Of Gatsby and Obi-Wan Kenobi

“I will take the boy, and watch over him.”

Obi-Wan Kenobi in one of the Star Wars movies

June 23rd

Yesterday’s northwester is blowing itself out, and this afternoon the forecast is for 8-10 knots of it, an amount that is perfect for Grey Fox and manageable enough for the skipper to take out his nephew for a Sunday afternoon sail. Nephew Greg (16) has done some sailing at summer camp and most recently with the sailing club at high school.  Since his family doesn’t have a boat or any access to the water, I suppose he is lucky to live in a town with lots of sailing (hence the high school club can find boats – nice ones, 420s no less – to sail at that bigger fancier yacht club in Larchmont) and a salty (or is it eccentric?) old uncle with a saltier and more eccentric boat.  His mother, who doubles as my sister, is pleased to have me offer to take him out, and only asks that I refrain from capsizing the boat and him.  I guess she has heard that that is a possibility with a small keel-less boat.

We get underway mid-afternoon to a delightful offshore breeze and take the route of least resistance, heading south on a reach in the direction of the city.  Playing sailing instructor to Greg’s apprentice, I let him do the steering and sail trimming. 

Not long into our sojourn I point out to him that he needs to pay constant attention to sail trim, as the sails are sheeted in way to tight.  “If you want to win those sailing club races you’ll need to pay more attention to your sails.  In a shifty breeze like this, it’s a constant process.  Just because you were trimmed right a minute ago doesn’t mean you will be now” says sage Obi-wan Kenobi.  

Young Luke responds “How do you tell they’re trimmed too tight?” 

“Look at your flag” replies the Sage One.  Greg looks over his shoulder at the flagpole on shore.   “Not that one, young Jedi. The flags at the top of your masts. That’s why they’re there – so you can see the wind direction.  Also look at the streamer trailing off the end of the yard.  It gives you an idea of the direction the wind is leaving off the leech of the sail.”

Flags and streamers

“Oh, so that’s what that streamer thing is for” acknowledges the apprentice. 

“Well, yes, plus it looks cool – how many other boats have one of those?” I reply.  Following this remonstration, young Greg tightens his concentration on getting the most out of the boat.   See the steely-eyed determination in his eyes:

I guess I better pay attention…

Even though the wind is lightening up pretty rapidly, our reach has us off of Hart Island, Bronx in no time.

Passing the gong buoy off Hart Island

From there we head almost dead downwind across the narrows to Great Neck on Long Island, which forms the western side of outer Manhasset Bay.   It’s also the “West Egg” in The Great Gatsby, where Gatsby and the other “new money” folks lived. From there we scoot across the bay towards Manhasset Neck or Sands Point, which would have been “East Egg” in the same book, and is where the old money lived and where Gatsby aspired to be.  I tried to read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book once but found it so uninteresting that I never made it through the whole thing.  But I do remember that in the book, the folks in East Egg had a great view of the Manhattan Skyline.  Since we are now pretty much in front where Daisy’s house and dock would have been, I can confirm that the East Eggers had a great view:

Looking southwest from East Egg

The skyline today is certainly way more dramatic than in Gatsby’s/Fitzgerald’s Roaring 20’s.  Partly because today’s golden era is even more roaring than back then for the top 0.01%, and they are the market for the new ultra-high rise apartment buildings that are currently transforming the Midtown skyline.  Somehow I suspect that these sky-high multi-story “apartments” are in addition to, rather than in lieu of, Gold Coast mansions… If you have billions, why not have both?  A hundred-million $-plus pied a terre in the city and a weekend estate in the Hamptons.   Not to mention a yacht, a ski chalet in Aspen, a private island in the Caribbean and of course a jet to get you to and from all of them.   Well, I’ve got my yacht…

Back to the sailing… by the team we get near Daisy’s dock in East Egg, the wind dies completely.   Greg starts to get antsy.  “There’s no wind.  We’re stuck.   We’re going to have to row all the way back to Larchmont”.  Considering that the distance to Larchmont is at least 4 miles, and I just did that cross-sound row last week, I’m not in a hurry to take in sail and get out the spruce breeze.

