Archive for August, 2010

Another Day Hunting the Moonstone

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

The early sun woke me to a still water and cloudless sky. The silhouette of Tabor Island against the coming dawn was breathtaking. (I got the name from a fisherman passing. It was not what I thought it was.) How could I just up the anchor and sail away from such opportunity. I could not. It will be a long time before I pass this way again. Oh, I do hope I will pass this way again.

Having found some Labradorite, I now know what to look for. The Encarta on my computer tells me it is also know as Moonstone when blue and Sunstone when orange and yellow. So once again I launch the Gray Ghost and head to shore. No sign of the resident black bear, but he could be just over the rise. I take my air horn and running shoes.

I walk up to the quarry to see it I can find any chips from the blasting but the ground is covered with a low brushy growth of some sort of red berries. This must be what the bear was eating. If it is these things, he’s got plenty to eat on Tabor Island. I find berries but no Labradorite so back down the hill I go to the spot I found it yesterday.

This morning in the bright sunlight…it is everywhere! And it is stunningly beautiful! But mostly it is in boulders and the rock face of the hill at the waters edge. I even start to find it in smaller pieces that I can pick up. It takes a lot of will power to leave behind some of the bigger rocks sparkling blue like a peacock feather but I’ve already picked up enough to weigh down the kayak. So I just paddle around in awe of this gift of nature and her cleverness at hiding it so far away.

just below the water

just below the water

I’ve never painted my name on a rock or a wall in my life. But in Labrador there is something the Inuit did to report their passing among the islands and I can’t resist. I build an Inukshuk looking out on the bay where the CAP’N LEM is anchored. The winter wind and the heaving frost will turn it back into the pile of rocks it once was, but for just this season it is my monument to this place and its people I have grown to love so much. It simply says someone was here and when he left then went that direction.


By noon the tide turns and it’s time. Boats are made to move and sailors to move them. Up the anchor and away around the island that has given me so much. I don’t see the bear but I hope he is still there.  After traveling for 6 hours with the outgoing tide and no wind, the little engine that could brings me to anchorage at 56° 12′ 35.2″ N ~ 061° 21′ 04.2″ W in 28 feet of water. I’ll spend a restful night in this place. It is large and well protected. I will sleep the sleep of one who has had one of the best days of his life. In Labrador, that’s just about every day.

Searching for Labradorite

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

1900 Position Report August 14, 2010

Anchored at 56° 24′ 14.7″ N ~ 061° 48′ 21.3″ W in 31feet of water.

I departed Nain at 1000 to start a slow leisurely trip to Hopedale. I was given directions to an abandon quarry on a small island who’s name I can not pronounce let alone spell to search for Labradorite. It’s also known as moonstone. Friends had given me a piece of it when in here on the way north. It truly is a beautiful stone with colors that remind me of a peacock feather.

Of course there was a bear on the hillside and I watched him make his way around the area I most wanted to go and then over the hill. It was a solitary male from what I could tell. I waited an hour before launching the Gray Ghost and paddling ashore armed with my trusty air horn and running shoes. Had it been a sow with cubs, no way! But from the skittishness of the black bears I saw on the way down form Port Manvers, I felt safe enough. The island is near treeless and I could see a long way in either direction.

First I walked the water line hoping to see it shining up just below the surface but found none that way. The first piece I found glistened an iridescent blue in the warm afternoon sun. Only thing is it was a part of a large bolder and is safe from a rock picker like me for at least another million years. But this gave me encouragement to keep looking and at the base of a large hill I indeed did find some in rock a little easer to handle. I would like to have spent longer in search of the lovely stuff, but enough time had past for the bear to have made a round of the island and air horn or not, I had just as soon be in the kayak heading out when he returned.



Not being one for collecting a lot of souvenirs, I’m very happy with these and other little treasures I’ve picked up. They are decorating my Cozy Fireplace both inside the firebox and out. Inside, they help hold the heat from the flame and glow a warm red like coals in burning wood. On top, the rocks help dispense the heat in to the cabin.



The wind is not in my favor tomorrow so I don’t expect to make much to the south. The thousands of islands are so pleasant to travel through I’ll ride the morning tide as long as I can before finding yet another anchorage and wait out the afternoon wind.

