Saturday, October 23, 2010

Home Port

     The end of our trip down the Hudson was in rain with predictions of winds in the 40's for the following days. Silent Maid would rest in Jersey City while her crew waited on the weather from the comforts of home. It was worth the wait as we sailed from Jersey City to the Manasquan Inlet on a single tack with the wind out of the Northwest fluctuating between 8 and 12 knots. The sea was as flat as a lake as we sailed along the beach, three days of offshore breeze will do that. We had the current running out of New York then into the Manasquan Inlet, it was truly a perfect day for this particular trip and a great way to end a five month cruise.

      We short tacked between the inlet jetties knowing Suzanne Beaton would be taking pictures then took the sail before reaching the railroad bridge. Between the bridges we picked up the Beatons and Wendy for the run down to Mantoloking. It was motor boating and bridges until we reached the Bay Head Yacht club and set the sail for one last time. Bay Head is the town on the transom but we were headed one more south to David Beaton and Sons in Mantoloking where Silent Maid would be wintering.
     And that's it. The sea bag is home, the food has been cleaned out of the galley, the rig is out and soon the boat will be in a shed. But not quite, not so fast, there is still the original Silent Maid back in Philadelphia.
     She is looking pretty good with fresh paint and varnish all around. The multitude of repairs are hidden under that paint and she looks good enough to float though she surely is not. The discerning eye would have no trouble spotting her hog though most wouldn't see it. She is nearly ready to move out of the shop, either to display or to warehouse. I am strongly for display not just because that boat was the beginning of a remarkable adventure for me but because she has had a profound effect on all those who crossed her wake. We were reminded of that everywhere we went and can only hope the new Silent Maid has a similar impact.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hudson Valley

     Around ten years ago it was my good fortune to take the powerboat Barnegat from Kingston, New York to Montreal. Since then I have always wanted to see the Hudson River from New York City to Kingston and this week I have finally got to do it. That first trip was at this time of year and Barnegat is accompanying us on this trip;  even though I am on a different boat and a number of years have passed there is a continuity. There you go.

     The excuse for this trip is to participate in a New York Yacht Club Cruise. That is an experience in itself. Most of the participants are largish power boats that are or appear to be made by Hinkley, the maritime equivalent of a Beamer. Each day has ended with cocktails and dinner some place where I would not normally or abnormally picture myself having either. Whenever possible one should do this sort of thing. Because there is no racing these events are very different in character than the sailing events we have been participating in all summer.

     The River is fascinating  as we transition from the modern city environment to the inspiration for a whole school of landscape painters and back again. As American rivers go this one is steeped in history; mansions,West Point, stuff named after Rip Van Winkle, this neighborhood has it all. Not much sailing though, the motor has been on more than off, but we are sailing downwind now on the return journey, as we approach West Point. The fall color is just getting started here, the weather is crisp, cold nights and fully covered days. Our sunblock consumption has plummeted.

     The Hudson has kinetic scenery as befits the major conduit into New York City. Trains are a constant presence on the river banks, freights run along the western bank and passenger along the eastern. Trains have been with us for long enough that they fit the landscape. Thank the transportation gods that a major highway wasn't carved into the cliffs as well. Rivers have always been about human commerce and even as water born transport fades they often provide the easiest path for rails and roads. The rails are here to remind us how the mansions got built and who bought those remarkable landscape paintings. The earlier flow of commerce on the water still exists, Silent Maid maneuvered some tight bends in the company of barges and ships, and there are remnants of the earlier canal traffic. We went a little out of our way to pass close by the Hudson River Sloop, Clearwater, a replica of a vessel used to transport goods from the end of the Erie canal to the city which now works hard to promote a clean waterway, and there are a few older vessels along the banks testifying to the busy commerce of long ago. As the city drew nearer the traffic increased until we were surrounded by iron behemoths who would barely register crushing our little wooden boat. No questions about right of way here.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Jersey City

     The Liberty Landing Marina has been our home for the past week. It boasts a spectacular view of lower Manhattan with all the amenities of a full service marina. It is sheltered from both the wind and the wakes of the zillion ferry boats that crisscross this part of the harbor. Above all of this is the easy drive to Philadelphia, work and home. The fact is that keeping a family life and a profession going while moving a boat around can be difficult and having the boat a bit closer has been a great help with that. Now if I could determine what exactly constitutes a day off......

