Saturday, February 28, 2009 for nothing, get your charts for free

Very cold and rainy here, chance of snow Monday.  Haven't achieved much.  But I did come across a great website on the resources page of the OBX130.  It is NOAA's Nautical Chart Online Viewer.  Here is the link for the Atlantic Coast page of charts.  I did not know they were out there.  Plenty of daydreams in the charts.
At top left is a detail from Chart 11548, Pamlico Sound Western Part.  It shows Fisherman Bay inside of Maw Point where Bruce and I might anchor on day seven of the trip.  Well protected from the typical southwest wind, Bonner Bay right around the corner offers protection in a couple of small creeks should the forecast call for wind out of the north. (I've got to think that those Bonner Bay creeks, with steep drop offs to 10 feet, ought to be pretty "fishy".)
The second photo down is a screen shot from Google Maps showing the same spot.  We'll carry a handful of Google Map or Google Earth images on the boat, a good reference when we get to a possible anchorage (plus the shoals and dropoffs visible on the photo give a hint for good fishing areas). 

I also did a test meal for the trip, seen at the bottom.  That is grilled lamb and polenta with roasted red pepper sauce.  The basil/garlic polenta comes in a tube and does not need refrigeration.  A box of red pepper soup (again, no refrigeration), with a few added spices,  is cooked down in a pot to make the sauce.  The lamb (or beef or chicken) would probably be sliced in to strips, frozen and kept in a soft-sided cooler with dry ice.  Improving our menu is one of the goals for the trip.  I'll experiment with dry ice once things warm up here.  But this was an excellent, very practical meal for the trip.   Who needs to rough it?

Less than a week until the start of the 2009 Everglades Challenge.   The Chief says they will be offering a challenge viewer so we can follow all the competitors (I think).  It's a great race and worth checking out.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

armchair sailor

I've been doing all my sailing in the living room the past week, looking over google earth and GMCO's Waterproof Chartbook of North Carolina.  The book is well worn and still has salt on some pages from past cruises.  And I have got to wonder how I ever planned a cruise without looking for anchorages on google earth.

My goal has been to rough out some days for sailing for the Spring cruise.  Below are some mileages to possible stopping places.  The miles are a direct route from one spot to the next.  The actual mileage will certainly be different, depending on wind and weather.  But this will help Bruce and I rough out the trip.

  1. Engelhard to Browns Island in Wysocking Bay - 14 miles.  This is the first day, which includes driving to Engelhard, rigging/loading boat.  I like to start my cruises with an easy day, get comfortable and relax.
  2. Browns Island to Swan Quarter Island - 25 miles.  
  3. Swan Quarter Island to Mixon Creek - 26 miles.
  4. Mixon Creek to Bath - 8 miles.  Why such a short sail?  We want to get in to town, get a hotel, wash clothes and gear, explore the town.
  5. Bath to Hobucken - 25 miles.
  6. Hobucken to Vandemere and then on to Fisherman Bay behind Maw Point - 18 miles.
  7. Fisherman Bay to Pasture Creek - 13 miles.  Might duck in to Whortonsville for a visit on the way.
  8. Pasture Creek to Oriental - 8 miles.  Why so short?  We want to enjoy Oriental.  They claim to be the sailing capital of North Carolina and I think they are right.  Great hotel, restaurant right on the water.  Public pier with coffee house right across the street.  
  9. Oriental to Fairfield Harbor - 21 miles.
  10. Fairfield Harbor to New Bern - 8 miles.  Last day of trip.  Need to rent a car, go get the jeep and trailer back at Engelhard and return to New Bern to haul the boat.  Then drive home.
We've got 11 days available for sailing, then Bruce needs to catch a flight and I need to get back to work.  So that gives us a weather day if we need to tuck in some where.  Plus we can always combine one or two of those eight miles days with a longer day if needed.  Is this the final plan?  No, but it will give us both something to think about.  We'll go with the flow and see what happens.

At the top of the post that's Bruce in Spartina, making a journal entry off of Wainwright Island at the north end of Core Sound.  That's me below, getting ready to raise the mainsail after a little rain shower near Great Island on Pamlico Sound.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Symmetrical 6A

There was a discussion on the jwbuilders site this week about about modifying frame 6A - the frame farthest aft, just ahead of the transom, on the John Welsford-designed Pathfinder.  A group member had asked to see photos of the modifications I had made on this frame with Spartina.  I haven't looked in to posting photos to the jwbuilders site, but I can post them here.
The plans call for an asymmetrical frame, with the port section made taller.  That area eventually becomes the outboard well.  I made my frame 6A symmetrical and finished out the starboard side as my day storage area.  You can see the top of the area in the photo above.  I shot the lower photo last night in the garage to show the access area and a few of the items I typically keep in there - sunblock, gps, radio.  There will often be a paperback book and maybe a snack in there, items I want to keep dry and yet have easily available.
In the top photo you can see some of the items I like to have at hand on a cruise.  AM/FM radio, watch, binoculars and waterproof notepad  (very handy for jotting down notes in the salt spray or even heavy rain). ( That bit of coiled rope that you can see in the corner is a rope ladder based on a design in The Marlinspike Sailor.  The Pathfinder is not the easiest boat to get in to from the water.  Should I fall out - or go for a swim - I can reach this rope ladder from the water and pull it down to help get back in the boat.)  

