Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Worrisome Trend

Vergennes, VT
44 10.17 N 073 15.48 W

We ran aground again this morning.  This is the fourth time this year.  All four were cases that could have and should have been avoided -- in other words, operator error.   Two of the groundings were clearly my fault, two were Libby's.

I worry that we are so used to the boat that we lack the fear that makes us cautious.  Lack of caution; complacency -- it's all the same thing.   

This morning's incident is particularly worrisome.  A few weeks ago, coming up Otter creek, the depth alarm started buzzing.  Tarwathie draws 5 feet, and the alarm was set for 7 feet.  The response to the buzzing should be to immediately slow down to dead slow speed.  Libby was at the helm and I was below.  I heard no change in engine speed, so I yelled NEUTRAL.  I waited, still no response, so I yelled louder SLOW DOWN.  To be heard over the engine nose we need to yell.  It does not signal anger.  More to the point, we both know well that the response to the alarm buzzing is to slow down immediately,  there should have been no need to say anything at all.  By the way, the minimum depth of that shallow spot turned out to be 6.8 feet, 1.8 feet to spare.

Today, as we approached the same spot, again I was below and Libby was at the helm.  She anticipated the shallow spot. But she didn't slow down.  Instead she moved from the middle of the channel to the left side, hoping to avoid any buzzing of the alarm.  CRASH -- we hit rocks and stopped abruptly heeling over 45 degrees.   It took us 30 minutes to refloat ourselves.  No significant damage to anything.  However, in retrospect I'm horrified that LIbby would choose to endanger the boat rather than risk buzzing again and hearing me shout.  She skipped the 6.8 foot deep place in favor of one side with unknown depth.

I don't want to put the blame on Libby.  I was in control for half the groundings and I'm in charge of training and operational procedures.   The problem is I'm at a bit of a loss for what to do about it.  I don't want to become Captain Queeg.  That would backfire, as this morning's incident illustrates.  Still, I need to do something that reinvigorates caution, alertness, and combats complacency.   I'm open to suggestions.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Family Ties

Chazy Landing, NY
44 53.23 N 73 22.7 W

Chazy Landing is usually the northernmost extent of our annual migration.  I like to say that our sandbox is 25 degrees North to 45 degrees North, but actually 44 degrees 44 minutes is as close as we get to 45.

You see, Chazy Landing holds a special place in our hearts.  Libby spent many summers in her youth there with her Uncle Robert, Aunt Elizabeth, and cousins Jane, Susan and Bobby.  Even I got to spend some wonderful summer visits there.  Best of all, as a family, we made the northern sojourn to Chazy Landing for Thanksgiving dinners many times.  Those are magical  memories.

Today, Libby's Cousin Jane is the only one living there full time.  We take great delight going there to visit Jane.

Jane's House seen from the lake.
Libby and Jane
The lake and Tarwathie as seen from Jane's porch.
A bit of the local history.

Friday, July 27, 2012

As The Days Go By

South Burlington, Vermont

The other day as Libby and I played dodge ball with thunderstorms, we realized that it was our 47th wedding anniversary.  But I wasn't in trouble.  We both had forgotten.

Actually, living the cruising life tends to divorce one from the calendar.   Day of the week, week of the month, month of the year, most holidays,  birthdays and anniversaries, even which year it is, all have little significance to us, and we often forget the date.

There are exceptions.

  • We are probably more sensitive than the average Joe to the seasons.  We are outdoors people.
  • We curtail our activities on high traffic weekends and holidays when so many Sunday drivers are out in their boats.  At least we intend doing that, but we get caught surprised often because we forgot the date.
  • No matter how loudly we profess being unaware of the date, I seem to miraculously know when to listen to Car Talk on the radio every week.
  • We have never missed a Thanksgiving or Christmas pot luck dinner because we forgot.
  • This weekend is an exception.  A long time ago I received an invitation to a celebration on Sunday, July 29.  I remembered the date and I'll be travelling there this weekend (no blogs this weekend)
So we can't remember the date, but that statement is not entirely true; what's the point?   The point is that we are the masters of our own lives.  We set our own agenda.  Thus we are substantially free of the stress of dealing with external agendas out of our control.   Free free free; who is freer than a cruiser?

