Hat tip to my father for sending me a link to “Fastnet sailing adventure“, Michael Hutchinson’s delightfully recounted Fastnet sailing adventure.
I found that I could stand behind the wheel carving a fast passage through the rolling sea for hours on end, barely having to think. It was hypnotic. (Source: The New York Times)
I totally understand what Hutchinson is referring to, and I’ve never blue water sailed. Not yet. (But I will!)
There is something hypnotic—even when sailing within sight (or almost within sight) of land—about slicing through the sea at the helm of a solid sailboat. I find this to be especially true when I’m shorthanded. So totally, 100% in the zone. So alive. And yet so removed from everything else, all distractions and deadlines and fuzzy thinking.
Hutchinson writes well, and he communicates the subtlety of sailing well, but there’s something even more tantalizing in this piece. Perhaps it’s how familiar his thoughts felt. This, too, hit home for me:
It was cartoonishly metaphorical, the eight of us surfing toward the finish line surrounded by jumping dolphins. Ten year old me… would have ignored them, the better to evaluate the effects of Coriolis force on the sail trim. Happily, it turned out that I’d got a lot younger in the intervening years. (Source: The New York Times)
I think I was an old man when I was a child, far more eager (and anxious) than my peers. I did my best to camouflage both afflictions, but they were there, roiling within. And I’m certain that I’ve un-aged as I grown older. I’m still eager, but I’m less anxious. I’m more present and appreciative and joyful and—not always, but often—I’m more tranquil. Sailing is for me one of those transcendent places where I can be young again. Joyfully young without the ache of worry.
I close with a hat-tip to my father (who sent me this article, and who taught me to sail a long time ago) and to Michael Hutchinson for chronicling and sharing his adventure. Thanks!
Today I introduce Matthew Parsons, another inspirational sailor/livaboard who chronicles his adventure at Life on Gudgeon (blog URL is www.gudgeonblog.ca and he also posts pics on Instagram.com/.) Unlike some of the snazzier, slicker sailing blogs, Parson doesn’t airbrush his experience. Reality unfiltered. It’s refreshingly honest and useful. Instructive.
In his own words:
I am a transplant from England… [residing] in Victoria [Canada]. The longer I stayed in Victoria, the more people I met who had made the jump to living on the water. This blog is about my attempts to join them.
I bought Gudgeon (then Wind Chime) in Dec 2013, moved on in June 2014, and have steadily been upgrading and improving her. My thoughts have started to turn to cruising around the world, but I have a lot of refitting and learning to do before then! (Source: Life on Gudgeon)
Gudgeon, Parsons’ sailboat, is a 36 foot Hunter designed in 1980 by John Cherubini. She’s a solid vessel with clean lines, a reliable hull and rig, and a steady supply of projects. Parsons documents the ups and the downs, a healthy reminder that living aboard a sailboat isn’t all tie-dye sunsets and following winds.
Last Thursday my bride and I sailed away from Essex for some “together time” to wrap up our boating season on Lake Champlain. Today Errant is on the hard, winterized, and covered for a long North Country fall-winter-spring. What a week!
As always, I’m super grateful to Paul, Tami, Andre, Michael, and everyone else that ensures smooth operations at Willsboro Bay Marina. What an incredible team. Always reliable, always friendly, always generous, always over-delivering. Launching and hauling has is such a positive experience each year. Thank you, Team WBM!
There’s a long-ish laundry list that we need to take care of during winter storage including:
finding and fixing a fresh water leak
repairing the bimini bracket that ripped its screws out of the deck
troubleshoot ceiling light in head (one works; one doesn’t)
repair broken ceiling light in salon near clock/barometer
fix v-berth latch
refinish companionway boards
repair main and genoa
install smart latch brackets for helm seat
source new cockpit cushions and porthole blinds
repair/reseal wiring in bilge (especially wind instrument connections)
replace all running rigging, dock lines, etc.
replace halyard/sheet/line pockets
and various other projects…
But for now, it’s time to celebrate a memorable sailing season on Lake Champlain, and to breathe a sigh of relief that hauling and winterization are complete. And — it’s worth noting — de-rigging, winter storage cover, etc. took half the time of last year. Progress!
The best-laid plans… According to our scheme, we’d follow our leisurely two-night stay in Burlington with an early morning rise on Saturday in order to sail west to Willsboro Bay Marina before the wind and waves had a chance to build.
By 5:00am I was up and showering, fretting over the increasingly rough water and the ever-mounting wind. Meteorologists failed. Again.
Looks calm enough in the photo, right? Well, it wasn’t. With stern into the wind and waves, Errant was see-sawing bow, stern, bow, stern. The docks were moaning and groaning. And I nearly wore out my weather apps trying to get a handle on what to expect.
For context, I take you back a couple of days:
So, one side of me is aching to wrap up the season with a final day of big wind and big seas. But I know for certain that this is not the best way to nurture my bride’s extremely restrained interest in spending more time sailing Errant. (Source: Last Waltz 2016: Preparations | Sailing Errant)
Plan vs. Reality
By 8:00am we’d set sail in gusty winds fluctuating between hight teens and low twenties. Directly out of the south, so looong fetch. Huge rolling seas.
