"When I think of all the fools I've been it's a wonder that I've sailed this many miles." -Guy Clark

Sunday, November 30, 2014

sleeping gear, books I kept

Taking some tips from my Watertribe kayaking friends, I'm switching to a sleep system that should take up much less space and give me more options for dealing with temperatures from hot to cold.  Today I ordered a Northface Aleutian 50 degree sleeping bag.  This will cover most nights in May/June and September October on Chesapeake Bay and on the sounds of North Carolina.  Stored in a stuff sack, it is about 1/3 the size and 1/4 the weight of my current sleeping bag.  On sale for a little over $50, it comes with free two-day shipping from backcountry.

For nights when it is either colder or warmer than expected, I will soon order a sleeping bag liner.  I'm looking at a Sea to Summit model but haven't made a final decision yet.  The liner can add 15 degrees to a sleeping bag's warmth, which would be welcome on a chilly night.  On a warm night, the liner could be used could be used by itself inside the bivy, becoming essentially a nice blanket to keep me comfortable.  I was surprised to see that a quality liner will cost more than the discounted cost of the sleeping back itself.  But it is a comfort item, and I equate comfort - getting a good night's rest - with safety.


I had the urge over the holiday weekend to clean out my bookshelf.  A lot of good books and enjoyable reads were dropped off at the thrift store.  I did keep some books, those that I pick up on occasion to read a chapter or two.  Here is the list, in no particular order, of some of the books I kept along with a very brief description of each.  

Panama, by Thomas McGuane / novel, Key West

Easy in the Island, Bob Sachochis / short stories, Caribbean

Great Dream of Heaven, Sam Shepard / short stories

Sitting in Darkness, David Bain / history, the Philippines

A Year on Key West and Cuba with Hemingway, Arnold Samuelson / memoir

The Creature in the Map, Charles Nicholl / history, Sir Walter Raleigh in South America

Calm at Sunset, Calm at Dawn, Paul Watkins / novel, commercial fishing off Rhode Island

Tales of Land and Sea, Joseph Conrad / collection of novels

Ninety-two in the Shade, Thomas McGuane / novel, Key West

The Coast of Summer, Anthony Bailey / memoir, Cape Cod

An Island out of Time, Tom Horton / Smith Island, Chesapeake Bay

The Riddle of the Sands, Erkine Childers / novel, sailing the Frisian Islands before WW I

The Shadow in the Sands, Sam Llewellyn / sequel to the above

The Voyage, Philip Caputo - novel, sailing New York to Cuba

Sailing in a Spooful of Water, Joe Coomer / memoir, Texas and New England

The Boy, Me and the Cat, Henry Plummer / sailing a catboat from New England to Florida and back

The Windward Road, Archie Carr / naturalist tracking turtles in the windward islands

Dillinger in Hollywood, John Sayles / short stories

Mile Zero, Thomas Sanchez / novel, Key West

Coasting, Jonathan Raban / sailing around England

Voyage, Sterling Hayden / novel about sailing late 1800s

The Ocean Waits, Webb Chiles / sailing an open boat from the south Pacific to the Red Sea

Sailing Alone Around the World, Joshua Slocum / no description needed

On the River, Walter Magnes Teller / collection of stories about journeys in small boats

Two Years Before the Mast, Richard Henry Dana / sailing to California

Shadow Country, Peter Matthiessen / novel, Florida

Far Tortuga, Peter Matthiessen / novel, Caribbean

Spartina, John Casey / novel, Rhode Island

The Americans, Robert Frank / photographs

Narrow Waters, Dee Carstarphen / sailing down the intracoastal waterway

Gravesend Light, David Payne / novel, Outer Banks and Roanoke Island

By the Wind, Richard Baum / sailing

Crazy Heart, Thomas Cobb / novel, Texas

Friday, November 28, 2014

November 28, 1912

Henry M. Plummer's logbook, Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1912, 102 years ago and just a few miles to the south of where I'm about to fix our November 28 Thanksgiving meal....

"Made a mince pie.  It looked all right.  Put on Macaroni to boil and then muffled all up in oilers and mitties and went up the little creek in the launch of a breath of air and to get a picture of the piney woods with tree trunks white with snow."

"When we got back to Mascot we found a nice pickerel in the bottom of the boat.  Must have jumped in upstream.  Macaroni all but boiled out.  Just saved it.  Fixed it up with cracker crumbs and cheese.  Roasted a fine, big chicken.  Baked sweet and white potatoes.  Had delicious raw oysters in cocktail sauce and while night shut in still, cold and clear, we muzzled into it all and didn't forget absent friends although I did forget a pint of "champagne wasser" which I had meant to get at Norfolk.  Everything iced down on deck as we turned in.  Wouldn't be much surprised to find ourselves pinched by the morning.  Hopes not."

