Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Dylan and Dee Dee are celebrating a quiet Christmas day onboard aCappella. But that doesn't mean that we haven't had a Christmas miracle. Dee Dee received gifts from Santa. And we know she wasn't on the nice list.

Now there are other possible explanations. Let's face it, Santa is no spring chicken and he may be getting a bit senile. Maybe he mixed up the lists but then Dylan got a present as well and we know he's been good. Or maybe all of the gifts were suppose to have been for Dylan. He has been that good after all.

Of course, Dee Dee thinks every present is for her, even the small jewelry box marked with Mommy's name.

Dylan helped with the opening causing everything to become a blur - literally!

They opened their toys, a monkey and a dragon plus a special treat of duck jerky. It took about 10 minute for Dee Dee to remove one of the monkey's ears...

What we'd really like to believe is that Santa is giving us a sign of things to come. A new year dawning. A good Dee Dee always obedient, ever looking to make her Mom and Dad happy, and never being mean to Dylan. What do you think?

Yeah, right... Well, there's always the good, sweet Dylan. Now that's an angel.

The crew of aCappella wishes you a very Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas in Cocoa

We'll be spending Christmas on the boat this year as family disperses around the country. After that, we're going to visit Dylan and Dee Dee's grandma for her birthday and for New Year's.

Cocoa, Florida is a great place to spend the holiday season.

The kids have been helping to decorate the boat, putting up lights inside and outside and hanging some decorations about. They've both enjoyed the new Christmas pillow covers mommy made this summer.

Of course, the key is manipulating them just right for comfort. So far they've survived the tossing and scratching, often ending up on the floor in the process. But then they're swished up just right, perfect for a snooze.

We've been taking long walks admiring the decorations. And Dylan and Dee Dee even got to go to the Cocoa Christmas parade just two blocks from the marina.

We're now in the homestretch with both kids hoping Santa will think they have been good enough to leave something in their stockings.

For Dylan it's in the bag. That's my favorite picture of Dyna and Dylan, by the way.

But for little Dee Dee it's really not looking very good. She has less than a week and quite a lot of bad to make up for. If you have any doubts, well then, you obviously haven't been following the blog. If you see Santa, Dee Dee would really appreciate you putting in a good word for her. She can use all the help she can get.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Swims With Dolphins - Lessons Learned

It has been nearly a week since the rascal Dee Dee had her dolphin adventure. There has been much discussion on the ActiveCaptain Facebook page and elsewhere as those of us who choose to live on a boat with our four-footed family members try to process and learn from our experience. The fact is that our dog-overboard experience directly relates to all crew-overboard lessons since it's not often that a real situation happens.

For us it had a happy ending and has even led to some lighthearted joking - quite a few people have wondered about what role Dylan may have played in attempting to dispose of the sometimes challenging Miss Dee Dee. I know I've woken in the night thinking of the ways it could have had a different ending as I pull her a little closer to me.

But ultimately we now feel the need to learn from the experience and maybe help others learn as well. We have spent hours discussing what happened before and during the event. We've looked honestly at the things we did right, the things we did wrong, and what we could have done better. Of course, it all revolves around our particular boat, the equipment we have onboard, our own skills, and more. Many of these lessons will be different for others. But if our experience and analysis can simply get other pet owners thinking about their own situation, then some good has happened out of Dee Dee's unexpected swim.

First some background for those who may not be familiar with aCappella and its crew.

We cruise on a DeFever raised pilothouse trawler with a fully enclosed walk around deck and gunwale that is above waist-high. If you've followed this blog, it won't surprise you that safety for our canine crew was one of our highest priorities when we were selecting our boat. The high gunwale was a key safety feature that we felt helped to keep the canine crew safer (as well as us). We've cruised for 12 years though some 35,000 nautical miles on her. During that time we've had 4 canine crew members including our current crew of Dylan and Dee Dee. Also of relevance is that Jeff and I are experienced EMT's having served on the volunteer ambulance of our homeport for 20 years. We're more experienced than most people when it comes to emergency situations and have been involved, if not in charge, of far too many difficult and dangerous events where life was on the line. The majority of emergency situations we've been involved in have resulted in successful outcomes. But we've also been there when the patient never went home again.

If you somehow missed the online commotion that our little Dee Dee caused, check out the previous TakingPaws blog posting.

So, what do we think we did right?

