Eye See Dub
17 December 2021
Just anchored to the sound of a steel band playing Caribbean music. There are palm trees on the beach, the sun is setting. For the first time, I'm having my traditional anchor beer (rum and tonic today) in the cockpit with no shirt and not freezing my ass off. Ahhhhh!
I have enjoyed this ambiance and life of decadence for over six years. I'm not quite in the tropics. I'm on the ICW, Intercoastal Waterway in Ft. Pierce, Florida.
The ICW is an amazing waterway that can take a boater from New York City to Miami without ever going out on the ocean. Most boats have trouble around New Jersey but the ICW is THE route from the Chesapeake Bay on south. There limits though. Mast height on fixed bridges can't exceed 65 feet. And draft of the boat is severely limited if over six feet.
Uproar has an air draft (mast height) of 60 feet, no problem. But our keel nudges the bottom at anything under eight feet. Ouch!
When we departed the US six years ago, we were going to sail from Norfolk, VA straight to the Bahamas. But weather wasn't quite right so we “did” three days on the ICW down to Beaufort, NC. That stretch of the ICW could accommodate our eight foot draft. Norm on a strange, ferro-cement boat said, “Oh, you will drag bottom at mile marker 45 but just keep plowing, you will get through.” I don't recall touching at mile mark 45 but we were on our toes.
Six years later, we found ourselves back in Beaufort, NC, a lovely and fun place. Due to the Italian Consulate sitting on our passports, we could not sail directly to the Caribbean as planned. Lisa was not interested in the East Coast sailing and drove back to WI. I decided to keep pushing south. I'm sure Lisa will join me when she runs out of firewood.
My first passages south were out on the ocean. No way am I going to get stuck on the bottom in the “ditch.” The weather was mostly OK for offshore passages but I did have one stinker from Wrightsville Beach to Charleston, SC. Uproar is quite used to adverse weather and we took it in stride. Once we sailed to the Florida/Georgia boarder, it looked like the ICW was going to work for us.
I made the decision to continue south on the ICW for several reasons.
1. I was towing the dinghy. Lisa and I normally put the dinghy on deck when sailing offshore. But this is difficult for me to do alone. Rough ocean conditions can actually flip and destroy a dinghy.
2. Weather wasn't that great for offshore passages. Not a problem on the ICW.
3. There are few, safe inlets from the ocean to harbors on the northern, Florida coast. If things sucked, I would have to sail a long way to the next, safe inlet.
This past week I have popped that cherry. I have sailed (motored) 250 miles on the ditch. The ICW was laid out by the Army Corps of Engineers. They chose routes where the water between the barrier islands and mainland were deep enough. And they dredged areas where natural rivers weren't adequate.
How would I navigate this maze of waterways in a boat totally unsuitable for these shallow paths? Bot 423 to the rescue. I found a Facebook group, Bob 423. Bob has been traveling the ICW for years. He must have some sophisticated sonar on his trawler or something magic I don't know about. But Bob has graciously plotted the deep channel through the ICW. My charts show the ICW route but Bob has refined this to the best possible, deep channels. It is an easy download to put the Bob Tracks on my chart plotter. I followed the blue, dotted line like my life depended on it! Well, Uproar depended on it.
Now, I'm anchored in Ft Pierce and it sure feels like I have arrived in the tropics. I was enjoying my anchor rum and observed a guy rowing his dinghy out to his small boat, anchored next to me. I dinghied over and invited Devin to join me for a duck dinner. Yes, I have a duck roasting in the oven. Nothing smells better!
How does the 250 miles I have done on the ICW compare to the 33,000 miles Lisa and I have sailed in the past six years? Well, different.
Offshore, even when I'm alone, It is pretty easy to sail. You just set the autopilot, make sure the sails are set right. Look out for other boats, watch radar and AIS (ship warning system). If you don't hit anything, you are doing just fine! Yes, you have to take the weather as it comes, there is no options, no way to duck somewhere safe. But sailboats are meant to take a lot more punishment than sailors. And it is sailing, not motoring.
I often make passages over 60 miles at night. Sure, leaving at the butt crack of dawn will enable me to make a passage before dark. But I hate to enter a harbor at night or even dusk. Leaving in the afternoon, sailing through the night ensures I arrive in daylight. Night passages are magic with the stars or bright moon.
Instead, the ICW is just motoring. I had to make my way south so it became a daily task. Make coffee, check weather, emails and Facebook. I would check the engine oil, hoist anchor and get underway. I have to concentrate the entire time to be sure I am exactly on the blue line shown on my chart plotter. But the scenery is interesting. It varies from natural marshes and mangroves full of aquatic birds to a dredged ditch with million-dollar houses shoulder-to-shoulder. There's always something to see.
