Sunday, June 28, 2015

perfect, the camino

She asks if the boat is made of teak.  I tell her it is not.  She asks if the boat is very, very old.  I tell her it is not.  As I back Spartina down to the tea colored water flowing from the Dismal Swamp, the woman at the ramp says the boat is too pretty to put into the water.  I tell her I think the boat is too pretty to not be put in the water.  I cast off with a steady breeze out of the west southwest.

It was a perfect day to be sailing with a reefed and double reefed main.  A high pressure system was pushing out the warm, moist air that had brought us 100 degree days, explosive thunderstorms and tornado warnings.  On the Pasquotank River the air was at times cool and dry, and at other times warm and muggy.  Looking out over the river at the ramp I could see the gusts come and go, and tied in the double reef.  The reefed main, I soon saw, had a perfect set, something I don't always achieve.  It was perfect for the day.  Morning overcast gave way to blue skies and there was no place I would rather have been.  I ghosted along shore, enjoyed the wooded shoreline to the north and old homes to the south, crossed the river, jibed and tacked and loved every minute on the water.  Late morning I shook out the second reef and sailed with the first still in place, soon tucking in the second reef again and dancing in the wind.  It was a day I will remember for a long time to come.


The pilgrim is home, safe and sound.  Just short of 120 miles of walking across north central Spain, she lived a life unexpected.  Wake, walk, early afternoon meal, wash clothes and put them out to dry, a light meal in the evening with some excellent wine, sleep, wake, repeat.  All that she knew, all she could see, was on the trail.  Muddy boots, rain, sunshine and heat.  One foot in front of the other, everything she needed was carried on her back.  New friends, new experiences, taking each day as it came.

As she talked about her adventure, it reminded me of cruises on Spartina: wake, sail, dinner, sleep, dealing with whatever comes our way, everything I need is just a few feet away.  My friend Webb talks about the monastery of the sea.  That, I suspect, can be found only after days, weeks, with nothing in sight but the ocean and the sky.  I will not make claim to the monastery.  But now, after listening to tales from the pilgrim, I realize now that I too am a pilgrim.  The camino ahead of me is not sand or clay or dirt, it is water.

downwind, double reefed

Monday, June 22, 2015

the pilgrim

I've been asked more than a few questions about my wife from friends I have met through this blog.  She has appeared a few times in posts, but only rarely as I consider her life to be private.  I do however like to write about adventures, mine and those of others.  And since my wife is on her own adventure now, I will, with her permission, mention it here.

As friend Barry has pointed out, she is one of the Elizabeths, along with a river and the city just across the state line, in my life.  I have said in the past that an adventure for her was staying in a hotel without a wine bar in the lobby.  I was of course joking, but you get my drift.  So I was a little surprised a few years ago when she decided she was going to walk the Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of St. James, and then more surprised when she came home with boots and a backpack, soon spending weekends hiking back and forth over the one tiny mount we have in our area.

She is on the trail in Spain now with a cousin of her father's, somewhere in the middle third of it, an area known as the Meseta.  Nine days now carrying everything she needs in a backpack, with a few more days left before she has to return home.  And she is loving every minute of it.

In brief texts she mentions walking 20 kilometers in a day, sleeping in bunk rooms at ancient monasteries, hanging out clothes to dry after hand washing in her room, searching out tapas on the town square in little villages.  There has been a little rain, a little heat and a lot of beautiful weather.  She has walked through vineyards and fields of sunflowers, taken routes alongside rivers where she hikes in the shade of the trees.  There's the high desert, muddy boots, wheat fields and stone bridges across the water leading into town.  Churros and rich coffee on morning breaks, dinners of squid, octopus and croquettes, with cheap, very dry and very good wine.  Reading her notes I sometimes wonder if she will come home.

Today she mentioned walking on a road built 2,000 years ago by the Romans, and meeting another pilgrim who wanted to bring his dog along on the hike.  The dog food was so much extra weight that he brought along a donkey, above, to carry the dog food.  Who carries the food for the donkey?

