Suzy at the tiller, off of Groton, Connecticut Photo credit: Shemaya Laurel
Suzy and Shemaya, at Giants Neck, Connecticut, after five days on the boat. Photo credit: Stephanie Jo Kent
Suzy and I laughed and laughed. Brave soul, she came with me on a microscopic sailboat, signed on for five days, swapping out as part of the rotating crew on a trip of about three weeks. Starting out was a little tricky. The weather was cold, and it poured. She walked a mile or so into town and found amazing little cans of something like coffee, to stave off headaches from missing her normal hot cups, which were not going to work on the tiny boat. We stayed the night in the marina, which conveniently took care of any worries she had had about darkness in the crew berth, floodlights everywhere in those places. I didn’t know until later just how daunted she was by that tiny space for sleeping in that boat. Brave soul indeed.
In the morning the weather had cleared and we left the marina (by water), just far enough to go around the corner and anchor in an unoccupied cove, to go over how to sail the boat. She was worried, completely unfamiliar with the tasks at hand. It somehow came to me to take an extra moment, and use words that I don’t usually, nowadays, explaining that although we had known each other a little bit through Annie for a while, I knew that she didn’t really know that much about what I did. I looked at her, with focus, and said that she really didn’t know this about me, but that when it came to sailing, I knew my shit. Because it was her language, and I wanted her to know that it was for real. Later I heard her say that back to somebody on the phone, with conviction, in order to give them ease about what she was doing. I was touched, to in fact be held in that regard.
We spent a little while in that cove, there with the boat anchored, putting the sail up, letting it down, putting it up again. Playing word games about which of the million lines were which, as a way to learn them. I loved her quick mind, absorbing the process at hand. A little later she pulled up the anchor, and we sailed down the Mystic River toward Long Island sound.
I should explain that at the time, coming on these boat expeditions with me involved the crew doing almost all the handwork to make the boat go. I provided navigation, and knowledge. The folks who took turns coming with me provided the bulk of the muscle. The boat was 14 feet long… It was an adventure.
One day, in about the middle of the trip, the breeze had died as we passed near a beach along about New London. It’s really the worst, on salt water, when the breeze quits but the waves are still there – it’s a recipe for seasickness, if anybody is susceptible. Suzy was starting to feel queasy, and the breeze was showing no sign of returning. The boat had a tiny trolling motor, with very limited battery power. This was suitable for getting in and out of tight marinas, but not much else. Waiting for wind can go on for a while.
The funny thing is, there was a wedding taking place, at that beach. Gowns and tuxedos, and elegant, happy people. We brought the boat in close to shore, just down the beach from the wedding, and anchored so Suzy could walk on solid ground. It’s the ultimate cure for seasickness: sitting with your back against a tree. By the time she waded back out to the boat she was feeling better, the breeze was showing signs of returning, and all these years later I don’t remember what was happening with the wedding. But I do know we had fun.
Suzy had decided earlier that she wasn’t liking the boat thing so much, and I said that I could make some phone calls to swap out with different crew, which we had discussed as an option from before we started into this. Five days is a long time on a small boat. While she was ashore I was making those calls, and when she came back I had a couple more to follow up on, but so far had not hit the scheduling jackpot. She decided to stay – told me, twice, that really I could stop trying to set up the big switch.
She got so good at sailing. She could steer accurately with the tiller, and wrestle the sail into whatever reefs were needed as the wind rose, unreefing as it died back again. This was not simple, with the rig that was on that boat at the time, and it has given many people, myself included, fits. Suzy made it look easy. There she would be with the wind coming up, and the waves sloshing the boat around, and when I said hesitantly that I was afraid it was time to reef again, she would spring into action, calling out in her energetic Suzy way, fist high in the air, “Queen Ratifa!” That sail couldn’t do anything but cooperate. It was a wonder to behold, not least because three days earlier we had been anchored in that little cove going over the names of things for the very first time.
By the time we met up with “shore support,” for new crew to come on board, and for Suzy to catch a ride home, it had been heavenly for days. We laughed and laughed. Getting ready to say goodbye, Suzy said that it had started a little iffy, but that “we ended strong.” I always remember the sound of her saying that last. And so we did.
Late in the afternoon, the day before that one, we were sailing in the direction of the harbor where we would meet up for crew change, and Suzy was steering. She asked which way to go. We were headed west, and the sun was getting low, throwing sparkles on the water ahead of us. It just happened that our course was right up that streak of sparkles, so I said to her, “follow the shining path.” She loved that.
It’s where I saw her when she went on her way: following the Shining Path.
The picture of those sparkles on the water from that day is so clear in my mind, but I didn’t actually get out the camera at that time. I’ve so wished that I had, and have looked, over these last years when I’ve been sailing, to catch a photo that really shows what it was, including when I was back in that area earlier this year. Amazingly, there has never been an exact match. So this one will have to do. In the original there was shoreline in the distance up ahead, and off to starboard, as we headed westbound on the north shore of Long Island sound. But maybe this one is where she really went, as we do, over the far horizon. Photo credit: Shemaya Laurel
Marigold kept me company on the trips this year, almost always in one or another of the little boat’s accustomed spots: when at anchor either on a line off the stern or right alongside Great Auk, or underway trailing behind over the waves.
Marigold at sea
A bit about this little craft: Marigold is a Portland Pudgy, made of roto-molded plastic, designed to work as both a dinghy and as a lifeboat with sailing capabilities. (https://portlandpudgy.com/ – included for reader convenience; I’m not receiving anything for posting.) While I’m traveling I don’t bring the sailing rig, which I have used for fun around the bay.
Since I’m not going offshore, the sailing rig for intercepting shipping lanes in lifeboat mode has not felt crucial to carry – but I love that it can be done. The Pudgy is also self bailing, with a compression plug that goes in for regular rowing so no water comes in through the drain, which otherwise happens when there is weight in the boat. But being double-hulled the Pudgy floats high and dry when unloaded, including with the plug out. Self-bailing comes in especially handy when there are showers – or storms – so the rain runs out by itself, with no additional effort required. With weight in the middle of the boat water will generally come quickly in through that drain, if it’s not closed off,but the compression plug is easy to put in.
It actually works to leave the plug out if you just stay in the bow, for example while scrambling down to get rockweed off of Great Auk’s outboard motor propellers when at anchor. With weight shifted forward, the drain at the stern is lifted completely out of the water and the boat stays dry. Three separate people I know have taken it as a point of pride to not bother to put the plug in, and to maneuver the boat with the scupper out of the water, keeping their weight forward. Learning by imitation, I’ve started to do some of the same… It’s a secure little boat, unsinkable if its double hulls are not breached, and comfortable and steady with the plug in and rowing regularly or sailing around the bay.
Marigold in Joy Bay. This is a custom mast and junk rig; the stowable version available from Portland Pudgy is a little different. See December 2018 post in this blog for how we made this one. Photo credit: Deb Lyons
On the way south in May, our little Marigold was put to the test. The boat went on a foray of its own, thanks to a 2 AM interaction with a large fishing trawler off of Kennebunk, in the Gulf of Maine.
I’d like to start by saying that this story has a happy ending. It also has lessons, for me and perhaps for others who might avoid something similar through the retelling. It’s embarrassing to make mistakes, but hopefully useful to be shared. Marigold did a stellar job of coming back to a friendly beach to make the ending especially happy.
When Great Auk and Marigold and I left Gouldsboro Bay in early May there was a marvelous easterly wind, which carried on for over a week. With such abundance, and based on having gotten so overdone and tired last year from sailing overnight to catch favorable wind, I even stopped at night, anchoring for proper sleep. The wind was very reasonable at 10 to 15 knots most days. We had a serious complication with the wheel steering cable, which came apart off of Swans Island, but things went back together and we were able to carry on the next morning.
Leaving Burnt Coat Harbor on Swans Island, after steering cable repairs. Photo credit: Shemaya Laurel
There was a nice night in the farther Mosquito Harbor, at the southwest corner of Penobscot Bay, and from there we set off with hopes of Damariscove Island, more or less south of Waldoboro, Maine. Although the wind was comfortable, there were small craft advisories for days for the seas, which were varying between six and 10 feet, the result of a distant storm that was keeping its stronger winds far offshore. Waiting for the advisories to go away would mean losing the east wind, so even though those waves had built up, we ventured out of Mosquito Harbor for a test, knowing that we could run back into the nearby Muscongus Bay if things did not feel right. The boat actually handled the seas just fine, which were by then in the range of 6 to 8 feet, and we sailed on.
The tricky part about those big seas is really not out on the open water – they weren’t breaking, by themselves, and the boat rose up and over them just fine. The problem comes near shallows, and in narrow entrances to shelter that lead straight off the open water. There those big waves rise up and break, with quite a bit of drama and hazard.
