Saturday, December 13, 2008

The lights are off the boat and the house is decorated...



Tonight, we went "walking in a winter wonderland"... well, we walked through the neighborhood, admiring the Christmas lights decorating the homes (we aren't the only ones). At 8:00, it was still 70º; instead of coats and boots, we were in shorts and t-shirts... my idea of proper winter attire.

Hope your holidays are Merry & Bright!

Monday, December 8, 2008

December 6th was the Lighted Boat Parade in Port Isabel. We spent a couple days decorating Wild Blue. When Saturday came, the weather was the best we've seen in many years of this parade: temp in the 60s, clear sky, and very little wind! Here's a look at some of the boats:






And here's how Wild Blue looked (for one night)...



Good enough to give us Second Place in our division. The Chamber gave out t-shirts, we had an awards ceremony at Louie's, and everyone who participated (and there were more boats and great displays) brought home some kind of prizes. A great way to start the holiday season!

Thursday, November 27, 2008


We spent the last three weeks enroute and around Florida. We cruised for a week with friends, but decided to head for Texas when the weather in the Panhandle turned cold and the forecast for the next month didn't look promising. We are now back in deep south Texas... will spend the holidays here, days cruising the waters of the Gulf and ICW. Maybe we'll do the lighted boat parade again.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Time for a change of scenery. The boat is packed and we will move on out tomorrow. Since day one with Wild Blue, we have been a crew of three. Time to make new memories.

Monday, October 27, 2008

It was a tough week. Since we have spent the last 3 1/2 years with Molly with us 24/7, so much of our daily routines revolved around her. Everywhere we turn in the boat, RV, and house are reminders. We know, in time, those reminders will hold happy memories, but right now they leave an empty feeling. One of the things Molly taught us: never say never. This hurt is real, but we both hope that the right circumstance will come up one day that will bring another furry kid into our lives. Ahead, there are coves to explore, sunsets to toast, and memories to share.

For anyone out there who has seen and enjoyed the Captain Jim comic strips, we asked Dan to keep Molly as a main character in the strip. It's a nice tribute. He is a very thoughtful and compassionate guy; we know he was concerned for our feelings.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

It's over.

Rest in peace, Molly.

When the vet opened her up, she was full of cancer. I promised her we'd take care of her when she adopted us. We did... right up to the end.

She was an amazing cat... followed me around like a puppy. Came when we called her. She would walk on a leash, but it was just for looks, 'cause she always walked alongside us. The house, the boat, and the RV are full of reminders of all the great times we had. Right now, I feel like my heart has been ripped out, but in time, we will celebrate the life and the spirit of our furry kid.

Jim

Monday, October 20, 2008

Well, it's been a while. We are back home in Texas. Along the way, our gray furry family member started getting sick... not able to keep food down, not wanting to eat at all. We took her to the vet last Friday; they took blood and gave us some antibiotics. Following up today, we found that our sweet Molly has a bowel obstruction, most likely lymphoma. The prognosis isn't good, and we have a tough decision to make: surgery that she may likely not come through, or putting her down. Doing nothing is not an option - it would mean death by starvation.

As you can imagine, our hearts are torn apart. Molly is an amazing furry family member - great spirit, independent but lovey. I look into those eyes, and I know I have to do what I can for her. She has always been able to count on us.

We'd like to think that we have added to the adventure in her life. She adopted us; actually, we "dated" for a year before she became an official part of our family. She had never traveled before... she has been coast to coast, border to border with us. When things are stressful, she lowers our blood pressure. Yes, we have been able to count on her, too.

The odds are this will be our last day with our sweet Molly. My apologies for unloading here... many of you have followed along with us on our travels... good times, tough times... this is certainly tough.

Six months before Molly came to our door, we had to put down a sweet kitty that had been a part of our family for almost 22 years. At that time, I said, "Never again." It just hurt too much. I didn't count on meeting a personality like Molly. No matter how much this hurts, the time we've had with Molly has been enlightening... our lives are better for the experience.

Jim










Sunday, September 28, 2008

HOT!

We are in the Phoenix area, visiting our daugher and son-in-law. Saturday was 103º, with similar temps predicted for the next week... hot, hot, hot. The single a/c in our new 5th wheel seems to be up to the task of keeping us comfortable, though.

We'll likely be down for a couple weeks here; plan to spend some time visiting our daugher's school, time around the pool, and just enjoying our daughter and son-in-law. I'm thinking outdoor activities, like bike riding and walking are going to be best done first thing in the morning.

Molly isn't so sure about this place: gravel as landscaping isn't her style... she misses being able to lounge in the grass. While there's no grass to be had in the RV park we're in, the daily rental sites have small trees... in time they may provide some shade. As RVs get wider due to slideouts, these small bits of greenery in the gravel may prove to be a limiting factor. Plenty of length (room for our truck in front of the 5th wheel and their car behind), but we just barely fit between the trees.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

We've been traveling about with our new 5th wheel. After some time back at the dealer to take care of our shakedown items (nothing major), the remnants of Hurricane Ike hit the SW Missouri area - we got hammered with rain and wind! Rocked and rolled us all night - the horizontal rain blew in through the furnace vent and we got some water inside. No damage, but it was a pretty sleepless night.

From there, it was up to Lake of the Ozarks. Beautiful area, lots of water. We looked around, considering future potential homebase. The plan from there was originally to head south to Arkansas, but changed... we decided to take a bit of a detour - off to Arizona via Iowa. Going to visit family. We are happy with the 5th wheel and comfortable doing some distance.

At Lake of the Ozarks, we stayed in the State Park - skinny roads made for some interesting maneuvering. It was "roughing it" for us: electric only; no water/sewer/cable. We couldn't get satellite TV because of the thick forest and the cell phone coverage (and our wireless broadband) was non-existant. From there we went to Basswood RV Resort outside Platte City, MO. ALL the amenities, including a pool, nice store, cabins, and fresh made pizza - delivered right to your RV. Yeah, that's more like it!

After a couple days there, we are now in the Sioux City, Iowa area, visiting my dear ol' Mother. Even though we sent her photos of the 5th wheel, she seems to think we are living in a pop-up camper (must be the idea of the slideouts). There is some discussion that I may have been switched at birth... and there is a Gypsy family out there with a kid who doesn't like to wander about. ;-) OK, that's my theory, and it would explain a lot. Anyone else ever visit home and think "I must be adopted."

We'll spend a couple days here... that may be as much as my poor tongue can take (bite, bite, bite). Then we're off to the desert southwest to visit our sweet daughter and son-in-law.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hurricane Ike...

4 days ago, it looked like Hurricane Ike was heading for our area. With each passing day, the weather weasels moved the prediction further north in the Gulf. Now, we are just hours from Ike making landfall near Galveston Island. It is a HUGE strong Category 2 storm; winds are currently 110 mph, which will cause a great deal of damage. But the real situation here is going to be the storm surge. There are predictions of the surge running in excess of 20 feet in the Galveston Bay area. This is sure to create major havoc with the oil industry, driving fuel prices even higher. Galveston Island is already flooding (7:30 pm local time). Sadly, the worst of the surge is going to hit very near the time of high tide. This is going to be ugly.

Also, with the size of this storm, the affected area along the coast is going to stretch close to 300 miles from the eye.

We are now at a point where we can pretty safely say the Tropical Tip has dodged the bullet on this one. There is some surge predicted, 3-6 feet. We talked to neighbors today who said the water is already high (around noon today). It's not likely that it will top our seawall, but the beach on South Padre Island is seeing very large waves that are topping the sea wall in the Isla Blanca Park area.

We left Branson this morning and are back at the RV dealer in Ozark, MO, getting some minor shakedown stuff taken care of. Our experience with NuWa and this dealer have been very positive. We area going to stay here for a day or two... the lot is paved and sloped. Heavy rain is predicted for this area... yes, the remnants of Ike will come over this area on Sunday, bringing 8-12" of rain. The campground we were staying at in Branson was just a bit too close to the water for our comfort - the RV dealer's lot should be a good place to be until this rain spell passes. In the meantime, we have hookups, our satellite TV, and wireless broadband... even if we don't get out for a day or two, we're pretty self contained.

Our thoughts go out to those on the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast... it's going to be a long, nasty night for those in the path of Ike.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Deja Vu All Over Again...

