Thursday, August 17, 2017

Inspiration


How does one find inspiration . . . Is inspiration necessary . . . Is inspiration or the search for it an excuse for not doing the work? I find myself contemplating these questions while Carrie Rose swings on her anchor just offshore of an inspirational friend’s home island, North Haven.

The sun rose behind Pulpit Harbor’s inner harbor, and I was, as usual, awake to witness it. Several of the larger lobster boats left for a days work as the sun cleared the horizon. I suppose for lack of dock space on land, much of the lobster fishing gear resides on piers anchored to the harbors bottom.

I saw a similar thing on Tangiers Island in Chesapeake Bay, though those were more like man caves complete with electricity to keep the bay’s water flowing over molting crabs which had been handpicked to spend their final days becoming soft shell crabs.

Here I watched unique lobster boats with backward slanting pilothouse windshields tie up to the floating pier and shovel small silvery bait fish from barrels into receptacles on their decks. Most of the lobster boats in Pulpit Harbor are of the smaller variety, half the size of the boats we saw miles offshore when first entering Maine.

These boats have to contend with Penobscot Bay and not the North Atlantic, so that may have something to do with it. Or maybe it is the lack of capital available to folk coming from such tiny islands.

At the islands only grocery there were two 8 1/2 by 11 sheets listing phone numbers, one blue and the other yellow. The former listed the full time residents and businesses; the latter consisted of summer residents only. A hand full of surnames filled the roster of the full timer’s roster.

Once the sun was 45 degrees above the horizon, the solar panels begin to replace the electricity used to keep the refrigerator and the anchor light functioning at night. Each morning since crossing into Maine, the propane cabin heater has been put to good use taking the cool damp air out of the saloon and out of our bones.

Now that the lobster boats have departed, the sailboats began to stir. Sleepy figures appear on their decks coiling lines, taking sail covers off and warming up engines. Despite all the activity around us, Carrie Rose is going nowhere. She will witness the comings and goings as the tide rises and falls ten feet every 6.25 hours. In the meantime, inspiration may come . . . or not.

Situational Awareness


If there is anything that dictates life on the water, it is the weather. For a boat our size and for its crew’s preference for comfort, this can mean leaving a harbor early or extending a stay. We have done both since starting the cruise with Nentoa, the North East Nordic Tug Association. We stayed a day longer at Block Island, skipped Cuttyhunk Island altogether, and left Provincetown after only one day.

On the 60 mile run from Block Island to Onset, MA, we passed across a stretch of the North Atlantic into Buzzards Bay. These are storied water, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard lie to the east, Wood’s Hole to the north, and the whaling capital and famed boat building town of New Bedford to the west. It was a shame to blow through it at 8 knots but we were on a mission.

Buzzards Bay begins miles wide and narrows into a few hundred feet at the beginning of the Cape Cod Canal. The destination for the night, Onset, is just passed the canal’s entrance. While motoring up the bay, Carrie Rose stayed north of the shipping channel but as the bay narrowed, was drawn into it. A long earthen wall delineates the canal from the rest of the bay.

A mile or so before the above and now 6 hours into the cruise, though I did not think so, I was on cruise control. I had lost situational awareness. With my foot propped up near the throttle, I was scanning the gauges, chartplotters, and the radar but not analyzing the data. I take pride in my piloting skills but not this day.

Into my right peripheral vision (the side that has the right of way) came a large white object reminding me I was on the water, in a boat going 8 knots, in the vicinity of a large ship’s channel and probably more recreational boats than most places in the world.

The captain of the sailboat which was quickly coming into full view would reasonably assume — or maybe not — that I would give way and passed about ½ block ahead. I snapped to attention, stood behind the wheel, and saw another object to the right. This one was black and orange and stood about five stories high, it was the Coast Guard Cutter… It was in the channel that we would soon be entering, but it still gave me a start. I checked its speed on AIS and slowed just enough to let it pass by.

I pulled in far behind the cutter and began to make preparations for the 90 degree turn into the channel that lead to Onset. Cape Cod Canal is known for its swift current and it was flowing across the entrance, which is marked by an incongruous two green markers. Waiting until just at the north buoy, I turned hard left, buried the throttle, and plowed into the disturbed water passed the no wake sign and into the skinny channel.

Minutes later Charlotte attached the mooring line to Carrie Rose and we were swinging in a beautiful little bay with the charming, well preserved village of Onset, MA beckoning us. We bought beer, had a slice of pizza at Marc Anthony’s and met up with our fellow cruisers for a drink and debriefing on the day’s journey . . . situational foibles and all.

Light


Okay, skip my reference to the heart of darkness in the last post. I am of Italian heritage and prone to the occasional histrionics. Maine is beautiful, blessed with picturesque towns, finely designed and built boats, and friendly people. The tidal range has increased the farther down east we have travelled, as has the number of lobster buoys.

The Chesapeake was good training grounds for avoiding the colorful jellybean like objects that carpet the surface of the waters here in Maine. Charlotte regularly informs me that our next destination has the highest concentration of buoys, which is hard to imagine as where we are floating now averages a buoy per square foot.

Carrie Rose has encountered them as far as 4 miles offshore in 200 feet of water and packed into bustling harbors. One long time Mainer told us to “Go right through ‘em!” in a similar vein to Admiral Nelson’s famous cry before decimating the French fleet. Not possessing Nelson’s hutspa, I’ve demurred.

We have encountered them in flat calm, in dense fog, in current strong enough to pull them under the water, and on the North Atlantic in wind and waves that obscure their presence until the last moment. Since crossing into Maine the autopilot has been more off than on.

I have made a study of lobster boats intricate dance amongst the buoys. They race from buoy to buoy barely slowing as the fisherman gaffs the line that attaches the buoy to lobster trap . Through a series of deft moves, the line is hung on an overhead pulley as the buoy is deposited on the gunwale. The line is wrapped around a hydraulic spool that pulls the trap up. When the line tautens it stops the boats momentum, swinging it broadside and then the trap appears hanging on the side of the boat.

