Sunday, October 31, 2010

the halyards were silent

I was tucked into my sleeping bag on the last night of the long weekend sail a couple of weeks ago. The wind, blowing strong out of the northwest all day, had started to moderate at least a little. Paul and Dawn were anchored 40 or 50 yards from me, down a ways toward the mouth of Long Creek. And I started thinking about the sounds I could hear. All of them came from the boat. The halyards were silent, I had run a piece of line around the two main halyards, the single jib halyard and the lazy jacks that kept them quiet. But the mizzen sailed, still raised, crinkled in the wind. My JW pennant fluttered at the top of the mast. And the hull, well it was symphony of sounds. Dripping. Splashing. Gurgling. Slapping. Swooshing. All that just from a boat floating on a calm creek.

That photo above is one that Bruce shot on day two of the Tag Team sail on Bonner Bay. I don't have any good photos from Long Creek, my camera was consuming batteries better than it was taking photographs. But you get the idea. Evenings and nights on calm water can be a very nice experience.

And that night on Long Creek I was thinking it was an appropriate place to be anchored out for the last time this year. When I started my cruising year back in May I put in at Germantown, sailed across the Pamlico River and explored Mouse Harbor, including a nice little sail (above) on Long Creek. I was happy when Dawn and I looked at the charts a couple of weeks ago on our long weekend sail and agreed that Long Creek, with the strong NW wind, would be a good place for for Spartina and Dawn Patrol to anchor for the night. It was a nice connection between the beginning and the end of 25 days of cruising that somehow slipped on to my schedule this year. The gps track below is from the October trip. It was nice to be back where I started.

I'm still catching up from the last trip. I finally got the pages of my NC chartbook dried out just yesterday - almost two weeks after the sail. I usually plan my trips to be back at the dock before noon on the last day, giving me time to drive home and start cleaning up the boat. But this last trip I didn't get home until well after dark and had to be at work early the next morning. So I never really got a good start on the clean up of Spartina and all the gear, just did it piece by piece over the next several days.

I was very glad to hear from the customer service department at Coleman. I was cooking one night on the Chesapeake Bay sail with my Coleman stove and griddle when I heard a metallic "pop". It was the griddle warping. After the griddle warped it could not sit evenly on the stove, it rocked back and forth or slipped out of place. So I emailed Coleman. It took them a month to get back to me. But all the asked for was a photo and explanation. I sent them the photo below, showing how the griddle no long sat on a flat surface. And now they are sending me a brand new griddle.

I figure I've got one more day sail left in the season, hopefully this coming weekend. Then I'll start with the off season work.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"Forget me not, is all I ask."

It has, as the writer says in the opening paragraphs, all the elements of a fable. A victorian house that seemed to float on the water. Poignant words on a young girl's headstone in a marshy cemetery. And a man who battled the rising water.

The story, written by David A. Fahrenthold, was on the front page of Monday's Washington Post, accompanied by beautiful photographs by Astrid Riecken.

It is the story of the long-gone village on Holland Island on the edge of Tangier Sound, the same story that played out on many islands in Chesapeake Bay in early 1900's. Hundreds of people - waterman, farmers and their families - lived in thriving communities on these islands.

On Holland Island, like many of the other islands, the water began to rise. The island began to disappear. And the people left. Most of the houses, save for the two-story victorian, were dismantled and moved off the island. And the water kept rising, covering the land until the house seemed to float on the bay.

A former minister who had known of Holland Island since his childhood found the headstone of the young girl in the cemetery reading "Forget me not, is all I ask." He became obsessed with the island, bought it and tried to save that last remaining house. Nothing worked. Timbers, piles of rocks, hundreds of sandbags. The water could not be stopped. And now the last house on Holland Island is collapsing into the water.