We've been keeping an eye on Hurricane Ike... it's now in the Gulf and heading towards the Texas Gulf Coast. Two days ago, it had its sites on our area; now the predictions are that it will go in somewhere just north of Corpus Christi. Looking at the size of this one, it's going to affect several hundred miles of the Texas coast and inland.

We are back in a holding pattern, waiting to see what happens with this storm. We're hoping we can stay in this area for a while, but will head for home if/when necessary.

While the hurricane is still a couple days off and the exact area of landfall is not certain, one this is a certainty: this is an ugly situation and it going to affect a lot of people.

Our best wishes to all along the Texas Gulf Coast.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Having Fun in Branson

We are settling in with the new 5th wheel... the living is comfortable...



The drive down from Ozark is only about 30 miles, lots of hills. It was the first time the truck felt like it really had to work. At the campground, it only took about 3 hours and 247 maneuvers to get it backed into the site. Yeah, I'm kidding... more like 2 hours and 45 minutes and 238 manueuvers. Once in the site, we took our time getting set up; we understand the RV part, it's just the 5th wheel thing that's new to us.

Once set up, Joan went to work rearranging all the things I arranged the past few days..



I have to admit, she does a much better job of packing and making things fit. And Molly the cat is getting comfortable with her new rolling home, too. Here she is checking out the basement compartment...







Branson has been interesting. We're not big country music fans, but we did get tickets for a show at the American Bandstand Theatre with Paul Revere and the Raiders and Bill Medley (of the Righteous Brothers). Not sure what I expected, but the concert was outstanding... Paul Revere and the Raiders (not sure if any of the Raiders besides Paul are originals) were tight and entertaining. They played a lot of their hits and sounded great. And Bill Medley put on a great show... when he sang "You've Lost that Lovin' Feeling," it gave me chills. During one blues song, he showed the CD it was on, then handed it to Joan (we were sitting in the front row). Turned out to be a very fun evening.

We've been riding our bikes, eating good, and enjoying our time here.

Oh, and some views inside, showing that everything has been put away...

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Branson Bound

We made a "recon" trip to Branson today. Still raining, so we took the time to look over campgrounds in the area (and there are a bunch)... important criteria for us: not muddy, preferably paved sites, reasonably level. We plan to spend a week or so there to shake down the coach; maybe see a couple shows, and see the sights. Branson is in the hills, so many of the campgrounds are heavily wooded with twisty roads... we're looking more for wide open - room for our slideouts and a clear shot at the southern sky to get satellite TV. We've narrowed our picks down to three. Sure glad we went there without the RV at first; some of the campgrounds we drove through were enough of a challenge to get through with just the truck.

When we came back to the RV dealer late afternoon, one of the guys ran me through the procedures for hooking and unhooking the 5th wheel to the truck. I practiced it a few times... I will use a checklist - seems that there is more to remember than setting up a motorhome.

We've checked out most of the systems in the new 5th wheel, except dumping the holding tanks. There is a dump here at the dealership, so I asked if we could use it. The RV sales manager said, "Let me get one of our guys to do that for you." He took the cap off... and blue treated sewage spilled out! Yeah, that's not good. They think it is just an adjustment on the cable, and no big deal. We'll see when they check it all out first thing in the morning. Better to find out before we leave here rather than when we get to a campground.

We'll see what they find out in the morning.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Time to build an Ark?

Look, Ma - no leaks! I'm running out of synonyms for rain... it poured today. The local weather folks called it between 3 and 6 inches locally. We did our walkthrough this morning with Fernando... he looks young, but is very competent; answered all our questions without missing a beat. With all the rain, we decided to spend another night or two at the dealer... we still need to go through the hookup/setup procedure, but I think we'd all like to do it without getting drenched. I told Robert that we should be outta here by mid-October at the latest. ;-)

We made a run to Camping World and Bass Pro Shop in Springfield today. At the recommendation of folks here, we ate at Lambert's yesterday - yes, the food was good, plenty of it, and we caught rolls. Today we had lunch at Hemingway's at Bass Pro Shop (seems that most of them we visit have Islamorada Fish Company)... they had an amazing buffet: lots of entres, including chicken, roast beef, turkey, catfish, ham, pasta... and less than $9 pp. Great ambiance. An unexpected dining delight!

Back at the LS, we have gone through the downloaded checklist, run all the systems (except dumping the holding tanks)... even have most of our stuff put away. Now we are just getting accustomed to where all that stuff is. After days of running, hours of carrying, and weeks of waiting, we are trying out all the furniture, watching the crispy digital TV (oh, I still have to find a good place to put our satellite receiver and get it wired). The lights are low, the fireplace is glowing (don't need the heat right now, but I'm enjoying the look of it much more than I would have thought), and we feel like real people again.

Yeah... nice.

Making the switch...

Tuesday, September 2nd. We rolled into the dealership just before noon. They were ready for us and had us pull the toy hauler up door-to-door with our new 5th wheel. The sky was looking gray, the forecast was for heavy rain for the next few days (the remnants of Hurricane Gustav caught up with us); we decided to get our stuff moved from the toy hauler to the Nu-Wa before doing anything else. The folks at Campbell Ford were very accommodating. We took a few minutes to walk around and in the new coach, then went to work. While we were moving stuff, the service folks went to work installing the hitch in our truck.

It was surprising how much stuff the toy hauler could hold; by 2:30 we had emptied the trailer and had our stuff in the 5th wheel... not put away, just in. As I was carrying the last container in, it started sprinkling.

We took a break to have lunch, then went to work putting everything away. It was well into the evening before we had the new coach livable... the basement compartments are full, but we actually have some extra drawers, shelves, and closet space. Maybe we need to buy more stuff? Maybe not.

The new coach is gorgeous: nice glossy gel-coat exterior, oak cabinets, Corian® countertops, leather recliners... certainly a step up from the spartan accommodations in the toy hauler.

It will be a while before we know where everything is... Joan put me in charge of clothes while she arranged the kitchen. I put all the big stuff in the basement storage. We may need to make a chart so we can find things later.

And what about Molly? Thanks for asking - she was not a happy girl when we locked her in the bathroom while we moved things. When she could see that she had a new place for food, potty, and lots of sleeping options, her attitude changed... "Yeah, this is more like it."

The rain is supposed to hang around for days; there was a flash flood warning for this and all the surrounding counties last night. We plan to spend a couple nights here at the dealership while we learn all the ins and outs of this new coach. Maybe by then the rain will stop and I'll be able to post some better images.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Almost there...

A couple days later, and we are nearing our Missouri destination (where we will pick up the new 5th wheel). Our weather has been lovely, but Hurricane Gustav has had an impact along our route - motels and campgrounds have been full with the folks evacuating the Gulf Coast.

Seems that the hurricane preparations in New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana have paid off - Gustav came ashore SW of New Orleans, but with a bit less punch than first feared. The mass evacuations kept a lot of people out of harm's way. In another day, we'll get a look at what the storm damage is. The weather weasels seemed to be salivating over this one, with the hopes of a "scoop" on the havoc... hopefully, they will continue to be disappointed.

At this point, it still isn't a done deal, but the hurricane has lost a lot of power as it moves further inland.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Rolling again...

This morning, Joan said to me, "It seems like all we do is move stuff. When are you going to quit working me so hard?" Yeah, this retirement stuff isn't for sissies. In the last 6 months, we've moved from the boat to the house, to the small RV, to the toy hauler, back into the house, back into the toy hauler, and now we're on our way to pick up our new 5th wheel. This may be the reason people decide to full-time in RVs or on boats - not having to move in and out!

We had the house buttoned down early and the trailer packed, so we decided to head out today. With the forecasts for Hurricane Gustav (bearing down on the LA/northern TX Gulf Coast), we decided that earlier is better. There will be a lot of folks heading inland to the north... and nasty weather chasing right behind them... better for us to be ahead of that situation. As it is, I expect we will see some precip and nasty weather all the way up to Missouri shortly after we get there.

Gustav is currently bashing Cuba - winds are 150 mph with gusts to 185. This is going to be an ugly situation. On its current path, it is going to create havoc with the offshore oil industry, and impact the New Orleans area... we are all going to feel the effects of this in our pockets with rapidly rising fuel prices. And heaven help the folks who are in the path of this one. Sigh.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Been a while

While there was no big damage to our house, it was several small things that added up to being a real pain in the butt. Getting someone in to do work (like drywall) is tough enough around here, and really compounded by the extensive hurricane damage in the area. Yeah, good help really is hard to find.

