Fireworks for Canada Day and the 4th of July – EXPLOSIVE!!

We have been enjoying Nova Scotia for the past 10 days or so, and yesterday we found ourselves caught up in the thrill of Canada Day celebrations in the small town of Antigonish on the northern coast.

Nighttime comes late in these parts in the summertime, but as daytime began to fade away, around 9:30 p.m., we suddenly found ourselves quickly becoming surrounded by Canada Day revelers.

It turned out that we were in the ideal viewing spot for the town’s fireworks display!

Fireworks

We grabbed our tripods and got set up, and in no time the show began.

And what a great show it was!! Here are some of our favorite pics — enjoy!!

Fireworks

Fireworks

Fireworks

Fireworks

Fireworks

Fireworks

Fireworks

Fireworks

Fireworks

Fireworks

Fireworks

Fireworks

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Driving an RV in the Eastern states – It’s a Wild Ride!

June, 2015 – After a wonderful four weeks in the lush green mountain forests of North Carolina and Virginia, we looked at the map to find a route into the northeast and panicked. There’s a reason that many RVers stick to the big wide open western states, and looking at the map confirmed why: FEAR.

Both Mark and I grew up in the east and drove many thousands of miles there, but zipping around in a small car is a lot different than driving a tall, wide and excessively long RV on those narrow, congested and fast moving roads.

Many interstates in the northeast are poor condition, especially in the right lane, and are overloaded with truckers on tight schedules who whip past at 75 mph or more. So, I plotted a course through the spider’s web of secondary roads from Virginia through Pennsylvania and New York that would land us on the western edge of Massachusetts and see us up and over the Green and White Mountains in Vermont and New Hampshire to arrive, breathless, on the western side of Maine.

Off we went!

Roadsigns on the eastern state highways

Where are we going again?

Yikes!

I forgot that in the eastern states the roads change names and change numbers without warning. And roads merge and intersect and become friends and part ways without ever letting the driver know. We were continually sent off on wild goose chases for route numbers that had vanished 20 or 50 miles back.

Which way do you want to go?

Did you get that?

The road signs come up so fast and with such a myriad of numbers that we were repeatedly left staring out the windshield in a daze, trying to remember what it was we just saw.

“Did you see Route 21 in all those numbers?” I’d ask Mark.

“Hell if I know!” he’d say.

“Well, we want 21 North — or maybe East — umm….wait a minute…” And I’d be buried in Google Maps again, trying to figure out exactly where we were going, only to find out that 21 North was now 18 East — at least for a little while.

Drive on any road in New York state

Truly dizzying. But look, it’s a palindrome! Almost.

The roadsigns were just a blur of numbers, with all the routes going in different directions all over the place. Sometimes the numbers formed patterns, and one was even a palindrome. Almost. Sometimes the roads just went to the devil, literally.

Route 666 Devil's Highway road signs

We’re going to hell in a handbasket.

Meanwhile the cars stacked up behind us, riding so close they were invisible in the rear view mirror. The semi tractor trailers passed us at every opportunity, pushing us out of the way as they zoomed by us on the descents, and then slowing down to a crawl in front of us as they crept up the climbs.

Traffic behind a fifth wheel trailer RV in the northeastern states

Impatient drivers pile up behind a fifth wheel.

At least in New York they call a spade a spade, though, and we got a laugh when we saw a sign written for dazed RVers from the western states:

Beware of Agressive Drivers

Indeed!

You’ve gotta love New York. Not only do they know the temperament of their drivers, they know their habits too. New Yorkers are so plugged in they aren’t given just a plain old Rest Area on the highway. They get a Text Stop!

Text stop rest area road sign in New York

For the modern traveler…

Most of these secondary roads were in really rough shape, especially crossing the Catskill Mountains in New York. We’d forgotten about the dangers of potholes, since they are a rarity out west. A deluge of ungodly blizzards pummeled the northeast this past winter, keeping the plows busy chewing up the roads, and we found ourselves doing a zig-zag dance down the highways to avoid all the endless man-eating, car-eating and RV-eating potholes.

Luckily, the powers that be have set about fixing the roads. However, that made the driving even more scary. Orange signs popped up out of nowhere and cones and equipment crowded the roads for miles at a time.

Roadsign detour in Pennsylvania

The road was small already… and now it’s filled with construction signs and crews!

Oh, and did I mention that these states are NOT flat? The mountains in the west climb straight into the heavens, going up for miles on end, but the hills in the east are like a roller coaster. They go up and down like waves on the ocean. We had installed our new brakes and engine tuner with this trip in mind, and we were now really glad we’d had the foresight to do those upgrades before coming here.

It seemed almost every hour Mark had to slam on the brakes for a red light at the bottom of a blind descent, or jump on the brakes when someone cut us off. Each time he’d mutter under his breath how great those new brakes were.

Roadsigns in every direction New York

Got it?

And did the buggy get stuck? Oh yes indeed. Several times.

In the hilly back streets of Boone, Virginia, there’s a long, deep scrape in the asphalt that is the signature left by our trailer’s bumper hitch. Confusion about road construction on the highway had sent us into this miniature town, and when we got there the only place to turn around had a massive dip in the road that was too much for our wheel base.

And in southwestern Massachusetts I played Twister with a maple tree sapling as I tried to keep its branches out of our bike wheels while Mark did a miraculous turn at the edge of someone’s farm on a steep hill. Once the maple tree released me, I watched in horror as Mark drove off over a lip down a hill that is meant for winter sledding. The fifth wheel overhang almost crushed the tailgate of our truck!

Tractor roadsign

Share the road!

It was a truly wild ride taking our RV from Virginia into the northeast. But in the end, the scars and scrapes on our rig and ourselves were a small price to pay for the great times that lay ahead!

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Hinckley Yachts Factory Tour – Where Cruising Dreams Come True

Our RV travels have brought us up to the northern coast of Maine on Mount Desert island (pronounced “dessert” despite the spelling!), home of rich forests, rich seas and rich people. While driving down the road the other day, we noticed two big trucks pulling yachts out of a driveway. Then we noticed a sign:

Hinckley Yachts – Now Hiring!

