Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Horn Island and the American Sea

A wonderful story in today's NYTimes.com about Horn Island and southern naturalist painter Walter Anderson.  The story by Jack Davis with wonderful photographs by Robert Rausch, the piece is call An Untamed Island Meets Its Match.  The untamed island being Horn Island, a ten-mile-long barrier island off the coast of Mississippi, and the match being Walter Anderson, the untamed artist who would sail a small boat out to the island with art supplies tucked in a bucket and spend days drawing whatever caught his eye, sleeping at night under his overturned boat.  I've written about Anderson before.  

Here is a description by Jack Davis when he visited the island.....

"I saw Anderson’s art everywhere. His lithe brushstrokes are in the flourish of a silvery wind-rubbed tree trunk. They were in the limber sea oats and in snake tracks swooshing up a dune. His warm and cool colors lie across the islandscape and among the animals, alive and dead. To him, the mutating tones of the departed were nature’s art. Death was not a punctuation but a hyphen or em dash in the continuum of life."

It caught my attention when I saw Jack Davis visited the island while researching a book.  Checking Amazon I came across "The Gulf, The Making of an American Sea."  I have read a couple of books about the Gulf of Mexico and both had, from my point of view, failed.  This one may be the book that finally captures the gulf, from the geology to the weather, the explorers to the artists, fisherman to oil men.  The book's first sentence mentions Winslow Homer, another favorite artist.  I've already placed my order.

I have been to Ocean Springs, Mississippi, where Walter Anderson lived.  I've walked inside the community center there with Anderson's 2,500 square foot mural about the gulf coast.  I've looked out across the water towards Horn Island.  Deer Island, near the shore, is easily seen.  Horn Island is beyond, farther to the southeast.  I have always wanted to visit the island, and may do so someday in Spartina.  For now this book will have to do.  Walter Anderson, Winslow Homer, the Gulf of Mexico.  Sounds good to me.

Monday, June 26, 2017

day five - castles and trestles

A bumpy night.  I had anchored close to the mouth of Bath Creek on the west side.  A tiny swell wrapped around Eborn Point on the east side of the creek causing Spartina to roll port to starboard.  Not too bad, but not as comfortable of a night as it should have been.

Sailed off anchor at 6 a.m., clear with a crisp SW wind, daybreak glowing over Plum Point, Blackbeard's old hangout.  Making 4.7 leaving Bath Creek.  Out on the Pamlico River the gps shows 13.52 NM to Washington.  

At 7 a.m. 3.5 knots up the dark brown river, pleasant and relaxing.  By 8 a.m. feel the breeze warm, it is going to get hot today, tacking at 3.2 knots.  By 9:30 passing marker 7 between Ragged Point on the north shore and Maules Point on the south, expansive Blounts Bay to the southwest.  Light winds and what winds there are begin to swing to the west.  By 10:00 making slow progress.  Lunch in Little Washington, as it is known, is not going to happen.

A handful of dolphin play outside of Upper Goose Creek and at 10:30 the wind begins to build, getting stronger, then falling off and then returning.  The wind is on the nose but then with each puff  the breeze swings to the southwest.  We make 5 knots on a port tack.

We slip past the old train trestle about 1:00.  Beyond the trestle with a brand new marina to starboard the wind is blocked by Castle Island to port.  More commonly called The Castle, the island has been over the years home to a kiln, a civil war fort, a fish house and a goat farm.  Now grown over and surrounded by the remains of small sunken boats, just enough wind gets over the island to carry us up to the Washington waterfront.

I tie up at a transient dock and friendly dockmasters tell me I can stay a day or two with no fee.  Gear tucked away on Spartina I walk a block to the downtown to have some iced tea and explore a book shop.  It is a hot afternoon and I hide from the sun under a gazebo.  An early dinner at Rib Eye's, taking extra time to sit in the air conditioning and have one more glass of iced tea.

Early evening I cast off and make slow easy tacks up and down the waterfront, enjoying the old brick buildings of the very southern town.  As the sun goes down I round up a little west of The Castle to drop anchor for the night.  As I begin to set up the boom tent small boat comes out from the waterfront, a college professor and a horse veterinarian, either just married or about to be.  They circle Spartina a couple of times and I invite them over to tie up alongside.  Friendly and interesting people, we spend the evening talking about Little Washington, the town's surprising number of fine restaurants, the new waterfront and marina.  I have always thought of it as a nice waterfront town, it just seems to be getting better and better.  As night falls my new friends cast off.  I finish with the boom tent and slip into the bivy.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

day four - from the bay to the river to the sound to the river to a creek

I wake to the cries of seagulls, sail off anchor at 6:20.  Both the orange glow of dawn and a light breeze come from the east.  Three knots up Turnagain Bay, then 4 knots as the bay widens.  The wind is warm.  Sailing to the mouth of the bay I debate where to go next.  The east wind could easily carry us north up to the Pamlico River.  Or we could just as easily turn south to reach Oriental for lunch.  Warning signs in the marsh to the east remind me of last night, I wonder if it was just a dream.  I choose to head north to the Pamlico River.