However, we wrapped up the last of the work yesterday; the house is back in tip-top shape... and the really good news: the RV dealer called to tell us that our new 5th wheel is ready to be picked up. We will head towards Missouri this weekend.

In the meantime, between waiting for non-showing workers, we have been out in our boat, Wild Blue. I REALLY missed cruising. Although we will be putting her away again tomorrow, it has been a real treat to be out on the water again.



We've been dolphin watching, cruising in the Gulf, anchoring in the Laguna Madre, running in the ship channel... just enjoying the warm water in the Tropical Tip of Texas.

We are looking forward to RVing again with the new 5th wheel. I'm thinking: a few months in the RV, a few months on the boat... repeat. Maybe we need to re-think this whole house situation?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Amazing what a bath will do...

We've been trying to tackle one project each day. Today was "bath day" for the house; I swept the siding with a broom to get the big clumps off, then pressure washed the whole thing. What a difference! The poor house was nasty looking... I described it as: imagine taking a big shaggy dog, dipping it in honey, rolling it in sand, then letting it run through a field of weeds.

The gray siding looks good, and the white trim is sparkling again. I need to get back up on the roof and reinstall the satellite dish and reseal around the vents, then have the contractor get after the roof trim, exterior storage area wall and start the inside drywall work. Figure another week tops if the contractor stays on the job... obviously, we are not the only ones on his agenda.

It's coming together.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Fix Up, Clean Up

The insurance adjustor came today... he found more damage than we did. Looks like we'll be replacing a ceiling and a wall inside, and an exterior wall on our storage area under the house. Lots of other clean up, paint, and replacing trim... but, compared to many of our friends and neighbors, not too bad.

I fixed the dock first thing, then went to work on the soffetts under the eves. The roof stayed intact and looks good. It's a wonder when you see all the shingles laying around. Tomorrow, we'll start powerwashing the house... lots of tarry stuff where shingles hit us.

We put the toy hauler in storage yesterday and checked on Wild Blue (our boat) - she did fine. I was hoping to bring her back and get her launched again, but one of us (and I won't mention her name) thinks I won't get anything else done if the boat is back in the water. Well, duhhh... isn't that the point? ;-) The boat will have to wait a while, I guess.

As soon as we hear from the dealer about our new 5th wheel, we'll make some plans to head out again.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

After doing some unloading today, we drove around to see the area... it is heartbreaking to see shattered homes and businesses. Lots of blue tarp roofs and boarded over windows. A few "We're Open" signs in front of businesses that have patched together to try to keep things going. One bayside bar looked like the building was ready to collapse, but there were a half dozen people at the bar. Our favorite bayside, sunset-watching bar and grill was open... the roof is gone, there is a tarp suspended over the seating, and they are cooking on a big gas grill... you can order from anything on the menu, as long as it's shrimp or a hamburger. Trying to maintain some normalcy and a sense of humor.

South Padre Island seemed to take the brunt of it. When the wind switched to the west and kicked up, the homes and business on the bayside were really battered. It didn't matter if you were on the ground floor or 7 floors up... lots of water damage. A once-beautiful Luhrs sportfisher still sits onshore above the seawall - evidence of the power of Nature. I took a camera along, but couldn't bare to shoot anything.

The damage we received is minimal compared to many here. The palm tree in front of our place stayed standing (many were snapped off or toppled), but it looks like it's doing an impersonation of Fritz the Cat. We won't be putting Wild Blue at the dock until most of it can be replaced. Right now, other than drying things out in our storage area under the house, we are trying to leave things until the insurance adjustor comes out.

Some of the excursion boats were out today, and there were plenty of tourists on SPI; life and business goes on. Most of the big hotels (like the Raddison and the Bahia Mar) are shut down... this is their busiest time of the year. Some marginal businesses won't recover.

We've seen a lot of changes in this area in the 13 years we've been a part of the community. It was looking good... and it will again.

We have seen what a Category 5 looks like when Iniki devastated Kauai. This was a "weak Category 2" (not "weak" when you talk to those who stayed). It left almost all of our buildings standing, and didn't cost anyone their life.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The trip to Chanute (August 6th) was great - we toured the Nu-Wa 5th wheel factory to see how they are built. No question that we will be buying one of these 5th wheels... just need to decide on the best floorplan for our needs and find an enthusiastic dealer.

August 7th. We drove to Ozark, Missouri, and met with Robert Guthrie from Campbell Ford. Robert was recommended by folks on the Nu-Wa owners forum as a dealer who is competitive on price and great with service and follow up. We found this to be the case, and decided that we were ready to order our 5th wheel. Robert will be taking the toy hauler in in trade. We will be coming back to Missouri sometime in the next month to take delivery - we are excited!

August 8th and 9th. A long drive back to south Texas. We arrived later afternoon today. Here's a note I sent one of our boating friends...


Well, we are home. We didn't escape unscathed. Some of our dock is gone. Some of the facia on the roof is gone. The hurricane shutters did their job and kept the house from being breached (the scuffs, dings, and debris stuck in them shows that). The siding on the house looks OK. Not sure about the roof, yet, since I haven't gotten up there. And, the kinda bad part: with 22 inches of rain and 120+ mph winds, and 24+ hours of hammering, we got some water in the ceiling and walls... likely that it came in the roof vents. So, not real bad, just kinda bad - we are going to have to tear out some ceiling and wall drywall to find out where it came from and how much damage it did. We are in line for the insurance adjustor, and the contractor who built our house has said he will do the work; it may be a while. There are a lot of people here whose homes are in bad shape.

While cleaning off the hurricane shutters so I could roll them up, a couple neighbors came by to welcome us home. We heard the stories of debris so thick you couldn't see the streets; the docks and boats on the bay side of South Padre Island were devastated; homes, too. The eye wall of the hurricane passed just north of us, so we had winds from every direction.

The outside of the house is a gawd-awful dirty mess... nothing that some water, a scrub brush, and some elbow grease won't fix. There is some facia under the eves that is hanging funny. Our underneath storage area walls are still wet all the way through.

On the bright side, we are in air conditioned comfort and will be sleeping in our own bed tonight. The damage is confined to one bathroom and adjoining small bedroom, so it should be easy enough for us to live around it for a while, if necessary. The satellite dish on top of the house was flattened, but the cable TV is working. We parked the toy hauler beside the house, plugged it in, and will be able to take our time unloading it. We didn't know if we'd need to stay in it, but we were ready with full fresh water and empty holding tanks.

No idea yet when we'll get Wild Blue back in the water... I think there is a lot of debris in the canals, so I'll get the inflatable out and "poke around" when I get the chance. That may be a while.

We only saw the main highway into Port Isabel and the road to our island; there is plenty of damage. Seems like when the hurricane came inland, the national media coverage of it moved on. July and August are the busiest tourist months for South Padre Island; a double whammy for businesses there.

On our little island, neighbors and workers pulled together. They've done an amazing job of getting it back in shape in just 2 1/2 weeks. Our friends who watch our place while we're gone have a lot of damage; they are moving out of their house tomorrow so the walls, floors, and ceilings can be torn out and replaced. Another neighbor told us that he knows of only 5 places, out of nearly 1000, that didn't have some kind of damage.

We're counting our blessings.

Best wishes,
Jim B.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Left the Black Hills today, heading south. Tropical Storm Edouard will be causing some havoc along the Texas Gulf coast, but should be well north of our home this time. We will have to time our arrival in Texas to avoid inland problems with this storm.

Spending the night at the city park in Phillipsburg, KS - we are the only camper here... sure different from the Black Hills!

On to Chanute, KS tomorrow.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

We are gearing up to head south; still in the Black Hills. For any of you who ride motorcycles, you may know have heard of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The first full week of August, hundreds of thousands of bikers (motorcycle enthusiasts?) decend on the small town of Sturgis. This is the 68th year of this revelry, and the crowd is predicted to be down (yes, gas prices affect bikers just like boaters)... only about 500,000 + or -. When you put that many people in a town of 5,000, it makes a bit of an impact (major understatement).

For 28 years, we not only participated in the Rally, we often worked it. At one time, we shot and processed the "official Main Street photos"... imagine a couple hundred thousand of your best friends gathered together for a group photo!

Since we retired, we have skipped the last couple years here. Joan wanted to stick around and see what has become of the Rally. By the way, we have been motorcyclists much longer than boaters. I wasn't so sure... the Black Hills has some of the best motorcycle roads in the country, but during the Rally it is over-saturated with traffic.

