Below are my feeble attempts to capture some simple stories of recent memorable sails. So far, these are writings I recording on the Daily Log. I needed a place to store them and since they didn't really fit anywhere else I created this separate page. I'd like to go back and capture some earlier sailing adventures on other boats but for now they are about short trips on the White Oak River on our 9' Fatty Knees, Sweet Pea.
Escaping the Heat
It was too hot to work on the boat . . . too hot to do much of anything outside. So, I spent some time continuing to gather information about the refit and mods and doing a few chores around the house. One way to escape the heat and still sail is to do it at night. So, last night I went out for a great sail on the Sweet Pea, our 9' Fatty Knees dinghy. The air temp was still over 80 degrees. I left about 2115 and started the beat against tide and wind. The wind was out of the southeast and pretty light at about 8 knots. When I left there was the faintest bit of blue remaining high overhead in the western sky. I could see two jet contrails stretching out from north to south and behind them in an upright position was the big dipper. Cassiopeia was opposite but lower in the north east. Moon rise was about 2200 so for the first 45 minutes it was quite dark. I tacked down river and as I closed on Jones Island we softly touched bottom. Raising the dagger board about six inches and a quick tack to port put me back in deeper water. It was so dark I couldn't see the marks till they were about 20' away but I know the water pretty well so I confidently tacked back and forth continuing to work my way down river. Once I made it to the dogleg about 2/3 of the way past Jones Island, I could pretty much lay the west end of the Highway 24 bridge in Swansboro on port tack. I sat back in my little ship with the moon rising over my shoulder and the lights of Swansboro and Cedar Point lighting the way out ahead. The Sweat Pea bravely sailed through the darkness healing about 15 degrees. At one point we sailed into some mirror flat water but the wind was still steady and instead of the burbling sound of water along the hull I began to hear a "whoosh" coming off the bow wave. It was magic . . . like we were being pulled along on an underwater rail. The current accelerates as it gets compressed through the constricted water under the bridge and soon we began to get strongly set to leeward. It took about a half-dozen tacks to find the right line between getting too far out into the current and keeping clear of the disturbed wind in the lee of the bridge. I have a long running challenge to make it to the self designated turn-around point about 25 meters off the Bicentennial Park which is right on the edge of too much current and too little wind. Once I reached it, a quick jibe sent us speeding along down wind and down current back towards home. During the run back I was able to get a better view of all my old friends: the Big Dipper and Mizar, the Little Dipper and Polaris, Draco, Cygnus and her light orange star Deneb, Vega, and Cassiopeia as well. Way down in the south I could clearly see Scorpio with the very red Antares, and to the east the teapot of Sagittarius. By the time I was heading home the light of the nearly full moon obscured some of the other constellations I always enjoy seeing, like Delphinus, and Sagitia, Aquilla and her bright star Altair. It was a beautiful night for sailing on the quiet waters of the White Oak River. I luffed up to our neighborhood dock about 2315 surprising a young couple enjoying more than just the star filled night . . . ah, the pleasurable discoveries of youth. Alas, my sail was over. After loading the Sweet Pea on the dolly I pushed her up the gentle hill to the main road and thence about 100 yards to our home. It may be too hot to work on the Far Reach but sailing is never far from my mind.
Last night I went for night sail in the Sweat Pea, our 9' Fatty Knees dinghy. It was very dark on the river since the moon did not rise till well after I set sail. The breeze was warm, balmy, and steady at 10-12 knots. I took my headlamp (I never turn it on) and a D-cell flashlight--to signal boats should they get too close. It was slow going against a strong flood tide and it took an hour and 45 minutes and about 40 tacks to sail all the way to the Swansboro bridge. Early in the sail, I saw a couple of fishing skiffs racing home before full darkness arrived. Just before I reached the bridge--the turn around point--I was overtaken by a bay shrimp boat working his way out of the river with a powerful search light. Other than that I owned the White Oak. Just as I began the run back home, the stars and a low and very orange full moon were washed out by fast moving clouds. I could hear the low rumble of thunder and see flashes of light on the southern horizon as a summer storm began to move into the area. The river banks and small grass islands were mostly hidden in ink black shadows. It was very rewarding to find all the marks on so dark a night on this fairly wide but shallow river, yet never seeing them till they were close aboard. The darkness of night and the heavy humid air seemed to magnify the sound of water burbling along the hull. There is nothing like the heeling of a boat under you and the warmth of the breeze on your face to make you feel close to the earth and her awesome sky, wind, and water.
