Monday, January 30, 2012

the chapters of regret

I could easily finish Bland Simpson's book "The Inner Islands" tonight, but I won't.  The book is too good,  I want to savor and enjoy every word.  I will make it last as long as I can.  For me the sign of a great book is my wish to never reach the last chapter.  That is how I feel about this book.

The chapter I read tonight, starting at page 139, is called "The View from Bird Shoal".  Above you will see a photograph of Bruce standing near Spartina at Bird Shoal on our first cruise together.  We passed through there again a couple of years later with our sailing partners Paul and Dawn.  Reading Simpson's description of the shoals - both historical and personal - makes me want to go back again.  And I will soon.


In a few days I will head out to San Diego for a family visit.  While there I will see Bruce and we will sit down with charts and (to steal a phrase from Bland Simpson) "some of the the stuff that made Milwaukee famous" to talk about our Fall trip.  Thinking about that this evening led me to look up the wind compass for Cape May in September.  Here it is below...

A lot of wind out of the NE, with some out of the S.  Typical, I would think, for late summer to early Fall when seasons are shifting.  Wind speed average is about 9 mph.  NE winds at 9 mph for sailing down the Jersey shore of Delaware Bay, I would gladly take that.  What we we get, we'll just have to wait and see.


Sunday, January 29, 2012


There were several things I could have been doing today but I was content to relax and do almost nothing.

I did sketch out a rough route for the June trip.  This would go counter-clock-wise from Hobucken back to Hobucken (though I do need to talk to Shawn at Pate's Boatyard first).  I've sketched in options for going by way of both the east and west ends of Cedar Island, the choice will probably be made by the wind.  The sail from Cedar Island north would be my longest sail out of sight of land.  The trip from Beaufort to Cape Lookout would be my first sail on the ocean.

Something to think about on a winter's day.



This was peak action during our fishing expedition yesterday.

And this was a lull in the action.  Boy, I needed the break.

We rounded Cape Henry just as the sun came up.  Spent five hours trolling, not a bite.  But it was a beautiful day on the water. I can think of nothing else that I could have done yesterday that would have been more enjoyable.


Friday, January 27, 2012

the daily mail

Like an early morning breeze that hints of the coming wind, I received some mail that reminds me I could be sailing in a matter of weeks.

The nice people at Somers Cove Marina in Crisfield, Maryland sent me a free year's permit to their boat ramp.  They did this because of the inconvenience that was caused to me when the lost my check and application for a permit last summer.  It was no inconvenience at all; they found my envelope tucked in their safe, my permit arrived in time for my Fall sailing trip on Tangier Sound.

But I won't argue with them about this - the pass will save me $35 when I launch for the Spring walkabout.  Crisfield, which is about two and one half hours from here, is an excellent launching point to sail Tangier Sound.  Being that close I may use the permit a few times this coming year.

I also received half a dozen hammock hooks from Duckworks.  They make great hooks for bungee cord.  I use them several places on Spartina - up under the foredeck, under the side decks hidden behind the coaming,  between frames and beneath the cb trunk cap.  I needed two to hold the new deck slot cap in place, I ordered a few extras as I will need them sooner or later.

To catch a big fish you need a big lure.  I picked up this lure, 16 inches long with a lead head that weighs about 20 ounces, at Bass Pro Shop this morning.  I'm heading out with a some friends tomorrow morning on a fishing trip.   The striper, big ones, are still thick just off of Cape Henry at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.  And mixed with the stripers are Bluefin Tuna.  We may catch striper, we may hook a tuna, we may catch nothing.

The weather forecast is good.  At the very least we'll have a good time.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

"this edge of everything"

I put the title of this post in quotation marks because those are not my words.  They belong to Bland Simpson and can be found in in the seventh chapter of his wonderful, lyrical book "The Inner Islands".  The entire quote is as follows..

Why would you ever leave? I wondered again and again, beguiled, hypnotized, drunk with love for this sand-filament of wind and water, this edge of everything.  

