Tuesday, April 29, 2014


The catamaran's yellow hull and wooden masts in the far corner of Craford Bay caught my eye as I raised Spartina's sailsl in a northeasterly breeze Sunday morning.  A quick look through the binoculars confirmed that it was a Wharram, a boat well worth visiting.  Across the river and into the bay past the snowbirds from New York and New Hampshire and soon I was circling "Mon Tiki" for a few photographs.  I enjoyed the classic looks of the polynesian design.  Seeing no one aboard we were soon headed down Towne Point Reach to Lamberts Bend before doubling back to downtown. 

Sailing through the snowbirds of Craford Bay late morning for another look I saw a man waving from Mon Tiki.  Not just waving, he was beckoning Spartina to come closer.  Within calling distance he was complimenting Spartina as I was complimenting his boat.  With camera in hand he motioned for a closer pass.  As I turned back I asked if he would like to hop on board for a brief sail.  He ducked down into the cabin, emerged with a life jacket and stepped on board.

It was David Ryan, shown above in a self-portrait from his Facebook page.  Mon Tiki is his 38 foot Wharram design, built by "East End" craftsman near her home port of Montauk on Long Island.  Designed and built as a charter boat, David was returning from an off-season trip to Florida Keys.  The charter season was coming up fast, he has bookings lined up for May.

With a well-tanned and relaxed look that comes with a few months in the Keys, he told me about Mon Tiki, plus the five others boats he has built of the years.  He had questions and compliments for the Pathfinder design, telling me Spartina looked beautiful cutting through the water.  I think he enjoyed the sail.  He told me as he climbed back aboard Mon Tiki that it was the first time in three years he had sailed on a boat that heeled. (Wharrams apparently don't heel.)

It was a couple of days later, when I came across David's biography, that I realized we had missed a chance for a great discussion.  It turns out he was born and raised in La Jolla not too far from Wind'n'Sea Beach, one of my favorite old haunts.  I was born close by on Coronado, and spent my teen years in Pacific Beach and La Jolla.  My first job was at the old Diving Locker on Grand Ave, where I used to take breaks and get fried fish, french fries and cole slaw from Ocean Fresh Seafood, carrying it down to Wind'n'Sea Beach for relaxing lunches that I remember to this day. (And Ocean Fresh it was - I one time pulled into the parking lot in my '64 VW bus next to a fishing dory filled with a pile of fishing nets and a hammerhead shark.)  David and I, I realized, had body-surfed, scuba dived and sailed in the same places.  Wouldn't it have been fun to compare notes?

When I emailed David about this, he described the encounter as serendipity.  Yes, it was.

A few hours later, making my last few tacks on the river, I saw Mon Tiki raise sail, disappearing out of sight rounding Hospital Point.  I doubt we will ever have that discussion about growing up on the beaches of La Jolla.  But I will remember, and enjoy, a brief bit of serendipity that connected me back to a lot of fun times I had a few too many decades ago.  

Saturday, April 26, 2014

it's time

...to go to Walmart and buy a new watch to hang under the aft deck of Spartina.  The old one, a $20 gem from the same store, lasted about three years.  I don't need a watch when day sailing, but I like to have one on cruises so I can note the time when I jot down my notes.

....to email my friend Maria in Onancock, owner of the Charlotte E. Foster, to see, should the spring trip start in Onancock, if she can suggest a place where I can leave the jeep and trailer during the sail. And, should the spring trip start in Chincoteague, if I can raft up with the Charlotte when I finish the trip in Onancock.

...to update my Virginia salt water fishing license, which is recognized in both Virginia and Maryland waters.  Bluefish should be around, as should some stripers.

...to check out my camera batteries.  I'm good with the X-20 batteries, but probably need a couple of new ones for the Pentax Optio W-90.  I probably ought to do a recharge with the solar system too.

...to start thinking about soft shell crabs on Tangier Island.  Despite the polar vortex and cold, cold winter, my crabber friends tell me soft shell season is more closely tied with the moon phases and should be right on schedule for the spring trip.

...to refresh my memory on how to boil crawfish for our backyard boil which is coming up quicker than I had imagined.  Invites went out last week.  If you did not receive one, my apologies.  "Bring to a boil, lower to simmer, 15 minutes and then put them steaming hot into the cooler to season."

...to have dinner, my wife (who says she does not know how to cook), tells me.  Salmon with brown sugar and citrus over a bed of sautéed spinach and sun dried tomatoes with pasta.  I think she does know how to cook.  Yes, time to eat.  Catch you later.....

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

the season

A cool north wind blowing on the Elizabeth River.  Boats, after a winter down south, are making their way back home.

At Waterside Marina there was a boat named "Justice."  Double planked mahogany over pine.

Designed by John H. Wells, built in 1930 by Consolidated Shipbuilding.

Length of 75' 6", beam 13' and a draft of 4', displacement 31 tons.

Cruising speed 25 knots, max speed 33 knots.  I bet she takes her time heading north.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

May, the month for sailing

It is in the low 50s with grey clouds, with winds gusting in 35 mph or better.  Not a good day for sailing.  I'm glad to have gotten out on the water twice in April, and will be thankful is I get out a third time next weekend.  But it is May, I'm hearing, that will be the month for sailing.

