Boatbuilding Step 2 (and 1)

Take some really big pieces of wood and turn them into slightly smaller, smoother pieces of wood. In this case, it’s mahogany and is going to be the sides of the Corinthian’s centerboard case. The last photo is the lofted lines on the floor; basically, a full-size 3-view drawing of what the boat will look like.

Day 20: Virginia & Kentucky

Starting today about 30 miles south of the Virginia/Kentucky border, I was alarmed- nay, surprised- to find frost on many cloth surfaces this morning. I was alarmed to find ice in my water hose, though- some amount of chomping and chewing a backwashing was required before I could get water through easily.

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Right before reaching Kentucky, I passed through Breaks Interstate Park, the “Grand Canyon of the South” and a pretty magnificent geologic marvel. With a canyon on one side of the road and some marvelously eroded sandstone on the other, it gave a sense of going back in time millions of years as I descended a hill into Kentucky.

When you cross into Kentucky, the first sign you see says “America’s Energy Capital.” Then next one says “KEEP PIKE COUNTY CLEAN.” Apparently no one realized that these goals are at odds with each other, and that clean and coal are two words that can’t really exist together. Also, the anti-littering campaign is, I believe, only barely effective- the “Appalachian Volcano” at least represents some effort to corral litter, but trees are festooned with plastic bags and ditches are still choked with styrofoam and plastics.

The other big thing that struck me about Kentucky was the burning. All day, a continuous spectrum of smokey scents- whether sulfurous coal smoke from homes, thick tobacco smoke from gas stations and driveways, wood smoke from the several fires along the roadside, or exhaust from the passing cars and trucks- followed me as I rode. At first I didn’t recognize the coal smell, but once I realized, it was everywhere.

One thing I did enjoy about today’s ride was the low volume of coal trucks. I had read (and was worried) about a nonstop procession of dump trucks laden with flammable rocks, but being Saturday it appears that a majority of the mines are closed. Hopefully Sunday gives the same relief- it would be fine with me to get out of coal country before trucking resumes.

Using Statolith Composition to Determine Migration Patterns in the Box Jelly Chironex fleckeri

Wow, that is one exciting title excitle! A paper I wrote years back reviewing some literature about tracking the migration of Chironex fleckeri box jellyfish using the relative composition of their statoliths (small structures that help the jelyfish recognize which direction it’s facing).

ReinRDP

Marine Biology Grad is a Cape Crusader

Or: I Still Won’t Stop Talking About My Adventures On Monomoy Island.

This is a piece I wrote for the College of Charleston Magazine about one of my experiences while working on Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge. Kate Waddell, also from the College of Charleston class of 2015, provided the illustration. You can find this story in its original format here, or continue reading here.

2015 was an exciting year. After I graduated from the College, won a national championship in rowing, and then bicycled from Rhode Island to California as a fundraiser for the climate action group 350.org, a lot of people asked me what I had planned for 2016. Surely, I’d had enough adventure for a while – wasn’t it time to do something normal for a change?

No.

For someone who grew up beside the ocean, spent four years studying marine biology and had a penchant for outdoor living, the obvious next step was to move to a deserted island and spend the summer working as a wildlife biologist for the Massachusetts Audubon Society.

A deserted island: Most people’s conception of the term involves palm trees, tropical latitudes, coral reefs and being hundreds of miles from civilization.

Monomoy Island, the location of my scientific exploits, is a barrier island off the coast of Massachusetts. It’s less than 80 miles from Boston, has an average summer temperature of less than 75 degrees and frequently is shrouded in fog for a few hours a day. Not a single parrot or boa constrictor can be found there. But without any year-round human inhabitants, only one permanent structure and daunting natural obstacles preventing most humans from reaching the island (it’s likely the least-visited part of Cape Cod), it’s the closest thing to a deserted island that you’ll find in Massachusetts.

The prospect of spending the entire summer on the island, working closely with scientists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to observe and document the birds nesting there, was enticing. This was certainly going to be my greatest adventure yet.

This desolation is what brought us biologists to Monomoy in the first place. With minimal human interruption, the island offers a perfect haven for a huge number of animals. Seals and great white sharks are probably some of the island’s best-known inhabitants. And clams, striped bass and bluefish are some of its most delicious. But the most ubiquitous animals, and the real reason we spent our summer on Monomoy, were the birds.

Tens of thousands of birds representing hundreds of species pass through the eight-mile spit of an island each summer. Some just use the island as a rest stop in their multi-day flights up and down the coast. Others, like the terns and plovers, make their summer homes there, taking time to raise a family before departing for the winter.

