Thursday, January 27, 2011


Boston, MA

During my business week in New England I had occasion to ride shotgun in a snow plow truck.  I ended up being awake for 30 hours straight.  Below are some photos and blog notes I took during the peak of the storm.

I flew up here on Monday, arriving locally about 3PM.  Tuesday was spent driving around and looking at various job sites where my colleagues remove snow.   Crews are out plowing, shovelling, loading, transporting and removing snow.  The planning for events like this is unbelievable.  We will deploy over 300 workers during the next big storm.

When snow is removed from neighborhoods, it is taken to one of many "snow farms"

Tuesday I saw the remnants of the last storm still on the ground

Wednesday all field personnel were told to stay home during the day and wait for a call out.  I spent the day in my hotel catching up on all of my paperwork and reports.  I love being all caught up on my work.  I tried several times to nap during the day but only managed 45 minutes of sleep.

Wed. 5 PM. Arrived at local branch. Most workers are at home trying to sleep before returning late tonight to run plows and shovel sidewalks.

News is forecasting 6-9 inches tonight.

Weird for me that they are showing all of the local church service cancellations on TV.

545 PM. Snow showers have been falling for 2 hours. It's wet and not sticking to the ground. We spoke with colleagues in DC and they've been getting it pretty good all afternoon. It's headed this way.

6PM. We broke for dinner at a real nice Italian place.

730 PM. The storm has slowed. We are in between 2 waves. Its light rain/snow mix. We will call off operations until midnight. I return to my hotel.
1000 PM. I recvd call from colleagues in Washington DC, where they are also working the same storm. A plow operator is missing. He was last heard from over 2 hours ago and they can't reach him by phone. Several trucks are out searching.

1130 PM. The missing man is found okay. He said he lost his phone in the snow and just continued working.

I've got my extreme weather gear and I'm ready for the cold!


Thursday. 1200 AM. I arrive at the office to find all crews deployed without me. Everyone was called back out at 10 and no one told me. I wait until 1AM to see if someone comes by. The snow us really falling now.
I seem to have misplaced by boot?

1AM. I call a plow operator and he agrees to come pick me up at 2.

2AM. I'm in a plow truck and twenty minutes later we are pushing snow.
The above street light has an 8' pole which is covered by what we are removing from the roadway.

We are clearing streets, driveways and sidewalks in a high end golf community with homes from the 600's. The team here is one plow truck, one bobcat and three guys on foot using shovels and snow blowers.  The shovelers are very hard to keep on task.  Turnover is high, as you can imagine.

330AM. Its snowing about 2" per hour. Our plow pump fails and our truck stalls. Our battery is low and the truck won't start. We get out into the hardest falling snow I've ever known. Our bobcat operator is also a mechanic.  Below he works with the pump and is able to re-start the truck. We head back to the shop to trade out equipment.


430 AM. Back on site plowing. So much new snow fell while we were gone, you can't tell we were here.

9 AM. We're still at it. They are expecting more snow for the next 2 nights. Then again on Tuesday. My driver says this snow won't melt until mid April. The commitment level of these workers is inspiring and impressive. Most of the 300 workers have not had a day off since Christmas.

12 noon. The job is done.  We seemed to have hidden all 70 houses in the sub-division.

Headed for my hotel to crash. Flight home leaves in 18 hours.

Thursday. 430 PM. I'm awake after a nap. Crews will start hauling snow out of neighborhoods starting at 7 PM. It's one thing to push it around and clear streets and driveways but soon enough you run out of room and have to truck it out before the next storm. I elect to stay in since I have an early morning flight.

The official totals last night ranged from 9 to 13 inches. Boston averages 40 inches for an entire winter but so far this season they have received 60 inches. And there's more snow in the 7 day forecast.  Fortunately, for me, I'm headed back to start Messing About in South Florida.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


click on pictures for full screen image

Home in Port Charlotte
41* at 7AM

We're in the midst of a cold front that is expected to last for two days.

My visiting son, Ryan (26), and I launched the boat for what we hoped we be a great day of fishing off shore from Boca Grande.  Instead we faced dense fog on Charlotte Harbor that limited our visibility to a quarter of a mile.  We had to travel at 5-7 knots, both spotting for crab pots and other boats suddenly appearing out of the mist.  I was navigating by compass and GPS and may as well have been in the dark.  When a cold heavy shower started falling it only made matters worse.

