Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Our first beaching, our first ding and our first goats.

Yes, that is a goat.  Welcome to Goat Island.

Just when we thought we had this sailing thing figured out, Mother Nature has other ideas. 

Eric was up at dawn, raring to go, so we woke up his seventeen-year-old son, Ansel, loaded up the dog and the groceries and headed out from Durham.  We’d acquired a number of things for the boat, including a spare set of spark plugs, starter fluid, carburetor cleaner and some new gas and we had all three coolers packed with what looked like groceries for a week.

The drive up was pretty, with the trees just beginning to turn and a light rain misting occasionally.  We were not aware of any wind.  Eric had checked the weather and found the forecast for 13mph winds from the SSW.  Well, they got the direction right.

Down at the boat, we could see the whitecaps out on the lake, but it was calm in the cove.  Nevertheless, The motor started right up, we cast off the docklines and off we went.  Eric pronounced his motto of “Reef early and often” and we agreed to reef the main.  We had not tried this before and were very pleased with the jiffy reefing.  Ansel proved to be a great crewmember, willing to do whatever he was asked and to try his best even if he didn’t know what to do exactly.  He hauled the main halyard and tied the reef points while the wind flew around us.

There was a steep little chop, with white caps and some streaking.  It was quite a bit more wind than we’d experienced before, we estimated about 20-25mph gusting to 30-35.  Our little Willadine did great though, although there was quite a bit of weather helm and some hard heeling in the gusts.  We managed to stay calm, although it was a little nerve-wracking.

We sailed away upwind, tacking and making slow westward progress.  It was a gorgeous day, with big fluffy clouds and seventy-degree temperature, made much cooler by the wind.  Once we got used to the heel and began to trust that Willadine would handle this much wind, we relaxed a bit.  The waves were up to three feet and spray occasionally came over the side into our faces and I thought, we’ve got the wind in our teeth and the spray in our faces and we’re doing fine.  And we were.

After an hour or so of beating upwind, the wind seemed to be building, rather than slacking as we had hoped it would in the afternoon.  Eric said he needed a break and suggested going into a nearby cove to anchor and take a rest.  Goat Island was in the way and Eric told Ansel about how someone has put goats on this little island in the middle of the lake and, of course, Ansel wanted to see them.

The wind was blowing so hard that we were close to the island before we could properly discuss the situation and Eric said, “Let’s beach her!” and pointed to the sandy beach where the wind was blowing us fast anyway.  There was no time to think.  Eric was up on the deck and yelling to Ansel to uncleat the main halyard, but poor Ansel had no idea what he meant and I was busy at the tiller and couldn’t reach it and then I yelled to Ansel to hold on because we were about to hit.  It wasn’t as hard as I feared, being a sandy bottom, but it still jerked us a bit.  I was very nervous about it because the wind kept blowing the boat over even though the sails were down and I could hear something clunking the hull.  I could see some big rocks that we’d just missed and I was afraid we were dashing her to bits.

Eric tied a line on a big driftlog on the beach and the goats came to greet us.  I slid off the bow with Eric’s camera and grabbed a few pictures.  The wind was gusting like crazy and Eric and Ansel tried to pull the boat into the lee of the island, but it was too hard.  I was feeling really uncomfortable with the whole thing heeling and jerking in the wind and I was worried we’d be stuck on the bottom because we hit so hard, so we cast off.  She came away easily and we motored into a cove and dropped the anchor.

It was very narrow, but the wind was broken by the trees and wasn’t so strong.  I watched carefully to see if we were dragging, but we were holding.  That is, until Eric and Ansel went below to take a break.  Just then, a huge gust came up and whipped the boat around and sent her heading for a nearby dock.  I yelled to the guys and they came up.  Eric fiddled with the motor while Ansel pulled up the anchor, completely fouled with an armful (big armful) of weeds.  No wonder she didn’t hold.  (note to self…)  I stood on deck with the boat hook to fend off the dock, which was coming up fast!  Unfortunately, I didn’t realize it was a telescoping boat hook and someone had put it out and not secured it, so as I pushed on the dock, it simply collapsed and we crunched into the dock.  Ow.  Our first ding.  And boy, did I feel stupid!

Eric got the motor going and we got away enough to raise sail.  Downwind was much more pleasant with the apparent wind much lighter, but the risk of an accidental jibe had Eric very nervous.  He kept a death grip on the main sheet while I did my best to stay with the wind on the tiller.  It was still pretty nerve-wracking and we would have to dock in this crazy wind with an unreliable motor.

We came into the dock, tied her up and sat breathing in the cockpit and even though it only about 4pm, I had a beer.  We were exhausted and exhilarated.  We’d done it.  We couldn’t believe how high the winds were, but we knew it was not the predicted 13mph.  We theorized that because the wind was westerly, it was funneling along the lake (oriented longwise, east to west) and building up significantly.  We felt like we’d passed some test and we agreed it was not as much fun with that much wind, too stressful.  We also agreed that there was no way we’d take passengers in that much wind.  Luckily, the wind slacked that evening and we had a lovely sunset sail.  But that’s another story.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sunset Sail

Back when we only had small boats, we used to take one of them down the Eno River to Falls Lake at sunset and paddle around and watch the sky change colors.  Eric had the whole thing figured out with headlamps and an intimate knowledge of the way back in the dark.  He’d even pack a beer or two to enjoy on the lake.

Now that we have Willadine at the lake, we do this even more easily.  When the sun gets low in the sky, we start to get antsy to get away from the dock.  This weekend, the winds are southwesterly and so we get to sail off into the sunset.  As soon as the sun is down, I get nervous to start heading back, but Eric never wants to let go of the beauty of dusk.  It is lovely to watch the stars come out and it’s dark enough on the lake out of season to see the Milky Way and everything. 

