'Til the butter melts

Pursuing the cruising dream in 32' of sailing ketch


Serendipity and other amazing life events

August 25th – 29th, 2016

We’ve spent the last 5 days not moving. Or at least, not moving very far. That’s in direct contrast to the previous 5 days when we moved every single day.  So far we’ve covered 167 nautical miles over the ground, but only about 90 miles as the crow flies because you can’t go anywhere in a straight line on a sailboat in Maine. You just can’t.

So where did we choose to stay for a bit? Kittery Maine.  Easy choice, actually, because we had made some new friends during the SSCA Gam we hosted, back in July, and Tim & Diane were nice enough to offer us the use of their mooring in Kittery and even – so generously – the use of their dock for a couple nights!

Docks are cool – they don’t move around, they never drag away when the wind blows, and they make it really easy to get on and off the boat.  We needed that last aspect because my mom – who’s a very spry 88 years young – really, really wanted to see the boat before we take her south for a couple years.  She wasn’t quite up to the task of climbing into and out of the dinghy, but a dock? No problem!

So we borrowed the dock for two nights, and since we were right there, practically in the middle of Kittery Maine and Portsmouth New Hampshire, we got to take showers (a VERY big deal when you live on a boat), do some provisioning, drink excellent coffee (I swear these two towns must have the highest concentration of Cafés per capita of anywhere in the country!) and experience first hand THE best cruller in the world – hands down. No, I haven’t tried every single cruller in the world but don’t confuse the issue with facts – it’s an election year. Suffice to say that the cruller’s at Lil’s Cafe in Kittery exceed every standard of cruller excellence there has ever been. They are magical. And completely not on my vegan diet and I don’t care – they were that good.

Now where was I?

Oh yeah, family visits!   My middle brother and sister managed to transport my mom from mid-Vermont down to the coast, and my sister and mom (and a grand-nephew! How cool is that?) met us in Kittery on Friday afternoon.  

We had a great time showing off our home, and then in anticipation of departing for something farther south on Sunday we moved the boat just 2 miles south, to New Harbor, NH, where we “borrowed” a mooring from a stranger we’ll never meet, while we wait for the weather window for our next leg.  We could motor south, but would really prefer to sail, and the forecast was calling for more westerly winds, which would allow us to sail south to Rockport, MA. Then the forecast changed and moved those conditions to Monday, so we’re spending Sunday in New Harbor working on boat projects we didn’t finish before we left Maine. I’m modifying the sailing rig we got to fit our little dinghy, and Nicki is making the mosquito netting so to cover the cabin hatches so we can leave these open for air without being eaten alive.  I hear the mosquitos in the Carolinas can carry away a grown Bull Mastiff – and I weight less than a Mastiff, so this is a very important project for a lot of reasons.

Oh, and the serendipity aspect? Well:

We were hanging out in the cockpit Friday night, sipping a bit of wine, when a small motorboat pulled up and said hello, turned out it was the folks who lived next door to Tim & Diane, renters, who mentioned that they are hoping to buy a couple of campgrounds up in our next of the woods. One of them is named “Camden Hills Campground – which is our summer home!  Granted the sale hasn’t happened yet, but what are the chances we’d bump into them, living next to the dock we happened to borrow for a couple nights, 100 miles from home?

The Universe is a strange and wonderful thing.


Technology and me

I’ve been known to pull my hair out. Threaten the computer with a axe. Scream. Cry. Whine. Whimper.

None of it helps.

Because somehow as I’ve gotten older and computers have become more ubiquitous, my ability to work with them has faded until this blog is truly the limit of my capability – and even that sometimes is too much. Take last night for instance.

Because we’re frequently out of wifi (and even cell phone) range while cruising, I found a nifty little blog publishing app that allows me to compose and store my entries off-line. I can write what I’m thinking when I’m thinking it, save it in its finished form, then post it whenever we get to a point where I can get online.

