Thursday, May 31, 2018

day three - finer than any crab cake

Morning.  Low grey clouds with a thin line of light on the horizon.  Weather radio says a "backdoor" cold front has arrived.  Strong east wind.  Sail off anchor 6:20 but round up a few minutes later to tie in a reef.  Making 6 kts south on the Honga River towards Tangier Sound.  I'm not sure where I'm heading.  It's cool, wearing the foul weather gear not because of rain or spray, but for warmth.

Crossing Hooper Strait where Bishops Head looks out of Tangier Sound I decide to head south to Smith Island, sailing in the lee of the string of islands that define the sound.  Low clouds starting to break up, 4.6-5.4 knots.  We slide down the western shore of Bloodsworth Island, an old bombing range where I have to slip farther out into the bay to get around a prohibited area.  Then back closer to shore.  Past Bloodsworth we come upon Adam Island 5.6 kts, the frames an old house, all that's left of the last structure on the island, looking like a shipwreck on shore.

By 9:00 we are west of Holland Island.  The silhouette of an old rust-covered excavator stands out in the marsh, the house it was brought into save from the encroaching water now long gone.  These islands were once homes to communities, even plantations.  The the water is rising, the land sinking, and few vestiges of those towns and farms remain.  Kedges Strait at 9:35, bumpy with wind against tide.  Two dolphin off the starboard quarter, the first I've seen on the trip.  Rough water, making 4.5.  A patch of blue sky above, in the lee of Martin NWR the water is calmer and we make 5.7 kts.  Main and jib down at 10:30, the entrance channel to Ewell, the northernmost village on Smith Island is narrow, rock-lined and heads directly into the wind.  Under power past the jetties and then the winding channel through the flats.  The sun is breaking through the clouds and I enjoy the warmth.

Tied up at Ruke's dock I walk towards the old grocery/restaurant until a woman says "Don't bother.  It's closed."  It is closed for good, she tells me, been so for a couple of years.  I tell her how much I enjoyed the crab cakes there, made by three kind ladies, the best crab cakes on the bay I tell her.  Yes, she says, "made with love."  I ask where else I might get lunch.  Nowhere, she tells me, it's Sunday.  Only two other spots in the village, one doesn't open until Memorial Day, the other closed for the day.  I thank her for the information.  

Back to SPARTINA where I hang out some gear to dry.  My clothes from last night, certainly wet, and other gear just a little damp from the storm.  Then a walking tour of the village where I visit with an retired waterman named Jessie.  We talk about the weather and the crabbing, he is a kind man and wishes me well.

Walking back to the docks I see the Smith Island Cultural Center is open, the idea of air conditioning appeals to me.  I'm a little surprised it is open, I am almost certain that I am the only visitor on the island today.  Inside I find Laura who takes my $3 admission fee plus another dollar for a bottle of water.  She is friendly and very proud of the island where she has lived for 30 years since marrying a waterman.  As the only visitor I get a personal tour from Laura as she points out her family connections in the photographs and maps on display.  We also talk about crab cakes and Ruke's, and the crab cakes they will be making next door in a few weeks once the Bayside Inn is open.  She used to work at the Inn and says those are in her opinion the best crab cakes, even better than Rukes.  Then she tells me her bike is right outside, I'm welcome to borrow it for a tour of the village.  How nice.

It's a small village, the road is a figure eight with the Methodist Church in the middle.  I can't get too far lost.  So it's off for a ride past the marshes and mounds of oyster shells, piles of crab pot floats, well-used workboats, crab shanties and homes.  

Riding back to the museum there is a car parked out front - not too many cars on the island - and out from the door of the museum comes the woman who had told me about Ruke's being closed.  She smiles and almost sings "I've brought something for you!"  I don't realize she is talking to me until she says it a second time.  She reaches into her car to bring out a bottle of water, a nice gift.  Then she reaches back in to bring food in cardboard trays, foil wraps and plastic bags: two thick slices of toast, chunks of roast beef, a salad, slices of cantaloupe, a lemon, a lime and a slice of eight-layered cake.  I am touched and taken aback by her kindness, and cannot thank her enough.  In fact I have little time to thank her as she hops in the car to drive away.  I ask her name.  "Dory" she says, waving goodbye with a smile.

