Archive for July, 2011

We Are Not Alone. Really.

July 30, 2011

Today’s Philadelphia Inquirer contained an article with a statement by the director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in New Jersey offering an explanation of why a park official likened a man getting stung by a ray to being bitten by a dog. The gist of the article was that many people forget (or maybe never thought about it) that humans are not the only species in the ocean (or bay or river). Once you enter the water you share that environment with sharks, dolphins, oysters, rays, plant life and whatever else calls water home. I have to say: REALLY??!! I mean, not that we’re not the only species in the water but that there are people who need reminding.

Whenever a power boat zooms by our sailboat, usually leaving a wake that forces maneuvering to prevent damage to our boat, (after the cursing is over) we wonder if they really appreciate the water around them at that speed. Or is the water the same to them as a highway under a car. Did they see the cow-nosed rays gliding and chasing each other next to our boat? Did they notice the young bald eagle riding the wind current above the entrance to Rock Hall harbor? Certainly they can’t hear the splash of a fish that surfaces to snap at whatever intrigues it. I was once mesmerized for about an hour by schools of tiny fish in my marina. I remember watching my niece stretched out on the dock, head hanging over the side and captivated by the sea nettles as they floated by.

Nature settles me, whether I’m watching the rays in the bay or at night listening to the bull frogs in our pond. OK. I admit that I’m ready to pull the wings off of every cicada in the trees around our house that won’t shut up. Still. It amazes me that people can be so self-involved as to not appreciate and respect other species. They live here too. Really.


A Quick Fix, Often Overlooked

July 28, 2011

John smelled something bad. Just a little something but enough to make him change into his work shorts. He bought these shorts for a couple of dollars on a trip to Vietnam and they seem to be indestructible. He puts them on to get down to series maintenance work like Superman stepping into the phone booth. Once the shorts come on he completely focuses on the job at hand.

Since buying Halcyon our concern has been with the engine and its problems. It seems to be running well these days (knock on wood). On this day John decided to pay some attention to the port side, which houses the holding tank. Good thing he did because he discovered a small leak where the sanitation hose (through which the pump out nozzle sucks the sewage) meets the tank.

While John readied his tools I went to the marina office to tell them our problem and to see if they had spares in stock if we needed to replace the hose. Doug, the office manager, assured me that it was a common sanitation hose and they had them in stock. He stopped me before I left his office and said that an often overlooked maintenance item is the holding tank vent hose and since we were in there anyway, we should look at it. The pump out hose sometimes forces waste up into the vent hose or critters get into it and build nests, he said. Both will eventually block the hose and create pressure build up within the tank, causing things to explode and go really, really bad. FanTAStic.

By the time I returned to the boat, John, Troubleshooter Extraordinaire, had already removed the vent hose from the holding tank and had figured out that it might be the problem. He traced the hose to where it exited the boat: under a stanchion. The stanchion had a small-diameter hole that let out the air.

With me keeping an eye on the hole, John forced water through the hose from below. At first only a trickle of water came through. Eventually a little more water with more pressure behind it shot through until finally what looked like grass clogged up the hole. We removed the debris and forced more water through until it was clear and water exited the hole in the stanchion with considerable pressure.

Doug was correct. The clogged vent allowed pressure to build up in the tank each time someone used the head. The weak spot was where the pump out hose met the tank and it began to balloon at the hose clamp just enough to leak. Eventually it would have completely come undone from the tank and we would have had a bigger problem.

Clearing the vent also took care of another problem. A few weeks ago we noticed that the handle on the head was no longer drawing in raw water when we pumped the waste out of the bowl. Also, the head sink drained extremely slowly. By chance, I noticed that pumping the handle drew the water out of the sink and into the bowl. It wasn’t using raw water. These were both on our list of things to look at but after John cleared the vent the head returned to normal and the sink drained as it should.

Superman prevented a sh*# storm.