Dolphins are everywhere, even in the tiniest creek. The water must be clean although it is river colored. People fish everywhere. There are crab pots lining the outside of the channel. That's another reason to concentrate on the blue line. Wrapping a crab pot line on the propeller is no fun to fix in the murky, cold water. Last Saturday on the stretch through Jacksonville to St. Augustine, I swear 500 powerboats passed me in both directions. Everyone smiling and waving, having a great time. Florida has a lot of boats!
It was something to get used to. I have enjoyed my week on the ICW but wouldn't want to make it my cruising ground. But there are thousands of boats who just make the migration north and south along the ditch following the good weather. That is the extent of their life afloat, year after year, and they love it. The cities are interesting to visit. Supplies, groceries, restaurants and everything easy about life on land are always within reach.
Devin rowed over for dinner. He is 31 yo, Army vet who served in Afghanistan and did relief work in Haiti. He sailed some as a kid and recently bought an old Columbia 31 foot boat. Someone once said, “Never sail a boat smaller than your age.”
Devin approved of the Pinot Noir served with the duck and we had a nice chat over dinner. He sailed out the Ft. Pierce inlet to the ocean today and got the crap kicked out of him. The Coast Guard was on the radio all day with small craft warnings. Devin decided to return to Ft. Pierce but the tidal current was running strongly out. His engine overheated trying to motor against it. He had to sail around for six hours until the tide turned. We discussed his overheating problem and I believe found a solution.
He is going to stash or sell his boat and help a family on a large catamaran sail to the Caribbean. Then, play it by ear. Way to go, Devin!
He reminded me of my other friend Devin. Devin and Liz Taylor, Moosetracks, became close friends when we arrived in Carriacou in the Caribbean. I'll never forget giving Devin a last, tearful hug in Martinique just before we sailed west to Venezuela. “Devin, you bastard you!” He said, “Russ, you will make new friends.” I had to, Devin died suddenly of heart failure a few years later. Now I have a new Devin friend.
The Water is Wide
01 December 2021
Pat Conroy wrote this book about his experience as a new teacher in the remote and backward Daufuskie Island, SC. He was hired, a white teacher to go to this all black school as an initiative to desegregate schools. The book is fascinating. On day one he learned the students didn't even know they lived in the United States.
I visited Hilton Head Island a few times in the late 70's. Daufuskie Island is only a mile or so from Hilton Head. The contrast from one of the wealthiest places in the US to Daufuskie Island is the premise about that stretch of water being a great divide. We would watch a small john boat from Daufuskie visit Harbor Town every day to get the mail. My brother, Bob and I would call the Daufuskie Island General Store just to hear the Gullah accent.
Today, I saw the stretch of water between Daufuskie Island and Hilton Head from the other side. It has been a place I have always wanted to visit. I wasn't disappointed.
From Uproar's anchorage off the Savannah River, it was a ten mile dinghy ride to Daufuskie. This was along the ICW and clearly marked. I was lucky to have the current with me. Still, it was quite a long dinghy ride but fun on this calm day. I arrived at the Freeport Marina and was able to leave the dinghy and assemble my bike on the dock. At the General Store, I obtained a map of the island and a recommendation to start at the museum.
I was greeted outside the museum by Chris and her Cockapoo, Sophie. She explained the museum was three buildings and she would return after Sophie's potty run. “Just look around and help yourself.”
The first building was a modern shed with a beautifully restored horse-drawn buggy. I'm amazed at the fine work and design that went into these spindly craft. Chris met me in the museum and became a font of information about her island. The Gullah, freed black slaves who populated the island until 1980's are almost gone. There are only 14 people, three families left. Instead, Daufuskie Island is populated with second homes. Chris and about 50 other people live there year around. There are about 450 other part-time residents.
Chris led me through exhibits showing the First Nation people about 7,000 years ago, Civil War relics and Gullah artifacts. She explained there were four major developments on the island with mixed results. Two are still gated communities but one has fallen into complete ruin, the other still has nice homes but the golf course and club house has been acquired by an individual who won't let the homeowners join. She said, “It takes a certain type of person to live in a remote island where grocery shopping involves a ferry ride. You couldn't drag me off this island.”
The museum itself was the first white Baptist church on the island. The carriage was owned by the island's midwife. She delivered 135 babies, all alive during her practice. The other building was a small school with one wall of windows, before electricity. The windows faced away from the road to reduce distractions.
