Wednesday, January 30, 2013

cleats, spring

From port to starboard are the cleats for the topping lift, jib halyard, main throat halyard and main peak halyard.  These are the old cleats for the dock lines, which were really too small to handle dock lines and were originally meant for halyards in the first place (until I ran out of money for proper deck cleats).  They should be just right for the halyards.  I will think about their positioning for a few days before fastening into place.

I had to search for the photograph below to remember how I positioned the smaller cleats, the image reminding me that I had the halyards coming on the inboard side of each cleat.

I smile when I see the shiny hardware and bright white lines.  This was taken on the day Spartina was first launched in 2006.  The lines, even with off-season washing, are no longer white and the hardware will never be that shiny again.

My friend Jim, who is building a navigator, showed me how to coil the lines and hang them from the cleats, a nice neat trick to keep things in order.  The horns on the smaller cleats, the ones in the photo above, were too small and after bouncing around on the chop the coils often slipped off the cleats and fell into a small mess on the bunk flat below.  The larger cleats should hold the coils better.  

The new cleats for the dock lines, which you can see here, are burnished bronze.  From the price I paid I would have thought they were made of gold.

Signs of the coming spring: temperatures in the 70's today, warm enough for a fifth winter coat of varnish; buds on the trees; an email from Stuart at Dabbler Sails telling my the new sails are finished.  

The temperature will drop back down to the 30's and 40's in a day or so, the buds will not blossom for weeks.  

I should have the new sails in hand in a few days.


Monday, January 28, 2013

the map in the table

There is a simple map of coastal Carolina on each of the tables in the lounge of our ferry. I read for a while, walk around the empty green cushioned chairs, step outside to search the dark horizon for lights. I see only a green navigation light forward on the port side.

I come back inside, look at the map on the table and use my finger to trace the path of my sailing plan for this fall from Elizabeth City to Cape Lookout and back. Outside on the upper deck I still see the green marker. Then I see the red lights of towers to the north. A dark shape on the horizon, darker than the rest of the night sky, is Bluff Point, which I have sailed by a few times. Swan Quarter glows in the distance.


night passage

Two and one half hours across Pamlico Sound in the darkness on board the ferry "Silver Lake."

before dawn

Sunday, January 27, 2013


ice, sand

A small tree out in the marsh alongside the channel at the Swan Quarter ferry docks, still coated with ice from a storm friday evening.

Windswept sand at the north end of Ocracoke Island.

It's very quiet and peaceful on the island today.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

thanks, Chuck!

Pasta.  Steamed Taylor Bay Scallops.  Ragout of artichoke and cremini mushrooms cooked down in white wine, butter and garlic.  Arctic Char, which is really not fish but a crimson candy, with pepper and parmesan cheese.

Great dinner.  Thanks, Chuck.


it was supposed to be a simple meal

Pasta, Taylor Bay Scallops and a wine/butter/garlic sauce.  Simple enough, right?

And then my shellfish guy, Uncle Chuck, throws in a fresh filet of Arctic Char from Iceland - looks to me like something between a big trout and a nice salmon, with bright crimson - because he says he wants me to do him a favor and try it.  (This is how he gets me hooked on something new.)

So now it is scallops and roasted arctic char with black pepper and lime juice, pasta, wine/butter/garlic sauce.


Friday, January 25, 2013

channels - shoaled, shallow and shark filled


I'm heading to Ocracoke for a couple of days.  The island, appreciated by many - including me - for its isolation, is even more isolated these days.  For nearly two months, from late October's Hurricane Sandy until almost Christmas, one of the main routes to the island was impassable.  That was the route down Hatteras Island on NC 12, which was severely damaged by Sandy, to Hatteras Village and then by ferry across Hatteras Inlet to the north end of Ocracoke.  Now the road is repaired, but the ferry channel across Hatteras Inlet has shoaled to the point that the Hatteras to Ocracoke ferry has shut down.  The only way to get to the island now, other than by a small airplane, is by making a three hour drive to the mainland village of Swan Quarter and then taking the two and one-half hour ferry ride across Pamlico Sound.

