Farming is hard. From the time Mr. Linton and I started this experiment (ooh, here's the first dispatch from the Would-Be Farm), we expected challenges. We welcomed challenges. Neural plasticity, baby!
And sure enough, we learned some new stuff. We knew that rust never sleeps, but we found out that weeds will pull all-nighters all summer long in the interest of world domination. Looking at you, burdock.
We discovered that even with zillions of established apple trees on the property, it's hard to get them to bear fruit larger than a golf ball. If the frost doesn't nip the bud, or caterpillars devour the leaves, or porcupine eat whole branches, well, then it's some other bug, some other mammal, some other weather phenomenon.
And we have stuck by our decision to avoid toxic chemicals, regardless the wormy little apples.
So when we have success, it seems the sweeter, and also, paradoxically, the fruits do not seem to be from our labors. Instead, it's as if they show up as serendipity. A gift from the farm.
We put seedlings into the ground. Three or four years on, we see the first production of plums.
Also, this year's single pear (yes: one fruit from the whole five trees), which has not been raided by raccoons yet. Does it count as work if we planted it so many years ago?
Currents, aronia, and honey berries produced well this summer. For what it's worth. Tart, tart, and tarter.
We have not, as my genteel mother-in-law puts it, developed a taste for them yet.
Pro grower's tip: if the description in the nursery catalogue suggests that a fruit is used in jam or compote, beware.
Tomatoes and garlic and potatoes are standouts again this year. Likewise those leggy volunteer cousins: fennel and dill, one bronze, the other pale green, popping up everywhere.
I picked a bumper crop of blackberries (was it the extra rain? it's a continual mystery why some years do and others don't) but after the first disappointing pie––So seedy! So very seedy!––I set my sights on a cordial. I muddled pint after pint into mason jars of moonshine, which now lurk, dark and powerful, like untested ordnance, in the fridge.
At this end of the summer, I tend to wander moodily around with a basket, swatting mosquitoes, marveling.
It's a numbers game: we planted more than 25 modern apple trees, and only 5 are currently alive. And we have yet to see a single apple from those trees.
We put in 20 hazelbert whips and though a dozen died for being planted in the wrong place, 30+ hazel shrubs flourish now. The eight elderberries I bought and nurtured over the past decade have yet to survive a third year, but the two newest? This year -- THIS YEAR! -- I will foil the deer.
The six basket willow are growing by leaps and bounds, and have doubled in number. Of the five hackberry, I know for sure three are still living. The other two might possibly have slunk into the night. It's easy to find them in the spring, but once summer gushes forth––!
The abundance of uncultivated food astonishes me. Things we never did a lick of work to encourage. Nanny berries and hickory nuts, big puffball mushrooms and black walnuts, not to mention, though I do, the free-range non-vegan options. So many good fishes! And ruffled grouse bursting from the underbrush would be happy, I can see in their ruthless dinosaur eyes, to dine on me in the rather likely event that they SUCCEED in startling me to death.
And then there are chickadees, who chatter when the birdseed is running low. One or two of these lillies of the field are especially bold. They barely need coaxing to land on my hand, where they look me in the eye and take their time picking a seed.
I've really done nothing to earn chickadees. But I'm grateful that the Farm has provided them too.
I'm keeping my head down this summer on the Would-Be Farm, trying to get that novel of mine out and about.
Mr. Linton, on the other hand, has been getting stuff done around here.
We just acquired one of the cooler bits of kit in the barn: a flame-thrower.
No joke. It's a chemical-free means to a weed-free end.
Need I mention the anti-zombie potential?
My favorite skipper built a woodshed (a structure that is both made of wood and designed to contain wood, okay, Lisa?) next to the sauna. We'd had a covered woodpile, but the amount of firewood that got burned since the implementation of the wood-powered sauna led to a step up in the firewood game at the Farm.
Constructing a shed sounds a blithe enough pastime, but with neither plan nor drawing?