Tarwathie (in the background) lies in her idyllic anchorage in Smuggler's Cove

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Joys and Chores

Valcour Island
44 37,12 N 07325.32 W

We got lucky.  One of the most beautiful and popular anchorages is at the south end of Smugglers Cove on Valcour Island.  It is occupied almost all the time, but on Wednesday we found it vacant.  Bingo.   We absolutely love Valcour.

You would laugh if you could see my picture right now.  We get no phone signal, no Internet at the anchorage.  To get online I must walk 1.5 miles across the island to the New York side.   Right now it is raining, and I am sitting under a tree in the forest on the NY side with the computer in my lap and with an umbrella over my head to write this blog.

But chores and projects abound.  Our sink drain plumbing sprung a leak.  I had to rework it 100% and the new one leaks a little also.  Sigh.

Our anchor rigging includes a PVC pipeway that leads chain from the deck pipe, down and about 3 feet aft to the chain locker.  We started having trouble with the chain getting stuck.  Inspection showed that the whole PVC pathway was worn away by friction from the chain.  Insead of an O cross section it is a C with a groove worn through.   That needs work.

Worst of all, one of our house batteries failed.  I think it has a cracked lead plate.  Starting the engine in the morning to recharge is marginal.  I'm going away this weekend on family business, leaving Libby behind to stay with Jen.  I don't want to leave her with a crippled battery system, so I need to figure out how to get a new battery on Friday in Burlington.  Without a car that presents a problem.  Get a ride from Jen?  Rent a car?  Convince a battery seller to deliver it to the waterfront?

Boy oh boy, the maintenance chores really piled on this year.  Lest anyone forget -- owning and using a cruising boat, especially and old one, requires constant maintenance and repairs.  If you can't handle that, it is not the right thing for you.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Storm Dodge Ball

En Route, Lake Champlain

Yesterday morning we visited Libby's cousin Jane.   The visit was short though.  I was nervous about an approaching cold front and I wanted to get to a secure anchorage early.   We made it with plenty of time.   We'll try to visit Jane again sometime this summer.

When the front came, around 1900, we played the dodge ball game.  One severe storm passed about 1 mile north of us.  Another passed 20 miles south of us.  Both packed 60 knot winds, and both knocked down lots of trees.  On the VHF radio we listened to a panicked man in Mallets Bay call "Mayday Mayday"  He was in a motorboat with small children on board and his anchor dragged and his steering failed.   After 10 minutes back and forth answering the Coast Guard's inane questions he said, "Never mind, we have it fixed now."

Where we were, we saw nothing more than 40 knots for less than 10 minutes.   There's a big difference between a direct hit and a near miss by severe storms.  Thus the analogy to dodge ball.

We get to play that game a dozen or so times every year.  All places up and down the East Coast are subject to severe thunderstorms in any season.  Needless to say, they peak in the hot humid days of summer when we are in the Northeast.

What are the odds of us getting hit rather than a near miss.  I estimate that we get a direct hit about once per year, and perhaps 12 near misses.  In other words, 90+ percent chance of a miss.  

The scariest part of a severe thunderstorm is not the storm itself, but rather the warnings of the national weather service on the VHF weather radio.  I swear that we should stop listening to that, but I don't think we ever will.

The best calming technique is to watch the doppler radar images complete with storm tracks on the Droid ph9ne.  On that display we see much clearer and much earlier which storms will be near misses.  Unfortunately, up here on Lake Champlain, we are without a cell phone signal more often than not.

Have we ever dragged anchor and lost control during a direct hit?  No.  We've dragged a little bit, but not much.   You see, the intense winds of a storm front tend to last only 10-15 minutes.  Even in very strong winds, the waves can't build very much, and it is the up/down tug of waves rather than wind that jeapordize the bite of the anchor.

The scariest one I remember happened on night when we were anchored just south of Vaca Key near Marathon.  A cold front came through with a single powerful gust of wind.   That gust laid Tarwathie over about 60 degrees.  Then it was gone.  It really started us.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sailors Die For Days Like This

The Gut
44 45.45 N 073 17.97 W

The sky is partly sunny.  The temperature is in the mid 70s.  Winds are from the south at 20-25 knots.   It is a Sunday afternoon.  These are the kind of conditions that sailors would die for.   For many of them, stuck in the wrong places, the whole summer can go by without a single day like this.

