‘Chewing the fat’

What a folksy expression, but it probably fits what my friend Chris and I are doing on a quiet Saturday. Standing in the garage looking out on the 3-4″ of new snow in the driveway we reminisce about boating experiences.

He describes several times when his fishing boat… recommissioned as a pleasure craft…broke free of its mooring and was reported either by the coast guard or neighbors on far shores or tied up at a nearby wharf. So I counter with stories where the wind lifted my mooring block and carried my sailboat over in front of the ferry slip.

I talk about carefully timing the annual trips to the water in the spring and home in the fall to miss the ferry traffic. He counters with stories of quietly pulling his 28000-pound boat through the center of town on quiet early Sunday mornings pulled by a light pickup truck!

I talk about asking if the weigh station would weigh my boat, only to find it would also have to be inspected to be sure the trailer was road legal (virtually impossible with its 15′ width) and he talks about the challenge of picking up a new trailer in Massachusetts…a state that has no process to issue transit permits.

Sometimes these conversations can be one-upmanship, but I think yesterday it was discovering how much we have in common. Perhaps we can do some things together. After all, I point out to him, my annual fuel costs are about $20 while he can sink $500 in diesel for a one-day trip! But as my wife points out, such boats are able to travel quite independent of wind direction!

Time to pull the boat

The water and air are getting cool/cold enough to take the joy out of sailing and, even with no hurricanes, it is time to bring it home. The challenge is to pick the right day. With the moon phase, the high tides are coming early next week and it requires a high high tide to float the boat onto the trailer without having to back it off the bottom end of the ramp…the planks run out and there is about a 2′ drop off. So tide is one thing…and, by the way Monday through Thursday have good tides at mid-day so there is plenty of time to bring the trailer down in daylight and get the tongue extension bolted on and get the mast lowered before the tide is high.

Next is the question of weather…it appears that there is a small chance of rain every day, but no particularly high winds. So the time is here to bring it out.

I want to try out some trailer modifications which cushion the bow and give a roller to allow the bow to be pulled into place by the person on the boat. Coupled with a redesign of the side supports so the sides do not crush the amas, things should be good. Boat moving is always accompanied by high stress times…what might happen even if nothing actually goes wrong! Wish me well.

Jiffy reefing

Yesterday I finally rigged the reefing for my mainsail. Reefing is lowering the sail part way so it doesn’t present so much area to the wind…especially useful in strong storms where the sail needs to be ‘depowered’ to avoid going too fast…or more likely, blowing over. Jiffy reefing is simply a way to make this lowering easier to do…even from the safety of the cockpit, since one usually wishes the sails were reefed just at the time when the wind is so strong you fear getting washed off the deck if you go forward!

Jiffy reefing is a clever arrangement of light lines (ropes) and blocks (pulleys for you landlubbers) which make it easier to bring the mainsail down to just the right place to tie off the sail at the preset place(s). From the drawing you can see that it requires 3 pulleys and a rope that is fed through the reef cringles (large grommeted holes at the ends of the reef line). When the halyard…the rope attached to the top of the sail that holds it up…is let loose a bit, the sail starts to loosen and drop down. By pulling on the jiffy reefing line the two cringles are pulled down to the boom, holding the sail at the desired height. Then the halyard is tightened so the exposed area of the sail is tight again and the reef lines strung through the holes between the cringles can…if the winds and your courage allow…be tied around the bottom of the boom so the center of the sail stays tight against the boom and the excess sail doesn’t flop around. If it has become dangerously windy, you can leave those lines untied. Interestingly enough, the name for the ‘square knot’ in nautical terms is the ‘reef knot’ because it is the best knot to use for tying off those ropes.

While jiffy reefing makes the process considerably easier…especially when done by a single person…it is always best to anticipate the need to reduce sail before the conditions make it too difficult. I usually gauge the wind before starting out and do reefing and choosing a smaller jib while the boat is safely in the harbor, needing no one at the helm.