In another set of choreographed moves, often involving the help of a deck mate, it is pulled up flat on the rail, opened, cleaned, restocked with bait, and picked clean of its lobsters. Some are haphazardly thrown back into the sea, some into a waiting large white wet well, and others carefully measured . . . a few millimeters deciding their fate.

The boat accelerates as the trap is let loose, its line careening down the side of the boat and off the back. This is done with a studied grace that I would not expect from the usual beefy crew. But I do a disservice here: men, women, children both svelte and rotund perform the task with equal ease whether in a bay’s oily calm or the roiling North Atlantic swell. It is impressive and well worth the occasional change of course to avoid becoming entangled.

A lobster boat is a fine craft: pointy, its knife like bow steeply plunges into the water with a slight backward curve. The beam quickly widens and is carried to the flat stern. After an initial rise, the shear flattens to a working height a couple of feet off the waters surface. A cutty cabin seamlessly blends into the pilothouse’s slightly stern tilted windshield and ends amidships. Seen from the port a lobster boat looks almost recreational but from the starboard, it is eviscerated revealing the inner workings.

They rumble by with dry exhaust stacks pointed to the sky. Small midline boxes conceal the many hundreds of horsepower gulping either gasoline or diesel. I’d say these lobstermen are the last to carry on the tradition of the muscle car.

Maine is carpeted with colorful buoys, with every inch of its water (both above and below) patrolled on a daily basis. Maine is rocks and breaking surf on tree lined coasts. Maine is sea birds — petrels, gannets, and guillemots —never seen before. And Maine is sea creatures that pop up have a look around and a breath and disappear into the depths. Carrie Rose will see what else Maine is in the coming months as it comes out of the darkness into the light.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Darkness


Portland has been home for four days. Due to visits from friends we stayed longer then expected, and in the mean time saw a bit of the city. Carrie Rose is docked in South Portland, a community, as you would assume, just south of Portland proper. The marina is tucked into deserted freighter piers, so the entrance absorbs the swell from each boat that passes out on Casco Bay.

The north pier protrudes out into the bay. It is a long dock for unloading crude oil. The oil unloaded here is pumped to Montreal’s refineries. A tanker appeared one afternoon accompanied by three classic red and black tugs. It rose higher and higher as its cargo was discharged. The bulk of it, seen at such close quarters is arresting. Early this morning it let out a long low wavering horn blast to signal its departure. Half of Portland must have woken up.

The same tugs appeared, and amidst their toots and whistles the now more orange than black ship was quietly backed out of the pier. While I was monitoring the VHF radio channel13 (the channel designated for communication between ships) I heard the pilot announce that they were heading to sea and New York Harbor, bringing back memories of our recent trip through those very same waters.

We have been privy to several conversations here at Spring Point Marina concerning what to expect the farther north we venture. And though there seems to be agreement that mid and northern Maine are beautiful, its praises are spoken with a few caveats. The two most often cited are the number of lobster buoys and the fog with the peculiarities of the more isolated inhabitants coming in a strong third, and oh, I forgot about the rocks.

This caused me to temper my enthusiasm for the next portion of our cruise. The talk has a gnarled edge that can’t help but be reminiscent of Captain Willard preparing to enter the heart of darkness after Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. Just like the movie, there is no turning back from riding the swell into the unknown.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Maine


Seven hundred miles ago, in the back of my mind, I thought how will Carrie Rose ever get to Maine. It seemed a world away and as it turned out, it was. From a rudimentary study of Zen and a 30 year practice of Chado, I knew that life is lived one step at a time, one failure or success, one plan at a time. And so, in the back of my mind I forgot about Maine and focused on the next day’s destination.

First, the boat needed care on land and after a couple of intense days the bottom got wet. Then we had to say goodbye to George and Lisa, our caretakers in the Chesapeake. It is difficult to break free from stability. Next were the hurtles: Chesapeake & Delaware Canal, Delaware Bay, New Jersey coast, New York Harbor, The East River and Hell Gate, and Long Island Sound. Each presented the challenges of open water, tides and currents, weather and just plain geography. The waypoints on the chart represented Carrie Rose’s hull moving across the water.

I am thinking of this as I sit in the pilothouse, facing east into a spectacular crimson sunrise. It is not yet six o’clock and the lobstermen are the only thing moving on the water, the rest is calm. A buoy’s bell clangs lethargically in the distance. Seagulls mouth off as a flight of geese nosily cuts across the view of Wood Island and the rising sun.


Wood Island Harbor is only a harbor in the least of terms. It is mainly open water with some protection from the south and east but open to the north and west. Carrie Rose is attached to the bottom via mooring 81, which offers some peace of mind. This is not a place to linger and just as well, we have a coast to explore now that we are a world away.

Portland, ME

Monday, July 31, 2017

Situational Awareness


If there is anything that dictates life on the water, it is the weather. For a boat our size and for its crew’s preference for comfort, this can mean leaving a harbor early or extending a stay. We have done both since starting the cruise with Nentoa, the North East Nordic Tug Association. We stayed a day longer at Block Island, skipped Cuttyhunk Island altogether, and left Provincetown after only one day.

On the 60 mile run from Block Island to Onset, MA, we passed across a stretch of the North Atlantic into Buzzards Bay. These are storied waters: Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard lie to the east, Wood’s Hole to the north, and the whaling capital and famed boat building town of New Bedford to the west. It was a shame to blow through it at 8 knots but we were on a mission.


Buzzards Bay begins miles wide and narrows into a few hundred feet at the beginning of the Cape Cod Canal. The destination for the night, Onset, is just passed the canal’s entrance. While motoring up the bay, Carrie Rose stayed north of the shipping channel but as the bay narrowed was drawn into it. A long earthen wall delineates the canal from the rest of the bay.

A mile or so before the above and now 6 hours into the cruise, though I did not think so, I was on cruise control. I had lost situational awareness. With my foot propped up near the throttle, I was scanning the gauges, chartplotters, and the radar but not analyzing the data. I take pride in my piloting skills but not this day.

