Saturday, December 31, 2011

an evening walk

I had never heard of a Scottish walk until this afternoon.  I am glad I joined in.  On a waterfront town that dates back almost 400 years it felt kind of special.

There were big pipes and muskets, talk of Scotland and old England, tartan kilts and lots of redheads.  And a celebration for a battle a few miles to the south that led to a new nation.

I had never seen people reach out to other as they sang Auld Lang Syne.  I am not the sentimental type, but I have to say it tugged at my heart.

And here's a hand my trusty frien'
And gie's a hand o' thine;
We'l tak' a cup of kindness yet
For Auld Lang Syne

It was a nice evening on the Portsmouth waterfront.

Best wishes for a safe, happy New Year.


Friday, December 30, 2011

delightfully empty

The mouth of the Hawkesbury River in Australia is, Webb Chiles tells me in an email, delightfully empty.  He had read my post about the film Oyster Farmer, which was filmed on that river, and Webb was sharing some of his experiences sailing in that area.

I appreciated Webb's comment, as always, but what caught my attention was the phrase "delightfully empty."  I've been thinking about it for the last couple of days.  That's exactly the kind of place I look for when I sit down with the maps, charts and google earth to plan a trip.  Whether it is Core Sound, above, or Cod Harbor at Tangier Island, below, I am looking for places that are less traveled, a little bit quieter.  I have always known that is where I want to go, but I have never heard those places described so well.  "Delightfully empty." Thanks, Webb.

So it was today that I started looking over the map of Tangier Sound for the Spring walkabout.  What better way to spend a slow day at the office?  I have sailed on the Sound several times over the last few years and I can't wait to get back again.  Each time out there I see more places I want to see.  More creeks, marshes and islands catch my attention every time I sail the Sound.  A quick look at this map below shows that for every place I have visited, there are dozens more places not yet explored.  

For example on my Fall trip, the Wet and Windless 162, I anchored one evening on the northwest corner of South Marsh Island, what I consider to be the "back" side of the island since it faces Chesapeake Bay and not Tangier Sound.  The next morning heading south along the island I saw for the first time Pry Cove.  It looked to me then just as it looks now on the charts - a nice wide shallow body of water that offers protection from just about any wind.  That would be a place I would like to anchor on the walkabout.  Or even right around the southwestern corner at Sheepshead Harbor - another very nice spot.  And what about the little creek that connect the two?  They will all be on the list for Spring.

As will be the protected areas in the marsh behind Cedar Island.  I passed through there on Broad Creek, which runs north/south between the two, last Fall and saw two creeks reaching out to the east and west - the Prong and Fishing Ditch.  Not the most elegantly names creeks, but nonetheless very beautiful to my eye.  It was too early to stop and anchor that day, but I knew right then I would return on a later cruise.  Maybe this Spring.

I even pencilled in a few days on the vacation calendar next to a weekend late April and early May that might make for a nice little trip.  It could be a bit chilly then, but that means less bugs; and it would be before crab season kicks in, which means less waterman on the water.  

I might find those places quieter than usual, more peaceful, and maybe just a little bit more delightfully empty.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

the book of days, 2012

I have finally received my two calendars for the coming year - the 2012 Calendar of Wooden Boats plus my work schedule.  A quick look at both of those shows that my work schedule is not ideal for this year's cruises.  But I will make do.

I work a rotating shift at the office, some nights and some days, some weekends and some weekends off.  The end result is that with monthly schedule changes I sometimes get three or four day weekends.   Take a three day weekend, add five days of vacation time plus the following weekend and I've got time for a nice adventure.  But this year the schedule does not work to my benefit - instead of nice three day weekends around the usual cruising times I have, instead, one day weekends.  I will just need to volunteer when I can and build up some comp time.  It will all work out.

May and early June are proving to be busy months between work and family commitments.  With that in mind I hope to do the Spring walkabout, a four or five day trip, in late April which is a week or two earlier than usual.  It might be a little cooler then, but maybe not.  I find no consistency in the weather that time of year - it could be 50 or it could be 80.  I'm looking at Tangier Sound for the walkabout.

