Something I'm rather fond of doing with my daughter Abby is wandering around to a few "beaches" in Annapolis in search of, well, stuff. Driftwood, shells, and various bits of flotsam are our usual haul. But one recent Saturday we came across something a bit bigger.
We pulled up to the Ellen O. Moyer Nature Park at Back Creek, which has a little cove off of Back Creek where things tend to wash up, near dusk. There's less driftwood and more trash this far up the creek, but it's still fun to check. But this time what we found wasn't trash, it was a derelict dinghy. It was half-deflated, only barely floating, and judging from the amount of accumulated dirt and grime had been adrift for some time. It still had a painter* that was within reach of the shore, so I pulled it in out of the water.
My immediate concern was to prevent it from becoming a hazard to navigation, but there wasn't anything sufficiently heavy to anchor it. Given enough time I likely could have improvised something, but since it was going to be getting dark soon I had to settle for pulling it ashore and hoping that the tide didn't carry it out of the cove. My other concern was seeing if I could identify who the owner was and possibly returning their lost dink to them, so I took several pictures of the craft, including its Maryland registration number, while I still had light.
The next morning, I returned to the cove with some equipment in order to properly secure the wayward dinghy until I could identify its owner. As I had suspected it would, the tide had shifted its position but fortunately it hadn't gone far. Now it was on the opposite side of the cove very near to the A-dock of Port Annapolis Marina. With a little effort (and only a slight bit of cold water down the top of one waterproof boot), I managed to get the dinghy ashore and properly secured so that it wouldn't drift out into the creek and become a nuisance.
On Monday, I contacted the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to inform them of the situation and ask for assistance with contacting the owner. Shortly thereafter, the owner called me directly to confirm the condition and location of the dinghy.
As is wont to happen to a sailor who doesn't own their own boat, I have spent most of the latter half of 2015 on dry land. I've still been posting photos on Instagram, learning how to turn driftwood into something resembling art, and I even had a random dinghy salvage adventure that almost got its own post (and probably should have now that I think about it), but I haven't actually been sailing or doing much sailing-related stuff*. Such a pity.
Well, fortunately that will be changing in the near future. I'm in the process of booking a charter sailing trip in the BVI for Sara & myself and her mom Cathy for this coming April. I've been taking notes as I go along and plan on 'blogging the entire process from booking, through travel preparations, and the trip itself. The Annapolis racing circuit should also be getting back into gear around that point, so I'm looking forward to a very eventful 2016.
*Note to self: I posted back in July about having time to process a bunch of pictures and videos. July. Half a year ago. I must remedy this....
I am below deck in the cabin of a gently rocking sailboat. On the table in front of me is a chart, an array of plotting tools, a calculator, and a stopwatch. My only information regarding the outside world is coming to me via the companionway from our helmsman, Andy. He reads me off our speed, heading, and depth sounder readings intermittently and lets me know if he can see anything within 100 yards or so in the water. On deck, assisting Andy in keeping watch, is Mark.
My task is simple: navigate a 37' sailboat up the South River without grounding us using only a 100 yard sphere of information from the outside world, a chart, some basic tools, and my skill as a navigator.
Courtesy of NOAA
At the beginning of this exercise, the Fl (2+1) R 6s* buoy off of Saunders Point was directly off of our port beam and we were in 18 feet of water. Our boat draws about 6 feet of water, so my goal is to keep us in waters deeper than 10 feet; this not only allows me some margin of error, it also allows me to roughly follow the 12-foot depth contour on the chart if need be. I spend a moment looking at the chart and devise a plan. I need visible landmarks to verify our position, so I decide to plot a course that takes us close to navigational markers as we move up the river.
My first waypoint is the #4 red buoy (Fl R 2.5s), which is to our north near the mouth of the river. The water shallows up very quickly beyond the buoy so to allow for some margin of error I plot our course to pass slightly west of the buoy. According to my calculations, it should take about 9 minutes until the buoy is visible.
With our course plotted and the instructions relayed to Andy, all I can do is wait. To help pass the time, I inquire occasionally as to our depth but in this region the bottom is relatively flat so it varies little as we progress. 9 minutes come and go and there is still no sign of the buoy. My heart starts beating a little bit faster and I quickly review my calculations. Had I forgotten something? Were we off course?
Before I start to doubt myself too much, Andy yells down to me that he sees the buoy just off of our starboard bow, right where it should be. I make a quick mental note of the extra time it took; was that due to tidal currents, which I hadn't accounted for, or was it just an error in estimating our initial position? But those matters would have to wait because I needed to relay our next leg to Andy, which takes us northwest straight to the #5 green buoy off of Turkey Point.
There is a shallow bar between our current position off of red #4 and the next waypoint. My first instinct is to plot a course around the bar, but instead I plot a course right over it. Placing faith in our depth sounder and the quick reflexes of our helmsman I decide to use the bar as a way of establishing our position. We are only making about 5 knots through the water, so once our depth sounder reads 10 feet Andy can simply turn us to starboard to clear the bar. After we round the bar we'll have a reasonably good fix on our position.
