Sunday, November 25, 2007

Life Doesn't Always Go As Planned

Winds weren't favorable and charts were scarce for heading up the Delaware Bay, so we decided to head offshore and go direct to Norfolk, Virginia. Justine (Ed's sister) joined us in Cape May, arriving late in the evening but ahead of schedule, not knowing where to find the boat. Of the many docks and marinas, she asked the cab driver to drop her off at the one across the street from where we were moored. I just happened to be on a payphone at that other marina, and after only a few weeks in the States, it's pretty easy to spot a Canadian. We had never met, neither of us knew what the other looked like, and she walked right up and interrupted my call with, "Are you Laura?! Oh thank God!"

We met a lovely Canadian couple in a neighbouring boat, with whom we shared a couple of great evenings, cooking dinner for each other, and sharing stories of our journeys thus far. Before leaving Cape May, we arrived back at the boat after an afternoon ashore, and the entire starboard side of the boat was loaded with groceries. We know who the culprits were. (Thank-you Mike, Jan, and Beauty! We never got to say goodbye, perhaps see you down the road again one day soon!)

It was miserable weather when we left New Jersey; rainy and windy and cold. Once outside the breakwater, we could add 'bumpy' to that list. It was great wind for making some good distance, but it was not so easy on our stomachs. I commend Justine for not 'swallowing the anchor' after that first passage with us. It was as bad as any hazing ritual one could imagine, but she's still here, and the beckon of Cuba is allowing us to overcome the current temporary discomforts.
Ed decided to head home to Scotia after arriving in Norfolk. I understand his reasons and am very appreciative of the fact that he was so open with me about his intentions and that he made sure he wasn't leaving me in a lurch. We didn't know each other very well when he joined the boat in Surrette's Island, and I was relying on the recommendation of a couple of friends that he would be excellent crew. He had so much initiative when it came to taking care of the boat and getting things done, and was very attentive, responsible, and reliable with navigation. He was absolutely everything that Dave and Logan said he would be, and I will miss him.

It was his wish to be rowed across to the other wharf for a final voyage in the dingy, even though we were actually dockside at the time. Justine and I said our goodbyes and got back in the dingy. I think it was probably due to my knot-job when we got back to the mothership that night, but when we awoke in the morning, the dingy was gone. As much as I complained about how ugly it was, and how it was next-to-impossible to row in a straight line, it was actually a convenient thing to have! Justine and I borrowed a dingy and did an extensive search down the eastern branch of the river where the north winds of the last few days would have likely carried it, but we returned empty handed. We need to find another one soon, as we will be anchoring more and more as we head further south.

In preparation for warmer weather, we have begun painting the boat white. It will take quite a few coats and a bit getting used to, but it's standard practise when a boat is going to be exposed to the hot tropical sun.

Today, Justine and I are going to tear ourselves away from this lovely cafe we've enjoyed in Portsmouth for the last few days since we crossed the river from Norfolk. We are bound for a dock just north of the Great Bridge Lock, where we are going to see my friend Ben this evening, an old shipmate from the 130ft brigantine Eye of the Wind. We sailed together for 8 months about four years ago, travelling from the Caribbean to Denmark together and I haven't seen him since we said goodbye somewhere near Copenhagen. There's nothing quite like seeing old friends !

Friday, November 16, 2007

Fickle Winds and Shallow Waters

Logan left us in Marion, Massachusetts (as planned) so it's been just the 2 of us for the last ten days. We departed Marion the morning of the 10th, vaguely aiming for Newport, Rhode Island. Once out in Buzzards Bay though, we decided the wind was not in our favor, and perhaps it's be more interesting to head out to Martha's Vineyard. So we did. We managed to pass through a tricky little area known as Woods Hole at the proper tide (finally!) and we sailed into Vineyard Haven just before sunset. Upon going ashore, we were both shocked and dismayed when we discovered that America has these places known as 'dry towns'. We were told it was 3 miles to Oak Bluffs, where we would find both the nearest bars and liquor stores. It was a nice walk.

Our stay was short and uneventful.

