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.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Felicidade visits Bug Bay

On April 10, the plan was to go for a solo overnight up at Roosevelt Lake. I thought I'd head up alone because I wanted to do some work on the Potter in addition to the sailing, and the kids get bored watching Dad putz around on the boat. I packed up the night before and got an early start (for once)-- I was on the road by 7:30. The forecast was for winds of around 15 mph for most of the weekend. Perfect sailing weather. But while I was driving through town I noticed that the palm trees were getting blown pretty good. It looked like the wind was already blowing 15 mph, with some stronger gusts. This made me a tad nervous, but I kept going under the assumption that this was just a local effect out here in the flat valley and the winds would be calmer up at the lake. And if they weren't? Well, I could always overnight in the dry storage lot, if they would let me.

When I arrived at the lake, my theory about the winds being less at the lake went out the window. From the road the lake looked lumpy, and there were a lot of whitecaps. Gulp. The foliage beside the road was flailing back and forth. When I parked the car and got out I estimated that it was blowing 16 - 18 mph steady with gusts to 20. Closer to the lake things looked pretty woolly. I decided to go for it-- I could always pull out if things were too rough. While in the marina office arranging for the launch and pullout , the lady at the the desk said the forecast was for 30 MPH. "Be careful out there," she added. Gulp.

I got the boat set up in short order and soon was being towed down to the ramp. There were 3 boats ahead of me and I had a chance to observe the conditions at the ramp. The wind was blowing almost directly from the East, which was the opposite of the usual direction. Of course, the wind and sea were right across the ramp. There was a fair amount of chop, and some actual swells. This was going to be interesting. I watched as one bass boat launched; he got his stern to the swells and was nearly swamped before he motored away from the ramp. It looked like he shipped some water over the stern. I wasn't worried about getting swamped, but my freeboard is such that I needed to be pretty assertive about getting away from the ramp before the wind sent me into the weeds. Since the lake is so high, a temporary ramp was built by the marina, out in the weeds near where I had seen the RVs parked back on Felicidade's first sailing adventure. The ramp is kind of shallow and various drowned bushes closely surround the launch area. If the wind got hold of the boat I'd be blown into the foliage, creating a fine spectacle in front of the various fishermen waiting to be put in. I resolved that I would not make a spectacle of myself on this trip.

Soon it was my turn. The outboard started up fine, bless its little Tohatsu heart. While it warmed up I put the rudder down as far as I could on the shallow ramp. I clipped my harness to the boat and gave Mike the Ramp Guy the thumbs-up. He shoved me out into the lake. The Potter does not like to motor that much, especially in reverse. With the daggerboard up, it is like a big chunk of styrofoam skittering across the water. I gunned the outboard and tried to aim the stern into the wind and make progress against the wind and waves. The wind caught the boat and spun us around clockwise; fortunately that was what I wanted to do. Well, pretty much. I hadn't planned on doing it quite so close to the ramp. But no matter; once pointed in the proper direction, I switched the outboard to forward and we motored out into the lake. I remembered to lock the rudder fully down.

Once we were clear of the weeds the swell became apparent and Felicidade was rocking like I've never experienced before, taking the waves on the beam. This worried me because the daggerboard was not down; I didn't know how much swell it would take to roll the boat. I angled into the wind to try and take the waves at an angle; now the boat was pounding (thank you hard chines), but I felt a bit safer. I immediately began cranking the daggerboard down. The effect was dramatic; with the board down, the motion of the boat smoothed out and it felt much more secure. I put the motor in neutral and went below to lock the daggerboard in place. The boat promptly turned broadside and settled down. Even broadside to the swells, the boat's motion was easy.

Time to raise the mainsail. I had put in 2 reefs back on the land, so I was ready for the wind. The trouble is I could not keep the boat pointed into the wind. It was blowing too hard, and the sea was too choppy. No matter what I did with the motor and tiller tamer, the boat quickly peeled off and assumed its natural beam-to posture as soon as I went forward to raise the main. As we drifted downwind at about 2 knots I pondered how to raise the mainsail without being pointed into the wind. This had never been an issue before. How do you heave-to with no sails up? I finally just climbed up (harness snapped in) and muscled the main up. I got it most of the way up, though there was a bit of loose sail at the bottom. I wasn't going to worry too much about that; I could deal with it once I got into the lee of some land.

Sail up, I sheeted in the main, leaving the motor idling in neutral, and away we went. Well, kind of. Felicidade refused to turn through the wind. I could not tack to save my life. I learned an interesting characteristic right then of my high-sided Potter; in high wind, choppy seas, with a double-reefed main, good luck trying to tack through the wind. If I gunned the outboard I could do it, but not under mainsail alone. OK, good to know.

I shut the outboard off and jibed to run downwind on a Westerly course. I was originally going to head East through the Windy Hill pass, but since (a) that was directly upwind, and (b) there was probably a reason why Windy Hill is called that, I decided to run downwind until I could get in the lee of the land. My new plan was to get in calmer air and get the main fully hoisted, then roll out the foresail. Running was relatively peaceful. The boat was making 5 knots, and behaving nicely. The baggy main bothered me, but we'd fix that soon. Life was good.

We sailed on a dead run and rounded the point about 30 minutes later. In the lee of the land things were much calmer. I finished hoisting the main and rolled a bit of the genoa out. Then we turned South and started towards the opposite side of the lake. My plan was to head West along the opposite shoreline, exploring two coves which I had seen from the highway as I drove up. One of them looked particularly interesting and I thought we might spend the night there. Despite the frisky weather and waves, the Potter was sailing quite well. We had a nice run down to the first cove, which was behind a picnic area, under a bridge. I didn't go under the bridge to explore further because I wanted to do some more exploring.