So, here we are. This is hard to describe to the uninitiated. The crowd size is over-whelming. The noise is deafening. There is much about the atmosphere that is shocking (yes, some folks that are really going out of their way to BE shocking). I've always considered it "Mardi Gras on Motorcycles." Much of it is certainly not family friendly, and you won't see that side of it in this post. There are seasonal campgrounds (only operated a few weeks each year) that host tens of thousands of bikers - each campground with its own vendors (people trying to sell you stuff... food, t-shirts, leather, motorcycles, trailers, motorcycle stuff., tattoos, etc, etc. And big name entertainment. Performing this week: Kiss, Kid Rock, Kelli Pickler, Kenny Chesney, Dan Fogelberg, Larry the Cable Guy, and dozens of others... including an appearance by John McCain. There are custom motorcycle shows. Helicoptor rides. Motorcycle demo rides from all the major manufacturers. Harley-Davidson rents out the entire Rapid City Civic Center to showcase its new bikes. This is a very big deal. An economic shot in the arm to the entire state. The single biggest event in the state.

But mostly, people come to gawk. OK, more so than Mardi Gras, it's also the biggest motorcycle themed flea market you can imagine (my description). You can buy the greasiest food imaginable. Alligator on a stick? Sure. You want a fender for a '38 Harley? Someone here is going to have one for sale. You want to see people at their weirdest? You've come to the right place. Enjoy reading t-shirts? There are plenty of "official" Rally t-shirts, and plenty of others that somehow manage to use all 7 of George Carlin's words you can't say on the radio.

The Rally doesn't "officially" start until Monday, August 4th. Main Street in Sturgis is already blocked off to car traffic, allowing only motorcycles to park as far as the eye can see...



We parked our bike on Main Street and started wandering. Food prices are almost as outrageous as the grease and fat content. This place is not for the faint of heart... wallet... or or artery build-up. Food vendors come from all over the country for this - and it is very apparent that gas prices are affecting their prices (I'm sure it couldn't be another case of gouging Wink ).

With our bellies full and our eyes wide, we walked for blocks, admiring beautiful bikes and doing our own share of gawking at the goings-on. When I say some people come here just to be weird...



The temps were warm today - in the 90s. That brings out many unusual forms of dress... or undress. No, you're still not going to see that in this post. But, here's a cheeky look at some of the tamer sights...



The crowd and the attitude changes as the sun goes down. I call it "the Weirdo Parade"... people driving up and down Main Street, trying to attract attention to themselves. Yes, that guy was wearing a Body-Web (look it up, I'm not posting a photo). Oh, and that woman isn't wearing a Body-Web. Shocked The crowd has changed over the years... matured somewhat. Some things have settled. You see some things that make you say, "I'll bet she doesn't dress like that in her home town." Twisted Evil

Having been away from this for a couple years, I have to say it has been interesting. My eardrums are ringing, I feel close to sun-stroke, and I could really use some quiet time at anchor in a secluded cove. But, this has been fun.



In a couple days, we will start our journey south. We think our house is OK; we have talked to the insurance company and they are sending an adjuster out to inspect our place. The climate controlled storage place where we keep our important papers and photos didn't get any water or wind damage. We intend to go back home, check it out, clean up whatever needs it, regroup, and make some decisions on what next.

Hey, you wanna see my new tattoo? Mr. Green Yeah, I'm kidding.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Hurricane damage update...

Water and power are out. Water had to be shut off because there is no way to pump sewage off the island. Folks are eating good right now, since freezers are off... that will come to a rather abrupt end very soon.

The bridge is still out - no way on/off the island other than by boat. This situation is very different from many others, and looting will not be a problem... owners only on the island.

We lent our generator to our neighbor, so they have lights, a fan, and their fridge. They are having to siphon gas out of the car to keep it going, but they aren't driving anywhere any time soon. The word is that electricity will be "5 days or more before it is restored." Knowing how things get done there, I'm guessing more.

The word we are getting is to stay away for at least a week or so to allow emergency work to be done. We are concerned about the lack of ventillation in the house without electricity. Joan is ready to go now, but we have to go back to the Black Hills to pick up some of our stuff before heading south.

Quite a bit of damage throughout the island. No idea what is happening IN our house, other than "no standing water."

More when we know more.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Bigger problems than Xanterra...

Our home is in deep south Texas, on a small island just off from South Padre Island. Hurricane Dolly came right over the top of our place; we are 1600 miles away right now. Here is the latest update I sent friends...

Hurricane Dolly has passed. I was able to get through to our friends who stayed on our island this morning. They are OK... said they'd never do that (stay) again. Winds topped 125 mph on our island. Lots of damage. They lost some roof and have water that came through their upstairs and has leaked through to the main floor. They have not gone out to survey the rest of the island, and can't see our house from theirs. They said the street looks like a war zone.

I asked if we should be heading down right away. She said, "No point. You can't get on the island. A shrimpboat busted loose and hit our bridge, so they can't get it closed right now. We'll make our way to your place by late afternoon and let you know how your house did."

So... our friends are safe. Stuff can be replaced. Sounds like I may have to learn how to do some house construction. I have plenty of tools... they were all in our underneath storage area... nevermind.

Wish us luck.

Jim B.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A new wrinkle...

I have been contacted by a gentleman from the US Coast Guard regarding the situation at the marina and the Lake Queen II. I gave him the information, including documents and e-mails, to be forwarded to the NPS. The more I write here, the further down the posts regarding Xanterra and the marina management will go. Probably to the delight of those folks. I will take a break from further posts for a few days. I feel my employment had to be ended due to their attempt to coerce me into being quiet... certainly not ethical, probably not legal.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Riding the storm out...

Well, the storm last night turned out to be more than a "light show"... we had winds that reached 70 mph and very heavy rain. No problem with our trailer; fortunately, we were pointed right into the wind. Of course, 70 mph is faster than we generally drive! This morning, I had to look around to find our rug and camp chairs; well, not far, but certainly not where we left them, up against the heavy picnic table. I walked around the trailer to see if we had any "pings" from the small hail - no, we're fine.

Today, we are going to stock up on groceries. A bit different from our Yellowstone experience, where the closest big grocery store was 80 miles away; we have plenty of nearby options. Then, we may look around for a bigger RV. Our Rage'n toyhauler has done an admirable job, but if we decide to do more RV traveling, it would be nice to have more room. We'll see; the RV industry is having some tough times because of the high fuel prices. It will take the right unit at the right price to make us want to upsize again.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Riding through the twisties...

Today, we put a couple hundred miles on the new motorcycle, driving through some of the best motorcycle country around. (The Black Hills are consistently voted in the Top 10 of Best Motorcycle Roads by the Harley Owners Group and various motorcycle magazines.) Out butts are tired, our smiles are big, and we are feeling completely relaxed. Mt. Rushmore, Hill City, Custer, Custer State Park, Iron Mountain Road (and the tight-turning "pig tail" bridges, back through Keystone, and a great meal out in Rapid City. We rode through a herd of buffalo (yes, very cautiously), worked through the gears on some fine "twisties", got off and walked through some interesting shops, felt a swell of good ol' American pride as we first saw "the faces", and admired the beauty of the Black Hills. It was a truly fine day.

Tonight, I sat in a campchair outside our RV and watched a thunderstorm build over the Hills; it is slowly moving our way. Nature, her beauty, and her power are an awesome sight to behold. The rain has started, along with the wind... hopefully, we won't have hail, but I know it isn't going to snow!

Life is different at 3200' elevation as opposed to 7800. It's all about how you adapt.

Friday, July 4, 2008

A change of scene...

We are back in the Black Hills, staying at the nicest RV resort in the area. Paved sights, plenty of room between sites, nice landscaping, all the utilities, plus cable, wi-fi, 24 hour security, swimming pool, restaurant, golf, mini-golf, hot tubs, entertainment, a grocery store... and no schedule. When we got here today, we sat outside in the warmth... got to the mid-80s. I was concerned that I had forgotten how to sweat, but some things come back to you. We have the awning out, and we've met the neighbors - nice folks. The stress of the past few weeks is gone

We'll take the next week or two and plan out the rest of the summer. Or, maybe be serendipitous and just go where the road takes us. The truck, trailer, and motorcycle are all in perfect working order... and you can be darn sure that if they weren't, we would correct that right away. Nice to be back where that's possible.

With the various web sites that I post to, we've gotten a surprising number of supportive comments regarding our bad experience with Xanterra. My thanks for that, and we are ready to move on. There's a lot of summer left.

