the adventures of a girl, her dog, and two cats.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

hoisting the sails

A week ago I took the boat out for a day cruise with friends. The plan was simply going to be a repeat of the cruise two weeks prior: motoring up to Whitehall Bay and dropping the hook for a few hours before motoring back to Eastport. I felt that with several friends aboard I would be able to dock her and have friends fend us off and handle lines as necessary. I jury-rigged a nav station at the helm by taping a car phone holder to the pedestal so we could use the Navionics chart plotter on my iphone. I loaded up charts on my laptop in PolarView as a backup.

Before heading out I wanted to take advantage of an offer to go aloft to install a Windex wind indicator atop the mast and check the sheave for the jib halyard, (I want to replace the wire cable halyard with line and need to make sure the sheave is smooth and won't cut the line). My friend Dave brought two climbing harnesses. Mike was the grinder on the winch to hoist Travis up, while Dave belayed in case of a fall. Travis likely would have climbed right up like a tree frog, but I'm glad he agreed to wear the safety harness; I wouldn't want to see him get hurt and wouldn't want the two eight-year-old girls along for the cruise to see someone go splat on the deck. I definitely want to learn to go up the mast for myself. And many thanks to Travis for going aloft for me!

We motored out of Back Creek and before I knew it, Travis was preparing sails to be hoisted. I explained I hadn't planned on sailing her today and that the jib sheets were actually in the trunk of my car. He just grabbed some spare docklines off the rail and used them for one jib sheet we'd need to run to the other side when tacking or jibing. So, before I knew it Ambrosia's sails had been hoisted underway for the first time since I bought her.

My intended destination of Whitehall Bay would be a lengthy cruise under sail because it was pretty much dead upwind. We headed across the Bay toward Kent Island a while with the intention of tacking and heading back across toward Whitehall Bay. Everyone was a little nervous when Travis announced he was going below for a nap and leaving us to sail her ourselves. I had only had one half-day sailing lesson, but gratefully my friend Lane also knew enough to generally keep us out of trouble. While I was below somehow our remaining crew managed to do a few 360s with the boat, but no one was hurt during accidental jibes and everyone just seemed pleased to be out enjoying the Bay.

We eventually chose to just head to a simpler destination south off Bay Ridge and drop the hook for lunch, swimming, and fishing. With that downwind target, we even ended up sailing a little bit wing-and-wing--with the jib out to one side and the main out to the other. At some point we got up to 5 knots, not exactly flying, but just right for a relaxing sail with friends.

We got her docked without incident. Unfortunately the jib is a hot mess on the furler because I think the "spinny thing" (that's a highly technical sailing term) was supposed to go to the top but is shackled to the furling drum. I need a calm day to unfurl the jib, drop the sail, and rehoist it with the head of the sail attached to the "spinny thing." And though I'll still be a committed barefoot sailor because it gives better traction and warning of impending slips, I did manage to smash my pinky toe into the pump out fitting and bleed all over the deck. My toe was a painful mess for several days but now seems to be healed up alright. Poor Hunter puked twice, but then found a low hiding place and curled up there for the duration. Max tends to lay on the settee looking a little loopy. I sure hope they both get their sea legs soon.

All-in-all a great day on the water and good times and plenty of tequila once back ashore. I'm thankful for all my friends here in the Annapolis area, and glad that life afloat lets me meet new kindred spirits. And I can't help it, I have a weakness for floppy hair, it's in my nature. (And don't worry, that's not "the floppy-haired sailor guy;" when I said game over on that one, I meant it.) Travis wisely told the two eight-year-old girls never to fall in love with a sailor because he's here one day, and gone the next. It's true and good advice for shore-based folks to follow. As for me, I can't imagine being with anyone tied down to land...I need a guy who understands why I live aboard, who wants to cruise away and chart our own course in life wherever and however we please. As one friend said when I was left behind last time I'll be the one cruising away leaving some guy crying on the docks. Indeed. I certainly won't be waiting around to find a sailmate and soulmate; you never find love when you're looking for it. You bump into it when it's least expected. Until then, all I need is my anchor and sails, for they will set me free.

Friday, August 30, 2013

adventures in docking

I was planning a day cruise with friends for this past Saturday but my friend who acts as emergency back-up to handle the boat if I get in over my head was not going to be able to join us. I felt comfortable running the boat on the prior trip up until it came time to dock her in my slip in my very shallow marina. A boat adjacent to me which extends a little past his pilings and very shallow water make docking a challenge. I asked a friend I met through Cruisers' Forum for some docking advice.