The longer Spring trip may in fact be in early Summer trip.  It looks like I won't be able to get away until the second or third week in June, two to three weeks later than usual for that cruise.  I CAN tell you it will be HOTTER that time of year.  That trip should be a longer sail in North Carolina, including a visit to Cape Lookout.

And then the Fall trip will be the top of the Bay, Delaware Bay sail.  I haven't look that far ahead on the schedule, but will soon.

While trying to mark out the trips for this year on the calendar I started thinking about my favorites from last year's cruises.  Favorite what?  I've listed a few below.

Favorite cruise - Back to the Islands Spring cruise with Bruce, from Onancock to Chestertown with 270 miles of fun in between

Favorite lunch in a restaurant - it's a tie between softshell crab sandwiches at Lorraine's on Tangier Island and the shrimp burger at The Grill at Morris Marina on Core Sound

Favorite fish caught - Bruce snagging a nice striper south of Smith Island

Favorite bit of advice from a local - that I could save myself some time by cutting across the sandbars leading out of Ewell on Smith Island during the high tide, this from the same guy that told me I did not know how to tie knots (he was correct in both instances)

Favorite rough water crossing - South Marsh Island to Deal Island, a dark grey morning with wind and currents in opposite directions and a very steep chop

Favorite dinner on board - sirloin tips with grilled potatoes and onions, washed down with cold beer, on Tilgman Creek

Favorite storm - two hours of wind, rain and lightning anchored in Cod Harbor at Tangier Island

Favorite afternoon sail - heading north past Jones Bay, Middle Bay, Big and Little Porpoise Bays, Mouse Harbor and then rounding Pamlico Point to ghost off the pretty white beaches of the Pamlico River

Favorite breeze - the one that carried me on Day Two of the Spring walkabout across the Neuse River down West Bay to the Thorofare out onto Core Sound under bright blue skies

Favorite evening with new friends - anchored with Curt and Alan on Swan Creek during the Spring walkabout

Favorite waitress - the one that gave us a couple of extra beers and a bottle opener at Deep Creek Marina

Favorite tall ship - the schooner Sultana coming out of Chestertown on the last leg of the Spring cruise

Favorite decision in the middle of the night with an approaching squall - to forget about the boom tent, zip up the bivy and fall back to sleep in the warm sleeping bag

Favorite lure - the one that a big fish grabbed and stole on Day One of the Chesapeake Bay trip with Bruce (I really liked that lure)

Favorite waterfront town to leave behind - Saxis

Favorite skipjack - the Rebecca T. Ruark, coming out of Dogwood Harbor on Tilghman Island

Favorite anchorage - it's a tie between a glassy calm Cod Harbor, Tangier Island and Swan Creek off of Pamlico Sound

Favorite weird sight - coming around the bend on Fishing Creek in the Hooper Island to find the channel to Chesapeake Bay lined with bamboo markers

Favorite reminder of heaven and hell - coming across a deadrise named Devil's Den in a fog bank on Fishing Bay followed by another deadrise with religious hymns blaring out of her speakers

Favorite boat - Spartina

Favorite past time - thinking about the next trip


Monday, December 26, 2011

temperatures dropping, fishing picking up

It was very crisp and cool this morning.  Excellent!  Just what we need to get the stripers going.  Our trip is just about two weeks away.
Above is a photo of our most successful trip - a limit of fish (two per person, eight people on the boat equals 16 fish) weighing a total of 399 lbs, all caught in under two hours.  We were back at the dock in time for breakast.  That was fishing the shoals of Oregon Inlet in the Outer Banks.

Above is last year out of Rudee Inlet in Virginia Beach.  We brought in some nice fish, but it was rough weather and we were not thrilled with our captain.  We'll be using a different boat this year.

Reports just before Christmas and from today show that the fish are arriving.  

We never quite know what will happen.  We've limited out a few times, caught a handful a few times and gotten skunked a few times.  And there have been days where, because of the weather, we have never even left the dock, above.

But we always have fun.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

a big holiday kiss...

to everyone out there.  Merry Christmas!

A nice little ornament the girls picked up
at the Rag Picker in Ocracoke.

Enjoy the day.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

I was on my way to work when I saw.....

