Archive for September, 2009

Passages

Monday, September 28th, 2009

I really wanted to call my section of the blog Passages. The double meaning appealed to me. It lightly conveyed the weighty concepts of life’s many transitions and one’s passing through its varied stages and places simply and neatly while conveying the sense of a significant journey or undertaking. Rite of Passage etc. All that meaning bundled effortlessly into one little word: passages. All in all it sounded perfect.

Unfortunately, if you Google Winnipeg Free Press and add /passages you come to a similar yet fundamentally different kind of blog (or obituaryblog). So that my family will not prematurely see me in those pages, I have chosen an interim name with the full knowledge that rarely is there such a thing as an interim name whether it is a boat, kid, dog or blog. The temporary has a very good way of becoming perfect permanent.

An Effortful Existence
is thus christened interim

By day 3 out of Toronto it became apparent that the ruling body of Lake Ontario did not want us to leave her fair shores. Lake Ontario has been good to us for 15 years and we have no complaints. She has always seen us safely into all her harbours and has provided a wonderful setting for the first part of our sailing life. But it was time to leave and no amount of fuss she could kick up in terms of contrary wind and waves could divert us.

Strangely she must have been the only one hesitant to see our back side. While everyone has been very enthusiastic about this adventure and has wished us well so many times all remained was for us to actually leave which it seemed, we refused to do. In the weeks preceding our departure I heard the good natured, “I thought you’d already left…” so many times I kept my head down and stayed in the car when there was the possibility of seeing a friend. Enough is enough! we can’t say “Welcome Back!” if you don’t leave.

Back aboard Bojangles Day 3 ended with an oddly prophetic sunset. From our position in far eastern Lake Ontario, the sun set behind Hamilton Harbour and if the camera didn’t capture it I would never ask you to believe it but as I came up the companionway 4 minutes before the sun finally disappeared it appeared that we were headed away from the Statue of Liberty rather than towards it (see picture).
Our first glimpse of Lady Liberty
Day 3 was also our first overnight passage thusly required due to our significant weather delays. Amortize 18 hours over 12 months and you’ll understand why we had to push on.

As I mentioned Lake Ontario brought out her best and continue to kick up some unusually persistent easterlies creating 2 previous days of buck & chuck sailing. In all my years on Lake Ontario rarely do you get it coming and going, especially on a 35, 000 pound boat. Our first boat was 5,000 lbs and while we saw some heavy weather, I dread to think what this sail would be like aboard her.

On any overnight passage there always needs to be someone “on watch”. Sensibly there to guard against a number of conceivable hazards: collision, sail trouble, engine failure. Anything. But most often one stands all night simply to ward off plain bad luck. While we were not hit with any bad luck that night I am sure the bad luck theme will reappear in this blog so the literary minded can consider this foreshadowing.

That night on my first overnight passage I took 3 sleeps. Most sailors would say they took 2 watches: 11 pm-1 am and 3am-5am. Being an optimist I prefer to focus on the positive: I slept from 9pm-11pm, 1am-3am and 5-8am. Add it all up and you got yourself a good night’s sleep.

Right now I have a lot of good things to say about night watches. I can now tell approximate time by the relative position of the Big Dipper as it clocks around the night sky and seeing a fiery moon rise on a silent sea is a startling sight, but that’s not what I took away from my first night watch experience.

Most profoundly I was struck by the difference in my 3 wakings. My first waking for the 11 pm shift: I woke naturally and early at 10:45 bright eyed and raring to go. Yee Haa! The seas had calmed, the tides had turned. Smooth sailing. For my second watch I woke with the alarm, willingly but grudgingly with the sensation that the boat was a cradle being rocked by a big brother who thought if gentle was good then faster was better! The third and final waking was forced. I had slept through the alarm, the boat was cold, the novelty had worn off and the boat was at a wedding doing the Can Can wedged between a short guy and a tall chick and neither had any rhythm.

Kathleen

New York, New York – so nice they named it twice

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Leaving Catskill, we enjoyed a nice motor trip down the Hudson – doing 6 knots over ground when the tide was against us, and 10 when it was with us.