It is a grand adventure and we are all very proud of her.  She spent months training and planning, carefully selecting gear and making those hard decisions of what to bring, what to leave behind.  She tells me that some of my cruising gear, you might recognize the sun shirts and buffs around her neck from my cruises, has worked very well on the camino.  

She will not have time to walk all the way to the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, where the journey ends, on this trip.  I suspect as soon as she arrives back home she will unpack her gear, clean it, stow it and then begin making plans for the final leg of the pilgrimage.  Can you blame her?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

consider the oyster

An unexpected gift from my shellfish guy Uncle Chuck.  I had come to buy clams, which had been sold out since yesterday.  This was a blow, and even more so when he explained that the last batch had been bought by a friend of mine (darn you, Vicki!).  So I went with Argentinian cold water shrimp, which are excellent and taste so good you really best off sautéing in a little wine and butter.  As a parting gift he threw six York River oysters in the bag, acting as if I could do him a favor:  "Be sure and let me know how they taste," as if he didn't know already that they are plump and sweet and much like the Eastern Shore's Sewansecotts less the ocean brine.  Maybe it was to make up for being out of clams, maybe it was a Father's Day gift, or maybe it was just because Chuck is a nice guy.  Thanks very much!

bugged, spark plugged and warned

The spark plug was Friday evening.  The honda 2.3 air-cooled outboard ran a little rough last weekend.  It was clear to me it needed a new spark plug, the one in use at the time probably dating back to last summer.  Why I changed the oil a few weeks ago and didn't bother with the spark plug I do not know.  It took all of two minutes and the outboard was back in true form.

The warning came from a friend in the committee tent set up on the Portsmouth waterfront.  Yesterday was the Cock Island Race, the biggest sailing event on the Elizabeth River (which is named after an area on the old Portsmouth waterfront that was home to gambling, cockfighting, thieves and whatever a sailor might be looking for after a long time at sea).  With light winds my friend knew I would be sailing just a few hundred yards downriver from the starting line.  "Some of the people don't sail very well!  Fair warning!"  I thanked him but the breeze was such that nobody was sailing too fast and as I weaved back and forth between the racers I was happy to see many friends and acquaintances crewing the boats.  I was asked by a couple of crews if I was in the race, which I was not.  Not too long after the series of starts, there must have been five or six classes setting off between 9 and 10 a.m., the wind failed and I saw much of the fleet barely moving, or not moving at all, down Town Point Reach.  I don't expect any records were set, but I'm sure they had a fine party in the evening after a long day on the water.

The bugs came from my friend Shaggy, the NOLA crawfish king.  Admission to the Bayou Boogaloo is expensive unless you arrive furtively by small boat, which I did.  Tying up briefly behind all the food vendors Shaggy hooked me up with a pound of freshly boiled crawfish that made for a wonderful treat once back on the water.  Trying to handle the lines and tiller while peeling crawfish was interesting.  Yesterday's light winds maybe have been a good thing.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Shaggy's back in town

Shaggy, the NOLA Crawfish King, is back in town with 8,000 pounds of crawfish for the Bayou Boogaloo.  He seems to have brought the hot, steamy New Orleans weather with him too.  It will be in the 90s and humid, chance of thunderstorms this weekend.  Not much wind Saturday, maybe a lot of wind Sunday.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

a world away from here

Greg, from South Africa, sends me the photograph above of his just launched John Welsford Pathfinder "Joytoy."  Just beautiful.

Greg and I were in touch back in 2012 as he was finishing with his planking.  We compared notes on ballast and hatches, talking about those details that come up once you have something in the shed that resembles a boat.  I believe he and Rik, builder of the Pathfinder Vanessa, were in touch too. 

Greg says he will be doing his sailing near Inhaca Island in Mozambique.  Looking at satellite images of the island it appears to be a wonderful area with beaches, protected waters and winding channels, perfect for exploring in a Pathfinder.  Congratulations, Greg, very nice job.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

blue crab for breakfast

Doesn't everybody like a little crab meat on their omelette?  This I believe to be a black crowned night heron, a bird that typically hunts along the shoreline at night or in the early morning.  On the developed waterfront they can be found in the shadows beneath the piers or between the pilings.

