Day 2 of the Small Reach Regatta

July 26th

Ok, so it’s really August 20th, and I am just getting around to posting something that happened a month ago. I have no future as a live blogger. But since I have no mass of followers eagerly awaiting my next pronouncement, I guess it’s ok. Most of my posts are composed from airline seats, when I have captive time on my hands to write. Today’s trip is from Mexico City back to New York, plenty of time for another post.

After two glorious days of warm, sunny and dry weather, it would not be surprising that Maine’s reputation for fog, cold and rain might catch up with us, but today is yet another perfect day to get out on the water.  There’s not a cloud in the sky, and the forecast is for light winds in the morning but maybe a bit more breeze in the afternoon. 

Today’s plan is for the fleet to set out from Herrick Bay and rather than do an out-and-back sail to some lunch spot, to make a one-way trip up the Eggemoggin Reach and anchor for the night just off the shore where the group is camping for the four days at Oceanfront Camping at Reach Knolls. For that to work, the fleet needs the tides and currents to work with us rather than flushing us down the reach just as we’re trying to make our way up it (up here being to the Northwest, or from Jericho Bay towards Penobscot Bay).  We also need a docile forecast for overnight, as the proposed anchorage is totally open to the Reach and would get dicey in any serious wind.   Fortunately the SRR Race Committee has that all figured out and the weather and tides are all lined up in our favor. 

I use the term “Race Committee” in jest; the organizers of SRR are as salty as can be, know these waters like the back of their hand and are very focused on the safety of the fleet.   But there’s no real racing at SRR, and not one of the organizers is sporting the traditional race committee garb of tomato-soup pants and blue blazers that you might see on the committee boat of, say, a New York Yacht Club regatta.  Of course, you don’t see any megabucks racing machines, kevlar/carbon sails or trophy 2nd wives at SRR either.  (Tom Wolfe called the latter “x-rays” in The Bonfire of the Vanities” because they were so thin that you could see their bones). 

And the competitiveness of the sailing is good-natured and not so serious:  on a downwind leg in super-light wind on a previous SRR, I saw the crew of one of the Caledonia yawls get out a couple of big beach umbrellas they carried and use them as spinnakers… this caused a nearby boat to cry foul for the unauthorized additional sail area, but I don’t recall a review of the purported foul by a Race Committee jury, no 720’s were performed, and the offending parasolers were not ejected from the day’s sail. 

I’m on Elyssa again today, and so is my erstwhile Grey Fox crewman John, so the longest boat in the SRR fleet might have the biggest crew today as well with six people.  Rather than make the one-way trip and anchor overnight off Reach Knolls, Susan plans to return to Atlantic Boat this afternoon.  That’s fine with me and will actually have us doing more sailing as the one-wayers.  The plan is to sail to  Campbell island on the south side of the Reach and just off of Deer Isle and anchor for lunch, then most of the fleet will make the short leg from there across the Reach to Reach Knolls, while a few boats will return to Atlantic Boat. 

Nobody’s moving very quickly, but nobody’s racing so who cares?

The wind is once again ultra-light in the morning, and we’re on the late side of the fleet in getting underway, so we lag most of the other boats.   It’s a patience contest all the way out of Herrick Bay and past Naskeag Point and Smuttynose Island into the eastern mouth of the reach.  Then we find some wind and make good time in the smooth waters in between the islands lining the south side of the Reach.

As we are a little late to the lunch spot, and have longer to go to get back to Atlantic Boat than the boats going to Reach Knolls, rather than anchoring or rafting up with some of the boats already on their lunch hooks, we just sail through the fleet a few times while Dave experiments with a 360-degree video camera that he has just bought for the SRR.   We get some funny looks, as Dave’s camera is at the end of a 3-foot pole and he looks like he is chasing an invisible butterfly with a net, so we yell at the other boats to smile and look nautical for the camera.

