July 7th – Grey Fox the party boat!

“It’s 5 o-clock somewhere…” — Jimmy Buffett

My wife is off on a 2-week trip to India with a Girl Scouts group, so I invited my 22-year old daughter and her roommate, who recently finished college and moved to Brooklyn to find their way in the Big Apple, to come out for the day to go sailing and swimming off of Grey Fox, to be followed by dinner on the porch at Horseshoe Harbor.  Since she is barely scraping by and counting every dollar, and everything in New York City is insanely expensive, I figure that’s a pretty good free mini-vacation for her.  And I’m thrilled to see her, since even though Brooklyn isn’t that far away, I really don’t see her much anymore.

She, her roommate and her roommate’s boyfriend arrive early afternoon and we head down to the Horseshoe.  The day is perfect, hot but dry and with just a tiny bit of wind to move the boat. We sail about 2 miles out to Huckleberry Island, a nice little uninhabited and wooded island off of New Rochelle that belongs to the New York Athletic Club.  I’ve never actually seen any NYAC people on the island, although they have some sort of picnic pavilion and a yurt out there.  Mostly it’s teeming with birds, especially in the winter.

Skipper on GreyFox

After about an hour of leisurely sailing (yes, it’s very light wind) we drop the hook off of Huckleberry.  Out come the beers, the Bluetooth speaker and iTunes, and we are loving it.  It’s so wonderful to be able to chill with your kids as young adults.  It balances out the bittersweet nature of becoming an empty-nester. I’m a happy man.   I get the swimming going and eventually convince kids to jump in too.  In the heat, the semi-cool water feels great.

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After an hour or two of relaxing on the hook, we’re ready to head back to base and get dinner going.  I go to haul in the anchor, get it to vertical and that’s it.  It won’t come up.  It’s only a 5-pound Danforth, but even heaving with all my strength,  I can’t get it off the bottom.   It’s clearly stuck on some wreckage down there.   Huckleberry may be currently be uninhabited but in the last 200 years it’s had all kinds of activity and construction on it.  Who knows what kind of wreckage is the bottom that is tenaciously holding onto my anchor.  Realizing I won’t be able to free the anchor, I check my ditty bag for a knife to cut the line.  No knife. If I had a knife I could have at least saved a hundred feet of anchor line.  But with no knife I have choice but to throw the whole thing overboard in an offering to Neptune.

Note to self:  always keep a knife in the boat.  Preferably in an easily accessible place.

The wind kicks up a bit and the sail home is really nice.  With 4 people aboard and modest wind, the boat moves along at 3-4 knots.  My daughter finds that sitting down in the bilge up forward is the best place to stretch out and catch some sun rays — until we sail through a little chop and she finds that it’s also the best place to get splashed!

 

July 4th – Grey Fox reaches its home port – finally

Grey Fox is back from the show and finally I can get it on the water and over to its summer home on the floating dock at Horseshoe Harbor in Larchmont.  So I’m off to Glen Island for the third time in a month to launch.  Since it’s not a long trip from Glen Island to Larchmont, I’m not in a hurry to get going early, and don’t hitch up the trailer and start driving until around 2pm.

Oh, I forgot – it’s the fourth of July and the entire population of the New York metropolitan area is at Glen Island Park.   We wait in traffic for almost an hour just to make the turn onto the park road and to crawl into the park.   At least once we get there the line for launching is not too bad.  I rig up, back the trailer into the water and Jeffrey drives away with the trailer to take it home.  I row out of the channel and hoist sails in the very, very light air.   It’s about 95 degrees with 90 percent humidity, and with almost no wind blowing it’s a sweat-fest just sitting still trying to sail.   I make about 200 yards in a half hour of trying to sail (most of which was probably just the current pushing me) and give up.   Down comes the mainsail and out come the oars.

