Archive for June, 2009

Wait and run

Friday, June 26th, 2009
the sun dipping behind boldt castle

the sun dipping behind boldt castle

If I seem to be dragging my feet, I am.  There is still ice off the north coast of Labrador from the ice reports by Canadian Weather.  I’m watching the ice charts almost daily now at the Canadian Ice Service

 Even though past the summer solstice, the days up north will continue to be long and the traffic will be light.  Like a chess game, it’s still early and my moves are all preparatory.  To go out too soon would only make me vulnerable to unforeseen forces.   My strategy is one of wait and run.  It’s just easier to wait in civilization but that opportunity will pass soon enough.   Once at sea I can catnap as I sail, then hove to when I can’t hold my eyes open any longer.  I have a sea drogue to slow the drift and I’ll set my radar alarms, my AIS (automated identification system)alarm  and my drag alarm.  I don’t expect to sleep more than one or two hours in a row, though, but that won’t be a problem.   I rarely sleep straight through the night.  A bump in the night, a shift of the wind, a slap of a halyard and I’m wide awake.   

Josh and Tiny have caught up with me with wonderful tales of their own adventures in THUMPER THE MOTORHOME.  Adventures like Josh driving the motor home through down town Manhattan.  Some things are better I don’t know about in advance.  We three went to see the delightful little movie called UP.  Imagine that, a story about an old man off on an adventure. 

I’ll get underway today to start making my way to Montreal.  I’ve been waiting on some needed soft ware for my AIS unit.  I’ll miss the land of a Thousand Islands and all the beautiful nooks it offers for exploration.  Sometime this afternoon, I’ll cross over the 45th parallel, that point where I’m half way between the equator and the North Pole.  The next milestone will be my eastern most approach somewhere off Labrador.

The Marsh

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Traveling down the Saint Lawrence River reminds me of an oft visited fantasy of my youth where I was a Huck Finn off to see the world by raft. Who isn’t transported to another life by tales of rafts and rivers whether it is Tom and Huck or Mole and Ratty?  Is it the longing of the soul for peace on one side and adventure on the other that keeps me ever curious about the boats on the river and the people on the shore?  Is it that longing, like the poles tug on the compass needle though ever so faint is ever so consistent, that pulls me around each bend searching for yet another quiet secret place to spend the night?  .

 I’m finding such places here of the River Saint Lawrence.  Granted my raft is a bit more “comfortable “ and maneuverable than Huck and Tom’s but Ratty’s assertions about nothing being half so much worth the doing ,  gives honor and meaning to my slow meander down the river.  The towns of Clayton and Alexandria Bay hold me spell bound in their simplicity and beauty.  They are water towns filled with water loving people.  “By Jove, isn’t that Toad Hall over there through the trees?” 

So when one too many mussel boats wakes me senseless, I cut my days travel short and head into a marsh that is just out of sight of the main channel.  Here in only 3 feet of water, the busy world of homes and roads or boats and ships need only be out of sight to be gone from memory.  I’m again in a world I’ve known since childhood fifty-five years ago.  I was born for these days and for places such as this.  

 A heron springs into the air and squawks his resentment at my presents, but he soon forgets his grudge, circles and lands again. Geese and goslings loop around the edges of the reeds, traveling as though on a mission, the older teaching the younger the wonders of the world on the water in preparation for the upcoming lessons on the wonders of the air.  I lower the anchor slowly; almost silently less I become the intruder I don’t want to be.   My bare feet make very little noise on deck but crossing the trampoline, give such a squeak with lacings tightening I resolve not to step on them again but go around only on the akas and amas.  The noise of man’s world is too close as it is for me to be adding any more than I must. 

The boat settles.  My ripples are gone.  I go below to straighten up the constant clutter of too much stuff in too little space but can’t stay there long.  I might miss something.  And I would have too had I not looked just at the right moment at the rocky ledge by the willows to see a mink slip from the water onto the rocks and scurry away.  A marsh is a fine place to spend the afternoon when a cool breeze spins the boat this way and that, changing my view without changing my position.     