“Patience, young Jedi. The wind will fill in.  In the meantime, we’re not drifting onto rocks, or running out of daylight, so let’s just sit back and relax,” offers Obi-wan. “Or, if you prefer, I can tie you to the mizzenmast and lash you with a cat-‘o-nine tails as an offering to the wind-god Aeolus, and see if that will rustle us up a breeze”.   Greg looks at me like I have three eyes, which is fair, because he clearly hasn’t read my prior post here, “Puffs and Gusts”.

Sure enough, before long the afternoon Sound southwesterly comes in and we are moving smartly northward towards Larchmont.  We pass by Execution Rocks and I spot a couple of kayaks a half mile off.   Thinking I recognize the color and shape of the boats, we alter course to intercept them.  It’s Jean and Bea, two of the hardest-core kayakers in western Long Island Sound and fellow kayak pals of mine from HHYC.   I take the helm from Greg and head over to rendezvous with them. 

When we get alongside I hand my waterproof camera to Bea and ask her to snap a few photos of us.  I don’t have any pictures of the boat taken from not on the boat.   A kayak isn’t the best platform to shoot photos from, but Bea gives it a try.  We make two or three loops around her in Grey Fox to give her a good angle, and she comes up with some pretty good shots.

Photo session complete, I re-raft with Bea to get the camera back and then offer to race them back to HHYC.  In light air or going upwind, they would fly right by Grey Fox, but by now the breeze is up to maybe 8 knots and on a reach we are doing almost 5 knots, leaving our 4+ knot kayakers slowly slipping away. 

Gusts and Puffs

June 24th

After two weekends away from the water, I’m back on Long Island Sound in Grey Fox.  I was in the Dominican Republic doing some volunteer work with #BridgestoCommunity, along with a small group of fellow travelers/volunteers from the Bank.  It’s Global Volunteer Month at the firm, during which all employees are “encouraged” to spend an afternoon volunteering with any of a wide range of charities and non-profits.  Our pick-up group of volunteers went the extra mile, each individual using a week of their precious vacation time and spending a substantial portion of their own money to make the week-long trip to the D.R., where we built housing in a remote (and fairly primitive) village in the central highlands.  Don’t tell Elizabeth Warren, it’s not consistent with her narrative that all Wall Street bankers are evil.

Back to the log of Grey Fox…

After two weeks of landlubbering, I was anxious to get back on the water.   Saturday’s forecast was for strong and gusty winds out of the Northwest.     Windfinder.com, the oracle of weather prediction for kitesurfers,  windsurfers and small boat sailors, predicted 12 knots with gusts to 22 throughout the day.  That’s on offshore breeze in my stomping ground, and the perfect direction for a reach up the coast to Great Captain Island in Greenwich, Connecticut and then a reach back home.  

I hit the water at about 7:30am with a plan to sail solo to Great Captain, 7 ½ miles away, drop the hook or beach the boat and take a breakfast break, and be home before noon.   From the cove, the wind looked modest.   Even though it would be stronger once I got a little further out of the lee, it felt pretty manageable.  So I tied in one reef and was on my way.   Crystal clear sky, bright sun but only 70 degrees, and smooth water made for great sailing.  I sailed about a mile with shifty and puffy winds, but even the puffs only got up to maybe 12 knots, so I hove-to and shook out the reef.

Sailors are a superstitious lot, and I’ve seen them go to elaborate lengths to try to rustle up wind.   When I was on the Esmeralda, the Chilean Navy’s 310-foot tall sailing ship, back in my younger Navy days (i.e. 1985), we became becalmed off of Tierra del Fuego while trying to round Cape Horn from Atlantic to Pacific.  Yes, BECALMED off of Cape Horn.   THAT never happens.   But it did.   After about 24 hours of flopping around, and in the middle of the night, the powers that be mustered the entire crew on the afterdeck (“la popa” in Spanish) and proceeded to make an offering to Aeolus, the god of wind.   Aeolus was played by one of the senior chief petty officers of the ship, who was dressed the part and from shouted through a bullhorn from atop the mizzen boom shouted that the required offering was that the youngest cadet onboard be tied to the mizzenmast and flogged with a cat ‘o nine tails.   Fortunately, it was all for fun, the cat o’nine tails was made of yarn, and the flogging was not real.  But Aeolus declared his satisfaction and promised wind before daylight.  

