Tuesday, July 30, 2013

from Curt....

My artist friend Curt, who sails a Drascombe Longboat by the name of Annie, surprised me today with a sketch he had drawn of Spartina on the Elizabeth River last fall.  I did know of one sketch he had made, which he gave to me and is now framed and in our living room.  You can see some of his other artwork here.  

I did not know about this other one.  My wife put it best when she said Curt took the very industrial, military area where I day sail and turned it into something beautiful.  The son of a Navy family, I have always found the ships and shipyards beautiful - but I had no way of communicating that beauty.  Curt found a way.

Thank you, Curt.


Monday, July 29, 2013

my mid-life crisis

I guess I'm the only one out there that still wishes I were in my 20's or even 30's.  Is that right?  Just me?  Maybe that's why I just bought a Fujifilm X20 camera, above.  I think the camera designers at Fuji knew exactly what they were doing when they came up with a camera that looks painfully similar to the classic Leica M3, below, the camera that I used in the 1980s.  I would like to think that I took some nice photographs, all shot with Tri-X, hand processed and printed, with that rangefinder camera.  In fact there is a folio upstairs in a drawer where I could see some of those photographs.  But I won't look at it tonight, preferring to keep the idea of those "nice" photographs intact.

Buying the X20 was not a rash decision.  I've been looking at the camera for about a year, reading reviews and looking at sample images on the internet.  I wanted a digital camera that was small, well built and with a fair amount of manual control.  After a lot of thought and research, I concluded this was the camera for me.  

I do like the advanced optical viewfinder with real-time data display, and I like the ability to turn off the battery-eating lcd display on the back of the camera.  The lens is the 35 mm equivalent of a 28 to 110 mm lens, which covers about 90+% of what I want to shoot.  There are some nice macro shooting features, and the ability to shoot in full manual mode.

I've been shooting with the camera for about four days now, experimenting here and there.   I've made a few adjustments, turning off the lcd, increasing the sharpness, and increasing the contrast in the shadow areas - all of which were easily done on the menu.  

And I have shot a lot of images of isolated light, because somebody once told me that photography is nothing more that recording light and shadow.  And this camera seems to do that pretty well.

Am I recommending this camera?  Not at all.  Rangefinder cameras are a distinctly different kind of camera.  I like them, alway have.  But even when I was shooting the Leica M3 in the 80s I was the exception - SLR cameras were then, and are now, the norm.  But the rangefinder works for me.  

What gets the negative review on the X20?  Battery life.  But that is the same with all digital cameras.  I just have to deal with it.  Turning off the LCD and a lot of other features - face recognition - will help with that.  But I'll deal with the battery issues as long as I can shoot night shots as 400 iso and a long exposure - kind of like I used to shoot with my old Leica M3.  

Those were the days.....


on Botetourt Street....

Saturday, July 27, 2013

new blocks, new camera, light winds

A very nice, light wind sail today.  It was a chance to use the new blocks on the mainsheet.  The old rig had a 3:1 purchase with a combination of a Ronstan fiddle block and a single harken block.  The new sails from Dabbler have quite a bit more power and I found myself struggling as I sheeted in the main on breezy days.  Spartina now has a 4:1 purchase on the mainsheet with harken 40 mm Carbo Air blocks, a fiddle with a becket and two single blocks.  These seem to be very efficient, smooth blocks with ball bearings.  I think the mainsheet rigging will work well, but the light winds today were not a good test.

I also tried out the new camera, with which these photographs were taken.  A summer day with haze and flat light, it was not the best day to try out a new camera, but I did begin to get a feel for it.  Like new sails, new rigging, it will take awhile to figure out how it all works.

The koi was not in the Elizabeth River.  It was in a pond at the pagoda in Norfolk where I sometimes tie up.


Friday, July 26, 2013

owner's manual

Yesterday was Christmas in July for me as I picked up my new Honda 2.3 4-stroke outboard AND then came home to find that my new camera, a Fujifilm X20, had arrived.  

I've been doing some work on the side (though some people - and I'm talking about you Bill - say I don't really work) and earned enough money to buy the outboard and camera, both of which I've been researching for the last year or so.

I have two books to read this weekend, each titled "Owner's Manual."  With a busy work schedule, the outboard will probably stay in the box for a few days or maybe even a week.  The camera, though, nearly made me late this morning as I was having fun taking a few photographs.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013


I just found this photograph, which I shot a few days before my trip to San Diego and then forgot.  The morning's fog was clearing as the sun glanced off a downtown building.