We’ve finally figured out how to find John’s place fairly easily, although getting back in with the motor acting finicky has been interesting.  Fortunately, the boat has paddles and it is possible to actually acquire forward motion with them if there is little or no wind.  We’ve used them to made (gentle) contact with several docks.  Last night Ansel managed to grill turkey burgers while we were underway.  We limped into the dock on one cylinder after paddling a bit to stay out of the shallows and enjoyed our burgers in the cockpit.  Luxury.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Naming the Baby

One of the great things about our new boat was that she was as yet unnamed, which meant we got to name her.  We’d looked at several other boats with stupid names and I wouldn’t tempt fate by re-naming a boat, terrible bad luck.  Our Hunter 23.5 has a wave on the side in purple and green (I know) and the word “Hunter” for the manufacturer.

Lucy wanted a name to go with Hunter, being a huge fan of a series of books authored by Erin Hunter.  She suggested Dolphin Hunter, Dolphin Dancer and we went on with that thinking of things like Wind Dancer or something like that.  From there I thought about Skybird and how I’d always thought it was a silly name (sorry Darrel) because she’s not a Sky Bird, but a Sea Bird.  So I suggested Seabird, but it didn’t quite seem right to name her something so close to Skybird.  Our new boat is very special in ways that don’t compare to Skybird.  Skybird was a blue water liveaboard 37-foot beauty with teak details outside and teak/walnut interior.  Our new baby is pure fiberglass, pure functionality and we love her just as much.  But she needed her own special name.

I thought about the different names we’d seen on boats at the marinas while we’d been boat-shopping.  I asked my mom, who said she’d suggested the name for my uncle’s boat, Willie’s Girl, after my grandfather (my aunt being Willie’s baby girl).  One boat we’d seen was named Annie Morgan, a classic-sounding boat name, but on the bow of that one was a memorial to a child of that name who had died in her twenties.  Can’t have that.

We toyed with the names of our girls, but combining three girls names seemed problematic and what about the two boys?  I thought about our mothers.  But there seemed no real good way to combine Betsy and Judy.  Bedy?  Jutsy?  Ugh.  Budy?  No!  Then Eric came home from work and said he’d thought of a name.  It was his beloved grandmother’s middle name:  Willadine.  It was perfect.  I love the name; willows love water and blow in the wind.  Eric adored his grandmother Monzell (yes, that really was her first name) but I would never have considered naming the boat Monzell (god rest her soul).  But Willadine just sings to me of the perfect boat name.  Eric says we have to paint it in fire engine red on the hull, the same color Monzell used to paint her toenails.  I think that will be great, but the purple and green wave will have to go.  No great loss.

I asked Eric if Monzell would have liked the boat and he surprised me by saying no.  He doesn’t think she would have liked the heeling under sail.  Eric doesn’t much like it either, although he’s starting to get used to it.  But I think Monzell would have been very pleased to be honored in this way, whether she would have enjoyed sailing or not.  At any rate, she loved her grandson and she would have loved to see him so happy.  And boy, are we happy.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Sailing on Lake Gaston

After our little checkout cruise on Jordan Lake, I was all excited about taking our new baby to the coast.  After all, that’s what we bought her for was sailing the sound to the Outer Banks.  With a minimum draft of eighteen inches and the ability to “beach” the boat, she’s perfect for sailing the shallow protected waters of the inside waterways of the North Carolina coast that Eric and I longed to explore.

I got very busy looking for a marina where we might keep the boat (which is in dire need of a name, we’re working on it) with the mast up so she could be launched and ready to sail without the ordeal of raising the mast.  I sent email inquiries and talked to some folks in Oriental, the Sailing Capital of NC, but really didn’t find anyplace that worked.  One place had mast-up storage (for $150/mo) but wanted $70 each way to launch and haul out the boat, which is not economically feasible if we’re going every weekend.

I was pushing the idea of parking the boat on the trailer at Eric’s friend Ken’s land in Atlantic (not Atlantic Beach) on Core Sound near Cedar Island.  It’s an ideal place to sail from and there is a boat ramp less than a mile away.  We were driving in the car and I was extolling the many virtues of this plan and how we could leave on Friday and Eric quietly said, “We could get into a fight over this.”

I knew he was nervous about taking the boat to the coast.  And I knew I didn’t want to fight with him about anything, certainly not about the boat, which was our baby and was going to be just pure fun for us both.  So I just let go of it.  Eric produced his own plan, which involved towing the boat with his Jeep pickup to Lake Gaston, near the NC/Virginia border.  His friend, John, had offered to let us keep the boat at his dock and have the use of his house, as we needed it, a very generous offer.  My mom lives close by as well and would be able to offer her car and services, including dog-sitting.  It was a good arrangement and made sense.

Saturday we spent the day puttering around the boat.  The first thing we did was to hitch the boat up to the Jeep for a test drive.  I held my breath and monitored the cell phone while he drove out of the driveway with the baby in tow.  I had wanted to go along, but we decided it would be better if I stayed behind so I could come “rescue” him if need be.  There was no need, he went around the block and came back into the driveway satisfied that the Jeep could pull it.  Braking was not as easy as he’d hoped, the stopping distance was greatly increased, but it would stop, eventually.

Eric went to the store and got a new fuel filter and a fresh tank of gas for the motor.  He filled the porta-potty with water while I collected bedding and towels and foodstuffs for our adventure.  He checked in with me that I was ok doing the domestic chores and I told him that since I don’t know how to change the fuel filter, I was happy to do what I could to help get us ready.  He showed me how to remove and replace the fuel filter anyway, so I can do it next time.  I felt good about that.

It took a long time before we were satisfied with the boat’s condition.  By the time we had everything, including the dog, loaded up in the Jeep and the boat, it was five o’clock.  It would be dark by the time we got to Lake Gaston, ninety-five miles away.  We didn’t care.  We were so excited to get our baby on the road and into the water.  We agreed that we would sleep in the boat on the trailer in the boat ramp parking lot, if necessary, as long as we got to sleep on the boat. 

