Monday, December 16, 2013

Sailing Out of Darkness, by Normandie Fischer

It's almost here--the virtual party on Facebook to celebrate the release of Normandie Fischer's latest novel, Sailing out of Darkness

Here's our party schedule of author appearances. Please stop by and win one of these author's lovely books!

9:00-10:10 Barbara Davis, The Secrets She Carried 
10:10-11:20 Lynne Hinkey, Ye Gods! A Tale of Dogs and Demons
11:20-12:40 Jessica Topper, Louder Than Love 12:40-1:50 Robin Patchen, Faith House
1:50-3:00 Jessica Dotta, Born of Persuasion

 3:00-4:10 Barbara Claypole White, The In-between Hour
4:10-5:20 Laura Wharton, The Mermaid's Tale, Book 2
5:20-6:30 Anne Barnhill, Queen Elizabeth's Daughter
6:30 -8:00 our hostess and author of the day, Normandie Fischer, and Sailing Out of Darkness.

Click here to join us!

Monday, December 9, 2013

You're Invited to a Launch Party!

You're all invited to a virtual party on December 17, 2013! It's the official Facebook virtual book launch party for author Normandie Fischer's Sailing Out of Darkness. This is a great opportunity to discover Normandie's writing, if you haven't already, as well as a number of other authors who are participating in the event.

I was lucky enough to have a sneak-preview of Sailing Out of Darkness in the pre-publication stages and can't wait for it to be available to all of you! Normandie is a fabulous writer (Becalmed is a favorite of mine) whose work will appeal to a wide range of readers, and especially to those with an affinity for the shore and sailing.

I'm also lucky to be included among the other authors she'll be featuring during the launch party, and will be giving away free copies (electronic and print) of Marina Melee, and 2 print copies of Ye Gods! (although that won't be available until it comes out on April 1.)

Normandie has posted the first "teaser" for the party here, with more to come. You can also learn more about her fascinating life and experiences living aboard Sea Venture, her books, and her thoughts on the writing life, both at sea and on land at her blog by clicking here. For those of you in the Beaufort, NC area, be sure to watch for a live launch party and book signings in your area!

I hope to "see" you all at the launch party!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Marina Melee to be featured at "The Fussy Librarian" AND MORE!

Marina Melee is being featured Monday at The Fussy Librarian!

The Fussy Librarian is a new website that offers personalized ebook recommendations. You choose from 30 genres and indicate preferences about content and then the computers work their magic. It's pretty cool -- check it out!

How hard can it be to run a marina?

George H. Marshall III has it all, and he wants to get away from it: women, a busy social calendar, and his so-called career in the family oil business. Determined to prove to his parents that he is more than a spoiled, womanizing, over-aged adolescent, George buys Porto da Vida Marina on a small island in the Caribbean. What could be an easier road to business success than running a marina on a tropical island? 

As mishap piles on disaster, George realizes his new life in paradise isn't all about sitting under palm trees sipping umbrella drinks. Between his wayward staff, the governor's hot-to-trot wife, a lift truck possessed by jumbies, and a host of other island disasters-natural and human-George finds that living the easy life is hard work.


Ye Gods! A Tale of Dogs and Demons is scheduled for an April 1 release from Casperian Books!

Is it real or a myth? Dog only knows.

Author Jack Halliman sails to Puerto Rico seeking a cure for writer's block, but instead finds a dead body. When a second corpse turns up, Jack becomes one of two suspects. The other is the chupacabra.

Now Jack has to find out who--or what--is responsible for the killings before he lands in prison. Again.

As the conniving mayor, a dogged detective, and a voodoo practicing 14-year old drag him deeper into the investigation, Jack discovers that separating reality from myth is no easy feat. The lines between men and monsters, monsters and gods, and in this case, between gods and a dog, are thin and blurry.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Marine Debris, Estrogen Mimics, and the Never-ending Story

This story and video at Collective Evolution prompted me to re-blog this post from a year ago on marine debris and the Great Garbage Patch in the Pacific.


From Surfrider Foundation. For more, go to
It's hard to maintain a positive attitude when you're a marine scientist, particularly if you study anthropogenic impacts to marine and coastal environments. There are so many, and some of the impacts are so completely devastating, avoidable, and ignored that it's easy to get frustrated. Marine debris is one of those persistently studied and talked about, and continuously shrugged off problems. The world's marine science community has been talking about it for decades. Environmental groups have been delivering marine debris education and outreach programs, including beach cleanups, for as long.


I participated in my first "clean up" in about 1970, with the Boy Scout's annual cleanup of the creek by my grandmother's house (my dad was the Scout master in the neighborhood--I did more Boy Scout than Girl Scout things.) At the time and far from the ocean in upstate NY, I didn't know about the route that litter would have taken down Choconut Creek to the Susquehanna River, south through Pennsylvania, eventually dumping into the Chesapeake Bay, and ultimately the ocean.

In my senior year of college in 1986, the CVI Dive Club (we named ourselves the Reefers, but the school wouldn't let us keep the name!) organized a "Trash-ure Hunt" complete with prizes. The group that began coordinating nationwide "Beach Sweeps" (Clean Ocean Action) was in its infancy and we'd never heard of them, but divers knew there was a litter problem on land that was affecting the reefs around the islands.

Five years later, I was organizing the annual Virgin Islands' Beach Sweeps on St. Thomas as the Sea Grant Marine Extension Agent at VIMAS (Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service). Marine debris research, outreach, and education were a huge part of that job. I participated in local, regional, and international conferences where we talked about the problem, bemoaned the slow progress in addressing it, patted ourselves on the back for our efforts, and supported each other with assurances things would get better. How could they not? Look at all the work being done around the world? Look at the vast numbers of committed people, professionals and volunteers, who were getting the word out, pushing for better legislation, better waste disposal practices, and greater awareness. We WOULD succeed.
Yours truly at one of the many marine debris conferences
I attended over the years. I think this is the 3rd or 4th International
Marine Debris Confernce in Miami, 1994

We saw a number of victories. Recycling and bottle bills reduced the number of aluminum cans and glass bottles in the annual cleanups. Instead, cigarette butts became the number one beach cleanup item by number. Plastic bottles and bags were tops by volume. But plastic is light. It readily blows off the beach and into the water, where it floats away, out of sight, out of reach, killing marine life.

