Salty old sea hag

pearson ariel 26

An old woman passes by the waterfront on her bicycle. Colorful clothing, a heart flag hanging from her seat, a basket. Her aging terrier trots in tow, faithfully, ten feet behind her.

“Is that going to be me when I’m old?” I ask Scott.

He left his boat near Miami to return north by car, to square away business, before crossing the Gulf Stream. He has come to see me en route.

“I don’t see it,” he says.

“Well, then what do you see?”

He looks at me for a moment, and then out at the harbor. My boat is moored there quietly, next to the dilapidated pier. Patiently waiting for me to make a decision on what we will do next.

“I see you in an old boat. Inviting kids onboard and telling sea stories in a raspy voice. Feeding them sardines,” he says.

“Yeah!” I say. Getting into the vision now. “And I’m permanently hunched over from years spent on boats, sitting next to an oil lamp.”

“Right, and the boat is one of those boat’s that is completely set up but isn’t going anywhere. And everyone knows it’s not going anywhere.”

“It’s not going anywhere because it’s already been everywhere.”

“Exactly,” he says. “You both are retired. You and your boat.”

“Wow,” I say smiling to myself and wondering aloud. “I hope I’m on my way towards that.”

Soon the clouds ascend and I rush out of the car to row back to the boat and miss the rain. I leave a small pile of beach treasures in his car. The pointed claw of a horseshoe crab, a piece of coral, a tiny coconut husk. My oars cut through the water. I use my entire body to fight the current. My shoulders, elbows, chest. My feet brace the aft seat. The sound of oars in water, although so familiar at this point, always manage to instill in me a great sense of adventure.

Boatsick

Sharing time and space with another human on a small boat forces intimacy. Everything is shared. Meals, work, thoughts. Strangers quickly become acquainted if by nothing more than proximity alone. I noticed this while my ship mate for the weekend cooked dinner. His galley was located right next to my bunk where my wet towel and underwear from a trip to the neighboring yacht club hot tub were hanging to dry, mere inches away from his head.

I spent the weekend working on the boat of a single-handed-sailor named Paul, helping him prep the boat for a new paint job. Because he keeps his boat an hour from where he lives, and an hour from where my boat lives, if I wanted the job I had to campout on his boat, on the hard.

I didn’t hesitate. I love the yard, I love boats, and certainly need the money. Due to a leak below the water line on my little boat I have to haul out sooner than expected and have been hustling to earn enough money in time for my haul out date in about three weeks. I was hoping to work on the boat on the float for a while and haul out somewhere on the Chesapeake, which is my very tentative summer/hurricane season destination this year (PANAMA 2019 YA’LL). But I’m not willing to spend that much time in between now and then, afloat and voyaging, with an underwater leak. So out my boat must come and out comes the depth sounder transducer. The depth reader hasn’t worked in months anyway. One less hole in the boat.

Paul’s boat is a Dufour 30. It is named Sobrius. Latin for sobriety. Paul got the boat only after he became sober. He traded booze for blue water and has since sailed over 1000 NM offshore, alone, and will set sail on another voyage in the spring. I have no doubt he and his boat will go far, and perhaps one day give up life on land all together.

I’m a traditionalist at heart when it comes to boat design, but the Dufour 30 seemed incredibly seaworthy despite it’s missile-like keel. Small cockpit, good use of interior space, sturdy rigging and a blue water reputation. Many Dufour sailboats are sailing the world’s waters, and this one in particular crossed the Atlantic twice with previous owners.

As much as I enjoyed the boat, the work, the amazing marina facilities next door, the friends I made in the yard (both human and animal), and Paul’s company—I missed my little boat.

I had folks looking after her while I was gone. Even though the leak is just a slow, tiny trickle, and every marine professional I talk to says in increase an water intrusion is extremely unlikely, I still worried about her alone on her mooring for two nights. When my friend’s sent me pictures of her afloat and in good standing on Sunday afternoon I felt pangs to get back. To get home. It was my first time sleeping away from my boat since September, and before that I was never more than a mile away.

Rowing back to my boat, exchanging pleasantries with my harbor mates, climbing into her cockpit down the companionway I realized everything was exactly how I’d left it. The transducer was still leaking. My dishes were still in the sink. I was still going to have to hustle to make the boat right. And I took great comfort in all of that.

Always thought I’d look cool with a shiner. And yes, I wore a respirator.

Note to Readers: Thank you to everyone who donated to my lost boot fund, and to the fees associated with this website. Both have been taken care of and any extra has gone into my boatyard fund. Also–if anyone is interested in Paul and his Dufour 30 Sobrius check out his book, Becoming a Sailor, and his youtube channel

Self Steering for Sailing Craft

sheet to tiller steering

While sailing on the Chesapeake Bay I was gifted a book that I’d been keeping an eye out for over a year. Self Steering for Sailing Craft by John Letcher is a timeless gem that deserves a space on the shelf of any yacht’s library (unless of course you’re on a boat like mine which doesn’t really have shelves). In the book Letcher uses anecdotal tales to impart sheet to tiller steering methods he used on his voyages through the Pacific Ocean aboard his homebuilt 20-foot cutter Island Girl. 

Over the course of reading the book I learned a lot, but while I was reading it I started to wonder–is this guy one of those engineering types? I’ve met a lot of engineers on boats. I envy them. Their minds just work differently than mine and they can pretty much figure out anything. When in doubt, ask an engineer, but I am not in touch with that side of my brain.

Turns out Letcher was an engineer with a Ph. D. in Aeronautics. So I wondered, does one have to be of that mindset to use his methods?

