Saturday, May 30, 2015

the marine layer, a world without line cleats

I do not get to the ocean as often as I like, but found my way there this morning.  A light fog was slipping out between the high rise buildings as I drove up Atlantic Avenue, then hovered over the water just outside of the surf.

I have threatened many times to buy a couple of bikes so the wife and I could go ride on the boardwalk in the mornings before the crowds arrive, something we used to do when the kids were little and they rolled along behind us on trailer bikes.  This morning's visit may have inspired me to do to go look at some bikes.

Tomorrow I will launch at a new ramp.  Really it is an old ramp surrounded now by a new park, one with a tackle shop, snack bar, and new docking facilities.   The paved parking lot, as opposed to the old gravel one, will certainly be an improvement.  The grand opening is today with an afternoon party, fireworks and an outdoor movie looking over the southern branch of the Elizabeth River.  Because of all the activities the ramp is closed today, but the park folks tell me it will be open to boats at dawn tomorrow.  Let's hope so.  

I noticed two weeks ago that a four-inch line cleat on the Spartina's boomkin had broken.  The cleat is in a place where it would be difficult to have any sort of high impact, it must have been a flaw in the metal casting.  I went to the usual suspects to find a replacement - West Marine, Defender Marine and Hamilton Marine - and none showed a line cleat in their catalogs.  I found a source only by searching google images, which led me to a marine supply shop in California.  Their catalog showed them available at a 20+ percent discount, less than a few dollars each and marked as "discontinued."  I needed only one, but ordered five, the shipping costing as much as the cleats.

After ordering I went back to the source's catalog to find that the line cleats were no longer listed.  How can we live in a world without line cleats?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

day four - back to the boat yard

Up before 6:00 we tuck in a reef for the downwind sail on the Pamlico River.  Soon we slip out from behind the eastern tip of Beard Island and feel the waves rolling up the river.

We find calmer water a few hundred yards of the shore, the sun coming up directly behind us and already highlighting the green and red entrance channel markers of Goose Creek.  I listen to the radio and hear the warning of the possible tropical storm.  The forecast is for two days of rain and wind, and then the storm could arrive the following day.  With the wind I know that I could be in Bath or Belhaven by noon, or Washington by mid-afternoon.  I listen to weather radio one more time, and keep the course for Goose Creek.  

Once in the creek we shake out the reef and it is full sail down the creek and into the canal.  Puffs of wind come across the canal and we do a steady 6+ mile per hour.  I drift off to the side and feel the centerboard and rudder clunk with something under the water.  The heavy centerboard drops back in place, and I lean over the transom to push the rudder down.

Past the small Coast Guard station, under the bridge and alongside the fish house we turn east onto Jones Bay.  Sails come down and we motor into the ditch leading to Pate Boat Yard, retracing our path on the gps because I always have trouble recognizing the entrance to ditch.  Passing beneath the leaning trees I can see the boathouse at the end of the creek.  

Motoring into the basin there is Shawn sitting patiently at the picnic table.  He had watched Spartina's track and new we were coming back to the ramp.  I do not make it easy for Shawn.  Fooling around with cameras I had neglected to have the dock lines ready to go.  Shawn leans out, grabs the forestay and hangs on while I dig out the lines.  Blue skies above and I wonder about the storm.  

Total for the trip:  111 miles

Sunday, May 24, 2015


Cool morning, clear skies.  Friendly questions in the parking lot at the ramp, greetings from the rowing club.  Gentle wind out of the south, an ebb tide carrying us down the Lafayette to the Elizabeth River.  Steady wind, faltering wind, easy relaxed sailing with time to experiment with the GoPro mounted up on the peak of the gaff.  No rush to go anywhere, most of the morning just off the wide mouth of the Layfayette, then a short sail around the coal piers to Town Point Reach, then back again to glassy calm water, and a pleasant sail back up the Lafayette.