My bride was not pleased.
But with worsening weather and a Monday haul-out date (driven by travel booked shortly thereafter), we knew what we needed to do. Double reefed main and genoa, nose into the surf, and off we went. We soon discovered that we’d be unable to sail directly west to Willsboro Point. This put us broadside to the building waves, and we were taking tons of water over the deck and into the cockpit. Not fun with many miles ahead.
So he headed further north, enduring a rodeo ride between Burlington and Port Kent, New York. Wind quickly starting pushing into the low 30s. Hull speed never dropped below 7.5 knots. Waves were as large as I ever experienced on Lake Champlain. I was wavering between concern for my bride who turned out to be an incredible trooper, helping solve crises as they arose, and keeping us focused on the goal of our crossing.
At one point port side bimini blew free, the stainless steel tubing having pulled the screws free from the deck. No time to round-up, we kept barreling through the waves while lashing the support to the stanchions, a solution that held despite the odds.
When we finally reached the New York shore we began tacking our way south toward Willsboro Point. I’d hoped for a wave and wind shadow behind Schuyler Island. Moderate reduction in wave action, but the winds continued to howl. Endless tacking, but gaining little ground. A dozen tacks. Two dozen. A fouled jib sheet. Bride at the help while I fought my way up to free the sheet. More tacks.
We were drenched, but finally we reached the mouth of Willsboro Bay. I’d resisted shifting over to engine power since Errant handles so much better (stronger, steadier, and more predictable) under sail power, but by the time we entered the bay we decided to switch over to diesel. It took the ages to fight south despite having the throttle wide open. We continue to take waves over the bow, continued to get slammed with water. But slowly we inched toward Willsboro Bay Marina where our slip awaited us.
No sooner had we tied up than the sun came out and the wind began to fall. We changed into dry cloths, and enjoyed the lunch we hadn’t been able to eat during our 5+ hour adventure. It tasted sublime!
What an end to the season. I’m incredibly proud of my bride for rising to the occasion. I’d marry her all over again! And I’m proud of Errant. What a wonderful ship. I’m never once questioned my good fortune in finding and purchasing this reliable vessel, and it’s been three years.
My bride genuinely enjoyed the passage, and we both agreed that it was the most relaxing days we’ve enjoyed together in weeks. Months?
We settled into an outer slip on the southern end of Burlington Boathouse’s marina—lots of air and unobstructed view—and then met up with friends for drinks at Juniper followed by dinner at Bleu. The perfect start to a mini-vacation!
We continued to follow the weather, and by Friday morning we had decided that heading north to Valcour would set us up for a risky sail south on Saturday. Thunderstorm threats had been pushed back, but major wind (out of the south) promised a wetter, colder, and generally less optimal sail than I wanted for my bride. (Remember, the goal was to make her feel more comfortable sailing, not less comfortably cruising!)
Instead we opted to spend the day and a second night in Burlington. Fortunately the friends with whom we’d planned to rendezvous at Valcour agreed to meet us in Burlington for cocktails on the boat and dinner at Splash. Perfect. But first a lazy day playing “tourist” in a town where we’re normally hustling to cross items off our punch lists. I’ll chronicle the rest of our Burlington stay in Twitter posts…
All season I have been anticipating a multi-day sailing excursion on Lake Champlain with my bride. Tomorrow, at last, we set sail.
Our first leg, Essex to Burlington, promises a “perfect” weather forecast: bluebird skies, warm-but-not-hot temperatures, and moderately light winds. The moderate winds are especially important because my bride—who’ll happily, eagerly hurl herself into the roughest conditions on the windsurfer—remains uncomfortable on a larger sailboat when it heels in heavy wind.
Friday’s forecast looks similarly perfect. We have planned to sail from Burlington to Valcour where we will meet up with friends and sleep on the hook. So far so good.
Saturday’s weather forecast has been a bit less ideal. Initially it looked like day three of the same perfect conditions. Then meteorologists switched things up. Rain. Thunderstorms. High wind. Not exactly what we’re hoping for. So I waited, refreshed the weather forecast way too often, and waited some more…
The good news is that rain has been pushed back. Maybe Saturday evening, but probably not before. But the wind speed is increasing daily. Yesterday the forecast lifted from low teens to high teens. By this morning it is 20+. Keep in mind that these are land forecasts, and in my experience actual wind velocity is usually about 50% higher than the land forecast.
So, one side of me is aching to wrap up the season with a final day of big wind and big seas. But I know for certain that this is not the best way to nurture my bride’s extremely restrained interest in spending more time sailing Errant. I know that a wet sail south from Valcour to Willsboro Bay Marina will most likely backfire. So, I’m simultaneously willing a shift in the weather and weighing the possibility of abridging our plans: Friday lunch at Valcour and then sail south to Willsboro by day’s end.
