Friday, July 25, 2008

A week in Annapolis...

Alizée is an enchantress, who bewitched me a first sight and swept me away on our first sail. But, perhaps like Don Quixote's true love, Dulcinea, who rather than the most beautiful woman in the world was, in reality, a simple sometimes flawed peasant girl, Alizée is a boat. To be sure, a newer more expensive boat than I ever imagined I would acquire, but still a boat. And, this past week, she made sure I understood this simple reality, which every sailor must ultimately embrace and love.

I arrived in Annapolis late on a Wednesday night, spent a night at the Best Western, and arose to begin a week of boat outfitting and other boat chores. First stop, Bed Bath & Beyond for towels, comforters, sheets, pillows, and some galley ware. Picked up a measuring tape and some boat scissors, and then dropped by to see Chet, the broker from whom I bought Alizée. The previous owners had shipped down the Nobeltec software, some filler cushions (never used), and a full cockpit enclosure (never fitted to the boat), which I picked up and took over to Canvas Creations, where owner Dan Wood agreed to hold the enclosure until he could bring to the boat in couple of days to see about fitting it to the bimini and dodger. After stops at Southern Cross Marine, Diversified Marine, and a couple of other spots, I finally arrived at Alizée.

All those bewitching feelings immediately resurfaced. She really is a gorgeous boat - graceful lines, a lovely sheer bow, a classic house top, a beautifully proportioned cockpit and stern.

The next couple of days I started inventorying spare parts and other items on the boat, organizing items in clear plastic storage bags, cleaning the lockers, and then re-stowing the newly organized bags in lockers. Trash got sorted out, and before I threw anything out, I rechecked each item to be sure I wasn't discarding something I'd eventually regret throwing out. (This turned out a harbinger for the week's end.) Of course, one never really knows if a discarded item might someday be missed until it's too late, but I vow to discard my pack-rat tendencies this time around.

I decided that the dishes left by the previous owners really needed replacing, so I made a trip to West Marine for plates, glasses, and wine glasses (all plastic, of course), and found flatware at Bed Bath & Beyond. A trip to Boater's World yielded a nice discount on two inflatable PDF's and navigation chart books for the Chesapeake Bay and the ICW from Norfolk, Virginia to Florida (good back ups to electronic charts).

The weekend brought my first visitors to Alizée. Ruth and Neil Cowan had come down from Long Island to Baltimore during the week decided to take a long weekend in Annapolis to visit me and help out where they could with Alizée. They called for directions and arrived at the boatyard in the early afternoon, and we began a wonderful weekend together, first looking at the boat, then having lunch at the Boatyard Bar & Grill in Eastport (a section of Annapolis give over almost entirely to the boat industry and with a bit of a colorful history). Later we took a nice walk around Annapolis's historic city dock and harbor, watched the start of the all-night sailboat race to Solomons, Maryland, and had a nice dinner at O'Brien's Oyster Bar.

I hoped that Fred Wise, the friend who had surveyed Alizée for me would be able to crew for me and sail with the three of us to Oxford on the eastern shore on Saturday. There we had already arranged to have dinner with other mutual friends from the history of technology world, Bob and Dian Post, at the Masthead restaurant. Bob had visions of us sailing up and docking at the marina there. Unfortunately, Fred couldn't make it, so we ended up spending much of the day lolling about on Alizée (we did manage to get some lockers and cabinets cleaned out and the bottoms lined) and I drove us over to Oxford to Bob and Dian's home, thence to the Masthead for a fun dinner. We were also joined by Reggie Blaszczyk, yet another historian of technology, and her husband Lee O'Neill. It was a very fun evening!

Sunday morning I met Ruth and Neil for breakfast at their hotel, and Ruth decided she really wanted to get on the water sometime during the day, which, after a wild-goose chase to a park on the way to the eastern shore of Maryland where crowds held sway, led us to a small boat rental place in Annapolis. We spent an hour going up Weems Creek along the Severn River and thoroughly enjoyed being out. They departed to catch a train in Baltimore, and I returned for a quiet evening on Alizée.

