Sunday, September 30, 2007

Things That Go Knock In The Night

Myers Creek
N 37 41.50 W 076 29.66

This is a strange, but true, story. Last night we sat at anchor on Urbanna Creek, not far from the town marina. Up the creek a little bit is a facility called Liberty at Comfort Quay. It is sort of a motel, but its real business is to host weddings. There is a big open building for indoor parties. There is a very big deck on the water, and there are rooms for the guests to sleep it off after the party. Last night, there was a big wedding reception at Liberty. Every parking space for 1/4
mile around was filled.

Well, this morning around 04:00 Libby and I were woken abruptly by three loud knocks on the hull right next to our ears. KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK. I jumped out of bed, exclaimed "What the hell?" and ran up on deck naked and without my glasses. When I got there I heard a voice say, "Don't worry. We aren't going to board you." I didn't see anyone to go with the voice. I shook my head to shake out the cobwebs and tried to focus my eyes. Then I saw them in the moonlight. There were three men swimming
in the water holding on to our dinghy. One had a bathing suit on but the others were naked. "What the hell?" I said once again.

The four of us then engaged in a conservation under these bizarre circumstances. I learned that these men were guests from the wedding reception, and that they were drunk. They were trying to swim across the creek but they got tired out and headed for Tarwathie as a nearby refuge. I also heard female voices. I looked over at the town marina and there were women there shouting at their idiot husbands telling them to come back before they drowned.

Having learned that I decided that they were harmless and that I should go back to bed. I did so, but then Libby spoiled everything. "Shouldn't you row them somewhere in the dinghy so they don't drown?" "Hell no," I said, but my answer left my conscience unsettled. "Mumble grumble," I said as I got out of bed again. This time I put on a pair of shorts and my glasses. I went back up on deck and further engaged my uninvited guests in conversation. The women on shore were gone.

I learned that one of them was a soldier recently returned from Kuwait. Ah, that's were my son David is. "That's better than Iraq," I said. Another of the swimmers replied, "I thought Kuwait was in Iraq on the Dead Sea." This one wasn't one of America's finest. Another 5 minutes of idle chatter and I convinced them to try to return to the shore. They swam away. However, because of my dang conscience I stayed up and watched them with the binoculars just in case a rescue was needed. It took
them 15 to 20 minutes to get there.

Finally I went back to bed and this time I was chilled to the bone. It took an extra blanket and Libby's best efforts at cuddling to warm me back up.

p.s. Our gunkhole book discouraged us from traveling up the Rappahannock River to Tappahanock. It sounded inhospitable. Instead, we are exploring some of the very many side waterways. Tonight we are on Myers Creek off the Corrotoman River which is off the Rappahannock River. It's pretty but there are lots of waterfront houses around. Tomorrow, we'll look for more seclusion and nature. The weather is perfect. Mild temperatures and gentle breezes.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


Urbanna Public Library

On the way south, off the coast of Delmarva, we had a visit from a very nice little bird. I named him Marcel. Marcel was very tame and he stayed with us for several hours. Marcel hunted the boat from stem to stern for insects to eat. We had a full cargo of spiders all over from our month up on Lake Champlain. Therefore Marcel found good eating on board Tarwathie.

Marcel even crawled up Libby’s arm to search for insects under her collar. A bit later, Marcel perched on top of my head and searched for meals in my hair. I hope he didn’t find any there, but if he did, I hope he ate them all.

After a few hours, Marcel disappeared. Sadly, his survival was questionable. Clearly, Marcel is a land bird, not a sea bird, and we were 20-25 miles off shore at the time.

A few hours later we had a visit from a much larger bird, also a land bird, not a sea bird, but I’m not sure what kind. We wonder how many birds die in this natural, yet sad, scenario every year. Regular blog readers will remember accounts of other birds from years ago, notably the one we called Num Num. All of these bird encounters happened off the coast of the Delmarva Peninsula.

In Urbanna, we’ve been enjoying the company of Gary and Nell. Gary is retired from the US Coast Guard. He builds wonderful scale model sailing ships. In his garage, Gary is building a 26 foot wooden schooner with a design reminiscent of Slocum’s Spray. He has been working on it for a long time, and he hopes to launch her in late 2008. Gary and Nell have dreams of cruising the Chesapeake and the ICW on this boat, and they’re getting anxious to enjoy the benefits of their long labor after she’s launched.

The other day, I was putting air in the tire of my bike when it went BANG. I cussed. When would I find a chance to get to a bicycle shop to buy a new tire? Graciously, Gary offered to take me to a shop across the river about 15 miles away. So off we went, Gary, Nell and I on a morning jaunt.

A Model of the SS America Under Construction

Gary's Boat Project

Last evening, we had Gary and Nell onboard Tarwathie for dinner. We had a great time. Ness especially was interested in life onboard a sailboat since she hopes to do it soon herself. Gary’s eyes wandered around the boat looking at features and dimensions. One could see the wheels turning in his head. He was assessing what features could and could not be adapted to his boat. Gary’s boat will only be 26 feet long so there will be much less room than Tarwathie gives us. Nevertheless, much can be done. I get the impression that Gary gets most of his fun from planning and designing this boat and selecting the fixtures and features. For him, it might be an anticlimax when she is launched.

p.s. This picture of Manhattan illustrates the futility of night photography from the deck of a sailboat. Libby thinks the picture is pretty anyhow. I don’t.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Moment Near Disaster

I'm sure you've heard the expression, "My life is measured by hours of boredom punctuated by moments of terror." The expression may be a bit overstated but it is essentially true. A life's memories consist primarily of a few choice moments. When we approached retirement, Libby and I thought back on life's choice moments and we realized that very many of them were moments on sailboats. This is the story of one of those moments.

One fine fall day in the mid 1970s we decided to go sailing on Champlain. At the time, Libby and I owned a 19 foot O'Day Mariner. Our friends John and Mary Ann owned an International 14. The Mariner was a day sailor, while the 14 was a classic wooden racing dinghy. We couldn't decide which boat to sail so we brought both of them up to Chazy where Libby's aunt and uncle owned a lovely place on the lake. My sister Nancy also came along for the day trip.

It was a long drive up, more than 3.5 hours en route, but the day was sunny and it was windy. Very windy. At the time I had no sailing experience on Lake Champlain so I didn't fully respect the dangers.

We decided that first out, we would take the 14. It was meant for a crew of two, so John and I hopped in and set out. I believe that we were wearing life jackets, but I don't remember for sure. At first, the ride was exhilarating. The 14 came out of the water and planed right away and we zoomed along. I loved it. It was my first (and last) time sailing on her. However, the further we got away from shore, the stronger the winds. I believe that the winds were in excess of 30 knots. Very soon we were fully engaged in trying to keep her upright. We hooked our feet under the hiking straps and leaned way back to windward. Then John headed her high in to the wind to control the heeling forces.

The 14 was equipped with a trapeze. I always wanted to try out a trapeze. To this day I still haven't done that. A trapeze is a rig that leads a line from high up on the mast down to a hook at chest height. To use it, you wear a harness with a ring on your chest. You hook the ring on to the trapeze hook and then you can let go with both hands, set your feet on the side of the hull and lean back until your head is just above the water, thus maximizing the righting moment of your body. On this day, I couldn't let go or move my body enough to use the trapeze without risking a capsize.

We began taking on water over the leeward rail because of excessive heel. However, the 14 had a self bailer that efficiently sucked the water right back out. When we were about 1 mile out from shore we decided that we must come about. Coming about on such a little boat is difficult. You have to get very low to get your body under the boom, then crawl up to the rail on the other side. At the same time, these motions of two crew persons must be coordinated with the changing heading of the boat to counterbalance the wind forces. Remarkably, we accomplished that maneuver without a hitch. Feeling in peril, we decided to head back in to the camp.

Heading back in meant that we were more on a broad reach than a close reach. The sails had to be eased, and we could not head in to the wind to ease heeling forces. It didn't work. In less than 30 seconds, the heeling forces overpowered us and we capsized. Fortunately, the water was not too cold. The next job was to get her righted and sail again.

We climbed up on the inverted hull and grabbed hold of the center board. Like magic, the boat turned over and righted herself. Also like magic, we climbed on board, grabbed the tiller and the sheets, and soon we were sailing again, but this time with a boat full of water.