Lest the reader think that the complete digression in the prior paragraph is completely made up, or maybe a semi-true story as I am known to occasionally tell, (1) I have photos to prove that it’s true, and (2) it was a just a lead-in to the following:  If shaking out the reef is a strategy for getting more wind, it really worked for me today. 

Completing the digression, the cadet sacrifice worked, and by the morning we had 20 knots and growing.   Even better, the wind was from the east (not the prevailing wind) and pretty soon we were flying around the Horn with 40+ knots of wind.  In fact Aeolus overdid it, and we managed to bend a spar and blow out several heavy canvas sails during the next 24 hours. 

Grey Fox’s skipper (then a lowly midshipman) rounding Cape Horn aboard Esmeralda after Aeolus delivered mucho viento… June 1985

A little gratuitous flashback there. Besides, I needed an excuse to throw a photo into this post and I sure didn’t get any sailing today because my hands were kind of busy. Back to Long Island Sound…

Within ten minutes of shaking out my reef, the wind was up to 12 knots and the gusts were getting a lot stronger.  Ten more minutes of struggling to hold the boat level, and I hove-to again to tie that reef back in.   With pretty strong gusts as this point, tying in the reef was trickier than I remembered. My reefing rig requires me to put a reef hook on the forward end of the boom through an eye in the tack of the sail – pretty easy – but then to do the same thing with the clew of the sail to the hook on the after part of the boom.    You can only do that with the sail more or less amidships, and with the gusty wind, the boat didn’t stay bow-to-wind.  Even with the mizzen sheeted in tight, and with the drogue I keep in the bow thrown into the water, it wanted to tack back and forth.  As soon as the boat would veer off the wind, I would have to let go of the boom or otherwise I would serve as a human cleated-down-mainsheet.  And we know (see prior posts) what happens with a cleated-down mainsheet in gusty winds… a swimming party.   Having a strong interest in avoiding swim practice today, I had to let go of it several times before I finally got the reef hook seated in the clew.   

Another two or three miles of exciting and truly athletic sailing – hiked out over the windward rail and with both hands working the mainsheet and the tiller constantly – the gusts got to the point of being a little scary. Unable to hold the boat up with the sail full, I was forced to half-luff which knocked my speed down significantly.  I estimate that the gusts were getting up to 25 knots.  I decided that discretion is the better part of valor.  Off of Playland in Rye, about 2 ½ miles short of Great Captain but still almost five miles from home, I decided to head back. 

The ride home was a hoot as it was enough of a beam/broad reach that I could carry that amount of sail, even though I had to spill air frequently.   In the big gusts I would try to bear off enough to minimize the healing moment, and the boat actually got well above hull speed.  The GPS showed above 8 knots during those surges.

If I had had to make any headway on a close reach, I would have had to tie in a second reef and furl the mizzen.  I probably should have anyway, but I was managing the beam reach as is – barely – and didn’t want to stop to reef. With wind that strong I would have had to drop the main all the way to put in the next reef (I wasn’t going to risk trying to do it with the sail still up) and it felt like it would be more work than just manhandling the boat the last couple of miles.

In no time at all I was back to Larchmont. That was an exciting sail… But with never any hair-raising I-almost-capsized moments.

A surfeit of crew members

June 3

Son Jeffrey is home for the weekend from college in Boston.   He’s spending all summer in school.  He had a tough sophomore year but seems to be getting back on track, and summer semester will help him get caught up. 

I would be flattered to think that he came home just to see dear old mom and dad, but the primary reasons for the visit are made clear when he texts me mid-week and asks “how many people can you fit in the boat?  Because I’ll have my new girlfriend Adri with me as well as my high school friends Eli and Emily, and we all want to go sailing.”    “Four really” is my reply.  “I don’t know where a fifth would even sit”.  Maybe I can take them out in shifts.  Jeffrey has done some sailing in his high school days, and even got to where I would let him take the dory out by himself if the weather was good, but he’s only been out in Grey Fox once and doesn’t really know how to rig it or sail it.   So like it or not, they need the old guy to take them out. And I’m thrilled that Jeffrey wants he and his friends to come out with me in the first place.

