The Suite Life of BJ Knapp
One of the best things about working from home for my day job is the ability to work from anywhere without interruption. The world is my office, if I have an internet connection I can work from anywhere. This flexibility is an amazing perk and I am constantly thankful for it. Occasionally I’ll travel with Todd and work from hotel rooms while he’s in meetings or schmoozing at conferences. I’ve traveled with him to Vegas and worked from there, to Boston, and as I write this I am in a hotel suite at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut.
While Mohegan Sun is not far from home, it is only a 40-minute drive, I am thoroughly enjoying the change of scene. We’re on the 26th floor, and as I worked at the day job today I thoroughly enjoyed the view. As I look out over the Thames River in Connecticut, I remember the time we took our dinghy up this river to visit Mohegan Sun one time while we were on vacation.
We had sailed Sabine to New London, Connecticut. This city is on the Connecticut coastline, and New London is on the west side of the Thames River, Groton is on the east. Groton is home to a navy submarine base, and submarines are still manufactured at General Dynamics where the river meets the sea. When we sailed to New London we picked up a town mooring right across from the massive hangar where the submarines are built.
Just north of where we were moored is the submarine base. This is still an active installation, and submarines go in and out of this base for maneuvers and missions. On that day we decided to get into the dinghy and explore.
When we’re on our boat, our dinghy is kind of like our car. We use it to get to shore so we can explore. We also use it to zip around and explore by water as well. We traveled north on the river until we reached the sub base, just a few miles north.
A rigid inflatable boat with a steel pilot house patrols in front of the base. There is a massive gun mounted on the bow of this boat. There are two Navy men on the boat, both of them have guns in holsters on their belts. We could see them spot us, and they spied us through binoculars—probably looking for our dinghy registration numbers (sort of like a license plate). We watched the pick up the microphone on their radio, presumably calling in our numbers. Then they flagged us down and of course asked us what we were doing motoring around in front of the base. I held my camera in my lap, he gestured at it and said “Do not point that at the base.” I looked at his gun on his hip and thought “Do not point that at me.”
We explained that we were just tourists exploring, and they were polite to us. We chatted for a few minutes. Todd asked them what was up the river to the north of us. He told us that Mohegan Sun was up there. “They have a dock and everything, you guys could totally go up there.” See? He did get much friendlier with us.
We looked at each other. He shot me the “Wanna go?” look, and I shot back the “Hell yeah!” look. We headed back to Sabine. We grabbed our spare jug of gasoline, I packed a backpack with hoodies and goodies, and then we headed north up the river again. We passed by the base, the guys in the patrol boat recognized us and waved. Once we got past the base, Todd cranked the throttle on the outboard engine and we zoomed the 12 miles up the river to Mohegan Sun. We saw the hotel tower loom in the distance.
There are two Native American casinos on reservations in southeastern Connecticut—Foxwoods on the Mashantucket Reservation and Mohegan Sun on the Mohegan reservation. There are about 10 miles apart, and are popular night spots for southern New England. They often have famous acts, Mohegan is where I saw Keith Urban with my mother in law a few months ago. These are massive facilities, and it seems that every time I visit one of them there is construction to build more and more.
These were initially constructed in the 1990s. I was a northern Connecticut resident in high school back then. I remember feeling outrage when I read the stories in the newspapers about parents leaving their children in the McDonalds playland nearby so the parents could go gamble. The casinos have since installed daycare centers so the parents could go have fun while their children are looked after.
We slowed the dinghy as we approached. “Do you see a dock?” Todd asked me. I visored my eyes with my hand and scanned the river bank on either side. “No, I don’t.” We motored up past the casino and still didn’t see one.
We ended up beaching our rigid bottom inflatable dinghy on the bank of the river under a stand of trees. Todd removed the gas tank and hid it under some branches nearby and tied the boat to a tree. We walked up the bank and found a train track. I spotted a sign along the track and said “Here’s a landmark. We go down the bank when we see this sign.” We walked down the track and then scaled the steep hill above. The hill was covered in branches and brambles. We got our share of scratches heading up the hill. We emerged from the thicket at the employee parking facility.
We walked into the parking deck and then out the other side. We could see the main building of the casino in the distance. It was easily walking distance, but the roadways surrounding it were highway speed and we considered it dangerous to walk to the casino from the garage.
“Hey, what are you guys doing here?” a man in a shuttle van asked. It said “Employee parking” on the side of the van. We explained that we’d just gotten there by boat. “Hop in, I’ll give you a lift.” In a matter of minutes he deposited us at the front door of the casino, Todd tipped him a few bucks.
The night we spent dining and gambling at Mohegan was unmemorable. But the trip back to Sabine was definitely very memorable. Keep in mind that when we went up the 12 miles to the casino it was still light out. When we made our way back to the dinghy, it was dark. We’d brought our backpack into the casino with us. In it we had a flashlight. We spotted the same employee shuttle driver and we hopped into his van, we made our way, by flashlight down the thick vegetation from the employee parking deck to the train track. I spotted the sign, and we headed down to the edge of the river. Todd pulled the gas tank from its hiding spot and plugged it the fuel line back into the engine. I untied the boat from the tree and we dragged it back into the water. I rifled through the backpack, “Where’s the key?”
