Friday, April 27, 2012

some numbers

A friend said I had a bad forecast for the walkabout, which starts tomorrow.  Maybe we were looking at different forecasts, maybe we were looking at the same forecast.  Maybe he saw a 20% chance of rain, and I saw an 80% chance of no rain.  We'll see.

This trip on the bay is a little earlier than usual so I checked the fishing regulations.  We are in the spring "trophy" season for stripers.  That means the minimum size for keeping stripers is 28 inches.  That is a big fish.  Catching too big or too many fish has never been a problem for me.  I'll settle for some nice tailor bluefish.

I do hope to visit Cod Harbor, above, at Tangier Island.  Winds look good.  I hope to be on the road by 6 a.m. tomorrow.


Wash Woods

There is an old steeple in the thick of a maritime forest on the narrow strip of land between Back Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.  Were it not for the state line, this thin strip of sandy land would be part of the Outer Banks.  It is the most isolated part of the coast in Virginia.

While there is a steeple, the church is long gone and so are the people.  No one has lived there since the 1970's.

All that remains are the steeple, covered in lichen, and the cemetery.  Under the muted cast beneath the live oak trees, the only color are green, brown and grey.

The name Wash Woods comes from the fact that the ocean, during tropical storms of summer and nor'easters of winter, would wash over the community of fisherman and farmers.  Some say it was a hurricane in the 1930's that pushed so much saltwater over the land that the soil itself was ruined and could no longer support the farming.  I do not think this is true.  I suspect it was the modernization of the 1950's and 60's that left the village too isolated to survive.

I have been there twice over the years.  It is not an easy place to reach.  Last time, a few years ago, I rode a bike several miles through Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Park (the least attended of all state park in Virginia, because it is in fact so hard to get to).  This time I spent $8.00 and rode the tram, something called the Blue Goose Express.  Even then, there is still a hike across the dunes and through the forest to reach Wash Woods.

I am not the only one that goes there.  Someone visits and leaves sea shells and silk flowers at the headstones in the cemetery.

When it was time to the leave the driver said "Let's head to the tram."  "Thanks, but I'll walk out" I told him.  "To where?" he said with indignation.  "To my car at the visitor center."  He looked at me very skeptically, doubting that I knew it was about eight miles walking in sand to get back to the parking lot.  I told him I had done it before.  It was an easy decision for me to trade sore leg muscles of tomorrow for a nice walk today.

I climbed over the dunes, dunes built during the depression to keep out the waves that washed over Wash Woods, to the ocean and headed into a cool north wind, enjoying the view and thinking about people who lived their lives on the narrow strip of sand.  I envied the simplicity of their lives, admired their tenacity and appreciated what I could learn from them.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

spot tracking page

Here is my spot tracking page.  It should go live sometime Saturday morning.

Or you can copy and paste the url below into your browser.  The photo is from Tangier Sound, heading towards Deal Island.


the garage, the tee shirt

I have gotten permission, though not in writing, to use the wife's side of the garage. I am using the space to spread out the gear and food for the trip.  It will be there until tomorrow evening when I pack the boat and the jeep.

Everything - including, but not limited to, water, sleeping bag, fish cleaning board, chart, griddle, hypothermia kit, safety line, propane tanks (2), shop towels, radio, fuel can, boom tent - is set out in position relative to where it will go on Spartina.  The only exception in the photo above is for the fishing poles.  They are located now at what would be the bow (leaning against the saw horses), but that is because they would be in the way if there were put at the foot of the photograph, which would be the stern.

You can see a pretty close layout of items in the drawing I made a few years it ago.  There have been some changes, but it still serves as a good basis for packing.

One new item on board is my new bright chartreuse ACR ResQLink+ personal locator beacon.  I will use my SPOT of course, for tracking, assistance and emergency use.  This plb, which sends out emergency signals and locations, when activated, to to a worldwide set of search and rescue satellites.

I had been wanting to purchase one of these new generation epirbs for the fall trip which will include Delaware Bay and the atlantic ocean.  Why not buy now and use it for this trip and the spring trip in North Carolina?  Safety is one area I don't mind spending a few extra dollars on.

Speaking of chartreuse items, here is a tee shirt I picked up in Hobucken on Goose Creek Island when I saw my friend Shawn yesterday.  It was good to see Shawn, good to see that Pate Boat Yard is getting back in shape after the storm.  I'll be down there mid-June for a cruise and will put in at Shawn's place. I was not on Goose Creek Island for the Hurricane Irene.  But I was across Pamlico Sound on Hatteras Island for the storm - so I believe I qualify to wear the shirt, and will do so proudly. 


