Well, I understand that the blog post titled “Change” accidentally went out to all the followers again yesterday! This is because I was tinkering with settings, on the theory that perhaps it would be good to have this blog not include this particular post and similar ones. “Thoughts on Rescue” is also in this category, getting into the overlaps between sailing and trauma recovery. I have thought of moving these posts into a separate blog specifically for that collection of work.
Now that the post titled Change has been unintentionally brought to everybody’s attention again, it seems like a good opportunity to ask readers – since there are quite a few at this point, much to my amazement! – what you think. Does it matter to anybody, one way or the other? Do you have preferences for seeing the blog Sailing Auklet focused on trip stories, boat organization, and sailing/boat handling, and leaving the deeper stuff about Why Go Sailing to a separate place with a link? Or are you reading this blog actually because it includes the whole story, in all its intertwined, complicated ways?
If you’re inclined to let me know, please do! Either by commenting here or sending an individual e-mail. Thanks!
Next post, a tiny update…
On Monday, September 23, the northwest wind was already in gear well before dawn, and I along with it. By 0545 the anchor was up, with a tiny bit of light coming up in the east, and lots of moonlight. At a little after six I was passing Gayle and Bruce’s house, and shortly after that, with the tide carrying the boat along, we were out of the harbor and off. Leaving, as Sarah Orne Jewett put it so well, the country of the pointed firs. And the beautiful rocks, and the islands.
At least this year I knew what I was up to, and got to say goodbye! Last year, sailing through the night was a plan made in the evening, when there wasn’t enough wind to get in to a Casco Bay harbor before dark anyway. But I didn’t think I’d get so far! That time, the wind came up about 10 PM, and when the sun rose in the morning I was off of Kennebunkport. By that afternoon I was anchored in Portsmouth, NH. It was a bit of a shock, with no preparation, that separation from the islands and the northern trees.
This year I knew what was possible. A substantial northerly wind was forecast, and with a plan in mind, I was setting out for Massachusetts. There were several potential destinations, depending on what the wind actually did: Cape Ann (Gloucester, etc.), Provincetown (on the outer end of Cape Cod) or, as a remote possibility, going completely around the outside of Cape Cod all in one shot.
Going around the outside of Cape Cod all in one go was ruled out pretty early (yes Bill, I heard that sigh of relief) – the straight-line route would have involved being quite far offshore, and the wind forecasts were a bit high, pushing the edges of my comfort zone at 15 to 25 knots. Having the trickiest part at the end of the long ride, rather than at the beginning, didn’t look so great either. Further, once you are through the delicate business of getting into Nantucket sound through Pollack rip, you then have to sail through Nantucket sound! Which is long, full of shoals, and pretty busy with traffic. No naps once you’re in there…
Provincetown was a real possibility, and in hindsight, it would have been a lot easier. Even though it was considerably farther than Cape Ann, it would have been a broad reach through the biggest waves in the first 24 hours, and later when the wind went to the west it would still have been possible to maintain the desired heading.
At the time, it felt like that course would have been a bit much, as far as distance from shore in the feisty weather. And it would have left me still needing to either sail back to Cape Ann, or to do something about getting past Cape Cod, in order to get home. Added to that, my brother, sister-in-law and nieces are right by Cape Ann. I was going to be sad if, all the way in Provincetown, it somehow didn’t work to get back to see them.
So Cape Ann it was. Sailing through the night was a little wild. The seas weren’t all that high, as those things go, but they were very steep and short. The boat was fine, and I was perfectly alright, but it wasn’t the most fun sailing in the world. Every now and then there would be a loud, jarring smack, as an especially big wave hit just right, on the side of the boat. I could’ve done without that!
On the upside, it was very fast. By nine in the morning on Tuesday, at 20 miles out from Cape Ann I could see its higher hills. A little after that the wind slacked off, and then went more west. In combination with the “slop and bobble,” that was about it for nice, efficient progress. I had the idea that I wanted to go to Lobster Cove, inside the north end of the Annisquam River. As the wind shifted, that destination, and everywhere else on Cape Ann, involved tacking. Oh well! The first 10 miles weren’t so bad, sorting out by the end of the morning. The last 10 miles took forever.
By six o’clock that evening I had resigned myself to the idea that I would be out for the night. Earlier I had resigned myself to the idea that I wasn’t getting to Lobster Cove, or anywhere else if I kept trying for that destination, as we were, basically, endlessly tacking in place. The boat wanted to sail off to the east of the lighthouses on Thatcher Island, and I had finally given up on trying for shore, and said okay. Heading more broadly on our starboard tack, we actually started going somewhere.
After a couple hours of progress, leaving Cape Ann to the west off the starboard beam, the wind eventually died back to nothing. The sun was getting lower, the sea was glassy, and the boat was making no progress past the bubbles in the water. I got all the night things in order, and settled down for a rest until whatever was going to happen next. The boat was well in sight of the two lighthouses, about 5 miles southeast of Rockport Harbor.
