First Shakedown Cruise

Cruising To The Rhode River

The topsail schooner Sultana sails into the Severn River from Chesapeake Bay, with the very familiar radio towers of Greenbury Point in the background. Click on the picture to see a bigger version; use your browser's "back" command to return here.  

As we continued to sail towards the bay, a few minutes later, the schooner Woodwind II sailed into the Severn, too. Click on the picture to see a bigger version; use your browser's "back" command to return here.  

Much later, as we were sailing around the bay, a big ship passed us (Nordön), heading north towards Baltimore. I have an internet link with information about this ship (see next page).  

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Jerome and Pilgrim came over to the marina around 9:15 a.m. and temporarily docked right next to my boat. I'm in slip E1, and there's space next to me at the end of E dock for another boat to tie up. In fact, this is where Pilgrim had been docked before checking out of the marina, and so far, no one else has moved in.

The boat stayed put with only one dockline, since the northeast wind held him against the dock. Thanks to Pilgrim's sturdy rubrail, no fenders were needed. (I'm envious, since Sunspot doesn't have a rubrail but really needs one, due to the tumblehome of the hull.)

I passed up everything that had to go aboard (including Jerome's new generator) then we got busy with a few quick chores: top off the water tanks, rinse the decks, stow things below, then prepare the boat for sailing (uncover the sails, attach the halliards, and ready the sheets).

Chores took about 45 minutes, then we motored away. Instead of heading out to the bay, though, we headed the other direction, into the upper reaches of Back Creek. Jerome knows about a secret "hidey-hole" where a boat can anchor, but unfortunately for us, a sailboat was already anchored there. The boat looked like it was there for the duration, and the creek is too narrow and/or shallow for another boat to anchor in the vicinity.

The reason we looked at the hidey-hole is that Jerome needs someplace to keep the boat, now that he's not paying for a marina slip. There aren't too many places left to anchor in Back Creek or Spa Creek, since the city has installed moorings in all the popular anchorages. There's a little leftover room here and there (like the hidey-hole), but understandably these spots are coveted by other cruisers (since anchoring is free vs. $25 a night for a mooring).

While we were turning around, space was tight, and I though we'd have trouble making the turn. Jerome assured me the boat could easily make the turn, and demonstrated a sharp turn. The Tayana 42 can turn on a dime, and it required much less room to complete the turn than my Fast Passage 39 would take. Another thing I noticed is that for the size of the boat (42 feet and 30,000 lbs or so), the engine is relatively small, so when motoring, it takes a while to accelerate or stop.

As we headed back down Back Creek, we passed the marina again and I got a good look at my boat Sunspot. I have to say, it was a little tatty looking. I've been letting the teak go gray, but without sanding off the old finish, so it's quite blotchy in places. Also, the hull needs cleaning and the few streaks and scratches (from docking boo-boos) are pretty obvious.

It felt pretty good being on a moving boat again—Sunspot spends most of its time at the dock, since right now, I'm using it mostly as a waterfront condo. It was also enjoyable looking at all the other boats along Back Creek, hundreds and hundreds of them, of all shapes and sizes. When you travel on land, you get used to the fact that so many cars look alike. But out on the water, it's very easy (and popular) to customize boats such that no two boats look alike. Near the mouth of Back Creek, several other sailboats passed us coming in, each of them packed with children (they were probably on an organized outing).

Once out on the Severn, there was a little wind, so Jerome steered us into the wind and set the autopilot so we could raise the sails. I hoisted the mainsail (which went up very easily), then we unfurled the jib. We also raised the staysail (which is hanked-on rather than furling), but the way it had been stowed, the hanks were all twisted and snagged. It took a little extra time and care to raise it, but Jerome said he had never used the staysail before. The staysail on Pilgrim is self-tending, so it requires little or no attention when tacking the boat. This is the good side, but the downside is that the staysail is rather small, so it's not a very powerful sail.

