Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Change of Venue

I've been invited to post over at the Small Craft Advisor blog, so I've been expending my creative juices over there and neglecting this blog. My apologies if you've been coming here looking for sailor stuff.

I have 4 posts up at SCA, so please go visit their site and check it out. Maybe even buy a subscription-- You won't be sorry, it's a great magazine.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Another intrepid UK circumnavigator

I've mentioned Dylan Winter. Turns out there's another fellow named Nathan Whitworth making the same trip, and documenting it with a blog and videos.

This is good stuff. Go check out his blog and watch the videos.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

May 2009 update

It's been a while. I went sailing April 18-19, trying again for the night sail. Yet again I failed to accomplish the stumbling-around-in-the-dark objective, though I did have an interesting trailer sailor adventure that involved various large farm animals. I wrote it up, and submitted it to Small Craft Advisor magazine.Incredibly, they bought it, and it will probably appear in the Sept issue. I cannot believe they are sullying their fine magazine with the likes of me.

But I digress. If you want to read about that particular adventure, please buy the magazine. Better yet, get a subscription! They deserve the support of all small boat sailors. And it's a really good magazine, too.

Boat projects planned

I'm thinking it's time to devote a couple of weekends to working on the boat. Felicidade is nearly 4 years old now, and could use a good scrubbing, inside & out.

The companionway door is a pathetic slab of peeling varnish-- I'm going to paint the outside white (none of this brightwork crap for me!).

I am thinking of replacing the daggerboard cable with synthetic line, and making the whole thing detach from the lowered daggerboard in order to open up the interior.

I still haven't repaired the hole the mast punched into the hatch on Felicidade's second voyage with #1 Daughter. I'm thinking of drilling it out and installing a solar-powered vent fan, rather than just patching the hole. Stay tuned.

Time For Air Conditioning?

Now that we are entering the ridiculously hot time of year here in Aridzona, any sailing over the next 4 months or so will be like sailing a tiny boat on a deep fat fryer, with a heat lamp shining down on you from 3 inches away. Which isn't that bad, once you get used to it, but it makes for sticky and uncomfortable sleeping inside the little fiberglass oven that the Potter turns into. So Once again my thoughts turn to some way to cool the interior when it's 2000F outside.

It's gotta be cheap. Preferably funky. And practical to run. Out on Instructibles I found an interesting little ice-powered A/C unit that uses a cooler full of ice to provide a blast of cold air. Interesting. The Potter came with a large cooler that fits under the port V-berth; I don't think I have ever used it, and am considering turning it into an ice-powered A/C. I'll let you know if anything comes out of that.

Another idea is sucking lake water from 30 or so feet under the surface with a long tube and a pump, and running it through a heat exchanger in front of a fan. When the boys & I went swimming in the lake last year, it was remarkable how cool the water was just a few feet below the surface. If I could cobble something together that picks up the cold water while we're snuggled in some weed-filled backwater, that might be a cheap & efficient A/C option.

Of course, this all assumes that there actually is cooler water in said backwater. For all I know the shallow water might be simmering hot there as well. I need to experiment; I think I'll take a hose, a pump, and the tiny Honda Generator my parents gave me on the boat next time I go sailing, and see if I can pick up some water from the unseen depths. If the water in the middle of the lake turns out to be cool enough, I'll try again while in some of my favorite nooks and crannies. If that water is cool too then I may go with that aproach instead of the one that requires me to lug 40 lbs of ice around.

Dylan Winter is back on the water

After some R&R on the hard, Dylan Winter has resumed his circumnavigation of the UK mainland. He's closing in on the North Sea, and should be performing heroic feats of seamanship as soon as he finishes exploring every centimeter of every last muddy tributary along the way. Here's the latest video.

Dylan and I have been corresponding sporadically by email. He's a great guy and full of interesting thoughts. He sent me some links to small craft adventurers, such as Charles Stock, pretty much the ultimate UK gunkholer who sailed his boat Shoal Waters all over the Thames estuary for some 55 years. Another sailor I had never heard of was Shane Acton who sailed a tiny twin-keeler named Shrimpy around the world. You can download his book here. Many thanks to Dylan for his links.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Keep Turning Left video series

Dylan Winter is a fellow sailor who has taken it upon himself to make an epic voyage circumnavigating the UK mainland in a 19-foot Mirror Offshore sailboat. He is compiling a series of 5- 10 minute videos which he has posted on YouTube, and I highly recommend the series.

Dylan has an acute eye and provides a very interesting and often very funny commentary on the things he observes as he travels along the British coast from port to port and detours up various rivers. In one episode, for example, he waxed eloquent on the wonders of mud as his boat was left dry by the ebbing tide. And don't get him started on powerboats. He provides ample commentary on the history of the places he visits. And the photography is frequently beautiful. All this is done from the perspective of a small boat sailor, with about equal attention given to commentary on sailing, and the nature of the places he is visiting.

Dylan's videos illustrate the kind of cruising that I enjoy-- a small, simple boat, shallow water, gunkholing. This is not sailing-the-60-footer-to-Bermuda-on-autopilot kind of stuff. One day I hope I to make a voyage like this on Felicidade.

It's great stuff. Check out the Keep Turning Left series.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

We stumble around in the dark

For a while now I’ve played around with the idea of going for a night sail. The idea came up while perusing various sailing websites and magazines, in which the writers would wax poetic about how magical and wonderful and sublime night sailing was, followed by advice to ensure you have 3 backups for your GPS, a 200-gazillion candlepower spotlight, horns, flares, generators, a liferaft ready to instantly deploy when the supertanker runs you over, and 3 harness tethers to firmly anchor you should you decide to foolishly risk life & limb by taking a whiz over the side of the boat.