The reason for being in New York harbor was to participate in the Manhattan Yacht Club's Classic Yacht Series. This event conflicted with another on Long Island Sound for some reason so both got fewer boats. For Silent Maid this meant there weren't many boats of similar size and speed. In the first race we sailed that really didn't matter. Pretty early on we determined just getting around the course would be seamanship enough.  The course was from North Cove to the Verrazano Bridge and back. There were twenty knots of breeze at the start and thirty at the bridge.  Except for me the crew was totally unfamiliar with the boat and many were new to sailing. They were the staff of that wonderful after school boat building, rowing, youth building program, Rocking the Boat.  We had boat builders, social workers, teachers and development people aboard. A couple were also sailors.

     It is generally not considered fast to train the crew during the start sequence but that is faster than not training the crew at all. We got a late , safe, start and shook out the one reef we had to see if we could catch anyone, we couldn't. The crew had enthusiasm in abundance which is good when sailing through rain squalls. They also had a great willingness at the winches when it came time to wind in the reefs. As we approached the Verrazano the gusts grew in force so we put in two reefs while still headed down wind. In the course of doing this we got above the mark and decided, wisely I think, to tack around rather than jibe. The waves were steep and it took  two tries to build the momentum needed to execute a chicken jibe. We did this again at the mark and were hard pressed until we managed to get the third reef in. Once that was done it was smooth sailing tacking through a fleet of anchored barges. One of the big boats had dropped out just after the rounding so we weren't even in last place anymore. Life was good ....... and wet.

The second day's racing was the opposite of the first.  Light air. The crew this day was large and consisted of A Cat sailors from Barnegat Bay, too many of them for efficient sailing, but a good number for a floating party. A northwest breeze had come in and faded already so the air was as clear as it was still. It was a bright clear day to view the sights of new York Harbor. We even did OK racing, I think, but I won't try to lose readers with the details.

Sunny day photos by Julie Smith
Cloudy day photos by Rocking the Boat

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Back to New Jersey

Where the East River is concerned the focus is the state of the tide and that would favor all afternoon. Silent Maid could leave Oyster Bay in a somewhat relaxed fashion and catch the tide through New York arriving at Liberty Landing Marina in Jersey City before sunset.  The crew had time for breakfast at the mooring before suiting up in foul weather gear and getting out on deck to tuck a pair of reefs in before hoisting. We would sail off the mooring and tack out of the harbor before heading downwind on the strength of a Northeaster. We did motor sail a little as we went by the storied Seawanhaka Yacht Club, I was beginning to think our breakfast may have been a little too leisurely.  I've never been much of a breakfast person and have had to  cut eggs out of the diet. But the rest of the crew shouldn't  be denied their omelets because of their Skipper's limitations.

Things were a little wild out on the Sound with sizable rollers to surf, wind speeds in the upper twenties and boat speeds above seven, punching eight. There was rain, heavy at times. The crew was happy except Wendy who found the motion a little intense. I just had to steer for a little while before tucking in the third reef, what a ride! But I did have to remember how many times we had fixed the steering which was under considerable strain now as the helmsman had to adjust for the quartering seas. The boat would ride up the backs of the waves, hit a peak speed as she crested them in a slather of foam then buried her bow at the bottom of the downhill slide. With all of the weight of the sail on one side it took a great deal of push on the wheel to keep her going downwind. Who cares about a little rain when on a carnival attraction like this?

Once past Execution Rocks, cute name, and nearing the Throgs Neck bridge the wind and sea lost their force and the current became the dominant feature. Before the Whitestone Bridge we had shaken out two reefs, and not long after another. An occasional gust would remind us of what lay just outside the city but soon we were just motoring. We slowed down at one point to pull Maid Service alongside to bail her.  We wanted our transit of the East to read like a tourist brochure, not a big adventurous sea story involving swamped dinghies big currents and commercial traffic. Manhattan is always a sight, but in a northeaster when there is mist and cloud swirling among the tall buildings, the sights might be the best. We got accolades from a few pedestrians and a horn from a tow truck adding to Silent Maid's list of unusual compliments.

We tried sailing a couple times but it was not to be, the winds were too squirrely and as we approached the zone of a zillion ferries down around the Battery we abandoned those efforts altogether.  Crossing the Hudson we rounded up before Ellis Island to take the sail then motored into Jersey City. One last shower drenched us as we approached the dock. There was still an hour of light left so those omelets had been worth it and the crew had certainly worked for them over the course of the day.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Oyster Bay

So far things have been pretty relaxed in Oyster Bay. We came in around sunset on Friday with a ten knot breeze, had enough light to tour the mooring fields, then picked up a mooring belonging to the Oak Cliff Sailing Center whose guest we are, and who maintain a fleet of classic boats in addition to more modern racing boats. Part of the reason things are relaxed is the crew size is small. There is the cruising crew of Wendy, Pete, John and I in addition to Paul and Ellen DeOrsay who joined us for yesterday's race. Another reason is there is no skippers meeting for the races here. The boats race on the same course week in and week out, the variations in wind and tide provide the variety and email provides the course information to those not familiar with it. All of that means the afternoon is spent racing and the morning spent doing whatever needs doing.