Into my right peripheral vision (the side that has the right of way) came a large white object reminding me I was on the water, in a boat going 8 knots, in the vicinity of a large ship’s channel, and probably more recreational boats than most places in the world.


The captain of the sailboat which was quickly coming into full view would reasonably assume — or maybe not — that I would give way and passed about ½ block ahead. I snapped to attention, stood behind the wheel, and saw another object to the right. This one was black and orange and stood about five stories high. It was a Coast Guard Cutter, and it was in the channel that we would soon be entering, but still it gave me a start. I checked its speed on AIS and slowed just enough to let it pass by.

I pulled in far behind the cutter and began to make preparations for the 90 degree turn into the channel that lead to Onset. Cape Cod Canal is known for its swift current, and it was flowing across the entrance, which is marked by an incongruous two green markers. Waiting until just at the north buoy, I turned hard left, buried the throttle, plowed through the disturbed water, and passed the no wake sign into the skinny channel.


Minutes later Charlotte attached the mooring line to Carrie Rose's bollard and we were swinging in a beautiful little bay with the charming, well preserved village of Onset, MA beckoning us. We bought beer, had a slice of pizza at Marc Anthony’s and met up with our fellow cruisers for a drink and debriefing on the day’s journey . . . situational foibles and all.

Monday, July 24, 2017

NYC


The moon designated that Carrie Rose push off from the dock at Great Kills Yacht Club at 8:10 AM to cruise 32 nautical miles to Port Washington on Long Island Sound. To get there we would pass under the Verrazano Narrows bridge, hug the eastern shore of New York Harbor, and head north on the East River through Hell Gate into Long Island sound.

Since we are Great Lakes born and bred the concept of tides and currents is a foreign one. We have been on a crash course since being lowered into the Hudson River by the Federal lock north of Albany, NY. The Hudson is tidal, and waxes and wanes with the moon and sun even though the ocean is 200 miles away.

At several points along the way, it has been imperative that Carrie Rose’s movements sync with the current: transiting up and down the Chesapeake and Delaware bays, entering and leaving the inlets on the New Jersey coast, and crossing the lower tip of Manhattan and heading up the East River through Hell Gate.

NYC is multifaceted: arts, food, people, and history. There are the five boroughs of Manhattan, The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. Not to sound conceited (though I probably am), the fact that NYC is a major port and has a maritime heritage dating back to the 17th century is lost for most tourist.

The water south of the Statue of Liberty is teeming with car carriers, tankers, tows, and fuel and stone barges. Large tugs roam at will and ferries relentlessly plow the same fields. Small sturdy boats race to drop off or pick up the pilots that guide the ships to and from the Atlantic Ocean. The NYPD, Coast Guard, NY Conservation police, and I am sure other stealth federal and state agencies patrol every nook and cranny. The shoreline is a mixture of heavy industry and gentrification.

Two years ago coming down the Hudson, we stayed in a rough but homey marina in Jersey City, and then ventured east into the North Atlantic for Chesapeake Bay. This year we reversed our course and visited several new harbors. I wrote of our faithful encounter with Barnegat Bay previously, now I would like to mention Great Kills.


Great Kills is an oval harbor that on the chart looks like it was scooped out of Staten Island. Staten Island, one of the five boroughs of NYC, has residences that seem reluctant to admit that they are part of the whole. Carrie Rose was docked at the Great Kills Yacht Club for a week and it was an incongruous mix of dense city and country.

The X1 bus connected us to ($6.50, the non senior fare) Manhattan, 20 miles distance across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and under the East River via the Brooklyn-Battery tunnel. Of course, there is the not-to-be-missed Staten Island Ferry: miraculously free and a miraculous tour of New York’s watery world. But after the first ferry ride the rattling bus proved more convenient.


The usual frantic Manhattan pace was kept despite the commute: jazz clubs, visiting friends, shopping, and dealing with electronic foibles. The dock master commented that he never talked with us since we were always gone.

We even managed a scare while walking back to the yacht club after seeing the Heath Brothers (minus one brother) at the Village Vanguard. The Great Kills Yacht Club is down a dark dead end road. It was 11:30pm when three young men deliberately turned around after we passed them. Suddenly, no longer weary from the day’s activity, our pace quickened and so it seemed did theirs. Without looking back, I punched the code into the club’s door . . . maybe we were just tried and paranoid but we promised to get home earlier next time.

At times, while wandering around New York I wish I were a Russian oligarch with a condo overlooking Central Park or a small get away in the Village. And then I think would it be worth the world’s contempt — absolutely!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Three Long Days


Great Kills to Port Washington
Port Washington to Port Jefferson
Port Jefferson to Orient Harbor, NY

Sometimes it pays to hustle. A combination of weather, geography, and scheduling demands it. Often it is not evident when it is happening until the final destination is reached and a collective sigh of relief goes out. Carrie Rose has done this twice this year . . . so far.


The first was from Cape May, NJ to Great Kills on Staten Island. It was done by two legs: 71.2 nm and 60 nm respectively. I have written about Barnegat Bay earlier, and of the leg from the bay to Great Kills, the most that can be said is the NYC skyline overwhelmed other concerns. The NYC environs while heavily trafficked are occupied by professional mariners and though this does not make me any less diligent, for all their bulk and horsepower, they do their best to keep pleasure boaters out of harms way.


The currents through NYC harbor and the East River are a concern. There is much written about when to make a favorable transit and we followed the recommendations almost to the minute. Carrie Rose pulled along with the current from Battery Park through the East River, Hells Gate (13.8knots) and into Long Island Sound. Talk about a bridge over trouble waters, the bridge over Hells Gate has seen a lot. We were thankful we picked the correct time to pass through.

Long Island is justly named. Great Kills, NY to Orient Harbor on the east end of Long Island took 3 days and 123 nm. The stretch from Port Jefferson to Plum Gut, the passage into Gardiner Bay on the North Fork of Long Island, is 50 miles of under inhabited beach.

