Wednesday, November 30, 2011

the nastiest, most miserable body of water.....

a few comments on a sailing anarchy forum discussion......

"In a small vessel it is the most miserable body of water on the planet." 

"Many a Delaware Bay transit in my log......STAY AWAY"

"Which crappy, square, brown, 4-6ft wave would you like today ?"

"I've been in hurricanes and Gulf Stream storms, but the outright nastiest sail I ever did was a beat from the C&D to Cape May."

They are all talking about Delaware Bay.  Sounds like fun, doesn't it?  Bruce and I have started researching the bay as we plan our Fall cruise.  That sail will be our over the top sail of the Delmarva circumnavigation.  We'll start somewhere mid-Chesapeake Bay, go up to the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, then sail down Delaware Bay to somewhere around Lewes, Del. or Ocean City, Maryland.  We've got a skype session scheduled in the next couple of weeks so we can talk about our plans.

Much of the research we need to do on Delaware Bay has already been done for us by my friend Barry who transited both the C and D Canal and Delaware Bay just a few weeks ago.  Barry shows that the Delaware is a bay that is wide open to the full of the energy of the ocean.  Take all that energy and combine it with the wakes from enormous commercial ships, crosswinds and strong tides -- the bay ends up being a very uncomfortable body of water.  You can read Barry's detailed description of the bay, along with his interesting adventure on a schooner that lost power in the shipping channel at night, in his post called Danger on the Delaware.  Enjoy!

Barry also showed this topographic image.  It looks to me, at best, uninviting, and, at worst, just plain scary.  It is obvious how the waves come up from the Atlantic and funnel from the wide mouth into the narrow bay.  I can just see the waves criss crossing the bay in a confused mess.

Reading all this was not fun, but one of the things I kept in mind - and Barry mentioned the very same thought in an email - is that much of what we are reading about Delaware Bay comes from keel boats that need to stay in the shipping channel that runs up the middle of the bay.  Could the bay be a little bit different for a small boat with a centerboard that could skirt along the edges of the bay, either the Delaware coast to the south or the New Jersey shore to the north?  While thinking about this I realized that I had three descriptions of small boat sailing on the bay right here on my bookshelf.

I found my copy of Frank Dye's Sailing to the Edge of Fear, his book about sailing up the east coast in a 15' 10" Wayfarer Dinghy.  Here are some of his comments.....

"As soon as I enter Delaware Bay from the C & D Canal I feel happy as it has a difficult and more challenging feel, much like the North Sea and it is pleasant to work the tides, instead of the softer and easier Chesapeake Bay.  Certainly for a Wayfarer dinghy with only an eight inch draft, it is a fine cruising ground with many secretive little creeks invisible until almost aground in the marsh."

Okay, so more challenging than Chesapeake Bay, yet suitable for a small boat.  From dates in his book it appears that he took two days to sail down the bay.  He did not have an outboard on his boat.

Then there is a description by Lee Hughes in his book The Biggest Boat I Could Afford.  Hughes was sailing the same boat as Dye - not just the same design but literally the same boat which he bought from Dye.  Hughes did add an outboard for his trip.

He talks about a thick fog for much of the day, motoring along with the tide at eight knots past freighters making their way upstream.  He anchors at the end of the day in a little creek only to find that the rushing tide will leave him on the muddy creek bottom.  Then has problems trying to motor out of the creek.  The next morning, again in a thick fog, he motors to Cape May. 

Hughes ran the length of the Bay also in two days, dealing with thick fog much of the time.  His trip was in the Spring, ours will be in the Fall.  He, like Dye, sailed closer to the Jersey Shore.  And just about all of his trip was made with the outboard. 

And finally there is the description by Washington Tuttle who sailed a catboat around the Delmarva Peninsula.  I have written about him before and he is, in fact, the inspiration for our own circumnavigation.  He says...

"I lucked into a helping tide and was soon into the Delaware.  Soon a giant cargo ship came up the Bay and I moved a hundred yards away so as not to threaten him.  My centerboard touched the bottom.  No wonder the water can be rough in the Delaware.  There were threatening clouds over the Jersey Shore so I kept a sharp lookout for inlets.  The sun and the breeze were strong.  I found an inlet in the marsh."