It is a fascinating story, read it if you get the chance.


a room with a view

I had to sit in a meeting for over two hours yesterday. It was an informative meeting, led by an interesting guy. But two hours plus?? Fortunately it was on the twentieth floor of an building downtown with a nice view of the river.
I grabbed a seat by the picture window so I could shoot three or four pictures of the view with my cell phone, then stitched them together with photoshop's merge tool. That's the Elizabeth River with Norfolk in the foreground and Portsmouth on the far side. I do a lot of my day sailing right there. Crawford Bay is to the right behind the freighter steaming up river, the southern branch of the Elizabeth heads off in the distance just to the left of the tall building across the river. The eastern branch of the Elizabeth River goes off to the left, just past the blue roof of Waterside, a little shopping area with a marina. Down on the street below, center, the building with the columns is the US Customs House that dates back to the 1850's, one of just a few of the old, classic buildings left in the downtown area.

It was good to accomplish something in the meeting.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Day Four

It was clear and cool when I woke up before dawn on the last day of the trip. I raised sail and headed down the creek past Dawn Patrol. I told them to take their time, I was going to sail on Mouse Harbor for a while. A beautiful day, no need to rush.

Once Dawn Patrol left the creek under full sail we headed south, passing by Little Porpoise Bay and entering Big Porpoise Bay just around the next point. Dawn Patrol anchored alongside the marsh. I sailed in alongside to pick up Paul and Dawn for a ride on Spartina. Dawn got on the boat just fine, but a gust of wind pulled us away as Paul was about to get in. Paul made a great leap to get from one boat to the other, landing safe and sound on Spartina.

I had tried to get Paul and Dawn out on Spartina twice before. Once in November of last year, but weather and schedules did not cooperate. And then again on the Tag Team sail, but that didn't work out either. But here we were, all aboard Spartina with Dawn at the tiller on a beautiful fall day.

Dawn had a lot of questions about Spartina, how she was rigged and how she was sailed. Why did I set the mizzen a certain way, where did that vibration on the tiller come from? I answered as best I could but couldn't explain everything as I tend to just muddle my way through things.
We had a nice breeze that carried us out of the bay and onto the sound. I think they enjoyed the sail, I know I enjoyed having them on board.

And then it was back into the bay where we swapped boats and I got a chance to sail Dawn Patrol. I guess I had a few questions myself, never having sailed a sprit-rigged cat ketch boat. Dawn Patrol moved along beautifully and tacking through the wind was great as she is a self-tending boat. What a nice sail, thanks for taking me out guys.

And then it was back into Big Porpoise Bay to get Spartina and we headed home. Dawn Patrol got a nice head start and left me in the distance. I watched the two sails of the cat ketch on the horizon, tacking beautifully towards Jones Bay. It was only later I found out that Dawn was at the tiller the entire time. Dawn, who was nervous about just the idea of sailing last spring, was now handling a sailboat with ease.

I entered Jones Bay with Dawn Patrol well ahead of me. The wind on the bay was out of the west. That would mean a few hours of tacking just to arrive at the boatyard at dusk. A little too late for me. So I cranked up the outboard and motored west, catching up with Dawn Patrol just off the boatyard entrance. Motoring. I know, I know. But after three plus excellent days of sailing I was ready to be on the road home.
I followed them up the ditch to the ramp where Shawn met us and we all worked together to haul the boats out of the water and break down the rigging. At 5 p.m. we were all loaded and ready to head to our homes.

There were are, Paul, Shawn, myself and Dawn. It was a treat to sail with Paul and Dawn again. And it was great to meet Shawn, enjoy his company and hospitality. Thanks guys for making it a very enjoyable (long) weekend sail. We ought to do it again sometime.


Day Three

I started out the next morning by almost falling off my boat. I was up at dawn with Dawn Patrol anchored 50 or 60 yards away. I packed up the sleeping gear - sleeping bag, bivy, pad - and configured Spartina for sailing. I then went on the foredeck to bring down the anchor light that was hanging on the jib sheet about five feet above the bow sprit. Returning to the cockpit I reminded myself to turn off the light. As I looked down for the button on the light I stepped with my right foot on the curved, dew covered foredeck. And out went my foot from under me. My right knee caught on the base of the port shroud, my left arm hooked the main mast. My left foot dangled in the water.
No harm, no foul I figured. And the Dawn Patrol crew claimed (pretended?) not to notice.

I got out on Jones Bay and tacked back and forth in a nice breeze. Dawn Patrol joined me a few minutes later and we headed downwind towards Pamlico Sound.