Just outside the entrance to the harbor at Damariscove Island. This photo doesn’t do it justice. Photo credit: Shemaya Laurel
Harbor entrances that are normally mild and easy become places of significant danger in these conditions, with huge breakers on the rocks on either side, and the waves even rising up and crashing above nearby shoals that are 12 to 15 feet deep. Shoals like that are normally completely insignificant for a boat that draws 3 feet with its leeboards and rudder down, but they become the site of dramatic breakers in those big seas.
In light of this, the entrance to the tiny harbor at Damariscove Island showed itself to be completely out of the question for stopping, and the deeper reefs in its vicinity, with crazy intermittent breakers, made for a serious game of dodge’ems. Looking back, after ruling out Damariscove we could have turned into the wide, safe entrance to the Sheepscott River. From there, a few miles in it would be easy to turn into a protected cove. Ah hindsight!
As it was, we let that opportunity go by. It was early in the afternoon, with such good wind, and Casco Bay seemed like a reasonable second option.
One by one, potential stopping places in Casco Bay were ruled out. First because of breaking seas too close to the entrance, then because of darkness, when approaching the openings that should have been okay felt too insecure with so little visibility. I didn’t want to try them in the dark, unable to see for sure what the waves were doing before being too close to get away.
These safety calculations were influenced by the configuration of this particular boat. The motors are limited – intentionally, to meet electricity usage and weight on the stern considerations, and also because this arrangement is satisfying to my general sense of working with conditions rather than overpowering them at whim. But it did make it tricky when it came to how to get in to a sheltered spot through complicated, tight entrances with current and crosswinds, together with those adjacent breakers. This is after all why they issue small craft advisories for seas, even when the high waves are long and rounded; it’s the dramatic upheaval when those waves meet the shallows and the shore that can trounce a comparatively small vessel. I found it illuminating when I learned that the “small craft” in small craft advisories refers to vessels under 30 feet.
A motorboat with big, powerful outboards on the back would have other options in those precarious entrances, but Great Auk is not that. In wind and tide, it’s a negotiation where this boat will steer, and when. I find that interesting, especially as I have learned more about what to expect and how to work with it, but appropriate caution is crucial to success.
So I stayed out, deciding to sail through the night. This had been a possibility all along – the forecast wind was favorable and not too strong, and the seas on the open water had shown themselves to be just fine. If this had not felt like a reasonable option I would have made other choices well before this point, staying somewhere more sheltered from the outset.
I actually love night sailing. I haven’t been doing it as much lately, because I find I don’t have the resilience these days, physically, after staying up like that, but it’s a treat whenever there is a good enough argument to go ahead and sail through the night. There are opportunities for rest, out far enough for no traffic, especially having the radar detector that will start beeping when somebody else’s radar hits its antenna. This generally happens when other vessels are at least 3 miles away, and even farther for bigger boats with radar mounted higher above the water. Finding that Great Auk is up to this sort of extended trip, I have been really missing the AIS that we installed on Auklet, but that’s another story.
Once you know they are out there, one way to make sure that you will pass with plenty of space from other vessels is to use a hand bearing compass to take bearings on the other boat. If those bearings change over time, you know that you are not on a collision course. Another way is to look for navigation lights, but those are harder to see at a distance. Bigger working boats often have loads of white deck lights, also obscuring the comparatively fainter red and green on port and starboard.
However, a beautiful thing about small craft advisories is that there’s a lot less traffic when they are going on. Added to that, the sensible course from Casco Bay to Portsmouth – another wide river with reasonably easy entrance in big seas – cuts across the curve of the shore of the Gulf of Maine, leaving a good cushion away from the shore itself. We were off of Portland when it was really getting dark, and the nearer options I had looked at were either not sensible because I would not be able to check the seas in the dark, or much too far out of the way, curving around into Casco Bay at that wide entrance between Cape Elizabeth and the islands near Portland. Especially with this nice alternative, it made more sense to stay out and use that perfect wind.
So off we went, headed for Portsmouth, about 45 miles away. Once it got really dark there wasn’t a scrap of traffic, just the distant lights at the shore, with the prominent lighthouse at Biddeford showing clearly. We angled across the curve of the shoreline, and after a while were about 6 miles out. At about two in the morning the Merveille radar detector started beeping. It shows the direction of the signal it’s receiving, and it indicated that there was a boat out ahead of us. Looking through the windows in that direction, there was a small white splotch of light visible in the rather far distance.
The right answer at this point was to get up and go across the boat to the hanging bag on the starboard side of the forward cabin door, to get the hand bearing compass. The seas were now 8 to 10 feet, and not perfectly gentle, and the motion of the boat was impressive. It had been a long day, and half the night, and I was daunted by the prospect of moving across the boat yet again, with everything jouncing around so thoroughly. That was a mistake! (Now the hand bearing compass lives alongside my berth, easily in reach without any scrambling at all.)
Instead I kept watching. You can also line up the distant vessel’s light with some part of your own boat, and see if the mark changes or stays the same, where the far target lines up on something like your own window frame… But Great Auk’s orientation was constantly varying in the waves, so this was not definitive. It was also incredibly hard to believe that in all that wide open water, completely dark except for the faraway shore and that one, single boat, that we could possibly be on a collision course. That was another mistake.
Binoculars are handy – and stored where perfectly reachable – and as the distant white splotch got closer I would take looks to check if there was any more to see with magnification. For the longest time it was still just white stuff. But eventually, and clearly getting closer, I could actually see red and green navigation lights. This is bad. When you can see them both, it means that the boat with those lights is headed straight toward you.
Turning to starboard – the proper direction in an unknown situation – was going to involve gybing the sail, which was going to be a bit challenging. But I should have done it anyway, right when I saw those two lights. I was concerned about whatever the other boat’s plans were, and another approach in that situation is to get on the radio and confirm the intention to pass port to port. I had fears of turning without that confirmed agreement, and that they might for some reason turn in the same direction. Both that concern and the one about gybing were “moderate” – and somehow combined to become enough to opt for trying the radio first. But it was just like so very many stories, “But there was no answer.” And again: “There was no answer.”
Three tries, no response, and the boat oncoming. We put the wheel over, turning to starboard. Great Auk did not pick up speed quickly, what with the waves and the new heading, including gybing. Marigold was on her long towline off the stern. It helps to have a really long towline out in open water, so the dinghy does not tend to run up on the stern of the sailboat as they both go over the waves. Marigold’s line was about 35 feet long.
Apparently the folks in that big fishing trawler were below deck somewhere, also thinking that it was completely impossible that there was anybody to run into on that dark night. Somewhere in there we also gave five blasts – the danger signal – on our handheld airhorn, but I have always found it hard to believe that anybody in a boat with big engines can possibly hear that.
It’s slightly possible that the oncoming boat also turned at the last moment, but I didn’t see that happen. They passed across our stern – we had turned about 90° to starboard – and there was the sound of a thump–bump. Two quick beats. I was at the forward wheel in the cabin. It’s possible that my perspective was off, but the other boat was very, very close. All I could see was the sheer vertical face of the side of their hull, straight off the stern, and it looked to me like if I had been at the transom with an extended boat hook – which goes to 8 feet – I could have touched the fishing boat’s hull. No words for that.
As the fishing boat passed and started to draw away, its bright deck lights illuminated the water behind it, and there was poor Marigold, bobbing upside down on the dark water in those enormous and roiling waves. The towline had snapped right near where it was fastened on Great Auk. There was nobody on the brightly lit stern deck of the other boat.
I briefly thought about trying to go back for Marigold, but in the distinctly un-gentle waves – and the dark, as the fishing boat continued steaming away at speed – it felt both too dangerous to try and regardless unlikely to succeed. Marigold was now upwind, which would mean motoring, and motoring upwind in waves and a good breeze is exactly what Great Auk will not do. Heartbreaking as it was, Great Auk and I sailed away, and little Marigold disappeared in the night.
Of course the worst, scariest part of the story is not Marigold. Great Auk – and I – really did come a whisker away from getting squashed. I wasn’t sure that the motors hadn’t been hit, raised as they were for sailing, extending a bit behind the transom. In hindsight I’m sure I would’ve felt it if they had been, but I just had the sound of that clunking in my mind. I went back to check, but other than the missing Marigold, and the broken line, all was as it should be. The white lights were continuing to recede off our starboard quarter.
Thinking about it afterwards, I believe that what happened is that the fishing boat crossed Marigold’s towline, yanking Marigold against the far side of their hull – the thumping sounds I heard – and pulling hard on the towline until it snapped. I had a hook arrangement high on the back of the post that supports the starboard corner of the cabin top, to keep the towline up and away from the outboard motor. It’s a carabiner tied open, that was tightly lashed to the back of that 2 x 3 post. In the night I thought the carabiner was gone, but the next morning I saw that it was pulled completely to the starboard side of that post, with gouges in the corners of the wood from the seine twine lashing. I didn’t feel Great Auk shift when Marigold’s line was broken, that I remember, but there were a lot of waves making for a lot of shifting already. It must’ve been quite a yank, but very quick.