We met on his boat so I could also pick up some supplies for patching the inflatable. We talked about what my docking plan had been on the prior trip, (it wasn't too far off from working), how to make it simpler, and back-up/alternative plans if winds are not cooperating or I need to stop, take a deep breath, and tackle it again. He grabbed a bunch of spice jars from the galley and set them out as pilings. One remote control was the boat in the next slip, sticking out, another remote was my boat. We noted areas where water becomes too shallow to approach.

We talked about how to use prop walk to my advantage, that it may be a seven-point turn to back into the slip, and how to use spring lines to pivot the boat into the slip if necessary. He suggested trying to just use gears rather than throttle to make the little adjustments to squiggle Ambrosia into her slip. I already had a good understanding of docking theory both from my studies and time spent on other boats over the years, but it helped immensely to play out the different scenarios and how wind, current, lines, and prop walk would factor into different docking situations. While experimenting with docking a television remote between spice jars was a huge help over simply reading or discussing theory, it's still not the same as being behind the wheel and doing it in real life.

So after the theoretical discussion and planning, last Friday I asked my friend Phil from s/v High Life to come out for some docking practice with me. One of the key aspects of trying to back into my slip, (necessary for the dog ramp to extend from the stern to the dock), is learning how to maneuver the boat in reverse. Everything seems to happen slowly on my boat, but then keeps going. I'll turn the boat to port and even when I've stopped and begun turning the wheel starboard, she's still turning off to port. It just takes time to get a feel for the wheel and when very small adjustments are needed versus when one needs to turn the wheel sharply. Whatever maneuverability one has going forward, it is far, far less in reverse.

We took her out to a little basin between the little creek my marina is on and Back Creek proper. I practiced running her in reverse and stopping the boat by changing gears. We took her out to where the Severn River meets the Bay, where wind and waves were much stronger than near my very protected marina. Trying to run her in reverse there was even more difficult. As soon as I would turn the wheel slightly the pressure of the water over the rudder would grab the wheel and spin it all the way in one direction. I would fight it back and whoosh, it would grab and pull all the way the other direction. We also played around with seeing how many boat lengths she coasts before stopping. With a displacement of 19,500 pounds, when she gets moving it takes a while to slow her back down.

We headed in to dock her. Phil suggested just "ghosting in," throttling all the way down and letting her coast. It's always easier to throttle back up than to slow the boat down in close quarters. The plan was to come very close to my slip and the boat sticking out next to me, get to where there was enough space for the stern to clear the piling to port, and turn hard aport to begin lining her up with the slip. Naturally, I was nervous to be so close to the adjacent boat, but Phil calmly fended us off the boat and its inflatable (which was drifting into my slip, of course). I left the throttle alone and just shifted between forward, neutral, and reverse to gradually edge her straight and let the prop walk help kick the stern starboard to straighten us out. It was probably a five or six-point turn and we were lined up between the outer pilings. I cut the engine halfway into the slip because I'm always scared to suck mud into the impeller in such shallow water. It's probably best to leave her running just in case, but we finished pulling her in by the lines and docked her nicely on the first try. I'm grateful to have friends to help me tackle the challenge of docking so I can do it myself; many, many thanks guys!

Docking will simply take lots of practice to be very good at, but that's how it is with most things in life. But like anchoring, getting to where I can dock her singlehanded will let me take her wherever I want. I still think it's ironic that anchoring and docking--the things that hold the boat in one place--are what will set us free. Now every time I drop the hook or bring her back into her slip, I feel myself just a little closer to the islands, to my freedom, and to all the adventures that lie ahead.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

don't drink and dink

Be forewarned, this is a serious post. "Don't drink and dink" sounds cute and tongue-in-cheek, I know, but drinking and boating is something people just don't take seriously enough. Please read on. I'm not going to judge you for drinking ten Painkillers and being ridiculous or silly, I promise. I just want us all to get home safely and be able to enjoy the water (and roads) without getting hurt.

When I discuss potential marinas in Annapolis folks always suggest a couple that are lovely, but a drive away from everywhere I want to go out. I explain I don't want to drink and drive, and I also don't want to cab it. I would rather just live in walking distance of my watering holes. The standard response is that I can just dinghy back across the creek so I won't have to drive. Really? Somehow I think that driving a dinghy home drunk at 2AM involves as many if not more perils as driving a car home drunk. Yes, one is less likely to get caught... but my concern is not just that spending a night in jail rather sucks, but I also want to arrive home safely, without hurting myself or anyone else.

