Friday, April 28, 2006

Did I mention summer is coming?

Crew at dock in Newport, RI - July 2005

Volvo in NYC Next Week

Jarrett - author of blog "The June 23rd Project" commented on my earlier post RE the Volvo Race visiting the Chesapeake Bay. They're also heading to New York to visit early next week and will be tied up in the "North Cove" downtown near Ground Zero. According to the North Cove is usually host to the Manhattan Yacht Club and the Manhattan Sailing School. To prepare for the visit the Battery Park City Authority had to dredge the North Cove Marina - story here.

The Chesapeake Bay Volvo "In-Port" race is this Saturday so hopefully we'll have some photos to post next week. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

That Sinking Feeling...

Those of you who recieve Scuttlebutt's daily email will have already read San Diego Union Tribune journalist Bill Center's diatribe on the "sinking" appeal of international sailing events (see "Interest in top events seems to be sinking")...but I thought it worth mentioning as his thoughts involve who follow the big yachting races and our country's participation (or lack thereof) in them. He pinpoints the 1983 America's Cup in Newport, RI when ESPN made a last-minute decision to televise the final race...the ratings were suprisingly high. That led ESPN to televise the entire 1986-87 America's Cup from Australia. The exposure turned skippers Dennis Conner, Tom Blackaller, Chris Dickson and Iain Murray into sports celebrities.

Eleven years later, Center asks, does anyone care? Though you may not agree with every point he makes...
I think it's a very good question.

Thanks to Jarrett and Andy Burton for their comments...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Summer is coming!!

Pirates of Yemen & Captain Ron

Here we go again - time to cancel that bareboat charter vacation you've planned for the lovely, tropical coast of East Africa. I've posted on pirates previously here and here and here. And the topic always gets me thinking about my number one sailing comedy...

Below my favorite Captain Ron snippet. Who can top it? I dare you.

[to Ben] Captain Ron: Hey swab. C'mere. Listen up. Now, the way it works shipboard is, you do your job. You do it good, you get a better job. Maybe you get promoted from swab to mate.
[Ben nods]
Captain Ron: Alright. Get on it.
[to Martin] Captain Ron: Sort've an incentive kind of a deal, huh?
Martin Harvey: Ah. Good.
Captain Ron: Yeah, incentives are important...learned that in rehab.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Roger Duncan Writes First Fiction Novel at 89

Roger Duncan, the author known for classic nonfiction sailing works such as "The Cruising Guide to the New England Coast" and "Eastward," has written his first book of fiction: "The Reluctant Patriot: A Novel of the American Revolution," to be published by Down East Books on May 1. A book review in the Portland Press Herald notes that Duncan, nearly 90 years old, spent every summer in Maine since he was 6 years old, and has lived there year-round since 1981. Though he's the accomplished author of no fewer than ten books of nonfiction, the fact that he waited until 89 to write his first fiction novel is inspiring...

About the book:
drawing on true events and real people, it is the story of the wreck of a British schooner off the coast of Maine in 1775. Duncan has created a historical narrative, imagining the fictional life of the ship's pilot, with his usual vivid descriptions and crisp dialogue, a glimpse of U.S. history and 18th-century Colonial life on Maine's coast.

Friday, April 21, 2006

An early spring sail on the Tred Avon River
Easton, MD

The Volvo Comes to the Chesapeake

For those of you in or near the Chesapeake Bay region, seven or so Volvo 70s are docked at the Inner Harbor during the Baltimore Waterfront Festival April 27-30 and at Annapolis City Dock during the Maryland Maritime Heritage Festival May 4-7. As well the scheduled In-Port Race will draw thousands of spectators on April 29...the Leg 6 start on May 7 will likewise be a huge event. Says this article from the AP, " ...a lack of major American participation and little television exposure has made it hard for the around-the-world race to get attention on the U.S. sports landscape." Personally, I've never thought that most Americans desire to view a sailing regatta as they might watch, say, a NASCAR race or a football game. As far as the general public is concerned, sailing is esoteric and elitist...and if it's not something they've participated in then there's no reason they are going to care about watching it on TV...even if it was playing Saturday afternoon.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Speed Sailing Kicks Off in San Francisco