Himself claims to be a rough carpenter, but he is adding skills with each project. I say so despite the sage advice of Sippie and Bonnie both...
Between construction/destruction activities, plus the occasional sailboat race (go Team New Wave!), there's always lawn work.
Meadow and woodlands surround us, but Mr. Linton keeps the trails and the lawn properly neat by the use of no less than two trimmers, two mowers, and a tractor.
Not simultaneously. Yet.
Whenever the weather cooperates (growing grass, self-imposed deadlines, and encroaching thorn apples be danged!), we fish.
Going into the 2023 Flying Scot North American Championships, my favorite skipper verbalized his philosophy this way, “I’m going to let the race come to me.”
Well, okay, your highness.
Being strictly honest, however, I knew exactly what he meant. After lo these many years of racing together, we've come to share this sense of regatta destiny.
Here’s what we know as fact: You can lose a regatta from not preparing.
But the only way to win a regatta is to have at least one helping of good luck. Preferably many helpings.
Corollary truth: While you can be ready for good luck, you cannot force it to show up. In a word: destiny.
It was the usual Flying Scot good fortune that met us when we pulled our camper and the mighty Scuppernong into the spacious grounds of Lake Norman Yacht Club.
Locals Tim Porter, Steve Shaw, and Dave Rink and our fellow road-show gypsies –– the Cliftons and dear Henry Picco –– had saved us a prime parking spot overlooking the swimming beach and the hoist.
Before long, more Florida teams joined in –– Donna and Jon Hamilton, Dave Helmick and Caroline Chapin, Jennifer and Michael Faugust, PJ Buhler and David Ames, Laura and Scott Marriott, and Jim and Pam Burke.
Measurement was as neatly organized and well-thought-out as any we remember. Preparation being key.
The weather looked promising: aside from haze from Canadian wildfires and the occasional pop-up thunderstorm, we looked forward to good sleeping temperatures and peaceable breeze in the range we like the best: 7-10 knots.
In actual fact, we sailed under beige, smoke-darkened skies, and the predicted winds –– not unexpectedly, given how regattas go –– did not quite appear as promised. Still, even after a drifter of a single qualifier race, the future looked pretty bright. After all, the race organizers fed us morning and night and provided any number of adult beverages (plus a bourbon tasting!).
Once the wind filled in on Tuesday, we headed out to the racecourse to start the actual competition. We checked the current (yes, it’s a lake, but one whose levels are carefully managed) by tossing our sponge into the water by the starting buoy and counting to one minute. During the qualifier, current set us away from the start at one boat length per minute –– try charging that line! On Tuesday, it was far less dramatic, giving us just a nudge away from the starting line.
The four-legged race showed us a little of Lake Norman’s tricksy, lakey quirks in decent 7-knot-ish conditions but we managed to win the first one.
On Wednesday, we packed our apple-and-peanut-butter stacks, our salami-and-cheese rollups, our Gatorade, and our beer for the day. I fondly remember once sailing to the starting line on a Lightning racecourse in Ecuador and having the guys in the boat next to us look –– and then with comedic exaggeration look at us again before exclaiming to one another: “THEY’ve got BEER!” Indeed we do. So there.
The story-telling highlight of the day involved a pontoon boat trailing an inflatable laden with children. We were sailing at a pretty decent clip along the right side of the windward leg, close to shore, with Tyler and Carrie Andrews. the boat builders and speedsters, just behind us and two other lines of boats to leeward when, like a tugboat with a barge under tow, along comes the pontoon boat. Crossing right in front of our bow –– I mean, a boat-length or so in front of the plow-like bow of the mighty Scuppernong.
It's a fact that nobody looks stupider to a racing sailor than Johnny Powerboat Driver taking a leisurely tour of the racecourse. And to be fair, it’s a free country. But as Carrie and I agreed, these pontoon people must have had it up to HERE with those kids.