We sailed the following morning for Block Island, Rhode Island. We're quite determined these days to motor as little as possible, so despite the passage from the Vineyard to Block Island being only 30 miles, it took us 24hrs. We were tired and very cold at sunrise as we wrapped around the north of the island to approach the harbour on the west side, but we felt very privileged by the nighttime sights, which daysailors would know nothing of. The dolphins had come out to play, and the phosphorescent wake they left as they danced around the boat was surreal. We also got to practise our ability to recognize various lights on the shipping traffic in the area, tugs, barges, pilot boats.

We almost managed to sail the whole way through the very narrow channel, but then the wind came around and we had to fire up the engine for a few minutes, to avoid landing on the beach about 15 feet to our right. We eyed up a dock in the inner harbour and decided to go alongside, rather than anchor. Ed was up in the rig, keeping an eye on the water depths. The water was very clear, and the bottom was sandy and white, and at times it looked like there shouldn't be enough water beneath us to float the boat. Oh well, we said, it's only sand. So when we felt the little nudge, and she came to a halt about 50 ft from the dock, we just laughed. Ed suggested setting a sail to heel us over, and the wind was favourable to drag us off the underwater beach. But before we could do anything, the windage of the hull itself was sufficient to do the job. We slipped off the beach, and then cast our lines onto the wharf.

We're considering writing a cruising guide to 'sailing out-of-season'. Everywhere we've gone seems to be all packed-up and dismantled for the winter. Block Island was no exception, it was rather desolate. It's covered with expensive summer homes, owned mostly by folks who seem to enjoy sunsets rather than sunrises, as the west side of the island is freckled with hundreds of these New England style shingled cottages. There is only one town, on the east side, where all the tourist shops were closed, the post office was open from 10am until 1pm, and the grocery store closed at 6pm. There was one main road that circled the island, and it took me a little less than 2 hrs to do a full circumnavigation, and visit some of the centuries old lighthouses.

We waited out a nasty nor'easter, then one morning, we bit the bullet and motored out into high seas, with the forecast promising things to diminish throughout the day. We struggled a bit with the decision of whether to go inside of Long Island Sound, or just go directly to Cape May, New Jersey. Dave W.'s advice was to go outside the sound, avoid the shipping traffic and hassles of the Coast Guard when passing New York City. He's never steered me wrong with any of his suggestions thus far and I quite respect the way he goes about things with his own boat, so naturally I was inclined to take his advice. Adding to that argument was the fact that I didn't have the charts for the Sound. My only hesitation with going outside was knowing that Ed and I would be very tired after what would likely be 2 full days at sea. It would be nice to have more crew for an extended passage. But we decided we could do it. So off we went, passing Montauk Point at the eastern tip of Long Island around noontime. We had great wind for the first 12 hrs, and we estimated that at this rate, we would be in Cape May the following evening. Unfortunately, the wind died on day 2, and we were well over 100 miles from land. We had gotten the forecast periodically over the VHF radio, and we knew there were strong southwesterly winds approaching. Nothing too nasty, 30kts, 7 ft seas. So we sat in the cockpit, becalmed, flat seas, knowing that conditions would change fast when the wind started to pick up. Night fell, and the seas began to build, and the rain set in. We found ourselves in the New York traffic lanes with reduced visibility from the rain and mist (for the non-sailors among you, yes, there are designated traffic lanes on the ocean, generally at the entrance to any busy harbour, which commercial traffic is required to follow). We don't have a radar, and despite having a radar reflector, a little wooden boat still isn't the ideal vessel to be on if you want to be clearly visible on another ships radar. The boat was feeling over pressed with the amount of sail we had up, so I grabbed my harness and went forward to take the mainsail down. While doing this, a little green light appeared ahead of us. It can be very confusing in the dark and in high seas, trying to identify what exactly you might be looking at. The way another ship is lit tells you which way they're going, and can give some indication of the size of the vessel. But it's often difficult to tell how far away it is, and how fast it's going. After studying the bobbing green light for about 10 seconds, I determined it was a sailboat, and was very close by. I went back and grabbed our bright spotlight, and shone it on them, then shone it on our rig, so they would have a better idea of what they were encountering too. They shone their spotlight back, in acknowledgment, and I determined then had the right-of-way, and we altered course. It's funny to be 100 miles offshore, with so much ocean around, then to pass within 100 ft of another vessel. Ed and I both agreed that it was somewhat uplifting to see another sailboat out, experiencing exactly what we were experiencing, probably just as cold, wet, tired and seasick as we were.

