Saturday, January 22, 2011

Getting ready to sail to Tampa Bay ...

We took a quick trip over to St. Petersburg and Tampa this weekend and had quite an adventure!

Our first stop was the Harborage Marina in St. Pete, located in a deep harbor from which one can be sailing on Tampa Bay within minutes.  We first discovered the marina when at the St. Pete "Strictly Sail" show the first weekend in December.  After we decided we'd like to take Alizee around the Keys to the gulf coast, the next step was to see where we might find a marina.  We'd looked a couple of marinas in December, but the Harborage had a great introductory offer (three months free plus 5% off with a year lease), so we decided it was worth a quick visit.

Well, we were almost sold on arrival.  It's a great facility for boaters, floating docks, really clean and well maintained, two nearby restaurants, three or four top-rate boat yards within a stone's throw ... exactly the thing we'd been longing for.  Kirby, the harbor master, and his staff is wonderfully hospitable, and after we had a great lunch at Fish Tales on with a $25 gift certificate from the marina, we decided to go for it and take out a year's lease.  And, talk about accommodating ... since we won't arrive until about the first of April, we got the slip we wanted effective that date.  Ya think the recession has something to do with that?  Hmmm.

After finishing up at the Harborage, we drove to the Courtyard Marriott in Tampa, where we napped for a couple of hours before heading out to have drinks and dinner at Tampa's Davis Island Yacht Club.

We were met by Hank, on the club's membership committee, with whom I had been in email correspondence and talked once with on the phone.  He couldn't have been more cordial, taking us on a tour of their docks and other facilities, introducing us to a number of club members and joining us for dinner.  DIYC (sometimes referred to, said Hank, as the "do it yourself yacht club") is pretty good size with over 400 members.  Their clubhouse is only three or four years old with a nice swimming pool and they have a very active racing program, a cruising program, a woman's dinghy racing group and a large summer youth sailing program.  I was greatly reminded of the Encinal Yacht Club in Alameda, which, by the way, I do miss a lot.

After a great evening we found our way back to the Marriott and a good nights sleep.   Next morning our plan was to meet up with a realtor in Dunedin, a quaint coastal town we'd been through back in December.  We just wanted to look at three or four houses ... the market's really good there, now ... to get a sense of what's available.  Alas, as we were on our way following the GPS route, the car seemed a bit noisy.  I wondered if the starter pinion had properly disengaged, and suddenly I saw smoke pouring out behind the car.  I pulled off at the first driveway, into a small strip-mall, stopped, got out and was struggling to get the hood up when two fellows came running out from a tiny little used-car dealership at the other end of the mall.  Quickly one of them got a tool box, and with a screw driver we got the hood latch undone and looked around.  We agreed it was probably the starter, and when the smoke had dissipated, I tried to turn over the engine and we knew the starter was gone.  It is about 10:00.

Talk about nice!  They took us into their office, sat us down on their couch, got us coffee, recommended a couple of mechanics and got in touch with one who said he could probably have it fixed in an afternoon (unless the wiring harness was damaged).  I called AAA for a tow, and another one of the nicest guys we could have ever met arrived with the truck within 30 minutes.  Bidding farewell to Jayson and Ryan at "Florida's Best Car Deals," we rode with Greg in the flatbed two truck to T&W Auto Repair, perhaps 15-20 miles away.  Tony and William were expecting us, directed us to the nearby Cuban Sandwich Shop, a little place that was packed with locals, so we could have something to eat while they checked out the starter problem.

What a great restaurant!  Family owned since 1975, they had the best bean soup and Cuban sandwiches.  We couldn't have found a better meal on our own, I'm sure.  And, when we got back, Tony and William said it was the starter, not wiring, and they'd have it for us soon.  So, we settled down to do a couple of crosswords and some reading, and at a little after 13:00, they pulled the car up to the office entry way.  They had checked it out and installed a new starter in under two hours, gave a life-time guarantee on the starter, and charged only $400.  We were on the road home by 13:30, and arrived in Deland at 15:30.

