Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Harbor Tours

     There is nothing like succesfully maneuvering a sailing vessel at close quarters.It is the most basic form of seamanship and in a harbor full of sailing vessels it is when a sailor's pride is most on the line. The boat must be sailed with confidence, speed equals maneuverability.  The most must be gotten out of each tack, a foot closer to that pier could be the difference between clearing a schooner's bow on the next tack or having to dip her transom. Decisions need to be made in a timely way and care should be taken that confidence does not become hubris. Whether sailing a narrow marsh creek or a crowded harbor the seamanship is the same but we tend to value the opinion of our peers better than that of muskrats and herons. Sliding off a mud bank is better than accounting for cracked wood or plastic. Best to get the crew work tight in the marshlands before taking it into the crowded harbors. We take our practice where we can.
     When we came into Vineyard Haven we sailed to the head of the harbor reaching in and then out again before rounding up to take sail and follow the launch to our mooring under power. I had wanted to depart under sail but we needed to visit the town dock for water before continuing and doing that under sail would not have been prudent or even sane. That would be confidence becoming hubris and leading to disaster. So we found a space to hoist, tacked back to the head of the harbor and made our farewell to Vineyard Haven in fine style.
     Edgartown was another matter. Here the harbor master's office gave us clear direction to our assigned mooring over the radio. After running from East Chop to the outer harbor we beat into the inner harbor. A close study of the chart preceded our entrance and the crew was well versed in the necessary tasks. There was sufficient channel space to pick up speed and tack but none of that space could be wasted. Once our mooring was located we sailed up and down the channel near it, figuring out the relationship between wind and the considerable tidal current. We would have to round up head to current  with the boom well outboard to spill the wind. Doing this would require sailing between two moored boats, right under the transom of one. The sail could be rendered inefficient but not neutral so it would have to be doused quickly. The mooring would have to be picked up and secured immediately.
      With the information collected and the crew assignments given it was time to give it a try. Rounding up the boat drifted to a stop at the mooring and the pennant was aboard. It took three to get it on the cleat because an attempt was made to get it in the chock before securing it costing a few precious seconds. To depower the sail, the gaff was scandalized even before the topping lifts were taken up. It was a bit of a drill but all straightened out in short order as the sail was lowered and pulled inboard simultaneously. That is a fine way to enter a new harbor.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Steering Committees

There is a good bit to catch up with. While I was in Philadelphia Silent Maid raced in a New York Yacht Club event. Midway through that, off the rocks at Beavertail, the steering quadrant broke, the arms snapped cleanly. There was a short drill, fortunately the boat was pointed away from the rocks, and with the motor on she moved directly into the wind until a launch gave her a tow. It was clearly time to take the development of the emergency steering gear a step further.
When the rudder was built provision was made for the attachment of a pair of tackles to an eye in the top. Now a pair of pennants could be made up to lead from the aft cleats around to a fair lead on the transom where a tackle could be set up on each side. These could be kept on deck at the ready and attached to the rudder with a snap shackle if needed. Very quickly. At rest they are a great way to keep the rudder centered with no strain on the steering gear at all. A new quadrant was readily available and by the week's end the boat was ready to go once more with the crew a little more willing to reef when the boat starts saying to, even in a race. Next winter we will take a second look at the engineering of that system.

Now that we could steer again we set sail for Woods Hole where the Historical Museum was hosting us. Once again the hospitality we experienced was wonderful. Woods Hole is quite a unique community with oceanography at the center of it. What a great place for dinnertime conversation I. Saturday night after giving a talk about Jersey Catboats at the library we were invited to dinner with 15 other people  I felt like I was walking in the foot steps of some great sailors, Slocum and  Hiscock come to mind, sailing and giving talks for my dinner. Sunday we set sail three times with members of the museum on board, the breeze was good and the company better but we were sure tired by the end of the day.

At this writing Silent maid is on a mooring in Vineyard Haven's inner harbor surrounded by schooners. Rowing around this harbor one gets the impression wooden boats are doing quite well in New England. Half the boats in this crowded harbor are impeccably maintained wooden boats. We are on a mooring off Gannon and Benjamin's shop where something interesting is always happening. Being here one gets the feeling Silent Maid has made the "A" list of our little world. 

