Category Archives: Ship’s Log

Miriam Sailing Errant

Miriam Sailing Errant
Miriam Sailing Errant

We stood a while and enjoyed the falling evening. Sailboats moaned against dock lines, water lapped against hulls, and halyards pinged against masts in the dark. Tomorrow we hope to sail. (Source: Explore. Dream. Discover.)

Miriam’s been vying for the helm since Errant joined the family last season, and she finally got her chance. It’s been a full week since the delicious dinner we shared at The Upper Deck at the Willsboro Bay Marina, and she reminded me 2-3 times that she wanted to sail before skipping town for a bit.

Today was finally the perfect opportunity, and Miriam sailed Errant admirably. Winds ranged from about 8 knots to the low/mid teens, and the sun bathed us in its soothing warmth.

Miriam spent most of the afternoon attentive behind the wheel, asking questions, listening, experimenting. And John opted to enjoy the afternoon forward of the wheel, though he pitched in with the grinders from time to time.

Miriam and John Sailing Errant
Miriam and John Sailing Errant

A lovely way to spend a lazy afternoon with good friends. I look forward to our next outing.

Independence Day Precursor

  What better way to celebrate the 3th of July than a sail with Charlie and Charlie? Charlie (my brother) and Charlie (my father-in-law) spent a lazy afternoon aboard Errant, sailing light winds and enjoying welcome weather — hot and sunny with nary a cloud or raindrop insight — after what feels like a month of rain.

  Both Charlies spent time at the helm, and both helped with an exceedingly ungraceful return to my slip at the Essex Shipyard. I decided to back into the slip in order to make boarding slightly easier now that Lake Champlain water levels have flooded over the docks. Gven the tight quarters and Errant’s less-than-agile reverse maneuverability (exaggerated by my still “green” command), I made a decision to enter the channel bow-first, pivot in the slightly larger opening in front of my slip, and then back into the slip.

Bad choice!

Too much momentum and a strong pull to port when reverseing contributed to a botched pivot. Did I mention tight quarters?

  Fortunately, my brother wields the force of Paul Bunyan and enough boating experience to anticipate our problem before it was too late. He managed to fend us off at midship, and helped me restore the pivot. Two friendly boaters from neighboring vessels assisted from the totally submerged finger, guiding us safely into our birth.

One of these days I am going to become as comfortable docking Errant as sailing her. Better yet, I hope to become as comfortable docking Errant as I as I have been docking powerboats for a quarter century. Stay tuned…


First Fullish-Family Sail

My mother and father sailing Errant, June 2015.
My mother and father sailing Errant, June 2015.

Following the most idyllic bike ride this morning, I headed out on Lake Champlain with my parents and sister for a almost-full-family inaugural sail. Perhaps we’ll manage a full-full-family sail when my brother arrives in a little over a week?

Loosely Logged…

We had motored out of my slip at the Essex Marina and begun hoisting the sails when I remembered that I wanted/needed to install the reefing system for the mainsail.

I still need to rig one or two reefing points. I’ll try to take care of that over the course of the week… (First Sail 2015)

Fortunately I found some spare hardware aboard and managed to temporarily rig the first reef, and it turned out to be essential. The initially light 6-8 know winds quickly built to the mid-teens and before long were +/-20 knots.

I’ve now that I’ve discovered firsthand how easy and useful it is to reduce the mainsail area.

This was my first time using the reefing system, and I’ve now that I’ve discovered firsthand how easy and useful it is to reduce the mainsail area, I’m going to hustle up the requisite hardware so that I have two ready reef options from now on.

I also reefed the genoa’s roller-furler twice as the wind built. It was a powerful learning experience.

This spring while working on Errant in the shipyard at the Willsboro Bay Marina I met a friendly fellow who was spring commissioning his sloop nearby. He impressed upon me the importance of reefing and assured me that the boat would perform better once I became accustomed to reefing during heavy winds. I explained that my sailing experience is primarily rooted in small boat sailing and sailboarding which made me greedy, hesitant to sacrifice sail area when the wind was whipping. But today I learned that he’s right. The boat doesn’t round up or wallow, and no water helm to wrestle with. And I was actually able to increase my hull speed when reefed, which was an important if overdue lesson to learn.

My sister and my father sailing Errant, June 2015.
My sister and my father sailing Errant, June 2015.

