Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Day Three and a Half: overnight, over water

Day Three, across Cape Cod Bay and Massachusetts Bay, passed uneventfully, though with a following wind and a quartering sea, the boat required a lot of steering.

Night fell, as is its wont, with a nearly full moon riding high. Tom -- who once had a hair-raising night steering the dear Scapegrace on these waters, while I slept like the proverbial baby -- felt unequal to the helmsman's task, so Steve and I agreed to take two hours on and two hours off. It got pretty cold; even with all the swaddling I brought, two hours was plenty for me.

But the night was clear, and in spite of the moon, and the skyglow from Boston and Portsmouth and maybe even Portland,  visible twenty miles out, you could see a lot of stars.

Our course was just about due north, so I forgot about the compass and the little nav app on my phone and just lined up the bow with Polaris. Steered very light -- you feel the quartering swell coming, after a few minutes' experience, and you steer to meet it, then then you steer off again, even before it's fully passed. There's a certain hypnotic pleasure in it.

I used to do the amateur astronomy thing, but it's been a while, and my eyesight is not what it was. I was ashamed at how few constellations I could remember. There were the Bears, of course, and Cassiopeia, and the Pleiades off in the east -- mentioned in my absolute all-time favorite Greek lyric -- and good old Bootes, and Cygnus, and pretty little Delphinus, and Orion, fell harbinger of winter, who heaved his titanic, ancient form above the horizon an hour or so before dawn.

Dawn brought Steve fully awake again, morning person that he is, and he cooked the breakfast shown above, on the sluggish, not-very-hot alcohol stove (original equipment, I think). The picture isn't very flattering but the breakfast was delicious: scrambled eggs with pepperoni.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Two in the crew: Day Three

Steve was up with the birds on Thursday morning, in spite of the previous evening's Martinis, and took a swim in the bracing waters of Mattapoisett before I was conscious. He was in extraordinarily cheerful spirits as I made my coffee, but I bore with it manfully.

I was just starting to feel human again, with the caffeine coursing through my veins, when the holding tank for the head sprang a leak. And I don't mean a little trickle of a leak, either. I mean arterial bleeding, a geyser of, well...  "Shit!" I said, in a mild, reflective tone, and then added, pedantically, "In the literal sense."

The tank is not in fact a tank; it is a rubber bladder lurking like a giant garden slug under the starboard-side settee. I had inadvertently pumped it too full while trying to get the seawater-intake side of the pump working; the valve was in the wrong position, and so while I thought I was pumping seawater in and seawater out, I was in fact inflating this gruesome Sack-O-Shit to horrific proportions.

Now there is a vent on the tank, so this should not have led to an explosion. But apparently the vent is blocked.   

It could have been worse. The head had not seen heavy use, and most of what was in the tank was sea water. I had faithfully added some digestif compound to the tank at intervals, which mitigated the noisomeness of the brew. It all drained into the bilge, and a few bucketfuls of fresh Mattapoisett seawater and a bit of pumping restored the salubrity of the cabin atmosphere.

After this delightful start to the day, we motored uneventfully through the Cap Cod canal, pulled into the Sandwich city marina, a nice place, at the eastern end of the canal, to refuel and pump out whatever was left in the holding tank, and there picked up, by pre-arrangement, another crew member, call him Tom, the chap shown on the right above.

Once we emerged from the canal, about noon, the wind was about ten knots, from the southwest, and the forecast was benign, and so we decided to head straight from Sandwich to our destination in midcoast Maine. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Retrospective: Day Two

Sunset at our anchorage behind Sachem Head, mentioned in the previous post. Arose the next morning early and had the anchor up by 7 or so. Light air once we got into the Sound again, but it freshened and we nipped through The Race just before the flood started, around noon. Had to stem a bit of current through Block Island Sound but found ourselves entering Buzzards Bay just about sunset. All under sail, doing six and seven knots steadily. Hell of a good run, by my standards.

I had expected to get through the Cape Cod canal overnight, and anchor on the other side; we're picking up a third crew member, let's call him Tom, early tomorrow morning. At the rate we we going we could have squeaked through before the current came foul. But the westerly wind came up pretty strong, and a nasty chop built up, and we had too much canvas up for the conditions.