Hinckley Yacht in transit Trenton Maine

Yachts leave the factory for great adventures on the ocean.

We did a quick U-turn and decided to have a look. Not because we need a job, but because Hinckley Yachts are among the finest yachts built — and we had just driven right past their factory! We stopped inside and asked if we could take a tour. Within minutes a really nice young fellow named Chris, who’s been with the company for 12 years, handed us safety glasses and off we went!

Hinckley Yacht builders in Southwest Harbor Maine

What a wonderful surprise to be given a spontaneous factory tour!

His enthusiasm for the company was infectious, and as we saw how these phenomenal boats are made, and the energetic environment they are made in, we could understand why.

Hinckley Yachts was founded by Benjamin Hinckley in 1928, and Hinckley has long been one of the highest end custom yacht builders around. Once the dream boat of sailors in every yacht club, almost all Hinckleys being built today are powerboats ranging from 29 to 55 feet (and from half a mil to several million dollars apiece. Ahem!).

Hinckley Yachts bow section under contruction

The cabin “pan” bow section of a power boat under construction.

Hinckleys are assembled using modern nautical engineering techniques, forging three separate fiberglass pieces together: the hull, the cabin (which Chris referred to as the “pan”) and the deck. Our Hunter 44DS sailboat was assembled the same way, as are most modern production sailboats, and the finished product is a stiffer and more resilient hull than the old fashioned method of using “stringers” (like floor joists) as ribs in the hull.

Many boating traditionalists were skeptical of this business of building the cabin separately and then lowering the cabin “pan” into the hull back when the lower end boat builders like Hunter and Beneteau started doing it, but if Hinckley is doing it now, then it must be the best way to go!

Hinckley Yachts deck sections being built

Power boat deck sections get assembled.

All Hinckleys are built with kevlar along the entire length and breadth of the hull, from the waterline down. By comparison, our Hunter had a kevlar reinforced hull from the waterline down in the forward section from the keel to the bow, which is unusual for a cruising sailboat in its class.

When we visited the Hunter factory before buying our sailboat Groovy, we learned that they test their new models by driving them into the beach at top speed while engineers with probes, sensors and clipboards take notes, look for leaks after impact, and refine their designs.

Chris didn’t say that Hinckley crash tests their new boat designs, but these boats are built to go anywhere and do anything, and they can be found all over the world.

Cabin pan being lowered into Hinckley Yacht in Maine

A completed cabin “pan” section is lowered into the hull.

Once the pan is situated in the hull, then the deck is lowered onto the whole thing and sealed with 3M 5200 and other sealants.

Deck being attached to hull at Hinckley Yachts in Trenton Maine

Finished product – Let’s go!

What Hinckley is known for is the gorgeous fitting out that each boat receives.

Hinckley builds boats strictly to order, so every one of the 30+ boats that are in production at any one time have been purchased by an individual. Lower end production boats are built 95% of the way at the factory and then commissioned the last little bit by the dealership.

On our sailboat, the AGM batteries, and engine alternator were upgraded by the dealership for the owner that commissioned the boat. Most sailboat buyers have a dodger made locally as well, rather than going with a factory dodger.

Hinckley Yachts Cherry interior on their boats

Hinckley yacht interiors are truly lavish.

Not so with Hinckley. The wealthy folks that buy these boats can request anything they want, from specific navigation electronics, to different woods and interior layouts, and on an on. Most of the buyers are repeat customers who are upgrading or just need another boat.

Many of the buyers are celebrities, so it’s not uncommon for the factory workers to see a famous person arrive with their entourage. Sometimes the celebs send representatives instead, and frequently an interior designer or other consultant will show up to specify how the boat should be outfitted.

Hinckley Yachts are built to order

You can specify anything you want on your Hinckley!

All boat builders (and RV manufacturers) had a terrible time with the financial collapse of 2008, and Hinckley sharnk to just 40 employees and 4-5 boats on the production line at the time. Now they employ 265 people and they are going gang busters.

What put Hinckley on the map in the last two decades wasn’t their gorgeous Sou’wester sailboats that sent their reputation soaring in the latter half of the 1900’s. Hinckley’s modern essence is power boats!

Back in 1998, they started putting jet drive engines into their power boats. These engines similar to the ones used on jet skis, and they Hinckley’s boats completely. Without a prop, a Hinckley poweryacht of 40 to 55 feet can float in just 2 to 3 feet of water — ideal for the Bahamas where every bay is super shallow — and they can cruise at 30 to 40 knots easily!!

Wouldn’t it be fun to step off the swim platform into waist deep water and walk onto a deserted palm tree studded white sand beach?!!

Hinckley Yachts Jet Drive engine on their boats

Transom view: Jet drive engines make Hinckleys both shallow drafted and very fast.

So, with your deluxe Hinckley poweryacht you can jump from Ft. Lauderdale to the westernmost island in the Bahamas in a little over an hour, and you can spend the winter season anchoring in bays that few other boats can get into, all while enjoying the sheer luxury and space and amenities of a 55 foot top-of-the-line yacht that was built just for you.

What a way to go!!

Hinckley Yachts under construction

Hinckley yachts on the production line.

But how much diesel fuel does it take to power twin Yanmar 260 horse power engines at cruising speed? Oh, somewhere on the order of 23 gallons per hour per engine.

Hinckley Yachts boat builders Southwest Harbor Maine

Boats under construction every way we turned…

That’s chump change for the folks that can buy these boats, but if you want the wind to power your boat instead, Hinckley still makes stunningly beautiful sailboats. While we were there, a 42′ day-sailer was on the line. What makes such a big yacht just a day-sailer? The mini cuddy cabin is very small.

Rather than going out for a daysail in a little Sunfish or Hobie cat, why not take your 42′ yacht?

Hinckley Yacht almost completed in Maine

Ready for some summertime fun.

Now, these wonderful boats are not megayachts like we saw all through our cruise in Mexico. Our British yachtworker friend Derren has the unique dream job of flying all over the world to the most exclusive and fanciest marinas on every coast to do warranty work on British Sunseeker megayachts. Hinckley yachts are of the same caliber but max out at a half or a third of the length of Sunseekers.