Outboard engines have plastic keys on them. You have to wedge them behind the stop button on the engine. When you push the stop button, the engine stops. So the key wedges it into a permanently on state so that the engine will run.
“Isn’t it in the backpack?” he asked. I dumped the contents of the pack into my lap, and one by one inspected each item. I ran my fingers deep into the corners of the pockets. No key. Without the key the engine wouldn’t start. Without a running engine we would not be able to get back to Sabine. We had oars. But the idea of rowing 12 miles back to our boat seemed impossible.
Todd is known for his MacGuyver skills. In the apartment where I lived when we first started dating he put up a shelf in my bathroom using a piece of wire shelf, twine and a chopstick. We rifled through our things trying to find something we could use to prop open the stop button on the engine.
He pulled the drawstring out of the backpack. He wrapped the string round and round the stem of the stop button until it was thick enough to prop the button to the open position. He pulled the cord and the engine sputtered to life. I stuck my foot out and pushed us back from the shore, once the water was deep enough he lowered the propeller into the water and we began the 12 mile trip back down the river.
Navigating the Thames was harder at night. When we’d arrived during the day, we could easily see the navigation markers. Oftentimes you can’t just travel right to where you’re going on the water. The currents in the water will make the water deeper in some areas and dangerously shallow in others. This is why we have navigation aids in the water. Buoys are positioned in spots to alert mariners about where the safe path is. The buoys are red and green, and depending on which direction you’re traveling, the color indicates which side of the buoy you should be on. For example, the alliteration Right Red Returning will indicate that when you are returning from sea, you need to keep the red buoys on your right. As we traveled up the river, away from the sea, we kept the red ones on our right. The water on the other side of the buoy would be unsafe to travel on.
At night it’s harder to see the buoys. It’s dark. There are no helpful street lights to light the way as there are on the interstate. Instead we traveled slower, and I shone the flashlight in front of us. The buoys have reflective adhesive strips on them. So they glow in the light of the flashlight. There’s a red strip, we need to keep that on the left—we were traveling toward the sea, so we’d have to do the opposite of right red returning. See? You’re catching on!
When traveling at night, boats need to have lights on them so that other boats can see them. On Sabine we have the red and green running lights on our bow, and a while light on our stern. This way if a boat can see our green light and our white light, then can tell which direction we’re traveling in, so they can avoid hitting us.
As we made our way south on the river that night, a white light was in front of us. We steered away from it, but it kept coming toward us. I flashed my light at it, “Hey, asshole, we’re here. Don’t hit us.” I said. The light came closer and closer. “What is this guy’s problem?” Todd asked. He steered the boat away from the light, but we were coming up against a navigation buoy. We didn’t have room to travel to get away from this other boat. We slowed down, I frantically waved my flashlight. The light got closer and closer.
Todd turned the engine down to idle and our boat stopped. “I don’t hear another engine” he whispered.
“This is weird,” I whispered back.
He turned up the throttle slightly and we slowly edged toward the light, to stay in the channel.
“No way,” he muttered.
“What?” I asked, squinting at the light. Then I saw it at the same time he did.
We weren’t avoiding another boat. The white light was a stationary light at the end of a dock that extended to the center of the river. Our eyes had been playing tricks on us the entire time. The direction and speed we were traveling made it look like the light was also moving, toward us, and it was a giant optical illusion. We laughed at our paranoia, and throttled up and continued our way down the river.
We got to the sub base, and knew we only had a few miles left to travel. The lights from the base lit up the entire river. The patrol boat ignored us. They already knew who we were. They flagged down a few guys in another dinghy. It was at that point when our outboard sputtered, gasped, coughed, and then gave up.
I shined the flashlight at the engine, “What’s wrong?” I asked. Todd took the light and shined it on the fuel tank.
“Out of gas. Of course. Right in front of all the guys with the guns.”
“Naturally,” I laughed.
Of course, my Eagle Scout husband planned for this eventuality. He thought to grab the spare gas can off of Sabine, filled and at the ready for this very moment. He refilled the tank as we drifted closer and closer to the docks at the base.
“Hurry up or we’ll end up in Guantanamo.” I laughed.
He closed up the tank and the jug, dipped his hands in the water to clean them and restarted the engine. It sputtered to life after the third pull, he throttled up and we zoomed away from the base and back to Sabine.
Now as I look out from the 26th floor, I can see exactly where we’d beached the dinghy that night, the sign on the train track, and the employee parking deck. And it has me itching for one more adventure just like that one.
In this picture you can see the employee parking deck, to the left of it is the train track and if you can squint you can see my sign along the track. This is where we beached the dinghy.
added on 11.30.18