Key Largo Dive Trip 2017

At the end of June I was able to spend a week in Key Largo diving at the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary. It was a rough week due to the weather, wind and waves. Lots of people got seasick on the dive boats (but not me!). Dive trips from Sunday afternoon to Wednesday morning were cancelled due to high winds and five to eight foot waves.

So I had a couple days to relax and do other activities. I took a short course at Rainbow Reef Dive Center to get my PADI Emergency Oxygen Provider certification. It was a fantastic course and I think  learned a valuable new skill that could help later if i take the rescue diver course.

I also had time to enjoy some long lunches at Skippers Dockside (formally known as Coconuts). I was finally able to have some conch chowder again, which is a dish you don’t see much in New Hampshire. It’s a little spicy so it sure hit the spot on Sunday afternoon when it was pouring rain outside.

The sign outside the men’s room made me chuckle.Mens Room Sign at Skipers Dockside Key LargoOn Tuesday afternoon I was hanging out at the hotel pool and talking to a women who told me about Jimmy Johnson’s Big Chill on the bay side. She told me it was a popular place (especially on Tuesdays when ladies drink for free from 6 to 7 pm) with great sunset views. Naturally, I had to go check it out.

Wow, was it busy! I did well to find both a parking spot (after circling the lot 3 times) and a seat at the end of the bar. Much to my surprise the bartender I was talking to at Skippers Dockside at lunch was bar tending at The Big Chill that evening. Although it was too cloudy for a great sunset they did have a nice outside tiki bar and deck with a great view to the west. The band was playing a nice mix of 70’s and 80’s tunes.

Of course I was impressed with the statue of Captain Morgan. We had higher than usual waves for the rest of the week but it was manageable. During the trip I had several memorable sea life encounters and even got video footage of a few of them.

On Wednesday afternoon I was trying a new underwater video camera. It was an Intova X2 Waterproof Action Camera. It was a good first experience with the camera. I need a few more accessories like a tripod mount adapter and handle to get better video footage. However I did see a nice Queen Angelfish to watch for a few minutes.

On Thursday morning I switched back to using my GoPro Hero 3. Due to the waves and current we returned to Molasses Reef. During the dive I enjoyed watching a Porcupine Fish swim around for awhile.

On the Thursday afternoon dive we encountered a school of beautiful Yellow Jacks.

The second tank dive on Thursday afternoon was at Eagle Ray Alley. We saw three dolphins! This is the first time I had seen dolphins underwater. They swam by way to fast for me to get video footage but it was still thrilling to see them.

On Friday morning we were on Molasses Reef at a site named Aquarium. Within a few minutes after starting the dive a Nurse Shark swam right by me. This turned out to be one of my favorite video clips from the trip.

During the afternoon dive our group had special encounter with two Porcupine fish. They were swimming around like a couple on a date.

Towards the end of the dive we were lucky enough to have a Reef Shark swim by.

Saturday morning turned out to be very special. I was on a dive boat that was going to Molasses Deep for a drift dive. Soon after getting in the water I spotted a Nurse Shark swimming along the bottom. A little further on one of the guides spotted a Lion fish. Lion fish are an invasive species from the Pacific Ocean that is wrecking havoc on the food chain in Florida and the Caribbean. The guides are trained to kill them and one of them proceeded to spear it and finish it off quickly with his dive knife. The Nurse Shark must have caught a “scent” of the kill. It soon came over for a visit to check us out before swimming back to the dead Lion fish.

During the remainder of the dive we saw three sea turtles. An exciting moment occurred during our safety stop before surfacing when we spotted a large hammerhead shark swimming below us. This was the first hammerhead shark I had seen underwater.

I must say that the sunrises in Key Largo are beautiful. It’s the sun behind the cloud formations over the ocean that make it special. There were several mornings I was able to enjoy a similar sunrise to the one in the photo below.

