Saturday, July 26, 2008

Halfway to Grand Haven

(battery 2 - whoops, didn't check the blog first, and used the same battery twice in a row)

Went out for an afternoon sail on Saturday with Terri, Keenan and Candy around 4. First time Keenan's been to the boat this year, and this was the first time we've taken it out on a weekend in '08. Very crowded on the little lake today, lots of traffic to look out for. We basically hoisted the sails right away and headed for the channel on a beam reach. Once we reached the channel, we noticed the car ferry coming in, so we went past the channel, then tacked and came at it from the north to give the ferry a chance to clear before we entered. The wind was coming straight out of the channel, as usual, so we had to use the motor to get out to Lake Michigan.

Once out on the big lake, we headed south towards Grand Haven. Big swells out on Lake Michigan today, but with a fairly light breeze (maybe 10 mph out of the northwest), so we didn't make much speed (about 4.5 at the top end). The trip was pretty rolly on a beam reach because of the swells, so I headed up to a close reach for a while which was slightly more comfortable for the passengers. We opened up some of our snacks, spitting cherry pits overboard and drinking sodas as we headed south/southwest. We got far enough from shore that we passed the 'fishing floats' that we found last year, and not much past those, we decided to come about and head back for the channel (maybe about halfway to Grand Haven, maybe not quite halfway, as I never did spot the lighthouse). We managed to sail the channel on the way back with mostly the headsail (not quite at a dead crawl this time, but kept our speed up to around 2 knots, even though it didn't feel like it)

Got back to the marina around 7:30ish, in time to watch our neighbor and his bikini clad daughters doing their 'return to the slip maneuvers', and then we had a picnic lunch down at the beach, then ice creams at the 'Frosty Oasis' and then home. Beginning to wish we lived closer to the boat, with gas prices the way they are. These long drives out to Muskegon are getting kind of pricey. Maybe we can start looking into moving to Ludington in a few years. Ideally, I'd like to moor the boat a bit further north, so that trips up to the islands are a bit more feasable.

We've also been tossing around the idea, for our 25th anniversary in December, of chartering a boat down in the British Virgin Islands for a week. This would be our first time sailing in the ocean, dealing with currents and tides (although both are very mild there, we are assured). We'll see if we can afford it.

(still falling way behind in posting photos, need to get them from Terri's camera).

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Two Days in a Row: Bliss

(photo above) Andie at the tiller while Uncle Tim blathers on about something or other

(battery 2) My sister Margo and her daughter Andie came out with us this afternoon for another cruise today. The wind wasn't nearly as gusty as it was the day before, but we still managed to put up some impressive numbers on the knotmeter. We had a fairly decent exit from the slip, promptly put up the mainsail and I put Andie on the tiller for a trip around Lake Muskegon. We then put up the headsail and proceeded over towards the channel to check out the big lake, getting up to 6 knots on a beam reach. The wind was a bit flukey down the channel, as it frequently is, so we weren't able to sail all the way down, but had to use a little motorized assistance to get past the coast guard station, where we then picked up some better wind. The big lake was a little more bouncey, but we sailed around out there for about a half an hour before heading back towards the channel with a storm cloud on our heels. Once in the channel, we noticed the Lake Express Ferry coming in behind us, and they passed us mid-channel, while we managed to sail all the way down the channel this time, with me at the tiller, and Margo working the headsail, coaxing what little wind we could find to keep us moving forward. Once back in the little lake, we found a freshening breeze, and headed west on a close reach, getting the speed back up to nearly 6 knots again, but then at the first sound of thunder, we folded up the sails, turned on the motor and headed back for the marina.

A fun afternoon, topped off by the opening night of Keenan's show, Heritage Theater's production of "the Drunkard". A fun show, full of audience participation (you can buy popcorn to throw at the actors), which runs Thursday Friday and Saturday this week and next.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Afternoon Getaway

(battery 1) The wife and I played hookey from work this afternoon for an afternoon sailing getaway. Arrived in Muskegon around 1:30ish, and while we were prepping the boat, a sailboat was attempting to enter its slip nearby, and it looked as if they were having problems with steering or something, so I quick hustled down to give a hand. It appeared to be a dad and his three daughters out for a sail, and they seemed to be having a lot of trouble maneuvering. I offered a hand, but the dad backed up and left the marina for what looked like another pass. Well a few more passes later, and I wasn't entirely sure what they were doing. Every time I would hustle down to lend a hand, they would abort and head back out into the mooring area. Eventually I gave up and tried to time our exit in such a way that we could avoid one of their frequent 'fly bys'.

The wind was a bit gusty when we headed out, so we started out with just the headsail, and rode around on the western side of Lake Muskegon. We did fairly well with just the one sail, frequently getting up to 5 knots. Hard to tell if we were being way too cautious, or just sensible. Other boats had full sail up, and others seemed to have less up than we. Decided not to bother with the big lake today, since sailing down the channel would be problematic considering the wind direction, and instead stayed in Lake Muskegon, since there was minimal traffic this afternoon, and the wind was fairly steady and predictable.