Port Washington, the first stop out of NYC, offered free moorings. This is a busy recreational harbor and a noisy one with a nonstop stream of helicopters flying the moneyed class to idyllic summer retreats. After extended stays at Cape May and Great Kills we did not bother to explore the town, preferring Carrie Rose’s wood lined interior to gather strength for the trek north.



Port Jefferson is an industrial harbor with an oil fired power plant and a repository of crushed stone being pushed around by large yellow machines. Impressive tug and barge combinations restocked both while we swung on a mooring across the canal from the action. A succession of three towering car ferries overwhelmed us into the night. Town provided wine, used books (Khrushchev Remembers), pastries, bread, and ice cream — all staples of our cruising lifestyle.

The morning departure was delayed waiting for the fuel dock to open at 8AM. 120 gallons of diesel via a high speed pump designed for the insatiable mega yachts scattered around the marina filled our puny tank. Seven hours later, delaying our passage through Plum Gut to avoid two ferries, Carrie Rose raced through the understated “tide rip” written in numerous places on the chart.


We backtracked four miles, cut around a sandy spit with a beautiful old lighthouse perched on stilts, passed the skinny poles of a fishing weir, and anchored in boisterous Orient Harbor. A stabilizer was deployed over the side (pulling it out the next day would give me the wrenched back that I had thus far avoided) and a sound sleep was had under the Milky Way while the deserted lighthouse flashed white once a second.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

How To . . .


A young man on the Internet asked the question, “How do I learn to write?” The website this was posted on has a way to respond to the question. In fact, that is the reason the site exists: post a question, answer a question. I have done neither. This time I considered participating; after all, I have asked the same question — mostly to myself — numerous times.

The appropriate buttons were touched, the answer written, and then I hit a snag. Username and password, sign in with Google or Facebook, a deep yawn surfaced. I retreated, turned off the iPhone, and went in search of a physical project, one that eventually required a trip to the engine room.

There is comfort in tinkering with the substance of the earth. That is not to say that bits and bytes aren’t made up of substance, electrons have mass after all. But I am thinking on a gross level: wood, metal, plastic, oil, and grease. The world cannot do without them.

And I am thinking of the tools needed to mess with the above: screwdrivers and drills, hammers and saws, wrenches, pilers and knives. The kind of tools that end up crushing, scraping or cutting me despite my familiarity with them.

Now to my question, will the projects on Carrie Rose ever be complete, I think not. To complete them would mean what; it would mean that it is time to move on to another venue. Time to join a Zen monastery, a cloistered order, or retreat into the deep forest and live the life of a hermit masquerading as a wise man. No, remaining entwined to this world requires projects.

What describes a project; we each have our own definition. Today mine is typing this, which I wrote with green ink in a Moleskin notebook, into Word. This morning’s was to attach the new letters C-H-I-C-A-G-O to the bottom of the dinghy, fill the fresh water tanks, settle the marina’s bill, and whisk Charlotte and I several bowls of matcha.

Once done, I sat in the pilothouse as a squall blew through and remembered the young man’s question, “How do I learn to write?”

Write!


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Inlet



There are breakers in the distance. It is obvious they are coming across the inlet’s bar that we are about to turn into. There are also many small fishing boats (most with hundreds of horsepower strapped to their sterns) negotiating the passage. This makes me feel better about piloting Carrie Rose through, for you see this is Barnegat Inlet. An inlet infamous up and down the Atlantic coast for being the most treacherous of a treacherous group of inlets that makes up the New Jersey coast.

We left Cape May, NJ in the early morning’s calm, and the wind and waves have slowly increased. So now, Carrie Rose has to contend with a SE facing inlet, 15 knot NE wind waves, and the 3 foot swell that has been pushing us along for the last few hours. Though I did not realize this, Charlotte has been quietly studying the tide and current app on her iPhone. She quietly mentions that at this moment, minutes away from turning into the fray, there is a full ebb tidal current racing out of the inlet’s opening and running head first into the above wind and waves.

I hear this above the din and bile rises into my throat. This is a good time to take a few deep breaths. I turn into the inlet and push the throttle up a few extra hundred RPMs. Suddenly we are in a weird combination of broadside breakers, a following swell, 4 to 5 foot vertical waves standing straight up in the air, their curly little edges defying gravity.

The next moment the sea is oily flat with various eddies and whirlpools, then it erupts into sharp little wavelets that remind me of the meringue on a lemon cream pie. I can feel the stern rise as a trough opens up before me. The swell twists the hull to the port, so I turn the rudder starboard. Of course, I over correct and struggle to spin wheel over to the port.

Remember the little boats transiting the inlet, well they are coming and going amongst the waves. Some obviously frolicking while others twist and turn trying to compensate for the melee. One completely disappears into the swell ahead and pops out within a second.

Since this is not the first time we have been through an inlet — though this is the most extreme — we quietly talk to each other and make sure that Carrie Rose is between the red and green markers. All 220hp are engaged. The extra power makes us more responsive and stable. It also has the added effect of creating an imposing bow wave that keeps the squirrely-ist power boaters thinking twice before getting in our way.

That said the Barnegat Bay boating community seems to be a full throttle all the time crowd. It does not matter how shallow, narrow, winding, or crowded it is, this is a take no prisoner boating environment. I was thinking of getting a “Baby Seal On Board” sign for Carrie Rose but realized that they would only go faster and get closer out of spite. The odd thing is once we are out of the inlet most of these boats are stopped about a mile off shore trying to catch whatever pelagic creature that wanders by.

We decided to ignore the maelstrom and keep on task, which once through the inlet is no less daunting. Since the inlet and the area a few miles west are always changing, the charts are unreliable. I looked ahead and saw boats everywhere but where I thought they should be. Granted there was a large red buoy to port, which I would have aimed for but it was close to the shore and lighthouse. I pulled back the throttle to idled.

The usually reliable cruising guide’s only comment on Barnegat Bay was, “Use Local Knowledge, call on channel 16”. I ponder this and wondered whom I would call when on our port side I saw a Sea Tow rescue towboat. I picked up the radio’s microphone and called, “Sea Tow, Sea Tow, Sea Tow this is Carrie Rose, the trawler behind you.” He responded and I tried to sound calm when I asked, “I am new to the bay and I am confused about how to proceed, can you help direct me”.