I have fond memories of time spent at sea on various warships including destroyers, frigates, minesweepers, and amphibious craft of various types. I enjoyed simply being on the water, but especially enjoyed night watches when it was me, the dark sea, and a bazillion stars. When my watch was the after lookout, especially, it brought a sense of splendid isolation, and the boiling wake was almost hypnotic.

I vividly recall the first night I ever spent at sea—Aboard the USS Carpenter (DD-825) back in the early 70’s. I had been below in the CIC since shortly after the ship left the pier; CIC is a place that is kept dimly lighted because of the various radar consoles, light boards and plotters, so I never really had any sense of transition—It was daylight when I went in, and nighttime when I finally emerged. The passageways had switched to red night lighting, so my night vision was intact when I opened a door and stepped out on deck. The sight that I beheld took my breath away—A canopy of brilliant stars, more than I had ever seen in my life. It was almost enough to read by.

Entranced, I stood out there until the cold forced me back inside (then I spent the next few hours exploring the subtleties of projectile vomiting, but that’s another post).

When we were in waters where bioluminescent critters lived in the water, the phosphorescent wake and bow wave provided endless fascination. One thing that surprised me was in the ship's head—The urinals were fed by a constant flow of seawater. In the dim red night light, the urinals were glowing from the bioluminescent sea creatures. It was a wonderful, unexpected, and amusing thing to see.

A plan is hatched

So, reading about night sailing got my juices flowing. I am comfortable enough now with the Potter & sailing in general that I feel I can handle anything that comes up, short of plowing into a submerged nuclear submarine, an eventuality that I considered fairly remote on Roosevelt Lake. My biggest fears were idiot speedboaters, and finding a place to spend the night once I finally got tired of bumbling about in the dark.

The idiot speedboaters would probably not be a problem at the end of February; the beer-and-bimbos crowd tends to stay away until the weather warms up to bikini temperature—None of this tacking-back-and-forth-at-1-knot-wearing-woolen-undies stuff for them, nossir. The bass boats were a concern, because those guys were frequently out late in the bushes and weeds at the nether regions of the lake, and in a big, 60-knot hurry to get back to the ramp once they decided to call it a day. I figured that they would be most active right around sunset, so as long as I could avoid them then, I’d probably be home free.

Finding a place to spend the night was an interesting challenge. Most of my experience at Roosevelt has been in the middle portion of the lake, with the marina as a base of operations. In the overnight trips I had taken before, I was limited in range by time constraints, wanting to be safely moored or anchored or tied to a bush by nightfall, so I ended up spending the night in a narrow set of places that were close and familiar. I want to explore more of the lake, especially the southeast parts past Windy Hill; if I did not have to come in when it got dark, I could potentially venture a bit further out from my familiar haunts.

So I decided that I would sail around in the southeast portions of the lake. In daylight I would navigate southeast through the Windy Hill passage and then potter about exploring Terra Incognita (and identifying potential anchorages) until it got dark. Then I would navigate to the middle of the lake and basically sail about in circles until I was no longer amused, or Cocktail Hour beckoned, whichever came first . A regular James Cook, that’s me.

The big problem with this grand plan is I know nothing about the potential anchorages or moorings in the chosen nocturnal cruising area. I would be sailing or motoring into a confined cove, probably, in the dark, without any knowledge of submerged hazards, conditions of the bottom, and the like. My flashlights are puny. GPS is worthless in such scenarios. The chart lacks detail. How do I identify a safe and appropriate place to spend the night?

This is where the sailing magazine articles lose me, by the way. In those articles the biggest hazard was snaring a lobster pot as they motored into Manawassahassachusset with the autopilot steering towards a GPS waypoint glowing brightly on the 16-inch plotter. A flawless anchoring would be followed by a night spent eating crab, knocking back martinis while congratulating themselves on how yachty they are, and sleeping it off in the air-conditioned cabin after watching the latest movie on the flat-screen TV. If the generator goes on the fritz they are paralyzed until a mechanic can be flown in, and run a serious risk of warm beer for lunch.

My version of that would be stuffing the boat into a bug-infested backwater, surrounded by cacti, rattlesnakes, and javalinas, eating Ramen noodles, drinking 2-buck Chuck, and trying not to freeze my nautical arse off (winter) or melt into a pile of sweaty goo (summer). If the batteries last long enough I can read a sailing magazine or two before bedtime.

But I digress. I figure I can safely get into a given cove, even in the dark, if I go slowly and cautiously. But once in there, how do I know that my chosen spot is suitable for an overnight visit? What if there is a reef (okay, a rock) just inside my swing radius? What happens if the wind comes up? I know voyagers have been dealing with these kinds of issues since the first caveman inflated a Platypus carcass and sailed over the horizon to his doom, but given a choice I prefer a safer bet.

I fired up Google Earth and scrutinized the lake from outer space. A number of coves had potential for overnighting, and I marked them for uploading to my handheld GPS. I decided that precious daytime would be spent exploring the potential anchorages—That way I could probably assess several anchorages in the daylight and return with confidence in the dark, or rule out inappropriate locations without having to, say, smash up against a partially-submerged boulder. If all else failed, I could head to the Grapevine boat ramp, where a tiny pier was visible from the satellite, and overnight in relative safety listening to the RV folk frying fish and arguing about sports teams.

On the boat

I took my time getting up to the lake. Around 1400 Felicidade was ready for action, and we called the marina office for a launch. In short order we were being pushed into the water at the Sheriffs ramp. I was hoping I could do an engine-free launch, but the wind was coming from the exact wrong direction. I could have tied up to the dock and warped the boat around, but I didn’t want to invite the scrutiny of the local Federales by tying up their boat ramp for 90 minutes while I screwed around with dock lines trying to spin the boat around. So I sucked it in and fired up the motor. But I shut it down as soon as I got clear of the dock(about 30 seconds later) , and raised the main. Sailing!