We spent hours heading south, hoping the fog would lift but it never did.  Near the #5 marker we headed west toward Boca Grande and the fog thickened so much I stopped the boat.  We received an updated weather broadcast that said the areas near the coast and beaches were the thickest fog and that it was expected to last throughout the afternoon.  Areas nearer inland we reportedly clearing.  We turned the boat around and headed for the Peace River.

The rumors were true.  The further we got from the Gulf, the clearer the air became.  By the time we reached the Peace River at Punta Gorda, we could see clearly for more than a mile in each direction.  We docked briefly at the Laishley Marina and bought some live shrimp for fishing.

After anchoring down near the US 41 bridge we fished for an hour and I caught and released one small ladyfish.  Later we tried our luck in the mangroves near Alligator Bay.  Ryan landed one small catfish and hooked several ladyfish only to have them show off their air acrobatics and spit the hook out.  At 4:30 we headed home and cleared the short bridge with 3" to spare.  Kathy had grilled chicken kabobs for the tired Captain and crew.

The next day, we used our remaining shrimp to fish the canal behind my house.  We had many, many shrimp stolen off of our hooks.  I suspect the thieves to be notorious sheepshead fish.  These clever convicts have teeth much like our own that enable them to nibble bait off the hook in great anonymity.  They also, appropriately, have black vertical stripes on both sides of their body making them look like jail birds.  They are reported to be delicious on your plate if you can be so lucky as to land one.

Ryan was able to hook and a nice blue crab with his rod and reel.  We then loaded our crab pot with the dead shrimp and quickly trapped another blue crab.  These would go nicely with our grilled steaks.

I decided to use the castnet to catch more live bait because the shrimp was all dead.  I caught a few small pinfish and another live shrimp.  This is the first time I caught shrimp in my canal.  Ryan continued to have all the luck as he caught another crab with his rod and put him in the bucket with an aerator to keep them alive.  But Ryan wasn't done yet.  We took a break to have dinner.  We grilled our steaks, steamed our crab, drank our beer and ate like kings.  Then it was back to work on the docks.  Ryan asked me if fish will still bite in the dark of night.  I told him that was when one of Florida's most prized fish come out. 

The Snook (Centropumus undecimalis) lives in salt and fresh waters, primarily back waters, canals and feeds near structure such as bridges, dock pilings and mangrove shorelines.  Snook are so desired, the regulations limit harvesting to only those fish measuring specifically between 28" and 32" long.  Snook have great tasting white meat but it is unlawful to sell them commercially, for fear of overfishing.   In December, 2009, Florida experienced record freezing temperatures for ten days.  The extreme and prolonged drop in water temperatures resulted in a fish kill in the thousands; including snook.  After the freeze, snook harvesting was suspended indefinitely to allow the population to recover.  The next stock assessment is scheduled for September, 2011.  Until then, those lucky enough to land one must release the fish alive and unharmed.  My wish for a snook has gone unfulfilled for the 3 years I've been in Florida.

At about 8PM, with temperatures dropping below 50*, I had gone into the house to trade my shorts for jeans and a jacket.  When I returned outside Ryan was calling out to me that he had something huge on the line.  He was excited but calm and listened well as I told him to keep the rod tip up in the air and allow the fish to work against the reel drag.  When it surfaced I was the one who lost my mind.  SNOOK!  And it was enormous.  Ryan worked to keep the fish from getting near dock and boat lift pilings, where surely he would be able to break the 22 pound test line.  Ryan fought hard to keep his prize away from the rock seawall as well.  Kathy heard the commotion outside and came out.  We shouted for a camera and she quickly responded.  We very carefully removed the monster from the water so I could get the hook out.  We use circle hooks because of their design and tendency to lip hook instead of being swallowed.  I explained to Ryan the need to support the fish's head and belly and not hold him vertically.  I quickly removed the hook without any trauma.  Ryan posed for a quick photo (below) and it was time to say goodbye to our friend.  We didn't take the time to weigh or measure him but we estimate him at about 33" and 10 pounds.  We returned him to his habitat and we happy to see him swim away.