In a comforting voice, he instructed me to follow him and then mentioned a shortcut across what was land on our charts. Charlotte groaned, I kept quiet and turned in behind him. Boats streamed passed us both ways. At one point, one large speeding boat got so close to him that the spray flying off the bow splashed the Sea Tow captain. Five minutes into this the radio crackled, “Captain just follow the large markers on in and watch out at buoy 37, it gets shallow and tricky there”, and off he went.

I looked ahead, saw a nun (red) and a can (green) silhouetted in the sun and spray, and headed between them. In another 10 minutes we were out in the bay and in 15 minutes more Spencer at Spencer’s Marina caught our lines. He graciously welcomed us. I slowed my breathing and tried to answer the questions the crowd on the dock peppered us with: where did you come from; how long are you staying; do you need to borrow a car; Chicago, how the hell did you get here from Chicago.

For the first time in weeks I slept soundly, woke at five and nudged Charlotte, “We gotta get out of here, sooner is better”. Charlotte made coffee for the thermos, took quick showers, pumped the head, and then headed east to exit the inlet. It was obvious that most of the bay’s fishermen go to church on Saturday evening because they again streamed passed us. Other than the ruckus, it turned out to be helpful. We followed their wakes out and by 7:50 were on the North Atlantic. As a fitting send off, the largest boat thus far encounter blew passed us creating such a large wake that it spirited us out of the channel and pointed us north.




Autopilot on, heading 014 degrees, coffee, banana, and a peanut butter sandwich for breakfast, we settled in for the 7 hour cruise to Great Kills on Staten Island. The NYC skyline slowly emerged from the curvature of the earth. We rounded Sandy Hook and saw the first large grouping of sailboats since Annapolis, and what I assumed to be New Yorker’s sunning themselves on the beach. Carrie Rose cut across both St. Ambrose and Cherry Hill Ship Channels while heading into another ebb current. I spied a boat flying a “Don’t Thread On Me” flag and followed it into the large Great Kills Harbor basin. Ah, home, for a week . . .

Friday, July 7, 2017

AIS


In the you-can-never-have-enough-information category, I am including the newly purchased AIS. No, it’s not misspelt, it is AIS, as in Automated Identification System. It came packaged in a Standard Horizon VHF radio. The Matrix AIS/GPS GX2200 to be precise. This marvel of technology has a VHF radio, GPS, compass, rudimentary but quite useable navigation abilities, and AIS. There is more, like a foghorn and a hailer but I do not want to be a bore.

For some background on AIS, working vessels are required to transmit their name, location, heading, and speed on a near constant time frame, and this is what AIS does using VHF frequencies. Depending on how a boat is equipped, it can transmit its own information and receive others, or just receive other transmitting boat’s data. The latter is what Carrie Rose chooses to do.

A VHF (very high frequency) radio is how boats communicate. There are specific channels for specific functions. Channel 16 is for emergencies and to be monitored at all times. Channel 9 is for calling other boats, though this often falls to 16. Channel 13 is for ship to ship or ship to bridge. The channels run into the 80’s and then there are 10 channels devoted to weather forecast.

In what I believe to be a remarkably simple solution for the government, they decided to use a radio signal, not some exotic space technology thus the price for an AIS devise is reasonable, and no complicated hardware is needed. For AIS to work all that is needed is power and an antenna.

Carrie Rose has always had two VHF radios that is until last year when the older of the two finally died. The AIS/GPS function added about 150 dollars to the cost of a plain radio, which in terms of “boat bucks” is a tolerable hit, that is if the AIS proves useful.

The first several cruises from Herrington Harbor South, where I installed it, to the Magothy and Chester Rivers and then to Rock Hall did not highlight its usefulness. I was beginning to doubt the expenditure. Then from Rock Hall to the Sassafras River, and onto Havre de Grace and the C&D Canal, the added information helped make the trips less demanding.

The northern portions of the Chesapeake are confined. We travelled closer, if not in, the large ship channel and crossed it several times once during a thunderstorm where the rain severely curtailed visibility. In the distance, I could see large tows (tugs pushing barges). Their speed and direction are the concern. If close enough, radar is a good way to keep track of them but now with the AIS, while many miles away I could see the little circle with a line pointing to their direction in relation to us.

I cued up the AIS screen and picked my target. There was the speed and direction. Though we were headed to the same place — the entrance of the C&D Canal — our speed was 7.1 knots and theirs was 6.8. I relaxed. Carrie Rose would slowly gain distance and be anchored in Chesapeake City without interference from the behemoth.

I would have easily dealt with this in pre AIS times, but by taking the guesswork out of the navigational question, it took the stress out. A simple thing this marvel, a couple of data points broadcast over Marconi’s wireless telegraphy.




Monday, July 3, 2017

Noise


The quietist place I have been, other than Mammoth Caves, is a narrow dead end cove in Canada’s North Channel. The only noise that interrupted my mild tinnitus and the clock’s soft tick was the abrupt surfacing of a large loon outside of Carrie Rose’s pilothouse door. It lingered long enough to give me the once over and then disappeared without a ripple only to surface a football field away.

It might be melodramatic to say this but it was a transcendental moment. I cannot say that in Cape May, NJ anything as inspirational has occurred but on this 4th of July weekend noise is plentiful. I think it would be an interesting exercise to try to describe my aural surroundings, so what follows is a somewhat disjointed “vision” of the sounds as they happened.

A small sport fishing boat just coasted by with hardly a sound, while on the pier across the canal (about 50 feet wide) a similar boat is having the sea’s salt power washed off. Back on our dock, two diesels quietly rumbled as a boat backs into its slip. There is an obvious void when they cease running.

Then a much quicker boat riles up the canal’s water. The waves it generates smack against the piers causing the pilings to squeal. Behind it, a spitting outboard heads for the fuel dock, and crunches in and out of reverse as it slows to make its approach. There is laughter and conversation in the background, and from our absent neighbor’s radio, a baseball game from Philly drones on.


