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Posts from the ‘SAILING STUFF’ Category

‘Hindsight is 2020’ they say … (This is NOT a political post)

 

We should soon put 2020 in the history book and find our way out of what has been an especially challenging year on so many fronts.

In part, because of the virus and some pretty inconvenient weather systems, this has also been a very challenging sailing season. Add to that some ongoing repair/improvement efforts on a newly acquired boat (late 2019). My enrollment in Spinsheet’s Century Club challenge proved overly optimistic. Not nearly as much time was spent on the water as planned. Even so, I managed to break the 50 day mark …..

First, early in the season I moved the boat to a new location at Maryland Yacht Club on the Patapsco River. It was a friendly and well-equipped site with a very generous sized slip and good marina neighbors.

On the down side, it was a solid 4+ hours sailing time to the Annapolis area where many friends are based and closer to my very familiar cruising waters. On the up side, it gave me opportunities to try my hand at some fun racing. Even a grand-daughter got a chance for some racing lessons at the helm of a friend’s boat.

One such race was cut short abruptly by a broken steering cable – right at the start line. It offered a little excitement and an opportunity to test out the boat’s emergency tiller system.

This new interest in racing led me to enter a novel Annapolis-based event, the ‘2 Bridges Fiasco’. This was the first year for this race which was patterned after a regular San Francisco event. It was perhaps the highlight of the season. We had good winds,10-20 mostly, and I scored an assist from very experienced crew.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That experience paid off given the 130+ boat fleet, and the staggered start all of which would have otherwise been a bit stressful. We managed a respectable finish in the middle of our class – not bad for a 34ft cruising boat. We topped 7kts and put the rail in the water a few times.

 

 

 

 

Even with the virus restrictions, the Club managed a few overnight cruises with small rafting groups in some lovely Bay anchorages.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For assorted reasons, I made several trips down Bay to Annapolis. One of those produced a record time with favorable wind and tide making for a really fun sail. Sadly, the usual weekend raft ups fell victim to the virus constraints.

It’s now mid-November. I’ve relocated the boat back to Annapolis at my former marina in preparation for some over-winter work. The process of setting her up for winter is underway, but final winterization is on hold pending the chance for a few more day sails. So, hoping for some moderate, breezy days and friendly crew to share some bittersweet time on the water. Barring a change in current plans, Valinor II will have a new skipper by next season. Stay tuned for new adventures………

Music on the Water

A great evening with dozens of other boaters, plenty of ‘social distance’! The Eastport Oyster Boys gave a live concert on the stage of the Stanley Norman surrounded by sailboats, power boats, and dinghies. Good music with good friends. This is a VERY popular annual event, and the EOBs deserve a big hand for doing all the work it takes to stage this event, and for a good cause. Thanks to the Stanley Norman Skipjack for hosting in a glorious day for Shorerivers / Wye River Pump out Boat… over 200 boats shared the evening and helped the cause.

I had the good fortune of leaving my boat in it’ slip and taking a ride with my best sailing friend on his boat. All the fun, half the work! That said, we managed a decent sail down Bay before motoring up Eastern Bay to get to the concert site in Shaw Bay — don’t know the country? … pull up online charts! It was about a 24nm trip. We enjoyed evening snacks and libations, and a quiet night before motoring home in the morning with less than 5kts of breeze. Another great weekend on the water!

Cruiser or racer?

This is a story about a little cruising boat that decided to try being a racer. It’s been an interesting beginning to this new career. For those less familiar with the sailing/racing world, most clubs have regular Wed nite, Thurs nite, and/or Fri nite class races as well as special weekend races/regattas throughout the sailing season – pretty much as long as there isn’t ice on the Bay.

So, I joined the Rock Creek Racing Association (RCRA) that does Wednesday night races near my yacht club. These are described as ‘fun’ races – a relative term when applied to sailboat racing. There is a saying that ‘any two boats traveling in approximately the same direction constitutes a race’. Yes, most sailors have a competitive streak.

I also applied for my PHRF rating. That’s a system that attempts to even out the competition base on boat performance characteristics. The purpose of racing is to test sailing skill rather that boat design. The rating for Valinor II, my Catalina 34, is 165 which is  reasonably high, meaning my boat tends to be slower in the same conditions than many other boats, especially those designed for racing.

It’s not my purpose here to describe the specifics of the racing protocol, rather to share my early experience. If all goes well, there will be more stories to tell thru the season.

