Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Big Boat Name Reveal.

I have a new boat; since July. She is a 1984 Bayfield 29. In fact, for most of the last six months I’ve had three boats. Luckily, my Westsail project in Florida has sold and I gave away the little daysailer I’d been sailing here in Michigan. I wrote a series of posts about how I came to acquire the Bayfield. She is a bit of a compromise and not quite the badass ocean boat that the Westsail would have been. She will, however, take me most of the places that I’ve longed to go.

I’m headed to Navassa, NC by the end of the month(November) where I had the Bayfield hauled in July. There is three or four months worth of work to get her back in the water. Some small work on the hull, a barrier coat, bottom paint as well as some sanding, cleaning and varnishing are all in order. I’ll probably replace the standing rigging since she is out of the water and I don’t know how old the rig is. Once she is safe, seaworthy and cleaned up a bit, we’ll be off to wander. More on that later.

I named my last two boats after important, powerful, early twentieth century anarchist women. Emma Goldman, namesake of the Westsail project, was an important writer and political activist; especially around the First World War and birth control. Wikipedia says “During her life, Goldman was lionized as a freethinking "rebel woman" by admirers, and denounced by detractors as an advocate of politically motivated murder and violent revolution. Her writing and lectures spanned a wide variety of issues, including prisons, atheism, freedom of speech, militarism, capitalism, marriage, free love, and homosexuality.” We need more people like Emma. I named my little daysailer after Lola Ridge, an anarchist poet and editor of avant-garde, feminist, and Marxist publications. She was a confidante to Emma Goldman and worked with both Goldman and Margaret Sanger. I thought it was especially appropriate that my little boat that was keeping me sane while I waited to return to the big boat was named after someone who had worked with the namesake of that bigger boat.

In mid-summer along came the opportunity with the Bayfield. I had been spending a long Fourth of July Weekend up at Torresen Marine where my little boat was. I sailed a lot and just hung out by the water in my camper van. A post about the Bayfield came up on Sailfar.net, a discussion forum where I’ve been hanging out for more than 15 years. A cheap boat looking for a good home. I had been trying to ignore it.

2019 has been a tough year. I came back to Michigan the previous October because Mom was going into chemo. I wanted to be available as much as possible to help out her and Dad. We lost Mom in April. I was shattered and heartbroken and grieving. Sailing was literally a therapeutic way for me to process everything. Her passing focused my mind on what I’d been trying to do for over a decade. I’ve been through four boats and 12 years but was still a fair distance from my ultimate goal – wandering the Caribbean basin and perhaps even the Atlantic by sail. The Bayfield was supposedly ready to go. I sent an email. That story is here.

I have written a post about my Dad and a special day we had sailing here. I’ve always meant to write about Mom in the same way. I know that she felt my love and respect, but I would have never dreamed that she wouldn’t ever read my appreciation “up-in-lights” on my blog.

I’m not fool enough to think that an inexpensive sailboat would actually be ready to go, but she appeared to be much closer to ready than the pile of boat parts I had in Florida – really, a potential boat. Despite not really needing another boat in my life, I talked to the owner a couple times on the phone and made a date to go look at the boat. Last July, I traveled to Little River, SC, looked at her, made the deal, and sailed her to a boatyard to be hauled out during hurricane season. That series starts here.

Mom & GG, last January
Since that trip in July, we also lost my grandmother; who we called GG. Mom’s mother was nearly 102 years old when she passed and was a wise and beautiful human. I will greatly miss the wonderfully aimless, thoughtful conversations we had. Grandma was a modern woman despite her generation. As I edited the obituary she had written for us, it was curiously cool to uncover a couple small, yet telling, details. I discovered that she had been a proud member of the American Association of University Women, an organization that “advances equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy, and research.” Also, in describing her parents, GG listed her mother first rather than the traditional “Mr. and Mrs.” which had to have been intentional. Also, there was a note at the end of her obituary that said “this is about 150 words less than Dad’s obituary.” Surely, that was on purpose too.

My favorite story from GG was about someone coming to the door of her classroom one day years ago to ask how many black children she had in her classroom. When she answered “I don’t know, I’ll check,” the person asked how she could not know. GG simply stated “They're all just children to me, my students.” That story has always made me proud to be her grandson.

Lucy P
As I compiled my project list for this new boat and started buying tools and equipment for the tasks ahead, I also needed to name her. The boat came with the slightly-too-cute name “Afraid Knot.” I started to think of names in my important anarchist women series. Lucy Parsons was a good option and as a boat name “the Lucy P” had a nice ring to it. Mrs. Parsons was an important activist and was married to Albert Parsons, editor of the radical Chicago newspaper, The Alarm. After her husband’s execution subsequent to the Haymarket Affair, Lucy remained an activist and helped found the Industrial Workers of the World. I considered non-political names as well; like simply “Black Star” or “Pax” which is latin for “peace.”

Then it occurred to me that I had always had powerfully important women in my life and that I had acquired this new boat the same year that I had lost Mom and Grandma. I didn’t need to look very far to name a boat after a strong woman. Both these beautiful and strong women that I had just lost, were formative to who I became as a human. Therefore, I have decided to call my Bayfield 29 the Ruth Ann; Grandma’s first name and Mom’s middle name.

When I get to North Carolina, the old name will be removed. As sv Ruth Ann gets dipped back in the water in the coming months, I will celebrate her renaming with a little ceremony for her, for me and for Mom and GG. 