Happy Independence Day...

Seems appropriate. We are heading east today, and should be in the Black Hills by mid-afternoon.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Exit letter...

As promised, here it is...


To Xanterra Personnel

Regarding: Exit interview for James and Joan Bathurst

I would like it to be known that we are not “disgruntled former employees”. We worked hard for this company and were regularly told by our managers that we were performing above expectations and were professional in the execution of our jobs.

I have no doubt that the management team at the marina was embarrassed by the blog (www.captnjim.blogspot.com) that I published. I only made things public after the situation got beyond reasonable. Had Wim told me that he was embarrassed and asked me man-to-man to remove the blog, I absolutely would have done so. When he made the repairs on the boat contingent on the removal or modification of my blog, it became a matter of coercion. For that, he should be more than embarrassed, he should be ashamed.

We constantly heard from that team: “Xanterra doesn’t care.” We refused to believe that... Xanterra is a corporation, it is the PEOPLE that can choose to care or not care. We met many Xanterra employees who do, indeed, care. We feel that this was used as an excuse to not get things done.

We were also told, “Don’t work so hard, you’ll work yourself out of a job.” Our work ethic is such that we will do the best work possible at any task. That is how we were able to retire in our early 50s: we ran successful businesses and created an atmosphere of pride and cooperation with our employees. We did not see either of those attributes being endorsed by the marina management team.

In spite of the general lack of enthusiasm and pride in the marina, the employees there do a good job. Imagine how much better it would be with proper training and guidance.

I have attached a copy of an e-mail sent to Wim 5 days prior to quitting this job. I gave him the opportunity to fire me; I was told that I was “a valuable employee and his most professional captain.” I also have attached a copy of suggested policy for training and minimum knowledge requirements for dockhands and first-mates. The marina had no written policy that was distributed amongst these employees. I was simply trying to help. When given guidance, people will try to do a good job... with no guidance, there will be no pride.

I submit these documents to show that we made an honest effort. I have no doubt that our departure will be put in a different light by the management team at the marina. Let me state that the marina is a wonderful addition to the services managed by Xanterra... it could certainly be more profitable and a much better workplace with proper guidance. People will work hard for leaders who show pride and a willingness to pitch in; just the opposite will be true when the leaders badmouth the company they work for, allow people to go improperly trained, ignore ringing telephones, and leave customers waiting.

I was once admonished for boarding passengers “2 minutes early.” Even though it was 3 minutes LATER than the published times. I felt it was rude to make passengers wait beyond the published times; management chose to move that time back with no regard for the time necessary to board or what times the guests were told... pointless rules like this were the norm. We actually changed boarding times THREE TIMES in one day. Pointless. And it certainly doesn’t serve the guest.

We don’t leave Yellowstone relieved to not be working for Xanterra; quite the opposite. We wanted to complete our time here, but felt that we had been put in a position to compromise our ethics. We are very disappointed in this experience.

Sincerely,
James and Joan Bathurst

Buh-Bye...

Our "exit interview" was scheduled for 8:00 this morning. Another joke... we dropped off the form they gave us, turned in our badges and IDs, showed proof that we turned in our uniforms, and that was it. No interview. I asked the young lady if anyone would review the paperwork, and she said, "Absolutely." Good thing I took the time to type up a letter.

We had the trailer ready to roll, except for loading the motorcycle into it; had to wait until we could pull the trailer forward to drop the back ramp. We were driving away shortly after 9:00. Joan's eyes teared up as we left the campground... we were very excited about the jobs here; neither of us wanted to leave, but we simply could not work in this negative environment.

I had the opportunity to visit with the other Lake Queen captain this morning before we left. Paul and Pat are wonderful people and we didn't want them to think we were just bolting.

We have put the nastiness of the past few days behind us and are looking forward to enjoying the rest of our summer. I will post the contents of our "exit letter" a bit later when I can take it off the other computer.

In the meantime, we are in the western foothills of the Big Horn Mountains and will be heading for the beautiful Black Hills tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

I QUIT!!!!

A new development! I got a call from the marina manager today - the boat is getting all new ECU units. That is a victory. He then said that there is another issue: my public blog:

He asked me to remove or modify what I had written... if not, they would "remove the resources from the boat repair."

I QUIT!

I will NOT be coerced, I will NOT be quiet. Xanterra was lax, bordering on negligent in the repair of the boat. It was only when I made things public that any serious action was taken to get the necessary repairs.

What I have written was all true. I told them that there was a facility on that blog for them to respond if they feel the need to support their inaction. I was told that the company will not respond.

We will turn in our uniforms and employee IDs today, as soon as possible. It will be our pleasure to put as much distance between us and this company as soon as possible.

Sincerely,
Jim and Joan Bathurst

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Decisions...

I visited with the manager today; offered to quit so he didn't have any angst with firing me. He said he wants me to stay, and appreciates my principles. In reality, I think he is probably more worried about replacing Joan - she is a real asset at the front counter. We are trying to work through what it will take for us to stick it out. I have been promised the ECU repair is on the front burner. He said he'd have a date of expected repair hopefully by tomorrow, and in the meantime has agreed to get the switched-around black boxes back where they belong.

I have a couple days to think about what we intend to do. When we owned our own business, I never got this worked up... guess I didn't have to depend on others or "work my way up the chain" to get things done. Maybe I should buy my own big ol' tourboat? Nahhhhhhhhh!

Day off today... other than a trip to the marina for the above visit, we lounged around the trailer. The forecast was calling for afternoon thunderstorms, and they were right. Glad to not be out on the bike.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Goodness, this story gets more like a junior high school saga daily. Today, the young mechanic asked me if I had any failures yesterday or today (you can tell they're right on the ball). I told him, "Yes, two failures on the first run yesterday." He asked what they were and said he was going to change more ECUs around. I told him, "Keep your hands off my boat. You've messed it up enough and I am about to make the boarding call."

He didn't like that and walked off in a snit. It just so happened that I had a new Ranger with me at the time (we were discussing how to coordinate his interpretation with running the boat). I could tell I stepped on the mechanic's toes, so after that run I went to the shop to see what I could do to make things right. He said, "It doesn't matter 'cause you aren't gonna be around here much longer. I called my boss and told him that you swore at me."

Well, that was a flat-out lie. I don't care if I get fired because I stand up for a principle, but I'll be damned if some kid is going to lie his way to getting me canned. Fortunately, there was a witness to the conversation, the new Ranger. He said he would "testify" for me... again I nearly laughed... don't think it'll come to that.

When I finished my shift today, I spoke with the guy who is in charge of "everything that moves" for Xanterra. He listened, told me that they are "doing all they can", and did his best to assure me that this situation will be taken care of "as soon as possible, now that he knows the extent of it." Interesting, since I've been briefing my manager daily and he tells me that he sends the information up the line.

I said, "My manager tells me that he has been relating this to you for a month now. Who's not telling me the straight story - you or him?" After a moment of stammering, he assured me that he "cares" and will stay on this.

I'll bet he'll still respect me in the morning, too. ;-)

Oh well, we have the next three days off... maybe they'll get it all fixed up nice by then? Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

I really considered leaving this stupid work stuff out of my posts here, but thought there should be a dated public record.

---------------

It was a beautiful morning, then several small thunderstorms in the afternoon. I had to assure a young Ranger onboard that "yes, we will be fine."

"But, there's lightning!"

I told her, "I'm not going to do anything dangerous; we're fine, and we're going to have a good ride." Well, a bit lumpy south of the cell, but an interesting afternoon.

Best wishes,
Jim (boat captain, negotiator, baby-sitter, and truth-seeker)

Fix it or fire me...

Yesterday was interesting. I refused to take passengers out on the boat with all the unknowns the mechanic had introduced. The assistant manager asked if I'd train another captain (one with previous experience on the boat)... "absolutely." We took the boat out before the first run and had no failures. I offered to ride along on passenger runs as first-mate... "just in case." As expected, on the first passenger cruise, we had two ECU/engine failures. I guided the other captain through it, made notes on what failed and when. On the bright side, there was another experienced captain who could confirm what I have been dealing with this entire season. On the dark side, I have repeatedly been told "Xanterra doesn't care. Don't expect to get anything fixed."