With map in hand, I rode my bike down Haig Point Road to the other end of the island. This led me to Melrose Development. The Avenue of the Oaks, boulevard leading to the hotel ruin, is the scene of the old South with Spanish Moss dripping from the gnarled trees. The golf course, club house and hotel are all in ruin but cottages along the beach are mostly in use as is the pool and adjoining restaurant. The Hilton Head, Harbor Town Lighthouse was in sight across the sound.
Further along the road, I turned onto School road. School road is all sand, a tough ride on a bike! But it led to the beautiful First Union African Baptist Church. I was able to sit quietly inside and reflect. Out back was a replica of a Praise House. This is a place where slaves would meet to worship their African ways mixed with Christianity. A plaque stated, “The slaves had a hard time accepting Jesus as a loving, human deity. They had not witnessed kindness from man.”
Next down the road was the Mary Fields School where Pat Conroy taught. Part of the school is now Daufuskie Blue, a studio featuring Indigo dyed fabric and clothing. Indigo grows wild on Daufuskie and was an important cash crop when agriculture was more prevalent. It was explained Indigo is the only natural source for deep blue color. I was in no hurry and enjoyed conversations with everyone I met. People would even stop their golf carts when they saw me looking at my map.
Next stop, Daufuskie Rum Distillery. Yes, the rum tour continues. There was no tasting but I sure bought a bottle of their aged rum. The lady said it was her husband's most proud product. They also produced whiskey and flavored vodka, their best seller. I enjoyed a soda while talking with the staff. I should have opened my bottle of rum to juice it up.
Lots more bike riding and just taking in the sights. This is not a prosperous place and there were old, abandoned buildings. But the new construction is carefully secluded away and prices are soaring.
I went back to the museum to buy a book. Chris said I shouldn't add weight to my backpack for the riding. She was talking excitedly on the phone, a tourist in a rented golf cart had smashed the fence and run over a large Rosemary bush. Yes, I could grab some Rosemary to take back to Uproar along with my book.
At the marina complex, I had a late lunch at the Old Daufuskie Crab Company, bought dinghy gas and paid another visit to the General Store. It is mostly a gift shop but one could easily imagine it being an important source for everything needed for island life, years ago before ferries to the island.
Back in the dinghy with the gas can and bike, I headed back to Uproar. Fortunately, I was on Daufuskie long enough for the current to switch, again the current was with me on the way back. Uproar was patiently waiting in the quiet pond where we anchored yesterday.
My visit to Daufuskie did not disappoint. I wish there were still some Gullah people there to meet but the current residents were gracious and proud of their remote home. There is a real feel and sense of timelessness on Daufuskie Island, something I will take with me. And I have a new, excellent rum to enjoy while writing.
30 November 2021
Last blog about Uproar was in June, 2021 when we sailed from the Bahamas to Beaufort, NC. Mid-October we drove Snow Flake to Beaufort to get Uproar ready to sail again. Lisa and I spent two weeks working hard on a bottom job, drive shaft replacement, watermaker membrane replacement, topside compound/wax and a long list of maintenance items. Not the least of which was a thorough cleaning of the interior including laundering the cushion covers. Every surface was cleaned, we had a bit of mold over the summer storage, the first time Uproar was stored in the past six years.
Uproar was launched with a bit of fanfare, Bill and Judy (S/V Whisper) happened by to help us deliver Uproar from the boatyard to Homer Smith Marina in Beaufort. Then gale force winds descended into the North Atlantic. Lisa and I were pinned to the dock for a week, waiting for better weather.
The “plan” was to immediately sail the 1500 miles to the Caribbean, enjoy the winter in the tropics, then sail to the Med, the last of our bucket list destinations. It wasn't just weather keeping us from heading offshore to the Caribbean. The Italian Consulate in Chicago was rather possessive of our passports. We had applied for a long-stay visa for Italy to aid in our Med cruising plans. “Sure, just give us a pre-paid, addressed envelope and we will mail your passports, gratzie.”
Well, we were sitting in Beaufort, waiting for good weather and still no passports. And no response from Chicago/Italy to our emails or phone calls. Now let me tell you, Beaufort is a mighty nice place to be stuck. What a cute little, historic town. Great bars, restaurants and our first nano-brewery. The Royal James bar has world class $5 hamburgers and cheap beer. It has all the ingredients for a perfect sailor's bar. One night we met two other Milwaukee cruisers and a handful of their cruiser friends. What a great time.
