Monday, March 30, 2009

On The ICW

Steve's last couple of posts talk about canals and the ICW. I liked the photos he choose to illustrate some of the challenges and beauty boaters may face navigating these types of waters. I know we had a few challenges ourselves as we headed down the ICW towards Beaufort from Oriental. I had read about the canal systems on the east coast in many a history class over the years, but I had never actually seen one. So on the way down to Harkers Island for our cruise, Steve stopped off by the Dismal Swamp Canal so I could take a look.

Here is my view of the Dismal Swamp Canal. It was actually pretty.

I really wasn't too sure what to expect the ICW would look like. I had viewed our route on Google Earth months before our trip started. But even from that vantage point I couldn't tell what it would be like. It was very different from what I expected (and there are many, many different sections all up and down the east coast). The first part was very open, wide and resort like. The homes were scattered through forested shoreline. The area was very stunning in the early morning sunlight.

The ICW is highlighted on this Google Earth view.

We initially started our ICW voyage under sail alone. But as the waterway started to narrow and change direction and the wind slowly fell off we decided to start the motor. We continued on under motor and sail. As the waterway began to narrow further and the current started to increase we came upon a dredge busy deepening the channel.

Dredgeing the channel is a full time operation.

There were several small work boats chugging about, moving pipe and supporting the operation. Steve contacted the dredge, communicated our intention and direction and we moved on past. However, just after we cleared the dredge our motor sputtered and came to a stop, out of gas. I moved forward and retrieved the gas can. Steve filled the gas tank and attempted to start the motor. It wouldn't start. We waited a few moments and tried again with no success. Five minutes passed and still no power. We were now drifting towards the shore and one of the work boats. There was traffic from other boats moving in both directions. As a rookie, I was thinking I should be getting out the paddle just in case. Steve just sat patiently and with the shore and drifting tree limbs fast approaching, he gave the engine starter cord a tug and the motor sprang to life. Ok, that was fun. We motored on.

Smooth sailing once again.

We had great skies.

We had been having some flooding trouble with the motor earlier. It seemed if we completely refilled the gas tank we would experience the flooding problem, so we only did partial fills. It seemed to help, some. We tried to work out our position for refueling carefully so as to avoid another mid-channel incident. We could go about two hours on a tank of gas. The flooding problem didn't happen each refueling, but we were prepared just in case. After several hours of very pleasant cruising, we knew we needed to refuel one last time and then put in at a marina to fill up the gas can for the remainder of the trip into Beaufort. Steve had a marina identified on his chart. When the motor started to sputter, out of gas, we refueled, and to avoid the dreaded flooding syndrome we only put in enough gas to reach the marina. Steve kept an eye out as we neared the location indicated on the chart.

I'm sure it's just around the next bend.

Now we had the main sail flopping loosely in the light breeze with the jib and mizzen doing all the work along with the motor. Everything seemed to be working out perfectly as the marina appeared ahead. Steve scanned the marina with his binoculars and discovered it was more a repair and storage yard and had no fuel station. Bummer.

The next marina was miles on down the waterway. So on we went. Half an hour later we saw the marina and it was a full service one! It looked like we were going to just putt putt in and tie up. Wrong. We ran out of gas about 200 yards away. Fire drill time. I got the gas can, Steve filled the motor's gas tank, pulled the cord and the flooding problem reared its ugly head once again. This time we were in the middle of the channel, the current moving smartly and lots of other traffic. We were fast approaching the marina and could not afford to pass it as it was the last fueling opportunity until Beaufort. At what seemed like the last minute, Steve quickly tightened the main. Spartina picked up speed in the light breeze and current and sprang forward. Steve then pushed the tiller hard over and we shot into the marina. He slacked the main and jib and we just glided up to the slip. I tossed our line up to the dock hand and we came to a stop. I was totally impressed as were several onlookers standing on the dock. It looked like we knew what we were doing. Yes we meant to do that!

We completed the rest of the journey to Beaufort without further incident. We didn't experience the flooding problem again for the remainder of the trip. Up until that part of our trip we had been in open water and had plenty of room to manuver. The narrow channels of the ICW posed some interesting challenges for us. As we are preparing for our next trip this May, I can't help but wonder what lies in store for us. That is what I like about outdoor adventures, anything can happen. How you handle yourself can make all the difference. With Steve as the skipper, I'm not worried about how we will fare.