Well, my first race with RCRA was pretty short. Imagine a dozen boats under sail, milling about in light wind (poor maneuvering) all waiting for the time signals from the committee boat to cross the relatively narrow start line for the race around a prescribed course. For this first race, I had no crew – just me and my boat. We were close to the start line and I had a plan for how to get across as close to the start time as possible, but not early. Early, by the rules, means you have to go back around and start again – not a good thing.  Worse, when turning toward the line, the steering wheel continued to spin around, but the rudder wasn’t moving …. minor panic in traffic with the loss of steerage due to a broken steering cable.  (Note the frayed cable and chain off the drive sprocket)

Good news, another boat came by and tossed a tow line to get me out of the race area. Put anchor down, got sails down, set up emergency tiller, retrieved the anchor and headed back to the marina. It all seems deceptively simple here in the telling.

So, first race down with a Did Not Start (DNS), and a pricey fix to the boat’s steering. Weaker souls may have quit right there. Just then my perfect race got announced.

On the west coast (SanFrancisco), they have a race called the ‘3 Bridges Fiasco’. It’s a fun race, open to all classes of boats, designed to be simple so non-racers might bring their boats out for the fun. The Annapolis Yacht Club decided to emulate that race, and called it the ‘2 Bridges Fiasco’ to accommodate the course options in local water.

The race has a pursuit start meaning each boat is given a handicap (remember my PHRF rating) applied at the start, so boats have different starting times. Those times are announced before the race. That means the order of finish is, in fact, the actual order of finish. It also means fewer boat crossing the start line at the same time. To make it more interesting, boats could sail the course in either direction. Let that image sink in given we had 142 boats registered for the 9nm race.

Rules required boats to be only single or double-handed, i.e. no extra crew riding the rails. I was smarter this time and got crew. In particular, I found crew with significant racing experience. See what a quick learner I am?

The start of this race was much better. We were only a few seconds behind our designated start time, and with only one other boat crossing the start with us. Slower boats had already gone, and the faster boats were lining up behind us for a later start.

Conditions were great. We had strong 8-20kts of wind steady from the south. That was enough wind to knock a couple boats down, put Valinor’s rail in the water and top out our speed well above typical cruising speed. We made decent time around the course. Didn’t hit any of the marks or other boats. Rounded all the marks on the correct side. We finished well down the list of the 133 boats that finished, but 11th out of 23 in our class – not bad!

A few pix …

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After these early experiences, I’ve registered for a couple other specialty races, and have crew for the RCRA Wednesday night races. I’m sure we can move up in placement!

The chronicles of an optimistic sailor*

If we weren’t inherently optimistic, I suspect most of us would give up sailing. If you spend any time with a boat and on the water, that optimism is frequently tested.

The weather forecast predicts moderate winds from the desired direction to accomplish your weekend cruise. What you get is building to gale force or dead calm. If the former, it will be on the nose both out and back. Then the optimist will enjoy tacking practice!

You’re making a quick trip to a service marina for a minor repair. On the way, the engine dies. So, sail on, tow in, new racor filter, engine service and fuel polishing. But the minor repair gets made, and now you have clean fuel and a fresh filter. It is after all only $$$. (see a previous post on the $$ topic).

A wonderful weekend cruise, with ideal wind conditions and lovely weather. Arrive at the anchorage, drop sails — I said drop sails……!   Well, the main won’t come down. Anchor down, and while puzzling solutions a friendly neighboring boat comes by with a bosun’s chair and a volunteer attitude to winch me up the mast. Problem solved and a new friend made.

Getting the idea? There’s always (almost) some sunshine even on a cloudy day.

Always thought about racing, but then my boat is cruising designed. None the less, it can be fun. So, cast a net for possible crew and found a couple. First opportunity for an evening club race found moderate conditions, good wind and an easy to follow course. Crew calls to cancel. As a veteran single hander, this is easy. Out of the slip and off to the start line with 8 or so other boats. Prepping for the start, swing the wheel to line up and it just keeps turning, the wheel that is…..drifting now with sails up and no steering. Gotta love the volunteer attitude of sailors. Another boat tosses a line to pull me away from the course. Anchor down while getting sail down and setting up the emergency tiller to head back to the slip – sound familiar? Learned a few lessons about the race protocol, practiced steering with the emergency tiller – not easy. Of interest, the race committee boat had son on board who asked if they had an emergency tiller. Yes. He tried it and found same result. Not easy to use…..

Cable broke..

 

Chart shows 6ft of water at low water (tide’s out). That short cut will save a good 30mins to destination. Easy choice given the boat draws just 4ft. You know the result. This time it’s a friendly (at least he was laughing) power boater who tosses a line to drag off the sand bar. Should update the chart software for shoaling. No damage done except to pride. Made another friend.