The weather was picture perfect, sunny and a comfortable seventy degrees, which was nice since the truck has no air conditioning.  Everything was going along fine.  We made our way slowly down the two-lane country roads the four miles to the interstate.  One car passed us, but everyone else was patient.  I was holding my breath on the on-ramp, the curve seemed so extreme, but everything rode fine.  Eric was up to about fifty miles an hour when a tractor-trailer passed us on a downhill and the boat began an alarming sway.  Eric kept his cool, slowed down and pulled over to the wide shoulder and the sway stopped.  He explained in his quiet way that a sway like that can build up and eventually overturn both boat and vehicle.

I felt sick with fear.  We would be killed.  It was foolishness, this whole boat thing.  Who did we think we were?  We had perfectly good lives on land, why did we want to risk our necks dragging a silly boat around?  I thought maybe we should turn around, go back and borrow Ken’s big heavy truck, which had not caused any sway in the boat at all the previous weekend.  Eric slowed down a little, commenting grimly that he would have to maintain the minimum of forty-five miles an hour and that the sway was exacerbated on a downhill because the trailer was trying to get ahead of the truck.  I practiced my yoga breathing.  Eric watched the rearview.  “Here comes a Uhaul,” he said, gripping the steering wheel.  I cringed.  The boat swayed a bit in the side mirror and then stopped.  I breathed some more.

After a couple more trucks passed and we were still upright, Eric said, “Well, I guess it’s not an adventure without a little sphincter tightening,” and we laughed.  Then I went back to breathing.  There were just a few more miles on I-40 and then we’d get on Hwy 64 for forty miles.  I was very nervous about getting on I-95 after that, because it’s often heavy with truck traffic going eighty-plus, but it was fine.  We both breathed easier when we got off onto the short cut, but I was still nervous.

We stopped at my mom’s house to drop off the dog, which almost went without a hitch except that we had to stop only slightly pulled off the road and the emergency flashers quit working.  Luckily no one hit the boat on the way by and we got back in the truck to find none of the turn signals working.  Apparently, the flashers on the trailer caused the fuse to blow, one more thing to fix.  Mom told us that her friend, Earl, from joint replacement (her knee, his hip), had said he didn’t think we could leave the truck at the boat ramp overnight, but we figured we’d check it out when we got there.

It was nearly dark, but we were so pumped up with excitement at almost being at the water, we could hardly stand it.  We found the boat ramp almost completely deserted and decided to go ahead and launch the boat.  We could motor to John’s with the mast down and put it up in the morning.  I checked the signs for any warning about no overnight parking and found none.  There were some fishermen with a truck and a big motor boat in the parking lot so I asked them and they said it was no problem and they would even keep an eye out for her since they were staying all night themselves.

So we turned our attention to getting the boat in the water.  We’d had trouble with Eric driving and my giving poor directions, so we talked a little about it, but we still neglected details like rolling down the passenger side window.  But it went fine, Eric backed the truck down the ramp and got the tail pipe wet.  He had told me to call out when the boat started to float, but it didn’t.  So he pulled forward a bit and then remembered that the chock to hold the tires was in the back of the truck.  No problem.  I stripped off my shoes and socks and rolled up my pants.

And then I was on my back in two feet of water.  That ramp was as slick as snot.  I mean you hear people say that and this was it.  I didn’t even know I was falling until I was down.  Which was lucky because I didn’t have time to put out a hand to break the fall.  I was totally unharmed.  I like to imagine the fishermen hearing the splash and then my hysterical laughter.  Eric inquired as to my safety and I assured him I was ok.  No sense in him getting wet too, I was already soaked.  Luckily, the water was warm and so was the night air.

I got the chock set under the truck tire and then Eric got out and let the boat slide back.  I took the bow line and our little sweetie slid right off that trailer…and stopped.  I pulled.

“She’s stuck.”  I called out to Eric.  He looked down the bow.

“She’s not stuck on the trailer,” he said, “I’m going to pull the trailer up.”

“No!” I was terrified the boat was hooked on the trailer. We stood there scratching our heads and pulling on the dock line.  Right away my brilliant sweetie figured out what was wrong.  “It’s the keel.  It’s stuck on the keel.”  So he jumped on board and pulled up that keel (really must do something about that ineffective jam cleat) and she floated free. I tied her off, Eric jumped in the truck and I went to remove the chock.  He pulled out of the water with a tremendous splash and wave of water that picked up my shoes, my favorite eighty-dollar shoes, and floated them away.  I grabbed one, doing my best not to kill myself slipping on the slime, but the other one disappeared under the dock.  I grabbed the flashlight, ran to the other side, but the damn shoe was gone.  I could easily have set the shoes on the dock, but no, I left them on the ramp.

Eric came back from parking the truck and trailer and found me belly down on the dock.  I told him my shoe was gone and he took the flashlight and looked under the dock some more, but it was gone.  Shining the light around, I saw something floating in the moonlight about twenty feet out, but I thought there was no way it could have gone that far.  We squinted at it while we loaded our few things aboard the boat and it drifted closer.  It did look like it might be my shoe.

I went below and grabbed the two paddles and the boat hook.  It would never have occurred to me to paddle a boat that big, but Eric’s been paddling for years and it comes naturally to him.

I untied and Eric paddled over and lo and behold it was my shoe, floating high in the pitch-dark water.  He pulled it over with the boat hook (later we had a conversation about what the boat hook is for:  exactly this.) and by some miracle it was still hanging onto my sock.  Really must write Merrill a note about this marvelous shoe of theirs.

There was just a wisp of a wind as Eric cranked up the motor.  It started, by yet another miracle and we were on our way.  It was very dark, but the moon was waxing gibbous so we could see the shore and Eric had consulted the map back at home so he knew roughly where we were going.  Well, at least he thought he knew.

We passed under the power lines and I was glad the mast was down.  Later we heard the tale of the unfortunate sailors who hit them and were electrocuted.  Never did find out what the clearance is, but we will before we pull the boat out!  As we came out of the narrow cove where the boat ramp was located, I started shivering.  I was wet to the neck and the wind of our motion was chilling me badly.  Eric took the tiller and suggested I go below and change. 