We were amazed to learn that many Hinckley poweryachts are actually used as tenders to megayachts. Chris said it’s not uncommon for their customers to pick up a 43′ Hinckley to be a tender to a 200′ megayacht. They even had one customer who found that one 29′ Hinckley runabout wasn’t enough for his megayacht, so he had them build a second one. But 29′ was too long for the spot he wanted to stow it on deck, so he had them make new molds and redesign the 29′ runabout to a shorter 26′ version, just for him.

If you are in the class that can buy two Hinckleys and have the second one be a total redesign of the standard fare, then you aren’t really watching your wallet when it comes to repairing these things down the road.

Hinckley Yacht at Southwest Harbor Maine

Sheer elegance on the water — and skillfully driven too!

However, for luxury yacht owners on a budget, it turns out that the warranty on Hinckley yachts is lifelong, and we chatted with one fellow on the line who has done warranty work on boats that are decades old, all at no cost to the owner, even the current owner didn’t buy the boat new from Hinckley. No need for a third party RV warranty on these babies!

An hour after we drove off from this really fun tour, we were prowling around the cute town of Northeast Harbor when we looked out on the water and saw a familiar shape — a Hinckley powerboat! The captain swung it around in an expert maneuver and backed it into the slip effortlessly. Then he calmly stepped off the boat himself to cleat the docklines — without any assistance from anyone. Wow. These yachts and that kind of seamanship are the stuff boating dreams are made of.

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To help you plan your cruise and get you inspired, we created the video series, "Cruising Mexico Off the Beaten Path - Volumes 1-3," shown below. This is a fun-to-watch and easy-to-digest introduction to Mexico from a cruiser's perspective, giving you lots of valuable information that isn't covered by the cruising guides. Each video is available individually at Amazon, either as a DVD or as a download. For discount package pricing on the whole series, visit our page Cruising Mexico Video Series.

Volume 1 (left) reviews the geography, weather and seasons in Mexico and shows you what the best anchorages between Ensenada and Manzanillo are like.

Volume 2 (middle) gives detailed info that can't be found in any of the guidebooks about the glorious cruising ground between Manzanillo and the Guatemala border.

Volume 3 (right) provides all the info you need to get off the boat for an adventure-filled trip to Oaxaca.

Our Gear Store also has a boatload of ideas for your cruise!

Floyd Country Store Bluegrass Music Jam – So Much Fun!

A few days ago over Memorial Day Weekend, our RV travels took us to southwestern Virginia where we were treated to an absolutely terrific musical experience: the Sunday Music Jam at The Country Store in Floyd, Virginia.

It was a free bluegrass jam session in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains — what a thrill!

The Floyd Country Store Floyd Virginia

Where is this country store?

We had heard that there were fabulous free bluegrass music gigs at this unique store in the Virginia mountain town of Floyd. But when we walked down the main street under the storefront awnings, we weren’t quite sure where the store was!

We saw lots of people walking around with ice cream cones. I even saw a funny sign on a storefront that said “Loitering Allowed.” I snapped a pic with some folks sitting under the sign eating ice cream while Mark walked off in search of the country store.

The Country Store Floyd Virginia Loitering Allowed

Loitering allowed!

Where the heck was that country store? We just couldn’t find it — until we crossed the street and looked back and saw that The Country Store was that funny place where loitering was allowed. Silly us!! So, in we went.

Candy Aisle The Country Store in Floyd Virginia

Inside the Floyd Country Store.

Inside we found a classic old fashioned store, with creaky old oak floors that had been walked on by thousands of feet, an old embossed tile ceiling overhead, and big barrels of candy right in the middle with all kinds of interesting little trinkets for sale on wooden shelves on the walls.

They even had musical instruments for sale on the wall behind the cash register.

Musical Instrumnets at The Country Store Floyd Virginia

There were all kinds of things for sale.

On the other side of the store they were selling ice cream and desserts and coffee. Sales seemed very snappy behind that counter. I noticed that for every person that marched away from the register licking an ice cream cone, another one got in line!

The Jingle Tap in Floyd Virginia

The ice cream on the other side of the store was very popular!

But it was at the back of the store where the music action was happening. We didn’t hear anything at first, but when we walked back we saw rows of chairs filled with people, many with fiddles, banjos and guitars in their laps, and there were musical instrument cases of all sizes and shapes leaning against the walls.

Suddenly, without any announcement or fuss, they all began to play — and what an upbeat and happy sound that was!

The musicians sat in a huge circle, all facing each other, and the folks that weren’t playing sat in rows behind them.

Sunday Bluegrass Music Jam The Country Store Floyd VIrginia

Holy smokes — it’s a huge crowd of people making music together!

We stood against a wall with great big grins on our faces — what an absolute ball this was!

Suddenly, the song came to an end, and there was a little murmuring between a man and a woman up front. Then a new song began, and the whole group jumped right in again. No one had sheet music, yet they all played in perfect harmony. How cool is that!

A little girl started bouncing around in her seat, and her mom leaned over and explained to everyone around her that she was fidgeting because she wanted to dance. An energetic white haired lady sitting next to me hopped up, took the girl by the hands and danced with her, to the utter delight of everyone watching.

Dancing at the Sunday Music Jam Floyd Virginia Country Store

Happy feet!

The music went on, song after song, and even after the little girl and her gracious dance partner sat down, the rest of us toe tapped and bounced our heads in time to the music, jigging along with the carefree melodies.

We had just gotten warmed up when the music stopped and all the musicians began to pack it up. Oh no! But then a new group of musicians came in, sat down in those same chairs, and began to play.

Bluegrass musicians jam at Floyd Virginia Country Store

The bluegrass jam session begins. Host Ben Silcox is on the right.

This time the sound was a little different. The first group had been an old-time music jam, and this group was playing bluegrass songs with vocals. The host, Ben Silcox, asked each player in the circle to lead the group in a song. Lots of people in the audience knew the words and sang along under their breath.

The high spirits in this place were infectious, and we just couldn’t wipe those grins off our faces. The instruments were wonderful — mandolins and dobros along with fiddles, guitars and banjos — and these folks could all play really well. They made it seem effortless. Their fingers flew all over the place with ease!