So last night I composed another blog to go with one I’d saved the night before, all about a scary/maddening/PTSD-inducing experience we had when a lobster boat decided to play chicken with us, and me at the helm knowing there wasn’t a damn thing I could do to get out of the way if he really did intend to cut us in two. Which of course he didn’t – probably just having a good laugh at our expense – but it didn’t help me develop the “love your fellow man” zen state I’ve been hoping for. Not even a little.

And that blog? Suddenly “poof”, along with the previous one which also included a lament about their being an awful lot of “boaters” out here that have no idea what the rules are, and on and on…

Not uplifting. Not funny and enlightening. Kind of depressing, actually.

And evidently the universe doesn’t want me to write that way, because they’re gone, and there’s nothing I can do about it and I am NOT going to relive the whole sordid train of thought and try to re-create them. There was enough bad Juju floating around here the last time.  

Instead?  Here’s Kittery’s Back Cove at 5:30am:

Because really, that’s what matters. The sun rose, and it was absolutely breathtaking. It’ll set tonight in a similar manner.

So there, Zen state. Welcome back.


Rainy days and Monday’s

Into every life, some rain must fall.  

Or if this morning in Sabasco Harbor is any indication, a whole lot of rain sometimes!  How much? Well let’s just say the dinghy had so much water in it as we were getting under way that it looked like a submarine about to dive.  I bailed 4 inches of water out and off we went.  It really rained!

But that’s only part of the fun when a strong cold front moves through.  After the rain, the wind.

We left the anchorage as the sun came out – and discovered that neither of us remembered to close the hatches in the aft cabin – our stateroom.  Can you say wet bed?  The old “I thought you closed ’em…” dance, and neither of us remembered to ask the other. 

But one of the great things about a cold front and the following high pressure system is that it’s dry and breezy.

Or windy.  Today, it was windy.  Sionna’s nominal full sail area is about 475 square feet of canvas, split between the foresail (“Genny”), the main, and the mizzen.  But shortly after we left the anchorage, the cold front decided to strut it’s stuff for us, with 15 knots gusting to 25 knots (about 29 mph)

That, friends, is a lot of wind.   So we went into reefing drill, cutting our sail area from 450 to just over 200.  SO much more comfortable, much easier on crew and equipment, and just as fast, given the conditions. We love to reef! Well, we don’t like the process of reefing – it’s hard work – but we like the results.

Meanwhile the ride was rough.  How rough? Well rough enough that two hours into the 3-hour passage I was calling for chocolate, and “Splits” had made a dive off the barometer and hidden his head under my fleece shirt.

Since leaving Rockland on Thursday we’ve sailed 112 nautical miles, but in a straight line we’ve covered just 53 miles.  Why? Partly because sailboats can’t go directly into the wind, but more because the coast of Maine is ANYTHING but straight.  Getting to and from each anchorage adds many miles to the trip.  Still, we’ve done well, and are past the most crenellated part now.  

And today, for the first time, we sailed (briefly) directly south!  Life is good.



Day one: Going the wrong way!

Today we went north.

That probably caused some confusion in some minds. The whole point, of course, is to head south and avoid winter, right? So why north our first day?

Well there’s a story there. We bought Sionna from a fine musician and song-writer named Gordon Bok. Gordon, being a Camden native, had a few favorite spots along the mid-coast of Maine where we live. And in those few favorite spots, he has for many years maintained moorings, so that when he and his wife Carol went sailing, they were generally within striking distance of one of them.

One such spot is called Pulpit Harbor, on North Haven Island. It’s a place I took my old boat Honfleur back before I began singing with Gordon, and Nicki and I have been there several times since. It seemed like a fitting and proper way to begin our cruise in Sionna to bring her back here for our first night, before we bend our course toward the south.

Once there, it seemed proper to open one of the bottles of wine we’d been given as a departure gift (our friends know us so well!) and to sit down with our cruising guides and charts to plan our next move.