In Copenhagen, a famous little boy tinkles into a fountain making a sound similar to the streams of water emanating from the sides of powerboat’s air conditioners, and a small plane struggles to keep its nose into the wind as it drags a long advertising banner overhead.

I would have commented on the wind had I written this yesterday, but today it is calm. With the wind silent, the ospreys were up early in the morning high above our heads peeping as they looked for food. And amongst the trees that line the northern bank of the marina, a few nest-robbing crows were chased by an assortment of smaller birds.

The road noise increased as the sun rose in the sky. When I took my bike ride across the bridge over the Cape May Canal to the marine supply store (where else!) the traffic was dense. A gaggle of Harleys hit all the base notes, each with their sound systems playing incompatible tunes.

On Carrie Rose’s aft deck, Charlotte flips through the pages of the Waterway Guide when suddenly the yelps of little boys and girls penetrate the din at the discovery of crabs in the traps their parents had set earlier in the day. And that brings me back, I start to focus on my other senses, and wonder how the loon is fairing in that cool quiet North Channel cove — a world away.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Crazy


It is blowing crazy out of the southwest; there is wind in the rigging for sure. Most of the transients both power and sail, stayed in port. A few large sailboats straggled in today with various levels of difficulty. Other than for the wind the weather is close to perfect. I can see why folk are drawn to Cape May. The air is clean and the light is fluorescent.

Cape May sits as the pinnacle with the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay teetering respectively to the east and west. Both have a bad reputation. Before we left Delaware City to venture onto Delaware Bay, Tim the owner of the marina provided us with a detailed analysis of wind and waves, and tides and currents. We sat for three days waiting for the correct condition to make the 52 NM trip south to go north.

We have crossed larger bodies of water but Delaware Bay has a certain mystic about it. It might be because it starts as a river and then widens into a bay. It might be because the many large ocean going ships and tows are syphoned into a small deep canal. It might be due to its large mouth open to the North Atlantic and how the bay’s water interacts with the tide, tidal current, and river and canals current. The bay is also shallow and this just adds to the complexity of transiting.


Charlotte and I have the luxury of time. This makes a tremendous difference in the amount of risk we are willing to take. Though we have a destination, there is no hurry to get there. A common refrain in recreational flying is that most accidents happen trying to get home and since Carrie Rose does not have one, we can wait.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Good Old Days

Parked


We pays our money and now we is parked in Cape May, NJ until 7/5/2017. The strategy is to weather out The Fourth of July down south where the prices are more reasonable, plus this is a beautiful little community. Groceries, hardware, and The Lobster House (est. 1922) are close at hand. A mere walk or bike ride away and Charlotte has her pick of ice cream shops.

Of course being at a discount marina means we are out of the action but just as well. Yesterday we rode our bikes to the beach and realized that half of New York and New Jersey are here on vacation. Procuring a can of pop at a local family run fast food cafe proved fruitless. Between mom-behind-the-counter and mom-and-grandma-in-front-of-the-counter attempting to come to a kind of catering deal while mom-behind-the-counter’s prediction of her chef/husband’s demise if her daughter does not show up to help over the holiday, we gave up and went to the hardware store.

I decided to strip the pilothouse doors of their burden of failing varnish. I was sick of making excuses for my slovenliness. It was the reason for the stop at the hardware store. 3M stripper, sanding pads, a tarp, and a paint scarper were purchased.

The scraper, a Stortz Straight End Paint Scraper (Ultra Sharp!), deserves further description. I was looking at the usual boring collection of paint scrapers and putty knives when I saw a grouping of orange covered implements off to the side. Now these looked interesting, so I started to inspect them. They come in all kinds of profiles: square, trapezoidal, round, oval, everything it seemed but straight.

Of course, the prices were higher by maybe five bucks but who was I to quibble. It said right on the label/storage unit Finely Ground, Heat Treated, High Carbon Steel. I carefully un-velcroed its thick paper case and almost drew blood. It was then that I noticed the warning on the backside, Extremely Sharp! in red letters with the instructions to keep it in its protective sheath.

I only had it in my hands for thirty seconds and had already violated several of the rules. It was then that I knew it was coming back to Carrie Rose with me. I would have to use discretion otherwise, the pilothouse doors didn’t stand a chance.

Other than it emitting a nails-on-chalkboard squeal each time I pulled it across the somewhat gooey melting varnish it worked as promised. I started at 11 AM and finished at 6PM. The first and last steps required concentration. The doors had to be detached from the boat and gingerly carried down the skinny side deck to the back. I am not sure if teak floats but I did not want to test the proposition.

The next day the doors were coated with teak oil; oil that has the consistency of fine extra virgin olive oil and the smell of a fine men’s cologne. I sat back to look at my handy work mainly because I still could not straighten up after leaning over on the back deck to scrap the doors clean. I am feeling better today, just a little kinked. What’s a vacation for after all if I can’t figure out a way to throw my back out!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Root Beer


The Chesapeake & Delaware Canal has gone through several iterations since it was first dug in 1829. Its final phase finds it 14 miles long and 450 feet wide, enough to fit — with the proper piloting — a couple of large ships next to each other. Carrie Rose at eleven feet wide is a mere speck. We were lucky not to encounter any large ships on our two transits, though we did have two large go fast boats sneak up on us from behind and almost flip us over . . . just kidding.

Carrie Rose now sits, tied to a floating dock at the diminutive Delaware City Marina. It consists of a long pier to one side of what used to be the C&D Canal. This old section is what remains of the old canal and at about 50 feet wide; there is not much of it.

Delaware City is a town that time has forgotten, nestled between an unseen refinery and the modern canal. It is a place that you come to rather than find. The downtown is well preserved. There are a few busy restaurants, a liquor store, a small grocery, a couple of specialty shops, and of course, an ice cream purveyor. A hand written sign out front proclaimed “ROOTBEER FLOATS”, who could resist.