This morning that meant washing down the boat, inspecting the fleet from Maid Service and coming up with an entry for this much neglected blog. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday morning. The boat is clean, breakfast was good and we are ready to race.

Yesterday we sailed with a light crew, six, in a northwest breeze that varied between 10 and 20 knots. Our main competition was a Concordia sloop who we could not beat with a reef tucked in. Because of the fixed course the start and first leg were downwind where the boats stayed even, the second leg was close hauled on port tack and here the Concordia pulled away as we were in a lull for the whole leg prompting the decision to shake out the reef. From here we sailed the same course in reverse, Maid closed some distance on the reach, then was able to out point the Concordia going upwind. This was not entirely a choice, with the light crew and too much canvas in the puffs the only recourse was to pinch in the puffs. Between this and a more favorable slant on the left side of the course, the Concordia had gone right, enabled us to pass. On the second time around the course we were able to hold her off, not opening a big lead but not allowing her to close either. On the last windward leg we out pointed her again, a source of some surprise, though she gained some by footing.

It was an exciting time with all the changes in wind speed but afterward we decided to sail around Cold Spring Harbor with a reef tucked in, back to the relaxed mode that suited crew, boat and locale. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Squall

 We had allowed three days for the run from Melville, RI to Greenwich, CT. but we would wind up doing it in two. After a reach down the Narraganset, a beat to Point Judith and a slog across Block Island Sound we entered the Race. We would spend the first night in Mystic, finding the harbor on Fisher's Island too exposed to a southerly breeze.

 Consulting the weather liars  that night we expected a low to move in the next night and kick up a gale lasting into the next day. By the way there was also a slight chance of thunderstorms. Not wanting to deal with a gale we got up with the sun and started motoring down the Sound. We would cram a two day leisurely cruise into one long day.  By lunch time the breeze was up and we spent the afternoon close reaching toward Greenwich clocking between 5 and 7 knots with two reefs in. Late in the afternoon the overcast sky was decidedly darker over the Connecticut shore but not in a spectacular way.  Time to consult the Sirius weather oracle that comes with our GPS. Sometime during our wonderful sail the slight chance of a thunderstorm had become a sharp certainty. We continued towards Greenwich wondering if the squall would get there first. It would. The map couldn't cram more lightening bolts into the patch of green yellow and red representing the squall. The wind numbers were a little scary too.

We set about securing the boat. The sail was furled and the lines all secured as we motored into a darker and darker cloud. The crew had been in foul weather gear for some time. There were flashes of lightening in the distance. There would be no running from this one. Considering how many miles Maid had sailed over the summer she was overdue for a thunder squall and here it was. The weather liars did tell the truth about the wind speeds in this one and as it swept in I decided a port on the Long Island shore would be better; allowing us to motor into he building wind and sea towards the lee of the island. Huntington Harbor became the new destination. The fisherman anchor was readied for use if we should need it. Lightening flashed and thunder crashed right with it. The rain really stung now. The techy, expensive, and presumably accurate wind instruments topped out at 50 knots of breeze. It was good to have the sail down and the motor chugging in all of that. At maximum RPM s we were making two knots into the breeze.

After a while the wind dropped to a sedate 35 knots. Patches of blue sky appeared over Greenwich. Soon we would resume our course to the original destination. The gale never happened.

Photos by Wendy Byar.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Two More Races

I have been in Philadelphia almost a week now. The idea had been to haul Silent Maid, get her cleaned out, leave a work list with the folks in Portsmouth, and go home for a few days. That was last Monday, I was to return on Thursday to get set for the Museum of Yachting Regatta this weekend. Hurricane Earl put the cabash on all that. The Weather Liars had the storm set to track right over Cape Cod right up until it didn't. Given the forecast the smart thing was to leave the boat on the hard until the danger was past. The truth of the matter is I really needed to spend time at work and at home so what may or may not have been smart from a weather standpoint worked  well for living.  The to do lists in both places are stupendous. That could be the subject of another blog, or two.  Unfortunately the race Rock Regatta was cancelled as well so Silent Maid won't be in motion again for another week when she sets sail for Greenwich, CT.