The Solution

Friday, August 13th, 2010

It is human nature that the first reaction to a problem is denial in the hopes it will simply go away. If the problem does simply go away it wasn’t a problem at all. After only a moment, I knew this problem was not simply going to go away.

By now you’re thinking, “Go from one crisis to another! Is this all this guy does?” Well, that’s pretty much the picture. But that’s sailing in a hostile environment, a long way from help, of any kind, alone. By presenting these situations to you and the solutions I come up with I hope to stimulate your own thought processes as to how you would handle things when you sail into your great adventures what ever they may be.

What now is simply a great problem of great inconvenience only moments before could have been much more had it happened while crossing the threshold into safe harbor. Oh, I had my plans and I had my sail set and I could have gone this way or another and on and on… but this is about what did happen and how I did act and the results of that action.

Recall those words now, that launched the greatest rescue attempt of the 20th Century, “Houston, we have a problem.” I admit I have a problem. I define my problem. I have put the engine in reverse then attempted to put it back into forward. It stays in reverse even though the shift/throttle lever is moved into the forward position. The engine stays in reverse and throttles up in RPM. I start a mental list of what could be wrong: Broken cable, lose cable, something broken or lose inside the remote control system, or worse, lost transmission, broken levers, spun hub, (I don’t know exactly what a spun hub is but it used to happen a lot on the outboard motors in fleet of boats at Clean Sound, Inc.) gear box gone out, propeller fell off…enough!

First things first. I must get to anchorage and I won’t be sailing forward in these light airs with an engine in reverse. I kill the engine.  I can not restart the engine. The cutout switch which prevents the engine from starting in gear is working just fine. Now I have two problems.

I anchor as described before. I awake at my usual 0500 in time to witness the beauty of yet another Labrador sunrise. I make my coffee and think. I get ready for the day and think. The first order of business in this day, find the true source of the problem.

After dismounting the Remote Shift/throttle unit, I open it and inspect its marvelous design. It moves two cables, one the throttle and the other the shift linkage in unison but at different rates and different lengths of travel and in two different directions, all with one lever. Sounds complicated? Well, it is. The shift lever must only move a short distance from neutral to forward then back to neutral to reverse then back while the throttle must move from idle to fast and all points in between in a smooth action. I look for the obvious. Is the cable visibly broken? No. Is it disconnected? No. Does it move with the lever? Yes. Reassemble. Remount.

Engine with cowling off

Engine with cowling off

Move back to the engine, and open it up. To do this I have to partially hang off the end of the boat. I check my safety line yet one more time and contort my body through the gantry and out over the engine. Inside I find the levers the cables are connected to. Going back from the stern to the cockpit I watch for the actions and reactions of the Remote on the engine levers. My observation: the throttle cable moves as it should, the shift cable does not. I gain hope from that. It really is a broken cable on the inside of the shift cable. By using a pair of pliers I can actually shift the engine into neutral and start the engine. This is getting better and better. Not creating a new problem faster than I can solve the old problem is at the forefront of every move. Frustration and anger are to be avoided at all cost. I’ve seen men break fixable things irreparably in anger at an inanimate object. (Heck, what am I saying? I’ve done it myself!) If I have to try and fail and try again, so be it. I keep my sense of gratitude that I may just have on board everything I need to make it work.

Something happens, if I manually shift the engine into gear, I can then shift it out of gear using the Remote Shifter. This is indicative of a broke cable in a tight housing such that it can push but not pull. I catch an imaginary vision of the solution, how to shift the gears on the little-engine-that-could from the cockpit while sailing the 300 or so miles back to Goose Bay.

Oh, my friends, isn’t it interesting that the solution to this critical problem is rooted in the solution the father and son team engineers at Birdwell Machinery used to solve the rigidity problem with the gantry they built for me 6000 miles way and a year and a half ago. They used thin stainless steel cable to X the gantry, thereby giving it remarkable strength and stiffness. The same roll of extra cable left over from that solution is the same cable that I squirreled away, the same thin s/s cable that I used to clear the cooling water port when the engine wouldn’t pee, and it has once again come to my rescue.