small boat challenges

I received a note from DancesWithSandyBottom about the choice of the Harlowe Creek Canal for the North Carolina Watertribe event.  He said part of the selection was to provide a "small boat filter" to challenge the participants.  I think canal in fact will be the most difficult part of the race and it will prove to be a great choice by the organizers. Information about this old canal is hard to come by.  DWSB and a few others plan to transit the canal this spring to see what it is like.  I had thought the depth at low tide was one foot, but now I look closer at my chart and see that it is one-half foot(!!!).  DWSB also mentions a 2 mph current, plus the possibility of three fixed bridges.  My chartbook shows at least two bridges, one with a seven foot clearance, the other with eight (not much room for masts).  There also looks like there might be a third bridge, but it is marked only with a overhead power cable at 38 feet.  Needless to say, passage on that canal will be a challenge.  But a challenge is exactly what the Watertribe crowd is looking for. 
I do not know much about kayaking, but from the trip Bruce and I made in the area I can see there will be some additional trials for sailboats.  The Grayden Paul bascule bridge (above) at the west end of Beaufort opens on the hour and half hour between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.  Overnight it opens on demand.  The current rips through there pretty good so it would not be a great spot for a sailboat without power (one of the Watertribe rules) to have to wait for a bridge opening.  Timing one's arrival or lowering the masts might be the way to go.

Once past the Beaufort waterfront check point there is Taylor Creek to deal with.  That is Bruce up forward on Spartina as we headed east on Taylor Creek before dawn on the final day of our trip.  The creek runs between Beaufort and narrow Carrot Island.  Luck was in our favor as we got to the dock and found the current ripping to the east - exactly the way we wanted to go.  I don't know how fast it was moving, a few knots at the very least (could I have read somewhere four or maybe six knots???), but I would not want to sail, row or paddle against that current.  A close look at the tide tables could save a lot of effort for competitors.
The combination of the canal, bridges and tides from the Neuse River to the Harkers Island area will make for some interesting logistical and timing decisions.  It is those challenges that will make the NC watertribe event interesting and exciting.  
I won't be making the challenge this year.  Bruce and I already have plans to be sailing north up Chesapeake Bay to the Mid-Atlantic Small Craft Festival.  In fact I'm not sure I'll ever compete in a Watertribe Event.  The Pathfinder is the perfect boat for the cruising, but I don't think it is meant for this sort of racing.  It would be tough to launch Spartina off the beach (a Watertribe rule), it is too wide to be practical for rowing and making the the masts easy to drop would require some serious rebuilding.  Plus I have this tendency, when I spot a nice protected cove on a sunny day, to drop anchor, read a book and maybe take a nap (that doesn't help much in the competitive standings).
Maybe what I'll do is a time a cruise in the fall of 2010 so that I'm sailing east along the north shore of Cedar Island and enjoy the beauty of all the small boats as they start the race, then head down Core Sound and catch them again as they pass by Beaufort and Harkers Island.  What do you think Bruce?


Sunday, March 29, 2009

headed north

I've been caught a few times lately at the old swing bridge on the Chesapeake and Albemarle Canal near my house.  Yesterday I had to wait while five boats, one sail boat and four offshore power boats, passed down the canal.  I don't particularly like waiting at the bridges, but I do like what the boat traffic means.  Spring is here and the snowbirds - boaters that take their boats south for the winter to Florida and points beyond  - are heading back north.  We will have a few more cold spells, but it is getting to be time for flip flops, tee shirts and sailing.
Above is the old Dismal Swamp Canal in Deep Creek.  There are two canals that connect Chesapeake Bay with the North Carolina Sounds.  The Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal is the larger of the two and gets the most traffic, anything from pleasure boats to barges and other commercial vessels.  The Dismal Swamp Canal, which runs down the east side of the (unfortunately named )Dismal Swamp, is the older canal.  Narrow, with overhanging trees on either side, it is a very pretty trip (that is the Dismal Swamp Canal in the bottom photo).  I made the passage from Deep Creek down to Elizabeth City in North Carolina and back a few years ago with my friend Paul aboard his Tartan sailboat (you can see his boat just to the right of the red navigation light in the photo above).  Peaceful and quiet, it was a great trip.  I'm sure there is a cruise there for Spartina some day.  Maybe head from Deep Creek down the Dismal Swamp Canal to Elizabeth City, down the Pasquotank River and over to the North Landing River, and then back home via the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal.  I'll add that idea to the list.
Those are snow geese.  They winter on Back Bay and Currituck Sound, feeding during the day on the thousands of acres of nearby farm fields in North Carolina.  They are heading north too.

A Correction

I mentioned a few posts ago that Bruce and I had made the same trip that the EC kayakers are proposing for a North Carolina Watertribe event.  For the most part I was correct.  But now that I look a little more closely at the charts I see that they are taking a different canal from the Neuse River to the Beaufort area.  Bruce and I took the ICW, also known as the Adams Creek Canal.  That portion of trip was fine, scenic in areas, marinas and waterfront homes in other places.  The EC'ers are looking at taking the Harlowe Canal, which is older, narrower, and (from the looks of google maps) much less populated.  My charts show a depth one foot at low tide in some areas, plus a couple of low fixed bridges (interesting for sailboats that participate).  These are the folks that race through the narrow creeks and channels of the Everglades Wilderness Waterway.  It makes sense that they would choose the path less travelled. 