I kept going West to the second cove. Once I got there I could see that it wouldn't make a good spot to camp, so I turned and began beating back up to the NE. I wanted to go check out the cove where the kids & I have beached the boat and hiked around in the past.

It was taking a while to beat back to the NE, so I shook out the reefs and rolled out the genoa. The wind had calmed somewhat, so I was not over-canvassed. We made good progress to weather.

Eventually we got there. Outside of the cove, I dropped the main, rolled up the genoa, and fired up Mr. Tohatsu. We motored slowly into the cove past a couple of bass boats. I steered us to the far North end of the cove, a creek wash that I had considered as a possible spot to tie up overnight. The wash was too shallow and weed choked on previous visits, but now the lake was almost completely full and I thought it worth a try to investigate the potential roost. on the way in I took a couple of soundings but the water was deeper than my lead line. No anchoring here! The wash in question was totally submerged and in fact was now extended to the right. (the picture was taken when the lake was a much lower level FYI).

This was potentially an even more snug location to tie up so I followed the meandering path. Dead bushes poked up all around us, and there was a lot of floating junk as we slowly motored in to the head of the wash. we were just about to nose up to the beach when there was a slight crunch and we stopped dead. The daggerboard had obviously touched down and we weren't going any further.

Right about this time I noticed that there were about a gazillion little bugs flying around the boat. They seemed especially fond of the outboard motor. That did not bode well for an overnight stay, I decided, and I switched the motor to reverse so I could make my retreat. Or at least that was the plan. Felicidade refused to budge, and was in fact was stuck fast. Hmm. I revved the outboard full blast, to no avail. I tried rocking the boat. Nada. It was apparent that the daggerboard had lodged on something.

Well, I wasn't going to let this stop me; I cranked it up while a cloud of insects orbited my head Now we could extract ourselves, dignity more or less intact. I backed Felicidade out and turned around in the first water of sufficient area. We motored slowly back the way we had come. I remembered to lower the daggerboard as we left the wash.

We motored around the cove a bit more, looking for a potential spot to anchor that would be far enough out to avoid the bugs, but shallow enough given the limited area to swing. Nothing presented itself, and I decided to bail. Once the lake level went down this would be a good spot, but not today. We headed out of the cove. Once clear I hoisted the main and genoa, and shut off the outboard. I decided at that point to revisit the first cove across the lake behind the bridge.

We sailed on a broad reach to the other side. I started the motor and took down the sails, and we pottered in under the bridge. For a moment I was worried that we wouldn't clear the underside of the bridge; it was close, maybe 3 feet clearance. it was hard to tell. I stopped just before we went under and stared at the bridge, trying to decide if we would fit. Some fishermen in a nearby bass boat stared curiously at us as we pondered the situation.

After a moment, I noticed that the bridge was inclined slightly; I found that I could move West a few feet and there should be plenty of room. We did that, and cleared the bridge with room to spare. We motored around a bend into an intimate little bay surrounded by steep hills covered in flowers and saguaro cacti. Three bass boats were drifting about, their fishermen casting lines. The water was active with fish that were jumping after bugs. It was altogether a very peaceful scene.

There were a lot of bugs, but they seemed to be uninterested in Felicidade and her mammalian skipper and left us alone as we slowly nosed up to the shoreline. I fetched a dock line and took a loop around a rotten stump of dubious holding power, then cleated it on deck. I went back to the cockpit to take it all in. In the late afternoon sun, it was a nice spot. I climbed up the hill above Felicidade to check in with The Wife on the cell phone. The hillside was very steep and loose. I worried about rattlesnakes and scorpions as I slid about. At the top I had a nice view of Felicidade down below. A huge Saguaro cactus provided an interesting contrast to the tiny boat below it.

I survived the scramble back to the boat and relaxed while a progression of bass boats silently meandered by. I was intrigued by the fact that the boats were obviously being propelled by electric trolling motors; what I couldn't figure out was how the motors were being controlled. I never saw the fishermen adjusting anything like a tiller or throttle. The boats just mysteriously seemed to troll around, perhaps controlled by ESP. I eventually decided that there must be foot switches, or something, controlling the motors.

Soon it was cocktail hour and I poured a glass of Two Buck Chuck. I made a couple of sandwiches and enjoyed the twilight, sitting in the cabin and gazing out the companionway at my private little bay. I missed the kids (my usual sailing companions) but all in all Life Was Good.

As the light faded I decided that calm as it was in this tight little bay, my rotten stump shore anchor was probably not too seamanlike. I went ashore and tied another line off to a large rock, just in case. I noticed while doing this that a huge cloud of bugs had taken an interest in my mast, and were trying really hard to form a solid insectoid ball in the air above the lowered mainsail. I took a picture. I don't know what kind of bugs these were; they resembled mosquitos, but when I offered my arm to the insect ball they did not seem interested. OK by me! I resolved that once the light faded I'd close up the cabin in case the insect cloud wanted to move inside with me. My ports are screened so I was confident that I could keep the critters outside.

In the last light, I saw a puff of air rippling the water in the approximate center of the bay, even though I felt no breeze. I surmised that it was probably cooler air coming off the hills around the bay and hitting the water. It was kind of neat to see, and a reminder that even in this protected place I might encounter some wind during the night. I was glad I had supplemented the Rotten Stump Anchor.

