So there we were, dirt dwellers once again. The townhouse was still standing, with all our possessions intact. The Porsche even started up, first try, and Ron took it for a little spin. We did, however, have a few reentry problems, none were insurmountable, but one in particular was rather entertaining. Prior to our departure we had turned off the house water at the main. About two weeks after we got back we were confronted with a bill for 250,000 gallons of water. Nancy, even though she knew she'd run a few loads of laundry since we returned (actually more than a few) figured that this might be a little high. Consultations with the water company revealed that their standard procedure when a meter shows no usage is to assume the meter is broken and estimate usage. In our case they may have been estimating based on an apartment building, but estimate they did. Once we got that cleared up, and the water company installed two new water meters (one inside and one outside), all was well.
Duet, meantime, returned to her berth at Herrington Harbor South, on T dock. All our old friends were there, AJ and Anita on Hour Time, Kelly and Howard on Sunsets and Allan and Linda on Sea Shadow. Mark and Karen on Paydirt returned to Herrington Harbor North, where we visited them many times over the summer and watched Paydirt's new foredeck take shape. We heard great tales of winter weather, admired new boat toys and generally got back into the swing of things. Kelly and Howard, in particular, were preparing for the Caribbean 1500, a sailboat rally which departs Norfolk Virginia in early November and arrives in Tortola, British Virgin Islands some 10-14 days later. Wisely, Kelly and Howard are making the trip this year on someone else's boat, before they do it "for real" on Sunsets. Nancy was fortunate enough to introduce them to their sailing companions, on the brand new Tayana 59 Nanna Maria, whom she met by chance on U Dock. Nanna Maria not only has every electronic gadget known to man but, more importantly, she has an experienced Captain and crew, who have journeyed as far as Venezuela on their previous sailboat.
In due time, Captain Ron returned to work, where his reentry was less stressful than 2003, as he'd only been gone 7 months this time. His partners, realizing this, put him on Obstetrics night call the first week and he came out of the blocks running. Holy Cross Hospital, where Doctor Ron works, has grown tremendously in the last few years and business is booming, particularly in Obstetrics where over 8,000 babies are now born each year. Nancy recently figured out that this translates to an average of 22 babies per day, or just under one per hour, and was suitably impressed. Ron, who has way too much experience with this, pointed out that it really means 6 babies in 20 minutes and then no babies for an hour or two and then 6 more all at once! Babies, like fronts and dragging anchors, also prefer to arrive in the wee hours, so this all occurs in the middle of the night.
Nancy spent much of the summer visiting her family and catching up with local friends. Ron worked. Between on call weekends, we started what seems like an endless list of boat projects. Many of these have been in the planning stages throughout our recent 3 year journey, but others, like the fuel management system, are the result of recent experiences. Some of these projects were started while Duet was still in the water, but we figured it would be more fun to cruise her than work on her while the temperatures stayed warm, so much of this work didn't start until she was hauled for the winter. In the meantime, we returned to old haunts on the Chesapeake, introduced AJ and Anita to the joys of anchoring out, and generally had a great summer.
Duet's haul out was thankfully relatively uneventful, as the Herrington Harbor North team is very experienced. Nancy did have one rather funny exchange during the towing of Duet from her temporary slip to the haul out well. We had moved her into the temporary slip the previous weekend as Ron couldn't be available during the week to move her directly to the well for hauling. So Herrington Harbor North's finest team of towers appeared right on time to move her, albeit with a rather small dinghy. Nancy gently pointed out to the lead gentleman that Duet is rather heavy for her size. This expert, presumably used to boating wives who know little, if anything, about boats, humored (gracefully ignored) Nancy and proceeded to tow Duet as far as the end of the fairway, where he tried to turn her into the wind. As she watched from ashore, Nancy was reminded of the jumbo jet towing contests at Dulles Airport, the dinghy engine thrashed the water to foam but Duet remained stationary. After some five minutes of this storm und drang, Duet slowly began to make way and the rest of the trip proceeded uneventfully. To give him credit, upon reaching the haulout well safely, the dinghy driver did have the grace to say, "that's a heavy boat, lady". Ricky and his experienced travel lift team whooshed Duet up into the air and she trundled off to her winter resting place. The biggest surprise of the day was a crab pot line wrapped around her prop. It appeared to have been there some time, as it was covered in marine growth, but we'd experienced no diminution of performance, nor was there any damage to the prop, shaft or other mechanical parts. She did, of course, have a rather dirty underside, as her bottom paint was over two years old and she'd been sitting more than we'd like during the summer.