Six-pack plastic ring manufacturers began making break-away rings. Whoo-hoo! Animals would no longer get trapped in the rings and cut in half as they grew but the ring didn't. Plastic grocery bags, however, still floated in the sea like jellyfish, still were eaten by turtles, dolphins, seabirds, sharks, fish, and still killed them just as dead by filling their stomachs or blogging their intestines.

International regulations and increased enforcement led to many changes in the cruise ship and commercial fishing industries. Rewarding whistle blowers was a major victory. Everyone had cameras and video recorders on their cruise, and everyone knew if they caught any illegal dumping on film, they'd get a big chunk of money from whatever fines were imposed on the violator. It only took a few high profile cases and high fines before serious changes took place. As became apparent in a short time, many of those changes were superficial, resulting in sneakier, rather than better practices.


By the late-90s, many of us who'd been seeing, saying, and doing the same things over and over and seeing few results were burning out. Did annual beach cleanups help by drawing attention to the problem or hurt by rewarding those who were going to litter anyway? An out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude seemed to be winning the marine debris war.

In 1997, a sailor came upon an enormous stretch of floating debris in the Pacific. The sailor, Charles Moore, alerted oceanographers. The phenomenon had been predicted a decade earlier, and now here it was, just as the models had shown. Rather than seeing a reduction in marine debris from all those efforts, we saw the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the culmination of decades of plastics being discharged into the ocean, sometimes by accident, sometimes intentionally. Since then, a similar patch has been found in the North Atlantic.


The Garbage Patch is an area in the central North Pacific Ocean where circling currents "trap" debris. Estimates of its size vary from "twice the size of Texas" to "as large as the continental US." There is no finite border where, on one side there is plastic and on the other there is not, instead there's a gradient of decreasing plastic concentration, making the boundary difficult to judge.

You'd think that having a big floating garbage dump in the ocean would be a serious wake up call to the world that this is (still) a serious problem. But, out-of-sight, out-of-mind wins again. While plastics are forever, that garbage bag and plastic bottle that blew off the beach probably aren't floating in the gyre. What's there, are microscopic suspended particles--tiny pieces of those plastics. Sunlight and water work together to break down the plastics into ever smaller pieces. Plastics never go away, but they do get brittle and break up. Rather than one bottle or one bag, those pieces of litter now contribute hundreds of thousands of smaller polymers (still plastic, but itty-bitty pieces) floating in the sea. The particles are so small that even the tiniest plankton (small animals that feed bigger animals, like all the seafood we eat) can ingest it. And they do.

"So what?" you might ask.  Why should we care what little animals in the ocean eat? We haven't seen any real consequences to people from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Maybe this is a non-issue.

Well, hold on a second. Aren't we experiencing the consequences of plastics in the environment?

Besides the particles' danger to wildlife, on the microscopic level the floating debris can adsorb organic pollutants from seawater, including PCBs, DDT, and PAHs.  Aside from toxic effects, when ingested, some of these are mistaken by the endocrine system as estradiol, causing hormone disruption in the affected animal. Many of these fish are then consumed by humans, resulting in their ingestion of toxic chemicals. THAT is one of the really good reasons why we should care.


Estradiol is a sex hormone--it has a critical impact on reproductive and sexual functioning. Estrogen mimics, like those released from the photodegradation of plastics and magnified up the food chain into our seafood. In our bodies, they attach themselves to estrogen receptors in cells and mimic the action of the body's natural estrogen, or they may block the action of natural estrogen and are thus called estrogen antagonists.

The rise in estrogen mimics in the environment since the 40s (when widespread production and use of plastics really took off) coincides with decreased sperm counts in men during the same time. They have also been tied to the increase in cases of endometriosis in women in the same time period. A series of unrelated studies over that same time period, from around the developed world, show physiological problems involving abnormal reproductive development, unusual sexual behavior, and neurological problems exhibited by a diverse group of animal species including fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and marine mammals. All these problems are indicative of the action of estrogen mimics accumulating up the food chain and impacting living organisms, including humans.


While plastics are far from the only synthetic products releasing estrogen mimics and other chemicals into the environment, they are a concern, not only from the aesthetic standpoint of litter being ugly, but also from an environmental and human health position.

I have to remind my Human Biology classes each semester that the reason we study the environment during the class, as well as human physiology, is because we are part of the environment. What goes around comes back around. Usually, if we sent it around, it comes around and bites us in the ass.

The real problem isn't marine debris. The real problem, the one that beach cleanups and education can't solve, is that we care more about our own convenience today than the bite on our children's asses 30, 40, or 50 years from now. That's a problem that nature may fix for us if we keep ignoring the warning signs.

Friday, October 18, 2013

JAWS, or Handling the Fear in Open-water Swimming

I love open-water swimming. Lakes, rivers, the ocean, it's both exhilarating and calming. I'd be lying if I said it's not a little bit frightening, too. While I don't do as much open-water swimming as I used to, when I was swimming Brewers Bay, from the UVI dock to Black Point and back regularly, a swim didn't pass where I didn't start humming Da-dum. Da-dum. Da-dum-da-dum-da-dum somewhere out in the middle of the bay.

Thanks Jaws.

Original movie poster from Jaws (1975)

Here's a post from "The Swimming Blog" that appeared in The Guardian not too long ago that had me giggling and nodding my head in commiseration with the author, Jenny Landrith.
Open-water Swimming: How do you handle the fear?

Now, during my once a year open-water swim on the Cooper River, I tend to "get in the zone" or what I've referred to in a previous blog post as "swimmer's bliss" by counting strokes. I play games to make the 2.4 miles pass faster: "No peaking until I've swum 100 strokes." Or, "Count how many strokes to the next buoy" then compare that to the number of strokes to the one after that. Those distractions can keep me occupied for most of the swim, but still, at some point it happens.