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

phoning it in

Oriental on Wednesday morning, seen through the cell phone.  steve

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


I'm in Oriental today.  It is one of my favorite sailing towns, though this time I arrived by car.  I've got a little work to do here, but there is plenty of time for relaxing on the waterfront and enjoying some good meals.  

Below is a red lettuce salad with beets, roast parsnips, feta cheese, fresh strawberries and grilled shrimp from the Trawl Door.  Dinner was soft shell crabs at M & M's, a very nice restaurant which I had never tried before (and no, not soft shell crabs and "m&m's" as I wrote earlier).

Hey, I didn't get here by boat - but I'm not going to complain.


Monday, April 23, 2012

wishful thinking....

that this forecast will hold and I'll launch under a nice high pressure system.

Even if it does, that low pressure system to the south will come my way.  That's fine, I'll take it.

Heading to North Carolina tomorrow, visiting some of my favorite places - Oriental and Hobucken - but by car instead of on the water.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

organization, later rather than sooner

It has been raining steadily all day long.  Not a day to go sailing, but an excellent day to get ready for a trip.  I've been sorting through the gear and food, checking batteries and sending a SPOT test.  I think I'm in pretty good shape for the trip.

Above are my two bins.  If you could see the lid of the one at left you would see that it is labeled lights, candles, notebooks - though I don't think there are any candles in there right now.  I carry my reading books, logbooks and a few other odds and ends in there.  The SPOT just for transportation purposes.  The bin at the right is labeled cook kit.  You can see the nice cooking set which Bruce bought for Spartina, a filet knife, olive oil, pepper and a few utensils.  Out of sight are some seasonings, hot sauce, sponge and camp suds for dish washing.

There is the sleeping gear - bivy, sleeping pad, sleeping bag and inflatable pillow.  My friend Kristen told me about the Exped Air pillow, which is the nicest camp pillow I have ever used.  The only problem with it, she says, is that it is so small when deflated that it could easily be lost.  It is tiny.

The smaller of the yellow waterproof duffels contains my hypothermia kit.  The larger duffel contains clothes and, for the moment, a few other items.  If Bruce were coming along on the trip I would have both the clothes and hypothermia kit in the larger bag.  Since I am going solo I'll use two duffels and enjoy the extra space.

The boat is a mess.  I'm setting things in there now just so I don't forget them.  It will probably be Thursday morning before I take all the gear and set it out on the garage floor for an equipment check, what Bruce calls junk on the bunk.  Then Friday night I will pack up.

I inadvertently saw a weather forecast for next weekend when exploring my new Intellicast app on my ipad.  I was expecting a three day forecast and was surprised to see a seven day forecast which included the first two days of my trip.  Sunny, temperatures in the 60's and winds in the low-teens.  Perfect.  But that is a long range forecast.  I won't take anything too seriously until later in the week.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

one more photo

on the street where you live

I was happy to be part of a boat turning today, just down the street at my friend Jim's house.  That is Jim at the right in the photo above.  We were turning over his Navigator hull.  The Welsford-designed yawl, Jim tells me, was turned over exactly five years after he started building the ladder frame.  Life, sometimes, gets in the way.  But he has done a beautiful job.  I can't wait to sail alongside her on the Elizabeth River.

Above you see Jim, again at the right, along with his son Tom and our other friend Jim (the mechanical Jim, who just rebuilt my Nissan outboard's water pump).

And there I am, left, not my best side, along with Tom looking for the source of a loud "crack" that had us all concerned as we set the hull down inverted on the ladder frame.  The source of the loud noise, which caused Jim to make a louder noise, was never discovered.  All frames and planks remained in excellent shape.  

A beautiful boat in the making.  Nice work, Jim.


Friday, April 20, 2012

notes to myself

olive oil


SPOT test

cash for bay bridge tunnel

fishing kit

fishing license

check md. striper rules

cleaning board


shop towels


blue tape on water bottles

trail mix

check propane tank for stove

first day's meals


gas, stabilizer and oil in 2 gallon tank

reading glasses


switch out l.e.d. anchor light

spare anchor

rebuild hypothermia kit with new thermals and fire starter

fishing license, tail lights, waypoints, food, etc

It just occurred to me this morning, as I realized I'll be out of town a few days next week, how much I have to do to get ready for the walkabout.  I have just now started hauling gear, food bins and notebooks out of the equipment closet.  It is in a pile in the living room.  
The purple tub is where I put my food supplies as I buy the various items late winter and early spring.  I'm not even sure what is in there, but I suspect I'll find a decent supply of the basic foods.  The green tub is for the cruising gear.  I'll need to get out my Everglades Challenge required equipment list and sort through all that.

I bought a new set of led tail lights at walmart this morning.  The old lights are down to just one or two bulbs still glowing.  I paid $50, and added a few dollars on top of that for the 1 year replacement warranty as tail lights never seem to last.