They’re nice oars:  9’9” long, Sitka spruce, pretty well balanced.  I made them myself from patterns from Chesapeake Light Craft.  And the hull design rows well for its size.  But in the heat, and with all the lumpy water kicked up by the armies of powerboats that assault Long Island Sound on a summer weekend, it’s not pleasant rowing.   After about 5 minutes of rowing I am about as wet from sweating as I would have gotten from jumping overboard.  Plus I figure out something sorely missing from my boat:  there’s nothing to brace my feet against.  It’s hard to get a good pull without a footbrace.   It’s going to be a long row all the way to Larchmont.  Next boat-improvement project:  build some kind of moveable footbrace for rowing that can be stowed out of the way for sailing.

After two and a half miles of galley-slave rowing.  I get to the mooring field off of Horseshoe Harbor, and of course just then a little breeze comes up. OK, I’ll take that.  Up goes the mainsail and I have a blast sailing around the mooring field and showing off my boat to everyone in sight. I get a few thumbs-ups and “she’s a beauty”, which is huge to the builder and traditionalist in me, and part of why I built the boat instead of just buying something.

Enough showing off, time to unrig and head into the cove for the moment of truth—will I be able to haul this boat up on the dock? If not, then I really miscalculated on one of the major reasons I selected this design in the first place.

The cove at Horseshoe Harbor is very small and shaped like, imagine this — a horseshoe.   The entrance is tight and there’s not much space between my dock and the rocky side of the cove, so I always drop the sails and row in.   I came down to the club this morning and mounted my roller on the edge of the dock at my appointed parking space, so it’s ready.  I row the boat alongside the dock, jump out, square up the boat with the bow at the roller, and… HEAVE! On the first try, I couldn’t get it far enough up to pull it onto the dock.  On a second try with a harder pull to get more momentum, I get it past the tipping point and am able to pull the boat all the way onto the dock.  Whew, that is a relief, and I am in business!

If my dear club members will allow me, I will revel for just a short while in the result of my labor.  I leave the masts in and the boat uncovered on the dock so the club members can admire the new kid on the block (actually the new boat on the dock).  Yes, I am a proud builder and traditionalist with a healthy disdain for Benetubs and other ugly boats.  At Horseshoe Harbor I’m not alone, as we have several Herreshoff S-boats, an L. Francis designed Rozinante canoe yawl, and a couple of International Class one designs. Still, Grey Fox is the prettiest boat on the dock.  And since this is my blog, I can say that.  And since you read it on the Internet, it must be true…  😊

June 24th – At the Wooden Boat Show

I talked my son Jeffrey and his friend Emily to accompany me to the show.  We hit the road at around 9am and are at the Seaport at 11.   Clint has left us “Exhibitor” passes at the check-in booth, which get us free entry into the show.  Cool.   He also sent me a Chase Small Craft t-shirt, which I am wearing to make my Carol Merrill act at his booth look more convincing.   Maybe it will even fool show attendees into thinking that Clint has … “employees”!  [Serious note:  I have no economic arrangement with Clint other than I bought the boat kit from him.   Any endorsements I provide are solely because I love my boat and would love to see more Calendar Islands Yawls on the water.  Plus I think Clint is doing great stuff and want to see his business prosper.]

We find our way to Clint’s booth and Grey Fox, prominently displayed under the big tent on the lawn.  The mainmast just barely fits under the tent, and Clint has the mainsail triple-reefed so the yard doesn’t extend above the top of the mast.

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Prominently displayed in the boat is a big beer mug that says “ Annual WoodenBoat Show  – Best in Show – Owner Built Sail”.  WE WON!!! Our category at least.  Wow, I am flattered.   The awards were given out yesterday.   Quite an honor given the quality of the competition, which I see during the day.  I think the fact that the CIY is a new design, and a clever one, that the judges haven’t seen before, was a big factor in winning.  It certainly wasn’t just that my craftsmanship was better than many of the other boats there.  But the CIY is novel – mine is only the second one to hit the water, and the first one is out on the Great Lakes. Hey, whatever it takes, I’ll keep the mug!