I sit on the porch at the museum and enjoy my lunch, thinking about how or why I deserved this unexpected delight.  Then I think about 14 hours earlier, dragging SPARTINA across the cove in the thunderstorm.  The contrast between the moments reminds me of Peter Matthiessen's line in SHADOW COUNTRY about how "life was great and life was terrible and life could not be one without the other."  The storm was not "terrible," but it was a test.  The gift of the Smith Island lunch is great.  

Finished with lunch I duck inside the museum, thank Laura for her tour and loan of the bike, and ask her to tell Dory that the meal was wonderful and finer than any crab cake I might have found on Smith Island.

We cast off from the dock at 2:30 against a running tide, following the channel past the crab shanties and docks to the Big Thorofare. 

 Just a short motor across the water to a gut side of Martins National Wildlife Refuge, anchor down in about six feet of water at 3:00.  Reading.  A nap.  Light snacks for dinner.  Peaceful.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

about that storm...

My good friend Barry was kind enough to dig up some data from the night of the storm.  To my mind it confirms what I believed I experienced that night.  Thank you, Barry, for the help.

This chart is from a weather station on Bishops Head, very near to where I was anchored in Duck Point Cove.  Measurements of wind direction, sustained wind and gusts are taken six minutes apart.  The arrow indicates a 180 degree shift in wind within a six minute period (the wind could have taken the full six minutes to shift, or it could have happen much quicker than that, I don't know as I was sleeping).  Wind speeds are in meters per second but I'll use a google converter to translate to miles per hour.  Sustained winds prior to the shift were just over 8 mph.  With the shift it increased to almost 15 mph, then within 12 minutes climbed to slightly over 25 mph (11.3 meters per second).  Wind gusts were slightly under 15 mph prior to the shift, almost 20 after the shift and within 12 minutes up to over 40 mph (18 meters per second).  

Obviously the anchor lost its hold on the bottom (even though I had pushed into the bottom during my afternoon swim).  Maybe because of the nature of the bottom, clay and mud, it simply could not hold.  My other thought is that with the very sudden 180 wind shift SPARTINA, with boom tent fully raised so there is a lot of surface area for the wind to catch, was blown over or very near the anchor and when the anchor line was pulled taught it simply yanked the plow anchor out of the bottom (the same way you would free an anchor by hoisting it vertically until it breaks free).  I'll never know for sure.

The best think that happened that night is that I ended up against the marsh and dead trees.  Had we been blown up against the riprap to the east I can only imagine SPARTINA would have been severely damaged or maybe even destroyed.

This other chart from Barry shows rapidly dropping temperature at top, rapidly increasing wind speed and, at bottom, sudden change in direction.  The temperature graph interests me.  I do not remember being cold in or out of the water.  Maybe it was the adrenalin.  I do remember thinking that night that hypothermia was my biggest risk.  I have seen people become hypothermic.  Once they cross that line they often cannot help themselves.  I did try to keep aware of how I was feeling.

I did have the SPOT and personal locator beacon on the boat, easily reachable, but never considered for a second using either one.  While SPARTINA was at risk of being damaged by pounding on the fallen trees, I never felt personally at risk.  Worse case I could have easily pulled the bivy and sleeping bag out of the boat, climbed to a high spot in the marsh and waited out the night.  The farm would have been in easy walking distance the next morning.

I mentioned that I had no perception of time or distance.  I would have guessed that I had dragged SPARTINA the length of a football field - 300 feet - off the marsh.  Using google earth and my GPS tracks I see now that I dragged her 964 feet - almost three football fields - out into deeper water.

