Sunday, June 27, 2010


The run from Portsmouth, RI to Mystic was under power punching into the waves and watching thunderheads form over the land. We had a brief skirmish with a little squall; a little rain, a little noise, but not much wind. By then we had taken the deep reefed sail and even had our foul weather gear on. The sail was up to steady our motion, the sea was very lumpy coming out of the Narraganset but had settled some. Only after we were drying out in Mystic did we find out about the severe squalls experienced to the North and South of us.
When we arrived in Mystic the boat certainly needed a cleaning,the sail needed refurling, and the cabin needed to be emptied into Barnegat waiting just up the pier from us. Darkness was upon us by the time we had her squeezed into a very snug berth and secured. After dealing with the sail the decision was made to relax over some dinner and deal with all the rest in the early morning hours.
The boat has certainly been popular here. We've gotten a steady stream of compliments both from the beard and sheath knife crowd and the blue blazer set. She is truly a grand cat and it is very gratifying to see all of the care that went into the boat being appreciated. Hopefully this will all get translated into more visitors to the shop and even boats to build.
It is good to visit Mystic Seaport on the boat show weekend. All the varnish and brass distracts from the sad state of the Mystic Seaport Museum's own vessels. This place was a source of inspiration to many like myself and now it is suffering like so many other maritime museums. It is true all maritime museums have to reinvent themselves, personally I believe the boats have to get underway, they have to be alive, someone has to truly own them, they need jobs. It is truly sad to see the Dutton with waves in her sheer and no oil on her spars. It is killing those charged with her care and given no resources. It is clear a new mission has to be found and it is especially glaring when there are so many boats getting all the time and skill money can buy right next door. It was the museums that got all this started and they must see to it they are not left behind.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch...

The original Silent Maid is now in the shop. While the new version gads about the Northeast, showing off, the original will get what she needs to begin the next phase of her life. The 1924 Silent Maid contains the stories of 79 years of sailing. The last registration sticker on her bow is dated July, 2003. Over the years she has developed the patina of her many years. She contains a wealth of stories, some great some appalling. She is tired and showing her years but the stories are there and well worth saving..
Silent Maid's  designer, Francis Sweisguth, had an excellent eye for form. he pushed the limits on freeboard, cabin height and rig proportions while creating a very handsome boat. For whatever reason Silent Maid's original structure has suffered over time. Her builder, Morton Johnson of Bay Head, did an excellent job fitting her together. She has been altered and repaired repaired many times however. These are part of the story. She was built with steel fasteners and it is a source of amazement that she has lasted so long. That early economy may well prove to be her ultimate end but the shop crew will do what they can.
The original drawings exist and the lines have been recorded of the boat as she now is. The changes she has undergone have been documented in photographs and some have surfaced in stories told by earlier owners. The work will be an effort to preserve her just as she is, there will be no effort to restore, but there will be one to preserve.
The first step will be to remove all the paint from her hull. This will give an honest look at the condition of her planking and fasteners. Once this is done a plan will be formulated  regarding how the planking is fastened to the framing. The deterioration of the steel fasteners may slow now that the boat is under shelter but the oxidation will not stop after so many years of exposure to salt water. New fasteners of bronze will be put in to stabilize the planking. The fewest possible will be used, the planks need to stay on but will not be subject  to extreme stress. A cradle will be built to counter the effects of gravity and to absorb the stresses and strains of moving the boat. As we move through this phase of the work determinations will be made about what is to follow. Much of this will involve paint and varnish, the first line of defense on any wooden structure. None of this is original so protecting the wood will be the first concern.
So while the new Silent Maid continues her cruise we'll have an occasional look back at what is happening to preserve the original and maybe tell a few of those stories. 


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Details Without Deadlines

Wherever she goes Silent Maid attracts attention and draws comment. It is a very positive experience. Even in places with a very strong classic yachting scene she stands out. Part of this is because she is a cat boat by Sweisguth decidedly not a Herreshoff or Sparkman and Stephens. Maid comes from a whole different tradition than that, one with working roots. yet she has that acre of varnish, and a full share of mahogany. She is a unique boat designed for comfortable sailing in shoal water and because of this she appeals to those on the estuaries; most of us.
Because she is unique she poses problems as well. Getting all of her details just right has been quite a process. This has been an iterative process like so much else in boats. We are proceeding through a series of refinements. We are also at a place in the job where we are deciding where to stop. Do we really need a radar unit? As we head north there will be times when it will be nice but we also also traveling in company with two boats that have it and in her home waters on the back bays of New Jersey there is little need for it. Then there is the matter of getting all the stuff we already have working really well, making it all truly reliable. This is accomplished by  learning the equipment and by refining the installation process, getting the wiring really buttoned down so to speak. I just spent the better part of the day with the refrigerator for example, getting to know its components and workings and making refinements to our installation. This is a process that must be gone through with each piece of equipment we have and we have a lot of them. My day with the refrigerator was gratifying, I learned a few things and made the system a little better. It was a no pressure patient sort of exercise that will be keeping food and drink cold for a while to come. It was not the beginning of a great and passionate carer in HVAC however. Next up are the cell phone extender and the Okham wiring. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