Later the following evening, the winds and waves had subsided, and once again, we found ourselves becalmed. What should have been a 24 hour passage became 4 days and 3 nights. It's nice to experience being out of sight of land for a while. The days feel completely different. Your mind is not cluttered with the worries of navigating around shoals and rocks and shoreline. The water out there is at least 200ft deep, so I really do breath a sigh of relief when we in open water. Instead of running up and down the companionway, plotting positions and whatnot, we sit in the cockpit, reading books, writing letters, working on making 'baggy wrinkles' for chafe gear, to prevent any more wear on the sails where they lay on the stays and shrouds. When the weather is fine, a lot of this time is quiet time, though we do talk as well. Ed talks about Louise and what she's up to and plans for the future in Scotia. I mostly just think about what's going to happen next, short term and long term. I think of scenarios... and what I would do in various emergency (or otherwise) situations on the boat. Then sometimes situations present themselves and you have to spring into action.

One such situation occurred on our last morning out on our 4-day trip to Cape May. I had laid down at 5am after taking the bulk of the night watch. It was rough once again, and I was so cozy to be down below in my sleeping bag, warm and dry. I could hear the sound of water sloshing along the hull, it sounded like we were making good speed. It crossed my mind that the sloshing sound seemed a bit more... what's the word... distinct, perhaps. I wondered if the ocean had been sneaky in the night, and had crawled into the wrong side of the boat. Nah, I'm just slightly paranoid, worry too much about things. Then the boat heeled over, and my eyes were drawn to the corner of the ice box where water was bubbling up from beneath the floor!

It could have been a number of things. I do have an automatic pump on board, and it could have been the case that it was pumping like mad and there was still a large amount of water aboard from a large leak somewhere. I may have panicked if that thought had crossed my mind, but I didn't think about that scenario until later. I assumed the bilge pump had burned out, because it had been making unusual noises the day before, which I had chosen to ignore I guess. This turned out to be the case. It took us a little while to pump out using the manual pump in the cockpit, because it was well clogged as well. Once we got it cleaned out, we were able to pump the bilge dry, and later take the automatic pump apart and clear out the gunk that had caused it to blow its fuse.

After dealing with that, I decided I would look at the detailed chart of the approaches to Cape May. It didn't take me long to figure out that I actually didn't have it. We were about 5 miles off Atlantic City, with 18 miles left to go. I was considering winging it, assuming that any hazards to navigation would probably be well marked. What other choice did I really have? Well, perhaps call someone on the VHF for some advice, why not? I wasn't too proud. And perhaps it would serve to avoid a later search and rescue operation. I called the Cape May Coast Guard station on channel 16, and requested advice. Channel 16 being the international distress channel, it's acceptable to establish contact with another station, then you're supposed to switch over to a 'working' channel. I don't understand it, but we tried a few other channels, but the transmission was broken and unreadable. So we had to carry out the conversation on 16, which all vessels underway are required to monitor, so I think we provided a bit of entertainment to some of the local sportsfishers. I explained that we were a Canadian vessel just west of buoy R2, approaching Cape May without proper charts, and were there any hazards I should be aware of. I gave him my co-ordinates, and my true course, and he said he'd plot it and get back to me. A few minutes later he called back to say there were no shoals or wrecks, and our course would give us a safe approach to the breakwater. He added to this statement, "That said, ma'am, you are soley responsible for the safe navigation of your vessel". I acknowledged and thanked him, which he followed up with, "But, you know, if you have any other questions or concerns, please contact us again". Ed likes to imagine his name is Gil, and I agree. He sounded quite striking.