With so much water in the boat she was very unstable. Still we miraculously held her upright and as we picked up speed, that neat little self bailer began to suck away all the water. I was impressed. However, before she was dry another gust came along and over we went again.

This time, righting the boat did not work well at all. Every time we grabbed the center board and rolled her over, the wind would catch the sail as she came up right and roll her over again the other way. We righted her three times and three times the wind knocked her down again before we could climb in. The mast had filled with water making the boat top heavy. There is supposed to be a foam ball at the top of the mast to provide buoyancy and to prevent water from filling the mast when capsized. We had no such ball. The third knockdown was the bad one. That time, the sails and the rig came down on top of John. Worse, the hook on the trapeze caught in John's clothes or his harness and it pulled him under water.

I was hanging on to the stern and I saw John's face being pulled under water. I held the boat with one hand and stretched out the other one to grab John's hand. When I had him, I pulled back in. His face came back above water but he was stuck. What to do next? I couldn't let go or try another approach without him being pulled under water again. Therefore, we both just continued to pull with our outstretched arms. Thankfully, after a minute or so, something snapped and released John. I think it was a bungee cord on the trapeze that snapped.

We were too cold and too tired to try to right the dinghy again, so we just hung on to the overturned hull. Eventually, Libby cousin Wendell saw our predicament and came out with a motor boat and rescued us. We towed the 14 back to shore upside down.

Well, like a bunch of fools, what do you think we did next after drying off? We launched the Mariner to go sailing of course. This time it was John and Nancy and I. We wanted to sail her up to the Little Chazy River where there was a boat ramp. Our experience on the Mariner was entirely different. The wind was still blowing at 30 plus knots and the chop was 4-5 feet. Yet the Mariner is a very seaworthy vessel and she handled the conditions very well. We sailed about 3 miles up wind to the river feeling perfectly secure and perfectly under control the whole way. The only excitement came when I tried to lower the jib.

The Mariner had no lifelines and a very small foredeck. I went up to the bow to lower the sail, but when I got there we were hit by a number of extra big waves. Up went the bow 6-8 feet, then down it crashed in to the trough. When it came down, my feet lifted off the deck and soon I was hanging horizontally in the air, four feet above the deck. Fortunately, I had a strong grip on the fore stay. I didn't let go. This happened three times before things settled down.

It wasn't until some days or weeks later when we reflected on what danger we were really in that day and how close John came to drowning. It is a memory I'm not fond of recalling.

So what was the lesson learned that day? Stay on shore you fools when the weather is too much for your vessel. What in the world were we thinking?

Changing Email Address

We are planning to drop our old-fashioned ISP acmenet soon. There seems to be no point in paying $9.95/month for dial up access, when the only net access we use nowadays is WiFi.

Therefore, please erase from your address book and replace it with


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Urbanna Again

Urbanna Public Library

Oh it felt good. We went to bed last night at 9 and didn't get up till 9 this morning. Wouldn't have got up then except that the heat and intense sunlight made it uncomfortable. We had no time to adapt from NE fall weather to this. The temperature was 90 yesterday afternoon and it felt like no less than 70 overnight. What a drastic difference.

I puttered and did some minor repairs this morning, then I changed the oil in the engine. Sorry, with the new engine, oil changes just aren't worthy of blog postings any more.

Around noon we hauled anchor and set sail for Urbanna. We had nearly perfect winds and zipped right up here at nearly 6 knots despite a 1.5 knot tidal current against us. We'll spend several days here.

Urbanna has a grocery store and a library, both within walking distance of the dinghy dock. What more could any urban center hope for? If we had stopped at 79th street in NYC I bet we couldn't have found a grocery and a library within easy walking distance.

This is also the place where we met Gary last year, the man who is building a wooden boat. We'll go to say hi to Gary tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Deltaville, VA
N 37 22.693 W 076 20.102

Well things worked out pretty good. Last night the wind shifted to the East, which wasn't in the forecast at all. That kept us going quite well at 4-6 knots. We took down the spinnaker and put up the jib and the staysail and we got along quite well. Those winds held up to just about dawn, but by then we were within 10 miles of the Chesapeake Bay entrance. We dropped the sails and motored past the Bay Bridge-Tunnel.

We were even luckier because we arrived at the bay just in time for the flood tide to arrive and give us a boost. After passing the bridge-tunnel, the winds started again, but from the south. But by then we were heading NW again. We made it to Deltaville by 13:30 today. Just before entering the channel we looked up and there was another Westsail 32 passing right in front of us. This one was named Christa with home port San Francisco. I regret that we never kept an explicit count of the number
of Westsails we've seen while cruising. It must be two to four dozen.

Jackson Creek, where we are anchored, is the place where we went aground twice trying to get in to the entrance channel two years ago. Today it went fine, we never had less than 8.5 feet under us at any time. The last time we were here, our friends John and Mary Ann and Gary were with us.

This should make my lake sailing friends jealous. It took 3.5 days to sail from Poughkeepsie to Deltaville. We were on port tack the entire trip. Never once did we come about.

Now it's time to go to bed early and get a good night's sleep. Night all.

Monday, September 24, 2007


At Sea
N 37 46 W 75.19

The cruising life has given me experience in acting swiftly and decisively when needed. However, making non-urgent decisions seems to be getting harder. On every important choice I hem and haw, and delay deciding and imagine complicating factors, and wish I had more perfect information. It sounds like I'm describing corporate executives who used to irritate me so much because of their reluctance to decide.

Last night was such as case. I was vacillating between the choice of putting in to Cape May, NJ for the night, or continuing on toward Norfolk, VA. We wanted to go to the southern Chesapeake rather than the northern end. However, the weather forecast wasn't great, and to make it worse, even the current weather did not have the favorable winds we expected. I favored one choice, then the other, then the first one again. The wind finally died entirely and we started motoring toward Cape May. Around
midnight, I said the decision was final. We would put in to Cape May for the night and then check the weather in the morning. I could feel my decision process being influenced by fatigue. I wanted a night's sleep. Within minutes of that decision, and nice NW breeze appeared out of nowhere. I flipped again.

So far, it turned out to be a good decision. I put up the spinnaker and we used it all night long and most of today. Now, 18 hours after flipping my choice we are 90 miles (out of 165) miles closer to the Chesapeake, and we're making 4.5-5 knots toward the goal. It has been a splendid day. By tomorrow noon we should be on the Chesapeake, well inside the bridge-tunnel. If we had put in to Cape May I would have been very unhappy with my choice and it would have been 2-3 weeks before we reached
the southern Chesapeake where we want to be.

Even Joshua Slocum had hallucinations on his voyage. Last night might have been our turn. We changed watch at 04:00. Libby took over and I went to sleep. I was very tired so soon I was very very deep in sleep. I was woken by a cry of help from Libby. I dashed up on deck without even my glasses on to see what the matter was. Libby said, "What is that, and how can I avoid it?" I looked out and saw some kind of large vessel close by, within a half mile of us. It was showing lots of bright
white lights but no red/green navigation lights were visible. Behind it was a string of red lights. Some of the red lights appeared to be stacked three lights high on vertical poles. Libby said the red lights were moving very fast. I looked and they all looked still, except that I caught a quick glimpse of a very fast moving red light. I heard no noise.

I thought, it must be a tug towing barges plus a chase boat. However, the red lights appeared to go on for miles. I couldn't read the GPS screen without my glasses so I couldn't orient myself. I couldn't tell which way we were pointing or where the strange vessel was pointing. To make things worse, I noticed the spinnaker wrapped around the forestay, and I could also feel my eyes drooping -- I was still half asleep.

I went below to put on my glasses and to put on a jacket. When I came back up less than 60 seconds later, the vessel appeared to be gone. "Where is it?" I asked Libby. "There," she pointed. I looked and the damn thing appeared to be 2-3 miles away already. Also, the only red lights visible anywhere were TV/radio towers on shore 10-15 miles away. What the hell?

So, what's the explanation? I'm really at a loss for a good one. The best I can offer is a weak speculation. I think the vessel was a hydrofoil traveling at 50 knots or better. I think the red lights I saw were the TV towers. I think the fast moving red lights that Libby and I saw were reflections of red lights off the waves. Perhaps the hydrofoil had a party with rotating red lights or even rotating lasers. That's pretty lame but it's the best I can do.