Monday's forecast for Betsy Town.

holiday weekend

Friday, May 22, 2015

buenos días

The Mexican Navy's sail training ship ARM Cuauhtemoc
is on the waterfront this morning.  Just beautiful.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Tangier Sound report

A nice report on a Tangier Sound trip and Smith Island from Eddie, sailing UNA, a very nice Ian Oughtred Sooty Tern, above, can be found on his blog here.  Top photo credit goes to Barry, and I think Eddie shot the two below.  Rounding out the fleet were Kevin's Navigator Slip Jig, two Marsh Cats and Mike Wick's Haven 12 1/2.  Take a look and enjoy.

Holiday weekend weather here looks almost too perfect.  Hope to get out once, maybe twice.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

you gotta know someone to get one

Goose Creek Island is, as Kristen said to me once, the place at the end of the road.  Literally.  Not many people go there, not many people even know it exists.  And I think that's just fine with the folks who live there on the edge of Pamlico Sound.

On sailing trips I like to collect stickers of place I've been.  The trailer is covered with the euro style stickers - Tilghman Island, Smith Island, Chincoteague, Beaufort, Manteo, New Bern, Cape Lookout, Ocean City, Ocracoke, Tangier Island, Lewes, St. Michaels, Rock Hall.....the list goes on.  The stickers aren't important to me, but the memories that come with them are, memories of the people I have met, the sights I have seen, the weather, the beauty and the chance to be part of a place outside of my routine world.  

There is one sticker that has eluded me, at least until now.  I finally have got my "GCI" sticker - Goose Creek Island.  I will tell you they are hard to find.  I'm not sure you can even buy one.  You need to know someone to get one.  And that someone probably lives at the place at the end of the road.  If you want to get your hands on one, I wish you luck. 

(It helps if you have a small boat, because the folks at Goose Creek Island like small boats.)

holy mackerel

The air has been thick the last few days.  The thunderstorms build late afternoon, followed by cooler, drier air.  We are in the summer weather pattern, for which I'm very glad.  There's a decent forecast for sailing on Sunday.

Down at a fish house the change in seasons was obvious too, with more species of fish coming into the pound nets.  Menhaden, of course, and roundheads, butterfish, grey trout, ribbon fish and even a boston mackerel (the fish with the blue back and black stripers above) which should have been here in late winter or early spring but this one did not get the word.

Softshells were available and three or four fish houses out near the beach, we should be coming into peak season.  What's on your holiday menu?

Monday, May 18, 2015

day three - a gentle sail across the sound

Roosters crow in the dark blue light that comes before dawn.  Not a breath of wind.  The lighthouse beacon plays second only to the bright moon.  Tiny ripples roll out from Spartina's hull as I begin tucking away gear for the day's sail back across the sound.  

We raise anchor and motor across Silver Lake, throttled back on the peaceful harbor.  Even the ferries are quiet.  Out between the jetties I increase power to just above idle.  Dolphin play ahead in the channel.  Looking back the sun rises behind the village.  Glancing at the gps I see that after I make the sharp "v" in the channel the entrance markers out near Howard's Reef will point us directly to Bluff Point, and it is clear enough that I can already see the thin dark tree line on the far side of the sound.

Leaving the entrance channel we slide north to make room for the morning ferries.  Cutting through a patch of crab pot markers I feel a breeze tugging at the mizzen, the only sail raised.  I shut off the outboard and Spartina rounds up into the light wind.  Full sail at 7:30 on a very pretty morning.  Hull gurgling through the calm water I listen to the full cycle of the weather report and hear no mention of the tropical disturbance.  It is cool and comfortable with a light overcast, the outgoing tide nudging us to the south.  I think about anchorages for the night, maybe Caffee Bay near Swan Quarter, or Deep Bay a little bit farther beyond.

A little more wind before 9:00, happy to be making a steady three miles per hour in the ESE wind.  Then more wind and the hull makes enough noise that I need to turn up the volume on the sports radio station.  I snack on some jerky and cheese.  It is the best kind of sailing: cool, comfortable, not too fast, not to slow, peaceful and relaxed.  Not another boat in sight.  