After the sails were raised and trimmed, we killed the engine and sailed along in blessed silence. The wind was light but the sail plan was surprisingly efficient even in light air, so we had good boat speed. One of the main purposes of the shakedown cruise is to try out all the sailing gear, so we played around with the sails, trying out all the hardware and practicing our techniques on different points of sail.

Another purpose of the shakedown cruise is to look for problems, and we found a few fairly quickly. We noticed that the padeyes where the reefing lines attach to the boom were loose, something that will need attention. Also, the control line for the jib furler was led to the drum too low, causing a jumble of poor wraps on the drum when the jib was unfurled. Another problem that caused some consternation was radio interference caused by the autopilot. Jerome likes to keep a handheld VHF near the helm, leaving it "on" so he can hear what's going on and communicate with other boats if need be. Unfortunately, when the radio is near the helm, you hear so much interference that the radio is almost useless. As you move the radio away from the helm, the interference decreases rapidly, but this puts the radio out of arm's reach. By turning other equipment off and on, we verified that the autopilot was causing the interference, but we're still not sure whether the handheld radio itself might have a problem.

While we were out on the bay, we saw a fair amount of traffic. We saw lots of small boats with fishermen, some towing planer boards and multiple lines. (A planer board is a small floating board attached to a trolled fishing line that steers the line to the left or right, away from the boat's wake; a planer board on each side allows you to troll three fishing lines without them tangling: left, right, and center.) We saw a few tugs, one going north with a barge load of containers and another southbound that passed quite closely because we accidentally jibed in the very light wind. This tug was towing a huge empty coal barge from Baltimore down to Norfolk, according to Jerome. Two ships also passed us, both going north. It was clear enough to easily see the two spans of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

We had an enjoyable time sailing and trying out the boat's gear, but the wind slowly but surely died. Although it had been cool in the morning (and even chilly in the breeze), as the wind died the temperatures went up. We were eventually becalmed, with barely enough wind to keep us pointed in the right direction (east). Watching the GPS track, though, we could see that we made practically no eastward progress. Instead, we were slowly drifting down the bay at about 1.5 knots, due to the ebbing tide.

We futzed around with things for a while, then Jerome decided to call it a day and take in the sails. We roller furled the jib, then lowered the staysail, flaking it out and securing it to its boom. For the mainsail, Pilgrim has a special sail storage system called a "Mack Pack", consisting of lazy jacks and a zippered fabric pouch running the length of the boom. As you lower the main, the lazy jacks guide the descending sail into the fabric pouch, although you have to help by flaking the sail and keeping things neat. Once the sail is completely lowered into the pouch, you can remove the main halliard from the headboard and zip up the pouch, to protect the sail from UV light damage. If you don't want to put the sail away completely, you can leave the pouch unzipped and leave the halliard attached. In this case, we always pull down a length of halliard and hook it under a mast winch (having it run from the headboard, down to the winch, then back up to the masthead). This way, the mainsail can't accidentally raise itself due to a gust of wind. But this way, the halliard can slap against the mast, so we always tie it off to a shroud with a bungee cord.

Jerome decided to head into the Rhode River to spend the night, so he motored in that direction using the GPS for guidance. The Garmin GPSmap 492 at the helm is quite powerful, and it contains a complete set of detailed nautical charts as well as all the usual GPS features. At this point, Jerome is not used to setting a waypoint on the GPS chart and navigating to the waypoint, something which would be useful right now to guide us to the river entrance along the shoreline. Jerome is very much used to visual navigation, but you can't always see small rivers in the distance, not to mention the buoys and daymarks. Therefore, a GPS with built-in charts can be very useful, but only if you know how to tap into the full power of the system. This is one of my assigned tasks during the shakedown cruise—to learn how to use the GPS then coach Jerome on its operation—but right now, I'm meeting with a little resistance to the paradigm shift from completely visual navigation to GPS-assisted electronic navigation.

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