Bluegrass music on a mandolin_

There were mandolins…

The host, Ben, told us that one member of the group was 86 years old. He was happily fiddling away.

Bluegrass music on a dobro and fiddle

…and there were dobros and fiddles. This fiddle player is 86!

Ben had a great sense of humor, and he loved joshing his friends between songs. He told the crowd that one of the banjo players was an expert luthier who makes beautiful fiddles. He held one up to show the crowd and then wise-cracked to the banjo player, “So how many of these have you made?”

“Oh, 15 of them,” his buddy responded.

“And how many are for sale now?”

“Um…15.” His friend shrugged.

Holding up a fiddle at a bluegrass jam session in Floyd Virginia

Ben teases his buddy about the fiddles he makes.

A few minutes later that same banjo player took off on a wild tune that was dizzyingly fast. Ben quipped afterwards, “If you liked that, this guy has blank CD’s for sale in the front of the store!”

The Country Store has been around since around 1910, but it was in the early 1980’s that it became a haven for music lovers.

At that time, two of the store’s owners were in a bluegrass band that used the store for band practice on Friday nights after the store was closed and locked up for the day. Folks walking by outside kept knocking on the door asking to be let in so they could listen, and after a while the store owners decided not to lock up but to keep the doors open so people could stop in and enjoy the music.

Bluegrass music on standup bass and guitar

The Friday Night Jamboree started in the early 1980’s!

A young store clerk told me she remembered going to those Friday Night Jamborees when she was a kid in the 1990’s, but that the store had been a bit run down. In 2007 new owners totally renovated the building, put lots of fun goodies on the shelves, began serving tasty snacks, and the crowds swelled.

On the big music nights now, she said, the store is often packed and is standing room only!

Banjos and guitars Sunday Music Jam Country Store Floyd Virginia

The old-time music jam was a hoot!

If your RV travels take you into southwestern Virginia and you want to hear some authentic bluegrass music played in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, check out the schedule of events at The Country Store in Floyd, Virginia. It is a rare treat. Many weekly music jams are free, some cost a few bucks — and the ice cream is delicious!

I had hoped we’d find some true mountain magic when we pointed our RV towards the mountains of North Carolina and Virginia, and when we got to the tiny town of Floyd, Virginia, we sure did!

I got a snippet on video — here it is:

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A Jewel of a Waterfall – Great Smoky Mountains National Park

For the last few days we have been enjoying the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. These two adjacent national parks are enormous, and it can be a little overwhelming to figure out how to see it all.

Falls at Smoky Mountains North Carolina

A spectacular waterfall we “discovered” in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

There are waterfalls and hikes and biking loops and all kinds of things to see and do — not to mention a bunch of visitors centers to help you get oriented! Just getting from one side of the park to the other can take a few hours of driving (especially if you stop to take pics all the time!).

great smoky mountains national park oconaluftee river

As usual, we gathered lots of reading material and went over it all with the folks at the Oconaluftee Visitors Center, trying to come up with a sightseeing strategy. How to get started?? Hmmm…

cascading waterfall in Great Smoky Mountain National Park North Carolina

We did a few drives and saw some lovely things, but these two sprawling parks didn’t really capture our hearts until one afternoon when we accidentally bumped into a true jewel by the side of the main road that scales the peaks of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Oconaluftee waterfall Great Smoky Mountains National Park

We were just driving along when out of the corner of our eyes we spotted a fabulous waterfall cascading down the vivid green hillside.

waterfall on oconaluftee river great smoky mountains national park

Mark did a quick U-turn, and we rushed back to find a place to park so we could run out and see this gorgeous waterfall up close.

North Carolina Oconaluftee River Waterfall

Before I jumped out, I scanned the maps, but there was no mention of this glorious waterfall anywhere. And there were no road signs marking this stunning gem either. There was barely room for a three or four cars to park!

Smoky Mountains National Park waterfall

We scampered up the steep, muddy trail alongside the waterfall. The stunning cascade went up and up and up, disappearing into the lush green woods high above the highway. We followed the lure of pretty arcs of water washing over moss covered rocks until we felt like we were in the treetop canopy.

waterfall Great Smoky Mountains National Park North Carolina

What a discovery!! We clambered around and took photos for hours, thoroughly enjoying this perfect, unnamed and unsung showpiece in this mammoth park.

closeup waterfall Oconaluftee River

We’ve been reading up on all the waterfalls there are in the Smokies and along the Blue Ridge Parkway — there are dozens — and we’ve checked the photos of them all. But this unknown one keeps calling us back. It is so beautifully balanced, with water tumbling down a magnificent pattern of rocks. There is no doubt that this was one designed by a divine hand.

So far we’ve visited three times!!

sitting by waterfall in smoky mountains north carolina

If you take your RV to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, I’m sure there are loads of beautiful waterfalls to see — we’ll be finding out in the coming days and weeks and reporting back about what we find. But be sure to check out this unmarked beauty.

From Cherokee, North Carolina, the waterfall is located 8.5 miles west of the Oconaluftee Visitors Center on Newfound Gap Road on the left hand (south) side. You won’t see it as you drive west from the visitors center, but if you drive out about 10 miles and then turn around and come back east (towards the visitors center) slowly, you’ll see it flowing oh-so-happily on the right.

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The Tube Dude – Spreading Good Cheer in Sarasota, Florida

While we were in Sarasota, Florida, we kept seeing these funny looking metal figures all around town. This big stick figure guy was always busy doing something, and he was always smiling.

Tube Dude baker at Pastry Art Bakery in Sarasota Florida

We saw metal figures like this pair at the Pastry Art Bakery all over Sarasota!

I finally asked the folks at the Pastry Art Bakery downtown — who had a cute pair out front — what these stick figures were all about.

“Oh, that’s the Tube Dude!” the gal behind the counter said with a smile. “He’s very popular around here. A local guy makes them…”

Fishing Tube Dude in Sarasota Florida

The Tube Dude goes fishing

I looked online, and sure enough, he has a website: www.tube-dude.com.