Before 11:00 we are due south of Bluff Point and our course angles to the north west towards Swan Quarter Narrows.  Skies become grey just as I see the jagged line of bushes on Great Island ahead.  The wind is on our stern and I jibe towards the low-lying island to get a better angle on the wind to enter Swan Quarter Bay.  We pass the entrance to Caffee Bay and head towards the cut to Deep Bay wing and wing at 4 mph.  We jibe, enter the cut and slide through quickly.  

Mid-afternoon and the weather report mentions the storm coming up from the south.  I jot down "upper level trough," "gradually more favorable for development," "tropical or sub-tropical cyclone."  It's clear I will have to make a decision on the trip in the evening.  We sail W into Rose Bay then WSE towards the west end of Judith Island.  At 3:45 we slide out from behind the low-marshy island and enter the Pamlico River.  The wind is stronger and for the first time today the water has some chop to it.  We sail for Goose Creek but soon find a nice angle on the wind to carry us to Clark Creek, an anchorage I've sailed past several times and have always wanted to explore.  Early evening we slip between Cedar Island and Beard Island Point, dropping anchor just off of Clark Point just before 6:00.  

Evening weather report is the same talk of troughs, formation and cyclone.  I eat freeze dried beef stew spiked with hot sauce for dinner and decide to head in the next morning.  Chance of rain overnight so I set up the boom tent.

42.8 miles 

trading one Elizabeth for another (not the wife), odd numbers, dinners

I drove for two hours yesterday so I could sail 15 miles from my house.

One the road before 7:00 I had planned to be sailing off the Elizabeth City waterfront before 9:00.  Instead I was weaving my way through detours on Main Street which was blocked off for a festival.  Finally getting to the waterfront I found the ramp parking lot filled with carnival rides.  Oops.

I drove back to Norfolk to the Haven Creek boat ramp, one that I seldom use.  The nice thing about the ramp is that it is located on the winding, very pretty Lafayette River.  The bad thing about the ramp is that it is located on often power boat-filled Lafayette River.  Fortunately yesterday morning both the ramp and river were empty of power boats.  Mostly kayakers were on the peaceful water, and I admit not minding the wolf whistles and cat calls from the all female crew of the racing shell out for a morning practice.  The attention, of course, was directed towards Spartina, not me.

The Lafayette empties in to the Elizabeth River, where I had not sailed since my favorite ramp was closed late last year.  I had planned to sail the tree-lined shores out of Elizabeth City but instead shared the waters with tugs and freighters and colliers on the Elizabeth River.  Two extremes, both very pleasant.  If felt good to be on my home waters.


I watched this catboat riding a nice breeze Saturday afternoon on the James River.  It is a Menger Catboat, either the 17 or 19 foot model.  I have always thought that if I did not have a yawl I would want to sail a catboat.  Three sails seems just right, but a single sail is appealing too.  Maybe I just like odd numbers.


At Bass Pro Shops over the weekend to pick up a new long sleeved sun shirt I came across two new (at least to me) Mountain House freeze dried meals.  Chicken fried rice with vegetables sounds excellent.    Biscuits and gravy - buttermilk biscuits with gravy and pork patty crumbles - should be a favorite here in the south where biscuits and gravy is a traditional meal, and also with cardiologists who are looking for more patients.  I bought one of each for the fall trip.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

day two - windless, the evening sail

Awake at 5:30 to a cool morning, the sky glows orange over the marsh of Maw Point to the east.  It had not been a buggy night, but I'm surprised to find mosquitos all about Spartina:  on the dew of the foredeck, on the stern and tucked in the folds of the sails.  I smell of sun block and bug spray as we drift off anchor with all sails up.  At a half mile per hour we ghost past the point, a breakfast of a cup of mango and a granola bar once we are on Pamlico Sound.

Under power at 6:30, the water is like glass.  The sun rises ahead and I dodge the glare by sitting in the shade of the sails.  A little wind ruffles the water, then no wind.  We motor east across the sound at 5 mph.  Twelve miles from Maw Point the outboard sputters.  Out of fuel.  I stand to refuel the tank and looking to the south I see Cedar Island closer than I had expected.

Ruffles on the water at 9:00, but nothing more.  Powering east I can see the markers on Royal Shoal through the binoculars.  At 10:35 I refuel the outboard's small tank once again and bring in the main and jib.  The deck is hot under my bare feet.  