And did it work? Well, I’m writing this moored to the public dock at Nain, Labrador!

Here’s how.

I threaded the wire from the cockpit to the engine through the cable run. Then, I drilled a hole in the rubber gasket that holds the shift/throttle cables and threaded it into the engine compartment. Once inside I put a Molly Hogan eye splice in the end of the wire and looped the end over the engine shift lever after wrapping it around the cable once to help hold it in place. I added a sail twine constrictor knot to hold the two cables together and help the eye splice not jump off.

Molly Hogan eye splice looped over the engine shift lever

Molly Hogan eye splice looped over the engine shift lever

At the cockpit side, I put another Molly Hogan eye splice in the end of the measured and cut cable and make a handle from a discarded file handle. (I’m a sailor. I save everything that might prove useful.)

Makeshift handle

Makeshift handle

I tested it and it worked. The s/s cable will get it into forward and out of reverse. The broken cable will still get it out of forward and into reverse. How long will it work? I don’t know. Is it the final solution? No, but for now I call it “My Come-Home Cable.”
PS Special thanks to Larry Smith. He’s a part of my “brain trust” in solving engine problems and went out of his way to help with the solution. Great minds work alike! It gave me confidence when he offered the same solution of using the cable I had mentioned before. “Together we are smarter than anyone of us alone.”

Note: The splice I call the “Molly Hogan” is simply the unlaying of a cable then reversing the direction and relaying it back together to form an eye. It is strong and very useful. You may know it by other names like Yachtsman’s Splice. I like Molly Hogan best because it conjures up thoughts of some young girl dressing like a man to go to sea in years by-gone and showing the guys how it’s really done! Some of the best sailors I know are ladies.

The Problem

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

I sail and motored through the opening into Medusa Bay, also known as Port Manvers, having completed a long run down wind with heavy following seas all the way from abeam the Mugford Tickle. The predicted 25 knot N wind built to 35 with a 4 meter following sea. What a ride! But the CAP’N LEM, being a better boat than I am sailor, saw me through. With such strong winds astern she often reached 15 knots over the ground when the seas pick up her stern for the race. Even at that, though, the seas moved faster than the vessel and would roll out from under her breaking of both sides.

The Raymarine ST4000 Autopilot did a yeoman’s work of steering down wind for most of the two days I was off the coast in the Sea of Labrador, but when we made our way in toward shore and the seas grew steeper and deeper due to the shallower bottom, I manned the helm down past the Willis Rocks and into the mouth of the bay and a most welcome calm. The track required I come back into the wind putting the boat on a tack with accelerated speed way above my comfort level and abeam seas of 2 to 3 meters just as I came into the lee of the small rocky island awash with breakers. I formulated a back up plan should the entrance be breaking of turning down wind once again and going farther into the many islands and shoals that would help me make it to the channel to Nain. Not my first choice as it was still another 25 miles in heavy wind and it was not needed. As I reached my go/no-go point, I could see the shoals to the northwest of the rocks had already taken the edge off the swell so, with the sail in a partial “fisherman’s reef’ and the little engine that could pushing just above idle, I made the ground I needed and entered the beautiful calm and safe harbor.

A mile or so into the harbor the wind died to near nothing. I made prep to go to anchorage between Challenger Point and Hare Point in a cove of splendor like I have rarely seen anywhere on earth. Water falls, Cascades, high mountain crags, seal playing in the water. I checked my reverse gear before going into any tight quarter and then it happened. Oh, she went into reverse alright but did not come out. The throttle and shift lever word differently. Much too…smoothly. Something has happened and it’s not good.

Contingency plans, contingency plans, make your plans… what if.

What if I can’t fix it? I can’t, not now anyway. What if the tide sucks me back out into the opening while still in the calm? Get the anchor ready. What if there is not way to fix it. E-m Ken for help! What if my batteries die? Formulate everything you need to say before you turn on the sat-system. What if I need to tow in? Have Ken get a hold of Roy in Goose Bay who can then get a hold of Joe in Nain or Jim in Hopedale and … on and on, all the while watching for a puff of wind to get me farther and farther into the bay.

