Monday, September 27, 2010


I think it was a pretty good call to break up last weekend's raft when the wind picked up. I think it was a pretty good call for Nomad to stay in the cove and safely on her hook until the next morning. When morning came Deb and I sailed off the anchor using the main and small jib then rode the wind home at twice the speed we could have made on our little motor. From the very first we realized, given the wind's direction, all of our progress north would come on the starboard tack and we set our sails accordingly. When the breeze proved a bit stronger than we thought we dropped the traveler to leeward, sheeted the main up tight, and stood the boat up a little. We would not have been remiss to put a reef in the main, but we didn't need to. When stronger gusts came along we luffed up a bit to hold the same degree of heel and not drive the boat too hard. Nomad responded by shouldering her way through the weather without complaint. We were the only boat visible out in the middle of the lake in the white caps and wind. The thought of sailors looking out over lumped up water and saying, "Oh hell, that must be Nomad," kind of makes me smile.

We sailed a Cat in 40 kt winds and 8 foot seas; spent a night on the hook in near gale force winds. We flogged a tired monohull from NJ to Block Island, around Long Island, through NY and back in 6 days, buried the bow, fixed what needed fixed, lived with the rest, kept the boat going. I stood a 2 1/h hour night watch alone, my back to 10 foot rollers, and knew nothing but the joy that comes from being exactly where I wanted to be. We are comfortable in Nomad at night and when the wind blows other boats off the lake.

I'm not a sailor yet, but I feel like we are making progress.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


One would think, having bashed our way around Long Island with all the attending adventures, that our little lake would be kind of ho-hum. I was not thinking that. Instead I was sitting on s/v Time Out's foredeck hanging onto a bow line from Nomad. The two boats would bounce off each other; WHAM, rebound to the end of the bow line, jerk like a dog hitting the end of its leash at a full run and WHAM, do it all over again. S/V Gail Force was tied to the other side of Time Out, acting a bit like a back board. It was, of course, full dark with a heavy overcast sky that was threatening rain at any moment. We were trying to figure out how to break up our little raft without doing damage to any boats, run afoul of the anchor rodes deployed from Nomad and Gail Force, or get any crew member limbs crunched in a hull-vice.

The evening didn't start out that way, of course. Saturday had started out as a day whose only real defining characteristic had been a nearly complete lack of wind. Friday night had wind, we sailed to the cove and, according to at least 2 different weather forecasters, that should have been about it for the wind this weekend. So the three boats tied up Saturday evening for a burrito extravaganza. By the time the dishes were done the wind was up. Not long after the boats starting bouncing. Not long after that things were getting right to the edge of being out of hand. Time, as they say, for a different plan. And thus I found myself on Time Out holding Nomad on a leash.

Gail Force and Time Out decided that the cove was no place for sailboats that night. Jeff pulled his way up to his anchor hand over hand in the dark. (He single-hands that big Hunter of his all the was a pretty good trick to get under way this dark night.) With Gail Force going forward we tossed the lines between Nomad and Time Out, (me jumping back to my own house at the last moment) and let the wind blow Time Out off the other way. Nomad stayed right where she was. Not only did we not need 3 boats trying to find their way out of the cove at the same time, Deb and I had decided to stay put. I loves me some Nomad, but 9 tired horses and a pony against that wind (it was due out of the North - the heading for home of course) and those waves? I wasn't sure we could make any forward progress at all and, even if we did, it would take hours for us to make it back to the pier.

Come morning the wind was still up but had shifted just enough that it looked like we could make it home. And we did, a marvelous (if damp and slightly cold) four tacks got us back to the marina, Nomad nearly on her ear for most of the way. The other two crews told us they had endured a pretty interesting night-bash of their own with bows plunging and spray making it to the cockpits. You know it was windy when Jeff elected to put Gail Force to bed bow first.

Our little lake is not the Atlantic Ocean, but it will still get you to thinking and make you work for your miles.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I'm home too...

The day after we got back from the NY trip I headed out for four days of tugging contrails through the flight levels, with stops in WI, IL, IA, TX, and NV. The route home from Las Vegas took us along the entire length of the Grand Canyon. And you're right, the Grand Canyon doesn't actually lie along a line drawn from Las Vegas to St. Louis. Sometimes negotiating an ATC clearance is like trying to sail against the wind. The best you can do is tack this-a-way, then tack that-a-way, and hopefully - sooner rather than later - you get the chance to finally put your destination on your radome, or bow, as the case may be. This time though, it worked to our advantage and we got a spectacular tour of that pretty impressive bit of real estate.

