Monday, October 31, 2011

it was a dark and dreary night

It was really three dark and dreary nights in Chestertown.  I anchored out two of the nights, stayed tied to the dock for the third night.  Squalls, rain, sleet, close to freezing temperatures and high winds.

Early in the evening and again early in the morning I would light a small candle in a small brass chimney.  It certainly did not warm up the boom tent, but the glow of the tiny flame seemed to make the evenings and mornings more comfortable.

The first night anchored out was cool and grey, with a fast moving squall that came through just after I anchored near the mouth of Radcliffe Creek just a few hundred yards down the shore from Chestertown.  That was the nicest of the evenings.

The second evening, after the fireworks, the rain began to fall.  Rain, and eventually a wet snow and then sleet, continued to fall for about the next thirty hours.  High winds filled in later that evening.  In the early morning hours severe gusts caused our anchors - a navy style anchor and a mushroom anchor - to break free from the muddy bottom.  Spartina was pushed across the mouth of the creek.

I woke up to find us 50 yards from the riprap-lined shore, a quick look at landmarks showed we were moving steadily closer to the rocks.  I put out a second anchor, jammed the sleeping gear and boom tent under the foredeck and motored away under full throttle, all in a pouring, cold rain.  It was not a fun morning.

I motored up the river in the lee of the marina docks.  At one point I turned our onto the main river and was quickly turned back by waves and wind, I could not keep the bow pointed into the wind.  I did get to a dock on the west end of marina and was able to tie up and regroup there.

The last night I spent tied to the dock listening to the sleet bounce off the boom tent.  I found myself warm and comfortable inside my sleeping bag inside the bivy under the boom tent.  I had a good night's sleep, waking up now and then to adjust the dock lines to deal with an unusually high tide.  There was ice on the tent in the morning.

I give a lot of credit to my new icebreaker thermals and the exped air pillow for keeping me comfortable at night.  My thanks to Kiwibird for the advice on both.

The last morning I was glad look out the back of the tent to see blue skies.  It was about time.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

a few photographs from Chestertown

I woke up this morning with ice on the boom tent, both inside and out.  Outside, from the snow, sleet, freezing rain.  Inside, from my breath condensing under the tent in the cold air.  It was not the weekend that I, or anybody else, expected.  I heard the terms nor'easter, gale and winter storm used.  

It was interesting, fun, a little different.  I saw some good friends, made some new ones.  More later.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Weather comma miserable

Heavy rain for the last 12 hours.  But it is the terrific wind that is the problem.  Anchored out for a warm, comfortable night.  High winds in the early morning had us dragging anchor towards a rocky shore.  Huge waves and wind on the river.  Finally got back to the nearest dock.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Sailing with the tall ships

A very nice sail this afternoon as the tall ships cast off for their passenger cruises.   Steve


Sunny and cool with a nice breeze.  Had a nice sail in from my anchorage at daybreak.  I'll get back on the water once the day warms up a little more.  Steve

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Rigged in the rain.  Skies are getting lighter.  Might go for a sail.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

threading the needle

I started packing the jeep tonight, will go over the modified checklist and tuck away the rest of the gear tomorrow morning.  I plan to take it easy, leaving here after the morning rush hour for the 200-plus mile drive to Chestertown.  I would like to have Spartina in the water by mid-afternoon.

I'll try to do some posts over the weekend with my cell phone. I can't wait to sail with, or at least near, the tall ships.

I wondered last night about getting Spartina away the boat ramp in Chestertown.  The ramp is at the bottom of the drawing above and you can see how the bowsprits of Pride of Baltimore II and the A.J. Meerwald nearly overlap.  In fact there are warnings on the guidelines for the weekend about dealing with the narrow spaces between the tall ships.  I checked the schedules, and if I read it correctly, the Pride will not be arriving until Friday.  There won't be any problem when I put it tomorrow.  But Sunday when I pull out?  We'll see if I have to thread my way through the schooners.  Maybe Spartina's 18' tall main will slide right beneath the bowsprit of the Pride.  As the woman who ran the old riverside marina in Elizabeth City, N.C. told me when I was concerned about having the proper space around my boat, "Son, your boat just ain't that big."