In no particular order, the Duet project list now includes:
Repainting the top of the port aft fuel tank, to repair damage from the salon A/C unit, which leaked onto the tank. This includes cutting out the subfloor over the tank to access the tank, sanding the tank top, painting it and then replacing the floor. The actual damage to the tank was minimal, merely a thin coat of rust with no pitting of the steel, but Ron wanted to nip this little issue in the bud before it became a major problem. We used a special paint, as advised by Bill Lynn, who is now an expert on steel after 3 years with Oceantide. This paint cost even more than bottom paint, much to Nancy's shock when she was detailed to pick it up. It also required combining prior to application, which allowed Ron to polish up his old chemistry skills. After 3 coats it looks great, as good as new. The tank is at the bottom of this photograph, while the new flooring and subflooring is on the sides. The flooring was replaced with a special marine-grade Okoume plywood, which, while it didn't cost quite as much as bottom paint, was definitely the most expensive plywood Nancy has ever seen. One of our friends actually built an entire 65 foot sportsfish out of this stuff, so we felt fortunate that we only needed one sheet.
Relocating the salon A/C unit from the port aft under the settee to midships under the settee so it can breath better (there is a vent under the settee there for it) and insulating the tray it sits in, so it hopefully doesn't leak anymore. The tray itself has a drain pipe which runs into the bilge, but the outside of the tray develops condensation in humid weather, which is what we believe was leaking onto the tank top. Also, our aft fresh water shower could be a source of leaks, so Ron will repair it as well. Finally, Ron will reinsulate the salon A/C unit ducting to improve the compressor's efficiency. Moving the A/C unit does reduce available storage under the settee but we figure this is better than replacing the compressor every few years. We use our A/C a lot, particularly in Maryland in the summer.
Repairing the Diesel Heater. As our regular readers know, the diesel heater has been out of commission for several years. It hasn't been necessary as we carefully stayed out of cold climates. Nancy would have been perfectly happy to manage our cruising so we never needed to fix it, but unfortunately that was not to be. Also, during the summer, the heater bypass manifold attached to the main engine (which could heat water when the main was hot) sprang a leak while we were returning from a Chesapeake cruising weekend. As an aside, the bilge pump monitoring system really paid it's dues on this one, as the leak dumped 75% of the main's cooling fluid before Nancy noticed that the pump had cycled 6 times in about 20 minutes. Ron rushed into the engine room, killed the main and, while the get home kept us chugging up the Bay, managed to rig a bypass and refill the main with antifreeze so we could proceed to our slip under main power.
