Grand Cayman Island: Turtle Encounters

When it came to turtle encounters for this trip, I did not have much luck at the beginning of the week. Thankfully that changed on Thursday. I was at a site named Little Tunnels, which is north of Seven Mile Beach, where I enjoyed a close encounter with a small Hawksbill Turtle.

For our first dive on Friday, July 19th we went to a site named Big Tunnels, which is at the northwest “corner” of the island. I encountered the largest Hawksbill Turtle that I ended up seeing during the week. The other people in the group had just gone into the Big Tunnel (I had chosen to swim above the tunnel and meet them at the exit), when this turtle swam by. I was the only one to see it!

After joining the rest of the group near the exit to the tunnel, we encountered a Hawskbills Turtle that was feeding at the exit of the tunnel where it had opened up to be more of a canyon than tunnel.

For our second dive on Friday we went to a dive site named Aquarium off of Seven Mile Beach. I encountered a small Hawskbill Turtle swimming along a coral ridge. It kind of looks like it had some shell damage near its rear.

My closest turtle encounter happened on Saturday, July 20th, which was my last morning of diving. We were at a dive site named Caribbean Club when a Hawksbill turtle swam right towards me, checked me out and swam on.

I was very happy to finish the trip with a close encounter like this and to be able to capture it on video.

Grand Cayman Island: Silversides and Tarpon at Devil’s Grotto

It turned out that mid-July is a special time in Grand Cayman because schools of Silversides inhabited the grotto’s (tunnels and caves under the reef) at the dive site named Devil’s Grotto near shore in George Town on the west end of the island. I have always enjoyed seeing schools (otherwise known a s bait balls) in the Florida Keys, so I expected this would a be quite an experience.

The first trip we made to Devil’s Grotto was mid-week on Wednesday, July 17th. At that time there was an impressive sized school of Silversides in the grotto system. As a results there were some nice sized Tarpon swimming around and inside the grotto system. I was able to have some close encounters with a few.

On Thursday, July 18th we went to the same area. As I swam through the grottos, the schools of Silversides seemed a lot smaller. However, I did have some great Tarpon encounters. One of my favorites was at the end of the video below where I swam up out of the grotto through an opening in the ceiling and came right up under a nice sized tarpon.

Later on I was swimming above the grotto system while the others in the group went through. This time I was able to see a school of Silversides from above and also watch a beautiful school of Blue Tang swim by.

I went again on Saturday, July 20th, which was my last day in the water for the trip. By that time I did not see any Silversides as I swam through the grotto system. I’m not sure if they all were eaten, swam away or some of both.

Grand Cayman Island: Stingray City

My goal for 2019 was to go to a diving destination I had not been to before. After some careful research I decided to go to Grand Cayman Island. I was looking for a place with a top notch dive operation and dive guides. After looking at a dozen or so options I decided on Sunset House and Sunset Divers in George Town.

Sunset Divers turned out to be everything I had hoped for this trip. Top notch customer service, safety procedures, dive briefings and dive guides!

One of the most popular attractions for divers in Grand Cayman Island is Stingray City.

I learned a lot during the dive briefing. The females are the large brown ones. The males is the smaller ray that has more of a blueish tint to it. It also has claspers under its tail.

Our dive guide was able to find and bring back two females and a male to bring back to our group. I was amazed how we were able to feed them squid out of our hands and how they liked us rubbing their snouts a bit.

Some people don’t like the fact that local dive shops offer tours to Stingray City because they don’t like the concept that people feed, touch and interact with wild stingrays. I think it shows how smart stingrays really are! I loved the experience and would enjoy going back!

Shogun by James Clavell

shogun book coverShogun has been one of my favorite novels for years. I had read the book back in the 80’s (a couple times) but had watched the mini series (released in 1980) dozens of times since then. I decided to re-read the book this year when I noticed the Kindle version was available.

Shogun tells the story of Pilot Major John Blackthorn and his time in Japan during the year 1600. After sailing across the Pacific ocean, Blackthorn’s ship is damaged on the coast of Japan. The crew are taken prisoner and accused of being pirates.

Blackthorn find himself in the middle of a power struggle between two powerful Japanese daimyos (lords) which is complicated by the presence of Jesuit (Society of Jesus) priests and Portuguese traders. The Portuguese and Jesuits see Blackthorn as a threat to their monopoly of trade between China and Japan and take steps to limit his influence. Against all odds, Blackthorn gains the respect of Lord Toranaga, is awarded the rank of Samurai and comes to appreciate Japanese culture and society. I encourage you to read the Wikipedia article for an extensive summary of the plot and characters.