Belatedly noticing the fleet of pointy boats, each driven by a fierce-eyed competitor, and possibly heeding the suggestions of said competitors, the powerboat driver punched the throttle and made an abrupt left turn. The float whip-lashed over the wake, and, as night follows day, it caught air and landed with a breath-taking wobble. But good luck (and possibly preparation) allowed the youngsters to hold tight. But jeesh.
Intense, focused sailing (is that a puff? can we connect? Yes, trim a touch.) gave us a 3rd and a 1st at the end of the day, leaving us a decent lead. No lead, however, is safe, especially on a lake and with competitors like anyone in this fleet.
Cue Thursday, when we set sail in conditions where everything seemed magnified. Puffs were bigger. Shifts were bigger. Holes were bigger. In the space of a few minutes, we’d go from fully hiked and vang-on to me on the low side, struggling to keep moving, while boats all around us were experiencing wildly differing conditions.
We didn’t find a pattern to predict the shifts: oftentimes, the wind will oscillate at a regular interval, or a cloud will indicate a puff, or wind will touch down in such a way that the initial header modulates into a lift. These conditions were like what bull riders call a "honker." No telling which way the beastie was going to buck and twist.
After deciding not to hit the middle of the course, we found ourselves in the middle of the course on the first leg. When we might have tacked and ducked a bunch of our competitors, we hung left and got hung. We passed boats and we got passed back again. It was one of the most frustrating hot-and-cold days of racing I can remember.
We clawed our way into 5th for the fourth race of the series, watching our comfortable cushion vaporize. Heading into last race of the series –– a 3-legger to finish us closer to the club –– we did not talk about the stakes. We never do.
The conditions continued to span the spectrum, with puffs as high as the mid-teens with drifters in between. We went left and, as the phrase goes “got smushed.” We sniffed out a puff or two and made some gains downwind, noting that the wind was tending –– inconsistently –– to go left.
Halfway up the last leg, we had a clear lane to go left. Leaving a lake-smart team like John Eckart and Ryan Malmgren, who were bee-lining for the right-hand shore, took some nerve. Not my nerve. But as we got closer to the left side of the course, we could see the flags on the finish boat showing a 30 or so degree shift. A favorable shift, at that.
When the puff came to us, we eased first for speed, and then took the lift (Ding! Ding!) all the way to the finish line, sliding into fourth place behind local skipper David Rink. With that, by a single lucky point, we won that shiny belt-buckle of a trophy.
We’ve notched that belt a few times, but it’s always a thrill.
Thanks to the excellent organizers headed up by Tim Porter (and Jennifer), the steely-nerved race management under Matt Bounds, and the amazing Florida Flying Scot District, whose competition (six of us in the top 15 of the Championship, with two top 10s in the Challenger Division) that make us all faster and better sailors.
There's a theory about value called the "IKEA Effect," whereby people over-estimate the value of something they have themselves made.
We got to test it out this spring at the Would-Be Farm.
From Estonia by way of New Jersey, thank you BZB Cabins for a pallet's worth of parts, 24 pages of instructions, and a very helpful expert only a phone-call away.
I grant you, we poured quite a bit of effort into this longer-than-any-danged-weekend project.
If the value increases as a result of how long it took, and how many new neural pathways it encouraged, and what fresh language it encouraged (is that hangy-downy part of the roofing shingles called a "fang" or a "bump"?), well, all to the good.
And the refresher on metric measurement? Nigh on priceless.
But regardless the IKEA effect. Fer reals –– this thing is hella neat-o.
And so toasty!
The suspense builds as we hike the big loop around the Would-Be Farm –– which trees are down? Which bulbs are up? Are the beavers still damming around? What happened while we were gone?
As we hike, marveling at the frost-heaved rocks, the exquisite timing of the grouse that explodes from underfoot at the exact moment we are least prepared, the wide expanse of northern sky, the tracks left by deer, coyotes, skunk, mystery beasties.
This year, on the first 500 yards, we spotted hoof prints. "That's a big deer," Jeff said. "That's an enormous deer," I said, then, hope springing eternal, "Oooh, maybe it's a moose!"
