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Monday, October 1, 2012

News from Loon County September 2012

Hi D,

I hope that you have settled into your new place. Did you move to your permanent room yet? 

How are you doing? We hope to come and see you in the next few weeks...forgive us for not coming sooner, but we've both been busy; me with rowing, Don with the boat.

The boat has been in the water for over a month...we have been out a couple of times, which was great fun. We drove out of the marina into the St. Lawrence and tried out the sails with some major rigging changes. Fairly light wind, coming, as usual around here, from the west. This means that to make any progress under sail is fairly difficult. The current always comes from the same direction (south-west) and is quite strong. So sailing or motoring against this is slow progress. After an hour's sailing, we had made about 1 km and then turned around to sail around a local island, Toussaint Island. 

There is a natural harbour between Toussaint and the shore, fairly sheltered. So we stopped there and tried out our new anchoring system - a manual windlass for dropping of the anchor (and, more significantly, for winding it up again). We keep the anchor, which weighs 35lb (16 kg) on a roller on the bow. Once the windlass clutch is released, a slight shove will drop the anchor in a more- or less-controlled fashion. Then the fun begins.

Anchoring, is another one of those major subjects that boaters get boring about...a bit like paint systems, anchoring "systems" are fraught with expensive choices, variable (often unreproducible) results, prejudice, and a healthy dose of fear, anger and a lot of shouting. The problem is very simple. You want to stop the boat. You've been driving about all day, or sailing, you want to have a rest, a swim, make a meal, or stop for the night. The boat doesn't really want to stop; the effect of wind, waves, current, passing boat traffic, all makes it complicated. You want to stop in water that is deep enough that you don't worry about hitting anything, shallow enough that you don't have to let out too much rope and chain, and far enough out of any channels where boats will be passing; also sheltered from the weather as much as possible. We have done this activity hundreds of times, have thought a lot about it, have read all the authorities. The saint here is Earl R. Hinz; his classic work is The Complete Book of Anchoring and Mooring; the title of which should be: The Big Boys' Book of Manly Stuff'n'Shit for its completeness as far as heroic thinking about "ground tackle," what could go wrong and how to avoid it.

Anyway, fair to say, we've anchored a lot...we can more or less anchor in any place or any conditions, given sufficient water, some room and up to an hour or so to complete the operation. We are not following the crowd on this. We are constantly surprised by the flimsy and rusty mangled pieces of metal that we see attached to the bows of boats as we walk around marinas. People are trusting their lives, or at least their precious boats to stuff that I wouldn't use to weight down the tarp on my compost pile! We travelled for more than a year, thousands of miles and anchored almost every night. We are happier anchoring than staying at a marina (once you have bought your "ground tackle" and spent quite a while adapting the chain, hooks, pipes leading to the lockers, ropes, shackles, and anchors, plus windlass, rollers, and tie-downs, it's all free! I am prepared to say I judge a man by the quality of his ground tackle, but some people might misconstrue that...! And watching other people anchor, when one has already got the anchor safely set, is a source of endless, and I'm sorry to say, cruel amusement. There is just a lot of things to go wrong and to do badly. All that, plus the stress of fatigue, not enough communication, no rehearsals, and a bunch more shouting, leading to fairly interesting cases of marital discord - most boats are sailed by couples, most sailing couples have a dominant partner who shouts at the usually reluctant (and mostly female) partner until she gets some sense into her head, which as you can imagine, always happens eventually. It's often made more embarrassing for the crew because of the audience of anchored wine-swilling bastards that you (rightly) imagine to be laughing at you, large glass of Merlot in hand.The other largest class of cruising sailors is, strange to say, single males.

I am very happy with the way Don had set up the anchoring system on our new boat. Previously we'd had to haul the thing up by hand, 35-pound anchor plus about 15 feet of chain (weighing about a pound a foot). I know all this rowing is keeping me fit, but it was hard work! Now it just works nicely. As total control freaks, we didn't buy an electric windlass to haul up the anchor - which is the most common solution that people use. To my mind, it's a bit like electric windows on a car. Not exactly wrong, but not necessary and in a peculiar set of circumstances, hazardous...electricity, water, hands and feet and a lot of chain...what could go wrong?...and we're not averse to a bit of manual exercise - there's enough of sitting around on a boat as it is.

The basic technique is to decide where you want to anchor. Decide how deep the water is using the chart and depth sounder, and this determines how much anchor "rode" to put out. The rode is the combination of chain and rope that is attached between the anchor and the boat. Long tradition and empirical testing, has put the "right" ratio of rode length to water depth at between 3 to 1 and 10 to 1. That is, if one is anchored in 10 feet of water, the rode length should be anything from 30 to 100 feet!...the actual amount to vary on weather conditions, the type of "ground" under the water, whether there is to be a change of depth from the state of the tide, and a bunch of other arcane things called "experience". The longer the rode, the less strain there is on the anchor - the angle of pull becomes more horizontal and the anchor is basically a hook in the sea bottom.