The young woman behind the counter showed us the size (about a foot tall) and quoted us the price ($5.50), so we ordered one with two spoons, two straws, but only one cherry. She looked dejected.

I am here to say that on a hot summer day there is not much better than a root beer float. It is creamy with vanes of frozen root beer running through it all intermix with the melting whip cream, and the chemically tainted cherry was delish.

Charlotte let me finish the dregs and as I slurped up the remnants, a vision of another hot summer day long ago surface as clear as if it had just occurred. It was in the late 1960’s. I cannot remember if I was just out of Grammar School or in High School. I know it was after 1967 because that is when I managed — by cutting grass in Rosehill Cemetery — to save up the $165.00 to buy a Peugeot PX-10 racing bicycle complete with Reynolds 531 double-butted frame. I still have it and once a year tempt faith to ride it around the block.

My friend’s father was quite athletic and adventurous. He was 10 years younger than my father and had a coveted job in the trades, and it seemed had some free time. He proposed to his kids and me that we go on the newly created Wisconsin Bikeway. My friend’s younger brother and I took him up on the offer as well as one of his buddies, a kinda odd bachelor that I cannot even recollect, even after spending ten days with him.

There was no fancy literature. I do not know how he even found out about it. The instructions or I should say directions cause there was a little of that, consisted of a stack of mimeographed sheets. This is before Xerox and the prematurely yellowed paper covered with smudgeable blue ink was the only guide to be had. But I was not concerned; directions were the job of the adults. My job was to pack sensibly and make sure my bike was sound.

The number one project was to have enough tires to get 500 miles across Wisconsin. I know this must seem peculiar but this was a time before the distinctions between cruising, racing, off road, recumbent, etc., etc. existed. I had my bike and that is what I was going with. But back to tires, since the PX-10 was a high performance bike it road on high pressure tires. With the technology of the day, that meant sew-ups.

Sew-ups were like inner tubes with treads and they were actually sewed up, and if you can believe this, glued to the rim. They were also fragile. My friend worked at a bike shop as a mechanic and his brother repaired sew-ups on the side. I was also schooled in the fine millenary art of repairing them. Between the two of us, we had some twenty tires and we went through all of them before we got home. Ah, a night around the campfire sewing sew-ups!

But I am getting a little long winded here. Bikes and all were loaded on a train, which took us to La Crosse, Wisconsin where we detrained and road off into the Wisconsin forest and farmland. It was the first and last time I ever had ripples on my stomach. It was a glorious trip with fun adults and a great companion.

No one in Wisconsin knew anything about the bikeway. We were trailblazers and were treated as such. We slept in town squares and one time, in a torrential rain spent the night in a tiny town’s jail due to the sheriff’s largest. And the most memorable moments for me, besides gliding downhill for miles from Blue Mounds, the highest point in Wisconsin, was stopping at every A&W for root beer floats.

My friend’s father knew how to keep a couple of goofy kids happy and sated. It is a wonderful memory to have while on another adventure. This one, of course, on a different and more comfortable venue, but still one that needs a couple of goofy adults to be contented with a foot tall root beer float.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Anchoring


To anchor is an indeterminate undertaking that once completed is froth with remorse: did I put enough chain out, did I anchor too close or too far from a boat or wall or rock or the shoreline, did I take into account the possible changes of the wind, did I set the anchor properly. I will stop here because it is giving me a headache.

A resource about where to anchor be it on paper or online, or some local knowledge passed on by a fellow boater about the area is helpful. It is essential to know if there is any severe weather in the forecast. Other important factors are the depth and what the bottom consists of, i.e. mud, weeds, rocks, or sand. Both contribute to the holding power of the anchor and to where the anchor should be placed.

Since most of my readers have not anchored a boat, I will endeavor to explain myself in the most general of terms and will leave out many of the vagaries that more seasoned boaters would consider. So please bear with me for anchoring is one of the more contentious topics in boating.

I think the best place to start is at the bottom and now Carrie Rose is anchored in the thick black mud of the Sassafras River on the northern Chesapeake Bay. I still remember the first time we anchored in this bay, when the anchor came out there was enough seafood attached to it that we could have had a decent lunch.

Carrie Rose has a Bruce anchor, a big 48lb. scoop that has dug in and held us firmly to the bottom. In Canada, where most of the waterways are chocked with an invasive weed, the anchor would rise covered with a dense ball of green fibrous growth that was quite the project to dislodge. The weeds would occasionally prevent the anchor from setting.

I understand that in Maine the bottom is rock and in Florida coral. I am sure these present challenges but let us stick to mud for this discussion. The first step is to lower the anchor until it reaches the bottom. I know how many feet this is thanks to the depth sounder.

Carrie Rose’s anchor is connected to 330 feet of rode. The rode is made up of 130 feet of 3/8” chain and 200 feet of 5/8” three stranded nylon line. The chain has a series of markers composed of cable ties and different painted colors for every 10 feet up to 130 feet and then the rest is marked at 20 foot intervals. This amount of rode is probably overkill but then again it is cheap insurance.

Once the anchor and the chain are down, Carrie Rose is put gently into reverse. This allows the anchor to dig into the mud. More chain is let out and the process is repeated, each time a little more aggressively until the boat pulls on the chain but goes nowhere. Sometimes the anchor just skips along the bottom, and then it is time to pull it up and start again. An anchor works best if laying flat on the bottom and the chain, due to its weight, helps accomplish this. The chain offers its own resistance to being pulled out.

How do I know how much chain to let out, well, I am glad you asked. The term for this is scope. It is based on the ratio between the amounts of chain let out per foot of depth. For chain, it is three to five to even ten feet of chain for each foot of depth. If we are in a crowded anchorage with light winds 3:1 will suffice, if a storm is coming the 7:1 or even 10:1 may be necessary. As I write this Carrie Rose is in 10 feet of water with 50 feet of chain off her bow. This system developed over millennia is adaptable, so it is best to flexible.

Chain does not stretch and thus does not absorb shock. To remedy this a hook with two lengths of stretchable nylon line is attached to the chain. Then the two lines are connected to the boat and enough chain is let out so the chain is slack. This keeps the chain near to the water’s surface where it is most useful, and allows for cushioning the pull of the wind and waves.


