Fake it til you make it.

I realized I had been on the boat for a few days and hadn’t actually sailed yet. As we pulled out of NYC at dusk, I thought maybe now is the time; it would be cool sailing out of Manhattan. Great idea! Sailing for the first time in a decade, out of one of the busiest ports on the east coast at sunset. What could possibly go wrong?

Verrazano-Narrows Bridge


We passed underneath the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, turned into the wind and got the sails up, before heading out of the channel to the open ocean. Initially I could easily see the channel markers, and track out our path on the radar screen as the light faded. No problem.
Luke and Capt’n immediately went down below to investigate and try to resolve the numerous mysteries of Sailboat Liberty. I was up on deck sailing alone; albeit nervously. I got this, I thought to myself reassuringly.
An enormous cargo ship passed to starboard. As I marveled at how big it was, an even bigger one passed to port. I didn’t even see that one until it was coming up right behind us. How did I miss something so massive?! It was full-on dark now.
My initial thought was to follow that container ship out. But I second-guessed myself and so tried to follow what I thought was the channel. I was having a hard time following it in the dark and felt I was drifting to the wrong side. The Captain came up as we passed a channel buoy to starboard, “You are a little close to that.” I probably had a sheepish look as I thought “Hell yes! I am close because I only just saw it!
The Captain cocked his head, contemplating that something wasn’t quite right here. At the same time we came to the same conclusion- I’ve sailed us totally out of the channel to port. I was outside of the channel buoys, on the completely wrong side of the channel. Basically It’s like I am driving on the breakdown lane on the wrong side of the highway, going against traffic. Thankfully no boats were around. Cap’t calmly walked over to the helm…”Let’s get us back on course.”
That was the last time I was behind the wheel, which was fair enough. I’m not sure ‘fake it til you make it’ applies to sailing. Whatever. I haven’t sunk us…yet, and I was loving it…. when someone else was sailing.

Categories: East coast sailing - November 2021 | Leave a comment

Liberty x2


We sailed down Long Island Sound, passing Rikers Prison at noon, the whole island encircled with barbed wire, and then sailed onto the East River. Down past the UN, under the Roosevelt Island tram and both Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges.

Roosevelt Island Tram
Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges
UN and Chrysler buildings
Ferries and Empire State Building



It was quiet – only us and passenger ferries from the boroughs buzzing about on the water. Manhattan seemed almost calm from the water even though I knew there was a mass of humanity just beyond the shoreline. I imagined an office worker, high up in a skyscraper looking down on us, muttering to himself, “Wish I was on that boat”.

We hooked below Manhattan and refueled in New Jersey. I ran and grabbed a few more supplies, as we heard a storm was heading up the coast and we had to make it across Chesapeake Bay before it hit. We weren’t planning on stopping again, to achieve that goal.

We relaunched as the winter sunset turned the sky behind NYC orange, and posed for photos as we sailed past Statue of Liberty on Sailboat Liberty.


NYC
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Categories: East coast sailing - November 2021 | Leave a comment

Mal de Debarquement syndrome

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After 24 hours on the water, I got off the boat to go to the store for more supplies; most importantly, more Dramamine. I stopped by the marina bathroom on the way. It wasn’t long after I sat down that everything started rolling like I was still on the boat. I lost equilibrium and almost fell off the toilet. It felt like the ground was undulating. like an earthquake; Mal de Debarquement syndrome! You feel like you’re swaying and rocking even though you’re not, you can’t shake the feeling that you’re still on the boat.

I braced myself with my arms on the walls of the stall but It only got worse, I started to feel like I was now going to be sick. Not good! It would be a tough, unpleasant maneuver in this small toilet stall with multiple biological expulsions going on simultaneously. I did the math, the geometry just didn’t work.

Luckily things calmed down and the floor stopped moving enough for me to start to slowly walk to the store. It was fine when I was moving, but when I stopped things got weird.

I started wobbling around gathering supplies. It was early morning and the few people around kept their distance. Funnily enough, I don’t think it was because of the pandemic – I was definitely not looking my best after spending the night barfing off the deck of the boat. I had six layers of clothing on and with MDD syndrome I was stumbling down the aisles. It was only a matter of time before someone called the local authorities.

The night before I couldn’t wait to get off the boat. Now I couldn’t wait to get back to sailboat Liberty.