Da-dum. Da-dum. Da-dum-da-dum-da-dum

I'm not certain if it's fear or habit anymore. Maybe it's even become my way to deal with fear: do something silly like sing the Jaws theme.

How do you deal with your fear of the unknown?

Monday, October 7, 2013


I recently celebrated my 50th birthday, as did hubby a few months earlier. Matt has 6 years until retirement, when we can sail off into the sunset.

Or at least that's been my retirement dream for as long as I can remember. Ever since I moved to the Virgin Islands when I was 19, I've known that's where I want to spend my life. It's home. It's where I feel comfortable, and don't have to try to be anything but me. I'd dreamed of staying there forever.

Then living got in the way of my life and I went to Puerto Rico to pursue another dream: getting my PhD. Then I moved to South Carolina to pursue yet another dream: paying off my student loan debt. Then I found a dream I didn't even know I had: I fell in love and married Matt. Then we started finding and chasing new dreams together: living in Europe, finding Muggle and falling in love with him, traveling, and planning our retirement together.

Even with all that, my dream of returning to the Virgin Islands has always been there in the back of my mind. But "stuff" always gets in the way. Career, husband, aging parents, pets, friends, health concerns, and just getting older in general.

I still find myself looking forward to buying a sailboat and retiring aboard, sailing the Caribbean, getting rid of all the obligations and responsibilities that go with the "dirt-dweller" life: the stuff we accumulate under the silly notion that stuff = happiness.

But now, instead of getting excited when I fantasize about that life I'd dreamed of, I get stressed. I worry about leaving aging relatives, parents with health concerns, how to accommodate the pets while living aboard or just living in the islands (Tibetan Terriers haven't evolved for the tropics!), how Matt would actually deal with the relatively nomadic lifestyle that I enjoy, how we'd handle what seems like a constantly escalating number of health issues, and most worrisome of all, how I'd deal with those things now that I'm older.

At 19, running away from "everything" to pursue my dreams was simple. I packed my bags, I moved. Seriously, I didn't exactly know where the Virgin Islands were when I boarded the plane back then. (I don't know why more 20, 21, 22-year-olds don't do that, why they already seem so concerned with "security." They'll never be able to do it as easily as they can now!) Now, though, as an adult, with responsibilities and obligations, with homes, pets, family, and "stuff," it now seems so much more complicated.

It shouldn't be. If we really want something, we should do it. All of those "concerns" are merely excuses. They can all be accommodated. Planes fly on schedules and it would take me almost as long to get to upstate NY or Chicago from the Virgin Islands as it does from South Carolina. So much of our "stuff" is stuck in closets and drawers, never to come out, but there "just in case," that it really isn't a real reason to worry at all. We should get rid of it anyway.

To keep our (my?) dreams of sailing the world (or at least just traveling it) alive after retirement, and perhaps to give me a shot of courage, I've been living vicariously through my new friends Carol and David Rocco. They spent their honeymoon in St. John, USVI, fell in love, decided that's where they wanted to be, and did it. They pursued their dream, made it happen, and are now experiencing all the excitement, angst, wonder, stress, and elation of discovering a new life. They're my heroes.

Myra Nelson, another friend through my online writing group, and her husband Jack, packed up and retired to Costa Rica. She'd been a teacher in Philly, and also spent time traveling through Asia and teaching English in Japan. We met Myra and Jack while in CR last year. I'm in awe of their adventure, and her openness in sharing her experience going through a health scare as an expat. She gives me hope!

Sarah Corbett settled in Costa Rica in 1992--before it became the hot spot for expat Americans, where they could live in an English-speaking community filled with other Americans. She's immersed herself in the culture and her blog is filled with fun, funny, and wonderful tidbits that both intrigue me and make me worry about my hubby's ability to ever retire anywhere outside of suburbia USA! (Especially tales and photos of some of the "visitors" they've had, like the one she talks about in THIS blog post, or in the picture below.)

The green Lora that visited Sarah one morning.
(Huge, yes, but kind of cute, isn't it?)

Of course, in suburbia USA, we rarely get visitors like these that have showed up in Sarah's yard, either, so it balances out:

Wooly Anteater visiting Sarah

Central American Silky Possum


Our neighbors, Misty and Terry, dreamed of moving to the west coast and last year, packed their bags and headed to San Diego. Four pets and all (3 cats and a dog---they're now up to 3 cats and 2 dogs). Normandie Fischer has sailed the world with a boat full of kids and now pursues her dream of writing while sailing up and down the east coast to visit her new grandbaby.

All of these friends are my heroes because not only were they all brave enough to pursue their dreams, but they're also keeping my dreams alive. When I wonder if Matt and I will have what it takes to pack our bags and take that leap of faith that everything will be just fine, I look to these friends who were brave, who knew what they wanted, and did what they needed to do to make it happen. I want to think Matt and I will be able to, but I'm not sure. I do know that these friends are my heroes and inspiration. Thank you all for being brave enough to chase your dreams, and help me keep my dream alive!

If you need some help keeping your dreams alive, here are some blogs that might inspire you. I know they inspire me!

Carol and David on their VI adventure at

Myra Nelson at

Sarah Morgan at

Normandie Fischer

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Blobfish

Yesterday, The Ugly Animal Preservation Society voted the blob fish the ugliest animal in the world. In honor of the blobfish, I'm reposting this blog from a little over a year ago.

Today, the Smithsonian came up with a rebuttal, In Defense of the Blobfish. The article includes a picture of what the blobfish would look like if we saw it swimming, supported by the ocean's buoyancy. Be sure to take a look if you'd like to see the blobfish in its full and true glory!

From June 2012: My Tribute to the Blobfish

If you've seen "Men in Black 3" the animal in this picture should look familiar. It's a blobfish. Yes, there really is a fish that looks exactly like Jimmy Durante swimming around, or more accurately, floating around, in the ocean.