Furler Foibles

We knocked around for a few hours taking turns at the helm and familiarizing ourselves with the ins-and-outs of this user-friendly Catalina 310. Once we were ready to wrap up and head in, I asked my father to furl the genoa. I rounded up into the wind, and he pulled the roller-furler line. It wouldn’t budge. He took the wheel and I tried. Nothing.

I realized that the spinnaker halyard had become tangled in the roller furler when I reefed it earlier. How? I had secured the spinnaker halyard to the bow pulpit this winter to keep it from slapping against the mast, and I forgot to switch it over when I launched. I had noticed the halyard flapping in the wind earlier in the day, and I’d made a mental note to secure it to the mast as the end of the day. Not soon enough!

By unfurling the genoa and tightening the spinnaker halyard so that it wouldn’t re-tangle, I was able to solve the problem. Relieved. I promised myself to become more detail oriented going forward.


Docking still revs up my anxiety meter… [so] I arrived at the Essex Marina with a twinge of dread. (First Sail 2015)

I was well protected from the wind and waves when I arrived at the marina, and with the advantage of a full crew to handle lines and fenders I was able to execute a relatively confident and wholly successful docking. I’m developing a slightly more intuitive understanding for Errant under engine power, but there’s still plenty to learn before I will feel as comfortable docking 11,000 pounds of fiberglass (plus plenty of windage) with a small two bladed prop and a 25hp diesel engine as I do a powerboat. But each successful docking brings me a little closer to the goal!

Ship’s Log

Catalina 310 Manuals for Errant (plus every other gadget onboard.) But this stash is missing a ship's log!
Catalina 310 Manuals for Errant (plus every other gadget onboard.) But this stash is missing a ship’s log! It’s time to rectify this critical oversight; it’s time to create Errant ship’s log…

Today I launch a new initiative, if I can call it that. Pomp and bluster notwithstanding, I’m decided to attempt an ongoing “ship’s log” for Errant to record sailing outings. A digital ship’s log.

I’m certainly not the first to use a blog to record navigational data, right? I suspect not.

I’ll spare you you the nitty-gritty, boring bits. Probably. Except when I don’t. And I’ll start by creating a ship’s log category and assigning appropriate existing posts to it to get things started off right… Done.

From Chip Log to Logbook

What exactly is a ship’s log / chip log / logbook? Let’s take a look.

A logbook is a record of important events in the management, operation, and navigation of a ship.

The term originally referred to a book for recording readings from the chip log, used to determine the distance a ship traveled within a certain amount of time. The readings of the log have been recorded in equal times to give the distance traveled with respect to a given start position.

Today’s ship’s log has grown to contain many other types of information, and is a record of operational data relating to a ship or submarine, such as weather conditions, times of routine events and significant incidents, crew complement or what ports were docked at and when. It is essential to traditional navigation, and must be filled in at least daily. (Wikipedia)

In a sense this entire blog is a digital ship’s log, but I’m hoping to discipline myself to create a subset of posts that are accountings of each outing. Most will be brief, I expect, micro-chronicles of my Errant adventures. And inevitably a few misadventures! Stay tuned…

Fourth Sail: Learning the Ropes with my Father

Forecast September 12, 2014
Forecast September 12, 2014

This morning will be my last sail before heading off to the desert southwest for a week. Light but steady winds, bluebird skies and a father willing to join me in exchange for good conditions and a pastrami sandwich. Actually, he probably would have come even without, but the least I can do is dial in the weather and spring for lunch, right?

Note the chilly temperatures. It’s a bundle-up sort of day! Apparently autumn is offering a preview of crisper times to come.

Windy & Wavy

The wind forecast for today was accurate enough in the morning, but windspeed increased steadily all afternoon, blowing consistently in the high teens and low twenties. And with all that wind coming out of the north, the waves were stacking up into fairly significant rollers.

I’ve gotten much more comfortable pushing her forward even when the gusts knock us over a little, and she plows right through those waves.

It was an exciting and slightly anxiety inducing experience, but I learned a lot about how the boat performs. I’ve gotten much more comfortable pushing her forward even when the gusts knock us over a little, and she plows right through those waves. In hindsight, we would have been wise to reef early in the day and to furl some of the genoa, but all told it was an excellent learning experience. The boat handled well and we stayed dry.

After the Crunch: Errant against ominous skies after a less than elegant docking...
After the Crunch: Errant against ominous skies after a less than elegant docking…

End of Season Service

Today marked another first of sorts, docking in Vermont at the Point Bay Marina service dock for diesel and a pump out. I’ll be getting the boat hauled and winterized shortly, so wanted to make sure that she was ready for the trip north with Mark and Jim.