1.  We didn't panic. This is something we always talk about when we do our medical emergencies onboard talk. It's possibly the most important thing anyone can do in an emergency and also the most difficult. Our EMT experience helped here. You have to keep a clear head and focus on the task at hand. There's plenty of time to panic later. Planning, practice, and preparation before any emergency will always help.

2.  The dogs were in their harnesses. Long before we owned aCappella, our first canine crew member, Tucker, never came onboard without his harness on whenever the boat was moving on the water. We have used a harness to pull dogs from the water into the dinghy 4 times. At one other time we had to lift Dyna back onto a dock when she mis-stepped off the edge. Each time we've needed it, the harnesses have worked flawlessly. Having Dee Dee in her Kong harness made it easy to grab and hold her beside the boat using a boat hook. Trying to grab and hold her, let alone lift a wet, panicking animal, would have been close to impossible had she not been wearing her harness. We think the harness was 80% successful. More on that later.

3.  We had exceptional communications. On this one I will get on my soapbox. For optimal safety in any boating situation, I think the most important factor is communications. From early on we've had various headsets that allow us to communicate without yelling or needing to have each other in visual range. I have had boaters argue that hand signals are sufficient. They aren't. If it had even been possible for me to see Jeff as he leaned over the swim platform, he had no hands left to sign with. Yet with our headsets we could talk without raising our voices (and thus raising the stress level), we could exchange fine details and instructions, ask for clarifications, and numerous other subtleties not possible otherwise. It was a complex situation as I piloted blind to Dee Dee's position and therefore unaware of her location in reference to the props or how to position the boat in swift current to catch her on the first attempt. The headsets allowed Jeff to remotely control the boat and guide me at the controls ("port out of gear, bowthruster right 2 seconds, both engines reverse, out of gear"). Of course, this is something we have hundreds of hours of practice doing as we use the headsets in the same way every time we anchor or grab a mooring.

4. We kept all options open. This one was all Jeff. He realized that we had minutes while I stopped and then turned the boat around safely. He took that time to run to the flybridge and start to prepare the dinghy to be deployed if needed. We were in a section of the ICW that was a deep channel which quickly became very shallow as you left the channel - a good example of why the ICW is known as "the ditch." If Dee Dee had swum out of the channel, we would have been unable to bring aCappella to her and would have had to launch the dinghy. Doing a few of the preparatory steps would have saved valuable time.

Now for the real lessons. What could we have done better and what did we learn?

1. We lost sight of the dogs. We let ourselves become complacent. Tucker was our first dolphin fanatic and we had a hard and fast rule that he never was dolphin watching without one of us beside him, ever. But 12 years go by without an incident. Over time, we occasionally let them out while keeping them always visually in view - well, nearly always, as we've obviously learned. It's easy to forget how quickly an event like this can happen.

2.  We assumed there'd be a splash. There were times when we discussed what we'd do if a dog went overboard. We always assumed that a large dog diving or falling in would make a loud splash. We also always thought that one or both dogs would bark, yip, or make some sort of noise. But in the real event, we heard absolutely nothing, at least nothing we recognized as any different from the normal slap and splash of our wake. We now realize that this would be the same incorrect assumption should a human crew member fall overboard. This told us that we need a better way to alert us to an overboard situation and we're investigating wearable devices which may be holiday gifts for the whole crew.

3.  We should have had better communications with MV Intermission and other boats. 12 years onboard has given us lots of practice for how to best communicate with each other. But I could have done better with the other boats in the area. Thinking back, there was important information I failed to give to Intermission. They indicated that while they were attracting Dee Dee to their boat, she only came so close and then swam away. Would she have come closer and stayed if they were calling her by name? I never told them her name. We selected the Kong harness in part because of the large traffic loop on the back which we thought (correctly) would make it easy to grab with a boat hook. I should have told them about her harness and suggested using a boat hook. If others are involved, it's important to remember that they don't know what you know about the situation, especially personal items about the victim, clothing, conditions, and more. You've got to tell them.

That led us to discussing what we would have done if Intermission hadn't been there. Does the situation warrant a Pan-Pan or Mayday? I say yes, and if the Coast Guard disagrees, I'll gladly pay their fine. A Pan-Pan, Mayday, or DSC alarm to alert other boats could have put more eyes on the scene. It might also slow down nearby boats and alert them to use caution in the area. She was a small, easily missed target in a busy waterway. Getting hit by another boat was a very real threat.

