The Sea

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
 – John Masefield

An albatross and a handful of shearwaters skimmed the tops of the waves, their wingtips impossibly close to the water as they swept and dipped and darted. The sea was grey green and white clouds scurried over a deep blue sky. The waves marched past, spume was ripped from their tops and scattered downwind. The wind blows constantly in these high latitudes and the ship was making good progress.

“Glass has been dropping these past three hours, Captain, I think we’re in for a big blow before nightfall.”

“Aye, I think you’re right, Jones, let’s get these topsails off her and the foresail, too.”

I heard Jones call an “all hands” and soon the men were swarming up the ratlines and along the yards to hand the sails and tie them firmly so the wind couldn’t tear them free.

By late afternoon the wind was howling, tormenting the sea, goading it higher. The ship was rolling like a barrel now, green water running down the scuppers.
I ordered the helmsman to steer five points lower to ease the strain. I’d have to take it back after this gale, though, to keep on course for Cape Horn. The English must have their tea and the best prices go to those first to market and that would be us, god-willing.

Through the night the tempest fought us, its army of watery dunes chasing and harrying the ship. She fought back, refusing to be overpowered, lifting her stern to the waves. Every now and again a monster would rise above the rest and crash down on the ship, shivering her timbers and sweeping away anything not firmly lashed; several pork barrels and one of the dories was lost but her precious payload stayed safe and dry in her holds. By the next afternoon the wind was down but a big sea was still running and the men had to take care as they went about their duties.

We’d be passed the Horn tomorrow and then we could turn north, bound for Blighty and the embrace of loved ones, the taste of fresh bread, foaming ale and a bed that stayed still.

And then I’d be yearning to be off once more, for I must go down to the seas again.

(This was an entry in a writing competition, a short story about the sea, with a quotation)

Rail mount brackets

These SeaDog Line rail brackets are the bee’s knees for mounting things to your boat rails – great for solar panels, drink holders, canvas work, cockpit tables and so on.

We use them as the basis for our Metz antenna rail mount. They come with shims for mounting on 3/4″ (20mm) and 1″ (25mm) diameter rail, without the shims they fit 1 1/4″ (32mm) rails. Heavy duty nylon construction and stainless fittings – the thumb screw is held captive when the bracket is open. An excellent product that does exactly what it claims to do.

Summer hols

So many projects, so little time! So I’m taking a short break from serious blogging – I’ll be back at the end of August with the write up of our summer sailing adventure in Scotland. In the meantime just the odd picture from time to time.

Until then, enjoy the archived posts and, of course, there’s always my book, packed with snippets to entertain and inform, and maybe bring out a smile – link in the sidebar.



The long and winding road

I’ve traveled between Chesapeake Bay and south Florida by small boat seven times. Each trip is a combination of slogging down the ditch, the ICW, and wafting gracefully through the ocean, on the ‘outside’. After our first trip south, on Adriana with wife, daughter and dog I wrote about the trip. Here are some snippets:

Gale warnings were being broadcast on the radio so we pottered down the ICW for the next few days. Fifty miles of hard road between sunup and sundown was tough going but the passing scenery broke the monotony – swamps, marshes, fishing boat docks, shrimp boat fleets off-loading their catch, majestic houses with fluted columns three floors high, clapboard shacks.

We had the occasional bridge opening to transact:
“Barefoot Landing Bridge, Barefoot Landing Bridge, Barefoot Landing Bridge, this is Adriana requesting an opening.”
“Adriana, bring her on, skipper, I’ll hold her open for ya’ll”

On we motored through South Carolina, through the narrow Rock Pile cut and on to the delightful Waccamaw River, passed huge live oaks draped with Spanish moss, abandoned rice fields and dense forests. We anchored each night and where it was possible went ashore for a walk but otherwise we’d stay on board, cook a meal and compete in another round of the marathon Trivial Pursuit contest we’d started the day we left Chesapeake Bay, two weeks earlier.

The gales blew through and we went outside again at Caribogue Sound, near Savannah, Georgia. We made Florida at the end of October, our landfall was Jacksonville at the very top of the state. It felt like the journey was nearly over but Florida is a long state and we still had many miles to go to the Keys – we were little more than halfway. The weather was chilly this far north in early November but sunny with powder blue skies as we plodded on, sometimes out in the ocean and at others in the ICW.

The water in our anchorage off Peanut Island was gin clear, the weather warm and sunny. We’d arrived in south Florida.

Apparent Wind

The concept of apparent wind is largely unknown to non-sailors but if you sail a boat it’s a fundamental fact of life: Apparent wind is what you sail in.

Apparent wind is the wind you experience when the boat is moving – it’s the true wind modified by the boats motion. A 15-knot breeze coming at you from 45 degrees off your bow when you’re stationary becomes a 20-knot breeze at about 35 degrees off your bow when you’re moving forward at around 6 knots. The boat speed adds to the true wind speed, and modifies its angle of approach.

Conversely, when the wind is from behind its speed is reduced by the speed of the boat. A 15-knot breeze from dead astern is an apparent wind of just 9 knots when the boat is moving at 6 knots.

When you’re sailing you don’t really think about apparent wind – it’s the wind you’re sailing in and that’s that. However, there is a time when you really need to consider the effects of apparent wind and that’s when you change from a course off the wind to a course on the wind. If you’re running downwind in 20 knots true wind it will feel like a perfectly manageable 14 or 15 knots apparent. But as you slow and turn onto the wind things will become a bit more of a handful, unless you’ve anticipated it.

Apparent wind – the wind you sail in.

Pride comes before a fall

George Town in the Exumas, Bahamas, has a small saltwater lake, Lake Victoria, in which the dinghy dock is located and it’s accessed via a narrow cut passing under the road. People stop and chat on the stone bridge parapets, watching the dinghies buzzing backwards and forwards beneath.

One afternoon Carol and I were about to enter the cut en-route from the anchorage to the Two Turtles for the Friday night jump-up when we had to do a hasty about-turn to accommodate an outbound eighteen-foot speed boat.

Standing at the steering pedestal were two hot-shots, looking cool in their reflecting sun glasses and baseball caps worn backwards for greater aerodynamic efficiency. An enormous Mercury outboard, ninety horses at least, was popping and spluttering on the transom. With the acoustical enhancement provided by the stone bridge it sounded like the grid of the British Motorcycle Grand Prix waiting for the flag to drop and all eyes were upon it as it emerged from the cut.

The pilot jammed open the throttle and they were off, the bow straining skyward and the stern squatting deep as the big prop bit, sending a rooster tail of water billowing behind them. One nano-second later there was a “WHAM!” and then total silence. The speedboat bobbed in its own wake and the crew sprawled in an undignified heap in the bow. Of the monster motor there was no sign, just a jagged hole in the transom and a small cloud of blue smoke drifting over a growing oil slick, just where the submerged sandbar is at the entrance to the cut.