This is more isolation than the island wants or needs.  



My friend Barry, builder of melonseeds skiffs, tells me about a very nice website from the state of Virginia about paddling trails behind the barrier islands of the eastern shore.  Barry and some of his friends are looking at a sailing adventure in that area late spring or early summer.  He points out that while the site is meant for kayakers, it has a lot of detailed information that might be useful to sailors.

Bruce and I will be sailing down the eastern shore this coming May as we wrap up our Delmarva circumnavigation.  We plan to sail outside - weather permitting - of the barrier islands most of the way down to the tip of the eastern shore.  But if the weather does not cooperate we will go inside.  This website is the perfect place to research that inside trip.  With a clickable map it allows the viewer to bring up detailed information and satellite photos of channels - mostly shallow and narrow channels - through the marshes and oyster reefs behind the barrier islands.  Thanks Barry for the link.  

shark filled.........

Mary Lee, a 16 foot great white shark, is about 25 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach this morning.  She has been there for a couple of days now.  Like me she is a fan of Ocracoke, visiting the island just a couple of days ago.  Not only was svelte 3,456 pound shark off the coast of Ocracoke, she entered  Ocracoke Inlet, visiting Pamlico Sound and swimming up the channel that leads into Silver Lake, the island's harbor.  The is the same channel where my daughter's and I have sailed on summer vacations, just around the corner from where we would anchor Spartina out in the evenings to swim in the warm shallow water.  I guess you never know how close you are to being just another episode of Shark Week.

You can read about Mary Lee, and several other great whites, at the Ocean Global Shark Tracker, a fascinating website that is worth visiting.  I wish I could show you some screen shots of their tracking maps but the website's copyright warning is about as vicious as a shark bite.  You will have to explore it on your own.  Mary Lee is the orange dot off the mid-Atlantic, Genie is the green dot to the south.  There are several great white tagged off the coast of South Africa.  Look at the tracks (under Tracking Activity draw down to "past two years" then click update) for all of those great whites and you will have second thoughts about swimming off the beaches of South Africa.


Thursday, January 24, 2013


I'm not the only one who connected with John Barber's painting "Island Memories."

My daughter Grace, upon seeing the painting, sent me this photograph from the Norfolk waterfront showing fireworks and the lights on the rigging of the OpSail tall ships from last June.

Grace, who had a hand in building Spartina and is a regular on board, has spent her fair share of time on the Elizabeth River.  She made the fireworks photograph, if I recall correctly, while making money hand over fist at a yogurt stand at Town Point Park on the waterfront.

You go Girl!

steve (aka Dad)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

tidewater, unvisited

Here is the latest work from the easal of marine artist John Barber.  It is called "Island Memories" and shows a fireworks display viewed from Gwynn's Island at the mouth of the Piankatank River.  It is a very nice setting with Callis Wharf, which exists today, and a classic deadrise workboat.  

The painting reminded me of two things.  The first was watching the fireworks from Spartina on the Chester River during the cold, wet and windy Chestertown Downrigging Weekend in 2011.  That was an interesting and challenging weekend that you can read about here.  (The Downrigging Weekend has been battered by weather two years in a row, the unusual winter-like storm in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012.  Here's hoping for better weather this year for that great gathering of boats small and large.)

The other thing the painting brought to mind is that I have failed to explore Tidewater Virginia.  All of my Chesapeake Bay sailing, save for a one day trip across the bay to the Magothy River, has been on the eastern shore.

From the James River entrance north on the bay are countless rivers, creeks, islands and wharfs.  I've had more that one friend suggest that I visit that area.  And I really should.

Gwynns's Island, the beautiful Piankatank River (which I've seen only from a bridge), the Rappahonnock River with the old oystering town of Urbanna, the Great Wicomico River and Reedville - those are just a few of places I need to get on a cruising schedule.  And even farther north of that is the Potomac River and Solomons Island on the Patuxent River.