I’m grateful The CAP’N LEM only makes 5 knots into the headwinds of the river instead of the 30 or 40 of the roaring cigarette boats out in the channel.  Though I treasure the quiet, I don’t begrudge them their fun.  Tomorrow they will be gone, perhaps back to a life ashore in just as frantic a hurry as their day on the water.  Their time to crave peace and quiet will come, just as mine has.  And should they ever ask me how I found it, I will tell them about the little marsh at Lat. 44° 18’ 44.6” N ~ Long. 075° 57’ 07.3” W   and how it renews my spirit for the miles ahead.marsh-and-geese

Marsh at sunset

Marsh at sunset

Last Night on the Lakes

Friday, June 19th, 2009

I departed Oswego in a gray fog and rain.  It was a warm rain though and the wind was right for my last sail on Lake Ontario.  Well, for most of the afternoon, anyway.  Then it died, backed and came up again demanding I fight against a headwind for the few miles to the lee of Grenadier Island.   It was there I spend my last night on the Great Lakes anchored southeast of the island at Lat 44° 02’ 37.1” N ~076° 20’ 38.9” W in 6’ of water.  My memory reviews past anchorages and ports-of-call but mostly I remember the people.  So many wishing me well, far winds and of course “luck”. 

This night takes me back to the first night aboard anchored of Sandy Island on Lake Superior and the ice that growled its way past the hull all night long.  That was 74 days and 1804 miles ago.  The excitement and sense of adventure has not dwindled.  I’m not tired of this yet.  Onboard the CAP’T LEM, sleep brings rest in spite of the tens of times my eyes open wide awake to check the position, the wind, or a noise out of the ordinary.  The first look out the hatch at a new day is always filled with anticipation.  The best is yet to come.  I am the happiest man I know.

It was by design that I came to the Lakes to start my voyage.  I knew instinctively they had great lessons to teach me, lessons about the boat, sailing alone, being alone and not being lonely, planning ahead, treading the dawn lightly, and thinking before acting, meeting new and wonderful people.   All these things will be priceless at sea and later at life.   My prayer tonight? “Dear God, keep me teachable.”

Oswego NY

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

There is a visitor to greet the CAP’T LEM in Oswego, NY as I tie the vessel to the waiting wall just below the locks.  He’s not the usual onlooker curious about the strange little sail boat come to their town, but a Dragonfly.  He has perched himself on the topping lift halyard.  I didn’t see him come aboard in my busyness and his stillness would have kept him hid were it not for his magnificent colors.  His eyes and they are hundreds as is the nature of insects, are a collective blue in contrast to the green strips of his body.  I’m dumbfounded by his beauty and by his size.  As bugs go he’s big!  I capture him… with my camera of course.  I would not hurt this creature for the entire world.  What if he were the last of his kind, the only one left to escape the ravages of pesticides, radiators and windshields?  No way would I even so much as bother him save for the camera in his face.  He does have a face, or I perceive it as such anyway.  There are the eyes and almost a nose and a mouth turned down in a frown of great wisdom.  He will live a lifetime in two month then be gone.  But now, he is CAP’T LEM’s guest-of-honor for these brief moments.  I’m smitten by his loveliness and look him over carefully.  His metamorphose must have been flawless so perfect are his stain glass wings and the posture of his abdomen.   I wonder if he grew to this size after emergence from his life as a nymph or did he come forth as he is now.   I know very little about insects and can only guess at the struggle he endured to cast off the old body to become the royal creature before me.  Now, here he is, totally unaware of his own beauty simply being what he was meant to be, a Dragonfly.

My thoughts run wild thinking the CAP’T LEM is much like a chrysalis to me.  It wraps me in warmth and safety in a harsh environment.  Perhaps there will be profound changes for me brought about by the struggles of the voyage.  I hope so.  If I think deeply and sail softly, the time alone spent in retrospect and contemplation will surely bring outlooks and attitudes such that my last days, like my guest’s, may yet be my best.    

My Guest-of-Honor

My Guest-of-Honor


Wings of Glass

Wings of Glass

Lake Ontario

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

The winds of Lake Ontario have been most kind to me, coming from the northwest just stout enough to hurry me a long at 5 to 6 knots.  The progress is tallying up now but I’m determined to stay in the moment and not agonize over the many miles ahead.  The lakes are too delicious to miss a single bite.  Tomorrows miles will come soon enough.

Long after sunset, I find my way into Oak Orchard Creek.  The chart doesn’t show anywhere to anchor, but still I have a feeling about the place and I find it even in the dark.  I come in at an idle. Dead slow is not slow enough to take in all the peace of the night.  The trees overhang the bank, their shadows long on the water.  A frog sings in the undergrowth a low song.  I hope the love of his life will hear and come.  I step lightly to the bow and as quiet as I can bring out the anchor, but the noise of the chain disturbs even me.  Hand over hand I lower it to the bottom putting out just enough line to give the CAP’N room to swing in a breeze I cannot even feel.  The frog stops singing but only for a moment then starts again.  I become part of the peace.   It is a river right out of Wind in the Willows.  In the morning Ratty and Mole will come rowing by.