 Soon, her stern will say:
Ruth Ann

Detroit, Mi

The Traveling, Part II: Headed Back

After a mystical night of stars at anchor, Monday was the day to finish the mission. Cape Fear Boat Works was a few hours up the river. I had told them I’d arrive about midday. All I had to do was motor up past the port facilities, past the USS North Carolina ship museum, and turn left. The Cape Fear River splits off to the west while the Northeast Cape Fear River goes on through downtown Wilmington and off to the -- you guessed it -- northeast.

However, when I tried to start the engine, the battery was dead. Likely, the little solar panel that I stowed inside had drained all the battery. When sun is not going in the battery from a panel without a blocking diode in the cable, a solar panel can suck juice the other way. It was time to call Towboat/US -- again. Three calls in three days must be some kind of record for a new policy. Towing insurance was the best money I ever spent. A Towboat/US skipper came out in the bright light of a Carolina morning and gave me a jump start. Those will be replaced when I come back to work on her.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. I cruised by Wilmington’s Port with ships, tugs, cranes, containers, and all kinds of equipment. After I got to downtown Wilmington, the ship museum was indeed on my left and I turned up the tributary just past it. The boatyard is a couple miles up the river from Wilmington; through acres and acres of sawgrass. It was like cruising back in time; especially when I got to the ancient bascule railroad bridge.

The bridge is normally closed and opens on demand. I circled around below the bridge while trying to reach the operator with the same damn radio as before. Finally I saw the guy saunter across the bridge to lower a gate on the other side. Then he sauntered back, while I still circled slowly around and around. The bridge mechanism started to creak and pop and complain. Finally, the two massive concrete counterweights quivered and started their slow descent.

A bascule bridge is a one-sided drawbridge. As the bridge began to open, I circled around one last time and then goosed the fuel lever to power under the bridge. I waved and shouted ‘thanks’ toward the blank looking operator’s tower.

I called the boatyard to let them know I was under the bridge. Less than a mile and the yet-to-be-renamed boat and I would be getting hauled out. As we approached the slipway, the boatyard guys waved me right in. I cut the fuel, shifted into neutral, and ghosted. The guy on the travelift raised the inward canvas strap and caught my bow like a child running into their mother’s arms. We were there.

The boat was hauled out and the yard set up for pressure washing the hull. The travelift guy turned out to be the owner of the yard. Sam and I chatted as we walked up to the office. I filled out some paperwork with Amy. She said she’d email me the bill. Sam even gave me a ride into town so I wouldn’t have to pay a cab.

On the way, Sam talked my ear off. He was a college champion baseball player, hometown mover and shaker; and had once tried to buy the Southport marina where I had crashed (literally) Saturday night.

The motel I had picked out online didn’t look like it survived the last hurricane, so Sam took me down the block to another. I settled on a cheap but well kept Quality Inn. Now, I live for sailing but I have to tell you: that first shower -- first in four days -- was glorious!! So good that I took two more by the time I left in the morning. I had to be chilled out and scrubbed up because the next day was bound to be another exciting travel day.

I checked in with my cousin Sherry as I was going to try and fly standby again to get home. The flight looked OK, but since I didn’t depart until early afternoon, we agreed to check in the morning. Next door to the motel was a large convenience store/gas station and beyond that an Arby’s. Though I’m usually plant-based, Jimmy Buffet’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise” was ringing in my ear. So I hiked over to Arby’s, got a couple roast beef sliders AND a turkey sandwich. On the way back the convenience store was too much a temptation. I went in for junk food desserts, big bottles of water, and some snacks for the flight tomorrow. There was an historic Wilmington seafood restaurant across the street and down a bit, but I just couldn’t get up the gumption to go.

In the morning, Sherry informed me that the flight from Wilmington to Chicago, with a layover, was probably not going to work. She had found a flight that looked good but out of Myrtle Beach. I found a minivan airport transport company nearby and booked a ride. It was an hour and a half down to Myrtle Beach. The driver talked about his guns the whole trip. I just smiled and kept my mouth shut.

At Myrtle Beach, in the terminal, the gate agents were telling me the flight was well packed and they couldn’t guarantee I could get on. I found some coffee and a chair and got on Priceline.com. There was a flight into Chicago on another airline two gates down and about two hours after the flight I was waiting for. Priceline has a fantastic cancellation policy, so I booked the flight, leaned back and relaxed.

The flight started to board and the people lined up. They were quite a crowd. It might have looked grim, but I had my backup just down the hall. There were a couple young ladies hanging around the desk at the gate; obviously holding out for a standby seat. The crowd thinned out as the plane was filled and I heard the agent tell the gals that she wasn’t sure there was room; she had a list. She called my name and when I stood up, the two standby ladies hung their heads. The agent gave me a boarding pass and I was on my way [thanks, Sherry and Ed!!].

I stowed my gear, took my seat, and looked up just in time to see my fellow standby passengers had also got on. I gave them a smile and a thumbs up. As the flight attendants went through all the safety procedures, I got online while I still had airport wifi and cancelled my backup flight.

The flight was uneventful, and I landed in due course at Chicago O’Hare. There was plenty of time to get downtown and get on the Southshore Railroad, but I didn’t want to mess around. Haunting me was the fact that I had left my car in Michigan City in the wee hours Friday. The railroad website had no information about whether long term parking was allowed. When I had arrived there were no obvious signs prohibiting parking a while, but I didn’t know for sure. In addition, I had to get back to my car, if it was there, and drive back to Michigan to get to work at midnight.

I took “The El” into town, walked 4 or 5 blocks to the Millenium Station. Once there, I dropped my bag to rest my shoulder, bought a ticket to Michigan City and found a Chicago Hot Dog stand at the station. Before the train left I had a couple Chicago Dogs and a great big Diet Coke.