Cutting across the shallows at the mouth of the bay and sliding out on the the Neuse River the wind picks up, making 5.5 knots, then 6.3 on a wonderful morning with blue skies.  The wind is on Spartina's beam and sailing is easy.  Off Maw Point before 9:00 we leave the river and head north on Pamlico Sound.  

Off of Sound Bay, between the mouth of the Bay River and Jones Bay, the water is calm, wind steady.  Past Jones Bay making 4.4, broken overcast sky and looks like there might be some fog ahead.  Skies clear by 10:30, past the marsh and narrow white sand beaches of Big Porpoise Pt. then Little Porpoise Pt, some of my favorite shorelines on the sound.

We angle slightly downwind across the mouth of Mouse Harbor, reaching Pamlico Pt. just after 11:00.  Rounding the point we are at the junction of two wide rivers, the Pamlico to the west and the Pungo to the north.  I am surprised at how difficult it is to distinguish one from the other though the gps tells me all I need to know.  At noon making 3.8 knots with wind over the starboard quarter.  Looking ahead I can see the sails of boats on the ICW leaving Goose Creek to the south bound for the Pungo River to the north.  Lighter wind and waves rolling up the Pamlico River, I find that I can make better speed and keep the straighter course by raising the centerboard halfway.

Several bays and creeks along the Pamlico River but we are making such good time we pass them by.  Almost 3:00 and I have the river to myself, not another boat in sight until the Bayview ferry comes out of her landing.  I can make out the marker for Gum Point in the distance.  We angle towards Bath Creek at the marker, cutting through a field of crab pots.  Heading north towards the creek the main swings over and I sit in the shade of the sail, appreciating the break from the afternoon sun.

In Bath Creek at 4:30 I tie up at the Bath Harbor Motel and Marina.  The owner tells me I'm welcome to tie up for free but walks down to the docks with me to make sure I'm not blocking a slip for a big sailboat expected later in the evening.  Picking out Spartina's masts from shore he says I'm fine.  I walk across the street to enjoy an Italian sub sandwich and a couple of glasses of iced tea.  Motoring back out on the creek the anchor goes down at 6:30.

spring and fall

I am one-third the way through the daily logs of this past spring's Finally 240 and I've added added the tracking map and daily logs in the column to the right.  I'm calling in the Finally 240 because after two years of sailing in NC with either the threats or remnants of tropical storms I finally had a week of great weather.  The timing was perfect, the week before and the week after the sail had terrible weather.

The fall trip is coming a little bit more into focus.  Ideally I would like to go from Cambridge on the Choptank River to Havre De Grace at the top of the bay, visiting along the way some of the little creeks and rivers like the Bohemia and Sassafras.  And of course the usual suspects of Rock Hall, St. Michaels, Tilghman Island and Oxford.  I've got about two weeks, so maybe get to Havre De Grace and then slowly work my way back down to Cambridge.

Pouring rain outside and we've got rain in the forecast for the next five day - including a bunch of moisture from tropical storm Cindy.  Might be a good weekend to take care of chores around the house.

Monday, June 19, 2017

day three - a warning in the night

A windy, warm night anchored on Silver Lake.  Southwest winds 20 to 25 mph, Spartina shuddering in the stronger gusts, swerving back and forth at anchor.  I knew the winds would swing in the early morning hours, blowing just as strong, and worried about bumping into the larger boat anchored nearby. 

I wake before dawn, fold up the boom tent as the sun comes up over the fish house on shore.  The wind did indeed swing and the forecast says it will continue to blow until mid-morning when it will drop to 15 mph.  Having paid for the overnight stay at the park service docks I motor across Silver Lake, tie up to wait the wind out.  I walk down the street along Silver Lake but cannot find anything for breakfast.  I return to the docks and visit with a sailor on a very large ketch out of Oriental.

The morning car ferry leaves the docks and the wind falls off.  Just after 8:00 I cast off, raise mizzen, jib and a single reefed main to sail out of the narrow entrance channel onto Pamlico Sound.  We sail up Big Foot Slough Channel then, tracing my track from yesterday, fall off into into Nine Foot Shoal Channel.  Before 10:00 we pass the last marker in the channel, I round up and shake out the reef in the making, 5.4 kts.  

Approaching Royal Shoals the winds begin to fall off - this is just where I found the winds yesterday - and the water is still lumpy from last nights gusts.  Making 3 kts on very rough water along the shoal.  

Away from the shoals our speed drops to 2 kts and we motorsail on calm water.  Blue skies and getting hot already.  If the wind had stayed with me I would have headed for the Neuse River and Oriental.  