As you might expect, the maximal number of boats are out on the lake.  However, Lake Champlain is very big.  No matter how many boats are sailing, we never feel crowded.  

The Canadians are here in great numbers now.  A week ago I wrote that they seemed to be strangely missing from the lake.  I spoke too soon.

Anyhow, we had a great sail today from Burlington, 30 miles up here to The Gut.   The Gut is a marvelously sheltered anchorage, but shallow and choked with weeds.  We don't care about weeds as long as we anchor with Big Bessie.  The advantage is that we have this whole anchorage to ourselves, whereas the other popular anchored are crowded to capacity tonight.  :)

Yesterday, we met with my former boss and mentor, Paul, at the camp of Paul's son Bob.   It was great.  Paul is just 85 years old now, and his mind is still fertile and productive.  He just completed a sophisticated simulation of some phenomona that nobody ever modeled before.  He did it on an old 486 computer with Quick Basic.  Paul says that his computer has never been connected to The Internet.  That makes it immune to viruses. And the old PC, with Basic still executed his simulations in less than 2 seconds.  There would be no benefit to anything faster.

Tomorrow we sail to Chazy Landing to visit Libby's cousin Jane.  Jane is one of the very few blood relatives that Libby has remaining.  It will be a special treat to see her.

This morning I bought an overhaul kit for our Wilcox Crittenden Skipper Head.  I'll do the overhaul as soon as I can.  We must be in a place where we can reach some other toilet to use while our head is out of commission for overhaul.  West Marine's price for that Kit is up nearly 100% in 5 years.  That frosts me.  The only consolation is that they will match prices from elsewhere on the Internet without hassle.  I used price match to get them to knock off 30%.

OK, let me see if I can post this blog.  We are at the very fringe of signal strength to contact the Internet.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Gratification Denied

En Route, Lake Champlain
44 23.38 N 073 21.13 W

There's lots of things we like about Champlain.  Yet I can't deny that one of those things drives us to return here year after year.   That one thing is the swell of exhilaration in our chests when we once again see the mountains on both sides seen from the middle of the lake.   The feeling lasts only a minute or so, but in that minute I feel that my soul has been recharged with lust for life enough to last me another whole year.   I'm not religious, but that rush of feeling I must describe as religious like.

During the years when I had an office in downtown Burlington, I got to experience that rush very briefly as my car crested the hill near UVM.  I could see the Adirondacks in front of me, and the Green Mountains in the rear view mirror, but only for a second or two.  Even that brief daily dose was enough to make me fall in love with Vermont.

I don't know if Libby would use the same words, or experiences it to the same intensity, but I am sure that she too is energized by the sight.

This year we have been denied that sight so far.  I thought today would be our day.  We're sailing northward up the lake.  The humidity is low and the visibility is high.  But no :-(  we see the Adirondacks fine in all their glory, but looking East, the Green Mountains in Vermont are all obscured by a heavy haze.  We see the silhouettes of the mountains, but not the mountains themselves.

I'll let you know when our longing for the view is satisfied.

p.s. To show you how wonderful the sight is would require a 360 panorama in extremely high resolution.   I'm afraid that's beyond my photographic limits.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Power Encounter

Vergennes, VT
44 10.17 N 073 15.48 W

I went for a stroll this morning.  I walked up the hill to the Northlands Job Corps School.  The school's campus and location are exceptionally beautiful, so I took my camera.    The location is at the crest of a hill that provides views of the distant Adirondack mountains in New York, and of some of the nearer mountains in Vermont.  The school was formerly the Weeks Schook -- a reformatory and orphanage.

When I got there, I saw something new; a wind generator sitting at the top of the hill.

I walked closer, and soon saw a bunch of men standing around at the base of the tower.  They didn't appear to be doing anything, just talking.  I went up to join them.

I learned that the men were local farmers, and they were being given the cook's tour and explanation of the wind generator by the project manager.  There is money left over from the grant to build two more such wind generators, and local farms are likely places for the sites.

This wind generator has a peak capacity of 100 kw.  It is hoped to average 20% capacity factor over a whole year.  Most wind on that site occurs in winter.   20% is pretty good.   One farmer asked about the cost of wind power compared to conventional sources.  The project manager got a pained look on his face and didn't answer.  Clearly, the motivation was not money.