The great thing about building a boat these days is access to builders and designers in discussion groups.  The jwbuilders site is a very active group with a range of experienced and first time builders.  I could not have built Spartina without their advice on materials, technique and design.  And John Welsford is one of the more active participants.  It is very nice to ask a question and get a quick response not just from a fellow builder, but the designer himself.  One more thing to like about Welsford boats!  If you are thinking about building a boat it is worth visiting the discussion group.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Lost Horizons

Searching around through my files I found this photo from my trip last fall.  You can tell from the jib that there was hardly a breath of wind.  The horizon was lost as the glassy water reflected the sky.  A little while later I came across about 20 dolphin rolling and playing in the water.  Then the wind picked up and I headed north.  Those peaceful mornings, before the day's heat arrives, are very special moments.
It is fun to find these photographs that bring back the memories.  When I'm by myself I shoot photographs with an Optio Pentax waterproof camera, something I read about on kayaker Kiwibird's blog a couple of years ago.  (She is not posting much these days but I hope she will be writing as she does in the Everglades Challenge in a couple of weeks.)  
When Bruce comes along will bring some more serious cameras with long and wide-angle lenses.  It is easier to deal with the gear when somebody else has the tiller.  Taking some nice photographs is certainly one of the top goals for this coming trip.


Monday, February 23, 2009

Chesapeake Bay

I got an email from Tom, an open boat sailor from (I think) Maine.  He said is spending the winter in Charleston.  Boy, would I like to do something like that someday.  I spent a few days in Charleston and thought it was a great place.  And I imagine it must be a wonderful spot to sail in the wintertime.  Tom sails a Drascombe Scaffie, a 15 foot boat that he trailered down for the winter.   I have been a fan of the Drascombe line of boats for years, ever since I read Webb Chiles' book Open Boat:  Across the Pacific and his other books about an attempt to sail around the world in Drascombe Lugger.
Tom said he was going to trailer his boat back north in the Spring and was thinking about doing some camper cruising along the way.    He wanted to know if I had any suggestions for day sailing on Chesapeake Bay.  Did I ever.  He really got me to thinking about the Bay.  My last three cruises have been to the south on Pamlico Sound, but my first ever cruise aboard the Pathfinder Spartina was on Chesapeake Bay ( the photos are from that cruise in the Spring of 2007  to Tangier Sound - map at the bottom of the post).    The Eastern Shore of Virginia, also known as the southern tip of the Delmarva (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia) Peninsula is prime territory for sailing.  From my home in Chesapeake, Va it is less than two hours away.  Tom has got me thinking about cruises - just weekend trips - that I could do over there.

Here are the places I mentioned to Tom:

Kiptopeke State Park almost at the southern end of the peninsula.  Wide open sailing on the bay.  The ramp/anchorage is a man-made harbor of wwII concrete hull liberty ships.

Onancock -- beautiful river, nice eastern shore town.  Great ramp with a dockmasters house and a "liar's bench."  At least they are honest about lying.  

Crisfield and Janes Island State Park (Maryland).  This opens out on to Tangier Sound.  Take a look at the charts, Smith Island is just a few miles across the sound from the mouth of the Annmessex River.  You could leave your vehicle at the campground or ramp in Crisfield, sail over to Smith Island, spend the night and then return.  Interesting waterman's island over there, so isolated they speak a version of old english (hard to understand them when a few islanders get together).

Deal Island, Hoopers Island.  This is just above Tangier Sound.  I have heard there is camping on the Honga River, but not sure where.  Very protected area.

Oxford, Md   -- I've never sailed there but it is a cool little town and from looking at the charts it will be a great place to sail. I hope to be there on my fall sail this year. 

Those photos above are from (at top) Watts Island, and (fishing) at Great Fox Island.  It was a great trip and I look forward to exploring the area a bit more.  Bruce and I might pass by those areas this Fall as we sail up the Bay to the Mid-Atlantic Small Craft Festival.

The places I told Tom about are just on the southern half of the Bay, there are lots more places to the north of that.  Maybe I'll catch up with him as he heads up the bay.  We'll see.  I am glad he reminded me that there is some great sailing just to the north.  