The winds were very light, enough to get the boat up to about 1 knot in the puffs. Another sailboat, piloted by an engine-phobic numbnuts like me, was also trying to sail out of the harbor. We jigged and jagged as he gained on me slowly. I was pinching trying to get past the breakwater, but moving so slow that the boat was making too much leeway. I fell off just before the breakwater and jibed around to try a different tack. My course, on a starboard tack, took me across the bow of the other boat, but he was kind and cheerfully allowed me the right of way. We chatted as we passed, and then he made progress past the breakwater while I tacked towards the shoreline.

I tacked again, and this time Felicidade cleared the breakwater after I broke out the paddle and helped the wind out a little. I followed the other sailboat out into the lake. Another sailboat was out there too, and for a while all 3 of us sailed in a loose formation past Rock Island. This was a rare occurrence on Roosevelt, 3 sailboats on the lake at the same time, sailing together in peaceful harmony. I reveled in the moment for a while. Then a bass boat blasted by at about 600 knots and left all 3 of us rocking in its wake, rigs slapping and banging.

The other sailboats were bigger than the Potter, and slowly edged away from me in the light and flaky breeze. Looking across the lake I saw Windy Hill was not living up to its name on this day. Mirror water all around. My friend from the breakwater caught a breeze and headed off to Haystack Island while I ghosted along, listening to podcasts and eating lunch. After a while I caught the same breeze and headed towards the cliffs across the lake. It was becoming clear to me that unless I fired up the motor, I was not going to be exploring the southeast part of the lake this day. At that point Plan B was activated; I would get my night sailing jollies in my current location on he lake, then head to a well-known cove I had visited before to spend the night.

A new perspective

While I sailed slowly around waiting for sunset, I noticed that the land that normally connected Rock Island with the “mainland” was no longer visible—Indeed, bass boats were zooming up and down the lake using “Fools Pass”, as the chart proclaimed the new area of water. Roosevelt lake is at the highest level ever right now (indeed they opened the floodgates a couple of days prior to my visit because snowmelt was filling the lake to the brim), and there was now a shortcut to the cove where we would spend the night. Sweet! I filed that away and drifted about as the sun set.

As the sun disappeared over the mountains, the wind followed it. I found myself bobbing on a windless, mirror lake. I took pictures of the floating wood and crud that was all around on the lake surface; this debris was washed down from the mountains when it rained. After the fires we had a few years ago, there was a lot of charred wood floating in the lake after the storms started up; this time it was small chunks of wood, pine needles, and the occasional log.

I took out the paddle and moved the boat along at .7 knots for about 5 minutes, which was only slightly amusing. By this point it became apparent that there was not going to be any night sailing unless the wind picked up, an event which never seems to happen when you want it to but instead happens at O Dark-thirty when you’re trying to sleep.
I made the command decision at that point to fire up the outboard and proceed apace to the camping spot while I still had some light. We motorsailed Northeast towards Fools Pass, where I pulled up short at a line of shallow-water buoys as the sky turned pretty colors. Hmm. It probably would not do to run aground in Fools Pass. I dropped the main, rolled up the Genoa, and raised the daggerboard, which consumed several of the remaining minutes of usable light.


We motored past the buoys through Fools Pass as the light grew ever dimmer. I quickly found myself unsure of where exactly I was. I never approached from this direction before because this was always dry land; as I motored west, I could not identify any of the landmarks I was familiar with. I could detect an island directly ahead; I know there were some islands in that approximate location, but this was much bigger, so I guessed it was a high part of the now-submerged saddle that constituted Fools Pass. The GPS showed us making good speed over dry land, which was not particularly helpful, and the destination cove was not marked. I was winging it. This was an unanticipated challenge of navigating on a lake whose levels change constantly.

I turned southwest and proceeded slowly along the shoreline, trying to identify a familiar landmark. It was all dark & mysterious. After a few nervous minutes I saw a dim patch outlined in the darkness , and concluded that I was looking at the cliffs which signaled the entrance to the cove. I changed course to where I figured the cove entrance would be, and decided that if I could not definitely identify the cove very soon, I was going to abandon this Great-Navigator foolishness and head to the marina for the night.

As I motored slowly in, I recognized some familiar features and concluded with relief that I was in the right place. But it looked really, really different in the dark of night with the lake at unprecedented water levels; most of the familiar nooks & crannies of the cove were gone, and the peninsula that extended past the cliffs to protect the cove was completely submerged. I gave that area a wide berth as a we swung around into the cove, then I put the motor in neutral while I looked for a place to spend the night. I knew from soundings I had taken when the lake was much lower that the center of the cove was way too deep to anchor; I would not have sufficient swinging room for the 7:1 scope. So my plan was to nose into a friendly bush along the shoreline and tie up. I slowly made my way to the end of the cove, squinted into the darkness at some pale blobs dimly visible on the shoreline, and steered the boat towards them. I switched the motor into reverse to slow down, then neutral as we approached the shore. As the dim blobs grew before the bow I asked Old Neptunus Rex to help a poor shellback out and not let me be steering into a patch of Cholla cactus.

Felicidade landed softly, pushing her bow into a dried bush that promptly shattered into fragments as we slid to a stop. I shifted the motor into forward to hold us in place, then went forward and tied us up to a branch. Then I shut off the motor and evaluated the situation.

We appeared to be in a good spot. The boat was sheltered from the wind and sea (as memory served me from my daylight visits to the cove). She was tied to a fairly stout branch, as such things went. A submerged tree cast branches out of the water to sort of cradle the boat and keep her from being blown sideways. The hull was not touching anything hard. I was satisfied; after phoning The Wife and reassuring her that her idiot husband had once again cheated death, I declared the start of Cocktail Hour.

