Saturday, August 31, 2013

yesterday and today

Wind was little more than a wish yesterday.  But I knew that before driving down to the ramp on the Elizabeth River.  Light winds, blue skies and comfortable temperatures.  Hey, it beats doing yard work.

At the ramp I intentionally took my time rigging Spartina, checking the lines and their knots more closely than usual.  I surprised myself when the more deliberate rigging took exactly the same time as the usual rigging.  Backed down the ramp and had Spartina in the glassy calm water by 8 a.m.

I rode what breeze I could, the tide carrying us more than the wind.  Around 10:00 I anchored in Craford Bay, set up the sun shade, which is really designed as a sand mat but works wonderfully as a shade, and drifted off into a peaceful sleep.

By noon there was there was enough of a breeze to keep a course and tacked down the river for a couple of hours, sharing the river with tugs, freighters and barges.  For a day with no wind, I spent more time on the water than I expected.


Late last night I started thinking about the dock on the Pasquotank River in Elizabeth City which I will use for an hour or so as I launch Spartina and park the jeep/trailer before starting the fall sail.   I had looked at the dock a few weeks ago, but for some reason never bothered to check the water depth.  (The dock is not the one in the photograph above, it is about a mile downriver and had no boats tied alongside when I last visited.)  Maybe there was a reason for no boats.  I thought of calling my friend down there and asking her to check, but with an excellent forecast decided we could find out for ourselves. 

On the road a little after 8 a.m., we made the 45 minute, 45 mile drive to Elizabeth City in a light fog.  I launched at the ramp, which is a much better ramp than the one I use in Norfolk.  It was so much nicer it threw me off my routine.  I attempted to motor away from the dock only to find that Spartina would not respond as I pushed the tiller to one side or the other.  Confused and embarrassed while a nice gentlemen held me alongside his boat, I finally concluded the tiller would be more effective if I lowered the rudder blade into the water.  D'oh! 

Out on the river I headed to the dock, tied alongside and with the boat hook found there was nearly four and one-half feet of water all around the dock.  That worry off my mind, I raised sail and rode with wind at five-plus knots towards Albemarle Sound.  It was wonderful.  I had expected to be out an hour or two, I was out almost five hours.  A starboard tack downriver, a port tack back upriver.

I had sailed the Pasquotank routinely in the late 80's in the original Spartina.  Over the years I had forgotten about the wooded shorelines, the dark brown water stained by the tannins in the nearby swamps and the steady wind that always seemed to blow across the river.  I think I will do more day sailing down there this fall, the extra thirty minutes of driving being well worth it.

I hope I will have this same kind of wind when I set off in a few weeks for Cape Lookout.


Thursday, August 29, 2013

summer, going, going....

Just looking at my last few weeks of instagram images and it appears to have been a pretty nice summer.  Sailing, the Outer Banks and good food.  Why is it that I have to look at photographs to remember what happened?

I'm off from work tomorrow with a forecast of a pleasant day on the river. 


train whistle guitar

A book for the fall trip, bought used through Amazon, arrived yesterday.  I had not heard of the book or the author until I read the writer's obituary in the New York Times a few days ago

Train Whistle Guitar is a coming of age story written by Albert Murray.  Murray was born in Escambia County, Alabama and raised in a neighborhood called Magazine Point.  The book follows "Scooter" as he grows up in the fictional Gasoline Point surrounded by blues music and all the other elements of the rich southern culture.

From a reviewer at Amazon....

"The most striking aspect of this book is Murray's style, which is absoloutely a joy to read. The major accomplishment that Murray makes in Train Whistle Guitar is the incorporation of the improvisational rhythms of Jazz and blues into speech. In other words, Murray's narrator and characters talk in riffs, call-and-response patters, in trading-twelve exchanges. His prose is rhythmic forceful and eloquent, swift and swift and not too swift. This work was one of the first to incorporate the aesthetics of Jazz into prose and novel; the result is a profound success."
"This stylistic power is mated to the story of a boy growing up in blues-filled Gasoline Point Alabama. The way jazz music is integrated into both plot and style is impressive; and make no mistake, Murray is quite serious about the role that music plays in his character's upraising and confrontations with life. Brilliant."