The Tube Dude hangs out on people’s lawns and in front of businesses, doing all kinds of things, from kayaking to getting the mail to parasailing:

Kayaking Tube Dude in Sarasota Florida

The Tube Dude takes a ride in his Hobie Kayak

Mailbox Tube Dude in Sarasota Florida

The Tube Dude holds the family mail

Dentist Tube Dude in Sarasota Florida

Holding a toothbrush, he greets patients at a dentist’s office

Tube Dude at a law firm in Sarasota Florida

The Tube Dudette holds the scales of justice at a Sarasota law firm.


As we drove around town, one or the other of us would spot him in a front yard or next to a business.

“Tube Dude!” We’d yell, pointing.

Parasail Tube Dude Sarasota Florida

On his days off, the Tube Dude goes parasailing!

It wasn’t always possible to get a great pic, but we sure had fun spotting him.

Parasailing Tube Dude Sarasota Florida

The Tube Dude is ready to take off with his parasail.

He’s a busy and happy guy, very similar to his T-shirt brother, Jake, who loves the outdoors and always says, “Life is Good!

Animal Hospital Tube Dudes Sarasota Florida

Tube dudes provide emergency care at an animal hospital.

If you spend any time in Sarasota, Florida, keep an eye out for the Tube Dude.

Bakery Tube Dude Sarasota Florida

Making pizza on a rooftop.

He’s all around town, grinning from ear to ear, and spreading his special brand of good cheer in Sarasota!!

Tube Dude Baker Sarasota Florida

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Rockport, Massachusetts – Quaint Charm on Boston’s North Shore

Usually we travel just a bit at a time, savoring each place as we go, and covering as little distance between stops as possible. This week, however, I jumped on an airplane in Florida bound for Boston, Massachusetts, to meet up with friends and family for a very brief visit.

A few days ago, we took a daytrip to the scenic seaside village of Rockport, Massachusetts, a quaint and historic town that oozes charm and has long held a special place in my heart.

T-Wharf Sandy Bay Yacht Club Rockport Massachusetts

Sandy Bay Yacht Club on T-Wharf in Rockport, Massachusetts

Rockport is just an hour north of Boston, and on any summer weekend it is filled to overflowing with tourists to the point where you practically brush shoulders with fellow walkers as you stroll the town streets. On this visit, however, we somehow magically caught it just right and got there on an ideal 75 degree brilliantly sunny day in mid-April when hardly a soul was in town!

Rockport’s heart and soul is the lobster trade, and there are lobster boats all around the tiny harbor.

Lobster boats Rockport Harbor Massachusetts

A lobster boat in Rockport Harbor

A classic red fishing shack, called Motif #1, presides over the center of the harbor. This iconic building is framed in countless photos and paintings, and ranks as one of the most photographed buildings in New England and the most frequently painted building in America.

Motif Number 1 Rockport Massachusetts

A New England icon: Rockport’s Motif #1

Motif Number 1 is so well loved that when the original building was destroyed in the infamous Blizzard of 1978, a new exact replica was built in its place!

Rockport Motif #1 Massachusetts

Lobster boats in the inner harbor

The land on the outer protective edge of the harbor is called “Bearskin Neck,” and it is the site where a man named Babson killed a bear armed only with a knife sometime around the late 1600’s or early 1700’s.

On the back streets of the Neck there are lobster shacks where many generations of lobstermen have done the necessary maintenance on their pots and bouys.

Lobster shack Rockport Massachusetts

A lobsterman’s shack on Bearskin Neck

Everyday, each lobsterman drops his pots off wherever he thinks the lobsters might be hiding.

Lobster boat Straightsmouth Island Rockport Mass

A lobster boat heads out for a day’s work

Lobster pots are marked by colorful bouys, and the lobstermen go from trap to trap, hauling each one up to see what he caught. The lobsters that are too small are thrown back and the other critters that wander into the trap are thrown over the side too. Then he puts fresh yummy bait in the trap and drops it back into the sea.

Every lobsterman chooses his own design of colorful stripes and dots and other markings for his bouys to make it is easy to identify not only that there is a lobster pot below but who the trap belongs to.

Lobster bouys at a lobsterman shack

Lobster buoys on Bearskin Neck

Lobster bouys in Rockport Mass

Each lobsterman paints his own patterns on his buoys

Roy Moore Lobster restaurant Bearskin Neck Rockport MA

We stop for a lobster roll at Roy Moore’s

A tiny hole in the wall on Bearskin Neck, called Roy Moore’s, is a great place to see lobsters up close in glass tanks and to get a delicious lobster roll for lunch. A lobster roll consists of chopped up lobster meat mixed with a little mayonnaise and served on a hotdog bun.

This may sound funky, but it’s a fantastic way to enjoy lobster without donning a suit of armor, grabbing assorted weaponry and surrounding yourself with dishes of butter melting over flames to grapple with the hard shell and strange anatomy of lobster served whole (bulging eyes, skinny legs, antennae and all) on your dinner plate.

The Pewter Shop Bearskin Neck Rockport Massachusetts

The Pewter Shop is an icon on popular Bearskin Neck

The shops on Bearskin Neck are all small, colorful buildings, and the cute, bright red Pewter Shop has greeted visitors to Bearskin Neck since time began.

The Country Store Bearskin Neck Rockport Massachusetts

The Country Store has delighted kids with candy for decades

The Country Store is a favorite among kids because of the huge candy selection, and there was a time, a rather long time ago, when the place was lined with glass jars filled with penny candy. Kids would excitedly point at the jars ordering “one of these” and “one of those” from very patient store clerks who filled tiny paper bags with candy behind the counter.

Rockport is loaded with history too. Back in 1814 a British frigate showed up, and when the bell in the big, classic Old Sloop Congregational Church in the center of town rang out an alarm, they fired a cannon to silence it. They missed and hit the steeple instead, and a replica of the cannon ball is still lodged there.

Dock Square Rockport Massachusetts

Dock Square is lined with historic buildings

Old Sloop Church Rockport Massachusetts

The Old Sloop Congregational Church was struck by British cannon fire in 1814 to silence the bell.

Rockport Art Association

Rockport has been an artists’ colony for years.