Amazingly, that next thing started in about 15 minutes. A surprising amount of water noise for such a calm time got me looking out the windows. Ripples! Not just the tiny ones that usually start some gradual change, these were significant ripples. I hopped up – funny how a breeze after a long wait is so energizing, even when you are knockout tired – and next thing you know we were really sailing. Within 10 minutes there were whitecaps and I was reefing the sails. All of this with a wind out of the northeast, and some clouds, but no rain in sight. It wasn’t a typical looking front, and no big front was expected, but it did look like it might not last. Lobster Cove came to mind – now a beam reach to get around the corner, and then downwind – but it was a good 10 miles away, and it would be dark in about an hour. And there was that this wind could be a short-term event.
I consoled myself that Rockport, at about 5 miles, was sort of on the way to Lobster Cove, so if things looked just right I could change my mind and continue on. But realistically, the end of the Annisquam River is a tricky entrance through a narrow slot in a bar, and I’m not familiar enough with it to feel good about doing that in the dark, especially with the moon not coming up until much later. By the time I was in the outer part of Rockport Harbor it was getting dark and I was taking reefs out of the sails, and by the time I was in the inner harbor it was night. I had hailed the harbormaster on the radio, and he said I could come in to a float at the edge of the mooring field. There’s no anchoring in Rockport, because it’s so tight.
Last year, sailing with Dave and Anke, we came into this very harbor, also as it was getting entirely dark. That time the harbormaster had us come into the tiny, completely enclosed basin inside the end of the inner harbor, where we tied up to a floating dock against a high stone wall. It was heavenly, and I was so hoping for an invitation to that spot, but was glad to have any spot at all, and didn’t want to push things by asking. Though honestly, I was ready to cry when the fellow on the radio did not suggest coming in there. Rockport Harbor rolls a lot, especially in an easterly wind.
Sails furled and the motor on (this is why it’s on the boat!), I was approaching the float that had been described on the radio. There was a man on the public dock with a flashlight looking toward me – the harbormaster himself, with invitation to that inner dock! I could’ve cried again. By 8 PM the boat was snug on its docklines, and by nine I was sound asleep.
Today is a rest day – much needed. I do get naps during those long overnights. The AIS is there to tell me if there are ships, a kitchen timer is set for two hours, though I usually wake up after one to check on things, and the advantage of sailing during a small craft advisory is that the small traffic is all in port. Before naps I plot the boat’s position and think in terms of the closest thing that I could run into, and the fastest time that the boat could physically get there at highest speed and greatest possible current. Then the timer gets set for no more than half that fastest time. I do like going a good bit off the shore, just to have loads of extra space with nothing to worry about like islands and rocks.
On this overnight I actually got a fair amount of sleep – adding up all the naps, something around six hours. But that rough weather was exhausting, and I was much more tired than after the entire northbound run around Cape Cod. Now it’s fantastic to be in such a snug spot, and to be here for a second night, thinking of when I was at this dock a year ago with Anke and Dave.
And Massachusetts! I’ve gone far enough this year to actually be quite happy to be going home. And I was daunted by the long sailing to be done to get back south. Now it’s in the books! It’s still possible that I might do something to get to the other side of Cape Cod, so as to visit in Narragansett Bay and come home to the Connecticut River. But it’s also possible that this could be enough for now, with the chilly weather coming so fast. There are two or three good boat ramp possibilities in this area, with about a two-hour drive from here to Holyoke. There is visiting this weekend, and perhaps some more visiting after that, and there are beautiful estuaries on the north side of Cape Ann that I would love to explore. So we’ll see what happens…
Aboard a boat, there is eventually the question of what to do about bathroom issues. There are a wide variety of possibilities, from low-tech to high – everything from porcelain toilets and plumbing leading to a treated holding tank, to the newspaper and Tupperware system, which more easily fits the space constraints of a kayak. In between are plastic portable toilets with a built-in tank, and, more recently, commercially available composting heads with special seats that divide liquids and solids. Liquids are emptied every day or two, and solids go directly into a container with peat moss or wood shavings or some other loose, dry material, which can be emptied at longer intervals. There is of course the cedar bucket option, but that seems a little tacky close in to a populated shore.
What with various boat projects, and home arrangements related to health issues, I’ve tried just about every system out there, from porcelain to Tupperware. When I started seeing reviews a few years ago of commercially available composting marine heads I was delighted – who knew that you could fit a composting head system (with which I was experienced on shore) into a relatively small boat! Looking at the prices I wasn’t so excited, at $800 or more, and looking at the dimensions and requirements for electrically powered ventilation, I was even less excited. And then the container for the urine didn’t seem well-connected with a small opening, but instead prone to spills in the motion of a small boat on big waves. For a while I was back to the rectangular gray box that river rafters use, which worked fairly well on the Peep Hen.
But for the Chebacco I was inspired to think on this again. Ventilation was still an obstacle – I wanted neither the vent pipe in my vertical space, nor the fan, with its noise and power usage. Mentioning this to the Alaskans, Dave said “oh, my brother and his family have a composting system – it’s in a closet in the cabin, and it has no vent, and there is no terrible smell.” Bingo! It should be mentioned that the brother and family also live in Southeast Alaska. This arrangement might or might not be so workable in a significantly warmer climate, but I like to sail north.