Inside it was warmer and Eric had fixed the interior lights so we had light, which made finding things much easier.  I slipped out of my wet things and into some warm dry clothes.  My phone had a voicemail, which turned out to be my mom calling to say the dog had escaped his pen.  I tried to call her back, but the service on the lake was terrible.  There was nothing we could do, but luckily she has a fenced yard, so he didn’t completely escape.   Yay, Grandma! 

I put the phone away, turned off the lights and headed up the two steps to the cockpit.  Off the stern the moon was shining on our wake, sparkling and twinkling like stars.  I caught my breath.  We were finally in our very own boat on this beautiful warm water in the moonlight.  We sat there motoring along in silence for a while, the stars were dim in the moonlight but I saw one zip along the sky and go out.  I made my wish and told Eric it was a sign that we were exactly where we were meant to be.  He agreed.  He was having the time of his life.

While I was dreaming and staring at the sky, Eric was watching the shore.  He had an idea where John’s place was, but we weren’t in a hurry to find it, luckily.  It was so pleasant being on the water in the moonlight.  We loved every minute of it.  After a
while Eric thought he recognized a cove as John’s and we headed in with some reluctance.  We motored in and back out again.  Maybe it’s the next one.  Well, it was dark and it was getting late and I was getting tired.  Eric was too wound up to be tired, but I was fading.  After several more fruitless coves, we decided to anchor in the lee of a long length of dark treed shore.  Since I had anchored in Jordan Lake, I suggested Eric throw out the anchor this time.  He was more than happy to give it a try and put out thirty feet of rope for the twelve-foot water.

We sat in the cockpit for a long time, watching the swing to check for drag (there was none, we were set) and just enjoying the still air and the smell of the water.  I couldn’t help thinking how much nicer the sea would smell, but I agreed with Eric that this was pretty nice.  We finally crawled up in the V-berth thinking we were too excited to sleep and fell straight to sleep.

A wake rocked the boat after midnight and woke me and Eric went out in the cockpit to pee and check our position.  We had not moved.  I woke again at four and checked, but all was well.  At daylight we crawled out, (I’m still not comfortable sleeping with my head aft after so many years with my head in the bow of Skybird) and found a heavy mist on the lake.  The water was glassy calm except for a roiling of fish to the north and the occasional jumper.  Overhead a perfect V of geese flew by, honking.  It was a comfortable sixty-five degrees.

After some discussion, we decided to raise the mast at anchor.  A breeze was coming up and we were here to sail!  This time it was easier, but the forestay is an issue with the roller furling.  It’s just too tight to attach and its position is awkward to reach on the bow.  Eric struggled with it for a while and eventually rigged up a strap to pull it down so he could attach it.  I have no idea how he managed it with his foot in the strap pushing down and two hands on the stay, fastening a little clip underneath the furler housing.  He’s so handy.  My hero!

After all that work, we decided to motor down into the cove because it was just too narrow to sail.  After several more coves and almost getting stuck down one because the motor quit, we abandoned the search for John’s and headed out into the lake to sail.  It was a perfect day, 5-10 mph wind, sunny and seventy-five.  The boat sailed like a champ.  My mom called on her way to a party on the lake and said she could see us from the bridge.  I wish she’d taken a picture, but we got one later.  She said the dog was fine, getting along with her five dogs and just hanging out in the yard.  What a good boy.  Well, except for the damage to the pen.  Sigh.

We talked to the party host and got directions to their place on the lake.  We were so cool.  We would sail into the party.  It was past 2pm by the time we sailed up to the dam on the eastern end of the lake and went up a cove to try to find the party.  We were getting a little desperate because we’d run out of drinking water and were on the last beer.  We had planned to go to the Piggly Wiggly to get water and groceries, but hadn’t made it because it was so late and we were so anxious to get out on the water.  But I was getting pretty thirsty.

We looked around the cove, but no party.  We called.  No one answered.  We tried the next cove.  Nothing.  It was pushing three o’clock when mom called.  Eric had called her a dozen times trying to get more information about the location of the party.  But he’d been calling her home number.  Golly.  I think he’d even asked me if it was the right number.  Argh.

I talked to Bob, the birthday boy and host of the party, and he said it was the first cove from the dam, just keep going, you’ll find it, except we were on the third cove now and no sign of any party.  He did say something about a park, which turned out to be helpful.  We were coming out of the third cove when we saw an offshoot with what looked like a park on a point in it.  We pulled in there and just as I said, “We’ll never find it,” we saw someone on a dock waving their arms.  The motor died about twenty feet from the dock (does it have some sort of sensing device?) and we drifted easily in.  Eric went straight for the drinks and poured us big red cups of Diet Coke (for him) and Diet Cheerwine (for me), which we guzzled and refilled.  Ellen had made her famous crustless quiche and we polished off about half of that, picked on a chicken Betsy had brought and waved off offers of birthday cake.

On the way out, we posed for some pictures and with our water jugs happily refilled in the neighbor’s laundry sink, headed off to try to find John’s house.  Luckily, Eric was able to reach him by phone as we sailed downwind, wing-on-wing back across the lake.  It was a great way to sail, hanging out in the sun, with no apparent wind and the boat just skating effortlessly over the water with the sails bright against the blue sky.  We were so happy.  We’d found the party!  We would find John’s house.  All was well.

After one wrong cove, we found John’s place, an adorable A-frame house with a nice big dock.  There was even a hot tub on the back deck.  Naturally, the motor died about ten feet (oh, so close!) from the dock and we drifted over toward the neighbor’s dock.  Luckily no one was around.  Eric struggled with the motor, threatening to get the paddles while I watched the depth and our proximity to the neighbor’s dock from the bow with the bow line held hopefully in hand.  I remembered the keel and Eric pulled it up.  I thought it looked plenty shallow, so I slid down in the water just as Eric got the motor going, so, of course, he couldn’t hear me yelling.  Luckily, it died again and I walked the boat around and he looked up, shocked to see me in the water.  I apologized for not communicating my “plan” to get in the water and promised to keep him informed next time.  It was a simple matter to pull the boat around, even though we had to first move John’s pontoon boat out of the way.