4.  We hadn't practiced the right things enough. I already said that the Kong harness did 80% of its job by allowing Jeff to quickly and easily bring Dee Dee right up to the boat. Unfortunately, it then failed when he tried to pull her onboard through the side door. The harness had become so loose that Jeff feared that lifting her would have pulled the harness off, sending her adrift again without a means of grabbing her with the boat hook. We have analyzed what went wrong - after all we had successfully accomplished multiple lifts before although under easier circumstances. We're not sure yet what failed. It could be that the harness did not fit right. Or perhaps there was a failure due to prolonged time in the water (stretching fabric, clips slipping) possibly made worse by Dee Dee's frantic swimming. It could be the harness age - they are about 5-6 years old with Dee Dee wearing Dyna's harness. Or it simply might not be designed for this type of use. We plan on doing more testing. We know the concept is good, we just need to work on the specifics and understand what went wrong.

Ultimately what we learned is that we had failed to practice this critical procedure - and nothing beats practice. We felt confident we had a good solution because we had hauled dogs out of the water before. But we had never tried it from the mothership and we found that there were significant differences.  From the dinghy it was me who hauled three of the dogs in and I was able to do it by reaching over the side, grabbing the harness, and flinging my weight backwards. I literally leveraged the dogs sideways over the side of the dinghy pontoons. This wasn't possible when bringing in the dog from a higher position on the boat through a narrow door. And because the harness was slipping, Jeff couldn't lift her straight up which was how we got Dyna back on the dock. This meant some tricky maneuvering to get her around to the swim platform. Not knowing these things added stress and wasted time. So while it's good to think through the scenarios, nothing beats a trial run. We are already planning where each crew member will go overboard in a controlled drill.

If you have four-footed crew members, take time now to look over your boat. Think about what you would do if one were to jump in the water while underway. Make a plan and then practice doing it in a safe way with others helping. Learn from your practice and do it again. Repeat as necessary. Make sure to also practice how you will communicate as most likely one of you will be maneuvering the boat while the other does the rescue. Consider whether it makes sense to trade places. Consider every possibility.

Think about prevention. After all, the best scenario is never having to do a rescue. Spend time analyzing how your pet might end up overboard and correct or limit that possibility wherever you can. We have only one crew member who really knows what happened and she ain't talking. We are fairly certain how she did it and have already taken steps to stop it in the future. But ultimately, we're guessing.

Once you've done all that, grab your furry loved ones and give them a hug. Oh, and Dylan and Dee Dee say a treat would really be appreciated as well.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Swims With Dolphins

"Motor vessel near buoy XX, I think you've just had a dog jump off the back of your boat." I was piloting and I'd just said to Jeff, "I see Dylan but not Dee Dee. You need to go look."

We were in our third day of dolphin heaven with the crew on high alert. Jeff had taken a video of the crew minutes before watching the dolphins with Dee Dee emitting a high pitched cry much like our first canine crew member Tucker used to do.

Jeff ran to the back and saw a small yellow head about 1/4 to 1/2 mile back. I quickly pulled the boat out of gear. The next 20 minutes are a bit of a blur.

The motor vessel behind us, MV Intermission, was trying to get her onto their boat but she wouldn't come to them. They stayed with her giving us directions while we spun the boat around, prepared the dinghy to launch if needed, got out a boat hook, put on our headsets to communicate, secured Dylan, and possibly a few other things - I can't say what order.

MV Intermission stayed on site radioing instructions where she was. As soon as Jeff called her name she turned and started swimming towards the boat. Jeff was able to grab the loop on her harness with the boat hook but found the side door was too high off the water and too narrow to bring her in. One of several lessons learned. So he brought her around to the swim platform and was eventually able to get her back onboard.

At that point I wasn't sure whether to hug her or kill her. A few cries and she settled down. Then she heard the dolphins and was ready to go back out again!

For now there is a moratorium on dolphin watching while we calm down, process what happened, and decide how to prevent it from happening in the future. Dylan thinks it's very unfair that he has to suffer because of Dee Dee's transgression but I'm the mom and I make the rules.

As for the crew of MV Intermission, they have lifetime access to Dark n Stormies on aCappella.

I've said from the start that Dee Dee was destined to be our first dog who goes over.  Damn if I wasn't right!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

We've heard about the St Marys' Boaters Thanksgiving in Georgia for years but it has never worked into our plans. So this year we decided to make an effort to be there. If you are not familiar with the event, residents of the town of St Marys cook turkeys and hams, the local restaurant/hotel opens its doors, boaters bring side dishes and desserts, and a huge Thanksgiving dinner is served. We're told that as many as 200 boats have shown up in the past. This year there was about 50 boats with 103 people.