I looked again at the commercial versions, with the idea that one could simply choose to not connect the vent. Still too bulky, and that issue of the possible spillage. While running around the Internet looking into this, I came across an item called the Privy Kit. http://www.ecovita.net/privy.html This is designed for people with outhouses, on land, who wish to divide the liquid and solid materials for composting. Bingo again! About $100, a special toilet bowl for directing materials where you want them to go. Bonus, the drain point for the liquids, which is intended for connection to a hose, is just the right size for an empty gallon water jug, like the kind that spring water or milk comes in. Well-contained, a workable size, and when the jug eventually gets nasty it can be easily replaced. I haven’t had a use for the Styrofoam seat that comes with the Privy Kit, but friends who live with actual outhouses – which can be seriously cold in the winter – are looking forward to giving it a home.
So now we were down to the question of how to put all this together into a boat-friendly system. Additionally, in this boat one goal is to have a head that is “accessible,” meaning manageable from a mobility perspective, in the worst of times. That puts the head right next to my berth, at a height similar to the toilet in the accessible stall of a public bathroom.
As it turns out, that design parameter happens to exactly fit what you end up with if you use a regular 5 gallon bucket for the solids container. Think of that! Additionally, for use in this boat, that height makes a convenient low table, as well as a handy seat in between the berths. It’s always nice to have anything on the boat serve at least three jobs, thoroughly justifying the space it takes up.
In order to make this a low-smell arrangement, especially since it has no vent, it made sense to mimic the commercial version that has a cover for the solids container. And here’s another one of those serendipitous dimensions of the Privy Kit. They may have planned for the liquid connection to fit a gallon jug, but I’m willing to bet that they didn’t actually plan that the opening for solids would neatly go together with a “splash guard” from a medical supply commode!
Somebody else will probably have a much better solution for this, but this one works too: medical supply commodes are those metal frame chairs with a toilet seat that work so well for people who can’t get to a bathroom. They come with a flanged bucket, for use in a bedroom or wherever else, and they come with a flanged plastic sleeve, so that you can put the metal frame over a toilet, as a way to get more height and better handholds. The plastic sleeve then directs everything into the toilet. Which is exactly what we wanted in our five gallon bucket! The inverted commode splash guard, with the larger diameter flanged end down, just fits snugly, at an angle, into a 5 gallon bucket. And, miraculously, the slightly smaller plain edge fits just around the angled outside of the solids opening in the Privy Kit toilet bowl. This takes care of closing off the space between the contents of the bucket and the inside of the head cabinet.
The fussier job, because it needs to fit just right, was making a removable lid for the solids opening in the special toilet bowl. Our prototype was cut from a piece of 1 inch sheet Styrofoam, and covered in plastic wrap, with some duct tape to make a handle on top. That worked just fine, but we have since made a sturdier one, with a foam core and fiberglass/epoxy surface, with a drawer knob for a handle. They both work…
After the interior details were sorted out, it was on to the woodworking phase, making the head cabinet. The cabinet has a door for access to the gallon jug for daily emptying, a piece of plywood cut out into a flat toilet seat with rounded edges, hinged onto the top of the cabinet, and another piece of plywood that fits over the toilet seat making a removable flat “tabletop” surface. That top cover piece has another smaller piece screwed onto its underside, that just barely fits into the toilet seat opening, so there is no slipping when the cover is closed.
Originally it seemed like that top piece should be hinged, and that’s what we did, so there were separate hinges for the toilet seat (for access to the 5 gallon bucket) and for the top. But that made the top very awkward, and unmanageably big, because the toilet seat piece that it was covering is also the cover for the whole area with the 5 gallon bucket and the gallon jug, one in front of the other, inside the cabinet. So in the end that top cover was divided into two pieces: one to be completely removed for use, and the piece toward the back that did not need to be removed, which was screwed down permanently to the back of the toilet seat piece. This has worked much better than the hinged version of the top cover. It is less awkward, and that back piece provides an edge that makes the removable cover more secure when it’s in place. We thought about hinging the cover at that cut, but didn’t want the scratchy hardware on the surface of the table/seat during the head cabinet’s other uses.
I haven’t gone back to check the dimensions of the commercial version of composting head, but I understand better now, why they need to be a bit large. However, building this object into the boat as part of the overall furniture has made it more manageable. As the design was going forward, Theo, who is a highly skilled woodworker, suggested that it would be quite easy to curve the entire side of the cabinet that was going to take up space in the middle of the cabin. What a brilliant idea! You wouldn’t think that this would make all that much difference, but in terms of foot room and space for moving forward and aft in the cabin it has been a wonderful adjustment to the plan. Then after the cabinet was built it was screwed in securely where the long flat side meets the flat side of the port berth.
In use, the procedure is to put a half inch to an inch of peat moss (from the garden store) into the bottom of the empty bucket, and a gallon jug onto the drain where the liquids go. Because of the height of the 5 gallon bucket, a piece of two by something needs to be under the gallon jug to support it. Each time solids go into the bucket, peat moss is added to cover it. Each time liquids go into the jug, a little water is poured into the bowl to rinse it. Seawater works fine for this. Toilet paper goes into a separate container. Theoretically, toilet paper will compost just fine. But unless you fold it or crush it into a very compact little wad, it creates too many air spaces and doesn’t allow peat moss to get where it needs to be, and odors are more of a problem. I’ve found it simpler to just get rid of paper separately. If some paper really needs to go into the compost it helps to fold it up, or to pour on some water afterwards. Stray water in the compost is not a problem, and neither is a small amount of urine. It’s also not a problem if “solids” are not really… additional peat moss will take care of all of those situations.