Which will be south, I promise you. Today, however, we sailed just 12 miles, mostly east but a little north, in glorious sunshine and a fair (mostly) breeze, and are well positioned for a clear, straight shot down west Penobscot Bay and into Muscungus Bay for tomorrow evening. Weather permitting, we’ll put 30 miles of southing under the keel and appease the masses.


The online/offline dance

How do you manage a blog when you never know for sure when you’ll have internet service?


And in our case, with some trepidation. We’ve been operating on an aging HP laptop for the last year of blogging, and it’s been working ok, but the basic WordPress site (where our blog is hosted) is strictly an online service – if you don’t have Internet service, you can’t blog.

While we were living ashore that was no more than an inconvenience, but once we move aboard (tomorrow, we hope!) we’ll only have Internet when we choose to find it, and that presents the problem of publishing a blog that we’ve been advertising to friends, relatives and followers for the last year. We needed to upgrade.

Still, I’ve resisted.  Upgrading the hardware costs money, and money is a resource whose well is distinctly shallow these days. 

But the old HP made the decision for me the other day when the screen developed a crack and become largely unreadable.  Enter the IPad Air II, upon which this post is being composed. It’s small, light, sips electricity compared to the HP hog I’m used to, AND being an Apple product, it has apps available to d darn near anything. Including composing blog posts offline for later uploading.

Which is NOT to suggest that it’s been painless.  I hate Microsoft products with a passion – they’re cumbersome, cantankerous and crochety  – but I was used to them.  Now I have to learn a whole new way of working, the Apple way.  It’s a uphill fight.

But I have a cool new app that allows me to create blog posts offline, to save for later publishing, and it seems to be capable of doing all that I require in that regard.  Time will tell.  

With a little luck, I’ll be smiling when I click on “Publish” in a few minutes. 

And speaking of smiling: We’ve set a departure date (still subject to change) of Wednesday!  That’s only four days from when I’m writing this.  Between now and then Nicki and I have to finish moving aboard (including the food and gear that can’t stay in the RV over the winter), clean, decommission and cover the RV, store the cars AND remember all the folks we promised to say goodby to before we sailed off…

That last part may be the hardest.




How do you spell “Goodbye”?

So how do you say goodbye?

That’s not a generic question, but a specific one: How do you, personally, say goodbye?

Some of us do it easily, barely blinking. Some have it harder, with tears and fears, and some, I think, do it over time. For those (like me) who find it relatively easy, but who then get hit with the separation days or weeks later, it helps to have a party.

Or maybe it helps to have a party for everyone. Nicki cries at goodbye’s, but I don’t. I cry for other things (sensitive new-age guy that I am, I’ve never been averse to tears when they come), but “Farewell” isn’t one of them.

But whatever the style, to cry or not to cry, having a party seems to make the parting both sweeter and harder, smoother and yet more focused…

We had something like 25 people come down to the dock to wish us well last night – a few more than we could fit aboard the good ship Sionna”! Nicki and I brought the boat in from the mooring and tied up at the Public Landing (free tie-up for the first 2 hours), topped up the batteries since we had the engine running, and made hot water to boot, welcome for my morning constitutional. Folks started trickling in about 4:30pm, and by 5 we had a crowd going. A few folks brought Bon Voyage gifts of consumables, knowing of our lack of storage space, and we introduced “Splits”, our ship’s mascot.

So yeah, there’s a story there: When I turned 50, I asked Nicki NOT to have someone put 50 pink flamingoes in our front lawn to commemorate the occasion. Instead, she found this poor fellow and presented him to me in leu of… Naturally he’s coming with us!

So that’s how we say goodbye. I grin and hug and soak up the love of the best friends in the world, Nicki smiles and hugs and cries with the best friends in the world. Once the crowd had gone, we took the boat out to the mooring, collapsed in the cockpit, and soaked in the reality of it all. No shore home, no cars, no KEYS! I handed off all my keys to the dear friends that agreed to be the keepers of such things.