SRR boats rafted up for lunch at Campbell Island

After buzzing the fleet we head into the Reach and then eastward towards Jericho Bay and Herrick Bay.  The wind has kicked up to around 10-12 knots, which is when I would be tying in a reef if I were sailing solo on Grey Fox, but Elyssa is a much heavier boat and handles this kind of wind perfectly.   I have the privilege of steering for almost the entire trip back, which is just great. The sailing is such fun that we’re tempted to just keep on sailing all the way over to Pond Island before turning around to head back to Atlantic Boat, but we don’t want to hold up the chase boat crew that will be acting as yacht club launch ferrying crews from their moored boats to the dock, so we take a more direct route back.  

Another perfect day of sailing. 

The Small Boat Designer Hit Parade

The stroll down the beachfront small craft museum that is lunchtime at SRR, combined with a careful perusal of the SRR fleet guide, reveal some of the leaders in this arcane corner of boat design. I counted the following number of boats in this year’s SRR by designer. Here’s the hit parade:

#1 Iain Oughtred: 13 boats. The Australian/Scottish old man of the sea is the clear granddaddy of glued-lapstrake traditional small boats. He was a pioneer in glued-lapstrake construction, and a prolific interpreter of classic boat styles into glued-lapstrake plans and kits. In this year’s SRR fleet there are 8 Caledonia Yawls, an Arctic Tern, a Ness Yawl, a Penny Fee, a Fulmar, and a John Dory. Wow!

Geoff Kerr in his Oughtred Caledonia

#2 John C. Harris of Chesapeake Light Craft: 7 boats, including 3 Northeaster Dories and 2 Skerries. CLC is the volume leader in this little niche, and is probably responsible for turning more complete tool-newbies into boatbuilders than anyone else. My first sailboat build was a Northeaster dory, and the first rate kit parts (including all the solid timber pieces, pre-cut, milled and planed) and super-detailed instruction book made it easy to turn out a beautiful, high-quality boat. John has excelled in rendering classic boat types such as the Swampscott dory and the Whitehall into damn-close replicas with much-simplified “LapStitch” construction.

Two CLC Northeaster dories. Full disclosure: this photo is actually from SRR 2017

#3 John Gardner & Howard I. Chappelle: 5 boats (not counting the many other designs they inspired). I’ll group these two names because they were the guys who recorded the lines of all of these old small traditional craft so that we could re-create them after all of the old ones rotted away. They weren’t designers, they were preservationists. I think it’s safe to say that the Traditional Small Craft Association, and all of us traditional small craft nuts, wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Gardner’s and Chappelle’s work.

John Gardner literally “wrote the book” on dories, and this is one of them

#4 Michael Storer: 5 boats, all Goat Island Skiffs. The Aussie designer was onto something when he designed this poor-man’s racing & daysailing dinghy. He kept the design simple, inexpensive and super easy to build (all flat plywood panels). With its light weight, hard chines, nearly flat bottom and prodigious sail area, it’s fast as can be until big chop makes the flat bottom suboptimal. It probably doesn’t row as well as some of the more round-bottomed boats, but life is a series of trade-offs.

#5 John Welsford: 3 boats — a Navigator, a Pathfinder, and a Scamp. Welsford’s designs are built for cruising, and have more features incorporated for cruising than a lot of the other totally-open boats. At 12 feet in length, but with a cuddy cabin and ample freeboard, the Scamp must be the smallest pocket cruiser in existence that really deserves the name.

Lagniappe, a Welsford Pathfinder

I’ll stop counting at #5 but mention just a few other names. I was surprised not to see more Francois Vivier designs. They are beautiful and highly traditional in inspiration, but innovative in their construction design. The usual 2 or 3 Ilurs that have graced prior SRRs weren’t present this year…

I was disappointed not to see more Clint Chase designs, but that was partly my fault because one of them is Grey Fox and we didn’t manage to get the boat to Maine. Clint was represented by one of his Deblois Street Dories, and as kit-provider by some of the Goat Island Skiffs, for which he is the kit-cutting agent in the USA.