Monday, October 24, 2011

a bend in the river

Downrigging Weekend is just a few days away and I need to start packing for the trip.  I am looking forward to spending time on the Chestertown waterfront and exploring a very nice, historical town.

Bruce and I were up there last May, sailing up the beautiful Chester River on the ninth day of our Spring cruise.  The photo above is from sail up the river, heading from our last anchorage on Reed Creek to Rolph's Wharf.  The wind was perfect that day and it was a treat to sail up the reaches of the river, following the contours of the water as she curved port and starboard through the farmlands.

We explored the old colonial town briefly, a nice tour from our friends MaryLou and Fred.  The old brick buildings downtown recall Chestertown's history of being a major port in colonial days.  It still surprises me to think about how ships in the 1700's navigated their way up the narrow, winding and very pretty river.  Our sail from Reed Creek to Chestertown was about 17 nautical miles.  How tall ships would make it up river with less than cooperative winds and against a surprisingly strong running tide I don't know.  Maybe I can learn something about that when I up there.

I do know that the Kalmar Nyckel just made the run up the river, arriving yesterday.  The trip was most likely courtesy of her auxiliary engines.

The replica ship of a vessel from the 1600's, the state ship of Delaware will be tied up just a few yards from Spartina's slip.  Because of a chance meeting on the water years ago the Kalmar Nyckel will always have a special place in my heart.  On the day I first launched Spartina, her bow still coated with champagne, my brother Mike and I sailed down the Elizabeth River to find the Nyckel with all her sails and flags flying in a very nice breeze.  Below is a photograph from that morning.  I smile when I see the brand new bright, white sheets on Spartina (they are not so white anymore).  At the time I knew the ship was heading to a festival in Hampton, but I liked to imagine that the tall ship was there to welcome Spartina to the river.

I've started packing gear for the trip and I'm just now realizing that I will have to adjust my packing from that of a typical cruise.  There will be at least two nights sleeping aboard, with some sailing each day.  I won't need the cook kit, but I will need the sleeping gear.  Thermal gear and clothes to layer will be important as it could get chilly.  I'll take my fisherman boots, which fit perfectly with heavy wool socks.  I won't need charts, but I will need the boom tent in case of rain.  I guess my project for the day will be sorting through the equipment, figuring out what I need to bring, what I should leave behind.  I will also have the luxury of my jeep parked a few blocks away, I can bring extra gear and leave it stored in the jeep should I need it. 

The weather forecast for the weekend seems to be improving.  A few days ago the forecast was for cold, rainy, windy weather.  Now I see the chance of rain is decreasing (depending on which forecast I look at), the temperatures are warming and the winds should be moderate to light.  Let's hope the trend continues.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

pillow talk

I received my new REI Exped Air Pillow in the mail today.  That is the new inflatable pillow on the right, below, and my old traditional pillow, bought from Campmor six or seven years ago, on the left.  The old pillow was old and did not seem to give much support.  Or maybe it is the same, and it is just me that is older and maybe being older I need more support.  In either case I thought I could use something new for sleep gear.

Whenever it comes to equipment I check with my friend Kiwibird (whom I have never met in person but we have exchanged emails for the last couple of years about equipment and sailing grounds).  She is a self-professed gear head and has given me advice on everything from SPOTs to sandmats to thermal gear.  I emailed her asking about pillows, she replied with the suggestion of the Exped.  That is Kristen, below, somewhere around the Pamlico River.  I have taken lots of advice from her over the years but I have not quite gone the full "bandit" look with the scarf.  With all the exposure to the sun out on the water it is not a bad way to go.  Give me a couple of years and I'll probably be there.

Kristen said the one problem with the Exped is that when deflated it is so small it might be easily lost.  There is the old pillow in the stuff sac on the left and the new Exped on the right.  She is right.  Deflated, the inflatable pillow is tiny.