Monday found me focused again on outfitting the boat, which meant trips to West Marine, True Value, and Fawcett Boat Supplies. I spent the day putting things away and loading Nobeltec software on to my Dell laptop. I brought it along to replace the laptop that came with the boat, which had a broken lid and its days were plainly numbered. The Nobeltec system was one with which I was concerned from the start. The Si-Tex radar on the boat works with Nobeltec and the laptop and there is a repeater screen mounted in the cockpit, but relying on a laptop for chart plotting and radar seemed risky, and indeed I soon discovered how risky.

The next day, Simon Edwards, who delivers and manages boats out of Annapolis and who had been working with Alizée for several years, went out with me for a day to give me tips and help sea trial the boat. We had a wonderful day, sailing up the Chesapeake and under the "bay bridge" which connects Annapolis to the eastern shore. The day was made for a San Francisco Bay sailor, as a system came through south of Annapolis and gave us 18-22 knot winds with some sustained gusts of up to 25 knots. Alizée took the breezes beautifully with full sails. We put in a single reef just for practice, and she leveled out easily, but we really didn't need the reef and shook it out soon thereafter. She sailed nicely with the stay sail and no genoa, and she clipped along at well over seven knots. I was impressed as well at how close to the wind she sailed. She will be a joy over the coming years.

Our sea trial revealed several small things that needed to be attended to, from snugging up the stuffing box, cleaning out the deck and cockpit scuppers, and possibly replacing the clutch plate in the windlass to lubricating the bat cars on the mainsail and lubricating or possibly replacing the shivs for the reef lines. We also discovered the 12V cigarette lighter receptacle is actually a two-prong receptacle, so it will have to be swapped out. And, we discovered that the fuel gauge reads just over half full when it's only down three gallons. Indeed, all the Weem sending units on the water, holding, and fuel tanks are either inoperable or inaccurate - reading full when empty or empty when full - but these are things I've got either Simon or Southern Cross Marine working on fixing. I hope they'll be done by my departure date for Norfolk in mid-August.

In the evenings I've been reading Elizabeth Gilbert's book Eat, Pray, Love. Although often referred to as a "chick book," I found it to be an captivating memoir, and one which had quite a bit of meaning for me at this stage of my own life. Reclining in Alizée's salon with Gilbert's book and a martini became a cherished part of this week in Annapolis.

On Wednesday, after slipping out for my morning Starbucks coffee and a bagel, I returned to the boat to find Steve and another Southern Cross Marine worker arriving to install the KATO dinghy davits. Just before noon, Dan arrived to make templates for the new cushions as well as to see about fitting the full enclosure to the bimini and dodger. The templates went well enough, but it became clear to us that the enclosure was a big problem. The enclosure had been made for the boat in 2001, but the original dodger and bimini had been replaced in 2007 with differently sized canvas and without any effort to sew on zippers for the enclosure. The enclosure could probably be fitted with great effort and expense, including adding patches and resizing it, and I agreed with Dan's assessment that it wasn't worth the effort. Similarly, I agreed that keeping some extra filler pillows was probably not worth it (they had never been used). So that afternoon, since I don't have storage space for such things on Alizée and won't be around long enough to find a flea market, I trekked up to the dumpster with the enclosure and filler cushions.

By late afternoon the davits were installed, Dan was back at his shop, and it was beginning to look like there might be some rain later. I decided, since this was my last night, to treat myself to dinner at O'Leary's, reputed to have the best seafood in Annapolis. I closed up all the hatches and ports (so I thought), and went off to Eastport for dinner. As I drove into Eastport the skies literally opened up. I've never seen rain so hard. Streets were quickly flooded, and I heard later that BWI in Baltimore almost set a new record for the most rain in an hour (over two inches). I ducked into the restaurant relatively dry, enjoyed dinner, and when I returned to the boat yard the rain had largely let up.

The scuppers in
Alizée's cockpit were clogged so the teak on the sole was actually floating (by morning the scuppers had drained). But to my horror, when I got down below I discovered that I had left the port light just above the navigation table ajar by a 16th of an inch, where my wireless antenna went out and topside. The rain had been so hard that it had flooded through that tiny opening, and it had soaked my Dell laptop (which was plugged in so the motherboard was fried), and it had also dripped through the navigation table lid to the storage underneath and soaked the outer covers of my two brand new chart books (thankfully, the charts themselves were dry). I dried out everything, hung the chart books up on lines in front of the salon fans, and set to dry them out. I opened up the computer a bit and found water inside (the next day, I had Annapolis Computer Repair look at it, and they gave me the sad news - not worth salvaging, buy a new one).