We did what we could to optimize the boat, new sail, some new running rig, all extraneous gear taken off  and the crew size carefully chosen to suit the wind conditions. That last part was tough as the weather liars seemed determined to keep their options open. We had our techy stuff up and running with a young respected navaguesser monitoring them. We had expertise out the whazoo but even better we had a crew that formed itself in a team very readilly. Molly got the starts and she was brilliant, Silent Maid took on the role of brave little rabbit as Molly pushed some large boats up to the committee forcing one to peel off and the other to foul. By large I mean 70'. Molly also gets credited with the term navaguesser. There was no one helmsman but a round robin of people seeing what they could get out of the boat. Most had deep experience with A cats and Maid has much in common with those boats. The wind seemd to hover around ten and better for most of the races, meaning full canvas. We did reef for one leg, which was succesful.
The hard thing to get used to is the handicapping thing. In one design racing the competion is very straight forward, this was more like a track event against the clock. We did find one boat to compete with though.
Fidelio is a sister to Finisterre, a well known Sparkman and Stephens racer of the 50's and 60's. When the wind was up Silent Maid could move on her but when it dropped Fidelio had the edge. Why this was I could not say as Fidelio represented 30 significant years of development over the Maid.
Now the parties and the prizes are behind us and it is back to work. Maid is at a yard where a haulout will happen. It is time to shine her up for the boat show and also time for a short break.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Another Deadline

When the first race of the season is nigh the real race is always having the boat ready. There are stories and legends describing this flurry of semi frantic activity. There are those who say it doesn't have to be that way and such occurrences are the product of a dysfunctional childhood, or something, and there are those who maintain the world of human affairs would grind to a halt without deadlines. Who knows?  For us boat workers the real race is always just before the race.
Last winter Silent Maid's rig was studied closely and changes were made to optimize it. The big change in terms of sail shape was to exchange the gaff jaws for a bridle and peak the sail much higher. Mark Beaton built the new sail and chose a lighter cloth than the earlier one as well. This sail was also designed to fit the spars a little more closely. The sail arrived in the morning on race day and work began immediately bending it on. There was a moment of dread when the fabric appeared longer than the gaff but we pushed ahead, finished bending it and hoisted. It turned out the fit could be made perfect by moving the throat grommet. In the meantime a line around the mast at the throat would serve and the sail set beautifully. It is a magnificent piece of work.
Henry Colie had spent much of the previous evening going over the running rig, replacing lines, tightening the gaff bridle and throat halyard strops among other things. We now sent him up the mast as the boat drifted along in light air. He got the throat adjusted perfectly and we were as race ready as we could be.
We had a young crew aboard. Peter, the owner had flown in and was aboard. The electronics that tell more than you can digest about wind and current were up and running. There was a glitch with the radio. The start was postponed several times as the fleet bobbled waiting for wind. No one seemed to know how the rating rule worked, the tactical guys would just mumble about speed and distance but it seemed clear that boats from thirty years later were being deemed fair competition for the Maid. The end result is we had a great time racing, we even passed a couple boats downwind but we have no idea how we really did. The ability to go to weather has steadily improved over the years, that much was apparent. Today we go do it again, hopefully without the first race deadline drill though.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Little Lunch Time Breeze.

If you're going to get a squall it will be just as the person cooking is reaching the critical phase of his or her art. In this case Pete had put out the salad and was getting ready with the pasta and sauce when the sharply stinging rain hit. The salad headed for the cockpit sole to be rescued by John and the pasta was quickly stowed. There was no thought of a reef for this one. I started the engine as we rounded up and the rescuers of lunch now went after dousing the sail. The wind was in the thirties I think and the sea built quickly out of the full reach of the Narraganset.
We had set out from Mystic in a relaxed fashion and were reaching across Rhode Island Sound when this event demanded our attention. It provided rain, excitement and a no frills furling job before we reached the lee of the land. There we redid the furl and entered Newport Harbor looking presentable. After all we were mooring in front of the New York Yacht Club's Harbor Court and would be enjoying the view from that club before the evening was over.
Wednesday was devoted to ship's work as the cruising crew arranged there travel plans back to Philadelphia and preparations got underway for our first race of the year. The cruising gear has all been moved to a trailer, the electronics have been worked over, a new sail is expected and a deal of work needs to be done as we perfect the running rig. We will be ready and we will be as fast as we can be. What sort of rating do we have? We'll know after the weekend I guess.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Entering the Sound