Don’t Look a Gift Wind In the Mouth

July 27, 2011

Some days need to be savored as they will never come around again for a long, long time. With an unexpected week off, we headed to the boat. We put our stuff on board and settled in just as a rollicking good thunderstorm passed overhead. There was just enough atmospheric whatchamacallit to enable the ancient (well, circa 1980s) radio/CD player installed by the previous owner to tune to the Phillies game on a Philadelphia AM station. We listened to our team win in between the static. The storm ended by dinner time and left behind a fantastic sunset and a good sleeping wind.

The approximately 10-knot wind lasted into the morning. With cloudless skies, low humidity, and layers of sun screen we left Gratitude for Hart-Miller Island. We have yet to sail north out of Rock Hall and I thought that the popular island would be a good day sail. That and the Active Captain review of the anchorage behind the island said that there was a “beef boat” that catered to the boats in the anchorage. I was curious.

At the end of Swan Point Bar we raised the sails and pointed our bow westward. As the sails filled the boat jumped forward and took off. The north wind put us on a beam reach and Halcyon responded like the sleek racing boat she ain’t ever going to be. Wind on the Chesapeake at the end of July: A rarity to be exploited. Being a Tuesday, there were few boats on the Bay and other than two crab boats we passed on our way down the bar, most of them were sailboats. With no power boat wakes to turn into, thus losing headway, we headed towards the mainland at a good 6 knots.

The day was perfect. We were at the end of a record 8-day heat wave and just three days before our little weather station at home recorded 109.7 degrees. But on this day there was not a cloud in the sky, not even a single jet trail, and the almost 90 degrees was made more than bearable with the wind. Did I mention the day was windy? In JULY? Before we knew it we were in the middle of the Bay nearing the mouth of the Magothy River.

We went into irons just long enough to eat lunch then we raised the iron genny, searched for those all too important ripples on the water and headed towards the wind. By now it was even a little bit stronger; probably around 15 knots. We tried tacking towards Hart-Miller Island and realized that with the north/northwest wind we would never get there in time to return to Rock Hall before dark. So we sailed back and forth across the Bay, our Bay, because we could and because we had nowhere else to be. We fiddled with the sails, we adjusted our course ever so slightly to tease out just a little more speed, we fiddled with the sails some more. We imagined what it would be like to maintain that course and just keep sailing. Of course, the land mass that was the rest of the country would have to move out of our way, but we dreamed anyway.

By mid-afternoon the wind began to shift until finally it was from the south. Once again we tried sailing to the island, this time wing on wing. A first for us. I don’t like this maneuver as the potential is great for an accidental gybe and it really isn’t faster than being on a broad reach. John, however, has wanted to try it for a while and with no other boats in the vicinity we went for it. The wind at our back didn’t help much so we turned around and headed for home, again on a beam reach. We sailed until just past the entrance to Rock Hall harbor when we had to lower the sails in preparation for docking. That was the first time we had enough wind to sail back to Rock Hall. Usually the wind dies just as we’re passing Love Point and we end up motoring the last hour.

We didn’t end up where we planned to be, but we had a great time not getting there.

Aground. Kind of.

July 10, 2011

One of the mantras of boating is that there are two types of people: those who have gone aground and those who won’t admit going aground. John photographed the boat below from our marina and there’s no denying that it was firmly aground. As the tide ebbed, it rested on its port side just west of the entrance to Swan Creek where the charted depth is 2 feet. Only a small boat with a retractable keel could make it through without touching bottom.



So far we have only kind of gone aground. When rounding Eastern Neck Island over Memorial Day Weekend I tried to cut an angle off of my plotted course around a buoy. The chart gave the depth as 7 feet so I thought we would be fine with our 5’3” draft. I watched as the depth sounder read 6 feet, then 5 feet, then 4’9” when I felt the bump. More than a bump, really. I’m pretty certain that I felt the keel plow through the soft (fortunately) bottom. I released the sails and allowed the wind to turn the boat around the way we came in.