They know the spring season in Annapolis by the scent of burning socks. In San Francisco it is heralded by the San Francisco Speed Sailing Management opening their "speed box." According to this article the trimaran Geronimo took a ceremonial run through the box...her crew claims that she was able to reach a very scary 38 1/2 knots during her sail. The trimaran was in San Francisco for several days preparing for an ideal weather window to break the San Francisco to Yokohama speed sailing record. When you're riding a sled that's topping out near 40 knots, I can't imagine being too concerned.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Oxford Bellevue Ferry

I was on the Eastern Shore this past weekend and shot this photo from the Tred Avon Yacht Club in Oxford, MD on Easter Sunday. Beyond the TAYC docks you see the Oxford Bellevue Ferry, believed to be the nation's oldest privately operated ferry service. It crosses the Tred Avon River between Oxford, Maryland and Bellevue, Maryland...a 3/4 of a mile trip that takes 7-10 minutes.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Micro Chip Woes (and Happy Easter)

Happy Easter weekend all! And just in case you were wondering, Skandia (the Brisbane to Gladstone race record holder) was leading Gladstone fleet in the 8th annual Easter classic on Moreton Bay. But news flash, a small micro chip in her computer controlled canting keel malfunctioned as she was reaching past Mooloolaba at 12 knots in a building easterly wind. Amazingly she was forced to drop out. Damn this newfangled technology.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Mari Cha IV
A cold day offshore France on her way to Antiqua
(Photo credit: Thierry Martinez)

Under a Sheltering Sky

Down in the dank pit of fever despair I dreamed of sailing and when I did, it was of sailing in its most perfect form. A late summer run down Eggemoggin reach, making way through deep blue water under a sharp breeze redolent of pines, salt air, sun screen. A downwind push for the line and I was on the port drum, my world the trim call “ease” or “trim on” - riding a maxi boat with twenty some crew responding to each puff in harmony. And I would come back to my hot tent and my sweat drenched sleeping bag and the eyes that hurt to move and slip back into my fever dreams with gratitude. Offshore on the dawn watch. The night before had been bumpy and we’d moved through a cold front, the wind shifting and building and an all hands on deck call for a sail change. It was off our port quarter now near 20 knots and the steering was tricky in the dark, swells tugging the stern. I was at the helm almost an hour with my watch partner sleeping on the bench in the cockpit when the light began to break over the vast stretch of black ocean. As the rising sun spread fire to the water and the sky began to glow with deep streaks of purple and red I was able to see enough to adjust the helm in response to the swells. The uncertainly of night slipped away in the face of a new day. As my crewmates slept I steered the course and watched the sun climb in the sky, alone for a moment on the ocean under a sheltering sky.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Breakbone Fever

In case you don't have the full picture on dengue: It starts suddenly with a high fever, rash, severe headache, pain behind the eyes, and muscle and joint pain. The severity of the joint pain has given dengue the name "breakbone fever." Nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite are common. Most dengue infections result in relatively mild illness, but some can progress to dengue hemorrhagic fever. With dengue hemorrhagic fever, the blood vessels start to leak and cause bleeding from the nose, mouth, and gums. The illness can last up to 10 days, but complete recovery can take as long as a month.

By dawn it was clear to me that I was very ill. You can read the symptoms above and nod your head...but until you're in the grip of breakbone fever it's all supposition. For example, in reading these words right now you're using countless tiny muscles you are generally 100% unaware of. When you have the dengue fever these muscles hurt, badly, and using them causes an acute and immediate desire not to move your eyeballs. Ever.

There's nothing like being in the malicious grip of tropical fever in a flimsy nylon tent pitched on the deck of a ruined house to induce abject humility. When I didn't show for work they assumed I'd consumed too much rum. When I didn't show for dinner they came looking and found me crawling on my hands and knees to the toilet. They told me that I claimed to be trying to "get topside for some fresh air."