Occasionally a rather startling white fungi-looking growth starts in the compost, in one spot or another. This seemed alarming at first, but I’ve found that sprinkling peat moss directly on that area makes it go away completely – maybe it dries it out, or maybe the fungi don’t like the pH of the peat moss. At any rate, it doesn’t seem to be the end of the world, and with peat moss applied it’s almost immediately gone.
As for emptying, the gallon jug, with its cover, goes nicely in a canvas bag to carry to a public bathroom, or in open water it can be emptied over the side. In very enclosed harbors – for example Cuttyhunk, or Great Salt Pond at Block Island – I have started a second jug, and stored the first one for emptying all of them after I am out of the harbor. Over the winter we installed a holding tank on AUKLET for exactly this reason. So far it’s just been there for show, but it does mean that the boat is legal for Canada and for the Great Lakes, and if circumstances meant that I would be staying for a week in one of those enclosed harbors, I’d be glad to have the tank.
A note about emptying over the side: last time I checked, within the three-mile limit, as well as on lakes and rivers, it was legal to pee directly off the side of the boat, but not legal to pee into a container and then dump it over the side. We know who this law favors! This seems blatantly unfair, as well as encouraging unsafe behavior. In Alaska, a shocking number of drowned fishermen are later pulled from the water and found with flies undone, suggesting how they came to be falling off the back of the boat in the first place. If it’s legal to pee directly off the boat, it should be legal to safely use a container and then dump it overboard. (End of speech.)
The 5 gallon bucket can be taken care of in a number of ways. I generally empty it every 1 to 3 weeks – it could go longer, but gets heavy. The easiest way to do this is at sea, outside the three-mile limit. Technically, even outside the three-mile limit materials that are legal to dump need to be in small pieces. The following is probably in the category of TMI (“too much information”), but the bucket contents tend to turn into much larger clumps. I have a plastic trowel, the kind sold by camping supply places, for breaking up the contents of the bucket before dumping. The trowel cleans up just fine with toilet paper and seawater, followed by a couple of days of sunshine in the cockpit, which both takes away smells and is an outstanding disinfectant. Far out to sea where nobody is fishing or lobstering I don’t worry about that whole last bit.
Other alternatives for the bucket contents are emptying into a trash bag and putting it into trash on shore, emptying into an outhouse at home or along the way, or emptying into a larger composting container at home for further composting, which when finished looks, and smells, like regular soil, and can be used for flowers and trees, though it’s not recommended for vegetable gardens.
A 30 gallon trash barrel works well for home composting, with screened ventilation (stopping flies) at the top and enough water to be moist but not soaking wet. It’s important that the home compost barrel is metal rather than plastic, because plastic trash barrels nowadays often have pesticide mixed into the plastic. If all those beneficial composting microbes get done in by pesticide, there will be no compost! Surprisingly, the 5 gallon bucket, with a regular lid on it and a bungee for a little more security, is not nasty as far as smells, and is easy to transport home in a regular car without problems. When it’s doable I empty the bucket at sea, but we also keep a home compost barrel and swap out 5 gallon buckets during shore support visits, for areas like Long Island sound or any of the big bays, where one can easily be in more enclosed waters for weeks at a time.
For winter storage it’s a good idea to let the cleaned bucket and other parts be where there is plenty of air movement, like in the garage. Just like the hoses in an ordinary big-boat head system, odors gradually sink into the plastic. But the good news is that given plenty of circulating air, those odors also completely go away. Being an ordinary 5 gallon plastic bucket, it’s also easy to alternate between two, allowing the one that’s not in use to be airing out. This isn’t a big deal, but last year after getting home and thoroughly cleaning the whole thing we reassembled it, ready for spring. Spring came, and after being all closed up for months, we wished we hadn’t done it that way!
The bottom line is that the homemade composting head has worked out really well, in over 10 months of daily use, including the seven months last year and 3+ so far in 2013. It has been far more workable, and lower odor, than any of the other head strategies I’ve tried. Who would’ve thought!
Yesterday the wind blew from the south, and was forecast to really blow in the night and into today. I was still anchored off of Gayle and Bruce’s house, just a little ways inside Long Cove from where it joins Tenants Harbor. Nice visits, and Patty K. came over from Friendship and out to the boat in Gayle and Bruce’s dinghy. So many thanks to all – what a nice time over there!
With the big wind and a bunch of rain coming, first thing in the morning up went the sails, and I was off to investigate Long Cove further up, even beyond the pretty anchorage at Clark Island, which has been a favorite in the past. Looking at the chart, one can see a good-looking spot with enough water even at low tide, tucked in back of the point on the west side of Long Cove. Shortly I was anchored in back of that point in about 5 feet of water at low tide, near some lobster boats on moorings. Sure did look nice!
