28 January, 2007

Dinghy Building Continues

The dinghy continues to progress. After we attached the fore and aft transoms, we temporarily stitched in the bulwarks to help the hull maintain it's shape and flipped it over. Then we squirted epoxy thickened with powdered silica in the cracks between the stitches. This mix is really, really strong and hard as a rock. After it cured, the hull was much stiffer.

The next step was to cut and pull all the copper stitches, fill in the gaps where they were with more silica thickened epoxy, fill in the little holes in the hull with wood flour thickened epoxy, then apply fiberglass cloth to the bottom using unthickened epoxy.

This is how the hull looks right now. The brown lines are epoxy that has been thickened with wood flour (really fine sawdust) . This is the mix we use to do the final fill in the cracks between the boards - it sands much more easily than the silica filler.

You can't see the fiberglass cloth very easily because, when it's wetted with epoxy, it becomes clear. After we finish filling the outside, we'll flip it over and start installing the "furniture" - the seats, etc. , probably later this week. We'll let you know how we progress.

Mark & Julie

s/v Rachel

14 January, 2007

Dinghier and dinghier

This is very cool. To put the dinghy together initially, you drill a series of little holes along the edge of each board and stitch them together with copper wire.

As each piece is added, it's pulled into shape and the boat just sort of magically appears. The fore and aft transoms are then stitched on and - presto - it suddenly looks like a boat!

08 January, 2007

How we differ from the rocks

Location: Blacksburg, VA
Date: 08 Jan, 2007
Current position: Rapidly approaching "laid back"

One of Mark's favorite sci-fi stories from his adolescence is "The Chrysalids," by John Wyndham, later named "Rebirth". It's one of those post-apocalyptic stories in which several kids with special abilities escape the Puritanical establishment bent on destroying them for being different. (J:"hmm this explains a lot!!")

Years later a band called The Jefferson Airplane came out with an album named "Crown of Creation". This was a pretty radical and rather incendiary album and for some reason, Mark really liked it (J: "no comment"). However, Mark was truly shocked (M: "Shocked I tell you!!") to find that most of the lyrics in the title song "Crown of Creation" had been lifted almost verbatim from "Rebirth" w/ no credit to the author (M: "Freakin' hippies...."). This was the beginning of his long slide toward disillusionment.

His favorite line from this story has always been "Life is change. How we differ from the rocks."

You: "What the heck does this have to do with you guys and Rachel?"

Us: "Life is change."

We just gave 3 months notice that we'll be leaving our jobs!!

Yep. Really. We're not so much calling it retiring: we're billing it more as "a change of lifestyle", and (at least for us) it's a pretty darned big change. We're renting the house and moving aboard Rachel. We don't have any particular 'set-in-stone' plans just yet, other than take off, have a good time, maybe head north for the summer and then south for the winter - but not as far as Cape Horn - not this winter anyway.

We don't know how far we'll go or how long we'll be gone, we just know we'll be heading where the wind takes us and hopefully finding a more relaxed and fulfilling way of life along the way.

We've really been quite lucky. Working with friends and having the freedom to work from Rachel for the past several years has been awesome. Not too many people have one, let alone both of these in their work lives, and we continue to be pleasantly surprised to find ourselves in this situation. It's going to be sad saying goodbye to our friends, workmates, and partners at JPI.

On one hand, we're really looking forward to cruising full time. Going new places, meeting new people, not worrying about Internet connectivity or weather windows conflicting with our work schedule. Actually, not even worrying about a fixed work schedule - wow - hard to grasp that concept after all these years.

On the other hand, we're also a bit nervous. We'll be trading steady incomes, health insurance, our day-to-day shore side routine, and a modicum of stability and security for something we're not even certain we'll want to continue for long. We've always paid attention to those that say "you won't regret the things you've done nearly as much as the things you wish you had done, but didn't".

We're trusting that they are right - "how we differ from the rocks."

