14 April 2010

The Word 'Crew'

I planned to sail a few short hops in the Blue Moon as a kind of shake down cruise. So I could get to know the boat, discover any problems before they became big problems, and fix any little things that needed fixing.

What I didn't anticipate was that I would need 'shaking down' a lot more than the boat.

Although I've been wanting to take a long cruise like this for about 30 years, my experience up until now has been limited to shortish cruises, on a bigger boat (Southern Cross 28), in sailboat-friendly Long Island Sound.

Sailing in the windy, shallow Big Bend region of Florida, in a spartan 23' boat, is a whole other thing!

One problem I didn't anticipate at all was the psychological impact of separation from home and family. I'm no boat bum. I've got a house, beautiful wife, and 4 kids -- 6 including the kid's 'significant others'. And a granddaughter on the way!

I was really down for a few days, and couldn't figure out why, until I startedthinking of those old time sailors who went off exploring the southern seas, leaving their loved ones for years at a time. Tougher fellows than me! Thank God for cell phones!

I did see some dolphins today
photo wikipedia commons

Almost as difficult was adapting to my relationship with the boat. It's been ten years since I sold my last boat, and I'd forgotten how demanding they can be. Worse than a teenager! It's all about the boat. Move me, reef me, replace my rope, paint my deck... it goes on and on.

Worse, boats bite. I think I've found every possible way to bang my shin, in the last few days. At least I hope I have. At last count, I have 4,714 black and blue marks. And I never exaggerate.

Nothing I shouldn't have expected, but somehow I didn't. I had been looking forward to Captaining my boat on a carefree cruise along a balmy palm-fringed shore. Instead, I seemed to be nothing more than the Crew who was expected to do this and do that all day and all night long.

I resented it!

But after a few days, the Blue Moon and I have come to terms. I give it what it needs, and she is giving me at least as much back. I am happy to be 90% Crew, and 10% Captain. We are reconciled to this relationship. It fits us.

Well, I had been expecting to be posting this from Crystal River, but when I reached the latitude of the long, torturous channel into the river, I was about 8 miles off shore, with the wind blowing directly into my teeth. There was no way I could beat up to the channel and then motor in before dark, and one flashlight-lit bit of navigation per week is about all my nerves can manage.

Since the wind was blowing me south, I decided to go with the flow, and sail overnight to Tarpon Springs.

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The Blue Moon did most of the leg under reefed mainsail and club-footed staysail, averaging a bit over 5 knots. Not bad for a little 23' boat, I thought.

Luckily, we did the whole leg on one tack, on a broad reach. This let me use my new sheet-to-tiller steering system, so the boat steered herself most of the way.

Hardly anyone seems to know about this interesting method of self-steering. Here's a couple pictures of the set up.

The sheet-to-tiller part
photo jalmberg

The rubber band part
photo jalmberg

In a nutshell, there are two parts to the system:

1. a line that is fastened to the sheet with a rolling hitch. This line take most of the sheet tension. This line runs through a block and is hitched to the tiller.

2. a 'rubberband' line that is hitched to the other side of the tiller, and cleated off on the opposite side of the boat.

Once the boat is balanced on the tack, meaning that there is just a bit of weather helm, then as waves knock the boat higher or lower off its track, the tension on the sheet will go up or down.

When the tension goes up, the sheet pulls harder, and pulls the tiller to windward, heading the boat back down.

When the tension goes down, the sheet pulls softer, and the rubber band pulls the tiller to leeward, heading the boat back up.

That's the theory. Getting it to work took a couple hours of trial and error, until I finally got the feel for the system. When it's adjusted properly, everything is quite delicate, and the tiller moves back and forth easily, keeping the boat on track hour after hour.

Which really comes in handy on 10 or 14 hour sails, I can tell you! I kept a pretty good watch, but never saw another boat on the whole voyage, until I'd nearly reached Tarpon Springs.

I arrived in complete darkness and navigated into a pretty poor anchorage on the east side of Anclote Key, near the old light. I had some protection from the still stiff easterly winds, but the anchorage was rolling.

Luckily, I was too tired to care!

After a few hours sleep, the sun came up and I moved to a more protected anchorage.

A snug harbor, at last!
photo jalmberg

After being up for most of 3 days, I was ready for some sack time. I fell asleep at 4pm and slept until 7:30 the next morning. Bliss!

Tomorrow, I head into the interesting-sounding town of Tarpon Springs for a look around and a good meal!

Next Episode: Tarpon Springs

View Cabin Boy's Big Adventure in a larger map

The Voyage So Far...

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  1. Hey!! We miss you too! Soon enough you'll have a bigger crew than you can handle.

    So when do you use the self steering system? Is it something you can throw on when you have to walk to the front of the boat for a second to check something or is it more for when you're sleeping for a couple of hours?

    You should get a twitter profile so we can follow things a little more closely! That way when you have a second and something cool/scary/weird just happened you can shoot it off to the world and we don't have to wait for a full post.

  2. Once I got it working, I left it on for the whole leg, until I got close to Tarpon Springs and had to steer my way into the anchorage.

    I couldn't really sleep. That would be a pretty dangerous. Although I didn't see another boat the whole night, one could have appeared at any time, and I certainly didn't want to run into anything, like an oil tanker!

    But at least I didn't have to steer the whole time. That would have been really, really tiring. I just kind of baby sat it and kept watch, but was able to go below for a few minutes to fix a hot cup of tea or check the chart, or just get out of the wind for a few minutes.

    I've been thinking of setting up a Twitter account, so I could shoot short notices from my iPhone, rather than having to find a big block of time to do a whole blog post. I'll look into it and post a link to it, if it looks doable.

    Thanks for the tip!

  3. Can hardly wait for the book to come out:)

  4. Presuming you like Greek cuisine, try Pappas' Restaurant in Tarpon Springs.

    It's nothing short of amazingly good, fresh food. And the best Greek food I have ever had, save for home-cooked.

    Stay and keep well, John.

    Matt Prusik

  5. Odd reading this from Vegas.
    Sorry you missed Crystal River, but it seems like you are meeting all the challenges well.


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