Monday, May 06, 2013

Cruising Under Sail - The Boy, Me and the Cat

Was giving a man some help on a capstan when a post pulled out of the ground and a big block and chain snapped in, catching me on the leg and putting me out of commission and into bed for four, pretty uncomfortable days. Visions of weeks on my back with splintered leg bones were finally ended when, with a sharp little click, a misplaced tendon snapped back and I was soon hobbling about. Made a mental note never to try and help anyone again.

- Henry M. Plummer, "The Boy, Me, and the Cat", The Cruise of the Mascot, 1911-1912

Doug Lucy took this picture of us anchored in Comegey's Bight on the Chester River on our cruise to Chestertown, MD. My son Miles was with us on this long cruise at around age 5 months.
I cruised my Alberg 30 Annabelle on the Chesapeake Bay for years, mostly alone, often with great friends like Joe Montalbano, and Doug Lucy aboard, both of whom started out knowing very little about driving a big heavy keelboat under sail and who both developed into great boating companions, with nerves of steel. 

Nerves of steel, because cruising under sail can be a lot like being in war - long stretches of relative ease punctuated by moments of terror.

Strapped down for heavy weather, dinghy on deck and reefs in  main and jib Still putting the rail under int he gusts which were up in the 30s this day. With Joe M. What fun!
Moments of terror like the very first Chesapeake Bay thunderstorm I encountered. Thinking it would be like all the New England squalls I had sailed through without mishap, I left some sail up and nearly put the masthead in the water when the terrible thing hit. The Chesapeake Bay ain't Buzzards Bay. Or another thunderstorm where the engine couldn't resist it and we got turned involuntarily and driven before it in 70 knots of wind. Doug bravely went forward to deploy the 13 pound anchor only find it had been carried away by a boarding sea. I really thought we might lose the boat that day, it was just too treacherous in that storm to be on the foredeck setting up the big spare anchor. Or the day Joe and I set out to weather reports of small craft warnings, which were great conditions for this boat, only to get out there and find that they'd upgraded that weather system to a full gale. We ended up anchored in the lee of of the southern terminus of the Key bridge, cowering there until it blew itself out enough that we could safely put into Rock Creek and anchor for the night. Instead of our usual delicious meal at the Windows on the Bay restaurant, which had closed for the night by the time we made it in, it was chicken corn chowder from a can heated on the alcohol stove for all hands.

Annabelle,  sailing herself wing on wing with the asymmetrical spinnaker. What a good boat.
I never kept a log, because both the great and terrible moments of all those years are burned into my memory. Running back from Rock Hall to Baltimore in a big SE breeze under asymmetrical spinnaker, perfectly balanced while the autopilot steered and I just drank gin and tonics and wandered around the boat., tuning sails for fun and speed. Anchored for the night up a tiny creek in the Magothy river just before Thanksgiving, the only human in sight, origo stove and oil lamp burning, and a light snow falling, sunset before 5pm, dinner and a book and warm berth. Anchored overnight in Fairley Creek with my young son and daughter, looking at the beach bonfires and telling the kids it was pirates burying their treasure, then rowing ashore the next day with them to dig up that treasure I had planted there myself earlier. So many great days out on that great boat.

Francis Scott Key Bridge on the Patapsco River . Sunrise.
But Henry Plummer did keep a log of his epic voyage from Padanarum on Buzzards Bay MA to Florida, and what a story it is.This was over the winter of 1911-1912; aids to navigation were few, and there weren't marinas with restaurants to put in to for the night. They lived off the land and their wits, and their irrepressible spirit..

Mascot, barrelling along
Mascot was a 24 foot Cape Cod catboat, a working vessel from the 1800's that many folks have repurposed for pleasure craft. The Plummers, Henry and his son, and Scotty the cat, brought fishing tackle and a .22 rifle, mostly using the latter to bring down waterfowl, which Plummer always called coot in his log, but I suspect were out of season ducks, for sustenance.  "Coot" stew was a staple on this cruise.

