Havana Daydreaming

by John Urban

On location:Cuba. Okay, not yet, but soon enough this blog will dispatch one of our writers to report on the happenings 90 miles south of the southern tip of Route 1.

I, for one, would have several important stops to make in Cuba. Hemingway’s boat? Yes, indeed. High on my list is a trip to the writer’s former home – Finca Vigía – to see his 38-foot Wheeler, Pilar. A stop in town, as well. They say room 511 of the Hotel Ambos Mundos (pictured above) is kept as a tribute to the author. I’ll be interested in finding out.

(Ernest Hemingway’s 38-foot Wheeler, Pilar)

Stop #2. Anywhere on that island nation that is known to serve a good Mojito. A few years back I joined a couple of writer-friends for dinner on Lincoln Road in Miami. That night I had the most amazing Mojito and I’ve been searching for an equal concoction ever since. So far, mine has been a travel guide of lesser Mojitos. Could the issue be that my mind was clouded by having more than one Mojito that night in Miami? Maybe, maybe not. But the search is on and I am certain the journey reaches its successful end on the island of Cuba.


Stop #3. Live jazz-fusion music. When I was in my late teens I saw Chucho Valdés and the band Irakere. Castro let them make their way to the states as part of a diplomatic exchange and they were the opening act for Stephen Stills. A good friend and I were in the first row when a band member tossed me the large beaded percussion drum he’d been playing. I thought I had a souvenir. “Shake it and pass it,” my friend said. I did and I’ll never forget the electricity of that music. Ry Cooder re-ignited that same sense with his album Buena Vista Social Club. Later, friends invited us to see an older Chucho Valdés energize his piano with Latin sounds at an Emerson College performance. This is all but prep for the real thing – seeing jazz-fusion right there in Havana.

Stop #4. The marinas and boatyards. People frequently talk about the old 1950s Chevies and Fords that still bump along the streets of Havana. That will interest me without a doubt. Yet, I also want to search the marinas and boatyards for an old Cubavich sports fisherman. The name Cubavich is a takeoff on Florida-built sport fishing boats built by the Rybovich family near Palm Beach. Bernie Madoff kept a Rybovich (okay, so he had taste). Down in Cuba, they started making knockoffs, boats that became known as a Cubavich. They weren’t made as well as their northern counterpart, but they were good looking boats. Time to check them out.

(Bernie Madoff’s Rybovich Bull)

Stop #5. A Cuban sandwich and a cup of Cuban coffee. The last time I had a “Cuban” sandwich, it was a ham and cheese from Publix market in Florida. That’s roughly equivalent to ordering steak tartare from the canteen truck. Next time, I’m getting a real Cuban. Coffee, too.

Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Exotic even. Yes, until you consider that the place has been swarming with Germans and Canadians for years. And it’s not not nearly as exciting when you consider that friends have been going in past years, getting in via flights from Mexico, hoping that the Cuban customs officers wouldn’t stamp their passports. And then there are others who cross the Gulf Stream and tie-up their boats, keeping their legal status by not purchasing Cuban goods. Oh, and then there are the masses who have been visiting the island on cultural tours. Wait a minute. Is it possible that this embargo has been lifted because everyone has already been going to Cuba? Maybe.

Yes, but still, there is that search for the Mojito. Sign me up.

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Tales from the boatyard

Beer taps at the restaurant

Beer taps at the restaurant

by Christine Kling

Wayne likes to tease me about how fiction writers don’t have a hope in hell of making stuff up that is anywhere near as weird, crazy, or ridiculous as the truth. You know, the stuff that falls into the You-Can’t-Make-This-Sh*t-Up category. Lately, it seems like there is something that comes up almost every day, and we’re not even following the presidential election in the states!

Recently we had two boats in the yard here doing repairs because they had been hit by whales. One had his twelve foot long centerboard completely broken off when the whale pushed him along at 5 knots going sideways. The other had his shaft bent and ensuing damage to his transmission. Otherwise, both boats survived their encounters. But here’s the weird thing. Both boats were Swedish.  We don’t meet that many Swedish boats out here. Do the Pacific whales have it in for the Swedes?

OctoberfestThe restaurant here in the marina/boatyard is putting on a special event this weekend and next. It’s an Octoberfest party. Half in September. In Fiji. They have big vats of beer, frosty one-liter steins and German food. The Fijian guys who are the waiters are wearing lederhosen. Seriously.

