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Technology Ahoy!

We are privileged to live in an age of advanced science and technology. Software is one of the most amazing parts of it, providing complex programs to control mind-boggingly incredible inventions that help us with such things as unraveling the deep mysteries of genomics. As widesweeping as software has become, it’s important to keep it in perspective with respect to our interpersonal relationships and worldview. A fun trip I had this past weekend helped remind me of this.

The vessel: A 36-foot Catalina Sloop Rig

The voyagers:

• Pops, wise skipper and veterinarian

• Daniel, thoughtful son of Pops, Penn State devotee, and trip organizer

• Eric, fluent in Greek, Latin, and Phillies baseball

• Ben, DC native with an encyclopedic mind for trivia

• Yours truly

The voyage: From Bowley’s Quarters, Maryland (20 nautical miles north of Baltimore), to the Inner Harbor and a Saturday evening Orioles game at Camden Yards, fulfilling one of Ben’s lifelong dreams.

In critical need of stout nourishment before embarking on the Chesapeake, we frequented a converted double-wide trailer in the sticks a few miles inland. Plush accommodations consisted of lawn chairs and folding tables covered with plastic. In a few minutes, our waitress (who appeared to have been on a few voyages of her own) plopped down husks of fresh sweet corn, a pitcher of light beer and a pot of bright red steamed crabs, claws intertwined. Under expert guidance from Ben, we systematically dismantled the crustaceans and extracted the tasty edibles. With plenty of laughs and wounded fingers smarting with Old Bay seasoning, it was the perfect start.

We hoisted our pirate flag and set sail at dawn (Pacific time). Although routine by today’s standards, Pops’ sailboat was impressive and undoubtedly would have made brown sailors of old green with envy. The ropes were all neatly pulleyed; the main sail was raised easily with one of them and the ferruled jib simply unrolled with another. The galley came complete with refrigerator and freezer (ice cream!), stove, oven and sink. Every nook and cranny was purposefully utilized. Our electronic gear instantly informed of us depth of water, boat speed, exact GPS coordinates, and wind speed and direction. We were really roughing it.

It was a glorious sunny day in the 80s with a stiff breeze against us. Via the magic of Bernoulli forces on our two sails and Pops’ skillful navigation, we steadily tacked our way southward. To trim the jib on each side, we alternately cranked two nicely engineered double ratcheted winches. The job was easy enough that Ben and I dozed sometimes in between tacks, earning ourselves the nickname “the napping wenches.”

My primary duty was to spot crab-pot buoys, bestrung across the bay like large waterbugs. We only ran over two of them, which statistically I thought was excellent work, but the crew threatened me with a keelhauling if we hit any more. This is the practice of tying an unfortunate soul about the waist with ropes and dragging them under and across the barnacle-laden hull of the ship, iterating as necessary.

I was also responsible for lunch that day. Being in possession of the adverse allele of the CULN2 gene, I had managed the day before to bribe two of my daughters to do the honors. As Food Channel junkies, they came through in grand style with elegant ham wraps and a gourmet pasta salad. Catastrophe struck as a few of the wraps found their way to ice water in the cooler, but with the aid of one of Pops’ handy fans they were saved -- and shipmates none the wiser.

After several hours, we conquered the choppy water and crossed triumphantly under the Francis Scott Key Bridge. As if on cue, a very loud report from one of the cannons at Fort McHenry signaled our arrival and nearly startled Ben overboard. We passed several massive cargo ships, one with the sweet smell of brown sugar being scooped in huge buckets onto the conveyor chute of the Domino’s Sugar factory. We arrived with time to saunter through the chic Baltimore Inner Harbor condos and attractions and to wind our way up to Camden Yards.

At the ballpark during batting practice, there is keen competition to grab balls hit over the fences. With strategic anticipation sharpened on the high seas, Eric and Daniel managed to snag three. The game itself was rousing and close, but the Orioles lost their lead near the end. Ben felt a curse and said he hadn’t been present for a win in this stadium for seven years. Then in the bottom of the 12th, Mora cracked a spectacular walk-off homer, and the dream was realized. Eric, watching real-time cell-phone updates, was more pumped that the Phillies came back from a 5-0 deficit to win 8-7 in the ninth. Even my poor Cleveland Indians eked out a victory, and a night of baseball perfection was complete. We celebrated back on the dock, staying up way past bedtime.

On the return trip the next day, alas, the winds were sucked to a standstill by Scylla and Kharybdis. We reluctantly overcame them with the iron mainsail (compliments of Rudolf Diesel), and even had time to anchor offshore for awhile and cannonball off of the back of the boat.

This trip was a great mix of old and new, of nature and gadgetry. The best part was the camaraderie and conversation. We had some treasurable time for philosophy and theology, peppered with Nittany Lion – Buckeye trash talk. (Those with Y chromosomes usually require such things before they can open up.) Technology rocks, but as sailors of all time will attest, there’s no substitute for seamates.

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