-from The Boy, Me and The Cat, Cruise of the Mascot, 1912-13

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

a trip to the hardware store

Nor'easter conditions this morning, part of the storm that that covers much of the east coast and making life miserable for those who need to drive somewhere to celebrate Thanksgiving.  Wind and rain, with wind dying down this afternoon.  Rain again tomorrow, then clearing for the weekend (with a decent chance of sailing, depending on the temperature, on Monday!!).

I'll keep Spartina loaded with gear for about two more weeks, then strip everything off the boat and begin sanding the interior.  With that in mind I ran to the hardware store to pick up the respirator, several packs of sandpaper (220, 150 and 80 grit) and a new random orbit sander, a very low-end Ryobi marked down to $29 which should be good enough to do the job.

The idea of sanding and painting normally doesn't appeal to me, but then again I'm getting a little excited about doing the off-season maintenance.  While smaller projects are more difficult for me to do, I find I like the bigger efforts where I'm "all in," get the right gear, materials and have at it.  

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thanksgiving past

It has been too long since I have been to Ocracoke.  Sitting here at the kitchen table, thinking about Thanksgivings past that were spent on the island, it took me a while just to remember the last time I was there.  I smiled when I realized that it was this past May, and that I had arrived there by boat.  (Is there a better way to reach an island?)

Grey and rainy outside the kitchen window, and it will be that way for the next few days.  Family schedules won't allow for Thanksgiving on Ocracoke this year.  In fact schedules won't even allow for a Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving.  Our day of thanks will be Friday, and it will be a very nice one.  But it would have been nicer on the island.  Maybe next year.

The photographs are from Thanksgiving morning 2012.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


Rik sent me this photograph of his Pathfinder "Vanessa" (I believe) on the water.  Rik didn't say so, but I'm thinking this might be the first time on the water for the very well built boat. Congratulations!  Rik said they sailed under mizzen and jib, squalls in the area causing a reluctance to raise the main - a good move I think, for the first time on the water.  

Many years ago, a few decades in fact, I spent some time in the Netherland Antilles, visiting Bonaire, Curacoa and Aruba.  Beautiful islands, with lots of wind.  I'm sure Rik will have some great sailing on Vanessa.  

Rik, enjoy the boat.  Let me know how she sails with the main up.


My order of a quart of steel grey paint and five deck plates arrived from Jamestown Distributors just two days after placing the order.  I opened the box just to confirm I ordered the proper size and color, then taped the box closed and tucked it away until probably early March.


I've put in for the last two weeks of September for vacation.  I should be able to sail in to St. Michaels in time for the Mid-Atlantic Small Craft Festival in early October.  Plans for the spring sail will have to wait.

Friday, November 21, 2014

what happened?

Bare feet, sleeves rolled up.  Biggest worry
 was sunburn.  That was just a few weeks ago.

Tonight I will be outside, bundled up and using those little
chemical-filled pouches to keep my hands warm in below
freezing temperatures.  What happened?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

recognize the lines?

The lines caught my eye from half a block away at the Downrigging Festival.  Narrow forefoot broadening mid-ships, then narrowing to the tumblehome transom.  I walked over to take a look.  No one around, no sign on the boat, but I believed it to be a Coble.

The next day I dropped by again to find builder Robert Stack.  It was in fact a Coble, a Northumbrian Coble designed by Paul Fisher.  I knew from John Welsford, though I can't remember if he told me in an email or if it is in his literature somewhere, the Coble was the basis for the Pathfinder design.  John took the lines, modernized the underbody for speed and simplified the construction for homebuilders like me.  Robert, who seems to be a serial boatbuilder with several boats finished, in the works or planned, did a wonderful job with the boat.  It was a treat to see a replica of Spartina's genesis.

Robert and his wife Elizabeth later on walked down the docks to hop aboard Spartina.  It was fun to compare boats and recognize the similarities.  Nice job on the boat, Robert.  And thanks John, for recognizing a beautiful set of lines and sharing them with the Pathfinder design.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

"son, your boat's just not that big"

I placed an order with Jamestown Distributors for five Beckson deck plates, 10" outer diameter and 7 5/8" inner diameter.  They will replace Spartina's five large deck plates, now yellowed by the sun and cracked by being stepped on a few too many times.  You can see three of the deck plates in the photo above from a mizzen and jib kind of day on the Elizabeth River.  A fourth one is to the left of the centerboard trunk, the fifth all the way aft next to the motor well.

Winter maintenance will focus mostly on the inside of the cockpit.  I plan to sand and repaint much of the interior, the steel gray Interlux topside paint now worm and scratched with white primer and epoxied wood showing in a few places.  