I was sailing and Steve was sleeping a well-deserved sleep, since he had done most of the steering through the day. I tried to heave-to and douse the main, which produced enough noise and abrupt motion (and swearing, of course) that Steve woke up. The heaving-to was OK but it proved quite difficult to get the boom onto the topping lift, what with the motion of the boat and the sail knocking around.

(The boom is quite high above the cockpit in this boat, which is nice insofar as it reduces your chances of a concussion when you gybe, but makes it awkward for a short guy like me to manhandle it onto the lift. I think I need to rig a little block for this purpose. Fortunately on this occasion I had Steve, who is probably a foot taller than I am.)

I didn't really want to be in the open water at the Sandwich end of the canal with this amount of west wind -- there's no shelter at all, except in the tiny Sandwich city marina, and I figured it would be full. So we headed up into Mattapoisett Harbor, a nice easy-in, easy-out little place, sheltered from the west wind. Anchored maybe a quarter-mile or less from the Ned Point light, in about 20 feet of water.

The satellite image below was taken at the wrong time of year, so it doesn't show the very crowded mooring field in the inner harbor, to the northwest.

It had been a strenuous hour or two. Midnight is probably a bit late for Martinis, but Steve and I improvised one apiece, and then another, and then turned in.

View Larger Map

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Retrospective: Day One

That's my enthusiastic crew above; let's call him Steve. Steve is the husband of a valued colleague of mine, call her Georgia, to whom I poured out my tale of woe about ruined schedules and vanished crew after poor Ginger's near-sinking(*).

Georgia quickly responded that her husband would jump at the chance to go along on this madcap adventure. I jumped at the chance to have him along.

Steve and I spoke on the phone once or twice before D-Day, but finally met for the first time in the parking area of Liberty Landing marina on the afternoon of Monday the 12th, where Steve was trundling a rolling suitcase across the gravelly muddy ground. I had given him very poor directions,  I'm afraid, but he got there anyway.

Half an hour after we met, we were embarked. We fueled up at the marina, dodged the usual attempts on our lives by the Staten Island Ferry, and motored with the current up the East River and through Hell Gate and into the Sound.

There was a bit of a west wind once we were past the Throgs Neck.

Steve and I had gotten to know each other a bit during our trip up the river.  It turned out that Steve was a veteran of the old Soviet merchant marine and was very familiar with life on the water -- buoys, running lights and so on -- though he hadn't done much time on a sailboat before.

So I left him to steer and did my favorite thing on the boat, namely, go into the cabin and take a nap while somebody else does the work.

It came on to rain a bit. Steve had rain gear, so that was okay. But the wind also completely died, and Steve was left sitting in the cockpit while the boat described those maddening idle rotations, sails flapping, halliards slapping idiotically against the mast -- a most annoying sound. In the helmsman's heart a wild hope springs whenever a false zephyrette caresses his cheek, taunting teasing wanton that she is. Then she fleets away, laughing at one's gullibility.

Steve was too polite to wake me up.  If he had done, I'd've lit up the engine and motored us along.

So he endured, what, three hours of misery;  and he had begun -- more than begun, I think -- to reconsider this whole sailing gig. Finally something woke me and I popped my head through the hatch. Assessing the situation at a glance -- you can see the captain mentality growing upon me here -- I started the motor and gave him a turn below.

At dawn there was wind from the north. We scraped along under sail up the Sound until the wind came northeast -- more or less dead foul for us -- and after a bit of unproductive tacking back and forth across the Sound, we ran into a pleasant little bay behind Sachem Head, near Guilford, Connecticut, and dropped the hook about sundown, a bit more than 24 hours after we left Jersey City.

Not a bad run, really, as you'll see if you zoom out on the map below; more than halfway up the Sound, even with poor Steve's frustrating dead hours in the rain.

Better were to come, however.

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(*) I now think I know why that happened, actually; it's a subject for a post of its own.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

New York to Maine in four days

Not my photo, but that's the Seguin Island light, above, our first landfall after about 120 nautical miles(*) and 30 hours across Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts Bay, and the Gulf of Maine, after leaving Sandwich, at the east end of the Cape Cod canal. The last leg of what was, by my leisurely standards, a remarkably quick passage.