Learning from Shogun

I found a wonderful pdf document from on the Columbia University website named Learning from Shogun. In the preface the editor tells us, “Shogun provides a wealth of factual information about Japanese history and culture, information which is probably new to the majority of its readers.” The document contains essays about the history, the clash of cultures, the religion, politics and economy of the time plus Blackthorn’s efforts to learn Japanese.

William Adams and John Blackthorn

In essay one, by Henry Smith, we learn that the character John Blackthorn is based on a man named William Adams who sailed to Japan by way of the Straits of Magellan and the Pacific Ocean. Smith tells us that Adams was “undeniably the ‘first Englishman in Japan,’ indeed probably the first Englishman to settle in Asia.” (Pg. 2). Smith explains that what little we know about Adams time in Japan “comes from six letters which he wrote back to England and which miraculously survived among the records of e British East India Company. Scattered other bits of information are available from the correspondence and other diaries of other Englishmen in Japan in the years 1613-20 and a few more details from Japanese records”. (Pg. 2)

Like Blackthorn, Adams also arrived in Japan with most of his crew dead and in poor health. Adams was also accused of bring a pirate. Smith goes on to say,

But somehow Adams managed to survive not only the slander of the Portuguese, but also the treachery of two members of his crew, and soon found himself being transported to Osaka to meet with the “king”—who turned out to be Tokugawa Ieyasu.

This is similar to what happened to Blackthorn when Lord Toranaga sent a ship to bring him to Osaka castle for an audience.

Trade, Diplomacy and Religion

Essay five is titled Trade and Diplomacy in the Era of Shogun. This essay by Ronald Toby confirms that James Clavell accurately portrayed the political and religious tensions between the Japanese and Europeans during the year 1600. Toby writes, “Only sixty years before ‘John Blackthorn’ arrived, Japan had been reached by the furthest extension of The European Age of Discovery, fist by Portuguese traders then by Jesuit missionaries, who cam east from Africa and India.” He goes on to say, “As a result of a half century of Jesuit proselytization (to induce someone to convert to one’s faith) the Iberian’s of the Counter-Refromation were deeply entrenched, with several hundred thousand converts to Catholicism and a critical role in Japan’s external trade to support their position.” The Portuguese and Jesuits were Catholic. So as a Protestant from England, Blackthorn had landed in hostile territory from both a religious and political perspective.It’s no surprise that he was quickly labeled as a heretic.  Blackthorn and the English were defiantly a threat to the Portuguese and Jesuit control of the lucrative trade with Japan. Clavell was also accurate that there were a fair percentage of Christian converts in Japan at the time. I was surprised to learn there were so many Christian’s in Japan at the time.

Toby also observes that “Japan was excluded, by Chinese law, from direct access to the markets of China.” (Page 54) Toby writes, “Direct access to China was now out of the question. This gave the Portuguese, based in Macao on the south coast of China since the 1550’s, an even more important role in Japan’s foreign trade.” Once again Clavell has added drama to Shogun by understanding the threat that an Englishman like Blackthorn would have to the Portuguese (and Jesuit) trade monopoly in Japan.

The Struggle for the Shogunate in 1600

Essay six in Learning from Shogun, by Henry Smith, discusses the struggle for the Shogunate. A Shogun was “the military dictator of Japan during the period from 1185 to 1868 (with exceptions).

As I had hoped, Clavell based the plot and Japanese characters in Shogun on actual events from the late 15 and early 1600’s.  Smith writes,

“Hideyoshi’s (The Taiko) death in the autumn of 1598 created the highly unstable political situation which provides the stage for the drama of 1600—both in Shogun and in reality. Since Hideyori (“Yaemon” in 1600—both in Shogun and in reality. Since Hideyori (“Yaemon” in the novel), the Taiko’s heir by his consort Lady Yodo (“Lady Ochiba”), was only a child of five at the time, a council of five “Regents” (in Japanese, tairo, literally “great elder”) had been set up to govern until he came of age.”

Smith tells us, “In Shogun, the author takes the general political situation of 1600 as the basis for his plot, although he makes no attempt at a very precise correspondences.”

An article on History.com tells us, “After Hideyoshi’s death resulted in a power struggle among the daimyo, Ieyasu triumphed in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 and became shogun to Japan’s imperial court in 1603.”

Since William Adams actually visited Tokugawa Ieyasu and Ieyasu became Shogun it seems to me that Clavell based the character Yoshi Toranaga on Ieyasu.