What Grey Fox would have looked like had it been in Maine for SRR…

And the Chuck Paine-designed Norseboats were the most prevalent factory-built boats in the SRR fleet. They seem to combine a traditional-inspired hull design with some decidedly modern features including a high aspect full-battened mainsail and a cockpit dodger. One even had a bimini top.

Norseboat with a decidedly not-too-Norse (more tropical really) bimini top

One of the coolest things about the SRR fleet is the incredible variety of boats. You could (and I did) learn a lot by scrutinizing the details of design and construction of all of these boats. And one of the most impressive things about the fleet is the quality of workmanship in the boats. Many of the owner-built boats are just gorgeous, and benefit from a level of detail in the finishing of the boats that would be beyond what is economical for a production boatbuilder to do– certainly for a small boat that wouldn’t have a market if the price were too high.

Let’s get small… Day One at the Small Reach Regatta

July 25th

John and I are in Maine and managed to get in a great day of kayaking in Merchants Row, and now the Small Reach Regatta is about to begin. 65 or so small, mostly wooden, mostly owner-built sail-and-oar boats getting together for a rendezvous and to share their quirky love of old-fashioned small, slow, motorless boats. On Wednesday night we joined the opening dinner under the big tent at Oceanfront Camping at Reach Knolls in Brooklin, hard on the shores of Eggemoggin Reach.

After dinner the organizers gave a briefing of the next day’s events, where the fleet was going to sail, who’s in charge, safety procedures, etc. When it came time for questions and announcements, I raised my hand and announced that we were two hardy sailors with good intentions but were boat-less, as my boat is hard aground back in New York on the broken trailer. We had come anyway, sans boat, and were “looking for a ship”. Would anyone take a couple of lost sailor souls on board?

Thankfully, Tom Jackson, who is the head honcho of the event, introduced us to a couple of folks who expressed their openness to taking on crew, or ballast, and we confessed our willingness to be either as long as it got us out on the water.

John lined up a ride with Gardner Pickering on his Caledonia Yawl. At 19’6″ and with a wide beam and lifeboat-like volume, the Caledonia has room for lots of people. Even better, the Iain Oughtred-designed Caledonias are beautiful, notoriously fast in almost all conditions but especially in the light air we’re likely to see today, and probably the most numerous model of craft at the SRR. I think there are seven of them in this year’s fleet. Gardner and his Hewes & Co. millwork and cabinetry shop in Blue Hill, Maine is the exclusive agent for cutting Oughtred’s CNC kits in the USA, so John will surely learn a lot about the design and maybe the building process from Gardner.

Gardner’s Caledonia Yawl “Vivian Robinson” (dark blue) and another Caledonia (right)

I got a berth on a unique boat in the fleet, Susan from Massachusetts’ 22′ “Elyssa”, designed by Roger Long and built by Paul Rollins in 2011. Susan refers to it as a yawl dory, but I don’t think it is either of those; the large size and fairly far-forward placement of the mizzen makes it a ketch rig, and it does not have the flat bottom, wide planks and tombstone stern I associate with a dory design. It’s more like an stretched salmon wherry, with a strip-planked hull below the waterline and traditional lapstrake above, and a wherry-shaped wineglass transom stern. I’m guessing the beam is about 5 feet, so it’s truly stretched, almost like one of those limousines. That’s great for me though, as with my addition we’re five souls on board, but not at all crowded into this big and beautiful boat.

Susan and Dave’s “Elyssa”, the longest boat in the SRR fleet. Grey Fox’s boatless skipper is at the helm

The wind is all but nonexistent as the fleet weighs anchor from Atlantic Boat in Herrick Bay, Brooklin (on the Blue Hill Bay side) and heads out towards today’s lunch destination: Sellers Island, a 1-acre Island at the eastern entrance to the Eggemoggin Reach. Sellers is one of the many islands in the region that have Maine Island Trail (MITA) campsites on them, and last time I was there we camped overnight and had it all to ourselves. Today, 65 SRR boats will descend on it for lunch! It’s a good thing that it will be just about low tide when we arrive, as otherwise there would not be enough exposed beach to handle all those boats.

