Tuesday, August 31, 2010

back to the islands

Heading down to Hatteras Island tomorrow to see the storm, can't wait. I've loved the Outer Banks for the 20-plus years I've lived on the mid-Atlantic and have always enjoyed Hatteras Island (or Hat'ress Island as some of my old-timer friends called it).
You can see it is just a very thin barrier island, about 50 miles long, that separates Pamlico Sound from the Atlantic Ocean. At the north end is Oregon Inlet, at the south is Hatteras Inlet.
In 1937 someone had the great idea to protect much of the island by creating Cape Hatteras National Seashore. This preserved much of the island. Instead of being lined with tourist hotels and beach houses it is a mixture of beach, dunes and marshes. There are a handful of villages spread out along the island - from north to south there is Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo (all three of those pretty much run together), Avon, Buxton, Frisco and Hatteras Village.

I've be staying in Buxton, just a few miles due north of Cape Point, site of the famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. But I'll visit just about every village on the islands and will look forward to seeing some of the great friends I have made there over the years.

The photo above is from Hurricane Bill. That was a storm hundreds of miles offshore. I wonder how Earl will look when it is just a hundred miles, or maybe closer, from the beach.

Hatteras Inlet, at the southern end of the island, is where either Bruce or I (we never figured out who) took a great series of sunset photographs as we crossed Hatteras Inlet on the ferry coming home from our first cruise together.
Lots of great memories down there in the islands.


Monday, August 30, 2010

dodging hurricanes

The "active" hurricane season that they have talked about since early summer is now showing up for the mid-Atlantic. One hurricane, Earl, and one tropical storm, Fiona are out there right now.
When I talk about "dodging" hurricanes I'm talking about time frames. I certainly won't start a trip if there is a storm that has a chance of coming up along the coast. What I am looking for is a nice seven to ten day window with no storms in the tropics that look like they'll head our way. Hopefully I'll find that window in the last half of September.

In the meantime I'm packing up for a trip to the outer banks. We'll decide tomorrow if I'm going or not - nothing like a front row seat for a storm. Earl should be off Hatteras Island in the early morning hours Friday, just in time for the 3 a.m. high tides. I expect Highway 12 both north and south of the Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet will be flooded, meaning the folks on Hatteras Island will be stranded for at least a few hours, maybe more. (I got stuck on Hatteras for four days - a great place to be stuck now that I think about it - after Hurricane Isabel left seven or eight feet of sand one top of the highway.) Waders, power bars, bottled water. What else should I bring?

Below is a nice photo from the Dawn Patrol crew showing Spartina on Bonner Bay on day two of the tag team. I'm still sorting through those photographs and finding lots of images I like. I'm also trying to incorporate a few things I've learned on the Tag Team 200 and the earlier Weekend Walkabout on this next trip.

Energy gels worked very well for me. Whether the extra energy I feel is in the gels or just in my head, it doesn't really matter. What I do know from single-handed sailing is that it can get tiring when at the tiller from 6:30 a.m. to 3 or 4 or 5 p.m. There is nobody else there to give you a break. On the single-handed Walkabout I made a point of having a power gel every afternoon about three, it seemed to help get me through the afternoon hours.

And another trick I learned from Bruce on the Tag Team was stocking up on those little condiment packs from fast food restaurants, they can add some nice flavoring to meals. So far I've got ketchup from McDonalds, hot sauce (fire!) from Taco Bell and parmesan cheese from Domino's Pizza. Need to get some soy sauce from the local Chinese take-out and I'll be set.


ps....things I need to get for the cruise -- another box of AA batteries, three one-gallon water bottles, another propane bottle....

Sunday, August 29, 2010

blue skies

Out for a sail today on a fantastic day with hints of fall. Winds were not quite as advertised, but I heard not complaints from the crew.

First sight as I came out of the ramp area, a Staten Island ferry. They bring them down here for maintenance.