It has been hot here, 101 degrees yesterday and more of the same tomorrow.  A mass of moist air will move in mid-week bringing along thunderstorms.  Hopefully clearing by Sunday.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

uninvited, undrizzled, around the world

I slept later than usual and thought I might have to wait to get in line to launch Spartina.  Surprisingly, or maybe not because of the heat forecast for the day, I was the first boat at the ramp, but still had to wait for the African Kite to pass through the train trestle ahead of me.  Only moderate winds were forecast, yet we found a breeze that was pleasantly steady if not strong, cool (relatively speaking) and dry out of the NW.

My friends at Sail Nauticus were setting up umbrellas on the pier.  It was graduation day for the after school sailing program.  I had been invited last year to their celebration, lots of fun with the middle school sailors taking their parents out for a sail on the river, many of the parents never having been on a boat.  Inexplicably I was not invited this year.  Or maybe my invitation was lost in the mail.  Or maybe they put it in a bottle and tossed it in the river.  Oh well.  

Just after I took the photograph above I checked the weather on my phone.  It showed 89 degrees with a heat index of 98, which I think was accurate.  It also showed drizzle ending in one hour, which was not.

I saw the masts of a green hulled schooner coming up the Elizabeth from Hampton Roads Harbor.  The name on her stern was hidden in the shade of her dinghy and I passed by three times before making out the name WINDJAMMER out of Brisbane, Australia.  She's on a world tour right now.  I did not speak with the crew of two on board, simply waved as we sailed by.  Below is copied from their blog (which has not been updated in a few months) to show you what an interesting trip they are on.   

Our voyage to date has taken across the Pacific to New Zealand, French Polynesia, the Hawaiian Islands and on to the San Juan Islands where we spent the winter of 2011/2012.  We then headed north through British Columbia to South East Alaska and down the west coast of the US to Mexico and central America.
In 2013 we sailed to Cocos Islands, Galapagos, Easter Island, Juan Fernandez Islands and then Valdivia in Chile.
2014 we sailed south through the Chilean Canals and Patagonia, Cabo Hornos and the Antarctic Peninsula.  Then across the South Atlantic via the Falklands and Tristan de Cunha to Cape Town.  Our journey continued back across the southern Atlantic to the Caribbean where we are presently.


Just sharing the water with a beautiful schooner on a great voyage, well that like that makes my day.......

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

do not adjust your audio

There is no audio, so don't bother.

Just a few video clips put together from sailing along
the waterfront Sunday.  In order, we passed the Kalmar Nyckel,
the American Rover, Norfolk Rebel, Eagle and Cisne Branco.

The run up to the Kalmar Nyckel was with wind on the beam,
very nice and it was like that all day on the river.  From there we
were sailing downwind in the shadow of the tall ships, so we
moved along a little slower.  Which is fine by me.

Monday, June 8, 2015


The river yesterday was full.  Full of boats, being the weekend of Norfolk's largest waterfront festival.  Full of sunshine, with a brilliant clear sky.  Full of wind, an incredibly consistent east breeze that brought cool dry air, pushing away the heat and humidity that should be here this time of year.  And for me, yesterday, the river was full of memories.

My two favorite boats in the anchorage were cruisers who just happened to find themselves in the middle of the festival.  Above is MOONSTONE OF ABERDOUR out of London, England, a Victory 40 and a very fine looking ketch.  And below is the equally beautiful ANANDA out of Marblehead, Massachusetts, a Cherubini 44.  There were lots of local boats - sailboats, power boats and pontoon boats out for the party - but I could not help but make several passes to enjoy these two cruisers.

I found my memories as I sailed by the Kalmar Nyckel.  I have seen her on the waterfront several times and shared tacks with her on the Chester River, but yesterday I suddenly recalled that she was on the Elizabeth River nine years ago this very week when, with a visiting brother and my Dad's picture tacked to the coaming, we poured champagne on Spartina's bow launched her for the first time ever.  Out on the river, trying to adjust the lines and set sails, I looked up to see the Kalmar Nyckel as if she was there to welcome the newly launched yawl.