It was shot in color and converted to black and white in Photoshop.  I tried using a program called FilmPack 4, which I had downloaded in a 30 day free trial form.  FilmPack, which can emulate dozens of both color and black and white films, is interesting and I will experiment with it more.  But I was able to accomplish what I wanted with photoshop.

There is no fog these days, only heat humidity and afternoon thunderstoms.


Monday, July 22, 2013

the old men and the sea

Saturday afternoon I set sail with Kevin, below, and his marina neighbor, Webb.  It was a treat.  Amongst the three of us, there were no spring chickens on board.


Kevin navigated us down the channel from Quivira Basin to the ocean, then turned the tiller over to me.  This was presented to me as an opportunity to sail a boat larger than Spartina, but really I think Kevin wanted to relax and visit with Webb while I did the work.  They chatted, I tried to figure out how to sail a sloop with sails many times larger than those on my yawl.  We sailed a couple of miles out, then back in.  Coming into the channel we found ourselves racing a boat flying a spinnaker.  Somehow we held our ground, maybe even won the race (but I'm not sure the other boat realized they were in a race).  All credit was given deservedly to the helmsman (me) . 

I had met Kevin last January when I visited Webb's sailboat Gannet.  Webb could not make it to the coast at the time, but he had told Kevin I might be dropping by.  Kevin was a gracious host, welcoming me to the marina and offering a sail should I have time.  Then I did not have time, this past week I did.  Webb joined us for the afternoon sail, it being a rarity for Webb to sail on another boat.  Webb told me he has certain standards for people he sails with, standards he (thankfully) relaxed in this instance. 

At the dock it was a pleasant evening.  Webb invited us aboard Gannet as the overcast sky broke and the sun came through.  A glass of warm white wine (there being no refrigeration), a sip of Laphroaig - I can imagine no better way to end a trip to San Diego.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

nowhere fast

T'storms between Baltimore and Norfolk, spending more time in Charm City than I had planned.

the friendly skies

The Southwest crew in San Diego has always been friendly, though I did not expect them to be so delighted to pose for a photograph.  The occasion was an event called Comic-Con at the SD convention center.  Not my cup of tea, but I'm glad a lot of folks had an enjoyable weekend.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

the missing mast

Gannet is still without mast.  It appears that she may have a mast in place by tomorrow, but much of the associated rigging - stays, chainplates - will take a few more days of work.  Sailing might not be a part of this trip to California.

The breeze is excellent, the sunshine brilliant.  And the trip has been very enjoyable.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

a couple of sailors

A couple of sailors not sailing.  My boat is on the other coast, Webb's is missing its mast.  But that did not prevent and enjoyable afternoon on Gannet.  
Twenty years ago we were both in the same room and never met.  What is more amazing is that neither of us has aged since then.


72, sunny


"I left my home in Norfolk Virginia, 
California on my mind. 
Straddled that greyhound, 
rode him past Raleigh, Caroline."

-Chuck Berry's "Promised Land"

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Great Bridge

Heading south on the ICW in fall, or north in the spring, you will pass through here.  To the locals, it is asphalt, exhaust fumes, parking lots in front of old out-of-date grocery stores and a bridge where you get hung up on the hour.  To folks on the boats, it's a pretty cool place - calm water, great marina, a place to sit under the shade of live oak trees, excellent food and a nice spot to chill.  Funny how things have a different look for the water.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

outboard info, corrected

Thanks to Jay, who sails the Pathfinder Guvnor, I know now that I was incorrect when I said my Nissan 3.5 outboard was a long shaft model.  It is not.  For a decade I believed it was, basing my information on my belief that I had ordered a long shaft and the fact the the distance from the bottom of the powerhead to the center of the prop was roughly 20 inches.

Jay sent me a link and notes about his outboard, which is similar to mine.  His information, plus my owner's manual (I can't believe I found an owner's manual from that long ago) shows that the nissan is in fact the standard (short) version.  Thanks very much, Jay, for correcting me.

This is great timing on the correction.  I was just about to order a Honda 2.3 four-stroke long shaft.  Now I know I should order the standard version, which you can see above.

And just remember, don't believe everything you read on the internet.


Friday, July 12, 2013


It was my friend Paul, aka DanceswithSandyBottom, who pointed out the flags on the tall ships are bigger than Spartina.  A lot bigger, as you can see from this photo from the 2011 Downrigging Weekend.

That apparently doesn't matter to the Sultana Project.  They have invited me back for this year's Downrigging Weekend, giving Spartina a very nice slip on the Canon Street pier next to the dinghy dock and not too far from the Smith Island Crab Skiffs.  It is a prime slip if you ask me, close to the Fish Whistle restaurant and easy walking distance to the entertainment stage.