I also see that while I thought I was pulling SPARTINA away from the marsh and to the west, I was really heading due north.  The wind was out of the northeast so if the boat had dragged anchor again she would have just been pushed up against a muddy bank and her namesake cordgrass.

Above is SPARTINA'S track once re-anchored.  Watching the GPS back in the boat I saw the movement and thought we were dragging again.  It was only when the motion stopped and then turned back in the opposite direction that I realized we were swinging at anchor.

I was pleased that SPARTINA suffered only a few scrapes, damage so small that you would not notice unless you knew where to look.  The sound of wood breaking must have been branches on the dead trees, the boomkin, mizzen boom, rudder, pintails and gudgeons were not damaged.

I admit also being pleased with how I handled the situation (though it would have been better to avoid the situation in the first place).  I was calm and made good, practical decisions.  I dragged SPARTINA three times, once to get her off the marsh, again after I had raised the mizzen and then the third time to deeper water.  While hauling the boat away from shore I could not help but picture the cover of a book I had read decades ago.  I knew when I read the book- it was a good tale - that it could not have been true.  I have since read that much of what the author wrote, including his own name, was fiction.   But the image did cause me to smile while out in the wind, waves and lightning.

Thanks for all the weather data, Barry. 

Monday, May 28, 2018

day two - a perfect day, the longest night

A breezy, comfortable night tucked back in Mine Creek.  Sleeping in the bivy with no boom tent I looked up, at times, to see cloudy skies, hazy skies and clear skies.  

Up at 5:15 to tie in first and second reefs, there is plenty of wind and the JW pennant snaps at the top of the main mast.  With all the wind it might be a wet sail so I put on my foul pants and jacket.  Sail off anchor under mizzen and jib at 4.3 kts. close-hauled to the SW wind.  Out past Prickly Pear Point we fall off slightly, sailing past the twin towns - fishing villages, really - of Frenchtown and Rumbly, that straddle Goose Creek.  Rounding Rumbly SPARTINA  turns up the Manokin River with the sun just above the horizon directly ahead.  

We make 4.6 - 6 kts passing Drum Point, then 6.7 down the face of a wave, still just mizzen and jib.  Up against a dark shoreline of trees and marsh I see two dead rises working the shallows.  The GPS shows 7 kts.   We round Cormal Point, heading west into calmer water and lighter winds, 3.8 kts.  I look around to see five creeks - Geanquakin, St. Peters, Back Creek, Wolftrap and Broad Creeks - all coming into the narrowing Manokin River, all wonderful anchorages for future trips.

Peaceful, calm and warm - I didn't need the foul weather gear after all - we reach green marker "9", the top of the channel, push the tiller over and turn back down the river.  I raise a doubled-reefed main then soon just a single reef.  Full sail at 8:40 as the wind falls off, 4.0 kts.

The wind continues to drop.  Making 1.7 just after 9:00, soon under power.  Enough wind to sail by 10:00, 2 kts then 3.0 or better.  Three deadrises scraping the grass for crabs near East Point.  At 10:20 near the mouth of Laws Thorofare, the winding channel through the marsh behind Deal Island, a crabber scrapes with the deadrise Billie Jean, christian music blaring across the water.  

In the thorofare at 10:30 and it looks to be a welcomed incoming tide.  There is a light breeze and we follow the cut through the marsh to the north, then bend to the west before turning back northeast at the narrowest point.  Looking across the marsh grass I see the sails of a small sloop.  Friends, maybe?  

The ditch opens to the wide Upper Thorofare and the sloops turns in our direction.  Two men aboard, they are visiting in-laws at Deal Island, and out for a day sail in the yellow-hulled Sunbird sloop.  We exchange greetings and sail alongside of each other for a few minutes.  It feels good to sail with another boat.  SPARTINA leaves them behind as we slip under the bridge to Deal Point.  I circle around the basin to enjoy and photograph the classic skipjacks IDA MAY, built in 1905, and KATHRYN, below, built in 1901.  Before heading out to Sound I round up to let two deadrises pass through the channel with their day's catch.  I'm glad I did wait and watch them, I had misread the channel marker - just an unmarked post - and would have passed on the wrong side.