While my auto pilot, Jane, has been a most lovely companion she simply cannot keep up in some conditions and requires a constant supply of sunshine to run off my ship’s battery. Plus, she’s electronic and subject to corrosion and she’s not exactly water proof. I’m not getting rid of Jane, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable with her as my only form of self-steering if going to sea.

I wanted to see if anyone had tried sheet-to-tiller on an Ariel and found this guy. Again, another engineering type. His methods seemed a little complicated with all types of custom made equipment. I thought this was supposed to be simple? I found myself slightly disenchanted with the idea. Then I met an engineer on the dock who has circumnavigated and just finished the NW Passage. He said, “don’t bother with sheet-to-tiller, get a windvane.”  And so I moved on to that idea for a while.

I know of one vane unofficially for sale for very cheap in New Jersey but it’s owner basically said, “you’re going to have to engineer the shit out of it to get it work and I’ll be very surprised if you do because I didn’t.” Then I wrote a very flattering letter to Yves Gilenas of Cape Horn Wind Vanes in hopes of scoring one at, ahem, “cost.” If I can’t find a wind vane either for cheap or free I may find myself in a bit of pickle because they cost more than my hull.

Picking up Letcher’s book again now I am thinking sheet-to-tiller may be the best method on Vanupied. It certainly would be cheaper and at second glance doesn’t look too complicated. A friend recently sent me this link which shows the method in very simple terms.

I’m getting ready to begin the second stage of the refit to this little boat and I wonder what method self steering method I will wind up adopting.

Lonely Blue Highway

(c) Roland Falkenstien

Cities on the water way are so strange. Step away from the harbor front streets, the marinas, the anchorages and it’s as if you’re not even near the water at all anymore. Suddenly it’s suburban sprawl and traffic and you find yourself riding a borrowed mountain bike down a highway sidewalk, diverting into a neighborhood that resembles the hood, just trying to escape the lights, and noise, and rain— in order to get back to your boat.

One mile inland and, it seems, people have no fucking idea they are anywhere near the sea.

Humans are kind to me. For whatever reason I find myself constantly surrounded by people and forming unlikely friendships. Sometimes I forget how to be alone. Sometimes I’m afraid it will end—the people I already know, the people I haven’t met yet. Not only will they not be here physically, they won’t be anywhere. They won’t be in any pocket of my heart, the land or the waterway.

Technology baffles me. So many people keep up with me, meet up with me, and ultimately alter my life in positive ways that put me one step closer to my goal—which is, in a sense, to be away from them completely. To be alone on the sea.

There is not one moment of one day where I don’t think about this boat, my means and my character—and how all that equates to the possibility of actually achieving what it is I envision.

“You are in charge of what happens next,” Chris said to me as I left her dock and historic estate. We were discussing the possibility of my return to that small Chesapeake town for what would be an overhaul to the boat. Another step, in a series of steps and seasons, to be out there on the sea safely, sustainably, solo.

“What’s new in your love life?” my oldest friend asked me in a text message.

“Not much,” I replied. “Just in a solid, committed relationship with my boat.”

My conversations with those furthest away who know me best are reduced to screens. My face-to-face conversations happen with people I hardly know and may never see again. These conversations all feel equally important.

“The intercoastal is that way,” a sailor I traveled with told me twice.

Once when we were at the dock discussing the next day’s route and another time when we were underway. The natural direction I thought to go in both those instances led to the open ocean… not the protected waterway.

When we parted ways and I pulled into port to wait for important mail, he continued on into the next canal and body of water where he hoped to wait for a good weather window and sail offshore.

His mast now far from sight I called out on the radio anyway.

“Good luck out there on the lonely blue highway,” I said, essentially, to no one.

Lentils win

Row over and examine abandoned boat, or stay in cabin with warm tea, alcohol heater, and make lentils? Lentils win.

smallboat galley, pearson ariel 26

No wind today. I didn’t care. Was happy to be under way. Was happy to have made some progress to the engine. Was happy it was running so well. The sun made an appearance. Twenty five miles left of the Chesapeake. Anchored in Pepper Creek–sketchy depths. Came in at high tide but leaving closer to low. I may find myself waiting to float off the ground tomorrow with the afternoon flood…Wind forecast perfect for tomorrow, minus some rain. Hope it sticks. My last November northerly on the bay. Hope I find myself just lingering out there tomorrow again, not quite ready for it to end.

cruising guide chesapeake bay
A rare Chesapeake calm in November

I’m wearing an old Pendleton I got from my friends in Matthews, VA. I’m like the son they never had. No, really. I feel like a boy. At least a tom boy. I put in eye liner to go to shore the other day and looked more like I was leaving the coal mines than trying to look presentable in society.

I’m scheming again to take Vanupied far, not this year though. I can’t stop thinking about it. It would be real easy to shorten the cockpit, move her scuppers. I designed a sort of locker in my head that would double as storage while reducing the size. I want to replace her standing rigging, at least some if not all. I’m on this kick about using Dyneema to do it. A backup cheapie auto pilot and sheet to tiller steering (double redundancy). Short wave radio for Chris Parker weather reports. Already got a receiver on the backstay (which unfortunately I think indicates the age of of my shrouds).

I don’t know, though. I still need her looked at with a keener eye than mine. It’s a process. For now I know what needs doing in the immediate future and I have lots, and lots, of ideas.

Back to the abandoned boat. Pretty grey hull with a sorry looking paint job. No mast. Sixties or seventies era. Strong, sturdy hull with pretty, traditional lines. Hell, she could even be an Alberg! Don’t think so, though. Her sheer is slung differently. More elegant.

Maybe it belongs to the creek person I just saw. He was catching oysters on a homemade barge constructed from an old dock and an outboard motor.