By the time the tide was about halfway up, the extra protecting rocks were starting to go underwater, but you wouldn’t think that it would be a big problem since the cove is so long and narrow. However! Waves and more waves. Not dangerous – more like an endless stream of boat wakes. Rocking the boat enough that you would not have wanted to try cooking, or anything else precarious like that. Rats! And the culprit? The steep rocky shore on the far side of where you turn the corner to get in back of this point. Reflecting waves, just like playing pool and banking the ball off the side of the pool table, to get around the obstacle of other balls.
This happened once before, also taking me by surprise, in the East Harbor at Sorrento. There is an island perfectly positioned in just the same way, with the same effect in a south wind. At least in the present situation there are no waves coming across a bar from the opposite direction, giving the boat the uncomfortable jerking roll that it had in Sorrento. But rolling for the top half of the tide – meaning six hours total, coming in and going out – was really a bit much! And I wasn’t looking forward to doing it again in the middle of the night.
So when the tide went down again, making it possible to see the locations of the generous collection of rocks in this area, I decided to try to move further in to the shallow area toward the back of my little corner behind that point. Sails up, anchor up, and lots of zigzagging back and forth with the lead line (galvanized shackle on the end of a string, put over the side to check depths) looking for that sweet spot that would be out of the waves but still with just enough water to float at low tide.
In the end, it was a compromise. Not quite enough water to float, and not really far enough in to get entirely away from those waves. But it was livable, and down went the anchor. One of the nice characteristics of a lead line, as opposed to the electronic depth sounder, is that when it hits the bottom you can feel the way it hits. Soft mud is easy to differentiate from rocks, and after a good bit of zigzagging and sounding, one has touched a lot of the bottom in the area. It was reassuring to have hit mud every time.
The other nice thing about the low-tech approach to this entire move, with sails rather than motor, was that I could really push the edges of the available water, without worrying about running the propeller into the bottom. If I ran the boat onto the mud using the sails it was likely to be no big deal to push it off again with the pole, or at worst to wait for the tide to come up later on. I had debated just turning the motor on and not dealing with sails or sculling, all just to move the hundred and fifty feet into the wind when it was the end of the day. But by the time I was sailing back and forth in the 18 inches of water where I was hoping to anchor, I realized those sails were really doing me a favor! Not to mention that the motorless record since the day of arriving in Belfast got to stay intact for another day…
So the anchor went down in the new location, which in the end had a depth of about 2 feet at an hour and a half before low tide. It was coming up on 5:30 in the afternoon, getting ready to be a nice evening – breezy, but comfortably warm in the 60s. Doing out the tide math, the boat was definitely going to be at least partially into the mud at low. And here’s the fun part: in this very soft mud I had the opportunity to try something that somebody told me about a little while back.
When I was anchored at Dyer Island outside of Milbridge, still on the way east, I had the opportunity to visit with a fellow named Tim. He was out in a very sweet looking open motor boat that day, but he’s also a sailor of small boats, and told me about a neat trick for going down in the mud in a boat with a long, shallow keel. Just as the boat starts to touch the bottom, you make it rock back and forth. He talked about standing at the mast and using it as a lever, but on this boat it seems more effective, getting a better roll, to stand in the cockpit and shift one’s weight back and forth. As the boat rocks, the keel scrapes at the mud, digging a hole. After a bit you stop rocking (digging) and let the boat float until it starts to come down again on the bottom. Then it’s time for another round of rocking. The theory is that by the time the boat is down too far to let you rock it back and forth, it has created enough of a low spot in the bottom that the boat can settle upright, rather than over on its side. Pretty neat trick!
So I did a bunch of rocking and settling and more rocking, just for fun. Between the softness of the mud and the amount of water still left at low tide, it worked like a charm. Eventually the boat wouldn’t rock, and was no longer shifting in the wind, but it was nicely upright. The tide didn’t go out a whole lot further, but it was pleasant to be level for that hour – and not bounced around by any waves at all – and it was great fun to think that the boat had dug a hole in the soft mud! For an added bonus, I was indeed far enough in behind my protecting point to have a bit less rolling when the water came back up, and the water was so shallow that for quite a while I knew for absolute sure that nobody was going to run into the boat!
As it turned out, the high tide in the middle of the night was pretty peaceful as far as waves, and the cove was very peaceful in other ways, and perfectly lovely. Just now the tide is almost high again, and there is more rolling than there was in the night, but not as much as yesterday midday. So I’m considering the exercise a success, at least so far.
This morning I went out and set the second anchor – insurance for the extra high winds that were forecast for this morning, and in a good spot for when the wind goes around to the northwest tonight. If all goes well, tomorrow will be a sailing day, in one of those fine, fall northwest winds. Here’s hoping!
Last winter, one of the boat projects was to make and install a leecloth for the port berth, where I usually sleep. (Apologies for the fuzzy picture.) For those who are unfamiliar with it, a leecloth is a piece of fabric attached to the open side of a berth in such a way that it can be folded away under the mattress, or unrolled and fastened so that you can’t fall out of bed when the boat rolls. Long-distance cruisers use these routinely, especially for sleeping at sea.