Train Whistle Guitar passed the first page test:  I read the first page and did not want to put it down.  But I did put the book down, tucking it away in the light kit where my books and logbooks are kept safe and dry while cruising on Spartina.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

something like this....

On the cockpit sole below the foredeck are the porta-pottie, fuel can, anchor bucket, sentinal anchor.  Above that, bungee'd beneath the foredeck are, from port to starboard, the boom tent, sleeping bag and sleeping mat.  Just aft of those items on the starboard side, between the forward edge of the coaming and frame no. 2, is my bivy.  To the port, between the coaming and frame no. 2, is where the storage battery will live when being charged by the solar panel on the foredeck.

Heading aft beneath the port side deck and coaming are the hypothermia kit in a waterproof duffel, the fender (I carry a big white one that works well as a fender and also as a float on a line when I go swimming), the light kit which holds lights, logbook, pens, and books for reading, the foul weather gear and, farther aft near the outboard well, the boat hook.  Also tucked up underneath the side decks are hand towels.

Going after beneath the starboard side deck and coaming are a large waterproof duffel with clothes, the cook kit (which holds the jetboil, a couple of pots and pans, spices and utensils), then water shoes and hat, charts and the day trash bag (those last three items being tucked behind the six foot oar).

Beneath the foredecks on either side of the cb trunk are four-plus gallons of water, with the tool kit on the port side, the spare anchor on the starboard side.  Beneath the thwarts will be the food and a little extra clothing.

Under the aft cockpit seats are toilet and cleaning supplies and fishing tackle to port, spare lines fittings, flares, and plastic bags to starboard.  Under the tiller in the pelican box will be the solar panel, storage battery and battery chargers.  Beneath that, under the deck plate, will be spare gps, camera and radio, plus the outboard tool kit.  In the day storage will be the vhf radio, binoculars, notebook, sunscreen, skin lotion, pocket knife and a lot of little odds and ends.  And don't forget the am/fm radio, we'll have both nfl games and baseball playoffs going on.

With all the storage space - beneath the deck plates, under the side and foredecks and behind the coamings - the fully loaded Spartina looks something like the above.  All that gear and the boat still feels open and uncluttered.  


Monday, August 26, 2013

the blank slate, the eastern shore

The calendar tells me it is time to get serious about planning and packing for the fall trip.  By a month from now I should be somewhere around the Pamlico River headed for the Neuse River and points south.  I'll start planning tomorrow by filling in the blank layout of Spartina, above.  The packing charts helps me in two ways.  One, it helps me organize the boat.  Two, it gives me a visual checklist as I pack my gear in various containers and storage spaces the week before the trip.

Here is a packing chart from an earlier trip.  I can't tell which trip, but most likely one of early ones.  Gear and layout seem to evolve with each sail.  On this trip I won't be bringing the coleman stove with griddle and burner.  Instead I'll have a jetboil and a pot.  I won't have fresh veggies, eating mostly freeze dried food for dinner.  And I'll have some additional electronics on board, the solar panel and the storage battery.  The overall layout will stay the same, just a few small changes here and there.


I had to run over to the Eastern Shore today for work.  I like being able to say that - the Eastern Shore... work.... had to go.  It was a sun drenched day that started out cool and crisp, then stayed comfortable all day long.  I pulled the top off the jeep and enjoyed the drive across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.

I passed through Onancock and Chincoteague, stopping for a while at the newly renovated Assateague Lighthouse.  Maybe it is the spiral staircase, tiny windows and arched entryways - lighthouse interiors have interesting light.  One hundred and seventy five steps to the workroom, then a few more steps up the light.  Pretty cool.

Before leaving Chincoteague I stopped by the legendary Mr. Whippy for an ice cream cone.  That is a "regular" cone.  I can't imagine what a large would be like.


Saturday, August 24, 2013


Just a hint.



Full sail, single reefed, double reefed, mizzen and jib was the progression on a beautiful blustery day on the backside of a cool front that rolled through last evening.

The oldest daughter was along for the ride, the first of the two daughters to get in town for the crab boil.  Taylor helped build and was part of the original crew of Spartina, sailing in her early high school years along with her sister and I when we talked on the water about classes and books and what the future might hold.