Friday, March 27, 2009

The Swash

Steve was discussing our first night's anchorage at the Swash on our earlier trip. Right from the start it looked like it was going to be a great place to anchor. The water was calm and protected from the wind. We could hear the surf breaking on the beach just over the reeds and sand bank. After we had anchored, Steve got out his fishing pole and popped into the waist deep water to do a little wade fishing. Ah Paradise?

At the Swash. Hey Steve, catch something for dinner! The ocean is behind Steve.

I sat back, took in the view of this wonderful location and started the first entries in my journal. It was shaping up to be a very relaxing evening for our first night out. The day didn't start out that way however, as we awoke to rain and stormy skies. After an early breakfast we caught a break in the weather and were able to rig the boat and get her launched. Steve assured me this was going to be great, his smile was not all that reassuring. I have camped in the rain before and it can get pretty tiring after a while. In fact my mind drifted back to the 1970s when Steve and I were backpacking in the mountains above Palm Springs. It rained on that trip and we gave up the trek when the toilet paper got soaked. We were literally washed off the mountain. When we got back to Steve's VW van, we turned on the radio and found out that Elvis had died.

We had met a fellow the day before that owned a place next to the Harkers Island Fishing Center (where we spent the night and used the launching ramp). He regaled us with his sailing prowess in the local waters and shared some valuable tips on local conditions. The next morning he showed up to see us setting off on our adventure. While Steve went to park the jeep and trailer, I was left to kibitz with our new friend. He kept telling me about the weather forecast and how it was going to be raining. He kept asking me if I was aware of all this. Well, I was dressed in my bright red foul weather gear. I guessed I just assumed he would take notice of my attire and realize I did have a clue about the weather. Maybe he just figured I liked bright red pants. Anyway, Steve returned, and we used the motor to pull away from the dock. Up went the sails (motor now off) and Steve just smartly navigated us out onto Core Sound. We felt pretty good about that as our new friend watched us disappear up the sound.

It rained most of the morning. Then the skies started to clear a bit and the day developed into something quite enjoyable. Steve hadn't put on his foul weather pants and his jeans got pretty soaked. But by the time we reached the Swash they had dried out. After Steve failed to catch anything for dinner, we set up the galley, cooked a great dinner anyway and cleaned up. Steve started setting up the boat for a night at anchor.

Setting the anchor light. The sunset sky was starting to get interesting.

We prepared our sleeping gear and then read and watched the sunset. We were pretty content for our first day. Steve was satisfied with the distance we were able to cover in the time he had planned. I was satisfied that it had cleared up and we had a wonderful evening to enjoy. The last of the sun was a great image to sleep on. There was still a hint of the weather we had suffered earlier in the day and a promise of clear skies in the morning.

Sunset at the Swash.

As the final rays of the sun nestled on the horizon, we set up the boom tent and called it a day. I was glad I had made this trip and was looking forward to the days to come.

Now all that said, we did learn some lessons from this first night, only we did not have any real solutions until after the trip was over. Mosquitoes. We were pretty well invaded by these horrible creatures all night. In fact they seemed to wait until right after the sun set to descend upon us. Steve says they were just on shore waiting for sunset, my theory was they hitched a ride, well hidden, from Harkers Island. We hadn't seen a bug all day. We had 40 degree synthetic sleeping bags with us. These were too hot for comfortable sleeping in under the tent. But unfortunately there was no alternative as we had to get in the bags to hide from the swarms. Not a great way to spend the night. (Remember, this is why Steve named the blog Skeeter Beater). On our upcoming trip we will use bivy sacs as Steve described in an earlier post. I am looking forward to this improved sleeping arrangement. I am also looking forward to more beautiful skies and sunsets. The Swash turned out to be a great anchorage after all.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

core sound

That's a thunderstorm off erupting off of the Core Banks.  Bruce and I were headed north on Core Sound up the narrow, winding, but thankfully well-marked channel that leads to Wainwright Island and eventually Pamlico Sound.  We admired that storm from a distance.  Not too much later another small thunderstorm caught up with us from behind.  We were off of Rumley Bay and saw the storm approaching just in time to get our foul weather gear on.  Fifteen minutes later is was sunny and hot again.  
Stormy at the office again today with more layoffs and pay "adjustments."  I suspect I'll survive but will have to tighten up the budget.
When I was building Spartina I told friends I was building her then because I could afford to do it.  Boy, I had no idea how things would be now.  Maybe I'm not such a dope.
This is an anchorage called The Swash on Core Sound south of Drum Inlet.  I've seen the name "Swash" used on other places along the coast, typically low lying areas where storm waters wash right over the barrier islands.  The storm tide rises up and passes right over the sand into the sound.  Eventually the storm moves on, the tide recedes and the island is still there, as if there had never been a storm.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

watertribe in NC??