There is a lot of sailing to be done between now and then, but I'll be looking forward to the first weekend in November with the tall ships in Chestertown.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

the long and the short of it

UPDATE: I am leaving this post below intact, but need to point that I was incorrect about the shaft length on the outboard.  I have a standard (short) shaft model.  A correction can be found here.


Please excuse the technically poor photograph.  I use direct flash about once every two or three years, and then only if it can't be avoided.

This is some visual information for Seth, who is building a Pathfinder.  We were discussing in a recent post the shaft length for the outboard.  Seth tells me the plans call for a short - 15" - shaft, and I seem to remember reading that in the Pathfinder plans.  I have always used a long shaft - 20" - because that is what I had from my last sailboat and it seemed to work fine on Spartina.

Tonight I measured and marked the position of the prop.  You can see the top of the blade at the five inch mark on the measuring tape.  Going up five inches from there, to the very top of the tape, it seems that on Spartina the upper portion of the short shaft prop would be to some extent blocked by the hull.  I'm sure the short shaft would work, but I have to wonder if it would lose some efficiency in the "dead" water of the outboard well.

I'm not saying that the long shaft is the way to go, though it does work for me on Spartina.  What I am saying is that it is worth getting some specs from the outboard manufacturer and doing some measurements before placing an order.  Small four-stroke outboards run $900 to $1200, might as well get the right one for the boat.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

sailboats, floating and otherwise

A little more information about the boats on the water this past Sunday.  BayDog, also known as Dave, tells me the red hull is a San Juan 21, a very fast boat.  The owner, whose name I do not know, did tell me a little about the boat's new outboard.  It is a propane powered Lehr four stroke.  He says they use small propane canisters which last about an hour and a half running time.  He was clearly a big fan of the outboard and his enthusiasm had me interested too.  I started doing a comparison on cost, fuel capacity, etc, but when I checked their website I could only find a 2.5 hp with a short shaft.  Spartina requires a long shaft.  So I think my next outboard, hopefully before the summer is out, will be a Honda 2.3 four stroke, with a long shaft.

And below is Rich's Sea Sprite, an Alberg design with a full keel.  It's a beautiful boat.  They tie up at the marina on the Portsmouth waterfront - I expect I'll be seeing more of them this summer.

And below is one more boat from, quite literally, the river.  This boat had been anchored in Craford Bay for the last several years.  I may have seen some people row out to her in a canoe a few seasons ago, but I may be confusing her with another boat.  In any case, she was a derelict.  During one of the storms this past winter, maybe Sandy, she went submersible.  Someone had marked her with an orange buoy, but she was still a hazard in the bay.  I was happy to see her being hauled away to the refuse pile.


Monday, July 8, 2013

a lap around the lighthouse

The forecast was pleasingly accurate yesterday: sunny, highs in the mid-80's and a steady wind out of the wsw.  A perfect day to sail a lap around the lighthouse.

Rigged and launched before 7 a.m., we raised full sail off Waterside Marina.  A quick pass through Crawford Bay and then headed down the Elizabeth River on a beam reach.  This was easy sailing, making 5 to 6 knots in the steady breeze.

I tried out my new REI hat, one that I first saw a scientist wearing a couple of weeks ago on a visit to Paradise Creek.  I've tried broad brim hats over the years without much success.  Either they are too stiff to fold up and stuff away, or they are so flimsy that the brim blows back in a breeze and they lose all usefulness.  This one seemed just right.  (And don't I look great?)

It wasn't even 10 a.m. and I was rounding the corner at Craney Island with Middle Ground Lighthouse in sight.  The wind was coming straight down the river so I rounded up and tucked in a reef.  The photograph at the top of this post is sailing at six knots up the James with a reefed main.  It has been awhile since I had spray coming over the bow.  It felt good.

I rounded the lighthouse, which is now privately owned.  That has got to be pretty nice - owning your own lighthouse.  

Then it was a great run back down the James and into the Elizabeth River, dodging some tugs and container ships along the way.  I am finally "learning" the new sails.  They are certainly more powerful than my last set of sails, much more responsive to the wind.  I still have some learning to do.

I tucked in behind the coal pier as the container ship below passed by.  They have to make a hard right turn into the APM terminal, so I gave them plenty of room.

Back down to Norfolk I was very pleased to share the river with some smaller boats.  These two boats, plus a couple of sunfish were out enjoying the day.

I had my gps tracking the day's sail.  Back in at the ramp it showed I sailed 25 nautical miles at an average speed of a little over 4 knots.  Sunshine, wind, great sailing and small boats.  Does it get any better than that?