We pass by the shoal marker by 11:00, the sky is blue with thin clouds and the water is still glassy.  I would rather be sailing, but it is pleasant to be out on the peaceful water.  The water tower on Ocracoke slips up over the horizon and Spartina rocks from the gentle wakes of distant power boats.  I can see Bluff Point to the NW, Portsmouth Island to the SE, dark lines of trees separating the water from the sky.  A small ray swims inches below the surface in the clear green water.

We cut through a patch of crab pots on a shoal approaching the entrance channel, ferries from Cedar Island and Swan Quarter going into the channel ahead of us.  Once in the channel the wind, finally the wind, makes an appearance, but dead on the noise.  It's early afternoon and I'm hungry.  I run into Silver Lake under power and tie up at my friend Philip's slip.  Off to lunch at Dajio, a nice angus burger, and then a few errands and stopping to say hello and thanks for the slip to Phillip, then dropping by Rob's house for a visit.  He invites me out for an evening sail aboard his schooner Windfall II.  I thank him for the invitation, but say I will see him on the water during my own evening sail.

We anchor out on Silver Lake for a light dinner, then raise sail in the wonderful evening breeze.  Windfall II raises sail and heads out to the channel, we stay in Silver Lake tacking back and forth with nothing to do but enjoy the evening.  I visit with people sitting in the cockpits of the cruising sailboats and enjoy watching couples relaxing on the porches of the waterfront inns.

With the setting sun we drop anchor and I set up the boom tent, more for the sake of privacy than the weather, the rich orange light making the harbor glow as I slip into the sleeping bag for the night.

35.2 miles crossing the sound, 4.6 more miles on the evening sail

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

day one - Maw Point

Captain Jack remembers me this time.  We had met a few times before as I rigged Spartina at Shawn's place, Pate Boat Yard on Goose Creek Island.  He had said in the past that he did not remember me, not one bit, but he remembered the boat.  Something about her lines caught his attention.  This time he remembers the boat and me, shakes my hand.  I'm making progress. 

Both Captain Jack and Shawn mention the low that is forming off of Florida.  "Keep a weather eye," Captain Jack tells me, and make sure my communications are working.  I think him and Shawn for their hospitality, Shawn casts off our lines a little after 11:00 on a sunny day with a light breeze out of the southeast.  

It's a skinny path down the ditch from the boat yard to Jones Bay, made even skinnier by the storm-damaged trees that lean in from both sides.  The ditch opens to a creek and then with a marsh on either side opens into Jones Bay.  Mizzen up, then main and jib, we sail downwind wing and wing towards Goose Creek Canal.  Approaching the canal I can hear a mechanical humming from the fish house with large shrimp boats tied up alongside.  

The breeze is coming up the canal and with a steady stream of snowbirds heading north there is not room for tacking.  I leave the sails up but power into the wind.  At red marker 22 the canal ends and Gale Creek turns a winding path to the southeast.  I shut off the outboard and tack the width of the creek.  Greetings and thumbs up from the large cruising yachts.  Blue skies, just a few clouds on the horizon and a steady wind, perfect sailing.  Tacking close to the marsh I hear the birds chattering in the cord grass.

Not quite yet 1:00 we slip out onto the Bay River.  Out of the tree-lined creek and canal the wind is a little stronger, we make 5.6 miles an hour through a patch of red crab pot floats.  We tack the width of the Bay River, in no hurry with Maw Point, the destination for the evening, already in sight.  A cloud passes overhead and it feels cool on the water.  Then the sun returns.

We sail into Fisherman Bay just behind Maw Point at 3:00, the afternoon wind picking up and turning warm.  We sail along the grass line casting for fish, but the wind is too strong and from the wrong direction.  Jibing away from shore we sail a hundred yards out and drop anchor.

Eating a pouch of freeze dried beef stroganoff in the evening something swirls in the water a few feet from Spartina.  A fish, maybe a river otter, or maybe a dolphin.  It is gone before I can get a good look.

14.8 miles for the day