Beautiful words, don't you think?

Simpson was talking about visiting the cupola atop the old Coast Guard Station on Portsmouth Island just across from Ocracoke Island.  I have only seen Portsmouth Island from a distance, I have never visited the coast guard station.  But the feeling Simpson expresses - that I know all too well.  It reminded me of the last evening of a solo sail on Chesapeake Bay in the Fall of 2010.  I was anchored in a cove at the north end of Smith Island.  I did not want to leave.  From the logbook....

"The bivy was all set up and it was probably time to go to bed. But instead I just stood there on the aft cockpit seat, resting my arms on the main boom. The breeze was warm and out of the southeast. The moon, nearly full, was rising to the east. And I could look out over Black Cove, past the marshes and see Tangier Sound and the lights of Crisfield in the distance. I stood there for the longest time - 30 minutes, maybe 40 or maybe an hour, I don't know. I just stood there and soaked it all in. It was almost time to go home, but I wanted to enjoy that last night on the water."

It was the end of a trip that I did not want to end.  I remember watching the sky changing from light blue to dark blue and then purple approaching black.  After a week on the water I rocked gently and comfortably with the rhythm of the boat.  My lips tasted of salt, my skin burnt by the wind and the sun.  Looking to the east I could see the ruffled waters of Tangier Sound, to the west was Chesapeake Bay.  The island was to the south, above me were the stars.  It felt like I was part of it all, or maybe just close enough to see it all.

"This edge of everything."  


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

fishing, or better yet, sailing

It is in the mid-50's today, just like it was yesterday.  Clear skies and a gentle breeze.  As I drove over the bridge at Rudee Inlet yesterday morning I was thinking I should have been out fishing.  The striper and bluefin tuna are still out there just off the beach.  

If the weather holds I might head out there this weekend on a friend's boat.  We'll see.

Or better yet, if Spartina was in good shape, I could go sailing.  But there is still work to be done on the boat.  This is a good reminder to finish up the work and have her ready to sail by late February when we sometimes get a nice warm spell.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

how could I forget Belhaven?

Looking over the chart in my last post I realized I had left off a couple of places I've been wanting to visit.

I've sailed up the Pamlico River several times, passing the mouth of the Pungo River and Belhaven.  I do want to visit Belhaven.  I have driven through the town once or twice, never visited it by boat.  That should be on the list.

There are several great bays for anchoring as Pamlico Sound curves to the west into the mouth of the Pamlico River.  I've marked four bays with x's, from left to right Rose Bay, Juniper Bay, East Bluff Bay and Wyesocking Bay.  A sail from Cedar Island across the middle of Pamlico Sound to East Bluff Bay might be interesting.  And on the south side of the Pamlico River, marked xx, are a series of creeks that I would like to explore.

With Belhaven and the mouth of the Pamlico River in mind, I'll probably save Engelhard and Ocracoke for later.  At least that is my thinking for now.


caught by a memory

The sight today of a gold weedless spoon at Bass Pro Shops took me back twenty-some years to a favorite fishing memory.  I went from standing in the fishing tackle aisle to standing knee-deep in waders as the out-going tide rushed past me at Lynnhaven Inlet.  This was before kids, before I was married and before a regular work schedule interfered with fishing and sailing.

In the predawn darkness of a fall morning, a patch of water erupted in silver flashes along the shadow line cast by the lights of the Lesner Bridge.  I watched it happen three or four times, took the twin-tail green lure off my fishing line and tied on a gold spoon.  I cast just beyond the school of baitfish, let the lure drift towards me and quickly raised the tip of the rod just where I had seen the school of fish.  The baitfish erupted again and again as I made several casts.  But I was not after them, I was after the fish that was making them jump.

Something was down there beneath them, waiting for them to drift overhead, ready to  come up from below with gills flaring and mouth wide open.  Then one more cast, the baitfish  jump and the rod tip pulls down as a nice flounder mistook the spoon for prey.