The students at Notre Dame call the Southshore Train the “Vomit Comet” because they take the train into Chicago to party and suffer the way home. The train is pleasant with comfortable seating and clean; no evience that ND students had preceded me. We lurched through down through Hyde Park, South Shore, South Chicago, Hammond, East Chicago, Gary etc. There was a stretch of wilderness around Burns Harbor and the Indiana Dunes before we got to the edges of Michigan City, where I started paying attention.

Heading east, the first station in Michigan City is 11th Street -- not my station. A few people got off there and the train wobbled through town to the Carroll Street Station where I had left my car. The moment of truth had arrived. I leaned this way and that looking for my car. We were coming into the station from the opposite direction that I had imagined. A little panic. A stretch. Another look. And there it was! I had made it and the car was still there -- and I still had time to get to work. I grabbed my bag, disembarked, and jumped in the car. It was two hours back home, where I laid down for about an hour and then went to work for an eight hour shift. It was a helluva travel day; all in the service of getting my new-to-me boat out of the water and safe during hurricane season.

The Bayfield 29 will be at Cape Fear Boatworks, on her own for a few months before I return. She and I will be there in Navassa, NC while I work to get her set up the way I’d like and back in the water. Basically, I only have a little bit more work than normal annual maintenance. She has a couple small blisters to fix, then a barrier coat and some bottom paint. I’ll also get a couple solar panels, new batteries, a better radio and a chartplotter of some kind; probably on a tablet. I also have my eye on using a Raspberry Pi computer to monitor the ship’s systems and eventually do navigation and some automatic logging.

In fact, since it took so long to get all these travelogs written and posted, I can tell you that I will be back at the boat before the First of December. Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

A Better Day

At Southport Marina
This is Part Four of a series.
See the others: 

When we last left our hero, he was hard aground on the breakwater in front of Southport Marina, Southport, NC. What a night. What a dumb situation to be in. I had been on the water about thirteen hours, had done 3 hours or so on the ICW in the dark, and was confused not only by the lights but by the lack of lights at the marina entrance.  If you remember there was a party going on aboard a large luxury yacht right out front of the marina. I couldn’t tell if they even noticed I was stuck there. Two guys stood at the yacht’s rail chatting but didn’t seem to be concerned about anything or anyone else. 

There was nothing left to do but call Towboat/US. I don’t remember if they said 45 minutes or 2 hours, all I could do was wait. I stayed in the cockpit listening to the yacht's blaring music. The wind had picked up and I had to be ready to put out an anchor if the boat began to move. Luckily, I was being pushed by the wind and current against the sandy bottom right where I was. 

Towboat/US showed up, assessed the situation, yanked me off the bank, and started to say “Good night and good luck,” but I asked him to help me get into the marina. There were a bunch of really expensive boats and one small spot on the end of the fuel dock. He sighed, but didn’t complain; side tied my boat and scooted me right into place. Thank you. 

I tied the boat up, made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, set an alarm to be up when the fuel dock guys showed up and went to bed. 

The fuel dock guys at Southport Marina were awesome. There was almost no reason for them to be nice to a ragged, sleep-deprived vagabond sailor, but they greeted me with a smile. My first order of business was to get the barnacles cleaned off the boat. With all the trouble I’d had the day before I knew the propeller and the hull were well coated. I had thoughts of walking to a store to get a putty knife, or a trowel, and scraping the hull myself. I’m not sure that I would have had the stamina to dive on the boat long enough to clean it all up. In the end, with a bit of current right there, the marina was concerned I might get pushed under the dock and get into trouble. They did not want a non-professional in the water, but they had a business card and with that I called a diver. An emergency, unscheduled diver on a Sunday morning - not the cheapest option. 

The diver was super nice; young and in shape for that kind of thing. He had a hooka-type air compressor, mask, fins, a couple scrapers and some ear plugs. Little tiny shrimps or crabs often live amongst the barnacles. They can give you the willies crawling all over you and getting in your wetsuit, but they are no fun in your ears. The diver came back up after his first dive and indicated the growth was about a half inch thick. He wasn’t sure how much he could get off, but recommended a pressure wash when the boat was hauled.

“I’ll do the best I can,” he declared and disappeared again. 

He was under water, under the boat, for more than an hour. When he came back up, he explained the scraping had been easier than he thought. The barnacles had come off like “scraping popcorn texture off a ceiling.” 

I couldn’t wait to sail the boat again and feel the difference, but I needed to wait for the tide to turn. By the time the diver had arrived and done his work, the tide was about to ebb and would be running out the Cape Fear River into the Atlantic. The current would be against me until about five o’clock that afternoon. I took a cab to Walmart to supplement my provisions and buy a sheet as I was living without any kind of bedding. When I returned I bought some diesel fuel too. 

Back from Walmart and with a few hours to kill, I did some writing on the veranda and chatted with a couple guys on a Lord Nelson Tug; one of my dad’s favorites. While I took a nap, another luxury yacht parked across the fuel dock from me. They were nice people though, with a friendly dog. It was Sunday afternoon and the yachts were packing in. 

The tide was going to turn just before five o’clock and the fuel dock guys had offered to help with my lines, so I mustered the dock help about 4:30 and started the engine.  We discussed the best way off the dock and out of the marina. The boat was facing east, the wrong direction. The wind and current were still out of the west; flowing east. I had prepared a couple options with the docklines. 

