Sunday, November 29, 2015

"Nice boat." "Nice boat."

The title for this post was the opening exchange as we passed each other where the Elizabeth River turns a corner to the southern branch.  It was a brief meeting with him telling me he built his New Jersey Sea Bright Skiff a dozen years ago, and I telling him that I built the Welsford yawl a decade ago.  He said he has never crossed paths with another home built wooden boat.  I said not just wooden boats meeting, but both built with lapstrake construction, a rarity for this area.  Yeah, he said, most guys take the easy way out.  We both smiled.  Then he went on his way, I went on mine.

Friday, November 27, 2015

blue thanksgiving, black friday

Yesterday - Thanksgiving Day for most people - was an incredibly beautiful day on the water.  Scuffletown Creek (don't you love the name?) was quiet and peaceful when I pulled up at the ramp.  Just a couple of trailers there, fishermen out looking for rockfish on the river.  Blue skies, a nice ENE wind and temperatures headed to the high 60s.

I saw a couple of snowbirds headed down the southern branch as I rigged Spartina, then found one more still anchored on Craford Bay.  I believe his name is Stephane.  He said he was headed south from Quebec on his Westsail 32 Merlou.  How far? I asked.  "As far as I can go," he said.  He's been living on the boat for three years now, so he's always at home.  I don't know much about big boats, but the Westsail looked rock solid and he had it in very fine shape.  

The gentle wind blowing across the Elizabeth carried Spartina down Town Point Reach to the coal piers, then around the piers to the wide entrance to the Lafayette River.  Gentle, relaxing sailing, sometimes steering with my knee up against the tiller as I leaned back and soaked in the late November sun.  Just a glorious day.

Turning back in early after noon the wind swung to ESE and we tacked back down the river in the company of four more snowbirds.  More local people out on the river than I expected, all out enjoying the day.  A couple in a nice old Boston Whaler motored over to wish me a Happy Thanksgiving.  How nice is that?

Back at the ramp I found the lot deserted, everyone home to enjoy football and a feast.  I took my time breaking down Spartina's rig with football on the radio and warm sunshine on my face.  I had to remind myself more than once that it was later November.  How many more sails this year?  With weather like this maybe two or three.


Today is Black Friday and I can't ever imagine myself at a shopping mall or big box store with the crowds of Christmas shoppers.  But the Virginia ABC (alcoholic beverage control) stores had their own Black Friday, meaning a welcomed 10% off on a much needed resupply of Laphroaig.  I think I was the only customer there buying a single bottle, everyone seemed to be loading up grocery carts with wine, bourbon and whatever.  One bottle, which will last months, was just fine for me.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

thanksgiving delayed

The last of the snow birds are trickling down past mile marker "0" on the ICW these days.  Warmer than usual with clear skies, it must be a wonderful time to sail south for Florida, the Bahamas or wherever.  

From the bridge this afternoon I could see there are a couple of boats anchored for the evening in Craford Bay.  I wonder if they will stay moored to celebrate the holiday.  Maybe I will sail by them in the morning and wish them a Happy Thanksgiving.  For a variety of reasons - travel, distance and work - Thanksgiving for us will be Saturday afternoon.  In the meantime the sailing forecast can only be described as perfect for this time of year - mid-60s, clear skies and 8 to 10 mph of wind.

For those who have a better schedule than I, Happy Thanksgiving!  Enjoy the day.  And I'll raise a toast to you on Saturday.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Anne Caie

Anne Caie, a very fine Sam Crocker designed boat that I saw
out on the Elizabeth River a couple of weeks ago.  I believe
she was headed to Atlantic Yacht Basin for her winter refit.

I hope to be out on the river tomorrow.  I wonder who I will see.  

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Rik: gone sailing

Rik, my sailing partner from last weekend, has gone sailing. 

He left, aboard Isbjorn with the 59° North crew, yesterday morning.  They appeared to have favorable winds yesterday and into last night and are now ESE of Cape Hatteras.  Somehow I don't think Rik is wearing shorts, relaxing with his feet up and tending the tiller.  I'm not an offshore sailor but I'm guessing a full set of foul weather gear and a harness, hanging on to anything that doesn't move.  I'm sure it is a thrill.

Above is the tracking map for the Caribbean 1500 fleet.  That boat out in the lead is Moonwave, an appropriate name as when I saw it at the marina the other day it looked more to me like a space ship than a sailboat.  And it seems to move like a spaceship compared to the rest of the fleet.

