Wednesday, May 27, 2015

My Love/Hate Relationship With Instagram

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....

Saturday, May 23, 2015

In Over My Head

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.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Hangover Cove and Shenanigans Island

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.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Ginger Lime Cubes: A Practical Sailor's Concoction

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.

6. Wait a minute or two, and you'll have a perfectly chilled and flavored, yet not watered down, Dark 'N Stormy. If you are the impatient sort, stirring will help pass the time, even though it won't really help anything melt.

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.)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Perfect Sailing Partner

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..)

Friday, May 8, 2015

Dead Calm: My First Time Sailing

This is Lucid.

Lucid at dock

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, 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....)

Thursday, May 7, 2015

What's In A Name: Nautography

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.

Tred Avon River at dusk, Oxford,MD

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

About Me

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.

Under Construction

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.