Dinner was cheese sandwiches and fruit. I fired up the iPod for background music while reading about how my more civilized fellow sailors were camping in Sail magazine. Life was good. I retired for the night.

And at O dark-thirty…

Right on schedule, I was awakened from a sound sleep by the most god-awful symphony of low-volume rattles, gurgles, booms, squeaks, bangs, moans, bumps and scrapes imaginable. The only thing missing was halyard slapping. The boat was shuddering to this racket in an odd sort of way. Slightly alarmed, I squirmed out of the V-berth and went topside to check it out. Sure enough, while I was asleep the wind had picked up-- Small waves were entering the cove from the lake, and being reflected into a chaotic pattern inside. This was not posing any hazard, but the wavelets were softly pummeling Felicidade, causing all the racket and strange movement. At least were still well protected from the wind.

Reassured and slightly annoyed, I put in some earplugs and went back to bed while grousing about how the wind shows up when I’m sleeping, but abandons me when I am trying for an epic night sail. I managed to go back to sleep and had a good night’s rest despite the strange motion of the boat.

An engineless departure

After breakfast, I planned our escape. Now that I had light I could see outside of the cove; on the open lake it looked like decent wind was blowing. I saw a few small whitecaps as I looked out there and decided to put a reef in before we departed. There was an occasional gentle puff of wind where the boat was located, but no real wind until the center of the cove. I could see how the waves that had woken me up were getting into the cove—because the submerged peninsula was no longer fully protecting the cove entrance. I had not anticipated that.

I shot a video of the waves inside the cove, and got the boat ready to go. I decided to try an engineless departure, as the occasional puffs of wind were blowing off the shore and I could use those to get the boat out into the open. Just to be safe, I started the outboard, but left it idling in neutral—There was not a lot of maneuvering room and I did not want to run the risk of getting blown onto the lee shore if I could not get sailing quickly enough. But I needn’t have worried. I untied the boat and backed the main, and in a moment a gentle puff of wind pushed us off the shore. I steered us in the right direction, and Felicidade quickly caught the wind and began moving towards the mouth of the cove. I shut off the motor and partially unrolled the Genoa as we sailed out of the cove.

Voyage to Cholla Bay

A fine day of sailing ensued. The wind held steady at about 10 mph. I decided our destination should be Cholla Bay, about 5 miles to the west (and of course, directly upwind). Shortly after leaving the cove I shook the reef out and unrolled the Genoa, and before long we were making 4 – 5 knots upwind in a long series of tacks across the width of the lake.

Once we got to Cholla Bay, we turned downwind and sailed with the Genoa poled out at 2-3 knots all the way back to the marina. I discovered that I could leave the tiller tamer off, and steer the boat only by shifting my weight around- Cool! Lean right, boat turns left. Lean left, boat turns right. Now I understand why I accidentally jibed while I was forward on the starboard side attaching the fenders. Maybe I can set the rudder to counteract that next time. Or maybe I can lose some weight.

About 15 minutes out from the ramp I phoned the marina office for a haul out and rolled the Genoa up. Once inside the breakwater we sailed towards the sheriff’s dock at about 3 knots. I was slightly nervous, as this seemed kind of fast, but I managed to loop a cleat on the dock and snub us to a quick and gentle stop. In retrospect, I probably should have doused the main and brought her in using a partially unrolled Genoa. We’ll keep that in mind for next time.

A successful voyage, regardless

So, I didn't manage to accomplish a night sail. But I did have a fun trip regardless, despite the brief anxiety-producing transit of Fool's Pass. Next time I'll follow the sailing magazine's advice and bring a 150 bazillion candlepower searchlight to illuminate all of creation as I stumble around looking for a place to spend the night.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Maiden Voyage of Felicidade

This is a repost of my writeup of the first sailing adventure on the Potter, dating back to 2005. We took the boat up to Roosevelt Lake on a cold December weekend and had a great adventure.

17 December 2005

We got a late start from home. I had wanted to leave around 1000 but events conspired against me (namely, I was a disorganized putz) and we didn’t leave until 1215. I went up Power Road—Big mistake. What a Charlie Foxtrot that road is, all the way to the 60. Once on the 60 we pulled off at Greenfield to tighten down the mast crutch strap, which looked loose. Finally hit hwy 87. Passing the Saguaro Lake turnoff I was tempted to go there because it was getting late, but decided to stick with Plan A.

Arrived late afternoon at the Roosevelt Lake Marina. Found the launch ramp (if you can call it that) after 4-wheeling in the minivan down some bumpy dirt road. Not impressed with the launch facilities—A crude concrete slab at the edge of the water, connected to a plain dirt parking lot which doubled as a campground. Several motor home campers were parked at the water’s edge, providing an audience for my first launch attempt. As the campers sat in their camp chairs, drank beer, and supervised, I got the mast up and rigged Felicidade for action. #1 Son and #2 Son amused themselves by tossing rocks into the water.

Launched at around 1630, just as it was starting to get dark. Boat launched easily. First time I backed it in until the fenders were just covered (just like the manual said to), then went back to push on the boat. Felicidade wobbled a bit but the water was cold and she didn’t want to go in. I went back to the minivan and added a few more inches of draft to the trailer. In the rearview mirror I could see the boat lift off the trailer and float for the first time in her life. Went back and unwound the winch strap after passing the dock lines to the boys. Together we pulled the boat to the dock and secured her. I was very nervous about dinging up the side of the boat on the dock, and had the boys manually raise and lower the fenders as needed. They did great. Eventually I got the fenders tied to the correct height and we were all set.

I didn’t want to hog the only dock next to the launch ramp so I fired up the outboard and with the boys’ help walked the boat backwards around the dock to the other side. Then I drove the minivan out of the water and the boys and I drove back up the hill to pay for one night’s parking ($4.00). The boys raced each other down the road to the boat while I drove behind. Finally I parked the minivan in what I hoped was an out-of-the-way spot and got the last bits of supplies back to the boat.