2016 Reading List

the-sum-of-all-fears2016 was a big year for reading and re-reading Tom Clancy novels. It had been  a while since I had read his books. I was amazed all over again at Clancy’s military and espionage knowledge in addition to his story telling skills.  In some cases I had seen the movie, but not read the book. I made the assumption that the movie followed the book pretty closely. Boy, was I wrong! As usual the books were much better with far more depth.

The “campus” series featuring Jack Ryan Jr. was especially good. Clancy published The Teeth of the Tiger in 2003. He wrote the second book in the series, Dead or Alive, with Grand Blackwood. He wrote the next two books in the series with Blackwood but wrote Vector Threat with Mark Greaney. Since Clancy passed away in 2013 Blackwood and Greaney have continued his Clancy’s work by writing more stories featuring the characters Clancy created.

In February I read a wonderful non-fiction book titled, Sailing Alone Around the World by Captain Joshua Slocum. It’s the story of Slocum’s journey around the world between 1895 and 1898. I was inspired enough by the story to plot the stops on his trip on Google Maps and write a Blog article about the book.

I purchased a book by my old favorite, Alistair MacLean, named The Last Frontier. According to Wikipedia, the book was published in 1959 and was released in the US with the title, The Secret Ways. I may have even read it decades ago when I first discovered Alistair MacLean. The story took place in Budapest during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. British agent Michael Reynolds, is on a mission to just-one-damned-thing-after-anotherrescue a professor being help against his will by the Communist government.

Another great discovery in 2016 was The Chronicles of St Mary’s by Jodi Taylor. It’s a series about modern time traveling historians that go back in time to observe the past. Everything that can go wrong usually does, but somehow they make it back, more or less in one piece. You can also learn a lot about history in a fun way since the characters visit some pivotal events and battles. The stories are fun and funny most of the time, but at times the author yanked the old “heart strings” and made you feel sad.

I enjoyed a series by James L. Nelson that took place during “viking age Ireland” fin-gallabout 852 AD. Book one is titled, Fin Gall. The story follows Thorgrim Nightwolf, a raider from Norway, on his way to the “Viking longphort there, known as Dubh-Linn

I had heard the recent hit movie, The Revenant, was based on a book. I never made it to the theater to see it, but I did purchase the book. It was awesome! It is based in the true story of Rocky Mt. fur trapper Hugh Glass. Glass had survived a brutal bear attack. Fellow expedition members that were caring for him stole his weapons and abandon him to die of his wounds or at the hands of attacking Indians, whichever cam first.

Decades ago, I had enjoyed several Wilbur Smith’s novels set in Southern Africa. I discovered he has a new series of books that takes place in ancient Egypt, which is a fascinating time in history. The first book I got was titled Desert God. Taita, advisor to the Pharaoh, is on a mission to form an alliance with the king of Crete and defeat the Hyksos, who had invaded lower Egypt.

I finished the year reading another book in the series titled, The Quest. The mighty Nile river has nearly dried up and the people of Egypt are dying. Taita is sent on a mission to find the source of the Nile and discover what evil has caused the river to dry up.