Afterwards we readjusted our course, and I took about five minutes to catch my breath and consider. Then I got on the radio to the Coast Guard, as it was important for them to know that if somebody found Marigold floating around out there upside down that there was not a person who needed rescue. At the same time I got to tell them what happened, and there was a slight possibility that if that other boat happened to by now be near the radio they might hear about it also. The Coast Guard was appreciative, and suggested we talk on my cell phone, because the signal from my handheld VHF radio was not very strong. So we finished the conversation by phone, with them taking contact information and a description in case Marigold was found.
While that conversation was going on, the white lights from the fishing boat turned, and circled back to where we had been – Great Auk was sailing at about 3 knots, so we had covered a bit of distance from that spot. Then they turned, as if to come up behind us, maybe a mile or two back. This completely freaked me out – the last thing I wanted was to go through that again! – so we gybed again, moving at an angle away from their new course. Eventually they turned again and really went away. Who knows if they heard the radio conversation, and circled back to look for Marigold.
Although I made the mistake of not turning much sooner, technically that fishing vessel was at fault. Primarily, they were not keeping watch, and secondarily they were not actually engaged in fishing, which made Great Auk traveling under sail the “stand on vessel.” It’s not just that you have the right of way – it’s that it’s your responsibility to keep going on your original path, so everything is predictable, and the other vessel is supposed to give way, and adjust their course. But if there is risk of collision, then the give-way vessel is regardless supposed to change course to avoid it – which we did narrowly, with not nearly enough cushion for my taste. And counting Marigold being collided with, we were at fault also for not avoiding the whole thing entirely. There is a book completely devoted to these rules, for anybody who is unfamiliar and wants to get into it: https://www.navcen.uscg.gov/navigation-rules-amalgamated is the online version.
It’s also available in print from various marine supply stores, including this one (nope, not receiving anything for posting): https://www.starpath.com/catalog/books/1832.htm
Of course in the real world, usually the bigger vessel does what it’s going to do, and the littler one gives way. But according to the actual rules, that fishing boat had really screwed up, so it’s not such a surprise that they were not getting into a discussion about it on the radio that would identify them. Especially since they would have known from the radio exchange with the Coast Guard that there was nobody in the water needing rescue, or anything like that. So they have stayed a mystery – I never did see a boat name through all that.
Once the Coast Guard call was done, from there we carried on through the night. By dawn I could see Portsmouth in the distance, and by 9 AM we were in the river. Somehow I just couldn’t get my head around the near miss. I was terribly sad about losing Marigold, and whatever emotions I had about the whole event were completely focused on that. I felt like I had let the little boat down, not taking care of Marigold properly, and we have had such a companionable relationship.
But this is what stays in mind: one often wonders why so many people have boats that sit on their moorings or at their slips for almost the entire season. I think that this is a big part of the reason: besides embarrassing maneuvers, like blowing dockings and missing moorings with an audience, things happen on boats that give you pause. Through your own and/or others’ mistakes or inattention, the stakes can get high, sometimes surprisingly fast. It’s letting go the lines that means you take that chance of relying on your own capabilities for a good outcome.
I said that this story has a happy ending, and it does.
After I arrived in Portsmouth I called Portland Pudgy, thinking about what I was going to do about an alternate dinghy. The really nice woman who answered the phone, besides remembering Marigold from the blog post about the junk sailing rig, which I had shared with their office, told me that it had twice happened that somebody’s Pudgy had been lost, and when found by some kind person the company had been contacted with the serial number from the errant boat. Portland Pudgy keeps files on who has bought them, and was able to reunite both of those lost boats with their owners. A friend with a trailer-sailing boat had even had his more substantial boat come back to him, recovered just off a beach in Florida, after a long story of it having been abandoned far out at sea after a rescue. I took some heart from this, but continued making plans for what to do to replace the dinghy.
Meanwhile, the easterly wind had run itself out. Trade-offs in the design of Great Auk mean that this boat sails primarily downwind, with perhaps a beam reach in the right situation. With the wind shifted south and southwest, I wasn’t going anywhere for some time. That was fine by me – I was ready for a rest! I set up to do some visiting, and settled into a nice anchorage on the Kittery side of the harbor.
A couple of days later, wouldn’t you know I got a phone call! Somebody had reported to the harbormaster in Kennebunk, Maine – about 25 miles from Portsmouth – that Marigold had been found on the beach. The harbormaster went to investigate, called Portland Pudgy with the serial number, and next thing you know the harbormaster and I were having a conversation. Me being in the Portsmouth area, I had been in touch with Luke Tanner – regular readers might remember him from the previous post. He and his wife Merrilea drove to Kennebunk with their trailer! Faster than you can say I can’t believe this happened, there they were in Kittery sliding Marigold down the gangway to the public dock, with the sturdy little boat barely the worse for wear. Perfectly, perfectly miraculous.
Now Marigold has a special sticker with contact information, for an even more direct line than the kind folks at Portland Pudgy. Many thanks to Dave Estes, harbormaster in Stockton Springs, who offered that sticker after I told him this story. But we dearly hope that Marigold will stay close by from here on out.
Here’s the track for the territory covered in this story. With endless gratitude to Dave McDermott, of ofmapsandmapping.wordpress.com for this beautiful rendition of where we went.
I took this whole experience to be a little like falling off a horse – and that it’s important to get back on soon afterwards. When a north wind eventually came around we set out from Portsmouth and on to Cape Ann, near Gloucester, Mass. After another few days of waiting for the next favorable breeze we continued south across Massachusetts Bay, which led to another night sail, this time across Cape Cod Bay (see previous post for more on how that came about).
I went into that second overnight passage with some trepidation, but with the feeling of it being important to get back on the horse. There was actually a good bit of traffic on Cape Cod Bay the first half of that night, but on the upside, in all that traffic nobody running those fishing boats was asleep below deck, for exactly that reason; there was enough surrounding activity to keep their full attention. The hand bearing compass was right beside me, and in regular use. Proper distances were kept throughout, and I came away with renewed faith that we could sail at night and be okay.
Nowadays Marigold feels extra chummy. The boat used to stay on the starboard side of Great Auk, at anchor, keeping the slapping of the little waves at a bit more of a distance in the night. But now I rather like it, in my berth, hearing the bit of splashing and seeing Marigold right there out my window. Such a steady companion.
When tied alongside like this for the night there are no unexpected clunks waking a person up, which sometimes happens with a dinghy left on its painter off the stern. And it makes me so happy, looking out the window from my berth, to see Marigold, home snug from that big adventure. Photo credit: Shemaya Laurel
This blog entry has languished for months. It’s now closing in on the end of November, and both I and the boats are off of the water, as of mid-October. But there was another story before that happened:
One evening in September I sailed after dark in upper Penobscot Bay, leaving Stockton Springs at about 9 PM for various reasons of weather and wind. We were bound for the very snug harbor a short distance away at Holbrook Island, around the corner from Castine. This is a trip of about 6 miles from Stockton Springs, doable in about two hours with a decent breeze.
One part of this little hop involves crossing a very low-traffic shipping lane, that leads up the Penobscot River. It’s possible to go all over these waters for weeks and never see a ship in this particular track. But wouldn’t you know it. As I was about halfway to the harbor entrance by Castine, there was the Merveille sounding that it was picking up a radar signal, and an indistinct white splotch was visible out ahead, about 3 miles off. My preferred course involved angling across the shipping lane marked on the chart, and I was in it.
Out came the hand bearing compass, and the binoculars. The white splotch started to reveal itself as a very thoroughly lit cruise ship, and the bearing stayed the same. You couldn’t have made this up, that a second time I would be out at night with zero traffic, only in this crossing for a scant two hours, and would be on a collision course with the only ship out on this track for days.
You can bet that I turned instantly. Dropped both motors into the water for additional speed, headed perpendicular to both the marked shipping lane and the approach of the cruise ship, and zipped toward shore. This not only took Great Auk quickly out of the shipping lane, but for good measure led into water too shallow for a cruise ship but plenty deep enough for us. When we were safely near the shore and well out of the track marked on the chart for ships, we turned to parallel the land, also staying safely away from the rocks.
It’s a tight area, where the shipping lane is marked, and there was a time when we could see both the red and the green navigation lights on the cruise ship. Their crew was wide awake, and at one point shone a spotlight in our direction (we also had our giant inflatable radar reflector at the top of the mast, as we had on that other less fortunate night). I believe they turned, in order to leave a better cushion, as they had loads of deep water to work with on the other side of the shipping lane, away from the shore, and then they straightened out again. With both of our course changes we passed at about a mile away, with no drama other than Great Auk’s quick skedaddle toward shore, long before the other boat was close.
But seriously! As in, really?!?
I did appreciate the opportunity to do it right, and I appreciated the previous lesson, so there was no question of disbelief, and no hesitation in taking immediate action. Funny, how the Universe provides.