With what little wind there is disappearing I turn south towards West Bay and Cedar Island.  Just after noon I stop to refuel the outboard and bring down the main and the jib.

A little wind at 12:30 and then enough to sail at 3.5 kts.  Approaching the west end of Cedar Island the wind fails and we motor towards the white beaches, sting rays swimming in groups of two or three just below the surface.  

In West Bay at 2:45 motoring to Old Canal, the narrow canal that connects West Bay to Turnagain Bay.  

Looking to the west I can see warning signs at the edge of the marsh - another military range.  In the past I have seen helicopters flying over the range at night using lasers.  I stop to refuel at the mouth of the canal and suddenly wind out of the east finds us.  Sails up and making almost 5 kts into the canal with the wind at my back.

The shores of the canal are overgrown with bushes and wild flowers, small black snakes swim from one side to the other and wriggle up the muddy bank.  Less wind in the canal, we move gently to the west at a couple of knots or sometimes less.  Out of the canal and inn Turnagain Bay I sail south to a wide expanse of calm water, out of sight of the range and even out of sign of "no trespassing" signs.  Anchor down at 5:25.

A high pitched siren wakes me from a deep, deep sleep.  I'm confused and disoriented.  I think of the military range then confuse that with accidentally sailing into the edge of the other range a couple of days earlier.  Did I anchor in the range?  A loud voice booms out over a speaker:  "Warning! Warning!" and then something more about something is about to happen, but I can't tell what.  I sit up - no boom tent on a clear night - to look around.  My heart is pounding.  I can see the point of land to the NW and know that the canal is right around the corner, I look south and see Turnagain Bay tailing away.  Our evening arrival comes back to me quickly, I know Spartina is anchored well clear of the range.  I lay back down and take a deep breath, close my eyes.  A hollow sounding automatic weapon fires a burst of rounds.  It reminds me of a machine gun but sounds much larger than that.  And then a second burst.  As the firing ends there is an explosion.  Then a second explosion.  Silence.  I close my eyes, go to sleep.

cast iron seared

Had the annual father's day sail yesterday with a wonderful breeze.  No guests along, just me and Dad (the last project we did together was building the bird's mouth masts, so he's always on the Spartina).

A couple of interesting boats on the water.  The Nellie Crockett, above, built in Crisfield for Tangier waterman in 1925, she is now considered a historic national landmark and sails out of Georgetown on the Sassafras River (where I hope to sail this fall).  I'm told by a friend that she was headed up the ICW on her way home after an extended cruise to the south.  Very cool.  You can look back at their journey here, link courtesy of Bill.

Also saw the STV (sail training vessel) Unicorn, which at one time was the only all-female crew tall ships.  Not sure of her status these days, the internet has a couple different descriptions and some for-sale ads.  According to the never-inaccurate web she was built in 1947 using metal from scrapped German U-boats.  I always enjoy seeing the interesting boats that pass through are area.

Home in time for phone calls from the daughters and a gift from the Pilgrim, cast-iron-seared surf (fresh, plump North Carolina shrimp) and turf (NY strip steak) to celebrate the day.  Happy father's day to all the dads out there.

Friday, June 16, 2017

day two - new channel to Ocracoke

A cloudy night clears.  A few mosquitos come then go.  Calm and peaceful.  I wake to the sound of the birds in the marsh at 6:00, sun coming over the cord grass to the east and not a cloud in sight.  Sail off anchor 6:20.

Bay Point at 6:50, light west wind and feeling the chop at the mouth of the Bay River.  I think about heading to Oriental but choose to sail due east to Ocracoke.  Navigation is easy, point the bow sprit into the glare of the morning sun.  The wind fails, under power at 7:25, motoring past the southern most marker on the military range out on Pamlico Sound.  A little wind and we try to sail, soon back to the outboard.  I see a marker where there should not be one and realize I had slid into the range.  Sunday morning with nothing going on so I am not worried, but I turn south to open water.

Brant Island Shoal marker ahead at 10:15, still under power and the tell tales hang limp from the shroud.  The only hints of breeze come from the south, not the northwest as promised by weather radio.  

Enough wind to motor sail by 11:00, finally sailing at 11:15 with Royal Shoal marker ahead.  From the south comes the Cedar Island ferry.  I reach the shoal marker before the ferry makes the turn and then I stay close to the shoals - the shallows can easily be seen - knowing that I would be well out of the ferry's way.  I can hear the engines droning as the ferry passes by.  

The water tower at Ocracoke shows above the horizon as I turn ESE towards Nine Foot Channel.  In the past I have always used the wider and deeper Big Foot Slough Channel, the same channel used by the ferries.  I decide to thread the needle of the well-marked but narrow entrance of the Nine Foot Channel, reducing the time and distance I would have to share water with the large and fast moving ferries.  The wind - there always seems to be wind at Ocracoke - fills in and we are making 5.4 toward marker "9" with a pair of sleek silver dolphins cutting through the water.