The blobfish only grows to about 12" in length. It lives 2,000-3,000 feet below the ocean surface in the waters south east of Australia. That's the same depth that fishermen have to go to catch lobster, crabs, and some of our other favorite seafood that we've fished out from shallower waters. The blobfish has no commercial value: it's inedible.

Blobby has no way to escape the fishing nets because, just like he(she?) looks, he's basically a glob of Jell-O. His body is buoyant and he floats in the water column at a depth of about 800m. He doesn't need muscles or oxygen to swim because he doesn't have to swim.

According to Dr. Callum Roberts, one of the world's most respected experts on marine conservation, the blobfish is in danger of becoming extinct because of overfishing: "The Australian and New Zealand deep trawling fishing fleets are some of the most active in the world so if you are a blobfish then it is not a good place to be."

It's sad that, to satisfy our demand for seafood, we're willing to eliminate animals that most people don't even know about. This isn't a case of "people are starving so we have to do this to feed them." These are high-end seafood products going to feed people who all ready have too much protein in their diets. It's even sadder to think, given the vast ocean, that we're unwilling to protect even small areas of it to ensure ocean resources are around for future generations.

Those grumbling loudest about "traditional values" might want to remember back to the day when saving was a prized value. People delayed gratification, foregoing something now for something better in the future. I hold little hope that the marine environment will improve in the future--not with a world population of 7 billion and growing--but maybe by saving some of it now, we can at least have something left for the future.

If you're worried about the blobfish, or any other animal we might be destroying with poor fishing practices, here are some things you can do:

  • Before you order that lobster, crab, or other seafood item on the menu, find out where it's from. Only order, buy, eat sustainably harvested seafood.
  • Eat lower on the food chain.
  • Support the establishment and management of marine protected areas.
  • Use birth control. (Seriously. Don't you think 7 billion people on the planet is a little ridiculous? You don't really need more than replacement children, i.e. 2 kids per couple?)


Bathroom Reader Institute (2007). Uncle John's Under the Slimy Sea. Bathroom Readers' Press, Ashland, Oregon. 144 pp.

Hough, Andrew (2010). Blobfish: world's most 'miserable looking' marine animal facing extinction. The Telegraph. Available at:
Photo from The Telegraph.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Jellyfish Lovers' Paradise!

Thanks to a Facebook post by my friend Dave Jenkins from Down Under, I've discovered a dream destination for jellyfish lovers, like myself! Jellyfish Lake in Palau is a marine lake on the island of Eil Malk. The lake is connected to the ocean by fissures and tunnels through the limestone from reefs that built the island.

Photo from To-Travelling - visit their website for more on the
lake and other fun things to do and see in Palau.

Not only is Jellyfish Lake a cnidarian-lovers' dream, but a chemical oceanographers' fantasy playground, too! The lake is stratified into oxygenated and anoxic layers, the deeper layer, devoid of oxygen, is also a toxic pool of hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, and phosphate due to a combination of conditions that prevent mixing of the two layers.

From Wikipedia

Wait! There's more! This is also a playground of fun discoveries for marine microbiologists: the first three meters of the anoxic zone is laden with bacteria, including at least one species of a purple photosynthetic sulfur bacterium. The bacterial population is so dense that this layer absorbs all sunlight so the anoxic layer below the bacterial plate is pitch dark, but transparent. Sadly, the hydrogen sulfide can be absorbed through a person's skin--and kill them--so you and I won't be able to dive down and see that for ourselves. SCUBA diving isn't allowed in the lake, only snorkeling, in an effort to keep tourists from dying.

Want to see what it looks like to swim through a lake filled with jellies? Click here to watch a YouTube video of the experience. While the video caption says these guys are non-stinging, that's not quite accurate. The golden jellies do sting, but their nematocysts have little effect on humans. We  hardly notice them unless you're allergic, in which case, you'll know they sting!

I've added yet another destination to my always-growing list of places to visit. Other people have bucket-lists of things to do before they die, my list is a travel itinerary. So many fabulous places left for me to explore. Finding one that is the ideal destination for a biogeochemistry loving island girl, well, that's the epitome of "must-see" places. Thanks for sharing, Dave!

For more on the lake and things to see and do in Palau, go to the Palau Visitor's Authority website here.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Sailing the Aegean (REPOST)

My computer hard-drive crashed and burned 2 weeks ago so I now have a new computer complete with Windows 8. I'm still getting accustomed to's slow going. When Matt set up my new laptop, he made my photo album from our sailing trip in Turkey in September 2007 the wallpaper and screensaver slide show. The pictures are bringing back wonderful memories, so thought I'd repost my original blog account of that adventure here.


Sailing the Aegean
The Aegean Sea: Sun, sand, warm breezes and clear blue waters, or, as Homer  more accurately described it, "The wine dark sea." Throw in  some ancient ruins, modern cities, phenomenal food and a welcoming crew that  cater to your every need and that was our perfect sailing adventure in Turkey with Azure Odyssey (
Us, on board the Azure Dolunay

Matt and I, along with our friends Todd, Donna, Nadine and Ted, started and  ended our adventure at the Su Hotel in the bustling seaside resort town of  Bodrum on the southwest coast of Turkey. We were picked up at the Bodrum airport by the hotel van for the 30 minute drive into town. Our excitement grew as we passed palm trees and resorts, crested the hill into  downtown Bodrum and wound our way through narrow streets and dark alleys. Our excitement changed to concern when our driver parked and we proceeded on  foot down a bustling, narrow side street and into a dark alley. Where was  he taking us? When we opened the gate into the courtyard of The Su Hotel (, we knew - paradise!
The Su Hotel is a group of beautiful, bright white Mediterranean-style  buildings just a few blocks from the waterfront, but hidden away from  everything by vine-covered walls. It’s an oasis of tropical vegetation - hibiscus, bougainvillea, golden trumpets and palm trees. The hotel cat  greeted us and led us into the main courtyard, where the invitingly lit pool sparkled and begged to be swum in. The buildings and rooms are  trimmed in bright, primary colors. Turkish mirrors, plates, pictures, amphorae and urns line the walls, enticing you to explore every nook and  cranny. The dining area is a large courtyard with comfy cushioned seats and benches around long white tables. The delicious aromas coming from the kitchen were fully matched by the great food that followed. The staff made us feel right at home, except Matt doesn’t get service and food quite this good at home!   
Matt taking photos of the Su Hotel courtyard and pool