So, what inspired this post? Maryland legislator Don Dwyer can't learn the simple lesson not to operate motorized vehicles when inebriated. After a drunken boating collision a year ago on the Magothy River, he just got arrested for DUI and over a dozen other charges after driving home drunk from Baltimore. Read the Capital Gazette article here and Washington Post article here. Naturally, Dwyer blames his drinking on marital problems (hey, idiot--it's the other way around, I promise you).

Apparently--and this actually turns my stomach--prosecutors in the drunken boating case have reached a plea deal that involves no further jail time. Seriously? Seven people were injured in that boating accident. Dwyer himself had to be hospitalized. This is NOT a situation where he had a couple hefty glasses of wine with dinner and then blew .08. His BAC was three times the legal limit. Read the Washington Post article on that incident here. Both boat operators were charged in that collision and apparently both failed to follow rules-of-the-road, but only Dwyer was charged with alcohol-related offenses as well. This guy shouldn't be operating motor vehicles on or off the water, period. When prosecutors just give a slap on the wrist they are endangering my life. It terrifies me that I am sharing the Bay with an idiot like this, not to mention the countless others who are only emboldened by the laughable "punishment" being doled out.

At my marina, at least two, (probably more), boats come back to their slips with virtually every person aboard trashed. Always loud and obnoxious, with volumes of beer cans in the recycling that actually shock me (and, trust me, that takes a lot). But sometimes staggering and slurring right when they step ashore. Who exactly was at the helm? And, no, these are not just power boaters. It scares me that I'm out on the water with these people.

I admit I have come back to the boat, both on foot and on another's dink, with little recollection of getting back aboard. I'm not proud of it, but it does happen to most of us now and again. And I am not judging folks who party to the maximum, and I'll just brush it off if others want to judge me. But we can and should judge behavior that objectively puts others' lives at risk.

Unfortunately, there is such a taboo around DUIs that virtually everyone denies that they ever drive when they shouldn't. I think that is usually just lying to ourselves, but it is also partly that people simply do not understand BAC (blood alcohol concentration) or how many "drinks" for BAC purposes are really in every "drink" you have. It isn't the most beautiful or easy-to-read BAC chart, and uses too many European measurements, but the one from Wikipedia doesn't have any axe to grind, as do most sites posting BAC information. (I am absolutely not a fan of MADD or other temperance movements.) This chart is much easier to work with, but comes with the message that any alcohol in your system makes you unsafe to drive.

For their own safety, everyone should know their BAC table. As a woman, I can have two drinks the first hour and one drink an hour thereafter and (theoretically) be just under .08. (And I really don't think you want to be anywhere near .08 and get pulled over lest you plan to spend the night in jail.) If I'm flabby, my BAC will be higher; if I'm muscular, it will be lower. Yes, the fat guys we would think could handle their liquor actually get drunk faster than the lean, muscular, fit guys. I rarely drink liquor when out if I'm going to be driving because no bar in Annapolis pours a drink with 1.25 ounces of liquor. Think two or three times that. Not many wine pours are only 5 ounces, and the volume is very difficult to judge because of the diverse wine glasses used in different restaurants. And a pint of beer is not one drink. A 12 ounce beer is one drink, so a pint is 1.33 drinks. I actually count my drinks very, very carefully if I am in a position where I will be driving.

When I took friends out for a cruise Saturday before last I did drink. It isn't illegal to drink while underway and I don't think it's irresponsible per se. But how much did I drink? Six drinks spread out over eight + hours, and with plenty to eat. Food does not prevent alcohol from reaching the bloodstream, but the right food (fat and protein) does slow it down. My BAC was probably about .04. Some people will take the view that anything over 0 is too much. I understand their reasoning, but I think that is extreme. But I do take my responsibility at the helm seriously. The safety of my friends and crew (including my pets) depends on it. It's good seamanship. I want to have fun on the water and hope everyone can, but, yeah, it's better not to drink and dink.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

the plan

The plan is actually that there is no plan. Strangely enough, I am very pleased and relieved with this development or realization.

It's ironic that learning to anchor is what sets you free. Wouldn't anchoring imply being tied down? But instead it means you have the freedom to go anywhere you have enough anchor rode to let out. There's mud on my anchor and somehow that means cruising away is that much closer.

