Friday, November 1, 2013

Old Salt

Mill Creek, Solomons, MD

At first all we saw were the shoulders and a  head, covered with wisps of gray and black hair, protruding from the hatch of this interesting old boat. The boat had already caught our attention. A beamy wooden hulk, obviously designed as a work boat of some kind,  mastless, boomless and stayless, in what appeared to be the early stages of restoration or the late stages of deterioration. When Jim asked him if he was the man responsible for this restoration, he started, then turned, gave us a hearty greeting and invited us aboard. This was our introduction to Richard Griffiths, owner and skipper of  Rosalind.

Richard, an elfin man described in one article as five feet and a brick tall, had been a sailor for 55 years and captain of some huge sailing ships, including one owned by Charlton Heston. Born in England, he had fallen in love with sailing in his twenties. He was an art history teacher and a painter, but he quit because, as he says, the longer he taught the less he wanted to paint. He bought Rosalind, which had been used as a fishing boat, converted it into a sailing yacht, and with his partner of the time, set sail for Greece. The boat, a lugger built in 1910,  was one of 45 and is the only one left that is privately owned.

Richard sat in the corner of the small cabin of his boat, which he had built to his dimensions, and regaled us with stories of his long sailing career. Surrounded by books, and occasionally puffing on his pipe, he could be as easily taken for a college professor as a sailor. The cabin is a fabulous space, filled with an antique ship's wheel, brightly varnished table and benches which he described as older than the boat,  and an old blue velvet robe that looked like something from an Elizabethan play. On one end of the table sits an old, round keyed typewriter. Richard explained that he is not into modern technology. He once owned a laptop but threw it away after he unplugged it and then, when he restarted it, it said "Don't ever do that again!" Richard is not a person who accepts being ordered around. He recently underwent a two year bout with throat cancer, but he still drinks and smokes his pipe. What tipped the balance on the smoking, he said, was when the doctor said, "You MUST quit smoking!" That's who I am, he says. In the evening I sit in this corner of my cabin and smoke my pipe and get a bit tippley. I'm not going to change that for a few more years of life.

(For more about Richard click here.)

The village of Oxford was our last stop on the Eastern Shore before we headed south looking for warmer weather. A bustling tourist Mecca in the summertime, it had resumed its sleepy winter character by the time we arrived late in October. Nearly all of the eating places had closed for the season, and only a few shops were open on the weekend. We arrived on a Thursday and decided to lay over on Friday, because the weather forecast was for cold and rainy with adverse winds. Since we had little to do, Jim got the idea of asking at the marinas if there was anyone around familiar with our diesel cabin heater.
Our diesel heater

 Ted had installed a new fuel pump and fuel pressure regulator for it, but after the initial trial, it worked only fitfully and was difficult to light. We inquired at Oxford Boat Yard and were immediately  referred to Graham, a transplanted Englishman who appeared to rival Ted in the breadth of his knowledge about boats. We brought Bel Canto into a pier at the boatyard from our anchorage (the one where Jim had done his imitation of the cormorant). Graham quickly decided that he needed to disassemble the stove and take it into the shop to work on it. There he took it all apart to clean it. The inside was caked with years of carbon accumulation and the fuel feed line was clogged--it's no wonder that the stove wasn't working properly. Graham scraped and brushed and finally put it in the sand blaster until the inside was as clean and shiny as it had been when it was new. We took it back to the boat and reinstalled it, and soon it was 80 degrees in our cabin. This will be a great comfort on days like the last few when the temperature has been getting down to the forties at night.

We waited another day for a favorable wind, and then, on Sunday, we left the dock at the Oxford yard and headed out the Tred Avon and Choptank Rivers. As soon as we hit the open water of the Bay we raised our main and unfurled our genoa. With winds of between 10 an 15 knots on the beam, we raced along at about  six and seven knots. Raced, of course, is a relative term for Bel Canto, a type of boat known more for its seaworthiness and comfort of sailing than speed. By four o'clock we were anchored in Mill Creek at Solomons Island.

Every day hopping from anchorage to anchorage on our way down the Chesapeake, we experience something new. Almost at the same time we passed into Virginia waters, we began seeing pelicans. That has to be a good sign! And porpoises have been reported in these waters, but we haven't seen any yet. And we are slowly acquiring the skills that we had hoped to hone this summer at Annapolis.

