Saturday, December 15, 2012

LOOK INSIDE the Mystic Seafarer's Trail

Adventure the Mystic Seafarer's Trail.  Click on "LOOK INSIDE" to read first few chapters. With the release of my new book, Mystic Seafarer's Trail, I have set up a new blog that will be updated with new Mystic adventures at: http://mysticseafarerstrail.blogspot.com

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Mystic Seafarer's Trail Launch Party Today!

Meet the author, Lisa Saunders, and sailors featured in the book, Mystic Seafarer's Trail, at the launch party in Groton, Connecticut. The Mystic Seafarer’s Trail is a humorous and historical look at the haunts and homes of Mystic's noted seafarers--living and dead--and includes little known details about Amelia Earhart's wedding in Noank. To read the first few chapters, click on "LOOK INSIDE!"

Event details:
Sunday, December 2, 2012, 2 – 4 p.m.
Mystic Seafarer’s Trail Launch Party and Holiday Open House
Meet the seafarers featured in the book and see a certified copy of Amelia Earhart’s marriage license. Light refreshments and autographed copies available.
Where: Mystic River Acupuncture, 167 Broad Street, Groton, 06340 (on street parking)
More info, directions: www.mysticriveracupuncture.com, 860-448-6766.
 
 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Lisa Saunders: E-book free today!

Lisa Saunders: E-book free today!: I have made my e-book version of Mystic Seafarer's Trail free today only in Amazon. Visit: amazon.com/author/lisasaunders


Lisa Saunder...

Friday, November 9, 2012

Free book tomorrow

I figured out how to make my book about Mystic and Amelia Earhart  available for free on amazon tomorrow, Saturday, for 24 hours. 
Almost the entire first three chapters are free in the e-book version anyway, but tomorrow, SATURDAY, the entire book will be totally free. It would be great if you could forward this to any friends who might be interested. 

Lisa Saunders
Sent from my iPhone 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Back to the Safety of Kayaking

I feel a lot safer kayaking in Stonington Harbor than I did sailing a sloop in the Chesapeake Bay

Cindy is delighted I finally realized there's no boat like her kayak. (But I do recall a recent T.V. show where two kayakers were swept out to sea. The stronger paddler finally reached shore, leaving the weaker one to fend for himself. Note to self: By nice to Cindy!)

Just Say "NO" to Sailing!Monday I took a sailing lesson where I sat all alone in a little sailboat and was taught to tack and jib by making figure eights around buoys. Trying to coordinate my movements with the wind reminds me of why I begged my husband, Jim, to let me drop out of the couple's dance lessons we had been taking. I just can't seem to move when and where wind (or music) dictates. Every time the sailboat was actually being pushed along by the wind, I let the sail out so I would stop--I just don't like being pushed along by a force outside myself. Although fun to go up the Mystic River in one straight line, to get back, I had to tack and jib the whole way. Running aground twice and needing a tow to get back to deeper water, I finally asked the instructor just to drag me back to land once and for all. I ended my lesson early, hopped back into my convertible, and took command of my gas pedal and steering wheel. Always obedient, they do what I tell them to do, when I tell them to do it.

A few days later, I visited the open, three-sided seaside chapel facing the sea at Enders Island. It's a place I go to pray when my friends or family need serious help. Formally a lonely, old woman's tea house, it now covers a stone alter where people leave written notes of prayers desperate for help or comfort. One such prayer was one I should have left right before my sailing misadventure. On a tiny scrap of paper held down on the alter by a rock, it read simply: "Oh Lord, your sea is so great and my boat is so small. Help me." There were two initials, then the date: March 17, 2012.

End Note: My friend Cindy was thrilled to get my call begging her take me kayaking again, thrilled that I would no longer paddling alongside her making comments like, "I wish I could find a friend with a sailboat--now that would be a real adventure!"

So yesterday, like Dorothy of “The Wizard of Oz,” who clicked  her ruby slippers together and said, "There's no place like home," I zipped up my life vest, plopped into Cindy's kayak, and thought, "There's no boat like a kayak!"
(I have to admit, however, that when we paddled past luxurious yachts docked along the Mystic River the other day, I did think, "If only I could find a friend with one of those!")



Kayakers have the advantage of paddling close to sunken ships like the schooner Marmion, which still has exposed masts, rigging, and a mossy deck. According to her former captain, the Marmion was used by Ernest Hemingway as his “mother ship" (floating hotel) when sport fishing in the Bahamas (I need to confirm with the captain that the above ship we found in the Stonington Bay is the Marmion, which she said is still exposed there).

  

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Shanghaied Part VI--Photos!