The west side of the service dock was open and I was able to dock pretty smoothly with my bow up into the wind. Not a confident docking job, mind you, but it was adequate. No last minute engine revving, and no abort and try again. I know it’ll take plenty of time getting on and off docks, etc. to feel comfortable with this, but each little victory is a step in the right direction.

Bumper Docking

Docking at the Point Bay Marina gave me a premature taste of confidence, and unfortunately my return to homeport was considerably less victorious. In fact, it was a bit of a disaster.

The wind was blasting pretty steadily out of the north, and the seas were a sloppy mess. In hindsight I should have opted to take a temporary slip with better protection, etc. Instead I tried to pivot and reverse into my super tight, shared slip with my bow into the wind. Fortunately the marina manager’s instincts were awesome and his response time even more so. He leapt onto the bow of the neighboring sailboat and prevented us from tangling anchors. Two neighboring sailboat owners managed to fend off on our finger and caught/secured lines.

Damage to Errant's smile, September 2014
Damage to Errant’s smile, September 2014
Damage to Errant's smile, September 2014
Damage to Errant’s smile, September 2014

It all happened pretty quickly, and the damage was limited to a new chunk out of the gelcoat on the starboard edge of the transom. There were already several smaller dings, but this afternoon’s scar is the worst.

I was relieved and grateful, thanking everyone for saving the day. But once I was left alone to tidy up and batten everything down, I stalled a moment to study the damage. Minor but disappointing. Hopefully it will serve to remind me that I need plenty of practice before I should attempt anything as risky as backing into a slip with a strong wind.

Time to hunt around for some docking instructional aids…

Third Sail: Sailing with my Father

Sailing with my father, September 2014
Sailing with my father, September 2014

A perfect day for sailing! Warm and sunny, winds variable 0-15 knots, and — best of all — a chance to wile away the day on Lake Champlain with my father.

My dad taught me to sail 30-35 years ago (a story for another post). It seems appropriate that for my first day sailing Da Capo (soon to be Errant) without my friend Mark at my side, coaching and encouraging, I should have my father onboard to balance out the sailing team.

Thanks, Dad!

Winds were light but mostly steady making for easy, enjoyable sailing and plenty of time to swap sailing stories. My father didn’t grow up in a sailing family, but he learned to sail in his teens and twenties with friends. He shared a couple of fun adventures that I’ll recount anon if he offers his blessing.

From start to finish our sail was a delight. He sailed much of the time, and Da Capo performed predictably, reliably, and 100% enjoyably. Even docking, a hurtle I’m yet to perfect mentally or in execution, proceeded smoothly.

All told, it was a confidence inspiring outing.

Second Sail: Sailing from Willsboro to Essex with Mark

Sailing Errant "home" to Essex from Willsboro after purchase. (Sept. 7, 2014)
Sailing Errant “home” to Essex from Willsboro after purchase. (Sept. 7, 2014)

What a lovely way to take ownership of a new sailboat. Perfect weather. Perfect following wind. And a good friend (and great sailor) to accompany and coach me.

I have to admit that it still hasn’t fully sunk in that this is now my boat. All day it felt like we were borrowing it. I’ve had this experience before, most notably with Rosslyn, the home where my bride and I reside in Essex, New York.

Mark coached me on navigation, paying especially close attention to depth as we sailed through the Four Brothers Islands. We experimented with the equipment (auto pilot, etc.) and with the operation of the vessel. At one point in the afternoon, shortly after dropping the sails to motor into the Essex Shipyard, Mark suggested that I spin the wheel to discover what a tight turning radius the boat could execute if/when necessary. It was a little startling and truly informative. She can practically pivot in space!

Here’s a gallery of photographs from the day.

And here are a couple of fuzzy photos that my bride snapped as motored in to the Essex Shipyard.

Motoring Errant past Rosslyn en route to Essex Shipyard.
Motoring Errant past Rosslyn en route to Essex Shipyard.
Motoring Errant toward Essex Shipyard.
Motoring Errant toward Essex Shipyard.

First Sail: Test-Sailing Da Capo with Mark

Willsboro Bay Marina with Errant (formerly Da Capo), a 2002 Catalina 310, in the middle.
Willsboro Bay Marina with Errant (formerly Da Capo), a 2002 Catalina 310, in the middle.