I used to fly the Western Mountains and deserts as an air ambulance pilot and I mentioned to my co-captain how much I miss it. He gave me a bit of a look and then said something about my mental wrapping being none too tight. I enjoy living in a big city, miss flying in the desert southwest, love my weekends on Nomad, and want to live on a sailboat full time while spending as many days as reasonable on the open ocean. How, he wondered, is one person so openly enamored of such utterly different environments? Don't know, but then I've never been one to claim that my wrapping is all neat and tidy.

After one night back in the Central West End I joined Deb at the boat for a short weekend, Sunday evening finding me heading out yet again. This time Flight Safety International and 3 days of recurrent training made up the point of call. As usual three days in the sim can leave a mark. Unlike last year I managed a night, non-coupled, raw data, steam gauge, ILS approach to minimums in a partially black cockpit, (think total AC electrical system failure) on the first try, without digging a simulated ditch in Mother Earth. This among other treats like multiple one-engine-inoperative approaches to misses and holds, V1 cuts during ITOs, system failures of every stripe, and a particularly enjoyable all-engines-inoperative (as in 15,000 pound glider), no-flaps, brakes or boards, manual deploy of the rolly bits, (wheels) without vertical guidance like VASI lights or GS, approach to a landing. At least with NO engines running there was no chance of a miss. (It was enjoyable mostly because I managed to make it look easier than it really was.)

But now I'm home for a while, and pretty content to be here.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Back Home Again

With absolutely no wind to greet us home, we didn't even bother uncovering the mainsail and putted out of the channel Friday night headed to Cole's Creek to cove out for the night with S/V Gail Force.  As fantastic as our Long Island adventures were, it felt good to be back on Nomad again headed to our favorite place.

We motored along enjoying the sunset on the jello-calm lake and swapping stories about our trip once again, dodging a few of the local fishermen's gallon milk jugs with weighted hooks and laughingly comparing them to the lobster pot minefield we had threaded our way through south of Block Island just a few days earlier.

Just as the sun dipped below the horizon, when we were a little more than half way to Cole's Creek, a swarm of seagulls descended on the lake around us, flying just above the surface of the lake back and forth.  Literally thousands of them covered every part of the water surrounding us and were completely silent but for the swoosh of their wings.  As the darkness began to take hold, they settled into the water and floated along, with just the few of them that Nomad pushed against taking off only to settle a few feet away.

It was the most phenomenal thing I've seen in a long time, and one of those fleeting moments that you chance upon and might have missed had we been 5 minutes earlier or later.  My guess is that it was part of some gathering ritual for the flight south, for today they were gone, leaving just a few stragglers on the lake and in the marina. 

We had a wonderful evening with friends and a great night's sleep with 51° breezes wafting through the hatch. We even got to sleep in a little because the power boaters happily seem to think that Labor Day is the end of the season so there were no giant power boat wakes to jolt us from sleep.  A very slight breeze coaxed us off the anchor with the drifter for our afternoon sail, but the only exciting thing about that sail was the stowaway tree frog that jumped out of the mainsail cover when we decided to hoist it to better our chances of making it back to the marina before the pending Saturday night festivities.  He hitchhiked with us all the way back to the marina, hopping from coaming to stern pulpit, to cockpit cushion, finally setting for a little piece of shade in the aft cockpit to take his afternoon nap.

Having been busy with some incredible fried chicken and 60 fellow yacht club members all evening, we neglected to check the radar before heading back out to Cole's Creek again for the evening.  Half way down there, the approaching front was lighting the sky with some fireworks.  Checking the radar we decided to turn around and spend the night in the marina where our mast happens to be the shortest thing around instead of the tallest.

I was a good weekend.  An uneventful one, to be sure, but whether it's 6 days of intense sailing around Long Island Sound, or a day of fitful breezes barely enough to fill the drifter, if we're in a boat and on the water, life is good.  