Lunch at at the Pagoda for a pleasant lunch, then headed in early as there is a lot to do  for the evening meal.

Walking back to Spartina I am sometimes surprised she is mine.


Friday, August 23, 2013

unseen, can you spare a "w"?

I bought a new anchor bucket, which you cannot see here.  And that is exactly why I bought the new bucket.  It is black.  The old bucket, which I bought a year or two ago, was white, square and tall.  The shape was perfect, but the white bucket showing up in photographs was distracting.  This new bucket, a rubber one from a farm supply shop, is shorter, does not slide around (because it is rubber) and does not show up in photographs.  What more can I ask for?

Winds were light today but the skies were pretty.  I had, save for a couple of tugs and a barge, the river to myself.  Winds seemed 5 mph or less, sometimes filling in for nice run.

This old power boat was experimenting with being a submersible.  It has been anchored out on Craford Bay for most of the summer, and sank just like this once before.  It was sinking - I suspect sitting partially on the bottom - very near the the location of the sunken sailboat that was hauled out a few weeks ago.

When I spelled the name of the bay without a "w" above it was not a typo.  I've written the name of the bay as Crawford for a long time now, only just recently remembering a local oddity that was told to me twenty-some years ago.  The little bay in on the shores of Portsmouth, which was founded by Colonel Crawford.  The road running along the bay, past the statue of Colonel Crawford, is Crawford Parkway.  The bay itself, and this is confirmed by the charts, is Craford Bay with no "w".  I'll try to remember this in the future.

Still experimenting with the new camera, looking at the tones and details it captures.  I'm happy with the colors above and the detail below.  I found that by shortening up the neck strap and I can wear it around my neck and find it not in the way when I need to use the tiller or adjust the lines.  Sailing and photographing sometimes don't go together.  It is nice to know I'll be able to drop the camera, hopefully with the strap around my neck, and take care of the boat.

Daughters are coming home for the annual crab, clam and corn boil tomorrow evening.  We may well have time and weather to get out for a sail before the cooking begins.

Crabs, no 1 jimmies, from Wickers Crab Pot, and little necks from Uncle Chuck my shellfish guy.  Can't wait.



Short sail today. Need to get in early to pick up crabs, clams and corn for the annual crab boil weekend.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

be it ever so humble

You would think it be so simple.  Just a biscuit.  One made with some mashed sweet potatoes thrown in.  Add fried chicken, pickles, whole grain mustard and honey.  And call it the "Stevie."  How nice.  Wash it down with watermelon lemonade soda made that morning.  Get it at the Handsome Biscuit.  Enjoy.

I know, I know.  Sailing.  Yes, I've been warned. This blog is about sailing.  I'll think about this sandwich when sailing.


crabs compared, a poem

Stuart, of Dabbler Sails, sent an email the other day asking a few questions about the Fuji-X20, the digital rangefinder that I have been using.  As an aside in the email, he mentioned my photograph of blue crabs in a bucket, saying the photograph reminded him of a painting, above, by the southern naturalist painter Walter Inglis Anderson.

I have been an admirer of Anderson's for years, particularly the paintings he made when rowing out to Horn Island just off the coast of Mississippi.  If you want to read an interesting biography, take a look at "Fortune's Favorite Child, The Uneasy Life of Walter Anderson" by Christopher Maurer.  Creative and compulsive, he painted just to paint, seldom signing or dating his work.  There were times when he would paint on rolls of butcher paper, selling the art by the foot.

I confess when I was looking at the photograph of the crabs, a Walter Anderson painting crossed my mind too.  It wasn't the same as the one Stuart mentioned, it was the one below.  But I guess I should not get too carried away with comparing my photographs to Anderson's wonderful work.  

I should and will repeat a poem that I've mentioned on this blog before, one written by Walter Anderson's wife Sissy and included in the biography above.....

green water and the sun
whiteness and brightness
and unbreathed air


Monday, August 19, 2013

peak season

I was once told that on September 10 each year there would be a hurricane somewhere in the Atlantic or Caribbean, that day being the peak for the tropical storm season.  And now I see confirmation courtesy of this graphic from Jeff Masters' blog at weatherunderground.  He used the chart as he explained how unusually quiet the Atlantic is this week.  That's just this week, however, and we've got a ways to go before storm season is over.