One of my goals for today were to check out the electronics for the upcoming fall cruise. Had both the SPOT and the new gps on hand. Still getting adjusted to the new gps.

And here is the SPOT track. Nice sail down the river, mostly at 2 or 3 knots. Very relaxing and fun.

Caught this cormorant taking off in flight.

And enjoyed the deep blue sky.

Not as many boats on the water as I would have expected, but did see this nice deadrise and a few local sailboats. The snowbirds won't be showing up for a few more weeks.

And for dinner, grilled corn with lime/cumin/chili butter, grilled gulf of mexico shrimp and local "dry" scallops grilled on rosemary stems. What a great day.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

a pencil thin mustache

I've been rereading one of my favorite novels the last couple of weeks and I've found that it has taken on a whole new feeling for me. The book is The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers. I've read my old paperback copy of the book probably three or four times since I bought it in the mid-80's (the price marked on the book is "USA $3.95"). Not only is it a classic spy novel, but it is a great book about sailing a small boat in shallow coastal waters.

The story involves a minor official in the foreign office, Carruthers, being invited to join a brief acquaintance, Davies, on a sailing vacation in the German Frisian Islands, a coastal group of islands on the eastern edge of the North Sea. Between the islands and the mainland are sand flats that are navigable at high tide but exposed at low tide. The "Riddle" of the book involves navigating those waters/sand flats by the English spies and their German pursuers. It is a great read.

This book, which takes places in 1903, was written as a warning about a possible war with Germany. The fact that the author, a British patriot, died in front of a British firing squad only makes the book more interesting. I've read that Erskine Childers was a sailor and that some of the sailing passages in the book were taken directly from his sailing logs. Reading them now I can easily believe that his writings are based on personal experience.

I guess the book feels different to me now because I've spent some time sailing in the shallow waters of coastal North Carolina. No, the tides are not extreme in Pamlico and Core Sounds like in the Frisian Islands. But there is plenty of shallow water and it is well worth paying attention to tides, shoals and sand bars. Childers' description of shallow water sailing rings very true.

The other thing that rings very true in the book is the experience of a non-sailor (read Carruthers or Bruce) joining a somewhat absent minded sailor (read Davies or Steve) on a small boat adventure. There are a lot of passages in the book that remind me of the experiences Bruce and I've had sailing Spartina the last few years.

For example...

"It's quite a small boat, you know - I (Davies, read Steve) hope you didn't expect luxury. I've managed her single-handed for some time. A man would be no use, and a horrible nuisance." He revealed these appalling truths with a cheerful assurance, which did nothing to hide a naive apprehension of their affect on me (Carruthers/Bruce)."

Bruce did know, since he had watched the building of Spartina from a distance, what he was getting into. But when he did arrive for the first cruise he spent a long time looking at the boat, asking questions like "What if it rains?" or "if we are out of the boat how do we get back in?" and that sort of thing.


"I (Carruthers, read Bruce) knelt in a tangle of line and, under the hazy impression that something very critical was going on, plied the lead furiously, bumping and splashing myself, and shouting out the depths, which lessened steadily, with a great sense of the importance of my function. Davies (read Steve) never seemed to listen, but tacked on imperturbably, juggling with the tiller, the sheets and the chart."

This is very reminiscent of our last cruise in the shallow waters of Core Sound. Bruce did not use a lead line, but instead his gps. He was watching the charts calling out the depths as we sailed. He told me at one point he thought I was ignoring him because I sailed straight at some shoals. This was a failure in communication on my part. I was taking his information into account, but I was also looking at the surface of the water, the color, and a few other factors. The information he provided was invaluable, I just never let him know that it was just one of the factors in making the sailing decisions.

or, when the boat runs up on a shoal......

"Like most landsmen I (Carruthers, read Bruce) had a wholesome prejudice against "running aground", so that my mentor's turn for breezy paradox was at first rather exasperating."

