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August 4, 2000

 

Hello from the High Sierra.

We're in Yosemite National Park. And still, there is no perfect boat - not for us. We're homeless, jobless and "on the road" again. Right now, I'm sitting in our tent trailer typing this on the computer. It, thankfully, runs on battery power. It is very dark outside, and the Coleman lantern provides enough light so that I can see the keys beneath the condensation of my breath. There was thunder and lightening today, and the tent windows, zipped up to keep out rain, are now holding out the chill mountain breeze. Ellen's gone to a dance recital for her niece at Disneyland, and I'm cooking, cleaning and sleeping alone for four days. It's cold at night with the temps in the low 40's. I wish she'd return. The campers next door gave some of their spaghetti dinner to me, so I ate a decent meal tonight. Nice people but they're very noisy, sounding like old friends getting together again. Nevertheless, at 7200 feet elevation in awesome Yosemite at Bridleveil Campground, I feel good.

 

Located high on the south rim of the valley, this campground is an old favorite with us. Basically, I regard all Yosemite as my church. The ancient Greeks believed that the universe was made of substance and form. God gave form to substance, but substance was there in the universe all the time. I'm sure (?) that's what was done in Yosemite, for water, earth's crust and air have been made into a spectacular form. Since my father first took me here in 1949, I've covered a good portion of it from backpacking in the high country to staying at the Awahnee Hotel (once). As a place for me to live, a life in Yosemite competes with a life on the water. I think I'd live here if I were allowed. This place still renews my spirit, and I very well need that because this wandering tires me. It's high time to find a good boat and get back to the water. A good friend of mine said while we were discussing the world's best 83 year old sailor, "Get off the land, you'll feel better."

 

Last month we were in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. It's nice, but it's not as exquisite as Yosemite. The beauty of Yosemite is much more dramatic. Notably, Kings Canyon had its own drama. Large, stocky, omnivorous mammals appeared and went through our camp four times in four days. Bear number 34, a Black Bear, was the first. I know it was number 34 because I saw his ear tag and his radio collar. Number 34 woke us up at about 2 AM, standing front paws on the stove and hind paws in the sink of our tent trailer's galley. The weight of this bear very noticeably shook the tent trailer. The ice chest, the stove and the sink are in one unit that pulls to the outside of the camper body resting one end on the camper and the other end on a support leg. So there was the bear, substance and form as Aristotle said, three feet from the zippered door of our canvas shelter, our citadel. Number 34 didn't back up as I pushed my head and shoulders out of the tent's half zippered door. I lit the propane lantern and dangled it a foot from his nose, swinging it from side to side. Bear 34 didn't back up. As I remember, the propane lantern had scared a bear from our camp site 28 years ago. Not this time, and not this bear. There he stood tagged, numbered and radioing out his position. Dark beady eyes staring straight at me, fur fanning out around his face, turned up muzzle, black nose twitching, long black claws gripping the edge of my stove, HE was looking for high octane human food.

 

One ear drooped because it was stapled with a red plastic tag showing his white numerical badge. Ellen was standing behind me. She had remembered that the park newspaper had advised banging pots and pans during bear confrontations. This supposedly scares the bear. Well, I then came to hear the sound of banging pot metal a foot below my butt. I felt safe, for nothing could attack from the rear. The bear took off on all fours ... but not for good. The next day the ranger said that this confrontation was a bad sign because number 34 has probably lost his fear of humans. I agreed. He was tagged and collared because he has acted somewhat aggressively before. Sort of a three strikes and you're out rule for park bears, and ol' 34 has had two.

 

Number C99 came through our site while we were in our low slung camp chairs having morning coffee. It was broad daylight with sun filtering through the pines. Ellen looked up over the edge of her newspaper saying, "There is bear fur!" Sighting across the rough camp table top you could easily see a ridge of fur, the humped back of a Black Bear. Sure enough, C99 was there in our bear box lifting a package of hamburger buns. Our shouting and hand waving scared C99 away - about 200 yards away. There he sat down and finished the package of buns. Later that day ol' 34 returned for another try still flaunting his badge and radio. I first noticed his now familiar form standing on top of our camp table. Our neighboring campers yelled "Bear in camp, bear coming." I said "bear already here" and ol' 34 was scared off again by additional pot banging, yelling and rock throwing. The very last bear incident was what I'd call a "low pass" by an unknown bear, no tag and no collar. He scared easily and ran to the river where he swam away.