Any person's perspective of a sail boat race varies according to the boat he is on and the job he is doing on that boat. In the last two races with Kathleen I had two very different jobs, being in charge of keeping the boat fast in the first and skipper in the second. The first job means keeping the sail properly tuned at all times with the sheet trimmer making the call on halyard and outhaul tensions and if the need arises putting a reef in. The job also calls for making sure the crew weight is properly distributed at all times. This is a dynamic activity because the weight needs to be shifted with the wind conditions and point of sail and because people have a tendency to wander. No one wants to sit where they are supposed to, that is human nature. So my perspective on the first race is about those things more than about how the start went or the bigger tactical picture, which is not to say I don't have observations and opinions on these matters, they just may not be well informed.

We did get a good start  in the middle of the line with Kathleen to windward. We were too slow sheeting in  but otherwise fine. It seems Bristol Harbor has its own wind pattern with a pretty good breeze blowing while the Narraganset River itself is pretty flat. This would impact racing both days. We had a fading Northwester but at the start Silent Maid's crew was confident we would get the wind she likes. The boats emerged from the harbor side by side and as soon as she could Kathleen drifted off to weather. Silent Maid did not cover, favoring a more direct route to the mark.  The breeze faded then filled from the right favoring Kathleen. who reached the downwind down tide mark first then had to anchor to avoid being swept down river. Silent Maid also anchored and the two boats waited for a breath strong enough to overpower the current.
When it came Kathleen favored the shore and a weaker ebb tide while Silent Maid hoped to find shelter from the current below the island that divides the entrance to Bristol. Kathleen was right and won on a shortened course.

The next day found me in the skippers spot with a great determination to cover my opponent whenever possible.  This time I know the thinking that went into our start and the windward leg up the harbor. We liked the committee boat end of the line and the right side of the course through a mooring field.  We being myself and yesterday's skipper, Tom Emlen, who would call tactics. We started in the second tier and tacked onto port in clear air. The rest of the fleet liked the committee boat and the left side of the course,  a cause of some trepidation as the fleet isn't often wrong, but we were committed to the mooring field. At the top mark we were coming in on starboard below the layline, fortunately the boat above us had to tack as well and we had just enough room to put in a short jog on port then round on starboard. All the boats that had gone left were on port tack and there promised to be a fine mess behind us at the mark. We had picked the favored side of the course after all. Kathleen was in the middle of that, wound up touching the mark, and doing a penalty turn.

Once again there was plenty of wind in the harbor and none outside it so it was with some dismay that we watched Kathleen make up all that lost ground as we drifted over to cover her. This race was from Bristol to Newport, largely downwind, and the two boats spent a good deal of time together. When the wind was above 5 knots or so Silent Maid surged ahead and when it fell below that Kathleen took the lead. Finally Silent Maid recognized a wind shift a bit before Kathleen and moved ahead. The wind had gone further east a little forward of the beam and the crew shifted from windward to leeward as the sheet was slowly gathered. Kathleen was clearly behind now and appeared to favor the shore of ....Island while Silent Maid endeavored to stay between her and the Newport bridge, the next "mark" on our course.  We consulted Eldridge to see which side of the island the tide favored and it was ours. We were surprised when it became apparent that Kathleen was heading for the eastern side of the island rather than edging towards its western shore. By the time we realized her plan it was too late to cover, she was up current after all. We double checked the current charts and resolved to see what happened on the other side. I think she was gambling that a breeze would come in from the east and she would be positioned to catch it first. By this time we all knew our best source of local knowledge was Kathleen's skipper so as we watched for signs of our competitor with some concern as we neared the end of the Island.

Light air sailing is a test of focus and nerves. The weather was hot and sitting in one spot is boring. Almost every crew member can think of something better to do in some other part of the boat. There is always a camera or a drink to be fetched.  Weight placement is critical on a light displacement boat. It is easy to start looking at the other boats more than subtleties of seemingly non existent wind. This is especially true when the fleet is as good looking as this one. Silent Maid with her big sail and light displacement had passed a good many much larger boats but these were only decorations on the race course, we only cared about finishing ahead of one other boat. All that should matter is how to most efficiently drift from wind patch to wind patch but the human mind isn't designed to operate that slowly and so misses things that make all the difference. That nondescript island helped us. It had a scrubby growth and a few abandoned structures, probably from Newport's days as a major naval base. but the fact that our competitor was hidden behind hit helped us stay focused on the task. When would she emerge from behind those trees. Would she have made up ground or lost it?