These are the basics. I forgot to mention the electric windlass that helps an old guy like me with a bad back raise and lower the anchor, but where to place the anchor is a shorter topic.

Anchoring usually comes at the end of a long day cruising and requires a shift in consciousness. At one moment, Carrie Rose is moving at 8 knots while we monitor the chart plotters to keep on the proper course. Then suddenly we slow, if not stop completely in a confined space surrounded by shoals and often other boats.

Neurons shift gear and begin to access the wind; weather; obstacles such as boats, shoals and the shoreline; and the depth. It has taken years to learn to slow down and let my brain catch up with the circumstances. And to realize that if not done correctly the first time, the anchor can be raised and reset in the proper position.

In this way, I think anchoring is an apt metaphor for how to live a life. To realize that no matter how we try to ensure stability in the end life is uncertain. That change is the norm and our response is what counts in the end. Happy anchoring!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Finally, the storm…


Charlotte and I have been tracking a storm for many days. It was the reason, amongst others, that we came into Havre de Grace and sat for three days. Well, it finally showed up. It is a different feeling to await a storm at dock as opposed to at anchor.


At the dock, I put out a few extra lines and keep track of the storm’s progress on my cell phone. At anchor, I let an extra ten or twenty feet of chain out as this tends to help stabilize the anchor, and keep track of the storm by looking out the window.


Here are a couple of pictures. The power and majesty of these storms is something I never get tired of, that is if I am safely out of their way. They are one of the terrifying joys of living outside with nature. I am not sure if that makes any sense but there it is…


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

R & R


If a vacation’s purpose is to replenish the soul and if the soul describes the human, maybe mammalian, life force, then I find it odd that most vacations involve heavy use of ETOH in the form of margaritas. But as usual, I stray from the point of this essay, that replenishment is an idea that is twisted while cruising.

Carrie Rose is a wood lined contrivance that Charlotte and I outfitted over the last 14 years to go cruising. It required and requires attention to details such as navigation, machinery, electronics, weather, and management of elderly parents and the home front, and as we have aged, attention to our health.

Of course, in mid-winter I sit in the dark and dream of sunny skies, blue water and distant anchorages, a fantasy sustainable only due to the distance from the above. The reality of small boat cruising is that it does not divorce the participants from daily life.

Now I know this is, let’s just say an obnoxious thing to say as Carrie Rose sits anchored in 10 feet of water on Langford Creek of the Chester River on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. What could be real world about sitting comfortably (though the temperature is rising into the 90’s) secured to the mud bottom with a 50lb. anchor and 50 feet of 3/8” chain, but I guess this is our real world for the moment so I’m sticking with the illusion.

I think that replenishment is passive and refit is active. So, this year and last we took the active route with the health of the vessel at the fore front. The boat is stocked with art supplies, books, electronic gadgets, new air conditioner, bimini, and gear to get us through the last of the South and onto the North. I say this year but it has been an on going project since we bought Carrie Rose and is not abating.

In the few days we have been on the water, mostly at anchor, electrical connections for the forward stateroom and saloon heater fans, and Charlotte’s new LED reading light were wired. The light also had to be mounted and I’d say for once I didn’t jury rig the above but I would be lying.


Next came installing the new faucet in the bathroom. Plumbing can be tortuous even in the comfort of home let alone in a cramped marine bathroom. I was my own worst enemy by not using the proper tape and sealers in the beginning (it didn’t leak before), so I got to do it three times instead of one. My neck still has a kink!


And, though I am trying to ignore them, the pilothouse wood doors, the dinghy, and the canoe are crying out (no, they really are) to be stripped and varnished.


In between refitting Carrie Rose, Charlotte and I will attempt to replenish our souls. In fact, as I write this Charlotte has her watercolors out, a good sign. Which brings me back to the beginning, replenish vs. refit. It is neither, but both wrapped in a tight little basket that at times I have to remind myself is the point of cruising. To be blessed to live in the real world while living a fantasy.

Screech


An osprey chick’s screech is like a sparrow’s chirp on steroids, high pitched and incessant. It must drive the parents insane. To say the osprey have made a comeback is an understatement. Sitting at the end of the dock at Rock Hall Landing Marina, I can pinpoint at least four nests — some on the top of telephone poles, others topping the day markers surrounding this odd harbor. The harbor has a large basin but due to the shallowness in the middle, a boat can only navigate the perimeter. We were told that when the harbor was dredged, the spoils were put in the center . . . sounds plausible to me.


Rock Hall is a place that seems to have resisted gentrification. There are a few condominiums around but there is also much free space, and original buildings and businesses. A working fishery still exist and to service it the Rock Hall Marine Railway has a railway in place to remove the fishing fleet in the time tested way before travel lifts were developed.


The restaurants here, like the Waterman’s Café, located just next to our pier, pride themselves on serving freshly caught bay food including but not limited to rockfish, blue crabs, and oysters. Of course, fish names are notoriously fickle, changing as stocks of familiar fish give way to odd sounding substitutes.


The reason for stopping in Rock Hall is that Charlotte had the best rockfish sandwich at the café two years ago on our way south. This and the fact that if we stay two nights the third night is free, which makes the stay here almost financially responsible. The other is that it has a pool, which feels awful good on 90 degree days. It is quiet too, devoid of PWCs and ski boats that seem to inhabit every beautiful cove on the western shore.

So we’ll sit here for a few days, have some fish, walk to town for an ice cream, take the trolley for groceries and booze and maybe swim a few more times . . . and of course watch the osprey chicks play out their infancy and adolescence with increasing louder screeches!!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Catch Up Shots


Will we fit!


Best boat name yet...


The Bay bridge on our radar.


Sunset at Eagle Cove on the Magothy River, MD.


The eyes tell it all.



Just under.


Suprise moonrise on Langford Creek, Chester River, MD


Off Annapolis, MD


Find the osprey nest...


Eagle Cove again...