Betsy drove over the few miles from her house to take us back to the boat ramp to retrieve the truck and trailer.  She said the dog was fine and we arranged to pick him up the following day.  We dropped the trailer off at John’s and headed for The Pig to buy groceries.  By this time it was nearly dark and we were stupid with fatigue.  We picked up some beer and tried to think about what else to get.  But we couldn’t think of anything.  We looked at the meat, walked down the canned food aisle, and finally went back with beer and not much else.

John came home and admired the boat and we sat on board with beers chatting and enjoying the lovely evening.  He wanted to show us the house, so we went inside and sat in the spacious living room on the comfy chairs while he regaled us with tales of the house parties he’d had.  But the chair was too comfy and I started having trouble keeping my eyes open.  I suggested we try out the hot tub, thinking John might join us, but we didn’t have bathing suits and he left us to it.  I hope he didn’t think it rude of us to cut out, but we were exhausted.  The hot tub was hot and relaxing and we didn’t stay long.  We climbed up into the V-berth and slept like the dead.

We decided it wasn’t quite as good as being at anchor, not enough rocking or moonlight at the dock.  But having the house nearby was nice.  We used the bathroom and I hung my wet clothes (from the boat ramp debacle) on the deck rails.  Then we set off.  The motor was particularly persnickety, it took Eric at least thirty minutes to get it started.  We debated whether we could sail out, but the wind was from the northeast, exactly the way we needed to go to get out and the cove was too narrow to tack in.  But, at last, he got it going, deciding it needed half-throttle to start.

Out in the lake we decided to go downwind to the bridge to try to find Outdoor World where we hoped to find a restaurant for lunch, since we’d foolishly neglected to buy food the night before.  We had peanuts and a few carrots and the remains of the chicken from the party, which luckily was enough since we never did find Outdoor World.  I had thought Bob had said it was to the right of the bridge, but there was nothing over there.  We did have a quick sail-lowering/motor-starting drill in one little cove as we went in to see if it was there.  It went well and Eric said he thought he might finally have figured out the motor.

We gave up looking for a place to eat, although we saw a place just at the northern end of the bridge, but there was no place for us to stop and we had no dingy to row in if we anchored.  We picked at the chicken, drank the last two beers and ate the last of the celery and peanut butter.  We had a marvelous sail back, the wind came up strong and we ended up reefing the jib (something we hadn’t tried, which worked very well:  score one point for roller furling!) and then furling the jib and sailing with just the main.  We find she sails really well in all the conditions we’ve experienced.  We’re thrilled with the performance.

She sailed so well we got back to John’s on the early side, but we wanted to take our time buttoning her up, so that’s what we did.  Eric got her right up to the dock this time and I stepped off and we spun her around to face out.  It didn’t take long to get all our stuff packed out.  Most of it was staying on the boat anyway.  We got the cabin all locked up and were standing on the dock admiring our baby when I remembered the porta-potty, thank goodness.  We went back in so I could see how it comes apart (Eric had filled it at the farm before departure) and he carried it up to the house to empty it into the toilet.  I watched.  Eric dumped.  Ew.  It was a good thing I watched because it had splashed some and the bathroom stank.  Eric took it outside to hose it out and I wiped off the toilet and the wall and the floor, flushing several times.  It still stank.  I grabbed a can of air freshener and sprayed generously.  I went outside and asked Eric to come in and assess the scent.  He sniffed cautiously and shook his head.  Still stinky.  I grabbed the small trashcan next to the toilet and emptied it.  A pale brown drip shone down the side.  We hosed it down and I hope that did it.  We’ll be more careful next time.  Eric is coming around to the benefit of a flush toilet on a boat.  Next boat.  Meanwhile, this will do.  More chemicals next time, too.

We stood on the dock arm-in-arm, gazing at our baby tied up on John’s dock.  We hated to leave her.  She looked so pretty sitting there, so hopeful, so sail-able and seaworthy. It was Monday.  We’d be back on Friday we reassured ourselves and turned to drive home.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

She's Ours!

When I was starting my career in photography, I carried a camera everywhere I went.  I took some great pictures, but after a few years, I began to feel it becoming a drag.  It was heavy, and it seemed like sometimes I was missing things because I was only focused on whatever was in the viewfinder.  I started leaving the camera at home and found it liberating.  I could just enjoy the trip without worrying about making a great picture of it.

Now, we have a new boat and I’m torn between writing down everything about it and actually getting on board and enjoying her.  So, I’m trying to strike a balance.  We spent an hour this morning lifting all the cushions in the cabin, opening all the storage lockers and poking around under the tiny sink.  I got a little whisk broom and some baby wipes and did a little cleaning.  She was very clean when we got her, but we’d gotten some dirt on her in the meantime.  We feel like new parents wanting to check all our baby’s fingers and toes.  I told Eric she smells like the sea (even though she’s never been in salt water – yet!) and he said dryly, “That’s mildew.”  Whatever.  I think she smells great!

For the maiden voyage, we borrowed a gigantic diesel truck from a friend of Eric’s and rode over to Sanford, about an hour away.  We were so excited I almost had to stop to pee on the way.  The previous owner, Joe, was waiting for us and answered our last minute questions like how does the portapottie work (he never used it) and where is the winch handle (“down below” was his answer and we never did find it until we finished our sail and called him to ask and he said it was in the cooler.  Of course.) and doesn’t that trailer tire look soft?  He kindly brought out his air compressor and we put a ton of air into the starboard tire, saving us what might have been a difficult time getting in and out of a gas station with thirty feet of boat and trailer behind a monster truck.  Good thing Eric was driving.  He has experience with trailers.  I’m hopeless.

We drove to New Hope Overlook Recreation Area on Lake Jordan where Eric had heard there was a nice quiet boat ramp.  It was.  There was one small powerboat and five ramps with three docks.  Perfect. I was very worried that we would take too long and annoy the power boaters who get in and out in a hurry.  We had the gigantic parking lot to ourselves.  We spent about an hour raising the mast and rigging the boat.  Joe had demonstrated how to raise and lower the mast when we first looked at her, so luckily Eric had a good idea how to accomplish it.  We got her up and hooked on the boom and threaded the sail into the mast slot but left it tied down.  We threw our stuff down below and I stood around giving bad directions while Eric managed to get our baby down the ramp anyhow.  I can’t imagine how he manages a trailer that big.  The one time I tried it I was completely defeated.

