Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Over and Under Bridges

The GW

For a time while I was truckdriving, I delivered office furniture; not like a mover but new stuff by the truckload. West Michigan has a history of building furniture and a lot of office furniture is still produced there. New York City is the office capital of the world, home to many furniture buyers, and always an adventure in a semi. Many drivers were reluctant to take those Big Apple furniture loads, so the company paid a $250 incentive bonus just for crossing the George Washington Bridge. I made several trips into the city. It’s funny how that $250 sounded like a good deal all the way across Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but as soon as I was near that bridge, it wasn’t such a good deal at all. Long Island loads were the best because I got the bonus for crossing the bridge even though I passed over Yonkers and escaped to the wider spaces beyond. 

I don’t know why anyone would want to drive a car in New York City, let alone a big truck. And yet, I’ve been into Queens, Brooklyn, Long Island City, Staten Island, and even to Manhattan many times driving a semi pulling a fifty three foot trailer. It was never boring. I’ve been in wall-to-wall traffic on Broadway and witnessed a fire truck slowly wrestling it’s way through, sirens blaring. Somewhat bemused at first, I watched the mayhem as people tried to move their cars enough to make a little room. After a few minutes, however, it occurred to me that there was a fire somewhere! As you might imagine, when I was able to sail under the George Washington Bridge and observe the incessant buzz and chaos of the Big Apple from the water -- that was a special day for me.

Bridge on Lost Lake Trail

I’ve always had an affection for bridges. I’m not sure when it started but it likely got a boost as a kid camping with my grandparents at Ludington State Park in Michigan. In the park, the Lost Lake Trail ran from the campground over several tiny islands on the western shore of Lake Hamlin. I haven’t been back to the park in many years, but back in the day the trail was very special. It had been built by the Conservation Corps during the Depression. Wooden walkways hovered over the marsh areas and gloriously quirky bridges of log and plank jumped between islands. We often got roused early for a morning hike with Granddad; each kid equipped with their own Dixie Cup. Toward the far end of the trail was a large patch of wild blueberries. We all came back with a cup full of blueberries, smiling through berry-stained teeth while trudging over quaint little bridges. Grandma was waiting at the campsite to make a spectacular batch of wild blueberry pancakes. 

I don’t remember the first time I saw the Mackinac Bridge but every kid from Michigan feels they own a part of it. I’ve lived and/or worked near many iconic bridges: the Ambassador in Detroit, and the Sunshine Skyway, the Gandy, the Howard Frankland, and the Courtney Campbell Causeway all in Tampa Bay. And, of course, the George Washington, Throgs Neck, the Whitestone, Verrazzano Narrows, and the Goethals; most of the NYC bridges that allow trucks. 

Foggy Ohio River

More recently, I’ve had a love affair with the bridge that crosses the Ohio River at Ravenswood, West Virginia. The William S. Ritchie Jr. Bridge is a beautiful example of a cantilever bridge; recently painted, shiny, and proud. During my truckdriving years, any load going from Michigan to Richmond, Charlotte, Charleston, or even Savannah, took me across the Ohio River at Ravenswood. I often stopped to take a picture. My favorite pic, though my eyes are closed, might be from when I stopped there with Dad. We were on the way to check on my boat after a hurricane. I had been fretting in Michigan while Dorian had gotten a little close to Wilmington.  

Dad and me at Ravenswood

As I finish my boatwork and get ready to set sail, I’ve been practically living under another bridge. The L. Bobby Brown Bridge carries I-140 over the Cape Fear River. The bridge also looms over the dock at the boatyard where Ruth Ann currently abides. The boatyard is fairly remote and the modern concrete span of this bridge bursts out of the piney riverbanks like some alien structure. It makes for an interesting contrast when the sky is awash with sunset colors. 