Stay tuned,

Mark & Julie
s/v Rachel

04 January, 2007

Going Dinghy

Location: Blacksburg, VA
Date: 04 Jan., 2007
Current position: Bent over, sanding

We ended up buying a wooden rowing / sailing / motoring dinghy kit and are building it in our basement over the winter. Gotta do something to keep the boat spirits active and healthy. The finished product will be 11' 7" long and 4' 8" wide. It breaks apart and the forward part nests inside the aft part, making it a good length for stowing on Rachel's foredeck. Here's a nice write-up about it w/ some pictures:

We're pretty excited about it, even though our basement's been turned upside down and we've had to a big clearing out of stuff we've carefully hoarded up over the years to make room for it.

Here's how we came to make the decision:

1) Our now 15 yr. old "rigid inflatable boat" (RIB) that came w/ Rachel is on it's last legs, having gone through two "fix-a-flat" treatments last year. It did manage to survive the season, however, although we felt we were at it's "tender mercies" (M: "pun intended") (J:"whack!") several times.

2) We've (and that's the royal 'we') always thought it would be fun to build a boat, and starting with a kit should give us (and that's the royal 'us') the opportunity to do that w/o too much risk or frustration. We chose the Passagemaker kit because it's light (90 lbs), yet has a payload of 650 lbs, making it a good "utility vehicle".

3) We've heard that they row nicely. That's more than can be said for the inflatable, for sure! And as an added benefit, we both enjoy rowing and it's great exercise.

4) We can also use it with a small (4 hp or less) outboard. This means greatly increased fuel economy at the expense of greatly decreased top speed. The 10 ft inflatable literally flies w/ its 15 hp 2-stroke outboard. We'll have to wait and see how we feel about that particular trade-off, but the lighter outboard will be easier to put on the dinghy.

5) To be perfectly honest, however, the real bottom-line reason is that we've seen other cruisers w/ sailing dinks pottering about in anchorages and it just plain looks like a lot of fun. We remember how much fun we had with our small sailboats and are looking forward to doing more "gunkholing".

We still have the new 8' inflatable we bought for Raven, our previous boat. It stows in a bag and we think it'll fit nicely in "the basement". We plan to keep it, at least for now, as a backup in case the hard dinghy is unavailable for some reason.

So now our basement has been turned into a boat shop. We're busy cleaning, epoxying, sanding, stitching, and gluing, and have both gone a bit "dinghy" as a result.

Mark & Julie
s/v Rachel

03 January, 2007

Heading Home

Location: Deltaville, VA
Date: October 28, 2006
Current position: 37 32 55 N, 076 19 44.84 W

We so wanted to spend at least a month or so out on Rachel cruising around the Bay this fall, but it just wasn't to be. Still on Mill Creek, Solomons, MD, it was breezy enough that we didn't even dinghy the 2.1 miles into town for a walk as the chop would have soaked and frozen us. We spent the next three days on the boat, bouncing around at anchor and looking for any excuse to roast something in the oven, bake bread, make a pot of tea - anything that involved cooking so we could warm up.

Although we did get to watch a bald eagle for hours as it sat in a tree on the bank looking down on us, and were visited by a loon swimming around us, we spent most of the time below out of the cold wind. As the week wore on the weather pixies began sounding like there might be a one-day weather window between fronts that could enable us to get back to Deltaville before winter set in.

It was with heavy hearts that we made the decision to take a vacation day and head back down to Deltaville on Thursday. With the prediction of 10 mph winds from the NW, sun (hallelujah) and 61 F for a high, we weighed anchor at 6am. It took us about an hour to get both anchors up (one hooked the chain of the other on the way in), cleaned and stowed. We made our way out into the Bay along with an armada of other boats heading south. Unfortunately for us, we knew that most of them were probably heading way further south than us to warmer climates and cruising fun. We, on the other hand, were only heading back to Deltaville (DVL) to haul Rachel out for the winter and head back to Blacksburg until spring. Sigh!!

Mark figured that we needed to average 6 knots all day to make the 60 miles back to DVL and arrive during daylight. With the frequency and strength of the fronts coming through (and that were predicted to follow shortly), we decided to treat this leg of the trip like a delivery and motorsailed most of the way back. We had a lovely day and no close encounters like our night sail up. We took turns at the helm, the coldest spot, watched the other boats, and enjoyed soaking up the sun.