The kids go down to the club with their lunch, and I get there around 3pm.  It’s warm and sunny with maybe 8 knots of wind, again out of the north, and forecast to hold through the afternoon.    Mild enough conditions that I think we can handle five people in the boat (none is over 150 pounds).  It  will be more fun for Jeffrey with his whole crew.  We head out and the conditions seem perfect for a trip across the sound to the beach at Sands Point.  With 4 neophytes on board, I wouldn’t think of going that far from shore and home base if the weather weren’t pretty sure to stay tame.

Heading out…
I don’t have any pictures of the boat sailing, since I’m always on it. Pat got this cellphone snap from shore as we headed out.

The sail over is delightful, with enough wind to move the boat but not enough to create any excitement.   Even with 5 people on board we have plenty of freeboard and the boat handles the boat wakes we encounter with aplomb. The time it takes get to Long Island is certainly more time than I’ve spent with Jeffrey and his friends in a long time, and even though I’ve welcomed them onto my boat it also feels a little like they’ve welcomed me into their circle.   

Jeffrey & Adri
Emily has found the best seat on the ship

As we approach the beach at Sands Point I hand the tiller to Jeffrey and get the anchor ready.  The wind has dwindled so it’s a slow motion approach to the beach, which makes it easy to drop the hook only 75 feet from shore.  The wind blows us stern towards shore and I cleat the bow anchor line with the transom in about a foot of water. I let down the mainsail carefully, without bashing anybody in the head. I order seaman recruit Eli to be the van of the landing party, and he jumps off the stern into the knee-deep water.  I hand him the stern anchor and he takes it ashore and digs it into the beach.  Moored!  The boat will stay afloat in the rising tide, no beaching required. 

Moored!

While we’re poking around the beach, the wind completes its fizzle and pretty soon it’s mirror calm.  I was hoping a southwester would fill in and help us home, but hope isn’t a strategy.  We’ll need to use the inboard motor – a.k.a. Dad with a pair of nine-and-a-half foot oars.  Looking at my watch I can see that if we’re going to be rowing the three and half nautical miles home, we should get going to be home before sunset.  So I round up the crew and off we go. 

Eli mans the oars so I can deal with taking in the anchor.  It takes him a while to get the hang of it – those ARE some big-ass oars – and we never get much above 2 knots.   After 15 minutes of effort and maybe a quarter mile gained, I relieve him.   Thank you for your service, but sunset is arriving on time tonight, and I didn’t bring the running lights.

There’s still a long way to go, but I like rowing.   It’s not as easy with 750 pounds of crew in the boat though!  The Mk 2 rowing footrest works well in its first real test.  With just me in the boat I can average about 3.3 knots but with this configuration I’m lucky to average 2.75, so it’s going to be an hour and half of steady exercise. It’s good for the old man.

About a mile from Larchmont, one of the larger sailboats that has been trying to sail gives up and motors towards us.   Passing us close aboard they ask if we want a tow, but I don’t trust big boats to tow little guys like us – especially heavily laden – safely. “No thanks, we’re getting along fine.”  Maybe the guy on the sailboat’s only experience rowing is with an Avon inflatable or a Dyer Dhow, in which case he would think that we are desperate and stranded.  But Grey Fox was designed to row. Miles. 

Round about 7:30pm we make landfall in Horseshoe Harbor.  The kids scramble off to their next event, and I put away the boat.  I think I’ve earned my beer for the evening!

On the water in a bigger small(ish) boat

May 26th

Memorial Day weekend.  I had promised my father I would come up to Rhode Island where my parents live and help him with the last jobs needed to get his boat in full sailing condition.  So we head up there Saturday and spend the early afternoon getting the sails bent on, the decks and cockpit cleaned, and everything ready to go on his Alerion 28.  That doesn’t take long, and the wind is a perfect 15 knots out of the South, so we take the boat out for a spin.  

Dad is 84 now, and I was kind of wondering whether he was still going to be up to managing the boat by himself or even with one other crew member.   What I had forgotten was how easy the Alerion is to manage.  With a working job with a single sheet led through a deck traveler, and a big powerful mainsail, the boat is perfectly balanced.  Steering with the tiller rarely requires any muscle.  And to tack it all you have to do is put the tiller over.  It’s a keelboat and very stable, so you don’t need to worry about moving your weight around to balance the boat.  It’s easier and considerably less physical to sail than Grey Fox. 