At least, that's my plan.
Andy steers his course to the Turkey Point buoy, and I wait. After a few minutes, the water beneath us starts shallowing up.
10 feet. As per my instructions, Andy turns us 10 degrees to starboard to clear the bar.
9 feet. I have Andy turn us another 10 degrees.
8 feet. I have Andy turn us another 10 degrees, and I start to wonder if my plan to use the bar as a fix was too bold of a move. If we are further south on the bar than I planned we would have to make a much larger course correction than I had allowed for.
12 feet. I have Andy begin to turn us to port to resume our course to the Turkey Point buoy and breathe a quiet sigh of relief. My plan had worked, we were back on course, and I now had a much better fix on our location.
This goes on for another several legs and we make it about halfway from the mouth of the river to the bridge at Edgewater. Over time, Andy & I fall into a steady rhythm and sailing the boat blind seems almost natural. My calculations get more and more accurate so that we hit our last waypoint almost exactly when I think we should. At this point, Mark comes back the cockpit from his position on the bow and congratulates both of us on a job well done.
It's not actually foggy out; it's a perfectly clear day and Mark & Andy both had well over a mile of visibility and access to a GPS chartplotter in the cockpit. Mark isn't just a crew member keeping watch, he's a Royal Yachting Association sailing instructor and Andy & I are his students. This whole experience had been a teaching exercise meant to simulate sailing under poor visibility conditions with limited outside information. I can't speak for Andy's experience on the helm, but this certainly increased my confidence as a navigator.
If you are a sailor and ever have occasion to try blind navigation under good visibility conditions, I highly suggest that you try it. It is a bit stressful, but also very rewarding.
*This is nautical chart lingo for a buoy with a flashing red light that repeats a 2 + 1 flash pattern every 6 seconds.
I realized today that it's been almost a month since I published a post. In my defense, this has certainly not been due to lack of interest, instead it has been due to a decided lack of down time. Since my last post I have:
1. Turned 40 and celebrated appropriately.
2. Done an overnight distance race on the Chesapeake (The Race to Solomons) and the return sail back to Annapolis.
3. Spent a week on a boat on the Chesapeake (including three separate races) earning my RYA Day Skipper practical certification.
4. Spent a week in Pensacola (my second this summer), including a short trip to New Orleans (my first time there ever).
5. Chartered my first sailboat less than a week after being properly qualified to do so.
6. Managed, somehow, to squeeze in some work and sleep.
At the helm of my very first sailboat charter. Note the massive grin.
I have a lot of pictures and video footage to process and post, along
with stories to write up. Fortunately, I have no special travel or
sailing plans for August so I'm hoping to use the time to play
The Princess Bride is one of my all-time favorite movies, and I have yet to meet anyone who has seen it and not at least liked it. Most folks I've talked to about it love it just like I do. I grew up watching it and was mesmerized by the story, the adventure, the swordplay, and the witty interludes between Peter Falk and Fred Savage.
But upon further reflection, I've also realized that it may also secretly be one of the best sailing movies of all time. How so? Just look at the plot in summary form:
1. Boy finds girl
2. Boy goes sailing
3. Boy gets lost at sea
4. Boy becomes a pirate
5. Boy finds girl again
6. Boy saves girl
7. They live happily ever after
Tell me that there isn't a sailor out there who hasn't dreamed of living this out at least once? Finding true love, going off to sail the world, coming back to said true love and living happily ever after? The only thing that would be better is if the true love came along with you to share in your adventures, but I think that would have made for a less compelling movie.
I'd say that makes for a great sailing movie, even if only in an abstract sense. If I ever buy a boat, I'll almost certainly keep a copy on board to watch after a tough day storming the castle.
My trip sailing from Newport to Maine was fantastic, but it was also educational. I learned a lot, and also got some old lessons refreshed or reinforced. In no particular order, here is a sample of what I (re)learned.
1. Clothing is critical. On land, I'm a huge fan of cotton clothes. They're soft, comfortable, inexpensive, stretch just enough, and can be pretty durable. However, they have one critical shortfall that makes them far less ideal when on a boat: they hold onto moisture like a sponge. Once cotton gets wet, it stays wet for a long time. And since everything gets wet on a boat on a long passage, this means that if you wear cotton you'll likely be wet all the time. I switched over to various microfiber/polyester/spandex for sailing blends before this trip, and I was quite satisfied. (And dry) But even with quick-drying, moisture-wicking, breathable poly-blends, after 24 hours of wearing the same clothes, especially if you're moving around on deck a lot or otherwise working up a sweat, you'll start getting a little raw in spots. After we arrived in Provincetown, I definitely started noticing this so I picked up some baby powder while we were ashore and, after judicious application to the affected areas, had no more chafing problems. I plan to pack baby powder on overnight passages from now on. And finally, dress in layers. You want to wear the minimal amount of clothing necessary to keep you warm and dry because being hot and sweaty under a too-heavy winter coat will serve you almost as poorly as being cold and wet under a too-light windbreaker. My primary foul weather jacket is windproof and waterproof, thin enough to not be hot in warm weather, but big enough for me to layer up to keep warm if need be. A great combination in my (limited but still growing) experience.