We dropped off our food and began lining up to go in around 12:30 pm. There was a long line of boaters waiting by the time the doors opened at 1:00 pm.

The line moves quickly as plates are filled and everyone finds a place in the hotel restaurant, bar, or lobby. As usually happens at potlucks, everyone brings one of their best dishes. No one went hungry. Unfortunately, the canine crew was not allowed so they had to wait patiently onboard for their Thanksgiving dinner. But by about 3:30 pm we were back on aboard with the crew.

They started lining up for their Thanksgiving dinner around 4:30 pm.

By 4:32 pm dinner was served. Mommy served one of her best dishes - well, Dylan and Dee Dee thought so anyway. By 4:33 pm dinner was complete. Now we can relax and think about the things we are really thankful for.

The whole aCappella crew wishes everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

On The Move

Dylan and Dee Dee wish to apologize for the neglect of their blog these past couple of weeks. It has been a busy time as they help move the boat south in search of warmer climes. Unfortunately, they were not to be found. The whole crew watched in dismay as the weather map showed freezing temperatures all the way down to Florida. One morning in Hilton Head, South Carolina, Dylan and Dee Dee awoke to a temperature of 25 degrees F which is bad enough in itself, but a Google search revealed it was 23 degrees in their homeport of Castine, Maine. It was so wrong.

But true to form they managed to make the best of it and visit several new stops. After leaving Charleston Harbor Marina - mutiny adverted by pulling out some of the special treats - they had an offshore run to Lady's Island Marina in South Carolina where every boat seemed to have a dog onboard.

We decided to move 4 nm south to Port Royal Landing Marina in search of 70 degrees. We found a friendly marina in a beautiful neighborhood perfect for walking the crew but still cold.  A 13 nm hop south to Skull Creek Marina is where we awoke to 20 degree temperatures and high winds. We were all getting a bit discouraged.

Nine more nm to Harbour Town Yacht Basin meant a day at an amazing resort marina where we were able to shed our coats but forced to keep our sweaters. aCappella looked pretty good at the dock and we even snuck away for a fabulous meal overlooking the water and a gorgeous sunset.

After several more travel days we find ourselves anchored off Cumberland Island - a big hit with the four and two-legged crew. The temperatures have finally risen but that brought rain and fog. Thanksgiving will happen for us at the St Marys, Georgia cruiser's dinner, our first time attending. We're all hoping for sunshine and warm weather. But ultimately we're happiest when we're all together.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Mutiny in Charleston?

We love to visit new places on our boat. Every season is a mix of our favorite stops and locations we've never been before, or haven't been to in a while. One stop that always makes it on our itinerary is Charleston, SC. We love the city and the food and all there is to do, plus we have very dear friends who live here. In the past, we've stayed a few days to a few months.

It's not a bad place for the the kids either - they've always managed to to have a good time. But this stop turned into something quite extraordinary for Dylan and Dee Dee.

If I've failed to mention it before, Dylan loves dolphins. No, I'm serious - read the blog...

Dee Dee generally follows Dylan's lead and runs to the bow when he gets excited but we've never had the feeling that she fully understood what the fuss was all about. All that changed this week at the Charleston Harbor Marina.

We requested to be placed out on the A-dock extension this time because that's typically where the other transients are and we wanted to be close to our peeps. In the past we've been in one of the A-docks slips and know that the dolphins like to feed along the edge of the docks there. What we didn't realize was that they also like to feed along the extension but there, the docks are narrower, there's no fence in the way, and it's close the the breakwater opening where dolphins can come into the basin. You can see a satellite image of the marina at the link below. We are along the long side dock on the western side of the marina on the bottom half.

Charleston Harbor Marina

During our first afternoon here, two dolphins were chasing a fish back and forth between the dock and our bow. That got Dee Dee's attention!

Since then it has been pandemonium. The second the crew is finished with breakfast, they're out. The day is filled with the sound of eight paws roaring from the bow down the side to the cockpit and back again as they follow the dolphins' movements. Even the fail-safe method of calling "treats" doesn't always get them in. Getting them in for bedtime is a chore but then they crash for the night.

Needless to say, this past week or so in Charleston has been a good time for our canine crew. The problem, it's time to go...

The weather window is lining up for us to hop offshore to Hilton Head. The crew doesn't know it yet and we're concerned that when the engines start there may be a mutiny. They've threatened once or twice in the past but this time could be for real.