Day-by-day details to follow, including the usual comical mishaps, accompanied by oaths, expletives, imprecations, and appeals to the Gods on the skipper's part. 

(*) That's forty leagues, for you Patrick O'Brien fans: a bit farther than Ushant to Scilly, in the song Jack Aubrey was so fond of.

Friday, August 9, 2013

So far, so good

No picture again. Sorry! Sorry!

Went to the boatyard this morning, before work. It's a nice time of day. I hate to get up early -- I would much rather lie a-bed -- but once up and mildly caffeinated, a certain perkiness does take over. And there's the quiet, and the pearly early-morning light, and the sense of infinite possibility that comes with every new dawn, resist it as you may.

Today's job was putting the depth finder back in place. I may have mentioned that it was offering eccentric information, and since I can't imagine sailing the rocky coast of Maine  -- or even groping our way, in the dark, into an unfamiliar harbor in Connecticut -- without a reliable depth finder, I was feeling pretty anxious. 

So some weeks ago, I sent the thirty--year-old unit off to DMI, an outfit I now recommend without reservation. They rapidly determined that the only problem was the LCD display -- a great relief to me, since a problem with the sensor in the hull would be a serious problem.They replaced the display unit and shipped the instrument back to me; but meanwhile. the boat nearly sank at her mooring, as described earlier.

Now the boat is afloat again, in Jersey City, and the depth finder is back on the console, assuring me that there are 14 feet of water under our hull. This seems like a lot, in a marina, but on the other hand, some big boats come in here, and maybe they dredge it, and maybe it's true.

The instrument seems very confident. It doesn't twitch or vary. Either it's a psychopath or a truth-teller.

I am going to assume the latter. Wish me luck.

Departure for Maine is now scheduled for Monday the 12th.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Afloat again (again)

No pictures again, sorry. I could have taken some, too, but it just didn't occur to me.

Called the boatyard today, expecting to hear that nothing had happened.

But no. The boat is back in the water, the leaky stuffing box has been re-packed, the engine is apparently fine, and there are two nice new batteries in their locker.

I didn't ride the bike to work today, so after I made this call, I took the trolley -- I love trolleys; don't you? -- from my workplace to the Jersey Avenue stop, which is a sweaty ten-minute walk from the boatyard. Sure enough, the boat was in the water, the engine started, the bilge had maybe two inches of water in it, and the solar panel, as far as I could tell, was cheerfully charging the batteries.

One does not want to be overconfident, or tempt the Gods. But I'm now starting to believe that Ginger and I and whatever crew I can shanghai for the trip might actually be able to set off for Maine on Monday, the glorious Twelfth Of August.

I hate to do a post without a picture. So here's the trolley:

Monday, August 5, 2013

Life goes on, I forget just why

I promised a photo of what's left of the Morris Canal, at the Jersey City end. That's it, above.

The tide is relatively high, so that sunken lumberyard of imperishable 19th-century timber, to the left of the photo, isn't as impressive now as it will be six hours later.

The narrow body of water shown once stretched a hundred miles or so, over hill and dale, to the Delaware River.

This shot was taken at about 7:30 AM. This is what I do, now, weekdays: I ride my bike from Chateau Smithbowen down to 39th street, and from there I catch the 7 AM ferry to Jersey City. I ride the bike from the ferry landing up LaSalle Street and then, when that peters out, up Grand Street -- a busier street, full of the usual obnoxious aggressive entitled Jersey drivers -- to the unpropitiously-named Jersey Avenue(*).

Then south to the footbridge where the photo above was taken. Through various cunning byways I find my way into the boatyard. I go into the office and pester the boatyard guys, in my ineffectual, polite way -- I'm a squeaky wheel, but I squeak very softly -- and then I clamber up onto the boat and potter. Here's the result of some recent pottering:

Yes, the solar panel -- the thing that might have prevented the most recent disaster, if it had been installed three weeks ago.

Or maybe not.

That rail-mounting looks simple, but reflects a few false starts, and the unlovely but quite serviceable plastic rail clamps hide several uselessly drilled holes. (Who knew that when you order a stainless-steel U-bolt with an inner diameter of one inch, it arrives with an inner diameter of 15/16"? Clearly I went to the wrong schools.)