Bedtime arrived. I slept fitfully. A breeze did come up in the night, blowing wavelets against the hull and making annoying gurgling/thumping noises. The boat was solid and didn't move, though; I think the daggerboard was keeping the boat more or less in place and not allowing it to swing against the shoreline. But the damn gurgles kept waking me up. Note to self: find a way to prevent gurgles.

In the morning I climbed stiffly out of the V-berth and was treated to an idyllic scene. Sill water reflected the glowing hills as the sun came up. Life Was Good. I drank coffee and ate breakfast while contemplating my good fortune at being in this nice place on the Good Ship Felicidade.

As I finished breakfast and the first bass boat silently appeared around the corner, I thought about how I was going to leave the bay. There was the faintest of breezes rippling the center of the bay; I decided that I would try to sail out, not wanting to disturb the quiet beauty of this place with the noisy outboard.

I raised the mainsail and fetched the paddle from the quarterberth. I had never paddled Felicidade before and was eager to see how that would work out. I untied the dock lines from the rock and rotten stump and threw them onto the fore deck. I gave Felicidade a good shove and jumped on board as she silently drifted away from the shore. As the boat slowly coasted to the middle of the bay I turned the tiller to point us in the right direction; then I started paddling.

I found that paddling was pretty easy-- a touch of rudder to keep us on course was all that was needed and I managed to coax the boat up to half a knot. We made our way towards the bridge and the mouth of the bay. That was just too cool. I felt like a real sailor-man exploring the great unknown.

Near the bridge, a tiny breeze sprang up, and I put down the paddle. Then it died. Back to paddling. I unrolled the genoa, and got a touch more speed out of the faint puffs. The trouble with the genoa, I soon discovered, was that the flaky zephyrs kept switching directions, and I found myself tacking the sail a bunch of times. The sheets kept getting hung up on the shrouds, and the sail was mostly a big floppy pain in the butt. I rolled it up enough to allow it to be "self tacking"; that seemed to work OK as we crept towards the bridge.

Right before the bridge, the wind died altogether. I paddled Felicidade under the bridge. Beyond the mouth of the cove I could see the winds were blowing by the darker hue of the water, and an occasional whitecap. Some of the wind began to reach us, and the paddle went below for good. I was inordinately proud of myself for having left port completely under sail (and paddle).

We sailed out into the lake and once in the wind, turned East for a long run straight downwind. The run downwind was very pleasant. The genoa filled up and stayed full for the whole leg, without me having to set the whisker pole. I let out the mainsheet all the way, set the vang, and snugged up the tiller tamer; Felicidade bubbled along happily at 3 -4 knots. I aimed for the bridge next to Roosevelt Dam and enjoyed myself. Another sailboat presently left the marina and beat upwind; we passed each other about 1 mile apart.

While running downwind I formulated a plan; I would circumnavigate Haystack Island. Adjacent to the marina, I turned to a broad reach and headed North. It was interesting to feel the wind now that we were no longer on a run. I don't know why, but that always surprises me. We made good time towards Haystack Isle. I only needed to tack once.

We passed a semi-submerged, gigantic tire floating out in the middle of the lake; It looked like one of the marina breakwater tires had come adrift. We also passed floating flocks of birds which eyed the boat warily, but did not fly away. At one point a bass boat and speedboat stopped next to each other about 1/4 mile away; One of them had a stereo that was blaring away, and the speedboat had a very loud engine. They talked for a few minutes while we sailed quietly past, then took off in a roar of engines in opposite directions. It was quiet again. I felt sorry for people who had to fly about the lake surrounded by noise, instead of sailing along surrounded by the chuckling sound of the wake.

We successfully circumnavigated Haystack Isle. Rounding the tiny island, when Felicidade was in the wind shadow, I was briefly taken back in time to sailing on SF bay when I was a kid, and getting becalmed in the lee of Angel Island. It always seemed kind of aggravating to have to bob around waiting for the current to push us around the island. But this time the calm only lasted for about 30 feet, and the boat soon coasted back into the breeze.

We set off towards the marina on a beam reach, our mission accomplished. Outside the no-wake zone,I dropped the sails and called the marina on the cell phone to arrange for a retrieval. I noticed that I barely had enough battery left to complete the call; the phone shut off shortly after I finished talking to the marina. It seemed to me that everything was going my way this time. I started the outboard and headed for the ramp.

Presently I could see the marina pickup with Felicidade's trailer getting in line behind the jet skis and bass boats. I amused myself by practicing backing the boat into the wind while waiting for my turn. Soon we were up, and I motored into a perfect landing. The trailer winch strap broke while being tightened, a casualty of 3 years of UV exposure, the only equipment failure to date. In all, a wonderful sailing adventure.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Felicidade cruises Apache Lake

Since the boys and I had successfully navigated Roosevelt Lake (meaning we managed to sail some and not sink, get dismasted, blow up the boat, or get hopelessly lost, and that we returned home with the same Boy Count we started with), I decided that for #1 Daughter's first voyage we’d try a different lake.

There were a number of considerations in choosing the next lake—Driving distance, lake size, possibility of wind, and likelihood of such vermin as jet skis and bass boats. Lake Pleasant (I mentally refer to it as Lake Unpleasant due to the great number of jet skis and bass boats during the summer) was out because it’s way the heck out on the other side of Phoenix and the return trip was certain to involve huge traffic jams due to the traditional lets-wreck-out-car-on-the-only-road-heading-into-phoenix mentality that seems to be the case nearly every Sunday on I-17.