     The East River is always exciting, that big current keeps the navigator on his toes and the sights of the city are always spectacular, especially the bridges. There is spectacular bridge engineering all around the boroughs and we got to see most of it. We had a distraction with determining why the bilge pump was cycling through much of the transit. John got the task of tracking the cause while Wendy steered and I navigated. It turned out that a leak had developed where the keel meets the transom, noticeable only when motoring. That activity pulls the lower part of the transom into the water. Apparently the transom knee swelling had opened the joint slightly and we were flushing out the bilges. Once clear of the east we slowed down and I was able to temporarily caulk the joint from the inside using some heavy string and a screwdriver. That being done Wendy took a break from the helm to prepare yet another fantastic lunch before we set sail for Cold Spring Harbor.

    We started with two reefs headed downwind and broke 8 knots surfing down the waves. Some weather was coming in over the Northern shore of Long Island Sound and it wasn't too long before another reef was needed. Not long after that one the decision was made to round up, take sail and motor into Cold Spring Harbor.
We had met up with Barnegat in the east and rafted alongside her, we thought for the night. The wind went to Northwest and came up some causing the boats to jump around considerably. In the end we moved Silent Maid from alongside to trailing behind but there are a rub and toe rail repair to effect for that little adventure.
Barnegat has a rib with her and we used this to go around to Oyster Bay for a very nice dinner. We also dropped off Wendy and picked up Pete in the process.
As I write this at 10 am we are reaching near Bridgeport bound for Mystic. The breeze is northwest at 10, we have the full sail set and are making six knots. Life is good.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

New York City

There is nothing like a few days in New York to snap the seamanship into focus. Maneuvering around docks with metal things sticking out of them, dealing with the intense water taxi, ferryboat and commercial traffic, figuring out how to best use the crew in these different situations, and sorting out a variety of rigging issues are all contributing to our education. We hoisted Wendy to the mast head today to deal with a fouled peak halyard and a topping lift issue. I'm sure she had a great view of the harbor. Somewhere down the road we will deal with the dings and scrapes. In the meantime we are having a great deal of fun. my sister and her family got on for cruises last night and this afternoon, meaning we had plenty of power for hoisting and trimming.
Last night we had a classic sunset cruise in New York Harbor with a hazy sky and great views. We sailed alongside the schooner Pioneer for a little while, she is a beautifully proportioned old schooner originally from the Delaware River, hopefully someone got a picture of us reaching along side by side. This afternoon we had a bit of wind and hoisted with a double reef already tied in. That was right as we powered along posing for pictures with the Statue of Liberty, kicking out a little spray and showing a little speed.
Did consider getting out for the run up the East River a little early but the tides don't favor. We were hoping to get a little racing in tomorrow but the East River is not to be trifled with. So we will get off in the late morning to meet up with Barnegat at Oyster Bay by early evening.
All in all new York has been very good, the hospitality continues, Michael Fortenbaugh, Commodore of the Manhattan Yacht Club, has treated us very well indeed.

Photos by Wendy Byar

Friday, June 4, 2010

Up to New York

Of all the ways there are to enter New York sailing in is absolutely the best. Especially with a fair full sail breeze.The Atlantic Highlands, the Verazanno Bridge, the skyline, Ambrose light, the Statue of Liberty. Its just incredible. The pleasure of that passage may have been ingrained in our DNA  because many  ancestors saw an earlier iteration of all this as they embarked on the biggest adventure of their lives. Here we are in the big city, guests of the Manhattan Sailing School, enjoying the shade of the tall buildings and the variety of yachts docked around us.
We set sail from Mantoloking with Ed, Pete, John, Kelsey, Mary Beth and myself aboard after waiting on the fog to clear. We used the time on boat improvements and a trip to a marine store. The first part of the trip is all about narrow waterways and lift bridges until the jetties of Manasquan inlet are cleared, then it is the ocean with a reaching breeze and a thick haze rather than actual fog. Mary Beth kept us entertained with sea stories of all descriptions as well as bringing lunch and the skills of a seasoned racing sailor. While in New York we are participating in the festivities surrounding the opening of the sailing season in New York Harbor. We are in good company with the pride of Baltimore tied up nearby and a fleet of yachts that are racing around the world.