There wasn’t enough space for me to leave the dock and turn completely around; too many expensive boats and too little room to maneuver. We decided to let go the stern and allow the boat to turn around at the dock while one of my helpers hung on to the bow line. It worked fairly well and had me pointed the right way -- west -- out toward the ICW. As my high dollar neighbors looked on nervously, I powered by them and out past the sign and the buoys that I had missed the night before. We cut through the water and powered right into the channel headed to the river. It was like having a new boat! We zoomed off toward the Cape Fear River. There is a zig and a zag as the river empties into the Atlantic. Southport is right on the northern end of the zigzag. I entered the Cape Fear River, technically still in the ICW, but the markers flipped; red, right, returning.

The waves coming in off the ocean had us surfing. A wave would lift the boat’s stern and she shimmied her hips as the wave rolled under her length and gave us an extra rush of speed. Then the bow raised, she lolled her head, and then we’d settle back into the water. Then another wave would sneak up behind us; stern up; shimmy & zoom; bow up, and settle. And again, one after another. It felt wonderfully free and exhilarating. 

The Cape Fear River channel is wide and surrounded by flat, wider, shallow water with little islands. We cruised on by and I was really enjoying myself. The boat was performing so much better with a clean bottom. We had 35 miles to go but only 4 or 5 hours of sunlight. I hadn’t planned to make it all the way to the boatyard. It was only Sunday; my haul out was Monday. Suddenly, all time pressure dissipated. 

Looking ahead on the chart, I wanted to stretch the daylight to get to an anchorage by Keg Island; just north of the Red 46 marker. A younger version of me would have got a kick just out of the name, but I was in sailor mode. I only had 100 feet of anchor line and I wanted to be able to have as much scope as possible. The Keg Island anchorage had about 11 feet of water. I’d be able to have longer, lower angle pulling on my anchor. The other anchorage choices were deeper allowing for less scope; a steeper angle. 

Sunday evening on the Cape Fear was peaceful. I saw just a handful of pleasure craft and only two ships as we cruised along. All was well, but I felt more heat than I should coming up from the engine compartment. A little hot air was coming through a closed hatch and blowing on my ankle. I’d have to check that later. There wasn’t any smoke and the temperature was warm, not scorching. Right then, I was easily getting more than five knots with about the same RPMs as yesterday when I was struggling to maintain 3 knots. I didn’t want to stop.

The ICW runs up the Cape Fear River until it veers off across the flats toward Snows Cut. I stayed with the river. The navigation is all the same. I watched the markers ahead and behind to visualize the channel and stay in it. Even many landlubbers have heard Red, Right, Returning. When you’re coming in from the sea, the red buoys and red markers are on your right. Curiously, on the Atlantic ICW, going south Virginia to Texas, is considered a return; red, right, south. All day the day before, I kept the green markers on my right because I was headed north. As soon as I turned left into the Cape Fear River, the red buoys were on the right. 

Occasionally, the markers are laid out a red, then a green, then a red, etc. More often, however, there are a couple of one color, then a couple of another; never in a straight line. Just aiming at the next marker is not the answer; you’d be a nuisance crossing back and forth through traffic. It’s a bit of a puzzle. You have to imagine pieces of tape, not always the same width laid down with the reds on one side to match with the greens on the other. It’s all extrapolating and imagining that you can see how these pieces of “tape” intersect and line up with each other.  

It was a pleasant trip up the river. Though I only had my lukewarm water, apples and Larabars. I kept myself slathered in sunscreen and managed to avoid a burn. After passing what I Iater learned was some kind of munitions port, the river was mostly natural; undeveloped. Large expanses of flat water dotted with islands, some bare sand and others supporting stands of trees. The sky was the bluest blue and held only a few puffy clouds. 

As the sun began to drop toward the pines on the western shore, the trees congealed into a darker and darker green mass. The tide that had pushed me up the river set up a spectacular display. A school of fish had gathered, or had been pushed upriver. Just as the sun splashed copper colors behind the jagged black shapes of the pines, pelicans began to feed all around me. At least 50 of those large graceful birds were dive bombing incessantly. One after another left a graceful arc and slammed straight down into the water. They surfaced again, sat in the water gulping fish, and then rested a moment before jumping back into flight and into the frenzy. 

I was pushing it again, but not like the night before. In the last light of the day, I found the R46 marker and made a circle in the anchorage beyond it; watching my depthsounder. It was a fairly open stretch of water; 11 feet deep. I had 100 feet of anchor line and a danforth anchor. Completely by myself, I dropped the anchor and let out nearly all the anchor line. I could just see the shapes of three houses on the shore a good distance away. They would have needed binoculars to see me. The whole universe was just me and my boat.  

I had a pouch of barbecue flavored tuna fish, so I made a sandwich, had yet another apple and another Larabar. Under the stars with the tidal current rolling under me, it was a gourmet supper fit for a king. When I went forward to check the anchor line the sky was filled with millions and millions of stars. Back in the cockpit, I tried to record the moon reflecting each ripple as the current passed under us but there just wasn’t enough light. I get to save that holy vision for myself. What a night! All the struggles of the last 36 hours were made righteous. Fatty Goodlander talks about approaching cruising on a sailboat as a righteous cause. When the boundaries between me and the rest of the universe get so thin I no longer feel them, this is my religion. This is my righteous cause. 

Next, I put the boat up for a while and struggle to get home. 

This is Part Four of a series.
See the others: 

Sunday, September 1, 2019

True Confessions of the Ill Prepared

This is Part Three of a series.
See the others: 

Friday night wasn’t a bad night; a little sticky but no bugs. I woke Saturday morning and had a can of brewed coffee, a Larabar, and an apple. As I continued prepping the boat, a neighbor came by in his boat after some early morning fishing and paused to chat for a moment. He figured I must have bought the boat since he’d noticed that I spent the night. He was happy the boat would have some new life and told me that Don had always seemed to take good care of her.