Sailing down the waterfront I passed the American Rover and turned the corner to find the tugantine Norfolk Rebel.  A tugantine? you say.  Yes, a sail assisted tug boat, conceived and built during the oil shortage of the late 1970s.  I am glad to say that I was friends with the captain of the tug, the late great Lane Briggs, being brought on board as guest for Lane's last sail down the bay in the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race.  It was a wonderful interesting sail, with Lane sharing everything from his life stories to, as he said, "a spot o' tea" at dawn in the galley (that's rum to you and me).  

Beyond the Rebel in the otter berth were two large sailing ships.  At right is the US Coast Guard Barque Eagle, which I have been aboard but have not sailed on.  And to the left is the Brazilian tall ship Cisne Branco, which I sailed on from Charleston, South Carolina to Norfolk too many years ago.  I remember a wonderful crew, exotic meals and fantastic sailing as we crashed through deep blue waters a hundred miles off the Carolina coast.

Yesterday's east wind allowed us to sail the first part of the gauntlet between the shipyards and dry-docks and security boats down the southern branch back to the ramp.  While adjusting the sails I glanced ahead and notice the ship in the dry dock with the number "5" on her island.  It was the Bataan, the ship I lived aboard for three weeks while visiting Haiti just after the tragic earthquake in 2010.  I recalled a shattered nation, sailors and marines working long shifts, MRE's, heat and diesel fumes and noisy engines, helicopters and small rubber boats, and children standing in villages with the earth cracked beneath their feet.

It was a beautiful day a sailing, but also a day full of memories, one that left me wondering how or why I ever found my way to get to know, and sometimes be a part of, the waterfront.  I can't answer the how or why, I'm just glad it happened.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

play, work, sail

Friday, a play day watching the parade from a penthouse.

Today, working with volunteers cleaning up the river shoreline.

 Tomorrow, sailing.  Those are the Sail Nauticus boats
in the parade of sail.  I'll be sailing Spartina.  Forecast
is for an unusual, and welcome this time of year, ENE wind.

Friday, June 5, 2015

parade of sail

The Kalmar Nyckel, on a misty morning, getting ready
to join the parade of sail for Harborfest.  One of my
favorite tall ships, Spartina has shared waters with her
from here to Chestertown.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

a postcard from Hobucken

I received an email from one of my favorite small boat people, Dawn, showing her and Shawn, a great friend of small boats, with Dawn's new GCI sticker.  How nice!  Receiving the sticker, Dawn wrote "Guess I'm special too."  Yes, she is.

Dawn, Shawn and Beth had just done a little kayak trip to visit some Algonquin oyster mounds on the river, bringing back a few shards of ancient pottery.  No doubt I have sailed past those mounds many times, never knowing they were there.  I'll have to get Shawn to point them out on the chart.  It makes me wonder how much hidden history I pass by on every sailing trip to the sounds of North Carolina.

Monday, June 1, 2015

golden wings

I think I'm set in the cleat department.

the inaugural

The woman at the ramp asked me, just after I had hauled out from a fine day of sailing, if I could put my boat back in the water for a photo, maybe "pretend" to be going out sailing.  I don't think so, I told her.  Well, how about a picture of you and your boat right here?  Fine, but she really ought to be giving me a certificate, or maybe even a plaque.  Why? she asked.  Because I launched the first ever boat at her new ramp, bending on the mizzen in the otherwise empty parking lot just as the sun came over the horizon.  No certificate, but they did give me a souvenir plastic cup from the new Elizabeth River Park.

It was good to be sailing on my home waters, launching from the new park and passing under the new bridge - 145 feet of clearance and I think I'll make it.  

A 20 minute run under power down the very industrial southern branch of the Elizabeth, beneath the railroad trestle,

and past the warships in the shipyards, and the grain docks and the boatyard that hauls out the megayachts for the megarich.

And then back on Craford Bay to say good morning to the fleet of cruisers, an interesting collection of boat with three steel-hulled boats, two from France and one from Poland.  A few waves from friends on shore and on the local boats, some who have been asking me where I've been.  Steady breezes for a couple of hours then I picked up friend Bill, visiting from Richmond, for another hour or so of good wind. 

Midday the winds faltered, as they sometimes does.  No complaints.  It was good to be back on the river.