Muscongus Bay, early. Photo credit: Shemaya Laurel
*** May 5, 2022: Great Auk departs Joy Bay, southbound.
*** June 1: Arrive Connecticut River, anchoring in North Cove.
*** July 7: Arrive Joy Bay, home once again.
Suzanne worked out the number of days away: 64. In an interesting bit of synchronicity, this year I am 64 years old.
That was a big trip! The farthest point south was Sag Harbor, New York, which is out by the Hamptons on Long Island, where I had lovely visits with my friend JG and we made plans for more sailing.
JG at Haven’s Beach, Sag Harbor. Photo credit: Shemaya Laurel
Sag Harbor was one of the original destinations. The even bigger heart calling was the Connecticut River, and sailing up to Deep River, which felt like going home. The hills were right, and the trees, and the sun and the shape of the clouds, and the bits of gentle fog in the rain.
Connecticut River. Photo credit: Shemaya Laurel
It had been seven years since I sailed away, moving to Maine. And I love Maine, with its rocks and wild wind, and evergreens everywhere. But the Connecticut River feels like home. I didn’t grow up there, but close enough, and then lived for so many years right by its shores a little further north.
In Deep River I made a new friend, years ago. On the day we first launched Auklet, learning the yawl rig in opposing wind and river current, losing steering. Make sure that the mizzen sail is free, or you’re not going to be able to turn. Opposing wind and current pinning the boat, headed straight across the river for the shore, and that big steel sloop on its pilings. We didn’t hit it, anchoring just in time, but things got complicated. This led to meeting Warren Elliott, who was none too pleased at that first moment. And we became such good friends.
Apologies for the fuzzy picture – it was just dawn, as I was leaving, and only looks this bright thanks to adjusting afterwards. But you can still see Warren’s boat… Photo credit (such as it is): Shemaya Laurel
Warren was going to be 93 years old on May 23, and my mission in leaving Gouldsboro so early in the month, in the spring cold before leaves were even out on the trees, was to get there to see him. If not by his birthday, close. I didn’t say anything, ahead of time, because I was afraid I wouldn’t succeed – like last year, when I had set out but got only as far as Pemaquid. I didn’t want to call again to say it wasn’t going to happen. But I should have picked up the phone anyway.
Warren in the garden shed that he built, from wood that he milled… just like their whole house. Photo credit: Suzanne Jean
When things felt more assured I left a message, on May 23, singing happy birthday into Warren’s answering machine. This was from the water, having left Rockport, Mass. early in the morning, bound for Provincetown, which in a combination of losing both the wind and the tide became unattainable and led to sailing through the night, straight for the entrance to the Cape Cod Canal. But before night fell, there was that song, and I told him in the message that I thought I really would get there this time. I called again a few days later, leaving another message, and getting closer bit by bit.
Sunset about 7 miles off of Provincetown. I had already run through one battery bank for the motors by this point, and now the tide was running out of Cape Cod Bay. The breeze was forecast to come back around midnight, from a perfect direction for heading directly to the canal. Given all of this, it made sense to stay out. Best part: whales! There were several backs and spouts, a bit before this photo was taken, and then for a little while after dark, the sound of them breathing, and the scent of that bit of fish-breath. It was quite lovely to have the company. Photo credit: Shemaya Laurel
Ever so sadly, I missed Warren by a month. His wife, and my friend, Margo, called back with the sad news that he had passed away at the beginning of May, two days before I left home. We came so close to one more visit, after those long intervening years.
Sometimes being on the water is where I do my grieving. The ocean and the broad rivers sturdy enough to contain all those tears, and enough space to wail into the open skies.
Margo kindly invited me to come and stay at their dock, and I waited to see how my travels might go. In the end we had a beautiful visit, in my accustomed spot at Warren’s float.
Margo and Shemaya, having such good visits. Photo credit: Sandy Ward
This had become the place where we fitted out each year after putting Auklet in the water at the nearby ramp in Deep River, and was often where I returned, to pull the boat out of the water in the fall. Equaria, the big steel sloop that Warren had built himself, was still right there.
Equaria, and the riverboat Becky Thatcher in the background. Photo credit: Shemaya Laurel
Warren was a steelworker, in his younger days. He told stories about building a giant steel tower on an island in the Aleutians – I think he said it was 1000 feet tall. He said the height never bothered him. So welding the boat together was right up his alley, and once it was built it led to meeting Margo, and the two of them having wonderful trips sailing off to the Caribbean.
Warren and Margo out for a sail with me on Auklet in 2015. Photo credit: Shemaya Laurel
Coming home is like that. The sweetness of familiar shores, and as one gets older, the presence of those who are no longer here, holding their memories so close.
And now I am back in Maine, in this new home that has actually started to feel that way. I missed it when I was gone, and was surprised to find that the low sandy shores of southern New England felt foreign, from the water. Although I did get used to swimming in comfort, and to so many fewer rocks with which to play dodge’ems, in the swirling current. But now the evergreens feel like they make everything right, and the lobster boats are a welcome change from go-fast churners of a million wakes.
Besides that, people in Maine appreciate this boat. I had become accustomed to the lovely conversations, folks enjoying both Great Auk‘s oddball configuration and bright colors. These friendly encounters were rare in southern New England, where yacht clubs are a lot more common than fishing villages. A sailing houseboat felt out of place and not necessarily welcome, unlike in Maine where Great Auk is more of an attraction, and the frequent interest and appreciation feel extra welcoming in unfamiliar harbors.
Great Auk in Northwest Creek, near Sag Harbor, New York. One person was charmed by this boat, and she took this photo and sent it to JG. We thought we were about to have a word from the authorities, and it turned out to be not only not the authorities, but an admirer! Photo credit: Dee McQuire Renos
The trip overall was wonderful. Now and then it was a bit much, but then something nice would happen, and everything would feel right again. I am ecstatic about having been able to do it, and the boat having shown itself so capable. There were some repair issues, all to do with steering in one way or another, and there is more to address on that – it’s a heavy boat, with an enormous rudder, and the strain of roiled up seas can be substantial.
This was Cape Cod Bay, in the morning as we approached the canal entrance; the seas had actually come down a bit by the time there was enough light for a photo. The breeze filled in just fine in the middle of the night, making it easy to cover the 20 miles by early next morning. Bonus, all the nighttime fishing boats went away once the waves started building! But it was hard on the rudder connection. Photo credit: Shemaya Laurel
We’ll be addressing the rudder issue, and the boat will be better for it. In the meantime, the temporary repairs held up, and here we are home.
You would think that the original white lashings – a la Wharram catamarans – might’ve been the problem, but they weren’t. Much has been learned about more appropriate fastener arrangements, as well as wood type for that transom post (purpleheart, I have since been told, is the wood we should have used). Not having gotten bolts or wood quite right, under all that strain the lowest part of the transom post broke away, passing substantial strain on to the next set of lashings above. John York, friend of a friend in Cataumet, MA, came up with, and installed, the repair approach shown, after we went through various ideas and puzzles with the goal of a quick and effective temporary fix, that would get me and the boat safely home. Thanks to Jon Bower for introducing me to the Cataumet family! Photo credits: Shemaya Laurel
The lashing repair arrangement provided quite a bit of additional support to the broken piece, but there was still substantial movement side to side in waves, which was worrisome. When I was sailing the Bolger Glasshouse Chebacco Auklet a number of years ago I had the opportunity to visit with Susanne Altenburger, of Phil Bolger and Friends, and when I was back in the Gloucester area I stopped in to say hello, staying overnight in her adjacent cove. The next morning, rushing to beat the tide, Susanne kindly took a look at the situation and came up with the idea for these nifty and simple braces. In a couple of trips to her workshop she put together everything needed and screwed them onto the boat. Miraculous. Photo credit: Shemaya Laurel
One more bit of adjustment took place in Portsmouth, thanks to Luke Tanner. Luke not only brought his tools, but also food supplies, water, ice, and the most delicious cheeseburger and French fries that I had on the entire trip! By the time I left those southern shores, both the boat and I were in good order. Photo credit: Shemaya Laurel
My endless thanks go to the folks who helped with those repairs: most especially John York in Cataumet, MA; Susanne Altenburger in Gloucester, MA; and Luke Tanner, who made the trip to Portsmouth, NH to help out. The boat got home thanks to their kindnesses, as well as to the folks who made those connections possible. And further thanks to everybody along the way who made this trip such a joy. How appropriate, to come back to Joy Bay!
Great Auk arriving home after 64 days. Photo credit: Suzanne Jean
The JRA interview that Kevin Cardiff did with me this past fall got a little buried in the previous post. Also, because of the video format of the interview it wasn’t possible to include the credits for each photo individually. So here’s this. Thanks to all who shared the lovely pictures they took! Perhaps it’s also fun to see those photos sitting still.
Many thanks to Suzanne Jean for the video at the end of the interview, with the Peep Hen Serenity moving out into the Bay under yuloh power.
