STORM PORN: Here Comes Irene

Hurricane Irene satellite image

Boat owners all up and down the Eastern seaboard are scratching their heads over this beautiful ball of wind and rain. When I first started obsessively ogling her early yesterday, the forecast was extremely grim. Her projected track had her grazing Cape Hatteras at Category 3 strength, passing east of New Jersey and Long Island over open water, cutting over the root of Cape Cod at Cat. 2 strength, then driving right up the coast and over my boat Lunacy in Portland, Maine, at Cat. 1 or 2 strength.


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LIONESSA VS. ISOBEL: Fabulous Yachts Compared

Sailing aboard Isobel

One nice thing about this sailing journalism game is that we so-called journalists often get to tool around on hideously expensive boats we could never hope to own ourselves. For example, in the photo up top you see our hero steering the new custom 68-foot Stephens Waring sloop Isobel on Penobscot Bay last Friday afternoon. In the foreground is my colleague and erstwhile competitor, Dennis Caprio, of Yachting magazine.

It almost looks like we belong there, doesn't it? Sometimes I even feel like we belong there, though I do often wonder why we aren't tossed overboard as shameless interloping opportunists.


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FASTNET MEMORIES: With Don Street Aboard Iolaire

Sailing aboard Iolaire

Editor’s note: Quite the exciting Fastnet Race this week! The largest race fleet since 1979, two new course records (outright record to super tri Banque Populaire; monohull record to the VO70 Abu Dhabi), plus the maxi monohull Rambler 100 (ex-Speedboat), which was en route to a record, lost its keel and capsized right at Fastnet Rock. Rather than bore you with newsy details you’ve already garnered elsewhere, I thought I’d share my own (one and only) Fastnet experience.

IT WAS A LEAP OF FAITH is what it was. There could be no other explanation. For the last time Don Street nearly succeeded in luring me aboard a boat of his, that boat had been instantly destroyed. This was Li’l Iolaire, Don’s 28-foot plywood yawl, on which I had agreed to crew back in the winter of 2004. Just hours before I committed myself to this fate by buying a plane ticket down to West Indies, Don had called to share the terrible news. Li’l Iolaire had been swept out to sea and sunk by Hurricane Ivan as it roared over the island of Grenada.

Now again, in the summer of 2005, in spite of the letters J-O-N-A-H stamped upon my resume, he had summoned me once more. This time to serve on the original Iolaire, the antique 48-foot Harris Brothers yawl on which he had long ago established his reputation as a trail-blazing West Indian charter skipper, sailing journalist, and chart surveyor.

Iolaire will be 100 this year,” he crowed to me over a bad cellphone connection. “I’m turning 75. We’re going to celebrate by doing the Fastnet Race. You want to come along?”


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TEST SAIL: New Screecher in Action

Headsails furled

Operation Fetch and Test My New Sail (OFTMNS) officially began this past Sunday evening, when I hooked up with my old pal Loric Weymouth in Portland. He agreed at the last minute to join me as crew on Lunacy for an overnight sail to Rockland, taking the place of Scott Alexander, of Selden Mast, who had agreed several weeks ago to join me, but kicked me to the curb at the last minute in favor of some racing gig. Scott's betrayal was prescient, as the ride to Rockland was no picnic. For the first few miles we did well enough, reaching along at 7 knots in a moderate southerly, but soon the wind died and we spent the rest of the night motoring through a fierce beam sea.

By sunrise we were just west of Monhegan Island. The highlight of the passage came soon after, when we saved two lobstermen from starving in Muscle Ridge Channel. Their boat had broken down, and th ey'd been anchored all night waiting for a tow. We passed them a garbage bag full of beer, bagels, fruit, and smoked fish in homage to the Pot Warp Gods, who had refrained from wrapping themselves round our propeller as we ran blind all through the night.


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COILING ROPE: Figure Eights, Please

Figure-eight rope coil

Perfect O-shaped coils of rope look mighty nice when done up properly, and in many instances this is a perfectly appropriate way to make up and stow an idle line on a sailboat. But rope needs to be trained to do this well, and in some instances the training will inhibit the rope's ability to do its job properly when working.

This happens most often with lines that run through a multi-part tackle. If you take the tail of a line that runs through a tackle and coil it down in perfect ovals when stowing it, you'll soon find the line starts twisting up in the tackle when you're using it. Eventually you must unreeve the whole line from the tackle, untwist it so it runs fair again, then re-reeve it. To avoid this you should coil the line in a figure-eight pattern when stowing it.


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Master Link BTM-III battery monitor

Some of you may be wondering what happened with that battery problem I was having.  As I mentioned briefly, I was hoping the crazy readings I was getting from my battery monitor were the result of a bad connection or some corrosion somewhere.

Back in the 1990s when I was cruising full time and living aboard Crazy Horse, my electrical system was dirt simple. I had two 100-AH wet-cell batteries, a battery selector switch, and a 30-watt flexible solar panel to help keep them topped up. When I wanted to know how the batteries were doing, I whipped out my multimeter and put the leads on the battery terminals to read the surface voltage. For more sophisticated analysis, I used a big eye-dropper hydrometer to test the specific gravity of the electrolyte solution in the battery cells.


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WE LIVE ON A SCHOONER: By Elizabeth Jay Etnier

Stephen Etnier aboard schooner Morgana

(From the September 1934 issue of The Atlantic Monthly)

Tuesday, October 31, 1933

I sat on deck sewing as we went through Hell Gate, feeling very much the schooner house wife (Stephen called me 'Tugboat Annie'). We anchored off the New York Yacht Club at 26th Street, and Lucius came on board for lunch. He picked up a china plate to see the trade-mark on the back, noted the silver dishes, the candlesticks, and all other appurtenances of elegance, he tried the electric lights to see if they really worked, and departed--not without noticing that there was a slim volume of his own verse among the books. He asked me where we had found our steward-sailor, and I had to explain that he was the carpenter's son, that he had never cooked or been on a sailboat before, but that we had engaged him because he was so nice.

We continued down the East River, hugging close by the Battery, the New York sky line towering above us tremendous and impressive. There were boats passing in all directions, tiny little tugs maneuvering great rafts of railroad cars. I marveled that there were not constant collisions. We passed Governors Island, where I had been as a child to see Dad receive his Distinguished Service Cross. On that occasion I wore a new hat with blue wool flowers crocheted upon it, and I remember that I had great difficulty in deciding whether to choose blue for infantry or red for Harvard.


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Round Island Regatta notice

Chas. "May I Cast Off Now?" Lassen, last seen on a luxurious catamaran off the island of Grenada as he sought to evade questioning regarding an alleged attempt to murder his wife, has returned to the United States and is now engaged in wholesome non-profit work. Or so he would have us believe.

As part of an ongoing effort to aid the Strawberry Banke Museum in Portsmouth, NH, Lassen has taken command of the museum's Heritage House Program. In addition to dunning friends and neighbors for cash donations to support said program (unmarked bills preferred), Lassen has also organized a regatta (see up top for details) in which a wide array of vessels (human and wind propelled) will race around his vast island estate.


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  • Boats & Gear

    Evaluations of both new and older sailboats (primarily cruising sailboats) and of boat gear.

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    Updates on what’s going on aboard my own sailboat Lunacy: breakdowns, maintenance jobs, upgrades, cruises and passages undertaken, etc.

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    Longer articles by me that treat sailing and the sea in a more literary manner, short reviews of nautical books I think readers might enjoy reading, plus occasional excerpts from nautical books that I’d like to share with readers.

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    Tips and diatribes regarding boathandling, sailhandling, seamanship, navigation, and other realms of nautical expertise.



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