Monday, July 26, 2010

Stripping Paint

For someone who seems almost proud of his gruffness Newt can be a very patient man. For days he has been removing paint from the original Silent Maid using an infrared heater and a scraper.  Occasionally he takes a smoke break and now and again he will share what he knows with a museum visitor but he is mostly learning exactly how big Silent maid really is as the paint comes off with a 2 inch scraper.
Every repair and alteration Maid has endured over the years is now apparent. The short sections of planking that have been replaced and the refastening she got as her original steel nails rusted away. These are the reasons the paint is coming off, it wasn't in terrible shape, and was not that thick, so someone else must have done this job not too long ago. This time we will document what we find with a series of incredibly boring photographs and a description of what's there. Boring unless you need the information contained in them.
Because the boat has been refastened we will not be doing anything beyond painting to the exterior of the hull. The bottom paint will be replaced with a house paint of the proper color to protect the wood better in an indoor environment and reduce toxicity. The jury is still out on whether any attempt should be made to reinforce the boat's structure or if a cradle should be relied on for this entirely. The hull does show an alarming degree of flexibility, but a well designed cradle may take care of this.
Museum boat cradle design presents challenges. If the boat is displayed the cradle should disappear visually, the idea is to showcase the boat not the means of supporting it. Chunky brick outhouse structures are out of the question then. Figuring out a good way to support Silent Maid will give the paint removal crew something to contemplate while performing a rote task.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Win at Wickford.

Silent Maid was as ready to race as we could make her. The bottom was smooth, the rig perfected, all extraneous weight was removed from the boat, the propeller aperture was closed and the crew aboard. Kathleen was also ready but only her crew knows what the preparations were. I will say her bottom looked smooth and when she tacked around Wickford Harbor she looked fast indeed, executing short tacks in the light air with little loss of speed. Everywhere we went we had heard of the famous Kathleen and the skill of her skipper, Tim Fallon. I expected she would have an advantage if the wind stayed light but in a breeze Silent Maid should do all right.
It was a day of changeable weather, starting out hot, turning to rain with a threat of some fog and later offering a little line squall. But the wind blew enough to suit us throughout the race. At the start Kathleen showed the skill of her people, closing Maid off from a port tack pin end start, Kathleen crossed the line clear ahead and both boats set out on the beat with crews on the rail and some tension in the air. Peter Kellogg did a great job salvaging his start, pinching up right at the pin and climbing  out above Kathleen, forcing her to look for another way to win.
We had the tide against us on the weather leg and Kathleen decided to see what could be done with this. She would not mind a slightly lighter breeze than Silent Maid so she favored the shoreline no doubt hoping for less current and more favorable lifts in the breeze. This strategy did help her and she appeared to close some distance but not enough as Silent Maid rounded the old cast iron lighthouse that served as a top mark with a comfortable lead.
On the downwind leg Kathleen tried heating things up with a series of jibes but Maid continued to sail her own race  On this leg a line squall passed over the boats, the north end of this cloud bank was dark and ominous enough but the two boats continued to sail as hard as they could towards it. Rain was in those clouds and some wind too but how much and from what direction?
Just as Silent Maid reached the mark the wind shifted 180 degrees and blew with more force. The downwind leg had become a beat giving Maid a huge advantage. She reached off towards the finish in Wickford Harbor on a reach as Kathleen was forced to tack to the mark. Once in the harbor Maid had to short tack up a narrow channel to the finish, running aground was not an option. Boat and crew handled the tight maneuvering easily and the race was won. There was one last challenge though. As Silent Maid sailed back out of the harbor to join up with her anchored tender she had  to be sure to keep clear of Kathleen now tacking up the narrow channel. Once Kathleen was safely past Maid's crew could reflect on the days events and look forward to the next match.
The shenanigans involving racy flags will be discussed at some other time.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Maid Service

Maid Service is a flat bottom skiff built by David Beaton and Sons two winters ago. She is an older design of flattie, traditionally built with a cross planked bottom and lapstrake sides.Even when building simpler forms Beaton's pays close attention to fit and finish. She is my favorite mode of transportation around the various harbors we have visited. In Maid Service one is free of engines and the human decision making processes that come with boats capable of carrying more than two people. I generally get ashore faster under oars simply because I could move about when it suited me.  Of course rowing is great exercise and it is the perfect way to view the boats of interest in any harbor offering a pace suited to the admiring or critical eye. Outside the harbor the skiff is small enough to hoist onto Barnegat's cabin top and tows well enough to pull behind Silent Maid even with a bit of sea running. In the pictures to the left she is surfing along in 5 to 7 foot seas as Maid reaches along at 6.5 knots.