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Mystic Seaport is a gem anytime.  I could spend days there and not see everything.  But when the WoodenBoat Show is on, it’s extra special.  So many boats, and gear, and exhibitors on display.  We have great time showing off our boat, and also viewing all the other boats.  A walk through the Henry B. DuPont Preservation Shipyard there is also really interesting.  We get a peek at the work going on on the Mayflower II in dry dock, which is in for a 3-year major rebuild by the DuPont shipwrights.  And then a bit further down the dock we happen upon this vessel:

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It’s the Viking longship Draken Harald Hårfagre, the world’s biggest Viking ship, visiting the Seaport on a 2-year sojourn to North America.  Built in 2012, it’s a reconstruction of what a large seagoing Viking ship would have been, based on historic documents, archeological findings, and Norwegian boatbuilding traditions.  This thing is huge – some 115 feet long and with a 26-foot beam   The timbers are massive.  I’m sure it’s the biggest open boat I’ll ever see.   Emily spies a crew member up on the foredeck and the next thing I know, she and he are having a lively conversation in Norwegian!  The crewman must have flabbergasted to have someone just start talking to him in his native tongue.   I had forgotten that Emily’s mother is Norwegian.

The day goes by in a flash and next thing we know, it’s 5pm and the show is shutting down.  We unrig Grey Fox and Clint fetches the trailer, and by 6:30 we’re out of there.  Back to Larchmont with Grey Fox flying down I-95 at 50 knots!

June 21st – WoodenBoat Show bound

I got up early on this Thursday morning to tow the boat up to Bridgeport, Connecticut where I had agreed to rendezvous with Clint to he could take the boat up to the WoodenBoat Show, which takes place Friday-Sunday this weekend at Mystic Seaport.  Clint had emailed me a while ago asking if I intended to go to the show.   Yes, I replied, I’ll probably go up for the day on Sunday.  “You should show your boat in the ‘I built it myself’ display”, he said.  But that requires the owner to be there all three days to display his boat.  I still have a job and couldn’t really get away for that long.   I think Clint was just angling to borrow my boat to display at his booth. Chase Small Craft is a small business that is still in the fledgling stage, and Clint doesn’t have a fleet of floor models of all of his designs to display.  But I’m sure it’s easier to sell more kits if he has a finished copy to show to prospective buyers.  So we struck a deal for him to come down from MaIne and pick up Grey Fox, display  it at the show, and I would come up Sunday to see the show and then trailer the boat back home.

Somewhere in there Clint encouraged me to enter the boat into the “Concours d’Elegance” contest. Sort of the boat show’s version of the “best of breed” at the Westminster Dog Show.  He said “I’ve seen all the photos you have posted of your build and the boat is a beauty. I think you could win.”  I’ve been to the show once before and the level of craftsmanship of the amateur builders who show there is phenomenal.  I don’t think there is any way I could win with my glued-lapstrake kit boat, but Clint said he would enter the boat in the contest and be there for the judging, so what the hell, it’s entered.  We’ll see.

At the appointed rendezvous point in the truck parking lot at the rest stop on I-95 in Bridgeport, I give Clint a way-complete look at the boat and the little add-on features I put into it. My oar-stowing rig, the reefing arrangement, etc. He straps the mast to his rack and hooks the trailer to his truck and he’s off to Mystic.   See you Sunday, Clint!

June 17th – Second Outing in Grey Fox

My wife and my 19-year old son were either happy, or recruited, to come sailing with me for the second outing in the life of Grey Fox. Since the boat was still on the trailer, we headed back to Glen Island to launch again and sail for the afternoon, after which we would recover back onto the trailer, because next week Clint is borrowing the boat and taking it up to Mystic, Connecticut for the annual WoodenBoat Show.