We spent $68 in fuel to take the boat out and got nothing special with the bait we bought.  We come home, stand in my backyard, using free bait I caught myself, and my son catches the elusive snook.  This was far and away the largest and best catch anyone has made off of our dock in the three years we've lived here.  At least our home record is held by a member of the family.

click on picture for full screen image

Monday, January 17, 2011


Home in Port Charlotte, current temp 60*
Heading to Pittsburgh, current temp 9*

I'm heading to the airport this morning and best not forget my coat.  I'll be teaching First Aid/CPR tomorrow then headed back to Florida on Wednesday.  Thursday I'm teaching an excavation safety class in Bradenton.  My son Ryan arrives for a weekend visit and the marine forecast is for fair winds and low 70's on the water.  We plan on launching the boat at least one day.

This past weekend was great weather in Southwest Florida.  We were in the mid 70's and clear.  I aerated my grass in the front yard (which means punch 2" holes in the ground to allow oxygen, nutrients and water to reach the root zone).  I also fertilized and watered it in.  The bermuda grass had gone mostly dormant during the brief freezes we had but now that we've had a couple of weeks of sunshine, it's trying to come back green again.  The front yard bermuda had spread and filled in very nicely last summer.  I ruined some of it by having the rip rap rock for the seawall dumped there but it will recover.  My plan is to renovate the back yard to bermuda this spring/summer.  Most of our hibiscus plants and my little coconut palms suffered some bad freeze damage, even though we had them all covered.  The hibiscus will recover but I'm not so optimistic about the coconut palms.  I think Port Charlotte is just a little too far north for coconuts.

A few months ago Kathy and I joined the local chapter of the Parrot Head Club, which is the Jimmy Buffett fan club.  The name of the club originally came from a parody of the name of the fan club for the 60's rock band, The Grateful Dead, who's fans called themselves Dead Heads.  We have been to a few local Parrot Head events and really enjoy the people, as well as the local Trop Rock bands that always play their events.  Well now Jimmy, himself, has booked a concert in Tampa in April.  All 28 of the Parrot Head clubs in Florida had to split an allotment of 300 reserved VIP seats for the show.  We figured we didn't have a chance to get those tickets so we tried, unsuccessfully, to buy tickets online last Saturday.  We were disappointed until we got an email from the club telling us we got picked for club seats!  Neither of us have seen Buffett in person but have always wanted to.  He will turn 65 next Christmas day.  He has released more than 30 albulms and has been touring for over 35 years.  There are over 28,000 Parrot Heads in 237 chapters.  Collectively they raise millions of dollars in charity work and donate countless hours of community service time.  The club motto is "Pary with a Purpose."

Thursday, January 13, 2011


On the road, Boynton Beach, FL
High of 67

At the request of a few readers, I've decided to update the blog a little more often, even if I don't have a full blown story or adventure to share. Instead of giving a unique headline or chapter title, I will just start calling such entries "Daily Notes."

For the last few days I've been in Homestead, teaching an OSHA safety course.  Tonight I sit in the Hampton Inn, Boynton Beach, ready to teach a first aid/cpr class on Friday.  After that, I'm homeward bound for the weekend.

My wife and step-son spent the day on Gasparilla Island, enjoying the beach.  Afterward, they drove to Punta Gorda and Fishermen's Village.  Sean has enjoyed his visit from Arizona but he heads for home on Saturday.  My oldest son, Ryan (26), arrives next Thursday.  My oldest daughter turned 24 today.  Happy birthday, Kimber.

There's been an explosion of new readers to the blog lately, thanks to some exposure I received on and  I will do my best not to disappoint.  I recommend everyone browse the archieves on the the right side of this page and pick a chapter title that catches your eye, in order to catch up on some past adventures if I'm too busy working a real job to write new and interesting stories in the present.  One of my personal favorites is from May, 2008, when I brought my current boat home for the first time.  See "The Prince of Tides...or....The Bridges of Charlotte County."