Two events broke up the day. The first was a little visitor who dropped in on us. For about 2 hours we had an oriole on the boat. We assume he was heading South, got tired, and decided to hitch a ride while he rested, seeing as we were heading in the right direction. He kept hopping around the cockpit, would fly forward for a while and then come back and visit with us again. We were amazed at how tame he appeared, he would jump into the dinghy, spend some quality time there, then come back onto the boat. Eventually he flew away, maybe to go and visit another boat for a while. Thankfully he didn't leave lots of little 'calling cards' before he took off.

The second was a bit more nerve wracking. We were just finishing bouncing across the mouth of the Potomac River. The wind was from the NW and the tide was coming in, in opposition to the wind. This combination makes for waves that are closer together and steeper than normal. Where the Potomac empties into the Chesapeake is well known for this "washing machine" action, and we were glad we were getting it behind us. We had been talking about how we should probably wear our harnesses and tether ourselves to the boat if we had to go forward to do anything. Suddenly the radio blared out a panicked woman's voice shouting "Man overboard!" - the words you hope to never hear or have to say.

She gave her location as about 6 miles down the Bay from us. They were a couple on a sailboat and the husband had fallen overboard, leaving the wife alone to control the boat, call for help, and retrieve him. After about 10 or 15 minutes of intently listening to the Coast Guard, nearby boats, and sporadic updates from the woman, we were relieved that she finally managed to retrieve him and all was well. But we both began to think about how we keep meaning to practice our man overboard procedures, but never seem to get around to it. (Note to selves - before going anywhere else on the boat, practice our man overboard drills).

This made us decide that, even in this relatively calm weather, we should probably tether ourselves to the boat when going forward. It's always best to 'stay on the boat'.
Several hours later, as we left the Bay and turned West into the Piankatank River, we had a lovely sail back to Jackson Creek. Julie spent some time sitting in her favourite spot, just forward of the mast, and had a little cry. The end of sailing season is always sad, especially this one in which we didn't get out nearly as much as we'd hoped.

We made good time and arrived at a slip at Deltaville marina just after 5pm, several of our friends were on the dock to welcome us home. The next day, another front came through with gusts into the 40s, and once again, we were happy to have hot showers and a safe harbor. One cruiser we met who was heading south for the winter said "I'm a bit embarrassed - here I am, on a sailboat, and I'm hiding from the wind." That pretty much says it all for our too short trip on Rachel this fall.

This is probably our last Khronicle until spring, stay safe and happy.

Fair winds,

Mark & Julie
s/v Rachel

PS - Julie's 50th Birthday Celebration following our arrival in Deltaville and lasting for over a week (whew!), finished up last night with a party at our house in Blacksburg. Now we can get off the rich food and high alcohol diet we've been on for the week and get our lives back to "normal". We're currently thinking about building Rachel a new wooden rowing / sailing / motoring dinghy over the winter. We'll let you know if we do, and will keep you posted on our progress.

Tayana Gathering

Location: Solomons, MD
Date: October 20, 2006
Current location: N 38 19' 50 W 76 27' 32.32

After leaving Mill Creek because of bad connectivity, we picked up a mooring ball at Zahniser's Yachting Center. These were not available last year and when you pay for one, you also get the same use of the facilities as when you take a slip - at a considerable saving. Julie had heard they had great facilities and we needed to get some laundry done. Wow! Showers with bath tubs, a toilet and sink, all in its own private room - just like at home! In the world of marinas, this is the lap of luxury.

We have a shower on the boat but we have to conserve water, so showers are short and sweet and quite businesslike. At Zahniser's we got to just stand under the hot, never ending flow of water and bask in the luxury. Lovely!!

We spent the day restocking groceries and doing laundry, and took another shower. Decided to stay anther night at the mooring as the wind started gusting into the 30s. It's nice to get a good night's sleep and not have to worry about the anchor dragging. Oh and of course, we had yet another shower.

Location: Mill Creek, Solomons, MD
Date: October 26, 2006
Current position: N 38 20' 09 W 76 26' 08.44

A few times a year folk on the Chesapeake with Tayana sailboats (Rachel is a Tayana 37), gather to hang out and "show their stuff" (a "you show me yours and I'll show you mine" kind of thing). This weekend is the second of two fall gatherings this year.