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Gimme Shelter

Cold rainy day here so I was downloading some old digital photos to the computer and found a couple of images showing my shelter systems that I had forgotten about.  The top photo is a typical evening anchored on one of the bays on the edge of Pamlico Sound.  This is just after the sun has set, just before the mosquitos come out.
By that I'm time I'll have my sleeping gear all set up so I can slide in to the bivy sac for the night.  The second photo shows my sleep gear before I set it up.    From left is my 3/4 length Therm-A-Rest self inflating sleep pad.  I got that from Campmor as a "second" for about $30.  I still haven't figured out why it was called a second, can't find any problems with it.  In the middle is a camp pillow, maybe ten bucks from the local outdoor shop.  To the right is the bivy sac, $200 from Amazon,  rolled up in the storage bag.  

If there is rain in the forecast for the night I'll set up my polytarp boom tent, seen all the way at the bottom.  I made it for about $60.  It took four or five hours to put together using and UV protected white tarp, double sided tape (meant for putting all weather carpet in place) and three inch wide vinyl tape, plus some grommets, a bit of line and some bungee cord.  Inverted hammock hooks mounted just above the lower rub rail give the loops of bungee cord purchase points along the hull.  

But if the weather is good, and most nights it is, I'll leave the tent up under the foredeck and sleep under the stars.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Fish House Opera

Picked up some shrimp at the grocery store this morning, planned to steam and chill them for a neighbor's party.  I was surprised and pleased when I got home to find that they were not farm-raised shrimp from Asia.  These were "caught wild" Carolina shrimp.  
I have nothing against farm-raised shrimp, like anything else they can be fine if raised in a healthy, environmentally sound way.  (Though I wasn't too happy about peeling/deveining six dozen shrimp!)  But I was glad to see I was supporting some of our mid-Atlantic watermen.  Last fall I saw a bunch of shrimp boats trawling the Sound.  This one above was part of a group of three or four boats coming down the Pamlico River.  I tried to call them on channel 16 to see how much room I needed to give them but got no response.  I was later told by a waterman that these captains are usually in a channel up in the 80's making small talk with each other.  I waited until they were well past then cut across their sterns.
Most of the boats were smaller, local operations.  Old wooden boat with just a few people on board.  They docked in the tiny creeks just off the Sound.  I did not get any good photographs of the salty boats, I'll make a point of doing it on this next trip.
Seafood is a complicated issue with no easy answer.  It involves people's lives, tradition, the environment, international trade and working waterfronts.  I don't know what the right answers are, but I do know that over the years I have met many fishermen who were good, hardworking people.  Crabbers, netters, shrimpers and oystermen.  They just wanted to make a living like their fathers and grandfathers did.
For a good look for the watermen's point of view get a copy of Fish House Opera by Susan West and Barbara J. Garrity-Blake.  The book, written in 16 acts, talks about the lives of watermen from Cedar Island, Ocracoke, and - if I remember correctly - Hatteras Island.  The chapters cover both the joy and the frustrations of making a living off the waters of Pamlico Sound. 
A couple of the fishermen in the book went by the name "Fat Boys Fishing Co."  We used to rent a house just across the canal from where they worked in Ocracoke.  We enjoyed sitting on the deck and watching them rigging their nets in the morning, bringing buckets of fish in the evening.  They talked in the unusual island brogue, always laughing and teasing each other.
As for tonight's shrimp, they smelled so good after steaming that a handful of them made their way on to a salad for lunch.  The guests tonight will have to share a few less Carolina Shrimp. 

- Steve

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Comfort and safety

I see that Chuck at Duckworks magazine has posted a piece I wrote about a couple of items I took along on my cruise in the fall of '08.  My trip was made both safer and more comfortable with the Spot satellite beacon and the Outdoors Research Alpine Bivy on board.
That's the bivy on the left, set up for a good night's sleep.  It is designed to be "staked" in four or five places to support the arch.  I can't do that on Spartina.  But I do tie it to some purchase points at the feet and shoulders and also clip the arch to a bungee cord that runs across the cockpit.  The bug screen keeps the mosquitoes away and I can relax and look up at the stars.   What a great way to sleep!

That is the Spot beacon (above), clipped to the dry bag that holds my hypothermia kit plus strobe and radio.  The photo was from a stormy night and I thought it was a good idea to have them all hooked together.  I brought the Spot beacon along for safety, but found it gave me the freedom to explore a bit more and peace of mind from knowing that my friends and family could keep track of me.