I will do routine touch up work on the varnished rub rails and main mast, and also the white deck paint and some green hull paint, but that should be easy enough.  With a wooden boat spring means painting somewhere. 

Sanding, scraping and prep work should be done by the first of the year, then I'll wait until warm weather in late February or early March to do the painting, which should not take much time.  (My ears still burn from 20-some years ago when I expressed surprise at how little paint and time it would take to repaint my earlier boat, a Devlin-designed Nancy's China.  Mary Hadley, who ran the Elizaberth City Shipyard where the original Spartina was docked, shook her head and said "Son, your boat's just not that big.....")

Still holding out hope for one more sail this year......

Sunday, November 16, 2014

trading tacks and photographs

Here are some very, very nice photographs from my friend Roger.  He had brought his 1977 Herreshoff ketch Gwylan to the Downrigging Festival.  You can see some photographs of Gwylan here and here.  I sent him a disc with a few photographs of Gwylan, he sent me a disc with many images of Spartina.  A very nice trade.  

Our two boats do share a little DNA.  Both boats have sails made by Stuart at Dabbler Sails.  That's the Lady Maryland with her distinctive pink and green hull in the photo above.

The best sailing by far was Thursday and Friday.  It was on Friday that Gwylan and Spartina sailed alongside each other for a while.

The Lady Maryland again, above, and the Chestertown waterfront with, in the background from left to right, the A. J. Meerwald, Pride of Baltimore II, Lady Maryland and the Sultana.

I had no idea Roger was taking so many photographs, but I'm glad he did.  Thanks, Roger!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

until further notice...

I dropped by the ramp to see if there had been any changes since the concrete blocks stopped me from sailing last week.  There was a change.  A sign saying "BOAT RAMP CLOSED FOR PUBLIC USE UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE" had been added.  Thanks for the clarification.  

It is interesting that they specify public use.  I would like to see the marine resources police, who launch(ed) patrol boats there, plus the shipyards across the river, who launch(ed) small workboats there, use the ramp with several hundred pounds of concrete blocking the way.

I do find hope in the phrase "until further notice."

going, going

I worry that my sailing season is slipping away.  Foggy and rainy earlier in the weeks, a cold front came in last night.  Marginal weather tomorrow, cool with a chance of rain, and then rain on Monday.

Maybe it is time to start the off-season maintenance.  If so, no complaints.  It has been a great year on the water.

But I would like to have one more sail.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

"skipjacks doing what they were built to do"

I rec'd a very nice email from Roger, owner of Gwylan, the 1977 Herreshoff ketch below, describing his sail from Chestertown to Oxford.  He made some nice photographs along the way.  With his permission, I'll share the story of his sail and his photographs below. 


Had a fine trip back to Oxford.  Crept out between Sultana  and Pride II on Monday morning at 0630 with practically no wind so slid between their booms with no drama.  Motored down the Chester for a while as the breeze sneaked in and Sigsbee, Lady Maryland, and AJ Meerwald slowly caught up and overtook me.  Got a ton of pics of them in the great morning light that I have to send them, too.

It then became a lot of wind, mostly on the beam, so really boiled along once I set sail, making 6+ knots with just the genoa and mizzen.  Motored thru Kent Narrows in late morning then set staysl, main, and mizzen and just rolled down Eastern Bay.  Got thru Knapps Narrows in late afternoon and anchored for the night in Harris Creek just before sundown.

Then the next day it was just a couple of hours under power to Oxford, but detoured when I realized there were four skipjacks dredging an oyster bed in the Choptank just south of the mouth of the Choptank Light.  They were using their pushboats (no wind, and I'm not sure any actually dredge under sail now anyhow) and I took a lot of pics.  It was Hilda M. Willing (1905), Rebecca T Ruark (1886), Thomas Clyde (1911), and HM Krentz (1955) and just an unforgettable sight.  No tourists with cameras (except me), not a "re-enactment", just four skipjacks doing what they were built to do.


I've had the pleasure of seeing skipjacks on on the water - out on the Choptank and Miles River - but never in a group and certainly never while they were working the oyster beds.  How cool.  Thanks for sharing, Roger.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

photographs of boats, an account of no account

Mixed together here are photographs of three boats.  Spartina, of course, photographed with the GoPro camera on the Thursday and Friday of Downrigging weekend in Chestertown, and also Roger's Gwylan, a 1977 Herreshoff ketch, from Friday of Downrigging.  There is a third boat, all the way at the bottom, from the other side of the world.

The best sailing days of the weekend were not the weekends days, they were Thursday and Friday with clear skies and a nice breeze.  Friday morning was a little chilly, but it warmed up quickly.  You will see a photograph of me wearing a jacket, gloves and buff against the chill.