We have been having a problem with Fiji Biosecurity. We had been hauled out for about three weeks when one day a Biosecurity officer came by and asked about the dogs on board. When we entered Fiji, we declared the dogs, showed their papers showing that their shots are up to date and they have had their Rabies Neutralizing Antibody Titre Tests done. Then we had to post a bond in the amount of $1500 Fijian per dog and promise that they will remain quarantined to the boat. But that day we eventually had three Fiji Biosecurity officers on board and they were threatening to take both dogs and destroy them. They claimed that by hauling the boat out of the water, we had essentially landed the dogs in Fiji and we had committed a crime. The head officer named Misud was very aggressive and threatening and I was in tears. We were fined and issued a court summons.

Dangerous boat dogs

Dangerous boat dogs

Finally, we got them to back off from taking the dogs that day, but we have been under “monitoring” ever since. The BioSecurity officers come by, often don’t even look at the dogs, but they charge us $28.75 every day. This has been going on for a month. Then Misud, the guy who was so mean and shouting at us that first day started to warm up to us. When he comes by now Barney crawls into his lap, (the dog he wanted to kill) and he pets the dog as he writes out our receipt for daily monitoring. Then one day in a complete and total reversal, he asked if Wayne would take a picture of him holding both dogs so he could show the dogs to his kids. Our bipolar Biosecurity officer is now helping us to do the paperwork to officially “import” the dogs into Fiji—which their own regulations say cannot be done via a yacht—and we’ve invited him to bring his kids by the boat some weekend.

Learnativity has a rat on board! You would think of all the boats in this yard the one on the hard with TWO dogs permanently quarantined to the boat—one of which is a terrier—would be the least likely boat for a rat to take up residence in. But you would be wrong! Our two dogs sleep up on the aft cabin bunk with us every night. Meanwhile, Mr. Ratatouille is having a fine time dancing on our galley counters and dining on our fresh bananas and papayas every night. Do the dogs every wake up and hear him or smell him??? Nooooooo. Of course, it doesn’t help that we have a big hole cut in the bottom of our steel boat with a length of big black 3” diameter sanitation hose providing a rat road ramp right up into the bilge. We are not sure if Mr. Ratatouille is only a night time visitor or a permanent resident. Tonight the dogs might find themselves chained to the galley table.

Finally, there is our singing welder. His name is Tui (which means bird) and he has the voice of an angel. He sings these lovely Fijian songs – which we don’t understand a word of – in this high tenor voice, and I think they all must be love songs. He sits on his little stool in the mud under our boat wearing his big black coveralls, holding his welder’s helmet in one hand and peering through the window (it’s too hot to wear the helmet) at the sparks flying from the arc welder, all the while he is singing his heart out.

We have been in the boatyard two months now and while hiking to the head and living in the dirt does get old sometimes, at least it’s always entertaining!

Fair winds!


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Fall at last….

C.E. Grundler

It’s not that it’s been a long summer so much as it’s been non-stop for me since July, when I became master of a whole lot of docks.  And now that the days are growing shorter and the boating population is winding down or heading down to warmer waters, I’m finally starting to catch my breath. I’m even taking a day off, though it’s filled with catch-up… doctor’s appointments, groceries, laundry, maybe even some work on the boat and writing. Nothing like a nice relaxing day off, even as my phone still rings with calls from the fuel dock, boat deliveries, and whatever else is happening at the moment. With that concentration of boats in one place, coming by land and water, there’s always something going on. More somethings than I could begin to sum up in the brief time I have today, but I wanted to at least let you all know I’m alive and well, lean and tan and going strong. Oh… and Annabel Lee’s refurbishing is moving forward exponentially these days, and all that work is finally starting to come together. As for my writing, that seems to be taking the hardest hit at the moment, but once haul-out season is past, I’ll be looking at some long, quiet months to dive back in, armed with a vast and ever growing amount of new material.



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Join me aboard this tall ship for Writers@Sea

The SSV (Sailing School Vessel) Oliver Hazard Perry

The SSV (Sailing School Vessel) Oliver Hazard Perry

by Christine Kling

I have awesome news to share today. South Florida’s Orange Island Arts Foundation has put together Writers@Sea and they’ve invited me to lead a workshop called Navigate the Waters of Story Structure.  I’m going to be working with 10 writers who will be workshopping their fiction with me and learning to sail aboard the 200-foot tall ship the Oliver Hazard Perry. The website describes the trip like this:

“Writers @ Sea offers a unique opportunity to develop your craft in a tropical paradise February 28 – March 6, 2016, traveling the waters of South Florida. Participants enjoy a voyage along Florida’s southeast coast aboard the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry the first teaching vessel of its kind. You will partake in hands-on sailing and navigational responsibilities under the direction of captain and crew. Ample time for reflection and writing is built into the schedule. The voyage begins in Fort Lauderdale and stops in Key West, The Dry Tortugas National Park, and Miami before returning to the starting point. Participants will have time to explore each location.”