Chuck tells me he is considering setting up a page at Duckworks with links to trips being tracked by Spots, sort of database on ongoing journeys.  That would be pretty cool.  He has a trip on the Rio Grande coming up that he will post on his page.  We'll do the same with the Skeeter Beater in May.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Stormy weather

This was a little thunderstorm that caught me out near Great Island on Pamlico Sound.  I had left my anchorage and was sailing east when I saw it coming.  I circled back near the island so I could find some protection if needed.  But it was the typical fast moving squall I've seen in the late spring.  A little wind, lots of rain and then gone.

Stormy at the office today and that storm will hang around for a while.  Another round of layoffs.  Some good friends, respected colleagues were let go.  I'm glad I've got this cruise to look forward to, gives me something to think about and take my mind off the economy.
I did start my work day in Newport News, across the James River.  So went over there early to visit the Bass Pro Shop and spend some of my birthday money.  Got some nylon pants and a couple of heater meals.  I like to carry two of the self heating meals on each cruise.  They come in handy when I'm just too tired to break out the stove or if it is raining and I've got the boom tent up  (there is plenty of ventilation with the boom tent, still I don't like to use the camp stove under it).  This is a complete self heating meal that uses water (included) and a chemical packet that heats the meal in about 10 minutes.  In this case it is potatoes and beef in bbq sauce.  The taste scale for this food on a typical day is about 4 out of 10.  But when I'm cold and tired and on the boat it jumps up to 7.   Add a cup of fruit and I'm very happy with the meal.

I'm glad to see Bruce is contributing to the blog.  He has a great sense of adventure and is open to whatever happens - a great attitude to have on an open boat cruise.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Shadow Country

I can't believe I just spent $16 dollars on a book I have already read.  But this is Peter Matthiessen's Shadow Country, a reworking of his three previously published books about the killing of E. J. Watson on the fronter coast of Florida in the early 1900's.  I think the money was well spent.  I read his three books - Killing Mister Watson, Lost Man's River and Bone by Bone - about seven or eight years ago.  They were wonderful books with a fascinating story, each telling the tragedy from a different point of view.  Why rewrite the books?  Matthiessen explained it in an interview with the New York Times.  I do remember I struggled with the second book, Lost Man's River, and find it interesting that the author said he was not satisfied with that part of the story.   Overall it is a complex story with hints of Faulkner and Conrad on the sparsely settled west coast of Florida.  (Okay, okay, this is a sailing blog.  So it is worth pointing out that the landscape of this story is part of the Everglades Challenge today, from just south of Fort Myers to the Shark River.)    I can't wait to start reading it in a few minutes.  
Matthiessen is a master of tying the landscape and wildlife to the lives of people.  That was clear to me back in the 70's when I first read his book Far Tortuga, a story about turtle fishermen in the Cayman Islands.  My paperback is still on the bookshelf, held together by scotch tape and the pages yellow with age.  Sometimes I pick it up just to read the first page, a description of daybreak at sea.  

"The sun, coming hard around the world:  the island rises from the sea, sinks, rises, holds."

Shadow Country, at 892 pages, should get me through the winter.  I still need to come up with some books for the next cruise.  I better start searching the used book websites.
The photo at top is from East Bluff Bay.  Mostly marsh grasses lining the shore in that area, but I found a little spot of sand and shell to go ashore and take a photograph of Spartina.

Time off

A dusting of snow overnight, but the skies are already clear and the roads look to be in good shape.  My first "furlough" day ever.  It will go down on my time card at the office as 8.0 hours/UT.  The UT is "unpaid time".  The economy has hit home as we all are being furloughed for five days spread throughout the year.  Better than being laid off for sure.  Two of those days fall in the time periods for my spring and fall trips, so they give me a little more time to explore.  Otherwise I just have to tighten the belt.

That's Bruce in the photo, we were anchored off a sandy shoal near Beaufort.  It's either Bird Shoal or Horse Island, hard to tell from my chart.  It was a beautiful place.  I did talk to Bruce the other night.  In fact we video-conference on Skype.  It worked well.  He getting his flight reservations worked out for the spring sail, plus we talked about food and equipment.  He says his bivy has shipped which is good as I heard that they were hard to get a hold of for a while.   He also says he can make the fall sail.  That will be a sail up the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay with a stop in at St. Michaels for the annual Mid-Atlantic Small Craft Festival.

I had a birthday over the weekend and the girls came through with a nice gift card for books and some cash for equipment/supplies.  I'll probably be over at Bass Pro Shops soon to use the cash on technical clothing they sell for fishing -- it works great for sailing too.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Pathfinders in New Zealand

Great story on Duckworks magazine the other day by New Zealand designer John Welsford about the Mahurangi Regatta.  The event, which John says has been going on for over 100 years, draws a huge collection of boats.  That has got to be something when you think about Kiwi obsession with boats.