Sailing downwind can be, at least to me, deceptive. I'm thinking "this is great" bounding along at 5 or 6 knots with the wind on the stern. Down near the mouth of the bay I look back to see Dawn Patrol tucking a reef in. I kept on for a while then rounded up to wait for them. It was only when I turned back up into the wind that I felt how hard it was really blowing. So I tucked in a reef and sailed back to Dawn Patrol. Waves and wind and spray, the wind was even stronger than I first realized. So I tucked in a second reef. And by the time I reached them I had dropped the main altogether, sailing comfortably under mizzen and jib. Paul and Dawn had tucked reefs into both their sails I noticed as we turned back downwind.

We rounded Sow Island Point together then Dawn Patrol pulled ahead as we crossed the mouth of Middle Bay. It was a wet and windy ride. My notes show a gps reading of 4.4 knots into the chop. Dawn later told me she saw the bow of Spartina coming out of the water. The waves seem to come in groups of three, it was the second or third wave that would launch the boat up in the air. But we made good progress across the bay and then past Middle Bay Point. Paul tacked into Big Porpoise Bay and I followed. A couple of tacks across the bay and I watched them sail towards the marsh and the hull of Dawn Patrol disappeared in the marsh grass. I followed until I saw a creek opening, eventually tacking up alongside the anchored Dawn patrol. It was time for a break.

I think we were all wet and chilly after that rough morning sail. We hung up some of the gear to dry, had lunch and just relaxed in the warm sunshine. Above you see Paul and Dawn in the roomy cockpit of Dawn Patrol.
Dawn and I looked over the charts for Mouse Harbor and talked about anchoring that afternoon in Long Creek in the very northwest corner of the harbor. So soon it was time to put the foul weather gear back on, raise the anchors and head north.

Leaving Big Porpoise Bay I decided to sail with mizzen, jib and the double reefed main. That turned out to be the perfect sail combination for the weather that day. I picked up speed and pounded into the chop, heading north with a strong wind out of the northwest. We sailed out in Pamlico Sound past Little Porpoise Bay and Sound Point. This time I was ahead of Dawn Patrol and could look back to see their bow, all the way back to the aft part of the boat's cabin, leaping out of the water. It was a fantastic sight.

Sailing into the wind felt so good that I wondered what it would be like spending the rest of the afternoon sailing all the way north to Swan Quarter or Wyesocking Bay. But that wasn't in the plan so I tacked west into Mouse Harbor and worked my way up into the farthest reach of Long Creek. Not too much later Dawn Patrol came into the creek and rafted up alongside. The wind was still cooking and we noticed that the two boats were starting to drag my anchor so Paul lowered his anchor too.

It was just mid-afternoon when we dropped anchor. Plenty of time to clean up the boats, dry out the gear and relax. Dawn broke out some some toasted bread and soft cheese, I got out the crackers and oysters, and then Dawn brought out a small box of wine. It was a very nice afternoon, relaxing and talking and enjoying good company.

Eventually dinner time rolled around, Dawn prepared pasta with clam sauce, above, and I used dough for crescent rolls to grill some parmesan bread on the griddle.

A great meal, washed down with a little red wine.

As the evening went on it began to get cool and dark. I took the photo below of my sailing companions as the sun got low on the horizon.

Then Dawn Patrol lifted anchor and they drifted down the creek to set up for the night.


Day Two

Above is the track for day two, sailing from Pine Tree Point back across the Bay River to Rockhole Bay. The front had moved through. Bright blue skies, no clouds and a nice wind out of the west. That morning in Rockhole Bay is one I'll remember for a long time. The marsh grasses were golden, the water smooth. I ghosted along the marsh under mizzen and jib. I sailed north into the bay then turned northwest, tacking up the little creek that feeds the bay. A river otter swam by. The only sounds were the boat sounds and the rustling of the marsh grasses rustling in the wind. When I head back down the creek to the bay I saw a school of dolphin had followed me into the bay, they were rolling and jumping halfway out of the water. At least a dozen maybe more, their spouts were backlit by the morning sun. Life was pretty good.