The Oliver Hazard Perry is a steel hulled tall ship that was built in Rhode Island to operate as a non-profit sailing school vessel. She accommodates 49 people overnight, including 17 professional crew. Schools, foundations and universities can charter the vessel for educational purposes. There are some amazing pictures of the building of the boat on their website. I like these statistics: she has 7 miles of rope, 160 belaying pins, 20 sails, 14,000 sq. ft. of sail.

The tuition for this workshop includes seven nights aboard the ship, all meals, thirteen hours within a workshop class of 10 participants; room and board; 15 hours of sail instruction; reading; crafts; a gala; 17 hours of teamwork activities; and more than 90 hours of personal time for writing and engaging with the Florida landscape, which includes 24 hours of sightseeing while at port.  These are the early bird rates:

Early Bird registration ends 11/30/15

$2,000 if you sign up with a friend and sleep in a multi-person room (must book within 48 hours of each other)

$2,150 if you sign up alone to sleep in multi-person room

$2,350 if you sign up with a friend and sleep in a double room (must book within 48 hours of each other)

$2,500 if you sign up alone to be randomly placed in a double room

The folks at Orange Island Arts Foundation made this beautiful video with poet Campbell McGrath.

It’s going to be an amazing week. Come join me!

Fair winds!


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The Last Resort


By John Urban

She came from Providence, the one in Rhode Island. For some reason, those opening lyrics of Don Henley’s song The Last Resort were an oft-stated part of my youth, long before I married a girl from Providence and certainly long before our arrival at our new home on College Hill two weeks ago.

Why move to Providence? My standard line has to do with the attraction of good government, low taxes, and excellent schools. For those unacquainted with the place, this is roughly equivalent to claiming you admire Donald Trump for his reserve, modesty, and self-discipline.

Providence does, however, have many great restaurants, striking Colonial and 19th century architecture, and the cultural activities that go with being home to five colleges. Oh, and it’s the most populous city in Rhode Island — okay, I guess that’s the equivalent of claiming the honor of having highest ski slope in Alabama, but that’s something, isn’t it?


As a writer, Providence has some benefits, ones that will likely inform my senses and imagination. Already, I’ve emerged from the deepest caverns of suburbia to learn that sometimes Mercedes is a woman’s first name, young people still smoke, and people occasionally ride bikes that aren’t bolted to the health club floor.


From Suburbia to Hipsters

But I am also losing elements of my immediate past. Where did all the Labradoodles go? What happened to the Cayennes and Beamers with ACK stickers on the bumper? Who stole all the tennis dresses and riding britches?

Without realizing it, I also moved to a city on the water. Now, officially, I am writing on the water. And it’s a deep water port. If I ride my bike a mile or maybe two miles down the street I will land at the most northern reach of Narragansett Bay. From here, the world is accessible. Of course you have to first navigate around the oil tanks, beyond the cargo wharfs, and around the by the cement company, but the entire world is beyond.

Henley’s song mentions the search for paradise. For me, there’s a place down the Bay at the tip of the East Passage that many days seems close to paradise, and further down the coast and up around the Gulf there’s another that seems to fit the description. But Henley’s song, that begins with the reference to Providence, carries a warning still worth heeding:

They call it paradise
I don’t know why
You call someplace paradise,
kiss it goodbye

Give it a listen:

The Last Resort
By Don Henley/The Eagles

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Learning to cook Fiji-style


by Christine Kling

Vuda Point Marina here in Fiji offers the occasional event that helps make the boatyard time go by faster. They have a Happy Hour night, Half-price Pizza, and a once a month Farmers’ Market. The event I look forward to most, though, is the cooking class offered by Nicholas Steven, the chef at the Boatshed Restaurant and Sunset Bar every Wednesday afternoon at 5:00.

Nicholas is a handsome and charming Fijian who really could have a future with a cooking show. He is from the Lau group of islands, the least developed islands, so he grew up in a traditional Fijian village. Now, he is teaching us all how to prepare some traditional Fijian dishes, and we are having a grand time. The first time I went to the class, we learned how to make Nama & Kuita Salad – otherwise called Octopus and Sea Grape Salad. Nicholas also tells us where to find the ingredients at the market in Lautoka, and he teaches us the names of the ingredients (sometimes Fijian words, sometimes Indian) so we will know what to ask for when we go shopping. Sea Grapes are a type of seaweed we can find in the market here, and it’s really very tasty.