Mixed in with the fleet were several of John's designs including two of the earliest built Pathfinders, Varuna and Cavatina (at top).  I am familiar with Varuna, in fact it was David Perillo's report on sailing the newly launched Varuna that led me to building Spartina.  I had seen the occasional photo of Cavatina here and there, but did not know much about her.  She is a gaff-rigged sloop, where as Varuna and Spartina are yawls.  In the piece John compares the abilities of the yawl vs. sloop and seems to favor the yawl.  I know I am very glad to have chosen the yawl rig, can't imagine small sailing any other way these days.  But Cavatina and her owner certainly find the sloop version to be a very able boat.  In fact Cavatina arrived at the Mahurangi Regatta after 15 days of cruising the New Zealand coastline.  I don't think we need anymore proof that the Pathfinder is a great cruising design.

Our tease of warm weather has left the mid-Atlantic and we are back to the more traditional winter skies.  Snow in the forecast for monday.  But pitchers and catchers report this weekend, buds are on the trees and daffodils are popping up out in the garden.  
I was worn out from a busy week at work (is there any other kind these days?) so did not get much done beyond marking creek entrances along our sailing path on google earth.  I'll eventually plug those locations in to the gps, plus print out the google earth still images to laminate and carry on Spartina as a navigation reference.  I was also happy to come across nylon angler zip-off pants at Bass Pro Shops for $19.99.  That's a deal.  These pants are perfect for sailing.  Zip off the legs and you've got shorts, the nylon dries out quickly and there are a bunch of pockets for tucking away whatever you need.    I've got a pair from another company, but they cost almost $50 (and that was a sale price).  So I'll be picking up a pair or two soon.  They are available on the web at

Thursday, February 12, 2009

future trips

I got an email from Bill Moffitt the other day about this summer's exploratory trip in advance of the 2010 OBX130.  I'm signed up to sail the 2010 event, but told Bill I could not make it for their test run this coming July.  Part of that is that I've got a family commitment, the other part is that late July strikes me as hot and buggy for a sailing trip (those guys are tougher than I am).  The 2010 event will be my first ever group sail.  I usually like to head out as a single boat.  As I told my wife and friends many times,  I built Spartina just so I could get the hell away for everyone else.  But I do like the sailing area for the OBX130 - Core Sound, Cape Lookout and Pamlico Sound - and Bill and his sons sound like great guys.  It will be interesting to travel in a group, kind of cool to see other boats on the water.
There are some other trips that interest me.  My favorite is the Everglades Challenge.  That 2009 event is just three weeks away.  These guys are very serious.  Here is how their website describes the event: The Everglades Challenge is an unsupported, expedition style adventure race for kayaks, canoes, and small boats.  The distance is roughly 300 nautical miles depending on your course selection.  There is a time limit of 8 days or less.  Your safety and well being are completely up to you.  Unsupported means that there are no safety boats or support crews to help you during the race.  You are not allowed to have a support crew follow you or meet you during the race.  It is OK to have family or friends meet you at the official checkpoints, but they cannot provide anything other than emotional support.
I don't think I'll ever compete in the event.  A Pathfinder isn't the right design for this event, plus I would rather take my time, read a book, take a nap or cast out a lure.  But I do enjoy following the event on the web.  The last couple of years I have followed via the web a couple of kayakers from my neighboring state of North Carolina - Kiwibird and Sandybottom.    Although they are kayakers and I am a sailor, I learn quite a bit from the way they train, the equipment they use and their mental approach to journeys on the water.  Someday I hope to sail that stretch of the Florida coast from Tampa to Key Largo, but I don't think it will be in a race.
Another trip, one that I hope I can attend someday, is the Texas 200 run by Chuck of Duckworks.  I love that stretch of the Texas coast, in fact my first ever cruise - this one aboard the original Spartina, a Sam Devlin designed Nancy's China - was along that stretch of water.  I'll get down there someday.

In the meantime I'll look forward to the OBX130.  The photos above show my jeep and Spartina at the marina in Engelhard and then Spartina a few hours later double reefed and heeled over in a good breeze.  Maybe someday that jeep will tow Spartina to Texas or Florida.  We'll see.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

short stories

I love to read.  I love to read when I'm out on a cruise.  I love to read short stories.  Here are some books of short stories that I have enjoyed.

Cruising Paradise by Sam Shepard   

No, not a sailing book at all.  It's about solitude and loss, growing up in the southwest, Mexico and show business.

Wonderful short stories by the movie director John Sayles, the recurring theme is care and concern for others. 

Jesus Out to Sea: Stories by James Lee Burke

I've been a big-time fan of Burke for years.  Stories from the gulf coast about coming of age, failure and faith.