Captain Neil, Skipper Jim, Navigator Lisa, and Sailing Master Jules

Jim and I with Jules and Neil the morning we abandoned ship

So, how could I abandon our friends after only one 13-hour day of sailing? Especially since I had decided that I would see this through to the end--come what may? I had even imagined that if Neil and Jim succumbed to some weird, incapacitating illness, that Jules and I would brave any hardship together to get our men safely back to Mystic. That our adventure would be so “edge-of-your-seat" exciting, it would be included in the next edition of Life Book’s, “The Greatest Adventures of All Time.” Alongside Amelia Earhart’s quest to circumnavigate the globe, would be our story, with a title such as, “Plump Writer and Blind Sailor Defy Foul Weather, Scurvy, and Temptation to Eat the Useless.”
Perhaps you are wondering if I jumped ship because all my Mystic sailor friends were right—that the cold, erratic winds of March made this an extremely unpleasant trip? That I found out how much work sailing really is? Or perhaps you have already heard some of the challenges we faced—making you understand--at least a little?


Although alarmed at the sight of water seeping onto our cabin floor the morning of our departure, the fear of a damaged hull was not why I left my friends. Surprising enough, it really wasn’t any of the day’s somewhat terrifying events that made me jump ship--although they certainly didn't help!
Though many are sympathetic towards my reasons for hopping a train ride back to Mystic, my own mother was disappointed when she learned I was a deserter. "You wimp," she said, when I called from the train to tell her the news. Upset that I had abandoned my friends, she added, “Bad girl.”
My dad's reaction to my abandoning ship? "Thank God!”
If you would like to find out who of us deserves recognition on the Mystic Seafarer’s Trail—and who does not—you can find out in my upcoming book (title still to be determined--see below if you would like to tell me which title and theme you like best--or perhaps you can think of another one?).*


Thanks for following along this far!
Sincerely,
Lisa Saunders, Landlubber
P.S. If anyone is interested in learning more about sailing in general, and why getting shanghaied should be avoided at all costs, contact me at saundersbooks@aol.com.


Which of the following titles would make you pick up my book to at least read the back cover:
  1. “Mystic Pizza and Beyond: Adventuring the Seafarer's Trail”
  2. "Finding Adventure in Mystic, CT (where there is more than just pizza)"
  3. "Becoming an Adventurer Along the Mystic Seafarer's Trail"

Possible Back Cover Material:
Forced to relocate to Mystic, CT, sedentary writer Lisa Saunders must leave family and her “real” job to begin a new life in what National Geographic calls one of America’s “Best Adventure Towns.”
Living only blocks from Mystic Pizza, the restaurant that inspired the movie, “Mystic Pizza,” Lisa sets out daily with her beagle/basset hound, Bailey, to walk past the haunts and homes of Mystic’s legendary sea voyagers. Her first goal? Lose weight while she figures out how to become an adventurer herself.
Lisa's second goal? To find a friend with a sailboat!

Although Lisa gains weight walking stretches of what she terms the "Mystic Seafarer's Trail" because she stops along the way for ice cream, fried clams strips, and of course, pizza, she does, through conversations with locals, uncover the back stories of Mystic's adventurers--living and dead, including the discoverers of the RMS Titanic and Antarctica; legendary aviatrix, Amelia Earhart; and new friend, Kate, who gave birth on a schooner and rowed to shore to weigh her baby on a lobster scale.

Through research at Mystic Seaport and Mystic River Historical Society, Lisa also unearths the secrets behind what she crowns “The 7 Wonders of Mystic”; becomes embroiled in a controversy over the“8th Wonder”; and discovers that she too has family secrets buried in Mystic. When she visits a local graveyard, she is in for an even bigger surprise.
But can a plump 50-year-old shake her sedentary, landlubbing lifestyle to become true adventurer? Will she ever find a friend with a sailboat, venture the high seas, and earn the respected title of "Adventurer?"
###
By the way, I'm not alone in thinking the Intracoastal Waterway is dangerous:
On another note, the discoverer of the Titanic, whose home exhibit is located in Mystic, commented on the possibility of finding Earhart's plane (Earhart was married in nearby Noank): http://www.theday.com/article/20120321/NWS01/303219968/-1/NWS
Other:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Shanghaied Part V--Abandon Ship!