Bartlett Lake looked like it was polluted with big powerboats and Felicidade would not fit in too well with the beer-and -bimbos crowd that seemed to favor that scene. Plus the lake was way out on the North side of Scottsdale.

Saguaro lake had potential, but looked kind of small. Canyon Lake sounded interesting, but I had heard the wind was not particularly good there, and it appeared kind of narrow. We could motor around exploring the canyons, but I wanted to sail, dangit, not exercise the outboard motor.

That left Apache lake. According to the website:

Formed by Horse Mesa Dam, Apache Lake is long and narrow and is the second largest Salt River Project lake. It is located off the Apache Trail (Highway 88) about 65 miles from Phoenix, and is a favorite with many sportsmen, particularly those from southern Arizona. The Apache Lake Marina and Resort is one mile from the main highway and features a motel, gas station, coffee shop, picnic supplies and a trailer park for 12 units. A boat ramp and dock are at the resort, and a county sheriff's aid station is nearby. The Three Bar Wildlife Area is just across the lake from the resort and provides a scenic spot for photographers. Seven miles northeast of the resort is the Burnt Corral Recreation Site with 17 spaces for trailers which are less than 17 feet long. The area is open all year and has boat launching facilities. Game fish in Apache Lake include walleye, largemouth and smallmouth bass, red ear sunfish, bluegill, channel catfish and crappie.

There are two ways of getting here. Take the Apache Trail for 18 miles from Apache Junction past Canyon Lake to Tortilla Flat. Another 15 miles, some of which is unpaved brings you to your destination. Or, if you're coming from Globe, take Highway 88 northwest about 35 miles to Roosevelt Dam, then turn south along the Apache Trail (still Highway 88) about five miles to Apache Lake.

That didn’t sound too bad. 18 miles from Apache Junction? Some of it dirt road? Well, we live on a dirt road. This is a highway (Hwy 88—it said so on the map!). How bad can it be? A lot of the Alaska highway was dirt, and that didn’t slow down the RVs any.

On the map it looked like a pretty good sized lake. The website,, showed what looked like a real marina, a restaurant, and even a resort hotel on the lake. Very nice.

An SRP website talked about the dam itself:

Horse Mesa Dam, located on Apache lake, is named for nearby Horse Mesa, where thieves sometimes hid stolen herds. The dam was constructed between 1924-27. It is 300 feet high and 660 feet long. It has three conventional hydroelectric generating units rated at a total of 32,000 kW and one pumped storage hydroelectric unit added in 1972 and rated at 97,000 kW.

Sounded interesting, and relatively easy to get to. In retrospect I should probably have scrutinized the map a little closer. The little red highway line looks rather squiggly when viewed closely, a clue that it may be a tad more challenging than the breezy travel descriptions provided by the tourism websites. But I get ahead of myself.

The trip out

#1 Daughter and I set off for Apache lake on Saturday morning and soon found ourselves in Apache Junction, where we turned right at Hwy 88. The road was smooth pavement, curvy and swoopy, which was a nice change from the rectilinear monotony of most of the valley’s roads. This isn’t so bad! I was enjoying the drive and looking forward to a quick trip out to the lake.

A few miles later, the road narrowed a bit. Not a problem, it was still a nice paved road. We began climbing some gentle grades. A few miles after that, we came to a one-lane bridge. Huh? I thought this was a highway! What kind of stupid highway has one-lane bridges? “Highway 88” was starting to look more like Podunk County Road #12A with each passing mile. Still, we pressed on. Soon we got our first look at Canyon Lake off to the left. It looked small. A couple of miles after this we passed through the crusty-looking flyspeck town of Tortilla Flat which was busily extracting dollars from what appeared to be a large flock of snowbirds. After creeping through the 200-foot long downtown of Tortilla Flat, we continued on our way.

The road narrowed some more, and began climbing in earnest. Still not worried. We had to slow down, but life was good. Then we came to a sign-- “Dirt Road ahead”. Okay. I slowed down a bit and we plowed on over the dirt road “hwy 88” which, as dirt roads go, was pretty nice. The next sign warned that trucks over 40 feet were not allowed on hwy 88. As we passed this I was wondering how long the minivan and Felicidade were. Forty feet? I hoped not. I kept up a cheerful face for #1 Daughter—“We’ll be there in about 30 minutes,” I said. Silly Captain Dad.

Fish Creek Hill

Well, the nice dirt road began to narrow and twist, and the first washboards began appearing as the grade steepened. A few miles later we were in full mountain goat mode, creeping along a periodically single-lane dirt road that was switch-backing up a precipitous canyon wall. Yikes! Now I was worried. Every turn was a blind corner, and there were no guardrails or anything to prevent what would (hopefully) be a mercifully rapid descent to oblivion at the bottom of the canyon. We moved along cautiously as the road twisted and turned, nervously looking down at the distant bottom of the gorge to our left. Two or three cars passed us in the opposite direction, their drivers looking stunned, knuckles white on the steering wheel, with a what-the-hell-was-I-thinking expression on their faces. I imagine I had pretty much the same expression.

The worst part came as we descended into a deep canyon. About halfway down, a huge pickup truck appeared coming up from the opposite direction. I got as far to the right as I could, fearing that I was about remodel Felicidade’s starboard rub rail on the cliff beside the road. The pickup inched past us, thankfully on the precipice side, getting as close as he could to the trailer. We managed to squeeze past each other with no damage to anything but our respective nerves.

I found out later that the part of the road which was so gnarly is called “Fish Creek Hill”. It is apparently infamous, being a 15-17% grade that drops 1000 feet in less than a mile, into the bowels of Fish Creek Canyon.

