Navigating at Sea: Rules of the Road

At sea, this is how another boat looks at night.

Note: The following is taken in part from my memoir, Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific.

Operating a boat safely isn’t as easy as it might look. Before we embarked on our 13,000- mile journey aboard our Bristol 40, Impunity, Bruce insisted I take Coast Guard Auxiliary boating safety courses. I took several series of classes on boating safety, sailing skills, seamanship, and shoreline navigation. In addition, we had reference guides and nearly 200 charts on board.

Many books have been written on navigation rules of the road, and the reason for it all is safety. On the water, there are no visible traffic signals or lanes to use as guides. When you come upon another vessel, who has the right of way? How can you tell?

Like any specialty, the boating world has its own terminology. Such common words as right, left, front of a boat, back of a boat have nautical terminology (starboard, port, bow, stern). Even something as common as rope has another name: line. I could go on and on: a ceiling is overhead; wall is bulkhead, closet is locker, windows are port lights. There’s no sense arguing about it, it just is. Ocean travel is another world and if you’re going to be a part of it, you need to know the language.

Navigation rules to be observed:

●The first rule is to always have a proper lookout, someone on watch. We maintained a 24-hour watch system of 4-hours on, 4-hours off. That meant that at sea we never got more than 4 hours sleep. It also meant that our boat was in safe hands at all times.

● Boaters must have the ability to determine risk of collision. Use everything you’ve got: eyes, ears, radar, radio.

● Know how to read ships lights for night time visibility.
– Different types of ships— tugboat, fishing boat, cargo vessels, sailboats— have different light configurations. Aboard Impunity we had a handy chart we used for quick reference when we didn’t recognize another boat’s light configuration. Lights determine the type of vessel.

● International rules dictate that when underway all vessels must display prescribed lights.
– All boats must have sidelights: a green light on the starboard side; a red light on the port side.
– All boats must have a sternlight.
– All power boats and sailboats over 65-feet must have a masthead light, or lights, depending on the type of boat, placed over the center of the vessel.

● Know how to determine which direction a ship is sailing
– If you see a green light, the ship is passing from port to starboard (left to right).
– If you see a red light, the ship is passing from starboard to port (right to left).
– If you see both green and red lights, the ship is coming toward you and you are likely on a collision course.
– If you see only a white sternlight, the ship is sailing away from you.

There are many more “light” rules for various types of boats, but these are the basics that every boater should know.

● Know responsibilities between vessels and which vessel must give-way in an approach situation
– Learn the duties of the “burdened” (or give-way) vessel
– Learn the duties of the “privileged” (or stand-on) vessel

● Learn what to do when approaching buoys and markers

If you don’t know the rules of the road, you’re putting yourself and other vessels in danger. Knowing and following the Rules of the Road is not difficult. It is smart, courteous, and safe. And it’s the law.


Book Review: Bone Horses

Lesley Poling-Kempes’ Bone Horses captured my rapt attention with vivid scenes of New Mexico’s high desert country, a compelling blend of people, and a mystery line that weaves its way through folk lore and gritty realism. It’s no surprise that the novel is the recipient of four literary awards.

New York school teacher Charlotte Lambert is a serious, cautious woman, not inclined toward last-minute or brash actions. After attending a conference in Sante Fe, she decides to see the place where many years before her beloved late grandfather, a paleontologist, discovered an important fossil site. It is also the place of her mother’s sudden, violent death. She rents a car, assuring herself that she can visit the site near the dusty little town of Agua Dulce, return to the hotel for the final conference banquet, then catch her flight home the next morning.

The area Charlotte seeks is remote, raw wilderness, with heat so intense she can hardly breathe. Attempting to shoo a raven from her windshield, she hits a rock, high- centering the car. She has no choice but to start walking, walking to a new life with people of a wide mix of Hispanic, Apache, Anglo and combinations of all three, people who have their own mysteries. Some are welcoming, some bear grudges.

Charlotte learns about her mother’s death and the mystery surrounding it. She learns the ways of loyalty that knit together an extended family, land, and ancestors. She finds romance and contentment. But she also finds fear when old truths surface.

