Archive for February, 2011

Rounding the Horn

February 21, 2011

As I write this Brad Van Liew, sailing in the Velux 5 Oceans race, is about 100 miles from rounding Cape Horn. I don’t know if there is a delay on the raceviewer so he might have done it by now. This will be his third time. Last week I read William Pinkney’s account of his solo circumnavigation in his book As Long as It Takes. Mr. Pinkney was the first African-American to sail solo around the world. His trip took him past Cape Horn as well. Numerous other sailors have also made the treacherous journey from 16-year old Abby Sunderland to Sir Robin Knox-Johnston to Bernard Moitessier. The famous and not famous braved the winds, currents and icebergs to earn the right to wear the gold earring.

Cape Horn (“The Horn”), at the tip of southern Chile, was once part of the clipper trade route until the Panama Canal was completed in 1914. It is one of the most dangerous shipping routes in the world and many ships have been lost. Southern Ocean winds generally blow uninterrupted from west to east for most of the trip making it a difficult course for sailboats. These days the route around Cape Horn is mostly used by sailors who want the mental and physical challenge.

Kent Island Narrows is no Cape Horn but for all our trepidation and planning for our first sail through the narrow channel on the Chesapeake Bay, it might as well be. I have sailed through it once, but on someone else’s sailboat. The Kent Island Narrows area to the north begins with a narrow channel leading from the Chester River. The channel is only about 60 feet across and is known to silt just where your boat needs to sail. The water depth on either side of the channel averages about 3 feet. Halcyon’s draft is 5’3” so moving out of the channel to avoid another boat or obstacle is not an option. That is the first challenge.

The next challenge is the bascule bridge on old Route 50. The bridge only opens at certain times. If a boat arrives too early it has to wait in a relatively small area that may be crowded depending on the time of year and the amount of traffic. If you miss the last opening of the day, well, you’re screwed. When fully opened, the bridge leaves just enough space for a single mast to travel through. Traffic in each direction must travel single file. Boats moving with the current have the right of way but probably only about one in four people know this. The current is swift and so are the knuckleheads who don’t care about anything but their own boat.

We can only plan carefully and hope for the best. We’ll leave Rock Hall so that we travel through at the beginning of the outgoing tide. This should give us a little more than one foot more under our keel and also get us there way before the lunchtime crowds start heading to the numerous marina restaurants and bars on the south side. We read the cruising guides, studied the chart, checked the tide schedule, and talked to our slip neighbors who have made the trip (and grounded in the channel) numerous times.

Alternatively we could take the “Panama Canal” route out into the Bay and around the outside of Kent Island. The route is longer and safer…and less challenging. If there is a Kent Island Narrows gold earring, we want it.

Kent Island Narrows Chart



The Cost of Sailing

February 20, 2011

Someone recently viewed the sailing photos on my Facebook page and said that he “didn’t have the income for that hobby.” It wasn’t the first time he made such a comment so I’ll probably never convince him that sailing doesn’t have to be expensive. Boating is as expensive as the amount of money you want to invest.

When I first realized that I had an interest in boating beyond my kayak (at that point I didn’t know whether I preferred sail or power boating) I got a ride on someone’s power boat in exchange for helping him move some stuff out of storage and onto the boat. He took me off the coast of Atlantic City, NJ and allowed me to take the helm for a bit. I took the wheel and immediately knew that I wanted to be on the water. Not just beside the water but on the water and able to travel faster than I could paddle. When we returned to the dock and he spent a good amount of time adjusting the lines to make sure the lines would properly secure the boat during both high and low tides, I knew I had the patience for boating. $0.

The next step was to take a boating safety course with the US Power and Sail Squadron. The course was somewhere around 10 weeks and covered everything from what to call the pointy end of the boat to how to plot a course on a (paper) chart. Approximately $70 at that time.

At some point in the middle of the boating course I knew I wanted to sail. There were a few instructors who sailed and they just seemed…different in some way. At the time I couldn’t put a finger on it but I sensed something about them that set them apart from the instructors who had power boats.

I searched the internet and found a sailing club. Some clubs maintain a fleet of boats that members can use once they have proven their competency. The maintenance costs of the boats and the buildings are passed on to the members so the clubs with a fleet that I looked at charged a minimum of $1500 per year dues plus whatever “initiation” fee each one charged. I wasn’t ready for that investment because I knew that it would be a year or two before I was able to operate a boat on my own. As an alternative I found a club where members sailed their own boats and welcomed as crew any member without a boat. For someone new to sailing and without a boat this serves several purposes: 1) you don’t have the expense of maintaining a boat and 2) you can crew on different types of sailboats to learn how to sail and to get a feel for what you might someday want to purchase and 3) decide whether you even want to buy a boat before making a potentially wasteful purchase. Club dues are $40 per year.

I could have stopped there and simply paid my dues each year and remained in the club crewing on other member’s boats. I would still be able to sail and it wouldn’t cost much beyond helping out with gas or food or whatever. However, I decided to take the other fork in the road and increase my investment.

I bought my own sail boat. I happened upon a used 22 foot boat that needed some work but it came with a trailer and four well-kept sails. I asked an experienced sailor I knew to look at it and tell me if it was going to float, which he did. I became a boat owner for $2300.

A boat on a trailer usually has its own storage: the trailer. There is no need for the expense of a boat slip. Simply park it in your driveway and drive it to the ramp when you want to sail. The cost of the trailer includes the registration cost (I think it was $30 for five years) and the upkeep which could be close to nothing for the first few years if the trailer is new or more if it isn’t.

Since that first boat we decided to invest in a sailing lifestyle, not just a hobby. We bought a 30 foot boat and all the expenses (and fun) that come with it. But we had the option to pay less to keep sailing than we pay for dinner for two at an inexpensive restaurant (before alcohol). There are so many ways that one can get onto a boat if that’s what one wants that cost should never be an excuse.

Winter, BEGONE!

February 16, 2011

Mid-February. I feel the door closing on winter and every now and then I get a whiff – just a tease – of spring. The tease may come as I smell a patch of dirt exposed through the melting snow, or feel a small pocket of warm air, or as the temperature rises from continuous weeks of near and below freezing to the forties, then the fifties, then sustained sixties.

I’m getting over thinking I might scream during the short, cold days of winter and suddenly we don’t have a lot of time to get through that To Do list before spring commissioning. Fortunately, we should be able to hit the water ready to go (knock on wood). The engine is almost re-built; at least the major parts are shiny and new. The marina had to install a new starter in order to winterize the boat. We still have to replace the speed transducer and a broken wind vane. Oh, and John wanted to replace the fresh water hoses so he removed them all before Halcyon was hauled. Those are minor issues. We sailed most of last summer without a working wind vane after a bird sat on it. We only knew our speed on one early sail before it became fouled anyway. The more I think about the list, the longer it grows but most items will not prevent us from sailing.

We have had (almost) a season sailing Halcyon and that has been enough time to see what worked, what we want to add, what needs to go.

We’re ready to sail even if the boat kinda isn’t.