I had hoped to head south after boat show this fall. The telecommuting gig I'd been developing not working out seemed to have nixed that plan. But the reality is that, as a practical matter, I simply have to be able to anchor and dock the boat solo, and then I can cast off the lines. As a technical matter, I do have to solve the issue of loading/unloading the dog from a dinghy and get some solar power as well. From a financial perspective, there's no reason I can't hop my way south, gradually reaching Florida and then the islands, and pick up simple unassuming jobs along the way. I have friends here in Annapolis, have put down some shallow roots, but Annapolis will be here whenever I return. The same regulars will be at Davis' Pub, the usual suspects will still be around, and good friends will come visit me as I chart new adventures. So, the plan is very loose and flexible, but that is a good thing. There will come a day when the time is right...would it be nice for it not to be in the middle of winter, sure, but you just never know when the stars are going to align. I didn't move aboard to be stuck in one place...isn't the point to go see the world and have some adventures? We may have to do it on a shoestring, but that usually makes it far more interesting anyway.

Yesterday marathon and ultramarathon training began in earnest with a modest 10.4 mile run. Long runs will quickly build to 20 miles over the next six weeks. I am officially registered for the NCR Marathon in late November and then the Seashore Nature Trail 50K in December.

I have no idea who these folks are who keep this water station stocked, but I think I will have to send them a thank you note. On hot days I wouldn't make it through my run with only what my handheld water bottle carries. These folks have some very good runner karma. I wonder if they realize what a difference they make for strangers running through their neighborhood.

I hailed the pump out boat this afternoon. I still can't get used to them calling me "Captain" on the radio.

It was the same guy who has been to the boat before and as usual he was friendly and helpful and asked how things are going aboard for me and the dog. When it came time to pay for the pump out I handed him $10 for the $5 pump out and explained that previously I hadn't known the etiquette for tipping on pump outs. I told him that feeling that a measly $1 tip last time wasn't right, even if it was 20%, I had asked a friend about what's customary and did some research on the boating forums as well. I told him I wrote a whole blog post about tipping for marine services and that even if most sailboaters are as cheap as they are reputed to be, I did not want to fall into that category when it came to tipping dockhands and such. It sounds as if it certainly is a big portion of their pay and much appreciated, and I'd rather be known to treat them well and get prompt service.

In the next few weeks I'll be getting my Basic Keelboat certification. I'll likely be able to singlehand the boat under power before I can singlehand her under sail, but I'll get there before too long. Still working on lining up someone to go up the mast before I change out my running rigging, but before long we'll be hoisting the sails and heading out. I wonder if I can teach the pup dog to grab a sheet and unfurl the jib?

If the trunk of your car looks like this, you might be a liveaboard.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

dropping the hook

I put together a crew of friends for a little cruise on Saturday. I'm still shopping around and deciding on the new running rigging, but needed to burn through old diesel so a trip under power was needed anyway. The last time the boat had gone out, five months ago, it took an hour to start the engine so I was worried about whether it would start up easily or give me fits. I had poured some cetane enhancer in the fuel tank on Thursday to increase our chances of an easy start. Between the warm weather and the cetane enhancer the engine must have been happy and started up on the first try. The tide was going down and already rather low, so we pulled ourselves out of the slip with the lines and then off we went.

I set my Navionics chart app to record our track. The 5.7 nautical mile outbound trip took two hours. Here is our course in Google Earth. My phone was acting fritzy on the return, probably had overheated in the sun, so we used a friend's Polar Navy chart app and paper charts for the return trip.

I like the Navionics but it is frustrating that it will only give me a North up display. A course up display is much more intuitive for me. I also wish it provided distance rings. The Polar Navy app showed two concentric circles, one about one nautical mile from our current location and another about two nautical miles out. The Polar Navy app seemed to work on my friend's iPhone, but when I bought the app it wouldn't even load the charts and there was absolutely no support provided by the developers, so I deleted the app and got a refund. I don't want to be overly dependent on a chart plotter, but it does make things so much easier.

I went very slowly coming out of the creek. I get nervous around lots of other boats because I can't stop or turn on a dime and you never know whether other boaters are drunk, stupid, or both. But I am definitely getting a better sense of which boats are a concern on my course and which will pass well before our courses intersect.

The pup dog is scared to walk on the decks when we are docked. She tends to put her nails out and instead of gaining traction she ice skates. But as soon as the lines are off, she forgets how scared she was and usually runs up and down the side decks to look at the water, birds, and the passing scenery. This trip was no different, but she did get a surprise when running up the port side deck and losing her footing as we got rocked by someone's wake. She apparently was splayed out and lucky not to have gone overboard. A friend went up and sat beside her and before too long she forgot about the stumble and had her sea legs again.