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Thanks Captain

It seems that for most of our 109 combined years, Tim and I have actively been at either the student or teacher end of lessons.  You can become a certified teacher at any of thousands of schools worldwide, but teaching is an art, and good teachers as hard to find as good artists and as I think back over all the teachers who have struggled to impart some knowledge to this sometimes resistant gray matter, only a handful stand out in my memory.  A middle school teacher that treated her students as the adults she wished them to become rather than the pitiful example of discipline that they were then; a college algebra teacher with the gift to make me understand that mathematics are no mystery, only another language that must be learned in order to become conversant; a flight instructor who also happened to be my husband who managed to teach me to see the whole runway environment rather than fixing on the end numbers; and now, Captain John Henderson, a sailing instructor who enabled us to circumnavigate Long Island Sound in 6 days with a modicum of grace.  On the flight back to St. Louis I was thinking about teachers in general and what makes some successful and some dismal failures.  I decided that a good teacher is a blend of book knowledge, well-honed skills, hard-earned lumps, a deep confidence, and the desire to pass on their passion for what they do, and I can't imagine anyone more passionate about the sea than Captain John.  Thanks Captain.

Long Island Circumnavigation Pictures Part II

No shore in sight

Pounding away in the swells

The Prison Ship 

Deb gets to shoot Hell Gate 


Hell Gate at slack tide 







The New Colossus
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Emma Lazarus, 1883 

Ships anchored in New York Harbor waiting for customs clearance

Staten Island Ferry

Barnaget Bay Sunday afternoon races

The last bridge before the return to Nelson Sailing Center

Reflections on the Long Island Voyage

Once upon a time when I was in college, I remember sitting in front of a blank, white screen with a printed writing assignment sitting next to the keyboard, taunting, while any manner of cohesive paragraphs eluded me. Trying to sum up the 7 days of our first ocean crossing in a small boat is a bit reminiscent. I have a sincere desire to draw some grand conclusion from our adventure, weaving each aspect into a new chapter in The Book of The Dream, but being female, my thoughts tend to flash onto the screen in flickers of impressions,  a group of snapshots strung together like a YouTube vid, complete with the background tunes of some wittily pertinent lyrics.  While some people use their blogs to write The Great American Novel in mini chapters, properly researched, mulled over, and presented in finished written form, I'm afraid that you, the reader, will have to patiently tread along with me on this one as I begin to unwind the filmstrip of this voyage.  If you're patient, I may have some kernel of profound wisdom for you over the next few posts, and maybe you'll have some discovery of your own from the raw material...or maybe you'll just enjoy a lot of good boat pictures and a few laughs.

Miscellaneous observations:

  1. We took this trip partially to decide if we could live full time on a 35ft monohull.  We can't.  Not because of a lack of space - there was plenty of it and a nice big cockpit.  The problem was in the lack of seakindly motion on a 35ft boat in 8ft seas.
  2. If a sailing school tells you that the price of a course is XXX plus "a few miscellaneous expenses such as dock fees, dinners ashore, fuel, etc.", take the price you paid for the class and add at least 50% more.
  3. Call your credit card company before you leave for a trip and tell them that yes, indeed, it is you making the charges in a strange place.
  4. If you go to the trouble of getting a prescription for a Scopalomine anti-seasickness patch, don't forget to put it on.  It is the closest thing to a miracle that exists on a sailboat in the open ocean.
  5. A mast pulpit will be an essential piece of equipment on whatever boat we end up on.
  6. Good foulies are worth whatever you pay for them.  I chose Gill's Coastal bib and jacket and Tim chose West Marine's Third Reef series and they performed way beyond what we expected.
  7. Night sailing is magic.
  8. Who knew Orion had that many stars in it???
  9. I worried that a 35ft boat would be too close quarters for 5 strangers.  I shouldn't have worried.  There is something that binds sailors together, some base understanding, some mutually shared awe.
  10. If you ever want to see New York City, do it by boat.  It was beyond words.
  11. If you ever take a cell phone on a boat, keep it in a ziploc bag.
  12. Itineraries suck.
The Boat - a 35ft Pearson

Captain John Henderson.  Experienced, knowledgeable, patient.  Oh sooooo patient.

0600 start time at Nelson Sailing Center, Island Heights, NJ

Our home for the next 6 days

Looking aft

Heading out Tom's River

The Chart Book - our best friend

Left to right - Otto, John, Tim

Left to right - John, Otto, Terry

No more land in sight

Terry's turn on the helm.  This was about 13 hours into the trip

The dinghy

Land Ho!  Block Island at last

Many more pictures and videos to come...