There are great sites all around Bodrum. We explored the bazaar for spices, clothes, plates, tapestries and beautiful materials, pillow-covers and bedspreads.  Vendors sell fresh seafood along the waterfront, and there are loads of treasures to be found in little shops down all the twisty alleys. The bright, intricate designs of the pottery drew us into Vivaldi, a shop specializing in pottery and ceramics using traditional techniques and designs, as well as exploring new methods and patterns ( The Bodrum Castle sits prominently looking over the harbor and we spent most of a day exploring its collections on history, culture, shipwrecks, and art. 
Me and Matt at Bodrum Castle

As great as the shopping and sightseeing in Bodrum are, the focus of our trip was our cruise.  Azure Odyssey has a fleet of four traditional Turkish sailing vessels (gullets) ranging in size from 19 to 30 meters that can comfortably accommodate 12 to 18 people (2 per cabin), depending on which vessel you choose. Our fantastic crew – Captain Yavuz, Sailor Mustafa, and Cook Comhur – welcomed us about the Azure Dolunay, a 22 meter gullet with six passenger cabins (each with its own head). Once aboard and settled into our cabins, we headed out to sea.
Azure Odyssey has a helpful and detailed web site that lets you plan out your own itinerary, selecting archaeological and historic sites, natural areas for snorkeling, swimming or hiking, or whatever your interests are. We weren’t that motivated, so we let the crew know what we were interested in (a little bit of everything, but not too much of it), and left the planning up to them. We were lucky to have the boat’s owner, Darlene, with us. She’s from Endwell, NY (small world!) and we worked together at NOAA in Charleston for a while.  She’d told me about Turkey back then, and I’ve wanted to go on this cruise ever since. She answered all our questions about history and culture, food, language, people, the boat, shopping, sightseeing and everything else we could think – a real bonus for us!

Our five day cruise took us around Gökova Bay. We visited secluded coves at Oraklar Island, Tekerek Harbour and Tuzla Bay for snorkeling and hiking, a small island with ancient ruins and a white, sandy beach (Sedir  Island, also known as Cleopatra’s Beach), and a tiny harbor town (one store and a few houses) that served as a departure point for an overland trip to the busy port town of Marmaris for shopping and sightseeing.  We kept up a relaxing daily schedule of eating, snorkeling, eating, hiking, eating, swimming, eating, occasional dancing, and more eating.  Each morning started with our wonderful crewman, Mustafa, bringing us coffee, followed by breakfast. After only a day or two, we were plotting ways to lure Comhur back to Germany with us so we could continue to eat the great meals and snacks he prepared. What a cook!
Exploring a secluded beach.

Although the snorkeling in this area doesn’t offer the abundance of marine life found in the Caribbean or other sailing destinations, we did see a variety of fish, eels, urchins and lots of fried-egg jellyfish (Cotylorhiza tuberculata). These jellyfish are a yellow with an orange circle in the center, thus their name. Unlike most jellyfish, they don’t have stinging cells and are active swimmers, moving to sunny areas to keep the algae that live in their tissues happy.  We also spotted a brightly colored Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis), yellow wag tails (Motacilla flava) and other common sea birds (gulls, cormorants and heron), and a flock of geese that made their home along the docks in one harbor. Sadly, the most abundant thing we found snorkeling was trash – newspapers, cans and bottles and potato chip bags. Darlene is on a single-handed mission to clean up the waters they sail and returned from each snorkeling trip with a bag or two of garbage she’d collected. We occasionally tore ourselves out of our food-induced lethargy and picked up a can or two in support of her efforts, too.
A fried-egg jelly, Cotylorhiza tuberculata.

Our best wildlife spot of all was Badem, a Mediterranean Monk Seal, one of the most endangered mammals in the world. Badem was found along the coast in December 2006 when she was 4-6 weeks old. She’d been separated from her mother, she was rescued and cared for by Underwater Research Society – Mditerranean Seal Research Group (SAD-AFAG, in its Turkish acronym). A local businessman, Mustaca Koç, and his family, covered most of the rehabilitation cost of the orphaned seal and have led efforts to ensure residents, boat crews and visitors help ensure the future of Badem and the remaining monk seals in the region. The Turkish Coast Guard and SAD-AFAG monitor Badem’s movements and try to minimize interactions between Badem and people so that she’ll more quickly adapt back to her natural way of life. Badem has other ideas.  She’s decided that people have better sleeping accommodations than rocky beaches and frequently jumps into the dinghies of anchored boats for her afternoon nap! She also likes to play with snorkelers. The boat crews help the protection efforts by letting their passengers know not to approach or try to touch Badem, she is, after all, a wild animal and will bite if threatened. But, she has no qualms in going for a ride as she showed us when we met her in Tuzla Bay where she was napping in a neighboring vessel’s dinghy. The captain rowed her over to our boat so we could ooh and aah and take pictures while she slept on. It’s illegal to approach her, touch her, feed her or harass her in any way, but she sure makes it difficult not to! (For more information on Badem, go to:

Badem, settling in for an afternoon nap.

All in all, we had a fantastic time and learned many valuable lessons. Todd won’t drink his bourbon starting at 9 a.m., Lynne won’t drink turkish coffee--ever, Matt won’t dance with Comhur, Ted will get a bigger lens, and Nadine and Donna will try to avoid men with big lenses! And we’d all HIGHLY recommend a blue cruise with Azure Odyssey to all of our friends!

This post first appeared on our European travels blog:

Thursday, June 6, 2013

2013 Lowcountry Splash--Completed!

I completed my third Lowcountry Splash on Saturday, June 1. Although I didn't have my swim-buddy Tom with me, I still managed to enjoy the event and survive. Not like open-water swims are conducive to socializing anyway...except for the outstanding party that the Splash organizers host at the end of the event...but more on that later!