I just read on the Watertribe discussion forum that a couple of veteran Everglades Challenge kayakers, Sandybottom and Kiwibird, are planning a fall watertribe event in North Carolina.  This could be a really cool event to compete in, or even just to watch.
In the photo above that is Kiwibird, left, and Sandybottom, finishing this year's Everglade Challenge.  That challenge is a 300 mile expedition style race down the west coast of Florida.  I've followed the two kayakers for a few years now on their blogs and I'm a real fan of their training, equipment selection and mental approach to journeys on the water.  

On the Watertribe forum Kiwibird says that the NC event will be a 2 and 1/2 day circumnavigation of Cedar Island all the way down to the Beaufort waterfront.  (Bruce and I did this circumnavigation back in '07 on a relaxed six day trip with overnight stops on Core Sound, Pamlico Sound, Oriental and Beaufort.  It is a beautiful trip that includes shallow sounds, winding rivers, a canal, wide open Pamlico Sound and the wind swept dunes of the Core Banks. You can read about our trip here.   And here is a photo album of the trip. ) Below is a little of Sandybottom's description of the tentative plan....

Here is what we are planning (nothing final or approved by WaterTribe yet).  Boat inspections/Captain Meeting Thursday afternoon/evening.  Race start Fri 7am, end Sun 2pm.   Awards ceremony and banquet Sun 1pm.  Checkpoint on Beaufort waterfront.  All WaterTribe rules in effect, Spot manditory.

The route is approximately 100 miles, Cedar Island, Neuse River, Harlow Canal, around Beaufort, Harkers Island, up Core Sound back to Cedar Island.

We plan to promote it as a weekend for family and friends as well.  The Oakracoke ferry leaves from Cedar Island, Beaufort is a short drive to watch participants at the CP, or visit the maritime museum etc....

Sounds like a great event.  

Kiwibird also points out that the SPOT locator beacon, which they will require for the NC event, is available free (where was this deal last year when I bought mine??) if you sign up for the basic and tracking service by March 27.  Check it out at here.


Monday, March 23, 2009

under sail

I got a note from Ross asking if I had any photos of Spartina under full sail.  He's building a Pathfinder, you can see some of his work on his blog.  Looks like he is doing some nice work.
I do have a few photos, but not as many as I would like.  I'm always in the boat when she is under sail, so most of my photos have a cockpit point of view.  Maybe on this upcoming trip I'll drop Bruce off on a pier or islet with a long lens and get some serious photos of her under sail.  These photos were made in 2006 when I first launched Spartina (above) and a few days before the launch (below).  I still had not got the rigging quite right, in fact I messed around with the rigging throughout that first summer of sailing.  So in these photos the sails are not set properly, but at least they'll give you an idea of what she looks like under sail. 
On launch day my brother Mike flew in to town to help celebrate.  That is him peeking from under the jib in the top photo.  As we sailed down the Elizabeth River (a great sail by the way, with the rigging not quite right we still hit almost 6 knots according to the gps) we saw a tall ship coming our way.  It was the  Kalmar Nyckel, the state ship of Delaware (bottom photo).  She was headed to the Hampton Blackbeard Pirate Festival.  On board was a friend of mine with a nice long lens.  He recognized me and shot a few photos, including the one at the top.  A nice chance meeting out on the water that left me with a few photos to remember Spartina's launch day.  

Friday, March 20, 2009

On Anchors and Turkeys

It's been great reading all of Steve's recent posts. I can tell we are going to have a fun trip and eat well, too. I have been working on a new anchor line for the boat. I do have a bit of experience working with rope. I learned to do the eye splice, crown splice and the long splice many years ago as part of some scout training. I was on a friend's boat up in Alaska for the past two summers and I got to put my skills to the test as my friend had use of all these splices as we put together crab and shrimp pots. Good eating but that's another adventure.

An eye splice has a lot of uses, especially on a boat. It can be used for mooring lines, anchor lines and anything where a permanent loop is desirable. Depending on the purpose, you can make the eye as big or as small as you like. I will be making a small eye with a stainless steel thimble inserted in the eye so that the metal anchor shackle will not rub directly on the rope.