A virtually snowless winter, followed by a relatively drive spring and an extremely dry summer has resulted in the following precipitous drop to Lake Champlain water levels.
One month ago (July 21 recorded approximately 94.75 feet) I hit bottom exiting and entering my slip. Despite some recent upticks in water level due to heavy rain over the last week, Lake Champlain water level has nevertheless dropped below 94.5′ So at least a 3″ drop since I rubbed Errant’s keel on the bottom.
In other words, nature hasn’t solved my problem. Far from it!
It’s an odd feeling, eleven thousand pounds (and change, plenty of change) of sailboat stuck in a slip at the marina. Unnerving really.
And my options were few. Haul out. Hang tight and hope for rain. Think about other problems. I’ve tried and applied all three options. Denial worked best. For a while.
A fellow sailor suggested that it’s possible to push Errant sideways away from the dock enough (6 feet? 12 feet?) that she’ll miss the “hump” when I reverse. He knows because he lived through the same problem some years ago when his sailboat was in my slip.
No other good ideas have presented, so the plan is to follow his instructions. I’ll be requisitioning helpful dockhands plus line handlers aboard. But given persistent reverse-steering troubles this summer, I’m not feeling overly optimistic.
And there’s another obvious problem. If/when I manage to liberate Errant from her slip, what then? There aren’t any other deep water slips available…
Relatively shallow water depth in front of our beach and boathouse combined with a relatively open moorage (we’re exposed to heavy seas especially during strong north winds) combined with a heavy sailboat with ample windage makes mooring challenging. Our existing 200 lb. mushrooms with conventional chain and buoy moorings are grossly inadequate for mooring Errant. But it turns out that industrial rubber bands offer some interesting advantages over chains and mushrooms.
Less scope. Less jerking. Less corrosion, wear and tear, ice damage, etc. I’ve spoken to a nearby sailer with similar exposure who’s had great luck with his sailboat on a Hazelett elastic mooring. Todd, the fellow who runs the waterfront at Point Bay Marina (across the lake) has also testified to the performance and reliability of the system. They’ve switched over their entire mooring field. Seems like I should have explore this route long ago.
The first installer recommended by Hazelett never followed up despite a half dozen communications and a couple of weeks, so Todd from Point Bay will be installing our new mooring. It’s a two elastic band model with a massive 4’x4’x2′ ballast. And it will hopefully be installed in the next few days. I’d been hoping for last week, but conditions delayed installation. A delay that ticked by painfully slowly as I monitored lake levels and worried about extracting Errant from her slip. Hopefully I’ll be able to share some good news soon!
One Month Lost
So today I’m checking in, performing some routine maintenance, and quietly consoling Errant. I’m apologizing for neglecting her. I’m promising to resolve her situation ASAP.
I’m admitting regrets, admitting and then letting them go. Moving on. Or planning to move on as soon as I have a mooring!
Tomorrow I’ll follow up with installer, and maybe the next day I’ll try to free Errant from her “landlocked” slip. Sideways. If I can muster an army of assistants. If I can overcome my hesitance to temporarily anchor her in front of our house until the permanent elastic mooring is installed. I have some reservations about that, but that soul-bearing another day.
This afternoon offered a mixed bag of sailing pleasures and pains.
Tiptop on the pleasure side of the equation was being joined by my brother and nieces. Beautiful conditions – sunny and dry, breezy and gusting 9 to 19 knots – offered the perfect bonus.
But, on the painful (or at least, not-so-pleasurable) side of the equation was “kissing” sunken debris with the keel. Yes, you heard that right. Big frown. Bottoming out is never, ever pleasurable.
Downtime with my brother, a globetrotting diplomat, is a rare luxury. Doing so while sailing was the highlight of a roughly weeklong visit by my brother’s family.
This is the third summer that my nieces have been enjoying sailing adventures aboard Errant, but it’s the first time that we have forgotten to bring their comfy life preservers. Both nieces were less than thrilled to wear the onboard emergency jackets, but they were good sports nonetheless. In fact, it turns out that the oversized orange PDFs make pretty good pillows!
Unfortunately the day’s painful element was bumping the keel on the bottom. Twice. Lake Champlain water levels continue to drop, drop, drop. I still have enough water in my slip, but there’s a hump (debris?) in the bottom that I bumped on the way in and out of my slip. Not hard enough to cause significant damage, but concerning nonetheless.
A fellow boater who used to keep a sailboat in the same slip some years before suggested that I try what he had done: have several people on the dock push the boat out sideways to clear the hump before reversing. Sounds doable but dodgy, especially given the steering problem I’ve been experiencing. So, what next? I still don’t know. Stay tuned…
Some Mondays explode out of the starting gate, one blurring bolt of giddy-up-get-it-done. I love those Monday mornings!
Today was not one of those Monday morning. Not at all.
Fortunately, five o’clock found me swapping desk for dock and laptop for helm. Happy hour. Happy hours. Two and a half hours of perfect breeze, easy seas, seventy plus degrees, and a breathtaking sunset. The perfect wind down to a not-so-perfect day.