Tut did the trip, like Dye and Hughes, in two days, though he went along the Delaware shore.  His trip was in late August or early September.  I can well imagine seeing threatening clouds that time of year.  But his trip, like Dye's and Hughes, worked out just fine.

So what to make of all this?  It sounds like it could be a different kind of sailing, maybe even a little adventure.  Plan on two days for that part of the journey, maybe throw in a third day in case of bad weather.  I think we can do it.  We need to look into both the Jersey and Delaware Shore's, being ready to go either route depending on weather.  And if we take the Jersey Shore, then we need to think about crossing the mouth of Delaware Bay to reach Lewes.  But more on all that later.  This, for the purposes of our research, is a start.

Thanks very much to Barry, Frank Dye, Lee Hughes and Washington Tuttle for sharing their experiences.  It is much appreciated.


Monday, November 28, 2011

the last sail (again)

Cooler and windier than expected when I put in at the ramp Sunday morning.  I motored down the eastern branch of the Elizabeth, passed beneath the bridge and raised full sail.

Just three snowbirds were anchored in Crawford Bay.  They were all US boats, one from Maine, one from Delaware and the Wayward Wind out of Baltimore, below.  This appeared to be a low budget boat and a low budget cruise, and I admire that for a lot of different reasons.  Excuses are easy enough to find for not following a dream, money (or lack of) being a very convenient reason not to do something.

Later in the morning a few more snow birds passed through on their way south including this stout motor sailer out of Novia Scotia.  Any boat that sails the waters of Atlantic Canada has to be a stout boat, and that includes at least one Pathfinder that I know of.

By late morning the wind picked up and I was sailing with a reef tucked in.

And soon after I picked up my friend Paul for the afternoon sail we put in the second reef.  Breezy to say the least, but it was a warm wind out of the south that pushed the clouds away.

By mid-afternoon we were sailing under just mizzen and jib, one of my favorite sail combinations.  And so the sailing season ends (really.....this time I mean it).  Great sail, it was a lot of fun.  Thanks for joining me, Paul.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

photographs from Ocracoke

A few photographs from Ocracoke.  I find it to be a special place.

I may have been wrong when I wrote few days ago that I was done sailing for the year.  The forecast for tomorrow is perfect for a nice sail, with leftover turkey sandwiches for lunch.


a morning walk

I took a walk early this morning, down around the harbor to the park service boat ramps on Pamlico Sound, then on to Ocracoke Coffee Company for a glass of iced tea. I returned by way of Howard Street, the old rutted dirt lane lined by live oaks, the picket fence of the cemetery and weathered fisherman's cottages. It was a nice walk through an older part of the island that is often bypassed by visitors. The perfect way to end our visit.
We are on the ferry now bound for Hatteras Island. It has been a memorable Thanksgiving. I have to wonder if it is the beginning of a new tradition.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Bermuda of the South

We saw a reproduction of an old advertising poster in a shop yesterday. The poster identified Ocracoke as "The Bermuda of the South". It listed options for getting to the island from the mainland in only a day, with all day fishing, a stay at the brand new inn and meals for about $16.00. The reproduction of the poster was priced at $20.00.

The pier to the left is where I would have tied up Spartina had I brought her. On the far side of Silver Lake, which is known to the locals as "the ditch", a ferry is leaving the docks bound for either Swan Quarter or Cedar Island. The large white building is the old Coast Guard Station, now rebuilt as being used for educational programs. To the right is a small cluster of buildings along the edge of the harbor - hotels, shps and the community store.

The wind forecast was correct, high winds yesterday and the day before. I would not have sailed. We made do with long, pleasant walks, a visit to Ocracoke Coffee Company in the morning, a glass of wine on the porch of Zillie's Island Pantry in the afternoon and, of course, a nice turkey dinner in the evening.

I hope everyone had an enjoyable Thanksgiving.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

the view from here

Silver Lake, just as a little squall is moving in.


the ferry docks

There are worse places to wait for a boat.


just like Gibbs

During my sail last weekend I tied up at Waterside marina for a quick lunch.  The marina is right downtown, an easy and convenient place to tie up with a $5.00 rate for one or two hour stay at their finger piers.  

I motored around a very large power boat to an open slip, turning the corner to find several people associated with the power boat sitting in deck chairs on the dock.  They were having a little party on that beautiful afternoon.  I apologized for interrupting with the sound of my outboard.  "No problem" said one man as he came over to catch my lines.  "Say did you build that boat?" he asked.  I told him I did, then thanked him for his help tying up.

