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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About the Calendar Islands Yawl

From my limited dory cruising experience in Maine, I had learned that Maine in summer is notorious for changing weather conditions which frequently feature light winds or even full days of flat calm, but it can turn dicey in a hurry. Maine’s high tide ranges mean that beaching a boat is only practical if you can move it down the beach to the water if the tide has gone down while you’re ashore. With two guys and a cylindrical fender to use as a roller, you can move a boat of modest size and light weight down a beach.

The CIY combines a voluminous but remarkably lightweight (i.e. beachable) hull with a large sail rig that will move the boat along nicely in just a whisper of wind.

Three sets of reef points in the large mainsail allow shortening sail in a jiffy when the wind kicks up, and the yawl rig’s mizzen makes heaving-to head-to-wind easy, providing an extra margin of comfort and safety (as well as the ability to string a ridgeline for a boat tent). The balanced lug mainsail provides simplicity and ease of hoisting, reefing and converting from sail to oar. The hull shape carries a lot of volume aft, but strong rocker in the stern keeps the transom out of the water, allowing this large dinghy to row well.

The hull includes flotation tanks aft and forward, which ensure that the boat floats high enough to be self-rescuable in the case of a swamping. A large cockpit with wrap-around seating makes the boat comfortable for all-day sailing with several adults on board. The floorboards lift up to seat level to make an expansive sleeping platform for sleeping aboard, and the flat bottom panel with skeg (no keel or keelson) allows the boat to sit upright when beached or on a dock.

The Design
LOA: 15’8” hull / 18’0” with boomkin
LWL: 13’8”
Beam: 5’2”
Draft: 6” daggerboard up / 3’0” daggerboard down
Hull weight: ~200 lbs
Hull construction: glued lapstrake – 6mm okoume marine plywood
Sail Area: 121 Sq Ft (105 main, 16 mizzen)

I built my Calendar Islands Yawl in my one-car garage over about 18 months of 2017 and 2018.  The hull planks, bulkheads, frames, transom, tank tops and seats came in the kit I purchased in a kit from Chase Small Craft.  Those parts were all cut by a CNC-controlled router table, which is fed the 3D CAD design files of the design.   Very 21st century, even if the design itself draws heavily from ideas and forms of boats from the 1800s.

When I was just about done planking the hull (in May 2017), I was working in the garage one Sunday afternoon when Clint texted me and said he was passing through New York and could he stop by and see how my build was coming.   Conveniently, I was home and told him to come on by.   While he was carefully eyeing the boat sitting upside down on the building frame, (something like this, )

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… Clint mentioned that this was great, because he had never seen a CIY “in the flesh” before.  “But you designed it…” said I, and he replied “Yes, but I only built a half scale model to get the shape down.  The full kit is cut straight from the CAD drawings.”  And mine was only the second one to be built, the first being far enough away that Clint had never actually seen it in person.   Well, that says something about Clint’s computer-aided design skills as well as the CNC technology, because the hull went together just about perfectly.

I thoroughly enjoyed building the boat, and it was really rewarding to see it go from a stack of plywood sheets and some boards to the finished product.  Along the way one major milestone was flipping it over after the hull was built. That was in June 2017, six months after I started.  I felt like I was almost done — but in reality wasn’t even halfway there.  There is a whole lot of work to do to turn a hull into a boat.

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I made all the solid wood parts (spars, oars, rails, floorboards and trim) from lumber I bought myself.  The boat was essentially completed in less than 12 months of building, but by then it was November and I had missed the season, so I spent the next 6 months “pimping my ride” with lots of little details, such as custom-fit food coolers that sit under the rowing thwart, staffs to hold nav lights, and a rope-and-steel swimming ladder.

For you wooden boat geeks out there, you can see a full blog of the whole building process at

http://forum.woodenboat.com/showthread.php?218379-Calendar-Islands-Yawl-build-in-NY

If you’re not a boatbuilding geek, you needn’t check it out, as it’s pretty in the weeds.

How I Came to Own Grey Fox

In 2014, I built a 17-foot “Northeaster Dory” from Chesapeake Light Craft.  When I first started building the dory, the idea was just to have a simple daysailer to putz around my home waters in eastern Long Island Sound, within sight of the New York City skyline.  While I was building it over the winter, the armchair sailor in me got inspired by a video of a young couple beach-cruising in Maine in their Northeaster Dory.  (Search for “the Boatymoon” on YouTube to see this wonderful video).  It brought back fond but vague memories of sailing in Maine with my grandfather as a kid in the 1970s.   So after having sailed my dory for only a few weekend day outings, I and an unsuspecting and probably too-trusting buddy  did our first cruise in Maine with it. The dory, a very lightweight, modernized version of the traditional Swampscott Dory, is great in relatively calm waters and it rows as well as it sails, with the added advantage that if you drop the mast you can have two people tandem rowing and knock off the miles at a good clip.  We were out for 5 days and sailed and rowed (well, it was an incredibly windless week so we mostly rowed) about 65 nautical miles including a circumnavigation of Deer Isle with stops at Isle Au Haut and Swans Island.

However, dory cruising was by necessity beach cruising.  You had to find a place to camp ashore each night, as the dory is neither stable enough or big enough for even one person to bivouac in afloat.  We spent each night on a different island of the Maine Island Trail – one of the most incredible gems on Earth, and within a day’s drive of New York.   Each night we had our own campsite (and usually a AW whole gorgeous island) to ourselves.  It was wonderful, but you had to find a MITA site for each night.

After two 5-day cruises in Maine in 2014 and 2015, I was completely hooked on this sort of adventuring.  But I decided I needed a boat that was a bit larger, more stable and seaworthy, and that would allow me and a friend to sleep aboard.  That would open up a lot more cruising possibilities in Maine, and maybe even the opportunity for some weekend overnights on Long Island Sound, where beach cruising is impossible because just about every meter of shoreline is privately owned.  I even entertained fantasies of dropping my anchor 50 yards off the private beach of some Greenwich hedge fund Gazillionaire and squatting on his waterfront view in my little poor man’s yacht with the boat tent pitched, expecting a squad of private security thugs to appear in a powerboat and tell me to move on or be arrested or worse… (Well, I digress, and I haven’t actually tried that last part yet.)

I toyed with the idea of building an Iain Oughtred Caledonia Yawl, and spent many winter evenings watching and re-watching every installment of Geoff Kerr’s fantastic “Building the Caledonia Yawl” video series on Off Center Harbor.   A gorgeous, seaworthy and traditional boat.  But one of my must-have requirements was the ability to singlehandedly haul my boat up onto the floating dock at my yacht club, since I didn’t want to deal with a boat on a mooring, and to be able to move the boat on a beach with just two people.   The Caledonia Yawl and even its svelter cousin the Sooty Tern were just too big for that.

I saw a profile of Clint Chase’s Calendar Islands Yawl in WoodenBoat’s “Small Boats” magazine and was intrigued.  He designed the boat to be optimized for open-boat camp-cruising along the rocky and crenellated coast of Maine, and named the design for the supposedly 365 islands in Casco Bay, Maine.    It seemed the right combination of size, rig, build complexity, and camp-ability that I was looking for.  After endless comparisons of specs of designs by Vivier, Oughtred, and others I decided the  CIY was for me.   In December of 2016 I called Clint and ordered up a kit.