While #1 Son and #2 Son goofed off on the dock I lowered the dagger board. I was happy to see how much the cabin opened up with that big ugly hunk of steel out of the way. While I was doing this two fishermen arrived at the launch ramp to pull out. The boys said something to them, I didn’t hear what they said in return other than “It’s cold out there.” They looked cold, too.

I got the boys on board and fired up the engine. We cast off into the twilight, and steamed North, more or less. Boys were thrilled to be on the water, I was too busy trying to remember all the various operating details (stow the mooring lines, turn on running lights, etc) to be thrilled. I remembered to turn on the GPS after we’d been moving for about 10 minutes. I had one of the boys steer while I putzed about with the GPS, and when I got that sorted out said Boy had turned us 90 degrees to the East. I grabbed the tiller, got us going North again, and explained how we aim for the big pointy mountain in front of us. The problem was Said Boy was hunched down in the cockpit to avoid the cold wind and couldn’t see Big Pointy Mountain. I told Boy to keep us away from the shoreline to port. That he could do without standing up in the cold wind.

We traveled North towards the Eastern tip of Rock Island as the daylight faded. Not that I knew it was Rock Island, or that we were even heading North. I was too discombobulated to do anything but keep the boys from launching themselves over the side and try to avoid running into the island. The boys alternated warming up down below and steering, and they did pretty good, but they soon became too chilled and retired into the cabin.

After about 15 minutes of motoring we passed to the East of Rock Island. About this time I regained my senses and started to think like the navigator I used to be (25 years ago!) I pulled out the chart and figured out where we were with the help of the GPS. I didn’t see much in the way of promising anchorages ahead of us anytime soon, if we continued on our present course. There were a few dips in the outline of Rock Island about 10-20 minutes further, but they appeared exposed to a good fetch off the lake. Off to the West, though, around the peninsula of Rock Island we had just passed (Bass Point) there seemed to be a promising anchorage in what looked on the GPS like a small cove. The chart agreed there might indeed be a cove there. It was getting darker—soon there wouldn’t be enough light to see what I was doing when time came to perform my very first anchoring. It was cold. Did I really want to continue further into the lake, away from the marina and civilization, (albeit a bunch of campers drinking beer beside the lake)?

I made the command decision and put the helm over to head back to the South. The boys loved that maneuver, but I was slightly apprehensive. Here we were on a strange lake, in the growing darkness, with a new boat. About this time I realized I probably should have planned this better—I had been expecting to daysail (operative word: day) for a bit, and in a leisurely fashion find a good spot to anchor. I had neglected to revise the plan in sufficient detail when we got a late start. So here we were blundering about as night fell. Bad sailor. If I sank the boat with the boys aboard I may as well just go down with the ship, because the Mama would finish the job in any case. If I sank the boat on the first voyage Dad & Dad Wife would disown me. I had dark visions of the 10 o’clock news: Numb nuts boater rescued from local lake after nearly drowning his kids. Gulp…

After we turned I gave the helm to #1 Son who did a great job steering while I gathered my wits. The apparent wind was stronger on this course and for a moment I pondered putting up the sails to speed us along. But the mainsail was still in the bag because we had been in too much of a hurry to hank it on. I tried to unroll the genoa but the sheets were fouled up forward (I had crossed them when I was preparing the boat for trailering) and it would not unroll. Doh! So much for that idea.

After about 15 minutes of steaming we rounded Bass Point and approached the cove. There was just enough light left to see brush lining the banks and up ahead at the back end of the cove as we slowly motored in. To the left rose a small hill, about 200 ft high. To the right was a small rise of rocky scrub. Ahead about 200 yards out was a larger hill, rising slowly from the water. The edge of the water had a small amount of dead brush poking up through it.

As the cove closed around Felicidade I grabbed the lead line and took my first sounding ever. The lead passed quickly astern because we had too much way on. I cut the throttle on the outboard and tried again once we had drifted to a stop. Much better. I counted the knots and decided we were in 20 feet of water, give or take. I repeated the sounding several times—It was cool, I could feel the lead hitting the bottom. It felt pretty hard. I hoped it wasn’t too hard for the anchor. I let the boys take a couple of soundings and explained what we were doing. They too thought it was cool. #1 Son of course had to count the knots and compute how deep the water was. #2 Son was too hungry to really care that much.

This seemed like a good spot. With the boys manning the tiller and motor I grabbed the anchor and rode from below (it was stored in a big canvas bag from Dad & Dad Wife) I went forward to set the anchor. I had my life vest/harness on and clipped in at the front padeye (good sailor!). I lowered the anchor until I felt it hit the bottom, then slowly paid out rode as I had read in the books. Problem—we weren’t drifting fast enough to do a proper job of it. I knew I didn’t want to pile the chain (20’ worth) on top of the anchor because that could foul it.

I cleated the rode where it was, unclipped, and went back to the cockpit. I made a brief attempt to explain to the guys how to back the boat using the motor, but their blank stares gave me a clue that they probably weren’t salty enough for this particular maneuver after a lifetime total of 30 minutes experience on the water. It was up to Captain Rob this time. So I locked the tiller and put the motor in reverse at idle speed, hoping that we had enough room to do this (by now it was too dark to see much of the surrounding terra firma.

Back to the bow. I clipped in again and uncleated the rode. Now we had just enough stern way on and I could let the rode out properly. I snubbed it after about 90 feet when I felt the anchor bump once, twice, then grab and try to pull the rode out of my hand. Alright! I cleated it and went aft, where I gunned the outboard in reverse for a few seconds to really set the anchor. We didn’t drift back at all, so I killed the motor and all was quiet. Wow. Felicidade was anchored.