Slowly is good

Yesterday I spent an hour or two hooking up sails and running the lines (‘halyards’ and ‘sheets’). It was far different than the times when I tried to launch the boat and rig the mast and sails all in one day. In particular, the stress level is far less when I don’t set a time limit on myself.

In the ‘God is good’ category, the first rung of the mast steps broke as I stood on it two days ago. That heads-up allowed me to be much more careful when trying to get the sail-hoisting ropes around the top pulleys. I used a strap to clip myself in and tested each rung on the way up. Half-way up a weak rung broke, first on one side and then the other. As evidence of my relaxed state…could it be wisdom?…I carefully backed down instead of trying to get past the 4′ gap that resulted–particularly because I didn’t have a solid confidence in the next rung. Since then I have devised a temporary rope step which should safely get me past the missing rungs and I am going to replace the outer nylon rope that was only to keep feet from slipping off the rungs with a non-stretching 1/8″ aircraft cable having rope clips under each rung so the outer end of each will have a solid support…the same approach I used on the previous mast. I think I can restore the broken pieces by drilling a hole and setting a short length of threaded rod as a pin and using a liberal dose of epoxy. See how time to think has helped…I think a word is ‘meditate’ or ‘masticate’ as a cow would chew its cud. I’ve heard that word in reference to Scripture passages, but the principle works with other problems as well.

How nice to be puttering on the boat in the harbor. On a Saturday evening the area was practically deserted except over at the ferry dock. No one is fishing then and no one fails to get on the ferry for lack of space, so there aren’t groups of folks wandering around with 75 minutes to use up. The sun was shining and the winds were light…5 mph on my new weather station! All in all, a moment to treasure.


Now in the water!

Today the boat finally got launched. This year’s problems were relatively minor…one tire continued a slow leak after being re-seated and had to be removed a second time…the wind-vane (brand new) broke off when the mast top swung over the wharf before I had the boat tied up. Oh, one of the mast step rungs snapped off as I was climbing up to remove the mast-raising hook. But on the positive side, the boat floated free the first time and the mast raising went without a hitch. The early-morning rain stopped and the day was sunny. The wind was out of the northwest, which didn’t interfere with the launch or the mast raising. 

Still, even with my wife’s help, I am exhausted. There are so many memories of things that went wrong I continue to wonder what will be next. Perhaps by Sunday I will have the halyards up and the sails attached and actually be able to go sailing!

Synchronizing with the ferry

Here is the ferry departure schedule from Wood Islands for the rest of the Summer:
June 29 – Sept. 3  6:30, 8:00, 9:30, 11:15, 13:00, 14:45, 16:30, 18:15, 20:00
and here are the departures (and arrivals) from the other side:
8:00 (9:15), 9:30 (10:45), 11:15 (12:30), 13:00 (14:15), 14:45 (16:00), 16:30 (17:45), 18:15 (19:30), 20:00 (21:15), 21:30 (22:45)

Basically the two boats make the 75-minute trip on a steady basis with about 15 minutes to unload/load at the ends. Since the cars leave the area like there was a fire on the boat and other cars race up for the boat at the very last minute, the impetuous traffic times are well defined. For making the 2-mile trip to the ramp, the best starting times are 6:30-7:30 (no arriving traffic at the first run) , 8:15-9:00, and 9:45-10:30. 

As I indicated in the last post, the high tide on Friday is at 11:15 but ‘high enough’ runs from about 9 am to 1 pm. I think the best time to make the road trip is about 8:30, since that should allow up to 3 hours at the ramp to get the boat in if any problems were to spring up.

I don’t anticipate any issues with the fishermen since the lobster season ended two weeks ago and the traps should all be home by now. I’d better check to be sure there isn’t some other fishing activity that would be in the way.

Bringing the empty trailer to Graham is a longer trip but it will be empty and light. To avoid any traffic burst I should start out before 12:30 when the ferry arrives from Caribou, NS.

This sounds like a lot of trouble to just launch a boat, but with a 15′ width and no wish to in any way impede traffic or become involved in an accident, careful timing is critical. Since most of the serious boat problems have been associated with launching or retrieval, those are the high-stress times and my goal is to ‘never make the same mistake twice’!