Steve wanted a 3/8, three strand nylon rope for strength and durability. Three strand line is easy to splice with a little practice. I use a tool call a fid (I bought at Duckworks) to tuck one strand under other strands as I weave the splice. It makes the tucks very easy. I will be finishing up this weekend so I will post some pictures of the process next time. A crown splice (also called an end splice) is used to finish the end of the rope to prevent fraying and unraveling. This isn't as necessary with nylon rope (vs. hemp) as the ends can be fused with a heat source. But I like the finished look of the crown so I will add that to the project. Steve wanted 65 feet of line but the more I talked with the clerk at West Marine I decided 80 feet was much better. Steve and I talked a lot about anchoring and how he has the boat set up . First we really won't be anchoring in very deep water, usually 10 feet or less. Steve uses a fluke style anchor.

While this isn't exactly Steve's anchor, it illustrates what a fluke anchor looks like. The two pointy blades are the flukes. When the anchor is on the bottom, the backward movement of the boat forces the flukes into the bottom and secures the boat. Anchor chain is secured to the anchor's ring. The chain's purpose is to keep the anchor's shank down flat along the sea floor and thus keep the flukes embedded and secure. If the shank pulls straight up, as when you hoist the anchor, the flukes release their grip (which is how it is designed to work). A line is then attached to the chain. Sufficient line must be played out to allow the anchor to work effectively and allow for the boat to swing safely in its mooring area. So back to my discussion with the clerk at West Marine. He thought a bit more line would allow for an adequate margin of safety (I don't think he was just looking to sell 15 feet more line, he had spools of the stuff). But as I discussed all this with Steve, he reminded me that he also uses a mushroom anchor like the one shown here.
He attaches a small mushroom anchor about five to ten feet from the anchor ring. In this way the chain stays flat on the bottom and much less line is needed to have the fluke anchor work effectively. Steve has used this system with great results on all his cruises. I think he will appreciate the new line and its perfect length.

As I mentioned in my last post, I was heading out to shoot some wild turkeys. We only photographed them so no early Thanksgiving. The Toms are getting excited this time of year and they really strut their stuff for the ladies. We went up to the local mountains near the town of Julian. The turkeys get moving with the sun rise and so we had to be in place by 6:30. The birds are very predictable in their movements and visit the same places just about everyday. It doesn't hurt to have a local contact who feeds the birds so they are sure to come by his place.

This is a wing of one of the ladies. Beautiful feathers.

This is a Tom. A face maybe even his mother couldn't stand. Blow your nose for Pete's sake!

A young Tom, not ready for the ladies, but hopeful.

This last image is of a mature and apparently very popular Tom. These are really very pretty birds, and their feathers are amazing when the sun lights up their iridescent quality (seen in the first image). When the Toms get excited they puff up their feathers, fan their tails and pump blood into those dangly things on their necks turning them from white to bright red. They get a blue color to their cheeks. Sound like anybody you know? When they are really hot and bothered they are truly "red, white and blue" which is maybe why Ben Franklyn wanted them to be our National Bird (the bald eagle won out as we know, but I can tell you they aren't nearly as tasty as a turkey).


Thursday, March 19, 2009

clouds, rain and sun

This photo was from last June, but it is how I feel right about now.  Four days of rain, one day of sun, now pouring rain again.  When will the sun break through?
Doing small jobs getting ready for the cruise.   Decided to use the Bridge Point Marina in New Bern for the end point of the trip.  My BoatUS card will get us a discount on dockage, plus if we stay at the hotel I know from my two visits to New Bern that an Outback Steakhouse is within walking distance!
I've been adding to the food supply bit by bit.  Plenty of lunches and breakfasts on hand now.  Menu is shaping up with some nice variety.  Also picked up a battery-powered charger for the cell phones.  Along with satellite beacons, vhf radios and flares, I include a cell phone as part of our emergency kit.  It is surprising where you can sometimes get a signal.

Stopped by a tackle shop to look for a fishing lure used on the gulf coast for trout and puppy drum (or redfish, as they would say down there).  It is a lure called a Corky that uses cork covered in soft plastic.  I've been wanting to give it a try.  The old guy at the tackle shop spent so much time lecturing me on why this product wouldn't be available for a couple of years ("Do you realize how much it costs to warehouse this stuff?") that he did not realize he was leaning on a display case that had them all right there!  Didn't buy any that day (didn't want to hurt the guy's feelings) but will stop in to pick up one or two up this spring.