Even though the wind builds up above 20 knots, we feel comfortable sailing out past Newport Harbor and into the fairly open waters of the East Passage of Narragansett Bay, all the way out to Brenton Point, with no trouble whatsoever.  By then the waves are getting big enough to bring some splash aboard, so we turn downwind and head back to the marina just north of the Newport Bridge.  The ride home is fast and exhilarating.  A great boat, a great Dad, and a great day on the water!

It’s not a racing boat, but we still like passing other sailboats

May 18th

In Grey Fox’s first season, I did a lot of solo sailing.  There were kinks to work out in the new boat that I was happy to do on my own, and I did a really poor job of planning ahead, which is necessary if you want other people to plan ahead and join you for a sail.   So this year I hope to do much less solo sailing and get more friends or accomplices out with me.  Before I had a boat of my own I always considered it a treat to be invited to go out on someone else’s  boat, yet was surprised how rarely an invitation actually materialized, even with lots of boat-owner friends, including friends who would often say when we saw them somewhere “you ought to come out with us” but never actually extended an invitation. I hope not to be that type of boat owner this summer!

So for my second weekend outing this season I talked my kayaking buddy Rick into coming sailing with me.  Rick is a barrel-chested bear of a man whose average paddling speed keeps me gasping for air to keep up.  He used to have a sailboat before wife and kids and responsibilities came along.  He’s free this Saturday so we make plans to get underway at noon.

The wind is out of the north, light and variable, but as long as it’s not nil those are conditions that Grey Fox likes. We start out heading south for Execution Rocks, ghosting along in the whispers of wind.  It gives Rick, who hasn’t held a tiller in years, an easy period to get the feel of things.  As expected, the northerly dwindles as the day proceeds, and pretty soon we’re just about becalmed.  With no hands needed to sail the boat, it’s time for the sandwiches and beers we brought along. 

Lunch finished, the first signs of a afternoon southwester arrive, first with a few ripples that tease more than they fill the sails.  Once they get a little more steady, we abandon the idea of continuing to Execution Rocks (it’s dead upwind and too much trouble) and head north towards Milton Harbor in Rye.  As the wind fills in to 4 or 5 knots we have the boat moving along pleasantly at 3 knots or more.  Tons of sail area and a very light weight boat are the magic formula.   With the wind pretty consistent now but still very light, I can tie down the tiller and cleat the mainsheet, and for a while we’re on autopilot.

After a tour through the Milton Harbor mooring field we jibe around and head back towards Larchmont.  By now a number of 30- and 35-foot sailboats are out, including some pretty sleek and fast-looking racing designs, trying to move in the whispering winds.  We take great pleasure passing several of them in the light air and smooth water.  With any bigger waves or more wind they would exert their hull-speed dominance, but for now we’re the fastest sailing craft in the area.  Foxes are supposed to be fast!

A new season begins

May 11th

May is upon us and – oh happy day – that means sailing season is about to start! Last Saturday our club officially opened for the season. It was a cool, windless and cloudy day. Frantically putting the last tweaks into the boat, I got Grey Fox off the trailer and floating by around 5:30pm. With sunset at 7:50 or so, I would just barely have enough time to launch at Harbor Island in Mamaroneck and row the 2.5 miles over to Larchmont. Fortunately, the wind came up late in the day and after rowing out of Mamaroneck’s inner harbor, I had a nice downwind slide to Larchmont. I remembered how to make the boat sail, and Grey Fox made it onto its summer perch on the floating dock at HHYC with no trouble.

The following Saturday (today) was the first real sail of the season. The forecast was for clouds and no wind. But as is not uncommon, the forecasting wizards got it wrong and by noon as we were prepared to set off, the clouds cleared and we had 8-12 knots out of the northwest to keep the boat moving. A beautiful offshore breeze that would make for smooth water and relaxed (and safe) sailing in some pleasant 70 degree air cooled by the breeze off the 50-degree water. A good day NOT to make contact with the water!

I was joined by my new friend Bill, whom I had met recently at Mandolin Camp North. He is afflicted with multiple hobby-passions like me and some of them are in common, including woodworking and acoustic string band music. He also likes to sail and occasionally crews on a Herreshoff S-boat at HHYC, so it thought he might like taking a spin in Grey Fox.