Off shore passage and motoring overnight going well. Engine dies – a long way from nearest port. No luck re-starting. Solution – raise sails just as the little wind astern drops to a whisper. Still, making headway at about 1-2kts. Tow called and he’s about an hour out, but finds us in the dark. Really good news this time – not my boat. On a delivery with owner on board.

The list goes on. There are some old, familiar sayings, ‘What could go wrong?’, ‘if it can go wrong, it will – and usually at the worst time’, ‘B.O.A.T – bring out another thousand’, ‘Any day on the water is a good thing’,. Those and more all created by sailors I’m sure.

So, off again soon for other adventures. Keep a smile on your face and sail on!

*credit for the title of this post goes to my sister who listens to my occasional woes.

A Tale of Two Bays

BAY 1

It began as a simple, short 20nm run down Bay. Weather forecast called for favorable ENE wind 5-10kts. Slip neighbor volunteered to come along. Purpose was to get the autopilot checked out … drive not turning the wheel.

It was a sunny day. We got an early start (8am) and motored out to the main channel in a good breeze on the nose, then turned south and began setting sail….

That’s when Poseidon stepped in. It must be payback for something I neglected. As it turns out, that was exactly right.

An hour out, the engine gurgled to a stop.

I discovered that three of the mainsail slides got slipped in the mast track upside down….makes raising the sail against that friction something of a challenge. Also, it was worrisome for getting it down.

The upside…we were sailing. But the forecast had begun to fail. Winds built to the east…a nice beam reach now, but in 2 to 4ft waves. It was a bouncy ride, and slowly the pieces made sense.

Old fuel in the tank.  Significant wave action. Fuel filter clogged with algae…thus the motor’s decision to take a break.

By now we were making really good time sailing at 5 to 6.5kts and steering over some of the bigger waves. Next step was a plan for arrival in Back Creek (Annapolis). Very familiar water. It was my former home Port. Easy to sail in to the dock. Not so easy to be sure we could stop…softly! [For non-sailors reading this…sailboats, unlike cars and power boats, dont have brakes, and we’d lost the power option.]

Solution: call Towboat US. A very nice captain delivered us the last 15mins of the 5 hour trip to the dock.

Interlude

Now safely deposited at my old dock with local friends to help. Day 1-2, E-tech found the autopilot problem. Answer: Send control unit to Raymarine for repair. Called my friendly tech from past winter’s work to sort out engine issue. Two visits to change fuel filter and get engine running….success.

Days 3-4, Putter (that’s a nautical term) around boat doing small jobs that had been put off, and visit with my former slip neighbor and other local boat friends.

Day 5, Weather forecast called for 5-10 kts from the South…sounds familiar. I was skeptical, but woke to a calm, sunny day. As for Poseidon’s pay back…when I bought the boat about a year previous, it had sat unmoved for over a year with a partial tank of fuel. My bad for not getting it clean then. Lesson learned. Take note if you’re buying a used boat.

Schedule has Clean Fuel coming about 11am, so a noon to 1pm departure seemed likely. Well, it turned into a 3pm departure after what appeared to be considerable problems with the pumping system transferring/filtering the fuel.

 

Bay 2

(Still Day 5) South winds 5 to 10 kt. Waves 1 ft. Isolated showers in the morning, then scattered showers with isolated t’storms in the afternoon. Ok, at 6am that last part about t’storms wasn’t in the forecast.

The late start to the north raised concerns about the PM t’storms. Seems they were moving northeast and we never caught up – good news!

 

The Bay giveth and the Bay taketh away. All the hassles of the southbound trip were replaced by a wonderful downwind cruise in near ideal conditions. The 5hr run down turned into a 4hr return with 5-18kts on our stern and waves less than 1ft. The only excitement was another close encounter with a northbound tanker at the Bay bridge. Kindly let him go first. As a matter of interest, tankers headed for the bridge announced that transit 20mins out.

On the approach to MYC, as we drooped sails, more good news – the engine started easily!

All in all, a good week on the water if a bit on the pricey side, but then this is a sailboat we’re talking about.

Is it Spring yet?

Uncertain is the first reaction. Yes, the grass is growing – already mowed several times, flowers are blooming, a mosquito or two have been spotted and wrens have occupied one of our nest boxes. Then the weather forecast shows sub-freezing overnight temps (31f tonight) and cold rain. Someone said something about a possible snow shower….