Fixing the leaking manifold was pretty easy, if you don't count the mess Ron made testing it in the guest bath, but the diesel heater itself took a little more doing. A new fuel pump was finally installed and that cured the problem, so now when we work on the boat in subzero temps the inside is a toasty 70 degrees. Ron also had to built a new mount for the pump, but by midwinter he was ready to do almost anything to halt Nancy's constant "it's freezing in here" refrain. Recleaning all the fuel tanks. For those of you who have never seen a dirty fuel tank, take a deep breath before clicking here. Cleaning the tanks is a two step process. First, diesel diapers are used to mop up as much of the precipitate as possible. Then, orange degreaser is sprayed on the tank surface and pumped out. This process is repeated until the degreaser runs clean, which is usually 3-4 times. Ron constructed a sprayer unit of copper tubing linked to a small electric pump, which worked very well during this exercise. Finally, the tanks are clean again. Ron photographed all four tanks after they were cleaned and plans to examine them each year to ensure that this doesn't get ahead of us again. He will also coat all the tanks in WD40 over the winter to reduce condensation, as they will all be empty this year. In the future, the new fuel polishing system will run on a regular basis, and hopefully keep any precipitate from building up. This was a long, dirty and tiring project but we feel strongly that it was worth doing. As part of this project, Ron acquired a very neat tool. One of the difficulties with the fuel tanks is it is difficult to see around the internal baffles and determine the condition of the lower part of the tanks. We almost despaired, but then Ron's medical training came to the rescue. We need a scope, similar to those used to examine the body internally, so we could literally see around corners and inside tight spaces. Unfortunately, medical scopes cost tens of thousands, so, short of stealing one, we were at a loss. Ron then chanced to do a Google search and found that simple lighted scopes (without the camera and other parts which make the medical versions so expensive) are about $300. Several days later he was the proud owner of a Provision300 scope. It has revolutionized working in tight spaces. It can be introduced through holes as small as one half inch in diameter and can clearly show what is going on behind the scenes. So far we've used it extensively in the fuel tanks, but also to examine the underside of the pilothouse roof (for the radar mount) without having to take down all the panels, behind the fuel tank gauges to make sure there was no corrosion there and in a number of other tight situations. Now we won't leave the dock without it! Designing and installing the new fuel polishing system. This project will be covered on it's own page when it's completed. In the meantime, here is a preview of the system slowly coming together in our guest bedroom. Ron, in particular, is excited about this project, and has spent countless hours designing the system. It is based on ESI technology, but he has made a number of changes and additions to meet Duet's needs. We much look forward to testing this system over the next few years and several thousand gallons of fuel.
Installing a new radar. We currently have a Raytheon 2KW 18inch radome, which works quite well under normal conditions. It is defeated, however, by heavy weather. It also does not have ARPA (Automatic Radar Plot Acquisition), namely the ability to calculate closest point of approach of any other vessels (also known as "when they run over you"). Currently we do this manually, with a grease pencil, and gross approximations of other vessels' positions. This exercise, while it reawakens interest in high school math, is not something we like to carry out in less than perfect sea conditions. Hence, a new radar. We will keep the old one as a back up and for use in close quarters when someone is outside, such as when we are assessing an anchorage. The new radar puts out enough microwave energy to flash fry seagulls at a quarter mile, so we'd rather not have it on when anyone is wandering around on the boat deck or the foredeck. We may also run the radars in tandem in some situations, with one on a nearby distance setting, and the other looking further out.
After much exciting research, Captain Ron has chosen a Furuno unit. Furuno is used by most US commercial and Coast Guard units and many of our cruising friends highly recommend it. In the Furuno model line, Ron picked the 1953C, which is a 12KW unit, with optional 10 target ARPA. The 12KW refers to the amount of power the unit puts out to "burn through" weather and other obstacles (including birds, people on the boat deck, etc). 12KW is the top end of Furuno's recreational units, above that you are into commercial scale (and price) units. The radar picture is displayed on a color 10.4 inch screen, which can also be used as a chart plotter. This will be installed where the current Raytheon screen is and the older radar moved. We will not, at least right now, buy the chart cartridges for the plotter, as we are quite happy with Nobeltec. Some people use their plotter as a backup for the Nobeltec, but we use paper charts as the budget committee has to draw the line somewhere. Actually paper charts price about the same as cartridges but we would rather have some manual backup in case of a complete electronic meltdown.
It turns out that we have also acquired Furuno's NavNet capability as part of the radar, so the new screen can display information from other Furuno units. We are initially planning to add a GPS antenna, thereby giving us another hard installed GPS to back up our Northstar. Currently, if the Northstar develops a problem we interface a small hand held GPS, which sometimes has trouble acquiring satellites out the pilothouse window.
Ron also, after much discussion with Nancy, has chosen to install a 6 foot array for the radar. For non boaters, the array is the device dramatically spinning around on the roof during boating scenes in the movies. A 6 foot array is exactly that, it is 6 feet (count them, 6 feet!) long. Most boats our size have a 4 foot array, but the 6 foot offers better target resolution because it can more tightly focus the power of the 12KW. As Ron said, there's no point in paying for all that power if you don't use it.