In Learning from Shogun, Henry Smith writes, “only the scheming ‘Ishido’ has a clear model. This was Ishida Mitsunari, whi was indeed an inveterate plotter and implacable enemy of Tokugawa Ieyasu.” (Pg. 56)

Blackthorn’s efforts to Learn Japanese

Essay nine, by Susan Matisoff, discusses Blackthorn’s efforts to learn Japanese. She writes, “and there’s much to be praised in Clavell’s decision to take the readers along on Blackthorne’s odyssey into an unfamiliar language.” (pg. 80) I agree with her! Picking up some words and phrases along with Blackthorn as he learns about Japan and Japanese culture is one of my favorite aspects of the story.

I was a little disappointed to learn that Clavell got many aspects of the Japanese language wrong in the novel. Matisoff tells us, ” A Japanese language review of the book (Hokubei mainichi shimbun, May 28, 1980) calls the language “classroom Japanese,” objecting to the over politeness of some of the common phrases like wakarimasu ka (“do you understand?”), ” (Pg. 81). Matisoff explains, “Although there are occasional correct, complex Japanese sentences in Shogun which must result from Clavell’s asking a Japanese how to say such and such, much of the Japanese reflects not a “classroom” but a “phrasebook” approach to the language.” (Pg. 81).

Hike to AMC Lonesome Lake Hut

On February 23, 2019 I joined a meetup.com group to take my first hike to the AMC Lonesome Lake hut in Franconia Notch in Franconia, NH.

Although the trail was only 1.6 miles from Lafayette Place Campground,  it was a steep stair climber hike!

Franconia Ridge Panorama February 23 2019-1

Hiking to Lonesome Lake February 23 2019-9

Even though it was steep climb, the view of Franconia Ridge was well worth it.

Hiking to Lonesome Lake February 23 2019-10

The Lonesome Lake Hut was a fantastic place to rest and relax. Hikers and overnight guests can buy a hot drink and snacks.

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Hiking to Lonesome Lake February 23 2019-3

The wood stove, the small book shelf filled with books and board games made the hut an awesome place to relax, unwind and warm up.

Hiking to Lonesome Lake February 23 2019-11

The good thing about hiking to the hut in the winter is that we could walk across the lake rather than around it.

This places is definitely on my list of place to visit again!

2018 Reading List

the last crypt book coverI discovered  some wonderful authors this year. The first one was Fernando Gamboa. He wrote a couple archaeology thrillers named The Last Crypt and Black City. The Last Crypt is about the lost treasure of the Templar’s. Black City is about the Lost City of Z. He also wrote a wonderful series named The Captain Riley Adventures, which takes place in the early 1940’s during World War II. I then found a wonderful story by Gamboa named GUINEA: A breathless thriller in the heart of darkness. This is the story of a young woman’s arrest and escape from “authorities” in Equatorial Guinea.

Another author that I started reading is Charles Brokaw. His character, Thomas Lords, is a Harvard  linguist and archaeology professor that specialized in ancient languages. the stories have a great combination of fast moving action and watching the characters solve historical mysteries and make fascinating discoveries.

adrift book coverI really enjoyed a couple mystery novels by Micki Browning named Adrift and Beached. The main reason that I enjoyed them so much is that they took place in Key Largo, Florida and involved scuba diving on the coral reefs off the coast. I love diving in Key Largo so I was familiar with the places mentioned in the novels. That knowledge enable me to have a vivid image of the various scenes and events in the story.

Douglas Richards wrote a couple science fiction books named Split Second and Time Frame that took a different approach to time travel than most other writers. What made the time travel theory used in this story different from others is that we could only travel back in time a fraction of a second. This actually made a duplicate (but younger by a split second) version of the person or object going back  in time. In effect, it was more of a teleportation device than a time travel device.

on leopard rock book coverI enjoyed many novels this year by Wilbur Smith, who is one of my favorite authors. He published an autobiography named On Leopard Rock, which was fantastic! I read a several of his books back in the late 80’s and early 90’s but lost track of his more recent project until a few years ago. On Leopard Rock inspired me to take another look at his more recent work. The Hector Cross series was different from most of Smith’s novels in that it takes place in modern times. In the book Those in Peril, Hector Cross and his security team must rescue the daughter of his wealthy employer from East African pirates.

His novel Sunbird is a two part story. The first part tells the story of the (fictional) archaeological discovery of an ancient Carthaginian city in northern Botswana in Africa. Northern Botswana is a long way from the Carthaginian empire on the Mediterranean coast of north Africa so it was a revolutionary discovery. Part two tells the story of the the cities rise to power and ultimate destruction. Although it was fiction Smith made it seem plausible that it could have happened and told a fantastic story with interesting characters, action and drama.