I had been up with the sun and was considering keeping the boat at a dock there in Little River rather than sail for the Cape Fear Inlet. In poking around her the day before, I had found a couple things that I didn’t like about the rigging. Nothing terribly serious, obviously not dealbreakers, but enough to give me second thoughts about sailing offshore as the first trip on a new-to-me boat. I’ll be writing a more specific post about the boat; why, how and where to from here.

At 8:00 the marinas were open and I started calling around. First call was to a place that had space for me when I called a week ago. They could not rent me a dock for a few months now because they were full up for Labor Day weekend. And every other place nearby was either full or wanted an annual contract.

In addition to a complete lack of available docks, the main problem with staying in Little River was hurricanes. Don had lived there a while and thought that they were in an OK spot for a small hurricane,
Picture from the ad
but I wasn’t so sure. Besides, I wouldn’t be able to sleep in Michigan if a hurricane was threatening my boat in the Carolinas. Full marinas confirmed my original plan that I should get her up the river and out of the water. If I didn’t want to sail offshore to the Cape Fear Inlet, my other choice was to motor up the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway). Prepping for that option was about the same as what I had already started that morning.

I had lost a day not getting on that original standby flight and needed to be back in Michigan and back at work Tuesday night. Don was excited to be able to use his dock and I was starting to feel the time pressure. Nevertheless, I should have got in the water while the boat was at the dock to check the hull and the propeller. There wasn’t much growth along the waterline and I got lazy. I would pay for that later.

“You’ll remember all your sins at sea.”
      Captain James Corbett

Little River Swing Bridge
For better or worse, I was ready to depart later Saturday morning. The motor started right up and purred along as Don and I untied the dock lines. He gave the boat a push and I was off. The boat was new to me, with wheel steering rather than a tiller, I was getting used to how she felt and how she responded. I waddled down the channel and out into the ICW. The first business was to call the Little River Swing Bridge to get an opening. I struggled to figure out the VHF radio; I couldn’t quite figure out the buttons. The radio was a strange wedge shaped thing; like a prop from a 1960s French Art Film. It was also down below, so as I struggled to watch the traffic and steer, I had to jump down the companionway, hail the bridge, listen, and run back up to steer clear of docks, other boats, etc. The radio didn’t seem to stay on channel 9 either. Each time I tried to contact the bridge tender, I was talking on the wrong channel.

I was not yet completely aware of my problems. In desperation, I called Don from my phone. I was hardly more than five minutes from his dock when I asked him if he could call the bridge. He called back in a minute to say that she was keeping the bridge open for me. It was excruciating how long it took me to get under that bridge.

My plan was to motor up the ICW until evening and anchor for the night somewhere along the way. As I began to play with the throttle and got used to how the boat handled, I realized that the hull must have been a lot dirtier than I suspected. It was obvious there were barnacles all over the propeller and the hull.  Without smooth surfaces on each, my speed would be greatly diminished. This was going to be an ordeal.

I motored out of the town of Little River, past the marinas and tourist restaurants hanging over the water, and into a stretch of wilderness. I was re-exploring the boat in my memory, but I was quite certain there was nothing like a scraper on board. I wasn’t going to be able to stop and clean the hull. My travel plans included a tentative flight out of Wilmington, NC on Tuesday afternoon. That gave me about three days to gurgle my way to the haulout I had arranged at Cape Fear Boat Works. It was worth a try.

And then I reached the Little River. The Little River is a river north of the town of Little River. Up ahead was an intersection where the river crossed the ICW. My original plan was to sail offshore from the Little River Inlet to the Cape Fear River, but I decided not to go offshore on a boat I’d never sailed, with a rig that wasn’t quite as safe as I wanted. The schedule was the same but I was staying “inside” on the ICW. I left the dock on about the same schedule as the offshore option, that meant the tide was going out when I got to the Little River. The tide had been pushing me along as I approached the river, but as soon as I crossed “the intersection,” the same tide was running against me; headed out the inlet from the other direction.

Fishing boats were coming in from the ocean. Powerboats of all kinds were buzzing around enjoying a Saturday afternoon in late July. I looked to my right and saw a tree along the shore. Then I went back to dodging traffic and driving hard against the current. I looked again and that same damn tree was still right there. My real trouble was apparent. I couldn’t go more than about three knots. I wasn’t sure I could get up the Cape Fear River if I couldn’t beat the tide at the Little River.

I turned the boat around. We picked up some momentum going with the tidal current and crossed the intersection going the wrong way. The tide that had been with me now bogged me down. I turned again, stalled again -- and turned and stalled and turned. I was going in circles in the intersection. I tried going up the river; same tide, same story. Then I tried the inlet; maybe I’d just go offshore after all. Unfortunately, the wind had piped up and was blowing hard off the Atlantic funneled by the trees -- right up the inlet. I was trapped. In three directions the tide was holding me back; in the fourth, going upwind wasn’t going to work either. I was stuck right there in the intersection with traffic buzzing all around me.

Savior in Safety Orange
I needed a tow. One of the troubles going in circles in heavy traffic is trying to time jumping down into the cabin to use the radio while no one was steering the boat. After several attempts and a few near misses, I gave up on the calling for a tow over the VHF. I tried using the Towboat/US app on my phone, but between the bright sunlight and the limited data reception that idea wasn’t going to work either. I got my wallet out to find their 800# on my member card. Then I saw Don’s Adventure Craft houseboat coming around the curve. And then I spotted the bright red Towboat/US boat coming from the other direction.