Leaving Rockhole Bay I tacked into the west wind. The day was getting warmer. Near lunchtime I approached Gale Creek, the southern entrance to that portion of the ICW. Instead of entering the creek I sailed west looking for Little Bear Creek. I could see the larger Bear Creek, but Little Bear Creek a little to the south was a mystery until a skiff slid out from an narrow opening in the marsh. A lot of the creeks are like that, you can hardly pick out entrance hidden among the trees and marsh.

I worked my way up into Little Bear Creek, dropped the anchor and enjoyed lunch in the warm sunshine. I had lunch, thought I would relax for a couple of minutes, closed my eyes only and spent the next two hours in a deep sleep.

The warm sun on my face woke me up. Under full sails I raised the anchor, returned to the bay river and turned north to Gale Creek and the ICW. Wind was out of the west, I had a nice ride up the ICW until tall trees blocked the wind near the eastern entrance to Jones Bay. I motored the last hundred yards or so, then raised sail for a run downwind on Jones Bay to Drum Creek where I dropped anchor for the night.

Tucked in my bivy with mosquito net up I waited out the dusk run of mosquitoes (they'll sometime show up at sunset and disappear an hour later). Just as the bugs were leaving I heard the putt-putt of an outboard. It wasn't the rumble of a waterman's diesel engine or the high powered outboard of a skiff. I couldn't quite figure out what it was. Then I heard Dawn calling. "Ahoy, are you awake."

What a treat, I had not expected to see Paul and Dawn until the next morning. But there they were, motoring up alongside in the dark. I turned on a flashlight and pointed it at Spartina's hull so Paul could see me, put a fender over the side and helped them tie alongside. They had rigged Dawn Patrol late evening at Pate Boatyard and got on the river just at dark. So here we were, rafted up in the dark, talking about my trip so far, their drive down to the coast and the kind of sailing we hoped to be doing over the next couple of days.

Two days of good solo sailing, now the chance to sail with some friends!


Carolina Cool - Day One

It was the last overnight trip of the year, not really a cruise but a series of day sails strung together. A couple of days sailing solo and a couple of days sailing with friends. Cool temperatures and clear blue skies. A nice time to explore coastal North Carolina.

Above is the track for the entire sail, below is the track from Day One. I put in at Pate Boatyard in Hobucken and headed east on Jones Bay. I had sailed through the area three times before - on the SkeeterBeater, the Tag Team and the Weekend Walkabout. This time I wanted to explore the rivers, creeks, bays and marshes on the edge of Pamlico Sound.

Leaving the boatyard I headed down a narrow canal to Jones Bay. I thought I might have to watch for branches hanging over the water. It was a narrow canal, but there was plenty of room for an easy run down to the river.

Below is Shawn, owner of Pate Boatyard. He had helped me rig and load the boat, even cut down a couple of tree limbs to give me more room near the ramp, then he helped get Spartina in the water. As I was cranking up the outboard he headed out to Jones Bay on his custom built trimaran. On the river Shawn sailed across my path and wished me well on the trip. Shawn is a great guy, can't say enough good things about him and his boatyard. I'll be back there. I'll be back there a lot.

Shawn let me use his tv before I left the dock to check on some thunderstorms that were moving through the area. They all, at the time I checked, seemed to be sliding north and I thought I would avoid them. But no such luck. Below is a screen grab from about two hours into my sail. That little white "x" marks my approximate location as a big storm cell, the largest I've had to deal with, was heading my way.

I saw the storm coming, the entire sky to the west was filled with dark clouds. I was nearly at the entrance to Jones Bay heading into a southeast wind. My goal was to make it around Boar Point to Sound Bay and ride out the storm there. The wind quickly swung from southeast to the west. Cool and strong, the breeze carried me downwind towards the point. I had a decision to make - leave the sails up so they would carry me to the point quickly or round up and reef (probably not a bad idea but that would carry me at a slower pace to the point). I chose to leave full sails up to cover as much ground as possible. Then the wind really kicked in. I had no choice but to reduce sail. So I rounded up, the wind heeling Spartina over to the point that she took quite a bit of water over the side. She quickly righter herself once pointed into the wind. I hove to, dropped the main and bundled it up, pumped out the water. The wind was picking up, rain starting to fall as I turned downwind under mizzen and jib towards Boar Point.