Eye of the Tiger is a shipwreck treasure hunting adventure that takes place in modern times in the Mozambique Channel and Indian Ocean off of the east coast of Africa. I totally loved the boating, diving and action adventure aspects of the story.

  1. Power and Empire (Jack Ryan) – Marc Cameron
  2. The Last Crypt – Fernando Gamboa
  3. The Prophecy – Heidi Hanley (Smith)
  4. Black City (Finding the Lost City of Z) – Fernando Gamboa
  5. Captain Riley (The Captain Riley Adventures Book 1) – Fernando Gamboa
  6. Darkness: Captain Riley II (The Captain Riley Adventures Book 2) – Fernando Gamboa
  7. The Atlantis Code – Charles Brokaw
  8. The Seventh Plague – James Rollins
  9. The Rising Sea – Clive Cussler and Graham Brown
  10. The Lucifer Code – Charles Brokaw
  11. Sackett’s Land – Louis L’Amour (re-read)
  12. To the Far Blue Mountains – Louis L’Amour (re-read)
  13. Warrior’s Path – Louis L’Amour (re-read)
  14. Adrift ( Mer Cavallo Mystery) – Micki Browning
  15. Beached ( Mer Cavallo Mystery) – Micki Browning
  16. On Leopard Rock – Wilbur Smith
  17. Line of Sight (Jack Ryan Jr.) – Mike Madden
  18. The Temple Mount Code – Charles Brokaw
  19. Split Second – Douglas E. Richards
  20. GUINEA: A breathless thriller in the heart of darkness – Fernando Gamboa
  21. Time Frame (Split Second series) – Douglas E. Richards
  22. Wildtrack – Bernard Cornwell
  23. The Oracle Code – Charles Brokaw
  24. Tears of the Jaguar – A.J. Hartley
  25. Shadow Tyrants: Clive Cussler (The Oregon Files) – Clive Cussler, Boyd Morrison
  26. Those in Peril (Hector Cross book 1) – Wilbur Smith
  27. Vicious Circle (Hector Cross book 2) – Wilbur Smith
  28. Shout at the Devil – Wilbur Smith
  29. The President is Missing – James Patterson and Bill Clinton
  30. Predator (Hector Cross book 3) – Wilbur Smith
  31. Sunbird – Wilbur Smith
  32. Eye of the Tiger – Wilbur Smith
  33. Assegai – Wilbur Smith
  34. Valley of the Shadow – Franklin Allen Leib
  35. Golden Lion – Wilbur Smith

Hiking Mt. Sunapee in Newbury, NH

Although I have been skiing at Mt. Sunapee for years I had not been on any of the hiking trails until this year.

I had Friday, October 26th off from work and decided to go hiking. Although the foliage had peaked the weather was perfect for hiking. One of my goals for the day was to scout the Summit Trail so that I could return later with people from one of the local Meetup.com groups that I belong to.

The Summit Trail is just one of several trails to the summit. I could get to the trail either from the Mt. Sunappe base lodge or the trailhead on Old Province Rd. I chose to start at the Old Province Rd. trailhead for this hike.

I made a couple wrong turns (and ended up on the ski trails) but eventually made it to the summit. As usual the view of Lake Sunapee was fantastic. When skiing I usually don’t have my good DLSR camera so this was an opportunity to get some better photos than I can get with a phone camera.

The photo below was taken from the top of the Skyway Ledges ski trail.

Hking Mt Sunapee October 26 2018-2

I also made a panorama photos from the top of the Wingding trail.

Hking Mt Sunapee October 26 2018-12

I switched to my 300mm lens and was able to get some shot of the White Mountains in the distance. The photo below is looking past the wind farm in Groton, NH towards an area of the White Mountains known as the Pemigewasset Wilderness.

Hking Mt Sunapee October 26 2018-3

Below is a photo looking past Mt. Cardigan (the first range on the left had side of the photo) with the snow covered mountains of Franconia Notch in the background.

Hking Mt Sunapee October 26 2018-5

It took a little longer than I expected to go back to Mt. Sunapee with the Meetup group. I was not able to schedule a hike until November 17th. By that time we had some early winter storms and had 5 inches of snow at the bottom and 7 to 8 inches at the summit. It was also cold and windy so I only took a few photos before getting out of the wind and heading back down the mountain. Although there was heavy cloud cover over the lake during my first few photos, I was lucky to catch a moment when the sun broke through to shine on Great Island down on the lake.

Hking Mt Sunapee Nov 17 2018-3