Plummer, like my grandfather did on his cruises back before we all carried cameras, made sketches in his logbook of the high points, and Plummer's are charming, like this one of Scotty having a moment of madness, and some others below

Scotty, maddened
Plummer's writing is wry, smart, clever, and kind. This is a story of three beings living together in close quarters, and how the adventure affected each of them. You could read other accounts of life at sea for pleasure, like Buckley's several entertaining and well written books describing how rich people sail across oceans for fun ("Airborne", and the others, all great), or Starr's excellent "The Schooner Pilgrim's Progress, A Voyage Around the World 1932-1934". But if you read any account of any voyage, first make it The Boy Me and the Cat. The best story of life under sail of them all, period. 

Sunday, April 07, 2013


There is different steel out there for swords, I've learned. Some is handmade artisan stuff, some is junk, and in the middle is stuff you and I can afford that does the job. The job is being used once and only once.

If you are a special forces soldier who kills people for a living, you want the artisan steel, and it's worth all the money for that. You'll use it over and over, and it will always be perfect. Abuse it, it'll come right back.

Me, I need steel that most likely will never be used, but if it is used the one time, will work. I don't care if it's damaged in use, can't have an edge put back on after I use it, any of that. It just needs to take a ferocious edge and hold it until used once. A specialized, not a daily use, tool.

Our new house has big rooms, so big swords are in order. Full length katanas, since shorter swords mean the bad guy is closer, and we don't want to grapple.

I have this great knife, a Cold Steel Kobun Tanto which is AUS8 steel. This is the last ditch weapon, but man is it sharp. It shipped razor sharp, and it will never be used to cut anything except an asshole trying to kill me or mine, so it stays sharp. AUS8 isn't a good daily use steel, it dulls up fast. but for single use it rocks.

Broadsword Tanto

I also have what I think of as the "broadsword" tanto, a big hulking knife that is also AUS8, but isn't as sharp as the Kobun and won't take that kind of crazy sharp edge regardless of sharpening. It's definitely a lesser steel. But it's more than sharp enough to play hell, and heavy enough to knock someone out with a head blow. It's like a ball peen hammer that cuts. I like this blade a lot, and feel like I could win a bad guy encounter with it even if I were shot or injured.

Now that we have big rooms, I think I'm getting a proper sized katana or two.

I've found one made of 1060 steel, differentially hardened and clay tempered for a very sharp edge, but still flexible along it's spine so it won't shatter on contact with bone. No home invader wants his head or limb cut off, so maybe it's a deterrent.

Obviously, when the zombie apocalypse hits, I'm going with the 9260 steel swords. Sure they're harder to keep sharp, but it's the bomb of steel. And they'll be free for the taking once commerce ends.

For cutting humans who are attacking me, this 1060  steel seems perfect for katanas. I hope I never have to do it.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Moving to Santa Fe

We've moved to our new house in Santa Fe. It's fifteen miles south of our old place in the pueblo. I like it here a lot.

I'm glad we can heat the place with this
Things I like:
  • Fenced yard for Phoebe and her new stablemate, who is coming maybe soon?
  • Fireplace heats the place. Furnace doesn't run much at all
  • Five minutes to everything - grocery, restaurants, Trader Joes, dog park, everything. We are in Santa Fe proper
  • Big rooms
  • Patio faces east, afternoon shade, morning sun.
  • Adobe construction
The living room is very echoic with a tile floor, guitar sounds great in here. And I can play guitar outside, yay for that. The neighbors will be complaining soon.

The little fireplace is just like being on a boat in the old days. I'm reminded of cruising in cool weather and using fire on board to stay warm at night.