Locally we have an excellent forecast for the next few days and I hope to get out on the water at least once or twice.   It's that time of year when every day of nice weather needs to be savored.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

St. Michaels

St. Michaels.  What can I say?  Very disappointed that the MASCF was cancelled, but what can you do with strong winds, heavy rains, high tides and, oh yeah, a hurricane on the way.  Three of us showed up for festival, myself and two marsh cat guys - Pete and Kevin, both regulars on the Chesapeake floats.  By mid-afternoon on arrival day the event was cancelled.  Pete hauled his marsh cat but Kevin kept his in the water for some afternoon sailing.  Spartina was still in the water with the jeep and trailer 150 miles away in Cape Charles.  And the storm was coming.

Kristen, aka Kiwibird, was great.  She had enough on her hands with running the museum, trying to decide what to do with the small craft festival, concerns about protecting the museum grounds and their floating fleet of classic boats that would need to be secured for the storm.  But she showed up at the dock, gave me a hug and says "let's go" and I say "where?" and she says "lunch!"  And we sat and ate and talked, pausing now and then to listen to a group at a nearby table read aloud the weather warnings from their phones.  Back at the museum I spread out some gear to dry in the shelter of a porch, then began working the phone figuring out how to get to Cape Charles.  The museum crew was busy moving all their boats around the point to where they would be protected from the forecast winds and waves and I get a text from Kristen saying move Spartina around the point asap and they'll get her protected along with the museum's fleet.  I do so, tying up to starboard of the Patriot and Kristen comes down with two dock masters and they help me move over a couple of slips to even better protection.  I can't thank them enough for the assistance.

Spartina secured, I found a car service out of nearby Easton that can get me to Cape Charles then next day.  Not cheap, but that's life.  My wife had been offering to drive up from Chesapeake to get me, an eight hour round trip, and good friend Barry was checking to make sure I had a ride but no way was I going to have him spend 11 hours on the road to get me back to Cape Charles (Barry was plan "a" for getting back to Cape Charles in the pre-storm days, he was going to be there to enjoy the festival then drop me off in Cape Charles on his way home.  Great plan, don't you think, if not for the storm.)

Kristen checks in a few more times in the afternoon, asking if I need any help.  She finds me a dry spot to sleep, wishes me well and makes sure I have her phone number just in case I need anything else.  I enjoy dinner down on South Talbot Street with Kevin who came in off the water after a breezy sail, an enjoyable dinner where we talked of small boats, sailing trips and friends we have in common.

The next day was the pricey car ride south (pricey, yes, but when I think of all the trips I've made with no significant expenses, the offers of free launching ramps, free docking and free storage for the jeep and trailer while I'm gone for a couple of weeks, well I still come out ahead in the long run).  Dark clouds and rain, watching the hurricane on my phone headed for Hatteras and an email from the boss saying "how about heading to Hatteras."  Back up to St. Michaels with the jeep and trailer, a quick thank you and goodbye to Kristen and then a couple of museum guys help me work Spartina out from between the other boats.  I haul out Spartina and then unrig her in a pouring rain, then drive the four hours back home in even more rain.  Spartina was back in the garage well after dark and all I could do was spread the sails out to dry because I had to start packing to head to Hatteras the next morning.

It was an interesting couple of days after a fun and challenging sail up the Bay.  By the time I got back from Hatteras - the storm changed course and wind and waves were all that showed up in the Outer Banks - I could hardly remember the trip.  So glad to have the note book, the log and photographs.  It was a great trip.  Now it's time to start thinking about spring.

Monday, November 9, 2015

day twelve - coming in

The forecast from the evening before - steady light rain, light winds out of the north then swinging to the south - proved less than accurate.  Just after slipping into the bivy a heavy rain began to fall.  The wind kicked up and so did the chop.  The rain became a torrent and the wind blew the forward end of the boom tent back into the cockpit.  Thinking it was a local squall I kept waiting for it to end, but it went on for hours.  The chop became so stiff I wondered if I had dragged anchor and was pounding on the shallows along the shore of the creek.  I was dry and comfortable inside my sleeping bag in the bivy but knew that there would be a lot of water in Spartina in the morning.  At some point late in the night, how late I don't know, the rain and wind ended, and I fell asleep.

Up at 5:15 to begin bailing out Spartina.  Inside the bivy I slip on my clothes.  Outside the bivy I put on the foul weather gear.  The inside of the bivy and the sleeping bag are dry, everything else in the boat is wet.  Inches of water roll about on the cockpit sole and bunk flat as I move about in the darkess.  A triangle of a red, green and white light moves across the creek, a waterman starting his day.  He swings a spotlight in our direction, keeps going.  I bail with a cup and then a sponge until most of the water is gone.

We sail off anchor just before 7:00 under a low overcast, 3.2 knots down Cox Creek in a light rain.   Deadrises work trot lines for crabs.  Choppy water at Turkey Point and a hint of blue sky.  Forecast calling for rain and wind, warnings for the hurricane which is showing a course to the MidAtlantic.