Sight-casting - targeting a specific fish - is something that I do not do very often, something that I do not do very well.  But once in a while it works.  The memory made me smile.

I was out shopping today, it was too cold and too rainy to do much of anything else.  I had a nice gift certificate in hand, a Christmas present from my youngest daughter.  I picked up the new gold spoon, a Johnson Silver Minnow (even though it is gold in color), which will work well both casting to schools of fish in the open waters Chesapeake Bay and casting along the marshes of Pamlico Sound.

I also picked up a Mann's Stretch 15+, a floating/diving lure, which with its large lip will dive deeper than my current trolling lure.  It will dive too deep for the shallow waters of Pamlico and Core Sounds, but will be perfect for Chesapeake Bay and Tangier Sound in the spring when stripers congregate in the bay waiting for the rivers to warm for spawning season.

And there was even enough money on the certificate for a FireSteel Scout, a fire starter which I have long needed to add to my hypothermia kit.  And lastly I replenished my Heater Meals supply - I like to have two of the self-heating meals on each cruise - with a mashed potatoes and beef dinner.  Thanks you very much, Grace.

Warm weather caught me off guard yesterday.  If I had been looking ahead at the weather I would have prepped the coaming for some varnish.  But I had not been paying attention.  I did sand some of the deck areas - up under the foredeck, on the bunk flat and in the aft cockpit sole - and applied a first light coast of steel grey topside paint.  It was at least a start.  By afternoon the wind had swung around to the north and the temperature dropped back into the 40's.

Since my short trip a few days ago to the Outer Banks I've been thinking about the June sail.  I might start in Hobucken, or maybe Engelhard, I'm not sure.  Even if I start in Engelhard I will pass through Hobucken on the way south - I like that area and I would enjoy seeing my friend Shawn at Pate Boatyard.  I would also like to revisit Swan Creek where I met friends Curt and Alan last Spring.  Beaufort and Cape Lookout are on list, and if weather cooperates I'll sail from one to the other outside on Onslow Bay.  And then up Core Sound with, hopefully, the wind on the stern quarter.  Ocracoke?  Maybe but probably not.  I might save that for next year.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

and I like the name too....

I ran down to Outer Banks for a couple of days of work.  Any visit to coastal Carolina - for fun or for work - is a treat.  

While down there I came across a new bug repellant called "Outer Banks Skeeter Beater".  I gotta say I really love that name.  Those of you who have been visiting this blog for a few years might remember that it was originally called The SkeeterBeater 126.  That came from a cruise Bruce and I made in North Carolina with the expressed purpose of surviving the mosquitoes.  Our solution at the time was the OR Alpine Bivy, which proved to be a huge success on that trip.  But even with the bivy there were times when the mosquitoes were still a problem - I mean you have to come out of that bivy sooner or later and sometimes the skeeters were waiting.

The Outer Banks Skeeter Beater might be the solution to those early morning - or sometimes early evening - mosquitoes.  I say "might" because we are in the thick of winter with no bugs in sight, I haven't had the chance to try it out.  But what I'm hearing is that a lot of people that spend time outdoors in coastal Carolina - forestry workers, highway workers, fisherman - are starting to use it.

The spray is a non-deet repellant made with lemon grass oil and rosemary oil.  I can tell you that it has a nice odor but does not have the oily feeling of deet products.  Nor does it damage plastic or rubber like deet (my SPOT locator beacon has white spots all over it from an poorly aimed spray of deet).  I can't endorse the product as I have not used it.  But this is made by folks that live in the swamps of North Carolina.  If anybody knows about mosquitoes, these are the guys.

There will be a bottle of Skeeter Beater on board Spartina for the Spring cruise.


