Monday, November 2, 2015

Capital idea

A half month has flown by here in Washington, DC, where we are anchored in the Washington Channel (map). I am seriously behind on the blog, with much to report and plenty of photos, so grab a cup of coffee or a beer and settle in -- I'll wait.

The view from our dinner table at Redstone American Grill. The lights on the Capital Wheel lit up the whole marina.

When last I posted here (well, not counting the mini-post about technical difficulties with Twitterfeed, which seem to be resolved), we were still at National Harbor, just south of DC and about seven miles from here on the river. We enjoyed our short stay there and our visit with our friends Bradley and Kathy aboard Shear Madness.

National Harbor marina. You can see the Washington Monument in the distance to the right; Vector is bottom center, just behind the two large yachts. Taken from the top floor of the Gaylord hotel.

In addition to wandering the immense complex there, we enjoyed dinner and breakfast at two of the restaurants, walked through the Gaylord Resort, which was very reminiscent of the Opryland Hotel (also a Gaylord property), and rode the Capital Wheel. The view from the wheel is spectacular, but the inside secret is that you can get the same view for free by riding the elevator to the top of the Gaylord. Fortunately we did not pay extra for the Wheel, as our friends garnered some free passes for us.

Vector from atop the Capital Wheel. That's Shear Madness off our port quarter (top right of photo).

About mid-day we dropped lines, stopped at the pumpout dock, and then headed up the Potomac to DC. It was a pleasant cruise, and I was struck by how relaxed the waterfront is here, as compared to New York. We saw no Coast Guard boats, no Harbor Patrol boats, and no law enforcement of any kind, a stark contrast to New York Harbor where the Coasties have their 50-caliber guns mounted and at the ready, and law enforcement vessels are everpresent. Considering you can't walk down the street here without passing officers from three or four different agencies, the waterfront seemed anomalous.

Washington sits at the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers; between the two is the Washington Channel, which leads to the Tidal Basin by way of the neighborhood known as Southwest Waterfront. Several marinas line the channel, along with the docks for a half dozen tour boats. The channel is a dead end, closed to navigation at the cluster of bridges that separate it from the Tidal Basin, and there is room here for a dozen or so boats to anchor.

After circling the anchorage we selected a spot immediately across from the brand new docks of the Capital Yacht Club and dropped the hook. We contacted the DC Harbor Patrol, a requirement for vessels anchoring here, gave them our details, and received our clearance.

We were ruminating about dropping the tender for dinner or just eating aboard when I spotted Bradley and his new deckhand, Austin, cruising up the channel in their tender. Bradley told me the tender had been sitting a while and he wanted to breeze it out; we ended up getting in with them and heading over to the Cantina Marina restaurant at the nearby Gangplank Marina for dinner.

Sunset over East Potomac Park and the Washington Channel from the Cantina Marina. That's Greta Van Susteren's Trumpy motor yacht, "Sophie," at the dock on the right.

In the morning we dropped the tender and checked in with the yacht club, who provided us a card key to access the docks, bathrooms, lounge, and bar. We pay $16 per day for the privilege, which includes Internet access..

East Potomac Park to our south. That's the Marine Corps Marathon in progress, the day I took Louise to the airport.

Looking up the channel to the northwest we can see the Washington Monument, soaring behind the Mandarin Oriental hotel, and the dome of the Jefferson Memorial. To our south is East Potomac Park, home to the Park Police, a golf course, and a waterfront trail popular with cyclists and runners. Across the channel, just beyond the new docks, is a giant construction project, The Wharf, a mixed-use development to revitalize the waterfront. We hear the pile drivers during the day, but it has not been any sort of problem.

Vector at anchor, as seen from East Potomac Park. To the right you can see the yacht club docks, with the construction cranes and L'Enfant Plaza behind. At left is the I-395 bridge and the Washington Monument.

Beyond the construction project is L'Enfant Plaza, a Brutalist-style office/retail complex where we can access the Metro in almost any direction. There was once a four-star hotel on the upper levels, the first place I ever stayed in DC, in my youth and shortly after the complex opened. I had hoped to go there one evening for dinner, but the hotel closed in 2013 for a year-long renovation and has never reopened.

