Friday, November 29, 2013


Liz was worried that she had singed the crostata.  
I said no, it's rustic, the way it should be.  
And it's gonna be good.


one hundred and one years ago

    "Friday, November 29th.  Comes clear as a bell and mighty cold. Henry showed mighty little enthusiasm about bailing launch.  Boat pretty well iced up, and 100 yds. up creek was my good old enemy, new ice.  Away by nine with dead calm and launch tucked astern.  The sun got up and such a change.  Off mitties and mufflers, coats and even jackets......Out of the North River and out into Albemarle Sound so dazzling bright in that southern sun."

It was colder on this date in 1912 when Nenry M. Plummer and his son Henry Jr. left the North River, at the southern end of the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal which passes near my home, and entered the Albemarle Sound.  We have no ice today, only a hard frost which is burning off with the rising sun.

There is the possibility of sailing this weekend.  Yesterday the forecast showed temperatures in the low 50's, light winds and sunshine for Sunday.  Now it shows a chance of rain in the early morning and then clouds.  I will wait and see, but it there is a chance for a sail I will take it.  Almost no wind in the forecast, but anchoring out with some sun, a sandwich and the nfl on the radio sounds like a nice way to begin the last month of the year.

Three days before entering Albemarle Sound in the book "The Boy, Me and The Cat, Cruise of The Mascot," Plummer entered the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal, which he described as launching the boat and crew "into Dixie waters."  I have read the book, republished by the Catboat Association, many times, but never noticed the use of the canal as a demarcation line between the north and "dixie."  I like that.

The book is the story of father and son sailing a cat boat from Marion, Massachusetts and back in 1912-13.  After completing the journey, Plummer wrote, illustrated, mimeographed and stitched together with fishing line 700 copies of the book, which were sold at a subscription price of $1.00.  It is available through the Catboat Association for a little bit more than that.  The book is well worth reading.

Because of work schedules, both mine and the oldest daughter's, we are celebrating the holiday today.  Willie Bird smoked turkey, scalloped potatoes, blistered green beans and sausage/artichoke/homemade crouton/parmesan dressing.  All of that will be followed by an apple crostata with crystallized ginger, which is being assembled in the kitchen by the wife as I type.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

bemused, bothered and at most slightly pleased

The title of this post is how the New York Times describes street photographer Saul Leiter's reaction to the attention his photographs received late in his life.  I had never heard of Mr. Leiter until I read his obituary in the Times yesterday.  That I, along with most of the general public, was unaware of Leiter and his work, would have suited him just fine. 

The Times groups Leiter with well known New York photographers Weegee, Richard Avedon and Diane Arbus, and he does certainly belongs there.  But he never sought nor received attention for his work.  He was content to show slides of his work, much of it shot on out of date Kodachrome film, to friends in his apartment.  An invitation to submit photographs for The Family of Man, an ambitious attempt to explore the human condition through photographs, was declined.

Leiter made his living as a fashion photographer, but his life and passion were these moments captured on the streets.  The photographs, with subtle and delicate colors, are richly composed, layered images that strike me as being anonymous and yet very personal.  

The Times story contains a link to an interview Leiter did for Photographers Speak.  I will include a few of my favorite comments from the interview below.  It is well worth reading the entire interview.

"I never felt the need to do what everyone else did. And I wasn’t troubled by the fact that other people were doing other things."

"It’s quite possible that my work represents a search for beauty in the most prosaic and ordinary places. One doesn’t have to be in some faraway dreamland in order to find beauty. I realize that the search for beauty is not highly popular these days. Agony, misery and wretchedness, now these are worth perusing." 

"I didn’t photograph people as an example of New York urban something or other. I don’t have a philosophy. I have a camera. I look into the camera and take pictures."