It was a different story for the cats. Although the cats had been on short trips across Back Creek and out into the Severn River, they had never been out into the Bay. The boat was rocking a good deal from all the wake of passing powerboats on a busy day on the water. I heard Hunter crying (yelling at me, really). When we arrived at Whitehall Bay and I asked a friend to see how much anchor rode was in the anchor locker and whether it was tied to anything in the locker; he returned and let me know that the cats had puked and pooped all over. On the bed. On the settee. On the cabin sole. In the galley. The largest mess was a puddle of puke on the bed where one of the cats must have projectile vomited Exorcist-style. Whether it was all from Hunter or from Max, too, I still don't know how that much stuff came out of those small creatures. Max was actually cat-napping most of the time on the settee and didn't look stressed at all. Hunter, on the other hand, pretty much Velcro-ed himself to the cabin sole and didn't want to budge. Poor seasick kitty. I think he'll eventually get used to it. Fingers crossed.

We anchored in Whitehall Bay for a few hours. I ceded the helm to Dave so I could go forward and get a lesson on anchoring from Phil. This was the first time dropping the hook on Ambrosia. Once the anchor was set we toasted with mimosas and then it was time for lunch. I brought an assortment of Mediterranean-style nibbles for our picnic afloat: grapes, nuts, stuffed grape leaves, Kalamata olives, mixed olives tossed with feta, fresh mozzarella, orzo with baby spinach, fusilli with olives and mozzarella, french bread, red sangria I had made, and a couple bottles of Santola vinho verde from Portugal.

The trip out was cloudy and gray, and it looked like rain was coming. But somehow as soon as we anchored the skies were blue and the water was glassy. An afternoon of swimming, kayaking, fishing, and just relaxing aboard.

Now I finally have some photographs of Ambrosia away from the dock. And, yes, we cruised along with my Cypress Adirondack chair on the bow.

Navigating the crab pots that are scattered everywhere was a little more difficult at dusk, but we were treated to a beautiful sunset cruise home.

I had wanted to handle the boat from start to finish, but in the tight and shallow quarters of my small marina, I just couldn't manage to back her into the slip. In theory it's a nice three-point turn and using a bow or spring line to pivot off a piling into the slip. But she doesn't handle as easily in reverse and I became too nervous about hitting adjacent boats, so I asked my friend Phil to help dock her. I was disappointed that I didn't do it myself, but docking takes a lot of practice and I otherwise handled her well for our cruise. A great day on the water with friends.

Friday, August 9, 2013


Two nights ago when I got home I saw leaves scattered all over the water in the marina. It's early August yet and the air conditioning is still cranking pretty much 24/7, but leaves on the water made me feel fall is right around the corner. And then winter. And the terribly low tides that trap me in the slip and make it exceedingly difficult for the pup dog to get on and off the boat.

Where has the year gone? A year ago I was just beginning my boat shopping and was about to start this blog. I've survived winter aboard and a variety of challenges, but feel so behind on boat projects, boat handling, and sailing. I'm planning on taking a five-day basic keelboat course and certification in September, which should go a long way toward increasing my confidence in hoisting the sails and casting off the lines. But in the meantime, the poor boat hasn't been out in five months! The last cruise aboard was a windy, snowy day in March when friends helped me motor across the creek to get the holding tank pumped out.

So I lit a fire under myself and organized a group of friends to take the boat out this weekend. I had hoped to get some running rigging replaced in time for us to make it a sail, but it looks like that will take a little longer. (I really ought to have someone climb the mast and check that the sheave for the halyard is smooth and in good condition so the new halyard won't get hung up or chafed.) But I need to burn through all the old, stale diesel in the tank, so a motoring cruise serves a very useful purpose, too. Fingers crossed for good weather tomorrow and a high enough tide to get into the slip when we return.

Yesterday marked yet another addition to the fleet: a liquid logic kayak.

I saw the post on craigslist and was skeptical because I hadn't seen any kayaks listed for less than $400, and usually more. The sellers were a family who just finished a two-year cruise beginning in San Francisco and ending here in Annapolis. It was just one less thing they'd have to worry about taking home on the plane, so they decided to go ahead and sell it. At $150 it was an amazing deal! Included with the kayak (about $800 new) was a carbon-fiber paddle, helmet, PFD, spray skirt, and flotation bags. It's really designed for white water river kayaking, but will be great for me to bar- and marina-hop around. It's shorter, only weighs 39 pounds, and has enough room that I can stow a bag with eats and drinks by my feet. Thanks DoolittleCruising! For this gal on a serious budget, this was such a great find, will be put to good use, and proof to me that good boat karma counts.