Despite the fact that we nearly died by being run over by this hallucination, I was back down below and back asleep within 5 minutes. I let Libby straighten out the spinnaker by herself. I was really zonked.

So what the heck was it? It didn't look like a flying saucer. Perhaps I should have entitled this blog Unidentified Floating Object.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

NY Fairy Land

At Sea
N 39 18 W 074 25

Last night it was like a fairy land as we passed Manhattan after dark. The lights of the cities were as impressive as you could imagine. They substituted for moonlight in illuminating the river. As we passed ground zero, the empty hole where the WTC towers stood is even more apparent at night as I sailed past at 23:00.

I thought that late at night that the traffic would be less. Ha! I was dead wrong. We had to dodge numerous dinner cruise boats that wandered aimlessly. There was also much more tug boat and barge traffic than during the day time. It took full concentration to avoid any collisions and I had to make 90 degree turns and 360 degree spins a few times to avoid the big guys. None of the big boats showed any signs of yielding to a sail boat that had the right of way.

We encountered 5 tides in the 19 hours since leaving Poughkeepsie yesterday. A flood, an ebb, another flood, another ebb, and a final flood. How could that be? There are only supposed to be four in 24 hours. Ah, but we were sailing down the river and encountering tidal surges as they worked their way upstream. If one sails toward Albany with enough speed to match the tidal surge, one can "surf" the same flood surge all the way to Albany, therefore encountering zero changes in tide direction.
It is the Doppler effect carried to extreme.

Finally, as we rounded the point in Sandy Hook NJ at 01:30, I looked ahead and saw only blessed black. No lights, no vessels of any kind were ahead, we were finally at sea again.

The winds had been against us, a strong southerly flow, all day. The forecast called for the winds to shift to west after midnight. Sure enough, around midnight the winds became westerly 0-5 knots. We had the choice to anchor at Sandy Hook, or to anchor in place in the bay, or to just drift, or to try to sail, or to motor. The flood tide was just starting and if we waited in place it would soon become two knots carrying us back in to New York. Therefore I gave it the gas and we motored away
for a couple of hours to get out of range of the New York Harbor tides. Just about 03:00 the wind picked up nicely, and soon we were under sail making 6 knots toward Cape May.

Unfortunately, during the day today the forecast wind of NW at 20 knots actually turned out to be S at 5 knots. We didn't move very fast after lunch. Now, it is almost dark. We just passed Atlantic City. I'm debating whether or not to stop in Cape May for the night. We could stop in Cape May or we could just stay at sea heading for Norfolk. The forecast for the next 4 days is for very light southerly winds -- not favorable for us. On the other hand, we should be able to make the 120 miles
in 4 days even under unfavorable conditions. If we get becalmed we could always approach shore and anchor at sea to get a night's sleep. Worst case, we could motor another 100 miles or so.

The temperature has been great. I was comfortable in a t-shirt all night and all day long. This afternoon I set up a sun shower and luxuriated in a 116 degree F shower on the forward desk. That warm water feels so good.

Despite the calm weather, we heard reports of two boats sinking in and near the ocean inlets. In both cases the crew and passengers were rescued OK. Perhaps that's normal for New Jersey. I heard one humorous exchange in the case of the second sinking. I first heard the Coast Guard calling Tow Boat US (who rescued the people) asking if he had the survivors. I then heard the Tow Boat base station calling to tell the people that their mother was on the way from Philadelphia brining dry clothes.
Ha ha -- very contrasting perspectives. While the captain is on the VHF radio calling for rescue, his passenger must have been on a cell phone calling his mother to complain that he got wet.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Flexible Plans

Dobbs Ferry, On The Hudson River
N 41 01.900 W 073 53.098

Our plan was to sail to Nyack today, spend the night there, spend tomorrow night at the Statue Of Liberty, perhaps another night at Sandy Hook NY, then wait for weather window to dash south all the way to Newark Va. Well, as we listened to the weather report today, and as we studied the tide tables, it became apparent that the window is right now. Further, the window is only long enough for us to get half way -- to Cape May, NJ.

So be it. We changed our plans. Now it is almost 1900, the sun just set, and we're motoring south against the wind and the current. We're only making 3.25 knots. However, both the wind and the current should change direction soon. We should go flying past Manhattan at 23:00 and out under the Verazano Narrows Bridge by midnight. That should put us in Cape May late Sunday night or early Monday morning. From there we'll see what the next leg will be. We wanted to explore the southern Chesapeake
this time and skip the north part entirely, but the winds might change our minds.

We saw an unusual sight on the way down today. Near the Bear Mountain Bridge, a tug was towing 19 barges loaded with crushed stone. Two of them broke loose and sank in the river. Very strange. We could plainly see on of them belly up today as we passed by. What could have caused that? I suspect that one of the barges was taking on water.

The weather was very foggy and rainy today. It spoiled our views of the most beautiful part of the Hudson. Too bad.

For some reason, I can send blogs on the SSB radio email, but my incoming email is not getting through. I don't know what to do about that. I was depending on that to get daily weather forecast updates. Now we'll have to use the less accurate VHF weather reports instead.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The End of Summer

The Mariner Restaurant
N 41 42. 851 W 73 56.895

Well it's been a great, been a great, been a great summer. It was our third summer on board Tarwathie and I think it was the most fun one. What did we do that was so much fun?

Well, since passing NYC last June, about 100 days have passed. We traveled about 1000 statue miles. We passed 65 locks. We set a new altitude record for Tarwathie, 420 feet above sea level. We spent about 50 nights at anchor, 42 nights on lock walls, and 8 nights at marinas or on rented moorings. We ran aground zero times; remarkable! We took the mast down and put it back up three times. We visited two states, two countries, two provinces, and one Indian reservation. We suffered two attacks
by hostile Indians. Our social calendar was very full. We met with friends and family on 34 occasions. I estimate that we met and chatted and swapped stories with 200 interesting strangers along the way. I even attempted to converse in French two or three times. My oh my, it makes my head spin to think of it all.

Still, there's a lot we didn't do. We had plans to maybe sail The Great Loop to Chicago, and the Mississippi River. We didn't do that. We had plans to sail the Down East Circle Route to New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Maine. We didn't do that.
I wanted to sail the entire Erie Canal to Buffalo and back. We didn't do that. We wanted to sail with all grandchildren and children. We only got some of them. I guess all that leaves room for another trip some other year.

I recall the decision we made in the Yucatan. We are not going to the Pacific to sail around the world until we get bored with this region. We're nowhere close to getting bored yet.

Here's our advice to other cruisers or cruiser wannabes. Exotic places are great, but leave room in your plans to sail on your home waters from time to time.

Slow progress today. In the morning there was so much fog that we couldn't raise anchor until nearly 11:00. We had to stop here near Poughkeepsie because we couldn't reach the next anchorage at Bannerman Castle until well after dark. It's not safe negotiating the way in to Bannerman after dark, so we stopped early. That leaves us 75+ miles to NYC Liberty Island, more than we could do tomorrow most likely. The weather forecast says that the offshore winds should be favorable starting Sunday.
That sounds good.

We've stayed here at the Mariner Restaurant twice before. They offer free docking if you eat dinner. It's a good trade. It's also the noisiest place we've ever stopped. We are less than 100 feet from the train tracks. A train passes every 25 minutes. There is a crossing so every train blasts it's whistle when it's right next to us. It reminds me of the Blues Brother's flat. However, it is the only place to stop for 20 miles upstream or 20 miles downstream. The Hudson has strong currents,
and it is too deep to anchor right up to the shore. Bannerman is the one and only anchorage for 100 miles from Kingston to Liberty Island in NYC.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

On The Average

Duck Harbor on The Hudson River
N 42 09.331 W 073 54.053

Yesterday our accomplishments were not great. We moved from Waterford a few miles down the river to Albany and we tied up at a slip at Albany Yacht Club. Our goal was to have dinner with our friend Rich's family. Alas, it turned out that Rich had a conflict so the dinner date was called off.