Bone Horses is a complex, magical mystery, full of wisdom and legends. Lesley Poling-Kempes has crafted a memorable, soul-searching story.

To learn more about the author, visit

View at the Top: Bora Bora

A ways to go: hiking Mount Otemanu in Bora Bora

Note: The following is taken in part from my memoir, Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific.

Bora Bora was one of the highlights of our South Pacific cruise aboard Impunity, our Bristol-40. Bora Bora is as beautiful as postcards describe. The ocean couldn’t be bluer, the hills lush and green. Besides the main island of Bora Bora, there are several small uninhabited islands within the reef.

After we cleared customs, we headed out to the secluded little island of Toopua and Bruce dropped anchor in 35 feet of water. The clear turquoise water allowed us to easily see the bottom. We rowed ashore in our dingy to a white sandy beach lined with coconut palms. Although no one lived on the island, there was a small copra harvesting operation. Coconuts were collected, split open, the meat pried out and placed on a raised platform shaded by a tarp. Later, it would be bagged and shipped off to be squeezed into coconut oil, mostly for cooking and cosmetics.

In addition to coconut palms, there were orange trees and what we learned were vanilla plants.

Although we loved “our” little island of Toopua, there were no roads and it was quite heavily forested. Occasionally, we would sail back to Vaitape, on the Island of Bora Bora to shop. We longed to get out and really walk, but found the hiking in Viatape frustrating. The village had streets, but they seemed to service only commercial buildings or private housing. We couldn’t find a way out of town without going through people’s private yards.

When we first arrived in French Polynesia at the Marquesas Islands, we were required to post bonds totaling $1,700. We would soon leave Bora Bora, and since that was our last French Polynesian landfall, we would redeem our bonds. While having our bonds refunded with the bank official, we asked how we could hike without going through private property. That next weekend, he and a group of kids and a few teachers were going to hike Mount Otemanu and he invited us to join them. “Tell your friends,” the banker said. “All are welcome. Bring your lunch and lots of water to drink.”

We spread the word among the yachties and several joined us. Our instructions were to meet him in front of the bank at eight the next morning, a Saturday. When we arrived, about thirty 12- to 14-year old kids, all with palm tree saplings in backpacks, four teachers carrying shovels, and our banker had gathered. As we headed out, we crossed in back of what looked like private property. We were impressed that many of the hikers, including the banker, were barefoot.

Almost immediately, the hike went nearly straight up. We followed a path, but much of the time we used vines and small trees to pull ourselves up. At times, our French banker positioned himself at strategic places to help people over particularly rough spots. I admired the stamina of those kids carrying trees.

As the trail wound up the mountain, it often gave us a view of the harbor. Our 40-foot boat appeared to be a dot in the water from this vantage. The different depths of water as it covered coral reefs dazzled us in shades of blues and greens.

When we stopped to rest, we perched on the steep hill. I didn’t find it restful hanging on to something so I didn’t slide back down the mountain, or pitch off its steep sides.

The hike up took about three grueling hours. Near the 2,379-foot top, the kids and teachers planted the coconut palm trees. The theory was that a palm tree planted at the top of the mountain would shed coconuts that would roll down the hill to start new trees. Their purpose was to avoid erosion and to replace trees that had died.

We ate our lunches and then the group more or less disbursed. The teachers and banker took the kids back down and we left as we felt like it. I found the trip down far more daunting than going up. To look down those steep hills and descend into a void was far more challenging than clawing my way up.

Hiking Mount Otemanu with these local people, though a tough challenge, was a memorable, broadening experience. And I could feel it in my muscles in the sailing days to come!

Book Review: Barren, Wild and Worthless: Living in the Chihauhuan Desert

No one can bring a barren desert alive like Susan J. Tweit. But what appears to be a barren wasteland isn’t. In Barren, Wild and Worthless: Living in the Chihuahuan Desert, Tweit explains in fascinating detail what appears to be a worthless expanse, really is vibrant with all manner of life. But you have to know what to look for and when you’re apt to see it.

