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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Happy Centennial, National Parks Service!


Today is a special day for all of the nature loving open space enthusiasts out there in the U.S.of A. 100 years ago, in 1916, the National Parks Service was created, protecting thousands of acres of land for all Americans to enjoy for years to come. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Saltwater Farm Vineyard - Stonington, Connecticut



Oh how I love the town of Stonington.  
Located just 35 minutes north of where I grew up in Old Lyme, this town has such a different vibe.  This little coastal town is open ocean opposed to the sound, and there is so much to do.  The people are so friendly and approachable, without the pretentious vibe that many coastal Connecticut towns have.  Almost everyone sails, and the Dog Watch is the place to be.  I am within walking distance to restaurants, bars, a beach, shops, a vineyard and a brewery.  But this is not a love letter to Stonington (although I am sure that will come in time).  Instead, this is a post dedicated to one of the gems of Stonington, Saltwater Farms Vineyard.  

Beautiful spot located right outside the borough in Stonington.  Easy access off the highway, plenty of parking, and friendly staff.  Dog friendly and you are encouraged to bring food to enjoy on the vineyard.  Rich in history as an old airplane hanger and you can walk down the old runway between the vines.  A great variety of wines from chardonay to cabernets and we really enjoyed the rose. 


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Diving for Scallops - Boston, Massachusetts



There are so many wonderful things about being back in the Northeast.  First off, there is the constant access to the water.  Growing up in New England the ocean is something we often take for granted.  Spend two years landlocked and you will realize reallllllly quick how much the ocean means to you.   Secondly, being back around the people I love has been amazing.  Again, we take our family and friends for granted and sometimes it takes a 2,200 mile move to make you realize who and what you need in your life.    

Then - living in land locked Utah- loving the mountains but missing the ocean 
And Now - Diving in New England with lobsters 
The new normal is weekends filled with family functions and outings with friends, and almost all my free time is spent outdoors, riding horses, floating in the Atlantic or diving from the point.  Don't make me pick a favorite but being able to scuba diver regularly with the people I love is one of the highlights of being home.  

Boston Scuba in Boston, Massachusetts
When a friend planned a trip to go diving for scallops in Boston Harbor my immediate answer was a YES.  First off, I had never been diving in Boston.  But most importantly, while scallop dives are semi-common here among divers in New England, they are usually in the cooler months, in deeper colder water where a dry suit is necessary (a type of suit that keeps you completely dry in the water- a very expensive one I do not own).  This trip was kind of planned as a "scallop trip for beginners", purposely scheduled in the warm month of August, in shallower scallop beds from 30-40' where the water was warmer.   The girls were all new to the art of scallop diving and we were in the best of company to make for a great day in the water.  And what a fun post to share with you all on some good ole New England fun- and an educational lesson on where that delicious scallop morsel comes from.  

Boston Harbor - The "Keep-Ah" waiting for divers!
The day was quite deceiving, with the air being far too warm, and the water being far too cool.  The air temperature hovered in the 90s while the water temperature ended up being between 50-55 degrees at depth (which was a little cooler than we expected).  However, it was still wetsuit weather meaning this was a trip I could actually go on.  I brought my semi-dry and my 7 ml suit (with gloves, socks, boots, and a hooded best) to stay warm. Wetsuits work by allowing a small amount of water in your suit.  Your body then warms up this little pool of water around you, ultimately keeping you warm, losing less heat to the water when spending long amounts of time in the water.  Water conducts heat away from the body 25 times faster than the air, hence why a 70 degree pool feels so much colder than a 70 degree room. 

The only downfall to diving in the warmer shallower water in the summer months was the boat traffic.  Instead of going out on the weekend, we had to go mid week, on a Thursday in the middle of the day.  We packed up all our gear and left Connecticut at 10:30 bound for the beautiful city of Boston. 

We arrived at the dive shop, Boston Scuba a little after 1.  We walked in paid for our charter, handed over our certification cards, signed our waivers and headed to the boat.   The trip was $80 for a 2 dive charter, with an additional $20 to tip the crew.  
We brought all our gear down to the dock and onto Boston Scuba's boat, the "Keep-Ah".
Yes, you must say it in a very dramatic Boston accent.

The "Keep-Ah" Boston Scuba's dive boat
Loading gear onto the dive boat
Once on the boat, we set up our gear and organized six peoples things on a relatively small boat.  Some people like bins, I prefer my large mesh bag. I brought along my aluminum 80s that proved to be plenty of air for each dive.  