I received my copy of Bland Simpson's "The Inner Islands, A Carolinian's Sound Country Chronicle" today.  It is a "new" copy of the book bought from a used book dealer through Amazon.  A $24 book for $2.  Not bad.  And it was autographed too!  This book will make for perfect winter reading. While I have sailed quite a bit through the Sounds of North Carolina I will admit that I am very ignorant of the local history.  I would like to know more about the islands and villages, some which still exists and others that do not. 

Here is a description of the book from Amazon....

Blending history, oral history, autobiography, and travel narrative, Bland Simpson explores the geography and biodiversity of the islands that lie in eastern North Carolina's sounds, rivers, and swamps.  The Inner Islands presents Simpson's signature reportage on territory often bypassed by tourists and scholars alike. 

I suspect that after reading this book I will look at the Sounds of North Carolina in a completely different way.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

the volume goes to "11"

My youngest daughter had not even left the house to return to college when I started carrying all the gear from Spartina up to her room.  She is gone now, on her way back to Richmond, and her room has become the storage area for all the "stuff" that normally resides inside the boat.  Having the boat cleaned out will make it much simpler to do the touch up patching, sanding and painting that is needed in the cockpit.

I am always surprised by the amount of gear that accumulates in a boat.  I try be selective about what goes into the boat, taking along only what is really necessary.  But somehow the odd item always finds a home.

When I repack the boat I will sort through the items, leaving behind a few things I don't really need.

Looking at the calendar. I would like to have Spartina finished and repacked in six weeks, ready to sail as soon as we get a warm spell in March.  I should have about eight weeks of day sailing before the Spring walkabout on Tangier Sound.  I ought to go buy the paint and varnish soon so that I will be ready for the days when it is warm enough to paint.

I did get my new Uniden Atlantis 250 handheld vhf radio out of the box.  I put batteries in it to make sure it worked, then took the batteries and tucked them in a bag with the radio.  There are several things I like about the new vhf.  It feels solid, uses "aa" batteries (the same as most of the other gear on the boat), has a bright, easily read screen and - when set at top volume - is surprisingly loud.  Being loud is a good thing when it is windy out on the water, when the sails are flapping or when the outboard is running.  It is so loud it reminded me of the amplifier that goes to "11" in the mockumentary Spinal Tap.  I mean it really is one louder than ten.


Friday, January 13, 2012

night ops

An E-2C Hawkeye launches off the deck of an aircraft carrier, 
the blinking navigation strobes marking its path.

An F-18 Hornet, the Navy's fighter jet, follows.

This was last night, a clear cool and windy
night 100 miles off the Virginia Capes.

I was raised in Navy family and I am glad for
every chance I get to spend with the sailors.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

wet and windless, revisited

I just read through the seven days of the Wet and Windless 162, my fall sail on Tangier Sound.  It was, as the name suggests, very wet and very windless.  At the time I remember thinking the sail was not much fun.  Rain, thunderstorms, fog - constant moisture for the first few days, and then occasional rainstorms and thunderstorms the last few.   And inconsistent winds.  

Now that I read the log it seems to me it was a very nice trip.  Part of that is because I like the way I wrote the log entries - in the present tense (something I stole from my favorite cruising books).  And part of it is because the idea of sailing, wet and windless or not, is very appealing as I sit here listening to the rain without even the remote chance of sailing for the next several weeks.

So here, if you don't mind, are a few photographs from the trip.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

winter doldrums

The cap for the deck slot has a clear coat of epoxy on it and is waiting for a few coats of varnish.  I need to repaint the foredeck area within the coaming, and repaint some of the worn areas inside of the cockpit.

Looking at the calendar I see I have about seven weeks until sailing season.  A lot of time for the little bit of work I need to do to get Spartina ready for the season.  There is no need to rush.  I will wait for the warm days, enjoying the work of off-season maintenance on days when the weather hints of the coming Spring.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

fish on!

A beautiful, chilly, breezy morning on the water off of the Virginia Beach tourist strip.  We headed out of the fishing center at first light, had the lines in the water about 30 minutes later.