The day was pleasant, not too hot and with modest humidity, so the thunderstorm risk was low. After a rather long wait in line behind jet-skis and powerboats lining up to launch, we got the boat in the water and headed out. Everything went smoothly and after rowing out the channel – a bigger task with three people in the boat – we hoisted sail and had a delightful sail over to Sands Point on Long Island. The Sound is only about 2.5 miles wide at this part, so it wasn’t as adventurous of a voyage as it sounds.

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My son Jeffrey did a nice job sailing the boat over, although I think he got way too much coaching from Dad. Especially at one point when the wind gusted up and he didn’t ease the mainsheet and the leeward rail got uncomfortably close to the water. After last week’s foray I was a bit gun-shy and probably yelling when talking would have been adequate.

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From Sands Point, we headed towards Hart Island, which is actually part of the Bronx and is now the home of New York City’s “Potter’s Field”. Right across the harbor from City Island, with its long and storied boatbuilding heritage, Hart Island is where the City buries the indigent, the unidentified and those who die with no known relatives to claim the body and arrange for a proper funeral. It’s pretty from a distance but a bit freaky if you get too close. Especially when you see the “PRISON – Keep Away” lettering on one of the old abandoned buildings on the shore there. Anyway from there we sailed back to Glen Island. No drama this time, and the boat proved that it’s big enough for three people to sail and sit in comfort, and that with 6 to 8 knots of wind, it just moves and is a delight to sail. While I was fetching the trailer, I tasked Jeffrey with getting some photos of the boat in the fading light:

 

June 2, 2018 – Maiden Voyage

“There’s no dumbass vaccine”  — Jimmy Buffett

Launch day is hottest day we’ve had yet this summer.   After the Coming Out party disperses I spend most of the afternoon wrestling the trailer bunks to fit the bill, and installing seats, floorboards, anchor, and rigging.   I’m dying to get the boat in the water.  But everything takes longer than I expected, and by the time I get the trailer hooked to the car, drive down to the nearest launch ramp, rig up the boat, and launch, it’s 5pm.  Plus I am solo.  No time for champagne or photos, just float and go.   My goal is to get the boat into the water and sail it to my yacht club in Larchmont.  Our club doesn’t have a launch ramp, and the nearest ramp is about 3 miles away over water, at Glen Island Park in New Rochelle.  I figure I’ll still have time to sail around.

From the ramp to water open enough to sail is about a quarter mile of rowing.  The boat rows well for its size once I get the feel for it, but it’s still a BIG dinghy so I’m sweating like crazy in the 90 degree heat and humidity.   I clear the channel, ship the oars and hoist the sails.  Mizzen first, since it will help keep the boat pointed into the wind while I hoist the main.   Then the main.  Man this sail is huge!  105 square feet.   The mast is 16’9” and the lug yard extends at least 4 feet above the masthead, so it’s a tall rig.  My dory has a 67 square foot mainsail.  The wind is light, and I find that the boat moves pretty well with only 3 or 4 knots of wind.  I even experiment with cleating off the mainsheet and tying off the tiller and I’m able to find a balance point where the boat pretty well steers itself.  Sweet!  I’m loving the boat already.

It’s hot and super humid, just the right conditions for a late afternoon thunderstorm, and I was aware of that before I headed out.   But I was determined to get on the water today.  So l keep a close eye on the sky.  After sailing about a mile off shore to round Pea Island and head for Larchmont, I see some ominous looking clouds ahead.   A few minutes later the wind starts to build and then an ugly wall of rain appears a couple of miles ahead, right over the shore where my destination is.  Not wanting to get caught out in a thunder squall, especially alone in a boat I’m just learning to manage, I decide to reef down and turn tail back to Glen Island where I started.  The boat is going back on the trailer, and I’ll have to get it over to Larchmont some other day.