This reminds me of our second cruise together, the SkeeterBeater. On the first day we had to tack into the wind down Far Creek from Englehard to Pamlico Sound. We must have hit bottom four or five time. I didn't see it as a big deal, I had been running aground for years. But Bruce pointed out that he wasn't sure "The Captain" knew what he was doing.

And on occasion Bruce has taken the chance to voice to others, including both of our wives, the rough aspect of sailing on an open boat. Carruthers did the same...

"not without a secret zest, drew a lurid picture of the horrors of crewless cruising, and the drudgery that my remorseless skipper (read Steve) inflicted on me (read Bruce). It was delightful to see Davies (Steve) wincing when I described my first night....."

And more than once Bruce has questioned the speed at which we travelled, just like Carruthers....

"Can't we go any faster?" I (Carruthers/Bruce) burst out once. I felt that there ought to be a pyramid of gauzy canvas along, spinnakers, flying jibs and what not."

Or, as Bruce has suggested, couldn't we use the outboard?


"his (Davies/Steve) left hand behind him on the tiller, his right forefinger on a small square of paper which lay on his knees......On the midship-thwart between us lay the compass and a watch. Between these three objects - compass, watch and chart - his eyes darted constantly, never looking up or out, save occasionally for a sharp glance over the side at the flying bubbles, to see if I (Carruthers/Bruce) was sustaining a regular speed. My duty was to be his automaton, the human equivalent of a marine engine..."

Yes, I confess, I've asked Bruce to do more than a few things without explaining why. "Just take my word for it," you know. But I'm thinking about this, wondering about that and find myself telling Bruce just do this or that and don't bother asking why!

A book written in 1903 and it rings very true today. The good news is there was a happy ending to the book (and all our cruises). If you like books about sailing or spies then you ought to check this one out.

And finally, I titled this post "a pencil thin mustache" in honor of Gloria Winters who passed away a couple of weeks ago. She portrayed Sky King's niece Penny on the television show "Sky King" back in the 1950's. I remember watching the show on the old black and white tv (they must have been reruns in the early 60's that I watched) in my Mom's sewing room. Sky King was a rancher/pilot that solved all sorts of mysteries out in the southwest. Penny was immortalized by Jimmy Buffett in his tribute to growing up in the 50's and 60's, Pencil Thin Mustache, where he relived the glories of Andy Devine, Ricky Ricardo, American Bandstand, Disneyland and happy endings.

"I remember being buck-toothed and skinny
Writing fan letters to Sky King's niece Penny
Oh I wish I had a pencil thin mustache
Then I could solve some mysteries too"

Forecast is good for tomorrow, lunch packed and Spartina ready to go.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

too much going on

"Got these lines on my face
trying to straighten out
the wrinkles in my life"
-Guy Clark

Got a little too much going on these days. Just a few weeks until the fall trip and still a lot to do - and not much free time to do it in. Seems like I'm spread pretty thin. I found myself envying the carefree dolphin I saw today when the job had me out at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.

I'm ready for a break.


Monday, August 23, 2010


I've started making screen shots of satellite images of a few of the places I hope to visit on this next trip (I've exaggerated the color and contrast in these images so that the channels are easier to recognize). Below is the southern part of Smith Island with the town of Tylerton to the lower right. I would like to come in off the Chesapeake Bay side using Sheep Pen Gut at the left.

And here you can see the southern end of Middle Hooper Island and the tiny Lower Hooper Island separated by Thorofare Channel. I would like to end up anchored there around day five or six of the trip.

And below is South Marsh Island where I'll probably spend the first night of the trip. It is just about 10 or 12 miles from the ramp in Rumbley. You can see there are lots of tiny coves for protection from just about any wind.

I'll print these out and laminate them along with my other trip information. I'm also collecting tide predictions and sports schedules (there ought to be some good pennant races and nfl games going on in late September and I should be able to catch my share from sports radio is DC and Baltimore).