Today (Thursday) we got up early and left Albany Yacht Club by 07:30. The tide was against us. (Welcome back to tidal waters. It has been a long time.) Still we made good time and by 11:00 the tide turned and the current was with us. Our goal was to get the mast put up.

I wanted to stop in Castelton On The Hudson where there is a do-it-yourself crane that you could use for $50. We could learn by doing an save $50. I was emboldened by our successful experience lowering the mast by ourselves in Sorel. However, Libby was skeptical and not confident about a do-it-yourself mast raising. Since it is just the two of us, the skill and confidence of both parties would be crucial. I decided to do it Libby's way.

The next opportunity for mast stepping was in Catskill, and I wondered if we could get there early enough to do it today. As it turned out we got there by 14:00. There are two marinas there that do mast stepping -- Riverview Marine Service and Hop A Nose. We used both before. Most of the cruisers rave about Hop A Nose, but I thought that Riverview did a very professional job. Riverview also charges $100 compared to Hop A Nose's $150 fee. I chose Riverview.

We waited an hour for another boat to raise their mast, then it was our turn. They wanted the radar pointing up rather than down so we had to roll it over, but still we had the job done in less than an hour. We're too experienced at this mast stepping/unstepping process. We would prefer to leave it up always.

So, on the average, between yesterday and today, we've been fairly active.

Oh, one thing notable did happen. Between Waterford and Albany we were flagged down by three men in a small runabout who were beached on the shore. We diverted course to help them. They said that their boat was taking on water and asked for a tow to the nearest boat launch site. We were glad to help. I got out our floating poly line, tied off one and threw the rest to them. Floating line is the only way to go for towing and warping. There is little risk that it will get tangled in the propeller.

Psychologically, we left home waters today for our next journey south. There's a bit of thrill that goes along with that, but the really big thrill will come when we put out to sea.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Take Entertainment Where You Find It

Waterford, NY
N 42 47.259 W 073 40.823

The appple picking bounty.
Visiting John and Cheri

September Morning In Scotia

Today as we left Scotia, we were passed by three sailboats and a two-man racing shell. The sailboats were faster than we were, but the two men in the shell rowed exactly as fast as we moved under power, namely 5.5 knots. I expected them to go only a short way. I was surprised therefore when they stayed next to us for the 7 miles up to lock 7. I was even more surprised when they entered the lock with us.We started talking to the two men in the shell. They started in Tonawanda NY and had gone through 25 other locks already.

Wow! I was impressed by that. Talk about cruising with the bare minimum. They only had room in the shell for their wallets, a a camera and maybe a second pair of socks. Plus that they rowed hundreds of miles at 5.5 knots. I have to get myself a ride in one of those things some day. Lock 7 was their last lock. They were pulling out of the river after locking. They started asking us about our destination and the cruising life. Unfortunately, all that talk distracted them and in the blink of an eye, kerplunk the shell capsized and they were swimming in the lock. One of the men lamented, "Oh no! My digital camera. My wife is going to *kill* me."

Anyhow, with some help from the lock attendants, they were able to right the shell and to retrieve their oars and they finished the locking operation without incident. Their camera however, will have to join all those Mills cameras in Davey Jones' Camera Locker. We did have the idea of going to Albany tonight, but we got started too late in the day for that. We'll head for Albany Yacht Club tomorrow.

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Monday, September 17, 2007


Schenectady County Public Library

Well, the past few days have been a whilrwind of non-sailing activities. Saturday we picked up a rent-a-car, and Libby did her year's Christmas shopping (Ha! don't hold your breath.)

Sunday I drove over and picked up my sister Marilyn at her Saratoga ARC group home for a day's outing. We made quite a day of it. First we went to Dunkin Donuts, then we stopped at the boat, then we drove to the dollar store. The dollar store is Maryilyn's favorite, and I must confess, my favorite too. I stocked up on baseball caps. I loose hats very frequently, most of them overboard. If you wear a hat without a chin strap, it blows off when you look up and into the wind. If you wear a hat with a chin strap, it blows off when you look down and away from the wind. I found that the best solution is not to glue them on and not to use heroics to try to save them before sinking, but rather to buy them in bulk at the dollar store. Now, when I loose one, I simply grab another.

After the store we went apple picking. Yesterday was a spelndidly sunny day in the peak of apple picking season in an apple bumper crop year. As you might expect, the pick-it-yourself orchard was crowded. Actually, there was a mob of wannabe pickers like ourselves there. No matter, we had great fun and we came back with a half bushel of very firm very big and very tasty Macintoshes. Great fun.

Next we stopped to see our friends John and Cheri. It was a minor miracle to find those two home on a weekend, but we did. As usual, they were preparing for their next expidition, this one to Yosemite. Cheri was recently named Vice President of National Grid. Wow! I'm very proud of her. She always was the smartest whirlwind of nonstop energy I ever saw. Cheri's role model was Tiger from Winnie the Pooh. Even Tiger would tire watching Cheri in action. Good for you Cheri.

After our visits, I took Marilyn to a matinée movit at Scotia Cinema. We saw Ratatouille. It wasn't Marilyn's style of movie. She slept through most of it. While we were there, Libby baked macaroni and cheese and apple crisp as a special treat for dinner. That was very good.

Today (Monday) I went to my dentist in Albany. Of course that's always a pleasure. Then I went to visit my old employer, NYISO, at it's new location in Rensselaer. My friend Pete acted as my guide. I loved the new facility. I was surprised at the number of new names around the place. They have had a lot of turnover. Many of my friends were not at their desks when I went by. It was a lot of fun. Thank you Pete.

Tomorrow, we move on out, first day to Albany, next day to Catskill, raise the mast, then head for NYC. Upon the first weather window we'll put out to sea and head for Cape May NJ or for Norfolk, VA. It was plenty cold when we woke up this morning -- like the geese, we are reminded that it is time to head south.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Moment: Toddler Dave And The Day Grandma Went Overboard

I'm sure you've heard the expression, "My life is measured by hours of boredom punctuated by moments of terror." The expression may be a bit overstated but it is essentially true. A life's memories consist primarily of a few choice moments. When we approached retirement, Libby and I thought back on life's choice moments and we realized that very many of them were moments on sailboats. This is the story of one of those moments.

The winds on inland waters in the Northeast can be capricious, especially in the summer. That's especially true for places like The Great Sacandaga Lake in upstate New York where we sailed for many years. The lake is surrounded by mountains and hills which cause eddies and swirls in the wind making them unpredictable.

One summer day we were having a family day on Jennifer, our beloved Clipper 26. The Clipper 26 was, at the time, about the biggest trailerable boat that one could buy. It was a very lightweight rig. The hull was only 1/8 inch thick in most places. It had a swing keel that allowed shallow draft when we wanted it. It also had a pop top. A pop top is a section of deck roof that you can lift up and support on steel legs. With the pop top up one had standing headroom and also lots of wonderful sunshine and fresh air in to the cabin. We left the pop top up almost all the time.

On board, besides Libby and me, were our youngest son Dave, my parents Jerry and Helen and my sister Marilyn. Marilyn has been retarded since birth so all of us are naturally very protective of her. It was a fine day, warm and sunny. The winds were light but we moved along quite well. Out on the open lake we moved along quite well. Everyone was enjoying themselves. Dave, who was only 3 or 4 years old, enjoyed himself by dangling from the bow pulpit like a circus performer on a trapeze. That left his butt swinging in the air about one foot in front of the bow. Of course that drove Libby and I crazy with the fear that he would fall off and be immediately run over by the boat. Time and again we made him stop doing that but as soon as our attention wavered he went back to dangling. I didn't really want to make him stop entirely because it looked like so much fun that I wanted to do it too.

Mid afternoon the wind began to die away. It was customary on Sacandaga that the wind would die completely every afternoon at four o'clock. I was sailing us in to sunset bay in search of a pretty spot to stop for a while. We were beating in against a light wind and I had the Genoa and the mainsheet sheeted in fairly tight.

It seems to be true that despite a life time's events, many of our most memorable experiences play out over a few scant seconds. That was the case this day.

I was at the helm, navigating us in to Sunset Bay. Dave was at the bow with his feet dangling over the side. Grandma (my mother) was laying on the forward deck. Her job was to enjoy the sun but alto to grab David's shorts and pull him in if he tried to dangle again. Marilyn was down in cabin, leaning on the side of the pop top opening and looking around at the scenery.