We sat there marveling at all this for a few minutes. The boys thought everything was very cool, but they were hungry and wanted dinner. I was just happy to be safely anchored after my earlier anxiety during the trip out. After a while we started clearing clutter out of the cabin and stacking stuff in the cockpit. I remembered to turn off the running lights and turn on the anchor light. #1 Son and #2 Son observed that If you looked up at the mast you could see the light and a little reflection off the backstay that looked kind of like a shooting star.

We finally got the cabin cleaned out pretty well. I went forward and let out some more rode for a total of 120’, a 6-1 scope. We were sheltered pretty well from 3 sides in the cove, and I figured (hoped) that would be sufficient.

We all retired below. I called Estemed Wife and let her know we had safely anchored. She sounded worried. The boys enjoyed Root Beers while I had a glass of wine and cooked Ramen. The stove worked very well, put out a big flame and lots of heat. It really warmed up the cabin in a hurry and I had to open the companionway hatch up. With the hatch open I could see out the mouth of the cove, and across the lake the lights of the marina. An occasional car could be seen driving on the road and I showed the boys, who thought it was very neat.

After dinner we talked about bombs and lizards and guns and boats and airplanes and spitballs and general guy stuff. We burped and farted and scratched ourselves. All that was missing was beer and football, I suppose. #1 Son said he could now understand why it was “your dream to go sailing.” We all thought being at anchor was really fun. It was a great time talking with my boys and just having fun in the cabin.

I pointed out to #1 Son & #2 Son how Felicidade was swinging at anchor and they were tripping out on how the marina lights would be visible from different portholes as the boat turned. We saw the moon was rising in the East over a low scrub-covered hill. The water was smooth and Felicidade swung peacefully at anchor.

Fortified with Ramen, I set the anchor drag alarm (Bad sailor forgot to take anchor bearings coming in) on the GPS. I set the alarm to go off at 140’. Following this, periodically the GPS would beep at me because, (I’m assuming) it lost one or more satellites which caused the circle of uncertainty to widen, which brought us close to the edge of that radius. I finally got annoyed and turned the thing off after a while, preferring to take my chances. I explained to the boys that if the anchor dragged we’d probably hear it. I told them to wake me up if that happened while we were sleeping. I also told them to wake me up if the put their feet on the cabin sole and found water, which amused them to no end. I admonished them to under no circumstances open the companionway hatch, or go outside without me.

I demonstrated how red light preserves night vision by turning off the white light and turning on my little red LED keychain light, which I clipped to the dagger board winch cable. After about 20 minutes in red light I opened up the hatch and we all went outside. Now we could see details of the surrounding hills, brush, and water, which the boys found amazing. The moon was trying to struggle free of some thin clouds to the East, and looked really cold. We went back below and settled in to sleep after a “3 rats” tale by Captain Dad.

I did not sleep well this first night. I was too consumed with being Captain Dad to relax. Around oh dark thirty a breeze came up and started the halyards slapping against the mast. It was too cold to climb out the sack and deal with it, so I just slept fitfully. I forgot to open a window so we ended up with a lot of condensation in the boat. The boys slept fine other than #1 Son coughing sporadically.

Sunday, December 18

The next day at 0630 I woke up the boys. It was clear with high thin clouds, and cold. The boys jumped out of their bags to go topside and marvel at everything, got frozen, and went back into their bags. They ate donuts and fruit for breakfast while I had coffee and oatmeal. I saw and heard a number of fish jumping for bugs, and so did the boys. #1 Son tried throwing goldfish crackers into the water to see if a fish would eat it, but no takers.

I tried to take a picture of the anchorage but the camera was apparently too cold and refused to cooperate. I also tried to shoot a fix with the Data Scope, but it was displaying the “No Cal” message! I guess being outside in the code all night didn’t do the batteries any good. Oh well. They say you can’t rely on electronics on a boat, and here was the proof! Fortunately I had the Iris 50 hockey puck, and I used that to shoot a 2-line fix off tangents on the mouth of the cove. I was a little grumpy about the Data Scope, but felt vindicated about the Iris 50. I had agonized over whether or not to buy the thing for $50 bucks, but eventually decided it would be nice to have a backup. This morning I was glad I had it. It worked great.

While the boys stayed warm below I got the mainsail hanked on and ready to hoist. Put the battens in for the first time. Around 0800 we fired up the motor to warm it up and I went forward to haul in the anchor. I had forgotten to rig a trip line so I was a little bit anxious that the anchor had been swallowed by the Submerged Bush From Hell, but it popped right out as I hauled it in by hand. Cool! I stowed the rode in the anchor locker and the anchor in its bracket on the pulpit. #1 Son steered us out of the cove. I got distracted by something and when I looked up #1 Son had abandoned his post (got cold and went below) and we were heading for the rocks about 50 yards away. I got us sorted out and put #2 Son in command of the helm, explaining to both boys the importance of standing a proper watch. Don’t think it sank in.

Anyhow, we made it out of the cove into open water. While #2 Son kept us pointing into the wind, more or less, I raised sail for the first time on Felicidade. We killed the motor and I unrolled the genoa, and we were sailing! Woohoo!

The boys wanted to visit the dam, and the bridge that arced over it, so we set course to the NW. The dam was about 2 miles from the cove. Of course the wind was blowing directly from the dam, so we tacked numerous times in the flaky wind. I explained to the boys what we were doing, but they were more interested in eating goldfish and pretzels, drinking root beer, and looking through the binoculars. We made slow progress towards our destination as the sun climbed into the sky.