An Early Spring Sail
Though it is still cold at night it was a very nice day today. The air temperature got up to about 58 degrees though the water temp remains a very cool 43 degrees. It seemed like a good time to take our 9' Fatty Knees dinghy, Sweet Pea, out for a sail. During the summer the kids often go with me. They enjoy sailing over to an island in the White Oak River that is part of the state park system. We bought the Sweet Pea used about five years ago (part of our long range plan). She is a fine little boat. She sails and rows great. She will be the tender for the Far Reach. I have her on a Sitech Dolly in the back yard and we just roll her down to the neighborhood boat ramp and launch her into the White Oak River when we want to sail. This close to the ocean (about two miles to the inlet to the Atlantic) the White Oak is very much a tidal river.
Today, I decided to sail her down stream to the Highway 24 bridge and back. I like to sail on the last part of the flood tide when going down stream so I have it going with me on the way home, always nice if the wind dies. The tide here can rip along pretty good, though with a decent wind I can normally make good headway into the current.
Today the wind was perfect. About 10-12 knots and steady. The wind and tide were on the nose for the trip down the river. It took about 15-20 tacks and well over an hour to make it to the bridge but it was an easy and all-too-quick 20 minute sail back home. The Sun was out in all his glory. The sky was a brilliant blue. There were some wispy cirrus clouds off to the northwest. It was great to get out on the water, feel the boat come alive, smell the saltwater, and hear the water burbling along the hull.
Beating down the White Oak River.
A nice run home.
A Chance Encounter
This past summer, driving across the bridge that passes over North Carolina’s White Oak River, a rugged but sweet looking sailboat anchored off the Swansboro waterfront caught my eye. As I drove I kept glancing back and forth between the boat and the road. “About 30 ft. . . .gaff cutter . . . plumb bow . . . outboard rudder . . . a few rust streaks”. Hmmm, I thought to myself. “I wonder if that is the Zartman’s Cape George 31, Ganymede?” I recalled reading an article about them that reported they were headed up the east coast after their passage from California to the Caribbean via the Panama Canal. And those rust streaks . . . I remember reading he had welded a few external fittings from mild steel as a temporary solution to get Ganymede to sea rather than to keep her on the hard slaving for the perfect boat.
The Zartmans on the left and the Stones on the right. Ganymede is in the center of the background.
For those that may not know, Ben and Danielle Zartman have been sailing for at least 10 years. Ben is a regular contributor to numerous sailing magazines. Recently, Danielle published her first article, “How We Hooked the Kids,” in the August 2011 issue of Boat US magazine. I had always admired Ben not only for his willingness to forge ahead regardless of the obstacles but also for his humorous and self effacing writing style. His efforts to build his Cape George Cutter Ganymede from a bare-hull have been well documented in his every-other-month column in Cruising World. After three years of hard work, the Zartman’s launched Ganymede in August 2009. After a short sea-trial Ben sailed Ganymede down the coast of California to northern Mexico where he was joined by Danielle and their three girls ages 6, 4, and 2. From there they continued to sail along the coast of Central America with stops in El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. After transiting the Panama Canal and cruising to Cartagena, Colombia they headed north along the western Caribbean and finally up the US east coat.
It was scorching hot on the Carolina coast in August and knowing they have three small kids I did what probably any sailor would do. I turned around and headed back over the bridge and into our little town to scout for them. Sure enough I spotted them walking back from the local Piggly-Wiggly, grocery bags in hand. Introducing myself, I quickly offered the use of the air-conditioned guest room over our garage, washing machine, showers, etc. To my delight, they accepted.
They spent three days with us and what a treat it was. Our kids, Eric and Cailin, played non-stop with Antigone, Emily, and Damaris. My wife, Gayle, and Danielle got in some girl talk between supervising the antics of five kids playing together, all under the age of 11. Ben and I talked sailing late into the evenings. I peppered Ben with questions about his many experiences and the conclusions he has drawn from them. He graciously spent some time on my Cape Dory 36, Far Reach, land-locked in a shed in my back yard. With the Far Reach only 25 feet from my back door, I gutted her about two years ago as part a major rebuild. The plan is to simplify and strengthen her for the rigors of off-shore sailing as well as to make her more suitable for the needs of my family. Though we have made a lot of progress, I was very interested to get Ben’s input on various design changes. As we discussed the projects it was obvious that our sailing philosophies were very similar. Nonetheless, his thoughtful and insightful advice reassured me that I was on the right track.