It takes about two breaths to inflate the pillow.  Opening a valve quickly deflates it.  My guess is that I will simply store the deflated pillow inside inside my rolled up bivy.  We'll see. In any case it is much smaller and, I suspect, will be much more comfortable to use that the old pillow.  Cost, with shipping, was a little over $40.  A good night's sleep is well worth a few bucks to me.

Always on the lookout for gear, and particularly safety gear, Kiwibird also told me about the new Escape Bivvy.  This is a new (not available until early next year) breathable, body heat reflective shelter. Perfect I imagine for the hypothermia kit.  List price is $50.  Should you need it, it would be worth every dime.  I'll add one to the kit in the Spring.

A nice pillow for comfort, a bivvy for safety.  Thanks for the advice, Kristen.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

eight below Pride, just above Sultana

Take a look at the Sultana Projects Downrigging Weekend website and you'll see a list of ships and boats that will be on display on the Chestertown waterfront.  On the list of 63 watercraft, eight slots below The Pride of Baltimore II, coming in at 157 feet in length, and just one above Sultana, at a very stout looking 97 feet, you will find Spartina.  How did we ever find ourselves in such wonderful company?  I don't know.

But I do kind of know.  It goes back to day nine of the Back to the Islands sail.  Bruce and I were sailing up past Rolph's Wharf towards Chestertown when we saw the Sultana coming around the bend.  As she raised canvas we sailed alongside the beautiful ship, made some photographs and enjoyed her company.  After a while we started to tack away, but turned back when the captain hailed us.  We exchanged greeting on the water that afternoon, then met the man who hailed us, Drew McMullen, later that evening on the waterfront.  Drew is the president of the Sultana Projects.  He gave us a tour of the Sultana, then suggested that I might consider bringing Spartina up to Chestertown for the Downrigging Weekend.  At the time I had never heard of the event.  "Give it some thought" he said.

I am not much of a social sailor.  I've said more than once that I built Spartina so I could get the hell away from everyone.  If I see a crowd I tend to head the other way.  If I see a few boats, I'll sail close enough to get a good look, wave and then sail away.  Solitude I enjoy.  Socializing, not so much.

But for some reason I am very excited about this weekend event.  Part of it is the chance to sail with the tall ships like The Pride of Baltimroe or The Lady Maryland or the A.J. Meerwald, above.  There will be about half a dozen tall ships on the Chestertown waterfront, they'll will be out sailing at least a few times over the weekend.  Catching the breeze alongside a tall ship on the gentle bend of the Chester River, the old brick buildings of the colonial town on the nearby shore.  That does sound like fun.

Or maybe it is the classic Chesapeake Bay boats that are also part of the show.  Smith Island skiffs, restored oyster buy boats and a couple of skipjacks with their huge spread of canvas, all gleaming bright white on a crisp Autumn day.  Who would not want to be on water with those icons of Chesapeake Bay?

Or maybe it is the chance to listen to the Eastport Oyster Boys with a cup of hot cocoa, or maybe a cold beer, in my hands.  Or maybe becasue I might see my friends MaryLou, Fred, Seth and Drew.  I don't really know.  For whatever reason, or maybe for all of those reasons, I'll head up into a crowd of boats and a crowd of people.

But I will have an escape nearby.  It will be Spartina.  She will be tied up at a nice slip, a choice spot if you ask me, on the Cannon Street pier.  The same pier as a buy boat, a skipjack and the tall ship Kalmar Nyckel.  Very nice company.  And should things get a bit too, uh, crowded, I can always slip the lines, drift out onto the river and enjoy the crowd from a distance.

It will be a fun weekend.  I can't wait.  The dates are October 27 through the 30th.  Drop by and say hi.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

back home

Back home after a fascinating, fun and emotional trip to the Midwest.  Checking my email between flights received an information packet from the Sultana Projects about their Downrigging Weekend. 

I was very pleased to see Spartina's dockage at the Cannon Street Pier Slips.  The sailing season is almost over.  This will be a nice way to end it.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Who will give me a bid?