Time to test-sail Da Capo, the Catalina 310 at the Willsboro Bay Marina that I’m considering purchasing. Fortunately my good friend Mark Engelhardt, a seasoned sailboat racer, cruiser, and liveaboard, joined me today for a trial run. Even more fortunate? He lives in Montpelier, Vermont and was willing to come north for an early morning ferry ride to Essex, a hardy Rosslyn breakfast (I tempted him with farm fresh scrambled eggs and bacon!) and a sail.

Conditions were perfect. Sunny. Cool. And a building breeze of about 12 knots greeted us when we arrived at the marina. The owner welcomed us warmly, and after brief introductions we throttled up and loosed the dock lines.

“Normally we have to motor out on the channel,” the owner said. “But today we can sail. Wind’s perfect.”

The owner was at the helm, and for the first time I began to feel a little jittery. Butterflies? Was I ready for this? He backed out of the slip and headed out onto Willsboro Bay.

We ran up the main, unfurled the 135% genoa, and cut the engine. As the diesel died and the luffing sails filled, I was struck by the quiet. The gentle vibration of the engine was replaced by the slosh of water and the subtle sense of straining as the wind leaned into the sails and rigging, and the hull sliced through the waves. The vessel felt solid as she healed subtly away from the wind.

Breezy with Butterflies

The owner remained at the helm, describing the the boat’s character, and gesticulating to illustrate his points. He was relaxed and content. Confident. Hands lightly on the wheel, smiling.

I was feeling excited and nervous all at once. Wind power exhilarates AND calms me. But that childlike enthusiasm was only one part of what I was feeling. I was also catapulting forward quickly toward boat ownership. I’ve dreamed of this for decades. But was I ready?

“Are you ready?” he asked me.

I was. And I wasn’t. Suddenly the enormity of this step, this responsibility, this learning curve washed over me. I was excited. And nervous.

“Sure,” I lied. “You bet!”

I replaced the owner behind the helm and stood, feet shoulder width apart, suddenly more conscious of the wind’s power and the texture of the water rushing beneath the hull, pulling gently at the rudder.

A gust loaded up the main and I overcorrected, rounding up and causing the boat to wallow. I colored, resolved to be less jumpy, to trust the boat.

And then the wind buffeted us again. And I rounded up again. Steady. Gust. Fall off. Wallow.

Mark asked the owner if the boat gets squirrelly in heavy wind. It’s not bad, the owner explained in a circuitous way, more comfortable in French than in English. He explained that Catalina recommends reefing the main above 17 or 18 knots. He usually waits until 20 knots or so, he said smiling. I glanced at the gauges and saw that we were pretty consistently in the high teens, and the gusts were  pushing us above 20 knots.

Another gust and I overcorrected again. My palms were sweaty. I was clenching the wheel tightly. I loosened my grip, widened my stance, breathed in and out slowly. Mark and the owner encouraged me to trust the vessel, to let it push through the gusts without rounding up. And I began to. Slowly. And she held her course, plugged through the light chop, accelerated.

Maiden Voyage

“Have you ever sailed before?” the owner asked.

I was taken aback, though I tried not to betray it. I explained that I’d grown up sailing. As a young boy I learned to sail my family’s daysailer with my father, a Paceship 17 (P17), and then sailed an Alcort Sailfish during my middle and high school years. I’ve owned a fleet of windsurfers and a pair of Hobie Cat 16s. And any time I’ve had the chance to try out other sailboats I’ve grabbed the rudder or wheel.

But the truth is that I’ve done very little keel boat sailing. I’ve daysailed on friends’s boats, and I’ve chartered captained sailboats in France and Turkey. But sailing and owning a keel boat was going to be a totally new adventure for me. And it was turning out that my instincts and my muscle memory would need some work!

I began to feel more comfortable. I was resisting the reflex to round up each time a gust knocked into us, and my confidence was growing. I felt more confident, and I began to relax. The boat is heavy and handles predictably. The wind and my own responses were unpredictable, but I was getting the hang of it.

Mark swapped out with me so that I could handle the lines and he could run the vessel through some tests. And before I knew it we’d been out on the water for over an hour and needed to wrap up. Mark was satisfied that the boat was sound and handled well. I was relieved to have achieved a modest degree of comfort and confidence at the helm. And Da Capo’s owner was pleased that we liked his boat. It was time to head back to the marina…

Da Capo