As we needed a mount for the radar, which we planned to put high up the mast on our boat deck, we called our buddy Bill Richardson at Kato Marine, who has made many bits for Duet over the years. We have great confidence in Bill's judgement. Thus, when, after some study of the radar array, he pronounced "no way, no how can you put that thing up there", we went back to ground zero. The array weighs 55 pounds and Bill felt that the lever arm created by the 40 inch long mount would represent too much force on the mast. A 4 foot antenna array would have been safer and more practical. These have been installed on other Nordhavn 46 masts without difficulty. Nancy liked this option as she had been concerned that Duet would closely resemble a helicopter with the 6 footer on the mast. Ron, on the other hand wanted the resolving power of the 6 footer. So we started looking at putting the array on the pilothouse roof. While we've never seen this on a Nordhavn 46, it is standard on the 43 and we've seen it on 50's. Also, most fishing craft do it this way. Initially, we thought that observation range would be compromised, but on further analysis this turned out not to be the case. The pilot house roof mount could be made 3 feet high, resulting in an overall height above the water of approximately 14 feet. If it were placed on the mast, it would only be about 4 feet higher. The difference between 14 versus 18 feet above the water results in a viewing distance differential of 4.6 versus 5.2 nm for an object at sea level (a buoy), and 16.9 versus 17.5 nm for an object 100 ft above sea level (a tanker, for example). Capt. Ron felt this was an acceptable trade-off, but Nancy was still uncertain about the aesthetics of this, so she constructed a cardboard version of the radar, complete with the Furuno logo, so that we could actually see what it would look like. After some maneuvering with this item, which provided considerable entertainment for other folks in the marina, we decided that actually it wouldn't look so bad. Huge, but cute in a commercial shippy kind of way. Also, although this is obviously not important, we would have the largest array in our marina. So Kato began building a mount for the array and Captain Ron went back to working on the fuel management system. Repainting the boat deck mast. As part of the radar evaluation, Nancy carefully examined the boat deck mast. This, as is often the case with boat projects, produced an offshoot of the radar project, the painting of the boat deck mast. It turns out that our mast was starting to corrode at the base, so we needed to take it off, repaint it and put it back. It is not something we planned to do but it was definitely necessary, witness the condition of the bottom of the mast after it was removed. Our guess is that this preliminary corrosion was the result of several factors. First, there was no drainage hole for water to run out the bottom of the mast, so water sat there for long periods. Secondly, the mast is aluminum and the step it sits on is stainless steel. Dissimilar metals in contact create a risk for corrosion. Thirdly, we suspect that the original paint job on the mast was not as good as it could have been. We decided to outsource the actual mast removal (since Nancy doesn't have her crane driver's license yet) and the painting, as it is a tricky business to do right. We did remove all the hardware on the mast and sand it ourselves, as neither required a great skill level, just perseverance and careful notes on how to put all the hardware back in the right place. Everything came off the mast with little difficulty, although the dry stack needed a little careful handling. Once it came down it became apparent that it needed polishing, so Nancy added it to the growing list of items which need compounding, waxing, polishing or otherwise sprucing up. Nancy is now a great believer in the Navy saying "it if moves salute it, if it stands still paint it" except in her case it's "if we eat it, make sure we have enough, otherwise polish, wax or clean it". The removal of the mast itself was a rather exciting exercise, particularly since Nancy hadn't seen it done before. We contracted with Alpha Rigging at Herrington Harbor North for the removal and paint work. The appointed removal day arrived, the crew, Nancy and the crane met at Duet and work began. Initially all went well. The mast was secured and then slowly lifted upward and moved to the side Duet so it could be lowered to the ground. Once the mast cleared Duet, however, the problems began. The crane, up to this point entirely reliable, sprang a hydraulic leak and died. So there we were, dangling a 15 foot mast, with 2 15 foot fragile strongback supports attached, 20 feet above the ground from a broken crane. Nancy, figuring that worst case if the mast fell at least it wouldn't land on Duet and our (or the