At yesterday’s class we learned to make Fish Curry with Coconut Chutney. This is not the sort of sticky sweet chutney in a jar we usually see in North America. Here in Fiji, when you order curry in a restaurant, it often comes with these little side cups of various chutneys that add to the flavor of the curry. I learned the hard way that when they ask you if you want rice or roti, if you say roti, it means you will be expected to eat the curry with the roti flat bread and you won’t get a fork. After my one visit for lunch on a shopping trip in Lautoka, I could get the yellow out from under my fingernails for days. Next time I’ll just speak up and ask for a fork.

So here is chef Nicholas Steven’s recipe for Fish Curry with Coconut Chutney Fiji-style.

Fiji2015CoconutChutneyCoconut Chutney

  • 2 cups freshly grated coconut
  • 1 cup fresh coriander (also known as cilantro)
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice (or more if you like it more moist)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger minced
  • 1 small red chili pepper chopped with seeds and stem removed (there are many peppers here in the markets and this type is not the nuclear hot type – it is fairly mild)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and chill. Will keep refrigerated for 2 weeks.

Fish Curry in Coconut Curry Sauce


  • Four fish filets
  • Cooking oil
  • 1 onion sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped ginger
  • 1 cup coconut cream
  • 1 tablespoon haldi (turmeric)
  • 2 tablespoons masala
  • 1 teaspoon methi (fennel seed)
  • 1 teaspoon geera (coriander seed)
  • 1 teaspoon sarso (mustard seed)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh coriander chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Fiji2015FishCurryHeat oil in a heavy frying pan
  • Dredge fish pieces in flour and fry until lightly browned
  • Remove fish
  • Add the three seeds to oil and fry until plump
  • Add onion and sauté until translucent
  • Add ginger and garlic
  • Add turmeric and masala
  • Return fish to the pan
  • Add coconut cream
  • Simmer stirring frequently for 5-8 minutes
  • Stir in fresh coriander and simmer for one minute

Serve with hot rice.

One of the best parts about the class is that at the end, we all get to sample the dish Nicholas has made!

Fair winds!


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When is “correct” the incorrect choice?

LEARNATIVITY has gone under cover.

LEARNATIVITY has gone under cover.

by Christine Kling

We’ve been busy here in Fiji fixing things, but Wayne and I are at work on vastly different projects. He is working with the welder and crew to fix the keel cooler. We also have guys on scaffolding around the boat sanding and grinding the dark blue paint on the topsides for a new hull paint job. Meanwhile, I am working with the proofreader to fix the manuscript for the new book, Knight’s Cross.

You’d think I’d be used to this by now. This is my seventh book with a traditional publisher who has provided the services of very good editing. First, it was the developmental editing, then the copy editing, and now I am at the proofreading stage. When dealing with a manuscript of 138,000 words, non-writers might think we writers won’t angst about each and every word.

And they would be wrong.

On the one hand, what these editors do is fantastic, and they have saved me from many an embarrassing faux pas. Like the time I had a character walk into a bar at night and walk out an hour later to watch the sun set. Or in this book where I set up a whole paragraph of code work that was based on there being 24 letters in the alphabet. Whoops! Neither I nor my acquisitions editor, developmental editor, or copy editor found it. Thank goodness for the proofreader. Now THAT would have been embarrassing if the book had made it to print with that!

On the other hand, sometimes the changes they suggest drive me crazy, and I spend WAAAAY too much time trying to decide if I want to make these changes or not.

I might have been a high school English teacher and a college English professor, but I still speak very colloquial English. I also write it.

colloquial:  adj.  language used in ordinary or familiar conversation; not formal or literary.

synonyms: informal, conversational, everyday, nonliterary

I think using ordinary language happens to be a strength of mine for the type of books I write. I write books that are meant to be entertaining. I want my readers to enjoy reading my books. I may not write beautiful prose, but I’ve been told my stories have a comfortable, intimate feel. Readers don’t like to feel a distance between the language of the storyteller and the language they use every day. If the writing is too formal it doesn’t invite the reader in. But if there are too many errors, that too can put off readers. Writers need to strike a balance here because all readers don’t speak the same English.

For example, I hear more and more English speakers who will say, “Her and I used to have dinner together.” Others would scorn this use of the objective pronoun as subject and instead use the grammatically correct “She and I…” Of course, when a writer is writing dialogue, we need to write the words that the character would say. But what about the narrative text? If it is still from the point of view of a certain character, should it have the rhythm and personality and voice of that character?

Here is an example of the sort of thing I struggle with. I wrote this sentence in a passage that is from Riley’s point of view.

Cole swung around in the leather pilot chair with the biggest grin on his face.