The breakwater at the entrance provided a daunting approach, with 2kts of tidal current opposing us. Steering was tricky, and the channel was very narrow. The night seemed darker than usual somehow, and the light from the spotlight seemed to fall dead before lighting what we wanted to avoid. We had a cruising guide that detailed the inner harbour, though not to scale. We used the spotlight to find our marks, many of them un-lit, and we just hoped not to run aground, as the cruising guide talks about the necessity of frequent dredging to keep the waterways navigable. But was managed to find a dock and tie up safe and sound by about 8pm. We hardly had the opportunity to shut the engine down when we were greeted by another Canadian heading south with his boat. Jean-Paul invited us over for wine, and we learned about his goodwill mission to Haiti. The top deck of his boat is loaded with bicycles to give away, and if I spoke french, I might know more about his journey. Ed was able to converse more extensively with him, being somewhat proficient in the language.

We quietly left the dock bright and early yesterday, and lucked out when we found ourselves in a mooring field, and a couple who had just hauled their boat out for the winter kindly offered us their mooring. So it's here in Cape May where we will stay for another day or two, make sure the bilge is clean and the pump is working, fix a few other odds and ends. Next stop, somewhere in the Delaware Bay.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

I Was So Sure He Said Low Tide

The boys had a great last night in P-Town, and the consequences left me feeling like I was just on yet another solo passage from Lunenburg to Halifax. While they slept off their indulgences of the previous night, I sat on deck, motoring along (there was not a breath of wind) to the Cape Cod Canal. I had a frustrating day, as she doesn't steer herself quite so well under motor alone. She is very well balanced under sail, you can go for hours with only ever making minor adjustments to the wheel. This gives you the opportunity to do other things, as staring at a compass can become a bit boring. I like to read, practise my piping music, or any other small project that one may do on a rainy day. But when constant frequent adjustments to the course are necessary, there's little you can do but stare at 240 degrees on the compass when crossing Cape Cod Bay. I resorted to my discman, listening to some local east coast greats such as Lennie Gallant, J.P. Cormier, and David Myles, all of whom I never grow tired.

Timing is critical when arriving at the East Entrance of the canal. Advice offered to me made it clear that by arriving at the entrance as the tide was rising would give us the proper current to transit the approximately 5-mile pass in about 1/2 and hour. The correct time is actually turned out to be high tide. Things began to feel wrong as we entered the turbulence at the beginning of the narrows. We had been motoring a steady 5.5 knots. Slowly and surely, I watched the speed on my handheld GPS drop, 5 kts, 4.5, 3.5, 2.... We went about 1/2 a mile, and when I saw our speed drop to 0.8, I knew we were in definitely danger of losing steerage soon, as our charts showed the maximum current increasing by another 2 knots upstream. I decided to bail. We turned around 180 degrees, and our speed instantly increased to 6 knots with the engine in slow ahead. Having noticed a marina just off the canal a few minutes earlier, we made a run for it. It was slightly unnerving as we tried to get through the little gap in the sea wall, the current pushing so hard that I was forced to throttle her up to 2000 RPM and aim not for the gap, but for the concrete wall beside it. Once inside, all was calm, there was little indication in this little hideaway of the raging currents just meters to the north.

Here, we re-grouped and waited for the tide, which meant 4 hours to wander around the town of Sandwich and pick up some fruits and vegetables and the ever-important supply of dark chocolate. While Ed cooked dinner, Logan decided to get serious about plotting our course through the canal, for which he made a paper model of a lovely schooner to envision the passage of our boat between the dozens of green and red buoys on the Buzzards Bay chart.

The next few hours we motored through the cold and dark, and eventually a growing southwesterly swell once we were spit out the west exit of the canal. Our original destination when setting out from P-Town that morning was to make New Bedford, but we were tired and had enough for one day, so decided to seek out a safe anchorage somewhere. Marion seemed to have a well marked channel, so we altered course. Turned out that none of the buoys were lit markers, so with the 12-volt spotlight we scanned the harbour entrance for each successive mark, missing the one indicating the western edge of Ram Island. I don't remember now how we figured out we were heading for a bad place (islands are essentially invisible on moonless overcast nights) but we eventually spotted our red buoy #6, about 1/4 mile behind us and far off our port (left) side.

