Sunday, July 27, 2008

World views

I spent most of last week in the world I know best, moving the jet around the country, dodging storms, balancing loads and fuel and possible “plans B” to get people where they needed to be when they needed to be there. We touched wheels in Boca Raton, (two times) St. Louis, (seven times) Moline, (five times) and Naples, FL once. (I need to spend some time in Naples some day. It looks like they have a lot of sailboats there!) Friday I went by the house just long enough to pack some clothes, meet Deb, and head for the marina. Before calling it a night I put a new impeller in Nomad’s cooling system and then crawled into the V-berth thinking to myself, “It sure is good to be home.”

That is a bit of a stretch. Nomad is more like a cabin get-away that will move. And though the water is far from a place I know very well yet, it feels like we are making progress. We are getting much better at sail handling and (so long as the wind isn’t blowing too hard) our boat handling around the marina isn’t near the circus it was just a couple of weekends ago. Boat systems are starting to make a little sense though I have to admit that the water in the bilge thing still bugs me a little. (It just doesn’t seem right to have lake water in the boat even though I know the stuffing box needs to leak a little for cooling.) Things are finding their place in the cabin. I know where to find my shoes and hat and glasses. I can move around in the middle of the night and not bang into things any more often then I do in the bedroom. Nomad is not the strange place it seemed just a month or so ago.

Saturday a bunch of boats from the marina all sailed to a cove about 4 miles away for a “raft-up” and a party. Well, we didn’t really sail. Most of us tried but there was just no wind. Boats would power out onto the lake, hoist sails, drift for a while, drop the sails and start up the motor. It was kind of comical seeing a whole flotilla of sticks moving across the lake, all homing in on the same spot. By late afternoon about half the boats, (Nomad included) left for home. The other half stayed out for the night. Breaking up the raft was a bit exciting and, in spite of my improved boat handling skills, I still managed to spook the folks watching. I think I knew what I was doing. I managed to miss the remaining boats, (in spite of a wind that was pushing my stern into them) and had a plan for missing the anchor rode that had gotten under our bow (which I did). From some of the (rather loud) advice I got while pulling away though, I’m not sure the captains that were watching were convinced I knew what I was doing.

In spite of my being a newbie I’m beginning to suspect that, unlike the world I do know, in the world of sailing anarchy reigns and everyone is an expert even if no two of them can agree. One person swears by a preventer (rigging the keeps the boom from swinging, particularly when running downwind). Another claims a preventer is an unnecessary complication. Boom vang, rigid or rope, yeah or nay, topping lifts, spinnakers or genikers, reefing systems, geniker poles, proper ways to tie the boat to the dock, 2 hulls or 1 or 3, instrumentation…it seems that every piece of a sailboat, every maneuver a sailboat might make, every sail set, every wind condition, is open to endless debate. On the one hand that seems kind of fun. But on the other, some things have to work better than other things that don’t work so well. Surely somewhere in the world of sailing there is a way of learning what those things are without making all of the mistakes for one’s self?

Cove 4 and the Drifter

Boulder Yacht Club had a party scheduled in Cove 4 across the lake on Saturday but unfortunately the wind didn't cooperate, so 12 sailboats, 2 jetskis and a trimaran all motored over to cove 4 at around noon. We spent the afternoon enjoying the cool water, chili dogs and fritos, and good company. It is possible, I find out, to tread water and keep one's beer from getting lake water in it, a skill even more amazing when demonstrated by someone smoking a cigar. The wind began to pick up steadily through the afternoon and by 5 we were all ready to take advantage of it to sail home. The entire raft-up had moved with the wind so that the anchor rodes had worked underneath the boats which made it a little trickier getting apart than it was getting together, but everyone made it safe and no boats were scratched. We put up our drifter sail again and made it back to the marina at a pretty good clip. I guess it's pretty appropriate to have a sail called a drifter on a boat called Nomad. We tried to sail today with the drifter but there was just no wind to speak of, so we motored on back to the marina and worked on the boat a little. Some of the teak needed touching up and it was a great day for it since the varnish dries so quickly in the heat. After a stellar performance docking at the pump-out we decided to head home where it was a little cooler. I have to tell you I'm starting to daydream about cool, windy days wrapped up in jackets and drinking hot chocolate on the boat....

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Boat Ops

I had to leave the boat early Sunday to start a series of airplane trips. Now I’m in Moline for a couple of nights. I’ll be out most of the week, getting back to the marina on Friday. Yesterday morning the Moline area took a direct hit from a serious storm. The airport reported a wind gust in excess of 94 mph and there are downed trees everywhere. They still don’t have electrical power. The thought of riding out a blow like that on a sailboat is enough to give a person shivers.

I’m looking forward to the weekend’s planned sail but the truth is I really need to spend a long weekend just wrenching on little Nomad. In addition to the engine cooling woes there is a nice list of electrical glitches that need attention and some navigation equipment to install. It will take a while to get the boat where I want it but (like our new friend Barry pointed out) a sailboat doesn’t have to be perfect to go out and have fun. If it floats, has sails and rigging, and there is some way steer, one is pretty much good to go. Well, good to go on a lake. I suspect facing a long open-water sail brings a slightly different view of necessary boat preparations.

Boats are like airplanes in that sense. A good pilot is never surprised by his or her airplane; disappointed maybe, but never surprised. Equipment failures and weather changes are part of the deal. As an airplane driver I have several different emergency procedures drilled into my very bones, what to do if an engine quits at the worst possible time, what must be done with a fire light or a cabin pressure loss; circumstances that may require that a first move be both quick and correct if the flight is to survive. My boat emergency responses are not nearly so well honed. Knowing that keeps me a little more on edge in Nomad’s cockpit at 5 kts then I am in the Citation cockpit at 400 kts. Weird maybe, but that’s the way it is.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Sailing Marathon

I believe we've set a record this weekend for the most hours sailing in one day. We set out from the marina at around 10 after doing some morning work on the boat with the intention of sailing to Cove 4 just to check it out because we have a "raft-up" next weekend. (A raft-up is where a group of boats raft up together and party like we did on the Fourth of July weekend). It took us quite a while and quite a few tacks to get there since the wind was coming from the Southeast at a pretty solid 12-15 knots and the waves were pretty choppy. At one point we were heeled over at a good 25 degrees. For those of you who have never sailed, in Nomad you need to have your feet braced against the other seat at this point or you're going overboard. I've been trying to find someone to take a picture of Nomad while we're sailing so you can see her but no luck so far and I also managed to forget my camera this weekend so sorry for the lack of new pictures. Even though this isn't our boat, it's sailing at about 15-20 degrees of heel so you can get an idea of what it looks like. I promise to try to get some pictures of heeling on Nomad sometime in the near future.

Coming back from Cove 4 we decided to head north to Tradewinds and then back to our Marina. As we lowered the sails and turned on the engine it began to overheat again so we had to shut it off quickly and raise the jib again. We sailed circles for a while just outside the marina while the engine cooled off. Then Tim did some expert sailing into the marina entrance just on the headsail. At the very last moment that we could, we started the engine, motored quickly around the corner of the dock and glided into the slip and shut the motor off. It turns out, after some investigation, that our impeller dried out from sitting on land for 2 years and crumbled into bits. No impeller, no cooling water. Needless to say, the first thing I did when I got home this evening was to order not one, but TWO impellers. Now we'll have a spare.

Right after we pulled into the slip we met up with the Marina's newest tenant, Barry , on his 36ft Albin. He's a single guy who always needs crew to sail that big boat and he asked us if we wanted to go along. Off we went for one of the most wonderful evening sails you could imagine. The sun was setting a big orange ball with purple strips of clouds while we clipped along at a good 7 1/2 knots upwind and then a consistent 5 1/2 knots downwind. This is one fast, sleek, sexy boat. We didn't get back to the marina till nearly 9:30 and by the time dinner was cooked and eaten, we were completely worn out. All in all we sailed about 10 1/2 hours yesterday, managed a small emergency, met some new friends, got to know some friends better, and just generally had a great day. Now if someone could figure out a way to remove all the carp from the marina....

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"I think I'll clean that cockpit seat" (Or how to delay leaving the marina)

As Tim said in his previous post, we sailed from the marina to the dam to the other end of the lake and back to the marina. A wonderful day of perfect sailing followed by a much more graceful dock at the pumpout and back to the slip. When we got back we puttered around fixing things and cleaning things. We put up our gently used but new to us charcoal grill that attaches to the stern rail and cooked ribs on it. We sat on the dock and ate the ribs and potato salad and watermelon and drank Mike's Hard Lemonade while we watched the sun go down. More puttering, then the inevitable packing up the cooler and trudging up to the car. We were a couple miles down the road when we realized we'd forgotten to unplug the shore power and had to go back. I believe it might have been intentional, delaying just 10 more minutes the return to our land-locked lives. While Tim went back to the boat to unplug the cord I took this picture of our marina. I'd hoped to somehow catch the essence of what it is we love about this place but as I look at the picture it just doesn't do it justice. You can't smell the lake smells mixed in with the campfire and grill smells from the campground on the cove. You can't hear the seagulls or the swallows or the clanging of the rigging on the masts. You can't feel the breeze off the lake or the last bit of warmth from the sun on your sunburned shoulder. Maybe some day you can come visit. I'm sure I can always drum up an excuse to go...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Lap Around the Lake

We set off this morning in nearly perfect conditions for a sailboat. Steady winds of 10 to 12 knots were blowing, with clear skies and low humidity. All complements of the cold front that went through last night. A single tack took us all the way to the dam. Turning back North we were going so well that we decided to head to Keysport. We made the whole length of the lake with just a couple of course changes to keep well away from some obstructions left over when they turned a small river into a lake. (Namely a couple of big old, concrete storage towers.) Reaching Keysport we swung through the wind and began the reach for Nomad’s home slip. Along the way we passed Gary in Margaritaville (Gary was the broker who sold us Nomad) and later Lee in Hog Wild. Lee bought my BMW, which made it possible for us to buy Nomad.

Nearing home Deb wanted to try “heaving to” a maneuver that basically lets the boat hold its place even with the wind blowing. One proceeds by backing the headsail into the wind and then locking the tiller all the way the other way. If you ask me how it works about the best I can tell you is that it works pretty well.

We didn’t sail Nomad yesterday. The forecast was for some big storms, which materialized late in the afternoon and made us glad we were at the dock. Lots of lightning and heavy rain, but it looked like the worst of the winds passed just to the south of our marina. Some folks got caught out and had to ride out the storms on the hook, huddled in the cabin. I’m sure that will happen to us someday but I’m glad it wasn’t yesterday.

We did sail some yesterday morning with new friend Dave on his Hunter 25. We took part in a “skills” race, which pretty much proved we don’t have a lot of skill yet. The last task of the “race” was to sail through the start / finish line BACKWARDS. We never did figure that one out; something to practice on another day.

I went for a swim yesterday mid afternoon, paddling around the parked boats in the marina. Not many people swim in the marina. It seems having a bunch of floating objects all connected to 120 volts AC, some with shore power wires hanging into the water, spooks most people. I’m not that smart I guess. Besides, I have yet to see a flash fried fish or cormorant floating near the slips. Today though, about 4 feet worth of water snake swam by Nomad’s stern while we were working on the boat and getting ready to close her up for the weekend. I kind of like snakes, but I’m not sure I want to be nose to nose with one while swimming around the boats. I may have to rethink this swimming in the marina thing after all.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Morning musing in the marina.

We actually woke up in two different marinas this weekend. Saturday morning found us at Trade Winds, having sailed there Friday to show Nomad to some friends. We didn’t quite make it to the marina on our own as the engine overheated with about ¼ mile left to go. I was a bit puzzled for a moment after shutting down, not sure what to do next. Deb suggested throwing the anchor into the water, which seemed like a good idea. After some discussion both onboard little Nomad and over the VHF, some soon to be new friends and one old friend from Trade Winds motored out in a monster powerboat to help us the rest of the way to the visitor’s dock. It was an easy fix, (note to self, check the coolant level before leaving the dock) but we spent the night since we were there. That is one of the nice things about a cabin sailboat. Wherever one might be one can also stay for a while since everything needed is along for the ride.

Winds for the sail back to Boulder on Saturday were forecast as light and variable, which turned out to be optimistic. They were more like light and nonexistent. It gave us a chance to play with a different headsail, a big, beautiful, blue and yellow light fabric thing called a “drifter.”

The name is right. The slightest wind will have the boat drifting slowly along. With the drifter, some music, and a few “coldies” we finally made it back to our home slip without resorting to the engine. Silly of course, but we are kind of proud of making it in such light wind.

Today’s winds were forecast for much the same, which turned out to be pessimistic. We left the dock early under drifter and full main and were soon pulling along at a good clip, heeled over and leaving bubbles in our wake. The wind built to the point where we were a little concerned that the drifter might be a bit overmatched. So we changed headsails while underway, another first for us. Later, trying to get home to end the weekend, the winds died off to the point where we changed sails yet again. We take a very deliberate approach to doing things like changing sales. We will not win any races that way, but so far neither one of us has ended up tangled in a halyard, smacked by a wayward boom, or landing in the water.

People often talk of the similarities between flying and sailing. But this weekend put a spotlight on the differences. Shut down an engine in a single engine airplane and things get deadly serious in a huge hurry. In Nomad? Not so much. Toss the hook, get a beer, figure out what to do next. If I had been smart enough to take a little coolant along I could have fixed the problem right then and there. Something that is hardly ever an option with a broken airplane buzzing along in the flight levels.

Navigation in an airplane is basically point and shoot. Sailboat navigation is a matter of seeing what the wind, boat and sails will let you do. (Nomad, for example, will head much more into the wind under jib and full main, less under just the jib, less again under just the main, and doesn’t care much for a downwind run at all with the drifter flying.) After figuring out which directions the boat will go one fits the various headings together like a jigsaw puzzle. Changing winds mean different headings and that changes the puzzle. A good pilot controls an airplane. A sailboat and a sailor have negotiations. Sometimes the best the sailor can do is make a suggestion. Occasionally even that is ignored and the sailor is as much along for the ride as the silverware.

Oh and the horn? Still doesn’t honk nor does the anchor light light. It was only a 3-day weekend.

The Sci-Fi Marina

Who knew that an Illinois marina could be the beginning of the next best-selling sci-fi movie. Why, you ask, would I say such a thing? We just got back from the long 3 day Fourth of July weekend on the boat and it was the epitome of weirdness in the marina this weekend.

Chapter 1 of Boulder Sci-Fi weekend: it appears that the marina has been invaded by the fresh water equivalent of coral. Now while you may have just had a blissful visual of artistically colored reefs with fish of every hue in the rainbow, Carlyle Lake's variety is, very simply put, The Blob. Here's a picture from

They silently drift through the slips, just narrowly evading the propellers (well at least most of them. I think we multiplied one blob into a dozen...). I'm told if you pick one up that they stink (it's a fish repellent). They are truly a bizarre phenomenon.

Chapter 2 of the Boulder Sci-Fi adventure is the *&!#@&*! carp. Evidently carp feel that sailboaters grow algae on the bottom of their boats as a delectable appetizer just for them. Being nocturnal creatures, they bang on the bottom of the boat all night long to loosen the algae and then they suck it off. Great for the sailboat, bad for the sailors trying to sleep inside the sailboat. Just because I hear some of you saying, "How bad can a fish be?"...I actually took a video in the dark just so you could hear them. Turn up your volume before you hit play.

I'm told you can learn to block it out, but the race is on to figure out some way to defeat the carp. Maybe we need to see about inviting the Blobs down to our slip to give off some of that fish repellent! (See Chapter 1)

Chapter 3 of the Boulder Sci-Fi adventure: Boiling Bluegills. Carlyle Lake has been heavily stocked with fish to meet the needs of the incredible amount of fishermen that visit the lake each summer. One of the most popular fish is the Bluegill. As we were leaving the marina this evening the water in the slips along the walkway was literally boiling with Bluegills. We counted 7 schools that were just flipping over each other. It made the surface of the water look like a hot spring. Maybe they'll drive the carp crazy and make them seek out another marina on the lake!

Chapter 4 of the weird weekend: Drafting Bumble Bees. Who knew? If a bumble bee happens to be out in the middle of the lake and gets tired, what does he do? Evidently he seeks out the nearest captain of a sailboat and proceeds to draft behind him while he rests. We had one follow us about a foot behind Tim's back for a while. No attempt to land, he was just obviously resting. After a while he just took off with a little wing-rock, one pilot to another.

All in all it was a wonderful weekend. So much so that we found ourselves dragging our feet as we cleaned up and closed up the boat this evening. We sailed a good part of each of the three days, visited old friends, made new friends, sampled some new beer,did some simply awesome sailing with our drifter sail (see Tim's post for pictures), and had a tremendously restful, enjoyable weekend. We're starting to wonder if our 5 year plan to retire to a sailboat ought maybe to be a 3 year plan????

Here at long last are also some pictures of the finished screen project that we made. It's been a life saver for us in keeping the wasps out. (Oooohs and Aaaahhhhs are welcome).

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The List

The plan is to spend the holiday weekend on Nomad. We hope to get there Thursday late afternoon and not leave until Sunday. The list of things that need tending;

The horn doesn’t honk.

The anchor light doesn’t.

Small leak of some kind in the port lazarette; maybe engine coolant.

Hang a fourth fender.

Final fit and finish of the screen door.

No inlet water for the head. (This one we might let go for a while. Someone suggested that using stored water for the head was a much better idea then using the bacteria rich waters of the lake.)

Install the refinished galley cupboard doors.

Replace a stripped screw in the companionway hatch slide.

Measure for the new cockpit cushions.

Install the new hose at the dock box and deep six the old one. (Really, I’ll just put it in the trash.)

We also think we might “anchor out” for a night, our first such night “on the hook.” Maybe we’ll head over by the marina where we took our class. We have some friends there and we would like them to see Nomad.

There is supposed to be some weather around this weekend as well. Just like we do with the bikes and I do with the sky, we make plans for the boat, plans to deviate from. Like motorcycles and airplanes, when it comes to boats Mother Nature has the last word.