We emerged a bit further ahead and Kathleen still favored the far eastern side of the course. The sea breeze did come in as we approached the Newport harbor entrance , we could see a light mist over the water and smell the ocean as it filled in more from the south. Kathleen had won the series through superior sailing but we had kept it respectable. and won a light air day.

Sadly the series with Kathleen had come to an end. Sadly because the sportsmanship and competitiveness had been high and the fact that two sizable cats had been racing caught considerable notice. I can only hope this bodes well for serious cat boat racing in New England waters, they certainly have the history for it and there seems to be interest. It would be a great thing to see another big cat built to race there regularly, carrying on in the spirit of Hanley and the Crosbys. It wasn't just about work back in the day after all. We have the pictures to prove it.

Photos by Wendy Byar except the one she is in. I have no idea who took that one.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Report From the Boat That Went

The following is Tim Fallon's account of Kathleen's trip to Bristol. It sounds like quite an adventure on a well managed vessel.

Hi John -

I'm back at work today and just read your blog entry.  I don't know how the MAID would have handled the big weather but I sure can't say that you made a bad decision by staying put. It was the biggest weather KATHLEEN has sailed in and next to a few squalls some of the biggest stuff I've been out in on Buzzards Bay.
We had two reefs and were going easily on broad reach around Monomoy - (oh and saw a big whale, humpback maybe just past the cut near the breaking waves) jibed around Monomoy and at dark the breeze picked up further calling for 4 reefs. Visibility was never an issue but it got windy and the wave height increased with the fetch. There was a lot of steering necessary to keep her headed down the waves and I was wondering how the MAID with her wheel would have handled the abrupt and constant rudder movements. It was an exhilarating ride and the boat felt like a planing dinghy as we averaged 8 knots past Hyannis. We decided to stop in Osterville, home to much of our crew for the night.
We lost 2 crew in Osterville but the 5 of us continued the next day at 10 with more downwind sailing in our future. Relatively easy going down Vineyard Sound as we were able to get into the lee of Falmouth but with 4 reefs we were still doing about 7 knots. The big decision was whether to continue down the sound and in the lee of the Elizabeth's with a more favorable current or go thru Woods Hole. We chose WH so that we could reach across BB while there wasn't a ton of fetch to gain as much windward gauge as we could before it got so that we could only run before it. It got gnarly enough to go to reef #5 when we were 1/2 way across the bay. Reef #5 is to drop the main completely and put up a 420 jib that we brought as a storm tri-sail. BB tower reports that it was blowing in the high 30's with some higher gusts. Under that rig everything was pretty mellow despite the occasional big roller coming over the stern and through the tiller hole. We were doing 4.5 knots with the current. The waves were really big off of Padanaram until we rounded Mishaum Pt. and then Gooseberry Neck and were more in the lee. TUBBY, the Boston Whaler Squall towed beautifully. We weren't sure that we'd be able to turn and go upwind up the Sakonnet as we'd have to put up the sail to do so. It was still windy and the waves were big again as we doused the jib and went up with the fully reefed main. It was slow going as the wind and waves drove us back but we slowly made progress up the river. As we continued north, the waves subsided and after an hour of slow progress we started moving along pretty well tacking back and forth. We put in just before dark off a friend's house south of the Tiverton bridge where she lays to 2 anchors now. 

We had an experienced crew that had sailed the boat a lot, and one with extensive offshore experience. We made good decisions on when to shorten sail and were smart to get windward gauge when it was easy by cutting through Woods Hole. Cutting through Quicks Hole would have been a debachle as we'd have to put the sail up to head to the angle toward Sakonnet Pt. and the waves would have been more broadside.

I suspect you're stuck in Chatham for a day or two. Tony said the fishermen don't even attempt the cut on days like yesterday. Looks like good weather in a couple days though. Look out for that whale on the way out and see you in Bristol.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Stay or Go