What could have been a terrible, lousy experience turned out to be an uplifting and actually enjoyable one.  Literally everyone we met in the course of our visit to St. Pete and Tampa put smiles on our faces.  It was a trip we'll long remember!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A comment on the state of college education ...

A recently published book on lower-division education in American colleges, Academically Adrift, reveals some pretty startling stuff about what students do in college and what they are getting out of the experience.  In a typical seven-day week, students on average spend only 7% of their time studying and 9% of their time in class.  Since college is expensive, one might jump to conclude they spend so little time on studies because they are working, but in fact they only spend 9% of their time working.  The bulk of their time is spent socializing (51%) and sleeping (24%).  Truly, this represents the pathetic state of lower-division college education, and my 30+ years of college teaching reflect it.

I began teaching at the college level in 1971. Students read four to five books per quarter in my general education history classes. I gave three to four essay examinations (blue book and take home). Occasionally some complained, but in the end they worked very hard and I'm sure learned a lot. Thirty years later, general education itself was generally gutted of serious requirements in the liberal arts, students refused to read the books assigned and complained bitterly when they received poor grades on essay exams. They sought out other faculty who gave objective tests and didn't require reading. The deans, espousing "success for all students," jumped on me because I gave more C's, D's and F's or had more student drops than other faculty. I'm glad I had tenure, or I would have been pushed to enter the faculty popularity contest.

We live in a society where parents indulge their children, where children rarely are allowed to experience failure, where students think they are owed success in classes and are largely allowed to take only classes they want to take, where college deans don't support faculty who seek work from their students, where faculty in response seek to be popular with their students, where politicians and political parties refuse to take responsibility for their own actions, where corporate leaders indulge themselves with no sense of propriety, and the list goes on ad nauseum.

And in poll after poll, John Q. Public says education is among the most important issues facing our society, if not number one. Duh?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A trip to the boatyard ...

Pen and I took our cars to the Seven Seas Boatyard in Port Orange, about five miles south Halifax Harbor in Daytona Beach, dropped off one car, and then drove the other up Halifax Harbor.  We had double dock lines on Alizee, which tells you we hadn't taken her out since hurricane season ended in November, and we had to empty out some stuff in the refrigerator, but within an hour we had her out of the slip and motoring down to Seven Seas.  A bit of a wait for the tide, and then the boatyard folks hoisted her up and out of the water.  Over the next couple of days she got a new bottom job and I had a damaged rub rail replaced on the starboard side.  Good guys at the yard, and tomorrow we'll have her back in the slip at Halifax Harbor.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Starting the new year ...

We've been on extended shore leave for the past six months, and I'm beginning to look forward to getting back on Alizee, if only for a couple of weeks at a time.  During the last week of December as a Christmas gift to myself, I hired my marina friend J.T. to thoroughly clean and polish the hull and topsides.  He did a beautiful job!  Still have to do the stainless and the bigger job of re-varnishing awaits as well, and for the varnish I may get J.T. to help me out a bit.  And, in a week, I'm taking Alizee in for a bottom job at Seven Seas Marina on the ICW.

We had a great Christmas, with Penelope's daughter Erin and her fiance Creig coming out from Castle Rock, Colorado to share the season with us, and Erin's dad David joined us for Christmas dinner as well.  Pen loves to decorate the house, which she did to the hilt, and we both enjoyed having a fire every evening during the cold snap in December.  Santa was good to all of us, perhaps even more than we deserved.  Life is good!  Our health is good!  We are blessed with family and many wonderful friends!

Plans for the coming year are beginning to settle in.  We're going to move Alizee around the Keys to Tampa Bay and spend the rest of the year taking one- to two-week sailing vacations there while keeping our home base in our house in Deland.  Having three cats sort of holds us down for now, but we're thinking we'll enjoy this sort of sailing anyway.  And we've some other trips planned -- to Colorado sometime before summer starts to see Erin and Creig again, perhaps a trip to California in June, one to Glasgow for my annual history of technology symposium in August and, then in late September or early October a week with friends on a boat in the Canal du Midi in southern France and another week in Paris.  I'm already tired thinking about it and I know Pen is as well.

More photos