Lisa Saunders on sailboat in Annapolis with her Starbucks the morning of departure
Monday, March 13, 2012
Well, it's over--and I'm alive to tell the tale.
My mother, an adventuress herself, was excited that I was embarking on a great sea voyage—a once in a lifetime opportunity, she thought. My father, on the other hand, was worried sick. When he last sailed the Long Island Sound as a passenger, he spent time calculating his distance from land and whether or not he could make it if he had to jump overboard. He came to the conclusion that if he wasn't run over by another boat,  he could survive a two-mile swim to shore. Given the time of year I would be sailing in, however, he knew I would never be able to swim that far without giving into hypothermia. In an effort to cheer my father up, our daugther, Jackie, sent the following e-mail to my parents the moment a major event had been confirmed:  
Abandon Ship! Or, Land-Ho!
The Lisa and Jim Story: Adventure on the High Seas
As told by their daughter, impartial bystander, Jackie Tortora
On Friday, March 9, 4:30 p.m., I received a text from my mom that she and Dad had arrived in Union Station in D.C. I left my office and walked next door to Union Station where I found Mom with an enormous pack on her back (she looked like a European backpacker carrying 50 pounds of crap) and Dad who was carrying a large duffel bag, looking like he wanted to set it down. 
We went to dinner at a nice little Greek restaurant. As Mom sipped red wine and generously buttered a large platter of dinner rolls, she voiced concern that Neil and Jules were stuck with all the horrid tasks of readying and de-winterizing the boat, while she sat in a heated restaurant eating chicken kabobs and stuffed Portabella mushrooms. "I feel guilty," she said, trying not to smile as she took another sip of wine. Something made me wonder if she really felt guilty. I think she was very happy to escape the manual labor part of the trip. 
Paul [Jackie’s husband] and I took Mom and Dad to the quaint, touristy part of Annapolis the following day to wait for Jules and Neil, who would be sailing in to pick them up on their way to a remote marina called Carr Creek. After a tough day of sailing, Jules and Neil finally showed up around 8 p.m. They loaded my parent’s train luggage onto their sailboat, plus 20 bags full of "worst case scenario" supplies that Mom insisted we buy at Target.
My parents’ "room," or more accurately, a raised bed in a cupboard, was about the size of two small desks. It was already filled to the brim with the massive amount of luggage they gave to Jules and Neil to lug from Mystic. I had no idea how they would fit on their bed. Maybe Mom would make Dad sleep on top of it all.
The toilet was inside the shower. Since they weren't going to waste electricity on a luxury like hot water, they wouldn't be showering much on this trip. But if they did, they would simply cover the toilet with wooden slats, which then made it a shower. Paul was very interested in the possibility of showering while using the toilet at the same time. He figured that would save hours of time over the span of his life. Paul also said going on a boat seemed like a punishment. He could just picture his Dad threatening him with it when he was misbehaving as a child. "That's it! You're going on the boat!" 
As we waved goodbye to my parents, Paul asked why no one was able to talk my parents out of this. I assured him my grandfather was not thrilled, but Mom was determined to have her adventures and stories...Dad’s ailing back be d_mned! 
The next morning, Sunday, I received a text from my mom saying that Neil and Jules decided to remain at the marina in Annapolis instead of sailing on to the remote, cheaper marina. This made Mom very happy. She was able to have her Starbucks in the morning before they set sail.
Later that day, at about 5 p.m., I received another text from mom.  She wanted to get off the boat IMMEDIATELY. She asked me and her friend Cindy to Google ways to get her out of there. Hours later, at approximately 2 a.m., the seafarers finally made it to a marina half way through the Chesapeake & Delaware canal to Bear, Delaware. After a few hours sleep, the adventurers parted ways.
Upon abandoning ship, Mom and Dad took a half-hour cab ride to Wilmington, DE, and, as I write this, are on a train heading to Mystic, CT.
I am missing many details, but I’m sure Mom will fill in the gaps later. 
Love, Jackie
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
OK, it’s me, Lisa Saunders here. Now begins the task of filling in the “gaps.” Although Jim and I were only on the boat for about 36 hours, I've had enough adventure to last a lifetime! If you want to know more about sailing, and why it should be avoided at all costs, contact me at saundersbooks@aol.com



Saturday, March 10, 2012

Shanghaied Part IV

Today is the day! We had our last good night's sleep at a Holiday Inn in Arlingotn, VA. I felt so guilty that Jim and I relaxed while Jules and Neil drove down with all our gear, heavy boat batteries, etc. As they prepared their boat all last night,we dined with Jackie.

"I feel terrible they have to lug all our stuff and prepare the boat," I made sure to say as my mouth got all fixed up for the chicken kabob I just ordered.

"Yea, Mom, you look guilty as you sit their buttering your bread and sipping wine," Jackie said.

Jules started blogging her version of our trip. Of course she tells on me that instead of helping with last minute preparations, I got my hair dyed so I could look great as I wave to all the onlookers from shore.

As those landlubbers stand among the boats sleeping snuggly beneath their shrink-wrap blankets, they'll probably be wondering, "Who is crazy enough to be setting out this time of year?"