After a couple of nights, it is noisy, like it's haunted by spirits or ghosts or something. Random clanks, bonks, scrapes, rasps, and howls abound. Anything is possible in my universe; if it's a haunted house, so be it. I don't care. I love this place, so if it is going to be a test of wills and spirits, bring it on. We are living here with or without you ghostly montherfuckers. Your choice. But stop with the noise, it's just annoying. This is our house.

Goodbye apartment

Saturday, March 02, 2013

The Animals, We Eat

I love food and and cooking, and I eat animals. But we're fucking it up. Not just in the ways we kill them, but in our relentlessness in killing them too fast. We all know this, but here's some food you won't be eating in the future. I'm just saying.

Wild Salmon. We've killed their habitat. You'll eat farm raised salmon going forward. Forget Arctic Char, it'll be crap salmon dyed red for you.

Shellfish. In October 1992 I sailed my Alberg 30 past five Skipjacks oystering on Mountain Bar just north of Annapolis, MD. They weren't there in 1993. Pollution closes shellfishing areas on the east coast constantly.

Buffalo. I saw a herd of twenty-odd standing around between Pojoaque and Espanola here in New Mexico a year or so ago. I wonder how many buffalo we killed to make a most plentiful animal most rare?

Swordfish. I predict we'll make this fish functionally extinct in less than one hundred years. Plus, they have a lot of mercury in 'em, so you shouldn't eat any anyway.

Cod. I was raised on Cape Cod. It's said that back in the 1700's you could put a bucket in the water in Cape Cod Bay and pull it up with codfish in it. The cod fishery is nearly dead, and in the future no one will eat Atlantic or Pacific cod, because there will be none.

Canvasback ducks. I used to hunt ducks and eat them. Ducks vary quite a lot in their deliciousness, intelligence, and in their awareness of hunters. Canvasbacks have the misfortune of being both delicious and stupid, and were hunted to near extinction as a result. So we made laws and stopped hunting them. Once out on my boat in the Chesapeake I saw a raft of several hundred canvasbacks. I was shocked, I'd never seen so many of them in one place. Not hunting them worked in bringing them back, in just a few decades. We did the same thing with Chesapeake Bay Rockfish (striped bass). We can save local fisheries, but it will take war to save the international fisheries. The Chinese don't fish the Chesapeake, but they are pulling fish from the pacific pretty fast.

I'm just saying. Our resource management sucks, that we need resource managements also sucks, and Soylent Green is made of people. Gird your loins.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Dog Park, Today

Phoebe and my weather station sensor
Hiking the dog park
We got a break in the bitter cold spell today, so off to the dog park we go, something we try to do frequently. We have a great one here in Santa Fe. It's huge, has bunches of arroyos and other interesting terrain, and is used by lots of people and their dogs, and I'm grateful for it.

The routine is set, and Phoebe knows it well; we always do a long hike, out to the edge of the park, and then beyond, on to land that no one seems to know who owns but is just desert and is just there. She ranges around, vanishes for a time but always returns to a call, looks back to make sure we're keeping up when she gets ahead, and makes sure we don't get too far ahead when she's lagging behind dealing with smells or more interesting humans. Then we circle around back to the area where all the dogs congregate to play in the park proper, near the dirt parking lot. There are usually between a few, and a few dozen dogs there, depending on a bunch of things like weather and the time of day or day of the week.

The dogs all play. People have put lost keys, eyeglasses, hats and whatever else they found on the trails on the plastic tables in this part of the park. Good Samaritans bring bottles of water and leave them every day, lest they freeze in the winter when the fountains are off, so the occasional irresponsible waterless dog owner can water his dog. When we encounter people who have had their dog run off, like ours did at first, we tell them we'll hold their dog here for them if we find and capture him. I've corralled two, but they were escapees from nearby homes that chose the dog park when given the choice of where to go on their own.
In the dog park

One of the things I like about the park is that people are usually comfortable talking as we stand around watching our dogs interact. We have a ready made conversation starter in our dogs. It's a good place to meet new friends. I've made some, and I'm glad for that.