The proofreader points out that this superlative has no comparison and suggests I could change it to the biggest grin Riley had ever seen — or to a huge grin.

I have made the change to a huge grin, and while the text is now more grammatically correct, it feels a bit less like what Riley would really think. I’m trying to strike that balance between preserving voice and using the language correctly.

This brings us to the question of what is correct? Language is constantly evolving. It has become quite common to say things like “Oh, that was just the grossest thing!” Rather than it being a comparison, it is meant to be absolute. Perhaps our language will evolve to make this a correct usage in the future.

In much the same way, Wayne is striving to find that balance between what needs to be done for our boat to be correct, i.e. safe and seaworthy, and what changes fit with the spirit of the boat and are just right for LEARNATIVITY. Does this old girl really need a mirror-like topsides finish, or would that be out of character for this boat? And as we start to realize that some qualities we yearn for will simply never work for this boat, we continue to dream of moving on and building a new boat.

Just as I have started my new novel.

We’re each finding our ways toward the balance we seek. Lucky for me, though, I mailed off my manuscript yesterday. The boat on the other hand, is going to be here “under cover” for several months more.

Fair winds!


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Hit by lightning!

By Mike Jastrzebski

Last week, Rough Draft was hit by lightning. This was our first hit in twelve years of living on the sailboat, but it was a big one.

Mary and I both happened to be watching the storm through the galley window when a flash of lightning lit up the sky. This was followed by a loud boom that shook the the boat, blew out our lights, and sent sparks cascading from the mast into the water.

I ran out into the heavy rain to make sure that nothing was on fire, then returned to the boat to check out the damage.

The strike had damaged the circuit breaker to our lights and after rerouting the wiring for the lights to another circuit we discovered that two of the light fixtures were damaged. It didn’t seem too bad at first, but over the next couple of days we discovered the true depth of the damage to our electronics.

The next day Mary found a piece of our VHF antenna on the deck. For those of you not familiar with sailboats the antenna was mounted on the top of the mast. The antenna’s gone now, and there’s no doubt in my mind that’s where the lightning struck.

At this point we checked the VHF radio and realized that it was shot. We also have a ham radio on board and this radio’s antenna is a section of the mast backstay. The ham radio is also shot. After further investigation we’ve discovered that our electric windlass, which raises the anchor, is not working. I’m hoping this is just a bad circuit breaker, but I won’t know for sure until I replace the breaker.

On top of that our refrigeration is not working and although our television is working, all of a sudden the volume will turn off and I have to bang on the corner of the TV to get it working again.

Obviously this is a big hit to our cruising kitty and we have decided to spend another year in St. Augustine. We are planning to get off the mooring ball and are currently looking for a slip at one of the local marinas.

We were looking forward to heading to the Exumas in the Bahamas this year, but sometimes when you live on a boat you’ve got to go with the flow. On the positive side of things this will give me a chance to write another book. I’m wavering between a follow-up to The Storm Killer or an urban fantasy.

For those of you who have not yet read Dog River Blues, now’s a great time to give it a try. It’s on sale for a limited time for .99 cents on the following sites: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, & Google.

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11,000 miles of dead bugs and road dirt…


C.E. Grundler

It’s quite impressive. The kids pulled in last night, tired and happy, in a car covered with the traces of our nation’s highways and parks from coast to coast, along with a virtual horror show of splattered insects. There’s desert dust in the door frames, rain forest pine needles in the carpet, and “Kid tested, mother approved” Kix cereal scattered throughout. All signs of an epic road trip, one where they spent much of their time a day or two ahead of the forest fires consuming the west coast. In fact, much of their trip was re-routed to less combustable regions. And there are pictures, but everyone’s still unpacking and settling in, so this is it for now.

As for me, it’s a day off from working at the marina, which these days is anything but a day off as I try to catch up on everything else in my life.  Much to do, so it’s time to run. Days off erode fast!

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I’m not even supposed to be here today…

C.E. Grundler

…but I am. Here, that is, at the marina, herding boats.  We’re averaging around 40 boats a week, though sometimes they all arrive on Friday afternoon. This week, rather than a naval invasion involving dozens of small boats, we’re being descended upon by only a few – a 57′, 52′, 70′, 150′, another 52′, 47′,  60′, and yet another 70′, as well as any last-minute arrivals.

I knew going in that this job was going to be a lot of work, and it’s certainly lived up to those expectations and then some, and it certainly hasn’t been dull.  And eventually things will (hopefully) settle down to a manageable rhythm, but right now I’ve been too busy to notice.  And eventually, with any luck, I’ll get a day off now and then, and a chance to do some real writing again, rather than these few rushed sentences.

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