It was a cold, windy day.  I could never understand what the auctioneer was saying.  I guess it worked out ok.  Sad to see the land leave the family after 160 or so years, but it was the best thing to do.


Auction Day

Saturday, October 15, 2011

schooners and friends

The fleet of schooners from The Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race started trickling into Portsmouth yesterday evening after a long, long sail down the bay.  The winds were strong and on the nose.  Schooners do not sail well into the wind.  Of the 39 boats that left the dock at Fell's Point in Baltimore just 15 made it to Portsmouth.  Others stopped at various anchorages and marinas along the way.  I asked one captain what the race was like.  "Long.  Wind on the nose," he said.  "A trial of boats and men."

I was very glad to see my friend Barry on the waterfront.  We had met in person just once and very briefly, but we've been in touch over the internet the past couple of years.  It was fun to sit down and talk in person.  We've got a lot in common between boats, a couple of daughters each in college and an interest in the communication field.  Plus he is a great photographer, very skilled boat builder and wonderful writer.  Check out the work on his site.

Later on we ran into another friend, Mike, at right below.  I had met Mike at the Mid-Atlantic Small Craft Festival sail in on the Wye River a few years ago.  He has a melonseed and does quite a bit of cruising with it on Chesapeake Bay.  We've compared notes and found that we've sailed the same areas and visited the same anchorages on Tangier Sound.  It was a treat to see both the schooners and some friends.


Friday, October 14, 2011

an unscheduled stop, updated

Update from Barry:  After beating into headwinds for 24 hours, with stronger headwinds on the way, they realized that they would not make it to Portsmouth by the finish deadline.  (This same situation might apply to other schooners in the race.)  They put in at Solomons Island, will drive down to Portsmouth for the party (can't miss that) and then return to the boat.  I hope to catch up with Barry on the Portsmouth waterfront tomorrow.


Quintessence seems to be heading for Solomons Island near the mouth of the Patuxent River.  That is her track below.  It looks like more than a few schooners have stopped along the way at various marinas.  Hopefully Barry will get a chance to update his site and let us know what is going on.

I was on board the Norfolk Rebel for a schooner race a few years ago when we made a similar unscheduled stop at Solomons Island for maintenance.  I had the good fortune to be aboard the tugantine (a sail powered tugboat) as the guest of owner and race founder Lane Briggs, below center.  It was an interesting trip, no wind to start with and then a ride so rough I had to brace my shoulders in the bunk to keep from falling out.

I remember a hot, windless afternoon when they talked about putting out the anchor so we would not drift back to the north.  I remember pounding through the waves and the spray coming up over the bow.  And I remember Lane inviting me into the galley for an early morning "spot o' tea" as he called it.  (I usually don't drink rum before 9 a.m.)  

It was an honor to sail with Lane.  It was his last race, he passed away the following winter.  But his good works and spirit live on.  


slow going

It appears to be slow going for the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race.  The photo below is from the Virginia (which is not in this year's race) a few years ago as we motored up the Elizabeth River after finishing the race in pre-dawn hours.

This year, well after dawn, most of the fleet has not yet made it to the Potomac River entrance.  A few boats have made it farther south than that.  Those are the high tech schooners, plus the Norfolk Rebel which must be motoring to make it to the Portsmouth waterfront to greet the other boats.

I'll keep an eye on the tracking page and hope to be in Portsmouth when the schooners start to arrive.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

the weather tonight

Part of the same batch of moist air that the schooners are dealing with......

notes on the cruise, a day sail, schooners

This was a different sort of trip for me.  More rain and less wind than I have ever experienced.  It certainly wasn't the blue skies and crisp winds I had been thinking about all summer.  I cannot complain.  We've had so many trips with great wind and weather that I knew things had to even out.  Regression to the mean I have heard it called. 