I was happy to note Felicidade sailed very well. I lightly locked the tiller and she obediently stayed on course as long as I had the sails adjusted correctly. I tried heaving to one time and the boat docilely settled down without any fuss whatsoever. The wind was light, less than 4 knots, but we averaged between 1.2 and 2 knots through the water, even with my ham-handed attempts to trim the sails. I only got us into irons one time. She didn’t point too high, but I didn’t expect that she would since this was the first time . I’ll work on that some more down the road.

Eventually (about 40 minutes later) we were able to broad reach across to the bridge and Roosevelt Dam. Maneuvering room looked pretty tight in by the dam so I fired up the outboard and we slowly motored under the bridge and performed a fly-by of the dam. The boys really liked going under the bridge. As soon as we cleared the narrows of the dam location I killed the motor and we started sailing again.

Along the way I took out the hockey puck and shot a fix off the dam and left/right tangents on Rock Island. Not a 3 pointer, but decent. The Plotting board was great, once I figured out how to plot magnetic bearings. The chart of Roosevelt lake lacked a compass rose on the side I was using. There was a rose on the other side that showed magnetic, but that didn’t do me any good as I was setting up the plotter. I had to do some mental gymnastics to convert True to Magnetic (Uh… Let’s see… East is Least, that means I subtract East variation…). I finally got it sorted out and set up the plotter with the required 12 degrees East offset so I could plot the magnetic bearings direct.

Of course by this time we were far from where I shot the fix, but hey I was having fun. The first fix in 25 years, and I had established conclusively that we were indeed somewhere on Roosevelt Lake. Cool.

It was now around 1100. By this time wind had shifted to blow from the ESE and was becoming very flaky. We banged about for a while but weren’t really making much progress. I was having fun (it was great to be out sailing, albeit in almost no wind) but the boys were getting bored and hungry. I had told Estemed Wife that we’d be back home around 1500, and I had no idea how long it would take to pull Felicidade out of the water and secure her for the road. “OK guys,” I told the boys, “We’re heading in.” I rolled up the jib (easier than I expected), and lowered the main, then fired up the motor. We headed ESE back to the marina.

About 100 yards off the launch ramp I put the motor in neutral and rigged fenders and lines. Then we came alongside pier slowly. No beer-drinking campers were present to judge my first landing, but I was slightly nervous nonetheless. As we approached the pier I realized that it would be tricky to quickly reverse the outboard due to the location of the shift lever. This would make any adroit maneuvering on my part rather challenging. I gave up on the idea of using the turning effect to scoot the stern in at the last minute and opted for a simple direct approach at low speed. When we got within 1 foot of the pier I jumped off and caught the boat before it crashed into anything. I quickly tied the bow and stern lines, killed the motor, and Felicidade’s maiden voyage was history.

The boys and I pulled the boat onto her trailer and I drove up a slight hill with my dripping cargo. I got the boat ready for trailering fairly quickly and we made good time getting back home. I was tired but happy, and the boys assured me they had had fun. A successful first voyage!

Figure 1. GPS track of Felicidade’s maiden voyage. The lake level is much higher than usual, so it appears we sailed across some of the Garmin land. Rest assured that was not the case. Note the GPS track starts off the “Boat Ramp” as noted in the log.

Figure 2. Google Earth’s view of the part of Roosevelt lake we were in. The cove (adjacent to Bass Point, center) looks a lot bigger from space! We anchored just before it widens out (next to the B).

Figure 3. #1 Son enjoying a (root) beer at the helm with the dam and bridge in the background.

Figure 4. #2 Son pondering more donuts.

Figure 5. The fearless crew.
Lessons learned
1. Don’t untie from the dock without a clear plan of where we are going. Plan it before getting underway and have an alternate plan if that one doesn’t work out.
2. Don’t be in a hurry. We should have gone to a closer lake when we got a late start.
3. I should have had the sails ready to go in case the motor died.
4. A spotlight would have been nice while anchoring. It would have been really nice if I had blown it and we ended up schlepping about the lake looking for an anchorage.
5. Don’t pack so much big crap. Travel light.
6. Stow everything before we get underway. Have a list of where things are stowed.
7. Don’t forget to open a window for ventilation, especially when it’s cold..
8. The soft line used for the lead line tangled too easily. Get something a little stiffer.
9. Keep electronics inside the cabin where it’s warm.
10. Bungee the halyards before retiring for the night.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Three Firsts

The boys and I went up to the lake this weekend for an overnighter. The heat is gradually diminishing, which is nice, and the lake is continuing to be amazingly uncrowded. Very few power boats-- I guess the gas prices and general unhappiness of the Economy is taking a toll of people wanting to schlep their boats up to the lake from the valley, then pay $$$$ to fill them up with fuel. In fact our slip neighbor at the marina told us as much-- He said it cost $100 to fill his big cruiser 1/4 full. Being a sailor has its benefits.

This trip was noteworthy for a couple of reasons. First, it appears that the mouse we found back in April of 2007 is, amazingly, still living on the boat. When we opened the boat up we discovered new droppings, and a roll of paper towels has been chewed on. I have no idea how the critter has survived in what is pretty much a closed boat. We don't leave food on the boat. I do know that water can get in the boat when it rains, and possibly insects fly in through the vent, but still. I'm going to have to get a humane trap in there next time we sail and set the little survivor free. Amazing.

The next noteworthy thing was that we did 3 things this time around that were new for either the boys, or myself. The boys swam off the boat in the middle of the lake for the first time ever, and I sailed out of our slip and back to to the dock without using the outboard, for the first time since I was a kid sailing an El Toro in SF Bay. I have never had the moxie to do that with my 19' cruiser, so that was an event.