The prospect of spending the entire summer on the island, working closely with scientists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to observe and document the birds nesting there, was enticing. This was certainly going to be my greatest adventure yet. Indeed, it lived up to – and even exceeded – my highest expectations. Whether we were under attack from overprotective seabirds, stalking squid and dogfish across the mudflats by the light of our headlamps, watching whales feeding just yards away from us in the surf or keeping our eyes peeled for the telltale fin of a great white hunting for seals, life on Monomoy was a nonstop thrill, a relaxing retreat, a months-long logistical challenge and a full-time job.

As if the entire summer was scripted by some omnipotent author, the last day of my employment at Monomoy served as a perfect finale to the incredible experiences of the summer. That day, August 19, 2016, was marked by the arrival and departure of one of the ocean’s most awesome animals. It was the day we rescued a leatherback sea turtle. Few people will ever have the chance to see a leatherback; fewer still will encounter one on the beach. And, of that number, only a minuscule percentage will be fortunate enough to help orchestrate the rescue of such a magnificent and mysterious creature.

The rescue almost didn’t happen at all. When we found the stranded turtle after a quahogger’s tip, our first reaction was to call the professionals – the teams from the New England Aquarium and International Fund for Animal Welfare – to come to the aid of our reptile in distress. Monomoy’s relative inaccessibility, though, meant it could take all day for help to arrive, and that might be too long for the turtle to be slowly roasting under the August sun stuck on the baking sheet of a beach. It was obvious that if the turtle was going to make it back to its ocean home, we would have to be the ones to get it there.

Leatherback sea turtles virtually never come ashore. The females land every two to three years to lay their eggs; males, once they’ve hatched, will spend their whole lives, up to 100 years, plying the oceans.

Stranded high above the tide line, the turtle had left a trail of flipper marks that clearly defined its struggle after it washed ashore in the shallow tidal flats. Calm and warm, Nantucket Sound extends to the west of Monomoy Island. The shoreline has many sandbars and shallows, great places, as it happens, for a turtle to get stranded. From its tracks, it looked like the turtle had tried to make its way over the beach toward the sound of the waves crashing on the distant Atlantic Ocean side of the island. Ultimately, it only made it a few yards toward its destination before succumbing to the obstacles it faced.

Unsure of what to do, we started our rescue by cooling the turtle with water dipped from the ocean. Then we fashioned a makeshift sling out of a tent’s ground cloth snatched from our camp. Manuevering the turtle, some five feet in length and weighing in the neighborhood of 400 pounds, into the sling was a painstaking operation of digging, sliding and wriggling. Initially wary of its huge flippers, we soon discovered the ordeal had so exhausted the turtle that it was almost powerless to move, let alone harm us.

Deciding against releasing it back into Nantucket Sound, where it was likely to be stranded again, we opted, instead, to introduce it directly to the deeper and cooler Atlantic Ocean. The hurdle preventing us from attainting this goal, however, was the more than 100 yards of hot, sandy beach that lay between us and the Atlantic. Half carrying, half sliding the sling over the beach, we maneuvered the exhausted turtle toward the ocean.

For the most part, the turtle put up no real struggle. Perhaps its massive size, coupled with the discomforts of being stranded out of its environment for so long, had left it drained with nothing to do but wait for good luck to come its way. As the rescue party crested the berm and finally began heading downhill toward the surf, our large reptilian friend showed the first signs of renewed life and intent since we found it. As if suddenly realizing how close it was to the cool ocean waters, the turtle began its own clumsy sprint towards freedom, flapping its massive flippers and wriggling its body against the constraints of the giant sling. Gathering momentum as we moved down the intertidal zone, the whole party – rescuers, turtle and sling – raced together into the surf. As the sling drifted to the bottom and the turtle floated, recovering, at the surface, I took a moment to reflect.

Leatherback sea turtles virtually never come ashore. The females land every two to three years to lay their eggs; males, once they’ve hatched, will spend their whole lives, up to 100 years, plying the oceans. This turtle was a small one by leatherback standards, and, if all goes well, it will still be traversing the oceans for 75 more years.

Hopefully, it will never have to encounter another human. But if it does, I wonder if it will remember the day it met us. Sometimes, the unpredictable can happen to a turtle: They’re searching for food, get caught in a current and end up stranded and helpless. It’s then that they must rely on an outsider to save them.

The truth is turtles and people are a lot alike. No matter how independent and capable the human or reptile, sometimes unforeseen challenges land you in a situation you’re not prepared for. When they do, all you can do is look – or sometimes simply wait – for help in order to get yourself back on track. And your saving grace might just come from an unexpected source.

 

 

 

 

The Right Sprite

Sailing World was looking for some sailing writing. So I helped.