The Wilmington area rivers are somewhat counterintuitive. The Cape Fear River comes up to Wilmington from the Atlantic; right into downtown. The river seems to continue on past the city to the Northeast. There is also a smaller river that comes in from the west right across from the downtown Riverwalk. When I brought Ruth Ann to the boatyard, I came up the river into Wilmington. Downtown was on my right and the Battleship North Carolina on the left, when I turned up that smaller river to get to Navassa. I don’t know the history or the reason, but the smaller river is actually the continuation of the Cape Fear River. It wanders to the northwest through the wilderness, up through Fayetteville, and on to Jordan Lake just south of Chapel Hill. The larger river that seems contiguous with the flow out to sea is called the Northeast Cape Fear River once it passes Wilmington. The Northeast Cape Fear does a good amount of wandering too, but peters out somewhere northwest of Buelaville, NC; not near as far north as the Cape Fear gets. 

The L Bobby Brown

When I am headed to work lately, I get on I-140 at Cedar HIll Road and cross the Cape Fear right away. Then I cross the Northeast Cape Fear before I get to my exit into to the city for work. It is a glorious way to start my workdays. The sun is just coming up and painting the sky in pinks and oranges every single day. The Cape Fear River snakes through the cordgrass marshes toward Wilmington, glowing like liquid topaz as the morning light fills in. Then crossing the Northeast Cape Fear, the limbless, naked, swamp-dead cedars stand in uneven rows on the far bank. In the morning stillness, the trees are perfectly reflected in the flat calm river like an old comb; not quite evenly spaced, not all perfectly vertical. It’s frustrating that I can’t take a picture for you, but over the rivers and the marshlands, the highway is basically a continuous bridge for the first five or six miles. There is too much morning traffic and not enough shoulder to pause for a quick snap. Trust me though, it’s better than coffee to get your day on track. 

CSX Bascule Bridge, Navassa

Ruth Ann and I will be back on the water in Late September or Early October. We will launch just south of that bridge and head away further south. We won’t go under, but I will salute the bridge that I’ve been enjoying for a couple years now. Around the bend, downriver from the boatyard is an ancient bascule bridge operated with sauntering southern grandeur by the CSX Railroad. Coming up the river in July 2019, I circled below the bridge for quite awhile waiting for the bridgetender to actually open it. He has to walk across the bridge to close a safety gate before raising the span. You would think he had nothing on his mind but the stroll as he ambled across, shut the gate, and ambled back. He disappeared into the bridgehouse and it was several minutes before the bridge creaked and groaned. The counterweights finally quivered and began to move. I thanked him anyway as I knew I would be back the other way sometime.

Next month after reaching Wilmington, I’ll go back under the Memorial Bridge downtown and head down the river. It’s then we’ll actually be on our way. I’m either going to head straight out into the Atlantic and then up toward the Chesapeake or, more likely, I’ll sneak through Snow’s Cut ‘north’ on the ICW to Wrightsville Beach and spend a few days sailing and adjusting the rig and sails before sailing on.

If you’d like to be one of the first to know, one of the first to celebrate with me, consider becoming a Patron at the link above to Patreon. Even a buck or two a month makes a huge difference. Patrons get early access to the blog, along with other perks like BtP swag, occasional live chats, and sneak peaks at the book I’m writing.There will be a Live Patron Event online during and after the launch, as technology and bandwidth allow. Thanks to everyone for their support. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

More Boatwork, Less Time, with less and less To Do


In the month of July, my boatwork schedule changed a bit because of the side gig. The job is going well. The people are good folks and the work is endlessly interesting; nearly to a fault. At times, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel as none of them have the time or the patience to do what I’m doing for them. When I first arrived, I was worried how much work there actually was, but the longer I’m there the more I worry they’re going to want me longer than I’d like to be there. That’s not such a bad position to be in. 

In the meantime, some evenings but mostly on weekends, the boatwork continues. The bowsprit has been re-installed on the bow. I had some chainplates made and installed them. I was chasing a leak near the bow for what seemed like most of the month. It turned out that it wasn’t any of the numerous bolts in the hull and deck joint, but a little screw in a zip tie holding a wire. At first I thought that the screw had somehow pierced through to the deck, but I believe it was more complicated than that. I was caulking everything I could think that might be leaking and happened to bump the starboard bow chock. The chock was a little loose with rotten wood underneath. This is probably where the leak began. My current theory is that the water entered by the loose bolts of the chock, and was running down the hull and deck joint to the little screw. The screw was into the joint, but was not long enough to reach the deck. It was also just loose enough to let the water drain. This screw happened to be inside the cupboard behind my composting head. The drips fell onto a wooden shelf in the cupboard which now needs to be replaced. Somehow the water was also draining further and collecting just behind the bulkhead that separates the head from the forward storage locker. Some of that plywood wall is going to need fixing too.  