In the sailing world, it should be time to lose socks and switch to shorts. Not so much. Then add the ongoing responses to the current virus epidemic. One of those responses, in our State, was to ban recreational boating. I could rant about the absence of common sense given the fundamental isolating nature of single boats on the water carefully avoiding close interactions with other boats……. but then I’m not the Governor having to make very difficult decisions. And this is not the forum for that debate.

On a more positive note, based on improving metrics tracking the virus spread, the boating ban was just lifted yesterday (May 7)! Clearly good news for the sailing crowd. While the Governor hasn’t done anything about the current weather pattern, getting out on the water is still a good thing.

As such, and given a brief improvement in weather for a day, I managed to sneak in a short sail. That made it feel, for a time, like Spring, and promised better sailing times would come. Yes, it is Spring – so the calendar says. We all hope for improvement with the medical challenges and better weather soon. Meanwhile, bundle up a bit and go sailing!

 

 

Doldrums2

A post from a previous ‘quiet time’ (2013) ……

Doldrums(from Wikipedia) .. noted for calm periods when the winds disappear altogether, trapping sail-powered boats for periods of days or weeks. Colloquially, the “doldrums” are a state of inactivity, mild depression, listlessness or stagnation.  —- a common, well-understood term in the sailing community, and one that comes frequently to mind this time of year. As summer heat builds, it seems only two weather conditions prevail; hot, humid and still or hot, humid and thunderstorms. Neither condition is conducive to good sailing. So, what to do with this time that includes much of July and August?

Some options include: make sailing plans for when more favorable conditions return, make those postponed repairs/improvements, catch up on ‘home chores’ and/or seek air-conditioning. These options will clearly fill the time, and are productive ways to do so.

For myself, I’ve been working through a long list of home projects/repairs, finishing a set of companionway doors for the boat, and developing plans for extended sails come September/October and beyond. In addition, it provides a quiet time to reflect on a variety of personal and philosophical issues.

‘Forced’ quiet and alone time can remind us to slow down, think about priorities and the important things in life – and maybe even turn off the cell phone and computer? Among more personal and arguably more important matters, emerge thoughts about why we sail, and why sailing can become a way of life.

Lyrics in Kenny Chesney songs, “vessels of freedom, harbors of healing”, resonate with the feelings that often come when on the water, powered quietly by the wind with “nowhere to go, and nowhere to be”. Sailing offers a sense of total freedom to go wherever one chooses and the wind can take you. And maybe to capture just that feeling is the fundamental reason we sail.

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Well, a microscopic organism has put us here in the current doldrums, so what to do while camped out at home? In part, I’m thinking about the boat I’m not allowed to visit, much less sail. I wonder if it’s thinking about me 😊

The good news is that I got it off the hard and moved to it’s home slip before the latest government order to stay at home was issued. With a couple friends crewing, we had a nice motor sail (almost no wind) of about 5hrs to cover the 23nm distance up the Bay. She is safely tucked into her slip at the Maryland Yacht Club – fortunately with a slip neighbor who’s watching out for her.

We headed out of Back Creek at 11:01am, said good bye to Annapolis, turned north under the Bay Bridge and settle in at MYC at 3:51pm.

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The world will return to some sense of normal, though what that will look like remains to be seen. I trust there will be good times on the water. Meanwhile, I wish everyone good health – stay safe and enjoy the quiet time.

“‘Forced’ quiet and alone time can remind us to slow down, think about priorities and the important things in life.”

Boat Units…

It is generally agreed that a boat unit equals about $1,000.  A boat unit is most often the smallest denomination accepted in boat work of any kind. These facts often challenge the sense of humor of those of us who own boats (some might say foolishly) ……

That said, and 2 or 3 boat units later now, the winter work on Valinor II is essentially done – at least the contractor-paid work. The list of needed projects remains just a bit daunting.  Starting at the top:

  • Bend sails back on;
  • clean and waterproof top side canvass;
  • strip plastic coating off life lines and reinstall (in progress),
  • install safety netting on the life lines;
  • sand, stain and varnish top side wood;
  • install new companion way door (owner built);
  • clean deck;
  • modify stern rails;
  • install new swim platform (owner built);
  • clean anchor locker and deck;
  • clean and organize below deck;
  • repair/replace anchor locker drain;
  • de-winterize.

The target date for de-winterizing and the start of the sailing season (the reason for all this work) is Sunday, March 15th.  It is purely coincidental that it’s also the Ides of March. Besides the murder of Julius Ceasar, several other not-so-great things occurred on that day .. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/top-ten-reasons-to-beware-the-ides-of-march-8664107/ .  I may just move it to Monday the 16th……..