Once into the mooring field, we were faced once again with one of my favorite maritime games, bumper boats. Marion is very much a sailing community, and there are upwards of 100 boats moored in this harbour. Many empty moorings provided the added challenge of dodging the attached lines, which could foul-up in the propeller. BUT, all is well, and we were all relieved to tie up at the first wharf we could find.

Today we finally cleared customs, during which I received a scolding and very stern warning. There are no Customs officers in Provincetown, but apparently we were meant to at least place a phone call to the nearest Customs office, to make them aware of our arrival, then when we arrived in an official port of entry, we would do the paperwork at that time. Technically, said Officer McQuaid, he should seize my boat. I bit my tongue; play the game, just play the game. I know this may sound terrible, but as I stood down below with the officer, looking over his shoulder at the boys sitting on deck in the cockpit, all it would have taken was one wrong look from Ed, and I would have burst into laughter. McQuaid was very professional and I know he was only doing his job, so I played along, "Yes, sir, I'm terribly sorry, sir. I'll know for next time, sir". Without too much more ado and a payment of $19, I received my cruising permit, and Annie Laurie is now legal in American waters for a year.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

My Boys

Ed Sturgeon

The skies open, the seas abate, and the tide ebbs. Edward Sturgeon, an intrepid adventurer, fearless lover, bold beholder of the beaty of life, a brave battler of outrageous injustice, a courageous companion, daring dictator of drastic social change, spirited spinnaker setter, would-be heroic life saver, gallant gentleman, and audacious dark green hand aboard the great sailing vessel Annie Laurie, comes gratefully into another day. Born the great grandson of an Irish sail maker, the son of a carpenter and raised by a kind woman, this boy formed into a young man with a stout copper constitution. He makes his way through the vicissitudes of daily living with a strong heart and a strong back. He mindfully experiences the lighter side of the heaviness of being, without regard to those who would attempt to rein him in or quell his sardonic quirk. Some call him a rouge, others a rambler. They would be mistaken, however, to think they truly know his character. His being is constantly undergoing renovations: an ever changing chippy; a block on his shoulder that reads these simple words: Love binds every time together and joins all places. The center of all places at once converge on anyone who loves deeply and completely. With self and without arrogance, adaption and constant revision is the gift and the curse. And the whimsy of inherited familial social bias based on ancient grudges and misconceived half-truths is carried along by love and alas, un-love. We all of us are tied together. We're joyfully one and so painfully alone. We are so separate and also so in love. We are no time, every nothing, and always, every place, in constant love.

Logan Livingston

In the beginning there was light, air, wood, and water. The ancestral Norsemen couldn't have asked for anything more- In the furthest depths of black death-ice, bloody storm, and hardened soul men were spawned from the sea, thrown into an existence of land exile and sea servitude; there was nothing more... or so they believed. Over the centuries a myth was formed, a vision in a fire of smoke and charred bones, a vision of a being so capable of uniting hundreds of years of experience, thousands of ocean miles, unbeaten heroism, strength, endurance, brethren and skill began to take hold, root itself in the iron hearts and subconscious of every soul who cast their eyes upon the sea. In the year nineteen hundred and eighty three, a son was born. Shot out from his mothers womb into a sea of black current and salt, this little man was forced into being by a simple struggle: to survive. In the early days of his life he grew fins before his toes could take shape, gills replaced lungs and scales encrusted his mortal skin. The seas currents carried him to the furthest corners of the world before the age of three; by the age of eight, tide nor storm could abate him- for the ocean was his to have, and so he took it. Guided by Spanish navigators, taught by Greek fisherman, moulded by Norwegian sailors, forced to battle by the British, forced to hide with the West Indian Whalers and hardened by years of grain racing, Logan Livingston became a name to all sailors, a voice in the dark when all hope is lost, a cry to those throughout the world with the slightest salt running through their veins. A rumble of ferociousness as if the waves themselves obey the very words that leap from his hoarse throat. A powerhouse of wisdom, strength, vigor and hardened experience, this legend lives on.