Unfortunately, the weather pixies decided to bless us with 25-30 knot winds (again!) gusting to 40 (again!!) from Thursday evening through Saturday morning. When the wind finally let up a bit on Saturday morning, we slipped the mooring, motored all of 2.1 miles to our present location, dropped anchor, and later in the afternoon two other Tayana 37s rafted up with us.
Now we're on a different Mill Creek. We recently heard that there are over 40 Mill Creeks on the Chesapeake Bay and we're thinking that may be an understated estimate.

Despite the weather, we had a companionable weekend. The Tayana 37 is an interesting boat, they were almost all made to order and the 'floor plans' are all different. For such a small space it's amazing how varied the inside space can be. We all checked out each others boats and shared stories on work we'd done, fixes, sailing techniques and, of course, food, each meal shared on a different boat.

On Monday morning the last boat left and we decided to just stay at this anchorage. Our anchor was well set and with the predicted 15-25 mph NW winds we would be nicely protected. Those blasted weather pixies are a sneaky bunch, though. We spent the next 3 days enduring W winds, our most unprotected direction at this anchorage, 15-25 mph gusting sometimes up into the 40s. Now I know why sailors curse so much! It was frickin cold and bouncy with lows dipping into the 30s one night and the wind managed to eke it's way through any open pore on Rachel.

We had coffee and porridge for breakfast every morning, and looked for any excuse to cook a meal, make a roast, bake some bread, etc. - anything to keep the oven pouring heat out into the rest of the boat.

Snuggling up on Rachel

Mark & Julie
s/v Rachel

Crab Cakes!!

Location: Mill Creek, off the Patuxent River, MD
Date: October 17, 2006
Current position: N 38 20 13.49 W 76 30 09.09

In our travels around the Chesapeake, we like to periodically get off the boat and sample the local fare. We'll dinghy in, have a nice walk around town, and pick a local restaurant to visit if the mood strikes.

Periodically, we'll splurge and sample the local crab cakes - occasionally, we're pleasantly surprised, but to be honest, most of the time we're at least mildly disappointed.

The best crab cakes we'd had to date were homemade by a friend in Deltaville, but these babies are just not available to the general public. This seems patently unfair to us, so, in generous display of selfless sacrifice, we continue to search for the best crab cakes available for the rest of you.

When we visited Mill Creek last year, we noticed what we thought was a small marina with maybe a little store or restaurant on the side. We never did get around to visiting it because we took all our walks in the county park on the other side of the creek.

We had recently heard that it was a nice little restaurant, so decided to dinghy over to have a walk, and to check the place out. Unfortunately, being Monday, it was closed. We did notice something curious, though - there was sign in front that said "Reservations Recommended". This seemed a bit strange to us, as this little place is at the end of a point with a single road going to it and it looks like not much else is happening there.

As we walked, we passed another couple, also out for their evening walk, who asked if we were from "that really pretty sailboat" at anchor. We said yes, and they said it was too bad the restaurant was closed because they make the best crab cakes on the entire Bay. As we dinghied back to the boat, we had a nice chuckle as the thought struck us that these may have been the owners of the restaurant, trying to build a bit of trade. Still, we thought, sometimes these tenuous leads are worth checking out, so Julie called and made a reservation for the following evening.

Wow. Nirvana. Bingo, we found 'em! We're talking great huge chunks of crab meat, no discernable filler, perfectly seasoned, fist-sized works of art. It would be fairly easy to run out of superlatives in trying to describe these succulent, juicy, and flavorful little discoids from heaven.

Sated, and secretly considering another visit, just to verify that they really were as good as we initially thought (one does have a responsibility to validate the repeatability of such a momentous event, doesn't one?), we planned on spending the rest of the week here.

Unfortunately, when we got up on Thursday morning, after a week of FAST connectivity, we both had really slow connections. Gotta work, so "no connection - no can stay"! We weighed anchor at 10:30 and, with tears in our eyes and regret in our hearts at the missed opportunity, bade our delicious new found friends adieu, and headed back to Solomons where we knew we could work.