Suddenly a puff of wind came out of nowhere. Because the sails were sheeted in, we took the blast of wind and heeled heavily. The Clipper was a very light weight rig and she instantly rolled over about 45 degrees. The roll caused two things to happen simultaneously. First, the pop top cover fell hitting Marilyn on the head then smashing down on her fingers. She let out a shriek of pain. The second thing happened unnoticed by the rest of us because of Marilyn's emergency. Grandma rolled off the deck right under the lifelines and in to the water.

Libby, Jerry, David and I all leapt to Marilyn's aid. It couldn't have taken us more than 5 second to lift the pop top again and to comfort Marilyn. In another 5 seconds I was back at the helm. We were in no danger of running aground but the boat had accelerated in a burst of speed because of the puff of wind.

"Say", I thought, "Where's Grandma?" I looked around doing a 360 degree scan to locate her. I spotted her about 100 yards behind in our wake. She was waving her arms and yelling. Uh Oh. Time for a real life version of the man overboard drill. Libby and I practiced man overboard once or twice a year because it was fun. This time it was for real. I don't want to give the wrong impression though. Grandma could swim and she was within a few hundred feet of shore so the danger was not great.

I sprang into action to bring the boat about and return to Grandma. Nature wasn't helping me though. The puff of wind had disappeared and now there was no wind at all to make us go. I was forced to abandon the sails and start the outboard motor. It took a minute or two for me to maneuver the boat back to where Grandma was and to take her by the hand.

Now, the next problem was to get Grandma back aboard the boat. We had a boarding ladder somewhere on board but for some reason I didn't get it. Instead, Libby and Jerry and I all leaned over the side and grabbed her. The boat heeled way over because of all that weight on one side. That helped us. We roller her out of the water on to the deck. She wasn't happy. Grandma was coughing and spitting up water. The only thing she could think of to say was, "The boat ran right over me. All I could see was the white of the hull." David made the day perfect at that point. He said, "Did you see any fish down there Grandma?" It took minutes for all of us, Grandma included, to stop laughing.

Well, when Jerry and Helen got home, Helen told all of her friends the story of how she was thrown overboard. In fact it became her favorite life story. Years afterward she told her story again and again. Each time she told it, the story became somewhat better and it acquired embellishments. Eventually, the story evolved in to how we abandoned her and sailed of over the horizon leaving her do die alone in those vast open waters. Sadly, my mother passed away more than 30 years ago, yet still her story lingers on. Just this summer I attended a birthday party of one of her friends. All of Helen's best friends were there. Wouldn't you know it, after the party had been going on for a while, I overheard Helen's friends recounting her story about the day she was thrown overboard and left to drown as her family sailed away over the horizon. I guess the story does have some legs because now I'm blogging it. No matter who tells the story however the punch line is always the same, "Did you see any fish down there Grandma?"

Friday, September 14, 2007

Bud and Nan

Schenectady County Public Library

Last evening our friends Bud and Nancy from West Charlton came to pick us up. They have been working on a new kitchen project for nearly a year an a half. They've been having terrible luck, with a seemingly unending string of obstacles and setbacks. Believe me, if they had their own blog about their kitchen project, they could have filled volumes with everything that happened. Now however, the project is 99% complete, with only backsplashes remaining to be installed. We drove to their house to see the new kitchen. It's BEAUTIFUL! I was stunned at how it transformed their old fashioned home into a thoroughly modern one. The result of their long project is great. I can't answer for them if the result was worth all the heartache, but it's really nice.

After that, Bud and Nan treated us to dinner at the new restaurant in the area. The Lighthouse Restaurant is right on the banks of the Mohawk River. Libby and I have never been there before. We had a great dinner. We also had great conversation. The four of us always have great fun swapping stories whenever we get together. Thank you Bud and Nan.

Last night we were spooked by two men who came to fish off the dock at night. They kept walking back and forth only a few feet from our heads as we were trying to go to sleep. We could hardly complain; it is a public dock. The men were not noisy or rowdy, but it still spooked us. Free docks have their appeal and advantages, but riding at anchor also has advantages.

Today (Friday) I walked over the bridge to Schenectady to meet my friends Carmello and Bob for lunch. We met at Morette's Restaurant. Morette's is the place where they have served wickedly good philly cheese steak sandwiches since 1947, long before I got here. Carmello treated and we three had a great time catching up and swapping stories. Bob just this week returned to PTI after working at NYISO. Thanks Carmello, that was great.I also took the opportunity to stop at Perecca's Bakery for some loaves of bread. No pilgrimage to Schenectady is complete without some of that bread. If you haven't tried their bread, do so. It is so good that it is in a class by itself.

Below is the new 9/11 memorial at The Lighthouse Restaurant, where Bud and Nan took us for supper. Look closely near the base of the flag pole. There are two twisted rusty beams that were part of the World Trade Center buildings that collapsed on 9/11/2001. We snapped this picture as we were sailing past on Tarwathie.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Nostalgia Night Plus EPRIB

N 42 49.291 W 073 57.216

Last night we replayed a little nostalgia. Our friends John and Mary Ann joined us at the Golden Dragon Chinese restaurant in Scotia. The last time the four of us were together there was around 1980 when we had dinner with the dragon lady. That's a story worth telling.

The dragon lady (so we called her in private) was an agent from Canada who specialized in connecting American businesses with their Chinese counterparts. In this case, a delegation of about 14 men from the Chinese electric power research institute were on an official junket to America. They wanted to visit the pinnacle of network analysis software in the world which happened to by PTI in Schenectady where John and I worked. After a day of cultural and technical exchange, they invited several of us PTIers out to dinner.

We went to the Golden Dragon, a normally mundane restaurant in EPIRB that has been there forever. They normally serve unremarkable Chinese food. Today they serve a daily buffet. In this case they emptied out the whole restaurant to set up the tables for a party of about 25 people. Then, the dragon lady sent one of her assistants in to the kitchen to give instructions to the chef. The result was a wonderfully enjoyable feast with so many courses that I can't remember the count. Each dish was new, unfamiliar to us Americans, and completely delicious. I think it had to be the best dinner I ever had, and the only dinner truly worthy of the word feast.

Returning to current events: After dinner we went to EPIRB Cinema to watch a movie. That was also nostalgic because EPIRB Cinema was our neighborhood movie theater for many decades.

John and Mary Ann also delivered some mail we had drop shipped to their house. One of the packages contained our new EPIRB that we bought from Hamilton Marine. EPIRB stands or Emergency Position Reporting Indicating Radio Beacon. When you turn it on, or when you drop it in the water, it transmits a signal to satellites that can receive the message globally. The satellites download the message to rescue services and they (hopefully) initiate a rescue mission. This EPIRB contains a GPS that transmits our exact position. It also has a strobe light and a 121.5 MHz locator beacon that help rescuers home in when they get close.

Tarwathie had an EPIRB when we bought her from Al Hatch. Unfortunately, the powers that be decided to switch the radio frequency for all EPIRBs thus obsoleting all the old ones. I thought that ours was good until the end of 2007, but I was wrong. They stopped monitoring EPIRBs on the old frequency at the start of 2007, so we were forced to buy a new one. EPIRBs are expensive. This one cost $800 (on sale at Hamilton Marine, list price $2200.) It is also very frustrating as an electronic toy. The only thing I can do to play with it is to move the switch to test position. Then it lights an LED and beeps to signal that everything works OK. That's really boring for an $800 toy.

EPIRBS are also peculiar devices. First, in all likelihood, we'll never get to use our EPRIB in our lifetimes. Second, if we do use it and it doesn't work, we'll die. (But no more dead than if we never bought an EPIRB. Third, you can't be totally sure that they really work until you try it in a real life situation. That's contrary to my instincts and policies used for 40 years working with computing devices. My policy was that it was absurd to suppose that anything would work until tested, and silly to assume that it still works today unless it is retested periodically. The set test built in to the EPIRB asks for a lot of faith. It just lights the LED and beeps if the tests pass. I have to trust the manufacturer about actual function. Because of its peculiar role, I also find the following standard warranty information included with my EPIRB as unsettling. COMPANY MAKES NO REPRESENTATION OR WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, AS TO MECHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, OR ANY OTHER MATTER WITH RESPECT TO THIS PRODUCT. That's what all warranties say, but in the case of an EPRIB it leaves me with an unsettled feeling. On the other hand, if they offered me double my money back guarantee if it didn't work, how could I collect?