A slow drift through a field of crab pots while I have lunch of tuna, crackers, cup of mixed fruit and some cheese.  Just after noon and we leave the crab pots behind, 2.6 toward the Honga River.  At 1:10 wind is good aft of port beam, gently rolling at 4.4 kts towards Bishops Head.   A few clouds in the sky, Bloodsworth Island to the SW, not another boat in sight.  Tip of Bishops Head at 1:25, light winds and the sun starting to get hot by 2:00.  Wind fills in at 2:30, big deadrises headed in to Wingate with bushel baskets full of crabs.  Afternoon breeze for a fine sail into Duck Cove, anchor down 3:45.  Time for a nice swim in the surprisingly clear water.  I clean SPARTINA'S hull, take a few photographs, swim beneath the hull to look at the new coat of bottom paint.  Just before climbing back on board I walk forward and push the anchor down into the bottom to give it a better set.

Dinner of freeze-dried vegetable stew, a double portion but I eat every bite, plus a cup of fruit.  I listen to the weather radio, small craft warnings with wind out of the SW, turning late to NE, then back to SW.  A call for possible tornado spotter activation in Talbot County, about 20 miles to the north.  I don't understand the wind swinging quickly and then back.  I look at the chart for an anchorage that would give me protection from both directions but don't find one nearby.  I decide to stay where I am anchored with good protection from the SW winds.  The shift to NE is forecast to be brief and not that strong.


I wake from a fitful sleep.  Something is not right.  I can hear the wind howling outside the boom tent.  Anchored in high wind I should feel the bow lift in the steep chop, then drop down with a splash.  But that is not happening.  SPARTINA seems to be heeling, moving, sliding.  It is dark, I have no idea what time it is.  I look out the back of the boom tent.  It's obvious the boat has swung, the tree line that was off our bow at dusk is now a dark shadow off the stern.  Maybe closer than it was when we anchored, I don't know.  Lots of lightning.  In a flash I see a white pole, but I can't remember seeing a pole earlier in the evening.  I reach forward to grab the GPS, but instead I grab the flash light.  Glancing aft again, another flash of lightning and I realize the pole is a dead tree, bleached white by the sun and the salt, on the edge of the marsh.  I point the flash light out the back of the boom tent and see dead and dying trees, the gnarled roots of more trees laying at the edge of the marsh.  They are yards away and we are hurtling stern first towards them.  We crash into the trees, the starboard quarter making first contact, then the starboard side is up against the fallen trees and pounding with each series of waves.  I hear the sound of wood cracking.  I bring down the mizzen.

There is no time to think.  I slip on pants, shirt and water shoes.  I step out into calf-deep water at the port quarter.  SPARTINA is rolling back and forth in the steep chop, pounding against the trees.  The wind is vicious and lighting is steady.  I don't know that I can haul her away from shore but might as well try, there is nothing else to do.  I walk forward to the bow sprit, find the anchor line and start walking forward.  It is a struggle but SPARTINA begins to pull away from shore.  I now know I've got a chance.  I keep pulling her away from shore.  Knee deep, thigh deep.  Without the mizzen raised SPARTINA "sails at anchor" in the wind, exposing her starboard side, rounding up, then port side, then back again.  I can't gain ground when she turns to the side, I can only dig my feet in and fight not to lose ground.  