After a quick row out of the cove we hoist sails. No reefs tied in as the wind was lightening already. The wind is expected to peter out during the course of the afternoon, so I feel safe heading downwind first towards City Island in the Bronx. That way the upwind return will be nice and calm, and if the wind dies, we can just row. With the offshore breeze the water is nice and smooth, and this early in the season, we won’t hit the constant wakes and jumbled water that make rowing so hard on a typical July or August weekend day. Today, we practically have the Sound to ourselves.

After we get a little out of the lee of the land, the wind kicks up a bit and for a while the handheld GPS says we’re averaging 6.5 knots on our broad reach. Not bad for a non-planing boat with a 14-foot waterline!

Bill getting the feel of the tiller
Headed South towards Hart Island (dead ahead) with NYC skyline in the distance
The big lug mainsail really shines going downwind

The wind quickly starts to weaken and our speed-run towards City Island turns leisurely. We scoot down the shore of Hart Island, an island that belongs to the City of New York and has had many incarnations in its history, including a factory site and a prison. Since the late 1800s it’s been the site of New York’s “Potters’ Field”, which means it’s where the City buries its indigent and unidentified residents when they die with no one to claim their bodies. Sometimes from the water you can hear the backup beep signals of backhoes working on the island, which is kind of creepy if you know what they’re doing. Well, today is Saturday and they’re not working so we observe no activity involving the living or the dead on the island.

Rounding the southern tip of Hart Island, we get a nice view of the Manhattan skyline,

Whitestone Bridge and lower Manhattan in the distance

and then head upwind into City Island Harbor. By now the wind is really light and it’s more like wind-hunting than beating to windward. We’re also bucking a knot of so of current from the incoming tide. But patience is by necessity a virtue of sailors whose boats have no engines, even if in any other setting patience pretty much eludes me. We slowly make our way up to Rat Island, which isn’t much more than a rock ledge in the middle of City Island Harbor, but has the distinction of being the only privately-owned island in New York City. A few years ago a Swiss gentleman named Alex, who lives in City Island, had the opportunity to buy the rock, and thought it would be cool to own his own island. Given that it’s barely big enough to plop a picnic table on, and probably gets washed over in every big storm, I’m sure it didn’t cost much.

Since then, it has always had two flagpoles, flying the Swiss and the US flags. Two or three years ago the guy decided he wanted to take the Swiss thing a little further. What better than to instal a statue of William Tell, the legendary Swiss hero, on the rocks. You know, he of the apple on the girl’s head and the arrow fame. The story is probably apocryphal and the legend may be larger than life, but the dude looms large in Switzerland. So Mr. Rat Island had a statue commissioned and placed on the island. It’s a replica of the ‘Tell Monument’ in the market place of Altdorf, Switzerland. (No, I didn’t know that, but I’m good at googling). And it’s truly larger than life; I would guess that Herr Tell himself is at least 10 feet tall, never mind the pedestal he stands on.

We sail right up close to the rocks to get a good view of the statue and the street sign posted on the island that says you’re officially at Wilhem Tell Platz, Bronx, NY. It seems that to put up a statue in New York City, you have to put a street address on the application for the permit. “Rat Island” isn’t a street, so they had to create one.

William Tell keeps a vigilant watch over the Bronx

We continue past the valiant Swiss warrior and north through City Island Harbor to Orchard Beach. Part of Pelham Bay Park, the largest park in the city (bigger than Central Park), Orchard Beach is a 1-mile long man-made sandy beach that was built in the 1930s starting with a small natural beach on Rodman’s Neck near the bridge to City Island. Robert Moses oversaw the project, which was dubbed “the riviera of the Bronx” when it opened. In true Robert Moses style it was a project that used a lot of brute force engineering and liberal use of eminent domain but created a wonderful park. A zillion tons of beach sand was barged in from the south shore of Long Island. They connected 3 or 4 islands with landfill to make a flat area – mostly parking lot – behind the expanded beach, so now Hunter Island and Twin Island aren’t islands anymore but part of the park mainland.

Maybe to keep the few intrepid early-season beachgoers from freezing their butts off, the wind dies out completely about as we get even with the beach. After 15 minutes of drifting, we realize we won’t get home before sundown at this pace. Down come the sails and out come the oars. Bill’s job is to check my pace as I pull the boat through the water and to keep us from hitting things. In Bill’s hands the GPS says I average about 3.2 knots. At that pace, we’ll be back to HHYC in an hour and a quarter.