Ben also gave me a personal tour of Ganymede, a 31 foot Cape George cutter with drop dead gorgeous lines, which he completed from a bare hull. He did an excellent job designing, building, and installing the fiberglass deck and cabin top. To defeat the nemesis of sailors everywhere—deck leaks—there are practically no holes anywhere in the deck or cabin top. Under the flush cockpit he built a comfortable two berth cabin with lots of storage that provides a separate space for two of his children. He also built in a large water tight compartment forward of the saloon with access via a deck hatch that serves as a work shop and storage area for sails, tool, and ground tackle. Ben also designed and built a powerful gaff rig using an aluminum light pole for a mast (I would never had know had he not told me) and a fiberglass boom and bowsprit he fabricated himself. The high-tech synthetic standing rigging is adjusted by galvanized turnbuckles. Where he could, he fabricated structural hardware from bronze. Where he couldn’t, he welded steel and painted it planning to replace it when more funds become available. Like the Far Reach, Ganymede has no propeller aperture—it’s all glassed in—so her sailing performance is greatly enhanced. Instead of an inboard engine, Ganymede is powered by a four-stroke 8 HP Yamaha high-thrust engine with a wide-blade prop hung on a Zartman designed and built transom-mounted bracket. In smooth water this small engine will push the 19,000 lb Ganymede at about 5 knots. With a flush deck cockpit, she has a lot of room inside. The rugged-built sea going interior maximizes storage capacity while preserving the living space necessary to support two adults and three kids for long-term cruising. Though the interior finish is not New England “high-brow” it is nicely done. His Cruising World articles do not do justice to his boat building skills. As you may have gathered by now, Ben Zartman is not a man to be slowed, deterred, or got off track pursing the “perfect boat.” His determination is perfectly captured by the often overused phrase “Carpe Diem.”
The highlight of their visit, at least for me, was Ben's invitation to sail Ganymede up to Beaufort with him on what just happened to be my birthday. We would sail Ganymede up the ICW (you can’t get a boat that size out the nearby Bogue Inlet into the Atlantic) to Beaufort, and there meet up with Gayle and the rest of the Zartman clan who would drive a half-hour to our six of sailing. Having calculated the best use of the tides, we got underway. After weighing anchor and motoring about 100 yards to the ICW, we hoisted the gaff with a single reef in, shut down the engine, and along with the large, hard-pulling staysail, romped along the narrow ICW never falling below 6 knots. Once we sailed into Bogue Sound the wind picked up to about 18 knots and we tucked in another reef. I don’t think Ganymede ever heeled more than about 10-15 degrees. We sailed the entire 30 miles to Morehead City on a beam reach with a blazing sun and the fierce Carolina heat pressing down on us. All the while, Ganymede raced along like a locomotive with the soothing sound of water whooshing along her hull. Ben kindly allowed me to steer except when I toured the deck and climbed part way up the gaff mast hoops to gaze out across the sun-dazzled sound. Sailing under two bridges, we then came into the wind to beat down the channel, into the port of Morehead City. Ganymede sailed up into the turning basin used for commercial ships, gybed around Radio Island, then gybed again into Taylor Creek, weaving among markers in the clutter of channels going every which way. Finally we opened the anchorage, sailing now in quiet water along the tourist-packed Beaufort waterfront. Dropping the main, we proceeded under staysail alone, skirting the dozens of moored and anchored sailboats with Ganymede still under perfect control. Once Ben picked out where he wanted to anchor (across from the town dinghy dock) we luffed her up and dropped the hook pretty as you please. After diving the anchor to make sure it was set properly, we rowed ashore where our wives and children waited. Taking pictures of the two families, we sadly made our farewells. The Zartmans would continue their journey north while I needed to get back to work on the Far Reach.
The Zartmans have settled for the winter in the Lower Chesapeake to do a few projects and stock the kitty for a cruise to New England and Maine next summer. And charged by our brief visit with someone who's doing just what we Stones wish to do, I'll tackle the Far Reach project with renewed vigor, hoping next time we meet to invite the Zartmans not to our house, but over to our anchored boat.