Click HERE to find out more about the Splash!

Of the three Splashes I've participated in, this was by far my favorite. The conditions were fabulous---no wind-induced chop, no harbor waves, no feeling like I was being tossed around in a washing machine once I passed under the bridge. We started at 7:30-ish, so almost slack tide. A little more push from an outgoing tide and the river current would have been okay, but the smooth conditions more than made up for that.

What a GREAT morning for a swim! (photo courtesy of Lowcountry Splash)

This year, the Splash included a 5-mile swim, along with the usual 2.4 miler. I did the latter, shorter swim, but 107 brave souls headed out from Daniel Island 30 minutes before our start for that race. To all of them, CONGRATULATIONS! A pretty spectacular feat. And, since many of the faster women who would have been competing in my age group swam that instead, THANK YOU! Because of that, I finished 5th in my age group (out of 15).

In the 2.4 mile race, I finished 186 out of 389 with a time of 52:03. Not my fastest, but because of changing current and tide conditions, it's impossible to compare times from one year to the next.  My relative ranking, right around the middle of the pack, has stayed consistent from year-to-year, right around 47-50%. My first year (2010, where I'm listed in the results as Lynn Hinkley) I had a 58:08 and finished 197/399, and in my second year (2011), I swam it in 48:25 (229/490). You can see from the times what a big difference conditions can make. The waves were horrendous in 2011--everyone felt like they'd been beat up--but times were fast thanks to a big push on the fast-moving outgoing tide.

While we didn't get much push from the current this year, it was still there, most notably at the start when we were trying to stay behind the start buoys and had to continuously swim back upstream. This years start struck me as all-sorts-of-different from previous years. I don't remember the starting area being so shallow. Lots of people walked through the mucky bottom to get there. A little too oozy for me and Lindsay Shuler, who I started with (and who beat me by 2 minutes in her first Splash swim--congratulations, Lindsay!) We moved out into deeper water. The start was single-wave, all 389 swimmers at once, rather than in 2-waves, based on estimated finish time, like they'd done in previous years. I think this was because of the 100 5-mile swimmers coming toward us. Whatever the reason, the start was more chaotic than I remember! It took a lot longer for the crowd to spread out than I recall from past swims, but maybe I always feel that way and block the horror of the mass-swim-starts from my mind!

And we're off! (photo from the Lowcountry Splash Facebook page)

Once I did have a bit of elbow (and leg) room, the swim was great--78 degree, smooth water, a sunny, mild day, and doing my favorite activity, swimming. What's not to love?

At the end of the race, the Splash organizers put on a great party, complete with music by Eddie Bush, lots of good food, beer (yes, breakfast beer at the 9:00-ish post-race party! Hurray!), dancing, and games. A good time was most definitely had by all!

The finish line at Patriot's Point Marina. (photo from the
Lowcountry Splash Facebook page.)

The Splash supports some great causes (The Logan Rutledge Children's Foundation and the Charleston County LAPS program, a learn-to-swim program for area schools) so it's  not only fun, but helps out a lot of people, too! I hope you'll all think about joining me in next year's swim--who knows, maybe I'll even try the 5-mile swim for my entrance into the 50-54 age group since I'll be aging up for next year's event!

For Splash results, and more info on the annual Lowcountry Splash, click here.

To see pictures from the Splash on Facebook (and to "like" their page), go here.

See you all in the pool!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

From the SC In-Water Boat Show

I had a great time at the SC In-Water Boat Show, and even managed to sell some books. Almost enough to make up for the really cool light I bought! I've scheduled a reading/book signing with the Daniel Island fishing club and a segment on Lowcountry Live from contacts I made at the show, too.

My display at the SC In-Water Boat Show

Boaters and people who work in and around marinas and the water are always full of great stories and a contagious joie de vivre that reminds me of why I enjoyed my days at Sea Grant so very much! Of course I met lots of fun and interesting new people, so a big thank you to Meaghan and everyone in the SC Marine Association for putting on such a fun event, and to all the vendors who made it pleasant, even in the rain on Friday and cold on Sunday! Ralph and Jim from Superior Diesel, Neil and the Tide Tamer guys (who introduced me to a yummy new drink!), Brenda at Lots of Lights, Candace and her friends at the St. John's Yacht Harbor booth, and Sammy and his son at their salad dressing sales booth, thank you all for a great weekend!

My display at the SC In-Water Boatshow
Red Stag (black cherry flavored bourbon) and Dr. Pepper--yummm!
Thanks, Neil!

One of the cool lights offered by Brenda from "Lots of Lights"
More lights. I bought a white-turquoise-green one.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Great Weekend to Get Out on the Water!!!

Spring has finally sprung here in Charleston, South Carolina. We've had temperatures in the 80s for the past two days, the sun is shining, azaleas, dogwoods, and wisteria are blooming, and the pollen count is through the roof! It's a great time to get out on the water!

The perfect opportunity to do that is coming up on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the SC Marine Associations SC In-Water Boat Show at Daniel Island's Waterfront Park. For more details and the schedule of events, go to:

Want a signed copy of Marina Melee? Come on out--I'll be there!

Friday, March 8, 2013

2013 Lowcountry Splash!

Looking for a good excuse to visit Charleston in late spring/early summer? Sign up now for the Annual Lowcountry Splash--a 2.4-mile open water swim in the Cooper River and Charleston Harbor on Saturday, June 1, 2013! And for those who need a bit more of a challenge, this year the Splash is offering a 5-mile swim option, too.

Me, stopping near the Mt. Pleasant Pier for a photo op during the 2011 Splash!
(photo courtesy of Matt Drobnik)

For me, the Splash is a great way to stay motivated to swim throughout the cold, wet, and dreary winter months. I go to to get a new workout three times each week from January through May (at least, 3X/week is always my starting plan...we'll see if I keep that up this year!) I have a really short attention span so can't just get in and swim laps--I need varied workouts with different strokes, equipment, and drills or I get bored. Swimplan provides that for me, although I do adapt intervals and some sets depending on whether I'm swimming in the 25yd pool at WL Stephens or the 50m pool at MLK. I start with workouts in the 20000-2500 yd range in January and build to 4000 yards by May. The swim itself is 2.4 miles (about 4400  yards) but with the tide, so swims more like about 3000 yards.