And it comes, not strong but steady for about 10 minutes before heading me and dying just as I tack. I wait and another, each moving me closer and closer to the cove of my sanctuary. Two hours later I clear Point Challenger and ghost into 35 feet of water and drop the hook at 56° 56′ 31.1″ N ~ 061° 31′ 07.6″ W

Willis Rocks

Willis Rocks

Sailing with Tommy

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

[Guest blog post by Kari]

I first met Tommy one hot, late summer day several years ago. I had just joined the tall ship LADY WASHINGTON in Port Townsend, and had been assigned to watch the bottom of the ramp while the brig was open for dockside tours. “Good Morning” said I, to a broadly smiling gentleman with a long grey ponytail, striding purposefully down the dock. “We’re open for tours if you’d like to come aboard!” “Actually” he said, eyes snapping with excitement “I am your new mate!”

As Mate aboard the LADY WASHINGTON Tommy knew better than most the importance of keeping objects well stowed on a ship. Everything must have its place, and the place for crew toothbrushes was evidently NOT balanced precariously on a small ledge inside the head door. After several warnings to some recalcitrant shipmates, Tommy informed me one day “The way you solve this problem is to clean the head with the toothbrush… and then put it back exactly as you found it!” The toothbrushes quickly disappeared into their owner’s bunks. Tommy also showed us how to correctly sea-stow the main hold, and lash down everything on deck in preparation for heavy weather. Then, after our work was finished, he pulled out his sextant and explained how to use the big blue nautical almanac to plot our position without the GPS.

“One day this will save your life” Tommy told me as we tacked our way up Malaspina Strait on his quaint little ketch AVANTI. And he showed me how to turn a course wool blanket and an old oil lamp into something called an Irish Oven – an ingenious way to keep a helmsman warm on a cold middle watch. Later on he showed me how to get my bearings on a chart, figure out the tide tables, and to tell the difference between the ever abundant haze of shore lights, and those ever important running lights that signify an approaching vessel.

Another day we anchored off a place called Sandy Island, and paddled the Grey Ghost ashore to pay a visit to a dead man in a giant douglas fir. But it was a beautiful cloudless day – a rarity on the northwest coast in March – and we fell asleep in the sun. Lo and behold, we awoke some time later to discover the tide had gone out and dear old AVANTI was stuck fast on a sand bar. But instead of cursing bad luck or lamenting our predicament, Tommy told me a story about Captain Lem, and how the ancient mariner had once advised him to try beaching his boat – just for practice – so he’d know what to expect if it ever happened by accident. So we sat down to wait, munching on a cold deli chicken and taking turns reading aloud from Moby Dick until the incoming tide gently floated us free.

“Life” Tommy earnestly advised me one stormy night 40 miles off the Oregon Coast “is either a daring adventure, or it is NOTHING!” And that’s how it always is. Whether he’s pounding into the teeth of a gale on an old wind ship, shooting the Skookumchuck rapids, repairing a diesel engine, or setting bungs into a plank under LADY WASHINGTON’s main channels, sailing with Tommy is always an adventure. I wish Tommy was part of my family. But in a way he is. We are all part of the same family, every single person who loves the sea.

Kari in the Gray Ghost, Princess Louisa Inlet BC

Shipmake Kari in the Gray Ghost, Princess Louisa Inlet BC

Beans, Bacon, and Fog

Monday, August 9th, 2010

Position Report: 1900 August 9, 2010

58° 38′ 13.7″ N ~ 062° 05′ 01.8´W course. 112° True, speed 3.2 kts. 18 miles of the coast in the Sea of Labrador

I warmed my beans and bacon again tonight. I had been snacking on them cold since I made them yesterday. I made hot tea, too. And I tied the tea bag to the cup handle just the way Captain Lem always did, a half-hitch with the brand tag to hold it in place. I need the warmth of that, too. The fog is back.

The fog came with the north wind I so want. It’s not the soul chilling fog of Baffin Bay that obscures the water just off the bow, but it is fog nonetheless. But that’s what happens in this part of the world and I deal with it. I call out on the radio to “any vessel in the area of … this is the CAP’N LEM entering fog at…. Please come back with your position, over.” No one has yet responded. No one is here! But there might be and it is the “might be” that makes the fog so arduous. There might be an iceberg. They come marching to the shores of Labrador like an old medieval foot soldier to the shield wall to die each in their turn.