As he returned to the gathering I could hear him tell the others that I had built Spartina.  Then there was a woman's voice telling someone else about building the boat, saying I was "just like Gibbs".

I do not watch much network television so I did not understand the comment until the woman explained to her friend "he's the guy on NCIS that is always building that boat."  The guy on the show, I knew from the women in my household, is Mark Harmon.  My wife and daughters refer to him, apparently because of a character he played in an earlier series, as "Dicky".  Yes, "Dicky".  And I do recall glimpses of him in his current show working on a larger and more traditional boat than Spartina.  His eccentricities for the role include working on a boat and slapping people in the back of the head.

Could we have more in common than boat building?  Good looks?  Maybe not.  That is me above in my boat shop (garage), photographed by my daughter Grace around 2006; and below is Gibbs, or Mark Harmon, or "Dicky", as the sexiest man alive circa 1986.

So it is just boat building we have in common.  And I may have him beat there.  As the woman on the dock said to her friend who compared me to Gibbs, "at least he (meaning me) finished his boat."


ps - Paul, don't even think of photoshopping one of your magazine covers

Monday, November 21, 2011

the last sail

There was more sun, more wind and more blue skies than had been forecast yesterday.  It was a great day on the water.  Temperatures in the high 60's, maybe even low 70's - unheard of around here this time of year.  

I sailed solo in the morning, sharing the river with a few tugs and some snowbirds heading south.   Then my daughter and her boyfriend joined me for the afternoon.  

The sailing season is over for me.  We had hoped to take Spartina to Ocracoke for the holiday weekend, but two out of the three days will have winds in the mid-20 knot range.  Below is the forecast from nearby on Hatteras Island.  I had pictured a couple relaxing afternoon sails out on Silver Lake, 25 knots of wind doesn't sound relaxing to me.

That's ok.  It has been a great year on the water.  Since we launched for the first time this year back in March we've had a lot of great day sails on the river, plus cruises on Pamlico Sound, Chesapeake Bay and Tangier Sound.  I can't complain about missing a couple of days on the water at Ocracoke.  The trip to the island will be fun even without Spartina - 13 miles of beaches, a beautiful harbor and the chance to get away from it all.  I'll post a few photographs when we get down there.


Friday, November 18, 2011

the tease

I was hanging out with some chef friends in a restaurant last night.  Sea scallops as art. I did not get to try one, but boy they looked good.

There are two nice forecasts out there right now.  This weekend should be in the sixties with a nice little breeze.  I hope to get out for a day sail.

And above is the map for next Friday, a nice high moving right over Ocracoke - where we will be for Thanksgiving.  Looks perfect.  I hope the forecast holds.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

finding my inner bandit

Who is that masked man?

Check out my newest piece of cruising gear - a UV Buff (with a redfish pattern).  Pretty cool.....literally. 

I've known about this sort of headgear for years, I have even seen it in use by kayakers down at Cape Lookout.  But I was never interested in them.  That was until the other day when I came across one in a boating catalogue.  I instantly recalled a sail a few years ago from Jones Bay down Ditch Creek to the Bay River and finally back up to Middle Bay.  It was a good day on the water, but a long day.  The afternoon breeze kicked in, a hot dry wind from the southwest under a cloudless sky.  Wind burn, sun burn.  And no protection.  Maybe the UV Buff was what I needed.  All of a sudden it made a lot of sense.

I also recalled a photograph of Kiwibird wearing something similar. I emailed her, asking if that was a UV Buff.  If so, did she recommend it?  This is what she had to say...

"Yes, the UV Buff is a must. It's the simple things that make voyaging that wee bit more comfortable, and that's the Buff. So much easier to just pull it down to drink/eat, and raise back up again. Two thumbs up on this one. I know folks who buy two--one for face protection, the other for drying themselves after a wash. And it's not just the late pm sun--it's all day."

 The UV buff is, in a lot of ways, my kind of gear.  Lightweight, easily stowed, no moving parts and under $30 including shipping.  Why not give it a try?

Will I wear it up over my face?  Maybe on a hot afternoon, maybe all day.  I can certainly see wearing it all day around my neck.  As it is I have the collar on my shirt turned up most of the day to keep the sun off my neck. If the UV Buff keeps the sun off and helps cool by wicking away moisture, then I am all for it.  