The good news is that all the necessary engine work has been completed and the fresh water system secured. I finished constructing the companion way doors and swim platform. Most of the life line work is completed. Sometime in the early Spring the drive shaft will be replaced and a dripless fitting installed. Now, if it weren’t for boats, what would we do with our time?

Winter work

As the sailing season comes to an end – at least in the northern regions – the list of off-season projects begins to grow. With a new (to me) boat, it seems the list is pretty long despite the good condition overall …..

     

 

 

 

 

 

My 1988 Catalina 34, which has been nicely upgraded, still has some issues. Not surprising for a boat of this age, 1) the ports and hatches need re-bedding. 2) The interior surfaces need a thorough cleaning. 3) Some hoses need replacement. 4) A minor water leak in the fresh water system needs to be found and fixed. 5) Wood needs sanding and sealing. 6) Sails and canvass need cleaning and minor repairs. 7) Fridge and water heater need replacing. 8) There’s a small soft spot on the deck that likely needs repairing. 9) And, the shaft and cutlass bearing need replacing. The last item, which also means dropping the rudder, will wait till the yards thin out in the Spring so there’s room to haul and block.

I already had the bottom sanded and painted, the hull cleaned and polished and her new name and home port added before launching and bring her to the home slip in Annapolis (Eastport).

 

 

 

Meanwhile, the shop will service the engine, replace filters and change fluids, and likely replace the heat exchanger prior to winterizing.

Items 1, 2, 5 & 6, and maybe 4, are all DIY projects. So, now I have boat stuff to do for entertainment over winter!  It will feel great to have a ‘like new’ boat come next sailing season!  May even have some help from a sailing friend.

But don’t expect much help from Tacker, my number one crew.….

 

On coming Home – a sequel*

While resting on my newly acquired boat and feeling very much at home, I began thinking about the meaning of Home. What is it that draws us to a place that we feel is home? Is there some underlying biology to it? And so, from where did we come that would leave that trace?

Biologists and other scientists work to describe HOW we came to be as a species (along with all other living things). We think we’ve got it. Philosophers try to explain WHY — all absolute conjecture. Yet, seemingly buried in our DNA or elsewhere is some innate knowledge of both how and why – and from where. It’s buried so deep we are never certain, if we’re honest with ourselves, of what we profess to believe, or at least we shouldn’t be.

So, in that buried knowledge, do we have some understanding of what home means?  Why are some of us driven to try to explain? Is there something profoundly important that understanding would reveal? From ‘ashes to ashes’ we simply recycle our beings. Is death the pathway to home … returning elementally from whence we came? In that sense, do we not all return home to the earth in the end?

Most likely never consider these matters, being free then to pursue their lives unhindered by the questioning and frustrations of inadequate understanding. Others choose to leave this all up to one or another god and its associated religion – and accept that dogma.

At the very end of any puzzling of this kind comes the unanswerable question of where did this universe come from and what preceded it if anything. Thus, from whence did we come? Nothing-ness, along with infinity, are concepts our brains seem incapable of grasping in any meaningful way. What do we know but not recognize or understand about this yearning for home? What is different about those of us who feel this yearning so profoundly? Are we the same ones who feel so deeply for the health of our earth?

See, it’s risky to simply sit on a boat with nothing much to do.

‘Coming home’ is a frequent expression having nothing to do with opening a door to our house. What images connote home? Why? What do they have in common? Among many singers/songwriters, Enya sings “I’ll find a way home”, Sissel sings ‘Going home’. Many people will recognize that feeling about a place that they’ve come home to – a comforting, belonging feeling. When asked to explain why, what it is about the place and the feeling, most will struggle for an adequate answer.

What prompted this rambling essay? I’m back on the water after a solid-ground excursion of a few years. It feels like coming home. For me, that’s a sense of ‘rightness’, calm, familiar, peaceful, belonging. My boat’s name Valinor is from Tolkien’s middle earth tale. Valinor is the ‘undying land’ to which the heros sailed at the end of the story – a comforting thought of going home.

All is good when sitting in a boat in a quiet back water with no demands of self except the constant conversation that carries on in our minds, aware or not, and a child’s repetitive question, why? Why does this feel like coming home?

Perhaps it’s just simply that home is the saline sea from whence we came – if the biologists are right. The philosopher’s ‘why’ question is more interesting.

*see the earlier ‘coming home’ post.