Back to the Morris Canal. Here's the view looking West, toward New York Harbor:

We take our pleasures where we find them. At the moment, mine are the joys of Jersey City.

(*) Google Earth will show you all this if you're really interested.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Disaster strikes again

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Well, semi-disaster. No pictures for this one, but the satellite photo above shows the present residence of Ginger, to wit, the Liberty Landing boatyard in Jersey City. High and dry.

I've had a hard time sitting down to write about this.  Let's start at the beginning.

When I bought the boat there were, of course, several things to worry about, at least a bit.

1) The drip through the stuffing box -- that is, the fitting that carries the prop shaft through the hull -- was perhaps a bit more rapid than it should have been. They say a drop every thirty seconds or so is to be expected. This was more like a drop every ten. Still, it didn't seem likely to sink the boat, especially since there is a nice automatic bilge pump that kicks in when the water in the bilge gets more than a couple of inches deep. I found that the pump would come on every hour or so, pump for a minute or two, then shut off with a self-satisfied gurgle.

2) The batteries. Who knows how old they were? They had been sitting for two years on a shelf at the yard where I bought the boat. Supposedly they had been trickle-charged and were in fine fettle, but I had only the yard's word for that.

Still, everything seemed fine for several weeks. I would go out and potter around on the boat at the mooring, and we took her out for several day sails, and there was never more than an inch or two of water in the bilge. The batteries always delilvered plenty of current and the engine always started after a second or two of cranking.

I figured running the engine regularly would keep the batteries topped up. So I did that.

I had ordered a nice solar panel as well -- belt and suspenders -- but it arrived without any hardware to mount it to the rail, and it proved surprisingly difficult to devise a mounting for it, and then find the right parts. A very different experience from the panel I got for Scapegrace -- that one came with a bracket and clamp and it was the work of three minutes to secure it to the rail. Strange. I'll devote a post to the solar panel one of these days; you'll laugh at the solution I came up with.

Anyway, there was no solar panel on the boat on the fateful Sunday, Quatorze Juillet, when I got a call from the nice people at the boat basin: "Uhh, Mister Smith? Your boat is kinda... low in the water."

Oh shit. I got on the bike, scrambled down to the boat basin, into the dinghy, out to the boat. Hip-deep water in the cabin. Batteries submerged, dead. Engine half-submerged. Tried bailing, but there was no way. Called Sea-Tow. They had to send somebody all the way from Sheepshead Bay, which took a while.

I would bail for five minutes, then rest for five minutes, just to keep the situation from getting any worse. Wherever the leak was, I could bail faster than it could leak, and my bailing lowered the water level several inches. So I figured we wouldn't sink -- as long as I could keep bailing.

The Sea-Tow guys arrived, finally. Very competent. They had a marvelous ultra-macho gasoline-powered pump which emptied the cabin and bilge in about ten minutes.

They called the Liberty Landing marina, about seven miles or so from the boat basin, and although it was a Sunday, Luis -- I didn't catch his last name -- and a colleague said they would come in and meet us. Sea-Tow dragged us down there. About a three hour tour, as they say on Gilligan's Island.

All who see him, laugh him to scorn. No other boaters waved at me during this Tow Of Shame, and I didn't wave at any.

Once we got there, Luis and colleague efficiently hauled the boat, considerately power-washed the hull, and put her up on blocks.

Since then my life has consisted of phone calls and emails between and among the boatyard and the insurance company. It's all incredibly slow. Just this last week the yard put the boat back in the water, to see where water was coming in. They report that the stuffing box is leaking like crazy -- 'gushing' was the word they used.

Sam Johnson once observed that he 'never had a Patron before'. Well, I never had an inboard before. Is this something that happens?  

I had planned on taking off for Maine on August 1st. Now, who knows when.

One thing that pleases me a bit: the Liberty Landing marina occupies the entry to the old Morris Canal. There's a footbridge to it, from poky downtown Jersey City, which passes over a slough of ancient timber, strewn like jackstraws, obviously a remnant of the canal days. I'll try to remember to take a picture.