This project made it onto the list because of my interest in doing overnight passages, but it has been useful for so much more! First a description: this one is made out of Phifertek, a woven mesh, vinyl coated fabric that I got from Sailrite (just like always, I’m not getting anything for mentioning these names, and my only relationship with them is being a customer). This stuff is really strong, not prone to mold, and allows for ventilation if the weather is hot. It’s the same material that those blue mesh organizer bags are made out of, that come from the boat catalogs. It’s smelly when it’s new, but after it has sat around for a while it’s just fine.
Suzanne and I got out the sewing machine, and between the two of us put this together. It has a double folded hem along the bottom edge for fastening to the wooden surface of the berth, which we later attached using wood screws and trim washers, spaced about 5 inches apart. The vertical edges on each end of the leecloth are covered with strips of sunbrella bias tape (that’s what those folded strips are called – they’re actually not tape with stickum, but something you sew on). This was easier and less bulky than folding and sewing hems, and works just as well for dealing with the scratchy edge of the Phifertek, as well as adding a little bit of strength, and preventing stretching at the edges. Bias tape is also more flexible than folded hems would have been, which has turned out to be really nice when it comes to folding the leecloth away when not in use.
The top edge of the leecloth was folded over once for a hem, folded again with a deep fold to double the thickness in the top 6 inches of the fabric, and stitched. After this is when the bias tape went onto the vertical edges of the whole piece. Then the top edge was folded and stitched yet again, with two rows of zigzag stitching, to form a long, open-ended pocket that is two layers thick. The two layers of the pocket are for added strength, and the bias tape keeps things from being scratchy and ensures that the line that holds the whole business when in use doesn’t get put through the wrong layer of the pocket.
On the boat, we through-bolted one of those hefty, oblong, two-fastener bronze pad eyes up forward and attached a sturdy line with a carabiner. That line runs through the pocket on the top edge of the leecloth, with a good bit of extra tail. In use, the leecloth is unrolled and stretched taut with that line, and the line is tied off on the vertical pole near the head end of my berth. One could just as well use another pad eye, but the pole that we put in for a handhold and for shoulder-bracing when lying down turned out to be perfect in this particular situation. A couple of turns around the pole and then two half hitches, with the second one slipped, makes a sturdy connection that’s still easy to get out of quickly.
Originally, I did indeed use this setup for overnights at sea. It was quite good just as it was for preventing a fall, and then it finally occurred to me to put a firm, fiberfill pillow (which I fortunately happened to have on the boat) at my hips, against the leecloth, and the whole thing got really, really comfortable. At sea on a port tack, which means one is resting against the leecloth, it works like a hammock, feeling quite sturdy and reliable.
A while after that initial use, I was anchored somewhere with a good bit of rolling – I can’t remember if it was from regular waves or boat wakes – and when it was time to go to sleep I thought of putting up the leecloth, just for extra insurance. What a treat! It’s amazing how much better I slept knowing that I didn’t have to stay alert for an extra big wave. It has now become routine that if there are any kind of waves at anchor, when it’s time to sleep up goes the leecloth.
These days fall is coming along, and occasionally the nights have been pretty chilly – 40° outside, and down to about 50 inside the boat by just before dawn. One of those chillier nights coincided with waves and the leecloth, and I was surprised to find how much warmer I was. I have a variety of strategies for keeping warm, which I’ll write about separately, but it was a treat to find that just using the leecloth, with that big pillow alongside, significantly improved things. For one thing, the down sleeping bag that I use more like a comforter on top of everything else doesn’t fall off the berth! And assorted covers are held more snugly. It’s made a noticeable difference, and other things that I do to keep warm have not been as necessary.
As a further bonus, with a little stray fleece clothing added alongside the bottom of the leecloth for padding, my berth is just enough wider to completely support both shoulders and arms without fussing to get into the exact perfect spot. Heavenly. At this rate, I’m going to start sleeping with the leecloth even when it’s flat calm!
For the more local folks who might have wondered, that last night in Cradle Cove worked out fine. With the forecast for the big north wind coming overnight, I got ready to move into the north corner of the cove, behind the island with the little beach to the east. The main part of the front went by with a rain/wind squall in the afternoon, and after that was done I had a tiny sail across the cove to the new spot. Two anchors, and the tide getting low when the strongest wind was forecast, after midnight, and it worked out just fine. A little bouncy earlier in the night when the tide was high, but nothing horrible. I liked that after the squall went by the wind stayed some version of north from then on, so the two anchor lines didn’t even get twisted around each other!
Next day that north wind was good for combining with the tide and going down the bay. Even with the eventual calm, and then wind shift to the southeast (predicted northwest, naturally…) it still worked to get to Tenants Harbor by midafternoon. Now I’m anchored in Long Cove, in a corner I never tried before, near a friend’s house. The wind is predicted to be southwest for days, so I get to stay in the area, which I’m looking forward to.
Among other things, it’s a chance to write a little bit. One way this blog could go over the next while is toward more of a focus on catching up with various bits about the boat and sailing/living arrangements. I’m thinking that I’ll do short posts to let folks know how the sailing itself is proceeding, but unless there’s something extra special to share about that process, after a while it’s all kind of the same – sails go up, anchor goes up (sometimes in reverse order), wind comes and goes, boat and I make gradual progress toward our fall boat ramp. How interesting (or boring!) is that??