2. Every boat owner should buy a GoPro and a good, sturdy selfie-stick. No, I'm not assuming that all boat owners are vain, selfie-obsessed millennials. Being able to jam a GoPro under water and look at the hull while still on board, or even at dock, makes diagnosing potential problems below the waterline a far easier task. This is especially true if you're in New England without a wetsuit and the water is only 50-ish degrees. Even if you're in the tropics and would love to take a swim in the warm water, you still don't want to go swimming in marina water if you can help it because many places don't bother with holding tanks for their heads. (Yes, they pump their poo straight into the water. Yuck.) In addition, if you need to get a look at something on the other side of that transmission or just beyond where you can reach your head in a lazarette, a GoPro could be very handy as well. Oh, and it's great for taking video and pictures of you actually sailing as well.
3. You can't do it all, so do what you can. On this trip, I was by far the least experienced sailor of the three people aboard. I knew it and they knew it. I didn't try to do anything that was beyond my abilities, and they didn't ask anything of me that I couldn't handle. This meant that I ended up with a lot of seemingly menial tasks like repeatedly stowing and unstowing all of my gear in my berth, tidying up lines when they weren't in use, and crawling around the lazarette to the very stern to inspect some bolts for tightness and leaks. Note, I said "seemingly menial" because in reality each of those tasks was important. My bunk was in the central part of the main salon, so if I hadn't regularly stowed my gear, it would have been all over the place getting in the way and possibly getting damaged. Same with tidying the lines; if we had needed to reef sail in a hurry and our lines had been a tumbled mess, that could have been tragic. And those bolts? They were holding the rudder on and after sailing through rough conditions before arriving in Newport, Beth wanted to be absolutely certain that they were on solidly. By taking care of the little stuff, I freed up Beth and Michael to handle the big stuff. Stuff like plotting our course, navigating us through a few tricky channels, and comforting me as I hurled my guts out over the rail shortly after leaving Newport*. Yeah, that happened.
4. Sleep when you can. When doing overnight sails, you need to set up a watch schedule in advance and stick to it as best you can. For this trip, we settled on 3-hour watches. In anticipation of my watch the night after departing Provincetown, I took a short nap during the day once we were underway. As this was the first night sail for "the new guy", Beth and Michael kindly agreed to stay up with my on my watch from 9-midnight; Beth stayed up for the first half as she was just coming off watch and Michael the second half as he was on after me. After my watch, Beth was still sleeping and the visibility had deteriorated considerably so I stayed up with Michael to serve as a second set of eyes to watch the fog and our sails. I would snooze for 10-15 minutes in the cockpit, poke my head up and look around, check with Michael for anything unusual, then close my eyes again. The nap I had taken earlier proved invaluable at this point. When Beth came on at 3, Michael stayed up with her and I went below to sleep for a few hours. After all was said and done, I had slept about the same amount as I would have in the same period on land, just broken up into multiple smaller segments, so when we arrived in Camden I was wide awake. 5. Modesty on cruising boats isn't really a thing. While some newer boats in the 30-40 foot range will have two or even three enclosed cabins, most older cruising boats that size only have one, and it's usually the V-berth at the head of the boat. Solstice (A Tartan 37) falls into this latter category with an enclosed V-berth forward, three berths in the main cabin, and a double berth (technically a double, but the smallest double I've ever seen) at the port quarter behind the nav station. As the skipper and owner, Beth claimed the enclosed berth forward. Michael took the quarter berth behind the nav station, and I claimed the "pilot's berth" amidships starboard. While my berth was surprisingly comfortable given its small size, it afforded me zero privacy, and neither did Michael's. Changing in the head, while possible, was complicated by its cramped size, especially in rolling seas. Fortunately, while underway there where usually two of us on deck so whoever was below would have the salon to themselves. In spite of this, I'm pretty sure we all saw each other in our skivvies at one point or another, and nobody seemed to mind. We're all grownups, right?
6. Every serious sailor needs a good head lamp. Preferably one with both a red night light and a white spotlight. If you're busy sailing a boat, chances are that you're using both hands for something so having a hands-free source of light in dark environments becomes essential. But a good head lamp is just as useful in the less obvious situations, like when you're hanging upside down in the lazarette trying to grab something at the bottom or reaching around to the side of the engine to check fluid levels.
7. Foulies aren't just for foul weather. A good set of foul weather gear is essential for any sailor for obvious reasons: you can't control the weather and sometimes you it will be cold and rainy. But, in addition to that, foulies are great to wear if you're cleaning the topsides and hosing things off zealously, and if you're feeling the urge to identify yourself as a sailor when you go ashore wearing your foul weather jacket is a sure-fire way to do it.
There is much, much more that I learned that I can't really condense into text, but this was a pretty good summary. I hope you enjoyed reading about it because I certainly enjoyed living it.
* I am 85% convinced that this was the result of me drinking coffee that morning and not purely sea-sickness, but the only way I'll know is to go out again....