One of my best-est friends, brother-in-law Tom, will be coming to Charleston at the end of May for us to compete in our 3rd Splash event. It's always a fun swim (and since it's with the tide, it's a relatively easy swim too, other than the occasional wave-to-the-face once we get under the bridge and into the harbor!) If you need further enticement to sign up, there's a great party with music, food, massages, and beer afterwards, too.

Me and Tom, ready to Splash! 2011 Lowcountry Splash.
(photo courtesy of Matt Drobnik)

Proceeds from the Splash benefit the Logan Rutledge Children's Foundation, a local not for profit organization promoting the health and welfare of children in the Lowcountry. The foundation was established in May of 2002 in memory of Logan Jennings Rutledge (7/30/01-08/26/01). Since its beginning the foundation has supported the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the Medical University of South Carolina and has made numerous contributions to assist individual children in need in the Lowcountry. A new learn-to-swim initiative in Charleston, the Lowcountry Aquatics Program Swimming (LAPS)  will be one of the Splash's beneficiaries this year, as well. This new program provides lifelong aquatics opportunities for Lowcountry residents--with a special emphasis on teaching children in underprivileged Lowcountry areas to swim, thus reducing the incidence of accidental drownings.

Register now, and I'll see you at the Splash!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Oh, Those Wild, Sexy Reef Fish!

WARNING: If you're easily offended by "unnatural" phenomenon like sex-changes this is NOT the post for you to read! It's all about the all-too-common occurrence on the reef of fish undergoing a sex change.

For the rest of you, read on. This is fascinating stuff!

Out in the real world, meaning the one we humans haven't artificially insulated ourselves from with technology, where the realities of life and death are governed by chemical and physical laws, animals must stick to a strict budget. It isn't a financial budget, but an energy budget that must be balanced. Every living organism, for its survival and the survival of the species, does whatever it takes to optimize energy use.

Energy InWork to Survive 


Energy In = the number of useable calories an organism takes in, and

Work to Survive = using those calories for growth, finding food, shelter, defending your shelter, finding a mate, the process of mating, and repair of tissue damage or injury incurred from any of the above activities.

If you don't take enough energy in, you can't do all of the activities needed to survive. The whole point of survival in the animal kingdom is to reproduce. The more offspring you have, the more likely your genes are to survive through subsequent generations, thereby making you somewhat immortal.

As anyone on a budget can tell you, making sure that what you take in can cover all your expenses, you have to make some trade-offs. The more you spend on having fancy things and defending them, the less you have to wine and dine potential mates. But, without those accoutrements that announce your relative fitness, even your superiority, to prospective mates you won't get that opportunity.

No surprise that the perfect balance is different for males and females. In most species, females do the majority of the work in the offspring department. Whether they carry those embryos internally, or scatter them to the currents in the ocean, they still have the greater energy investment in egg production. Their eggs provide all the initial nutrition and organelles, as well as DNA, to the newly fertilized offspring. Sperm are packs of DNA and nothing more. It doesn't take much energy to make them.

This difference in energy expenditure for reproduction is one of the driving forces behind sexual dimorphism: differences in physical appearance between the males and females of a species. In particular, this accounts for size differences: When males have to protect territory or a harem from other males, spending energy to get bigger makes sense. When you can swim in, release lots of sperm, and leave, being small and quick is beneficial. Likewise, if a female produces many eggs, a far more energy intensive undertaking than sperm production, being large is beneficial.

Since "survival of the fittest" doesn't really mean not dying, but actually reproducing, "success" in the natural world means producing healthy offspring that go on to be successful themselves, the more offspring you produce, the better. If a female with a larger body cavity can produce more eggs per reproductive episode, and the more eggs produced increases her potential reproductive success, it's to her benefit to be a big female. Conversely, if larger males have greatly increased reproductive success (i.e. gain control of a harem), it would be beneficial to be a big male.

This is known as the size advantage model, developed by Ghiselin in 1969, that states "if an individual could significantly increase its reproductive success after reaching a certain size by being a different sex, it would be to their advantage to switch to that sex." And on the coral reef, they do!

Here are some of the brilliant reef fish that can change sex--sometimes in a matter of a few hours.
The Blueheaded Wrasse
The cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus. Typically, live in harems with a dominant male around cleaning stations. When the male is removed, the largest female becomes a functional male. The Blueheaded wrasse, Thalassoma bifasciatum, do not form harems, but the dominant or terminal males take temporary control of spawning sites. Removal of terminal males results in the largest females transforming.

Moonheaded Wrasse
When the largest female turns into a male, it is called Protogyny, Almost all the sex-changing species in the Caribbean are protogynous hermaphrodites, switching from females to males after reaching a certain size, age, or when the harem's male is removed. Some other examples are the parrotfish, Spanish hogfish, Holacanthus tricolor (the rock beauty angelfish), and some damselfish.

Rock Beauty

Clownfish in their anemone
Anemone fish, like the skunk anemonefish Amphiprion akallaopisos, and clownfish, like Nemo, are protandrous. They change from male to female. Anemonefish live in monogamous pairs composed of a large female and a smaller, functional male. The pair may share their anemone-home with other, small, stunted (not sexually developed) males (juveniles; all anemonefish are born male). When the female is removed, the functional male changes sex and the largest juvenile becomes a functional male. Snook (Centropomus undecimalis) are one of the few known Caribbean protandrous fish.

Some reef fish, like gobies, can actively change sex in either direction. This lets them maximize their genetic fitness under any environmental situation.

There are many amazing things in the natural world. We'd do well to study them, be amazed by them, and learn from them. Our lesson from these fish? Embrace change, especially when it benefits us!