  1. The Sum of All Fears – Tom Clancy
  2. Clear and Present Danger – Tom Clancy
  3. Architect of Destiny -Amy DuBoff
  4. Veil of Reality-Amy DuBoff
  5. Bonds of Resolve -Amy DuBoff
  6. The Show – John A. Heldt
  7. Sailing Alone Around the World – Joshua Slocum
  8. Command Authority – Tom Clancy and Mark Greaney
  9. The Teeth of the Tiger – Tom Clancy
  10. Dead or Alive – Tom Clancy and Grant Blackwood
  11. The Last Frontier – Alistair MacLean
  12. Locked On – Tom Clancy
  13. Threat Vector – Tom Clancy
  14. Wood’s Relic – Steven Becker
  15. Patriot Games – Tom Clancy
  16. One Damn Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St Mary’s) – Jodi Taylor
  17. A Symphony of Echoes (The Chronicles of St Mary’s) – Jodi Taylor
  18. A Second Chance (The Chronicles of St Mary’s) – Jodi Taylor
  19. A Trail Through Time (The Chronicles of St Mary’s) – Jodi Taylor
  20. The Whalemen – Edouard A. Stackpole
  21. No Time Like the Past (The Chronicles of St Mary’s) – Jodi Taylor
  22. What Could Possibly Go Wrong? (The Chronicles of St Mary’s) – Jodi Taylor
  23. Cardinal of the Kremlin – Tom Clancy
  24. Under Fire (Jack Ryan Jr. Series) – Grant Blackwood
  25. The Coral Thief – Rebecca Stott
  26. Fin Gall – James L. Nelson
  27. Dubh-linn – James L. Nelson
  28. The Lord of Vik-lo – James L. Nelson
  29. Glendalough Fair – James L. Nelson
  30. Night Wolf – James L. Nelson
  31. Total Recall – Philip K. Dick
  32. The Atlantis Gene – A..G. Riddle
  33. Wood’s Reef – Steven Becker
  34. The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge – Michael Punke
  35. Desert God – Wilbur Smith
  36. Ships and Stings and Wedding Rings – Jodi Taylor
  37. The Trespass – Scott Hunter
  38. The First Deadly Sin – Laurence Sanders
  39. Landfall – Jerry Aubin
  40. The Quest – Wilbur Smith

Winter Hike to Smarts Mt.

On November 28th our Meetup group headed up the Lambert Ridge Trail on our way to the summit of Smarts Mt. in Lyme, NH. It was overcast and foggy for most of our hike across Lambert Ridge.

We were surprised to see numerous bear tracks in the area between Lambert Ridge and the base of Smarts Mt.

bear-track-smarts-mt-hike-2016Good thing we had Microspikes since the trail was steep and icy. It was a tough climb and I was happy to reach the fire tower at the top. The great surprise of the day was the view from part way up the tower. It was so overcast and foggy on the way up I never expected such a nice view. It was a wonderful combination of snow covered trees, valley fog and interesting cloud formations.

smarts-mt-nov-26-2016-2smarts-mt-nov-26-2016-5

Return to Blueberry Mt., September 2016

On September 5th, 2016 we returned to Blueberry Mt. What a big difference from our April hike. Everything was lush and green. And we found lots of ripe blueberries!

blueberry-mt-sep-5-2016-3blueberry-mt-sep-5-2016-4This time we went past the summit and over the other side to a lookout with a view towards Mt. Moosilauke. Just off of the main trail we found a rocky area with a great view to have snack, relax and enjoy the view.  As luck would have it, our rest spot was surrounded by blueberries.blueberry-mt-sep-5-2016-12

blueberry-mt-sep-5-2016-11I put on my 300mm lens for a zoom shot of the exposed rock near the ravine.

blueberry-mt-sep-5-2016-15blueberry-mt-sep-5-2016-16The exposed “rock” looks more like loose gravel and dirt. I bet it’s a stream bed and waterfall during the spring.

We have already made plans to go back next season in early September for the blueberry feast hike.

Blueberry Mt. Hike, Benton, NH

On April 16th our Meetup.com activities group explored a trail we had not been on before. We went up Blueberry Mt. in Benton, NH. We had been to nearby Black Mt. many times. We heard from another hiker in our group that Blueberry Mt. was a little bit easier and had slightly different views than Black Mt. It was about 2.5 miles to the summit but the elevation gain was a lot less than Black. Mt.

View of Black Mt.
View of Black Mt. from the summit of Blueberry Mt.
View west towards Vermont.
View west towards Vermont. I think those are the mountains of Groton State Forest.
View towards Mt. Cube in Orford, NH
View towards Mt. Cube in Orford, NH. You can just catch a gimps of Lake Katherine.
View towards Peaked Mt. in Piermont, NH and the cliff on Rt. 5 in Fairlee, VT.
View towards Peaked Mt. in Piermont, NH and the cliff on Rt. 5 in Fairlee, VT.
View of Killington Ski Resort 50 miles away in Killington, VT.
View of Killington Ski Resort 50 miles away in Killington, VT.