I'm amazed I managed to sleep that night, but somehow I did. Perhaps I'm just becoming inured to things going wrong. My Dulcinea, my bewitching
Alizée was in charge, and I had to accept it.

When I did awake, I found to my horror that the Fed Ex box with the Nobeltec software and user books was no where to be found. I tore apart the boat at least three times looking, went up and look through the dumpster ... it was gone. What had I done? Had I unconsciously chucked it because I never really like the idea of the Nobeltec system? Had the workers mistakenly taken it (I asked that morning and no one had mistakenly taken it). I was pretty bummed, and then as I packed everything up and started to pump out water from the bottom of the refrigerator, I discovered that the pump didn't work. Figuring that I at least had time to go to West Marine and get a new Whaler foot pump and replace the faulty one, I did just that, only to discover that in my own haste I'd misread where the water lines were going and coming from and replaced the wrong pump (a perfectly good pump). Not only that, I'd gotten the wrong Whaler pump, so I just added it to my list of things to ask Simon to do and sponged out the refrigerator.

Back in California, now, I'm looking back on the trip as one of the nicest little trips I've had in a long, long time. I've got a number of things to get organized before I return in mid-August, but I'm sure all the work will get done and I'll be setting off for Norfolk with my sailing buddy Deborah as planned on August 19th.

More photos

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Just a little day sail...

While I've been in Annapolis, friends have been sailing the Pacific Cup race from San Francisco to Hawaii. As you can see from this image of Music's route, it's just a little several day sail...

Power v. Sail...

The price of fuel has impacted a lot of boaters, particularly those with power boats. Marine diesel fuel is selling for over $5 per gallon in Alameda, and just under $5 almost everywhere else in the country. For sail boaters, this is not so bad a tank full (about twenty gallons) should last as year. After all, sail boats use their engines sparingly, which is why they are called auxiliary engines. It’s not quite the same for power boaters, but one could argue it evened out, since sails are expensive and need to be replaced every few years - almost the price of fuel. I'm not so sure anymore.

Randy Alcorn in southern California noticed that when he fueled up his J105 sail boat just before embarking on the San Diego-Ensenada race, there was a big power boat next to him. Randy took on eight gallons of fuel, the power boater took on 479 gallons. The power boater asked Randy how long eight gallons would last? “Most of the summer,” said Randy. “Well, this will only take me to Marina del Rey,” responded the power boater.

His bill was $1700, and he was happy that the dealer gave him a break at every 150 gallons. Randy observed that $1700 would buy a nice mainsail for his Cal 2-29, and the sail would last several years.

Scott Sauvageot, who sails the Chesapeake Bay in his Cal says that he was chatting with a work colleague of his who shares his love of the Chesapeake. “We differ on how to enjoy it,” he said. “While I love my sailboat, she is a ‘full throttle’ girl. She has a 35' power boat of about 2006 vintage. It has large twin inboard engines.” She told Scott that gas prices are keeping her at the dock because a day on the water cost her easily over $200, depending on how long she takes the boat out.

”She looked crestfallen,” said Scott, “when I told her I'm still sailing nearly every weekend, and my total fuel consumption for the year (since 1/1) has only been around 10 gallons.” Maybe if one purchases top shelf racing sails every couple of years it evens out, but most sailors don’t replace sails that often. And, continues Scott, “I'm not fouling the air or polluting the marine habitat with my sailboat.”

Then, another acquaintance reported that in Florida, where the credit crunch and mortgage foreclosure crisis has hit some boat owners, there are boat owners with big power boats who can no longer afford to pay for their marina slips, much less pay for fuel. All they want to do is get out from under, and they’re willing to give their boats to brokers just to get them off their hands. Yet, brokers, he said, can’t sell the big power boats they have and are turning away owners.

Well, some of this may be apocryphal, but I’m sure glad that I sail and don’t buzz about in a power boat. Fair winds sure beats exhaust fumes and an empty wallet.