We were set to race. It was a distance race with some wind expected so the boat was in cruising mode really. The heavy sail was bent on and the crew was aboard transferring equipment and supplies from tender to cat boat.  Some had traveled a good distance to be with us. Others had worked hard to make sure we had the food and gear we needed. There was every reason to sail and not a few reasons not to. The weather forecasts kept worsening.  Gusts of 25 went to 30 then 35 and even 40. Visibility kept plummeting in forecasts that included torrential rains and patchy fog illuminated by lightening. The wind was from a favorable direction but was bringing waves of increasing magnitude. We were on a calm bay with a perfect little breeze, thinking about going sailing and really wanting to.
This was a chance to even the score with Kathleen. Our boat would be faster in a good wind we were sure and we needed a win.  Yet every report was worse than the last. Thing is they are the reports of the weather liars and need to be taken with a bucket of salt. But the closer the forecast the more accurate it tends to be.  It was my decision and I stayed on the fence as long as I could. I really wanted to go and I am so glad I didn’t.  We did go sailing. Why not? The crew was aboard, the boat was ready and the wind was perfect. We got underway for the inlet.
We motored over to Kathleen to let them know we would not be racing. Tim was determined to go and wondered what would convince me. Maybe I’ve read one sea story to many. All the good ones involving big adventures start with a crew new to the boat, a falling glass, and a determination to push on. Frequently this determination is fueled by some deadline related to a distant job, a sense of optimism, and a healthy or unhealthy skepticism when it comes to weather forecasting. We would sail to the ocean’s edge and see them negotiate their way through the breakers; that was all. But you know I could always change my mind when the time came to head back to a known friendly mooring.  I had gotten off the fence but could still climb back on.
The crew of Kathleen were tying in a pair of reefs before setting off from their mooring. We motored up wind, set the full sail then winched in a pair of reefs. It was good for the new crew to see how this went. It wasn’t too long before we shook one of them out. We had the people to hold her down and no need to conserve energy. We had fun negotiating the sand bars under sail. The local boys on the crew know their waters well and we all had a good time tacking through the shoals working the sail and the centerboard.  It was a while before Kathleen was ready to go so we circled back to meet her once the breakers were in sight.
A couple years back a new inlet opened into Pleasant Bay and changed the character of the place markedly. The current is swifter now and the sandy shoals move around. In general the bay is a healthier place with clean water, thick eel grass and abundant sea life.  Because of this the local seal colony has grown markedly and great white sharks have moved in to hunt. This aspect of the new clean bay, and the houses removed by the new inlet, has some of the locals a little put out but for us outsiders a seal colony of that size on a sand bar was something to see.  No sharks to report his trip though.
Kathleen was working her way through the shoals as we ran down to meet her. Not racing, she had elected to tow her dinghy. We ran past her rounded up around the dinghy and sailed with her for a bit. We had no dinghy and one less reef so we passed her. Another small cat boat had sailed out to see her off and the three of us comprised a small parade. Once we neared the last spit of sand we came about to head back into the shelter of the bay. Just as she approached he breakers Kathleen’s crew broke out a large orange and black flag bearing the logo of Silent Maid.  I stuck with my decision and am writing this in a warm dry cabin as the rain beats down on the roof and gusts of wind cause the boat to sashay around her mooring. Schubert is on the stereo and life is good.  We will set out for Bristol in a day or so when things settle down a little but with the breeze still favoring I hope.

Photos by Pete Byar and John Brady

Kathleen Gets Her Conditions

Those pre internal combustion engine builders knew a thing or two. They valued light air performance much more than we do. Any vessel can get her cargo to market when there is a breeze but it takes some special qualities to accomplish this when there is only a wisp of a breeze and no engine to fall back on. All those boats with fine entries and easy straight runs were about performance at the very bottom end of the power spectrum where the unit of measure is the human rather than the horse.  A human with an oar, or a large sail and a light hand on the helm, can get such a boat and her contents where she needs to go on a barely perceptible breeze.  Silent Maid may have been so named because she had no engine but her owner also had a power boat dubbed the Noisy Lady. I’m sure the Noisy Lady saw employment more than once towing her quiet companion.  Kathleen is a pre gas engine boat and her performance in light air is a testament to that, she would be getting home on the power of her sails no matter how light the breeze.
The starting line was crowded; the Arey’s Pond Regatta had attracted nearly a hundred cat boats. They were staring in several classes but there aren’t many places to go in Little Pleasant Bay so starters and non starters crowded the line. Kathleen took the start and forced the Maid to chase her through the narrows. In the light breeze she showed her stuff and as the fleet  spread out into the open water of the Pleasant Bay she had a pretty good lead. She opted to tack downwind as Silent Maid headed straight for the mark. The breeze was up a little and Silent Maid closed the distance so the two boats met at the next mark with Kathleen on Starboard. Silent Maid jibed over, then back to make the rounding. There was a little breeze now and the Maid showed what she had, pointing higher and sailing faster she gained the advantage and headed back to the narrows in the lead. There was a swift ebb tide running through the narrows as the boats headed that way. The bigger boat strove to avoid grounding while the smaller took her chances outside the channel. It was a risky move, depending on the wind staying favorable and the current on the lee bow as well as staying off the bottom but for the trailing boat it was the only move.  It was a risk with a large return and Kathleen surged ahead through the narrows. She was able to keep Silent Maid in her turbulent air as the two boats headed for the finish. Kathleen completed the course with two minutes over her competitor.
Kathleen is now up two races to one in the series and it is on Silent m
Maid to show what she can do with her size and speed.