A USDA Forest Service website had this to say:

“The scenic byway (with numerous sharp curves and narrow stretches of road) is safe to all but the reckless driver. Traffic is moderately heavy on weekends, less on weekdays. Pulling trailers of any type over this road is strongly discouraged.

A significant part of the byway is unpaved, and is normally suitable for passenger cars. Keep to the right. DRIVE CAREFULLY AT ALL TIMES.

At Fish Creek Hill (Milepost 222.5), the road is primarily one-way (with turnouts), climaxing in a 1,000-foot drop in elevation over a 15-17 percent grade, hugging the bronze bluffs.

For closer viewing and photo-taking, please stop at the vista points where there is safe parking. DON'T look while driving! The road is safe but one must pay close attention to twists, blind-turns, and oncoming vehicles.

Prepare yourself for a most unusual experience: some of the most spectacular scenery to be seen in all of the West.”

Arrival at the marina

Following that experience, the so-called highway flattened and widened, and we made good progress towards Apache Lake. After driving what felt like halfway to New Mexico, we finally came to the turn off for the marina. Woohoo! We had survived! The rest was going to be a piece of cake.

We could see the facilities below as we made the turn—Way down below, it seemed to me. The 1-mile road to the marina was very step and sandy in parts, which gave me reason to worry that we might have trouble pulling the boat back up. Minivan = front wheel drive, boat = 1900 lbs, steep, sandy dirt road, you get the picture. Nonetheless we arrived at the launch ramp without to much fuss. #1 Daughter & I went inside the resort, which was pretty much empty, though nice in appearance. We made our way to the launch ramp, where I called The Wife and announced our safe arrival, omitting the details of our journey along Death Highway 88.

While #1 Daughter explored the launching ramp area, I rigged the boat up. The only other boats there were a couple of huge Pontoon things which had apparently just pulled out of the lake. While rigging the main sail I discovered I had forgotten the battens. I worried about this for a few moments and then decided that it probably wasn’t going to make a difference, considering my skill level and the relatively light winds (4 – 8 knots).


In about 30 minutes we were ready to launch. I put #1 Daughter on the boat and backed down the launch ramp… and down, and down, and down. The stupid ramp seemed to take forever, as it descended between two concrete walls. At the water’s edge the walls soared `10 feet above the water level. Once I got Felicidade into the water, I had #1 Daughter alert me when the boat was floating. I had to back in pretty far before the boat would float off the bunks, but eventually we were floating. #1 Daughter was thrilled by all this excitement. I was worried about how far I had to back into the water to launch the boat.

I climbed onboard, fired up the engine, and backed us off the trailer. About this time I realized that there were no docks visible nearby. How was I supposed to tie up and get the minivan out of the lake? We motored slowly around the huge concrete wall and finally I spotted some docks across from the fuel docks, right around the corner.

As we approached the docks, I realized that I had not yet rigged the dock lines and fenders. Bad sailor! Feeling slightly embarrassed, I quickly darted below and fetched the fenders and dock lines, and while #1 Daughter steered us in got them rigged. . As we approached the dock I saw signs telling us these were private docks and there was a $10.00 fee to use them. Well screw that, I thought. and we tied up at the first outside dock. I figured I was only going to be there long enough pull the trailer up and park it. We made the dock without any mishap and tied up

I admonished #1 Daughter to stay put and not fall into the lake, and went back to the minivan. As I pulled the trailer out, the front tires spun pretty good before slowly grabbing on, and for a panicked moment I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to pull the trailer out. The ramp was pretty steep, and covered with wet sand. But we finally got moving, much to my relief. After I parked the car, I quickly walked back to the boat, freaking out now at the thought of pulling the boat up the ramp. If I had trouble pulling the empty trailer, it was going to a problem getting the boat up the ramp!. Now I had another thing to worry about in addition to (a) the road from the marina to hwy 88, and (b) hwy 88.

Sailing at last

Back at the boat, we put the daggerboard down and shipped the rudder. We started the outboard and cast off for #1 Daughter’s first sail at 1530 in a nice breeze of between 4 -8 knots. While #1 Daughter steered us into the wind I put up the main, unrolled the genoa, and killed the outboard. We were sailing!

I was impressed by how well #1 Daughter handled the boat. She has a great touch—Steers just enough to stay on course without overcorrecting. She had no problem with the concept of using a tiller and always managed to turn in the right direction. Cool! We sailed West on a starboard tack while I explained to #1 Daughter how to pick a spot on ahead to steer for, how to feel the wind, and what tacking was all about.

As we beat to the Northwest, I used the wind gauge and measured the breeze. 4 knots steady, with occasional puffs to 6 -8. When the puffs hit, Felicidade put her shoulder down and accelerated nicely. It was great, even though it only happened a couple of times. I was very pleased with how the boat was performing—the helm was close to neutral (I guess remembering to tighten the backstay paid off on this sail!) and the boat happily performed all required maneuvers with little fuss. It was fun to heel over a little bit in the gusts, though the first time it happened #1 Daughter & I did pucker up just a bit. But Felicidade sailed like a dream. What a great little boat.

We seemed to average between 3.0 and 3.6 knots. I had forgotten to zero out the GPS so I don’t know what out actual max and average speeds were under sail, but the boat seemed to move along very well in the light airs. I think we even topped 4 knots a couple of times. In any case, Felicidade felt like she was sailing great and I we were having a blast.

By 1615 we were SW of Bass Point. The sailing was fun, but we weren’t really getting anywhere very quickly. I wanted to make better progress towards an anchorage, likely spots being 1 – 2 miles ahead. #1 Daughter agreed, so I reluctantly started the outboard, rolled up the genoa and dropped the main.