As for the pattern, I chose it because the elusive redfish (known as puppy drum here on the east coast) is one of my favorite fish.  I've seen schools of them tailing (swimming just beneath the surface with their tails gently weaving back and forth out of the water) in the shallow bays of North Carolina.  I say they are elusive because I can never seem to catch them.  Maybe one of these days.  Maybe this Spring.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

on the waterfront

The Statsraad Lehmkuhl, the 97 year old tall ship that Norway uses to train cadets, came into the Otter Berth in Norfolk late yesterday afternoon.  It was a pretty cool sight.  

You can see cadets up on the yards.  They were singing the traditional sea shanty known as both "The Rolling King" and "Bound for South Australia."  Here are a couple of verses.

And as you wollop round Cape Horn
Heave away! Haul away!
You'll wish that you had never been born
And we're bound for South Australia

I wish I was on Australia's strand
Heave Away! Haul Away!
With a bottle of whiskey in my hand
And we're bound for South Australia

I could take some time to give you details about the ship and her history, but you can find that here.  Instead I'll just show you some photographs.  It was quite a sight.


Monday, November 14, 2011


I visited the observation deck of the cruise terminal that overlooks the Elizabeth River and Crawford Bay today.  It is one of my favorite places.  I have shot and shown photographs from there before.  This time I looked away from the river, photographing only reflections in the plate glass windows.

A man that I once worked for told me to try different things.  Don't be afraid, he said, take a chance.  Go out there and fail.  I wish I had understood him better.

Eventually I was no longer alone on the patio.  Someone else came up to enjoy the view.  Now I know what I look like when I am up there dreaming.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

still thinking....

I'm still rolling around ideas for the mast issue, leaning away from what I mentioned yesterday, leaning towards an idea I that occurred to me, but which I had forgotten, that windy day at the ramp in Rumbley.  

For the record, the Jim's -  Jim, JimB and Jim Vibert - are unanimous in their recommendation of going to a tabernacle mast.  I appreciate the input from you guys, plus a handful of people who contacted me directly by email.  It is very nice of everyone to share their thoughts.

There is Spartina, ready to be launched in Rumbley.  You can tell from the JW pennant that the wind was blowing pretty good.  You cannot tell how frustrated I was about 30 minutes earlier when I could not raise the mast.  After trying for a long while to lift the mast in the wind I decided to stop and think about it. Thinking did not help, but a brief lull in the wind did.

I've long been aware of the uses and benefits of a tabernacle mast.  I saw it first hand on day three of the Tag Team sail with Paul and Dawn.  We were passing through Dipping Vat Creek from Bonner Bay to Pamlico Sound, a narrow creek with obstacles including fishing nets and a partially raised gate (which was not visible from the satellite photos I had used for research).  Bruce and I barely got past the gate, with the mast touching the upper reaches at one point before backtracking and sliding by with inches to spare.  I wondered how Dawn Patrol would make it through.  I turned around to see that they had simply lowered their tabernacle masts and motored through without a second thought.

Spartina's mast is a hollow bird's mouth mast with plugs at the top and bottom to deal with the pressure points.  It seems to me it would be a lot of work to re-engineer the mast to accommodate a tabernacle mast.  The mast would need to be cut once for the tabernacle, and possibly cut a second time to add a plug for stress above the foredeck.  Should I do all that when having a tabernacle mast would have helped me just three three times in six years of sailing?

Plus there is something I like in the simple elegance of the once piece 18 foot tall mast.  I tend towards simple things - simple things for simple minded, you know.  You can ask Bruce about this.  He has, over the years, suggested many changes, alterations and ideas to make the boat more comfortable.  In just about every case I have said "I see your point but no, let's keep in simple."  Bruce smiles and says "well, ok."

Paul sent me the photo above, which reminded me of a thought I had had at Rumbley while struggling with the mast.  At first I mistook his photo for a tabernacle.  But he explained it was a tool to guide the mast through the deck hole.  That reminded me of trying to put the foot of the mast into the deck hole that windy morning and walk it forward.  It did not work, there was not enough space to get the angled foot of the mast into the deck hole.  But I thought that if I had just an inch or two more room it might have worked.  I thought then about extending the deck hole aft a few inches, with maybe a plug/cap to fill the extra space.  That would have done it.