Below is a story I relayed about the time I bought a sailboat and tried to race her for a summer on Narragansett Bay, Obviously, it did not go as well as I had dreamed, but it was a pretty fun time nonetheless. This wonderful artwork is provided by Carlo Giambarresi and Morgan Gaynin, and the original post on Sailing World can be found here.

 

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For a one-design class, Sea Sprite owners are a pretty diverse group. Class rules prohibit extreme modifications but allow skippers to place anything anywhere on their boat. As a result, it’s common to see these 1960s Carl Alberg-designed hulls fitted with laminate sails, rigged with all sorts of control lines, and sporting premium topside and bottom paints, perhaps in contrast with its 5-knot hull speed.

Having admired the Sea Sprite for a few years, I was able to pick up one in Provincetown, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod for a high schooler-friendly ­budget and sail it 70 miles or so to Bristol, Rhode Island. After the journey, I settled down with my new project for a winter of boatwork. With a limited budget and the usual time constraints of a high school student, my work list started with new standing rigging, fairing and painting the bottom, building new sails, rebuilding the motor well, varnishing the handrails and hatches, and building a mainsheet traveler. Neighbors were called in, tools were borrowed, advice was heeded, or ignored, as a 17-year-old would. Finally, the snow melted, spring came, and launch day was upon me.

The first few weeks in the water went without calamity. Hopeful to tune the boat before the start of the Sea Sprite ­summer series, I encountered my first real challenge: having no idea how to make it go fast. Perhaps because of variations of the Sea Sprite, finding definitive data about boat setup and trim was difficult, and without a way to measure speed or another exact boat to race against, gauging the effect of changes was next to useless. I’d been trying to understand the intricacies of sail trim, genoa car placement, and shroud tension through months of reading, but in practice, all of this tuning was merely guesswork.

In the starting sequence for the season’s opening race, it became apparent that our crew of high school students had a lot to learn in the ways of the Sea Sprite, not to mention being wildly outclassed by boats with four or five times our years of race experience.

Much of the season was spent following the rest of the fleet around Bristol Harbor, with a few gems of knowledge (no human whisker poles allowed) or wisdom (deck-sweeper jibs aren’t normally worth the visibility impairment) sprinkled throughout. Since our fleet crossed the starting line last to avoid being overtaken by the faster boats in other fleets, it was normal to see half a dozen or more Sea Sprites drifting slowly back toward their ­moorings at the end of the night, long after the sea breeze had faded.

Despite the constant frustration of losing to “those grown-ups” every week, ­Wednesday-night racing was the adventure that made everything go. For starters, the racing was only part of the challenge. Getting the boat to Bristol ­Harbor for Wednesdays was a logistical challenge unto itself: Sail to work on Tuesday, run home, bike to work Wednesday, run to work, sail home Thursday, and then spend the weekend on the next boat project.

Summer came to an end and I moved off to college. Although my boat made it back into the water in subsequent years, the racing wasn’t as much a part of summer as it had been. Eventually, I parted ways with my Sea Sprite, much improved from how I bought her, and I’m happy to see she’s still in the neighborhood. Now safely removed from the fleet, I can enjoy looking out across the harbor on Wednesday nights, watching the races from afar. I like to imagine that some other youth has taken my spot at the back of the fleet.

 

Day 19: Virginia.

Appalachia is hard to write about. It is both very beautiful and very saddening, and I don’t entirely understand it. Actually, I don’t understand it even a little, so saying “entirely understand it” is a HUGE misstatement.

The land is very beautiful. The mountains and streams are crisp and clear and tall and the valleys are deep and steep and trees are everywhere. So is litter- there is hardly a yard (even on the way up a mountain) without a beer can or soda cup or chip bag, and the closer to Kentucky I go, the more creative the litter gets: chairs, coolers, tires, even an ENTIRE HOUSE, apparently disposed of by pitching it into a ravine.

Coal is big here, and the “Friends of Coal” signage makes me seethe (quietly, so as not to be crushed by a passing pickup truck) and I don’t know what to do. I’m very aware that many people’s livelihoods depend on coal. I am also aware that coal mining is destructive, dangerous, and (often) debilitating. (Deadly, dastardly, despicable, disappointing, dumb- we’re still at the beginning of the alphabet!)

I suppose I’ll have a lot of time to think about this over the next few days.