See Jules's thoughts at: http://thought-change.com/

Friday, March 9, 2012

Shanghaied Part lll: Chart of trip

We are on Amtrak right now headed to DC to see our daughter, Jackie, who will then take us to Annapolis on Saturday to meet Jules and Neal at a marina on the Chesapeake Bay.

I was stunned when the conductor said we were crossing over Hell Gate Bridge, which is directly over the most treacherous passage of our whole trip. Now I can feel Humphrey Bogart's dread in the movie, "African Queen," when he had to face the wild, unpredictable currents of the Ulanga River.

The currents under Hell Gate Bridge were going in so many directions, I can see how you can get caught in a whirlpool! I'm just really glad I bought harnesses for Jim and I yesterday at a marine consignment store. Knowing we had never sailed before, the owner of the shop said to me, "Wow, you are braver than I am, and I live on a sailboat!"

Not braver, just crazy!

To silence Jim's complaints about my many purchases, I've been telling him that we can use the headlamps and foul weather gear to make walking Bailey in the next hurricane a safer, more pleasant experience. Now we can walk him hands-free by connecting him to our harness!


Jackie found a sailing trip online that shows approximately where we are embarking from and how we will get to NYC. From there we will go through Long Island Sound to our home in Mystic, CT. The following is someone else's trip, but gives you an idea of what a nautical chart looks like. It even shows an unexploded bomb in the Atlantic--one we will want to avoid!  http://johnsantic.com/cruising/nyc/overview_notes_50pct.gif 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Shanghaied Part II

Jim's been complaining that I'm buying us a lot of gear for what was supposed to be a free vacation. So, when I bought myself a headlamp, something you'd see a miner wear, I didn't get him one. "Hey," he said, "if you get to have one, then I get to have one." So, I went back to the store. He tried his on yesterday morning while eating breakfast. He finally admited that it does comes in handy. "Now I can really see my cereal!"

Since learning how to spot unexploded depth charges on nautical charts, I thought I should move on to study the survival books I've collected over the years. My Army Survival Manual is no use as it's mostly how to survive inland, and another one I have, "The Worst-Case Scenerio Survival Handbook" is great for showing me how to jump into a dumpster from a building, but it only had a page on how to fend off a shark attack or treat frost bite. Now I'm off to the bookstore to find out how to live for months on the open sea without resorting to cannibalism. I don't think Jim should complain about that purchase.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Shanghaied! (Part I)



Lisa and Jules before they set sail on March 10, 2012. Photo by Cindy Barry Photography
    The following is an excerpt from the book I'm currently working on, "Mystic Pizza and Beyond: Adventuring the Seafarer's Trail." (Or,do you like this title better: "Can't Get Thin and Famous? Become an Adventurer!")

Shanghaied!

Friday, January 27

When Jim and I were invited to dine at the home of our friends, adventurers Neil (career Navy) and Jules (social worker), I asked Jules to serve us only cheap, boxed wine. They were willing to oblige so Jim would be forced to try it. Jim tasting something new was about as adventurous as he ever hoped to be, and until I got a "real" job with benefits, we needed to learn how to entertain our guests on a more modest budget.  

After we'd had a few glasses, Jim was beginning to think boxed wine might be the way to go since a leftover opened bottle of red goes bad quickly. Seeing he was growing to like the idea of serving cheap wine to his guests, Neil decided to stretch his newly awakened adventurous side even further. "Hey Jim, how would you like to save even more money by taking a free sailing vacation--on us! I'm taking off from work in early March so Jules and I can sail our boat up from the Chesapeake Bay to Mystic--you can come along as our guests!"

Sitting all warm and comfy on the couch, Jim suddenly went into shock--he just sort of froze in place.

Answering for Jim, I yelled, "You're kidding!" We were actually getting a shot at a real adventure--not just the kind I imagined in my head! "What will our jobs be? Yell 'Land ahoy?'"

"No need for that. We will always be in sight of land." I felt disappointed--our voyage sounded so tame. But perhaps I could yell "Ahoy there" to anyone relaxing along the shore. Do people relax on the Jersey Shore in early March?

Jim rallied, remembering his role as the voice of reason--remembering his frozen toes when we went seal watching last March. "In March?" he asked. "Isn't the air still really cold over the water then?"

I had to admit, Jim was right to be a little concerned about our role as crew in the winter--especially since we had zero sailing experience between us. Just the night before, I had attended a talk given by a man who sailed to Greenland. His video highlighted his unhappy-looking crew member in a wetsuit jumping into the frigid water to scrape barnacles off his hull. I asked, "Are you going to make us scrape barnacles off your hull?" (I didn't really know what barnacles were, but sailors were always scraping them.) 

Neil laughed."Gosh, no, it's too cold for that."