In search of an anchorage

The first anchorage we approached was where Indian Wash joined the lake. It was a narrow little cove with a deep V at the head where the wash (supposedly) ran. I liked it because it was sheltered from the westerly wind, but as we motored in slowly the lead line told me it was staying pretty deep despite the narrowing cove. #1 Daughter steered and managed the motor while I threw the lead line and fretted. About 100 feet from the head of the cove, we sounded 24 feet. I dropped the anchor and let out about 60 feet of rode, then had #1 Daughter put the outboard in neutral while I waited to see how we’d swing.

We slowly spun around the anchor, coming uncomfortably close to a couple of large boulders. I knew if I let out any more rode we’d get too close to the rocks. All the way up the cove, it looked like we could squeeze in to the narrow part of the wash, which I briefly thought about trying. I decided against it because the sides of the wash looked pretty rocky and I wasn’t sure I could keep the boat centered in it. Plus I’d have to blow up the raft to tie up, and I didn’t really feel like screwing around with the raft just yet. Reluctantly, I decided to seek a better anchorage. I pulled the anchor up, piling the rode on the deck, and #1 Daughter steered us West out of the cove.

Almost due west across the lake was a bight with something called Hermit’s Cave. According to the chart it looked like the bottom was flat and only 10 feet deep. That sounded like a good spot for me except from where we were, motoring out of Indian Wash, it looked like the cliffs ran right to the water’s edge, and it was exposed to the wind which was blowing from the NW. It was about 2/3 mile across the lake to investigate. On the other hand, half a mile to the NW was Ash Creek, which while somewhat small appeared like it might make a good anchorage. I opted to head us up to Ash Creek. If that didn’t work out then we’d be at a better position to look at the Hermit’s cave area through the binoculars, and if all else failed there were all kinds of coves and bights further to the NW.

In a few minutes #1 Daughter had us slowly Pottering into Ash creek. It was a wide bowl of a cove with a nice little beach at the head, surrounded by saguaro cactuses. To our port was a sandbar (well, maybe more like a gravel bar) that the chart didn’t show—We gave it a wide berth. #1 Daughter expertly steered us into the center of the cove and I dropped the anchor in about 20 feet of water. We put the motor in neutral and waited to see what the anchor did as the breeze swung us around. After a few minutes I let out 110’ of rode, as much as I dared to with the rocks all around us, and killed the motor.

Life at anchor

“Don’t tell me you forgot a pan to cook the ramen in, Dad,” came #1 Daughter’s accusing voice from below, interrupting my reverie. Doh! I had a checklist, but somehow forgot to follow the stupid thing. #1 Daughter gave me one of those looks familiar to any male who has ever been married, but I was the Intrepid El Capitan, and would figure something out.

Salvation arrived in the form of the fruit cocktail I had brought for dessert. We opened it up, and ate the fruit cocktail. Next I removed the paper label from the can and rinsed it in the lake. I used some of my stainless steel rigging safety wire to make a grate to set the can on over the stove burner, and in a few minutes we had boiling water for ramen. Crude, but effective.

After dinner we amused ourselves by playing Poker, Millbourne, and Mancala. #1 Daughter creamed Captain Dad, showing insufficient regard for my lofty stature. I pledged to make her walk the plank come daylight. She reminded me that Mom would make me walk the plank if I did that. We thus arrived at an amiable truce and turned in for the night after a “3 Rats” story.

During the night, I slept better than I had on the Roosevelt Lake trip with the boys. I woke up at 2300, and took the opportunity to pop my head out of the hatch an survey the surroundings. Everything seemed to be in order. There was no moon, but the bathtub ring around the lake glowed eerily in the darkness. The wind had died down, and the water no longer had any chop. Felicidade was sitting peacefully at anchor. I checked on #1 Daughter who was burrowed deep into the quarterberth. I went back below and climbed into my sleeping bag.

January 29, 2006

The next morning I woke up about 0630. I climbed stiffly out of the sleeping bag and fired up the propane heater. Shortly thereafter #1 Daughter woke up. We had breakfast and played Millbourne again as the sun illuminated the cliffs around us.

Around 0815 we got underway. I had to haul on the anchor pretty good to pull it up, and when it came to the surface there was a large glob of grey-white mud on it. When I took sailing lessons on Lake Pleasant a few years ago, the instructor had complained that anchoring was not very good in AZ lakes. Twice now I’d anchored and things were fine. Maybe it depends on how neurotic one is about picking the perfect spot. I was trying really hard to pick what looked like flat bottom anchorages on the theory that there would be fewer boulders to mess things up. So far so good!

We fired up the Iron Jenny and headed East out of Ash Creek. As we motored into the lake, my cell phone had no reception (it was so bad that the phone didn’t even attempt to connect, and instead entered “power saving mode.”), and I knew The Wife would want to hear that we survived the night. So the first thing we needed to do was go back to the marina and use the phone. The wind was very light, and it would have taken us forever to get to the marina, so we powered on instead of sailing.

It took us about 20 minutes to make the marina. As we approached, I noticed there was another launch ramp to the East of where we had put in. We cruised past it and checked it out—It looked like a much flatter, and less sandy, ramp than the other one. With relief I resolved to pull Felicidade out from that ramp, and leave the other ramp to the pontoon boats. While checking out the new ramp I spotted a small dock next to the fuel docks.