This fog, here out at sea, ebbs and flows like the tides and gives me a break now and again showing me what’s out there, nothing, confirming what my wonderful little Furuno Model 1622 Marine Radar, which was not work in Baffin Bay and now so wonderfully is working, shows me, nothing. Nothing out there is a very good thing, in the fog off the coast of Labrador.

I thought of running for Hebron but then I’d be back in with the rocks and shoals and the huge Atlantic swell that I battled yesterday to get out here. Hebron will be one of those places I guess I’ll never get to visit. To bad, Hebron has a history. Instead I’m aiming for a point 60 miles away that will take me far off the Mugford and her Tickle.

I have three more hours of daylight to help and then the fog and the dark. Ah, but now I have my blessed sea room. Sea Room! It gives me comfort like a pillow.

Northern Lights

Monday, August 9th, 2010

0600 Position Report August 9, 2010

Underway at sea c124° T s-2.5 wind NE 8 kts 59° 04′ 03.7″ N ~ 062° 49′ 36.9″ W

Up anchor from Sea Plane Cove when wind came steady from NW to proceed out to sea and catch today’s predicted NE wind. Outside of Big Bear Skin Island, encountered large long Atlantic swell rolling in from the SW, right where I want to go. Slugged through them at 1.5 to 2 kts and as the water depth increased the period of the waves got longer and I made slow progress in the right direction. The wind shifted to S five miles off shore but I was able to make an easterly heading on out clear of shoals and icebergs. After sunset the wind shifted again to a light NE and I spent the night make slow but good progress.

The Northern Lights played across the sky after dark. There was one bright planet in the east which made for a beautiful night at sea.

This morning the wind is light but steady from the NE. The swell remains large so there is a lot of rocking and rolling as they lift the CAP’N LEM high then roll out from under. I try different down wind tacks but progress remains slow and steady to the south. I hope to make it to Hebron today and check on buying some fuel for margin sake. If the wind comes up to the 20 kts as forecast, I’ll continue on. I still have 5 gal spare and 2 or 3 in the tank. I’m hoping to meet with the S/V Issuma as she makes her way north for Greenland. It’s always great to meet like minded people out living their dreams.

Sea Plane Cove

Sea Plane Cove

Sea Plane Cove

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

1800 August 7, 2010 Position Report

The CAP’N LEM is still anchored in Sea Plane Cove, same as before. I’ve set the “wait and see” watch. The weather forecast calls for a change in wind to the NE on Monday. I need to conserve fuel to thread the islands and channels getting into Nain. I do have to run the engine to make electricity because there hasn’t been enough wind to turn the Aerogen to keep up with my needs. I monitor the voltage pretty close so not to run both batteries down.

It’s rained most of the day and I’ve stayed down below by the fire reading, napping, and going through bins. A dull dreary day, but nice not to be traveling in the fog. I keep getting up so early. This morning it was 0450. No use fighting it. When I wake up, I get up.

Today I watched a polar bear make his way around the cove turning over rocks, sniffing and generally doing bear things. I’m above the tree line so there are no trees or bushes for him to hide behind. I couldn’t tell if he actually ate anything watching him with the binoculars but he never seem to give a look out my way. I understand they can smell a long way and I’m anchored right up wind of him but he wasn’t interested me and eventually wondered off, yep, over the mountain. Guess that’s what bears do. They sure are majestic to watch.

Big White Bearskin Island

Friday, August 6th, 2010

1700 August 6, 2010 Position Report:

59° 22′ 14″ N ~ 063° 47′ 00″ W At anchor in 41′ of water in Sea Plane Cove near Big White Bearskin Island, Labrador. It’s very calm and very quiet. I’m sure beautiful too if I could see it but for the fog!

I awoke at 0430 due to having gone to sleep at 2000 (8 pm) to just a hint of twilight. The nights are lengthening now both from the date and the latitude toward the south. Fog. But in the fog was the hint the morning north wind so I quickly did my chores and prepared to get underway. Engine cooling, check. Radar working, check. Let’s go.