That is very sad, if it is true. I intend to find out... now that the weekend is over, I hope to get through to the manager of Xanterra at Yellowstone. Maybe I'll invite him to bring his family out on the boat? In the meantime, I will run the boat again today... the passengers need the most experience person in dealing with this situation. When the mechanic messes with switching out ECU units indiscriminately, I will again refuse to take passengers out until a failure occurs... I don't fear running the boat; I have concerns about what the failure will take out and I don't want to be a test pilot with passengers onboard. I don't think the managers here understand the difference.

"Fix it or fire me." I let them know that I won't be quiet about this. They don't have the balls to fire me (and they'll also lose the Blonde as front counter/cashier) because one of the managers would have to take over some of the cruises. They won't INSIST that boats get fixed (yes, it's more than just the scenic cruise boat); if they get told "no" from someone at the next level above, they don't push it. I looked my manager in the eye and asked, "Would Xanterra put a bus full of people on these curvy roads with brakes that may or may not work?" (His wife is a bus driver here) He said, "You'd be surprised." I am appalled.

As you'd expect, this puts a damper on the enjoyment of our summer here. I have fun with the the passengers and the Lake Queen is truly a fine boat... it just needs to be PROPERLY repaired by someone who understands the electronics involved. In the meantime, I will go through a daily struggle with how to best deal with this situation.

Before I accepted this job, I was told that the mangers here will support the boat captains. Frankly, I have not found this to be the case. They seem to be the first line of denial. If they won't fight for what's right, I will... to a point.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Drawing the line...

Saturday, June 28

I just got home from work, and I am mad and frustrated. The mechanic changed out ECU units this afternoon, creating a boat with even more problems. When I finished my last run, I found out there was no one at the marina to operate the safety boat in case we had a problem with the Queen. That was the final straw.

I submitted a letter to my boss, letting him know that I will not run the boat in its current condition. It really bothers me to think that people will be inconvenienced and/or disappointed by this decision, but it is a safety matter. The way the company intends to deal with the daily ECU/engine failures is to switch ECU units and hope for more failures to try to figure out which black box is causing the problem. I did not sign on to be a "test pilot", and most certainly not with 40+ passengers on the boat.

Of course, the proper action would have been for the company to get a repair person out from Volvo-Penta with an analyzer, diagnose, and fix the problem. Instead, we have been messing with this for a month now, essentially doing nothing. It has gotten to the point where I feel it isn't safe. Drawing this line may get me fired. I am frustrated that I have been put in this position.

From the beginning, I was told that this job should be fun. It is not fun waiting for the next daily failure. We really love Yellowstone, but that passion isn't enough to overlook potentially dangerous problems with the boat.

1/3...

It's hard to imagine that we are 1/3 of the way through our time at Yellowstone. It has certainly been an interesting experience. Simply having a schedule has reminded me why I've enjoyed being retired. ;-) And working for a big corporation has been eye-opening... we ran our own business for most of our adult lives. When something needed to be done, it got done... no having to "ask permission" and then wait for an answer. That has certainly been frustrating. But, the people we work with in the marina are high caliber. I find it rather amazing that there are that many people willing to work for such a pittance so they can spend the summer in Yellowstone... quality people. Yes, this place is that special.

Yesterday was a first for me: I canceled a trip. When I came in from the first cruise (with my family onboard), I had an ECU failure several hundred yards from the dock... no engine controls on two of the three engines. No steering indicator. I got the boat to the dock, and no one knew. Unfortunately, this happens all too often, and has been most of the season. When I couldn't get one of the engines to restart at the dock, I had to cancel the next trip. I felt bad, because I know this is a highlight for some of our passengers... I really don't want to disappoint anyone. But, my main job is to take care of the passengers. (Sigh)

The mechanics are stymied by this ECU/engine problem. Unfortunately, we haven't taken the next important step: bringing someone qualified from the factory to diagnose and FIX this problem. Too bad, because this is a great boat. This is the type of "corporate" thinking that leaves me shaking my head.

The days are long right now... both in the amount of daylight and the hours we work. In another month, that will take care of itself. In the meantime, my time on the water is very special. Each day is different. I enjoy showing the "heart of Yellowstone" (the lake) to the passengers... some are just out for an activity, others are truly enthralled with the beauty and history that unfolds onboard.

This really is more than just a job for me. I had one of the assistant managers tell me that I care too much. I had to chuckle at that. I told him, "This may be a corporate thing, but you will never make me not care. This place is too special for that." (Sorry about the double negative ;-) )

Yep, I can understand the reasoning of the employees who come back year after year.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Saying Good-bye...

Friday, June 27. Today is our "Monday", the first day of work for us for the next 3 1/2 days. It's also the morning we have to say Good-bye to our daughter and son-in-law. Steph, Dan, and Joan are going out with me on my first cruise this morning. It is a beautiful clear morning - should be beautiful out on the water. Steph is not a "water" person... generally when she comes to visit us in south Texas, we have to guilt her into going out on our boat... usually we can coax her, since we know we will see dolphins. No dolphins here on Yellowstone Lake, but the scenery is magnificent. I am pleased that they will get to see what I do for my "summer job". ;-)

When we get back in from the cruise, Joan will have to go to work in the office, and Steph and Dan will head for home. A sad time for me because of the parting, but we have had a wonderful visit.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Having a great time...


It is an absolute delight having our daughter and son-in-law here... we are spending our days playing tourist, showing them the sights. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake, and all the great wildlife. Steph's goal was to "see a bear"... here's a look at a Momma and baby that we saw on the first evening.

The weather has been cooperative, the crowds easy to deal with, and our "company" delightful. The only thing better than all this pretty stuff to see is being able to share it with the ones we love.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Monday, Monday...

We look forward to Mondays - it's the end of our work week. ;-) It was a busy day at the marina; Joan was busy at the front counter, and I had plenty of passengers on our scenic cruises. Our shift ended around 3:00; we drove to the Lake Lodge to get our daughter and son-in-law's cabin. Along the way, we saw a momma bear and two babies. When Stephanie and Dan arrived, we showed them to their cabin, unloaded their car, and came to our RV for a home cooked meal. On the drive, Steph said that she really wanted to see some bears. She got her wish... we saw 5 bears and spent quite a bit of time watching that same mom with her babies. Steph said it was worth the long drive from Phoenix, just for that. Before calling it a night, we stopped at the Lake General Store for ice cream and some beautiful views of the lake in the dwindling light.

Tomorrow we are off to take the kids around and show them the Yellowstone we enjoy.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

What a difference a day makes...

Everything on the boat worked today. The weather was lovely... some precip threatened, but never materialized... and the water on the lake was surprisingly NOT lumpy. I had the young Ranger girl on one trip, and she acted like a prima donna... the passenger reaction was less than enthusiastic on that trip, but the rest of the cruises were great. One of the assistant managers asked me to read some comment cards that had been turned in... seems the passengers like the way I'm running the cruise. Doesn't mean I won't get myself fired, but I was really pleased to read the nice comments. ;-)

Our daughter and son-in-law will be here tomorrow - I can't wait to see them! And it's a "half day" for us at work tomorrow... only about 7 hours!

The Good and the Bad...

Saturday, June 21.

Like every job, this one has its pluses and minuses. I enjoy the passengers; the lake itself is an amazing place, the scenery is breath-taking. It doesn't get old.

Yesterday I had a young interpreter from the Park Service. She has ridden with me before, and could hardly look at the passengers while she spoke. I tried to give her some guidance, including some prompting. She would talk about a particular feature before we would get to it and then have nothing to say when we were actually there; passengers would lose interest. I spoke to fill some of those gaps. Apparently, that was a bad thing. I can appreciate the time and effort these kids put into learning the subject matter... when it turns into a wrote recital of facts and dates, I can see the passengers drifting off... they came for a great boat ride, some beautiful scenery, the opportunity to see some wildlife, and a bit of entertainment. Today, I was instructed by my boss to let the interpreters talk and make it on their own. Not as interesting for the passengers, but I got it. Most of the interpreters like a bit of give and take, and they will ask me questions or solicit my take on some features. We have Park Service interpreters three trips per day, and our employees do interpretation the other 4 trips. There is certainly a difference in perspective. The interpretation the passengers enjoy most are the ones that involve the them... ask them questions and invite questions; they know how to unfold a story and relate what the people are seeing to the narration. That obviously takes time and experience.