marina's) insurance would pay for a new one, stayed out of the way while the crew thought about next steps. Actually, it worked out very easily, mainly due to the skill of Steve, the owner of Alpha Rigging. He climbed up on Duet's boat deck, attached a second set of lines to the moribund crane arm and neatly lowered the mast by hand, with lots of help from his team. All in all, it took about 10 minutes until the mast was safely on the ground. The crane, however, was another story. It remained parked near Duet, like a dead dinosaur, for several weeks until the leak was fixed and it trundled off to fulfill other missions. Once the mast was off the boat, we needed to sort out the mast step. This stainless steel edifice is carefully thru-bolted to the boat deck. It needed to be removed, for multiple reasons. First, we thought we would replace it with an aluminum one, to reduce the problem of corrosion. Bill Richardson eventually talked us out of that, but we didn't know that when we started to remove it. Second, during this mast removal process, we decided to accelerate another project we'd been considering for some time, the installation of paravanes. This project will be discussed in more detail below, but as part of the discussion with Forespar, who makes the poles for paravane rig, it became clear that our mast should have a bolt through the base to prevent it from jumping off the step. Although Forespar routinely recommends this for their deck-stepped masts, no Nordhavn 46 we've ever seen has had this done. We are aware of one Nordhavn 46 whose mast partially lifted off it's step when the boom, lifting a heavy dinghy, unexpectedly swung forward. The result was a large crack at the base of the mast which needed repair. We figured that the loads imposed by our new paravane rig would be substantial, so a thru-bolt at the mast step was relatively cheap and simple insurance. Installing Paravanes. A paravane rig consists of long arms which extend outboard from amidship and from which are suspended the vanes themselves which are dragged roughly 14 feet below the water surface. A sistership is shown here, with her paravanes deployed. The vanes are designed to resist the rolling of the boat. They are shaped like little airplanes with weighted noses. When the boat rolls to one side, the vane on that side 'nose dives' with little resistance. When the boat tries to roll back, the vane flattens out and its wings heavily resist the upward pull. The end result of these forces is that overall roll is markedly reduced. The Naiad hydraulic fin system on 'Duet' already provides roll control. We wanted the additional security provided by redundancy since reduction of roll while underway is so critical to our comfort and safety. Obviously, paravanes are simpler mechanically than the hydraulically powered, gyroscopically controlled Naiad system. Unlike the Naiad system, roll control by paravanes is not critically dependent on boat speed. This is a big advantage in heavy seas when one is forced to slow down. Another advantage of a paravane rig, although one less critical for safety, is the ability to use it for roll control at anchor. Nancy is also a big fan of the stability at anchor feature, as she is the one who has to cook while the boat is doing the watsitutsi for days at a time.
At this point we want to be clear that our Naiads have never given us cause for concern. In the Nordhavn Atlantic Rally (NAR), however, a number of Naiad equipped 46's experienced malfunctions. Most of the problems seemed to result from the boats cruising at rather low speeds for 14 days. As mentioned previously, the system is much less efficient at low speed. All of the 46s with problems on the NAR had their Naiads upgraded/repaired by Naiad at no cost. Upgrades typically consist of a larger hydraulic pump and beefier hydraulic rams which boost efficiency at low boat speeds. We are considering a similar upgrade to our system, but unfortunately it won't be free as Naiad does still have to stay in business! We have concluded, however, that even if we do upgrade our Naiad system, we still want the redundancy of paravanes.
There are several 46s and 40s (including the one Nordhavn took around the world) with both paravanes and Naiads and several 43's have been specced that way too, so we are in good company. The paravanes have been ordered from Forespar and Nordhavn, and both companies have been very helpful in getting parts from various sources. Since we will perform the installation ourselves, we are planning a trip to North Carolina to closely examine a paravane-rigged 46. Another 46 owner who retrofitted vanes to his boat said the key is getting it laid out right, the actual installation being pretty easy once you understand how to put all the bits together. This project will probably not be started until summer and will be covered in more detail in another log.