I admire Leiter not just for his images, but for being an artist whose life and art are indistinguishable from each other.  Walking the streets with a camera in hand was just as crucial to living as was breathing.  He had to record these images, not for the money and not for the fame, but simply to satisfy his own need to create.  And that sort of compulsion creates the most beautiful art.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

heads up

Over in Newport News today I dropped by the Mariner's Museum for a new display I had heard about called "A Head of its Time."  Yeah, I know, sounds strange.  But you never know.  So I followed the young woman as she led me through the dark winding hallway between the Monitor (as in USS Monitor) Center and the original Mariner's Museum.  As we rounded a corner she motioned to her right, said "It's right through the door, I'll stay outside and wait."  I come around the corner to see two doors, one labeled "men" and the other "women."  "So where's the display?" I asked, more than a little baffled.  "In the men's room" was the reply, "just look in the stalls, you'll see it."  She was not kidding.  The "exhibit" was made up of the little cartoons you see posted above.  Not what I had expected, but then again, what should I have expected?  

Rain is tapping the window as I sit at the kitchen table.  Heavy rains through tomorrow night, clearing and then a forecast high of 51 degrees for the next week.  I think my sailing season is over.  No complaints, it has been a good year on the water.

I've started sorting through my notes, logs, photos and gps tracks from the fall trip, which I have not looked at for six or seven weeks.  I remember the bumpy water of Albemarle Sound, the rain and fog of the Alligator River, a stiff north wind down the Pungo River, a nice trout on Cedar Creek and sailing off the white beach of Shackleford Banks on our way to Cape Lookout Bight.  I'll enjoy digging back into my notes, remembering the wind and water, sights and sounds of a sail through the inner banks.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Spartina on facebook

No, there isn't a Spartina facebook page, and there won't be one anytime soon.  

But with a little searching I did find Sultana's facebook page, which included several nice galleries from the Downingrigging weekend - one of which showed this nice photo of Spartina.  Not sure who the photographer was, but thanks very much.

Don't those Dabbler sails look nice??


Saturday, November 23, 2013


It is cool and grey today with a steady north wind.  Tomorrow the temperature may not reach 40, the wind will cut to the bone.  But yesterday....yesterday was perfect.

Sunrise melted the light frost and temperatures quickly climbed.  At the ramp I took my time rigging, enjoying the simple knots and crisp sails as I set mizzen and main in place.  A medium high tide made for an easy launch, then under power downriver raising the mizzen as we went.  A chill, the only coolness of the day, came and went as a cloud passed overhead.  Then clear skies.

The breeze was steady out of the southwest and, after visiting the barges and cruisers in Craford Bay, we headed down Town Point Reach to the coal piers.   I could tell by the waterlines, one collier half loaded and the other almost empty.  The coast guard base across the river seemed quiet.  A few barges on the move, a couple of tugs.  There was a siren from a passing state marine police boat, with a friendly wave from the officer on board.  Southbound cruisers angled in our direction, compliments exchanged and delight in the weather shouted over the water.    

It was sailing at its best, tacking in the breeze with nothing to do but enjoy the late fall day.  I tried hard but failed to recall any better weather for sailing this year.

Late morning the gusts arrived, gust predicted only by SailFlow and none of my other weather sources. The gusts were warm dry winds out of the SW, pushing the temperatures over 70 degrees.  We tucked a reef in the main and sailed for another couple of hours, heeling in the stiffer winds and righting once they moved on.  Sea Biscuit, a Stone Horse I believe but I'll need confirmation my friend DoryMan who sails one, joined us on the water.  

I do not know if I will get another sail in this year, I have some days free but the weather will make the final decision.  If this was my last day on the water for the season, I will have no complaints.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

a preview

Out this evening, a guest on the Sail Nauticus boats on their last sailing day of the year.  Light winds, warm and peaceful.  There should be more wind tomorrow.


Craford Bay

There is company for the cruising sailboats anchored in Craford Bay.  A few barges, a couple of cranes and floating booms now mix with the southbound boats.  

Around the time of the civil war, the thriving waterfront town of Portsmouth had gas street lamps, something very modern at the time.  The gas for the lamps came from a gas plant located on a creek that fed into Craford Bay. 