Recalling how the Greenland sailor also made his crew sleep in the forward cabin where the heat wasn't as good, and the ride was bumpy because every wave is hit head-on, I asked, "Which cabin will you be giving us?"

Jim, thinking he had learned what a keel was, ventured, "Will we be sleeping on the keel?"

Still in recruiting mode, instead of laughing at Jim's keel question, Neil said, "No, the keel is the ‘backbone’ of the boat. You'll be sleeping in the fore (forward) cabin, called the V-birth. The mattress is shaped like a V, so it can fit within the shape of the bow." Seeing that Jim loved learning new facts, Neil went on to explain what happened to sailors who were keelhauled. "Keelhauling is a form of punishment. Unruly sailors are tied to a rope, thrown overboard, and dragged underwater from one side of the boat to another. If they don't drown, they will most likely be shredded by the barnacles on the hull."

Since Jim thought sleeping in the front of the boat meant he was assigned to the cabin of honor, I decided to keep my mouth shut so he'd agree to go. Besides, Jim and I should experience sleeping where all greenhorns have slept throughout the ages.
The rest of evening, Jules and Neil took turns assuring Jim how safe and fun it would be. The boat would be well heated below deck, they would bring all kinds of hand and foot warmers, and we would go ashore all the time to dine in elegant marina restaurants. They told Jim he could just laze around the salon (fancy way of saying he could sit on a cushioned bench in the living area), sleep in as late as he wanted, drink cheap, boxed wine, and make microwave popcorn all day in their modern galley (kitchen). For emphasis, they showed him a picture of the galley table with a TV mounted above it so he could watch his favorite DVDs.

Although depressed that he would miss basketball's "March Madness" on T.V., by the end of the evening Jim could resist no longer--"Hey, why not! I'll go--sounds fun!"

I couldn't believe it! We were no longer going to be the Mystic newcomers who tried to look nautical with our brass, whale-shaped door knocker, a painting of a ship over our fireplace, and sailing books strewn about our coffee table--we were going to become real sailors! No longer would Jim ask questions like, "What's a keel?" He would know first-hand.

Falling asleep that night, I couldn't believe I was about to embark on my own real adventure. I had read so many adventure stories from the comfort of my warm bed, finding it exciting to live vicariously through someone else's bravery and misery. But would sailing in early March mean I would suffer more misery than thrills? I could still hear the plunk, plunk, plunk of frozen toes being amputated into a tin can when I read about Earnest Shackleton's misadventure in Antarctica. Another long ago Mystic area cousin I had unearthed was William Sisson, an ice pilot on the ship "Genetta." He was lost while exploring the Arctic region. Common themes in sailing adventure stories are hypothermia, starvation, scurvy (note to self: bring limes), cannibalism and insanity. Were we insane already? Were we about to embark on our own "March Madness?"

When Jim awoke the next morning, the reality of what we were about to do overwhelmed him. Recalling how miserably cold and wet we were last March when we went seal watching on a re-outfitted lobster boat, he turned to me and said in his morning voice, "What did I just agree to do? Sailing? In early March? What if I'm seasick? What if I can't sleep on that bed?" Hmm. Jim couldn't even sleep in hotels because it took him a while to get used to a strange bed. Our v-shaped bed was going to be strange all right. Listening to him, I wondered if I had just witnessed a shanghaiing. I looked up the definition of the word online. According to Oxforddictionaries.com, when someone shanghais another, it means to "force (someone) to join a ship lacking a full crew by drugging them or using other underhand means."

I had witnessed a shanghaiing! And I thought this only happened in the sailing yarns of old. But it can happen just as easily today with a few glasses of cheap wine and promises of microwaved popcorn and DVDs!

Enjoying the fact that I had witnessed a first-hand shanghaiing, while I, on the other hand, was more than ready to embark on a swashbuckling adventure, I e-mailed our friends with the exciting news. Knowing Jim's quiet and predictable habits, many felt inspired to respond with all kinds of jokes. Perhaps slightly offended that I had accused Jules of shanghaiing my husband, she e-mailed me back with, "He was not forced, but discovered his inner adventure child." (Jules uses words like “inner-child,” because when she's not sailing, she's a therapist.)

Kate, my sailor friend who gave birth to her daughter on a schooner and rowed to shore to weigh her on a lobster scale, said, "No, no. He was plied with dreams of cheap wine and sleeping in to the restful sound of gentle waves and sweet wind in the rigging. Personally, if I get shanghaied, I'm going for cheap rum instead of cheap wine. Or single malt if it's overseas."

My girlfriend, Chris, said, "I can't see Jim stuffing his belongings into a seaman's bag and go off sailing in discomfort. I picture him vacationing in a nice hotel, the kind where he can pack his clothes neatly into a large, sturdy suitcase on wheels, and unpack his toothbrush into a ceramic holder."