The mizzen, which seems to add about zero power to going to windward, proves its value as I heave-to to reef.  Just sheet it in hard, let go of the main sheet and the tiller, and the boat will lie more or less bow to wind.  At least that’s the theory.  I’m getting seriously nervous and thinking what a foolish idea it was to venture out in this weather in the first place, but fortunately the theory works and the boat lies into the wind with the main luffing while I tie in the third reef.  My reefing arrangement, which so far I have only tested in my backyard with the sail on the grass, works well and I am quickly reefed down to something like 65 square feet of mainsail.  The wind is now up to maybe 15 knots.   Back at the tiller, I ease the mizzen, sheet in the main and get up enough way to tack around and high tail it back downwind to Glen Island.  I’m afraid to try a gybe, that pre-capsize downfall of so many dinghy sailors.

The wind builds to maybe 20 knots but it’s now on the quarter and I am flying along in smooth water in the lee of Pea Island.   I should be focused on sailing the boat but I really want to know how fast Grey Fox can go so I juggle for just a minute with the tiller, the mainsheet and my handheld radio/GPS to check the speed.  5.5 knots with the triple-reefed main and a half-luffing mizzen.  Not bad!  It’s a bit hair-raising but I manage to get the boat back to within a few hundred yards of the Glen Island entrance channel, without getting hit by any major rain, and then the wind subsides.  Flopping around in almost no wind, I shake out the reef for the final sail back to the launch ramp.  With the full sail back up, I cleat off the mainsheet and settle into a seat on the side thwart for a leisurely final sail in.

About 3 minutes later, a gust comes up, the boat heals over sharply and the rail dips under the water.   Like a deer in headlights, I am frozen and just watch the water gush over the rail.   Next thing I know, the boat is on its side with the masts in the water.   Damnit!   I have managed to swamp the boat in almost no wind. ON MY FIRST TIME OUT IN THE BOAT.  What a bonehead…

Basic dinghy sailors’ lesson #1:  Never, NEVER cleat off the mainsheet!!!  Yeah, I broke that rule and now I’m finding out how tender this boat can be with that big tall mainsail if you don’t or can’t just let it out because, like a blinking idiot,  I CLEATED DOWN THE MAINSHEET!  As Homer Simpson would say, Doooh!

Now that I’m swimming, let’s take stock of affairs:

–          The water is not too cold by early June, maybe 68 degrees, so I’m ok

–          The water is not very choppy at all, so it shouldn’t overtop the rails of the righted but full-of-water boat

–          I’m only a few hundred yards off of land, even if I can’t move with a swamped boat

–          The boat is designed with ample flotation tanks to make it self-rescuable

–          The hollow spruce masts, boom and yard are flotation, so the boat isn’t going to turtle, and

–          There are plenty of boats in the general vicinity if I need help.  I’m not going to drown or drift out to sea or anything really horrible.

Still, it’s not the position I wanted or expected to be in.  And as a reasonably experienced sailor, I am embarrassed as hell.

I swim around to the bottom (now the side) of the boat and climb up on the daggerboard.  The boat rolls upright pretty easily.  I jump off the daggerboard and into the boat as it comes up.  So far so good.  But that big round-bilged voluminous hull has a WHOLE LOT of water in it!  You could have a pool party in here.  At this very moment, it seems a little like an “Olympic size pool”.  A pool party for you and several close friends.   I’m guessing with scientific accuracy, something like a million gallons.  Or maybe 250.  Let’s see, with a 2-gallon bucket that’s just 125 bucket-fulls, and each bucketful will weigh about 16 pounds…

I reach for my trusty bucket to find that… in my hurry to get the boat on the water, I left it back at home.   Along with the Thirsty-Mate bilge pump.  Ok, now I have gone from bonehead to uber-bonehead, an more advanced species in the evolutionary tree of the bonehead genus.  And my embarrassment has now turned to worry. How am I going to bail this thing out – with my one liter water bottle?