We spent a nice Sunday night at the Poughkeepsie Yacht club and planned to get an early start for the final 80 mile run down to Manhattan. We awoke at 0600 to a falling tide and with our bow pointing downstream we fired up the diesel and began to release the dock lines to make our getaway.

Unfortunately, we casually released the stern line before the spring line and the tide immediately grabbed the stern of the boat and pushed it out into the river – which then jammed the bow of the boat into the dock. So now we’ve got a triangle – where the dock forms one side, the boat forms another side, and the spring line (from amidships to the dock) forms the third side. The force of the tide (and current) made the spring line ‘bar tight’ and there ain’t no way that this boat is moving until the tide changes.

We then spent a while debating our options and decided that the best course of action was to rig new stern line from a cleat on the dock to a winch on board, and winch the boat into the dock. Then we could get ourselves set up to embark correctly on this trip. The only problem with this strategy was the dock itself. I wasn’t sure that it could take the load that I was about to impose on it (hauling a 40,000 pound boat upstream against a 2 knot current).

Well, I started grinding away and the dock held. The boat came alongside, we tied it up again, and then we cast off properly (this time releasing the stern line LAST) and then motored out into the river (at about 0730) to continue our journey south.

By the way, we were departing into ‘pea soup’ fog. It was a cold morning and with the warm water temperature (about 22C), the fog was thick. We motored slowly past a barge that was anchored in the river (but which we could see ‘onscreen’ with our AIS receiver) and then continued motoring south relying heavily on our radar to let us know if we were about to hit anything.

A few hours later, the fog lifted, the sun came out, and we enjoyed a nice ride down the Hudson, taking in the mansions and West Point military academy. Then, late in the afternoon, we sailed beneath the George Washington Bridge and had Manhattan to port – our most significant destination on the trip so far.

We spent 2½ days doing the tourist thing in New York – which was very nice – and then we pushed south a few miles to Atlantic Highlands, NJ to re-provision and generally decompress a little. We’ve been pushing pretty hard since we left Toronto (cross the lake, get to Oswego, mast down, 30 locks, mast up, down to NYC, do the tourist thing) so we decided to sit on the hook (anchor) for a few days, catch up on some school work, Colin’s work, and boat projects.

Additionally, we need to wait for some favourable winds for our next passage, which is a 120 mile run down the Jersey shore to Cape May. We were going to leave tonight (9/28) but a nasty squall came through the anchorage around 1800 and we all got a little freaked out when the boat beside us dragged anchor while its captain and his two sons were on our boat. His wife and daughters were aboard and were able to haul anchor before things got out of hand, however, his kayak, which was tied to our boat, came free and started drifting downwind at an alarming rate. During all this, I was ashore with our dinghy waiting out the squall on a friend’s boat at the marina. When the squall started to pass, I dinghied back to discover the mayhem in the anchorage. I was then dispatched downwind to search for the missing kayak. As dusk was falling rapidly and the wind was still honking, this was no simple task. However, I did locate the kayak about a mile downwind and was able to bring it back.

Anyway, nobody got hurt and nothing broke, but after all that, we decided that we’d sit tight tonight and leave for Cape May after Colin’s conference calls tomorrow afternoon.

Cheers,
Colin

Out of the canal and back to a sailboat

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

Well, it did indeed take a couple more days to get through the canal and into the Hudson.

One of the highlights was going through Lock 17 – which for us was a 45 foot vertical drop (4 ½ stories!). And then when the lock opened, the door – instead of swinging open – raises vertically above your head and then you drive out underneath it. Yes, I know it doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider the sizes and heights involved, it’s pretty impressive – and certainly not something that many boaters see.

Also impressive, was the last flight of four locks leading down to the junction with the Hudson. Locks 5 through 2 are each only a few hundred meters from each other and you basically exit one lock to immediately enter the next. And each lock is a full 35 foot drop, so over the course of less than half a mile, we and our 40,000 pound boat dropped 140 feet to just a few feet above sea level.