Photos:   ©Land's Edge Photography

Saturday, August 14, 2010


     The crew is off the boat for a little while having slept ashore. Silent Maid is on a mooring in Pleasant Bay. It is a sunny morning, the tranquility only broken by the occasional power boat. Water gurgles by the wooden hull, the coffee is percolating. In a few minutes I have to start washing the boat down but for now there is a moment of peace. It is welcome
Yesterday over a hundred junior sailors crossed  the decks of this boat, ferried out to her in a flotilla of whalers and ribs, as she reached back and forth across Pleasant Bay.As each group boarded they got there assignments, steering, sheet, backstays then took turns at each one. It was a full day to say the least, I am a little hoarse from explaining how to steer with a wheel. The decks are gritty with beach sand. The kids were a lot of fun though. In Pleasant Bay Silent Maid is a ship and the bay is dotted with islands containing treasure and even a haunted house.

     My last post vanished into cyberspace, I know not how. This blog thing is by no means perfect. A snippet appeared in a google alert so it must be out there somewhere. It was about hustling down the coast from Penobscot Bay to Nantucket. I haven't had time to rewrite or to catch up with our doings on Nantucket. Suffice it to say we got a "Spirit of the Race" cup and placed respectably for a boat our size. These races aren't consistent in the division of classes or the layout of courses for that matter so it is difficult to tell how fast a boat really is. But does that matter? Think of those kids bouncing around the decks and reflect.

    Now it is time to wash off the beach sand carried aboard by all those tiny feet and get set for the next adventure.

Photos by Wendy Byar

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Eggomoggin Reach

If you like wooden boats the Eggomoggin Reach Regatta is required viewing. The two feeder races add to the build up as the size of the fleet increases with each one. This year's main event attracted 92 boats, all of them gorgeous. This is not including the tenders, often wooden power boats of some size. The hands down winner of the tender category in terms of flat out cool and  classically beautiful, though steel hulled, was the steam yacht, Congarda.

The boats are all yachts, schooners and sloops but only one cat boat. Some carry spinnakers with all the thrills and spills they can bring and some do not. It is a who's who of classic yacht design out there both in terms of design and building, contemporary and from a bygone era. It was a privilege to be in such company I can tell you and doubly so because we were in a small boat that turned heads and did well on the race course. Silent Maid did herself proud, winning her class in all three races. The plan was for the larger boats and the spinnaker boats to start later so they  would sail through the fleet of smaller vessels. Only a few of the biggest sailed by the Maid I am glad to say and those went thundering by, a pantheon of storied big racers, Ticonderoga, Black Watch, Marilee. It was grand thing to see.

The second two races could have been designed so the Silent Maid would do well. Lots of reaching and with her big crew aboard to hold her down Silent Maid reaches right along. In the second race Christian and I manned the tender, Barnegat. She is a 50' wood boat built in 1962 by Stonington boat and designed by Henry Scheel. A displacement vessel with a big rib to tow behind she has a top end of 8 kts. Unknown to us Maid's lunches were left aboard, so while we seized the opportunity to grab a shower before getting under way the fleet was off and running. Silent Maid's crew had very mixed feelings about how long it took us to catch them, even with the engines revving a bit more than they should. We motored through a very large fleet before reaching that hungry fast group.On the way we had the best views in contemporary yachting, no question about it.

The weather for these two races was crystal, a mild cold front having swept the skies clean. The breeze was perfect, the photo ops numerous. I'm sure there are websites packed with good pictures of this one. At night the milky way was visible and the harbor was decorated with anchor lights seemingly suspended between sea and sky. Brooklin, Maine has numerous boat builders and a great magazine but a metropolis it is not. It is a blink and you'll miss it sort of place. This means no light pollution which means a sailor can remain aware of his small  but precious place in the universe here. It is a great place to have a regatta.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Racing from Castine to Camden