If you wish to comment on the blog, at the bottom of the page you can click on "post a comment" to open a window and leave your comment.  If you wish to send the blog chapter to a friend, click on the envelope with the arrow.  I'm happy to have each and every new reader and I hope you enjoy the blog.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Click on pictures for full screen image

Awoke at 5AM and pulled the boat off the lift at first high tide of 1.1 feet (above mean tide). Launched at 630AM with my visiting step son Sean (23), from AZ. Air temp 60, water temp 65. Cleared the short bridge with no problem. It was an absolutely gorgeous morning. Marine forecast was not great, 3-4' seas and choppy in the Harbor, but I don't get out very often so nothing short of a small craft advisory was going to keep me in. My 26' walk around handles tough seas and I carry a SPOT personal locator beacon to check in with home and share my position every hour.

Trolled an Xrap 8 lure in the Auburn Waterway, where I have previously hooked keeper Spanish Macs, but none today. After clearing the Edgewater and Midway bridges we entered the mangroves near Alligator Bay (north of Charlotte Beach complex). We slowed in the mangroves and I planned to stop and throw a castnet for live bait.

Like a true goof, I forgot I had was trolling a line and stopped with it behind me. The winds were picking up and pushing us around and I made the genius decision to reverse throttle. Insert fouled propeller here.

The sound of my reel drag woke me to my mistake. Line in the prop or not, I had to get in the center of the channel and drop anchor before being pushed into the mangroves and aground. I dropped anchor in 4' and it held nicely. Thankfully I was smart enough to have brought all of my tools aboard and was able to remove my outer prop without incident. All of the monofiliament was easily removed and properly disposed of aboard my boat. Prop back in place and we were golden again. I tossed the castnet a few times to no avail but with the winds we were to encounter, there'd be no free lining or jigging today anyway. It was strictly trolling weather. Trolling is my favorite anyway, because anytime you get the fish to chase opposed to you chasing're onto something.

We ran the usual course of 180* S to the #5 marker, before turning west toward Boca Grande Pass. My boat will run 35 knots on a flat day but today's winds and waves kept us to about 6 knots. We still got a few soakers over the bow. We trolled an xRap 10 but still no hits. At that speed we took a couple of hours to get to the Pass. There were some very nice sailboats out today, taking advantage of the 15-20 winds.

We had visions of going off shore to troll the Bomber CD30 on the reefs and wrecks but not today. It was my step son's first time on a boat and I was enjoying teaching him to handle the rough seas but I didn't want to push it. We trolled the CD30 from the ICW to BGP channel markers and back several times. I made a big deal to him that he was officially piloting the boat in the Gulf of Mexico. It was a nasty day in the pass and we were the only takers. The good news was it was still warm and just partly cloudy. Sean did great at learning to skipper the ship and I actually allowed him to drive more than me (he didn't even know that was a treat for me, who has to so often solo).

By 3:15 PM it was time to begin a slow troll back toward home. The western skies were getting darker with the predicted late day shower activity. By the time we rounded the number 5 again we had a following sea. We continued trolling the x10 for another hour but still nothing; although the sea gulls had to investigate our lures most of the way. The following sea provided enough respite for Sean to fall asleep sitting at the transom, after I took the helm. I let him nap for half an hour before waking him to reel in the lines. Once everything was secure I was able to throttle up to 24 knots and give him some fun splashing that didn't hit us for once. We crossed Peace River doing 32 knots while dodging the mine field of crab pots, and re-entered the Auburn Waterway at 4:30 PM; back on my lift just after 5. My young protege helped off-load the boat and in true green-horn fashion, as he entered the house with my 4 drawer popped open and hundreds of sockets and small tools danced across his mother's kitchen floor. Personally, I'd rather clean the boat than pick that mess up. Mother and son found every one of them, thankfully.  We travelled 48 miles on the day.  Ending engine hours - 501.

After showering off the surf, it was time to enjoy the fruits of the turf; grilled ribeyes for the Captain and Crew. Even though we were skunked by the fish, it was a fabulous day of Messing About in Boats.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Daily Notes

Home in Port Charlotte
73*, winds 15-20 mph

At the request of a few readers, I've decided to update the blog a little more often, even if I don't have a full blown story or adventure to share.  Instead of giving a unique headline or chapter title, I will just start calling such entries "Daily Notes."