 

Links to more info about Blueberry Mt.:

 

Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum

I just finished reading the book Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum. As the title indicates, he was the first person to circumnavigate the earth while sailing alone.  By no means did he take the most direct route. He pretty much followed the trade winds and major currents.

He made plenty of stops, which made for an interesting story. He would often stay for a week or more at places he stopped at. In some cases it was because he enjoyed his time with the people he met. In other cases he was waiting for the trade winds and weather to improve. It took him about three years to complete the 46,000 mile journey.

I created a Google Map with his major stops and dates that he arrived at each place.

Examples of his adventures include:

  • Early in the trip Captain Slocum got so sick that he imagined he spoke to the ghost of the Pilot of Christopher Columbus’s ship, the Pinta.
  • His ship was chased by pirates off the coast of Morocco. Watch  Colin Hazlehurst’s recreation of the trip using Google Earth.
  • The Spray ran around on a beach in Uruguay.
  • Natives in the Strait of Magellan tried to board the Spray at night. They left when they stepped on the carpet tacks he had spread on the deck to surprise them. Later they chased him in their canoes and he had to shoot his rifle at them in order to scare them off.
  • He survived a horrendous storm on the west end of the Strait of Magellan near Cape Pillar and got blown south. He had to sail back to Punta Arenas (a port in the Strait) then try again to sail through the maze of island into the Pacific.
  • His sails got shredded in the Pacific Ocean during a storm.

As I mentioned earlier, Slocum made visited many remote and exotic places along the way in addition to major ports of call. Many of the people he met had heard of his journey and were happy to invite him to stay. He met Fanny Stevenson (the wife of author Robert Louis Stevenson) at Samoa. He met the explorer Henry M. Stanley in East Africa and many other prominent people of the era.

I am amazed at the amount of information and resources about the book and Captain Slocum’s journey are the Web.

  • There is a website with the domain name joshuaslocum.com about his life and the journey.
  • I found a wonderful 45 minute documentary video about his life, the Spray and his journey on YouTube.
  • I discovered a wonderful YouTube playlist showing the Spray in Google Earth sailing each leg of the journey.

I recommend this wonderful story to anyone who enjoys history, sailing or adventure stories.

Luoyang Bridge, Quanzhou, China

During my last day in Quanzhou I took a bike ride on Fenghai Road with the goal to visit Luoyang Bridge. The bridge is one of the four ancient bridges in China and is a major attraction in Quanzhou.

Luoyang Bridge
Luoyang Bridge from the Qiaonon Community side of the river.

The Travel China Guide Website says, “Construction of the Luoyang Bridge started in 1053 and was completed in 1059. The project of building the bridge was led by Cai Xiang, the governor of Quanzhou who was also one of the four famous calligraphers in the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Built with granite, the bridge features ship-like piers and a unique method of reinforcing the foundation.” Essentially they raised oysters near the piers so the liquid they “secreted would help to bind the piers and the footstones together.”

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-2

Each end of the bridge has two statues on either side of the bridge. I had to stop for a minute to admire the impressive workmanship that went into them.

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-3

Partway across the bridge there is a small building surrounded by trees, statues and stone tables inscribed with Chinese characters. The ChinaCulture.org Website says, “Many stone tablets from past dynasties were erected near the middle pavilion on the Luoyang Bridge, including stone statues of pagodas and warriors.

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-4

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-6

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-12

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-5

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-7

After a pleasant stop at the middle pavilion I continued my journey across the bridge. I wanted to get a closer look at the stature on the far side. I suspected it is a statue of Cai Xiang, who led the project to build the bridge.

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-9
Statue of Cai Xiang

I enjoyed some wonderful views (a bit hazy but still nice) of the Quanzhou skyline during my walk back across the bridge.

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-10

Like so many things in Quanzhou, this photo showing the modern skyline with the bridge and fishing boats is an interesting combination of the old and the new.

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-11

I would like to visit the bridge again when the sun is out and the sky is blue so I can take more photographs. It would also be nice to see the bridge at low tide so I can see the “ship like piers” mentioned in the Travel China Guide website.