We bought a manually activated EPIRB. I see no point in starting a rescue if the boat sinks with us in it.

The EPIRBhas a bracket for mounting it on a wall or on a rail. I don't see the point in that. We carry our EPIRB in our ditch kit. The ditch kit is a canvas bag containing water, food and survival gear, plus the EPIRB. If we ever abandon ship, we take the ditch kit with us. If we can't get to the ditch kit, we probably wouldn't get to a mounted EPIRB either.

What do you other blue water cruisers say? Is there a good reason to store the EPIRB any place other than the ditch kit?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Return To Scotia

Scotia, NY

Well, we're back in Scotia for the second time this year. We're going to visit friends, then we're going to rent a car. Libby wants to do her birthday and Christmas shopping for the year. I made a dentist appointment for next Monday. Doing things like that is always easier in familiar neighborhoods.

Yesterday and today were very cool and very wet. It felt like late October instead of early September. However, just about the time we arrived in Scotia the weather turned sunny and warmer. That's nice. Another nice thing: the free dock in Scotia near Jumping Jacks Restaurant was free so we're tied up there.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Waterford Blues

Waterford NY

The past couple of days have been dreary. It rained much of the time, and we found no good places to visit, or glorious scenery to admire. We have had such good luck with weather and visits this year that I sometimes wonder if my blog readers suspect that I make it all up. No, nothing is made up. Some of the days are just dreary.

Today we are at Waterford but there is no room on the wall. There was a tugboat festival here last week. We expected the tugs to be gone after the festival, but many of them are still here. There are also garbage scows tied up on the wall. The harbor master has no idea when any of them will leave. We are tied up on the lock wall near Waterford. I wanted to continue on to Scotia today but Libby wants to wait here to see if a spot on the wall opened up.

I made a dentist appointment in Albany for next Monday, so we'll be in the area at least until then.

The snapshot shows Jenny and Libby on a day sail on Labor Day.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Whitehall Rules

Fort Edward
Boy did I underrate Whitehall. Despite the fact that we passed through here twice before by boat, and countless dozens of times by car, I had no idea what jewels it was hiding. The past 24 hours have been among the most fun ones we've had on our travels.

Last night we went to a benefit fish fry at the American Legion hall. It was delicious. After that, we went to an open air concert at the war memorial park right in front of the canal wall where Tarwathie was tied up. After the concert, we still had time before dark so we walked around a bit.

I was very surprised to find that the other thing close to the canal was the resting place of the USS Ticonderoga. The Ticonderoga, was built in Vergennes Vermont, right at the Macdonough shipyard where we spent time quite recently. She was also the principle object of victory at the Battle of Plattsburg, just north of Valcour Island, in 1814. I remember well reading about her in the book called The Battle of Plattsburg.

This morning, Libby and I went to the nearby Skenesborough Museum. What a jewel that turned out to be. It was packed with very interesting local history. Better still, we met Wayne at the museum. Wayne (he says just think of John Wayne) is a local and a museum volunteer and one of the team of people who raised the USS Ticongeroga from the lake bottom. Wanye personally dove into the muck to lift out the timbers. Wayne also turned out to be a great narrator of the local history and he even had his own theories about the thinking of Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen. He made the visit great.

The museum also has a wonderful collection of 18th and 19th century antiques. Not all of them are historically linked but most seem to have a local connection. It seems that Whitehall was once a bustling and prosperous center of commerce and industry. It had many wealthy citizens who left behind interesting artifacts. For example, consider the beautiful chair in the picture below, built with Texas longhorn horns and hooves.

We learned about Julio T. Buel, who invented metal fishing lures, and the whole concept of glittering metal fishing lures. Mr. Buel was a local who was launched on his career one way in Whitehall when he dropped one of his mother's silver spoons in the lake and a big lake trout came along to swallow it. After cleaning out the rest of his mother's silver service, he had to start manufacturing his own.

One small fact we learned at the museum was that the big house up on the hill that I mocked yesterday as the Frankenstein House, is actually Skene Manor. Not only that, but we learned that one can get a free tour of the manor and even to eat lunch in the manor tea room. Great! Wayne even volunteered to drive us up the mountain to the manor. That was very kind of him.

At the manor, Wayne stopped to gossip with the manor staff, while Libby and I joined the manor tour being conducted by Joanne, another charming local resident. Skene Manor, built by the Potter family is a real jewel. In some ways it reminded us of our former home in Schenectady's Stockade. In other ways, it was grand enough to try to aspire to Vanderbilt scale greatness. What resulted is just an elegant mansion up on a hill overlooking a formerly grand city below. I can't post a photo documentation of the whole place. Just look at the fine detail in one of the door hinges as a partial example. Who puts such attention on door hinges?

Mr. Potter was a state Supreme Court Justice. His son was an admiral who sailed around the world. The admiral mailed back his nautical charts to his father, and his father used them to make wallpaper in the so-called chart room on the third floor of the mansion. We finished our great tour with a nice lunch in the tea room. After lunch we chatted more with Joanne, she was a lot of fun. The picture below shows part of the wallpaper I loved. The fireplaces in the manor were made of slate finished by a special technique. They were sunk in water, then oil paints were floated on the water, the fireplace slate lifted up, picking up the surface patterns of the paint, then baked to fix the image. No two fireplaces were alike.

The picture below shows the view from the window with the light in it that I photographed last night. Below, you can see Whitehall, and Tarwathie, and a canal boat. The canal boat was one of the charter boats that one can rent in Waterford. It was chartered this week with a nice young couple on their honeymoon. We met the couple yesterday, and they also had lunch today at Skene Manor.

Libby and our guide Joanne

After walking back down the mountain we retired to the town hall, which the town graciously leaves unlocked on weekends so that boaters can get in to use the showers and rest rooms. We intended to shower away the heat of the day. Unfortunately, the town's hot water must have been shut off because we couldn't get any warm water out of the shower. I went ahead and took a cold shower. Libby declined.

On the way back to the boat, we encountered the local gang. A bunch of teenage boys were hanging around behind the museum and telling jokes. They stopped me, and asked if I minded if they called me Popeye. They thought I looked like Popeye. They asked if I would throw one of the boys in to the canal while they filmed with a video camera. I obliged them. Look for me on

Saturday, September 08, 2007

There's A Light. In the Frankenstein House

Above is the Vergennes riverside park and public docks. They very graciously provide docks, electricity and water. It is only a short walk u\p the hill to downtown and the Bixby Library. From this park one has a wonderful view of the falls from below. We really like this place. This is the site of the McDonough Shipyard where the USS Ticonderoga was built. The Ticonderoga went on to fight (and win) the Battle Of Plattsburg in 1813. The remains of the Ticonderoga were raised and they sit right behind Tarwathie now in Whitehall. I'll try to take a picture of her and post it.

The main building at Chipman Point Marina was a lake front warehouse in the 19th century. It is a beautiful and very solid old building that could last for centuries. Painted marks on the front steps mark the maxiumum high water levels in years past. It appears that the builders very accurately judged how close to the lake they could build without being flooded in the spring.

This house far up on a hill in Whitehall looks down upon the town and everything in it. It looks like the setting for Alfred Hitchcock's Phsycho. When I looked up at night, there were two small lights burning in the upper windows. I couldn't help thinking of the song from that infamous movie. There's a Light. In the Frankenstein House.

Like Vergennes, Whitehall provides free docks and electricity and water, plus toilets and showers. Very hospitible. Whitehall is another one of those depressed towns with a paritally abandoned and decaying down town. However, it has first class public facilities, docks, war memorials, a museum, community center, ampitheater, a huge fire department and a big EMS squad. Somewhere in their background they must have had one or more very powerful elected representatives.