For years I've been on a batch email list for an annual Chesapeake Float, which takes place in May.  I have never taken part in the float, but I do appreciate reading all the planning and organizing that goes on with it.  There is talk of ramps and boats, parking spots for trailers and early arrivals and who needs work anyway.

It surprises to realize how many of these sailors I have met over the years - Kevin with his Navigator Slip Jig, Barry with his Melonseed skiffs, Curt with his wooden Drascombe Coaster Thin Water Annie (that's Curt in the photo at the top of the post, from when we met on Swan Creek off of Pamlico Sound a few years ago) and Mike with who tells me he is sailing a Haven 12 1/2.  I may have met a few more in the crowd at the Mid-Atlantic Small Craft Festival a few years ago, but I've never been good at recalling names.  (I am better at recalling boats.)  

My friend Webb Chiles will also do some sailing in May.....and June, July, August, September, October and November as he sets off for Hawaii and New Zealand aboard Gannet, his Moore 24.  When I've mentioned Webb in the past I have gone to his website to steal photographs.  I still do so sometimes now, but I'm pleased to say - since he invited me aboard for a sail in February - that some of the photographs I'm stealing are mine.

Webb has a nice breakdown of the food (and drink) in his journal for the five months of planned sailing.  I'm a recent convert to Webb's strategy of using freeze-dried meals for dinner.  Quick and easy to cook, it is just a matter of heating water on a jet boil and pouring it into the pouch.  Cleanup is nothing more than washing a spoon.

Since sailing is out this weekend with rain yesterday and high winds today, I've been doing some food shopping for my own May cruise.  I've got all my tuna fish and cracker lunches, granola bar breakfasts and freeze dried dinners, plus a cup of fruit to go with each meal.  Here is a list of dinners I will have on board, most of which I have tried and some I have not...

Mountain House - New Orleans Style Rick with Shrimp and Ham, Beef Stew (2), Sweet and Sour Pork with Rice, Beef Stroganoff with Noodles (2) (a definite fav) and Breakfast Skillet with Hash Browns, Eggs and Pork Sausage.

Backpackers Pantry - Potatoes with Gravy and Beef, Louisiana Red Beans and Rice, Chicken Cashew Curry with Rice and Hawaiian Style Rice with Chicken.

AlpineAire Foods - Pepper Steak with Rice.

Discussing healthy snacks with my oldest daughter this weekend I was reminded of medjool dates, above, which are not the most attractive snacks but taste to me like candy.  At one time dried dates and dried figs were regular snacks for me, a good habit which I have unfortunately lost.  I think I will devote a container on Spartina to dates and figs for mid-morning and late afternoon snacks.

Above is the reason I'm not sailing.  Let's hope for better weather in May.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

aground, explained

Sometimes things, particularly large things, can be visually stunning when seen where you don't expect them to be seen.  Like, for example, a 751 foot long ship.

The bulk carrier Ornak, which was empty at the time, was anchored out in the Lynnhaven Anchorage yesterday.  The anchorage is just inside Chesapeake Bay, just around the corner from Cape Henry which marks the southern entrance to the bay.  At any give time there can be 20 or more ships - freighters, container ships, colliers - anchored there, waiting for the tide or maybe a spot at the port.

About 8:30 last night a cold front rolled in with ragged, blustery gusts measured at up to 70 miles-an-hour.  Several ships in the anchorage dragged anchor.  Two collided.  One, the Ornak, continued dragging anchor.  The cranked up her engines but could not turn her north into the wind and away from the beach.  They dropped a second anchor.  She kept moving.  The ship came to a stop only when she ran up onto bottom in 15 feet of water.

There were no reported injuries.  Pilots from the Maryland and Virginia Pilot Associations boarded all the other ships and stayed on them throughout the night to prevent any more problems.

The Coast Guard hopes to use tugs to pull the Ornak out of the shallow water.  But they will have to wait until the north wind dies down.  It could be a couple of days.  Until then, sightseers will come to see a very large object where it usually isn't seen.


Monday, April 14, 2014

a lap around the lighthouse

It was a rare wind yesterday coming directly out of the south, bringing with it warm air and pushing Spartina downriver with the running tide.  In the wind shadow downtown I raised full sail, soon to tuck in a reef out on the open river.  Six knots and blue skies.

A freighter passed us to port, then we crossed the channel before passing a larger container ship on our starboard.  Ospreys circled above and cormorants poked their heads up out of the water.

Rounding the northeast corner of Craney Island where the Elizabeth River meets the James the gusts  picked up and Spartina heeled, making almost seven knots at times.  There was a chill in the air from the still cold water of the James.  

A radio brought along to listen to baseball stayed in the duffle bag, the wind was all I needed to hear.  A cellophane-wrapped sandwich from a grocery store, better than expected, made for a nice lunch.  Two tacks up the river and we  circled around Middle Ground Light, built in 1890 and now privately owned as a weekend home.  Wouldn't I love to spend a weekend there.

