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September 21, 2008

Catching Up

Catching Up

Sometimes when I get an email from a special friend I’ll choose not to respond right away because I want to take the time to write a thoughtful reply. This is especially true if it’s been a long time since our last communication. Too often, however, time goes on and the email sits in my inbox, falling further and further from the top. Before I know it, days become weeks and weeks become months. The act of “catching up” suddenly looms large.

So it has been with the Gypsy blog over the past four months. It’s not been a case of having little of note to write about. On the contrary, so much has happened that I’m finding it hard to figure out where to begin, or how to tell such a richly varied story in a few short paragraphs. Forgive me if I’m short on detail, but there’s a lot of ground (and water) to cover.


New Rule: Don’t Launch on Cinco de Mayo

Raven is usually one of the first boats to launch on Lake Champlain. I’m ready to be back on the water as soon as the ice goes out in April. The downside to such an early launch is having to do all the prep work in less than ideal weather – usually late March and early April. This year, I wanted to get fresh varnish on much of the exterior teak, so we decided to delay the launch until May 5th, nearly a month later than I’m normally afloat. We had two weeks of beautiful sunny weather at the end of April. I stripped the old varnish and got six coats of the new applied, saving the last two coats for later in the summer. Raven looked as beautiful as ever as the shipyard staff backed her down to the lift.


Launch-day always brings a mix of excitement and nagging feelings of “what did I forget?” as Raven is suspended in the slings and carried out over the water. This year, for the first time, I enjoyed the moment in warm sunshine rather than the rain, sleet and cold I’ve been faced with in past years.


It would have been nice to take a moment to relax after the launch and enjoy the early May day, but we had a tight schedule with no room for relaxation. Our plan was launch Raven on one day and move Gypsy across the state on the next. We intended to motor Raven from the shipyard to our mooring, jump in the truck, drive across the state to pick up my sister Melanie’s bigger truck, drive back to the Maritime Museum and get Gypsy ready for an early morning move on the following day.


Ah, plans. They don’t always work out. Once Raven was afloat, I started the engine and immediately had a problem. No cooling water. I pulled off the raw water intake pump to check the most likely cause, a broken impeller, but it was fine. Eventually I discovered that the belt that drives the pump had not been running in its pulley correctly. I put it back together, water emerged from the exhaust as it should, and we were under way.

Less than thirty minutes later, I heard something “not quite right.” At the same time, Marion saw smoke coming from the engine compartment. We shut the engine down, opened up the panel by the companionway, and the problem became clearly evident. The side of the raw water injector had rusted through to the point of opening up. With the engine running, both exhaust and cooling water were being sprayed out onto the engine and further operation had the potential for . . . well, not good things.

Okay, we’ve got sails, right?

Not a breath of wind was blowing over Lake Champlain’s waters on that beautiful day. We raised the sails and waited. Water bugs outpaced us as they ran on the lake’s surface alongside. We’d just have to be patient. It took us over two hours before the wind filled in enough to take us that last mile to the mooring.

We concluded that a day known as “sinko” de mayo was not a good one for boats.


We did finally get across the state but we were hours behind schedule. It was almost dark before we returned to Gypsy. I stubbornly went ahead with the preparation for her move in darkness. We jacked her up, put on the tires and removed the blocks. I maneuvered the truck into the tight space between her hitch and the trees, dropped the tongue onto the ball, and shifted into reverse. Gypsy started to move. I wanted to get her off the grass lawn and onto the driveway so that we’d be ready to roll in the morning. It was not to be. After rolling only inches, the wheels of the truck began to slip on the dew dampened grass. Nervously, I got out to look at our predicament. My heart sank when I saw that Gypsy’s tires had settled several inches into the soft spring earth. I kept trying to push her back but she sank further and further.

Needing more with which to move our beloved Gypsy, we fetched the museum’s large Suburban. I hitched up a tow from Gypsy’s axles, using the truck to push and the Suburban to pull. No luck. Gypsy was mired in the soft earth nearly to her frame. We decided to wait for first light to continue the effort.

It was not a restful sleep. Dawn came and we went outside to find only a few inches between Gypsy’s frame members and the wet soil. We collected up boards on which to float the jacks and wheels and began the process of raising her up. Once we’d put Gypsy’s wheels on stacks of wood, I created a boardwalk of sorts behind the tires of both the truck and Gypsy on which to roll her along.  I got in the truck. Marion drove the Suburban. I put the truck in reverse. Marion put the Suburban in drive. Gypsy rolled free. We were on our way, almost.

Our plan had been to roll out of the museum driveway by 7:30 a.m.. Due to the cumulative delays, it was 9 o’clock by the time we rolled Gypsy onto solid ground. No one had told us that there were plans to block our exit on that day. As we prepared to slowly move Gypsy down the drive behind the museum’s campus, a portable sawmill was being set up in the parking lot, a forklift began unloading equipment for the new blacksmith shop, and backhoes and dump trucks were moving into position to work on the septic system. Marion hurried up the drive to alert the workers to our need for passage. Slowly, I backed Gypsy between trenches and logs to the open road. Departure time at last.

Taking out the trash

Before pulling out onto the pavement we tidied and secured the interior. Lastly, we took out the trash – a single bag. In the period from January 1st until May 6th, our total non-recyclable, non-compostable trash amounted to a mere few pounds of waste, mostly a winter’s worth of tortilla chip bags!


Although it was early May and the grass was greening in the valleys, there was still snow in the shadows on the road into the Tunbridge land. The narrow single lane up Frye Road needed repair and the earth would be too soft for Gypsy for another few weeks.


After driving across the state we backed into the field next to the barn below my sister Melanie’s house, leveled Gypsy her on her blocks, made a board and batten entry door with which to secure her while we were away, and drove back to the Champlain Valley and our floating home aboard Raven.


Often throughout the summer we found ourselves remarking about our housing dilemma. It’s not the problematic sort, but rather two equally enjoyable yet radically different styles. We love them both, Raven and Gypsy. For the summer, however, the view would be of the wonderful watery backyard on Lake Champlain.

View from the top

To gain a different perspective on life afloat (and to fix the masthead light), I climbed the mast while Marion belayed me from below. Life looks pretty good from here.

View from the top