Later in the day, one of the assistant managers came to my boat to point out I boarded passengers 2-3 minutes early. The passengers are told that their cruise boards at 9:15, but our company decided to change that to 9:20. So, the people are left to stand at the dock for that extra 5 minutes. A minor detail to some, but I feel that we shouldn't leave those folks standing. We still depart at the same time, so it's simply a matter of: do they stand at the dock or come aboard the boat and get settled? I explained to the kindly asst. manager that I was trying to take good care of my passengers. Don't tell the people 9:15, if you don't intend to board them until 9:20. All of our printed material and advertising states 9:15. I understand the new policy, I just don't agree with it.

Nitpicking? Depends on your perspective, I suppose.

And the biggie - the boat is a great boat. We have had almost daily issues with an electronic controller that disables shifting and sometimes steering, on one, and sometimes two, engines. It is intermittent and frustrating. I am told to report it when it happens. I do. Daily. I have had to leave the helm on more than one occasion to go back to the engine compartment to manually shut down the engine and reset. Our mechanics are good, but they don't have an analyzer to read the fault codes on these electronics... so, we "wait and see."

I debated whether to write about this here, but I am trying to make this an accurate log of our experiences. It has been said, "The truth will set you free"... that may be the case here. ;-) Human nature being what it is, most people think they do a good job. I know Joan is friendly and helpful at the front counter; she greets people when they come in and treats them the way we like to be treated. I know I am safety-conscious and care that the passengers get the best we can give them. I have brought the boat to the dock with no steering, and an engine out, and the passengers never knew. I am competent, and I care.

We took these jobs with the idea that it would be a fun summer experience. That said, they are still JOBS. We are in the position that we don't need to work, and when nit-picking and inaction become the norm, we will move on. We like the people we work with and don't want to put anyone out.

So, maybe it was an accumulation of situations that came to a head today? We had a saying in our studio: "No bad days." Don't bring problems to the workplace, quickly and competently solve any problems that come up, and above all - take good care of the client. We still try to live that way, but find our desire to give our customers the best service possible sometimes conflicts with the way this large company operates. We won't compromise our integrity, but will try to work within their guidelines. To a point.

In the meantime, our daughter and son-in-law will be here on Monday and we will have three days off to show them the splendor that is Yellowstone. We are excited.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Summer Solstice...

Friday, June 20. The start of our work "week". The Scenic Cruise captains put in long days... we go in around 8:00 am, and it is usually close to 9:00 pm when we have the boat put away and the paperwork done. Yesterday was an absolutely gorgeous day on the lake - clear in the morning with very light wind; over 80 miles visibility. In the afternoon a small rainstorm came up on one trip... with the great viz, it was easy to avoid the worst of the rain, and (surprisingly) very little wind accompanied the precip. I could see a wind line coming towards us on the water, but by then we were already headed in. That weather disappeared quickly, and we had two beautiful evening cruises, including one private cruise where one party had booked the entire boat.

Great way to welcome in summer; today was the Summer Solstice, the longest amount of daylight for the year.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Evicted...


Today was our last day off this week. There was a knock at the door this morning; Bethany, the RV park manager asked, "Can I ask you two to move?" No, not really evicted... there is a tree behind our trailer that is leaning our way. Last week, Joan asked me if I thought it was a problem. "Nahhhhh." Well, apparently Bethany thought it was. She wanted us to move so a tree-cutting crew could come in and chop it down. So, we went to work unhooking all the utilities and getting the trailer ready to move.

We pulled it down a couple sites just long enough for the crew to chop down the tree. Our part took about an hour; their part took less than 15 minutes. And then another hour or so to get things back to where we were. Well, we moved the trailer over just a bit, since when we first arrived, we were dodging snowbanks. Now, we have a bit more room on our patio.

Then it was doing what people do on days off: laundry and cleaning. Yeah, life in the fast lane. We may be living in a vacation area, but the day-to-day stuff still needs to be done. On the bright side, I did get in a motorcycle ride this afternoon. I stopped at the marina to visit with the other Lake Queen captain to see what new squawks (problems) I'd be dealing with in the morning... and there's always something.

While walking down the dock (dressed in my motorcycle leathers), one of the dockhands said, "Hey, Captain Jim, I almost didn't recognize you without your uniform."

"It's just Jim today. See you tomorrow."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Resupply...

Looking at the weather forecasts, today was supposed to be the most chance of precip of our three days off. With our daughter and son-in-law coming to visit next week, we decided that this was the best day for a run to Cody to stock up on groceries.

Living in Yellowstone means you have limited options for staples... there is a General Store at each of the "villages", but they are really equipped for short-term visitors. The nearest Wal-Mart is in Cody, so that's the direction we usually head. It is a beautiful drive out the east entrance and through the Wapiti Valley into Cody. Cody has become a very nice destination in itself, with a variety of stores, shops, and services. We made a visit to Sierra Trading Post, had lunch at a great little Italian restaurant downtown (Adriana's), Wally World, the liquor store, and DQ before heading out. That pretty much covers our essentials. ;-)

We spent $250 at Wal-Mart... it amazes me that Joan is able to find room for all the stuff we come back with. That should last us a couple weeks, so it isn't as bad as it sounds. Diesel is up to $4.79 in the park, $4.59 at Pahaska (just outside the park), so we try to get everything we need in one trip every couple weeks.

It turned out to be a beautiful day... warmer in Cody (since they are at about 5,000 feet, as opposed to our 7,800). It was the first time since we've been here that we wore shorts!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Playing tourists...

Some observations about driving around Yellowstone: this place is big and the speed limit everywhere is 45 mph (less in some areas). I am astounded by the number of people who try to push the speed limit... passing on a solid yellow line and over-driving the conditions. The roads are all two lane, lots of hills and curves, wildlife galore which causes people to abandon their normal driving skills. We frequently see cars stopped on the road with all four doors open, the people trying to sneak up on animals. There are laws on how close you can come to the animals: 100 yards for most of the animals, 300 yards for bears and wolves. Yet, we see people getting WAY closer than that to bison, elk, moose, etc. We have a name for these people: morons. Besides the traffic jams they create, they are endangering themselves. There are pull-outs along the roads, but noooooooo - they stop IN the road. You can see and photograph bison elk, and moose from the safety of the car, but they think these are docile animals... every year dozens of these morons get too close and are injured by the animals. It brings real meaning to the term "thinning the herd." ;-)

Many people believe you can "do" Yellowstone in a day - see Old Faithful, photograph a bear, and move on. They are missing what this place is all about. The Park Service did something exceptional when they implemented their "keep it natural" plan. Rules were put in place to protect the wildlife and natural features of this special place. Roads and buildings make up less than 1% of Yellowstone... in order to see the amazing diversity here, you have to get out of your vehicle and hike around. Yellowstone is much more than geysers... it is waterfalls, canyons, mountains, streams, rivers, forests, the largest alpine lake in North America, rolling hills and valleys, fly fishing, 60% of the thermal activity in the world, abundant wildlife... over 2.2 million acres. There is a reason it was set aside 137 years ago as the first National Park in the world. To really experience it, you need to get out in it. You can't "do" it in a day... or a week... or even a season.

Rush through this park, and you cheat yourself. There are many beautiful places around the world, but none other that offer so much diversity in one place... granted, one very large place.

Today was a day off for us, and we played tourist... took the motorcycle on a loop around the park, stopped for lunch at Canyon Village, drove over the continental divide several times, checked in on the progress of the new Old Faithful Visitors Center, stopped by the lake for ice cream, photographed some wildlife, dodged some of those cars mentioned above, and just had a wonderful, relaxing day off. The roads here are great for motorcycling: sweeping curves, hills, spectacular views... you just have to stay alert for... um... road hazards. ;-)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Half day...

When we were still working in "the real world", we used to joke about working half days... only 12 hours most days. Our schedule here is considered 3 1/2 on, 3 1/2 off, and today was one of those half days: we went in before 8:00 am and got off just after 3:00 pm. 12 - 13 hour days are not uncommon on our 3 on.

Today was pretty nice - made it into the 60s. I have been anxious to ride our new motorcycle around, and Mother Nature was finally cooperative today. We took a short ride north to Canyon Village, the Visitors Center north of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone... along the way we saw bison, a moose, white pelicans... and a graying sky. Coming back home, we got rained on. The new motorcycle is considered a "dual purpose", but is mostly a road bike; it was very confidence inspiring on the wet roads. I can see that it is going to be a lot of fun here.

The rain was short-lived, and the ride was just what we needed.