Imagine that you are on a sailboat at night. The seas are rolling, but not too roughly, the wind is blowing, but not too strongly, and rain is falling, but not too harshly. The sky is overcast so there are no stars to navigate by nor moonlight to illuminate your surroundings. The only light that you can see is the dim glow of a few instruments in the cockpit and a steady stream of tiny, white-blue flashes of light cast by bio-luminescent sea life in your wake.
Gradually, the wind shifts and lessens and shortly thereafter a thick fog besets your vessel. This fog, aside from reducing your visibility, has the singular effect of blurring the horizon as it blends in with the clouds overhead. Instead of a clean transition from sea to sky, it now appears as if the water you are sailing on is gradually evaporating and encompassing you. For all you know, the world beyond the several hundred yards that you can see has ceased to exist.
Just a dark sphere of water and vapor punctuated by brief flashes of light.
The effect is not frightening. On the contrary, it is rather calming. Your entire focus is centered on you immediate proximity. No thoughts of work, nor home, nor missed loved ones. Your only thoughts are of sailing your vessel and keeping to your course.
It is surreal.
If you can picture this in your imagination, then you have a pretty good idea of what I was experiencing at roughly 2AM on Saturday, June 13th, 2015 somewhere in the Gulf of Maine.
*I'd have asked you to close your eyes, but that would have made reading the rest of the post rather difficult....
I'm back and mostly recovered from my first sailing trip to New England. It was an awesome trip that threw us a few curveballs but was still an incredibly enjoyable experience that I would gladly do again. I'm processing GoPro videos and compiling my notes to start hammering out posts. I'm hoping to do one for each day of the trip plus a few other posts for specific items and experiences. Needless to say, it will take me a while to get it all published.
Your patience will be rewarded. I promise.
For now, here's the first video I've processed. It's a timelapse of the sun setting over Solstice in Newport harbor. Enjoy.
Sorry I haven't put up a post lately. I've got a lot on my plate that, fortunately, should translate into some great posts pretty soon. In the past week I got my first GoPro (a Hero4 Silver) and took the written exam for my RYA Day Skipper certification, in addition to, you know, working.
Using my new GoPro to take a time-lapse video of a sunset
Tomorrow night, I'm driving up to Newport, RI to meet Solstice, which will have just finished the Annapolis to Newport Race, and then sailing it up to Buck's Harbor, Maine. Hopefully, I'll have some good pictures, videos, and stories to tell about that trip, which will be my first open ocean sail.
Speaking of that trip, you may have noticed a map on the right sidebar. That map is courtesy of a web-based service called Farkwar and it allows sailors, or really anyone, to update their position on a map while using very limited resources. I'm not sure how often I'll be able to update it while I'm sailing to Maine (I don't know what kind of comms gear the boat has), but I'll update it when I can. Be sure to check it out and follow me!
For those of you who aren't familiar with one, this is a mast:
Mast, shrouds, stays, spreaders, lights, lines, and radome, in no particular order.
It's the tall, skinny thing on a sailboat that the sails hang off of. There are usually an abundance of lines going from various places, especially the top (called the masthead) to the hull. This is all pretty basic stuff that anyone with even a passing knowledge of sailing should be aware of.
What a lot of non-sailors don't appreciate is that every so often, someone has to get to the top of the mast in order to do stuff. Stuff like add new instruments, fix broken parts, or run new lines. There are a lot of ways to scale a mast, but one of the most common is called a bosun's chair. It's a lot like a rock-climbing harness, and in fact a rock climbing harness can easily be used instead of a bosun's chair. In essence, a bosun's chair is some piece of sturdy material connected to some rope or webbing that is in turn connected to a line (preferably a halyard) running from the top of the mast back down to the deck.
Why am I going on about masts and bosun's chairs and halyards?
Because I just recently scaled a mast for the first time, that's why.
I'm getting ready to do my first open ocean sail with my friend Beth on her boat Solstice. As part of the prep work, she wanted to run a spare halyard up to the mast and back down to the deck for use in the event of an emergency. I was on the boat at her marina with her a couple of other folks, and seeing as I was both the lightest and most athletically inclined person on the boat at the time, I volunteered.
Mind you, I'm not afraid of heights and I'm not entirely unfamiliar with climbing equipment, having spent some time in college rock climbing. One huge plus that scaling a mast has over rock climbing is the presence of strong winches*. Scaling a mast when being winched up is less like climbing and more like assisting while someone else does all of the heavy lifting, which is very nice. But, unlike rock climbing, there are some nuances to scaling a mast that I had not anticipated.
First and foremost, I had to navigate the maze of lines. This was less like climbing and more like a vertical obstacle course. If I wasn't careful, I'd have gotten tangled in a wayward lazy jack or shroud and had to go back down a ways to fix it. Not fun.
Once I got to the top, I couldn't just repel down, I had to move myself around and maintain my balance while actually doing the work. This was much more work than I had anticipated, and my abs, butt, and legs got one heck of a workout.
