Monday, November 27, 2006

Still Pond Creek to Fairlee Creek, MD

7.6 nm
Wind: calm to S 5 knots, dense fog in the morning with quarter-mile visibility
Maximum speed: 5.4 knots
Maximum speed under sail: 3.4 knots
Average speed: 3.2 knots
Latitude: 39°16.25’N
Longitude: 076°12.60’W

We caught a fish last night! It was very exciting. Karl’s been putting out his crab traps because we’re in the Chesapeake, which is famous for its blue crabs, but last night he caught a seventeen-inch catfish in one of them. The crab trap was subsequently lost to an errant log this morning, but still, it did its job, I guess. We kept it alive all night in a bucket of water, and I woke up this morning to find it looking at me, accusingly, still breathing.

Our macerator pump is broken down again. At least this time we’re smart enough to not keep pumping the holding tank full. So Karl finally has me peeing and pooping in an actual bucket, which has been his goal for sometime. I’m quite convinced that he thinks that any more sophisticated plumbing system than a bucket is for effete literary snobs.

I don’t even know what we’re going to do about the macerator pump. We may have to pay someone to fix it, or buy a new one, but for whatever we pay to fix it or buy a new one we could probably use to buy a whole new head, a simpler one. A glorified bucket, basically, that would be far easier to repair and use. Or we may be able to rig up some kind of manual pump, so that we at least don’t have to use electricity to pump out our holding tank.

My point being, this morning, I woke up to go out into the cockpit to pee in a bucket, and while I was sitting there, I was able to stare into the eyes of a barely-alive catfish, looking up at me from my dish basin. Such was a thrill I had yet to encounter.

The fish was delicious, even though my Joy of Cooking preparation didn’t quite do it justice. I am unable to pan-fry food, evidently, at least to the point of crispiness. I think Karl gets to cook the next fish. The meat itself, though, was delectable. I haven’t always liked catfish before, but as Karl says, fish is all about freshness. It’s hard to go wrong with something that was alive, watching you pee, an hour before.

I also attempted to make fish chowder out of the head and carcass, as per Joy of Cooking’s mandate. I’ve heard about fish-head soup since my days living in France, and have always wanted to give it the old college try. Unfortunately, however, it was disgusting. And when neither Karl nor I are able to eat something, that’s really saying a lot. We actually threw out the broth, retaining the potatoes and onions, and turned it into a decent clam chowder from cans. Karl argued that the potatoes had retained some of the fish flavor, and that it added to the taste of the chowder, but all in all, I think the fish-head soup was a rather colossal failure. It may have had a lot to do with the water we used, however. We’re almost out of fresh water—down to our last gallon—so I’ve been using water from the bay in all my cooking. It’s fairly nasty water. I’m not even sure it’s salt water up here. In some of the weather reports, they call this the tidal Potomac River, and we’re far enough north that it’s hard to know where the river ends and the ocean begins. Most nights we end up anchored up some river or creek or other, and most of the time I imagine it’s right where the fresh water turns brackish.

This doesn’t mean it’s any less nasty, however. Catfish are kind of disgusting, scum-sucking fish, after all. The mud on the bottom is a thick black sludge. I’m not sure we should be using this water for anything, let alone eating, but I figure as long as I boil it vigorously it should be fine. It does not, however, taste fine, as proven by the soup. At least I’ll blame it on that, rather than the boiled fish head, with its shriveled-up whiskers. Because knowing me, I’ll give it another try with the next fish. God forbid we throw away a perfectly good corpse.

We had really bad fog again this morning, which is really hurting our mileage total. The weather forecast says that the hot temperatures (in the sixties) during the day and the cold temperatures (in the thirties) at night are what’re doing it. The last two mornings we’ve woken up completely unable to see land. It generally burns off by about noon, but it cuts in half the amount of miles we’re able to do in a day. There’s a town with a free dock, groceries, and other services that we’ve been aiming for for the last three days, but we can’t seem to get to it. Tomorrow it’s really going to get desperate, because we’re going to run out of water. Karl keeps reminding me of the gallons of apple juice we have in the storage lockers, but I’m not convinced they’ll do the trick. We’re near a marina tonight, but it’s a long dinghy ride away and we’re not even sure they’re open. We tried to hail them on the VHF—a first for us—but couldn’t get through. I suppose if we’re socked in by fog tomorrow, we can always row over there and try to find a working hose. Things are getting serious, though. As of tomorrow, it’s been two weeks since a shower or internet access, more than two weeks since laundry or groceries, and we’re all out of ice. I don’t know why we always push things to this extreme.


erica henry said...

That catfish head soup story was disgusting. I can only believe you actually ended up eating the vegetables you cooked with the head because it is you. Nobody else could stomach that.

Ellen, John & Sophia said...

Get a manual macerator pump- you need a holding tank to stay legal in the States, esp. in Florida, but a manual pump won't set you back far and will be easier to deal with. In my mind, shit and electricity should never be in the same sentence.

Congrats on getting into the Chesapeake!! That's awesome, and your sailing on/off anchor is mighty impressive!

Ed said...

Hi Karl and Melissa,

David P told all of Onset about your great adventure and many of us are reading and enjoying your blog.



Anonymous said...

I just found your website! Tell County I said hey. I'm so envious of you guys. Be safe.