Then I learned that one of the farmers runs the  Blue Spruce dairy farm nearby.  He has 1000 cows.  He also is a power generator.  He installed a digester to make methane, and the methane gas runs engines that drive generators to make electric power.   He told me that he can make up to 480 kw which is pretty good.

I asked about the investment.  He said that they initially invested $1.3 million.  That paid for itself, so he expanded it with an additional $1.7 million.  He started 7 years ago.   I tried doing the math (see below).   He also mentioned, that after digesting, the manure he spreads is odor free.  That's a big positive factor.  

The math: 480 kw is worth about $24/hour wholesale, or about $72/hour retail.  If that power level is maintained 70% of the time for a whole year, the value of the power produced is $441,504.  The payback time for a $3 million investment at zero % interest is 6.8 years.  Not bad.   If he gets a 30% government subsidy on operations, his payback time is reduced to 5 years.

Down in West Charlton, NY, where we lived before cruising, a local farmer (Mr. Wood) has more than 1000 cows.  His cows produce prodigious amounts of manure and he spreads it all around the area.  Libby and I are thoroughly familiar with the odors.  If I were still living there, I'd be tempted to consult with Farmer Wood to put in a similar digestion system there.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Big Day

Vergennes, VT
44 10.17 N 073 15.48 W

Wednesday was the big day for Jenny's library project. For those who don't remember, Jen and her friend Christian partnered and bought an old library building from the city of Winooski, Vermont. Their goal was to convert it to a single family dwelling.

Wesnesday was the climax of their project.

  • The house is complete.  Jen's blog chronicles the gradual transformation of the past year, here.   It started as a moldy old concrete shell.  Now it is an ultra modern urban living space.   Winooski is in boom times, and there may be lots of yuppies around there who would like to have a place for their family and still walk to work.
  • The house is listed for sale here.  You can see a nice slide show there with pictures.
  • Vermont's Seven Days Newspaper did an article on the house, following up on another article they did last year.  The new article says nice things.  See it here.
  • Jen and Christian hosted a cocktail party at the new house tonight.  Of course they invited the local mucky mucks and prospective buyers.  Jen said that they had over 100 people attend, and that it was a big success.  (We stayed away to let Jen do her thing without having to attend to visiting parents at the same time.)
Of course we're very proud of Jen, and happy for her.  Their project involved an incredible amount of work and poor Jen has been stretched very thin for months.

Kudos Jennifer.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Asymmetrical Warfare

Vergennes, VT
44 10.17 N 073 15.48 W

One of my most hated experiences on the boat is an invasion of evening mosquitoes.    

Of course we close hatches and ports, and put up screens in the evening.  The problem is that sometimes we're slow and evening comes too fast.  When that happens, we get a whole bunch of blood thirsty mosquitoes invades us soon after sunset.

I don't mean the occasional lone mosquito that goes buzz buzz around the cabin at night.  I mean a squadron of hungry female mosquitoes who are there for one purpose only -- to bite us.  A squadron has at least a dozen members.  Of course, upon detecting the invasion I scramble to close whatever was left open, but that's too late.

My remedial efforts are immediate and frantic.  All lights go on, to better illuminate the white painted surfaces where they are best spotted.  Then we grab our fly swatters.  We have one for each of us.  Then I begin the hunting pattern.   I check my own body, then check Libby's body (I really like that part), then I check all over the inside of the boat to spot a mosquito.

When we see one, we swat it.  We're on-target about 2/3 of the time.   Then  the scanning process repeats.  It takes about two hours to kill the last of the squadron.   By that time, we can open the hatches and screens again, because new mosquitoes stop arriving.  All this time, I'm tormented by itching.  Psychosomatic itching sure, but itching nevertheless.

Given that we are superior beings, much bigger, more intelligent, armed with technology and highly refined weapons (swatters), there should be no contest. Right.   After all, at the end of the evening all the mosquitoes are dead and none of the crew is dead.  But wait!  It's not that simple.   8 of the 12 mosquitoes we kill, leave behind big splotches of blood.  Our blood!  Despite our defenses, 75% of them manage to bite us and suck blood before we get them.   Arrrrrg.