Into the Nine Foot Channel just after 1:00, surfing at 6.3 knots with the gusts on the beam.  Steep chop.  The channel leads across the shoals and joins with Big Foot Slough Channel where Spartina sails closer to the wind.  No ferries in sight so one less thing to worry about.  Soon we are on the east side of the channel with the shoals coming closer and closer.  I try to tack away to find more room but as Spartina comes through the wind the steep chop slaps her back to a starboard tack.  Twice more I try to come about with the the same results.  I harden up the sheets and decide to try and skirt the shoals just as skipjack Wilma Lee raises her sails on the far side of the channel.  I expect my Ocracoke friend Rob would be on board and look forward to seeing him on the island.  The shoal gives way to deeper water and I cut across the last few markers to the Silver Lake jetties.

I tie up at a dock behind a hotel, the owner saying the pier is just for guests at the hotel - insurance reasons, he says - but with a grin he says he doesn't know me and doesn't even know my boat is there.  I run next door to the top of the fuel can then cast off from the dock where I'm not known and didn't tie up, motoring the the park service docks where Rob shows up to say hello and offers to help with the lines.  I pay by the foot for Spartina to tie up even though I'll be anchoring out overnight.  

At the Jolly Roger pub I sit in the shade enjoying a few glasses of iced tea, then head to Dajio's just down the road for a late afternoon lunch or early dinner of a bland caesar salad, surprising because I have had so many good meals there over the years.  Not thrilled with the meal but happy to be on the island.

With winds gusting 20 to 25 I cast off from the park service docks and drop anchor inside of the bigger boats at the east end of Silver Lake.  A couple rows by in a dinghy, the woman saying I have a cute boat.  I gently correct her.

Strong winds are forecast overnight, out of the southwest to the early morning hours and then swinging to the north before dawn.  Listening to the forecast I jot down the winds for the next few days.  I'm not sure where I will be heading next, the winds will help me figure that out.

Monday, June 12, 2017

do not disturb

Everything seems a little hazy, a little off kilter - but in a pleasant kind of way.  The button at the parking garage won't give me a ticket or lift the bar that is blocking my way in.  I back out, drive in through the exit lane.  Nobody seems to mind.  The elevator has hand-written sign on the door: "Out of Order, replacement parts ordered".  I push the button anyway and the door opens.  Inside the elevator I push the button for the fifth floor, the elevator needing replacement parts carries me quickly to the top of the building.

From the rooftop I look west to see the sleek black hull slipping out past Hospital Point.  Above the trees on the point I can see the topsails of the huge barques coming up the river.  Soon the harbor is filled with boats.  Darting in and out between the tall ships are small boats with brightly colored sails.

I strain by eyes but even with strong optics I cannot make out the faces of the people on the small boats.  I wonder if any of them have sailed with me, or maybe I have sailed with them.

Next thing I know I am on the water.  It is cool and there is a light breeze and we drift along the line of tall ships tied to shore.  I can see the smoke from the galley on one of the ships, smelling the onions and peppers grilling as breakfast is cooked in the galley.  Across the harbor at the old Naval hospital reveille plays, a canned recording.  Aboard the ships from South American the sailors stand in formation singing their own reveilles, loud and bold.

And it is dusk and I walk the gangway onto the schooner, freshly oiled decks still hot from the sun.  I am greeted with hugs and handshakes, made to feel as if I belong there.  There is cold beer and bottles of dry white wine from Spain that reminds the Pilgrim of her hikes there.  There is a guy there that I swear is the first mate but he says he is an artisanal cheese maker and lays out his craft cheeses on platters.  The caterer - and this is strange because he looks eerily like a guy I saw working in the rigging and painting the hull a few days earlier - is an oyster farmer, and as he sears beef tenderloin on the grill an endless supply of fresh salty oysters are set out on trays.

Conversation ends as the sky lights up with fireworks that go on and on.  As the show ends there is the distant sound of bagpipes.  But it isn't distant, it is below decks and up comes guy who looks exactly like another guy I saw raising the top masts earlier in the week and he plays the pipes under a full moon.

Darkness gives way to light and I am rolling down the highway, farm fields to my left and the old canal to the right, the swamp on the far side of the canal.  Spartina slides out on the river near the old southern town and catches a breeze that come and goes.  At times the wind is perfect and the boat heels while sliding across the dark water.  Other times the wind goes away and the river is like a mirror.  The sky is surprisingly rich and blue on an almost-summer day.

I smile.  The calm is as welcome as the breeze.  I do not ask for more wind.  I have one wish and one wish only, a very simple one at that.  I hope that I continue to sleep, I want this dream to continue.