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.