So, if you're ever in the Solomons, Md. area, sail a little further up the Patuxent, under the bridge, make the next left into Mill Creek, and visit Clarkes Landing Restaurant. We have no idea how to get there by land but it's listed as Hollywood, MD, and make a reservation.

Mark & Julie
s/v Rachel


Location: Mill Creek, off the Patuxent River, MD
Date: 20 Oct, 2006
Current position: N 38 20 13.49 W 76 30 09.09

We don't want you to all think our lives are only full of adventure and excitement. Our day-to-day life is, when we are lucky, quite calm and mundane. There are a few things that one needs to know when arriving at a new location:

1. Where can you land your dinghy without getting into trouble
2. Where can you dispose of trash without getting into trouble
3. Where can you get water without getting into trouble
4. Where is the closest grocery, because you are going to be walking there if you need anything, and if you buy anything heavy, you are going to get into trouble.

If you are lucky there are already some boats that have been in the anchorage for a while, so you jump into the dinghy and go on a fact finding mission and, of course, make new friends. If you are not so lucky you have to find these things out on your own by trial and error.

We actually like to find the most secluded spots to anchor most of the time but after a week or so it's nice to have some social interaction, and groceries and laundry are beginning to work their way toward the top of the list. The grocery list is well thought out, especially when carrying everything you buy back to the dinghy and then to the boat is taken into consideration. For example, liquids are heavy! So are potatoes and canned goods. There's a fine line between having "enough" and having to carry too much.

When we arrived after our night sail, we anchored at Back Creek in Solomons, MD. We'd been there before so we already had a free dinghy landing scoped out and knew where the grocery, post office, marine store (chandlery) and (very important) liquor store were. We did, however, dinghy around the anchorage and met and chatted with a few other cruisers and befriended a couple on a home made wooden trawler.

We hung out for happy hour on each other's boats and traded stories and tips.

Location: Mill Creek, off the Patuxent River
Date: 23 Oct, 2006
Current position: N 38 24 37.69 W 76 29 18.70

On Saturday we decided to head up the Patuxant river to St. Leonard's Creek. It's supposed to be a really nice spot and is the home of Vera's White Sands tikki bar and restaurant. Vera has recently sold the restaurant but we decided to dinghy over there for dinner and drinks and were not disappointed. Mark was hoping for something more "kitschy" and a bit less upscale, but the margaritas were very good, the view was excellent, and we had a very nice dinner by a window overlooking the creek.

The anchorage was quiet with lots of wildlife to watch and hardly any visible houses. Julie spent some quality time with Rachel's woodwork on deck as the weather was warmish and sunny, while Mark also spent some quality time in 'the basement' with our electrical system - with the "appropriate language" toolbox.

We weighed anchor around noon on Sunday and came part way back down the Patuxant to Mill Creek, an anchorage that we discovered last year. It's also quiet, we get good internet connectivity and there's a lovely county park with walking trails that we can dinghy to. Our trawler friends from Solomons were there and invited us over for dinner. We told them about the park and we all decided to dinghy over for a walk in the woods before we ate.

The next day when we came up for air from working they were gone, heading south for the winter. This is another cool thing about cruising - you make friends and have fun together, then go your own ways and maybe meet up again in a few days, a few years or never. You could meet in the same spot, or halfway around the world. You never know, and, so far, anyway, they're invariably old friends when you meet again.

Today has been rainy. We got up early and started work, ate lunch, and worked some more. We now have a pot of curry on the stove and the rice is "tsst tsst tsst'ing" away in the pressure cooker for dinner. We're looking forward to an evening of reading and then off to bed early.

Mark & Julie
s/v Rachel

Our First Night Sail

Location: Broad Creek, Solomons, MD
Date: 13 Oct, 2006
Current position: 38 20 23.62 N, 76 27 32.04 W

At about 4pm on Tuesday, 10 Oct, we quit work, hoist anchor, shout our goodbyes to our friends at the dock and are on our way. It's cool and clear and we're both excited and a bit nervous.
This will be our first trip on Rachel at night and we're traveling 60+ miles from Deltaville to Solomons Island, MD at the mouth of the Patuxent River.

