12 October 2010


One of the problems with blogging and cruising is that it's impossible to keep up. At least for me. I'm either too tired to even think about blogging, or I have no Internet connection (amazing that Verizon hasn't wired up the Georgia swamp, yet.) I'm keeping a detailed captain's log, but this blog can only touch some of the highlights of the voyage. Maybe I'll put the whole amazing trip in a book, someday.

Meanwhile, I'm actually in North Carolina, so I'm going to have to skip around a bit to catch up.

Back on 29 September, I was anchored in Cattlepen Creek. I can't quite figure out how this creek got it's name, because it was just a narrow cut of open water in the middle of the vast Georgia marsh. If there were any cattle around, they were up to their necks in mud.

During the night, the remnants of a tropical storm blew over the anchorage. Not much wind, but torrential rain. I woke up with a tropical stream dripping onto my forehead, and for a few minutes I was dashing around my little cabin, dogging down all 8 port lights, stopping leaks, and mopping up drips. I put my head out into the deluge to see if the anchor was holding, but between lightning strikes, it was black as pitch. I was all alone out there.

I climbed back into my bunk and for the first time dragged a light fleece blanket over me. The last time I'd wanted anything more than a sheet to sleep with was way back in the spring. It felt good to snuggle down in the storm.

The next morning, it was still raining hard so I broke out my new foul weather jacket. It felt a bit warm for the pants, so I wore a swim suit down below. I broke out the anchor and set off for St. Catherine's Sound.

I was glad to finally emerge from the winding courses of the Georgia swamp, and head out into open water. For one thing, it was a chance to do some real sailing. I'd been able to sail down some of the wider bits of the ICW, but it had been a long time since I'd had room to really do some sailing.

But as I pulled on my twin halyards, I could not help but notice a huge rain front sweeping down the Sound towards me. It looked like a dark cloud at water level. Just a bit ominous.

As I headed into the storm, a 50' sailboat cruised out of the cloud, headed the way I had just came. It was probably my imagination, but the single-hander on board looked happy to be getting off the Sound.

Well, the rain really came down once we were in that cloud. The wind was blowing 10-15 knots, but the seas were relatively light... maybe 1-2 foot. Nothing the Blue Moon couldn't handle easily. In fact, she felt quite lively and happy to be out there.

I, on the other hand, was wishing I'd put on my foul weather bottoms. The rain was colder than I'd expected and I was a little uncomfortable in just shorts. But the worst was trying to keep the rain off my glasses. After seeing that 50 footer emerge from a black bank of rain, not 500 yards away, made me quite keen on keeping a good watch. But standing at the tiller, peering into the storm, just left me blind with streaming eye glasses. So I let Helmo steer and I sat with my back against the cabin top, mostly. This kept me out of most of the rain. I popped my head above the cabin top once a minute to check for on coming traffic. I spent the other 55 seconds wiping my glasses, and checking the GPS to make sure we didn't get lost.

Once on the other side of St. Catherine's Sound, we pulled into Killkenny Marina. The worst of the rain had stopped by then. Just scattered showers. I needed gas and ice, and a bit of rest, but I intended to carry on that afternoon, to the next anchorage.

But while I was checking gear to see how things had faired on our crossing, I made the 'mistake' of grabbing the end of the bowsprit, to pull the bow in so I could check some fittings there.

The end of the wooden bowsprit felt squishy. Waterlogged.

A close inspection showed that the paint on the end of the bowsprit had seen better days. Some probing with a spike showed that the wood was soft, particularly near the cranse iron, the fitting that goes around the end of bowsprit.

I have this rule, shared by many sailors. The moment I think, "I wonder if I should... ?", I must do it.

If I think, "I wonder if I should reef?", then I immediately reef. If I think, "I wonder if I should put on my safety harness?", then I do so, even if I don't feel like it.

So when the thought crept into my brain, "I wonder if I should do something about the squishy end of my bowsprit?", I groaned, kicked the nearest bollard, and got out my tool box.

Blue Moon, ready for surgery
photo jalmberg

The first thing I did was remove the cranse iron, so I could check the condition of the wood under it.

The cranse iron
photo jalmberg
I was hoping the wood would be sound underneath, and I could just forget the whole thing. No such luck. If anything, the wood under the cranse iron was worse. Probing with a spike revealed that the wood was weak and like a bundle of woody strings, held together mainly by the cranse iron. Obviously water had been working its way in from the end of the bowsprit for many years. I doubted if the cranse iron had ever been removed, since the day the BM was built.