North America’s largest desert, the Chihuahuan spreads 175,000 square miles in northern Mexico and southwest United States. Most of the Chihuanhuan Desert is in Mexico with fingers reaching into Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Although the desert is not known for its beauty, when observed close up, magic is revealed. A variety of birds flit from creosote bush to bush, jackrabbits seek succulent plants, wildflowers and cactus bloom into magnificence with the slightest bit of rain. In the cool of the night, many desert inhabitants come to life. Bats, owls, scorpions, termites, snakes, rats and mice, to name only a few, scurry around prowling for food. Plants, too, adjust to desert harshness with blazing hot days and freezing cold nights, but will eventually show their splendor.

The author describes an intriguing little amphibian, the spadefoot toad, that remains underground for long periods of time, surfacing when it rains, and collecting moisture through its skin.

Educated as a botanist, Susan J. Tweit views the desert scientifically. Tweit, her husband, who taught at New Mexico State University, and daughter lived in Las Cruces, New Mexico while writing this book. Her first impression was disappointment in their bleak surroundings, but she soon began looking closer and learning about her new home.

The Chihuahuan Desert wasn’t always like it is today. Humans have changed the landscape with their large ranches and overgrazing cattle, beaver trapping, diverting water for farm crops, and grizzlies hunted to extinction. Tweit emphasis the importance of cooperating with nature, respecting the land, and taking only what is needed. Cooperation instead of competition benefits both man and nature.

Barren, Wild and Worthless gave me a lot to think about. I’ll view so-called wasteland differently and treat it with more respect. The book also gave me some chuckles, with the author’s view on the desert’s inhabitants and their means of survival.

To learn more about the author, visit

Our Little Tagalong

Note: The following is taken in part from my memoir, Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific.

On the first day out of Bora Bora, when checking the jib and looking over the bow, Bruce noticed we had a little tagalong, a pilot fish. A beautiful little fish, silver with dark vertical stripes, the pilot fish was about 12 inches long. Impunity was scooting right along at 7 knots and the little fellow had no trouble keeping up.

Pilot fish normally congregate around sharks, rays, and sea turtles. Sharks, particularly the oceanic whitetip, are the pilot fish’s most common and advantageous companion. The ocean can be a perilous place for small fish with hungry predators lurking to strike the most vulnerable. For protection, many small fish travel in large schools, but the pilot fish has made a reciprocal partnership by offering a unique service: keeping the sharks free of harmful parasites and cleaning up bits of excess food. The pilot fish apparently knows that when it comes to making powerful friends, nothing beats the shark and the assurance of safe passage.

There is such trust between them that pilot fish are even known to enter their sharks’ mouths to nibble away food debris. It is extremely rare that a shark will eat a pilot fish—there seems to be a working bond between them.

Pilot fish are also known to swim along with boats and ships. Our little tagalong was probably feeding off Impunity’s “jaw” or hull. We enjoyed his company for four days.


Book Review: A Home in America: A Volga German Story

A Home in America: A Volga German Story by Eunice Boeve, though listed as a Children’s/Young Adult book, would be of interest to readers of all ages. This work of fiction that takes place in 1892 captivated me as I learned about a whole segment of people I hadn’t previously known.

Although the book is primarily about the Mueller family as seen through the eyes of Eva Maria, age twelve, it delves into the Volga German people who, in the mid-1700’s, settled in Russia’s Volga River area to escape war-torn Germany and the unreasonable demands of the ruling class. Contrary to promises made to them by Russia, the Volga River area was devoid of houses, horses or plows. But there was land, and the Germans carved out a life on the Russian plains. They remained staunchly German, did not speak the Russian language, did not intermarry, and clung to their own customs and faith.

When Russia began imposing mandatory military service on all males between the ages of sixteen and forty-five, Eva’s parents made the decision to emigrate to America. If they remained in Russia, her father and older brother would likely be conscripted into a service for which they felt no loyalty.

Now in 1892, the family— father, stepmother, two older brothers, a baby sister, and Eva — is leaving the only home they have ever known. One of Eva’s concerns is leaving her great-grandmother, the woman who was like a mother to her, since her real mother passed away giving birth to Eva. But her great-grandmother is 92, blind and frail.

