I started to live my dream on July 13, 2019, when I departed North Hero Marina on Lake Champlain, headed south to start cruising first in New England waters and then down to Florida and the Bahamas. An overnight stop in Mallets Bay on Lake Champlain, allowed me to pick up my Champlain Canal crew and spend one last evening with my sailing friends at International Sailing Center, hosting a small party aboard Finally, my Bavaria 40 sailboat. You can never really do enough to be ready to go cruising for an extended time period, in my case on the order of one year.
Money is a limit for most of us, and I am no exception. So, I understood what my limitations were, what my skill set was for this trip and the notion that I didn’t have to force a schedule, as I was now retired. After years of living according to a schedule and deadlines, I had to change my mantra to, “You’ve got time, so sit and wait for the weather to be in your favor.” Sometimes you get restless doing that after several days of sitting, but its darn good advice to minimize risk and maximize enjoyment.
Having spent the summer cruising the New England coast as far north as Casco Bay, ME, I spent about a week and a half in the Chesapeake Bay in early October, 2019. My last crew member that sailed down the NJ coast with me, up the Delaware River, through the C&D Canal, was dropped off at a marina in Middle River, MD, north of Annapolis. From here on out until early November, I was single handing the boat.
One of my crew on the various New England legs was from MD, was part owner in a boat, and had friends with a dock on the Magothy River, which they were gracious enough to let me use at no cost. My arrival at their dock created much interest, as the house that the dock was part of had just recently been purchased by these new friends, and mine was the first boat to appear on their dock. Whoa baby! Look at the boat the new neighbors have!! Well, not really.
I spent a couple of days on this dock, taking the opportunity to change the joker valves in both heads. Both valves were leaking, allowing waste water to backflow into the head from the hose to the holding tank. Not a good situation to let go on for any length of time. I discovered over the course of all my cruising time that salt water seems to be much more efficient at depositing chemical crystals on the joker valves, leading them to not quite fully close.
The classes I took at Narragansett Sailing School were immensely helpful to me in terms of understanding what I was doing with this portion of the plumbing systems on the boat. Pump the head dry. Flush at least 2 or 3 gallons of clean water through the head, because when you disconnect the hose from the head, there will be some residual liquid coming out of the hose! I would prefer that liquid to be as “clean” as possible. I also pumped air through the waste hose to push as much liquid up into the waste tank that is at a higher level than the head. 40 – 50 pumps on “dry” for the head seemed to work pretty well.
The act of removing the old joker valve and putting in the new one is the simple part, although you do have to pay attention to seating the valve properly to avoid leakage (which I discovered on the next set of valve replacements). As is frequently the case on many boats, you need to have the hand size of an infant to reach nuts and bolts, or you take more apart that what you hoped you could get away with. I’ve got bigger paws, so I took a lot apart just to access the joker valves. But this first set of valve changes was a success, with patience ruling the day of the work.
A planned visit with relatives took me to Herring Bay, just south of Annapolis, MD, which permitted me to repay my dock hosts by having them join me on the daysail a little ways down the Bay. It is really rewarding to provide others the opportunity to take the helm and enjoy your boat, giving them a “moment” of what you get to enjoy for days.
One of the keys to cruising, I think, is knowing when to get professional marine help to address some issue. I felt like the standing rigging on the boat was just not quite right, but needed a professional with the right tools and experience to do the fine tuning that seemed to be required. So, in Herring Bay, MD, I hired a professional rigger to check out the standing rigging, which turned out to be not expensive at all and was well worth the adjustments they made.
From Herring Bay, MD on south to St. Augustine, FL via the ICW, it was all single handing. I hope to write a separate piece for you solely on the experience of single handing the ICW, as it really requires its own story.
When I arrived at the Conch House Marina in St. Augustine, my first docking was at the fuel dock. A simple “port side to” docking with fenders out and all lines preset made it easy for Tim, the dock hand, to grab a line and tie the boat off. My second docking was to be in a slip, where I would leave the boat for about 5 weeks, while I returned home to cleanup some final chores associated with closing my engineering business following my retirement.
Tim pointed out the slip where I would tie up. Since I didn’t want to have to change the sides of all my dock lines and fenders, the approach would be a stern in, “port side to” docking maneuver. This is where my experience in the big boat docking class at NSS made life simple. The slip I was headed to was only a couple of slips down the fairway. There was, however, a single pile pole between and at the outside end of the two adjacent finger piers, separating the two slips, just to make things more interesting. So you had to enter the slip between the pile pole and a finger pier.
I quickly aborted my first fairway approach, not having given the boat enough room to develop good headway in reverse. A quick restart, had me backing a few slips down the fairway, controlling my speed to maintain steerage, and turning the stern into the slip. Putting the port side about 6″ off the dock, I nudged the gearshift into forward to stop the boat’s reverse motion right at mid-length of the finger pier. Tim grabbed the spring line, I threw a stern line to capture a dock cleat, and the bowline completed the tie off. John Bell, my NSS docking instructor, would have been beaming, had he seen it. Tim surprised and stunned me by claiming it was the best docking maneuvers he had ever seen. Really? And he repeated this claim to the office staff after I walked in to the office to check in.
Just before leaving the Conch House Marina to head home, I witnessed perhaps a more typical docking that the marina experiences by sailboats. A 42′ sloop came roaring bow first down the same fairway where Finally was docked. She was going so fast, I was wondering if she thought she was headed to a slip at the interior end of the fairway. But no. The skipper attempted a late turn at too high a speed into the appointed slip 3 spots away, putting the bow on the wrong side of the pile pole, and raking her bow anchor along the forward side of a power cruiser that was docked on the adjacent slip. She came about 10′ into the wrong, occupied slip before the boat was brought to a stop. Tim, who stood waiting to grab a dockline, was shaking his head. The owner of the power cruiser was not on board, but two marine techs were, and they jumped out to inspect for damage. Two more attempts were required to get the sailboat into the correct slip. Witnessing this event made me realize what a great education and training I had received at NSS in their docking classes- both the ASA 118 and particularly the big boat docking class. Two days of repeated docking by a great instructor had made me knowledgeable and confident at docking, under a variety of easy and harsh conditions.
Having witnessed this docking maneuver, it was time to leave and fly home to wrap up my closed business, before making my way, with crew this time, further south in FL and over to the Bahamas for the winter and the start of Covid-19 conditions.
Capt. Jeff Tirey