Well, there was nothing for it but to saw off the rotten part. Luckily, the wood seemed sound an inch or so below the cranse iron. I decided to start conservative and saw there.

My Japanese pull saw made short work of that job and I was glad to see that the wood did indeed look dry and sound where I sawed. I also noted that the bowsprit was not made from a grown piece of wood, but had been laminated up from several pieces of fairly light wood. Ash? Hard to say.

The cranse iron wouldn't fit on the larger diameter end, and it would have looked a bit odd to leave it unshaped, so I spent a good bit of time shaping the end of the sprit to take the cranse iron. Essentially, I used the old trick of making the round end 4 sided, then 8 sided, then 16 sided... Then used a rasp and sand paper to make it round.

By this time it was dark, so the photo below is not very good, but you get the idea.

New end of bowsprit
photo jalmberg
I gave the whole bowsprit two coats of black oil paint by flashlight (and people laughed at me for bringing a whole woodworking shop with me. Ha!) and finished the last coat at 2am.  A long day!

The next morning I set about rigging up the bobstay and bowsprit shrouds. These had been made out of wire rope, and now, of course, the wire stays were nearly a foot too long. To shorten them meant finding the tools and parts required to work with wire rope. I suspected the closest source for them was in New England. They were certainly unavailable in Killkenny Creek. I needed to use parts I had on board.

Luckily, I had been reading Tom Cunliffe's "Hand, Reef and Steer" which showed how the bowsprits of traditional gaff-rigged boats had been rigged in the old days. The main difference was in the bobstay. Instead of a wire, Tom's book showed a chain, bobstay tackle, and tricing line.

The bobstay tackle is lead back into the anchor well, where you can make adjustments.

If you are flying the jib from the end of the bowsprit, you haul the tackle tight, as shown below.

Bobstay tackle hauled tight
photo jalmberg
However, if you want to anchor for the night,  you let out the bobstay tackle and haul in on the tricing line, thus clearing the bobstay out of the way of the anchor line.

Bobstay cleared out of the way for anchoring
photo jalmberg
What makes this possible is that the Blue Moon is a cutter. This means that the bowsprit does not participate in holding up the mast. The line heading upwards from the end of the bowsprit is not part of the standing rigging, but is in fact the jib halyard. The jib is set flying between the end of the bowsprit and the mast head.

So the bobstay is only meant to offset the upwards pressure applied to the end of the bowsprit by the jib. The chain and 3/8" rope tackle could easily handle this weight. Likewise the bowsprit shrouds are there just to keep the end of the bowsprit from bending to port or starboard, when the jib is set in a blow. So I also replaced the wire bowsprit shrouds with rope, eyes spliced into both ends, and tightened by the existing turnbuckles.

Here's how it looks at anchor:

New Bobstay in operation
photo jalmberg

This was a pretty big change, but I managed to finish by lunch time. My new skill of splicing eyes into the ends of rope sure came in handy!

But before leaving, I did a quick tour of Killkenny, which must have been a plantation at one time. The great house was still there, as was a live oak lined avenue.

Live Oaks lining the road
photo jalmberg

The old house facing the water, shaded by enormous live oaks
photo jalmberg
Quite a lovely place to stroll, but after stretching my legs, I was ready to move north, again.

Correction: while working on my book, I discovered (by inspecting my log) that I'd somehow muddled two locations in my blog. I discovered the problem with my bowsprit in Kilkenny Creek, but did not actually fix it until the next day, in Thunderbolt, where there was a bigger marina and (I thought) better supplies. As usual, this blog post was written days after the actual events, so somehow my addled brain got the details wrong. 

>>> Next Episode: Southport Wooden Boat Show


  1. John,
    It seems like you are having a phenomenal adventure! Having followed your blog from the beginning, I've seen a huge leap in your skill level and comfort with tools, with an obvious complimentary increase in your confidence in those skills. 8 months ago, could you have seen yourself doing major bowsprit surgery on the fly, without losing a travel day?

  2. I know you see it as a burden but believe me, there are many of us living your dream with you. Please keep blogging and publish your log. I will await notice of where to send the check.
    Good luck, fair winds, favorable tides, and calm seas !

  3. What great pictures of the live oaks! And yes keep blogging I enjoy reading and seeing things thought other peoples eyes.

  4. Thanks for the encouragement, guys. Blogging isn't really a burden, because I love doing it, but so much happens every day, it's hard to keep up with it!

    And, bljones, you are correct about the confidence. Of course, sometimes confidence rises out of necessity!

  5. Another great blog.



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