An easy few-block walk to our east is a nice, new Safeway grocery store, along with a CVS and a couple of trendy restaurants. We wandered over early on to check it out and to descend to the Metro station there to buy the new SmartCards we needed for the Metro and buses, trading in the collection of paper FareCards I'd been saving, including the Obama inauguration commemorative one. I was amused to see one of these at the Smithsonian later.

The President flies over Vector. East Potomac Park in the background.

The Washington Channel and the Tidal Basin are used as visual landmarks for the helicopters that are an everyday presence in DC. That includes a pair of VIP transports that shuttle back and forth to the Pentagon (the most frequent of the lot), the Coast Guard patrolling the river, a few fully-armed gunships assigned to defend high-value targets in the city, and of course the white-topped VIP transports that serve as Marine One, carrying the President. The choppers run at all hours but mostly have not been a bother. One day I was heading ashore in the tender when I heard the rumble; I was able to get the camera out just in time to catch the President flying right over Vector (three white-tops in formation is a sure sign that one of them has the Commander-in-Chief aboard).

Louise's dad, Jerry, and stepmom, Kay, had booked a cruise this month out of New York City, and when they learned we'd be in DC for a couple of weeks, they added a stop here to their itinerary. It was fortuitous timing, in that their cruise departed just a day or so before Louise's flight to Houston. They arrived here a couple of days after we settled in, and we were able to catch up over dinner and do some sightseeing together.

Jerry wanted to see the Udvar-Hazy Center out in Chantilly, Virginia near Dulles Airport, and I've wanted to see it for a long time as well. We've actually spent a good deal of time in that neighborhood working at the Red Cross facility there, but Louise detests air and space museums, so we'd never stopped; this was my big chance. We rented a car and the four of us drove out for the day, and I found it very enjoyable.

The Mobile Quarantine Facility from Apollo 11. That's the space shuttle Discovery in the background, still charred from its final return from space.

I typically don't take photos at museums; there are far better photos than I can take available on-line of every museum artifact in the world. (I seldom take photos of buildings or monuments for the same reason.) But I could not resist snapping a shot of the Apollo 11 "Mobile Quarantine Facility" manufactured by Airstream and looking much like one of their travel trailers. I credit the moon shots with putting "Airstream" into the lexicon of the non-RVing American public, myself included. I was a boy of eight when I first saw this very artifact on TV, with an as-yet unsullied President Nixon standing in front of it and Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins beaming big smiles from inside. It is, perhaps, one of the early contributors to me catching the RV bug -- cool enough for astronauts, cool enough for me.

The space suit, at the White House Astronomy Night. Photo by Matias Ocner, SHFWire.

At the end of the day, as we were all sitting in a set of chairs resting our poor feet, two museum staff walked past us wheeling a large space suit, fully assembled and held upright on a metal rack with casters. I casually said "there's something you don't see every day." I did not realize it at the time, but the suit was just returning from the White House, having been on display there the previous evening as part of the White House Astronomy Night. I'm sorry I did not snap a photo of it rolling by.

View over the Tidal Basin from the tour bus. We are on the bridge and Vector is behind me.

One day we elected to do one of the hop-on, hop-off bus tours of the city. Call us corny, but we actually like to do these in cities with lots to see; it's easier on Louise's feet than most of the alternatives, and sometimes the narration can be hilarious. We did two different loops across two days on a 24-hour ticket; on the first day the open-air bus managed to be in just the right place to get stopped for fifteen minutes while the metro police closed off the roads for Obama's chopper to land. We could not see the south lawn but the bird flew right past us. On the second day we needed to get a cab back to Jerry and Kay's hotel from the final stop, and once again they closed the streets (for a motorcade, I think) just in front of us.

The President, stopping traffic again. You can see the police in front of us; White House is off frame to the left.

We did not really hop on and off the bus except for one stop, at the National Cathedral. I opted not to go inside (I've been there before) and instead walked around the grounds. Both of the west towers have been constructed since my first visit, and all three towers are again sporting scaffolding as they continue to repair damage from the 2011 earthquake. As a side note, we boarded this bus at the Washington Hilton, at the conference entrance, in more or less the exact spot where President Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hickley, Jr. in 1981. The spot looks much the same as it did 34 years ago.