Jim, normally agreeable to his various roles in my story telling, finally had enough. "You're making me out to look like the wimp in this venture. How do you know you're really up to this? You've never done this before--and it will be cold!" I reminded him that anyone married to a writer should be willing to sacrifice their dignity a little for the sake of a good story. (Jules has noted this goes for friends of writers as well.)

E-mailing my friends that Jim was tired of looking like a wimp, Jules rescued his lost dignity with her reply: "Certainly no wimps were invited on this journey."

The next day, however, all fun banter ceased as Jules and Neil realized they had a lot of work to do to get us ready for the trip. Me knowing how to tie bowline knot was not enough.

Thursday, Feb 2:
E-mail from Jules to me:
"We ought to study knots and tide charts."

Tide charts? I thought Jim and I didn't have to do anything on this voyage except keep them company. Just serve as fun, company-keeping cargo. Why would we need to understand tide charts?

"Because we need to determine when to arrive at certain places, like the bridge where our main mast will only clear the underside by one and half feet--at low tide. We have to be very certain we are at the lowest tide possible before sailing through. We may need to go through it at 4 a.m."

Oh my gosh! We had to worry about getting stuck under a bridge-at 4 a.m.?

CHAPTER  11

More to Sailing Than Bowline Knots

In an effort make our inland sailing lessons more fun, Jules decided Jim and I could have our own titles. As the most experienced sailor, she would be making all the sailing decisions. Having named their 33' sloop, “Watercolors,” in honor of her passion for art, she went on to declare herself the Sailing Master; Neal, Captain; Jim, Skipper; and me, Navigator. I was pleased with Navigator, especially since I had recently learned how to locate the North Star and use it for celestial navigation purposes. Yet, I also knew that everyone blames the navigator when voyages go awry--as in Amelia Earhart's disappearance. She and her navigator were simply unable to locate Howland Island before running out of fuel. 

Although my landlubbing New York friends are excited about my upcoming adventure, my seasoned Mystic sailor friends keep responding to my news with, "In March?" When I told Mary, my neighbor who has sailed across the Atlantic a few times, we were leaving in March, her face fell. She finally managed to say, "I can lend you my foul weather gear--and my harness."

What was a harness, and why would I need one? I decided I didn't want to know. I was beginning to wonder if I had been shanghaied as well!

When Jules, my sailor friend Kate, and I later met for coffee at Green Marble Coffee House, a haven for local artists and musicians, we discussed our route up the coast. Kate asked Jules, "With the erratic winds in March, you're not tempted to sail through Hell’s Gate, are you?"

Alarmed, I asked, "What's Hell’s Gate?"

Kate replied, "It's one of the most treacherous passages on the eastern seaboard. It's a tight channel with a rocky shore in the East River, a tidal strait connecting three major bodies of water. You can get sucked into a whirlpool or smashed into Execution Rocks if you make a piloting error or misjudge the wind and tide." 

I looked up Hell’s Gate on the Internet, and found that it’s officially called Hell Gate. It has been the site of some deadly maritime tragedies.

Jules doubted we would be attempting Hell Gate. But what if Neil wanted to risk it to save time? What if foul weather held us up earlier in our voyage and he had to get back in time to fight in some war?

Later, Jules and Neil came over to our house with large nautical charts and laid them out on our dining room table so we could get an idea of our intended course. Seeing we would be sailing about 10 miles out from the New Jersey Shore to avoid waves and other currents, I realized I wasn't going to be yelling "ahoy there" to anyone crazy enough to be sunbathing on the beach. At 10 miles out, would there be rogue waves? Pirates? Although Neil was a trained fighter, having served in two Middle East wars, I decided to pack my own knife.

What if we hit sudden squalls, like in the movie, “White Squall,” the true story of a windjammer out of Mystic that overturned in a sudden storm, taking the lives of several high school students? Jules and Neil assured us that the weather station would be on at all times, and that the Coast Guard could easily be reached by calling 16 on the radio. (Note to self: learn what the radio looks like, where it is, and how to use it.)

As we discussed our course around Manhattan, Jim noticed we would sail through a place called Gravesend Bay. He said, “I’m sure that name is just an exaggeration, right?” After reading how Hell Gate got its name, I didn’t want to know how Gravesend Bay got its.

But I did finally work up the nerve to ask Jules what a sailing harness was and why my neighbor suggested I borrow hers. “Actually,” she replied, “that’s not a bad idea. It’s a way to tie yourself onto the boat to prevent any erratic waves and wind from knocking you overboard.” The truth was finally coming out—there was just a little more risk to this trip than microwaving popcorn! If I accidentally fell overboard, would my first worry be drowning, freezing or shark attack? (Note to self: bring an even bigger knife and keep it in my boot.)

