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.