Categories: East coast sailing - November 2021 | Leave a comment

I was fine…..until suddenly I wasn’t

I took a preventative Dramamine before we launched out of Portsmouth, Maine. I haven’t been seasick for decades but my stomach over the years has gotten a bit more sensitive so I definitely haven’t been jumping on any roller coasters recently.

We got offshore and the wind was off the beam at almost 20 knots and the boat was bucking in the swell. It wasn’t too bad, a walk in the park for Luke and the Cap’n. But I seemed fine and didn’t want to show any weakness. I played it cool but I took a few ginger tablets over the afternoon and felt good all day.

I was getting ready for bed and was going to sleep in the front cabin. Luke warned that “The front cabin can be rough, the couch in the middle of the boat might be calmer.” I confidently responded “I’m fine, if I start to feel crap I’ll move.“

I laid down in the cabin and it was definitely bumpy but I fell asleep for a bit before the wind starting blowing harder and I woke up startled, bouncing around the bed. I spread out like a starfish to stay on top of the bed. But I still felt fine….until I suddenly wasn’t.

I scrambled out of bed and tried to get up on deck, fast. The floor was rocking haphazardly and I was pinballing around the cabin and not quickly getting anywhere near topside. It was like being in a tumble dryer. Time was ticking dangerously and my stomach was about to detonate. I lurched up the ladder and leaned over the deck rail and puked, just in the nick of time. Although if I’m completely honest, I basically leaned out as far as possible from the cockpit and puked on the deck; It was way too rough to go out on the deck and have the possibility of falling overboard!

I felt better, so went back down to grab a few more layers, a blanket and sleeping bag. I went back up to the cockpit and tucked in under the canopy to protect me from the cold, wind and spray. I wrapped the blanket around myself and stuffed myself into the sleeping bag.

Luke came up at one point to ask if I planned to sleep up there- Affirmative! No way am I going back down there.

I was the only one topside except for an occasional visit from the Captain. I faded off to sleep. Albeit a fitful sleep. I kept waking up slightly dazed at an ocean bleak and angry; a strong, blinding cold wind. The lights of Boston were barely visible as a glow on the horizon.

The boat was on autopilot, basically sailing itself. The large rudder wheel would spin as the autopilot constantly corrected course. Like some invisible entity was sailing the boat. Ghost ship.

Morning Sunshine

I woke at dawn; with the sun rising above the dark ocean and below the gray sky. The sea and wind had finally calmed, slightly. I felt good, my stomach has also calmed and considering I had slept outside all night, I was warm, dry and rested. Mind you, first thing up that morning was a big glass of water and a large dose of Dramamine.

Categories: East coast sailing - November 2021 | Leave a comment

Working out the kinks

Liberty


Got to the Marina just before dark. I had only seen a picture of Luke’s boat, Liberty. It was a beautiful 47ft sailboat from the late 80’s with wood trim and nice lines. We had some beers on the boat and crashed early.
The Captain showed up around nine the next morning. Luke had lashed the dinghy to the metal frame on the back of the boat trying to get it as high up off the water as possible for the trip south. I’m no expert, but it looked a little janky. The first thing Capt’n did was study this rig, silently, and for a long time. A really long time. “This is not going to work.” So we spent about half an hour securing it higher off the water with some limited success. But it looked good for now and we had to get going, so we fueled up and started heading south.
Out of the harbor we set sail and Liberty heeled over. Almost immediately the edge of the dinghy was hitting the water. Not too much, but clearly it would have to be addressed at some point, probably sooner rather than later. Not long after that the bilge alarm went off and didn’t shut up. Luke went below to investigate; pulling up floor boards to reveal a combination of diesel fuel and water. The bilge pump got it under control but we decided to pull into a harbor to fix the dinghy and investigate the leaks further. We had only been on the water about five hours. An inauspicious start.
We got the dinghy up almost another foot higher. It wasn’t going anywhere, but looked a little crazy with ropes like a spider web lashing it down. As I manually pumped the bilge free of the diesel mix, Capt’n was calm, “it is a nice boat just have to work out the issues. No surprise being it hasn’t been used much in the past five years. Plus it goes.” Luke seemed confident, although a little dismayed. I personally love boat Liberty; it is fun, fast and reeks of diesel. And as Captain says, it goes.