The schedule is full this year between rounding the eastern shore and a long solo sail on the sounds of North Carolina.  But what about year after?  Maybe a mid-Chesapeake Bay loop, starting on the eastern shore, jumping over to the western shore, heading north or south along the Tidewater shore, and then back again.  It's something to think about.


Monday, January 21, 2013

one pot meals

It's time to start picking up food supplies for the spring trip.  Somehow it fits into my budget easier if I just toss an item or two extra in the shopping cart each weekend.  Buy April we'll have plenty of food for the May trip on the Eastern Shore.

I've been noticing more and more of these pre-cooked meals, or side dish at least, on the store shelves.  Bruce and I started using some of these, like the tortilla stuffers, above left, and Madras Lentils, on our last few trips.  Some of these make great stand alone meals, and some make a fine dinner when meat - it could be a foil packet of spam or freshly caught fish - or veggies - chopped onions or potatoes - are added.

There are a lot of things I like about these pouches.  They are inexpensive, easy to store, the plastic pouch takes up little space in the trash bag once the meal is consumed and, most importantly to me, they are very quick to prepare.  Often times it involves bringing a half cup of water or less to a boil, adding the contents of the packet and letting it steam for a couple of minutes.

I'm particularly impressed with the ready to heat rice and grains from Seeds of Change which I just found this morning.  That is their Caribbean Style Rice, above.  How about that with some fresh caught trout?

I'll experiment over the next several weeks with these meals, trying different combinations and seeing what works best.  By May we should have a pretty nice menu for the trip.  I mean chicken and quinoa with poblano chilies - what's not to like about that?

In the fall, when I plan on making a two week solo trip, these pouch meals will certainly be on board.  Between these - and I'm showing just a few meals here, there are several variations at the story - fresh veggies, instant mash potatoes, cous cous and whatever else I can find, I should do alright.  When solo sailing I find I'm pretty beat at the end of the day.  The idea of a one pot meal, cooked on the JetBoil GCS, with just a single pot to wash, sounds very appealing.


Sunday, January 20, 2013

another winter coat

A surprise high of 63 degrees today, warmer than expected and a perfect day for another layer of varnish, the fourth.  I hooked the trailer to the jeep and pulled Spartina out of the garage to get the full effect of the warm sunshine.

While the outside of the hull is looking better, the inside is still a mess.  Tools, sandpaper, dust and just about everything else.

Six weeks until the start of sailing season.  Six weeks to do three more coats of varnish, touch up the white deck and top plank, touch up the sea green of the hull, wire the new trailer lights, repack the trailer wheel bearings and load the gear back on the boat.  Sounds reasonable to me.


sails on the horizon?

A note from Stuart of Dabbler Sails made me wonder if the new set of sails for Spartina are not too far off.

The note was a questions about sail bags, below, but had an attachment for Seth about lacing his sails onto the mast.  I read the email twice before I noticed the phrase "that's your sail", which was addressed to Seth.  If that is Seth's main, could mine also be in the making?

I will not be lacing my sails on the masts, using instead robands, simply short piece of line, to fasten the main and mizzen.

Stuart gave us each the option on sail bags, either the long version at left above, slightly longer than the foot of the main so the sails can be flaked at stored without having a vertical crease, or the more traditional short bag which would require folding the sails.  I went with the longer version.

Sunny and a varnishing temperature (above 50) today so I should get the fourth coat on the rubrails, boomkin and tiller.


Thursday, January 17, 2013


return to normal

There is a pleasant south wind over San Diego Bay as I sit on a bench at the east end of Shelter Island this morning.  The temperature will be in the 60's or 70's today, much more normal than the last few cold days.

Normal weather has also returned to the east coast.  Cold and snow.  I will be back there by tomorrow night, thinking about four coats of varnish, deck hardware and a new set of sails.