So now I’m off to write about the leecloth… which doesn’t sound like much, but has had an enormous impact on my day-to-day life. The southwest wind has started up, and I’m quite content to be where I am, watching the lobster boats, and doing a little more visiting for a few days.
Today is a bonus rest day. After five nights in Belfast, a north wind was forecast for the next day (mostly a make-believe story the weather people tell to cruisers trying to head toward home) and off I went. Light wind, that eventually filled in from the southwest, but the tide was going our way starting at about 6 AM. It runs hard enough through West Penobscot Bay to actually make progress, even when there isn’t much for wind.
The extra treat was that Joanne, of the Pacific Seacraft 25, came for a sail here on AUKLET, for the first half of the day. What a pleasure that was! We left the harbor with the sun rising and a tiny breeze, and two other sailboats also under sail. Joanne’s friend Paul, out for the day from Belfast in his cruising sailboat, JURA, and Margot and Ed on their very sweet wooden ketch FROLIC. Eventually there was a little more breeze, and they all left us in the dust, both of those boats having substantially longer water lines as well as plenty of sail area to match. But it was fun to be actually getting ahead of them earlier, when we had some good luck with being in the right spot for riffles on the water.
Later, when it was time for Joanne to get back to Belfast, Paul very kindly came back our way and picked her up off the boat. This particular maneuver, of crew transfer underway, was new to me with such a big boat – a Westsail 32 – and I’m still thinking on how that went. Among other things, it goes against basic intuition to be sailing along and have a giant boat come alongside, under power, a couple of feet away, water moving at about 3 knots under the boats. Sheesh! I did let out the main sheet so AUKLET quit going quite so fast, which Paul managed to match in spite of some lack of proper communication on my part, so then it didn’t feel quite so hair-raising. Paul had put out three big fenders, complete with fuzzy jackets, and when the two boats came right next to each other Joanne tossed her dry bag onto JURA and then very nimbly hopped over. This exercise is not something that I really want to do again! Though it was lovely to not have to go all the way in to a dock, and then back out to continue the rather slow progress we’d been making in the fussy wind.
Later that day I went into Cradle Cove, near the south end of Islesboro Island, and there was FROLIC, the woooden ketch! The following day was forecast to be southwest wind, and it turned out that they and I were planning to stay and wait for the next northerly. We made a plan to visit the next morning, and I went off to anchor. Next morning, at a nice, civilized hour, they arrived in their lovely rowing dinghy that Ed built. We talked about all sorts of things, but the part that relates to events from the day before is that Ed reminded me that when the Coast Guard wants to come aboard your boat they use that same technique – one boat is to maintain course and speed, and the other boat comes up alongside, with both of them underway. I’m thinking that this avoids problems with uncontrolled rolling in waves, but I still don’t like the vulnerability for the person making the transfer – if someone were to fall between the boats, it would be a very, very bad situation. And even without the transfer, that was one very large bunch of very shiny, well-kept boat awfully close to an unwanted bump at speed! I’d rather have delicacies of steering not have such severe consequences…
It occurs to me now that when the Coast Guard does this maneuver I believe that they are usually using their large inflatable boat, which has a much softer surface, all the way around, compared to a big fiberglass sailboat with a few fenders. If I had to do it again, I would suggest more fenders, both further forward and further aft from the ones in the middle where you expect the boats to touch, just in case. And Margot and Ed suggested that tying the boats together, as for a tow “on the hip,” would be far more secure than simply holding nearby and scrambling.
I’m quite open to comments on this successful but rather fraught adventure!
So now I’m still in Cradle Cove. FROLIC – with Margot and Ed and Joshua Slocum the cat – were on their way this morning. They’re also bound for Tenants Harbor, as a next destination along the way home. But the forecast for today, and the actual look once morning came, gave me that feeling that I would be spending a lot of time floating in the current between occasional bits of wind from an assortment of directions. I could’ve been wrong about this – and a couple of times there was a sweet looking north breeze, and I had definite second thoughts – but now it’s early afternoon and I’m glad that I stayed. It’s 20 miles to Tenants Harbor, and an enormous north wind is forecast for tomorrow. If all goes well, I should have a nice ride in the morning and get to go the whole way.
With a name like Joy Bay, how could one not go there? Actually, it’s a bit off the beaten track, and not so many people do go up that way – this is so metaphorical! But it’s a beautiful spot, and was a really good place to get out of the weather a couple of weeks ago. It’s about 5 miles up from the open water, at the north end of Gouldsboro Bay, with a nice spot for getting out of the way of southeast winds. And blessedly quiet, other than the fellow who lives on his sailboat anchored up there, with lines of Jerry cans along the rail for supporting his many hours of generator use each day. But even that couldn’t take away from the surrounding stillness. It was lovely.
This all feels so long ago, along about now. Presently I’m in Belfast, at the town dock, and have been here for a few days. Suzanne has driven up from Holyoke for visiting and “shore support,” and has just now set off on her way home. The hole in the sail is patched, and fun stuff is done, like replacing the little outdoor thermometer on the tabernacle that was mysteriously broken a couple of weeks ago. And finally we’ve attached the “hailing port” sign, below the name board on the back of the boat, so people can see where the boat is from. Already this has changed the pattern of dockside conversations with folks passing by. Everyone with any connection to Massachusetts specifically says hello!