Eric climbed over the trailer to get inside the cabin to open the water ballast tank and let the water in.  I took the bowline and he drove her all the way in until she floated free and I tied her up.  The wind was blowing at a good clip, the water was dotted with white caps and I was very nervous.  We tied her up on the leeward side of the dock, so at least she wasn’t blowing into the dock.  But when Eric got the motor started and I cast off the lines, I found she was blowing away really fast.  I nearly fell in the water trying to climb aboard (she who hesitates…) and made a very ungraceful wiggle under the bow rail feet first.  Safely aboard, I looked over to the Coast Guard Auxiliary boat, standing by, and yelled, “You didn’t see that!”  And they yelled back sheepishly, “Oh, no, we didn’t see a thing!” and we all laughed good-naturedly.  Over the summer we’d been hassled by the boat police on a borrowed powerboat in South Carolina and Eric had gotten an expensive ticket, but we both agreed that this time we were glad the “police” were standing by in case we got into trouble.  Since this was our boat, we had seen to it that she was fully equipped with safety gear before setting out so we were totally legal.  Eric had even seen to insurance, bless his heart.

Everything was going swimmingly until about a half mile from the dock the outboard quit.  Oh crap.  My former boat had a well-maintained inboard engine I had never had a minute’s trouble with. It was like a car, you turned a key, it started and there was a throttle (reverse and forward) and a tiller.  This outboard thing was a complete mystery to me.  Eric fiddled with it for some time, while we drifted in this wind toward a little island and I contemplated calling the Auxiliary on the VHF, as one of them had mentioned they would be monitoring channel 16.  Bless their hearts.

By some miracle, he got the engine going and we motored over to a little cove where we’d decided to anchor in the lee of the trees while we tried to figure things out.  By this time it was long past noon and I was famished.  Rigging the boat had been a lot of work and I was very glad I’d packed food.  I even got to drop the anchor, which I was scared of since Darrel was always in charge of that on Skybird while I worked the tiller.  But I screwed up my courage and pulled out the anchor, making sure that the end of the line was actually secured to the boat first.  Clever me.  We were only in about twelve feet of water, so it didn’t take much.  I cleated off the line and we were stuck fast.  I was rather pleased with myself.

We sat in the cockpit and ate and shared a beer, Eric even poured a little over the bow for good measure.  We had previously decided that she was just not a champagne boat.  She’s a good old Bass Ale boat.  And, anyway, it’s not like she’d never been in the water before.

The wind was really blowing, we were swinging back and forth on the hook and I was frankly scared to hoist a sail.  But Eric was firm.  We would hoist a sail, no matter what.  Luckily, he was right.  We motored out into the big part of the lake and I steered up into the wind, which was blowing pretty steady from the west/northwest.  The motor went ahead and died, but Eric was already raising the main and our sweet baby just took to it like she was made to sail.  Ah hem.  We fairly flew along up the lake to the north, where we could see a sailboat race in progress.  I was very nervous about getting in the middle of it, but we were quite far from it, so it was really not an issue.  I guess I was so nervous to begin with that any little thing would send me over the panicky edge.  Eric was calm, happy and delighted and it started to wear off on me.

The boat sailed like a dream.  She seemed to be content with whatever heading I chose, even very close to the wind.  We’d heard some complaints that the boat was “tender” but after Eric’s 11-foot row/sailboat, Carol and Zack, we felt the Hunter was quite stable.  I didn’t mind the heel at all, but it freaked Eric out.  It was easy to control by heading up into the wind, so I was able to keep him comfortable with no more than ten or fifteen degrees of heel.  We sailed up past the Vista Point boat ramp, where a small sailboat was being towed in.  Eric found out later that it was his coworker, who had been in the race and had turtled his boat, trapping a crew member in the cockpit air pocket.  She untangled herself from the rigging and swam out, but poor Andrew was understandably freaked out.

But we knew none of this at the time.  We were having a ball.  We sailed around the point at Seaforth and were thinking of going further when my inner alarm clock went off and I suggested we ought to head back.  It was still early, about 2:30, but my “Little Voice” had spoken and we knew better than to ignore it.

We came about and the boat just sailed on.  It was great.  We leaned back in the cockpit and gazed up at the sail, perfectly filled with air, the sun lighting it up against the blue sky, the letters H23.5 so pretty in blue and red.  Our baby was not just perfect; she was pretty too.  We were smitten.  The cockpit is very roomy and the raised stern seats are a great place to ride, complete with cupholders!  She even has a bimini cover to keep the sun off the cockpit.

We sailed back toward the ramp and when we got close, I got nervous and we decided to start the engine in the middle of the lake.  Lucky we did too, because it would not start.  It would begin to turn over, and then just die.  Eric did troubleshooting while I watched the traffic and the shore.  We were fine, but the motor would not run.  Eric called Joe and got no answer.  We were on our own.

We still had the sail up, so we decided to go to the windward side to allow for drift while we fiddled with the pesky Tohatsu.  I threw out the anchor again and somehow, after much ado, Eric got the motor going.  I think he was pumping the prime bulb on the fuel line to keep her going.  I hauled up the anchor in a hurry and we headed for the ramp, holding our breath.

Forty feet from the dock, the motor died.  Just then, the Auxiliary boat came past us, oblivious to our plight.  They even tucked into the dock we were aiming for, which turned out to be a good thing because we had just enough momentum to drift into the nearest dock. Luckily we had already planned to land on the windward side and we had the fenders in place on the port side.  I jumped off, rather more gracefully this time, and tied her up, no problem.