Fortunately, a friendly guy in a bassboat sees me in my distress and swings by.  “You OK?” He asks, while I assume he is laughing at me behind his friendly mask.  “Well, I’m fine, and the boat is ok, but if you have a bucket, I could sure use that… I have some bailing to do and I forgot mine” [sheepish grin like I’m not feeling about 6 inches tall right now].  Well, he has a most excellent bucket, and a thirsty mate, both of which he tosses over to me.   “Need me to do anything?” he asks as I assume the position of a frightened man with a stout bucket, whom we all know can move a lot of water fast…   I reply “if you could just stand by, that would be great, while I bail”.

While I always intended to do a capsize test and practice recovery before heading very far from land and certainly before heading up to the cold water of Maine, I didn’t intend to do it ON MY FIRST OUTING IN THE BOAT…  But Clint’s design is sound, and Grey Fox floats with about 8 inches of freeboard and with the water level below the top of the daggerboard trunk.  It’s also remarkably stable with me sitting in it along with all that water and the “free surface effect” it represents (you can look it up).  After about 10 minutes with the bucket I am almost completely bailed out, and another 3 minutes with the pump and I’m good to go.  I thank the good Samaritan bassboater profusely as I throw him his bucket and pump back, and he – and I in Grey Fox – are on our respective ways.

Notes to self as I head back in:

–          NEVER cleat down the mainsheet

–          EVERYTHING in the boat must be lashed down or tied in with at least a leash.   Several things were not when I went over, and before I could deal with the boat I had to grab those several things that were about to swim away.  As it turned out, I think the only thing I lost was a beer coozie.

–          EVERYTHING that needs to stay dry must be in a dry box or drybag.  Fortunately, my iPhone was in a waterproof case. Not so my car key which was in my pants pocket.

20 minutes later I have the sails furled and row into the dock to put Grey Fox back on the trailer.  My maiden voyage was successful, if you consider success that I went out, I sailed, I rowed, I reefed, the boat worked, I got back, and I didn’t let the ocean into the boat.   OOPS.., I actually failed on that last one…  but the consequences were learning and embarrassment, not any real problems.  It’s good to learn in benign conditions, as they will not always be so.

Of course, I assumed that the electronic car key that had gone salt-water swimming along with my pants would not work. Kudos to Toyota though, because as I walked towards my parked RAV4 I pushed the unlock button just for yucks and lo and behold, the lights flashed and the doors unlocked!

June 2, 2018 – Launching Day

Milestone of milestones, after 18 months on the builder’s ways, the day has come for Grey Fox to taste salt water! However, the builder’s ways are a building cradle in my garage, and the ocean is several miles away. I need to get this rather large dinghy off the cradle, out of the garage and onto to the trailer. That should be no problem, just rig a lifting mechanism from the ceiling rafters of the garage, lift the boat up, remove the cradle, wheel the trailer into the garage under the boat, lower it and you’re in business. EXCEPT – years ago I gave up on ever wheeling a car into my garage, and built a patio where part of the driveway used to be. And we replaced the old apron ramp down to the garage with three stair steps. So the trailer will remain in the driveway and I need some human lifting power to pick up the boat and carry it there.

Fortunately, with glued-lapstrake construction and 6mm-thick planks, this big dinghy, with everything that is removable out of it (floorboards, seats) weighs only about/ a guess of 200 pounds. I plus 5 other people should be able to manage that carry.

I advertise a “Coming Out Party” – that is, the boat is coming out of the garage — and use the promise of free food and drinks and a complete tour of the newly built yacht to induce even more friends than I need to help with the task. 10 or 12 friends, acquaintances, build-helpers and curious come over and Grey Fox is on the trailer in no time. Oh, the thrill of stepping the masts for the first time and seeing that it actually looks like a sailboat when viewed from more than 4 feet away! First moment of truth is whether the masts will even fit in their steps and partners… just barely, but yes. We have a sailboat!

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