Front Beach in Rockport Massachusetts

The Rockport Skyline seen from Front Beach.

Rockport has also been an artists’ colony for a century, and not only is the town full of art galleries but there is also an active Art Association.

For many people, however, it is the beach that makes this town so special, and combing the sand for pretty lady slipper seashells and well worn beach glass is a soothing way to pass a few hours. We were amazed that a mere ten minute stroll on Front Beach turned up a treasure trove of beach glass!

Beach glass

Beach glass gathered in 10 minutes of casual walking.

In town we found an artist who is using the local beach glass to make jewelry. What a creative idea!

Beach glass jewelry

A creative jeweler in town is making jewelry from the local beach glass. How clever!

Without doubt, the cries of seagulls — punctuated by the hourly chimes of the Old Sloop Church bell — are the song of Rockport.

Seagull on Front Beach

This guy’s mouth is full, so he’s quiet for the moment!

Another kind of music comes from the Shalin Liu Performance Center that now dominates the Rockport skyline behind Front Beach.

View from Front Beach in Rockport MA

The Shalin Liu Performance Center (left) has massive windows overlooking Sandy Bay

Once a grocery store and later a dress shop, this fabulous building has been expanded and renovated to offer enormous views of Sandy Bay from its back side.

Shalin Liu Performance Center Reception Hall Rockport Massachusetts

The Reception Hall on the top floor has a lovely view.

Shalin Liu Performance Center Concert Hall Rockport Massachusetts

Evening concerts are often accompanied by a visual feast of waterfront sunsets.

A wedding reception in the upstairs Reception Hall would be nice, but a chamber music concert while watching the sun setting on the beach behind the stage must be truly out of this world.

All kinds of groups and musicians perform at the Shalin Liu, but we were advised that if it is a loud, amplified band, they may have to close the curtains behind the stage because the sound reverberates off the glass windows. So if you go, keep that in mind!!

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We had a picture perfect day in Rockport. If you take your RV anywhere near Boston’s North Shore, a trip to Rockport is a must. Midweek or off-season, it is a truly delightful excursion!

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RV Electrical System Overhaul – New Batteries, Inverter & Converter!

April 2015 – For the past ten days we’ve been doing a total overhaul on our RV’s electrical power systems, and we’re really excited about the upgrades. Having installed several RV and boat solar and battery systems to date, both for ourselves and for friends, we’ve gone all out this time, researching, studying, and talking with the engineers at different companies to figure out which components will suit our needs best. Our upgrades include:

  • Trojan Reliant AGM batteries
  • Exeltech 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter
  • Iota 90 amp converter / multistage charger
Trojan Reliant AGM 6 volt battery

We’re getting new Trojan Reliant T105-AGM batteries!

NEW AGM BATTERIES

Since we live on solar and battery power in our RV 100% of the time, having a robust power plant on board makes all the difference. Back in 2008 when we first got our fifth wheel trailer, we asked the RV dealership to install four Trojan T-105 6 volt wet cell batteries for us. These were terrific and served us very well for quite a few years.

However, because we had to leave the trailer in storage for stretches of 12 to 20 months at a time when we cruised our sailboat in Mexico, they deteriorated because no one was there to do the routine maintenance they require.

Wet cell batteries are inexpensive, which is why we chose them at the outset of our RVing life. However, once we started living with higher quality AGM batteries on our sailboat, we found AGM batteries have many advantages over wet cells (our boat had four Mastervolt 4D AGM house batteries and one Mastervolt Group 27 AGM start battery). So we decided to upgrade our RV battery bank to AGM.

Much to our surprise, we managed to time this upgrade really well, because Trojan Battery has revamped, redesigned and re-engineered their AGM battery line completely, and their new Reliant AGM batteries have just hit the market in the last month.

Trojan Reliant AGM 6 volt battery

Our new batteries go into the fifth wheel basement.

The batteries we are installing are their new 6 volt AGM battery called the Trojan Reliant T105-AGM.

Trojan Battery has been at the forefront of battery engineering and technology for decades, and this new AGM version of their ultra popular T-105 6 volt wet cell batteries is a true deep cycle AGM battery, designed to deliver steady power and withstand deep discharging of 50% of the battery’s capacity day after day after day (we plan to discharge them 25%-30% or less each day).

Most AGM batteries are actually dual purpose, designed not only to provide long-term power and deep discharging, but also to pack a high cranking power punch that can get an engine started without discharging the battery much at all. Our boat’s AGM batteries were all dual purpose marine batteries, despite their enormous size.

Obviously, a battery designed specifically for repeated deep discharging is going to be superior as a house battery to one that is designed to be both a deep cycle house battery and a start battery. So these new Reliant AGM batteries should work really well in an RV (or boat!).

The list of advantages of AGM batteries over wet cells is considerable:

  • Maintenance free – no equalizing and no adding distilled water (great if the RV gets stored for months on end)
  • Discharge just 3% per month when they aren’t being used (also important for longer term RV storage)
  • Charge more quickly than wet cell batteries
  • No gasses released during charging, so no special venting is needed in the RV battery compartment
  • Can be installed on their sides or ends since there is no liquid that can spill out

Mark has been very busy revamping our fifth wheel basement battery compartment, and he is taking this opportunity to rewire it entirely, applying all the things we’ve learned in 8 years of living off the grid!

NEW and BIGGER INVERTER

At the same time as our battery upgrade, we also decided to upgrade our inverter. We have loved our Exeltech XP1100 Pure Sine Wave Inverter since we installed it in 2008.

Exeltech makes all the inverters used by NASA, and they supplied all the inverters to both the American and Russian sides of the International Space Station (the two sides run on different voltages and currents, so they need different inverters!).

Exeltech XP 1100 Inverter

Our old Exeltech XP 1100 pure sine wave inverter is getting replaced with the 2000 watt version

Exeltech XPX 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter

Our new Exeltech XPX 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter

The quality of the electrical signal produced by Exeltech inverters is so pure that they are used by field medical units to run sensitive medical equipment. One nice thing about living on inverter power exclusively is that we never have to contend with flakey RV park electricity, and we know our Exeltech inverter is giving us a great signal whenever we turn it on.