I should mention that the mosquito problem is worst when tied up to a dock, or anchored too near shore.   When we are anchored more than 100 meters from shore, insects are much less of a problem. 

Biting flies are a similar problem.  They drive Libby crazy more than me.  The problem with flies is that they appear in the middle of the day when we can't shut ourselves inside behind screens.   They also appear much farther from shore; sometimes 10 or more miles from shore.  The only good thing about that is that 9 of 10 days we encounter no flies at all.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

It's The Economy, Or Is It?

Vergennes, VT
44 10.17 N 073 15.48 W

There seems to be many fewer boats on Champlain this year.  Especially the Canadians are here is much fewer numbers.    That was our impression, and chatting with aVermont Marine Patrol Trooper yesterday confirmed it.

I know that the Canadian economy is heavily dependent on the American economy, but it's ups and downs do not go in synchronism with the USA's.  Asking around, I hear that the Canadian economy is no worse than last years.  I don't know what the explanation is.

One negative factor, which I do not believe caused the boating low, is that the lake has a lot more algae than previous years.  The green algae is visible and it is found places where we've never seen it before.   Blue-green algae is not visible, but it causes problems if you swim in it.  I have an earache from too much swimming last weekend.  

The cause of the algae blooms is obvious.  Last year the lake got a tripple whammy of flooding.  First it was the record high spring floods.  Then Tropical Storm Irene, then Tropical Storm Lee.  Each flood washed nitrogen from residential and especially agricultural areas into the lake. Each creek and river leading to the lake deposited a miles long plume of brown flood water.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Tripple Trouble

Otter Creek
44 13.18 N 073 18.94 W

Man oh man, things went wrong quickly today.

Yesterday we had a lazy day watching the osprey and the bald eagles doing aerial combat in Porter Bay.   This time it was the osprey that was attacking the eagle.  It seemed that it was trying to drive him away.

This morning our plan was to make the short (1 mile) trip to Otter Creek, and then motor up the creek to Vergennes.  We didn't get very far.

Just 100 yards short of the creek entrance, the engine sputtered and died.  Uh oh.  Yesterday I had changed the engine oil, tranny oil, and the primary and secondary fuel filters.  I must have done something wrong, starving the engine for fuel.  Diesel engines need only fuel and air, they are simpler than gasoline engines.

I dropped the Danforth anchor (Bonnie).  The water was 50 feet deep, normally much too deep for anchoring, but there was no wind so we didn't need much holding.

I soon found that sure enough, I left the fuel feed valve and the return valve on OFF.  I checked the primary and secondary filters.  Both had plenty of fuel.  Therefore, I opened the valves and went up to crank the engine.  After only 5 seconds, it started right up.  It must have stopped because the return valve was closed causing so much back pressure that the fuel pump couldn't pump.  Oh well, I tediously hauled the anchor back up and we were away again.

We didn't get very far a second time.  In fact we moved less than 300 yards before we ran aground.  Oh no!!!   The entrance to Otter Creek is tricky. I have a saved GPS track to show me where to go, but I allowed myself to be fooled by two buoys that I remember being in the middle of the channel.  They weren't.   When I got an alarm warning from the depth sounder, I committed a second mistake.  I turned right rather than left, misjudging where we were.  That put us high and dry.

Well, we knew what to do.  Launch the dinghy, put the Danforth anchor and 250 feet of rode in the dinghy, row it out at a 90 degree angle, and drop it.  Then, we used the windlass in stump pulling gear to kedge us off.  It works almost always.  But this time was one of the times it didn't work.

A nice man in a motor boat tried to help us.  That did no good.  Then a State Trooper in a marine patrol boat came to help.  His boat couldn't pull us off either.  Small fiberglass boats don't have sufficiently strong cleats to pull really hard.

We called Tow Boat US, being very glad that we pay $150/year for unlimited towing.  Their closest tow boat was in Rouses Point, 70 miles away.  So they contacted Westport, NY Marina, about 5 miles away.  Westport came in about 90 minutes, and after 15 minutes of strong tugging one way and the other, we finally floated free.  

Our kedging method would have worked eventually, but it might have taken us 24 hours of maintaining tension on that line to let the boat slide off the mud.

We paid Westport by CC, and Tow Boat US will reimburse us.