Looking at the forecast this weekend is out for sailing.  Small chance the following weekend.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

fog on the harbor

Five days now of fog, mist and rain.  I took this picture yesterday morning but believe me it looked the same today.  I was at Waterside in Norfolk looking across the river to Portsmouth. The ferry runs between the two cities.  The tug was waiting for a navy ship going in to the dry docks.
I do a lot of my day sailing out there.  It's nice to sail for a few hours, come in to the marina to tie up for $5 bucks and walk to D'egg Diner for lunch.  Then back out on the water for some afternoon sailing.
This picture reminds me of historical photographs of the waterfront with ferries and workboats.  It also reminds me of 30 years ago when Bruce and I would go down to the San Diego waterfront with cameras and tripods to make pictures on Tri-X film.   This photo would have looked nice on black and white film, printed dark with a little extra contrast, the highlights of ferry bleached to bring them out a little.
Got an email from Bruce checking on travel dates for our fall trip up Chesapeake Bay to the Mid-Atlantic Small Craft Festival.  We probably should get those details worked out soon.
I hope this weather clears tomorrow.


Monday, March 16, 2009

late winter dreams

Cold and misty, the fourth day in a row.  Seems like March is always the longest and wettest month around here.  Very slow at the office too.  So what else could I do but think about future cruises and draw up a few charts.  Below are three rough drafts of cruises.  One I've already scheduled for the fall, one I hope to sneak in during the summer and one I won't even consider for at least a few years.

Mid-Atlantic Small Craft Festival/Eastern Shore

Below is a trip that Bruce and I have on the schedule for late September, about a nine or ten day trip up the Eastern Shore of Chesapeake Bay, maybe a distance of 135 miles.  We'll probably put in somewhere like Crisfield, sail over to Smith Island and spent the night at a little inn there.  From there we'll work our way up the islands of Tangier Sound, duck into the Honga River and cut back out on to Chesapeake Bay at the north end of Middle Hooper Island.  We hope to continue on north a couple of days and meet up with the sailors from the Mid-Atlantic Small Craft Festival as they do an overnight sail to the Wye River.  We would overnight with them on the river and then sail in to the festival at St. Michael's Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.   Then from there head north for a day or two more, maybe ending up at Rock Hall, Md.  

Weekender on Chesapeake Bay

This is a long weekend trip I would like to do this summer out of the village of Rumbley on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  Goose Creek Marina has a public ramp right next door and will let me park my jeep on their property for $5.00 a day.  Give me three or four days, some decent weather with a nice breeze, a handful of fishing lures and I'm there.  Maybe late June????

The Gulf Coast

And this is a trip from Ocean Springs, Mississippi to Cedar Key in Florida.  I can't even seriously consider this trip for at least a few years, but maybe someday I'll be able to do it.  Ocean Springs was the home of Walter Inglis Anderson.  I have heard him described as a painter in the southern naturalist school of painting.  He used to sail out to nearby Horn Island in a 12 foot boat, painting supplies tucked in a can, and spend days out on the barrier island capturing the wildlife in his very distinctive way.  Very interesting guy, compulsive and creative.
The cruise would carry me east past Mobile Bay, Pensacola, around the coastal bend and then down to Cedar Key.  I suppose in could be done in ten or twelve days, but I would want to make it a three or four week trip and explore a bit.  Anybody familiar with Nathaniel Bishop's Four Months in a Sneakbox will recognize this as the final stretch of his late 1800's 2600 mile journey in 12 foot open boat.  Talk about an open boat sailor!  I've already got some charts for this trip.  As a sign of the tough economy I was able to buy a $45 waterproof chart book of the Florida panhandle for $15 at West Marine.
It was on a slow winter day at the office a few years ago that I came across David Perillo's story about his Welsford Navigator. Three years later I was sailing a Pathfinder.  So if I'm thinking about the gulf coast during this year's grey misty days, then in three years...

(we'll see)


Saturday, March 14, 2009

cameras, anchors and the everglades challenge

Cold, grey and wet this morning.  Can hardly believe I was out sailing less than a week ago with blue skies and temperatures in the 70's.  But I knew at the time that it was an early season tease.  Still have a few weeks to go until we can count on comfortable weather on this part of the mid-Atlantic coast.  And a couple of months until we can count on hot weather.
Bruce and I realized we were online at the same time the other evening so we "skyped" for a while.  He has got his bivy sac from REI (I think), a very important part of our gear.  Plus we went over the camera gear we'll be taking on the Skeeter Beater 126.  With cameras, as with all the other gear, we take the approach that any piece of equipment needs to "earn" a spot on the boat.  Right now we are looking at taking once Canon body, a wide angle zoom (16-35), a medium zoom and then a longer lens.  Plus we'll have to carry the battery chargers.  We'll also have my waterproof Pentax Optio W20 camera which takes surprisingly nice photos, including the one above at sunrise as I was rounding Juniper Swamp Point at daybreak.  In fact probably half the photos I've posted on the blog have come from that nice little camera.
Bruce also says he is working on a new anchor rode for Spartina.  Anchoring reminds me of an incident that occurred this past week during the Everglades Challenge.  I read that one competitor anchored for the night, so they thought, only to wake up in the morning to find themselves 20 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico.  Oh no!  Take a look at the track below and you can see the drift offshore and a nice run south with the current, followed by an attempt to head back north to a checkpoint.  This will be a good story to tell for years to come, but also a great reminder about making sure a boat is secure at anchor.  Fortunately everything turned out ok with this little misadventure - but we have to be honest and realize that drifting out in to the gulf at night could have led to tragedy.
I believe today is the conclusion of the Everglades Challenge.  It looks like they had a great race.  A team that goes by the name Bumpy and Lumpy finished the 300 mile race on a catamaran in two days and 39 minutes, well ahead of everybody else. It was a day later before the second place boat arrived at the finish line.  A couple of kayakers that I follow on the web, Sandybottom and Kiwibird, appear to have crossed line together after 6 days, 9 hours and 45 minutes.  You can read a little about the adventure on their blogs.  Take a look at Sandybottom's blog and you'll see their tracks through the wilderness waterway.  It looks like a beautiful area to visit.  I hope they will have more complete versions posted once they catch up on their rest.  
I've stolen a lot of great ideas from all the competitors of the race.  I'll be looking forward to reading their stories.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

