Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Two Maids in Winter

Workshop on the Water was so named because the first shop was housed on a retired lighter barge. Now in the depths of winter with better than a foot of snow on the ground and ice falling from the sky we are happy to be in a shop next to the water rather than on it, one with central heat rather than a pot belly stove. There is no nostalgia for those days. Even then I was not prone to spend my winters thinking of sailing in sunnier climes; there was always a boat to be built. Last years boat had taught its lessons and the shop crew was always ready for next years project; it is that way still. This tempers an eagerness for spring, that season may bring warmth and sailing but it also brings deadlines.  Silent Maid is now under the care of Beaton's with Henry Colie adding to the work list. A few pictures of what they are up to are above this text. The Workshop on the Water is moving onto other things as we near the end of the original Silent Maid's conservation, restoring a runabout and building a new whaleboat for the Morgan.

 Work is done on the original Silent Maid. She looks great, belying her actual condition. Unfortunately the museum is not ready to show her so as soon as the winter weather permits she will be transferred to our warehouse until the museum is ready. In the meantime anyone who wants to see her should come by the shop.
The best we could do for the old girl was support her from the outside with a cradle designed to hold her together. This consists of a substantial laminated beam beneath her keel and plywood poppets bolted to this to support her bilges. Now when she is lifted to be moved all of the stress is on this structure and hull no longer wrinkles the seam compound or attempts to spit out the caulking. She is a boat full of character as befits a vessel of her age. Her worn out frame still carries the tales of numerous owners, races and voyages. To sit in her cabin is to surround oneself with history, not necessarilly of the grandiose kind, no great sea battles or grand discoveries here, but of a simpler more day to day variety.

Kent Mountford, one time chronicler of Barnegat Bay's history is currently putting together a book about Silent Maid, I'm sure it will delve into all of these stories and illustrate the importance of this old boat. In the meantime check out his "Closed Sea" for a study of  Silent Maid's home waters.

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.