A Party of Two

July 8th

After yesterday’s loss of ground tackle, I spent all morning shopping around for a replacement anchor and rode. Found a new 5-pound Danforth anchor and chain at Brewer’s but they were out of spliced rodes, so I had to journey to the big orange box, where I found what I needed. I had promised my sister I would take her out today to escape the heat and go swimming, but that meant I needed to have an anchor.  (Not a good idea to jump overboard while sailing).

We got underway at around 3pm just as the summer mid-day doldrums were giving way to a modest southwest breeze. The nearest boat-accessible beach is at a wildlife preserve at East Creek on Sands Point in Long Island. It’s a beautiful spot and while I’m not sure of its public/private status, I’ve been there many times in the kayak and the dory and nobody ever tried to chase me away. We headed there, about three and half nautical miles from Larchmont, under full sail. With the wind light and steady, I was able to get away with breaking that cardinal rule of dinghy sailing and tie down both the mainsheet and the tiller. Grey Fox practically sailed herself most of the way to Long Island, and I only took over to approach the beach.

Unlike “my” side of Long Island Sound, which is mostly rocky because it’s what’s left from when the last glaciers of the Ice Age scraped off everything not bolted down and carried it south to Long Island, the north shore of Long Island is a completely different picture. Here it’s all sandy or gravelly beaches, miles of them with only a few glacial erratics to provide the occasional hazard to navigation close to shore.

While there’s all that expanse of beach on the north shore, most of it is in front of zillion dollar waterfront houses. The preserve at East Creek is a sandy gem that’s almost within sight of the Manhattan skyline but could make you think you’re out in the Hamptons. A quarter mile of beach with no mansions, Mc or otherwise, to clutter the view and post “private beach –keep off” signs on the shoreline.

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Grey Fox anchored off Sands Point

With the wind blowing gently offshore we dropped the hook in about 7 feet of water and swam the 75 yards ashore to walk the beach and stretch our legs. With the dory I would have just beached the boat, but Grey Fox is big and heavy enough that it’s easier to anchor and swim ashore than to have to wrestle the boat down to a water’s edge that will have moved with the falling tide while we are ashore.  That works well when it’s hot and the water is warm… in Maine I would be beaching the boat to get ashore with only frozen ankles.  But for today, in tropical New York, the whole point was to go for a swim and cool off… the beach is just a bonus.  Within two minutes of walking ashore, we’re already baking in the heat again.

Large banks of beach rose that line the extreme high tide line hum with the buzz of bumblebees and give off a beautiful fresh fragrance. I think of this plant as emblematic of the New England seashore, but it turns out that rosa rugosa is an invasive species… imported in the 1840s from Asia.  Well hey, Europeans are in invasive species in North America as well so I guess I’ll just enjoy the roses.

At the top and on the back side of the dune, scrub oaks prevail and the ground is covered in prickly pear cactus, replete with yellow blooms. Yes, cactus growing naturally on Long Island!  I guess the sandy environment drains all rainwater and resembles a desert.  Surely this is an alien invasion from Arizona or even Mexico.  Build the Wall!  Oops… turns out that this stuff (opuntia humifusa) is actually native to this region.  On the back side of the dune is a beautiful little salt marsh, and we take a quick walk in the heat to look for herons and cranes.

Unfortunately the beach suffers from its proximity to millions of people, with more than its fair share of flotsam and jetsam (which I believe are just two different flavors of waterborne trash).  In and among the seashells and driftwood are myriad soda bottles, potato chip wrappers, and all manner of plastic detritus.  It is amazing that we are so addicted to our plastic convenience even when we can see it choking every corner of our world.

Twenty minutes or so of walking around and we are ready to swim back to the boat (and cool off a bit in so doing).  We hoist the mainsail, pull up the anchor, and away we go. The wind has come up just a bit and the sail back to Larchmont is a delightful reach, with the late afternoon sun drying us off after our swim and putting a warm glow on the sails.

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Heading home towards the sunset.  Oars stowed in the bow oarlocks for sailing

The Log of the Grey Fox

A blog wherein your middle-aged and desk-bound correspondent muses on the fun part of his existence, inside and outside the gunwales of a very small “yacht”

“It’s a semi-true story, believe it or not.   I made up a few things, and there’s some I forgot” 

Jimmy Buffett

Grey Fox is a 16-foot long cruising dinghy, and this is a chronicle of my experiences sailing and, at least occasionally, cruising in this small open boat.  The boat is a “Calendar Islands Yawl” designed by Maine-based designer and build-it-yourself kit producer Clint Chase. I built in my garage and first started sailing it in June 2018.

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!

WBSBestinShowMug

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:

vikingship

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: