Monday, January 26, 2009

The best bad idea...

...I've had in a while. Or maybe it was the worst good idea. Either way I spent a good chunk of the day sailing a 50 foot Cat in the ocean. I found one of those tourist type party boat companies, the ones where they load up 50 or so, ply on the drinks, crank up the music, and pretend to go "sailing." In reality they spend most of their time motoring around the bay, peering at homes of the rich and famous, and hanging out at a beech.

But instead of 50 there were only 5 of us, and two of those were the crew; Captain Larry and new Captain Noah. When I arrived at the slip Larry, Noah and two other guys were welding up a broken stanchion in preparation for a Coast Guard inspection. Before you know it I was kind of a part of the gang just working on the boat. Work done and equipment put away it was decided that we should go on a short sail anyway, even if it was just me. (Normally they don't go with less than 5 paying passengers on board.) At the last moment a woman and her daughter showed up but they were not really interested in the "tourist" thing either. So we slipped the lines and headed straight for the Atlantic. Five minutes out of the slip, in the middle of the ICW with boats of all kinds going in all directions, Capt. Larry offered me the helm. He didn't get it back for nearly four hours.

We timed our motoring to reach the 17th street draw bridge for the on-the-half-hour opening. I learned the procedure for checking in on the radio and got my first look at an open draw bridge from the helm of a boat. Going through we cozied up to a power boat in front of us. Working the helm with twin throttles under my right hand actually felt kind of natural and judging the energy state of the boat was the same as what I do in the jet. Things just happened a little slower.

It got a little bouncy after we cleared the bridge and turned east into both the harbor channel and the breeze. Hoisting the main was a two man job; big freaking sail on a 50 foot Cat! The jib was on a roller so setting it was a matter of pulling on one rope. Clear the channel we turned north on a broad reach, set the sails and watched the speed build to nearly 9 knots in the 12 - 15 knot ocean wind. The waves were running 3 to 4 feet and for the first time in my life I had the helm of a sailboat in saltwater.

Impressions? I set the sails on the Cat just like we do on Nomad, the only real difference is the rigging being much more robust on the bigger boat. The self tacking head sail made changing headings mostly a matter of turning the helm. But leaving the head sale to its own devices when tacking though the wind meant giving away nearly all of our momentum. It helps if one backs the jib a little, letting it push the bow through the maneuver. We do the same on Nomad. Mind you, watch for the boom and main sail sheet while doing all this. Nomad's boom will put you in the water in a heartbeat. I think this big Cat could launch you into next week.

The Cat certainly takes the waves with a different motion than the mono-hull; stiffer in some ways with a quicker lateral motion instead of an easy roll. But there is not a doubt in my mind, at least on this day with nearly perfect winds, Deb and I could have easily two-handed the big Cat out on the ocean. I make no claim of doing so in 15 foot waves and 30 knot winds, or of getting in and out of Ft. Lauderdale's commercial harbor without some help. That place reminded me of Chicago's O'Hare on a busy afternoon.

As the day was ending and I was working us back into the channel, winds and waves now squarely on the twin sterns, the Captain asked me how much ocean experience I had.

"How long have we been out?" was all I could think to say. This morning I had none. Tonight I have some. That's a pretty good day and made this a good idea. But it was sure hard to step back on the dock knowing it might be a long, long time before I get to do such a thing again.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


I'm in boat country for the next day or so; Ft. Lauderdale, Fl. Since I have to be here anyway checking out some marinas and trying to look at a few boats seems like a reasonable thing to do. Deb made me promise I would send her a picture before I put a down payment on anything. I'm pretty sure she was joking, not about the picture part but about the down payment part.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Identity Crisis