So that is what I'm looking at now.  Elongate the deck hole a few inches, a much simpler cut that the full slot, and make a cap that fits in place.  Paint it white, to match the deck, and most people would not even notice it was there.

I need to think about it for a while more.

This photo is from the end of the first day of the Wet and Windless trip.  I'm showing it here to remind me how much fun sailing can be, even on a trip when it seems to rain all the time. 

I did not go sailing today.  I rethought my plans of a dawn launch when I saw that there was another freeze warning for the night.  Later in the morning, when I had the trailer hooked up, I checked the weather and saw a forecast of 30 knot gusts.  I'm glad I did not go.  The forecasts, by noon, were accurate.  The wind was howling.  


Saturday, November 12, 2011

hard wood, hard frost

I dropped by Yukon Lumber  yesterday afternoon to see what kind of wood was available and get some ideas for my off season work on Spartina.  I just wanted to look and think a little bit, but my friend Alan, who works there and helped me with wood selection and advice on building Spartina, got a hold of me and started asking questions about what I needed to do and why.  Soon I left with a nice thick chunk of African Mahogany.

My plan is to cut a slot in the foredeck so I can raise the mast by putting the foot of the mast in the step and walking it forward into the vertical position.  You can see this kind of slot in the foredeck of the Pathfinder Cavita, above.  Once raised, the bow stay and shrouds keep the mast in the proper position.

As it is now I have to raise the mast into the vertical position and lift it up and over the deck, then lower it down into the mast hole.  This is fairly easy to do, as long as there is not too much wind.  But three times over the last two years I have rigged or unrigged the boat when the wind was blowing in the 15 to 20 knot range.  Raising the mast, with all the halyards attached, and keeping it vertical in that kind of wind is difficult.  At Rumbly last year, when I was launching for my Fall sail on the bay, I had to wait 30 or 40 minutes for a lull in the wind before I could put the mast in place.

Having the slot will allow me to avoid that kind of problem.

While I do like the idea of the slot for raising the mast, I do not like the look of the gap in the foredeck.  The slot on Spartina will be deeper than the one of Cavita, the mast on Spartina's yawl rig is forward of the mast position on Cavita's sloop rig.  In Spartina's case the slot would be over 14 inches deep, leaving the foredeck as looking a little "unfinished."

Plus I have a sentimental attachment to that particular piece of the foredeck - that is where I pinned Dad's photograph on the day we launched Spartina.  He had helped build the mast and some of pieces of the boat, but passed away before it was ready to sail.  I brought along his picture for the first sail.  His photograph was there just for that first sail, but I can still see the small hole left by the pin.  Just seeing that tiny mark reminds me, as much of the boat does, of Dad.  I don't want to get rid of the piece of wood.

What I will do with that piece of foredeck, once it is cut out, is use it as a base to build a cap that can be set in place into place once the mast is raised.  It is the same idea as the cap I put on the centerboard trunk a couple of years ago.  In this case I'll cut the mahogany into strips and those will be the top of the cap, finished bright and matching the nearby coaming.  The cap, I think, will look nice.  Plus Spartina will be easier to rig.

There was a freeze warning for last night.  It is mid-November, the first hard frost of the Fall arrived on schedule this morning.  Yet the forecast is very nice for the weekend - blue skies and and low 60's today, a few clouds and high 60's tomorrow with a nice southwest wind.  I hope to be on the water just a little after dawn.

As the end of my sailing season approaches I'll have to rely on reports from friends like Curt, who just completed a nice cruise down in Florida.  You can read his stories from the trip here.  Sailing the barrier islands of Florida is on my list of things to do.  Thanks, Curt, for posting about the trip.

I will also cope with the coming winter with my daily visit to in Oriental.  Above is there a screen shot of the site from today, a beautiful image of the full moon.

The Spring cruise is looking more and more like a Carolina trip.  Maybe a visit to Cape Lookout (hopefully getting there by sailing "outside" from Beaufort Inlet) and Ocracoke.

Fall will be Chesapeake Bay, the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal and Delaware Bay.  I've talked to Bruce, who is doing some planning for the trip.  We both concluded, separately, that Lewes, Delaware will be the end point for the trip.  Now we have to walk backwards from there, in roughly 30 miles legs, to find the starting point somewhere on Chesapeake Bay.