 

Our stay continued (why?) and we roamed the trails on day hikes. Now, on our "last day" - although we did not intend it to be our last day - it became remarkably cold around dinner time. Before going to bed we noticed a slight drizzle. No problem. We pulled our camp gear under the awning, stored our food in the bear box, zipped the tent closed and slid into our sleeping bag. The next morning we awoke to heavier rain which quickly turned to about 1.5 inches of snow. Hey, I'm retired; I have no wish to put up with this stuff. We folded up the tent trailer and left amidst reports of road closure. ON to Yosemite!

 

In Yosemite, the weather has been much better, but the bears remain the same. Our truck was parked in the orchard parking lot near Camp Curry on the valley floor. We stayed in one of their cabins for a few days. One morning we were ready to take a day hike and went out to the truck for some gear. The locked back door of the camper shell was open wide exposing all our belongings. There were no scratches on the door, and it looked like a clean entry, like a human, a thief, would do. However, none of our "valuables" were gone. We reported, dutyfully, to the park ranger as she looked at our truck door with the lock cleanly bent out of shape. She felt the top of one box containing our computer stuff. To me, it looked untouched. "See that?" she said. "See that, that's bear snot. A bear sniffed that box and didn't find anything!" I let her touch the box top. "These little scratches in the plastic liner, bear did that too. Nope! A human didn't do this." I assured her our food was in a nearby, locked bear box fearing a citation and a bad conduct record in Yosemite. I filled out an official NPS bear report, and she left. The bears have learned - probably since the time James Hutchings led the first tourists to Yosemite in 1851 - to associate people with "good food". Today they associate cars with coolers and coolers with "good food". Mother bears first teach their young cubs to climb trees for safety. Then, mother bears teach their young something they have all aptly learned - namely to peel open the door of a Honda and to get to the cooler inside. This behavior is reinforced over a hundred times each summer when tourists leave coolers exposed in their cars - or containers looking like coolers or containers of stuff that smell like the stuff in coolers.

 

That encounter was on the valley floor. We're now on the upper rim in Bridleveil Campground about a mile from Peregoy Meadow. We were advised by a park official that a mother bear was sighted in the meadow with two cubs. She was estimated to be around 450 pounds and has reddish brown fur and could easily peel the door off our Ford F150 pickup. Black bears can have reddish brown fur, brown fur, blond fur and black fur. I tell you, it doesn't make any difference. A park authority advised us, DON'T EVER get between a mother bear and her cubs. DON'T beat pans to make noise, don't yell, don't raise your arms and don't try to look bold. SLOWLY GO AWAY. I haven't seen mama or the cubs yet - but I'm looking.

 

What does this have to do with sailing the coast of Maine? My only answer is that this is a narrative of just what can happen and where you might wind up if you uphold a life long dream. A dream of cruising a romantic old sailboat in your golden years. It certainly won't end here, I hasten to say. My excuse for the delay in finding a home is that I admire and want a sailboat home... designed as sailboats used to be, not as to what they have become. One thing I've learned is that I don't like houses, and I've seen a lot of them in the last year. No offense to those gracious people who let us stay in their homes.

 

I offered to buy a wood boat called "Brushfire". I mentioned this a couple of months ago. The boat deal fell apart. The owner donated the boat to the California Maritime Academy, and I couldn't make a deal with them. Maybe the owner was trying to beat the tax man. Maybe the Maritime Academy wanted to keep the boat for their use. Then, there was "Love of Liberty", a 49 foot cutter made of fiberglass ... yes plastic, polymers, carcinogens, chemicals leaching from the bilge, synthetic boat material. I have never seen a truly beautiful fiberglass boat, but this one does have a certain beauty and smooth lines. She has teak decks and a clipper bow and a perfect cockpit layout. The cabin top extends aft past the companionway to provide a cockpit cuddy. This makes a neat place to get out of the wind. There's no dodger to block the helmsperson's view. The owner said NO to my offer. I have to think about having to have this boat. If I spend all my money on the perfect boat, I may be eating dog food when I'm eighty. There are three boats in the San Diego area that we'll see next week, and there's two in Rhode Island. One of those two, a Little Harbor 42, sounds perfect. I like the interior layout, and it has features that would make sailing easy for an old man. That boat, however, would require a trip east and would require trucking to the West Coast.

As Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh said, "Be Realistic: Plan for a miracle."

With warm regards,

Terry and Ellen

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