The fleet getting underway with nary a zephyr

With little wind, our trusty crewmate Christophe moves the boat along under the “ash breeze” (oars).

Christophe, another boatless sailor, came all the way from France to experience the SRR

After an hour of rowing and drifting, a slight breeze comes up and gets us – slowly – to Sellers Island. The beach there is already crowded and at about 2,000 pounds, Elyssa is not a boat you want to be hauling up and down the beach with the tide, so we anchor and wade ashore. The sight of the whole fleet from the water with the island as backdrop is truly impressive:

Sellers Island – with visitors

In addition to snarfing down our picnic lunch and a beer, we spend a good part of our lunch break walking up and down the beach inspecting all the other boats. It’s a veritable museum of small craft, most of pretty traditional styles including Banks dories, Swampscott dories, double-enders inspired by Shetland Islands yole boat designs, Penobscot Bay salmon wherries, Maine Peapods, and Whitehall rowing boats. There are also a few more modern designs, the most popular of which seems to be the Goat Island Skiff (five of them). While a number are built in the traditional lapstrake manner, with cedar frames riveted or screwed to oak frames (including Elyssa), the large majority are traditional shapes rendered in modern epoxy-plywood construction.

Trailer sailors aren’t stupid, and they recognize the advantages of this method of building, which produces a 100% watertight boat that doesn’t need to “swell up” in the water, doesn’t suffer from going from in the water to onto a trailer, is probably 50% lighter than a similar sized traditionally built boat, and — perhaps most important, or at least most causal of the preponderance of these boats at SRR — is much more easily built by an amateur knucklehead with no real boatbuilding skills, no access to good boatbuilding timber, and limited time available to spend building a boat. You know, a knucklehead like me.

After lunch, the fleet shoves off / weighs anchor for the sail back to Herrick Bay. With a bit more wind, we’re able to move along better and the sailing is delightful. Surely sailing in Jericho Bay on a crystal clear day, with the big hills of Mount Desert Island looking in the distance, is about as good as small boat sailing gets…

Back to Herrick Bay with Mt. Desert in the distance

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Some Really Good Lemonade

Or a Lemon Margarita.

July 24th. Brooklin, Maine

Having pitched our tent and set up our palatial screened-in sunshade/gazebo in the dark, we awake to an absolutely gorgeous day in Maine and nothing that we have to do.  No boat to get into the water, and – unfortunately – no sailing to do.   As I lie awake in my sleeping bag contemplating whether to get up, I overhear the campers in the next site talking about kayaking.  That’s the idea!  I hadn’t thought of that but here we are near some of the best sea kayaking territory on the East Coast, and I know exactly where we can rent some kayaks to get out on the water before the rest of the Small Reach Regatta arrives.

Motivated by that idea, I jump out of the sack and get a start on the day.  I associate civilized camping with good food – no freeze-dried eggs or canned stew for me – and that means I’m cooking up fresh coffee, eggs and bacon on our little butane stove. 

After a leisurely breakfast we head off to the Old Quarry Campground in Stonington on Deer Isle.   I had used Old Quarry as a launch base for a cruise in my dory several years ago, and it’s ideally located right next to the myriad Islands of Merchant Row south of Stonington. I also knew that they rented pretty good kayaks.  By a little after noon, our butts are in kayaks and we are headed south across the Deer Island Thorofare towards Merchant Row.  The day is spectacularly perfect for paddling, with very little wind and a cloudless blue sky.  

Merchant Row encompasses at least 30 small Islands flung out on the water like a giant’s marbles all the way between Deer Isle to the north and Isle Au Haut to the south.  A well-known paddler’s paradise, the Row has the highest concentration of Maine Island Trail campsites anywhere along the coast:  something like 8 sites within a 3 mile radius.  We’re not camping on this day trip, but we can see why this is the place to go kayak camping in Maine. 