So the helmsman drives the boat to the desired position where the "hook" will be dropped, while the anchorman lays out the correct amount of chain/rope and unties the anchor ready for launching. This may take some time; perhaps the boat has to be driven around in a few circles until we're ready to go. Usually a bit of shouting at that point, but we have lots of time to do this...Then a last look at the depth sounder...15 feet? OK that's minimum 45 feet of rode, OK. The anchor is launched and the bottom of the water while the boat is stopped, engine in neutral...the wind/current then take the boat backwards (we try to approach the drop heading upwind) as the anchor chain/rope is gently paid out. Then the exciting part...the rode is tied off and we watch the way that the boat swings to the anchor. Ideally, there is a snatch as the anchor hooks into the mud or sand, the head of the boat swings around as the anchor digs in and we have an initial "set". Now we wait, watching the world not going by, looking at the way that the rode is sloping out into the water. The idea is that the anchor digs in a bit and, ideally, settles down. After this, we'll put on the kettle for a nice cuppa or, more likely, have a wee glass o' wine. And start to watch for other boats anchoring. After another 10 minutes or so, it's time to test the set of the anchor. We'll run the engine in reverse for about 5 minutes, gradually increasing speed, watching the rode and watching the land. If the land starts passing by, or the rode goes slack...the anchor has dragged and we have to start over - with the exception of the wine, perhaps!

There are variations, type of anchor...some are better in mud, some in rocky bottoms, some in sand. The absolute weight of the anchor isn't the key, although it is helpful. The design also matters. There are also harbours with a lot of boats anchored in the "best" spots and every boat has to have swinging room. On one memorable occasion, at the end of a very long day we anchored in the harbour of the town of Wrightsville Beach (North Carolina), the guide book said it was a good harbour and we couldn't believe our luck, it was virtually empty of other boats. Unbeknownst to us, the harbour had recently been dredged as it is very subject to silting up. There was not a lot of sand or mud on the hard bottom to anchor to. There is a swift tidal current in both directions here. So we tried the normal anchor - on our old boat, a 60-pound monster that rarely had problems. Set, but it dragged when tested. Hmm. OK, we tried the 45-pound "fast set" claw anchor. didn't even set...bouncing along the bottom. So we pulled out the littlest folding anchor, which only weighs 6-pounds, is made of lightweight aluminum alloy and has an adjustment for setting in soupy mud. We put it on the end of a 10 to 1 scope (probably 120 feet of rode) and set it gently, ever so gently. We waited half an hour before backing down on the anchor, very slowly...and it held! 

By this time, the front of the boat was covered in water, mud, weeds, slime and so was I.  Hauling up the anchor brings up all the crap that is on the sea bottom (and sometimes interesting jetsam, we once found we had hooked an old anchor, another time an entire tree). The wine (or tea) had long worn off, and it was about 9 pm. We had dinner in a foul mood, worried that the boat would drag in the night, and decided that one person should wake up at regular intervals to check on the boat position (GPS is wonderful for this). The boat went round in circles all night, as the tide came in and out, but we didn't drag towards the bridge at one end of the harbour, or the open sea and the marshes at the other end, but it was a long night...we tested the set again in the morning. The weather was good and we could have moved to another anchorage a few miles away, but the anchor held. So we went out in the dinghy to do our laundry at the local laundromat, and walked to the local supermarket and the fish dock about 30 minutes away and came back with a pile of fresh shrimp. The second night we made a memorable shrimp supper on the boat and slept very soundly.

Incidentally, while we were at our errands, we had visitors on the boat. Everyone worries about this...the thing is locked and parked, but you are not there. When we got back, we found the decks were splashed wet all over, although the weather was bright, warm and sunny. We worried about jet skis, and speedboats buzzing us with a wake, thieves, murderers, nutters...but couldn't work out what it was...Eventually we went below decks to put away our laundry and groceries, then there was a bit splash...we rushed up to see a pelican flapping out of the water, clutching a fish in his beak as he flew away. So one or more of these birds had been sitting on the wire between out two masts, about 30 feet up, conning for fish...and then diving straight down splashing the entire boat. Pretty funny...and these are big - with a 5-foot wingspan and weighing about 20 pounds. 

I guess the fishy smelling bird crap all over the sail covers should have alerted us. We hadn't noticed that at first. Sigh.

Other things that have been happening: one of our boating friends, Judy, had to fly back to Winnipeg to see her dying mother. Judy had just started the final stage of sanding her boat's hull before painting and was working in one of the covered barns in the boatyard. The two weeks she was away were the two weeks that she should have been painting (weather was perfect) and when she got back, the barn was needed for winter storage in less than a week. So we spent the next four days painting her boat with her. Just as well, for her, actually. It was a very complicated paint "system" - and she is one of those people that, for some reason, don't read manufacturers instructions. I'm not saying this is bad, actually, but with some stuff that involve chemistry (paint and cake mixes, for example) it's probably advisable. I mean the company isn't trying to make you have a bad experience or a poor result, surely. So once we got involved, and she had already mixed up the first batch of paint, and we had spent 2 hard hours painting with very poor result (streaky, lots of ridges, poor coverage), we read the instructions. Oh...the next 3 days went a lot better, still hard work, but the result is well, stunning. A royal blue paint job that you can see your face in...pretty good. They always say with these special paints that you should either experiment on a small dinghy, or on someone else's boat. So we have done the latter and now I'm about to do the former. 