Here's an example of changing perspectives: this may be the first night since we've been here (4 weeks now) that isn't supposed to be below freezing... we are going to leave our hose hooked up! Seems odd that that is noteworthy. But, living in an RV, these things need to be considered. I am looking forward to the first night we don't have to run heat... at this elevation, I'm not sure that will happen.
Things have "warmed" here in Yellowstone... that's in quotes because it's a very relative term... made it to the low 60s yesterday, and there's been 3 days of beautiful VFR weather.

I brought the boat in from my last run last night, with a thunderstorm converging on the marina... almost made the dock before the gust front hit, switching the winds from 10 on the dock to over 30 off the dock! Made for an interesting arrival. Got a round of applause from the 40 passengers onboard... then put the boat to bed... put an extra line on... and was treated to a full rainbow right over the marina.

Nice to have 900+ horsepower when the winds turn against you. (and a fresh pair of underwear)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day...

Happy Father's Day to those that are. My day started out in a lovely way, with a phone call from our little girl (only 36 years old). I've been fortunate that most years we've been able to be with her on this day, but she and her husband are coming to visit us here in Yellowstone next week. Dan (our Son-in-law) hasn't been here before, and we are excited to show them around so they can see what it is about Yellowstone that made us take a time-out from our retirement.

Yesterday was a beautiful day on the lake - the visibility was unlimited and it actually felt warm in the boat... first time I needed to turn on the vent fans in the boat. We had an ECU problem on the boat on the first run, and I had to have the young first-mate onboard come to the helm and hold the wheel while I went to the engine room and shut down an engine manually so I could restart the computer that runs the "fly by wire" on the throttles. The Ranger kept talking, the passengers didn't seem disturbed, it only took me a couple moments, and we went on with our cruise. The boat is impressive, but like any computer, occasionally it needs to be re-booted... I prefer that it doesn't happen during a cruise, though.

All went smooth after that, and our passengers seem to enjoy the views and the different interpretors we have onboard. I know I enjoy listening to the different perspectives. Besides the scenery, we saw bald eagles on a couple of our trips... that never gets old.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Superstitious?

I am generally not a superstitious guy... but yesterday was Friday the 13th. It was a long day at work - I did 7 cruises then took the boat to the shop dock for some maintenance.

But what a glorious day: the sun was shining and it made it up to the 50s! (My how my perspective has changed, after all that snow the last two weeks). You could see every mountain ringing the lake, including Mt. Washburn to the north and the Tetons to the south... over 80 miles apart.

On one of the afternoon trips, while in the middle of the lake, the interpreter I had onboard said, "Look, a fire!" I gotta tell you, that got my attention! After my head snapped back, I could see that she was pointing to the north - a plume of smoke behind the Lake Yellowstone Hotel. I immediately called it in on the radio, giving location and wind. By the time we were headed back north on that trip, the plume of smoke was greatly diminished. Later that afternoon, we heard that the fire had been intentionally set on one of the hiking trails... about 1/4 mile from employee dorms in that area. I will never understand the nature of a person who could do something like this. Fortunately, the fire was quickly extinguished.

The rest of the day was uneventful, but beautiful. It was a treat to see how the light changes the beautiful views as the sun made its run from east to west.

Best wishes,
Jim B.

Looking forward to lots more... knock on wood. ;-)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Shining orb in the sky...

For the first time in many days, we woke up to... no new snow! It was plenty cold, about 21º, but we didn't have to walk to the comfort station in snow and slush... just some slippery ice where water runs across the road.

If the weather weasels are right (and that'll be a change), it is supposed to be mostly sunny today, with only a 20% chance of precip. Running the cruise with unlimited visibility will be a new experience for me this season. ;-)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Never ending....

We woke up this morning to 3-4 more inches of the white stuff. The forecast for today: high of 37º, 80% chance of rain or snow. I was visiting with a guy from West Yellowstone this morning and he said, "I've lived here for years and never seen it snow like this, this late in the season. This is crazy."

Yeah, that about describes it.

Today is supposed to be a day off, but there is a mandatory safety meeting (spill training) at 8:00 this morning. I've got my longjohns on and I'm ready to stand outside and be "trained."

The weekend forecast is calling for improving weather. We're sure hoping so. There is some hiking and motorcycle riding to be done on our next set of days off. ;-)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Karma...

A couple of my northern boating buddies implied that all the snow we've been getting (over 6" just today) is because of posting tropical images of our travels the past few winters. Karma. Of course, I deny that that I ever posted photos of dolphins, beaches, and sunsets as any kind of a gloat directed towards my frozen northland buddies.

There is weird weather happening all over the country currently. Local folks tell me that this is the most protracted winter in Yellowstone in 15 years. I can't speak to that, but I can tell you that I am ready for some sunshine and warmth. We moved south to get away from the cold and snow. Karma... indeed.

We drove around a bit, and along the way we stopped to capture this image of a buffalo in the snow...

Hopefully, there is no karma involved here - we had lunch at the Lake Lodge Dining Room, and I had bison stew!

The Lake Lodge Dining Room provides casual dining with a great view and rustic atmosphere. Nice place to spend some quiet time on our day off; we went after the lunch rush and had a quiet, relaxed time.

Don't believe it...

A fellow on a sailing forum where I participate lives near Yellowstone. He told me that June 10th is the "magic date"... after that time, we should be above freezing at night and the snow should be behind us... flowers would bloom... birds would sing... and all would be warm in this high elevation world.

Lies, more lies, and damn lies!

Here's a look out our window on Wednesday, June 11th...


Everybody sing: "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow..."

It was clear and cold when we went to bed last night; I thought the snow might miss us. I am so silly.

Today is a day off for us; Joan made cinnamon rolls, and we're toasty in our RV with the heat turned up. It was 23º when I got up this morning, but the sun is out and it's already up to a balmy 28º at 8:00. I may just sit around and read this morning... now, where did I put that copy of "The Shining"?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A day off...

We are now in our regular cycle of time on/time off. I worked the last 8 days straight, and was ready for some time off.

We woke up to a slushy snow this morning, complimented by cold winds. It's June 10th, for goodness sake! I'm beginning to think we are in the land that summer forgot.

The other captain on the Queen shot these photos a few days ago... shows what I've been dealing with for weather.

Captain Jim at the helm.








Docking in the snow. Notice the guy standing next to me with the squeegee - he is clearing the window so I can see out. With the cold and snow outside, it was fogging faster than the defrosters could keep up.






That's the dockhand, waiting to tie off the stern... in the snow. You can see on the dock how much snow fell in the one hour that the boat was out.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Getting on schedule

We are supposed to be working 3 1/2 on, 3 1/2 off; I have worked the last 8 days straight. Today was a half day for me... well, kinda - I got off around 3:00. I did three cruise runs today, and the visibility was excellent. Nice people onboard, and the boat was mostly full. It was nice to be able to see the mountains all around the Lake. On one run, we were able to see from Mt. Washburn to the Tetons... that view didn't last long.

The Lake Lodge is opening tomorrow, and we participated in their shake-down for their cafeteria tonight. For the cost of a normal employee meal, we were able to get whatever we wanted. It was a good deal, and the food was good. In all the times we've been to Yellowstone over the years, we've never been inside the Lake Lodge... beautiful place; rustic, but classy. This shakedown allowed their food service staff to do a practice run before opening to customers tomorrow. After the meal, we had a marina staff meeting by the fireplace in the lobby area.

We are looking forward to the next 3 days off; hopefully the weather will cooperate and we can spend some time exploring the park.

Sunday, June 8, 2008



The dockhands didn't have a lot to do today...


I ran 5 cruises today. We had some good weather, we had some low visibility. I'm looking forward to some sunshine, but the passengers have been understanding. I altered the route several times today, to go where the weather was more favorable. Yellowstone Lake is the largest alpine lake in the lower 48, with very changable weather systems that move through quickly. You know the old saying, "Don't like the weather? Wait 5 minutes" Well, that is very true at Yellowstone.

Winter Wonderland...


Yeah, on June 7th. The snow (and snow squalls) came and went all day. I ran 6 cruises today, 4 of them with good visibility, 1 OK, and 1 that started good and then smacked us with a snow squall. Visibility went from a over a mile to less than 100 feet in seconds. We were near Stevenson Island at the time, so I backed the boat off into deeper water, scrapped the part of the trip that goes around the south end of the island (no point in taking passengers where they can't see AND have rough water), and headed back to the marina.

During the times of good visibility, the scenery is spectacular.

Joan shot these photos around the marina today...