Next Neil showed us a Youtube video of people sailing a boat similar to theirs. It looked fun to hoist a sail up and down. When I asked what they taught their Special Olympic sailing athletes, Jules replied, “We teach them how to work the jib.”

I asked, “Can you at least teach Jim and I how to work the jib?”

Suddenly sounding very Navy, Neil said, “Oh you’ll be doing a lot more than working the jib! We are going to be sailing 18 hours a day, so there will be a lot of work for everyone. We will be drinking hot tea all day and night to keep warm. We must be alert at all times—ready for anything.”

So I had been shanghaied too! Gone were the promises of movies, microwave popcorn and cheap wine. Would we be swabbing the deck form dawn til dusk? If Jim and I weren’t up to snuff, or deemed too lazy, would we be flogged? Clamped in irons? Was keelhauling still legal?  How does one stage a mutiny?

What if the sails tore off and we ran out of gas--would we be set adrift in the Atlantic? If we were starving, would we resort to cannibalism? When I asked Jules who would be eaten first, she said, “The least useful.” Thank goodness I was about to take a four-hour coastal navigation course at Mystic Seaport. Poor Jim, he just doesn’t have time to become indispensable before the trip.

Saturday, March 4:

Jim and I went to a marine store so he could buy some sailing gloves (ones where his freezing fingers could remain uncovered so he could tie knots) and rubber boots. He actually started to become excited about the trip when the salesman encouraged him to buy the Greek fisherman’s cap he was eyeing. He said something like, “You were made for that cap—you look like Zorba the Greek.” Though not as practical as the wide-brimmed waterproof hat Jim had tried on earlier, he began fancying himself looking like a rugged seafarer.

His excitement over his purchases dimmed, however, when the salesman also mentioned he should buy a whistle. “Why would I need that?” Jim asked.

The salesman replied, “Didn’t you see the movie, “Titanic?”

In the car ride home, I assured Jim, that unlike the leading lady in the recent "Titanic" movie, I would share my floatation devise with him so we could both whistle for rescue.

That evening, Jim recovered his enthusiasm for the trip when he put on his new, Greek fisherman cap. Clipping off the tag, showing a bearded sailor smoking a pipe with the seas rolling behind him, Jim flipped it over to read the manufacture (Aegean) statement:  “…one does not need to be Greek, or a fisherman, to wear our caps. However, a feeling for adventure and romance is a must!”

“Hey, that’s me!” Jim said. He was finally coming around—just in time for our “set sail” date next week on March 10th. Strolling hand in hand through Mystic that night, we were excited to embark on a new adventure together--one we could tell our grandchildren. At least that's what we hope!

My landlubbing New York friends continue to feel only excitement about me adding my own name to the Mystic Seafarer’s trail. They seem to be blissfully unaware of how cold and erratic the March air is over the Atlantic, and apparently haven’t read all of my favorite sailing disaster stories.

Do I tell them that I prepared our daughter, Jackie, for the worst, by telling her who to call regarding our assets? That I instructed the kennel boarding Bailey what to do if he becomes orphaned? Would I cause my family worry if I revealed that our sailing master, Jules, is completely blind? Would they understand, as my seasoned Mystic sailor friends do, that since no sailor can see the wind, why would Jules need to? 

Sure, why not tell all! Let my friends and family share in the terror and thrills as our voyage unfolds. They can live vicariously through my adventure--the way I have all my life by reading the sea voyages of others from the warmth of my bed.

And do I tell Jules that it’s not quite true that I’ve never sailed before? That when I was a teenager, I went sailing with a friend and her dad and tore their very expensive sail by raising it incorrectly? That I must have “heaved” instead of “hoed?” That after 35 years, I can still see that father’s expression as we motored back to the marina?

Why not tell Jules all! Knowing a bit about me already, she doesn't seem to be afraid to sail with me. In her role as a social worker, she has worked with the criminally insane. I couldn't be much worse to deal with than they are!

Monday, March 5 
I just got done with my four-hour navigational class, where I was shocked to learn what lies beneath the waters on the east coast. Sailing charts are full of symbols warning of all kinds hazards to sail around--rocks, underwater ship wreaks, and even unexploded depth charges!