Don was calling me on my phone, but I was desperate to flag down the Towboat/US guy. A wave of relief washed over me when they waved back and came alongside. I told them my troubles and asked if he could tow me to a marina. We bobbed together in the intersection while I called the two nearby marinas he recommended, but they were full up.  He ended up towing me a mile and a half or so past the intersection to where the current wasn’t so strong. He got an emergency call, probably more lucrative than towing some fool up the ICW, so he left me to go help a boat that was aground, but arranged to check in with me on the radio.

He dropped me about half way to Sunset Beach. I continued to gurgle along past all kinds of tourists and weekenders, powerboats of all sorts, a few sailboats, and the sheriff’s boat lurking under a bridge. A strange, narrow, old sailboat, with an outboard on the stern, buzzed by. I went by Jenks Creek, the Shallotte River, Ocean Isle Beach and Holden Beach. There was a strange, ramshackle building on the left with a sign that said “Free Overnight Docking” but there was very little room at their dock (duh). I was mostly past it anyway, before I could make a decision. With the trouble I was having maintaining speed, I wasn’t sure I could turn around and get back to the dock; let alone maneuver into a tight spot. Along the way, the TowboatUS captain did check in with me on the radio, but I was doing as well as expected.

At one point, as dusk was playing with distance and contrast, a tugboat was coming at me from the other side of a bridge. He wasn’t pushing any barges but I was concerned he had a tow. It was just the two of us on the ICW, so I just kept moseying along. He came under the bridge just before me; I only had to lean toward my side of the channel. I was living on lukewarm water, larabars and apples all day; all that I had within reach. Whenever I finally stopped all I could look forward to was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and more water, but it was going to be fantastic.

I pressed on as the sun went down and dusk turned to dark. Only a fool would be out on the ICW after dark. The channel is marked with day markers; basically reflective signs, most without lights. The surrounding water is shallow. Luckily, there was only one fool out there and the area from Shallotte to Southport is well developed. All along the way, there were docks on at least one side; often both. There were porch lights, lit-up houses, and lights at the end of docks. I just kept it there in the middle; between all the docks. I wanted to make Southport, NC where there was a good full service marina. I really needed to clean the propeller and the hull.

It was surreal as I pushed on through in the dark. At times flashing the next marker with a high powered flashlight. Mostly I was guessing where the channel was, my heart in my throat, knowing that at any moment, any mistake, and I’d be hard aground.

I went under another bridge and passed a well lit marina on the left; which I was pretty sure was the South Harbour Village Marina. Southport had to be close. I crept along through another stretch of wilderness - no docks, no lights, but I thought I could start to see the lights of Southport. Then finally, I could see the marina, but not as well as I thought.

The next morning
I had a mental picture of the marina in my head. I approached slowly, but was really getting tired. My seven hour trip to the Cape Fear River had taken almost 13 hours. Some luxury yacht right out front was all lit up having a party. It was about 1:00 in the morning. I spotted what I thought was the entrance and turned in.

In the last few feet, I could see the breakwater - LAND! Hard to starboard!! But it was too late. I ran hard against the berm-like skinny stretch of sand. I knew it was there, but didn’t realize how far it went across the front of the marina. In the dark, distracted by the lights and the booming music, I got stuck. Really stuck. The wind and the current pinned me against the sand. I tried backing out, but I wasn’t going anywhere.

I evaluated my situation and I could suddenly see the unlit marina sign looming off to my right - 20 feet further down the ICW. Two bouys marking the entrance bobbed and struggled against the current with the moon splashing around them in the wavelets. I blew it, by less than 50’  -- but I had made it to Southport.

Time to call Towboat/US. That towing insurance I bought was the best money I’ve ever spent. Soon I could have that peanut butter and jelly.


This is Part Three of a series.
See the others: 

Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Travelling, Part I

First Impressions

This is Part Two of a series. 
The Other Parts:

It’s an occupational hazard of a vagabond sailor to be travelling when you can’t really afford to. I was headed to South Carolina to buy a boat. My camper van is up for sale to pay for the boat, but Dad fronted me the proceeds so I could grab the deal … and I didn’t have a lot of travelling money. Further, I was taking a cousin up on her offer to help me fly standby. Sherry and her husband Ed had been longtime employees of an airline and got me on their ‘buddy’ program.

Thursday morning I headed to the airport in the wee hours of the morning. After I checked in with the agents at the gate as one of their standby passengers, I watched the room fill up with people. A flight had been cancelled the night before making this plane packed with people; frustrated people. I sat nearby and watched everyone board the plane. Then I watched a ridiculous family of four get turned away. They had arrived so late that the jetway was closed and locked. When I asked the agents if I would just get rolled to the next flight, they just looked at each other. I realized then that if I had been hovering near the gate, acting annoying, I might have gotten on that flight. They switched me to the next morning. Same flight. Same time.

Bro & his kids with me on Muskegon Lake
I talked to my cousin on the way home from the airport. The next morning’s flight was tight but looked OK. Suddenly, I had an extra day off, so I went to see my Grandma; who is 101 and a half (and two thirds practically), sharp as a tack and a pleasant conversationalist. I hadn’t seen her in a little while because I was sailing a lot up at Muskegon Lake. Later I chatted with Dad too, but soon went to bed anticipating another early morning.

Some time after midnight, I rolled over, awakened and checked my phone. I never check my phone in the middle of the night. Sherry had tried to call and sent a couple texts. I work third shift and sleep during the day, so my ringer is almost always off.  Friday’s flight had tightened up and it was looking grim to be able to get out of Grand Rapids in the morning; just a few hours away then. I shook myself awake and got online.