Easy in the Islands by Bob Shacochis

Ok, this one has to do with water.  Stories about paradise, lost or otherwise.  Tales of the Caribbean and even the mid-Atlantic.   When I read "Dead Reckoning" I had never heard of Ocean View or Old Dominion.  Now I live near those places.

Now I need to find a book or two for this trip.  Any suggestions?

on the water

Out on my home sailing waters for the first time this year, but not on Spartina.  I was the guest of a waterman on his Chesapeake Bay deadrise.  Sunny and warm, it was a beautiful day.  The old workboat, built out of douglas fir in the early 1960's, showed her character with peeling paint and worn decks.  A jumble of wires, some leading nowhere, ran here and there.  Bits of line, spare anchors, worn out gloves were scattered about.  An open flame from a gas burner warmed the small cabin.  

The waterman cruised across the James River and talked about his decades on the river.  Crabbing, scallops, tugboats -- he has done it all.  In a couple of days he will be eighty years old.  He said he'll stay off the water tomorrow, gale-force winds are predicted.  But the following day, his birthday, he'll be out again.  "Work on your birthday and it means you'll work the whole year."  (I wish I could get a guarantee like that in this economy.)  He had a new side scan sonar on board, part of a state project.  The river's bottom appeared on the small screen plain as day.  Old crab pots, pipe lines, artificial reefs, even pieces of rope were easily seen.  But after a lifetime on the river the waterman said the screen didn't show him anything he didn't already know.  
As we headed back in to the harbor he talked on the radio with his friends out on the water.  The general opinion was that we are in for more cold weather, but the days are getting longer and the turn in the seasons is not too far off.

That's a satellite photo of my home waters.  Known as Hampton Roads, it is the confluence of the James River (coming in from the top left) and Elizabeth River (coming up from the bottom of the frame).  
I use a boat ramp down at the lower right near the bridge marked 460.  The city of Norfolk is on the right, across the river is Portsmouth.  Out on the river, just off of Portsmouth's Crawford Bay and the old Naval Hospital (built in 1823), is Mile Marker "0" of the intracoastal waterway.  Crawford Bay is an anchorage for cruisers from around the world.  Early on weekend mornings during sailing season that will be me in the gaff-rigged yawl slipping in and out between those well-travelled boats.  I'll be out there soon.  As the watermen said, the turn in seasons is not too far off.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Weather (or not)

Blue skies or stormy weather, it is hard to tell what to expect out on the water.  The top photo was taken after a front had rolled through the afternoon before.  Cool, clear wind came out of the northwest.  I flew across Pamlico Sound east bound past Great Island and then Bluff Point, swung northwest on my way to Wysocking Bay.  Fantastic day.  
The photo below IS the front rolling through the day before.  I had been anchored in a creek off of Mouse Harbor doing a little fishing and reading when I decided to check the weather radio.  The clear skies didn't seem to match the alarms and alerts pouring out of the radio.  Broad bands of thunderstorms were sweeping across eastern North Carolina.  About an hour later they showed up in my area.  Local weather reports from Swan Quarter, New Bern and Jacksonville had reports of winds 40 to 50 miles per hour, quarter-sized hail and funnel clouds.  I moved out to the center of the creek where I could swing 360 degrees on anchor, raised the cb and rudder and put up the boom tent.  For the next four hours Spartina, with mizzen still raised, swung back and forth like a weather vane as the storms cells flew by to the north and southwest.  It was an interesting evening.    My two concerns were lightning and tornadoes.  Fortunately I did not have to deal with either.  Otherwise I was just fine, had a nice dinner and enjoyed a good book.  (It was a sobering reminded to routinely check the weather radio - I'm not sure what would have happened had I been out there sailing when that weather hit.)
I plan my Spring trips between early May and mid June, after the severe Spring weather has rolled through but before the Summer heat arrives.  Below is the Hatteras area wind compass for May from Windfinder. com.  You'll see winds mostly out of the southwest, but sometimes of the northeast as the summer weather pattern has not completely taken over.  Either wind direction is fine by me.  Average temperatures are about 70 degrees.  We should have good weather for a late May/early June trip.  But we'll be prepared for whatever comes our way.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


This is a sketch I did for gear and supplies for my first cruise on Spartina.  It was a four day trip on Tangier Sound.  Chuck at Duckworks published some photos from the trip.
My handwriting is not the best, so it might be difficult to read my notes.  Up under the foredeck I had my boom tent, sleeping bag, porta-potti, anchor and some veggies up in a mesh hammock.  Water, in one gallon bottles, is under the bunk flat, easily accessible through two eight in diameter ports.  Clothes and food were stored in the thwart.  Batteries, fishing gear, first aid gear, flaries and cleaning supplies were under the cockpit seats.  Outboard spare parts and tools with at the aft end of the cockpit.  As you can see there is plenty of room to tuck away the gear.  This layout was for a single-handed cruise.  There is still plenty of space for two people.  When Bruce and I did out Carolina trip in the fall of '07 we had room to spare.   That's                     one of many things I like about the Pathfinder -- lots and lots of storage space .