With no passports, our cruising options were limited to the USA. No problem, lots of cruisers just transit the east coast of the US, Maine or thereabouts in the summer, Florida in the winter. But Lisa was not excited about this option. She caught my nasty cold and everything piled up to where she decided heading back to WI was her best option.
I decided to keep Uproar sailing south for when our passport situation was straightened out. We would then have options, we could continue to the Caribbean, hang out in Florida or ? As Lisa says, “Cruiser's plans are written in sand at low tide.”
Now I'm on Uproar, heading south with no particular plan. What could be better? Well, Lisa being with me, #1. She is still coughing her head off (no Covid after multiple tests). Warmer weather would certainly help. It gets down to the high 30's at night. And I don't have any heat on Uproar. Normally our heat pump works as A/C and heat. But it took a crap in Beaufort. It also requires dock power to operate. That costs a lot! Docks start at about $100/night!!!!! I call marinas “boat jail.”
Most of the places Lisa and I have cruised don't even have marinas. We anchor out, wherever we want to. In a marina, there is little privacy, little cooling breeze and perhaps bugs and noise. No thank you! Not to mention the expense. But on the US east coast, marinas are the way of life. Still, not for Uproar.
I'm a guerrilla cruiser. I put an anchor down and dinghy to shore. From Beaufort, I sailed to Wrightsville Beach, NC, a beautiful spot with protected anchorage. There I was fortunate enough to meet up with Jamie and Cheryl from Pacific High and Dave and Dan from Bel Canto. I have known Jamie from years of racing in Milwaukee. We met Dave and Sandy in the Bahamas, six years ago. But cruising friendships endure. Dave and Sandy brought me along to Dave's brother's Thanksgiving dinner in Charlestown, SC.
Yeah, the trip from Wrightsville Beach to Charleston wasn't that great but we made it. Charleston was a fun place to explore on my bike but the anchorage was not that calm. Didn't matter, I spent much of the days off the boat, bike riding.
Now I'm in a river, anchored near Savannah, GA. I asked on a FB group for ICW sailing about a good anchorage near Savannah. All replies were for a favorite marina. No marinas!!! I studied the charts and found a “pond” right off the Savannah River and ICW intersection. It was a bit scary getting in here. Uproar has a very deep keel which is not easily floated in the ICW. Still, I carefully motored here and set the anchor. It is calm and quiet. Even sunny today.
This is a type of cruising not like anything we have experienced the past six years. It is not tropical, it is not particularly beautiful and the water is brown. But now I feel like I'm in the rhythm of the east coast cruising. Cruising friends, new and old are the best. People everywhere we go are most generous and welcoming. That sounds trite but far from it.
The two guys sitting next to me at the Brick sports bar for the Ohio State, Michigan game were both rooting for Michigan with me. Can't beat that!
Velocette part 8, glassing the hull
23 November 2021
Frozen snot! That's what wooden boat folks call fiberglass. Doesn't matter, strip planked boats must be fiberglassed inside and out. The strips form the shape and provide a stiff core for the fiberglass skins. Without the fiberglass, the wood just isn't strong enough. Most builders don't even use waterproof glue to glue the strips together. Without fiberglass, the boat would just melt apart. But Titebond now makes a waterproof wood glue and I used it.
But first, the hull has to be planed and sanded perfectly smooth. This step is crucial to getting a smooth, fair shape. As stated before, extra care aligning the strips will lessen the work to fair the hull. I'll pay a bit more attention the next time. I started with a long plane taking paper thin shavings at 45 degree angles to the planks. The smell of the freshly cut cedar and walking barefoot among the carpet of shavings is a joy.
The fun is over when the long board comes out. I cut a 48” x 6”, 60 grit sanding belt into a long strip. This was glued to a piece of 1/4” plywood and two handles glued to the ends. The 1/4” plywood can flex a bit to conform to the hull shape. Again, the hull is sanded at angles to keep it fair and smooth. Some call the long board “torture board.” No question about it, this is hard work. I sanded by hand for 1 ½ days to fair the hull. It would have been so easy to just run a sander over the hull but this would not yield a perfectly smooth skin.
Again, “Building Strip Planked Boats” has great tips on how to fiberglass the hull. I used 6 oz fiberglass cloth and Mas Epoxy. The glass cloth has to be handled carefully, it is a loose weave and will distort and bunch up. Being loose weave, it will also conform to compound curves which is desirable. Lisa and I laid the cloth out carefully on the hull. Two pieces were necessary to span the width and they overlapped on the keel. Great for added strength where it is needed.