We tied Felicidade up to the small dock, and hiked up the hill to the resort. While #1 Daughter wandered the gift shop I interrogated the lady manning the front desk about the condition of the road from here to Roosevelt Lake. No way I was going to drive back up Fish Creek Hill! The woman was very helpful and told me that the road to Roosevelt Lake was wider and better that the way we had come. That made me feel much better! I mused aloud that nobody was likely to be pulling those big old honking pontoon boats over that nasty road. The woman said that what most people with the big pontoon boats did was put in just below Roosevelt Dam, and float down to the marina.

We checked in with The Wife, and headed back to the boat. The wind had come up while we putzed in the resort, so we got underway and set sail. We ran dead downwind to the West at about 1.6 – 2.2 knots. I performed a couple of jibes, which the boat accomplished without any fuss. It was nice to be able to push the boom across—A bonus for having a small, light boat! After a while I set the whisker pole, and we ran wing-to-wing down the lake. It was great sailing. Felicidade handled great on a run, and it was very quiet and peaceful.

#1 Daughter amused herself by tying Barbie to the roller furling line and trailing her behind the boat. Barbie gets Keelhauled!

While we sailed I took some bearings off of the various bluffs and headlands and plotted our position, getting my navigator jollies. I used the Iris 50 hockey puck and the KVH to shoot the bearings. Both instruments worked well, except the contrast on the KVH was not very dark. Since I had calibrated the KHV to work with my glasses, I preferred to shoot the bearings with that. When using the hockey puck I had to take my glasses off before shooting the bearing, which was a pain.

About 40 minutes later we were abeam of our anchorage at Ash creek, in the center of the lake. As we sailed by we spotted a bass boat anchored there. I was hoping to make it further down the lake under sail to see what lay around the next bend, but right about then the wind died. We flopped about for a while before I gave up and started the motor. Before we got moving I shot a fix, then plotted a course to Hermit’s cave, which turned out to be 210 degrees, more or less. I did this because I couldn’t see anything resembling a cave from where we were, and wanted to go direct to the cave as opposed to running up and down the shoreline under power searching for it.

I steered a course of 210 degrees towards the cliffs on the SW side of the lake. In about 8 minutes we came up to a small cut in the cliff. Just above the bathtub ring was a small cave with what appeared to be wood covering the bottom half. Felicidade slowly pottered into the cut for a closer look. #1 Daughter wanted to get real close, but I started getting nervous because of the confined space. Before we got too deep in the cut I reversed the motor and backed us out.

Back to the trailer

It was getting late, so we steamed back to the marina. We tied up again at the small dock, where I raised the centerboard, unshipped the rudder, and got Felicidade ready to pull out. I walked to the minivan and backed it down the new ramp. When I stepped out of the car, with the trailer in the water up to the correct depth, my bare feet were slipping and sliding on the brown algae. I could barely stand, and ended up hanging on to the driver’s door, which closed (gently) on my fingers. I felt pretty stupid hanging there by my fingers, feet sliding around, barely upright. Somehow I managed to make it to dry concrete without going swimming.

Back at the boat, all of a sudden the wind picked up, this time blowing a solid 7 knots, of course directly across the boat ramp. Oh great. NOW there’s wind. My second ever retrieval, and a veritable hurricane of a crosswind! When I was a pilot I relished crosswind landings, but I had a feeling this was going to be a challenge.

Nonetheless, we fired up the outboard and got going into the windy lake. When we cast off from the dock I forgot to let go of the stern line until the boat had warped herself backwards around the end of the dock. No harm done, but I felt pretty stupid. I was holding the stern line firmly and wondering why the boat was doing what it was doing. Duhhh. I hope I quit doing these kinds of things as I gain experience!

Anyway, we approached the trailer. I knew I had to head into the wind, and I did so, until I turned into the trailer. At this point I discovered how a Potter P19 handles without daggerboard or rudder! In a word, she floats like a piece of Styrofoam, skittering sideways all over the place. Needless to say My first approach had to be aborted. We backed out and circled around for another shot. This time I got Felicidade in between the guideposts, albeit at a good angle. But we were close enough for me to go monkey off the pulpit to attach the trailer winch, which I did, standing on the 6 inches or so of water covering the trailer frame.

#1 Daughter got the boat centered by pulling on the guides as I winched away, and in a few moments we were all set. I gingerly stepped off the trailer into the brown algae, but this time I was wearing shoes and had no problem, to my relief. I felt I had already made enough of a spectacle of myself without falling into the lake.


We pulled the boat out without difficulty and parked above the ramp. I rigged the mast-raising tackle and disconnected the forestay. Heading aft, I heard a ping! And the mast began to slowly topple aft. The tackle had disconnected from the gin pole, and the mast fell free as I watched in horror. It bounced off the hatch several times before I got hold of it and put it in the cradle. Fortunately, #1 Daughter was below and missed the whole show (other than some salty language from the captain).

The boom vang u-shackle attached to the lower part of the mast had punched a neat square hole in the forward edge of the hatch. Other than that, there didn’t appear to be any damage, other than to my nerves.

I retrieved the twist shackle that had been holding the tackle to the gin pole, and it was open but appeared undamaged. I don’t know for sure, but my guess is that it had twisted somehow which caused it to open under load. Alas. I guess now I get to learn fiberglass repair! Could have been worse.

Once I regained my composure, I got the boat secured for trailering, and we got moving. The road from the resort back up to so-called-highway 88 was, as I had feared, pretty bad. I put the minivan in low gear and kept my speed up. A couple of times we lost steerage way and the car began skittering sideways, but by using the entire road I managed to get us up to the top.