In between Joy Bay and here, there were five long days of sailing each day, anchoring at night, gradually working west in winds that were generally light and from some version of west themselves. This felt like a lot of work! Then a couple of nights at Holbrook Island, just outside of Castine, and another long day to go about 8 miles upwind to Belfast.
The most exciting thing in these past couple of weeks has been the lovely visiting. Folks came to say hello in Joy Bay, and that was so much fun that on the way out, after the storm that took me there in the first place, I got to stop at their dock and visit some more. Which gave me a chance to hear more stories about the fellow with the generator, and to have the treat of being at a dock for the first time in at least three weeks. I’d been off the boat a while back with the packraft, at the beach on Birch Island, but there’s something special about the feeling of a flat, level surface under one’s feet, wide enough to move in any direction. Thank you Chubba!
And then at Holbrook Island, Joanne, whom I met last year in Belfast, came out with her sailboat to spend the day. This was interesting for even more than the basic visiting, which was lovely in itself. The forecast was for quite strong winds in the afternoon, gusting into the 20s and 30s, and we debated about the best arrangement for visiting. We’d had conversations about rafting the two boats together, hers a very sturdy and substantial Pacific Seacraft 25, and this one 20 feet and a good bit lighter. Knowing that we were in a fairly snug spot immediately behind Holbrook Island, and still being morning before the wind had really gotten in gear, we decided to go ahead and try rafting.
This is a bit against conventional wisdom, which says that rafting – tying two or more boats alongside one another while anchored – is something for calm conditions. But we figured that the wind was not really blowing yet, and we could always change if doing something different started to seem appropriate. So she brought her boat alongside AUKLET, dock lines were attached, and the two boats were doing fine on my rather oversized anchor.
After a bit the breeze did start to come up, and it looked quite doable to keep the boats together, but to put out the Pacific Seacraft’s anchor as well. The theory was that if the two anchors seemed troublesome, then we would raise mine and let both boats ride on the heavier anchor from Joanne’s boat, but I was hoping to not have to do that, since I really liked the spot where mine was set. And of course we could have also simply gone apart and anchored separately. Joanne had her dinghy, so we could then visit on one of the boats. But for the moment we decided to try tying alongside one another.
So Joanne used her engine to move the two boats up, I gathered in the slack on my anchor line, we let the boats swing to starboard, and when it seemed like the second anchor would allow for something between 30 and 45° between the two anchor lines, Joanne dropped her anchor and we each let anchor line back out. With a little tinkering with lengths, pretty soon the two boats, rafted together, were resting on the two anchor lines, shifting the strain back and forth between the anchors as the wind varied, pretty much the same as if there was one boat on two anchors.
It turned out that this worked really well! For an hour or two during the afternoon the wind really blew, with some waves, and spray, and bits of seaweed tossed up to the anchor roller. My little handheld wind gauge registered a gust at 25 knots, there in the harbor, though the steady wind where we were was more like 13 or 14 at that time.
I’m really hoping that this post isn’t scaring anybody – it actually felt very secure, and I was quite positive that AUKLET was having a much nicer time with this big friend than we would have been having on our own. Much less swinging back and forth, and less being bounced around. A couple of days later I mentioned this to Joanne, and she said that she felt the same about her boat.
Eventually the wind let up a bit, and it was time for Joanne to go off. We reversed our process – she hauled in her anchor, with bursts of motor power to help, and I took up the slack in my line. When her anchor was free I let out AUKLET’s line again, so we were back to a nice generous scope, and with the boats still tied together Joanne stowed her anchor and line. When everything was in order she cast off, and was on her way.
So here is my question, for the folks reading this who know about these things: was there something we were missing, as far as understanding risks of what we just did? I’m not understanding why this is something that is “not done.” A partial explanation might be that it’s important to be monitoring what’s going on – Joanne and I did not go below and just think about other things. We were in one or the other cockpit, and then in AUKLET’s cabin, which has the windows all around for keeping an eye on what’s happening, and were paying attention as conditions changed. We did anchor line adjustments, carefully checked that there was no dragging, and noted that the dock lines holding the boats to one another were working fine. And that process was ongoing – it was a little more like visiting while sailing, rather than being anchored and “off duty.” But in that kind of wind, even with the boat anchored singly, a good bit of attention would be going on! And again, the boats seemed to do better than they would have alone, as far as stability and comfort.
So that was a bit of adventure for the week, and comments are invited! I’d be enormously interested to hear both thoughts and experiences on this subject.
Meantime, here I am in Belfast, eating great food and having lots of great conversations. It’ll be hard to leave! The plan is to stay until the wind shifts northerly. It’s a good long trip to the south end of Penobscot Bay, and nothing you want to try without the wind in your favor. Thunderstorms are forecast for tonight, and the beginning of a change tomorrow. But the tide is backwards in the afternoon, when it’s likely to clear up, so I’m looking toward first thing Saturday morning to set out again. Maybe I’ll even get to write another post before it’s time to go!