The most impressive feature of the Castine to Camden race was the fog. Visibility was down to a couple hundred feet at times and as we short tacked along the shoreline to stay out of the current and in the breeze. Boats and rocky shorelines loomed out of the mist. We were crossing tacks with several of our competitors, glad to see we were holding our own with much larger and more “modern” boats. For the most part the breeze was light, we carried half of our rather large crew to leeward much of the time, though occasionally it would breeze up and we got everyone up and out on the windward rail. We were all in foul weather gear and those on navigation were glad enough of the below decks nav station.
The great thing about displacement boats that use the crew as ballast is they sail with large crews when the wind is up. When it is down much of the crew may be relegated to the chase boat but it happens with surprising rarity. Often this is because we prefer a convivial atmosphere to whatever edge fewer people might give.  The downside to this is it is best to replace dead weight with live, movable weight. Prior to every race the boat is emptied of her contents. Most of the things that make a cruise safe and comfortable have to go, cookware, food, luggage, anchors, spare parts. Everything not essential to winning a race is packed up and moved off the boat to be replaced with crew.  In this way a catboat can be sailed flat which significantly reduces weather helm which in turn increases speed. So these very social boats are also fast boats when they carry a large crew.  When Silent Maid arrives at a race location there is a good deal of work to be done as the boat gets a new sail and is emptied out. Preparing for the next passage takes the same amount of work as the process is reversed. There isn’t much time for tourism as we campaign this boat.  Keeping track of all the stuff is the most difficult aspect of the whole thing.
Silent Maid was racing with 16 aboard. There were seasoned sailors who gravitated to specific jobs ranging from the tactician at the top end of the experience scale to the rail meat who may be neophytes or simply glad of any spot on board. All are important to the success of the enterprise. All have something to contribute. All are aware of the unique opportunity they are experiencing as the stunning yachts and landscapes appear and disappear in the mist. That they are functioning as an efficient pick up team is evidenced by the sound of the gun at the finish. Silent Maid is the first boat in her class to finish.  She would also be the first boat when the handicap system was applied.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Padanarum to Castine

It took four long days to get from South Dartmouth to Castine, Maine. On the first two we sailed as much as we could, the prevailing breezes being with us, but by the afternoon of the third day it was apparent we would have to put the pedal to the metal if we expected to race in Maine. We motor sailed down wind, maintaining 7.5 knots in some lumpy seas along the Maine coast. This rock strewn coast dotted with light houses and covered with pine trees is beautiful and we were very glad to have the visibility as Silent Maid rather noisily surfed by rocks and trees. The first night we made Boston and anchored in Hull bay. The second saw us on a mooring in Kittery and the third in the Sheepscot River. Each morning found us up with the sun and each evening we were seeking a mooring in the waning light. When the afternoon breeze came in it was behind us so we had good sailing until the decision to switch on the motor had to be made.

As we made our easting the shoreline the sandy features of the Cape Cod area gave way to more and more rocks. These all had surf at their edges but were capped in a variety of ways, some had wild life, sea birds or seals, some had pine trees and some had structures. The best structures were lighthouses of course and the worst were mediocre examples of modern home building. It is difficult for architecture to improve on the pine tree. The light houses succeeded mostly because they left the trees alone for the most part. All in all the structures that let the surrounding environment envelop them were the best. That takes a little time so my judgment of the modern structures may be a little unfair.

We arrived in Castine around five with a steering quadrant that needed another repair but a crew that was in pretty good shape. The gear teeth on the quadrant are cast in three segments and attached to the quadrant itself with studs. These had been lightly peened to keep them in place. Too lightly. Pete was steering and reported a hard spot in the steering and a clunking sound. I went to check and found one of the segments in the bilge. I was able to stick it back on and wrap a string around it to hold it in place. We
 arrived a day early to see what resources were available in Castine. The problem was we were arriving just as all shops are closing for the day. There was some thought of getting the quadrant to a machinist or welder first thing in the morning but that seemed destined to fail. We needed a repair that could be done on the boat that night. I came up with a plan to lightly countersink the quadrant and head over the studs. Pete got the task of locating tools while I started disassembling the gear. At this point Sandy arrived and offered to help. He almost immediately produced a wrench set then set about locating welding shops as a backup. Pete located a person at the yacht club with a home shop where he was able to borrow the necessary tools. John found a fish and chips place with carry out. Christian assisted in this. We were swatting mosquitoes and banging away at that quadrant by flashlight until about 9:30. No one complained. We might not have listened anyway. By 10:30 the steering gear was reassembled and we were ready to race. That’s a helluva way to finish a cruise. We did have that classic moment when I got to hand the helmsman a piece of the steering gear though.