I finally made it to the Stellafane convention in Springfield, Vermont. I've been wanting to attend this event since my interest in astronomy began back in 1965. Meredith made all the hotel arrangements at the Holiday Inn. As she'll tell you her idea of roughing it means no ice so camping was not a possibility for us.
We arrived in Springfield on Friday afternoon and checked in at the hotel. I was eager to see the Stellafane grounds so we drove up to Breezy Hill and checked in with the event organizers at a little roadside stand. I was a little concerned about our registration as I'd heard nothing from them after I paid via PayPal. Not to worry, my name was on the list so we got our information envelope and drove onto the grounds.
My first stop was a grassy field below McGregor Observatory where I parked my car. There were several telescopes set up in the area outside the observatory including several bigs DOBs, SCTs and a collection of refractors. I have pictures! I toured the observatory before wandering back down the hill to buy a hat and T-shirt at the souvenir stand.
Next on my list was to find the guy's campsite. Not as easy as it sounds. I had a list of cell phone numbers to call people but there was no cell phone service. Okay, plan B. I asked several Stellafane volunteers where the "Tree Farm" was and got different responses. One worker told me the area was no longer used by campers. Another said he'd never heard of the Tree Farm. I decided to keep exploring the grounds and look for the club's campsite later. I'd come to regret that decision.
Meredith and I drove around and found the location for the Saturday morning Swap Meet. I had some items to sell and wanted to be sure I knew where to go. Little did I know how close I was to finding the guys. We drove around the area and found the Amphitheater and Flanders Pavilion. I was going to check out the food tent but it started to rain. It was coming down pretty hard so we left the area and headed back to the hotel.
By supper time on Friday it was still raining so I made the decision to skip going back to Breezy Hill and wait until Saturday to find the rest of the group. We had a nice meal at a place called "Sub-Way." It was just a few minutes from our hotel. The food was good and the place was very clean. Two thumbs up for Sub-Way.
It was 8 o'clock and the rain had stopped and the roads were drying up. It was getting dark and I still didn't know where the club's camp site was and I couldn't reach anyone by cell phone so we called it a day and went back to our room. In retrospect I wish I had tried harder to find the guys as Friday night turned out to be a great night for observing. Everyone I talked with on Saturday, club members and strangers alike, told me how good the sky was. There was dew everywhere but the seeing was excellent. I lugged my Meade 5-inch ED refractor and LXD650 mount all the way to Vermont and didn't use it the first clear night of the trip. Live and learn.
On Saturday morning I was up at 8:00 AM. I knew the swap meet started at 7:00 AM but I wasn't going there that early. It turns out the heaviest crowds are there bright and early. Some people arrived at 6:00AM to get a good spot! (You know who you are.) I got there for 9:30AM and there was quite a crowd. I set up my table and sold one item, my 12x60 binoculars. No takers for my Thousand Oaks hydrogen-alpha filter system. A few low-ball offers but I declined. It's a small package and I didn't mind taking it back home.
Meredith stayed with the table while I walked around looking for a bargain or two. I found nine bargains! Eight of them were books and the last was a Linhof tripod in excellent condition. This brand of tripod was sold as an option for the Questar line of telescopes. It's made in Germany and the quality and workmanship is excellent. Did I need another tripod? Of course not but this is a really nice tripod! I had to have it. After a little bargaining I packed up the tripod in a nice vinyl carrying case and stowed it away in the trunk of my car. You can never have enough tripods or eyepieces.
While I was at the swap meet I ran across Dan Silva, Rob Cosgrove and a few other club members. My first question, "Where are you guys set up?" To my surprise they were located just a short walk from the swap meet area. The camping spot was listed as a location for "large" camping vehicles." Go figure. I wandered over and said hello to the group. I'd be back there later in the day to set up my telescope and hopefully enjoy a night of real dark sky observing.
Meredith and I paid our respects to the pink clubhouse up on the hill. What a view! This is the place where you'll find telescopes on display competing for awards in optical design and mechanical excellence. There were some very nice telescopes being shown. I have photos! This is also the place to find the Russell Porter 12-inch turret telescope. After spending about 30 minutes looking at the telescopes on display we took the shuttle bus back to Stellafane East and had lunch at the food tent. The food was good and the prices reasonable.