On a more positive note, I got much more riding done today than I had expected to- AND I don’t have to worry that someone is lost in the Cherokee National Forest. On Wednesday, a young woman was separated from her hiking group, and somehow Crazy Larry’s Hostel became the hub of the volunteer-led search parties to find her. Partly because traveling across the country by bike is a pretty deadline-free activity, but mostly because I felt responsible to help other adventurers when so many people have been so kind to me over the past week, I volunteered to stay in Damascus the extra day and get involved with the search expedition. Ready to go by 8:30, around 9:30 we heard from various Sheriffs that we should sit tight and wait for them, by 10:00 we had heard that the girl had been-at least tentatively- located and confirmed to be safe, and by 11:00 it became apparent that volunteers were not very welcome to aid in the search efforts. So, after a very exciting morning that almost involved some Appalachian Trail hiking and an unplanned visit to Tennessee, I decided that I would be most useful if I vacated my spot I the hostel in case someone else needed it that night. I headed off around noon, and was able to make more than 50 miles before dark, leaving me about 30 miles south of the Virginia-Kentucky border. Some pretty big hills along the way- I think I’ve passed the highest points on the eastern segment of the ride- and then a lot of smooth downhills for the remainder of the afternoon.

Day 18: Damascus, Virginia: A fine rest day.

After getting in to Crazy Larry’s, another landmark of the Appalachian Trail, I spent the (rainy) morning getting some “in-town” work done, mostly replacing my chain with a fresh one generously provided by KMC Chains, sending out some postcards and letters, rediscovering the magic of Icy-Hot, and visiting the supermarket to fuel up for the next leg of the trip/acquire a good load of fruit. Damascus is nestled, as most towns in Appalachia are, in between a number of hills (possibly mountains), as well as right in the middle of the Virginia Heritage Music Trail. Presumably the trail is a serpentine path paved with bluegrass, banjos, and washboards- I haven’t got a radio, but I’ve been imagining bluegrass all day anyways. The Virginia Creeper Trail, a rails-to-trails project, runs through the town (although I would not recommend it to road bikes), and there’s plenty of train paraphernalia about to check out while walking around town. In addition to the chain maintenance, I took some time to update the flag with some new sponsors who have helped out by donating over the last few days, and retouching some of the quickly-wearing ink from the beginning of the trip. I also took a look at the map for the next section of the trip- if the illustration of a coal-filled dump truck on the brochure is anything to go by, it could be an interesting few days of trucks, fossil fuels, and hills. Although it looks like the highest point of the eastern half of the trip is behind me, the vertical profile still promises plenty of hilly fun- hopefully the grades are manageable with the trailer and new supplies- before settling out into the Midwest. After today’s rain, the weather for the next five days looks to be clear as well- good riding and solar charging conditions ought to make for a smooth ride over the next week.

Day 17: Virginia, or, Not So Bad!

*Note* I’m slowly (S L O W L Y) still migrating all these posts from Renewable Ride to Notes from Monomoy. I’m not actually cycling right now.

Today’s the 17th day since I’ve left Providence, and the 14th day of riding. I passed 1,000 miles (ended up at 1,035) today and ended up in Damscus, VA. I’d planned to get here after 13 days of riding, so I guess I’m content to say I’m making good time- considering the flat tires, rain, surprise hills, headset explosion, more rain, long stops, and late starts, an extra day for every 2 weeks on the road isn’t bad.

Today was definitely, definitely a day in the South and presumably a day in Appalachia. Warm weather, the first advertisements for sweet tea, and Confederate flags continue to outnumber American flags by approximately 2.5 to 1. Plentiful sunshine and a blue sky helped make the trail smooth (as well as keep the solar panel charging), and by around second lunchtime (or 14:00), I had made it past the numerous Christmas tree farms and was at the entrance to the Jefferson National Forest’s Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area. Rejoice! The roads were smooth and relatively traffic free except for the passing trucks (which left behind a faint scent of balsam and diesel exhaust) and mostly considerate drivers.

Around these parts of Virginia, it becomes apparent that the state is clearly too large, because the place names are things like “St Clair’s Bottom,” “Mouth of Wilson,” and “Troutvale.” To be fair, it appears that Troutvale is a popular fishing destination, and many of the very many streams in the area do double duty as fish hatcheries, dammed off for a few hundred yards where the trout are raised. Besides hopping back and forth across some prime trout fishing waters, I also intersected the Appalachian Trail several times on my way down to Damascus, which I learned is one of the best-known intersections of the two trails. In town, I also found a great hostel- Crazy Larry’s- who will provide you with FREE STICKERS, and mercifully a library as well- I’ve read The Solar Cookbook about three times so far, and it’s only so useful to learn how to cook chicken korma and keylime pie in a solar oven while you’re biking across the country.

Tomorrow’s a day off- it’s supposed to rain, plus in the last week since DC, it’ll be nice to take a day to stretch out and take a look around, or maybe just to take some time to read books and catch up on the news. After that, it should be about 1 more day’s riding until Kentucky, and according to some, the end of the steepest hills of the ride. 🐙 Keeping my fingers crossed.