I need to renew my fishing license, check out the stove, sort the food and start packing the boat.  And I ought to review my waypoints - I'm not sure I marked some of the smaller islands - Adams Island, Spring Island and Holland Island - that I hope to explore.

It will be a busy weekend, but kind of fun.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

the electric chicken

It's not a dance, though it could be.

It's called the electric chicken.  Not the lure itself, but the color pattern.  A little chartreuse, with silver flakes mixed in, and pink on top.  The lure is a five inch sea shad with a paddle tail, my next experiment in a never ending search for a shallow water, weedless fishing lure.  This is a technique Ihave borrowed from the guys at the Texas kayak fishing site.  They often "troll" rigs like this behind their kayaks in just a foot or two of water.

I've forgotten the name of the hook.  It has a very small amount of weight, maybe one-eighth of an ounce, molded onto the shaft.  He hook is buried into the shad so that it does not catch on weeds, oystershells or whatever.  The idea is that the point of the hook comes out only when a fish bites down on the lure.

I will be fishing on both my Tangier Sound and North Carolina trips.  On the open waters of Tangier Sound I'll be trolling larger hard plastic lures with a lip that causes the lure to dive six or eight feet under the surface of the water.  That works well for catching bluefish, above, out in the open water.

In shallow water it is another story.  The shallow water, up along the islands or over oyster reefs, are where the striper hang out.  The larger lures, with treble hooks that hang beneath, tend to catch on the subaquatic grasses and shells.  The electric chicken is my newest attempt at a solution.  I can see slowly skirting the islands of Tangier Sound, maybe under just mizzen and jib, with the shad trolled behind Spartina.

I've had varying levels of success at fishing from Spartina.  Over the years I have had dinners of fresh caught speckled trout, bluefish and, below, striper.  On the Tangier Sound trip I'll be looking for stripers and bluefish.  A few weeks later I'll be on the hunt for speckled trout, puppy drum and flounder down near Cape Lookout in North Carolina.  Sometimes I catch, sometimes I don't.  But I always have fun.

I will say that I've read reports that, because of the mild winter, the Bay is coming alive earlier than usual.  Crabbing, both for hard shells and soft shells, is picking up.  And the fish should be a little more active than usual.  We'll see.


Monday, April 16, 2012


The Schooner Virginia is sporting both new masts and a new game plan.  I was out at Lyon Shipyard today as they lowered in the new laminated foremast and mainmast which replace the original solid douglas fir masts.  Those old masts were cracked and weather-worn, definitely in need of replacement.

But more important, I think, is the new game plan for the replica schooner.  Instead of spending winters down south and summers on the tall ship circuit up north, she will be home-ported in Norfolk, taking school kids out for day sails and maintaining a presence on our waterfront.  I don't know the details, don't even know if the details have all been worked out.  But I am glad to see the ship has weathered her financial difficulties which I mentioned here a few years ago.  

The Virginia is a beautiful ship and I have had the good fortune to sail down Chesapeake Bay on her, I've posted some photos of that trip here.  I am very excited that she will be a part of our waterfront here in town and I can't wait to trade tacks with her this summer on the Elizabeth River.


just what I needed

It was breezier, sunnier and hotter than forecast yesterday.  I'll take it.

My sails so far this year had been in light to moderate winds and I really wanted to deal with more wind before I got on the walkabout in less than two weeks.  The forecast was for 13 or 14 mph of wind out of the southwest.  It turned out to be out 18 with gusts in the low 20's.  Perfect.

I would have had a hard time rigging if not for the deck slot.  Winds in the high teens are why I put the slot there in the first place and raising the mast was easy.  With the strong winds I spent most of the day heeled over - the anchor bucket stayed securely where it was supposed to be.  So both innovations from this past winter worked well.

I tucked two reefs into the main as I set up the rig.  The red line is the outhaul for the first reef, the green line is for the second.  After 30 minutes or so I dropped the main, there was too much wind to carry even that.  So I spent most of the day under mizzen and jib.  This is what I like the yawl rig - I was able to sail all day in gusty conditions, perfectly balance and in control.  That photograph at the top shows Spartina moving along at a steady 6+ knots.  Not too bad for a boat with a hull speed of just over 5 knots.

Temperatures got up into the 80's, the skies were clear and lots of friendly waves from other sailors.  It was a great day to be on the water.  I feel like I'm ready for the spring trip (now I better start checking on my food supplies).


Saturday, April 14, 2012

navigating home

I met a young commercial fisherman down in the Outer Banks the other day.  He was cleaning his boat after a day on the water.  The decks of another boat nearby were covered in blood as waterman sliced and boxed their catch of the day.  The fisherman was from a local village, one that most tourists would not know existed behind the tee-shirt shops and tall summer vacation homes.  He loved that village.