They have a cousin in America, in Kansas, and he helps them financially and promises to assist them when they arrive.

Their journey to the Baltic Sea is a grueling series of crowded, dirty trains and finally the extreme discomforts of riding third class in the bowels of a ship bound for America. Arriving in New York, they endure the immigration procedures at Ellis Island, and finally take another train to Kansas where they are welcomed by their cousin.

The rest of the story concentrates on their first year in America, living on a farm near Herzog, Kansas, a Volga-German community with other predominately Volga residents. The newcomers are challenged with the new language and new customs.

A Home in America is a heart-warming story with the strong loyalty of family uppermost. I gained renewed respect for America’s early settlers and with the importance of working together for a common good.

Tapa Cloth: A South Pacific Treasure

Note: The following is taken in part from my memoir, Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific.

We first saw tapa at the Pago Pago market where decorative pieces were sold. Most tourists bought them for wall hangings, but for South Pacific Islanders tapa has many more uses.

Tapa is a barkcloth made in many of the South Pacific islands, primarily in Tonga, Samoa and Fiji, but many other islands, too, including Hawaii. In olden times it was often used as clothing, but nowadays it is highly prized for its decorative value and is often found hung on walls or as room dividers. Tapa is a highly prized gift at events such as marriages and funerals.

Tapa comes from the bark of the mulberry tree. The bark is stripped in sections about hand-wide and person-long. The inner bark is stripped away from the outer bark and the outer bark discarded. The inner bark is dried in the sun before being soaked in water. Then the bark is beaten with wooden mallets and the strips flattened and layered using a glue made from tapioca flour or potato starch, and the painting and design process begins.

The woman in this picture is shown designing a piece of tapa. At the time we thought she was using charcoal, but after doing more research, I now think it was probably brown paint made from the koka tree.

In Tonga we often saw people, mostly elders, with tapa around their waste and down to nearly their ankles. It didn’t look like a comfortable garment to us, but we learned it was a traditional sign of respect and worn when attending important gatherings.

People in the South Pacific take tapa very seriously. It is to be treasured.

Book Review: Dolet

Author Florence Byham Weinburg has created a work of fiction based on the actual life of Etienne Dolet, a French scholar, translator and printer, filling in the gaps of the historical record as plausibly as possible. Dolet is a remarkable, thoroughly researched novel.

The novel begins in Toulouse, France with Dolet witnessing the horrific sight of his friend, charged with heresy, being burned at the stake.

Etienne Dolet, born 1509 in Orleans, France, educated under a series of scholars and later as a university law student, was known for his extensive Latin knowledge and writings. His witty and often cutting political remarks resulted in many enemies, though he also had powerful friends. He often suddenly left an area as a wanted man, or at least under grave suspicion. Often protected and financially supported by friends, he found employment using his extensive knowledge and oratory proficiency.

Dolet became a skilled printer, but his own books were criticized by the Catholic Church for their content. Dolet defends his position believing that his writing represented the true message of Christianity.

During his lifetime, Dolet spent a considerable amount of time in prison either defending himself against a trumped-up murder charge, which was actually self-defense, or because of suspicion by the French Inquisition that he was an atheist, charges made more serious because of his published books. Dolet stood fast on his efforts to reform abuses of the Church, not destroy her. He died a tragic death in 1546 on his 37th birthday.

Dolet is a fascinating read. Florence Byham Weinburg’s research is impressive as she follows the short life and times of this controversial figure. To learn more about the author, visit

iFly: Achieving Terminal Velocity

Our family looked forward with anticipation to our iFLY Indoor Skydiving date. There would be ten of us, a “party package.” The closest iFLY facility was iFLY Seattle, which really is in Tukwila, by Southcenter Mall.

We all arrived at the appointed time, one hour before flight time. We checked in individually at computer terminals. At that time we declared our fitness and our understanding of the health restrictions. For instance, the weight limit is 300 pounds, and people with histories of heart issues, back injuries or shoulder dislocations should not attempt this sport.