Moose used to roam these woods. They, like the bobcat and the bear and what-not might also return. One can hope –– seriously, the biggest cervid, back again?! Goofy and majestic creatures, sporting dingle-berries and draped with stringy green plant material, near-sighted and not suffering of fools –– that's a great wild life.
We followed the tracks until the next game camera, where we got distracted checking batteries and removing the memory card.
We have a bunch of game-cameras. They are back-up security, entertainment, and animal-spotting tool all in one.
Admittedly, there's always one that we misplace. Sometimes it appears, just where we left it, after we've passed it dozens of times. Ocassionally, it gets dragged away by varmints.
Anyhow, on this first circuit, we go from camera to camera, pulling batteries and collecting memory.
Back at the cabin, I fire up the trusty card reader and begin the uphill slog: 8000 images on this disk. 5300 on this one. Oooh, only 1430 on this one! 6000 on this one. 7600 on this one. I do not exaggerate on this issue, there are thousands of images, some triggered by actual animals, others by the whim of the camera, and not a few by the movement of branches in the wind.
So I am approximately 12,000 images into the winter's story when I discover –– Eureka! –– the large-hoofed maker of the tracks that we hoped might be moose.
Cows on the run. Oh, I have questions.
Will I get answers? We'll see, once the great dumpster debate (oh! neighbors!) of 2023 is settled. (Two neighbors, one actively squalid, the other just trying to raise a few cows. Add dumpster full of trash, stir until state cops arrive...)
Meanwhile, here's a few of the winter's highlights. Understand that I have selected these from a pool of zillions, and I DO find it amusing that so many are butt shots.
Quick novel update: things are moving along. I've been gathering publishing intel while the manuscript spent time at the editor. Details will follow on this page here.
The tarpon shot out of the water like a fleshy javelin, intent on gobbling a bait fish. Four shiny feet of muscle and eyeball, it landed all willy-nilly in the water a scant boat-length from Spawn. Then another silverking leaped and belly-flopped. Then another. And another.
"Whoa," commented one of our weary sailors.
"Yeah," replied the other.
Just another day off Cape Sable.
TwoBeers and Moresailesaid brought their 22-foot boat, Spawn, safely to harbor in Key Largo on Monday, March 6 at around 6 pm –– after a 300-mile, 50-hour Everglades Challenge.
They were first to finish, having worked through a pack of boats that started ahead on the course. The event is unique in many aspects, including the sometimes-fluid starting line. This year, for instance, the weather on Friday before the start was fairly gnarly, with an on-shore gale and a big surf pounding.
In fairness, it was not awful by tee-time the next day, but as Moresailesaid has said, "To finish first, first you must finish."
Of the 80 or so boats competing, only about 20 (including Spawn) chose to start traditionally, pushing off the beach at Fort DeSoto park in St. Petersburg. Others drove down the coast and put in where they felt comfortable.
At checkpoint 3, a spot deep in the Everglades National Park notable for poor cell coverage and a resident salt-water croc who likes to keep an eye on the boat-ramp, Spawn had unwelcome congress with a manatee.
Tethered to the dock, with the sail up while Moresailesaid went to check in, Spawn suddenly began moving to windward. Then there was a bit of gentle gyration until a quick-thinking TwoBeers raised the centerboard.
The manatee mating frenzy continued apace, but without the non-consensual participation of the boat.
Without a "yes," o manatee, it's "NO."
Departing Flamingo, our sailing heroes used their wiles and ways to get past their last forward competitor by splitting tacks around Joe Kemp Key. Instead of using the usual channel, the boys went east.
Skittering along in the very skinny water, says TwoBeers, "Is not for the faint-hearted. There are lots of wading birds. You have to ask yourself, are they seagulls or are they herons? If it's herons, cool."
Among the spectators on shore, eagle-eyed Rappin Rodney Koch called it: "No risk-it –– no biscuit."