It feels lighter. It feels good.


Pulpit Harbor to Pemaquid Point

August 19th:

We allowed ourselves a slow start from the mooring today – and in fact I went for a row in the dinghy to a couple of the other boats anchored there, introductions and plans shared all around. Everyone else there was just on a short cruise locally – a few days or a week – and would be heading back to their version of the real world within a few days. When we told our plans, there was universal envy and curiosity: “How did you manage that?” Being a common question. “Well we worked our butts off for three years getting ready” is our stock answer. This response is usually more easily swallowed than the more accurate description I’d prefer, which is:

“We just made up are minds to make this cruise our reality, and here we are.”

That one gets a lot of blank stares.

But I do believe it’s true. If you really, honestly in your heart-of-hearts believe that you could never step outside the “normal” box and do something like this, then you won’t. But if you DO believe you have a choice, reality shifts and…

Enough pontificating. We had to motor south the first 2 hours due to a lack of wind (that’s August in Maine!) but had a pretty delightful sail from then on down the Mussel Ridge Channel, and into the lee of Little Burnt Island, south of Port Clyde. On the down side, I (Keith) passed too close to a lobster buoy which I didn’t see until the last minute, and snagged it on the propeller. On the plus side, the engine wasn’t on, so we didn’t wrap the line on the prop shaft. To the negative, we hooked it good, and just as we were passing on the windward side of a ledge. The danger of being swung into the rocks by the trap line was real and very much on our minds, but Nicki jumped to with the boat hook, pulling the line up enough that I (still sailing the boat away from the rocks as best we could while dragging that lobster-trap “anchor”) could finally cut the line. I hate to do that, but to save the boat…

However I suspect we didn’t get away Scott-free. We now have a slight but persistent vibration throughout the boat while motoring, and I fear we may have bent the propeller slightly. Sigh…

It took us two tries to get the anchor to set, but we rode out the night in comfort, free of the sounds of human activities until morning. Long day, we were both tired and a little cranky, until the Rum Punch arrived. This is the same beverage we had available at out wedding reception, and we remember it as we learned it- with a rhyme:

One part Sour
Two parts sweet
Three parts strong and
Four parts weak.
Five drops of bitters and nutmeg spice
Serve well chilled, with lots of ice.

Sour is fresh lime juice, Sweet is simple syrup, Strong is rum (plain, not spiced, we like Cruzan which isn’t expensive), Weak is a mixer, (we use a blood orange soda but fruit juice or ginger ale would work), and Bitters is only Angostura Bitters, please!

Sailed 31 nautical miles today to cover 24 miles over the ground. Wind is almost always against you this time of year if you’re headed south-west.

August 20th:

The day started with fog! Again, typical Maine. We waited it out, and by 11am it was moving back north where it belonged, and we got underway. The wind was easterly, bit unusual, and it gave us our least favorite point of sail – the wind right behind us. Sionna doesn’t perform particularly well down-wind, so we didn’t arrive in Pemaquid Harbor until about 3:30pm, after a rather slow downwind sail/motor (I hate motoring!). We found a place to anchor just off the beach and in the shadow of the Colonial Pemaquid museum, and dinghied straight in to make the mile-plus hike in for provisions – “groceries” in land-lubber speak.

C.E. Reilly’s Market is amazingly well stocked – we even found almond milk! Plus a delightful bunch of produce and bread and all. Supper was salad and bread and olive oil, and a delightful evening breeze. I took the dinghy back to the docks while Nicki put the provisions away, and scored both a dumpster for our trash AND three gallons of fresh water from the bar at the restaurant for our drinking supply. (We can drink the water from the onboard tanks, but it has a musty flavor until we’ve run a few tankfuls through.)

I attempted to fly the large “Drifter” sail today, since we had light winds that would have been perfect, but discovered that I need to invent a different attachment system for the foot (lower forward corner) of the big sail before we can try it. Disappointing, but that’s the nature of boats – there’s always something!