Diesel in the bilge
Dinghy after a lashing

We were off again. Set sail and blasted out of Portsmouth harbor, Maine as the sun set. The dinghy was now well out of the water. Got offshore and pointed south. The wind was westerly at 15 to 20 off the beam and in no time we were doing almost 9 knots. Then the manual bilge pump failed. Should I be worried? Wait! No! No!… I’m not worried about sh*t! I’m all in. Let’s go! Let’s go! It’s November in Maine and I’m freezing my butt off. North Carolina or Bust! It was on!

Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse
Categories: East coast sailing - November 2021 | Tags: | Leave a comment

The Call

Tuesday Oct 26; Luke, one of my oldest friends called. “Buying a sail boat and need help sailing it from Maine to North Carolina. The sale isn’t final and I need to get insurance and an experienced Captain to help. That should happen in the next few days. I have to sail south before it starts to snow in Maine.” I started weighing the chance of this actually happening. Sounded like a lot of things needed to fall into place in a short time, so I was figuring maybe a 30% chance. Too low a possibility to concern Helen with it. She already has a lot on her plate, no need to unnecessarily have her think I might have to fly to Maine and sail down the Eastern Seaboard, at a moment’s notice.

Wednesday; Luke called back, “it’s on and we have leave to leave in a week.” Unfortunately that wasn’t going to work for me. We had long ago booked to stay in a cabin on the water that we wouldn’t be able to cancel. The timeline didn’t line up. I did mention the scheme to Helen, just in case, but she agreed there was no way it could work.

Another day, another call from Luke on Thursday. Change of plans. There was a good weather window in a few days. “We can get you back in time for your trip but you have to get here soon, so we can launch Monday at first light.”

We have a travel philosophy that if a unique opportunity comes up; just say yes. It has almost always worked out. This definitely fell into that category. I ran the new plan by Helen and I got the “are you kidding me?” look. But after some quick processing she also realized the potential of this endeavor; “you should go – it sounds like an amazing adventure, BUT – you better not miss our plan to go away.” I then told her I might have to fly at 6 am that Sunday. A sideways glance and a long pause, “Too early, take a Uber, I am not driving you.” She is not much of a morning person. I immediately texted Luke and his wife, Vanessa,”it’s on! but if I’m not back in time SHE WILL KILL US ALL!”

One other minor wrinkle. We were staying with friends for the next two nights, which meant I would get back home with only about 12 hours before my flight. In that time I still had to finish up some work, pack, tie up some other random things AND try to get some sleep before the alarm at 3 am.

Panic packing

Got the work done and started to pack. You would think by now I would be good at packing and getting ready for a trip quickly. I am not. Must be hereditary, my parents were terrible at packing for a trip. Finished at 11pm so my list of other things went by the wayside. The alarm went off but I still didn’t really have it together! Thankfully my lovely wife got up, got me on track and got me out the door.

Made it in plenty of time to the airport and once on the flight, I started to get my head around what I had signed up for. I was a little apprehensive. Me, Luke, H and Vanessa had taken the first two certifications of the American Sailing Association in the Bahamas almost fifteen years ago. Basically we learned how to sail a 30ft boat. Luke’s new boat is 47ft. And of course, I haven’t retained much of those courses from long ago; (nothing to do with the beautiful Bahamian rum of all shades that I imbibed during that trip,) and I haven’t sailed a boat since.

Now I’ve signed up to sail down the Atlantic Coast in November and I don’t really know what I am doing. Which side is port again? I didn’t want to be a liability, and this wasn’t going to be a leisurely cruise. We would be going non-stop day and night. It was going to be an all-out race to beat the weather.  

Categories: East coast sailing - November 2021 | Tags: | 3 Comments

Wolf beach

This is a story from my first trip to Kyuquot Sound in 2010; I wrote it in my journal but I never posted it here. Not sure why; maybe because I lost my camera overboard on the trip or maybe because the woods kicked my ass. (Because of the lack of photos, for this post I’ve tried to recreate some images from my trip by using my non-existent art skills for your viewing pleasure.)

I was in the remote Kyuquot Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island. I landed on the calm side of Rugged Point on a small protected beach and the first thing I noticed was two sets of canine tracks in the sand. Fresh and big, almost the width of my hand. Too big for coyote, plus coyotes aren’t found in this area – but wolves are!

Massive, very fresh wolf print on a beach. Vancouver Island

I’ve camped in wolf territory before and wasn’t that concerned at first. I once had a wolf wander through my campsite in Yellowstone. So I set my tent up on the beach over the tracks.