Additional thanks to West Cove Boat Yard, of Sorrento, Maine, for building Great Auk.
In closing, I would like to again thank Kevin Cardiff for all the work he put into this interview. Although I sent him a number of the photos shown here, in the process of putting together this collection of pictures I realized just how many photos he found on his own before we even started. It was an interesting exercise tracking them all down to include here! Of course I could have simply asked him, I’m sure, but I didn’t want to be a bother, and the process of locating them all was both a wonderful review of these past years, and a testament to the thoroughness with which Kevin approached this project. Thank you Kevin, for inviting me to do this interview, for making it such a pleasure, and for producing such a lovely record.
And thanks again to all the photographers, who so kindly agreed to this use of their work.
Hi folks… It’s been much too long. There was a lot of fun with Great Auk this year, including after that early summer trip from the last post. With luck, at a bare minimum there will be some postcard-style entries coming up, with a few photos and small stories. Sailing went on well into the fall, and at the end of October I took the boat around to Frenchman Bay, spent two separate gales in a couple of different sheltered spots, and then on November 1 the boat came out of the water in Sorrento, where it was built. Some work got done on it at the boatyard, and a few weeks later Great Auk went into the new shelter – which was our other summer/fall project – at the top of the driveway.
After the boat was snug, I was invited to do an interview about Great Auk, and some about Auklet, with Kevin Cardiff of the Junk Rig Association. What a pleasure that was. Our conversation happened over zoom, after which Kevin did a marvelous job of pulling out the most interesting bits, which he put together with some photos into this video. Enjoy!
Endless thanks to all – Kevin for the JRA video, and everybody who participated in the giant shelter project, as well as Mike Connors, who was in the truck backing the boat into that tight space.
* Note: the shelter project took place during that heavenly Covid-lull this past fall. With just about everybody fully vaccinated, it was such a pleasure to be outdoors, working together, without masks!
The bad news is that I have completely abandoned keeping logs. On the brighter side, photos remain both doable and engaging. So the departure date for this trip could be pieced together. It was a Thursday, at the end of May, and I was off for a little over three weeks. This was the sendoff from Gouldsboro Bay, with Chubba, Bonnie and friends.
Initially I had thoughts of sailing to southern New England, and ridiculous amounts of food and water were stowed. But departure was a couple of weeks later than hoped because of how much time it took to complete all the 12 V wiring and autopilot installation. By a week after we were on our way (myself and Great Auk) the weather pattern was getting ready to change over to summer, with consistently south and west winds.
In the end, we went as far as the harbor in the Pemaquid River, on the west side of Pemaquid Point, around the backside of that big peninsula that is about halfway between Penobscot Bay and Portland. This was a good run, including some nice explorations of Muscongus Bay. Muscongus is the next big indentation in the coast west of Penobscot Bay, filled with interesting islands. I hadn’t been around that southwest corner of Penobscot Bay since the big move to Maine, over five years ago. It was nice to bust out a little bit.
Some adventures were had, over the course of those three weeks, particularly related to sailing in somewhat more demanding conditions in order to take advantage of that early east wind. The boat is more capable than one would think from looking at its flat bottom and straight across barge bow. In a good breeze, down or across the wind, Great Auk likes to sail between 4 and 4 1/2 knots. The boat will go 5, but things start to feel strained, on both rigging and steering, and it makes more sense to reef (or reef more) and take the pressure off.
One morning, after several days of erroneous weather reports that forecast bigger wind which did not materialize, I chose a route that would’ve been perfectly reasonable in milder conditions than the ones that developed. I should not know that the boat is capable of what we did – in theory one would keep oneself out of that kind of situation – but it has been very relaxing to have this benchmark, now that it’s done. Taking smaller waves in this boat no longer fazes me in the least!
There were of course many peaceful harbors on this trip, as well as lovely visits with my Aunt Patsy and various friends, and some very sweet days of sailing. An especial standout was Louds Island in Muscongus Bay. This island has a drying harbor on the east side, and I had the good fortune to pass nearby at just the right time to get a good look at it at low tide, and then when the water came back to go in for the night. Bonus, while waiting for the tide the boat got to go down on a sand bar outside the harbor! Drying out on a sand bar was actually one of my goals for this expedition, and I had no idea that I would get to do it this soon. Because of this boat’s flat bottom, it’s perfect for settling down on tideflats. Downeast is almost entirely mud, wherever the water is peaceful enough to do this, which is not terribly satisfying for stepping off the boat when it’s aground. Sand is a completely other matter, and spending time on wide, protected sandflats was one of my motivations for wanting to sail to southern New England. Although I didn’t get there (this time), I did get to have my fun stepping off the boat onto this really nice bar. It made me incredibly happy.
On this trip there was also quite a bit of night sailing. This was to catch the favorable wind and tide, but happened to coincide with that I enjoy being out in the night quite a lot. Further, so close to the solstice, one can go to sleep early, wake up at about 2 AM and set out in the dark, and by 3:30 AM the light is already starting to show in the eastern sky.
During the day there was a good bit of motoring, with that hefty 48 V Torqeedo. I do very little motoring at night, as it’s challenging to dodge the lobster pot buoys, which can get hung up in the motor. Under sail, the boat can just run right over them without problems. The boat really could use the second motor on the back – which I haven’t yet done – for good steering control in gusty changing wind when under power. But apart from that complication, the motor arrangement worked out amazingly well. The solar panels all over the top of the cabin make a real difference in range, even when the motor is drawing more electricity than the panels are producing. The solar charging extends the run time for a given battery bank considerably, and if one travels slowly on a sunny day – say about 2 knots on flat water – the charging will keep pace with the draw from the motor, making the run time unlimited. Routinely, dodging that south wind, we would start early before the breeze came up and motor for two or three hours to jump to the next harbor upwind, sometimes driving pretty hard into the breeze as it started to fill in for the day. The batteries replenished easily once the motor was not being used, and the entire trip was done without using any shore power at all, maintaining both 48 V battery banks, recharged to full capacity within a day of even quite demanding motor runs. Cloudy days charge more slowly, but still take care of business.
This is a Torqeedo 4.0 outboard, 48 V, running off of one or the other of two battery banks, each made of 4 (four) 12 volt 100 amp hour AGM batteries, connected in series to make the 48 V. The solar panels for the motor are 4 (four) 12 volt Xantrex 165 Watt flexible panels attached with adhesive to the top of the cabin. Interestingly, Xantrex technical support said that it would be fine to wire these in series, to make the output for 48 volt batteries – and it has been. But the instructions that came with the panels said that they should not be combined in that way. Regardless, it has worked out fine.
The charge controller is a “Victron BlueSolar MPPT 150/45-Tr” with which I’ve been hugely happy. It talks to the smartphone, and shows off how hard the solar panels have been working, including with a very informative history tab. So far, on a day with excellent sunshine and lots of motor use, the maximum energy produced has been shown as 4 kW, which works out to roughly 80 amp hours for that one day. Not bad!
Piecing together the plan for that system was an enormous job. I am not receiving anything for mentioning the manufacturers, and am including the information above only in hopes of helping others along the way.
Anyway, that’s how we got around: sometimes sailing, when the wind was blessedly workable (no significant upwind sailing in this barge houseboat), often motor sailing, and rarely motoring with the sail not even raised. One of the advantages of having put so much time and effort into sailing motorless over these last years is that I was able to gauge situations of limited wind, judging how long it would take to do what I was hoping to do, as far as destinations and timing, if entirely under sail. Those runs entirely under sail can be exhausting, and the comparison to what was possible using the motor was striking. I have rather sheepishly been telling numerous friends and acquaintances that I’ve become “motor woman.” But at least there are no fossil fuels involved!
Eventually it became clear that it was time to turn around, and let go of the big southerly goal. Every single day in the extended 10 day forecast promised south and southwest winds, with the pattern likely to continue. Also, I felt that my health was not as up to snuff as I would have liked, for venturing so far from home. Sometimes being on the boat has been truly magical, with my well-being improving the longer I stayed. This time, it was instead going the other way. Too many crazy nights, and long days, and apparent limits to the stamina I had upon which to draw.
Suzanne came to meet me in Pemaquid Harbor, to help with doing an adjustment on the autopilot motor position, which had been shifted on the day with those big waves. We had not foreseen a couple of tools, and bolts, that would be needed to really complete this repair in a lasting way, and at a three hour drive from home, I was already well beyond how far Suzanne wanted to travel to meet me, though she generously made that trek, with both tools and supplies. All of the various issues converged, and after Suzanne had gone home, I decided to make Pemaquid my turnaround point.
In hindsight, that was an excellent call. There wasn’t another decent batch of easterly wind for close to a month, and it didn’t last – we are solidly into the summer weather pattern. And there was fun to be had along the way, heading back east.