I rounded the point and entered Sound Bay just as heavy rain, accompanied by even stronger winds, hit. I was about 100 yards off the shore. I ran forward to drop the anchor (a ten pound navy style anchor, six feet of chain and then an eight pound mushroom anchor to serve as a sentinal), paid out the anchor line and cleated it off and then tried to drop the jib. I say "tried" because getting down the jib was the toughest thing of all. Usually it will drop right down the forestay, but with the high winds it would not come down. Connected to Spartina by my safety tether I climbed up on the foredeck (on my knees) and pulled it down hand over hand, something that took more effort than I would have imagined. I tied the jib to the bow sprit, climbed back into the the cockpit and start pumping out the water.
I don't know what the wind speeds were for that hour or so it took the storm to pass over. Rain was heavy, it hit the water and kicked up a spray. I lost sight of the shoreline a hundred yards away in the mixture of blowing rain and spray. Spartina rocked to port and starboard more than I had expected, I think the winds were buffeting the still raised mizzen. I just kept working with the bilge pump. A few minutes up forward pumping up forward on the bunk flat, a few minutes in the aft cockpit.

After an hour the wind dropped, rain stopped and the skies cleared. I looked around and everything was ok. A little wet, but ok. So I cleaned up the boat, raised sailed and continued on the trip.

(My photos for the first two days are a little thin. Batteries would not last in my camera. So you will have to take my word for what happened until Dawn Patrol showed up. That nice photo at the top of the post is from Paul and Dawn later in the trip, thanks guys.)

I had a great afternoon under a gentle breeze and clearing skies sailing past Bay Point, crossing the Bay River and skirting the marshes of Maw Point. I trolled a little, cast a lure now and then, but really just enjoyed the scenery. Eventually I reached Pine Tree Point where I entered a small cove (within sight of the northern entrance to Dipping Vat Creek where we passed last June) to drop the anchor for the night.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

saturday sail/what's a schlunk?

Getting close to the last day of sailing here in the Mid-Atlantic so it was a joy to rig Spartina at the ramp. Pretty chilly out to start the day and not much of a breeze, but it turned out to be a beautiful day.

I've got a lot of work to do on the boat this winter. A lot of day sailing plus 20 days of cruising where we've sailing almost 600 miles. That's a lot of wear and tear on a wooden boat. Sanding, painting will keep me busy this winter.

Not a cloud in the sky, crip early morning light cast a shadow from the mizzen onto the main as I entered the main branch of the Elizabeth River.

It was peak season for the snowbirds, about 20 boats anchored in Crawford Bay and lots of other boats passing through on their way south. These folks on a catamaran called "Peace" seemed to be at peace, they had to be the happiest folks I've seen in a while. Smiles, waves, shouts and thumbs-up. They were loving life.

And the biggest boat in the harbor was the Carnival Glory. Conga music all day long for us on the river. The party-goers are probably well offshore by now.

And this nice yawl from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Do you recognize her, Perry?

After five hours on the water I was heading in when the American Rover passed by, a wedding on board. Caught a glimpse of the beautiful bride. She was too busy to notice us, but the wedding photographer grabbed a couple of photos of Spartina.

Sailing was fantastic, but the highlight of the day was the oyster dish from Baydog's recipe. That is one of the wild Lynnhaven River oysters above. And the final product below. Great stuff. As my wife said, a nice smoky, creamy dinner with the shitake mushrooms blending with the oysters. I served it over a bed of wild rice with some toasted french loaf with garlic/butter/parmesan cheese on top. It was one of those great recipes with no measurements, just words like schlunk here and there. But it all worked out great. Baydog I owe you one (One what? That is to be determined).

All in all, a great saturday.


Friday, October 22, 2010


It's October, a month with an "r" in it. Must be oyster season. I hear now that the "r" thing doesn't really mean much anymore, you can get good oysters anytime of the year.
I'm going daysailing tomorrow - forecast of sunny, 72 degrees, light winds out of the sw - and when I get home I'm going to try and make a, for lack of a better name, "shellfish guy oysters."

That's a recipe from BayDog, publisher of the blog 829 SouthDrive. (Check out the recipes he has on there today for boneless pork loin chops, green beans, tomato/green pepper/onion salad and acorn squash. Sounds like a perfect fall meal. Almost as perfect as oysters.)

