A burst of sedentary activity

January 16, 2019

Four posts in one day! And now I am caught up to the present, after every post in this blog to date was posted after the fact. To what do I owe such a burst of literary zeal? What caused the news muse to visit me? Uhh… 7 hours of daytime flying, on a business trip from Lima to Mexico City to Monterrey. I usually try to fly overnight but that wasn’t a good option for this route. I wasn’t tired and I can only read so much email before I start to burn out. So I got out the blog and started typing. In fact, most of my blog posts get written from airline seats.

It’s nice to be caught up, although I probably won’t have much to write about for the next few months…

Switching into winter mode


With the boat on the trailer in the driveway and with the mercury dropping, I have to switch to winter pursuits.  My sea kayak is my ticket to being on the water in the winter, and since I was focused on sailing Grey Fox this summer, the kayak didn’t get much attention. It’s begging for me to use it.  “Use me… abuse me…  paddle me… ride me hard and put me away wet…”  And with crappy weather I’ll have some time to actually work on my mandolin playing, since the mandolin stares at me from its stand. “Hold my [peg]head… caress my neck… make my strings quiver…”   

I also have a punch list of small repairs or improvements to do on Grey Fox, which will keep me in the shop for a few hours fabricating and installing things like new cover-batten sockets, shoulders on the mainmast so it can’t jump out of its step in a capsize, a new and improved footbrace for rowing, and an improved two-section rig for the mainsheet (I want to get a little mechanical advantage).  Plus a very small amount of paint and varnish touch-up, but happily the boat didn’t get too many dings or scratches over the season. 

The end of the season

October 6th

Alas, the sailing season has come to an end.  The floating dock which serves as Grey Fox’s den during the summer gets pulled in a couple of weeks, and I don’t want to wait until the very last moment to sail the boat away from the club and over to one of the nearest boat ramps where I can recover it onto the trailer.  Today presents nice weather, with air in the 60s and 10-12 knots of breeze predicted.   The wind is from the Northwest, so I’ll take out at Harbor Island Park in Mamaroneck, which is closer to downwind than heading the other direction for Glen Island Park in New Rochelle. 

I’m solo today so the recovery routine is:  put a bicycle into the back of the RAV4, hitch the trailer onto the car, and drive to the ramp in Mamaroneck.  Park the car and trailer, and use the bicycle to ride the three miles to Grey Fox over at HHYC.  Sail to Mamaroneck.  Recover the boat.

Then lament that there will be no more sailing until April or May.  😦

I’ve learned over the course of my first season in Grey Fox that when sailing alone in more than around 8 knots of wind, it’s best to put one reef in the main.  So I reef before putting the boat in the water.  Once out into the harbor, I hoist and enjoy the last sail of the year.  With the offshore breeze the water is smooth and the wind is gusty, but not too strong, so it’s great sailing.  Rather than heading straight for the harbor entrance in Mamaroneck, I sail past it and on to Milton Harbor in Rye (scene of the crime in the “Some Lessons You Have to Learn Twice” entry below).  

I indulge in a lengthy tour of the Hen Islands and Milton Harbor, dodging in and about all of the moored boats and up into the shallower reaches of the harbor.  Anything to prolong the last outing until Spring.  Careful not to cleat the mainsheet and also to not spill my beer (which is a challenge of sorts, as tiller + mainsheet + beer = 3 objects to hold onto but I only have the standard human complement of hands), I finish the tour and start to work my way to windward towards the Mamaroneck inner harbor entrance. 

The wind has now veered closer to due North so it’s pretty much dead upwind through the narrow channel into the inner harbor.   Thankfully, there’s not a lot of boat traffic late in the day this late in the boating season, and the few small powerboats coming in and out are ok to dodge me as I tack back and forth up the channel.  I am pleased at how close-winded this jib-less boat is, at least in smooth water and moderate winds. 

Conveniently the wind dies just about when I get near the dock and ramp. I have to row the last 200 yards.  This ramp, which can be as busy as Grand Central on summer weekends, is deserted so I can take all the time I need to get the boat onto the trailer.  By the time I’m done buttoning everything down and driving away, it’s starting to get dark.  

Here’s to Spring and a new season!!!

The benefits of a pretty big small boat

September 21st

Hmm…  that sounds kind of oxymoronic, or maybe just moronic – a big small boat?  Get your story straight, Mr. Blogger, it’s one or the other!

The Calendar Islands Yawl is, at just under 16 feet overall hull length,  a very large dinghy.  The beam is 5’2” at the fore-and-after center of the boat, and carries its beam aft to a 3’8” wide transom.   Dragging such a wide transom through the water would make for a slow sailer and a piggish rower, but Clint designed a lot of turn-up to the bilge aft, so that as long as the boat isn’t overloaded, the transom stays mostly above the water and the water can flow cleanly under it.