Not being in a rush anymore, I went all the way up to the head of Penobscot Bay, had some lovely visits with sailor friends, and then ventured up the Penobscot River to Bangor, some 25 river miles inland. (In the chart shown earlier, Bangor is a bit further north, outside the frame where the Penobscot River runs off the top edge of the chart.) This diversion was partly for the adventure, but mostly to get to do more visiting, with friends made over this past year and a half via zoom, as we have worked together to address the woeful state of US politics during these last few years. Some adventure was had on the river, which should have its own post. The lovely visits made it all worth it.
Then I ran for home. It’s amazing what the motor makes possible. By motor sailing when the breeze was in those light times, which previously, in other boats, involved tremendous amounts of floating around, Great Auk and I got a good head start on the miles. Once the wind would really fill in for the day we would blast along entirely under sail. We left from East Hampden, a mile or so south of Bangor, at 3:30 AM, just as the tide started to run out. With the assist of that marvelous current in the river – outbound tide plus the river’s natural flow – we had covered the 23 miles to where the river opens into Penobscot Bay by about nine in the morning.
Once out of the river, as there was so much of the day left to go, and another couple of hours of workable tide to make the turn that one really must get to before the incoming tide starts running strongly north, we hustled south, and indeed got around the corner of Cape Rosier before everything turned. This set things up for riding the flood tide further toward home, and by the end of the day we were putting the anchor down in Mackerel Cove on Swan’s Island, some 50+ miles from where we had begun that morning. In a barge houseboat! The design really has been showing itself surprisingly capable.
The next day would have been ideal for sailing home the rest of the way, on a good 10 to 15 southwest wind, but it would have been another long day, and rest was in order. The day off was delightful, in such a pretty spot.
The morning after that the tide was not right until about 10 AM, so there was no need for a crazy-early start. There was also not a tremendous amount of wind. We got underway using the same approach from the other day, motor-sailing during the morning light breeze to get a bit of a head start, and running all under sail once the wind filled in. (I still cringe to admit this part about the motor, particularly on this blog where I know that some confirmed motorless sailors are reading about this unfortunate conversion.)
By evening we had covered another 33 miles, and were back in Joy Bay, anchored for the night and ready to go in to our float with the early morning high tide. This was none too soon, as there does seem to be a more significant health thing going on, rather than the regular run of long-term issues that can be accommodated one way or another. And it’s nice to be home!
Now I’ve been back for a few weeks, regaining some strength, and having decided that manual hauling of a heavy primary anchor and chain has become a serious impediment to my solo boat fun, as well as to the range of crew possibilities. Great Auk is in the process of acquiring an electric windlass. Installation is not simple, but is progressing. That will get its own post.
In the meantime, it was a great trip to start off the summer. The starry and moonlit night sailing was exceptional, and the boat has shown itself to be a sturdy traveler. Being just early July, and with excellent sailing possible through September, we are hoping for a good bit more.
Here’s a Peep Hen story, and a development from this event that took over 10 years to show results.
In something like 2008, Rachel Gimbel and I were sailing my Peep, Serenity, down the Connecticut River from Hartford to Long Island sound. In the section just before Essex, Connecticut, we had a day with a strong northerly wind, at least 20 knots, and gusting higher. The sail was double reefed, and partly scandalized, with the yard let down to about horizontal to dump more wind, which was coming from almost directly astern. That last sail adjustment made things truly manageable, and we were blasting along, covering a mile on the chart every 10 minutes; this put us at 6 knots, probably with a little help from the current. That’s really fast, for a 14′, chunky boat! And heavily loaded for a substantial trip.
Right around when we were going to pass the entrance to Hamburg Cove, a large power cruiser came up from behind, off our starboard quarter. We thought “oh geez, crazy traffic,” which is not terribly uncommon on the Connecticut River. But the power cruiser, at shouting distance in the strong wind, started matching our speed, moving together side-by-side with enough space to not be too scary. A man on the cruiser shouted over to us “I designed that boat.” And then introduced himself – Reuben Trane! That was hugely exciting, which I hollered back to him enthusiastically. He and his companion took pictures, though I’ve never seen them. It must’ve been a sight, with the Peep blasting along like that in the whitecaps.
Reuben then explained that the boat he was on was his new project. It had a substantial cabin, with the top covered with solar panels, which were powering the boat. I later looked it up on the Internet, and it made a major impression on me. It was way out of my price range, and fancier than my general taste, but I really loved that spacious deck, and the cabintop covered with enough solar panels to make the boat go. The only thing missing was sailing capability to go with it.
That image stayed in mind ever since, and a few years ago when I decided to do something about a different boat (there’s a fleet, including the Peep Hen and a 20 foot Bolger Chebacco) I had my chance. I had done a lot of crazy cruising in the Chebacco, and some stints of several weeks at a time in the Peep, and I thought I might be done sailing. That idea lasted until I realized that what I really wanted was to be comfortable at the same time as being afloat. A sail was crucial, but so was something more like a houseboat layout with a spacious cabin and a bunch of open deck, and, for a change, a sturdy motor. I wanted that motor to be electric, and solar, for the quiet, the ease, and the environmental benefits as well as the independence from fuel docks and marina electricity.
Reuben Trane’s power cruiser had two out of those three wish-list characteristics, just missing the sail. Sailing barges could put it all together, and that’s what developed. The result looks nothing like Reuben’s big power cruiser, but the new boat (24′ x 8′ and built out of plywood) has the spaciousness, the solar panels all over the top of the cabin, and the electric motor, that had all stayed in mind for so long since that day on the river.
Thank you, Reuben – that momentary meeting on the Connecticut is really what led to this. And your courage to design “unique” looking boats like the Peep Hen opened up my thinking on getting one’s eye accustomed to outside-the-box approaches that serve the desired uses of a boat. This (along with later help from Phil Bolger’s work) set me up to also embrace Dave Zeiger’s sailing barge Triloboats design, and the combination has brought about Great Auk. The result is giving me great joy.
It’s been much too long since you all have had proper news from this corner of Maine. Here’s a rather lengthy report; you can scroll through for pictures for the capsule version…
The boat went into the water on April 14, put in at our local boat ramp and driven to our float with a borrowed gasoline outboard. GREAT AUK was delivered by the boatyard folks, because Maine was just going into the first coronavirus lockdown. They launched it at the ramp:
Then they motored up the bay on the high tide, right to our float. Two of the boatyard folks drove from the ramp to the house by car and went down to the float to catch lines, while Suzanne and I watched from a good spot on the bank up above the shore. Coronavirus was not so well understood then, and we were taking very good care about nobody touching anything that somebody else not in their “pod” might have recently handled.
Then Jon, being impressively strong, put the outboard on his shoulder and hiked it up the path to their vehicles, and they all drove off.
Over the next days, projects commenced. The electric motor cables and steering linkages were connected, and the boat became capable of going out to the mooring unassisted. The mooring was switched over to its summer ball and pennant, ready for a boat. MARIGOLD, the little Portland Pudgy, went in the water so we could get back to shore, with GREAT AUK left safely riding in the channel for storms.
All of this was none too soon, as April is early to put a boat in the water here in Maine. The ice was long gone (this year) but the spring gales were not. Over the next few weeks we had THREE gales, one that actually had a storm warning and blew at about 50 knots, steady, just offshore from here. One time, when the wind was only supposed to be up to about 20 to 25, we let the boat stay at the float. That one came in from the south, getting up to more like 30, and the somewhat sketchy anchoring arrangement for the float (big enough mushroom anchor, but not enough mud) dragged. It’s just as well this happened at night – one couldn’t have done a thing about it, and it would have been horrifying to watch.
As it was, in the morning the storm was over and the tide was out. Boat and float had shifted about 10 feet north, just enough for the boat to settle on top of the jumble of good-sized rocks to the side of its regular berth on the mud (the float came down comfortably where the boat ordinarily belongs). Fortunately I do NOT have good photos of what that looked like. All I can say is, thank heavens for the copper sheathing on the bottom of the boat.
Then things needed to be put right again. We tied lines, waited for the water, moved the boat and float back to where they had started (easy now that they were floating again, and the wind gone), waited for the water to go down, rearranged the chains that hold the float, connecting them to circles of chain around massive rocks, and watched as the water came back to see if we had gotten the tensions right.
Got some more chains over the next two days, added them to more rocks, and eventually breathed a big sigh of relief, feeling much more confident that we would not be seeing the boat perched in that terrible position again, we very much hope.
Things improved from there, but it was a big project; then we started on some of the others.
Tiller steering is extremely difficult with this boat, and was going to be logistically complicated any way around. Wheels (plural) at two steering stations was the approach that would solve a lot of problems, from visibility forward, to comfort and ease, as well as adding mechanical advantage to make the steering easier. The steering project should have its own post… It might eventually, but suffice it to say that this involved steering shafts, sprockets, chain, cables, and sheaves, above and below deck, all lined up just right, and with very, very strong attachments. Plus a big bronze piece called a quadrant that had to be attached to the rudder, through the transom. It’s been an education. The folks from the boatyard kindly came over and helped with the hardest parts, while Suzanne and I did the pieces we could. It took months. But it was worth it.