Bruce shot the photo of me at the top, motoring down the creek along the Ewell waterfront on Smith Island. After this hot summer it is hard for me to imagine it being cool enough to wear foul weather gear. But I guess it will cool down soon.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

long hot summer

There is the sun rising behind Dawn Patrol on Bonner Bay on day three of the Tag Team 200. We did not know it then but we were approaching the start of a very long, hot summer. Four days later we would be heading up the Neuse River, going from Beaufort to Beard Creek with a heat index of 105 degrees. It was a record setting heat wave for parts of the east coast.

We dealt with the hot weather on the trip, it was certainly the hottest weather for any trip that Bruce and I have made. Sailing weather got better in July. But August, for me, has not been great time for sailing. Work and weather, both seemed to get in the way.
I had promised myself I would get out for a sail today - the forecast was decent - but that ended with severe thunderstorms that started about 5 a.m. and lasted to 9 a.m. Then a steady drizzle until noon, hot humid afternoon and then more rain in the evening.
(I don't mind sailing in the rain, in fact it can be fun on a cruise. But with a daysail you end up with soaked sails that need to be dried out in the garage so they don't get mildewed - it can be a mess.)

I used the free day to take care of some chores and do some experimental cooking for the fall trip. We've used either boiling bag rice or instant mashed potatoes for the side dish on Spartina. I've been wondering about grilling potatoes on the griddle of the coleman stove and wanted to know how long it would take. So I grilled some thinly sliced new potatoes today. They came out just right after about 12 minutes. I think that will work just fine. I'll bring some on the fall trip.
You can see the stove above on a 4x4 plywood sheet set on a couple of collapsible saw horses. That is the same plywood sheet I used as a work table while building Spartina. I had noticed a while back that my youngest daughter would jot observations on the plywood during the build (usually when I wasn't there to see her writing on the table). While cooking today I decided to look around, amid the dried paint, epoxy, blood, sweat and tears to see if I could find the notations. Here are a few.....

"Tedious". I believe this was early on when I had cut all the framework but had to had 3/4 inch by 3/4 inch hardwood stiffeners on all the frames, sometimes in multiple places. Seven frames, port and starboard, behind coamings, below decks, below the bunk flats and seats. It was...well...tedious.

From the fall of 2005 when all the frames were mounted on the bottom panel and the stringers were in place. "We're planking it's so awesome."

From the late winter/early spring of 2006 with primer going on the exterior of the fully planked Spartina. "The boat is now white."

The hot dry summer has been good for at least one thing - my Mediterranean fig and pomegranate trees. There are so many figs I don't know what to do with them. Plenty for me, the neighbors, the birds.
They always help cool down a hot day. But I'm ready for fall.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

a pathfinder in Texas

Checking out the jwbuilders group tonight I saw there is another Pathfinder approaching completion, this one in Texas. Two of my favorite things - a Pathfinder and Texas (I lived in Texas for seven years and enjoyed every minute of it!).

Check on the blog on this build here. Not only do you get to see photos of a Pathfinder under construction, but you'll also get to see Chuck from Duckworks, below right, dropping in for a visit. Pretty cool. (Chuck was the source for my Pathfinder plans and a bunch of the hardare too.) This boat looks primed for the Texas 200.

Jon, I hope you don't mind that I borrowed a couple of your photos. The boat looks great. Can't wait to see it on the water.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Looked at the calendar today and realized I had one less week than I thought to get ready for the trip. Got out the new gps tonight and started working on my waypoints.

I've marked some the islands, points, bays, rivers and channel entrances from the starting point of Rumbley north to Oxford and Tilghman Island and south to Smith, Tangier and Fox Islands.
I need to start making lists of things to do to get ready for the trip.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

a few photographs in the evening light

beautiful day

We're down near the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.  Just a great day with calm water, a nice breeze and blue skies.  The researchers are wrapping up their work, heading home tomorrow.