When everyone was settled, we pushed off the dock and settled into a 45 minute boat ride to the scallop beds.  Leaving the marina you get a gorgeous view of the Boston skyline.  How fun is it to leave for a dive trip virtually right out of downtown Boston?  Sky scrapers were booming out of the city and just as fast shrinking away as you pull away from the harbor.  Private yachts, research vessels and fishing boats all made their way around the harbor.  It was just an all around beautiful day to be on the water, and we tried to enjoy the boat ride as much as we could. 

On our way to the scallops
View looking back of the city skyline
Soon enough, the captain announced we were a few minutes away from the scallop beds and we all put on our wetsuits.  It was about 93 degrees outside and wearing our thick wetsuits, we were eager to jump in the water.  A quick zip of the suit and we all jumped in without our gear to cool down.  Back on the boat and it was time to throw our gear on.  Once we were geared up and the boat was over the scallop beds, the captain announced the the "Pool was open", the captains term for jump on in.  

One by one we took one giant step off the back of the dive boat, spending a brief 5 seconds on the surface with our dive buddy before descending down 35' to the ocean floor.  As you sink down into the cold green waters of the Atlantic, you slowly let out your spool of line.  One end of the line (the end you hold) is wound up around a spool (think like a big kite spool) while the opposite end is attached to a floating buoy and a dive flag at the surface.  The diver holds the end of the line at the bottom, dragging it around, while the buoy and flag on top floats and move around the surface.  The surface flag marks your position in the water as you move.  Boats are required by law to stay 100 feet away from these flags to protect divers (we follow these flags up to the surface after our dive).  This also lets the captain know where we are while under water.  And yet another purpose, these flags mark the location of our full scallop bags.  Once you hit the bottom, its important to let out another 10' of line to make sure your flag isn't being pulled under the surface with the current. 

Motoring out to the scallop beds
The plan for the day was two separate dives before heading back to shore.  

Dive number one:  we spent about 30 minutes on the ocean floor, swimming around looking for scallops.  Be warned, there is a fair amount of current that rips through the area.  Basically once you adjust to the current and get your bearings, you are looking for a large brown scallop shell about the size of a small side plate laying flat on the bottom of the ocean floor.  Once you find them you do a quick shake or a quick tap on the shell to make sure its alive before throwing him in your catch bag.  The job gets really tough as your bag starts to fill and you are lugging this gigantic bag of scallops along the ocean floor.  First world problems?  Our first dive was cold, with water temperatures clocking around 52 degrees at 38' according to my dive computer.  I was wearing my 7 ml wetsuit, gloves, boots and a hooded vest and I was still quite chilled on this dive.  Unfortunately, we seemed to miss the scallop bed and only found about six scallops on our dive.  Instead, we spent some time swimming against the current trying not to think about how cold we were while oogling at the amount of lobsters on the bottom of the ocean.

Without a bag of scallops to hold our flag line down, we had to follow our line up to the surface, reeling in the line as we made our way to the surface.  At about 15', we did a 3 minute safety stop.  The purpose of the safety stop is to give your body a chance to offload Nitrogen that was absorbed while diving.  Even though our dive was shallow, with a max depth of 40' it is always good practice to do a safety stop at the end of each dive.  


Once at the surface, the dive boat spots the diver by his/her flag, and pulls the boat up next to you.  You hand over your flag, take off your fins, and climb up the ladder.  Back on the boat you take off your gear and the captain and crew member pull up your flag line, hopefully still tied to your bag of scallops.  While the crew pulled up our bags of scallops, we quickly switched out our old tanks, with a new full tank for the second dive.  

If you are lucky enough to fill your bag on the first dive, once on the boat you are reunited with your bag and the work has just begun.  Now you sit on a bucket, grab a knife and get to work shucking your scallops.  


Shucking scallops is an art form - I must admit.  It all sounds simple but to shuck a scallop quickly and neatly takes some practice.  You also need the right knife, and a good pair of gloves to protect your hands (something like this works well for < $20).

A quick knife into the scallop kills the animal so you can open the shell.  A few more precise motions of your knife removes all the guts (liver, roe, and gills).  Once the guts are removed, you are left with a large muscle (the scallop you eat). Once more clean cut to separate the bulk of the muscle to the shell is all it takes.  You remove the large muscle that is connecting the bottom shell to the top shell.  This muscle attaching the two shells together is the actual scallop that we all know, love, and pay a lot of money for in seafood restaurants.  After hauling around a heavy bag and shucking bags of scallops (it's a really messy job), I finally understand why these are an expensive treat.  Once we finished shucking the first haul, it was time to gear back up and get back in the water for dive number 2. 