So what score do I give myself for this morning.  I made bad mistakes twice, but we didn't get upset or panicked, and we managed to rescue ourselves (with a little help) both times.   I would say that the moral of today's story is that experience is very valuable, but even experienced skippers commit stupid errors from time to time.

FLASH: After posting the first version of this blog with the title "Double Trouble", we had a third mishap.   Libby dropped a fender overboard.  We had to double back to rescue it.   That's pretty minor compared to the other two.  I wonder if she did it just to make me feel better after my two stupid mistakes.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


En Route, Lake Champlain
44 28.04 N 073 14.54 W

Our plan for the weekend was to go to Willsboro Bay.  Valcour, Porter Bay and Vergennes all tend to be crowded on weekends, making it a good time to visit Willsboro.  We'll have dinner Saturday night with our friends Bob and Carol who live on the shore of Willsboro Bay.

Friday was a dog day.  Hot (95F). Humid.  No wind.  After returning from Jenny's, I jumped in the lake.  What a delight to be able to do that.  No salt water, no stinging jellyfish, no pollution, not too cold.  Champlain is perfect for swimming.   On really hot days, I start with a baseline of a plunge once every 60 minutes, and adjust from there.  Libby is a bit more tolerant of heat than I, so she does it less.

Anyhow, after my plunge , I got a great idea.  Instead of motoring to Willsboro in the evening or morning, why not do it after dark?  Night passages on the calm lake are charming.  I proposed to leave at 2030.

Then Libby had a crazier idea.  Why not leave at 0300, and sail through the dawn hours?  That way we could enjoy this week's celestial show.  Did you hear, the Pleadies, Jupiter, Venus, and Aldebaran, Uranus and Neptune all line up in close proximity in the pre-dawn sky.  This time of year that comes really early, about 0400.

Now it is 0300 and we're under way.  The air is deliciously cool.  Alas, there are a few clouds in the sky, but not too many.  We have the whole lake to ourselves; no other vessels out here.  No shoals in our way.  Life is good.

I think Libby was crazy like a fox. 
p.s. Just as we left the anchorage, a single skyrocket exploded, shot from the shore just behind us.  Were they celebrating our departure?

Update: 0330   It's beautiful out here, but the sky show was a bit of a bust.  First, the moon intruded right next to where the planets are.  Even though it was less than 1/4 full, it's light spoiled our view.  Second, although the sky is cloudless, it is very hazy and all the stars are dimmed.  Oh well, we'll just have to try again on a less humid morning.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Link Fixed

South Burlington, VT

We're on land once again, helping Jenny at the Library.

I neglected to put in the link to the AF 337 story in the previous post.  Sorry.  Read the story here.

p.s.  There is an article in the local paper about the popularity of micro houses in Vermont.  These are house s 10x16 feet that conserve resources and money.  It occurs to me that after a big hurricane in Florida that hundreds of damaged cruising sailboats can be bought for just a few thousand dollars.  They are luxuriously finished, well designed, with galley, head, sleeping, and often solar/wind power installed.  Some have air conditioning and heating.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Decisions Decisions

Under Sail, Lake Champlain
44 36.55 N 073 22.63 W

I had planned to do a night passage to sail from Valcour back to Burlington tonight.  Night passages are very nice.  However, there's a gentle 8 knot southerly breeze, and we've had too little time under sail recently, so we're tacking back close hauled.  We are only making 3 knots so it will be a long leisurely sail.

My friend Pete sent me this link to a compelling story of what really happened in the cockpit of Air France 447.   Wow, is it ever dramatic.  Especially if you've ever been trained to fly a plane or to handle a vessel.  No, I do not have a comparable story from our block archive.

I didn't write about our arrival in Burlington on the 4th of July.  It was a doozy.

My original plan was to sit out all day on the 4th down in Porter Bay.  That is because severe thunderstorms were forecast.  We can handle thunderstorms and we can handle Burlington, but being at anchor at Burlington is the worst possible place to be during a storm.  It is extremely exposed.

Around 4 in the afternoon, I checked the doppler radar.  It appeared to me that any storms for the day had already passed, and had missed us.  I told Libby, "I changed my mind.  Let's go to Burlington right now."   So we did.