The cloth is smoothed out with a dry paintbrush. Resin is poured in a puddle in the center of the hull and a plastic squeege is used to spread it around. It is easy to tell when the cloth is soaked with resin, it turns transparent. But too much resin adds weight without strength. When the glass is saturated, the squeege is used to scrape off as much excess resin as possible.
After the resin cures, sand smooth and roll on a thin layer of resin to fill the weave of the cloth. I decided to add the mahogany rub rails while the hull was still on the mold. The rails would further stiffen the hull while it was held in shape.
Then came the moment of truth, We lifted the hull off the form. Looks like we now have a boat!
Velocette part 7, strip planking the hull
22 November 2021
Time to start butchering wood. Anyone who has seen a cedar strip canoe agrees they are a work of art. I wanted to use this construction technique not only for its beauty but to build a light, strong hull that could easily conform to the compound curves of the design. There is a lot of boat building these days using the stitch-and-glue method. Planks of plywood are literally stitched together with wire or zip ties and the joints are reinforced with epoxy putty and fiberglass. I call this the plywood and playdo method. It is not the type of woodworking I enjoy but there are some cool boats built with this technique.
Building Strip-Planked Boats by Nick Schade is an excellent book to describe the techniques I used and served as my reference.
Strips of cedar are stapled in place to the building form and edge glued together. That's pretty much all that is involved. As the boat curves, the square strip edges must be beveled so they fit tightly. But construction does not need to be perfect. The inside and outside of the hull are fiberglassed for strength and waterproofing.
The 1/4" thick cedar strips conform quite easily to the curved mold. But they can start to twist when forced to bend in two different directions. Then strips need to be tapered along the length to lay flat. All of this requires the use of a sharp plane. My 7th grade woodshop class prepared me for this. Mr Jones has us spend the first six weeks using a plane to make a flat, square board from a rough plank. My dad thought it was too much time spent on plane craft. No way, it taught useful woodworking basics that have served me well.
As strip edges butt against each other, it is very important to be sure they don't shift up or down. Any step in the joint must be smoothed out to the lowest spot to have a smooth hull. I would recommend using clamps or masking tape to hold the joints flush with each other while the glue dries. It will save a lot of work later on.
If one decides to build a strip-planked boat should give it a try. Canoe shapes, with their straighter lines, will be easier to build than Velocette. I would strongly suggest buying a CNC cut mold instead of making your own. It will eliminate a lot of work and ensure a smooth hull. Chesapeake Light Craft is a great source.
It only took a week to complete the strip planking.
Velocette part 6, the building jig with a little help from my friends
20 November 2021
It is amazing what one can find on the internet. I have been looking at reproduction, mahogany runabouts and race boat for years. The Crandall Flyer remains one of my favorite designs. I have even accumulated some mechanical parts to modify an Alfa Romeo engine for use in such a boat. My searches brought me to www.danleeboatbuilding.co.uk. Dan shows a similar design vintage race boat, Rocket, that he has built. Dan has a unique method of cutting the wood parts out with a CNC mill and using a CNC jig to accurately assemble frames. It got me to thinking about using these techniques to help build Velocette.
I discussed the project with Dan and he agreed to do the CAD design for the building jig. Dan took the CAD files for the boat and pulled off the sections, much like I did for the model. But Dan configured the sections and assembly rails to make an “egg crate” style building jig. It was designed to be CNC milled out of 1/2” MDF. All I needed was to find someone with a CNC router to cut the parts out.
A sailing friend mentioned his friend, Chris Freymuth, had a CNC router table. Yes, Chris would cut the parts out for me. I visited his shop in Grafton, WI with several sheets of MDF and 1/2” marine plywood on top of Showflake. Chris was recovering from knee surgery but still expertly cut out the parts. The bulkhead #6 where the boat splits would be two pieces of 1/2” marine plywood along with the transom. They would remain part of the boat when removed from the jig. Kind of hard to describe but pictures will help.
The only thing I needed to do was assemble the “puzzle” of MDF and plywood pieces on a straight, flat surface. Then I could build the boat. From Facebook Marketplace, I bought a section of that shuffleboard game often found in bars. This is an incredibly heavy hunk of hard maple, even heavier than a section of bowling alley. It provided the straight, flat surface needed. I used a laser level to check the assembled jig.
So far I didn't even have to lift a tool and I had a jig or mold set up to build the hull. Not only was it easy but the jig was perfectly fair and smooth. Computers get it right!
From Home Depot, I was able to find some Western Red Cedar that surprisingly had no knots! I bought a dozen boards and a bargain price. Lisa and I set up the table saw with a special, thin blade and cut it all into ¼” strips.
Now all I had to do was complete the bathroom remodeling project before I could start construction.