After being off the boat for 2 months, I find I'm suffering a bit of an identity crisis. I'm discovering, much to my dislike, that during the winter one must do all the things that one has not accomplished over the boating months - cleaning closets, tending to the piles of paperwork on the desk, holiday busy-ness, home repair, car repair, bike repair, body repair (see holiday busy-ness)...the list seems endless and as the weeks of list-tending go on the boat identity seems to be fading and the non-boat identity is becoming entirely too familiar. It leaves one a little disoriented, a little "disconnected" as Tim put it today when one is living one life but one's heart is in another. Winter isolates most of us in our homes, but I feel particularly isolated since most of our friends are marina friends. We do get the once-a-month social events but they sometimes only serve to accent the weeks till Spring. As Tim mentioned a few posts ago, we went out to the marina last weekend to check on things and I breathed a sigh of relief as we sat on the boat and visited with friends. An odd thing, this. I'm sure the more I think about it (she says with a sly grin) that the only solution to save me from this identity crisis is to move to the boat full time.

An empty winter marina

Winter blues

The winter blues have arrived along with temperatures in single digits last night and the wind howling today. So I have been reading about boats. (I really want to get to work on Deb's bike but it is too freaking cold in the garage!) I'm in a "mono-hull" mood at the moment and reviewing some of my current favorites helps keep the chill away. (Prices are not a consideration when dreaming in the winter.) I'll list them here for anyone else who is looking to think of warm things on a cold day.

The Island Packet 485 tops my list at the moment; 48 feet long, center cockpit, and a tick over 1/2 mil. (Told you price was no object.) The build and interior make up for the less than jaunty exterior lines. The fore cabin is a bit blocky looking and I have no experience with the rigging of its foresail. But the interior is nearly perfect and she has a reputation for sea keeping, safety and toughness that is hard to pass. We saw one at the boat show and the impression of quality lingers.

Next is the Dufour 525. I just love the fore deck on that boat and the interior is pretty cool as well. Also about 1/2 mil. (No problem, I'll just sell the house three times!) It has a sleek look and though not a center cockpit boat it is not open transom either. A following sea would still seem a bit spooky, at least to my lake locked senses. Also, the reviews indicate that it needs a little systems work to be a true, blue water live aboard. On looks alone it is by far my favorite and I am becoming a fan of the clean deck, low cabin profile.

Then maybe the Gozzard 44CC, another center cockpit boat...and another 1/2 mill. They have a really nice, open interior with some innovative features. To my eye the outside lines are a bit more attractive than the Island Packet.

Anyway, its fun to compare features, put pictures up side by side, and mull over what it would be like to be night sailing in a building wind, the destination still days away and land nowhere to be seen. Sounds like a good time to me.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

After a week in Indy getting to know new grandson Christopher, Deb and I had to bid a teary "good-by" to Kristin and Brian this morning and head back to St. Louis. (I'm getting better at good-byes. After dropping Amber, Mike, Catherine and Mary off at the Indy airport last week I stopped crying about the time I made Terre Haute. I hate saying good-by to my daughters.)

Anyway, on the way back from Indy we stopped by the marina to check on little Nomad. It has been several weeks since either of us have been on board and I was a bit curious as to how she was handling her first winter in the water in several years. I was also just missing being around the boat. She was floating contently in her slip, all covers secure, the normal amount of water in her bilge. I retied all the lines, reset a fender, put a charge on the batteries and generally poked around the boat for a while, but all appeared to be ship-shape. We happened across Dennis (the owner of the marina) and good friend Barry (who even in the winter spends more than a few nights aboard his Alban 36) and ended up having an impromptu dinner party. The four of us sat around the clubhouse, enjoyed some really good food and conversation, with the boats rocking gently at the docks and the biggest full moon of the decade flooding the lake with light.

It was a truly special way to bring an official end to our holiday / new grandson celebrations and travels. Truth be told, I'm looking forward to the new year settling down and getting under way. There is a list of projects to start tomorrow, new steering bearings for Deb's bike, a hardwood floor for the house, and a list of jobs to do on Nomad. Hopefully enough to do to make the remainder of the winter pass a bit quickly.