As we got up to the central part of the lake under sail in a gentle 10 knot breeze, we were pretty happy.  Just then the wind died abruptly.  Uh Oh, that usually signals a weather change.  Just then the Coast Guard came on the radio with a warning.  A severe storm was heading down the lake.  All boats seek shelter immediately.   "What the heck," I thought.  I rechecked the radar, and sure enough a massive storm had formed from nothing in just 30 minutes and it was headed for us.

What to do?   We decided to race the storm to Burlington and to pick up a mooring behind the breakwater.

To make a long story short, we did get to the mooring and attached ourselves, but less than 60 seconds before a 70 mph gust front laid us over. What a close call.   Burlington and surrounding areas got hit hard.  Hundreds of trees were downed and there was widespread flooding.

Thunderstorms like that usually last less than 15 minutes (and this one did).  If we had been riding at anchor we would have been OK.  If we had just sat in the middle of the lake with sails down, gone below and closed the hatches we would have been OK.  15 minutes is not enough time to create major waves, no matter what the wind speed.  However, while dropping anchor or while trying to pick up a mooring, the boat's vulnerability is at maximum.

Did we make the right decision?  I thought it over again and again, and I can't say for sure.  One thing is evident, we need more practice being adrift far from shore while hiding down below to ride out thuderstorms.  We don't need more skills, we need more comfort.

I must say a word though lest others try to follow my advice.  A Westsail 32 is an extremely seaworthy vessel, but she's not so fast with the motor.  When the Coast Guard advises all vessels to seek immediate shelter, that applies to smaller, faster vessels.  Larger ones like Tarwathie (and like the two dinner cruise boats out there with us) are better off doing the opposite. We should position ourselves as far from shore or shoals as possible, and drift.

Imagine yourself in an airplane.  The scariest thing is not flying through a violent storm, it is trying to land the plane during such a storm.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Back Where We Belong

Valcour Island
44 37.35 N 073 24.45 W

Well, I've got to say that our 2012 cruising agenda is complete. We have returned to our most treasured of favorite places --- Valcour. We have a long list of favorites tired for second place, but Valcour has no peer.

I write many times before about Valcour. Did I ever explain that our attachment to this place far precedes our cruising life. In fact it was a major factor in leading us to the life choice to live as cruisers.

My first time on Valcour Island must have been around 1978. I was with my son John on our Clipper 26 engaged in my first ever attempt at independent cruising. Libby and I had chartered in the Virgins before but that is not the same. Anyhow, John and I did not go ashore that night but we were enchanted by the beauty anyhow. That spot sits only 100 yards from where we suit today.

One week cruises on Champlain in the first week of .October became a family tradition after that. In addition to Valcour, we fell in love with Burlington and a decade later we moved the family there.

During the years we lived in Vermont, we didn't own a boat. Still, we managed to get time off to visit Valcour. Later still, when we had an empty best in New York, we staged some one week camping vacations on Valcour in October. Sometimes it was Libby and I. Other times just me and the dog.

Since cruising, this is our 8th sumner on Tarwathie and our 6th time on Champlain and perhaps our (my) 30th (40th) visit to Valcour.

Valcour is uninhabited. They won't let us live here. Too bad.

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Monday, July 09, 2012


South Burlington, Vermont

We are spending this week in an unusual state for cruising sailors.  We're playing in the dirt.

Actually, we're helping Jenny out at her library project.  There are only 9 days left until the cocktail party where Jenny and Chrisitrian unveil the library to all the local mucky mucks (not to mention prospective buyers).  After that, it is officially on the market.

Like most projects, there's a mountain of unfinished details needing completion.   Yesterday, I helped Jenny laying sod.  I've never done that before.

Jenny works to finish the porous driveway & new sidewalk

p.s. The nearly finished library looks great.  Wait a few weeks for a nice slide show.

Anyhow, probably few or no new blog posts this week since we're away from the boat.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

The Naiad of Porter Bay

Burlington, Vermont
44 28.25 N 073 12.78 W

I've written before about the flora and fauna of Porter Bay.  Next to Valcour Island, this is just about the most pristine place on the lake. One thing I didn't write about was the woman we spotted year after year swimming across the bay and back.

The woman swam far and swam powerfully.  I estimate her round trip distance at about 1.5 to 2.0 miles.  That's very much further than I can swim.  Anyhow, she makes quite a sight on her daily circumnavigation of the bay.