A light wind in the right direction is a blessing.  The day is passed reading, adjusting sails, mending small holes in the trampoline before they can become big holes.  I’m far enough out not even the fishermen come by. 

The dying winds of sunset leave me drifting.  Rather than motor to an anchorage I decide to start doing what will become a regular practice out at sea.  I’ll hove to and spend the night on the lake.  Checking my position I’m satisfied I’m clear of any shipping lane for Rochester and bring down limp sails.  My lights are burning bright.  The only waves are the echoes of the dead wind and long gone motorboats.  I go to sleep easier than I thought I might and only wake now and again to check the horizon.  The sleep is restful and when the thunder wakes me a daybreak, I’m ready for another day.  And yes, it is a red sky in the morning.  This sailor takes his warning.

There is a thunderhead to the west of me and a thunderhead to the southeast of me.  I fear lightening.  I know to not be touching metal during a storm.  I dress for insulation and stay well inside.  I turn of all electronics and unplug them.  I even put on my mittens lest I touch something I shouldn’t.  I watch the mast for Saint Elmo’s fire.  I start the motor and head for a spot between the two thunderheads.  If I’m struck, what will happen?  Will it burn my stays, melt my sail to the boom, kill Betty (my wind-gen), eat my antennas or just plain scare me to death?  I had rather not find out.  It will not be a matter of luck.  Remember, I don’t believe in luck.  It will be the results of the physical properties of the boat and the proximity of the storm all coupled with forces I do not understand like static charges and thermodynamics.  That doesn’t matter.  What matters is that I take any action I can to break the chain of events necessary for lighten to occur and thus decrease that probability. I clip jumper cables to the stays and let them trail in the water.  I camouflage myself in order the lightening might overlook me.  Actions have consequences.   I am the chicken of the sea and I count the seconds between flash and thunder (what’s that old rule, every second is a mile away?  I forget) and run for open sky.

A hard rain washes the deck, then is gone with the dawn.  I have drifted only two miles in my sleep.  Toward noon the passing storms leave me with a gift of wonderful north wind and CAP’N LEM sails handsomely on to Oswego.

In Oswego Harbor I tie to the river wall just below the locks at Lat.47° 27’ 32.0”N ~ Long. 30’ 34.1”W having traveled 76 nm in two days and 1758 nm to date.

My anchorage in Oak Orchard Creek NY was Lat. 43° 22’ 13.3”N ~ Long. 078° 11’ 33.3”W.

Oak Orchard Creek anchorage

Oak Orchard Creek anchorage


From Lat 43° 22’ 13.3N ~ Lon 078° 11’ 33.3”W

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

On Oak Orchard Creek, the fishermen leave early.  The sun lightens the sky.  My anchorage is calm and I’m slow to rise.  I think of the past week and the trip through the Welland Canal. 

The first lock on the north side dropped the CAP’N LEM from the level of Lake Erie toward the Level of Lake Ontario a full 3 feet.  Then, it was two hours of motoring at 5 knots to the start of the remaining seven locks, each dropping us 47 feet for a total of 329 feet.  To me, the locks were a celebration of mankind’s ingenuity.  I wonder at that moment of discovery the first person visualized how it could be done.  Did they think “Water falls, and because it falls we can make it rise and with it we can rise ourselves!”   But no, I read about locks only to find they developed over long periods of time.  No flash of genius, no cry of “Eureka”, just slow steady progress of an idea passed on, mistakes made, lives lost, until now and mighty ships up and down with the closing of doors and opening of valves.   Still I’m humbled by the giant doors closed behind us holding back an inland sea.  As the water recedes in the lock small leaks in the doors spew out angry streams through cracks and seams.  Water wants its freedom, too.

The CAP’N LEM is the only vessel in each lock.   I’m reminded how rich I am in water.  Millions upon millions of gallons of fresh water spent in lowering me on my way.  More fresh water than I will drink, bath, wash my clothes in, water my lawn with… in a lifetime.  Such beautiful extravagance.  And to make me even for aware of my water wealth, it rained.  In the rain I tend the lines and promise myself to ponder about water and not complain when it rains and be ever mindful when, as I will, waste it, so as never to waste too much.  Of all the things in the world, save for air, it is the one thing most valuable to my life.  Then bells sound, the north doors open and we’re on our way.  So after twelve hours of travel through the Welland Canal we come to Lake Ontario and rest at Lat. 43° 15’ 19.6”N ~ Long. 079° 03’ 41.7”W on the Niagara River.