I ran to Uncle Chucks Seafood and Produce at the Virginia Beach Farmer's Market. The place is not much more than a shed with stacks and stacks of coolers, and just about any local seafood (and some not so local) that you can imagine. Today he had only six kinds of oysters. "Come back tomorrow" he said "and I'll have eight different kinds." Plus scallops, crabs, conch, shrimp....the list goes on and on. (Technically, the oysters are all the same species, but the environment - bayside, oceanside, creeks, etc - tend to produce variations in size and taste.)

I got a handful of Wild Lynnhaven River oysters, above. Just huge. Lynnhaven oysters were noted back in colonial times for their size. They were shipped back to England on ice, plate-sized the story goes. The river, and oysters, went through rough times in the 60's through the 80's. But it is on the rebound. And a few years ago they found that some of the original oyster stock had survived. The largest one there in the photo is just shy of 5 and 1/2 inches long. So I can believe the stories of plate-sized oysters.

And I got a pint of shucked oysters too, from Salt Works Oysters in Franktown, VA on the eastern shore. These are grown in Nassawadox Creek, mostly likely farmed in steel cages that are set a foot off the creek bottom. This new farming technique does a couple of things. It produces good (no, not good, great!), evenly sized and shaped oysters AND filters the water in the river. I don't have the specific numbers, but I've heard a typical oyster farm filters millions of cubic feet of water each day. And I've seen those cages when they've been pulled from the river, full of oysters and crabs, fish, eels and just about anything else that lives in a healthy river on the Chesapeake Bay. Those creek bottoms had been scoured clean by decades of oystering, this give the creek a chance to rebuild a healthy environment.

A fall day, blue skies, wind out of the southwest, sailing and then oysters with, as BayDog instructed, a nice bottle of wine. I can't wait.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

dreams, small boats and a toast

Webb Chiles is a man I have admired for decades. I've read his books, followed his adventures. Even heard him speak one time. I admire him not just for his sailing, but also for his writing, his photography and the way he lives his life.

I was honored to find that he wrote a very touching journal entry about Spartina and small boat sailing. I can't say anything that would add to his thoughts, I'll just suggest you take a look at his entry here.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

on Pamlico Sound

I just stole this photo from Dawn's blog. It shows Dawn at the tiller of Dawn Patrol with Spartina in the background.

This was Sunday morning, sailing south out of Mouse Harbor to nearby Big Porpoise Bay where we anchored and took turns sailing each other's boat. That blue sky was around all weekend, very pretty.

Nice photograph Paul!


geese in flight and dogs that bite

I walked over to the waterfront at lunch today to see the snowbirds anchored in Crawford Bay. It is that time of year, boats are heading south along the intracoastal waterway. There were just 12 or 15 boats out there midday, but when I drove over the bridge this morning on the way to work there were probably two dozen boats anchored in the bay.

The Elizabeth River, where it passes between the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth, and where I sail just about every weekend from April through November, is the site of Mile Marker 1 for the ICW. A lot of boats, from Chesapeake Bay, New York, New England and Canada pass through here every fall. And of course they pass through here again in spring, on their way back north.

When the cruisers leave Crawford Bay they wind their way on the southern branch of the Elizabeth River through a very industrial/military area. Shipyards, fuel depots, salvage business that cut huge ships into little pieces of metal line the river. I wrote about some work being done on the industrial section a couple of weeks ago. I think the cruisers pass through the cranes and all in just an hour or so.

And then they'll be in a pretty section of the Elizabeth River, pass down the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal (right by my neighborhood) and eventually cross the state line to North Carolina.
I always enjoy seeing those cruisers anchored in Crawford Bay. I hope to get out sailing with them this weekend (the forecast is good for Saturday). I like to tack my way through the fleet, enjoy the boats big and small, and maybe say hello to a cruiser or two, ask where they came from and where they are going. In a day or two they'll be in Carolina, in a few weeks they could be in Florida, Bahamas or the Caribbean.
I don't think I'll ever sail that far away, but it is nice to talk with the sailors, have the chance to wish them well on their journey south.