The National Cathedral. You can't make him out, but Darth Vader is in this photo.

While Jerry and Kay were in town we also enjoyed the International Spy Museum, not far from their hotel, and we had a couple of casual meals in their neighborhood. I'm sure the hotel cost them a small fortune (DC is an expensive city), and we helped them get the most of it by crashing the complimentary cocktail hour a couple of evenings. It was a nice visit, and we bid them farewell as they grabbed a cab to the airport after breakfast at the hotel.

I wandered the terminal after accompanying Louise to National Airport. This is the "historic" terminal; I remember this space as bustling the last time I passed through it.

That left us a day to ourselves for Louise to pack for her own trip and to square the boat away. We also had a nice dinner at the City Club before being apart for a week. Regular readers are probably aware that Louise is in Houston right now, at the International Quilt Festival held there each year. She returns this afternoon, and I've been stag for eight days now.

That's given me a week to do all the power-walk activities that her chronic plantar fasciitis does not allow us to do together. I used the time to revisit some old favorites, and also to see some of the places that I've just never managed to make it to in perhaps a dozen visits to the city.

LM-2 in two pieces. You can make out the top of the descent motor in the lower section. That's Chuck Yeager's Glamoris Glennis in between the ascent and descent stages, also being worked on.

I started at the Air and Space Museum, where I caught some exhibits I'd never seen before, although many have been there forever and are looking a bit dated. They are in the process of moving their Lunar Module and I got a photo I am unlikely to repeat, with the ascent and descent stages separated and most of the Mylar removed.

A better view of the ascent stage. The pile of Kapton film (gold/Mylar) to cover it is at lower right. A small army of conservators was working on these artifacts during my visit.

As I came around a corner in the observatory exhibit, I found myself facing a familiar sight, the eyepiece end of the Great Lick Refractor. Well, actually just a life-size photo of same, with an actual spectrograph attached to the "telescope" in the photo. I recognized it instantly, having spent a full night with this telescope a decade ago in Odyssey; two familiar names, Remington Stone and Laurie Hatch, were on the explanatory placard.

A remarkably life-like image of a telescope, with a real instrument attached to it.

I also went for my first time to the National Archives to browse the exhibits and put eyes on the originals of our most cherished founding documents. Other firsts for me included the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court. And I made a repeat visit to the Capitol after some 40 years; without gallery tickets I had to settle for the guided tour of the building.

Mandatory Zoo photo of a giant panda.

The "O-Line" which lets the orangutans move between two enclosures, even crossing the walkway. New since my last visit.

I took most of a day to wander around the zoo, and I also visited the National Museum of American History. This building was closed for renovation on our last visit here; I was a bit sad to see the Foucault pendulum that was a centerpiece of the building is now gone forever, as are many of the computing exhibits. That's consistent with the change from it being the Museum of History and Technology; I understand the computers and maybe the pendulum will reappear in the historic Arts and Industries building as part of a new Technology museum when that building completes the renovation it is currently undergoing.

My only photo from the history museum, for one of our distinguished readers. One of the original puppets.

No blog post would be complete without an update on the unending boat projects, but I've droned on for too long already, so I will bore you with those in a later post. For now I will leave you with one last photo, flooding in East Potomac Park as seen from our deck, during this weeks extremely high tides.

If you look closely you can see park benches, behind the fence, peeking up out of the water.

I'll try to do one more update before we leave DC, with some thoughts about our plans for heading south.


  1. My grandpa was the plant engineer for Airstream for many years and had significant involvement in the Mobile Quarantine Facilities. I remember as a kid enjoying the photos in one of their spare bedrooms along with newspaper clippings, etc. I was recently told his name is on the related plaque (not sure if at all the exhibits or only the one in Huntsville?). I definitely need to work in a stop to see these exhibits in person one of these days. As you can imagine, my grandparents traveled in an Airstream and eventually started wintering in Florida in their Airstream. I guess it's in my blood that I've always had an affinity for Airstreams, and I own plenty of Life is Good camping shirts representing them, despite my Class C not being silver or shiny. :) -Allie

    1. Thanks for sharing your story. I did not read the exhibit description at the Smithsonian but they are all on the web site if you want to look for his name.


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