Saturday 1/8/11
Kathy's son Sean, 23, is arriving here tomorrow.  I plan on taking him on the boat, weather permitting.  We're receiving some brisk winds that are producing 3-4 foot seas and a moderate chop in the Harbor.  As long as it doesn't get worse than that, we'll still launch.  The forecast is for 4-5 footers and choppy seas.  That might limit us to cruising the intercoastal waterway.

I put 40 gallons of fuel on board today, at a cost of $3.40 a gallon from a street station.  That's a dollar a gallon savings over the nearest "on the water" marina gas station.  There's only 1 station in the whole county that sells non-ethanon based marine fuel but it's only 10 minutes from us.  On the way home I drove past Charlotte Harbor to look at the wave height.  It's not bad.  A few white caps rolling in but nothing we can't handle.

In between adding fuel I cast a lure out and hooked into a couple lady fish.  I should keep some for bait with Sean.  Maybe I'll cast the castnet and try to get some live pinfish in the baitwell before we go.

Warmed up the engine and charged the batteries for 10 minutes.  All looks good so long as the winds stay reasonable.  Tonight I plan on watching the NFL playoffs.  Tomorrow my oldest son, Ryan, turns 26.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


On the road, Philadelphia, PA
High of 40*, Low of 30*

For the past few years one of my favorite reads has been the blogsite of Bill Dietrich, skipper of the sailing vessel Magnolia.  At the age of 41, Bill decided to retire from his job as a computer programmer in California.  He moved to Florida, bought a boat and went cruising.  That was 9 years ago.  He has sailed the Gulf, from Key West to Texas; the Atlantic to the Bahamas and Bermuda; and the Caribbean from Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the BVIs and as far south as Guadeloupe and St. Martin.  Each year he leaves his ship for a few weeks and flies home to the NJ/PA area to visit his mother and brother.  I have corresponded with him via email a few times, shared what a big fan of his writings I am and lived vicariously through his travels.  Today we had lunch together, in person.

He turned out to be just the guy I envisioned he would be, albeit taller than I thought.  A really nice guy, whom although lives a nomadic life in frequent solitude, is really a people person.  He loves to hear where others have lived and travelled, what got them to where they are today and where they want to go from here.  He finds people a very interesting study.  He loves to read, as do I.  He's a big fan of National Public Radio but can spend weeks at a time without hearing another speak English.  Even though he lives his life as an expatriate, he still votes and pays his taxes.  He lives alone on a 1973 Gulfstar motor sailor.  It's 44' boat but he says he could be just as well comfortable on a 35' catamaran.

We talked of the places he has been, where he'd still like to go and much about the people he's met.  It's one thing to read it on the blog but quite another to hear it from the skipper himself.  His biggest advise to wanna be cruisers...keep reading.  Read everything about boating, sailing, cruising, mechanical systems, medicine and health, finances and fix its.  He has turned the guest shower on the boat into a library of his books.  One of his favorite things to do in far away ports of call is to find and use the book exchanges.

He lives aboard, anchors down in the harbor and doesn't pay marina fees.  He eats and drinks aboard, most of the time and does his own maintenance and repairs whenever he can.  For the last few years, he's survived spending less than $5,000 a year.  After 9 years he has determined he could just as well live out the rest of his days on the boat, as long as he can take a few weeks vacation to sleep in a real bed and enjoy some creature comforts of "home."

I can only imagine the tens of thousands of readers on his blog, which has topped a quarter million hits.  I'm sure less than one percent of those readers will ever get a chance to meet the man in person.  Yes, this was  a pretty big deal for me.  For me, it was lunch with a legend.

Bill Dietrich's blog can be found at
and he is also on Facebook
Bill meets Bill

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Home in Port Charlotte
80* with blue skies

After nearly three years of owning our canal home in Port Charlotte, it was time to refurbish our dock.
Below are some before/after shots of the project:

Click on each picture for full screen image.



 The above low step, with the mold stains, occasionally gets submerged during extreme tides like after tropical storm surge or hurricanes passing hundreds of miles west of us.  The old broken down dock box, on the right is soon to be replaced by a new one as well.








Notice the bobcat tracks left overnight?  Theyt wiped right off.   In the background you can see some of the new riprap seawall recently shored up, as well.

 Old, broken down, dock box after removal

New 150 gallon dock box from Sam's Club - $99.  We firmed up the floor with half inch plywood and used four wood screws to secure the box in place.