Servicing the Naiads This is a project we don't do, we hire Washburns. It requires the world's largest torque wrench (which while Ron would dearly love to own one, even he can't make a reasonable argument why he needs it) as well as several specialized Naiad fin pulling tools. Ricky from Washburns did a super job, the fins hit the dirt, the seal were replaced and everything put back on in record time. We did discover, however, that one of the seals on the fins (which keep seawater out of the expensive workings) had leaked through the second seal, and, while water had not gotten into the hydraulics, we have decided to change the seals every two years in the future. Duet's stabilizers work hard and, while Naiad maintains three year intervals are OK, we would rather do this service too soon than too late..
Replacing the main engine muffler. Duet's main engine is keel cooled and the exhaust system is 'dry' as on most commercial boats. Since our 'get home' wing engine and generator have conventional wet exhausts, they serve as a continual reminder of the many advantages conferred by keel cooling/dry exhausting in terms of eliminating a heavily failure-prone system. The replacement of the muffler is the only significant maintenance required on the dry exhaust system since the boat was commissioned in 1997. Even this would not have been necessary had there not been a leak: Rain and spray had tracked down the outer surface of the exhaust stack in to the fiberglass enclosure which houses the muffler on the upper boat deck. There, it settled on the top of the muffler and wicked down inside the ceramic cloth insulation. The end result was quite a bit of surface corrosion. Although it has continued to function well, we were afraid that it would eventually fail, so preventive treatment is indicated. Once the new muffler is installed, we will put an end to the leak as well. We have ordered a new muffler from PAE. Once it arrives, we will begin the process of extracting the old one and inserting the new one. Without giving away a future log, suffice it to say that this process turned out to be slightly more difficult than we expected.
Taking a Vacation In case our readers think we have done nothing but work on the boat, we did actually take a vacation during the late summer/early fall. We left Tristan and Maggie at Sunchaser Kennels and flew to Boise, Idaho. We picked up a four wheel drive and drove north through Idaho to Whitefish, Montana. The lure of Whitefish revolves around Glacier National Park, which is one of the largest and most remote parks in the Lower 48. It has been on our list to see and hike for some time, so we were really looking forward to it. The surprise of this part of the journey was Whitefish, which turned out to be far more fun than we anticipated. We stayed in the Garden Wall Inn, named after a particular hike in Glacier, and enjoyed it tremendously, Whitefish has several good restaurants and our hosts at the Garden Wall made us feel very much at home. In particular the local Whitefish paper was very entertaining, as we were late enough in the season for the local bear population to begin it's annual pilgrimage from higher ground to the flats for the winter. Bears are extremely common in Whitefish and the Police Blotter, while it has very few actual crimes reported, does cover every bear incident in some detail. "Bear in trash can" was pretty common, as was "bear disappearing over fence, wall, etc". We never actually saw a Whitefish bear, although we looked very carefully every night as we walked downtown for dinner.
But back to the hiking, which given the skills of the Whitefish chefs, was a definite necessity if we were to even fit into our clothes by the end of this trip. We went out every day, mainly to Glacier, although once we hiked up the Whitefish ski slope and rode the gondola down. The ride down is free, if you can manage the walk up, about 4 miles with about 2,500 feet of elevation during the hike. We did well, actually surviving to the top. We were, however, somewhat disconcerted as we were taking a brief breather about 1/4 mile from the summit. As we stood there, panting and trying to think of a reason to stay a little longer so we didn't have to actually move, a breezy voice called "coming through" and a man at least 10 years older than us ran by at a swift pace. Our readers need to understand that we were literally climbing a hill at this point and it was fairly obvious that this guy had run all the way up the 4 miles and the 2,500 feet of elevation and was hardly breathing hard. This incident understandably lowered our crests a bit, but we forged on and ate our sandwiches at the top with the satisfaction of at least not having had to turn around and go back, which was an idea Nancy advanced about halfway up in a moment of weakness.