I found an amazingly cheap flight yet that afternoon, out of O’Hare in Chicago. I booked the flight, checked the South Shore Rail schedule, and was out the door by 02:30. At 03:15, my alarm went off and scared the hell out of me. I was already 45 minutes down the road before I had actually planned to get up.

Carroll Ave Station
I hit Michigan City and jumped on the second South Shore train of the morning. We rattled into Millenium Station and I walked outside onto the streets of Chicago into a beautiful Midwestern Summer morning. Five blocks or so later, I hopped on the Blue Line out to O’Hare. It had been a blur of rushed contingencies, but there I sat; at the gate, with a ticket, munching on some tropical trail mix, with 45 minutes to spare.

After touching down at Myrtle Beach International Airport, I grabbed a Lyft ride up to Little River, SC where the boat was gently rocking at the dock behind Don’s house. The driver and I had to get buzzed in at the island’s gate, so Don was waiting in his drive when we arrived. The house was a gorgeous, perfectly tropical-looking home, all stone and spanish tile, on a canal with a jeep in the drive and a hot rod pickup in the garage.

We chatted a bit and went out back to see the boat. Don was eager to answer any questions I had but let me crawl around the boat; to peek into all her nook and crannies, check the rig, the deck, the bilges, and whatever else I needed to check before making my decision. He’s a low key guy like me and we got on well right away. Don gave me a Danforth anchor and some lines out of his dock box. We started the engine and listened to it purr.

At Don's Dock
Like any other used boat in the universe, she needed a little more work than my online rose-colored glasses had thought. Totally normal. Yet, I could tell that the boat had been well taken care of and -- most important to me -- she was basically ready to sail. This was not a project. My boat project in Florida easily has 8 or 10 more months and $8,000 or 10,000 to invest. Don’s Bayfield -- now mine -- needs just a bit more than basic annual maintenance work; and some updates and personal preferences like some solar panels and a new VHF radio.

Some money changed hands but Don was asking so little he was basically giving me the boat. I spent more last year on boatyard storage. He really just wanted to find the boat a good home and only asked that I not flip her right away.

I was prepared with a bank check and a home-brewed Bill of Sale. We walked back to the house to do the paperwork; past the perfect South Carolina ICW backyard deck with gazebo, pool, etc.  Don’s girlfriend, Deborah, with the precise timing of a wonderful hostess, came down from the main level with a couple bottles of ice cold water; just what we needed! We each signed both copies of the Bill of Sale and I handed him the check. The last detail remaining, Don and I had to run to the bank to get his North Carolina title notarized.

We had talked about Latitudes and Attitudes Magazine back when we first talked on the phone. Both of us had read it and appreciated regular guy perspective, absent of any yacht club pretensions. As we drove to the bank, Don asked me if I had written for the magazine. He had noticed my BubbaThePirate.com signature block on my emails and was remembering the regular Bubba Whartz columns. I assured him we weren’t the same guy, but that the column had originated in Sarasota where I had lived. I had been reading Bubba Whartz long before it was in a national magazine.

Don, being low key, let me tell him that I was going to organize the boat and then walk over to the grocery store and maybe to West Marine. I was planning on heading out in the morning. It was a really hot week in the Carolinas but I went to work cleaning up a bit and organizing the lines and spare equipment.

Then my phone rang.

“Is this Bubba the Pirate?” a now familiar voice asked me.


Deborah’s charming southern accent cascaded over me. “You are NOT walking to the store. It is too hot. In fact, you can take a shower downstairs when you’re done and then we know of a nice place for a steak or some ribs. After that we’ll go to the store, so you can get whatever you need. You just let us know when you’re ready.”

With an offer like that, it wasn’t long and I was ready. They took me to a popular spot in Myrtle Beach where Don & Deborah are regulars. We got a good table overlooking the ICW; their regular table, it seems. I imagine some of the people out front with their little blinking buzzer restaurant-waiting-alarm-things, wondered how we got in so fast.

We had a great meal and a nice chat. Afterward, at Walmart, I grabbed some toiletries that I couldn’t carry on the plane, and provisions for a couple days on the boat; including four gallons of water. With all that and my sailing dreams rolling around in my head, I prepared to sleep on the boat. It was a sticky Carolina night, but I drifted off, dreaming about red and green buoys, seagulls and pelicans.

This is Part Two of a series. 
The Other Parts:

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Changes and Chances

The good ship s/v Eleanor in 2015
This is Part One of a multi-part story. 
The Other Parts:

Four years ago, I was travelling on a boat with a guy who was writing a script. His beautiful story was, in part, about an older gentleman wanting to find a good home for his boat. In early July, that same basic plot happened to me. Some money changed hands, but so little he basically gave me a boat.

When I decided that I would stay in Michigan through the summer this year, I bought a daysailer and have been keeping it at a dock on Muskegon Lake. As soon as that boat was in the water in late May, I was sailing as often as I could; reconnecting with sailing. Twelve years ago, when I planned my escape from the rat race, I meant to spend my time sailing. Instead, I have been working on boats. The first boat was a project, the second sailed but was a little small, and the third, my Westsail in Florida, was a major project. Sailing the little daysailer here in Michigan had returned me to the simple, robust joy of wind and water.

It had been a hard winter and spring and sailing was my therapy. I came back to Michigan in October to help Mom and Dad through some health issues. My sister is right nearby as well; I just came to help as much as I could. Mom lost her fight in April and since then we’ve all been trying to get our bearings again; especially Dad. I had committed to being here until the fall before going back to my boatwork project, but I was looking at my life in a different way.