The plant operated for nearly a century, all the while allowing contaminants to flow down the creek into the bay.  If you could look down through the water and layer of silt, you would see a plume of tar and oil-like substance spreading out across the bottom.  That material is now being removed.  Once it has been scooped up and hauled awy, the bay will be returned to its natural state of clean sand and oyster reefs.  How nice is that? 

I should be unpacking boxes and moving furniture back into the refinished living room tomorrow.  But with a forecast of nice wind and temperatures reaching close to the 70's, I hope to be sailing.  There will be plenty of cold, grey days for unpacking.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

penthouse views

I had an occasion to visit a penthouse apartment on the Portsmouth waterfront this morning, finding a spectacular view from 25 stories above the Elizabeth River.  That is my day sailing territory on the Norfolk waterfront in the photo above.  I do hope to have Spartina out there this coming Friday should the forecast for decent weather hold.

Patrick, who lives in Avon on Hatteras Island, had his own penthouse view in this photograph he sent of the Falmouth Cutter he and his wife Johanna brought down from Tilghman Island this year.  Patrick has been in touch a few times over the last few years - we have common interests in boats, Hatteras Island and, at times, the hurricanes that visit Hatteras.  He wrote just a few days ago to say the beached boat I mentioned in my last post was not part of the recent spate of coast guard rescues, but had instead arrived on the beach a few weeks earlier.  It is hard to keep track of the shipwrecks, both new and old, on the Outer Banks.

Looking at Patrick's earlier emails I remembered that we have at least a couple of acquaintances in common.  He and his wife, while living on a 34' Tartan in Opua, NZ, met circumnavigator, author and friend Webb Chiles.  And recently they met Mary Hadley, who runs the boat yard in Elizabeth City where I kept the original Spartina.  Knowing how tight knit Hatteras is, I suspect we share some friends there too.

Down in Buxton the other day I considered having lunch at Pop's Raw Bar, where I have had a few post hurricane meals.  I chose to go elsewhere that day, but next time I'll visit Pop's and maybe take a look at Patrick's cutter in the harbor just on the other side of Hwy 12.

I have scaled back my plans for painting this winter.  I had been considering sanding down the entire hull of Spartina and repainting, which does not sound like much fun.  After look at the hull, I've decided to do a light sanding over much of the hull, and save the heavy sanding, patching, priming and painting for the few areas that really need it.


Monday, November 18, 2013

return to Hatteras, return to normal

A nice day trip today down to see friends in the village of Buxton on Hatteras Island.  A few I had not seen for many months, others a couple of years.  It was a nice visit.  The weather was classic Outer Banks - overcast, windy, foggy, sunny and warm - all in one day.

It was one year ago tomorrow that I was on Hatteras Island to look at the Hurricane Sandy damage to NC 12, the road that runs the length of the island.  We had Thanksgiving coming up on Ocracoke and I was curious to see if the road was passable to get to the Hatteras to Ocracoke ferry.  The highway just north of Rodanthe was passable but only for four wheel drive vehicles and then only at low tide when the surf was not too big.  In reality was that the road was broken and the right of way was in the ocean. (We reached Ocracroke by way of a three hour drive and a two and one-half our ferry ride.)

NC 12 is in good shape today, thanks to a lot of hard work to rebuild both the road and the protective dune line.  And thanks also to a quiet storm season.  Nothing close to a tropical storm approached the Outer Banks this year.  That is not to say all was quiet, as this sailboat on the beach today shows.  I'm told she was one of six sailboats that found themselves in trouble off of Hatteras about a week ago, part of a sailing rally to the Caribbean.  All crew members were rescued by Coast Guard air crews out of Elizabeth City.  Two boats, including this one, found their way to the beach on Hatteras.

My life is returning somewhat to normal after six weeks of living in a construction site.  The day after returning from the fall sailing trip to Beaufort, a construction foreman showed up at my front door.  Three days late another man arrived carrying a sledge hammer.  Ever since then we have been living in the middle of noise, dust and strangers as we had our kitchen and living room remodeled.  It is now nearly done.  And I can sit at my kitchen table near the bay windows and type on my computer.