Holding the anchor line in my right hand I reach down with left hand, following the line forward until I find the two anchors - a plow style anchor and a mushroom anchor as a sentinel, and the six feet of chain in between - and gather them all up in my left hand.  The anchors seem to be off to the right and I don't understand that.  One foot after another out in to deeper water.  At a certain point, when I think SPARTINA is far enough off the shore, I continue walking forward while paying out the anchor line.  SPARTINA holds her place as I stretch the anchor line taught.  I set down the anchors and push the plow anchor into the bottom with my foot.  It seems to be holding.  I walk back to SPARTINA's stern and raise the mizzen.  She points into the wind.  

I walk forward, grab the anchor line and trace it back out to the anchors.  Wind, waves, lightning, one foot after another.  With mizzen raised SPARTINA pulls forward through the water.  Things seem under control but I have lost perception of both time and distance.  Had the sun just gone down, or would it soon be coming up?  How far off the shore are we?  I don't know.  I have just two visual points of reference, a light at a farm house to the NE and the marsh that glows yellow in the lightning to the south and west.  I worry about becoming cold in the water - hypothermia a major concern - but feel quite comfortable.  Maybe adrenaline will do that for you.  I'm glad for my swim earlier in the day, I know what the bottom is like and feel confidant walking on the mixture of clay and mud.  But the wind is strong, the waves are steep and I wonder if the anchor will, at some point, hold us off the beach.  I set the anchors down, press the plow into the bottom with my foot and walk to SPARTINA's stern.  I stand there for a few minutes, maybe more, and watch.  She is holding.  

I walk forward to the bow, grab the anchor line, trace the line to the anchors in waist deep water.  I lift the anchors.  Wind, waves, lightning, one foot after another.  I remember a stingray I saw on my afternoon swim and begin to shuffle my feet as I move SPARTINA farther away from shore.  Many miles to the north is a steady display of ground strike lighting.  The jagged tendrils come down from the sky, trace their way to the horizon and glow brightly when they reach the earth.  I look up ahead for the lightning, when it erupts I look back to the line yellow line of the marsh.  I remember during the afternoon seeing part of the shore lined with riprap.  I can't remember where that was, but off to the west is marsh so I walk away from shore angling to the west.  The water is chest deep, chop splashing my neck.  Far enough?  I can't go much farther.  Plow anchor down, chained pulled tight, mushroom anchor down, I walk forward and force the plow into the bottom with my foot.

Walking back to SPARTINA it begins to rain.  I stand at the stern for a few minutes, the anchor seems to be holding.  I run my hands along SPARTINA's hull, just a few scratches, mud and bits of bark.  The mizzen and boomkin seem fine.  I can't find any damage but I won't really know until morning.  The water is too deep, I can't climb into the boat.  I reach up to grab the emergency boarding ladder that is tied to the stern clean on the port side.  I have sailed with it there for over a decade.  For the first time I use the rope ladder to board SPARTINA in an emergency. 

Back under the boom tent I turn on the GPS.  It says 11:44.  SPARTINA is moving, sometimes at a knot to more.  But that motion is side to side, we are swinging at anchor.  The boom tent glows with two quick bursts of lightning.  I watch the GPS for thirty minutes to confirm that we are holding.  I dry myself off and slip into the bivy.  Sleep comes quickly.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

new on the waterfront, clean, summer sailing

The waterfront changed while I was gone.  Painted bollards and two King Neptunes appeared on the Nauticus Pier.  And also a giant Ferris wheel at Waterside.  The Ferris wheel is temporary, I'm not sure out the Mermen.  

I've had a busy six day work week with a lot of time on the road from Hatteras Village to the south and the town of Oyster (below) on the Eastern Shore to the north.  It was fun and good work, but still a lot of time at the wheel.  

Got out for my first summer sail today with gusty hot wind out of the south.  I was hoping for a relaxing lean-back-against-the-coaming, feet-up-on-the-opposite-thwart, knee-just-nudging-the-tiller kind of sail, but it was not meant to be.  With a single reef tucked in, it was a lively sail.  I did anchor in Craford Bay to organize SPARTINA.  She was a bit dirty from the drive home from Crisfield in the rain and still had gear tucked away in cruising mode.  Now the boat is back in day sail mode, and very clean.  I look forward to a breezy summer on the water.