Catalina 30s were designed with either a fin keel or a wing keel. If we had a wing keel, because of the “wing” extending horizontally at the bottom, we probably would have become more firmly grounded. On the other hand, because wing-keeled boats have reduced draft, we might not have gone aground at all. The trade-off for the ability to “plow” through a soft bottom is that we have to be very careful about our depth and gunkholing is not an option. By seeing 4’9” on our display we were able to confirm that the depth sounder offset on our boat is currently set at six inches – not much of a safety net.

The unfortunate boat in the picture would have to wait for high tide to float off the bar and that wasn’t for another 9 hours. A power boat attempted to pull it off, but was unsuccessful. I suspect that the good Samaritan only succeeded in making things worse since the sailboat listed to port even more than before the attempt.


Aground. Really.

Our neighbor reminded me not to be too critical as it is easy to blow off course in that location if the winds are from a certain direction. I should not be too critical because someday my “kind of” will change to “did.”

Wye River

July 8, 2011

The majority of our sails will be one-nighters. We will leave Rock Hall on Saturday morning to sail to an anchorage or marina and return on Sunday. When we have the opportunity to add a few days to the weekend, we can comfortably test just how far we can sail in one day. We did just that on the Blue Marsh Sailing Association (BMSA) Spring Cruise in June. Joining us was our Fearless Passenger (AKA my mother).

The club itinerary was to spend Friday night at anchor in the Wye River and Saturday night at St. Michaels Harbour Marina. Our plan was to leave Gratitude Thursday morning and stay overnight in Tilghman Creek in Eastern Bay and catch up with the other boats on Friday. From Tilghman Creek Drum Point would have been only a two or three hour sail. Sunday we would return to Tilghman Creek and then finish the trip to Rock Hall on Monday. We chickened out on traveling through Kent Narrows so the extra days on the front and back end of the weekend were needed to sail around the outside of the island. I read too many stories of getting through the Kent Narrows shoaling “in the right conditions”: When the wind isn’t blowing hard enough to push your boat across the channel, at high tide, when boats aren’t traveling towards you, etc. Local knowledge is a beautiful planning tool. As it turned out, the route around the outside of the island was no picnic either but at least there was no chance to run aground.

Our Thursday departure fell through after we loaded our supplies, ran through my (mental) checklist and when we were ready to depart, discovered that the engine would not turn over. The marina mechanic couldn’t look at it until Friday morning. Our new procedure is to start the engine as soon as we get to the boat just to make sure there are no problems and so that we have that much more time to get our mechanic to look at it. The joys of a 30-year old engine.

Not leaving on Thursday was probably good because of the small craft advisory that was issued. Obbligato, a BMSA boat from Havre de Grace, reported wicked conditions on the sail through the Narrows on Thursday.

We left our marina around 10:30 on Friday with a south wind and 2- to 3-foot seas. We tacked our way down Bay almost to Bloody Point light when it started to rain and a severe thunderstorm alert was broadcast. After donning life jackets, lowering the sails and stowing my mother below, we motored into Eastern Bay. By then it was after lunch but John wanted to try to meet up with club members anchored at Drum Point in the Wye River so we continued past Tilghman Point and the planned Claiborne Inlet anchorage in Tilghman Creek.

About an hour before sunset we approached the mouth of the Wye. We were lucky to only have been touched with the southern end of the last storm. Another, more severe, storm was heading our way from Alexandria, VA. Hail, damaging wind, cloud-to-ground lightning and rain were predicted. As we headed towards the Wye, we saw darkening clouds off our starboard side and heard rumbles of thunder. Lightning streaked out of the slate-gray clouds. It was not raining at our location but the storm was close enough that I decided that we would anchor in Shaw Bay rather than risk navigating the Wye after dark and with a fast-moving storm at our heels. By the time we passed by green daymark “3” the sun had set and it was getting dark.