A note to my faithful readers

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

Going through the Welland Canal requires two people to be aboard so I sent to the west coast for a crew.  My heartfelt thanks to JoAnn for enduring first hours and hours waiting in airports and the loss of luggage, the rain, the cold and the cramped quarters. 

Needless to say but I’ve been a little busy.  Please keep checking back as I try to get a schedule of blogs started again.  There will be times of no contact as I make my way north, but I will be writing about what I see and experience.  Your participation in this little adventure is very important to me and I welcome your comments. 

Your friend and bloggateer


Misery Bay

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

The CAP’N LEM is docked in Buffalo New York making preparations to transit the Welland Canal on Thursday June 11th 2009.

After leaving Rocky River, THE CAP beats to windward on the now familiar short tack long tacks required to make progress against the Northeast winds.  A shift in wind directions that accompanies the setting of the sun helps gain the last few miles to Presque Island.  Night navigation gets hampered by the numerous lights on shore near a big city like Erie PA.   I check the chart, the radar, GPS, the horizon looking for anything that moves, anything that flashes, anything that stands out of the ordinary, then again chart, radar, GPS, horizon over and over until I’m well in the channel.  I don’t worry about grounding so much as hitting something unlighted. I jump at shadows. 

 It’s rare to see another boat out this late, but one lone motorboat overtakes me to port well outside the channel and proceeds me into the harbor.  He knows the waters and cuts buoys and corners and is soon out of sight.  I don’t let myself indulge in such for fear it might become a habit, a bad habit.  I shine a light on the unlighted buoys, I confirm my position and I slow down.  Like my father before me, I am a “night watchman” and I let that weight of responsibility hang heavy on my shoulders.  I talk to myself and I listen to what I say, “This mile, tommy, this mile is the important one, the one right in front of you!”.  

At the end of the seawall and before the next buoy, a hard right turn, 90° into a very shallow bay named Misery.  The fathometer rises to 4’ below the hull; I raise the dagger board and loosen the rudder just in case I find the bottom.  No, down again to 8’ and I’m home for the night at Lat. 42° 09’ 29.3” N ~Lon. 080° 05’ 14.5”W having traveled 1491 nautical miles from Two Harbors MN.  At first light, I’m up and out the hatch to see the bay called Misery and marvel that such a place could bare such a named.  One thing I’ve learned in my travels is there is no accounting for the names some places are given.  Perhaps the local history would explain it but to me a quiet anchorage like this in a beautiful boat surrounded by ducks and geese, and people in canoes on a clear Saturday morning is the stuff of dreams that could bring misery to no one.

I get an excited call from Tiny, “Did I see it!”  “No, what?”  “The NIAGARA, The Brig just left the harbor, full sail.”   A picture of a tall ship from the CAP’N LEM is a must.  Daylight changes things and coupled with the close scrutiny of the chart the night before I’m out of the harbor in pursuit.  I watch as off in the distance the Brig NIAGARA tacks,  the sailors on board running to man braces, then hauling to bring the yards around at just the right moment to catch the wind on the other tack before all momentum is lost.  The grace and beauty of a tall ship well handled is a thing to see.  It makes me glad to be a sailor.

The wind is right for my run to Buffalo, and just strong enough to keep me excited and watchful.  I leave the NIAGARA and Presque Island behind in the haze very quickly and  sail 75 miles before coming to anchor just inside the west breakwater of Buffalo Harbor at Lat. 42° 52’ 28.2” N ~ Long. 078° 54’ 09.4” W having traveled  1566 NM to date.



South Most

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

I settle on a close reach in a North East wind leaving South Bass Island.  The day passes uneventful with a few tacks.  My progress up Lake Erie is painfully slow.  I sail into the dark to make Rocky River.  Anchoring each night on the lakes is a safety issue.  Fatigue plus darkness is a recipe for mistakes.  I must always put safety first, otherwise I’m just some stunt man vying for attention.  Not my style.  I calculate risk, check variables and weather and play a lot of “what if” scenarios in my head.  Darkness in its self is not dangerous.  Fatigue is more so in its ability cloud reason.  I make for an anchorage aware I have both. 

I won’t always have the luxury of protected anchorages.  I’ll deal with that, then.  Tonight I anchor just inside the breakwaters of the Rocky River below the cliffs where mansions overlook the river and lake.  I hope they do not resent my presents in their view.  The CAP’N LEM is lovely to look at, clean, sleek and tidy.  Tomorrow I’ll be gone leaving no trace of my having been here but a scratch in the mud 8 feet below the surface of the water at Latitude 41° 29’ 21.5” N ~ Long 081° 50’ 11.7” W.  This point is the south most I will travel this voyage.  It is all up from here. 