So maybe it is time to open my notebook and log book from the fall cruise, take a look at the photographs and study the gps track, just to see if I can remember it all.

(Since this is a blog about sailing and not food, I will not mention that the first meal on the new gas range was seared scallops with parmesan risotto and oven roasted mushrooms, asparagus and grape tomatoes.  No, that shouldn't be discussed here.  Second dinner was roasted chicken with blistered green beans and golden yukon olive oil mashed potatoes, but I won't mention that either.)


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

the yawl, the bugeye and the cat

I just found this photograph from late spring.  I don't recall publishing it before, but I could be wrong about that.  Seeing it made me smile, bringing back memories of the weekend in Onancock.  

That is Spartina at dawn, rafted up next to the Charlotte E. Foster, the classic Chesapeake Bay bugeye that belongs to my friend Maria.  She and her husband John had sailed with me on Spartina the evening before, getting back to their dock on the north branch of Onancock Creek too late, too dark to find an anchorage.  And after visiting with them on the deck of the Charlotte it was one too many glasses of wine to even think about navigating in the dark.  Instead we rafted up for the night and I slept under the stars.

It was just last June.  Why does that seem so long ago?


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

next year

A mixture of snow and rain is falling outside the window.  The cold should last just a day or two, and maybe then a slight warming for a weekend sail, though I do not feel confident about that.

I've been sketching out in my mind possible trips for next year.  Above would be a spring trip, passing through Tangier Sound, crossing the bay to the Patuxent River and back.  It seems like a long while since I sailed the middle part of the bay, but checking the logs at right it was just a year ago May that I did a walkabout there.  But I need to read the log just to recall that trip, so it has been too long.

Fall would be another attempt to reach Ocracoke Island, something that three days of small craft warnings prevented on our trip several weeks ago.  Plus I would hope for good weather on the Alligator River, which was covered with mists and fogs - and no wind - on the recent trip.  Manteo would definitely be on the route, as well as Belhaven and Englehard.

At least those are a couple of ideas to think about over the winter.


Monday, November 11, 2013

on the waterfront

She stops in every year or two.  Certainly one the largest tall ships to visit the Norfolk waterfront, the Norwegian vessel Statraad Lehmkuhl came into port on Thursday and most likely departed today.

At the age of 99, she looks beautiful.  Built in Germany and now the largest, oldest tall ship in Norway, the three masted barque is used for several months out of the year to train naval cadets from the Royal Norwegian Navy.

I've had a busy couple of weeks (months) so did not have much time to spend on the waterfront.  And I certainly did not have time to sail Spartina past the stern of the beautiful ship, which would have been my first choice.  I settled for a visit of a few minutes, for which I am glad.

We are down to the last few weeks of sailing for the year.  I do hope to get out once or twice more.  Then time for off season maintenance.


Friday, November 8, 2013

of locks and rust

Peak season for the snowbirds heading south on the intracoastal waterway has become a log jam.   (The canal is so near to my neighborhood that on calm mornings in winter I can hear the tugboat radios and the coxswains calling out cadence over megaphones to the crew boats that row the canal).  Unfortunately one of the four valves that allow water to move in and out of the locks has become stuck.  There is no easy repair when the valve is a 10 foot by 12 foot piece of metal located beneath the waterline.  To even get to the site of the problem will involve designing, bidding out and constructing a coffer dam.   

The locks normally open and allow passage on the hour, up to 24 times a day.  With the stuck valve passage might be possible once or twice a day, only at low tide when the wind is mild enough to allow the water on the river side to be level with the water on the canal side.  The southern end of the river is crowded with boats, as is Craford Bay in Portsmouth.  The snowbirds may be delayed slightly in reaching the sunshine and warmth of the Caribbean.  

There are two alternate routes south.  The Dismal Swamp Canal is scenic, but narrow and shallow.  The offshore route is proving difficult with the coast guard responding to calls for assistance from four boats in the Atlantic over the last 24 hours.   