Shaw Bay is the first anchorage in the Wye East river and is rather large. Only three other sailboats were at anchor when we arrived. We dropped the hook, released mom from the cabin and prepared dinner. The Memorial Day weekend trip was our first raft up, this was our first time at anchor on our own. Previous overnight trips were to marinas. On that night it was just us and whatever was out there in the water. I’ve watched the TV show River Monsters and there could be something out there in the water. Every splash could very well be something with teeth sharp enough to take off my foot in one gulp.

The storm came close but didn’t affect us. We discovered that if we leave early enough we could probably make 40 nautical miles comfortably in one day depending on the sailing conditions.

That night the winds were calm and a big orange moon rose over the water. Our Fearless Passenger relaxed in the cockpit and said those words all children love to hear from a parent: “Life is good.”

My report on the rest of the trip can be found at the BMSA web site.

Shaw Bay

Dropping the Hook

July 8, 2011

John and I are making up in 2011 for Halcyon’s engine problems that kept us dockside in 2010. So far this season we’ve loved every minute of our trips and every inch of our boat. We have no regrets with either our choice of a Catalina or that she’s a “good old boat.”

This summer we’re discovering the joys and benefits of dropping the hook in a peaceful (or not so peaceful) cove for the night. Our first experience with anchoring was with the Chesapeake Catalina Yacht Club over Memorial Day Weekend. We spent the first night in Grays Inn Creek and then across the Bay in the Magothy River.

The head of Grays Inn Creek is in Rock Hall, MD. Our slip neighbor recently told us that if we had a dinghy we could head up the creek from the anchorage, beach the dinghy and walk to the Java Rock café in the center of Rock Hall for coffee in about ten minutes. Reaching Grays Inn Creek by sail took a little more than four hours as we had to sail south around Eastern Neck Island and then up the Chester River on the other side. If we motored the entire time our track would be u-shaped.

The entrance to the creek is marked by green can “1” on the Chester River. We motored carefully down the center of the channel as the depth often dropped to as low as six inches towards the shoreline. There were quite a few boats in the cove on the other side of Browns Point when we arrived. Our club consisted of four rafts of four boats and a couple boats that anchored alone, almost 20 boats. We found our assigned raft and tied up next to another Catalina 30, introduced ourselves and settled in for the night.

Our group was a bit noisy during the cocktail hour(s) on the party raft. Members zipped between the four rafts and took pets ashore in dinghies. There were two houses on the cove and I wondered if homeowners know what they’re getting into when they choose to buy or build a home on a navigable waterway. During the week the coves are fairly quiet but on the weekends the more popular spots can be the place to be for serious partying.

The next morning we sailed back down the Chester River, across the Chesapeake Bay to the mainland and into the Magothy River. The Purdy Point cove where the club met was located on the north side of Gibson Island, across from a picturesque horse farm complete with cannon on the manicured lawn. This was an extremely popular anchorage and space was at a premium. Marine police patrolled and ensured that boats did not anchor too far into the extremely narrow channel.

Halcyon was the baby boat of that second night’s raft, tied between two newer Catalina 350s. It was nice talking boats with the other members, some of whom started out with the 30 and moved up. Larger, newer boats have their own maintenance headaches and repair costs rise with the boat length. Halcyon may not have in-mast furling or a generator to run air conditioning and an electric head, but she gets us places in relative comfort.

John joined the party raft while I chose to stay on Halcyon with a book, a glass of wine and a bowl of guacamole and watch the sun set on the farm. The farm had a dock from which kids jumped off into the water. Others fished along the banks of the creek below the pasture. They were part of an organized group and had set up tents behind the dock. I thought how nice it was to see teenagers outside enjoying nature and not sitting at home with video games and smart phones and bad moods. I hoped that the weekend provided the kids with fond memories to look back upon when they became adults. I hoped as adults they find their own Halcyon to continue making memories.

Purdy Point

Purdy Point, Magothy River