Dive number two:  After the first dive, we learned a few valuable lessons:  the water was pretty cold and the scallops were not where we just were.  My buddy and I swapped into our semi-dry suits (a wet suit with seals that allows less water into the suit) and geared up again for our second dive.  I also threw on my scuba socks which kept my feet nice and warm (SO glad I packed extra gear and a thicker wetsuit).  We jumped back in the water and hit about 35' of water.  The second dive was a success and soon enough we were lugging a bag of scallops around the bottom.  Within 10 minutes we had filled a bag full of scallop shells. We then tied off this bag (notting the flag line around our catch bag with three good knots), and let out about 20' of extra line out to circle around our bag, getting another full bag of scallops. 

Once we filled another bag full of scallops, we tied our flag line to our bags of scallops, and followed our rope up to about 15' where we did another 3 minute safety stop.  I was suprised to see I still had about 1200 lbs of air after about 40 minutes at 35-40'.  Shortly after reaching the surface, we were back on the boat in time for shucking round number 2.

Scallop Diagram Source
The girls were all new to scalloping and soon enough, we picked up the art of getting these delicious pieces of seafood out of its shell.  Even after the 45 minute boat ride back, we are stilllll shuckinnnng scallops. We looked up while shucking scallops to notice that the boat was pulling back into the slip.  The crew started cleaning up the boat, and evened helped us as we finished shucking the last bag, filling several gigantic ziplock bags full of scallops.  
I mean full of scallops.

  


We arrived back at the docks around 6, tired, filthy, but with bags full of gold in our opinion.  While diving on its own is always an amazing trip, diving with a reward of delicious seafood is even better.  We divided up the scallops, tipped the staff, rinsed off our gear, and each went home with about 12 lbs of scallops.  At about 20$ a pound in the stores these days, we estimated we all went home with $250 of fresh scallops.  And had a great time in the process. 


About $160 (air fills, charter, tip, dinner, gas) for a fantastic day out on the water in the beautiful city of Boston with a great group of people.  Boston Scuba provided an awesome charter, and successfully dropped us off on a lot of scallops.  We loaded up our gear onto the truck, and our freshly shucked scallops into the cooler (and yes, they freeze quite well).  

Thanks to the awesome staff at Boston Scuba,
 and to our fearless leader Mike for organizing a great trip. 
Is it wrong to plan your trip back while you still have a freezer full of scallops?





Monday, August 8, 2016

Ford's Lobsters - Noank, Connecticut

Ford's Lobsters - Noank, Connecticut
Ford's Lobsters - Noank, Connecticut 
My lobster research brought me back to the little village of Noank once more.  My third trip on the Katie Wanders Lobster Shack Tour was to Ford's Lobsters in Noank, Connecticut, home to the now famous Lobster Bomb.  This was definitely more a sit down Restaurant than order at the window Shack, but still a small scale operation in a beautiful setting.  

To backtrack for a moment, this series has taken me to Lobster Landing in Clinton, and Abbotts Lobster in the Rough in Noank.  This was the third stop in the Connecticut Lobster Shack Tour, and my second stop in the tiny village of Noank. 

When we stopped at Abbotts last week, we got all wrapped up in Lobster Rolls that I didn't give enough background of this area of the state.  Noank is not a town, but instead, a village of the town of Groton at the mouth of the Mystic River. The area known as "Noank" is basically about 2 square miles, 1.5 miles being land and about .5 miles being water.  Yep folks, we just broke down the entire two miles of this town into land and sea.  It is Old New England, what were you expecting?


Map of Groton, Connecticut 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Abbott's Lobster in the Rough - Noank, Connecticut

Famous Hot Lobster Roll at Abbott's Lobster in the Rough in Noank, CT
Famous Hot Lobster Roll at Abbott's Lobster in the Rough in Noank, CT
The weekend was another beautiful sunny New England weekend.  The temperatures hovered around the mid to high 80s, a mix of sun and clouds overhead and a light breeze coming off the water.  At 8:30 on a Saturday morning I met a few friends at a new spot where we went scuba diving around an old pottery site.  It was a lovely Saturday that was about to get better.  

Lunch ideas were thrown around and we settled on Abbots Lobster in the Rough in nearby Noank, Connecticut.  It was to be stop number 2 on the Lobster Shack tour and we headed to Noank in the name of research after a few preliminary checkpoints were crossed off. They were open, they were BYOB, and they were dog-friendly.