Monday, January 14, 2013

portrait of an absent sailor

We should have gone sailing today.  Still a bit chilly today but with a steady north breeze and bright blue skies.  But the sailor, Webb Chiles, is caught in the midwest.  And Gannet, the boat he plans to sail around the world, is tied to the dock in Quivera Basin.  I asked Webb if I could visit the boat and he said yes, in fact he would appreciate having me check on her.  He later he told me I was welcome to visit Gannet as often as I like, giving me the combination to the lock so I could have a look inside.  

A close look at a boat is very much a close look at the sailor.  When Webb tucked the gear away and locked up the cabin weeks ago he could have only expected that he would be the next person on board.  But by chance, and Webb's hospitality, it was I.  Climbing below on Gannet felt like stepping into someone's life.

The cabin on Gannet felt comfortable and lived in.  No standing headroom at all, barely sitting room I expect for Webb, who is tall.  He had told me to watch my head, but at my height it was not a problem.  A couple of baseball hats were tucked in a stowage area along with some fittings, a pair of deck shoes below.  Up forward on the vee berth was a duffel bag with freeze dried meals, a stuff sac with sleeping bag and a box of cabernet sauvignon.  Batteries for the electric torqeedo outboard, charged off of solar panels of the deck, told of Webb living off the grid now in San Diego and - one day - on the ocean.  Large bags, maybe containing sails and Webb's inflatable raft, were tucked aft.  

Mounted on the bulkhead were a new compass and an ambient weather station that showed a temperature warmer than in felt in breeze on deck.  Hanging from a plastic pipe along the port side were pieces of lines - white, blue, yellow, red and black.  Wedged beneath the berths were plastic bags, one with whipping line, another with electrical fuses and electrical tape.  Small plastic tubs held batteries, jars held more pieces of hardware.  A yellow waterproof notebook was visible in a small compartment.  I wondered what observations would be written down in the notebook, and from where.  

There was a casual organization to it all - new, used and well worn pieces of a sailor's life, tucked away with everything in its place.

It was not my place to explore too much.  I looked around at the gear, recognized much of it from Webb's journal and photographs.  I did not peek inside the wooden box with the key on a string, though I expect I would have found a decades old sextant inside.  I did look into the galley duffel to find the crystal glasses that Webb told me he kept in there.  Webb said if I was there at the appropriate time that I should have a sip of Laphroaig from a crystal glass.  The appropriate time is sunset and I was there in the early afternoon, the Laphroaig will have to wait.

Sitting aboard Gannet I had to marvel at the whimsy of life.  Over thirty years earlier I was a high school student working in a dive shop a few miles from Quivera Basin, sometimes sailing my Dad's small boat on Mission Bay.  Webb was sailing his open cockpit yawl Chidiock Tichborne nearby, readying to cross oceans.  Twenty years ago we were both in the same room, but never met.  These days I am sailing an open cockpit yawl, much like Webb's Chidiock Tichborne, and Webb is again preparing once again to cross oceans.

And there I was sitting aboard Gannet.  The only thing missing was Webb, the sailor.


the embarcadero

It is in the mid-30's for the morning walk.  And I'm wishing I had brought something better than a cell phone for a camera.


Friday, January 11, 2013

look up, look down - a winter day's walk

Winter.  My least favorite season.  But at times I think it is the most interesting season.


twenty years and counting

Twenty years ago, give or take a matter of days, I sat in the back of a ballroom in a Norfolk waterfront hotel and listened as Webb Chiles gave a talk about his life, his boats and his circumnavigations.  He concluded the talk by saying he would raise a glass to us all, to our dreams and to the passion to pursue them.  I did not meet Webb in person that evening, but I have carried that toast with me during all of my sailing.

A few years ago, because of this blog, I received an email from Webb.  Since then we have carried on an occasional email conversation, a rambling discussion about boats, sailing, art, books and just about everything else.

This coming week our schedules aligned, each of us planning to be in San Diego - Webb to sail his boat "Gannet" and myself to visit my Mom.  Webb and I talked about getting together, meeting in person for the first time, maybe even going for a sail.

And then, for reasons beyond his control, Webb had to cancel his trip.

We won't meet this coming week, but someday I do hope we cross paths.

Twenty years and counting.