boats to build

"I'm gonna build me a boat
With these two hands
It'll be a fair curve
From a noble plan"

Those lines are from Guy Clark's "Boats to Build," probably my favorite song about boat building and - more importantly - getting away from it all.  Clark is from West Texas but spent a few years down on the Texas coast around Rockport and Houston.  You can tell from his music he learned a few things about boats and life on the water.

I think a lot about building Spartina, especially in the winter when the days are short and the weather is too cold and grey to go outside.  I spent two winters in my garage building my Pathfinder.  The first winter was all about cutting frames, adding stiffeners and shaping spars.  By the second winter I was bending on stringers (starting to look like a boat) and doing the planking (really looking like a boat!).  I miss all that activity on the cold winter nights.  

While my boatbuilding days are over I still take a lot of joy in watching other people work on their Pathfinders.  The good folks on the JW builders site have put together a list of blogs from Pathfinder builders.  If you are interested in building a Pathfinder it would be well worth your time to visit some of these sites and take a look at what these guys are doing.  

  • Take a look at the detail work and joinery on Rick Corless's boat.

  • Jason is using a 3-D modeling program to help visualize his boat.

  • I had to laugh when I looked at Brian's blog (photo above).  Imagine opening a blog from a boat builder on the other side of the world only to see a photo of my wife and youngest daughter on Spartina!  I think he got it from John's site.  (It's ok by me, I'm proud of both the boat and the family!)

  • Richard is calling his Pathfinder "Catori" which means "Spirit" in the Hopi language.  Interesting to find a Kiwi boat with a Native American name.

  • I've emailed with Perry a bit.  I really envy his sailing territory of New Foundland, but I'll pass on the long winters up there.

  • Alan is in the U.K and the this beautiful Pathfinder looks to be a family project.

One thing these builders have in common is that they all have a lot more skill than I do.  The work is just fantastic, I can't wait to see some of these boats on the water.  These boats are real show pieces.  But while Spartina (below) may carry a workboat finish, she is still strong and true.  I'll be proud to sail her any day. 


Saturday, March 7, 2009

on the water

Wow!  The first week in March and I'm out on the river.  I made it out last year the second week of March, but it was cold and grey.  Back then I had three shirts on plus my foul weather gear to stay warm.  Today it was 70 degrees and blue skies.  It felt great!  The top photo is looking down the Elizabeth River, the city of Portsmouth on the left and Norfolk on the right.  

That's me in my tee shirt (in Winter!) watching some of the local boat traffic.  Our waterfront is a working waterfront.  Tugs, barges, shipyards and military bases.  It is a good idea to keep your eyes open for commercial traffic. 
A lot of history around here.  The old Gosport Shipyard, now Norfolk Naval Shipyard, is just upriver.   At the start of the civil war it was a Federal shipyard deep in Confederate territory.  The Federals scuttled their ships on the river, including the USS Merrimac, before leaving town.  The confederates raised the Merrimac, rebuilt it with iron sides and called it the CSS Virginia.  Just down river from here the Virginia battled the USS Monitor in the Battle of the Ironclads.
I've shared the river with cargo ships, cruise ships, aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines (I can tell you from experience that you should not photograph nuclear submarines unless you want to have an intense discussion with a small boat crew that has a 50 cal. machine gun mounted on the bow.)  This spot is also the northern end of the Intracoastal Waterway, so I see lots of cruisers from all over the world as they head either north (in the spring) or south (in the winter) along the coast.