I hope to get back to the daily logs tomorrow.

Friday, May 25, 2018

cure, separate, plant

Very enjoyable day with friends on the Eastern Shore yesterday.  Out with the Nature Conservancy collecting seagrass on South Bay inside of Wreck Island.  The shallow waters lost their seagrass decades ago because of a disease and a hurricane.  But it is now coming back with the help of some scientists and volunteers.

The seagrass is harvested for their seeds, which are allowed to cure, separate from the stock and then replanted in the fall.  If you like seafood you have to love seagrass, the nursery for crabs, scallops and fish.  A great day on (and in) the water.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

day one - fine sailing

Cast off 10 a.m. Somers Cove Marina, Crisfield, Md.  Sails up and through the cut in a matter of minutes, experimenting with mounting the GoPro on the peak of the gaff.  Out into the Little Annemessex and making 3.7 with clear skies and a pretty day.  Waterman in a small skiff near the marsh cull their catch but can't tell if it is peeler crabs or oysters that they are sorting.

Make Long Point at 10:30 and open the Chesapeake Bay chart book to page 10, Tangier Sound.  The faded and worn words on the map make me realize how many times I've opened the book to that page over the years.  I need a new chart book.  We tack to clear the channel with work boats coming from each direction.  At green marker 7 light winds, ospreys on their nest on the nearby range tower, 2.6 kts.  There is the hum of distant diesels on deadrises, the cries of the laughing gulls and the high-pitched whistle of the ospreys.  

Just after 11:00 making 3.1 towards Island Point at the mouth of the river where it opens onto Tangier Sound.  Tuna, crackers, mango fruit cup and raisins for lunch.  Light wind over the shallows at the point, surprised that I don't touch bottom.  There is a narrow white beach with rocks at the point and a flock of gulls nearby.  Tangier Sound at 11:30, making our way through a field of crab pots.

With the fresh breeze, clear skies and open water ahead of me I remember why I sail.  Noon, 3.1 with wind on the port beam.  I put out the trolling line but too much eel grass in the water and the treble hooks quickly foul.  

Early afternoon the north end of Martin National Wildlife Refuge at the north end of Smith Island is due west of us, and Solomon's Lump lighthouse marking Kedges Strait just north of that.  The wind comes and goes, 1.3 kts.  Ripples darken the water to our north, coming our way.  Slow sailing, the mast creaks as SPARTINA struggles in the light wind.  Under power, then a tease of wind.  Just after 3 pm the afternoon breeze arrives out of the southwest.  We're near the entrance marker to Rumbly, tacking back south to the entrance to Mine Creek.  

Breeze picks up, 3.9 rounding Prickly Pear Point.  Touching bottom, CB and rudder raised so slide over the shoals.   Anchor down Mine Creek at 4:30.  Surrounded by marsh I can see a few houses in the distance to the north.   A nice evening breeze.  Lamb fettuccine and a fruit cup for dinner.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

how do you like your soft shells?

a) with a Bloody Mary

b) at a crab house near the beach

c) on a sandwich

d) as fine dining at a high end restaurant

Or all of the above....

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Onancock Creek

I received the nice photograph above from Rudy and Jill Sechez.  We were both leaving Onancock that morning.  I was headed for Crisfield and the ramp.  They were bound for Pocomoke on their self-designed, self-built sail assisted trawler BRINEY BUG, below.  Very nice folks and I hope to catch up with them later this summer when they pass through Norfolk.


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

a few photographs

Back earlier than expected.  Forecast called for three more days of rain showers or rain showers and thunderstorms.  I can sail in the rain but I want a little light - sunlight - at the end of the tunnel and that wasn't going to happen.  Six days of good sailing, interesting weather, very nice and kind people. Good to be back on Tangier Sound, it has been a while.