On our way from Solomons Island to the Wicomico River we even raised our asymmetrical spinnaker and were able to sail with it for a while before the wind died and we had to resort to our "iron jenny."

Today we are tucked into Jackson Creek off Fishing Bay, Deltaville, Virginia, waiting for the winds, which are from the southwest and gusting to 25 knots, to calm down a bit and switch around to the north. We are in a very protected spot, but we can hear the wind whistling in the trees, and every once in a while a gust reaches down and rocks the boat. When that happens we are thankful to have the new anchor that Angie insisted getting.

So what do we do when we have a two day layover waiting for better weather--a couple of "days off" Angie calls it. Well, on day one, we decide it's time for an oil change, and we arrange to bring the boat to a boatyard dock, where a mechanic is on hand to change the oil and teach Jim how it is done.  Bringing the boat into a dock is always more nerve wracking than anchoring, especially when there is a cross wind blowing as there was yesterday. We make it in and out OK, (although Jim did manage to squeeze the dinghy between Bel Canto and a piling on the way out), but that whole process takes up a couple of hours. Next we have to take the boat to the fuel dock to empty our holding tank (where the water from our marine head goes when we flush). We decide that Angie should drive the boat to the dock this time while Jim handles the dock lines. She does a perfect job, but that whole process eats up another hour and a half.

The winds are starting to pick up, and where we were anchored is open to the direction they are coming from, so after leaving the fuel dock, we decide to head over to another anchorage, a mile or two away by water (though less than a quarter mile away by land). The channel is narrow and twisting, and in a couple of places our depth sounder shows about six and a half feet of water (we draw a shade over six), but we are soon safely anchored. By that time it is five o'clock, and we are ready for a beer.

But we have another whole day before the wind moderates and switches around to a favorable direction, so we have a real day off, just to relax and take it easy, right? Well we decide that this is a good time to have our zincs checked for corrosion. The zincs are attached to the propeller shaft and the keel to keep electrolysis, which is electrical current passing through salt water, from eating away the metal on our propeller shaft and through hulls. We contact Under Boats and arrange to have a diver come out and check them. The appointment is for noon, so this gives us a chance to have a real breakfast, in place of our customary sailing day breakfast of granola and yoghurt. Jim makes a Spanish tortilla, a kind of open face omelet with potatoes, onions and cheese.
Jim and Drew in the dinghy

After breakfast, Jim goes in the dinghy to pick up the diver at the dock belonging to the yacht club we are anchored near. Drew, the diver, goes under and inspects the zincs and reports that they are all still in good condition. Good news! Now, since we got an oil change yesterday, this is also a good time to replace the primary and secondary fuel filters. This is a job that Jim has done once before, and he's a little nervous about it and proceeds very slowly and cautiously.

We're done with all of this by about two o'clock, so we have the opportunity to do a little shopping, or reprovisioning, as we call it. We load our garbage, shopping bags, and a small pack with raincoats in it (a light rain is falling from time to time) and head for the dinghy dock at a nearby marina, where we pay five bucks to dock our dinghy and dump our garbage. Then we begin the two mile hike to the grocery store. (Grocery stores always seem to be two miles from anyplace that a cruising sailor can land a dinghy.) On the way we stop at a hardware store to buy oil for our lamp, because we get a three quart bottle of lamp oil for a little more that a quart costs us at the marine store. Then we stop at a conveniently located West Marine to buy a hand pump to pump the oil out of the crank case. This is so next time Jim can change the oil himself, since it cost us $150 to have a marine mechanic do it.

As we trudge on toward the grocery store, we pass a fish market so we have to stop and pick up some swordfish steaks for dinner. At every stop we ask how much farther it is to the grocery store, and this time Cathy, who makes clam chowder and sells it at the fish market, takes the hint and offers to give us a ride the rest of the way. Once there, we ask if they will deliver us and our groceries back to the marina. Linda, one of the managers, says she will do it, so in another hour we are loading our fifteen bags of groceries into our dinghy and ferrying them out to Bel Canto. Then we have to unload them onto the boat and find a home for all of the cans, packages, and fresh stuff. Oh yes, and the beer, too. So that is what a day off for the crew of Bel Canto is like. Anyone ready for a nap?

Liquid Energy #2


  1. this is a test to see how to post a blog

  2. How did you do it? Almost everyone else is stymied by it.

  3. How did you do it? Almost everyone else is stymied by it.