Our old Exeltech XP1100 inverter was too small, however. We have a 900 watt microwave, and 1100 watts of inverter power was shaving it just a little too close. A mishap last year made us realize we needed to go bigger. So we are installing an Exeltech XPX 2000 Pure Sine Wave Inverter that will give us 2000 watts of power.

NEW MULTI-STAGE CHARGING CONVERTER

Solar panels charge our batteries almost all the time, but once in a while we get stuck in overcast and stormy conditions for a while. After about 4 days of grey skies, we turn to our trusty Yamaha 2400i portable gas generator to bring our batteries back to full charge. When we run the generator, we plug the generator into our shore power input connector on the side of our trailer so the converter in the fifth wheel basement charges the batteries.

Our fifth wheel trailer came from the factory with an Atwood 32 amp converter which is a single stage battery charger. This is typical of converters installed in RVs. Rather than going through three stages of charging, these simple converters give the batteries a mere trickle charge at a low charging voltage.

RV manufacturers save on costs by installing basic single stage converters rather than robust multistage charging converters, and since most RVs are plugged into shore power all the time, it doesn’t matter if it takes 48 or 72 hours to charge the batteries completely.

Iota DLS-90 Converter

The Iota DLS-90 / IQ4 Converter does true multi-stage battery charging

Sperry Gardner Bender DSA 540A Clamp-On Volt - Amp Meter

Sperry stands behind their gear!

However, the only time our converter is charging our batteries is when we run our generator, and with that thing making noise and burning fuel, we want the batteries to be charged as quickly and efficiently as possible. We don’t want to trickle charge our batteries from the generator!

We are replacing our old converter with an Iota DLS-90 / IQ4 Converter which not only provides three stages of battery charging but will also put the batteries into a true bulk charge state when we first turn on the generator.

So, with all this wiring going on, we’ve been giving our trusty Sperry Clamp-on Amp/Volt Meter a good workout lately. And we’ve had a surprising experience with that little piece of gear.

We bought it back in 2010 when we were wiring up the solar power on our sailboat. But it died 10 days ago, right as we were starting our new RV power upgrade project. Of course, the warranty ran out a long time ago, but we called the company to see if there was anything they could do. We were shocked when they sent us out a replacement unit at no charge!

It is so rare these days for a company to stand behind its products like that, especially something small and inexpensive like a volt meter. Wow!

We’ll be posting much more detailed info about our electrical system upgrade once we’ve finished it all, so stay tuned!

For now, we’re extremely grateful to our good friend “Mr. G” who invited us to shoehorn our rig into his driveway in Sarasota, Florida, and make use of his workbench, tools and fabricating expertise as we tackle this exciting project.

Fifth wheel RV between houses in Sarasota Florida

A great spot to do a little upgrade work on our rolling home!

Want to learn more about all this, check out these informative posts:

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Sunny Side Up – Baby Sandhill Cranes Hatch in Sarasota FL

Sandhill cranes are common in Florida. Indeed, they are so common in the Sarasota area that there are roadsigns in quieter places away from town where they are known to congregate. After seeing the the magnificent flocks in Willcox, Arizona, a few months ago, I was hoping we might see some sandhill cranes up close during our stay in the Sunshine State.

Sandhill cranes hatching area in Sarasota Florida

Well, my wish to see some sandhill cranes “up close and personal” came true in spades in the last few days as we became witness to the most beautiful little slice of life and glimpse of Mother Nature’s wondrous works.

A pair of these enormous birds decided to ignore the roadsigns entirely and build a nest in a most unlikely spot, sandwiched between a Bob Evans restaurant and a Lowes home improvement store in a very busy part of the city next to a tiny pond filled with lily pads.

Sandhill Crane sitting on a nest

Mom takes a turn sitting on the nest (the parents share!)

The parents were attentive to all the traffic and city noise around them, but they were surprisingly calm.

Pair of Sandhill Cranes with a nest

Dad stands watch while Mom snoozes on the nest (with one eye open)

When Mom stood up, we saw two little eggs in the nest. She gently rolled them around and then settled back down on them.

Sandhill crane checks eggs in nest Sarasota Florida

Mom rolls her two eggs around for even baking on all sides. Both eggs have pip holes in them!!

Now, this is not only a very busy area, with locals and tourists driving by all the time, city sirens screaming in the distance, and a general urban hum of activity filling the air, but a flock of crazy photographers and birders had taken up residence right in front of the nest!

Photographers and birders watch the baby sandhill cranes

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When our friend and host first took us to the nest, we stuck around for a while to see if the eggs would hatch. No such luck. The sun began to set, and the babies were still in their eggs, so we took off.

When we returned the next morning, the photographers and birders will all in position with huge grins on their faces. The first egg had just hatched!

Sandhill crane with hatchling Sarasota Florida

The baby bird was a little unsteady, but for being just an hour old, he was doing amazingly well, sitting upright and looking around.

Florida sandhill crane chick in nest in Sarasota

Mama kept poking her head down to see how he was doing…

Newborn sandhill crane chick with mom

“I’m okay, Mom”

Sandhill crane chick looks mom in the eye

His little batteries were very small and needed lots of recharging. He’d look around for a few minutes and then he’d flop over and fall asleep.

Sandhill crane checks on sleeping check Sarasota Florida

While he was sleeping, Mom was eager for the other egg to hatch. She helped it a long a bit (we were all quite surprised!).

Sandhill crane helps chick hatch Sarasota Florida

Dad had been hanging out on the other side of the pond. He flew over to the nest and the two parents walked around the chick and the egg for a while.

Pair of sandhill cranes in Sarasota Florida with chick in nest

The baby slept right through Dad’s arrival.

It was amazing to look at these big birds and to think that they had been tiny little chicks once too.

Sarasota Florida a pair of sandhill cranes with chick and egg in nest

When the baby chick sat up again, the sound of camera shutters clicking filled the air as everyone holding a camera leaped into action, from the guys with the huge lenses and tripods to the growing crowd with cell phones.

Florida Sandhill crane chick sits up in nest_

This little guy will have a younger sister or brother really soon!