It was a long month.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Dweller on the Threshold

Before the storm I’d been renting a room at the first house on the left up from the Water Island ferry dock. It had reputedly been Carl Sagan’s family vacation home and though it perched on the hill and commanded a prime view across the harbor to St. Thomas…there was no doubt that it'd been a while since Carl and any of his brood had decamped to their Virgin Island retreat. Ramshackle was a little harsh, but the tropical sun had taken its toll and the rent we paid was obviously not going towards maintenance. Regardless the house was tucked privately back in a grove of thick bougainvillea, had a large cistern, the aforementioned view from the living room picture window, large decks that commanded the view (a real perk during cocktail hour) and other fringe benefits. What it didn’t have come hurricane time was a low profile and consequently, we returned the day after the storm to find the roof peeled off like a tin can and the interior of the house blended and thrashed by a mini tornado that had marched up the hillside and through the living room. There was a wrecked sailboat rotting on the beach below the house. It was in no way livable.

A week or so after the storm living communally at Heidi and Larry’s had worn thin and so I moved back to the house. Or rather I moved into a tent pitched on the deck. I cleared a pathway to the bathroom…piling debris in the living room…and lifted the cover off the cistern to draw water for bathing (sailor showers with gallon jugs), flushing the head and other such necessities. I still spent all day working on island roofing and rebuilding and most of my free time with friends in more comfortable dwelling situations, but each evening I walked past the now ruined bougainvillea hedge and climbed into my tent, carefully killing any mosquitoes that followed me in order to keep free of the dread dengue fever. Despite all precautions I awoke one clear night at 3:00 AM bathed in sweat.

Monday, April 10, 2006

J/Fest San Francisco - 2005
(Photo Credit: Glennon Stratton)

Day Three - Post Storm

The third day after the storm we were clearing brush from the roads on Water Island with machetes and someone slipped and gashed open an arm to the bone. At this point there were a few people with fast boats back in the water…so a team sped him off to the hospital on St. Thomas. It was sobering to watch him, white faced with bloody towels wrapped around his arm, climb unsteadily aboard a Boston Whaler to suffer a trip across the harbor to a hospital that had always been dubious in the best of times, and now was on generator power and overrun with hundreds of storm victims, some of them gravely injured – a scene that none of us wanted to contemplate let alone enter into in any condition of need.

To balance out the bad mojo we had a stroke of good fortune. Jerry, a captain friend of ours, had made contact on the VHF. He and a crew of three had tried to ride out the storm in the harbor aboard their charge – a 175 foot Benetti motor yacht. They’d ended up safely beached on the Charlotte Amalie side of Hassle Island but the yacht had no power and no way to run a generator to keep the refrigeration operating. They needed help offloading the perishables…a task we were more than happy to assist with. They’d just stocked for a ten day down island charter run with the owner and 12 of his closest friends. For the next week we wined and dined on variations of lobster, caviar, Kobe beef, sweet shrimp, lamb chops, sockeye salmon, top sirloin, crab cakes, endless fresh produce, free Heineken beer and key lime pie.

And so we began to settle into a routine of long, sweaty days of back breaking labor and big, festive communal dinners punctuated by the steady hum of generators. At night countless stars winked placidly down upon an utterly wrecked Carribean paradise. At dawn the glaring sun returned and warmed standing pools of rainwater that began to fester and breed dense swarms of mosquitoes. The first case of dengue fever was reported day four post storm.

Friday, April 07, 2006

San Francisco J/Fest 2006

I'll be back with more Marilyn Memories on Monday. In the meanwhile...I hope our mates out in the Bay area enjoy the 2006 J/Fest. Those of you who have been reading awhile understand my strange penchant for sleek, plastic J/Craft. Have a tremendous weekend!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

NOAA Satellite Image of Hurricane Marilyn

Day Two - Post Storm

The second day after the storm people began to sober up and ask questions. How bad is the damage? Pretty near catastrophic (gale-force winds, heavy rains, and storm surges of 3-5 feet resulted in damages reported at approximately $3 billion; more than 80% of the residential dwellings in St. Thomas were damaged or destroyed). How many people died? Ten deaths between St. Thomas and St. John. Who was going to help us? We would learn in the weeks to come to count on ourselves for 99% of what we needed and FEMA for their blue tarps. For those of us with jobs how soon could we go back to work? For the next two months nearly all of us were employed as “construction labor” at $10.00 an hour cash on the barrel. I became an expert “roofer.” When were basic services like electricity coming back? Many, many weeks and sporadic at that. We learned to cherish our generators.