Saturday and Sunday the weather was, well, unfortunate.  Cold, rainy and windy on Saturday.  The bakery and restaurants were filled with people trying to escape the stormy conditions.  Sunday was cold, clear and very windy.  All sailing was cancelled for those days, for both tall ships and small boats like Spartina.  This forced me to be something that I am usually not: sociable. 

During the weekend I found myself in very enjoyable discussions with both old and new friends.  Dave and Huck, Fred and MaryLou, Brian with the catboat and Roger with the Herreshoff ketch.  Bob and Elizabeth with the beautiful Coble (the basis for the Pathfinder's design), who came by and hopped aboard Spartina for a few minutes.

It was good to see Erik, captain of the tall ship Lynx; Kristen from the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum; Jamie, Starbuck, Aaron and Christine from the Pride of Baltimore II. 

There was a chance meeting with Doug, a regular on Kevin B's spring floats, and of course brief visits with event organizer Drew, who is always calm while organizing everything from docking to bands to oysters in the swirling storm (this year, literally) of Downrigging weekend.  Add to all of those, countless people who stopped to say hello on the docks and have a look at Spartina.


This is the boat from the other side of the world.   Webb Chiles, as he says, is"wearing" GANNET, his Moore 24.  This view gives an excellent interpretation of GANNET's size.  She is very small.  And she might seem even smaller considering that Webb sailed her 6,408 miles from San Diego to Opua, New Zealand.

Because Webb broke one of his rules and invited me to sail aboard GANNET, and because I took some photographs on the sail that have been published with Webb's writings, I received a nice check in the mail.  I wrote Webb to thank him for the opportunity, telling him the check was quickly deposited in my cruising account.  Webb replied that his first thought was that he had never had a cruising account, but then realized that maybe that was the only kind of account he had ever had.

Monday, November 10, 2014

blue skies and concrete blocks

Note the pretty blue skies of fall, calm water on a morning with light winds promising to build as the day went on.  Note the two large concrete blocks placed across the boat ramp.  They were not there a couple of weeks ago.  My only hope is that the city placed them there as they prepare to rebuild what has to be the worst - though very conveniently located - ramp I have ever used.  Maybe they waited until the cold weather brings an end to boating season before they begin the work.  Or maybe they are closing the ramp permanently.  I don't know.

So I drove to another ramp, this one about a mile or two up the southern branch of the Elizabeth River.  These ramps, there are a couple of them side by side, just a few years old, are very nice with grooves cut in the concrete to give vehicles traction and nice piers to tie up to once the boat is launched.  That place was closed too.  They are rebuilding the entire park that surrounds the ramp.  Blocked by concrete at one place and a chain link fence at another, there was no sailing on a beautiful fall day.

There is the chance for good sailing weather the next couple of weeks before it gets too cold.  Should I find that weather window, I will drive down to Elizabeth City, NC, where there is a very nice ramp, and sail on the Pasquotank River.  And I will hope the ramp is open.

Friday, November 7, 2014

simple, safe, comfortable...and you ought to hear the sound of the rain at night

There's a very nice story in the NY Times about the recent trend of buying, restoring and using vintage trailers.  According the the interviews there are a lot of reasons for this.  The old trailers are inexpensive, small (some only 10 feet in length) and versatile (they are used as travel trailers, second homes, guest bedrooms and personal hide-aways).  They offer a simple, affordable lifestyle that is reminiscent of an earlier era.

Reading that story I could not help but think about Spartina.  There is something special about being able to define a life and fit it inside a simple wooden boat that is less than 18 feet long.  And that wooden boat, just like the vintage trailers, can be used to carry that way of living from place to place.  For trailers, it's on the road.  For Spartina, it's on the bays, rivers and sounds.  

Some of the quotes about trailers sounded as if they were written about small boats.....

"It's comfortable. It's a real safe-feeling space."  

"No tv, no internet.  It's something different."

"Everything you would need if you are living in it is there."

"Get back to a simpler time."

"It's a great sound, the rain on the roof."

Yes, wrapped snug in the sleeping bag, you ought to hear the sound of rain falling on Spartina's boom tent.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

from Baydog

Dave, known to his blog readers as Baydog, has put together a very nice post about the visit he and his brother Huck, at left, made to the Downrigging Weekend.  Dave and I have been in touch for years, talking about sailboats and food (mostly food).  It was great to meet him and his brother, even nicer to have them out for a sail on Spartina.

I'm still catching up from the long weekend.  Hope to have a few more photographs to post tomorrow.

The wind is howling outside the window right now, but fair winds are forecast for Sunday and Monday.