This one made me laugh. These people tied up on the wall at Whitehall next to us. Their shore power cord wasn't long enough to reach the plug. This morning, I looked up to see this man holding his electric coffee maker with the 18 inch cord up to the electric plug. He stood there for 15 minutes until the coffee was brewed. So much for back to nature.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Reluctantly, We Start Our Migration South

Lower Lake Champlain
N 43 38.433 W 073 25.636

As I write this, Libby is at the helm and she is thoroughly enjoying herself. We are in the lower part of Lake Champlain, heading for Whitehall and the Champlain Canal. The lake is very narrow here, more like a river than a lake. When I awoke from my nap, Libby was quick to let me have it. "Your blog is wrong. Look around you. There are extensive marshes on either side of us." Ah so. I stand corrected. I was about to relieve her at the helm when she added, "And it is all unbelievably beautiful." Therefore, I decided to blog instead and to let her enjoy the scenery.

I have a bit of catching up to do. This week we spent two more days in Vergennes, then a day in Port Henry, and today we took the mast down at Chipman Point Marina. A lot transpired. Yesterday was our last sail before unstepping the mast. We took full advantage of it, sailing down the lake into an 15-20 knot southerly wind. Tarwathie and her crew did fine beating into the wind and we made fairly good time. Our goal for the day was the free dock near the boat launch ramp in Port Henry. I wanted to stay there for the night so that we could carry the sails up to the grass to fold them for stowage. It is impossible to fold a big sail properly while aboard the boat.

The free dock in Port Henry is actually meant for a dinghy dock. It is only one boat length away from the beach. Therefore, I had to be very careful not to overshoot the dock, lest we run aground on the beach. We had a strong wind blowing on shore which made it a lot tougher. I wanted to dock with the bow pointing out to ease departure in the morning. To make a long story short, I attempted a 180 degree turn ending with Tarwathie facing out, at zero velocity and right next to the dock. I blew it. Maybe I'm expert enough now to dock her properly 99 times of 100, but there's always the 100th case. I came in a too sharp an angle, and now we have fresh gouges in the hull on the port side. Sigh. It pains me to think how unblemished the paint job was on Tarwathie when we first saw her. She sure has battle scars now.

A lot of local people are fond of driving to the lake shore at this spot in Port Henry. Some walk their dogs. Some just sit in their cars and look out on the lake. I struck up a conversation with a man in his truck. His name was Gus. Gus kindly offered to drive me up to the supermarket in town. While riding, I learned a little about Gus' story. Gus is a native of the Port Henry area and he was a paratrooper in the Korean War. Before leaving, he had girl friend. The girl wanted to get married before he left, but Gus said, "No. I don't know if I'll come back." Well, when the war was over, the girl was married to some one else, and Gus married another woman. Now, 50 years later, the girl was a widow and Gus was a widower. They re-met, and now they are a couple once again. That's romantic. Gus is also handicapped and walks with a cane, but he manages to bag his deer every year, and to fish on the lake. Gus says that local people in Port Henry must drive 50 miles or more to find employment.

At the dock in Port Henry, Libby and I prepared the boat for unstepping the mast. (Libby likes to say demasting, but that word gives me the shivers. It is too close to dismasting which means to have your mast break off while sailing.) It only took us an hour, much less time than previously. Sadly, we are getting more expert at this stepping/unstepping business. This morning, we motored down to Chipman Point, and there we set another record in time and simplicity in unstepping. We arrived at the marina at 10:30 and the job was complete at 12:30. Two years ago, we needed a half day and an overnight stay on two occasions at Chipman Point. Nevertheless, it sadens us to unstep the mast. Tarwathie is seriously hobbled.

I plan to spend the night on the lock 12 wall in Whitehall. I'll look for a WiFi to post this blog. Be advised: with the mast down I can't post blogs with the SSB radio. Therefore, several days may pass between postings.

p.s. I noticed that my email spam bucket today had 12 messages. 6 ads for viagra interspersed with 6 invites from Hillary Clinton saying "Let's Have Lunch." I wonder if her campaign managers are aware of the juxtaposition they are creating for Hillary's name.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


N 44 13.60 W 073 19.68

Well, yesterday was the day after Labor Day. Despite the fact that it was a beautiful day with a nice breeze, we found ourselves all alone out in the main part of the lake. Not a single vessel was visible as far as we could see. Wow, what a difference compared to Labor Day or compared to the weekdays last week. However, before the end of the day we did see five other sails, so the reality wasn't quite so black and white. Still it is remarkable how abrupt the end of the boating season is for most people.

As I looked north up the lake, the mirages were prominent in the morning. I've learned that one can almost always see mirages on Champlain looking north or south. They are cool. The most common mirage is that one sees an island apparently floating in the air above the water. Actually the island is below the horizon and we wouldn't see it at all but for the mirage. The mirage is caused by differences in air density near the water surface that refract the light. Many years ago I read an account of people in Washington D.C. Who saw an image village and palm trees in the sky. The account said that it was traced to a mirage of a village in Africa. I don't think I believe that account; it's too extreme. But the physics are the same.

Clinton County Community College occupies a big cream colored building on the top of a hill near Plattsburg and overlooking Valcour Island. The foundation of the building is about 200 feet above the water. Seen from Shelburne, 20 miles to the south, it appeared to be two buildings, one right side up and the other upside down. The two images joined at the ground line of the building. This too is a mirage. It makes the building appear twice as big and twice as bright than it really is. I'm not trying to show off but just this morning I was reading an article in Scientific American about gravitational lensing. The article said that the distortion of images caused by the lensing make the star images appear brighter than they really are. Aha, that's exactly the same effect as I see with the brightening of the community college.

A third type of mirage is commonly seen on highways on very hot days. It is caused when sunlight heading down toward the asphalt is bent back up by a mirage. It appears to the viewer as if a mirror-like surface was suspended just over the road far ahead of you. It can be very bright. On rare occasions, I have seen the same mirage over water.

Sorry that I can't post pictures of the mirages. I can't take zoom shots from a rolling deck. Here are some images taken from the web of the three types I discussed.

Anyhow, we took advantage of the nice 10 knot northerly breeze to use the spinnaker. It pulled us at 5 knots all the way down to Otter Creek. It was a fun ride, but somewhat melancholy because it will be our last view of Champlain for quite a while.

Yesterday, arriving in Vergennes we were greeted by some strangers who turned out to be blog fans. One of them, Jim, is a friend of another friend, Craig, back in West Charlton. Craig told Jim about the blog and he has been following it ever since our approach to the Yucatan. Jim wanted to see our new engine. He said that he felt like flying to Florida to help us with the repowering project because he empathized with us so much. This morning, we helped Jim's buddies to climb up their mast to retrieve a jib halyard that got away from Jim. Libby and I contributed the use of our boatswain's chair and lent a hand. The other guys had never done that before and they were surprised at how easy the procedure was.

The AC adapter power brick for this laptop died yesterday. I think it had a cheap chopper method of working and it didn't like the non-sinusoidal waveforms that my AC inverter put out. The brick always ran hot and yesterday it died. I have two others on board, but naturally they use different size connectors at the notebook end. Why in the world can't they standardize on connectors for low voltage DC? I had to cannibalize and splice the wire from another power brick to the connector from the broken one. I hope this one lasts.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Weather Forecaster Nailed It

Shelburne Bay
N 44 25.555 W 73 14.961

Considering all the bad things I had to say about the weather forecasts this year, I should give credit where credit is due. The forecast for today was sunny, cool, southerly winds 15-25, diminishing late afternoon. That is precisely what we got. Finally, they nailed one of the forecasts. Perhaps they do have forecasting tools beyond the Farmers Almanac.

The weather was important because today was the one and only day this summer that Jenny could get away and sail with us. Her boyfriend, Christian, stayed at home demolishing their garage. (They are going to build a new one.) It turned out to be a perfect day.

With Jenny on board we did a close repeat of the day when Pete came to sail with us last week. With Pete we sailed from WIllsboro Bay to Burlington for lunch, then returned. The trips to and from were both very fast with strong winds on our beam. We needed only the foresail to make Tarwathie go full speed, up to 7 knots with Pete. Today we did basically the same thing with Jenny but we started in Burlington, sailed to Willsboro Bay for lunch, then returned. All the way over and most of the way
back, we needed only the foresail to exploit the steady 20 knot wind. From the middle of the lake we had magnificent views of the mountains in both New York and in Vermont.