The Bayfield 29
I’ve been hanging around a non-commercial small boat sailing discussion website for at least fifteen years. The last week of June, Kurt, who runs the site, posted about a boat that could be had cheaply. The key paragraph stated: “local fella, getting older, doesn’t use boat anymore, looking for someone who’ll give her a good home and usage to take her away.” I ignored the ad for several days. I had enough going on with a big boat project in  Florida and a little boat in Michigan; the last thing I needed was another boat.

The Fourth of July holiday was to be an epic sailing weekend. My camper van was set up and I was headed to the lake to just stay up there and sail and sail ... and sail. That first day out I sailed all morning long.

And I kept thinking about that “local fella” and his boat.

If I could work into a deal where I had a boat that was almost ready to sail, one I could polish up, set up how I wanted, and start the vagabond sailing life I wanted -- why wouldn’t I? How could I not?

The Florida Project
The boat is a Bayfield 29. It is not near the badass ocean boat that the Westsail is. And while I think that what makes a boat a bluewater boat is 40+% the skipper, the Bayfield is not a boat to take around the world. The Westsail could, and has, gone anywhere a decent skipper could take her. I decided that I could handle that compromise if it meant I’d be sailing sooner rather than later. The U.S. East Coast, Caribbean and Central America are all still comfortably at play. I really want to voyage to Ireland and Scotland, and I think that after some experience sailing her, the boat and I could consider making that trip too.

I sent a message to Kurt just before the Fourth saying “If that boat is still available, I’d like to talk to your Bayfield guy.” Before the weekend was up, I got Kurt’s reply that he was checking with his guy. Just a few hours later, I had the owner’s contact information.

I talked on the phone a while with Don, and had a good feeling from the start. He figures, in the last 12 years or so, he’s got $30,000 in the boat. After talking about his boat, and boats in general, I asked him what he needed out of the boat and how creative he wanted to be. He named his price; less than what I spent last year on boat storage. Any less and he thought he would feel like he was paying me to take it. I had a quarterly bonus coming and I could sell the camper van I had just inherited, but Don wanted to be able to use his dock. He had three boats but just two spots on his dock; one taken up by the sailboat that he didn’t use anymore. I wasn’t going to be able to leave her there for long. My plan to cobble the money together wasn’t going to work.

The chance to leapfrog over a bunch of boatwork and start sailing many months sooner I thought I would was too enticing. I checked with Dad if there would be any hard feelings if I sold the camper van that I had so recently inherited. And then he and I worked out a deal to front me the proceeds from selling the van so that I could grab the boat deal before it was gone.

All along I had some days off on the calendar to go to Florida and check on my project boat. Instead I was headed to South Carolina to pick up another boat.

And that’s when the adventure really began …
This is Part One of a series. 
The Other Parts:

Monday, June 17, 2019

Nailed It

There’s an old joke about a preacher who loved golf. After a couple rainy weeks, he was itching to get back out on the links. When he realized that the first nice day in weeks was a Sunday morning, he faced a quandary. Ultimately, he decided to call in sick and have the head lay speaker take his place. As punishment for this transgression, God gave him a hole-in-one on each hole. So, of course, he couldn’t tell anyone about his glorious round of golf.

I faced a similar situation on my second day out on Lola. The first day out involved some tribulation that I’ve written about but will submit that bit to a magazine (I’ll keep you posted).  When I went out again on a Sunday, I was out to redeem myself. The wind was light and the weather was just warm enough to enjoy the day. I readied Lola’s lines and sails and pushed her out of the slip. Lola had only a canoe paddle for auxiliary propulsion at that time.

In mid afternoon, I paddled out of the marina basin and set about to raise the main. Lola is still new to me so I haven’t perfected all the little bits, like raising the main. As I fiddled with the main and got the sheet tangled with the tiller, we drifted a little close to shore; a point that juts out between marinas. So I paddled some more and then managed to get the main most the way up, but not quite tight.  I ended up sailing slowly back across the front of my marina with a little slack at the clew.

This wouldn’t have been so bad, but for the two race crews that were coming in off the big lake. These big, sleek boats ghosted by as I tried to sail myself out of trouble with a sagging main. The crews, in their matching shirts and expensive watches, barely deigned to glance in my direction. I smiled and sailed on in a boat that cost a fraction of what their boss spent on rope -- or shirts.

I like to think I don’t wear my ego on my sleeve and I was just out enjoying myself. Lola got past the marina and all the hazards sticking out into the lake, to a spot where I could fix the main and raise the jib. From the far southwest corner of Muskegon Lake, I turned Lola’s bow toward the city and we had a glorious afternoon sail.

We sailed east toward the Milwaukee Clipper ship museum, then back toward the State Park on the north shore and down into the corner again. In Bluffton Bay, I dropped the main well upwind of my dock, flaked it roughly and tied it to the boom. In the gentlest of wind, we sailed downwind under just the jib directly toward the east basin of Torresen Marine.

In the basin, I untied the jib halyard, hooked it under a horn of the cleat and sat at the tiller keeping the jib taut. We crept along the pier ends until we arrived at mine. I let go the halyard and doused the jib with the downhaul. Lola traced a long, round circle and just as she nosed into her slip, I walked up to the bow, grabbed the bowline and stepped onto the dock. In my head it was like nailing a landing off the uneven bars at the Olympics. It was beautiful. Effortless. Graceful.

And as I looked about, ego smack dab on my sleeve  …  there hadn’t been a soul there to see it.

The Big Boat Name Reveal.

I have a new boat; since July. She is a 1984 Bayfield 29 . In fact, for most of the last six months I’ve had three boats. Luckily, my We...