For More Info on Sex Changing Fish:
DeLoach, Ned and Paul Humann (1999). Reef Fish Behavior: Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas. New World Publications, Inc. Jacksonville, FL. 359 pp.
Hendrickson, Robert (1984). The Ocean Almanac. Doubleday. New York, NY. 446 pp.
The National Audobon Society (1997). Field Guide to Tropical Marine Fishes: Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, Florida, Bahamas, Bermuda. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. New York, NY. 720 pp.
Rice, Aaron N. (undated). Physiology of Sex-Change in Reef Fish. Available at:


Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Herd of Turtles?

Most people are familiar with the nouns used to refer to collective groups of common terrestrial animals and birds: herd of cows, flock of birds, congress of baboons, litters of cats/kittens/puppies, to name a few. Everyone has also heard of schools of fish.

Here are a few more collective nouns to describe other marine and aquatic  animals (and no, it isn't a herd of turtles!):

A bale of turtles
A bed of clams or oysters
A gam, herd, school, or pod of whales
A herd or pod of seals (also a bob, colony, crash, harem, rookery, or spring of seals!)
A hover of trout
A knot of toads

A herd or pod of walruses
A pod or school of porpoises
A siege or shoal of herring
A shoal of bass (or of most fish species)
A smack of jellyfish

A pack of polar bears (sounds like the start of a tongue-twister, doesn't it?)
A seige or sedge of bitterns
A flight of cormorants
A glint of goldfish
A colony of gulls
A hedge, sedge, or seige of herons
A romp of otters (ottes also come in bevies, families, or rafts, but I like romp!)

A colony, cr`eche, huddle, parcel, or rookery of penguins
A congregation or wing of plovers
A run, school, or shoal of salmon
A shiver of shark

Friday, January 4, 2013

What's Up with Waterspouts?

What's up with waterspouts? Sometimes it's fish that go up with them, sometimes periwinkles, and sometimes just clay particles that mix with the condensed water in the funnel cloud and then fall as red water, also known as a "rain of blood." But more on that later...

First, let's take a closer look at this spectacular phenomenon.

Fair-weather waterspout

For as long as humans have observed and recorded events on and around large water bodies, the appearance of waterspouts has evoked superstition, fear, and even contributed to the romance of the sea. Sailors have attributed the phenomenon to sea dragons, sea serpents, and evil spirits. Arabian sailors believed them to be manifestations of Jinees--powerful spirits capable of assuming various forms.
The reality behind the myths and mysteries is twofold: some waterspouts are tornadic, formed from the same factors that result in terrestrial tornados, and others are fair-weather spouts.

Tornadic waterspouts drop down from thunderstorms, squall lines, or the leading edge of advancing cold fronts. Like the typical twisters seen in movies and on episodes of Storm Chasers, tornadic spouts have dark, sinister funnels spawned from large, turbulent "parent clouds."  These are seen most frequently at middle latitudes, off the lee shores of large landmasses where cold continental air sweeps over warmer water. Tornadic waterpouts are often bona fide land tornados that go to sea or cross large inland bodies of water. Tornadic spouts can form over water and come ashore as true tornados, and alike true tornados, they can abate and come back more than once.

Fair-weather waterspouts arise solely over water. They develop at sea level and climb skyward when humid, superheated air circulates convectionally with cooler overhead air. Fair-weather spouts tend to be smaller and of shorter duration than the tornadic variety and are considered relatively harmless. These prevail in equatorial regions, although they do occur in all latitudes during the transition seasons of spring and fall.

In the northern hemisphere, tornadic waterspouts rotate cyclonically (counter clockwise) with wind speeds of up to 130 mph. They can be quite long-lived, lasting on average 15-30-minutes. Their advancing speeds tend to be rather slow (less than 5 mph). Conversely, fair-weather spouts travel faster over a given distance, moving at speeds up to 30 mph, but their rotative speed is much lower. They also dissipate quite quickly, rarely lasting as long as 20-minutes. Fair-weather spouts may rotate in either direction, depending on the nature of the convection currents that form them.

Both types of waterspouts are quasi-seasonal at best. They're seen more frequently in temperate latitudes between May and October, and more in the deep tropics from October through March. Exceptions abound throughout the year in any locale.

String of waterspouts forming over Charlotte Amalie Harbor,
St. Thomas, USVI (2007).
Tornadic waterspouts are more dangerous and destructive since they form from storm clouds. The same dangerous conditions found with severe thunderstorms---strong winds, large seas, hail, and lightening--are commonly found around tornadic spouts. While tornadic spouts are the more dangerous of the two types of spouts, care should be taken when encountering either one of these natural phenomena.

Cool Waterspout Facts

  • The Great Waterspout of 1896 formed off Martha's Vineyard on August 19th of that year. Photographs and first-hand accounts from veteran mariners verified the spout was 144 feet thick and 3600 feet high. The spout formed not once, but three times within 45 minutes.
The Great Waterspout of 1896. (Photo from NOAA Image Library.)

  • A Tampa, Florida waterspout (June 13, 1952) caused over $75,000 in property damage when it came ashore with 100 mph winds. 

  • On September 5, 1935, a tornado/waterspout formed near Norfolk, Virginia and rampaged across Tidewater and Hampton Roads, where it flung railroad cars off their tracks before moving out to sea over the Chesapeake Bay.     

  • Waterspouts can form over freshwater in rivers and lakes, as well as saltwater bodies. Several have formed on the Hudson River over the last 100 years.

  • The longest recorded waterspout occurred off Eden, Australia on May 16, 1898. Theodolite measurements verified its height at 5,014 feet (although it was only 10' in diameter).

  • The widest waterspout on record was 700' wide, formed at Blunt's Reef, California on November 14, 1914.

  • Waterspouts have resulted in "rains" of fish, frogs, lizards, tadpoles, and periwinkles, most likely due to waterspouts coming ashore over low-lying marshlands and swamps.

  • Some waterspouts have resulted in a "rain of blood" when the spout churns up a nearby stretch of red mud or clay, mixing the particles with the spouts condensed water droplets that fall when the spout dissipates.


All At Sea.

Hendrickson, Robert. 1984. The Ocean Almanac. Doubleday Press. 446 pp.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.