For around three miles, the team navigated by appropriate sea-birds. Perfectly innocent sharks minding their own sharky business were startled out of their wits, half-climbing, half-swimming to get out of the way of the boat as it whistled over the shallows.
But the route cut off enough distance to put Spawn in the overall lead.
Says TwoBeers of navigating that section of Florida Bay, "My socks were dry the whole way until the end of Twisty Mile. We had to get out and push the boat for the last 100 feet to get to the deep water toward Russell Key."
How much sleep did they get?
A princely three hours a night! The conditions were favorable for the odd daytime nap and even a rough watch-system.
Did they run out of food?
No! They enjoyed fried chicken dinner twice, plus plenty of granola bars and other snacks. At the dock, there was ample water and ––ahem–– two beers left in the cooler.
Why does their track have long time-gaps?
Mostly because their SPOT tracker is not very good at its job, but also because the entire SPOT system (so we hear) went down briefly on Sunday night. And yes, FULLY AGREE, a Garmin Inreach is the better option.
How much rowing did they do?
More than a few hours, TwoBeers admits.
But it made the difference between first and fourth place when they were able to navigate in no wind and foul current, especially in the passes around Choko and Flamingo
How long did it take?
50 hours. Saturday at 10 through Monday afternoon. Two full nights's sailing.
It's not their longest trip (60 hours), nor their shortest (33 hours). On the eye-of-the-beholder scale, I give it about a four out of ten: They looked tired, but not wrung-out; raspy but not death-defying; creaky but not gimpy. Neither fell asleep in his dinner.
Amy's favorite anecdote so far?
Typically, I don't hear all the most "exciting" details for a day or two. My favorite skipper is a considerate husband and doesn't like to alarm me all at once.
Still, I liked this, overheard over breakfast at Mrs. Mack's: "Yeah, I was glad to be going out Gasparilla in the dark. We could hear the waves breaking, but we didn't have to see what we were getting into."
What's it like at the finish line?
The finish line is a pocket beach at a little 1950's style resort on Buttonwood Sound (the inside of Key Largo); the welcoming committee included Paula Paddledancer, the Chief, our dear Flying Scot friend Jim Signor, some extra WaterTribe shore crew, and a sprinkling of hotel guests who get a surprise floor show as the boats arrive amidst cheers and a random conch moo.
Evidently, one of the liveaboards in the Sound has a conch and he's not afraid to use it.
And the big question, of course, is Will they do it again?
We shall see.
Meanwhile, it's not a joke that Spawn is available for purchase.
Turn-key operation. Proven winner. Complete Ultimate Florida program available! No tire-kickers please.
It's Day 2, but it feels like the second month of this unsupported adventure race from St. Petersburg to Key Largo.
Over the past nine years, this Sunday in March is traditionally the day when I juggle my electronic tracking stuff and hustle myself to Key Largo. Toting a boat-trailer and fresh clothes and such trappings of society as fit in the vehicle, I drive distractedly while my favorite skipper and his communications officer JT slalom down the left side of Florida aboard Spawn.
I often joke that after checking their SPOT locator from the rest area on Alligator Alley, I have to skedaddle in order to get to Key Largo ahead of my sailors.
This year? No skedaddling required.
They might, as I type this Sunday night, have another 18 hours to go.
Slowly, slowly are they making their track south.
So it's a draggy race this year, one might say.
Draggy but not without drama: what with having some Challengers start half a leg or a leg ahead because of Plan B, and the tracking a bit of a mess –– and with the extra complication of having Spawn's personal locator SPOT suffering some form of hysteria that makes her operational lights flash as if she's working... but lemme tell yah: she ain't working like she flashing.
Anywhahoodle, the Spawnsters seem to be in good spirits.
I am a bit concerned that they might run low on snacks (for once), but since they once fueled half the event on Little Debbie Snackcakes and salted peanuts in a packet, I trust they can fend for themselves.
And didn't TwoBeers pack a fishing line?