I guess he was on his way to work too.

johnny oysterseed

One of my favorite films, Oyster Farmer, reappeared on my netflix instant queue last night.  It is an Australian production that imdb lists correctly as comedy, drama and romance.  I had watched it a couple of times over the past few years and then, through ones of those movie rights issues that I don't understand, it disappeared.  Last night, looking for something to watch, I found it had come back. 

I am not a film critic so I can't really judge the film other to say I enjoy it.  It is a gentle story that takes place on a gently curving river in Australia where oysters are farmed.  There is a simple crime using only a frozen shellfish for a weapon and a fruit roll for a disguise.  There are a few romances, a little anger and a lot of humor.  All of it set against the backdrop of farming oysters.

I sometimes think that if I could wake up one day with a different career it would be as an oyster farmer.  What better way to make a living than to raise oysters that are good to eat and, at the same time, good for the environment?  No, it is not easy work.  And just like any other kind of farming it is subject to elements - weather being the most obvious one - that can ruin your crop.  But but the idea of heading out in the morning to fill bushel baskets full oysters appeals to me.

The oyster farming I see in the film is different from what I have seen on the eastern shore.  In the Australian film, made on the Hawkesbury River, they appear to raise the oysters on long pieces of wood set in the water, beating the wood with hammers to knock the mature oysters free.

On Chesapeake Bay I've seen oysters raised in cages roughly one foot deep and four feet square by four feet square.  Those cages, set a few inches of the bottom of rivers and bays, become living reefs filled with not only oysters but also crabs, fish, shrimp, eels and just about anything else you could image.
Working on the water, producing tasty plump oysters and helping enrich the environment - what's not to like about that?

I am glad the film is back on the streaming video.  It is one of those films I can watch once or twice a year and still find something new in it.  For me there is more than just one kind of romance there.


Friday, December 23, 2011

the christmas gift

A friend at the office asked for a print of photograph below, something to give it to a friend as a Christmas gift.  I was honored, and I told her that I thought of it as my favorite photograph of the year.  And yet at the same time I could not explain to myself why I thought of it as such.

Well of course it should be your favorite, she said.  Why not?  Look at the shapes, look at the detail.  If you believe in God, you can find God there.  And if you don't believe in God, but instead in the forces of nature and the theory of evolution, you can find that there too.  Everybody can find something in that photograph.

I'm a literal person and tend to resist thinking of photographs, mine or anybody else's, in those terms.  But I appreciated her comments, and find myself thinking about them now and then.  And if my friend found something there in the photograph, then I am glad for that.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

a walk through the swamp

I have cruised down the Dismal Swamp Canal, rowed up the feeder ditch to Lake Drummond in the center of the swamp and walked along the ditches that lead into the swamp.  I've even climbed the rickety steps in the of the old rotting superintendent's house on the shores of the canal, stood on the edges of the porch of the house that was once a tea parlor where travelers stopped to refresh themselves.  But I had never really been in the Great Dismal Swamp.  Until yesterday, that is.

I had an invite from friends to venture into the swamp.  Bring something to eat and drink, wear hip waders.

It was fascinating.  A thirty minute walk through the dark muddy water that at times tried to pull the waders off our feet.  Roots from the trees hid in the water, reaching out to trip us all along the way.  Rotting leaves, decaying cypress trees knocked down by hurricanes.  Deer scrapes and bark pulled off of hardwoods by black bears.

We had to watch where we stepped, there were deep holes that could not be seen in the dark brown water.  The person in the lead would call out the deep holes as they found them, each person passing the warning back to the next hiker.  Vines, a mixture of poison ivy and thorny brambles, lined the trail.

At the end we arrived at an island, though it did not look like an island.  Just slightly higher, drier ground than everywhere else.  By the time we reached it I could not, on the overcast day, tell you which way was east or west, north or south.  Somebody had a gps, someone else had a compass.  I just followed along.

I read a book years ago that included a magazine story written by John Boyle O'Reilly.  He canoed into the Great Dismal Swamp in the 1880's.  He talked about escaped slaves, maroons they are called, that lived in the swamp.  They were safe there, they were protected by the swamp.  It would have been on an island like this where they lived.