And lastly, coming down isn't just like repelling down a rock face because not only do you have to navigate that maze of lines again, you have to do it with sore and/or tired abs and legs. Urk.
But all things considered, it was totally worth it. Not only do I feel better having that emergency halyard run, there's pretty much no place else where you can take pictures like this:
Hey, you, quit lookin' at my butt!
*There are also so-called self-climbing bosun's chairs that let you ratchet your way up, and then there's the damned fools who just free-climb the mast. I'll stick with the mechanical advantage thank you very much.
I am a relatively new Instagram user. Until I started Nautography, I didn't need any kind of dedicated platform to share pictures beyond Facebook or perhaps Twitter. But given that one of my stated goals is to share my experiences by way of my pictures, it made sense to try it.
Three weeks into this, I've developed a classic love/hate relationship with Instagram. Let me break it down for you:
1. Easy to use. It took me all of a few minutes to make an account and get it up and running. Set up a profile, find some folks to follow, and start posting pics. Boom. Instagram even does a good job suggesting other users for you based on what you post and who you follow.*
2. Versatile. You can just post quick pics, apply one of their pre-canned filters, or tweak attributes manually to get the image you want. I'm very much new to digital photo editing, but I'm amazed by what you can do on just your phone.
3. Mobile. Take it with you anywhere. Post pics you just took or have already taken. It's like having a miniature photo studio in your pocket.
4. Vast number of images. There are so may pictures on Instagram. So. Many. Pictures. I've already gotten some ideas about how to frame shots and what subjects to shoot just from browsing the suggested photos.
1. Square images. For the love of all that is good and holy, WHY AM I STUCK WITH SQUARE IMAGES? For as long as I can remember, I have loved a good wide-angle, panoramic picture. I'd wager that over half of my existing photos will never be Instagram-worthy because I took advantage of some decidedly non-square field of view. Tall ships and ocean sunsets do not conveniently square images make!
I have started sorting my photo library into shots that are Instagram-worthy, and those that aren't. Given that I have a wealth of wide-angle images wasting away, I'd like to institute a new tradition: Wide-Angle Wednesday! My inaugural contributions are a pair of panoramic pictures (with a bit of digital enhancement post-scan) that I took with my old Kodak Advantix camera.
Sunset over the Pacific, San Diego, 2002
Point Loma, 2002
Enjoy! And happy #WideAngleWednesday!
*I will admit, this is a bit creepy, and at first Instagram thought I was a surfer who liked punk rock chicks. But as I post more, follow more people, and have more people follow me, the suggestions are a bit more...on point....
My good friend Ryan has been working for several years restoring a 41' Formosa Ketch that he has named Lucid on the Bay. At various points in the restoration work, which has been long and challenging, I imagine that he's had far less pleasant things to call her. I just call her "Momma", in reference to his other boat which I call "Baby". One of the big early projects was getting the bow pulpit re-finished and re-installed. Aside from improving Momma's looks, the pulpit serves another very particular purpose: it houses the anchor rollers. Without the pulpit, you could only anchor by unceremoniously throwing the anchor over the side.
My, what a large pulpit you have....
As good a job as the riggers did reattaching everything, they got one thing wrong: the anchors. They weren't in the right rollers and they weren't attached to the right rodes. It was a minor hassle as the boat could still be anchored, but it was a hassle nonetheless. On our first "Guys Trip" after getting the pulpit installed, I took it upon myself to get familiar with the ground tackle and see about getting it all sorted out.
On the second morning of our trip, we were in Saint Michaels having spent the night at anchor there. We had been forced to use the oversized sea anchor and heavy rode to anchor, and after getting underway that morning nobody as looking forward to doing that again. We pulled up to the fuel dock by Saint Michaels Crab & Steak House to top off and pump out before heading to Hangover Cove to spend our second night. I had gotten the anchor rodes and the windlass sorted out by then and but still had to swap the anchors to the right rollers and attach them to their proper rodes. I figured that doing this at the fuel dock would be a good idea because the boat would be relatively steady, so I set about my work.
This is where I made a fundamental mistake: I removed the rode from the primary anchor without attaching anything else to the anchor first. The road hadn't been under any tension before, so I thought that the weight and angle of the anchor in the roller was sufficient to hold it for the 5 seconds it would have taken me to get the shackle for the second rode on.
I was wrong.
Before I could comprehend what was happening, I heard this loud, disheartening SPLOOSH! The anchor had shifted and fallen out of the roller before I could get the proper rode attached. We evaluated our options, and given the nigh opaque water involved, we decided it was best to not just hop right in after it. We continued on the remainder of our trip, forced to use the oversized sea anchor and too-heavy rode again for our next stay, and we started discussing options for how to remedy the situation.
Anyone who has bought an anchor for a sailboat will tell you that they are not cheap. Ryan & I spent the next week considering alternatives and finally settled on a course of action: I had lost the anchor, so I would go in after it. I am, among other things, a certified Scuba diver*. I had very little experience and I was hesitant to dive in zero-visibility water, but I figured that overcoming my fear and gaining some experience was a better option than forking over close to a thousand dollars for a new anchor.