There was a coast guard warning on the VHF when we arrived, that I overheard from another boat's radio, about an abandoned pontoon boat out on Lake Muskegon. While we were sailing about, a coast guard helicopter was circling the lake overhead, and we thought perhaps it was looking for the pontoon boat. Later in the afternoon, we spotted the sherrif's boat towing an empty pontoon boat from somewhere on the southwestern corner of the lake.

Later in the afternoon, when the winds subsided a bit, we opened up full sail for one trip across the lake (getting up around 6 knots at one point), but when we tried to put the headsail away again, the gusting winds interfered with the furler, and we ended up being unable to put the whole sail away, so on our next trip across the lake, we stopped and drifted awhile and took care of a few technical issues (the furler, and a reefing line that got away from us). The rest of the way back to the marina, we used just the headsail, and had a pleasant set of tacks back and forth before calling it a day around 4:30. Dinner at the beachside restaurant to watch volleyball on the beach and have a few beers to end the day.

Just what the doctor ordered. I don't even remember the job I was working on this morning that was causing me so much stress.

(photos) (top) Lady and Terri at the helm on Lake Muskegon (bottom) the coast guard helicopter makes another pass, perhaps looking for that wayward abandoned pontoon boat?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

BFU rules in effect

(battery 2) Went out for a sunset cruise with Terri and Candy on a beautiful Monday evening. Originally was going to include Candy's coworker Fred on this outing, but he had hurt his back the previous weekend and had to bow out.

We got to the marina around 7, and the conditions on Lake Muskegon looked a little bumpy. Choppy waves with occasional tiny whitecaps, gusting winds from the north, and very few boats out on the lake. I decided we would do some practice reefing to start out with, starting with the smallest sail area on the main, and then moving up as we felt we needed it. I was also not quite sure we had the reefing lines set up correctly, and we hadn't had an opportunity to practice our reefing skills in several years, so it was a good opportunity. We put in the first reef (just finding all the reefing lines was an adventure in itself), and puttered along at a very slow rate of speed, but as I continued to look at the reefing set-up, I became more and more convinced that I had done something wrong. The sail shape wasn't effective, the gathered sail on the mast looked lumpy and mishapen, and we just couldn't seem to make any speed. It took me until the end of the evening to figure out that I had installed the reefing lines (and probably had done the same thing the previous year) not in their proper spots on the outer edge of the sail, but in the first set of reefing holes in the middle of the sail. No wonder we kept having trouble with sail shape on the main for the past year or so.

Eventually, I put out some headsail to help with the speed as we approached the channel entrance, and then as we started traversing the channel, and the wind started dying down a bit, I took out the reef, opened up the main and let out the rest of the headsail. It was a slow process, but we managed to sail the channel for the second time already this year. Amazing the difference in wind and waves from the little lake to the big lake this evening. Gusting winds and choppy waves on Lake Muskegon, and once out on Lake Michigan, it was a light but steady breeze with barely any waves that allowed us to slowly but comfortably sail quite a ways out before turning back around 9 pm.

As we were heading back towards the channel, we heard a 'securite' announcement on the VHF which we interpreted as a tanker preparing to leave Lake Muskegon, and kept our eyes peeled, and our binoculars trained on the channel. After a long time of looking and sailing towards the lighthouse, we started to think we had misinterpreted the message, but as we got about halfway through the opening channel, we finally saw what was coming, and boy, was it a big one. I debated on whether or not to try sailing next to it (we've shared the channel with the Ferry and other freighters before), but as it got closer, I realized that this was bigger than anything we've run into before, and pulled away into the anchorage area to get out of the way at the last minute. We did a big circle in the anchorage as the ship passed (along with a few other powerboats who also got out of the way), Terri handling lines while simultaneously snapping photos.

We probably could have sailed back down the channel again on the way home, but it was getting dark, and with the sun down, considerably chillier, so we rolled up the headsail and put on the engine for the ride home. On the way back, we did a few necessary adjustments, fixing the port bow light, which wouldn't come on. Terri had the magic touch, and after taking one of the screws out and jiggling it, it popped back on. We also finally figured out the reefing lines and strung them in their proper configuration before flaking the sail, with Candy at the tiller heading us back toward the marina. It was after ten when we pulled into the slip, getting pretty dark, but did a pretty good job of tucking Fanny away for the night.

A beautiful night, worth the wait.

(photos) (1) A beautiful sunset tonight, with a fellow sailor motoring out the channel (2) Tim at the helm trying to coax a little more speed out of the improperly reefed main (3) Terri and Candy on the lookout for the freighter (4-8) the "BFU Rule" is in effect here: Despite the normal 'rules of right of way', you should always yield to anything Bigger, Faster or Uglier than you.

The freighter, the 1000 foot 'American Integrity' (see more information here at Wikipedia and this news item from last year when this ship became stuck in the Muskegon Channel)