NOTE:  I have changed the format for reporting my latitude and longitude from degrees, minutes, tens, hundred, thousands to degrees, minutes, seconds, tenths of seconds.  Google earth is in this format and this may help some locate my anchorages easer. 

The accuracy of the positions is based on my GPS unit and the numbers imply accuracy that may or may not be there.  Many times the GPS Map Plotter and the track line do not match on large scales showing small areas, but the “repeatability” of the track is very accurate.  By that, I mean if a track line goes over a break water coming in because the map is not exactly where it should be, I can find my way out again by following my track line in luau of the map. I often use this coming out of shallow water areas.  If I got in I can get out.  That will change with salt water and tides.  On those scales, I always use my seaman’s eye to keep from hitting anything.   The GPS gets me close enough to do that.  My radar on the other hand shows me buoys and breakwaters as they really are and therefore is the major instrument in fog.  However, it too, has draw backs at close range. Too close and the object disappears in the clutter.  Nothing replaces good seamanship.  All limitation taken into consideration allows me to enter these very tight spaces in safety in the dark.

NOTE TO TEACHERS:  The concept of minutes and seconds being measurements of arc as well as time is very complicated at any age. When I speak of “arc” it is the curvature of the earth expressed in degrees, minutes and seconds.   One can be converted to the other and the math involved is interesting and not that hard once it is understood that one minute of time does not equal one minute of arc nor does seconds of time = seconds of arc.  It all has to do with the spin of the earth on its axis.  Facts:  it takes the earth one hour of time to travel 15 degrees (one time zone), 24 hours of time to travel 360 degrees (one day).  Leap years are important.  The sun never rises or sets, the earth turns.  And the sun is the only star you can see in the daytime with the eye. In electronic navigation, nano-seconds count.


Through my window on the world

Rocky River

Rocky RiverDeparting Rocky River

On Lake Erie

Friday, June 5th, 2009

June 1, 2009; I’ve left Josh and Tiny to their land adventures and caught the afternoon South West breeze on to Lake Erie.  The wind is warm and just strong enough to scoot the Cap’n Lem along toward the Bass Islands.  They are still over the horizon but I expect to see them any time now.  If this wind holds I may sail into the night.  The moon is waxing and the lake is lovely.

It doesn’t.  At sunset the wind sighs and dies.  The islands are just ahead.  To the South in the distance, flashes of lightening, a storm is brewing.  Will it overtake me? I motor the last few miles in the calm water to Put-in-bay on South Bass Island.

I’ve experienced lots of things on the water in my 43 years, but a lighten strike isn’t one of them.  I hope to keep it that way as long as I can.  I take extra precautions.  A battery cable clipped to the shroud might help disperse a charge building up in the mast.  That’s a lot of metal 40 feet in the air on a stormy night.  The stainless steel gantry is bonded to a hull plate.  I make mental note to not touch metal any more than I must in operation of the vessel.  I get the mainsail down and stowed. 

The storm is closer now but still to the south.  The wind comes up.  North East and 20 kts but I’m in the islands making way to the bay.  The lightshow is spectacular.  I don’t often see such on the Olympic Peninsula.  My excitement builds.  Too bad the word awesome is so over worked.

A fast ferry, that is a very fast ferry, comes up behind me making way into the harbor.  I check my stern light and move even more to the right feeling my way into the anchorage.  But there is no anchorage in Put-in-Bay!  Only mooring buoys and lots of them neatly spaced in row after row.  It sure must be something to see them all filled on 4th of July.  I had rather anchor; catching a mooring buoy sailing alone is bit trickery.  But the Cap’n helps by drifting down on buoy H-6.  I catch it with a line, quickly tie a bowline and feed the bitter end through the loop.  I’m careful not to let the line pull me from the amma always reminding myself I can let it go if it becomes too much.  I can always come back around and try again, but no… bitter end through the deck bolt, another bowline…I’ve got it. 

Put-in-Bay is protected on all sides, all sides except the NNE.  “How does the wind blow, Mr. Mate?”  “NNE, Sir!”  The rain hits, the lighten misses and the Cap’n spends the night bobbing and weaving like a prizefighter in practice.  I sleep but little at Lat. 41° 39.318’N ~ Lon. 082° 49.283’W.