We arranged a time with the fuel dock operators and Ryan, myself, and his friend Chris drove out to Saint Michaels in search of Ryan's anchor. I spent about half an hour, and the better part of a tank of air (which is quite a feat in only ten feet of water) figuring out how to navigate the bottom without getting turned around and, quite frankly, overcoming the irrational, abject fear that hit me every time my face hit that opaque water. I was up and down more often than the stock market in that first half hour. It took me several times down to be able to even able to let go of the pilings holding up the fuel dock We had a rough idea of where the anchor was, but my search efforts were being wholly inefficient and we were running out of time.
This is where I would have posted an underwater picture if any such pictures wouldn't have turned out looking like something out of a sewer.
Eventually, I figured out how to move about in something akin to a logical search pattern. I had given up on fine buoyancy control and was just on my hands and knees trudging through the muck. We knew that the anchor was within ten feet of the dock on the bottom, so I took down a boat hook and, holding it in my right hand, used it to keep myself a fixed distance from the dock while using my left arm to sweep out a full forward arc in front of me. After each arc, I crawled a foot forward and repeated.
It turns out that there is a lot of stuff on the bottom at a marina. Almost every time I swept my arm out, I hit something, often times multiple things. But all of it was small, relatively light, and definitely not Ryan's anchor.
And then...thump. I felt something big. I let go of the boat hook (which, thankfully, was attached to me so I didn't lose it as well) and got both of my hands on whatever it was. I ran my hands over it, and realized that this was it. This was the anchor! Now I just needed to get a line on it. This had been hard to find once and I didn't want to have to find it again. I picked it up and moved it over to one of the dock pilings so I would know exactly where it was. I surfaced, announced my find, took the line back down and attached it, and Ryan pulled up his anchor.
Is that the sweet smell of victory, or the dank smell of marina water?
We announced our victory to our friends who were waiting at home to hear the outcome, I got cleaned up, and the three of us retired to the neighboring restaurant for dinner and a beer. The whole search had taken only forty-five minutes including the thirty minutes spent acclimating. But it felt like a lifetime in the moment. To this day, whenever handling large items on Ryan's boat or posting pictures of sails with him, someone is sure to crack a joke about not losing anything overboard. I don't mind though; it serves as a reminder that I am able to conquer my fears and do what needs to be done, and I rather like that. *My original Scuba instructor, one George Knode, always made a point to tell his students to not get in over their heads. It's an obvious pun, yet still good advice. Thanks George.
There are few things I enjoy more than finding a nice anchorage, securing the boat, and partaking of some food and drink with friends before either turning in for the night or continuing on our way. One of my favorite such anchorages is a spot found by my friend Ryan in the Rhode River off of the Chesapeake Bay. It's just far enough off of the Bay to be sheltered from wind and waves, but it's relatively central and easy to get to.
As any good sailor knows, you can't navigate a sailboat by way of Google Maps. Here's an excerpt of the appropriate NOAA chart showing the anchorage in more detail:
As you can see, one of the islands shown on Google isn't really there anymore. Ironically, the now-missing island is called "High Island". Typically, we will anchor to the southeast of Big Island; there is usually plenty of room, the water is deep, and the bottom is relatively easy to anchor in. Be cautious when navigating into or out of the area though; the bottom here is prone to shifting and if you stray out of the channel you're likely to get grounded. Fortunately though, the bottom is relatively soft and getting yourself unstuck is possible. (Yes, I'm speaking from experience)
I've been here numerous occasions with Ryan, sometimes to spend the afternoon, sometimes to spend the night, and it's always fun. Often times after staying the night, however, one or more of the folks aboard will be, shall we say, a bit under the weather due to the previous nights revelry. As such, we started affectionately referring to this spot as Hangover Cove.
Part of what makes Hangover Cove a good place to anchor is the presence of Flat Island, which is a small, mostly wooded island that has a few paths hacked through the trees and a tiny spit of a beach that is perfect for landing a dinghy on. If you don't feel like cooking on the boat, or are just looking for an excuse to launch your dinghy, a trip to Flat Island is most certainly in order. Given the opportunity for hilarity on dinghy rides, and since Flat Island is such a nondescript name, we've taken to calling it Shenanigans Island.
So if you're sailing in the Chesapeake just south of Annapolis and are looking for a good spot to anchor for a rest or a meal, find the Rhode River and give Hangover Cove a go.
Mariners of ages past had to contend with, among other things, two issues dealing with nutrition: Scurvy, and bad water.
Scurvy is a rather nasty, and potentially fatal, condition brought on by a lack of Vitamin C in ones diet. It's cause was long a mystery, but even before it was isolated in the 20th century, it was often treated with fresh fruit, particularly citrus.
Unclean water in unclean containers tends to go bad in short order due to the presence of bacteria, mold, or other contaminants. Since the notion bacteria, mold, and other contaminants wasn't really understood until relatively recently, vessels going on long journeys started to substitute beer for water because, unlike water, it didn't go bad. In some navies, this eventually took the form of the Rum Ration, even until quite recently.