Once on hwy 88 we made good time traveling 12 miles to Roosevelt dam. #1 Daughter was impressed by the dam, and I pointed out where the boys and I had anchored on the last trip.

The trip home was uneventful. Another successful voyage for Felicidade!

We take a mouse sailing


The boys and I got to Roosevelt Lake around 12:15, parked, and walked down to the marina. There were a lot of cars in the parking lot, and once I got inside the store there were more people inside than I have ever seen. The line to checkout was about 10 people deep and circled around the back of the store. Outside, there were a lot of people fueling up at the gas docks, carrying fishing gear, and generally getting ready for a day on the water.

I paid for a launch & retrieve and a guest slip. The usual slips were apparently all taken, so they put us in slip C-23 out on the regular docks. While I was doing this the boys examined the bait tank. Once we were ready to go we went back up and drove to the boat. Setup went pretty quickly, since I’m leaving the boom on and all I really had to do was bend the mainsail on, and attach the outboard and rudder. It was fairly breezy, around 12 – 14 kts, so I went ahead and put the first reef in the main while we were in the dry storage.

Kenny from the Marina showed up presently and towed us down to the water. I am so glad I don’t have to do that launch and retrieve routine any more. The marina staff are much better at this than I am and we get in the water with minimal fuss. The dry storage is working out great. For $37 a month you can’t beat it. They tow us down to the water and send us on our way, then pick us up when we’re done. No muss, no fuss.

The launch ramp was a hopping place. There were about 5 boats at the dock or milling nearby, and a girl was in the water, swimming by the ramp. Don’t think I’d do that with all the propellers in the water! Kenny backed us in and I started the outboard while he got us unhooked.

I put the rudder down, gave Kenny the thumbs up, and we backed off the trailer. The boat tended to veer to starboard while backing, and it was difficult for me to keep it from doing that even though I was using the outboard and the rudder together. I’m not sure why that was the case, but I suspect it might have been windage pushing the bow to the left. I was getting a little concerned because of the other boats to the right as we backed out, so as soon as I could I switched the outboard to forward and powered away from the congestion at the ramp.

As we motored slowly East I had #1 Son steer while I winched the daggerboard down and secured it. Before we got on the water I had explained to the boys why we wanted to have the board down before we raised sail. When I told them we might roll over otherwise they thought that was cool.

We got outside the no-wake buoys in a few minutes. I had #1 Son point us into the wind while I raised the main and unrolled the Genoa. I shut down the outboard and we were sailing!

We reached on a port tack towards Haystack Island. The wind was perfect, and the boat was performing great. The boys were really enjoying the sailing now that we had a decent wind. I put #1 Son on the tiller and stood in the cabin to take a movie of #1 Son at the helm. Right then a small puff hit us and heeled the boat; #1 Son gave out a small yelp and looked surprised, but handled the puff well. I got the whole thing on video, and it was very amusing. Every time Felicidade heeled the boys would whoop and holler. They loved it, especially #2 Son. There was another sailboat out down by Windy Hill and we could see that it was heeling pretty good. I explained how the Potter likes to sail fairly flat, but the boys didn’t care, they wanted to heel like the other sailboat.

We tacked back and forth while the wind built slightly. I rolled up the Genoa a few turns. Both boys got to steer, and did a great job. #2 Son was steering when a big gust laid us over. He loved it, #1 Son wasn’t so sure. After a while I took the helm and while I was steering another stronger gust hit. This time we buried the lee rail, and water came into the cockpit. The boys were thrilled. I gained a few new gray hairs.

When overpowered, the Potter just rounds up and stops. It’s a wonderful behavior, and comes in handy when a newbie is steering. I showed the boys how to round up a little in the gusts if the boat leaned too much, and we sailed along merrily. Whenever the boys didn’t round up enough in a gust, the boat did it for them. What a great little sailboat.

After a couple of hours of great sailing, it was time to head in. I showed the boys what happens when we hove to. Felicidade settled down and went from banging along in the chop to quietly floating along while I went below and fetched the fenders and dock lines.

We made our way into the marina under power and docked with no fuss. While I was tying the boat up, a guy came over from the houseboat next door to admire Felicidade. He asked me a bunch of questions about the boat and seemed really impressed by our little Potter.

We had Cocktail Hour at our slip (Root beer for the boys, wine for Dad), then fixed dinner. While I was putzing in the cockpit, #2 Son discovered a mouse inside the boat! #1 Son and I didn’t believe him until I went below and saw it for myself. I tried to catch it but it was too quick. I was puzzled about how it got in there—Later I discovered we have mice in the garage, so it must have hitched a ride in the provisions.

Anyway, we all went dock walking after dinner to check out all the cool boats. The boys favored the various swoopy speedboats; I was more into the sailboats. We explored the entire marina, including the humungous- pontoon-houseboat section with the Astro-Turf lawns, yapping Chihuahuas, and plasma TVs. Those things were pretty impressive, but I wondered how well they did going to weather…

Back at the boat, we all turned in for the night, including our stowaway. The humans, at least, slept pretty well.

The next day we had breakfast and visited the member’s head. On the way back, the boys were fascinated by some guys fishing from the end of their houseboat. The fisherman caught a big fat crappie while we were there and the boy’s eyes almost bugged out. They asked the guy what he was going to do with the fish, and when he replied that he was planning to eat it, the boys got that deer-in-the-headlights look that only a lifelong vegetarian can pull off. It was funny.

We left the slip and took the mouse sailing for a couple more hours. Then we pulled out and called It a day. A very nice sailing trip.