We're supposed to have 5 to 10 knot winds from the East, which will make for an easy beam reach for most of our trip. The moon is waning but is still about 3/4 full, and moonrise is expected to be around 9:30pm.

It seems the weather gods have tricked us once again and there is virtually no wind, so we set the engine to about 1500 RPMs and, making about 4.5 knots, watch the sun go down behind us. It gets chilly fairly quickly, so we don our foul weather bib overalls and jackets. As the sun sets a vee of geese fly low out of the sun right over the boat, honking us on our way.

It gets darker, a low fog begins to move in - we can see the stars quite clearly overhead, but not much around us. Mark fires up the radar so we hopefully don't get any surprises.

We clear Windmill Point, and the Bay is calm and flat as we make our way North. We see a few ships out in the shipping lane to the East, but nothing near us, and, except for a couple of fishing boats we can see, the radar is clear. It gets pretty black, the sun's gone, the moon isn't up yet, and we're on our own. About all we can see is the lights from our instruments and the stars directly overhead.

After a while, Julie comes up from below and notices a (small) blip behind us on the radar. She says to Mark "Have you checked behind us lately?".

Mark turns around and looks (for the first time in maybe 15 minutes - lesson one - 15 minutes is too long!) and sees what looks like a brightly lit city closing in on us directly astern. We watch the approaching "thing", look at the radar to see if we can tell how close it's going to come, stare into the lights trying to see if we can find a red or green navigation light so we have some indication as to what it's heading is - nothing, no clues - it just keeps getting bigger.

Then we begin hearing the deep rumble of large diesel engines. This thing is getting closer and closer and we still don't know which way it is heading or what to expect. We are about ready to start drooling and capering about.

Julie realizes that "it" has finally changed direction slightly and she can now see a green navigation light (Mark, being color blind, is rather useless at this exercise, so he's in charge of capering). We realize it's going to cross behind us at an oblique angle and pass us to port. It turns out to be a menhaden boat - a large commercial fishing boat - with the decks awash with light so the fishermen can see their work. Oh, and it is, actually, smaller than a city.

Whew. That should keep us awake for a while. We calm down and then, off our starboard bow, we see the moon rising. It's gorgeous and glorious and friendly and we can see again. Not a lot, but the mist is lifting, we're beginning to see the horizon, and it's comforting to know that we'll have more light for the rest of the trip.

Still no wind, so we continue motoring, hour after hour, trying to time our arrival at the Patuxent so we don't arrive before dawn. Up past Smith Point, and across the mouth of the Potomac River Rachel's little 30 hp. diesel engine thrums along like clockwork.

At about 3am the breeze picks up. We can sail! Julie's at the helm, so she throttles down and heads into the wind, and Mark goes forward to raise the main. The main's up, Julie heads off the wind, back onto our course, and after we set the two head sails, we shut down the engine and are finally sailing on an easy, fast beam reach in an almost flat bay. Woohoo! We're making
6 to 6.5 knots and are having a ball.

We realize that we'll get there too early at this rate, so we ease the sails to slow down a bit, and just relax and enjoy ourselves. There's little to no shipping along our course for this part of the trip, so we take turns at the helm and catnap our way North. This is the way it's supposed to be. We look at each other and smile. We think of that line from the movie "As Good As It Gets" when Jack Nicholson says "What if this is as good as it gets?".

That'll be fine w/ us.

We finally arrive at the mouth of the Patuxent River at about 5:30am. It's the day after the Annapolis sailboat show, so we know the anchorage will be packed with boats heading to Florida and the Bahamas for the winter. We decide to heave-to until it gets light, figuring that by then a lot of boats will have left the anchorage to continue on their way South, freeing up some space for us. After a short sleep, we head in, we shout hello to a couple of friends who are leaving as we pass by. We circle around the anchorage and find 'the perfect spot' drop the anchor, cook up a pot of porridge to warm us up, and bask in our accomplishment.

Doesn't take much to keep us happy.

Mark & Julie
s/v Rachel