Along the way we also reinforced the tabernacle supports, both at the partners and the step. The partners and step were built according to our original mast/tabernacle plan, which was improvised, because a mast is not part of the original SHANTY Triloboat. This plan was done with some input from Triloboats designer Dave Zeiger, who has put masts and tabernacles on other Triloboat designs. But seeing the results in person, and thinking further about strains on the freestanding mast, I felt that some extra reinforcement was in order. Dave concurred, somewhat emphatically for somebody who is ordinarily so laid back. Now with the additional support in place, that tabernacle shouldn’t be shifting anywhere.
Eventually we also started rigging. The mainsail from AUKLET is just big enough for this boat, and has been pressed into service. This sail will eventually be returned to AUKLET, and another one made for this boat, but it’s perfect for initial testing. By the middle of August all was ready to go, and on a day with very light wind we followed the tide out of Joy Bay. Dave and Jeannie McDermott saw us go, from their cottage on the east side of the bay.
And then Dave did the beautiful drawing at the top of this post.
Chubba and Bonnie came out in their skiff, once we were out into Gouldsboro Bay.
The wind died completely, and we had a lovely visit, riding the light current south, talking, and Bonnie taking great pictures.
Just after Bonnie and Chubba headed off, a bit of a breeze came up, and we got to see the boat really sail. Miraculously, it worked. It steered, it balanced on the wind, and when it came time to try tacking I was perfectly delighted to find that putting the wheel over resulted in the boat coming about. I think that was the most suspenseful moment of this entire endeavor, seeing if tacking would work. And it did!
As it turns out, the boat will even sail into the wind a little bit, given reasonably flat water and just a little bit of favorable current. GREAT AUK is designed as a motorsailor, expected to rely on the electric outboard for going upwind. But we made progress down the bay, in a number of tacks into the breeze that had come up from the south, before turning for a nice run back toward home.
With attention to planning for moving with both current and wind, it’s surprising how much can be done with this boat without turning on the motor at all. On that first day, we motored away from the float to get out from the shore – about 200 yards – and then shut it off. The motor didn’t go on again until we came back to the mooring, just southeast of Stevens Point, to wait for the tide. I turned just a little late when we tried to pick the mooring up under sail, with the current running in. This led to employing “crass mechanical measures” as Bill Cheney puts it; otherwise we would have made it, and the motor would not have been started again until docking. (I wasn’t inspired to try docking under sail on the first day, with so little experience of how this unusual hull handles.) That was all pretty exciting for a first outing under sail, including the excursion out of Joy Bay, and a couple of miles down Gouldsboro Bay to Point Francis and back.
While we were getting the rigging in order, I had also been arranging the cabin for sleeping and general living. With the boat going up and down on the mud right at the float it was easy to gradually get things set up, and then to try sleeping aboard. It was a major treat, even before going anywhere at all, to have such a comfortable place to be, right by the shore. This is what I had envisioned, going into this project: a nice spot out of the wind, dry when it rains, and flat when the tide goes out, right there down the path from the house. With a view. It was worth all the effort, just for that.
Even better, then I went sailing. After that first sea trial under sail it was clear that the boat would work for going places too. As a test, I headed off down Gouldsboro Bay and around Dyer Point, out by the Sally Islands, to go into Dyer Bay, which is the next long skinny water to the east. Amazingly, after all this time since we moved here I had never gone all the way up Dyer Bay, even though it is really just around the corner. This was a lovely opportunity to explore, and to get in touch with folks I had recently met who live up that way. Quite a bit of fun was had, including some good sailing in both very light and somewhat stronger breezes.
Anchoring, or rather, retrieving the anchor, was a bit tricky. The boat has two bowsprits with rollers at the front for anchor handling. In any bit of breeze, whenever the boat swings to one side or the other as the anchor is being pulled in, the rope and chain want to jump off their roller. It’s also a good bit of work to hold a line under that kind of strain, without an easy rest along the way; that big cabin really catches the wind, and pulls quite a bit in even a mild breeze. A chain stopper, which would also serve as a guide to keep the rode from jumping off its roller, was in order.
The simple kind of chain stopper from the boat store wasn’t going to work, because of the angles involved when pulling in the rode by hand, or when using the big winch on the side of the tabernacle. Annie Hill generously shared a whole series of photos of her arrangement that solves this problem, which helped with understanding just what was needed.
Making a chain stopper like Annie’s would involve custom welding and metalwork, to adapt an off-the-shelf anchor roller. That prospect was daunting to arrange, especially on short notice so there would be time to go sailing before the season got too late. We decided to put together an interim version mostly out of wood. This we could do right away, thanks to some help from Chipper and his band saw, and a collection of bolts that were easy to get. I already had a small metal slotted flap, which I took from a commercially available chain stopper that hadn’t worked out; attaching this small plate to a larger piece of wood did the trick as far as grabbing the chain. A picture is better for explaining:
The result is quite sturdy, and just needs a couple of additional bits of thin metal to protect the wood from wearing away when the chain drags in from an angle. In fact, the whole thing has been working so well that I’m in no hurry to replace it.
Once the chain stopper was in order, the boat really became a free bird. Supplies were loaded on – food and water – and I started making longer trips.
I had thought to sail this boat with crew, but coronavirus threw a real wrench in that plan. Suzanne had kindly come for the first sea trial under sail, but a daysail down the Bay is pretty much the limit of her interest in the actual floating part of this project. So given that there is nobody else in our “pod,” solo it was. As it has turned out, this has been workable. I’m looking forward to an autopilot, which will make things a lot easier for longer trips, but the boat is surprisingly good at steering itself with the wheel locked, and it was generally doable to go a bit of a distance.
GREAT AUK is also surprisingly capable, much more so than I expected. While my original plan was to stick to protected bays and coves, with carefully timed forays in very settled weather to get around the points that divide those sheltered waters, the boat is happy to do more. It is heavily ballasted by the large battery banks for the electric motor, as well as by the rather thick copper plate sheathing on the bottom. The boat moves happily over waves, and will run downwind with a sense of real security, including when the breeze comes up.
Going across the wind as the waves get bigger does not inspire so much confidence. Not having a keel, if the boat did go over things would be very bad. All the weight on the flat bottom, and the buoyancy of the large cabin sides, would probably keep it from rolling over – but only if gear inside the cabin did not fall and break the windows on the downside of that roll. The prospect of that gives me fits, and gear tiedowns are an ongoing project.
So I have been carefully feeling my way, both adapting to the greater than expected capabilities of the boat, and finding the edges where its design as a houseboat/barge delineates the limits of what is prudent to undertake.
Interestingly, Dave Zeiger, the designer of the boat, who has been sailing flat bottomed barges for decades, pointed out that the bottom of the boat really wants to match the surface of the water. So if the boat is sailing across the waves, completely apart from any heeling due to the wind, the boat is adjusting its orientation to match the angled surface of those waves. This is much more pronounced than in a boat with a curved hull, which tends to respond more to the weight of its ballast, preferring to be a bit more upright. In a barge, if the waves are not dangerously steep – nowhere near enough to tip the boat past its point of secondary stability – and the sail is managed cautiously, then the angle on the waves is really not the boat trying to roll over; it’s just adapting to the surface of the water that it is on. I found this very, very reassuring, and have been gradually coming to trust the boat more, at the same time as keeping an eye to the limits of its overall stability.
Dave is, of course sensibly, stressing that I am sailing this boat well beyond its design specifications. While other Triloboat designs are intended to be capable in more demanding conditions, this one really is meant to be a houseboat. But I am intrigued by what appears to be possible.
Also contributing to my sense of security is an aspect of the design that I added, drawing on traditional boatbuilding in Asia. Below deck, this box barge hull is divided by solid bulkheads into 6 separate watertight compartments. These have been functioning as intended: if water gets into one (we are still working out hatch gasketing), the other compartments are unaffected. Once the hatches are all reliably sealed, the boat is not likely to sink, even if somehow covered with water. The cabin, cockpit, and foredeck are all above that watertight box, meaning that waves where they don’t belong would be messy if they washed through the cabin, but would not affect the boat’s floating. Likewise, if there were a hole or a leak in one of the compartments, the rest of the compartments would still be intact and watertight. The only catch has been the steering cables running below deck, which has added a bit of complication, but it’s still pretty good.
I would however really like the boat to stay right side up, and I’m paying careful attention as I learn the way GREAT AUK handles.
The other funny thing going on is that, as readers of this blog might remember, a while back I had decided that I might very well be done with sailing. Then the idea for this boat came along, for peaceful floating in gentle coves, which did still seem appealing. The project has taken a good three years, from its first ideas, and while I have done a bit of local sailing in the intervening time, mostly I had a big rest from knocking myself out going distances in boats. Typical of rest, somewhat more substantial forays are starting to look a little more interesting again, especially given the opportunity to be truly comfortable at the same time.