First #1 -- Swimming from a boat

We launched uneventfully at the Sheriff's ramp and motored out to the middle of the lake right across from the dam. There was only a vague breeze, so I stopped the motor and told the boys to put their swimsuits on. They immediately got all excited and practically ripped their clothes off. Once dressed, though, they stood on the cockpit uncertainly, staring at the big green water; neither of them had ever swum off a boat in the middle of the lake before. I, however, knew the drill and leaped overboard into the drink with a whoop. The water was refreshing, the temperature perfect , and my grin soon got the rest of the crew in the water with me. The boys loved it.

I had thought about doing this for a while, but the combination of weather and opportunity never really gelled until now. However, because of my planning, before we dove in I rigged one of the fenders to a couple of dock lines tied together, and tied the other end to a stern cleat and threw the fender overboard. That was going to be our lifeline in case the wind picked up while we were splashing around. The theory was that we could grab 50' of dock line and hand-over-hand it faster than we could catch a boat being blown downwind of us. In Theory.

I have read plenty of accounts of smart guys like me streaming ropes behind as a MOB countermeasure only to find the rope too slimy from algae, or the MOB too tired or hypothermic to accomplish the required gymnastics. But I didn't think we'd need it it, we are all strong, and I was planning on keeping them close to the boat at all times.

As we swam I could see the fender gradually getting further away as Felicidade caught the small breeze, until the while blob was floating about 50' away. The boys wanted to swim to the fender; I was a little nervous but since there was still no wind, allowed it. I swam with them, though. Being that far from the boat made me nervous, and we were drifting a little too close to the lee shore, so I had them swim back with me. #2 Son made it right after me, But #1 Son was taking his sweet time. I told him to grab the line and pull himself in, but he said he could not find it. I though that was odd so I pulled the line, thinking to make it taut. Before long I was staring stupidly at the bitter end of the line while the fender receded into the distance. Doh! Served me right for tying it on with a sheet bend, I guess. But the lines were different sizes!

For a second I was tempted to swim for it, but reason prevailed (for once!) and I hustled the boys back onboard for a reverse MOB maneuver of sorts. I quickly got the motor started (I love that little Tohatsu) and we motored over to rescue the fender. The fender survived with no ill effects and was soon tied back onto the dock lines-- This time with two bowlines. We motored back upwind for more swimming.

After we had been in the water for about 15 minutes, out of nowhere a blast of wind kicked up. It was like the haboob winds that precede a thunderstorm down in the valley, except there was no dust cloud. There were some thunderheads in the distance, but nothing (I had thought) close enough for any kind of weather to impact us. Boy, was I wrong.

I quickly got the guys out of the water. Now the line with the fender on it was streaming straight back as the boat was hit by what felt like 30 mph winds but was probably more like 15 - 20. The water around us darkened and there were numerous whitecaps popping up as I hustled the boys back aboard. While I was waiting to climb the ladder, I could feel myself being pulled through the water by the boat. At that point I was very glad I had not let them swim out to the fender again.

I got back aboard, and let the boat sort itself out while I changed into dry clothes. We had plenty of sea room to start with but the lee shore was getting closer by the time I got dressed. I briefly debated trying to get a sail up, but wasn't convinced I'd have much room to maneuver off the lee shore if I had problems getting the sail up. I decided to err on the side of caution and fired up the motor. We headed upwind while I put 2 reefs in the main and rolled out a small triangle of jib. When we turned off the motor and started sailing, we were slightly overpowered, but man it was fun. We were flying!

About this time I noticed some lightning over the hills around the lake, and by the dam. Time to head in! We sailed to the marina and accomplished a gentle landing under power. Cocktail hour ensued for all 3 sailors (wine for dad, root beer for the crew). We wandered the marina for a while and checked out the huge houseboats with their plasma TVs and full bars. The boys enjoyed themselves immensely. After dinner we turned in.

First #2 -- Sailing out of the slip

The next morning found a gentle breeze blowing from the head of our slip straight back. I decided to try sailing out-- Without starting the motor for insurance in case I completely screwed things up. The boys endured a series of nervous exhortations from Captain Dad about what to do when we inevitably found ourselves piled up against the slips to leeward, but didn't seem too worried about what we were about to attempt.

We put the main up and cast loose the dock lines; I backed the main (it still had 2 reefs in it from the night before), and the breeze slowly pushed Felicidade backwards out of the slip. When clear, I put the rudder hard over and she turned like the well-behaved little Potter she is. It's amazing how much easier it was to back the boat under sail-- No prop wash to contend with. In a few moments the main started drawing and we were slowly sailing down the channel as I rolled the genoa out. It all went very smoothly and I admit to being ridiculously pleased with myself. I almost felt like a real sailor.

We had a nice sail out to Haystack Island. There were two other sailboats on the lake, which was unusual. We sailed slowly around Haystack and headed back towards the marina at about 1.8 knots under a poled-out genoa. While we did this I decided that since sailing out of the slip was so successful, why not try sailing back to the dock? An engine-free voyage for Felicidade -- What an audacious idea!

First #3 -- Docking under sail

As we reached towards the "no wake" buoys, one of the other sailboats caught up to us and overtook us. We had a nice chat and the boys enjoyed asking them if they had a bunch of "allergy" slowing them down-- I had told the boys earlier that the boat should have caught up to us quicker because they were bigger, unless the bottom was foul. The other sailors agreed that yeas, they probably did have a bunch of algae. But it didn't slow them down that much as they passed us. Before we went past the breakwater I rolled up the genoa and planned the approach.

The Sheriff's dock is this metal thing with strange protuberances jutting out and oddly-placed cleats. As we neared the dock (which was directly downwind) at 1.7 knots, I made a lasso out of one of the dock lines and got it ready by the starboard aft cleat. We approached the dock slowly, I threw the lasso over the dock cleat and snubbed it with the cleat on the boat as we came to a gentle stop. Woohoo!

Now I almost feel like a real sailor. If I can just figure out how to sail onto the trailer I will be simply insufferable.