After passing several Islands we land at our chosen lunch spot, the gorgeous sand spit between Devil’s Island and Shivers Island.   (You really can’t beat the names of these Maine Islands… in addition to these two, later in the day we would pass Hells’ Half Acre, Wreck, Bold, Bare, St. Helena and Crotch Islands, among others.  I wonder if the ghost of Napoleon lurks on St. Helena. And on the chart, Crotch Island is shaped like a – well, use your imagination.

The sand at our lunch spot is made entirely of broken bits of seashells, the water is Caribbean clear, and we have a captive view of what little boat traffic goes by on Jericho Bay, making for a most inviting scene for lunch and a snooze.

After lunch we skirt Devils Island and then Spruce Island, where John is intrigued by the huge monolithic granite shoreline and the enormous glacial erratic boulders sitting there like dice left behind by some geological giant.  We pull up right on the sloping granite shore – no beach here – a maneuver made possible the incredibly smooth water, and get out of the boats to poke around.   John even finds a lawn chair sitting on the granite.

Isle Au Haut on the horizon

Back on the water, we head south to McGlathery Island where a couple of sailing yachts are anchored. Then I spot a large vessel anchored to the west and we decide to go investigate.  As we draw nearer we see that it’s a REALLY big yacht, with a sleek and classic design that is either quite old or a new boat designed to look right out of the 1930s.   As we get up close I am dazzled by the mirror-smooth and gleaming Navy-blue hull and the brilliant varnished brightwork.  It’s the motor yacht “Marie”, which according to her transom hails from Newport Rhode Island, and she is flying a New York Yacht Club burgee.  I comment to John that “that’s a big chunk of change floating there” and he replies “$20 million, you think?”  Probably not too far off, judging by the size (I guess 120 feet) and the quality of the workmanship (immaculate).   The photo of John in his 16-foot kayak next to Marie gives a sense of scale.

The sublime and the humble: M.V. Marie and John in his plastic kayak

A little post-paddle internet research reveals the identity and history of the vessel: Known until recently as Acania, Marie was built in New York in 1930 by Consolidated Shipbuilding for the silent film actress Constance Bennett. Over the years she has had several owners and served duty as a submarine echo finder during WWII. In 1995 a new owner rescued her from a scrap yard and did a complete overhaul while keeping as much of her history and original features intact. I will say that the restoration was wonderfully done.

Spruce Island, with Mount Desert in the distance

From there we thread our way through more of the many gorgeous Islands in Merchant Row, heading north until we get into the Deer Island Thorofare just in front of the town of Stonington.  Then an easy paddle down the Thorofare brings us back to Old Quarry.  A wonderful day in a truly fabulous and beautiful marine playground!

Zen and the Art of Trailer Maintenance

I overheard the engineer
Say something ‘bout the landing gear
And there’s no way that bird’s going to fly…
So there’s no plane on Sunday
Maybe the one come Monday
Make the best of a bad situation
Is all you can do…”

Jimmy Buffett

July 23rd

The day I have been waiting for since I started building Grey Fox in 2017 has finally come… I’ve loaded up the boat on the trailer and am heading up to Brooklin, Maine for 4 days of sailing in one of the greatest places on earth to sail a small boat! The Calendar Islands Yawl was designed for coastal cruising in Maine, and that’s what I have been dying to do with it. 

I’ve recruited my old college roommate John to join me as crew.  He’s flying up from Washington DC and I will pick him up at the Portland airport on our way Down East. We’ll be sailing in the “Small Reach Regatta”, a rendezvous and not really a regatta, where over 65 small sail-and-oar boats get together and sail for three days in a friendly, non-competitive and truly photo-worthy fleet.  No engines allowed.