Sailors have also long had a history of being heavy drinkers*. Looking at common drinks associated with sailors, it's not too far of a stretch to think that the combination of citrus and rum on sailing vessels and in ports of call over the course of centuries had a strong influence on what they drank. One of my favorite "sailor's" drinks, one that I will often enjoy after a day of sailing, is a Dark 'N Stormy. The recipe calls for dark rum and ginger beer to be served over ice with a wedge of lime. I find them quite delicious.
I am not typically one for messing around with a good thing, but there are two things that I admittedly don't like about Dark 'N Stormies: having my drink watered down by melting ice (true of any drink served on the rocks), and having to slice a lime after a hard day's sail just to enjoy a good drink (true of any drink requiring a wedge of citrus). These dislikes mulled around in my head for a while, and eventually I came up with an idea: replace the water in the ice cube with the ginger beer, and freeze a pre-sliced wedge of lime into the ice cubes.
After some trial and error (admittedly, and unfortunately, not on a boat yet), I came up with the Ginger Lime Cube:
1. Take one can of your favorite ginger beer and fill an ice cube tray with it. As fate would have it, one 12 oz. can will fill a typical ice cube tray almost perfectly. Coincidence?
2. Take a lime and cut four slices out of it, leaving the ends aside. Take those four slices and cut them each into quarters, yielding sixteen lime wedges. A typical ice cube tray has 16 slots. Again...coincidence?
3. Take the remaining parts of the lime (it should just be the ends) and give them a squeeze over the trays. We don't want to be wasteful.
4. Plop the ice cube tray into the freezer and wait.
At this point, you can take your Ginger Lime Cubes, pack them in a cooler with ice, cold packs, etc., and bring them along with you on a sail. Then, once you're ready for a drink:
5. Put two cubes into a cup (I prefer lowball glasses on land) and fill the cup with enough dark rum to cover the cubes.
This also works with one of my other favorite drinks, the Moscow Mule, which is essentially a Dark 'N Stormy but with vodka instead of dark rum. I like to think that it's popular with Russian sailors, but I don't really know. Maybe one day I'll find out.
So the next time you set sail, try bringing along some Ginger Lime Cubes to make your Dark 'N Stormies (or Moscow Mules, or any other drink with ginger beer and lime that you happen to like) and let me know what you think*.
*(Please drink responsibly, heed the Surgeon General's warnings about drinking while pregnant, don't operate any heavy machinery while intoxicated, and be sure that if you pass out that your friends have access to your phone to take embarrassing pictures of you.)
One of the things I enjoy most about sailing is the social aspect. I like getting to hang out with folks while on the hook, chatting with them while underway, and the teamwork involved as part of a crew. I have been blessed with an assortment of people who are an absolute pleasure to sail with, but one in particular stands out in my mind.
I met Sara in 2012, shortly after I first started sailing with my friend Ryan. One of our first "weekend away" trips was sailing with Ryan and a few others on a Sabre 28 across the Chesapeake Bay from Deale, MD to St. Michaels, MD. It was thoroughly enjoyable three-day weekend; both voyages had good wind and lots of sun, our suite at St. Michaels Marina was wonderful, the food we had around the harbor was delicious, and walking around the town to shop and explore was relaxing. We all had a fabulous time, and after this trip I knew that, despite our short time together, Sara & I were really going places.
We're coming up on three years as a couple, are now happily married, and have had several additional sailing adventures together: seeing the sights on the Potomac near DC, additional trips cruising on the Chesapeake, and a week with Ryan & Co. on a charter cat in the BVI. She's been a real trooper through it all, serving alternatively (and sometimes simultaneously) as ship's doctor (she's a registered nurse), ship's cook (she's amazing in the kitchen), and deckhand (she's slowly learning line handling and sail trim) in addition to being just a passenger. Most importantly though, she's been my motivation. Not only does she like the fact that I spend a lot of time sailing, often times without her, she actively encourages it. Without that encouragement, I likely wouldn't have taken the steps to complete my RYA Day Skipper, nor would I have gotten so much experience racing. I also certainly wouldn't have started this 'blog.
Heading home after our weekend in St Michaels
In a very real way, everything that you read here is a result of her loving encouragement of my dream to sail.
I've always felt that the perfect partner is the one who helps you figure out what you want, offers help and encouragement when necessary, and stays out of your way when you don't. Sara is all of those things and more to me, both in life and in sailing, which is why I feel I have found the perfect sailing partner.
Love you baby.
(Yes, I am a sappy sap, and this post is more about my lovely wife than actual sailing. It will happen, but hopefully not too often..)
She's a Catalina 25 that calls the Washington DC area of the Potomac River home. She is also the first sailboat I had ever been underway on* and, later, the first sailboat I ever skippered and the first I ever single-handed. Cat 25s are nice little boats; durable, easy to operate, and very forgiving of mistakes.
It was November of 2011 and Lucid's owner, my long-time friend and soon-to-be sailing mentor Ryan (whom I still affectionately refer to as "Skipper"), had arranged to take himself, myself, and three other long-time friends (known collectively "the guys") sailing. I can't speak for the other guys, but I was excited. It was my first time sailing and I was curious to see what it was like.