The forecast for mostly cloudy skies proved wrong, it was sunny.  The forecast for light winds was an underestimation, it was a little breezy.  But there is plenty of shelter on a 54 foot charter boat.  The morning sun felt great as we relaxed in the cockpit, waiting for that first rod to go off.

The water was thick with bait - menhaden.  And that has drawn in not only stripers and bluefin tuna, but also whales.  For thirty minutes we watched of pair of humpback whales playing, spouting and rolling on the surface of the ocean.  They laid on their sides and waved their long white flippers in the air.  I just had my point and shoot, no long lens, so you will have to take my word for it.

I took the first rod with a fish on, it turned out to be a nice 30 pound fish that gave me a little more than I expected for an early morning workout.

This is at least our tenth year (we've lost track) of doing this little fishing expedition, either to the Outer Banks or to nearby Virginia Beach.  Dinner, a little party and playoff football on the television the night before, then to the docks for the 1/2 day morning trip.  Average age of those on board, measured by the calendar year, is probably in the mid-50's.  Average age, measured by maturity displayed during the once a year adventure, is about 12.

It was a good day for fishing, not a great day for catching.  We brought in just three stripers.  But they were a nice class of fish - each weighing around 30 pounds.  Filleted out the gave each of us about 10 pounds of fish to take home - plenty for four or five meals for our families.

There are countless ways to prepare fresh caught striper, I've talked about this before.

The "shoulder part" of the fillets were thick enough to cut into little steaks.  I'll put some of those steaks into the oven tonight, roast for a few minutes, flip them over, add a pinch of parmesan and panko on top, then broil for a minute or two.  Served with smashed potatoes, roasted grape tomatoes and asparagus tips, it should make for a nice dinner.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

going, going, gone

It seems, from from reading emails and the internet, everybody is going somewhere.

Barry, the builder of two beautiful Melonseeds, above, has talked about sailing Aeon and Caesura on nearby Back Bay or farther south along the Pamlico Sound shores of Ocracoke Island.

My friend Mike, normally a Melonseed sailor, tells me he is leaving his Melonseed behind and joining a friend with a Marsh Cat for a sail from Key West to the Dry Tortugas.

Dawn and her son Alan, above, are gearing up for the 1200 mile Watertribe Ultimate Florida Challenge.  They are training for the race while at the same time designing and building their trimaran.

Kiwibird, I suspect, will be padding the Everglades Challenge, along with her occasional weekend outings such as a solo paddle around Shackleford Banks, above.  Kristen never talks about training and yet she is the record holder for single female paddlers, completing the 300 miles of expedition racing in 5 days, 10 hours and 15 minutes.

Friends Mary Lou and Fred are talking about sailing their boat from Norfolk to their home in Rock Hall.  Maybe I can be there on the water with Spartina to see them off on the journey.

Webb Chiles will soon be heading to New Zealand to sail his boat The Hawke of Tuonela.  While out sailing the 37' boat I'm sure he'll be working on plans to sail his new, smaller boat Gannet, above.  Where he will go on that boat I do not know.  But he has said he wants to have the Moore 24 on or within sight of the ocean by the end of the year.

As for me, I'm going fishing.  Above you will see some of our supplies.  We'll pick up some oysters on the way to the oceanfront hotel.  Knob Creek, oysters and crackers, then dinner - we need to get our game face on for a good day of fishing.

I said a day or two ago that the bluefin tuna, which had been caught mixed in with the stripers, had disappeared from our coastal waters.  They have returned.  Today a 79 inch long bluefin tuna, weighing in at 250 pounds, was brought to the docks.  It was caught within a mile or two of the beach - right where we'll be fishing on Sunday.  I'll settle for a couple of nice stripers, but the thought of bluefins swimming in the same water, chasing the same bait, does sound interesting.  As for the one below, I hear that it is now on a jet bound for Japan.

Everybody is going somewhere.