There is Spartina rigged with her sails near the boat ramp at Harbor Park.  It is a terrible ramp, but I've figured out how to get the boat in and out of the water without too much trouble.  It took me a little bit longer than usual to rig today as I wanted to try a few new things, plus I had check out some of the fittings, knots, etc.  

There is the Portsmouth waterfront.  The 10 mph forecast winds did not show up until about 3 in the afternoon.  That was fine as I wanted to check out the boat and relax a bit.  Before the winds arrived I had a sandwich, read the New York Times and took a nap in the warm sunshine.  And then the wind filled in and it was perfect for the next couple of hours.  

- Steve


And they are off!!!!!!

The Everglades Challenge racers hit the water down near St. Petersburg, Fl early this morning.  They have a nice mapping site where you can track the kayakers and sailors as they head down the west coast of Florida.  For some reason this doesn't work on my Mac, but I can view it on our PC.  Photographs should start showing up soon on their site.

And I'm hitting the water too!!!  Spent yesterday putting lines back on the mast, tuning up the outboard and checking over the gear.  Forecast is for 70 degrees with 8-10 mph of wind out of the southwest.  Perfect!  This will be the earliest I've sailed on the mid-Atlantic coast.  I'll take my camera and hope to have a few photos to post this evening (but they won't be as nice as the photos Bruce posted below - nice work Bruce!)


Getting Photo Ready

It's been a while since I checked the blog and I see Steve has been busy. When he started the blog he told me he wanted something to do during those "cold winter nights" when you can't really do anything outside. That's a foreign concept for me as I live in San Diego. Cold here is mid forties to low fifties, a winter heat wave back east. So I pretty much keep busy doing things that keep me away from posting more frequently.

One of my most recent activities was attending a work shop on photographing birds and marine mammals around Monterey, California. The workshop was put on by Oliver Klink of Incredible Travel Photos. It was a great workshop. The main focus of the workshop's first day was to learn techniques for photographing birds in flight. For anyone who has attempted this task, they know how difficult it is. A look at most bird photography reveals mostly static shots, like bird portraits, and for good reason. Birds are small and fast. When you think about it you have the subject, camera and photographer all in motion at the same time. A 30% in-focus ratio for birds in flight is considered good. I was happy to hit 10%. And that's just in focus, you still need the composition. We learned about and practiced shooting hand held as well as shooting from a tripod. There are pros and cons for both methods. Shooting hand held gives you quicker flexibility in moving and adjusting to changes in subject behavior, especially for birds in flight. A tripod can give you that extra margin of stability to obtain tack sharp images and increase your in-focus ratio.

This image captured on a tripod, 500mm lens.

Some other helpful hints included insuring that your shutter speed is a least twice the focal length of your lens. So if you are using a 400mm lens, your shutter speed should be at least 1/800 of a second. We were shooting on an overcast day so it was challenging to keep the shutter speed fast as well as a decent f stop for maximizing depth of field. We adjusted the ISO as the variable and left shutter speed and f stop on manual.

This image captured on a tripod, 500mm lens.

The previous two images were shot on a tripod. While the subjects were moving, they were not in flight. This made it a bit easier to keep the focus sharp. The Canon 500mm f4 lens I used is quite heavy, making hand holding difficult. We spent a lot of time practicing. A good thing, too. I found it quite difficult to keep those damn creatures in the frame and in focus.

This image captured hand held, 100-400mm lens @ 400mm.

Another important piece of information was using the histogram. Because a digital camera's LCD viewer is so small, and the angle you are viewing it at can change the "exposure" appearance, it is important to always check your exposure with the histogram. You will know you have a decent exposure that way. A proper exposure gives you more to work with when you are editing your photos later on.

This image captured hand held, 100-400mm lens @ 400mm.

The two images of the birds in flight were shot with a Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 zoom lense at 400mm. Shooting hand held is quite challenging with long telephoto lenses. All-in-all the workshop was very productive and fun. Monterey is a beautiful area to photograph in. Oliver Klink is a wonderful photographer and a great instructor as well. He spent a lot of time with each participant. I have been out practicing what I learned around San Diego and have been slowly improving. I am hoping to be finely tuned by the end of May so Steve and I can get some great shots on our cruise. On our trip a few years ago, we saw some great bird photo opportunities but didn't really take advantage of them. I am hoping this trip will provide some great shots, and I hope I will have the skills to capture it all.

This image captured on a tripod, 500mm lens.

The last three images were shot here in San Diego after the Monterey workshop.

This image captured on a tripod, 500mm lens.

This image captured on a tripod, 500mm lens.

This weekend I am joining another photographer and we are going to shoot wild turkeys strutting their stuff to find a mate. Maybe what he meant was we were going to "shoot" wild turkeys, he didn't actually say we were taking pictures. Maybe thanksgiving will come early this year.