The wind comes and goes, we sail and motor sail, crossing Eastern Bay to Tilghman Point quicker than expected.  At 10:00 the sun begins to break through the low overcast, a light southwest wind on the approach to St. Michaels.  We sail in the entrance channel, drop sails and motor to the museum docks. 

Pulling into a slip I grab a piling and start to get out of Spartina with a dock line.  A man walks up and asks "Can I help you?"   Yes, I tell him, I'm hear for the small craft festival.  "It might be cancelled, you know."  "Yes, I know."  Tied up at the docks I jot 14 nm for the day and 280 nm for the trip.

oysters Baydog

Oysters, a pint of shucked from Shooting Point on
Nassawadox Creek and a handful of Church Creek
Corks, shiitake mushrooms, jalapeño pepper,
some white wine and a little heavy cream.

 Dave tells me he came up with the recipe and
prepared it just once.  In our household it is
a fall/winter tradition.  Thanks, Dave.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

day eleven - the coming storm

A glassy morning, Spartina covered in a layer of heavy dew.  Not a hint of wind.  We motor off anchor, away from the shelter of the trees there is a hint of a breeze.  A small snake raises its head in ruffled water, then disappears.  Tiny silver baitfish skitter across the surface ahead of the bow.  At the mouth of the creek, a pleasant breeze.  Dew rains down as I raise full sail.

Morning overcast gives way to sun and heat.  I spread my sleeping gear out to dry.  Weather forecasts are becoming more ominous.  The low that has been hanging off the Carolinas will be sending heavy winds and rain, Hurricane Joaquin could track into Chesapeake Bay.  An email from a friend says "Everything ok?"  I can take a hint: I should be heading in.

A warm, humid southeast wind carries us down the Chester River towards Kent Narrows, an outgoing tide helping along the way.  Sails come down at the entrance channel to the narrows, perfect timing for lunch and we tie up at Harris Crab House, a spring line and running tide holding Spartina off the pilings.  I enjoy a crab cake sandwich and several glasses of iced tea.  At a nearby table an adult woman has her elderly father, a retired waterman, out for lunch.  They order crabs by the dozen, the man methodically picking each hard crab to pieces, leaving a nice pile of back fin and lump crab meat on his plate.  They work through the trays of steamed crabs, the waitress bringing more buckets to fill with discarded shell.

I make the 1 p.m. bridge opening, motor down the channel to where it widens and then round up to raise sails.  I hear a should from a large sloop.  It's Pete Peters, a friend of a friend, who invites me to join them for lunch.  I say thanks but I need to get to Warehouse Creek before the afternoon's storms.

Rain showers sweep easter to west on Eastern Bay.  The wind comes and goes.  We motor some, sail some.  I cut behind Parson's Island and make less than two knots across the mouth of Crab Alley Bay, grey all around.  The wind fails and we motor to Turkey Point, up Cox Creek and into Warehouse Creek.

The night forecast calls for light rain all night, wind out of the north until late then swinging around to south by early morning.  I mark down 20 nm in my notebook.

a sailing lesson

Had a guest on board yesterday and it was a delight.  Rik, builder of the Pathfinder Vanessa, was in town to sail south with the Caribbean 1500 sailing rally and he took the time to join me for a sail.  Two Pathfinder builders/sailors on Spartina, how nice!

It was an interesting experience to sail with someone so familiar with a gaff-rigged yawl, and more so because Rik typically sails in the 25 knots trade winds of Aruba.  His average sailing wind is at the high end of my experience.  Watching him handle the sails was fun, particularly the mizzen which he adjusted more times in one day than I do on a week long cruise (I'll will say that I tweak the sails less than most people).  Being around the water all his life and sailing routinely in high winds has him handling the sheets in ways that I never imagined.  Describing this is beyond me, but can only say that while I use the mizzen as a balancing sail, Rik uses it as a steering sail.  I learn from everyone I sail with, and I hope to take away some ideas from the way Rik's sail handling.

Rik got the full Elizabeth River experience, from heavy overcast skies and a light mist to blue skies and warm sunshine.  We saw the usual tugs and barges, military boats big and small, and snow birds such as beautiful, sleek Justice, above, who came through in the spring of 2014.  

It is pouring rain outside now and I wonder if Rik is sheltering on the 48 foot Swan Isbjörn , the boat he will be sailing on to Tortola.  He is sailing with the crew of 59° NORTH (the same people who did the podcast with Webb Chiles earlier this year).  Check out their site and we should be able to find blogs from the trip, maybe some podcasts and and Isbjörn's position.  The 40 or so boats in the rally will be casting off a in a couple of days, waiting out both today's storm and a tropical depression down near the Bahamas.  Rik says they should be leaving Tuesday.