Well, I gotta go. Jules just called me, telling me to come over to practice getting into their “man overboard” harness. She said, “You don’t want to fall overboard this time of year, but if you do, it’s a lot easier for me to teach you how to get into this harness on my floor than in the cold water!”
If you would like to know how Jim and I have been faring as shanghaied sailors serving as crew for Sailing Master Jules, a blind adventuress who knows how to pack a pistol, and Captain Neil, a Navy Chief who is accustomed to barking out orders, check into my blog at: http://mysticpizzaseafarer.blogspot.com/

If you would like to read how Jules is dealing with me, a plump, lazy writer who likes to imagine adventures more than actually having them, and learn more about Jules's life as a gunslinger, rock climber, artist, social worker, and blind sailor, she will have her blog up and running soon.


We set sail on Saturday, March 10, leaving from Chesapeake Bay, MD, to head to Mystic, CT, where the 33' sloop, Water Colors, will remain. We will stop along the way in Atlantic City, sail past the Statue of Liberty, through the Long Island Sound, and finally through Fishers Island Sound, to our home in Mystic, which is located close to the border of Rhode Island. If you sign into my blog with your e-mail in the box on the upper right, you will get updates in your inbox as the trip unfolds.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Civil War Love Story Portrayed on Valentine's Day

One couple's devotion to each other and their country in the midst of infidelities, scandals, and ever-present threat of death.

Charles and Nancy McDowell
I carefully unfolded the stiff yellowed paper, incredulous that I was actually touching a letter written during the American Civil War. It was one of 150 letters written between my great-great grandparents that I had discovered in a small wooden box in my mother's attic in Suffern, New York. The note I held in my hand, authored by Private Charles McDowell to his wife Nancy, was written on a small, plain piece of stationery--not at all fancy like some of the others in the batch which bore sketches of the White House and battle engagements. I gently smoothed it flat on the table, afraid I would tear it. The handwriting was strange, the ink somewhat faded, making it difficult to read. And then suddenly I came upon a word I recognized in an instant--Abe! It read, "We have [Secretary of State] Seward down here about every other day, and sometimes he fetches Old Abe with him and [he] looks about like any old farmer."


In addition to the letters was Nancy's obituary, which reads: "MRS. MCDOWELL IS DEAD - SHOOK HANDS WITH LINCOLN. With the death of Mrs. Nancy Wager McDowell...the town of Sodus probably loses the distinction of having a resident who could boast of having shaken hands and talked with the martyred Lincoln… Mr. McDowell was a member of the Ninth New York Heavy Artillery in the Union Army and it was while stationed near Washington that his wife had an opportunity to speak with the President. Mrs. McDowell passed nearly a year in that vicinity and many were the pies she baked for the soldiers stationed at the capital. Typhoid Fever caused her to return to Alton to the home of her parents…" ("The Record," Sodus, Wayne County, N.Y. September 18, 1931)

I took the collection of letters back to my home and began what was to become an exciting ten-year adventure. First I arranged the letters from Charles by date and began to read. Once I grew accustomed to his old-style handwriting and run-on sentences, I felt myself leaving the present and entering his past. I traveled back over 130 years and joined Charles in heart and mind. I felt his loneliness, his boredom, his fear. I laughed when he found a reason to laugh. He and his brother had enlisted despite his Canadian father's pleas to stay out of the war. As the months of his service turned into years, I hurt over his deep longing for his wife and home and for the life and family he left behind in Canada.

In other letters I was shocked to read of the desertions, hangings, amputations, prostitution, and even theft and murder among Union troops. Charles wrote home about the battles he fought with the 2nd CT Heavy Artillery and other regiments who were members of the Sixth Corps.
Next I tackled Nancy’s writing. As her collection of letters drew to an end, I was completely immersed in her anxious thoughts about Charles's welfare. She hoped there hadn't been a "ball made to kill" him. She hoped he wouldn't get too close to the Southern women when he occupied their homes. She longed for him to return to her--even if it was just for a short furlough. She wrote that she would rather be dead than continue to live the way they were.

I pondered the final years of her life spent rocking in her chair looking out the window. She died in that chair beside the window. Perhaps she was awaiting her death so Charles could come for her once more…
The letters, along with my background research are compiled in my book, Ever True: A Union Private and His Wife. And now, for the first time in Connecticut, their love letters are being presented in my play:


Ever True: A Civil War Love Story
Valentine's Day (Feb 14, 2012, 6:30 p.m.)
Through the actual love letters of Private Charles McDowell and his 17-year-old wife, Nancy, you will not only hear of dreams, desertions and disease, but of hangings and the court marshalling of a cow. This dinner theater production of Ever Trueincludes an introduction by the play's author, Lisa Saunders, who will remain after the show to answer any questions. Presented by the Emerson Theater Collaborative at the RiverWalk Restaurant in Mystic, CT, you may purchase your tickets by calling (860) 705-9711. Show tickets are $25 and the dinner, which is paid for at the restaurant on the night of the show, is an additional $30 (plus tax and tip). Seating is limited and tickets will not be sold at the door