The trip was a lot of fun from a "hanging out with the guys" standpoint. We talked, we had a few drinks, and generally got to catch up. "The guys" have been friends since middle school, close to thirty years now, and we generally only get together once or twice a year. But when we do get together it's always a good time.
Blue sky, white sails, and...no wind
However, from a sailing standpoint I would later come to realize that the day was very, well, boring. There was almost no wind. We had to motor down past the Wilson Bridge before we could even put Lucid's sails up, and when we finally did, we just barely maintained steerage.
An underview of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge
We puttered around the Potomac just south of the Wilson bridge for a few hours, then we headed back to the dock. You're probably thinking to yourself that this sounds like a very dull sailing story, but in a way I think that's a good thing. I got introduced to sailing gradually; it wasn't until my second or third time out with Ryan that I experienced sufficient wind to heel the boat any great amount, and had I gotten hit with that on this day, I may not have come back. But since the day was so calm, I got to enjoy myself and take my first pictures on the water.
What are all these ropes for?
I had visited tall ships before so I had some concept of the vast
amount of ropes, cables, poles, etc. that went into making a sailboat
sail, but I had no idea that smaller sailboats also had such a
collection of ropes. I commented on this and Ryan gave me my very first
sailing lesson: "There are no ropes on a boat, only lines."
Years later, I still tell rookie sailors the same thing.
After a few hours of trying to sail, we gave up on the wind, dropped our sails, and motored back to the marina. I feel pretty comfortable saying that this day led me to my current love of sailing which has had a huge impact on my life. Thanks Skipper.
*(Strictly speaking, I had been on a sailboat underway before, but only once as a toddler. I don't remember that rather harrowing incident but, according to my father, it was a close call. But that's another 'blog post....)
When I was considering names for this 'blog, I tried taking all of the
components of what I want to cover (sailing, photography, and writing about my
experiences on the water) and cramming them all together into a single
name. I came up with all manner of odd and/or silly ones, but a phrase that stuck in my head was "Nautical
Photography". After discarding my other options and rolling this phrase around in my head, I shortened it to "Nautography" not knowing, or caring for that matter, if it was a real word.
I quickly did a Google search on the term "Nautography" and didn't find much in terms of a formal definition. Urban Dictionary defines it as "a description of the life of sailors." An excerpt from the 1824 Bibliotheca Britannica mentions "describing the Sea-coasts, Channels...and Dangers upon the Coasts of England." But despite all the powers of Google, no other formal definition of this word was readily available.
Perfect! I had a single word that summed up what I want to share, was somewhat uncommon in everyday use so it'd be easy to remember, and happened to be available both as a Blogspot name and a .com domain name. I couldn't imagine a better trifecta of 'blog naming, so I ran with it.
So that's how Nautography came to be.
And just because I feel bad putting up a post without a picture, here is a shot of dusk looking over the Tred Avon River in Oxford, MD after the 2014 NASS Oxford Race. Good times.
I've been a desk-jockey serving the analytical community of the US Navy for most of my adult life. My career has paid the bills well enough and it's challenging and reasonably enjoyable, but it's never been what I would consider satisfying. It's just a job to me, it's never been something I've been passionate about. I have always loved the ocean and seagoing vessels, sailboats in particular, and sometimes found myself daydreaming (at my desk, sadly) of sailing off to exotic lands instead of just running computer simulations involving warships. But I never knew that sailing was something that I could actually do.
Then one of my best friends bought a sailboat.
Since my first time sailing with him, I've felt this...pull. That was four years ago. In that time, I've gone sailing on my friend's boats (at various times, a Catalina 25 on the Potomac River, a Sabre 28 on the Chesapeake Bay, and a 41' Formosa Ketch, also on the Chesapeake), followed him down to the BVI to spend an amazing week on a 44' catamaran with friends and my (now) wife, gotten into the Annapolis yacht racing scene, started working on my RYA Day Skipper certification so I can charter boats on my own, and signed up for my first open-ocean sails this summer. I've learned a lot, had quite a few adventures, and met some truly amazing people.
I've also taken pictures. Piles and piles of pictures. Like this one of Sandy Spit in the BVI.
Sandy Spit, British Virgin Islands
Pretty amazing, right?
So what's a guy with an abundance of pictures, a penchant for telling stories about where said pictures came from, and a future unlikely to be lacking in either of those two things to do? Start a 'blog of course! I spent years missing out on these things that I love doing simply because I didn't know that I could be doing them. Now, I not only want to do what I love doing, I want to share it with others.
I've got big dreams for my sailing future, and I hope this 'blog becomes a productive way to share those dreams with everyone.
I consider myself a halfway decent sailor with a good eye for pictures and a creative flare for telling stories. Photo processing and website design, however, are not necessarily my strong suits. As such, it's pretty safe to consider the website to be a work in progress; I'll be figuring out layouts, backgrounds, sidebars, and such as I work on posts and albums.