After check-in, we watched the previous group, a valuable experience. We gathered around the glass-encased flight chamber, a vertical wind tunnel. The tunnel has fans at the top to draw air through the flight chamber. The air is then pushed back down the sides through return air towers and repeatedly pushed through the flight chamber. The result is a smooth column of air that enables flight.

According to iFly’s website: “The invention of modern wind tunnels has given skydivers a consistent and practical way to develop and hone skills that usually require jumping from a plane. Additionally, the increase in availability of wind tunnels has created a whole new genre of sport: bodyflight. It is one of the most exciting and fastest growing sports in the world.”

We were all beginners, but the instructors at iFly can train people interested in bodyflight to pursue the sport and even go into competition.

As we watched, I realized it was nothing like I expected it to be. I had envisioned us all flying around a room. But it was clear that an instructor needs to be with you at all times, and he takes one only person at a time. Further, I expected to keep my body in a straight horizontal line, but as I watched, I saw that participants arched their body to form sort of a “V.” I could see why people with back problems might want to avoid this sport.

After watching the previous class, we were ushered into a classroom and briefed on what we should expect. Our instructor David went over hand signals, maneuvers, and explained the equipment we would use.

I was amazed with the amount of gear. We were instructed how to insert earplugs. Flight suits were furnished, equipped with “handles” for the instructor to grab. We wore our own closed-toe shoes. Goggles were adjusted to our faces, then helmets issued to protect our heads. I wondered how many people “bailed out” at this stage. We all hung in there, game for the adventure.

We sat just outside of the chamber, facing a new crowd that would follow our party. One at a time we went in with David. I was amazed at the strength of the wind. He instructed each one of us the “basics” ensuring that we understood the rudiments of the sport. Then, one at a time again, we had our second round of flight, this time more advanced and going aloft, the equivalent of 2 stories high. I found it exhilarating.

After everyone had gone through the process twice, we watched as David performed some impressive bodyflight maneuvers. We had a long way to go if we wanted to achieve that level of proficiency.

Our iFly date was fun—another great family adventure. To learn more about iFly, visit

Book Review: Best Hikes with Dogs: Western Washington

Dan A. Nelson’s practical hiking guide, Best Hikes with Dogs: Western Washington, includes necessary information to ensure satisfaction for dog owners and their dogs while enjoying hikes in Western Washington.

Although dogs aren’t allowed on national park or monument trails, there are plenty of wonderful hikes to enjoy in Western Washington. In this guidebook, Nelson describes 85 hikes, complete with quick references for distance round trip, difficulty on a scale of one to five, highest elevation point, elevation gain, best season, map, contact information and GPS coordinates, followed by detailed descriptions of the individual hikes.

In addition to specific destinations, at the beginning of the book Nelson goes into some detail about hiking with a dog in general, which I found particularly interesting. In the “Getting Ready” section, Nelson emphasizes the importance of good training, including use of a leash on the trail. Permits and regulations must be obeyed, not only for human and dog safety, but for the sake of the environment.

“Leave No Trace” is discussed in detail and encompasses much more than hauling your own garbage out. It means camp a distance away from a water source such as a lake or stream, not wash in the water, but collect water in a container and take it back to camp. Camp on hard ground so you won’t trample grass or fragile vegetation. Nelson gives many more examples of ways to keep the wilderness intact by leaving no trace.

The trail etiquette section was an eye-opener for me. For instance, when dog owners meet any other trail users, dog and owner must yield the right-of-way, stepping well clear of the trail to allow the other users to pass without worrying about “getting sniffed.” Another: When a dog meets a horse, the dog owner must yield the trail and ensure the dog remains calm. Also, stay within view so that the horse isn’t suddenly spooked when he sees the dog.

Another rule of etiquette I learned is that when hikers meet other hikers, the group heading uphill has the right-of-way. There are many more important points the author makes, points that make sense once the reasons are explained.

Best Hikes with Dogs: Western Washington is a valuable reference for hikers with dogs, or even without dogs. Dan Nelson is the author of several guidebooks, all published by The Mountaineer Books.