

To catch up a little, we left our comfortable berth tied to the Sternbergers’ out-pilings over a week ago. We loved being there, but in order to get to the Bahamas — or anywhere, really — we were going to have to motor back up to Fort Lauderdale. There’s a bridge we can’t fit under going south between Surfside and Miami and we wanted to get ourselves into position so that when Jack’s Cleveland Clinic experience is over we can move on.

I practiced dinghy driving through one of the low canal bridges nearby.



Jeff and Nancy are great hosts of the best Boat ‘n’ Breakfast on the coast. We marked their pilings with a couple of hobo symbols so every boater passing by will know that good people live here.


We were in Surfside for three weeks, during which we met more good people, got our Florida driver’s licenses and went to the Miami boat show, not to mention got to spend some serious hang time with old friends. But it was time to go.



We made it to Fort Lauderdale in about two hours, timing the seven bridge openings perfectly. We made it safely past cruise ships and cargo ships and dropped the hook next to True Colors in Lake Sylvia.






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Not the news we wanted

We scheduled Jack for last minute tests so we could sing “a kiss for luck and we’re on our way” but unfortunately the doctor couldn’t give us an all-clear. He found the beginnings of the same kind of alien creature that sent Jack into surgery, chemo and radiation six and a half years ago. The preliminary biopsies showed no cancer cells, so we’re grateful for that, but Jack is scheduled for surgery next Wednesday. Needless to say we are surprised, disappointed and a little scared.

My sister and brother-in-law were already planning to arrive tomorrow to spend the week and we’re both so glad they’re coming. Between the crazy logistics of getting to and from the boat with no public dinghy landing here — not to mention getting to the hospital — and the stress of facing another go ’round of fear and uncertainty, it will be comforting to be in the bosom of family. Nancy and Dave have a history of taking good care of us. I love my family!

This morning before we returned our rental car, we drove back to Miami to pick up a package and commiserate with Nancy Sternberger, who’s facing her own surgery in ten days to remove a skin thing. She always cheers us up, but we were there when we got the first call from the doctor’s office with the surgery schedule, even before the doctor called with the test results and we left soon after, freaked out and stunned. The doctor called with more info as we were driving back to the rental office and we felt a little better knowing that at least at this point there’s no obvious malignancy.

When we returned to Escape Velocity we decided to move across the lake to a more central spot. The wind had shifted since we anchored last Saturday and we had swung just a little too close to the shoreline. With a weekend of waterskiers and jet skiers coming up we wanted to be well away from the line of fire. Just as we raised anchor three more boats came into the lake and we all did the slow-motion ballet of circling and jockeying for position that we’ve gotten used to this past year. I’m pretty happy with our new spot, but I’ll bet more boats will squeeze in tomorrow.

We’re spending the evening clearing the flotsam out of the Presidential Suite to make room for Nancy and Dave. They will be our first overnight guests since Carla and Jeff in Stuart. I sure hope they don’t mind sleeping with rolls of fabric.


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