Above is the old Sea Gull Motel in Hatteras Village on September 19, 2003 after Hurricane Isabel passed by. That hurricane reached peak strength on September 11, hitting Hatteras a week later.

At one time I had thought that the end of September was the end of hurricane season for our area on the mid-Atlantic.  By then the ocean water temperatures are dropping and fronts of cool dry air start rolling in from the northwest.  I thought that right up until I found myself catching a relief ferry back from Hatteras a day or two before Halloween last year.  Hurricane Sandy changed my opinion on when the season is over.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Damn'd quarter, and other places I have sailed

I never knew, until I came across a reproduction of a 1719 map in a Portsmouth museum, that I had sailed near Damn'd quarter.  It seems that when I sailed the back way through the thorofare behind Deal Island, Damn'd quarter would have been just to starboard.

I've searched the internet - the source of all knowledge - and cannot find a connection between that name and the current Deal Island, but the nearby Dames Quarter Creek might be a link to the long lost name.

I spent a few minutes trying to match places I've visited with names on the chart.  The old map, while maybe not precise, does show a near continuous line of islands separating the Sound from Chesapeake Bay.  There were more islands back then and they were certainly larger, large enough to support towns and plantations.   

The opening that leads through the islands from the Sound to the Bay, now known as Kedges Straits, can be seen marked as Racers Strait.  I do believe, prior to the erosion of the islands, the water wood have raced through there. 

The Hooper Islands, Bloodsworth, South Marsh, Smith and Tangier Islands are not labelled, though they would have been inhabited at the time.  Watts Island is marked, but spelled "Wats"and appears to be a little north of its actual location.  Pocomoke Bay is spelled Pokomoack Bay, and the little village of Saxis is marked Sicoci Island.  Cedar Island, which is separated from the mainland by beautiful Broad Creek, is spelled "Bedar Island."  And Crisfield is marked as Vromeffik.

Back north up near Damn'd quarter, a river and two bays cling to their old names with only changes in spelling.  The Wicomico River was once Wighcocomoco River, and Monie Bay of today was once the Little and Great Manaye Bays.

Looking at the old map was a trip back in time, a trip back a few hundred years and a trip back to some of the wonderful sails I've enjoyed on the Tangier Sound.  Maybe I'll be out there again next Spring.

I am very glad I sailed on Friday.  It rained all day yesterday and today I'm working (can't you tell?)


Saturday, August 17, 2013

blue skies and grey, a sailing debt repaid

A mixture of overcast and blue skies yesterday with a constant NE breeze.  Just a great day to be on the water.  I spent a lot of time taking photographs, trying to better understand the new Fuji X-20 camera.  I'm finding one of the tendencies of the camera is to under expose backlit situations, something easily solved by using the exposure compensation dial. (I'm not including the photo above when I say that.  That photo, to my eye, is just right.)

The clouds broke just as I got on the water, unseasonably cool, dry air giving us a hint of fall.

Late morning one of the SailNauticus came out of the small basin behind Nauticus.  We crossed paths, exchanging greetings before they headed down river.  On board I recognize Daniela, one of the sailing instructors who had taken me out for a sail last June when they were introducing the new sailing school to the public.  At the time she was nervous about taking a passenger out on the boat.  It was not her sailing skills that were in question - she captained a 65 foot sailboat in her native Germany - but she was new to Harbor 20 having sailed it only once or twice.  I told her I had a sailboat and could help with the lines.  That sail on the Harbor 20 went just fine.

A couple hours later, as the SailNauticus boat headed back in, we sailed side by side.  I reminded Daniela that on our June sail I had told her that I would repay her with a sail on Spartina, inviting them to join me for a little while.  Once the Harbor 20 was tied to the dock, all three - left to right in the photo below, Peter, Daniela and Liz - hopped on board.  

Having sailed fiberglass sloops all summer, Daniela seemed delighted to be on the wooden yawl.  As I raised the sails she announced that she would take the tiller and handle the sailing.  Just fine with me as I sat up forward and relaxed.  It was a nice little sail, with a steady breeze and talk of small boats and the beautiful river.

Daniela, Peter and Liz, thanks for joining me for awhile.  Having company on board made a good day on the water even better.