Our most memorable hike in Glacier was the Garden Wall, understandably recommended by our hosts at the Garden Wall Inn. The hike begins at the summit of the Going to the Sun Road (which is a great drive) and traverses the cliff tops. We're not really clear if we hiked 8 miles at 7,000 feet or 7 miles at 8,000 feet but whatever, it was the best hike of the trip. The views were magnificent, we saw a mother and baby mountain goat and we were able to actually pass some people who were unable to complete the trip. This occurred at the beginning of the hike, where the path cuts down to about 2 feet wide with a cliff on one side and a sheer drop to the road on the other. The drop is about 500 feet and is somewhat disconcerting. We made it, despite Nancy's acrophobia, because we just didn't look down. Actually, after a bit of this cliff clinging stuff, it becomes much easier to do and when we got to the second stretch of it we didn't mind it all, we even took a picture of Nancy standing on the edge. The part where we had to wade through a waterfall coming down the cliff on slippery rocks was a little unnerving, but by that time we were determined to finish the hike, so we just barged on through, figuring that if other people made it so could we.
After a great week in Whitefish we traveled south to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. We went through Yellowstone, which we had visited more than 25 years previously on a memorable cross country driving trip we took together when we were in college. On that trip we covered more than 6,000 miles in 6 weeks, driving a Honda Civic and living in a pup tent. Trip highlights included a flash flood in Texas, a journey on a ferry made of oil cans in Arkansas and being rescued by a gang of lady bikers on a beach in California. Our journeys on Duet, while often as exciting, are much more civilized, as we no longer have the pup tent.
Anyway, back to Yellowstone. No sooner had we arrived in the park than the biggest bull elk in the world walked across the road right in front of the car. He appeared completely oblivious to the traffic jam, the grandfather pushing his 3 year old granddaughter forward to "see if you can pet him on the head" and the other ridiculous people behavior and allowed Ron to get a great picture of him. We also saw some bison, hanging around the hot springs at Old Faithful, although we weren't lucky enough to see the grizzly bear mother and cubs who came along later. More fortunately, perhaps, we also missed the man who tried to get too close to said Mom and had to be rescued by the rangers. The stupidity of people around wild animals never ceases to amaze us. There were several 'close encounters' while we were in the Tetons, including one where a bull elk had to be sedated and have his antlers removed prematurely (they normally fall off at the end of mating season) because he charged several spectators. Most of these incidents seem to stem from city folk failing to remember that these are, in fact, wild animals not incarnations of Bullwinkle and Yogi. Unfortunately, the losers in these encounters are most often the animals.
This was to be the "Elk Week" segment of the vacation, as Jackson Hole is home to a herd of some 12,000 elk (the largest herd in the lower 48 states), which at this time of the year were slowly migrating to the Elk Preserve where they spend the winter. Elk aren't as dumb as they look; a big tourist attraction in Jackson in the winter is to ride in a sleigh to feed the elk. Following the sleighs sure beats digging for fodder in the snow. Further, we found out on arrival in Jackson that it was elk breeding season, which is quite a spectacle. Bull elk bugel, or call, the females by making a noise which sounds rather like an elephant on laughing gas. The general idea is for a bull to get together a harem of ladies and then spend several pleasurable weeks making baby elk, while avoiding being shot by enthusiastic hunters. Hunting is not allowed in the parks but it is almost everywhere else, so in addition to all the rental cars sporting cameras, the roads were crawling with pickups and SUVs sporting rifles. So were the airports, which produced some interesting interactions. We were in line at Northwest in Washington DC and the foursome in front of us was carrying 4 rifles, complete with scopes and heaven knows what else, all in specially made cases. Needless to say, this caused a slight backup at the baggage check in.
We checked into the Rusty Parrot in Jackson (which we highly recommend, the room and service were fabulous) and settled down for a week dominated by food, photographing wildlife, food, hiking, food and, for a change of pace, more food. Jackson has a number of great restaurants and, to make matters worse, Nancy's brother Brian and his wife Wendy, came to stay for a few days. Brian and Wendy are in the restaurant business and needed to do "research" on the best places in town. The only real excuses we had were Nancy's birthday and our 20th wedding anniversary, so we figured we'd diet later and in the meantime greatly enjoyed being guided through menus and wine lists by Brian and Wendy. Wendy, in particular, is a sommelier of some note, having passed all the but the top level (which she sits this year) of the sommelier exams. She brought some special cabernet for Nancy's birthday dinner, which was held at the Amangani outside Jackson, where Brad Pitt apparently stays when he comes to ski.