Back to the gusty corner of Craney Island, back into the Elizabeth to find, for a short while, lighter winds and a return to full sail.  A last tack to get around the coal yards at Lamberts Bend and the afternoon gusts appeared as the first batch of snowbirds passed by on their way north.  Spartina is reefed once again, sailing into the wind and tide up Town Point Reach and back to the ramp.

Sun, wind, 80 degrees and a running tide - can't ask for much more than that.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

the outfall canal, call of the wild

I got another view of the outfall canal from Lake Mattamuskeet yesterday as I headed down into mainland North Carolina with one of my science-type friends yesterday.  I've seen, and used as a navigation mark, the outfall canal over the years sailing on Pamlico Sound.  Heading south from Engelhard the marshy shore leads to Wyscoking Bay and Hog Island, then begins a westward curve where the 15 foot tall canal entrance marker stands near North Bluff Point. 

Yesterday my view of the canal was from a rickety bridge across the canal on a seemingly endless expanse of farmland.  Just looking down the canal brought back memories of sailing by the rugged, remote shoreline over the years.

My friend, a biologist, was in search of a red wolf.  Once an important member of the ecosystem, the red wolf is now an endangered species due to loss of habitat and misguided predator control programs.  Only about 100 now live in the wild.  We were in search of just one, a wolf that my friend had caught sight of a few days earlier.  Even before we crossed the canal bridge he had picked up a signal from the wolf's tracking collar.

Over the bridge and in the fields we found nothing but empty traps, humane traps buried in the ground.  Some had been tripped, most likely by deer, most were untouched.  

It was at the last trap that we found the wolf, a large male that had run into some nearby trees.  The wolf's leg was in the trap and it had dragged the chain and an anchor-like device that got caught up in the undergrowth.  Tucked into a kennel, it was back to the rehab center for this lone wolf.

As with all things environmental, there are some controversies with the wolf program.  Bringing back a predator??  Was it a wolf that got my cat/dog/cow?  Are they running off all the deer and turkeys (even though though the deer and turkey population is at an all-time high)??

All that is beyond me.  I was just glad to get a different look at nature, and a different look at the outfall canal.  

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

the eastern branch

It was up the eastern branch of the Elizabeth River today, a place I seldom visit, for a trip with some science-type friends from NOAA.  It was a crew out of Annapolis that was in search of potential sites for oyster reef restoration or building.

So why find a fished out oyster reef and restore it?  Or why haul in a pile of old oyster shells and build a new reef from scratch?  Lots of reasons.  Oysters filter water, removing contaminants, which allows for sub-aquatic vegetation to grow, which reduces the chance for erosion and provides a habitat for juvenile forms of fish, shrimp and crabs.  Oysters are food (but I wouldn't eat these - we'll get to that later), and provide an ecosystem for all those fish, shrimp, crabs that are food for bigger marine animals, which themselves become food for even larger forms of marine life.  Follow that food chain a few links and you will find people like me who love to eat seafood.  Clean the water, prevent erosion, create nurseries for seafood - seems worthwhile to me. 

The boat had four types of sonar on board including single beam, multi beam, side scan and sub-bottom profiler.  It was the side scan sonar that produced the image below showing both a sunken ship (pretty cool don't you think) and the dark area, particularly the place marked with a tiny red dot, that might be the perfect area for an oyster reef.

Beyond the sonar scans, they were also doing "ground truthing" by dropping a ponar (nobody could explain the source of the word) over the side and bringing up bottom samples.  Sometimes it was mud or silt - not good for oysters - sand, old oyster shells - great for oysters - and, as you can see below, some live oysters.  They brought in several live oysters today, indicating that the river was a healthy place for the shellfish.  But just because it is a good place for oysters to grow, it doesn't mean that these oysters are good for us to eat.  As filter feeders living in one of the oldest industrial rivers in the country, they are full of toxins.  It will be years of work, maybe decades, before any edible oysters come out of this river.  But healthy oyster reefs are at least a start.

It was a great day on the water, a learning experience and a lot of fun.  Thanks, guys, for having me along.

Monday, April 7, 2014

double reefed

In the forties with a stiff NE wind, yesterday was perfect for jib, mizzen and double reefed main.  The surprise was the clear blue skies.  Clouds had been forecast, but fortunately they failed to show.

I did, because of the temperature I suspect, have the parking lot, the ramp and the river to myself.  I did see a couple of power boats coming out of the western branch of the Elizabeth and there were a couple of waves from tug boat captains, but mostly it was just Spartina and I enjoying the wind and water.

While checking over gear the night before I found that the battery charger for the Fuji X-20 was not working.  I am glad that I found that problem now, and not just before leaving on a cruise.  I did buy a three year warranty on the camera and made a call this afternoon to hopefully get a new charger shipped to me.

The cranes working on Craford Bay were idle and anchored on the outer edge of the bay.  My impression was that their work - dredging up some old tar-like substances and replacing it with clean sand - is done.

If you look to the left of the photo above you will see the new downhaul for the main.   The line is too long and I will shorten it later this week, but the important thing is that it did work well.  Thanks for the tip, Stuart.

Sunny and cool yesterday, cold and rainy this morning, overcast and muggy this afternoon - Spring is fighting its way north.