Up the anchor and slowly retraced my track line out of Eclipse Harbor for open water. Air temp 44° F. I didn’t take the seawater temp. The fog tells me, 100% humidity. It’s going to be a long day. At the mouth of the harbor I raise sail and catch a bit of north wind and turn south.

The radar, the GPS, the large scale charts showing small areas on the plotter give me the confidence to go. By noon, no change, still foggy. The wind comes and goes so mostly I motor at a slow 4 kts to conserve fuel. I never push the ‘little engine that could’ hard anyway. The wind will change and I’ll make up the time. But still, I can not give up the opportunity to go south with this light breeze from the north.

I’m reminded of one August sailing trip out the Strait of Juan de Fuca between Washington State and Vancouver Island with my brother-in-law and two young nephews. We were headed for West Port Washington around Cape Flattery but the wind and swells made two of the three so seasick we aborted the trip and turned around…into the fog. My boat, my idea, my trip…my responsibility.

Oh, ye landsman, what do you ever do that gives such weight to the shoulders as a trick at the wheel, in the fog, in the wind, in the night. There is no more precious cargo than young ones sleeping in trust below while you make way for port. Nine hours of looking, listening, doubting, confirming, checking, correcting, and repeating. To be captain of anything, sail boat, ocean liner, battle ship or airplane is to know the terrible weight of responsibility that can not, must not slip from one’s shoulders for a moment. One of my favorite captains that I served under took a nap every afternoon underway while the rest of the ship worked. Why? As he said, because he never knew when he would be needed to be up all night long.

So think long and hard before you set you sights on that lofty title “Captain” as I once did in my youth. It comes with a price.

Eclipse Harbor

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Position Report 1030 August 5, 2010 59° 47′ 44″ N ~ 064° 08′ 47″ W Eclipse Harbor, North Aulatsivik Island, Labrador Anchored awaiting changes in the weather.

Another red sky morning but I still wanted to move some with a slight land breeze coming from the northwest. Getting ready to get underway. Trouble! The little Honda is having a urinary problem. Now this is scary. She’s running fine but no pee. Overheating problems with the engine are a “Show Stopper”! There is no changing of an impeller short of going to the shop according to the manual. I check the intakes. Clean. Only one thing to do. Try a catheter. I search to boat and find the remnant of the stainless steel wire Jon Birdwell used when building the splendid gantry to hold the radar and wind generator to give it rigidity.

I climbed to the stern weaving my body through the gantry locking one leg around to free both hands and felt for the little port through which the cooling system squirts just enough water to show that it is working. At first it’s hard to find where to insert the wire. It can’t be seen from this angle. Then the question is the wire small enough. Yes, just barely. It stops, starts and stops again but by now I have it at least 3 inches into the outlet so pull it back out. I look closely at it and think or imagine I see some scum. But it’s too early to tell and I don’t want false hope.

Carefully disengaging myself from the gantry making sure I don’t step on and break the Autopilot, like I’ve done before, I climb back into the cockpit. Turn the key and start the engine.

The operation is a complete success. The patient has recovered. One more crises averted and I go haul the anchor. Very little is very easy on a boat.

Radar dome on top of mountain Caption Whiteman's Inukskuk

Radar dome on top of mountain Caption Whiteman's Inukskuk

I motor out of the harbor and turn south past the Whiteman’s Inukshuk perched high on the hill and catch a south flowing current and just enough wind to move along a slow 4 knots.

By 1030 I’ve come to the end of Eclipse Harbor. I had hoped I could make it all the way around the west side of North Aulatsivik Island but no, an isthmus blocks the way and even at high tide there will not be enough water to cross it. Never mind, it’s a beautiful and safe anchorage to wait out any storm. And I’ve planned something special. A bath in a bucket!

On the way in I come across a mother white bear and her cub swimming for the far side of the fjord. I only come close enough for a picture then turn quickly away to give them peace. Yes, there are bears here, but I don’t believe they will come onboard the CAP’N LEM. I’m ready though, with my air horn and signal flares, just in case.