This year, I was gone on the boat for a total of about five weeks, in a series of shorter trips with time at home in between. The longest voyage was to Rockport, in Penobscot Bay, where I had the great fun of going to see my Aunt Patsy, as well as cousins and friends.
Adventures were had throughout those weeks afloat, including a good bit of night sailing to catch the favorable wind and tide. It was a pleasure.
The boat came out of the water on October 26th.
There’s been some additional work at West Cove: bronze angle is now on the chines, for extra protection from rocks, and the “leeboard retaining bars” have each been reinforced with a metal strip (not yet attached in this photo, but visible on the floor), as the oak alone showed a somewhat alarming amount of flex when on the upwind side with the leeboard down.
Now GREAT AUK is home on the trailer, in a pullout at the upper end of the driveway.
Solar panels went on the top of the cabin over the course of the fall; wiring is still in progress. Installation of an autopilot is also underway.
The winter cover went on this past week, so the boat is snug, ready for the weather.
Over these next months, when things are warm enough we’ll keep working on projects.
When anchoring, it’s important to know how much line, or chain, or combination of the two that you have out. The overall combination is called the “rode,” whatever you use. There are calculations for determining how much rode you should let out, based on the depth of the water, the height of the tide, and the height of the boat’s bow off the water; the term for that ratio is “scope.” I’m not going to go into that calculation here, but for those who would like a reference here is one, and many more can be found with a quick round of Internet searching. There is a little more about scope added on at the end of this post. https://www.boatus.com/expert-advice/expert-advice-archive/2019/january/how-to-calculate-anchor-scope
Once you know how much rode you ought to have out, there is the question of how your rode is marked, so you’ll know how much you have sent overboard.
There are colored plastic marking tapes sold at marine stores, which go into three strand anchor line quite well. But you can’t read them in the dark. They also don’t attach well to chain, and putting them into “8 plait” anchor line (one of the tradenames is Brait – nope, not receiving anything for that) does not seem friendly to the line, with possibilities for chafe. That’s the last thing you want to worry about, chafe at regular intervals in your anchor line. I switched over to 8 plait a few years ago because it doesn’t kink, as well as that it takes up a lot less space in its locker than three strand. I’m very happy with it, but the marking question became an issue, which led to the approach described here.
The old-time traditional way of marking anchor line involves different types and colors of fabric, and leather, in a specific sequence, which seems much too complicated, and also not good in the dark. So far as I know, nobody else besides me is doing the version described here, but maybe it will be helpful for those who are interested. I’d like to thank Dave Zeiger of Triloboats.com for his post about his approach to lead line marking, which inspired my thinking for the arrangement I settled on. Dave’s version, for his and Anke’s lead line in the deep waters of coastal Southeast Alaska, is found here: https://triloboats.blogspot.com/2012/03/our-lead-line-plumbing-depths.html
My version uses small knots and big knots: small ones represent 30 feet or 5 fathoms, and big ones stand for 90 feet or 15 fathoms. My charts all use feet, here on the New England coast, so that’s the unit I’ve learned to think in, and that’s what I’ll refer to from here on out. (Those who think in fathoms could easily switch it over.) A string is tied into the line every 30 feet, with knots in the string that correspond to the length of the line from the anchor.
I ordinarily use 60 feet of chain for the first part of the rode, so the chain is marked at 30 feet with colorful wire ties on a number of links, to make them easy to notice on the way by. Sixty feet is marked by the transition between chain and line, and then the strings start at 90 feet; all of these can be seen in the photo at the top of this post.
The kind of string that has worked well for this is tarred nylon seine twine, which I discovered thanks to the the author of The Complete Rigger’s Apprentice, Brion Toss, who talks about using it in many ways. Thanks to the Internet I was able to find it years ago, and now I use it in many ways also. It is sturdy, comes in multiple thicknesses, does not rot, and holds a knot without slipping. I’ve used it for lashing in many places on the various boats, where the seine twine is still going strong after years in the weather and many miles of use. (Not receiving anything for posting this link – it’s just here for readers’ convenience) https://www.memphisnet.net/product/2192/twine-tarred-seine
Here’s what the markers look like, tied and ready to be added to the line:
On three strand line, I think it’s worth looping the marker around one strand of the anchor line, and back through itself, and then weaving it over and then under the next two strands, so it is well-fastened. On 8 plait, I loop it around one pair of strands and back through itself, and then work it over and under a couple more times. With this weaving in mind, when you tie the markers it’s good to leave enough length for those extra tucks. It’s important to tuck the knot that forms the big loop, to avoid confusion.
One of the things I like about this particular arrangement of knots is that it works roughly even when one is tired and “stupid” from cold or too long a day, or whatever else. The first big knot is “about 100 feet,” two big knots and one little one are “200 and a little,” two big knots and two or three little knots are “200 and some,” or “200 and a lot,” and three big knots are about 300 feet.
The funny thing about this arrangement is that 90 feet can be represented by either 3 small knots or one big knot. The reason I do it this particular way is to keep that pattern that roughly follows the number of feet in hundreds. Fatigue and impaired thinking are nothing to mess around with, and it helps to have systems that work easily even when thinking has gone fuzzy.
I had never drawn this arrangement out on paper until pondering trying to explain it for my friend Janine, who is starting in on her new-to-her sailboat. But now I’m happy to have the printed key. I think I’m going to laminate a copy and post it by the anchor lines on Great Auk.
A couple of thoughts on scope:
Unlike the link that I posted above, almost everything one finds suggests that one should generally use a minimum of 7:1 scope for anchoring. But then you go out and anchor where there are other boats, and find that people look at you like you’re a crazy person, if they ask how much line you have out and you tell them the amount that correlates to 7:1. They are also affronted, because it means there’s not really enough space for them, when everybody swings around. People I’ve talked with who anchor routinely in very deep water use a lot less – sometimes as little as 2:1 or 3:1. That seems iffy to me, but things probably work differently when anchoring in something like 60 or 100 feet. And some folks in regular anchorages use those small amounts. Though dragging in regular anchorages is more common than it ought to be.
Further, it really matters what kind of anchor you use, when calculating needed scope, and this does not seem widely addressed. Danforth style anchors really do need 7:1 to bite in properly. At the other end of the spectrum, fisherman anchors, also called yachtsman – the kind that people put in tattoos – do fine with quite a bit less. And other anchor styles seem to fall somewhere in the middle. There is a really nice video about this, at the video subscription publication Off Center Harbor. I believe that you can see an abridged version of the video without subscribing:
Years ago, in writing back and forth with Dave Zeiger about his Triloboats designs, he used the above term, which sent me running for my dictionary. “Pulchritudinously challenged” was how he described his Triloboats designs; I thought it was just stunning of him to get right out in front of that touchy issue. The boats can be an acquired taste, visually, and it took some time for my eye to adjust. However, form follows function, and I am nothing if not smitten by good, capable function.
My new boat, GREAT AUK, is a variation on Dave’s SHANTY Triloboat design ( http://www.triloboats.com ). I made some adjustments, to suit my particular wish list. Mainly, the cabin is shortened, providing substantial outdoor deck space, and the entire deck, inside and out, is all on the same level. The giant tabernacle forward provides for low stress raising and lowering of the mast, which is raked forward for ease of sailing with its junk rig.
All of this, as far as I’m concerned, is funny-looking. I went crazy with the paint scheme partly just to have some fun, and partly because no matter how it was painted, there is no way this boat was going to blend into the background and be unnoticeable. Since one of my highest priorities is also avoiding getting run over by large traffic, bright colors provided for some additional safety too, following on the original theme.
Basically, this boat is a mobility-accessible party/houseboat, a bit more seaworthy than those nice flat-decked pontoon party boats, and capable of a certain amount of sailing. It’s arranged for its occupants to be able to get out of the weather, at the same time as enjoying all the beautiful scenery, having good visibility from inside when underway, and warming up on cool days in the northern sun.
Triloboats are designed for easy building, and for taking the bottom – going aground when the tide goes out – in comfort and safety. The copper sheathing means no bottom painting, and extra protection if one goes down on a bit of a rock where one was hoping for flat mud or sand. The straight sides are less complicated to build, and use construction materials more efficiently, than curvier shapes, with the trade-off being the loss of a certain amount of gracefulness of line.
As Dave said, it is indeed pulchritudinously challenged. But cute, in its own way, and functional enough to make up for all of it. In case anybody was wondering, and might have been afraid to bring up that touchy subject.
[Drawing: Christopher Lariviere]
All of this is of course now carrying on in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Maine is on lockdown, with the roads gone eerily quiet and our usual nice visits with friends and neighbors shut down. So boats carry on. I was recently quite sick, and am better now – no official test, but it’s possible that it was the real thing. An antibody development opportunity. Wishing everybody, around the world, all the very, very best as we move through this time.