We got her up on the trailer with the docklines, another advantage of a smaller boat.  We pulled up the keel and Eric winched her in.  He also remembered to raise the rudder.  But the rudder was impossibly heavy.  Later, Eric said it was a common complaint about this boat and the solution was to drill a hole in the rudder and attach another line to haul it up.  We settled for raising it halfway, which was all she wrote, as my first husband, the marine engineer, would say.

I bit my lip as he drove the trailer out of the water.  I couldn’t see from the dock whether she was sitting right or not, but apparently the trailer is well-designed and our girl knew just what to do.  Such a good boat!!  Eric and I climbed aboard and opened the valve on the ballast tank.  But apparently, she was not out of the water far enough, because when he tried to drive farther, I could hear the water sloshing.  We opened the valve again and more water came out.

We got in the truck to move to a parking place.  Halfway across the parking lot, we heard the Auxiliary guys yelling, “Hey!” and “You’re dragging your rudder!”  Crap.  We forgot the rudder.  Luckily it was only dragging on a bounce and was only slightly sanded and flattened.  You never forget that first ding.  Ow.

It took us about an hour to de-rig the boat and lower the mast.  In the middle of it, Joe called and we found out that the winch handle was in the cooler (of course) and the fuel was at least nine months old.  That explains it.  Mostly the de-rigging went very well, but at the end, neither of us could remember how the boat was strapped to the trailer.  I pulled the straps out of the cockpit locker, but they were too short.  We scratched our heads and looked at each other.  I strained my brain and remembered that the straps had been orange.  There were two short orange pieces and I tried to fit them together.  Eric had an “Ah-ha” moment and remembered how they went, with the orange bit wrapped around a stanchion and attached to the brown strap and hooked to a ring on the trailer.  Nifty.

We got her home and parked in the driveway in exactly enough time to collect the kids.  We could hardly keep ourselves from lingering in the yard to admire her.  She is a beauty and we’re so happy with her.  The next morning we all climbed aboard and continued our exploration of all her nooks and crannies.  She’s a great boat, we all agreed.  Can’t wait to get her out in salt water.  Oh boy!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Dreamboat: We've Found Her!

After we got home from looking at the Mac 26 in Wilmington, Eric got online and found a new boat he thought we should look at.  It was a Hunter 23.5 and there was a nice one for sale in Sanford, about and hour and a half drive away from his house or mine.  He made a date to look at it the next day.

With the kids in tow, I set out, stopping on the way to fortify them with bacon cheeseburgers from McDonald’s.  (I know, I know, bad, bad mother.)  We had a good book on CD going, and with food in their bellies, the ride was conflict-free.  There was a slight hitch with the map and directions, I somehow got going the wrong way on the road in question and Eric, who was coming the opposite direction from Durham, beat us to the guy’s house.

Eric was literally jumping up and down waving his arms at us next to the boat, which was parked on the trailer in the backyard of Greg’s brick ranch house.  They had the mast up and were getting ready to hoist the main.  He invited us to climb on.  The stern of the boat is open on the port side with a swim ladder for easy access either on land or in the water.  Nice, I thought. 

It was about 5pm, just before dusk and the mosquitoes were out in full force after all this rain we’ve had.  I killed two or three before I climbed aboard.  First thing I noticed, which Eric pointed out, is that the hardware is much more substantial than the Mac.  I helped hoist the sail and admired the jiffy reefing.  I noticed the boat also had roller furling on the headsail, something I’d never experienced and was skeptical about, particularly with a trailerable boat.  I eyed the forestay with a critical eye and asked Greg if it was ok for it to be bent.  He said it was ok, but didn’t seem to want to go on about it.  He said it would probably be best to store it flat and it had been stored with the mast and got bent.

Inside, I was impressed with all the space.  The V-berth looked roomy and the aft berth even roomier, except possibly with less headspace than the Mac.  It also had a two-foot storage area under the port side of the cockpit with a rail.  Nice.  A tiny sink and one-burner alcohol stove comprised the galley and a small removable cooler fit in a niche under the settee.  I liked all that too.  I don’t think the Mac had cooler space.  I was very surprised to find this a nicer boat than the Mac.  After seeing the Mac firsthand, I thought it was the one.  But this boat actually seemed even better and it was two and half feet shorter, which is a plus when you are paying for storage or maintenance by the foot.

The only hitch was the price.  Eric said he’d already come down on the price, which was substantially more than we had planned to spend.  However, we agreed that this boat didn’t need anything, except maybe the optional marine GPS.  It was ready to sail, in great shape and we loved it.  Everything about this boat was crooning to me.  Eric heard it too and even the kids agreed.  “Can we buy this one?’ They begged, trying out the raised seats at the stern.

Not wanting to say anything in front of the owner and slapping mosquitoes like a maniac, I retired to the car with the kids.  We drove to a Chinese buffet where we marveled over how much we loved the boat and the price while the kids ate plate after plateful.  Buffets are great for tweens who seem to able to eat their weight in food.  George ate fifteen sushi rolls and went back for dessert.  He only weighs about fifty pounds dripping wet but he’s obviously having a growth spurt.

There was no doubt.  This was our boat.  All that remained was for Eric to look at some comps to figure what was the lowest reasonable offer and make it.  And of all her great qualities, this boat was unnamed, so we get to name her.  I’ve been told it’s bad luck to rename a boat and we’d looked at some with some really stupid names (Wind Guzzler stands out) so it was a thrill to be able to name this one something just right.  We’re brainstorming names, so feel free to suggest one.  As long as it doesn’t contain the word “Guzzler.”

Monday, October 3, 2011

Dreamboat, Continued...

The rain paused and we stood there on the narrow dock staring at our dreamboat.  It was a bit of a shock because after all we’d been through that day, neither of us was quite sure we’d ever actually see the boat.

Eric pulled out his phone and left yet another message saying we’d found the boat and it would be great if he could come down so we could see the inside.  The cockpit hatch was locked with a padlock.  So we walked around her looking up occasionally to see if the owner was coming down from one of the condos.  There was no one around anywhere and I was not impressed with the security of this marina.  You’d think with all those condos around someone would notice these two gawkers and inquire as to our business.