These chicks have enormous legs and feet, and the little chick tried to get them coordinated underneath himself to walk around. This was not so easy — he instantly lost his balance and fell over backwards!!

Sarasota Florida sandhill crane in nest falls over

Oops!!

Sandhill crane chick on its back in the nest

Oh dear!! Maybe the trick is to roll over…

Newly hatched sandhill crane chick just hours old

He finally got himself upright and situated over his two feet. This had taken a lot out of him. He looked around and let out a big yawn.

Just hatched sandhill crane chick 2 hours old sits up in nest

The audience of photographers were all chuckling at his antics by now. This little bird was just too cute!

“Who’s going to hand out the cigars when that other one hatches?” A guy behind me asked.

We all watched in wonder as this tiny creature that had been tucked into an egg just two hours ago made his way down to the water’s edge. Mom and Dad didn’t discourage him. They were busy eating his discarded egg shell and cleaning up!

Two hour old sandhill chick by pond in Florida

Two hours ago this guy was in an egg!!

It was late morning by now, and we both had hundreds of photos on our cameras. We decided to leave the scene and come back later to see if the other chick hatched.

When we returned later in the afternoon, the crowd of birders and photographers was even bigger, and we found out the second chick had emerged from his egg too. Mom was keeping a close eye on both of her new babies.

Female sandhill crane with two hatched chicks

The two little fluff balls sat side by side while we all said “aw” over and over as they fumbled around.

Sandhill crane nest Sarasota Florida 2 baby chicks

They managed to get themselves up on their feet and face each other, and the crowd gasped in laughing surprise as they began to spar a little and flap their wings.

Two sandhill crane chicks just hatched in Sarasota Florida nest

Mom poked her head in again to see what was going on with these two.

Mother sandhill crane with two babies in nest

All this excitement was a lot for a five hour old bird. The older one in front began yawning again.

Baby sandhill crane chick yawning in nest Sarasota Florida

Then he fell over on his side and crashed, fast asleep, while the other one looked around.

Sandhill crane chick napping in Sarasota Florida nest

After just a minute or two he woke up and sat back up again while the younger bird in back fell over on his side, fast asleep. This business of living takes a lot of energy for a little bird!

Pair of sandhill crane chick babies in nest in Sarasota Florida

The older in front couldn’t stay awake long either. All of a sudden he rolled over on his side and fell asleep too.

Newly hatched sandhill crane chicks nap in Sarasota Florida nest

We tip-toed away, and the other photographers began to wrap up their gear and head home too.

A little later in the day we snuck back to check on them, and the birds were on their own without an audience of people. They had moved about 100 feet from the nest to a new location in tall, protective grasses.

By the next morning, the whole little family was gone!

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The photos here were taken with a Nikon D610 camera and a Tamron 150-600 mm lens and a Benro carbon fiber tripod.

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Sharks and Snakes on the Beach in Florida!

We’ve been enjoying the Florida’s Emerald Coast (on the Gulf Coast in the panhandle) for the past few days. This coast got it’s name because of the brilliant green water that laps the shores of the exquisite white sand beaches. As each wave curls over, the crystal clear water shimmers in vivid shades of green.

Emerald waves on Florida's Emerald Coast

Glistening aquamarine waves on Florida’s Emerald Coast.

I love beaches, and perhaps my favorite thing about them is that you never know what you’ll see when you go out for a stroll on the sand… We’ve seen little birds scampering along the edges of the waves, playing “catch me if you can” with the endless rollers.

Twin seagulls on a white sand Florida beach

Twins.

We’ve seen happy beach-goers sunning themselves on beach towels and relaxing under colorful umbrellas.

Couple with beach umbrella on Gulf of Mexico Florida

A nice spot to sit for a spell…!

But these images are all to be expected when you go to the beach. What a surprise it was to look up at one point and see a guy barelling down the road next to the beach on a unicycle!

Unicycle commute to work in Florida beach

What a great way to commute!

Beautiful girls in bikinis walking the beach are not a surprise to see, especially during Spring Break. But our eyes bugged out when two girls approached us with something strange looped around their necks.

Two girls with snakes on Florida Gulf coast beach

Is that what I think it is??

Wait, can I see that a little closer?

Python and bikini

Yikes!!

Holy Cow!! I didn’t know what to say when they told me they were taking their snakes for a walk.

701 Boa constrictor and bikini

He stuck his tongue out at me!

The lighter colored snake was an albino red tail boa constrictor that was just seven months old and would one day be 12 feet long (yikes!). The darker one was a python that was already full grown. Good heavenly days!!

Another day when we went down to the beach for sunset shots we saw a guy out fishing.

Fishing on a Gulf of Mexico beach in Florida

A fisherman tries his luck on the shore.

He seemed to have something on the line. And it seemed pretty big! But what could be that big? “A manta ray,” was the rumor I heard from his friends who were watching. They had all seen a huge manta ray earlier in the day.

Catching a big fish on a Florida beach

Wow… it looks like he’s got something!

But then we all noticed that dinstinctive dorsal fin. This fish was NOT a manta ray…

Shark fin in the water in northern Florida

Ummm… is that what I think it is??

The fisherman struggled to reel it in!

Fisherman pullling in a shark on a Florida beach

That fish does NOT want to end up on the beach.

Then he finally managed to bring it onto the beach.

Wow!

Fisherman pulls shark onto Florida beach

Got him — and no doubt, this is a SHARK!!

He worked really hard to get the hook out of the shark’s mouth. It took him several tries…

Removing a fishing hook from a shark in Florida

Getting the hook out of his mouth was a challenge.

But then he finally got the hook out and turned the shark to face out towards the open ocean. He didn’t have a tape measure, but he estimated the shark was a little over 7 feet long. Good grief! Mark had been swimming out there just a few hours earlier!!

Releasing a shark back into the Gulf of Mexico Florida

He’s aimed towards the open ocean and set free again.

And then the sun began to set with beautiful peach colored skies reflecting in the wet sand — another lovely sighting here on the Gulf Coast of Florida.

Sunset on the beach in Florida

The end of another beautiful day in Florida

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