Halfway back Libby wanted practice reefing the mainsail, so we took a double reef and raised that too. Being Labor day, and being superb sailing weather, just about every boat on the lake was out sailing. However, Champlain is so big that we never felt crowded no matter how many boats were out there. All the sailboats I saw appeared to be performing at their best, regardless of the point of sail.

The best part of the round trip was that the autopilot did a great job leaving the three of us to loll in the sun on the foredeck and shoot the breeze. Tarwathie held a nearly constant speed, heading and angle of heel all the way over. Jenny had a great time and actually had time to relax. All three of us appreciated the quiet time to just talk knowing that this is the last time we'll see each other this year.

There was another treat in store. Libby made lasagna and Caesar salad for lunch. She does that only on special occasions.

My oh my. Sailing days don't get much better than this one. I'm out of laudatory adjectives to describe it.

Unaccustomed Pop heroes

Jenny's House, South Burlington

When we sailed in Florida and points south, we have always been surprised by how many boats we see with home port Montreal. We learned this summer that nearly all those boats actually have Lake Champlain as their home base.

Lake Champlain sailors have a relatively large fraction of lake sailors who dream of becoming blue water sailors. Therefore, we're not surprised to see that Tarwathie attracts many admiring looks. She is instantly recognizable by all as a blue water boat, and recognizable by a large fraction of those as one of those famous Westsail 32s.

The past few days, in the vicinity of Vergennes and Porter Bay we've been visited by a number of sailors who admire Tarwathie and who envy Libby and I for our life style. Being rather plain and ordinary people, and shy to boot, we're unaccustomed to the attention. However, it is hard to resist flattery. We love answering questions and of giving visitors the quick tour of Tarwathie above and below decks, and in writing this blog -- immodest as it may be.

Increasingly, we find that Tarwathie fans contact us via email and learned about us via this blog. I have no idea how many people read this blog but I can say that the number seems to be increasing.

If you learn that we are in your vicinity, feel free to contact us or simply come along side and hail us. We'll be pleased to see visitors.

p.s. Only one more week on Champlain before we start heading south.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Valcour Shores Repaired

Reader Jay noticed that the pictures disappeared from my Valcour Shores report. I apologize for that. They were there when I last looked at it. In any event, I uploaded the pictures once again. I hope they'll stick around. Please read Valcour Shores if you haven't done so already. Thanks Jay.

By the way, I think I found the limits to this wonderful blogger medium. It is user friendly up to four pictures per post. Beyond four it is absolute hell. If I post the report in fragments, then it runs afoul of the blog site's way of putting most recent posts at the top whereas readers read reports from the top down.

It took me only two hours to write the Valcour Shores report, but it took 4 hours to upload it with all the pictures. Then the pictures disappeared and I just spent another 4 hours doing it again. What a pain. You'll see only shorter reports from me in the future.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Moment: The Great Super Chicken Caper

Porter Bay
N 44 13.753 W 73 19.049

I'm sure you've heard the expression, "My life is measured by hours of boredom punctuated by moments of terror." The expression may be a bit overstated but it is essentially true. A life's memories consist primarily of a few choice moments. When we approached retirement, Libby and I thought back on life's choice moments and we realized that very many of them were moments on sailboats. This is the story of one of those moments. I'm posting this one today because we are anchored at the exact spot described in the story.

One day in the first week of October, I found myself sailing down Lake Champlain. For crew, I had my father Jerry, my close friend Walt, and my oldest son John. We were barrelling down the lake at breakneck speed under a spinnaker.

Murphy's law had prevailed that day. As soon as we raised the spinnaker the wind started picking up. We traveled faster and faster as the wind and waves increased. Whenever it blows from the north on Lake Champlain, the choppy waves build up rapidly. Now the wind was blowing 20-25 and the waves were 4-5 feet.

The wind was far too strong to use a spinnaker. Nevertheless, I didn't dare to change course very much or to try to take the spinnaker down. I feared loosing control and running over the sail. I was battling the weather helm. One thing I hate about spinnakers is that if you let the boat veer from wind dead astern to wind in the hind quarter, the amount of weather helm builds rapidly from none to a lot. It is a positive feedback effect. The more the boat points up to the wind, the more the weather
helm. I knew from experience that if I allowed the wind to get up to the beam that the weather helm would overpower the rudder and that we would suffer a knockdown.

Therefore, I was between a rock and a hard place. There was already too much wind yet I didn't dare do anything about it. As the waves became large, the boat started surfing. A Clipper 26 is a very light weight boat and under those circumstances she could actually plane. As a wave lifted the stern the speed would pick up and spray would start flying from the bow wave. My knot meter had a maximum of 15 knots and it would max out. Of course it would only last for 2-3 seconds until the wave
passed underneath. Only once did I manage to surf skillfully enough to stay with a wave for as much as 5-8 seconds.

Anyhow, I had a plan for how to escape from our predicament. Right ahead of us was the entrance to Porter Bay. Porter bay was one of my favorite anchorages. It offers protection from wind in almost all directions. My plan was to enter the bay, then make a sweeping U turn. That would bring us in to the wind shade of a point, and also behind a long concrete pier that would screen us from the waves. I told the crew about the plan, and instructed them on what to do. I would hold the helm, while
Walt would detach the spinnaker pole at the bow, and then prepare to anchor. Jerry would grab the bottom of the sail and keep it from going in to the water. John was to lower the spinnaker once the pole was detached.

So here we went, flying at what seemed like jet speed for a sailboat. We may have been doing 8-10 knots when entering the bay. That's way faster than a 26 foot boat is able to travel. As planned, I made our big U turn. As planned we sailed in to calm waters with no wind and no waves. As planned, Walt detached the pole and Jerry grabbed the bottom of the sail. I tied off the tiller in preparation for going forward to lend a hand to the others.

I'm sure you've heard the expression, "Hours of terror punctuated by moments of sheer terror." This was one of those moments. What I'm about to describe happened in just a few seconds, although it seems like an eternity in my memory.

An eddy in the wind unexpectedly came around the point and blew at us from the south (that's the opposite direction to the prevailing wind.) The puff of wind caught the spinnaker and inflated it like a giant parachute. My poor father Jerry did what he was asked to do and held on to the bottom of that sail tenaciously. His feet started lifting off the deck. John leapt to his aid and wrapped his arms around Jerry's knees.

At the same time, our residual velocity plus the push of the wind puff behind us was pushing us toward the shore. We were about to run aground on the rocks in seconds if I couldn't stop us. I spotted what was happening, turned around and sprang back to the cockpit. The tiller was tied down so I tried to start the outboard motor to stop our forward motion. Thing's were not destined to end that easily.

I gave the motor starting cord a mighty tug. It started first time (good motor). I spun it around backward to apply reverse thrust. You see, the reverse gear in that outboard motor was very ineffective. To get significant reverse thrust I had to turn the motor 180 degrees. But as I turned it this time the rubber fuel line broke off right at the motor nib. Starved for fuel, the motor stopped.

With only seconds to go before disaster it was time for lightning action. I didn't stop to think. I spun the motor back forward again. I grabbed my trusty Mora knife from the sheath on my belt. (Any really serious sailor should always wear a very sharp sheath knife.) I sliced off the broken end of the fuel hose and jammed the remaining hose back on to the nib. I started the engine. (Thank God it started again on the first pull.) I whipped it around 180 degrees. I applied full power and stopped
our forward motion just seconds before we were about to crash.

Then I turned around and looked forward again. Walt had joined John and managed to pull Jerry back on to the deck. Just about then, the puff of wind stopped and the sail fell slack. The rest went smoothly. We lowered the spinnaker and we motored back away from the shore a bit and dropped the anchor. Then I told the rest of the crew the part of the story they hadn't seen. You see, they were so occupied in rescuing Jerry that they were not even aware of the near disaster with the rocks on shore.

Later that night we all joked and swapped stories. The news of recent weeks had something to do with an NFL football team's mascot called Super Chicken. Our joke evolved into visions of Jerry, being nicknamed Super Chicken, flying up in to the sky and disappearing over the mountains underneath a colorful spinnaker chute. That's why I call it the Great Super Chicken Caper.