As Paula Paddledancer (organizer and all-round-Mamma Bear for the event) pointed out –– the racers are going to have a pretty night of it anyhow.
Have I mentioned the wracking of nerves that is the Everglades Challenge Experience for Shore Crew?
No, we shore-folk aren't taking red-tide flavored breakers over the bow. No, we aren't sitting in our damp sport clothes for days at a time (I speak for myself anyhow). Neither are we watching for flotsam, marine life, and poorly-driven powerboats.
While waiting for team Spawn to reboot their malingering SPOT personal locator this afternoon, I channeled my nervous energy to good: I washed and refueled the van, I vacuumed, I pressed the reload button several dozen times. I texted and e-mailed Moresailesed and resisted the temptation to leave a frustrated voice-mail about CHECKING the dang SPOT.
I knew they had their hands full. I knew they THOUGHT the SPOT was working.
I knew they were cheerfully squeezing as much speed from the wind as they could, knowing that the conditions are liable to turn flat and light overnight.
When one of the other shoreside crews called to inquire my opinion about how many half-gallons of ice cream were recommended to help her through the week, I said, I didn't know, I only purchase pints at a time. [On reflection, it was a brace of pints today, which––Huh!––adds up to a half-gallon. Never considered that math before. Answer: one per day, I guess.]
This is not the time to keel over from starvation.
I jest only a bit.
I hope my water-bound Spawnsters have snarfed many pieces of cold fried chicken, homemade chocolate bar, and savory chunks of home-dried beef jerky.
Neither sailor is especially food-motivated, but they too have a smorgasbord of things to tempt them. Jelly beans, dried whole tiny bananas (monkey guns, baby!), jars of trail mix, banana bread, a stash of strawberry-yogurt-covered pretzels.
Of course, I cannot make those sailors of mine do anything from here on shore. Not eat, not check the dang SPOT, nothing.
We can but watch and wait and keep fingers crossed.
Here's their SPOT link, which seems to have had a revivifying nap and is back to work.
The WaterTribe website has been working for approximately 15 minutes over the course of the past 6 hours by my reckoning.
And so it goes.
In light of past years' performance, I anticipate a few cri de coeur about the failings of SPOT as a personal locator, but new year clean slate, right? The personal locator is how the tracking maps keep track of the 100+ adventurers. So, while sometimes the locater maps are slow, sometimes it's the personal locators corking the bottle.
The SPOT is a hockey-puck sized piece of kit that promises to ping a satellite every 20 minutes or so. It also has a couple of buttons for specific messages ("We're OK!" "We're in trouble, but we're safe," and of course the panic button that calls the Coast Guard). It's proven finicky.
Yes, we have heard that GARMIN makes a superior product with far nicer interfaces and reliability. Had we the option ten years ago, we would have chosen differently.
The SPOT hasn't failed, really, but it's disappointed me by not performing as I hope. We weren't ready to invest in yet another piece of expensive electronica for Spawn, so we'll be SPOTTING again this year.
Here's a link to that website. It follows Spawn only.
How long will the adventure last?
I have an entire country-western song bemoaning that exact question. It's already playing in my head.
The short answer: we hope the gang starts arriving in Key Largo on Sunday evening, but the awards ceremony and official end of the time limit is the following Saturday. It's really anyone's guess.
With less than a week until the WaterTribe is set to push off the beach for the Everglades Challenge, it's now all about the weather.
Every year, it's the same backing-and-forthing with my favorite skipper and his gang. What will the future hold? Will there be a cold front and a line of disturbed weather, or will a high pressure stall over us. Will it be the dreaded easterly? Or more exactly: WHEN will the cold front roar through, and WHEN will the dreaded easterly kick up.
Each sailor seems to have a personal preference: Sailflow. Predict Wind. Windy or Wunderground. NOAA avionic or the local weather.
My opinion, and soothsayers will confirm, predictions are only as good as the memory holding them...because que sera, baby, sera.
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