I bought a couple of single rowing sculls a couple of years ago. They are very nice and easy to row - and it is easy to train people in them. One of them had developed long cracks along each side of the hull, so I have repaired them with fibreglass and epoxy and I am ready to paint. Probably the next dry day I can sand the primer and get the first of two or three topcoats. (Didn't I say that every conversation eventually degenerates in to a discussion about paint? Crikey!)

The rowing club has had a successful season, now coming to a close. It isn't so interesting to go out when it is wet and cold. One or the other, isn't too bad so we're not totally finished for the hardier types. We have also been to three regattas in the last month. 

The first one was in Burnstown on the Madawaska river between Calabogie and Arnprior. Lovely place on a beautiful river. A very welcoming club of friendly people. Very easy, no real hazards on the course, just the occasional jerks who drive their boats badly :-) Last year, we were hit by a competing rowing boat passing us (driven by a cox who should have known better). This year when launching our coxed four from the beach, a powerboat driven by a race "official" drove by so closely at high speed that a wave of about 2 feet high lifted the boat then dropped it on the beach and our fin keel was broken off.  This made the boat unusable. We were lucky there were no injuries to the rowers who were sitting in the boat or the cox who was just getting in. I'm not that into confronting fools, but I did complain to the boat driver. Basically he lied, denied, and acted surprised. Dolt. In a boat, one is always responsible for the wake and there are easy ways to minimize it - don't run fast, close and parallel to the shore, especially at a beach. It's really dangerous. When a wave is about a foot out in deep water then comes in at speed and hits shallow water, the size of the wave increases tremendously just like a tsunami.  I complained to the host club. They generously lent us another rowing boat and apologized. Our crew had a great row in a fancy new boat, so we were happy after all.

The next regatta was Head of the Rideau hosted by the Ottawa Rowing Club at the Ottawa Canoe Club opposite Mooney's Bay. Well organized, quite a big event. Our men's crew rowed in the "recreational" race, which had two boats in it. They came first (haha, had to be first or last!) and got nice medals. 

Yesterday, we went up to Peterborough to the Head of the Trent regatta. It's become a kind of tradition with our club. The regatta is an enormous undertaking for the university with nearly 500 boats and perhaps 1500 rowers and about 100 people officiating. It coincides with the university homecoming, alumni schmooze/fundraising and boozefest. Amazingly well organized. We had two crews rowing and we rented boats because of the distance (it's a four hour trip from here). Our crews did well, better than in previous years. 

Perhaps next year we'll take our own boat to Peterborough - we are lucky enough that the club has been given a grant towards the purchase of a new coxed four. Very exciting as this is only our second boat that I would say is seriously competitive (the other is a two-person boat). We probably won't get or use the new boat before next year...the weather is worse and the water level has dropped dramatically. It becomes more hazardous for our rowers to go out without experts who know the waters properly (we do have about 4 of these in the club of 25). 

One of our old boats was rowed across an underwater rock wall a couple of weeks ago which cut a long split in the hull. Amazingly it didn't sink; there are flotation chambers in each end of the hull and at least one of them worked! When I met the crew at the dock (pure coincidence I wasn't rowing) they were very sad, I think they thought I'd be angry or something! But it was fibreglass which is easy to repair...the old wooden ones are a nightmare. Very fragile and made from specially steamed marine plywood that is paper thin for lightness. This is why we get "given" old wooden boats by other boat clubs who are tired of looking after them. After us, it's the scrap heap, I'm sorry to say. We have pushed two old eight man boats and one four-man boat into the bushes at the marina to rot away...even now I get the occasional plea to take an eight from a club "real cheap". These things are 60 feet they are a liability.

In other news, after a summer of neglecting the house and garden, now comes the reckoning. We have finally started the Augean task of cleaning house, after taking yet another cat to the vet to be euthanized. This last one was 20 years old, which is about 140 human years. It was time to do her in while she was still not suffering too badly - she was declining quite quickly. We are now down to one black cat, which is a great relief as her character and behaviour are easier to deal with. Next, the day-long task of cleaning the window screens and taking out the air conditioner. Then we have to clean the eaves troughs (another day) and then about 2-3 weeks digging up the south side of the house to repair the foundation. Then leaf raking etc. God knows how we ever found time to go to work...

Anyway, we'll call you soon to arrange a visit to your new place.

All the best,


Sue & Don


St Lawrence Rowing

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