Wind has never been in doubt on earlier cruises.  It was just a question of how much and which direction.  On this last trip a forecast of 5 mph (or less) was common.  There was maybe a day or two of 10 mph, but even that wind was inconsistent.  I would catch a good breeze now and then, sailing along at somewhere between 4.5 and 6 knots, then watch the wind fall off or just plain disappear.  I did use the outboard more on this trip than any other, to the point that I worried about using all of my fuel.  It was just that kind of trip.

Rain has never been in doubt on earlier cruises.  But rain was the exception, not the rule.  We've had a couple of rainy nights here and there, afternoon thunderstorms and morning drizzle.  But we could count on, for the most part, blue skies.  The rain would come and go, it was just a matter of slipping on the foul weather gear while the squall moved through.  I remember one Pamlico Sound cruise with Bruce when we had a squall in the morning, three storms around us in the afternoon and a brief rain shower after dinner.  All that, but with blue skies in between.  This trip moisture in the form of rain, thunderstorms and fog was near constant.  The first four days it were particularly grey - not my favorite weather.

The good news is that Bruce and I have developed enough techniques to keep us, and our gear, dry.  We learned decades ago on a camping trip that once you are soaked to the bone you are done.  (I will always remember driving down from the mountains of southern California in the '64 VW bus.  I was wearing the only dry piece of clothing I could find, an old flight suit of my Dad's that had been tucked in the tool box, and Bruce was wrapped in a packing blanket.  We had the heater on full blast, then turned on the radio to hear that Elvis died.  What a night.)

I stayed dry on this trip while sailing and while sleeping.  The gear stayed dry.  There were signs of moisture inside my camera lens, inside the gps and inside the binoculars.  But I could deal with that as long as I was dry.

A couple of days into the trip I wondered "What am I doing out here."  The weather forecast made it clear that there would be plenty of rain and not much wind.  But once I got into a routine, once I figured out how to cope, I was fine.  It was a bit of a challenge, but I enjoyed dealing with the challenge.  It was not was I had expected or planned on, but it was time on the water, sailing, relaxing, catching a few fish and getting away from it all.

On the first day out of Crisfield, sailing in the rain under heavy clouds, I wondered why I was out there.  On the last day, after pulling out Spartina and starting home, I wished I was still out there.


I went out for a day sail with my neighbor Jim last weekend.  Decent wind, a very comfortable temperature and nice blue skies.  Jim is mid-build on a Navigator.  I look forward to the day when it is finished and we can sail side by side.

Heading over to Crawford Bay we saw the schooner Spirit of Independence making ready for sail.  We both knew that she was heading north to Baltimore for the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race.  It is that time of year.  We sailed by them at the dock and exchanged greetings, then sailed by them again to give them our good wishes.

Left behind on the dock was Whitney, a friend of Jim's.  If not for an injury she would have joined the Pride of Baltimore II for the schooner race.  She has crewed on a few tall ships including the Spirit of Independence, the Gazela and the Manitou.  Watching one tall ship sail away can't be any fun, the same for being left off the crew for another tall ship.  Would she at least like to join us for a sail?  "That's not a question you need to ask" she said as she hopped aboard.

Her sailing skills were obvious as she took the tiller and sailed Spartina comfortably and confidently.  The tacked across the river in a light and shifting breeze.  After having picked her up on the Portsmouth side of the river we dropped her off on the Norfolk side.  There are quicker ways to cross the river, but there is not a better way than by sail on a pretty morning.  Thanks for joining us, Whitney.


I'm using the schooner tracker to follow Quintessence in the race down the Bay.  My friend Barry is crewing on her.  I've met Barry just once, very briefly, a couple of years ago.  But we have stayed in touch by email since.  I look forward to seeing him when the schooner arrives on the Portsmouth waterfront sometime tomorrow.

From this afternoon's tracking map it seems to have been a slow start to the race.  Winds are light and there is some fog and rain.  (Sounds a lot like my week of sailing.)

Later this evening winds will pick up and they should have a great sail, a great race, down the Bay.  I'll be up early to check on their progress.  To see some great photographs of the race check on Barry's site.