Of course the best way to make sure it doesn’t rain is to carry an umbrella, and the best way to make the wind come back is to stow the sails. After 20 minutes of rowing, we see some ripples, and I feel some blisters coming, so it’s time to hoist again. With a nice little breeze we are moving once again, almost effortlessly, all the way back to home port for an absolutely delightful finish to our outing. If the rest of the summer is anything like this, I am going to be one happy old sailor.

Grey Fox Emerges From Hibernation

(I have no idea if foxes hibernate.  Probably not.   I could just ask google, but then I might have to change the title of this post, so I won’t).

Winters in the Northeast are long.  While sitting on its trailer in the driveway in early November, Grey Fox got 5 inches of heavy wet snow on it.  This weekend, I retrieved the boat from its safekeeping spot in a borrowed garage, figuring it was safe from further snow events, and heard from my wife’s relatives in Syracuse that it was snowing there.  On April 27th  😦  Thankfully, while it was kind of cold here in the NYC area, it was warm enough that the stuff falling from the sky was wet, not white.

The November snow caused two of the battens holding up its cover to switch from being convex (from the perspective of a snowflake or raindrop) to concave.  Which in turn caused several of the wooden sockets that the battens seat into to split into pieces.  Not to mention tons of water and snow collecting in the oversized birdbath. So I added making new sockets to the winter fix-it list.  And I started thinking about looking for a place to store the boat indoors, as surely more snow would come. 

The storage solution soon presented itself, as the tenants in a house that we own and rent out announced their early departure midway through a 2-year lease.  We found ourselves in December with a large, vacant, cash-sucking property on our hands and poor prospects of getting it rented again before June.  At least I could use its empty 2-car garage for Grey Fox…  I “borrowed” it from myself.  I’m sure it was the most expensive boat storage I could have found.  Thankfully a new tenant appeared in March and plans to move in next week, so it was time to get Grey Fox back from its hibernation.

I spent almost this entire weekend getting ready for the sailing season, between cleanup day on Saturday at our little boat club – which opens next weekend – and installing a few little tweaks to Grey Fox to address minor issues that cropped up last season.  Warning:  If you’re not a boatbuilder geek, stop reading now. This is boring stuff.  But for true geeks, here goes:

Tweak #1:  New batten sockets.   I made the original ones out of philippine mahogany.  I’ve found that this wood splits easily.  The new ones are made out of true mahogany.  I think it’s tougher stuff.  We’ll see. 

Tweak #2: Putting more arc into the battens that hold up the boat cover –to make it more Conestoga wagon-like — should make it shed water better.  So I made a longer and stronger oak batten to replace the longest of the fiberglass battens, then turned each of those glass battens into a longer version of the next-shorter batten.

Tweak #3:  The lazarette hatch didn’t have a means of latching it down.  During last September’s capsize drill, stuff tried to float out of the lazarette.  Not any more.  A couple of brass pins that go through the bulkhead into some wood blocks glued to the underside of the hatch cover hold it tight, without adding any hardware to clutter up the top of the hatch.

Pin slots into this block attached to the hatch

Tweak #4: Also in the last capsize drill, the mizzen mast worked its way out of its step.  It was only held in by gravity.   Gravity works differently when “down” becomes “sideways”.   Now a bungee from the deck hooks onto the downhaul cleat and keeps its seated.

To prevent a case of jumping mast

Tweak #5:  As long as the mainsail is up, the downhaul holds the mainmast firmly in its step.  But it’s possible that in a capsize, I would need to lower the mainsail.   So I installed a little knob on the mast that will be flush up against the bottom of the mast gate.  It won’t be able to jump out of its socket in any future right-angle gravity deviation event. (A lot of capsize-proofing going on here…)

Tweak #6:  An improved rowing footrest, now held more-or-less immobile by 3-point anchoring with webbing straps with quick-release buckles.  When it’s not in use, I can just stow it out of the way.

The fun of building your own boat out of an easily workable material (wood) is that you can customize it as you figure things out.   I’m sure I’ll get some more tweak-ideas as the season progresses!