Rik, thanks for joining me and thanks for the sailing lesson. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

day ten - the blood moon, the fog, the squall

Calm and crystal clear over night, a bright light wakes me and I see the beginnings of the blood moon of a lunar eclipse.  I watch and enjoy, then drop the bivy over my head so I can get back to sleep.

A light fog settles on the creek at dawn.  Sailing off anchor at 7:30, a small boat works a trotline for crabs as we make 3.5 knots on to Cox Creek.  A quiet sail towards Turkey Point, a cormorant slapping the water with its wings as the bird takes flight.  Everything on Spartina is damp, dripping from the morning mist.

At Turkey Point we leave both the creek and the fog behind, clammers working in deadrises ahead of us on Eastern Bay.  At 10:30 we are in light airs tacking past tiny Parsons Island with its picturesque farm, making 2.7 knots under a light overcast.  The day is warming and I strip off my foul weather gear.

By noon the wind has failed and I power north towards Kent Narrows, reaching the bascule bridge 10 minutes ahead of the 1:30 lift already requested by a larger sailboat ahead of me.  The bridge opens and I motor through and tie up at Piney Narrows Yacht Haven to top off the fuel can and buy a couple of cold drinks. 

Motoring out of the narrows the wind picks up and I raise mizzen and jib to sail out to deep water, full sail up at 2:15 on the Chester River.  The skies clear but weather radio talks of afternoon thunderstorms and rain showers.  We sail on a close reach past Hail Point then fall off as the river curves to the north.  I can see rain showers to the north and east.

Near Piney Cove the wind falls off and the air is thick with humidity, water glassy calm.  A light sprinkle falls.

Looking for a new anchorage I pick out the Corsica River on the chart book, but ahead see a fast moving squall.  I turn towards a closer anchorage, Reed Creek, one that I had visited years ago.  They Corsica will have to wait.

Approaching the creek the outflow from the storm heels Spartina and we bound our way past Gordon Point into protected water.  The wind builds and a steady rain falls, then the storm slips away to the west.  

Cook dinner, clean the boat, write 26 nm in the log book.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

squall, light and shadow

The return from the fall was was a harried event with high winds and rain, a threatening hurricane and the cancelled MASCF, all that followed by a rush trip to Hatteras Island to see the weather down there.  I am now catching up on my notes and photographs from the trip, finding this picture just yesterday, a squall passing by on the Chester River.  I enjoy the rich light of the scene, the hint of blue sky, the dark shadows of the little storm, the sun catching the mast and a bit of the sail.  I've added it to my collection of stormy photographs and it will also be in the next daily log from the trip.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

day nine - north

I wake in the comfortable bed to the sound of gusts outside the hotel room.  From the balcony I can see the trees swaying in the wind.   Checking the weather forecasts I see that the weather should settle mid-morning.  I take my time packing the gear bags and carrying them down to Spartina.  A self serve breakfast of cereal and fruit is a nice way to start the day.

We cast off just after 9:00, backing out of the slip under power and motoring through the marina to Knapp Narrows then west towards the bay.  Mizzen, jib and double reef main go up once past the channel markers, then soon I shake out the reefs and sail north to Poplar Island Narrows.  The grey overcast shows signs of breaking up as we make 2.5 to 3 kts in the narrows.  Two old Chesapeake Bay buyboats pass by on their way north, one out of Rolph's Wharf on the Chester River, the other I don't recognize.  The wind comes and goes.  It's a football Sunday, seemingly endless talk of players and games drones on the radio.

By 11:00 at the north end of Poplar Island the gusts and swells begin to build, by noon the wind is swinging to the east as we sail north on the chop.  Soon we are struggling with the gusts and rough water.  

We point up to sail inside of Kent Island, the waters of Eastern Bay rough and the wind increasing.  Spartina makes 4.3 knots, then soon 5.0 with the waves rolling across the bay on our beam.  

Slipping behind Turkey Point into Cox Creek the water calms but the wind is still there.  Across the smooth water we make 5.8 knots in the gusts and chase feeding birds up the creek, casting for stripers that we don't find.

The sailing is perfect.  Spartina heels solidly in the gusts and we pass by the entrance to our anchorage to explore more of Cox Creek as it narrows to the north.  The beam wind disappears as we pass stands of tall pines, then comes back as we slip out of the shadow of the trees.  A pair of eagles rest on a duck blind, one small patch of blue opens in the grey sky.

Coming about we sail south on the creek, turning west in shallow Warehouse Creek.  We follow the curve of the marsh, round up behind the marsh and a small stand of trees, dropping anchor just before 4:00.

Later that night, after dinner and with a football game on the radio, I mark down 24 nm in the notebook.