Then we exited the canal into the Hudson and began heading south toward New York City – which we were all looking forward to. Before that, however, we had to deal with the small issue of the several thousand pounds of aluminum extrusion and wire rope that have been sitting on saw horses on our deck for the last 4 days.

To deal with this, we motored 40 miles downstream to Catskill NY where we stopped at Hop-O-Nose Marina. (Hop-o-Nose was the Indian name for Catskill). The marinas in Catskill are all located along a smallish creek that drains into the Hudson. As we motored up the narrow creek, our big boat seemed a bit out of place.

Then we rounded a bend and came across a fleet of 15 or so vintage Dutch cargo ships that had come to Catskill and other ports on the Hudson to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s voyage up the Hudson River (I assume it had a different name back in 1609, but it escapes me at this point). For those unaware, Hudson – a Briton – was sailing under the Dutch flag in 1609 and that is why the Dutch were the first Europeans to colonize this area and why New York was originally called New Amsterdam.

These ships, some of which date from the 1800’s (and some of which were modern replicas), were about 60 to 70 feet long and had a very unique and attractive design. Once we tied up at Hop-o-Nose, we quickly went on pre-dusk walking tour to check out these interesting boats. This was a very neat, and unexpected, addition to our visit to Catskill.

The next day was all work. Starting at 0900, we worked throughout the day to rig our masts and have the crane crew at Hop-o-Nose erect them for us. Then we spent the rest of the day putting sails on and the like. We broke for dinner at 1800 and decided to sample the fare at the Hop-o-Nose marina restaurant. We all had the ribs – and they were fabulous!

On Sunday, we continued to put the rig together and also socialized a bit with some of the local boaters on the dock, as well as the crew of Unabated, whom we had first met in an Oswego lock and who had come into Catskill about 24 hours after us. Around noon, we finally bade farewell to our sawhorses (Yay!) and motored back out into the Hudson and pointed the bow southward, finally looking like a sailboat again.

Cheers,
Colin

Masts Off and Into the Canal

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

On Monday morning, we moved the boat from Oswego Yacht Club over to Oswego Marina to have the masts stepped. At 1045, there was one boat ahead of us, so we figured we’d get ours off by mid-afternoon at the latest. Well, one thing led to another while we waited and finally the marina operator – at 1430 – informed us that it was now too late in the day to start a new boat… he’d get to us first thing in the morning!

After I blew a head gasket, we ended up staying the night in Oswego (not unlike Youngstown in terms of its offering to cruisers) and getting our masts removed starting at 0700. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your perspective) Colin had a conference call at 0800 and had to leave the marina staff and Kathleen to complete all the work. When I returned to the boat at around 1000, they were almost done and had done some great work.

We then secured the masts on deck and at 1130 headed out into the canal. Our first day in the canal, we cleared all 7 locks in the Oswego canal and got as far as the first lock in the Erie canal – whereupon we tied up for the night along with a few other boats.

At 0700 Wednesday, we cast off once again and proceeded up one more lock and then into Lake Oneida a 20 mile long lake that forms part of the canal. When we reached the east end of the lake, we tied up at Sylvan Beach – a popular tourist area – and explored the deserted beach and midway, before getting back on board and making as much lock progress as possible.

While the Erie canal is pretty and peaceful, there’s not a lot of wildlife around and the trees all start to look the same after a while. So we’re just trying to make good time and get to a point where we can put our masts back up and actually start to sail again.

Tonight, we are tied up at Lock 18, 80 miles (and 18 locks) from Albany. We’ll probably get close to Albany (the end of the canal and start of the Hudson) tomorrow, but given that the locks close at 1700, it’s unlikely that we’ll get into the Hudson until Friday.

Cheers,
Colin

Someday girl, I don’t know when…

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

… We’re gonna get to that place where we really wanna go and we’ll walk in the sun.

When Kathleen and I married 15 years ago, the tag line printed on the bottom of our wedding invitations was the Springsteen line “I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul” which, by itself, can be appropriate for a wedding invitation. What many don’t know though is that the line from Born to Run immediately following the one on the invitation is the subject and first line of this blog entry.

At the time when we chose this language for the wedding invitations, we knew what followed and that some day we’d walk in the sun. (Actually, not metaphorically).