We're thinking of maybe sneaking out under the cover of darkness. Of course, that would mean we'd have to get out of bed without waking them, start the engines without a sound, hope their food clock malfunctions, and pray that no dolphin makes a snorting noise. That could be doable, except for the dolphin part.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Ripped Off Again!

Just in case you have never seen Dylan and Dee Dee's blog before, Dylan loves dolphins. To make sure you fully understand, Dylan LOVES dolphins. On good days he spends most of his time underway running between port and starboard just hoping for a glimpse. However, we have a rule on aCappella that no dog is allowed outside the pilothouse alone when it is rough weather or dark out.

We left Wilmington, NC to head offshore overnight to Charleston, SC mid-afternoon. The plan was to head out the Cape Fear Inlet before dark. The sun was setting as we neared the inlet so we switched on our navigation lights and found that the stern light was not lit.

With Jeff leaning over the edge of the flybridge replacing the bulb, Dylan sleeping in his first mate position at my feet, and darkness quickly falling, a dozen or more dolphins appeared off our port quarter leaping high out of the water playing in our wake. What to do! Should I wake him and let him out to greet his buddies? There was just barely enough light to see them so is that really considered dark? Did I want two of my guys out there leaning over the side of the boat in darkness?

In the end I simply enjoyed the sight and let Dylan sleep. I ask you, is he really being ripped off if he doesn't even know it????

Friday, October 31, 2014

Trick or Treat!

Dylan has been lucky enough to experience a real Trick or Treat a few years back when we were in Maine for the holiday. He loved seeing the scores of children that came to the front door. Alas, Dee Dee's first trick or treat was spent last year at anchor. Not many trick or treaters there...

We were alerted yesterday that there was a five year old liveaboard who would be making the rounds tonight. Fortunately, we were also loaned some candy so we wouldn't have to worry about being tricked.

A little after five a knock came on the side. Our canine security crew leapt into action with Dee Dee opening the door and Dylan following behind. Imagine Dee Dee's surprise to find a zombie on the dock demanding a treat. She went nuts. Even removing the head to reveal an adorable blond five year old boy didn't appease her.

Fortunately, the human youngster wasn't fazed by the crazy barking of our canine one. The treats were delivered and no tricks were received. Of course, Dee Dee knows it was her diligence and not a few bits of candy treats that saved the day.

As for Dylan, "Did someone say treats?!?!?!?!?"

Saturday, October 25, 2014

It's So Unfair

The longer we cruise the shorter our days become. A 30-40 mile day is typical. 60 miles is considered a long day.

We left Morehead City, NC for a 72 mile offshore hop to Masonboro Inlet where we planned to anchor. Unfortunately, for reasons too sensitive to discuss right now, we missed our 7 am departure and didn't get off the dock until after 9 am. It was a long day.

Once out, the seas were calm and we decided to burn some extra fuel to keep on our plan and arrive before sunset. It was a beautiful day. I was piloting as we neared the inlet and I suddenly had that creepy feeling of being watched. I looked at the clock. It was nearly 5 pm. The canine crew's supper time is 4:30 pm. Sharp. Somebody was being ripped off.

I explained that we were almost at the anchorage and I would feed them as soon as we were secure. It did no good.

Finally, we arrived, found our spot, set the anchor, and closed up the boat. The kids were more than ready and reminded me that due to our planned early departure their breakfast had been served an hour early. Dylan and Dee Dee were nearly faint and trying to figure out how to dial the ASPCA on my cell phone.

Just when they were sure the end was near, supper was served.

Sometimes life is so unfair...

Friday, October 17, 2014

Don't Leave Us!

Every time we leave Dylan and Dee Dee on the boat and go somewhere we get "the look." If you have a dog you know exactly what I mean. That "this is worse than being beaten and starved and thrown off a train" look. How could you leave me? What could possibly be more fun than being with me?

They're sure we're sneaking off to eat piles of raw steak while chasing Frisbees and scratching other dogs' bellies. Nothing else could tempt us so.

Sadly, they don't understand because they've never been to the Saturday night Krogen Cruisers dance!

(Photo courtesy of Jeff and Ellen Hall, those two crazy people in the middle - stripe shirt/flowered blouse - Jeff is in the shirt...)

These guys know how to party. Sorry, Dylan and Dee Dee. In this one regard you can't compete! Fortunately, it's only once a year. Can't wait until next October!