We can understand why Mr. Pitt stays there, the views were absolutely incredible, if a little bit out of our price range at $700/night. Even Mr. Pitt may not see the likes of Wendy's special wine though, because not only does it retail for $300 or more a bottle, but the supply is limited to relatively few cases per year. Wendy is fortunate enough to be on key vineyards' buying lists, which is rather like getting discounted shares in a really hot IPO. Fortunately for us, while she sells some bottles (several of which paid for a recent family trip to Italy), she keeps others for just this kind of special occasion. The food was wonderful, as it was every night, for we had the inside track on Jackson restaurants from one of Wendy's colleagues who frequents Jackson (she works for the largest upper end restaurant chain in Utah). Eating out with Brian and Wendy is a quite different experience, as they are capable of not only explaining what you are eating, but telling you how it was cooked, how it should have been cooked, what was or wasn't done correctly and what wine you should drink with it. We've learned a great deal from them and very much enjoy their company.
After Brian and Wendy departed, we decided we should settle down and do some serious hiking and wildlife activities. So one morning we arose at 6AM (which was a challenge in itself) and tooled up to the Grand Teton Park, which is about 20 minutes north of Jackson Hole, to see the elk breeding up close. We weren't sure what to expect, but what we got was truly amazing. There were dozens of elk wandering around on the flats between the road and the river which runs along the Grand Teton range. They were usually in small groups of females, with at least one and often several males bugling away in the general vicinity. This symphony had little, if any, impact on the ladies, which isn't really all that different from human courting behavior. We did finally find a young harem bull herding a group of about 10 cows across the road. Unfortunately, he'd attracted a crowd and, while half his ladies had made it safely across the road, the other half had hesitated. He was faced with a difficult decision, which was clearly reflected on his face and in his behavior, as he trotted up and down the roadside urging his reluctant brides forward. Meanwhile, his more aggressive paramours were now headed off towards the river, where other male choices, bugling away, awaited them. Fortunately our young champion managed to finally push his charges across the barrier and he gathered them all up again to move in a group, under his protection. Interestingly, he was wearing a radio tracking collar, presumably as part of a elk study going on in the Park. This whole process, carefully filmed by about 15 people, took about half an hour to accomplish. It was the highlight of the morning and we later adjourned (along with a very nice couple from Atlanta we happened upon) to the Rusty Parrot for coffee, omlets, hash browns and other sustenance. We also took several very nice hikes, the best of which was a 9 mile roundtrip to the tip of a lake at the base of the Tetons. The Teton Range is unusual in that it has no foothills, so the mountains rise directly to 11,000 feet or so right out of the ground. This makes for spectacular views. We did see a very large coyote on this hike, but he was much too quick for our intrepid photographer. On our way back from this trip, we had a moose moment, happening upon a small family composed of several females, several young and an amorous male. We missed any significant activity but Ron did get a photo of the male, presumably resting up from a busy day, in the bushes. We also stumbled into one of those interactions amateur photographers dream of, namely a professional with a huge telephoto lens (for those interested, it was a Nikon 500mm, f 4.0) that he kindly allowed Ron to hook onto for a few shots of a lady moose bathing and munching in a nearby stream. Moose are not the neatest eaters, but she was very coquettish, turning her best side for the whirring cameras and remaining in place throughout a protracted meal (rather like most of ours had been in Jackson) before wandering slowly away. The chance to use a $10,000 lens doesn't come along every day, so Ron was in photographer's heaven by the time we returned to the Rusty Parrot for a well earned soak in our private hot tub. Soon enough we returned to Maryland, with thoughts of acquiring a western cabin for summer hiking pleasures. First though, we needed to get back to work on the boat or she'd never get going again. Nancy, in particular, got going on compounding and waxing the hull before the weather closed off that option. Her early Christmas present (?!), a 6 foot by 6 foot bright yellow scaffold, shown here, has come in very handy during this process. We will publish another log next spring, with updates on the status of our ongoing projects and, hopefully, a report that not only are many completed, but Duet is actually back in the water where she belongs. In the meantime, we wish our readership a very happy 2005.