On the 4th of July, I spotted her once again.  I waved.  This time she waved back and then swam over to say hello.   I learned that her name is Jerry.  It seems improper to speak of Jerry as part of the flora and fauna, so from now on I'll refer to her as the Naiad /ˈnāad/ of Porter Bay.

The Naiad and I swapped observations about the after effects of the extremely mild winter just past.   For one thing, this year's goslings are much larger than normal for this time of year.  For another, the sea weeds and (unfortunately) algae grow bigger and faster.  There are also more mosquitoes.   Porter Bay is just north of Otter Creek, and the major agricultural nitrogen load enters the lake at Otter Creek and flows south.  The Naiad said that despite warnings, she has seen no evidence of algae here in the bay.

Sorry, no picture.  Nymphs, gnomes and trolls don't like their picture taken.  You'll have to be satisfied by this watercolor by John William Waterhouse (1849–1917).

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Reveling in Revelations

En Route, Lake Champlain, Vermont/New York
44 13.44 N 073 20.92 W

What joy. We awoke to a splendid morning. Looking out in the cockpit, we saw the guns of Fort Ticonderoga looming over us. The fort is a very fitting icon marking the entrance to the wider parts of the lake. Indeed, that's why the French built the fort on that spot; duh.

As soon as we had our morning coffee, Libby and I wasted no time. We mounted the boom fetched the mainsail and other sailing gear stowed away, and completed the rigging out of Tarwathie as a sail ready vessel. It was a labor of love.

Then I followed up on an earlier thread and I assigned Libby the job of re-rigging our six-to-one main sheet setup. It is something that looks so simple and elegant while rigged, yet so completely baffling when disassembled. I didn't stump her for long. She had a dim memory of doing it once before. In less than two minutes, she had the job complete. Simplicity revealed once again.

Libby starting
Done 2 minutes later.  Simplicity revealed

Then we started heading north. Libby took the helm while I continued with other rigging tours. I restored the wiring going up the mast. Then I dug deep deep into the bottom of our lockers and found the pieces of Big Bessie. Bessie is our 80 pound Luke anchor used only for hurricanes and anchoring in Lake Champlain.

Soon, Bessie revealed herself on the forward desk. The picture shows the rare event of seeing Bessie, Betty and Bonnie; our three anchors, all at the same time.
Bessie (foreground), Betty, and Bonnie (hanging)

Finally, the beauty of the mountains gradually revealed themselves as we continued northward. You see, at the southern end of the lake, mountains hem us in on either side. It is very pretty but nothing is visible other than the closest hillsides. As we move north, the Champlain Valley spreads out and the mountains become more and more distant. The valley spreads first to the East and later to the West. It isn't until we reach the main part of the lake until both the Adirondack and Green Mountain ranges are revealed in all their glory. Early on, we spotted Camel's Hump; the most recognizable and iconic of Vermont's mountains.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. To us, is it much more beautiful to see a whole mountain range from 30 miles away, than the most spectacular single mountain from directly at its base. Compare the sight of the Rockies seen from Denver, as compared to as seen from Aspen.

Finally, the graceful lines of the newly completed Champlain Bridge were revealed to us as we rounded a corner. She's a fine bridge with nice lines.
The new Champlain Bridge
Tonight we'll enjoy the tranquility of Porter Bay, one of our favorite places. Oh boy, I can hardly wait.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Sailing vessel Tarwathie

Ticonderoga, NY
43 50.31 N 073 23.27 W

We are on the lake. The mast is back up. Let the summer begin!!!
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Sunday, July 01, 2012

Mast Up Tomorrow

Whitehall, NY
43 32.74 N 073 23.81 W

Our overnight spot at Lock 8, rural and arty.
Today we are at the place where the road signs say this.
Libby prepared 15 pounds of Pine Needles.

Libby is very organized with her needles.  She dries them, trims them, aligns them, bags them and labels the bags by date and location where they were gathered.   She can now choose from several shades of brown and green to color her baskets.

Fifteen pounds of prepared needles are enough to make 60-75 baskets.  They could also be sold for $1 per ounce on Ebay, making them worth 240 dollars as a commodity.

Tomorrow, is a working day.  We'll put the mast back up at Chipman Point.  Lots of work but well worth it.