Stories began to emerge and with the retelling, became legend. Two friends went to St. Thomas on a mostly fruitless grocery run the second day and told of a young teenaged native pulling his shirt up to reveal a pistol tucked in his waistband. “Your wallet,” the laconic youth nodded, gesturing with his hip. One friend quickly reached over and plucked the pistol from the waistband and placed the barrel firmly against the boys forehead. “Ah no, your wallet,” he said and (reportedly) smiled. The kid turned around and ran. Our friend watched him scamper, waved the pistol in the air and turned to his partner, “So it’s loaded.”

It was a time rich with anecdotal opportunity. I learned that if you take TV out of the equation, people sure to like to sit around and tell stories.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Day One - Post Storm

The morning after hurricane Marilyn FEMA, the U.S. Coast Guard and the local police established martial law on the islands of St. Thomas and St. John. All through the day looting was widespread and on St. Thomas, packs of roving locals defied the curfew and did their very best to help themselves to whatever they could find, uncover or steal. On Water Island the cloudy and blowy morning revealed utter destruction and chaos. Fully 80% of the house roofs on the mostly residential island in Charlotte Amalie harbor were shredded and scattered across the hillsides and beyond. I remember that it was very interesting to see how people reacted to being suddenly shoved back into the stone age by Mother Nature. Quite a few took to the bottle and hit it all day into the evening. Others took stock and began building shelters, firing up generators, locating potable water and generally figuring out how to survive. We were lucky in so much as the house where we took shelter, a rental cottage on Providence Point, was in the lee of a hill and had not sustained a hit by one of the mini tornados that had chewed up a large part of the island. Because the cottage was still intact the generous folks - Heidi and Larry - who had gathered us under their roof through the storm were able focus on bringing friends together to pool resources and figure out how to get supplies we needed from the mainland. Ice to keep the food from spoiling was a major concern.

I remember wondering at the fact that not a single leaf remained on a single tree. Water Island had been utterly deforested.

We made contact via VHF with friends who had survived on sail and motor boats and others on mainland St. Thomas. They all told of locals in fast dinghys who were conducting raids as night fell. Those who were sober set up a watch schedule after sunset and, armed with rifles, stood guard over a storm shocked, ratag group of beached boaties and island dropouts.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Hurricane Marilyn

Since we’re on the topic of the islands this week – courtesy of holdfast – I’d like to reminisce about my experience surviving Hurricane Marilyn in 1995. At the time the storm hit I was between boat gigs living on Water Island. A little context...Marilyn originated from a tropical wave that crossed from the west coast of Africa to the eastern tropical Atlantic Ocean on September 7. She hit the U.S. Virgin Island during the afternoon and night of September 15th as a strengthening Category 2, nearly Category 3, hurricane. The Hurricane Hunters reported hail, an unusual occurrence for tropical cyclones. They noted an eye of 20 nautical miles in diameter. The strongest part of the hurricane, the eyewall to the east and northeast of the center, passed directly over St. Thomas.

Maximum one-minute surface winds at that time were close to 95 knots.

The bitch surely blew's something I'll never forget. Stay tuned for some recollections.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Rock Fever

In response to the “spring fever” post I had a poetic reply from holdfast down in the islands… “The tall "summer" clouds are ramping up, the weather is swinging between restless shifty wet winds and windless furnacey badness; summer is coming, summer is coming... getting to 90 in the shade again.”

He closes by noting that maybe it’s time to move back to where the seasons are “normal.” I’ve spent a few sweltering summers in the Carribean islands and can appreciate his sentiment…and he has a refreshing perspective for a winter weary Yankee...but c’mon my man, it’s hard to know what you have until you've left it behind. Take a summer run up to Newport for a week, sail around Maine or spend a few days on a beach on Block Island and then get thee hastily back to your island paradise, the place where all of us up here WISH WE could live year round. Worrying about getting chomped by a hurricane is the price you pay for existing in blissed out tropical nirvana.

Just remember holdfast, rock fever can be cured quite easily. Winter can’t.