Wolf beach

I became a little more nervous after I went to the other beach just one hundred yards away and it looked like a dog park, wolf tracks everywhere. So once I got back to my tent I started thinking about camp perimeters, defensible positions and immediately searched for a weapon. I was obviously a little spooked. I have no problem with bears and have seen them often in the backcountry but I’m not as familiar with wolves. Plus there is something about wolves; bears eat honey and put out forest fires. Wolves eat Little Red Riding Hood and grandmothers.

I found a thick piece of driftwood 3 feet long with the weight of a Louisville Slugger. It had a large knot and barb on one end; A backwoods mace. I dubbed it ‘Wolfstick’ and it didn’t leave my side for the next two nights.

Wolfstick

With heightened alertness, I finished setting up camp and made dinner. The campfire was raging as twilight set in. When I said I have no problem in the woods alone with large carnivores afoot, I have to admit that sometimes, on the first night, I can still be a little sketched out. As darkness crept in and after a few nips of Jameson whisky, paranoia started to infiltrate my mind.

Shadows in the woods, odd noises in the dark, beasts lurking, skulking, hunting. Then a disturbing thought crossed my mind; what would I do if I saw a pack of wolves charging down the beach at me. This scenario seemed not only possible, but in my semi-inebriated state, entirely logical and inevitable.

So I ran through my options:

Plan Alamo.
As the wolves bear down I would jump up on the massive tree stump on the edge of camp. Thick underbrush surround 3 sides of the stump meaning the assault could only come from one direction, the East. Standing tall on the stump and as wolves launch themselves at me, I would bat them out of the air with Wolfstick. Facing overwhelming odds I would be like freakin’ John Wayne as Davy Crockett in my favorite childhood movie, The Alamo. Sounded good in theory but we all know how that ended for Davy.

Plan Dunkirk.
I could grab the kayak, drag it to the shore and launch into the water and safety before the blitzkrieging wolves got me. H and I have successfully used this tactic before to evade a large brown bear in Alaska, (but that’s another story.) Clearly the chance of this plan succeeding with wolves was zero. Unlike the British at Dunkirk the wolves would be on me before I could get anywhere near the water.

Plan Retreat.
I could basically make a run for it. The rickety wooden outhouse was under a hundred yards away down a path. I could make it if I was running for my life, which clearly, I was and I could barricade myself in the stinky, fly-infested outhouse. John freakin’ Wayne never had to barricade himself in an outhouse, but it looked like my best chance of survival.

On the second and third day I calmed down. I wandered the beaches and overgrown trails through the woods. I went for a long walk to a stream for water. I wasn’t now worried about an immediate attack but was still acutely aware of my surroundings and Wolfstick was always close by.

During my six day tour of Kyuquot Sound, I never did see a single wolf.

Categories: Kyuquot Sound, BC - June 2019 | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Crazy Mink

Soon after arriving at camp in the Bunsby Islands, I did a little recon of the beach and immediate area. Nothing much out of place on this little NW island paradise, but on the small pocket beach, I did spot some tracks, thankfully not wolves or bears but small, delicate, almost cat-like.

Mink tracks

The tracks weaved up and down the beach and I deduced they were Mink tracks. Everyone’s favorite beachcomber energetically bounds all over, looking for food. They are said to be rare on Vancouver Island but I’ve been lucky enough to have seen them often; Fuzzy and adorable, I shudder now when I think of my Grandmother’s stole.

I was on the lookout to see the local critter and it didn’t take long; I was reading on the beach and glanced up to see a dark, small weasel zig zagging about 20 yards away; he hadn’t seen me yet. This was a rare ‘Black Mink’;the dark color of a chocolate lab. His immaculate fur looked so soft that I wanted to grab him and rub my face on his belly. He was bounding around speedily, up and under the driftwood, darting about like he’d raided my coffee stash. As I fumbled for my camera, he calmly turned and parkoured his way back into the woods.

But it wasn’t long before I hear a noise behind me coming from a pile of driftwood. The mink pops out and then starts running down a log, straight at me. He’s only a few feet away and bearing down on me; the way I was sitting he was about to collide with my head. I nearly got my wish of rubbing my face on his belly, but just before impact I squeal, jump up run down the beach and he again bolts into the woods.

He has disappeared, I slowly walk back to my perch muttering “WTF is up with this crazy Mink!?” (Not sure if I should worry, but on these long solo trips I do find I talk to myself, even when not being charged by weasels.)