Before heading to Chestertown for the downrigging I replaced the bunk supports on Spartina's trailer.  All four supports were heavily corroded, two of the cracked.  I also notice the leaf springs and axle brackets were heavy with rust.  My winter work, along with sanding and repainting Spartina's hull, will include rebuilding the trailer.  Between sanding, painting and trailer work, it should be a busy winter.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

the questions persist...

I continue to receive questions about the gold crew of the Pride of Baltimore II, and I have no answers.  It wasn't halloween, that was a couple of days earlier.  It wasn't a publicity stunt, being early morning there was no one around to see them save for the crews of neighboring boats.

I had walked to a coffee shop earlier in the morning with one of the Pride's crew members.  When I asked if she wanted to join me at my table she said that she had to get back to the ship for an early muster.  This must have been why. 

They emerged from below decks, moving slowly and silently around the decks, using towels and squeegees to clean off the morning dew.  Once the ritual was over, they disappeared below decks.

It was all interesting and fun to watch.  What may have been more interesting was late than night when, I'm told, the crew dressed in gold and headed to a local pub.  I know you can see through the fabric, but can you drink a beer through it?

Performance art might be the best explanation, something different, unusual and very enjoyable.



"And he doesn't want for much for much, largely 
because he's smart enough to know that 
the only way to be rich is to want little."

That's an interesting thought from an essay in the NY Times the other day, written by a father about his indie musician son who lives a life that cannot be measured in the typical metrics of paychecks and promotions.  I hope I can learn something from the idea.

Above are Spartina's two flags, both gifts from my mother.  Thanks, Mom!  The one on the left has flown at the top of the main mast for seven years.  The sun, wind and rain have left their mark.  I suspect it has a few more seasons left in it before it begins to fray, maybe I'll get a decade of sailing with it.  But Mom had been asking what shape the flag was in, and wanted to make sure I had a new flag ready to go when needed.  The new flag arrived yesterday in the mail.

I designed the flag myself and they were both hand-sewn by The Sailbag Lady.  The flag has a couple of meanings for me.  For one, I wanted to capture the essence of the yawl rig that John Welsford uses on some of his best designs - hence the three sails and his initials.  More importantly, those initials are the same for my parents, Janice and Walter, who pushed me to pursue my dreams.  

When I'm out sailing I will glance up at the flag which tells me something about both the wind speed and direction, and at the same time reminds me of things I hold dear.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

and some more.....

What can I say?  Sultana's Downrigging Weekend was a real treat.  Drove up Friday morning in a light rain, rigged Spartina as the skies were clearing and then sailed with the tall ships for the next couple of days.  Saw a lot of friends, met a couple of Pathfinder builders and enjoyed the hospitality of the schooner Virginia. (As weekend organizer Drew McMullen asked, "Just because you're from Virginia does that mean you get berthing rights on the Virginia?"  Apparently so.) 

My thanks go out to Drew for inviting Spartina to take part, to Captain Hank Mosely for offering a berth on Virginia, to friends Mary Lou and Fred who have helped out many times over the years, to Seth for keeping an eye on Spartina, to the crews of the tall ships who were are friendly and welcoming, and to all the people who dropped by Spartina to say hello. 

A special treat was a visit from the original crew of Spartina, my daughters who came in from Richmond, Virginia and Hagerstown, Maryland.  We enjoyed a fantastic sail with the tall ships, plates covered with oysters salty and sweet, the potluck dinner with captains and crew and an evening watching the fireworks in a light rain.  Yes, it was a great weekend.

I am not, and will certainly never be accused of being, a social sailor.  When I see a crowd I push the tiller over and head in the opposite direction.  But Drew has created a very comfortable atmosphere for the festival, very low keyed and relaxed.

When first invited to the event a couple of years ago I said don't expect me to sit at the docks all day talking about boats, I'll be out sailing.  Fine, Drew told me, have a good time.

And that's just what we did.  Thank you, Drew.