Picked up a few items at the grocery store.  Spaghetti, tomato/mushroom sauce in a pouch, asian noodles with kung pao sauce in a pouch, cous cous in a box (that I'll put in a bag for the trip) and a few other items.  Now that we've got a better map for the trip I need to plan out potential anchorages, stops at marinas and stops at hotels.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

boat work

Nice warm sunny day.  Perfect for getting a little work done on the masts.  I brought the masts, both main and mizzen, out of the the front porch.  Facing west, the porch turns in to a nice little "oven" in the afternoon, just what I needed for some winter time epoxy work.  I sanded down the mahogany chafe pad on the main where the gaff jaws meet the mast under full sail.  
I had noticed during the first couple of season that the jaws wore a groove in to the douglas fir mast.  Last winter I added the mahogany chafe pad to take some of the wear and tear.  
The jaws still bit in to the the pad, so today I sanded it smooth and added a clear coat of epoxy.  Next time it warms up I re-sand and add a few coats of varnish.  That will get me through this year.

As I said, the masts are made of douglas fir.  The guys at Yukon Lumber had a good laugh when I dropped by and asked for sitka spruce.  "If we could find it, you couldn't afford it."   Their suggestion was douglas fir, an idea seconded by all the folks on the jwbuilders site.  

My Dad and I spent four days building the two masts.  For the main we used a 2x8x20, the mizzen came from a 1x8x16.  We used the bird's mouth style of construction.  It was surprisingly easy.  One day to rip the boards and cut the "V" notch, one day to glue, one day to plane down the peaks (got to love the electric planer!) and one day to sand the masts in to their round shape.  

We finished the masts early on a hot summer afternoon.  Afterwards we sat out on the shady deck, talked about boats and woodworking and sipped Corona's with a slice of lime.  I don't think I'll ever forget that afternoon.
Sadly Dad couldn't stick around to sail the Pathfinder.  He passed away that winter.  Look at the bottom of the mast.   You see the round imprint from a Liberty Quarter from his birth year that is epoxied in to the mast step.  There is another Liberty Quarter under the mizzen mast for my Mom.
The pennant that flies at the top of the main is a gift from Mom.  I designed it using the Pathfinder sail plan as a logo.  It was hand sewn by the Sailbag Lady.  The JW stands for John Welsford, but it has another meaning for me.  My Mom's name is Janice, my Dad's name is Walter.  They are always along with me when I sail.


Why Skeeter Beater 126?  The Skeeter Beater comes from the use of my Outdoors Research Bivy Sac, sort of a one-man tent with no-see-um netting that keeps the moquitoes at bay.  I was going to put a link to a website for the bivy sac here, but now that I look I see they have changed the types (and cost) of bivy sacs that they offer.  I'll have to do a little more research on that.  I got mine a year ago from    I'll need to check on that as I know my sailing partner will want (need) one.
The 126 comes from some of some early winter planning on the trip.  I was looking at two different options.  One involved circling Pamilico Sound counter clockwise from Engelhard to Swan Quarter, Oriental, Cedar Island, Ocracoke and then back to Engelhard.  The other option was Engelhard to Pamlico Point, Oriental and ending at New Bern (and renting a car to retrieve my jeep and trailer from Engelhard).  Both of those trips measured about 126 miles.  Bruce liked the second option best, he pointed out that it offered more places to visit, creeks and bays for anchorage and more protection in case of bad weather.   We have since added Bath and Vandemere to the trip, bringing the path to about 155 miles.  We have ten or eleven days for the sail, so that should work out just fine.  We can always add or subtract stops depending on winds, weather.
One place that we will not miss is Oriental, the great little sailing town on the Neuse River.  We spent an afternoon and night there during our '07 trip, meeting some great folks and enjoying a couple of cold ones on the waterfront.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

odds and ends

That's the bow wave as Spartina crossed Pamlico Sound south of Swan Quarter last fall.  I always like the way the Pathfinder hull cuts through the water on a nice reach.  That narrow forefoot slices through the waves and pushes the water up and away from the hull.  You can also see the mahogany trim I've added to the the douglas fir rub rails.  The rub rails were pretty beat up after two seasons, particularly mid-ships.  So I added a layer of mahogany - both uppper and lower,  and, on top of that, about a four foot length of brass half oval.  So now the brass strips take the brunt of the wear and tear as I tie up alongside the docks.
I saw on Duckworks Magazine a piece by Perry Burton about building his Pathfinder.  He lives up in Newfoundland, Canada.  Wow!  Serious weather and sailing up there.  But I think he has picked the right design for small boat sailing in those waters.  For lumber he is, with permit in hand, cutting down trees and towing them across water to a waiting truck and then sawing them in to shape.  Not only is the weather serious up there, but the boatbuilders are too!  He wants to be sailing by next summer.  I'll look forward to following his build, but even more I want to see how the Pathfinder handles the ocean up there.