After a brief discussion consisting of “should we?” and “Yes, we should,” Eric jumped on board.  Right away he checked the bow hatch and found it unlatched.  I looked around nervously.  The guy had said we could come see the boat.  We weren’t damaging anything or taking anything, but still it felt like trespassing.  Eric asked if I thought he should go inside.  I shrugged.  He shrugged.  “What the hell, we’ve come this far.”  And he slipped below decks.

I listened to him ooh and ahh and call out various features.

“It’s got a little sink.  No headroom, but the aft bunk is big.”

“Should I come aboard?”  I asked nervously.

“Why not?”

I took off my shoes and scrambled over the lifelines.  Went feet first down the narrow hatch onto the V-berth.  And I started oohing and ahhing.  It was so clean and it didn’t smell musty or mildewy.  The cushions were clean (later we found out he’d spent $500 on new ones) and it seemed to be all we’d hoped for.  Under the cockpit, sure enough, was a queen-sized berth, albeit with very little headroom in the middle.

We lifted all the cushions, noted the porta-potty, located the apparatus for raising and lowering the swing keel, one of the selling points of the boat, for its ability to run aground without damage, or “beachable” as they called it.

We sat across from each other in the cabin.  “I like it,” Eric said.

“Me too.”  We grinned at each other.

Safely back on the dock, Eric checked his phone. No message.  We shrugged, said goodbye to the boat and went back to the car.

Neither of us had been to Carolina Beach, so we just drove into town and stopped at the first restaurant we found.  It was after three and we’d not had lunch.  It was closed, but we walked next door and found an Italian place, Mama Mia’s, that was open, but empty.  A pretty, bouncy blonde college student named Caitlyn took our orders and we guzzled our beverages and scarfed our food.  We were just finishing up when Greg called.  He had not received our messages, but he’d be happy to meet us at the boat.  We settled on four-twenty to give us time to pay and get back over to the boat.

Eric hung up and looked at his phone.  He shook his head.  He looked at the phone number Greg had just called from.  He frowned and said the number he’d been calling was correct.  Then he slapped the side of his head.  “Nine-one-nine!”  All this time he’d been calling some poor fool and leaving all those messages and it was the wrong area code.  It was off by one number.  Oh well.  It was all working out.

We spent another hour on the boat with Greg and his adorable three-year-old.  He extolled the virtues of the boat and we poked around at the hardware and he started the outboard for us.  It was very nice.  Eric was worried about towing the boat with his Jeep pick-up, but Greg said he’d towed the boat down from Annapolis with his Pacifica.  Back in the parking lot I remembered that this was the very first place we had pulled in.  If we’d gotten out to look down the canal, we’d have seen the boat.  Oh well!

Our business concluded, we debated the merits of staying overnight or going home and decided to stay.  We got a room two blocks from Mama Mia’s at the Drydock Motel.  It had just the right degree of funkiness combined with the necessary amenities.  We were thrilled.  We walked back toward Mama Mia’s to check out this funky little bar we’d seen earlier.  Beside the door is a sign that says, “Hippies use side entrance.”  In spite of the sign, we went in the cavelike front door.  We hesitated by the small bar, growing accustomed to the dim light and pounding music. The bartender noticed us and leaned over the bar to ask if it was our first time there.  It was.

“Ok, then, here’s how it works here at the Fat Pelican,” he pointed farther back into the catacomb like interior. “We got four hundred kinds of beer in a cooler back there.  You go and pick out what you want and bring it back here and we’ll tell you how much it is.  We also have wine by the glass, ‘kay?”

I had to ask.  “Do you have any beer at room temperature?”

Dead serious he says, “Yeah, sure.  The closer you get to that door,” he nodded at the front door, “the warmer it gets.”  There was a pause as I processed that little gem.

I laughed.  I guess it was cold or nothing.

We picked out two beers, an IPA for Eric and a Yuengling Porter for me.  I love porter and had no idea Yuengling made a porter so I wanted to try it.  It was adequate, but later I got a Bell’s Porter that really sang.  Oh boy.

It’s a mystery how this place manages to keep a liquor license, the building seems cobbled together, literally, from scrap boards, bricks and random thrift store furniture.  On every wall was a piece of colored construction paper reading, “Please do not feed the dog!”  But there was no dog in evidence.  Outside the ground was covered with sand and we found an empty table with two mismatched chairs next to a white board structure containing a porch swing.  At the back a little boat was sunk into the sand and we checked to see if we could sit in it, but it was inaccessible and full of coolers.  The place was absolutely steaming with atmosphere.

Right away the place began filling up, as if we’d started something, and when we saw a salty-looking older man scanning for a seat, we invited him to join us.  He hesitated a second and then shrugged.  He was drinking a two-dollar can of Pabst and smoking a cigarette, which he tapped into the large coffee can on the table.  Bearded and wearing a baseball cap, he looked like a boat person for sure.  But we soon found out that he lived a bike ride away and worked on Figure Eight Island, north of Wrightsville Beach.  He had been an electrician by trade but now he was semi-retired and worked doing maintenance at the yacht club there.  He regaled us with tales of the Weyerhauser heirs and John Edwards and some of the funny things that happened there.

Much too soon, he headed off and we were left marveling over his stories.  But soon two young men came out from the cooler squinting for a table.  By this time they were really all taken, but there were a few extra chairs.  They pulled two over at our invitation.  Shawn was originally from Washington, DC and worked as an engineer on the Okracoke ferry.  My first husband was a marine engineer, so we had plenty to talk about there.  Meanwhile, Eric was learning that Danny works doing environmental assessments of buildings, a field related to Eric’s.  So we were all chatting away and putting away beers and eating peanuts and Utz crab chips.  They smelled great, but tasted too much like crab (yuck) for my taste.  I stuck with the peanuts, which were Planters and salty.

Shawn and Danny decided to move on, it was Saturday night and they were going for some live music.  At just before midnight, the night was young for these young thirties and we old folks were getting mighty tired.  We’d had quite the day.  We were pretty sure we’d found our dreamboat.  Now if we could just find one closer than Ohio.