The most challenging work was getting the cap shrouds on the mast. My mast is an Isomat mast from France and was probably the state of the art in the mid-eighties. The mast has nine stays; two lower shrouds each side, two cap shrouds, a forestay, a backstay and a staysail stay all connected at the top with stemballs; a lollipop-looking termination. Looking up at the mast from the ground, I was fairly sure I had found a fitting to connect the tops of the lower shrouds but I wasn’t sure it would work for the rest. I ordered just four of those fittings, and used them to test eight of the connections. The staysail stay has a different connection. 

Those stemball fittings were not going to work for the cap shrouds. The shrouds connect the top of the mast to the sides of the hull. They actually enter the mast twenty or thirty inches below the top, cross internally, and connect to the masthead from below, inside. The masthead is welded onto the top of the mast. This left me only a small slot to work with; about an inch and a half wide and six or seven inches long. The shrouds would terminate with a spliced eye around a part that I had purchased from Colligo. Those parts, however, would not fit through the side of the mast. I had to run the dyneema rope through the side of the mast, up and out the top of the masthead. An eye was made in each shroud to capture the Colligo parts which were designed to accept a dyneema loop or eye on one end with a fork on the other end. The forks would each capture the end of a standard stemball and attach with a clevis pin. 

I had practiced assembling all these parts in my head for days. It actually went exactly how I had imagined which never happens with boatwork but I’m getting ahead of the story. 

With the stemballs inside the masthead, just beyond my fingertips, the finished shroud end assemblies had to be pushed back into the mast and aligned with the hole in the stemball. All taking place beyond my reach and nearly out of sight. This took a few tries and plenty of cussing, but mostly patience upon patience. More than once I stepped away and walked around for a minute to clear my head. With a menagerie of tools and some heavy gauge copper wire to fish with, I managed to wiggle the stemball into the fork inside the mast. Once aligned, the clevis pin was carefully lead into the mast gripped by a pair of channel lock pliers. The pin entered the fork easily, but wouldn’t go through the not-yet-perfectly-aligned stemball. Another gentle wiggle and -- click -- the pin fell into place. I had done it! 

Nevertheless, that wasn’t the last step. I still needed to get a cotter pin into the clevis to make the connection permanent. I carefully rotated the parts by turning the stemball from the top and twisting the rope from below. Once I could see the hole, the cotter was placed with the same long pliers. Then with a collection of picks, pliers, and more screwdrivers, I carefully turned the clevis pin around so I could spread the cotter ends.


The second one was only slightly easier. 

Two more of the original style stemballs are on backorder. The T connection for the staysail stay is on the same order and will all ship soon. I have already built the lower shrouds, but they are not yet connected to the mast as there isn’t a good way to keep them up off the ground in the interim. Once I have the backordered parts, I can install the rest of my standing rigging. Then the mast can go back up. The lower connection points of the shrouds will be built in place once the shrouds are hanging from the vertical mast. 

With the leak chased, the chainplates in, and the cap shrouds handled, I could return to the bowsprit. It is back on the bow and the joint between it and the hull is caulked. In the last week, I’ve been working on getting the bow pulpit bases back in place and ready for the pulpit’s return. My list is still occasionally daunting, but it gets shorter and shorter all the time! 

And then I flew back to Michigan. 

It's been a couple years. One of the motivations for visiting Michigan was to see Dad, the rest of the family, and a few friends before the boat is back in the water. With my commitments at the side gig and the boatwork I have left to do, sv Ruth Ann will be launched in September or October. If you'd like be one of the first to know, one of the first to celebrate with me, consider becoming a Patron at the link to Patreon above. Even a buck or two a month makes a huge difference. Patrons get a copy of each blog the week before it is published publicly, along with other perks. There will be a Live Patron Event online either during the launch, just after, or perhaps both. Thanks for everyone's support.   

Homeward Epilogue

sv Ruth Ann in Beaufort, SC, 12/23 Ruth Ann is the last in a series of boats on which I was attempting to escape. I found her when I found a...