Cold with snow flurries here, so not much work with the boat.  I did find my paint at Jamestown Distributors, steel gray for touching up the cockpit.  Twelve bucks less than West Marine, but ten bucks of shipping.  I come out a little bit ahead, but not much.  I did buy a four pack of lithium AA batteries for the Spot satellite tracker (I wrote a piece about this nice little device for Chuck at Duckworks - I'll note here if he publishes it).  Most importantly this week I bought, cooked and ate a package of Simply Asia spicy kung pao noodles with sauce and peanut topping.  It was an excellent meal and will definitely make the provisions list for the boat.  Total prep time, including heating up the water, was less than 15 minutes.  Good meal, plenty for two people.  Add a little chicken from a foil packet and we'll be dining in fine style.

Monday, February 2, 2009

About the boat...

Spartina is a Pathfinder open cockpit yawl designed by John Welsford of New Zealand.  I first read about his boats when I came across David Perillo's tale of a ten-month cruise in a Welsford-designed Navigator.  That got my attention!
The Navigator is obviously a great boat, but my eye was drawn to the slightly larger Pathfinder.  She is 17' 4" length on deck with a beam of 6' 5".  The yawl rig carries about 162 square feet of sail between the gaff-rigged main, mizzen and jib.
I'm not a boat builder or even a woodworker.  But I really wanted a boat that I could use for cruising so I decided to give it a go.  Advice was easily found both from John himself - he's very accessible over the internet - and the jw builders discussion group.  It turned out to be a learn as you go project from my experience.  The initial work is pretty basic - cutting frames from 3/8 plywood.  Then add stiffeners, brackets, supports.  Next, scarf the bottom panel out of two sheets of 1/2" plywood.  Mount the frames, then add stringers (that's the stage you see in the photo above).  Doing the first batch of planks is a little tricky, but each plank after that gets easier.  
I built my boat in about 20 months (but I confess I went a little crazy doing it, working five evenings during the week and six or seven hours each day on weekend).  As I said I'm not a woodworker so the boat is a lot like me - rough around the edges.  More of a work boat finish than a yacht finish.  But what is important to me is that she is both solid and  true to John's design.  
The name Spartina comes from both the cordgrass that lines salt marshes and one of my all time favorite books, Spartina by John Casey.  The novel, a 1989 National Book Award winner , is about a fisherman and boat builder that lives in the backwater salt marshes of Rhode Island.  He is struggling to build his boat, realizing at the same time that the world has become too small for people like himself.  A great read.
I think the name Spartina is appropriate as the Pathfinder, with cb and rudder raised, can sail in very shallow water.  Some of my best memories of cruises are skirting the edges those Spartina marshes under just mizzen and jib, ghosting along and enjoying the beauty of nature.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

 Good time to get started on my jobs.  I did track down the problem with the trailer tail light.  A wire connector inside the frame had corroded and the wire broke off.  Easy fix there.  I'll get a screw cap connector, shoot it full of silicone sealer and tightened it down on the wires.  The silicone will harden and minimize salt water getting the wires.  While I'm at it I'll replace as many connectors as possible the same way, that should save me some time down the road.
Also took apart the center board winch and lubricated it.  John Welsford's plans called for a wooden cb with some lead in the lower end.  I substituted a 1/2 inch thick steel plate (with John's approval).  I liked the idea of having all that weight - it comes in at about 100 pounds -down low.  It adds to the stability of the boat, but it is heavy to lift.  So I mounted a winch on the thwart right next to the starboard side of the cb trunk.  Twice I year I take the winch apart to lubricate the springs and levers inside the housing - just takes a few minutes.

I've got to straighten up Spartina's cockpit.  It is not too bad, probably about an hour's work to 
sort  through everything and get it tucked away.  My last sail was in mid-November, a nice day trip down to Croatan Sound behind Roanoke Island.  Since then I've just tossed things in to the cockpit.  I'll take care of that one morning this week.
I sent a check for $31 in to Virginia's Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.  They handle boat registrations and the $31 will cover me for the next three years.  It is hard to believe that it has been almost three years since I initially registered and launched Spartina.    I've had a lot of fun, cruised some interesting waters and met some great people in the last three years.