P-Town, Day 2, Hurricane Noel

The wind was howling and the rain was piercing just an hour ago as Logan, Ed and I watched a boat sink at its mooring. The winds have not yet reached their maximum predicted strength, which is up to 70kts later this evening. The Provincetown Harbormaster has kindly offered us free docking for the duration of the storm. We have lines spread out to every cleat and piling possible on the surrounding wharfs, like a spider in a web. The boys are back there now, and I feel comfortable with our current situation. When the wind shifts around midnight though, we will need to be prepared to fire up the engine and cast off the lines, and find another wharf which will offer us shelter when the winds back to the northwest.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Provencetown, Cape Cod

After close to 80 hrs at sea, we made landfall at Provencetown, Massachusettes. That's about 30hrs longer than one would expect to make such a crossing, but it wasn't really a case of the boat living up to her name of Sea Plough (a conclusion my sister would quickly jump to). A lot of it had to do with the UNBELIEVABLE tidal currents south of Nova Scotia.

We left Surrette's Island around noon on Monday in a strong NW'ly breeze and an ebbing tide. The tide was running at almost 4 knots (miles/hr) to the southeast, as we tried to motor-sail to the southwest. We just couldn't fight it, and as I realized we were getting pulled towards Soldiers Ledge, I decided to alter course and just let the tide take it where it would. Dave Westergard (of Surrettes Island, where we leaned her up against the wharf in a falling tide to complete the necessary bottom work) warned us of this tide, mentioning that it would pull us as far south as Seal Island. Not that I didn't believe him (he's lived in the area for 35 years) but I just couldn't imagine that we could end up being pushed about 10 miles in the wrong direction like that. But we were, and we ended up passing within 1/4 mile of Blonde Rock, the southernmost hazard to navigation in Nova Scotia, and 20 miles off our intended course.

The forecast had called for light to moderate NW'lies, which generally means you shouldn't expect anything more than 20 knots. Most of the trip the winds were a solid 20-25, at times gusting to over 30, and the building seas, at times combined with tidal rips, made for some rather messy sailing. Despite keeping up a good speed, we found ourselves further and further to the southeast. Effie got rid of her morning's breakfast early on, then was alright, aside from being clearly frightened for a period of a couple of hours when the howling winds in the rigging were at their worst.

One bit of excitement came when the wind became too much to have the main set in full, so we attempted to put a reef in, to reduce the size of the sail. As we went to haul it up, the shackle holding the halyard to the sail came undone, and the halyard and block went up the mast, and quickly wrapped itself round and round and round the jumper stay (the wire that connects the tops of the 2 masts). I climbed up the shrouds to try to retrieve it but, in the large swells it was far too rough to hold on and to try to reach for a constantly whipping rope at the same time. We decided to wait until the winds calmed a bit.

And that point came at 2am the following night. The waves were less than a meter and the winds were less than 5 knots. I got the boys up, and Logan hauled me to the top of the main, and I managed to grab a hold of the block. Ed held our course, as well as the spotlight. There was something magical about that moment, the moon was so bright, and I could see forever from 40ft above the deck. There was a small fishing boat about a mile away, fishing on one of the shoals of Georges Bank. Being approximately 200 miles from shore, that helped to make the night and our location slightly less desolate.

The next 40 hrs were hard on all of us, too rough to sleep, all of our clothes soaked, and it was next to impossible to keep the stove going and balance the kettle and pots and pans while tried to keep yourself from being thrown around. I'm used to sailing on larger boats when being in such weather, and it took some getting used to. It was Ed's first experience offshore in any kind of boat, and he handled it like a trooper, his spirits always up, despite lack of sleep and being soaked inside and out for the entire trip (I will say now I'm very glad to have found him). We learned to get by on 1 or 2 hour 'rests', not sleep, just laying down with eyes closed, in a state of delirium at times (as I can attest to, experiencing mild hallucinations on day 3).

We may be here in P-town for a few days, as we wait for Hurricane Noel to pass (for you overseas, you can see the progress of the storm at Environment Canada's website, )

My editor wants crew bio's, so I'm going to end my entry here, and handover my computer to Ed and Logan to do their own entries.