So today, 15 years later, we have taken that first step. At 16:41 Eastern Time today (Sep 10, 2009), Bojangles’ docklines, which had seemed overly securely tethered to cleats at Port Credit Yacht Club, somehow gave way and allowed the boat to drift out of the harbour. Despite the strong 20 knot easterlies, the boat persisted in heading east into some famously square Lake Ontario waves. Less than two hours later, she came to rest quayside at Hanlan’s Point with Toronto’s CN tower directly off the transom.

Just before docking, it became clear that the exit hose from the heat exchanger had split wide open and lake water was shooting into the bilge at an alarming rate. After tying up (with new docklines, of course) we deduced that a new 8″ piece of hose would be required. We can hopefully source that tomorrow somewhere on the Toronto Islands or worst case, zip over to West Marine on the mainland to pick some up.

While some would see this as a setback on our first day out, it’s hugely different from being back at the dock. Up until 4:41 today, we were getting ready. Now, we’re out. Dealing with stuff like this is just part of the deal. This may be the first PITA (pain in the arse) but it sure won’t be the last, and we’re ok with that. And of course, we take a ton of satisfaction in keeping the vision alive through 15+ years and actually getting off the dock.

I’m thinking the Boss would be proud.

Cheers,
Colin
At Hanlan’s Point, Toronto

Final week before departure

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

With the farewell party out of the way, we have redoubled our efforts to get the heck out of dodge.  We’ve said all our goodbyes, so now we’ve gotta leave.

Unfortunately, Bojangles isn’t in a huge hurry.  As of the start of this week, the engine exhaust system was inoperative and the windlass was fully and completely seized from too many years of neglect in a saltwater environment.  Both of these parts are fairly critical to our journey.

On the exhaust front, we had a new mixing elbow manufactured and installed and the old Perkins diesel now runs like a top and is itching to go.

The windlass was a bit more stubborn.  It was two full days of torching, lube-ing, twisting, sledge hammering, and pulling to get that thing apart.  Now we’re cleaning it up, replacing the worn parts, and putting it back together so that it’ll once again be ready to haul up the 66 pound anchor, the 120 feet of chain, and the 350 feet of rode that constitute our primary ground tackle.

Today (Friday 9/4) we’ll be installing our new high output alternator and then that should be the last of the big money projects before we get out of here.

We’ll also pick up the main and mizzen sails from the loft where they are getting some additional reef points sewn in.

Over the weekend, we’ll work hard (hence Labour Day) to get all the final preparations done, including building some stands to support our masts when we lay them on deck in the Erie Canal.

Then, early next week, we’ll hit the date that has been hardcoded in our Outlook for the last three years.  It was a cold and wet November day in 2006 when I sent Kathleen a “Meeting Invitation” for 9:00am on September 8, 2009.  It simply said “Depart PCYC for Annapolis”.  While we had known that this trip was in our future, we hadn’t discussed a date.  So I picked one and plugged it into my calendar.  Without saying a word to me, Kathleen clicked “Accept” on her computer and the date was set.

Next week, the week of September 8, 2009, we will indeed Depart PCYC for Annapolis – on schedule.  It’s in the Outlook, so it’s gotta happen.

Cheers

Penultimate Farewell

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

We’re almost out of here.  Last Saturday (8/29) was our farewell party with friends, neighbours and family coming down to the boat to see our new home and perhaps to understand a bit better what we’re up to.  For many, this was their first opportunity to see Bojangles and to learn about why we think she’s a great boat to go to sea in and live aboard.

Hopefully, having seen the boat and heard our plans, there are fewer who question our sanity and fear for our safety.  The boat is very comfortable to liveaboard and is outfitted for safe and comfortable offshore passagemaking.

About 60 folks came to the party and enjoyed some great food prepared by Chef Jeff and many also had an opportunity to swim in the club’s pool.

For us, this event was the perfect opportunity to say goodbye to close friends whom we won’t be seeing again until late summer 2010.   We are thankful that we have so many good friends.  We’ll miss them.

Here are some photos from the evening.

Cheers