I sit, glance up and ‘Poof!’ there he is again, sitting on a log staring right at me. He wasn’t there moments ago. Crazy Mink has magically appeared on a piece of driftwood and is now giving me the stink eye. He looks at me, then slowly scans my messy camp, as if to say, “who the hell are you and why is your crap all over my beach?” He shrugs it off, and playfully bounces off down the beach again without a care in the world. I watched him leave again, muttering ironically to myself, ‘Crazy Mink.’

Categories: Kyuquot Sound, BC - June 2019 | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Gimme Shelter

On day two I had just about finished setting up the tent when, ‘pop’!’ – one of the tent poles broke. I quickly disassembled the pole before it ripped through the rainfly. The ever-so slightly inconvenient issue of *maybe* not having a functional shelter for the next six nights on this wet and rugged coast was certainly not going to shorten this trip. Even though I’ll be completely off the grid and miles from anyone- No big deal. I’ll just hope for no rain!

Busted!

My initial optimism quickly faded when I realized I hadn’t had a complete understanding of the problem – a full explosive rupture on the joint where the poles connect. It had completely shattered with metal pieces now missing. Not only that, but on both pole sets, other joints also show stress fractures at breaking point. Thankfully I bought a new roll of duct tape for the trip; I was going to need it all. I taped the stress fractures and made a splint of flexible cedar strands for the break and taped it heavily.

 

Cedar splint

I used so much of the tape, I wouldn’t have enough to redo the splint if it didn’t hold. I found a spot sheltered from the wind and set up the tent. It looked ok – “That baby is going to hold!” I shouted. I felt like a backwoods MacGyver; pretty badass. I figured it could last the whole trip, only would time will tell, I thought. And that time was about 10 hours.

Splint on tent & solid ?

The splinted joint buckled but thankfully held. But the structural integrity of the tent was compromised – crooked, I couldn’t close the door and it threatened collapse. But it held up. 2 nights down – only 4 more to go.

Holding together, barely

I packed up quickly the following dawn. I couldn’t collapse the poles fully with the taped joints and so had to stuff them in the bulkhead, I was lucky not to break them even more.

I was hoping to find a sheltered spot at the next campsite where I would be for three nights. I found the ideal camping spot in the Bunsby Islands; a flat tent sized-clearing in the thick underbrush, just off the beach. Totally surrounded by thick vegetation and sheltered from the Pacific winds. I ran a guide rope to a nearby tree to keep pressure off the broken pole. This kept the tent upright, moderately stable. Still couldn’t close doors but I was fairly confident it wouldn’t collapse. It held strong for three days.

Camp Bunsby Point.

On the last night I camped further up off the beach in a sheltered spot behind a downed tree. The tent was now in really bad shape, but it somehow held together. I was surprised, the odds had been against it surviving, I really thought it might self-destruct. Lesson learned; check tent poles before getting on the water.

Last night

 

Categories: Kyuquot Sound, BC - June 2019 | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Oystercatcher

Oystercatcher

Right when I landed on Smith Island I noticed a pair of Oystercatchers on the beach. They are an odd-looking, large black chunky sandpiper with bright red beaks and eye rings. As I unloaded the kayak they kept those eyes on me from the rocks on the small ismuth that I would be camping on for at least a night. This was unusual; Oystercatchers are usually shy and fly away making their distinctive call. I came to the assumption that they must have a nest nearby, maybe in the high grass off the beach. Unfortunately it was a small beach and we would have to coexist.

While on the beach late in the day, one of the pair was trying to lure me away from the area. Walking closeby then sitting down. As I took a step towards them, they got up and moved a little further and sit. And repeat.

At one point I spotted them on a small rock outcrop twenty feet away. One settled down and sat for a few minutes before moving down the beach. I waited until they were further away before I took a look. Out in the open, sitting on some broken shells, were two perfectly camouflaged, beautiful speckled eggs. It was a non-nest; no nesting materials at all, just two eggs sitting in the middle of the beach. Hidden in plain sight- lucky I didn’t inadvertently step on them. I snapped a few quick photos and hurriedly retreated.

Oystercatcher eggs

I started dinner near the tent, quite a distance from the ‘nest’. I started to became concerned when the parents had not returned for some time. Had I scared them away? Were they going to abandon their eggs?

Eggs on the beach

Imagine my relief when they finally appeared to gently sit on the eggs. For the rest of my stay there I kept a respectful distance from the expectant family and diligently watched where I stepped.

Categories: Kyuquot Sound, BC - June 2019 | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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