Yesterday I sailed the boat around from its home base at HHYC to the nearest boat ramp and put it on the trailer, and spent most of the evening getting it ready for the 450-mile drive to Maine and packing all the camping equipment into the car.  So this morning, I’m ready to roll.   EXCEPT…

As I make one last check of the trailer and the boat before I roll out the driveway, I am confronted with a very flat tire on the trailer.   No big deal, I have a spare, so I get out the jack and wrench and proceed to remove the offending not-so-round wheel. But the nuts are rusted on tight and despite huge efforts, the application of an inordinate amount of foot-pounds of torque, and a whole lot of swearing, I can only get two of them to even turn. But they just turn and turn and don’t come off.   Rust-welded together and now with the threads stripped.  JUST GREAT… I have a flat and I can’t change it.  

Since I can’t get the tire and wheel off, I try inflating it to see if I can find the leak.  It seems like the tire is not seated on the rim and is leaking at the bead.  I try reseating it by hand and pump it up with my trusty bike pump.   Listening closely, I don’t hear any leaking air.   Just about then I get a text message from John that he’s about to take off and will be in Portland in a couple of hours.  I text back that I had a flat but it seems like a slow leak so I’ll hit the road, bring the pump with me and hope for the best.

About 3 miles from home and before getting on I-95, I stop and check the tire.  It seems fine; maybe this will work.   I get on the freeway and head off.  At the first rest stop in Connecticut, about 20 miles from home, I stop to get gasoline and check the tire.   Before I even get to the side of the trailer with the previously flat tire, I see mud all over the OTHER wheel.   Looking closely, i see that the mud is really grease, and the bearing is coming apart.   SONOFABITCH! I can’t bike-pump my way to Maine with a bad bearing. 

With visions of the wheel coming off at 65 miles an hour and my boat getting wrecked, I quickly abandon any hope of getting Grey Fox to Maine today.   I decide to try to make it the 20 miles back home and figure out a plan from there.  I make it back home without calamity, but Grey Fox is stranded there. This trailer is just betraying me.

OR… have I been betraying it?  I’ve had it for 5 years and have never done a lick of maintenance on it.  Those wheels have been dunked in salt water at least 30 times.  Every time they are submerged they go through a hot-cold shock that causes the grease to shrink a little and allows seawater to get in.  I guess you’re supposed to grease those bearings at least once a year.

I maintain my boat to a tee. I fix every scratch on the boat and inspect it closely almost every time I use it.  Folks at our club give me a hard time for being such a stickler, and think I treat the boat better than I treat my wife.  (I don’t think that’s true, they both get pretty good attention).  But I completely neglected the trailer.  What a … dumbass.

Just about the time I pull back into my driveway, another text from John informs me that he has just landed in Portland.  I call him to speak live.  “Sorry pal, but we have a major problem.  The wheel bearing is shot and it will take at least a couple of days to get it fixed.  As my son’s favorite song from his favorite off-Broadway show ‘Spring Awakening’ goes, ‘here’s the moment you know you’re totally f**cked.’”

“Didn’t you say there are going to be 65 boats at this event we’re going to?  Don’t you think we can bum space on some of those boats?” offers John.

“You’re right – I’m sure we can find boats to crew on. That’s the solution.  Sometimes you’re pretty smart. I guess we’ll go boat-less and hope for sympathy from the other boat skippers.”

I proceed to park the boat and trailer in the driveway.   All the camping gear is in the car, so all I need to do is remove some boat stuff that I don’t need from the car and I’ll be off.  Hmm… don’t need that big anchor.  30 minutes later I text John and tell him I’ll see him in Portland at around 4pm. He’ll have to find something to keep him occupied for the next six hours. 

Freed of the trailer and the mental burden of stressing about how to get it repaired, I’m off and making about 55 knots Speed Over Ground in the Toyota land yacht.  I roll into Portland at 4:30 and pick up John, and before 8:00 we’re in Brooklin.  We check in at the campground and then head to the Brooklin Inn, the only food establishment in town that’s open on a Tuesday, for some dinner.  We made it!  Just without the boat that was kind of the whole point of the trip.   But we’ll find other boats to ride.  We’re making the best of a bad situation.