The Great Dismal Swamp is a misnomer.  It is a beautiful place.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

off-season work

I epoxied the cap onto the plug for the deck slot yesterday, then sanded it this morning.  Just working with the mahogany using a sheet of sandpaper wrapped around a piece of 2x2 reminded me how much I enjoyed building Spartina.  My woodworking skills are very basic, but I enjoy trying to muddle my way through it.

The next step will be to drill out the screw holes in the cap, plus the screw holes left over deck hardware, and epoxy hardwood bungs into place.  Then sand smooth, varnish the cap, repaint the foredeck around the mast and reinstall the blocks and cleats.  When I was in "boat building mode" I would do all that in a day or two.  But now I work a bit slower and will spread the jobs out over a couple of weeks.

I also ordered a waterproof chart of the C and D canal and Delaware Bay.  It should arrive in the next week or so.  I wanted to have the chart in hand when I go out to San Diego in February.  Bruce and I will sit down with a couple of cold ones and look over the chart in the warm California sunshine.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

hot and cold

I was out in the garage earlier today working on the cap for the new mast slot in the deck.  You will see a photo of it, not quite finished, at the bottom of the post.  As I worked I noticed the temperature was dropping and I, for once, was glad to see it getting colder.  Our annual fishing expedition is two weeks away, we need a good cold snap to get the fish going.

For a decade or maybe more - we've lost track - friends and I have done a annual striper fishing expedition.  For several years we made the trip down to the Outer Banks, catching the fish in the shoals of Oregon Inlet.  The last few years the bait fish, and the stripers that follow the bait, have stayed up north around the entrance of Chesapeake Bay.  So we have done our last couple trips out of Virginia Beach's Rudee Inlet.  As of yesterday's fishing report the stripers have not shown up in strength at either of the places.  Colder weather should get them moving.

 I dropped by an outdoors shop yesterday to do some window shopping and came across Wetfire tinder. At about $9 for a pack of eight individually sealed firestarters, it seems like a pretty good deal.

This would be an improvement over the fire starting material that I carry in my hypothermia kit right now.    I'll pick up a pack from the store this spring.  My kit is based on a Watertribe article that you can find here.  I have never used my kit, I only opened it to check the contents before each trip.  But I do carry it on every sail.  Someday it maybe come in handy for me, or maybe for someone else. 

And speaking of the Watertribe, I've been enjoying the updates on the building of Mosquito, the trimaran that my friends Alan and Dawn are building.  They plan to use it this coming March in the Watertribe's 1200 mile Ultimate Florida Challenge.  They just put the trimaran in the water for a paddle test which you can read about on SandyBottom's blog

 Dawn says the sailing trials will have to wait until February.  The race starts March 3, which does not give them a lot of time for adjustments.  But I have no doubt that they will be ready and have a very competitive boat for the race.

Above is Spartina's new deck cap, made out of African mahogany.  The screws of course will come out after the three pieces of wood - the plug cut out of the deck and two strips of mahogany - are epoxied together.  The screw holes will be drilled out then I'll tap pieces of dowell into the holes.  My intent had been to paint the cap white to match the deck.  But now I'm thinking of finishing it bright.  African mahogany looks beautiful with seven coats of varnish on it.  We'll see how the other boat goes this winter, then make the decision based on time and energy.

On this cold and getting colder day I found myself listening to Jesse Winchester's southern lament "Mississippi on my Mind."  I have always found it difficult to describe heat.  Two days - an afternoon in Ocracoke last summer and a sail up the Neuse River a year earlier - stand out in my mind because of the heat.  And I could never find words that describe that heat.  Winchester calls it "an angry oven heat."  That is perfect.  We need to have a little cold weather now to get the stripers moving, but I'm already looking forward to next summer's angry oven heat.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

a walk to the light

On this nice afternoon I walked a few blocks downtown to the cruise ship terminal's deck overlooking the Elizabeth River.  It was sunny and warm.  Above is the view from today.  Below is the view from a year ago.

Winter, fast approaching, is my least favorite season.

While winter is not my favorite time of year, winter light is my favorite light.  

Coming in hard and clean from a low angle, the light bounces around and casts highlights that catch my eye.