The beauty of all that beam, combined with no centerboard trunk (as the daggerboard trunk takes up not much space and it’s forward of the midships rowing thwart) is a great big cockpit with wraparound seating. Room for four people to sit, stretch their legs and be quite comfortable.

This weekend we had visitors, and Grey Fox had the pleasure of a crew of four for a leisurely harbor tour.  My old college friend Jeff, with whom I have done a particularly poor job of staying in touch, and his wife Louise joined me and my co-captain (in life, not in the boat, where I retain sole command…) for a wonderful Indian Summer weekend in New York.   The genesis for their visit was a text Jeff sent me on our wedding anniversary in July, which just happens to be the same day as Jeff & Lou’s anniversary.  Easy to remember! I texted back that it was great to hear from him and that we really should get together one of these days.  Or years. Yeah, yeah, I’m sure I have said that many times and never followed through, but this time we actually did, and I invited them to come visit after each of us had gotten our respective sons packed up and delivered back to college. Our guests escaped the lingering heat of Atlanta for some of the best weather of the year here in New York, which is what we hoped for in late September. 

We turned the event into a mini-college reunion my other college buddy Chris (he of the “A six hour vacation” August entry in this blog) and his wife Colette also joined us for Saturday brunch on the deck of our boat club, followed by a spin in the Fox.  Winds were light but sufficient to move the boat along, so we took a ~45-minute tour of Larchmont Harbor and nearby waters, which seemed delightful to my landlocked Georgian friends. 

Jeff, Colette, Louise

It was a great way to spend an afternoon near and on the water.   We capped off the day with a trip into Manhattan for dinner and a Broadway show.  We saw Come From Away, an incredibly inspiring true story of the goodness of human beings at the worst of times, the time in question being 9/11/2001 and the circumstance being the unplanned landing of more than 7,000 strangers from all over the world in a little town of only 9,000 residents in Newfoundland when 37 airliners crossing the Atlantic were diverted due to the closure of US airspace.  The Newfoundlanders took in the strangers with an incredibly selfless embrace for nearly a full week, stretching the available resources but not the locals’ hospitality.  Having witnessed the fall of the World Trade Towers from my office in midtown, and still harboring awful memories of what I saw, I was tremendously moved by this musical.  To call it a “feel-good” experience would sound like a tacky movie critic blurb and not come close to doing it justice.

Further reflections on the risks of sailing an open boat

September 9th

Yesterday’s little adventure was, as Marcia said, all well because it ended well.   But it has gotten me worked up. 

In calm water, with the big flotation tanks it has, Grey Fox floats plenty high, is reasonably stable and stays upright even full of water and with sails still up, and it’s not that hard to bail it out.  If “help” hadn’t come along, I think I would have had it completely bailed out in about 10 minutes.  No problem.  

And as long as I was tending the mainsheet, we never had a moment when it felt like we would have a problem.  Our swamping was due only to my stupidity in tying down the sheet. I couldn’t let off the sails fast enough, and the boat didn’t have enough steerage way for me to just head it up into the wind. If I’m actively working the mainsail and the tiller I can respond, as I did with no real anxious moments while we were out in the big waves. The risk of the boat going over when properly sailed is low.

Sure, but…

What matters is not just the level of risk, but the consequences of a screw-up.

WHAT IF we had swamped out in the big waves in the Sound?  I don’t think we could have bailed the boat out.   The boat may have been very unstable in those waves, and with limited freeboard the waves would probably just come over the gunwale faster than we could bail.

WHAT IF the water had been 58 degrees instead of 75?  It’s often that cold in Maine in the summer.  10 minutes in 58-degree water could definitely be hypothermia-inducing.  I could have been literally bailing for my life. 

Food for thought.   In water where your chance of summoning timely help is slim, you shouldn’t be out in this type of boat in rough conditions.  Better to stay ashore and wait for better weather. Go get a lobster roll. 

In water where the time to rescue yourself is short due to water temperature, you should be suited up in a wetsuit or a drysuit.  I go kayaking in the middle of winter in a drysuit and if I go into the 35-degree water, it’s manageable.  I can get back in the kayak in a minute or two, and then empty my kayak of what little water it takes on in a couple more minutes.  The drysuit probably buys me 5-10 minutes of remaining functional in that water temp, although my hands would become useless a lot faster.    

15 minutes sitting only half-submerged in 58-degree water to bail out Grey Fox would be no problem in a wetsuit, and once bailed out I would still be warm enough to sail the boat to some (hopefully) nearby shore. 

I think I’ll pack wetsuits for next summer’s trip to Maine just for the day where conditions are a bit dicey. Of course, like life jackets and bike helmets, they only work if you put them on in advance of your accident…