He took great pride in the fact that he was part of a family that had lived in the village for generations.  He had the family name tattooed on his arm, the village name on his chest.  He said he would soon be getting another tattoo, this one of two buoys.  "Buoys?" I asked.  "Yeah, like buoys at the entrance to a harbor.  So I can always find my way home."


my histories of North Carolina

On our first sail up Core Sound, Bruce and I were caught by this fast moving but small storm.  It was a typical summer squall - heavy rain and some wind for a few minutes, then gone.   I noted in my logbook that we were just off of Rumley Bay, never giving a thought as to why the little bay, and the adjacent hammock, carried the name "Rumley."

My understanding of Carolina had been limited to vague stories about The Lost Colony on Roanoke Island and Blackbeard's death at Ocracoke.  Beyond that I knew almost nothing.  It was Bland Simpson, with his book the inner islands, A Carolinian's Sound Country Chronicle, who caught my interest and led me to devote much of my winter's reading to Carolina history.

Simpson's chronicles, a personal and very lyrical examination of island communities in the Sounds from colonial times to the 1950's, is a rich book that I have mentioned before.   He takes remote, unpopulated islands, many of which I have sailed past, and brings back the history of communities, fishing, and farming that was so important to the coast.  Along the way Simpson references a couple of other historians, and they each have books well worth reading.     

David Beers Quinn's Set Fair for Roanoke reaches back to the early explorations of the Carolina and Virginia coasts.  The book looks at early explorations by the Spanish and English, both on the coasts and throughout the Sounds.  Quinn has the most detailed description of the Native American tribes in the area and explores the interactions, some peaceful and some not, between the cultures.  There is so much in this book that I cannot easily describe it.  From the machinations of the English court to the changing geography of the barrier islands (inlets that have not existed for hundreds of years played crucial roles), it is a fascinating story that I will keep on my bookshelf.

Historian David Ceceliski has two books out on Carolina coast history; The Waterman's Song, Slavery and Freedom in Maritime North Carolina and A Historian's Coast, Adventures into the Tidewater Past.  Though a scholarly book, The Waterman's Song reads like a rich novel about slaves and free African Americans from colonial times to the mid-1900's.  They were fishermen, boat pilots and schooner captains.  They seined for fish, tonged oysters and used their hands to dig canals through thick, snake infested swamps in both the heat of the summer and cold of the winter.  The civil war is prominent, as are the interactions with free blacks sailing on foreign ships that came to Carolina ports.  It is, like all the books I am mentioning here, a wonderful book that changes the way I look at the water I sail.

The Historian's Coast is Ceceliski's more personal look at history.  He sets the tone perfectly with his dedication at the beginning of the book - "To my mother, who taught me to love books.  And to my father, who taught me to love boats."  This book is a series of essays on the coast originally written for Coastwatch magazine, a publication by the North Carolina Sea Grant program.  It is, like Simpson's inner islands, a mixture of history and personal experience.  I am already looking forward to reading it again.

While reading Ceceliski's Waterman's Song I came across a man named James Rumley.  He was a racist, a confederate sympathizer and, fortunately for historians, a diarist.  His entries, written during the occupation of Beaufort by Federal troops during the civil war, play an important part in Ceceliski's book as he describes white southerners who suddenly had to deal with free blacks.  Is his Rumley connected to Rumley Bay and Rumley Hammock?  I will probably never know.  But next time I sail on the Sounds of North Carolina I will be much more aware of the history around me.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012


The texture of the clouds against the wrinkled sails caught my eye on Sunday.  Here's another picture.


Monday, April 9, 2012

sunday sail

Sunday was a perfect day on the water.  Steady breezes and comfortable temperatures.  As soon as I got out on the river I saw one of my favorite tall ships, the Pride of Baltimore II, tied up on the Portsmouth waterfront.

The Pride comes to our area each Spring as they rig for the coming season.  Apparently we've got one of the few boatyards on the coast that can handle a ship her size.  Last year they tied up for rigging on the Norfolk waterfront, you can see some photographs of her here.  This time she was across the river in Portsmouth.

The last time I was on the water with the Pride was during the very chilly downrigging weekend in Chestertown.  You can read about that adventure here.  It was good to see her while sailing in comfortable temperatures for a change.

A few snowbirds passed through, a nice ketch from Rhode Island, some catamarans and a big ocean cruiser from Oslo, Norway with the interesting name of "Steve Cooling, Jr".  And a handful of local boats, like the sloop below coming out of Scotts Creek, were out on the river too.

I found I am getting more comfortable with the new gps.  And I was pleased to see that the adjustments I made to the rigging - altering the mizzen lazy jacks and downhaul - worked very well.

I think we are off to a nice season on the water.