By 3:00PM we were back at our hotel room getting ready for super at a downtown restaurant. We had reservations for 5:00PM. That would get me back to the camp site in plenty of time to set up my telescope and work up my observing plan. If you're gonna be observing all night you better have a plan. Did I say I'd be observing all night? Wishful thinking!
The sky looked pretty bad as I started setting up the last of my gear. There was a light rain shower a little after 8:00PM. It didn't look good for seeing anything. I'm thinking to myself that I should have observed on Friday night.
I sat with the guys for several hours until there were some breaks in the clouds. More frustration as I tried to get my telescope aligned. If I could see Polaris the second alignment star was in the clouds. That's how it went for the first half of the evening. We were teased with some clear spots but never a completely clear sky. One good thing, there was very little dew this night. Not like on Friday when everything got wet according to those who were viewing.
The clouds forced us to give up observing, no more holes. I was still ticked off that I missed the Friday night session and decided I would not be denied! I left my telescope set up and tracking. I had a good alignment on Polaris and just needed some clear sky to get a second star and I'd be off and running.
While waiting for the sky to clear we all sat around and chatted. There was a "spirited" discussion about Einstein's theories on relativity. We have some really smart people in our club! I'm still not sure who won the discussion but it was interesting to listen in. Every now and again a hole appears in the clouds and we take a peek at whatever is visible.
It's well after midnight and the sky is still not cooperating. I'm the last one still at the telescope, ever hopeful. I'm just sitting in my chair and looking up. Everyone decides to call it a night. I remain outside, looking up, and hoping for a hole to appear. I get my wish after about an hour of waiting. The sky begins to clear from the north. I throw in a 2-inch 32mm EP and start sweeping Cassiopeia. The longer I wait, the better it gets. I'm able to get a 2-star alignment and can use my GOTO to find the usual suspects, M27 and M57. M31 is visible, naked eye. Same goes for the double cluster in Perseus. These last two objects are outstanding when viewed with my 2-inch 42mm EP. Dew continues to be a non-issue this night so I don't need my 12-volt hair dryer. I had a second battery pack with me just for combatting dew problems. It was nice not to need it.
I'm committed to staying for the rest of the night. Several guys wander over to my location during the early morning hours to chat. The company is welcomed. Mark Gibson helps me find the Veil Nebular. He knows the NGC numbers off the top of his head! I have a new Lumicon 2-inch O-III that I'm anxious to try out. I'm not disappointed. Even in a 5-inch refractor I'm treated to a very nice view.
Mark suggests we try for M33 and it's easily found. M33 is one of those objects that can be hard to see if you don't have a dark sky. It's fairly bright but quite large and easy to miss if the sky isn't dark. Mark is now looking for another galaxy near M31 but it can't be found. It was easy for him with his 8-inch on Friday night. The seeing isn't as good on Saturday and we're using a 5-inch.
I also get visits from Bob Sikes and Bruce DiDucca. Nice chatting with you guys.
At 2:25AM I'm visited by seven females, real ladies of the night. No, not those kind of ladies, I mean the Seven Sisters. The Pleiades has cleared the tree line and presents a splendid view with the 42mm EP. I look for M1 but it's still in the trees. I wanted to see what the O-III would do with that object. I'll have a chance some other night.
I spend the rest of the morning hours, until 4:25AM, jumping from M31, the Veil nebular and sweeping Cygnus, Perseus, Auriga, and Cassiopeia. It wasn't a perfect night but I'm glad I got in the viewing I did.
As morning twilight appears so do the clouds. It's light enough for me to start packing up my gear and I don't need any light to assist me. My car is packed and I'm driving away from the camp site by 5:00AM. I missed the chance to say goodbye to the guys but I'll see you all at another club meeting or at the next observing session.
Back at my hotel room I get three hours of sleep before we head home to New Bedford. Meredith does the first two hours of driving. We're home safely by 3:30PM on Sunday. It was quite a weekend and I'm glad I finally got to make the trip to Stellafane. Thanks to everyone who offered tips on getting around while I was there. I'm a first-timer no more!